Archive | Opinion

Prejudging others is an easy trap to fall into

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Are you a judgmental person? Do people have the experience of walking away from conversations with you like they have been put in a little box? “What an insulting question! I certainly am not that type of person!” Actually, this week I realized I am a bit like that. Let me explain.
I was in New York for a day this week. I figured I would change up my usual routine and decided not to rent a car. It seemed that my schedule would be very tight and it might be easier to not spend time at the car rental counter and taking a shuttle back and forth to the terminal! This way I could just spend time waiting at security instead of also waiting for buses. I opted to take Lyft to the airport in Dallas, to my mom’s house, to my meeting in New York, and back. You get the idea.
While sitting in horrendous yet typical New York traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (anything but express as far as I am concerned!) I noticed I was surrounded by something unusual — silence. I am not one to be short on words or questions for friends or strangers alike, yet here I was sitting in a painful New York standstill without a sound being uttered! (The fact that the driver seemed to be playing a game of speeding up and then slamming on the brake as he came within inches of the car in front of us did nothing to make me want to say anything more than monosyllables!) Why had my normally talkative side suddenly vanished? It seemed that every time I got into a Lyft in New York I would not say a word but when I got into a Lyft in Dallas the conversation just flowed! What was that all about?
Upon reflection I understood what was going on. You see, “‘They’ say that New Yorkers are unfriendly and cold.” Unwittingly I had bought into this and began relating to all New Yorkers this way. As a result I subconsciously shut down when in a car with a driver in New York. What I was doing was not only stereotyping but was actually going against Torah. The Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) “And you shall give every person favorable judgment.” Just because a person may be from a certain geographic area is no reason to assume he falls into a certain box.
When we stop viewing individuals as distinct and start seeing them as part of a group that follows a certain pattern, we lose respect and appreciation for their unique personality and qualities. I always say that people are fascinating. Yet, I was guilty of fitting millions of people into a neat box!
I am committed to starting to view all (or at least a bunch of) New Yorkers as being distinct and unique! So — as long as my Lyft driver is not driving in a way that will cause me to toss my cookies — I will engage him or her in conversation and learn to see how special and surprisingly refreshingly interesting they are.
Rabbi Nesanya Zakon is the codirector of DATA of Plano.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Far-left Jews sow anti-Israel seeds

Posted on 04 June 2018 by admin

By Lisa Landau Rudner

If one were to see a proclaimed vegetarian eat meat or hear an avowed civil rights activist spew racial epithets, one might rightly assume those individuals are not true to what they claim to be.
Something nefarious has occurred on the far left of the political spectrum. The term “pro-Israel” has been co-opted and corrupted to mean anything a person or organization declares it to signify. Even the sentiments of “anti-Israel” rhetoric are somehow whitewashed if they are uttered by a self-styled “pro-Israel advocate,” particularly a Jewish one.
True politically progressive and staunchly pro-Israel voices have felt nearly extinguished because they have no echo chamber in the media, no platform sexy enough to attract broadcasters or publishers or social media. Liberal outlets love nothing more than Jews who vilify Israel and then gleefully pair them with fellow Israel-bashers such as Linda Sarsour. And conservative media have no interest in showcasing authentic pro-Israel liberals, leaving genuine pro-Israel Democrats without a microphone or even a tent under which to stand.
Self-appointed “pro-Israel” Jewish leaders on the far left often tragically sow hazardous seeds of anti-Israel dogma in the Diaspora. J Street is part of a chorus of handwringers who bellow loudly about the endless sins of the Israelis to their willing uninformed and unwitting masses, including to young impressionable students.
In a bizarre ironic twist, it is those in the political center and on the right who demonstrate far more respect for Palestinians than do those on the far left. When the Palestinians, through their democratically elected Hamas and Palestinian Authority officials, tell the world their beliefs and their intentions, political moderates and conservatives trust their statements.
The far left sees the Palestinians and their chosen governments as they want them to be, as they wish them to be. That is the height of disrespect and arrogance, and by Jews who live 7,000 miles west of Israel. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have communicated in every way possible their intentions to destroy Israel and to murder Jews. Why don’t these very Jews believe the Palestinians, their elected representatives, their charters, their words, their terrorist actions, their horrifying anti-Semitism, their murdering of innocents in Israel, their arson and their 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel?
Is it some derivative of the Stockholm Syndrome that makes some Jews more comfortable lying with those who espouse Israel’s destruction than with the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who are sworn to safeguard the Jewish people, including their own parents and kids who live just steps away from Hamas militants?
And to be clear, Israeli soldiers, who would likely prefer to be living lives similar to their university-attending counterparts in the States, serve in an ethically trained, albeit imperfect army. IDF soldiers are not demigods fully able to fight a war against enemy combatants without casualty, or without offending the sensibilities of far-left Jews living nowhere near the Gaza border or even near Israel.
Even if well motivated, what does all of this self-flagellation from Jews living outside of Israel yield? Who does it help? Who does it hurt? Does it aid the Palestinians it purports to defend? Have the Palestinians rewritten their charters or changed their mission? Have they relinquished their claim on all of Israel? Are they now calling for peace with the Israelis? Does it help Israel in its fight against terror? Does it help Israel protect her citizens? Do the Palestinians and her allies around the globe use the words of Jews who propagate anti-Israel positions to elevate themselves? Do pro-Palestinian groups on university campuses engage J Street-sympathetic Jews for their own use? The answers to these questions are so painfully obvious they require no formal response.
Though it would be welcomed, not every Jew must wave the Israeli flag, but to wave the Palestinian flag in the name of some moral high-ground is a perversion of all that is righteous and good in Judaism and in Zionism. For those to whom strength, self-possession and pride in the Jewish State are something to be ashamed of or repulsed by, please stop sermonizing about Israel’s need to be accountable to its own values, values it seems the far left does not share.
Lisa Landau Rudner is a member of the Dallas Jewish community. She is the mother of three; her son Matan is a Lone Soldier in Israel.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Secure Israel, but protect innocent in Gaza

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

As a lover of Israel and a person staunchly committed to the safety and security of the Jewish homeland and all her inhabitants, I identify with the fear Israelis living on Israel’s border with Gaza feel.
I have visited the preschools in Sderot and the residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz and seen the ways in which their lives are threatened by ongoing terrorism. I expect that the Israeli military will protect those individuals from threats that come from missiles, from underground tunnels and most recently, from rocks, burning tires and wire cutters.
First and foremost, the role of government is to protect its citizens. The question is, in this moment in history, who is responsible for protecting the people of Gaza?
The mothers and fathers, babies and elderly, children and young adults of Gaza have no government to protect them. Their elected government, Hamas, puts them directly in the line of fire. The Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt give them limited resources and can withdraw those resources at will. Over the past 18 years, each of these governments have repeatedly explained why they cannot be responsible for protecting people who are being controlled by the others. While this callous and manipulative game of passing the buck has gone on, Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants have experienced an exponential decline in their living conditions, to the point where the cage in which they live, delimited by its borders with Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is predicted to be uninhabitable within a matter of months. They cannot leave, and they have nowhere to turn for help.
Many pro-Israel groups portray the situation in Gaza as a hopeless knot, which, if it is to be untied, must somehow be loosened by the people of Gaza themselves. Other pro-Israel groups view this attitude as an abrogation of moral responsibility, one that ultimately puts Israel more at risk. Instead of spending time debating which of these groups is right, the pro-Israel community should be working to support the people of Gaza who are trying to find a way out of their nightmare while continuing to support rational and effective security for Israel.
Last year, I met a Palestinian man from Gaza named Yousef Bashir at a conference in Dallas. Yousef grew up near Kfar Darom, one of the Israeli settlements dismantled in the withdrawal from Gaza in 2006. In 2000, as part of an Israeli military defense strategy implemented at the beginning of the Second Intifada, IDF soldiers occupied his family home and converted it into a military post. Yousef was 11 years old at the time. His father chose to stay in their home when the IDF moved in, fearing that if the family left, they would never be allowed to return.
Israeli soldiers relegated the Bashir family to a small area of their own home. They had to ask permission to use their kitchen and their bathroom. When using the bathroom, Yousef and his mother, father, sisters and brothers all had to leave the door open. The IDF required that Israeli surveillance be maintained over their most personal and private matters, in a home where there had been no security threat. Despite daily humiliation and dehumanization, Yousef’s father insisted on living with dignity, treating the soldiers as guests in his home and setting an example of peaceful defiance, decency and coexistence for his children.
In 2004, when Yousef was 15 years old, he was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier in his front yard. The IDF took responsibility for the shooting, but never explained it. Yousef was taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv and was able to experience everything we know about the Israeli medical system — unsurpassed excellence in the treatment and care of his physical and emotional wounds. For the first time in his life, he felt that Israeli Jews were treating him as a human being, and he was able to see them as healers rather than oppressors.
As soon as Yousef was released from medical supervision, his father sent him to a camp run by Seeds of Peace, one of hundreds of organizations that bring young Palestinians and young Israelis together to “transform legacies of conflict into courage to lead change.” This experience deepened Yousef’s commitment to connecting with Jews and Israelis in authentic and meaningful ways in order to disrupt the destructive cycle of mutual suffering.
Yousef was able to leave Gaza in 2006 to come to the United States, where he has lived ever since. He completed high school in the U.S., received a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and went on to complete a master’s degree in conflict and coexistence from Brandeis University. Since graduation, he has worked on Capitol Hill, doing what he can to contribute to the country that welcomed him, educated him, and provided him with opportunities he would never have in Gaza. He does this despite the M16 bullet that remains lodged in his back, a painful reminder of a complex personal story in which his father’s love and humanity remains his guiding light.
Yousef is an example of a Gazan who is trying to find a way out of the seemingly intractable conflict in his homeland. Yousef’s father died in 2009, and he did not attend his funeral for fear of risking his ability to return to the U.S. He has only seen his mother once, in Germany, when she was allowed to travel there for medical treatment. His most beloved family members, friends and teachers are living without adequate electricity, clean water, shelter or hope. He sees that the U.S. is not yet doing what it can to alleviate their suffering. So, he is using his own story and his legacy of faith in humanity to build support for doing what we can to protect the people of Gaza.
We do not have to reduce our empathy for and solidarity with Israelis living on the border with Gaza in order to feel empathy for and solidarity with Palestinians living in Gaza. Our elected officials here in the U.S. can and should be doing whatever they can to help avoid further suffering and bloodshed by taking and encouraging steps that protect the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. Steps such as unfreezing funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, encouraging the easing of the blockade on goods and equipment, and supporting infrastructure initiatives such as the proposed Gaza Seaport are in keeping with the U.S. State Department’s mission to “advance the security of the American people by assisting countries around the world to build more democratic, secure, stable and just societies.” (https://www.state.gov/j/index.htm)
In Pirkei Avot 2:21 Rabbi Tarfon teaches: “You are not expected to complete the work, and neither are you free to abdicate your responsibility for it.” When it comes to the work to be done in Gaza, our first responsibility is to recognize that innocent human beings are suffering, and to find a way to identify with them. Our second responsibility is to hold our own country accountable to its own values. When we have the courage to take these steps, we join the ranks of new leadership that will transform legacies of conflict into legacies of peace.
Rabbi Nancy Kasten teaches Jewish Mindfulness. She has has helped to introduce the Dallas community to Israeli organizations and groups including Roots/Shorashim/Judur, Creativity for Peace, Polyphony, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Beit Berl College, and is a co-founder of the Dallas Chapter of JStreet.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dead-baby strategy works for Palestinians

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

(JNS) When a Hamas spokesman acknowledged that 50 out of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during the May 14 assault on Israel’s border with Gaza were Hamas members, that fact alone should have fundamentally altered the debate over what happened. Though the international press called the incident a “massacre” in which the Israel Defense Forces used “disproportionate” force, the fact that most of the fatalities were members of a terrorist group undermined the narrative about the “March of Return” being a peaceful demonstration for better living conditions for Gaza residents.
But what good are facts if all you’re really after is more propaganda war against Israel? If someone like British shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (the person who will be Britain’s leading diplomat if a Labour Party that is tainted by anti-Semitism wins the next election in that country) could claim that Israeli snipers were shooting Palestinian children in the back while they ran for their lives, then clearly anything is possible.
So how much more will the actual death of a Palestinian baby feed the narrative of Israeli atrocities?
Palestinian apologists are now trumpeting the case of 8-month-old Layla Ghandour, who allegedly died as a result of inhaling tear gas while present at the melee along the border as proof that Israel is committing war crimes. While one can be appalled at the idea of anyone bringing an infant to a violent demonstration in which armed protesters organized by a terrorist group are charging an international boundary defended by troops, there’s no arguing with the picture of a dead child.
While Hamas more or less admitted defeat by ending the protests earlier than expected because of the high price it was paying in terms of the lives of its own fighters, it can be said to have “won” the exchange with Israel because the image of Ghandour’s mother weeping over her child’s tiny body might be all that anyone will remember from this week’s bloodshed.
Like the death of Muhammad al-Dura — a 12-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire during a Palestinian assault on an Israeli border outpost at the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000 — Ghandour is now an icon of Palestinian resistance. It didn’t matter that, as subsequent journalistic investigations proved, al-Dura’s death was caused by Palestinian fire. All that mattered was the iconic photo of the boy in his anguished father’s arms. The picture said nothing about the fact that the incident was caused by Palestinian terrorism, let alone who shot him. But it swayed more minds than reasoned arguments.
So in that sense, it doesn’t really matter whether the child was killed by tear gas (a Harvard University medical expert quoted in a New York Times story doubted it) or what bizarre set of circumstances brought the baby to the border. Nor does it stop left-wing Jews who purport to feel “shame” at the IDF’s efforts to prevent a rampaging mob from entering Israel to commit mayhem and murder from bashing the Jewish state because it didn’t rely solely on nonlethal methods of crowd control, like tear gas (which failed to stop Hamas operatives from trying to breach the border fence).
The fact that the supposedly peaceful demonstrators were hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails, and planting IED bombs and launching incendiaries, should have tipped off those criticizing the Israelis that they were being duped by Hamas. That the march’s avowed purpose was “return,” which signifies an attempt to wipe out the 70 years of history since Israel was born, also designates that the point of the effort was to reignite the conflict and eradicate Israel.
But whether or not you’re inclined to treat dead Hamas fighters as if they were innocents, there’s no arguing with dead babies.
As The New York Times noted, Ghandour was far from the only infant or child at the border Monday, May 14. Pressured by Hamas to turn out to advocate for the erasing of the last 70 years of history and dispossess the Jews, Palestinians brought their children to the border as if they were going to a family picnic. As we saw during previous armed conflicts with Israel, Palestinian factions routinely use humans as shields. The presence of civilians protects their fighters, as well as provides a bonus in the form of bad press for Israel if non-combatants are harmed.
While some Jews are ashamed that Israelis are prepared to use lethal force to defend their country, Hamas leaders feel no shame about putting Palestinian children in harm’s way. In their eyes, the goal of destroying the Jewish state is so important that no action is too depraved if it undermines Israel.
Hamas is correct about the effectiveness of these tactics, which are nothing less than acts of human sacrifice. In the face of such calamity, it’s hard for some seemingly fair-minded observers like the Times’ David Brooks to think clearly about Gaza. The situation is so egregious that they assume that no matter what Hamas does, they’ve come to believe it’s somehow Israel’s responsibility to prevent the Palestinians from purposing the deaths of these kids. Rather than analyze the conflict dispassionately, he and others simply damn both sides as extremists.
But while horror at the death of an infant is our understandable first reaction to this incident, it doesn’t absolve the world from calling out the barbarity of what the Palestinians are doing. A child’s life is not a prop in a public-relations scheme. Nor does the Palestinian willingness to sacrifice their children obligate Israel to allow Hamas a chance to kill Israeli children, as would happen if the IDF let the mobs at the border have their way.
It may be ironic, but the more bestial the tactics employed by the terrorists, the more likely the rest of the world is to engage in a false moral equivalence between Hamas and their intended Israeli victims. Though, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley rightly noted, no other country in the world would act with as much restraint as Israel has done, the Palestinians’ dead-baby strategy seemed to have worked.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him at: @jonathans_tobin.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Thank you for being my anchor after my wife’s passing

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg

Ten days ago, I was sitting in Beit Aryeh at Levine Academy; it was the annual Israel trip send-off for the eighth-grade graduation trip. The room was filled with ruach — with anticipation and excitement — as the trip of a lifetime was about to unfold for this year’s graduates from Levine Academy.
I found myself crying through the morning as I had done the previous year. . . the first two years the trip has departed without my wife, Wende, leading the expedition. Indeed, this trip encompassed everything Wende taught, dreamed and sought to instill in her students.
Wende died on Dec. 4, 2016 — she was 57 years young; we were married for 34 extraordinary years. She was the light of my life, and I lost a part of my soul when she died. She fought a valiant battle against lung cancer having never touched a cigarette, yet giving us all 18 additional months of her sweet smile and incredible discipline following her diagnosis.
A woman stopped me one morning following a class I had been teaching at shul, shortly after Wende had passed away; she wanted to share a story with me. She told me that when her husband had passed away a number of years earlier, a friend gave her a new address book, stating, “None of your friends will remain — you will need a new set of addresses and phone numbers.”
I was terribly saddened to hear the story but not surprised. I know circumstances change, friendships evolve, and we all struggle to find our way through the journey we call life, but this seemed so cruel and unnecessary. And then this woman said to me, “You won’t need a new address book because you are surrounded by a congregation and community that loves you, will support you, and help you through this difficult period of your life.”
With more tears flowing from my eyes I write this note to you, my extended community in the Dallas Metroplex. Wende and I were so very fortunate to serve our community in many parallel ways — she as an educator at Levine Academy for more than 30 years and me as a rabbi, first at Shearith Israel and, for the past 20 extraordinary years, at Anshai Torah. For more than 30 years, Wende and I lived and shared our passion — educating and building a stronger Jewish community with you. It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve you, and I write to say thank you for your continued support during this difficult time in my life.
Wende’s first yahrzeit passed a few months ago. The woman who stopped me after teaching a course was right — I don’t need a new address book. You continue to be my anchor. Of course, I am so fortunate to have the community associated with Anshai Torah support me in every way imaginable. They have received periodic updates regarding my spiritual and emotional journey.
You, the greater community who I see at events across the city, with whom I travel to Israel, collaborate on community events, acknowledge in parking lots, see during dinners, or while shopping in a mall — you have all helped to give me the strength to persevere, to find my way through the pain of loss. Thank you for the calls, notes, invitations, hugs and good wishes — your support has reminded me time and again of the value of community. As I have said to the Anshai Torah membership, may we collectively strive to ensure that no one in our community feels disenfranchised, especially when they need us most. May none of us ever need a new address book because our friends were only good-weather friends.
As a token of the legacy Wende left behind, we at Congregation Anshai Torah have commissioned a Sefer Torah to be written in Wende’s memory. We will dedicate the Sefer Torah on Sunday afternoon, April 15, at 4 p.m. Should you like to participate in this endeavor, join us for the final celebration, or seek any information about the project, please go to our website at anshaitorah.org and click on Project 613.
Thank you again for your relentless support and presence. On behalf of my three girls — Danielle, Jordana and Adina — and me, I thank you for your constant source of inspiration — indeed, you have been a blessing to each of us.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The blessings of giving have been revealed in mourning

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Jaynie Schultz

My mother died Feb. 24, 2018. In preparation for the end of the second phase of the mourning period, Shloshim, I have been reflecting on how to express my appreciation to our beautiful community for their support since that horrible day.
Word spread like wildfire, despite the fact that she passed away on Shabbat. Almost as quickly came the offers of help. From the funeral onward, friends and community members have taken care of everything for us, from meals to helping my father move. Not a day goes by when we do not get calls, cards and offers of comfort. So beyond the extensive generosity of time, spirit and means, what does this teach us?
I received a condolence call from a friend whose parents are much like mine in their philanthropy and community activism. In that conversation, I realized something really important that changed the way I view philanthropy.
Jewish tradition teaches that we are required to give, and for that we are blessed. There is no specificity to the blessing and we are certainly taught not to give only for that potential blessing. Any rewards are ambiguous at best.
When we were growing up, we didn’t play “house”; we played “meeting.” Not a birthday, anniversary, holiday or special celebration went by without a gift to a nonprofit. My parents gave millions and percentages way beyond the traditional tithe of 10 percent to tzedakah. They lived humbly and made certain we knew that their success was a gift from God. We should never feel entitled to the wealth they earned; anything we receive is a gift. We are expected to give significantly ourselves, and gifts in the Schultz Family name always include contributions from each of us.
So, in speaking to my friend, I realized that the time and money given to the community by my parents has come back to us in comfort and concern. Everywhere we turn, people are reaching out offering hugs and words of praise for my mother. The schools we support sent notes from students of all ages sharing what they love about their schools. One rabbi told me that every “amen” and every lesson learned on campus is a tribute to my mother. The respect given by the students when I come in the morning to say Kaddish is a daily reminder of what my parents did for us.
I suddenly felt stricken with sadness for the families of people who never gave and only passed their wealth internally, within their family.
Many years ago I learned from Rabbi Benjamin Blech that when we study the concept of the sins of the father being passed down, it could mean that parents who do not provide an education for their children do pass on that sin because the children are the ones who suffer from ignorance. The same could be said for giving. My parents have given so much and we, their children and grandchildren, benefit directly and very personally through the comfort offered by our community. Micah Romaner called it a circle of love.” Had my parents shared their time and treasure only with us, I would certainly feel much more alone right now. As Pastor Mack Fleming said, “What you honor rewards you.”
During shiva, when people depart, they say “May God comfort you among the other mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.” We have been comforted by God in the many blessings he bestowed through life and the painless and quick death for my mother, Leslie Ann Vile Schultz. The blessing promised in the Torah for giving has been revealed, and it is not only from God but from every person touched by my parents.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

From a Passover of alienation to a Passover of empathy

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Hanan Schlesinger

One of the most oft-repeated themes of the Torah is that we must remember that we were slaves and strangers in the Land of Egypt, and that God redeemed us with an outstretched hand. Both the experience of slavery and the experience of redemption are meant to radiate one central and fundamental call to action that the Torah comes back to again and again:
Slavery and strangerhood: Love the stranger and care for him, provide for him and show him empathy. Feel his pain and act to alleviate it, deal kindly with him, for you yourself know what it means to be a stranger and a slave.
Redemption: Walk in the footsteps of God, who redeemed us from Egypt, and redeem the slave and the downtrodden. Provide for them as God provided for us. Just as God’s mercies are upon all His creatures, so ought our mercies to be upon all His creatures.
The world is divided into us and them. That is the way that it has to be. In order to experience the security and the love of the family, the clan, the nation, there have to be those who are not part of our inner concentric circles.
At the same time, however, one of the most central directives of the Torah is that this division must never be so stark as to alienate the “us” from the “them.” Our love and concern must radiate out beyond the “us” toward the “them.” Our sense of us must empower our people to reach out to them.
We recall and relive our experience in Egypt on the holiday of Passover, the centerpiece of the Jewish year and the focal point of the process of handing down the tradition to the next generation. And the focal point of Passover is the Seder night with its Haggadah text. The Haggadah tells us: “In every generation one must see himself as if he personally went out of Egypt.” We spend the whole night bringing alive the events of slavery and redemption.
Toward what end? What is the takeaway? Clearly the answer ought to be to develop within us the historical memory that will constantly remind us and inspire us to love the stranger and redeem him from his suffering.
Yet this message is completely missing from the Haggadah. It certainly harps on our misery in Egypt, but instead of using that experience to nurture empathy for those who suffer, it sees in it a paradigm for the panorama Jewish history, reminding us, “In every generation they rise against us to annihilate us, and the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from them.”
The reason for this lacuna — at least one of the reasons — may be that during the 1,000-plus years during which the Haggadah text developed, we Jews were the slaves and the strangers, and the dominant cultures were antagonistic to our way of life and often to our very existence. We were the other and little love was lost on us. Our forefathers were too busy surviving to find room in our hearts and in our texts to teach ourselves about love of the stranger and empathy for his suffering. The larger message of Passover was postponed for the distant future.
That future may have arrived. Reality today is different, in Israel and to a large degree in many parts of America, from that which our forefathers knew. We are no longer the other that we used to be, and there are other peoples, cultures and ethnic groups that have taken our place. In Israel we are the dominant culture and in America we are part of the mainstream.
These are the conditions of life that the Torah envisioned, and not the circumstances under which our forebears have lived for the past 2000 years. As such, it is time for our Haggadahs and our celebration of Passover, as well as our Jewish consciousness and our behavior, to reflect that change and to go back to basics.
Let the Seder be our forum to proclaim and inculcate an ethic of empathy for the other emanating from two intertwined experiences: 1, Never again! Never again shall any people suffer what we suffered in Egypt. And 2, We take it upon ourselves to continually struggle to redeem the other, just as God redeemed us.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, and serves as the director of international relations for Roots/Judur/Shorashim, the Israeli Palestinian Local Initiative for Understanding, Nonviolence and Transformation. He also frequently travels to Dallas, where he serves as the executive director of the Jewish Studies Initiative. His website is www.ravhanan.org.
This piece appeared originally on Rabbis Without Borders, a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

It’s time to set transgender people free from oppression

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

By Cantor Sheri Allen

Passover is about our journey from oppression to freedom. Each year, we sing, “Avadeem hayeenu, Aatah b’nai chorin: We were slaves but now we are free.” But this year, I’m not as comfortable rejoicing when so many living in this country are experiencing heightened oppression resulting from a wave of xenophobia (fear or hatred of strangers or of anything that is strange or foreign) and homophobia that has swept over the country over the last few years.
Coincidentally, the first day of Pesach, March 31, is also International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was instituted as an annual holiday in 2009, “dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide” (Wikipedia). And why is bringing awareness of this particular group of individuals so important? Because, there are over 1.4 million adults — approximately 0.6 percent — who identify as transgender in America (NPR), and their needs and challenges are often overlooked, or even deliberately ignored.
In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the United States, with 27,715 respondents from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. military bases overseas.
The results are disturbing and sobering, and go far beyond having a bakery reject a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake. According to the survey, “Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment and violence in every aspect of life.” Ten percent were met with violence within their own families when they came out, or even kicked out of their homes. In school, a majority of respondents experienced verbal or physical harassment or assaults, and 17 percent were no longer able to continue attending as a result of these attacks.
Thirty percent reported being harassed, assaulted, fired or denied promotions at work because of their gender identity. One-third were living in poverty and/or had trouble communicating with or receiving service from their health care provider and/or were harassed in public spaces.
Many respondents were not comfortable using public restrooms for fear of further harassment or worse and even went so far as to control the amount they ate or drank in order to avoid them. And to make the problem even worse, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it won’t hear complaints about, or take action against, schools that do not allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
It’s shameful. And it’s against everything that the lessons of Passover teach us: namely, to treat the stranger with respect and dignity, because we know what it’s like to be the “other” — we were slaves in Egypt.
It’s an integral part of our story as well as our identity. Advocating for human and civil rights, promoting social justice. It’s what we Jews do.
So what can we do, specifically, to fight against this blatant discrimination? Ask your congregation if it is listed in Keshet’s equality guide. Keshet is a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Jewish world, and its equality guide lists congregations and Jewish organizations across the country that are LGBTQ-welcoming.
Another suggestion from Keshet: Call your local school board. Ask it what its bathroom policy is and find out what proactive action it is taking to protect its transgender students from discrimination and harassment. Keshet also does training for Jewish professionals and volunteers on how to make their synagogues and institutions LGBTQ-friendly and inclusive.
I also urge you to check out Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s website: rac.org. Based in Washington D.C., it is a strong social justice and equal rights organization representing the Jewish community. There are many suggested ways to become involved in advocacy for a variety of different issues, ranging from LGBTQ equality to economic justice, the environment, immigration, women’s rights, hate crimes, civil liberties and interfaith affairs, just to name a few.
We can also lend our voices in support of the Equality Act. Current civil rights laws extend legal protection to people on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion. But not on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would extend those same anti-discrimination measures to the LGBTQ community. It was introduced in the House of Representatives almost a year ago, with 241 original co-sponsors. According to the Human Rights Campaign, it had “the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction.”
As Jews, we are mandated to uphold and honor the dignity, the inherent holiness of every human being, as we are all made b’zelem Elokeem, in God’s image. Calling our members of Congress and asking them to co-sponsor the Equality Act is the least we can all do to help fulfill this directive.
The word Mitzrayim (translation: Egypt) literally means “narrow straits.” We all sometimes find ourselves held captive in our own personal mitzrayim. Fear, obsession, work, debt and illness can lead us into the depths of despair and disconnection, causing us to land in a constricted space — a closet, so to speak — of our own making. Hopefully, it is a temporary dwelling place, and we find our way back out of that closet and into the light, free from whatever has kept us imprisoned, physically, mentally or emotionally.
Sadly, that is not always the case for many in the transgender community. I can’t imagine what it must be like for transgender individuals to feel trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to them, unable to express their authentic selves for fear that they will be harmed, and unsupported or even rejected by their families, their community, their country. No wonder they have a suicide rate that’s nine times higher than the rate for the overall U.S. population.
I hope and pray that in the not-so-distant future, equality for the LGBTQ community in all areas of life will be a non-issue.
In talking to my students, most don’t even understand what the issue is. I’m also encouraged by the fact that, 2½ years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a number of recommendations that they hoped their member congregations would follow, including, “making bathrooms gender neutral, training staffers on LGBT issues, eliminating gender-specific pronouns on name tags and sorting Hebrew-school classes by birthdays rather than gender.”
We are observing a holiday that celebrates freedom from oppression. What better time to think about those who are still oppressed in our communities and in our country, and let them know that they are seen and heard, and we stand beside them. Our tradition teaches us that none of us are free until all of us are free. May the holiday of Passover inspire us to renew our efforts to fight for that freedom so that next year, we can say with all sincerity, “we were slaves, but now we are — all of us — free.”
Sheri Allen is the part-time cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of her congregation.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here