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.

Ribbon Cutting

Once upon a time, I was fairly involved in the Dallas Holocaust Museum. With the change of leadership, my involvement with the Holocaust Museum also changed. And that was perfectly fine. I would even say propitious . Two major changes were about to occur with which I could not concur. The first change was that it would no longer solely serve as a museum of the Holocaust. It would morph into a Museum of Human rights, as well. Please understand. I will be the first to espouse human rights. I will, however, be the first to espouse that the Holocaust must stand alone – in that no catastrophe ought to be placed alongside the Holocaust. For example, I would, without any hesitation whatsoever, give my time, energy, and money to work with Ukrainians to put up a museum to commemorate the systematic starvation of close to 4 million of their people, between 1931 and 1934, by Joseph Stalin. But in no way, would I wish to have their heart wrenching story be part of a museum that depicts the annihilation of  6 million Jews by Hitler. Like the Jews, Ukrainians deserve their own space to tell their own story of man’s inhumanity to man. The second change was yesterday’s opening of their $74 million, 55,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, copper-wrapped masterpiece in Dallas’s West End. While I possess no powers to foresee the future, I cannot feel but feel that the current, ever so strong, interest in Holocaust Museums across the continent and throughout the world, is destined to run its course, whether it be within the next decade, or sooner. Accordingly, I would have earmarked those same funds for other pursuits, that would have carried a message to the 6 million, that while their physical existence went up in smoke, our memory of them will continue to burn brightly, as it lives on in our hearts and in our souls.

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut the apron strings. As Jews, we have every right – nay, we have the sacred duty to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. With exception of the Roma (Gypsies), anyone else who was murdered by the Nazis, perished because of either what they did or because of “collateral damage.” Jews (and Roma) perished because of who they were. Let us never forget, that our people, and no one else’s people were targeted by Hitler and his war machine. The Third Reich devised no other “rein” (clean/cleansing), other than “Judenrein!”

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut short. Soon after I arrived in Dallas, I was visited by President and CEO of the Holocaust Museum. It did not take long for me to realize that one of the premises behind the museum was to depict a time when an entire world stood idly by and did nothing. However true that may have been about world leaders, it was far from the truth about ordinary Christians who were responsible for extraordinary deeds of heroism. Hardly a week passes, without a Jewish website on the internet coming out with a story about a non-Jew who placed his life in peril, by providing a hiding place for a Jew. For those who argue that such select acts of humane behavior pale in comparison to the countless others who turned a blind eye, it must be pointed out, that without these acts of kindness, we might be remembering well over 6 million Jews, whose lives were snuffed out. If Yad VaShem, the World Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem recognizes the Righteous Gentile, shouldn’t individual Holocaust Museums do the same?

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not take a cut and dried attitude. As one who has officiated at hundreds of funerals over the years, including those whose lives were cut short, there is no greater injustice one can do to the dead, than speak solely about how they died. True tribute to the deceased, is to pay tribute to how they lived. A truly touching Holocaust Museum, would be one where the lives as well as the deaths of the victims, are remembered.

We have a right to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. We have a task to remember the righteous gentile. We have a duty to learn about the lives of those whose memories are ensconced in the Holocaust Museum.

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.

 

REPARATIONS

As one who continues to venerate Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, even though it has been over a quarter of a century since he departed this world, I especially admire the stance he took as leader of the opposition, less than four years after the establishment of Israel. Leading a group of 15,000, Mr. Begin spoke out against Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and the Israeli government, as it entered into negotiations with the German government over reparations.

I may very well be a lone voice in the wilderness, but as far as I’m concerned, the term reparations is far too vague. I cannot help but feel that it was the duty of the Israeli government to point out to the German government, that there not one, but two injustices that must be addressed. The German government must answer for the Nazis confiscating Jewish homes along with precious and valuable  paintings, objects d’art and furnishings. The German government must answer for Jews being forced out of their positions and deprived of their livelihood. For all this, monetary calculations and estimations can be made. For all this, reparations can be offered, provided that those who managed to survive were prepared to receive money tainted by German hands. The German government must also answer for the murder and annihilation of six million Jews. Regarding murder, there are no monetary calculations and estimations. Because no value can be placed on human life, reparations must sadly remain totally academic.
Although I am far from fluent in German, I am very much aware that “wiedergutmachung” or “making good again” is the German equivalent for “reparation.” However, I am also concerned that the German term “reinwaschen” or “washing clean” is conceptually dangerously close to “wiedergutmachung.” Because reparations have been made, those of our people accepting reparations, run the risk of absolving the Nazis for their heinous behavior. By accepting reparations, they have effectively wiped the slate clean. As noble as “let bygones be bygones” sounds, it runs the risk of evading responsibility. Accepting reparations affords the German people absolution and complete closure of a time, that in all likelihood, most Germans would be only too happy to sweep under the rug of history.

Webster’s Dictionary offers three different definitions for “reparations.” Among those three, one finds “reparations” to mean the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. While it is entirely possible and certainly understandable that the aggrieved will demand money, I would hope that the aggrieved could realize that when all is said and done, money is the lowest form of reparation. One would be hard pressed to explain the connection between penitence and payment. True reparation ought to include taking responsibility through sincere contrition and honest commitment. It’s beyond me why, when entering negotiations with the Konrad Adenauer’s post war Germany, the nascent Israeli government did not explain that their greatest need was to build a country. And while financial reparation can be so very enticing in the short term, true reparation could produce so much more.  Can you just imagine if Israel had demanded a proto “Peace Corps” where thousands of Germans would  have signed up to travel to the fledgling Jewish State to volunteer for say, a period of six years (the length of World War II) building roads, working the land, helping out in hospitals and orphanages (which they helped create through their genocidal “cleansing.”  I for one cannot help but feel, that there would have been catharsis of true contrition on the part of the Germans, as well as a catharsis of raging anger justifiably borne by a good many Jews.

Last week, activists and lawmakers gathered for a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the topic of reparations — whether the United States government should provide compensation to the descendants of slaves. In keeping with the sentiments I expressed, I hope that much thought and foresight goes into the process, so that the outcome will be beneficial to all.

THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

A  little over a month ago we spilled the wine, as we recounted the plagues visited upon the obstinate Pharaoh who refused to liberate the Children of Israel. There is yet one other plague however, that is far more abhorrent than those recounted at the Pesach Seder. That is the plague that broke out close to fifteen hundred years later in ancient Israel, among the students of Rabbi Akiva. We learn from the Talmud, that among Rabbi Akiva’s 12,0000 pairs of students, there were those who perished daily, beginning on Pesach, until the thirty-third day of the counting of Omer. The Talmud further relates that the cause of this plague, was the lack of respect that the students of Rabbi Akiva accorded one another.

For close to two thousand years, rabbinic scholars have been totally incredulous at the very notion that the students of Rabbi Akiva could behave toward one another in such fashion. Although I never have considered myself a rabbinic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I cannot help but feel, that three salient points have not been taken into account:

For us as a people, discussion, dispute and divergent opinion have served as our life blood. What makes us Jews so unique, is our ability to hold  contradictory views and opinions. As such, it was our ancestors who were the true promulgators of democracy! Yet, there are times, such as a state of emergency, when democracy must be put on hold  and take a back seat. Such a time was during Rabbi Akiva’s leadership. The tension that existed between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people it governed, was at an all-time high.  With the destruction of the holy Temple having taken place a mere six and a half decades earlier, the lesson that the destruction left in its wake had yet to be absorbed. And that was, that internal dissension can prove to be lethal, when living under the rule of a foreign government. After all, wasn’t “sinat chinam” or baseless hatred that flared up among our people that ultimately served as the root cause for the Roman victory?  Yet, thirty-five years later, the great sage Rabbi Akiva not only defied the Romans from a religious aspect, by continuing to teach Torah publicly, thereby ignoring a recently handed down edict, but he defied the Romans from a military aspect as well! After all, Rabbi Akiva was one of the supporters of Bar Kochba, the Jewish General believed to be able to overthrow the Romans, thereby casting off the yoke that the Romans imposed upon the Jews of ancient Israel! Surely, there must have been strongly held opinions regarding Rabbi Akiva’s political involvement! Disagreement about the understanding of a religious text is one thing; disagreement where students simply fail to understand why a religious leader would get himself so entrenched in the overthrow of a government is quite something else. However useful the exhortation to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company,” one would do well to bear in mind that of the two, discussing politics is far more dangerous to the well-being of relationships  and at times even far more lethal.

Story has it that a renowned rabbi, together with his Shamash  traveled to visit another renowned Rabbi to discuss a pressing religious  matter. Although the host rabbi was informed of the arrival of a revered religious leader, the host rabbi had the visiting rabbi wait in line together with the commoners for hours until he was received. Sometime later, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot. The host rabbi together with his Shamash were visiting the very same rabbi who had earlier paid them a visit. As soon as the rabbi who had been made to stand in line and wait, learned of the presence of his visitor, he gave instruction that a red carpet be rolled out and carte blanche be given to the important visitor. The Shamash was incredulous. “this is how you pay back one who treated you with such disrespect,” he asked his revered leader incredulously.
“Better he and his Shamash  should learn to accord respect from us, than we should learn to accord disrespect from them,” answered the venerated Rabbi.

Once Jews treat one another with respect, a perilous plague will have been eradicated from our nation.

UNLIKE THE HOLOCAUST

“It was like images out of the Holocaust,” exclaimed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein last weekend in Poway, California  as he found himself a victim of another atrocity aimed at Jews. Far be it from me to take issue with Rabbi Goldstein’s comments, but for the vast majority of us, it is most proper, especially this very week when we observe Yom HaShoah and remember the Holocaust, to realize that to make such a comparison does a great disservice to the six million.

Unlike the Holocaust, no attack on a synagogue, church, or mosque in this country is government executed and government sanctioned. The Chancellor of Germany did not come out and say “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,”  much less place a phone call to any wounded rabbi. The Third Reich was far too busy rounding up rabbis – the Nazis were very democratic, refusing to distinguish one Jew from another – and  shipping them to concentration camps where most would meet their deaths either quickly or slowly.

Unlike the Holocaust, the New York Times did not bury the story of last week’s synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, or the shooting at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, on page 23 of its newspaper. Both incidents were front page news. What takes place at a synagogue – good or bad – is treated no differently than what takes place at a church or mosque. It’s of major concern to Americans and therefore it garners front page news in newspapers throughout the nation. Whereas the Third Reich maintained the attitude of “we do not distinguish between Jews, we treat them all the same viz. like vermin,” the media in this country maintains the attitude  “we do not distinguish between religions, we treat them all the same viz. with dignity and respect.”

Unlike the Holocaust, non-Jews in this country show solidarity. At Shabbat services one week after the Pittsburgh catastrophe, we at Tiferet had visitors. Unlike other non-Jews who attend our services, either out of curiosity or out of an interest to embrace Judaism, those who joined us at Shabbat services on November 3rd of last year, did so purely out of solidarity. It was their way of saying “we feel terrible about what took place. We lack the necessary words to provide comfort and consolation. We would therefore like to visit with you, so that we can pray together.” Eight decades ago, non-Jews showed  no such solidarity. True to its designation, the silent majority said nothing. Hitler’s war was against the Jews, not the Lutherans. To quote a saying I learned after arriving in Dallas, “the Christian world did not have a dog in that fight.” The precious few who were abhorred by what was taking place, were afraid to speak out, lest they endanger their own lives. Today, days after the catastrophe at Chabad, the silent majority continues to remain silent. The ones who are afraid to speak out however, are not the precious few. They are the repugnant few, who regret that the assailant was not more successful in his vendetta against Jews. They know that American society will not tolerate individuals who harbor such views and cling to such feelings.

I have no idea what Jewish leaders – both religious, as well as lay – will be saying to those who come together to commemorate the Holocaust, this Thursday evening. Personally, I’ll be offering up a prayer. I will be thanking HaShem that I live in a country where the elected political leadership expresses solidarity when a crime is committed against Jews, where the media gives what took place full coverage and where non-Jews stand together with Jews, attesting to the fact that we are one nation under G-d.

YOU ARE AN ERRANT WEED

“To him and to those like him, we say: ‘You are not part of the community of Israel. You are an errant weed…Judaism spits you out…You are a shame to Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.’” So spoke the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, in the aftermath of  what came to be known as the Hebron Massacre. Next Monday, marks twenty-five years since Baruch Goldstein, an American trained physician, dressed in his military uniform, armed with a Galil assault rifle, entered Ma’arat HaMachpelah otherwise known as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Muslim worshippers, while wounding another 125.

So spoke the democratically elected leader of the Jewish State. Given the fact that there were those on the right of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as being heaven sent, while there were those on the left of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as deserving the most horrendous that hell had to offer, the Prime Minister of Israel, the leader of the entire political spectrum dared to deliver  an assessment of Baruch Goldstein, that no psychiatrist had yet to come up with.

A few years later, I was introduced to a woman who was a friend and neighbor of Baruch Goldstein. “He was my children’s pediatrician,” she offered. “As far as you are able to explain, what do you think happened?” I asked. “He snapped! Who wouldn’t have snapped, treating victim after victim, day after day, of Arab terrorism?” she responded.

Prime Minister Rabin could have used that opportunity to tell Jew and Arab alike, that Israel will not tolerate terrorism, regardless of the source. Instead, he chose to usurp the power entrusted to rabbis from a different time and a different place and excommunicate the deceased doctor, declaring that “Judaism spits you out” and that “you are an embarrassment to Judaism.”

As Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin could have said, “Israel is the home of Jews from all corners of the world. We invite our brothers and sister, wherever they may be, to come to Israel and to make themselves at home. We will, however, never tolerate any Jew, from anywhere, who disrupts our home or places our home in harm’s way, because our home is not in the best neighborhood of the world.” Instead, Prime Minister Rabin chose to castigate and chastise.

Twenty months after these incendiary words were spoken, I searched to find the proper words to encapsulate the Prime Minister’s life. Our synagogue was holding a memorial for Yitchak Rabin whose life was abruptly ended, moments after he addressed a crowd at a rally in Tel-Aviv. As you might surmise, I was neither a supporter nor a fan of Yitzchak Rabin. But I put political differences aside and accorded him the honor and respect befitting a Prime Minister of Israel. At the conclusion of the tribute, an Israeli, representing an entirely different political bent than mine, who had been present, approached me to thank me as well as to give me a yasher koach for my remarks. “This was not easy for me,” I confided in her. “I’m very much aware of that and that’s all the more reason you deserve a “thank you” as well as a yasher koach,” she responded.

Twenty-five years have passed since the carnage at Ma’arat HaMachpelah. I cannot help but feel that over this past quarter century, political views of the vast majority of Israelis have by and large remained the same. Those who vilified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today. Similarly, those who glorified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today as well.

Reflecting on those events twenty-five years later, I sadly shake my head, as I see how very pathetic it was for the same Prime Minister who months earlier,  extended a hand, however reluctantly, on the White House lawn to Yasser Arafat,  an individual who orchestrated decades of mayhem and murder, to then go and spit in the face of a family attempting to deal with the sudden death of a husband and father whose actions, no one may never fully understand.

YOU DECORATED MY LIFE

Contemporary American culture assures us that well before the turkey has tickled our taste buds, our eyes begin to feast on a plethora of Christmas decorations that pop up in the neighborhood. Such was the case with a house on the other side of the street. “Your house is clearly in the forefront,” I said to Julia Boyce who was in my office the other day. The Boyce house had been so tastefully (professionally) decorated, that I had to stop myself from giving Julia a big “Yasher Koach.” My neighbors’ house notwithstanding, I reassessed my comment hours later. I began to think about misplaced emphasis on decorations on the part of Christians, come Christmas and given our proclivity as Jews to parrot the greater culture, our misplaced emphasis on decorations, come the Festival of Lights.

Forgive me for “jumping the fence” and preaching a Christmas sermon before a church filled with Christians on the eve of December 24th, but if a preacher  really wanted to celebrate the birth in Bethlehem, then he or she would do well to instruct his or her parishioners to decorate the world with teachings surrounding a birth that would ultimately change the world beyond wildest expectations. Joseph and Mary may have been the first Jews to be turned away and refused a night’s stay.  Subsequent generations of Jews would be turned away and refused a life’s stay.  Isn’t it time for Christians to realize that come December 25th, mistletoe misses the point?

Once the Christian world is able to discern the difference between decorations that beautify the home and decorations that beautify the world, we, their “older brothers” will in all likelihood follow suit.

“Do you see what I see” should be the lyrics of a Chanukah song. Jews should be challenged to see various Maccabean messages in the flames of the candles irrespective of the creativity of the menorah that holds those candles. Shouldn’t a rabbi, an honest rabbi, who is untouched by the commercialism that has permeated the lives of his people, be reminding his congregation that as creative as Walt Disney Chanukah menorahs are, relegating the message of Chanukah to Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy is pure fantasyland? It isn’t the menorah, or any other tangible object brought into Jewish homes for that eight-day period that decorates and beautifies, it is the very message contained in the flames of those Chanukah lights. Shouldn’t a rabbi be telling his congregants that they have it all wrong when it comes to making use of the flames of the Chanukah candles? Shouldn’t a rabbi tell his people that the flames are off limits only when it comes to physical benefit? Isn’t it time then to look into those flames and see the dark color closest to the flame and recall how Chanukah began in a dark period of time during our history, when an internecine struggle was rearing its head between Hasmoneans and Hellenists? Shouldn’t Chanukah be a time to show that the harmony of the lights more than offsets the acrimony that festered between groups of Jews?  Wouldn’t the ultimate Chanukah decoration for any home  be one where there is an emphasis is placed on the fact that no two flames are alike? Shouldn’t there be an explanation  that some flames will be larger while other flames will be smaller? Couldn’t it be pointed out that neither the size of the flame nor the intensity of the flame has any bearing whatsoever as to which flame will go out first? Doesn’t the fact that  all candles are standing together overshadow the differences of color, flame size, and burning time?

Our Christian brethren are busy decorating their homes because of a miracle that  that would ultimately change their lives, not their homes. Perhaps we Jews can busy ourselves by using the lessons found through looking deeply into the flames of the Chanukah lights. Let us make miracles happen. Let us illuminate our homes so that we ultimately bring light into the lives of those we touch. Let us decorate this world.

BANKRUPTCY

“Na (sic) ha (sic) can you compete!” exclaimed my late Uncle Morris in his Polish accented English, as he commiserated with my father over their plight as small independent clothing store owners, attempting to eke out a livelihood in a city with more top notch retail stores than one could have imagined.

My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind last week, as I read about Sears recently filing for bankruptcy. Given the current retail climate in this country, Sears simply couldn’t compete.  My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind however for yet another reason. As a congregational rabbi, I’ve come to realize, that although in all likelihood I am a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, when it comes to competing, unlike retail stores,  synagogues shouldn’t compete.

Yes, competition is part and parcel of human nature. Communism was destined to fail from the start, because it did away with the individual as well as competitive spirit of the individual. I’ll be the first profess  that competition, if correctly executed (and it hardly ever is), is quite healthy and even desirable for humans. The intent and goal of Judaism however, isn’t to make us more human; the intent and goal of Judaism is to make us more humane. Competition is part and part of human nature. Judaism on the other hand, challenges us to rise above human nature. How else can we explain the basis of kashrut, which by its very essence, is designed to suppress human urges and to ask of us to work on rechanneling human nature? Judaism asks that each of us incorporate a non- compete clause into our very nature.

“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people” according to David Sarna. Recently, I returned a call to someone from the greater New York City area who was looking to relocate to Dallas. It didn’t take long to realize that I was falling prey to the very competition against which I am inveighing. “I’m sure that you’ve reached out to other rabbis as well” I said in my phone conversation to the gentleman. “And how many rabbis have taken the time to get back to you”, I smugly asked. Implicit in my question of course, was the fact that I provide better service than do other rabbis. By asking about other rabbis, I succumbed to the very worst aspect of competition; I showed that I was there for him by pointing out that other rabbis were not. Mea culpa!

Yet as uncalled for as my question was, I was mild in my condemnation of those “competing” against me. One need only watch political commercials being presently aired to see the very worse aspect of competition. We call it negative campaigning. Rather than present their attributes and explain why one should vote for them, political candidates  point out the shortcomings, drawbacks and faults  of their rivals. In Judaism, we call that Loshon HaRa or slander. As far as our sages were concerned, Loshon Hara is about as low as one can go.

How did it ever happen that synagogues capitulated to clichés and worn out phrases such as “warm congregations,” “friendly services” and “caring rabbis”? How is it that congregations  deigned to respond to the repugnant term “Shul shopping” ? Recently, I heard a speaker tell us how Jews are defecting from Modern Orthodoxy, because it does not fill their needs as far as women’s participation and involvement. Politically, the current trend of Modern Orthodoxy is also not to their liking. Excuse me? I was always under the impression that religion was for prayer and connecting with G-d. How did it happen that religion must now compete for our political comfort as well as our personal view of the world? The real travesty however is that so many rabbis and so many congregations will spare no expense to keep the shul shopping congregant, real or perceived,  satisfied.

There is however one type of competition that congregations would do well to embrace. And that is competition against oneself. Rather than worry about what other synagogues are doing best, congregations are better served when they are concerned about their own performance, and constantly looking to live up to their potential and seek new spiritual challenges.

Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to show what they stand for. Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to no longer fall prey to merchandising. When all is said and done, since its inception, Judaism has shown itself to be impervious to bankruptcy.

 

RESERVING A SPECIAL THOUGHT

As a firm believer that a special thought deserves a reciprocal special thought, I should like to communicate to Pope Francis, that just as he reserves a special thought for the Jewish community as he stood at the site of the former Vilna Ghetto the other day  on the 75th anniversary of its liquidation, so too do I reserve a special thought for him as well. Actually, I reserve three special thoughts for the Holy See:

Your standing at the site of the former  Vilna Ghetto or at the site of any Ghetto reminiscent of the Holocaust or at any Concentration Camp or Extermination Camp leaves me totally unmoved.

Regardless of any special thought that you reserve, I don’t hold you responsible for any of the atrocities committed against my people under the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler. You were a mere eight years old at the end of World War II. I don’t even hold Pope Pius XII responsible, despite all the controversy that surrounds him. Special thoughts should be reserved in the minds and on the consciences of children and grandchildren of those who were responsible for the Vilna Ghetto as well as the liquidation of Lithuanian Jews that soon ensued. Let them “Klap an al-chet” (beat their breasts) for the sins of their fathers. Any special thoughts you reserve in Lithuania should be reserved in any of the multitude of Catholic churches found throughout the country. Reserve special thoughts as you ask forgiveness from your savior for the inhumanities committed by his faithful while they either ignored or perverted his teachings.

Reserve special thoughts for the Rhineland massacres, where German Christians murdered innocent Jews living in the cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Visit churches that date back to the 11th century  and stand before the crucifix as you reserve special thoughts for the Jewish community. While you are at it. You might ask forgiveness for sullying the name of the Nazarene whose mission was to preach love as well as peace on earth. Stand there in front of the one who suffered at Calvary, just outside of Jerusalem and consider how he would have suffered that much more had he witnessed  murdering masses committing reprehensible and unspeakable acts, thereby besmirching his name and reputation.

Speaking of Jerusalem, reserve special thoughts for 160 churches in Jerusalem (including churches within schools and Christian institutions) that are not subject to defacement and desecration the way our synagogues are throughout cities in Europe. While you reserve special thoughts, you might also offer up a prayer of thanksgiving that the close to 15,000 Christians living in Jerusalem have never feared the Jew. Unlike Jews living in predominantly Christian countries in Europe, who no longer dare wear Jewish identification such as a yarmulke on their head or a Chai around their neck in public for fear of attack or worse, Christians mill about any and all neighborhoods of Jerusalem, feeling completely safe and secure. Perhaps the Holy See will consider a trip to the Holy Land  devoid of any political agenda, simply to express gratitude for the well-being and flourishing of the small Christian community  amidst a Jewish majority.
Your Holiness, history, Jewish existence and safety has been dependent on action and behavior -both by Jews themselves and especially by the outside Christian world. Never throughout our history as a people, has Jewish existence and safety been dependent on  special thoughts reserved by you or anyone else for that matter.

Your Holiness, there is one other special thought that I reserve – actually, it is a prayer. I reserve a special thought that you are able to devote your energies to dealing with the many issues that currently plague the Catholic Church. I will fully understand your not having the time to visit Holocaust memorials where you reserve special thoughts.