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”.

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.

HURTFUL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TEARS OF RELIEF

For the longest time, a set of faux dog tags bearing the names of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman hung behind my office chair in my New Jersey Synagogue. The fate of those three Israeli soldiers, who fell into the hands of the enemy during the 1982 War in Lebanon were unknown and the three soldiers were therefore listed as missing in action. While I do not recall whatever happened to those dog tags, they came to mind this past week, when it was announced that Israel had secured the remains of Sergeant Zachary Baumel.

I pray that there much needed closure for the family. I hope that three much needed messages will continue to live on, long after Zachary’s remains have been laid to rest at Mt. Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, last week.

We Jews do not forget. It’s part of our collective DNA. Next week, countless Jewish families throughout the world, will be sitting down to special dinner accompanied by Haggadahs, to recall an event that occurred over three millennia ago. Those who include traditional daily prayer as part of their spiritual diet, are reminded of that event twice each day. It is our ancestors being taken out of Egypt.  I cannot help but feel that as Jews, we remember people and events – perhaps not as many as we ought to – but more than many other nations. As Jews, we not only remember foes, but we remember friends as well. Last Thursday evening in Jerusalem, thousands came to remember, as Zachary Baumel finally received a proper burial service, in accordance with Jewish law.
The next time you are in search for a topic for dinner conversation, you may wish to remind guests seated around the table that in Judaism, we believe that there is sanctity to the human body. That’s why we have a Chevra Kaddisha; that’s why the Jewish community will do anything and everything in its power so that that every Jew receives a Jewish burial. Bodies of the deceased are to be accorded dignity and respect. Does according dignity and respect to the human body, also apply to wanton murderers and terrorists who prey upon the innocent? Are the bodies of murderers and terrorists to be accorded the same dignity and respect as their victims? Is the Jewish view of a human body absolute, or does that view allow for exceptions, when it comes to those who willfully desecrate human bodies?  One thing is for sure. The 37-year-old remains of Zachary Baumel were accorded dignity and respect, as they were laid to rest at Mount Herzl, the same cemetery when Jonathan Netanyahu, the hero  of the raid at Entebbe, lies buried.

Even though not all Israelites left Egypt under Moshe’s leadership, independent of the fact that any number of Israelites known as the mixed multitude “took it on the lamb” with our ancestors, as they charted their course for the wilderness, we of later generations have adopted “no Jew left behind” as our credo. This credo is very much ingrained in each and every soldier of the Israel Defense Forces. As a people, we do not differentiate between the living and the dead. Given the choice, members of the Baumel family would have done anything to have received Zachary back alive. Nevertheless, they left no stone unturned at receiving him back as earthly remains.
Come Pesach, the message of true liberation must not be defined as mere commemoration. For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, let us sit down to the Seder and digest what “Jews do not forget” truly means. If our history is beyond compare, shouldn’t our collective memory be beyond compare as well?  For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, let us sit down to the Seder with renewed appetite toward dignity and respect toward our fellow Jew. If our tradition mandates that we  accord honor to the dead, how much more so ought we to accord honor  to the living. For the Pesach festival to take on vibrant meaning, the words “let all who are hungry come and eat” must take on real meaning, so that no Jew is overlooked or left behind and we set an extra seat for someone who might not have been invited to a Pesach Seder.

Toward the beginning of the Seder, as we participate in “karpas,” may the salt water remind us of the tears of relief shed by the Baumel family last week.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY

I was always under the impression that freshman congressman, much like children, should be seen and not heard. A goodly number of American Jews might well have agreed with me, given what transpired  earlier this month, following an exchange of tweets, between two members of Congress. In response to a fellow Congressman from another political party tweeting: “It’s stunning, how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” the foreign born, newly elected congresswoman tweeted back: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Congresswoman was quoting a rap song from a quarter a century ago, which referred to hundred-dollar bills as “Benjamins”, in that Benjamin Franklin appears on the hundred-dollar bill.

Despite the brouhaha which erupted, accusing the congresswoman of anti-Semitism, prompting an immediate act of contrition on her part, I should like to point out that politics notwithstanding,  the neophyte nabob was not entirely wrong.

Centuries before the congresswoman’s country of birth gained its independence, our ancestors in Eastern Europe were enriching our vocabulary with the following Yiddish aphorism: Der vos hot die mayess, hot die dayess. Translated into English, it reads: “whoever has the ‘hundreds’ has the right to express opinions.” While it is highly doubtful that our ancestors even knew who Benjamin Franklin was, much less had the remotest idea that Benjamin Franklin would appear on an American hundred-dollar bill,  there is little, if any doubt, that our ancestors would have dismissed the yet to be born statement “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” as being anti-Semitic, in either spirit or tone. But then again, never in their wildest dreams, could our ancestors have envisioned  a Jewish State that would come into being prior to the advent of the Messiah, just as never in their wildest dreams could our ancestors have envisioned a close bond that would develop between the “Goldeneh Medinah” and the “Yiddisheh Medinah.”

Towards the beginning of Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers, the sage Shimon the Tzaddik (righteous) taught us that “the world depends on three things: Torah (study), Service (worship), and acts of kindness.” Leave it to our Eastern European ancestors with their sardonic view of the world, to emend that teaching as follows: “the world rests on three things: Gelt (money), gelt (money), and gelt (money). Given the abject poverty that threatened the everyday existence of our shtetl dwelling bubbes and zeides, our ancestors’ predilection for “Benjamins” is most understandable. It was only logical therefore, that Tevye, the quintessential shtetl Jew in Fiddler on the Roof, would break out in song, as he begins to muse: “If I were a rich man.”

Among the many inventions  that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this country introduced into this world, was the bifocal. Two decades after Benjamin Franklin was taken from this world, a Lithuanian rabbi of renown, was able to direct our attention to the human eye as well. It was Rabbi Israel Lipkin, better known as the Salanter Rov or the Rabbi of Salant,  who pointed out, that a small coin placed directly in front of the human eye will hide everything else from sight. Optics aside, if a small coin has the capability of blinding us to all else, one can only imagine the great power of the hundred-dollar bill, aka the Benjamin!

Short of human nature undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the task will fall to the all too precious few moralists in our society, who will continue to impress upon us that “money isn’t anything.” Unfortunately, there will be a good many in our culture, who will continue to maintain that “money is the only thing.” Like the newly elected Congresswoman, they will add their voices to the mantra, as they bleat: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!”

PLANE MENTSCH

Other than being rabbi of Tiferet, most probably the next reason for me being proud to live in Dallas, would be that Dallas is the home of Southwest Airlines. It was with more than a modicum of interest therefore, that I read about the passing last week of the founder of Southwest, Herb Kelleher. I have no idea about Mr. Kelleher’s faith or religion, but from what I learned about him, Mr. Kelleher possessed certain personality traits that were in my opinion, very Jewish.

There are those, no doubt, who saw Mr. Kelleher as “the little engine that could.” I would have to disagree. Unlike “the little engine that could,” Herb Kelleher’s mantra was “I know I can, I know I can.” Herb Kelleher was the David who did not hesitate to go up against the Goliaths and give Americans “a flight for their money.” And he succeeded, well beyond and even despite the predictions and prognostications of a good many, including those in the airline industry. While other airlines were claiming to be “ready when you are,” Southwest made it their credo to be ready to turn around and take off again in the blink of an eye. While others were flying  the “friendly skies,”  Southwest was flying the “friendly 737’s.”

No different than others, rabbis… gossip! Rabbis hear of other rabbis signing contracts that they have no intention whatsoever of honoring. Should it happen that a congregation is in a pinch and turns to the rabbi to read Torah, the rabbi’s employment contact is immediately rewritten at the rabbi’s insistence. Rabbis also hear of congregations drawing up contracts that the congregation has no intention of honoring. And suddenly, the expectations of the rabbi are not those same expectations stipulated in the rabbi’s employment contract. Airlines are much the same. Within the last number of years, we have witnessed imposed luggage fees and the economy section (as opposed to first class) being subdivided into three classes: mentschen (human beings), schnorrers (freeloaders) and b’heimahs (animals). Southwest is one airline that can be trusted. There are no luggage fees, no penalties for flight change or cancellation, and everyone flies the same class. Apparently, Herb Kelleher was not only aware of Psalm 15:4 (They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost,) but made sure that it was carried out religiously on every Southwest flight.

The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has strict and vigorous  standards  that ensure the safe (and hopefully) uninterrupted operation of each aircraft from the time it pushes back from its departure gate, until the time it comes to a full and complete stop at its arrival gate. I wish that standards were as strict and vigorous, when it comes to flight attendants and gate attendants. There are any number of stories that for whatever reason do not make the news, of uncalled for treatment of passengers, by airline employees. It has reached the point, that prior to boarding an aircraft, I begin to lecture myself over and over:  “Keep your mouth shut, Rabbi Zell.” Kevin Freiberg, who together with his wife Jackie, authored “Nuts: Southwest Airline’s Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success” writes that Herb Kelleher didn’t see being disciplined and fiercely competitive as mutually exclusive with loving people and treating them with dignity.  Perhaps that’s the key ingredient. As one who travels in my work clothes (double breasted suit, shirt and tie), I cannot help but notice, that many a traveler must have an exceedingly low self-image, based on the way he or she dresses for travel. That however never prevented Herb Kelleher from insisting that Southwest employees accord respect and dignity, even when such respect and dignity often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Maybe if other airlines would practice respecting and honoring others (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1) in the same fashion stressed by Herb Kelleher, that respect and honor would eventually be repaid in kind.

To the best of my knowledge, aspirations such as being a David among Goliaths, keeping promises even if  those promises are to your own detriment and treating others with dignity were not seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Jewish. They were seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Southwest .

A STAIN ON HUMANITY

Israel is a stain on humanity. As incredulous a charge as this may be, there are a goodly number of Jews both in Israel as well as in the diaspora who believe this to be true. Furthermore, these Jews feel it a mitzvah of the highest order to convince you that their belief is sacrosanct. For Palestinian nationalists to hurl such a charge is expected; for anti-Semites to hurl such a charge is understandable. But what causes Jews to view Israel as being a stain on humanity?

For them, it is impossible to replace Jewish plight with Jewish might. Lessons of downtrodden, obsequious and subservient Jews of the shtetl have been firmly etched in their minds and perhaps even in their souls. It is therefore unthinkable to expect these lessons to be replaced in a mere seven decades with the existence of a Jewish state. For them, the term Jew is synonymous with underdog. Their weltanschauung is one where the Jew is the nail and not the hammer. As such, I cannot help but wonder if such Jews celebrate Chanukah, the quintessential festival where a minority population with a ragtag army musters the audacity to go up against a Roman army with state-of-the-art armament.  In their view, Jews do not rock the boat; in their view, Jews seek to ameliorate situations by begging the foreign overlord to find it in his heart to accommodate the Jew. And if such heart-searching is stimulated by financial persuasion, so be it. That’s the price one pays for being a Jew.

Jews, non-observant Jews may have abandoned the teachings of the Torah, but the teachings of the Torah have never abandoned them. It’s no wonder then, that Jews, particularly in this country have been in the forefront when it comes to social action. Show them an oppressed people, either real or perceived; show them suffering masses – it makes no difference whether that suffering was brought on by an outside force or by the sufferers themselves – and such Jews will be among the first to take up the cudgel. They view the widow, the fatherless and the stranger mentioned in Torah in absolute terms. Who turned them into widows, who rendered them fatherless and why they are the stranger is totally irrelevant. For those who recall the definition of chutzpah as being where one murders his mother and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan, such Jews would find it totally incredulous how the court could remain so stone-hearted.

Jews seem to have a knee-jerk reaction when their Judaism is questioned or challenged. And so, the asinine response “I’ll have you know that I’m proud to be a Jew” came into vogue. For a born Jew, being proud to be a Jew makes no more sense than being proud to have black hair and brown eyes. Pride comes about because of what one has worked for and achieved. Pride is commensurate with blood sweat and tears. Unlike those born Jews who parrot “I’m proud to be a Jew,” I cannot help but feel that Jews who charge that Israel is a stain on humanity, are ill at ease at being Jews. Because there is nothing particularly Jewish about their daily lives, their Judaism becomes de facto synonymous with Israel. Because they are uncomfortable with their own Jewishness (Here I go playing psychologist without a license again) they are uncomfortable with the State of Israel. The very same individuals who make a conscious effort not to associate with other Jews and certainly not to incorporate any negative Jewish stereotypes into their behavior, are known for subconsciously maligning Israel on a regular basis.

As of this past Sunday, we have begun to sound the shofar daily. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the minds of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity so that they recognize that that it’s high time they held their heads high, rather than cowering at the sight of the non-Jews. As far as Mah Yomru HaGoyim – what will the other nations say? Quite frankly I don’t give a damn. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the hearts of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that those hearts do not go out instinctively to the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in Qabatiya, Qalqas and Qalqilya without first scrutinizing the reason why the widow, the fatherless and the stranger exist in the first place. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the souls who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that they become more comfortable with being Jewish through learning and doing. Only then will Israel cease serving as their whipping boy when they engage in self-flagellation. If only the blast of the shofar would cause them to see Israel as a bright spot for humanitarianism, instead of a stain on humanity.

M’GOSH M’GOLLY MEGILLAH

In all likelihood, the vast majority of Jews throughout this world will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Shabbat. The amount of our people who will make a point to hoist a “McGuiness” at any of the three Shabbat meals later this week will undoubtedly hardly constitute a minyan. Nevertheless, it might behoove us to know that the monopoly for smiling does not belong to Irish eyes.

I have no idea how many Jews in this country know who served as the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent State of Israel. Whatever that number might be, I’m certain that far fewer Jews are aware that Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog (born in Lomza, Poland in 1888) served as the Rabbi of Belfast and ultimately rose to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland, before moving to Israel in 1936 to succeed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s fluency in Irish was such that he was dubbed the “Sinn Fein Rabbi” (literally “We ourselves,” it was adopted as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.) Rabbi Herzog’s Irish-born son later served as Israel’s sixth President; his grandson and namesake, aka Bougie, rose in political power only to lose to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last national election.

A great affinity toward Israel on the part of the Irish government, there isn’t. One would think that, politically speaking, Irish leaders would look at Israel for inspiration; one would think that Irish leaders would see the daily struggle of Israel against terrorism ever since its founding 70 years ago as something they could relate to. Unfortunately, Irish leaders have instead chosen the “poor Palestinians” as their soulmates. This perhaps explains why formal relations between the two, Ireland and Israel, were not established until 1975 and why it wasn’t until the very end of 1993 that Ireland permitted Israel to open its embassy in Dublin. You know things could be much better when a few years back, unnamed sources from the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that “Ireland (is the) most hostile country toward us in Europe.” Politics, however, is politics and business is business. In 2010, Israeli imports from Ireland approached $520 million and exports to Ireland stood at $81 million. Israeli exports to Ireland include machinery and electronics, rubber and plastics, chemicals, textiles, optical/medical equipment, gems, and fruit and vegetables. Irish exports to Israel include machinery and electronics, chemicals, textiles, and foodstuffs.

However representative a government ought to be of its people, it’s heartening to know that not all Irish have adopted such a cool attitude toward Israel. In fact, there is a group of Irish people committed to understanding and supporting Israel’s security needs. That group proudly calls itself “Irish 4 Israel.” Among other objectives, its raison de etre is to counteract much of the hatred and lies spread in the name of “truth” within certain segments of Irish society and to ensure that Israel’s conflict with Palestinian terrorists along with their sponsors and enablers receives fair and impartial coverage from the Irish media.

As Erin Go Bragh rings loud and clear this Saturday in Irish neighborhoods throughout this country, as well as elsewhere in the world, it might very well be a propitious time for us to invoke Am Yisroel Chai. Whether the wish is “Ireland forever” or the “Jewish People Lives,” the sentiment is pretty much the same. May the Road of Peace rise up to greet us both.

POLOCAUST

I’ve come to the conclusion that a steady diet of kielbasa (Polish sausage) causes one to go soft in the head. How else can one explain the recent suggestion of Jaroslaw Sellin, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Culture that a “Polocaust” Museum be erected to honor the victims of Nazi genocide between the years 1939-1945? With the recent passage of a law warning of a monetary fine or incarceration or both for anyone who dares to suggest that the Nazis had an accomplice in the Polish people, as it systematically murdered three million Polish Jews and others, doesn’t Pan (Polish for Mr.) Jaroslaw realize that he’s adding fuel to a fire that was recklessly started?

If Pan Jaroslaw truly wanted to ameliorate a situation that has Jewish leaders world over up in arms, then perhaps thought ought to be given to building a Jewish Heritage Museum in Warsaw or Lodz or Krakow or Kielce? With a rich history spanning over a millennium (in 1264, Boleslaw V actually invited Jews from other countries to settle in Poland), Pan Jaroslaw should have no problem in amassing material that would fill a museum faster than you can say “Jak se mas” (Yak Shemash – Polish for “what’s up.”)

Thanks to our illustrious past in Poland, we Jews can proudly point to a wealth of literature – both religious and secular – that had, and continues to have, an impact on us that is beyond measure. The definitive Talmud (The Vilner Shas) was originally printed in Vilna (Vilnius) when it was part of Poland. Rabbi Moshe Isserless, the (Ashkenazic) redactor of the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law lived in Cracow, Poland. The Magen Avraham, a renowned commentator of the Shulchan Aruch hailed from the Polish town of Gombin. On the secular front, great novelists such as Peretz of Bontshe the Silent fame and Sholem Asch, who has left an indelible mark on yours truly with his trilogy (assailable in English translation,) Three Cities can lay claim to Polish ancestry as well.

Close to 30 years ago, I was sitting across the table from a native Pole in a coffee house in Warsaw, as an ensemble was tunic up. “Kapelye, tak?”  “An ensemble, correct”, I asked in Polish. My knowledge of the Polish language is admittedly fairly limited. But one thing I do know. In Jewish music you can find many elements of Polish folk music. The instruments, the key, the tempo all sound eerily familiar. Yet, this should come as no surprise, given how our people living in Poland were influenced by the greater culture.

You don’t have to be fluent in Yiddish to have used words such as “schmatte” (rag) or “farblondget” (lost, geographically), but both words find their roots in Polish. Even though the Yiddish language contains any number of slavisms such as “kishke” and “polke”, there are a goodly number of Yiddish words that are uniquely Polish in origin.

Last, but not least, the recipes of the many ethnic foods we eat, find their origins in the Slavic countries of Europe. A food maven, I am not. I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly which country spawned gefilte fish as we know it, or stuffed cabbage or kreplach or latkes. I would be quite surprised, however, if Poland couldn’t make a claim as the birth place for some of the dishes we claim to be uniquely Jewish.

Pan Jaroslaw. Play it safe. Play it smart. The Holocaust is a “lose-lose” proposition for Poland. Why emphasize the negative when it comes to Jews in Poland? Why not emphasize the positive? Given the centuries that preceded the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, there is no shortage of areas in which Poland richly contributed to and enriched Jewish life. Let Poland bring a smile to Jews worldwide who typically grimace the mention of its very name.

THE WATERS REACHED THE SOUL

Webster’s New World Dictionary offers two definitions for the word “deluge”: a great flood; an overwhelming flood-like rush of anything. Given what continues to unfold in Houston since last weekend, Webster’s appears to be accurate with both definitions. Heaven opened up its floodgates and left us speechless, as we vainly searched for the appropriate words to describe the destruction and devastation. As a result, there are those who are already responding and will soon be responding in a fashion that will be similarly beyond words.
There is a Hebrew expression: Higiyu mayim ad nafesh. It is the equivalent of the English “they are not going to take anymore.” Literally, higiyu mayim ad nafesh means “the waters reached the soul.” (It was once believed that the soul was to have been located in the area of the Adam’s apple.) Given recent events, along with the concomitant outpouring of concern on the part of so many, I believe that it’s fair to say that Higiyu mayim ad nefesh has taken on a new and most significant meaning.

The waters reached the soul. Our initial response is that we refuse to stand idly by as our brothers and sisters in Houston attempt to deal with having lost all their worldly possessions. And so, we dig deep into our pockets and donate funds. Unsurprisingly, we will learn of homeless people sending five dollars towards the relief efforts. I cannot help but feel, that any number of Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrants will be sending a portion of their monetary gifts – if not the sum total of their monetary gifts – to local Jewish agencies earmarks for the flood victims. We can afford to do no less. Let us, also, assist the victims monetarily. With the High Holy Days soon upon us, the timing is propitious. After all, isn’t tzedakah or “proper giving” one of the three indispensable ingredients mentioned in our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers?

The waters reached the soul. As indispensable as monetary gifts are, in all likelihood, there will flood victims with no place to go and no place to stay. I would like to believe that there will be those in our community who will open their homes, find the room, perhaps even make the room, for those who were left without a roof over their heads. In some cases, those taking in flood victims will receive more in return, in beautiful and everlasting friendships that will be forged. After all wasn’t the very same Abraham, about whom we read on Rosh Hashanah, known for his exemplary hospitality? Didn’t Abraham welcome three complete strangers into his home?

The waters reached the soul. If so, then the heart can’t be far behind. Acts of kindness are bound to surface. They must! Even if it is as simple as sending a Shanah Tovah or Jewish New Year greeting card to complete strangers in Houston telling them that our prayers are with them during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we wish them the very best for the new year, as they embark on building their lives anew. Here at Tiferet, we will be honoring High Holy Day tickets of Houstonians. If they are unable to attend the services of their own synagogue, we invite them to join us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper. It goes without saying that Tiferet families will host our displaced brothers and sisters from Houston for Rosh Hashanah meals, as well. After all, isn’t the phrase “and the two of them walked together” found in the Binding of Isaac drama read on Rosh Hashanah?

The first deluge that devastated mankind ended on a less than pleasant note with Noah becoming inebriated. This latest deluge, I believe, will end on a more pleasant note. Because the waters reached the soul and we responded either through money, hospitality, or heartfelt acts of kindness. The time will come, I hope sooner rather than later, when we, together with the victims of Harvey, will raise our cups of wine to drink a L’Chaim that will reach the highest heavens.