LET FREEDOM RING, LET THE WHITE DOVE SING

Although not intended as such, the chorus of the song “Independence Day” recorded by Martina McBride, rings just as true today, as the first time I heard it on WABC radio, a quarter of a century ago: “Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing. Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning.” With Israel celebrating seventy-one years of independence on the 9th of this month, perhaps a perusal of the above lyrics, which are admittedly taken entirely out of context, would tastefully set the tone for Israel’s upcoming celebration.

One of the most popular parks in Jerusalem, bears a decidedly American name. Although, referred to as Gan HaPa’amon or the Garden of the Bell by its residents, Liberty Bell Park serves as a reminder of the unshakable relationship that exists between these United States and Israel. Dedicated in 1976, the year of our bi-centennial, Gan HaPa’amon boasts a replica of the Liberty Bell proudly displayed in downtown Philadelphia. But Gan HaPa’amon boasts so much more. It boasts the shared ideal of liberty. Both Israel and the United States deal with minority populations in a far better fashion than most other countries in this world. And even though Israel’s democracy is based on a parliamentary system as opposed to the American presidential system, both countries are intent on letting freedom ring – not just for the rest of the world to hear, but also to  remind its citizens and leaders, that freedom is our most precious commodity, as well as our most sacred creed.

The first time the white dove was introduced to us, it was speechless. And with good reason. It had an olive branch in its mouth. Yet, even without any olive branch, I cannot help but feel that the white dove would have been speechless. After all, the white dove, had little, if anything to say. For the white dove, it was a “wait and see” situation. The white dove couldn’t possibly have presumed to know what would come forth from Noah’s ark, especially on a figurative basis. And even though it may not have been a pretty sight to behold, the white dove kept its eyes open. Many a tear may have had to fall, as the white dove witnessed both disappointment  and disaster over the centuries,  but the white dove refused to look away. And then, seventy-one years ago, this month, the white dove blinked hard. It couldn’t believe its eyes. After two thousand years of uncertainty and wandering, a Jewish homeland rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. It was then that the white dove began to sing. The white dove has been singing ever since.

“It is a nation that dwells in solitude and is not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9), said Balaam. However prescient Balaam may have been, he was not speaking from a political point of view. He couldn’t have been speaking about nations of that time, because in Balaam’s Israel, Israel did not exist as a political entity. It was seventy-one years ago, that the State of Israel emerged as a political entity. May 14th, 1948, therefore, was a day of reckoning among nations. Military analysts at the Pentagon reckoned that Israel wouldn’t last more than a month, before having to surrender to the surrounding countries with better equipped and better trained armies. Military analyst reckoned wrong. As a teenager, I asked the principal at the Jewish Day School – he had arrived from Israel a year earlier to take the position – what he reckoned Israel would do with all the land that was now theirs, after the Six Day War. He reckoned that Israel had no need for that land. He too reckoned wrong. American Presidents over the last half century have felt it their duty to come up with “peace plans.” When it came to Israel, they, along with their Secretaries of State, also reckoned. Yet, none realized, that Balaam, under HaShem’s direction, provided us with the immemorial words that Israel “is not to be reckoned among the nations.”

As freedom continues to ring, and the white dove continues to sing, let the whole world know that when it comes to Israel, there is  no reckoning. And let us join together in wishing our Jewish Homeland, continued bracha (blessing) and ongoing hatzlacha (success)!

UNLIKE THE HOLOCAUST

“It was like images out of the Holocaust,” exclaimed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein last weekend in Poway, California  as he found himself a victim of another atrocity aimed at Jews. Far be it from me to take issue with Rabbi Goldstein’s comments, but for the vast majority of us, it is most proper, especially this very week when we observe Yom HaShoah and remember the Holocaust, to realize that to make such a comparison does a great disservice to the six million.

Unlike the Holocaust, no attack on a synagogue, church, or mosque in this country is government executed and government sanctioned. The Chancellor of Germany did not come out and say “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,”  much less place a phone call to any wounded rabbi. The Third Reich was far too busy rounding up rabbis – the Nazis were very democratic, refusing to distinguish one Jew from another – and  shipping them to concentration camps where most would meet their deaths either quickly or slowly.

Unlike the Holocaust, the New York Times did not bury the story of last week’s synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, or the shooting at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, on page 23 of its newspaper. Both incidents were front page news. What takes place at a synagogue – good or bad – is treated no differently than what takes place at a church or mosque. It’s of major concern to Americans and therefore it garners front page news in newspapers throughout the nation. Whereas the Third Reich maintained the attitude of “we do not distinguish between Jews, we treat them all the same viz. like vermin,” the media in this country maintains the attitude  “we do not distinguish between religions, we treat them all the same viz. with dignity and respect.”

Unlike the Holocaust, non-Jews in this country show solidarity. At Shabbat services one week after the Pittsburgh catastrophe, we at Tiferet had visitors. Unlike other non-Jews who attend our services, either out of curiosity or out of an interest to embrace Judaism, those who joined us at Shabbat services on November 3rd of last year, did so purely out of solidarity. It was their way of saying “we feel terrible about what took place. We lack the necessary words to provide comfort and consolation. We would therefore like to visit with you, so that we can pray together.” Eight decades ago, non-Jews showed  no such solidarity. True to its designation, the silent majority said nothing. Hitler’s war was against the Jews, not the Lutherans. To quote a saying I learned after arriving in Dallas, “the Christian world did not have a dog in that fight.” The precious few who were abhorred by what was taking place, were afraid to speak out, lest they endanger their own lives. Today, days after the catastrophe at Chabad, the silent majority continues to remain silent. The ones who are afraid to speak out however, are not the precious few. They are the repugnant few, who regret that the assailant was not more successful in his vendetta against Jews. They know that American society will not tolerate individuals who harbor such views and cling to such feelings.

I have no idea what Jewish leaders – both religious, as well as lay – will be saying to those who come together to commemorate the Holocaust, this Thursday evening. Personally, I’ll be offering up a prayer. I will be thanking HaShem that I live in a country where the elected political leadership expresses solidarity when a crime is committed against Jews, where the media gives what took place full coverage and where non-Jews stand together with Jews, attesting to the fact that we are one nation under G-d.

REBUILD

For those of us who had the appetite to continue on with the Seder after the crumbs of the Afikomen were brushed away last Friday and Saturday night, one of the latter passages of the Haggadah – the third last passage, just prior to “Who Knows One” – ought to have taken on greater significance and meaning this year. “Adir Hu”, an eight-stanza acrostic with each stanza focusing on HaShem rebuilding His house, the holy Temple in Jerusalem, might well have rung a bell with so many of us, with the fire of Notre Dame in Paris still so very fresh in our minds. If there is any one non-Catholic group that can identify with what took place in France last week, in all likelihood, it is we Jews. Our collective memory is still haunted by the flames bringing down the Beit HaMikdash or Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, when the land of Israel was under Roman rule.  Stark differences however, remain with what took place with our Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Despite its splendor and grandeur, aside from it being in a league of its own, there are any number of basilicas and cathedrals throughout Europe, with architecture to behold and histories to treasure, even if those architectures and histories  fail to rival the architecture and history of Notre Dame. As one who once visited Israel for less than a day and who was adamant that a visit to the Kotel in Jerusalem was non-negotiable, otherwise I would refuse to head back to the airport, I cannot help but wonder whether or not Catholics and non-Catholics  alike, be it in Europe or elsewhere, shouldn’t be finding solace in the fact, that unlike Jews, they are in no way bereft of their one and only spiritual edifice.

To be sure, many Catholics and non-Catholics will be turning to their Father in heaven, as they should, to ask for divine guidance and assistance in rebuilding Notre Dame. To be sure, the Catholic community will be able to rely upon the largesse of the wealthy as they step in, as well as the generosity of the common folk, as they pitch in. In no way, would I be with surprised, if more monies than needed, are amassed for the rebuilding of Notre Dame. In no way, would I be shocked, if many of us live to see a rebuilt Notre Dame of a resplendence, that few, if any, could ever have envisioned  or imagined. And therein lies the difference between the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and Notre Dame, l’havdil in Paris. Whereas it is HaShem, who will ultimately rebuild the Beit HaMikdash with the arrival of Moshiach, it is mere mortals who will rebuild the cathedral in Paris. Stated differently, when it comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, we Jews pray; when it comes to Notre Dame in Paris, Catholics and others pay.

As a concerned outsider who reaches out to the world-wide Catholic community in general, along with the Catholic community in France in particular,  I cannot help but turn to the Catholic community in my capacity as rabbi. I wish you Godspeed in dealing with your recent calamity. Remember however, that a fire has been raging over the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches throughout Europe these last few decades and it is Christianity that has been going up in smoke.

However formidable a task lies ahead with the rebuilding of Notre Dame, there is a far more daunting a task that confronts Christianity. As a consequence of the clutches of secularism spiriting away those who were born to the faithful and baptized in their respective churches as infants, Notre Dame and other places of worship, run the risk of remaining little more than icons. By all means ought Notre Dame be rebuilt to its former glory. At the same time, however Christians must seek to rebuild their following.

We Jews have long since come to terms that our Beit HaMikdash lies in in ruins. For centuries, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our daily prays; for centuries the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our annual Seder. The Beit HaMikdash remains an integral part of our religion just as HaShem remains an integral part of its rebuilding.  In the meantime, we have focused on keeping Judaism strong and vibrant. My wish for my Catholic brethren is that the building materials used to reconstruct Notre Dame be infused with Christian holiness of the highest and purest   order.

 

 

THE SKULENER REBBE

Our rabbinic sages thought that they covered all bases, when they zeroed in on the conclusion of  Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat, otherwise known as the 92nd psalm. Interpreting the double simile that the “tzaddik (righteous person) will flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar in Lebanon, he will grow tall”, our sages delineated between two different types of tzaddikim. The former produces others like himself,  while the other does not. The former actively influences others through suggesting, prompting and even cajoling, while the latter serves as a role model, placing no demands whatsoever upon others.

Had our sages known about the Skulener Rebbe, they would have realized that there is yet a third type of tzaddik. Unknown to the vast majority of Jews, the Skulener Rebbe shunned notoriety and would not entertain the notion of spiriting Jews away from other synagogues or rabbis. Unlike other Chassidic Rebbeim, the Skulener Rebbe insisted that the spotlight shine upon the individual Jew, rather than the leader. The Skulener Rebbe had a name – Yisroel Avrohom Portugal and he was taken from this world towards the beginning of this month, at the ripe old age of 95.

Yet, in his own self-effacing unassuming way, it is the Skulener Rebbe in my opinion,  and not the leaders of other worldwide Chassidic sects, who embodied the tripart essence of the Pesach Seder, in which Jews in all parts of the world will be participating, later this week.

It was the great sage Rabban Gamliel, who reminded us, that whoever does not use the Seder to expound upon Pesach, Matzah and Maror does not fulfill his duty. When all is said and done, it was the Skulener Rebbe who in his everyday life, exemplified Pesach, Matzah and Maror.

Unlike Matzah and Maror, there is no blessing over Pesach. Pesach, represented by the shank bone, is reminiscent of the Passover sacrifice. A tzaddik – one, who is of the caliber of the Skulener Rebbe – is himself a sacrifice. He role as Rebbe is not to make a name for himself, but to give up his time and to devote his days to serving others. Photogenic, he wasn’t; charismatic, he didn’t yearn to be. And yet, the still small voice (I Kings 19:12) that we make mention of each Rosh Hashana, was in essence the still small voice of the Skulener Rebbe that could be heard loud and clear.

If Matzah is tantamount to simplicity, then the Skulener Rebbe came as close to exemplifying  matzah, as any religious leader. The Skulener Rebbe took but one meal a day and got by on little sleep. Predictably, his lifestyle was one of humbleness. And yet, despite the fact that his picture was not splashed all over, although there are no Skulener sites on the internet to supply us with countless stories and endless religious instruction, on any given day, long lines of Jews formed outside his home in the hope of benefiting from sagacious counsel or simply to receive a blessing.

When other Rebbes are called to their makers, they continue to be venerated in their death, just as they were venerated in their life. Accordingly, their burial plot becomes set apart from other burial plots earning it the title Ohel. I may be wrong, but I cannot help but feel that the resting place of the Skulener Rebbe will not be set apart from others in that cemetery in Rockland County, New York.  What distinguished the Skulener Rebbe, was not any edifices he built in life, but the learning, the mitzvot and the countless deeds of kindness that defined his life.

“A tzaddik must feel the hurt and pain of his people,” said the fictional Reb Saunders to his son’s friend Reuven Malter in Chaim Potok’s novel “The Chosen.” There was nothing fictional about the Skulener Rebbe. Whenever one came to unburden himself/herself to the Rebbe, he would literally cry. It’s not that tears came easily to him, it’s that his heart and neshomeh (soul) were directly linked to his tear ducts. The tsorres (problems) of those who unburdened themselves to the Skulener Rebbe, were his tsorres, their bitterness was his bitterness, their maror was his maror.

As well-known, meaningful and appropriate terms such as Alav HaShalom (peace be upon him), Zechrono l’Vracha (may his memory be a blessing) are, there is a third term that we ought to add to our vocabulary. It applies to Rabbi Yisroel Avrohim Portugal, the Skulener Rebbe. Z’chuyoto yagein aleinu (may his merit protect us). As we participate in fulfilling the teaching of Rabban Gamliel this Friday and Saturday evening, as we explain Pesach, Matzah and Maror, let us also bring to mind the Skulener Rebbe, whose many merits will surely protect us.

* I am indebted to Joseph Berger whose recent article in the New York Times was the impetus for this week’s column.

TEARS OF RELIEF

For the longest time, a set of faux dog tags bearing the names of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman hung behind my office chair in my New Jersey Synagogue. The fate of those three Israeli soldiers, who fell into the hands of the enemy during the 1982 War in Lebanon were unknown and the three soldiers were therefore listed as missing in action. While I do not recall whatever happened to those dog tags, they came to mind this past week, when it was announced that Israel had secured the remains of Sergeant Zachary Baumel.

I pray that there much needed closure for the family. I hope that three much needed messages will continue to live on, long after Zachary’s remains have been laid to rest at Mt. Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, last week.

We Jews do not forget. It’s part of our collective DNA. Next week, countless Jewish families throughout the world, will be sitting down to special dinner accompanied by Haggadahs, to recall an event that occurred over three millennia ago. Those who include traditional daily prayer as part of their spiritual diet, are reminded of that event twice each day. It is our ancestors being taken out of Egypt.  I cannot help but feel that as Jews, we remember people and events – perhaps not as many as we ought to – but more than many other nations. As Jews, we not only remember foes, but we remember friends as well. Last Thursday evening in Jerusalem, thousands came to remember, as Zachary Baumel finally received a proper burial service, in accordance with Jewish law.
The next time you are in search for a topic for dinner conversation, you may wish to remind guests seated around the table that in Judaism, we believe that there is sanctity to the human body. That’s why we have a Chevra Kaddisha; that’s why the Jewish community will do anything and everything in its power so that that every Jew receives a Jewish burial. Bodies of the deceased are to be accorded dignity and respect. Does according dignity and respect to the human body, also apply to wanton murderers and terrorists who prey upon the innocent? Are the bodies of murderers and terrorists to be accorded the same dignity and respect as their victims? Is the Jewish view of a human body absolute, or does that view allow for exceptions, when it comes to those who willfully desecrate human bodies?  One thing is for sure. The 37-year-old remains of Zachary Baumel were accorded dignity and respect, as they were laid to rest at Mount Herzl, the same cemetery when Jonathan Netanyahu, the hero  of the raid at Entebbe, lies buried.

Even though not all Israelites left Egypt under Moshe’s leadership, independent of the fact that any number of Israelites known as the mixed multitude “took it on the lamb” with our ancestors, as they charted their course for the wilderness, we of later generations have adopted “no Jew left behind” as our credo. This credo is very much ingrained in each and every soldier of the Israel Defense Forces. As a people, we do not differentiate between the living and the dead. Given the choice, members of the Baumel family would have done anything to have received Zachary back alive. Nevertheless, they left no stone unturned at receiving him back as earthly remains.
Come Pesach, the message of true liberation must not be defined as mere commemoration. For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, let us sit down to the Seder and digest what “Jews do not forget” truly means. If our history is beyond compare, shouldn’t our collective memory be beyond compare as well?  For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, let us sit down to the Seder with renewed appetite toward dignity and respect toward our fellow Jew. If our tradition mandates that we  accord honor to the dead, how much more so ought we to accord honor  to the living. For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, the words “let all who are hungry come and eat” must take on real meaning, so that no Jew is overlooked or left behind and we set an extra seat for someone who might not have been invited to a Pesach Seder.

Toward the beginning of the Seder, as we participate in “karpas,” may the salt water remind us of the tears of relief shed by the Baumel family last week.

REMARKABLE WOMEN

Mea culpa! Women’s History Month which was celebrated during March, has come and gone and I did not know. Nostra culpa! As American Jews, we have dropped the ball. Rabbis and Jewish educators alike, should have seized this opportunity to bring to light the contributions of Jewish women – there are so many from which to choose – who contributed more to our people, than could possibly be imagined. Borrowing the adage “better late than never,” below are three remarkable women, well deserving of study during (Jewish) Women’s History Month.

Fifty-two years ago, 42-year-old Shmulik Rosen composed one of the numerous songs that came to the fore, as a result of the many miraculous victories of the Six Day War. Entitled Rachel  (in Hebrew it is known as “Re’i Rachel, Re’i), Mr. Rosen implores our matriarch Rachel (our patriarch Jacob’s true love) to  see how her children have returned to her, in that Rachel is buried in Bethlehem. Shmuel Rosen’s sentiments are well founded. Our rabbinic sages tell us that during the destruction of the First Temple,  Rachel appeared before HaShem and said “Do I have more compassion than You, Hashem? Should a person have more compassion than Hashem? Yaakov worked for me for many years and at the end, my sister stood under the Chuppah and married my husband. And I remained quiet. Am I to have more compassion that You?”  Moved by Rachel’s words and won over by her logic, Hashem said to Rachel, “It is right what you say and because of you and the signs you gave your sister, I will return Am Yisroel or the Jewish nation to the Holy Land.” And so, HaShem did. Not just to Israel, but also to Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Among the many loose-leaf binders on the shelf in my office, there is one that contains a course that I developed in the mid-eighties for High School students. Given my background in Yiddish, I transformed a small text called “T’chines” into an entire course in liturgy. T’chines is a compilation of prayers expressly for women. Unlike the prayers found in the siddur, T’chines reflect the history of the era, the sociology of the shtetl, and the psychology of the self-image of the typical Jewish mother and housewife of the time. It is widely believed that T’chines may very well have been authored by Sarah Bas Tovim, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th century in the Podolia region of Ukraine. T’chines are neither a translation nor a feminization of the prayers found in the siddur. In addition to dealing with specific topics such as a request for the well-being of family members, appeals for meaningful celebrations of festivals and pleas prior to the immersion into the mikvah, T’chines reflect thoughts and feelings that come not only from the heart, but from the soul as well.  If Sarah bas Tovim did in fact author T’chines, she ought to be held in the highest esteem for affording the often-overlooked Eastern European woman, the ability to connect with HaShem in a most human and humane way.

“She’s the only man in the government,” remarked a frustrated David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. Ben Gurion was referring to Golda Meir, who two decades later would go on to become Israel’s first female Prime Minister, following the untimely death of Levi Eshkol. After asking Eliezer Kaplan, Israel’s newly appointed Finance Minister how much money could be raised for the newborn but bankrupt Jewish State, if he, Kaplan were to embark on a whistle stop tour of the United States, Ben Gurion decided to send Golda instead. Meir boarded one of the first flights out of what was soon to become known as Lod and headed for the United States, where she raised $50,000,000 – over seven times the amount projected by Eliezer Kaplan! Thanks to Golda Meir’s efforts, Israel was now able to purchase desperately needed arms in Europe, enabling the nascent country to fight for its very survival. And that was only the beginning of her astounding service to the Jewish State.

Three remarkable women. The first successfully pleaded her people’s case. The second successfully connected the masses with their heritage. The third did everything in her power for her people’s safety and security. If only these same three concerns were on the minds of those seeking to be elected Prime Minister, next Tuesday in Israel!

Yet another remarkable, never to be equaled, Chili Cook-Off this past Sunday! Tiferet does it again! A big Yasher Koach to all who made it happen!

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Whether your feelings are those trust or distrust, adulation or vilification, you must admit that politically, Israel and the United States have never been more in each other’s favor. Previous American presidents were quick to assure Israel by telling them, “we have your back,” it goes unsaid, that with the current administration in Washington, the majority of Israelis cannot help but feel that “America has their heart.” One would therefore think that this year’s AIPAC conference that met Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, should have been a piece of kugel. Think again. Yes, AIPAC can rightfully point to success story after success story, as it did at its recent gathering here in Dallas. It’s difficult not to shep naches, when you watch any number of elected American officials at various sites in Israel, proclaiming their support for Israel.  Fifty years ago, our President remarked: “We sure as hell can’t turn our backs on little Israel.” Here we are, fifty years later, watching many of our elected officials standing in line to smother Israel with hugs and kisses. I don’t feel that I would be overstating it if I said that as of now, political relations between Washington and Jerusalem are “as good as it gets.”

This past Sunday night, Shirah and I attended a wedding in Little Rock. We won the lottery when it came to the reception. We were seated with three other fabulous couples that I would have given anything, to bring back to Dallas, so they could join Tiferet. Among the topics we discussed, was that unwavering support on the part of American Jews was no longer a sure thing. The upcoming generation of American Jews, neither understands, appreciates nor realizes the importance of Israel, the way our generation does. For many of them, Israel is all too often seen as a country of Jews, rather than a Jewish country. For many of them, public criticism of Israel is their right. Broadcasting the foibles and flaws of Israel, is their way of showing their love and concern. They truly believe, that they were put on the face of this earth to “save Israel from itself.”

Should one ask them whether they would criticize their spouse in public, the way they criticize Israel in public; should someone ask them whether they are aware of countries in the world guilty of real atrocities, such as rape, murder, and mayhem taking place within their borders, and why they don’t speak out about such reprehensible behavior; should anyone ask them whether they have visited any Palestinian cities and have volunteered their time to help the very same people for which they take up the cudgel, more likely than not, they will dismiss you as a “racist,” much the same, as my generation typically called anyone who disagreed with them, a “fascist,” both meaningless terms, employed when meaningful response evades them. Aipac leadership is much aware of this;  Aipac leadership is very much concerned about this. Much to their dismay, whenever Aipac leadership looks at the upcoming generation of American Jews, Aipac leadership sees a “bad moon rising.”

Aipac leadership, together with most Jewish leadership in this country, is still reeling from the midterm election that recently took place. A recent article in the New York Times reports that “a group of freshman Democrats in the House, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashid Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has emerged as forthright critics of Israel and the United States’ policy tilt toward the Israeli government.” For the first time in a long time, tweets are circulating, that are both openly anti-Israel as well as anti-Semitic. Friends of Israel, they aren’t!

Time was, when it was politically incorrect to castigate Jews. That went out with Father Charles Edward Coughlin and his radio rants, along with the Dearborn Independent reprinting the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion. Times however are changing. Now anti-Semitism, whether explicit or robed in Anti-Israel charges, is once again kosher, glatt kosher. And that’s ugly.

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. Despite its strong military advantage, despite the strong bonds that currently exist between American and Israeli, given the bad and the ugly that now have to be contended with, I cannot help but feel that Israel needs our strong support, now more than ever.

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Pesach and Easter are not the only festivals that either overlap or fall in close proximity to one another. During a Jewish leap year, the same can often be said about Purim and St. Patrick’s Day.

With the Irish swinging their shillelaghs this past Sunday, and the Jews swirling their graggers this  Wednesday night and Thursday morning, perhaps it’s time to see that when all is said and done, St. Patrick’s day sheds light on Purim.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not uncommon to many, if not most Americans. Other than being spurious, in that it is anything but complimentary – it implies that the success of the Irish came about through good fortune, rather than aptitude or know how – “the luck of the Irish” should give pause to us Jews.

Despite the multitudes of “Mazel Tovs” (good lucks) that Jews have joyfully wished one another over the ages, there is no place for mazel in Judaism. The Talmud so much as says so, when it states:  “Ein mazal l’Yisrael” or “mazel does not apply to Jews.”

Arguably, the Talmud is referring to what we now know as the horoscope. Jews, says Judaism,  ought not to pay heed to the horoscope. In true Greek or Roman fashion, the horoscope implies that the constellations play a significant role in our lives. Instead of Pisces, Virgo rising, a Jew, a believing Jew, knows implicitly that it is  HaShem who plays a significant role in his life. Small wonder then, that our rabbinic sages disqualified professional crap shooters and the like to serve as witnesses. The more one believes in the roll of the dice or the luck of the draw, explain our rabbinic sages, the less one is likely to believe in the dependability of our Heavenly Father.

Although the great sage Maimonides recognizes the presence of certain omens – for example, if a man marries a woman and begins to advance in his career, he has every reason to see his wife as a contributing factor to his success – he cautions that these omens are in no way to be seen in the context of mazel. Rather it should be understood, explains the Rambam (an acronym for Maimonides) that it was the wife believing in her husband, that served as the impetus for the  husband reason to believe in himself. It wasn’t Zodiac symbol or the spin of a wheel that brought about the change; it was the husband himself who brought about the change, all because of the invaluable support provided by his wife.

Herein lies the powerful message found in St. Patricks Day shedding light on Purim. The very name “Purim” reminds us, that aside from irrational hatred,  the arch villain Haman was guided by the luck of the draw. The very day that Haman would settle on to change the history of the Jews in Persia was chosen by a lottery! By contradistinction, Esther, after finally having been convinced by Mordechai to appear before the King, leaves the following instructions: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan  and fast (and presumably pray) for me”. Esther’s response to the diabolical machinations of Haman was a thoroughly Jewish one. Ultimately, Haman left it all to chance; ultimately, Esther left nothing to chance.

Last week, I watched a renowned Reform Rabbi interview Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Lipstadt revealed that as a child, Emanuel Rackman was her family rabbi.

“You were very  lucky,” offered the interviewing rabbi. “I was very blessed,” countered Professor Lipstadt

GRAGGERS FOR THE GROGGY

As a teenager, I recall reading in Mad Magazine, that Hitler was alive and well, running a used Volkswagen dealership in Bayonne, New Jersey. While I’d like to consider myself of a different caliber than the writers at Mad Magazine, I cannot help but speculate what would happen, if Haman, and not Hitler were alive today. No used Volkswagen dealership for Haman, of that I am sure. Haman in my musings, would be  serving in the U.S. Congress, having been elected by the large Iranian constituency in Nassau County, Long Island. And since a leopard does not change his spots, (Jeremiah 13:23), Haman would be voicing his utter contempt for Jews. As an added feature, Haman would also be making known his diatribe against Israel. Oddly enough, I would not be troubled by any of Haman’s comments, however factually incorrect and ludicrous they would be. What  would give me agita though, would be those who would rise up to protect Haman from well-founded criticism and well deserved reprimand.

Given those Jewish voices that were recently heard in the media, however few they have been, protecting a freshman Congresswoman’s ill-advised comments about Jews and Israel, I cannot help but feel, that  those very same Jewish voices that spoke up in defense of the freshman Congresswoman, would have weighed in similarly on Haman’s defense as well. Their comments would in all probability be not all that different than the three paragraphs that follow:

In no way was Congressman Haman anti-Semitic. He was merely pointing out how terribly unhealthy the relationship is between the United States and Israel. If Congressman Haman is guilty of anything, it is that he did not speak out four years ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister had the chutzpah to lecture Congress and tell Congress how it must deal with yet another foreign country. This was Congressman Haman’s beloved Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister was vilifying. Are we Americans so heartless, that we cannot feel Congressman Haman’s pain?

Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred nor prejudice against Jews or any other people. Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred or prejudice against Israel or any other country. Otherwise, how could he have been elected to Congress in the first place? I’m not asking that you necessarily agree with Congressman Haman’s well thought comments about American Jews and Israel. I’m asking that as Americans, you accord him honor and respect. After all, isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about in this country?

As, a Jew, I strongly condemn, anti-Semitism, whether it comes from Congressman Haman or from the person behind the counter at the bakery, where I shop. Let us not however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of  the “Shanda Government” in Israel. When Congressman Haman said, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” his remarks were taken out of context. What Congressman Haman meant to say, is that American Jews have no right to support an apartheid, fascist, government that treats its Arab citizens worse than the way the Nazis treated our people in World War II. As an American, as a Jew, I implore you!  Let us never deny Congressman Haman, the right of legitimate debate and certainly, the right of free speech.

Congressman Haman apologized to me the other day – not only for the words he used – he apologized to me as a Jew. He did not have to. I admire him for that. I want to tell you, that being a Jew, is to be welcoming to the stranger. And I want to tell you, that Haman is from Iran. Who are we to call him out for anti-Semitism?  Yes, anti-Semitism is a huge problem, but so too is the way we view the Ayatollah, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his government. Shouldn’t we Jews serve as an example to learn from other cultures, rather than criticize them? As Jews who know only too well what it’s like to be a refugee, how dare we treat Congressman Haman, a refugee himself, in such a condescending fashion! It is we who owe Congressman Haman an apology. Let us seek to establish dialogue with Congressman Haman. Let’s work toward peoplehood, peace and good. Let us seek love, understanding and coexistence. Why can’t we all just get along?

As one who takes the message of the Megillah very seriously, I pray that next week’s grating sounds of the graggers, penetrate the auditory nerves of groggy Jews who make it a point to defend those who vilify Jews and the Jewish State, for it is they who ultimately they pose the greatest danger in what they say.

NEXT YEAR IN THE VATICAN

Having done some reading about Eugenio Pacelli, aka Pope Pius XII, my interest was piqued the other day, when I read that a year from now, the Vatican will be opening sealed archives in an effort to show how Rome responded to the systematic annihilation of six million of our people, during the Holocaust.

I am neither a historian nor the son of a historian. Nor can I profess to know what those archives will reveal. I cannot help but feel, however, that we are in for no surprises. Chances are that those who have vilified the Pontiff for “having done nothing” will continue to do so. It’s also quite  likely, that those who have defended the Pontiff for having done “more than we realize,” will continue to do so as well.

Because the vast majority of us will never get to see what those archives will reveal, perhaps we can focus on three aspects of these archives that are most revealing. As strange, unfair and inexcusable as it may seem, the Catholic church has its own agenda. The agenda of the Catholic church is not always in harmony with the interests of the Jews or any other non-Catholics for that matter. Right or wrong, the agenda of the Catholic church places the interests of the Catholic church first and foremost, as it well should. Not that there is the equivalent of a Pope in Judaism, but did you hear Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Sephardic Jews) or Rabbi David Lau (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Ashkenazic Jews) speak out last year at this time, when scores of  Syrians being slaughtered by their own? In no way do I presume to equate slaughter of Syrians in an internecine conflict, with the annihilation of Jews by Hitler and his war machine. I do however wish to point out, that agendas and attitudes of religious leaders are by no means culture free and  transcendent of religious boundaries.

Speaking of religious leaders, no Jew should ever forget the efforts of 400 plus rabbis, who, three days before Yom Kippur in October 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, traveled to  the nation’s capital to meet with the President, to plea that action be taken over the genocide of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Rather than refuse to meet with them, the president furtively exited the White House through a side entrance, leaving his aides to tell the rabbis, that the President was not available. I am not aware of any recriminations  by Jews for such behavior on the part of the President, nor do I suggest that there ought to have been. But if pretty much all leaders of the world during that era, get a pass for their “shah-shtill” attitude which was all pervasive, shouldn’t there be a pass for Pope Pius XII as well? There is absolutely no question in my mind, that His Holiness could have done and should have done more to prevent six million Jews being annihilated. But the very same argument of doing more, can also be applied to an American President, Commander and Chief of the Army Air Corps, who could have ordered American fighter aircraft to bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz, thereby delaying the transport of boxcars stuffed with Jews, destined for extermination, but chose not to. True, the morality expected of a Pope cannot and should not be equated with morality of a President, but let’s put saving human lives at the top of agenda. We can debate morality later.

Regardless of its authorship, in his last speech to the public, Hubert Humphrey reminded us that “…the moral test of government is how that government treats … the needy…”. That same standard applies to any society or community. For a good portion of my life, I harbored much resentment toward the church, for the way it treated Jews over the centuries. Once I discovered how the church treated its own, my resentment toward the church ceased. The silence on the part of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust was no different than the silence on the part of his predecessor Pope Pius XI a quarter earlier, during the Armenian genocide, when Moslem Turks annihilated well over a million Christian Armenians.

Let the Vatican archives be finally opened. Regardless of what those archives reveal, let us reveal, that we are aware that the Vatican has its own agenda, that other world leaders turned deaf ears to us Jews as well, and that before we expect any contrition from Rome, the Vatican has plenty of “teshuvah” to do for neglecting its very own. Next year in the Vatican!