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!

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY

I was always under the impression that freshman congressman, much like children, should be seen and not heard. A goodly number of American Jews might well have agreed with me, given what transpired  earlier this month, following an exchange of tweets, between two members of Congress. In response to a fellow Congressman from another political party tweeting: “It’s stunning, how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” the foreign born, newly elected congresswoman tweeted back: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Congresswoman was quoting a rap song from a quarter a century ago, which referred to hundred-dollar bills as “Benjamins”, in that Benjamin Franklin appears on the hundred-dollar bill.

Despite the brouhaha which erupted, accusing the congresswoman of anti-Semitism, prompting an immediate act of contrition on her part, I should like to point out that politics notwithstanding,  the neophyte nabob was not entirely wrong.

Centuries before the congresswoman’s country of birth gained its independence, our ancestors in Eastern Europe were enriching our vocabulary with the following Yiddish aphorism: Der vos hot die mayess, hot die dayess. Translated into English, it reads: “whoever has the ‘hundreds’ has the right to express opinions.” While it is highly doubtful that our ancestors even knew who Benjamin Franklin was, much less had the remotest idea that Benjamin Franklin would appear on an American hundred-dollar bill,  there is little, if any doubt, that our ancestors would have dismissed the yet to be born statement “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” as being anti-Semitic, in either spirit or tone. But then again, never in their wildest dreams, could our ancestors have envisioned  a Jewish State that would come into being prior to the advent of the Messiah, just as never in their wildest dreams could our ancestors have envisioned a close bond that would develop between the “Goldeneh Medinah” and the “Yiddisheh Medinah.”

Towards the beginning of Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers, the sage Shimon the Tzaddik (righteous) taught us that “the world depends on three things: Torah (study), Service (worship), and acts of kindness.” Leave it to our Eastern European ancestors with their sardonic view of the world, to emend that teaching as follows: “the world rests on three things: Gelt (money), gelt (money), and gelt (money). Given the abject poverty that threatened the everyday existence of our shtetl dwelling bubbes and zeides, our ancestors’ predilection for “Benjamins” is most understandable. It was only logical therefore, that Tevye, the quintessential shtetl Jew in Fiddler on the Roof, would break out in song, as he begins to muse: “If I were a rich man.”

Among the many inventions  that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this country introduced into this world, was the bifocal. Two decades after Benjamin Franklin was taken from this world, a Lithuanian rabbi of renown, was able to direct our attention to the human eye as well. It was Rabbi Israel Lipkin, better known as the Salanter Rov or the Rabbi of Salant,  who pointed out, that a small coin placed directly in front of the human eye will hide everything else from sight. Optics aside, if a small coin has the capability of blinding us to all else, one can only imagine the great power of the hundred-dollar bill, aka the Benjamin!

Short of human nature undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the task will fall to the all too precious few moralists in our society, who will continue to impress upon us that “money isn’t anything.” Unfortunately, there will be a good many in our culture, who will continue to maintain that “money is the only thing.” Like the newly elected Congresswoman, they will add their voices to the mantra, as they bleat: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!”

YOU ARE AN ERRANT WEED

“To him and to those like him, we say: ‘You are not part of the community of Israel. You are an errant weed…Judaism spits you out…You are a shame to Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.’” So spoke the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, in the aftermath of  what came to be known as the Hebron Massacre. Next Monday, marks twenty-five years since Baruch Goldstein, an American trained physician, dressed in his military uniform, armed with a Galil assault rifle, entered Ma’arat HaMachpelah otherwise known as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Muslim worshippers, while wounding another 125.

So spoke the democratically elected leader of the Jewish State. Given the fact that there were those on the right of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as being heaven sent, while there were those on the left of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as deserving the most horrendous that hell had to offer, the Prime Minister of Israel, the leader of the entire political spectrum dared to deliver  an assessment of Baruch Goldstein, that no psychiatrist had yet to come up with.

A few years later, I was introduced to a woman who was a friend and neighbor of Baruch Goldstein. “He was my children’s pediatrician,” she offered. “As far as you are able to explain, what do you think happened?” I asked. “He snapped! Who wouldn’t have snapped, treating victim after victim, day after day, of Arab terrorism?” she responded.

Prime Minister Rabin could have used that opportunity to tell Jew and Arab alike, that Israel will not tolerate terrorism, regardless of the source. Instead, he chose to usurp the power entrusted to rabbis from a different time and a different place and excommunicate the deceased doctor, declaring that “Judaism spits you out” and that “you are an embarrassment to Judaism.”

As Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin could have said, “Israel is the home of Jews from all corners of the world. We invite our brothers and sister, wherever they may be, to come to Israel and to make themselves at home. We will, however, never tolerate any Jew, from anywhere, who disrupts our home or places our home in harm’s way, because our home is not in the best neighborhood of the world.” Instead, Prime Minister Rabin chose to castigate and chastise.

Twenty months after these incendiary words were spoken, I searched to find the proper words to encapsulate the Prime Minister’s life. Our synagogue was holding a memorial for Yitchak Rabin whose life was abruptly ended, moments after he addressed a crowd at a rally in Tel-Aviv. As you might surmise, I was neither a supporter nor a fan of Yitzchak Rabin. But I put political differences aside and accorded him the honor and respect befitting a Prime Minister of Israel. At the conclusion of the tribute, an Israeli, representing an entirely different political bent than mine, who had been present, approached me to thank me as well as to give me a yasher koach for my remarks. “This was not easy for me,” I confided in her. “I’m very much aware of that and that’s all the more reason you deserve a “thank you” as well as a yasher koach,” she responded.

Twenty-five years have passed since the carnage at Ma’arat HaMachpelah. I cannot help but feel that over this past quarter century, political views of the vast majority of Israelis have by and large remained the same. Those who vilified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today. Similarly, those who glorified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today as well.

Reflecting on those events twenty-five years later, I sadly shake my head, as I see how very pathetic it was for the same Prime Minister who months earlier,  extended a hand, however reluctantly, on the White House lawn to Yasser Arafat,  an individual who orchestrated decades of mayhem and murder, to then go and spit in the face of a family attempting to deal with the sudden death of a husband and father whose actions, no one may never fully understand.

BROKENHEARTED PARITY

I was still in the single digits when Sarah Vaughn’s “Broken Hearted Melody” hit the airwaves. Although the concept of brokenhearted was well beyond my comprehension at the time, the melody made an impression on me. So much so, that I thought of “brokenhearted” earlier this week, just as chocolate manufacturers, florists, and jewelers were (hopefully) enjoying their busiest season of the year. As one who lives in a Jewish world, I began to reflect on three (though there were others, as well) in the Torah who were brokenhearted.

“I will descend to the grave mourning for my son,” laments a distraught Jacob, as he identifies  a blood-stained, torn tunic. Yes, parents should not have favorites, but the Torah does not hesitate to point that what “should be” and what “is” differentiates the ideal world from the real world. And it is clear, that living in a real world, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite child. The loss of any child is a tragedy; the loss of a favorite child is a disaster. Because it was a disaster, Jacob refused to be comforted, despite any and all attempts on the part of his other children. The next time the Torah focuses in on Jacob is when he chastises his sons, exclaiming “Don’t just stand there. There’s a famine raging. I heard that there is food available in Egypt. Why don’t you make yourselves useful for a change!” Caustic, accusatory words coming from a brokenhearted father, whose ability to smile and share a kind word, died when he learned that Joseph died.

“Give me children, or I’ll die,” pleads a frantic and frustrated Rachel, as she sees her sister Leah bring four sons into this world. The bitter irony of it all! Leah, for whom Jacob had no love, ends up having his babies. Rachel, for whom Jacob’s love knew no bounds, was unable to return that love in the form of offspring.  Rachel remains barren. She also remains bitter. Yet, neither Jacob nor Rachel can be held responsible for Rachel’s plight. Jacob so much as says so, as he unleashes his anger at his beloved. “What am I? G-d? Don’t you dare complain to me. If it were up to me, you would have been a mother long ago!” Jacob may have excelled when it came to blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the two grandsons ultimately born to him and Rachel, but Jacob’s ability to provide comfort to his brokenhearted wife was an entirely different story.

“And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was nothing but evil.” HaShem was beside Himself! It was one thing to grant mankind freedom of choice. Mankind consistently choosing evil over good as a result of freedom of choice, was quite something else! Was it that mankind was inherently evil, or was it that mankind was oblivious to the multitude of blessings that HaShem set forth in this world, that were mankind’s for the taking? Either way, HaShem had second thoughts about having created mankind. HaShem was brokenhearted.

Jacob is brokenhearted, Rachel is brokenhearted, HaShem is brokenhearted. Although all three scenarios differ from one another, a certain parity exists. In all three cases, an injustice prevails; in all three cases the hurt that is felt is unmerited. Brokenheartedness is a direct result of undeserved hurt. Had Jacob’s children fawned over their respective mothers while ignoring their father, we might have made sense of it all, by accepting  what goes around, comes around. Had Leah withheld her love from Jacob, we might have found comfort knowing that you reap what you sow. Had HaShem deprived mankind of free will, because mankind did not know how to use free will responsibly, we might have been secure in knowing that justice has prevailed. But none of this happened. Neither Jacob, nor Rachel, nor HaShem deserved what they received. All three gave love which was unrequited. As a result, all three were brokenhearted.

Let true love be brought about because of Valentine’s Day. Yet, I cannot help but feel, that true love can only be celebrated when we no longer break the hearts of others.

SHTADLAN

Wednesday, the rabbi travelled to Austin. Arriving at the parking lot of the Federation building before 5:30 a.m., together with my trusted aide and advisor, Jennifer Williams, I found a seat on the bus (Jennifer and I sat together) near a rabbi from Torah Day School. Together with a female teacher, he was chaperoning some thirteen, eighth-grade girls. The girls were joining our group of fifty, as we headed south to the Capitol Building to lobby our State Representatives. “This is an excellent opportunity to teach them the word ‘Shtadlan’”, I remarked.

Shtadlan is a Hebrew term that came to the fore, in the seventeenth century in Eastern Europe. It means one who intercedes or lobbies. Despite the notion, that our Eastern European ancestors were helpless, and that their existence was dependent upon the grace and good will of the non-Jewish community, there were some (albeit all too few) precious exceptions. Chief among them was the Shtadlan. Because of their status, these Shtadlanim were capable of securing meetings with important and at times, even exalted, officials. When it comes to serving as a Shtadlan, Elyakim Zelig from Yampol (Ukraine) was among the more notable. A little over two and a half centuries ago, he traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XIV to beg that the Holy See would exercise his influence in defending local Jews against a Blood Libel.

Thankfully times have changed. The security we Jews currently enjoy in this country is beyond the wildest dreams of our Eastern European ancestors. So too is the respect that we are accorded. Nevertheless, each one of us on that Austin bound bus, by virtue of our mission, unknowingly took on the role of Shtadlan. We met with state Senators and Representatives and spoke with them about issues that were of  importance to the Jewish Community. And we were extremely well received. Even though photography was not invented until 1839, I would find it hard to believe that Pope Benedict XIV would have granted Elyakim Zelig a photo op. Unless I’m wrong, I believe that it took two decades for an Israeli Prime Minister to be accorded the honor of a White House State Dinner. Yet, there we were, being photographed with a warm and cordial Dan Patrick, our Lieutenant Governor, who took the time to chat with us.

Personally speaking, together with Laura Levy and Karen Polan (both from Plano, whom I met for the first time just prior to our separate meetings with State Representatives Justin Holland and Jeff Leach), the reception that the three of us received from Jeff Leach will be long and fondly remembered. I asked Representative Leach to support a bill that would have the State of Texas work together with representatives from Israel on improving water conservation here in Texas. Israelis who are part of a chain of agronomists who not only transformed sand into land, but also turned the Jewish State  into an exporter of water, could surely offer ideas and guidance to representatives from the Lone Star State. I find it difficult to believe that a century ago, an official of Minsk Gubernia would have been open to any advice or suggestions  from a Shtadlan. I find it incredulous that those of the regime of Tsar Nikolai II, would willing to meet with any member from the cursed Jewish community, let alone work together with him.  Back then, the attitude would have been that the Jews know their place in society and are becoming too cocky, in thinking that they can offer advice.

The State Capitol is 3 ½ hours by bus from Tiferet. For a modern day Shtadlan, it is light years away from his historical counterpart. From being looked down upon by the Eastern European government official, today’s Shtadlan sees eye to eye with the government  official of this country. From being tolerated (at best), today’s Shtadlan is warmly received. From being despised, today’s Shtadlan is appreciated for taking the time and making the effort.

It is entirely possible, that I will be traveling down to the State Capitol again at some time in the future. Would you be interested in becoming a Shtadlan as well?

PERCENTAGES

I am most likely in the minority, but in reading about International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was commemorated this past Sunday, I was not the least bit alarmed to learn that 52% of millennials cannot name even one ghetto or concentration camp that existed during the Holocaust. Nor was I dismayed to learn that 62% of millennials did not know that six million Jewish lives were snuffed out in the Holocaust. Please understand, in this case, I forgive any and all millennials for being oblivious. Quite frankly, I’m not in any way convinced that the millennials are different in any way different from any other segment of the population in this country. I would however be alarmed and dismayed if 62% or even 52% of the population in this country:

a) felt that Jews wielded too much power in this country and in doing so, had both Congress and the Senate under their thumb and that Jews controlled the media. As one strongly feels that the Holocaust ought to be sacrosanct as far as Jews are concerned, I am much more concerned about the outside world being aware of the state of the Jews in the here and now. Learning about the Holocaust, portrays Jews as victims; perceiving Jews as being in control of government as well as the media, portrays Jews as assailants.  Both  are portrayals, that are nothing short of repugnant. If I were forced to choose between being portrayed as a victim or being portrayed as an assailant, I would opt for the former. For it is the latter that creates disdain. And it is disdain and not sympathy that has historically caused us bloodshed and expulsion. I am relieved that far less than 62% or even 52% in this country do not feel that we Jews wield too much power I this country.

b) felt that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks. Close to a decade or so, I showed a group of teenagers here at Tiferet a clip from the ABC network  “What Would You Do” . It was shot a N.J. bakery, where an employee (staged) refused to put up a flyer given to him by two Jewish teenagers about a Job Fair at a nearby synagogue. While most of the customers in the bakery told the employee that he was way out of line with his attitude towards Jews as well as what he said, there was one customer who felt that there was a kernel of truth to Jews being too pushy and controlling  all the money (the customer cited Bernie Madoff). I am grateful that this was a minority view. I am relieved that far fewer than  62% or even 52% of the populace in this country do not feel that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitism.

c) felt that the Holocaust was a hoax. Unlike so many others, I am adamant that the Holocaust never be forgotten, not because of the outside world, but primarily because of the lessons it holds for us Jews. The first lesson is that no Jew should be smug enough to reassure himself  that there will never be another Holocaust. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked if he thought that “it could happen here”. Without flinching, he said: “Morgen in der frie (tomorrow morning)”. The Holocaust teaches us that we dare not expect others to take a stance and to rush to help. If we do, we will be bitterly disappointed. Perhaps most important of all, the Holocaust teaches us  about unbelievable acts of heroism on the part of the precious few – Jews and non-Jews – who dared to do what most did could not or would not. Unlike so many others, for me the Holocaust teaches us that hope peeks through when hopelessness overwhelms. Perish the thought that 62% or even 52% of the populace in this country believe that the Holocaust was a hoax.

The fact that 62% of millennials or any other segment of the population did not know that six million perished, the fact that 52% of millennials  or any other segment of the population were unable to name a ghetto or concentration camp – the same percentage would in all likelihood be unable to list ten American Presidents or ten states and their capitals – does not faze me at all. I find solace:

that when it comes to feeling that Jews wield too much power in this country

that when it comes to feeling that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks

that when it comes to feeling that the Holocaust was a hoax

and that the percentage of Americans who hold these feelings is reassuringly very low.

HOLD THE CANADIAN BACON

As one who believes that clergy should not weigh in on the partial government shut-down, I was intrigued by a news article that I came across last week concerning the current situation or crises, depending on your political views. Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have been sending hundreds of Pizzas to their American counterparts, who have been working without pay for over a month. They refer to it as a show of solidarity; I see it as a gesture of mentschlechkeit. Thanks to this gesture of mentschlechkeit, Air Traffic Controllers in Ronkonkama, Long Island received pizzas, compliments of their counterparts in Gander Newfoundland and Moncton, New Brunswick. Similarly, Air Traffic Controllers in Anchorage, Alaska enjoyed piping hot pizzas courtesy of their neighbors to the south-east in Edmonton, Alberta. Regardless of the amount of oregano and tomato sauce, the two main ingredients of these pizzas are empathy and concern.

This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers isn’t really about pizzas after all. This gesture on the part of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers flies in the face of the vast majority in our society, who are oblivious to the fact that other people have feelings and because of those feelings, people have every right to feel upset, angry, dejected. Because of their gift of pizza,    Canadian Air Traffic Controllers have unknowingly passed along a much-needed recipe involving human behavior.

There is  a Hasidic tale told about two Polish peasants drinking together at tavern. Wojciech turns to his buddy Stacz and asks: “Stacz, do you love me”?
Stash replies, “Wojciech! The devil take you! We’ve been friends since we were young boys. We have been through so much together. Wojciech! I love you like a brother”!
Stacz and Wojciech return to their vodka. A moment or two later Wojciech asks, “Stacz, do you know what causes Wojciech pain?”
Stacz thinks for a moment and answers “How in the world, should Stacz know what causes Wojciech pain”?
At that point  Wojciech roars, “ Stacz! If you don’t know what causes Wojciech pain, how can you say you love me”?

Unlike, the Hasidic tale of Stacz and Wojciech, our culture has unfortunately conditioned us to approach those who are hurting with meaningless questions and vacuous comments such as: “I simply don’t understand why you feel the way you do” or “why are you so upset”?

I doubt very much if Canadian Air Controllers or Air Controllers in any country for that matter, have ever heard the Hasidic tale about Wojciech and Stash. They didn’t have to. It was imbued in them. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers who took it upon themselves to send pizzas, wasn’t to analyze or assess. The aim of the Canadian Air Controllers was to tell their American counterparts “we care about you and by no means are we oblivious to what you are going through”. And they did so, ever so tastefully.

Canadian Air Traffic Controllers like all Air Controllers (hopefully) are top notch when it comes to providing necessary headings to those at 37,000 feet, but in no way are their heads in the clouds. They seem to realize  that unless they are prepared to ask how they can be of assistance – financially or otherwise – they would do well not to ask at all!  Instead, they chose to send a much-needed hug, that typically measures 16 inches in diameter , provides 8 slices and is available with an assortment of toppings!

May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers  with clarity of judgement, so that they are able to instruct as far as headings, descent and climbing. May HaShem continue to bless these Air Traffic Controllers with healthy hearts, so that they are able to cause the spirits of other Air Traffic Controllers to soar!

CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

It’s carob time again! Come Tu B’Shvat, congregants, Hebrew School students and those who attend Jewish Day Schools prepare themselves perennially to hear all about their “raisin” d’etre.

Perhaps it’s time to branch out, and leave the almonds, figs, and dates alone and look to the trees for a different source of nourishment. Perhaps its time for the trees to whet our appetite for everyday living.

It was the French philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil who taught us: “Whoever is uprooted himself, uproots others; whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” Have you ever wondered why with but one exception throughout our  history, we Jews do not seek to persuade non-Jews to see the light and embrace Judaism? Can it be that that our religious leaders have been so well rooted in the religion they represent, that it never occurs to them to try to get those of a different faith to see the light? Conversely, have you ever wondered why over the ages, Church leadership, particularly in Europe, went to such great lengths to get Jews to abandon and forsake Old Israel and embrace Christianity? Were they really that concerned in saving Jewish souls or perhaps subconsciously, they themselves were anything but firmly rooted in their own faith?

In my talk this past Shabbat, I spoke about how I “played hooky” the previous Monday morning  and traveled to Hunt County with Sue Kretchman. Our mission was to visit a nonagenarian who, as a teenager in Germany, was part of the Kinder Transport. Truth be told, my ego got the better part of me, as we set out. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t repress feelings of self-righteousness. After all, I reasoned, how many other Dallas rabbis would go out on a limb and  visit someone they had never met, who had no connection whatsoever to their synagogue? On the way back from a most delightful, eye-opening, unforgettable visit,  I realized that it was not I who went out on a limb, but the countless, remarkable, selfless strangers first in Holland and then in England who went out on a limb for Jewish children escaping Nazis. These strangers were part of a godly group who dared to refuse to succumb to the Machiavellian machinations  of the Third Reich. Amidst the many trees at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Six Million are immortalized, there is the Avenue of the Righteous, a walkway where tribute and honor are bestowed upon those who saved Jewish lives. Given the many trees, I cannot help but feel that that section of Yad Vashem ought to be referred to as “Our undying gratitude to those who went out on a limb.”

If there was one thing in common shared by our prophets in the Tana’ch, it was their inability to see the greater picture. Moshe (yes, Moses is considered a prophet) saw a burning bush. Amos HaNavi or the prophet Amos saw a plumb line. Yirmiyahu HaNavi or the prophet Jeremiah saw the staff of an almond tree. None of them could see the mission that they were about to be sent on. Being able to see the bigger picture is a rare gift among humans. All too often, one small item catches the human eye, blinding that person to the bigger picture.  Adam and Eve were so focused  on the one tree that was off limits to them, that they lost sight of the lush forest full of trees bearing luscious fruits that were theirs for the taking.

As one who spends hundreds of dollars each year planting trees in Israel, I have every reason to believe that in addition to trees and fruit, the message of Tu B’Shvat ought to go far deeper. Aside from indulging in figs and prunes as well as all other fruit associated with Israel, in addition to planting trees in Israel, I ask that you see Tu B’Shvat as a harbinger of codes to live by. As we are asked to focus on trees, I ask that you bear in mind that those who are firmly rooted will not uproot others and that those who are uprooted will try to uproot others. I ask that you recall how indebted we ought to be to those who went out on limb for us. Above all, I ask that you never forget the price that is paid, when one can’t see the forest for the trees.

A meaningful Tu B’Shvat to all!

PLANE MENTSCH

Other than being rabbi of Tiferet, most probably the next reason for me being proud to live in Dallas, would be that Dallas is the home of Southwest Airlines. It was with more than a modicum of interest therefore, that I read about the passing last week of the founder of Southwest, Herb Kelleher. I have no idea about Mr. Kelleher’s faith or religion, but from what I learned about him, Mr. Kelleher possessed certain personality traits that were in my opinion, very Jewish.

There are those, no doubt, who saw Mr. Kelleher as “the little engine that could.” I would have to disagree. Unlike “the little engine that could,” Herb Kelleher’s mantra was “I know I can, I know I can.” Herb Kelleher was the David who did not hesitate to go up against the Goliaths and give Americans “a flight for their money.” And he succeeded, well beyond and even despite the predictions and prognostications of a good many, including those in the airline industry. While other airlines were claiming to be “ready when you are,” Southwest made it their credo to be ready to turn around and take off again in the blink of an eye. While others were flying  the “friendly skies,”  Southwest was flying the “friendly 737’s.”

No different than others, rabbis… gossip! Rabbis hear of other rabbis signing contracts that they have no intention whatsoever of honoring. Should it happen that a congregation is in a pinch and turns to the rabbi to read Torah, the rabbi’s employment contact is immediately rewritten at the rabbi’s insistence. Rabbis also hear of congregations drawing up contracts that the congregation has no intention of honoring. And suddenly, the expectations of the rabbi are not those same expectations stipulated in the rabbi’s employment contract. Airlines are much the same. Within the last number of years, we have witnessed imposed luggage fees and the economy section (as opposed to first class) being subdivided into three classes: mentschen (human beings), schnorrers (freeloaders) and b’heimahs (animals). Southwest is one airline that can be trusted. There are no luggage fees, no penalties for flight change or cancellation, and everyone flies the same class. Apparently, Herb Kelleher was not only aware of Psalm 15:4 (They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost,) but made sure that it was carried out religiously on every Southwest flight.

The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has strict and vigorous  standards  that ensure the safe (and hopefully) uninterrupted operation of each aircraft from the time it pushes back from its departure gate, until the time it comes to a full and complete stop at its arrival gate. I wish that standards were as strict and vigorous, when it comes to flight attendants and gate attendants. There are any number of stories that for whatever reason do not make the news, of uncalled for treatment of passengers, by airline employees. It has reached the point, that prior to boarding an aircraft, I begin to lecture myself over and over:  “Keep your mouth shut, Rabbi Zell.” Kevin Freiberg, who together with his wife Jackie, authored “Nuts: Southwest Airline’s Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success” writes that Herb Kelleher didn’t see being disciplined and fiercely competitive as mutually exclusive with loving people and treating them with dignity.  Perhaps that’s the key ingredient. As one who travels in my work clothes (double breasted suit, shirt and tie), I cannot help but notice, that many a traveler must have an exceedingly low self-image, based on the way he or she dresses for travel. That however never prevented Herb Kelleher from insisting that Southwest employees accord respect and dignity, even when such respect and dignity often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Maybe if other airlines would practice respecting and honoring others (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1) in the same fashion stressed by Herb Kelleher, that respect and honor would eventually be repaid in kind.

To the best of my knowledge, aspirations such as being a David among Goliaths, keeping promises even if  those promises are to your own detriment and treating others with dignity were not seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Jewish. They were seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Southwest .

INTERNALIZING AND INTERNATIONALIZING

I knew that something was missing. For the longest time, I understood the difference between January first and the first of Tishrei in the most pedestrian terms.  Uneducated greeting card producers aside, “Happy New Year” does not address Rosh Hashanah. It never did. The greeting Shanah Tovah does not mean Happy (New) Year; it means “A good year.” Not only are “good” and “happy” not the same, but at times they are close to being diametrically opposite. Few, if any, will argue that a colonoscopy or a root canal are not beneficial procedures for the good of the patient. By the same token, few, if any, will claim that such procedures bring happiness to the individual. It is entirely possible for an individual to face an excellent year, yet there will few or any moments of happiness. Just ask someone who, through the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, finally brings a project to fruition. In addition to facing what appeared to be insurmountable odds, there was never the slightest word of encouragement from those closest to him. In fact, the exact opposite was the case, with unsolicited advice being freely dispensed that he undertake a different project, one more suited to his abilities. Others will have the happiest year with nothing to show for it. We call it hedonism.

A contranym is a word with two opposite meanings. “Cleave” means to stick; “cleave” means to split apart. “Resolution” is a contranym. Few need to be reminded that January first was typically fraught with resolutions. Countless in our culture would make New Year’s resolutions concerning things they would begin doing or things that they would cease from doing in the new year. Similarly, resolutions were made concerning adopting new, beneficial behavior as well as desisting from old, harmful behavior. Rarely did these New Year’s resolutions make it through the first week of January. Resolutions are also part and parcel of the first of Tishrei. Or at least they should be. Judaism asks that beginning with Rosh Hashana and culminating with Yom Kippur, we concentrate on resolving rifts in relationships a well as imperfections in oneself. We call it “teshuvah.” Put differently (as well as simplistically), resolutions undertaken on the first of January are all about looking ahead. Resolutions that ought to be undertaken with the approach of the first of Tishrei are all about looking back. I recall speaking about how different New Years resolutions are from High Holy day resolutions during a Rosh Hashana sermon I delivered while I was still in rabbinical school.

It wasn’t until this past Shabbat, while walking to shul, that it dawned on me that there is a third difference between the Gregorian New Year and the Jewish New Year. My revelation was based on a phone conversation I had on the previous day, when I quipped, that for the non-Jewish world, the week between Christmas and New Years was in some ways, their version of our  “Asseret Y’mei Teshuvah” or  “Ten Days of Repentance”, the period of time from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur. I based my comment not only on the fact that (we wish you a merry) Christmas  and (a happy) New Year go hand in hand, but that “peace on earth” is more of a New Year’s greeting than it is a Christmas greeting. January first (provided the New Year’s message is offered and received with sincerity)  is all about the individual in this world. Greetings such as “Wishing all my friends and family a blessed New Year full of peace, laughter, prosperity and health” or  “May you have a year filled with smiles, love, luck and prosperity” center around relationships with others. Despite all the “we have sinned, we have transgressed, we have…” in the Yom Kippur Confessionals, the  message of the High Holy Days, beginning with the first of Tishrei, centers around the relationship the individual has with himself.  On the first of Tishrei, we begin to internalize. On the first of January, we begin to internationalize.