NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

There is a fifth question, that we would do well to ponder two weeks from tonight, at the Pesach seder. Why is it that at the end of Seder, we proclaim: L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim or Next year in Jerusalem (it should be noted that we proclaim the very same at the conclusion of  Yom Kippur as well, but that is not within the scope of this week’s message)? What is it about the Pesach Seder, that it warrants such final words? I don’t believe that it would be an overstatement to say, that more than a few of our ancestors in Egypt, believed that they would never see anything other than mortar and bricks. And yet, the celebration of Pesach is not so much about recalling the endless night of our ancestors being slaves in Egypt, as it is of the morning after, with its never-ending challenge of freedom.

“Next year in Jerusalem” reinforces the belief of a morning after. Say what you will about this year, but never speculate about the current confronting hardships. Temporally, next year and this year are 12 months apart (13, if it is a Jewish leap year). As far as our trials and tribulations, what next year might bring, could turn out to be eons away. Few, if any inmates of Auschwitz could foresee and fathom the life-changing freedom of Pesach 1945, as they defied the enemy and mustered the inner-strength to “celebrate” Pesach 1944. “Next year” connotes a new year as well as a different year. “Next year” connotes a better year, irrespective of how terrific or trying this year happens to be. 

“Jewish” DNA is about remembering. “Jewish” DNA does not distinguish between good and bad as well as the happy and sad. As Jews, we not only remember the past, but we also sing about the past. It matters little whether the past recalls our personal shortcomings (Ashamnu, sung time and time again every Yom Kippur) causing us shame or whether the past the evokes denial of freedom to our people (Avadim Hayyinu, sung immediately following Mah Nishtanah or the Four Questions at the Pesach seder) which ought to evoke anger. We sing about the past because we know, that just as better times preceded difficult and trying times, so too will better times follow difficult and trying times. It makes perfect sense therefore, that L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalyim or Next Year in Jerusalem, the final words of the Pesach seder are sung as well.

“Next year in Jerusalem” serves as a promise. Generations of our people clung to that promise, despite the fact, that Jerusalem, as well Israel, was regarded as a pipedream. And yet, Israel ceased to be a pipedream a little more than 7 decades ago, with a united Jerusalem to follow,19 years later. “Next year in Jerusalem” serves as a reminder that promises are kept. There are those who maintain that given this reality, “Next year in Jerusalem” is no longer applicable. After all, countless Jews from around the world have visited Jerusalem, with a good many participating in a Pesach seder there as well. However cogent that argument, “Next year in Jerusalem” very much deserves to remain as part of the Pesach seder. Tradition aside, “Next year in Jerusalem” reminds us, that promises carry weight – so much so, that as far as Judaism is concerned, there is a sound basis to see promises indistinguishable from reassurances. “Next year in Jerusalem” is a message  of hope. Regardless how things appear to be at the moment, it is no indication of how things will be in the future. It’s merely a matter of time. “Next year in Jerusalem” is a pledge that “there’s got to be a morning after.” No matter how foreboding it may seem at present, there is a sun that will rise – sooner than many of us think – that will not only brighten our day, but our lives as well.

“Next year in Jerusalem!”


THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, THE SUCCESS OF THE JEWS

Whoever told you that there is absolutely no connection between St. Patrick’s Day and Judaism were so occupied checking to see whether or not Irish eyes were smiling, that he overlooked the fact that three Jewish Holidays give us good reason to rethink Irish Linens, Irish Sweepstakes, and Irish Coffee.

Close to two millennia before Irish Linen was introduced into this world, our Rabbinic sages spoke of Yom Kippur Linen. Linen is one fabric that the Torah forbids us to mix with wool (Leviticus 19:19). When such a mixture occurs, it is referred to as Shaatnez. And yet, throughout the year, the Kohen Gadol or High Priest wore an “avnet” (translated as girdle/belt) made of Shaatnez. It was as though the Kohen Gadol was exempt from the prohibition of Shaatnez. On Yom Kippur however, the shaatnez exemption did not apply to the Kohen Gadol. In place of the avnet of Shaatnez, the Kohen Gadol girded himself with an avnet of pure linen. Perhaps the non-Shaatnez avnet, was to serve as a reminder that on Yom Kippur, there are no exemptions. On Yom Kippur, we are judged equally, from the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the lowly Stable Boy in Yavneh.

The very first of what was to become the Irish Sweepstakes took place in Dublin, on May 19, 1939. The very first of what could be considered the Jewish Sweepstakes, took place in the Hebrew month of Adar, close to 2500 years ago. The Jewish sweepstakes were vastly different than the Irish Sweepstakes. For one thing, the Jewish Sweepstakes were sweep-stakes of destruction. Rather than pick a winner, the Jewish Sweepstakes were focused on a date that would give Haman the go ahead with his plan of cleansing ancient Persia from Jews. Aside from confiscating homes, businesses and worldly possessions of Jews, Haman’s real interest in the Jewish Sweepstakes was not wealth, but the destruction of Persia’s Jews. I may very well be a lone voice, but it is simply beyond me, why the idea of sweepstakes has not left negative associations and connotations with our people. And yet, despite those Jewish Sweepstakes and due to the efforts of Mordechai and Queen Esther, it was ultimately our people who were the winners.

Not long after the world was introduced to the Irish Sweepstakes, the Jewish World was introduced to a Pesach Haggadah that would make its way into countless Jewish homes in this country.  The Irish pride themselves with Irish Coffee; Maxwell House has every right to pride itself with Jewish Coffee. I could be wrong, but it’s possible, that back in the day,  Maxwell House was among the first, if not the first coffee to receive rabbinic certification as being Kosher for Pesach. In that Maxwell House Coffee had used as its slogan “Good to the last drop” for some time already, it’s beyond me why they didn’t capitalize on that slogan, by placing it on the back cover of its Passover Haggadah, under a picture of a seder participant dipping his or her finger into a goblet, as the Ten Plagues were being recounted with ten drops of wine. In my opinion, such a caption would have been sheer marketing genius!

I don’t begrudge the Irish their linens, their Sweepstakes, or their coffee. I would hope, however, that American Jews become aware of Jewish linen, Jewish Sweep Stakes and Jewish Coffee. Hopefully, all three convey important messages to us about Yom Kippur, Purim, and Pesach. Hopefully, there is more than a modicum of truth to the term “luck of the Irish.” Hopefully, the very same can be said about the success of the Jews.

THE CROWN OF ALL VIRUSES

The Talmud teaches that questions are asked, and lectures are given on the laws of Passover thirty days prior to the festival. Finding ourselves within that time frame,  I cannot help but focus on the ninth plague that led to our ancestors’ liberation from enslavement and exodus from Egypt, that of darkness. I do so because there is a plague of darkness, that casts a giant shadow over the world at this very moment. As a result, no different than the Egyptians of biblical days, an entire population is currently paralyzed by fear. Contrary to what we have been fed by the media, the greatest casualty of Coronavirus has not been those who succumbed to the illness, but rather those who have succumbed to clear thinking and logic. Statistically, more people die from the  Influenza virus (also known as the Flu) each year, than those who have died after contracting Corona Virus. Yet, the Flu has not caused citizens of the world to panic. Moreover, those who decline the flu shot, are not shunned by society for living with abandon and recklessly putting the lives of others at risk. Rather than see this as a new or different strain of the flu and take it in stride, society has chosen to work itself into a frenzy. Webster’s Dictionary defines frenzy as inflammation of the brain. How ironic! People who go to any length to avoid the remotest possibility of contracting Coronavirus, flock to others who suffer from inflammation of the brain. Because of that irony, the plague of darkness appears to be running rampant.

A Wall Street warrior, I’m not. But anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the business world realizes that the panic we have permitted to run rampant will have ramifications that will be crippling and far-reaching. I’ve never been a fan of hand sanitizer and latex gloves (I continue to employ the old-fashioned method of washing my hands regularly with soap and hot water), but it is safe to predict that anticipated shortages of these two commodities are but the tip of the iceberg. With the Asian economy on the road to shut down, the American economy will feel far more than a pinch. Especially when it comes to that which we import from Corona Virus “infected” China. With no one to show up at factories in China, it’s only a matter of time, until shelves become empty in the United States. With presidential aspirants attempting to impress the public that such a crisis would never have been permitted to germinate under their leadership, not one of them has looked the American public in the eye, warning that this country must become self-reliant. Not one has attempted to convince us, that it is essential that the United States remains largely economically unaffected, certainly when it comes to imports, should the economy of another country find itself compromised. And here I fault politicians of both parties. Obviously, we are unable to realize that self-reliance is both achievable – we learned that lesson courtesy of OPEC – and vital to this country. Until we learn the lesson of self-reliance so that we cease to be a country beholden to imports, we will remain paralyzed by the plague of darkness.

Decades ago, I asked my mother if scientists will ever come up with a cure for cancer. She truly believed that in time, scientists would make such a discovery. My mother then added that when that happens, some other dreaded disease will rear its ugly head. For someone who never completed High School, my mother was quite capable of sagacious insight. There was a time when Diphtheria was of epidemic proportions (a mere 5 years ago, despite vaccines, 2,100 people succumbed to Diphtheria, yet I fail to recall any mass hysteria at the time); there was a time when Polio was of epidemic proportion; there was a time when Tuberculosis was with good reason, feared like the plague. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but it’s merely a matter of time until some other disease comes to the fore with mass hysteria breaking out, yet again.

Will we permit this current plague of Darkness to prevail and paralyze us?  One of the realities that we refuse to confront, is that disease is a fact of life. Despite our fantasy of being able to control everything that comes our way, we are served reminders from time to time, that there are destructive forces greater than us, however temporary they might be.

Let cooler heads prevail so that hysteria does not wreak havoc. Let us view Coronavirus in proper perspective. Let us merit leaders who will put our country on a path of self-reliance. Let us realize, that disease is a fact of life and we have an obligation to combat that disease, let us recognize the reality that another disease is headed toward us and that it’s just a matter of time. Above all, let’s bear in mind that it’s time to prepare for Pesach.

OF NECKS, TONGUES, AND CHESTS

For those of us who are intrigued by words or phrases, there is a Purim law found in the Shulchan Oruch or Code of Jewish Law that language-wise is worthy of further ponderance:

“Whoever sticks his hand out to take (money), we give him.” One would do well to ask why the editor of the Shulchan Oruch didn’t specify: “If a poor man approaches you” or “Whoever is in financial need?” The term sticking out a hand, whether phrased in Hebrew or English, is worthy of discussion. Let’s do English.

Sticking out a part of one’s anatomy makes for perfect Purim parlance. The difference between the annihilation of the Jewish people and the preservation of the Jewish people depended upon Esther’s preparedness to stick her neck out for her people, both figuratively and literally. No different than Moses, Esther could have continued to live the lap of luxury. Taking his own initiative, Moses went out to his enslaved Israelites and took up their cause. Although the prince of Egypt never proclaimed such, he was in effect telling the downtrodden masses “You are my brethren… ”

Esther was no Moses. Neither was she a Jonah, who attempted to hightail it out of town to escape responsibility. Yet, only with the slightest prodding on the part of Mordechai, Esther decided to cast her fate to the wind (and if I perish, I perish). Like Moses, Esther realized that she had to decide whether she was part of the Jewish people or whether she should remain insulated from them, thanks to the walls of the royal palace. Given the King’s fickle nature, Esther was well aware of the distinct possibility that she would soon be resting her pretty little head on the chopping block, awaiting the effects of the executioner’s ax. Poetic justice was served, however. Esther stuck out her neck; the King extended his scepter.

Esther stuck her neck out and saved the day. Had the Jews merely stuck their tongues out at Haman and his countryman once they gained the upper hand, it would have saved us much consternation. But the Jews in the Purim story did much more than stick their tongues out. In fact, they did much more than exact revenge. Bear in mind, that not one drop of Jewish blood was spilled. Yet, the Jews were not content to hang Haman and his ten sons. In Shushan alone, they went and slew hundreds, while elsewhere in the kingdom they slew 75,000 of our enemies.  As much as our people are to be applauded for not plundering, shouldn’t we be perturbed and even abhorred for actions and behavior that were way out of proportion and defy revenge, much less justice? Perhaps, we can make some sense of what our ancestors did by employing the following reasoning. The Jews of Persia stuck their tongues out at adversaries. We of later generations must learn to stick our tongues out at adversity.

Have you ever wondered why Mordechai is referred to as Mordechai the Jew? Not once is Esther referred to as Esther the Jewess! Could it be that unlike Esther as well as all other coreligionists, Mordechai earned that title of distinction? Is it possible that Mordechai earned the title Jew for what he did to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all other Jews? Put differently, Mordechai was the only Jew who earned the right to stick his chest out with pride, because of how he acted. It wasn’t that Mordechai was proud to be a Jew (an accident of birth), it was that Mordechai had every right to be proud for stepping up to the plate as a Jew. If Haman was deserving of the nefarious distinction to be referred to as an Agagite  (Esther 3:1), then surely Mordechai was worthy of the praiseworthy distinction to be referred to as a Jew.

While the graggers twirl, perhaps a moment or two are in order to reflect on the messages and teachings of the Purim Megillah. Perhaps, Purim reminds us how necessary it is for us to stick our neck out for our people. Esther averted catastrophe by being prepared to do so. Perhaps Purim cajoles us to stick our tongues out at adversity as we take the necessary measures to confront adversity and destroy it. Perhaps Purim challenges us to stick our chests out, as a reward for stepping up to the plate. Only then, will the gladness and joy mentioned regarding the Jews in the Megillah take on real significance for Jews of this generation, as well. 

  

LEAPIN’ LEAP YEARS

This Shabbat, much of the world will be served a quadrennial reminder. Instead of February being comprised of exactly four weeks, this year an extra day will be added. As a result, newspapers will show photos of elderly couples celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary together with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, even though they were married in 1960. I recall officiating at a marriage Saturday night, February 29th, 1992. Come Shabbat, the bride and groom will be celebrating their 6th wedding anniversary.

But February 29th serves to remind us that calendrically speaking, we live in an imperfect world. Otherwise, why would adjustments be necessary to the Gregorian calendar? For us as a people, calendar adjustments are old hat. We Jews have been adjusting our calendar far more frequently (seven times every nineteen years as opposed to once every 4 years), far longer (millennia rather than centuries), and with results that are far more reaching (have you ever heard of Christmas being early or late, lehavdil like the High Holy Days) than the greater society in which we live. 

For those who nevertheless maintain that the world HaShem gave us is perfect, then wouldn’t it make perfect sense for us to have a perfect calendar requiring no adjustments?

February 29th ought to be able to serve yet another purpose. It ought to remind us that from the standpoint of religious observance, we Jews are simply not part of the Gregorian calendar. The first seder will never fall on a Sunday night, a Tuesday night, or a Thursday night. It matters not whether there is 365 days to the year or 366. Similarly, an extra day at the end of February will in no way affect the day of the week when we usher in the Jewish New Year. It can never happen that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be a Sunday, a Wednesday or a Friday. It is therefore safe to bet that the last day of February (whether it be the 28th or the 29th) will on no way affect when (on what day of the week) we celebrate our Holidays. Succinctly stated, we Jews have our festivals; the Christians have theirs.

February 29th ought to be a day of challenge, regardless what day of the week it falls. While it is true that each life that comes into this world is allotted a specific numbers of days, it is also true that every so often, we are gifted with an extra month (on the Jewish calendar) or an extra day (on the Gregorian calendar). It would therefore behoove us to take to heart Psalm 90:12, where we ask HaShem: Teach us to count our days. Properly understood, we are asking HaShem for the ability to make our days count. Shouldn’t HaShem have  every right to ask us what we did with the gift of an extra day in February that He gave us? What answer will we be able to give? American culture has desensitized us to gift of time. As a result, we ignore the magic of the moment, as well as what can be accomplished, by setting apart say, 20 minutes each day and devoting that time to a special project or mitzvah. With this in mind, my suggestion, nay my challenge to you, is to do something special on the extra day, the month of February accords you. Because it coincides with Shabbat, invite someone to Shabbat dinner to celebrate “leap day”. Send someone flowers with a note wishing them a “happy leap day”. Drop someone a note and date it, February 29th, just to tell them how special that person is. After all, how often does one receive notes or any other correspondence, dated February 29th? If you are not a regular attendee at Shabbat services, what better day is there to make a leap of faith than “Leap Day?” Shouldn’t an extra that comes once every 1,460 days, merit a deed or activity that is extra special?  

I hope that February 29th serves as an opportunity for us to realize how fragile calendars are. I would like to believe that February 29th sensitizes us to the difference between the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian one. I pray that we make that leap of faith and do something phenomenal on a day regarded by many as merely a phenomenon.

PRESENTING PRESIDENTS DAY

It’s none of my business how you celebrated Presidents Day earlier this week, if at all. However, as an American Jew, I would suggest that aside from Presidents Day, in addition to Presidents Day, or as an augmentation to Presidents Day, there be a Presidents Day with another “twist”. For those of us who are strong supporters of Israel, for those of us who realize that ever since May 1948, no two American presidents have viewed Israel from the same perspective, much less have been supportive of Israel in the same way, I believe that it is important for us to celebrate American Presidents who have either extended themselves to the Jewish people, the Jewish State, or both.

I would expect that the Hebrew word “ Todah” is known to a good many American Jews. Permit me to introduce a synonym, “Hakarot HaTov” ( Hakorress HaTov for those such as I who continue to insist on pronouncing certain Hebrew words with the inflection and intonation of the shtetl). Literally, it means recognition of the good. A much better translation would be “gratitude”.  For those who have much love for and a great deal of pride in this country, I strongly suggest that each year, come Presidents Day, we look back on two or three Presidents for whom we American Jews owe a HaKorress HaTov. From a non-partisan, purely subjective point of view,  I suggest the following three presidential candidates.

Despite urging and “sound” advice from Secretary of State George Marshall, President Harry S. Truman reluctantly agreed to a meeting with his old business partner Eddie Jacobson, provided that Jacobson not raise the topic of the soon to be proclaimed  Jewish State. Just one look at his fellow Kansan standing in the Oval Office with tears streaming down his cheeks, and Chaim Weizmann in tow, the President vociferated: “You win, you bald-headed s*n-of-a-b**ch.”  A mere 5 ½ years later, when introduced to the leadership of Conservative Judaism as the man who helped create the State of Israel,” Truman retorted, “What do you mean, ‘helped to create’? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.”

Fifty-two years ago, last month, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol visited LBJ at the Johnson ranch, here in Texas. Armed with an extensive shopping list to replenish the depleted Israel Airforce and Army (France was no longer a patron of Israel) after the miraculous successes of the Six-Day War, the Israeli Prime Minister received pretty much what he asked for from the American President. When it came to Israel, the word “no” was simply not part of President Johnson’s vocabulary. Perhaps LBJ summed up his relationship best when speaking with Arthur Goldberg, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, less than 2 months  following Eshkol’s visit: “I sure as hell want to be careful and not run out on little Israel.” A great speaker, President Johnson wasn’t. But perhaps his most prescient and memorable words to the Jewish community, soon after he assumed the presidency in November 1963, were: “You have lost a very great friend (his predecessor, J.F.K.) But you have found a better one.”

I have no idea who coined the phrase “only in America”. I do know, however, that for decades it was frequently uttered by previous generations of Jews in this country who extolled the virtues of these United States. Arguably, that phrase never rang truer than during the second week of October 1973. Caught unprepared, the IDF was fighting for its life, as it was attacked by Egypt on Yom Kippur Day. Aside from mounting casualties, the Israeli Air Force and Army were dangerously low in equipment that had been destroyed by the enemy. While Henry Kissinger, the Jewish Secretary of State procrastinated when it came to rearmament (in his view a bruised and bloodied Israel would have far less of its trademark chutzpah in peace talks with its Arab neighbors, once a truce was put into place) a Quaker President known for occasional tirades against Jews, stepped in, took control and overruled Kissinger. As President Nixon recalled: “When I was informed that there was disagreement in the Pentagon about which kind of plane should be used for the airlift, I became totally exasperated. I said to Kissinger, “Goddam it, use every one we have. Tell them to send everything that can fly.” Within hours, American cargo-configured aircraft, packed to the gills, were airborne headed for Israel.

Come Presidents Day, may log cabins and cherry trees always be part of our collective past. Come Presidents Day, may American Jews reflect on Presidents who serve to remind us how truly blessed we are, living in this country. 

OF FORESTS GROVES AND GARDENS

With so much emphasis on trees each year during the Hebrew month of Shvat, it is as though we can’t see the forest – or the garden, or the grove, for the trees. Perhaps Jewish Arbor Day would take on greater and richer meaning and deliver a more poignant message if we looked at the greater picture rather than focus solely on trees.

Ya’ar is the Hebrew word for the forest; Vald is the Yiddish equivalent. Hence, family names such as Greenwald (Green Forest) or Waldman (Forester). One would do well to speculate, that it was a forest and not a garden in which Adam and Eve were planted and from which they were soon expelled. Size aside, a garden connotes control, while a forest does not. That’s why Smokey the Bear warned us about the latter (Only you can prevent forest fires) but was seemingly mute about the former. It was precisely because the first residence of the first couple was under Divine control (as opposed to serpentine control) that it is referred to as the Garden of Eden and not the Forest of Eden. Fret not! Despite the garden garnering primary position, in no way is the ya’ar or forest overlooked. If anything, it is ya’ar and not garden that receives a plum position in our prayers. During a typical week, as we welcome in Shabbat, we include the 96th Psalm, where we are reminded that the time will come (with the arrival of Moshiach) when “all the trees of the forest will sing joyously.” For then, even the intractable forest will fall into line, as it praises HaShem.

Among the first Israeli songs I was to learn upon arriving for the first time in Israel as a teenager, was Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus or the Eucalyptus Grove. It was written by the renowned Israeli musician, songwriter and recording artist Naomi Shemer. A mere 4 years before her legendary Jerusalem of Gold, Naomi recorded Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus, where she recounts the Eucalyptus grove, the bridge, the boat and the scent of salt upon the waters of her childhood in Kvutzat Kinneret. For me, the song Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus or the Eucalyptus Grove evokes an Israel, where groves of trees, planted in seemingly unyielding soil, defy the odds of nature and proceed to tame and beauty a once wily land. For me, it is the tree, particularly the Eucalyptus tree, that served as a role model for the halutzim or pioneers of our Jewish homeland who defied the odds time and time again in a sand-strewn Israel, evoking simpler times where determination and hope were plentiful. Whether it was Eucalyptus, or Grapefruit, Hursha – grove will always be the Israel I want to and need to remember. 

Gan Eden or the Garden of Eden was the first garden ever known to humans. It must not go unnoticed that there is scant mention made of other gardens throughout the Tana’ch or 24 books of the bible. Among them, is one mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. We read about that garden every Yom Kippur morning, in the Haftorah assigned to that day. “Then HaShem …will satiate your soul in times of drought …and you will be like a well-watered garden…”. Ever sensitive that the garden was a place that our biblically versed people wistfully looked back upon, the Prophet provides hope for our people by depicting a Gan Raveh or well-watered garden to look forward to and believe in. Put differently, our existence is framed by two lush gardens, Gan Eden and Gan Raveh.

As one who savors singing about the almond tree, as one who is careful when it comes to chewing on carob, I ask of you to permit me to plant the following Tu B’Shvat concept in your hearts. In addition to paying homage to the fruits and trees, perhaps it is also time to fawn over the forests, regard the grandeur of the groves, and become a guardian of the gardens.

SUPER BOWLS

I have no idea how many rabbis devoted their sermons last week to the Super Bowl. Nor do I care. For me, and hopefully, for all Jews, the Super Bowl has nothing to do with 100 million Americans glued to the television set, nor does it involve companies prepared to shell out 5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial being aired at the same time when many viewers in all likelihood, have momentarily absented themselves from the television set, because they are heading to another room of the house, either to satiate their needs or to tend to their needs.

Long before the first Super Bowl took place long on January 15, 1967, there were three other Super Bowls that were in no way connected to Football. While I am not able to provide the exact date, I can tell you what took place at the first of these three Super Bowls: There were two brothers in that first Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, those two brothers were fraternal twins. Even though neither brother had ever seen a football before, that first Super Bowl had all the makings of a competition. It centered itself around a bowl of lentil stew. One brother had prepared the stew and was just about to pour it in a bowl when the other brother walked into the kitchen totally famished. He had spent the entire day in the field hunting.  “Fork over some of those vittles”, demanded the hunter. “I’m starving.” “Be happy to,” answered the other brother. “But it will cost you your birthright.” Without the least bit of hesitation and totally without a word of remonstration, the hunter went and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Unlike the Super Bowl of today, there were no winners. That first Super Bowl produced only losers. In addition to giving up his birthright, the hunter lost his self-respect; in addition to acquiring a birthright, the other brother lost his integrity.

The world would have to wait a few centuries until the second Super Bowl. Here too, I am not able to provide the exact date, but in addition to telling you what took place, I can also tell you where it took place. The second Super Bowl did not involve lentil stew or any other food. The second Super Bowl involved sparkling jewels and glowing coals. It took place at a royal palace in Egypt. In that second Super Bowl, there were also only two players: The Pharaoh himself and his adopted toddler son whom we know as Moses. It turns out, however, that the Pharaoh was no match for the toddler. As paranoid as the day is long, the Pharaoh feared that the day would come when he would meet his downfall at the hands of the toddler. After all, the toddler had just raised his little arms and removed the crown from Pharaoh’s head and placed it on his own head. Surely, a sign and portent were to be found in what had just occurred. At the suggestion of one of Pharaoh’s three advisors present, who was adamant in rescuing the toddler from certain death, a test was hastily arranged and two bowls – one filled with sparkling jewels and the other filled with glowing coals – were set before the toddler. That second Super Bowl produced two winners, one immediate and the other ultimate. True, Pharaoh walked away with a big smile and put his paranoia on hold, but it was the tongue torched toddler who would one day bring down Pharaoh and his country, as he led his people from slavery to freedom.

The third Super Bowl took place in this country during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Benny Shapiro entered a non-descript Drug Store on Delancey Street on New York’s Lower East Side, walked up to the soda fountain at the back of the pharmacy, and climbed up onto a stool. He caught the attention of the waitress and asked: “How much is a sundae?”  “Thirty-cents,” answered the waitress. Benny reached into his pocket and began to count the coins. The waitress was impatient. There were other customers to be served. Benny looked up at the waitress. “How much is a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream?” asked Benny. “Twenty cents,” answered the waitress with more than a hint of irritation in her voice. Again, Benny counted the coins. Finally, Benny said: “I’ll have a bowl of plain ice-cream.” Benny put a dime and two nickels on the table. The waitress took the money, brought the bowl of ice cream and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress returned. The bowl was empty. Benny was gone. The waitress picked up the empty bowl and began to cry. There, next to the wet spot on the counter where the bowl had been, was a nickel and five pennies. Benny did have enough money for a sundae all along, but he ordered a bowl of plain ice cream instead so that he could leave the waitress a tip. Unlike, the previous two Super Bowls, both the waitress and Benny were winners – the waitress for being the recipient of the thoughtfulness of a ten-year-old boy, and Benny for being such a mentsch.

Yasher Koach to the Kansas City Chiefs, the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. When all is said and done, however, the three Super Bowls of this article, and not any of the previous 53 televised Super Bowls are the ones worth remembering.

INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

Practically 75 years ago to the day, a glimmer of light came into this world that would have ramifications decades later. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – Birkenau, arguably the most infamous of all Concentration/Extermination Camps of the Third Reich. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation, a special session was held at the United Nations which culminated in designating January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Gevald! I was raised on Yom HaShoah. Each year on the 27th of Nissan, Yom HaShoah commemorations were held in Jewish communities throughout the world. When I learned of International Holocaust Memorial Day, I was indignant, to say the least. How dare the United Nations and then the 42nd president of the United States proclaims another date to memorialize Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man! By what right and under whose authority could they do such a thing? Yom HaShoah is a collective yahrzeit for the Jewish people. I don’t recall any Jewish leader suggesting that another date be chosen so that the yahrzeit of the six million be shared.

When a cooler head prevailed, I realized that while intending to pay homage to the same dark chapter in the history of mankind, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah couldn’t have been more different.

International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates a twentieth-century version of the Exodus from Egypt. It was the Soviet Union ironically, that led the pack of allied armies, playing the role of the biblical Moses, while those miraculously still alive in a hellhole in southern Poland, the very descendants of the Israelite slaves freed from the diabolical Pharaoh were the first of their people to be redeemed from unspeakable enslavement and unfathomable treatment. Military prowess aside, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the first step of allied armies being able to reassure the victims, “Don’t worry. We’re here to save you. We’re here to free you. We’re here for you to reaffirm your faith (whatever faith you may have left) that the forces of good have ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil.”

Not so, Yom HaShoah. Although chosen to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where a handful of Jews armed chiefly with chutzpah, managed to stave off the Third Reich for weeks, Yom HaShoah commemorates a twentieth-century version of the biblical Lot and a handful of others managing to survive the destruction of his society. Even though the Sodomites were in no way blameless or faultless like the Jews of Eastern Europe, there are still parallels to be made. The pillars of fire and the stench of death of Sodom and Gomorrah served as prototypes for the pillars of fire and the stench of death of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Both Lot, as well as the survivors of Nazism, set about building a new future for themselves. Both were cautioned of the dangers of looking back. Looking back was only helpful in that it ensured that those who succumbed not be forgotten, as well as it served as a reminder that we do not forget.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for the outside world to justifiably remind itself of its success is thwarting evil and rescuing the few that remained; Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish world to remind itself, that the remnant that survived will serve as living proof that it refuses to wallow in self-pity and victimhood and that Jews must never inflict upon others what others inflicted upon them.

We commemorate an event that took place seventy-five years ago that gave the free world reason to be optimistic and those still alive at Auschwitz – Birkenau reason to dare to hope, that humanity did not go up in the chimneys of the Nazi crematoria after all. For me personally, International Holocaust Memorial Day is beyond my expectations. As for Yom HaShoah, I would have expected nothing less.
  
 


MLK DAY ISN’T JEWISH

Decades ago, Jewish leaders, especially rabbis, were very much actively involved in the civil rights movement in this country. Aside from the social justice reason commanded by the Torah, Jewish spiritual leaders of yesteryear were quick to see parallels between the Jewish experience and the Black experience. However noble their effort to draw similarities between the two groups, Jewish leaders, religious or otherwise were blatantly wrong.

Addressing the annual meeting of the American Jewish Congress in 1958, Dr. King remarked: “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe.” I couldn’t agree more. I have no idea how many Yiddishisms were adopted by American Blacks, but Goldeneh Medineh wasn’t one of them. “ Moving on up” (to the East Side) by J’anet Dubois served as the theme song for the television sit-com The Jeffersons that debuted four and a half decades ago. The real moving on up, however, began 140 years ago as our Eastern European ancestors moved on up to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It may have been a cold-water flat with a shared bathroom at the end of the hallway, but it was a far cry from fetching a pail of water from the well and making one’s way to the outhouse in the shtetl. The only discrimination encountered in the overcrowded, unsanitary, and even dissipated world of the self-imposed ghetto of Jewish immigrants were not being hired at a “sweat shop” by another Jew for refusing to work on Shabbat.

To be sure, Jews did suffer from discrimination in this country. There was a tacit understanding among Christians – a gentleman’s agreement – that Jews were not welcome to live in certain neighborhoods throughout the United States. There were restricted country clubs, quotas in medical schools, and doors closed to Jews in corporate America. Jewish power responded far differently than black power. Amongst Jews, there were seldom any protests, peaceful or violent. Instead, Jews circumvented quotas. Jews built their own neighborhoods or “gilded ghettos”, Jews built their own country clubs. Any Jew could not get into medical school, would often “settle” getting into dental school. And if Jews were unwelcome by the Big Three automakers in this country, they became most successful, owning dealerships selling automobiles manufactured by those very same corporations who refused to hire them. True, Jews were known to go out on strike demanding better wages or better working conditions, but seldom if ever was there ever any looting or rioting. It wasn’t until the ‘60’s that Jews became involved in protests, against the war in Viet Nam or for freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union. And those protests were not because they were being treated less than equal because they were Jews.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw himself as the Moses of his people. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” said King Luther King Jr., a day before he was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Our Moses predated Reverend King by over three thousand years. Facing 600,000 newly liberated slaves, our Moses soon laid down the law by transmitting to them a Torah from HaShem. And in that Torah, there was a long list of do’s and don’ts otherwise known as the 613 commandments. The understanding was that a successful future was commensurate with the willingness of the newly freed slaves to incorporate those mitzvot into their daily lives.

MLK Day isn’t Jewish because no one individual campaigned for our people’s equal rights. In 1963, MLK led a march on Washington of 250,000 people. It was a tremendous achievement. The closest we Jews ever came to matching that, was twenty years prior when 400 rabbis traveled to this nation’s capital having been led to believe that they would be meeting with the president. It was an abject failure. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because we have been known to handle discrimination on an individual basis. MLK Day isn’t Jewish because we too were gifted with a leader who had been to the mountaintop, and soon after made it clear what was expected of us. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because it was never designed to be Jewish. It is a day for Black Americans. May his message live on as his legacy is honored.