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Forgiveness brings relief to both victim, actor

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob is returning from Haran and pauses on the shores of the Jabbok River in fear of confronting his brother Esau. Jacob had left his parents and brother behind in the Land of Israel to go to Haran to escape his brother and to find a wife.
Well, he found not one but two wives, two concubines, 12 named children, large flocks and tremendous wealth. But in all the years he was away, he never had the opportunity to reconcile with his brother Esau.
As far as Jacob knew, Esau still wanted to kill him for tricking Esau out of his birthright and stealing their father’s blessing. That night before the confrontation with Esau, Jacob was visited by a man and they wrestled all night. Who was it? Was it an angel of God?
Was it his own conscience, his own guilt at confronting after 20 years his past actions? What the text tells us is that he was forever changed by the experience. His name was changed from Jacob, meaning the heel, to Israel, meaning the one who struggles with God. Also, his hip was wrenched and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
In the morning, Jacob looked up to see his brother Esau approaching with 400 men, a large number for a welcoming party but not too large for an army. Jacob was understandably worried about Esau’s anger and he was afraid of what his brother might do. I love the language of their meeting because it’s filled with tension and release. Jacob “himself went on ahead and bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother.”
I can just see him bowing and scraping and reluctantly drawing closer as if approaching a large and dangerous animal. The text continues: “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck…” Like a predator? Like a lion biting the neck of its prey? “… he kissed him; and they wept.”
Granted it had been 20 years since they last saw each other, but they reconciled and forgave each other. Jacob, after all his worry and fear, exclaimed to Esau: “to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.”
How many have hurt and been hurt by those we love? How many of us struggle and wrestle with complicated and tangled personal relationships?
The problem when we have unresolved anger and hurt in our personal relationships, is that we end up like Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok River, emotionally limping from the encounter. When we wrestle, grappling with the damage in our relationships, who is it that ends up limping? It would be better to seek forgiveness when we have hurt loved ones, attempting to right the wrong.
It would be far better for us to forgive freely when we have been hurt by our loved ones, if not for their sake then for our own. When we freely forgive, we are able to release our own hurt rather than emotionally limping from the burden. Jacob and Esau never did become close, but they were able to come together later to mourn their father, Isaac, when he died.
Our damaged relationships may never be the same, but through forgiveness we won’t be left with a permanent limp.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Return of Torah remarkable tale

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

By now, every Jew should know about the Czech Torahs, and most have probably seen at least one — so many have found new homes in American houses of worship since their reclamation following the Holocaust.
Hitler had sequestered them after he raided synagogues throughout that country, with the idea of someday putting them on exhibit in his intended “Museum of an Extinct Race.”
Of course, his aims were foiled and those precious scrolls were saved — more than 1,500 of them — and transported to Westminster Synagogue in London, where they were evaluated, repaired for resumed ritual use if possible, or for display and educational purposes if not. Czech Torahs are now important fixtures in the institutions that have “adopted” them, for they are not in anyone’s ownership; they are on perpetual loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust…
Except for one, which has now been restored to its actual place of origin. And its heartwarming story involves a family in our very own community!
Gary and Ellen Ackerman of Dallas have one son who is a rabbi, and one daughter who is married to a rabbi. This last, Corey Helfand, is the center of a very recent event: the return of one of those precious Czech Torahs to the same place from which it was taken by the Nazis. Over past years, some of those precious scrolls have been passed on to European congregations, but the fact that there is still a congregation to welcome back its very own Torah — that is truly a miracle of sorts. A story worth telling, one that has now been told in the Jewish Chronicle of London and is traveling around the world.
The Ackermans’ son-in-law, Rabbi Helfand, traveled with his congregation’s precious cargo almost 6,000 miles, from Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California to Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, to return this Torah to the very place from which it had been removed more than 75 years ago. His synagogue raised the money necessary to make the holy scroll — thought to have first been scribed in 1880 — kosher again. Its original home was burnt down by the Nazis in 1939, but there is now a growing Jewish community in the old neighborhood that was there to welcome its Torah back again.
Peter Briess is 86 years old. He and his immediate family were able to leave Olomouc when they gave their home to the German invaders, but the rest of his relatives all died in the horrors that followed. He now lives in England, and came back to his hometown with his sister and a nephew for the Shabbat morning service during which he carried the restored Torah, and for the formal welcoming ceremony the next day.
The Chronicle quotes his joy: “I was the only person there who had actually attended the original synagogue where this scroll was used,” he said. “I still remember going there for Simchat Torah and other festivals. My parents were married in that shul.”
A varied crowd of dignitaries was in attendance: Jeffrey Ohrenstein, chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, was there, along with the Czech Republic’s Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon; also Daniel Meron, its Israeli ambassador, whose wife’s family was originally from Olomouc. But most important was Rabbi Moshe Druin, the American sofer who restored the Torah; he called upon those men — and of course Mr. Briess — to fill in the very last letters. When that was completed, “I cried,” said Petr Papousek, president of the town’s Jewish community. “That doesn’t happen to me often. I hope it (the Torah) will bring our community more energy and enthusiasm for the future.” Then singing and dancing accompanied the scroll as it was placed into the Ark that has become its new, permanent home.
Last Shabbat, when Rabbi and Mrs. Helfand were visiting her family, he told this remarkable story to an especially appreciative audience: the worshippers at Beth Torah, the Ackermans’ home congregation for many years.

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Happiness, growth more related than you think

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

A despondent congregant came to speak with me. She felt immense anguish over the large chasm that existed between her current spiritual state and the spiritual state that she felt confident she was capable of achieving and, alas, was not.
What do you say to such a person when you concur that hers is a very real dilemma, worthy of careful consideration and personal concern, and yet, you equally recognize that her heightened degree of private turmoil is such that instead of serving as a source of personal motivation to bridge her spiritual gap it has rather become for her a deep-seated source of internal paralysis and harmful self-loathing?
One can imagine the delicate balance required of anyone considering a response to such a sensitive inquiry. The answer given will either affirm the spiritual dilemma at hand and perpetuate the congregant’s negative beliefs about themselves, or soothe the congregant’s nerves while minimizing what should be a serious issue of concern to any committed Jew. I therefore decided to address both sides of the matter at hand.
I offered suggestions that I thought might booster her spiritual growth, but I also tried to raise her up in her own eyes. “The fact that you care so deeply about your spiritual life, about living your life with the utmost meaning, is itself an incredible achievement that needs to be recognized,” I told her. “Unlike so many others, you are playing the game of life the way it’s supposed to be played. And that alone should fill you with an incredible feeling of pride and self-satisfaction!” I was pleased to see that my words had hit their mark and that my congregant left with a newfound kick in her step as well as a vision of how to proceed going forward.
I found myself reflecting upon this exchange with a congregant upon completing Victor Frankl’s masterful work, Man’s Search For Meaning.
He first clarified his belief that man’s primary motivational force is the striving to find meaning in one’s life, which is in contradistinction to Alfred Adler’s belief in the primacy of the will to power, and Freud’s central focus on the pleasure principle. Frankl recognized the centrality of the will to power and the will to pleasure in mankind, but saw those as expressions of a frustrated will to meaning. “Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure” (p.107).
Frankl bemoans what he deems to be the “mass neurosis of the present time,” something he terms “the existential vacuum.” What is this existential vacuum? In Frankl’s words, it “can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning” (p.129)
In other words, we live in a world in which people have largely ceased believing that human life and the process of living has intrinsic meaning. Rather, more and more individuals are convinced that life is but the “result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment” (p.130). And what meaning, what dignity, can there be for man who is essentially reduced to an advanced, randomly conceived machine?
Or as Frankl puts it in a postscript written almost 40 years after the original release of his book, “As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning” (p.140).
Frankl adds that one of the primary reasons why this epidemic is so pronounced in the modern age is that “man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing” (p.106). This seems to me a reference to the post-enlightenment’s abandonment of religion en masse. For if religion is that vehicle that most directly asserts meaning into man’s life, and if meaning is the dominant motivational force of man, modern man’s abandonment of religion can be seen as nothing less than catastrophic in its psychological implications for mankind.
It is for this reason that Frankl urges the reader to run once again toward meaning, and not away from it. The challenge: This striving for meaning necessarily introduces a new degree of tension into one’s life that, like the tension of my congregant, is oftentimes uncomfortable. In one of the most compelling paragraphs in the entire book, Frankl writes:
“Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become… We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task” (pp.104-105).
It’s worth noting that for all of the tension that the striving for meaning spawns, it is this very progress that generates the seeds to human happiness. Again the wise words of Victor Frankl:
“To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation” (p.138).
How similar is this reflection to the teaching of the great German Torah sage, Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’’l (1808-1888), who taught in his commentary to the Chumash (Devarim 4:1) that the word simcha, “happiness,” is etymologically related to the word tzmicha, “growth.” The concept is that one cannot achieve the state of happiness by pursuing happiness directly, as happiness is not a product in and of itself. Happiness is, rather, the natural byproduct of, and emotional response to, the experience of human growth.
The time has come, then, for us to reconsider our emotionally-fraught relationship with tension-filled meaning, if for no better reason than the selfish pursuit of our very own happiness.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Take time to be thankful

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Thanksgiving is over and we are getting ready for Hanukkah. At the J, our “Jewish Value of the Month” is “Hoda’ah — Appreciation or Gratitude.” Being thankful is a life-affirming quality.
A new poll has found that Americans think their own gratitude is increasing, while everyone else’s is going down (survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation). What does that say about us? Here are some of the findings:

  • How important is gratitude? More than 90 percent agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives and are more likely to have friends.
  • When do we feel grateful? Given a list of categories, people were most grateful for their immediate families, followed closely by freedom.
  • How do we say “thanks”? Less than 50 percent said they would be “very likely” to thank salespeople that helped them, as well as the postman, the cleaning staff, etc.
  • Who is grateful? Women were more grateful than men; 18- to 24-year-olds express gratitude less often than any other age group; people were least likely to express gratitude in workplaces…despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.

Lots of interesting facts and thoughts for us to work on in our daily lives! Judaism has a way to express thanks — saying blessings! The rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings every day; however, the only Torah-based blessing is the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. It is written in Deuteronomy 8:10, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your God for the good land which God has given you.” There are four blessings in the traditional Birkat Hamazon:

  • Birkat Hazan: praising God for sustaining life and providing food for all creatures.
  • Birkat Haaretz: thanking God for being compassionate and nourishing the Jewish people, both with food and with Torah.
  • Birkat Yerushalayim: begging God to be merciful and continue to support the Jewish people and to rebuild Jerusalem.
  • Birkat Hatov v’Hameitiv: This blessing ends by voicing the hope that “God will never deny us anything good.”

It is an interesting idea that blessing after you eat is commanded. Perhaps that is when we are feeling most thankful. Yet, saying blessings before makes us stop and think about how fortunate we are and to take a moment to appreciate it before moving on. Take time during the holiday season to be thankful every moment of every day!

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Iconic death marks end of generation

Iconic death marks end of generation

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

Max Wider

Max Wider

Dear Readers,
I feel that it is appropriate, in the short space allotted me, to share my profound feelings of loss at the passing of my dear friend of 25 years, Cantor Max Wider (R’ Shemaryahu Yaakov Mayer) ob’m, who passed away in Dallas on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the age of 99.

All in Dallas should know that there was a giant among us — who is no longer with us. You might wonder, why would I feel so sad at the loss of someone who lived to such a ripe old age?
The answer to this struck me as I stood next to him the previous night in the hospital and he opened his eyes widely, looking at me, and I told him we would recite the vidui (confession, as one does on Yom Kippur and before passing). He winced upon hearing the suggestion, but I said it with him. And then he perked up when I said we would recite the Shema; his eyes opened widely for nearly the last time.
The profound sense of loss struck me as I stroked his arm and gazed into those eyes. Those were precious eyes which beheld the grandeur of European Jewry before the war. Eyes which saw the giant Chassidic rebbes of a generation long gone. He received his rabbinical ordination from his beloved rebbe, the world-renowned holy man and sage Rav Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar, at the young age of 16. Endowed with a beautiful voice, Max (who went by the name Yankov Mayer) led the rebbe’s prestigious choir on the High Holy Days in Satmar.
He would share with me untold numbers of stories and Torah thoughts of the great Chassidic masters, always with the details of their yichus, where exactly this or that rebbe fit into the Chassidic family tree. He would tell of great rebbes he traveled to see and speak to throughout Europe, often in summer resorts where they would congregate. His thoughts were never far from his own dear rebbe, whose picture adorned the wall of his office.
Those eyes were the same eyes that painfully witnessed the murder of his first wife and children by the accursed Nazis, as well as the demise of hundreds of thousands of his beloved brethren during his years in Auschwitz. The stories he shared abounded and wrench the heart. He once said he learned to be a mohel to fulfill the mitzvah of bris on his own sons, then broke down crying saying they were all taken from him. Max’s unforgettable, heartfelt rendition of Yizkor on Yom Kippur for all those murdered in the war ripped the hearts of all of us and will remain with all who heard it forever.
He told me that he rescued 100 Jews in Auschwitz, and I always wondered what that meant. One morning an older Chassidic Jew with his son were visiting our shul. After shul he and Max saw each other, and began to hug and kiss each other and cry. I asked him who is this Jew? He replied tearfully and full of emotion, “He’s one of my hundred!” I approached this Jew and asked him what Max did for him in Auschwitz, and he replied, “You wouldn’t believe it — he got us everything! We didn’t know how he did it; he smuggled us food, matzo on Pesach, a shofar and so on, you wouldn’t believe it!”
When I looked at those eyes in the hospital, I realized that these are the eyes that had become my eyes, to see a world that is no longer. Those eyes were a window into previous grandeur… to its destruction … and to heroic survival and rebuilding from those ashes. Eyes that had the herculean inner strength to rebuild a beautiful Jewish family with his beloved wife Lily, a family true to his legacy and to a Jewish future.
After the war Max served as a cantor, mohel, teacher and shochet (kosher slaughterer) in Texas. He once told me about a very special day in his life. The renowned sage, Rav Yosef Kahaneman of Ponovizh, who often traveled to America to raise funds for his system of yeshivos, made it his practice to refrain from eating meat in America, not knowing whose shechita (ritual kosher slaughter) he could rely upon. Once, while in Texas, someone told him there is a young shochet he could indeed rely upon — R’ Yankov Mayer Wider. The revered rav tested him on the laws of shechita (“oif the ganzta Simla Chadasha”), checked his chalaf (knife), and, satisfied, partook of his meat. “That was the happiest day of my life!”
Max contributed generously to the institutions of Satmar and many other Torah institutions throughout the world.
When, at the age of 96, Max needed to be in the hospital for Rosh Hashanah due to a heart event and extreme weakness, his son Simon asked me to go to comfort him and talk to him despite his determination to be in shul. After Rosh Hashanah I asked him if he blew shofar in the hospital, to which he replied, “Of course!” I then asked him if, due to his weakened state, he blew the minimum requirement of 30 blasts or the entire 100 blasts. To that he looked at me with complete bewilderment, as if I fell off the moon, “Of course 100 koilos (shofar blasts)!”
The determination to do the right thing — despite enormous difficulty — for someone who had survived what he survived … wasn’t even a question!
May he be a meilitz yosher, pray on high, for his beloved wife and family and for us all. May we all strengthen ourselves in our Torah studies and observance in his merit, and may his memory be a blessing for us all. We will sorely miss him. His loss, in my mind, marks the end of a generation.

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Ethics as important as microscopes in science

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

On this Thanksgiving Day (and every day), let us be thankful for those at all levels of scientific research in their laboratories, be they at drug companies, at universities, in the field, in forests, in deserts, on or under oceans, or in the mountains, who work to attack the scourges of mankind through scientific research.
Their work has helped save millions of lives from the ravages of tuberculosis, polio, and other life-threatening diseases and afflictions.
I especially wish to dedicate this article to my brother of blessed memory, biochemist Dr. Frederick H. Kasten, a combination teacher and research scientist who always set a high standard of professionalism, both in his classroom and in his laboratory.
I thought of Fred as I recently read a magazine article in my doctor’s waiting room similar to one he had written in 1987, in Gambit, a New Orleans publication. In both cases, the complaint was opposition to the common practice of the lab director’s insistence that the director’s name be listed as a contributor to whatever results emerged from his lab, taking credit for others’ work.
The writer of the current article, a laboratory research scientist, was also complaining about the fact that during a recent brief discussion with another researcher he had suggested a solution to a lab problem he was having.
After a few months, he noticed, in a science publication, his “associate” taking sole credit for “his idea.”
Irritating at the very least, in the field of scientific research, such “thievery” or “borrowing of ideas without giving proper credit” can be very costly.
One prime example was the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Selman Waksman, a Rutgers University professor, for his discovery of antibiotics, including streptomycin, which saved many lives from the ravages of tuberculosis.
He was later accused by one of his lab assistants, Albert Schatz, of failing to give Schatz proper recognition and credit for doing the actual lab procedures of isolating and producing streptomycin.
While Waksman was given sole credit in the 1952 Nobel Prize for the discovery of streptomycin and other antibiotics, legal proceedings by Schatz forced Rutgers University, where the research took place, to take a closer look at the degree of assistance that Schatz and others gave to Waksman.
While legal proceedings by Schatz resulted in a cash award and recognition as a co-discoverer of streptomycin, the Nobel Committee still awarded sole recognition to Waksman, ignoring the research assistant.
In addition to a resulting cash settlement, Rutgers University eventually reviewed the facts, including interviews with Schatz, recognized his truly significant role in the development of antibiotics, and in 1994 awarded Albert Schatz the University’s highest award, The Rutgers University Medal, as co-discoverer of streptomycin.
The first patients treated with streptomycin were soldiers at a U.S. Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. The first one treated did not survive, the second patient survived but became blind, and the third patient experienced a healthy recovery, eventually becoming well enough to become Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.
I am surprised that Hollywood has not yet seen fit to capture the drama, the excitement of discovery and intrigue one can find in this true account of personal ambition, scientific competition and discovery.
For those who wish to read more about this true tale of two Jewish scientists with conflicting ethics, I recommend Peter Pringle’s Experiment Eleven, Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug.

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Lewin: Choice is yours: Settle or live inspired life

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

This week opens with a pivotal journey: “And Yaakov went out from Beer Sheva and went towards Haran.” He is leaving the spiritual ambience of the holy land, and the shelter of his home, to cross the border, headed to his uncle’s house in Haran.
The Torah provides two explanations for the name Beer Sheva: a) because of the oath when Avraham made a covenant with Avimelech; b) because of the seventh well dug after Yitzhak’s peace treaty with Avimelech. Both explanations for the name Beer Sheva signify a state of tranquility. The name of the city Haran indicates the opposite — fierce anger (charon af) of the world.
Moving from Beer Sheva to Haran, therefore, is also a metaphorical journey from a place of peacefulness and sanctity into a lowly corrupt environment. On the surface level, the verses relate an individual, feeling insignificant in a giant world; on a mystical level, it’s the journey the soul takes into a “world of falsehood,” and a foreshadowing of the long exile his descendants, the Jewish people, will endure away from their homeland.
And within these verses, we find some fundamental messages for success.

First action sets the tone

As he reaches the border of Israel, he finds a place to camp. “He arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed (them) around his head, and he lay down.”
This unusual wording of “arrived” shares a common root with the word meaning to entreat or to pray (Jeremiah 7:16), leading the commentaries to explain how these words subtly communicate what he did when he first arrived — he prayed. The Talmud further notes that this hints at the origin of establishing a fixed time for evening prayer.
Upon arriving, perhaps Yaakov should have unloaded and relaxed. Or perhaps he should have prepared for the new stage in life, investigating the people or the local customs, fashions and so forth. Yet, despite all apprehension and unfamiliarity, his first step was to pause, reflect and pray.
Here lies the first instruction: When we first arrive from a long journey, or are about to encounter a big challenge, the first action should be to pray — to acknowledge that hard work, talent, and ingenuity will go so far; in the end, it’s the assistance from above that determines our success.
As every new day arrives, this first gesture and attitude sets the tone.

The mind

The next instruction is gleaned from placing stones around his head. What exactly is the Torah conveying with such a peculiar image? Rashi, the more literal commentary, states that Yaakov was protecting himself from wild animals. But if he was simply concerned about physical danger, why did he place the stones only around his head — why not the rest of his body?
The deeper message is the notion of “protecting your head”: Yaakov traveled to Haran knowing the place and people would be far different from the purity of his home. To sin there would be easier than to be virtuous. He would work for Laban the Aramite, and his integrity would be tested. Even along the road there were “wild animals.” Placing stones around his head was a personal signal that nothing and nobody was going to affect his head. (And if his head was straight, so his feet would carry him to where he needed to go.)
The broader application of protecting your head: People pay close attention to the upkeep of their body, or their physical presentation, while giving little consideration to what they fill their mind with. Yet the mind can be like a wild galloping horse, carrying the rider through muddy waters and into dark places. (This is especially relevant nowadays with the abundance of attractive entertainment, the flooding of social media and easy distractions.)
Over the generations, establishing fixed times for Torah study in one’s schedule — regardless of one’s intellectual level or interest — helps refine the mind and keep it sharp. This aspect of mental upkeep through study merges with spiritual health.

Staying rock-solid

The above image — “placing stones around his head” — signifies more than just filtering, or nurturing our intellect; it conveys how maintaining wisdom and clarity is dependent on a solid and unbendable commitment to what we hold dear.
Like Yaakov, we will inevitably face tests of whether we will influence or be influenced, whether we will keep our vision alive or settle for a less idealistic or inspired life. True happiness and success, especially in difficult environments, comes from the ability to keep alive memories (or visualization) of a more cherished environment, of those people who remain connected to us beyond any physical barriers — and to bring our deepest values to the forefront of our consciousness.

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Giving special thanks for Honor Flight

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

As we give our thanks today, each of us is thinking about something different for which we’re truly thankful. Of course we’re all happy to be sitting at bountiful tables, sharing good food with friends and family. But if we went around the table and asked each person to share a story of thanks for something that happened in the past year — wouldn’t that be an interesting, maybe uplifting, experience? Well: Here’s my holiday dinner tale…
Do you know about Honor Flight? I was introduced to it while waiting for a plane change at the St. Louis airport. A woman came by to ask everyone there if we would mind walking to another nearby gate for a few special moments: “An Honor Flight is about to deplane,” she said, “and we’d like a crowd for a special welcome.” Not knowing what this was about, I got up and joined the double lineup forming two gates away.
When the passengers began to exit, I understood. All were World War II veterans, wearing special new caps identifying them as such, and as Honor Flight vets as well. Most were on their feet, some with canes and walkers for assistance; some were even in wheelchairs. Each was accompanied by a volunteer who had been with his or her assigned vet for a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial of their war — and all the other wars — on the National Mall. They were smiling and waving flags; all of us on our literal sidelines cheered and waved back.
It was an unforgettable moment, and I made it my business soon afterward to learn more about Honor Flights. They’re offered across the country, to give as many of these vets as possible (they’re now dying at the rate of more than a thousand every day!) a chance to see how their service has been officially recognized in our nation’s capital.
I had seven uncles who served in World War II. All survived that conflict, but only one has survived in life up to this point. When I asked him if he’d like to go on an Honor Flight, he said he had means of his own; he’d donate some money so that another vet could go. But he got into his own car and drove from Pittsburgh to D.C. to join with a group at the Memorial. And then I thought of someone else…
My late husband was a Korean vet, never Honor Flight eligible. But this year, I thought to contact his brother-in-law, a widower living in a senior residence in San Diego, who was. When I called him to ask if he’d been on one, he not only hadn’t; he actually knew nothing about the program! So I contacted his city’s Honor Flight coordinator, who sent someone to meet with him to collect information verifying eligibility, and off he went! And so, as it worked out, did two of his poker buddies who lived in the same facility, both eligible and able to go on the same flight!
Honor Flight is totally free for eligible vets. Volunteers work tirelessly to identify vets and raise funds to secure planes, hotels, ground transportation, meals, and other volunteers as one-to-one caretakers. The experience is brief: an early Friday a.m. departure, return late afternoon the following Sunday, with a packed schedule of site visitations in between. But for many, it’s the experience of a lifetime.
Because I made the contact that gave someone dear, and his friends, this opportunity, I’ve added the program to my end-of-year giving list. Alone, I can’t cover full cost for even one vet, but I can help. And I’m hoping others will learn about this incredible program and give something to keep it flying until the last World War II vet has left us. Local contact: honorflightdfw.org.
I knew World War II as a child. That’s why I give special thanks for Honor Flight today!

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Reasons for gratefulness

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Hopefully, you will get this in your Thanksgiving Texas Jewish Post and you will take time to find it. If not, cut it out and save it for next year or use the ideas on a daily basis to have a life full of gratitude.
This morning I read a favorite organization post (I get lots from all forms of Judaism and more, which is a great way to find the messages that resonate with you!). From ReformJudaism.org, the article titled A Look Into the Future at Gratitude by Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein was sections of a speech from a 2006 Thanksgiving service by actor and director Harold Ramis. Here are bits from the speech:
When Rabbi Lowenstein asked me to speak here tonight, I wondered what could I say to you that you couldn’t read in six or eight badly rhymed lines on a Hallmark card. And I decided that rather than elaborate on the things I’m already grateful for, I would try to articulate some of the things that I’d like to be grateful for — maybe not this year, or the next, but sometime soon. So, here’s my random list in no particular order:
I’d like to be grateful for an end to violence and a lasting peace in the Middle East that not only recognizes Israel’s right to exist, but acknowledges its miraculous social, agricultural and technological achievements …
I’d like to be grateful for the eradication of AIDS and HIV, for a medical Marshall Plan that makes education, medication, and treatment available to people all over the developing world.
And I’d like to be grateful for a system of public education that provides for all children what my kids have in our incredible school district.
And one last thing: I’d like to be grateful for a spirit of activism and personal responsibility that makes us all realize that positive change on a global scale starts with the things every one of us can do in our own families and communities.
As the Buddhists say, we owe infinite gratitude to the past, infinite service to the present, and infinite responsibility to the future.
Now, this Thanksgiving or next or whenever you are thinking of all that you are thankful for, add hopes for tomorrow…and then together make a plan to work toward at least some of those plans. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Chance to be judge, jury

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
At the preschool this week, we have been talking about a wonderful Jewish value but sometimes hard to explain to young children — hoda’ah, appreciation and gratitude, being thankful. One of the things the children were thankful for was their pets and, as we do with young children, we go with their interests.
However, my “job” is to put a Jewish lens on everything. So, I told them that caring for animals is a mitzvah, which led into how we care. I took this idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s You Be the Judge and You Be the Judge 2: Collections of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers, Torah Aura Productions (www.torahaura.com). Would it be possible for young children to become a bet din, a Jewish court of law? Here is your chance to be the court and the judge.
The Case: Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs? This first case is a common one in many families. Feeding the family pets is a chore that is often the responsibility of the kids in the family. In this situation, Josh has forgotten to feed the dog and the family is sitting down to dinner — Shabbat dinner. The dog is barking. Grandma says to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David says that 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 after? Make your case.
The Sages Decide: There is a mitzvah called tzar baalei chaim which forbids being cruel to animals, and not feeding is being cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels, and then Moses brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.
Maimonides says, “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, says, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them as they cannot get their own food.
So, did your decision agree with the rabbis? Caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves — it is a mitzvah and our responsibility!
Of course, since my lesson was about gratitude and showing appreciation, I brought it back around to being thankful for our pets, and one voice said, “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

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