HURTFUL

If I hear or read that someone’s  (read: politician’s) words were “hurtful” one more time…

How did things get so far? Unless I’m mistaken, my generation was raised on “sticks and stones will break my bones, names will never hurt me.” My grandchildren’s generation on the other hand, is being raised in such a manner, that the greatest social sin is to say something “hurtful.”

I pity my grandchildren’s generation. They are being shortchange when it comes to the facts of life. “Everybody hurts somebody sometime.” Most of the time, it is totally unintentional. Some of the time, it is totally misconstrued. I recall officiating at a wedding for the Rabinowitz family. It was a family of three children. I had previously officiated at the weddings of the older two siblings. In my remarks, I made mention of the fact of how delighted I was, that each Rabinowitz child had married into a nice Jewish family. No sooner was the glass broken, when I was accosted by cousin Mel. “Rabbi, I want you to know that you stabbed me with a knife and then twisted the knife while it was in me.” It turned out, that Mel’s three children had married out of the faith. Had this wedding taken place on 2019 instead of 1989, chances are that cousin Mel would have accosted me by saying, that my remarks under the chuppah were “hurtful.”

As Jews, we bear a brunt of the responsibility for introducing the overused usage of “hurtful” into American parlance. As Jews, we have been much too sensitive and far too quick to take non-Jews to task for saying “hurtful” things, despite the fact that being hurtful was the furthest thing from their mind. Although this may very well be regional, G-d help any Christian who invokes Jesus in an invocation. There is bound to be at least one of us present, who will not hesitate to point to the one who invoked, how offended he/she was by including the name “Jesus.” As a group, we have a knee-jerk reaction whenever we hear the term “Jew” come out of a Christian mouth. Any Christian who innocently goes up to the microphone and proclaims how touched he/she is seeing so many Jews in attendance, will be pronounced guilty for not have used the phrase  “Jewish friends.”  Perhaps it’s time to give Christians the benefit of the doubt, that they mean no harm.

As Jews, we are quick to go on the defensive.  Even when a reckless comment is made, such as “Jews have all the money” or “Jews control the media,” we Jews must remind ourselves never to go on the defensive. We bear no guilt. Hence, we have nothing to defend. Rather than going on the defensive, we should consider responding in a totally unanticipated fashion.  To the former comment, we may consider saying: “If that’s wishful thinking on you part, I appreciate your comment more than you will ever know. If that’s a criticism on your part, I wish we Jews had even more money than that.” To the latter, we may consider saying: “Perhaps you should be more careful in how you treat me, because I have powerful friends in the Jewish controlled media…you wouldn’t believe what they can do for people like you, or to people like you!”

It was the great sage, Elazar from Modiin (an uncle of the revolutionary Bar Kochba), who said: “He who (negatively) embarrasses his friend in public, it is as though he sheds his blood.” Clearly, hurtful statements have been around ever since the advent of communication. But with Rabbi Elazar, it was personal. How Rabbi Elazar would have responded to thoughtless comments couched in generalizations, how Rabbi Elazar would have reacted to worn out phrases, is best left open to speculation. Remember however, if personal (negative) embarrassment is tantamount to murder, then personal accolades ought to be a boon to someone’s life.

Rather than zero in on real or perceived “hurtful” words from others, we Americans would be well advised to listen for “pleasing” words  from others. Our society and culture can only benefit from such an approach and in doing so become healthier and stronger.

 

AND AN EVANGELICAL SHALL LEAD THE WAY

Meaning no disrespect, to the six million, but first it was the Holocaust. Then it was Israel. And now it is availing oneself to Torah study taught by Orthodox rabbis and Jewish educators. When it comes to our sacred texts,  Christians, Evangelicals in particular,  seem to be heads over heels with what we Jews have to offer. Donna Jollay serves as a perfect example. Donna is a 59-year-old , rags to riches American Evangelical, who made a fortune in high-tech. Recently, she moved from Hawaii to Israel.

Rather than analyze what makes “Patricia” or “Patrick” so infatuated with what we Jews along with our Judaism have to offer, perhaps it’s time to analyze why hearts of Orthodox rabbis and educators beat that much faster, when approached by Evangelicals with that pleading look in their eyes that says “teach me.”

With the exceptions of Orthodox bastions in cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Detroit and Denver, a goodly amount of Orthodox rabbis and educators deal with a Jews who are less than enthusiastic when it comes to learning about their heritage. On the other hand, the desire on the part of Evangelicals to study Torah and in some cases Talmud is breathtaking. In their Evangelical hearts and souls, hearing a Jew disseminate knowledge, is second only to hearing it from their savior. However humble rabbis and educators are, or portray themselves to be, a little appreciation goes a long way. With Evangelicals, the appreciation is at times so great, that it’s immeasurable. Faced with receiving appreciation that is typically both scant and seldom, if ever, from their own, or incessant raving reviews from Evangelicals, human nature dictates that Orthodox rabbis and educators can’t help but seek the latter.

Spiritualty and Synagogue services do not seem to go hand in hand. By our very nature, we Jews are either not spiritual when it comes to prayer, or we show our spirituality in most unusual ways. A little over 30 years ago, I attended a mid-day “Power Hour” at First Mariner Baptist Church at the tip of Manhattan. I witnessed more spirituality in five minutes at that church service, than I experience the entire year at a synagogue. Nor is this a new phenomenon. If we Jews were truly into religious fervor, Chassidism would never have entered the scene three centuries ago. Synagogue services are seldom, if ever, hotbeds of spirituality (I’ll deal with Chabad at a different occasion). Synagogue service (main stream church services as well) are staid. Evangelicals are spiritual people. So too are many non-Evangelical Christians. Not that long ago, a non-Jewish woman sitting in my office was brought to tears because of an explanation I gave her. Seeing her cry was such an awesome sight, that I myself was nearly brought to tears observing her reaction. I cannot help but feel that given the choice of staid or spiritual, Orthodox rabbis and educators crave teaching spiritual individuals.

Orthodox rabbis and educators alike do not seek converts to Judaism. They do however sub-consciously seek validation. So too does any and all clergy. Validation not only cuts across denominational lines, but religious lines as well. Appreciation aside, clergy lacks any barometer to measure validation. And unless they commit a major faux pas or achieve some sort of resounding success, rabbis will typically hear nary a word from their synagogue board. “Business as usual” is tantamount to sounds as silence. With Evangelicals, there is no such thing as business as usual. Evangelicals or any interested Christian group provide validation beyond belief. Their very presence says “what we hear from you will impact on our very being. Please teach us, so that we can strengthen our Christian faith”. How often does a rabbi or educator hear, “please teach us so that we can strengthen our faith in HaShem” from any congregant?

Say what you like about Evangelicals. Remain as suspicious of them as you have always been. By all means, question their sincerity. Realize however, that when it comes to appreciation, spirituality and validation, unlike so many Jews, Evangelicals are able to provide a diet for Orthodox rabbis and educators that is so desperately needed.

ROOT SOURCE

I attended a kosher breakfast earlier this week, where I, along with a handful of other Jews, were greatly outnumbered by church-going Christians. The group is known as Root Source. Via the internet, its members  are taught about Jewish concepts, ideas and thought, and especially Israel. Their teachers are Orthodox Jews who have no reservations whatsoever about those to whom they impart their wisdom. Unlike other messianic groups in these United States, these Christians  do not consider themselves Jews, nor do they aspire to be Jews. They do, however, feel that their Christianity is  incomplete without learning about the Jewish roots of their faith. Kosher breakfast notwithstanding, Root Source Christians and other similar groups have no desire to begin keeping kosher, nor do they intend to incorporate any Jewish practices into their lifestyle. Although salvation for them is an entirely different path, they are not consumed with getting Jews to follow their path. Apparently, they are secure enough in their own faith and require no reinforcing from Jews who have “suddenly seen the light.” Christian groups such as these don’t proselytize. They are far too busy in their quest of spiritually enriching their own lives. They are however firmly rooted in their unwavering support and love for Israel.

Root Source Christians are not in any way unknown to Israel. Thanks to Root Source Christians and other Christian groups, there now exists a Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. For the first time, the Knesset Christian Alliance bestowed the honor of “Christian of the Year” to a Root Source Member. Apparently, the government of Israel does not see Root Source Christians as a threat. I am able to come up with three reasons why:

The Israel pipeline leading to American Jews has dried out. Fervent Jewish  Zionists from this country are no longer filling up Israeli tour buses the way they once did. Some of these supporters have died, some of these supporters now own apartments in Israel and some of these supporters have simply had their fill. A septuagenarian American Jew who has visited Israel three times over the last three decades deserves a big hug and not a lecture as to the importance of visiting Israel. The children of that septuagenarian see Israel in a different light. For them, Israel does not possess the same magic and charm it did for their parents. This next generation tends to take Israel for granted and relates to Israel in much the same way it relates to any number of other countries.  An entirely new generation that feels firmly ensconced and accepted in the United States, no longer feels the need to be in Israel to escape the self-perception of a minority, however brief that respite might be. For Christian groups in this country, Israel is a novelty. Therefore, it is the Christian groups in this country and not the Jews who are now awestruck by Israel.

Given the choice between supporters and detractors, Israel opts for the former. Given the choice between those who are easy going and those who are demanding, Israel again opts for the former. Typically, it is the religious Christian groups who comprise the former. They tend to be totally supportive of Israel when it comes to any political issue concerning the Palestinians. Moreover, Christian groups tend to be more enthusiastic and eager and easy to please than a good many Jewish groups of the same age group. Just ask any Israeli tour guide.

Anna Bartlett Warner, I’m not. But if I were to pen a new version of the well-known “Jesus loves me – this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” written by Anna Bartlett Warner close to 160 years ago, I would choose “I love Israel – this I know, For the Bible tells me so.” Israel has suddenly begun to play a major role in the lives of Root Source Christians. Yes, Root Source Christians are interested in seeing the Knesset, but they are agape while visiting Golgotha. And why shouldn’t they be? As mystical as Tzfat is for Jews, it is Nazareth and not Netanya that leaves them with goosebumps. Jewish tourists may want to get in some snorkeling in Eilat, but that pales in comparison to a Christian being baptized in the Jordan.  Just as these groups take their bible seriously, so too do they now take Israel seriously.

These groups do not seek our imprimatur. These groups don’t necessarily seek our friendship although they hold us in high esteem. These groups thirst for Israel and provided they possess no hidden agenda, I cannot help but feel that they deserve a L’Chaim from us, as they seek to quench that thirst.

GO TO HELL

Every so often, it happens that Christian clergy or laity, Christians of notoriety or insignificance call upon Jews to accept Jesus into their lives as the savior. Alternately, these same Christians warn Jews that as long as they continue to reject Jesus as the savior, they are destined to go to hell when they depart this world. I wish it weren’t so, but more than a few Jews have a knee jerk reaction to such statements. They go ballistic. To say that I am amused by the statements of such Christians; to say that I am horrified by the reactions of such Jews would be an understatement.

Do you really think that I give a damn what such Christians believe about me and my people? If I can soundly reject their belief in Jesus as the savior, then I can also dismiss any remarks they make as a result of their belief in Jesus as the savior. As long as Christians commit no acts of anti-Semitism or propose reinstating Crusades, Inquisitions or Pogroms, I adopt the attitude of “zollen zei leben un zein gezunt” or as the late Leonard Nemoy in his role as Mr. Spock was wont to say: “Live long and prosper.”

Having made mention of Crusades, Inquisitions and Pogroms, I cannot help but feel that any Christian who is so concerned about Jewish souls as well as the destination where those Jewish souls are most assuredly headed because of Jewish theological pigheadedness, ought to look twice… and twice again before uttering the name of Jesus and Jewish souls in the same breath. The amount of Jewish blood that has soaked into the soil of this world over the centuries (for the record Christians had absolutely no problem shedding Moslem blood or the blood of fellow Christians as well) in the name of Jesus is nothing short of reprehensible. Funny thing though, I have yet to hear any Christian raise a question similar to the baseless question raised by far too many Jews over these last seven plus decades: How could Jesus sit by and do nothing while such carnage continues?

If Christians believe that G-d sent His son, His one and only son (sound familiar?) to earth so that the world could behold his birth, share his life and witness his death, all the power to them! If Christians believe that the second coming can only come about, when he is acknowledged and accepted by all as the savior, they are out of bounds and out of control. It is a terrible sin to believe at the expense of others! It is a deep embarrassment to believe at the validation of others!

Once upon a time in America, we were taught that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” America of today seems to take the exact opposite tack. As a child, I remember coming home crying when a Christian neighbor called me a Christ Killer. Since then, I’ve found much more important and meaningful things to cry over. I no longer cry at being called a Christ Killer (few, if any in our culture of today would have the temerity to call any Jew a Christ Killer). I summarily dismiss being told I will end up in hell – certainly as a result of my beliefs.

But I do cry over Christians who feel that they need to have their beliefs shared….or else. I do cry over Jews who go ballistic over well intentioned comments (I truly see these comments as such – so much for intention) by Christians who only wish to save our souls. I cry because there are so many more important things to cry over in this world.

LANG LEBBEN ZOLLSTU*

In this month’s issue of JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) a new study was published that finds that those who attend more than one religious service each week had a 33 percent lower risk of premature death than those who do not. Four Harvard University researchers analyzed 16 years of data (1996-2012) collected from 75,534 women of whom 1,700 were Jews.
I am neither a researcher nor a statistician, but I should like to offer three reasons that support such findings. Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, humans crave structure in their lives. There is nothing worse than Christians lounging around the house on a Sunday morning and Jews lounging around the house on a Saturday morning trying to figure what to do next. As the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated: the two foes of human happiness are pain and boredom. Church going Christians with their Sunday dinner have something to look forward to and know what to expect each weekend, as do the Shul going Jews who attend services each Shabbat. Can the same be said for the Christian who rarely, if ever attends Church as well as the Jew who rarely, if ever goes to Shul? Isn’t the level of boredom for one who attends church or synagogue significantly less than coreligionists who lounge around the house aimlessly and maybe even listlessly?
Close to 55 years ago, Carol King and her husband wrote the hit song, “Up on the Roof” which was recorded by the Drifters. Although I never met Ms. King, I can’t help but feel that given the change in society during this last half century, it may very well be that it is the sanctuary in a house of worship and not the sanctuary of the roof that affords serenity to those caught up in the frenetic pace of this so rapidly changing society in which we live. Now more than ever, the term sanctuary takes on a deeper and more poignant meaning. Although understandably I am not acquainted with a church service, I would like to believe that Christian parishioners can look forward to certain prayers along with accompanying tunes that will always be there for them, just as Shma, Aleinu and Adon Olam along with their ever so recognizable melodies to list but a few, will always be there for us. As such, churches and synagogues serve as comfort zones. Comfort zones might very well do for blood pressure what Atenolol, Lisinopril et al do, but without introducing chemicals into the body.
Unlike so many other religious leaders, I believe that prayer is a two-way street. Unlike so many other religious leaders, I believe that just as we pray to G-d, G-d prays to us. Provided there is perseverance and earnestness on our parts, through ongoing synagogue or church attendance, most, if not all will come to the realization that we actually do have something to say to G-d. And once that realization has been met, we will be better attuned to being aware of G-d’s prayer to us. Who knows? This might very well be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And beautiful friendships are worth living for, because they give life meaning.
With the billions spent by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society to encourage Americans to live longer, perhaps it’s time that the clergy of this country put in their two cents as well.

*Yiddish for:  Long, may you live!

MORE THAN WE CAN POSSIBLY BELIEVE

I attended a Baptist memorial service last Friday. For me, it was a most positive experience — one that I recommend to other rabbis and other Jews, as well. Having listened as objectively as possible to the minister, from a Baptist perspective I cannot help but feel that he is deserving of a big Yasher Koach for doing an excellent job.

More importantly, however, from a Jewish perspective, attending a Christian service afforded me the opportunity to realize what I, as a rabbi (and, by extension, what I as a Jew) simply do not believe in. For it is only after realizing what I as a Jew do not believe that I can better understand and appreciate — as well as put in a clearer perspective — what I do believe, as well as what makes us Jews so very different.

The minister focused on death. He made a point of correctly pointing out that we will never again find ourselves in the unenviable position of bidding that most difficult and heart wrenching final farewell (“difficult and heart wrenching” are my words…always the rabbi!). Typically, a Jewish memorial service focuses on life. Rather than bidding farewell to the deceased, we are apt to spend time on saying “hello” by introducing or at least reminding those assembled of the good, decent and, hopefully, even remarkable aspects of the deceased’s character via anecdotes about the deceased’s life. I have no idea who coined the phrase “celebration of life” to serve as a euphemism for a funeral service, but, when you stop to think about it, that’s precisely what we Jews have been doing for the longest time as we recall the positive and uplifting, even though the hearts of so many in attendance seem to be pulling in the opposite direction.

As Jews, we seem to be very uncomfortable whenever we are reminded that the deceased is now in a better place. We shouldn’t be. That’s precisely what Judaism teaches — but in no way dwells upon. As “heavenly” as death may be for the deceased, from time immemorial we Jews have adopted the attitude of “what’s your hurry?” In fact, this is exactly what went through my mind as I listened to the minister remind us that our dearly departed is now “whole again” and free from any aches, pains and disabilities that had set in over the years.

Yet I had another thought in mind, as well: Provided we are blessed with mental acuity until the very end of our lives, the longer we are here in this world the greater the opportunity we have of continuing to become a better individual. Accordingly, Jews can’t help but feel that death “got in the way”.

I’ve lost count of how many times Jesus was invoked by the minister, which, when all is said and done, is quite proper as well as theologically correct from a Baptist perspective. The thing is, each time I heard the minister mention Jesus I realized that our admittance into heaven as Jews rests primarily in our belief not in any savior but in ourselves. Our ultimate reward is solely dependent on our ability to stay true to the mitzvot which, if done correctly, will result in our becoming better selves. Judaism maintains that the greater one’s self-improvement becomes, the greater the likelihood of clear sailing into heaven.

At the risk of sounding smug, I’ve never been concerned about having to provide an answer to the question “Did you believe in HaShem?” What does concern me — more than you can ever know — is finding out whether HaShem believed in me!

As Jews, we are all too quick to dismiss such words when we hear them coming from a minister. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction that there is absolutely nothing any minister can possible teach us as Jews. Perhaps not. One thing is for certain, though: Listening to a minister conduct a memorial service can clarify our Judaism for us more than we can possibly believe.