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Post  Admin on Sun 18 Oct 2020, 8:20 pm
Holocaust Survivor’s Miraculous Reunion with His Brother
Oct 17, 2020  |  by Rabbi Levi Weltonprint article
Holocaust Survivor’s Miraculous Reunion with His Brother
Passionate about teaching the Holocaust, Ernie Hollander debated a denier on TV. Then the impossible happened.

The Satmar Rebbe once said “Anyone who has numbers on their arm has the power to give blessings.”

My father raised me to take this seriously and would always tell me to request a blessing from Holocaust survivors, whom he referred to as “Kedoshim”, aka “The holy ones.”

When I was eleven years old, my fatherRabbi BenZion Welton would gently wake me up at 6 AM to bring me to shul. It was still dark outside. As we drove over to Beth Jacob in Oakland, California, I’d nap in the car. Then we’d walk down the thin hallway to the small “morning services” chapel tucked into a forgotten corner behind the magnificent main sanctuary.

I walked in the shadow of my father towards the door. I remember hearing the muffled sounds of prayer as my nostrils widened to take in the scent of freshly brewed coffee and deliciously old books. I sat on the pew in between the two great luminaries of my childhood, my father and Chabad RabbiYehuda Ferris.

The chapel could barely house the two dozen people that gathered there every morning to pray. There was only one person whom my father would never let me leave without shaking his hand. This was Holocaust survivor Ernie Hollander, of blessed memory.

 Ernie Hollander, zt”l
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Ernie had come from a long line of rabbis that dated all the way back to his family's persecution in the Spanish Inquisition. His great grandfather was HaRav Shlomo (ben Yosef) Ganzfried, author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Ernie’s father was also a rabbi who owned a flour mill in Czechoslovakia. Ernie and his seven siblings lived happily with their father and mother until the Nazis invaded and murdered his father before his very eyes. Ernie and the rest of the children were sent to Auschwitz. He never saw his mother or sisters again.

When the war ended, Ernie and his baby brother Alex tried to track down the rest of their family but they had all been exterminated during the war. Ernie heard a rumor that his older brother Zoltan had survived the camps only to be hung from a tree by Nazi soldiers fleeing the Allied Forces.

Devastated, Ernie fled to the only place a Jew could always call home: the land of Israel.

While in Israel, he married his wife on a rooftop in Haifa with only $3 to finance their entire ceremony. It was Nov. 29, 1947, the same day the United Nations voted for a resolution that would pave the way for the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Before their wedding ceremony was over, war had broken out. Ernie ran off to join the fight.

The Hollander's wedding in Haifa

He served in the Irgun and battled in the Israeli War of Independence. He was wounded three times but he never turned back, even when his wife telegraphed him that their daughter Beverly had been born. Eventually, they left Israel and moved to California. Together, they opened a bakery selling Hungarian strudel in the Jewish shtetl of Oakland. He spoke with a thick accent, loved Yiddish, and referred to God as "Oybeshter", the One above".

Although he loved the smiles of people who frequented his bakery, his real passion was educating young people about the Holocaust at universities, churches and high schools all over the Bay Area. In 1991, Hollander received an invitation to debate a Holocaust denier on "The Montel Williams Show." Many felt that Ernie shouldn’t give the guy the light of day. But Ernie was not one to turn away from a fight and went anyway.

No one could have ever imagined what would happen next.

TV stations came to film the debate. It was broadcast all over the country. Ernie didn’t care about all that. He was just happy that he was able to put this guy in his place. The audience must have agreed as they gave Ernie a resounding applause. But thousands of miles away in New York, there was a man named Zika sitting on his couch flipping through the channels. At that exact moment, he flipped to the debate. As he looked at the Holocaust survivor on TV, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief.

It can't be! he thought. This survivor in California is the spitting image of my friend from Serbia. How is this possible?

Zika picked up the phone and called the number for the Montel Williams show. Through frantic rambling, he told the producers of the show that the impossible had happened. Ernie’s long-lost brother Zoltan was still alive!

Zoltan had indeed been hung by the Nazis back in 1944, but they were in such a rush to flee, they didn’t tie the knots well. Zolton fell between the trees and played dead until he could escape. He spent years wandering Europe and eventually settled in Yugoslavia, having believed his entire family had been murdered in the war. For years, he lived alone.

The Montel Williams show hung up on Zika. They were used to calls like this from crazies just wanting money or fame. But Zika wouldn’t give up. He flew to Serbia to tell his friend in person that a Hollander family from California looked a lot like him. Zoltan gave Zika the names of his grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters along with their birthdays. When Zika returned to New York, he mailed that information to The Montel Williams Show.

After receiving the letter, someone from the show telephoned the Hollander’s in Oakland, California. Ernie wasn’t home. But his beloved wife Anna was. She didn’t believe it. “But we have a memorial plaque for Zoltan at Beth Jacob?” She didn’t want to get her husband’s hopes up, only for them to be dashed if it turned out to be a hoax. “But how else would this man in Serbia know all the intimate details of Ernie’s family?” She called Rabbi Zack, the spiritual leader of their synagogue.

The rabbi advised her to tell Ernie. He suggested she not be alone. Several neighbors came over to be with her. When Ernie finally came through the door, she told him to sit down because she had some good news for him and then ran to the kitchen. He heard her sobbing. Ernie followed her inside the kitchen, put his arms around her and asked, “If this is such good news, why are you crying and why do I have to sit down?”

Moments later, everyone in the room was crying. Ernie picked up the phone and called Serbia. For the first time in 52 years, he spoke to his brother Heshy [aka Zoltan]. They spoke for hours. They spoke on the phone every day until The Montel Williams show flew Zoltan from Serbia to Oakland to televise the reunion on live TV.

Ernie waited next to his wife on stage, proudly wearing his yarmulke, with his right hand flitting nervously near his wife's hand. Finally, the announcer let Zoltan enter the room. Their eyes met and the brothers ran to embrace each other. Millions of viewers wept.

Zoltan, surrounded by his brothers Ernie and Alex.

My father told me that Ernie told everyone in shul that having his brother, whom he had thought was dead for 50 years, reunited with him was the "the greatest miracle since Moses crossed the sea."

But as a kid, I didn’t know any of this.

For me, Ernie was just the jolly roly-poly “Gabbai” (“sexton”) of the shul who always smiled and gave me candy when I came to services. He'd pinch my cheeks and make jokes to make me laugh. I will never forget the reverence and solemn deference which my father always showed Ernie. He taught me and my siblings to do the same.

There are still “Kedoshim" who walk among us. Now, more than ever, we need their wisdom. We need their story. They make the world sweeter than the sweetest candy.

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Post  Admin on Fri 16 Oct 2020, 2:19 pm
Heroes of Rehab
Oct 12, 2020  |  by Ruchi Kovalprint article
Sometimes the journey to self-discovery begins with a trauma.

I’ve had occasion to learn a lot about rehab over the past little while, and my brain is on overload. The rehab process, and the journey to sobriety, is a process that must teach us all.

My friend, Adrienne Gold, said some of the most amazing people she knows are addicts in recovery. I can tell within moments of talking to someone if she is either a therapist, or has been through a lot of great therapy. If problems or issues have landed you in therapy, thus begins the journey to self-discovery and self-awareness. You just don’t get that kind of clarity on your own, or without trauma. You just don’t.

The first piece is like the old joke. Question: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Just one, but it really has to want to be changed. There are people in rehab who are there because they are desperately and completely ready to be different, to live differently. These people are there for one reason only: they want, nay, need to be there. They’ve tried not being there, not getting help, and can’t anymore. They know that without help, they’re done for. It’s over.

Change is possible if – and only if – the person in question is all in for change.
Then there are those who are there due to communal or familial pressure, or by court order. These people have a much smaller chance of recovery. Sustaining change to your lifestyle to please another person carries a bleak forecast. Other people’s expectations, it seems, are a tepid motivator.

Lesson one: change is possible if – and only if – the person in question is all in for change. Ideally, it’s their idea. Ideally, they are desperate for it. You just can’t fix and change other people.
Lesson two. There will be relapse. I mean, not for sure, but quite possibly. While relapse seems scary, it should be known that the person doesn’t go back to square one. You learn things about yourself in recovery that you simply couldn’t know prior. And you never un-know those things. You fall into bad habits, but you know better. You still have access to help. You have access to better habits and better people that you didn’t have before. So it’s not a downward slide, but it’s two steps forward, one step back. You’re still on the road to recovery. You haven’t fallen off the wagon; you’ve taken the scenic route.

Lesson three. Vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness. Addiction and shame thrive in secrecy. Professor and researcher Brene Brown said, “Shame thrives on secrecy, silence and judgment. Shame can’t survive being spoken.” In regular life, admitting your terrible habits and behaviors is scary because it unpeels you and exposes your ugliest weaknesses. You are now weak and powerless before judgment.

But in recovery, this vulnerability is exactly what brings healing. It shows strength and it creates strength. It gives others strength, and it teaches you that you have the power to create positivity with your negativity. Saying “I’m fine” is a technique of hiding behind a flimsy veneer, but saying “I’m not fine” is the terrifying act of opening a door to an unknown tomorrow. Walking through that door is vulnerable, powerful and exhilarating. It’s also the scariest thing you will ever do.

If there is an addict in your life, even if the addict is not trying to recover, try to see if you can replace revulsion with compassion.
Lesson four, familial support is everything. If you think that the addict in your life is weak and despicable, the addict will believe he is weak and despicable. Addicts who recover are heroes, but addicts who recover without support are superheroes.

And addicts who try to recover are trying their hardest to be heroes. If there is an addict in your life, even if the addict is not trying to recover, try to see if you can replace revulsion with compassion. Try to see if you can ask yourself what is the pain, what is the trauma, of your addict that led him to such self-destruction.

And finally, this: Hillel said, “Do not judge your friend until you have stood in his place.” So if you’re not an addict, please wake up every blessed day of your life and thank the Almighty God for that.

This article originally appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News.

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Post  Admin on Tue 13 Oct 2020, 10:01 pm
 Kaddish for My Mother
Jan 24, 2015  |  by Beth Firestoneprint article
Kaddish for My Mother
My mother almost left this world without my love.

“But behind all your stories is your mother's story, for hers is where yours begins." Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Nobody knows this as well as Sarah Weintraub, who lost her mother last year. Since a Jewish woman does not count as part of a minyan according to Jewish law, orthodox women will ask a male relative, friend or rabbi to say the mourner’s Kaddish for the 11-month period. For most, this is enough. Not so for Sarah, who took it upon herself to show up at her synagogue every morning for 11 months so she could say “Amen” to her mother’s Kaddish.

When the year was up, Sarah addressed the congregation after Shabbat services, thanking the men’s side for providing her with an “amazing Kaddish experience.” She explained that each morning, as she prayed on the woman’s side, she experienced a healing and strengthening of the bond between not only herself and her mother, but between her grandmother and great grandmother. “It was like I was having coffee with my mother every single morning.”

I was in shul that Shabbos morning, listening to Sarah speak. Though I’d known her for years, I knew little about Sarah’s relationship with her mother, Millie, and I’d certainly never known anyone who had done what she had done – show up to say “Amen” to her mother’s Kaddish for 11 months, never missing a day. I knew there was a mother-daughter story worth hearing and telling.

First Time Around
Sarah’s story is one of regret, rife with painful mistakes and missed opportunities, but it is ultimately a story of love and personal redemption. To understand, we must go back in time. Forty years ago, long before she’d set foot on the spiritual path that would lead to her becoming an observant Jew, Sarah became a twenty four year old divorced single mother. Needing to support her small family, she found a job in a posh Beverly Hills designer clothing store.

I was living in a rarified world of access and glamour that most people never enter.
Outgoing, beautiful and ambitious, Sarah established a trusting clientele of returning customers from the upper echelons of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Sarah’s entire life changed when she was introduced to super star, Diana Ross, and subsequently offered the coveted position of ‘fashion coordinator’ for Ms. Ross on the upcoming blockbuster film, Mahogony. When her celebrity gig ended, Sarah ventured into a career as a licensing agent for the famous American costume designer, Bob Mackie. In time, this led to Sarah becoming the head of Marketing and Advertising for a large apparel company. She was also seriously involved with a famous Hollywood producer. “I was living in a rarified world of access and glamour that most people never enter. I was having an amazing time and was too busy to care about anyone else. Sadly I left my family behind, my father, my mother, and my older daughter, Jennifer… everyone. “

Herein begins Sarah’s mother-daughter saga. She explains, “In my twenties my mother went through a very painful divorce. At the time I took my father’s side.” It would take many years and much newfound wisdom for Sarah to understand how difficult that had been for her mother. Sarah is full of regrets. “My mother was a strong woman, but she was sad and lonely. The thing she wanted most in the world was to have a close relationship with me, but I couldn’t see that yet. “

Next Time Around
At 40 years old, Sarah ‘coincidentally’ befriended a young Jewish fashion stylist working on a commercial shoot for Sarah’s apparel company. This woman had to leave the set early on Friday afternoon because “the Jewish Sabbath was coming.” Sarah was incredulous. Nobody left the shoot early. And yet, she found herself wondering. First she’d find out what all this ‘Sabbath business’ was about, then she’d fire this audacious young thing. Destiny had something else in mind. This woman had such an endearing demeanor as she explained the idea of – “taking off twenty four hours every week from the rat race – lighting Shabbat candles, eating a beautiful dinner by candlelight” – that Sarah was compelled to take a closer look at her Jewish faith. Looking back Sarah could see that her “Soul was thirsty.”

My mother was always trying to get me into the kitchen with her. But I was always running out the door.
Over the next ten years, Sarah slowly became an observant Jew. She also remarried and had two more daughters, embracing motherhood once again, but this time wholeheartedly. Though she still worked outside the home, her role as wife, mother and builder of a Jewish home became the focal point of Sarah’s life.

Sarah’s relationship with her mother began to slowly shift. “My mother loved to come to our home for Shabbos. the Jewish holidays and every birthday party. She’d visit over Chanukah and make us latkes. My mother was an amazing cook and she was always trying to get me into the kitchen with her. But I was still busy with my career. I was always running out the door.” Sarah is reflective, remembering her mother telling her to “slow down, Susie. “

“Unfortunately I never stood next to her in the kitchen. We never cooked together. What a lost opportunity.”

Time to Come Home
“Think for a minute, darling: in fairy tales it's always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window." – Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife

It would take Sarah a few more years to fly back into that window. Her mother was still waiting, but she was running on borrowed time. Millie was now 80 years old, and suffering from the onset of dementia.

While cleaning out her desk one day, Sarah came across a letter from her mother. It was not a new letter. In fact, Sarah had read it five years before. At the time, she remembers viewing it with wariness, seeing it as more of her mother’s emotionally venting. “I wasn’t ready to hear the message.” This time around, Millie’s words resonated with the sad reality they truly expressed. Sarah was overcome by emotions long buried beneath the business and distractions of her life.

Dear Susie,

I have just left my mother and more than ever I am aware of my own mortality. How selfish children can be; we don’t often give a hoot about how our parents feel and especially the single parent. Do you ever take into consideration the need I have for companionship not to mention love, friendship and a shared life? Susan, you never chose me for your mother, but I am what you got. I loved you passionately and wanted everything to be perfect for my “princess” – and that’s what you were to me. You never seemed able to return that love, let alone like me. I realized that I have lived a life of aloneness…”

As Sarah looked at her mother’s elegant European penmanship, it suddenly spoke volumes about Millie’s many other beautiful qualities. With new clarity, Sarah realized the letter was not emotional venting, but a deep desire to connect. She remembers thinking, “My beautiful mommy – please forgive me.” She was filled with remorse. “My mother always tried to make herself a part of my life. I never even put her on the platter. How could I have been so blind?” By this time, her mother was already on a physical downward spiral. Time was of the essence.

Time to Honor
Sarah’s epiphany set a new stage for her relationship with her mother. She determined to make herself available to her mother both physically and emotionally. She became her mother’s primary caretaker. As the disease progressed, Sarah moved her mother to an Assisted Living facility. It was on her daily visits there that she had a second epiphany. For the first time in her life she was able to “see who my mother really was.” She saw it in the way her mother earned the love and respect of both the staff and other residents. Sarah became a celebrity by proxy. “You’re Millie’s daughter?” they’d say whenever Sarah came, then they’d sing Millie’s praises. Millie in turn, would sing her daughter’s praises in front of everyone. “My mother was always my biggest fan. Now it was my turn. I began to openly thank my mother for everything she’d given me. She finally felt loved, heard and understood by me.”

Even though her mother was fading from dementia, she lit up the place with her light.
Sarah marveled at the woman she’d never really “seen.” Even though her mother was fading from dementia “she lit up the place with her light. She had so much goodness and warmth. All she wanted from life was to love and be loved.”

Sarah soon had to move her mother for further care, this time to The Jewish Home. Even here Millie brought joy to others. When the home eventually wanted to bring in hospice, Sarah wouldn’t have it. “Intermediaries would have disturbed my mother’s peace of mind. I didn’t want her to be with strangers in her last days.”

Indeed, as Millie’s end in this world drew near, Sarah made a commitment to herself that her mother would not die alone. “Even though she no longer recognized me, I didn’t want her to feel abandoned. I stroked my mother’s hand until her very last breath. Right before she passed, a single tear trickled down her beautiful face. I felt like it was her way of saying “Goodbye my Susie – I love you and I will always love you. It’s time for me to go. I know you love me and of course you are forgiven.”

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Post  Admin on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 5:10 pm
The Oldest Love Affair in History
Oct 18, 2019  |  by Jeff Jacobyprint article
Amid rising anti-Semitism, the People of the Book rejoice with the Torah.
On Oct. 14, 1663, the English civil servant Samuel Pepys decided to pay a visit to the Jewish synagogue in London’s Creechurch Lane. Jews were a novelty in Restoration England. They had been expelled from the realm nearly four centuries earlier, and it was only in 1656 that they had once again been permitted to live on English soil. Pepys, knowing nothing of Judaism, wasn’t aware that his excursion happened to coincide with the most euphoric day in the Jewish calendar – the festival of Simchat Torah, or “rejoicing with the Law.”

What he saw bewildered him.

“But, Lord!” he recorded in his famous diary, “to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.”

What Pepys had unwittingly walked in on was a celebration of the oldest love affair in history – the infatuation of the Jewish people with the Torah. In Judaism, there are no saints to adore or icons to venerate. Rather, there is a book to study and teach: the scroll of the law, the Torah given by God to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, the essential text with which Jews have engaged intellectually and been sustained emotionally for more than three millennia.

That book is “our most cherished possession,” writes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the noted British theologian and member of the House of Lords. “We stand in its presence as if it were a king. We dance with it as if it were a bride. We kiss it as if it were a friend. If, God forbid, one is damaged beyond repair, we mourn it as if it were a member of the family.” If a Torah scroll is accidentally dropped, everyone who witnesses it is expected to fast in penance. When a synagogue is burned, whether by accident or by arson, there is an immediate, palpable anxiety to know whether the Torah scrolls were saved or lost.

Simchat Torah occurs on the last day of a three-week sequence of fall holidays. It follows Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Unlike those holidays, however, Simchat Torah is not biblically ordained. It was not imposed by religious authorities from the top down, but grew organically from the bottom up. Its roots reach back 15 centuries to the ancient Jewish community of Babylonia, which formalized the practice of publicly reading the entire Torah – from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy – over the course of a year. The completion of the annual cycle became an occasion of joy, marked by singing and dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls. Adults and children alike take part in the festivities. And as soon as the final verses of Deuteronomy are chanted from the end of one scroll, another is opened and the first chapter of Genesis is chanted: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Jewish engagement with the Torah never ends; as soon as we finish, we start again.

The “people of the book,” Jews are called. The phrase comes from the Koran, where it appears 31 times – an apt emphasis, for no nation has ever been as closely identified with a book as have Jews with the Torah. Sacks notes that by the time Simchat Torah had spread throughout the Jewish world, Jews had lost everything that would seem indispensable to national survival: land, sovereignty, political freedom, a military. Yet they still had their book to study and teach and rejoice with. Somehow, that was enough to keep Jewish peoplehood alive.

Three centuries after Pepys made his diary entry, another renowned writer encountered Jews celebrating Simchat Torah. In 1965, Elie Wiesel traveled to the Soviet Union, where Jews lived in fear and religion was repressed. And yet, he discovered, on one day of the year – Simchat Torah – throngs of young Jews streamed to the remaining synagogue in Moscow, bravely defying the KGB to openly celebrate their Jewishness.

Wiesel was astonished.

“Where did they all come from?” he marveled. “Who told them that tens of thousands of boys and girls would gather here to sing and dance and rejoice in the joy of the Torah? They who barely know each other and know even less of Judaism – how did they know that? I spent hours among them, dazed and excited, agitated by an ancient dream.” It was a harbinger of the coming struggle to save Soviet Jewry, which would eventually crack open the Iron Curtain and change the trajectory of the Cold War.

Simchat Torah returns this week amid a rising global tide of anti-Semitism. One year after the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, and just days after the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, Germany, Jews increasingly require police protection when they gather in prayer. Nevertheless, synagogues the world over will be filled anew with the same euphoria that so startled Pepys and amazed Wiesel. The People of the Book will once again rejoice with the Law, dancing with the scrolls that have been, for 33 centuries, the ultimate source of their identity and strength.

This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe

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Post  Admin on Tue 06 Oct 2020, 6:46 pm
Sukkot: Harvesting Joy
Oct 6, 2003  |  by Dina Coopersmithprint article
Sukkot: Harvesting Joy
Why is joy the essence of Sukkot?
The holiday of Sukkot is referred to as "the time of our joy." The Torah, when describing this holiday, enjoins us particularly:
"And you should be happy before God for seven days." (Leviticus 23:40)
Every holiday has a special spiritual energy that best encapsulates the day – Passover is "the time of freedom" and Shavuot is "the time of the giving of the Torah."
What is so special about Sukkot that makes joy it's spiritual force more than any other holiday? Surely it is more than just the sense of relief we feel after the seriousness of the "Days of Awe" and the fasting on Yom Kippur.

Sukkot in the Desert

The Torah gives the following reason for building and dwelling in the Sukkah:

" that your generations will know that in Sukkot I placed the Jewish people when I took them out of the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 23:43)
On the surface, it seems that this is another holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the particular mode of accommodation or protection we received. Some commentaries say it was not actual huts but rather clouds of glory which protected the Jewish people from the elements, and that is what we are reenacting and experiencing each year during the week of Sukkot.

In that case, shouldn't the holiday be celebrated in the spring, along with Passover – the time we actually left Egypt? Why celebrate this Exodus-related miracle in Tishrei, the first month of the year? (It's pretty jam-packed with holidays already!) And why does this specific element of God's relationship with His people – the huts and/or clouds of glory – induce such happiness?

Source Of Happiness

Happiness comes from a feeling of completion. The opposite is also true – if one loses someone with whom he had a relationship, and he feels a lack, that something is missing, then he becomes unhappy and mourns. (Maharal, Netivot Olam, ch. 18)
When we sense we are lacking something, we are unhappy.

Perhaps Sukkot is the time of joy because it is then that we feel complete:

When you harvest your crops from your granary and your vineyard, you should be happy on your holiday, you and your children...(Deuteronomy 16:13)
Does our joy come from the feeling that we have so much grain and fruit and we have accomplished so much in the past year, that we are lacking nothing?

It seems an odd way to celebrate our wealth by leaving all sense of material stability behind, and stepping into a temporary hut made of wood covered by a roof of branches that doesn't even protect us from the elements. Where's all the wealth that should be making us happy?

This is exactly the point:

"No one leaves this world with half his desires fulfilled."
"A person who has one hundred wants two hundred." (Kohelet Rabbah 1:13)
We never feel we have enough material goods. The more "stuff" we have, the more we need. Physical pleasures for their own sake, leave us yearning, feeling empty and lacking. Even your most favorite food will quickly turn on you and become detestable if you eat too much of it.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his book Daat Tevunot, explains why this is so. He compares our soul to a fine princess married to a lowly peasant. The more he tries to appease her and shower her with the kinds of base pleasures to which he is accustomed, the sadder she becomes. She can't possibly bring herself to eat her husband's loathsome offerings, and all she remembers is how fine and sophisticated her life used to be by comparison.

So too, when we try and fill our lives with money, food, clothing, fleeting physical pleasures – all as an end unto themselves – our soul remains unfulfilled, yearning for the real pleasures she remembers: spirituality, meaning and a connection to God.

If, on the other hand, the princess slowly educates her husband and provides opportunities for him to experience the finer things in life – the arts, travel, theater, the opera (okay, maybe that's going a bit too far!) – she's satisfied, and the peasant is only richer and happier as a result.

When we eat, drink, wear nice clothes and enjoy the physical world as a means of relating to God, as part of a mitzvah, we elevate and sanctify this world, and create a "dwelling place" for God among us. This is what truly satisfies the soul and creates ultimate serenity and joy.

It's like buying a coffee and croissant "to go" and stuffing your face in the car as you negotiate the traffic on your way to work, versus dining out at a fine restaurant with a beloved friend or soul mate. The former is a mundane act done without any higher awareness, while the latter is a meaningful, pleasurable and often memorable experience.

It's the difference between the quick, fleeting pleasure of eating, and the longer-lasting, more real pleasure of love and relationship.

On Sukkot, the mundane acts of eating, drinking and sleeping become elevated - done in the midst of a relationship with God.
On Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our permanent dwellings and transfer our daily mode of living to the Sukkah. The mundane, neutral acts of eating, drinking and sleeping thereby become sanctified and elevated because they are done in the midst of cultivating a relationship with God.

When we leave our stable houses and solid roofs over our heads and go out into shaky huts under the stars, we are essentially placing ourselves under the protection of God's glory, or as the Zohar puts it:

"He who sits in the Sukkah, is in the shade of Emunah (belief) and no one can harm him because God is spreading His wings over him like a mother protects her children."
The belief that shields us is the trust in God's eternal direct supervision for each and every one of us and His continuous, constant love and care for His people. Everything we have, all the blessings in our lives, are from Him and He knows what we need and provides it for us. When we feel that, we can't be lacking.

This gives us a hint as to the root cause of the special joy on this holiday. It is a time when we re-experience that special protection we were given when we left Egypt.

It might be a good idea to sit in the Sukkah with our families and friends and verbally recount our blessings, tell stories of God's supervision and help in times of difficulty, talk of the numerous gifts God has showered upon us during our lives. This is one method to come in contact with the spiritual energy that is the essence of the holiday: our trust in God's care. This is the real happiness for which we are all yearning.

The Wedding Canopy

But why do we celebrate Sukkot now, after the High Holidays?

An understanding of the timing of this particular spiritual joy can be gained from the realization that in Kabbalistic sources, the Sukkah symbolizes the wedding canopy – the "chuppah" that hovers over the bride and groom as they enter into a covenant of mutual commitment and exclusivity. It is the time the Song of Songs refers to when it says:

"The King has brought me into His chambers, we will be joyful and happy together." (Song of Songs)
After Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when we resolved theoretically to commit to God and enter into His covenant, with all its entailing responsibilities, now comes action – the joyous celebration of intimacy and communion – the wedding.

Joy can also be a barometer by which we gauge how much love and care exist in a relationship between two people.

The Slonimer Rebbe, in his work "Netivot Shalom," tells of an errant prince who left the king's palace and distanced himself for a while, and then decided to return. The king, of course, was delighted, but always entertained the nagging thought that perhaps his son returned out of fear of punishment and not out of true love – in which case, he may leave again at any time.

His worries continued until the day he noticed his son whistling and humming happily to himself as he went about his daily chores. Now he knew the son was happy to be home and had returned out of love.

We too, have spent more than a month in a spirit of repentance, returning to God, changing our faulty traits and correcting our past mistakes. But were we perhaps motivated by the fear of being sealed in the "Book of Death" or of being given a less than sweet year? When we engage in the mitzvot of Sukkot, busily decorating and shopping, happily searching for the finest "Four Species," we show God and ourselves that we have returned to Him out of love, that we truly desire a relationship with Him and we won't leave again.

Sukkot is a time when we solidify through action all the theoretical commitments and resolutions we took upon ourselves during the "days of awe." We shake the Four Species, symbolizing the main sources of desire and action:

Etrog – which resembles the human heart.
Lulav (Palm Branch) – the spine, which connects the brain's messages to the rest of the body.
Hadassim (Myrtle Leaves) – which look like eyes, symbolizing visual desires: "The eye sees and then the heart covets."
Aravot (Willows) – which resemble lips, connoting activities connected with speech and eating.
On Sukkot, we sanctify and use these powers and desires to grow and become closer to our Creator. We bask in His love and protection, trust that He takes care of all our needs and show Him how happy we are to be home.

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Post  Admin on Thu 01 Oct 2020, 9:40 pm

Sukkot and Corona: Three Major Messages
Sep 29, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
Sukkot and Corona: Three Major Messages
Exploring the timely relevance of this Jewish holiday.

For thousands of years Jews have observed the Torah commandment to leave the comfort and security of our homes and eat in a specially constructed hut we call a sukkah.

In this year of coronavirus, our mitzvah no longer seems strange. Thanks to legally mandated open-air dining, eating outdoors today isn’t a Jewish oddity; it has remarkably become an almost universal ideal. And that is something that the prophet Zechariah long ago predicted.

Of all the holidays on our calendar, the one the Torah singled out most strongly for worldwide significance is Sukkot. In the future it is Sukkot and the mitzvah of “out-door dining” that Zechariah (see Zechariah 14:16-18) taught will be the litmus test for all the nations of the world. All who ascend to Jerusalem on Sukkot after the Redemption, to bow before God and to celebrate together with the Jewish people, will merit great blessing – and be spared the horror of plague.

What is it about Sukkot that makes it so relevant not only for Jews but for all of humankind as well? What is the message of this holiday that demands universal recognition?

For all those whose lives have been so traumatically transformed by this dramatic shift from indoors to outdoors there are to my mind three specific ideas surrounding Sukkot that help us to understand what makes this holiday so important.

The Air We Breathe

A coronavirus story that took place in Italy a few weeks ago perhaps summarized it best.

A 93-year-old man was stricken with COVID-19 and in spite of his age he somehow survived. Upon being discharged from the hospital, he was presented with a very large bill. Part of it was for payment for the ventilator which he had been put on for one day.

Reading the amount that was due, the old man began to cry. The hospital felt a sense of compassion and told him not to worry – surely something could be worked out to reduce the cost to something more manageable. What the old man responded made the hospital workers weep.

I cry because I’ve just come to realize after all these many years on earth I’ve been breathing God’s air for 93 years, yet I have never had to pay for it.
The old man explained, “I don’t cry because of the money I have to pay. Thankfully I am able to afford it. I cry for another reason. I cry because I’ve just come to realize after all these many years on earth I’ve been breathing God’s air for 93 years, yet I have never had to pay for it. It seems it takes over €500 to use a ventilator in the hospital for one day. Do you know how much I owe God? Why haven’t I ever truly thanked Him all the days of my life for the miracle of this divine gift which I took for granted?”

There is so much in this world that we take for granted as if it were ours by automatic right or well-deserved reward. We complain about the things we lack and hardly ever take the time to thank the Almighty for the priceless favors of his divine blessings.

Eric Hoffer put it beautifully when he said the most difficult mathematics for almost all people is the ability to count their blessings.

The holiday of Sukkot is the time to acknowledge the source of “the harvest” of our lives, the divine gifts that make our lives possible and pleasurable even as, if we but choose to notice, they surround us as freely and constantly as the air we breathe every single moment.

The House We Live In
Our homes are the most obvious signs of our wealth. They represent the most obvious display to the outside world of our economic status. A mansion means we’ve made it; it is a symbol of our success.

And very often, unfortunately, its ostentatiousness goes to our heads. It misleads our egos into taking credit for financial achievements that actually have their source in heaven. Pity the poor person who makes the mistake of thinking "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me"(Deuteronomy 8:17).

Not to understand that it is the Almighty – the same one who created all of nature and the universe – who decides on the extent of our blessings is to create a divine reappraisal which may cause the richest to lose their accumulated wealth as well as their magnificent homes and estates.

Sukkot was a time of the harvest. Farmers who struggled all year were the wealthiest they would be in any other season. Precisely then the Torah commanded the Jews leave their homes to live in nothing more than a small hut. It was to understand the message that Ecclesiastes, the book of Kohelet which we read on Sukkot, expressed so succinctly by King Solomon: “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. There’s a time for joy and there’s a time for sorrow. There’s a time for building and a time for destroying. The book’s conclusion is a summary of the knowledge accumulated by the wisest man on earth.. The end of the matter, when all things are heard is to revere God and to observe his laws

Houses, even if they are mansions worth countless millions, can suddenly no longer offer us any security, neither for health nor for wealth - all because of a minute virus which cannot even be seen by the naked eye.

And so Sukkot asks us to acknowledge the true source of our wealth and well-being by moving from the inside – built by us – to the outside, work of God.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling, no different than our very lives here on earth. The wealthy farmer and the affluent 21st-century billionaire both require reminding themselves that without God our homes can quickly turn into huts and our harvests into bankruptcy.

How Much We Really Need
Joseph Heller, author of “Catch-22”, and Kurt Vonnegut were at a party given by a billionaire hedge fund manager on Shelter Island.

Kurt said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”

And Heller said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”

Kurt wondered, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

And Heller said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Sukkot asks us to temporarily go outside, look around at God’s creations, “dine out doors” with your family, your children and perhaps even your grandchildren, in a sukkah from which you can gaze up, see heaven above and be reminded of God as well as your blessings.

Not a bad idea for biblically wealthy farmers and perhaps even for contemporary victims of a plague which has left us severely stricken. Sukkot, coming right after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, might just also be the one Jewish holiday that has the most to teach the entire world about the real meaning of happiness and achieving true success.

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Post  Admin on Tue 29 Sep 2020, 5:53 pm

Living with a Buddhist Family in Japan Brought Me Back to the Fold
Sep 28, 2020  |  by Marjorie Ordeneprint article
Living with a Buddhist Family in Japan Brought Me Back to the Fold
I went looking for freedom. I’d landed in the wrong place.

In the summer after my junior year of high school, in 1970, I caught the countercultural bug spreading across America. I had met some “radicals” on a teen tour and I was hooked. Instead of playing the A-student who followed all the rules, I decided to rebel. I read books like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and longed for my first psychedelic experience. I wore ragged jeans and faded T-shirts and sought out the company of like-minded “hippie-radicals.” School spirit was out, disdain and disrespect were in. Of course, my parents were concerned, but what could they do?

Then the school announced the American Field Service exchange student competition, and a light bulb flicked on in my head. How thrilling it would be to become a member of a new family somewhere else in the world! Yes, this was my big chance.

Sitting on a Formica bench in the school cafeteria, I composed an essay about the delights of learning another culture and discovering the common values of peoples everywhere. My efforts earned me an interview, to take place in our home, so that the selection committee could meet the whole family.

But just before that, another opportunity fell my way. My father’s Orthodox cousins, coming on a Sunday morning for a dental visit, invited me to spend the upcoming holiday of Sukkot in their Williamsburg home.

Our family was not observant at all. Keeping kosher consisted of avoiding pork and shellfish. Milk and meat together? Not a problem. When we were younger, my father had made Friday night kiddush on a shot glass of Manischewitz, but by now we’d given that up, along with candle-lighting. In fact, Saturday was the busiest day in my father’s home dental office. We didn’t know from Shabbos.

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Post  Admin on Sun 27 Sep 2020, 10:15 pm

Neuroplasticity, Yom Kippur and Real Change
Sep 23, 2019  |  by Sara Yoheved Riglerprint article
Neuroplasticity, Yom Kippur and Real Change
Jewish principles for change have been corroborated by recent discoveries in brain science.
Can people really change?
Throughout centuries when ancient cultures believed in fatalism and modern cultures believed that who you are is determined by genes and environment, Judaism has propounded the radical notion that human beings have free will in the moral sphere; they can change if they want to.
I am an example of such change on the macro level. I went from being a radical leftist member of S.D.S. and a monastic member of a Hindu ashram for 15 years to being an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem and supporting the Zionist parties that my former leftist friends demonize.

I've changed on the macro level, but could I go from being competitive to cooperative, hellbent to helpful, selfish to generous?
But what about change on the micro level? Could I go from being a short-tempered, anger-prone person to being a calm, restrained person who would rather befriend her opponent than decimate him? Could I go from being competitive to cooperative, from being hellbent to helpful, from being selfish to generous, from being cantankerous to kind?

Come Yom Kippur, it is those changes that count.

The good news is that Judaism insists that you CAN change. The bad news is that it takes a long period of consistent, small efforts.

Amazingly, both these principles have been corroborated by the latest discoveries in brain science. Neuroscience has discovered that the brain is “plastic,” which means that it changes every day, in fact with every thought. Neuroplasticity is the term that refers to the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual's life. Norman Doidge, M.D., a neuroscientist at Columbia University, asserts in his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, that brain plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave.

This is the scientific corroboration of the ability of a human being to do teshuva, to change one's life around.

Thoughts take place in the neurons of our brain. The brain consists of 100 billion neurons. A neuron consists of three parts: the dendrites, which look like treelike branches, the cell body, and the axon, a cable that carries electrical impulses toward the dendrites of neighboring neurons. Every time you repeat a thought, the dendrites of the neurons associated with that thought grow. When you stop thinking a habitual thought, the dendrites shrivel up and disappear.

“Practicing a new skill, under the right conditions,” writes Dr. Doidge, “can change hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells in our brain maps.”

Let’s say that during this season of teshuva you decide that you are going to stop hurting other people with sharp, insulting, or sarcastic words. This ingrained bad habit of yours is ensconced in a well-worn path in your brain map. Someone says something that ticks you off, and you automatically reply with a nasty retort. Can you really change?

According to Dr. Doidge, one of the key principles of neuroplasticity is: “Use it or lose it.” In grade school we all knew the multiplication tables. Years later, if we pull out a calculator every time we have to multiply numbers, the multiplication tables can actually disappear from our brains. In my twenties, I worked in an orphanage in Calcutta; I spoke, read, and wrote Bengali. Recently I passed a group of Bengali tourists in my neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem. I wanted to impress them with my knowledge of their language, but all I could remember was a feeble, “Namaskar.”

“Use it or lose it” actually explains our ability to do teshuva and change. According to the Mussar Masters of the last two centuries, if you want to stop hurting other people with words, you must devise a program where, starting with just 15 minutes a day, you actively refrain from saying anything hurtful. After a couple of weeks, you extend the period to 30 minutes, then gradually to 45 minutes, then to an hour. You can use your cellphone alarm to remind you when your “no hurtful words” period starts and when it ends.

That you can, by an act of will, resist a lifelong habit even once out of every three occasions is significant. A batting average of .333 makes you a champion.
What is going on in your brain during that period? Every time you refrain from treading the well-worn path of hurtful words in your brain, the dendrites of the neurons associated with that path shrink. “Use it or lose it.” Eventually as your designated time period to be vigilant expands, your brain map actually changes. Teshuva occurs one thought at a time.

You may think that refraining from hurtful words once a day is worthless if you make cutting remarks two times later in the day. But every thought has an effect of either growing or shrinking the dendrites. That you can, by an act of will, resist a lifelong habit even once out of every three occasions is significant. A batting average of .333 makes you a champion.

This leads us to another Mussar method corroborated by neuroscience. The Mussar Masters teach the importance of making a chart. Every time you do the exercise you have chosen, you give yourself a check on the chart. When you have earned a certain number of checks (decided by you), you go out and “reward the body.” This can mean chocolate, a dinner in a gourmet restaurant, a new garment, a massage, a new high-tech gadget, or something else on which you would not normally spend that much money. Rewarding yourself solidifies the change.

For example, let’s say you have a co-worker who presses your buttons and your default response is to answer with a sarcastic, cutting remark. Now you are doing teshuva. You set your cellphone alarm. From 10:00 to 10:15 AM, you will not let any hurtful words escape your lips. You succeed, and at 10:15 you give yourself a check on your chart, feeling like a mini-hero. When you get ten checks, you go to the store you pass every day on your way to work and buy the item in the window that you’ve been wanting but didn’t buy because you felt like it was an indulgence. You look at it and glow.

I have personally experienced how the method of small, daily exercises can lead to fundamental behavior changes over time. The only part of the method that perplexed me was “rewarding the body.” Here I was engaged in an exalted spiritual practice and I when I succeeded, I should go out and buy myself a box of Belgian chocolates?

Only when I read The Brain that Changes Itself did I realize the genius of the practice. Dr. Norman Doidge explains that a second basic principle of neuroplasticity is: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Dr. Doidge tells about experiments done with children with major language processing problems. They worked on a computer program to actually change their brains. When the child achieved a goal, something funny would happen: the character in the animation would eat the answer, get a funny look on his face, etc. Dr. Doidge writes: “This reward is a crucial feature of the program, because each time the child is rewarded, his brain secretes such neurotransmitters as dopamine and acetylcholine, which help consolidate the map changes he has just made. (Dopamine reinforces the reward, and acetylcholine helps the brain ‘tune in’ and sharpen memories.)”

Whereas it used to make you feel good to make a wisecrack at your co-worker’s expense, now you feel good by refraining from the wisecrack.
In other words, if you are about to make a cutting remark to your co-worker and you stop yourself, you give yourself a check on the chart. The brain registers this as a pat on the back and secretes neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine. You feel good about what you just did (refraining from hurtful words), and “neurons that fire together wire together.” Next time you are about to make a hurtful quip, you will associate the act of refraining with pleasure. Whereas it used to make you feel good to make a wisecrack at your co-worker’s expense, now you feel good by refraining from the wisecrack. After you get, say, twenty checks, you go out and buy yourself that new gadget you have earned. Every time you use the new gadget, you feel happy.

“Neurons that fire together wire together.” You have rewired your brain. Now you associate refraining from hurtful words with happiness. This is lasting teshuva.

It’s too close to Yom Kippur for you to make any significant changes in your brain or your behavior. But you can decide the one or two changes you want to make in your life and start with the program outlined above: specific, small steps on a daily basis, charting, and rewarding the body. It’s important to join a group of similarly aspiring Jews in one of the many local or online programs. The support of an ongoing group is essential for lasting change. Commit to sticking with the program at least till Chanukah. On Yom Kippur, tell God: “I’ve just started to develop this muscle, but I did join the gym. And I’m going to do my spiritual workout every day.” And mean it.

Sara Yoheved Rigler gives a weekly webinar, the Kesher Wife Club, for women who want to work on themselves spiritually through their marriages. For more information, see

Yom Kippur: The Three Levels of Forgiveness - › watch
Video Yom Kippur forgiveness
How to truly forgive someone who has hurt you. By Rabbi Etiel
If someone has hurt you Forgive, even if they are not sorry.
But it does not mean you need to remain in that relationship.
Watch short video

Yom Kippur - Teshuva
We Can Change
You can ask forgiveness only after you've stopped the harmful action
Judaism's 5 steps to cleaning your slate.

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Post  Admin on Wed 23 Sep 2020, 6:23 pm

The Ballerina of Auschwitz
Sep 21, 2020  |  by Ronda Robinsonprint article
The Ballerina of Auschwitz
Dr. Edith Eger offers keys to free ourselves from our own prisons of the mind.
She’s about 6 years old, delighting in her body’s strength, flexibility and grace – and stretching into a full split. Edith Eger’s Hungarian ballet master claps with joy then lifts her off the ground and over his head.

“Editke,” he says, “all your ecstasy in life is going to come from the inside.” The young dancer will remember those words and a similar refrain by her mother years later when she comes face to face with Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death, in Auschwitz.

Three sisters: Magda, Edie, and Klara
The youngest of three girls, Edie Eger grew up in Kassa, Hungary, one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, which became Kosice with the creation of Czechoslovakia. Her mother made clear she would never be beautiful like Magda, the oldest sister. Klara, the middle sister and violin prodigy, had the talent; she was the only Jewish girl accepted by the music conservatory in Budapest. Edie had the brains.

The Last Seder
At her family’s Passover Seder. Edie, 16, is asking the four questions At the end of the meal, her father cries and kisses Magda and Edie on the head. Klara, forewarned, has stayed in Budapest. In the middle of the night German soldiers pound on their door, storm into the bedroom and spirit the family away to a brickworks factory with other interned Jews. Edie wears a blue silk dress with bows. They are allowed one suitcase for four people.

"Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”
Weeks later in a dark crowded train bound for Auschwitz, her mother tells Edie, “We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

When the cattle car doors open in May 1944, a sign proclaiming “Arbeit Macht Frei” greets the Jews of Kosice. The Nazis separate them into men’s and women’s lines. Edie doesn’t realize she will never see her father again. Mengele commands her mother to go to the left. “You’re going to see your mother very soon. She’s just going to take a shower,” he says ominously.

A female kapo coldly dashes Eger’s hopes. Pointing to smoke from distant chimneys, she says, “Your mother is burning in there.”

Staring at the chimney atop the building their mother had entered, her sister Magda reassures her, “The soul never dies.”

No One Can Take Away Your Thoughts
“I heard every day that I was never going to get out alive,” Eger recalled in a recent Zoom lecture hosted by Chabad Intown Atlanta. When hopelessness overwhelmed her, she thought of her mother’s words as they pressed together in the dark crowded cattle car. “No one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

She thought of her boyfriend and their picnics by the river, envisioning the future they had planned. She focused on helping her sister Magda survive the hell in which they found themselves.

Commanded to entertain Mengele with a ballet performance, Eger imagined herself dancing for fans at the Budapest opera house. By some miracle, she was able to view the seasoned killer before her as a pitiful prisoner of his evil choices. She was free in her mind, which he could never be. Her performance netted her a loaf of bread – which she shared with Magda and their bunkmates, a gesture that would later save her life. They would lift her up when she stumbled on a death march to a subcamp of Mauthausen, too weak to walk.

Edith and Bela

In May 1945, American soldiers discovered her lying in an Austrian forest, barely alive beneath a pile of dead bodies, with a broken back, typhoid fever, pneumonia and pleurisy. After a year when her body had healed, she married Bela Eger – a Hungarian man she had met in a tuberculosis hospital in the Tatra Mountains – and became a mother. Healing her mind, however, would take much longer. It became her passion and vocation after they settled in the United States.

No Prozac in Auschwitz
In her first book, The Choice, which she wrote at age 90, Dr. Edith Eger recounted her life before the Holocaust, when she was training for the Olympics as a gymnast, and after the war, when she reared a family, went to college and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. The energetic great-grandmother maintains a busy clinical practice and holds a faculty appointment at the University of California, San Diego. She also serves as a consultant for the U.S. Army and Navy in resiliency training and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eger has been called a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of choice in our lives.

“I’ll be forever changed by her story,” Oprah Winfrey says.

Eger’s new book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, released in September, serves as a practical guide to the healing she has done in her own life and with patients in her clinical work.

In each chapter she explores a common prison of the mind, closing with the keys to free ourselves.

For instance, in “No Prozac at Auschwitz,” she reminds readers that the opposite of depression is expression, and encourages us to feel so we can heal. As she says, “What comes out of you doesn’t make you sick; what stays in there does.”

The title of the chapter came from one of her patients, a physician addicted to prescription drugs. He said he had realized there was no Prozac at Auschwitz – no way to self-medicate, numb out, forget the pain of hunger, torture and imminent death.

Don’t Call Me Shrink; Call Me Stretch
In an exclusive interview with, Eger quipped, “I tell people don’t call me ‘shrink,’ call me ‘stretch.’ I stretch people’s comfort zones. I ask you to face all your fears, because fear and love don’t co-exist.”

The 5-foot ballerina with twinkling eyes and glowing face takes her own advice. “For many years I had tremendous problems with anger,” she admits. “Forgiveness is release, and I couldn’t let go until I gave myself permission to feel and express my rage. I finally asked my therapist to sit on me, to hold me down so I had a force to push against, so I could release a primal scream.”

"The worst prison is not the one the Nazis put me in. The worst prison is the one I built for myself.”
In Eger’s world, there is no forgiveness without rage. Whatever imprisons our minds, we must go through the valley of the shadow of death and not become stuck there. She explains: “Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, not allowing the past to rule your life. While suffering is inevitable and universal, we can always choose how we respond… We can choose to be our own jailors, or we can choose to be free.”

She continues, “It may seem wrong to call anything that came out of the death camps a gift. I am here to tell you that the worst prison is not the one the Nazis put me in. The worst prison is the one I built for myself.”

Dancing for Mengele
Surprisingly, Eger says she found God in Auschwitz. “My God was with me. I look at Auschwitz as an opportunity to discover my inner resources and to become closer and closer to my God.”

The elegant La Jolla psychologist credits God with transforming her hatred into pity, to helping her feel sorry for the guards and view them as the actual prisoners. “They were born to be beautiful and have joy and love and passion for life. But they were taught to see Jews as a cancer to society.”

Many decades later, a fellow ballerina validated Eger’s perspective. On May 4, 2019, the 74th anniversary of her liberation and a national day of remembrance in the Netherlands, Eger spoke at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Then she watched Igone de Jongh, the prima ballerina of the Dutch National Ballet, perform a piece inspired by Eger’s first night in Auschwitz when she danced for Mengele.

Calling the Dutch ballet one of the most cherished experiences of her life, Eger was awed by the depiction of beauty and transcendence – in hell. Mengele appeared to be a hungry ghost, sad and empty, trapped by his need for power and control.

Flowers from Igone de Jongh

At the end, de Jongh descended from the stage and walked directly to Eger. With tears in her eyes, the ballerina embraced the Holocaust survivor and gave her a huge bouquet. The audience roared with applause and a standing ovation.

Eger continues to dance through life, happy to perform her signature ballet high kick after her talks. She will celebrate her 93rd birthday Sept. 29. “I will never retire,” she declares. “The meaning in life is when you can be useful. The only way I think I survived is that I can serve others.”

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Post  Admin on Mon 21 Sep 2020, 8:51 pm
The Billionaire who Gave Away his Fortune
Based on Forbes magazine article
Charles “Chuck” Feeney amassed billions while living a frugal life.
He pioneered Giving While Living – giving away most of your fortune to charity while you're alive.
Over the last four decades, Feeney donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide.
He set aside about $2 million for his and his wife's retirement. On Sept 14, 2020, he finished giving away his entire fortune and closed his foundation.
And Feeney gave it away anonymously, going to great lengths to keep his gifts secret.
He and his wife live in a small apartment in San Francisco.
His extreme charity influenced Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to launch the Giving Pledge – a campaign to convince the world’s wealthiest to give away at least half their fortunes before their deaths.
I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than give while you're dead.”
Feeney gave $3.7 billion to education, $870 million to human rights and social change, and more than $700 million to health.
The Truest Prayers
Sep 21, 2020  |  by Yael Zoldan M.A.print article
They're not pretty. They begin when we put down the facade of competence and acknowledge that we can’t manage, we can’t handle, we can’t fix.

The truest prayers I know are not poetry. They do not flow, lilting in a sweet melody of joy and awe and gratitude. They have no rhyme, no alliteration, no metaphor. The truest prayers I know are not so pretty.

The truest prayers are creased and sweaty, smudged letters, crumpled up in grimy hands, urgent and repetitive. They are a choked and spluttering cry, an infant’s wail in the night. Hold me, feed me, love me.

The truest prayers are the ones that force us to look into ourselves, into the dark corners we don’t like to see, the tendencies we rarely acknowledge. They crack in the middle, voices hitching on a sob. The truest prayer begins when we finally put down the facade of competence, of independence, and acknowledge that we can’t. We can’t manage. We can’t handle. We can’t fix.

The truest prayer is the admission that we are small and needy and afraid. They are offered like a child’s hand reaching, grasping and squeezing tightly. Achingly trusting, helpless and yearning. The truest prayer says, I need. I can’t. Please help. You’re my only hope. Please. Please. Please.

I don't like this kind of prayer. It makes me uncomfortable to admit my lack, my inability and my dependence. It makes me know that I have nothing to bring to the table, no chips with which to bargain. I have nothing to offer. Who wants to feel so small?

But I think of my young children giving me gifts. Used erasers, stickers that don’t stick. They lift them up to me and their faces say, Accept my meager offering, this wilted dandelion, this faded, folded, drawing. Accept them with love, because this is all I’m capable of. This is all I can offer. But it’s everything I have and that has to count for something.

I think when I pray that maybe I am that child, offering nothing to the One who has everything and hoping that He finds favor in it because He loves me.

The truest prayer forces me to recognize for real and for always that all I have is this relationship. The trust and the hope that God loves me, truly loves me, like a parent loves a child. Even when I know that I am unlovable, imperfect and unredeemed. Even then He loves me. Even when I don’t love myself, He loves me.

And I wonder how this is possible. Can the One who knows my thoughts, the smallest, pettiest parts of me, can He truly find me worthy of favor?

But I think again about my own children. Don’t I love them even when they are unlovable? When they are imperfect and unredeemed? Of course I do. I look at them and I see works in progress, souls in the process of becoming and I want to help them, guide them, give them what they need to grow. Can it be that this is how He sees me?

I am not wise; this is all I know about prayer. In the place where desperation yields to dependence, where we finally admit our need, we find connection. And when we offer our small offerings with trust and faith, we elicit love from the One who made us, who breathed us into being, who loves us.

In our deepest darkness it is the truest prayer that brings us light.

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The Meaning of Rosh Hashanah: An In-Depth Analysis
Sep 25, 2016  |  by Rabbi Asher Resnickprint article
Exploring the philosophical underpinnings of this misunderstood holiday.

Before discussing the specific aspects of any particular holiday, it is important to understand the uniquely Jewish perspective of time as well as holidays in general. The world at large views time essentially as a straight line. The present moment is a unique point along this line that never existed before and will never exist again. The past is completely finished and the future is yet to occur.

The Jewish model of time is a spiral. While time is certainly moving forward, it progresses ahead specifically through a seasonal cycle. Each year we pass through the same seasonal coordinates that are imbued with whatever spiritual potentials were initially established within them.

This is the significance of the Jewish holidays. They serve as signposts on the spiral of time to teach us which specific quality has been embedded into that particular season. When the Jewish people left Egypt at Passover time, for example, it showed us that both physical and spiritual freedom are incorporated within the fabric of every springtime. Whenever our cyclical journey through time encounters a holiday, therefore, we directly re-experience the quality of that time. In addition, whatever it is that originally occurred at that time actually occurs again every single year. Thus, every holiday is a metaphysical window of opportunity.

So, the key question regarding every holiday is – What is the particular opportunity that it presents us with? There are three clues which help us to uncover the meaning of each holiday.

First, what was the actual historical event that occurred the first time that this day was significant? And what was its metaphysical impact upon the Jewish people and the world? This is the most obvious question to ask. As we explained, it is specifically this metaphysical impact that recurs every subsequent year at the same time. This is what the holiday actually consists of.

Second, what are the various mitzvot, Rabbinical guidelines, and customs of the holiday?

If the Torah or the Rabbis tell us to do certain activities or to refrain from others during the holiday, clearly these do's and don'ts are designed to help us access its opportunity. Even the customs, developed from the subconscious of the Jewish people over the centuries, are rooted in an awareness of the unique potential of these days. The more one understands the particular tools that are appropriate for each holiday, the more one will understand the opportunities themselves that these tools are designed to access.

And, finally, what is the name of the holiday?

Judaism views Hebrew names as having tremendous significance. Far from merely serving as convenient labels, Hebrew names both identify and express the underlying essence of whatever it is that they are describing.

With these three clues to guide us, we can now begin to unravel the various layers of meaning and significance within each of the Jewish holidays.

Rosh Hashanah
Let's begin by thinking about some curious aspects of the High Holidays. We'll discuss three different questions and then try to resolve them with the help of our three clues.

What is Rosh Hashanah all about? In addition to its meaning as the “head of the year”, we also refer to it as the "Day of Judgment". Every single person in the world is judged individually on Rosh Hashanah.

In fact, the Talmud tells us that three different books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: The Book of Life – for those judged to be completely righteous, the Book of Death – for those judged to be completely wicked, and the Middle Book for all who are judged to be in between.

If Rosh Hashanah is really the day when every single person is evaluated for life or death, how would we expect people to act on that day? Wouldn't we expect people to spend the day fixing up past mistakes, pleading their personal cases, and praying for God to give them all good judgments?

What, in fact, did the Rabbis tell us to do on Rosh Hashanah? Curiously, there is virtually no mention of our own personal judgment in the Rosh Hashanah prayers. Instead, the prayers are all about the general condition of the world. We pray that the world will recognize God is its exclusive King, that He is aware of everything that occurs, and that the shofar of Mt. Sinai will demonstrate God's love and concern for all of mankind. These are certainly beautiful and meaningful prayers. The difficulty is why we would focus exclusively on the overall world situation just at the time when our lives are on the line? This is our first difficulty.

Now let's think about Yom Kippur. Why is it such a significant day? It is the "day of kapara" – the time of spiritual cleansing. It is the day that we are able to fix up the damage caused by our various past mistakes. That being so, wouldn't it be much more logical for Yom Kippur to come first, i.e., for the "day of cleansing" to precede the "day of judgment"? This is our second difficulty.

The third question arises from a discussion in the Talmud tractate Rosh Hashanah on the nature of the judgment of Rosh Hashanah. The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah presents the story of Yishmael (the father of the Arab nation) pleading for his life (on Rosh Hashanah). The verse tells us that "God heard the voice of the lad where he was." The Talmud explains that the words "where he was" do not refer to Yishmael’s physical location. That would be completely superfluous. Where else would God be answering him other than the specific place he was in? Rather, the verse is speaking in terms of time. Based on this, Rebbe Yitzchak (in the Talmud) said, “A person is not judged (on Rosh Hashanah) except according to his actions of that exact moment."

The commentaries explain that Yishmael was saved at that time even though his descendants were destined to hurt the Jewish people throughout later history. In other words, the negative future deeds of his descendants did not change his judgment at that time.

There is a different source quoted by the Jerusalem Talmud, however, which seems to go much further than this. It tells us that even if an individual was not pure and straight in the past, as long as he is pure and straight in the present, on Rosh Hashanah itself, then he will have a positive judgment.

These two different sources together (i.e., the positive judgment of Yishmael on Rosh Hashanah despite his descendants hurting the Jewish people later in history, and ignoring the fact that the person being judged was not pure and straight in the past) teach us a remarkable fact. It sounds like the judgment of Rosh Hashanah does not have to do with either the past or the future, but rather exclusively with one's situation on the day of Rosh Hashanah. This would seem to be telling us that even if the one being judged was evil during the entire previous year, as long as he was righteous on Rosh Hashanah, he would be judged as a righteous person. This, of course, runs counter to any notion of logic and fairness in the nature of judgment. This is our third difficulty.

To summarize, the three questions are:

Since we are all being judged for life and death on Rosh Hashanah, why don't we do teshuva or plead our personal case?
Why doesn't Yom Kippur – the "day of cleansing" – precede Rosh Hashanah – the "day of judgment"?
How can the judgment of Rosh Hashanah be exclusively a function of the day of Rosh Hashanah itself, irrelevant of the future and even of the past?
We mentioned previously that every holiday has three clues that help us to unlock its hidden meaning. Let's begin with the first one, its historical significance, to try to resolve these various difficulties.

What is it that actually occurred on the very first Rosh Hashanah? Although in the davening (prayers) of Rosh Hashanah it is referred to as “yom harat olam” (the birthday of the world), it was not actually the day of creation of the world, but rather the creation of mankind. The first Rosh Hashanah was day number six of creation, and the day upon which the first man, Adam, was created.

The Birthday of Free Will
Let's ask what may seem like an odd question – What is the great significance of the creation of mankind? Prior to day six, the Torah tells us that God had already created the entire physical world as well as a vast number of different forms of life. What, then, did mankind bring to the world that had not previously existed?

When the Torah describes the creation of mankind, it tells us that man was created "b'tzelem Elokim" (in God's image). One of the most central meanings of this fundamental concept is that human beings have the ability to exercise free will in relation to moral decisions.

To properly understand this, we need to appreciate the Jewish view of a human being. Every person has a body and a soul. The body desires physicality, the soul wants spirituality; the body is interested in short-term gratification, the soul in eternity. What is it that decides which side will prevail?

Judaism understands that there is a third component in the system – free will. Free will is what arbitrates this existential tug-of-war between the body and the soul. It is specifically the creation of free will, which epitomizes our very humanity, that we celebrate and relive every Rosh Hashanah. As Rav Berkowitz, a teacher of mine, once expressed it – Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of free will.

Free will Exists Only in the Present
It is significant that of these three different components within every human being – the body, the soul, and the free will – it is specifically the free will which exists exclusively in the present moment. For example, a person could live his life by a particular set of moral guidelines for many years and then, in an instant, decide to completely shift course. The state of one's free will is, by definition, whatever he chooses at that particular moment.

In contrast to free will, which exists only in the present, the state of both the body and the soul are almost entirely a function of the past. A person's physical health at any given time, for example, is mostly determined by their past diet and exercise even if they happen to deviate from that at the present. Similarly for the soul, it is generally the cumulative past behavior that determines one's spiritual health, not occasional changes afterwards.

Focus of Rosh Hashanah
Now if we put this point – that free will exists exclusively in the present, together with the cryptic statement in the Talmud that: "A person is not judged (on Rosh Hashanah) except according to his actions of that exact moment," we come to a remarkable insight – the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is specifically on the state of our free will. Let's try to understand what that means.

We generally assume that the focus of Rosh Hashanah is on the state of our soul – i.e., the spiritual repository of our actions of the previous year, not on what our free will is choosing at that particular time. This would explain why it seems so obvious that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah would be a cumulative evaluation based on our actions of the previous year.

The spiritual health of one's soul as a result of one's past behavior is obviously of critical importance, it just happens not to be the focus of Rosh Hashanah.

Everything that we have ever done, both positively and negatively, has affected our souls. And if this is left as is, these various impacts will be with us forever, in both this world and the next. Fortunately Judaism says that there is a way to minimize or even to eliminate the negative impact of our past mistakes on our eternity. This mechanism is "teshuva" (return) and the result is called "kaparah" (a spiritual cleansing). This goal of kaparah is so important that we have a holiday devoted exclusively to its attainment – Yom Kippur (the "day of kaparah"). It is on Yom Kippur that we try to address our actions of the previous year and fix up all of our mistakes.

Since it is specifically Yom Kippur that addresses our behavior and situation of the previous year, what, then, is the purpose of Rosh Hashanah? We mentioned earlier that one of the clues to uncovering the essence of a holiday is to examine its name. The way that Rosh Hashanah is often understood, it would seem more appropriate for it to have been called "Sof Hashanah" (the "end of the year"), and for it to have been placed at the end of the previous year. However, it is actually called Rosh Hashanah (the "head of the year"), and, of course, it is situated at the very beginning of the brand new year. Besides reinforcing that the focus of Rosh Hashanah is not on our actions of the previous year, what else does the name teach us?

Potential in the Present for the Future
The essence of Rosh Hashanah is specifically this point – that it is the very beginning of the new year. Just as God originally created mankind as a completely blank slate on the very first Rosh Hashanah, similarly He creates every one of us anew with a similarly blank slate at the beginning of each new year. Rosh Hashanah is our once-a-year opportunity to establish a fresh new direction and reality in our lives. Don't get stuck in the past. Ask yourself: "If I was born this very instant, without the constraints of my various past habits and patterns, what would I do? How would I ideally want to live this brand-new year?"

This is what it means that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is a judgment on our free will, or in other words, on the choices and values that we express on the day of Rosh Hashanah itself. Since the new year is a completely blank slate for every one of us, God presents all of us with the opportunity to set up whatever values and parameters we would like to govern our brand new year. And then God gives us the type of a year that we ourselves actually chose. In other words, God gives us for this coming year as much as we want to do, not as much as we have done.

The fear and trepidation that is commonly felt on Rosh Hashanah isn't only a fear that God will be tough on us, but also because the opportunity of the day is so enormous. Imagine winning a contest which allows you to have five minutes inside of a department store where you can keep whatever you carry outside. The fear you would be likely to feel just before those five minutes begin is that you will not get all that you can out of this enormous opportunity.

Let's now return to our three original questions. Our first question was – "Why shouldn't we be spending the day fixing up past mistakes in order to receive the best possible judgment?" That was clearly based on our assumption that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah was a judgment on our actions of the previous year.

The key to understanding this actually comes from the third question – the puzzling statement in the Talmud that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is exclusively on the day of Rosh Hashanah itself. This told us that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is not on the state of our souls, but rather on our free will choices. Once we understand that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is basically an assessment of what we ourselves want for our coming year, it is obvious that our past behavior is not the point here. The relevant issue is whether we will appreciate what is truly valuable and make the proper choices for the coming year. This also explains why our prayers on Rosh Hashanah are that the entire world will come to a deep appreciation of God's existence, awareness and supervision. By making these the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, the Rabbis are teaching us the following critical lesson: Recognizing the needs of others, seeing ourselves as responsible for others, and understanding that the greatest need any of us have is to appreciate reality more deeply – are the most important values to base our upcoming year on.

Change for the Future Must Precede Fixing Up Past Damage
This leaves us with just the second question – Why Yom Kippur, the day of cleansing, didn't precede Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. On a simple level, this question was also based on the mistaken assumption that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is a judgment on our actions of the previous year. It, therefore, seemed logical that God should allow us the chance to cleanse ourselves from our previous mistakes before He would actually judge us on them. However, even now that we recognize the judgment of Rosh Hashanah to be on the choices we will make on this first day of the upcoming year, the logic of Rosh Hashanah preceding Yom Kippur still needs to be understood.

Everyone is capable of choosing a new path in life, independent of their situation up until that point, anytime they really want to. This could be done anytime throughout the year, and all the more so on Rosh Hashanah. How likely is this, however, to occur? We are all carrying around a lifetime full of past habits and patterns. In light of this, how many people will be strong enough to simply make a decision to carve out a brand new direction in their lives? It would seem, therefore, that it would still make more sense for the purification of Yom Kippur to come first, and thereby help our choices on Rosh Hashanah for the coming year to be less impeded by all of our past mistakes.

Let's use an analogy to point out the mistake in this way of thinking. Imagine that you know someone who is an alcoholic or a drug addict. This addiction has damaged every aspect of his life – his family, his job situation, his friendships, etc. One day he comes to you and tells you that he has decided to fix up all of the damage he has caused. He has compiled a comprehensive list of all the mistakes he has made during the past number of years. And he is planning to go to every person that he hurt with these mistakes and ask for their forgiveness. As admirable as this certainly is, there is one obvious circumstance in which you would be likely to strongly discourage him – if he has not yet begun to work on the alcoholism or the drug addiction itself. You would tell him to direct his energy first and foremost to his personal life situation and direction. Not only because it is so much more fundamental, but also because if he doesn't address this first, it is likely that he will end up hurting many of these same people again in the future. As important as it is that he go to all of the people he has hurt and ask them for their forgiveness, it only makes sense for him to do this once he has straightened his life out first.

Let's try a second analogy to make this even clearer. Imagine a person whose car is full of dents and scratches because he has been such a poor driver. He goes to a body shop to get all of the dents and scrapes fixed up. The man in the body shop, however, tells him not to bother because this would likely end up being a waste of money. He recommends that this lousy driver first work on becoming a better driver. To merely fix up the damage to his car without first changing his poor driving habits would be pointless; it is inevitable that he will end up damaging his car all over again. Only once he has improved his driving, will it make sense for him to get his car fixed up.

Every human being makes mistakes. At least once a year we all need to take stock of ourselves and work on improving. Our spiritual improvement must occur in two different parts of ourselves – our free will and our soul. We need to examine our free will, meaning our values as well as how those values translate into a vision and direction for the future. In addition, we must assess the damage which our previous values and direction have caused to our souls as well as to others around us. Both tasks are critical. Working on our values and choices will determine the quality of our upcoming year, while working on the damage from our mistakes of the past will determine the nature of our soul. By the Torah placing Rosh Hashanah before Yom Kippur, it is telling us very clearly that the first step must be to work on our values and our vision. Only then can we be sure that the work we do to fix up the damage from our past mistakes will end up lasting.

New Direction
It is interesting that people usually assume that the effort required to fix up their soul (i.e., repairing the damage from their mistakes of the previous year) will be much more time consuming than what will be necessary to work on their free will (i.e., improving their values and direction for the coming year). After all, to repair their soul will require first identifying and then rectifying every single mistake they have made during the past year. In contrast to this, we might imagine that improving our free will merely requires some basic introspection and making a few different resolutions for the new year.

Judaism, however, tells us that the reality is exactly the opposite. We have an entire month of Elul to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah, and only one week after Rosh Hashanah to get ourselves ready for Yom Kippur. Think back to the two previous analogies. Isn't it obvious that the work involved in breaking an addiction is enormously greater than rectifying the damage that resulted from that addiction? And, similarly, with changing how one drives versus having the dents taken out of one's car? Changing our values and our vision involves changing who we are. Fixing up past mistakes, on the other hand, is basically a mechanical process. It is critically important, but it is mechanical nonetheless. Additionally, the more that we are able to make ourselves into brand new people for the upcoming year, the easier it will be to rectify our past mistakes through this process.

One of the biggest mistakes we all make is to allow our past to govern and determine our future. The defining quality of our free will, which is really what defines us as human beings, is that it is free and unencumbered. And it is the past, perhaps more than anything else, which is specifically what it is free of. While, as this expression itself spells out (and as Judaism would certainly agree), this is an obviously relevant consciousness for one to have the entire year, Rosh Hashanah is the time which is most ideal for its implementation. At least once a year, at its very beginning, we must take the time to think, not about what we have already done, but rather what we want to do; not about where we have already been but, instead, where we really want to go with our lives. This should give us the ability not only to fix up the damage from our past mistakes, but also to allow us to live an upcoming year which is truly new, not only in name but in reality.

For more in-depth essays, visit Rabbi Resnick’s site at

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Post  Admin on Fri 18 Sep 2020, 12:09 am
Rosh Hashanah and The Abraham Accords
Sep 16, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
Rosh Hashanah and The Abraham Accords
The first historic Abraham Accord happened more than three millennia ago. It's no coincidence it's part of the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading.

There is probably no better way to describe the past year than by way of the words of Queen Elizabeth, looking back at a horrific time experienced by the United Kingdom some years back, when she famously said, “This was an annus horribilis.”

The Latin phrase for a horrible year hardly begins to capture what the world has gone through during this time of global pandemic. It is difficult to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with hope when our lives have become so accustomed to tragedy. Prayers come with great difficulty when accompanied by a seemingly never-ending plague; our faith is profoundly challenged by the prevalence of pain and suffering followed by untimely and unexpected mortality.

Rosh Hashanah will demand a great deal of spiritual trust in the ways of the Almighty. There is much that we cannot understand, and we find ourselves overwhelmed like the biblical Job who was powerless to make sense of life’s inequities and apparent irrationality.

Yet in spite of it all Jews around the world will find a way to come together - with social distancing, masks and prayer shawls - to reaffirm belief. Belief in God who created the world on this day. Belief in God who, according to the biblical reading for this day, heard the prayers of Sarah and blessed her with a child. And belief in God who most remarkably of all blessed us with the miracle of Jewish survival.

The end of the year, according to Jewish sages, carries within it great significance. It is a harbinger of what is to come in the year to follow.

Jews ought to not only see the hand of God writing the script of history but in even more dramatic terms acknowledge the prophetic aspect of the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah.

Jewish sages long ago taught us that the selections from Torah we choose to read, be they on Sabbath or on holidays, have a hidden meaning. They are divine messages for the most important events of the day. Sometimes their intent is obvious; other times they only become clear when newspaper headlines unexpectedly echo biblical verses.

This Rosh Hashanah we suddenly understand why a strange story about Abraham is appended to the reading from the Torah we would have expected simply to recount the story of creation. “And it came to pass,” the Bible tells us in Genesis 21:22-27, “that Abimelech and Phicol, the captain of his host, spoke unto Abraham” and acknowledged his great success. It was time, in truth perhaps long past the time it should have happened, for former enemies to make peace. “And together they made a covenant.”

This was the historic Abraham Accord. It happened more than three millennia ago – and it happened again this past week.

On September 15, 2020, in the last week of the annus horribilis, the closing days of 5780, Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States signed what were given the name “the Abraham Accords” – a historic event that even the New York Times admits “leaves open the possibility that more Arab states will make peace with Israel.”

Since its inception 72 years ago Israel hoped and prayed for normal relationships with its neighbors, for prioritizing peace over war, for mutual respect and a shared vision that will benefit future generations for years to come. For many it seemed a dream too unrealistic to ever be realized. Yet it always was the dream of the prophets. It is sobering to realize that the ideals of the United Nations, in the view of the organization’s founders, are summed up by the vision of the prophet Isaiah of “nations hammering their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles”, inscribed on the curved granite walk called the Isaiah Wall in the plaza in front of the UN building.

I do not believe at all that it is mere coincidence that the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah just happens to be about the “Abraham Accord.” We always had the feeling that someday, as Mark Twain famously put it, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

So on Rosh Hashanah 5781 we will start the year not with any references to plagues but rather to an auspicious sign. As Jewish tradition puts it, may the curses of the past year come to a close; may the blessings promised by God for our future see speedy fulfillment – the kind of fulfillment already illustrated by the miracle that just took place at the White House.

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Post  Admin on Sun 13 Sep 2020, 10:42 pm
Life's Two Essentials
Sep 12, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blechprint article
Life's Two Essentials
Both our bodies and our souls require sustenance and nourishment.
What's essential?

The term has gained considerable prominence in this time of global pandemic. Professions that are deemed essential are granted the privilege of being exempt from stay-at-home mandates and lockdowns.

It's surprising what some state governments are willing to include as so “essential” that they override any possible threats to the health and welfare of society. Florists can still deliver bouquets in Delaware and golf courses can stay open in Arizona. New York, while forbidding physical exercise in gyms and indoor dining in restaurants even with social distancing and the wearing of masks, seems to acknowledge that liquor stores need to remain open.

So what is really “essential”? It's an important question to answer during these days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The best answer I’ve heard is that the most essential thing in life is to be wise enough to know what is truly essential. And that’s the primary purpose of the High Holy days.

Throughout the year we spend our days pursuing things that don’t really have any lasting value or significance. And once a year there comes a time when we get off the treadmill of our lives to stop and rethink. While governments are busy trying to resolve the actual meaning of essential, Judaism has provided us with the most powerful and profound response by way of a Jewish law.

Judaism mandates countless blessings. According to the Talmud every Jew should recite at least 100 blessings daily. Yes, Tevye, there’s a blessing for a sewing machine and even a blessing for the czar. But almost all of these blessings are rabbinic. They have no source in the Torah. They come from the heartfelt desire of sages to give expression to their love of God and their gratefulness for his numerous acts of kindness. Yet there are only two blessings whose source is the Torah itself and thus they have the force of biblical commandments.

They are the two – and the only two – essentials of our lives.

The first of them is the Grace after Meals. The second is the daily commandment to bless God for giving us the Torah. And what is the connection between these two blessings? The first – the blessing for food – puts into words the thanks we owe the Almighty for sustaining us physically and giving us life. The second reminds us to express gratitude for nurturing our souls and giving us a reason for living.

In Genesis, the creation of man is described as a duality of two sources. We are created from the dust of the earth. That is the key to our bodies. But bodies without souls are nothing more than corpses. Life came about when God blew into Adam some of his divine spirit. That is when we became “created in the image of God.” On Rosh Hashanah we commemorate this uniqueness with the blowing of the shofar, replicating that moment when our bodies became united with a part of divinity. God and His breath entered into our very being.

The two biblical blessings refer to the two essentials of our lives. Both our bodies and our souls require sustenance and nourishment.
The English language takes beautiful note of this historic moment. The Latin for breath is spiritus. We are alive for as long as the soul remains within us. The breath of God’s shofar makes us human. To die is to expire; it is the moment when God’s spirit, His breath, chooses to leave us.

When our bodies become aware of our spirituality, of God’s presence in our very being, we are inspired. Our souls feel God’s presence. When God decides that we have either fulfilled our purpose in life or that we are no longer inspired to do so - His decree is that we expire, and that we return His breath to him.

The two biblical blessings refer to the two essentials of our lives. Both our bodies and our souls require sustenance and nourishment. Our bodies need food. No one can deny that is essential for life. But our souls also require something equally important. Just as we eat three times a day, so too we pray the same number of moments. Food fills our stomachs; Torah satiates our souls.

In these past few horrible months we have come to recognize more than ever the real meaning of necessity. We have gone without many things, and thankfully most of us have survived. Coming face-to-face with the High Holy days we need to rethink our priorities and to pray with full hearts for the two biblical blessings that best define us. We are bodies and we also souls – and we have to bless God for giving us the opportunity to fulfill the truly “essential” needs of both.

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Post  Admin on Sat 12 Sep 2020, 10:27 pm
A Rosh Hashanah musical parody that never gets old
By Chaya Cikk - September 26, 2019 24667 0
This is a wonderful Rosh Hashanah musical that will make you dance during your preparation for the New Year. Who doesn’t love a good song and dance? This is by a band called the Fountainheads, who is absolutely brilliant.
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Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish festival of the New Year. It is a two-day festival where there are many different customs and laws we follow. One of the main ones is dipping the apple in the honey. We use honey for a sweet new year. One of the other foods many have the custom to eat is a Pomegranate, many use this as the new fruit on the second day of the New Year. I’ve never counted many say the Pomegranate has 613 seeds in it. The same number as the commandments God gave in the Bible.

Furthermore, there is the Fishhead, many have the custom to eat. Why the head? As we wish to be at the head or the top. We should continue to thrive and be successful or at the top. There are many fun food customs people have for the New Year. For example, need a raise in salary so have some raisins and celery. Get it?

Additionally, in the Synagogue service, we blow the Shofar, the Ram’s horn. This is a reminder that the Days of Repentance are coming followed by the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. We need to wake up and ask for forgiveness. Not only from our friends and family but also from God, for the sins, we may have done.

Finally, this is a New Year, a chance to turn over a new leaf. A chance for a fresh start, a new beginning. So ask a person you have wronged for forgiveness. Try and be nicer to a person you don’t get along with. A new year is a new you.

Wishing all of you a Happy Sweet New Year, a Shana Tova U’mtuka!

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Post  Admin on Thu 10 Sep 2020, 8:02 pm

Seeking Awe
Sep 5, 2020  |  by Emuna Bravermanprint article
We all want to transcend the mundane, to lift above the ordinary, to touch the Divine.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting some wonderful national parks in the last few months – from Yosemite to the Grand Canyon to the Smoky mountains. They were all spectacular in their own ways, completely awesome – whether you use the word as slang or as originally intended!

But perhaps what was even more awe-inspiring were all the people we encountered at each of these spots (at a social distance of course). Wherever we went it was like seeing a microcosm of the country, correction; the world. From the variety of languages to the variation in dress, from bikers to those covered in tattoos, from very young to very old, these spots of incredible beauty attract literally everyone.

Why is that? I think it’s because not only do we all connect with beauty but on a much deeper level, we all want to be uplifted, to be elevated, to be awed. We all want to transcend the mundane, to lift above the ordinary, to touch the Divine. We all want to reach God.

I don’t think everyone names it like that but I think it’s the true basic instinct. Not only do these sights (which seems like such a pedestrian word to describe such grandeur) take us out of ourselves, out of our daily concerns and concerns, not only do such experiences give us perspective, the really do lift us out of this world.

We all get too caught up in life’s hassles and trivialities. We all forget to take moments to reach out. We all know, on some very primal level, that there is more to life than mortgages and car leases. We all want to see natural beauty.
Nachmanides said (and I am paraphrasing) that “nature is just miracles we are used to.” We don’t notice the roses outside our doors or the trees in our backyards. But we wish we did. We really want to. That’s why we get in our cars (the ones whose leases we were worrying about) and drive hours and hours just to get a glimpse. (Corona silver lining: the parks were significantly less crowded allowing for even more amazing views). We know that beauty will elevate us. We know we will connect with the Eternal – and we want it so badly, so desperately.

Seeing the whole gamut of humanity at the national parks gave me hope. We were all unified and connected in our awe and wonder and appreciation of the world God has created for us.

I wasn’t just checking off items on my bucket list (I actually don’t even believe in bucket lists but that’s another story), but I don’t think I anticipated all the ramifications of these trips to the parks.

I was elevated by the vistas and I was elevated watching the awe on the faces of my fellow visitors.

The Almighty gives us so many different opportunities to be grateful; I’m working on appreciating the nuances of all of them. And I’m glad I pushed past my fear of heights to go to the Grand Canyon even though I kept yelling at my husband, “You promised me you wouldn’t go near the edge!”

The Days of AWE-some
Sep 6, 2020  |  by Jody Berkelprint article
Three awesome things about the Days of Awe.
Why are The High Holy Days, The Yamim Noraim, which include Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Teshuva and Yom Kippur, called The Days of Awe?

Each Jewish holiday gives us a different spiritual energy to tap into. The Jewish view of time does not go in a circle, like a merry-go-round, rather it’s a spiral. Hopefully we’re not just going through the holidays, we’re growing through the holidays. The Days of Awe, like all the other Jewish holidays, have its own power embedded in the days, and we want to be able to access its awesome power.

Here are three awesome things about The Days of Awe.

1. Rosh Hashanah: Get in the Game
We all know why we celebrate Passover – because that’s when God freed the Jews from Egypt. On Shavuot we received the Torah. What exactly are we celebrating on Rosh Hashanah?

A number of years ago, I was sitting in a High Holiday program and the Rabbi at the front challenged the congregation, “Jews, what are we celebrating today?” The hands shot up, “The Jewish New Year”, “Apples and honey” and my favorite, “We won, let’s eat”! Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know the answer. What exactly are we celebrating?

The holiday brings us back to the very beginning of creation when everything existed only in potential. What brought this awesome potential into purpose? Us! Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of mankind, so happy birthday to humanity!

At this time of year we have the ability to tap into the energy of renewal and break free from a past that may be holding us back. Because on this day, we go back to the very beginning; there is no past to hold us back!

The key to this time of year is to seize the opportunity God is putting in front of us, to figure out what specific role you want to play in the upcoming year.

Rosh Hashanah is called Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, but what exactly are we being judged on?

What type of person, parent, child, employee, Jew do I want to be this year?
On Rosh Hashanah, we turn inward and focus on our personal goals for the upcoming year. What type of person, parent, child, employee, Jew do I want to be? There is a new year, a new world being created and the question we all need to ask ourselves is: what position do I want to play in the game of life? That is the judgment God is making on Rosh Hashanah.

I looked at my own growth in Judaism in terms of a baseball game. For a long time, I was a spectator watching from home on TV – I wasn't in the game or involved in my Jewish community. I was proud to be Jewish; I was cheering for “my team” but I wasn’t on the field; I didn't have any real skin in the game.

I wanted to learn more about Judaism, so I bought a ticket to the game. I started to experience what it felt like to be part of the team, by learning more about Jewish wisdom and taking on a couple mitzvahs.

Still, the nosebleeds weren’t doing it for me. I wanted to get closer but I was still in the stands – and greatness doesn't happen in the stands. I needed to get in the game.

At this time of year God is looking down at us and saying, “You want to join the team? Figure out what position you want to play and let's go. On Rosh Hashanah we recognize, we are here for a purpose and it's time to step up to the plate.

God is rooting for us; He's here to help us knock it out of the park!

2. Making God King
The theme of Rosh Hashanah is making God King and re-dedicating ourselves to His Kingship. What’s so awesome about that? Well to me, if God is King then I’m not in charge, He is! Recognizing this fact is a game-changer for the upcoming year. We can give up this sense that everything is in our control and the whole world rests on our shoulders.

God has His job and we have ours, and we sometimes get the two confused. We think we are in control of everything, and when things don't seem right in our eyes – someone has more money, someone is smarter, more successful, more talented than me – we think, That should be mine! God must have made a mistake.

We look around the world trying to understand everything that's going wrong, getting stressed out, anxious, jealous, depressed, frustrated, all because we're attempting to do God's job.

It’s not our job to fully understand why bad things happen to good people. It’s our job to help when bad things happen to good people.

Part of crowning God our King is to humble ourselves. As powerful and as amazing a role we have to play in this world is, we are not God.
It's not our job to perfect the world according to our vision. It's our job to do what we can to fix the world according to God's vision.

Part of crowning God our King is to humble ourselves. As powerful and as amazing a role we have to play in this world is, we are not God.

It's awesome to have a King because the bigger we make God in our lives, the smaller our worries become!

3. Yom Kippur: Day of Forgiveness
For 40 days, Moses pleaded with God at the top of Mount Sinai to forgive the Jewish people for worshipping the Golden Calf. That 40-day period began on the first day of the month of Elul and culminated on Yom Kippur, when Moses came down with the second set of tablets, signifying that God had forgiven the Jewish people.

Yom Kippur is an awesome day of attaining Divine forgiveness. We can approach God and express remorse for messing up and falling short. We own up to our mistakes, commit to fixing the error and do teshuva, repentance, which means making things right and getting back on course. It's a recalibration of the soul.

And like any parent whose child comes forward to apologize and admit they were wrong, God immediately forgives us, and even more incredibly – He erases the past as if it never happened. Our record is expunged.

And if our mess ups involved hurting others, we also need to make things right with them and apologize.

Yom Kippur reminds us that God is always here for us; He loves us and wants more than anything to have a relationship with us! And when we mess up – and we all mess up sometimes – we have the opportunity to make things right. Totally AWE-some!

The Days of Awe offer us a unique opportunity to recalibrate and with Hashem’s help return to who we are meant to be in the world, because it’s not about becoming someone else, its’ about becoming our best self.

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Post  Admin on Tue 08 Sep 2020, 11:25 pm
Shofar in the Year of Corona
Sep 3, 2020  |  by Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaumprint article
Shofar in the Year of Corona
Let this year’s shofar blast take on a whole new meaning.

Most of us take breathing for granted. It's something that just happens on its own. But as we approach Rosh Hashanah and look back at some of the takeaways from the Jewish year 5780, there has been a focus on breathing.
This year will be remembered as a year of Covid-19 ventilators and masks that inhibit our breathing. This year will be remembered as the year that we were forced to slow down from the rapid pace of our daily lives and just breathe. And with every breath we learned to humble ourselves, to relinquish control, to take each day as it comes, and to live a little more in the present.

For the many who suffered losses, trauma, or disappointments, 5780 will be remembered as a year of challenges and pain. But many will remember this year as one that snapped them out of the trance of daily repetitive living, giving them a chance to learn how to focus on what matters, to get to know their families and themselves a little better, a year that taught them how to truly breathe.

On Rosh Hashanah there is a commandment to blow the shofar, a unique mitzvah in that it is fulfilled by using our breath. The shofar blasts mark the birthday of mankind when God "blew" into man's nostrils his soul, giving him the "breath of life" (Genesis, 2:7). Breath is symbolic for the soul, as the two share a common Hebrew root. The word for soul, "neshama", is almost identical to the Hebrew word “neshima”, breathe. It's no wonder that one can become more aware of the higher levels of their soul by slowing down and focusing on their breathing.

Blowing the shofar teaches us how to discover our soul. The shofar is nothing more than a hollow shell, yet it transforms a fleeting breath into a powerful victory cry. When we make ourselves hollow, letting go of our egos and relinquish the false sense of control, only then can we fully experience the spiritual essence that is inside of us.

Commenting on the verse "Lift up your voice like a shofar" (Isaiah 58:1), one the early Hassidic masters, Rabbi Avraham Chaim of Zlotchov, known as the Orach L’Chaim, writes: When we view ourselves like a shofar that has no voice besides for what is blown into it, in that we have no power outside of what God gives us, we can awaken the Divine love and bring upon ourselves great kindness and compassion.

This past year we learned how to do just that. We saw how quickly our entire life can change, and how the entire world can be thrown into chaos. We saw that most of the external structures that we build are really hollow and powerless, like a shofar. We learned that without breath – without a spiritual connection, without meaningful relationships, without personal growth – our lives can turn very empty very quickly.

As the virus first began to spread, many took note of its name corona, which means crown, pointing out how this virus would wake up the world to realize how dependent we are on the King of Kings to protect us and to keep world order. Jewish tradition teaches us that the shofar is the very instrument that we use to coronate God as King, proclaiming that everything we have is dependent on God Who is constantly breathing life and sustaining us with His Divine energy.

As we look back on a year when we learned how to pay attention to our breath, when we saw the hollowness and fragility of our control, when the word corona became a household word, perhaps we can view the entire year as one great shofar blast, one great reminder of who is really in control.

The Origin of Life
Sep 7, 2020  |  by Harold Gansprint article
Explaining how life began is the biggest unsolved question in science today.

The raging water screamed down the narrow canyon in torrents. The dark rocky landscape was momentarily illuminated by a flash of lightening followed by rolling thunder. But there were none to observe it; not an animal, bird, insect nor any living organism. The world was lifeless, as was the entire universe.

And then, something remarkable happened: life began. A mix of lifeless chemicals became alive. But how? This is the biggest unsolved question in science today. Scientists have a well formulated theory that explains much of the mystery of how the universe began, but when it comes to the origin of life, they do not have a clue.

Scientists have many (conflicting) ideas of the circumstances surrounding the origin of life, but there is no scientific theory of how it actually began. For example, one idea is that a mix of lifeless molecules in a warm pond spontaneously sparked life, perhaps precipitated by a stroke of lightening. This ignores the fact that a stroke of lightening is more likely to destroy any organic compound that might be present rather than make it come alive. Another idea is that life began near deep sea thermal vents. All these ideas, each without any evidence, address the question of where life might have formed and what the required energy source might have been, but they do not address the question of how did lifeless molecules become a living organism? That is the ultimate mystery.

One of the things that I discovered early in my research on this topic was a website for the “Origin of Life Prize” (the web site no longer exists). There was a $1,000,000 prize offered to anyone who could come up with a scientific theory describing in detail how life began. The website explained that the prize was suspended on October 26, 2013 because over a period of thirteen years, since the prize was first announced in the prestigious scientific journals Nature and Science, not a single submission was approved by the screening judges to be passed on to higher level judges. The website goes on to say that all origin-of-life literature either “ignored” the key issue or “deliberately swept it under the rug”. The key issue described by the website was “How did pre-biotic nature prescribe or program the first genome” [italics mine]. The genome is the DNA of an organism. It is essentially a list of instructions, much like a computer program, that encodes every detail of a living thing. This would include the kind of organism (e.g., an E. coli bacterium, a rose, a monarch butterfly, a crocodile or a human) as well as specifics such as color, size, strength, intelligence, etc.

The structure of DNA consists of a sequence of smaller molecules called base pairs or nucleotides that are linked together to form a long molecular chain, sometimes billions of base pairs long. In most cases, two such molecular chains are linked together to form a double helix. The choice of specific base pairs and the order in which they are linked is critical for this long molecule to define a living organism. If the sequence of base pairs is random, the results will be a molecule that does not define anything, much like a random sequence of letters contains no information. Even if only one base pair out of billions in the DNA of an organism is incorrect, the resultant organism is likely to be fatally flawed. This is substantiated by the fact that a multitude of serious or fatal diseases (e.g., ovarian, colon and breast cancer, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease and certain types of diabetes) are caused by a single error in the human genome, which is over 3 billion base pairs long.

It follows that the key question concerning the origin of life is, how did a meaningful DNA form spontaneously from a random selection of base pairs, even assuming the base pairs were somehow available in the environment? Clearly, it is theoretically possible that the required base pairs could link together in the correct order to form the DNA of some viable organism just by chance. The issue is, what is the probability of that happening somewhere in the universe any time since creation?

Many comments made by highly regarded scientists indicate that the probability of DNA forming spontaneously is very small. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle is reported to have compared this probability to “the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boing 747.” Similarly, Belgian biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate Christian René de Duve, when referring to the spontaneous genesis of RNA (similar to DNA but with only a single chain of base pairs), called for a rejection of events with such miniscule probabilities that they may be called miracles and are not amenable to scientific inquiry. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the helix structure of DNA referred to the origin of life as “almost a miracle.”

Consider this: If I were to mix up a very large pot of alphabet soup (the kind that you might find in a commercial kitchen) and pour it out onto the floor, what is the probability that thousands of letters would line up in a long linear sequence? And that the letters would form correctly spelled words? And that the sequence of words would have correct syntax and make sense? The probability of this all occurring is clearly exceedingly small and it is theoretically (but impractically) computable. With DNA, we are dealing with thousands to billions of “letters” and minute errors are usually fatal!

It seemed that in order to really understand the problem of DNA forming spontaneously, I would have to accurately compute the probability of such an event taking place by chance. Fortunately, having worked for the US Department of Defense as a Senior Cryptologic Mathematician for 28 years, I possessed the necessary skills to make such a computation. I started by considering the virus Phi-X-174 which infects the E. Coli bacteria. Its DNA has a little more than 5,000 links (base pairs) and it is the shortest, meaningful DNA known to exist. It is also simpler than most DNA because its structure forms a single helix (like RNA) instead of a double one.

In addition to calculating the probability of the DNA of Phi-X-174 assembling itself by chance, it was also necessary to account for the fact that potentially, other similarly small and viable DNA might theoretically exist, even if they are not found on Earth or anywhere else. Furthermore, such a spontaneously created DNA would have many places in this vast universe where it might have had its genesis, and much time to do so; according to the latest science, some 13.8 billion years. The calculation yielded a probability that is incredibly small; it has 3,999 zeros to the right of the decimal point! This probability far exceeds any standards of significance used in any of the sciences. It is as unlikely as a person playing Russian roulette 50,517 times and surviving! (Russian Roulette consists of spinning the cylinder of a six-chamber revolver containing one bullet, pointing it at one’s head and pulling the trigger.) Would anyone believe that someone had done it and survived? Would any sane person try it? After all, the odds of surviving only six trials are about two to one. Imagine what the odds are after 50,517 trials! (If you are having trouble imagining it, you are not alone. The odds would be represented by the word “trillion” written 333 times followed by “to 1”.) These odds are the same odds as the DNA of Phi-X-174 or a similarly sized viral DNA forming spontaneously anywhere in the universe since the beginning of time.

It is important to note that DNA, by itself, is totally nonfunctional. It is like a phone app without a phone. In most natural environments, it cannot even maintain its complex structure before disassembling. In a living cell, the DNA is protected inside the nucleus. In a virus, it requires a sheath of proteins to protect it and to insert it into a living cell so that it can reproduce. For Phi-X-174, this protective sheath consists of 192 proteins made up of 42,276 amino acids (the simple building blocks of proteins). Were we to include the required genesis of this sheath in the calculation of the probability of the DNA of Phi-X-174 forming by chance, we would have to include another infinitesimally small factor; one with 26,589 zeros to the right of the decimal point!

The probability of the origin of life having been a natural chemical event is so small, that it tells us that it is illogical to assume that it was. Yet, DNA-based life does exist!
For all practical purposes, the spontaneous formation of the simplest viral DNA anywhere in the universe since the beginning of time is impossible. This is true even without accounting for other factors that make the probability even smaller, such as the fact that DNA cannot possibly form inside stars, on planets that are too close to a galactic center or in the intergalactic medium. This conclusion prompted organic chemist and molecular biologist Alexander Graham Cairns-Smith to write, “But, you may say, with all the time in the world, and so much world, the right combination of circumstances would happen sometime? Is that not plausible? The answer is no, there was not enough time, and there was not enough world”.

The scientific question concerning the origin of life thus remains. There is no scientific answer to the question, nor can there be, because it represents an intractable mathematical conundrum. The probability of the origin of life having been a natural chemical event is so small, that it tells us that it is illogical to assume that it was. Yet, DNA-based life does exist! Our conclusion is that it did not happen by chance. The only alternative is that it happened by design.

In 1952, American chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey built a chamber that contained a simulated pre-biotic atmosphere within it. They passed electrical sparks through this mixture of chemicals to simulate lightning and were successful in causing the spontaneous formation of amino acids, the simple building blocks of proteins. Two years later, American biologist and Nobel Prize laureate George Wald wrote an article in Scientific American expressing the view that it was just a matter of time before the fundamental structures of life, such as RNA, DNA and proteins, would be spontaneously created in simulated pre-biotic conditions in a laboratory as well. In the article, Wald wrote that the hero of the origin of life was time. Since life had billions of years to develop, what we would consider impossible based on our everyday experience, is not only possible, but even probable or “virtually certain” and that “Time performs the miracle.”

Wald’s expectations that proteins, RNA or DNA would be produced spontaneously in pre-biotic conditions in a laboratory were not met. This was so even though the experiments were arranged so as to vastly reduce the time that would normally be required for the desired result. Sixty-two years after writing that article, no one has succeeded. In 1979, an introduction to a collection of Scientific American articles entitled Life: Origin and Evolution which included Wald’s article, stated that although his article was stimulating, it was “one of the very few times in his professional life where Wald has been wrong”. After much of a life time analyzing the molecular structures of living organisms, Wald had a change of heart. Writing in the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry in 1984, he explained that “with some shock to my scientific sensibilities”, he had concluded that a magnificent “mind” had created the universe and life. Perhaps it was the realization that there was not nearly enough time, nor enough space in the universe to spontaneously produce anything resembling the simplest viral DNA.

But what kind of “mind” can Wald be referring to? If it existed before any life and before the creation of physical reality, then it is not a physical being or mind as we know it. Rather, it must be the supreme Intelligence ̶ the Creator that created both a universe that is designed to support the existence of life, as well as life itself.

This article is adapted from the book, The Cosmic Puzzle: A Scientific Investigation into the Existence of God by Harold Gans (Feldheim Associates, 2020). Click here to order.

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Post  Admin on Sun 06 Sep 2020, 2:29 pm
Anti-Semitism in Two Hit TV Shows
Sep 6, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Anti-Semitism in Two Hit TV Shows
The Umbrella Academy and Lovecraft Country trafficked in damaging anti-Jewish slurs.
Two popular television shows have recently included troubling allusions to anti-Jewish stereotypes. While not overtly anti-Semitic, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and HBO’s Lovecraft Country have used anti-Jewish tropes.

The Umbrella Academy depicts a family of superheroes who must come together to protect the world from an evil group of “lizard people” who seek to harm others. One of the languages the handler of the evil “lizard people” speaks is Yiddish. This echoes the bizarre anti-Jewish conspiracy theories of former soccer player and BBC sportscaster David Icke, who has written books claiming that many prominent Jews are actually secret “lizard people” seeking to world domination.

Despite the patent absurdity of this claim, Icke and his works have received a warm reception. Alice Walker, the famous author who is also a noted anti-Semite, told The New York Times in 2018 that she keeps a copy of one of Icke’s books by her bed to read at night. On August 29, 2020, Icke was cheered by thousands of anti-lockdown protestors when he addressed a rally in London criticizing public health precautions. “The world is controlled by a few tiny people (who) impose their agenda on billions of people,” he told the over 10,000 strong crowd in a seeming nod to anti-Jewish slurs that falsely claim Jews somehow control the world and force others to do their bidding.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote a letter protesting this anti-Jewish slant in the program, saying “Whether intentional or not, this makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Netflix should take action to remove the racism from this scene.”

Lovecraft Country, HBO’s hit new series, has only aired a few episodes, but it’s already gained over a million viewers – and raised troubling questions about its recent use of anti-Jewish tropes.

The show is based on Matt Ruff’s bestselling 2016 novel about a group of Black Americans travelling through the US during the Jim Crow era. In addition to the monstrous racism the characters encounter from prejudiced White Americans, they also have to contend with actual monsters as the book and show veer into horror. It’s a clever conceit, stressing racism’s gruesomeness and horrifying nature. “With its atmospheric blend of supernatural and societal menaces, Lovecraft Country (uses) horror filmmaking as a form of social commentary on American race relations,” noted Salamishah Tillet in a recent New York times review of the show.

Lovecraft Country producers include J.J. Abrams, Misha Green and Jordan Peele. It’s a high-quality, well-acted, suspenseful show and that makes its recent veering into anti-Jewish stereotypes all the more startling.

(Spoiler Alert below: the next paragraph divulges details of Lovecraft Country’s third episode.)

On August 30, the series’ third episode aired. Titled “Holy Ghost,” it showed the character Leti buying a dilapidated old Victorian Mansion in a mostly White Chicago neighborhood. As she begins to fill the house with Black tenants, her White neighbors turn menacing – eventually turning on her and burning a cross on her front lawn. This horror outside is matched by horror inside, as restless spirits threaten the tenants. Eventually, Leti finds out the root cause of these angry ghosts: a scientist with the very Jewish sounding name Hiram Epstein apparently kidnapped eight Black people years before. He conducted gruesome experiments on them, murdered them, and buried their bodies underneath the house. It’s their souls that cause some of the mayhem in the hour-long episode.

Lovecraft Country subtly peddles a blood libel.
In a show without any other Jewish characters, the introduction of such a Jewish-sounding name, particularly one who is so bloodthirsty and destructive, is startling.

Philissa Cramer, Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, is a fan of the show, and wrote about her reaction watching the episode: “I was surprised Sunday night to hear a typically Jewish name applied to a character whose only appearance was as a ghost – and whose story instantly evoked one of history’s most durable antisemitic stereotypes.”

That stereotype is the accusation that Jews somehow are driven to kill non-Jews: the “blood libel” that’s plagued Europe and the Middle East for centuries. The first blood libel occurred in England in the 1100, when a boy named William was found dead in the woods outside of the town of Norwich. A local monk accused the local Jewish community of torturing and murdering him. Despite widespread anti-Semitism at the time, local authorities could find no proof that any Jews had harmed the boy. Nevertheless, the baseless lie that Jews had murdered the child gained believers. William was even made a Saint and remains venerated as St. William of Norwich to this day.

Jews were accused of needing the blood of non-Jews in order to bake matzah, or to make the hamentaschen. Sometimes Jews were falsely accused of drinking blood.

Blood libel accusations spread throughout Europe and even into the Middle East. Between 1100s and 1500s, historians have documented about a hundred blood libel trials, most of which resulted in massacres of Jewish communities. In 1840 a major pogrom against Jews occurred in the Syrian city of Damascus after local Jews were charged with kidnapping and murdering a Christian priest. Thirteen Jewish leaders were tortured to extract confessions (four died), and 63 Jewish children were seized from their parents in an attempt to make their Jewish mothers and fathers confess.

In 1928 the blood libel even came to America. When a four-year-old girl disappeared from home in the upstate town of Massena, New York, local townspeople began claiming that local Jews had murdered her. The police chief ordered a local rabbi, Berel Brennglas, to come to central police headquarters and asked him whether it was true that Jews killed Christian children in order to use their blood in Jewish religious rituals. Outside, a threatening crowd gathered, convinced that local Jews were to blame. It was only later when the little girl was found safe and well that a potential pogrom prevented.

Shockingly, blood libels thrive today. In 2018, Facebook removed pages devoted to “Jewish Ritual Murder,” populated by users who repeated this baseless slur. Amazon continues to sell some books that present blood libels as fact.

In 2016, Russian-backed RT television quoted Palestinian officials who falsely claimed and Israeli “rabbi” had said it was permissible for Jews to poison wells that Arab people use and kill them. The 2003 Syrian hit tv show Ash Shatat portrayed Jews engaging in murder so they could use blood in religious rituals. Similar allegations have been featured in other popular shows across the Muslim world, including the 2002 Egyptian blockbuster miniseries Horseman without a Horse, which aired across the Middle East, and portrayed Jews secretly plotting to rule the world and oppress non-Jews.

After an earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, Israel sent one of the largest delegations of aid, and established a fully functioning hospital on the island. With the anti-Jewish suspicions that centuries of baseless blood libel accusations have spawned, it seemed natural when a member of Britain’s House of Lords reacted to Israel’s aid not with admiration, but with suspicion and hatred instead. Baroness Jenny Tongue, the Liberal Democrats’ Health Spokesperson in the chamber, demanded that Israel set up a committee to answer accusations (that only she was making) that Israeli doctors were working in Haiti only so they could harvest the organs of local residents.

Repeating these horrible slurs only serves to heighten dislike, suspicion and hatred of Jews. It has no place on American television.
The ancient blood libel contributes to a pervasive feeling that Jews are somehow untrustworthy, dangerous and evil. So do untrue slurs that Jews somehow seek to control others. Those negative feelings towards Jews have real consequences. A 2019 poll found that large numbers of Europeans believe Jews exercise a malevolent power over non-Jews, much like the “lizard people” in The Umbrella Academy. In the recent ADL study 71% of Ukrainians, 71% of Hungarians, 56% of Poles and 50% of Russians agreed with the statement that Jews “have too much power” in the financial and business world.

Jews are the most frequent targets of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the United States: despite being less than 2% of the population of the United States, Jews are the subject of nearly 60% of all religiously motivated crimes.

It’s likely that the writers of Lovecraft Country and The Umbrella Academy never thought of their recent episodes as anti-Jewish. But giving a character who secretly lures, tortures and kills non-Jews an unmistakable Jewish-sounding name has a terrible history. Creating characters who echo extreme anti-Jewish conspiracy theories perpetuates the false belief that Jews are alien, different, strange, and somehow seek to control or dominate others.

Repeating these horrible slurs only serves to heighten dislike, suspicion and hatred of Jews. It has no place on American television, or any place else.

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Post  Admin on Thu 03 Sep 2020, 8:56 pm
Battles Are Won Within
Aug 30, 2020  |  by Emuna Bravermanprint article
Battles Are Won Within
The Marines articulated life's primary challenge.

I recently visited the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Coupled with a trip to West Point a few years ago, it was an opportunity to evaluate a possible road not taken. Not only are both campuses situated in extremely beautiful spots and dotted with architecturally stunning buildings, but they cultivate values that speak to my heart – discipline and loyalty and perseverance and teamwork – to name but a few.

Additionally, the married couples living there are frequently called upon to “adopt” the single midshipmen or cadets, providing them with a home away from home. It’s a role I could imagine myself playing, shades of a university outreach rabbi. Whether it’s something I would have actually chosen or not, there is much to learn from the ethos of these two branches of the American military.

And a billboard I saw out my window a few weeks ago highlighted another lesson. It was an advertisement for joining the Marines that caught my eye: “Battles are won within” it said.

Never having followed that other path and never having been a Marine, I can’t testify to the slogan’s accuracy on the battlefield but I can certainly recognize its truth in life. The real tests come not from external enemies but from internal ones. The real challenge is the inner struggle, the war against the voice within us urging us to be self-indulgent and callous, to be takers and not givers.

I imagine that if I was a marine (quite the stretch, I know!) that voice might tell me to give up, it’s too difficult, it’s too risky, it’s not worth it. And if I was marine, I would learn to push back against that voice reminding myself about principles and bonds of trust and going beyond my potential and never ever giving up or giving in.

Whether inside or outside the Armed Services, the voice is the same, the struggle is the same. It’s life’s challenge, life’s struggle and we all have to lift up and recognize that the truly important battle is the internal one.

Like the marines, we too need training and preparation. We can’t fight the battle without a strategy and a plan. The battle with our internal enemies is no less relentless than that with our external ones. We won’t succeed without a plan, without determination, without consistency and constancy.

I’m not sure why the Marines chose these words as their recruitment slogan; I’m not sure that would encourage me to sign up! But it is definitely an expression of truth, of reality; a description of how to achieve success. And like all carefully conceived battle plans and strategies, it just needs to be implemented.

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Post  Admin on Tue 01 Sep 2020, 4:00 pm
Danny Danon’s Five Years at the United Nations
Aug 29, 2020  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmonsprint article
Middle East Dynamics Israel’s new peace deal with the UAE is a seismic shift – opening up Israeli technology and export to the second-largest economy in the Middle East. The UAE agreement also weakens the BDS movement as Arab countries move away from boycott. Most of all, the agreement puts to rest the myth that peace in the Middle East revolves around first solving the Palestinian issue.

How do you envision Middle East dynamics unfolding over the next few years, and how does the UAE deal impact the Palestinian stalemate?

Danon: Unfortunately, I don't see a Palestinian leadership willing to negotiate directly with Israel. So today we have to speak about a new paradigm. In the past, in order to advance Israel regionally, the paradigm was to first solve the Palestinian conflict. Today it's the exact opposite. We are working with the Arab world and they will help us negotiate with the Palestinians. Today we have full diplomatic relations with Jordan, Egypt, the UAE – and other countries may follow soon. Then maybe we can sit down together and try to resolve the Palestinian conflict.

Voting Blocs The wall of U.N. headquarters is engraved with the visionary words of Isaiah – "They shall beat their swords into plowshares" – hearkening to the U.N.'s original, noble mandate to promote peace and justice. Yet the entire apparatus has been hijacked by corrupt Third World forces – a voting bloc that results in Israel being condemned by more U.N. resolutions than any other nation in the world. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Abba Eban once said that if the U.N. introduced a resolution declaring that “the earth was flat and Israel flattened it,” it would pass by an overwhelming majority.

Over the past five years, how did you manage to shift sentiment toward Israel in such a hostile environment?

Danon: When the U.N. was established after the Second World War, it had a clear agenda to prevent war and to promote dialogue. Unfortunately, the U.N. today is not the U.N. that was established 75 years ago. Today you see anti-Israel resolutions in a proportion that doesn't make sense. Twenty-two resolutions every year condemn Israel, and only one resolution condemns Iran. This is absurd.

By focusing on three pillars – Judaism, Israel, and innovation – we changed the reality at the U.N. The best example is when I ran for chairmanship of the U.N. legal committee. It was a secret ballot, and I received the support of 109 member states. Only 44 voted against me. I became the first Israeli ever to chair a permanent U.N. committee. This is proof that change is possible.

Danny Danon with then-U.S. Ambassador the U.N. Nikky Haley. On the right: U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

U.S-Israel Relations At the U.N., the United States and Israel vote in concert 88 percent of the time; by contrast, other Mideast "allies" like Egypt and Saudi Arabia vote with the U.S. less than 10 percent of the time. In fact, U.S. State Department figures show that for decades, Israel votes with the U.S. more than Great Britain, France, Canada or any other country in the world.

Yet Israel has always walked a fine line in asserting its own national priorities. Ben Gurion defied American pressure by declaring statehood; Levi Eshkol boldly defied the U.S. with the 1967 preemptive strike; and Menachem Begin was condemned by the U.S. for annexing the Golan Heights and destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

In the past, you’ve spoken against appeasing the United States, saying that “U.S. pressure on Israel hurts Israel and does nothing to advance peace.” This was a theme of your 2012 book, Israel: The Will to Prevail. Having spent five years in such a sensitive diplomatic post, working closely with three American ambassadors to the U.N., has your view of this matter evolved?

Danon: Whenever Israel makes decisions by itself without asking permission from friends and allies, in the long run we gain the respect of the world that these were the right decisions. Aside from the examples you mention, Prime Minister Olmert, whose political positions I don't support, deserves credit for his decision in 2007 to attack the Syrian nuclear reactor. President George W. Bush writes in his memoir about the day he told Olmert not to attack – yet after Israel demolished the reactor, Bush’s respect for Israel increased.

So you don't always have to appease your allies. We have to do what's good for Israel and the Jewish people in the long run.

Biblical Rights In 2010, the U.N.’s cultural arm, UNESCO, voted to declare Rachel's Tomb a mosque, and decreed that preserving it as a Jewish site is a violation of international law. Then in 2016, the White House helped orchestrate the passage of Resolution 2334, saying that Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem – including the Western Wall – flagrantly violates international law.

In response to such hateful denials of the truth, you donned a kippah and delivered a speech at the U.N. – which subsequently went viral – speaking about the land of Israel as the cradle of Jewish identity. You read in Hebrew from the Bible, then held it aloft and declared: "This is our deed to the land."

Also, during your tenure as Israeli Ambassador, you brought over 100 U.N. Ambassadors on trips to Poland and Israel – first showing them gas chambers in Auschwitz, then Hamas terror tunnels in Israel’s south and Hezbollah terror tunnels in the north (dug under the nose of U.N. peacekeepers).

How does Israel’s religious and historic identity impact your approach to global diplomacy, and how does that all affect Israeli security?

Danon: From a Jewish perspective, I led a new wave at the U.N. First, I am a very proud Jew. So I brought Judaism into the halls of the U.N. I brought kosher food to the cafeterias, got Yom Kippur to be recognized, and educated other ambassadors about Jewish holidays, traditions and culture.

Not only did I bring Israel to the U.N., but I brought the U.N. to Israel. Together with these 100 U.N. ambassadors, I traveled the land and walked through the Old City of Jerusalem. In seeing these Jewish historic sites, I asked them, “How can you now say that we have no connection to the land, as claimed by U.N. resolutions and the Security Council?”

I gained the respect of many U.N. ambassadors, including Muslim ambassadors, because I proved our rights to the land. I spoke from my heart and read the biblical account of God’s promise to Abraham. Whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, it is the same scripture, so you can't argue with that. This is our deed to the land. If you have something else, prove it. Over the past five years, Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has had its ups and downs. Take us behind the scenes.

Danon: During the vote on Resolution 2334 that condemned our presence in Jerusalem, I felt alone with so many of our friends voting against us. On the other hand, I had the support of millions of Jews, Christians and even Muslims who believe in our rights to the land. And I knew that we will overcome this shameful resolution.

Look at what has happened since then – the U.S. Embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, the U.S. recognized Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, and we are now cementing our presence in the region with the UAE peace treaty. So I think we should be optimistic and continue to speak about our rights to the land.

Some people in Israel think that we can appease others by apologizing all day long. We should not apologize for our birthright, our connection to the land. We need to proudly speak out more.

Danny Danon at the U.N.: "This is our deed to the land."

Global Ambassador How does Israel as the “start-up nation” aid in the cause of international diplomacy?

Danon: When I brought the ambassadors to Israel, I showed them not only the security challenges, but also the opportunities – the innovation, technology, and start-up companies. We Israelis sometimes make the mistake of focusing too much on security. Most people around the world are lucky and don't have to constantly deal with terrorism. People care more about sustainable development – water, food, health. So we have to change the narrative and show the world our capabilities on those soft issues. We can do a real tikkun olam by sending our technology and innovation to the entire world, to build bridges and help them with our know-how. You brought these ambassador delegations to the rooftop of Aish HaTorah, overlooking the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, and Western Wall. How would you describe the experience?

Danon: One of the highlights of the trip is coming to Jerusalem and feeling holiness in the Old City. When you stand on the Aish rooftop, one of the most beautiful spots in Israel, you feel the presence of God. You cannot ignore it.

Aish Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht speaks to a delegation of U.N. on the roof of Aish HaTorah.

Jewish Refugees Since the founding of the State of Israel, hundreds of U.N. resolutions have dealt specifically with Palestinian refugees. Your father left Egypt in 1950, among the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries following the establishment of the State – yet no U.N. resolution has ever referenced the plight of these displaced Jews. What progress is being made at the U.N. to recognize these forgotten Jewish refugees?

Danon: There are more Jewish refugees from Arab countries than there are Muslim refugees who left Palestine. My father left property in Alexandria, Egypt, and many people left everything they had behind. We are not seeking compensation. Rather we demand recognition that this will be written in the history books. So I drafted a resolution about this. Unfortunately, with Covid-19 everything got shut down at the U.N. But I'm certain that Israel will continue to push forward the resolution I drafted.

Danny Danon with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

The Gaza Strip Throughout your career, you’ve staked much political capital on Israeli policy in Gaza – opposing Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza Disengagement, and in 2014 you were fired as Deputy Minister of Defense for criticizing the handling of Operation Protective Edge. Yet the problem remains unsolved – last year, your hometown of Moshav Mishmeret was hit by a rocket from Gaza, and arson-balloons are used daily in cross-border attacks. How would you solve the Gaza situation – both from the security and humanitarian standpoints?

Danon: I distinguish between the people of Gaza and the Hamas regime that rules Gaza. I feel bad for the people in Gaza, and I pray for the day that there will be a real Palestinian leadership we can negotiate with.

Ironically, at the U.N. I occasionally found myself fighting for the rights of Gazans – against the Palestinian Authority representatives. For example, there was a crisis of electricity in Gaza and some countries wanted to transfer funds to assist, so I helped coordinate this with the U.N. professionals. But the Palestinian representatives of President Abbas in Ramallah tried to block the initiative, hoping to deny the people of Gaza more electricity. That’s who we are dealing with.

Threat of Nuclear Iran Iranian leaders have threatened to “wipe the Israeli cancer off the map.” The UAE deal gives Israel a better geographic launch-point for any future attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. On the other hand, the Europeans have now allowed the lifting of an arms embargo to Iran. In today’s complex geopolitical environment, what should be Israel’s strategy for stopping Iran from moving full-force to develop nuclear weapons?

Danon: We will do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and this is not only Israel. U.S. leaders speak forcefully about this, and when I visited the UAE three years ago, most of the discussions focused on the threat from Iran. So it is a regional issue, and we are very determined to stop Iran. There is talk about Iranian “sleeper cells” operating across the globe. How concerned should the United States be about the Iranian nuclear threat?

Danon: Today with globalization, if you have a nuclear bomb, you can pack it in a suitcase, fly to South America, and within two days it will be in California. So yes, I think everyone should be worried. No one wants the leaders of Iran to have nuclear weapons, because we saw what they did in the past. Look at the attempted attacks on multiple Israeli embassies, and the deadly bombing that destroyed the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina – the explosives and terrorists were all from Iran. So, God forbid, if they get nuclear weapons, just imagine what they might do.

Danon in an Israeli campaign video as the maverick "new sheriff in town."

Political Future In both 2007 and 2014, you challenged Bibi Netanyahu for Likud party leadership. Now that you’re back in Israel, how are you positioning yourself in politics?

Danon: I’ve returned to Israel with a lot of passion, knowledge, experience and connections. I am eager to continue to serve my people as a public servant. I support the prime minister, and I stand behind him. But we all know that he will not stay forever, and when the day will come, I definitely see the option of running for an even higher position that I had as a government minister. In the same way I was able to win in the U.N. halls, God willing, I will be able to win also in the political halls here in Israel. When you were appointed to the role of UN Ambassador in 2015, Haaretz listed "six reasons to worry” – saying that "Danon's appointment throws Israel off the diplomatic cliff." What do you regard as your biggest achievement to silence the critics?

Danon: Because I come from the right side of the political spectrum and my ideology is clear, they doubted that I will succeed. I don't expect them to apologize, and actually I should thank them. Because of the low expectations, it was very easy to prove them wrong. I showed that you can stay loyal to your values – supporting our rights to Israel and being a proud Jew – and still gain the support and respect of the nations. That is the lesson we taught the many skeptics. What do you regard as a particular challenge you encountered at the U.N., where in retrospect you could have handled the situation differently?

Danon: One issue I regret is that we didn't run for a seat on the Security Council. When a seat became available in 2018, I lobbied for that and tried to convince my colleagues in Jerusalem to give me the support to run for the position. At the end of the day, they decided that we don't have the budget and the manpower. Looking back, we should have pushed more for that. It's about time that Israel, a full member state of the U.N., deserves a seat on the Security Council.

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Rabbi on Ventilator for 4 Months is Leaving Hospital
Aug 30, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Rabbi on Ventilator for 4 Months is Leaving Hospital
An interview with Sarah Dukes, whose husband nearly died from Covid-19.

Yudi Dukes is coming home. After five months being hospitalized for Covid-19, God willing, Rabbi Yehudah “Yudi” Dukes, 39, will soon be able to leave NYU Langone Medical Center, where he’s been hospitalized since March 2020. His next stop will be a rehabilitation center and then, ultimately, home to join his wife Sarah and their six children in Cedarhurst, New York.

“There’s a happy ending on the horizon,” Sarah Dukes hopes. In an exclusive interview, she explained how she’s managed to keep her faith and inspire countless others around the world during the long months her husband was gravely ill.

It wasn’t easy. Yudi, the director of the online Jewish learning network JNet, is used to being active and teaching others. But for the past five months, he couldn’t talk, walk or even move.

The fact that Yudi is breathing on his own is nothing short of a miracle.
He spent four months in a coma, and four and a half months on a ventilator. (When I told my husband, a doctor, that I was writing about a rabbi who spent over four months on a ventilator, his first reaction was that it’s virtually impossible to survive such an ordeal.) For nine weeks, Yudi was so ill doctors put him on an ECMO (“Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation”) machine, which completely bypasses a patient’s heart and lungs. Used only for the most seriously ill patients, it’s extremely rare for anyone with this level of damage to spend so much time on an ECMO machine and live. While he was ill, Yudi suffered a stroke, a hole in his lung, and had his lungs collapse four times. The fact that he is now breathing on his own is nothing short of a miracle.

Sarah and Yudi celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of their son

Sarah remembers the date that Yudi first felt ill: March 29. Covid-19 was already a concern and the family was quarantining. Yudi was just 38 and in good health; there was nothing to indicate that Covid-19 would harm him so seriously. Yudi began to feel ill and cough; before long, he couldn’t even talk because he was coughing so much. Then he couldn’t walk. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where his breathing continued to deteriorate.

Sarah wasn’t able to visit him in the hospital because of quarantine restrictions. A few days later she received a phone call from a weak-sounding Yudi. His breathing was so bad doctors were going to intubate him. Patients on ventilators are kept sedated; Sarah wouldn't be able to speak with her husband.

With everyone in their city quarantined, Sarah found herself at home taking care of six young children ranging from three to thirteen. No one was allowed to visit to help out. “On the second or third day after Yudi was in the hospital, I was doing laundry and I thought ‘I can’t do this’,” Sarah recalls. It was an awful moment. But the necessity of taking care of her family forced her to push through. “I said, ‘No - I can do this’ because I have no other choice. ‘God willing, I can and I will.’”

Much of her strength to go on came from Sarah’s training as a mental health counselor. For years, she’d has helped patients using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); now she found herself using these techniques on herself. “CBT is all about stopping negative or destructive thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts,” she explains. She tried pushing away her own fears and despair. “I had to do a lot of negative thought-stopping because it was very scary times.”

A classically trained musician, Sarah also turned to music to help her cope. She composed a moving orchestral work with her son Baruch. Called “Once Again,” it captured her yearning that one day Yudi would be able to rejoin his family.

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3 Ways Covid-19 Changed My Life
Aug 23, 2020  |  by Sara Debbie Gutfreundprint article
3 Ways Covid-19 Changed My Life
I don’t know how or when the pandemic will end, but I know that the miracle of life is now.

When Elul began last week I was so shocked that I took out a calendar and stared at it in confusion. I had been so pre-occupied with our summer plans and the question of if and how each of my children’s schools would open this year, that I lost track of time completely. I thought this would all be over by now. I can’t believe we’re beginning the school year like this.

Instead of asking, “When will this all end?” I’m asking: “How can I grow from this?”
During the Vietnam War one of the highest-ranking naval officers, James Stockdale, was held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years. When asked how he and other prisoners of war survived, he explained what later became known as the Stockdale Paradox: The prisoners of war who fared the worst were actually the most optimistic ones. They believed that they would be home by Thanksgiving and when Thanksgiving passed, they said they were sure they would be free by Christmas. Eventually, when these prisoners still found themselves in captivity by the deadlines they had set in their minds, they gave up hope and died. Paradoxically, the prisoners who fared the best were the ones who acknowledged the reality of their situation while simultaneously believing that everything would work out in the end. They didn’t know how and they didn’t know when, but they knew that someday they would be free. They had a faith that was able to somehow embrace the reality of their situation without losing hope for the future.

So this Elul I’m looking back at the past year and into the next few months with a new question. Instead of asking, “When will this all end?” I’m asking: “How can I grow from this?” Because I’m no longer thinking that this will all be over by Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot or even Hanukkah. One day this global pandemic will be over and we’ll take a step back and evaluate the crucial lessons we’ve learned and how we changed our lives.

Here are three lessons that I have learned from the past year.

I learned how to say thank you even when I wasn’t feeling grateful. There have been so many days in the past few months when all I wanted to do was complain. Endless things weren’t working in my life. Schools closing, and the kids zoning out during endless Zoom classes. Holiday plans canceled. Sudden fear and panic everywhere. Riots and storms and stressful summer plans. And it was exactly this confluence of challenging external circumstances that led me to make a radical, internal shift within.

If I started complaining I’d never stop, so I learned I could say thank You even during the times I felt frustrated and disappointed.
I knew that if I started complaining I’d never stop, so I learned I could say thank You even during the times I felt frustrated and disappointed. Even during the hardest of times there was still so much that I could authentically be grateful for. I woke up and said thank You, God, for air. For light. For the ability to see and hear and smell. Thank You for this day. For the gift of life. For giving me the chance to begin again. And even if it was for just a few moments a day, I felt so grateful for the tiniest details I noticed around me. For shelter. For sunrise. For food. For clothing. For this day.

I learned that if something is important, do it now. We all had so many plans and events that we couldn’t have fathomed being canceled when 2020 began. There was a bar mitzvah trip to Israel that I took in February with my son, my mother and two of my daughters that would never have happened if it had been postponed. I remember hesitating to choose a date, and my mom decided just to book the tickets. Because of my mother’s lack of hesitation, we watched my son organize a minyan all by himself in the lounge in the airport. We watched him put on tefillin at the Kotel. We spent Shabbos in Jerusalem. If we had postponed the trip even by a few weeks, that trip would have never happened.

This year has taught me that if something is important, do it now. Today. Because tomorrow there is no guarantee that the opportunity will still be there.

I learned not to take my family for granted. I’ve always been the type of person to keep looking for the next big thing to accomplish. Whether it’s a new career goal or a more challenging marathon, I tend to think of my life in terms of the rungs of a ladder, and I’m constantly trying to find a way up to the next step. But for many of us, this past year has knocked that ladder out from beneath us. We thought the office was where we should be and then it closed. We thought we should be transforming our bodies at the gym and then all the classes were canceled. I was on an elite running team that won the first race of our season and then suddenly, the races for the rest of the year were gone.

And as I tried to find a new rung to climb, I realized that maybe right now just wasn’t the time for climbing. Maybe it was time to look around me and treasure the most important people in my life. Maybe it was time to pause and realize how fortunate I am to be a mother and a wife. How often have I taken the people I love for granted?

This year has taught me that it is the quality of the relationships in our lives that determine the quality of our lives.

Last month, our family experienced a personal miracle. My husband and I were woken up at by the phone at 4AM. Those 4AM calls are never the ones you want to receive. Our daughters were calling us. They had been caught in a rain storm and their car spun 360 degrees around into the divider of the highway. The car was completely totaled but miraculously they emerged with just a few scratches.

When they returned home, my daughter hugged me and began to cry. “It’s the first time in my life that I realized that I could die,” she said. And as my own tears of gratitude fell, I wondered how we all forget this so easily each day. We forget how precious life is. We forget what a gift each and every day that we are given is. But most of all, I think we forget the miracles that have brought each of us to the end of this year.

I don’t know how or when the pandemic will end, but I know that the miracle of life is now. Thank You for the gift of life. Thank You for bringing us all to this day. Last Rosh Hashanah none of us could have imagined the year to come; for many of us, it is the first time in our lives that we are grateful just to be alive.

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Being a Black, Jewish Woman: A Blessing and a Curse
Aug 22, 2020
by Billye Tziporah Robertsprint article
Being a Black, Jewish Woman: A Blessing and a Curse
I define myself as a Black Jewish woman. Which of those words most reflects who I am depends on the day.

No one has ever called me the "n-word," even though the color of my skin is a nice medium coffee au lait and I am a descendant of slaves.

I’ve lived through all the politically correct words that my race has been called in my lifetime: colored, Negro, Black, African American. And most recently back to Black.

I have always thought of myself as Black because, in the same way you can get stuck on the hairstyles and music that were popular during high school or college, the same thing can happen with words. And in college Black was the word – Black Panthers, Black Power, and Black and Proud.

And today, Black Lives Matter.

It’s a word that, depending on who you are, can mean either extremely positive things or extremely negative things.

Today, my self-definition is much more complicated, though it still includes the word Black. At this point in my life I define myself as a Black Jewish woman.

Which of those words most reflects who I am depends on the day.

Some days I’m mostly a woman
It was my mother's dream that I go to college, but the primary expectation of my family – and society – was that I would get married and have babies. I didn't have any problem with the first, but, for various reasons, I determined early on that I would never do the second.

Just because I was sure it was the right thing didn't mean it wasn't a struggle to go against the expectations I was surrounded by. It was years before I came to realize that it was okay not to want to be married or to have children.

What I wanted was to help other women. So I took meals to the local women's shelter and started a charity to make quilts for the homeless women who arrived there with nothing.

Doing all these things allowed me to become the woman I wanted and needed, and am grateful to be.
What I wanted was to travel. So I drove across the US, lived in six different states, and visited England, Scotland, and Israel.

What I wanted was to create. So my writing has appeared on Jewish websites and has been warmly received.

What I wanted was to learn. So I put myself through college, and it was one of the reasons I chose to become Jewish. And doing all these things allowed me to become the woman I wanted and needed, and am grateful to be.

Much of the time, it's the word Jewish that is most definitive.
One of my best friends, and the mother of my god-daughter, wanted me to move to Spokane when she was relocating there for her job. I love her and that child (both her daughters actually), and I've lived across the US from the left coast to the right, so, what the heck, I considered it. Or more specifically, I googled it: Jewish Spokane.

And then I had to try to figure out how to explain to a non-Jewish, non-any-kind-of-religious woman that I wasn't willing to live in a city where there was basically no Jewish life. No synagogues, no Jewish Community Centers, no classes, no lectures, no community.

For me, being Jewish means waking up with a blessing on my lips. And throughout the entire day, I am reminded to be mindful of, and grateful to God, expressed through prayers and blessings recited throughout the day.

For me, being Jewish means attending classes, women's prayer group and book club discussions; art shows and lectures and concerts at various synagogues (today much of that is now available online because of the pandemic).

For me, being Jewish means going to Shabbat services and kiddushes, and being a guest at the homes of the families who are kind enough to invite me. It means feeling surrounded by God all the time, and there is nothing better than that.

But sometimes (and more and more lately) Black is most important.
I think back to a few years ago, when I went down to Selma, Alabama. I was driven to walk across that same Edmund Pettis Bridge that Martin Luther King Jr. and his folks, still in those days called Negros in polite circles, walked upon and were beaten.

I was a teenager living on the other side of the country when the first walk happened, and there was no way I could have been there. But in the back of my mind, somewhere deep in my heart, I always felt bad that I wasn't.

It took me decades to finally get there, and Rev. King, and to some extent the movement he led, are long dead, but on that day, walking across that bridge (that was so much smaller than I had always seen it in my mind) I felt the ones who had walked there before all around me. And on that day Black was definitely the most important.

It has also recently risen in importance when there are so many Black people, my people, out protesting in the streets, because of a black man whose last words were “I can’t breathe” while a white man, a representative of law and order, leaned on his neck, completely unconcerned.

I am Black and Female and Jewish
It can be hard to be the three parts of me when they are separate. It can be harder still when the three parts come together.

My experiences in synagogues have been, relatively speaking, non-confrontational about my race and my gender.

I’m not saying that I’ve never been in Jewish spaces where people have obviously wondered what I was doing there; questioned if I knew what was going on; or in Judaica shops, looked hard at me to figure out if came in because I needed Shabbat candles, or if I was there to steal.

I also cannot say that there are not parts of being an Orthodox woman that I struggle with accepting. I settle for attempting to understand them, and being impressed by the enormous amount of respect the women in my community are treated.

Most people assume I must be a convert, but since I am a convert, that doesn't bother me much. There are Jews of Color who were born Jewish, and the “automatically assuming” bothers them very much. I can understand why.

Of course, people do ask me the question: Why in the world would you decide to convert to Judaism?

I've always taken it to mean that the folks asking know that being Jewish isn't easy, and they just want to understand why you would take it on if you didn't have to. Truthfully, sometimes I wonder that myself. But I know with complete certainty that this is my path to God. I spent my whole life looking for it, and now that I've found it, I also know I have to follow it.

Still I've read a lot, over the years, about Black people who walk into Jewish spaces and they’re treated very badly. They are asked if they’re the help. They’re subjected to other mean-spirited questioning. They’re met at the door with skepticism.

I have a friend who tried to go to a Passover Seder at synagogue near where I currently live and Jews there were so rude to her and her child that they just left.

Nobody’s ever been that rude to me in a synagogue.

My worst experience was at one synagogue at the end of one service. As I was leaving, I heard a man talking negatively about how he felt about Black people. I was taken aback. For a moment, I considered confronting him. But he was an older man, settled in his thinking, unmovable in his opinions. I couldn't imagine that anything I said would have even penetrated, not to mention influenced him to change his mind.

I ended up taking a deep breath and walked past him out the door.

I’m quite certain he didn’t mean a word of it, but he did apologize.
I later learned that the President of the Board of Directors and the Rabbi of that synagogue confronted this man and demanded he apologize to me. And he did. I’m quite certain he didn’t mean a word of it, but he did do it.

More important to me though was what the shul President and Rabbi did. I am so grateful that they stood up for me immediately, conclusively, and with enthusiasm.

Words that Made me Cry
I recently read in the Torah: "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut.11:26), and I teared up. I realized I feel like that about being a Black, Jewish woman: it's a blessing and it's a curse.

I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I have a good life. God has truly blessed me, especially because I am certain I am on the right path on my journey through this world to grow closer to God.

But the fact that my life could have been so much worse doesn't mean that there have not been down sides.

I am the Court Negro because, like the Court Jew of history, I’m the only person there who looks like me.
I walk into unfamiliar spaces, including white Jewish spaces, where I am, as I have been known to call myself, the Court Negro because, like the Court Jew of history, I’m the only person there who looks like me. And people treat me well, even respectfully. It seems they take me for who I think I am (a Jewish woman visiting) as opposed to who I look like I am (a random Black woman who wandered in).

And that is my blessing.

On the other hand, I never completely fit into those spaces. I am never just like everybody else. I am almost always "the only one." Although I don’t usually face much overt hostility, I do sometimes get very tired of being the only one who looks like me in a room.

And that is my curse.

Oddly, I am grateful for both my blessing and my curse.

I can't say I planned to end up who I am, or where I am, today. I am Black. I am Jewish. And I am a woman. And all of those things have upsides and downsides, alone and even more so, in combination.

My life is fairly simple: I work (remotely these days). I live contentedly alone in a small apartment. I attend synagogue. I am invited for meals with families in the community. I learn and I teach.

I am the Court Negro, but I am also myself and accepted as myself by those around me.

And although I sometimes have a touch of anger, as well as a touch of guilt, I am beyond grateful that God has blessed me with the great gifts of having a home, living in an inspiring and supportive community, and being mostly happy, most of the time.

Photo credit for graphic above: David Holifield

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Post  Admin on Sun 23 Aug 2020, 11:17 pm
The Month of Elul: Corona Style
Aug 22, 2020  |  by Rabbi Binyomin Weiszprint article
The Month of Elul: Corona Style
The pandemic has enabled us to encounter our selves with a dose of honesty.

The world for many of us has shrunk.

For those who find themselves in quarantine - or worse - that's pretty clear. But people everywhere are living with sudden limitation in their movement and their social interactions. For once, our homes have become where we live our lives.

It's a strange place, this shrunken world.

People are struggling to find their feet and - with loneliness, boredom and anxiety becoming new norms - it seems that modern life has left us unprepared for existence here.

In the old world even when staying home we felt safely anchored to the big outside; all options were always open. The world had us enchanted with its endless streams of action and distraction. And potential activity gave us the placating illusion of real activity.

Until now.

Suddenly we meet a state of inertia - of alone - that cannot be rationalized as a 'choice'. We are with ourselves or our immediate families for far longer than we might ever choose. Welcome to life without the options...

And that's not easy!

Being in this new place certainly reveals our strengths, our ability to connect and our resilience. But it also exposes the painful holes in our lives. Habits, confusions and emptiness that regular life elegantly glosses over are now here in undeniable 4-D. Likewise the limitations, flaws and self-deceptions we so often ignore.

Corona has enabled us to encounter our selves.

Every situation and every challenge is there to help us thrive. Let us reflect for a moment on the pivotal place we stand in the Jewish year. We are entering Elul, the Hebrew month designated for inner searching, for returning to what is real. The time we reconnect to God and the spiritual meaning in our lives.

As we enter these special days this is exactly what we need: to focus inward with a dose of honesty.

We find ourselves guided away from the superficial and the incidental, towards focus, towards integration, towards essence.
For many, corona has stripped away travel, sport, entertainment, eating out, retail therapy – the activities that so often pull us away from self. Away from presence and self-knowledge, from living life with meaning and dedication to higher ideals. Indeed, the virus has shut down exactly the interconnected, external world that powered its spread across the globe. It has taken humanity in the opposite direction: inward.

When borders and businesses close, when travel and tourism become something of the past, countries become populated by their citizens; nations rely on their own resources. Homes have just their families. We find ourselves guided away from the superficial and the incidental towards focus, towards integration.

Towards essence.

In this world I stand alone, as me. With whatever of my life I have succeeded in rooting into reality. All that still exists within me when detached from the world of the external.

And this is the goal of Elul. Elul leads us steadily, day by day, towards Rosh Hashanah. It gives us time to introspect, to clarify what we stand for – and to return to our true selves. So that when we arrive at the grand Coronation of the King we will find ourselves able to reunite with our essence, both as individuals and as a nation.

We will know to place the crown where it truly belongs.

I believe this microscopic virus has achieved something cosmic. It's hard to imagine anything that could trigger such dramatic changes in such a short amount of time. Being careful not to rose-tint the suffering and the worry, it seems that a new opportunity is unfolding for mankind. And yes – for myself too.

The situation calls us to be present with ourselves without running away. Starting with simply experiencing our reality this moment. With appreciating more deeply what we do have – basic gifts like health, four walls and family. And ultimately: facing my strengths and my weaknesses. The things I have planted well and those I have yet to plant.

Because in the quiet of this place I finally hear the voice that was always there – its whisper now amplified with the arrival of Elul:

Who are you and What do you live for?

Twenty years down the line some may look back at these times as dark, sanitizer-imbued wells of loneliness and confusion. Some may remember how they binged on Netflix series till they felt sick or stayed glued to endless contagion bulletins. Others the unease of stagnation. These might be days they prefer not to recall.

There is another way.

We can remember hard days but good days. Days which helped make us the better people we became. Yes, we distanced socially, but inside something came together. It was a time we thought about our wants and about what's really worth valuing. When we found the courage to face the holes in our lives - and decided to plant in those holes something new, held firm by fresh conviction and wiser habits.

We can look back and see how we entered an era of clarity and stepped up to higher purpose. We got to know a deeper self. And that's why, when we finally took off our masks and went back to the big outside, our actions had more focus. Our days somehow had more meaning and our relationships were more real.

We didn't lose ourselves again.

So this year, with so many parts of our lives on hold, maybe we can welcome the month of Elul with self-honesty – and a deeper approach. As we stay rooted within our four walls, let’s allow corona to guide us to a smaller, somehow truer world. The season has come to search inward. To plant the seeds that can grow who we really are.

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Post  Admin on Sun 16 Aug 2020, 8:25 pm

9 Common Jewish Symbols
Aug 1, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
And the history behind these common Jewish emblems.
Is there a universal Jewish symbol? Around the world people associate a plethora of signs with Jews and Judaism, from the Star of David to the menorah to the hamsa hand symbol. Here are some symbols that are commonly identified as Jewish, along with their history and symbolism.
Star of David
The Star of David, the Magen David, is one of the most recognizable Jewish symbols. It appears on many Jewish tombstones and is the central symbol on the Israeli flag. Surprisingly, given its widespread popularity, the Star of David is fairly recent and has only been associated with Jews for a few hundred years.

While the six-pointed Star of David might be more recent, the term Magen David is old. The Talmud mentions Magen David – literally, the Shield of King David – protecting King David and his descendent, the Messiah (Pesachim 117b). This beautiful image is also found in Jewish liturgy: each Shabbat after we hear the Haftarah read in synagogue, the reader refers to the Divine as Magen David, the protector of David and the Jewish people.

There is a legend that King David indeed did carry a six pointed star with him, in the form of his shield and the shields his soldiers carried. These were said to comprise two triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down, joined in the middle, forming a six pointed star. This construction is said to have made King David’s shield more sturdy than his opponents.

Some symbolic explanations for the six-pointed star being identified with Judaism include Kabbalistic explanations of it representing two arrows, one pointing up to heaven and one down to earth. The Star of David also has twelve individual sides, corresponding to the twelve Tribes of Israel. It also can be seen as a correlation to Shabbat, with a central core (corresponding to Shabbat) surrounded by six points, corresponding to the six other days of the week.

Six pointed stars have been found in Jewish settings for hundreds of years. A Jewish tombstone in southern Italy dating from the Third Century CE is decorated with a six pointed star. In 1354, King Charles IV of Bohemia bestowed a red flag with a six pointed star on it to the Jews of Prague, and the star was adopted by the Jews of Prague as their symbol. A Jewish prayer book printed in Prague in 1512 features a beautiful Jewish star on its cover with the quote “Each man beneath his flag according to the house of their fathers...and he will merit to bestow a bountiful gift on anyone who grasps the Shield of David.”

The Jewish star soon spread to other Jewish communities, and synagogues and Jewish tombstones featured Jewish stars as ornaments. During the Holocaust, Nazis forced Jews to wear yellow patches of the six pointed Star of David. Yellow had long been used as a distinctive, humiliating color that European Jews were forced to wear in some European communities, and the Star of David was by then seen as the quintessentially Jewish symbol.

The official emblem of the State of Israel, the Menorah is a key Jewish emblem. The Torah relates how God Himself gave Moses instructions for building this holy seven-branched candelabra on Mount Sinai: “You shall make a menorah of pure gold…” (Exodus 25: 31-40)

The golden menorah was placed in the Mishkan, the very first Jewish house of worship. When Jews conquered Jerusalem and built the ancient Temple there, they moved the menorah to the Temple, where it was kept lit all the time. The holiday of Hanukkah commemorates re-lighting this precious candelabra after it was desecrated by occupying Greek soldiers and Jewish soldiers recaptured and restored the Temple in the year 139 BCE.

111 years later, in 70 CE, Roman soldiers, led by Titus, sacked the Temple and took the beautiful Menorah with them back to Rome. To this day, the Arch of Titus stands in the center of Rome, depicting that day and showing the menorah being carted away.

The Arch of Titus

When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, the new country asked artists to submit ideas for a national symbol. Maxim and Gabriel Shamir were celebrated graphic designers. Born in Latvia, they each studied art in Germany before moving to the Land of Israel in the 1920s and establishing a popular graphic design studio in Tel Aviv. They suggested the emblem that is familiar to millions of Israelis today for the national seal: a modern rendering of the ancient menorah.

“After we decided to use the menorah,” Gabriel Shamir later recalled, “we looked for another element and concluded that olive branches are the most beautiful expression of the Jewish people’s love of peace.” They flanked the menorah in their design with olive leaves, reminding the world of the Jewish people’s ancient heritage in the Land of Israel.

Priestly Blessing Hands
This distinctive two handed symbol is sometimes found on tombstones of Jews who were members of the Cohen priestly clan, descendants of the Cohanim who were descended from Moses’ brother Aaron, and who served in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. It reflects the unique hand positioning used by Cohens both in ancient times and today when they recite key beautiful blessings on the Jewish people.

Cohanim continue to bless the congregation in synagogues around the world, just as their ancestors thousands of years ago did in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Making this ancient sign with their hands, they bless the congregation using the very same words that God told Aaron to recite soon after the Jewish people’s departure from slavery in Egypt: “May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you” (Numbers 6:22-26).

Since it’s customary to refrain from making this hand symbol unless one is a Cohen and actively reciting the Cohens’ blessing, this ancient Jewish symbol has remained rarely used, and is mostly seen on Jewish tombstones and in books.

Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in Star Trek, took this gesture and used it for the Vulcan salute.


This depiction of a single hand has many names: Hamsa (from the Arabic word for “five”); Yad (the Hebrew word for hand); Hand of Miriam; and Hand of Fatima. Hamsas have been popular throughout the Arab world since the Middle Ages. Though it’s primarily seen as a Muslim symbol, hamsas have also been embraced by Sephardi Jewish communities and today are a popular symbol for Jews and others worldwide. Some hamsas today contain pictures of eyes to ward off the “evil eye”. Some say hamsas bring luck or ward off the “evil eye”. This isn’t a Jewish world view, as the Torah cautions us against believing in lucky talismans or omens, and explains we ought to place our faith in God instead.

Grapes – Israeli Ministry of Tourism Symbol

The symbol of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is a stylized depiction of two men carrying a bunch of grapes that is so large they have to use a pole with one man holding up each end to transport it.

This picture depicts the famous Biblical story of The Ten Spies. After God brought the Jewish people out of Egypt He led them to the borders of the Land of Israel, the Jews asked for permission to scout out the country. Twelve men slipped into Israel and were amazed at what they saw: pomegranates, figs, grapes and other delicious fruit grew throughout the area. They brought back an enormous cluster of grapes to show their brethren. Ten of the spies in the end brought back an evil report, showing the grapes as proof of giants living in the land, whereas and Joshua and Caleb, the other two spies, brought back a positive report.

Lion of Judah – Jerusalem City Council Logo

The official crest of the city of Jerusalem is a lion pictured against a background of the stones of the Western Wall, surrounded by stylized olive leaves, representing peace. It refers to the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve ancient Jewish tribes.

When our Biblical patriarch Jacob was about to die, he bestowed one final blessing on each of his twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. When Jacob blessed Judah, he compared him to a lion and said that one day his descendants would be among the most prominent Jews: “A lion cub is Judah; from the prey, my son, you elevated yourself. He crouches, lies down like a lion, and like an awesome lion, who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants” (Genesis 49:8-10).

After the reign of King Solomon in the 10th Century BCE, the ten northern tribes split off from the nation of Israel and were eventually lost. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained and were known in later antiquity as the kingdom of Judea. The area of the tribe of Judah encompassed Jerusalem, which was its capital, making the image of the Lion of Judah a particularly fitting emblem for the city of Jerusalem today.


Chai means “life” in Hebrew. This uplifting word is often found in Jewish jewelry and other Judaica objects, affirming one of the most important values in the Jewish religion: preserving and celebrating life. A common toast on Jewish occasions is L’Chaim, meaning “to life!”

Spelled with the Hebrew letters chet and yud, the word chai has the numerical value of 18 (Chet=8, yud=10). Because of this it’s common for Jews to give gifts or donate to charity in amounts that are multiples of 18.

Tree of Life

The Torah and its commandments are compared with a “Tree of Life”. King Solomon wrote “It is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy” (Proverbs 3:18). The term is first used in Genesis when God tells Adam and Eve that they can eat from any fruits in the Garden of Eden, with two exceptions: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Seduced by the evil snake, Adam and Eve broke this command and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (The Tree of Life remained untouched.)

In later works, the Tree of Life is used as a metaphor for the Torah. The famous 16th Century book Etz Chaim by Israeli Rabbi Chaim ben Joseph Vital is a classic work of Jewish mysticism and expounds on the relationship between the spiritual and material worlds.

Dove and Olive Branch

In Genesis, the Torah describes a mighty flood that covered the entire Earth, wiping out almost all life. The only people and animals to survive were those saved by Noah, who built a mighty ark and gathered together his wife, his sons, daughters in law, and pairs of every type of animal into the ark with him. For forty days and nights a horrendous storm flooded the earth; when it was over not a single spot of land or piece of vegetation was visible.

One can only imagine the misery and despair Noah and the others with him on the ark felt. He tried to find land, sending out a raven to see if the bird could see a place to land and rest. The raven circled in vain around the ship, never finding land. Noah waited another week then sent out a dove to find a place to rest and food to eat: the dove could not and returned to the ark empty handed. Finally, Noah waited another week and sent out the dove again to scout the land for vegetation. This time, the dove returned with a piece of an olive tree in its beak. At last, the earth was habitable once again (Genesis 8).

The image of a dove holding an olive branch in its beak recalls this moment of profound hope and joy, when Noah realized his many long months of living in a dark cramped ark were behind him and life could begin again.

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Post  Admin on Tue 11 Aug 2020, 8:00 pm
Orthodox Jew Falsely Accused of Treason
Aug 8, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Millerprint article
Orthodox Jew Falsely Accused of Treason
For years Dr. David Tenenbaum has worked to clear his name.

Dr. David Tenenbaum, an expert in armor and survivability, worked for 14 years as a civilian engineer in the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, Michigan, researching ways to improve combat vehicles’ ability to withstand blasts. An observant Jew, he stuck out at work as one of the only identifiably Jewish employees on the base, where he was subjected to anti-Semitic comments and actions.

Once, he found pork rinds on his desk. Another time, a colleague gave him literature about Christianity. A woman at work once patted him on his head and asked why he wore “that thing,” gesturing towards his yarmulke. But all that is minor compared to the false accusations leveled against for spying for Israel, and the ensuing nightmare that he and his family went through. Dr. Tenenbaum details the abuse in a shocking memoir, Accused of Treason: The US Army’s Witch Hunt for a Jewish Spy (Post Hill Press, 2020). He recently spoke to

As the rumors spread, malicious coworkers speculated that David was spying for Israel.
In the early 1990s, some of David’s colleagues began to make up bizarre rumors behind his back about the unusually large knapsack he brought to and from work each day. Since David brought a kosher lunch and Jewish books to study during his lunch break. Noting the hefty bag David carried with him, some of his colleagues began to spin untrue rumors that his knapsack contained classified documents. As the rumors spread, malicious coworkers speculated that David was spying for Israel.

In 1992, a disgruntled colleague made a secret complaint about David, alleging that his knapsack was stuffed with classified documents. The colleague had heard David speaking with an Israeli liaison officer on the base, and in his complaint he leapt to the wild, unsubstantiated idea that they were somehow colluding against the United States.

The colleague embroidered his report with other inaccuracies; he accused Dr. Tenenbaum of saying disparaging things about the United States (David maintains he never did), and that David suggested that US government employees become overly close to Israel and Israelis. (Again, David denies that claim.) The official complaint went nowhere, but his colleagues continued a whisper campaign behind David’s back, accusing him of being more loyal to the Jewish state than to the US. The rumors went on for years.

In 1995 David became one of the key developers of a major new project, the “Light Armor Systems Survivability” project (LASS), a US Army program to make Humvees more “survivable” in the face of explosives. With US troops facing improvised explosive devices in the Middle East, the project was urgent. From the beginning, David and LASS partnered with engineers in Israel and Germany, two key US allies with extensive experience in making vehicles safer in the event of explosions.

Fluent in Hebrew and one of the founding engineers within LASS, Dr. Tenenbaum explains that one of the reasons he was hired was because he was able to liaise with Israeli engineers. In 1995 he traveled to Israel – on a trip that was approved by the US Government – to attend an international ballistics conference. It was the third trip to Israel that the US Army sent David on – it “enabled me to confer with world experts in the ballistics and survivability/armor field,” David explained in an exclusive interview with

The conference was uneventful, except in one respect: civilian employees of David’s level were meant to be debriefed after returning from international travel. Weeks, then months passed, but nobody contacted him to debrief him about the conference. In time, he forgot about it as LASS continued to grow; David found himself ever busier at work, and the details of his latest Israel trip faded from his memory.

Dr. David Tenenbaum outside the TACOM base
Eventually, more than nine months after the Israel conference, David received a phone call ordering him to report for a debriefing with Military Intelligence officials. The debriefing went horribly. After so many months, David couldn’t remember the name of the hotel he’d stayed at in Israel. He had the feeling that his interrogators mistrusted him and were trying to trip him up.

A few months later, in 1996, David’s boss asked him to submit paperwork for a higher level security clearance. He now feels that request was a ruse to allow him to be questioned again about his ties to Israel. “They were using the pretense of a security clearance upgrade as a ruse to interrogate me without having an attorney present as they suspected me of being an Israeli spy,” Dr. Tenenbaum recalled.

His interrogation was overseen by Lt. Col. John Simonini, a virulent anti-Semite who voiced lurid fantasies about Jews’ supposedly evil.
This interrogation was overseen by Lt. Col. John Simonini, the head of the Security and Counterintelligence Office at David’s base. Though David didn’t realize it at the time, Lt. Col. Simonini was a virulent anti-Semite who regularly voiced lurid fantasies about Jews’ supposedly evil and all-encompassing tendencies. He seemed to have David in his sights as an Israeli spy.

The meeting began with “good cop, bad cop,” and became combative after a lunch break. They accused David of being uncooperative and said he’d passed classified information to Israel. They told him he could either take a polygraph test or be fired, and implied that they would seek to prosecute him as a spy. In one afternoon, David’s career as a trusted civilian employee with the US Army seemed to be in danger of crashing down all around him.

David eventually went home, unaware of the shocking recommendations Lt. Col. Siminoni was making behind his back: Siminoni told the FBI that David had compromised himself in the debriefing interview, and asserted that the Army now had new information to add to the baseless and secret 1992 complaint against him. With no proof, Siminoni was accusing David of spying for a foreign country, a crime that can carry the death penalty in the United States.

A few weeks later, David agreed to undergo a polygraph exam. The exam took many hours and was harrowing. The examiner called David a liar and falsely claimed that “he had gotten other Jews to confess and he would get Tenenbaum to confess too”, David described. David kept saying that he had nothing to confess, as he had done nothing wrong. Shockingly, David later found out that far from recording David’s assertions of innocence, the polygrapher lied and falsely told the FBI that Tenenbaum had confessed to being a spy.

Far from recording David’s assertions of innocence, the polygrapher lied and falsely told the FBI that Tenenbaum had confessed to being a spy.
The questioning continued. The next day, February 14, 1997, FBI and other federal agencies came to David’s workplace and interrogated him again. What about the Hebrew phone calls his colleagues had overheard him making, they asked. Was he passing along official secrets during these Hebrew language conversations?

For David it was a terrible moment. Had his own colleagues turned on him, assuming that he was committing treason every time he spoke Hebrew? “I speak to my children in Hebrew,” he explained. “I want them to be bilingual.” Even though dozens of members on David’s international team of engineers regularly spoke foreign languages at home and even at the office – Dr. Tenenbaum jokes that his office used to be known as “the UN” because of its highly international diverse nature – his use of Hebrew had seemingly raised suspicions about his loyalty to America.

The next day on Shabbat, during lunch with their two children and guest, half a dozen FBI agents raided the Tannenbaum home in the heavily Jewish suburb of Southfield, Michigan. The details of that day remain vividly lodged in his memory.

David had just come home from synagogue. His wife Madeline had just set cholent on the table. Their kids gathered round, and David was about to make Kiddush. Suddenly, three cars pulled up to the house. FBI agents knocked on the door, showed the family a search warrant, and proceeded to comb through every room of the family’s home with a fine-tooth comb. Though some of the agents seemed zealous in their search, the lead FBI agent, Special Agent James Gugino, kept muttering, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, I told them not to do the search.”

Madeline watched in horror as FBI agents looked through her personal belongings and the couple’s children cowered in fear. Their oldest child, Nechama, remained deeply fearful of strangers for years afterwards.

The FBI agents took David’s computer away – as well as some of their children’s coloring and musical books, saying that there could be some secret codes within these children’s items.

After the search, David hired a lawyer and began a years-long campaign to clear his name. Dismissing the allegations of spying that were leveled against him, David notes that “if I’d ever done what some of these newspapers said, you and I wouldn’t be talking right now – I’d be in jail.” David is clear: “I never did anything wrong, which by the way was substantiated by (Lt. Col.) Simonini’s right hand man, Paul Barnard, in a sworn deposition... I never ever gave any classified materials, deliberately or inadvertently, to Israel.”

The Army suspended David from February 1997 until May 1998. He eventually was ordered back to work, but endured years of suspicion and repeated questions about his loyalty. “You have no idea what it was like,” he said, likening his stressful situation to the sword of Damocles, as he waited for a resolution in his case.

FBI agents followed him “24/7 for months”, interviewed his neighbors, and leaked details about suspicions against him to the press. Dr. Tenenbaum believes that the case of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian Navy employee who, as part of a plea bargain, pleaded guilty in 1987 to passing classified information to Israel about Arab nations, might have helped create an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion around him and other Jewish civilians working for the US military.

“Let me clarify that there were never any charges against me,” David stressed. “There were baseless anti-Semitic slanders.”

After he was completely cleared of the horrific crime of treason, he was forbidden from working with Israelis.
Nevertheless, once he returned to work after he was completely cleared of the horrific crime of treason, he was forbidden from working with Israelis, despite the fact that Israel is a leader in the field of armor and survivability and despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong.

After years of harassment, David was finally given back his security clearance in 1998. “They even upgraded my security clearance,” he noted, yet for years he never received a formal apology. Anyone looking him up on the internet would find a host of misleading news articles about him, detailing unproven allegations and smears that he was a spy.

Throughout, his Orthodox Jewish community and his Jewish faith helped sustain him. David’s father was a Holocaust survivor and his harrowing history also helped David keep his own travails in perspective. “My humor keeps me sane.”

David’s attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit to force the US Government to apologize for their treatment of him, but the case was dismissed after government lawyers argued that the case couldn’t be tried because it involved “state secrets”. In 2006, then US Senator Carl Levin of Michigan managed to get the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (IG) to review David’s case.

In July 2008 the IG’s office released a report saying that David finally got vindication: the report admitted that he’d faced discrimination based on his religion and ethnicity. David used the report as evidence in a new lawsuit against the US Army in 2009, seeking damages. This case was dismissed, again on “state secrets” grounds.

David has become a government whistleblower. He wants the US public to know about his ordeal and learn two key things. One is the anti-Semitism he faced from within the US Army. He still hopes to receive an apology for the way he was treated.

His whistleblower status reflects his desire to alert the public that LASS, the Humvee program he helped direct, came to end when he was charged with espionage. Years later, he’s still upset about the effects of closing the program: “There were thousands of casualties because of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), which might have been fixed if the program hadn’t been shut down.” He wants the US public to know that the persecution he faced might have weakened programs that would have protected American troops.

For the past thirteen years, David has been teaching a class at his local synagogue and he tries to apply the lessons he’s learned. “We all face our own life trials and challenges, and it’s up to us how we react to those trials and challenges. We teach our children that there are consequences to their actions and we also need to be held accountable for our actions. The government has never been accountable for their horrific behavior.

“It’s not the tests you go through in life that define you,” Dr. Tenenbaum said, summing up his hard-learned wisdom after years of struggle to finally clear his name. “It’s our reaction to those tests that defines who we are.”

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