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Ben-Gurion’s legacy lives on in the Negev

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, famously said that “Israel’s future lies in the Negev,” the southern desert region comprising 60 percent of the country, which still today comprises only 10 percent of the population.
Why, 70 years into Israel’s existence, is it important to reflect on the vision of Israel’s first leader and worldly statesman?
Because his prophetic words, “It is in the Negev where the creativity and pioneering vigor of Israel shall be tested,” are being realized today. This is underscored in “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” the documentary film based on a recently discovered lost interview with Ben-Gurion that reveals his vision. The film will be screened at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.
The Negev, anchored by Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Beer-Sheva, is the geographical center of Israel and is, by most accounts, uncontested land.
Moreover, this region, once a vast desert, today represents a Zionist rebirth of Israeli pioneering — university scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs, new immigrants and an ever-growing presence of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), all of whom are working to secure Israel’s future. This is Ben-Gurion’s Zionism transplanted and reinvigorated in the 21st century.
Through word and deed, Ben-Gurion spearheaded the nation’s commitment to the region. When he retired from public life, he served as a personal role model by moving to Kibbutz Sede Boqer, a small agricultural community 30 miles south of Beer-Sheva.
Rainfall is scarce in the Negev. In the past, its presence was cause for celebration. Every tree, crop and field was a hard-fought victory, and every drop of water was precious. Ben-Gurion envisioned Jewish Israeli research scientists desalinating the sea and harnessing energy from the sun long before both were a possibility, never mind a reality.
Today, desalination technology developed at Ben-Gurion University is producing a surplus of water for Israel, quenching a parched California and even helping neighboring Arab and African countries where water shortages decimate food supplies and create civil upheaval. In fact, Israel is now the only country in the world that is actually shrinking its drylands due to an unparalleled expertise in water research and technology that is making the desert bloom.
Ben-Gurion’s vision of Zionism, as depicted in the film, highlights how crucial science, education and a moral compass are for the Jewish State, not just for its survival but to be a light among nations. “The State of Israel will prove itself not by material wealth, not by military might or technical achievement, but by its moral character and human values,” Ben-Gurion said.
To that end, 21st-century Zionism in the Negev is also about tikkun olam through community service and outreach. Beer-Sheva has absorbed many of the olim who resettled in Israel. Ben-Gurion University not only shares the late prime minister’s name, but also his vision. Many BGU students volunteer to live among these families to help serve as mentors as part of a community outreach program run by the university.
BGU’s medical school was the first in the world to train doctors to treat the patient holistically and to focus on underserved communities in Israel, in the U.S. and globally — a model that is widely emulated today. And, Israeli environmental research students work in African villages to provide low-tech solutions for farming, irrigation, soil management, and safe drinking water without electricity.
The IDF is moving its elite intelligence groups, including the prestigious 8200 Intelligence Unit, to a high-tech campus adjacent to the university that was once an arid field of dirt and sand. It’s part of an innovation ecosystem that involves a unique collaboration between academia, industry, government and the IDF.
The Ben-Gurion University campus will soon double in size to meet the needs of this unprecedented growth in the region.
Beer-Sheva has become the cybersecurity capital of Israel thanks to BGU. And, global companies are now setting their sights on the Negev to acquire technology and invest in startup innovations. All this is proof today that Israel not only has a right to exist but has proven that it adds value through its existence. The world is simply better off because Israel is in it.
Indeed, the past is prologue in “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue.” “The difficult we do first; the impossible takes a little longer,” Ben-Gurion famously said. His vision in the past ─ of impossible circumstances overcome ─ is a Zionist vision we can embrace today. His dream transcends politics and conflict. It’s a clarion call we can all rally around.
Doug Seserman is chief executive officer of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU). “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” was made possible when the interview soundtrack was found in the University’s Ben-Gurion Archives. Seserman will introduce the film and lead a talkback at 7 p.m. Dec. 3. RSVP to Sissy Zoller at szoller@aabgu.org or 646-452-3710.

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Caught in a land mine, no escape from reality

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Movies and song are intertwined with our daily lives and attitudes, our memories and legends. The recent biographical film “Bohemian Rhapsody” tells the story of British rock band Queen, their music and their lead singer, Freddie Mercury. The title of the movie is taken from the first legendary six-minute single from their album “A Night at the Opera.”
Widely considered one of the best songs of all time, the form is intensely rich — a cappella, a ballad, an opera and rock mixed into one — as the composer takes these contrasting sections and creates a symphony with them. The ambiguous content likewise conveys a blend of dark sadness, silliness, regret, courage and indifference.
As with all good lyrics, the ballad section puts intense emotions into words, capturing the complex human condition so the listener can empathize with the narrator’s inner turmoil. After expressing his shame, in the peak of the confession, the narrator declares, “I don’t wanna die. I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.”
If we briefly freeze that snippet for inspection, at first glance, the two lines (and emotions) may appear contradictory. If you don’t want to die, you must want to be alive. Why then do you wish you’d never been born?
I’ve heard people resolve the simultaneous, yet apparently conflicting, thoughts in different ways. Not wanting to die may simply be prompted by fear of the unknown. This fear or pain associated with leaving the world, however, would never be felt if there was no birth, leaving space to squeeze the meaning of the latter verse within the former. The emotion of wishing you’d never been born may sometimes be an expression of failure, the regret at having caused damage to others, or simply a desire to escape the suffering that comes within life.
From a less self-centered perspective, fearing death may be a concern for all your leaving behind in this world — a deep sense of responsibility to be available for the people who love and depend on you. At the same time, had you not been born, the situation would have never come into existence in the first place.
In the sacred text of Jewish guidance, Ethics of our Fathers (4:22), the Mishna addresses these discrete emotions, likewise expressed in paradoxical phrasing, except in the reverse order — first the desire not to be born (and live), then a feeling of not wanting to leave this world:
“Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape…for against your will you are born, against your will you live and against your will you die.”
Viewing these two opposing desires in the broader context of the soul’s journey — rather of the individual voice — the esoteric texts explain an existential tension in a spiritual framework. And here too, there seems to be a contradiction: Saying “against your will you live,” suggests that the inherent longing to leave the confines of the physical. On the other hand, saying “against your will you die,” reflects the person’s wish to remain alive.
What’s so bad about being born? Each neshama (soul), before being born into a body, is comfortable, a spiritual being in a spiritual world — no struggle, no tests of faith or moral dilemmas, no suffering. It resides in a high place, with a storehouse of souls and wants to remain basking in the glory of divine radiance. Suddenly, it’s sent down into a body and physical existence, which attempts to make it forget its origin and mission.
What, then, is so bad about dying? Beyond the natural fear of the unknown, the soul comes to understand the unique opportunity for accomplishment that only this physical world presents. Uniting the spiritual and physical through mitzvahs is more powerful than any insight, experience or revelation. Contrary to other religions and forms of mysticism, our physical world — the most removed, completely concealing divinity — is paradoxically the most connected to the source.
So, amid the journey, there is a shift. The soul begins to detect just how precious the opportunity is. Then another desire, to remain, kicks in.
Through years of labor, trials and the risk of getting lost in a spiritual abyss, a person must develop the mind, guide the body to act and attempt to rectify a portion in the world, through taking care of family, having a career and giving back to community. When the soul departs, it experiences a full revelation of its potential and the realization of what could have been achieved in this world, but can no longer be, is the deepest possible anguish.
The underlying message is that as long as you’re still alive in this world, there is a chance to rewrite one’s story. Hence, “a single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the World to Come (Pirkei Avot 4:17).
The book of the Tanya explains that the ideal state of mind is when there is a proper balance between the inspirational thirst of the soul and the ability to stay conscious of a higher purpose and act accordingly. In kabbalistic terminology this is called the experience of “run and retreat” within the soul.
The desire to break free of physical limitations (run) is an inherent quest of a healthy soul. But in the grand purpose, the aim is to uplift this world instead of trying and escape it. Initially, a spiritual person experiences a longing to transcend, yet must embrace the challenge to find the discipline, trust and focus (retreat) — against your will — to reside within a less ideal environment, for the sake of transforming it.
At the same time, while being occupied with rectifying the world through positive actions (tikkun olam), there needs to be an underlying sense of the soul’s sojourn in a foreign land. In other words, the soul is born, placed down here against her wishes, but for a specific purpose.
Connection to this week
This week’s parasha opens by repeating where we ended off last week — the lonely journey of our forefather, from the spiritual ambience of the Holy Land, the shelter of his home, to cross the border into Haran, headed for his uncle’s home: “And Yaakov went out from Beer-Sheva and went towards Haran.”
The explanations for the name Beer-Sheva signify a state of tranquility. The name of the destination, Haran, indicates the opposite — fierce anger (charon af) of the world. There are multiple layers of interpretation to each word of the Torah, and moving from Beer-Sheva is often seen as a metaphorical journey, moving from a place of peacefulness and sanctity into a lowly corrupt environment.
On the surface, the verses relate a challenge for the individual who feels insignificant in a giant world: On a mystical level, it’s the journey each soul takes into a “world of falsehood”; on a global level the verses foreshadow the long exile that Yaakov’s descendants, the Jewish people, will endure throughout history, forced from their homeland and scattered throughout the globe.
The common theme is that precisely through Yaakov’s grit and resilience, perseverance within a coarser hostile spiritual place — not simply by staying home in the Holy Land — will he ultimately merit building the House of Israel.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.

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Show gratitude this Thanksgiving

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday? It depends on the way you look at it.
Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Judaism is about being thankful. We demonstrate thankfulness with blessings — saying 100 per day as the sages tell us.
Gratitude can also be seen from the perspective of the value of shmirat ha-guf (caring for the body). Studies have shown that practicing gratitude improves mental and physical health, increases empathy and improves sleep. There have even been changes in the brain from the practice of gratitude.
Judaism is about doing; gratitude is about doing, but also about feeling. Gratitude takes practice and changing the way you think. Big Life Journal (biglifejournal.com) is a wonderful parenting and teaching website. It will take a little thinking to replace these ideas that talk about relationships with children to relationships with spouses, friends and even bosses.
Begin with “parenting from a place of gratitude.” Each time you’re about to say, “I have to,” replace it with “I get to.” And then try being grateful for your kids (spouse, friend, boss) by seeing behavior from a positive viewpoint, for seeing people from the positive is a way to show gratitude for their presence in your life.
• Wanting their way = being persistent
• Clinging = being affectionate and connected
• Demanding things = being assertive
• Not sitting still = being energetic and joyful
• Whining all day = communicating their needs
• Being loud = being expressive and confident
So, as you prepare for Thanksgiving, don’t just plan the menu, plan the moments of gratitude. There are lots of ways to add thanks during your Thanksgiving feast, perhaps by everyone sharing a thought (sometimes it helps to tell people to prepare a thankful thought). And make sure to say blessings — the Motzi, of course, but also make sure you say the Shehecheyanu, thanking God for bringing your family and friends to this special moment in time.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Will Islam bring the final exile to Jews?

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been contemplating what has been happening over the past decade or so, and it seems like there’s like some kind of Muslim takeover going on around the world. It wasn’t that long ago that the Muslims seemed relatively insignificant in worldwide politics. Of course, there was always the politics over their oil and with Israel, but it never seemed as if they were controlling things. Suddenly, we wake up and here they are, pretty quickly controlling a lot of what’s going on in Europe, having a huge influence around the world and having a disproportionately strong voice on American campuses (where Israel can barely be mentioned, if at all, anymore). Suddenly there are huge mosques just about everywhere. Do you have any insight into what is happening?

Marc T.

Dear Marc,
I know your question is on the minds of many; it occupies a tremendous amount of space in my own mind. To describe in-depth what is transpiring would be too lengthy to explain in this column. We will attempt to touch upon a few points, in a nutshell.
It is a well-known Jewish belief in the teachings of our tradition that the Jews will endure four exiles during our history. Based upon various verses we are taught that the four are the Babylonians, Greeks, Persian-Medians and. finally, the Edomite exile, which we are still languishing in today. These were foretold by prophecy, and we have seen their fulfillment:
The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, destroying the land and dispersing us among the nations.
The Persians decreed the first “final solution,” which eventually led to the Purim miracle.
The Greek decrees destroyed the academies of Torah study and mitzvah observance, leading to the Chanukah miracle.
The Edomites destroyed the second Temple and ushered in the period of unimaginable darkness, which has brought in its wake anti-Semitism, inquisitions, expulsions, massacres, pogroms and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Most of the anti-Semitism and all its massacres carried out during the Edomite exile have been perpetrated by the Christian world.
One of the earliest books of our tradition, the Pirkei D’rabi Eliezar, teaches that there will be a fifth and final nation, which will exile or cause trouble with the Jews even beyond what the previous nations have done — the “Exile of Ishmael.” Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (and half-brother of Isaac), is the progenitor of the Arab nation.
In the prophecy of the birth of Ishmael, the Torah says “…he will be a wild man, his hand will be upon everyone and the hand of all will be in his…” (Genesis 16:12). This is alluding to Ishmael being different from the others preceding him; he will not have one place to dwell and call his country. Rather, like the Bedouin, he’ll be everywhere. Furthermore, some commentaries explain, he will not produce anything himself so “his hand will be upon all”; he will import all he has from others, but the others’ hand will be in his; they will all need him and his oil.
R’ Eliezer teaches that Ishmael is the only nation which shares the Name of God at the end of his name, like the Jews do (Isra-el). This indicates a tremendous power which Ishmael harnesses against the Jews and a frightful ability to overpower the rest of the world, the power of the Name of God, Whom they serve with almost unparalleled dedication.
Of course, it is not simply being named that way, which, in fact, does provide them with some power. To fully tap in to the name they possess, they need to, and in fact do, perform certain acts to attain their full potential power. We shall discuss one of these acts in this column, and perhaps, focus on other aspects in subsequent columns.
The Torah teaches us that the name Ishmael, or, more precisely, Yishmael, was divinely decreed. When Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, was running from her mistress, the angel of God said to her to return to her mistress and submit herself to her domination. “And an angel of God said to her, ‘I will greatly increase your offspring, and they will not be counted for abundance.’ And an angel of God said to her, ‘Behold you will conceive, and give birth to a son; you shall name him Yishmael, for God has heard your prayer. And he shall be a wild man; his hand upon everyone, and everyone’s hand upon him; and over his brothers he shall dwell’” (Genesis 16:9-12).
From here we learn that the name Ishmael, or Yishmael, is the conjugation of Yishma and E-l, meaning that “God will listen” to the prayers. In the direct meaning of the verse, the prayers referred to are those of Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, to be rescued and to be the mother of a son of Abraham. When she will give birth to that son, he will be the evidence that God listened to her prayers. The sages teach that the listening to the prayers of Hagar includes the future prayers of Ishmael himself, since his very existence is the embodiment of her prayers; he too has the power to pray and have his prayers heard and answered by God.
Indeed, we see that the Muslim world puts a tremendous emphasis on prayer, bowing down five times a day, wherever they may be. We’ve all seen the videos of tens of thousands of them reverently doing so at their holy places.
A leading sage of some 100 years ago, the Rav Maharil Diskin, lived in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. Those close to him have related that when he saw his Muslim neighbors bowing down in prayer, he would not pass within four cubits before them. With this, he applied to them the Talmudic dictum that one should not pass within four cubits of a Jew while he or she is reciting the Amida prayer, as the Shechina, or Divine Presence, is present within those four cubits (about 6 feet) of the one praying.
Although this is a ruling that applies to the prayers of a Jew, Rav Diskin held that the exception to the rule among the nations of the world is Ishmael: The prayers of Ishmael have a power similar to that of the Jews; they, too, have some level of Shechina, Divine Presence, resting upon them when they pray, similar in some ways to our Amida prayer. This is one of the ways that the offspring of Ishmael, the Muslim world, have an avenue to tap into the name of God attached to their name.
There’s a lot of power in those prayers, coupled with their intense belief in God, which explains much of their success.
Our sages further teach that his name also includes our prayers; when we pray for our redemption from Ishmael, God will listen. One of the ways, in the spiritual realm, that we can combat the source of Ishmael’s success, is for the Jewish people to return to heartfelt, earnest prayer. Prayers built on a foundation of true belief in Hashem, God, and the closeness we can attain to Him through our prayers, are our ultimate protection during these trying times and are a big part of the key to our ultimate redemption.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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‘Suitcase Charlie’ a mystery with Jewish shadings

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

I’d like to tell you about a book that’s somewhat of an enigma: It actually borders on humor in the way it’s presented, but the story is dead (and I use that word because it truly fits the text) serious about matters that are important to us as Jews — especially since this is so soon after Kristallnacht.
Let’s see what I can tell you without giving away too much, because I really hope you’ll read it for yourself. It’s a very unusual addition to the mounds of previous writings that we call, collectively, “Jewish books.”
This is “Suitcase Charlie,” named for the way in which someone transported his murder victims — three of them — all young children. Not necessarily Jewish children, but there was a clue that defied meaning at first, yet couldn’t be ignored and was finally interpreted. On the soles of each small corpse’s feet were triangles — on one, pointing up; on the other, pointing down. A severed Jewish star.
The setting is Chicago, and if you ever lived in that city, you will identify throughout with the specifics as they’re woven by name into the story: the neighborhoods, the parks, the streets, the landmarks. But even if you don’t know the city, you’ll always be interested in, sometimes even amused by, the lead characters: a pair of policemen, partners assigned to do some legwork on this perplexing and frightening case. (No — not the suitcases — although that word also has a perplexing, frightening connotation here.)
Marvin Bondarowicz is Jewish; Hank Purcell is not. They are beat cops reporting to Lieutenant O’Herlihy, and we readers follow the first two as they follow — or don’t follow — the direction of the third. We learn how different they are at home from how they are on the street, which is pure old Chicago in every way. They break the rules, get called out, even threatened with being fired, but they persevere as the people they are, the only way they could ever be. So their search becomes as gritty as the city itself, and the two pull the reader along with their diverse, sometimes dangerous and sometimes diverting, actions and interactions.
“Suitcase Charlie” runs to 314 pages of the swiftest reading ever — the writer’s command of American/Chicago vernacular helps move you along at a quick clip through a lot of fast action. And that may be somewhat of a surprise coming from this author, because John Guzlowski was born in a displaced persons camp to Polish parents who met while slave-laboring under the Nazis.
Somehow, that little family wound up in Chicago, in a part of town that gave Guzlowski plenty of material to spark this story. As he grew up, he saw houses burned and people beaten and killed in the street. But he overcame in the biggest way. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in English, then went on to get both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue, and finally became professor of English literature at Eastern Illinois University before retiring to Virginia, where he’s now a literary critic and poet of an award-winning collection, “Echoes of Tattered Tongues.” In much of his other writing — and there has been much — Guzlowski recalls those who didn’t survive the war. But in this one, he’s honoring those who didn’t survive Chicago.
The clue on the book’s back cover is not just an invitation; it’s a scene-setting puller-inner: “May 30, 1956: On a quiet corner of a working-class neighborhood, a suitcase is discovered…inside is the body of a young boy, hacked to pieces…Two hard-driving detectives are assigned to the case…Purcell still has flashbacks ten years after the Battle of the Bulge; Bondarowicz, a wisecracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves booze…Their investigation takes them through the dark streets of Chicago in search of an even darker secret…”
This mystery will be solved on Dec. 4, with the book’s official publication.

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Jewish War Veterans honor their own at gravesites

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Most TJP readers are probably used to seeing the Jewish War Veterans or members of their Ladies Auxiliary collecting donations in front of local eateries and delicatessens around Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
These funds are used to help pay for needed items at the VA Medical Center that Congress has not funded. There is another area of giving by the Jewish veterans organization which you may not be aware of: concern for deceased JWV members and their families.
A mitzvah activity by the JWV is the placement of American flags at the gravesites of its deceased members at each of Dallas’ five Jewish cemeteries, sometimes assisted by Jewish Boy Scouts.
Approximately 125 flags are placed at gravesites around Memorial Day in May and are replaced again around Veterans Day in November, totaling 250 per year.
The placement of flags is a solemn occasion culminating in a ceremony at the flagpole of the Congregation Shearith Israel Cemetery, where the Pledge of Allegiance is said and “Taps” is played by a bugler.
Deceased veterans who were JWV members are automatically entitled to have an engraved JWV flag holder buried at the gravesite, free of charge.
In addition, if the deceased veteran’s family desires and there is enough time to prepare, the JWV provides an honor guard ceremony involving the folding of the flag, the reading of the JWV tribute and the playing of “Taps,” all coordinated with the rabbi.
In cases in which the deceased was a career veteran, having served 20 or more years, they are entitled to a military honor guard from the National Cemetery, including riflemen and bugler.
At times, the JWV and the military honor guard have coordinated their efforts in a combined ceremony.
The Jewish War Veterans truly honor the military men and women of the Jewish faith who have served their nation.

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String theory and the music of the universe

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
You have alluded a few times in your column that the universe is like a song. I’m intrigued by this idea and wanted to ask if you could please elaborate.
Thx, Josh
Dear Josh,
This concept is something that touches a chord in my heart, an idea that I live by. It’s not the kind of thing one can just “get” intellectually. Rather, one needs to synthesize it until it enters the heart, over time, until one can “hear the music” when walking under a beautiful sky, seeing a stunning yard or meadow, the reach of a tree, the stars at night or the morning sunrise.
Let’s attempt to understand this on a few levels.
There was a great Chasidic master who was walking through the forest with a group of students when one of them nonchalantly plucked a leaf of a tree as he walked by. The rabbi, upon observing the conduct of the student, was shaken by what he saw and began to tremble, exclaiming, “The entire universe is God’s symphony and everything in it, every leaf and blade of grass, is another instrument in His orchestra. How could you, for no reason, just pluck out an instrument from that orchestra and minimize the symphony?”
I have heard the above story told about various leaders, both Chasidic and Lithuanian, and I believe that they all happened. This is because great Torah sages all view the world in this same way. It is the reflection of many verses in the Torah and Tanach, all alluding to this idea. “For the Conductor; a song of David. The heavens speak the glory of G-d and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1-2).
Another insight into this music is the way the universe and its creations work in tandem, creating a cosmic harmony. Galaxies and planetary systems are often observed by astronomers to be in a type of waltz as they spin around each other because of each other’s gravitational pull. Food chains, body systems such as the immune system and many more are examples of harmonies that boggle the mind.
Finally, over recent decades, string theory has blazed onto the scene with new harmony and new music. The first level of harmony to which this theory plays is to, potentially, harmonize the two epic theories of the universe, relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity, first developed by Einstein, was the revolutionary understanding of mass, energy and gravity as it applies to large bodies. Quantum mechanics revolutionized the understanding of the universe on a sub-microscopic level by way of its standard model of subatomic particles and their behavior. Both theories worked to an incredible degree of accuracy, just not together, to the great chagrin of Einstein and many others. String theory is the first tangible hope of the harmony and music between these two great theories.
On a deeper and more direct plane, string theory truly shows us the music of the universe. According to this theory, the smallest, most elementary particles of the universe are not specks of matter as previously thought. They are, rather, infinitesimally tiny strands of vibrating “string.” All matter, all strings, are “cut from the same cloth.” The only difference between them is the frequency at which they vibrate, like different frequencies on the strings of a violin or guitar. It is the different vibrational patterns of fundamental string that give rise to different masses and force charges.
The eminent physicist Brian Greene writes in “The Elegant Universe,” in a chapter entitled “Nothing but Music: The Essentials of Superstring Theory,” the following: “With the discovery of superstring theory, musical metaphors take on a startling reality, for the theory suggests that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patters orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos… What appear to be different elementary particles are actually different “notes” on a fundamental string. The universe — being composed of an enormous number of these vibrating strings — is akin to a cosmic symphony.”
As science continues to develop, the music rises to higher and higher crescendos and the power of the great symphony of the Al-mighty serenades us more and more with its profound beauty.

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Teach tzedakah by example: giving yourself

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
“Tzedakah” — what’s it all about? How do we teach it?
Each week at our Early Childhood Shabbat Celebration at the Aaron Family JCC, the children come up and excitedly put their money into our many tzedakah boxes. Why? It’s fun. But without knowing it, they are getting into the tzedakah habit.
The definitions for habit are: an established custom; a pattern of behavior acquired through frequent repetition. Our children are learning early that this is what we do. Many a parent has recounted that when they go to the grocery store and there is a donation box at check out, their children say, “Let’s put money in the tzedakah box.” They get it — it is a habit.
In eJewishphilanthropy.com, a column posted on Feb. 25, 2016, by The Lapin Group gave this information:
Parental Giving:
•Among people who recall their parents frequently supporting nonprofit organizations, 52 percent are, themselves, donors today.
•Among those who saw their parents provide occasional support, 46 percent are now donors.
•But among people who rarely or never saw their parents model this behavior, only 26 percent are donors today — half the proportion of those who say their parents gave frequently.
Talking to kids about philanthropy has an impact too:
•When parents did this frequently, 51 percent of today’s adults are donors.
•When parents did this occasionally, 44 percent are donors.
•When parents rarely or never did this, just 32 percent are donors.
Statistics tell an interesting story — if you have children, take note; if you don’t yet (or your children are grown), think about your parents and what they instilled in you. What are the many little things we do to help others? The big donations are not the only ones that count.
A number of years ago when I was at a conference attending sessions, my husband explored the city. That evening, he told me that he bought a homeless man a pair of shoes. It is not about the money — it is about dignity and caring. Teach by your example — that is the only way we teach.

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Kristallnacht’s anniversary is a good reminder

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

The calendar reminds us that it was exactly 80 years ago tomorrow evening when Hitler unleashed the event marking the beginning of the end of Europe’s Jewish communities.
Kristallnacht, on the Friday evening of Nov. 9 and continuing throughout Saturday, Nov. 10, was the Jewish introduction to unbridled, undiluted venom and hate. Whatever had been lurking about quietly up until that time was suddenly not quiet any longer, because not only existing anti-Semites, but all who were not Jewish, were encouraged to rise up and destroy something that belonged to their Jewish neighbors.
Hitler, as chancellor, had already begun taking anti-Jewish actions that he, himself, made legal in Germany. But who had ever seen, or experienced, anything as huge and organized as this? His new laws had severely regulated Jewish life, but suddenly everyone who was not Jewish was actually invited and encouraged to join in the physical destruction of anything of value — spiritually as well as monetarily — to his or her Jewish neighbors.
This is what happened on that single date: More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, more than 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested on no charges at all and removed to the first concentration camps. Jews, like other ethnic groups in Germany and elsewhere, had often lived in identifiable neighborhoods. But the ghettos that followed Kristallnacht concentrated Jews and no others, squeezing the life out of them and amassing enough of them to make their transition to death camps an integral part of Hitler’s “Jewish solution.”
So, what did German Jews do during and after Kristallnacht? They were not foretellers of the future, and so they did what our people have always done when faced with any problem: They took care of it as best they could. They saved whatever they were able to carry to safety from their burning synagogues; they swept up the plate glass window shards covering the streets where their shops and offices had been. And then, for the most part, they went back to living as they had lived before.
Looking back, we must acknowledge how little else they could do and not speculate after-the-fact about what else they should have done. It’s too easy for us who were not there to ask why they didn’t leave immediately. But — where could they go? The Nazis wanted to get rid of Jews physically, not just encourage them to move out of Germany, so they were in fact making departures difficult or impossible. Forms of transportation and exit visas were scarce and expensive.
And of course, there was then — as there always is now — the usual reaction of hope: This madness had to be a one-time thing, didn’t it? Surely it wouldn’t happen again. And yet, it did happen, again and again, until millions of our people had been murdered.
This hope, this impossible dream, was the “new normal” for many Jews of that place and time, even as fury escalated against them, taking new, sinister forms that also took lives. So now: What do we learn from that past, after the recent horrendous Pittsburgh synagogue attack? My son there also uses the phrase “new normal” for Jews of his city. The only difference is this: Today, we acknowledge that vile things may happen again — and again — and we know we must try to prepare for them by securing ourselves, our homes and our institutions.
This may work for us because we do not live in a place where government policy is against us. Still, there are anti-Semites everywhere, some heavily armed, and we can’t anticipate their next moves. We can only take precautions that are possible. And hope.
Our broken America is certainly not Germany, but it no longer resembles those bucolic Norman Rockwell paintings of freedom for all. May God help us as we go forward to — we know not what. And may we learn from the past that we must help ourselves.

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Listening is the key during a conversation

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

At the very beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, Sarah dies in what is now called Hebron and Abraham enters into negotiations to buy the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place for his beloved wife.
Ephron, the Hittite, owned the Cave of Machpelah and first offered it as a gift to Abraham, but Abraham refused. He wished to buy the cave outright and asked for the price. Ephron replied, naming an outrageous price, “My lord, do hear me! A piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver — what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead.”
Abraham paid the asking price without haggling and “thus the field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham, as a burial site.” Why didn’t Abraham haggle, as would be expected? Why did he simply pay the outrageous asking price?
I am reminded of how I purchased my backgammon set in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem when I was a graduate student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion the first year I was studying to become a rabbi. I was poor, but desperately wanted an inlaid wood backgammon/chess set and decided to see what was available one morning when I was going to the Kotel with a friend. We entered a shop on the narrow street deep in the market and looked at a beautiful set. “Inlaid with genuine mother-of-pearl,” the shopkeeper claimed, and while there was no way that claim was true, it was, nevertheless, a beautiful set. “Only 400 shekels.”
For me, a poor graduate student, 400 shekels was a couple months of my food budget and far more than I wanted to spend. “It is a beautiful set, but I can’t afford it,” and I started to back away. “How much will you pay for it?” “I’m sorry I bothered you, I just can’t afford it.” “200 shekels?”’ “400 or 200, it’s more than I can afford.” “How much did you want to pay?”
At this point, I was a little ashamed at my poverty and just wanted to get out of the shop, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. “I only wanted to spend 50 shekels.” “This is worth far more than 50 shekels.” “I know. I’m sorry I bothered you.” “100 shekels.” I tried to leave the shop. “70 shekels.” “Come on, Ben, just buy it and let’s go,” my friend urged me. “It’s only an extra $5.” So for 70 shekels, I bought a beautiful backgammon set with fake mother-of-pearl inlay and a great story thrown in free.
The shopkeeper and I were in the same conversation, but speaking about two different things. He thought I was bargaining politely, praising his wares while claiming poverty as an excuse to get the price down. I thought I was trying to get out of an embarrassing situation. Ephron thought he was providing an opening bargaining position, stating an outrageously high price. Abraham was trying to establish legal ownership of the Cave of Machpelah without any future claims against it that the sale was coerced or at too low a price.
Sometimes, when we’re talking with people it seems like we’re talking past each other and not even having the same conversation. That’s because we aren’t. We need to listen to each other, trying to understand what they are saying from their perspective before we can truly have a conversation, rather than talking at cross purposes.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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