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.


Bomb scares called in by phone to Jewish institutions such as JCCs and synagogues are deplorable; vandalism at Jewish cemeteries even more so. As macabre as this may sound, bomb scares pale in comparison to actual bombs going off without any warning. As macabre as this may sound, cemetery desecration pales in comparison to Jewish homes being vandalized and “Jude” painted on the windows or front door.

As one whose maternal grandmother was widowed at the age of 25 when her husband was murdered along with all the other Jewish men – all victims of a pogrom in the Bessarabian shtetl where they lived – bomb scares and even cemetery desecrations don’t throw me into a panic.

Instead, I draw strength because leadership of Jewish communities speaks out. From time immemorial, there have been Jewish communities, yet, only within the last century in this country has there been any semblance of Jewish communal leadership. In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, there was no Jewish leadership. Berdichev was known for its great rabbinic personality Levi Yitzchak, not for its JCC or its Jewish Community Relations Council – neither of which existed during Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s time. When Jews of Berdichev suffered indignation or even calamity from those who despised them, they had absolutely no recourse. Even in this country it wasn’t until the last half-century that American Jews, along with their leaders, finally abandoned their “shah shtill” attitude when it came to Jewish issues.

I draw strength because the American Government listens. Close to 75 years ago, a group of 400-plus American rabbis gathered courage and traveled to the nation’s capital three days before Yom Kippur to draw President Roosevelt’s attention to the destruction and annihilation of European Jewry. The President avoided meeting with the rabbis not only because of concerns of diplomatic neutrality, but because some of his Jewish aides and several prominent American Jews felt that the delegation (the vast majority of  whom were Orthodox as well as recent immigrants to this country) were not representative of American Jewry, and that such a meeting would stir up antisemitism.

FDR is long gone. So too are those American Jews who were concerned lest they appear “too Jewish.” Now we have Chanukah celebrations as well as Passover Seders at the White House. No longer are Jewish delegations – rabbinic or lay – turned away.

I draw strength because our politicians make an attempt to address the situation. While I personally fail to see any connection between hastily planned whirlwind visits to Israel and bomb scares to JCCs and synagogues, in no way can I look askance at a governor from the state of New York boarding a flight to Ben Gurion airport.

What would really give me reason to draw strength will occur when pastors and priests throughout this country make it a point to speak out against bomb scares and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. It would be a marvelous mitzvah for pastors and priests throughout this country, as they find themselves at the beginning of the Lenten season, to speak out against bomb scares and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and to remind their parishioners that anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.

I would hope that Christian leaders will begin to speak up and speak out about what is taking place. When that takes happens, I will ask that you join me in drawing strength. Chazak! Chazak!


No one likes bomb scares – especially Jews who are at their local JCC. A phone call is placed by either a lunatic or Jew hater … or both, to a local JCC, alerting it that a bomb has been planted. The entire Jewish community remains on red alert long after the premises have been declared to be bomb free. For Jews, bomb scares and anti-Semitism are inextricably intertwined.

As serious as bomb scares are, there are other bombs waiting to go off in our very midst, to which the vast majority of American Jews seems to be inured. How ironic! Yet that very same Jewish community that has been shaken to its core because of a bomb scare ought to be alerted to bomb scares of a totally different nature that threaten our existence as Jews.

Jewish communities throughout the nation have consistently refused to acknowledge that our very Judaism is at risk. This too is a bomb scare. Close to four decades ago, Morris Arthur, later to be known as Moshe Yess, was very much aware of the bomb scare which confronts American Jews. Accordingly, he included the following lyrics in his song My Zaidy: “I don’t know why it came to be – it happened slowly over many years, we just stopped being Jewish like my Zaidy was. And no one cared enough to shed a tear.”  Moshe Yess was far too kind. He should have said: “And no one cared enough!” Period! American Judaism does not need tears. American Judaism needs a wake-up call, a red alert. The best of sermons dealing with this bomb scare have fallen on deaf ears; the most revealing of sociological studies concerning this bomb scare leave no impact whatsoever. The vast majority of American Jews appear to be totally apathetic to any and all alarms of the bomb scare concerning our Judaism, while those who do sit up and take notice seem to adopt a “What can we do?” attitude and consequently do nothing while the bomb scare of Judaism disappearing remains a most serious threat.

American Jews who profess to care a great deal about Israel from a political standpoint have every right to be smug. We are living at a time of a pro-Israel Congress. Yet when it comes to Israel, Congress is also a bomb scare in the making. To believe that Congress will always remain staunch in its unwavering support toward Israel is both delusional and dangerous. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s members of Congress. Today’s students are being brainwashed by college professors who consider it a mitzvah of the highest order to inject politics into their curriculum and infect the minds of impressionable students. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many professors, so that students are ultimately “convinced” of the draconian steps that Israel adopts against the poor Palestinians. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many  professors, so that today’s college students are taught to view Israel as an apartheid state run by a supremacist government. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many  professors, so that Congress of tomorrow will no longer remain Israel’s “amen corner” in Washington.

Golda Meir once said that “One must not try to erase history merely because it does not fit the present.” However, history has a life expectancy of its own and in time fades into the past, only to be supplanted by events far more “attention grabbing.” We are living at a time when for so many of us, the Holocaust is the sum total of our Jewish history. Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, there will come a time when our focus on the Holocaust will have run its course, as difficult as this may be for so many of us to accept.  And neither Holocaust museums nor Holocaust curricula will be able to combat this change. Meaning no disrespect whatsoever, our interest in the Holocaust is a bomb scare. And sad to say, our leaders, both religious and lay, do not appear to be working on any contingencies to deal with that scare.

Lagophthalmos is a condition where one’s eyelids are unable to be shut. As a result, there are those who actually sleep with their eyes open. “Jewish lagophthalmos” is a requirement as well a necessity for us as a people. As Jews, we need to keep our eyes …and ears open at all times, not only to ensure that our future is safe and secure, but -equally important – to be alert to bomb scares that require our immediate attention as well as our top priority.


I very much doubt that any of you reading this article will be surprised to learn that an Israeli grassroots initiative is underway to raise 600,000 Israeli Shekel or $150,000 dollars  in order to purchase emergency aid including food, medication and supplies for refugee Syrian children. Within the first forty- eight hours after launching the campaign, over a quarter of a million shekel or over $60,000 dollars was raised from over 1,600 donors.
As much as digging deep into our pockets whenever disaster strikes seems to be part of our Jewish DNA, perhaps some introspection is in order to find out why we behave the way we do:
Without even realizing it, Jews proudly espouse the adage that life is not fair – in the very best sense. Whereas most others resort to this adage in order to lament, Jews subconsciously celebrate the fact that life is not fair. Jews instinctively realize that had the tables been turned and Israel found itself with thousands of refugee children as a result of civil war, our Arab neighbors would be dancing in the streets and firing rifles in the air to celebrate. Jewish reaction to the suffering of children and other human beings – including enemy children and other human beings is to figure out how much aid is needed and what is the best way to provide that aid. When disaster strikes an enemy, Arabs celebrate; Jews calibrate. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a fabulous phrase in the Torah that most Jews are completely unaware of. Yet, for us Jews, it is second nature. Hagar and Ishmael are driven way by Abraham. Ishmael is about to expire from thirst. There are those who question Divine intervention at that point, in that there is no question in their mind that today’s world would be so much simpler had Ishmael been left to die in the wilderness. But rather than simply tell us that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries, the Torah reports that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries where he (Ishmael) was at the time. Ishmael was saved irrespective of the type of person he would grow into as an adult; Ishmael was saved because he was a child on the brink of death. Money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil war irrespective of the fact that quite possibly some of the recipients of this emergency aid may one day become terrorists or at the very “least” enemies of Israel; money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil was because they are children who are suffering.
It is the Book of Proverbs (Sefer Mishlei) that teaches us not to rejoice at the downfall of one’s enemy. Most see this as a most obvious teaching. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs falls short. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs should have also taught us not to cry at the downfall of one’s enemy. Sympathy or even empathy is totally useless when others are in need, especially when they are in harm’s way and are crying out for help. As beautiful as shedding a tear may be and as heartwarming as an embrace may be, hold back the tear and save the hug until after medical aid is administered, those in harm’s way are given nourishment, wounds are tended to, bathing takes place, clean clothes are provided and the victims are safe and secure from harm including the scorching heat of summer and the dreadful cold of winter. What so many seem to fail to understand is that in a crises situation, motion trumps emotion.
My yarmulke goes off to those responsible for this initiative. At present, they refer to their campaign as JUST BEYOND THE BORDER. My fervent hope and prayer is not that more Israelis and Jews throughout the world come on board and participate and donate – of that I haven’t the slightest doubt. My hope and prayer is that Syrian communities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe go just beyond the border and begin to help their own people as well.


It was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Rachel “Ruchi” Freier winning the race for civil court judge in New York City’s 5th Civil Court District, serving Borough Park as well as other sections of Brooklyn. What makes Ruchi’s victory so very remarkable is that she was born, raised and continues to live a Hassidic lifestyle. A picture of her standing together with her hassidic clad husband, son and nephew all sporting long beards and peyos (side locks) says it all. Personally speaking, I see Ruchi’s victory as a threefold blessing.
Ruchi’s victory dispels our stereotype that Hassidic women were put on this earth for the sole purpose of having babies, cooking, cleaning and keeping house and being subservient to their husbands. Aside from her law career (she graduated Brooklyn Law School), Ruchi founded B’Derech, a program that enables yeshivah educated men to obtain high school equivalency diplomas and even associate degrees, so that they have improved chances when entering the job market. Ruchi also founded Chasdei Devorah, a nonprofit relief organization and Ezras Nashim an all-female EMT organization so that Hassidic women are tended to by female EMT’s rather than male EMT’s en route to the hospital. Ruchi accomplished these feats with the help and participation of other women from virtually the same background as hers.
Ruchi’s victory being elected civil court judge should be viewed as more than yet another step in her career; it should be viewed as a giant leap for the Hassidic world of Borough Park. Hopefully it will help teach other Borough Park Hassidim, that contrary to how some of them have been raised, the outside world is not filled with evil and should be therefore avoided and shunned at all costs. Hopefully, it will convince other Borough Park Hassidim, that their career choice is not limited to either being teachers in yeshivahs or dealers in precious stones. If the outside world has neither harmed nor destroyed the neshomeh or soul of Ruchi Freier, then there is every reason to be hopeful that the outside world will neither harm nor destroy their neshomas or souls as well. Hopefully, Ruchi’s latest accomplishment will serve as a lesson to the Hassidic world of Borough Park that they can safely venture out into the world and remain Glatt Kosher.
Like all others in society, judges carry baggage to their profession. No different than Supreme Court judges, other judges tend to bring their political, philosophical as well as their religious and social upbringing with them to the bench where they serve. Ruchi’s background and education could very well serve as a major advantage. Long before entering Law School, Ruchi was raised to think analytically. At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, in all likelihood Ruchi brings a “Yiddishe kop” to court. It is a “kop” or head (actually a mind) that is not only filled with knowledge, but wisdom as well. If that Yiddishe “kop” is complemented with a “Yiddishe Hartz or heart, then any case that Ruchi decides, benefits from judicial qualities that are held in the highest esteem.
Hopefully, Ruchi will serve as a role model to be emulated by others from the same religious background. I have every reason to believe that our legal system will only benefit from Ruchi as well as from those who pattern themselves after Judge Rachel “Ruchi” Freier.


*Gebenched is Yiddish for blessed


With the Presidential race in full swing now that the Iowa caucuses have taken place, it was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about a recent poll revealing that ten percent of Americans were less likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, while eight percent of Americans were more likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate. Although my attitude is “polls be damned”, still and all I began thinking about the Jewish factor in presidential elections. Despite the fact that I have absolutely no desire to assess any data, I nevertheless ask that you consider the following three questions, which will hopefully never reach the desk of any pollster:
What is more important to you, a Jew running for president, whose Judaism is purely an accident of birth in every aspect, or a non-Jew running for president who is a staunch supporter of Israel? Whether we like it or not, there exists a Jewish vote in this country, despite the fact that at best, we are a paltry 2% of the population; whether we like it or not, of the Jews who do vote in this country, there are those who select their candidate based solely on that candidate’s attitude (perceived or real) towards Israel. Perhaps neither is a factor for you, in that come Election Day, your sole concern is which candidate is a better choice to lead this country in the direction you feel this country ought to take.
If it makes no difference to you whatsoever whether or not a presidential aspirant is Jewish, does a Jewish presidential aspirant’s level of Jewish observance matter to you? Would you prefer a Jewish president who at best attends synagogue services on the High Holy Days and whose Shabbat observance is limited to Shabbat dinner every Friday night, or would you beam with pride at a Shabbat observant president (who will set Shabbat aside in times of national security) who davens three times a day and eats strictly kosher? Is it safe to say that an Observant Jew as president of this country is perceived to be less of a threat than a devout Catholic or is there no difference? Does the same hold true when comparing an Observant Jew with a pious Protestant?
Are you more troubled by the fact that 10% of voters in this country are less likely to vote for a Jew running for president than you are proud of the fact that 8% of voters in this country are more likely to vote for a Jew running for president? Please understand that among the 10% there are Jews who would prefer not to see a Jewish president because they are concerned or perhaps better stated afraid of any anti-Semitic backlash, should a Jewish president take any unpopular positions, become involved in a scandal, or see the economy tank during his presidency. Alternatively, among the 8% there are bound to be non-Jews who see a Jewish president as being endowed with special qualities by virtue of being a member of HaShem’s chosen. If there are non-Jews in this country who see a Jewish doctor and a Jewish lawyer as possessing fabulous skills, then perhaps they regard a Jewish president much the same way.
Whether or not we will live to see a mezuzah at the front doorpost of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes for good discussion. “Do we really care”, is an entirely different question. The very fact that we can even entertain these questions says a great deal about these United States of America. It also says a great deal about us as Jews.

* Bayit is Hebrew for house


Close to 22 years ago, American benefactors Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt came up with an idea to provide young Jewish adults with a ten day Israel experience. Thus was born Birthright or Taglit (Discovery), as it’s known in Hebrew. For decades now, American Jewish leaders, including rabbis have seen how essential it was to promote what has come to be known as “Vitamin I”. It was felt that “a dose of Israel” would be most beneficial to young diaspora Jews. Hopefully, there would be after effects from this ten day dose of Vitamin I for many years to come. Personally, there have been a number of occasions where I have been contacted to write letters of recommendation for Birthright hopefuls and in some cases to attest to the fact certain applicants were recognized as Jewish.
Last week, certain ill effects connected with vitamin I were discovered. It was reported that less than 50% of Birthright graduates were able to correctly answer a multiple choice test consisting of 15 questions along the lines of: The State of Israel was declared on… (3 dates were given) and with which Arab countries has Israel signed peace treaties (3 countries were provided).
Excuse me? The average Birthright participant couldn’t tell you that Joe Biden is the Vice President of the United States or that Hawaii is the 50th state, let alone that the State of Israel came into being on May14, 1948 or that Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. While I’ve been known to bore dinner guests with factoids and trivia about Israel, while I’ve been known to provide Israeli tour guides with useful, yet unasked for anecdotes that they weren’t aware of, I’ll be the first to exclaim: Now hold on thar (sic)! The primary focus of Birthright is experience, not knowledge! Young Jewish adults are taken to Israel, so that no different than the Disney movie Lion King, they can answer one question and one question only: Can you feel the love tonight…as well as today? Loving and knowing Israel, unless it is “knowing” in the biblical sense, share no commonality.
Would it be too much to ask of these blathering burchers* of Birthright to formulate questions along the following lines: What top three sites in Israel would you recommend to first time visitors and why? Was there any time during your ten day experience that you experienced “goose bumps”? Can you tell us why? What were the best three aspects of Birthright?
Want to play test knowledge about Israel? 1) Which of the three does not belong? Altalena, Patria, Sturma. 2) The third Prime Minister was: Levi Eshkol, Moshe Sharrett, David Ben Gurion. 3) Who was the protagonist of the novel Exodus by Leon Uris patterned after? Abba Eban, Yigal Allon, Yitzchak Rabin. I doubt very much that you will do as well on my test as Birthright participants did on their test.
And so blathering burchers* of Birthright: Be thankful that there are resources available for Birthright. Be grateful that American Jews are eager to participate on Birthright. Be relieved that you don’t have to take a “Rabbi Zell test” on Israel.
* Burcher is Yiddish for a grumbler.


Opinions are gratuitously offered causing tempers to flare as to whether or not this country should open its doors to Syrian immigrants. Such behavior on our parts is to be expected. After all, this is what makes this country the great democracy we know it to be. I would sincerely hope that each person has his or her specific view regarding the matter. What I strenuously object to however are reckless comparisons where Syrian refugees are likened to European Jews prior to and including World War II. Before using the Holocaust as a measuring rod, one would do well to seriously consider the following:
Were Jews seeking asylum during the Third Reich a result of insurgent Jews rising up against a ruthless Jewish dictator as is the current situation in Syria? Doesn’t strike anyone strange that the very same countries who up until now have adopted an attitude of what goes on in any Arab country is an internal matter and who are we to express an opinion, much less become involved, are suddenly responding to the Syrian crises on the most dramatic fashion? Is it possible that these countries are seeking expiation (soul cleansing) for having turned a blind eye as well as a deaf ear to European Jews Jews hoping to flee for their lives three quarters of a century ago? Does it make sense for these countries to bend over backwards for Syrians because they once turned our back on Jews?
Of the precious few Jews who were allowed into this country as well as into England during the nightmare years of 1939-1945, how great was the threat of Jewish terrorism? Were there any bombings here in these United States or in England by terrorist Jews who conveniently slipped through the cracks while other oppressed, downtrodden and bedraggled Jews were spared the death sentence from a megalomaniac who was meticulous in his eradication of Jews? For that matter, was daily life interrupted in England or these United States by Jewish terrorist cells operating out of the Warsaw Ghetto blowing up office buildings at Piccadilly Circus or Columbus Circle or planting bombs on passenger trains leaving Victoria Station or Grand Central Station, carrying innocent Britons and Americans?
Before resorting to the Holocaust comparison, has anyone stopped to consider that while Lebanon and Jordan are opening its doors to Syrian immigrants, there are twenty other Arab countries that make themselves totally oblivious to the plight of their Arab brothers and sisters?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but during the Holocaust there wasn’t a single Jewish country that remained indifferent to the plight of the millions of its people going up in smoke in the crematoria of Europe, in that there was no Jewish country that existed at the time. Recall if you will, the lengths that the Jews of pre-state Israel went to, as they attempted to smuggle shiploads of Jewish refugees into the country only to have the British intercept the vast majority of these ships and reroute the passengers Detention Camps in Cyprus (if the immigrants were lucky) or send them back to Europe.
If you wish to make the case that this country should open its doors to Syrian refugees, that is your prerogative. If you wish to make the case that this country is under no obligation, legal, ethical or otherwise to take in Syrian refugees, you have that right as well. Remember one thing however. The Holocaust is sui generis. It defies comparison. So, don’t ever make the claim that the plight of Syrians fleeing their homeland is no different than the Jews fleeing the Nazis. Ever!