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Emor: Kohanim set example for education

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

Laws related to the Kohanim (Priests) occupy much of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Hence, the rabbis refer to Leviticus as Torat Kohanim — the Torah (Laws) of the Priests. While both this week’s Torah and Haftorah portions follow this theme, they seem to introduce a dissimilitude.
Ezekiel, the prophet, seems to assign different responsibilities to the Kohanim, ones that seem to contradict the Torah.
The last verse of the Haftorah states that Kohanim may not eat the beast or fowl that dies on its own, or is torn to pieces.
Do these regulations pertain only to the priests? Surely, every Jew must refrain from eating meat not ritually slaughtered, or nonkosher meat. Did Ezekiel mean that the priests were to be the religious professionals? Was it to be their sole responsibility?
Indeed, there were periods in Jewish history when the Kohanim stood out as guardians of Jewish tradition. Aaron tried to resist attempts to make an idol at Mount Sinai. Mattityahu led the rebellion of the Maccabees against the Greek-Syrians and the Hellenists.
Yet there were times when the Kohanim led and inspired the people away from God. The prophets railed against the priests during the First Temple. The House of Tzadok, mentioned in this week’s Haftorah, was the backbone of the Sadducees, who sought to undermine Jewish life during the Second Commonwealth.
Yes, the Kohanim were to lead by example. But, by no means were they to be the sole practitioners of Jewish observance. Rather, this was the responsibility of all.
In this week’s portion of Emor, the Kohanim are directed to educate their young. Only then could they inspire the people. Likewise, educating the young is necessary for all segments of the Jewish nation. It is not merely for Kohanim or professionals, but for everyone.
Parents today must often make decisions about their children’s well-being. The most important decision a parent must make about a child’s education is — to which high school to send him or her.
More important than a day school education is a high school education. We know, both statistically and anecdotally, that the high school years make the biggest impact on a youngster. No boy or girl is immune to outside values and pressures. A child must have a rich reservoir of Jewish values to draw from as he or she begins to make critical lifestyle decisions. We are accustomed to our young people receiving a college education, and beyond. Jewish education and the ability to instruct its values in life cannot lag behind.
Studies show us that a child who receives a Jewish education through high school is more likely to live a Jewish life, and far less likely to intermarry.
If a Jewish high school education is followed by a year of study in Israel — then the intermarriage rate drops drastically.
In a time when, painfully, the rates of intermarriage and assimilation are above 50 percent, investing in a Jewish high school education is a modest price, indeed.
Rashi explains that the adult Kohanim were warned to educate their new generation of Kohanim. Nowadays we are all Kohanim — “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” We must all make this commitment.
While there are certainly no insurance policies for the future, a Jewish high school education is certainly the closest we can get to assure a vibrant Jewish future.
We are fortunate that in Dallas we have several Jewish high schools from which to choose. We must allow our sons and daughters to benefit from these Jewish opportunities.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Wolk is community chaplain at Jewish Family Service and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

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Appreciation and gratitude extend to our pets

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

Dear Families
At the Early Childhood Center, we always talk about a wonderful Jewish value that is sometimes hard to explain to young children. This is hoda’ah, translated as appreciation, gratitude, being thankful.
Since this can be a difficult concept for youngsters to grasp, we focused on their interests. And, through a Jewish lens, I told them that caring for animals is a mitzvah. This, in turn, led into how we care.
I took an idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s “You Be the Judge: A Collection of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers,” and the follow-up: “You be the Judge 2: A Collection of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers.”
The young children became a bet din, a Jewish court of law, to decide the case: “Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs?” The situation is common in many families; feeding the family pet is the responsibility of the children. In this situation, Josh forgot to feed the dog before Shabbat dinner, and as the family sat to pray and eat, the dog was barking. Grandma said to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David, on the other hand, said the dog should be fed before the blessings and before the family eats.
You be the judge: Should the dog be fed before the family eats? Or afterward?
Here’s what the sages said. A mitzvah, tzar ba’alei hayyim, forbids cruelty to animals. Not feeding animals is cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels. Then there is Moses, who brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.
According to Maimonides: “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, added, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them since they cannot get their own food.
In short, caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves. It is a mitzvah and responsibility.
Getting back to the teaching, as my lesson was about gratitude and showing appreciation, I brought it back to being thankful for our pets. Then, one voice piped up, saying: “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

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The Omer: countdown between Passover and Shavuot, explained

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
In our Haggadah which we used for our Seder this year, it says, “On the second night of Passover, we begin counting the Omer.” No one attending our Seder had previously heard of this practice. Could you give us some insight?
Sincerely,
Mark

Dear Mark,
The Jewish people’s journey toward nationhood began on Passover. The Exodus redeemed them from physical slavery and subjugation, but they still lacked a national identity and purpose. This was conferred upon them only later, when the Jewish people heard the words of God at Mount Sinai (Exodus Ch. 19-20). In those moments, the newly formed nation obtained its spiritual identity and national calling through the Torah, and the redemption was complete.
This world-altering event, the revelation of the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai, took place on the seventh day of the Jewish month of Sivan, in the year 2448 (1313 BCE). Every year, the anniversary of that revelation is celebrated as the festival called Shavuot.
The Torah emphasizes the link between Passover and Shavuot through the commandment of “Counting the Omer,” or Sefiras HaOmer. We count the days and weeks from the second day of Passover until the festival of Shavuot. We begin the counting only on the second night of Passover, not on the first, so as not to detract from the celebration and joy of the Exodus, as noted in Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 306.
Sefiras HaOmer refers to the Omer offering of newly harvested barley that was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on 16 Nissan, the second day of Passover, as outlined in Leviticus.
Leviticus also notes that, in contrast to the Passover offering of barley, the offering on Shavuot was bread made from wheat flour. What is the significance of this change from barley to wheat?
The Sages explain that barley is often used as animal fodder, while wheat is predominantly for human consumption; bread is an exclusively human food. Thus, as we count from Passover to Shavuot, we also mark our spiritual progression from slavery to our material, animalistic passions, to the increasingly human realm of free will, intellect and attachment to God. Through the counting of 49 days, we count our elevation, day by day, into the realm of Torah life and our growth as a mensch.
The Kabbalists also explain that the 49 days of counting, comprising seven weeks of seven days, represent the epitome of the physical world. The number seven in Judaism represents physicality. The multiple of seven times seven is the epitome of that concept.
The Jews had sunk to 49 levels of impurity during their sojourn in Egypt. Egypt, itself, was at the level of 50, the point of no return. The Jews needed to leave immediately at that point, because to tarry any further endangered them to sinking to the point of no return. Hence, there was no time for the bread to rise, leading to matzo.
The rising of the bread, the chametz, represents the inclination to haughtiness and evil. By leaving with great alacrity to fulfill God’s command they stopped the “rising of the bread,” the inclination toward evil, in its tracks.
The following 49 days were devoted to growing and acquiring positive character traits, one by one, day by day. At Day 49, the Jews had perfected themselves and freed themselves of the 49 levels of impurity, and were ready to receive the Torah. On Day 50, they entered the spiritual realm, which transcends the physical, the square multiple of seven, into the realm which is diametrically opposed to the negative “50” of Egypt. This is the world of Sinai, of Torah, of the Almighty. This is the real purpose of our redemption on Passover; hence it begins with, and connects to, the Haggadah.

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Accepting what life hands you

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

My sister turned 80 years old Saturday, May 11. She was born in 1939, four days ahead of Mother’s Day that year. I guess my mother was hoping for a holiday baby who arrived a bit early — the way I felt when my daughter, who the doctors predicted would be born on Valentine’s Day, made an earlier appearance and is instead a February Groundhog. Well, the old saying is correct: Babies are born on their own schedules.
My sister’s life has not been easy. She is bipolar, something my doctor-father identified very early in her life. Along with that identification came my new and continuing job: As the almost-five-years-older sibling in a family that would have no other children, my role became more caretaker than simply “big sister.” In one way or another, even when we have lived far apart, this relationship has continued. It has not been easy for either of us.
I mentioned before that I was immensely privileged to be on the board of an Illinois mental health center when Elizabeth Kubler-Ross M.D., famed author of “On Death and Dying,” became our medical director. I learned about lithium from her. Because of that, my sister was one of the first to be treated with it and described its effects this way: “I don’t have to be cleaning out drawers all the time anymore!”
The drawer cleaning, of course, took place during her manic phases. During the depressions, she would sleep. She was a young woman of immense intelligence and strength, and through it all, a respected teacher of high school history, with specialties in subjects as diverse as Mary Queen of Scots and American trade unions. She never missed a day. But during those depressive times, I had to go from my home to her apartment to drag her out of bed and make sure she would get ready for school. After her college graduation, she had followed me to Chicago so that this would be possible.
My sister has overcome enough of what is a true, but much misunderstood, disability to live an almost normal life. She has three college degrees, including an MBA. She married and has two daughters, both respected professionals. But her behavior is erratic. Currently, she will not speak to one of them; nobody knows why.
My sister has also overcome immense physical problems: two bouts with breast cancer, and a recent major heart valve replacement. That difficult surgery was made even more difficult because the effects of radiation rendered opening her chest impossible; the operation involved threading up through a vein in her leg. She was told in advance that there were no guarantees; this was an elective procedure. But if she elected not to have it, she should go home and make her end-of-life plans immediately. So, she took a chance, survived the operation and came through the long, long rehab that followed.
My sister is now, and always will be, in an assisted-living facility. I talked to her on her birthday. She is not happy. But she gave herself a party, inviting many people she has known for the past 30 years to come and have cake with her. The beautiful cake was a gift from the daughter she still does not speak to.
I write all this to tell you, as I remind myself, that life is always what we get, but never always what we want. I am older than my sister, and healthier than my sister, and still — after all these years, and despite the physical distance between us — remain her primary caretaker. I have lived the role assigned to me almost 80 years ago. I do not complain, because I grew up with our doctor-father’s maxim: “Take whatever life hands you, and do the best you can with it, because that’s all there is.”
This advice has served me well for more than eight decades. Today, I pass it on to you.

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State of Israel belongs in the Middle East

State of Israel belongs in the Middle East

Posted on 09 May 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Matan Rudner

In the seven decades since the establishment of the third Jewish commonwealth, we have revived our language, made the desert bloom, and ingathered the exiles of our people. Our next goal must be total integration into the greater Middle East.

As is the case with other nations, Israel deserves to live in peace and mutual prosperity with its neighbors.

Though this goal may appear unattainable, and the hatred of our people seems to be an inseparable part of the Arab world, a quick glance at a history book proves otherwise. In the lands of our exile, Jews often prospered more under Arab caliphs than under Christian kings. Under Ottoman rule, the Land of Israel was connected through vast infrastructure to the whole of the Middle East. Jews vacationed in Cairo and Beirut, and Steimatsky (Israel’s largest bookstore chain) had stores in Baghdad and Damascus.

When David Ben-Gurion declared independence, he told the world that Israel would “extend a hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness…the State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

The great tragedy of 1948 was not, as is the prevalent opinion in most Arab societies, the re-establishment of the State of Israel. Rather, the tragedy was that, in boycotting and battling Israel, her neighbors set back the entire region, and shattered all hopes for immediate regional progress.

When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed the miraculous peace treaty 40 years ago, the tides began to turn. Since then, not only has Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, it has developed close coordination with Palestinian security forces. There has been a gradual thaw in our relations with Sunni Arab states.

With hope for regional progress renewed, there is much that Israel can and should do. Just as Golda Meir sent thousands of Israeli agronomists to decolonized African states, our current government should send Israeli professionals to our neighbors. Imagine Israeli solar panels in Saudi Arabia and drip irrigation in the Sahara.

We should work with our neighbors to restore and improve the antiquated Ottoman railway system, which would foster personal and economic ties across the region. Those trains could bring exchange students from Cairo to Tel Aviv and tourists from Haifa to Beirut.

Unfortunately, these proposals largely rely on the cooperation of our neighbors, most of whom will not assent until final peace settlements are reached with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians, whose governments have proven less amenable to negotiation than Egypt and Jordan.

There are however, concrete steps that Israel can take unilaterally to try to achieve the same goal.

Israel can, for example, invest heavily in Arabic instruction, which is currently taught in Israeli schools, but should become a graduation requirement. Arab towns in the north, Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and Bedouin villages in the Negev should all receive the financial aid and services that are due to them.

The government should fulfill the commitment made in the Declaration of Independence to “safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” Though Israel certainly protects its citizens’ freedom to worship as they choose, there is more to be done. The relevant ministries should be given the funds to preserve Arab heritage sites, restore abandoned mosques and Muslim cemeteries, and memorialize the roughly 400 Palestinian villages that were either abandoned or destroyed in War of Independence.

These policies would be a significant step forward toward the regional cooperation and good neighborliness to which we, as Israelis, are pledged. However, these policies must accompany a fundamental shift in the Israeli narrative. So long as we think of Israel as an “island of the West in the East,” our neighbors will never truly accept us.

Though we should be proud that our European-educated founders brought Western democracy to the Levant, that does not change the fact that the Jewish state and the Jewish people are fundamentally Eastern.

The vocabulary of Hebrew took shape on the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean, our music found inspiration in the howling winds of the Negev desert, and our worldview — our understanding of God and His mission for us — was formed in the hills of Judea. All Jews, whether Ashkenazi or Mizrahi, are more closely related to Arabs than to any other ethnic group.

Once Israelis stop thinking of ourselves as foreigners, when we finally acknowledge that our heritage is native to this land, regional cooperation will not only foster peace and economic interdependency, it will allow us to express our authentic national identity.

For all its problems, this corner of the world is the one we call home. Once we embrace that — with the help of God — our neighbors will see us not as adversaries, but as partners in pursuit of a common goal.

Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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In today’s world, is the word ‘goy’ a slur?

In today’s world, is the word ‘goy’ a slur?

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

Photo: Pixabay
Is the Hebrew word “goy” a slur when used today?

By Andrew Silow-Carroll

(JTA) — My seders, like most, drew to a close with the annual cringe-fest known as “Sh’foch Hamatcha,” in which everyone stands up and urges the Almighty to “Pour out Your fury on the nations [goyim] that do not know You.” The section is a justifiable reflection of historic Jewish anger and wishful thinking, especially during the Middle Ages when the biblical verse was added to the Haggadah. But PC it is not.
The word “goyim” sits there like a stray bone in the homemade gefilte fish, inevitable and undigestible. In this case the word means nothing other than “nation,” counting the Jews as one among many “goyim” out there. But the verse plants the seeds for how we’ve come to think of “goy” and “goyim”: as designations for any individual or collective who simply are Not Us.
But is goy necessarily disparaging? I saw the point being debated on Twitter last week. The writer Ariel Sobel insisted in a tweet, “Goy isn’t a slur. If you think it is, you are a goy.”
She fleshed that out in a separate tweet: “Being called not Jewish is not a slur. The absence of Judaism does not make someone vulnerable. Having a term to describe it is not a slur, it just discomforts people because it subverts them as the labeless norm.”
A lot of the Jews who responded begged to differ, saying that while some Jews use the word as a fairly neutral or even affectionate term for a “non-Jew,” the word has taken on disparaging connotations. Others pointed out that it creates a binary that is particularly hurtful to interfaith families and converts.
“As a Jew married to a Jew by choice, I definitely see goy as a slur — seldom used as a compliment, and never used in the presence of a non-Jew,” wrote Nahma Nadich, the deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “That’s a good litmus test: if you wouldn’t use a word in the presence of someone you’re describing, good chance it’s offensive.”
Sobel explained that she was reacting to white supremacists who have embraced the word “goyim,” partly to accuse Jews of promoting their own brand of ethnic chauvinism and partly as a badge of twisted honor. But she also thanked those who responded for changing her thinking about the term.
“Goy can be weaponized to hurt interfaith families, converts and patrilineal Jews,” she wrote. “We all have unique relationships to the term shaped by our experience. So grateful to have had so many people jump in on the conversation and tell me about theirs.”
I have a hard time seeing “goy” as anything but offensive. In my day job I often find it necessary to distinguish between Jews and non-Jews, as in “What it’s like to be a non-Jewish counselor at a Jewish summer camp” or “In Moscow, a non-Jewish physicist recalls helping build the Soviet Union’s only yeshiva.”
But the word “goy” has too much historical and linguistic baggage to be used as casually as “non-Jew” or “gentile.” It starts with the obvious slurs – like “goyishe kopf,” or gentile brains, which suggests (generously) a dullard, or “shikker iz a goy,” a gentile is a drunkard. “Goyishe naches” describes the kinds of things that a Jew mockingly presumes only a gentile would enjoy, like hunting, sailing and eating white bread.
But even in its plain sense the word is a weapon in what the Yiddishist Michael Wex calls the “vocabulary of exclusion.” “Differences between yidish and goyish, sacred and profane, proper and improper, are built into the structure of the language,” he writes, using “yidish” to mean Jewish.
How that came to be is the subject of a fascinating discussion in the current online edition of the scholarly journal Ancient Jew Review (the best name of any Jewish publication ever). The occasion is the publication of a new book by the Israeli scholars Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi titled “Goy: Israel’s Multiple Others and the Birth of the Gentile” (Oxford University Press). In it they argue that while the word “goy” is common in the Torah, it was only in the later rabbinic literature (starting say, in the first and second centuries CE) that “goy” acquired the status of the absolute Other. From then until today, the word not only distinguishes what makes a gentile different from a Jew, but — and this is crucial — what defines a Jew as being different from a gentile.
The authors suggest that it was the lapsed Jew and Christian apostle Paul who got the ball rolling in his letters by emphasizing the distinctions between the Jews and the followers of Jesus.
Ophir and Rozen-Zvi note that the rabbis don’t just distinguish between ways of religious thinking, but divide the world into a binary Us and Not Us.
“In contrast to earlier attempts to grapple with threatening foreign groups, the generalized and abstract rabbinic Goy has no other quality besides his being a non-Jew,” writes Yair Furstenberg, of the Talmud Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a response to their book.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? We make distinctions all the time. Many of our identities are based as much upon what we are not as what we are. The challenge is what you do with those distinctions.
In another response to the Israelis’ book, Cynthia Baker, a professor of religious studies at Bates College, aligns with those who believe that Jew-goy divisions “distort, deform and diminish the full personhood of most of this world’s human inhabitants.”
Ophir and Rozen-Zvi also suggest that the Us and Them thinking of the rabbis tends to reinforce a sense of superiority among the Jews, and assigns to goyim qualities that, as Baker writes, “mark their lack of worthiness – and … none that are genuinely positive.”
At the very least, the idea of undifferentiated goyim shows an incredible lack of curiosity of the ways that non-Jews might differ among themselves, let alone how they differ from Jews.
Jews are hardly alone in this exclusionary thinking. The Jew-goy distinction was born at a time when Jews were themselves excluded from the “nations,” and could barely imagine a society where people of various faiths and religions could live side-by-side on equal terms.
That doesn’t argue for getting rid of the “Pour out Your fury on the goyim” section of the Haggadah. I’m a big believer in wrestling with the more difficult parts of the tradition rather than censoring them. But perhaps we should read such language with empathy for the Jewish condition at the time it was written — and acknowledge the ways our own conditions have changed.
Today we have the luxury and ability to think about the Other in ways that honor the Jews for their differences without disparaging others for theirs. We can do better than “goy.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the TJP, JTA or JTA’s parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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American hero Maurice Rose modest about his success

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colorado is considered one of the best maternity hospitals and a leader in women’s medical services. However, many might be unaware that it is named in honor of hometown hero, Maurice Rose. Rose, a highly-ranked officer who fought in both World Wars (as well as being a member of Colorado’s National Guard), wasn’t a publicity seeker. His accomplishments are mostly unknown. However, in my opinion, he was one of our best military leaders, and a Jewish guy, to boot.
Rose was born in 1899 in Middletown, Connecticut, and his family relocated to Colorado in 1902. Though raised in a family of rabbis, Rose was drawn to the military, rather than religion.
Falsifying his age, he joined the Colorado National Guard shortly after his high school graduation, joining the U.S. Calvary in its quest for Pancho Villa on the Mexican border.
However, when Rose’s parents notified the National Guard that he was underage, he was released, and went to work for a year in a meatpacking plant.
When the United States officially entered WWI, Rose joined the U.S. Army, and his parents relented, allowing him to rejoin the Army, whereupon he falsified his age once more in order to apply for Officers Candidate School.
Anxious to move up in the ranks, Rose trained both in the United States and France, where he commanded an infantry unit as a first lieutenant. . Early in combat, he was wounded by shrapnel and had to be forcibly removed.
He later returned to the battlefield against doctors’ orders.
During his service, Rose gained a reputation as a strong leader and fighter, continuing to serve in Germany after the war. He was discharged in 1919.
After working less than a year as a traveling salesman, Rose rejoined the Army with his previous rank of first lieutenant. However, after a review of his war record, Rose was promoted to the rank of captain the next day.
After a series of challenging, yet successful, training and leadership assignments, Rose saw greater opportunities for leadership advancement in the growing armored divisions. He finally ended up as leader of the Third Armored Division, after a promotion to the rank of major general.
One of the many accomplishments of the Third Armored was its longest single-day advance through enemy territory, in the history of mechanized warfare — 101 miles through Central Germany. He was, in fact, the first to cross into Germany.
Other accomplishments credited to Rose’s name included negotiation of the German army’s surrender in Tunisia and aiding the 101st Airborne at Carentan. His division also halted the German advance to the Meuse River.
On March 30, 1945, Rose was riding with his staff in a jeep near the front of a Third Armored column, when the troops came upon a German armored column. The American Jeep became wedged between the Nazi tank and a tree trunk as the driver attempted to escape, and the occupants were dumped out.
As Rose’s crew scattered, the German tank commander popped out of his tank, waving his machine pistol. The Nazi soldier fired at Rose, as the latter reached for his holster, either to shoot back or surrender his gun. Rose was instantly killed. .
What set Rose apart from the other military commanders was his aggressive style, commanding from the front, rather than from the rear. He was the highest-ranking American officer killed in Europe during the Second World War.
He is the recipient of many high awards and honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award after the Medal of Honor. Rose is buried in the American Military Cemetery, in the Netherlands.
Throughout his Army career, Rose was more interested in service than in accolades. More than 70 years after his death, we can honor his life.

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The Omer: Counting the days to Sinai

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
These days, many of us are obsessed with counting, whether it is calories, or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events, counted how old we are, or other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today – Counting the Omer.
Here is the scoop on Omer counting, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called sefirah, meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot, and is counted every evening after nightfall. When we count the Omer, we are counting the days on which the Omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple. This connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the exodus. According to Leviticus 23:15-16, they were so eager for it, that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
During this time period, we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs; for much of our history, it seems as though massacres have taken place during Omer. The one day off from mourning is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavout.
A good book that discusses the Omer is “Omer: A Counting,” by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, and published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In her introduction, Kedar said that, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book provides the right blessings and words to say during the Omer, plus something to think about each day.
There are also several apps, available for laptop and tablets, and Android and iPhones, to help you count the Omer. These apps remind you each day to say the correct blessing; they also provide some thoughts and insights about Omer.
Whether you count the Omer using the pages of a book or apps on your phone, here is hoping that trying this ritual provides meaning for you and your family.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Cleansing the soul during Pesach

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

By Rabbi Michael Kushnick

Preparing for Pesach requires an incredible amount of time and energy. Shopping, cleaning, kashering and cooking are just a few of the tasks that must be completed before the holiday begins. There is a significant concern for ridding every part of our home of chametz (leavening) during the preparation. The different methods of removing chametz from our homes might be tedious, but the work needed to accomplish this makes a lot of sense. We become obsessed with removing physical chametz. In fact we rid ourselves of chametz in three ways: By selling it by searching for and burning it; and finally, by declaring that anything left is no longer ours. By following this process, we not only remove chametz from our homes, we also gain a spiritual insight into our lives.
The rabbis suggest that chametz transcends the physical world. Chametz also symbolizes the puffiness of the self; an inflated personality and an enlarged ego. To some degree, everyone has these traits. It is human nature to experience these feelings, but it is not good; it harms others as well as ourselves. What if, during the preparation, we were as obsessed with ridding our own bodies of chametz as we are with removing it from our homes? Just like in the home, when we find one crumb of chametz and quickly search for the next, so too in your soul, when you find one instance of chametz — of inflated ego — quickly search for the next instance. Try to dig deep inside your soul by focusing on your conduct since the previous Passover. Isolate the occasions during which you might have acted with an inflated ego, and make a list of those occasions. The list should help you understand a pattern, know if you’ve wronged someone else, and how to repair that wrongdoing. It is hard work, but it is necessary work.
Let’s not lose sight of what Pesach is truly about: Ridding all chametz — both spiritual and physical — from the world. When we do this, we can be the holy people that God brought out of Egypt.
Next year, may we be free from all forms of an inflated self and ego, and truly live as free people.
Rabbi Michael Kushnick has served at Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano since 2013.

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‘The Brink’ fuels Bannon’s media machine

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

Several weeks have elapsed since I saw “The Brink,” enough time for me to catch my thoughts and think in terms of commenting on them. By now, you either know Steve Bannon, or you don’t. I recommend you get to know him — for the first time or not — by seeing this film. It should amaze you.
Frankly, I lost track of Bannon soon after he left the Trump White House, after his efforts at fundraising had been so hugely successful. He had other fields to plow. This one-time strategist, banker, news maven, etc., went on another kick, and was just as successful, at least for a while.
How could so many people of great wealth and influence in their own countries fall under Bannon’s spell? He’s not an orator; he’s an under-shaved, overweight man with a big mouth to match his waistline. But when he speaks, certain people like what he says. Those people — many of them here in America — like what he says about creating a populist movement, not “just” to make our country great again a la Trump, but to make it again what it was in its earliest days. These individuals forget they were immigrants themselves, a nation of snowy white Protestants. To them, everyone else, even the Pope, is in the wrong camp. The right one — the only right one — is Bannon’s.
It’s interesting to watch him in this film, as Bannon is being his own overbearing, insulting, abrasive self. You can see him in triumph and in defeat. In truth, both are the same, because he is a true believer in the old, much-debated axiom that any kind of publicity is good, as long as they spell your name correctly. Even the worst publicity is better than none. And, the film shows him getting plenty of both — but mostly of the best, as crowds cheer, raise signs and wear caps left over from the Trump campaign.
You may consider Bannon the hero or the villain of this film, which dares you to differentiate. To me, the real hero, the main figure, doesn’t show her face at all. Alison Klayman, a talented moviemaker, somehow managed to get her subject to agree to this. She had permission to follow him everywhere — on airplanes, to stage appearances, in private conferences with a few world bigwigs, and as his lone self on the telephone, berating others with words I dare not put into print here. At first, I wondered how she accomplished this feat, which I thought then was a miracle. Later, I realized this film is in total agreement with his love of publicity. As long as he is center stage — in the center of a real stage, or sitting by himself with a telephone resting on his saggy belly as he roars into its mouthpiece — he’s getting the publicity he craves, and loves. For a while, I actually wondered if Klayman sold her soul to the devil for this opportunity. How naïve I was.
I have a dear old friend who has always been a student of politics. “I think Bannon really believes the stuff that he spews out,” is his opinion. “He wants to be seen as the prophetic visionary of what he imagines is ahead: His dream, fully realized. He is the American John the Baptist.”
But it’s not his dream just for America, but for the whole world. In this film, you see him in action to sell the dream to the public, with many successes. He is brought down, in the end, but is off again. Not on screen, but in public, continuing to bring his message of “populism” —rule by people he thinks are fit to rule — to everyone who will listen. And who won’t? He’s compelling just because he is so much a figure you wouldn’t believe anyone would believe: An unshaved, overweight slob with a big mouth — who, for better or worse, knows how to use it.

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