DOES THE POLISH PRESIDENT LACK POLISH?

I never met Polish President Andrzej Duda, but I have a great deal of respect for him.  “We have a right to our historical truth,” he said, after signing a law that would punish those who accuse Polish society of complicity in the Holocaust. I admire his candor. President Duda never mentioned anything about “the truth” when it came to the Holocaust; President Duda spoke about our historical truth.

I do not consider myself an expert when it comes to Poland, its people and its history, but there is one thing I do know. No different than the Jews, the Polish people see themselves as victims of Nazi inhumanity. There is a great deal of truth to the Polish self-image of victim-hood, in that the Nazis did regard Poles as sub-humans, albeit on a higher level than Jews. As far as a good many Poles are concerned, Polish complicity with the Nazis was academic. How can one be complicit when one is treated as an inferior many Polish people will argue? Therefore, there are any number of Poles who maintain that complicity with the Nazis is not up for discussion, in that it never happened.

Neither is the message of deicide, spewed for centuries by any number of Polish parish priests over the centuries, indicting all Jews for the death of their savior. That too is not up for discussion. If any generalization can be made, and generalizations typically are made when it involves war, it was Ukrainian peasants working in Auschwitz, Dachau, and any other Nazi death factory who were complicit in the Holocaust. Ukrainian peasants had far more blood on their hands than the Polish populace. Having been systematically starved to death by the millions a decade earlier, courtesy of Uncle Joe Stalin with his nationalization program, a good many Ukrainians were inured to suffering and death. Religion aside, it was any number of Ukrainians, and not Poles, who participated in the gross human injustice of shoving Jews into the gas chambers. As such, Polish President Duda was not wrong in speaking for the Polish people when he maintained that “We have a right to our historical truth.”

“Having a right to our historical truths” enables Polish President Duda to remind the world that close to 7,000 Poles have been awarded the distinction of righteous Gentiles at Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. No nation other than Poland can make that claim. Among those Polish righteous gentiles, there were those who ended up paying the supreme price for aiding, abetting, and harboring Jews. One such individual was Sister Marta, a Catholic nun who was executed by the Nazis for the “crime” of rescuing Jewish families from the Slonim Ghetto and hiding them in her monastery.
Last but not least, “having a right to our historic truths” reminds us that there is more than a modicum of ethnocentricity when it comes to wars. It is this ethnocentricity that defines how we refer to a war. To wit: The War of Independence that a fledgling Jewish nation was caught up in immediately upon proclaiming statehood in May 1948, is referred to by the Arabs in countries surrounding Israel as “Al Naqba” or “the catastrophe.” Put differently, what is arguably remembered as the proudest day in the twentieth century for Jews world-wide is recalled as the most calamitous day in the twentieth century for Arabs worldwide.  However much it may pain us, however justified we may be, it is simply not within our purview to tell the Polish people, or any other people involved in World War II, how to define the years 1939-1945. If the Polish government remembers World War II completely differently than the way we Jews remember World War II – if the Polish government subsequently passes a law to punish those who accuse it of complicity in the Holocaust – as a sovereign nation, they have that right, regardless of how wrong we Jews consider them to be.

GET A LIFE

The other week, Karen and Mike, known to some of us as Vice President and Mrs. Pence were in Israel. During their relatively brief stay, they visited Yad VaShem, Israel’s memorial to the six million whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their henchmen. It was there in front of the eternal flame, that Mr. Pence inflamed more than a few of our people. While paying his respects to the six million, he remarked: “…three years after walking beneath the shadow of death (they) rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future.” Faster than you could say “shalom aleichem” Mr. Pence was being excoriated for introducing Christian terminology into his metaphor.

Is it such a sin to take Mr. Pence’s remarks at face value? Personally speaking, I’m amazed that the very same Jews who in all probability never heard of Rashi, much less have ever looked into even one of Rashi’s commentaries are so quick to offer commentary on the remarks of an American leader. I shudder to think how these same individuals would have reacted, had Mr. Pence remarked: “As a non-Israeli and a non-Jew, I cannot help but feel the holy spirit of the six million throughout this edifice that memorializes them.” Any number of Jewish and/or Israeli publications would have accused him of sullying the souls of the six million by invoking the trinity!

There is a disease rampant among our people. Unlike other diseases, it does not distinguish between Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews. That disease is ignorance. As a people, we are woefully ignorant of our tradition. Jews, who have no trouble providing the name of the mother of Jesus, are completely stumped when it comes to providing the name of the mother of Moses. Mention “resurrection” and immediately Jews associate it with an event that purportedly occurred three days after the crucifixion. Yet, the very same individuals do not realize that resurrection is a concept that it is profoundly Jewish. There is a discussion in the Talmud, not whether we Jews believe in resurrection – that ought to be a foregone conclusion- but whether the source for resurrection is biblical or rabbinic. Surprise! Surprise! Resurrection of the dead is found in our prayers minimally three times a day virtually every day of the year. Why then the uproar?

Last but not least, a big “al chet” (for the sin that I have committed- part of the Yom Kippur confessional) is in order on the part of all the accusers. For argument’s sake, suppose for a moment, that Mr. Pence did in fact have Jesus in mind. If so, then I caution his accusers to think carefully before they use phrases such as: “wash one’s hands of the matter”, “blind leading the blind”, and “go the extra mile” in their daily parlance. All three expressions come from the Book of Matthew! Why then is it kosher for the same Jews who take Mr. Pence to task for using a term that is inferred being connected with Jesus, to use phrases that are unmistakably Christian in origin in their everyday speech?

Within a short time period of his Yad VaShem visit, Mr. Pence addressed the Knesset. In addition to his adulatory remarks for the Jewish State, Mr. Pence invoked the following five words: “Shehechiyanu, V’kiyimanu, V’higiyanu lazaman hazeh” (who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this moment in time). Instead of a slap in the face for a questionable reference at best, perhaps Mr. Pence deserves a slap on the back for his successful and some would dare say beautiful gesture of quoting a Hebrew prayer in its original.

RIVETED

When the real Rosie the Riveter died last week, her passing made front page news. Wearing a polka dot bandana to protect her hair from being caught in the industrial lathe that she was operating, clad on coveralls, Rosie is photographed flexing her arm muscle. Above Rosie is the caption that reads: “We can do it”. To say that I was riveted by the three quarters of a century old poster of Rosie the Riveter would be an understatement. Truth be told, Rosie the Riveter brought to my mind a number of Jewish women throughout time, who did what few, if any others, were prepared to do or were capable of doing.

Twenty miles south of Haifa lies the city of Zichron Ya’akov. Named for the father of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild who was patron of the settlement founded in 1882, Zichron Ya’akov is where one finds the home and museum of Sarah Aaronson. One cannot help but be riveted by Sarah’s story. Abhorred and revolted by the genocide that was underway where the Turks systematically slaughtered one and a half million Armenians, Sarah, together with her two brothers Aaron and Alexander and Avshalom Feinberg, established the Nili (Netzach Yisroel Lo Ishaker- the eternal one of Israel will not lie) spy ring. They were prepared to do whatever was necessary to force the Turks out of pre-state Israel.  The three volunteered to spy on Ottoman (Turkish) positions and report them to the British. In September 1917, the Ottomans caught one of Sarah’s carrier pigeons and cracked the Nili code. In October, the Ottomans surrounded Zikhron Ya’akov and arrested Sarah and several others. After four days of torture, Sarah learned that her captors planned on transporting her elsewhere. Sarah therefore requested to be taken to her home to change her clothes. Locking herself in the bathroom, Sarah retrieved a hidden pistol and shot herself. Sarah died after several days. Three and a half months ago, the one hundredth yahrzeit of a riveting woman was observed.

Close to four decades ago, Chaya Hacker was standing in line at Hacker’s, a kosher butcher shop in Jerusalem. As she waited to be served, Chaya noticed Mr. Hacker hand a young girl a huge plastic bag filled with chicken skin and chicken fat. “How many dogs and cats are there in that young girl’s family, the one you gave that plastic bag filled with fat and skin?” asked Chaya as she was being waited on. The butcher explained that there were seven children in that family. The father was on dialysis and the family subsisted on a most meager income. Because the family had already run up a bill of astronomical proportion, the best the butcher could do was supply them with skin and fat. They made soup with it for Friday night and it served as the basis for their cholent at Shabbat lunch. “From now on, give the family chopped meat and a whole chicken every Friday and put it on my bill,” said Chaya. Mr. Hacker did more than that. He told Chaya about other families in the same dire straits. Before long, Chaya was running up a weekly bill of over $1,000 dollars as she helped 136 families in need. Who could not be riveted reading about a woman single-handedly battling poverty and apathy?

I can’t speak for others, but throughout my school years, I recall the “accusation” that those in the Concentration Camps went to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter. In addition to my “counter accusation” of how dare anyone look down on the millions who were murdered, I much prefer to look up to those whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their henchmen. Regina Safirsztein was born in Bedzin, Poland. After the Nazis invaded, Regina was sent to Auschwitz. Once there, she was put to work in the munitions factory. The room where Regina and a select group of women worked was the only place where inmates had access to gunpowder. Clandestinely, Regina was recruited to join the resistance movement. Each day for over a year, at tremendous personal risk to her life, Regina would set aside a small amount of gunpowder that would be smuggled out to a group of men planning a revolt. And then it happened. On October 7th 1944, Crematorium IV of Auschwitz was blown up. It took weeks until the Nazis traced the gunpowder back to Regina and others who worked alongside her at the munitions factory. All who worked there were interrogated and tortured. Ultimately, Regina and three others were betrayed. As Regina stood at the gallows with the noose around her neck, her last words were: “Be strong!” Regina was 29 years old at the time.
The next time we cry for the six million, let it be with pride as we find ourselves riveted, recalling Regina and the others who showed undeniable defiance along with unbelievable bravery.

Rosie the Riveter appealed to our patriotism. Sarah Aaronson, Chaya Hacker, Regina Safirsztein and a good many other woman who remain unrecognized by far too many, appeal to our Jewish hearts and souls.

MEA CULPA and #METOO

Although some six and a half centuries have separated the Latin phrase “Mea Culpa” and the nascent #MeToo movement, the two share more in common than one might realize. With Pope Francis pontificating contrition for the irreparable damage priests have inflicted on minors, and innumerable females revealing the unconscionable shameful acts that they claim have been perpetrated against them by disgusting and reprehensible males, perhaps it’s time to look at meaningful remorse and genuine contrition.

At the risk of being struck by a bolt of lightning, I have come to the conclusion that our sages were dead wrong as far as what they had to say about atonement and Yom Kippur. How dare they differentiate between sins against HaShem and sins against another human! Either way, HaShem was wronged!

Immediately prior to the litany of “Baruch Atah’s” that introduce the Shacharit morning service, there is a 5 ½ line prayer beginning with the words: “My G-d! The soul You have given me is pure.” As one who takes this prayer so very seriously, I maintain that prior to any apology to victims, the “despicables” – those who have violated minors in the case of clergy and those who have violated women in the case of any number of males – ought to be asking “mechilah and selichah (forgiveness and purgation) from HaShem for having sullied the pure neshomeh (soul) that HaShem entrusted to them. Clergy who cause irreparable damage on minors and males who behave in unacceptable ways with females are an affront to their creator!

A pox on Freud with his farshtinkeneh “pleasure principle.” How very pathetic is the idea that pain and pleasure are the sum total of our existence! All too often throughout the ages, pain and pleasure have played themselves out in pathetic individuals who lamely resort to the excuse, “I can’t help myself.” A beheimah (animal) can’t help itself. Humans are expected to help themselves. Violators of minors and women have sunk to levels lower than any beheimah, in that a beheimeh acts out of instinct. Violators of minors and women act out machinations. Rather than being guided by any pleasure principle, a human being, or rather a humane being, ought to be guided by the “right and wrong” principle. There are certain things that are plain wrong, shameful and detestable. And no, when it comes to male-female relationships, men do not have a monopoly on that which is wrong, shameful and detestable. Such behavior pervades females as well.

Last, but not least, despite all the marvelous inventions that continue to flood the market, no one has yet to come up with a device that measures sincerity. Religion has taught us to show remorse and contrition; society has conditioned us to apologize to those whom we have wronged. Yet, apologies are often vacuous and meaningless, especially when the apology comes from the Pope and not the priest who committed the dastardly act. Apologies are often hollow and worthless, especially when they come from the violator’s lawyer, or from a family spokesman, instead of from the violator. Sad to say, there have been more than a few occasions when apologies have benefited the perpetrator more than the victim, for it is perpetrator who has gained expiation while the victim continues to live with the scars.

Only when the violator shows contrition and remorse before G-d for sullying the pure soul given to him… Only when the violator dedicates time and resources to either help  victims or to work with other violators to get them to understand how low they have fallen… Only then will any strides be made toward hopefully seeing much less need for  Mea Culpa and #MeToo.

VITAMIN A

Back in the day, Jews living outside Israel – especially Jews in these United States – discovered a new vitamin. It was assigned the name Vitamin I. Although Vitamin I was not available in any Drug Store, or through any pharmaceutical firm, it was believed that Vitamin I (“I” stands for Israel) was just “what the doctor ordered” for any difficult Jewish teenager. A month or two in Israel – preferably working on a kibbutz – would surely straighten out your “rebel without a cause.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that Vitamin I was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is another Vitamin that was also being marketed, although not exclusively by Jews. It was assigned the name Vitamin A (not to be confused with the pre-existing Vitamin A, which is believed to have beneficial effects for the retina.) Much like Vitamin I, it was believed that Vitamin A (“A” stands for Auschwitz) was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was Vitamin A seen as being beneficial to Jewish High School students, in that it added a unique dimension to their Holocaust studies, Vitamin A was also seen as being beneficial to counteract antisemitism. Take a group of avowed anti-Semites on a tour of Auschwitz and “here comes contrition.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that when dealing with anti-Semites, Vitamin A was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is a teaching handed down to us by our rabbinic sages: “Tsarot rabbim chatzi nechamah” or “learning that there are others out there suffering with the same issue is half the battle.” We call it self-help groups. As a rookie rabbi, I recall speaking to a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group of parents attempting to deal with the loss of a child. At the very worst, such parents see themselves as victims of divine cruelty. Anti-Semites on the other hand, see themselves as being victimized by Jews. All the problems that plague anti-Semites are caused by Jews. Victims of that variety are not in the least bit interested in self groups; victims of that variety find it reprehensible for someone to tell them that Jews were also victims. Don’t even try to educate anti-Semites about the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a hoax! Auschwitz was part of that hoax. Bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz, introducing them to vitamin A, is an exercise in futility.

Anti–Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, revel in self-pity and hatred of Jews. Anti-Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, are happiest when they are miserable. Their existence is predicated upon getting themselves worked up over the world-wide Jewish conspiracy of planning to take over the world. Even if bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz isn’t an exercise in futility and actually does have a modicum of efficacy, anyone planning such an outing would be subjecting anti-Semites to cruel and unusual punishment. Introducing anti-Semites to vitamin A would be depriving them of their happiness.

Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator (Ms. Chebli is of Palestinian heritage), recently proposed that any perpetrator of antisemitism (being caught painting swastikas on synagogues and other Jewish owned buildings) be required to visit Auschwitz or other Nazi concentration camp memorial. Apparently Ms Chebli is also a firm advocate of vitamin A. I applaud her for her sincerity, but I am amazed at her naiveté. If someone is truly dedicated to fighting antisemitism, if someone really believes that an anti-Semite has an open mind and is willing to listen and learn, then why on earth would you want to take an anti-Semite to see where Jews died? For heaven’s sake, take an anti-Semite to see where Jews live! Take anti-Semites to see Israeli doctors treating Palestinian children. Take anti-Semites to visit descendants of survivors of Hitler to learn what they have on their minds. Take anti-Semites to a synagogue to hear the subject matter of a rabbi’s sermon. Chances are excellent that they will never hear any hatred being spewed at anti-Semites, much less non-Jews. Let Auschwitz serve as a memorial for those who wish to learn and remember. Let those who truly believe in combating antisemitism, expose the anti-Semite not to the way Jews died, but to the way Jews live.

Driven

American author and cultural commentator, David Brooks recently wrote an article on drivers and how their attitudes behind the steering wheel reflect to a large degree the society in which they live. As one who (legally) has been driving for close to half a century, I read his column with more than a modicum of interest. Rather than offer my own insights on driving (I do not necessarily agree with Mr. Brooks), it occurred to me that when it comes to Jews, it is not our driving that is of interest, but rather how we American Jews have been driven as a people.

Anti-Semitism has and continues to have a most powerful effect on us. Up until recently, anti-Semitism (sadly to say) was known to have brought out the best in us. Very much aware of quotas in colleges and certain professions, we as a people were driven to achieve the highest grades and performance levels imaginable – not to prove that we were as good as, but to prove that we were better than, those who saw few, if any, redeeming factors in us as a people. Today, when we are very much accepted into pretty much all aspects of American society, even looked up to and admired, anti-Semitism continues to hold its sway. On New Year’s Eve, Jaqueline Kent Cooke, daughter of Jack Kent Cooke former owner of the Washington Redskins, made a terrible mistake when she scolded Matthew Haberkorn, who together with his elderly mother, wife, and two daughters, was not putting their coats on fast enough for her in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. “Hurry up, Jew,” the irritated Ms. Cooke exclaimed. When an incredulous Mrs. Haberkorn asked for a repeat what she just said, Ms. Cooke once again said, “Hurry up, Jew! I got places to be!” (After a brief altercation outside the restaurant, Ms. Cooke turned herself in at a Police Station, where she was arrested for disorderly conduct and assault.)

Among the more interesting Yiddish (actually, it’s Hebrew) terms known to a good many American Jews is “naches,” which has been defined as pride and joy. Up until recently, American Jews, particularly those of eastern European descent, were raised knowing that their chief responsibility in life was to give their parents naches. And that’s why when Mrs. Goldstein came across Mrs. Rabinowitz walking with her two toddlers in the park and asked the ages of the little ones, Mrs. Rabinowitz responded with full confidence, “The lawyer is three and the doctor is five.” Once upon a time in America, Jews were raised with the expectation that they would be “naches givers.” Today, if “naches” is any measuring rod, family dynamics appear to have changed. Rather than give our parents “naches,” there are those of us today who are driven to give themselves naches. There are Jews throughout this country whose goal is to provide themselves with pride and joy. Sometimes it is the role they attain in the community, such as the leadership in Jewish Federation; sometimes it is the accomplishments and acquisitions with which they surround themselves. To be sure, they are looked up to by a good many. Not that this is in any way a contest, but how does being looked upon by others in the community compare to being the way one is looked upon by parents?

The first week in June of 1967 was a turning point for Jews. The stunning victory of the Six Day War imbedded Israel in our conscience. Never before had Israel defined the Jewishness of so many. Jews worldwide suddenly were viscerally driven by pride in Israel, as well as defense of Israel. Such defense of, and pride in, the Jewish homeland was not to last interminably. Within a few generations, Israel now occupies a vastly different place in the hearts of Jews throughout the world. With the vast majority of today’s world Jewry has been born in this world with Jerusalem and the Kotel (Western Wall) as givens; and with a new generation of Palestinians being brainwashed by a defiant and hateful leadership, Jews are no longer driven by a Jewish State that can do no harm. Instead, today’s Jews are driven by an Israel that they not only take for granted, but at times view as a source of consternation and embarrassment.

Far be it for me to predict the future. I feel, however, that is safe to predict that Jews throughout the world will be driven by events, factors, and attitudes that we are not yet aware of. I can only hope that as we are driven, let it be along the highways and byways of our traditions and practices, as well as roads of peace.

A BETTER RESOLUTION YOU WON’T FIND

As a Jew, I have absolutely no problems with “resolutions” at the beginning of January each year. As a matter of fact, I’m very much in favor of resolutions … provided these resolutions are in keeping with resolutions that I hold to be the sine qua non of our existence as individuals in society.

Each year, I find abhorrent the views some Jews hold about Israel, the synagogue, and Judaism in general. Each year I come to realize that typically the biggest antagonists against Israel, the synagogue and Judaism are those who are most ignorant. Whenever a view about Israel or the synagogue or Judaism in general is formed by one incident or one experience or news reports, there is good reason to believe that view is both biased and lacking in information. Among the various definitions of the word resolution, there is one that tells us that resolution is the ability to capture and produce more details of any given image. Even though such a definition tends to be optical in nature, most, if not all of us go through life harboring distorted images. Only when resolution exists do we gain a clearer picture.

Imagine if you will what a difference resolution would make in the lives of American Jews who walk around with clouded vision as far as their religious homeland and their place of worship are concerned.

At the other end of the spectrum are those Jews for whom Judaism, the synagogue, and especially Israel, evoke responses that are totally visceral in nature. As a young teenager, I recall Mrs. Faiman from across the street telling my mother how she would plead with her husband not to sit in front of the television and follow what was transpiring at the United Nations during the early part of June 1967, as delegates from around the world would meet to censure Israel … for Israel’s own good, of course. When it comes to Israel, we Jews would do well to learn that the existence and well-being of Israel does not and must not depend on mah yomru hagoyim or what the nations will say; the well-being of Israel is inextricably related to the support it receives from Jews within its borders as well from Jews around the world. Once we Jews embrace that resolution, we will never again view U.N. resolutions 242 or 1515 or any other resolution the U.N. passes the same way.

Ideally, Rosh Hashanah and particularly Yom Kippur are rife with resolution. Even though Teshuvah has for the most part been understood to mean repentance, resolution would make for a far better translation. Judaism strongly cautions against entering a new year with unresolved issues causing individuals to be at odds with others or even with themselves. Unless the past is resolved, how can one welcome the future? When it comes to our personal resolutions – provided they are fair and equitable – few, if any dare offer unsolicited advice.

You say you want to make a resolution? By all means! Realize, however, that a study undertaken to track New Year resolutions showed a meager 12% success rate. Better, focus on resolutions where you achieve clarity. Better, embrace resolutions not to be swayed or angered by what other nations say. Better, concentrate on resolutions to repair and clean up mistakes of the past. A better resolution you won’t find.

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR

There is a Yiddish aphorism that teaches us that what takes place in Christianity will soon affect Judaism as well. With Christmas in the air, I should like to flip that aphorism in the hope of offering solace to my fellow Christians in our society. As a spokesman for a religion and belief system from which Christianity emanated, it is my hope and prayer that those celebrating the birth of their savior will find solace from a Jew, an “older brother” of theirs.

Christians of America!  Do you see what I see? I see that the sociological studies have infested your religion as well. Not content with the good tidings and cheer that they brought Judaism (I’m being totally facetious), the Pew Report – all in good faith of course – feels compelled to share similar doom and gloom with the Christians of this country. My response to the Pew Report that only 40% of Christian millennials view Christmas as a religious holiday is “so what”?  If history has taught my people anything, it’s that if Judaism has withstood any number of trials and tribulations, calamities and persecutions, it will survive millennials as well. So too will Christianity. Judaism and Christianity are not “straight line” religions, showing constant undisturbed growth over the years. Each has weathered its share of peaks and valleys. Each will continue to do so.

Christians of America! Do you hear what I hear? I hear that there is a whole onslaught of new Christmas songs. That’s perfectly normal, in that music is an expression of our culture. When all is said and done however, it will be the tried and true “golden oldies” that will bring smiles to your faces and tears to your hearts. Even though those tried and true all-time favorites are often less than a century old, they will bring you back to simpler times. They will serve as the link in the chain binding one generation with another. Let the millennials tune into the latest and greatest holiday cheer – if they tune in at all; by all means don’t let them drum out Drummer Boy; don’t let them silence “Silent Night”. As one who is barraged by any number of latest Chanukah songs (some of them quite good) each year, my heart skipped a beat when an elementary school student sang a Chanukah song for me in Yiddish the other week. It is that Yiddish song, not any millennial melody that creates a sense of history.

Christians of America! Do you know what I know? I know that when it comes to religion, worry about those “who are in the same pew” as you. Make sure that they have a ride to Church; make sure that they aren’t alone for Christmas. You owe it to them, not to someone who you don’t see at worship services nor are likely to see at worship services. Neither the tastiest turkey nor the most palatable pudding in the world is going to convert a millennial. Filling one’s stomach is not, nor has it ever been the same as enriching one’s soul. Take it from someone who (ashamedly) comes from a people where Kosher Hotels advertise “groaning” Kiddush tables. Spirit and stomach may rest in the same person, but are still light years away. If your Christian love is such that you simply refuse to write millennials off, then pray for their souls. I truly believe that your heartfelt prayers will be more efficacious than any other effort you undertake through invitations, programs, and events.

Christians of America! As a spokesman from a 4,000 year old religion, I ask that you see what I see, hear what I hear, and know what I know. Be the best Christians you can be and celebrate Christmas in a most meaningful way. After all, what has taken place in Judaism will soon affect Christianity a well.

PRYING INTO PRAYER

A good many American Jews of retirement age are very much familiar with The Lord’s Prayer. Jewish, it isn’t. Pope Francis has been aware for some time now that something is amiss with the venerated Christian prayer. That is why it came as no surprise when it was reported that the Pontiff wished to tweak the text of the Lord’s Prayer. He was particularly troubled by Christians asking of G-d: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Meaning no disrespect to the Holy See, but temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. As far as Judaism is concerned, temptation comes in two flavors – good and bad. Trouble is, throughout the generations, so many Christian theologians have been stuck in the Garden of Eden, where the first couple was tempted by the cunning serpent to indulge in the forbidden fruit, that these theologians simply can’t see the forest for the tree (sic). For these theologians, temptation is synonymous with evil. “Gevalt,” exclaim our rabbis. Were it not for temptation, those who came across one small cruse of certified oil while cleaning up the Greek mess in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem would have been left in the dark. It was temptation that led them to light the oil, even though rationally they held out little, if any, expectation that the oil would last beyond twenty-four hours. Similarly, it was temptation and not intellect that led a small ragtag Maccabee army to engage in battle with a larger, better trained army that was superiorly equipped. Chanukah and (good) temptation go together like potato latkes and sour cream.

Meaning no disrespect to the Bishop of Rome, but G-d does not lead us into temptation, nor has G-d ever led us into temptation. Truth of the matter is G-d does not lead us anywhere. In Judaism we call that free will. And that’s the way it has been ever since Adam and Eve. This world is wired with free will for humans and because of this, G-d was able to say to Cain: If thou do well, things will work out just fine, but if you mess up, you’ll wish that you were never born. Just as G-d cannot lead us into complacency, so too G-d cannot led us into temptation. Some 21 centuries ago, there was any number of our people who were tempted by the Greek lifestyle that was so pervasive at the time. Those Jews earned the moniker Hellenists. And when the Hellenists went too far and brought that lifestyle into places that were off limits, the Hasmoneans took up arms against the Hellenists and civil war broke out. That’s how the story of Chanukah took root.

Meaning no disrespect to the Pontiff, but if he wishes to place G-d and temptation in the same sentence, then he might consider rewriting the Lord’s Prayer, so that the petitioner asks for strength, determination, and fortitude from HaShem to properly deal with temptation. If it’s good temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength not to have second thoughts or to shy away, but to go for it; if it’s bad temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength to fight that temptation and to overcome it. Just as there were those who succumbed to the Hellenist lifestyle, so too were there those who resisted the Hellenist lifestyle. And the rest they say, is the history of Chanukah.

As long as we live, as long as we are healthy in mind and soul, temptation will always be part of our lives. A true mentsch, perhaps even a Tzaddik is one who knows how and when to implement (good) temptation and when to subdue (bad) it. In doing so, that mentsch or Tzaddik  will succeed in bringing more light into this world than any Chanukah Menorah.

THAT REALLY TAKES THE CAKE

Yesterday, the Supreme Court met to hear the case of plaintiffs David Mullins and Charlie Craig and defendant Jack Phillips. Jack Phillips is proprietor of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Colorado. He refused to bake/create an elaborate wedding cake for Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig, citing his religious beliefs that find same sex marriage to be at best, unacceptable.

The “Jewish response” is predictably split. Generally speaking, the Orthodox side with the baker; the Conservative and Reform side with the grooms. It seems to me however, that there ought to more to the Jewish response than denominational demarcation.
On more than one occasion, fellow Jews have “made a tsimmes” because of religious belief, or lack thereof. It mattered little to them if they took up the cudgel against government or private industry. A little over a decade ago, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky created a ruckus over synthetic Christmas trees on display at Sea Tac airport. Although he insisted that all he wanted was equal footing for Chanukah menorahs being displayed as well, his outcry was seen as indignation, resulting in Christmas trees being removed from the airport. Once upon a time, airlines in this country provided meal service on domestic flights. Alaska Airlines was one of those carriers. On the meal tray, Alaska Airlines included a prayer card. A few decades back, a (Jewish) passenger made news, as she threatened Alaska Airlines with a lawsuit, claiming that the prayer card on her meal tray was an infringement on her religious beliefs and causing her to lose her appetite, thereby preventing her from eating the meal, much less enjoying it. It mattered little to this Jewish passenger that the prayer card on her meal tray contained verses from the Book of Psalms, otherwise known to us as “tehillim.”

I may very well be a lone voice, but it seems to me, that as a people that has been denied entry into colleges and Medical Schools and Law Schools because of “beliefs”, as a people that has been denied membership into Country Clubs and prohibited from living in certain neighborhoods in any number of American cities because of “beliefs”, we Jews should be most careful in considering and weighing beliefs, including those beliefs that are seen by many as being legitimate and kosher.

As a rabbi, I am empowered to officiate at non-Jewish weddings. As a rabbi, I am empowered to preside over the marriage of two non-Jews, who for whatever reason seek my services. Among the recurring nightmares that plague me, is being approached by a same sex couple –say, on Christmas day when I am in my office doing work, minding my own business. With marriage license in hand, they ask me to join them in matrimony. Does my refusal to do so, place me in the same onerous position as Jack Phillips? (I cannot truthfully fall back on the claim that I do not officiate at civil ceremonies, because there was at least one civil ceremony that I did preside over.)

It seems to me that with Chanukah soon upon us with its message of establishing boundaries (the straw that broke the camel’s back was a Hellenist Jew who overstepped his boundaries and sacrificed a pig on the holy altar. Similarly the Greek king Antiochus overstepped his boundaries with his harsh decries interfering with the practice of the belief of a foreign people) that regardless of yesterday’s finding of the Supreme Court, it behooves us to carefully establish boundaries that will not only protects us but  respects others as well.