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Making sure the 6 million’s names live on

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

I wrote this four days ago, after I had just returned from Reading the Names. The Beth Torah Men’s Club had this inspired idea, began it in 2003, and it’s now a sacred tradition.
This quote is attributed to an elusive figure named Bansky: “A person dies twice. First, when he takes his last breath. Second, when the last person remembers his name.” Whether that was the inspiration, I don’t know. But 15 years ago, someone in the congregation realized that the names of many of the 6 million had never been spoken since their Holocaust deaths, and this annual ritual of remembrance is the result. It is subtitled: “To Every Person, There Is a Name…”
Anyone who wants to read names may do so. It’s a 24-hour vigil, beginning after Havdalah on the Saturday closest to Yom HaShoah, and ending at Sunday’s sundown. (Guess who reads through the wee small hours? Teenagers who have an all-nighter under the watchful supervision of youth group leaders and Learning Center personnel.) This tradition was started by Beth Torah, but was immediately opened to the greater community; now, folks of other synagogues, of churches and mosques, come; some even Skype in — sometimes from as far away as Israel. The names come from Holocaust museums that lend what they have: the Nazis’ own records of their victims. Who lived where? Died where? At what age? Germans have always been efficient at keeping details; the Holocaust was no exception.
People who don’t want to read are encouraged to come, sit quietly and just listen, to hear the names read aloud so that those who have drawn their last breaths now become people who have not died that second time. So, I sat in the darkened synagogue sanctuary until it was my turn to read, listening to others, facing the line of 11 candles lit in memory of our own 6 million, plus the 5 million others who shared their horrific fates.
A table on the bimah was stacked with individual sheets of paper, all covered with those neatly printed German statistics for each of the non-survivors. Four piles, each about a foot high. I calculated: My two great-grandsons will likely have grandchildren of their own when the Reading of the Names is finally completed. Maybe not even that soon…
But we read on. Some of us have difficulty with pronouncing the foreign names, or the towns in which their owners lived (and often died). But less difficulty with some of the death sites so carefully noted: Auschwitz — Sobibor — Babi Yar; we are already too familiar with them. With each name, however, we do our loud-and-clear best, to make sure that these people have not yet fully passed away. Sometimes it’s hard not to cry; I have to exercise a seldom-needed kind of self-control when I realize I’m reading off the names of an entire family: I can tell by the surname, the town in which all lived, their ages — people in their 80s, 60s, 40s, 20s and those who were teens, or 10, 8, 6, 4, 2. But most often, most sadly, they have not even died together in the same place. However, every one of them is coming to life again, off those awful pages, if just for a brief moment…
Israel’s three most special days are in this order: Very soon after Yom HaShoah, when Holocaust survivors are celebrated and victims memorialized, comes Yom HaZikaron, paying tribute to those who have given their all as soldiers of their country, and others who have suffered terrorism. Then, just one day later, comes Yom HaAtzmaut: Independence Day. After first mourning the long-gone, then stopping all activity for an incredible silence to salute those whose bravery and suffering have made their country live, Israelis burst out in a show of life like nowhere else in the world.
That final day is today. Let’s celebrate, too. And let’s mark our calendars now, to join in the Reading of the Names next year.

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Iyar: an opportune month to heal your soul

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

The current month of Iyar, the second month in the Jewish calendar, is commonly referred to as the month of healing. This idea is reflected in its name, whose letters form an acronym for “Ani Hashem Rofecha” — “I am God your Healer” (Exodus 15:26).
The above allusion in the title of this month implies not only that this period is opportune for healing, but that there is a special type of healing flowing directly from God. In other words, even though all blessings share a common source, they go through different channels, sometimes demanding investigation to find cures.
Healing, in general, is a rectification process applicable in many contexts. The common theme is to restore something damaged to its original state of health and functioning. In this sense, people speak metaphorically about repairing a relationship or healing a broken heart. Or when the mind becomes wounded, psychological healing involves changing one’s perceptions, shifting from a destructive outlook to provoke more positive thoughts and happiness. In Jewish literature, prescriptions for healing the soul relate to a deeper process called teshuva. But the health of all these elements — body, emotions, mind and soul — are intensely intertwined.
For this reason, when the Torah states in Deuteronomy chapter 4, “Guard yourself and guard your soul scrupulously,” it is interpreted as referring to the mitzvah of protecting one’s physical health. Likewise, “a small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul” is a statement emphasizing the necessity of maintaining a strong body, the physical receptacle for the soul’s energy to flow. At the same time, the relationship is bidirectional: Spiritual healing — when the soul is nourished and strong — opens the channel for mental and physical wellbeing.
Types of healing
The Talmud discusses various forms of healing. First, there is a preventive remedy, a healing that comes before any harm can be detected. Then there is healing in the form of recovery, where a remnant of the illness lingers to some degree. The highest form of healing not only removes the illness but brings additional strength to the body.
Stemming from the context of the verse, the unique type of healing in this month, coming directly from God, mainly takes the form of prevention — saving a person from illness in the first place. But in the event that some ailment exists, it brings potential for the highest healing — renewed vigor that retroactively removes all trace of illness. This means that even if a person’s conduct leads to poor health, healing from God comes in a completely novel manner, different than through a doctor — as if nothing had happened.
Healing the soul
Maimonides explains that just as the body has different sicknesses and remedies, so too does the soul. An ailing soul means that someone is “not in a good place.” More specifically, in one’s personal rapport with God, an accumulation of poor decisions can lead to feeling disconnected, or some spiritual insensitivity. The nature of this pain as well as the recovery process shares features of both a scarred relationship which needs mending and rehabbing from a physical injury.
There are two general approaches in healing bodily illness: to heal the particular organ that is sick or weakened, and to strengthen the healthy organs and faculties so that they can overcome and heal the sick one. The parallels in the soul are the two approaches in spiritual service — teshuva and good deeds.
Losing time
Even after someone has repaired mistakes, through feelings of regret and resolve, there is another common quest for healing, one that relates to lost time. As we develop in years and wisdom, the consciousness of life’s fragility becomes greater. In the end, there is often a discrepancy between aspirations and accomplishments. Along with this reflection, comes the pain of slip-ups or wasted opportunities. If only I hadn’t said that to her; if only I hadn’t worked such long hours, had spent more time with the family, etc. The famous gnawing dilemma is: Can we heal the past, make up for wasted time?
The first step in the rectification process, the simple formula for teshuva, is acknowledging what went wrong — healthy regret. The next movement is reshaping sadness over previous shortcomings by using that emotion to harness extra energy for the future — the ability to carry out your new vision with intense vigor and productivity. More specifically, one formula for healing the past is living with a present sense of urgency, the desire to do more mitzvahs, to maximize your remaining time on earth.
This sense of urgency may be confused with carpe diem or making the most of every day. But there is a distinct difference in flavor. In an attempt to soothe their tangled mind and a shaky conscience, a person whose motto is “seize the day” may attempt to remain joyful and energized. They may decide to travel places and take in as many serene sights and colorful experiences as possible. In contrast, someone who lives with a sense of urgency has a specific fire inside. They see a fragmented world in front of them, and rush to play a small role in mending it. Quality of living is tied to purpose and to the ability to give back.
And because this urgency and productivity is born from a bitterness which pushed the person to fight harder, those past mistakes are retroactively redeemed and sweetened.

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Come for Hello, Dolly!, see b’tzelem elohim in action

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

In Judaism, we have a blessing for everything, which is great because the sages told us to say 100 blessings every day.
Isn’t it wonderful to feel gratitude 100 times a day? There is even a wonderful blessing that thanks G-d for making people different:
Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha’olam mishaneh ha’briyot. Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who makes people different.
We are supposed to say this blessing when we see someone who looks different and when we see someone with challenges. It gives us an opportunity not only to be thankful for what we have but thankful that we can know people who look at the world differently.
The community is invited to see a very special performance of Hello, Dolly! at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22. Our troupe is called Habima Theatre and is a joint project of CHAI, Inc. and the Aaron Family JCC. It is designed to promote dignity, respect and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. Our performance is the wonderful culmination of the Habima Theatre workshop, which begins each January.
During the course of the workshop, the participants stretch and grow in many ways. Each member of the cast and crew is empowered and enriched by the accomplishment of the group. Twenty adults with developmental delays are the actors in this production. In addition, we have teen and adult volunteers who have been working with us. This will be our 18th year of performances — our chai performance.
So why should you come and bring your children? The excitement and joy shown by each of our performers makes this a very special event. As you sit and watch the struggles and accomplishments, the important Jewish concept of b’tzelem Elohim (being created in God’s image) comes alive. We recognize that each of us brings something special to the world, and we are truly fortunate that we can be in a community with so many different people.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Israel’s 70th anniversary significant in many ways

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
Everyone is talking about the significant milestone of Israel reaching its 70th anniversary of its birth, and we were wondering if there’s any Jewish significance to the number 70 in relation to this event.
— Marsha and Nathan W.

Dear Marsha and Nathan,
As a citizen of Israel with three children and five grandchildren (k’na hora) living there, this time means a lot to me and my family. (Especially since I’m landing there at 8 a.m. Yom HaAtzmaut morning to see a new grandson.)
This is truly a celebration of the Jewish spirit — that against all the odds, this tiny nation has grown, in such a relatively short time, to become a world power of significance far, far beyond its size in myriad areas. Medicine, sciences, psychology, computer technology, communication, irrigation and defense are some of the most significant, but only a few of the areas in which Israel has risen to the world stage, attracting the world’s most powerful and savvy investors into its market, purchasing its many startups, providing R&D dollars and more.
Of course, it goes without saying that Israel is at the forefront of the spiritual world, boasting many tens of thousands of rabbinical students and children involved in full-time Jewish education.
Sadly, Israel is also at the forefront of battles both physical and spiritual in nature. Despite its many accomplishments, Israel is probably the only country in the world in a constant state of high alert — for those who threaten its very existence. Just as fierce as battles have been, and continue to be, fought over the essence of its spiritual existence; in this case the battle is ,sadly, among fellow Jews.
The deeper side of these facts is that due to Israel’s elevated spiritual nature, its close proximity to the Al-mighty, there’s little room for the “middle of the road” in nearly any arena, no place for mediocrity. It almost fosters the fertile ground for extremism, both religious and secular, in a way that we don’t often observe in the diaspora.
The number 70 in Jewish history has always been a very significant one, such as the prophetic vision — which was fulfilled precisely — for the Jews to sojourn in Babylon for 70 years subsequent to the destruction of the Temple. At the end of those 70 years, the Jews were granted permission by the ruling monarch to return to Israel to rebuild the second Temple. After a long period of starting and stopping, and not without enemies and detractors standing in their way, it finally was rebuilt, ushering in a new period of Jewish history.
The number 7 connotes the fullest sense of the physical world: 7 days of the week, 7 musical tones, etc. The number 70 is the expanded sense of 7, the world with a sense of completion. The source of the Jewish nation was the 70 Jews who went down to Egypt. They were the seeds of Jewish eternity, as the Torah relates at the beginning of the Book of Exodus.
We only hope that this current 70, which is, in a way, a celebration of a rebuilding after the most recent destruction of Europe, will also usher in a new period in our history. Current events in Syria and the surrounding area certainly spell out the many prophesies of the final war, “Gog Umagog,” when the superpowers of the world are meant to battle around Israel, and suddenly realize it’s all about Israel, and the final battle will be turned to her, eliciting God’s own response, ushering in the final chapter of history and the messianic revelation. The headlines surely sound a lot like the prophetic teachings these days, in a scary but exciting way as we watch events unfold. I wish we could know the significance of these events with certainty, but, alas, we no longer have prophecy to know for sure (as I have said before, since the cessation of prophecy we have become a non-prophet organization.)
On one hand we look forward to that time we have long been waiting for; on the other hand, it is meant to be a very unpleasant pre-time of great war. The Sages ask, “How does one save himself from the ‘heat’ (preceding) the Messiah? Through the involvement of Torah study and performance of acts of kindness to fellow Jews.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 98b)
May we use this special time to fulfill the Talmud’s words. And may we soon merit to see the final redemption and ingathering of our people — once and for all — to our beloved homeland, with peace and love amongst all Jews.

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Hail Drebin: America’s Fighting Jew in 20th century

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

When it comes to choosing topics to write about, I am always a “sucker” for the unusual, out-of-the-ordinary and unorthodox.
An historical character who fits these descriptors is Samuel Drebin, a Russian Ukrainian Jew, who five months after arriving in New York in 1899, decided to join the U.S. Army at age 21.
After a brief training period, he was shipped to the Philippines to help put down a native insurrection led by the rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo.
After distinguishing himself in battle, Drebin joined troops headed toward China, assisting in the rescue of westerners trapped in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion, where he received additional recognition as a courageous fighter.
With the end of the Rebellion in 1901, Drebin was released from active duty and failed to find satisfaction in a succession of manual-labor jobs.
At the start of the Russo-Japanese War, Drebin attempted to fight for the Japanese, but he was quickly turned down since he couldn’t speak a word of Japanese and they also thought he might be a Russian spy.
Having experienced success as a soldier, Drebin re-enlisted in 1904 at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he trained and became proficient in the use of the Army’s new machine guns.
After Drebin’s second army enlistment ended, his newly acquired machine-gun skills helped him find work as a security guard in the Panama Canal Zone and as a fighter in the Nicaraguan rebel army.
With a reputation as a fighting soldier, Drebin was recruited for several liberation movements, eventually joining Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing in January 1917 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa.
As Pershing’s personal scout during the search for Villa, Drebin earned Pershing’s respect, resulting in a genuine friendship.
With the inability to find or capture Pancho Villa and the looming entry of the United States into the World War in Europe, the search for Villa was ended.
Drebin married and seemed to be settling down in El Paso. The Drebins had a child and life seemed to be slowing down for Sam.
With the start of World War I, however, he was drawn back into the Army, joining the heaviest fighting in France.
True to form, Drebin, an excellent soldier-fighter, was recognized by the French, British and Americans with some of their nations’ highest awards.
Perhaps Drebins greatest award was the statement by the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Pershing, calling him “the finest soldier and one of the bravest men I ever knew.”
Learning of his wife’s infidelity while he was away, Drebin divorced her and settled in El Paso, establishing a prospering insurance business.
In 1921, Pershing called Drebin to duty once more to join Alvin York as honorary pallbearers at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Having served three tours of duty, First Sgt. Samuel Drebin had fought in more wars than any other American soldier.
In addition to the medals and ribbons awarded Drebin, another outstanding honor was a poem honoring his memory by the famous writer Damon Runyon in 1942:
Hail Drebin!
There’s a story in that paper I just tossed upon the floor that speaks of prejudice against the Jews;
There’s a photo on the table that’s a memory of the war And a man who never figured in the news.
There’s a cross upon his breast — That’s the D.S.C., (Distinguished Service Cross) The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And there’s a heart beneath the medals That beats loyal, brave and true — That’s Drebin, A Jew.
Now whenever I read articles that breath of racial hate Or hear arguments that hold his kind to scorn,
I always see that photo With the cap upon his pate And the nose the size of Bugler Dugan’s horn.
I see upon his breast The D.S.C, The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And I think, Thank God Almighty We have more than a few Like Drebin A Jew!

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Father Desbois’ newest accolade fittingly earned

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

We always remember the Holocaust. How could we not? But today, Yom HaShoah, it should be at the top of our minds. And it’s the right day to think about Father Patrick Desbois, the Roman Catholic priest who received something special last fall: The Human Rights Prize, given annually by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
What did the cleric do to earn this honor? Well, his life’s work, post-Holocaust, has been recognizing more than a million unknown victims of the Nazis. Writing in the Times of Israel, Eric Cortellessa reported that the honoree “has focused on the Jews who were killed by mass shootings by Nazi units in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Moldova and Romania, between 1941 and 1944.”
Father Desbois now teaches in the Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. This made it easy for him to attend the reception on Washington’s Capitol Hill, where he was lauded as “a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom and justice.” The honoring Foundation is that of Annette and Tom Lantos, who both survived the Holocaust. You may recognize Tom’s name: a Democrat from California who died in 2008, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives – the only Survivor ever to be a member of Congress.
Yahad-In-Unum is the French organization Desbois founded 14 years ago to locate mass graves of Jewish victims. He documented its results in his first book, The Holocaust by Bullets, which was published in 2008 and won that year’s National Jewish Book Award; its subtitle is A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews. At that time, he was credited with “virtually single-handedly undertaking the task of excavating the history of previously undocumented Jewish victims of the Holocaust.”
One critic assessed his book realistically as “… not particularly well-structured or well-written, but its importance far outweighs its narrative flaws,” because Desbois is credited with using “wartime documents, interviews with locals, and the application of modern forensic practices on long-hidden gravesites” in his work. More recently, he wrote “In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets,” also based on research and firsthand accounts. Another reviewer, not put off by writing style, was inspired to say its author “…might be one of the greatest detectives of all time.”
Father Desbois, ordained in 1985 at age 31, first worked as a math teacher for the French government in Africa, then moved to Calcutta, where he helped Mother Teresa establish her homes for the dying. His priestly work includes directing the church’s Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism, which connects to the French Conference of Bishops, and serving the Vatican as a consultant on relations with Judaism. He was also a personal aide to the late Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a priest.
(So soon after Easter, it’s interesting to consider Lustiger’s epitaph, which he wrote himself, as a sidelight to Desbois accomplishments: “I was born a Jew. I received the name of my paternal grandfather, Aaron. Christian by faith and by baptism, I remained a Jew, as did the Apostles.” Lustiger also retained his surname, which may ring the bell of recognition for those of us who know even a little Yiddish: in that language, “Lustig” means “fun,” and those of us who grew up with grandparents whose native tongue was Yiddish, and who sang holiday songs to us in their first language, surely remember “Oy Chanukah,” which calls the holiday both a “freilicher” and a “lustiger,” comparatives that translate to happier than just plain happy, more fun than ordinary fun.)
Father Desbois is in good company as a Lantos winner: prior recipients have included both the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel. But the prize presenter offered this chilling introduction: “There is nothing more human than the capacity to kill.” Should we believe that? Do we want to believe that?

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Knots on Tefillin spell out the name of G-d

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

Dear Ben,
My apologies for the Pesach interlude while in the midst of answering your questions regarding your son’s Tefillin for his bar mitzvah. Now we’re back on track, and we’ll proceed to attempt to address the rest of your questions.
You asked what is the meaning of the various knots which are tied in the Tefillin straps. The knots are tied in a fascinating way, together spelling the name of G-d, Sha-dai; the Hebrew letters shin, dalet and yud (which is the same name of G-d on the outside of the mezuzah, hence the letter shin often symbolically carved on the mezuzah case).
The head Tefillin actually has the letter shin engraved upon it, and the letter shin is formed upon the hand when the strap is wrapped around the hand (in Ashkenazic and many other customs). The letter dalet is formed by the knot tying the head Tefillin. The yud is formed by the knot tying the hand tefillin. In this way, the Jew donning his Tefillin is enwrapped and cloaked by the name of G-d.
The Talmud says that this is in fulfillment of the verse,” And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the Name of G-d is called upon you and they shall be awed by you” (Deuteronomy. 28:10; see Talmud Menachos 35b). There are numerous stories throughout Jewish history in which Jews were saved or rescued by virtue of the awe-struck state of their persecutors when they were confronted by Jews wearing their Tefillin, cloaked by the Name of G-d and glowing with the holiness of His name. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case, such as many less happy endings in the Holocaust.
This concept is further alluding to a very deep connection between G-d and the Jewish people. The Talmud, (Berachos 6a) teaches that “G-d wears Tefillin.” Our Tefillin mirror His “Tefillin”; the awe the nations have for us when wearing Tefillin is indicative of the awe of G-d Himself. In our Tefillin, it says “Shema Yisrael … our Lord is One,” in the Al-mighty’s Tefillin it says, “Who is like Your people, Israel, One nation on earth…” (I Chron. 17:21). The Tefillin are an expression of the deep, intimate connection, the bonding of love and respect between G-d and the Jewish people.
This statement is actually one of the most mysterious teachings in the entire Talmud. G-d wears Tefillin? We believe G-d has no physical body. We are furthermore taught that when Moses asked G-d to show him the secret of Divine Providence, G-d showed him the “knot of His head Tefillin.” What does this mean?
One way of understanding this is the vital importance of Jewish history. Although we can’t fathom G-d directly, we can have insight into His ways by looking back into history, seeing how He interacts with us in myriad situations. This is the hint into G-d’s “Tefillin,” which are allegorically referring to His connection with us; the knot on the back of the head Tefillin — hinting to looking back into history. (This I heard in my youth from R’ Ahron Soloveichik ob’m).
We can follow this thought to another level. The deep sources teach us that chesed (love and kindness) are reflected in the right hand and din;(strict judgement) and power are in the left. This, teach the Kabbalistic sages, goes back to the source of creation and the emanations of G-d’s attributes in the highest spiritual worlds. The crown above it all, which is the source of all emanations, is the place where the Tefillin rest (see Tikunei Zohar 17a).
An insight into the meaning of this is that G-d exercises His midos, or traits, in controlling the world, which at times seem contradictory, such as kindness and judgement. In truth, however, they all go back to the Oneness of G-d; they all fit into His master plan. The purpose, above all, is the Jewish people which manifest His purpose in creation through their teaching and fulfillment of Torah; a light unto the nations.
That is the crown of the Tefillin; the purpose which towers above and beyond all purposes in G-d’s creation and Providence. The two Tefillin straps, one resting on the right and one on the left, represent the two opposing main character traits of kindness and judgement. These two straps are bonded together in the knot which holds the head Tefillin, the crown, in place; bonding together these two opposing traits into one unity of purpose emanating from the crown of the Oneness of G-d and the Jewish people.
This is the profound message of the knot of the head Tefillin – on the back of the head; back into history – where these seemingly cross-purposes of Providence meld into one as they emanate from the crown, the source of all purpose, from the Al-mighty. (See more in The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology II, NCSY Press, pages 253-9).
When we view the mitzvos from their deeper perspective, even the most seemingly trivial details reveal a treasure-trove of depth and meaning.

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Mr. Dulles, the Jewish people have their story straight

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Just before Passover, David Ben Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben Gurion, spoke at Congregation Shearith Israel about his grandfather and Israel. He related a story that I used at the many Passover Seders in which I participated.
The story tells of the challenge of convincing the United States to support Israel. It is a story about Jews as a people with a common heritage no matter where we live throughout the world. As we put away our Passover dishes and prepare for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, tell this story to every Jewish parent who questions Jewish school whether preschool, day school or supplemental school. We must continue to tell our children the stories of our people. Here is the story:
In 1954, when David Ben Gurion was Prime Minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President Dwight D. Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel.
John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben Gurion and challenged him as follows:
“Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister, who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?”
Ben Gurion answered him as follows:
“Look, Mr. Secretary of State, approximately 300 years ago the Mayflower set sail from England and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor. Go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:
“What was the name of the captain of the Mayflower?
“How long did the voyage take?
“What did the people who were on the ship eat?
“What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?
“I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions.
“Now in contrast – not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt.
“I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:
“What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?
“How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?
“What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?
“And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?
“Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me.”

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Holocaust books tell tales of healing

Posted on 05 April 2018 by admin

A wise Sunday school principal told me this, years ago, when I complained about how little time there is between Purim and Passover to prepare children for the latter: “Don’t limit yourself. Passover is so important to our people, you must teach it all year, then celebrate it when it comes.” I hope our religious schools do that.
I also hope they — and we — appreciate the fact that the Holocaust is also with us year-round. We commemorate it on Yom HaShoah, which soon arrives again. But we must remember it, and teach it, always. A good way is to read some of the many books that deal with this incredibly important, horrifically unfortunate part of our Jewish history.
I also hear people complain: Too many Holocaust books, they say. But they’re wrong, because not everything has been said. And all will never be said – just as there is, and will be, no end to the teaching of Passover. There should be, and will be, more. Not every book will be quality, but all deserve to be read, because they tell truth in many ways. Every Survivor, every child of a Survivor, everyone with a Survivor grandparent, has a different story to tell. We must encourage all of them to get every single one out for us to read and learn from.
Not all such stories are “true” in the same way. Some are honest, quite literal biographies, but many are very different. I applaud two remarkable novels that deal with the fallout of the Holocaust for two very different individuals, in two very unusual ways. These stories are fiction built on imaginings of possible Holocaust realities.
The first is a new one: “Secrets and Shadows” by Roberta Silman. The second was published seven years ago: Evan Fallenberg’s “When We Danced on Water.” The title of the second is more than a bit ambiguous and gives the reader something to mull over even when the reading is done.
The author, an Israeli, imagines and fleshes out the meeting of a young Israeli woman who made a dreadful error during her army service, something that has caused her prolonged unhappiness. A budding artist, she works in a coffee house, and there meets and gets to know an old man, once a dancer and choreographer, who emigrated to Palestine as soon as he could after World War II, during which he silently suffered horrors that Fallenberg describes in word pictures to make one’s blood run cold.
The title of the first hides nothing. A young man, now a successful American, endured and survived the Holocaust as a child. But he has carried a secret with him for years, something he could never reveal until the fall of the Berlin wall forced him to rethink his past and confront the need to unburden himself before guilt destroys his life. To do this, he seeks the help of his ex-wife, knowing that his secret is what caused the destruction of their marriage.
Both of these writers are masters of their craft; when readers reach the ends of their tales, all the “clues” planted in the pages before re-emerge to complete the puzzles of healing for both the old dancer and the tormented young man. It is the healing aspect of both these novels, the truth that – at least for some – when Holocaust memories are confronted head-on, when secrets are finally revealed, there is no forgetting, but there can be healing.
Perhaps healing is what is most important about all Holocaust writings, fiction and not. That’s why such writing should be encouraged, even from those who are not recognized and honored writers like Fallenberg and Silman. The stories help their authors heal themselves and others, so please do not downplay their importance. And above all, please do not say “Enough, already.” There will never be enough said about the Holocaust, just as we will never stop telling the story of our Exodus from Egypt.

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Final days of Passover are not a separate holiday

Posted on 05 April 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know that the last days of Sukkot are technically not really Sukkot, but a separate holiday called Shemini Atzeret and Shimchat Torah. Are the last days of Pesach also a separate holiday or just the end of Pesach? I’ve never heard of it being referred to as a separate holiday, but on the other hand, I know one doesn’t drive, etc. like the first days, so maybe it is a separate holiday?
Seth Z.

Dear Seth,
That’s quite an educated question.
The final day of Sukkos, in Israel, or two days in the diaspora, are indeed a separate holiday. This is as the Torah tells us “The eighth day should be an Atzeres for you…” and goes on to relate that the system of offerings to be brought in the Temple are entirely different from those of Sukkos. (Numbers 29:35-30:1)
The word “atzeres” has multiple meanings: a gathering, also a restriction or withholding. It’s a special day to gather together and “withhold” from returning back to mundane life, rather to remain one more precious day with the Divine Presence before finally leaving the high holiday period. The Torah considers this a separate holiday, one where we put down the four species, leave the Sukkah, return to our homes and rejoice in our connection to G-d.
The final days of Pesach, however, are different. The Temple offerings brought the last day of Pesach are identical to that of the first and intermediate days. The Talmud says this is indicative of the final days not being considered a separate holiday, rather a continuation of the same holiday of Pesach. Although the Torah also invokes the word “atzeres” in relation to the final day of Pesach, (Deuteronomy 16:8), nevertheless, since the offering is identical and the mitzvos of eating matzoh and refraining from leavened bread are the same as the first days, we consider it the same holiday. The meaning of atzeres in the context of Pesach would only be referring to its prohibition of forbidden activity, similar in many ways to Shabbos, where we refrain from certain categories of activity, but not to infer it is a separate holiday.
For this reason, on the final day or days of Pesach, we do not recite the full Hallel prayer, as we don’t on the intermediary days of Pesach. This is because we only recite the full Hallel prayer when there is either a new miracle to celebrate or a new holiday. On Sukkos, since there is a different offering brought each day, every day requires a full Hallel prayer. Shemini Atzeres is no different. The final day(s) of Pesach, however, are just a continuation of Pesach with identical offerings, therefore only a partial Hallel is recited.
One thing which is unique about the final days of Pesach is that not only are we celebrating the leaving of Egypt, but the seventh day of Pesach is the day of the monumental miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Many miracles were performed and noted at the sea that far transcended the miracles of Egypt. In fact, the Talmud says that even the simplest Jewish maidservant witnessed greater revelation at the Sea than the greatest prophets observed later in Jewish history. Some have the custom to stay up the eve of the seventh day of Pesach to share words of Torah about that miracle and the subsequent song sung by the Jewish people at that time. (Exodus 14:30-15:19)
There is so much to be said about this event, not within the purview of this column.
A joyous continuation of Pesach to all the readers.

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