LET’S MAKE A DEAL

In all likelihood, it’s been close to half a century since I’ve last watched any game show on television. Quite frankly, I don’t recall ever having watched “Let’s make a Deal.” Nevertheless, “Let’s Make a Deal” has been on my mind ever since I learned of the passing of Monty Hall, the host of that show, on Yom Kippur. Although we never met, Monty Hall (Monte Halperin) was a “landsman” of mine, in that he also hails from the very same G-d-forsaken city of Winnipeg, Canada. Chances are, however, that Monte Hall remembers “the ‘peg’” in a much more positive way than yours truly.

Although “Let’s Make a Deal” premiered in 1963, the term, or at very least the concept, has been around as long as society has been in existence. Whenever you have one or both persons wanting something from the other, tangible or other-wise, chances are good to excellent that one or both will be amenable – to various degrees, of course – to making a deal with the other. The very first “let’s make a deal” took place in the Garden of Eden, when HaShem provided free board and room to Adam and Eve, in exchange for “working and guarding” the said garden and not eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It goes without saying that it was a short-lived deal. Later, when society came into being, the proposal of “let’s make a deal” typically involved (at the very least) two humans.

With the “whites” of the High Holy Days still vivid in our memories, I hope that those who attended services at Tiferet will recall that the best deal one can make is with oneself. What makes our daily lives all the more worthwhile are those deals we make with ourselves. Typically, those deals are in terms of reward and punishment. It should not be at all unusual for one to propose the following: “If I can get this project finished within this specific period of time, then I will reward myself with the following…” Conversely, one should similarly raise the following red flag: “If I fail to complete this project within this specific period of time, then I will forfeit the following…” Can you imagine how more productive each one of us would be if we were to make such deals with ourselves? Can you imagine what a paradise society would be if all would adhere to such deal-making in their daily lives?

Unless we are agnostics or atheists, the vast majority of us make deals with G-d, especially in times of adversity. Often, in moments of desperation, we humans are wont to strike deals with HaShem where we negotiate the terms. Why, Judaism itself is rife with such deal making! Abraham did just that upon learning of the imminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Mere days ago, as we gathered in the synagogue for Yom Kippur, a good many did everything within the framework of prayer to attempt to convince HaShem (in other words, they made deals) to seal their names in the heavenly Book of Life, working under the assumption that their names were inscribed on Rosh Hashanah.

Early in his life, Monte Hall benefited from a deal that fellow Winnipegger Max Freed made with him. Much more recently, it appears that Monte Hall benefited from a deal that even he may have been unaware of. HaShem saw fit to grant Monte Hall length of days – 96 years!

SEEKING THE SHTETL

I did something very atypical this past Sunday. I actually read the cover story of the Travel Section of the New York Times. How could I not? Once I glanced at the title, “Seeking the Shtetl,” wild horses couldn’t drag me away. Within seconds, however, the article confirmed my feelings toward the typical odyssey undertaken by so many of our people (my sister included) when they fly over to Europe in an attempt to search for their roots. I wish them Godspeed and I pray that they find what they are looking for. But I have another wish as well – actually three wishes:

I wish that in addition to spending time and energy,not to mention money, in an attempt to discover where their ancestors lived ((some are able to locate the house, and actually come across descendants of non-Jewish neighbors who can testify that a Jewish shoemaker — one’s great-grandfather, with his wife and five children — really lived in that house next door, and the shoemaker and his wife were on friendly terms with their great-grandparents), that the searchers of our generation spend equal amounts of time and energy in attempt to discover how their ancestors lived. Were they the pious individuals we were led to believe they were? Was great grandfather Shia as learned as they say he was? Maybe our ancestors were caught up in the Bolshevik revolution and replaced their Judaism with Communism. Perhaps the best question to be pondered is how those we hope to learn about would react if they were to learn about the lifestyle that is ours.

I wish that those who undertake the quest of ancestry discovery would compare the choices that are ours with the choices that were our Shtetl ancestors. There is a world of difference, to say the least. In the world of our great grandparents, the choice – if there was a choice  – was, do we uproot ourselves now and sail for the new world, or do we wait until our elderly parents, who are too frail to make the trip, live out their days here on earth? The world of our ancestors in the shtetl was not one of redecorating or remodeling, nor was it one of dilemmas of whether to buy or lease. In so many cases, our ancestors were much too preoccupied with whether there would be enough money to put food on the table, how they were going to afford clothes for their children, or would sufficient funds be found to pay the melamed (teacher) so that the boys would be raised as learned Jews.

I wish that those who undertake this quest realize that in reality they are searching not only for their past, but for their future as well. Can you imagine what would happen if someone searching for (non- Jewish) ancestry suddenly discovered that they are descendants of nobility? Should discovering that one is a descendant of a great rabbinic dynasty be any different? Shouldn’t searching for one’s past have implications for one’s future as well? If we find it important enough to go back in time to discover our roots, isn’t it possible that generations from now, our descendants will be undertaking similar projects to discover their roots, and in doing so will make every effort possible to learn about us? In all likelihood, they will be able to learn much more about us than we are able to learn of our ancestry.

As we beseech HaShem to seal us in the Book of Life this Shabbat, let us realize that there is another book we ought to be concerned about as well. Each day we are here on earth, we are de facto writing pages of our lives that will ultimately form the book that might very well be of great interest to future generations.

NOW IS NOT THE TIME

Not that I’ve conducted any studies, but I can’t help but feel that there will be topics that any number of rabbis in this country will address in their sermons. Unlike so many other rabbis, the rabbi of Tiferet Israel wouldn’t touch these topics with a ten-foot pole. To borrow a cliché: “Now (Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) is not the time.”

Now is not the time to talk about the state of the world, the state of this country, or the state of this state… Unless, of course, some high elected officials are present in the congregation. And even then, why not have a private conversation with that high elected official? Unless it is election time and the rabbi is foolish or reckless enough to speak politics from the pulpit, the average congregant can do precious little, if anything, to change the world, this country, or the state or city he or she is living in. You may disagree, but I was always under the impression is that the High Holy Days are all about changing oneself. Please understand, I rant and rave about North Korea, Qatar, Syria, and the Myanmar Rakhine exodus as much as anyone. However, I’ll do my ranting and raving at the breakfast table.

Now is not the time to talk about social action. Come to think about it, rarely, if ever, does the rabbi at Tiferet speak about social action. The rabbi at Tiferet leaves that to other clergy. Let other rabbis talk social action from their pulpits until their hearts content. When it comes to social action, the rabbi at Tiferet is occupied with not talking, but undertaking social action on the other side of Fair Park, Tuesdays at lunch time. The rabbi at Tiferet must be doing something right, because from time to time a Tiferet congregant joins him in this mitzvah of social action. And that’s in addition to the regulars who accompany him on an ongoing basis. Isn’t Rosh Hashanah a time to focus in on oneself? What better social action is there than giving oneself a sense of worth? What better social action is there than getting oneself to establish a stronger connection with HaShem? No different than charity, shouldn’t social action begin at home?

Now is not the time to harangue congregants. Quite frankly, the rabbi of Tiferet sincerely doubts that any time is the time to harangue congregants. Can you imagine any salesperson at Sanger’s department store haranguing a customer? Can you fathom a Liberty Mutual agent haranguing a client? Why then should a rabbi reprimand a congregant? Shouldn’t the very opposite be the case? Isn’t the role of a rabbi to welcome a congregant and embrace that congregant? Why must “you are loved” be the sole domain of televangelists? Why should “love” be a concept that when mentioned in connection with a synagogue makes Jews feel so uncomfortable? If “teshuvah,” a word so typically attached to the High Holy Days, means “return,” shouldn’t “teshuvah” apply to the synagogue as well? Shouldn’t every congregant be reminded, time and time again, that he or she will always be most welcome and will be embraced with outstretched arms and a loving heart at his or her spiritual home?

Let’s leave this year’s High Holy Day sermon topics a secret for the time being. Be assured that they were prepared with you in mind in the hope that they reach your hearts and souls.

A BEEF OVER BACON

I’ve never met Angela Montgomery. I know nothing about her, other than the fact that she recently filed a lawsuit against a Detroit area Denny’s restaurant after she found bacon in her vegetarian omelet and that she is a “practicing Jew.” Far be it from me to say that a “practicing Jew” might just need a little more practice (we all do), but from what little I know, I believe that the Latin “caveat emptor” especially applies to “practicing” Jews who dine at non-kosher establishments. To be even more specific, intending no malice to canines and meaning no disrespect to the same, “If you sleep with dogs, you are going to wake up with fleas.” As one, who by my own admission, knows next to nothing about non-kosher restaurant chains, I was not aware that Denny’s ever claimed to be a vegetarian restaurant. Had Angela Montgomery or anyone for that matter been served bacon mixed in with her vegetarian omelet in a vegetarian eatery… As they say in Yiddish: “Doss heist a lawsuit” – that’s what you call a lawsuit. Excuse me if I am wrong, but I would think that Denny’s serves fowl, beef, pork and mutton along with an assortment of dairy dishes.

Mistakes happen, even at restaurants. Would I swear that it never happened, that a delivery truck delivered treif (non-kosher chickens) to a kosher restaurant and these non-kosher chickens were inadvertently cooked and served to unsuspecting observant Jews who came in for a meal? Not on your life! Would I swear that a vegetarian who orders a tuna salad sandwich at a Denny’s or similar was never mistakenly served a chicken salad sandwich, in that the tuna salad and the chicken salad are stored in identical containers placed side by side in the same refrigerator?  Not on your life! For those of us who maintain kosher kitchens in our homes, has it ever happened that without thinking, we grabbed a dairy bowl and filled it with chili or that without thinking, we grabbed a meat bowl and scooped ice cream into it? Mistakes happen! That’s why the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish law devotes pages upon pages replete with commentary addressing when dairy inadvertently gets mixed in with meat or when forbidden (treif) inadvertently gets mixed in with kosher. Succinctly stated, Judaism regards it as damage control. Angela Montgomery apparently regards it as a lawsuit.

Angela Montgomery claims to be a practicing Jew. It might very well be that when it comes to Yom Kippur, Angela Montgomery is somewhat out of practice. Recall if you will, that the efficacy of Yom Kippur is limited to the sins Jews commit both intentionally and unintentionally against HaShem. It would seem to me that unless one flaunts eating treif in front of observant Jews, consuming a vegetarian omelet containing bacon is what Yom Kippur is all about. As to Angela Montgomery’s claim, “It’s like the most vile, disgusting creature on the planet Earth that’s not supposed to go in your body, and I ate it. To me, that’s poisoning, I was poisoned.” I’m not aware that a Yom Kippur service, or a rabbi or even lawyer could provide Angela Montgomery any assistance in that realm. Perhaps consultation with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist would be the best route to take for Angela Montgomery.

THE WATERS REACHED THE SOUL

Webster’s New World Dictionary offers two definitions for the word “deluge”: a great flood; an overwhelming flood-like rush of anything. Given what continues to unfold in Houston since last weekend, Webster’s appears to be accurate with both definitions. Heaven opened up its floodgates and left us speechless, as we vainly searched for the appropriate words to describe the destruction and devastation. As a result, there are those who are already responding and will soon be responding in a fashion that will be similarly beyond words.
There is a Hebrew expression: Higiyu mayim ad nafesh. It is the equivalent of the English “they are not going to take anymore.” Literally, higiyu mayim ad nafesh means “the waters reached the soul.” (It was once believed that the soul was to have been located in the area of the Adam’s apple.) Given recent events, along with the concomitant outpouring of concern on the part of so many, I believe that it’s fair to say that Higiyu mayim ad nefesh has taken on a new and most significant meaning.

The waters reached the soul. Our initial response is that we refuse to stand idly by as our brothers and sisters in Houston attempt to deal with having lost all their worldly possessions. And so, we dig deep into our pockets and donate funds. Unsurprisingly, we will learn of homeless people sending five dollars towards the relief efforts. I cannot help but feel, that any number of Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrants will be sending a portion of their monetary gifts – if not the sum total of their monetary gifts – to local Jewish agencies earmarks for the flood victims. We can afford to do no less. Let us, also, assist the victims monetarily. With the High Holy Days soon upon us, the timing is propitious. After all, isn’t tzedakah or “proper giving” one of the three indispensable ingredients mentioned in our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers?

The waters reached the soul. As indispensable as monetary gifts are, in all likelihood, there will flood victims with no place to go and no place to stay. I would like to believe that there will be those in our community who will open their homes, find the room, perhaps even make the room, for those who were left without a roof over their heads. In some cases, those taking in flood victims will receive more in return, in beautiful and everlasting friendships that will be forged. After all wasn’t the very same Abraham, about whom we read on Rosh Hashanah, known for his exemplary hospitality? Didn’t Abraham welcome three complete strangers into his home?

The waters reached the soul. If so, then the heart can’t be far behind. Acts of kindness are bound to surface. They must! Even if it is as simple as sending a Shanah Tovah or Jewish New Year greeting card to complete strangers in Houston telling them that our prayers are with them during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we wish them the very best for the new year, as they embark on building their lives anew. Here at Tiferet, we will be honoring High Holy Day tickets of Houstonians. If they are unable to attend the services of their own synagogue, we invite them to join us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper. It goes without saying that Tiferet families will host our displaced brothers and sisters from Houston for Rosh Hashanah meals, as well. After all, isn’t the phrase “and the two of them walked together” found in the Binding of Isaac drama read on Rosh Hashanah?

The first deluge that devastated mankind ended on a less than pleasant note with Noah becoming inebriated. This latest deluge, I believe, will end on a more pleasant note. Because the waters reached the soul and we responded either through money, hospitality, or heartfelt acts of kindness. The time will come, I hope sooner rather than later, when we, together with the victims of Harvey, will raise our cups of wine to drink a L’Chaim that will reach the highest heavens.

STATUE STORY COMMENTS

It had to happen.  Jewish activists are targeting the removal of Peter Stuyvesant. Jewish activists are demanding that New York mayor Bill de Blasio scrub all traces of this historical figure from city property. Peter Stuyvesant served as the last Dutch director of the colony of New Netherlands (New Amsterdam was a city within the colony) from 1647, until the British gained control in 1664. During Stuyvesant’s tenure, 23 Jews arrived in New Amsterdam – the first group of Jews to set foot on North American soil. They were escaping the Inquisition that had already spread its roots to Brazil. Stuyvesant was less than hospitable – and that’s putting it mildly. He wanted the Jews back on the boat immediately. As a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, Peter Stuyvesant opposed religious pluralism. He saw the Jews as blasphemous, deceitful, and very repugnant. For the record, Peter Stuyvesant also had no use whatsoever for Catholics, Lutherans, and Quakers.

Politically speaking, I take no public stand over what has transpired concerning the removal of statues of Confederate figures. (If you are brave enough, you are welcome to visit me in my office, to hear my very definite views concerning the matter). I do, however, take a public stand when the movement to remove statues becomes a Jewish issue. Even though a goodly number of Jews including Jewish leaders, both secular and otherwise, will in all likelihood take issue with me, I share with you my views:

Fellow Jews, be careful where you tread! If anti-Semitism is your criterion for statues to be removed, then you ought to be prepared to campaign for the removal of statues of the following four Presidents for starters (two of them were Democrats; two of them were Republicans), because, without exception, all made disparaging remarks against Jews: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Ulysses S. Grant and Richard M. Nixon. Fellow Jews, lighten up when it comes to anti-Semitic remarks! A good many individuals who make anti-Semitic remarks are unaware that they are doing so. Am I the only one who vividly remembers “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me?” Can you imagine what a wonderful world this would have been if, between 1939 and 1945, six million of the most vile and vicious anti-Semitic slurs and curses as well as hurtful rhetoric but nothing more were hurled at the Jews of Europe by the Nazis? Can you imagine if Muslim extremists of today would make disparaging comments against us, curse us and make anti-Semitic remarks that are out of this world, rather than blow us off the face of this earth?

Fellow Jews! You want to remove statutes because of your Jewish sensitivities? Better you should remove statues of world leaders who have been responsible for murdering the masses. Given the blood they have shed, removal of statues of Adolph and Uncle Joe (Stalin) is a mitzvah of the highest order. I will personally underwrite all costs and expenditures for anyone to fly to Kiev to have a statue of Bogdan Chmelnitzky lawfully and successfully removed from city center, given the hundreds of thousands of Jews he was responsible for massacring in the mid-seventeenth century. On Tuesday, I saw Prime Minister Netanyahu pointing out how Palestinians glorify statues of Khaled Nazzal, Abu Sakkar, and Dalal Mugrabi –  terrorists who succeeded in murdering innocent Israeli (Jewish) men, women and children. For those who fail to see any difference and insist on equating mass murder of Jews with hurting feelings of Jews, think again!

Fellow Jews! Our religion commands us to smash idols, not statues. Idols are the objects of foreign and forbidden worship. Statues can either be objects of admiration (if the statue represents a truly honorable individual) or objects of abhorrence (if the statue represents a truly reprehensible individual). In reality, were it not for pigeons, most statues would be completely ignored. As a spokesman for a people for whom the pyramids of Egypt (also statues of sorts) represent our collective past and would never even entertain the thought of taking them down, I ask that statues of anti-Semites – real or perceived – be seen in the same light. Let such statues also serve as a reminder of our people’s past. Rather than dismantle, let us take up the mantle… of learning and remembering.

A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN

No doubt, any number of rabbis weighed in on last Monday’s solar eclipse. In all probability, the eclipse was written about from all angles, demonstrating once again that rabbis will go to great lengths to present the Jewish perspective of a phenomenon that many simply “can’t take their eyes off of.” For me, the lessons of last Monday’s solar eclipse are threefold, each conveying a most basic lesson about everyday life.

Don’t be fooled by size. Just because the moon was created smaller than the sun, there will be times when the sun won’t be able to hold a candle to the moon. Our rabbinic sages share with us a most thought-provoking Midrash about the moon complaining to the Creator, in that it was very much bothered by its small size. Rather than counter with “Did you ever hear a dime complain about its size while finding itself beside a nickel,” the sages have HaShem assuage the moon’s outburst of self-pity in an entirely different way. “You may wish to consider the array of stars that will adorn the sky together with you on a nightly basis,” counsels HaShem.  Whether or not the sages were aware of this approach or not, this may very well have been the first recorded lesson handed down to mankind, where mankind is taught to  look for what it has going for it, rather than what it is lacking.

Whether warranted or not, the Polish city of Chelmno, better known to us as Chelm, was the butt of all jokes – so much so that, decades ago, a book was published facetiously entitled “The Wise Men of Chelm.” Among the “important” topics discussed in that book was: which is more important, the sun or the moon? Without a moment’s hesitation, the sages of Chelm answered: “The moon, of course! The moon provides light during darkness, when light is most needed. The sun on the other hand, needlessly shines during the day, when it is light anyway”! Buffoonery aside, the important lesson to be learned is that, no different than people, the sun has its task to perform, just as the moon has its task to perform. When it comes to those two discs that shine over us in the sky above, each has an importance all its own. The world as we know it would soon cease to exist with the absence or malfunction of either one of them.

An astronomer, I’m not. By my own admission, I couldn’t find the big dipper if my life depended on it. As incredulous as this may seem, there are times when I confuse Ursa Major with Ursula Andress. Yet, as uneducated as I am when it comes to the celestial bodies, I can’t but feel that each celestial body has its own space or territory. The world is very much in sync when the moon and sun remain in their respective lebensraum. What happens, however, when the two cross paths? Scientists call it an eclipse.
Scientists can call it whatever they like. As far as I’m concerned, what took place last Monday is that the moon stole the sun’s limelight. And that ain’t kosher! As a result of the moon overshadowing the sun, strange things happen, beginning with a drop in temperature. If I remember correctly from the previous total eclipse of the sun, confusion reigned among animals, because they sensed that things were not “normal.”

Science aside, perhaps most important of all, because the moon didn’t realize what it had going for it and couldn’t leave well enough alone, because the moon did not focus on its own importance and duties, because the moon trespassed into a space where it did not belong, mankind was left in a darkness that defies being measured by any light meter that has yet to be invented.

DENYING THE DENIERS

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever as to how many Holocaust Deniers sully humanity with their ludicrous claim that the Holocaust never existed. I do know, however, that there is one notorious Holocaust denier less, with the recent death of Ernst Zundel. In addition to spreading lies and misinformation, Zundel’s “claim to fame” was that he was deported from Canada and then the United States. Back in his native Germany, Zundel spent five years in prison for the crime of “Folkverhetzung” or incitement of the masses. I, for one, see a certain sense of poetic justice when a Holocaust denier is in turn denied citizenship – not once, but twice, and then denied freedom. But rather than waste my time on Ernst Zundel, I feel that it is important for us to understand what makes Holocaust deniers tick. Accordingly, I offer three reasons:

Holocaust deniers have a pride and love for their “Vaterland” that is second to none. Because of such extreme pride and love, Holocaust deniers simply cannot allow for an everlasting stain to sully the history of Germany. Unlike others who protest, “I was just following orders,” Holocaust deniers claim that there never were any orders, because the Holocaust never existed. Forgive me for saying so, but if Holocaust deniers knew the term “lashon harah,” which can be understood as besmirching a reputation, Holocaust deniers would maintain that Jews worldwide are guilty of “lashon harah” for besmirching the sterling reputation of a country (Germany) that is simply beyond reproach in any and every way.

They love attention. By knowing how to push all the “right” buttons, Holocaust deniers are in all their glory. It matters little, if any, to Holocaust deniers if they achieve fame or infamy, just as long as they get media coverage and Jewish dander up. Holocaust deniers instinctively know that there are two subjects that are bound to set Jews off – Israel and the Holocaust. Both (the Holocaust outranks Israel) go directly to the emotions. Never accuse Israel of violating human rights of Palestinians; never accuse Jews of fabricating the Holocaust. The very same people who would ignore any lunatic, who claims the French Revolution never happened, refuse to ignore any lunatic who claims the Holocaust never happened. Instead, we Jews give that lunatic every bit of our attention and then some, even though we feel our blood pressure rising by the minute.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, the Holocaust has become the raison d’etre for a good many American Jews. Rather than inculcate Jews with “thou shalt not grant Hitler a posthumous victory,” the Jewish philosopher Emile Fackenheim should have left as his legacy “the Holocaust must not become the sum total of our Jewish existence.” As a rabbi, I can’t tell you the amount of times students have equated Hebrew School experience with learning about the Holocaust. Heaven forbid that Adolph should replace The Baal Shem Tov or The Chofetz Chaim or Sarah bas Tovim or Gluckel of Hamlen! Yet, because of our inability to realize that our national nightmare was but six years of our 4000 year-old history, this is exactly what has taken place!

Holocaust deniers are an extension of “Der Fuehrer.” “Der Fuehrer” came awfully close to eradicating Jews. Holocaust deniers are coming dangerously close to eradicating Jewish education in that Holocaust education seems to have come dangerously close to usurping Jewish education. The Holocaust must never be forgotten!  By the same token, we Jews dare not forget that the Holocaust must never obliterate the rest of our history and heritage.

Living at a time when saying nasty things (unless they are against Israel) is a deadly sin, let the rest of society and our lawmakers deal with Holocaust deniers. Let descendants of World War II veterans take up the cudgel. As far as we Jews are concerned, let us ignore Holocaust deniers. Seeing that they cannot evoke any reaction, much less anger on our part, Holocaust deniers will eventually slink away with their tails between their legs.

 

HISTORY IS BUNK

A scholar, he wasn’t. Nevertheless, Henry Ford may have been onto something, when 101 years ago, he proclaimed, “History is bunk.” Mr. Ford’s imbecilic proclamation immediately came to mind, as a result of an early Monday morning phone call that I received. Joel Glassman, a former congregant and a forever friend, called me at 8 a.m., to tell me that he had made the front cover of the Metro West Jewish News. The reason for Joel’s moment in fame is that he had come across menorahs, mezuzahs, plaques, as well as the very sign itself, of an Orthodox Congregation in Plainfield, New Jersey that had long closed its doors and was now in the process of being dismantled and demolished. Joel immediately contacted the local Jewish Historical Society, correctly thinking that the director of the museum would be only too happy to receive these artifacts.

History is bunk, if those who read the article about Joel Glassman’s article fail to consider that behind those plaques and menorahs, there was a congregation with its problems, challenges, and even crises. Even in its heyday, the leadership of United Orthodox Congregation of Plainfield, New Jersey, no different than most other congregations, went through times when the future looked bleak. Last Thursday evening, Rebbetzin Zell and her husband went across the street to a neighbor’s home, where the two couples watched the movie Norman. Part of the plot showed that unless a flagship synagogue in Manhattan could immediately come up with an infusion of 14 million dollars, it would have to close its doors. This movie aside, the plaques serve as a reminder that a congregation can only exist when there are those who refuse to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to deal with problems, challenges, and even crises. In most cases, a plaque goes up in return for their stepping up.

History is bunk, if those who read the article about Joel Glassman’s discovery fail to realize that plaques tell only part of the story, a small part. More often than not, plaques tell us about generous financial contributions and endowments that are indispensable to the existence and well-being of the congregations. But the existence and well-being of a congregation are very much dependent on the time, effort, and energy of everyday people making everyday sacrifices that the overwhelming majority of congregants typically give little, if any, thought to. Daily minyan does not happen by itself, just as the Kiddush that people wait in line for every Shabbat does not prepare itself. The very same holds true as far as the vast variety of programs and dinners offered by synagogues. Chances are that no different than the vast majority of congregations, the Plainfield synagogue was more in the habit of affixing plaques than in presenting them.

History is bunk, if those who read the article about Joel Glassman’s discovery fail to learn that as important and necessary as preserving the past is, it’s even more important to plan for the future. Up until the decade of the ‘60’s, Plainfield, New Jersey boasted an active and thriving Jewish community. But active and thriving Jewish communities have life-spans all their own. There are precious few cities in this country that can lay claim to a Jewish neighborhood that has been vibrant for half a century. No different than those who constitute them, Jewish communities grow and decline. Ashrei ha-Ish; fortunate is he who is aware of this reality. Joel Glassman was concerned about plaques from the past and rightfully so. Shouldn’t we be concerned about plaques for the future?

Joel Glassman received well-deserved front page coverage in the Metro West Jewish News. The United Orthodox Congregation of Plainfield, New Jersey, received its place in perpetuity. Let us all hope we will learn that a congregation without problems, challenges, and crises belongs in Fantasyland. Plaques were invented in no small part as a response to people who refuse to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear and step up to those problems, challenges, and crises. Let us all hope we will learn that there is a core of congregants deserving of plaques for dedicating their time, effort, and energy. Let us  hope we will all learn this: as meaningful and necessary as plaques are to serve as reminders of the past, we should all be concerned about plaques of the future. If we fail to learn these lessons, then we will have proven Henry Ford right after all: history is bunk.

CAUSING PAIN

Every so often, it rears its ugly head. It seems that there those of us (Jews) whose lives are incomplete unless they take up the cudgel against circumcision (which is really a misnomer, in that Judaism mandates a Brit Milah or Bris; Judaism has nothing to say about circumcision, as circumcision is solely a medical procedure.)

Far be it from me to try to look  into their souls and try to figure what possesses them, much less attempt to discern the thought process or lack thereof, of “concerned” parents wishing to spare their eight day old son from “unnecessary pain.” One thing I am fairly certain of is, that G-d believes in payback and that G-d has a sense of humor – at times a wicked sense of humor. Take it from a rabbi whose mother bestowed the name “Shawn” on him, lest he go through life with a name that might be misconstrued as being too Jewish. That said, I have a most troubling dream…

I have a most wonderful dream. In the troubling dream, I dream that in eighteen, twenty, twenty-two years from now, all Jewish male children who were “spared” a bris – circumcision and all – by their parents, become drawn to halachic Judaism. As a result, they are going to be confronted by quite a task, which is also quite a mitzvah. In my most wonderful dream, I dream that the parents who “spared” their son a bris, become drawn to halachic Judaism and realize the terrible sin they have committed.

I consider myself neither a historian nor a sociologist, but during so called normal times in Jewish history, (short of the Holocaust, when there was no hiding from one’s Judaism anatomically speaking and the Greco-Roman period, when there was infatuation with the au natural body with its original factory equipment) the foreskin has caused more problems for Jewish males than the lack of foreskin. Having officiated at the funeral of a hemophiliac who died of AIDS, I held back the tears as I heard his bereaved father tell me how his son was denied a Hebrew school education, along with a Bar Mitzvah ceremony, because no uncircumcised Jew could participate in any Jewish ritual according to their rabbi at the time (G-d save us from such rabbis.) Under normal circumstances, foreskin on a Jew has always been considered to be a mark of shame.

A Soviet official who managed to keep his Judaism secret, risked his entire career as he burst into the apartment of the clandestine Mohel of the community, pulled out his revolver, and ordered the Mohel to take his equipment, don a blindfold, and come with him as he drove him to an undisclosed apartment. Where the blindfold was finally removed, the Soviet Official turned to the Mohel and said, “Enter my son into the Covenant of Abraham!”

I can’t recall the last time I was together with (Jewish male) friends, where we shared our own bris experiences and how much pain we were in and how long it lasted. I could tell you (but I won’t) about any number of men sitting in my office, telling me about the scars they will take with them to their graves because of parents who were emotionally abusive, overly and unrealistically demanding, yet so very stingy when it came to praise and encouragement.  Not that I have any say in either matter, but given the choice of the pain caused by a bris or the pain inflicted by (I’ll be overly kind) well-meaning parents, I’ll take the former, thank you.

The newspaper article that engendered the above remarks, posed the following question as part of its title: “If Parents Skip the Bris, Can a Son Still be Jewish?” As far as I’m concerned, the wrong question was asked. The article should have been titled: “If Parents Skip the Bris, Can The Parents Still be Jewish?”