COMFORT FOOD

Even though there is no shortage of reasons why we have the tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, I should like to offer one more reason. I do so because milk, from which all dairy foods derive, is the epitome of paradoxes. Originating in the udder of a cow (or goat or sheep or any other kosher mammal), milk is encased in a pouch of flesh (udder is a meat available for human consumption in other cultures). Yet, the moment milk is extracted from that pouch of flesh, “dairy distancing” comes into effect, both as far as time and space.
Yet, paradox defines Judaism. As a world population, we Jews are in the decimal digits. As far as land, (the State of Israel), the vast majority of states in this country are larger than the State of Israel. Yet, if American culture and society are any indications, one could easily be duped into thinking that Jews are a significant portion of the population. Jews are overrepresented in the fields of law and medicine. Jews play a major role in entertainment – so much so, that many believed that Ed Solomon (sic) of the Ed Sullivan show was Jewish (he was married to Sylvia Weinstein). The Irish comprise 10% of the population of this country. Yet, in my lifetime, I have never been aware of politicians in this country running for national office being concerned about the Irish vote. Nor does Ireland or its population and politics garner front-page news the way Israel does. So entrenched is the paradox of Jews and Israel in this country, that few if any, even regard it as a paradox.

It is not in any way unheard of for non-Jews, to see Judaism as an extremely logical religion. Perhaps so. But Jews, as well as the Jewish State, defy logic. I am no statistician, but I am told that if the number of Jews killed throughout history by the outside world “in the name of heaven” were fed into a computer, then according to logic, there should be no Jews left on the face of this earth. No different than the one-day supply of oil, discovered in the ransacked Temple in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, Jews defy the odds. Even Look Magazine ran a front-page story in 1964 on “The Vanishing American Jew”. Look Magazine has long been consigned to history; Jews continue to make history. Jews are a paradox when it comes to lasting power. No other people could endure what we Jews have endured and continue to exist, much less thrive. So too the Jewish State. According to military analysts in the Pentagon in the Spring of 1948, the newly established State of Israel did not have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of survival. Then again, paradoxes pay no heed to logic, analysts, or predictions.

Perhaps the greatest paradox concerning our people is our resistance. Judaism is and has always been resistant to outside forces. While the Hellenists, the Romans, the Church (the Crusades) the Communists, and the Nazis were successful in destroying Jews, not one of these enemies could claim victory in destroying Judaism. If anything, the exact opposite turned out to be the case. Known for our obstinance, we Jews defiantly sounded the shofar, lit Chanukah candles, baked Matzahs, and conducted seders even under the most hellish conditions. At the same time, Judaism is extremely vulnerable to forces from within. Unlike the impotence of our enemies, we Jews can cause Judaism to vanish and disappear. All we have to do is to ignore our religion with its traditions and practices. Within a short time, Judaism will cease to be. Perhaps, this is the greatest paradox of all. We Jews have within our ability to undo what the enemy has tried to do over the ages. All that is required of us, is to do nothing. 

Comfort food has been defined as food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value. Perhaps so. With the festival of Shavuot soon upon us, I propose that cheese blintzes, calzones, lasagna, and pizza be considered comfort food. By eating dairy, let us find comfort, that like milk, we Jews, despite our numbers, are a paradox as far as our importance in this country. Let us find comfort in realizing that typically, milk has a short shelf life. We Jews, however, have been around for ages. As far as Jewish lasting power, expiration dates are academic. Most important of all, let us find comfort in knowing that when it comes to milk, we cannot afford to ignore, without risking placing the cow in jeopardy. Similarly, when we ignore Judaism, we risk placing ourselves in jeopardy. Regarding milk, it has been said that it is good for all ages.
So too Judaism.

A meaningful Dairy Festival of Shavuot to all

ZIKARON and ZECHER

Dictionary definitions aside, I feel it safe to say that a memorial honors a person or an event. It wasn’t until recently however, that I felt it safe to say why the Kiddush on Friday night contained both Zikaron and Zecher, two very similar words akin to memorial, arbitrarily translated as “remembrance” and “memorial.” With Memorial Day less an a week away, I offer what I believe to be three distinctions between the terms Zikaron and Zecher, in the hope that these terms add meaning and significance to a day that I cannot help but feel is not accorded its proper due.

Despite untold hours sitting in the dentist chair with my mouth open, I know next to nothing when it comes to terms such as “mesial” and “distal.” I do know however, that dentistry is one of the few professions, if not the only profession, where “injection” and “extraction,” antonyms if you will, are commonly used terms, in that a dentist does both. I also know that the terms “injection” and “extraction” help explain the difference between Zikaron and Zecher.

Zikaron,hearkening back tothe creation story, connotes injection, in that it relates everything HaShem saw fit to place into this world. Zecher, hearkening back to the story of the exodus from Egypt,relates everything that occurredwhen our ancestors were taken out of Egypt. While both terms are so very similar, in that they ask us to recall an event, both terms are so very different, in that the Zikaron events of creation of the world and the Zecher events of creation of a nation are diametric opposites.

It has been close to 8 decades, sinceRobert Lee Scott Jr. brigadier general in the United States Air Force and flying Ace of World War II wrote God is My Co-Pilot. Close to 5800 years ago, HaShem came up with the converse. As far as HaShem was concerned, we humans were His co-pilot. Once the six days of creation had taken place, HaShem handed over the controls to us. Yet, it is He who remains in charge. Every Friday evening, during Kiddush; we are reminded of this through Zikaron. But we are also reminded of one other thing during Kiddush as well. We are reminded that just as HaShem devoted His energies to this world for the very first six days ever recorded, so too are we reminded that we need to devote our energies to our comtemporary world for six days each week. Hence, the other Kiddush term, Zecher.

Perhaps Memorial Day can be seen and appreciated along similar terms. Zikaron ought to be understood as those in our armed forces who injected themselves in the fight for liberty; Zecher ought to be understood in terms of our being able to extract and enjoy the blessings of freedom, thanks to those in our armed forces who gave of themselves and put their lives on the line.
Time was, when American students were called upon to remember the blessings of this country on a daily basis, with reciting  the Pledge of Allegiance. This was Zecher. Time was, when a day was set aside at the end of May to pay tribute to those who were prepared to give their lives – and at times did – for their blessed country. This was Zikaron.  Last but not least, during the Song of the Sea, which we recite in the daily Shacharit service, we are reminded HaShem, Ish Milchamah, HaShem is a warrior (Exodus 15:3). That’s Zecher. HaShem’s warrior days are long over. HaShem now limits Himself to overseeing battles and wars and  keeping a watchful eye over those who risk their lives, as they fight for freedom and liberty. Let us set aside one day a year to keep those whom HaShems oversaw throughout battles and wars in our hearts. That’s Zikaron.

A meaningful and moving Memorial Day to those in Uniform

CAVE MEN

Justified or not, the term caveman connotes primitive, uncouth, and uncivilized individuals. When it comes to what we in contemporary society seem to be proper behavior, a caveman is regarded as the antithesis of one who is looked up to because of admirable traits, respectability, and comportment. With the intent of dispelling preconceived notions toward cavemen, I should like to bring to mind, three “cavemen” from our heritage, who were exemplary when it came to caves.

Leaving Ben Gurion Airport after landing in Israel, one enters the highway linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  That highway is referred to as the Ayalon, a name hearkening back to Yehoshua, Moshe’s successor. Persuading the sun to stand still over Givon, and the moon to remain fixed over the valley of Ayalon, Yehoshua was able to proclaim stunning victory over the Amorites. By all accounts, it was quite a feat. In my opinion, however, an even greater feat occurred at the cave of Makedah, near what is now Beit Horon. It was at the cave of Makedah, where Yehoshua kept his word to the Givonites, despite having a good reason not to. It was at the cave of Makedah, where Yehoshua meted out justice to five kings, who declared war against the Givonites for having forged a pact with Israel. Realizing that they were about to be vanquished, the five kings sought refuge at the cave of Makedah. When Yehoshua learned about their whereabouts, he gave orders to seal off the cave until he and his regiment could arrive and give those five kings their just desserts. Thanks to Yehoshua, the cave of Makedah, in my opinion, is a cave of loyalty.

If one were to head in the opposite direction upon landing in Israel, bypassing Jerusalem, toward the Dead Sea, one would reach Ein Gedi. There are caves at Ein Gedi as well. Centuries after Yehoshua and the cave of Makedah, the drama was to unfold between King Saul and David, his perceived adversary. King Saul’s fear of and hostility toward David was such, that it depleted the King of tactics, energies, and resources that were sorely needed to rout the Philistines, Israel’s preeminent enemy. Pursuing David, rather than the Philistines, King Saul and his entourage find themselves at Ein Gedi. David is closer than King Saul realizes. Much closer. It is in one of the caves at Ein Gedi, where King Saul enters to answer nature’s call. Unbeknownst to King Saul, David and his inner circle are in that very same cave. David, however, is well aware that his nemesis is mere feet away. Taking his sword, David slashes the corner of King Saul’s robe, which moments before had been removed. David’s message to King Saul was implicit. “Just as I ran my sword through your robe, so too could I have run my sword through you”. David’s message to his inner circle was far more explicit: G-d forbid that I should do this thing to His Majesty, HaShem’s anointed, by stretching out my hand against him”. Because of David, and his ability to refrain from doing what others would have done in a similar situation,  the cave at Ein Gedi, in my opinion, is the cave of integrity.

Zigzagging to the north, east of Akko and north of the modern city of Karmiel, there is the ancient city of Pekiin. Pekiin also has caves. It is believed that a little over 1900 years ago, the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, together with his son Eliezer sought refuge from the Romans in one of those caves for a period of 13 years. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was set up by the Romans and ended up a victim of a sting operation. His crime was speaking the truth about the Romans who brought their way of life to Israel. When word got back to the local Roman authorities, a price was placed on Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s head. The great sage was wanted dead or alive. In turned out that the cave where he hid, was known to all his many students. Dressed in sports attire to throw off anyone who might follow them, in the hope of discovering the hiding place of a fugitive from (Roman) justice, his students continued to study Torah from their learned and revered master. It just so happens, that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s yahrzeit is Lag B’Omer, this Tuesday. Others would have spent their time as fugitives, differently. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai decided to spend his time as a fugitive disseminating Torah. Because of this, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s cave in Pekiin, is the cave of invincibility.

Three caves of renown. Three caves embodying the values of loyalty, integrity, and invincibility. Three caves are a source of pride for our people. Three caves that give new meaning to the term cave men.

THE VERY FACT

Being the lover of Yiddish that I am, it was more than with a modicum of interest, that I recently read an article by Shalom Goldman, Professor of Religion at Middlebury College (Vermont) about Yiddish Plague Songs. In that humans, being the creative creatures we know them to be, have been known to react to crises through song, Professor Goldman writes that Simon Small (Shmulevitch), songwriter, lyricist, bard, actor, badkhn (wedding entertainer), balladeer, and early recording singer, responded to the Spanish Flu, the epidemic of a century ago that killed ten times as many Americans than the current crises, with the song Menshenfresser (devourer of people). If Menshenfresher is any indication of the general feeling that pervaded this country a little more than a century ago, then based on what has been forwarded to me within the last few weeks, I cannot help but feel that in reacting to the current pandemic, we’ve come a long way.

Just as Germany coined the term schadenfreude, a term that can be understood to mean rejoicing at the misfortune of others, so too did Germany coin the term galgenhumor, more commonly known to us as gallows humor. Gallows humor refers to cynical humor as a form of reaction to traumatic situations. My first glimpse of gallows humor as a reaction to the current pandemic was a YouTube forwarded to me, showing Shayla Fink of Winnipeg, Canada, sitting at the piano, playing an upbeat song she composed, called “Corona, Corona”. Since then, I have received other, similar parodies. Mah Nishtana? How do we explain these diametrically opposite reactions to life-threatening plagues?

In that all parodies I have received have been composed by Jews, I cannot help but feel, that as a people, we have come a long way. A century ago, when the very notion of a Holocaust against our people was totally unfathomable, we Jews were already in possession of a persecution complex. Justifiably so. Our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe were still dying in pogroms. A total of 1,326 pogroms were taking place across Ukraine, around the very time the Spanish flew was indiscriminately attacking helpless individuals in this country. True, there was no anti-Semitic strain in the Spanish Flu, but a victim is still a victim.

One of the first lessons implicit in the Torah is that of time. As soon as HaShem began the creation process, “evening” and “morning” were introduced. Once HaShem concluded His role in the creation process, Shabbat was introduced. In both cases, humans adjusted their lives to time. Until recently – it wasn’t until less than a century ago, that electricity was commonplace in the homes of the country – society adjusted itself to going to bed at sunset, waking up at daybreak and setting aside the Sabbath as a day of rest. Within the last few decades, society transformed itself, so that time had to adjust itself to society and more specifically to the individual. It may very well have begun with foods such as instant coffee. The radar range or microwave oven exacerbated our ever-growing impatience by turning hours into minutes and minutes into seconds. It is time that conforms to us; we don’t conform to time. And so, we are indignant to a virus that interrupts our daily schedule. We regard it as some kind of joke, albeit in the poorest of taste and we respond accordingly.

Because these United States of America have proven to be the ultimate equalizer, Jews and non-Jews alike, have developed a sense of invincibility. Advancements in technology and medicine have made us smug. With the cold war having been consigned to history, Americans seem to have adopted the attitude actor John Wayne portrayed in his role as a cowboy, on the silver screen. Perhaps our 43rd President captured that attitude best on September 11th, 2001, when he in effect said: “No tinhorn terrorist was going to keep him out of Washington.” That very same attitude was very much evident last month when American college students defiantly flocked to the Florida beaches. No foreign virus was going to prevent them from having fun in the sun. How very differently, the attitude of Americans manifested itself, when this country was overtaken by the Spanish Flu. Back then, the people of this country – in no small part a conglomerate of immigrants – would have to wait close to another 2 ½ decades to hear the encouraging words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

The parodies will undoubtedly continue. Whether they are worth listening to, is a matter of preference. The very fact that we Jews no longer bewail epidemics, the very fact that Americans can afford to respond to the Coronavirus with indignation, the very fact that that we see ourselves as being invincible, says more about us than it does about the virus.

TODAH RABAH

For decades now, the United States has served as a de facto role model for Israel. There is a good reason for this, in that that the largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel, lives in the United States (Israel’s current Prime Minister was schooled in Philadelphia, for those who have wondered about the absence of a typical Israeli accent when he speaks English as well as his command of the language). Similarly, there are those who estimate that as many as half a million Israelis are currently living in this country. Add to that the number of Christians who are pro-Israel, and it is easy to understand the mutual admiration between the two countries.

With Israel, celebrating its 72nd birthday this Wednesday, perhaps it would be of interest to look at The United States in the year 1848 when it also celebrated 72 years as an independent country. The similarities and contrasts are, in my opinion, worthy of consideration. John Taylor served as President; George M. Dallas served as Vice-President. Each held that position for one term. Taylor was not re-elected President; Dallas never rose to become President. Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu on the other hand, is by all accounts, the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history, despite the fact that Israel’s political system makes our political system look like child’s play (read into that what you will) and that despite all odds, he has mastered the art of pulling a rabbit out of his kippah, time and time again. 
Population wise, the United States had grown ten-fold in its first 72 years of existence. In 1776, there were approximately 2 ½ million inhabitants between the Atlantic and the Pacific (excluding territory that was soon to become the Dominion of Canada). By 1848, there were 23 million inhabitants within those very same boundaries. Put differently, the nascent United Stated state could proudly boast close to a ten-fold increase in population during its first 72 years. Not that it is a contest, but Israel is able to lay claim to a 15-fold increase during that same period of time, having grown from 600,0000  to just under 9 million! Perhaps of even greater interest,  is the California Gold Rush of 1848.by all accounts, it was the largest mass migration of people in this country, with 300,000 Americans hoping to either stake their claim or sell merchandise and provide services to those hoping to stake their claim. No such parallel exists in Israel, given the fact that in square miles, Israel is even smaller than New Jersey. Size aside, given the realities of the current crises, Israel, like the United States and most, if not all other countries, is presently in lock down mode, where migration simply does not take place.

Having mentioned the current crisis that has effectively paralyzed the world, it would be of great interest to compare breakthroughs in the field of medicine in the 72nd year of the existence of this country and breakthroughs in the field of medicine, as Israel celebrates 72 years of statehood. In 1848, history was made in the northeast of this country, with the opening of Boston Female Medical College (it merged with Boston University School of Medicine a quarter of a century later). It was the first medical school for women in this country. How it was received at the time is worthy of speculation. Also worthy of speculation, are reports released earlier this month, by Ofir Akunis, Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, that scientists at The Galilee Research Institute, better known by the acronym Migal, are on the cusp of developing the first vaccine against the coronavirus If all goes as planned, the vaccine could be ready within a few weeks and available in 90 days.

Up until now, come the 5th of Iyyar, Israel has had every right to celebrate the anniversary of its independence, proclaimed 72 years ago in Tel Aviv by David Ben Gurion. This year, in my opinion, Israel has the need to celebrate the anniversary of its independence, however, subdued that celebration may be because of the full lockdown order. Among its many accomplishments, Israel has every right to celebrate its political system, despite its foibles. Juntas and resignation of top leadership take place in other countries. When it comes to leadership, Israelis disparage; they do not depose. Israel has every right to celebrate its awe-inspiring growth. Had Israel behaved like other countries, it would have taken immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia and settled them in “no man’s land” in the Negev. Israel has every right to celebrate its breakthroughs in the fields of science and medicine. Its Scientists and Doctors are not only looked up by Israelis, but they are also looked up to by the world. Let us join with Israel as together we celebrate 72 years of naches. Todah Rabah!

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU

There are two things about Havdalah that many of us are unaware of. The first is that Havdalah is not, nor has it ever been limited to the conclusion of Shabbat. Each time a festival mentioned in the Torah is brought to a close, Havdalah is recited. Accordingly, Havdalah is recited at the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Pesach, etc. The second is that it is not necessary that wine be used when reciting Havdalah. Hamar Medinah (literally, the wine of the land, although it is more commonly understood to mean the beverage of the land) is arguably also acceptable. With the exception of water, there are those who recite Havdalah over coffee, Coca-Cola, or whatever happens to be the leading thirst quencher. Rabbi Elijah Kramer (1720-1797) more commonly known as the Gaon of Vilna, would make it a point to bid farewell to Pesach, by reciting Havdalah over beer! The venerated sage maintained that in doing so, he was following the custom of the time.

I have no idea what the impetus behind the custom of the time was back in the mid to late 18th century, but I do know that in a land devoid of Dr. Pepper,  Rabbi Elijah Kramer must have had an excellent reason for choosing beer as Hamar Medinah over any other popular beverage at the time, especially over wine.

Historians tell us, that ancient Egypt was a class-conscious society. So much so, that there was one beverage for the wealthy and another beverage for the poor. The wealthy of ancient Egypt drank wine; the poor of ancient Egypt drank beer. Assuming he was aware of Egypt’s class-conscious society, perhaps the Gaon of Vilna was “bookending” the festival of Pesach. Eight nights earlier, Jews in the Diaspora introduced the festival by focusing on the bread of the impoverished. Now, as Jews are bidding a farewell to Pesach, it makes perfect sense to do so, by focusing on beer, the beverage of the impoverished.

The Egyptian word for beer is “henkat.” Among the many character traits for which our sages were known, was their penchant for wordplay. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised, if rabbinic leadership around the time of the Gaon of Vilna and prior to the time of the Gaon of Vilna was aware of the Egyptian word “henkat” and saw a similarity between that word and the Hebrew word Chanukat (as in Chanukat HaBayit or the dedication of the refurbished Holy Temple). After all, a parallel existed between the one-day supply of oil defying nature and burning for seven additional days and the Sea of Reeds defying nature and splitting apart, creating a pathway for the Children of Israel, seven days into their journey of freedom. To carry the parallel further, Antiochus made life unbearable for our people; Pharaoh made life unbearable for our people. Perhaps, in choosing “henkat” for the first chometz to cross his lips as he recited Havdalah, the Gaon of Vilna was attempting to ensure that the similarities between the  Festival of Freedom and the Festival of Lights along with their shared message of victory over the enemy, not be swept away with the crumbs of the Pesach matzah.

The Egyptians were the pioneers of fermentation. Fermentation aided the Egyptians in perfecting the caste system they treasured so very much. There are those who maintain that yeast was known to the Egyptians long before other civilizations. This would explain the Egyptians refusing to break bread with foreigners, including Joseph (Genesis 43:32). Superiority was not only very much evident between Egyptians and others; superiority was also very much evident within Egyptian society as well. If wine was for the wealthy and beer was for the blue-collar worker as noted above, then the Egyptian society in which our ancestors were enslaved, was one where all people were created equal, some more equal than others. Perhaps this too was very much on the mind of the Gaon of Vilna, as he recited Havdalah at the end of Pesach, cup of beer in hand. Referred to as the season of our freedom, the Festival of Pesach not only serves to remind us of freedom from enslavement by another nation but also of freedom of class distinction. Why, even in personal preparation for the festival, our rabbinic sages made it a point to spell out and include one who receives his meals from the soup kitchen (viz. the pauper) when adjuring Jews to refrain from eating hours before the seder, so that all – rich and poor alike – come to the seder with an appetite.

I pray, that just as Pesach was properly received, so too is it properly escorted. Even if beer is not your beverage of choice for Havdalah, bear in mind that there is great symbolism in “bookending the festival” (introduce it with the bread of impoverishment; conclude it with the beverage of impoverishment).  Consider how henkat and Chanukat evoke similarities between the two festivals.  Recall that true freedom is experienced when society is no longer defined by social or economic class so that no Jew ever looks down upon another Jew. Here’s looking at you!

INTERNALIZING AND INTERNATIONALIZING

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

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

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

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

As much as we claim to be focused on the Holocaust, the second week of November typically goes by with scant recognition of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, when 79 years ago, Synagogues and Jewish owned businesses, Jewish hospitals, Jewish schools and Jewish homes were vandalized, ransacked and in some cases set ablaze courtesy of the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment – the original paramilitary of the Nazi Party) aided by overzealous German citizens. Over 1000 synagogues went up in flames and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either damaged or destroyed. Over 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Concentration Camps. Early estimates (the numbers grew) were that close to 100 Jews were murdered outright.

Close to eight decades ago, Nazis, along with Nazi sympathizers broke glass. Our tradition on the other hand forbids us to break promises. So much so, that an entire prayer appears in our liturgy, asking HaShem to annul, but not to break any promises that we may have inadvertently made to Him. The name of that prayer is Kol Nidrei and it would be unthinkable for us to inaugurate the solemn holy day of Yom Kippur without intoning Kol Nidrei. Reputations have been ruined and friendships have been shattered because of broken promises. Glass can be replaced; reputations are far more delicate than the finest glass.

Close to eight decades ago, Nazis, along with Nazi sympathizers broke glass. Our tradition on the other hand forbids us to break hearts. One who guards his mouth, guards his soul (as well as the soul of others).  In our society, we hear a great deal about heart disease as well as heart attacks. Perhaps the best way to cut down on heart attacks where we inadvertently or deliberately cut into the hearts of others is to think and think again. More often than we realize, what we say (or what we fail to say) what we do (or what we fail to do) has attacked more hearts and broken more hearts than the American Medical Association could possibly fathom.

Close to eight decades ago, Nazis, along with Nazi sympathizers broke glass. Our tradition on the other hand forbids us to break any links in the chain of our tradition. Hitler was successful when it came to exterminating Jews, but Hitler could never have been successful when it came to eradicating Judaism. By its very nature, Judaism is impervious to outside forces. Only we Jews can eradicate Judaism. Each time one of us breaks his or her link with Judaism, that person does his or her share in helping break a tradition that has survived for millennia despite overwhelming odds.

Never break a promise, don’t go breaking any hearts, refrain from taking part in the breaking of any links in that chain of tradition. There is one occasion where we Jews do break glass. Yet, it is neither a sign of vandalism nor wanton destruction. We break a glass at a wedding, as we wish fulfillment of dreams, achievement of goals, happiness and joy. A goodly number of reasons have been offered for the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding. Why not add one more? Nazis, along with their Nazi sympathizers broke glass to signify a bitter end; we break glass to signify a sweet beginning.

Moron Fest

I’m afraid that precious few would have assessed last week’s meeting sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council where we were invited to meet with (the newly installed) Bishop Edward J. Burns and (the newly installed) auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly as one giant “moron fest”. In my opinion however, the fictional cartoon character Bullwinkle the Moose could have done a far better job coming up with questions for our Catholic guests! To wit:

What role do you see the Catholic Church playing in Sanctuary Cities? (Had Bishop Burns not been so polite, he could have patiently explained that Christianity was founded on the concept of sanctuary cities, when Mary and Joseph took their infant son and fled to a sanctuary city in Egypt to find a haven, in that word was out that the authorities viz. King Herod was out to kill all male infants. However familiar it may sound, the King was informed of the birth of the “King of the Jews”. Herod’s paranoia set in and the life every male infant was at stake. Stated differently, Jesus was in jeopardy. So let’s not start asking our guest about sanctuary cities. Besides, I don’t recall the “synagogue” taking any position on sanctuary cities. Where I come from only someone with chutzpah would dare ask such a question.)

How do intend to attract youth to the Church? (Perhaps the Catholic Church could borrow ideas from NCSY –Orthodox, USY – Conservative, and NFTY – Reform. Word has it that there is a two year wait to join the youth organizations of any of the three branches of Judaism.)

What are you doing to address antisemitism? (Don’t you just love it when you invite someone over, then proceed to hit him over the head? A far better insult question would have been: How recently has it been, since the Catholic Church last fomented Antisemitism? Perhaps the Catholic Church should take a page out of our playbook, since we Jews seem to be doing such a bang up job addressing antisemitism.)

A modicum of seichel (Hebrew and Yiddish for common sense) would suggest that the following three questions be asked of the Monsignors:

What do you see as the three greatest challenges confronting the Catholic Church here in the United States, at this time? Doesn’t it more sense for us to learn what is on his mind, than for him to learn what is on our minds? If we have legitimate concerns for the Bishop to address, common sense dictates that we pay him a visit. Have we gone soft in the head, inviting Bishops Burns and Kelly as our guests, only to have him appear before the makings of a (Jewish) Senate Committee hearing? Any self-respecting Christian leader would have to be out of his mind to come before a group of Jews only to be hit over the head!

What non-Catholic groups do you place at the forefront, when it comes to establishing contact and why? Sure, we Jews have our share of concerns, and yes, we have our agenda. But when all is said and done, we are not the only fish in the sea. Catholic leaders have more than their share of “tzorres.” Not only is their membership down, but so is their leadership. As far as I’m concerned, Bishop Burns and Bishop Kelly deserve the biggest Yasher Koach in the world for making the time to meet with us.

Although no one expects you to be a prophet, or the son of a prophet (Amos 7:14), where do you see the Catholic Church ten years from now? An honest answer will convey whether the Bishop is an optimist, pessimist, or realist. An honest answer will tip us off on the Bishop’s goals and aspirations. An honest answer will be in response to an honest question. There is absolutely nothing wrong, and everything right, when we Jews show a Catholic leader that we are genuinely interested in him as well his religion.

Given that precious few have assessed the May 8 meeting as a “moron fest,” when meeting with leaders of other faiths, we Jews have unfortunately become experts in ensuring that non-Jews hear from us, before we are prepared to hear from them.
 

SWASTIKA STORIES

You would think that we Jews would be used to it by now. As long as Jews walk the face of this earth, there will be those who abhor us. Yet, we seem to possess this innate need to focus in on Anti-Semitism. It’s as though we aren’t happy unless we are upset by incidents of Jew hatred. It came as no surprise therefore that a Jewish website began the New Year by reporting the Top Ten Worst Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel incidents of 2016.

Perhaps it’s time that those in the media begin reporting stories where the non-Jewish world goes out of its way to be there for us. That way, we can go through the day without being brainwashed by what we read, what we hear and what we watch that everybody hates us.

A few months back, Israel sustained substantial damage because of raging fires that were out of control. The Moriah congregation in the Ahuza neighborhood of Haifa fell victim to those fires, with its entire second floor and its roof going up in smoke…literally. Those in charge were fortunate to secure the services of a construction person who offered his services pro bono. As far as materials and supplies, the congregation was on its own. When the construction person went to get a quote for wood from Walid abu-Ahmed and Ziad Yunis his suppliers, the two Arab gentlemen took it upon themselves to donate enough wood to replace the ten tables that had been destroyed in the fire. “Jews and Arabs live together in Haifa and there is no discrimination. We must continue this coexistence and promote peace,” explained Walid abu-Ahmed.

Soon after I arrived in New York, my great-aunt was moved (against her will) from her Bronx apartment into her son and daughter in law’s home in Suburban N.J. In addition to having been cut off from her friends, my great-aunt was pretty much cut off from the world in that both her son and daughter-in –law worked full time. Unlike the Bronx, the Kosher Butcher, the grocery store and the pharmacy are not down the block in suburban N.J. But a newly retired Italian (Catholic) couple was down the block. And that couple always made sure to see if Mrs. Weinstein (my great- aunt) wanted to come to the super market with them. And that couple would call Mrs. Weinstein and make a special trip to take her to the kosher butcher so that he could get what she needed as far as chicken and ground meat and flanken (look that one up). Apparently, non-Jews going out of their way to help Jews is not news-worthy; non-Jews spray painting anti-Semitic graffiti is newsworthy.

Many years ago I received a 2 a.m. phone call on a Sunday morning from a nurse at a hospital where I served as the volunteer Jewish chaplain. An elderly Jewish man had just died and the services of a chaplain were requested. Truth be told, I was not a happy camper. But I got dressed and drove over to the hospital. When I entered the hospital room, here is what I saw: The patient lying on the bed, his wife totally distraught and Mary and Chris, neighbors of the elderly Jewish couple trying to provide comfort. Mary and Chris were newlyweds in their early to mid-twenties. Mary and Chris brought the wife to the hospital and sat with her until she was ready to leave. Mary and Chris then took the distraught wife back home but would not let her stay alone. Mary called me Sunday afternoon to ask me for guidance with regard to Shiva. Mary also wanted to know what foods would be both appropriate as well as kosher.

Anti-Semites are a fact of life. So too is the fact that there are everyday Christians and Moslems as well as all other non-Jews who go out of their way for Jews. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some friends in the media who just might like printing stories about the latter? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some friends in the media who do stories on non-Jewish contributions to local Federations, UJA and Israel? Who knows? It could very well plant a smile in our souls to replace that pain in our hearts that they are responsible for, thanks to their “swastika stories.”