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Judaism is more than just a religion

Judaism is more than just a religion

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Throughout millennia of our existence, we’ve transformed from family to tribe, and from people to nation. For thousands of years, we’ve retained a distinctly Jewish ethnicity, culture and system of faith. We’ve consistently referred to ourselves either as “Am Israel” or “Bnei Israel,” the People of Israel or the Children of Israel.
But our understanding of ourselves changed when, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jews facing the beginning of the modern era had to decide how to survive as the world changed around them. Movements such as Bundism, Zionism, ultra-Orthodoxy, and Communism offered unique visions for our people’s future.
Western Europe, however, offered a more lucrative solution. Governments across the continent offered Jews relative physical and financial security, if only they shed their national character. Jews, they said, would be equal in the eyes of the law, if they declared themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion” or “Frenchmen of the Israelite faith.” “Assimilate into our societies, shed your nationalities,” they said, “and we will accept you.”
Despite the fact that their assimilation did nothing to save these Jews from the gas chambers, and despite the fact that sacrificing identity for the sake of financial opportunities is halachically forbidden, these Jews succeeded in redefining what it meant to be a Jew in the Western world. They were so successful that Abraham Geiger, one of the founders of Reform Judaism, called Jerusalem “a noble memory from the past that holds no hope for the future.” So successful that former American Jewish Committee president Jacob Blaustein “repudiated vigorously the suggestion that American Jews are in exile.” So successful that most Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, consistently refer to Judaism as a religion and nothing more.
Thousands of years of national identity and yearning for Zion were cast aside when they became inconvenient.
And while calling Judaism a religion instead of a religious ethno-national group might seem, at minimum, insignificant and, at maximum, a symbol of assimilation, this difference in terminology has dark consequences. It simultaneously divorces young Jews from their national heritage, and is at the heart of the American understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
American Jews and their political allies often praise Israel as a place of refuge for Jews around the world (at least those Jews who weren’t lucky enough to become American), a country that offers Jews sanctuary amid growing global anti-Semitism.
But this flawed definition of Israel’s purpose, to merely be a place of refuge, easily lends itself to anti-Israel sentiment. Why should Americans support Israel, a place of refuge, if its existence in the Middle East is “unjust” to the Arabs of the region? Why should Americans support Israel, a place of refuge, if Jews can find refuge just as safely in the United States? Why should Americans support the “Jewish state” if Judaism is just a religion? Since when do religions need states of their own?
David Ben-Gurion said once that “the connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people is not one of needs and benefits, rather one of destiny and fate.”
This is why Israel exists, not as a place of refuge but as the natural aspiration of our people to live once more in the land that gave us life. Our national history, and our identity as a united people with deep roots in the Levant, are our only legitimate rights to this land.
When American Jews promote this widespread and damaging myth that Judaism is just a religion, they perpetuate falsehoods about Israel’s purpose and lend a hand to those who wish to delegitimize our state.
It’s time for American Jews to reclaim their national identity, for their own benefit and for the security of the State of Israel.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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What black history means to the Jews

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Today may be the last day of Black History Month, but it can also be the first day that you consider looking into the historical connections of black people and Jews.
There is a strong relationship, if you are willing to examine the facts.
Both black people and Jews have faced death from the hands of their oppressors: Jews faced the death of their first-born sons in Egypt, followed in our time by the gas chambers and crematoriums of the Nazis.
Black Americans, as slaves, experienced the possibility of death or horrible punishment by the whims of their overseers.
Lynching of black people in the South and elsewhere occurred after the Civil War, as part of an informal, repressive system to keep them “in their place.” It may not seem so today, but it was not that long ago, historically speaking, that America’s Jews experienced prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives.
For example, during the 1950s in Chicago, Jews and black people were equally baited. “Jewtown” became a section of Chicago where Jewish and black musicians, as well as tradesmen, could intermingle freely, separate from mainstream Chicagoans.
In many ways, the civil rights struggle was also a Jewish struggle, first in Eastern Europe against the Czarist-supported pogroms which terrorized every Jewish shtetl. Then fleeing to America, seeking safe, new lives in a strange new land, Jews were forced to struggle again to adapt and be accepted, without giving up their heritage.
As Jews, we should embrace our rich multicultural history, which includes people of color.
Here are just a few of the many black Jews who rank high as achievers in their respective field:
Darrin Bell , cartoonist; David Blu, basketball player; Lisa Bonet, actress; Sammy Davis, Jr., dancer and singer; Ada Fisher, physician and politician; Aaron Freeman, comedian; Capers C. Funnye Jr., rabbi; Lewis Gordon, philosopher; Reuben Greenberg, criminologist; Lenny Kravitz, musician; Sandra Lawson, rabbi; Adah Menken, actress and poet; Alysa Stanton, rabbi; and Andre Tippett, football player.
Here are some interesting achievements among black Americans.
Jack Johnson, a black longshoreman working the docks of Galveston, developed into a boxer, eventually becoming the first black man to win the title of the Heavyweight Boxer of the World in 1908. While his boxing title was impressive, it was not the achievement I had in mind. I have a tool in my garage that you probably have as well, which Jack Johnson invented. It is called a “wrench.”
Another black inventor was Elijah McCoy, whose parents were runaway slaves that fled north to Canada, before returning to the United States after the Civil War. As a teen, Elijah journeyed to Scotland to study engineering, but, upon returning to the United States, could only find a job as a railroad fireman.
Part of his duties was to lubricate moving parts every time the train stopped. He invented a device that lubricated the train’s parts while it traveled, saving much time and eventually increasing the company’s profits. Though other copycat inventors tried to duplicate McCoy’s patented model, their products were inferior. When railroad engineers wanted the patented device for their trains and didn’t want the fake copycats, they asked for “the real McCoy.”
One of the most important inventions of World War II was developed by Dr. Charles Drew, while he was a medical student at McGill University in Canada, during the 1930s. Drew invented a process for preserving blood plasma, which allowed quantities to be stored and transported over a period of time. Before the United States officially entered the war, Drew helped supply Great Britain with needed blood plasma in its struggle against Hitler’s onslaught. Once the U.S. entered the war, Drew was put in charge of the blood collection program for America’s troops.
Against Drew’s objections, the plasma collection was segregated, dividing white from black donors. Drew spoke out against this racist policy, but the Army refused to change their policy, so he resigned in protest.
America’s modern blood bank storage system owes a huge debt of gratitude to the work of Charles Drew and his assistants.
Many thousands of America’s soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen survived the war because of the process he developed in helping to maintain an adequate blood supply wherever it was needed.
As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s a good idea for us, as Jews, to seek out similarities and successes in our backgrounds, rather than dwelling on the differences.

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Judy Borejdo’s legacy can be found in Tycher Library and its books

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

I arrived in Dallas in 1980. How many of you can go back there with me?
The Dallas Jewish Community Center was quite different from what it is now. My husband and I joined quickly, mainly because we could play ping-pong there. I don’t see any table any more.
However, I was intrigued by what was going on in that area of the first floor to the immediate left, as you enter. What is now a major meeting room was then a sort of “warren,” a string of places to pass through. At the far back was the first home of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. It housed one desk, one file cabinet and some beautiful prints sent by the company that supplied tulip bulbs; selling them yearly was the organization’s only fundraiser. (I’ve often wondered who got those prints, and who has them today. If you know, or are that person, please confess.)
In the middle was a sort of reading room: Large tables, racks of newspapers, some tall shelving units holding reference books — most of them Jewish. In the front, you were in the library. Not much of a library, as libraries go; now we have the full-scale Tycher Library on the second floor. But then, that was it. Some shelved books, and a rack of old paperbacks that were routinely given away. This little haven for readers was presided over by Judy Borejdo. I walked in there one day wearing a T-shirt I’d gotten on a recent trip to Australia; Judy recognized it right away as the design of a friend of hers. That’s how I learned this ersatz “librarian” had a fascinating history. It vanished very recently, with Judy’s death.
After the JCC’s remodeling, after a real library was created on the second floor, Judy followed it upstairs. She was not a professional librarian, but nobody had more interest in books than she did. That’s why she had the task of running that mini-library on the first floor, likely as a volunteer. I’m sure nobody else wanted to do it.
Things were different in the new environment. There were computers, comfortable chairs and separate spaces for adults and children. And suddenly, there was so much activity. A committee was organized to help direct the new library’s policies and programming, there were memberships solicited at various levels and someone — not Judy — was named as director. But Judy stayed on, using her remarkable knowledge of books and what readers would like to see on the new shelves. Finally, a professional librarian was hired, and much that had been hands-on and informal before became more routine. Still, Judy remained.
Soon after the start of this year, I led a book discussion in the library. Judy was there. Judy had arranged it, as she had arranged a calendar of book discussions throughout the years, from the library’s move and growth until just a short while ago. Always frail, never completely healthy, Judy became very sick. Soon, she was terminal. She was no longer in the library. Finally, she left us permanently. There was so much rain on the day of her funeral, I had to believe that the skies were crying for her, reminding us of our loss.
The Tycher Library is an underused gem on the JCC’s second floor. There’s even an elevator to make access easier. But not so many people read books any more, as e-readers have replaced words on paper between covers for a good many. But if you knew Judy at all, or even if you didn’t, please do me a favor and make that trip upstairs in her honored memory. See what she — a true book-lover — helped bring about. Hold a book, a real book, in your hands and think of Judy Borejdo. She worked hard. She deserves to be remembered. She will be greatly missed by all of us who still read books.

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Understanding abortion in the Torah and Talmud

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
It has been my understanding that Orthodox Judaism is pro-life, and abortions are prohibited. Yet, I recently learned about an Orthodox woman who was granted permission by her rabbis to have an abortion. What is the Orthodox view on abortion?
Jessica M.
Dear Jessica,
The recent passing of the New York abortion law has churned up much discussion as to how to ethically view abortion. But neither the standard interpretation of pro-life or pro-choice accurately describes the Torah viewpoint.
The simple answer is that, in Judaism, the question of abortion is a very complicated one and, in part, depends upon the stage of the pregnancy.
Of course, the Torah is pro-life, as Deuteronomy 30:19 supports choosing life; we also value life over nearly all values. Yet, even the most important of Torah laws are trumped by even the slightest concern of danger to life. For example, Talmud Yoma 82a rules that danger to life supersedes Yom Kippur, Shabbat and other mitzvos, besides the three cardinal sins.
The popular concept of pro-choice, which puts the decision of whether to or not to discontinue a pregnancy in the hands of the mother, does not jibe with the Torah decision-making process.
However, the Catholic edict that one can never terminate a pregnancy, even to save the life of the mother, is equally at odds with traditional Torah thought and practice. To say that a mother can herself decide matters of life and death for her fetus — a life in its own right — based on her own rationale, convenience or other reasons would run contrary to the entire process by which matters of life and death are decided in Jewish law.
Judaism considers the unnecessary termination of the life of a fetus to be murder, albeit a category of murder not punishable in a court of law.
This applies from the 40th day of conception, since according to Jewish tradition the soul enters the body of the fetus on that day. From then and forward, the fetus is deemed a living human being. Before the 40th day, according to most opinions, killing a fetus is a lesser transgression than murder, but a transgression nonetheless, unless a number of criteria are fulfilled.
There are, however, situations where the health or the life of the mother is sufficiently compromised by the fetus. In such situations, Torah law allows us, or requires us, to intervene.
The Talmud discusses the case of a woman whose pregnancy put her life in danger, where the Mishna (Yoma 82a) ruled to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life. The rationale given by the Talmud and Maimonides is based upon a distinction between the the mother’s “complete life” vis-à-vis the fetus’ life, which is considered only a “partial life.”
Consequently the mother’s life, when endangered by pregnancy, trumps that of the fetus, and the performance of an abortion is indicated. Once, however, the head or the majority of the body of the fetus is presented, the mother and baby are then considered as equals, and one life doesn’t supersede the other.
There are additional difficult and thorny questions that arise, such as if the fetus is a carrier of a genetic disease, or the pregnancy results from rape. Such cases must be referred to a competent rabbinic authority that is well-versed in this specific area of Jewish law, to discuss the option of abortion.
One message that is clear from Jewish law is, we do not have a “fundamental right” to control our bodies, and a woman does not have such a “right” which allows her to terminate her pregnancy at will.
This world view is totally at odds with the New York abortion law.
Although there is much to debate about the specifics of this law and in what cases might Jewish law conform, the overall outlook on both the ownership of our bodies and the definition of abortion as just another medical condition, is diametrically opposed to the timeless truths of Torah, the truths passed down to us by the very Creator of our bodies, which are endowed with the reproductive powers, enabling the creation of life we call a fetus.

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Anti-BDS Law and the 1st Amendment

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

In 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 89, also known as the Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) bill. The bill prohibits state agencies from contracting with, or investing funds in, companies that boycott Israel.
Now, the Anti-BDS law is being challenged on the basis that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment Rights — specifically, freedom of speech. However, anti-BDS laws do not, and are not intended to, restrict an individual’s right to speak against Israel but rather to target the discriminatory commercial nature of the BDS boycott campaign.
Prohibition of
discriminatory practices
There is a long history of laws in the U.S. prohibiting discriminatory commercial activity targeting Israel. Such laws were designed to prevent entities from imposing misguided foreign policy in the U.S.; they apply to both individuals and companies, and restrict unauthorized commercial boycotts against foreign nations. While these federal anti-boycott laws apply to BDS boycotts, they have yet to be enforced against BDS.
Meanwhile, in response to the BDS’ anti-Israel stance, Texas and other states enacted laws that generally prohibit the state from using taxpayers’ money to contract with, or invest in, businesses that engage in commercial discrimination against Israel. As of this writing, 26 states currently have anti-BDS laws on the books, and additional states are considering adopting similar laws.
However, these state-supported anti-BDS laws do not infringe upon the First Amendment. There are many Supreme Court decisions that allow states to choose whom they do business with and to exclude discriminatory actions from First Amendment protection.
Free speech violations? No.
Why, then, is the constitutionality of this law being challenged on the basis of free speech?
Those arguing that anti-BDS laws violate the First Amendment typically cite the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. In this case, African-American citizens in Mississippi could engage in a commercial boycott against white business owners who directly discriminated against African-American citizens. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, this action violated the Constitution.
However, the Claiborne and BDS boycott models are vastly different. In Claiborne, the boycotters were the injured parties, with the targeted businesses doing the damage. As such, the boycott was used to vindicate the African-Americans’ constitutional rights.
However, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict isn’t a constitutional issue. In addition, those engaging in BDS activity in the United States are involved with a secondary boycott: in other words, a boycott that isn’t directly between an aggrieved party and the party from whom they are seeking redress.
Another U.S. Supreme Court case, International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO v. Allied Int’l, Inc., focused on a secondary boycott. Workers refused to unload cargo from the Soviet Union as a form of protest against that country’s war in Afghanistan. The court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect the workers, since neither the workers, the ship’s owners, nor American consumers penalized by the boycott were a party to the foreign dispute.
Finally, others point to similarities between the BDS campaign against Israel and the boycott of South Africa during apartheid. Again, there are critical differences, the main one being that apartheid doesn’t exist in Israel. Additionally, while the U.S. officially sanctioned South Africa via a government-mandated boycott, the government has friendly relations with Israel. Israel is a strategic partner of the United States, and the U.S. government is against organized boycotts of Israel.
Challenging the challenges
The BDS campaign’s discriminatory nature is evident, as it advocates actions that would lead to the end of Israel as the nation/state of the Jewish people. Implementing constitutionally-protected anti-BDS legislation is a decision that allows states to express, loud and clear, the will of their citizens.
When it comes to the question of constitutionality, an Arkansas federal judge ruled in a recent case that the state’s anti-BDS law is constitutional, and not a violation of free speech. This judge, for the first time in a challenge to a state anti-BDS law, analyzed relevant case law and subsequently came to the correct conclusion.
Additionally, in defense of Arizona’s anti-BDS law, Zachor Legal Institute filed an amicus (friends of the court) brief in court, detailing the anti-Semitic, discriminatory nature of BDS and the direct connection between BDS founders and designated terrorist organizations. The Zachor Legal Institute supports First Amendment Rights, and supports anti-discrimination laws that focus on combating BDS.
Separately, the Israeli government recently issued a report “Terrorists in Suits,” detailing the ties between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting BDS and terrorist organizations. Anti-Israel terrorist groups, such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were involved in the formation of BDS and continue to manage BDS activity worldwide.
To conclude, while a person has a First Amendment right to express a political opinion, the Supreme Court has ruled that this does not include the right to engage in advocacy that constitutes material support to terror. As such, properly constructed anti-BDS laws are protected by the First Amendment, and we are confident the Texas law will withstand the current legal challenge.
Ron Machol is the COO of Zachor Legal Institute, an organization using the law to combat BDS; he can be reached at ron@zachorlegal.org. Charles D. Pulman is a Dallas attorney and Israel advocate.

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Despite human anger, we can draw closer to God

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Have you ever been so angry that all you want to do is smash something? If so, you have something in common with Moses. Specifically, in the parashah of Ki Tissa, Moses showed how destructive he could be, after witnessing his people dancing and singing around the golden calf.
Impatience on the part of the people, combined with Moses’ volatile temper following his return from the summit of Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in hand, is a tragic combination, resulting in broken tablets and thousands of dead sinners.
It doesn’t seem to make sense that Moses isn’t allowed entry into the promised land after he strikes a rock instead of talking to it, yet smashing the tablets with the literal words of God written upon them doesn’t even merit a reprimand. After all, there is a price to pay if we drop a Torah scroll during services. We must take responsibility if we contribute, even inadvertently, to its literal downfall. Some traditional rulings claim that we must fast for 40 days to atone for it.
We also endure psychological trauma if we witness a Torah scroll falling to the floor. This happened at Beth Shalom not too long ago. Our Torah scroll was perched, precariously as it turned out, in the wooden holder. All of the sudden, the scroll tipped. A congregant bolted for it, but wasn’t quite quick enough. A collective cry arose from the congregation, and I thought one of the gabbaim was going to have a heart attack. It was a truly traumatic moment, and our response was to establish a “Holy Rollers” fund to make sure our Torah scrolls would be maintained properly.
Still, it doesn’t seem fair that, when a Torah is accidentally dropped because of unintended human error, we must engage in teshuvah, repentance, while Moses, in a bout of anger, shatters the stones on purpose and gets away scot-free! How can that be justifiable?
Leave it to the rabbis to answer that question. Referencing Exodus Rabbah 41:1 (chabad.org), Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson explains the action was Moses’ attempt to deflect some blame onto himself: “Upon breaking the tablets, he told God, ‘Now I am a sinner just like them. If You decide to eradicate them, destroy me as well.’” Another theory explains that the weight of the tablets was diminished by the sacred letters inscribed on them. But as soon as Moses came down the mountain and saw the celebration around the golden calf, the letters flew into the air, making the now-ordinary stones too heavy for Moses to carry, and they fell to the ground.
It seems to me that some of these explanations, although creative, are a bit of a stretch. Some of them make the case that Moses had a strategy for doing what he did, such as to risk sacrificing the tablets (and his own life) to save his people. But these explanations gloss over the elephant in the room, or shall I say, the camel in the desert: Moses’ temper. The people tried his patience on a number of occasions, but this was the straw that broke that camel’s back. And, as the text keeps reiterating, he lost it.
A form of the verb charah, to become hot, angry, to burn with anger (charon in the noun form), is found five times within the same chapter, and describes the reactions of both God and Moses upon discovering what the Israelites were up to in Moses’ absence. This verb is often combined with the noun af meaning “nose, nostril,” or, metaphorically “anger.” Exodus 32:19 indicates, “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged (vayichar af Moshe); and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.”
The text makes it clear that his anger burst forth spontaneously. There didn’t seem to be any strategizing going on, no game plan; he simply witnessed a horrific sight and lost his temper. Perhaps that was because God, being all-knowing, knew how Moses would react, and didn’t stop him.
Perhaps after seeing His people crack so quickly under the fear of abandonment, God realized that they needed to forge a closer, more intimate relationship — an actual partnership — with Him. And for that to happen, the first set of tablets wasn’t going to work.
Exodus 31:18 declared, “When (God) finished speaking with (Moses) on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God.” One chapter later stated that: “The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, incised upon the tablets.” However, in 34:27, when Moses returns for the second set of Commandments, God said: “Write down these commandments, for in accordance with these commandments I make a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses did so, meaning there is a human element involved. While God dictated, Moses was the scribe.
Through this action, God seems to acknowledge that His creations need to be involved in the process; this covenant will only work if it is a true partnership.
The “Eitz Chaim” Chumash states, “This second set was written with a greater knowledge of human weakness, at the hand of an imperfect human being, rather than by a perfect deity.” God not only gave them the gift of Torah; He also gave them pride of ownership.
We are told both the broken and whole tablets were housed in the ark, not just as a reminder of sins, but as a reminder that wholeness, strength and goodness, can grow out of that brokenness. We need to embrace the whole package: We are the sum total of our mistakes as well as our successes. No matter how broken we might feel, we can feel whole again, even if we are left with scars.
The second set of tablets gives us the opportunity to engage in an ongoing conversation with God, and with our ancestors, through the ages, who struggled to make sense out of God’s sacred text.
Though Moses’ anger did get the best of him, perhaps when he broke that first set of tablets, he brought us closer to God. And God, in turn, possibly saw the opportunity of that outcome, a chance to create an everlasting partnership with His people.
Sheri Allen is the part-time cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, and a chaplain for Vitas Healthcare.

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Putting possessions in spiritual perspective

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

“One who acquires more possessions acquires more worry (Pirkei Avot 2:8).”
This intuitive notion serves as a powerful check on one of the most powerful of human drives: the drive to amass wealth and assets. I must have heard, learned and taught this famous dictum of Hillel a hundred times or more in the past decade alone. Suffice it to say that our generation, a generation blessed with more wealth and opportunity than perhaps any generation, needs Hillel’s guidance more than ever. And yet, as I’ve only recently learned, it’s a whole other thing to experience the wisdom of a Torah teaching in one’s own life.
When my children were younger, money wasn’t important to me. Sure, I needed funds to to pay the rent and utilities for the modest apartment we lived in, and to buy groceries, Pampers and clothing for my growing family. But, as long as we had enough to provide those basic needs, I was fully content.
Then, my family’s expenses grew, considerably so.
Five children in prekindergarten and up meant five tuition bills to Jewish day school and summer camp. These wonderful investments in our children’s future, nonetheless carried lofty price tags. Throw in extracurricular and weekend activities,mix in birthday parties and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Don’t forget to add in memorable family vacations, and yearly two-way trips for seven people to visit Bubbe and Zayde in Baltimore, and Saba and Savta in Atlanta. Still, our budget was swelling and, once again, I was tolerant of, if not fully satisfied with, our fiscal well-being.
But my thoughts turned to a costly future. A 16-year-old daughter meant car insurance, a new vehicle and the other expenses that come with a teenager. My mind wandered to upcoming college tuition and nuptials which, with God’s help, wouldn’t be too far off, and savings put aside for future grandchildren. Then there was the question of our own retirement.
The seemingly endless dollar signs in my brain made my head spin and my stomach weak. Making monthly ends meet no longer seemed enough. With my salary largely set, thoughts of potential investments in the stock market, into a business or real estate ventures seemed necessary to cover future expenses.
I studied the ins and outs of a particular investment for six months, and jumped in with a great deal of hope. Things went largely as planned, and I felt we had invested in something that would hopefully bear fruit down the road. What I didn’t expect to find was my stomach turned like a wrench, my mind returning over and over to my investment, and my sleep disturbed. Had I gotten the best deal? Run the numbers correctly? Chosen correctly and properly analyzed the future of the investment? Would the investment perform well long term? What were the knowns and the unknowns of the transaction? Should I buy or sell? The list went on and on, and with it, much of the peace and quiet in my mind.
I had run the numbers multiple times and received the input and advice of experts in the field, yet it seemingly wasn’t enough for me. It was as if my newly acquired assets had, in fact, acquired me. I walked around with Hillel’s dictum in my mind’s eye; the more possessions one had, the more one had to worry about. I couldn’t help but jealously look back at my earlier, simpler and more peaceful days, and relate to the spirit of Solomon’s wise quip: “The sleep of the laborer is sweet, whether he eat little or much, but the satiety of the rich does not allow him to sleep (Kohelet 5:11).”
However, unloading my investments meant a return to the fear that accompanied the prospect of an unprepared future. But how to overcome the associated nervousness and angst? Perhaps Hillel’s teaching meant that ownership and worry were inextricably linked, that one of the inevitable costs of possessions is worry itself. Would life then become nothing more than a choice between the lesser of two evils?
I turned to God and asked Him to take over. As I did so, feelings of relief slowly came to me. Although it didn’t happen immediately, I eventually reached a point of internal peace. My investments returned to their rightful place, the back of my mind. And my focus returned to what really mattered, and the reason I was doing all of this in the first place: my family.
Perhaps this is what Hillel taught us all along with his dictum. If you see the possessions you’ve acquired as yours alone, then you alone must bear the burden of concern for those assets. However, if you don’t see yourself as the “true” owner, that you are but a custodian of God’s possessions, then God can, and will, share in the burden of possession. With such an emotionally healthy outlook we can share in the promise of King David when he said, “Cast your burden upon Hashem, and He will bear you (Tehillim 55:23).”
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at
yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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The importance of Jewish elders to the young

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Recently there has been a renewed interest and excitement about Jewish grandparenting. A national survey on Jewish grandparenting was launched in November, plus there are many new programs throughout the country and here in Dallas.
There are so many special gifts that an elder can provide to a young child. Jewish educator Joel Lurie Grishaver wrote a piece titled “10 Attitudes of Highly Effective Jewish Grandparents — Patterns for Enhancing and Sustaining your Grandchildren’s Jewishness.” Here is a brief outline of his suggestions:
1. Ask the right question. Don’t ask “Do you want your grandchildren to be Jewish?” Rather ask “What kind of Jews do you want your grandchildren to be?”
2. Be “Auntie Mame.” This wonderful aunt gave two gifts: first, exposure and freedom to explore wonderful new worlds, and, second, total attention to talk and process them.
3. Be a curator. Collect, preserve, catalog, exhibit and then bequeath the family artifacts, including family recipes, stories and memories.
4. Be Scheherazade. Write letters and tell stories.
5. Be there in times of pain. One of the treasures elders offer is the ability to handle pain and deal with the difficult things in life. Be available — that is the key.
6. Be a community center. Be the place where great things happen.
7. Don’t be the Pope and the Poperinna. Be the place where holidays happen but let your children create holidays at their home.
8. Do not play tug-of-war with the children’s parents.
9. Live locally, support globally. Support, volunteer, get involved and show your grandchildren the joy of being part of community.
10. Be all you want them to be. Be the best Jew you can be — keep learning — show them how it’s done.
We know that all the generations from young to old are benefiting from such relationship-building programming. We are thankful to have many grandparents whose grandchildren live far away matching with children here.
To further that connection, a new program at the J Early Childhood Center, made possible through a grant from a wonderful J grandmother and her family, connects children with the J elders.
Being a grandparent is a wonderful time of life. Give your grandchildren the gift of your love of Judaism. And what if you aren’t a grandparent? These can be done by aunts, uncles, friends and even parents!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Should pleasure be minimized? Or not?

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your elaborate response clarifying the concept of comfort and pleasure, which was published in last week’s TJP.
As a follow-up, when I engage in pleasure, it is not for the purpose of enjoying God’s gifts, as indicated, but rather out of pure desire. I think this makes me more materialistic which, in turn, hurts my service toward Hashem.
As far as “giving one joy to better fulfill mitzvos,” this would seem to imply that engaging in pleasure is simply a necessary means so as to enable one to perform direct service of Hashem through Torah learning, mitzvos and others, at the highest level. If this is the case, this would line up with my suggestion that it would be best, through a baby-step approach, for one to minimize one’s engagement in pleasure, thereby minimizing the amount of pleasure one needs to be a happy and content person. This in turn, would eventually present maximum time, money and energy dedicated to the service of Hashem.
Based on the points above, wouldn’t it be ideal for someone like myself to minimize pleasure through a baby-step approach, thereby maximizing my efforts toward the service of Hashem?
Thank you again!
Sammy
Dear Sammy,
As we elaborated in the past columns, refraining from physical pleasures is not necessarily the Jewish ideal, as God created pleasures to be enjoyed. There is, however, a level that you describe for individuals who seek a higher existence.
It would be very dangerous for one to embark on such a path without proper guidance, however. A template to what you are asking is outlined in the classical Jewish philosophical and practical guide to Jewish growth, the “Mesillas Yesharim.” This was written by the renowned 18th-century sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, first published in Amsterdam in 1738, and known in English as “Path of the Just,” Feldheim Publishing Company.
This unique and profound work is one of the foundational treatises of the “Mussar Movement,” which we discussed in previous columns. This Jewish scholarly movement focuses on character growth, self-improvement and utilizing the mitzvos to “climb the ladder” to a higher and closer connection to God. That “ladder,” its rungs and how one is able to climb it, is outlined and elucidated in great detail.
Among other suggestions which flow from a profound understanding of the world and man’s place and purpose in it, Mesillas Yesharim deals with the proper attitude toward pleasures: the extent that one should seek them or be involved in them when they present themselves. Luzzatto often explained that the attitude toward pleasure depended on what rung of the ladder on which the individual stood.
While this work is recommended if you are sincerely seeking a path of growth in the spiritual realm, I would caution you to do so under the guidance of a Torah scholar to whom you can address your questions.
Although Luzzatto’s teachings are timeless and, indeed, are a pillar of Jewish thought, many people today are not truly at the levels he discusses. If you study this work slowly and deeply you may, however, truly find the path you seek.
The only other practical advice I would offer is something first offered in the classical 13th-century guide to repentance, “Shaarei Teshuva” by Rabbi Yonah of Girondi, Italy, in the essay “Yesod Hateshuva.” Quoting the holy sage Ravad, Yonah suggests a new type of “fast,” though he suggests we should not refrain from foods that the Torah allowed and encourages us to enjoy.
However, as gluttonous eating is the source for many spiritual and emotional downfalls, one should not eat until one is overly full. But rather than completely finishing off a good meal and cleaning the plate, leave a small amount to the side as a “fast,” to demonstrate you are in control of your desires. Because you do this to gain strength to serve God, such a “fast” is more beloved by God than even the offerings brought in the Holy Temple. That is because, unlike the offerings one could only bring from time to time, you bring this “offering” day in and day out. With it comes the strength to serve the Almighty in every situation.
This is known in scholarly circles as “Ravad’s Taanis,” or the “fast of the Raavad.” Perhaps this is something you could try, in conjunction with the study of the Mesillas Yesharim, and you will find a healthy and satisfying path to growth.

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Reviewing Isaac Shapiro’s ‘Edokko’

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

If you think you’ve heard everything about what happened to our fellow Jews in those dark years of the 1930s and World War II, please think again. I learned a great deal from a 202-page paperback autobiography that tells the tale of an incredible life lived in Japan.
Isaac (“Ike”) Shapiro’s autobiography is called “Edokko,” a word denoting someone who has lived an entire lifetime in Japan, preferably representing at least the third generation of a family. But the book’s subtitle clarifies his status: “Growing up a Stateless Foreigner in Wartime Japan.” How could such a thing be?
The author’s forebears might well be the perfect examples of the proverbial “Wandering Jews.” The families of his parents, Constantine Shapiro of Moscow and Lydia Chernetsky of Odessa, fled the pogroms of Russia. The Chernetskys ended up in Harbin, China, in 1905, while the Shapiros settled in Japan after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Constantine and Lydia, both professional musicians, met and married in Berlin, then left Germany. They tried, unsuccessfully, to make a decent living by playing with orchestras and giving private lessons in both Palestine and China, before giving up and joining Constantine’s parents in Japan. That’s where Isaac was born in January 1931, the fourth of four boys — twins among them.
It was not a peaceful life, especially as the parents separated just six months after their youngest son’s birth. His mother returned to Harbin, China, to live with her now-widowed father.
According to the author, “As far as any of us knew, there never was ‘another woman’…all we knew was that in July 1931, at the age of 25, she decided to leave Papa; she found herself married to a man who had taken her to live in far-off places, and who appeared unable to earn enough money to provide for his family.”
Of course, the boys went with her. “Being only six months old at the time, I have no memory of our taking leave of Papa or Japan,” Shapiro wrote, “so that when we returned there in June 1936, when I was five, it was like a first encounter.” And, in 1939, Isaac became a big brother when his mother gave birth to a fifth son.
Shapiro had a classical education at the Yokohama International School, and was a quick study of required languages, including French and English. But it was his fluency in Japanese that determined the course of his life. He absorbed all the history being lived at that time: Hitler’s “non-aggression” pact with Russia, all the invasions and occupations of European countries that triggered World War II. However, he recalled that “The coming of the war with the United States and its allies was a slow but steady tidal wave…Japan was now allied with Hitler, and we feared that the Japanese would develop a more hostile attitude toward foreigners who were neither Italian or German, and — in particular — toward Jews.”
The Shapiro family learned from German-Jewish refugees arriving in Japan about the new racial laws of Nazi-occupied Germany, but not at that early time about the extermination camps.
What happened next proves Mark Twain’s wisdom: Truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction must look to what’s possible, but truth can turn the impossible into the possible.
The Shapiro family lived through all the Allied bombings and, with Japan’s occupation, young Isaac was taken under the wing of American Marines, who offered him work as an interpreter. This led to his move with to the United States at age 15 under a protective mentor, to graduation from Columbia University and its law school, to serving in the U.S. Army, and to becoming an American citizen. Today, Shapiro is recognized as a premier international attorney, with offices in the United States and Europe.
The only thing more remarkable than Shapiro’s life story is his incredible memory for detail. The “bite” I’ve given you here is just an appetizer to an amazingly satisfying full meal.
Issac Shapiro’s “Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan” is available on Amazon.

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