MEGXIT

There is a corollary to the Yiddish proverb “Little children don’t let you sleep; grown children don’t let you live”. I would suggest that it read: “little children run their parents’ lives; grown children run their own lives”. As a parent, who adjusted to this corollary decades ago, I was served a poignant reminder of it last week. Like so many others, I read about the decision of Harry and Meghan to leave the “family business” and strike it out on their own. Unlike so many others, I am neither supportive nor opposed to their choice. As I rabbi, I cannot help but see their choice in terms of Judaism and its leaders.

Some 70 years ago, as those who somehow managed to survive Hitler’s “hell on earth” were rebuilding their lives, an American Jew paid a visit to the Satmar Rebbe who had recently arrived in New York. The visitor to the Satmar Rebbe was beside himself. His son had strayed from the path of Torah Judaism. Rather than rising early to go to synagogue to satiate himself with the spiritual, he was now staying up late to go to the tavern to satiate himself with spirits. Whereas once, his reputation was such, that any number of rabbis knew him by name, now his reputation was such, that any number of women knew him by name. The Poker Table had replaced the Shabbos Table. In short, he was a bum. The father wanted to disown his wayward son, and he was seeking the advice of the Satmar Rebbe on how to go about doing so. “Heaven forfend” exclaimed the Satmar Rebbe to the disconsolate father. A child, you don’t disown! A child is a gift from HaShem. How can you despise a gift from HaShem? Children do not come with guarantees.

Down the street from where we lived in New Jersey, there was a nice, quiet Jewish couple. If they did attend synagogue services, it must have been at another congregation, because never in the 20 years I served as rabbi at that pulpit, did I ever see them at services. Once and only once, did they turn to me for help. There had been a death in the family, and they asked if I would officiate at the funeral. I was there for them and did what I could to help them through their loss. In gathering information, I asked my neighbor what his father did for a living. Without blinking an eye, he told me that his father was a Lieutenant for Abner (Longy) Zwillman, a Jewish Mafioso of renown. Thinking back to this neighbor, serves as a reminder of a different nature, that children do not come with a guarantee. There are good, decent law-abiding citizens who were brought into this world by parents of ill repute. On a totally different level, we are constantly reminded by the Jewish world of today, “this is not your father’s Judaism”.  There is a growth of congregations and kosher restaurants opening in newly established observant communities, where two generations ago, neither Shabbat nor a kosher kitchen played a role in their families. Nowhere is it etched in stone, nor should we assume that children retain the values and beliefs of their parents.
  
There is a fable found in the writing of Gluckel of Hameln. It tells of a mother bird and her three little fledglings. There was a river to cross which was simply beyond the flying capability of the young birds. The only solution was for the mother bird to take one of her offspring in her claws and carry it across the river and safely deposit it in dry land and then circle back to transport the next offspring. As the mother bird was halfway across with the fledgling in her claws, she remarked to her child, “look how I am struggling and risking my life on your behalf.  When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for me in my old age?”  The fledgling replied, “Only bring me to safety, and when you are old, I shall do everything you ask of me.”
Immediately, the mother bird dropped the fledgling, leaving it to fall to its death. Swooping back, the mother bird transported her second child. Again, she asked “will you do for me and provide for me in my old age?  The second child gave the same answer only to meet the same fate. Carrying the third child in its claws, the mother posed the very same question. “Mother,” answered the third fledgling. “The best I can tell you is that just as you have been there for me, so too will I be there for my children”. And with that, the mother bird carried her third child to safety.

The latest news out of Britain should serve as a reminder, that contrary to Jewish teaching and tradition, it is not always true that “Ma’asei Avot Siman L’Vanim”  or the actions of the parents impact upon the children. Children do not make the dreams parents have for them come true, nor do they necessarily meet their parent’s expectations. There are honorable parents who have children who are embarrassments to society and there are honorable children who have parents who are embarrassments to society. Above all, the obligation of parents is toward their children; the obligation of children is toward their children.                                              

MAY SUCH ATTACKS CONTINUE

 A week ago, an event took place that should have captured the attention of any and every law-abiding American who has been following the onslaught of attacks that have been taking place against those in our society, who simply wanted to come to pray and participate in their religion.

Ninety thousand Jews converged on MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The event was Siyyum HaShas or the completion of the study of 2711 double-sided pages of Talmud. At the rate of a folio (both sides of a page) a day, the faithful devoted over 7 years, of painstakingly making their way through the endlessly daunting Talmud, to gain a better understanding, as well as a deeper appreciation of the text. Written in Aramaic, the Talmud is devoid of vocalization and punctuation. But even if one is capable of mastering reading the text, one is left with the formidable task of understanding the text. To a large extent, the depth of Talmudic thought and reasoning is mind-boggling, to say the least. It would in no way be an exaggeration, I believe, to say that just as the English language deems it correct for us to say, that one “attacks” a problem,  so too is it correct for us to say that those who devote themselves to serious Talmud study do so, by attacking the plethora of issues found in the Talmud. As such, last week’s Siyyum HaShas was a classical Jewish response to the seemingly unceasing attacks against our people within the last few years in general and the last few weeks in particular.  Upon completion of a tractate of the Talmud, as well as the entire Talmud, five non-textual paragraphs are included, followed by the reciting of a special Kaddish. Among these five paragraphs, we find “…for we rise, and they rise. We rise to study Torah, but they rise to kill time… we run, and they run. Our running will ultimately gain us entry into heaven, but their running will ultimately lead them to the pit of destruction.” In light of recent events, I believe that it would have been most fitting for those participating in Siyyum HaShass to have added “we attack, and they attack. We attack in order to master a tome, but they attack to create disaster as part of a syndrome.”

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our constant attack of the Talmud text is out of love and reverence. We attack the text cerebrally and spiritually, with the goal of unlocking hidden treasures and solving a myriad of mysteries. The greatest disservice one can render the Talmud is to treat it like any other text. I once recall reading the following statement from a renowned Talmudic scholar: “Quite often, when I scrutinize the same text for the hundredth time, I see something that I failed to notice the previous ninety-nine times.” True appreciation is accorded the Talmud when it is viewed as a holy puzzle, filled with cryptic statements as well as phrases and words that drop hints to the trained eye.

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our unceasing attack of the Talmud, reveals much about ourselves. Aside from our trademark tenacity – we Jews never give up – we have also shown that we are capable of a rebirth. Sixty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Siyyum HaShas to have taken place in a setting even remotely comparable to MetLife Stadium. Instead, any Siyum HaShas sixty years ago was in all probability a private affair with little fanfare, where at best, hundreds participated, rather than tens of thousands.

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize what’s in the crosshairs of a sizeable segment of our population. Rather than spending time fomenting hatred against those who are a thorn in our side and mean us harm, instead of devoting time to devise different ways of revenge, those who participated in last week’s Siyyum HaShas, set aside roughly an hour a day, in a way that threatens no one. Groups of people who are “on the same page” both literally and figuratively, agreed to get together, using their time productively as they set out on a holy quest that hopefully sharpened their thinking and ideally improved their character.

May such attacks continue.

JEWISH GENIUS

For me, the last Shabbat of 2019 began with a bang. In those early morning hours, prior to setting out for the weekly Torah class preceding services, my eyes did a double-take as I scanned the op-ed articles in that day’s New York Times. I was immediately taken by The Secrets of Jewish Genius. Written by Bret Stephens, a Jewish Journalists, the article shows a lopsided representation of Ashkenazic Jews as far as Nobel Prize Winners in Science (27percent) and recipients of ACM Turing awards (25 percent). The latter is an annual prize given by the Association for Computing Machinery to an individual selected for contributions “of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field”. Mr. Stephens could have justifiably pointed out similar lopsided Jewish representation in the fields of Accounting, Law, and Medicine.

Although my reading tastes rarely include novels, I immediately thought back to Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, where the fictional Chasidic Reb Saunders delivers a soliloquy against the Jewish mind. Having had a brother in pre-war Europe who was arguably one of the most brilliant minds ever to come into this world (this mattered not one iota to the Nazis who herded that brother along with six million other Jews of varying IQs into the gas chamber), Reb Saunders cries that better minds will in no way guarantee a better world. There was no shortage of brilliant, albeit diabolical minds among Nazi leadership. What the world needs, lamented Reb Saunders is not Jewish minds, but Jewish souls! I take no issue whatsoever with Bret Stephen’s op-ed. I cry from within, however, wondering when Bret Stephens or any other journalist – Jewish or non-Jewish – will ever write, or perhaps better stated, will ever have any reason to write an article about the Jewish soul.

Our Rabbinic sages fumbled when it came to what could have been one of the most meaningful prayers of the day, leaving the editor of the siddur to drop the ball altogether.  “My G-d! The soul you placed within me is pure. You created it. You fashioned it. You breathed it into me…”

Known to us as Elohei Neshamah, it is beyond me, why there is no mention anywhere in this prayer, about appreciation on our parts for this divinely entrusted soul, tailor-made for each and every human being brought into this world. It escapes me why we are not challenged to take that soul and put it to the best use possible. For the life of me, I fail to understand why the prayer Elohei Neshamah segues into the litany of morning blessings at the beginning of daily Shacharit services, for bleary-eyed worshippers to mumble through. If focus on HaShem and His goodness along with His tender mercies is integral to our daily existence, shouldn’t focus on our G-d given soul, so that it too be a source of goodness and tender mercies, be given top billing as well?
 
In my book “The Right Word”, I pointed out the difference between an obituary and a eulogy. I stressed that the former tells us that a person has died; the latter tells us that a person has lived. I should like to point out yet another difference between the two. An obituary informs us about the individual’s accomplishments and acuity. Whether telling us that the deceased was CEO of a major company or president of the P.T.A., an obituary emphasizes the mind of an individual. A eulogy, on the other hand, is about the individual’s influence and impact. Whether telling us how the deceased was a veritable Will Rogers who never met a person he/she didn’t like or how the deceased volunteered at the Police Station every Christmas day to express appreciation for Officers of the Law, a eulogy emphasizes the soul of an individual. So too inscriptions found on grave monuments. The next time you are at a cemetery, take a few moments to read the epitaphs on these monuments.  Do those inscriptions focus in on the mind or the soul of the individual?

As we welcome 2020, in addition to looking at accomplishments of the past year, let us also look forward to a year of care and concern for others. As important as it is to live smarter, it is crucial that we live better. If we can make that happen, then perhaps there will come a time when Bret Stephens or another journalist will write an op-ed about The Secrets of a Jewish Soul.



CHANUKAH PAST CHANUKAH PRESENT CHANUKAH FUTURE

In discussing whether a Chanukah light that was prematurely extinguished musty be rekindled, the Talmud cites that the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting Chanukah candles extends from when the sun sets until foot traffic has vanished from the market. Implied of course is that the (optimum)  time for lighting the oil/candles of Chanukah is from dusk, until the end of what has come to be known as the evening rush hour.

Yet, the phraseology of time employed by the Talmud begs interpretation. To be sure, Judaism is a time-bound religion, very much concerned about the earliest and latest time one may perform mitzvot. Typically, Judaism refers to dusk as bein ha shmashot  (between the “suns” viz. the sun and the moon) and the end of evening rush hour as tzeit ha kochavim (emergence of the stars). Why then the departure from the norm in phraseology when the topic is Chanukah lights?

Through the ages, it has become pretty much accepted that the kindling of Chanukah lights is for external purposes. Long before neon signs were invented, our religious leaders deemed it vital that the outside world is made aware of a divine quid pro quo sign of gratitude, bestowed upon the Maccabees. Very much impressed that a small, ill-equipped and poorly trained rag-tag army took on a fighting force of ancient Hellenists, thereby going against human nature, HaShem showed His recognition and appreciation by going against the very forces of nature, by having a one day supply of oil burn for eight.

Perhaps our religious leaders misunderstood the directive of the Chanukah Menorah. Perhaps the kindling of Chanukah candles was not for external purposes, but for internal purposes after all! Why should our religious leaders care what the outside world thinks? Did our religious leaders really believe that they could impress the outside world with Jewish miracles? Hasn’t Judaism always prided itself as being a live and let live religion?  Perhaps the initial dictate of placing the candles outside one’s door and later on at one’s window was a message to the Jews themselves! Perhaps that message was “before you go out and let yourself become absorbed by the outside culture (placing the menorah outside one’s door), perhaps before you look out to see what’s out there in the outside culture (placing the menorah by one’s window), look first at the Chanukah candles. Be mindful that if you are looking for the “greatest show on earth” then look no further. Our very own Judaism provides it.

This past Shabbat, at Se’udah Shleesheet or the third Shabbat meal, we studied five similarities that exist between Chanukah and Pesach. Long before Charles Dickens wrote about Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future, our sages spoke about Pesach Past (our ancestor’s departure from Egypt), Pesach Present (our annual celebration of the Festival of Freedom throughout the generations) and Pesach Future (our being able to celebrate our ultimate redemption). Perhaps the same can be said about Chanukah! Perhaps our festival of miracles lends itself to Chanukah Past, Chanukah Present, and Chanukah Future as well! Chanukah Past occurred over two millennia ago when a small band of Maccabees accomplished the miraculous in warfare and then witnessed the miraculous in oil. Chanukah Present has been our reenactment of the miracle of yore through the annual kindling of Chanukah lights. It may very well be, that Chanukah Future is what the above stated Talmudic dictum has been alluding to all along!

When the sun sets may not be in reference to the time of day, but rather a time or era to come. When the sun sets may, in fact, refer to the time when the sun (viz. the other nations of the world, in that the other nations count by the sun, while Israel counts by the moon -Talmud, Sukkah 29a) is no longer looked up to by Jews. When foot traffic has vanished from the market may, in fact, refer to the propensity of our people to visit the “market” of foreign cultures. When that time comes, when Jews cease to be infatuated by the sun and finally stop running to the market, the flame of the Chanukah candles will no longer need to be relit, for we Jews will no longer have a need to be reminded that it is the light within that illuminates.

HELL!

Last week, the White House hosted its 19th official Chanukah party. I was not invited. But a Southern Baptist Minister who preaches not far from Tiferet was. And predictably, a good many Jews were in an uproar. As far as they are concerned, a Chanukah party is no place for a  man of the cloth, who has in the past preached that those who do not accept Jesus into their lives will end up in hell.

Hell! If clergy were able to decide who ends up in Hell, there would be a waiting list from here to eternity. Countless are the number of times clergy have flippantly muttered  “go to hell” to drivers who cut them off in traffic or to drivers who won’t let them into another lane of traffic. Why, there is a place reserved in hell for all who are employed at the DMV in this city because of clergy who, along with others, have had to wait for hours to renew their drivers’ licenses. (Believe it or not, clergy are right up there with the best of them when it comes to cussing.) Regardless of the Theological Seminary this Southern Minister White House invitee attended it is my belief, that it is the Creator of the World, together with His heavenly tribunal, and not religious leaders, who will decide whether heaven or hell is the ultimate destination for any soul who has departed this world. Can it be that this Southern Baptist Minister along with others like him have some inside line when they so confidently spout the “final destination” of those who do not accept Jesus into their lives?


Hell! Most Jews don’t believe in Hell anyway. According to a Pew report conducted five years ago, a paltry 22% of Jews believe in Hell. While I have no evidence to support this, I cannot help but feel that more Jews believe in Santa Claus than Hell. Why then the ire over a guest at an annual White House Chanukah party, who tells those who do not accept Jesus into their lives that they are destined for a place that most Jews maintain does not exist? As a rabbi, I am indignant. More Jews care what a Southern Baptist Minister has to say about their ultimate destiny, than care what I, a rabbi,  have to say about their current status in this world. Publicly, I try very hard not to take fellow Jews to task, especially those who are at services. And that includes those who fall asleep during my Shabbat morning Torah talk! Hell has no fury like indignant Jews for a man of the cloth who, on the one hand, intimates that as rejectors of Jesus we are headed for Hell, yet on the other hand, has the chutzpah to show up at a White House party celebrating a Jewish festival.

Hell! This cleric has his head in the clouds. Clearly, he has no understanding whatsoever of the meaning of Chanukah story! Does he not appreciate the message of the Maccabean victory? Over two thousand years ago, a band of our coreligionists took up arms to protest a culture, as well a religion, that flew in the face of Judaism. Two thousand years ago, a band of coreligionists went to fight for religious freedom and religious tolerance. Because this ancient band of coreligionists respected, yet rejected, an ancient belief system and culture that was not theirs, the very message of Chanukah is the right, nay the duty, of contemporary Jews to respect, yet reject a contemporary belief system and culture that is not theirs, as well. Other than opportunism, it is therefore beyond me why this man of the cloth who espouses credentials for entrance into Heaven, would accept an invitation to attend a celebration that rejects deities (including Jesus)  that are contrary to Judaism.

Personally, it matters not one iota to me whether this Dallas preacher attends a Chanukah celebration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this nation’s capital. He does, however, make himself look ridiculous by doing so. By joining a group of people who not only reject Jesus as the savior but the very existence of Hell, as well. Similarly, it is beyond my understanding, why so many are up in arms for his showing “his face in the place.”

As I extend my heartfelt and sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas to my fellow man of the cloth, as well as to all those of the Christian faith, may I be so bold as to remind them that if “peace on earth” is to have any real meaning, then instead of espousing necessary credentials for entry into heaven,  perhaps our primary focus ought to making our society just that much more heavenly.

FRAU CHANCELLOR

Note to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

Frau Chancellor, I wish I had known in advance that you would be visiting Auschwitz last Friday. I would have asked if some members of Congress could accompany you. You see Frau Chancellor, these members of Congress have no concept of what a Concentration Camp, as well as an Extermination Camp (Birkenau, which is adjacent to Auschwitz), was all about. Otherwise, it is simply beyond me (as well as any other normal thinking individual) why these government officials make odious comparisons, essentially equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Perhaps if they saw Auschwitz up close, they would be forced to admit, that the only camps found under Arab control are Refugee Camps, which are in fact cities with the infrastructure of cities.  And should these members of Congress ignorantly point to the poverty and unemployment that prevail in these Refugee Camps, it could be patiently pointed out that Auschwitz was well beyond poverty and unemployment. What was very much apparent in Auschwitz, was the fetid smell of death as Jews were systematically starved and systematically exterminated.

Frau Chancellor. Hans Joachim Gustav Meyer was a Landsmann (sic) of yours. Bielefeld was his birthplace. Why, Hanjo as he was known, was even incarcerated in Auschwitz for a period of ten months, for having committed the crime of being a Jew. Yet, Hanjo managed to survive that Hell Hole. I would have wanted Hanjo to join you on last Friday’s trip so that he could revisit Auschwitz. Alas, Hanjo died five years ago. Surely, there must be other Jews who share the view of Hanjo Meyer. Surely there must be other Jews who are convinced that the way the Israeli military mistreats the Palestinians is similar to the way the Nazis mistreated the Jews. Standing with you as you toured Auschwitz, Hanjo’ Meyer’s protégées could have also viewed preserved artifacts, like piles of shoes (including prosthetic limbs) taken from Jews and human hair shaved off heads of Jews. Perhaps seeing these artifacts, so would have spurred those who see the Israeli military as Nazis to seek out piles of Palestinian shoes confiscated the Israeli military and human hair that Israelis shaved off Palestinian heads before they were “interred” in Khan Yunis or Rafah or any of the other six Refugee Camps within the Gaza Strip.

Frau Chancellor. No doubt you noticed “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the iron gates of Auschwitz, during your visit last Friday. Granted, you are a politician and not a linguist, but permit me to ask you, if it is correct German to say “Erziehung Macht Frei” that education makes (one) free? If so, perhaps, I could send such signs to the countless professors throughout the free world who are prisoners to propaganda and as a result, continue to infect impressionable minds of College and University students with poisonous misinformation, as they compare Zionism to Nazism. Instead of remaining true to the curriculum and imparting knowledge in disciplines such as Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology, these professors unscrupulously besmirch the reputation of the only democracy in the Middle East. Perhaps if these professors were better educated as far as Nazism and Zionism, perhaps if it were pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Nazism, because they have yet to visit what Nazism produced, namely Auschwitz, they would soon realize that when all is said and done, that Nazism is the moral opposite to Zionism. Granted, they would have to make a visit as well to see how Israelis treat Palestinians.  Perhaps if they were open-minded to such an education, they would conclude Nazism produced a stain on humanity, while Zionism is a source of pride to humanity.

Frau Chancellor, you are in my prayers for your recent visit to Auschwitz. As for certain members of Congress, as for Jews who make odious comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, as for College Professors who don’t know what they are talking about, I cannot help but feel that such individuals simply don’t have a prayer.

INFAMY

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941— a date which will live in infamy— the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” So spoke the 32nd president of this country to a joint session of Congress 78 years ago.

Meaning no disrespect to FDR, it can be argued that there was nothing infamous about the pre-meditated attack on Pearl Harbor whatsoever. What the Japanese carried out was an act of war, not an act of infamy.

“Have you no sense of decency?” would have been an excellent question to have posed to our Patriarch Jacob. When directed by Rebecca to go to the flock to fetch two choice young goats, so that she might prepare them according to Isaac’s tastes, thereby enabling her favorite son to usurp the blessing intended for Esau, Jacob offers up a most feeble response. Jacob is concerned that their ruse be discovered! Surely, one would have expected Jacob to protest that such a shenanigan was patently wrong. But Jacob failed to do so. When a  patriarch of our people is unable to see that he was about to engage moral turpitude, that is a day that will live in infamy.  

Yet, it only took one generation for yet another day to live in infamy. And no, it wasn’t Jacob’s ten sons casting Joseph into a pit only to sell him to a caravan of traders bound for Egypt. While such behavior was totally criminal and inexcusable on the part of the brethren, it was never the less understandable. The infamy came about while Joseph was left to languish in the pit. The infamy came about when the brothers sat down to eat bread. While in no way illegal, their decision to dine as though no altercation had ever taken place was unacceptable as well as inexcusable. Other brothers would have been too enraged and upset to eat. Other brothers would have lost their appetite and blamed Joseph for making them sick to their stomachs. But Jacob’s ten sons were not other brothers. Jacob’s sons lacked emotions. That’s why their eating of bread was a dastardly act. That’s why their eating of bread ought to have been a meal that will live on in infamy!

Among important biblical figures who have been given short shrift for far too long is the Prophet Natan. Sent by HaShem to give King David a dressing-down for his ignoble behavior with the wife of Uriah the Hittite (arguably of star general status), the Prophet Natan misses the point. However eloquent his analogy was (there are so many damsels to dally with who are at your beck and call, why start up with the wife of one of your most loyal military men) the Prophet Natan was remiss in not pointing out King David’s most egregious shortcoming. However necessary it was to convey to King David that adultery (Bat Sheva was a married woman) is amoral, the Prophet Natan was derelict in taking the King to task for his ultimate failure. However inexpiable it was on King David’s part to send Uriah out on a suicide mission so that King David could marry the woman, pregnant with his child, the Prophet Natan failed to shed light on King David’s unforgivable sin vis a vis the Jewish people. And that is how totally reprehensible it was for King David not to show the slightest bit of remorse when receiving the inevitable news from a messenger that Uriah had died in battle. It was King David’s unconcerned reaction to a death for which he was ultimately responsible, that made for a day that will live in infamy.

“Heroes often fail,” reminds us of the songwriter and recording artist Gordon Lightfoot. It would be unrealistic for the masses to expect heroes not to fall from the pedestals to which they have been elevated. After all,  they are human and are therefore prone to mistakes and misjudgments. When those very same humans do fail, yet neglect to show contrition and remorse, then that is a day that will live in infamy.

THANKSGIVING CAME EARLY

Unexpectedly, Thanksgiving came 10 days early for me this year. Recently, I discovered a “reality” show on the Weather Channel, called  Ice Pilots NWT. The show focuses on Buffalo Airlines, a Canadian air carrier that uses a fleet of antiquated, pre-jet-powered aircraft, primarily for cargo service. Last week’s episode, although 7 years old, was a tribute to Arnie Schreder, a former pilot at Buffalo, who retired from the company, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two years later, Arnie lost his battle with cancer and died shortly after checking into a hospital in Kelowna, British Columbia, 1,500 miles south of Yellowknife.

Arnie Schreder may have left Buffalo, but Buffalo never left Arnie Schreder. Upon learning of his passing, those at Buffalo contacted Arnie’s family and coordinated plans to honor his last wishes and memory. A Buffalo DC 3 aircraft with passenger seats installed, carrying Arnie’s closest friends was dispatched to Kelowna to pick up members of the Schreder family and Arnie’s cremains and fly them back up to Yellowknife. Although Buffalo has several different aircraft, and Arnie piloted them all, the DC3 was chosen, because it was Arnie’s favorite. After climbing to cruising altitude, the urn carrying Arnie’s ashes was strapped into the very same pilot’s seat Arnie had occupied any number of times and a set of headsets was placed atop, to symbolize Arnie’s last flight.

Once back in Yellowknife, a memorial service was held in Buffalo’s hangar that had been converted into a chapel, with rows of chairs set up. Television viewers were treated to the remarks of Justin Simle, a protégé of Arnie’s who, summed up his feelings towards his mentor, by saying “he was one of my best friends”. It was Mikey McBryan, son of Buffalo’s taciturn owner “Buffalo Joe” however, who said it best: “it’s not so much remembering what Arnie did, but what we can do with what Arnie taught us”. Neither Justin nor Mikey remained dry-eyed as they shared their sentiments. Similarly, most other men in attendance stood or sat crying, as they bade a final farewell to one of their own.

Prior to scattering Arnie’s ashes over Pilot’s Monument, a structure set up in Yellowknife’s Old Town, honoring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the north to the rest of Canada, there was an appropriate honor guard of flybys of various aircraft from different Canadian carriers.

Say what you want about the veracity of “reality television”. Last week’s episode of Ice Pilots NWT, which first aired close to 7 years ago, leaves us with the following to consider:

There are those of us who not only make impressions but leave lasting impressions. Arnie Schreder was one such individual. Schreder’s death came about because of his lungs; Arnie Schreder’s life came about because of his heart. And his heart found its way into the hearts of more people than Arnie could have ever realized, because of his love for flying and his love of planes. And Arnie did whatever he could to share that love and express that love with others. It should not take the fourth Thursday of November for us to be thankful for the love that is similarly expressed and shared.

Appreciation is shown in different ways. The way Buffalo Airlines expressed its appreciation to Arnie and the Schreder family defies words. I can only hope and pray that it didn’t take Arnie’s death for that appreciation to be expressed. True thanksgiving ought never to take the form of delayed thanksgiving. Thanks to Shaw Canada and Reality TV, the Schreder family has a record of that appreciation. However tasteful the turkey, however flavorful the filling, however delicious the dressing, like any other food, it must be quickly consumed. True thanksgiving is the hug, the phone call, the note, and the letter, the television tribute, as well as whatever else we will remember and cherish the rest of our lives.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Say what you want about Climate Change. It is a topic I have yet to address, nor do I anticipate doing so, in the foreseeable future. There is one Climate Change however, that ought to greatly concern us as Jews. And that is the Climate Change toward Israel. It may very well have begun on college campuses, particularly in the Humanities, where the minds of impressionable naïve students have been filled with vitriol against Israel. Rather than stick to a curriculum of Philosophy, Sociology or Psychology, students receive an education in how to revile Israel. As a result, the country that was once referred to as the Jewish State is now being called the Apartheid State or the Fascist State. Recently, I was asked to respond to the following question, posed by a presumably well-meaning, but woefully misdirected individual:

Is the treatment of Israeli soldiers toward Palestinians any different than the treatment of Nazi soldiers towards Jews?

When it comes to absurd comments, never go on the defensive. Ever! Doing so implies that there is something to defend. Instead, bear in mind the following quote attributable to both George Washington and (lehavdil*) Mao Zedong, that a “good offense is the best defense”.  Should you therefore, ever find yourself being placed in the position of spokesperson for the entire Jewish State, rather than attempt to answer an inane question, such as “how come there are no names to the Concentration Camps that Palestinians are forced into by Israelis”, make sure that it is the quisling who starts sizzling. Answer that question by asking: “Could you please tell me where you get your information? What do you know about these Concentration Camps to ask such a question? Have you checked with Peace Now, a Jewish organization formed to monitor Israel’s abuse of Palestinians? Why don’t you do so and obtain a list of Concentration Camps, so that I can deal with your question, intelligently”?

Misinformed finger-pointers typically get their information – giving them the benefit of the doubt that they actually are informed – from the media. The media tends to be neither factual nor accurate, in that being factual and accurate, rarely, if ever, holds one’s interest. The misinformed ought, therefore, to be asked if they are able to comment on the silent majority of Palestinians, gainfully employed by Israelis and enjoying a far better lifestyle than their counterparts living under Jordanian rule. Of even greater importance, it is our duty to chastise the misinformed, to get them to explain why they have failed to take up the cudgel of human rights for the plight of the suffering of others. Currently, I am mentoring a chaplaincy student from Nigeria. I have in my office a copy of his “Full Life Account”. He writes: “When I was a few months old, 18 armed men came to our house. It was a brutal scene. They stole our money and abused us. One of them walked up to my mom and demanded she give him the baby. Other gang members managed to divert his attention. A close friend of my mom’s was not so lucky. She had given birth to a baby girl around the same time I was born. The thugs murdered her infant daughter instead”. One would do well to ask the Israel accuser, why he/she has yet to champion the causes of people in this world who are truly oppressed?  Where were you when Tutsi were being raped tortured and murdered by the Hutus? Were you as concerned about Sudanese when they had to flee for their lives to Syria? Have you expressed outrage at the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar? Now that Palestinians are stabbing Israelis, now that Palestinians are throwing fire-bombs into Israel, now you suddenly become concerned about human rights?

When it comes to absurd comments or questions, one is best to ignore them. Two weeks ago, when Dallas plunged into a deep freeze, well-meaning, but unthinking congregants turned to me with the following ludicrous remark: “You should be used to this, you are from Canada”! For the record, being from Canada means nothing: Vancouverites experience far more temperate winters than Dallasites. Waking up to 26-degree weather is unimaginable to Vancouver residents. For the record, it’s been close to half a century, since I lived in Canada. “Being used to it” after a 50-year absence is quite a stretch. For the record, there are things that some people never get used to. I am sure that there are Dallas residents who detest and deplore the climate from mid-June until mid-September. It is, therefore, best to ignore thoughtless remarks.

If Climate Change is of concern to us, we would do well to be alert to the fact, that the climate toward Israel seems to be undergoing change as well. As such, when well-meaning, misinformed and dangerously selective individuals turn up the heat on Israel, we would be well advised to keep our cool.

  • Lehavdil is a Hebrew term that means “perish the comparison”


JEWISH VETERANS AND VETERAN JEWS

With the observance of Veterans Day earlier this week, perhaps it’s time to ask three pertinent questions that in all likelihood should have been asked years ago:
What’s the difference between serving your country and serving your G-d? Serving your country is usually time-bound. For most, there is a tour of duty. Even those who make a career out of serving their country, there are options as well as retirement benefits. Unlike the aftermath of  Vietnam, those who serve our country, are generally looked up to and respected. Anyone in the boarding lounge of an airport is reminded that the courtesy of early boarding of the aircraft is extended to U.S. military personnel. Serving your G-d, on the other hand, is a life- long endeavor and undertaking – at least from the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Rather than looking forward to a pension, Jews ought to be looking forward to the challenge. Just as a well-disciplined soldier always sets self-improvement as the goal, so too ought self-improvement be the case of a well-disciplined Jew.  As Jews, there are no tours of duty. Rather than signing up, Jews are inscribed. As a result, each of us breathes our last breath, while serving our maker.

What is the difference between a decorated soldier and a decorated Jew? Succinctly stated, the difference lies in medal and mettle. A decorated soldier is one who associated with medal. The uniform says it all. Whether it be the number of stars on the epaulet or the rows of awards over the chest, a quick glimpse quickly indicates to the casual observer whether the one serving our country is a person of rank. A decorated Jew, however, is one who is associated with mettle. While bereft of any visual reminders of achievements and accomplishments, the Jew has every reason to believe that the decorations that await him or her are out of this world, in the most literal sense. Typically, the decorated Jew is one who has succeeded in braving the enemy of indifference, the adversary of assimilation and the foe of capitulation. Like the decorated soldier, the decorated Jew is constantly aware of traps and pitfalls. Like the decorated soldier, the decorated Jew is not only alert to external enemies, but to threats that come from within as well.

What is the difference between a Jewish veteran and a veteran Jew? A Jewish veteran is one who has fulfilled his or her patriotic chore in serving this country. Particularly when it comes to World War II. In actual numbers, well over half a million Jews put their lives on the line for the war effort. Given the fact that there were a little over 4 million Jews in this country at the time, we have much of which to be proud. In fact participation of Jews in the American Forces was exemplary when one takes into account pockets of anti-Semitism existent in the army, the Army Air Corps (later to be known as the USAF) and the navy at that time, especially when there were more than a few in the country filled with resentment, that this country should have to stick its neck out for Jews in Europe. A Veteran Jew on the other hand simply does not exist. It can’t. As far as Judaism is concerned, “ a Jew, even though he has sinned, is still a Jew ” (Sanhedrin 44a).

By definition, a Jew cannot abandon Judaism. Unlike the army, in Judaism, there is no highest office or status to achieve. Unlike the army, one is not honorably (or dishonorably) discharged from Judaism. Unlike the army, one does not receive a pension for the remainder of one’s life. What one does ultimately receive, however, is a heavenly reward for living a life of commitment and study which typically leads to a life of mitzvot. Rather than attaining the rank of Corporal or Sergeant or Colonel, the highest rank one can attain in Judaism is Talmid Chacham (a wise student) or Ben Torah (son of Torah).

The closest (but in no way similar) that Judaism comes to Veteran’s Day is the commemoration of a yahrzeit. Whereas Veteran’s Day reminds us that they served, a Yahrzeit reminds us that they lived. Whereas commemorating a Yahrzeit brings with it the message “May their memory be a blessing”, commemorating Veteran’s Day brings with it the message “Veterans are a blessing to this country”.