ENGLAND’S OTHER FIRE

With so much news coverage  focusing on the tragic fire of epic proportion at Grenfell Tower in London last Wednesday, which by latest count claimed 79 lives, it’s more than understandable that a fire hours later at Kay’s Kosher Deli in nearby Golder’s Green did not attract any attention. It should have. Although no one was hurt, much less killed by the Deli fire, Sil and Riv, both in their 20’s, were left homeless. Left with nothing, they took to “sleeping on the streets,” with one sleeping on a bench and the other sleeping beneath the bench.

It didn’t take long for Larry Berkowitz to learn about their plight. Mr. Berkowitz is owner of Bluebird Care, a company that provides home care throughout the borough.
“Luckily, we had a flat vacant, so we’ve given that to them (Sil and Riv) for a month or two, rent-free until they find their feet (sic).” Had the rent-free flat been the sum total of Mr. Berkowitz’s kindness and generosity, it would have been most appropriate for all who learned about it to extend a Yasher Koach to Mr. Berkowitz  and  to express a heartfelt “dayyeinu”!

But Mr. Berkowitz did not stop there. He gave Sil and Riv jobs, in that they were looking for employment when the fire broke out. “We understand that they weren’t insured, so they lost everything,” said Mr. Berkowitz. “There’s a local fund-raising effort underway to help them replace lost furniture and goods. Hopefully, the jobs should help them too. We’ll start their training next week.”

As a rabbi, as one who believes in individual as well as communal responsibility to help one another, as well as the stranger in need, I shepped a great deal of naches reading about how Mr. Berkowitz immediately stepped in to help. Rather than ask the vacuous “Isn’t somebody going to do anything?” Mr. Berkowitz “out-Mosesed” Moses. Whereas our biblical role model first looked “hither and thither” before taking matters into his own hands, Larry Berkowitz did not take the time to look. He immediately took matters into his own hands and arranged for living quarters.

As a result of this most moving human interest story, I have three wishes:
Not only do I wish Sil and Riv every bit of success as they begin to rebuild their lives, but I hope that Sil and Riv (I could be wrong, but from the photo, I imagine them to be African immigrants) always remember the kindness extended to them by Larry Berkowitz. If Sil and Riv choose to tell others in their community about their misfortune, I would hope that they tell others in their community about their good fortune as well.

I hope that Larry Berkowitz serves as a source of inspiration to others. I hope that others are inspired by what Mr. Berkowitz did and that others adopt the attitude of: “If Larry Berkowitz can do it, I can do it.” If Larry Berkowitz’s act of chessed (kindness) ends up spawning other acts of chessed, then society will continue to improve and become immeasurably better.

I hope that Larry is rewarded for his generosity and selflessness. In addition to letters of gratitude and seeing that his efforts bear fruit more luscious than he himself ever anticipated, I hope that Larry is rewarded by HaShem with good health and long life, as well as the very best life has to offer. He surely deserves it.

FREE PALESTINE

It’s been over a quarter of a century since “Mr. Sam” (Walton, founder of Walmart) departed this world. From what I have read about him, Mr. Sam was a simple, down to earth, no-nonsense guy, whose greatest joy in life was hunting quail. Admittedly, I know absolutely nothing about his political views, particular with regard to the Middle East. I would however be stunned beyond words if “Mr. Sam” mixed politics and merchandise. Whether he ardently supported or adamantly opposed Israel or the Palestinians, I cannot help but feel that “Mr. Sam” would shelve his views when it came to what was being stocked at Walmart stores; I cannot help but feel that when it came to Walmart, Mr. Sam’s sole interest was product, not politics.

Accordingly, it was more than with a modicum of revulsion that I recently learned that Walmart was selling over two dozen styles of T-shirts, supporting the plight of the “poor Palestinians” with slogans such as “Free Palestine” brazenly emboldened on them. For the record, I would be equally revulsed if Walmart were to sell T-shirts with messages printed on them along the lines of “Free Israel from Palestinians.” Does Walmart really want to go that route and enter an imbroglio about which it apparently knows nothing?
The buyers for Walmart must be supplementing their diets with daily doses of stupidity pills. Less than two years ago, Walmart offered an Israeli toy soldier dressed in uniform for sale. Predictably, no different from the T-Shirts, the reactions to the Israeli toy soldier were split: evangelical Christians and politically conservative Jews loved the soldier; those opposing the “occupation” were incensed. “The fact that you have chosen to carry ‘Israeli soldier costumes’ for kids on your website and in your stores is highly offensive, not only to millions of Palestinian-Americans that shop in your stores, but to anyone who has an ounce of humanity in their bodies (sic). I urge you, as an American-Jew, a wife of a Palestinian, a shopper and most importantly as a human being, that you reconsider your decision to sell these costumes and pull them from your shelves,” wrote Sarah Amor Itayem.

Like so many others, Walmart still cannot absorb the fact that that when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, facts and logic mean bupkiss. Supporters of Israel will tell you that Palestinians brought all of the “suffering” on themselves. That’s patently false. Their corrupt leadership is to blame. The sooner Palestinians are freed from Hamas, Fatah and other murderous, thuggish leadership who poison innocent minds with hatred and brainwash those same innocent minds with victimhood, the healthier Palestinians will be in mind and spirit and the more prepared they will be to govern themselves. That’s when “Palestine” will be free. The sooner Palestinians are freed from Europeans, Americans and others whose hearts bleed for them, (have you ever wondered why any of these bleeding hearts have not traveled to so called Palestinian territories and volunteered their time to help these “poor humiliated people deprived of their future”), the sooner Palestinians will realize that they are responsible for their own future. That’s when “Palestine” will be free. The sooner the Palestinians are freed from drowning in self-pity that no one cares about them (there is much truth to that, Arabs from other countries don’t give a damn about the Palestinians. What does that tell you?), the sooner Palestinians will realize that they ought to take a stab at building homes, setting up businesses and begin acting like other normal societies in this world. That’s when “Palestine” will be free. Personally, I can’t help but feel that Israel will be the first country to lend its Arab neighbor guidance, support and anything else it will need.

As for Walmart? Strange isn’t it, that it stocks no T-shirts depicting a North American Indian with the following logo: “This land is my land”. It would be perfect for the fourth of July.
* since writing this article, I have learned that Sears joined the fray and stocked the same incendiary T-shirts but quickly removed them.

JFK AND ISRAEL

Last week marked the centenary of J.F.K., the 35th president of the United States. Because of his life being cut short by an assassin, because we choose to remember his 1,037 days as president as a twentieth century Camelot, it behooves us to take a look at his life in relationship to Israel.

While so many American Jews of today’s generation have come to expect our President to involve himself in the Middle East, particularly by standing behind Israel as well as attempting to initiate some sort of peace plan, it ought to be kept in mind that similar efforts have been in place for well over half a century.

J.F.K. launched two (unsuccessful) initiatives aimed at brokering peace between Israel and its neighbors; this was before Arab claims over east Jerusalem, the West Bank and “refugees redux.” J.F. K. sent personal letters to the heads of all the Arab governments, offering the services of the United States as an “honest broker” to help them establish peaceful relations between themselves and the then-nascent Jewish State.  J.F.K. also dispatched emissaries to seek a solution to “one of the key obstacles to peace,” the refugee problem.

Jewish attachment to the “shmatte business” (literally rag business, but also covers the clothing trade and the textile industry) served Israel well. Back in the late 1950s, Israel began to construct a nuclear power plant in Dimona, a city south of Be’er Sheva. It was one of Israel’s “best kept” secrets, known to all including the American government. (Yes, Americans spy on Israel and vice versa.) When confronted by the (outgoing) Eisenhower administration, Israel explained that the site was a textile plant. The Kennedy administration was neither mollified nor amused. Instead, Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion was denied an invitation to the White House (J.F.K. met with Ben Gurion at the Waldorf Astoria) in May 1961.  The Kennedy administration was not prepared to turn a blind eye. In a personal letter dated May 18, 1963, J.F.K. issued the following ultimatum: “Either Israel allows American inspectors to visit the site, or Israel finds itself totally isolated politically.” Within a month, David Ben Gurion resigned from the position of leadership; within half a year, J.F.K. was felled by an assassin. To be sure, the United States would continue to pressure Israel, but with a new Prime Minister (Levi Eshkol) and a new president, “the times, they were a-changin’.”

Most American Jews believe that L.B.J. was the first president to sell arms to Israel. While L.B.J. was truly magnanimous in seeing to it that Prime Minister Eshkol was able to check off all items on the “shopping list” when he visited the United States in January 1968, it was J.F.K. who agreed to sell Israel Hawk surface-to-air missiles in August 1962. Dismissing advice from the State Department that the sale of Hawks might trigger an arms race in the Middle East, the President followed the recommendation of the Department of Defense, that selling the Hawk missiles to Israel would offset recent deliveries to Arab states by the Soviet Union.

The Hebrew word Yad is a homonym. In addition to the well-known meaning “hand,” yad also means memorial. (I will give them… yad vashem – a memorial and a name far greater than sons or daughters could give. Isaiah 56:5.) On July 4th 1966, Yad Kennedy, the Kennedy Memorial in the shape of a felled tree, was dedicated in memory of the slain president. My impression is that Yad Kennedy is typically not on the itinerary of most American tourists to Israel. But it should be – especially this year. I can think of no better way of recognizing the centenary of the birth of this nation’s 35th president.

MEMORIAL DAY AND YOM HAZIKARON

It’s more than four weeks that separate this year’s Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen) and Memorial Day here in these United States…much more.
Memorial Day honors fallen soldiers; Yom HaZikaron honors fallen soldiers as well as civilians who died at the hand of the enemy. As far as Israel’s enemies are concerned, every Israeli is fair game. Israel’s enemies do not differentiate. For them, it makes no difference whether their target is a 19 month old toddler, a 19 year old combat soldier or a 91 year old great-grandmother. The enemy racks up the same “mitzvah points.” As far as the enemy is concerned, an Israeli and a Jew are synonymous. That’s why the enemy’s cri de guerre is Itbach al Yahud (slaughter the Jew)! Because the enemy does not discriminate when it comes to mayhem and murder, Israelis do not discriminate when it comes to memorializing and mourning. The same tears are shed from the same broken hearts.

For much of its history, the United States saw itself as secure. Time was that Canadians could travel into the United States with no documentation whatsoever. The same held true for Americans traveling up to Canada. Our self-image was exemplary. Our “can do” made us the envy of the rest of the world. As Americans, we had every good reason to boast: “From Sea to shining Sea.”

Unlike the United States, Israel has a size complex… justifiably so. In addition to realizing that it is the small kid in the neighborhood, dwarfed size-wise by surrounding hostile countries, Israel is well aware that its airspace along with its soil cannot withstand any battles with the enemy. Israel has no choice, but to “take it outside” and defend itself on foreign soil as well as over enemy airspace. That’s under optimum conditions. Israel unfortunately, does not have impervious borders, so that every so often, a terrorist manages to make his or her way into Israel proper and carry out carnage. Israel also has a sizeable Arab population. And in that population, there are those who are preyed upon by Hezbollah, Hamas et al and are recruited and trained to destroy and to disfigure Jews. Each and every Yom HaZikaron, Israelis bring to mind and take to heart, victims of terror whose soul crime was being Jewish and being in Israel.

Memorial Day is personal. Except for dignified ceremonies held at cemeteries by War Veterans, and in our case Jewish War Veterans, the remembering and the mourning is left to family and friends. Come Memorial Day, the vast majority of Americans are drawn to shopping malls, travel (the long weekend that signifies the beginning of summer independent of June 21 being summer solstice) and picnics. For most, Memorial Day is time to Celebrate.

Yom HaZikaron is also personal. Israelis take Yom HaZikaron very personally and for good reason. Close to three and a half millennia ago, as our ancestors prepared for the exodus from Egypt, we were told “Ein Bayit asher ein sham meit” (Exodus 12:30: there was no house devoid of dead). That quote has been ringing ominously true in Israel for the last 69 years. This explains why Israelis throughout the country stop dead in their tracks (they pull to the side of the road in their cars) and stand for two minutes of silence as sirens blare as they pay tribute to those – both military and civilian whose lives were snuffed out because the enemy will stop at nothing to make life miserable for Israelis.

Political grousing aside, the vast majority of Americans will hopefully agree that for us fortunate enough to be part of the United States, it’s a beautiful life – thanks in no small part to those who gave their lives in the past, so that future generations could live in a country that is still very much looked up to and admired by so many throughout this world.

Moron Fest

I’m afraid that precious few would have assessed last week’s meeting sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council where we were invited to meet with (the newly installed) Bishop Edward J. Burns and (the newly installed) auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly as one giant “moron fest”. In my opinion however, the fictional cartoon character Bullwinkle the Moose could have done a far better job coming up with questions for our Catholic guests! To wit:

What role do you see the Catholic Church playing in Sanctuary Cities? (Had Bishop Burns not been so polite, he could have patiently explained that Christianity was founded on the concept of sanctuary cities, when Mary and Joseph took their infant son and fled to a sanctuary city in Egypt to find a haven, in that word was out that the authorities viz. King Herod was out to kill all male infants. However familiar it may sound, the King was informed of the birth of the “King of the Jews”. Herod’s paranoia set in and the life every male infant was at stake. Stated differently, Jesus was in jeopardy. So let’s not start asking our guest about sanctuary cities. Besides, I don’t recall the “synagogue” taking any position on sanctuary cities. Where I come from only someone with chutzpah would dare ask such a question.)

How do intend to attract youth to the Church? (Perhaps the Catholic Church could borrow ideas from NCSY –Orthodox, USY – Conservative, and NFTY – Reform. Word has it that there is a two year wait to join the youth organizations of any of the three branches of Judaism.)

What are you doing to address antisemitism? (Don’t you just love it when you invite someone over, then proceed to hit him over the head? A far better insult question would have been: How recently has it been, since the Catholic Church last fomented Antisemitism? Perhaps the Catholic Church should take a page out of our playbook, since we Jews seem to be doing such a bang up job addressing antisemitism.)

A modicum of seichel (Hebrew and Yiddish for common sense) would suggest that the following three questions be asked of the Monsignors:

What do you see as the three greatest challenges confronting the Catholic Church here in the United States, at this time? Doesn’t it more sense for us to learn what is on his mind, than for him to learn what is on our minds? If we have legitimate concerns for the Bishop to address, common sense dictates that we pay him a visit. Have we gone soft in the head, inviting Bishops Burns and Kelly as our guests, only to have him appear before the makings of a (Jewish) Senate Committee hearing? Any self-respecting Christian leader would have to be out of his mind to come before a group of Jews only to be hit over the head!

What non-Catholic groups do you place at the forefront, when it comes to establishing contact and why? Sure, we Jews have our share of concerns, and yes, we have our agenda. But when all is said and done, we are not the only fish in the sea. Catholic leaders have more than their share of “tzorres.” Not only is their membership down, but so is their leadership. As far as I’m concerned, Bishop Burns and Bishop Kelly deserve the biggest Yasher Koach in the world for making the time to meet with us.

Although no one expects you to be a prophet, or the son of a prophet (Amos 7:14), where do you see the Catholic Church ten years from now? An honest answer will convey whether the Bishop is an optimist, pessimist, or realist. An honest answer will tip us off on the Bishop’s goals and aspirations. An honest answer will be in response to an honest question. There is absolutely nothing wrong, and everything right, when we Jews show a Catholic leader that we are genuinely interested in him as well his religion.

Given that precious few have assessed the May 8 meeting as a “moron fest,” when meeting with leaders of other faiths, we Jews have unfortunately become experts in ensuring that non-Jews hear from us, before we are prepared to hear from them.
 

POLITICS AND PIETY

Close to 63 years ago, a young senator from Texas proposed an amendment which was soon enacted into law. That Amendment stated that nonprofit organizations are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities that intervene in elections to public office. Should they do so, they risk losing their tax exempt (501) status. Succinctly stated, that amendment reminded us that politics and piety are a poor mix, and blessed is the religious leader who can detach himself from D.C. or the state capitol or City Hall. That amendment came to be known as the Johnson Amendment, named for its sponsor Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Last week, an executive order revisiting the Johnson Amendment was signed, permitting (religious leaders of) tax exempt places of worship to more actively participate in politics. Amendments aside, I truly believe that any imam, priest, preacher, rabbi or swami who spouts politics from the pulpit is a “dang fool.” I speak from three and a half decades experience in the rabbinate.

Politics divides. As a relatively young and naïve rabbi, I used Rosh Hashanah 1988, of all days, to speak about what was in store for us as American Jews in the upcoming presidential elections if on the one hand we were to vote for George (Poppy) Bush and if we were to vote for Michael Dukakis on the other. I based my remarks on a recent article in Moment Magazine. The day after Rosh Hashanah, I was visited by a congregant who politely and respectfully (I report this without any sarcasm whatsoever) felt that I was favoring and endorsing George Bush. For me, it was an important lesson that I never forgot. When it comes to politics from the pulpit, there is no such thing as evenhandedness. People will hear what they want to hear. People will be swayed by body language (real or imaginary) and tone of voice (real or imaginary).

I recall seeing a cartoon attached to the wall of a synagogue. It read: “Fellow Jew! If you come here to talk, where will you go to daven?” As poignant a message as that may be, I suggest a similar cartoon: “If you come to the synagogue for politics, where will you go for religion?” Throughout the last several decades, there was any number of clergy who spoke mainly politics and social justice from the pulpit. They were successful beyond their wildest dreams. They were able to raise generations of politically involved congregants, who were very much attuned to social action. Funny thing, though, those priests and ministers never were able to produce more devout Christians with even more fervent faith in Jesus; those rabbis were never able to strengthen their congregants’ kashrut, davening, or Shabbat observance.

Sanctuary is meant to be a turmoil-free zone; it’s a place where one gains comfort and inspiration when the world is getting you down. Sanctuary should be a place where agita (heartburn) is not on the agenda. It is therefore beyond me why any clergy would use the sanctuary to curdle one’s blood, raise one’s blood pressure and stir up one’s anger, which inevitably occurs when politics is proffered from the pulpit. The goal of clergy is to comfort the disturbed; the goal of clergy is to disturb the comfortable; that is to say, to rouse the laity from their lethargy with regard to self-betterment and religious/spiritual growth. Unless the President or Prime Minister were in attendance at services, one would do well to wonder why the imam, priest, preacher, rabbi or swami would see it as his sacred duty to bring up politics. And even if the President or Prime Minister was in attendance, chances are that – political expediency aside- the President or Prime Minister attends religious services to escape politics.

Isn’t it remarkable how the very same individuals who give “thumbs up” to hearing politics from the pulpit would be the first to be up in arms if religion were ever heard coming out of the Oval Office?

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

I very much doubt that many, if any, rabbis have ever used Yom Kippur to speak about capital punishment. With the exception of the fifth and final prayer of the day – Neilah – mention is made in every Yom Kippur service of four different types of capital punishment administered by the (human) court: stoning, burning, beheading and strangulation. Given last week’s flurry of executions in neighboring Arkansas (Governor Asa Hutchinson signed orders for eight executions to take place within a time period of eleven days) perhaps it’s time to take a look at the death penalty from the perspective of Judaism.

In theory, Judaism does not shy away from discussing any number of situations where the death penalty is warranted. In theory, Judaism does not shy away from discussing how the death penalty is to be carried out. In practice, however, the death penalty occupies a totally different position amongst our people. It’s as though Jews and Judaism are of totally different philosophies concerning the death penalty. While Judaism (certainly from a Biblical and Talmudic point of view) appears to be very much in favor of capital punishment, Jews make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement it. Below are three reasons why I believe Judaism supports capital punishment in theory:

Jewish society is  predicated upon justice. When HaShem confides in Abraham that He is about to destroy the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the rampant evil and the wanton wickedness, Abraham mounts an excellent argument where he confronts HaShem: “Shall the judge of the earth not do justice?” Sweeping the innocent away with the guilty is not justice. Permitting a willful murderer of an innocent individual to live out the days of his natural life is also not justice. Because Judaism values innocent life so very highly, it sees capital punishment as the highest form of justice in dealing with a murderer.

Judaism simply cannot tolerate the taking of an innocent life. To express its anger and to vent its outrage, Judaism goes to great lengths to warn the would be perpetrator or murderer what lies in store.  Whether such a warning instills fear or serves as a deterrent is open to debate. In all likelihood, it does not.  What such a warning does do however, is provide a catharsis for a society and culture that values and even cherishes innocent human life.

I have never been to an execution, much less served as a chaplain to the condemned prisoner, but  speaking in the name of Judaism, I cannot help but feel that, regardless of the prisoner’s religious faith or lack thereof, Job 1:21 ought to be read: … “HaShem has given and HaShem has taken away.” Just as HaShem places innocent beings into this world (what could be more innocent than a newborn?), so too does HaShem (and only HaShem) have the right to take innocent human beings (those who cause no imminent physical threat to others) from this world. According to Judaism, just as Adam and Eve forfeited their world by overstepping their G-d given boundaries, so too according to Judaism has a murderer of an innocent human forfeited his or her G-d given boundaries.  How Jews and non-Jews choose to understand, interpret or react to this is of course an entirely different story.

It would be interesting to observe the reactions of both the proponents, as well as the opponents of capital punishment, if a completely freak, fatal accident were to occur to a murderer who was spared the death penalty by our judicial system.

YOM HASHOAH

The name and the date are arbitrary. Shoah is a word from “modern” Hebrew which means destruction or catastrophe. Because of our past, there is no unfortunately no shortage of words in Hebrew for destruction or catastrophe. Two thousand years earlier, when the holy Temple was reduced to rubble, the word Churban was ultimately chosen to describe a destruction or catastrophe that would eventually lead to two thousand years of homelessness for our people. The date of the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan was chosen only after much acrimony between opposing factions in the Israeli Knesset. Even though it flew in the face of the Orthodox, the Knesset declared that the 27th of Nissan would be the day when the Holocaust would be commemorated. In reality, any and every day of the Jewish year would have been equally appropriate.

With no disrespect to the term Yom HaShoah, perhaps there are also other names that would have aptly described man’s inhumanity against man, while at the same time adding the much needed dimension of solace:

Yom HaBechi (Hebrew for the Day of Crying). Yom HaBechi would have been a most appropriate term. It would have atoned for a world that was criticized as being totally indifferent to the suffering and annihilation of those whose biggest crime was being a Jew. Yom HaBechi would have shown that the rest of the world was not as heartless as it appeared to be. Yom HaBechi would have served yet one other purpose; it would have provided an answer (admittedly not “the” answer) to those who asked “Where was G-d”? G-d was also crying, seeing the unfathomable depth to which His human creations had sunk.

Yom Shearit Yisrael. There are more than a few synagogues in this country that have the name Shearit (or Shearith) Yisrael. It’s a term that means Remnant of Israel. The term Shearit Yisrael appears in Jeremiah 31:6; Shearit Yisrael also appears in the Tachanun prayer, which is included the vast majority of days of daily prayer. Shearit Yisrael reassures us that we will never disappear as a people, and that there will at the very least always be a remnant. The liberation of the concentration and death camps with the handful of survivors served as a painful validation of Shearit Yisrael.

Yom HaNess (Miracle Day). There are refugees and there are refugees. And then there are those who not only managed to defy Hitler and his death machine, but also managed  to defy the expectations – if there were any – on the part of a world that didn’t seem to care all that much. The living skeletons that somehow succeeded to walk out of Auschwitz also succeeded to outwit the British who were under orders to prevent refugee Jews from reaching the shores of Haifa. Once in Israel, those who survived the past began to rebuild their lives and shape their future. In no time whatsoever, they became valuable assets to the communities where they set down roots. Those who survived Hitler came out of the camps financially impoverished. They were, however, rich in their aspirations, and they possessed boundless determination. In short, they were human miracles.

Yom HaShoah deserves to be more than a date on a calendar. The 27th of Nissan deserves more than to be accorded Yom HaShoah status. Let this date on the Jewish calendar also be recognized as Yom HaBechi, the Day of Crying; Yom Shearit Yisrael, the Day of the Remnant of Israel; and Yom HaNess, the day of Miracle.

HAVING YOUR SAY AT THE SEDER

Statistics have it that more Jews participate in a Passover Seder than light Chanukah candles. Before you delude yourself into imagining how proud HaShem and Moshe are knowing that the revolutionary event of the Exodus from Egypt lives on millennia later, consider the fact that there are a good many contemporary Jews who conduct a Seder for purely selfish reasons. The Seder provides them with a forum to further a point of view that they hold as sacred. Put differently, in many instances, the Passover Seder has evolved into the most politicized tradition known to our people.

Politicizing Passover is nothing new. Close to a century ago, following the overthrow of the Czar, Communist leadership used the Passover Seder to advance its cause. Nicholas II was seen as Pharaoh, Vladamir Lenin was portrayed as Moses, life in Czarist Russia was indistinguishable from Egypt where cruel enslavement of the masses ran rampant, and the Soviet Union under Communism, where everyone enjoyed “equal rights,” was a panacea perhaps even superior to the Promised Land.

With the most modicum of imagination, the Passover Seder serves as the venue for any number of causes you hold to be sacred. At present, I’m sure that there are those who use the Seder to advance the plight of the poor Palestinians living in bondage under the wicked Israelis who deny them dignity as a people.

Don’t hijack the Passover Seder for selfish reasons. For two nights a year, even disaffected Jews ought to be able to find it in their hearts to accord Moses his rightful place among our people. As for using the Seder to further one’s personal agenda, one might consider using the conclusion of Passover as an appropriate time.

It would bookend the festival. Rather than watch the dissipation of Passover encroach as the crumbs of the Seder are brushed aside, a post Passover Seder could provide symmetry. Should you wish to resort to maror and matzah to highlight the plight of those you maintain are being denied freedom, then by all means! A post Passover Seder affords you to introduce bread and all over symbols to represent a future filled with hope. A post Passover Seder guarantees that the festival not only begins with interest and participation but ends with interest and participation as well.

It would show that you are no usurper. Those with an agenda all their own feel that they deserve a platform. If so, don’t deny Moses the platform that is his. Show others that you have the courtesy and sensitivity to permit Moses eight days of fame each year. Once Moses has had his say, beginning with “And you shall tell your son on that day” (Exodus 13:8) and concluding (seven days later) with “HaShem shall do battle for you and you shall remain silent” (exodus 14:14), you will have ample time to have your say and customize the message of Passover to fit your needs.

It keeps it in the house. You have every right to champion whatever cause you feel to be important. Do so within the walls of your own home. Chances are that others really don’t care about the beliefs you hold to be so sacrosanct. On the other hand, it may very well be that others care a great deal and are repulsed by those beliefs. Why should you be the cause for acrimony in the community? Doesn’t the Seder begin by extending an all-inclusive invitation? Keep your politicized Seder with your beliefs inside your own home where you can rant and rave to your heart’s content.

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Rabbi Yehudah was one brilliant sage. By creating the mnemonic D’tzach, Adash, B’achav, he provided an excellent way for all to be able to recount the ten plagues (D’tzach is comprised of three letters, representing three words: dam – blood, tzfardaya – frogs, kinim – lice. The same hold true for Adash and B’achav). Far be it for me to place myself in the league of Rabbi Yehudah, but I too would like to offer a mnemonic device – three actually, to help us recall the very essence of Passover:

From slavery to bravery. Meaning no disrespect, but the very first Passover? A success story, it wasn’t! While it is true that our ancestors successfully left Egypt, Egypt never successfully left them. For the cynics among us, the generation that was led out of Egypt exchanged being enslaved to Pharaoh for being enslaved to their own human foibles. Had that generation not lacked faith in HaShem, as well as in itself, it could have easily made the journey to the Promised Land in a matter of months at most. But because those who left Egypt could not shake off the slavery and because they possessed not even a scintilla of bravery, they ended up taking the long way home. If any generation could lay claim to the “lower forty” (as in years), they could. Unfortunately, “from slavery to bravery” was not within their grasp.

Grain causes pain. Story has it that we are living in an era where eating healthy has become synonymous with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are cautioned against trans fats, triglycerides, and a whole host of other harmful foods Americans ingest. Despite what you see on the supermarket shelves, diet-wise, Pesach is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Forget the burgeoning food products that Jewish homes just have to have for an eight day period of time. I am no nutritionist, but even I know that staples such as: chicken, beef, fish, fresh fruitm and vegetables make for a healthy diet.  Interestingly enough, not one of these foods requires Kosher for Passover certification. Believe it or not, we humans can manage quite nicely for the time period of Passover without cake and cookies, as well as other baked delicacies. Other than the Seder night, there is no requirement to eat matzah! Humor me and sit down to a meal of broiled salmon, a baked potato, steamed broccoli, freshly tossed salad and wash it down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. You too can survive eating a meal on Pesach that requires no kosher for Passover certification.

History is mystery. Why should an event – however earthshaking it may have been – that took place over three millennia ago continue to have such an impact on Jews throughout the world? What’s more, the amount of hagaddahs with new translations, interpretations and explanations that continue to be published each year is simply mind boggling.  Add to that the burgeoning of Kosher for Passover products that are introduced into the already flooded market and it seems that Pesach continues to grow, rather than diminish in importance each and every year. It’s simply beyond me why Passover affects so many in so many ways. No puns intended, but Chanukah doesn’t even hold a candle to Pesach, regardless of how many families from the nominally Jewish to the highly observant light up the dark winter nights. Nor does our appetite for observing Yom Kippur come close to what takes place on Pesach. The irony of it all is that upon being commissioned by HaShem, Moshe doubted he would have any impact on the people of that generation. However well founded Moshe’s doubt may have been, in no way could Moshe foresee the impact he would have generations later. Here we are over three millennia later, still crazy (in the most positive fashion) about a festival that commemorates our peoples exodus from Egypt.