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.

HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF DECENCY

This past Thursday, while presenting before a group of seniors at the JCC, I found myself quoting Joseph N. Welch who had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency, Sir?” asked Mr. Welch. That very same question, I explained, could have been put to Jacob’s ten sons who nonchalantly sat down to break bread after having cast Joseph into a pit. Little did I realize that I would be borrowing Mr. Welch’s words the very next day.

James Strohman, a lecturer at Iowa State University, gave the following assignment to his students: “Write a paper that gives a historical account of 9/11 from the perspective of the terrorist network”. Have my eyes deceived me? Surely Mr. Strohman can’t be serious!

If he is – then I would like to suggest other topics lacking any sense of decency that Mr. Strohman might entertain to assign his students:

Write a paper that give a historical account of the complete annihilation of Jewish communities in the Rhineland from a Crusaders point of view. Should Mr. Strohman possess a rare moment of lucidity, he might realize that, for the most part, the Crusaders never gave a second thought to the consequences of their actions. Why, the Crusaders never gave a first thought – or any thought, for that matter – to what they were doing.

People caught up in a frenzy of pillaging and immolating rarely stop to think of their actions being so dastardly. Pillaging and immolating are visceral actions – not rational actions – and visceral actions are devoid of perspective. Add to that that the Crusaders were quite likely well satiated with strong drink and caught up in a frenzy.

This Passover marks the fifteenth yahrzeit of 30 Seder participants at the Park hotel in Netanya. Given his penchant for handing down unusual assignments (I’m being extremely kind), Mr. Strohman might have his students write an account how Abdel – Basset Odeh, carrying a suitcase of four kg of cyanide together with explosives, walked into the hotel’s dining room and with one swift action murdered 28 innocent Seder participants (two died soon afterwards of injuries) from the perspective of the suicide bomber. Should Mr. Strohman experience a flash of clarity, he might conclude that Palestinian suicide bombers are never sons or daughters of leading terrorists.

Hamas and similar terrorist (excuse me, I believe the current politically correct term is militant) organizations may be evil, but they do value human life – provided, of course, it is the life of their own offspring. Mr. Stohman might also conclude, in a rare lucid moment, that typically, suicide bombers are on the fringe of society. Provide these outcasts with brainwashing and conditioning, and individuals with suicidal tendencies can now leave this world knowing they have done so by contributing to a much greater cause. Voila!  Once again the desperation of the Palestinians comes to the fore.

The piece de resistance for Mr. Stohman’s creative assignments (I’m being sarcastic) would be to have his students write about Holocaust victims from the perspective of say, John Demjanjuk  or other Ukrainians of similar ilk, who willingly contributed to the Nazi war effort. Should Mr. Stohman be overcome with a dose of discernment, he might discover that a good many Ukrainians were inured to life having little value.

Thanks to Uncle Joe Stalin, the Ukrainians themselves were victims of genocide a mere decade earlier. During the Holodomor, or “murder by hunger,” some seven million Ukrainians were systematically slowly starved to death. Understandably, so many Ukrainians no longer possessed the ability to think of life and death the way most others do. Accordingly, the Nazis chose wisely when it came to who would serve them best in their Concentration Camps and Death Camps.

I have no idea how Mr. Strohman’s assignment will pan out. I also have no idea what was going through his mind when he handed down that assignment. Last but not least, I have no idea whether Mr. Stoman has any sense of decency when it comes to assignments such as these.

SINAT CHINAM REDUX

Although accurately translated as baseless hatred, Sinat Chinam has been understood as to what lengths one will do to turn against one’s own people. The Talmudic story that serves as the basis for Sinat Chinam explains that Sinat Chinam resulted in the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

American Jewry experienced a most bitter taste of Sinat Chinam toward the end of last week, when it was discovered that it was a Jew – a teenager with dual American/Israeli citizenship – living in Ashkelon, who was behind the bomb threats at Jewish Day schools, JCC’s, and synagogues throughout this country. Far be it from me to decide what punishment, if any, is due him – (I have already decided, but anything I say or print will be held against me) but there is simply no forgiveness for the irreparable damage that he caused.

The teenager caused so many of us to draw the wrong conclusion. Justifiable or not, countless American Jews felt that it must be some “right-wing nut” or sympathizer of “humiliated” Palestinians who was behind all this. At present, tensions are high enough between a good many Jews in this country and these two groups. Thanks to the teenager currently in Israeli custody, fuel has been added to the fire. Quite frankly, this is worst that can happen as far as ecumenism. And this is coming from a rabbi who so often gives new meaning to the word “provincial” when it comes to interacting with the outside world.

He caused a good many of us to review the meaning of “land of the free and home of the brave.” Once upon a time, our children and grandchildren answered “nothing” when we asked them: “What took place at school today?” For the last period of time, not only have we been afraid to ask, but we feared that we might be confronted by an excited eight year old exclaiming: “Guess what? We had a bomb scare at our school today!”  The more sanguine among us might very well have waxed philosophical, finding comfort in that it was “only” a scare and not the real thing. Then again, who ever thought that one should have to resort to being sanguine when it came to bomb threats at our schools, our JCC’s, and our synagogues?

There are deranged individuals in our society.  Quite often, they lack the creativity and ingenuity to devise and plot and scheme. And so, they are rarely a threat to others. For this we are extremely grateful. The Jewish teenager in Ashkelon provided these deranged individuals with fodder. We call it copycat crimes. And so, few should have been surprised – unnerved yes, but surprised no – when a bomb threat was called into our JCC here in Dallas, after the Israeli teenager had been apprehended.

Most of us recall the Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” There are only so many times that the authorities will give top priority to a bomb scare. Sooner or later, thorough investigations will give way to cursory inspections. Heaven forbid that a cursory inspection fails to detect a real bomb resulting in carnage and destruction.  I would like to believe that the teenager in Ashkelon would not have gone any farther than calling in bomb threats; I shudder to think what a “copycat” deranged individual might have done. Would he too not have gone any farther than calling in the bomb threat? Or would he have gone all the way?

Sinat Chinam is hate for no reason. Unfortunately the teenager now in custody in Israel provided us with many reasons.

COMPLIMENTARY TICKETS

Complimentary tickets should never to be viewed as being as being trivial or insignificant. Aside from generating good will, complimentary tickets might just be the vehicle to show others that they are way off base in their thinking. And so, historical accuracy aside, nothing would make me happier than sending complimentary tickets for next year’s Kosher Chili – Cook off to:

Jeremy Hotz: A fifty something Toronto actor and comedian who has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman and Comedy Central Presents. In an effort to project humor, Jeremy Hotz proudly announces that “we Jews are chronic Kvetchers” (complainers). I would love  send a complementary ticket  to Jay Hotz to join us at a Chili Cook – Off to show him that the joke is on him. If you want to see kvetching, then you would be well advised to spend your time elsewhere. Those who attend the Chili Cook – Off end up having the time of their lives. Aside from sampling chili which is borderline addictive, those in attendance divide their time between vendors, the silent auction, children’s activities and the food court. Kvetching is the furthest thing from the minds of the attendees. The attendees  are too busy kvelling (beaming with pride).

Decimus Iunius Leveralis aka Juvenal: A late first century – early second century Roman Poet. Among his many writings, Juvenal felt it important to know that Jews are lazy. I wish it were possible for me to invite Juvenal to join us for at least two weeks prior to the Chili Cook – Off to see the time, effort and energy that has been selflessly given by Tiferet members and non-members alike as well as by Jews and non-Jews. If Juvenal can’t devote the time, then perhaps he would be able to join us Saturday night, just hours before the Cook – Off when Tiferet turns into a hot-bed of activity. The moment the flame of the havdallah candle is extinguished, any number of people come into Tiferet to begin preparations, which by definition must take place as close to the event as possible. Deign to ask any of these eager volunteers: “Don’t you have a better way of spending a Saturday night”? Expect them to answer: “It doesn’t get better than the “Chili Cook – Off”. The piece de resistance is the Cook – Off itself, with dozens upon dozens of volunteers rolling up their sleeves, as they tirelessly give of themselves, expecting nothing in return.

Adolph (I can’t bring myself to include his last name): being the racial purist he was, didn’t differentiate. As far as he was concerned a Jew was a Jew. He never looked into differences of beliefs, practices or philosophies. As long as Jews met the ancestry requirements set forth by the Nuremburg laws of 1936, Adolph was satisfied. The devout were herded into the gas chambers with the deniers. Damned be any difference.
Last Sunday, those in attendance saw a wonderfully positive take on the apothegm “a Jew is a Jew”. Jews, from the most liberal to the most pious, were there mingling with both Jew and non-Jew alike. Perhaps, this provides us with yet another reason to proudly proclaim it as a kosher Chili Cook – Off. “Dispersed and spread out” is how Haman characterized us in the Megillah of Esther. Let’s add one more complimentary ticket and send it to Haman. Let him also join us and see how unified and connected we are.  A heart-felt Yasher Koach to all. The Kosher Chili Cook – Off! Incomparable in every way!

NACHES SHEPPERS

Pooh pooh Purim if you must. Dismiss the likelihood of Jews gaining an upper hand to such an extent that, in the city of Shushan, our people executed 300 of the enemy and then proceeded to annihilate 25,000 Persians throughout the rest of the country, if you are so inclined. Just don’t tell me that there is nothing to be learned from the Book of Esther.

Instead, I ask that the following three realities resonate over the raucousness of centuries of cacophonous graggers:

As Jews, we take great comfort in the fact that we have never handed the enemy complete and total victory. As a people, we have become intoxicated with soundbites such as: “They wanted to exterminate us. They couldn’t. They lost.  We won. Let’s eat.” When it comes to the enemies of our people, the sobering reality is that just as they failed to obliterate us, so too did we fail to obliterate them. As a result, the descendants of Haman are still very much alive. One in particular is Haman’s 21st century grandson, Sayyid Al Hosseini Khamenei, the current Ayatollah. And yes, every time he speaks about launching nuclear missiles aimed at Israel, I cannot help but feel that Haman sheps nachas.

As Jews, we delude ourselves with an attitude of “it can’t happen here” or “it can’t possibly happen to me.” Knowing that his ward possessed such an attitude, Mordechai minced no words when he told Esther: “Do not think that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews…you and your father’s house will perish.” Esther wasn’t the first to think that she was safe, even though her people were not. Rarely, if ever, does the enemy draw distinctions when it comes to Jews. Prudent Jews, in my opinion, will always have a valid passport (I have passports from two countries) with at least one thousand dollars cash at hand. If my Israeli cousins living in Dolev (known as occupied territory to the rest of the world as well as to some Jews) own an apartment in Petach Tikvah because they fear that the time may come when they are uprooted by the Israeli government, then what makes us so smug? There are those who believe that all Jews – regardless of where they reside – live in occupied territory. Governments change, times change, and moods of the people change.

As Jews, we make noise. Our parents and grandparents hesitated to speak up, fearing anti-Semitic backlash, but we – their children and grandchildren –  make ourselves heard – often louder than any grogger. We champion causes. We sign petitions. We demonstrate. As praiseworthy as exercising the freedom that is ours as Americans is, it behooves us to prioritize our causes. Are the causes that we take up in any way harmful to us as Jews in the long run? Have we examined these causes to make sure that they are not in any way antithetical to Judaism? Do we realize that social justice should not always be viewed as an absolute, in that social justice is not in any way impervious to the zeitgeist? However noble it is to “hammer out danger,” it’s equally if not more noble to ascertain that danger truly exists, and to fully understand the ramifications of hammering out that danger. It’s quite possible that a more insidious danger lurks to replace the danger that is being hammered out.

The Purim costumes and masks have served their purpose. The graggers have been put away. The megillahs are once again stored for another year. But the realities remain:

Haman is alive and well in the body of Sayyid Al Hosseini Khameinei of Iran.
Governments are as fickle as their leaders. Ahashuerus is alive and well in the body of any number of rulers who stand for nothing but will listen to anyone.

As Jews, we have been silenced for so long that there are those of us who appear to be intoxicated with the need to speak up and be heard. As Jews, let us remind ourselves that the obligation of discernment must supersede demonstrations, petitions, and taking up causes. Let’s make sure Haman sheps no nachas. Let’s do everything in our power so that the naches is shepped by Mordechai.

OF BOMB SCARES AND BOMB CARES

Bomb scares called in by phone to Jewish institutions such as JCCs and synagogues are deplorable; vandalism at Jewish cemeteries even more so. As macabre as this may sound, bomb scares pale in comparison to actual bombs going off without any warning. As macabre as this may sound, cemetery desecration pales in comparison to Jewish homes being vandalized and “Jude” painted on the windows or front door.

As one whose maternal grandmother was widowed at the age of 25 when her husband was murdered along with all the other Jewish men – all victims of a pogrom in the Bessarabian shtetl where they lived – bomb scares and even cemetery desecrations don’t throw me into a panic.

Instead, I draw strength because leadership of Jewish communities speaks out. From time immemorial, there have been Jewish communities, yet, only within the last century in this country has there been any semblance of Jewish communal leadership. In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, there was no Jewish leadership. Berdichev was known for its great rabbinic personality Levi Yitzchak, not for its JCC or its Jewish Community Relations Council – neither of which existed during Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s time. When Jews of Berdichev suffered indignation or even calamity from those who despised them, they had absolutely no recourse. Even in this country it wasn’t until the last half-century that American Jews, along with their leaders, finally abandoned their “shah shtill” attitude when it came to Jewish issues.

I draw strength because the American Government listens. Close to 75 years ago, a group of 400-plus American rabbis gathered courage and traveled to the nation’s capital three days before Yom Kippur to draw President Roosevelt’s attention to the destruction and annihilation of European Jewry. The President avoided meeting with the rabbis not only because of concerns of diplomatic neutrality, but because some of his Jewish aides and several prominent American Jews felt that the delegation (the vast majority of  whom were Orthodox as well as recent immigrants to this country) were not representative of American Jewry, and that such a meeting would stir up antisemitism.

FDR is long gone. So too are those American Jews who were concerned lest they appear “too Jewish.” Now we have Chanukah celebrations as well as Passover Seders at the White House. No longer are Jewish delegations – rabbinic or lay – turned away.

I draw strength because our politicians make an attempt to address the situation. While I personally fail to see any connection between hastily planned whirlwind visits to Israel and bomb scares to JCCs and synagogues, in no way can I look askance at a governor from the state of New York boarding a flight to Ben Gurion airport.

What would really give me reason to draw strength will occur when pastors and priests throughout this country make it a point to speak out against bomb scares and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. It would be a marvelous mitzvah for pastors and priests throughout this country, as they find themselves at the beginning of the Lenten season, to speak out against bomb scares and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and to remind their parishioners that anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.

I would hope that Christian leaders will begin to speak up and speak out about what is taking place. When that takes happens, I will ask that you join me in drawing strength. Chazak! Chazak!