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”.

WALLS THAT ENTHRALL

Precious few in our society are aware that this Shabbat marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Jews, this event ought to resonate louder than with most other people, because, for the last two millennia, we have in many ways identified ourselves as “People of the Wall”.

It has been said that walls divide. For us as a people, walls are synonymous with unification. Nevertheless, in witnessing the building of the Berlin Wall close to six decades ago, many Jews responded in a way that was not even remotely politically oriented. Still scarred from a Berlin united under Hitler, many Jews felt that Berlin should be walled off into thousands of sectors, in that they knew only too well what a united Berlin produced. “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” (one people, one state, one Fuhrer). Hitler’s slogan still rang loud and clear in the ears of survivors, as well as others. Because of this, a united Berlin, as well as a united Germany was not a priority for many Jews on November 9, 1989.

Throughout our history, walls evoked other associations. Perhaps the first walls, that our biblical ancestors confronted were the walls of Jericho. Not long after the mantle of leadership was passed from Moshe to Yehoshua, the nascent Israelite army operating in the Promised Land, was confronted with the taking of the city of Jericho. Yehoshua proved to be a brilliant tactician. Dispatching two spies on a covert reconnaissance mission, contact was made, and support was assured by a sympathetic “saloon hostess” in that city. After the Israelite army marched around the walled city of Jericho, the Israelite army scored a brilliant victory in its first military campaign. Equally, if not even more important, with the fall of the wall, our ancestors were solidly united behind their new leader.

For the Jew, the word “ghetto” has a negative connotation and smacks of Europe. Regardless of its origins, the ghetto connotes a geographic area where Jews lived or were forced to live by the non-Jew. During the first half of the 1940s, ghetto evoked the penultimate stage prior to transport to final destinations such as Treblinka. Yet, there is a totally different ghetto in the annals of our people. That ghetto is often associated with the American Jewish experience, particularly in this country. To a large extent, many of these ghettos still exist. Some are referred to by deliberately mispronouncing the name of the neighborhood. For example, St. Louis Park, a heavily Jewishly populated suburb of Minneapolis, has been called “St. Jewish Park. Much less flattering, I once heard Pikesville, a heavily Jewishly populated suburb of Baltimore being derogatorily referred to as “Kikesville”. These ghettos are gilded ghettos. These ghettos are typically areas in cities with sizeable Jewish populations, where Jews settled by choice. Jews did so because they wished to live among their own. Living in gilded ghettos provided Jews with proximity to Kosher products, Kosher restaurants, Judaica shops, etc. Even though no physical walls are demarcating these gilded ghettos, the gilded ghettos of this country have to a large degree succeeded in insulating and protecting its dwellers from the outside world.

A little over a half-century ago, Jewish life around the world and in Israel in particular, was inexorably changed when the Kotel or Western Wall became part of the Jewish State for the first time in 2000 years. Unsurprisingly, the Wall in Jerusalem has had an effect on the Jewish people that is without equal. At the risk of borrowing a term from Christianity, I truly feel that it is the Kotel and not any Church, that is deserving of the term “Terra Sancta”. Aside from being the sole remnant of the Beit HaMikdash or holy Temple, the Kotel is holy because it is a wall that unites Jews aside from their commitment to or belief in Judaism. At the Kotel, a Jew is a Jew. Period.

Join me, if you will, in wishing Germany well, as it celebrates 30 years of reunification. Join me, I pray, in realizing that whether built or dismantled, real or imaginary, walls have served to unite our people behind a leader (Yehoshua), walls have served to unite our people as a religious entity and/or an ethnic group, walls have served to unite our people as a nation. Good walls make for a strong Judaism.

Triggers and Twisters

Earlier this week, the first anniversary of the catastrophe of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 innocent lives were snuffed out and 7 sustained injuries ought to have resonated more deeply with Jews of Dallas than with Jews anywhere else in this world. With last week’s tornado touching down and wreaking havoc in various neighborhoods in the city, particularly the neighborhood surrounding Tiferet, those who witnessed devastation and those who suffered devastation would do well to consider the following.

The catastrophe at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year occurred because the assailant specifically targeted Jews. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns, Robert Bowers set out to murder Jews. Neither worshipers at any church or the faithful at any mosque were in his cross hairs. It’s highly doubtful, that it would have mattered to the murderer, if the site he chose to attack was a Reform Temple, a Conservative Synagogue, an Orthodox Shul or a Chabad House. Unlike so many of us, anti-Semites rarely distinguish or differentiate. In their eyes, one Jew is as worthless and as expendable as another.

Not so, last week’s tornado. Other than zeroing in on specific neighborhoods, it made no difference to the tornado, whether its victims were Jew or Christian,  Hindu or Moslem or any other group. Similarly, it mattered not to the tornado whether it destroyed a business or a private home, a nursery school or a senior living residence. One could perhaps even argue that not only were neighborhoods chosen at random, but homes and buildings were either hit or missed in the most haphazard of ways. One house sustained severe damage, while the house right next to it, was minimally affected. Put differently, the destruction in Pittsburgh came about, because they were Jews; the destruction in Dallas came about, (thankfully and miraculously) just because.

Pittsburgh was yet another example of human cruelty. One can argue whether such attacks are perpetrated as copycat crimes; one can take a stance either for or against gun control. All will agree however, that what took place in Pittsburgh was the result of man’s inhumanity against man.  Driven by unrestrained hatred anger and intolerance, the assailant in his twisted mind, made a concerted effort to improve society by snuffing out the lives of Jews, whose only “crime” was attending Shabbat services at a synagogue.

The Dallas tornado was the exact opposite. I believe that the insurance companies are spot on when they categorize tornadoes and hurricanes, floods and wildfires as acts of G-d. With Yom Kippur a mere three weeks behind us, let us recall a medieval acrostic (among the many ark openings prior to Kedusha) where each stanza begins with the words “Ma’aseh Elohim” or “it is the work of HaShem.” A tornado is no different. It too, is Ma’aseh Elohim. As such, tornadoes not only defy understanding and explanation as to why they occurred, but they serve as reminders that human ingenuity and strength are laughable, or perhaps better stated lamentable.

Last but in no way least,  our response to Pittsburgh and our response to the tornado revealed a great deal about us. From coast to coast, synagogues as well as other Jewish buildings in this country have adopted strict security measures. The synagogue I attended last week had a parked police vehicle replete with flashing lights, two uniformed officers, as well as plain clothed security, standing at the door of the building. Congregants insisted on feeling secure and knowing that they are secure as they offered up prayers that pretty much indicated that they placed their faith in HaShem.

Human response to last week’s tornado, as well as other acts of G-d, evokes a far different response. We rebuild and continue as before, with an implicit resolve that no act of G-d is going to change or interrupt the way we live. Perhaps, we humans have greater faith in HaShem than in our fellow man; perhaps we humans fear our fellow man more than we fear HaShem. Perhaps the words of the prayer prior to removing the Torah from the ark say it best: “Not in any human do I put trust … only in the G-d of heaven.” Something to think about.

THE JOY OF THE TORAH

Jewish terms and names are notorious for being misnomers. Shemini Atzeret, is case in point. Simchat Torah is a combination of two words, which ought to be separated by a comma, in that those two words embody two different phrases (on the eighth – Shemini,  an Atzeret – a stoppage, should be unto you). Similarly, Chanukah is a shortened version of Chanukat Habayit, the dedication of the “House” or holy Temple. Why, even Tiferet is a misnomer, in that Tiferet means “Glory of!” Simchat Torah however, takes the cake. Simchat means “the joy of.” As such, rather than “rejoicing with the Torah,” Simchat Torah means “the joy of the Torah.” Rather than serving as the object, the Torah is the subject!

Over time, the Torah has been the object of wrath. It has served as a convenient avenue for expressing hatred towards the Jews. In their quest to inflict pain and sorrow, anti-Semites over the ages, have been known to desecrate and destroy Torah scrolls. So much so, our rabbinic sages felt compelled to provide a way of responding for distraught and devastated Jews. Accordingly, they handed down a halacha or ruling that dealt with how Jews are to mourn such a travesty. Rather than place one tear in our garments, as we are required to do when confronted by the loss of a family member, our sages ruled that we (the community) are to place two tears in our garments. One tear is to mourn the destruction of the script of the Torah; one tear is  to mourn the destruction of the parchment of the Torah. At the risk of personifying Torah scrolls, perhaps it can be said that grateful that no travesty has befallen them, the Torah Scrolls set aside one day a year to express joy that they are intact and unmarred.

We at Tiferet are blessed. Unlike other congregations that make do with two or even one Torah scroll throughout the year, we at Tiferet have ample scrolls. There is however a downside. Whether it be size or accessibility, typically the same two Torah scrolls are read from throughout the year, leaving the other Torah scroll as place markers. Rarely, if ever, throughout much of the year are those Torah scrolls removed from the ark, much less read from. Simchat Torah is different. Not only are all (or most) Torah scrolls removed from the ark, but they are carried down from the bimah, as congregants participate in hakafot (circuits) and are danced with. From the point of view of the Torah, Simchat Torah is the festival of equality. All Torah scroll are treated the same. Because of this, all Torah scrolls have good reason to rejoice. Afterall, the word of HaShem remains the same, regardless of the age of the Torah, the size of the Torah or the accessibility of the Torah.

Unlike all other ark openings throughout the year, the ark opening on Simchat Torah, is preceded by an additional 10 verses. Among them, we ask that HaShem neither leaves us nor abandons us( I Kings 8:57). An excellent case could be made that those very same sentiments could also be expressed by the Torah! Throughout our history, the Torah has been set aside and forgotten by our people. And even when the Torah was read from on an ongoing basis, its teachings were either conveniently overlooked or forgotten. The very fact that a synagogue service is set aside to mark the completion of the Book of Deuteronomy as well as the beginning of the Book of Genesis is ample reason for the Torah to express joy.

Why not set aside Monday evening, October 21 and Tuesday morning, October 22? Why not join us here at Tiferet to celebrate a festival with a misrepresented and perhaps even a misunderstood name. Join us as we witness the “joy of intact and unmarred Torah scrolls. Join us as we make a point of treating all Torah scrolls the same so that no Torah scroll is overlooked  because of age, size or accessibility. Join us the Torah scrolls at Tiferet are reminded that they are neither neglected nor abandoned. Join us as we share in the joy of our sacred Torah scrolls.

A meaningful Simchat Torah to all!

ARRIVING ON COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Day ought to take on far greater significance this year. Coinciding with the first day of the festival of Sukkot, Columbus Day ought to bring with it the poignant message, that our celebration Sukkot this second Monday of October, marks more than the arrival of Columbus in America. When all is said and done, Sukkot 5780 has every right to serve as a reminder that when it comes to this country, we Jews have arrived as well.

I think that it is fair to say, that for the last two decades or so, there has been an increase in the building of sukkahs by Jews of all branches of Judaism. How ironic, that those very same coreligionists who feel no compulsion to participate in other aspects of Jewish life, find the time, expend the energy and come up with the necessary funds to construct a Sukkah. I extend a heartfelt Yasher Koach and look forward to seeing more and more sukkahs being put up with the passage of each year. Many of us can well remember that sukkahs were an anomaly in the vast majority of Jewish neighborhoods in this country. Now sukkahs are quite commonplace in American  cities with sizeable Jewish populations.

Back in the day, it was not at all unusual for Jews living in New York as well as in other cities and towns in the northeast, to go to the “mountains” for Pesach. Either because of family dynamics or time constraints, many a Jew would travel up to a kosher hotel in the Catskills for the duration of the festival. My mother’s aunt was typical. Upon reaching her golden years, it was quite evident that there would be neither a  seder nor a kosher for Passover kitchen in the Bronx homes of her three sons and their wives. She, therefore  made alternate arrangements at a nondescript kosher hotel in Sullivan  County, New York.  Nowadays, it’s not only Passover, when Jews uproot themselves. Nor is their destination the Catskills. Nowadays, observant Jews travel to Resort Hotels, located  both in this country as well as abroad (including Israel) for a Sukkot experience. Please know, that the mitzvah is dwelling in a Sukkah, not constructing one, or using one of the outside walls of your home to serve as part of the Sukkah. The mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah can be fulfilled anywhere, including Resort Hotels. And the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah at a Resort Hotel or similar is currently being fulfilled by many observant Jews who have “arrived.”

Be a Jew in your home and a man outside it”. So adjured Yehudah Leib Gordon, a poster child of the Jewish Enlightenment. While it is true that the vast majority of American Jews never knew or heard of Yehudah Leib Gordon, they lived their lives as though they were his illustrious students. For decades, Judaism in this country was practiced privately and quietly. For decades, it was unthinkable for any Jew to be seen on the streets wearing a yarmulke. Judaism was not to be advertised. Previous generations defined themselves as “Americans of the Jewish faith.”

All that has changed and the reasons for that change, can be debated and discussed. For the most part, it is fair to say that Jews are much more comfortable and much more open about their Judaism. As praiseworthy as it is to see the increase in number of sukkahs being put up throughout this country, it is at the same time noteworthy, that Jews have no qualms whatsoever of inviting non-Jewish friends and neighbors to join them in the sukkah for a festival meal. Half a century ago, such an invitation would have been unfathomable. Half a century ago, American Jews had not yet “arrived.”

As we dwell in our sukkah this coming Monday, let us be aware that is Columbus Day as well. Let us be sensitive to the fact that over five centuries since Columbus arrived and that over these last five decades, so too did a good many American Jews.

WHISTLE BLOWER

A week ago, there was much ado in our national news about the Whistle Blower. Americans were reminded, yet again, of how divided this country has become. Regardless of how you feel about events last week, I sincerely hope that there is not just agreement, but unity as well, among our people when we bring to mind a “whistle blower” of a totally different nature. The “whistle blower” who appeared before our people this past Monday and Tuesday, typically during synagogue services, is accorded the honorific title of Ba’al Tokea. Unlike the Washington Whistle Blower, our Ba’al Tokea does not make national news, nor does our Ba’al Tokea provide fodder for talk show hosts.

Our “Whistle Blower” is positioned for all to see and for all to hear. There is nothing secretive or furtive about him. More important, however, our “whistle Blower” succeeds in uniting the masses rather than dividing them. However well intentioned, many a rabbi has been known to create acrimony among congregants because of his sermons. However well thought out, many a rabbi has been known to take on the role of Hypnos, the Greek deity of sleep, because of his sermon. But the Ba’al Tokea? Before even setting his lips to the shofar, the Ba’al Tokea has created an aura of riveting silence, as those assembled wait to hear those age-old notes that speak volumes.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower” who divulges, the Ba’al Tokea indulges. Hearing those holy sounds emanating from a hollowed horn,  HaShem is both figuratively and literally, in seventh heaven.

There are no doubt those who will insist that the “Whistle Blower” betrayed a confidence. Others will argue the exact opposite. In contradistinction to whether or not a confidence was in fact betrayed, suffice it to say that all who heard the shofar being sounded Monday and Tuesday, will agree that the Ba’al Tokea displayed confidence. Because the T’kiah, Shvarim and Truah flowing from the shofar are both age-old and time-tested, the Ba’al Tokea has every reason to feel confident that the holy sounds will be a resounding success, as they find their way to the very soul of the Master of the Universe. As powerful and moving as the High Holy day liturgy is, it can be said that the wordless prayer offered by the Shofar speaks to our creator, in ways that defy our imagination.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower,” it is  highly doubtful any Ba’al Tokea makes headlines in the press. Nor is this the purpose of any Ba’al Tokea. Rather than make any headline, the goal of the Ba’al Tokea is to make a beeline to the depths of the soul – both human and divine. Most of us would agree, that the sound of the shofar is spine chilling. However true that may be, the sound of the shofar ought to be soul stirring as well. Let those who hear that haunting inter-generational sound of the shofar, realize what a potential source of naches we are to the Creator of the Universe, as the Ba’al Tokea communicates with Him through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah. Conversely, let the Creator of the Universe be reminded through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah, that He is a unique source of naches to His people as well.

Headline or a beeline, betraying a confidence or displaying confidence, dividing or uniting, the  Ba’al Tokea is the antithesis to the “Whistle Blower.”

Let’s leave “whistleblowing” – necessary or unnecessary – to those who believe that they have an obligation to society. Let’s approach the Ba’al Tokea – a master of the skill or not – with a belief that he has an obligation to his people. Just as HaShem breathed the breath of life into the ground on the first Rosh Hashana of creation, so too does the Ba’al Tokea breathe a breath of life toward heaven on every Rosh Hashana thereafter of celebration.