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Don’t forget Muslims who saved Jews’ lives

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

You may have already attended a Yom HaShoah service this week, to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews consumed in the Holocaust.
At the same time we should also remember and give praise to those righteous non-Jews who, at the risk of their lives, hid and protected Jews in their midst who would have otherwise been lost to the Nazis.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that besides Christians, there were many Muslims who also were among the “righteous,” hiding and protecting hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews from the Nazis.
Albania, the largest Muslim-populated country in Europe, was also the only nation occupied by the Germans and Italians that refused to provide the names of its Jews.
A tradition long held by Albanians is Besa, a belief in care and concern. In World War II, it meant taking care of its Jews. Its Christian and Muslim citizens absorbed 2,000 Jews into their homes and workplaces, giving them Albanian names and making them part of their families. Amazingly, not one Jew was lost to the Nazis in Albania.
Another Muslim country whose citizens helped save Jews from the clutches of the Nazis was Iran.
An Iranian diplomat, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, chief consul in Paris, France when the Nazis marched in, convinced the occupiers that Iranians were Aryans, including its Jewish citizens, who were “unlike European Jews” and therefore should not be included in the roundup.
Iran had declared its neutrality and Hitler sought trade favors with the shah, so the Iranian consul was able to save not only Iranian Jews, but many European Jews to whom he illegally issued Iranian passports.
The stories of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg saving so many Jewish lives have been well publicized, yet the heroism of Consul Sardari, an Iranian Muslim who probably saved even more Jews than Schindler, needs to be honored as well.
While many individual Muslims are honored by Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations, too few American Jews realize this fact.
Now, at a time when American Muslims are under scrutiny and suspicion by the ignorant who are suspicious of all Muslims, we as Jews should stand with them as they stood with us not that many years ago.

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Counting the Omer

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I recently learned that the period after Pesach is called the “counting of the Omer,” counting the days from Passover until the holiday of Shavuot.
What is the point of this counting, now that we have calendars and can simply look up the date of Shavuot? Is it one of those things we do just because they used to do it, or is there some other reason for doing this count? (I’m also surprised that for the first 45 years of my life I’ve never heard of this!)
— Kathy W.
Dear Kathy,
Sefirat ha’omer, the “counting of the Omer,” is one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. “You shall count for yourselves — from the morrow of the rest day (Pesach), from the day when you bring the Omer (offering) … seven weeks …” (Leviticus 23:15)
There are multiple understandings of this mitzvah. When one anticipates an event that she is truly excited about and looking forward to, she counts the days until that time arrives. For the Jewish people, the most exciting and meaningful time in our history was receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. That was where we achieved our greatest connection and intimacy with the Almighty. At that moment, we became an eternal nation and received our marching orders for all time; we were taught how to be a light among the nations and elevate ourselves to unique spiritual greatness. This was the ultimate purpose of the freedom we were granted on Pesach.
Although this transpired more than 3,300 years ago, our tradition teaches that our holidays are not mere celebrations of historical occurrences. We have often explained in this column that our holidays recur yearly. The same spiritual light revealed by the Almighty at that time of our history returns when we arrive at the same time of the year. The Torah is regiven yearly on Shavuot to all those who are prepared to receive it. Hence, year after year, we count the days from our freedom (Pesach) until the purpose of that freedom (Shavuot). This exhibits our anticipation and excitement to again experience those spiritual heights on Shavuot. It also connects Pesach and redemption to its ultimate purpose.
Going a step deeper, the period of sefirat ha’omer is one of spiritual growth. In order to receive the Torah, we need to transform ourselves to be worthy receptacles fit to receive the intense spiritual energy contained within it. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot, ch. 6) enumerates 48 study habits and positive character traits through which one merits the acquisition of Torah. The 49 days of counting are a period of acquiring these “48 ways,” on the last day inculcating all of them into oneself. This prepares one to be ready to receive the Torah on Day 50, the day of Shavuot. (To study these “48 ways,” see www.aish.com, press “spirituality,” and choose “48 ways.” It promises to be very enlightening!)
The Kabbalistic sources provide yet another vehicle for growth through the sefiras ha’omer, based upon the concept of sefirot, or seven levels of existence. During these 49 days of sefirat ha’omer, it is a time to perfect ourselves in relation to the seven lower sefirot, those sefirot which reflect God’s interaction with the physical world. These seven sefirot interact with each other, like DNA, where every cell of the body has within it the DNA of every other part of the body. Each sefirah contains all the aspects of each other sefirah within itself, hence the seven multiples of seven, or 49 days of counting.
In order to tap into this spiritual energy, we actually count, saying “tonight is the third night of the Omer,” etc. To do so connects us to the day, marking it as a time of growth and introspection, taking us forward and upward toward Shavuot!

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Penn. congregation disbands; flood of memories return

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

Here’s a post-Passover tale as bitter as maror, yet sweet as kosher-for-Pesach sacramental wine.
How can this be? It came to me as a story on the front page of my hometown’s venerable daily newspaper, sent by the relative who started me on a crusade I now call “correspondence by clipping.”
I happily give credit to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and its reporter Peter Smith for making me aware.
Of course I have personal connections with the subject, Temple Hadar Israel of New Castle, Pennsylvania — not close enough to be a suburb of the big city, but with a Jewish population not large enough to support a congregation of its own any longer. This “Glory of Israel” will soon shut its doors forever. But this Passover, it opened them extra-wide.
THI was already a hybrid, created years ago by the merger of two other very small congregations. Southwestern Pennsylvania had a slew of those back in the ’30s and ’40s, reaching even into the ’50s, when I was first confirmed and then a teacher in one of them. My family’s home was closest to a small shul whose Jewish educational needs were among those coordinated and supervised by an organization created just to serve this regional amalgam.
The classes in each were tiny, as were our synagogues themselves, both in membership and physical size. In B’nai Emunoh, my earliest spiritual home, all our classes met in unwalled but separate areas of the sanctuary, which was the first-floor conversion of a two-story residence. The family owners lived upstairs, and tradition moved us upward for our final school year into its own “sacred” reaches. Looking back, I realize how much of my Judaism I learned right there, in Mrs. Simon’s kitchen.
(By the way: Confirmation itself was a major joint event. All of us prepared separately for it, then came together at a large, centrally located synagogue in the city itself for the big ceremony. Further sidelight: Our gift that year was Preface to Scripture, the newly published book by one of the era’s most influential Reform rabbis, Pittsburgh’s own Solomon Freehof. My autographed copy now “lives” with other seminal Jewish works on a shelf in the University of Pittsburgh’s Israel Heritage Classroom!)
However, time took its inevitable toll. My little home shul has stayed alive and well thanks to Chabad, which partnered with it to move many new, young Jewish families into the old community. But aging stalwarts and the non-return of college graduates to their roots have brought about the demise of most. Hadar Israel, however, is celebrating life throughout the time of its passing, going out in the blaze of the Glory that is its name.
A few days before the start of the Pesach just past, the shul’s Christian neighbors were observing Jesus’ Last Supper — which of course was itself a Passover Seder. And so the synagogue invited them to its own Last Seder, with attendance reaching about 90! One of the guests was a Catholic who had grown up with Jewish neighbors; he was sad to see the small number of congregational children there, he said, but happy that they were part of the ritual and “learning to carry on the tradition as they get older.” Just another juxtaposition of the bitter and the sweet.
So — what happens now? THI has made its peace with the present. The property has been sold, funds directed toward perpetual cemetery maintenance, Torahs moving to new homes — one returning to its origins, for a new synagogue in Poland. Other artifacts will go to the Jewish archives section of Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center. And the members will travel to congregations east of them in Pittsburgh, or west into Ohio: “There aren’t many choices in between,” one member said. Actually, there are none, as all other nearby shuls have already closed.
But I know from my own experience the important, lasting memories that Hadar Israel’s members will take with them …

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Everything, including spiders, has place in world

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
This week I told the story of King David and the spider and the one about King Solomon and the bee. Both stories are about how an insect saved a king.
The Tanach is filled with stories and commandments of how we are supposed to treat the land and all that live on that land. From the very first chapters in Genesis, we are told to “rule” and “master” and “to till and tend.” In some ways today, we have taken the “rule and master” as license to do whatever we wish and our land is paying the price.
How can we get back to the real idea that God has given us a gift and we must take care of that gift?
We must remember a very important Jewish value: we are shomrim adamah — guardians of the earth — and this lesson must start young. What we are learning today is not only that the earth needs caring for but also that caring for the earth helps every one of us in so many ways. I often recommend books but here is a website: www.childrenandnature.org. We need to experience the land to connect to it and value it and care for it and through our experiences we will grow. Look at these texts from our tradition and talk about them with your friends and families:
You must not sit down to your own meal before you have fed your pets and barnyard animals. — Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a based on Deuteronomy 11:15
The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air, and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. — Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2
Every kind of fish, bird, and animal contributes something to the world you live in — even the ones you may consider to be unnecessary, such as fleas, gnats and flies. — Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7
The stories of King David and King Solomon remind us that everything has a place and a purpose even if we don’t see it at first. So before you step on that spider, think of King Solomon and maybe just send it out into the world.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Reading for my Boubby

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

My Boubby the Philosopher, of blessed memory for more than a half-century, hailed from Berditchev. Her mother died birthing her, and her father did as widowers with small children who needed care often did at that time — married a widow with small children who needed a breadwinner.
His new wife already had two daughters and wasn’t thrilled to acquire a third, so Boubby grew up much like Cinderella, with two overindulged stepsisters. But the marriage got her to America in time — although the ship’s manifest listed her as the family’s maid.
“In time” means she missed the pogroms and the Babi Yar massacre in her native Ukraine. That Jewish community was blasted to smithereens by Russian and Nazi persecution. Here, she led the life of a fairly typical immigrant woman: taking care of home and children and putting up with the foibles of her hardworking husband, while both observed their Judaism as they had learned it far from America. She never spoke of knowing any Ukrainians.
Now, just in time for Yom HaShoah, comes a new book that hopes to educate Jews about Ukrainians, and vice versa. Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence means to fill in gaps of knowledge and bridge years of misunderstanding. That’s a big order for just over 300 pages, but its ample size, attractive cover and profuse maps, photographs, and other illustrations qualify this volume for coffee-table status.
The two men who took on this daunting writing task have stellar qualifications. Paul Robert Magocsi chairs the Department of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies at Northwestern University. Magocsi has taught at both Harvard and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Petrovsky-Shtern won the National Jewish Book Award in 2013 for The Golden-Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe. Magocsi has had some 800 publications focusing on East-Central European history; Petrovsky-Shtern is frequently interviewed by The Associated Press, National Public Radio, and even Al Jazeera about the current situation in Ukraine.
Advance publicity for this impressive undertaking clarifies what the volume is trying to do: It wants to introduce both today’s Jews and those of Ukrainian Christian descent to the great rabbinic scholars, Hebrew and Yiddish writers and major Jewish thinkers of past Ukraine;  It hopes to let them know that Jews developed the market economy which helped turn villages into towns and then into cities, and inspired Ukrainian social activism.
“Jews and Ukrainians, more often than not, were agents of somebody else’s colonialism, and both were victims of that colonialism,” it says. “Different socially and economically…quite often they were hideously turned against one another and commissioned to produce mutual hatred…” But the authors jointly explore some lesser-known efforts by both groups that managed to challenge the hatred, and tell of their results.
Because Ukraine is a part of the world that’s constantly in today’s news, the book’s presentation of both past and present is aimed at educating all people as well as Jews and Ukrainians. The University of Toronto Press, its publisher, says “an important moral factor” brought together the two authors for this major effort:  “They believe emphatically that Jews and Ukrainians know little about each other, and what they do know are common misconceptions…They are committed to overturning generalizations…Most people are unaware that ethnic Ukrainians and Ukrainian Jews have a common 1,000-year history…”
The two authors have different religious backgrounds: Magocski is Protestant, Petrovsky-Shtern is Jewish. But they share geographic roots:  Petrovsky-Shtern was born and raised in the Ukraine that was also the home of Magocski’s ancestors. They know, and want others to know, the millennium of history shared by ethnic Ukrainians and Ukrainian Jews.
My Boubby the Philosopher augmented and gave meaning to her repetitive daily life with ample doses of reading. The Bible was her favorite, but she would have loved reading this book. I’ll read it for her, in her memory.

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Guest column: Texas economic policy longterm solution for Israel

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

Israel, like Texas, is a nation of cowboys.
It is a land of entrepreneurial spirit, determination, and a deep love for freedom.
But Israel is also a country under attack. Hostile neighboring governments, jihadist terrorist groups, and Europe’s anti-Israel outpouring continue to threaten the small, democratic state.
We can ask our government for political and security policies which support Israel. But there’s a problem with government: Administrations cycle in and out. Sometimes our government does right by us, but sometimes it falls dangerously short. So how do we keep Israel safe, regardless of which politician happens to be in power?
In Texas, our business leaders are the pillars of our communities. As such, our business leaders have the ability — and indeed the great opportunity — to flex their muscles and serve as the vanguard for Israel. My mission as executive director of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce is to make this opportunity a reality.

Companies standing against the BDS

When Texan business leaders choose to work with Israeli companies, they not only benefit from incredible innovative solutions, but also they also take a stand in making our Lone Star state’s long-term economic and strategic partners.
Texas’ role here is critical because in addition to the countless wars and terrorist groups dedicated to Israel’s demise, there is also an increasingly popular international anti-Israeli movement called Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS).
BDS is a Palestinian initiative which seeks to vilify Israel and encourage international companies, academic institutions and even musicians to boycott Israel. It has gained momentum worldwide, and even seeped into the mainstream politics of Europe.
State legislators, including Rep. Phil King, are doing their part to pass legislation which penalizes companies engaging in the BDS movement. But while this legislation is an important step, our business leaders can do even more. With an overwhelming amount of critical technology coming from Israel, our companies are literally inundated with opportunity. The challenge for them is in identifying how to access it.

Match made in heaven

Israel is a very small country, but an incredibly innovative one. Since Israel is so small, its incredible technology seeks international markets and capital. And, as it so happens, Texas is in desperate need of the very technology at which Israel most excels.
Perhaps most emblematic of this economic overlap is in the arena of water. Israel is the world’s No. 1 leader in water technology. In fact, it is a desert country whose water ingenuity turned it into a net water exporter. In Texas, water shortage issues are systemic and the public authorities are demanding technological solutions in areas like water desalination and water conservation. Thousands of industrial sites in Texas also have significant water needs, notably oil and gas downstream water treatment.
Take a moment and think of any water issue you might encounter, and you can bet your bottom shekel an Israeli company offers a solution.
And, if you forgot about Stuxnet, remember Israel is also a world leader in cybersecurity technology. Beyond military applications, cybersecurity technology is a necessity in the private sector as well. Financial institutions require data protection solutions, and critical infrastructure in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) is suddenly vulnerable to remote attacks.
Israel is also a world leader in technology related to energy, biotech, and agriculture. You see, Israel is still the land of milk and honey, but these days the cows moo in binary code.
Just as anti-Israeli, pro-BDS groups have used economics to go to war with Israel, Texas can use economics to defend Israel. Indeed, how better to fight the BDS movement than by intentionally doing the contrary: Increasing trade and investment with Israel. Israel needs not only the capital, but the opportunity to become a critical partner throughout our economy. We know that politics follows the money, so let’s make sure that the money always leads us back to Israel.
The opportunities for Texas companies are endless, and the mission of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce is to help our business community access all that Israel has to offer. Let’s show the nation, and even the world, that supporting Israel is not only our obligation as Americans, it is our great pleasure as capitalists.
Toba Hellerstein is CEO of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

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Shabbat’s importance easily forgotten among ‘moral commandments’

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

The man sitting across from me at the pizza shop was a religiously liberal individual for sure, but also very much a person who wore his Judaism on his sleeve and whose life was dedicated to promoting Jewish values as he understood them. We were meeting to get to know each other and to share our personal stories and communal goals with each other.
In between bites of pizza he shared with me his philosophy on Jewish practice, one he knew I stood in strong opposition to. “I follow the moral commandments of the Torah,” was the way he put it. It was code for, “only part of the Torah remains relevant in this day and age.” “Thou shalt not kill” and “love your neighbor as yourself” still led the moral way, but the dietary laws of kashrut or the command to don tefillin daily had long ago lost their spiritual value and resonance in daily Jewish practice.
“What about Shabbat?” I asked him. “Do you consider Shabbat a moral commandment?”
I knew he did not keep the laws of Shabbat and was curious as to what he would say about the place of this most central of commandments.
“Hmm… I can’t say I’ve thought about that one,” he replied, “but, I don’t think that I would categorize Shabbat as a moral commandment.”
It was hard for me to fathom, but in but one short statement, uttered after a short moment of consideration, Shabbat, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, had been wiped clean from my friend’s Jewish hard drive, and so, he believed, should it be discarded from the rest of the Jewish people’s national consciousness.
I couldn’t help but wonder if my pizza-mate recognized the ramification of his philosophy. He was surely aware of what the great Hebrew essayist Achad Ha’am (1856-1927) had to say on the subject: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” And as Judith Shulevitz writes so beautifully in The Forward (“Remember the Sabbath,” 2010), “What he (Achad Ha’am) meant goes well beyond Jewish survivalism. He meant that the regulation of time through the laws of the Sabbath gave the Jews the chance to regroup in communities at the end of every week, and that regrouping sustained their Jewish identity.”
Even if Shabbat were to be categorized as a ritual commandment alone, does the Shabbat not act, then, as a sort of Jewish preservative, ensuring that the totality of the Jewish world-vision remain intact?
What did he think would become of a Jewish people for whom the Shabbat had become nothing more than a piece of national nostalgia, something a modern Jew could read about in history books or glimpse in old broadcasts of Fiddler on the Roof?
More than that, it felt important at that moment to illustrate the fruitlessness of an endeavor to categorize the Torah’s commands into those that had moral bearing and those that did not. For as much as the Torah itself groups certain commandments as “chukim” (commandments whose rationale is hidden) and certain commandments as “mishpatim” (commandments whose rationale is obvious), the Torah never suggests that any of its commandments are free of moral constitution.
It would be the mitzvah of the Shabbat, then, that would serve as the example for my lunch date that robust moral DNA lies in every one of the Torah’s commandments, both the “chukim” and the “mishpatim.”
“Imagine the newly freed slave-nation that was the early Israelites,” I implored my lunch-mate to consider.
“They had been long been indoctrinated by their Egyptian taskmasters that their sole worth lied in their economic contributions to society. A man who worked long hard hours building storehouses for the Pharaoh had worth, but a sick or elderly individual confined to their bed was not worthy of the sustenance it took to keep them alive.
“The command to rest on the seventh day of the week, was not only an invitation to dedicate a day of the week to the more important things in life, like faith, family and self, it was a national re-education of sorts. The Sabbath was God’s way of letting His people know that their worth was not tied to their workload or any other metric of personal productivity. The fact that they were endowed with a divine soul, created in the image of the Almighty Himself, was reason enough for every person to be treated with respect and worthy of honor.”
“If that’s not a mitzvah laced with great moral instruction for mankind,” I said, “I don’t know what is.”
My friend shrugged. “I had never thought of it that way,” he said.
I don’t know if the lesson I shared that day changed my friend’s mind or perspective on Judaism’s place in the modern world, but it’s a point that needed to be said and must continue to be shared in a world increasingly adrift from the commandments.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Responsibility has deeper meaning in Jewish world

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each month at the J we have a Jewish value that we focus on — this is for all of us from preschool to campers to adults. This month the Early Childhood Department is learning about “Achrayut/Responsibility” and it will be an important value for camp as well.
When talking with children, we talk about taking responsibility for mistakes, to make them right.  Also, being responsible for keeping hands to yourself and be careful with your words which can be hurtful. And, of course, we talk about being responsible for your belongings and for the environment.
These are hopefully skills we learn in childhood and take with us.
However, the word “achrayut” which is usually translated as responsibility has deeper meanings in the Jewish world. The word “responsibility” is about respond or answering for your decisions and actions. Achrayut comes from the Hebrew word “acher,” meaning “other”.   It is about our moral commitment to the other person, not just to answer for your actions but to make the other’s needs your own.
As we grow up we learn that if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one else will, yet we also owe something to others. Hillel said it best and we are still quoting him: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”    It is the balance of being responsible for yourself and then for others that is often a challenge in daily life. Hillel also said: “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” That is often restated in many ways but try this way of reading this important Mishnah: “In a place where there aren’t people of moral courage taking responsibility, one needs to step up.” The challenge of stepping up when no one else will is something that sometimes happens because of the situation we are in. We teach responsibility and model it (the best way to teach) hoping and believing that the day will come when our children may be asked to step up and we hope they will.
Viktor Frankl once said:  “Being human means being conscious and being responsible.  By becoming responsible agents for social change we actualize not only our humanity but also our mission as Jews.”
The “big” moments don’t always happen but who we are is demonstrated in the small acts. Back during football season, a video went viral of Dak Prescott throwing away a piece of trash missing the can and getting up to retrieve it and put it in the trash can. Perhaps more than anything he did before or after really showed who he was! Let us take responsibility — cultivate the value of achrayut  in all the little ways so that when the big moment comes, there is not a question of how to act.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Pesach forms foundation of entire belief system

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
We have had quite a discussion in our family why it is that Passover is the most observed Jewish holiday and have come up with a variety of reasons, of which I will not bore you with at this time. We decided to submit this to you to perhaps shed some more light on the subject and we appreciate your words. Chag Sameach.
— Charles and Rita L.
Dear Charles and Rita,
Jewish sociologists have spilled much ink over this question and, as you found in your family, there are numerous takes on the subject. From a purely sociological perspective there is some merit to all the reasons found, but still, in my book, doesn’t add up to the intensity of dedication to the seder that we find in Jewish households throughout the world for over 3,000 years.
I would like to offer a perhaps metaphysical or spiritual reason why we find this to be so. Let us begin by observing the wording of the Ten Commandments, where God introduces Himself to the Jews as “I am the Lord, God who has taken you out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Why did God not first introduce Himself as the Creator of the universe? The builder of breathtaking mountains, the sun, stars and moon? This is a question the earliest commentators to the Torah grappled with.
One of the earliest Jewish philosophers, Rabbi Yehuda Helevi, author of the “Kuzari,” built the foundation of his philosophy on this question. It goes, in a nutshell, as follows: You cannot compare what you believe to what you have seen. Although we believed that God created the universe, there was no innocent bystander at the time to observe that Creation. The entire Jewish nation, however, were living witnesses to all that had transpired over the past few years: the 10 plagues; the splitting of the sea; the falling of food, the manna, from the sky; and finally, the greatest revelation of all, God Al-mighty speaking directly to the entire Jewish nation at Sinai. This thought is emphasized by God in the verse that He proclaims: “You have seen that from Heaven I have spoken to you!.” This is a major departure from any and all other religions which claim divine revelation; all others claim this to an individual or small group. Only the Torah claims this happened to an entire nation. (This claim is actually accepted by Christianity and Islam; they both believe in the Divine Revelation of Torah at Sinai; they only claim that God later changed His mind!).
That is why God introduced Himself as the One who brought the Jews out of Egypt; this is the foundation of our belief system. It is not simply a “faith,” but a belief based upon historical verification.
The Jews are commanded to recite the Shema, the acceptance of the Oneness of God, twice a day, morning and night.
This recitation ends with the acceptance that God took us out of Egypt, an ending that seems out of place. The early commentators explain that our acceptance of the Oneness of God is not complete unless one truly believes in the historical story of the leaving of Egypt, as that is the foundation of our belief. (R’ash, Orchos Tzadikim). Nachmanides, in his classical commentary to the Torah, explains further that out of our belief in the open miracles of Egypt and those which followed, we come to our well-known Jewish weltenschaunge that all which transpires in our day-to-day lives is through direct intervention by the “Hand of God.” If God can control the world in the way of open miracles, He has the power to also perform “hidden miracles” which compose the stuff of our very lives.
This, I put forth, as a more profound reason why Pesach is so deeply rooted in the Jewish conscious and observance; it forms the foundation of our entire belief system and forms who we are and what our mission in the world is as a people. All seven days that we eat matzah and refrain from bread and leavened products we are proclaiming that there is a God, He is present in our lives, and this is our message to ourselves and all those around us.
A wonderful Pesach to you and all the readers!

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Jewish soldiers fight for freedom at Iwo Jima

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

We should never forget the sacrifices that members of our armed forces make, past, present or future.
Now, so many years later. I can still remember sitting in that movie theater as a 12 year old, watching the news film footage of our Marine’s invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
The island’s importance lay in its closeness to the Japanese mainland. Its airstrip would allow our planes to better carry out bombing missions before the probable invasion of Japan itself.
Bodies floating near the beach, many more on the beach, so many wounded. The enemy lay hidden, in caves, tunnels, behind rocks and trees, just waiting for our boys to show themselves.
It was gruesome to watch our flame-throwers forcing the burning enemy out of their hiding places, images I will never forget.
For over a month the battle waged on, almost incessant firing until all bombing, shelling and shooting finally ended. American casualties were high. This had been the only battle of WWII where more Marines were killed than enemy soldiers.
Of the approximately 1,500 marines who were Jewish, 150 had been killed and 400 were wounded. One of the Jewish marines was Rabbi R.B. Gittelsohn, the first Jewish chaplain ever assigned to the Fifth Marine Division.
Chaplain Gittelsohn was one of the many courageous marines, but unlike the other soldiers firing at the enemy, he ministered to many needing emotional support and faith during the “hell” of battle.
He comforted every soldier he could find, no matter what their skin color or faith. In recognition of his exemplary courage, he received three battle ribbons.
No matter how Hollywood glamorizes war, reality must be frightening. The fear of pending death as bullets whiz by while the dead and dying lay all around can never be enjoyable to experience in real life.
After the fighting ended, the new Fifth Marine Division Cemetery was to be dedicated. In recognition of the rabbi’s outstanding courage and battlefield service, he was asked by the supervisory chaplain to present the memorial sermon at a combined religious service of all faiths.
All fallen Marines; black, brown, white, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, were to be honored in one nondenominational service.
Because of the objections of some of the other chaplains to having a non-Christian deliver the sermon over mostly Christian graves, they would not attend, but instead hold their own services.
Racial and religious prejudice still prevailed in American society, which was reflected in the military as well.
In order to prevent any further disharmony, Rabbi Gittlesohn decided to change his plans by holding a separate religious service for Jewish personnel instead of the originally planed unified one.
To their credit, a few Protestant chaplains chose to attend the Jewish service to show their solidarity with the rabbi and their disdain for the prejudice expressed by the other chaplains.
This was Passover, 1945 on Iwo Jima and we were fighting for freedom.

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