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Post  Admin on Tue 15 Jan 2019, 11:18 pm

How Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s Warmth and Wisdom Reached This Confused Jew
Jan 15, 2019  |  by Francine Barish-Stern
How Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s Warmth and Wisdom Reached This Confused Jew
I am one among so many who have benefitted from his wisdom, dedication and love for Judaism and his fellow man.

The first time I ever heard Rabbi Noah Weinberg speak I was hooked. His tone, his language, his way of addressing an issue; I felt like he was talking directly to me and answering the issues I was grappling with and experiencing.

I grew up in an observant family but moved away from Judaism due to what I perceived as a child to be sexist views in Judaism.

Eventually I became as secular a Jew as they come. Three times a year I dusted my Judaism off and paraded it out for all to see, and then quickly stuck it away for another year.

But when my children were born I was determined to give them a Jewish home and a Jewish education. I even sent them to Solomon Schechter Day School. We joined a temple and in 1989, celebrated our B’Nai Mitzvah together – mother and two sons.

But something happened when my mother died in 1995. My whole world fell apart. One son became a born again Christian and one son became very distant from any religious connection. It was only through the help of the Cantor from my synagogue that I started to set my feet rooted in my heritage and began to rise out of my abyss.

By 2005 I was celebrating Shabbat each week, trying to not eat milk and meat, definitely no pork, and reading the Torah on a regular basis. Although I didn’t accept either of my son’s choices, they were adults and I had to concentrate on me. My friends and family all thought I was going from one extreme to the other, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. Even though I knew it was still a long road to reclaiming my Judaism, I knew I had to keep going.

That year I was searching online for anything that might be that bridge to the next level in my spiritual path… and there I found Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory. Inspired by his talks, I searched for anything with his name on it.

I discovered that he had traveled a long and sometimes shaky road to becoming the founder of Aish HaTorah. His wisdom and love for every Jew enabled him to reach people of all ages and different religious backgrounds.

By the time I found Rabbi Weinberg’s large collection of work, I was a rather confused and lost Jew. I devoured his “48 Ways to Wisdom,” and started listening to the audio collections. I read his articles on numerous Jewish sites and eventually became a regular at His concepts that life was beautiful and filled with joy were a revelation from the solemn religious teaching I had experienced. It was truly liberating!

But the turning point for me was watching his videos. I found a new level of understanding. Just watching the Rabbi speak; his natural ability to connect with each person, the way he moved as he discussed deep issues, his style that made a serious subject into a questioning joke, and the smile that followed, and his manner that just commanded your attention.

Rav Noah saw potential in everyone, even when they didn’t see it in themselves.
He taught that Judaism doesn’t require all or nothing…baby steps are okay. He saw potential in everyone, even when they didn’t see it in themselves, and that was my connection too! So many years had passed and I was in such a bad place. Could I really scratch my way out and connect to the person that Rabbi Weinberg inspired in me?

Just looking at his face gave me hope. There was a light that shone from his eyes; he exuded a simple grace and a warmth in his smile that said, “Pay attention, he knows what you need!” Even today, 10 years after his passing, I can still see his face and be moved to a place that inspires me to be better and to push on.

I continue to read and listen to the Rabbi’s enormous library of work, and use the book, “Wisdom for Living, Rabbi Noach Weinberg on the Parashah,” as a source for my weekly in-depth understanding of the Torah portion.

On this 10th yahrzeit of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, I am one among so many who have benefitted and are still benefiting from his wisdom, dedication and love for Judaism and his fellow man. He is sorely missed, but his memory is truly for a blessing!

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Post  Admin on Sun 13 Jan 2019, 9:15 pm

Muslim Heroes of the Holocaust
Jan 12, 2019  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Muslim Heroes of the Holocaust
Four remarkable stories that some Muslims don’t want to be publicized.

When the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham Islamic Centre opened in the heavily Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green in 2017, they promised to reach out to Jewish residents. In January 2019, they planned to launch a major exhibit highlighting Muslim heroes who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

Local Muslims were outraged. Some were particularly incensed that the Islamic Center partnered with Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center. Faced with mounting opposition, the Islamic Center cancelled the exhibit.

That’s a shame because the story they planned to tell is a vital one: among the thousands of “Righteous Among the Nations” heroes identified by Yad Vashem as having risked their lives to save Jews, scores of these saviors were Muslim. Their remarkable stories deserve to be known.

Here are four Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Let’s not allow extremists to erase their history.

Dr. Mohamed Helmy
Mohamed Helmy was born in Sudan to Egyptian parents, and moved to Berlin at the age of 21 to study medicine. Dr. Helmy settled in Germany, eventually rising in his profession to become head of the Urology Department at the Robert Koch Hospital in Berlin. There, he witnessed Jewish doctors being fired in 1933. Dr. Helmy was even briefly imprisoned along with other Egyptians living in Germany, but was eventually released and allowed to continue practicing medicine. Despite the dangers, Dr. Helmy publicly spoke out against Nazi policies.

When war broke out and Jews began to be arrested in Berlin, Dr. Helmy risked his life to save one family. He was good friends with a Jewish woman named Anna Boros, and he told her she could stay in a cabin he owned in a picturesque Berlin neighborhood named Buch. German authorities investigated Dr. Helmy several times, suspecting him of hiding Jews.

In those periods he arranged for Anna to hide with a different family. “The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician,” Anna later testified, “and they knew that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch. He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin...Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity.”

Unbeknownst to Anna, Dr. Helmy even obtained documents from the Central Islamic Institute in Berlin, declaring (falsely) that Anna had converted to Islam and had married an Egyptian in Dr. Helmy’s home, believing that this might save her from deportation if she was ever caught. Dr. Helmy also helped Anna’s mother Julie and step-father Gerog Wehr and her grandmother Cecilie Rudnik find shelter with other families, and helped them with medical problems during the war. In 1944, the Wehrs were caught and interrogated and they let slip that Dr. Helmy was helping them and hiding their daughter. Dr. Helmy raced to move Anna to another safe spot, and provided the authorities with a false letter from Anna saying she was staying with her aunt in the town of Dessau to throw them off her track.

Anna Boros Gutman (second from left) during her visit to Berlin with her daughter Carla (extreme left), Dr. Helmy and his wife Emmi (right), 1969 (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Anna, her parents and her grandmother all survived the war thanks to Dr. Helmy and the other Berliners who helped shelter the family. Anna and her relatives moved to the United States and immediately began writing letters to the Berlin Senate seeking recognition for Dr. Helmy and his friends. In 2013, Yad Vashem named Mohamed Helmy a Righteous Among the Nations for risking his life to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Salahattin Ulkumen
When World War II broke out, Selahattin Ulkumen, a 30-year-old Turkish civil servant, was the Turkish Consul General on the Greek island of Rhodes. The island was home to nearly 2,000 Jews, many of whom could trace their roots back to the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain. Most of these Jews had Greek or Italian citizenship, but some had Turkish papers. When Germany started deporting Rhodes’ Jews in 1944, Ulkumen realized he could help save the island’s Turkish Jews.

Identification portrait of Salahattin Ulkumen, Turkish Consul-General in Rhodes.
On July 19, 1944, the local Gestapo ordered all Jews to report to the island’s train station. They were destined for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Ulkumen went up to Ulrich Kleeman, the general in charge, protesting, telling him that Turkey was a neutral party and demanding that all Jews with Turkish citizenship – and their spouses – be released at once.

Ulkumen later recalled that “The German commander said that, according to Nazi laws, all Jews are Jews and had to go to concentration camps. I objected. I said that, under Turkish law there is no difference between whether a citizen was Jewish, Christian or Muslim...I said that I would advise my government if he didn’t release the Jewish Turks and that it would cause an international incident. Then he agreed.”

Ulkumen’s speech was largely a bluff: he had no orders to save the Jewish Turks and was acting on his own initiative. Moreover, Turkish law didn’t dictate that the spouses of Turks had Turkish citizenship; he made that up on the spot. In all, Ulkumen saved about 13 Turkish citizens and another 40 Jews with Turkish connections.

Salahattin Ulkumen at Yad Vashem

In some cases, he intervened personally to help individual Jews evade deportation. Albert Franko was married to a Turkish wife. Learning that he had this Turkish connection, Ulkumen had Franko removed from a train that was already on its way to Auschwitz. In another case, Ulkumen went up to a Turkish Jewish citizen, Matilda Toriel, as she queued to report to Gestapo headquarters, and told her not to enter. He then went into headquarters and insisted that her husband, who was an Italian citizen, be released as well. In all, Ulkumen succeeded in adding another 25-30 names to the Gestapo’s list of Turkish Jews, insisting that these Jews were Turkish and had simply allowed their Turkish documents to lapse.

After the war, Albert Franko, Matilda Toriel and other Jews Ulkumen saved told Yad Vashem of his bravery. In 1989, Selahattin Ulkumen was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Lime Balla
In 1943, Lime Balla was a 22-year-old housewife living with her husband Destan in the Albanian village of Shengjerji. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in 1943, 17 Jews escaped from the city of Tirana to the countryside, finding refuge in Lime’s village. Lime and Destan, like other Albanian Muslims, adhered to an intense honor code called “Besa”, which mandated that people protect guests at all cost. For many of Albania’s Jews, Besa was a lifesaver, as Albanian Muslims shielded Jews from deportation by German occupying authorities.

Villagers took in the 17 Jews, disguising them as farmers and sheltering them for 15 months. Lime and Destan took in two brothers, Solomon and Mordechai Lazar. “We were poor,” Lime later recalled. “We didn’t even have a dining table – but we never allowed them (the Lazar brothers) to pay for the food or shelter. I went into the forest to chop wood and haul water. We grew vegetables in our garden so we all had plenty to eat.”

One of Lime’s nephews was a partisan fighting the Nazis in the city of Pristina, and in December 1944 the village’s Jews left for Pristina where partisans continued to shelter and help them. Lime lost contact with Solomon and Mordechai until 1990, when the brothers contacted her. They were living in Israel. Once the Soviet Union had dissolved, it became possible for Albanians like Lime to speak about their wartime activities openly for the first time. In 1992, Yad Vashem recognized Lime and Destan Balla as Righteous Among the Nations.

Khaled Abdul Wahab
Khaled Abdul Wahab was a wealthy Tunisian landowner in the picturesque Tunisian town of Mahdia when World War II broke out. He sheltered Jews and saved Jewish women from being attacked by German soldiers.

In the 1940s, Tunisia had a large Jewish population. Jews from Tunisia were not deported to death camps the way Jews in Europe were, but after Germans invaded Tunisia in 1942, they started enforcing draconian anti-Jewish laws. Annie Buchris was a Jewish girl in Mahdia whose world was turned upside down with the German occupation. Jews had to wear yellow stars on their clothes and many Jews lost their homes. Annie’s house was taken over by German soldiers and her father and brothers were sent to a forced labor camp. German troops forced Annie and her mother live and work in an olive oil factory from which they were barred from leaving.

Khaled was friends with Annie’s father Jacob. Khaled started frequenting German establishments and befriending Nazis in order to spy on them and learn what new horrors they were planning. One evening he heard a plan that made his blood run cold. The Germans were forcing some Jewish women to work in a brothel – and one Nazi told Khaled that he wanted his friend Jacob Buchris’ wife to work there too. Khaled knew he had to intervene.

He plied the Nazi officer with alcohol until he was drunk, then drove to the olive oil factory and informed the Buchris family that they were in danger. He waited as the Buchrises and about two dozen other Jews living in the factory packed their belongings and then took them to a farm his family owned nearby.

One of the Jewish girls who sheltered in the farm was Eva Weiseldec, who later recorded testimony about Khaled’s bravery. “One night,” she recalled, “he ferried the women, children and old men in our family to a farm he owned about 20 miles outside of town. There, he said, we would be safe…. As luck would have it, however, a German unit arrived in the area not long after we did. Our host told us to get rid of our yellow stars, stay inside the farm walls and keep far away from the main house.”

Khaled hosted Germans in his farm while two dozen Jews hid just meters away in a different part of the property.

Some Nazis knew Jews were hiding on the farm. One night, drunken German officers wandered over to the barn and shouted, “We know you are Jews and we’re coming to get you!” Khaled rushed over and somehow persuaded the officers to leave the Jews alone. “The next day,” she recalled, “our host came to the stables. We rushed to express our thanks to him, but he was more eager to apologize to us. He said he was sorry that we had to face the terrifying ordeal of the Germans’ threats, expressed relief that he had intervened in time to prevent a horrible tragedy, and promised that it would never happen again.”

The two dozen Jews stayed in Khaled’s farm until British troops took over the area in 1943 and they could return to their homes.

Click here to read the incredible story of Zayneba and Mustafa Hardaga.

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Post  Admin on Sun 13 Jan 2019, 8:49 pm
Resilience of an Injured Israeli Soldier
Jan 5, 2019  |  by Adam Ross
Critically injured in a terrorist attack, Idan Levy refused to give up his dream.
Only the top Israeli soldiers are selected for officer school and many don’t make the cut. It involves more time in the army, taking additional responsibility and leading younger soldiers. Idan Levy, (19) serving in the IDF Logistical Corps, was a year and a half into his military service when his commanders recommended him for the prestigious course.
On 8th January 2017, three weeks before graduating, Idan’s unit arrived at a Jerusalem lookout point to begin an educational seminar when an Arab terrorist rammed his 10 ton truck into them. Four soldiers were killed in the attack and 13 were seriously injured, including Idan who was clinging to his life.
The four victims

“We were standing in a circle, waiting to meet the educational officer to show us the site,” Idan says, “but I don’t remember much else from that day. Everything I can tell you about what happened is from the news and video tapes which captured the attack.”

CCTV footage showed the terrorist plowing his truck into the soldiers at high speed then turning around to run them over a second time before soldiers and a passing Israeli tour guide shot and killed him at the scene.

Idan sustained a serious head injury, a ripped artery in his throat and severe damage to one of his legs. Unconscious, he was rushed to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital for emergency surgery which saved his life.

He remained in the hospital for five months as his leg was rebuilt and he underwent intensive physiotherapy which continues to today. Due to seriousness of his injuries, he was told by the army that he would be discharged from his military service. For Idan, this was devastating news.

“It was a real low point to feel this being taken away,” he said. “I had dreamed about serving as an officer for years. My maternal grandparents and paternal great grandparents moved to Israel generations ago to escape persecution.

There was one sentence he would say over and over, which I really held onto. “God only challenges those who can handle it.”
“My choice to serve as an officer was an essential part of who I was. I wasn’t about to let it go. I told them I wasn’t accepting their decision and refused to listen very time they brought it up. After a few weeks I think they understood how important it was for me to serve my country.”

Fighting back to recovery
Convincing the army was his first victory. Now he needed to muster the strength to recover. Inspiration came from Idan’s hospital roommate. “There was one sentence he would say over and over, which I really held onto. ‘God only challenges those who can handle it.’

“I grew up with a belief in God and we had a strong Jewish culture at home. I started to find strength in recognizing that there was a purpose to my life, my recovery and in turn my motivation to go back to service grew stronger by the day.”

Idan was also inspired by an impromptu hospital visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It was a huge surprise,” Idan says. “He asked about my injuries, how I was feeling and also how I felt about returning to the army. He gave me a lot encouragement.”

Israeli PM visiting Idan

Two weeks later, he convinced the hospital to let him check out for the day to attend the graduation of his officers’ course. Accompanied by his parents and friends he took his place in an emotional ceremony in the presence of a senior IDF general with three seats left empty as a tribute for the soldiers killed in the attack. The fourth fatality had been an instructor.

“We received our pins and there were long hugs between us all,” Idan recalls, “Despite what had happened, we wanted above all else to finish the course together.”

New appreciation for life
“I realized then how grateful I am to be simply alive. In the hospital I saw people with no arms and legs and I gained a new appreciation for life.”

The day Idan came home from hospital dozens of family members and friends were waiting to greet him. “They have played a huge part in helping me to recover. The first holiday after I came out of hospital was Pesach. On Seder night I was sitting around the table with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins and I remember thinking to myself that a loving family is the most wonderful thing a person can have.”

Idan is an only child, which made his recovery even more meaningful for his family. “Sometimes my mom just hugs me for no reason. I think she’s just so happy I’m alive.”

Thinking positive
He has maintained a close connection to the other soldiers injured in the attack, some of whom still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. “It helps to speak about the attack,” he says. “We help each other.”

“I am optimistic, my philosophy on life now is really just about looking for the good. The ability to walk and talk. everything is really a gift. I can honestly say that I barely find myself feeling sad.”

First Lieutenant, Idan Levy

Now with the rank of First Lieutenant, Idan Levy realized his dream at an induction ceremony at the Western Wall. He is back in uniform proudly serving as an officer in the IDF Logistics corps, with responsibilities for organizing reserve troops training. With eight soldiers under his command, he has much life wisdom to offer.

“I share with my soldiers the things that I have taken from my experience,” he says. “It taught me how you can get over things, not let them get you down, the importance of getting up again and fighting back.”

“I have learned to always smile at life, to look at what you have and to appreciate everything in your life.”

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Post  Admin on Thu 10 Jan 2019, 9:34 pm

The Influence of the Hebrew Bible on America's Founding
Jan 5, 2019
by Ollie Anisfeld and J-TV
The Influence of the Hebrew Bible on America's Founding

The untold story of the Torah’s impact on America's founders and the political documents they codified.

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Post  Admin on Sun 06 Jan 2019, 6:11 pm

Jews, Genetics and the New World
Jan 6, 2019  |  by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Recent studies indicate that a significant segment of the immigrants who settled the New World were descended from Jews.

When my family lived in Providence, Rhode Island back in the 1980’s and early ‘90s, I heard rumors that some of the city’s residents of Cape Verdean ancestry had a strange custom. Friday afternoons, they would turn over the traditional Catholic religious paintings common to Cape Verdeans’ homes to face the wall, and then light candles.

Cape Verde is a group of islands off the west coast of Africa that were uninhabited until discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Among the immigrants to the islands from Europe, historians contend, were Spanish and Portuguese Jews fleeing the Catholic Inquisitions in those lands. One of the islands’ towns is called Sinagoga, Portuguese for “synagogue,” and surnames of Jewish origin can still be found in the area.

In the early 19th century, many Cape Verdeans found their way to the New World, and Providence is home to one of the oldest and largest Cape Verdean communities in the U.S.

I was reminded of my former neighbors’ purported practice when reading of a recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, examining the DNA of thousands of members of another population with roots in the Iberian Peninsula: Latin Americans.

The researchers sampled the DNA of 6,500 people across Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, which they compared to that of 2,300 people all over the world. Nearly a quarter of the Latin Americans shared 5 percent or more of their ancestry with people living in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, including self-identified Sephardi Jews.

That degree of Jewish ancestry is more pronounced than that of people in Spain and Portugal today, indicating that a significant segment of the immigrants who settled the New World were descended from Jews.

It is no great surprise that so large a portion of a population that emigrated from Spain centuries ago have Jewish ancestry. It is estimated that when the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478, approximately one-fifth of the Spanish population, between 300,000-800,000 people, were Jews. By 1492, when the Alhambra Decree gave the choice between expulsion and conversion, the number had dwindled to 80,000. Most of the “missing” Jews had undergone superficial conversions and retained their Jewish identity and practices in secret. They are called “crypto-Jews,” conversos or anusim. Many of them, though, along with many other Spanish and Portuguese Jews who refused conversion, sailed away from the Iberian Peninsula to seek refuge on new shores.

There is no way, of course, to prove that those emigrants were the source of the apparent Jewish ancestry of so many Latin Americans today, but the genetic test results dovetail neatly with the historical record, indicating that a new population began to appear in Latin America around the time of the Inquisitions.

Bolstering the genetic connection is a 2011 study that found that several rare genetic diseases (including a cancer associated with the BRCA1 gene and a form of dwarfism) that appear in Jews also show up among Latin Americans. Albert Einstein College of Medicine geneticist Harry Ostrer, one of the study’s researchers, said, “It’s not just one disease… this isn’t a coincidence.”

The newer study’s results indicate that there may currently be over 150 million Latin Americans with a degree of Jewish ancestry.

Some Latinos who believe they have Jewish roots seek to reclaim a Jewish identity, even undergoing conversion ceremonies; some have even converted according to Jewish law. Others just take note, and pride, in their ostensible Jewish genealogical heritage. New Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose family comes from Puerto Rico, recently revealed that her family tradition includes some Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Genetic studies, of course, have no import in Jewish law. And not only because Jewishness depends on the maternal line. Even in analyses of mitochondrial DNA – which passes down only through females – genetic findings do not meet the halachic requirements for establishing Jewish identity.

Yet it’s intriguing to read stories of people across Latin America whose family tradition is to shun pork and light candles on Fridays and cover mirrors when mourning the deaths of relatives. And stories like the one I heard about some of Providence’s Cape Verdeans.

And depressing to think of all the Jewish families that were lost to Klal Yisrael over history to persecution and the resultant intermarriage and assimilation.

But the resurgence of interest – and pride – in even tenuous Jewish connections is heartening too.

For it recalls what the Prophet Zecharyah (8:23) predicts for the time of Mashiach: that “ten men from all the languages of the nations will take hold… of the tallis of a Jew, saying: ‘We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.”

This article originally appeared in Hamodia Magazine.

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Post  Admin on Sat 05 Jan 2019, 12:58 am

Preparing for Death
Dec 29, 2018  |  by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Preparing for Death
8 things you can do now to avoid compounding your family’s pain later.

Death is a highly uncomfortable and awkward subject. As a result, most people do all they can to avoid the subject altogether. While we would prefer to see ourselves as living forever, the Torah instructs us that, in fact, reflecting on our mortality and being mindful of our transience are critical to living an inspired life and making the most of each day. Indeed, it is for this reason that King Solomon, the wisest of all men, encouraged us to prefer spending time in a house of mourning to spending time in a house of celebration.

Overcoming the taboo and talking about death are not only important to inspire how we live life, but are actually acts of love and devotion to those whom we will ultimately leave behind. A few years ago, a woman in our community died suddenly. She was never married and had no children, but I remembered that she had a brother. I went to her home and rifled through paperwork in an effort to find his information so that I could inform him of the terrible news. It took a significant amount of time to make contact with him and even longer to ascertain what arrangements she had made.

The more the deceased has planned, organized, and communicated his or her wishes, the less speculation, conflict, and compounded pain the bereaved will face at their time of loss and grief. Put simply, it is not only negligent, but also unkind, not to have one’s “matters in order,” irrespective of how young or healthy he or she may presently be, or how uncomfortable it may be to think about and prepare for death.

None of us would ever intentionally cause or contribute to the pain or anguish of our family members. Yet failing to prepare likely will lead to complicating and, more likely, compounding the pain of our loved ones when we are gone.

For the sake of your family, please considering arranging the following as soon as possible:

1. ICE – Upon arriving at the scene of an accident or emergency, paramedics are trained to look on the patient’s cell phone for an ICE – an In Case of Emergency entry that lists emergency contacts. Access to the right person and the right information can be the difference between life and death. Add an ICE entry to your cell phone phonebook immediately and consider downloading an ICE app that will allow access to your emergency contact(s) even when your phone is locked.

2. Life Insurance – Both Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 2:111) and Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Daat 3:85) were asked if purchasing life insurance reflects a lack of faith and trust in God. They responded that as long as one remembers that it is God who empowered us with the wisdom to create life insurance and enabled us with this tool to protect our families, it is absolutely permitted and appropriate. They extend this endorsement to fire, theft, and car insurance as well. Nobody ever plans to be diagnosed with a terminal illness or to be the victim of a fatal accident. We cannot predict when our end will come, but we can plan so that the pain of our loss will not be compounded by financial instability, hardship and disaster.

3. Disability Insurance – Life insurance can help provide for one’s family members if one dies, but what would happen if he or she suffered a debilitating injury or an incapacitating illness precluding the ability to work and provide an income? Disability insurance is only a luxury if it is never needed. We pray it will never be a necessity, but we would be foolish not to have it in case.

4. Living Will & Health Care Proxy according to Jewish Law – A myriad of complicated questions can arise in medical treatment, particularly at the end of life. This legal document empowers the patient to determine in advance what choices he or she would prefer within the parameters of Jewish law and who is authorized to communicate those choices to medical professionals if the need arises. Moreover, rather than leaving wishes and desires ambiguous so that others are guessing and speculating, this document spells them out. Additionally, instead of conflict arising over how decisions are reached or which rabbinic authority should be consulted, the living will documents the decision-making process and sequence. The document can name a specific rabbi (or rabbis) or refer the decision to an organization, such as the Bioethics Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. This is not a document reserved for the old or infirm. Every adult should have one on record and it should be reviewed and updated every few years and as circumstances demand – and discussed with your spouse, children or relatives, so your wishes are clear.

5. Will – Don’t leave loved ones guessing or fighting over how you want your assets divided. You work hard for your money and it should be properly distributed among family, friends, and charities in a thoughtful, intentional and halachik manner. You can use your estate to leave not only a legacy for your family, but a legacy gift to the community, Shul or schools that impacted your family. If you still have minor children, identify who will be responsible for them and ask their permission to stipulate such in your will. If you want to designate a specific piece of jewelry, art or memento to a particular person, specify that in your will or other document.

6. Ethical Will – When Yaakov anticipated his demise he called his family around his death bed in order to give them each blessings and charge them as a family. Throughout the millennia, prominent rabbis and leaders have recorded ethical wills communicating their values, vision, and passions to the next generation. Don’t just leave children and grandchildren financial assets. Leave them your vision for who they could become and the most important values you hope they will pursue.

7. Burial Arrangements – Where do you want to be buried, including Israel? Do you want a chapel service or a graveside service? Whom would you like to officiate? Does your family know that you want a Jewish burial according to Jewish law and for them to sit a full shiva and say kaddish? Have you bought a plot and purchased a “pre-need” package with a funeral home which is significantly less expensive that needing to buy it “at need?” Record your burial wishes in detail, including important biographical information that you would hope to be included in your eulogy, such as the major influences in your life and people and milestones that you were most grateful for or proud of. Are there particular relatives or friends or other people whom you would like to be invited to speak at your funeral?

8. Organized File – Perhaps most importantly, gather all of the above documentation and place it in a clearly designated place (paper and/or electronic) that your loved ones are aware of and have access to. Include your doctors, rabbi, and attorney and their contact information, your bank accounts, cemetery deed, safety deposit box (and location of keys), insurance information, financial advisors and brokers, inventory of assets and real estate, etc., so that nobody will be left guessing and searching for important information when it is needed. If you are one of those pack rats who hides money and jewelry in books or crevices around the house, tell someone where to look, so they do not get discarded with your other belongings or wind up with the next occupant of your house or apartment.

You may be reading this thinking it is excellent advice for someone else, for the elderly or the sick and infirm. But being responsible and planning appropriately are for every adult, every married person and certainly for every parent or grandparent. Don’t only consider making all of these arrangements yourself, but plan to speak to your children and grandchildren about their making such arrangements for themselves as well. Such preparations and arrangements are not taught in school. They rely on you to provide guidance and support in these areas. Not only is communicating these ideas to your children and grandchildren the right thing to do, but it is also in your interest, for their failure to plan, will likely become your emergency.

May we all merit to live full and meaningful lives realizing great longevity. In the meantime, let’s show our loved ones how much we care by making the proper preparations now, so they won’t have to later.

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Post  Admin on Thu 27 Dec 2018, 11:05 pm
Dona Gracia Nasi & the Spanish Inquisition’s Underground Railroad
Dec 22, 2018  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Dona Gracia Nasi & the Spanish Inquisition’s Underground Railroad
Gracia Nasi defied the Spanish Inquisition to ferry thousands of Jews to safety.

Dona Gracia Nasi was a great Jewish hero. For decades she ran an underground railroad for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and single-handedly supported Jewish communities in Italy, Turkey and Israel. Praised during her lifetime as “the heart of her people”, Dona Gracia Nasi’s story is hardly remembered today. That should change; her remarkable story deserves to be known.

She was born into a secret Jewish family in Portugal in 1510 and given the royal-sounding name of Beatrice de Luna as her legal name – and Gracia Nasi as her secret Jewish name.

Gracia’s family were merchants who likely had fled the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. When Jews were expelled from Portugal three years later, many decided to stay, becoming “Conversos” or supposed converts to Christianity in public, but maintaining Jewish lives in private. The Portuguese authorities were more lenient to these secret Jews than their counterparts in Spain, and Gracia’s family were pillars of the secret Jewish community there. In fact, their hidden last name Nasi, meaning “Prince”, indicates they were long-standing community leaders. While maintaining an outward appearance of being Christian, the family observed Shabbat, avoided non-kosher foods, and studied Jewish texts in secret.

At the age of 18, Gracia married Francisco Mendes, another secret Jew, and together they built up a large trading company. They had one daughter whom they gave two names: Brianda as a non-Jewish name, and Reyna as a secret name. Reyna means queen in Spanish and might recall the common Jewish name Malka, which means queen in Hebrew. Francisco died in 1536, after eight years of marriage. That same year, the Portuguese authorities began to crack down on secret Jews. They set up a Holy Office of the Inquisition, modeled after Spain’s fearsome religious police. Many of Portugal’s secret Jews fled, Gracia and her young daughter included.

An Israeli stamp commemorating Gracia, with image of Tiberias below
The pair settled in Antwerp which was more tolerant of Jewish practice and where Gracia had many relatives. She went into business with a brother-in-law, but she longed to move somewhere where she could live completely openly as a Jew. As an upper class businesswoman in Flanders, Gracia knew it would be impossible to run a large business if she openly professed her Jewish faith. Gracia and her brother-in-law discussed moving to the German lands to the south where communities of Jews lived freely. They set a goal of moving within a year. Sadly, Gracia’s brother-in-law died suddenly, making her the sole surviving partner in a large trading company, putting Gracia’s plans to move on hold.

Gracia used her extensive business contacts to help other Jews escape.
Though she couldn’t live openly as a Jew herself, Gracia used her extensive business contacts to help other Jews escape to cities where they could live Jewish lives. She helped secret Jews escape from Portugal and Spain, and to make the difficulty journey over the Alps into Italy or into the Balkans. It was more difficult to help these Jews escape with some of their property and wealth to help them start their new lives.

Gracia’s extensive business contacts hid a network of escape routes throughout Europe. While she traded spices and gems, her business agents also ferried secret Jews across borders along with this merchandise. One popular route was for Jews to board Gracia’s ships in Spain and Portugal, bound for England. When the ships docked in Southampton or Plymouth, one of Gracia’s London agents, a man named Christopher Fernandes, was instructed to board the ships and let the hidden Jews know whether it was safe to stay on board for the next leg of the journey, to the Netherlands. Because Jews were banned from England at the time, the journey was a hazardous one.

Image of Dona Gracia looking towards Tiberias, symbolizing her determination to create a better future for the Jewish people.

Another of Gracia’s London agents was Antonio de la Ronha, a learned Jew who was related to her. He was tasked with helping Jewish refugees recover property they’d been forced to leave behind.

Once in the Netherlands, many secret Jews found employment in Gracia’s warehouses and businesses until they could be dispatched to safety further south to Italy or Turkey. Gracia’s agents instructed the fleeing Jews on which roads to use and in which inns it was safe to stay. They relied on a network of sympathetic allies. In Venice, a non-Jewish printer named Daniel Bomberg, who specialized in printing Hebrew books, received the property of fleeing Jews and returned it to their owners once they’d made it to the relative safety of Italy.

Writing in 1946, the British historian Cecil Roth noted that Gracia was the “brains behind the whole of this elaborate organization” and that “There is nothing similar in Jewish history, or perhaps in any history, until our own day and the organization of the ‘underground railway’ for saving Jews from the hell of Nazi and post-Nazi Europe and securing their entry…to the Land of Israel.”

Emperor Charles V
In Antwerp, Gracia’s vast wealth attracted unwanted attention from kings and princes. Emperor Charles V wanted Gracia’s daughter to marry one of his courtiers and seize the family’s wealth. Gracia said she wished to visit a spa in France and fled with her daughter and as much property as she could carry. From France, she travelled on to Italy, settling in Venice where she re-established her trading business.

Even though Jews lived openly in Venice – confined to a dreary island called the Ghetto – Gracia was not able to reveal her Jewishness publicly. To do so would have meant an end to her business dealings. In fact, it appears Gracia was arrested and held in prison briefly in Venice after she was accused of being a secret Jew. She began a clandestine plan to transfer her wealth to Turkey, with an eye to eventually living there. Turkey at the time was welcoming the Jews who’d been forced out of Europe. Sultan Bajazet II famously declared that he couldn’t understand the motives of King Ferdinand of Spain, who’d decreed that all Jews leave Spain in 1492. “How can you call this Ferdinand ‘wise’ – he who has impoverished his dominions in order to enrich mine?” the Sultan asked as industrious, educated Jews left Europe for Ottoman lands.

Gracia’s life in Venice was precarious. In 1550 Venetian authorities started prosecuting secret Jews and Gracia, along with her sister-in-law, daughter and niece, fled to the Italian town of Ferrara. There, for the first time in her life, she publicly declared her Jewishness, using her name Gracia. She changed her last name to her family’s previous Hebrew surname of Nasi. When her nephew Joao visited Gracia, he adopted the name Nasi too and changed his first name to Samuel. In Ferrara, Gracia supported local Jewish scholars and paid for the first translation of the Torah into Spanish.

This peace and happiness was short-lived. In 1551, plague broke out in Ferrara. City officials blamed Jews and forced Jews to leave the town. Gracia decided the time had come. She set sail for Constantinople, in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. There, she set up a fine household, again living openly and proudly as a Jew. She continued to run her trading empire with their secret routes ferrying Jews to freedom, but for the first time Gracia was able to publicly support Jews and Jewish organizations as well.

Each day, 80 poor people entered her grand palace to receive free meals. Gracia paid to redeem Jewish slaves who were seized by pirates. When Turkey experienced a bitterly cold winter in 1567, she paid to help the empire’s poor Jews afford heat and clothes. She supported hospitals, charities, schools and synagogues throughout the Ottoman lands.

One of Gracia’s favorite projects was a synagogue and yeshiva she established in the heart of Constantinople, which was known as “the Synagogue of the Senora”. Previously, local tradition dictated that Constantinople’s Jews always prayed in the one synagogue to which their families belonged. Gracia’s synagogue was different: it was open to all Jews, welcoming everyone whether member or not.

Izmir’s Senora Shul today

In 1559, Gracia established a synagogue in Salonika, in Greece, a city in which many secret Jews from Spain were finding refuge. Known as the “Gracia” synagogue, this too was specifically open to all Jews, whether members or not. She also established a kollel, or rabbinic academy, in Salonika, where the city’s rabbis and scholars could take turns studying Jewish texts full time.

Perhaps Gracia’s most ambitious project was supporting the Jewish community in Israel.
Perhaps Gracia’s most ambitious project was supporting the Jewish community in Israel. She petitioned the Sultan for permission to resettle Spanish Jews in Tiberias, an ancient city in the north of Israel, and he agreed. Gracia backed the venture and built a thriving Jewish settlement there, as well as supporting Jews elsewhere in the region. She had a grand house built for herself in Tiberias and petitioned the Sultan for permission to go to the Holy Land.

First, Gracia had a promise to keep. Years before, she’d promised her husband Francisco that she’d do everything in her power to see he was buried in Israel. Now, with great difficulty, she had his body removed from the church graveyard in Lisbon where it was interred and brought to Israel, where he was reburied in Tiberias.

Sadly, Gracia never had the chance to follow him there. She grew sick and withdrew from public life, living in Constantinople in old age in precarious health. She died in about the year 1569, one of the most beloved figures in the entire Jewish world.

Tributes were delivered to Gracia the Nasi throughout Europe and the Middle East. One of the most famous was a poem written by the great Jewish poet Sa’adiah Longo, who had fled the Spanish Inquisition as a child and moved to Salonika with his family, where he witnessed Gracia’s generosity and help for her fellow Jews firsthand. In his ode “Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi” he compares Gracia’s passing to some of the major calamities in Jewish history. She “straightened the path in the wilderness...the passage to an awesome God,” he recalled. That passageway that Gracia Nasi prepared allowed unknown thousands of Jews to escape persecution and death at the hands of the Inquisition and build new lives in safety. Her heroism deserves to be better known today.

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Post  Admin on Thu 27 Dec 2018, 11:51 am
Simcha Rotem: The Last Surviving Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Fighter
Dec 24, 2018  |  by Adina Hershberg
Simcha Rotem: The Last Surviving Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Fighter
The heroic Jew died this past Shabbat at the age of 94.

Simcha Rotem, the last remaining fighter of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, passed away this past Shabbat at the age of 94. At the 70th anniversary ceremony of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, he described the impetus for having launched an offensive against the Nazis on April 19th, 1943 that had no chance of succeeding.

“We knew the end would be the same for everyone. The idea for the uprising came from our determination. We wanted to choose the kind of death we would die; that’s all.”

The Warsaw ghetto uprising symbolized a refusal to succumb to Nazi atrocities and inspired other resistance campaigns by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Rotem also said, “…no words can describe what the Holocaust and the uprising was like and what the bestiality of the Germans was like, but despite their cruelty, they did not break the moral of the Jewish people.” He added, “To this day I have doubts as to whether we had the right to carry out the uprising and shorten the lives of people by a day, a week or two weeks.”

Simcha (Szymon) Rathajzer was born in Warsaw on February 24th, 1924 and was also known by the name Kazik – an abbreviation of a Polish name “Kazimierz”, which means “someone who destroys his opponent’s prestige/glory during battle”. Warsaw at the time had a vibrant Jewish community which made up a third of the city’s population.

At the age of 12, Rotem joined the Zionist youth movement HaNoar HaTzioni. World War II broke out when Rotem was 15. He was wounded in September 1939 during a German bombing campaign that destroyed his family home. His brother, Israel, and five other close relatives were killed. Shortly after, Warsaw’s Jews were herded into the infamous ghetto.

Initially, the ghetto held some 380,000 Jews who were cramped into tight living spaces. At its peak, the ghetto housed about a half million Jews. After the deportation of July 22, 1942 when 265,000 men, women and children were rounded up and later murdered in Treblinka, the resistance movement began to grow. Rotem joined the ZOB, Zydowska Organizacia Bojowa or Jewish Combat Organization in July of 1942, although he admitted that “I felt totally helpless” in the face of the Nazis. There were 50,000 Jews left in the ghetto.

Rotem at Yad Vashem

A small group of Jews began to spread calls for resistance. They also carried out isolated acts of sabotage and attacks. Some of the Jews began to defy German orders to report for deportation. On January 19, 1943, when the Nazis came to hold raids in the ghetto, they encountered resistance from the Jews for the first time. The Jews were surprised that they had succeeded in stopping the Nazi raids.

When the Germans returned to the ghetto on April 18, 1943, the ghetto uprising began. The Nazis entered the ghetto on the eve of Passover. Three days later, the Nazis set the ghetto ablaze, but the Jewish fighters continued their struggle for nearly a month before they were brutally murdered. During the intervening months, many of the Jews had built bunkers in the basements of buildings, often with tunnels leading to other buildings. The handful of Jewish fighters with weapons took to the shelters, thus giving them the advantage of defensive positions.

The teenage Rotem served as a liaison between the bunkers. He also served as the head courier, reporting directly to the ZOB commander, Yitzchak Zuckerman, who was on the Aryan side of the city. Rotem also took part in the fighting.

In his testimony to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Rotem stated, “At the first moment when I saw the great German force entering the ghetto, my first reaction, and I’m sure not just mine – I felt we were nothing. What could we do with our pathetic, almost non-existent weaponry, when faced with the tremendous German firepower, with light cannons and tanks and armored personnel carriers and a huge infantry force numbering hundreds, hundreds if not thousands…I felt totally helpless.” Rotem’s feeling was followed by “an extraordinary sense of spiritual uplifting…This was the moment we had been waiting for…to stand up to this all-powerful German.”

Rotem noted that the rebels had no illusions about their chances. “We’d kill as many of them as we could; we knew our fate was completely clear.” The Jewish fighters managed to kill 16 Nazis and to wound nearly 100.

Once they saw that their defeat was imminent, Rotem was sent to the Aryan side of Warsaw via a secret passageway where he met with Zuckerman to arrange an escape for the remaining fighters. The passageway was discovered by the Nazis and therefore the two of them were trapped on the Aryan side while the fighting raged and the ghetto burned. Rotem made several attempts to enter the ghetto through the sewers until he succeeded. He encountered Zivia Lubekin, one of the last surviving leaders of the ghetto uprising. The two of them led approximately 80 fighters through the sewers to the Aryan side. From there they continued on to the forests outside of the city. Rotem kept them in hiding in the forest and in various apartments until the end of the war.

Rotem continued his underground activities with the resistance movement. In particular, he helped care for the several thousand Jews who still remained in hiding in Warsaw. In August 1944 he took part in the Polish Warsaw uprising that was crushed by the Nazis after 63 days.

Immediately after the war, Rotem took part in the Beriha (escape) organization that helped European Jews immigrate to Mandate Palestine, despite the restrictions imposed by the British. In 1946 he immigrated to Palestine and was imprisoned by the British in the Atlit detention camp, south of Haifa. Although his 12-year-old sister had been murdered in the ghetto uprising, his parents and another sister survived in hiding and emigrated to Palestine in 1947.

Rotem joined the Hagana, the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces and he fought in the War of Independence. He served as a manager in a supermarket chain until retiring in 1986. He was an active speaker and member of the Yad Vashem committee that selects the Righteous Among the Nations, honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

In 2013 at the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Rotem was honored with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland, one of the country’s highest honors, for his actions during World War II.

Earlier this year, Rotem rebuked Polish President Andrzej in a letter, for his speech at the 75th commemoratory ceremony of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

I, Simcha (Kazik) Rotem, who fought shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters against the damned German Nazis on the streets and in the sewage systems of the Warsaw Ghetto, is telling you, Mr. President, that many of your people took a very active part in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, expelling Jews from their homes in Poland while cruelly abusing them. They even murdered Jews who managed to escape the Nazi extermination machine and sought to regain their homes and property when the war ended.

…Only once the Polish society truly faces the bitter historical truth, revealing its scope and severity, will there be a chance that those horrors will not be repeated. Therefore, I vehemently oppose the distorted law recently passed in Poland, meant to eradicate from historical recollection the heinous acts the Poles committed against the Jewish people during that dark time…

Ninety-year-old Aliza Vitis-Shomron is the last known Warsaw Ghetto uprising survivor left in Israel. Upon hearing of Rotem’s death she tearfully stated, “It’s a difficult day because this really means that this is it. I’m the only one left and there is no one else to keep the story alive. He was the last fighter. I’ll keep speaking till my last day, but no one lives forever. After me, who will keep telling?”

Rotem is survived by his two children and five grandchildren. Hopefully, they, along with the thousands of people who have heard his story will continue to tell it. His tale is part of our shared history. It is a story of rebirth.

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Post  Admin on Sun 23 Dec 2018, 3:23 pm

Saying No to Cremation
Dec 23, 2018  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Saying No to Cremation
We should not do to ourselves what our enemies have done to us – to burn the last remnant and reminder of people we loved.

For some, the inevitability of death is frightening. For those who have faith in Jewish tradition which assures us of the continued survival of the soul after our taking leave from Earth, death is nothing more than moving from one room to another, from the corridor to the main banquet hall. The journey which we call life ends with our birth into immortality.

To understand death is to enter a realm that of necessity requires faith as a guide. No mortal has actually ever returned from the grave to give us a first-hand account. And yet most believers in the Bible as well as those of many other religions have somehow come to very similar conclusions: There is life after this life. Human beings are a wondrous combination of body and soul. The soul has its source in God; as we are told in the story of creation God blew into Adam’s body some of his spirit. God by definition is immortal. So too is a part of us, the part which truly defines us, the part which makes us who we are, the part which represents our uniqueness, the part which is the key to our essence and our being.

The Torah begins with the Hebrew letter beit. In Hebrew that letter means two. The very first message of the Torah, which tells us of the creation of this world, hints at the existence of a second world – the world to come after our sojourn here on earth.

It is a truth which demands careful attention for the way in which we lead our lives. More, it must guide us as well in the way in which we deal with the body in the aftermath of death.

Sadly, and with great pain, we must take note of a contemporary phenomenon which chooses to replace Jewish burial with cremation. This trend recently received much publicity when Rona Ramon, widow of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, asked to be cremated in the will she left before her untimely death two weeks ago of pancreatic cancer.

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for Rona Ramon. The manner in which she lived her life was inspirational beyond measure. Unfortunately, the way she chose to dispose of her corporeal remains was a tragic break with Jewish tradition, a tradition going back to Abraham, the first Jew, who gladly paid the fortune demanded of him in order to bury Sarah in the “Cave of the Couples” and a place where according to the midrash Adam and Eve are buried as well.

It was heartbreaking to read the reason that motivated Rona to request cremation. A mother of four when her husband perished as the Columbia spaceship disintegrated upon its ill-fated return to earth, she had to survive the additional tragedy of the death of her son in a training accident after the crash of the F-16 fighter pilot he was flying. With the heavy weight of these tragedies of the past upon her, Rona concluded – as she wrote before her passing – she did not want her children and family to be forced to go through yet another funeral.

It is not for me to judge her or God forbid to offer criticism. Clearly the tragedies of her past were responsible for her personal decision. But I believe it is necessary to remind ourselves what millennia of Jewish history have identified as the most fitting and respectful way to honor our loved ones once their souls have departed.

Jews perform an interesting symbolic ritual in response to the death of our closest relatives. It is called kriah – making a rip in one's garment. People think the purpose is to allow physical release, to tear something as a sign of anger. That is not the way the mystics of the Kabbalah explain this ritual.

The relationship between garment and body symbolically parallels the connection between body and soul.
The relationship between garment and body symbolically parallels the connection between body and soul. Clothing covers us; it isn't our essence or our identity. If a garment we wear gets ripped it doesn't actually affect us. Our true selves remain intact. So too, our bodies are the "garments" of our soul. They are external to it; one is independent of the other.

Death is the rending of our outer garment. But it is no more than that. That's why the mourners perform the mitzvah of kriah, to affirm that as painful as the loss of a loved one may be, there is great comfort in knowing that "the ripping of the garment" hasn't diminished the actual person.

Yet much as death diminishes the significance of the body, we shouldn't fail to emphasize the powerful linkage that remains even after death severs the connection between the physical remains and the soul. The soul owes its life on earth to the body. For a long time the two of them coexisted in a mutually beneficial relationship. When the soul departs at death, tradition tells us it does so in stages. It hesitates before bidding final farewell to its physical partner. Like a magnet, the soul continues to be drawn to the site of its former longtime residence. It stays close to the body, finding it difficult to accept the reality of ultimate separation.

Almost all religions and cultures acknowledge the relationship between body and soul that extends beyond death. In Judaism there is particular sensitivity to the soul’s concern for respectful treatment of “the earthly garment” that enabled it to carry out its life's mission.

The body is carefully washed, even though it will soon disintegrate. For as long as possible it needs to be accorded the dignity it earned during life. The body retains its right to modesty; only women may prepare a female body for burial and only men a male. The corpse is to be put into a closed coffin so that onlookers not are left with the memory of a diminished human being.

Honoring the body is a way of showing our respect for the soul that remains close by until it is assured that its material partner received proper treatment.
More striking still, Jewish law forbids those in the immediate presence of the dead to eat and drink or to fulfill a mitzvah – because that would be mocking them, inasmuch as they are now incapable of doing the same. The corpse may not know or care, but the soul of the departed does. Honoring the body is a way of showing our respect for the soul that remains close by until it is assured that its material partner received proper treatment.

It is surely significant that throughout history those who most wanted to bring about the end of the Jewish people sought to do it through fire. Both temples in Jerusalem were put to the torch and burnt. The Nazis built crematoria to carry out The Final Solution. In Hebrew the word for garbage is ashpah – a contraction for aish poh, "fire is here," because the most common way to get rid of the useless was to burn it. We cannot justify doing to ourselves what has been and continues to be the way of our enemies – to burn and to destroy the last remnant and reminder of people we loved.

Our Arab enemies have long understood the Jewish passion and commitment to preserving the dignity of bodies which housed Jewish souls. That is why they have demanded exorbitant ransoms for the return of Israeli bodies, hundreds of Palestinian terrorists for the remains of even one Jewish soldier.

Rona Ramon wanted to spare her grieving children and family the trauma of her burial. In years to come her loved ones will have no physical place to mourn, to visit, to remember and in some small way to be with her at graveside. That makes her cremation another cause for tears.

We dare not judge Rona Ramon, a heroic figure who endured loss beyond comprehension. But let us reaffirm the powerful words of King Solomon, “And the dust will return to the earth from where it came and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

See also: Letter to My Cremated Father.

Letter to My Cremated Father
Dec 23, 2018  |  by Michael Chighel
I hope this open letter does you honor. Let no one imagine for a moment that you meant anything less to me than the earthly manifestation of divine love.

Dear Tata, the cremation of your body has singed my soul.

And so I am compelled to seek some relief from the burn in the composition of a letter to you aimed across the great divide between the World of Mendacity in which I am still residing and the World of Truth in which you are now a blessed new citizen.

You never liked phonies and poseurs. I don’t doubt that, now, seeing me as you do from the World of Truth, the artificial nature of this letter is entirely obvious. My complex motives, noble and ignoble, are transparent to you, more so than they are to me. Let’s be honest about at least one motive. I have an agenda. Since your passing, I have corresponded with three fellow Jews asking me for advice. Their parents have informed them of their plans to have their bodies cremated upon death. I advised them to share their anxieties with their parents before it’s too late. My hope is that this letter, an artifice to ease my double grief over your death and cremation, will reach other Jews in the same plight, children and parents.

You specified in your will that, upon your demise, your dead body is to be completely burned.
I suppose this letter is my ersatz shiva. May it be the catalyst of real shivas that will otherwise have been unrealized.

Let me begin by sympathizing, as best I can, with your decision. You specified in your will that, upon your demise, your dead body is to be completely burned, that a gentile funeral home is to expedite the incineration, and that the resulting ashes should be disposed of in any way the executor of the will deems fitting.

In a way, I admire your bold decision. I am your son, after all. I know how you felt about Jewish traditions, how little stock you put by them. You were a thinking man. It’s from you that I learned to think myself. You taught me how to see the beauty in a Euclidean proof in geometry. You explained to me how a car motor works. You taught me to trust in my intellect. To take the deepest pleasure in the feeling of wonder. Later, on my way toward attaining a PhD in philosophy, I would learn how Aristotle said that all thinking originates in a sense of wonder. You never read Aristotle yourself. But you understood him instinctively.

(Perhaps you’re attending Aristotle’s lectures now? But no, I don’t believe it. I believe your infinite thirst for knowledge has drawn you willy-nilly into the great hall in which the soul of Rabbi Akiva imparts the greatest secrets of the Torah.)

You loved Reason. And in your passion for the rational, you found it necessary to dismiss the Torah. I understand. I myself, your reason-loving son, had to undergo the most grueling mental exercises, and the most purgatorial gestures of self-introspection, in order to come to terms with the non-rational truths of the Torah. It was only after reaching the outermost limits of rational thinking – with the help of philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Thomas Kuhn, Jacques Derrida – that I discovered the very real possibility, indeed the very reality, of the non-rational. I don’t blame you. Nor am I patronizing you. (“Patronize”: from pater, father. Can a Jewish son ever really patronize his father? Your mind begat mine.) I am arguing with you. It was you who taught me to argue with you. You would be so proud of me when I was able to disagree with you. You’d frown and shake your head and smile a big secret smile.

You loved Reason, yes, and in your love for Reason, you concluded that the Torah is nothing but a product of human imagination. That there is nothing like life after death. That the soul is nothing but a wondrous symphony of electrical impulses played in the grey concert hall of the brain. That once the concert ended and all these impulses become quiet, nothing remains but a useless lump of organic material to be disposed of like an old automobile beyond repair.

I truly admire the fierceness of your conclusion. I admire your intolerance for magical thinking, for voodoo. I admire the extraordinary existentialist’s courage with which you faced the profound meaninglessness of reality – which is to say, a reality that you felt to be ultimately meaningless. You waved your fist against fate in the manner of a Greek tragic hero. (Is that why you died so close to Hanukkah – Kislev 21? Is Rabbi Akiva presently explaining how the Maccabee victory was a victory over the Tyranny of Reason and the Hellenistic Empire of Tragic Heroism?)

If I could have entered into a philosophical discussion with you about such questions, I would have. But you were not impressed by philosophical ideas. You left those to me.

And now I see a different route I might have taken, a route to a different conversation, a route I never saw before. I see it so clearly now because of my pain. My pain makes me lucid. So let me say what I should have said. Let others hear it on behalf of your memory….

I wish I could have recited Kaddish by your grave.
I wish I could have buried your body. I wish I could have strewn earth upon your shroud. I wish I could have recited Kaddish by your grave. I wish I could have invoked the Great Name, the Shmei Rabba, over your body’s quiet enfoldment in the earth and its return to its element.

Instead of earth, you chose fire. Fire too is a primordial element, yes. But fire mocks. When our people were condemned to a Final Solution during your childhood which you spent in Siberia, those who murdered them did so with a double mockery. They poisoned them with gas like an exterminator killing insects. And they incinerated their remains in fire like a garbage man burning waste.

I feel – I don’t know, but I feel – that you opted for cremation in some kind of unfathomable solidarity with those of us whose bodies were cremated in Auschwitz. I heard of a survivor who had intended to make such a posthumous gesture. I think it was an unconscious solidarity in your case. The heroic gesture, again, of a tragic hero. In light of your decision, I can’t help but feel that the crematoria of Auschwitz are still with us. Exile is something the Jew suffers deep, deep within. You accepted the Exile. You made room for Auschwitz. I wish you could have heard and believed the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Exile is unacceptable! Auschwitz has no more place in this world, not even as little place as the tip of a single match head!

And I should have said something else. I should have told you about my need to mourn for you in the company of others. My need, yes, admittedly only mine, not yours, Tata. But you loved me so much, surely you would have acquiesced to my need, the need of your son whom you loved with a boundless love, even if you would have disagreed with the validity of this need…. My need to sit shiva for you – to sit and mourn in the company of family and friends, to talk about you, to share memories of you.

As you know, dear Tata, I cry when I am alone. I weep like a boy. (You remember the sound?) I think about you. I look through old photos of you. I even talk to you. And I weep. I mourn. Nothing can take away my private mourning. But it is just that – private. Why should I want to mourn publicly as well? Is private mourning not enough? Indeed, isn’t private mourning more genuine than public mourning?

Yes, that’s just it. Public mourning all too easily becomes a spectacle, a maudlin charade. We who still reside in the World of Mendacity will sometimes take advantage of any occasion to get a little more attention, narcissistically, even a funeral or a memorial service. And yet, at the same time, we are social creatures, who naturally take comfort in the presence of family, friends and community.

And that’s just it. The old and venerable Jewish tradition of a public comforting of mourners, the tradition of sitting shiva, is what gives legitimacy to public mourning. For a Jew, any other way of mourning publicly must indeed be a farce. A shiva house alone, for a Jew, constitutes an authentic way to mourn in company, authentic because so very old, so utterly unoriginal.

Shiva is the final hammer blow that snaps shut the iron link in the chain of a family history.

The fact that I wish you had decided otherwise in no way diminishes my adoration for you or how dearly I will cherish your memory.
You know very well, dear Tata, that I bear no resentment toward you. You know I adored you. The fact that I wish you had decided otherwise in no way diminishes my adoration for you or how dearly I will cherish your memory. It was your unbounded paternal love for me that made me so Jewish. Your love for me was fashioned in the image of God’s love for His children. It was your own very Jewish upbringing that engendered this paternal love in you. What choice did I have but to take this infinite love to God Himself?

I hope I always honored you properly in life. And I hope this open letter does you honor. Let no one imagine for a moment that you meant anything less to me than the earthly manifestation of divine love.

My prayer now is that our common Divine Father is taking you in His infinite paternal bosom, and that, from your heavenly perspective and station, you will move angelic forces to influence Jews contemplating cremation to think things through a notch more carefully. Intercede for us.

I miss your arms around me, Tata. Hug me now.

Your Miki.

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Post  Admin on Thu 20 Dec 2018, 10:27 pm

Theodor Herzl: The Zionist Dream of a Jewish State
Dec 17, 2018  |  by Jerusalem U
What is Zionism and why is it so controversial? How did Herzl, a secular writer, transform an ancient longing into a modern political movement that changed the course of history?
Jerusalem U
Published on 13 Dec 2018
What is Zionism, and why is it so controversial? And how (and why) did Theodor Herzl, a secular writer, who didn’t know anything about Judaism, transform an ancient longing into a modern political movement that resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel? 
Short answer - antisemitism. 
Herzl was present at one of the most explosive trials of the day, which came to be known as the Dreyfus Affair. In the case, Alfred Dreyfus, a high ranking Jewish officer in the French army, was falsely accused of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island (he was later exonerated).
It wasn’t just the trial that got Herzl started on his journey towards Zionism. The cries of “Death for the Jew” that were casually hurled around on the streets of Paris made him understand that a Jewish state was necessary to remove the problem of anti-semitism entirely. 
Herzl was seen as a crazy man in his time, and he certainly had some offbeat ideas, such as the idea for a mass conversion to Christianity (which was swiftly despatched), but his vision for a Jewish state became reality. 
A modern day Moses, Herzl never saw the country he envisaged, but due to his actions, and the actions of the Zionist leaders that followed, in 1948 the State of Israel came into being. 
Theodor Herzl: The Zionist Dream of a Jewish State

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Post  Admin on Wed 19 Dec 2018, 2:40 pm

Rona Ramon, Widow of Israel’s First Astronaut, Dies at Age 54
Dec 18, 2018  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
In a life touched by tragedy, Rona Ramon continuously chose life.
In a life touched by tragedy, Rona Ramon, wife of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, was determined to choose life - and to help others cope with grief and sorrow as well. Rona died from pancreatic cancer on December 17, 2018 at the age of 54, but her legacy of hope and resilience endures.

Born in 1964 in Kiryat Ono, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Rona grew up with a clear sense of her place in the Jewish state. Her parents Gila and Yisrael moved to Israel from Turkey in a youth aliyah, which saw teens and young adults relocate to Israel in the state’s early days.

After serving in the Israeli Defense Forces’ Paratroopers Brigade, Rona met Ilan Ramon, the son of a Holocaust survivor and a celebrated fighter pilot. He was one of the Israeli pilots who bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. Much of the world had condemned Israel for the attack, but Ramon’s daring raid prevented Iraq from developing nuclear weapons. He and Rona married in 1986 and had four children.

In addition to being a busy mother, Rona also trained as sports teacher and therapist and ran a therapeutic clinic. She gave that up in 1998 when Ilan was chosen to become Israel’s first astronaut, joining the Columbia Space Shuttle crew, and the family moved to Houston.

As the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan was representing the entire Jewish people.
As the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan was representing the entire Jewish people. Ilan and Rona made a few key decisions. Although he normally didn’t keep kosher or Shabbat, Ilan resolved he would do both when he was in space. He brought kosher meals with him and refrained from doing work from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. (Since there are no regular daytime hours in space, Ilan consulted with Rabbis about what to do and time timed his Shabbat observance to coincide with his launch location, Cape Canaveral in Florida.)

Ilan also asked one of his university professors, Dr. Joachim Joseph of Tel Aviv University, if he could bring his Torah scroll into space. This Torah scroll had an amazing history. It was unusually small, only few inches high, and was smuggled into the Bergen Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust. Defying certain death, Rabbi Dasberg, a Dutch rabbi, gave secret bar mitzvah lessons to a Joachim who was interred there as a child.

Dr. Joseph celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1944 in Bergen Belsen by secretly reading from that Torah. Afterwards Rabbi Dasberg gave him the Torah - on condition that he one day tell the world about it. Dr. Joseph survived the war, moved to Israel, and became a celebrated astrophysicist. Ilan Ramon went to space proudly celebrating his Jewishness and making sure the world knew the story of the amazing Torah he carried.

Ilan Ramon achieved this unprecedented Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s Name, before he tragically died on February 1, 2003, when the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Widowed with four young children, Rona Ilan returned to Israel, and began to use her crushing grief to help others.

Rona studied creative writing and later explained, “It was clear to me that I was going to explore my experiences in an effort to find some kind of an answer….I started collecting testimonies from families who experienced sudden death...Our foundations break apart and the pieces must be gathered, even though the light at the end of the tunnel cannot be seen yet.”

In 2009, Asaf Ramon died in a training exercise.
When her son Asaf asked to follow in Ilan’s footsteps and join the air force too, despite the dangers involved Rona didn’t hesitate. “A boy of 18 who has dreamed of flying all his life,” she recalled, “I wrote him a letter telling him I give permission to begin his life.” Asaf became a fighter pilot. In 2009, tragedy struck his family again when Asaf died in a training exercise after the F-16 fighter jet he was flying crashed.

Rona, Ilan and Asaf vacationing in Hawaii

“The suffering was great, and dealing with it was unbearable,” Rona remembered. Yet somehow she vowed to carry on. “I knew I had people to live for, that was clear and convincing. I would keep going for my children, at the most simple and practical level. I would function. If I managed to make lunch for everyone, if I managed to pick everyone up on time from after-school activities and sports fields and not forget anyone - because that, too, has happened - then I was okay.”

Asaf was buried near his father in a plot that Rona had purchased for herself. Rona channeled her grief and pain into helping others. She founded the Ramon Foundation which encourages Israeli youth to develop “academic excellence, social leadership and groundbreaking courage”. The foundation runs science and educational programs and helps young people realize their academic and social potential. In addition, Rona spoke publicly about her experiences with loss, giving lectures, running workshops and counseling individuals who were also struggling with grief.

On Israel’s Independence Day in 2016, Rona Roman lit a torch at the official celebrations on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. “I light this torch in honor of my loved ones,” she declared, “Ilan and Asaf, who were and a candle and a lighthouse to the fulfillment of my vision. In honor of the Air Force pilots throughout the generations who protect us from above; in honor of the astronauts carrying out groundbreaking work for humanity; and in honor of my children and all the wonderful young people who grow up with love for fellow men; and for Israel, and the hope for peace.”

Rona leaves behind her children Tal, Yiftah and Noa. She also leaves us with an incredible example of a woman who struggled with tragedy and still found resources deep within her to give and to keep on giving. “It’s true that the hand of fate has struck me,” Rona once observed, “and how it has struck me. But I have the privilege of choosing how I get up and rise above the great crises that life had in store for me, and I decide which music I choose to hear.”

Rona Ramon, Widow of Israel’s First Astronaut, Dies at Age 54

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Post  Admin on Mon 17 Dec 2018, 12:29 am

When James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke Saved a Life
Dec 15, 2018  |  by Ari Blau
When James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke Saved a Life
How James and The Red Hot Chili Peppers came to the rescue. An insider’s story.
During my three years working at the Late Late Show with James Corden, I really got to know James not just as a comedian and actor, but as a very down-to-earth, caring and genuine person.
I remember the first time I noticed that Corden was different than some other celebrities. We were getting ready to film Carpool Karaoke, the hugely successful series that garners millions of views online. Our guest that day was Paul McCartney. The Late Late Show talent department had been working for months on booking Paul McCartney to film the segment with us. He finally agreed and the entire staff was excited. James was the most excited! He loves McCartney’s music and was looking forward to singing in a car and interviewing him.

Producing an episode of Carpool Karaoke doesn’t just consist of James in a car with a celebrity and a few cameras on the dashboard. There are at least 10 go-pro cameras mounted to the windshield, hidden microphones, a lead-car in front of James directing him where to drive and at least seven cars behind James with the celebrity’s entourage along with our own staff members. It’s a huge production. These 10 minutes of television can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and can take months of pre-production.

Ari with James Corden

The morning finally came for us to film. The entire crew was outside and James was walking down from CBS studios to the famous Carpool Karaoke car. We were about to head over to Paul McCartney’s house to pick him up. All of the sudden, James got a phone call from his wife telling him that his son had gotten hurt on the jungle gym at school. I could tell something was going on because James started walking back into the studio. I heard him say that his son was on his way to the hospital and he had to leave to be with him.

Some of the producers tried to convince James to stay behind and film the segment. “James, don’t worry. I’m sure your son will be okay. This is Paul McCartney and he’s waiting for us. Do you know how long it took for us to book this?!”

James wasn’t fazed at all as he left to be with his family. He had his priorities very clear.

How did James Corden treat other people besides his family? I don’t think there’s any better illustration than what happened while we were filming Carpool Karaoke with the rock band The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

James Corden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Part of my former job as one of the producers for Carpool Karaoke was to drive behind James and communicate with the staff over a walkie-talkie. When we had the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the car with James, I told our staff to turn down a specific street in order to avoid some paparazzi. We typically use the same route each time, but this time I detoured us into a neighborhood called Hancock Park, a predominantly religious Jewish neighborhood in LA.

“Please help! My baby can’t breathe! Someone please help!”
James wanted a quiet street so that he and the band members could get out and have a “dance battle.” As James and the band members got out to dance on the sidewalk, I noticed a religious Jewish woman come out from across the street yelling. She was panicking. I rolled down my window and heard her scream, “Please help! My baby can’t breathe! Someone please help!”

In a split second, James and the entire Red Hot Chili Peppers band ran across the street to the woman’s home. I told our camera crew to turn off the cameras because it was inappropriate to film. The woman was holding her baby who looked lifeless. The baby wasn’t breathing. James was calling 911 from his cell phone. Anthony Kiedis, one of the band members, told the woman that he could perform CPR on the baby. Kiedis wasn’t wearing a shirt and is covered in tattoos. I remember thinking to myself, “This Jewish woman has no idea who these celebrities are. Is this woman really going to hand over her baby?”

She didn’t even hesitate. She handed over her baby and Kiedis started performing CPR. He was rubbing the baby’s belly and eventually bubbles started coming out of the mouth. The baby started breathing! By that time, the ambulance had arrived and the paramedics took the baby and the mother with them. Our Carpool Karaoke crew drove away, stunned by what had just happened.

When I shared this story with my rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Majeski, he was in shock. “Look how God runs the world! Carpool Karaoke is a huge a phenomenon and I bet God designed this entire show just to save this one baby’s life.”

That day while filming Carpool Karaoke, James Corden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, specifically Anthony Kiedis, saved an entire world.

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Post  Admin on Tue 11 Dec 2018, 11:48 pm
FBI and the Soul
Dec 11, 2018  |  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
FBI and the Soul
Rabbi Cary Friedman helps cops survive the rigors of America’s most stressful occupation.

Rabbi Cary Friedman has had very unique career. With a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University, rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, and a second-degree black belt, Cary’s pioneering success includes: rabbi at Duke University, chaplain at a federal prison, author of books on marriage, world expert on the Batman, and – most recently – "spirituality expert" to the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI. spoke with Cary from his home in New Jersey. Let's start with your childhood obsession: Batman. How did that all come about?

Cary: My mother is a Holocaust survivor. When she was eight years old in Vilna, and word came that the Nazis were approaching, the non-Jewish neighbors came rushing over to the house. Though our families had lived side-by-side for generations, my mother witnessed them murder her aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My mother managed to escape and hide for five years in a potato cellar (payback for my grandfather saving someone in that family from drowning). When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had a surrogate extended family composed of survivors. At holiday meals, people would take turns sharing harrowing tales of what they’d endured and how they narrowly escaped death. I knew about raw evil from an early age.

Through Batman, 8-year-old Cary wrestled with the Holocaust.
 Had I tried to process that directly, I probably would have lost my mind. So I latched onto the story of another 8-year-old child – Bruce Wayne, who would go on to become the Batman – whose parents were murdered in front of his own eyes.

With the Batman, I could relate to my mom's experience from a safe psychological distance. The classic Batman stories of my youth dealt with themes like “why bad things happen to good people” and “how does one respond to and triumph over tragedy.” This was our family's story, too, but told to me – safely – through fictional stories made up of images composed of colored dots of ink on a page.

Cary’s mother in Vilna, Lithuania, circa 1935

Cary’s mother in Vilna, Lithuania, circa 1935. What did Bruce Wayne teach you about life after tragedy?

Cary: Bruce Wayne inherited great wealth and could have spent his entire life wallowing in distractions or drowning in self-pity, complaining about the lousy hand he’d been dealt. Instead he used tragedy as a springboard to accomplish good. Bruce swore at his parents’ graveside to perpetuate their legacy of altruism, dedicating his life to ensuring that no one would suffer as he had. Similarly, my mother spent her childhood years fighting for survival, then went on to create a family and life filled, tirelessly, with meaning, compassion, and dedication to justice. Your book, Wisdom from the Batcave, connects Batman comics to Jewish themes. Is this real or imagined?

Cary: The original creators of Batman – Bob Kane and Bill Finger – were Jewish. I detected remarkable parallels where the Batman mythology touches on authentic Torah ideals. Yet I wondered: Am I pounding pieces into a puzzle? Later I had the opportunity to meet Jerry Robinson, the original creator of the characters Robin and The Joker, plus other key features of the Batman mythology. He read Wisdom from the Batcave and said: "They [Kane and Finger] would have liked this book; they spoke of Batman as a classic moral hero."

Most important was the opinion of my biggest rabbinical influence, Rabbi Avigdor Miller. He was known to be uncompromising about secular culture. One year at Rabbi Miller’s synagogue, the person in charge of making the children's treat-bags for Simchat Torah included Batman comic books. When this was questioned, Rabbi Miller examined the comics and approved of how they promote Torah values such as the relentless struggle against evil. (This was in the 1950s when comic books were different than they are today.) Rabbi Miller also noted how the heroes disguise their true identities, avoiding egotistical accolades. I consider that a good endorsement.

Cary’s childhood collection of Batman memorabilia

Cary’s childhood collection of Batman memorabilia. In the background is a copy of his book, Wisdom from the Batcave. How did your involvement in the field of law enforcement come about?

Cary: I was giving a public talk and the chief of the FBI's Behavior Science Unit happened to be there. He came up to me afterwards and remarked, "That was very substantive, inspirational, and engaging." He told me that the FBI’s National Academy teaches the mechanics of "how" to do the job – how to conduct a forensic investigation, how to handcuff and engage in defensive tactics, but they also need to address the "why" of law enforcement – the notions of idealism and integrity. A week later I visited the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia and things took off from there.

Rabbi Friedman is a consultant
at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia

Rabbi Friedman is a consultant at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Where does spirituality fit in with law enforcement?

Cary: In the course of speaking with hundreds of cops, I realized that behind the tough exterior – what is called "command presence" – is often a great idealism, integrity, and spiritual majesty.

For truly conscientious officers, spirituality is the central dimension, the very reason they chose this career. Policemen long “to protect and serve," to live for something larger than themselves, to be heroic in the story of their lives. That is an expression of the soul.

Many cops have told me, "I thought about entering the clergy, but for some reason or other I couldn’t, so I became a cop." It’s a different expression of the spiritual instinct. There are uncanny parallels between clergy and law enforcement: they protect and serve, set an example, enforce laws, answer to a higher authority, etc. I know of many families that produce both cops and clergy.

Most cops are extraordinarily noble and want to make a difference in the world. They literally put their lives on the line for these ideals.
Most cops are extraordinarily noble, giants of the human spirit who want to make a difference in the world. They literally put their lives on the line for these ideals. They tell me: "Thank you for acknowledging that. I couldn't articulate it myself, but that's me!" Law enforcement is considered the most stressful occupation in America, with high incidence of domestic violence, substance abuse, divorce, and suicide. What is that attributed to?

Cary: When police officers begin their career, their "spirituality account" is full. They have a moral value system, regard for people, and confidence in their abilities. Then, in the course of their job, they spend about 95% of their time with 5% of the population – the worst elements of society. Cops are exposed to physical danger, senseless violence and tragedy, and vilification by the public and media. As first responders on the scene, they create that thin blue line between chaos and the civil society we're trying to build. Even the most mundane, uneventful day contains staggering depletions from the spirituality account.

After a few years in the field, most officers experience a crisis. They see "reputable" people committing heinous acts and it shakes their faith in humanity. They question the choice of such a stressful, painful, demanding career. They feel burned out. The officers most at risk are the most conscientious, who throw themselves into the job, who have the most integrity, who feel deeply and care sincerely – but who might lack the spiritual tools to replenish that idealism. Clarity and resolve is replaced by doubt, anger, depression, and disillusionment. And the better they perform their job, the more they are exposed to dark forces. The job eats them up, inch by inch.

Cops have many resources to deal with physical and mental well-being, but not the spiritual side. Cops are constantly making withdrawals from their spirituality account. If this reservoir of spirituality goes down to zero – and even to overdraft and bankruptcy – they reach spiritual anguish and exhaustion. If they don't identify the root cause, they'll seek solutions elsewhere – rampant pursuit of materialism, or engaging in self-destructive behaviors to self-medicate and numb the pain. As Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

Cary Friedman practices Gung Fu
with his son, Akiva

Cary Friedman practices Gung Fu with his son, Akiva, who followed his father’s footsteps and trained in many of Batman’s special skills. What is your approach to counteracting this?

Cary: My job is to give these cops "tools for intentional spirituality" – techniques to make deposits into their spirituality account. Properly equipped, an officer has an excellent chance of having a long, healthy, successful career. I have many emails and letters from officers saying that my talks saved them from “eating their gun,” a euphemism for suicide. As Associate Director of the Law Enforcement Survival Institute, you work alongside tough, seasoned trainers – including a Navy Seals' psychologist – who teach mental toughness and emotional resilience. How does your work complement this?

Cary: When a cop encounters tragedy or raw human evil, "emotional survival" means developing coping mechanisms to deal with the emotional after-effects of the traumatic encounter. I teach them "spiritual survival": to understand “why” go back to work the next day; why remain in a career that requires them to put themselves into those stressful situations day after day; and why bring their uncompromised ethical A-Game to the job every day.

Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, observed that those who have a strong "why" can bear almost any "how." We can’t survive long-term without meaning in our lives, without some moral cause or purpose bigger than ourselves. A society or individual that lives for no purpose other than the pursuit of wealth and pleasure cannot sustain the soul that craves meaning and purpose.

I tell cops: Remind yourself every day why you do what you do. A simple tool might be to keep a diary, a daily account of benevolent acts and the people you've helped. Measure your effectiveness and value other than by the traditional “number of arrests made.”

Cary's Book: Spiritual Survival How does being an observant Jew affect your work?

Cary: I’m impressed by how open-minded and respectful most people with whom I interact are. Sometimes, when I first enter a police training room, some may find my kippah jarring, even off-putting. I mention early on that my mother is a Holocaust survivor who remembers a very different kind of police officer in her native country, and is grateful to this wonderful country and the decent men and women who enforce its laws. I tell them that, as a member of the Jewish community that enjoys the benevolence of the USA, I wish to express my gratitude and offer them something practical to help them in their careers. The acknowledgement of their nobility and expression of gratitude – both sincerely given and well-deserved – is meaningful to my audiences. Police officers are government employees. How do you finesse the American requirement of “separation of church and state”?

Cary: I’m careful to avoid anything that even remotely smacks of religion. You can talk about values and spirituality – just not religion – without violating the separation of church and state. I teach them to navigate by their “North Star" – a fixed source of absolute ethical values, something higher than and external to themselves. For many cops, their commitment to unwavering ethical behavior stems from a belief in God or a religious system, while others believe in truth, or justice, or the sanctity of life. Ultimately I help them reaffirm their connection to their spiritual selves, and real spirituality translates into consistent moral conduct in the performance of their police roles.

Cary Friedman and his mother

Cary Friedman and his mother, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a potato cellar for five years.
Although I have spent my life exploring spiritual living through my commitment to Torah, I never share overt Torah ideas. Instead, I distill those ideas into concepts and practices that are genuinely spiritual rather than religious. So I can respect the separation of church and state even while providing substantive, restorative insights and techniques.

Occasionally, an officer I’ve taught will email me outside of the training context and persistently inquire about the source of my values. In those cases, I direct them to!

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About the Author

Rabbi Shraga SimmonsMore by this Author >

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

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Post  Admin on Tue 11 Dec 2018, 12:53 am

Hanukkah and the Soul
Dec 9, 2018  |  by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Hanukkah and the Soul
Indispensable to the Jewish worldview is the idea that humans are unique, that we possess a spiritual component and that our actions are freely chosen.

Hanukkah — the Jewish “Festival of Lights” — is often dismissed as a minor celebration, artificially magnified by its proximity in the calendar to Christmas. The Jewish holiday is indeed not mentioned in the Torah, as the event it celebrates took place long after biblical times.

Minor, though, it is not.

On a superficial level, the Jewish winter holiday celebrates a Jewish rebel army’s routing of the Greek-Syrian Seleucid Empire’s forces, and its recapture of the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem, nearly two centuries before the Common Era.

It wasn’t just an army, though, that was vanquished. Repelled no less significantly was a worldview, a way of understanding the human condition.

To the Talmud-era rabbis who established Hanukkah, an even greater enemy than the flesh-and-blood soldiers who had defiled the Temple was some Jews’ adoption of Hellenistic ideals, a fundamental part of which was what we today call materialism.

No, not the luxuriating in physical pleasures, though that, too, was part of the ancient Greek world. The words “cynic,” “epicurean” and “hedonist,” after all, are rooted in Greek philosophical schools. But rather the more rarefied philosophical concept called materialism, which contends that everything can be reduced to the physical, that there is no real entity called a soul.

“Dualism,” by contrast, is the belief that we humans are both physical and … something more.

Many contemporary scientists, delighted by their advances in understanding how the brain functions, have embraced a modern version of materialism. The conviction that we have souls, they patiently explain to lesser folks, is nothing in the end but a misleading product of the electrical activity within our craniums. Our every thought and action, moreover, is predetermined. Just as other physical processes can be predicted on the basis of the array of circumstances at their origin, if we had sufficient knowledge about any individual’s brain, we could predict his or her every action. Free will, to a materialist, is just a persistent illusion.

“The qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal,” Prof. Paul Bloom of Yale, for example, has averred. “They emerge from biochemical processes in the brain.”

A Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, advises us to set aside “childlike intuitions and traditional dogmas” and recognize that what we conceive of as the soul is nothing more than “the activity of the brain.” Nothing but brain cells are evident, after all, in a brain.

But finding no evidence of the soul in a brain is like finding no trace of Yo-Yo Ma in a stereo speaker and concluding that the cello concerto that just ended, and Mr. Ma for that matter, are only imaginary.

To dualists, though, our brains are conduits for consciousness and necessary for contemplating our souls, but not identical with them.

The materialism/dualism debate was carried on by philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, championing the former view, and René Descartes, who embraced a form of the latter one.

The issue is more than academic. If we humans are nothing more than our physical cells, and the innate human awareness of our souls and sense of free will are mere illusions, we have no ultimate value beyond that of any insect. And no compulsion, beyond an ultimately meaningless utilitarian social contract, to bind ourselves to any ethical or moral system. A society that denies the soul idea is, in fact, in the word’s deepest sense soulless.

The ancient Greeks were brilliant analyzers of the physical world. They developed the sciences, calculated the earth’s circumference, proposed a heliocentric theory of the solar system and focused attention on the workings of human beings. But only as physical specimens.

To be sure, the ancient Hellenist philosophers spoke of the “soul,” but they referred only to what we would call the personality or intellect. The idea of what we call a soul, an entity that can be sublimated or polluted by the conscious exercise of free will, was indigestible to the Greek worldview.

As indispensable as that idea always was and remains to the Jewish worldview, which insists that humans are unique, that we possess not only physical bodies but a spiritual component, that our actions are not predetermined but freely chosen, that what we do is not predetermined, and makes a difference.

And so, celebrating as it does, a victory, if a temporary one, over the materialistic worldview, Hanukkah is a truly profound holiday.

Its eight days — eight being the number associated in Jewish texts with that which is beyond perceptible nature — are marked with the lighting of candles and the custom of giving children gifts. The greatest of the holiday’s gifts, though, is its vital lesson for all humankind.

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

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Post  Admin on Tue 11 Dec 2018, 12:49 am
The Shema: Why We Cover Our Eyes
Dec 8, 2018  |  by Rabbi Tzvi Sytner
I discovered the answer when our baby was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening emergency.
About the Author

Rabbi Tzvi SytnerMore by this Author >
Rabbi Tzvi Sytner grew up in Los Angeles, CA and earned his B.A. in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College, a Masters in Education from the University of Bridgeport, and a Master's degree as a Marriage and Family Therapist at Touro University. He has delivered inspiring lectures worldwide, including South Africa, Australia, and of course Israel. While studying in Israel, Rabbi Sytner received his Rabbinic Ordination from The Jerusalem Kollel under Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, and led Shabbos programs for over 1000 college students on Birthright. He currently has a popular video blog on, titled, "Just Breathe" viewed by over 8,500 per month, and is a Rabbi at the Village Shul in Toronto, Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rav Moshe Chaim Gefen

Beyond Human Potential
Yet something always troubled me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I finally understood.

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

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

What causes God to perform miracles? We do!

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

Each one of us has the power to create miracles.

Moshe Chaim Gefen and his grandson

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

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

Happy Chanukah!

לעילוי נשמת משה חיים בן פנחס מנחם זצ"ל

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammed with his 4 rescuers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned to social media for help.

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

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

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

On a speaking tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AISH  - Page 10 Empty How the Jews Changed the World and We Don’t Even Know It

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

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

--- Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Post  Admin on Sun 11 Nov 2018, 5:17 pm
Muslim and Jewish Families Save Each Other, 50 Years Apart
Nov 4, 2018  |  by Menucha Chana Levin
Muslim and Jewish Families Save Each Other, 50 Years Apart
The Hardagas hid the Kabilijo family in Sarjevo during the Holocaust. They returned the favor 50 years later.

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

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

Synagogue in Sarajevo, 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yosef managed to escape and fled to the Hardaga home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarajevo in ruins, 1992

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

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

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

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

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

Sara Pecanac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Aaronsohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, 1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aaronsohn House in Zichron Yaakov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol (1704-1782)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winston Churchill – Prime Minister of Great Britain

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

Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, Epilogue

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Post  Admin on Tue 16 Oct 2018, 4:06 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Elsa Koditschek’s Viennese home

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

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

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

Elsa Koditschek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

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

Here is a selection of some her most memorable quotes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

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

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

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

The Mechanics of Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Effects of Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling in the Air

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

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

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

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

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Post  Admin on Tue 04 Sep 2018, 4:01 pm

Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem
Sep 12, 2011  |  by
It'll make your head spin.

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

For more, visit

To join the fun at Aish, visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyday I'm shucklin'

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