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Nurse Slanger an important vet to remember on Memorial Day

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

With Memorial Day 2018 just around the corner, we need to be reminded that women have been part of America’s battles, equally deserving our nation’s gratitude along with the men.
From the Revolutionary War to the present, women have played important roles in America’s war effort.
Women have gone beyond the old traditional roles as cooks, laundresses and nurses to serve as spies and fighting soldiers. Some were disguised as males when they were officially prohibited from combat duty.
Only recently, in December 2015, have women officially been allowed to actually serve in combat, after passing rigorous physical testing.
Traditionally, women have served in the U.S. military as nurses and, as a result of the much-needed service of these nurses during wartime, a number of these nurses have been killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
One of the many stories praising America’s nurses in wartime is the heartwarming account of Frances Slanger, a Jewish resident of Boston who felt it was her patriotic duty during World War II to become an Army nurse.
Slanger had been born in Poland and immigrated to the United States with her parents and sister in 1920 at age 7, escaping the persecution of Jews.
While her parents envisioned Slanger finding a nice Jewish boy with a good job and getting married, she had other ideas.
When the United States entered World War II, Slanger, who had recently finished nursing school, decided to join the Army’s Nurse Corps.
The U.S. Army’s usual procedure was to wait three weeks after an invasion before sending in the nurses to set up the field hospitals.
That procedure changed after the D-Day invasion because the numbers of wounded were so great.
Four days into the invasion, petite Lt. Frances Slanger found herself in the Normandy surf, clinging to the belt of a soldier in front of her so as not to slip under the water.
Once landed, Slanger and the other nurses immediately began to tend the wounded who were then sent back to the rear, away from the fighting.
While taking care of the wounded, Slanger grew to appreciate the hardships and sacrifices made by the foot soldiers.
She decided to write a letter to the soldiers’ newspaper, Stars and Stripes, to express her admiration and respect to the GIs for what they do, often under the harshest of conditions.
After sending the letter, Lt. Slanger joined other nurses in tending the wounded.
That evening, an enemy artillery shell exploded near the nurses, killing Lt. Frances Slanger.
Her letter lauding the GIs, expressing gratitude and respect for what they do under the greatest of hardships, appeared in the next issue of Stars and Stripes. The Stripes staff had not yet received word of her death.
Once it became known that Slanger had been killed, soldiers began writing in, demanding that she receive proper recognition for her letter of tribute to the soldiers.
Lt. Slanger was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously, and a newly commissioned hospital ship was named in her honor.
Lt. Frances Slanger was initially buried in a French military cemetery under a Jewish Star of David, surrounded by the graves of the fighting men for whom she had expressed much respect and admiration.
Years later, Slanger’s remains were brought home, moved to a Jewish cemetery in Boston, and a women’s chapter of the Jewish War Veterans bearing her name was formed in that city.
Slanger was one of more than 400 U.S, military women who lost their lives in World War II.
May God bless their memory.

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Ties to Rotary go farther back than 30 years

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

I’ll be attending a special event this week — a local luncheon celebrating 30 years of women in Rotary International. I have even more to commemorate, because my personal history with Rotary goes back much farther than that.
Before I moved to Dallas in 1980 — and for almost a decade after that — Rotary was still very much following its original model. It was founded in 1905 by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, who asked two businessmen friends to validate a plan: Get men representing different types of work together for lunch once a week. The purposes Harris had in mind were friendship, exchange of ideas and giving back to the communities in which they lived and earned their livings. The others agreed, and decided on the name Rotary, since initial meetings of this new club would “rotate” through their offices.
No one is 100 percent sure, but the prevailing belief is that the original trio represented America’s three major faiths, and Paul Harris was Jewish. Religion as such has never played a part in Rotary except that a prayer — given by a different member every week in accordance with personal religious beliefs, or none — opens each meeting, followed by pledging allegiance to the American flag. The closing is recitation of Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” of purpose and promise, written by Harris himself: “Of all the things we think, say, or do — Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
In those early years of the 20th century, and for a long time after, the idea of women in business was foreign to the men who picked up the Rotary model and spread it first across the United States, and eventually around the globe — the world’s first service organization. But change came, and was formally recognized at Rotary’s international convention 30 years ago, when this powerful statement was read from the podium by a leader of the time: “I would like to remind you that the world today is very different from the world of 1905 — and Rotary has to adapt to this changing world…”
Rotary was a force in Park Forest, Illinois, where I lived and worked for 17 years. As a recognized community journalist, I was often asked to be a guest at the local club’s meetings, and I had its promise that whenever women would be admitted to the organization — an idea that was hanging in the air even then — I would be its first female member. But I came to Dallas before that time, and didn’t think much about Rotary until…
Several years later, when my spastic esophagus needed regular monitoring, I was referred to a doctor who had a Rotary plaque hanging in his office. I told him about my early connection with a club that had promised me inclusion, and he offered to sponsor me for local membership. And I’ve been an active Rotarian ever since.
My club supports efforts that help the hungry and medically underserved, provides scholarships and leadership training for high-schoolers and once a month cleans up our assigned area of the White Rock Lake shoreline At regular weekly meetings, we share lunch and conversation before enjoying a program that teaches us something new about history, local government, current events, area institutions — and you can see us every Christmas season, manning the Salvation Army Angel Tree at NorthPark Mall. We also contribute — in honor of Paul Harris — to Rotary’s current international effort: worldwide eradication of polio, now finally seeing light at the end of this long, long tunnel.
When I make a return visit every year or two back to Park Forest, I always attend a meeting of its Rotary Club, which continues to thrive, and twice I’ve even been at meetings of Club One in Chicago, where Paul Harris himself must be smiling down at the contributions of women to the great organization he founded.

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Our ancestors gave themselves and us to God

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

There is a great political cartoon I saw recently titled Genesis of the Trial Attorney. The single-frame cartoon depicts Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets of stone in his hands. The Jewish people stand below, seemingly ready to accept the law in its fullness, when one man comes forward with confidence and opines, “OK… You say ‘commandments’ but I hear ‘recommendations.’”
As Shavuot nears and we prepare ourselves to re-accept the Torah and its laws anew, the crafty assertion made by this fictional attorney bears great consideration, if not for those who stood at Sinai, but for all the future generations of Jews who would come from that notable generation. For even if those at Sinai accepted the Torah’s laws with their celebrated cry of consent — “na’aseh v’nishma” (“we will do and then we will understand”) — all future generations did not. What, then, obligates them — us — in this divine contract? After all, can a parent accept a contract that extends to their children who have no say in the matter?
Nonetheless, we know that Torah literature takes our obligation of Torah law as a given. After all, they are called the 613 mitzvot (“commandments” — not “good deeds” as the word “mitzva” is so often mistranslated). Similarly, the Talmud is replete with the statement “kvar mushva ve’omed me’har Sinai,” “(a Jew is) already sworn in at Mount Sinai.” What is, then, the halachic mechanism that binds later generations of Jews to the Sinaitic commitment of their forefathers?
None other than Nachmanides (1194-1270) tackles this thorny issue. In Nachmanides’ opinion, the oath of an entire nation is fundamentally different from the oath of an individual. Whereas an individual can obligate only himself in a contract or oath, a national oath passes on to all future members of that nation.
In my mind, I imagine it as similar to a treaty made between nations. For even if the presidents of the countries who negotiated a peace agreement were to die (or similarly, if the citizens who elected those officials were to die), the treaty’s binding nature would continue unabated. Why? Because the agreement itself ultimately lay between larger entities, in this case countries, and those entities are alive and well. So it is with the oath made at Sinai. The nation itself accepted the Torah, and all future members of the tribe would enter into the agreement of “na’aseh v’nishma” as a result.
In honor of the coming holiday and in honor of the in-depth Torah study that lies at Shavuot’s core, I’d like to offer a fresh approach to our original question based on the scholarly writings of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1820-1892), known throughout the Torah world as the Beis Halevi. The Beis Halevi (Drushim, 17) was bothered with a different component of the “na’aseh v’nishma” oath: namely, why the Jewish people’s oath was ever considered halachically valid in the first place. After all, Jewish law states that a commitment is not considered legally binding unless all of the details and requirements of that commitment are clearly specified and delineated at the time of the agreement (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 207:21). In the case of the Jews at Sinai, the proverbial cart most certainly came before the horse, as their national pledge proceeded the delineation of the vast majority of the commandments.
The Beis Halevi suggests an approach to this question by noting a seeming contradiction to the aforementioned law. Halacha allows a person to sell himself as a slave (the nature of the unique type of slavery that the Torah allows is beyond the scope of this article). A slave does not know exactly what kind of work he will be forced to do by his new master, nor the number of hours his work will entail. Nevertheless, such a sale is halachically valid. Why?
According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, the reason is because a slave is selling himself and his body (something quantifiable). What a slave is not doing is agreeing to a series of future unknown obligatory tasks (as that would most certainly be ruled an invalid agreement).
So too, says the Beis Halevi, the Jews at Mount Sinai were not merely agreeing to a series of yet unspoken laws (something considerably problematic in halacha). Rather, they were offering themselves, their whole selves — body and soul — to God as servants.
Based on this, perhaps we can suggest that the reason why all future generations are obligated in a Torah to which they themselves never swore allegiance is because they were born to people who had given themselves to God as servants. And a child born of a slave is a slave himself.
Ashreinu. How blessed are we to be servants of God. Servants to a loving Master who desires our best and rewards us fully for our good deeds. Ashreinu. How lucky are we to have laws that not only uplift, but sanctify us!
Such servitude is yet freedom by another name.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at yrobkin@gmail.com.

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God doesn’t want to be lost among distractions

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

We start the Book of Numbers this week, and the first verse states, “On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the Exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…”
What is it about the wilderness that God always appears there? Why not, say, in my den while I’m lying on the couch watching the ball game? My den: nice and comfy. The wilderness: less so. What is it about the wilderness that makes it such a great meeting place?
I am reminded of my teacher, Dr. Leonard Kravitz, who used to talk about the temptations of the world as you went out to seek knowledge. From where Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion used to be located, to get to the New York Public Library, that great repository of human knowledge and wisdom, you first had to walk past the distractions of Times Square. All of human knowledge is there at the New York Public Library, free for the taking, if only you can successfully make it past Times Square without being distracted.
Imagine that instead of walking past Times Square, you had to walk through the wilderness instead. You’d probably make it to the library without any incident. The wilderness is a place without distraction that lets you concentrate on the task at hand or to speak to God without interference.
Elijah, when he was pursued by Jezebel, fled into the wilderness and prayed for death. God passed by Elijah, and we are told, “There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Eternal; but the Eternal was not in the wind. After the wind — an earthquake; but the Eternal was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake — fire; but the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire — a still small voice.” Do you really think that if you were traveling through Times Square, you would be able to hear God’s still small voice?
Today we are bombarded with distractions. We work at our computers with music playing, an instant message conversation or three taking place on the side, while updating our Facebook status or Tweeting. We sit in meetings while texting and surfing the web to check up on something someone just mentioned. We’re driving in our cars while talking on our cell phones either legally, using a hands-free set, or illegally. We are becoming experts at multitasking.
But I don’t believe it. I love my friend, but she really scares me sometimes. She calls me when she’s in the car going from one appointment to another. We’ve got to fit in as much as we can into every second of our day, after all. But as she and I are talking on the phone, she’ll be in the middle of a sentence and she’ll say, “Oh, I wanted to turn there.” Or, when she says to me “I am totally listening to you,” I know that she was multitasking and suddenly realized she had missed a portion of our conversation. I don’t believe in multitasking. I believe we can learn to switch rapidly between tasks, but I don’t believe that we can actually concentrate on two things at the same time. We miss something when we divide our attention.
Why does God appear in the wilderness? Because God demands our full attention. God demands our complete being. We think we accomplish more by switching rapidly from task to task, but in reality, we actually miss vital elements when we divide our attention. How can you hear the still small voice, when your smartphone keeps dinging? There is a Zen proverb that shows us the way to encounter God and each other:
In walking, just walk.
In sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Hatikvah a miracle and a beacon of hope

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

How many times, in these past few frenetic Israeli weeks of mourning, remembering, and celebrating, have you sung Hatikvah? What do you know about the history of this beloved song?
National anthems don’t just spring from the earth like flowers; they are, however, somehow planted in public consciousness and, once there, they bloom forever. The United States adopted one born in war; England changes a noun’s sex to give a proper salute to its reigning monarch. But Hatikvah embodies an idea. A dream that finally came true.
For information on The Hope, I turned to Rabbi Geri Newburge and Cantor Marshall Portnoy of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, who have studied it, and offer their explanation with more than a few surprises. The music is not original, they say and the words were written, long before they were called into such exalted use, by “a troubled poet who died in utter poverty in New York City in 1909.”
The melody is rooted in Eastern European folk music, not necessarily Jewish. These scholars say that, if we know where to look, we can find the sounds of Hatikvah in many other places. I, for one, don’t have to be told where the Czechoslovakian composer Bedrich Smetana found the inspiration for his beloved Moldau. And we learn that a similar melody is a choral staple today in northwest Romania.
The poetic lyricist was Naftali Herz Imber, born to a Hasidic family in Galicia in 1856. Leaving there in his 20s, he first traveled in Europe, then went to Palestine in 1882. A few years later, he published a collection of poems; among them was Tikvatenu, nine verses from which fellow Zionist Samuel Cohen selected two and set them to his own folk-based musical composition. Newburge and Portnoy tell us that, “Slightly altered, they are the verses we sing to this day.”
Imber had problems. He was an alcoholic who truly believed that he was Zionism’s real founder. And his poetic words, the rabbi and cantor tell us, are problematic in Israel today: “The left maintains that Israel is also the home of Arabs, including non-Jewish Knesset members. So how can Israel require them to sing or stand for an anthem that includes the words ‘nefesh Yehudi’ — ‘Jewish soul’? Don’t Arabs also have souls?” As a matter of fact, one Arab — the first non-Jew ever appointed to the Israeli cabinet — wouldn’t sing it at all, and neither would an Arab member of Israel’s Supreme Court. Meanwhile, those on the right wonder how their country can have an anthem that doesn’t even mention God.
Was it a miracle that those words and that music ever found their way to each other? Maybe. But for those who understand the mechanics of music, Hatikvah is a miracle of another kind. The two experts explain it this way: “Sixteen measures depict our history in a minor key. But on the words ‘Od lo avda tikvatenu,’ there is the melody’s incredible shift; it leaps to the major key — a leap of faith that says: ‘We dreamt this dream, and we are going to make it come true.’ Juxtaposing minor and major keys is at the heart of Jewish music, and the push-pull between the major and minor scales symbolizes the push-pull of the Jewish experience itself. In a moment of musical inspiration that changed history, the relatively unknown Samuel Cohen set Imber’s words to music, using that same incredible shift.”
Miracle or not, our experts call Hatikvah “one of the greatest anthems ever written in western culture, ever a beacon of hope for all who understand what it is to be denied the rights to which they may be entitled as human beings.” Surely this is something more for all of us to be thinking about the next time we stand to sing what, in the interplay of its music and the power of its words, is truly Israel’s theme song.

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Shavuot isn’t about a ritual

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
This year, we were invited to an observant family for a meal on the eve of Shavuot. We’re 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 W.
Dear Noah and Sarena,
Shavuos is the day the Jewish people celebrate the anniversary of God giving us the Torah. This year it falls on Saturday night, May 19, corresponding to the Jewish date of 6 Sivan, and we are commemorating the 3,330th anniversary of our nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Shavuos is not a “minor holiday,” but is mentioned in the Torah numerous times.
Just for the record, although it seems to be a commonly held concept, there actually is no notion of a “minor holiday” in Judaism. There are Torah-mandated holidays and rabbinically-mandated holidays, such as Purim and Hanukkah, but even those are not considered “minor.” All the holidays, regardless of their level of obligation, are considered of the highest importance, and all made it to the “major” leagues.
Shavuos is a critical holiday, the source of our nationhood — God’s presenting us with our mission as a nation. But don’t be embarrassed by not knowing much about it — you’re in good company. I have found that many Jews who are proud to be Jewish and very cognizant about Passover and Hanukkah have no idea about Shavuot.
I think one reason for this is that the other holidays have some tangible observance around which the holiday revolves. Pesach has its matzoh, refraining from bread and the entire Seder experience. Sukkot has its sukkah, etrog and lulav. Hanukkah has its menorah, and Purim has the Megillah and all the joyous festivities that accompany it.
Shavuos, on the other hand, has no such concrete, tangible ritual article or observance 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 Shavuos, besides the holiday meals and cheesecake, is the study of Torah. It is customary in congregations worldwide to spend a portion of Shavuos 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.
On this holiday we celebrate that Jewish continuity truly depends upon the study of Torah.
It is a well-known fact that, throughout Jewish history, any community that did not maintain institutions of Jewish learning assimilated within two to three generations. That is true even if it began as an observant community. Less observant communities that, nonetheless, remained staunch in their study of Torah always endured. This is 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 that transpired when a friend of his visited pre-perestroika Russia. Customs authorities asked him the reason for his visit. He answered that he was there as a tourist. They proceeded to open his suitcases and emptied out the contents, finding many mezuzos, shofars, tallitot, many pairs of tefillin, and books of 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, “these are the enemies of the people.”
Those communist customs officials realized that the strength of the Jewish people comes from their study of Torah. Let us realize this as well.
May this Shavuot holiday be for you and all of us a renewed acceptance of the study of Torah. Chag Sameach, a wonderful Shavuos holiday to you and all the readers.

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How to be a good host and guest

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
School is ending soon, and summer is coming. Often, summer is the time for trips and visiting places, friends and family (when you are not at camp). As you prepare, a very good Jewish value is hachnasat orchim, hospitality or welcoming guests. There is a skill to welcoming guests and to being one (whether in someone’s home, a hotel or an amusement park). There is a little learning, a little thinking and then a lot of doing. Get involved this summer. Here is a little learning:
Hachnasat orchim is about extending hospitality to guests, and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior. One of the favorite stories about this mitzvah is about Abraham taking care of the three visitors who came to his tent. He said he would give a little food and then made a major meal — and so he set the standard for doing even more.
The ancient rabbis were also very concerned about hospitality. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new or alone. The rabbis came up with specific guidelines for host and guest. Here are a few:
Rules for the host
• Always be happy when you are sitting at your table and those who are hungry are enjoying your hospitality. —Derech Eretz Zuta 9
• Do not embarrass your guests by staring at them. —Mishneh Torah
• It is the obligation of the host to serve at the table. This shows his/her willingness to personally satisfy the guests. —Talmud, Kiddushin 32b
Rules for the guest
• A good guest says, “How much trouble my host goes through for me.” —Talmud, Berachot 58a
• A good guest complies with every request that the host makes of him. —Derech Eretz Rabbah 6
• Guests should not overstay their welcome. —Talmud, Pesachim 49a
• Good guests leave food on their plates to show that they have been served more than enough. —Talmud, Eruvin 53b
Thinking
• Make up rules that you can use when you visit somewhere.
• Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner? What plans might you put in place to make them feel welcome?
• How can you be welcoming to a new friend whether you meet them at your home or some place you are visiting?
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Tzitzis are a constant reminder of 613 mitzvos

Posted on 10 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your explanation of the “necktie tallis.” As I mentioned in my first email, once we’re discussing the particulars of the tallis, could you please offer some insight about what a tallis is all about? If it’s meant to be a prayer shawl, wouldn’t it be sufficient to just be a particular, set-aside garment for prayer? Why the strings? (I got the strings-attached joke, but really?)
Mark K.
Dear Mark,
Although a tallis is used primarily as a prayer garment, the mitzvah of tzitzis, or wearing special strings on the corners of a four-cornered garment, goes far beyond just the time of prayer. This is implicit in the mitzvah to wear tzitzis throughout the entire day — as observant Jewish males perform by wearing the tallis katan or “small tallis” all day (usually under one’s shirt).
We can understand this on multiple levels. Let us begin by studying the portion of the Torah that presents this mitzvah — the third paragraph of the daily recitation of the Shema.
“God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of turquoise wool. It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see and remember all the commandments of God and perform them; and not sway after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy unto your God. I am Ha-Shem your God, Who has redeemed you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you, I am Ha-shem your God.’” (Numbers, 15:37-41)
From this portion, we see that the tzitzis are intended to serve as a constant reminder of the mitzvos, in order not to sway away from them.
The classical commentator Rashi explains the above verse — that by seeing the tzitzis, one remembers all of the mitzvos — by way of a calculation of the numerical value of the word tzitzis, plus the number of strings and knots, which add up to the number 613, the number of the mitzvos in the Torah. This doesn’t mean that one is expected to constantly have that calculation in mind. Rather, since one knows there is such a calculation, which qualifies the intent of tzitzis to remember all the mitzvos, one indeed can use the tzitzis as a vehicle to keep the mitzvos in mind all day while wearing them.
The Talmud cites an extreme example of a Jew who was on his way to committing a very low moral crime with a harlot, and his tzitzis hit him in the face, “waking him up” and reminding him of who he is and what he’s about to do. The harlot was so impressed that she converted to Judaism. (Talmud Menachos 44a)
The Talmud further comments on the requirement to add a string of turquoise that the turquoise looks like the sea, which looks like the sky, which reminds us of God’s throne in heaven. This constant thought elevates the Jewish people to a higher plane, propelling us above sin as we remain deeply connected to heavenly thoughts. (Talmud ibid. 43b)
(Today, as I am sure you noticed, most do not wear the blue strings. That is because the dye needs to come from a rare species of fish called a chilazon, and most authorities hold that during the exile we lost the knowledge of what that species is. There are some who do wear it, following the opinion of some authorities who hold that we have, indeed, found that fish and produce dye from it.)
This is the simple explanation of the mitzvah of tzitzis. Perhaps next time we’ll take a deeper look…

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How you count the Omer doesn’t matter: Just learn

Posted on 10 May 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
How many days has it been? I’ve lost count. No, during this time period, that is one phrase we cannot use. Counting the Omer keeps us counting, and since I do not know when you will read this, I will not give a number, but you can Google it and learn a lot more about this ritual of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot.
As a teacher of multiple age groups and differing Jewish knowledge (plus lack of knowledge), I continue to look for many ways to answer questions posed — there is often more than one answer, and the answer must resonate with the individual. So I have been searching to find more meaning in the counting of the Omer. A new book by former Sen. Joe Lieberman is titled With Liberty and Justice — the Fifty-Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai. I’m reading through the days but want to offer insight from Day 2, perhaps to get you counting:
“Every year, for over three thousand years, Jews have counted the days and weeks that lead from Passover, the Festival of Liberation, to Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Law. Passover is only the first act in the drama. Unfortunately, despite the appeal and success of the Passover ‘production,’ most people do not remain for the second act: Shavuot. They leave the theatre, as it were, before the entire story has been told, missing the point of the annual journey from slavery in Egypt to the Law at Sinai.”
The message way back in leaving Egypt was that you can’t have freedom without law — justice combines liberty and law. As just as the Israelites back then had to struggle in the journey to get to Sinai, that struggle of understanding continues. One of the best midrashim of leaving Egypt is about Moses and the people standing at the Red Sea. The story goes that Moses puts his staff in the water and nothing happens until one brave man, Nachshon, steps into the water and shows faith that all will be well. Taking that step with the faith that goes along with it is a step that many are afraid to take, but we learn that you can’t be free without a lot of work AND a lot of faith.
I can’t wait to read all 50 “days” in Lieberman’s book, but I am pacing myself as I count the days (I also have an app on my phone that helps with the daily count). How you prepare for Shavuot is not important — to continue walking each day and learning each day is what matters.

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Don’t widen home plate to shirk duty

Posted on 10 May 2018 by admin

I rejoice in receiving what friends send me that they think I will appreciate and enjoy. Sometimes they are Jewish, but sometimes, like this, they are life lessons applicable to everyone, well worth passing on. So now, as the baseball season continues to unfold, I am introducing you to John Scolinos, a well-remembered baseball coach at Cal Poly in Pomona, California.
In January 1996, at age 78, he had finally retired from a career of almost 50 years, and Opryland Hotel in Nashville was abuzz with comments from some 4,000 people there for the annual American Baseball Coaches convention. One variation of a most-heard remark: “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man — worth every penny of my airfare.”
When he was called to the stage, Scolinos ascended to a standing ovation — with a full-sized, stark-white home plate hanging around his neck. He talked for 25 minutes, never mentioning his “necklace,” until he finally said: “You’re probably wondering about this. Well, I may be old, but I’m not crazy. Can you tell me how wide home plate is in Little League?” The answer came tentatively: “17 inches?” “Right,” said Scolinos. “And in high school baseball? And in the Minor Leagues? And in the Major Leagues?” The correct answer was always the same.
Then the coach asked: “What happens to a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches?” A pause before he answered his own question: “What they don’t do is say, ‘Oh, that’s OK, Jimmy. If you can’t hit that target, we’ll make it 18, or 19, or 20, or 25 inches, so you have a better chance…’”
And now comes the lesson: “What do we do when our best player gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? In other words: Do we widen home plate?”
Then Scolinos continued, “This is the problem with our homes today. With our marriages. With the way we parent our kids. We don’t practice and teach accountability. There are no consequences for failing to meet standards. In other words: We widen the plate…” A pause before he added: “This is also the problem in our schools today. The quality of education is going downhill fast; teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful in disciplining our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate. Where is that getting us?”
Silence filled the air until he continued: “And this is a problem in churches, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, their atrocity swept under the rug for years. Their leaders are widening home plate.”
One convention attendee later remarked, “I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting, but from this old man with home plate strung around his neck, I learned about life — and myself — and my responsibilities as a leader.”
Now, here’s how Scolinos ended his talk: “If I’m lucky, you’ll remember this from an old coach today: If we fail to hold ourselves to a standard of what we know to be right…if we fail to hold our spouses and children to the same standards…if our schools and churches and government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, unable to provide consequences when they do not meet standards…” at which point he turned home plate over to reveal its dirty underside: “there are dark days ahead.”
Coach John Scolinos was 91 when he died in 2009, but his final words of 13 years before are still being remembered today, and acted upon by thousands of coaches: “Keep your players, no matter how good they are…keep your own children…and, most of all, keep yourself…at 17 inches!” As Jews, we can heed them today, adding one more “inch” to arrive at chai, a life of realistic, righteous, enforceable standards. I’m sure the outspoken “old coach,” of very blessed memory, wouldn’t mind at all.

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