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Correcting a Buchenwald historical inaccuracy

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

One of the world’s greatest horrors unleashed on mankind, the mass extermination plan against Jews and others deemed inferior by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler, is known as “the Holocaust,” which was carried out throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
One of the first and largest of the concentration camps was Buchenwald, located near Weimar, Germany. More than a million people each year visit Buchenwald, which operated from July 1937 to April 1945. When visitors travel through Weimar, they see signs crediting the Soviets for Buchenwald’s liberation. In truth, it was the American army, under General George Patton, who first reached the camp April 11, 1945. The Soviets did not come to the area until July 3, 1945, almost three months later. However, as a part of the Potsdam Agreement, the eastern sector of Germany, which included Buchenwald and its surrounding cities, was turned over to the Soviets.
Almost immediately after the Soviets took possession of Buchenwald, they took credit for the area’s liberation. However, since the Soviet Union’s fall and Germany’s reunification in 1990, there has been a need to place a historic marker to properly credit Buchenwald’s liberators, the U.S. Army.
According to Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, the cities closest to Buchenwald, Weimar and Thuringia, still have publicly posted signs crediting the Soviet Union with the Buchenwald liberation. But no signs exist crediting the United States.
The organization approached the Buchenwald Foundation with a proposal to pay for a single American Liberators Memorial to be placed at the front entrance, properly crediting the American forces with being the first to reach and liberate the camp. If approved, it would be the only Buchenwald memorial crediting Patton’s Third Army as the camp’s liberators.
Before the American rescuers arrived, many prisoners attacked fleeing Nazi guards, and were consolidating their control of the camp.
Instead of having to face the Nazi enemy, Patton’s troops had to fight the powerful stench and horrible unhealthy living conditions, while treating starving and sick survivors.
The Army medics did what they could to help save whom they could, as many were dying before their eyes. An enraged Patton sent military police with army interpreters such as Rudy Baum, my friend of blessed memory, to nearby towns, forcing residents to see, up close, how their death camp looked and smelled inside.
“Nothing I have experienced in my entire life can compare with the impact that Buchenwald had on me,” wrote Rudy, in his 1996 memoir, “Children of a Respectable Family.” “When I talk or think about the Holocaust, it brings back to my mind pictures of the emaciated, dying victims in the camp. It embodies all the evil inflicted by the Nazis on mankind in general, against the Jews and especially against my family. It is the epitome of man’s inhumanity to man, which hopefully will never happen again. Only through a miracle could a human being survive the indescribable brutalities and atrocities, including floggings, starvation and mass executions committed by the Nazis.”
Rudy is gone, as are many of his fellow veteran liberators. But hopefully, the American Liberators Memorial in Buchenwald will become a reality for those remaining survivors, liberators and all future visitors to see.

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What the Trump peace plan cannot accomplish

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

(JNS) When the Trump administration released the economic portion of its Middle East peace plan last week, the avalanche of criticism was immediate and harsh. Even though the president’s foreign-policy team couched the plan as a “vision” of peace rather than an intricate blueprint, its critics weren’t wrong in pointing out that there was little in it that was new, and that its chances of success were nil.
Yet in analyzing the effort, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between saying that the plan won’t succeed and saying that putting it forth was the wrong thing to do. That’s because the problem with it isn’t the content, but the context. An effort to shift the focus from a push on Israeli concessions, which are never enough to satisfy the Palestinians, to one in which Palestinian society could be transformed — economically and hopefully peaceably — was long overdue. But as long as the intended beneficiaries aren’t interested in such programs, the “ultimate deal” is simply not going to happen under any circumstances.
The sticking point is clear. Palestinian Authority leaders say they want the investment and aid, but that any discussion of economics must await a political settlement in which they will be given an independent state. Only after they achieve sovereignty, they say, will the aid be welcome or relevant.
That’s a fact that many Trump-administration critics have echoed when dismissing the plan authored by presidential adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner and U.S. negotiator Jason Greenblatt. They say Trump’s team is putting the cart before the horse and effectively rendering the peace process irrelevant by not focusing on the actual points of contention that separate the parties, like borders, settlements and refugees.
As veteran State Department peace processor Aaron David Miller, who now heads the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, put it: “The Palestinians’ economic problem isn’t a lack of money. It’s a lack of liberty.”
Even if we were to lay aside for the moment that the main obstacle to Palestinian liberty is the tyrannical rule of Hamas in Gaza and that of Fatah in the West Bank rather than Israel, this argument fails to answer the key question that must be posed to critics of Trump’s plan: Why have decades of peace processing by foreign-policy professionals like Miller, who knew a lot more about the conflict and diplomacy than Trump’s Middle East team, always failed?
All previous administrations have paid some lip service to economic issues, with many issuing their own plans that were not dissimilar to the one Trump just proposed. They have all taken the approach the Palestinians say they prefer: how to strong-arm Israel into agreeing to a two-state solution. Yet that strategy never succeeded, no matter how much pressure presidents like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama put on the Jewish state, and no matter how many times Israel said “yes” to two states as they did a number of times in the last 20 years.
The Palestinians had their chance to get the “liberty” they say they wanted in 2000, 2001 and 2008, when Israeli governments put a two-state solution with almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in their hands. They also enjoyed eight years of an Obama administration that clearly saw Israeli policies as the main obstacle to peace. Still, every time they had the chance to get the state they say they want so badly, they said “no.”
At some point, the foreign-policy professionals should have figured out that the old approach was never going to work.
That is, in essence, what Kushner, Greenblatt and company have done by attempting to restart the conversation about peace in a different way.
Instead, they think emphasizing policies that will give the Palestinians a stake in peace and promoting measures that will mandate good governance have the potential to change everything. You can call that an attempt to “bribe” the Palestinians into accepting peace with Israel, but all it really amounts to is a reminder that co-existence would create a better reality than the current one rooted in conflict.
Trump was right to try to end his predecessors’ coddling of Palestinian fantasies of defeating Israel, which is what their policies of non-recognition of Jerusalem and refusing to condition aid on ending support for terror amounted to.
The problem is that the Palestinians’ century-old war on Zionism has become inextricably linked to their national identity to the point where it is impossible for anyone inside their political structure to imagine normal life alongside a Jewish state. And even if they could make that leap of imagination, entrenched forces like Hamas and other Islamist groups, as well as the millions of descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees who continue to hold on to the false hope of erasing the last 71 years of history, won’t like them to act on it.
That’s why Hamas continues to promote the “right of return” as if the eradication of the Jewish state was a viable option. And it’s why the Palestinian Authority continues to subsidize terror in the form of salaries for imprisoned terrorists, and pensions for their families and survivors, because to do otherwise would be to admit that their defeat in a war they haven’t the courage or the good sense to give up on.
If Trump’s plan is going to fail — and it will — it can be attributed to these reasons. It’s not because previous administrations understood the conflict any better, or that the focus on economics is wrongheaded. If this latest approach doesn’t work, then the blame should fall on those responsible — the Palestinians — not on the ideas behind the plan itself.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS —Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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Strive for courage, strength

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember — “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us!”
Ometz Lev, the mitzvah of courage, literally means “dedication of the heart.” When our heart is set, we have the inner strength to overcome fear and doubt. This is not only the soldier kind of courage, but rather the courage that we have because we have trust in God. It also means the power to have endurance, persistence and the strength to be a good person.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world —
Hannah Senesh
Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. As a teenager, Hannah was very active in Zionist activity, and in 1939, she moved to a kibbutz in Palestine. World War II broke out and Hannah was very worried about friends and family. In 1943, she joined the Palmach, the Jewish army in Palestine. The Palmach planned a raid to help Jews escape from the Nazis. They would drop soldiers behind enemy lines. Hannah volunteered and was the only woman chosen to go on the raid. Soon after landing, she was captured and tortured to divulge plans and codes. Hannah refused to speak and was executed by a firing squad. Word of Hannah’s bravery and strength spread to all the Jews. She remains in the hearts of all Jews and is remembered through her poetry for her bravery.
“I wounded another not knowing both ends of an arrow mar.
“I too was hurt in the battle and shall bear a scar.”
In our ancestors’ footsteps —
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai
There is in Rome the famous Arch of Titus showing Romans in 70 CE triumphantly parading spoils from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which they had just destroyed. It is one end of the story of the time that the Romans conquered Israel. This could have been the end of Judaism, but it wasn’t because of the bravery and wisdom of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai.
While the Romans laid siege against Jerusalem, ben Zakkai had a plan. His followers pretended he was dead and carried him outside the city gate in a coffin, but ben Zakkai arose, and went to the general, who granted ben Zakkai one request: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.” The small academy of Yavneh became the spiritual center of the Jewish people and a new type of Judaism survived which allowed Judaism to flourish wherever the Jews would go.
Finish these statements
Hannah Senesh fulfilled the mitzvah of Ometz Lev by:
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai fulfilled the mitzvah of Ometz Lev by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:
Family talk time
• Let each family member talk about a time they did something that took courage. Remember, it doesn’t always have to mean physical courage. Does having courage mean you are never afraid?
• When we talk about strength, we usually think of physical strength. What does it mean to be strong in other ways?
• Some people talk about “strong families.” What makes a strong family? How can you make your family stronger? Does being part of the Jewish religion or community help you be stronger? How and why?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Don’t blame the messenger; rather, embrace him (or her)

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

One lesson of Shelach, this week’s parashah, is: “Don’t shoot the messenger.” This expression dates back to ancient history, and can be found in Plutarch’s “Life of Lucullus.”
When Rome was on its way to attack the kingdom of Tigranes the Great, the messenger who informed Tigranes of the oncoming army was beheaded for his pains. Consequently, no one else wanted to bring Tigranes any other intelligence. Without it, Tigranes sat while war blazed around him, giving ear only to those who told him what he wanted to hear.
Whether at war or not, it’s hard to hear the truth. Our first impulse when it comes to bad news is to shoot, or blame, the messenger. However, the Torah teaches that truth must prevail, even when it’s hard to hear.
In Shelach, Moses sends out 12 spies to the land of Canaan, to determine if it can be conquered. Ten of the spies return and tell the Israelites that the land cannot be conquered. But Caleb and Joshua, the two remaining spies, believe the Israelites can conquer Canaan. The Israelites then threaten to stone Caleb and Joshua — the biblical version of shooting the messenger. But what was it about their message that was so hard for the Israelites to accept?
HaAmak haDvar, a 19th-century commentator, suggests that the Israelites might have believed that Caleb and Joshua were trying to drag the Israelites into a dangerous war. The battle was going to be tough, with real losses taking place. The Israelites were unwilling to take this risk. They were trying to protect themselves.
Unlike the Israelites, Caleb and Joshua weren’t afraid of the battle, because they believed God was on their people’s side. They also believed in the people. By telling them to conquer the land, they were telling the Israelites that they were capable and strong. The truth they delivered was a message of encouragement and empowerment: “We can do this!” Many times, being reminded of our own competence is the most frightening message of all, because it means we have to strive to fulfill our potential.
Eighteenth-century commentator Be’er Mayim says that it’s possible the Israelites wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb, because they preferred to return to Egypt, and to serve God there. While Egypt had been awful for the Israelites, it was, at least, a known situation. More than once in the Torah the people ask to go back to Egypt, which can be explained as a form of regression. The Israelites didn’t want to face new challenges. They wanted to repeat old patterns. The Israelites, like most of us, like things to be familiar and easy even if they aren’t good.
Caleb and then Joshua told the people a truth they didn’t want to hear, that it would be difficult to conquer the Land but that they could do it. The hardest truth to hear is sometimes that we’re up for the challenge.
The gift this parashah offers us is, when the Calebs and Joshuas in our lives tell us that God has a plan for us, and that we are capable of accomplishing something hard, we should overcome our fears and reject the idea of returning to our personal Egypts. Instead of shooting the messenger, we must acknowledge our own potential, and try to overcome the obstacles that will bring us to our own Promised Lands.
Rabbi Elana Zelony is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson. She is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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A trip through the ‘Begging Drawer’

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

We are at the year’s midpoint, so it’s time for me to empty the “Begging Drawer” once again.
This special drawer is reserved for a single purpose: It’s where I put solicitations as I receive them. My usual time of giving is year’s end, but that doesn’t stop the year-round flow of begging letters. And each one also offers a gift. Maybe a note pad, maybe a bookmark or two, but most often a sheet of personalized name-and-address labels. The first two, I pull out and keep on hand for potential future use.
As for the third, I can remember a time when I actually paid to have personalized name-and-address labels printed! Now, I have this inundation of freebies. I guess I’m supposed to feel guilty or thankful enough to send another contribution each time one arrives, but I don’t. However, I do save the labels, in a large bag near the basket that holds my all-purpose and personalized stationery and an assortment of cards for all occasions. I write lots of letters and notes, but my basket and bag both bulge all the time. And the Begging Drawer only closes because I go through its contents quarterly to weed out all duplicates.
For the most part, this system works for me. But, I’m confounded by the membership cards that accompany many of these letters. I didn’t think I’d joined anything by making a single year-end contribution, which I will do again at the end of this calendar year. I didn’t know that the membership I didn’t know I had is expiring now, or will expire soon, and I am supposed to renew it immediately. Which I do not, and will not.
Let me explain: I try to be a generous giver. I support many causes —for animals, for fighting diseases, for helping sick children, for research of various kinds, for educational institutions and organizations to which I feel connected. In our Jewish community, most renewals of giving — be they for memberships or annual fundraising — are requested as our own New Year approaches, so those I take care of on that schedule. And, I give thanks that many — but not all — of these groups do not keep reminding me all year long that it’s time to give again.
My “problem,” if that’s what it is, is that I grew up in a home of Great Depression-era parents. Even today, I cannot bear to throw away anything that might somehow, ever, become useful in the future. I end up with a collection: thin flannel blankets, cardboard “coasters” for drink glasses, enough bookmarks for more books than anyone could possibly be reading at the same time, and — most of all — the name-and-address labels. I keep them so I have choices. I can always find something with a completely appropriate design to identify my envelope personally when I hand-write letters and notes.
Don’t misunderstand. I love email for its immediacy, and because I can type much faster than I can handwrite. But there is something old-fashionedly wonderful about sending something that recipients will hold in their hands, and maybe even keep, if they’re so inclined. Emails are elusive, ephemeral. Envelopes with name-and-address labels carry at least an illusion of personal attention and permanence.
So now, my goal — and I think I may actually reach it before it’s my time to exit this world — is to amass enough of those stickers to paper a small room. The only drawback would be that this might give me a problem when the time comes that I’m ready to sell my home. So maybe I should just keep stuffing those name-and-address labels into that already bulging bag, and having the fun of picking out something truly personalized for each one who will receive an envelope from me.
As for now, however, it’s time for me to get on with the task at hand. The Begging Drawer awaits, and here I come!

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Torah portion notes the presence of inequalities

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, has several key references to prophecy, noting that Moses, the greatest of all prophets, was “exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). In addition to prophecies, the reading also touches on equality. Specifically, inequalities exist, even among the prophets.
Digging somewhat deeper, it may be a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal” when it comes to rights, such as being treated in the same way according to the same law, regardless of their circumstances. However, it is also blatantly apparent that human beings are inherently different in their capacities and talents. They are unequal in attractiveness, intellectual aptitude, business acumen, athletic prowess and more.
Support for the idea of inherent equality can be found in a more mystical concept: That people are created in the image of God, receiving a divine soul. So, despite the fact that people don’t appear equal, there is something equal within.
But even in the spiritual department, there are marked differences in capacities. A pervading principle in Judaism is that certain people can rise above the usual human level of functioning to reach a broader consciousness. As Maimonides states in his first section of his comprehensive book of laws, “Fundamentals of Torah,” “God bestows certain individuals with prophecy.”
When defining the parameters of prophecy, Maimonides (and previously, the Talmud) elucidates the specific qualities necessary to reach this higher state — wisdom, strength, self-control, broad and accurate mental capacity, and others. Such an individual realizes that he or she is gifted and privy to certain insights unavailable to the average person, even the most intelligent.
The nature of inequality in a variety of contexts sets up situations in which certain people possess things that others need. This provides opportunities to give — whether financial assistance, relationship and business advice or emotional support. The giver-and-receiver relationship, and the virtue of choosing to give, plays out in all aspects of life.
In most cases, giving entails sacrifice, relinquishing something of value for the sake of another. This is certainly true with spending one’s time and money. Spiritual transmission too comes with some loss to the giver. We find this concept in the famous exchange between Moses and Joshua, where God says: “You shall bestow some of your majesty upon him.” Here, the transfer of “majesty,” a spiritual gift, is explained with an analogy of pouring liquid from one container to another.
Moving back to the general relationship between giver and receiver, there are those who opt to give in the most convenient and least demanding manner. In Jewish ethical works, however, it is not simply the gesture or result of giving that matters, but the attitude of the giver. Emphasis is placed on finding the most dignified path for the recipients, so that they not feel embarrassed or not be put in the uncomfortable setting of needing to ask for assistance.
Another important aspect considered is the long-term impact, the ability to give with wisdom and empathy — being able to place yourself in the other’s situation and consequently, understand the big picture. In such a case, the giver not only offers a quick and immediate solution to soothe the other’s plight, but enables the recipient to eventually become self-sustaining. When it comes to giving financially, for example, Jewish laws discuss eight paths of tzedakah (charity). The greatest level is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, entering into a partnership, or finding the person employment, “in order to strengthen his hand so he will no longer need to be dependent. . .”
Similarly, there are degrees of giving when it comes to counsel or spiritual guidance. Certain guides are emotionally removed from the recipient — their advice is more like a cold diagnosis — under the guise that being involved will affect their ability to remain objective or to be effective. Often, however, this lack of empathy is more related to character. The giver may have the right answer and be willing to share it, but generosity and care are kept on a tight leash. Or, their style of service often makes the recipient feel inadequate and dependent on their guide’s expertise as they come back for more answers, yet the guide falls short of building the recipient long-term. A wise giver acts naturally, keeping things low key, and empowers a person to become independent.
Returning to Bamidbar, the opening verse focuses on the concept of lighting and lifting. On the equality front, there are those who light and lift, and those who are the recipients of being lighted and lifted. “The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him when you light the lamps…” The verb behaalotecha is usually translated as “kindle” the lamps. Literally, however, it means “to lift up.”
The commentaries dealing with the literal meaning are bothered by the unusual expression — describing kindling as “lifting” — and explain the instruction to mean: “light (each candle) until the flame rises up by itself.” The Torah’s language is thus an efficient way to communicate the act of holding one candle against another. But there is also a deeper layer of meaning:
In Jewish literature, a lamp or candle is often used as a metaphor for the soul (“The candle of the Lord is the soul of man” [Proverbs 20:27].) The mystical sources further explain how the seven branches of the menorah refer to the seven general “soul types.” The instruction to light the candle conveys that the responsibility of a central Jewish guide (in this case, Aaron) is to light the soul of each person they encounter.
What does it mean to “light” someone’s soul? Simply put, when a person is lost, or going through a difficult time, the flame of the soul is constricted, buried within and barely flickering — but unable to expand. At that point, the task of the giver is to kindle the flame, see how to uplift the person so that the soul can shine openly. A higher level is to “lift the flames until they can burn on their own.”
In summary, inequality isn’t necessary a poor thing. A true leader creates other capable leaders, not blind followers. A good educator means not only being a talented orator, giving a great lecture that wows the listeners, but also providing the recipient with skills — teaching how to think critically. In the context of counseling, this means giving the patient tools to help themselves, rather than the desire to run back into the office every time a crisis occurs. And, for a Jewish spiritual guide, this means inspiring someone and enabling them to gain knowledge to later pass on to future generations.

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Torah teachings vary when it comes to immigrants

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

Every year, on the first night of the holiday of Shavuot, I deliver a Torah class about a timely political or social topic. The more controversial, the better; after all, I have to keep everyone awake from midnight to 3 a.m. In my time, I’ve covered many of the big ones: abortion, suicide, gun control, illegal drugs and marijuana, trangenderism and homosexuality, and the legal parameters of self-defense. Although it’s always a massive undertaking to try to comprehend and encapsulate the Torah’s viewpoint on particularly complex issues, I’ve always found plentiful traditional source material to work with, and with it a coherent line of thought or thoughts on the issue.
Not this year. With border security and the cessation of illegal immigration as cornerstones of the Trump administration’s platform, it seemed natural to dig into the Torah’s position on border security, immigration in general and how the Torah might tackle the challenge of the thousands of undocumented immigrants already living and working in the shadows of this country. The problem I encountered is, although we know much of Joshua’s conquering of ancient Israel and of the laws governing who could live in the country and under which conditions, it’s hard to know how these Torah laws, particular to the Holy Land of old, might affect or influence a Jew’s outlook on policies concerning modern nation-states. In a sense, this would be more of an investigation into the spirit of the Torah’s laws, than an investigation into the laws themselves.
That the Torah allows sovereign nations to defend themselves and their borders from physical threats arising from foreign enemies and invaders is clear. At a minimum, that which is permitted under the allowances of personal self-protection (see Exodus 22:1-2, for example) is surely extended to a country, or a grouping of many individuals. The modern policy adopted by many countries (including the United States) to exclude those with criminal backgrounds or proven ties to foreign gangs or terror organizations from obtaining citizenship is a logical, pre-emptive attempt to prevent potential dangers from entering one’s borders, and would certainly have the Torah’s approval.
What’s interesting of note, however, is the Torah’s equally vigilant concern regarding the introduction of foreign ideological threats that might undermine the national character of the country. This, after all, is a threat that immigration poses as well. To this extent, non-Jews were permitted to live in the Holy Land along with the rest of Israel, but they had to abide by the seven Noahide Laws (laws of basic social civility and morality that are incumbent upon all of humanity). When pledged to the law, these non-Jews immediately obtained the status of a ger toshav (“a foreign dweller”) and all of Israel was enjoined to treat them as they would treat a fellow Israelite. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Idolaters and miscreants, on the other hand, were not welcome, lest their negative behavior influence the local Jewish populace.
A somewhat modern equivalent of this can be found in the multiple conditions and tests that countries impose upon those seeking citizenship to their country. Whether they be proficiency tests in the national language, required lessons in national history and law, or pledges of allegiance to the welfare and laws of that given country, these are modes of ensuring, to the best of a government’s abilities, that immigrants taking up permanent residence will only add to the national landscape, and not, God forbid, create an internal corrosion of the basic tenets of the state.
And, while countries acting in good faith have a duty to admit those seeking refuge from physical danger (a concept the Rambam [Guide to the Perplexed 3:39] derives from the Torah precept, “You shall not deliver a slave to his master if he seeks refuge with you from his master” [Deuteronomy 23:16]), the waters become murkier when considering those seeking citizenship upon the promise of economic security. A country has the right to consider the economic sustainability of immigrant absorption en masse, as well as the overall toll and burden it might place on the broader populace. This, indeed, is a dilemma that different countries attack in differing ways, and are within their rights to do so.
Jews have known exile longer than any other people. It was the prophet Jeremiah who set the precedent for all times as to the expected attitude that Jews should adopt toward their new nations of residence, when he said: “Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to God for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” And, it was the Sages of the Talmud who commanded us that “the law of the land is the law.” We were, in other words, to serve as model citizens of whichever country we found ourselves in at the time, however long or short that stay might be.
As to the Torah’s approach/solution to the dilemma of those already living in a country illegally, we will dissect that conundrum in Part II of this article to come next time.

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Mitzvah heroes who have made a difference

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.”
Our value this week is tikkun olam, the mitzvah of healing the world. Tikkun olam is a mitzvah of action. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
When we do tikkun olam, we are performing acts that will benefit our society, from our school to the entire planet earth. This mitzvah is about making the world a better place, and believing we can, and should, make a difference in the world.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world —
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Heschel, a renowned rabbi, was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1940 to escape the Nazis. He became a professor and through his teachings, influenced a generation of other rabbis and educators.
Heschel wrote an important book titled “The Prophets,” and it was from his study of the biblical prophets that he became involved in social issues. He was one of the first to protest against the Vietnam War, and joined Martin Luther King Jr. in protesting against the lack of civil rights for blacks in the United States.
Heschel marched with King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and declared: “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” Heschel was passionate in his desire to do his part to “heal the world.”
He stated in response to the Vietnam War: “We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible.”
In our ancestors’ footsteps —
Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972)
Rose Schneiderman was a young immigrant girl at a time when there were very few jobs for immigrants, especially for immigrant women. Most immigrant women worked in “sweatshops,” hot, overcrowded rooms filled with sewing machines that they worked at for 12 to 14 hours a day.
Schneiderman believed that women could improve their working conditions if they worked together. She co-founded the first union of female workers, and became the first woman in a leadership position.
Although she was only 4½ feet tall, Rose Schneiderman was powerful. She fought for the rights of working women throughout her life, and when she died in 1972, The New York Times wrote that she “did more to upgrade the dignity and living standards of working women than any other woman.”
Finish these statements:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
Rose Schneiderman fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:
Family talk time
•It has been said that we cannot change the world until we change ourselves. What can you do to change the way you behave, that will make a difference in the world?
•Read the newspaper throughout the week, and cut out articles the family can talk about at the dinner table. This week, look for articles about people who have tried to “fix the world.”
•Family Brainstorm: Pick a problem in your school, community or even the world, and discuss possible solutions to the problem. Remember brainstorming means that every idea should be put out on the table — even a three-year-old might have a great solution. Examine all possible solutions, then decide what your family can do to help.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Esau’s out-of-reach repentance

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a question about Leah and Dina. When Leah heard she was to marry Esau, she prayed and cried to Hashem that she not be forced to marry a wicked man. As a result, she married Jacob. However, Jacob is blamed for concealing his daughter Dina from Esau because Dina might have influenced Esau toward repentance. If a woman’s influence on her husband is so powerful, why did Leah not understand that she could encourage Esau toward teshuva (repentance), rather than refuse to marry him?
Respectfully,
Phyllis L.
Dear Phyllis,
What you are referring to is a rabbinical teaching, based upon the Midrash, that Jacob hid his daughter Dina in a large wooden box when he had contact with Esau, lest his evil brother lay his eyes upon her and ask for her hand in marriage. As you mentioned, Jacob was taken to task for doing so, and not placing his daughter in a position to influence Esau as his wife.
The obvious question is, why should Jacob be censured for what he did? What self-respecting father would allow his daughter to enter a home filled with evil and marry an evil man, with the hopes that her piety will trump his evil? Although it’s possible, it’s unlikely Esau would change, especially given his power and influence; he attempted to wage a war against his own brother and family. His evil wasn’t sudden; it had been quite some time since he’d sold his birthright — his future — for the sake of the instant pleasure of a bowl of beans at the moment of his hunger. It would be more appropriate to censure Jacob if he had allowed Dina to marry Esau.
A novel explanation of the above episode is offered by the Baalei haMussar (masters of the Mussar Movement of self-perfection through Torah). They maintain the meaning of the Midrash was not that Jacob was expected to allow Dina to marry Esau, for the reasons we mentioned above. In their words, the claim against Jacob was “that he didn’t hide her with a ‘kreptz,’ ” or with a sorrowful sigh. Mussar leaders later explained: “Of course he did it with a sigh; the sigh just wasn’t loud enough.”
According to these rabbis, the Midrash teaching is as follows: Although Dina rightfully needed to be protected from this evil, we still need to feel terrible that the person in question, Esau, is, in fact, so evil that his brother’s daughter must be protected from him. It is one of the greatest tragedies of world history that Esau sank so low, he was out of bounds to a righteous woman who might have been his last chance of ever reaching his potential for greatness and piety.
This fact deeply troubled Jacob, leading him to sigh out of sorrow for this tragedy when hiding Dina in the box, but perhaps not loudly enough. He was censured for not feeling sorrow for his brother deeply enough in his heart.
This packs a profound message for us all. We all need to feel the sorrow deeply in our hearts for all those Jews who have distanced themselves from our Torah and its teachings. We all need to kreptz and express it loudly enough to do something about it, and help all those who might desire to do so to reconnect with their rich and glorious heritage.

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Seeing an end in Weisberg’s ‘In the End’

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

Kudos to Dallas’ Michael Weisberg, who has just published his second work of fiction.
I happily endorsed his first novel, “The Hospitalist,” not only as a good read, but because I felt the author was sharing a view that agreed with my own: The major contribution of this new breed of “healer” keeps patients even further separated from their own physicians.
But this new book, “In the End,” is quite different. It presents a larger cast of characters as the complex individuals they are. The reader quickly gets to know and understand Gabriel, a gastroenterologist patterned after the author, who tells us that his “real life” patients often ask him what the meaning of life really is. And, as you read, you may find clues to an always-elusive answer in the Jewishness apparent throughout the text.
We quickly learn that Gabriel can’t really answer the question himself because his own son, a promising young man, died from a cancer he had been unable to diagnose. So, we understand Gabriel’s concern about a wealthy woman who had first come to him a year before for a colonoscopy, and was sent home happy with the test’s negative findings, only to return again to repeat the ordeal. Gabriel wonders, “Did I miss something?”
We learn how difficult this test is, for doctor as well as patient, and meet the team that works with him: the nurse, the anesthesiologist, the physician assistant. As individuals, they represent major subgroups that are constants on the radar screen of today’s society: the abused woman, the gay man, the young black trying to overcome the difficulties of his heritage. All are fully developed characters, each with a subplot that lets us know them — as we do Gabriel — outside of office and operating theater. Each has a dream of achievement and happiness, and for each, it appears that there may be light at the end of a dark tunnel, the elusive pot of gold at the end of life’s often not-so-beautiful rainbow.
But then, everything changes in a single instant.
Our author uses history and current events as the backdrop for the lead-in to the surprising end of “In the End,” which begins — literally — with a bang. The Big Bang, as a matter of fact. Gabriel is spared the agony of having to tell his patient that this colonoscopy does not have the good results of her earlier one; while he is agonizing over whether or not this is something new, whether he might have missed something the last time, the End arrives. And we, the readers, move with it — out of the medical realities of today into the province of futurists, into the realm of science fiction; we are there as the atom bomb falls and takes everyone away.
What, then, is the meaning of life? To answer this, Weisberg takes us far, far into the future, into an imagined 2,000 years’ afterlife, for what might be one possible answer.
All writers write from what they know. Even science fiction writers are no different. Instead of writing only about what they know for certain, they take what they know today and project where this knowledge might put them tomorrow — even into 2,000 years of tomorrows. Weisberg takes a daring leap here, and invites you to take it with him. Accept that invitation, read the final chapters of this book with the wide-open eyes of imagination, and perhaps you’ll agree that this could be one answer to defining the meaning of life.

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