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Post  Admin on Fri 07 Dec 2018, 6:49 pm

My Grandfather, the Walking Miracle
Dec 4, 2018  |  by Daniel Gefen
My Grandfather, the Walking Miracle
Enduring 18 concentration camps, he was saved by a shovel, a siren, and horse manure.

My grandfather, Moshe Chaim Gefen, taught me how to create miracles.

At age 13, he was kidnapped and became a slave to the Nazis.

He suffered for five years… in 18 concentration camps… and endured three harrowing death marches.

His parents and siblings were all murdered. He was left with nothing.

Yet when you saw my grandfather, you’d never believe that buried deep beneath his bright smile and warm glowing eyes was a dark tale of horror.

Although it was too painful for him to talk about those horrific times, there were a few rare occasions at our family Passover Seder when he revealed some of the miracles he experienced.

On one occasion while digging in a ditch, some dirt flicked up and hit one of the Nazi soldiers in the face. The Nazi raised his gun, pointed it at my grandfather and said, “You’re dead!” The bullet flew toward my grandfather's heart but hit the shovel he was holding. He fell down and pretended to be dead.

Another time, he was standing in line only a few feet from going into the gas chambers, when suddenly a Nazi soldier called him out of the line. “Clean this up, you dirty Jew!” The Nazi yelled. A horse had defecated on the Nazi’s boot. After my grandfather finished cleaning it up, the line had ended and he was spared.

My grandfather was hanged – twice.
My grandfather was hanged – twice. The first time, the noose was around his neck and he uttered the last words a Jew says before dying, “Shema Yisrael.” Suddenly the sirens went off and the Nazis fled. My grandfather ran and escaped into the forest. It was a false alarm.

A few days later they hunted him down and again attempted to hang him. And once again, after the words of ‘Shema’ left his lips, the sirens went off. (This wasn’t a false alarm.)

Yes, the Nazis tried to shoot him, hang him and gas him – but he was saved by a shovel, a siren, and horse manure. He became a walking miracle.

Rav Moshe Chaim Gefen

Beyond Human Potential
Yet something always troubled me.

Why did my grandfather merit so many open miracles? What provokes a miracle? Do we play a part in the miracles that happen to us?

This question bothered me for many years. Then, a few weeks ago, I received an audio clip from my father. “You must listen to this!” he said.

It was a story about my grandfather told over by a friend of his. One we had never heard.

This story involved another miracle. To me it was the greatest miracle of all, which explained all the other miracles.

Many Jews were dying of starvation in the camps. One day my grandfather came upon a small piece of bread which he tucked into his jacket. It was his emergency stash. He would often be tempted to eat it but always held off, telling himself that he would save it until the very last moment when he had no energy and could literally starve to death.

One day while working in the field, my grandfather saw someone fall to the ground. He ran over and asked if he was okay. This frail, defeated, broken Jew looked up and said, “I’m done. I have nothing left in me. I cannot go on.”

Without hesitation, my grandfather reached into his pocket and pulled out his emergency piece of bread. He risked his own life to save the life of another.

Now I finally understood.

It’s easy for God to create miracles. He created the world, after all.

When you break your nature, nature breaks itself for you.
But for a mere human to risk his own life to save someone else? That is the biggest miracle of all.

What causes God to perform miracles? We do!

When you break your nature, nature breaks itself for you.

Each one of us has the power to create miracles.

Moshe Chaim Gefen and his grandson

Moshe Chaim Gefen and his grandson
In the days of the Chanukah story, the Maccabees faced insurmountable odds against the world super-power, the Syrian-Greeks. Yet with great self-confidence, they remained focused on their goal, did not despair, and in the end miraculously prevailed.

This, too, is the legacy of Moshe Chaim Gefen and all the proud Jews who refuse to compromise on goodness, justice, and faith.

Happy Chanukah!

לעילוי נשמת משה חיים בן פנחס מנחם זצ"ל

About the Author

Daniel GefenMore by this Author >
Daniel Gefen is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Gefen Media Group, a podcast production and booking agency. He is also the host of the popular podcast, "Can I Pick Your Brain?" which interviews thought leaders, billionaires and celebrities. Gefen is author of The Self Help Addict, and has been featured in Forbes Inc. He lives with his wife and children in the hills of Beit Shemesh, Israel.

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Post  Admin on Sun 25 Nov 2018, 5:58 pm

Four Strangers, Three Faiths and One Extraordinary Escape to Freedom
Nov 24, 2018  |  by Ronda Robinson
Four Strangers, Three Faiths and One Extraordinary Escape to Freedom
How three Jews and one Christian band together to save Mohammed Al Samawi.
Mohammed Al Samawi’s story of a hair-raising escape from Yemen reads like a pulp-fiction thriller. It has mystery, intrigue, hard-boiled characters, death threats, violence, getaway scenes and surprises at every turn – including Al Qaeda operatives who wait at his door to escort him to near-certain torture and four young Jews and Christians who save him.
We know the story ends well; Al Samawi lived to tell it in a book called “Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” (William Morrow 2018). A movie also is in the works.
Mohammed Al Samawi in Yemen

It all began in November 30, 1986, when Al Samawi was born in the Old City of Sana’a in northern Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors and a prominent family. He grew up in a five-story home hearing that he was blessed by God – and also that he was cursed by evil.

“I was special; I was odd. I was loved; I was resented. I was pitied; I was despised,” he writes. A small stroke as a baby left his right arm, hand, leg and foot withered.

“Mohammed, you are fortunate to be as you are,” his mother would insist. “It makes you unique.”

But for Al Samawi, the middle of five children, being different was awkward and painful. He was jealous of other boys and ached to play ball with them. He was bullied and teased instead. Little could he imagine that his disability would be the impetus for strength, leading him from the maw of danger to the embrace of a world eager to know and help him.

Instead of focusing on the schoolyard tyranny, his parents encouraged him to develop a talent to make him feel special and proud. Under his father’s tutelage, Al Samawi began to train his brain and study languages. He started learning English and had the chance to study at the Canadian Institute in Sana’a.

When Al Samawi gave his British teacher a copy of the Koran to read, trying to convert him to Islam, the teacher gave him a copy of the Bible, an act that was going to change his life.

Reading Torah was a Turning Point
The Bible captured Al Samawi’s imagination. Only, he didn’t realize the first part of the book he was reading was the Torah, not the Christian Bible. Taught to hate Jews and Israel, likened to foxes preying on the sick and the weak, he was intrigued and hungered to know more.

“I’d spent my entire life hearing about the Jewish agenda,” he writes in “Fox Hunt.”

Mohammed with his 4 rescuers

“As a child, I’d heard the name Hitler in school. I asked about him in class, but the teacher was that he was part of World War II, Western history. All we needed to know was that Hitler was a hero for killing many Jews and burning their literature. We’d been taught their books were dirty, amoral, sinful, impure, demonic. And yet I’d liked this book. There was nothing impure about it. Everything I thought I knew, my entire basis of good and evil, was being thrown into question.”

Al Samawi wanted to dig deeper and speak with an actual Jew. The problem was, he couldn’t find one in Yemen.
Al Samawi wanted to dig deeper and speak with an actual Jew. The problem was, he couldn’t find one in Yemen, so he went online to meet others from different religions to promote peace. He even traveled to conferences in other countries focused on peace and religious tolerance, where he met participants with last names like Pincus, Rosen, Steinmetz and Frankel.

Before he knew it, he’d visited a synagogue and put on a yarmulke and witnessed Jews at prayer. He started to make new friendships.

The fallout from obedient, devout Muslim boy to open-minded, adult citizen of the world working for peace and religious tolerance came quickly.

Association with Jews Leads to Death Threats
Targeted with death threats for his association with Jews, Al Samawi knew he had to get out because he was putting his family at risk. He fled to Aden in southern Yemen.

But Aden was no Garden of Eden. Al Samawi ended up in what quickly became a civil war zone. Explosions rocked the city. The seaport and the airport were under siege. Al Qaeda was issuing ultimatums to northerners to leave Aden within 24 hours “or we will deal with them.”

Living in an apartment by himself, Al Samawi used the bathroom as his safe zone. “I counted my steps. Three to get from the door to the wall; two between the toilet and the mirror. My new apartment in Aden was big for one person, but I hadn’t planned on taking refuge in the bathroom.”

He turned to social media for help.

A handful of virtual strangers he knew from conferences responded to his desperate plea on Facebook. Three young Jews and one young Christian worked across six technology platforms and 10 time zones to free 28-year-old Al Samawi and bring him to safety in America in 2015.

As Al Qaeda closed in on him, they stayed by his side electronically through thick and thin.
Over 13 days, Megan Hallahan in Tel Aviv, Justin Hefter in San Francisco, Natasha Westheimer in Oxford and Daniel Pincus in New York – none of whom had experience in diplomacy or military tactics – worked to find contacts who could save Al Samawi from near-certain death. They stayed by his side electronically through thick and thin, as Al Qaeda closed in on him. At one point, a pair of fighters were literally at Al Samawi’s door, waiting for him to produce an ID that would show he wasn’t from the north.

Inside by himself, he tapped out what he thought would be his last message ever: “Daniel, I got caught by Al Qaeda, what do I do?”

On a speaking tour

From his apartment window, Al Samawi could see other fighters dragging a man who looked like a northerner into the street and kicking and hitting him with their rifles. The fighters outside his door must have joined in, because looking out the peephole, Al Samawi saw the hall was empty.

Pincus, a 39-year-old Jewish businessman and philanthropist, says the team came together on an ad-hoc basis to help save Al Samawi’s life. They went down a lot of rabbit holes before putting him on a fishing boat in the port of Aden to take him out to a ship evacuating Indian citizens from Yemen.

“There are so many people who deserve credit,” Pincus told Aish.com during a book speaking engagement with Al Samawi in Atlanta. He added modestly, “It feels uncomfortable for people to think we did something heroic; I never put my life at risk. We were fortunate to be able to make connections with people in government and use tools in social media.”

Said Pincus: “It felt inspiring there were people in the world who could and did do something great.”

For his part, Al Samawi has been amazed by how the Jewish community has always been ready to help him. His story resonates with many. He often hears, “Your story reminds me of my mother’s story when she escaped the Holocaust.”

Pincus’ father left Chile in 1970 during a period of social unrest and political tension to study in the United States. The Chilean coup d’état against the government of President Salvador Allende happened three years later. “There is a tradition in my family of understanding that people of almost every generation find themselves in a bad situation and need to get out.”

Hefter grew up in an observant Jewish family in Highland Park, Ill., and heard stories about his parents’ activism. In the 1980s, they helped a Jewish family escape religious persecution in the Soviet Union.

Small acts of service make a difference. That’s one of the messages Al Samawi hopes that his book conveys. “If you believe in something and you work on it, it will happen,” he says. His team of three Jews and one Christian never lost faith in him and always wanted to do whatever they could to help. They enlisted the support of countless others to produce the miracle of saving a life.

Al Samawi says there is still a long way to go. “Now, I have a book, a movie, speaking engagements, a life where I go to different cities every day. I can’t enjoy it. My family, my friends, my people are suffering because it’s such a horrible war.”

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AISH  - Page 4 Empty How the Jews Changed the World and We Don’t Even Know It

Post  Admin on Tue 20 Nov 2018, 6:33 pm

AISH  - Page 4 Genesi10
How the Jews Changed the World and We Don’t Even Know It
Nov 18, 2018  |  by Rabbi Ephraim Shore
This Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to the Jewish people.
“The Jews started it all – and by "it" I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings. And we would set a different course for our lives… Their worldview has become so much a part of us that at this point it might as well have been written into our cells as a genetic code.”

--- Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews

The number of fundamental ideas and values the Jewish People have given to the world is truly remarkable. And it’s also remarkable how most people don’t realize this.

We simply forget that these concepts and ideals were once not the way of the world. In fact, they were not only revolutionary but often at complete odds with conventional wisdom of the times. As Paul Johnson wrote in The History of the Jews, “All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s stop to appreciate some of the Jewish inventions taken for granted in our world:

1. Sabbath Day: The Romans ridiculed the Jews for their idleness but we have none but the Jews to thank for our weekend. Until the Jewish invention of Sabbath, every day, every month, every year was the same. We introduced the concept of taking out time to focus on the higher things in life and enjoying being and not just doing. Christians adapted the Jewish Shabbat to Sunday in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.1

2. Peace on Earth: In a world that revered the warrior above all others, survival of the fittest was the highest value. If you could get it, you took it. The cost in human life was irrelevant. Judaism introduced the altruistic concept that peace amongst men was preferable to my tribe’s enrichment.

As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat; the calf and young lion and fatling will be together, and a little child will lead them” (11:6).

And “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (2:4).

3. Universal Literacy and Education: In a world where literacy was a luxury enjoyed by the vast minority, the People of the Book taught that the pursuit of wisdom and learning was the highest pursuit and the right and obligation of every child and adult. No Jewish community existed without a school. Even the Greeks and Romans came nowhere near creating a written culture, 2 and the medieval world saw even greater drops in literacy. The Church, ancient Greece and the United States not only discouraged literacy for some (e.g. Blacks, slaves, non-clergy), but it took until 1918 for every US state to require students to complete elementary school. 3 It took India until 2009 to adopt what the Jewish nation has been practicing for 3,500 years.

4. Sabbatical Year: The idea for academics and some professionals (20% of UK companies now have a career break policy, and many more joining the trend! 4) to take a year off every seven years to focus on academic advancement, comes directly from the Torah. Judaism requires every farmer to take the entire seventh year off from work to focus on studying, self-improvement and inspiration. One can imagine the impact of that intellectual focus on the entire nation.

5. Justice for All: In a world where women, children, the poor, immigrants and other vulnerable members of society were systematically abused, the Jewish legal system was the first to protect the rights of the underdog and the helpless. As the Torah states, “You shall not wrong or oppress a foreigner, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse the widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry” (Exodus 22:21-23).

Jewish law ensured that every man and woman has the right to a fair trial, is innocent before proven guilty, and allows for no prejudice towards the rich or powerful.

6. Monotheism: Judaism revolutionized the concept of God; from a belief in multiple deities and idols that require our sacrifice (even humans), are created in the image of Man and can be bribed and manipulated, to recognizing the One Infinite, loving, altruistic Creator who is the unifying source of the entire universe, who needs nothing from mankind, and is equally available to every human being.

7. Infinite Value of Every Human Life: In a world of human sacrifice, murder of children (particularly baby girls), and wanton war and killing to further material gains, Judaism taught that every life is holy, created in the image of God, and of infinite value – even the old, the mentally or physically handicapped and the sick. If you think that is obvious, consider the practice of human sacrifice that was central to most South American civilizations until the Spanish Christians conquered them just 500 years ago.

8. The Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: While the founding fathers of America may have found “these truths to be self-evident”, in fact it was far from self-evident unless you were highly influenced by Jewish values (otherwise the Declaration of Independence in 1776 would not have been so revolutionary!). Many societies up to modern times have sought to limit individuality in the name of service to the state or religion or feudal lord (Communism, Nazism, many religions and all totalitarian regimes). But 3,000 years before 1776, Judaism introduced to the world that every human has the right, and obligation, to aspire to reaching his/her unique goals, personal fulfilment and potential.

9. Limited Governmental Powers: It took until the Magna Carta in medieval England for the first small limitations on the power of the ruler to be instituted. Until then despots of all kinds could and would take advantage of their citizens monetarily, militarily and judicially for their own gain. The king was omnipotent. The Torah was the first system to place limits on the powers of the monarch. His powers were overseen by an independent judicial branch of government (Sanhedrin/Supreme Court), thousands of years before the rest of the world was ready to adopt these ideas. And the Jewish king carried with him a Torah scroll, reminding him that he too is subjugated to all of its laws.

10. Tzedaka and Tikkun Olam: In a world where the idea of giving away one’s property to others was seen as both bizarre and foolhardy, Judaism taught that we are obligated to donate 10-20% (tithe) of what we earn to make the world a better place. Judaism was trend-setting by millennium when it required us to lend money to our fellow man with no interest, to return lost objects, to refrain from verbal abuse and gossip, not to take revenge or bear a grudge, to protect animals from suffering, and to demand that we love every human being regardless of race, religion or color. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18) was introduced 2,000 years before Christianity.

11. Sexism: Judaism taught that men and women are equal in the eyes of God (in fact the first “Man” was not actually a man but an androgynous male/female being which was then separated into two). From the earliest times women have held important leadership positions in the Jewish world. Our matriarchs were considered even greater than their husbands in prophecy and other areas. Judaism forbade sexual harassment of any kind. Way ahead of its time, a woman’s rights to sexual and emotional intimacy were enshrined by the first Jewish marriage contracts (ketuba). Men are obligated to honor their wives even more than themselves. Women in Judaism enjoyed more rights than in most of Western civilization. For example, it took until 1900 for all US states to allow women to buy, sell and own property or to write her own will and contracts.

Without the Jewish nation, the world as we know it would simply not exist. Paul Johnson summed it up beautifully: "To them (the Jews) we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews, it might have been a much emptier place."

And while the world was busy absorbing Jewish inventions into their culture, they were simultaneously persecuting and not infrequently attempting to destroy us. How strange that one of humanity’s most positive contributors has been singled out for more hate than any other. Cahill observed this phenomenon: “Our history is replete with examples of those who have refused to see what the Jews are really about, who – through intellectual blindness, racial chauvinism, xenophobia, or just plain evil – have been unable to give this oddball tribe, this raggle-taggle band, this race of wanderers who are the progenitors of the Western world, their due.”

This Thanksgiving, let’s follow the lead of American President John Adams, who said, "I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize man than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that chance had ordered the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.”

1. "Sabbath." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
2. Ancient Literacy, 1991 William V. Harris
3. Graham, P.A. 1974). Community and Class in American Education, 1865–1918.New York: Wiley
4. Confederation of British Industry survey, 2005

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Post  Admin on Sun 11 Nov 2018, 5:17 pm

Muslim and Jewish Families Save Each Other, 50 Years Apart
Nov 4, 2018  |  by Menucha Chana Levin
Muslim and Jewish Families Save Each Other, 50 Years Apart
The Hardagas hid the Kabilijo family in Sarjevo during the Holocaust. They returned the favor 50 years later.

In 1941, the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. They seized Sarajevo, looted the old synagogue and burned its precious 400-year-old Torah scrolls.

Never forced to live in ghettos, the Jews of Yugoslavia were treated better than in most of Western Europe. By the 1930s there were about 12,000 Jews in Sarajevo and another 2,000 in other cities. Though the Jewish population would be decimated during the Holocaust with 10,000 murdered by Croatian pro-Nazi fascists, some Muslims tried to protect their Jewish neighbors.

Synagogue in Sarajevo, 1941

The Gestapo opened an office across the street from the home of a Muslim furniture salesman named Mustafa Hardaga and his wife, Zejneba. At night, the Hardagas could hear agonizing shrieks as prisoners were tortured in jail.

Mustafa Hardaga, Yad Vashem collection
Yosef Kabiljo, a Jew, was Mustafa Hardaga’s business partner and good friend. After Kabiljo’s house was destroyed in a Nazi bombing raid, the Hardagas invited him and his family to live in their home, despite the terrible risk to their own lives.

“You are our brother and your children are like our children. Feel at home and whatever we own is yours.”

One day the Gestapo showed up at the Hardaga’s door to check their documents. Yosef Kabiljo, his wife and daughter were hiding behind items of clothing inside a large closet. Miraculously they were not discovered.

The Kabiljos remained hidden by the Hardagas until they could relocate to the Bosnian city of Mostar under Italian rule and a safer place for Jews.

Rifka Kabiljo, children and Zeineba Hardaga (right) walking in in Sarajevo. Yad Vashem Collection

Yosef Kabiljo remained behind to liquidate his business and was eventually caught by the Nazis. Due to a heavy snowfall, the prisoners could not be transferred from Sarajevo to the infamous Jasenovac camp near Zagreb. There the Croatians were consistently killing Serbs, Jews and Roma (gypsy) people alike. Spared that fate, the prisoners were forced, with chained legs, to clear the heavy snow from the roads.

One day Yosef Kabiljo noticed Zejneba Hardaga standing at a street corner. She watched him with tears in her eyes. Despite the danger, she brought food to him and the other prisoners.

Yosef managed to escape and fled to the Hardaga home.

The Nazis discovered that the Hardagas were helping Jews. Ahmed Sadik, Zejneba’s father who had forged identification documents for Jewish families, was executed by the Nazis.

The Kabiljo family managed to survive the war and eventually settled in Jerusalem. They requested that Yad Vashem recognize the Hardaga family and Ahmed Sadik as the Righteous Among the Nations and a tree was planted in honor of their bravery.

After Mustafa Hardaga passed away in the 1960s, the Kabiljos still kept in contact with Zejneba and her daughter Sara.

The years went by until 1992. Then a vicious war broke out in Bosnia whose population was a mixture of Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats. When Yugoslavia split apart, racial and religious divisions controlled under communism finally erupted. The Bosnian War, with its massacres, barbarity and genocide, became the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

During the years 1992 to 1994, almost three million people were forced to flee from their homes, more than 100,000 were killed and thousands of women were assaulted. Serbian troops surrounded Sarajevo where snipers targeted anyone who tried to leave their homes.

Caught up in the suffering was Zejneba Hardaga, her daughter Sara Pecanac, son-in-law Branimir and nine-year-old granddaughter Sacha. Seeing their neighbors shot and dying in the street outside their home, they lived in fear that they might be next.

With no food available, the family survived for weeks on soup made of grass they picked in a local park. They needed to take shelter in the basement of their besieged home.

Sarajevo in ruins, 1992

Desperate, frightened and stranded, they lost hope that they might survive this terrible ordeal. Then a message arrived from Israel.

In Jerusalem, their old friends the Kabiljos were anxiously listening to the news about Bosnia, wondering if the Hardaga family was still alive. They contacted an Israeli journalist leaving for Bosnia to cover the war. He conveyed the message to an organization in Sarajevo that the Kabiljo family was searching for Zejneba. They were relieved to discover that Zejneba, her daughter Sara, and two other family members were still surviving.

Sara Pecanac was amazed to hear the Kabiljos were trying to help them. She did not find out the story of her family’s heroism in the Holocaust until 1984. “My father had died and my mother didn’t talk about it very much,” she said of the family’s bravery. However, her mother did tell her, “You can’t control how rich you will be, or how smart or successful you will be. But you can control how good you will be.”

Zejneba (fourth from the right) at the tree planting ceremony in honor of her family, Yad Vashem, 1985

The Kabiljos contacted Yad Vashem for help in rescuing the family who had saved them. Yad Vashem requested permission of the president of Bosnia, but he refused to allow the family to leave the war-torn country. The Kabiljos did not give up on the friends they regarded as their family. They persisted in taking their case all the way to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Eventually, in early 1994, Sara Pecanac, her husband, daughter and mother Zejneba joined 300 other refugees on a convoy of six buses leaving the ruined city of Sarajevo. Given their choice of destinations, the family immediately chose Jerusalem.

Sara Pecanac

“Imagine that you are in such a state and need help and you get it from the same family that your family saved 50 years earlier,” said Sara Pecanac. The deep bond connecting the two families was probably part of the impetus that inspired Sara and her family to convert to Judaism. “It is only natural that I should want to become Jewish. It is an honor for me to belong to these people,” Sara explained. She now works for Yad Vashem where the story of her family is exhibited in the museum, where the file about the family is kept in the archive of the Righteous Among the Nations, and where a tree was planted by her mother in honor of her family’s courage and humanity.

Israel’s Unknown Heroic Spies of World War I
Nov 8, 2017  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
The Aaronsohn siblings founded an espionage ring in Zichron Yaakov to help Britain defeat the Turks.
November 11 marks Armistice day, the anniversary of the end of World War I.That bloody conflict drew to a close as Winston Churchill famously described, at 11am, the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month in 1918.
Amid the ceremonies marking this day around the globe, few, if any, will remember the courageous band of Jewish spies who formed the top-secret organization NILI, based in the Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov, who spied for Britain during the War. British intelligence official Baron William Ormsby-Gore said that NILI was “admittedly the most valuable nucleus of our intelligence in Palestine during the war.” A secret letter thanking the NILI network acknowledged that Britain could not have won the War without the aid of the NILI spies.

The heroes who made up NILI are all but forgotten. As we recall World War I a century later, let’s reclaim the legacy of the Jews of NILI and proclaim their decisive contribution to the Allied victory to the world.

Zichron Yaakov: First Flowering of the Desert
The story of the NILI spy ring begins in Zichron Yaakov, a town settled by Jewish immigrants from Romania in 1882. They were part of a group of idealistic Jews who were beginning to buy land in the Land of Israel, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and establish Jewish farms and towns. When Romania gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, it effectively stripped most of its Jews from citizenship and began a system of anti-Semitic persecution. Many Romanian Jews fled to the United States. Others turned to the Land of Israel as a haven.

Life wasn’t easy for these idealistic, young Zionists. Historian Howard M. Sachar writes, “Eaten alive...by flies, periodically robbed of their livestock by Bedouins, the settlers and their families quickly began to wilt under disease, heat, and sheer exhaustion.”

Edmond de Rothschild, the ennobled French Jew who had amassed a fortune in banking, supported the struggling Jewish towns and farms. Zichron Yaakov is named for Edmund de Rothschild’s father, Jacob. (Zichron Yaakov means “memory of Jacob” in Hebrew.)

The Remarkable Aaronsohn Family
A hundred Jewish families moved from Romania to Zichron Yaakov in the 1880s. Among these were Ephraim and Malkah Aaronsohn and their six children.

One of the Aaronsohn’s sons, Aaron, became one of the world’s foremost agronomists. In 1906, he discovered the genetic forebear of wheat and in 1909 he established the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station, where he experimented with adapting new growth to the arid conditions of the Middle East. A passionate Zionist, he travelled the world, explaining to people how Jewish farmers were transforming the Land of Israel, making the desert bloom.

Aaron was often assisted by his younger sister Sarah, an exceptional woman who spoke Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, French, Arabic and English.

Sarah Aaronsohn

In 1914, Sarah married an older man, a Jewish immigrant from Bulgaria, and moved with him to Istanbul. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the following year, as Turkey was in the midst of fighting in World War I alongside Germany, Sarah left her husband and travelled home by train to Zichron Yaakov.

The sights that Sarah saw from her train carriage as it moved through the Ottoman countryside horrified her. Ottoman Turks were in the midst of conducting what would be known as the Armenian Genocide, which saw the murder of one million men, women and children during World War I. Sarah later described seeing hundreds of bodies being loaded onto trains, and witnessing the brutal murder of up to 5,000 Armenians, whose bodies were then piled in a pyramid with kindling, and set on fire.

Aaron Aaronsohn
The Ottoman Turks who administered the Land of Israel made no secret of their hatred of Jews, and Sarah feared that the genocide she’d witnessed against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire would next be directed against Jews if the Ottomans won the war. When she returned to Zichron Yaakov, she was determined to do all she could to aid Great Britain, which was fighting Ottoman Forces across the Middle East.

A World at War
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Ottoman Empire had joined with the Central Powers – Germany and Austria – to fight the allies, led by Britain and France. The Jews living in the Land of Israel, which was then under Ottoman rule, found themselves the target of anti-Semitism. The Ottoman Empire ruled that Jews and Christians must be drafted to fight – or else pay ruinous taxes to be exempted from military service.

In 1914, Sultan Mehmed V announced that that the Ottoman Empire was joining the Great War – and also declared that this was a jihad, a religious war against non-Muslims as well. As historian Eugene Rogan recounts, “On 14 November ... the call for holy war (was) read out in public to a large crowd gathered outside the Mosque of Mehmed the Conqueror in the sultan’s name. The crowd roared its support.”

Inside the Jewish settlements, panic ensued. Were the Jews, like the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians and other minorities, going to become target of hate and violence?

The God of Israel Does Not Lie
The Aaronsohns decided to do what they could to support Britain in the war against the Turkish Ottomans. They founded a secret group, aided by their brother-in-law Avshalom Feinberg and close friend Joseph Lishansky. About 40 other young Jews joined the group, which was dubbed NILI, an acronym for the Biblical phrase Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, The Eternal One of Israel does not lie (Samuel I 15:29).

Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, 1916

NILI wanted to help Britain invade the Land of Israel from their bases in Egypt, but at first British forces rebuffed NILI’s top-secret overtures. Finally, in late 1916, Aaron Aaronsohn managed to cross Turkish lines and traversed the Sinai Peninsula to reach Cairo, and convince British forces there to trust the Jewish spy ring.

Sarah took over leadership of NILI. Together, the spies of NILI gathered intelligence on Turkish troop movements, fortifications, railroads, water locations, troop movements, and weather patterns. Sarah encoded messages and communicated with British headquarters by sending secret codes to the British warship Managam anchored off the coast of Palestine every two weeks. At first, the NILI spies used light signals to convey information to the ship.

When British troops stopped sending the frigate to pick up NILI’s messages, the Jewish spies used homing pigeons, sending Britain’s General Edmund Allenby valuable information that would enable him to traverse the Negev Desert and attack Turkish troops in Beersheva.

NILI also received funds from supporters in America and helped distribute money to the Jews in Ottoman-controlled Israel who were near starvation due to Turkish anti-Semitic policies and ruinous taxes on the Jewish community. The Ottoman forces had no idea that Sarah was leading the Middle East’s largest spy ring.

Torture and Death
In September 1917, one of NILI’s homing pigeons landed on a house belonging to the Turkish governor of Caesarea. Ottoman officials found the message the bird carried and decoded it, realizing that a large pro-British spying ring was operating with impunity somewhere in northern Israel. They made finding the spy ring’s members and leaders their priority.

One by one, Ottoman forces rounded up members of the NILI spy ring, using torture to extract information about other members. Finally, on October 1, 1917, Sarah Aaronsohn was arrested and taken to a makeshift Turkish prison in Zichron Yaakov. For several days, she watched her father being tortured. Then she was brutally tortured herself. Drawing on near-superhuman reserves of strength, Sarah refused to divulge information about NILI. Instead, she taunted her captors, assuring them they would lose the war and be punished for their oppression of Jews and their massacre of Armenians.

Betar Jewish youth movement salutes at Sarah Aaronsohn’s grave in Zichron Yaakov, circa 1942

After nearly a week of agony, Sarah was informed that she would be transferred to prison in Damascus where she would face even greater torture. She asked if she could be allowed to visit her family home one last time to bathe and change her clothes. Early one morning, as most of Zichron Yaakov slept, Sarah was led down the town’s main street to her family home, which stood abandoned, its inhabitants imprisoned. As Sarah walked, she sang a song about a little bird that flies away. This was no innocent tune; it was her final signal to her surviving NILI comrades that the ring was broken and they were to cease any further activity in order to save themselves.

Once in the house, Sarah opened a secret compartment in a wall and retrieved a hidden handgun. Concealing the gun in the folds of her dress, she entered the bathroom and turned on the water. She scribbled a hasty note, tossed it out of the window and then shot herself in the mouth. Instead of dying instantly, she lingered for three excruciating days before passing away on October 10, 1917.

Marching Into Jerusalem
On December 11, 1918, British troops entered Jerusalem. One year earlier, Britain had issued the landmark Balfour Declaration, throwing its support behind the establishment of a Jewish state in the ancient Land of Israel.

Ten months later, after brutal fighting, the Ottoman Turks finally surrendered to Britain near Megiddo, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule over the Land of Israel.

The Aaronsohn House in Zichron Yaakov

Today, the Aaronson house is a museum dedicate to the amazing accomplishment of the NILI spy ring. Among other documents and artifacts, it houses a letter from British Captain Baron William Ormsby-Gore acknowledging that Britain could not have won without the aid of the NILI spies. There is also the last letter that Sarah Aaronsohn wrote, moments before she shot herself. In it, she asks us to “describe all our suffering to those who shall come after we have passed away, and tell them about our martyrdom and let them know that Sarah has asked that each drop of blood be avenged….”

As we commemorate the Allies' victory in World War I nearly a century ago, let’s heed her words and restore the name of the valiant NILI spy ring to our memories of the Great War.

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The Indian Princess who Fought Nazis
Oct 20, 2018 
 |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
The Indian Princess who Fought Nazis
Noor Inayat Khan courageously spied for Britain behind enemy lines.
Noor Inayat Khan, a descendent of Indian royalty, was a great heroine of World War II. Though her story is little known, she provided crucial aid to the Allied war effort and its fight against Nazi Germany.
Her great great grandfather was Tipu Sultan, Sultan of the Muslim kingdom Mysore in India who fiercely battled invading British forces and died in battle in 1799. Noor’s father Hazrat Inayat Kahan was a Muslim Sufi mystic and musician who married an American, Ora Ray Baker, and moved with her to Moscow, where they started a family. They eventually moved to Paris and enjoyed a cultured, artistic life. They lived in a house named “Fazil Manzil”, House of Blessings, on the outskirts of Paris.

Noor, their eldest daughter, studied music at the Paris Conservatory and child psychology at the Sorbonne and became a popular children’s book author. Her book, Twenty Jakata Tales, was published in 1939. After the fall of France in 1940, the Khan family fled, catching the last boat out of France to England. There, Noor and her brother Vilayat joined the war effort, signing up to fight with British forces.

Noor and her American mother
Fighting wasn’t a natural choice for Noor. An avowed pacifist, she also bitterly opposed British rule of India. She was also extremely gentle and soft spoken. Noor’s friend Jean Overton later recalled: “Noor was the quietest person it was possible to imagine. Her voice was so slight and soft so as sometimes scarcely to be audible.” Yet faced with the barbarity of Nazism, Noor didn’t hesitate and joined Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

As the war escalated, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill realized that the Allies needed more intelligence about what was happening behind Nazi lines. He ordered a top-secret project to “set Europe ablaze”: a team of crack radio operators who could penetrate behind enemy lines and broadcast secret reports back to Britain. This mission was almost impossibly difficult; radio operators would be working alone in Nazi occupied Europe, spying on authorities. They had to lug heavy radio equipment which made it difficult to disguise themselves and to move quickly. Spies had to find room to set up undetected bases and were in constant danger of giving their locations away with every broadcast they made. With almost all available men already in fighting units, many of those recruited for this classified project were women.

Noor Inayat Khan was one of the very first women to be recruited, and the first female radio operator to be sent into Nazi occupied France. She was trained by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in covert warfare and spycraft. At first, some British officials questioned her suitability. But her fluent French, her knowledge of Paris, and her commitment to the Allied cause won them over. In June 1943 Noor was given the codename “Madeline” and parachuted into France behind enemy lines, tasked with meeting up with the resistance network in Paris codenamed “Prosper”. She knew that if captured, she faced torture and certain death.

Noor started working with her fellow spies, but disaster struck within a week. The spy ring was compromised and many radio operators were arrested. Noor’s handlers back in England told her to evacuate France immediately to save her life, but Noor chose to remain. She was now the only radio operator in the network – Britain’s sole radio contact in all of Paris.

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1943, Noor moved around France, taking her radio equipment with her, finding and setting up safe areas from which to broadcast. For four and a half months, she evaded capture and sent a regular series of coded broadcasts from Paris to London. It was later estimated that in those months, she performed the work it would normally have taken six operators to do.

In October 1943, Noor was betrayed to the Gestapo. It’s thought that she was turned in by Renee Garry, whose brother was Noor’s first contact in Paris. Noor was arrested and sent to the Gestapo’s infamous headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris where prisoners’ screams could be heard coming from the building day and night. Tragically, Nazi officials were able to find records of Noor’s broadcasts and used them to send their own signals to London, luring new British spies to France - and right into the Gestapo’s trap.

Although Gestapo headquarters were tightly guarded, Noor managed to break out of her cell and escape. The Gestapo tracked her down and arrested her just hours later. Now classified as “highly dangerous”, Noor was sent to Pforzhem prison in Germany where she was tortured and kept in chains in isolation for ten agonizing months. Despite being repeatedly questioned and tortured, Noor refused to divulge secrets about the radio transmission program and the identities of her fellow operators.

Memorial bust of Noor Khan in Gordon Square Gardens, London
In September 1944, Noor and three other female spies were transferred to the Dachau concentration camp where they were shot on September 13. Noor was only 30 years old. Witnesses recalled that the last word she said moments before her murder was “Liberte”.

Noor Inayat Khan, descendent of Muslim royalty, embodied Hillel’s maxim, “In place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). Refusing to sit on the sidelines, she made the ultimate sacrifice in fighting the Nazis. Her courageous example deserves to be widely known.

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9 Great Quotes about Jews by Non-Jews
Aug 22, 2015  |  by aish.com
Stop what you’re doing and give your Jewish pride a boost!

1. “The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most single and illustrious acts of divine Providence… and what but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth hath been preserved.  Nor is the providence of God less remarkable in the destruction of their enemies, than in their preservation… We see that the great empires, which in their turn subdued and oppressed the people of God, are all come to ruin… And if such hath been the fatal end of the enemies and oppressors of the Jews, let it serve as a warning to all those, who at any time or upon any occasion are for raising a clamor and persecution against them.”

Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol (1704-1782)

2. “What is the Jew?...What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!

“The Jew – is the symbol of eternity. ... He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.

“The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

Leo Tolstoy, What is the Jew? printed in Jewish World periodical, 1908

3. “I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations ... They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”

John Adams, Second President of the United States
(From a letter to F. A. Van der Kemp [Feb. 16, 1808] Pennsylvania Historical Society)

4. “None of the resplendent names in history – Egypt, Athens, Rome – can compare in eternal grandeur with Jerusalem. For Israel has given to mankind the category of holiness. Israel alone has known the thirst for social justice, and that inner saintliness which is the source of justice.”

French pastor, Charles Wagner, 1918, as quoted in A Book of Jewish Thoughts, ed. J. H. Hertz (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 134.

5. “The Jews started it all – and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings ... We would think with a different mind, interpret all our experiences differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.”

Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, New York: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books, p 3.

6. ”...If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky way. properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.

“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”  

Mark Twain, Concerning The Jews, Harper’s Magazine, 1899

7. “Mankind, East and West, Christian and Muslim, accepted the Jewish conviction that there is only one God.  Today it is polytheism that is so difficult to understand, that is so unthinkable.”

T.R. Grover, The Ancient World, p. 186

8. “Some people like the Jews, and some do not.  But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

Winston Churchill – Prime Minister of Great Britain

9. “Certainly, the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so a personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”

Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, Epilogue

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Princess Alice and the Jews
Oct 13, 2018  |  by aish.com
2.05 mins video
How Queen Elizabeth's mother-in-law saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

Hiding from the Nazi Downstairs
Oct 13, 2018  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Hiding from the Nazi Downstairs
Elsa Koditschek hid under the noses of the SS family who’d stolen her home.
When Elsa Koditschek’s Viennese home was forcibly taken from her by the Nazis in 1940 and handed over to a senior SS officer tasked with rounding up Jews, Elsa went underground in the most unlikely of places: her own house. She spent much of the war under the noses of the very SS family who’d stolen her home.

Elsa’s remarkable story is now being told thanks to the auction house Sotheby’s, which is selling the one valuable painting that Elsa owned and broadcasting her incredible tale to the world.

Elsa Koditschek was married to a prosperous banker and together the Jewish couple built a three-story house in the Viennese suburb of Hietzing in 1911. Elsa’s husband died young, and she continued living in the house, raising her son and daughter as a single mother. Elsa remained in her house and rented out the second floor. Her tenant, Sylvia Kosminski, became a dear friend, and Elsa and her children called her “Aunt Sylvia”. As anti-Semitism increased around them, Elsa took the precautions of sending her children away to safety: her son moved to the United States and her daughter sought refuge in Switzerland.

Elsa wasn’t a major art collector but she did buy one important painting: Dammernde Stadt, by the Viennese expressionist painter Egon Schiele. Little did Elsa know that the painting would one day help save her life.

Elsa Koditschek’s Viennese home

In 1938, Austria was annexed by Germany and strict anti-Jewish decrees began to go into effect. As many of her friends and relatives lost their jobs and couldn’t afford places to live, Elsa took them in, assigning different rooms in her large house to her new guests. Elsa moved into her music room, sleeping on a sofa, and hung Dammernde Stadt into her dining room. In 1939, she wrote to her son that she was now dependent financially on Aunt Sylvia, who was helping her and her many guests get by now that Jews were barred from most forms of employment.

In 1940, the Nazi party seized Elsa’s house, assigning it to local SS officer Herbert Gerbing and his family. Gerbing was charged with rounding up Jews in Greece and France and was noted for his extreme cruelty. Ironically, he allowed Elsa to stay in the house as a tenant living in an upstair’s bedroom for several months. Elsa wrote to her children that any time the Gerbings had a question about their new house, they’d demand that Elsa come to them and explain how things worked.

Their relations were so cordial that when Elsa received an order in 1940 to report to the Lodz Ghetto, she took it to Herr Gerbing and asked if he could do anything to cancel her order. The Lodz Ghetto was an overcrowded hellhole in which nearly 70,000 Jews were detained in inhuman conditions: starved, beaten, and eventually deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Herr Gerbing knew all about the evil going on there, but he lied to Elsa, telling her he wouldn’t change her order and that she should expect life in Lodz to be pleasant. He also advised Elsa not to take too much luggage, knowing that she faced certain death and that anything she left behind would become his.

Elsa Koditschek

Elsa wasn’t reassured about Gerbing’s rosy portrait of life in Poland. She hatched a plan with Sylvia: Elsa would go and hide with a Christian couple she knew. If anyone tipped off the Nazis to her whereabouts, Elsa would flee. A network of friends would inform Sylvia, and she and Elsa would meet at a pre-arranged location to plot Elsa’s next step.

Elsa spent a year and a half hiding with a non-Jewish couple named Heinz. When the Heinzs were away, Elsa kept the lights off. For 20 months she stayed away from windows and only left their apartments a couple of times, always at night. She spent hours hiding in a crevice between a cupboard and a storage box. One night in 1942, Elsa heard Mr. Heinz come home early, accompanied by two Nazi guards who started searching the house. Elsa ran out of the apartment, wearing only a shabby housecoat and slippers, and hid outside for hours. Eventually, she made her way across Vienna to the rendezvous point she’d arranged with Sylvia, hoping that Sylvia would have heard what had happened.

Sylvia had not. She’d been out at a party and had no idea that Elsa was waiting for her in their secret location. When she did hear about the raid – Mr. Heinz had been arrested for selling jewelry on the black market and informants had told Nazi officials the couple was hiding a Jew – Sylvia assumed Elsa was dead. Surely there was no way Elsa could have eluded capture.

As the hours ticked by and Sylvia failed to appear, Elsa reached out to another non-Jewish couple she knew and asked them to relay the message that to Sylvia that she was alive. Sylvia agreed to meet Elsa later that night several miles away, and Elsa travelled by foot to their meeting point, terrified that at any moment she would be spotted and arrested.

When she finally met Sylvia, the two returned to the only place they could think of: Elsa’s own home, now owned by the Gerbing family.

Sylvia sold off the last of Elsa’s possessions, including the painting Dammernde Stadt.
Sylvia installed Elsa in her own apartment in the house, and Elsa spent the rest of the war doing all of Sylvia’s washing up and mending. It’s ambiguous from Elsa’s letters just what sort of relationship she and Sylvia had, although it was clear that Sylvia now had the upper hand over her former landlady. Sylvia sold off the last of Elsa’s possessions, including the painting Dammernde Stadt, and pocketed the proceeds from the sale.

From her upstairs window, Elsa often watched the Gerbing family relax in the garden. Frequently, she observed crates of treasure arrive at the house containing plundered items that Gerbing had sent home from his trips abroad. She also watched a steady stream of Jewish slaves arrive at the house to perform maintenance, make repairs, unload deliveries and work in the garden.

By late 1944, Allied forces were getting closer to Vienna and were heavily bombing the city. The electricity and gas supplies to the house were often cut. Frau Gerbing received news that her husband had been murdered in Prague. On April 9, 1944, Easter Sunday, Frau Gerbing and her children fled the house, but Elsa was still too terrified to emerge from her hiding place.

The house was vandalized by Soviet forces who liberated the area and stole everything of value, even Elsa’s wrist watch and supply of candles. Elsa remained in the ruined house with Sylvia before eventually making her way to Switzerland where her daughter lived. Elsa died in 1961, her letters largely forgotten and unread even within her own family.

All that changed recently, when the current owners of Dammernde Stadt contacted Sotheby’s about selling the painting. Sotheby’s isn’t divulging any details about the owners, other than they are private European collectors. Aware of the painting’s complicated status, Sotheby’s worked with Elsa Koditschek’s descendants to trace the work’s provenance. Both Elsa’s family and the painting’s most recent owners will benefit from its sale.

Elsa’s letters were hidden for years in a relative’s basement and now they are being read and analyzed for the first time in decades.
For Elsa’s grandchildren and great grandchildren, learning about Elsa’s wartime experiences has been the real treasure. Her letters were hidden for years in a relative’s basement, and now they are being read and analyzed for the first time in decades.

Lucian Simmons, Sotheby’s head of restitution, explains the value of Elsa’s story: “It’s so unusual to have a victim of Nazi theft or expropriation who writes everything down. Usually you’re trying to join the dots, but the dots are far apart.”

Elsa’s grandson Ted Koditschek, a retired history professor at the University of Missouri, explains that for him and his relatives his grandmother’s letters are more personal. They’re “like a Rosetta Stone” for his family, helping them understand, at long last, their grandmother and the remarkable story of her survival under the very nose of the brutal SS guard who thought he’d turned her out of her home.

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About the Author

Dr. Yvette Alt MillerMore by this Author >
Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics. She lives with her family in Chicago, and has lectured internationally on Jewish topics. Her book Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor. It has been praised as "life-changing", a modern classic, and used in classes and discussion groups around the world.

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Nikki Haley: Memorable Quotes
Oct 10, 2018  |  by Nikki Haley
The outspoken pro-Israel diplomat will be sorely missed.
The world was taken by surprised with the announcement that Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, will be resigning at the end of the year. The outspoken pro-Israel diplomat, dubbed “Hurricane Haley” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for her strong defense of the Jewish state, viewed standing up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias and defending moving the US embassy to Jerusalem among her main achievements in her diplomatic posting.

Here is a selection of some her most memorable quotes.

“The days of Israel-bashing are over…For anyone who says you can’t get anything done at the UN, they need to know there is a new sheriff in town.”
“I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time.”

“I have seen so many similarities between the Israeli culture and the Indian culture. We’re very close-knit. We love our families. We have a strong work ethic. We believe in professionalism and philanthropy and giving back. It’s very true. So that’s all the good things. We’re aggressive. We’re stubborn. And we don’t back down from a fight.” AIPAC Policy Conference, March 2017

“I encourage people to find and use the power of their voices just as much when I do not agree with those voices as when I do agree with them.”

“All I’ve done with Israel is tell the truth. So when I saw something wrong, I called it out.”

“The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. … All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.” – Aljazeera, 3 January 2018

“Israel has been forced to live under constant security threats like virtually no other country in the world. It should not have to live that way. And yet, Israel has overcome those burdens. It is a thriving country, with a vibrant economy that contributes much to the world in the name of technology, science, and the arts.” UN Security Council session, February 2018

“I went to Israel [in June 2017] to see firsthand the country the United Nations spends half its time on. Unfortunately, I’m not kidding – it’s ridiculous. It seems like the rough breakdown at the UN is half the time on Israel and half the time on the other 192 countries.” Israeli-American Council, November 2017

“I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body. And then I remember that Israel has chosen to remain in this institution because it’s important to stand up for yourself. Israel must stand up for its own survival as a nation; but it also stands up for the ideals of freedom and human dignity that the United Nations is supposed to be about.” Ahead of Security Council session on U.S.’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, December 2017

“The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold [Syrian President] Bashar Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.” Press conference after attending first Security Council meeting, February 2017

“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.” Senate Confirmation Hearing, January 2017

“Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”

“We will not tolerate a situation that a world body of 198 countries can spend half their time attacking one country: Israel. What used to be a monthly Israel-bashing session now at least has more balance. But we’re never gonna put up with bullying.” AIPAC Policy Conference, March 2018

“Freedom and human dignity cannot be separated from peace and security. When the rights of the people are denied, the people rightly resist. If the concerns are not acknowledged, then peace and security are inevitably threatened. We have seen that repeatedly throughout human history. The case of Syria provides a horrible recent testament to this fact.” – Emergency UN Security Council Briefing on Iran, January 5, 2018

“The capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, because [Israel’s] government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem. We have to see that for what it is.” Interview on Christian Broadcasting Network, May 2017

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Post  Admin on Fri 14 Sep 2018, 12:47 pm

The Apology Factor
Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)
Jan 12, 2000  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
The Apology Factor
Making a commitment to correct our mistakes.
(a continuation of last week's theme...)

A few years ago I learned a valuable lesson about apologies. I was sitting in a classroom and it was a few minutes past the time that the class was scheduled to begin. We were waiting for the teacher to arrive, and when one of my fellow students walked in, I gave him a warm and hearty welcome: "Hello, Alan!"

After the class was over, Alan came up to me and said: "I was so mad at you that I wanted to punch you!"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

Alan explained. When he walked in and I said a loud "hello," he thought I was trying to draw everyone's attention to the fact that he was late.

Of course, that wasn't my intention at all, and the only reason that my "hello" bothered Alan was because he was feeling self-conscious about his own lateness!

But then I realized: It doesn't matter whether I'm right or wrong, and whether my insult was intentional or not. The fact remains that I hurt someone's feelings. And for that I must apologize.

The Mechanics of Apology

Next time somebody harms you and then comes to apologize, notice how he does it. There are two approaches people use ― what I call the "sincere apology," and the "selfish apology."

The sincere approach is short and sweet, and sounds something like this:

"I'm sorry I hurt you. I'll be careful to see that it doesn't happen again."

Clean, direct, no excuses. If you'd been hurt, wouldn't you feel better after receiving such an apology?

Next is the "selfish apology." It goes something like this:

"I apologize. But I didn't do it on purpose. I had a hard day and I didn't realize what I was doing. And why are you so sensitive about this, anyway!?"

This person has verbalized an "apology," but it is hollow because they have no regret. They really feel "it's not my fault and I didn't do anything wrong."

The type of apology not only fails to appease the person who was hurt, it actually makes things worse. Why? Because this "apology" is in effect saying:

"The fact that my actions were hurtful to you is not really my problem. And since I don't regret my actions, I will not make an effort to change them. Therefore if a similar circumstance occurs in the future, I would do the same thing and hurt you again!"

What came under the guise of an "apology" actually turns into a great insult.

Positive Effects of Apology

Apologizing can be a difficult, humbling experience. We may feel vulnerable, low and bad.

But it doesn't have to be this way...

Imagine your jacket got stained. Of course you have to take it to the cleaners. But do you feel depressed when your clothes are stained? Of course not! You know that a stain is not a permanent part of the fabric.

Judaism says it's the same thing when we make a mistake. Our soul is the garment that gets stained. And we have to clean it. But making a mistake doesn't mean I'm inherently a bad person! In fact, the Talmud (Yevamot 79) says that a sense of shame is essential to the nature of a Jew.

A distinction needs to be made between "unhealthy" and "healthy" guilt. Unhealthy guilt is where you feel like a bad person. Healthy guilt is where you maintain the sense that you're a good person, while acknowledging that you used bad judgment and made a mistake.

Think back to a time you apologized. How do you feel afterwards? Cleansed! Getting it out is an expansive, cathartic, liberating release. We cleanse the stain and recapture that lost purity. We rectify the past and move forward.

Feeling in the Air

This week's Parsha begins: "You are all standing here today before God" (Deut. 29:9). Allegorically, this is referring to Rosh Hashana, the day when every Jew stands before the Almighty and takes a long, hard look at who they really are.

This is the time of year to make a commitment to correct our mistakes. God is "close" at this time, and as the verse in this week's parsha says: "God will remove the barriers from your hearts" (Deut. 30:6).

There's a feeling in the air. Let's use it!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons
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Rabbi Shraga SimmonsMore by this Author >
Rabbi Shraga Simmons is the co-founder of Aish.com, and co-author of "48 Ways to Wisdom" (ArtScroll). He is Founder and Director of Aish.com's advanced learning site. He is co-founder of HonestReporting.com, and author of "David & Goliath", the definitive account of anti-Israel media bias. Originally from Buffalo, New York, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He lives with his wife and children in the Modi'in region of Israel.

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Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem
Sep 12, 2011  |  by aish.com
It'll make your head spin.
WATCH http://www.aish.com/h/hh/video/Rosh_Hashanah_Rock_Anthem.html?s=mm

To see the lyrics, start the film and click on the up-arrow and then on the 'CC' for closed captioning.

For more, visit aish.com/newyear

To join the fun at Aish, visit http://israel.aish.com/essentials/

Visit www.nomembershiprequired.com Can’t promise break dancing, but we can guarantee revamped High Holiday services.

Rosh Hashana Rock Anthem is a parody of Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.

Song Lyrics:
Synagogue, Rabbi’s talk, going on for a while, can you check the clock, huh
Cantor’s opera, lost my spot, do you know the place, choir in the slot
Wine we drink, with family now, good deeds you do, good for your soul
Fish head, ram's horn, shofar blow, give some money, appeal for dough

Yo, I’m returnin’ to the fold can you explain mo’
Got this desire to know Torah scroll, say hello
Our prayers rock, yeah, we’re the Jews and we question
Got the pride, just cant stop, our lives are changin'
Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova – It’s High Holiday time

Taking stock is what we do tonight
Shana Tova – it’s High Holiday time
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Blow the shofar and – Shuckle!

Three times a day I’m shucklin’
shucklin', shucklin'

Shofar blast, all across the world we will do this task
Apples and honey, feelin’ glad – now stop, never get mad

Fill the Kiddush cup, my friends around
Books are opened up, the challah’s round
All our history, we see it now
Now please hear our plea, we’re prayin' now

Stand up, sit down, pass the prayer books around
Stand up, sit down, pass the prayer books around
Stand up, sit down, pass the prayer books around
Pass the prayer books around, pass the prayer books around

Rosh Hashanah’s in the house tonight
All the world is passing through the light
Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Shana Tova – it’s High Holiday time

Taking stock is what we do tonight
Shana Tova – it’s High Holiday time

Let’s all get written in the book of Life
Blow the shofar and – Shuckle!

Everyday I'm shucklin'

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Post  Admin on Sun 02 Sep 2018, 10:25 am

My Bargain with God in North Korea POW Camp
Aug 25, 2018  |  by Shlomi Gil
My Bargain with God in North Korea POW Camp
Leonard Wisper’s heroic return to Judaism.

Back in 1951, American draftee Leonard Wisper lay critically injured in a North Korean POW camp. With chances of survival minimal, he made a bargain with God that if he’d survive, he’d start keeping mitzvot.

The Korean War, which lasted from June 1950 to July 1953, began when communist-backed North Korea – aided by China and the Soviet Union – invaded South Korea. The United Nations, with the US providing 90 percent of the military personnel, came to South Korea’s defense.

After the first two months of war, South Korean and dispatched US forces were forced back to a small area in the south known as the Pusan Perimeter. A counter offensive saw the UN forces beginning to advance, only to be cut off again by a million-strong Chinese army who joined with the North Koreans. During these reversals of fortune, South Korea’s capital city of Seoul changed hands four times. The fighting ended three years after it began, incurring a death toll of 2.5 million people.

Wisper, who was 21 in 1950, didn’t dream he’d be shipped out to join the forces on the Korean Peninsula. He grew up in Chicago to a Jewish family that had immigrated to the US from Poland so that his grandfather wouldn’t be drafted to the Polish army.

“The Zeide was an observant Jew,” says Wisper, “but when he came to America, the challenges of keeping mitzvot properly were too daunting, and so he went back to Poland, where he was later murdered in the Holocaust along with most of the family that remained there. My father stayed in America, though, but within a few years, his mitzvah observance dropped.”

Wisper says the store where his father found a job required him to work on Shabbos, and like many others, “he felt he had no choice. He had to support us. The next generation, my siblings and me, grew up in a home where we would go to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and didn’t eat chametz on Pesach, but that was about it.”

As a machine-gunner in the Korean War: "I was sure I was dead meat"
Lenny Wisper was in college and holding down a good job in auto repair – with no desire to serve in the military – when the draft notice came in the summer of 1951. “Army service was not part of my dreams,” he says. “I had suffered from a spinal injury and was sure they wouldn’t take me.”

But the US, still reeling from World War II just a few years before, was under tremendous pressure and needed manpower. “At first they sent the American forces who’d remained in Japan to fight in Korea,” he says, “but a few months after the war broke out they began to call up thousands of soldiers, especially since the Chinese, with their million-man army, joined North Koreans. So although I was far from perfectly fit, I was shipped out.”

We didn’t know much about Judaism, but when you’re on your way to war at the other end of the world, who wouldn’t want to pray?
Lenny was sent for basic training, and a few days before Yom Kippur, he boarded a military ship headed for Japan, along with 1,500 other soldiers trying to battle their seasickness on the way. “There was a religious soldier, maybe he even served as a rabbi, who gathered the Jewish soldiers to daven on Yom Kippur. We davened, even though we didn’t know much about Judaism, and most of us were not religious at all. But when you’re on your way to war at the other end of the world, who wouldn’t want to pray?”

When the ship docked on Japanese shores, the fighters debarked and were sent to another training course before being deployed to the front. “At the time,” recalls Wisper, “the only automatic weapons we had were some submachine guns left over from World War Two and that’s what we used for training. Those guns had long bayonets, and they taught us how to attack first with the bayonets in order to stab the enemy before using the bullets.”

Then the soldiers departed on small boats to Pusan, the large port city in South Korea that became its temporary capital during the war. The biggest shock for the thousands of soldiers coming from the mighty United States, he says, was the discovery that fighting against the North Koreans and their Chinese communist allies was an extremely complicated and painful endeavor.

“There was a lot of frustration,” Wisper, who worked as a machine gunner, says. “It was sort of like a ping pong game, but with bodies as the score card. Sometimes it was North Korea that captured territory and we liberated it and then they captured it again. Other times, we captured territory, the North Koreans liberated it, and we captured it again. This went on over and over again. In every such round, thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed.

Wisper realized that every day he was still alive was something of a miracle.
“One of my jobs was to bring back the American soldiers who fell in these battles. The scenes were indescribably gruesome. Some of these men were my friends, they were in my unit. The South Koreans weren’t prepared for the invasion, and we, the American soldiers, needed time to mobilize against the intensity of the North Korean and Chinese forces. One time we got to a field where I saw some American soldiers lying on the ground. At first I thought they were resting, but then I realized they’d been killed by shelling.”

Split-Second Salvation
A few months into battle, Wisper realized that every day he was still alive was something of a miracle. And then came the direct hit to his outpost in the middle of the night.

“My partner was killed instantly, and I was knocked unconscious,” he says, replaying the scene he’s relived thousands of times over the last six decades. “When I came to, I heard the voices of Chinese and North Korean soldiers, but I couldn’t move. The pain was excruciating. I didn’t feel my legs, and one of my eyes was badly injured. It took me a few seconds to realize I was surrounded by enemy soldiers.”

When he was finally able to raise his head, he saw his friends, the other soldiers in his unit, lying sprawled all around. Most of them were dead; a few were critically wounded. “I also realized that I was going to be taken into captivity and we’d all heard the horrifying rumors about what happened to Americans taken prisoner by the North Koreans. I was in agony, but I forced myself not to moan or make a sound, hoping the enemy troops would leave the area without noticing I was alive – maybe that way I’d survive.”

It might have been a good plan, but a few minutes later, another injured soldier lying nearby began to groan in pain. The Chinese captors quickly came over, realizing they had a prize – living, wounded Americans. Seconds later, Wisper and the others still among the living were dragged to a hiding place.

“I was thrown into a small bunker in the area,” he remembers. “The Chinese would build makeshift bunkers on all the battlefronts, and the one they dragged me into was already occupied by three frightened, injured Americans. To his credit, the Chinese soldier who had captured me pulled out a rice ball that was probably meant for him, and tossed it in my direction.

It was pretty clear that only a miracle could save me – but how to pray to God who I had basically ignored my entire life up to then?
“Still, I was pretty sure I was dead meat,” he continues. “For the Chinese, I was a burden because I was injured. This was just a holding bunker and they were going to march us to a bigger detention center, but since I couldn’t walk and I’d hold up the convoy, I assumed they’d just shoot me and finish me off.

“At that point it was pretty clear that only a miracle could save me – but how to pray to God who I had basically ignored my entire life up to then? So I focused and said, with every fiber of Jewishness I could muster up into my consciousness, ‘Merciful Father, if You help me get out of here I will return to You.’ I didn’t know the words of the prayers or Psalms then. I just spoke to God in my language, in my own words. I promised that I would begin to keep Torah and mitzvot if I emerged from there alive.”

After half a day in the bunker, bleeding and wounded, Wisper heard shelling and soldiers shouting in English. He realized that American troops had come to rescue them.

That split second, I got the strength to leap over, grab the grenade before it detonated and throw it back out of the bunker.
“An hour later, one of the Chinese guards peeked into the bunker, looked in my direction, and emitted a string of curses as he pulled out a grenade. That’s when I realized we were really finished. In a few seconds he’d toss the grenade into the bunker and we’d be blown to smithereens. I watched as he pulled the pin and threw the thing in – and somehow, in that split second, I got the strength to leap over, grab it before it detonated and throw it back out of the bunker, where it exploded in a blast of smoke and fire. The soldiers who were with me hugged me with a joy that’s hard to describe. ‘You saved our lives!’ they shouted. A few minutes later, American soldiers came and rescued us.

“They put me on a military jeep and took me to a field hospital, where they began to extract the shrapnel from my body. The shrapnel was embedded all over and it took hours to get the pieces out. One piece was a millimeter from my eye – only a miracle saved my vision.” Wisper was later sent to a hospital in northern Japan for recovery, and then returned to the US.

The Promise
Aryeh (Leonard) Wisper with the South Korean ambassador. “It was like coming full circle, my promise fulfilled in a way I would have never imagined”
The war raged on for another two years; with the cease-fire in 1953, Wisper was discharged from the army, but the memory of that oath in the bunker loomed large. “When I promised to do teshuvah (return to Jewish observance), I didn’t really understand what it meant,” he admits, “but when I returned home I discovered that it wasn’t so simple. There was no teshuvah movement then, no Aish and no Jewish outreach, but I knew I had to change my life.”

He began to seek out Jewish centers in Chicago, but, he says, “In those days, even the religious rabbis in Chicago were pretty liberal by today’s standards. So I began to go to shul on Shabbos and to keep a few mitzvot, but I didn’t have the fire – I felt somehow that I wasn’t really fulfilling my promise.”

In the summer of 1957, Wisper made his first visit to Israel. It was a time when everyone had to dig in their heels – it was toward the end of the Austerity period when staple foods and supplies were rationed, and when Jordanian snipers and infiltrators were a threat to daily life – but Wisper was unfazed. Something inside shifted, and when he returned to Chicago, he began wearing a yarmulke in public and had become fully mitzvah-observant.

At the time, a religious Israeli girl who worked at the Israeli consulate in Chicago was suggested as a match for him, and they were married soon after.

The Wispers made aliyah in 1965 with their two daughters. They first lived in Jerusalem, where they had a son, and soon afterward, they moved to Bnei Brak, right across the street from the great Rav Aharon Leib Steinman ztz”l. “He was our special neighbor,” says Wisper. “I was still pretty new to Judaism, and for years I’d go in and ask him every halachic question I had. That was before he was ‘discovered,’ before tens of thousands of Jews would converge on his little, dilapidated apartment. But the Rosh Yeshivah never changed. Even as the leader of Orthodox Jewry, he always treated me the same way he did in the earlier years, and that’s how he treated everyone else as well.”

Aryeh Leibish Wisper's "Ambassador for Peace" award from the Korean government, sixty years after saving his comrades in an enemy bunker.
Wisper didn’t think too much about his Korean adventures until 2011, when he heard that Korean ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-sam, was looking for Jewish soldiers who had fought in the Korean War, so that his government could express its gratitude. South Korean embassies annually honor veterans in the 16 countries that fought the North under the United Nations banner. While Israel, a two-year-old struggling country at the time, didn’t send soldiers to fight in the Korean War, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion did support America’s pro-South efforts against the Soviet Union-backed North, and also sent $100,000 in food items to South Korea – a substantial gift at the time, especially considering Israel’s own precarious situation.

The Korean envoy spent several years tracking Jewish war veterans and discovered that about 4,000 Jewish soldiers were dispatched to South Korea. In Israel, he discovered seven veterans, Wisper among them.

Sixty years after Wisper saved his American comrades in that enemy bunker, he received a medal of honor from the South Korean ambassador.
Sixty years after Wisper saved his American comrades in that enemy bunker, he received a medal of honor from the South Korean ambassador, and – accompanied by his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, some of whom probably never even heard of the Korean War – delivered an emotional speech in which he eulogized the Jewish soldiers who had lost their lives in the region.

Wisper has been attending the South Korean embassy’s ceremony every year since, and has developed a warm relationship with the embassy staff. The South Korean ambassador even visited Yeshiva Nesivos Olam to learn about its Torah learning methods. Wisper was his personal tour guide.

“Afterwards,” says Aryeh Leibish Wisper, “we sat down at a festive banquet held in his honor and he related his dream to include Talmud studies in the South Korean study curriculum. We’ve all heard in the last few years how the South Koreans are fascinated by the Talmud and how it’s being studied there, and for the ambassador to sit in a beis medrash in Israel, it was a special honor for him. For me, it was like coming full circle – my promise fulfilled in a way I would have never imagined.”

This article originally appeared in Mishpacha magazine. Rachel Ginsberg contributed to this report. Photos: Ezra Trabelsi

Why Multitasking is Bad for You
Aug 27, 2018  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Why Multitasking is Bad for You
Studies show that multitasking is damaging our education, work performance and life.

This week I’m going back to school. I’ve been blessed to have been teaching Torah, Jewish wisdom and values for more than half a century to thousands of students and, thank God, I’m still with all my faculties [pun intended] as well as the physical and mental ability to continue to serve as a professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University.

I witnessed the changes of generations and the differences of students throughout the years. Invariably people ask me, “So how do the students of today compare with those of yesteryear? Are there any significant differences between those you taught years ago and the ones studying today? ”

The youth of today are inquisitive, intelligent and idealistic. They worship authenticity. They see through hypocrisy, pretense and insincerity. They profoundly want their lives to have meaning. We can take great pride in the next generation as well as hope for their future achievements.

But we need to acknowledge the proverbial “elephant in the room” in contemporary education. It is perhaps the one word that best describes the reason for today’s unfortunate decline of academic excellence. It’s a word of recent vintage which had no relevance just a decade ago but today causes more grief to teachers trying to transmit knowledge than all the noisy disruptions which made learning impossible in times past.

The word is multitasking – and its great danger comes from its duplicitous masking of its harmful effects, its seductive appeal as a positive addition to the learning process instead of its true role as today’s greatest barrier between teacher and student.

Countless studies have proven beyond a doubt that multitasking is a myth. It simply does not work. More than that, it is counterproductive in many serious ways.
Simply speaking, multitasking is attempting to do a few things at once while doing none of them properly.

Of course that’s not what people who multitask believe. As they continually listen with one ear to the instructor they check their emails, surf the web, look at snapshot, twitter and Google something that just came to mind, see what their friends have posted on Facebook, and do the other thousand and one things that have become part of their daily preoccupations.

But here’s the truth: Countless studies have proven beyond a doubt that multitasking is a myth. It simply does not work. More than that, it is counterproductive in many serious ways.

Outside of the classroom multitasking can be a killer.

The statistics on driving and electronics use are alarming. Cell phone use leads to 1.6 million car accidents each year. 25% of car accidents are caused by texting. Texting drivers are six times more likely to cause an accident than drunk drivers. According to the RAC Foundation, a British motoring research organization, texting while driving decreases reaction time by 35% while reducing steering control by a horrifying 91%. This makes texting and driving significantly more hazardous than driving while drunk or stoned.

Multitasking while walking is almost as hazardous. Those using electronic devices walk more slowly, weave more, and make more direction changes than those not on cell phones. Distracted walking causes pedestrians to get hit by cars, fall off bridges, and stumble onto subway tracks.

Doctors at Harvard declared war on multitasking when a resident nearly killed a patient while taking a text message.
Now just imagine what multitasking can do in professional settings. Doctors at Harvard declared war on the practice when a resident nearly killed the patient after being distracted while taking a text message. Not only that, authors Maggie Jackson and Nicholas Carr have both written books about the bad things computer-assisted distraction is doing to our brains. In a fascinating study by David Rock, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, we learn:

"A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night's sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it's really not that amusing that one of the most common productivity tools can make one as dumb as a stoner."

That means when you're switching between answering emails and doing important tasks, when it comes to mental function, you'd be better off if you were stoned. Or, as another quote from the book puts it, "when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an 8-year-old."

According to Dr. Clifford Nass, the author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, the more you multitask, the less you’re able to learn, or concentrate. He shows that multitasking stunts emotional intelligence and makes us less creative, and studies support this.

Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, Professor of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience and Music at McGill University, indicates that multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and then finding new external stimulation. In his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Levitin states emphatically that continually checking email, Facebook, or Twitter qualifies as an addiction.

Scientists still haven't concluded whether or not multitasking is permanently harming our brains. However, there's overwhelming evidence that it harms our lives.

As in so many other ways, Albert Einstein was far ahead of his times and profoundly prophetic when he said “I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

Technology is changing our brains — and, it’s generally agreed, not for the better. Now it’s not unusual for people to be engaged in several activities at a time – and students it seems have adopted multitasking as the ideal way to go on with their lives while ostensibly at the same time supposedly gaining an education. Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Clifford Nass says, “25 percent of Stanford students are using four or more media at once.” Learning four times as much? No, according to reputable studies, not even learning one thing well.

People who are busy doing two things at once don’t even see obvious things right in front of them, according to a 2009 study from Western Washington University. Specifically, 75% of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. The researchers call this “inattentional blindness,” saying that even though the cell-phone talkers were technically looking at their surroundings, none of it was actually registering in their brains.

“Inattentional blindness” is the educational sickness of our times. Woe to those who study Talmud – or for that matter any other subjects which require the mind to focus – while the computer pleads with them for their attention.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of all was that it was precisely those who firmly believed they were capable of multitasking without any mental loss, both in terms of full understanding as well as memory of material, who turned out to be the ones most negatively affected.

So the bottom line is simple: to all those who want to succeed academically, who want to fulfill their potential for mental and intellectual growth, who want to gain a real education - just as their parents and grandparents did in the ancient days prior to computers – I urge you to acknowledge that multitasking is the one thing that stands in the way of your equaling or being better then the generations that preceded you.
Indeed, the one word which begins the most important proclamation in Judaism is Shema - listen. I pray, at the beginning of the school year, that every student takes this to heart, without distraction and “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Rabbi Benjamin BlechMore by this Author >
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a frequent contributor to Aish, is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, and lecturer. He is the author of 19 highly acclaimed books with combined sales of over a half million copies, A much sought after speaker, he is available as scholar in residence in your community. See his website at rabbibenjaminblech.com.

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Post  Admin on Tue 28 Aug 2018, 4:30 pm

Sir Isaac Newton and Judaism
Aug 25, 2018  |  by B. Gordon
Sir Isaac Newton and Judaism
The scientist’s recently disclosed private papers reveal his deep reverence for ancient Jewish wisdom.

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientists of all time. Some of his most outstanding discoveries include the laws of optics or the physics of light, the three laws of motion, the laws of gravity, and calculus. He is also famous for his Principia Mathematica, the most widely read scientific work of all time, in which he explains the motions of the planets in a single mathematical system. Born in an age that embraced rationalism and shunned religious authority, Newton was also hailed as a hero of his era. Yet, recent divulgement of Newton’s personal writings challenges all common assumptions about his true identity.

Newton’s Private Beliefs
Newton’s private beliefs have been under the radar for hundreds of years, perhaps because of their unfavorable reception. Bernard Cohen’s book Franklin and Newton discusses the first time scientists discovered Newton’s personal manuscripts: He quotes John Maynard Keynes, the British great economist: “‘Upon his death in 1727, a very big box of unusual papers was discovered in his room. Bishop Samuel Horsley, who was also a scientist, was asked to inspect the box with view to publication. He saw the contents with horror and slammed the lid...’ shut.” The recent disclosure of Newton’s private manuscripts revealed that Newton was far from the archetype rationalist he was originally assumed to be.

A page of Isaac Newton's writing featuring, the prayer, in Hebrew,
'Blessed is His name for eternity.'

After being tucked away for 200 years, Newton’s manuscripts were finally auctioned off in 1936. Keynes, The Babson family in America, and Israeli Professor Avraham Shalom Yahuda bought the majority of them and donated them to university libraries around the world. These manuscripts have been made available in the past 25 years.

Newton’s “strange” interests
It’s no wonder that both Christian and secular-minded scientists who had originally revered Newton had little incentive to publicize their findings. Newton’s manuscripts revealed that he took a keen interest in “archaic” Jewish wisdom. Newton’s knowledge of Jewish thought was not superficial; he referred to rabbinic works such as the Aramaic Version of Esther, Vayikra Rabba, the commentaries of Sa'adia HaGaon, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, Sifra, R. Aharon ibn Hayyim; Seder Ma'amadot (about the daily sacrifices) the Bartinurah and Talmudic passages from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud in Latin. One of Newton’s manuscripts was entitled “On Maimonides,” where he quoted the Latin translation of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. 1

Sir Isaac Newton
But the content in Newton’s notes should not really have come as such a big surprise, given the collection of works in his library. Newton kept five works of Maimonides essays in his library.2 He also owned a Latin commentary on Maimonides that references the Moreh Nevuchim, The Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides’ reconciliation of Torah with science and philosophy. This particular work seems to have had a significant impact on Newton’s philosophy. The harmony between scripture and science was a theme threaded throughout many of Newton’s works, and a means through which he carried out his theological and scientific pursuits.3

Newton’s beliefs, revealed
Maynard Keynes, the scholar who studied Newton’s manuscripts, summarized his findings in honor of the 300th anniversary of Newton’s death. Keynes explained that Newton’s beliefs were influenced by Maimonides' philosophy. Keyne’s described Newton as "a Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides”. In fact, in his work The Principia, Newton rejected the concept of the deity for a belief that closely mirrored the Jewish monotheistic concept of God. (Newton even quotes an element in Maimonides' teachings: that one can only learn about God indirectly, through His actions and His dominion.)4

Newton’s theological writings at Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, October 2014.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Newton’s leanings were not limited to the intellectual sphere, and he appears to have kept the seven commandments of the children of Noah that the Torah has given to non-Jews. To quote, in his own words, in Theological Manuscripts: “Although the precepts of Noah are not as perfect as the religion of the Scripture, they suffice for salvation... Indeed, (as the rabbis taught) Jews had admitted into their gates heathens who accepted Noah's precepts, but had not converted to the Law of Moses.” Newton professed that commandment against eating "the flesh" or "the blood of (live) animals” is because “this religion obliged men to be merciful even to brute beasts.”5

Newton’s Scientific Works and Maimonides
What may have irked scientists more than Newton’s private beliefs and practices was how he applied these beliefs to his theological and scientific studies. Parallels of Newton’s philosophy and Maimonides’ teachings are interwoven in his manuscripts. For example, Newton used Maimonides' "Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon" in his notes on “considerations about rectifying the Julian calendar”.

Newton studied the measurements of Solomon’s Temple and the Third Temple to come to a greater understanding of the earth’s dimensions. He understood that the Temple was a microcosm of the earth and “revealed the works of God”, the world’s greatest architect.6

To that end, Newton quoted excerpts from the Latin translation of Maimonides’ De Cultu Divino, where he explained the measurements of the Temple. 7 Newton also preoccupied himself with studies on the Jewish cubit or the amah (measurements used to build the Temple, the tabernacle, and its vessels) and the measurements of The Great Pyramid of Giza, which he believed to have derived from the Jewish cubit. He wasn’t merely dabbling in mathematics; the accuracy of his analysis of the circumference of the earth and his theory on gravity were dependent on these findings. He recorded his calculations of the Jewish cubit in his work A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews and Cubits of the several Nations."8

Many scientists who feel less than favorably toward Newton’s beliefs and his method of study consider him a fool who dabbled in mysticism and pseudoscience. In response to the critics, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “There was extreme method in his madness...All his unpublished works... are marked by careful learning, accurate method, and extreme sobriety of statement, they (his controversial works) were nearly all composed during the same 25 years of his mathematical studies.”9

Much of Newton’s private life, as well as some of the drafts of his scientific works, is still hidden from us. It’s perhaps no wonder that he hid his true identity and means of study from the public; he would have likely been ostracized and his scientific discoveries immediately dismissed. Sarah Dry, author of The Newton Papers, notes that gaps in his original draft of The Principia suggests that he deliberately concealed them. Says Dry, “And it’s because Newton didn’t want people to know how he had come to his knowledge. I think that might relate to his religious beliefs.”

Newton’s outstanding discoveries single him out as one of the greatest science influencers of all time. Perhaps we can now add his attempt to reconcile ancient scripture with science as yet another unique, albeit undervalued, accomplishment of Sir Isaac Newton.

1. Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge, Faur Jose, Cross Currents, http://moreshetsepharad.org/media/Newton_Mathematics_and_Esoteric_Knowledge.pdf
2. Essays on the Context, Nature and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, by James E.Force and Richard H. Popkins, Kulwar Academic publishers, page 3
3. Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge
4. Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, page 4
5. Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge
6. Isaac Newton’s Temple of Solomon and His Reconstruction of the Sacred Cubit, Tessa Morrison, Springer Science and Business Media, page 36
7. Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton, Matt Goldish, Springer Netherlands, https://archive.org/details/springer_10.1007-978-94-017-2014-4
8. The Newton you Never Knew. See also footnote 6
9. The Essential Keynes, by John Maynard Keynes, Penguin Random House.

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Post  Admin on Thu 23 Aug 2018, 2:54 pm

The Best Way to Fight Negative Jewish Stereotypes
Aug 20, 2018  |  by Rabbi Levi Welton
The Best Way to Fight Negative Jewish Stereotypes
Kiddush Hashem is the mitzvah for our generation.

In the summer of 1966, Stephen Carter, who is today a prestigious law professor at Yale, moved with his family to a new neighborhood in Washington, D.C. They were one of the only African-American families in a predominantly white neighborhood.

Carter writes:

My two brothers and two sisters and I sat on the front steps, missing our playmates, as the movers carried in our furniture. Cars passed what was now our house, slowing for a look, as did people on foot. We waited for somebody to say hello, to welcome us. Nobody did….I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here. I knew…

And all at once, a white woman arriving home from work at the house across the street from ours turned and smiled with obvious delight and waved and called out, ‘Welcome!’ in a booming, confident voice I would come to love. She bustled into her house, only to emerge, minutes later, with a huge tray of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, which she carried to our porch and offered around with her ready smile, simultaneously feeding and greeting the children of a family she had never met – and a black family at that – with nothing to gain for herself except perhaps the knowledge that she had done the right thing. We were strangers, black strangers, and she went out of her way to make us feel welcome. This woman’s name was Sara Kestenbaum.

Stephen Carter

That generous act permanently shaped the way Carter thought of the Jewish faith and even inspired his 1999 book “Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy.” In it, he notes that it was specifically Sara Kestenbaum’s religion that motivated her to do what she did. Carter states that she since she was an observant Jew, she was raised with this ideal that “Civility creates not merely a negative duty not to do harm, but an affirmative duty to do good.”

The only thing more important than dying for God is living for God.
This is called a “Kiddush Hashem” -- sanctifying the Name of God. As one of the 613 commandments given in the Torah, Kiddush Hashem is a multi-faceted mitzvah based on the verse in Leviticus 22:32 “...I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you.” This does not only refer to someone who is forced to die for their religious beliefs, such as the victims of the Holocaust. It also means choosing to act in a dignified way that “sanctifies God” in the eyes of those around you. As my esteemed mother, Dr. Sharona Welton, says, “The only thing more important than dying for God is living for God.”

Marc Firestone
My friend Marc Firestone is a successful businessman who is working hard to encourage people to embrace their roles as “representatives of God”. Additionally, Marc is an Orthodox Jew who has been featured on CNN, KABC-AM and KFI-AM talk radio talking about how the Torah provides wisdom for “sanctifying the Name of God” in small, practical ways ranging from how one talks to their spouse to how they do business.

It was Marc’s kippah that became the catalyst for his extra-vocational passion. “I started noticing how, whether I like it or not, I’ve become an ambassador for the Jewish people just because I’m wearing a kippah on my head. This got me thinking all the different ways I could either be sanctifying Gods Name – by acting like a real mensch, or God forbid doing the opposite.”

The recent story of Sol Werdiger and the former South Korean Ambassador to the United Nation, Oh Joon is a case in point. Werdiger, an Orthodox Jew and CEO of Outerstuff, received a phone call from Mr. Oh Joon, asking to meet him for lunch at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Although Sol did not know the purpose of the meeting he agreed to meet with Mr. Joon.

When they met, Mr. Joon told him the following, “I have always heard negative stereotypes about Jews and I took it at face value. Then, my daughter took an internship working in your company. Throughout the year, she has been telling me how wonderful it is to work at your company.”

Mr. Sol Werdiger, ©️Hamodia
Mr. Joon continued, “There are four areas which stood out and impressed my daughter. Every day at 1:30 p.m., no matter what was going on at the office, all the men including those from neighboring offices, retreated into a room to pray with sincerity and calm. Every Friday the office shuts down early in the afternoon in preparation for your holy Sabbath and is closed on the Sabbath – this includes all workers no matter which faith or religion they maintain. My daughter observed that each petitioner for charity – and there were many – were treated with respect and left with a check in hand. Lastly, my daughter was treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”

Because of the amazing experience and lessons the company taught his daughter, Mr. Joon took out his checkbook and was ready to write a check returning all his daughter’s earnings. Mr. Werdiger wouldn’t hear from it. “Your daughter worked and earned her salary and rightfully deserves her pay, I will not accept any remuneration.”

Then the Ambassador relayed the most amazing thing. “As you know, I have voting privileges at the UN. Because of my renewed appreciation of the Jewish people, I abstained from voting on resolutions against Israel on three occasions. At one resolution I was the ninth vote needed to pass the motion and resolution against Israel and because I abstained, it did not pass!”

“Stories like this shouldn’t be the exception,” Marc Firestone tells me. “They should be the norm.” To this end, Firestone partnered with his two sons-in-law, Rabbi Benyamin Moss and Dovid Herzka and launched a grassroots effort they call “Project Light” that produces educational materials to illustrate how Kiddush Hashem can be applied to every aspect of life – even how one drives in traffic.

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Post  Admin on Fri 17 Aug 2018, 10:39 am

The Redneck
Aug 16, 2014  |  by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
The Redneck
I learned a valuable lesson that fretful Friday: it’s best to not judge other people.

It was Friday afternoon, about one hour before Shabbat, and I was anxiously driving my wife home from the Atlanta hospital where she had just undergone an anesthetized medical procedure. Her release had taken much longer than anticipated. After a short distance I realized that the car was beginning to wobble. I pulled over to the curb, jumped out to inspect things, and discovered that the left front tire had lost half of its air and would soon be entirely flat.

There was no time to replace it with my spare, even if I knew how to do it – which, mechanically challenged as I am, I did not. But there was a gasoline station a few blocks away where I could obtain enough air to get us home before Shabbat.

With my wife, still slightly woozy, in the back seat, I drove slowly to the gas station, the car hobbling fitfully on three and a half tires. Once in the station, I pulled up to the air pump, grateful that we could now get home quickly.

Except there was a hand-scrawled sign on the face of the air pump: “Temporarily Out of Order.”

I took a deep breath, said a silent little prayer, and continued my uneasy 20-minute trek toward home. At the next intersection I stopped at a traffic light alongside a garish yellow pick-up truck. The driver was a young man in his twenties, complete with a reversed baseball cap, a Confederate flag flying from his aerial, the requisite rifle stretched out along his rear window, and obviously not Jewish. He rolled down his window and called out to me, “Hey, you got a flat there, fella!”

”I know,” I replied, and in desperation added, ”you think you could possibly help me change it? I’m taking my wife home from the hospital.”

The light turned to green. “Sorry,” he said rather gruffly, “ain’t nuthin’ I can do.” And he roared off in a cloud of foul-smelling black exhaust. His license plate showed that he was from Cherokee Country, a rural area in North Georgia.

“Ain’t nuthin’ I can do.” And he roared off in a cloud of foul-smelling black exhaust.
So it goes, I muttered to myself, he must have noticed my yarmulke and beard. Probably an old fashioned, genuine redneck anti-Semite. I was particularly annoyed by his brusqueness and the roar with which he pulled away.

I continued driving – very carefully and gingerly. At the next corner a garish yellow pick- up truck had pulled over to the curb. Standing beside it was the young redneck. He was motioning me to park behind him.

I stopped and he walked over to me. “I just remembered. I have one of them temporary air fillers. It gives enough air to go about ten miles. Would that get you to where you’re goin?”

“Definitely,” I said eagerly, “let’s do it.”

He went back to his truck and pulled out a small air compressor. ”This here baby’ll do the trick for you. I plumb forgot I owned one.” He kneeled to the ground, attached the compressor to the tire, and gradually the air whooshed in and rounded out the tire to its full, pristine glory. Deliverance! I offered to pay the cost of the compressor, but he waved me off. “Forget it. Ain’t nuthin’. Happy to do a good deed for a change.”

And once again he jumped into his truck and roared off in a cloud of black exhaust. This time the exhaust fumes smelled like perfume.

With God’s help and the help of the Confederate angel He had sent to help us, we staggered home, the tire slowly turning flat again, just in time for Shabbat. Throughout the day I could not get this young country boy out of my mind.

Several thoughts emerged:

1. Surface impressions are frequently wrong. I was certain that this fellow was a mean and selfish anti-Semite who cared about nothing but himself and his yellow truck. I was badly mistaken. He carried a strong streak of compassion and kindness, and a robust conscience. Thou shalt not stereotype (nor use pejoratives like “redneck”).

2. Do not evaluate a person by what he does today. By tomorrow he could change and better himself. People are very complex; they are dynamic not static. Like a car — and a pick-up truck — people are always on the road. I wondered what had gone on in his mind in the interval between his curt ”ain’t nuthin’ I can do” to his “happy to do a good deed for a change.” What caused him to switch gears so quickly? Then I remembered the powerful words of Jeremiah 17:9: “Complex is the heart above all things… who can know it? Only I the Lord can search the heart….”

3. One can never know what a single, isolated act of kindness can achieve. With his simple action he had eased my growing anxiety, made it possible for my still unsteady wife to come safely home, and for our entire family to celebrate the Shabbat in joy and in peace.

My country friend taught me an extremely valuable lesson: before passing judgment on anyone, pause and think. Better still, try to not to pass any judgment on anyone. That is not our job; the world is blessed with its own Divine Judge.

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About the Author

Rabbi Emanuel FeldmanMore by this Author >
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Jacob where he was Rabbi from 1952 until 1991. For thirteen years he was the editor of Tradition Magazine, the scholarly quarterly published by the Rabbinical Council of America. He is a former Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America where he also served as Vice President of its Beis Din (Rabbinical Court).

Ordained by Baltimore’s Ner Israel Rabbinical College, he holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. from Emory University. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman served as Adjunct Professor of Jewish Law at Emory University School of Law, and as Senior Lecturer at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

He has written nine books and over 100 published articles in magazines and newspapers such as Saturday Review, The New Republic, The Jerusalem Post and numerous Anglo-Jewish periodicals here and abroad.

Since his formal retirement from the active pulpit in 1991, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman has been dividing his time between the United States and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Rashi Translation Project of Jerusalem’s Ariel Research Institute, which has recently published The Ariel Chumash. Presently, he is on the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia of Mitzvot.

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Post  Admin on Fri 17 Aug 2018, 10:37 am

After Buchenwald: Sparks from an Ancient Scroll
Aug 13, 2018  |  by Shlomo Horwitz
After Buchenwald: Sparks from an Ancient Scroll
Rabbi Hershel Schacter, the first rabbi to enter Buchenwald, and the survivor who renounced his faith in God.

During World War II, Rabbi Hershel Schacter was a chaplain in the Third Army’s VIII Corps and was the first US Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after it had been liberated by Gen. George Patton’s troops on April 11, 1945.

While other American personnel begged to leave Buchenwald due to the unbearable stench, Rabbi Schacter, shocked by what he saw, decided to stay until he could make a more substantial contribution to the survivors. He stayed for months, tending to survivors and leading religious services; everything else was trivial.
Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducting services at the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945.

Yechezkel* was a young man from a Polish Chasidic family. Rabbi Schacter took a special liking to the boy. Yechezkel had lost his entire family during the war and had renounced his faith in God. Yechezkel defiantly told the rabbi about his plans to assimilate and live the rest of his life in post-war Germany without a trace of Judaism. Rabbi Schacter listened sympathetically and tried to offer his moral support. They talked often.

In Buchenwald, Rabbi Schacter organized a train transport for 200 boys to Switzerland. Rabbi Schacter was responsible for distributing these special tickets from the Swiss government to the boys and to accompany them to Switzerland. It was a desperate time for survivors and Rabbi Schacter wanted to get more than 200 boys into Switzerland. He asked a survivor who was an expert artist to create additional tickets. One could not tell the difference between the original and the copy. In the end Rabbi Schacter distributed tickets to 400 boys. He also offered Yechezkel a ticket, but the boy refused. He wanted no part of restarting a Jewish life again and reminded the rabbi that he planned to resettle in Germany.

The day came when the train for Switzerland arrived at Buchenwald. Rabbi Schacter told Yechezkel, “Look, even if you don’t come with us to Switzerland, at least come to see us off when we board the trains.” Yechezkel reluctantly agreed.
A young mother and her small son were desperate to get out of Buchenwald but babies were not allowed on this transport. She approached the rabbi in tears.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out,” Rabbi Schacter said. “Get on the train, and hide in one of the lavatories. Under no circumstances should you get out of the door unless I call you personally.”

He locked them in after giving them some food to tide them over.

The 400 boys made their way onto the train. Rabbi Schacter was rushing to and fro, making sure each boy was accounted for, all the while scanning the crowd and wondering if Yechezkel would show up.

As the train was about to depart, Yechezkel appeared. He approached the door of the train where the rabbi was standing to shake his hand. “Yechezkel, it’s so nice of you to come and say goodbye!” And with that, Rabbi Schacter grabbed the boy’s hand and with a burst of strength that surprised both of them, he hauled Yechezkel onto the train in one smooth motion, just as it was starting to pull out of the station.

The train picked up speed and Yechezkel was shocked and furious. Rabbi Schacter told him he did it on impulse and asked him not to be so angry. It didn’t help. Yechezkel was steaming.

The train finally made its way to Switzerland. The Swiss protested that there was double the number of boys they expected.

Rabbi Schacter calmly threatened to call a press conference to tell the world that Switzerland is refusing entry to destitute war orphans. The Swiss quickly backed down. The mother and child also made it safely without incident.

In Switzerland Rabbi Schacter attempted to put together a minyan on Shabbat. There was no problem for Shacharit but for Mincha he could only find nine men.

He remembered Yechezkel. Rabbi Schacter quickly found the young man who was still cursing his lot at having been “kidnapped.”

“Yechezkel, I need you for a minyan.”

“Are you crazy? Absolutely not!”

“But we only have nine. We need a minyan in order to daven [pray] and lein [read from the Torah].”

“Oh really? Well, you need a minyan. I do not!” And with that, he lit up a cigarette.

Rabbi Schacter would not give up. “Yechezkel, I’m begging you. Just come in to the tent – we’ll daven quickly”.

In a huff, Yechezkel replied, “Fine! Just this once!” He entered the makeshift shul with a scowl.

Rabbi Schacter, 1999

They started the Afternoon service and Yechezkel made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was. Rabbi Schacter then took out the precious Sefer Torah, rolled it to the correct portion, and asked if any of the men knew how to read from the Torah. They all shook their heads, and Yechezkel was looking longingly outside the tent, apparently distracted. “What now?” thought Rabbi Schacter.

Suddenly, he remembered something.


“What do you want,” the boy replied, icily.

“Didn’t you tell me you used to read the portion from the Torah scroll in shul before the war?”

“Maybe. So what?”

“So you’re the only one of us who knows how to lein. We need to hear the reading of the Torah.”

“There you go again with your ‘We need to….’ You might need to. I certainly don’t!”

“Yechezkel, please! This is the first chance in years for people to hear the Torah portion being read after being denied the chance. I’m begging you. I know you can do this!”

With extreme reluctance, Yechezkel threw his cigarette outside and approached the table. He cast an expert glance at the unrolled Sefer Torah and immediately found the starting point. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s get on with it.”

Another man was called to the Torah and made the blessing. “…who has chosen us from all other nations and given us the Torah….”  

“Amen,” Yechezkel found himself saying automatically. It came back so easily. Yechezkel began to read the sacred text.

Then something unexpected happened. The holy letters of the scroll seemed to jump off the page and hit him in the face with full force. He felt as if he was literally being struck with the powerful black letters. They seared his soul.

Yechezkel’s angry veneer had been shattered. He broke down crying like a baby and barely got through the Torah reading.

When he had begun, it had been someone else’s Torah. Now he had reclaimed it. And it had reclaimed him.

Yechezkel was forever changed by that Torah reading. He remained Torah-observant for the rest of his life and built a beautiful Jewish family in Australia. Yechezkel championed Torah causes in his city and stayed a devoted friend to the Schacter family for many decades.

*Yechezkel is a pseudonym to protect his family’s privacy.

This article originally appeared on Ou.org

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Post  Admin on Sat 11 Aug 2018, 8:57 pm

Apple: The Trillion Dollar Company & Rosh Hashanah
Aug 6, 2018 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Apple: The Trillion Dollar Company & Rosh Hashanah
How the most successful company in American history went from near bankruptcy to stunning achievement.

Apple Inc. recently achieved something never accomplished before in American history. It became the first publicly traded corporation to be valued at $1 trillion.

It is a number so large that we can hardly begin to grasp its magnitude. It's a 1 followed by 12 zeros: 1,000,000,000,000. With that kind of cash, Apple could buy one billion people a $999 iPhone X and still have a billion dollars left in the bank. Or Apple could give all 325 million people in the United States a check for $3,076.92. To get a true feeling of how much money $1 trillion is you might want to know that there’s just over a trillion dollars currently in circulation in the entire United States.

Even more remarkable, in 1997 Apple stood on the brink of bankruptcy and was just a short step away from going broke. Steve Jobs later revealed that the company was about 90 days away from total insolvency.

There’s a message here that needs to be constantly remembered, whether we’re talking about a major corporation or our individual finances, whether we’re concerned with failure of a billion-dollar business or family disasters which seem to doom us to personal ruin.

Steve Jobs himself verbalized that idea in such powerful manner that it is considered to be one of the most powerful and inspiring commencement addresses ever given.

In 2005 Jobs addressed the graduates of Stanford University. He chose to tell them what he called simple stories. They had one underlying theme: the blessings we can accrue from struggles with adversity.

Jobs told the students how he started Apple in his parents’ garage when he was 20 years old. In ten years Apple grew from two founders into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. And then, just after he turned 30, Jobs was fired from the company that he himself started. The Board of Directors sided against him and he had to endure public shaming, as well as, it would seem, the end of his career.

In retrospect, here is the essence of what Jobs told his audience of graduates:

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?
From there, Jobs turned to the theme of living with the realization of one’s mortality, an idea that parallels the rabbinic exhortation to always remember “the day of death”:

My last story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs returned to Apple years later and turned it into the giant it would become by way of his genius. He understood setbacks were merely stepping stones to greatness. Downfalls are not permanent; failures are trials meant to make us stronger. The first tablets containing the Ten Commandments, written by God himself, were smashed and did not last; it was the second set, the one illustrating human effort and unwillingness to give up after the first failure, which remained.

The story of Apple and its success is a story of life after failure. It is the victory of hope over despair, of courage over anguish, of optimism over despondency and depression. In a very real sense Apple can be an inspiration to every one of us as we struggle with seemingly insurmountable difficulties, as we face trials which appear insurmountable, as we are challenged by life’s complications.

On Rosh Hashanah we dip an apple in honey as a symbolic reminder of our hopes and dreams for sweet success and blessing in the new year. The Jewish people are compared in to the apple: "As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved – Israel – amongst the maidens (nations) of the world" (Song of Songs, 2:3).

This year perhaps it may offer us yet another message: Apple, the company, was on the very precipice of ruin - yet today it is financially the most successful company in American history.

Faith in God, in the Jewish people, and in our dreams will hopefully also bring us through difficult days to years filled with blessings.

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Post  Admin on Sat 11 Aug 2018, 9:20 am

The Belgian Priest who Saved 400 Jews
Aug 7, 2018 | by Menucha Chana Levin
The Belgian Priest who Saved 400 Jews
Dom Bruno joined the resistance and at great risk to his life established a network of hiding places for Jewish children.

Born into an upper middle class, pious Catholic family in Brussels, it was not unusual for Henri Reynders to choose the life of a monk. But in many other respects Reynders proved to be a most unusual man, and a heroic one as well. After taking his vows in Rome in 1925, he led a monastic life. Three years later, ordained as a priest, he joined the Benedictine order in the town of Louvain and took the religious name of Dom Bruno. Though deeply devout, he was a maverick thinker in regard to some of the church’s doctrines.

After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Belgium mobilized its army and Dom Bruno served as a chaplain with its 41st Artillery Regiment. When the Germans invaded Belgium, the small country was quickly overrun and King Leopold surrendered his army during the battle of Dunkirk. After sustaining a leg injury, Dom Bruno spent the next six months in prisoner-of-war camps at Wolfsburg and Doessel, Germany, giving religious and moral support to the other prisoners.

After King Leopold met with Hitler, the Germans released many Belgian prisoners of war, including Dom Bruno. Upon his return to the abbey, he continued his teaching career. Due to his strong anti-Nazi beliefs he made contact with the burgeoning Belgium Resistance movement and helped to save downed Allied flyers and return them to Britain.

Dom Bruno with some of the Jewish children he saved during World War II

With the completion of the Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942, the Nazis began deporting the Jews in Belgium. Dom Bruno received permission from the abbot to work as a chaplain at a home for the blind in a small village. There Dom Bruno discovered that the manager of the home and many of the residents were actually Jews in hiding. Both adults and children had found refuge there, thanks to Albert van den Berg, a notable lawyer working with Christian aid organizations.

The situation was extremely dangerous since Nazis were actively hunting Jews and many Belgian informers were in the area. When Van den Berg and Dom Bruno realized the home was not safe, they closed it down and dispersed the Jews to rural areas. Dom Bruno then undertook the risky task of organizing hiding places for the children, using all his influence with friends and acquaintances. He sent the children to private homes, including those of his own mother and brother.

Traveling to various Catholic institutions such as boarding schools, he asked them to shelter the Jewish children. He would accompany the children personally and return to visit them, bringing news of their parents if they were also in hiding. He provided them with false identity cards with non-Jewish names and ration cards.

Riding from place to place on his bicycle, Dom Bruno solved problems and assumed responsibility for even small details of the plans. At first he worked alone, receiving only financial support from the Van den Berg operation and Belgian banker Jules Dubois-Pelerin. After expanding his contacts with other resistance groups, Dom Bruno had to flee when the Gestapo grew suspicious of his activities. When they raided the Mont César Abbey, Dom Bruno was fortunately not there but he had to go into hiding, exchanging his monk’s habit for civilian clothes and a beret to hide his shaved head. Another monk gave him a false identification card.

Despite the grave danger, he continued to help Jews even while he was on the run. His courageous acts saved 400 Jewish lives, mostly children.
Those saved by Dom Bruno expressed their deepest appreciation to him. Gilles Rozberg recalled, “One night in 1943, when I had just turned 13 years old, I met Father Bruno on the street. He didn’t know me but I recognized him by the way he walked, the cloak he wore, and his tall, elegant hat. I really threw myself at him and asked for his help. After a few seconds of suspicion and concern, he said he was ready to help me. Two weeks later, my younger brother and I were taken to a hiding place.”

Dom Bruno in Jerusalem with some of his 'hidden children'

Flora Singer-Mendalavitz explained, “Dom Bruno was like an angel who came and saved our lives. He gave my mother instructions on how to get to the northern train station with three children where we would meet a woman dressed in a special way waiting for us. We had to follow this woman onto her carriage on the train without kissing our mother goodbye or saying farewell. We did this and after the train pulled out of the station, the woman told us we were being taken to a safe place. After the liberation, we went to live in Brussels where Dom Bruno visited us regularly and brought us food. He registered me in a Catholic school with firm orders to exempt me from Christian ritual lessons and other religious instruction classes. I also took courses in typing, painting, and piano, taught to me by one of the Sisters of the convent. Dom Bruno paid for everything. Even today when I sit and type, like now as I write this, I see Dom Bruno’s face in front of me and I say ‘Thank you.’ “

Thanks to the actions of the Catholic Church and the brave resistance movement, three-quarters of Belgium’s 100,000 Jews managed to survive the war, despite the massive collaboration which took place. After Belgium was liberated in September 1944, Dom Bruno helped reunite the hidden children with their parents or other family members. However, representatives of the Jewish community opposed the efforts of some Christian families to adopt Jewish orphans. Tragically, many of the younger children who could not remember their Jewish origins, wanted to stay with the families who had unofficially adopted them. Under the Nazi occupation, Dom Bruno did not permit conversion of the Jewish children to Catholicism. He later changed his position, believing that the best interests of each child should be the most important factor.

When the war ended, Dom Bruno briefly returned to the abbey but was reassigned by his order to other locations in Belgium, France and Rome. His final position was as vicar in the town of Ottignies where he took care of the elderly, ill, and handicapped population.

In 1964, Yad Vashem honored Dom Bruno as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations". When his Parkinson's disease grew more serious, Dom Bruno retired to a nursing home. He died at the age of 78 and was buried at his beloved abbey.

Ten years after his death, a square in the city of Ottignies was named in his honor where a plaque states: Dom Bruno, Benedictine (1903-1981). Hero of the resistance. At the risk of his life he saved 400 Jews from Nazi barbarism.

Your Divine Soul: Barriers to Spirituality and Holiness
Aug 4, 2018
Your Divine Soul: Barriers to Spirituality and Holiness
The Torah tells us what we must avoid in order to achieve spiritual greatness.

To be a vessel for increased divine light and energy, one must avoid negative influences that have an ill effect on his spirituality. Some of the negative influences that block the inflow of divine light are intellectually based and are only combated through the study of wisdom. These negative influences include philosophical errors, such as heresy, or mistaken perspectives on morality, ethics, and human relations. But in addition to these intellectual errors, the Torah lists hundreds of negative acts – transgressions – that must be avoided. Sin envelops the soul, darkens its light, and prevents man from becoming a vessel for divinity.

The Torah, in relating these sins, does mankind a great service, as it informs man of those pursuits that will distance him from God and prevent him from achieving heightened spirituality.

However, even if man sins, God graciously provided him with the ability to repent. When one repents properly, he frees himself from the fetters of sin and he can once again be enlightened with divinity. “Great is repentance, for it draws man close to the divine presence…. Last night he was despised by God…. Today he is loved, dear, and close (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:6).”

Besides actual sins, man must also prevent his unbridled passions and base desires from ruling over him and distancing him from spirituality. Lust, greed, and other base drives exert a tremendously strong influence over man. Indeed, much of mankind is held captive by them and cannot free itself from their grip.

These negative drives are catastrophic for an individual trying to reach lofty spiritual heights. Overcoming these base drives and desires is the most elementary step in achieving spiritual greatness (Guide for the Perplexed 1:34, 3:8).

Overcoming Sin
How does one overcome the temptations of sin and the escape the dominion of his own base desires?

Our sages teach that Torah study and mitzvah performance are the primary tools for overcoming the negative influence of sin and for ruling over one’s base drives and desires. (Kiddushin 30b).

The power to overcome one’s bestial drive for sin and desire for base physicality is also found in the performance of the Torah’s commandments.

The purpose of the commandments is not for God Himself; rather, the purpose is to improve man, to save him from damage, evil philosophies, and despicable character traits….This is the intention of our Sages who say that man is “purified” through the commandments (Ramban, Devarim 22:6).

The result of the purification effect of the commandments is that man becomes a better vessel for divinity. Some suggest that that this is the intention of the verse in Exodus (15:26): “For I, God, am your healer” (15:26). The purpose of the commandments is to spiritually heal man and, through this, allow him to become holy. (Seforno)

Rabbi Chaim Vital records an esoteric explanation of the power of the commandments to purify man and make him into a better vessel for divinity. He writes that every limb of man’s body is susceptible to a form of spiritual blockage that prevents it from containing holiness. The 613 commandments of the Torah correspond to man’s anatomic structure, and each commandment contains the power to unblock its corresponding segment, allowing that specific segment in man to house increased divine light.

In addition to Torah study and performance of the commandments, there are other tools that aid man in overcoming sin and his base drives and desires. One such tool is regular introspection and meditation. In his masterful work on religious growth and piety, The Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto stresses the importance of regular introspection and even contemplative seclusion as an important method for avoiding a sinful existence. (Mesillas Yesharim, chap. 3).

Through Torah study, performance of the commandments, and regular contemplation, man is equipped to overcome sin, control his base desires, and be freed of those things that prevent him from housing divinity. Our sages write that although the Torah describes the Ten Commandments as being carved into the stone tablets, Chazal interpret the word for carved to mean “free” since the words share the same Hebrew root, explaining that only through the Torah and its commandments is man truly freed of the influences of his unbridled passion and his drive for sin. Torah study and performance of the commandments are designed to distance dependence and obsession with that which is physical and base. This, in turn, leads man to becoming a better vessel for God’s divine light.

This is an edited excerpt from a new book by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz: “The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul.” It can be purchased online (from Feldheim Publishers or Amazon) or at a local Jewish bookstore.

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Post  Admin on Sun 05 Aug 2018, 3:41 pm

A Beautiful Soul
Feb 2, 2002 | by Emuna Braverman
A Beautiful Soul
Shaindel is schizophrenic and homeless -- and a beloved fellow Jew.

She comes to our door for breakfast or dinner or for an afternoon snack. On blustery nights she sleeps in our playroom. She comes with shoes and dresses to sell while she waits for a Hollywood director to pick up her screenplay. She sings to my children and warns them of the monsters loose in the neighborhood. Her name is Shaindel. She's schizophrenic and homeless -- and a fellow Jew.

I can't say I always welcome her knock on the door -- we had to tell her that midnight is a little late to ring our bell! And sometimes I get annoyed when she disdains our orange juice because it isn't fresh enough. But I owe her a debt of gratitude for opening up the hearts of our whole family.

While we can't cure schizophrenia, we can make her feel loved.
While we can't cure schizophrenia, we can make her feel loved. She knows just what families to go to for food or showers and sometimes calls to make a "reservation" for our back room. She's a testimony to the power of community. I don't think that there were many psychiatric hospitals in pre-war Poland but I believe every shtetl took responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter the mentally ill in their midst.

Shaindel doesn't want the risks to her physical health and the numbing of her psyche that come with most pharmaceutical interventions for the schizophrenic. She runs away and doesn't come back for months if we mention the "d" word – doctor. She'd rather be out on the street. -- laughing and dancing.

And laugh she does. Frequently at herself. If you poke gentle fun at some of her strange stories, she can see the humor. Sometimes contact with reality helps bring her back also.

Late on a Friday night, Shaindel knocked on our door. We didn't have any room for her to stay over. After a few minutes we heard our car door slam and my husband and I Iooked at each other. "I guess she's gone to sleep in the car. Leave her be."

A while later, she left the car briefly and our neighbors' dog began to bark. They called the police and our sleep was interrupted yet again. The police had dragged the hapless Shaindel out of the car and were standing at our front door.

"Did you give this woman permission to sleep in your car?" they asked.

Not wanting her to get in trouble with the law, my husband said yes. "Well then give her a blanket. It's cold!" admonished the officer. Shaindel doubled over with laughter.

There have also been poignant moments. Shaindel scratched herself on a rusty nail and was concerned it may have broken the skin. We went to a private room in my house and I examined her. Thank God, she was fine. But I wasn't. I realized to my embarrassment, that previously she had not been quite real to me. She had been an interesting phenomenon, like the way some of our Shabbos guests look at us, but not quite a full human being. Until that moment -- when I saw her tremendous fear and felt her palpable relief. When I saw my own shallowness.

She can still frustrate me at times, like when she gives a very specific lunch order. I don't always have the patience to listen to her stories -- she has intimate knowledge of suspicious FBI workings on our block. But I'm always grateful to her for teaching my children and me about true love for your fellow Jew.

Tradition has it that Elijah the Prophet disguises himself and goes from door to door helping us refine our character and providing opportunities for genuine giving. When I first I helped out Shaindel I thought to myself, "What if she's really Elijah? I better not turn her away." Now I help her out just because she's someone I care about. Just because she's in need. Just because my kids love her. Just because I know I'm blessed to have the opportunity.

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Post  Admin on Sun 05 Aug 2018, 3:03 pm

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Critics of Nation-State Law Misunderstand Israel’s Constitutional System
Aug 5, 2018
by Evelyn Gordon and JNS.org
Critics of Nation-State Law Misunderstand Israel’s Constitutional System
The new law isn’t meant to be read in isolation, but in concert with other Basic Laws enshrining Israel’s democratic system and fundamental human rights.

Israel’s new nation-state law has elicited a storm of criticism since it passed on July 19. Some of this criticism is justified; a law that manages to unite virtually the entire Druze community against it, despite this community’s longstanding support for Israel as a Jewish state in principle, clearly wasn’t drafted with sufficient care, as even the heads of two parties that backed the law (Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett and Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon) now admit. Nevertheless, much of the criticism stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of Israel’s constitutional system.

Israel doesn’t have a constitution. What it has is a series of Basic Laws to which the Supreme Court unilaterally accorded constitutional status. Many people, myself included, disagree with that decision, inter alia because constitutional legislation should reflect a broad consensus, whereas many Basic Laws were approved by only narrow majorities or even minorities of the Knesset. Nevertheless, both sides in this dispute agree on one thing: Each Basic Law is merely one article in Israel’s constitution or constitution-to-be. They cannot be read in isolation, but only as part of a greater whole.

Consequently, it’s ridiculous to claim that the nation-state law undermines democracy, equality or minority rights merely because those terms don’t appear in it, given that several other Basic Laws already address these issues. The new law doesn’t supersede the earlier ones; it’s meant to be read in concert with them.

Several Basic Laws, including those on the Knesset, the government and the judiciary, detail the mechanisms of Israeli democracy and enshrine fundamental democratic principles like free elections and judicial independence. There are also two Basic Laws on human rights, both of which explicitly define Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Of these human rights laws, the more important is the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. It includes general protections like “There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person as such” and “All persons are entitled to protection of their life, body and dignity,” as well as specific protections for liberty, property and privacy. Though the law doesn’t mention “equality” or “minority rights,” the courts have consistently interpreted it as barring discrimination on the eminently reasonable grounds that discrimination fundamentally violates a person’s dignity (the one exception, which all legal systems make, is if discrimination has pertinent cause, like barring pedophiles from teaching).

Thus to argue that the nation-state law is undemocratic because it doesn’t mention equality or minority rights is like arguing that the U.S. Constitution is undemocratic because Articles I and II confer broad powers on the legislature and executive without mentioning the protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Everyone understands that the Constitution’s provisions on governmental power aren’t supposed to be read in isolation, but in concert with the first 10 amendments, so there’s no need to reiterate those rights in every other article. Similarly, the nation-state law isn’t meant to be read in isolation, but only in concert with other Basic Laws enshrining Israel’s democratic system and basic human rights. Thus there’s no reason for it to reiterate protections already found in those other laws.

Nor are any of the law’s specific provisions undemocratic. For instance, the provision stating that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” doesn’t deprive Arabs of individual rights within Israel, nor does it bar the possibility of Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza, which aren’t part of the State of Israel. The only thing it prohibits is an Arab state within Israel’s borders, which is problematic only if you favor replacing Israel with another Arab state.

As for the provision making Hebrew the state’s only official language, many other democracies also have a single official language despite having large minorities with different mother tongues. For instance, 17 percent of America’s population is Hispanic, only slightly less than the 21 percent of Israel’s population that’s Arab, yet Spanish isn’t an official language in America, and few people would argue that this makes America undemocratic.

Indeed, Israel’s new law goes much farther than many other democracies in guaranteeing minority language rights, thanks to one provision according Arabic “special status” and another stating that nothing in the law “undermines the status enjoyed by the Arabic language in practice before this Basic Law came into effect.” The latter provision actually preserves Arabic’s status as an official language de facto. It may have been stupid not to preserve it de jure as well, but “stupid” isn’t the same as “undemocratic.”

All of the above explains why even the heads of the Israel Democracy Institute – a left-leaning organization usually harshly critical of the current government – said at a media briefing this week that the law “doesn’t change anything practically,” “won’t change how the country is run,” and is merely “symbolic and educational.”

The law was meant to solve a specific constitutional problem: The courts have frequently interpreted the Jewish half of “Jewish and democratic” at a “level of abstraction so high that it becomes identical to the state’s democratic nature,” as former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak famously said. Yet no definition of “Jewish” can be complete without recognizing that Judaism has particularist, as well as universal, aspects because it’s the religion of a particular people with a particular history, culture and traditions. By emphasizing some of those particularist aspects, the law is supposed to restore the intended balance between the Jewish and democratic components of Israel’s identity. But it doesn’t eliminate those democratic components, which are enshrined in numerous other Basic Laws, nor was it intended to do so.

I’m skeptical that the law will achieve its intended purpose, but I see no good reason why it shouldn’t exist in principle. Israel isn’t just a generic Western democracy; it’s also the world’s only Jewish state. And its constitution-in-the-making should reflect both halves of its complex identity.

Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator living in Israel.


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Post  Admin on Wed 01 Aug 2018, 2:56 pm

Pay Attention to Your Feelings
Aug 3, 2013 | by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.
Pay Attention to Your Feelings
Don’t ignore your feelings. They are keys to self-discovery.

Feelings are information and listening to them is essential for personal and spiritual growth. Every feeling has a unique meaning attached to it. Feelings educate us. They are the royal road to self-discovery and self-development. To ignore, dismiss, or avoid what we feel is like choosing not to open an email that’s marked “Urgent – open immediately!” Our feelings teach us what is good and what is not good about ourselves and our lives. They are our quality control monitors.

Uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, anxiety, shame, loneliness, anger, and jealousy serve the same function as physical pain. Just like physical pain informs us that something is wrong and needs to be attended to, so too emotional pain. Ignoring a stomach pain, might result in having a ruptured appendix. Sadness that is ignored and not explored could result in depression. As a psychotherapist, I have found that all too often at the core of people’s problems is some degree of disconnect from their feelings and an inability to process their feelings effectively.

Listening to our feelings doesn’t mean following them impulsively or blindly. To learn from our feelings, we need to process them. There are three steps to processing our feelings:

Identify what I am feeling by naming the feeling, for example, sad, mad, glad, fear, shame etc.
Clarify why I am experiencing this particular feeling, at this particular moment and in this particular context.
Decide what I want to do about this feeling now that I understand the meaning of it.
I realize something is bothering about something my wife said to me. I identify that I’m feeling sad. The reason I’m feeling sad is that within the context of the situation, this sadness means that she doesn’t understand something important about who I am. I feel distant from her. I decide that I need to have a conversation about how I feel and see if I can help her understand me better so we can reconnect.

I am waiting to meet my wife for lunch. She’s late. I am not only upset, I’m boiling with rage. Upon reflection, I recognize that my wife’s lateness is triggering painful memories of my father who consistently missed important events in my life. I realize that my anger has little to do with my wife being late. When she arrives, she apologizes profusely. I greet her with a hug and a kiss.

I open a professional journal in my office and am surprised to see that a colleague’s article has been published I immediately experience a sinking feeling in my stomach. I am feeling jealous and sad. I read the article and console myself by thinking, “It wasn’t such a great article.” I go on with my day and fail to explore the meaning of my jealousy and sadness. Although I have relieved my discomfort, I have missed a huge opportunity for self-discovery and growth.

Distrusting Emotions
Understandably, there are some who distrust human emotions. After all, giving into ones feelings blindly or impulsively “doing what feels good” can certainly lead to disastrous results. From this perspective, it is understandable why some believe it is best to try to get rid of bad feelings while opting to rely on reason and logic.

By understanding the meaning of our pain, we can learn to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.
Nobody wants to be in pain. Patients come in with an expectation that my job is to help them get rid of their pain. Instead, I tell them my job is to help them understand the meaning of their pain, which will help them to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.

The desire for comfort is king in our culture. The drug industry is a multi-billion dollar business because so many people want to get rid of their uncomfortable feelings. (This is not to say, that there are certainly good and appropriate uses for such medications.) When we try to get rid of them we lose precious opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Rather than taking an adversarial stance vis-a-vis our feelings, we need to take a friendly and curious stance. We shouldn’t be afraid of our feelings.

Dating & Feelings
A final illustration of the importance of listening to our feelings is in the realm of making good decisions. In my work with singles, I tell them that in dating it’s very important to be aware of your feelings when choosing the right person to marry. How does this person make me feel? Is there something that consistently doesn’t feel right? What is my greatest fear if I marry this person? Do I respect this person? Do I trust this person?

Many well-intended friends, parents, and counselors inadvertently end up advising people not to listen to or trust their feelings. “Don’t worry about that, I had the same feelings when I was dating and it was nothing.” This type of advice is essentially telling the person not to listen to and process their feelings and can lead to disastrous results. When a person doesn’t listen to his or her feelings, he or she runs a risk of not seeing those infamous red flags waving in front of their faces. It also denies the person the opportunity to introspect and become fully aware of the issues involved in this relationship.

So don’t run away from your feelings. Listen to them, process them, and use them as an opportunity for self-discovery.


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Post  Admin on Sun 22 Jul 2018, 11:50 am

#PrettyPlaneGirl and the Power of our Words
Jul 18, 2018 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
#PrettyPlaneGirl and the Power of our Words
A digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, shaming and hurtful words.
It started as a cute online romantic tale.
A woman began tweeting photos and updates of a supposed “love story” that was happening before her eyes while flying on an Alaskan Airlines flight. After requesting a seat change to sit beside her boyfriend, the passenger thought that the strangers who now sat side by side may be discovering each other and “the love of her life.”

She began photographing the pair from her seat that was directly behind them. The trip was documented step by step. When deplaning, the mystery duo was still photographed and posted from behind as they walked through the airport. The unidentified woman was dubbed #PrettyPlaneGirl.

The tweets went viral. Over 20,000 likes and reactions hoping for this couple’s ending up together spurred a fiery discussion from the online public.

The male seatmate was revealed to be a former professional soccer player who became known as #Plane Bae through a wild social media storm. He was interviewed and appeared on a number of morning shows. The story continued to spread. Social media users tracked down #PrettyPlaneGirl.

Then there was a drastic change of attitude. Comments about invading the unnamed woman’s privacy opened people’s eyes to the damage done.

#PrettyPlaneGirl recently broke her silence. She blasted the photographs and the false narrative that was created.

“I am a young professional woman. On July 2, I took a commercial flight from N.Y. to Dallas. Without my knowledge and consent, other passengers photographed me and recorded my conversation with a seatmate. They posted images and recordings to social media and speculated unfairly about my private conduct.

Since then my personal information has been distributed online. Strangers publicly discussed my private life based on patently false information. I have been doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed. Voyeurs have come looking for me online and in the real world.

I did not ask for and do not seek attention. #PlaneBae is not a romance-it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent.”

Is there any way to repair the damage done to reputation, the public shame and embarrassment? How often do we think about the consequences of our posts?

I am reminded of the famous feather story. A man who spread many malicious stories about others and gossiped incessantly wished to make amends. He was told by his rabbi to take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the wind.

“That’s it?” the man replied.

When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had followed his instructions, he was informed of the second step. “Now go and gather all the feathers.”

“Impossible! The wind blew them in all directions.”

“Exactly,” said the rabbi. “You cannot make amends for the damage your words have done as you cannot collect the feathers that have spread.”

Our words are like arrows. They’re sharp and penetrate. And once they’ve been shot they cannot be retrieved.
The Talmud teaches us that words of lashon hara, evil speech that wrongs others, are compared to arrows because they are sharp and penetrate. And once they’ve been shot they cannot be retrieved. There really is no remedy to the harm done.

Lashon hara isn’t conveyed only through words. Harming and shaming others through tweets and texts are also included in the prohibition.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen, known as the Chofetz Chaim, made it his life work to reveal the evils of slander and malicious gossip. He wrote “If the message is negative it makes no difference if the lashon hara was communicated through speech, writing, or hinting. It applies whether verbally or in writing.” (Laws of Lashon Hara 1:8)

We need to think hard before we push send. Too many hurts have been hurled online without considering the ramifications. Even photos or clips one thinks is funny can be a serious source of shame to the person who’s being laughed at. Remember, this is someone’s father, mother, child, spouse or family member. This person has a life that is now being dissected; maybe even ridiculed.

The woman who sent out the original tweets apologized. “I wish I could communicate the shame I feel in having done this, but I truly feel that at this point my feelings are irrelevant. This may be coming too little too late.”

She is right. There is no going back.

The Torah gives us practical guidelines to help us be more mindful of the impact our words are making and to create greater harmony. Here are a few to think about:

Rechilut: telling someone what other people said about him
Lashon Hara: derogatory or harmful speech even if it is true
Motzei Shem Ra: slander that is untrue.
Ona’at Devarim: causing emotional pain or embarrassment with our words or actions.
Avak Lashon Hara: saying something whose implied meaning is derogatory or harmful, or saying a derisive joke with fake innocence

The Torah considers pain caused by our words as a real injury. It’s as if you’ve poured acid on someone’s soul. The wounds blister.
Our Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed on Tisha B’Av because of baseless hatred. As long as this malice continues we will remain in this bitter exile. Think about how much harm is caused each day through our words, both in person and online. With greater awareness and sensitivity, we can heal a fractured world. This is the key to rebuilding Jerusalem.

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Post  Admin on Wed 18 Jul 2018, 8:46 pm

Praying at My Father’s Grave
Jul 14, 2018 | by Shoshanah Shear
As a child I had very little contact with my father. After his death, my connection to him grew increasingly stronger.

I found my parents' divorce very difficult to come to terms with. As an eight-year-old child, I didn’t understand much of what was happening. All I knew was that I did not want to live in a different country than my father. I didn’t want to lose my father. My hurt ran deep enough that instead of discussing my feelings with the father I loved so much, I did the opposite. I virtually stopped talking to him.

I always thought that the time would come when I’d be old enough to have the discussion that we needed to have. I naively presumed that my father would always be there when I was finally ready to talk. But life isn’t how we presume it will be.

Since my paternal grandfather died four and a half months prior to my father's birth, my father was raised very much by his grandparents. He grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), where the community was very traditional. My father was very talented and intelligent. By Bat Mitzvah age he had achieved BA level of Hebrew and was fluent in Yiddish. He completed his schooling two years before his peers with a desire to become either a rabbi or a chazan.

My father, around 45 years old
My father's uncle offered to pay for my father's tuition, provided he became a lawyer and not a rabbi. He had learned to lein (read the Torah) and blow shofar. He would sing in shul together with the chazan and had a very active role in shul. When I was two years old, my father faced a tough challenge. The rabbi of the shul, who was his father figure, stated that since he was such a leader and role model in the shul, he needed to begin to observe Shabbat.

As a young lawyer, he often had to go to court on Saturday morning. While my father grappled with what to do, the rabbi ended his own life. The loss of his father figure and the timing of his demise were very hard for my father and he began to test anything related to Jewish observance. He gave up eating kosher and much later he married a non-Jewish woman.

The one place I felt close to my father was when I went to shul on Friday night, flooded with the memories of my father.
It was when his third wife began to convert to Judaism that my father expressed his feelings about a Jewish home and how much that meant to him.

Having moved countries, I no longer attended a Jewish day school. But the one place I felt close to my father was when I went to shul on Friday night, flooded with the memories of my father singing with the chazan or blowing shofar. I also vividly remembered my father's amazing Passover Seders. If only I had been confident enough to share these feelings with my father. If only I had the confidence to ask my father to record his singing. I loved his deep, reach singing voice that had touched my heart and soul. Perhaps sharing these feelings and compliments would have bridged the gap and the difficulty in finding what to talk about.

A Sudden Death
Eight years passed with little contact or interaction with my father. Then out of the blue I was informed that my father had unexpectedly and tragically died. I was only 16. All of our unfinished business made the pain of the loss even greater. For reasons beyond my control, it would take five years before I could finally stand at my father's graveside for the first and only time.

All of our unfinished business made the pain of his death even greater.
I had rarely gone to a Jewish graveside. Family friends directed me to my father's grave and left, giving me privacy. I have no idea how long I stood at the graveside. The experience was totally surreal. I was finally standing face to face with the grave of my father. The gravestone had my father's name on it.

Living in different countries all this time, his death didn’t cause any changes in my life. Especially since this took place before the internet or cell phones. It felt as though life was just continuing. But standing at his grave, there was no more pretending that he had just gone away for an extended period of time and not bothered to call or write. The finality suddenly hit home.

My father’s gravestone

I stood there and after some time I told my father that I forgave him. There is so much that I wish I would have said that day. The words got stuck in my throat, just as they did the few times we spent time together since my parents divorced.

But the power of the experience didn’t require words. Surprisingly, somehow an unexpected connection to my father was formed. It was as though an invisible hand reached out of the grave and held on to a part of me, guiding my journey from that moment on.

While I prayed at my father's grave moments in time blended into one. So many questions, so much left unsaid. And yet, as I began to embrace the myriad of ways that Judaism teaches that it is possible to maintain a connection with a deceased parent, a path appeared. Through my yearning for the father who I loved dearly and how to ease the guilt at not having told him that, I began to discover that I could express that love in ways that are quite magical.

Taking tentative steps in my Jewish growth strengthened my connection to my father.
On one plane, I live my life in this world and my father is in another dimension, another world. But there is something that transcends time and space. Just as the memory of my father singing, blowing shofar and conducting a Passover Seder formed a connection where words could not be expressed, so too, every time I entered a shul, prayed from a Jewish prayer book, and took tentative steps towards fulfilling some of the commandments of the Torah, I felt our connection strengthened.

Gradually, over time, with each step in my Jewish growth, that fine thread I felt between my father and me was reinforced and bolstered. I slowly gained an appreciation for the path my father desired when he was younger but was denied him.

In some ways, the connection I now have with my father has never been stronger. And as I continue to build a vibrant Jewish life with my husband, who is a rabbi and a Torah scribe, in some ways I am fulfilling my father’s dream and can sense the pride and joy he must be experiencing in another dimension.


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Post  Admin on Wed 18 Jul 2018, 8:45 pm

When Death-Defying Stunts Go Tragically Wrong
Jul 15, 2018 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
When Death-Defying Stunts Go Tragically Wrong
What are YouTube daredevils truly after?

Last week, three young adults – Internet famous for videotaping death-defying stunts in canyons and cliffs – died falling over a 100-foot waterfall while filming another dangerous stunt.

Under the moniker "High on Life," the group travelled to exotic locales risking life and limb to entertain social media millions. After the fatal incident, their official YouTube channel declared that the three "stood for positivity, courage, and living the best life you can."

While mourning these tragic deaths, we must wonder: Do these activities indeed represent the values of "positivity, courage, and living the best life you can"?

This incident is part of a wider trend toward more extreme and lethal escapades:

soaring through a canyon at 150 mph in a wingsuit
free-climbing a sheer mountain face or tall building (grasping for a tiny rock or crevice with no rope or safety gear)
scuba diving to record-breaking depths
solo slacklining – tightroping between two mountaintops with no harness or net.
What drives these young people – smart, vibrant, driven, and brimming with limitless potential – to take such risks?

Whether it's for the adrenalin rush or the quest for digital fame and fortune (one YouTube stuntman, who died on camera, said he was seeking “more viewers”), the pursuit of one's goals via highly dangerous stunts is clearly reckless and wrong.
World Record Free Solo - Insane Slacklining!
VIDEO http://www.aish.com/ci/s/When-Death-Defying-Stunts-Go-Tragically-Wrong.html?s=mm

Spiritual Yearning
Ingrained in the human psyche is a call that beckons us beyond physical limits. We seek to soar higher, to defy gravity, to fly!

Kabbalists explain that just as every physical entity is drawn to its source – pulled down by gravity and ultimately biodegrading into earth – so too the human being, created with a spiritual soul, is drawn upward toward its pure spiritual Source.

Rabbi Shmuel Dov Eisenblatt writes: "This constant search for the 'something that forever alludes us' is really an expression of our deep-seated aspiration to capture the inner, spiritual vitality that courses through the universe... Our main sources of happiness [requires] a more profound dimension than the purely physical, to satisfy our emotional and spiritual needs to their deepest levels... When we try to quench our thirst for spiritual pleasure, with the saltwater of shallow physical acquisition or experience, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Our fundamental craving has not been satisfied."

The human soul seeks expansive outlet in the form of new, untried sources of excitement. (As well, the urge to travel is primarily the agitated, unsatisfied soul seeking its place of purpose.)

Short of base-jumping off a tall building, how do we replicate that energy in a kosher way?

Rollercoaster Thrills
Imagine you're at the amusement park, watching people getting off the rollercoaster. At first, everyone giggles with joy: “It's great to be alive!” But keep watching. A minute later, they're more serious, as the realities of life resurface. Another minute, they're buried in their cellphones, distracted by nonsense.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l said that the secret of life is to feel like you're constantly getting off the roller coaster. Each morning, awaken feeling refreshed and restored: I can see! I can hear! I can walk! Capture those moments with a few words that consciously express gratitude for the gift of life.

A child gleefully bounding around the room, said the Kotzker Rebbe, demonstrates the normal human condition of joy. Life itself is enough reason to rejoice: the brilliant colors, array of textures, intoxicating aromas, beautiful music, and exquisite foods.

The key is to connect every exhilarating moment to your higher purpose, using the five senses as an inspiring means to an end – sparking our deepest spiritual drives.

Trivial Stunts
Years ago on the Golden Gate Bridge, I witnessed first-hand the human spirit exerting itself through death-defying stunts as my friend set the world record for the longest Tarzan Swing. (This proved to be artificial, ultimately unsatisfying, and over the years in constant need of bigger boosts.)

Standing on the bridge as this media stunt unfolded, I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Is an act of dangerous, trivial entertainment what society should be glorifying?

It is in our hands to pull our culture back from the brink. The next time we're scrolling through Facebook and see a cool death-defying stunt, reflect: Does my attention encourage such activities?

Before signing up for hang-gliding lessons, ask yourself: Is there a more lasting, genuine way to appreciate the thrill of life?

The recent death of the three young people over the waterfalls is tragic because it didn't have to happen. Let their memory inspire us to rethink the very idea of society granting social and financial capital to those risking death for fame, fortune and thrills.

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Post  Admin on Mon 16 Jul 2018, 6:24 pm

The Last Nazi Trials: The Case Of Auschwitz Guard Reinhold Hanning
Jul 7, 2018  |  by Time Magazine
The 94-year-old former SS guard was prosecuted more than 70 years after the Holocaust. Irene Weiss, an Auschwitz survivor, explains why she testified against him.

VIDEO SEE PAGE http://www.aish.com/ho/i/The-Last-Nazi-Trials-The-Case-Of-Auschwitz-Guard-Reinhold-Hanning.html?s=mm

In 2016, Reinhold Hanning was convicted and sentenced to serve five years for facilitating the killing of at least 170,000 people. The presiding judge branded him a "willing and efficient henchman" in the Holocaust. Hanning appealed the judgment. He died in June, 2017, before a court could rule on his appeal and he could serve a prison sentence.

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Post  Admin on Tue 10 Jul 2018, 8:22 pm

Invitations to Heaven
Jul 7, 2018  |  by Yael Zoldan M.A.
Invitations to Heaven
As we prepare for our son’s wedding, I’m thinking of all the people who touched our lives.

We are preparing the invitation list for my son’s wedding and the decisions feel sensitive and complex. In a community of friends, in a family that has spread far and wide, it is hard to winnow out the must from the maybe, the friend from the friendly, the obligation from the affection. We lift the names up one by one, examining each relationship in the light.

At last we are ready to send the spreadsheet to the printer. This, finally, is the list of all those with whom we feel connected enough to share our joy. Inscribed in Excel cells, here is everyone we want with us on this momentous occasion. We review and revise. We press Send.

But something inside me says, not yet.

In the age of Whatsapp and Facetime they are still and always inaccessible to me.
Because there is another list of invitations that I would like to issue. People without whom my joy and my husband’s is incomplete. But I cannot figure out how to reach them. In the age of Whatsapp and Facetime they are still and always inaccessible to me.

I speak to them in my heart.

Zaidy, how I wish you were here! It’s a year since you’ve been gone and I can still hear your rumbling voice in my mind. Your glorious smile would have lit up the hall and made me forgive you for being an hour late.

My husband, our son and me

Babbi, you died years before my wedding and I still think of you so often. You were such an impossible mixture of wisdom and beauty, strength and grace. You should be here tonight.

Zaidy, when you died I was a self-centered teenager and while I mourned you, I didn’t quite understand what I was losing. I didn’t know enough about your heroism, your unshakeable faith, your determination; it was all masked in the twinkle of your deep blue eyes and your clever hands and stubbly kisses. But I know it now. I mourn it now.

Babbi, you died when I was already a mother. By then I knew enough to know that you had suffered unthinkable losses; parents, a child, a whole world literally burned before your eyes and still you sat with quiet devotion, whispering Psalms, faithful to Him until the end. I wish you were here with me. I wish I could give you this nachas.

I would invite my husband’s grandparents. His grandmothers, women of faith and kindness whom I knew. And also his grandfathers who I never met. They are only stories to me, but they are stories of Jews who survived and thrived and rebuilt against all odds. They were loved by my husband and they loved him deeply. They should share this night, this is their simcha too.

A picture frame I keep in my study with the few of pictures we have of relatives who died in the war.

I would invite you George, my good neighbor, who pronounced at 99 years of age, that every day was a good day and actually believed it. You would have loved to see your little buddy married and we would have loved to see your love.

And you, Mima Luchi, a woman of profound kindness. Although you spoke only Yiddish and I spoke only English, we understood each other through our hearts. I wish you were here, wearing the smell of fresh kokosh cake and squeezing my fingers in your warm, soft hands.

They’d give the couple gifts not found on wedding registries. Gifts of faith and strength, hope, love and the special protection granted to the righteous.
There are others I don’t know, but know of. Great grandparents who died sanctifying God’s name in the raging inferno of Europe. There are cousins who fell defending our Land. There are friends who are with us but not with us, lost in the fog of dementia and sickness. My uncle who died too young, the victim of a hard and lonely life. The uncle I never met, murdered as a baby in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. It hurts my heart to think that there are so many honored guests who did not make the printer’s list.

But I know this. As we prepare to see our child marry, move on, build his own home with God’s help, I carry with me the memories of the ones who came before. They shaped us and they shaped him, whether he knows it or not. I imagine that they give the young couple distinctive gifts, not found on wedding registries. Gifts of faith and strength, hope and happiness, love and the special protection granted to the righteous. I imagine this and I know that the wedding hall will be full of so many who weren’t on the spreadsheet. Every one of them is welcome.

Your Divine Soul: An Introduction
Jul 7, 2018
by Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Leibowitz

Your Divine Soul: An Introduction
A Jewish perspective on understanding the nature of the divine element that exists within man.

The Torah relates that mankind acquired a soul – a neshamah – when God “breathed” it into him at creation.

“And God formed man from the dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).”

Why does the Torah use this peculiar imagery of breathing to describe God’s granting to man a soul?

Our Sages explain: “One who breathes, breathes from within himself.”1 Breathing requires one to exhale air from deep within themselves. When the Torah states that God “breathed” a soul into man, it teaches us that God gave over to man something of Him, so to speak. The breath of God imparted to man a spiritual, transcendent, and even God-like essence.

The abstract idea of a divine element existing within man is hard to understand in concrete terms. Therefore, our sages utilize borrowed terms – such as divine “light” or “energy” – when referring to this divine element in man. When the divinity of man’s soul is actualized, illuminating an individual with divine light, man is referred to as “holy” or “sanctified” (kadosh). Holiness exists when the divine is revealed in a physical entity.

Location and Allocation
The divine energy of man’s soul is so intense, so spiritual, so other-worldly, that it is not able to fully reside within man’s physical being. It is simply too overwhelming for a human body to contain. For this reason, only a small amount of man’s soul resides within him. The rest remains outside or “above” him.

Man’s potential for spirituality is far greater than he senses.
This means that man’s potential for spirituality is far greater than he senses. Like the deceptively small tip of an iceberg that barely protrudes above the ocean surface yet hides a huge mass of ice below, man’s divine soul barely finds a foothold in man. The lion’s share of its divine light remains beyond man’s reach, its power and illumination imperceptible to man himself. (Nonetheless, all of the divinity of man’s soul is part of him. It is given to him from God, and is part of his personal identity, even though a large segment of it does not actually enter his physical body.)

Yet, the allocation of the divine soul is not stagnant. It is possible for man to increase the flow of divine energy into his physical being. When this occurs, man becomes more spiritual, more holy, more divine. The same is true in the opposite direction. The divine energy of man’s soul can flow out of his physical body. This makes man less spiritual, less holy, and less divine, as the soul’s energy returns to the reservoir of divine energy that exists outside of him, concealed from the physical world.2

A Three-Part System
Due to this relationship between the part of man’s soul that exists outside of him and that which resides within him, the Sages describe the soul as containing three parts.

The first part of the system is the “lowest” part. It is the part of the system most closely linked with man’s physical self, and it is the receptacle within man that can receive the divine light and store it within man. It is called Nefesh in Hebrew, a word stemming from the root “to rest,” for through it, the soul’s divine light “rests,” or resides, within man and enlightens his body with holiness.

On the other extreme is the “highest” part of the system. It is the reservoir that contains the part of man’s soul that is unable to enter him due to its intensity and his inability to house it. It is called Neshamah, a term already used for the entire system.

The final part of this system is the agent that links the two other parts. It is the channel that connects the vessel within man that can house divinity with the reservoir of divinity that is concentrated outside of man. In other words, it is the “pipe” that allows for a flow between the two parts of man’s soul. This facilitator of divine flow is called Ruach.

The classic parable for this system is an oil candle.

The flame defies physicality and hence represents the reservoir of divine light that exists outside of man.

The wick is a physical object and represents the human body. It has the potential to be illuminated by the flame, but can also be consumed due to the intensity of the fire.

The oil is the agent that brings the flame to the wick in a fashion that it can reside within the wick — i.e., illuminating the wick without consuming it.

Together, the oil, wick, and fire produce a lit oil candle, representing the successful flow of divine light into man and resultant illumination of his physical self with spirituality, holiness, and divinity.

Increasing the Flow of Divinity
The amount of divine light that can enter man and reside within him is dependent upon man himself. When man begins life, he has a greater identification with his physical being and is, by nature, a foreigner to holiness. Therefore, only a very small amount of divinity can initially enter and reside within him. But through great human effort, man is able elevate himself and upgrade his inner receptacle for divinity.

The amount of divine light that can enter man and reside within him is dependent upon man himself.
It is important to remember that for man to introduce more divine light into his physical self, he does not have to “create” divine light. The light of his soul was already given to him and is waiting to flow into him. He must simply make himself into a better vessel for containing it.

Let us consider an overly simplified parable (from an electrical standpoint) of an electrical system in a home. In our parable, the physical body is compared to a darkened room. The light bulb that is in the room is part of the room. Outside the room, there is a source of electricity, such as the local power station. Between the light bulb and the power supply are electrical wires that bring power to the light bulb and light to the room. If a person uses very thick wires, the flow of electricity from the power source is great. If the wires are thin, the flow of electricity, and resulting light, is less.

How can greater illumination occur in a darkened home? The light bulb is already in place and ready to be illuminated. The store of electricity is already in the power station and ready to flow into the home. At this point, Illumination is solely dependent on the electrical wiring.

Man’s mission is to work on his “pipe” (or in our parable: the capacity of his wiring), and to increase the flow of divine energy into himself. Through increasing his capacity for divine energy, man is illuminated with more divine light and emerges as a more spiritual being. As this occurs, man begins to change his purely physical existence into a spiritual, holy, and divine-like existence.

This is the Torah’s commandment to man (Leviticus 19:2): “You shall be holy.” Man is charged to continually seek to increase the amount of divine light that can reside within him, and through this increase his level of spirituality, holiness, and divinity.

This is an edited excerpt from a new book by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz: “The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul.” It can be purchased online (from Feldheim Publishers or Amazon) or at a local Jewish bookstore.

1. Sefer Ha-Peliah s.v. שאל משה, See also Ramban’s commentary on Bereishis 2:7; R. Moshe Cordevero’s Shiur Komah, chap. 51; and Likutei Amarim Tanya, chap. 2.
2. The foundational concepts in this article are found throughout Jewish literature, but are discussed most directly in Hassidic thought. A brief introduction to some of the basic concepts discussed here can be found in R. Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira’s Sheloshah Maamarim, maamar 1.

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