Archive | May, 2019

Imam Suleiman has anti-Semitic past; has he moved on?

Imam Suleiman has anti-Semitic past; has he moved on?

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Petra Marquardt-Bigman

 

By Petra Marquardt-Bigman

BAT YAM, Israel (JTA) — It was an honor for the young but popular Imam Omar Suleiman to be invited to deliver the opening prayer for a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. Suleiman is the founder and president of the Texas-based Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, which proudly announced the occasion and promoted it on its website and social media.
His short and passionate prayer included words about love, unity, justice, peace and reconciliation, as well as a call to “be for truth, no matter who or for is against it.” [sic]
But his appearance in Congress quickly became politicized. Rep. Lee Zeldin tweeted that allowing Suleiman to give the opening prayer was “totally unacceptable.”
“Totally unacceptable that @SpeakerPelosi had Omar Suleiman give the opening prayer yesterday in the House. He compares Israel to the Nazis & calls them terrorists, supports Muslim Brotherhood, incites violence calling for a Palestinian antifada & the end of zionism, etc.”
Two years ago I wrote a piece for The Algemeiner documenting Suleiman’s call for “the beginning of the end of Zionism” and a 2014 Facebook post in which he said that “Zionists are the enemies of God,” among other things. I had come across Suleiman only because I was writing a post on Linda Sarsour’s hostile views on Israel.
During the course of my investigation, I noticed that the newly prominent co-chair of the Women’s March and Suleiman were complimenting each other on Twitter. The articles Sarsour shared about Suleiman painted a glowing picture: One described him as “a new kind of American imam” with “a wildly popular social-media presence, with more than a million likes on his Facebook page and tens of millions of views for his YouTube sermons.”
Since my work focuses on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism, I was mostly interested in whether Suleiman shared Sarsour’s views on Israel. What I found was rather shocking, particularly given that Suleiman’s vast social media following allows him to spread his views far and wide.
Suleiman, in his 30s and originally from New Orleans, rose to prominence due to his interfaith work and community organizing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He began studying Islamic texts in 2000, and has taught Islamic studies at the university level since 2008. He holds several advanced degrees and is in the process of completing a doctorate from the International Islamic University of Malaysia in Islamic thought and civilization.
In 2014, Suleiman repeatedly called for a new intifada inspired by religious fervor during Ramadan and in defense of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In another post, Suleiman cursed “Zionists” as “the enemies of God, His Messengers, sincere followers of all religions, and humanity as a whole.”
It was thus hardly surprising that Suleiman also compared “apartheid Israel” to the “Nazis,” claimed that Gaza was enduring “a Holocaust,” denounced the “Israeli regime” as “terrorist,” and compared the Israeli army to the Taliban.
As I noted in my 2017 piece, Suleiman seemed to become more restrained in his public commentary on Israel after 2015.
But in the course of watching some of his religious lectures, I realized that with regard to Jews, his theological views were perhaps also rather problematic: In one lecture from 2012, he seemed to cast the Bani Israel (sons of Israel, or Jews) as the ultimate, horrifying “Other” put on earth to serve as an example of sinful behavior. Even more alarming was another lecture he gave in 2016 on “Masjid Al-Aqsa: The occupied sanctuary.” Suleiman completely erased Jewish history and presented the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, as rightful Muslim patrimony from the beginning of time.
Sometime on or before August 2017, Suleiman apparently became aware that some of his views are polarizing. On Aug. 3 of that year, Suleiman posted a sort of mea culpa on Facebook, concluding, “I ask my Lord and all of you to forgive me for anything I’ve ever said, written, or done that hurt you.”
On Aug. 8, he also added a page to his website on anti-Semitism, writing, “I have never condoned anti-semitism. I have worked with the Jewish community in vibrant interfaith partnerships for over a decade.”
In the wake of this most recent controversy, Suleiman wrote an article in The Dallas Morning News in which he referenced his work with the Jewish community and past “regretful” controversial posts. He stated that “one thing I’ve never been is anti-Semitic.”
The article’s title sums up Suleiman’s take: “Hateful attacks cannot silence voices of unity and love” — which is to say, Suleiman views his critics as attackers who, motivated by hate, want to silence voices like his own, which promote unity and love.
It is clear — and understandable — that Suleiman feels it is unfair to focus on some tweets and Facebook posts he shared a few years ago while ignoring the work he is doing every day. It is also clear that he sincerely feels that his record does not warrant accusations of anti-Semitism.
But it is equally clear that he is unwilling to clarify if and how his “regretful” views have changed.
In May 2018, Suleiman took to Facebook to passionately endorse the Hamas-orchestrated riots at the Gaza border. The leader of Hamas had announced the goals of the riots very clearly when he vowed to “take down the border and tear out their hearts [i.e., the hearts of Israelis] from their bodies.”
Given Suleiman’s previous calls for a third intifada and his demonization of Israel, he will perhaps understand that it sounds somewhat sinister when he declared that Palestinians “will continue to demand their freedom. And so will we. By any means necessary.”
Suleiman consistently frames the Palestinian conflict with Israel in religious terms, painting it as one that should involve all Muslims, and adamantly denies the importance of the Land of Israel — as well as the centrality of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount — to Jews.
In his 2016 lecture on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Suleiman emphatically asserted that “Masjid [mosque] Al-Aqsa is that entire rectangle, that entire sanctuary, it is humongous, that is actually all Masjid Al-Aqsa; the Dome of the Rock is at the center of it, so that entire compound is Masjid Al-Aqsa,” erasing the fact that the same site is Judaism’s holiest, where historical and archeological evidence show that the Second Temple stood until its destruction in 70 CE. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque weren’t built until over 500 years later, on a plateau defined by the walls built to support the Temple complex.
Suleiman’s Al-Aqsa lecture is a depressing example of a fundamentalist theological outlook on the basis of an Islamist view of history. He says that it was “proven that other religions only flourished in Jerusalem under Muslim rule. It never happens any other way.” Complaining how unfair it was to fear that Muslims could “turn Jerusalem into some sort of blood bath,” Suleiman declared: “No, we recognize the sanctity of that place, we love that masjid, we love that land, we know what that land is. No one wants to do anything with that land except restore it to the way that it was.”
The implications of Suleiman’s religious teaching are clear: Muslims must strive to end Jewish sovereignty and “restore” Jerusalem and the Holy Land “to the way that it was” under Muslim rule.
It seems that Omar Suleiman’s theological views, which amount to a denial of Jewish history, color his political views. Like so many anti-Israel activists, Suleiman adamantly denies that anti-Zionism has anything to do with anti-Semitism. In the spirit of the interfaith activism he seems to endorse so warmly, he could perhaps consult some of the relevant material published by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who explains that “Anti-Zionism, denying Jews the right to their one and only collective home by misrepresenting Judaism, is the new anti-Semitism, every bit as virulent and dangerous as the old.”
That would help Suleiman understand that you cannot erase Jewish history and credibly claim that you oppose anti-Semitism.
We cannot only denounce Jewish fundamentalists who dream of demolishing the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount in order to build a third Temple as dangerous extremists. Muslim fundamentalists who preach that the Temple Mount has been Al-Aqsa from the beginning of time and claim that the entire site is a mosque are no better.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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Dallas Jewish community should back Imam Suleiman

Dallas Jewish community should back Imam Suleiman

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Rabbi Nancy Kasten

 

By Rabbi Nancy Kasten

The Internet has made it much harder to perform meaningful teshuvah or to accept the teshuvah of others. Nonetheless, as Jews we are required to do both. I believe that Imam Omar Suleiman was sincere when he apologized in August of 2017 for statements he had “ever said, written or done” that harmed anyone who felt threatened by his words. I believe him not because of what he wrote and said then, or what he has written and said before and since, but because of the person he has always been, a person who daily performs acts of lovingkindness, and who embodies true commitment to human life and dignity. In February of 2017 Omar delivered a card signed by nearly 100 members of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center to the Dallas JCC, in the wake of a bomb threat, that said, “We are here for you.” In October of 2018 Omar sat in the front row at Congregation Shearith Israel at the memorial service for Jews gunned down in Pittsburgh. When he traveled to help bury the dead after the attack on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand in March, he sent some of his Jewish partners and friends this text message: “I’m holding you all in my heart in Christchurch. Every time I see one of our Jewish brothers and sisters here, I think about how blessed I am to have you all in my life. Thank you.” Many Jewish leaders in our community reach out to Omar when they want to talk to a widely respected Muslim leader, learned in his own tradition and in the complexities of working across lines of difference. Omar has offered his hand and heart to our Dallas Jewish community in solidarity, empathy and compassion time and time again, even when his overtures have been rebuffed out of fear or distrust.
I have sat with Omar in restaurants and in my living room, sharing stories and asking questions about past experience and hopes for the future; struggling to understand and accept each other’s narratives. In my experience, Omar tries repeatedly to understand and respect the narratives of others while refusing to negate his own. That is a quality we can all strive to emulate. Omar and I share a conviction that our communities have more that unites us than divides us, a concern that the futures of both the Jewish and the Muslim communities in this country are under threat, and a commitment to building trust between us so that we can effectively work together. We also share a sad suspicion that social media outlets are being manipulated to engender fear and distrust among would-be allies in the fight against racism, xenophobia, jingoism and white nationalism. Jewish and other social media outlets that choose to saturate their networks with “anti-Semitic” tropes by progressive Muslims and “pro-Israel” tropes by conservative evangelical Christians are sadly succeeding in dividing the Jewish community from our allies, making it harder for us to build the power necessary to combat discrimination and violence.
In the Mishneh Torah in the Laws of Repentance, Maimonides states the following:
“You must not show yourself cruel by not accepting an apology; you should be easily pacified, and provoked with difficulty. When an offender asks forgiveness, you should forgive wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit. Even if the offender has caused you much trouble wrongfully, you must not avenge yourself, you must not bear a grudge. This is the way of the stock of Israel and their upright hearts. “
I hope that our local Dallas community will not be afraid to share our lived experience of Imam Omar Suleiman with others who may not have had the privilege of personally interacting with this humble, patient and wise young faith leader, a person whom our Jewish community rightfully calls a friend. Let’s not let the Internet prevent us from doing what the stock of Israel is required to do: performing our own teshuvah and accepting the teshuvah of others.
Rabbi Nancy Kasten was recently named Chief Relationship Officer of Faith Commons, an organization working to strengthen faith communities and communities through faith.

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Griggs and Johnson share perspectives at JCRC forum

Griggs and Johnson share perspectives at JCRC forum

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Photo: Submitted by JCRC
From left, Dallas City Council Candidate Scott Griggs, JCRC Chair Melanie Rubin, Event Chair Dawn Strauss, Event Chair Jim Tolbert and Dallas City Council Candidate Eric Johnson

Staff Report

Mayoral candidates Scott Griggs and Eric Johnson shared their views about Dallas’ future May 23 at the Aaron Family JCC in a community forum sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. The program was moderated by KERA’s Sam Baker.
By virtue of a coin toss, Griggs, a current city councilman, gave his opening statement first. A father of three, Griggs makes his home in Oak Cliff. He outlined the issues of key import:
“Taking care of public safety, transportation, housing economic development. I’m looking forward to earning your support tonight and the conversation.”
Johnson, a father of two, has represented District 100 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2010.
In his opening statement he focused on improving education for children, saying he wanted children to have access to strong public schools and to “grow up in a city that supports them with strong recreation centers and strong public libraries.”
The first question of the evening focused on public safety.
“How will you address safety of all citizens both in places of worship and elsewhere?” Baker asked.
“Increasing the number of police officers,” said Griggs. “Public safety is my No. 1 priority.”
Griggs, who has been endorsed by the Dallas Police Association and firefighters, wants to get pay closer to $72,000 and improve benefits.
“We just aren’t paying our police officers enough,” he said.
He added that he would speak out against leaders who come to Dallas who have bad track records on human rights and other issues.
Earlier that week, Griggs spoke out against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
“We should not welcome him to our city because of his track record in Brazil of not being friendly to minorities, not being friendly to the LBTQ communities.”
Johnson explained that paying police more and improving their morale is something that both candidates agree on and that virtually every candidate in the race has agreed on.
He turned his attention to being proactive.
“I’m from a community that has dealt with this issue of hate and discrimination for a long long time. And what I think is missing from this discussion sometimes is, the way you have to deal with hate is you have to be proactive about dealing with it.
“The police focus is great and important; that’s reactive. Police respond once something has happened. Once a synagogue has been desecrated and vandalized, once someone has been dragged through the street or beaten up. They respond to something that’s already gone wrong.
“Proactively we need a mayor who is going to stand up and talk about these issues and push forward initiatives that bring people together and bring back some of those conversations that we were having in the city about being a more united city….”
Bringing candidates together is one of the focuses of the JCRC.
As the public affairs and external relations division of the Jewish Federation, the JCRC is engaged in advocacy for Israel, legislative outreach and interfaith and interethnic relationship building, said Chair Melanie Rubin.
Event chairs for the evening were Dawn Strauss and Jim Tolbert. In addition to the JCRC, community partners for the event were: AJC Dallas; Congregation Anshai Torah; Congregation Beth Torah; Congregation Nishmat Am; Congregation Shearith Israel; Hadassah; The Jewish Latino Alliance; National Council of Jewish Women, Dallas; Southwest Jewish Congress; Temple Emanu-El; and Temple Shalom.

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Love: appreciating others’ unique traits

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

During this seven-week period of counting the Omer, also a preparation for receiving the Torah on the festival of Shavuot, we place extra focus on character development. In this spirit, there is a widespread custom to study Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) each Shabbat afternoon — a section of the Mishnah devoted to personal refinement, beyond the letter of the law.
In the Jewish mystical system, every person’s soul comprises seven middot (character attributes) — which form the template for emotive responses of the heart and instinctive character features that manifest in our demeanor. These seven weeks, we employ our faculty of da’at (knowledge in the form of identification) to create greater consciousness within our life to polish our distinct emotions and get them working together. This process is called tikkun hamidot (“character rectification”).
Each middah (lit. measurement) has a specific way of functioning and benefit. The first of these attributes is called chesed (kindness), whose inner essence is ahavah (love). Love is the prime emotion of the heart that also nurtures the other properties into maturity to promote a complete personality development. This inner force of expansion creates a feeling of attraction toward another, resulting in a sense of closeness and unity.
‘All You Need is Love’
Love is the thread that binds us to those people most dear. It nurtures important relationships — whether between friends, spouses, children and parents, or the love for our Creator — and helps these interactions to thrive. The powerful emotion has no limitations, transcending boundaries of time and place. In the Torah itself, there are explicit commandments stressing the importance of creating an active well-developed love inside: whether to “love your neighbor as yourself,” or to love God — “with all your heart, all your soul and with all your might.”
What drives the feeling of love? Sometimes love stems from the recognition of a striking or admirable quality. Here, the mind guides the heart; the more aware we are of these virtues, the stronger the pull. Other times, love is not provoked by any perception, but stems from a more innate bond. Ask a parent, for example, why they love their child. Even when the parent can list many exceptional qualities that the child possesses, it’s not any specific talent or virtue which serves as the ultimate cause for the love; the why transcends reason—it’s simply because “this is my child.”
Ideally, in those areas where we decide to channel our love, we want the emotion to be pure, free of any external factors. At the same time, there may be an advantage to using the mind to recognize special qualities and enhance the love.
The Mishnah
This Shabbat, the Chapter in Pirkei Avot contains a Mishnah (5:16) which discusses these two types of love: “Any love that is dependent on something — when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases. What is [an example of] a love that is dependent on something? The love of Amnon for Tamar. And one that is not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.”
At first glance, the Mishnah seems to contain no novel teachings, only stating an obvious rule: Love born from an attraction to a specific quality will disappear whenever that quality disappears whereas a love that is not tied to any perceived advantage will endure. Indeed, everyone is familiar with the concept of conditional and unconditional love — so why are illustrations even necessary? Furthermore, of all the characters (and relationships) in Jewish literature, why were these two cases chosen as examples?
A precise analysis of the Hebrew word for “dependent,” however, reveals a hidden lesson wherein the Mishnah is not referring to what originally prompted the emotion but to the present status. Whenever the feeling of love is currently tied to a specific appreciation in the other — even if it was once unconditional love — there is a risk: If that feature ceases, so will the love. From the other angle, even when love was originally tied to some superficial appreciation or gain, it can evolve into an essential love. In other words, if right now the love is independent of any condition, regardless of its starting point, then it can possess that enduring power.
To emphasize this novelty, the Mishnah brings these specific examples from Tanach: one containing an innate love which changed into a superficial love and another where friendship transformed into unconditional love.
Some people may think along the lines of the old English proverb, “blood is thicker than water,” that family bonds are stronger than those of outside relationships, such as friendship or acquired love. As a result, they may be lax in building that love among the family members, taking these relationships for granted. Alternatively, people may be so focused on themselves and their family unit, creating an imaginary dynasty, that they neglect the opportunity to strengthen relationships outside.
So, the Mishnah provides an example wherein the love of Amnon and Tamar, his sister, was an essential love but the emotion disappeared when circumstances changed. An innate bond between siblings reverted to that of strangers. Conversely, we find a story of a friendship where the bond was so deep that it became like family. “After David finished speaking to Shaul, Jonathan’s soul became joined to David’s soul, and Jonathan loved him as himself” (Samuel 1, 1:18).
Takeaway
The lesson from the Mishnah is that we must pinpoint our most cherished relationships (in multiple areas) and be conscious of what is presently fueling that bond. Love, regardless of the starting point, needs to be practiced and nurtured. The goal is to increase our tangible appreciation of the other’s unique traits, while ensuring that the essential force behind that love should not be tied to what we find attractive or beneficial — the gain — but independent of any virtue.

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The 12 Tribes and Camp Chai

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get ready for Camp Chai, campers are excited to find out what “tribe” they will be in. Every camp has traditions, and Camp Chai at the J has a longstanding tradition of naming our groups by the 12 tribes. Here is part of the blessing that Jacob gave to each of his sons, who later became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel:
Reuben: the eldest who showed a deep sense of responsibility. He convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph. Later, he offered the lives of his own sons if he should fail to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. His symbol is the mandrake, the flower he brought to his mother Leah.
Gad: means “good fortune” and though “raided by raiders, he shall raid at their heels.” The symbol is camp tents, standing for prowess in battle.
Joseph: The favorite son was noble and distinguished; he was Jacob’s favorite. Joseph’s sons were given a blessing from Jacob because of their father’s honor. The symbol for Joseph includes the bull and the unicorn for his two sons.
Benjamin: “a hungry wolf who eats in the morning,” produced fine soldiers and gave Israel its first king. The symbol is the wolf.
Dan: means “to judge” and Dan would “judge his people.” But Jacob also said: “Dan shall be a serpent in the way.” The symbol is the serpent and scales of justice.
Judah: was a “young lion,” declared Jacob. “Rulers will descend from him.” Judah’s descendants include King David and King Solomon. The symbol is the lion.
Naftali: was alert, nimble and a good speaker. Jacob said he was “a deer let loose; he gives goodly words.” The symbol is a deer, still used by the Israel Ministry of Posts.
Simeon: The descendants of Simeon would be scattered among the tribes. The symbol is the Gates of Shechem, which was a city where the tribe of Simeon lived.
Zebulon: would “dwell at the shore and be a haven for ships.” The symbol is a ship with the breeze blowing and the white foam flowing.
Asher: means “happy,” and he would be “rich in oil.” The tribe of Asher grew olive groves and provided the Temple with oil. The symbol is the olive tree.
Menasha and Ephraim: Joseph’s sons were adopted by Jacob for a special blessing. “By thee shall Israel bless, saying: ‘God make thee as Ephraim and Menasha.’” The symbol for Menasha was the unicorn.
Levi: the tribe that served the Kohanim and the Temple. The symbol was the choshen mishpat — the breastplate of judgment. On the plate were 12 jewels, each with the name of a tribe.
Now if that is too much to remember, here is a song we sing — it is to the tune of “Catalina Magdalina” (some verses are a little tricky) but the same message is given:
Jacob Blesses His Sons
CHORUS: Jacob had 12 sons but they came from different moms. Each became a tribe in Jewish history.
Reuben was the oldest but he didn’t have much spine so he got the basic blessing but without the bottom line. CHORUS
As for Simeon and Levi, their families got mixed. Due to what occurred in Shechem, their blessing was nixed. CHORUS
All honor goes to Judah, the ancestor of David the King. His tribe would win back the Promised Land and praises would ring. CHORUS
Zebulon got the seashore and Issachar got the land. In looking at the blessings, these two were very grand. CHORUS
The task of judging all the folks was given to Dan. But for eloquence in speech, Naftali was the man. CHORUS
Gad will be a raider with a winning warrior band. And Asher will lead the traders and bring delicacies to the land. CHORUS
Benjamin was the baby but he led a wolf-like tribe. First he takes the goodies and later he will divide. CHORUS
Joseph was the favorite but we all know that. He got the longest blessing plus the coat upon his back. CHORUS
Ephraim and Menasha were Joseph’s pride. They got Grampa Jacob’s blessing as they stood side by side. CHORUS

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Shavuot: minor holiday?

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
This year we were invited to an observant family’s home for a meal on the eve of the holiday of Shavuot. We are sort of nervous since we don’t know much about it, and don’t want to sound ignorant at their table. Is Shavuot a minor holiday? Could you “fill us in”?
Noah & Sarena
Dear Noah and Sarena,
This year Shavuot begins Saturday night, June 8, and continues through nightfall Monday, June 10 (in the Diaspora; in Israel it ends a day earlier).
Shavuot is the day the Jewish people celebrate the anniversary of God giving us the Torah. It occurs on the 6th of the Jewish month of Sivan and commemorates the anniversary of our nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai over 3,000 years ago.
Shavuot is actually not a “minor holiday” but is mentioned in the Torah numerous times. (Just for the record, although it seems to be a common concept, there actually is no notion of a minor holiday in Judaism. There are Torah-mandated holidays, and later, rabbinically-mandated holidays, such as Purim and Chanukah, but even those are not considered “minor.” All the holidays, regardless of their theme, are considered of the highest importance and all made it to the “major” leagues.)
Shavuot is observed for two days in the Diaspora, one day in Israel. Its laws are similar to that of Shabbat, with certain exceptions. There is a custom to eat dairy at one of the Shavuot meals. One of the reasons for this custom is that Torah is compared to milk and honey, which is the epitome of sweetness. When the Jews received the Torah, God revealed that Torah is the greatest enjoyment and ecstasy which is available in this world. It is a piece of the next world available to taste in this world; a transcendental, eternal pleasure which dwarfs all the transient, physical pleasures which the world has to offer.
Although Shavuot is such a critical holiday, the source of our nationhood by God’s presenting us with His mission as a nation, don’t be embarrassed by not knowing much about it. You’re in good company; I have found that many Jews who are very cognizant about Passover or Chanukah have no idea about Shavuot. I think one reason for this is that the other holidays have some tangible object around which the holiday revolves. Pesach has its matzo, refraining from bread and the entire Seder experience. Sukkot has its sukkah, etrog and lulav. Chanukah has its menorah, and Purim has the Megillah and all the joyous festivities which accompany it.
Shavuot, on the other hand, has no such concrete, touchable item or ritual article upon which to focus the celebration. It’s all about a concept: the receiving of the Torah. All the other holidays are available in their celebration even to Jews who may not study Torah. The main celebration of Shavuot, besides the usual holiday meals and cheesecake, is the study of Torah. It is customary in congregations worldwide for many to spend a portion of Shavuot night, even the entire night, in the study of Torah. The greatest celebration of Torah is Torah!
This custom, together with the cognizance of the holiday itself, fell by the wayside when a large segment of our people were no longer students of the Torah. Sadly, the “People of the Book” closed the book.
It is a well-known adage that throughout Jewish history any community, albeit observant, that did not maintain institutions of Jewish learning assimilated within two-three generations. Less observant communities that remained staunch in their study of Torah always endured, as the rabbis of the Talmud explain, “the light within it (the Torah) will return them to the path.”
One of my mentors once related an incident which transpired when a friend of his visited pre-perestroika Russia. Customs asked him the reason for his visit; he answered, “Tourist.” They opened his suitcases and emptied out the contents: mezuzos, shofars, tallitot, many pairs of tefillin, and books on the Torah. They said, wryly, “Tourist, huh?” They returned back to the suitcases all the religious items but held back the books. They told him, you can have all this stuff, but the books, “those are the enemies of the people.” Those customs officials realized that the strength of the Jewish people comes from their study of Torah. Let us realize it as well and may this Shavuot holiday be for you and all of us a renewed acceptance of the study of Torah!
One more idea
The Torah describes the Jews at Sinai “and the nation encamped across from the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). The encampment adjacent to the mountain is expressed in the singular (vayichan), not in the plural (veyachanu), which is incorrect for a group of people. Why did the Torah use a word that seems to be incorrect?
The sages explain that something very significant is being hinted to by that subtle change of referring to the Jewish people in the singular. This was the only time in Jewish history that the entire nation was together with no dispute, like one person with one heart!
Why was this so? If we are so prone to divisions and arguments, how were we able to be completely and totally united when receiving the Torah?
The Torah is the great uniter of our people. Every Jewish soul is connected to a letter, line or crown of a letter of the Torah. Only a Torah which is complete, with no letters missing, is kosher. Only a totally united Jewish people is complete, all Jews connecting the lines, letters and crowns of their souls into one huge Torah scroll which is the Jewish nation. The Jews understood at Sinai that without complete participation the Torah will not be brought down from Above and be presented to them, because any Jewish soul which would not participate would constitute an incomplete Torah scroll. The Jews, therefore, went beyond all divisions, accepting the yoke of Torah as one soul, with all Jewish hearts beating in unison in their acceptance of Torah!
This is a very profound message for us today.
Unfortunately, there are many divisions in our people. The best way Jews can repair their divisions and reunite is to study Torah together. We are reminded of the profound words Senator Joe Lieberman once said many years ago: “Although we can’t necessarily all pray together, why can’t we all study together?”
Shavuot is a time to join a study session, a class or program! By doing so, one joins hands with hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world who are also studying Torah on this day. You are also being a link to the millions of Jews who have done so over the generations from Sinai, linking the past generations with the future.
Furthermore, by joining such a session, we express an acceptance to increase our Torah study and Jewish literacy throughout the year, much as the Jews accepted upon themselves the yoke of Torah for all time over 3300 years ago.

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Rachofsky’s genius will be missed

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Morton Rachofsky has left us, taking his incredibly creative mind with him into eternity. He — and it — will be sorely missed.
My son Sol is a clock collector, and he was the one who first told me how the 25-hour clock works. Not Mort, who invented it, and patented it in the form he originated. But at one gathering or another, I mentioned this to him, and he graciously invited me to his studio, to see his most unusual clock. And a lot of other very unusual things, too.
That was a long time ago. And on that day, he gave me one of those clocks to send to my son, who of course still has it. Sol has somehow learned that there are supposed to be 100 of these in existence; he’s trying to find out where all the other 99 are located.
You can learn a lot about Mort’s incredible invention simply by Googling his name and reading all the fascinating facts as they pop up for you. Try it! You’ll find that he himself was fascinated by the life cycles of isolated humans — past, and present: incarcerated people, for example, who do not wake and sleep on the same schedules that we free folks follow, the schedules set for us so long ago that we think they are “normal.”
Of course, the 24-hour day is a construct that began with the sundial. But remember the lyrics of that old “Lucky Lucky” song: “I work eight hours, I sleep eight hours, that leaves eight hours for fun.” Who decided that is how our day works? Mort sliced the 24 hours differently, to come up with 25 slightly shorter ones. The day’s actual length is still the same, but his clock is very different; he likened this to our twice-yearly adjustment for daylight saving time.
That should make us think! Who decided the workday should be eight hours? Who has proven that we all need eight hours of sleep every night? What kind of “fun” can be crammed into the remaining eight hours when we must cook, clean and chauffeur, not only using up all those hours, but finding they’re not enough?
Mort’s clock has the same amount of time as the sundial and as our standard clocks; it’s just that his is divided differently. It’s based on real human beings who, in their lives, do exactly that. It will never catch on as timing for everyone, but it wasn’t ever meant to; it was the end result of something that appealed to a very creative mind. Restructuring time in the form of a new clock was one of Mort’s most creative efforts. He was recognized for it by many publications, including People and Business Week Magazine and The New York Times. On TV, he explained this and his other sculptures, most of which are designed in pieces meant to be taken apart and rearranged — to suit himself at the moment, or by others who would enjoy playing with them.
Mort was a genius, a true “Renaissance Man.” A product of that long-gone but never-to-be-forgotten Jewish enclave of South Dallas, he was a proud alum of Texas A&M who later earned an MBA in finance, somehow managing to carry on a long, long real estate career that ran parallel to his art. We‘ll never know how he divided up his own day’s time, but surely it had more hours than the usual, and he knew how to make the most of them.
If you’d like to see one of Mort’s 25-hour clocks, visit the Museum of Geometric and MADI (“Movement-Abstraction-Dimension-Invention”) Art in Dallas. You’ll also find a varied selection of his many other works in local offices, institutions and private homes. But allow plenty of time for your search — at least 25 hours in every day. And if you locate any more clocks, please let me know, so I can tell my son!

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Plano City Council candidate distances herself from Ilhan Omar

Plano City Council candidate distances herself from Ilhan Omar

Posted on 30 May 2019 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Ann Bacchus
Ann Bacchus, who is running for Plano City Council Place 7, has been accused of supporting Ilhan Omar after attending a fundraising event Nov. 2. “I am not aligned with Ilhan Omar in any form or in any way. I went to one event. There was a picture taken. I don’t appreciate that she’s put Islam under attack. We [Jews and Muslims] are both under attack.”

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

According to Ann Bacchus, Plano City Council Place 7 candidate, she has nothing but admiration and support for the Jewish people and Israel, and the proof is her record of the last 20 years.
Bacchus spoke with the TJP by phone Sunday, May 26.
“If I’m elected, you will never find that I did anything or will do anything to hurt the Jewish community or the Muslim community or any community,” the candidate said.
Ann Bacchus, a native of British Guyana who has lived in Plano 20 years, will face opponent Lily Bao, a Chinese immigrant, in a runoff Saturday, June 8. Early voting is underway.
In the last several weeks, several members of the Jewish community have questioned Bacchus’ ideology after learning she attended a fundraiser Nov. 2 for then-candidate Ilhan Omar before the midterm election. The freshman Democrat won her House seat and represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.
Since the election, Omar, more than once, has tweeted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic tropes, which led to a U.S. House resolution March 7 condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of hate including Islamophobia.
Rumblings of Bacchus’ alleged anti-Semitism began to surface in the last few weeks.
“We first heard (from) a number of other people that she had participated in a fundraiser for Ilhan Omar,” said Eric Fine, who lives in Bacchus’ area of representation. “We wanted to make sure that it happened — that it was real and that it happened.”
Fine and others, set out to get clarification from Bacchus and her campaign.
They posted on Facebook, both Bacchus’ page and their own pages. They reached out to Bacchus’ campaign.
It seemed to them that Bacchus was ignoring their requests, and posts on her page asking for clarification were being deleted.
Their frustration and suspicion grew.
“I wrote to her on her Facebook page because I saw other people would write and she would ‘like’ it and respond to them. Then my posts ended up disappearing. Ann Bacchus responded and replied to every other question on her page, but deleted mine,” said Arona Ackermann.
She explained that she had no preconceived notions about Bacchus and started to do some research.
“I looked at every public offering I could find about who she is and what she stands for. I was heartened to see that she was interviewing adults and children alike, that she was getting her hands dirty. I saw she went to the Chabad of Plano Eva Schloss event. Then I put that together with this image that has gone around with her and Ilhan Omar at the same event.”
Bacchus explained her attendance at the event to the TJP.
“My reason for going to Ilhan Omar’s event was because she was a woman and a refugee… that resonated with me.”
Bacchus said that she doesn’t support Omar’s ideology.
“I am not aligned with Ilhan Omar in any form or in any way. I went to one event. There was a picture taken. I don’t appreciate that she’s put Islam under attack. We (Jews and Muslims) are both under attack.”
When asked if she supports BDS, Bacchus responded.
“You don’t separate Israel from the Jews. I would not support any boycott.”
Bacchus believes that her opponent Bao has used her attendance of the Nov. 2 to incite criticism against her.
“I think my opponent is using this, because there’s nothing else. I have more broad base than any other person.”
She explained that she believes the Bao camp has created collages of material that are being circulated about her that she has had nothing to do with.
When asked if she had anything to do with promoting Bacchus as anti-Semitic, Bao said, “No.”
Bao denied any involvement in producing or distributing anti-Bacchus literature.
“We run positive campaigns. I intend to represent all residents of the city when I get elected. I believe my love for Plano and Texas as well as my vision of ‘family, freedom and prosperity’ will be recognized and cheered as we work even harder to let the voters know who I am and what I will do for them,” Bao added via text.
Bacchus said that her history of involvement in Plano speaks for itself.
“I hope that people are able to look at the person themselves and see what they’ve done. There are many of us who go to an event especially if it’s for a woman. I went to the event because I was invited by another friend. People should look at me and see what I have done. You cannot come up with anything on me until you come up with the fact that I attended this one event.
“I think Lily and her supporters are trying to separate me from my Jewish supporters and the Jewish community, but what she doesn’t realize is that my support didn’t just happen because of an election. It’s happened because of years of making Plano better.”
Barry Hersh said, if true, he’s relieved to hear what some of Bacchus’ answers were. He was frustrated after his posts in relation to the Nov. 2 event on Bacchus’ Facebook page were taken down or called “fake news.”
“I wish I’d known that she was a supporter of Israel and the Jewish people,” he said. I probably would have campaigned for her.”

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American Jews send aid to more than 50 Israeli families who lost homes in Mevo Modi’im

American Jews send aid to more than 50 Israeli families who lost homes in Mevo Modi’im

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Fire fighters extinguish the remains of a fire in in Mevo Modi’im, on May 24, 2019. Photo by Avi Dishi/Flash90

(JNS) As wildfires destroyed most of the 50 or so homes in the town of Mevo Modi’in in central Israel on Thursday, Israelis from all around the country and Jewish organizations have sent emergency assistance to the families affected as Shabbat approached. The moshav had a population of 246 in 2017.

Some 3,500 residents were evacuated from their homes in the extended area affected by the fires with only a few minutes warning, with more than 200 returning on Friday morning to find their homes severely damaged, and some even burnt to the ground. According to Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller,  two-dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, including two in moderate condition.

Feigie Troupiansky, who grew up on the moshav, told JNS that the community has been relocated to a youth village as people from all over Israel drop off homemade cakes, clothing, shoes, packages, toiletries, baby carriages, bed and mattresses, suitcases, car seats and “anything else you can think of.”

While people are feeling “loss and shock,” Troupiansky noted, the amount of aid that is being brought is “beautiful.”

“It’s like a mall here, and people are treating us so well, as if you are at a hotel. If you sneeze, someone will immediately come running,” she said. “There is a couple on the moshav who is getting married in a week-and-a-half. Everything, including the wedding dress and suit, is gone. Dressmakers are sending pictures of dresses, offering to recreate the dress. Owners of wedding halls are telling them they can get married by them for free.”

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, known as the hippie-Chassidic “singing rabbi,” founded the community of Mevo Modi’im in 1975. Many of its community members, followers of Carlebach, moved to the area from the United States. Today, the community is known for its eclectic mix of musicians, artists and farmers.

Authorities suggested that embers might have caused the fire, likely from the previous night’s Lag B’Omer bonfires that were not properly put out. According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while there were several fires near the border with Gaza that were caused by Hamas’ arson balloons, there were no indications that arson caused the fire.

In fact, the fire likely spread as a result of the intense heat wave, with Friday temperatures reaching 100 degrees throughout Israel—in Tel Aviv, it hit 110 degrees, and reports measured a scorching 122 degrees in Beersheva and the Arava region.

Firefighters from Egypt, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus arrived Friday morning at the scene of the fires that ravaged throughout the evening. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly recognized Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for sending two helicopters to Israel.

“We were also contacted by many others, including the Palestinian Authority and other elements,” said Netanyahu. “Four to six countries, including Russia, are ready to send practical assistance. They contacted us even before we contacted them. For several of these countries, this is very important. The international capability is important and is assisting the national capability.”

Netanyahu maintained that he is considering “expanding the firefighting squadron for both day and nighttime operations, and enacting other structural changes” for the future. “We will help return people to their homes and if need be, rebuild their homes.”

The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America also announced on Friday immediate emergency assistance that is being sent to the 60 families in Mevo Modi’im and Kibbutz Harel whose homes were destroyed.

According to a joint press release, the support comes from special funds provided by the Jewish Federations of North America, with the aim of helping families cover immediate needs like clothes and personal belongings in the aftermath of losing their homes. The assistance provided by the Jewish Agency, in coordination with the local welfare authorities in each community, amounts to approximately $1,000 per family.

In an English video address on Friday, Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog said, “We especially feel the strength of Jewish solidarity at times like these, when dozens of Israeli families coping with the shock of losing their home and property receive an immediate embrace from their sisters and brothers across the ocean. … The Jewish Agency will be there to support these families in any way possible, together with our Jewish family in the Diaspora.”

 

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Shuls host Women’s League of Conservative Judaism conference

Shuls host Women’s League of Conservative Judaism conference

Posted on 23 May 2019 by admin

Submitted Photo
Committee members who planned the recent IntraContinental Region, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism conference included: back row, from left, Sherry Lynn Rubin and Shawn Frank, Anshai Torah; Lara Werwa, Women’s League representative; Meryl Nason, Shearith Israel; front row, Harriet Gross, Beth Torah; Nancy Roffman, Shearith Israel; Cindy Ginsburg and Judy Jacklin, IntraContinental Region representatives; Conference Committee Chair Paige Rothstein, Anshai Torah; and Lisa Gersteinfeld, Anshai Torah.

 

Fifty-six women traveled south from Winnipeg, north from Houston, and from many points in between to attend the recent regional conference of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, headquartered in the Doubletree Hotel, Farmers Branch.

Members of the Sisterhoods of Anshai Torah, Beth Torah and Shearith Israel worked together for months to set the agenda for “Seize the Moment,” theme of the three-day event for Sisterhood members in the Women’s League’s IntraContinental Region. Attendees were leaders in their home communities who work to support and propel the success of the Conservative Movement, as well as representatives of Women’s League headquarters.

Local area initiatives and accomplishments highlighted the programming. “Goal of the conference was to present opportunities for our guests to learn from our successes, and take tangible elements home to their Sisterhoods and congregations,” said Paige Rothstein, local chair. “They heard from speakers highlighting Dallas’ forward thinking in such areas as the Community Security Initiative, the Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, and Hillel of North Texas.” The women also had opportunities to visit each of the three sponsoring local congregations for dinner and a special program; at Beth Torah, they were present for Havdalah and the start of its annual Holocaust Memorial “Reading of the Names.”

Women’s League convenes annual regional conferences to give Sisterhood members the opportunity to learn, socialize and daven together. “Our theme resonated for three days,” Paige Rothstein said afterward. “I feel we ‘Seized the Moment’ and accomplished our goal.”

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