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Righteous Gentile was Roddie Edmunds

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

It’s time for me to eat crow. I quote here a popular definition: “…a colloquial idiom that means humiliation by admitting having been proven wrong after taking a strong position. ‘Crow’ is probably foul-tasting in the same way that being proven wrong might be emotionally hard to swallow.” Having egg on my face may be more palatable, but no matter which cliché I accept — or both — I deserve the treatment.
In last Thursday’s column, I tried to sing the praises of a true, upstanding, Righteous Gentile in the American Army during World War II. This man — a mere sergeant in charge of 1,200 others because his superiors were lost forever to the enemy — became a hero as, standing before them in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, he stood up to its commandant, who was holding a pistol to his head. Instead of flinching when asked to identify “his” Jews — about 200 in the group at attention behind him — he said, in a brave face-down that ultimately saved everyone: “We are all Jews.”
You can reread my column of last week for basic information. But if you want to learn more about this Yad Vashem Righteous of the Nations, as at least one astute reader did, the first thing you’ll find when looking him up online is that I gave him a wrong name. This hero was Staff Sergeant Roddie Edmunds. I managed to misidentify him as Robbie Edwards.
In case you’re wondering — yes, indeed, there is a Robbie Edwards. He happens to be a minor league baseball player. I do like baseball, but I knew nothing about him — not consciously, at least — until after my grievous error was pointed out to me, and I went looking to find out what I had done. And why. Because I had never even heard of this person before I learned that I had usurped his name — and in so doing, dishonored a true hero. There is little I can say except how sorry I am, which is certainly not enough.
I’ve been in this business for a long, long time, and it has certainly not been a time without errors. I’m lucky that I can count the major ones on the fingers of one hand and still have a finger or two left over. Still, nothing has been as serious as this. And I’ve always been ready to eat crow when I have egg on my face. The one “excuse” I’ve never used — and I certainly won’t use it now — is that “these things happen.” Of course they do. But they shouldn’t. Any writer worth his or her salt has a responsibility to check and re-check facts before committing anything to print. I can promise all readers, and pledge to the memory of the great Roddie Edmunds, that I will never let such an error get past me again.
Only one of you has reported this mistake. But I’ll bet there are others who haven’t taken the time to do the same. In the future, if you question anything I write…if you are sure — or even just suspect — that I have it wrong, whatever it may be…please, don’t hesitate to let me know. I will be glad to make any and all necessary corrections. We may argue some “facts” that are in doubt or dispute; disagreements are always agreeable when handled civilly, so that both parties can learn something in the exchange. But an error is an error, and I will not deny any that I make. Most certainly, not this one.
Staff Sgt. Roddie Edmunds, I salute you for your heroism. And for Robbie Edwards, I wish a successful season this year. And maybe if you make it to the majors, and get to play with or against our Rangers, I’ll manage to meet you in person, shake your hand and tell you how I wrongly credited you with something worthy of history’s Hall of Fame.

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It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got the strings

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was visiting religious cousins in Israel and brought my tallis with me. When I wore it, one of their kids said I shouldn’t wear it, he called it a “necktie tallis” and said I don’t get the mitzvah by wearing it. That was painful for me to hear, because this was the tallis given to me by my late grandfather for my bar mitzvah and, as much as I’ve worn a tallis, I’ve used it ever since. Could you please let me know if what I was told is correct, and what would be the reason? Maybe, once we’re at it, it would be good to understand a little more what the mitzvah of a tallis is all about.
Mark K.
Dear Mark,
And you thought Judaism had no strings attached!
Sadly, your cousin is correct. Very unfortunately, untold numbers of well-intentioned, unsuspecting Jews go through their entire lives without ever fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis, which is the source of wearing a tallis. This is because the size doesn’t conform to the specifications necessary and it’s not being worn properly to fulfill the mitzvah. Furthermore, in most cases, the strings of the “necktie” tallis were not properly made in a way, or tied into the garment, which would fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis.
As we have mentioned numerous times in these pages, the details of mitzvos do, in fact, matter. The world says that “the devil is in the details,” and we say that “God is in the details.” Many have asked if God really cares if a mitzvah is done with precisely this or that size object, with these or those specifications. The answer is a resounding yes. Each mitzvah was given with very precise particulars, and, without fulfilling those requirements, one has not yet achieved the desired result. Every mitzvah has a profound impact on the individual performing it, upon the world, and upon the upper spiritual worlds.
I think an appropriate analogy would be sending an email that never reached its destination because one period was left out of the address. The sender is so upset; it was so critical that the message reached the recipient on time to finish a deal…is it fair that it shouldn’t arrive and the whole deal was lost over a single dot? We all know that it’s not a question of fair. Without every dot, dash and letter, the email simply will not reach the intended destination and will not achieve the desired effect.
So, too, with mitzvos. The Al-mighty, with His infinite wisdom and understanding of the inner workings of an individual and the physical and spiritual universes, perceived precisely what it would take, with each mitzvah, to achieve the desired positive impact. If one doesn’t dot his or her i’s and cross the t’s, the spiritual email will not be delivered to its requisite inbox in heaven.
There are a range of opinions with regard to the minimum size of the tallis katan or tzitzis worn under the shirt all day. This range emanates from a statement in the Talmud (Menachos 40b), which states the garment needs to be the size for it to be able to cover the head and the majority of the body of a minor. There are disputes among authorities what age of a minor the Talmud is referring to, as well as the meaning of the majority. The most prevalent custom is 16 inches wide by 32 inches long, not including the hole for the head. (See Mishna Berurah 16:4.) This would cover most of the front and back sides of the torso. These minimum sizes apply to the large tallis as well.
With regards to the wearing of the large tallis, Jewish law requires it to be donned in the way of ituf, or “enwrapping” oneself. This means putting the tallis over one’s head and the majority of the body, pulling the entire bottom section with the strings toward the left, at least for the blessing, and holding it that way for about four seconds.
This is obviously only possible if the tallis is large enough to do so. To simply put it on one’s neck like a scarf would not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the tallis is very large. (See Mishna Berurah 8:3.)
After the blessing, some take it down from the head and leave it covering the upper section of the body, while others leave it covering the head throughout the prayer service. This brings one to the awe and fear of heaven while performing the prayer service.
The strings of the tallis need to be woven with the intent of using them for the mitzvah. They need to be inserted and tied into the four-cornered garment with that intent as well. The optimal strings to be used were handmade for that purpose.
I recently returned from Israel, where I try to always buy my tzitzis from a very holy Jew in Jerusalem from whom I’m confident the strings were woven and tied with the proper thought and intention.
I know it will be difficult to change from that which you received from your grandfather, as that tallis carries much sentimental value. You can certainly hold on to it for the memories contained within it. But for the sake of the mitzvah it’s certainly time to graduate from your bar mitzvah days and go to the next level, to be ensured to fulfill the mitzvah as required. And, I add with a wink, when you do so it will do much good for the soul of your grandfather as well.

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We are responsible for ourselves and others

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Responsibility is one of the most important values that we must all practice is.
Responsibility — achrayut — is so important, for it is really all about community and being a part of something bigger than just yourself. We are all interdependent in this world and that connection makes us strong.
Last month, as we commemorated Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, we were reminded of our responsibility to others. Shortly after World War II — not long after his release from a Nazi concentration camp — German Protestant theologian Pastor Martin Niemoller said, “In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak up.”
Each of us must speak out for the others — we are responsible for one another: Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes.
On Sunday, May 6, from noon to 4 p.m., is the Community Israel Independence Day Celebration sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. Although most of us celebrated on the day of Yom HaAtzmaut, it is our responsibility to come together as a community. Not only is it a responsibility but, just as we mourned together on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, we must also celebrate together.
Responsibility, achrayut, is also about taking responsibility for your own actions and choices. Responsibility is about keeping our promises, being honest and fair, admitting our mistakes and showing our willingness to make things right.
• “Those who think they can live without others are wrong. But those who think that others can survive without them are even more in error.” —Hasidic Folk Saying
• “In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” —Ann Landers

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Love the imperfect

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring the Holiness Code; those laws concerning the specific actions and behaviors that the Israelites are commanded to adopt in order to achieve a state of physical, moral and ethical purity. But before dissecting one particularly disturbing directive (at least to me), I’d like to share with you one of my favorite childhood stories, The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill. I promise, there is a connection to Emor.
The story centers around a little girl named Betsy who has just received an invitation to a party at her friend Susan’s house, which will take place later that afternoon. Why Susan chooses to throw such an impromptu gig at the last minute and assume that everyone will show up isn’t addressed, but personally, I find it a bit thoughtless. The invitation states that everyone must bring a doll to the party, and prizes will be given to the oldest doll, the best-dressed doll and the doll who can do the most things. And wouldn’t you know it, Betsy has one of each.
There’s Belinda, the fashion maven; Melissa, the oldest doll who once belonged to Betsy’s great-great-grandmother; and Mary Jane, who actually sews on a sewing machine. But Betsy’s choice is complicated by the existence of a fourth doll, poor Jennifer, who looks like the dog has used her for a chew toy. Her dress is faded and rumpled, her cheeks are bandaged, her hair is askew, her nose cracked and only one eye opens and closes. The other dolls tease her mercilessly and yet, she wears a permanent, heart-warming smile.
Jennifer is not only chosen to be taken to the party — she wins a special prize created just for her: a medal that says “Best Loved Doll.” And in the spirit of true generosity, she shares the rest of her party favors with her other snarky doll roommates. The moral of the story — that something doesn’t have to be perfect to be the most precious and valued — seems to stand in contrast with Parashat Emor.
Leviticus 21:16 begins, “The Lord spoke further to Moses…. No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy, or crushed testes…. he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect.
“He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the Lord have sanctified them.”
It seems not just unfair, but downright cruel, that only those lucky enough to be blessed with physical perfection were deemed qualified to serve in God’s holiest space. As if being physically disabled weren’t bad enough, this prohibition really seems to throw salt on the literal wound.
Rabbi Elliot Mayer draws on the Mishnah, which reframes this interpretation: “In the final G’ulah (redemption), the blind will be able to see, the lame will be able to walk and people will not suffer from physical disabilities. The Beit HaMikdash would have given every visitor inspiration and hope that there will be a time without physical suffering as prophesied by our Neviim (prophets). Therefore, a Kohen with a physical disability would detract from that vision.”
OK, so the disabled Kohen would not only detract the worshipper because of his bodily imperfections, he would also mar the worshipper’s vision of the perfect world yet to come? Talk about adding insult to injury.
Perhaps I’m being a bit too judgmental. After all, I’m looking at this through a modern lens. Back in the ancient world, this concept of “not judging a book by its cover” had yet to be embraced. So perhaps God, knowing how troubling and disappointing mankind’s behavior had been in the past, knew that changing the people’s perception of what true holiness looked like would take time. Indeed, Rabbi Alexander Kaye contends that the focus on external appearance gradually shifted, recalling a midrash from Sanhedrin 98a in which the messiah is depicted as a leper.
Perhaps the lesson that we can glean from this Parashah today isn’t so far off from that of The Best Loved Doll. It reminds us that we can choose to move beyond the physical. We can hold up as role models those who have struggled with disabilities, or adversity, as they have the most to teach us about what it really means to be whole. We can break down the barriers that keep us from understanding what it must be like to live with daily challenges by inviting those who do to be a part of our communities and synagogues, and making these places accessible and welcoming to every individual.
May we strive to see each and every soul B’Zelem Elokim (in God’s image) and appreciate the gifts that we all bring to our communal table.
Sheri Allen is the part-time cantor at Beth Shalom in Arlington.

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Sorry, PETA: Humans are different from animals

Posted on 03 May 2018 by admin

I wouldn’t call myself a great animal lover. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of childhood pets. There was MC Hamster, Flopsy the rabbit, a fish tank filled with your run-of-the-mill pet store fish and, finally, our longest living pet, Kishka, the runt of her doggy litter who outlived the rest of her brothers and sisters. That being said, and like many other children, I tended to be excited at the idea of pet ownership more than the day-to-day realities of pet rearing.
The one thing that has always stuck with me, though, is care for animals. Like abuses committed against peoples, the mistreatment of any sentient being has always struck deeply at my core and, as I would learn later on in my yeshiva years, the Torah prohibits such mistreatment (tza’ar ba’alei chayim in Talmudic terminology) amongst its Biblical commandments.
Personal confession: Even as a healthy, meat-eating American, I check the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website almost every week — and enjoy doing so. Much of its animal advocacy has led to positive changes in the world of animal welfare, and I am endlessly fascinated with its undercover journalism. Over time, though, I began to pick up on an unspoken, yet ever-present, wholly unkosher component of PETA’s ideology.
Biblically speaking, human beings are the caretakers of the Earth (see Beresheet 1:26) and, as such, are obliged to care and show compassion for the vulnerable creatures and the environment around them (See Ramchal’s Path of the Just, Chapter 1.) We may eat animals, as long as we slaughter them humanely, and we may utilize animals for their brute strength or soft pelts if needed. Never, though, may we needlessly abuse them.
In PETA’s world, that is not the case. It is not enough to exercise compassion when utilizing animals for the good of mankind. Even the most humane slaughter is barbaric in PETA’s eyes. This same blanket castigation goes for the usage of any and all animal-sourced products as well, no matter how humanely they may have been procured and no matter how necessary they may be for mankind. Why? Because in PETA’s eyes, human beings and animals are essentially the same. The murder of a man or a pig is murder, and no need can ever justify murder.
PETA’s ideology was on full display in its 2003 ad campaign “Holocaust on your Plate,” in which billboards compared Holocaust imagery with imagery of modern agricultural practices. In one ad, a billboard is split between a picture of Jewish children in a concentration camp, all wearing prisoner outfits and standing behind barbed wire, and another picture of young pigs peering through bars in a kennel of sorts. The title on top: “Baby Butchers.” In another, similarly designed ad, we see a picture of severely emaciated men lying down in a concentration camp barracks as well as a snapshot of chickens enclosed in coops. The title for this nauseating ad: “To Animals, All People Are Nazis.”
Yes, PETA is known for its affinity of shock-value advertising, meant to awaken sensibilities and garner publicity. But underneath all of that lies the ideological equivocation of human and animal suffering and of human and animal death.
As if to eliminate any doubt as to PETA’s ideological belief system, PETA recently released a new video featuring the voice and words of rapper RZA titled We’re Not Different in Any Important Way. Over a video of human faces slowly morphing into one another and eventually into the faces of animals, RZA speaks these words:
“We are all the same, in all the ways that matter. It doesn’t matter what we look like, how old we are, what language we speak, or who we love. It doesn’t matter if we have fur or feathers or fins, the length of our nose or the number of legs. We are not different in any important way. We all have thoughts and feelings. We all feel love and pain and loneliness and joy. We can all understand but we are not always understanding. We experience ourselves as separate from the rest, but none of us deserves to be treated with less respect. Our task must be to break free from prejudice, and to see ourselves in everyone else.”
At the end of the video these words appear on the screen: “Face it: Inside every body, there is a person.”
In PETA’s eyes, humans are truly not “different in any important way,” and inside every animal “is a person.” This is human/animal equivocation at its finest. And if randomly guided evolution is all one sees, then perhaps one has a point. For without a divine soul, “the superiority of man over beast is naught, for all is vanity” (Kohelet 3:19). And if we are all the same, as PETA suggests, what rights have we over the animals?
(Alternatively, one might argue that if we are but animals at our core, why must we behave any differently from other animals who hunt and kill animals for food? What would separate mankind apart from the rest of the food chain and obligate us in a wholly distinct code of consumption ethics?)
However, it is precisely because of man’s distinct nature that he would choose to care for the vulnerable beasts around him, rather than take advantage of them — something practically unheard of in the animal kingdom. Ironically, it is PETA’s very concern for animals that speaks to the soul of man, the very thing that indeed separates and elevates him from the likes of the cow, the pig and the fish — and the very reason that man is given responsible dominion over the earth and all of its creatures.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the co-director of DATA of Plano.

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Parashah calls us to lead moral, just lives

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

This week’s Torah portion, as read in the Diaspora, is Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, and I find it to be one of the most inspiring of Torah portions.
Chapter 19 in the Book of Leviticus begins with a ringing call to action, a Divine inspiration that calls us to live our best lives: “You shall be holy for I the Eternal your God am holy.” We have a purpose in life: to lead lives that are elevated above the common, that are examples of proper behavior in front of the world.
Further, God does not leave us guessing how we are to live lives of holiness. “Be good” is a nice exhortation, but not terribly useful unless you’ve already been told what it means to be good or, in our case, what it means to be holy. More specificity is better, and we get it here in the Levitical holiness code.
Verses 9 and 10 command us not to harvest 100 percent of our fields and vineyards. Rather, we are to leave behind a portion of the crops for the poor and disadvantaged to harvest for themselves. It is a way of sharing the bounty God gives us while allowing the less fortunate to sustain themselves and maintain their own dignity. Today, when we no longer live in an agricultural society, we can still learn to create systems that sustain the poor in a dignified manner.
Verse 13 commands us to deal fairly with those whom we employ. We cannot short them or delay paying them or take advantage in general of the people who depend on us for their living. We may have economic power over those whom we employ, but we are forbidden to use that power unfairly.
I find Verse 14 to be inspiring because we are commanded not to insult the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind. The rabbis expand the meaning significantly beyond the two examples listed to demonstrate that even if we won’t be caught, we are forbidden to wrong others, nor may we lead others astray with temptation. For example, if you know your guest is on a diet, don’t urge them to have dessert. If you know someone is an alcoholic, don’t offer them a drink.
We are commanded to establish a purely just society in Verse 15. We are called upon to create a society that favors neither the rich nor the poor. We might be tempted to favor the rich because of their power or the poor because they are up against deep pockets. Yet the society we create should be strictly, purely just.
Verses 33 and 34 are especially important in today’s society. We are commanded never to wrong the stranger, for once we were strangers in the Land of Egypt. We must have compassion for all human beings, remembering the suffering of our own people throughout history. We might be tempted to treat our own people well but others poorly, but we are commanded to fight against this temptation.
What I find most interesting is Verse 35, in which we are commanded to have strictly honest weights and measures. Honesty in business is a religious obligation and you shouldn’t say, “Oh, but rabbi, I deal in the real world.” No. Honesty is for all times and places.
Being holy isn’t reserved for special people or religious leaders. Acting in a way that is holy is for all of us, through our everyday actions. Through this week’s Torah portion, I feel God’s inspiration to live up to our highest ideals, creating a moral and just society.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim, Plano’s Reform congregation.

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Justice doesn’t always mean exactly the same

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Kids always tell their parents, “That’s not fair!” What exactly are they thinking? What is “fair”? Fairness is a word that is really about justice (mishpat in Hebrew), and justice may be an even harder word for children and for us.
The message of justice is deeply implanted in the spirit of Jewish life. The Torah is filled with laws and examples of how to make a fair judgment and the importance of being fair and just.
• You shall not render an unfair decision: Do not favor the poor nor show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus)
• Only to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Micah)
Rabbi Hillel said, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” This is a very easy way to understand how to treat others. However, being fair isn’t always easy or simple. Fair doesn’t always mean the same.
Here are some good questions to talk about and a great discussion starter story:
* Have you ever been treated unfairly? How did it make you feel?
* Do you think it is fair that older children get to stay up later and do more things than younger children? Why or why not? Do you think it is fair that boys get to do things that girls don’t get to do and vice versa? Why or why not?
* Some families have a rule that if there is a piece of cake to share, one person gets to cut it and the other gets to choose the first piece. How is this a fair way to divide the cake? Can this system be used in other areas?
Shabbat story discussion
A young boy came to a woman’s house and asked if she would like to buy some of the berries he had picked from his father’s fields. The woman said, “Yes, I would, and I’ll just take your basket inside to measure out 2 quarts.”
The boy sat down on the porch and the woman asked, “Don’t you want to watch me? How do you know that I won’t cheat you and take more than 2 quarts?” The young boy said, “I am not afraid, for you would get the worst of the deal.” “How could that be?” she asked. The boy answered, “If you take more than the 2 quarts that you are paying me for, I would only lose the berries. You would make yourself a liar and a thief.”
Talk about the meaning of this story with your family.
We should always try to do the fair and just thing — it is an important value to live by.

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Upstander told Nazi: ‘We are all Jews’

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

Last week, I sat in the Dallas Holocaust Museum, hearing survivor Simon Gronowski tell his story. He was 11 years old then, on the last train from Belgium to Auschwitz, the one remembered today because it was stopped by a trio of partisans who managed to pry open a door and free 17 of the Jews headed for destruction. The young boy and his mother were not among the 17, but as the train began to roll again, she sent him off, telling him to run. He never saw her again. But in his story of his life, he credits the kindness of others who helped him live. “Upstanders,” our museum calls them.
So, here’s another story, with a central character deserving to be famous because he’s one of the greatest “Upstanders” of all time. I offer it today as a postscript to both the Holocaust and Passover.
It was in the waning days of World War II. The tide had already turned in favor of the Allies, but German soldiers were still following Hitler’s order: Fight to the death for the Fatherland. And it happened that some 1,200 young American soldiers, a troop, separated from all comrades, fell into the enemy’s hands, enduring a two-day march before being herded into a Nazi prison camp. These GIs were without military leadership; the ranking “officer” among them was Master Sgt. Robbie Edwards. Some may have heard of him, but his bravery deserves more publicity…
Among the 1,200 were about 200 Jews. Their “dog tags,” like those of all Jews serving in America’s fighting forces then, were marked with a capital “H,” for “Hebrew.” And they were instructed to discard them in case of capture. Whether they had done so or not at the time of their incarceration is not known, but it really didn’t matter in this case; the Germans were hardly going to hand-check the identification of 1,200 individuals. Instead, they ordered everyone to stand at attention and called Sgt. Edwards, the young leader designated by necessity, to the front of the crowd. There was not a sound from the Americans as the ranking Nazi spoke to him: “Give us your Jews,” he ordered.
Edwards never flinched, never hesitated. It was as if he had known all along that he would be given such an order and had decided in advance what he would say when the time came to say it. And so he responded with this short, very sweet answer: “We are all Jews here.”
The Nazi in charge pulled out his pistol, put it to Robbie Edwards’ temple, and this time threatened: “Give us your Jews or I’ll shoot you.” Again, the sergeant showed no fear. Instead, “You can shoot me,” he said, loud and clear, “but then you’ll have to shoot everyone else here, too. You know the war is coming to an end and you are losing. So you’ll be tried as a war criminal, and that will be the end of your life, too.”
Without another word, the German officer pocketed his pistol and walked away.
This is one of the amazing stories of non-Jewish heroism at a time of such peril for all Jews in Europe, including those Jews in American uniforms who were fighting not just for Jews, not just for America, but for the good of the world. And Edwards had spoken truth — not about how many Jews were under his leadership, but about the state of the war. And it wasn’t long before Russian troops arrived to take those Nazis prisoner, and to free the Americans. The date of their liberation, fittingly enough, was March 25, the second day of Pesach 1945.
Yes, Staff Sgt. Robbie Edwards has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. But at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, which teaches the virtues of taking action rather than just standing by when one sees the abuse of others, he would be called “Upstander.” Truly a Sergeant First Class.

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‘Righteous’ Irena Sendler’s story worth remembering

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

Yom HaShoah 2018 (The Day of Remembrance) has recently passed, but besides honoring those who died in the Holocaust, we should also remember those non-Jews who risked or lost their lives in order to protect Jews from the Nazi death machine.
Their lives and deeds of heroism are recorded at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and they are referred to as “the Righteous Among Us.”
According to Yad Vashem, Poland had more citizens helping to hide and save their Jewish citizens than any other nation, with an estimated minimum number of 6,706 rescuers.
Other sources claim that the total of Polish rescuers may have numbered as many as 1,200,000, most of whom received aid from the Polish underground organization known as Zegota.
One Polish Righteous woman whose story was unknown for many years was that of a social worker, Irena Sendlerowa (also known as Irena Sendler), who saved many children from the Warsaw Ghetto, all of whom had been destined to die in the Nazi death camps.
Her story and those of other Polish heroes were suppressed by the Polish communists after the war and did not come to light until the end of Communism in Poland in 1989.
Operating as a social worker in the Warsaw Ghetto, Sendler talked Jewish parents into giving her their children so that they could be secretly removed and placed with non-Jews or in convents.
She falsified records as best she could, but kept records of the original name, the false name and the names of the biological and the “new” parents, as well as location. These records were placed in a jar, which she then buried with the hope that the families could be reunited after the war.
In reality, the children survived, but the parents sent to the camps did not. Sendler successfully saved about 2,500 Jewish children.
Eventually captured, she was tortured and was scheduled to be executed, but the Zegota group raised enough money to bribe her captors for her release.
Irena Sendler’s heroic courage and achievement was not fully and properly recognized until the late 1990s.
A group of high school students in a small Kansas farm town were challenged by their innovative high school history teacher, Norm Conrad, whom students referred to as “Mr. C.”
It was 1999, and the upcoming National History Day observance was an opportunity for high school students around the country to compete for the winning project, the theme being “Turning Points in History.”
Mr. C placed brief news clippings in front of the students.
One of the news items given as a possible topic was a story about a Polish social worker praised by Yad Vashem who supposedly saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis: Irena Sendler.
The students could not believe that number since Schindler had saved 1,200. “It must have been 250, not 2,500,” Mr. C’s students thought.
The work of these four Kansas high school students under the guidance of their history teacher resulted in Life in a Jar, The Irena Sendler Project in play, book and film form.
Subsequently, the four student researchers flew to Poland to meet with Sendler after she finally received worldwide recognition as a result of the students’ efforts.
The awards she deserved for so long began to pour in. Tikkun Olam, Righteous Gentile, Honorary Citizen of Israel, Poland’s highest honor, the Order of the White Eagle, and her nomination for the 1963 Nobel Peace Prize by the Polish government.
Irena Sendler died in 2008 at age 98.
The book, Life In A Jar by Jack Mayer, is well worth reading.

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Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

Imagine if your wife had a bird’s-eye view of what you did at the office every day. Would she find herself impressed with your productivity level and work ethic? Or, would she discover a ship that needed much righting? Could she rightly point to multiple items on your business to-do list left unattended to, as well as time that could have been used more efficiently (say, for more sales calls and less YouTube dancing squirrels)?
For many men, this is more of a theoretical scenario than a real one, as offices are typically tucked away in an office park, miles away from the house, and office visits from family members are somewhat of a rarity.
How different is it for our wives? Even as many modern women work outside of the house, the primary duty of taking care of the home typically remains upon them and essentially transforms our homes into their “workplaces.” And there lies the challenge. We live in their “workplaces.” How do we remain profoundly appreciative for all that our wives do for our households, never treating their familial service as a job to be held over their head, or their performance as something subject to our critical analysis?
This challenge proved too difficult for one of my students. He is a keen observer and persistently felt an underlying feeling of annoyance walking through his house each day, his dwelling much too untidy for his liking. His wife didn’t work, and he felt that she had the time to keep the house in order if it was truly a priority in her mind. He knew full well the myriad responsibilities that she had on a daily basis. They had a large family, after all. But, he still felt that there was enough time in the day to also care for the house properly and, of course, have a freshly prepared dinner ready each night by 6.
His fraught emotions turned more and more to charged, critical statements directed to his wife. “I thought you were going to take care of that already.” “Why is dinner never ready on time?” “This house is filthy.” His venting brought him relief from emotions otherwise suppressed, while his wife had to endure the heartache that came with each and every verbal blow.
Recognizing that he had an issue that needed to be dealt with and that he was the responsible party, he came to speak with me. I shared with him the Rambam’s famous injunction that we should always seek the middle path in middos (character traits), and that this requires us to veer to the opposite extreme of wherever we happen to be. That only by moving from one extreme to the other can we free ourselves of our bad habits and ensure that we end up with a balanced approach to life.
As Rabbi Reuven Leuchter explains on Page 89 of Teshuva: Restoring Life:
“The underlying assumption behind the Rambam’s approach is that every midda (character trait) has an extreme quality. When we find ourselves under the influence of a particular midda, it alone determines our perceptions and feelings. We become oblivious to any other perspective or reality. Only by shifting to the opposite extreme can we counteract this blindness. Only by focusing on the direct opposite of what we are experiencing and by treating the initial extreme as if it does not exist can we eventually arrive at a point in the middle.”
I advised my student to apply the Rambam’s methodology to his own life and to veer to the opposite extreme. His critical perspective of his wife was blinding him from ever perceiving a different, more positive reality of his wife’s help in the upkeep of their home. He needed to not only refrain from criticism of any kind, but to desist from any discussions or requests, however innocuous they might seem, concerning the subject of housekeeping. As he was not yet able to walk the middle path, any discussion of housekeeping was likely to turn ugly. The only exception to this rule would be expressions of gratitude for anything his wife might have done in the house. I encouraged him to use his observant nature to discover positive contributions that his wife had made each and every day and to heartily express his gratitude.
“This commitment would need to be for one month,” I told him, “and only then might you attempt to form a healthy, middle-of-the-road approach.”
To my utter delight, a month passed, and with it a renewed sense of peace and tranquility in the student’s home. Both husband and wife found themselves happier. A fresh set of lenses (which only took shape after a few grueling weeks of self-restraint) enabled my student to finally see how hard his wife truly worked for the family, and his wife felt appreciated for the first time in quite a while. After experiencing newfound calm in the house, my student recognized how responsible he had been for creating a toxic environment in the house, as well as how much pressure and anxiety he had exerted on his wife.
Unable to discuss any household needs with his wife, he found himself picking up the broom and the dustpan to take care of problem areas around the house. It dawned on him how rarely he had ever offered to help with the housework that mattered so much to him.
My student could now attempt life in the middle path, but he would need to be vigilant lest he slide back to his old habits.
During this period of the counting of the Omer, we are instructed to use each day as a steppingstone toward self improvement. The Rambam’s advice can help us get there.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the co-director of DATA of Plano.

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