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Post  Admin on Tue 02 Jun 2020, 10:55 pm
Rioting and Shul Vandalism
May 31, 2020  |  by Emuna Braverman
Rioting and Shul Vandalism
The murder in Minnesota is horrific. It's shocking to me that that level of police racism, abuse and brutality still exists. Unfortunately, the reaction is no way to right the wrong.

We’ve been in Los Angeles for 37 years so along with the recent rioting, we experienced the 1992 Rodney King riots. I thought then, as I think now – that the stories that sparked the riots are terrible, speaking of unbearable pain and injustice – but that I really don’t see a connection between racism/police brutality and looting Louis Vuitton stores or Target or the local mom and pop shops...I don’t understand how or why graffiti on synagogues is in any way an appropriate response.

Does anyone really believe this is the way to right the wrongs? Is any and all anger and violence justified in the face of racism?

And I thought then, as I think now – how unfortunate that the young go out and destroy that which it took their parents years to build. In 1992 many stores were burned and ransacked in the very neighborhoods where the rioters lived, enterprises that their parents had spent the previous 40 years building. There is energy among the young; there can be vision and idealism but so much lack of perspective.

The Talmud says, “If old men say 'destroy' and young men say 'build up', you should destroy and not build up because destruction by old men is considered construction and construction by boys is destruction.”

The Torah is frequently admonishing us to know our place. This means to recognize our unique strengths and weaknesses, to focus on the hand we are dealt and not the one we wish we were dealt or the hand that others were dealt. Certainly an aspect of this is recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our age. What wisdom and life experience am I lacking at 25? What physical strength and drive am I lacking at 60? It is only with those recognitions in mind that we can make wise decisions.

In the book of Kings, there is a story about Rechovoam, the son of King Solomon. When he took over the throne the coffers were depleted and he very much wanted to impose a heavy tax on the people. His older advisers suggested that he wait. He should take time to consolidate his power and build a relationship of trust with the people. His younger advisers were less patient. They reminded him of the heavy taxes his father imposed and suggested that he impose even heavier ones! Young himself (and eager for the income), Rechovoam listened to his younger, more “sympatico” advisers. This ultimately led to the deaths of the tax collectors and the splitting of the kingdom.

I don’t expect such dire consequences now. I am hopeful that, having survived riots in the past, the city of Los Angeles (and other cities across America) will survive them again. I think that with the good will of the majority of the American people, and with the Almighty’s help, we will survive and recover. But...

Of course the timing is terrible. Just as stores and malls were about to open up, they have been looted and destroyed. In their naive desire to punish “the rich” they end up hurting themselves. For all the landlords and store owners who are taking a hit, there are hundreds, probably thousands of lower income workers who are hurt by this destructive behavior. Without perspective, we end up damaging the very people we want to help.

The Mishnah in Ethics of Our Fathers teaches: “Who is the wise man? The one who foresees the consequences.” This is so powerful. We are all susceptible to our emotions. We all have the potential to react in negative ways out of anger, pain, frustration, jealousy – you name the bad character traits, we all have them! But a wise person doesn’t just stop himself because he doesn’t want to listen to his negative self (although that’s certainly an important component); a wise person stops himself because he sees the future consequences. Where will this lead? Will it accomplish my goals? Will it encourage others to join our mission or alienate them?

I’m not going to list all the possible questions; that’s not the point. The point is that they should be asked. The point is that a reaction should be rational and methodical. The point is that goals are accomplished through strategy and unity, that we as a country need to work together.

What happened in Minnesota was an appalling tragedy. There are no words to adequately convey how wrong and terrible and painful it was. It is shocking to me that that level of police racism, abuse and brutality still exists. And justice must be meted out.

Unfortunately the reaction was also wrong. We haven’t learned from recent history and we haven’t learned our lessons from the Prophets either! Maybe, just maybe, we can learn them for the future.

More on the Riots:

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Post  Admin on Sun 31 May 2020, 10:49 pm
The KKK, Dr. King and a Kumzits
May 31, 2020
by Rabbi Moshe (Micky) Shur, as told to Chaya Silber
The KKK, Dr. King and a Kumzits
How Martin Luther King’s commitment to his roots inspired me to return to my own.

We were relaxing in our tiny rented apartment when we heard a screech outside. Headlights were shining out in front; a couple of rednecks had stopped their car, and they began pumping a cascade of bullets through our kitchen window. We ducked down behind the sofa as the bullets continued to shower, blowing out the glass.

The shooting stopped, and we heard the car accelerate. But we didn’t get up so fast. We stayed down there a few more minutes until our heart rates had slowed enough for us to stand up. The bullets had broken dishes, poked holes in the thin sheetrock, and decorated the linoleum. None had hit us, but we had gotten the message.

It was a humid South Carolina summer night in 1965, the kind of humidity that plays with your brain and senses. Peter and I were drunk from the heat and looking to break out of the doldrums. We were two young college students who were game for a little adventure. Perhaps we were a bit foolish. No, we were really foolish. And that’s why we decided that instead of sitting in that little apartment in the heat, we’d go to the Ku Klux Klan meeting at a farm nearby in Orangeburg.

In those days, Orangeburg was a hotbed of the Confederacy and white supremacist hatred. We thought it would be cool to eavesdrop on what “the Klan” was doing. Meetings were open to the public, after all, and we were young white boys, so what could be dangerous?

We tried to blend in and cheer when the other people at the meeting cheered, and boo when they booed. Then the KKK leaders, wearing white robes with hoods that covered their faces, urged the participants to raise funds to help the cause. We decided to contribute as well and checked our pockets for loose change. What we hadn’t realized, though, was that there were a few buttons from SCOPE in our pockets, and those made their way into the collection box.

The atmosphere was explosive. We tried to put on angry expressions and mimic the sentiments of the crowd, but inside we were quaking with fear.
SCOPE stood for the Summer Community Organization and Political Education program. As a young, idealistic college student eager to make a difference, I had been recruited to join SCOPE earlier that summer by Professor James Shenton, then one of the heads of the history department at Columbia University. The organization ran voter registration drives, held information sessions, and galvanized other community organization efforts. The project was under the leadership of a young, idealistic black preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, who would be brutally assassinated three years later for daring to speak his mind in an era of racism and intolerance.
t didn’t take long for furious shouts to ring out. “Who put these buttons here?” someone shouted, wagging his finger at the crowd. The locals seethed with rage. “We’re gonna get you!” The atmosphere was explosive. Peter and I tried to put on angry expressions and mimic the sentiments of the crowd, but inside we were quaking with fear.

Fortunately, no one connected us with the buttons, or we would have been lynched on the spot. When we saw that the crowd was beginning to disperse, we quickly escaped from that boiling room, grateful to get away. But our relief was premature.

Dr. King and I
I was born in New England in the mid-1940s and was raised in a traditional “Conservadox” home in Detroit, Michigan. During the summers I went to Camp Ramah, where I was first a camper, then a counselor. I have always enjoyed singing and playing folk music, and I used to entertain the campers on humid summer nights. After graduating high school, I went to college to study history, which has always fascinated me.

In 1966, I graduated Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary with an MA in history; later I received a Juris Doctorate (JD) from Wayne State University and a master’s in Near Eastern studies from the University of Michigan. But my interest in academia took a back seat to my true passion, which was community activism. This was during the roaring ’60s, when the civil rights movement swept across America, and many Jewish boys like myself were caught up in the excitement. All humans are created equal, and that included African Americans, who were finally granted equal rights when the Voting Rights Act was passed in August of 1965.

That was the summer when Professor Shenton recruited me and Peter Geffen, a college friend, to join SCOPE. We would be spending the summer in Orangeburg, South Carolina, but first we were sent to Atlanta for orientation. It was there that I met Dr. King. He was in the company of other prominent civil rights leaders, including Bayard Rustin, Hosea Williams, and Andrew Young.

Although the encounter took place decades ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. Dr. King was a powerful, charismatic figure, filled with a sense of responsibility. He spoke softly at times, but when he opened his mouth, everyone listened carefully. He had an aura that was hard to describe.

The orientation was very exciting, with speakers from all over the country talking about responsibility, brotherhood, and the rights of every human being. Although the orientation was comprehensive, no one thought to mention that we were heading into hostile territory and that our lives might be at risk. We were young and motivated, and fear was the last thing on our minds.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, Feb. 6, 1968.
During a break in the orientation, Peter and I were invited backstage, where we were finally introduced to Dr. King. It felt very natural, as though I were meeting a friendly uncle or someone I’d known for years. One of the organizers suggested we take a picture. Someone there had a Polaroid camera, which was the latest gadget in those days. A picture was snapped and Dr. King autographed it, writing, “Best wishes, thanks for your help.”

Today this autographed picture might be worth a considerable sum, but I no longer have it. Unfortunately, when we mailed it to a Rochester photo shop to have it enlarged, we received the enlarged photo with the autograph superimposed on the front, but the original, with Dr. King’s autograph on the back, was never returned.

We finally made our way to South Carolina, where thousands of African American families lived in impoverished communities. Practically the only white people who set foot inside their homes were the sheriff and the tax collector, so they were naturally wary of white people.

Although I was white and Jewish, I became very close to members of the black community and was welcomed into their homes. Perhaps it was my genuine desire to bridge the gap, to understand their struggles and concerns. I would speak to them on Sunday, when they returned from church, delivering the poignant message that all men were created equal and that Dr. King would lead them to freedom. After my speech, they would all reply with a single word: “Hallelujah!”

During the summer I was appointed chairman of SCOPE, a position that put me in the cross hairs. But I was oblivious to this reality – until the night my window was shattered with bullet holes.

“If I ever see you here again, both of you and your car will end up at the bottom of one of those swamps.”
If you’re wondering why we didn’t call the police, let me explain. During the 1960s, many of the cops in the south were white supremacists who were in cahoots with the KKK. In fact, just a couple of months later, I had another incident that shook me up.

While driving late at night in a swampy region of South Carolina with a young black activist in the passenger seat, we were pulled over by a white cop. After carefully inspecting our car and noticing the civil rights literature, he issued a warning. “I know who you are,” he said with obvious hatred. “If I ever see you here again, both of you and your car will end up at the bottom of one of those swamps.”

Rabbi Moshe (Micky) Shur
It wasn’t just an empty threat. A year earlier, in 1964, three prominent civil rights activists had disappeared one night in this area. Their bodies were found a couple of years later at the bottom of a swamp.

In fact, the famous crime thriller of 1988, Mississippi Burning, was based on the true story of several civil rights activists who disappeared in a small Mississippi town and whose murder was covered up by the local authorities. It is based on incidents that occurred during the years I was active in the civil rights movement.

Peter and I witnessed the aftermath of the KKK burning down a historic church, and we participated in a rowdy courthouse demonstration. I was arrested during another demonstration, dragged off in handcuffs by the state police, and my picture was in all the papers.

All of this activity made my parents very nervous. They were terrified for my safety. Seeing my picture in the papers made them realize the full extent of what I was involved in, and they drove down to the South in 1966 during their summer vacation to bring me back home. I protested, saying that I was happy where I was, but they tempted me with a trip to Israel, a place I had never visited. I agreed to go.

This was before the Six-Day War, when idealism was at its peak. Israel was under attack by its enemies, and most of the country was off limits. I landed at Ben Gurion, went to a kibbutz and did manual labor for a few months, and fell in love with the land.

I credit Dr. King’s example to my eventual decision to become an observant Jew and make move to Israel.
After that pivotal summer, I returned home to finish my degrees, but eventually I decided to make aliyah. The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 and the ideals he stood for had made a huge impression on me. I realized that everyone needs to live with meaning and purpose, to make a difference in this world.

In fact, I credit Dr. King’s example to my eventual decision to become an observant Jew and make move to Israel. Having witnessed up close his idealism and commitment to his roots, I was inspired to live with meaning and purpose, and I wanted to make a difference in this world, so I chose to help the African American community, and then later my fellow Jews.

In 1974, I settled in Israel where I joined the Diaspora Yeshiva, the renowned baal teshuvah yeshivah founded in 1967 by Rav Mordechai Goldstein. The baal teshuvah movement exploded shortly after the Six-Day War in June of ’67, when tens of thousands of young college students, inspired by Israel’s victory, began flocking to the Holy Land to learn about their roots. The Religious Affairs Ministry leased a few buildings on Har Zion to the yeshivah, and also built the Chamber of the Holocaust nearby.

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band

The yeshivah was the birthplace of the world-renowned Diaspora Band, and I was one of its founders. In existence from 1975 to 1983, the band infused rock and bluegrass music with Jewish lyrics, creating a style of music we called "Chassidic Rock." I composed some of its iconic songs, including “Ivdu” and “Hafachta Mispedi.”

Rav Goldstein allowed the students to keep their long hippie hairstyles and colorful attire, and to play music expressing the stirrings of their souls. This was the era of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, when a young generation expressed its angst and yearning through song.

At first, we were just a group of musically-inclined students who sat on the ground strumming our guitars and singing together late into the night during a kumzits, especially on Motzaei Shabbos. Soon I purchased a sound system at a discounted price from a wealthy patron, and around 1974, the troupe coalesced into a real band.

We originally had 15 members, with a core of five or six who continued for several years. They were bandleader and singer-songwriter Avraham Rosenblum on lead guitar; singer-songwriter Benzion Solomon on fiddle and banjo; Simcha Abramson on saxophone and clarinet; Ruby Harris on violin, mandolin, guitar, and harmonica; Adam Wexler on bass; and Gedalia Goldstein on drums. I was a vocalist and ran the sound system. The band became a sensation on college campuses around the world, and it became famous for its sold-out Motzaei Shabbos concerts at Assaf’s Cave at Har Tzion, the site of King David's burial site where the Diaspora Yeshiva was located.

We would get together for what we called a “jam session” and just play from the heart. Benzion Solomon was the only member of the band who had a degree in music and who could read music and do arrangements. The rest of us improvised, playing by ear.

I got married in Israel to my wife, Shoshana. We moved to the States in 1977, where I taught and did outreach at the University of Virginia. Then we went to New York and I joined Queens College, where I have been a faculty member and the executive director of its Hillel program since 1979, over 40 years.

Today I am an adjunct professor of history and a senior associate for the Center for Jewish Studies. I teach a Jewish history course, as well as a course called “Introduction to Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah.” Over the years I have produced six music CDs, one of them in collaboration with my son, called A Shur Thing (available on Spotify).

Among college students, I am best known for my annual five-day summer tour. It’s called “In the Footsteps of Dr. King,” and it takes college students to the Deep South, including Atlanta, Georgia, and Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham in Alabama. We visit a memorial to the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American military pilots who fought valiantly during World War II.

When I lead tours to the South, I am able to connect to these college students who want to learn more about what Dr. King represented. I show them a picture of myself with Dr. King and talk about how he inspired me to find my own roots.

This article originally appeared in Ami Magazine.

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Post  Admin on Fri 29 May 2020, 11:44 am

The Hidden Message in Hinei Ma Tov
May 25, 2020  |  by Elimor Ryzman
Jewish unity despite our differences is a prerequisite for accepting the Torah. How do we attain it?
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About the Author
Elimor RyzmanMore by this Author >
Elimor Ryzman has over ten years’ experience in teaching, lecturing and inspiring women from all over the world. From educating high school girls to lecturing Kallot and woman, Elimor is able to enthrall and engage a crowd with her passion and love. Her devotion to each and every one of her students is unique and everlasting. She believes that student success and personal growth is created through meaningful relationships.

Upon Elimor’s completion of the Michlala seminary in Jerusalem, she studied at Stern College for Woman, NYU School of Occupational Therapy, and at Ridman University for the study of holistic care.

Elimor is a member of the PUAH Cares team and also received a certificate as a Yoetzet Bakehilla from the PUAH Organization. She is currently on the board of EVEN LA, a Los Angeles based organization that focuses on woman, Taharat Hamishpacha, and preserving the Jewish home. Elimor hosts and founded what is the known in LA as the “Matriarch Event”, a luncheon for the senior woman of the community. This magnificent event, under the auspices of Bikur Cholim of Los Angeles, takes place bi-monthly and before the major Jewish holidays.

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Post  Admin on Tue 26 May 2020, 10:14 pm
The Journey of the Convert
May 23, 2020  |  by Rabbi Ken Brodkin
The Journey of the Convert
I didn’t mean to spend so many years walking down the path of the convert. But where they go, I will go.

Sitting across my desk, the husband looked at me as his wife gazed down. “Rabbi, he said, “we want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. But we’ve decided not to continue with the conversion.”

I wasn’t shocked at their decision but it did feel like a loss. Three years earlier, we’d met on a Shabbos morning. We pushed our respective strollers to my house from shul and shared a Shabbos meal. Over time we learned together on many nights, shared our homes and sat in my sukkah.

But the rigors of Jewish observance jolted their marriage. Once, while I was driving with the husband in his pickup truck over the Columbia River, he said, “To be honest, I’m not sure I can give up Burger King.”

Now that the couple was ending their Jewish path, I told them that the clarity they achieved for their life was a success.

I don’t seek converts. Yet, during my 15 years serving as a rabbi in Portland Oregon, the journey of the convert has been my journey. When I work with potential converts, I tell them that the path looks different for different people. And it’s not right for everyone.

When I first moved to Portland, there was a young woman who came to our community from Central Oregon. She had a Jewish boyfriend. They started coming to our shul for a while and we got to talking about Judaism. At one point she said to me, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with traditional Judaism and how it views women.”

I told her that this was an important issue for her to resolve. I encouraged her to go out and seek her path. I wasn’t sure where she would go. From time to time, she would call or email me. We had long discussions about gender, Jewish philosophy Judaism and passages in the Torah.

The Hebrew term for convert is ger, literally someone who sojourns. The term “ger” implies that someone is coming from the outside and may not feel permanent with the Jewish people. Every time I meet a potential convert, I am intrigued by their path. Something inside me wants to understand them more deeply, since we are each on our own journey in emunah (faith).

The journey of the convert started long ago. It’s written in the Book of Ruth. Two women – Ruth and Orpah – had divergent moments of self-discovery at the same time.

Their mother-in-law, Naomi, was once a prominent woman. But by the time we meet her in the Book of Ruth, Naomi is a destitute, bereaved woman, preparing to walk back to Israel from the fields of Moav. Initially, the three women set out together.

Naomi told Ruth and Orpah, “No my daughters, go back to your home, and may God do kindness with you.” Naomi explained that Ruth and Orpah – foreigners – would have no marriage prospects in Israel. These women had lived and buried their dead together. Now it was time to part.

They lifted their voices and wept…Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and Ruth clung to her…

Naomi protested Ruth’s embrace. “Orpah has gone back to her gods, continue with her and go back home!”

And Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you…Where you go I will go, where you sleep I will sleep, your nation is my nation, your God is my God.”

With these words, Ruth sums up the journey of the convert. As she embraced Naomi, Ruth clung to the people of Israel. Together they walked to Beit Lechem where Ruth found the fields of Boaz. There she scraped out a living, gleaning sheaves.

Boaz told Ruth that her path was the path of chesed, doing “kindness,” as it were, with God. Ruth had found “refuge under the wings of God’s Presence.”

How can the convert know they are ready to embrace the Jewish people and enter the covenant with God? How can they change their identity and become the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah? It doesn’t happen quickly, but somehow, they connect with the Jewish people. Then, in a moment of self-discovery, they find themselves.

“Your people are my people, your God is my God.”

I saw it happen with the young woman from Central Oregon. One Shabbat morning, she showed up early to shul. It was the first time I had seen her in months. Something felt different. “Rabbi, I am going to become Jewish.”

She wasn’t looking for my agreement. It just was. Come what may, she was going to be Jewish. And she was right. She entered the covenant of Abraham, and, together with her soon-to-be-husband embarked on building a faithful home in Israel. Today, when I hear about her acts of kindness and her Jewish kids, I think back to her early steps on her journey, all those years ago.

I didn’t mean to spend so many years walking down the path of the convert. Yet, I’m grateful to be on this road. Where they go, I will go. Their journey is my journey.

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Post  Admin on Sun 24 May 2020, 10:48 pm

The Real Story Behind the Covid-19 Vaccine Story
May 23, 2020  |  by Rabbi Avi Shafran
The Real Story Behind the Covid-19 Vaccine Story
Appreciating the awesomeness of our immune system.

One of the Covid-19 vaccines being studied has yielded encouraging results. That good news should yield us something too: a sense of awe at the accomplishment.

Earlier this week, the biotech company Moderna, which partnered with the National Institutes of Health to develop the vaccine, announced that results of a Phase 1 clinical trial showed that eight study participants developed antibodies for the virus like those who have experienced and survived the disease. And lab experiments with mice showed that the vaccine prevented the virus from infecting cells.

The study hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, and Phase 2 trials, which will involve several hundred subjects, are yet to come. But even the achievement to date is impressive.

If our wonderment, however, is only at the amazing progress toward, hopefully, a successful vaccine, we will have missed the truly awe-inspiring story behind the story.

A vaccine, you likely know, works by stimulating immune cells called lymphocytes to produce antibodies, specialized protein molecules that counter the targeted antigen, or toxic invader, and thus prevent the disease it could cause from taking hold.

Vaccines are made of dead or weakened antigens that can’t cause an infection but nevertheless stimulate the immune system to produce the necessary antibodies. Although with time, the produced antibodies will break down, special “memory cells” remain in the body and, when the antigen is encountered again, even years later, the memory cells can produce new antibodies to fight it.

This happens within our bodies constantly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy individual can produce millions of antibodies a day, fighting infections so efficiently that people never even know they were exposed to an antigen.

They estimated that the human body has the potential to make a quintillion – that’s one million trillion – unique antibodies.
Last year, a team of scientists at Scripps Research Institute in San Diego published results of their antibody research in the respected journal Nature. Based on their findings, they estimated that the human body has the potential to make a quintillion – that’s one million trillion – unique antibodies.

Imagine for a moment if the workings of our immune systems were suddenly made visible to us.

We would be struck dumb.

“If the stars should appear,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, only “one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of G-d which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”

Our immune systems, like the stars, are usually and easily taken for granted; their very ubiquity makes it hard to fully appreciate them. But appreciating them is the privilege, indeed the duty, of every thinking, sensitive person.

Returning to this week’s happy news. Is what really amazes us the technological breakthrough that could lead to an effective vaccine? Or is the true object of our astonishment and wonder the suddenly focused-upon workings of our biological processes?

Once upon a time, after all, heart transplants, too, were flabbergasting. But, at least to thoughtful people, they were never remotely as amazing as hearts.

Back in 1996, a sheep named Dolly was successfully cloned, the first such triumph. I recall the admiration, wonder and dread that the accomplishment evoked around the world.

What exactly had scientists done? They had managed to transfer a cell from the mammary gland of an adult sheep into another sheep’s unfertilized egg cell whose nucleus had been removed; and the egg cell was then stimulated to develop, and eventually implanted in the womb of yet a third sheep, which bore Dolly.

I recall thinking at the time that, impressive as the experiment was, all that had essentially been achieved was the coaxing of already existent genetic material to do precisely what it does, well, all the time. The achievement of producing Dolly bas Dolly was, to be sure, a major one; myriad obstacles had to be overcome, and a single set of chromosomes, rather than the usual pair from two parents, had to be convinced to do the job.

But, still and all, other than the unusual means of bringing it about, what was witnessed was a natural process that takes place millions of times in millions of species each and every day without capturing anyone’s attention. A natural process that was, like all natural processes in the end, a miracle – no less one for its ubiquity.

Likewise, with all due recognition of the great and praiseworthy efforts to create an effective vaccine for Covid-19, may they be successful, what happened this week was, in the end, a cajoling of immune systems to do… what immune systems do billions of times daily.

So our proper appreciation of the scientific knowledge we have today, and our gratitude to the scientists that used that knowledge to advance the drive for an effective vaccine should be joined by – indeed, overwhelmed by – our ultimate awe for the immune systems with which our Creator endowed us.

Whether it’s manipulating the creation of a sheep fetus or of an immune response, the true marvel lies not in the manipulation but in the manipulated, in the myriad miracles God implanted in the world He created.

© 2020 Rabbi Avi Shafran

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Post  Admin on Fri 22 May 2020, 8:47 pm

Perseverance: NASA’s Mars Project and Preparing for Shavuot
May 16, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Perseverance: NASA’s Mars Project and Preparing for Shavuot
Perseverance is what will bring us to Mars this summer. And it's the crucial trait we need for our spiritual journey as well.
Together with Jews around the world I’ve been busy since Passover counting the days. No, I don’t mean how long I’ve been confined to my home or how many weeks it’s been since I was able to pray in a synagogue. I’ve been fulfilling the mitzvah to count the 49 days between the holiday marking our deliverance from Egypt to the magnificent moment when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

The Counting of the Omer is a meaningful way to link the festival of freedom with its ultimate purpose of receiving the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. The midrash compares it to a bride counting the days from her engagement to the ultimate joy of her wedding. The count expresses our anticipation of our marriage to God under the chuppah of Mount Sinai which miraculously hovered over our heads as we listened to the thunderous voice of the Almighty proclaiming the 10 Commandments.

Interestingly, the name selected by NASA for its next rover headed to Mars expresses the key lesson we need to take to heart as we prepare to receive the Torah.

NASA is the scientific embodiment of the human effort to transcend our earthly limitations. Somehow, from the depths of our souls, we know there must be more than the globe on which we live. The profound quest for probing the mysteries of the universe is testament to our spiritual awareness of a greater universe – and of a Divine creator.

NASA’s missions deserve names worthy of their historic significance. In its early years, NASA failed this challenge. The seven landers to survey the surface of the moon between 1966 and 1968 in preparation for the landings of Apollo astronauts were simply the word Surveyor followed by a number. The probes that flew past Mars, Venus and Mercury were Mariner 1 through 10, and Viking 1 and Viking 2 were the rockets that NASA successfully landed on Mars in 1976.

Then NASA had a great idea. Beginning with the Pathfinder mission in 1997, NASA turned to schoolchildren with a naming contest. In 2003, the choices of Sofi Collis, a precocious nine-year-old who was born in Siberia, gave us the emotionally moving names Spirit and Opportunity because, as Sofi wrote, “I used to live in an orphanage. At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the Spirit and the Opportunity.”

This year as well, as NASA was completing plans for the Mars mission scheduled for the red planet this summer, a contest was held for children ranging from kindergartners to high schoolers. There were 28,000 entries and 155 semifinalists. The winner was a seventh grader from Springfield, Virginia. The winning name? One word: Perseverance.

Alexander Mather, in his winning essay, explained: “Curiosity. Insight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the moon, Mars and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance.”

Perseverance is what will allow us to reach beyond our physical limitations – and get closer to God.
Perseverance is what will bring us to Mars this summer. Perseverance is what will permit us to escape our earthly confines. Perseverance is what will allow us to reach beyond our physical limitations – and get closer to God.

It is true for space travel, just as it is true for our spiritual journey as well.

How do we make the trip from Egypt to Sinai, from the confines of physical bondage to the soaring liberation of holiness? It is not easy to reach the top of a mountain. Living up to the demands of Mount Sinai is a harder climb than reaching the top of Mount Everest. It requires commitment. It requires dedication. But most of all it requires perseverance. Benjamin Disraeli summed it up best: “Through perseverance people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.”

That is the real meaning of counting the days until Shavuot. It is fascinating that the very name of the holiday commemorating our acceptance of the Torah is a word that does not mention the event of that day but rather the preparation for it in the days preceding. Shavuot means weeks – the weeks of perseverance leading up to it which make our commitment to Torah possible.

How can every one of us achieve the ideal of lives committed to holiness, of lives exemplifying the best and the noblest as defined by God himself? It is by way of the one word, perseverance, that will take us to Mars – and beyond that, to Heaven itself.

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Post  Admin on Fri 22 May 2020, 12:16 am

The Power of a Hug
May 17, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
The Power of a Hug
What have you missed the most during this terrible time of quarantine and self-isolation?
There is a remarkable story that took place toward the end of World War II. An American soldier’s platoon liberated one of the Nazi death camps. The camp was filled with hundreds of half-starved children. The American soldiers quickly set up a huge pot of soup to feed the kids, and the children lined up behind it, eager to get their share of the precious food.

One particular soldier made eye contact with a boy at the end of the line who was waiting patiently for his soup. The American approached the boy, and since he couldn’t speak the boy’s native language, he communicated by offering the boy a warm hug. After they finished hugging, the soldier looked up and noticed that the children who were previously lined up for the soup had postponed their chance to eat and instead formed a line behind the soldier to receive their hugs as well.

There are times when hugs are more needed than food, when an embrace is more satisfying than sustenance. Our bodies require calories but our souls have to feel the warmth of touch and of love conveyed by a loved one.

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, long ago taught us in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is “A time to embrace and a time to cease from embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). The sequence is significant. There may be good cause at times to cease from embracing. Surely a plague is one of them. But we dare never forget that human contact is an ideal – an ideal which may have tragically been all too often unattainable in these last few months during the fearsome attack of coronavirus.

“I haven’t been hugged in months,” said a close friend to me over the phone. “I can only imagine lying in a hospital bed, fearful of death, with no one to hug you.” There are no words to describe what it must’ve been like for the woman who had tested positive for the virus and given birth without being allowed to hold her newborn infant for weeks on end. I remain haunted by the image of a 90-year-old great-grandmother looking through her nursing home window separating her from her loved ones, not knowing whether she would live long enough to ever again hug them or kiss them.

One of the things we need to take away from these difficult months of deprivation as we return to normalcy is to never again fail to appreciate what we previously so very much took for granted.

Who would’ve guessed how much power there is in the humble hug?

In a remarkable study published in the scientific journal Psychological Science, the authors investigated the relationship of hugging, social support, and the probability of getting sick in 404 volunteers from the Pittsburgh area. First, the volunteers were called every evening for 14 days and asked about their social relationships, whether they had been hugged that day and how often. On average, there was a clear relationship that individuals who had been hugged more also felt like they received greater social support.

Studies show that hugging is an effective way to reduce stress and infection risk by conveying social support.
Now for the even more interesting part of the study: Some time after the phone interviews had been completed, the volunteers were invited to an isolated floor of a local hotel and were quarantined in separate rooms. The investigators then gave them nasal drops containing a virus that caused common cold-like illnesses. Interestingly, how often somebody had been hugged clearly influenced the infection risk. Volunteers who had been hugged more had a decreased risk of infection. Moreover, among volunteers who got infected, those who had been hugged more had less severe symptoms, their noses were less stuffy. The authors concluded that hugging is an effective way to reduce stress and infection risk by conveying social support.

The common cold does not seem to be the only disease affected by hugging. Cardiovascular diseases are among the leading causes of death in the United States and in many other countries. One of the major risk factors for developing potentially fatal heart disease is high blood pressure – and hugging has been shown to reduce blood pressure in a 2005 study published in the scientific journal Biological Psychology.

Having witnessed firsthand the dire consequences of our inability to embrace our loved ones, give extra hugs to those who surround you, and when life returns to normal, let us embrace this powerful and much-needed communication with our loved ones.
About the Author

Rabbi Benjamin BlechMore by this Author >

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a frequent contributor to Aish, is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, and lecturer. He is the author of 19 highly acclaimed books with combined sales of over a half million copies, A much sought after speaker, he is available as scholar in residence in your community. See his website at

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Post  Admin on Tue 19 May 2020, 11:24 pm
My Sister is Starving Herself to Death
May 16, 2020  |  by Miriam Shalem
My Sister is Starving Herself to Death
A toxic combination of a severe eating disorder and a spouse's fear and denial.

The bellowing was coming from upstairs, probably from her bedroom. I begged God for mercy that this time the pain would subside quickly.

I gasped when I saw her. My niece was right to ask me to come; their mother – my sister – looked beyond awful.

The yellow skin on Emily’s face was sagging, her cheekbones seemed to have vanished. Her legs looked like knitting needles. Her dress clung to her bones; there was no flesh left on her body. It was a heart-breaking scene.

I picked up her weightless body and lay her onto her bed. She was so light and fragile. When the pain subsided, she smiled, exposing rotting teeth. She looked like a skeleton wearing a dress.

When the pain subsided, she smiled, exposing rotting teeth. She looked like a skeleton wearing a dress.
It was horrifying for her young children who were gathered around her to see her like this. I glanced at thirteen-year-old Naomi; panic in her eyes. There was also anger etched on her face. Unfortunately, her world revolved around her mother’s health. Naomi knew that at any moment her mother could collapse and that there would come a time that they wouldn’t be able to revive her. Naomi had lost her mother a long time ago; she was now one of her mother’s caregivers.
When Emily was finally asleep we tiptoed out of the bedroom. “Aunty Miriam,” asked Elisha, “doesn’t she love us? Is that why she doesn’t want to get better? Aren’t we enough for her to want to be healthy?”

My eyes filled with tears, “Your mummy loves you very much,” I tell the children. "I promise she is trying her hardest to get better.”

Anorexia is a mental disorder; the sufferer refuses to eat and is obsessive about losing weight. Anorexics often put weights in their pockets in order to cheat the scales. They also take laxatives so that whatever they eat passes straight out of their body. Emily has been a victim of Anorexia Nervosa for about thirty years.

At Emily’s thirteenth birthday party, my mother baked a special cream cake which was Emily’s favorite. When Emily asked for a third slice, my mother embarrassed her in front of all her friends. “No, don’t be greedy. You'll get chubby and you don’t want that.” My mother was also obsessed with her weight and being thin. This compulsion impacted my whole family. My siblings and I are all weight conscious, always dieting and exercising, though not to the extent of having a food disorder.

Around the age of 14 Emily became extremely fashion conscious. Perusing the fashion magazines with skinny models influenced her greatly. Around that time I noticed that Emily was always careful with what she ate and exercised a lot. Soon afterwards I noticed Emily began skipping meals. These were some of the early warning signs that, looking back, I witnessed. I'm sure there were others that we missed. Before Emily married she may not have had anorexia but she was obsessed about her weight and troubling signs were there if we knew how to look.

After Emily married David there were a few years when her weight was stable. She enjoyed going out for meals and seemed genuinely happy. But after her third child was born, Emily began lying, telling her husband that she’d eaten dinner earlier with the kids when she obviously hadn’t. Emily’s group of friends were all extremely weight conscious. Emily followed extreme diets and became addicted to artificial sweeteners. She drank incessantly, filling herself with fluids rather than food, chewing gum to avoid hunger pangs.

It didn’t take long for her body to stop being able to digest the few things she ate; her body was brutally starved.

The disease is terribly complex, affecting the person's physical, mental and emotional well-being. Eating disorders are a response to stress. Over the years Emily experienced a lot of stress in her marriage. David is an active member in the community as well as a successful businessman. Perhaps starving herself would give Emily the attention she craved from her husband. In the early days when her illness was still manageable David would beg Emily to eat and bribe her with gifts to achieve results. This phase didn’t last long because no one was dealing with the core of the issue.

Emily has adamantly refused treatment. She doesn't believe she suffers from an eating disorder.
Anorexia can be overcome but the patient has to want to receive help. Sadly Emily is now in her mid-fifties and until now she has adamantly refused treatment. She doesn't believe she suffers from an eating disorder. She makes it her life’s mission to find doctors who will back her up by finding different reasons for her inability to eat. She has seen hundreds of doctors and every time a doctor tells her she has an eating disorder she moves on to another, a classic sign of people suffering from anorexia.

David has always had the tendency to escape difficult situations. His inability and unwillingness to deal with direct confrontation has helped to enable this terrible situation all these years. Despite our pleading, David just doesn't have the stomach to have his wife sectioned and forcefully detained in a hospital. It is easier for him to remain in denial and allow himself to continue to be manipulated by her and the lies she tells him.

Tragically there is a lot of stigma attached to eating disorders and I think he feels this will reflect badly on him. So he chooses to believe the doctors that give different reasons for her inability to eat. For a long time I was very angry with David for not forcing her to go to a hospital or treatment center years ago. At one point I argued with him about it. Many appointments to therapists who specialize in eating disorders were made, and cancelled.

I fear that he has now given up. Since there is so little of her left, he just wants her to live how ever long she has left, with her family around her. And if/when the worst happens he will feel no guilt as he never acknowledged what her illness is in the first place. Denial is an incredibly powerful force.

Emily seemingly has everything to live for; she has a husband, children and a host of grandchildren. She has no financial worries and what’s more she is a most accomplished writer.

People who suffer from this become very aggressive, controlling and manipulative. Her children and husband bear the brunt of her outbursts. The sufferers are also obsessed with feeding people and she piles food onto her family’s plates. Emily loves hosting diner parties. When she is busy cooking she is distracted and does not feel hungry. She stands at the buffet table, insisting on filling her guest’s plates. It is quite uncomfortable for her guests. Often after serving the main course she would be in so much pain that she would leave her guests and go upstairs. She would come down at dessert time, so that she could resume piling cakes on people’s plates.

Anorexia is a cry for help. The sufferers usually feel they have no control over their lives. The intake of food is the one thing they can control. Often adolescents become anorexic because of peer and social pressure. It does not only destroy the patient’s life but affects the lives of the whole family. Because there are so many stigmas around this illness, it may be easier to ignore the early signs. Unfortunately, it escalates and can be life threatening.

It is a chilling realization for her children to think that their mother may be willing to die rather than get better.
My niece Naomi and her older married siblings know what their mother is suffering from. They know it is too late for her to have a complete recovery, but they still hope that with the right treatment, she can still have a better quality of life than the one she is living now. It is a chilling realization for her children to think that their mother may be willing to die rather than get better.

Most of the married siblings have given up pleading with their mother and father to go to hospital and be treated; they have tried dozens of times to beg their dad to force her to get help. It is an extremely painful sight to take someone against their will to a locked down clinic. Sadly sufferers of anorexia after a certain point are unable to think clearly, it is only a spouse who is able to take this painful course of action. When the older children couldn’t convince their father to do this they had no choice but to protect themselves by focusing on looking after their own families.

Emily frequently passes out from dizziness and needs oxygen to revive her. Due to her illness she also suffers from osteoporosis, her bones are so brittle so when she passes out she is also at risk of breaking some bones.

My sister is literally fading away in front of our eyes. I haven’t seen her eating anything in front of me for a very long time. I know that she chews on pineapple and then spits out the pulp. Her body rejects most foods now. Every few weeks she has a flare up of awful pain because her gut twists and we all think that now she will be admitted and agree to be line fed, but her gut manages to be manually untwisted and the pain subsides. When these attacks occur, you can hear her screaming from the street.

I pray every day that Emily will open herself up to receive the help she so desperately needs and that with her family’s love and support she will slowly be healed.

I urge anyone who thinks they or someone they know may have this mental illness to get help as early as possible. Look out for the early symptoms which include skipping meals, lying about eating, avoiding eating socially, excessive exercise or wearing baggy clothing.

Here are some resources on anorexia:
The author is using pseudonym.

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Post  Admin on Sat 16 May 2020, 9:36 pm
The Muslim Holocaust Researcher
May 11, 2020
by Rona Tausinger, Israel Hayom
The Muslim Holocaust Researcher
Prof. Mehnaz Afridi, a Pakistani Muslim, has been the director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center in New York for the past decade.

Don't even bother to try and label Mehnaz Afridi. A professor in religious studies, Afridi is a Pakistani Muslim who has been the director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center in New York (HGI) since 2011. She researches and teaches the Holocaust, genocide and Islam from a multi-cultural perspective.

This year, due to the coronavirus, the March of the Living in Poland did not take place, and Afridi was invited to participate in a virtual ceremony for the International March of the Living. This is how I came to know her, a warm and impressive woman. Her book, Shoah Through Muslim Eyes (2017, a series edited by Michael Berenbaum), offers a unique and fascinating perspective on this chapter in history. In these times of factionism and strife, Afridi's devotion to the topic of the Holocaust, her continued activism for reconciliation and her commitment to interfaith dialogue are moving.

When I delved into researching the Holocaust, I understood the need for the State of Israel.
Afridi has traveled across the Middle East, Western Europe and the US throughout her life. It seems like the seminal paradigm in her identity is that of the other and foreignness. A sense of detachment and discrimination are not foreign to her and are a central part of her biography: "I was born in Karachi to a Muslim Pakistani family. My father worked in international banking. That means our family had to migrate often. In 1984 we moved to Scarsdale, New York, where I finished high school. In most of the schools I attended, I was the only Muslim. Dark skinned, with a different language and culture.

"In Switzerland, I felt 'too dark'. In Dubai, I was an outsider. In New York, I was a Pakistani. I knew racism. In some of the schools, I became friends with Jews, who also stood out for being different. As time went on, I became more curious about Jews."

Q: Do you come from a religious home?
"My mother was religious. My father was a believer, but secular and more relaxed. I keep customs, fast during Ramadan, I don't wear a hijab. I pray, since praying is like meditation for me."

Q: How does a Muslim woman become so interested in the Holocaust and end up scientifically researching it?

"I did my Masters in religious studies at Syracuse University. Almost by accident, I became a teaching assistant to Alan Berger [a veteran Holocaust researcher who was a professor in the religious studies department – RT]. In his lessons, I was exposed deeply to the Holocaust. I completed my doctorate at the University of South Africa. Michael Berenbaum, an orthodox rabbi and researcher of the Holocaust, was also one of my mentors. That's how I found myself studying Judaism, researching the many points where Judaism and Islam meet, and finding how the concept of God is so similar. My interest in the Holocaust grew and I began to understand the need for the State of Israel."

'This is the degree of humanity'
She shares with me a defining moment in her life. The summer of 2007 when she was invited to speak at a conference in Munich, after which she felt the need to visit Dachau, the death camp in Germany. "I always wanted to visit the camps," Afridi says, "and in Dachau, I felt an emptiness, everything was exposed, the white rocks were blinding. I was holding my newborn baby daughter, her crying echoed inside me, and I asked myself what were you thinking, why did you bring her to Dachau?

"I stood in the crematorium and prayer spontaneously rose inside me from the Koran (2:156) that is said when a person passes away. I wanted to give the dead the respect they deserved. The meaning of the prayer is that 'we belong to God, and to Him do we indeed return'.

"I didn't realize then how that powerful moment would define me. I didn't know exactly why I wanted to visit Dachau. Maybe as a Muslim witness, to tell of the rage over Holocaust denial in the Muslim world and to raise attention to the dangers of ignoring history. I felt a responsibility for the dead, to be a voice for them in the Muslim world. I found myself looking into my daughter's eyes, feeling that remembering these horrors is the only way to avoid this happening again to anyone. In Islam, human dignity is a right given by God to all people, as those who accept the divinity across the world, whether a person is dead or alive (as is exemplified in the Koran, such as Surah 5:31).

"Unfortunately, the Holocaust is not taught in Muslim communities. Muslims are aware of the Holocaust but it's not part of the curriculum. I wanted to bridge these stories to Muslims. To tell my community: 'accept the Holocaust, recognize the pain.' It may not be your pain, but it is the pain of humanity.

"I've seen attempts in the Muslim community to refute the Holocaust, to distort history and numbers. My research was born out of this Holocaust denial and the relativism towards it. It hurt me as a Muslim, not only as an intellectual. I wanted to give the Holocaust the mantle of Islamic ethical justice."

Q: How did your family and friends react to your choice? 
"My father died 20 years ago. My mother found it hard at first. She wondered why I didn't study a normative field. At first, she feared Muslim extremists. Today she supports me and has even come with me to Israel. I have two children, and as a mother, I can understand the motives. My children read books and watch movies about the Holocaust. They have close Jewish friends. I do not believe in occlusion but in exposure to a diverse environment. This is the way I wanted to live and raise my children, in religious freedom with understanding and tolerance for the other. In my eyes, this is the degree of humanity."

For her book, Afridi interviewed survivors over the years.

Q: What is the added value of a Muslim interviewing a Holocaust survivor?
"I'm not another Jew or Israeli asking for their testimony. As a Muslim I felt that I wanted to interview the Holocaust survivors myself. One of the survivors, for example, decided that he no longer wanted to be interviewed, but when he heard I was Muslim he got very excited, changed his mind and spoke with me. The interviewees were curious about me and my religion. I keep in touch with many of the survivors, I visit their homes, eat with them on holidays, a close connection was forged. The view of Islam is based on a warped perspective given by the media. I let them meet with Muslim students and you can immediately see the difference in how people react to each other. These things define me and my life, these are the transformations I yearn for."

Q: In your book and research, Islam is the fundamental model through which you observe the Holocaust, by using the Koran and Hadith.
"Indeed, I am a Muslim dealing with the Holocaust of the Jews, and therefore my perspective is different. The soft and tolerant voices of Islam are not heard enough. The message of Islam was always universal: promote tolerance, equality, and acceptance of other faiths and cultures. That and moreover, the Koran says that if you are exposed to false testimony, even from your own people – you must rise against it and stand for justice. Through Islam, my ethical responsibility towards humanity, as God has commanded, is not to tolerate false testimony (4:135). Therefore, it is my duty as a Muslim to condemn Holocaust denial; also, history must be known, if you disconnect Islam from its roots you miss similar stories, the shared heroes, traditions, and sisters. Therefore, I am committed to the Holocaust, it's strange, but that's how it is."

Q: Who reacted more harshly: Muslims or Jews?
"Both. I'm interested precisely in these junctions of Judaism and Islam. My appointment to head the Holocaust center was controversial in both communities, unfortunately, they don't trust each other enough. In Muslim circles they asked why I don't study Islamic issues, why I don't write about the Palestinians; and it wasn't easy for the Jews as well. When I took the job, it was the first time in history that a Muslim woman was chosen to head any Holocaust center in the world. It was an unusual decision that evoked opposition, such as 'it would be better to give the job to a neo-Nazi' or 'a Muslim chosen to direct the center will diminish the Holocaust as a seminal event for Jews.'"

These reactions broke her heart, and also made her feel how important it was for her to bring change. With time, thanks to her research and personal interactions, more people in the community began to trust her. Even the more extreme elements were impressed: "In time they learned to understand my activism against anti-Semitism. Today I have Jewish friends whom I treat like family."

Q: You are a woman, a Muslim woman, a Muslim woman dealing with the Holocaust, and an intellectual making her way in academia. Is it a lonely journey?
"I'm fighting on two fronts. I'm drawing Muslim students to study the Holocaust: Albanians, Pakistanis, Syrians, Iraqis, Saudis. The male Muslim students have the most difficult time with me. But I have a lot of support from Muslims and Jews, such as the women's fraternity 'Salaam-Shalom'."

Q: The Holocaust is a seminal event in Jewish modern history that you think Muslims should know more about. What should Jews learn about Muslims to understand them better, what are our blind spots as Jews?
"We are 1.5 billion Muslims spread around the world. Islam has many colors. There is Muslim aggressiveness, like the Taliban, Hamas. But there are millions of silent Muslims, suffering victims, like in China, Bosnia, Kashmir. Muslims are treated as an extreme group, as troublemakers. As Muslims we also are victims of stereotyping, of Islamophobia. Even when I brought a group of 52 women to Auschwitz, some of them Muslims, we encountered anti-Muslim revelations."

Afridi also deals with the Muslim Chinese minority of Uyghurs, of which China is holding in forced labor camps en masse. "They've been through abuse and rape of women and children. There is a silenced suffering of Muslims around the world. There are many 'pockets' of discriminated Muslim minorities, and many times it's the non-Arab Muslims. In Islam there is a hierarchy: The Arabs are on top, then the Asians and at the bottom are the Africans. A racist Muslim hierarchy. The Arabs see themselves as the 'pure Muslims', the pure receivers of the message, since the Koran was delivered in Arabia. But most Muslims are Asians and the minority are disadvantaged Africans."

The tensions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict definitely complicate the way the Holocaust is perceived. Afridi mentions Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi from Al-Quds University, who in 2014 initiated a tour of Palestinian students to Auschwitz, for the first time ever. He received death threats and was forced to pack up and escape to the U.S.

Q: Is it easier for a non-Arab Muslim to teach the Holocaust?
"Maybe. There is more Holocaust denial in the Middle East, due to the tension with Israel. It's a painful discussion, submerged in political propaganda. There's an identity competition over the narrative, while everyone has a place in memory. By understanding the Holocaust we can improve the dialogue between us. We must show empathy outside our identity. It doesn't mean you lose your faith by doing so, but you become more aware of the sensitivities of other faiths and cultures. That is the only way to grow, to progress."
This article originally appeared on Israel Hayom. Photo credit: Louis Constant Dui
Sky-High Anti-Semitism and Increased Jewish Pride
May 13, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Sky-High Anti-Semitism and Increased Jewish Pride
2019 saw the highest levels of anti-Semitism in the US on record. American Jews are responding with Jewish pride.
Anti-Semitism has been steadily increasing in the United States for the past decade, a new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows, and in 2019 it reached a record high. Anti-Jewish incidents in 2019 were the highest on record, exceeding all records since at least 1979, when the ADL first began keeping track.

In 2019 well over 2,100 attacks on Jews were recorded, an 18% increase since 2018 and fully a doubling in anti-Jewish attacks since 2015. Many of the anti-Semitic incidents were horrifically violent, including the murder of Lori Gilbert-Kaye in the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, 2019, the murders of Mindy Ferencz and Moshe Deutsch, as well as Douglas Miguel Rodrigues and Det. Joseph Seals, in Jersey City on December 10, and the violent knife attack on Jews at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, on December 28. (Rabbi Josef Neumann died of his injuries three months later.) The report also details over a thousand cases of threats and harassment directed Jews and over 900 cases of the property of Jews being intentionally destroyed or damaged.

The ADL’s report is shocking in its mind-numbing tally of examples of anti-Jewish hatred but for too many of us it’s hardly surprising. For the first time in recent memory, the ADL records, a majority of American Jews have been victims of anti-Semitic incidents – or have witnessed someone else being attacked for being Jewish. Our sense of security as American Jews has shattered.

For the first time in a generation, American Jews are discovering what many Jews in Diaspora communities all over the world experience, realizing that we are a minority within our own countries and not always welcomed. For some Jews, this is acting as a powerful catalyst, encouraging many of us to explore what it means to be Jewish, and leading countless Jews to embrace their Judaism.

Here are four inspiring recent trends of Jews choosing to live fuller Jewish lives, even in the shadow of increasing anti-Semitism.

1. Young Adults Embracing Shabbat

In recent years, increasing numbers of Jews have been rediscovering a central component of Jewish life: Shabbat. This is part of a trend of living a more fully Jewish life in general, and in some communities, it’s young Jewish adults who are showing the way.

A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted the growing, vibrant Shabbat scene among Millennials living in Houston: “On a typical Friday night in Houston, many young people are out drinking in bars or curled up watching Netflix… But in a few Houston homes, Jews in their 20s and 30s have opted to fill these evenings with a different kind of obligation: strictly observing Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath.” The young professionals featured in the article described how they had chosen to celebrate Shabbat as adults, and took turns inviting each other to Shabbat meals in their homes, and even held informal Shabbat services for their friends and guests in their apartments on Friday nights.

Data about just how many young adults are choosing to celebrate Shabbat are hard to come by, but one indication that Shabbat observance is catching on is the rapid proliferation of “Moishe Houses”, informal homes where small groups of Jews rent together and which function as central hubs for Jewish activity for young adults, hosting Shabbat lunches and dinners as well as other events. From the founding of the first Moishe House in Oakland, California in 2006, the movement has grown rapidly to over 100 Moishe Houses around the world today, hosting Shabbat dinners for young adults. This fits into a pattern: more Jews in their 20s and 30s are rediscovering the joys of Jewish rituals – so much so that a greater proportion of young Jewish adults describe themselves as religiously observant than older American Jews today.

2. Growing Jewish Community
Many Jews are used to reading dire predictions of the future of American Jewry – yet contrary to some dark predictions, the number of Jews in the United States is growing. Researchers at Brandeis University near Boston found in a major 2018 that the US Jewish population was 7.5 million that year – and growing each year.

Fueling that is a birthrate that’s much higher than the US average of 1.77 children per family. Orthodox American Jews tend to have larger families – an average of just over 4 children per family. Even among secular American Jews, the desire for larger families seems to be motivating many couple to have larger families. While most American Jews who describe themselves as “secular” do have families about the size of the average American family, many do join their Orthodox brethren in choosing to build larger families – nearly 10% of “secular” American Jews also have an average of four children or more. Jewish children ensure the future of a vibrant Jewish community – the fact that so many Jewish families are raising larger families is helping build the next generation of American Jews.

3. Increasing Numbers of Students Visiting Israel on Birthright
The past several years have seen a broad upward trend of Jewish college students and young adults visiting Israel, many for the first time, on Birthright Israel trips. Birthright was formed in 1999, and since then the program has revolutionized Jewish life in America and beyond, bringing young Jewish adults to Israel on free (or almost free) trips, so they can experience Israel and gain familiarity with the Jewish homeland. Tens of thousands of Jews have traveled to Israel with Birthright; many have found themselves transformed by the experience.

In recent years, the numbers of American Jews going on Birthright trips has trended broadly upwards. From 13,593 students participating on Birthright in 2015, that number rose to 15,043 in 2016 and to 15,570 in 2018. In 2017 Birthright widened the pool of participants, raising the maximum age of visitors to 32 and instituting Israel trips geared towards newly-married couples.

Birthright trips have an outsized impact: participants are 45% more likely to marry Jews after their trip than others. “It was a spiritual experience I didn’t expect to get” explained Sam Paul, an 26 year old insurance broker from Manchester, New Hampshire, on his trip, echoing many other American Jews who’ve got the chance to learn about the Jewish homeland through this unique program.

4. Jews Give Highest Levels of Charity in the United States
Jews consistently are in the lead when it comes to charitable giving in the United States – American Jews donate more money to charity than any other ethnic or religious group: they give at levels higher than other religious and ethnic groups, and a greater percentage of American Jewish families give charity than families of other faiths. This phenomenon is true at all levels of income – one recent study found that even among households making less than $50,000 a year, (which is less than the national mean in the US), Jews are significantly more likely to donate funds to charity (60% of low earning Jews donate versus only 46% of non-Jewish low earners.)

Demographer Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim studies charitable giving and she notes that there’s something unique about American Jews’ generosity: “Expressed in Hebrew, the Jewish concepts of tzedakah (charitable giving), tzedek (justice) and chesed (mercy and kindness) instruct and compel all Jews to give charity and treat people who are less fortunate with compassion.” The generosity of American Jews is another reason to be proud of our community – and yet another way that our faith shapes and strengthens us and our faith.
Covid-19 in the Shadows of the Holocaust
May 9, 2020  |  by Mindy Stern
Covid-19 in the Shadows of the Holocaust
Children of survivors gain inspiration from their forebears.

The author's grandfather, David Stern, who was working in NY trying to get visas for his wife and 8 children to get out of Czechoslovakia. Everyone perished except the two oldest kids, Harry Stern, her father, and her Aunt Irene
I didn’t know them when they were hungry and feared for their lives during the Holocaust. Their two and half years in hiding, surviving on carrots and the occasional onion skin were nine years behind them by the time I was born. At the war’s end, my mother and grandmother emerged from a dreary attic in Belgium jaundiced, their teeth in shambles. Their new life in America restored their health. Like Scarlett O’Hara, they vowed to never be hungry again. They raised my sister and me to be self-sufficient, frugal, resourceful, always ready for the unexpected, qualities that prepared us for some of the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our home in Brooklyn was never short of food. Bubby – my grandmother, shopped daily, often visiting two supermarkets to buy what was on sale. She overcooked everything, but we ate from nature’s bounty: fresh string beans, asparagus, cauliflower, whatever was in season. Our shelves overflowed with canned goods, the freezer groaned with packages of chicken, steaks, and pounds of kosher delicatessen from Bloch & Falk, the German-Jewish deli in Washington Heights. I learned to cook whatever is fresh in the market and to always keep a pantry stocked.

The author's mother walking down the street in Belgium with a Jewish star on her shirt.
When my son, a frontline physician in Seattle, sent our family links to the latest scientific data on Covid transmission, his step-mom, Simone replied: “I think of how this compares with our forebears during the war, living in fear and deprivation in ghettos, in hiding, or in far worse situations, how Europe emerged from the devastating losses and how different the world was in the postwar years. And that this is not a deliberate attempt to annihilate us… We are all going to be a little poorer when the crisis is over but we will still have a roof over our head and food to eat and our kids hopefully will find their paths in a new and more challenging world.”

Simone’s reflection motivated me to reach out to my cousins. We children of survivors all grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. I wondered what lessons we carry, consciously or not, as a result of our upbringing. I yearn to talk with my parents, Bubby, my aunts and uncles, but none of them are alive today. I wanted to see how their lives and behavior inspire their children and grandchildren, even from beyond the grave.

From left, Aunt Irene, and the author’s parents Thea & Harry on their wedding day, 1949
My first call was to Felice in Mohnton, PA. “My parents’ experience is always in the background of my personality and how I look at things. I know what they struggled with and what life was like for them from the day when they weren’t allowed to go to school in their hometown in Czechoslovakia. It’s made me a very strong person – shaped me in a lot of ways. I have a little of my mother’s outlook, 'Don’t dwell on things, try to move forward.'”

That sounded so familiar to me. When circumstances beyond my control have hit me hard, like getting laid-off during a massive downsizing at the hospital where I worked, I leapt into action, began strategizing right away, never allowing myself to wallow. It turns out that my parents’ stoicism, determination to move forward, and gift for finding silver linings were themes in each of my conversations with cousins.

A dish of Shlishkas

Aunt Irene was the best home cook I knew when I was a little girl. I adored my cousins, Ira and Mindy, and loved going to their house, with its fresh cooking and baking aromas. From her home in North Woodmere, NY, Mindy told me, “My mother used to talk all the time about being homesick, deprived. In Bergen-Belsen she had a bunkmate and at night, they talked about the foods their mothers made. She learned the best recipes in camp. They were so hungry, they imagined beautiful dishes, and she concocted them after she got out.” Aunt Irene perfected Shlishkas, the Hungarian-Jewish version of gnocchi rolled in toasted, buttered bread crumbs, and they became her signature dish. Just thinking of them now makes my mouth water.

Cousin Ira recalls that his mother “literally could not throw food out. She knew you could get energy from the juice in potato peels and was beaten in the camp for stealing some out of a garbage can. In her fridge, I’d find tiny little balls of aluminum foil - crumpled up, three-times used tin foil that she’d say, ‘didn’t owe me any money’ with a scoop of egg salad, a quarter of potato, two stalks of celery salvaged from soup.” But their “post-stress life was all about being normal, living a normal life.”

Top row: the author and cousin Ira. Bottom row: cousin Mindy (L) and the author’s sister Ivy circa 1959
When Ira’s curiosity prompted questions about that era, his mom changed the subject. “I don’t want to talk about that,” she’d say. “I want to talk about my two diamonds, you and your sister…. They were proud of being able to forget, being able to get past it, and not wallow in it. If she were alive now, she would have been ready for Covid-19. She was resourceful, had a kitchen full of everything, and most important, had a positive attitude.”

My cousins and I, the first generation born after the Holocaust, are in our sixties. I wondered if our parents’ positive, can-do attitude has been passed on beyond our generation, to the grandchildren. I called my niece, Nina, a business entrepreneur in Brooklyn. She and her husband are both recovering from Covid-19, and have been self-isolating for weeks. Now that they can breathe more easily, their biggest lament is of losing their senses of smell and taste. I asked Nina how three of her grandparents’ Holocaust experiences inform her view of the pandemic.

The author's grandmother, Judith Scheiner
“It’s all I think about,” she gushed. “It defines how I get through this. I’m so privileged – I have a pantry full of food, I feel really lucky. Sabba, Savta and Oma give me strength – it feels so much less than what they lived through. We’re not being persecuted and I’m not hiding from someone. What we’re doing doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice. I have a lot of hope.”

Maybe that’s the key – when facing hardships, find inspiration in the stories of your forebears. Their endurance models hope, strength, and a belief that the future will be better. If they could do it, what are we complaining about? And if your spirits start to sag, take a few basics out of your pantry: eggs, oil, salt, flour. Boil some potatoes. Make a batch of shlishkas, roll them in butter and bread crumbs, bake, and serve with sour cream. Ahhhhhh. We can get through this.

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Post  Admin on Tue 12 May 2020, 10:01 pm
6 Ways Not to Let Isolation Get You Down
May 9, 2020  |  by Ann Goldberg
6 Ways Not to Let Isolation Get You Down
Lockdown is no picnic, but there are simple things everyone can do to keep their spirits up.
As someone in the high-risk category due to age, recent illness and surgery, overnight I went from being an independent, active senior who was delighted to be cancer-free, to being a government designated ‘vulnerable’ – aka ‘old-sickie’ – who needs to be locked away for her own good and can't leave the house under any circumstances.
It wasn’t easy. My brain may have accepted that it was for my good, but my emotions found the whole thing very difficult. I'm fortunate to have a husband to share the situation with, children who were happy to help us and a computer to order online. Not everyone is so lucky.

Here's what I'm doing to keep my spirits up.

1. Exercising
Despite being a couch potato, I try to take a short walk every day. And I am doing something I’ve never done before: I'm taking online aerobics classes. Nothing madly strenuous – I Googled ‘exercises for the over-fifties’ and picked two – one a low impact aerobics to keep my heartbeat going strong and another to exercise parts of my body I barely remember existed.

The result has been amazing – my blood pressure is down and I feel much better. I definitely hope to keep this up after the crisis is over.

2. Contacting People Living On Their Own

We are blessed with children and grandchildren and we miss them terribly. But at least we are in contact with them. I began to think of all the people I knew who live totally on their own and have few, if any, relatives who would contact them.

I started calling them up and offered my children’s help in bringing them shopping if they needed it. I could sense from their voice that just hearing someone asking how they were cheered them up, so I ring them occasionally.

3. Praying
I pray regularly but have to admit that it’s often by rote and something I do with one part of my mind on all the other things I have to do when I‘ve finished praying.

But now I don’t have that much else to do. Nowhere to go. No one to see. So I take my time in the morning and pray at a slower pace. I check the English translation when I realize that although I’ve been saying this for years I don’t really know what it means.

I’ve added on a few extra prayers that speak to me and I’ve got a long list of people to pray for – especially those hit by the virus.

4. Tolerance
I think I’m more tolerant now than I was before all this (don't ask my husband). I’ve started buying my weekly shopping online so as not to burden my children with too much extra work. After all, they're at home trying to work while taking care of little children and their home-schooling schedules.

I don’t always like what the shop sends, but I just have to accept it. Yes, things are often missing –and of course it’s just the item that I waiting for. But I try to smile through it all and be glad that this option is available, and learn to make do with what I received rather than what I wish I had.

5. Showing Gratitude
Yes, it’s frustrating to suddenly have to sit back and let others do everything for you when you’re still physically capable of doing it, but you’re not allowed to – for your own good.

It’s also difficult to know how to say thank you to all the people who are now looking after you, but it’s important to try.

I’ve been baking a lot more cookies and cakes in the last few weeks and distribute them to my children when they come by with shopping items I need and couldn’t get online. They knock on the door leaving the items outside the door and then with mask and gloves on, they step back down the stairs so I can come out and wave to them and leave them some baked goods to take home.

Many toy stores now have home deliveries so I’ve ordered some crayons, coloring books, games and toys and books for all ages and give them to the children.

6. Trying Doing Something You Think You Can't Do
For several years I’ve had help cleaning the house as my back and knees really ache when I try and clean the floors and the bath. But with no one coming into the house now I’ve had no choice but to have-a-go myself, and I’ve been really surprised that after a few weeks the aches and pains aren’t so bad. Maybe the extra exercise has got me into better shape.

This is an opportune time to try other things you've given up on – learning a new language, reading that enormous book, or taking a new online class.

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Post  Admin on Sun 10 May 2020, 8:38 pm
God Finds an Estranged Jew in the Peruvian Amazon
May 9, 2020  |  by Sara Yoheved RiglerGod Finds an Estranged Jew in the Peruvian Amazon
While living in the Peruvian Amazon married to a native woman, an American Jew experiences a life-saving miracle that sparks his spiritual quest.

Saul was born in New Jersey in 1980. His family belonged to a Reform temple, which they attended on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, faithfully maintaining their post-services-on-Rosh Hashana tradition of going out for Chinese food. Saul went to Hebrew school one afternoon a week and on Saturday mornings until he was Bar Mitzvah age. “Our family was culturally Jewish,” says Saul. “We read The New York Times, watched Woody Allen movies, and espoused liberal political causes.”

When 9/11 hit, Saul was in college. Suddenly many of the foreign students were warned that unless they had proper visas they would be deported. A campaign ensued for students who were U.S. citizens to marry foreign students just so they could receive resident visas. Saul volunteered to marry a Catholic Peruvian woman. Their nuptials took place at City Hall. Saul’s father was proud of him that he was doing "tikkun olam."

Surprisingly, the marriage stuck. When Saul graduated in 2003 with a major in Romance languages, he found it difficult to get a good job. After two years of teaching, Saul and his wife decided to move to her native city of Lima, Peru. For what it cost them to rent for one year in New York City, they could purchase an apartment in Lima. Saul got a job teaching English at the French School.

Lima boasted four shuls and 3,000 Jews, most of them elderly Holocaust survivors. Chabad and the Conservative shul struggled to get a minyan. Saul was an atheist. His Judaism consisted of lighting Hanukah candles, holding a Seder, and refraining from eating on Yom Kippur, although he did drink. And he maintained his family’s “Jewish tradition” of absorption in liberal politics.

The lack of even a single synagogue in Tarapoto was irrelevant to Saul.
After nine years of living in Lima, a metropolis of ten million people with no public transport system and which is enshrouded in fog nine months a year, Saul decided to move to the beautiful Amazon region. He chose Tarapoto, a city of 500,000 people with opportunities for developing a business in legal and technical translations for mining companies. The lack of even a single synagogue in Tarapoto was irrelevant to Saul.

But as Saul and his wife had children, it became important to him to give his offspring a Jewish identity, based on the Reform doctrine of patrilineal descent. Their first son was born while they were visiting Saul’s parents in New Jersey, and he was circumcised by a Conservative mohel. When their second son was born in Tarapoto, Saul approached a local surgeon and asked him to circumcise the eight-day-old baby. The surgeon refused, saying it was dangerous to circumcise such a young infant.

The Miracle
Three months later, Saul’s family was invited to a wedding in the beach resort of Los Grillos in Zorritos, near the border with Ecuador. Saul’s American friend Eric was marrying a non-Jewish Peruvian woman, and he brought Rabbi Laurie from Florida to conduct the ceremony. Saul still wanted a bris for his second son. While he understood that Rabbi Laurie could not actually circumcise the baby, he asked her to officiate at some kind of bris ceremony the day after the wedding, and she agreed.

At Los Grillos, Saul’s family was staying in a rustic, one-room bungalow with a thatched roof. It contained just a bed for the couple and a smaller bed for the children. Above the bungalow was a platform holding a 1000-liter water tank, accessed by a ladder. The bungalow was so close to the shoreline that they could leave the baby sleeping in the children’s bed while Saul, his wife, and older son frolicked on the beach, still within earshot of the baby’s cries.

The wedding took place on Saturday afternoon, with the dancing going on until late into the night. On Sunday morning, Rabbi Laurie conducted a bris-like ceremony with all of Eric’s and Saul’s friends in attendance. Afterwards, Saul bid Eric goodbye, telling him, “We’re heading back to our bungalow to have a family beach day.” Eric protested that they had just had a bris for his son, a significant Jewish milestone. They should stay and celebrate with the assembled friends. Saul and his wife acquiesced. They spent the whole day eating, drinking, and celebrating both the wedding and the bris.

The one-ton water tank had crashed onto the bed in which their baby would have been sleeping had they not stayed to celebrate the bris.
Toward midnight, as they drove toward their bungalow, the caretaker came running out, screaming, “I’m so glad you guys are okay!” He pointed in the dark to the ruins of what had been their bungalow. That day a drunken driver in an SUV had collided with the ladder, knocking the one-ton water tank off its perch and through the hatched roof. As Saul waded through the sodden remnants of the bungalow, he spied the water tank. It had crashed onto the bed in which their baby would have been sleeping had they not stayed to celebrate the bris. Saul stood there trembling.

“It was very apparent to me,” Saul recalls, “that my son had survived because we had decided to do the ceremony and because we had stayed there to celebrate it properly. I saw the hand of God. I wasn’t ready to admit it to others, but I thought to myself, ‘Well, if there is a God and He just saved my son, I have to do something to thank Him. What can I do?’”

All the way back to Tarapoto, Saul reflected on an appropriate response. He thought about keeping kosher, but other than fruits and vegetables, there was no kosher food available in Tarapoto. Then he considered learning Hebrew, but he concluded that was a weak response to a major miracle. Finally, he decided, “I learned that God is pretty much into Shabbat, so if I make a nice dinner with wine on Friday nights, that would be something.”

Although Tarapoto had no real Jewish community, a decade before an Israeli organization named Shavei Yisrael had sent an emissary to reclaim the great-grandchildren of Moroccan Jewish traders who had come to the Amazon in the late 19th century and had married local women. Shivei Yisrael had started a large-scale conversion program under Orthodox auspices for those descendants of the Jewish traders who wanted to be Jews. They held Shabbat services in private homes. Saul started attending these services on Friday nights and would follow up with a dinner in honor of Shabbat. He continued this practice for two years.

Then Saul and his wife went through a painful break-up. As he remembers,

“I really felt very troubled. I felt regretful of a lot of things that had gone on for many years. I went to an indigenous spiritual retreat that a client of mine was running. Before the retreat, the participants had to go on a special diet. We were forbidden to eat pork or shellfish for two weeks. I thought to myself, ‘Anything that my great-grandmother wouldn’t eat and that a shaman in the rainforest wouldn’t eat, there must be something to it.’”

During the retreat, Saul “really felt directly the Divine presence.” Afterwards, he started making Kiddush on Shabbat nights.

He needed to educate himself but no Jewish books were available. “Amazon doesn’t ship to the Amazon.”
A couple months later he decided that he was tired of wading in the shallows of Jewish observance. He wanted to dive in. But how? He needed to educate himself, but no Jewish books were available. As he wryly observes, “Amazon doesn’t ship to the Amazon.”

Internet Jew
At that point Saul discovered the Jewish internet., especially the “How-to” articles by Lori Palatnik, “Ask the Rabbi,” and Pathways [now Aish Academy] became like tour guides through the dense jungle of Jewish observance. Saul felt like he was maneuvering through the rain forest on clearly marked trails. He also used the websites Mi Yodeya and Sefaria, an online library of classic Jewish texts.

“Once I started, it snowballed,” Saul recollects. “I wanted to learn more and I wanted to do more.” Still, he proceeded slowly. He learned that there are three daily prayers, but when he looked at the Shaharit morning service, he realized, “I’m not ready for this.” Instead, he undertook to say the one-line “Modeh ani” prayer upon awakening, and Shema Yisrael.

Gradually, Saul took upon himself to observe Shabbat. He needed his cup of fresh coffee on Shabbat morning, but he realized he could grind the coffee beans on Friday before sundown. The Friday night services were held a 45-minute walk from his house, and he wasn’t ready to stop driving on Shabbat. One Friday night he found himself at a gas station and realized he could make sure to fill his car before Shabbat. “I was just focusing on the next step, and I didn’t know where it was going to take me. As I would approach a new mitzvah, sometimes I was excited, and sometime I’d say to myself, ‘That’s stupid. I’m never going to do that.’ Eventually, I would do that mitzvah and afterwards I’d feel uncomfortable not doing it.”

Keeping kosher in the Amazon presented its own problems. There was no kosher meat available in Tarapoto. At first Saul would go to the local butcher and, even though the meat had not been slaughtered according to halacha [Jewish law] he’d buy cuts of chicken and beef (kosher animals) and bring them home, and salt and soak them according to the laws he learned about on the Internet. Eventually he said, “This isn’t really right.” He started to have kosher meat airlifted to him from Lima (18 hours by car from Tarapoto) by paying a taxi driver to pick up meat at Lima’s only kosher restaurant and bring it to the airport.

After a year of such gradual steps, Saul was keeping Shabbat except for smoking, which he felt incapable of giving up. Even there, he took a small step in the direction of the halacha by lighting his cigarettes from an existing flame, as is permitted on the holidays. Half a year later, he decided, “I’m ready to do this,” and he kept his first full Shabbat. It was May 26, 2018. “It was really hard,” he remembers. “But it felt really good to take that step.”

Meanwhile, the erstwhile atheist had developed a relationship with God through his online Jewish studies. “I believed that God created the universe and gave us the Torah, and when you do a mitzvah, you’re getting closer to God by doing what He told you to do.”

By winging his way through cyberspace Saul found a Judaism he didn’t know existed.
Eventually, Saul decided that Tarapoto, Peru, was not the right place to live a Jewish life. The best place to relocate, he realized, was Israel. So in February, 2020, he came for a six-week stay, with the intention of making Aliyah and then going back to Peru to retrieve his two children. Saul and his ex-wife decided he would have custody of the children so they could be raised as Jews and take advantage of the educational opportunities of living in Israel. But then, in March, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and Israel went into lockdown. Marooned in Israel, Saul is happily learning Torah in the Old City of Jerusalem, anxiously waiting to be reunited with his children.

Before the lockdown, Saul ended up at my Shabbos table. Among the other guests was an American couple, Yitzchak and Jenny, who became religious twenty years ago. At some point in the discussion, Yitzchak, with umbrage, said to Saul, “I’ve been learning Torah for twenty years, while you learned everything you know on the internet. And you know more than I do.”

The road to Judaism did not pass through the Peruvian Amazon, so Saul had had no choice but to fly, and by winging his way through cyberspace he found a Judaism he didn’t know existed.

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Post  Admin on Thu 07 May 2020, 11:14 pm

The Eichmann Files
Apr 26, 2020
by Tal Ariel Amir, Israel Hayom
The Eichmann Files
Sixty years after Eichmann's capture, the evidence used against him is revealed.

"In all his activities the accused displayed indefatigable energy, verging on overeagerness towards advancing the Final Solution… He was not a puppet in the hands of others; his place was amongst those who pulled the strings... Even if we had found that the Accused acted out of blind obedience, as he argued, we would still have said that a man who took part in crimes of such magnitude as these over years must pay the maximum penalty known to the law, and he cannot rely on any order even in mitigation of his punishment. But we have found that the Accused acted out of an inner identification with the orders that he was given and out of a fierce will to achieve the criminal objective…" – Excerpts from the verdict and sentencing of Adolf Eichmann, December 1961.

The trial of Adolf Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo Department for Jewish Affairs known as IV B4, is an integral part of the consciousness of the Jewish people. One of the prevailing memories of the trial sessions in the Beit Ha'am community center in Jerusalem is the chilling testimonies of 121 Holocaust survivors.

But the criminal trial could not only rely on the survivors, only a few of whom actually saw Eichmann in person. Their testimonies were needed to highlight the unfathomable cruelty of the Nazis and the terrors of the Holocaust.

The discussions on Criminal Case No. 40/61 were based on the work of 15 Israel Police detectives, who were part of a special unit, Bureau 06. Their working assumption was that this was a murder trial and thus they needed evidence to prove Eichmann's senior role in organizing and implementing the Final Solution.

The conditions for launching the investigation – which began 60 years ago when Eichmann was captured and brought to Israel on May 21st, 1960 – were complicated. The war had ended 15 years earlier, the murder scenes spread across many states. The Bureau investigators hunted for documents that would speak for themselves and could not be refuted. Documents that could demonstrate Eichmann's infinite desire for the destruction of the Jewish people, and his key status in managing the transports to the death camps.

The investigators managed to get their hands on 400,000 pages of telegrams and letters from archives in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, as well as in the US too – which after the war collected tens of thousands of exchanges between the heads of the Nazi regime.

1,506 documents were filed by the court as "smoking guns" against Eichmann.
Out of all of these, 1,506 documents were filed by the court as "smoking guns" against Eichmann. They show how he insisted on reaching every single Jew, how he tried to cover up the extermination by using the phrase "special treatment," how he fumed that in his opinion, there were too few Jews on the death trains. And how he personally ensured that children were also sent to Auschwitz.

The police files have never been published and were transferred to the National Archives at the end of the trial. Copies were also given to Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Two years ago, Chief Inspector Dr. Yossi Hemi, a historian and the deputy head of the Israel Police Heritage Museum, took the materials: hundreds of boxes of brown files and yellowing paper. Hemi read through them anxiously and with dread, page by page, interrogation after interrogation.

Among the papers was a detailed diagram that Eichmann prepared by his own hand while he was readying for his trial. In them, he describes the structure of the Reich Defense Ministry and the chain of command in order to prove that he was just a cog in the system. The department he headed, the IV B4, is shown in the diagram as just one of many.

Hemi took all the evidence materials and turned them into a book and an exhibition on the police, which will be published soon.

Adolf Eichmann joined the Nazi party in 1932 when he was 26 years old, and was accepted into the SS, the party's paramilitary and intelligence organization. Two years later, he joined the Jewish Department, which became known as IV B4 department of the Central Office for Security of the Reich. At first, he looked into forced migration of Jews out of Germany, and even visited Haifa in October 1937 as part of these efforts, but came to the conclusion that Jews should not be encouraged to migrate to Mandate Palestine as the establishment of a Jewish state was not in the interest of the Third Reich.

Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem (Archives: GPO)

In 1939, Eichmann was appointed to head the Jewish Department, and two years later began to experiment with mass extermination using gas. On January 20th 1942, he attended the Wannsee Conference in the Berlin suburb. It was there that the plan to annihilate Europe's Jews was drawn up. Eichmann prepared the invitations for the various parties and prepared the records of the meeting.

In March 1942, the transports of Polish Jews to Auschwitz began, with tens of thousands killed in the gas chambers. Despite this, Eichmann did not give up on personally dealing with Selman Lipski, Moshe Bejman, David Cymermann and Abraham Itzkowicz from the Neuhof Ghetto in Poland.

One of the first documents in the investigation file is a telegram from April 17th, 1942 which shows how dedicated Eichmann was to the Final Solution. In the telegram, which was classified as secret and titled "Special Treatment of Jews", Eichmann writes to the head of the Gestapo in Ciechanow, Poland and says that under orders of the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, "the Special Treatment is to be carried out" on these four, without giving details of what that is precisely.

The explanation comes in another letter which he sends five weeks later, on May 23, when he again asks for "special treatment," this time for seven more Jews in the Ghetto: Szmerek Goldberg, Tasiemka Eliacz, Rafael Braun, Mendel Rubensztayn, Moszek Lewin, David Bryszkowski and David Zamiadyn. This time he explicitly writes that they "are to be hanged in the ghetto of Neuhof, in the presence of persons of their race. I request an implementation report."

These two letters, which proved Eichmann's direct involvement in the extermination and his unimaginable cruelty, were presented to him by Chief Inspector Avner Less, the only one of the investigators who was allowed to question him and whose mother tongue was German.

The response of the Nazi criminal was rambling and unintelligible. "It can clearly be understood from reading – an instruction to the Ciechanow Gestapo post, which had presented a suitable proposal to the Central Office for Security of the Reich. This proposal was sent onwards, by order of the Reichsfuehrer SS and Head of the German police [Himmler]. In this case, the IV B4 acted as was expected by all central agencies. An order was requested from higher up."

Less insisted on hearing what the "special treatment" was. "They were put to death," Eichmann responded, "but this issue, as I have already said – it was never in the hands of the IV B4 to give the orders to put them to death."

April and May of 1942 saw a turning point in the Nazi treatment of the Jews. It was no longer just Polish Jews; the first transports started to arrive from Holland, Belgium and mainly France. The Vichy puppet government, which ran France under the patronage of the Nazis, turned its Jewish citizens over to the Germans and helped send them to the extermination camps.

The Jews were put in the Drancy concentration camp, north of Paris. Documents found in the French government's archives show that the Vichy regime adhered to the Nazi narrative that the Jews were being transported to labor camps. On July 22nd 1942, the first deportation train from France left for Auschwitz, with 1,000 Parisian Jews on board.

But the Bureau 06 investigation uncovered previously unknown details. On July 14th, around 1900, Adolf Eichmann placed an angry call to Drancy following the cancellation of the first transport, which was supposed to go out the next day. The reason for the cancellation: It "only" had 150 Jews on it.

Eichmann spoke with Heinz Röthke, chief of the Department of Jewish Affairs in France. In his record, Röthke says he explained to Eichmann that he hadn't managed to find more Jews due to a lack of time, and that the transport was delayed because Eichmann told him he must have 1,000 Jews on the train "since it was a matter of prestige."

"[Eichmann says that]… nothing like this has happened to him before. It's very embarrassing," Röthke sums the main points of the call. "He didn't want to tell his superiors, to avoid embarrassing himself, and has to consider whether he wants to give up on France as a country that is marked for deportations. I asked him for this not to happen, and added that it wasn't our bureau's fault. I informed him that the rest of the trains would leave as planned."

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Post  Admin on Tue 05 May 2020, 11:41 pm
An Open Letter from God during Coronavirus
May 3, 2020  |  by Batya Levy
An Open Letter from God during Coronavirus
Because He knows how hard it is and every single step you're taking.

My Dear Child,

I just wanted to check in and say hi. As this quarantine continues on, with tensions rising and uncertainty mounting, I just wanted to remind you that I’m here for you and that I love you.

My dear child, I wanted to remind you that you’re doing a really great job and that I’m noticing and loving you so much for your efforts. I see you. Amongst the constant mess and endless noise that comes from a bustling home filled with kids, I see you. Amongst the painful loneliness and deafening silence that comes from an empty home, I see you. Amongst the restlessness and cabin fever and everyone getting on everyone’s nerves. I see you and the growth you’re making and the strides you’re taking to deal with your situation. I see you and I love you so much for the huge effort you’re making to stay positive in these challenging times.

My dear child, I know how hard this is for you right now. I know you’re feeling sad. I know you’re feeling overwhelmed. I know you’re worried and stressed and anxious. But please, my dear child, express it to Me. Talk to Me, let Me in. Tell Me how you’re feeling. Tell Me what’s on your mind. I’m your Father, and love and care for you so much. I want to help you. Tell Me how hard you’re finding this situation. Tell Me that you hate this. Tell Me that you hate being alone. Or that you hate being with your family. Or that you hate that you can’t go out. Shout at Me. I don’t care. I just want to hear from you. Don’t cut Me out now that there’s no structure in your life.

I know I’ve shut all the shuls, I know I’ve made it way more challenging for you to connect. But please, I beg of you, don’t think I’m not here. I’m closer than ever and I still want to hear from you, now more than ever.
My dear child, I created you, I love you more than anything else in the world. I know these are challenging times and that sometimes you let your guard down and say things you shouldn’t, or do things you normally wouldn’t if you had less time or more of a schedule, or that sometimes you behave in a way that you later regret because you’re just spending way too much time with the same people and it’s all feeling a bit too much. I just want to remind you, there is nothing, and I mean nothing you can do that will change how much I love you. My beautiful precious child, no matter how far away you feel, know I am right here beside you and I'm never leaving your side. No matter what you’ve done, however bad you think it was, I still love you. My love for you is unconditional and no one loves you more than I do. Hear it. Believe it. Feel it.

My dear child, you’re so confused, and that’s okay. You have conflicting emotions. On the one hand you feel you just can’t survive this; it’s too overwhelming; you can’t cope. But on the other hand you’re trying so desperately to keep it all together. Just know this - I only give you a challenge that you can overcome. So the fact that you’re placed exactly where you are right now means I believe in you. You can deal with this situation. You can even thrive. I know how much potential you have and I so desperately want to see you actualize it. I know it’s so hard for you right now, and that it’s really difficult to internalize, but believe Me, I know you can do this. I believe in you. I always have, I always will.

My dear child, I know you feel that the world is so unsafe right now. I know you’re scared. I know how unsettling it feels, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Not knowing how many more people will die. Or get infected. Not knowing who you will be saying goodbye to next. Not feeling safe going to the shops or going for a walk. Having that safety net pulled out from under you is very unsettling. But My sweet precious child, know this: I am your safety net. And I know it’s hard but I want you to trust Me. Trust that I’m holding you. Trust that I know what’s best. Trust that I can get you through this. That together we can pull through and succeed. Together.

My dear child, I know you’re scared but feel My warmth. Feel My arms around your shoulders comforting you. Feel My presence holding you. Feel Me carrying you through this. Feel Me here, like I’ve been here with you your whole life. You’re overwhelmed right now. And that’s okay. Life is overwhelming right now. But remember that I’m quarantined with you. When it’s getting too much just look to Me and I’ll be here, waiting for you. You’re not alone. I’m right here, listening. And I’m not going anywhere. Ever. You can rely on that.

My dear child, I am so proud of you right now. For what you’re achieving. For what you’re learning through this process. I am so proud of your progress. I see every tiny step forward you make. And though you may think it’s tiny, in My eyes it’s a massive deal. I’m rooting for you. I know you can do this. I know you can make this quarantine amazing. I know you have it within you to do what you can do best.

My dear child, I know you better than you know yourself and better than anyone else knows you. So stop comparing yourself to everyone around you when they talk about all the activities they’ve thought up for their kids or all the food they’ve made or all the new skills they’re learning or all the things they’re ticking off of their bucket lists. Stop beating yourself up and putting yourself down and telling yourself that you should be doing better. You’re wrong. I know how much effort you’re putting in. I know that you’re giving it your absolute all. I know how much you’re struggling. I know how much you’re achieving. I know how much you’re holding back. I see your innermost heart. I see your desires. I see what you’re doing and what you’re holding yourself back from doing, and My dear child, I am so proud of you.

I’m telling you again so that you’ll believe Me when I say you’re doing such a fantastic job. You’re amazing. And when all this is over, I hope you can come out with your head held high, feeling proud of what you achieved. And I really hope we can maintain the strong bond we’ve formed during these challenging times. I hope our connection can take you through to when we’re no longer in quarantine. I hope you won’t forget Me.

Signed, with so much love and admiration for all your efforts,
Your Loving Father

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Post  Admin on Sun 03 May 2020, 6:06 pm
When the Quarantine Is Over
May 2, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin BlechWhen the Quarantine Is Over
A meaningful insight derived from the etymology of the word “quarantine.”

How long should a quarantine last?

The very word for quarantine has an etymological answer – and it is a fascinating historical truth that in all probability is rooted in a biblical connection.

To find the origin of the word we must go back to 14th century Europe. It was then that repeated waves of plagues swept across the continent and after arriving in southern Europe in 1347 spread rapidly to England, Germany and Russia by 1350. It’s estimated that one third of Europe’s population perished as a result and the impact of the epidemic led to the institution of extreme infection control measures. In 1374 Viscount Bernabo of Reggio Italy declared that every person with plague must be taken out of the city into the fields, there to die or to recover.

In the Mediterranean seaport of Ragusa, the city’s famous Jewish chief physician Jacob of Padua counseled the establishment of a place outside the city walls for treatment of ill townspeople and outsiders seeking a cure. Somehow the doctor intuited the contagion theory that promoted separation of healthy persons from those who are sick.

With that idea in mind, in 1377 the Great Council passed a law establishing a thirty-day isolation for ships arriving from plague infested areas. No one from Ragusa was allowed to visit those ships under trentino, the 30 day isolation period, and if someone broke the law, they too would be isolated for the mandatory 30 days. The law seemed to be effective in diminishing the ravages of the Black Death and it caught on. Over the next 80 years, Marseilles, Pisa, and various other cities adopted similar measures. Only one change was instituted for the trentino. For some reason the 30 days were extended to 40 – hence quarantine from the Italian root for the 40 days of isolation.

Historians are uncertain about what prompted the change and why in particular the number 40 was chosen. Of course, it is possible that it was simply because of the feeling that the shorter period was insufficient to prevent spread of the disease. But many scholars believe that in an age of profound religious belief and of reverence for the Bible the number 40 resonated with great meaning – the same meaning that both Christians and Jews have recognized by its emphasis in Torah narratives.

The story of Noah and the flood had a 40 day timeline. That was enough to change the world. Later, Moses would ascend Mount Sinai and remain there precisely for 40 days to return with the two tablets of stone containing the 10 Commandments. That too would alter human history. When the Jews who left Egypt were hesitant about fulfilling God’s command to enter Israel they insisted on first sending delegates to “spy out the land.” Their trip lasted 40 days. Their report was filled with pessimism and caused despair among the freed slaves. That angered God for its lack of faith in the divine promise and for that reason the Jews would be forced to wander in the desert for 40 years – a year for a day of their sin – until a new generation could arise who were no longer marked by the slave mentality of defeatism.

For Jews the number 40 maintains its symbolic significance for the concept of change and renewal in the realm of Jewish law as well. Someone ritually impure must immerse in a body of water, a mikveh, filled with 40 se’ahs, a liquid measure, in order to change their spiritual identity. A non-Jew wishing to convert to Judaism must similarly enter a mikveh to become considered as if newly born – the water symbolically echoing the prelude to birth of the fetus in the amniotic sac. It takes 40 days for and embryo to be formed in the mother’s womb; until then it is considered little more than water. And every year, when Jews spend the time from the first day of the month of Elul to Yom Kippur totally dedicated to introspection, change, and teshuvah, repentance, it is in the profound hope that these 40 days will make them into new and better versions of themselves.

How remarkable then that the word to describe the attempt of the world to combat the dreaded consequence of a deadly plague affecting us physically is quarantine - the same reference to the number 40 so fundamental to the biblical emphasis on change, on self-improvement, on rebirth to a higher level from a spiritual perspective.

Yes, the world will survive the coronavirus pandemic. And hopefully sooner rather than later, we will come out of quarantine and resume our lives of normalcy. But the time we spent in our homes confined together with our loved ones and removed from the harried lives we have become accustomed to, lives that allow us no time for personal reflection, ought in retrospect inspire us to greater connection with the more meaningful references of the number 40. Perhaps the 40 of quarantine can imbue us with the kind of clarity about our life’s purpose that will better link us to the 40 days of Moses on Mount Sinai.

It is a formidable task to find any ray of light in our present darkness. It is faith, however, that asks of us to hear the message of 40 – change, renewal, and hope for a better future.

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Post  Admin on Thu 30 Apr 2020, 9:24 pm
My Grandmother Lost Her Mother in 1918 Flu Pandemic
Apr 25, 2020  |  by Leah RicheimerMy Grandmother Lost Her Mother in 1918 Flu Pandemic
She is blazing a path for me during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My great-grandmother, Nechama Horowitz, died in the flu pandemic of 1918. She was pregnant at the time and the baby died along with her. She left behind five orphans, my grandmother, Rose, among them. The children were farmed out separately to various relatives, as my great-grandfather was overcome with grief and needed to cobble together a livelihood to support them.

My grandmother never spoke of her childhood, but the pain must have been searing. Her family finally got back together after many years, but her childhood was spent alone.

What’s remarkable about this story is that the predictable bitterness and melancholy that would accompany such a person was completely absent. To the contrary. My grandmother was a burst of sunshine everywhere she went.

The bitterness and melancholy that would accompany such a person was completely absent. My grandmother was a burst of sunshine everywhere she went.
I remember waiting in a long line at the grocery store when shorter lines were available. I suggested we move over, but my grandmother told me that this was her cashier’s line. As we loaded our groceries onto the counter, they had an intimate discussion, catching up on their personal lives. One summer vacation, on the tram at Disneyland, she doled out long string licorice to all the grandkids, and then gave a piece to everyone else there, including the driver, who seemed choked up by the gesture. He wasn’t invisible. Somebody cared.

My grandparents 
In this current pandemic, I look to my grandmother to figure out how to better respond to this crisis. I have many people close to me who have lost their jobs, lost their family members, or face terribly frightening unknown futures. Their anxieties and worries are deep, with no end in sight. My neighbor lost her husband just before Passover, no funeral, no visitors, and solitary confinement at her Passover Seder, alone.

The gap between what I’m doing and what I feel I should be doing is vast. I did reduce my complaining to my husband (at least a little), I did become our stand-in housekeeper, and I even cooked and delivered meals for people since I didn’t have young kids running around. And as directed by our Rabbis, we did start learning the laws of refraining from gossip every day.

And just like the rest of the world, I’ve had to figure out ways to get goods into the house safely. I’ve had to learn to navigate keeping up with the news without ratcheting up my anxiety to an unbearable level. I’ve had to pace myself in reading my texts and emails to steel myself for the losses. I was on edge for weeks waiting for the latest bit of news about a dear friend on a ventilator (he survived). I do feel good that I didn’t lose my temper with my family all cooped up together, but is that my big triumph at this historic time?

As I’ve had to stare my own mortality in the face, or that of my beloved husband’s, it has brought one poignant question to the fore. That, God willing, many decades from now, when I’m lying on my deathbed, what will I wish I had set out to accomplish in my life?

In effect, how can I reverse engineer my life? How can I come up with a goal to bring out my greatest self, and determine the exact order of steps necessary to produce that result? Somehow, in the midst of this crisis, it feels as if God has given me this moment to reflect. To think. To plan.

I already do have a mission volunteering my time to teach marital harmony. But there is a deeper mission, one brought down by many Jewish sources, and for that, I believe, I may be falling woefully short. I’m haunted by the thought that I may be getting things terribly wrong.

This ultimate mission, to which I most certainly aspire, is to maximize my own potential. Our sages explain that at the end of our days, we will not be compared to any other person. However, we will be held up against the person that we could have become if we had just set our hearts and minds to it.

I’m ripping a page out of my grandmother’s notebook and making a concerted effort to show people that I care.
I can’t help but feel that this crisis is my wake-up call. I’m not positive what I’m meant to do differently – I’m just certain that I’m meant to do it now. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it has a lot do to with trying to be as much like my grandmother as possible.

Jewish tradition teaches that it’s better to take on one small thing and to keep it, rather than taking on too much and end up accomplishing nothing. In that vein, I’m going to create a new normal for myself. I’m ripping a page out of my grandmother’s notebook and making a concerted effort to show people that I care.

The author with her grandmother

So when someone calls, and I’m right in the middle of doing something else, I’m going to try to give them the time and attention that they need. When someone walks into the room, making yet another request of me, I’m going to try to be more helpful with a better attitude. When I feel overwhelmed and am not in the mood to show caring, at least I’ll try not to show irritation.

When I’m talking to a stranger, I’m going to try to be friendlier and treat them better. And if someone has been through something tragic, I’m going to get over my own reluctance and make that phone call. I’m going to try to be more present with people and try to really listen.

I’m going to try to be less impatient with people who aren’t doing things the way I think they should be done. I’m going to take a minute longer than I normally would, even at my own inconvenience, to not give the impression that I don’t care. I’m going to check in with more people, even if it’s just to leave a message.

And rather than asking people if they need anything, hoping they’ll say no, I’m just going to act. Like dropping off treats at someone’s doorstep, or phoning from the grocery store to bring something for an elderly friend. I’m going to call someone who has kids at home and tell them they are heroes and what a great job they’re doing.

And most importantly, in the midst of this terribly stressful time, I’m going ask my husband to please forgive me for all of my petty frustrations and outbursts during this challenge. I’m going to tell him that he means the world to me. And then, I’m going to focus on showing him how much I really care.

What's your new normal going to be?

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Post  Admin on Tue 28 Apr 2020, 12:39 pm
The Silver Platter: Establishing the State of Israel
Apr 27, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt MillerThe Silver Platter: Establishing the State of Israel
24,000 Israeli soldiers have sacrificed their lives for the protection of the Jewish state.

“The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.”

Those words – which have become the title of one of Israel’s most famous and beloved poems – were uttered in December 1947 by Chaim Weitzmann, the first President of the State of Israel. When he said them, the nations of the world, voting in the United Nations, had recently overwhelmingly approved the partition of the region called Mandatory Palestine. This area had been ruled by Britain for a generation, and now the British wished to get this troublesome Middle Eastern area off its hands. Much of Mandatory Palestine had recently become a new nation, the Kingdom of Jordan. Now the fate of the rest of the area known as Mandatory Palestine was turned over to the UN.

The UN set up a committee to study the situation and they made a recommendation: the region should be further divided into two nations. One part should become yet another independent Arab country. A tiny sliver of land along the Mediterranean, which was home to 660,000 Jews and had a Jewish majority, should become an independent Jewish homeland, the first independent Jewish state in 1,877 years.

The stakes were incredibly high: not only the survival of the Jews living in Mandatory Palestine depended on the vote, but so too did the fates of over 300,000 Holocaust survivors who were still languishing in camps in Europe who longed to move to the Land of Israel. In addition nearly a million Jews who lived in Arab countries faced riots and massacres at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. They also looked with longing at the Land of Israel, hoping they could find safety and refuge there.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted. Country after country cast their ballots. The results soon became clear. By a vote of 33 to 13 (with 10 abstentions), the nations of the world had voted to create a Jewish state.

Years later, Chaim Herzog (who would go on to serve as Israel’s president from 1983-1993) recalled the joy of hearing the UN vote unfold:

On the never-to-be-forgotten night of 29 November 1947 the entire nation was glued to the radio as Moshe Medzini, correspondent of Palestine Radio, reported that the General Assembly was voting to decide whether we would achieve statehood. One by one the name of each member nation was called and each announcement was made – Yes, No, or Abstention. The United States, the Soviet Union, and France voted in favor; Britain abstained. Finally, the announcement was made; the recommendation had been adopted by a vote of thirty-three in favor and thirteen against, with ten abstentions.

Pandemonium broke out and the entire Jewish population was seized with joby. For that moment, all bitterness and remorse over past injustice disappeared. In Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in every town of Palestine, Jews poured into the streets cheering wildly. People of all ages spun around in euphoria, dancing the hora. (From Living History: The Memoirs of a Great Israeli Freedom-Fighter, Soldier, Diplomat and Statesman by Chaim Herzog. Weidenfeld Nicolson, London: 1997.)

Intimations of War
When Chaim Weitzman was asked for his assessment of the UN’s partition vote, he explained that the vote was but the first step in establishing a Jewish state, proving that the global consensus supported a Jewish homeland in the ancient Land of Israel. But like anything worth having, it would have to be fought for: “The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.” The state of Israel would have to be dearly bought, with Jewish blood.

For while much of the world was celebrating, Israel’s Arab neighbors made it clear that they would not tolerate the existence of a Jewish state, no matter what the circumstances. Britain’s mandate in the region was set to expire on May 14, 1948. If Israel dared declare its independence on that day, it faced not just one invading force but many: Israel’s borders with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan all were vulnerable to attack, and the nascent Jewish state was vastly outnumbered by the combined forces of the much larger and more militarily advanced grouping of nations known as the Arab Legion, which was committed to preventing the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

One Israeli who celebrated the UN’s partition vote on November 29, 1947 was the famous writer and journalist Nathan Altermann. Born in Poland in 1910, he moved as a child with his family to the bustling city of Tel Aviv. (Established as a new Jewish city on sand dunes north of the city of Jaffa in 1911 with just eleven residents, by 1948 it had grown to a busy metropolis of 230,000.) Altermann joined a joyous crowd at Tel Aviv’s Cafe Kassit, a popular cafe with the city’s literary figures. As he and his friends drank toasts to the UN’s vote, Altermann overheard two of his acquaintances whispering together.

Yosef Avidar was a senior commander with the Haganah, the Jewish defense group. He was talking with Yitzhak Sadeh, the founder of the Palmach, the Hagana’s elite strike unit. How many Jews would die defending a nascent Jewish state they wondered? They estimated that perhaps 10,000 Jews would be killed by Arab armies if they dared make the UN’s vote a reality and establish a Jewish homeland.

Altermann stopped celebrating. One of his friends later recalled that suddenly his face was “filled with anxiety and pain”. Altermann, like many Jews, had heard Weitzmann’s warnings that a Jewish state would not be simply handed to its inhabitants on a silver platter. He realized that they’d have to fight and suffer for the creation of a land to call their own.

Nathan Altermann
That night, Altermann went home and started working on the poem that would become his best known work. Titled Magash Hakesef, “The Silver Platter”, it envisioned the toll that creating a Jewish state would take. He described a war-torn land, a homeland of “smoky frontiers” still burning from battle. He wrote of a Jewish homeland that was “torn at heart but existing”, one experiencing both “terror and joy” together.

In the poem’s final, haunting passages, Altermann conjured up the image of two young Jewish soldiers, a boy and a girl, who are battle-weary and fatigued, covered with the dirt and grime of the long, hard war they’ve been fighting. As the poem continues, it becomes clear that these two young Jews are no longer among the living. As they stagger into view, an entire nation gazes on them, wondering who just who these exhausted, injured soldiers at the front lines defending the first Jewish country in nearly two thousand years might be. Finally, with weary gazes, the two young soldiers reply softly: “We are the silver platter on which you were handed the State of Israel.”

Establishing the Jewish State
British rule of Mandatory Palestine came to an end on May 14, 1948. On that day, the leaders of the Yishuv, the Jewish communities in the Land of Israel, came together in Tel Aviv to proclaim the establishment of their state. They rose to their feet and sang the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Then David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, read out the words that reestablished a Jewish state in the land of Israel: “ virtue of our natural and historic right and of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, do hereby proclaim the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel – the State of Israel…. The State of Israel will be open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.”

Wild jubilation erupted throughout the land. Golda Meir (who was born in Ukraine and narrowly escaped being murdered in anti-Jewish pogroms as a child, and would serve as Israel’s Prime Minister 1969-1974) recalled her intense feelings at that moment:

The long exile was over. From this day on, we would no longer live on sufferance in the land of our forefathers. Now we were a nation like other nations, masters – for the first time in twenty centuries – of our own destiny. The dream had come true – too late to save those who had perished in the Holocaust, but not too late for the generations to come… As Ben-Gurion read, I thought again about my children and the children that they would have, how different their lives would be from mine and how different my own life would be from what it had been in the past. (From My Life by Gold Meir. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London: 1975.)

Golda Meir’s celebration was tinged with terror. She’d just come back from a top secret mission to Jordan where she met with King Hussein Abdullah and pleaded with him in vain not to attack the Jewish state. As she drove back to Israel, her advisors warned her that up to 50,000 Jewish soldiers might die in the ensuing war, and estimated that Israel had only a 50% chance of prevailing against the superior military might of its Arab neighbors.

Attacked from All Sides
Within hours of Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, the new Jewish country was invaded by Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. “How beautiful was this day, May 14,” an Arab Legion officer wrote, “when the whole world held its breath anticipating the entry of seven Arab armies into Palestine to redeem if from the Zionists…” The Transjordanian Arab Legion was led by a British officer, Sir John Bagot Glubb, who recalled that in Jordan’s capital Amman, “the flat roofs and the windows were crowded with women and children, whose shrill cries and wavering trebles could be heard above the roar and rattle of the vehicles, and the cheering of the crowds of men beside the road. The troops themselves were clapping and cheering. In others, they were laughing and waving to the crowds as they passed.” The scene was repeated in countless other Arab cities and towns, as residents celebrated what they believed would be the swift destruction of the new State of Israel. (Quoted in A History of Israel From The Rise of Zionism To Our Time by Howard M. Sachar. Alfred A. Knopf: New York: 2002.)

The war was to last for nearly a year and devastated every corner of the state of Israel. In May, 1948 the Israel Defense Force consisted of a rag-tag army of amateurs and volunteers; within a year it had become a professional force of over 100,000 full time men and women. The crucible of this transformation was a total war for Israel’s very survival.

The other branches of Israel’s military were even more hastily assembled in the midst of fierce fighting. Israel’s navy consisted of unseaworthy vessels that had ferried desperate Holocaust survivors to its shores illegally during British rule. Many of Israel’s air force planes were former US bombers that were bought as scrap. Despite overwhelming odds, Israel’s fighting men and women – often mere youths – began, through months of war, to prevail. Tragically, at every turn, there were heavy casualties. More and more, the ghostly young soldiers of Nathan Altermann’s poem were becoming a reality, as first hundreds, then thousands of young Israeli soldiers lost their lives.

The final action of the war was Operation Yuvda in March, 1949, when Israeli forces captured the Red Sea port of Eilat. Between February and July, 1949, Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. (Iraq refused to sign an armistice treaty with the Jewish state, and remained in a technical state of war with Israel.)

Despite the temporary peace, the toll was terrible. Entire families trembled for many months inside bomb shelters. Farmers were shot by snipers as they tended their fields. Families were attacked and massacred by Arab forces in some border towns. Old men, young children – all faced daily bombing and shooting and constant threat of total annihilation.

The toll on Israel’s soldiers was heavy: 6,373 Israelis were killed in action – fully 1% of the county’s population. Within a few years, Israel’s population grew enormously as Jews from all over the world found refuge in the new Jewish homeland. Within three years, the population of Israel doubled. It grew exponentially later on, as Jews from Arab nations, from Ethiopia, from Europe and from the Soviet Union all poured into the Jewish state.

Each year on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, these Israelis join together to thank these brave soldiers from Israel’s War of Independence and the many subsequent wars that Israel has fought. Nearly 24,000 men and women have been killed defending the Land of Israel since 1860, when Jews first began leaving the safety of walled cities like Jerusalem and began building new towns and settlements. They paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we Jews around the world might continue to have a Jewish homeland.

In the words of both Chaim Weitzmann and Nathan Altermann, these brave young men and women have given us all a timeless gift. They are all the “silver platters” on which we are given the Jewish state of Israel. This Yom Hazikaron and every day, let us honor their memories and their sacrifice.

Here is an English translation of Nathan Altermann’s poem The Silver Platter:


The Silver Platter

The earth grows still.
The lurid sky slowly pales over smoking borders.
Heartsick but still living,
A people stand by
To greet the uniqueness
Of the miracle.

Readied, they wait beneath the moon,
Wrapped in awesome joy before the light.

Then soon,
A girl and boy step forward,
And slowly walk before the waiting nation;
In work clothes and heavy-shod
They climb In stillness.

Wearing still the dress of battle, the grime
Of aching day and fired night
Unwashed, weary until death, not knowing rest,
But wearing youth like dewdrops in their hair.
-- Silently the two approach
And stand.

Are they of the quick or of the dead?
Through wondering tears, the people stare.
"Who are you, the silent two?"
And they reply:
"We are the silver platter
Upon which the Jewish State was served to you."

And speaking, fall in shadow at the nation's feet.
Let the rest in Israel's chronicles be told.

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Post  Admin on Sun 26 Apr 2020, 8:53 pm
Covid-19 and the Messiah
Apr 23, 2020  |  by Sara Yoheved RiglerCovid-19 and the Messiah
No one knows when the final redemption will come, but the only way to be ready is to yearn for that period of peace, harmony, and universal God-consciousness.

The Covid-19 global crisis is a dark tunnel, and humanity is on a train passing through it. According to Judaism, unlike other ancient worldviews, that train does not move in an endless circle. Rather it moves in a line toward a definite destination: The Complete Redemption, also called the Messianic Era.

All of the Biblical prophets described that destination: A world of universal peace, where "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they practice war any more." (Isaiah 2:4) That peace will prevail not only among nations, but also among individuals. People of different dispositions will live together in harmony. As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan pointed out, the famous passage about concord in the animal kingdom is really an allegory for the end of human exploitation and violence. There will be no more predators and victims. "The wolf will dwell with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the kid; the calf, the young lion, and the fatling together, will be led by a young child. The cow will graze with the bear; their young will lie down together; the lion will eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7).

How will this state of utopia come about? Through the advent of universal God-consciousness. As Isaiah prophesized, "The earth will be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea" (11:9). All human folly and frailty derive from a lack of God-consciousness. As Judaism has been insisting for three and a half millennia, God is one. This means not just that there is only one God rather than a pantheon of many gods, but also that the underlying Truth of reality is oneness. When God created the physical world, He permitted the illusion of multiplicity and separation to mask the spiritual reality of oneness. During the coming period of the Complete Redemption [Geula Shleima], this mask will fall. All human beings will become cognizant of God and of the essential Godliness of other human beings.

This quantum leap in human consciousness will be brought about through the agency of an exceedingly wise and righteous human being called Moshiach [messiah], who will be a descendent of King David. Religious Jews pray thrice daily, "May the shoot of David sprout." One of the “Thirteen Principles of the Faith” delineated by Maimonides is, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he tarries, with all that, I await his coming every day.” According to the sages of the Talmud, one of the six questions that all Jews will be asked when their souls come to heavenly judgment is, “Did you anticipate the Redemption?”

Is the World Ready for the Messianic Era?
Will the Messianic Era come soon, or is it shrouded in the mists of a distant future? According to our sages, the Moshiach must reveal himself by the year 6000. We are currently in the year 5780 of the Jewish calendar. However, certain factors can cause Moshiach to come sooner.

Historically, false messiahs have wrought calamity to the Jewish people.
Before discussing those factors and whether the current global crisis feeds into them, we must clarify a crucial issue: Most rabbis are reluctant to talk about Moshiach’s coming, and for good reason. There are historical and philosophical reasons for this aversion.

Historically, false messiahs have wrought calamity to the Jewish people. The best (actually, worst) example is Shabbetai Tzvi, who declared himself the Messiah in 1648. The Chmielnicki massacres of that year had decimated the Jewish population of Poland, leaving the Jews of Europe and the Ottoman Empire desperate for salvation. Over the next two decades, large masses of Jews became convinced that Shabbetai Tzvi was Moshiach. They sold all their property and started to journey to the land of Israel. (Return of the Jewish people to Israel is the first stage of the Messianic Era.)

But in 1666, when the Turkish Sultan offered him the choice of conversion to Islam or death, Shabbetai Tzvi became an apostate, crushing the hopes and spirits of all but his most die-hard followers. The resulting trauma left the Jewish people in a post-traumatic wary-of-Moshiach state that lingers to this day.

Rabbis throughout history have argued about whether it is permissible to calculate the date of the coming of Moshiach. The predominant view is that it is forbidden to calculate the date. Rabbi Pinchas Winston explains why. First of all, if one projects a specific date for Moshiach’s coming, then one will not expect him on all the days prior to that date. The Talmudic sages, however, established that Moshiach should be expected imminently. Additionally, those who project a specific date for Moshiach’s coming may be so deflated if he does not come that day that they will despair of his coming at all.

Nevertheless, the major rabbis of the last several decades have stated that humanity is in the general period of “the birthpangs of Moshiach.” Just as the birth of a baby is preceded by excruciating labor pains, so the wars and terrorism of this past century are the necessary prelude to Moshiach’s emergence.

The main controversy about when the world is ready for the Complete Redemption hinges on whether the pre-condition for Moshiach is that people will be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. The Torah itself prophesizes a mass return to faith in God and adherence to the mitzvahs: “There will come a time when you will experience all the words of blessing and curse that I have presented to you…. And you will return to the Lord, your God, and obey Him. … Then the Lord your God will return your exiles” (Deut. 30:1-3).

The time leading up to the Messiah's arrival will be characterized by a predominance of chutzpah.
According to the Talmudic sages, however, the period of the “birthpangs of Moshiach” will be a time of decadence and scorn of those who live by Torah. It will be characterized by a predominance of chutzpah. “In the final days before the advent of Moshiach, chutzpah will abound…. Children will shame the elderly, and the elderly will stand before youth; a son will abuse his father, a daughter will rebel against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Those who fear sin will become repulsive, and truth will disappear. … The son of David [Moshiach] will not come … until slander proliferates” (Sanhedrin 97a).

Viewing the world through the Torah’s standards, one could say that the present age has hit a moral nadir. The “me-too” movement has revealed sexual assault and harassment of women as widespread as the coronavirus. Adultery rates in America indicate that 20 to 40% of married men and 20 to 25% of married women have engaged in marital infidelity. Close to 500,000 images of child pornography are posted on the internet every week. Anti-Semitism throughout the world has spiked. In such a world, how can the Complete Redemption occur?

The Chafetz Chaim, the great sage of the 20th century, solved the contradiction by declaring in his little-known work written in 1930, “There will be two categories of Jews in the generation of redemption, and both are instrumental in bringing the redemption closer.… The first category of those who hasten the redemption consists of those who vigorously intensify their service of God and that of their children, with all their hearts and souls” (On Awaiting Moshiach1, p. 23). The Chafetz Chaim goes on to describe the “second category of Jews who hasten the redemption”:

This generation will be weak in its religious observance, and each person will do as he sees fit.… Nevertheless, this should not cause us anguish, for this itself is a sign of the redemption! … They rely on their own judgment, which contradicts that of all previous generations. They despise those sages, scholars, and holy men of earlier generations who sacrificed their lives for the sake of each and every law of the Torah. …

Thus, no benefit can result from the continuation of this long exile. Israel’s merits are no longer growing and flourishing, thereby increasing our reward. On the contrary, acceptance of our tradition and compliance therewith continues to decrease and has almost ceased, God forbid. …

Therefore, the Holy One, blessed is He, must hasten the redemption and “open the eyes of the blind” to the true light. The Holy One, blessed is He, will not abandon His dispersed children, God forbid.… This is the meaning of the verse, “Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not abhor them or spurn them so as to destroy them and annul My covenant with them, for I am the Lord, their God” (Lev. 26:44).

… Accordingly, in the final period before the coming of Moshiach, there will be two categories of Jews. Both will hasten the arrival of Moshiach – one through their good deeds and suffering, and the other through unworthy deeds. Obviously, it is preferable to be included in the first category of Jews rather than the second [pp. 26-30].

COVID-19 and the Messiah
When the coronavirus first hit Europe and America, closing down commerce, schools, universities, entertainment, sports, etc., the pundits referred to it as pressing the “pause button” on society. But as of this writing, with nearly two and a half million people infected and 170,883 dead, many commentators are opining that the “pause button” is really a “reset button,” and that the world will never return to its pre-Covid-19 state.

Judaism’s response is always hope, because we are assured that all roads, however rough, lead to the Complete Redemption.
The Department for Strategic Planning within Israel’s Foreign Ministry on April 12, 2020 made public a document composed by twenty diplomats and Foreign Ministry experts. Among its dire predictions were an economic depression rivalling the Great Depression of the 1930s, global destabilization with China and the West locking horns, dwindling health supplies, and additional pandemics.

Rather than such predictions leading us to anxiety and despair, Judaism’s response is always hope, because we are assured that all roads, however rough, lead to the Complete Redemption. This resolute optimism, based on Biblical guarantees, has enabled the Jewish People to weather all the crises of our long and challenging history.

The current global crisis could be a likely scenario for the advent of Moshiach. Spiritual truth cannot sprout in ground crowded with the weeds of false beliefs and tenaciously-held fealty to false gods. The last few years have seen an unprecedented disillusionment with government. With the malls closed and the stock market in seizures, the bastions of materialism and economic security are crumbling. Confusion abounds. Might humanity now be open to hearing the voice of Moshiach?

Some Talmudic sages predicted that the Complete Redemption will come with miracles greater than the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt. Yet others declared that it will be a time of upheaval, of earthquakes and natural disasters, when no one will have any money in his pocket.

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the speed of humanity’s train. We, all of us, are barreling toward the Complete Redemption. Whether we will reach the destination next week, next month, next year, or in a decade, no one knows. But the only way to be ready is to yearn for that period of peace, harmony, and universal God-consciousness, so we will recognize it when it – when we – arrive.

Dedicated to psychiatrist and author Kenneth Porter, who asked me about Moshiach.
Photo Credit: Seth Aronstam,

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Post  Admin on Fri 24 Apr 2020, 12:59 pm
The Sirens of Rabbi Akiva: Corona and Sefirat HaOmer
Apr 19, 2020  |  by Tuvia GanzThe Sirens of Rabbi Akiva: Corona and Sefirat HaOmer
The death of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples that has an eerie resonance of the pandemic we face today.

As the coronavirus spreads its ugly scourge across the face of the planet, and as we’re inundated with an overwhelming number of media reports, press conferences, health notices, and videos, one particular text message caught my attention.

“I hear sirens passing by every minute,” it read.

Sirens are indeed wailing around the world. And it seems, especially across the Jewish world.

A plague is upon us. It has landed like a hammer on a nail. We have been forced into complete isolation and death is staring at us around every corner.

A few weeks ago it was Purim, one of the most joyous holidays in the Jewish calendar. A story of V’nehapachu – turnabout, whereby a tragic and evil decree was reversed.

But as we were celebrating Purim, another reversal has occurred.

There we were, feeling confident that we would be immune, as long as we didn’t shake hands. We were inspired by the words of the Scroll of Esther that the month which had been transformed for them from one of sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to festivity would apply to us as well.

We went from gladness to sorrow, from festivity to mourning, and we are suffering through of one the greatest plagues of modern times.
But the opposite has happened. We went from gladness to sorrow, from festivity to mourning, and we are suffering through of one the greatest plagues of modern times. Passover, a time of families uniting, was celebrated in isolation. Nissan, the month of freedom and redemption, is sadly turning into a month of mourning.

The United States is on full or semi lockdown until April 30th. And that date might yet be extended. National health experts project the “peak” to happen now and the danger still extends beyond that.

The timing is remarkable. We are in the midst of the days of Sefirat HaOmer, the days between Passover and Shavuot which should have been the happiest of times. It is the time between the redemption and exile from Egypt to the celebration of receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

But instead, we have days of mourning. We don’t get haircuts, and we don’t make weddings, we don’t listen to music.

Why? Because 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died between Passover and Shavuot. But consider the following:

According to one opinion in the Mishnah, the judgment of the wicked in Gehinnom – Hell, takes place between Passover and Shavuot.1
It is a time of severity and judgment pertaining to crops (which is one reason why the Omer offering is brought at that time.2)
From the First Crusade to the pogroms and blood libels, this time period was especially brutal for the Jews, with the entire communities of tens of thousands of Jews killed.3
The mystics teach that these days are days of judgment and severity.4
Yet none of these are given as the classic reason for the mourning period. We are taught that we mourn because of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students.

Why we are so focused on these 24,000 students? Yes, it was a most tragic event, but the Jewish people have, unfortunately, had so many greater tragedies over the millennia. One doesn’t have to go back more than 75 years to witness the greatest holocaust ever perpetrated on the Jewish people. That was six million Jews!

The Talmud says that the reason the 24,000 students died was because of their lack of respect for each other. Granted, that’s not good behavior. But we’ve never been angels. The Torah is full of humanity’s failures. Why was this particular tragedy so important, that we mourn for so lengthy a time?

The answer is that Rabbi Akiva was the greatest sage of his time. He is most known for espousing “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – love your neighbor like yourself.” His students were the crème de la crème and they failed on the basic interpersonal mitzvah. We can assume that these students fulfilled all the obligations of the Torah – kashrut, Shabbat, tefillin, tzedakah – and indeed were learning Torah all day. But they apparently didn’t show respect for each other, and Hillel says that “love your neighbor like yourself” is equal to the entire Torah. And if they couldn’t keep that commandment then it was as if they were undermining all of their learning and observances.

In ordinary times, perhaps they wouldn’t have been subjected to such a strict judgment. But these students were held up to the highest scrutiny because they were so great and had the most illustrious teacher possible.

It is also noted that that period was a potential messianic age. Had Rabbi Akiva’s students succeeded in the trait of loving others, the messiah would have come at that time. Their failure brought about a reversal that moved the Jewish nation into the opposite direction. The students died and they “killed” the messianic possibility at that time. It is for that reason that we mourn for such a long period of time. It wasn’t just any tragedy. It was the tragedy – that the Jewish people missed the most incredible opportunity. And we’ve been mourning that ever since.

What is the essence of the negative attribute of not showing respect to one another?

I believe the essence of that is ego and elitism and arrogance. When one feels superior over another, he’s not inclined to respect the other. “I am better than you.” “I do x–y–and–z, while you only do x–and–y.” “I am smarter than you.” “I am richer than you.” “I am more important than you.” “I don’t have to appreciate what you do for me, you should be grateful for what I give you.”

The arrogance of looking down at others is a great transgression. “I don’t need to listen to anyone because I am great.” “I am rich, therefore I am great.” “I am wise, therefore I am great.” “I am a prominent leader, therefore I am great.”

And God has no tolerance for such arrogance.

So the sirens are wailing. And they’re wailing at this particular time. For the whole world. And for us Jews who are wondering why it seems to be that our specific communities – the apparent crème de la crème – is suffering disproportionally to the rest.

We must ask ourselves, “How are we treating others?” – be it in interpersonal relations – or in business – or infighting between factions. Are we being fair with people? Or taking advantage of our perceived strengths and invincibility? Are we grateful to people who do things for us? Or work for us? Are we arrogant? Are we looking at other Jews with a sense of elitism?

We need to take this time in quarantine, inundated by a deluge of sad news, to see humanity as all made “b’tzelem Elokim – in the image of God.” There is no room for arrogance. The coronavirus doesn’t differentiate between age, gender, religion, or nationality. God is showing that to the entire world.

I will leave you with the Talmud’s account of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples that has an eerie resonance of the pandemic we face today:

It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbatha to Antipatris; all of them died at the same time, because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate [of Torah] until Rabbi Akiva came to our rabbis in the south and taught them Torah. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A tanna taught: All of them died between Passover and Shavuot. Rabbi Chama bar Abba, or some say Rabbi Chiya bar Avin, said: All of them died a cruel death. What was it? Rabbi Nachman replied: Croup.5

Croup, like the Coronavirus, is an inflammation that is associated with infection and causes breathing difficulties, and is spread by respiratory droplets.

Let us examine our sense of self, our ego, our feelings of elitism, and add that to our usual teshuva, tefillah, and tzedakah – repentance, prayer and charity – so that we annul this evil decree.

And let us hope that with the grace and mercy of God, this year’s Lag B’Omer – the day when the plague afflicting Rabbi Akiva’s students ended – comes very early this year.


See Chok Yaakov to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:3
See Mishnah, Eduyot 2:10; see also Chok Yaakov ibid.
Aruch ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 493:1
Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar Sefirat ha-Omer 7; Shaar ha-Kavanot, Sefirat ha-Omer 12.
Talmud, Yevamot 62b.

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Post  Admin on Wed 22 Apr 2020, 6:17 pm
A Holocaust Survivor’s Last Request
Apr 20, 2020
by Ellen Bachner GreenbergA Holocaust Survivor’s Last Request
My grandfather insisted on being buried in his Auschwitz uniform.

While the sepia photograph of my father’s Bar Mitzvah in Berlin, 1938 was prominently displayed in our living room, to me it was in always in the background. I knew my father’s parents and brother were in the photo along with my father who was wearing a wool blazer, shorts, and knee-high socks. At the time, I had no reason to know more.

That changed in 2016 when I started writing the story of my father, Fred Bachner, who survived several concentration camps including Auschwitz and passed away in 2008. I picked up the photograph that was still in my mother’s living room and saw details I had not noticed before.

I looked at the face of my grandmother, Erna Bachner, who was murdered at Auschwitz, hoping to know her as the Mutti my father adored. I was disheartened and confused why she appeared pensive and sad. This should have been a joyous occasion, but it was October 1938 in Berlin, a few weeks before Kristallnacht, and there were reasons for her to be worried.

My grandfather, Abraham Bachner, survived Auschwitz. In the photo he is standing straight and smiling, looking proud of his son. Looking back on 25 years of memories and images of my grandfather, whether it was a joyous occasion or a Sunday get-together with his two sons and four grandchildren, there was never another time I saw him smiling. As the family posed for the photo, I imagine they had no idea this would be the last family portrait and only remaining picture of all four Bachners.

Growing up, my grandfather remained a mystery. All I knew was that he was a Holocaust survivor, spoke with an accent, wore bifocals, and walked with a limp, an injury sustained when a New York City bus hit him in the 1950s, or so I was led to believe. The only comments I remember him saying to me were, “There’s room for improvement” when I showed him my Hebrew School report card, even though most of my grades were As, and “It could be better” the time I baked Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Cinnamon Rolls. His childhood in Poland and his life in Berlin before the war were never discussed and the “H” word was never mentioned.

Abraham Bachner passed away on December 8, 1980 at 85 years old. At the funeral, Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld of Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills told the mourners Abraham’s final request was to be buried in his Auschwitz uniform. The Rabbi explained that initially he did not understand the request and reminded Abraham as an observant Jew he should be buried in the traditional shroud. Abraham insisted that at his time of judgment, he wanted the Almighty to look at whatever sins he had committed and weigh them against the years of torture and starvation he had endured during the Holocaust. The uniform would be a reminder.

I did not know my grandfather kept his uniform or understand why he wanted to be buried with it, but unlike my aunt and uncle who let it be known they thought the uniform should have been saved for posterity, I knew the uniform belonged with my grandfather.

Since his passing, I continued to wonder the reasons behind my grandfather’s request. It was clearly significant enough that Holocaust scholar and educator Yaffa Eliach included it as a chapter in her book, Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust, and Benjamin Mead, founder of WAGRO told the story at the Yom HaShoah commemoration at Temple Emanuel in Manhattan in 1981. Despite reading the chapter many times, it was not until recently when I gained an understanding of my grandfather and his request.

My trip to Poland in 2018 was a turning point in my relationship with my grandfather. I visited Chrzanow, the city he was born in and where he and his family returned to in 1939 when forced out of Germany. I stood outside the house they lived in and were later dragged out of during the roundups to Auschwitz. I said Kaddish and left a stone at the grave of his father, Shimon Josef, who died in a fire in 1898 when my grandfather was three years old and at the grave of his grandfather, Aron, who died in 1855. I felt my grandfather’s presence.

It was not until I stood outside the gates to Auschwitz that I realized when the war ended my grandfather was 50 years old and had been in labor and concentration camps for five years. Everything shifted for me as I came to understand and love him as the strong and brave person he had to be in order to survive. I also realized my grandfather’s request to be buried along with the uniform was his way of telling us he knew he was not the best version of who he had been before the Holocaust.

I thought my journey was complete, but there was still more. I continued researching my family’s history and recently found a new document. I never imagined it would be a picture of my grandfather in 1945, still wearing the uniform he wore in Auschwitz. He was thin, his eyes sunken, and he had a blank stare. It is hard to believe the picture of him at my father’s Bar Mitzvah was taken only seven years earlier. All the life was sucked out of him and he appears “broken.”

The contrast between the two photographs serves as reminder of the enormity of what he endured. Abraham Bachner survived the Holocaust, but so much of him had not.

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Post  Admin on Sun 19 Apr 2020, 7:55 pm
4 Gifts My Mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Gave Me
Apr 15, 2020  |  by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff4 Gifts My Mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Gave Me
What would my mother say about the pandemic? Her life speaks her response.
In this difficult time, how can we gather our inner strength and get through this world crisis?
I believe that everything in life is meant to be. And so I take great comfort knowing that the biography of my dear mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, (The Rebbetzin, by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer) came out now in the midst of these challenging days. Many have asked me: what would your mother say? I know that her life speaks her response.
As a little girl my mother was a child of Bergen Belsen. She was shoved into the cattle cars together with her parents and two brothers. Each morning my mother stood at role call facing savage Nazi guards and their German Shepard dogs. Her head was shaved. She was starving, covered with lice and sores. But somehow I never heard about the fear. My mother would speak about strength and unwavering belief in God. She would look at those beasts of men and think to herself, Thank G-d I am the daughter of my people. I would never wish to be one of them. I am grateful to have my parents and my faith.

When they arrived to the concentration camps, my Zaydie turned to his daughter and said, “Here my lichtega kind (my precious light), you have a tremendous mission.”

“Tatty,” my mother asked, “what can I do here in this terrible place? I’m just a child?”
My grandfather replied, “You can give a smile. When you give someone a smile it gives them hope.” This was a constant message throughout my life. My mother lived with that lesson on her lips until her very last day on earth.

Life brings us sometimes to places we never imagined possible. But here is what you must do, my mother would tell me. “When faced with darkness, you have a choice. You can either grow angry or depressed. Or you can light a candle and illuminate the darkness. Slovie, never sit in darkness. Always ask yourself, ‘How can I grow from this? How can I find purpose in the pain?’”

My mother also taught me the power of prayer. “Speak to God because prayer is our most potent weapon,” she’d say. “Prayer works!” We would call my mother day and night and ask her to pray for us. I have my mother’s book of Psalms. It is tattered and worn. I turn the pages today in this time of crisis and try hard to draw upon her faith and incredible power of prayer.

My mother’s wisdom sustains me through life. And though she has left this world, her legacy remains my spiritual lighthouse. I’d like to share with you four gifts (among the many) that my mother gave me. I take these gifts with me and carry them in my heart. They embolden me as the world around us is filled with pain and fear.
1. Live with Passion and Meaning
I will never forget sitting front row in Madison Square Garden, November 18, 1973. There were thousands of Jews from every walk of life; some sitting on the floor because there were no more seats. The room was pitch black. Suddenly the spotlight beamed brightly onto the stage. There standing bravely was my mother. “You are a Jew,” she proclaimed. She spoke with power and passion. That night was magical. At the end of the evening thousands rose to their feet, danced, sang the Shema together, and knew that their souls had been touched forever.
I wondered sometimes and asked my mother, how did you ever think this possible? How did you speak to the Israeli army, the American army, across the world to thousands upon thousands of people? How did you speak about God and faith and never feel afraid? How did you start a worldwide movement called Hineni to bring Jews back to their roots?
My mother told me that when she arrived to America she saw a spiritual wasteland before her eyes. After witnessing the physical Holocaust she had gone through, she dared not remain silent. She knew that she had a mission in this world.
“What are you passionate about?” she would ask. “What do you wake up early for? What gets you going?”
Live with passion, but make it meaningful. If you believe in your mission you can do anything.
2. Never Give Up on a Soul
I watched my mother connect with every type of person. What was her secret?
My mother believed that within every being was a soul waiting to be ignited. I can still her voice in my head. “It is a flicker of a light, a tiny flame, but if you will it that tiny flame can become a great fire!”
The book is filled with stories of the people whose lives would never be the same after meeting my mother. In 1982 I traveled with my mother from Lebanon where she spoke with battling Israeli troops to a meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin in Jerusalem. And then a jeep took us to Ramle Prison where she gave the incarcerated women hope. Each of these encounters was precious to her. She saw beyond clothing, beyond the body, and found instead the sacred spark that lies beneath.
3. Love the Land of Israel
My mother’s connection to the land of Israel was deep. One of my earliest memories is watching my parents cry with joy when they heard the radio broadcasting the shofar being blown at the Kotel during the battle for Jerusalem in 1967. My parents wanted to be part of the miracle. They had dreamed of living in Israel after the Holocaust but were unable to secure visas.
I was just a little child but our visit shortly after the 6 Day War remains imprinted in my heart and soul. Every step we took, my mother and father would stop for a moment and tearfully share the wonder. They would relay stories of the sacrifice of our people, the promise of our land in the Torah, the holiness that permeated the very air we breathed. My mother’s favorite place in the world was Jerusalem. She would devote much of her life to the people of Israel and the brave soldiers who fought for the Land.
4. Know Where You’ve Come From
My full name is Slova Channah. I was named for my Bubby who was last seen together with her husband, Rabbi Yisroel HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l holding their youngest grandchildren on line at the gas chambers of Auschwitz. We were given the names of our Bubbies and Zaydies so that we would continue to live as Jews because they could not. We continue to give the very same names to our children and grandchildren so that we may know forever from whence we have come; the potential that is within us.

Before being taken away to Bergen Belsen, my grandparents took one last trip to their parents in the city of Nadodver. My mother recalls how she’d love to sit by her Zaydie as he studied his holy books. This time though, her Zaydie was crying. My mother, a little child, grew frightened at the sight of her Zaydie’s tears. She ran to her father and together they took a walk in the deep snow. Her father walked first and my mother followed in his footsteps so that she would not fall.
That walk would become my mother’s defining moment, her life legacy that she would share with countless audiences and us children alike. She would recall her father’s words explaining her Zaydie’s tears while learning Torah.
“Soon, my sweetest child, the snow is going to be very deep and you will fall, but every time you fall remember that Zaydie made a path for you. And then you will be able to stand up and keep on walking on that path.”
The snow did become very deep. Soon after, she was faced with the darkness of the Holocaust. My mother told us that she fell many times. But whenever she would fall she’d recall the tears and the words of her father. My mother would pick herself up and keep on walking… throughout her life those footsteps gave her the strength to put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking.

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Post  Admin on Sat 18 Apr 2020, 8:55 pm
Facing our mortality can make us serious about what life is about.

The Angel of Death visited our community and our family in particular this Passover season, sadly not just in the Chad Gadya finale of our Seder, but for real.

My father-in-law was one of dozens who have been torn from British Jewry by the contemporary plague of the coronavirus. I was the last family member to be with him, reciting the Shema by his bedside in London’s Royal Free Hospital, just before he passed away. Sadly, there was no passing over of Jewish homes in Britain this year. The relatively small British community has been devastated by loss.

The Jews are just 0.3% of the British population, but account for a far greater percentage of the coronavirus fatalities.
In just a three-day period some 30 Jewish people were buried here. The Jews are just 0.3% of the British population, but account for a far greater percentage of the coronavirus fatalities. It is a tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes, one that we cannot grieve through together, as we are unable to hold normally populated funerals nor visit shivas in person.

In London today, as in many other places, there is no shielding children from the loss and devastation that is taking place. Their whole world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis. They understand that their school and studies have been paused, and that they are being kept home to try to stop the alarming disease and death count from rising.

Children are discussing the nitty-gritty of the crisis just like everyone else. Those who tried in the past to shield and protect children from the topic of death are having no success today.

What is more, all of us adults are staring death in the face, whether at close quarters like myself, or because, globally, we have suddenly become acutely and immediately aware of our own mortality. Who has not thought about the reality of death in the last few weeks?

I can’t at this moment of personal and national grief give answers to the most searching questions, but I can share one of the thoughts that struck me during this painful period: perhaps we should proactively stare death in the face at this time and each write our own obituary.

Watching this microscopic virus wreak havoc on all that we thought was so sturdy – international travel, financial markets, our lifestyles and routines – is surreal and underscores the transience of our existence. Seeing lives suddenly lost to an illness that was not even known mere weeks ago begs the most fundamental of life’s questions and perhaps forces each one of us to ponder just how many of us allocate our time in what we really consider the most worthwhile way possible.

So instead of binge-watching another series on Netflix about the life of a fictional character, perhaps we take this time out to write our own life story, and make preparations today to make the reality match the script of tomorrow.

I would suggest that another constructive response may be to talk openly and candidly to our children about death. Don’t leave it to their peers to educate them about death. Speak to them. Connect with them. Show them that talking about death is not morbid, but underscores the preciousness of life and each of journeys through it. It may be one of the most important conversations we ever have.

Children have greater capacity for deep reflection than many adults recognize. When I was 15, both my grandfathers died within the same month. This tragic and traumatic life event changed me forever. It dawned on me that they were not buried with anything we spend so much of our everyday thinking about – no credit cards, no car keys, none of the things I seemingly aspired to as a teenager.

The only financial account that matters when we die is the sum we have used for good deeds.
The Pharaoh of the Exodus story, like other Pharaohs, would have been buried with many riches that he hoped to take to the afterworld. Judaism is clear that the only financial account that matters when we die is the sum we have used for good deeds. I recall the story attributed to a number of illustrious Jewish businessmen of yesteryear, who, to the consternation of his servant demands to review his account ledgers on his deathbed. Until he clarifies that actually he only wanted to see the ledger of charitable donations, as only these had relevance where he was headed.

Last week, when I sat with my father-in-law just before his passing, all worldly concerns fell away. The only thoughts were those of family and of a life of right and wrong well lived.

The reality is that facing our mortality often gets us serious with what life is about. I recalled those moments aged 15 when I had questioned my own father about the nature of life and death. This month, not just once did I ask myself if, God forbid, I were to end up on a ventilator, what type of a life would I have lived. And if I came out of that terrible experience, what kind of a life would I commit to live henceforth.

Judaism does not teach that our normal everyday concerns are unimportant. Rather, it reminds us that they are a means to an end, and that all of us have a capacity to connect to something far greater.

I have no magic words that ease the sense of tragedy facing my family and our community. But as I sit at home, missing the human connections we normally take for granted, mourning people for whom we cannot hold regular shiva services, I’m left asking that most Jewish of questions. It isn’t “why?” but rather “what now?”

Some people have suggested that by confining us at home, the coronavirus crisis puts our lives “on hold.” I disagree. I think it can push us to experience life in a more stark and meaningful way, and to ask some of the very biggest questions. As Jews, we constantly encourage our children to ask questions. Let’s not shy away from the biggest, arguably the most challenging ones too, for in times of death we can discover the keys to a meaningful life’s journey too.

About the Author

Rabbi Naftali SchiffMore by this Author >

In 2016, Rabbi Naftali Schiff has been the founder and Chief Executive of Jewish Futures, a not-for-profit international organisation, which creates, incubates and scales dynamic educational organisations and initiatives, propelling each forward to ensure vibrant Jewish futures. Raised in London, Naftali studied at Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem's Old City prior to graduating from LSE with a degree in International Relations. He made aliyah and joined the IDF's Givati unit. In Israel, he received rabbinic ordination from the Jerusalem Rabbinate and a Diploma of Education, before assuming the role of Director of the Jerusalem Fellowships. In 1999 he returned to London to head Aish UK. He is also the founder of independent charities GIFT (Gift it Forward Today) and JRoots – an educational organization that facilitates Jewish Journeys Connecting Generations.

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Passover and the Three Phases of Life
Apr 5, 2020  |  by Rabbi Yisroel Roll
Passover and the Three Phases of Life
It’s no accident that life is comprised of highs and lows.
Life is made up of three distinct phases that repeatedly occur. Knowing how these three phases work gives you a deeper understanding in how to live more meaningfully.
Phase One is an exciting, euphoric, high moment which is a gift – a freebie – an undeserved handout which was unearned.
Phase Two is the moment when the euphoria, high excitement and high feeling dissipates and the “high” turns to a mundane, difficult and trying time.
Phase Three is the return of the high feeling, only now it is mine, deserved and earned rather than having been a handout or freebie.
Here are a few examples:

Phase One: Your eyes meet across a crowded room. Instant attraction. Fireworks. Chemistry. You keep hearing the theme song of the Titanic playing as you walk down the street together. Infatuation. Courtship. Romance. Falling in Love. This phase is a freebie. It’s an unearned gift. Enjoy it!

Phase Two: Commitment. Then a ring. Then marriage. Then reality sets in. Why did you leave the cap off of the toothpaste? Why didn’t you call to say that you would be late? Why can’t you be more supportive of me when I’m “down.” You don’t bring me flowers anymore. This is the trying phase – when the excitement of the courtship/honeymoon period wears off in order to give the couple the chance to work through issues and make the relationship work, through their own efforts.

It is at this point when many couples in our immediate gratification society break up. When the romance, the good times and the fun of the relationship are not “good” for me anymore – I walk. The secret is to work through the differences in our respective upbringing and think of how to “make things work.” Phase One was a gift in order to taste how good the relationship could possibly be. Then the magic is taken away -- on purpose -- to allow the couple to work for and earn the gift of the relationship. They work on “themselves” and the relationship and make it their own.

Phase Three: The couple achieve a working modus operandi in the relationship whereby they begin to understand each other and their respective needs. The couple learns to be giving to each other rather than being “takers.”

They learn to understand the way the other person thinks and thus learn to respect one another while not necessarily agreeing with each other. The relationship begins to bond and gel. It flows. The relationship now “belongs” to the couple. They have earned the success in the relationship through hard work, each working on his or her own personality and personal self-control. It may take three, five or ten years. They recreate the feelings they experienced in Phase One, only now, the feelings are more grounded and based in reality rather than infatuation and fantasy.

Precisely at the moment when the excitement and euphoria of Phase One begins to wane is the moment to hang in there and invest more energy and effort in making it work.
The same three-phase model applies to a new job or project. Even though I got good grades in school, secured positive recommendations and got some good work experience, at the end of the day I’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and that usually has nothing to do with my own deserving efforts. At first I am offered the job having been headhunted or chosen from among many applicants. Congratulations! Did you earn this opportunity? It is a freebie. That’s Phase One. Then deadlines set in. I have to make the success happen. I have to earn the freebie. That’s Phase Two. Then, when I meet the deadline and achieve success, the job or project become “mine.” That’s Phase Three.

Precisely at the moment when the excitement and euphoria of Phase One begins to wane is the moment to hang in there and invest more energy, effort and time in making it work.

At the moment when many people give up on a relationship, when I might say, “This is not for me,” that is exactly the moment to keep going and keep trying. Otherwise the relationship is not “mine.” I have to make it mine by digging deep into my spiritual center, and reflecting on how I can change myself, rather than change the situation or my partner. The challenge is sent to me not to break me but to re-create me. It is up to me to re-create myself. To walk away without a full, concerted and spirited effort is to miss the point of the challenge.

Designed by God
God gives us the freebie in the first place, allowing us to taste how sweet romance can be by introducing us to our future soul mate, “falling in love,” the wedding and honeymoon. Then, no sooner than we taste the sweetness of being in love, God purposely brings us down to the reality of setting up a home, bills, and “how come you don’t pick up after yourself.”

It is God Who removes the euphoric honeymoon feeling so that we can start earning the right to the original free handout. When we work through the issues, then we earn the success of the relationship through our own efforts and arrive at a new level of understanding in the relationship.

As soon as we feel the euphoria of Phase 1 waning, it is precisely then that we must realize that God is challenging us to maintain our faith and to begin earning our undeserved handout so that we can arrive at Phase 3, which is a new and even more rewarding level.

Passover’s Three Phases
The source of this model can be found in Passover.

Phase 1: The Israelites were taken out of Egypt by God’s outstretched arm through the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea, even though they did not deserve to be redeemed. They had forgotten the ways of their forbears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and engaged in the worship of idols much the same as their Egyptian overlords. God gave them an undeserved handout by redeeming them, anyway. He did this because of His original promise to Abraham that He would one day redeem Abraham’s descendants and bring them to the Promised Land.

Phase 2: After experiencing the Splitting of the Sea and the euphoria of freedom from their oppressors, the Israelites had to face the prospect of living in the harsh Sinai desert. Although the Clouds of Glory protected them from the elements to a great extent, nevertheless, they had to face their share of difficulties. They had to come to terms with their freedom by maintaining their faith in God despite their ordeals, thereby earning their previously undeserved freedom.

Phase 3: After wrestling with their faith in God in the desert, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Com­m­an­d­­ments from God. They earned their right to receive this Blueprint of Life after their struggle through the desert which earned them their spiritual redemption. Receiving the Ten Command­ments was their spiritual reward.

Many people throughout history have been inspired by the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Thomas Jefferson wanted to use the Exodus scene as the motif of the founding of the United States of America. The Civil Rights movement identified their quest for equal rights as a reenactment of the Israelites’ quest for freedom.

We are in fact the most free society in history. The question we must ask ourselves is: what are we doing with our freedom? Are we making use of our time in this world constructively or are we just passing the time? When God challenges us with crises like the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, He is speaking to us and is urging us to rethink our priorities. He is challenging us to work on ourselves and to redouble our efforts to make our lives count.

Splitting of the Sea
The Midrash tells us that Moses had a “dialogue” with the Red Sea as the Israelites approached it when they were being chased by the Egyptians. Moses told the sea to split. The sea responded that it would not as it was fulfilling God’s will by flowing in its natural state. But when the sea saw the coffin of Yoseph Hatzaddik – Joseph the Righteous – approaching, the Book of Psalms states, “hayam raah vayanos – The sea saw and it fled” (Psalms 114:3).

Joseph is called righteous because he went against his natural inclination and resisted the seductive advances of Potiphar’s wife. The Torah states: “But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled…” (Genesis 39:12). The sea saw that Joseph rose above his “nature” – so it too could go against its “nature” and stop flowing naturally – to allow the Israelites to cross through the sea. Since Joseph “fled,” the sea too “fled” – and split, measure for measure.

We were created in order to develop and refine our natural tendencies, not to become entrenched in them.
Our purpose in life is to overcome and to grow in character and personal refinement. We cannot say: “Well, that’s the way God made me. I’m short tempered, lazy, unmotivated, it’s just the way I am.” We were created in order to develop and refine our natural tendencies, not to become entrenched in them. Our job is to take charge of our personalities and to change our natural way of doing things in order to achieve our potential.

We each have an area of constructive talent that we need to develop and bring to the world. There is one area which gives full expression to your highest attribute, i.e. kindness, leadership, empathy, integrity. Actualizing that attribute and giving it to the world brings meaning and fulfillment to our life. That is our personal unique Passover offering to the world.

And we each have a particular weakness that we need to rectify and refine. It may be anger, sadness or negativity. My great teacher, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, ztz’l, taught that each of us knows, deep down, what we need to fix. It is our life task to take a personal inventory of our strengths and weaknesses and to work on ourselves in order to make our unique positive contribution and rectify our unique personal weakness.

The great ethicist, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter tells us how we can discover the flaw that we need to rectify. The prophet Hoshea 14:2, states: “And you shall stumble on your mistake.” Rabbi Salanter explains that if there is a certain mistake I continuously make, and it bothers me to my core, that is my soul speaking to me, asking me to fix it. If, for example, I am always losing my temper, I am always jealous, or am always letting people down, and it really gets me upset, then chances are that is the issue I need to address.

If we resolve to work on our personal character flaw and rededicate ourselves to making our unique contribution to the world, then we will have a personal redemption from our personal Egyptian exile – the exile from our true selves – and G0d willing redeem ourselves and the world from this tragic plague. Each of us can and must do our part to redeem the world.
6 Amazing Jewish Nurses
Apr 6, 2020  |  by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
6 Amazing Jewish Nurses
These Jewish nurses made the world a better place.

Jewish women have a long and distinguished history in nursing, from ancient times to today. Here are six notable Jewish nurses and the amazing contributions they made helping others.

Shifra and Puah
Each Passover, we tell the story of the Jewish people’s escape from crushing slavery in Egypt. Jews were once tolerated as welcome guests in the land of Egypt but in time a new Pharaoh took power, enslaving the Jews, and seeking to stamp out their unique way of life forever.

Jews defied Pharaoh’s expectations and continued to build Jewish families, so Pharaoh devised an even more draconian way to end Jewish life: he decreed that all Jewish baby boys be thrown into the Nile River as soon as they were born and drowned. Pharaoh was revered by Egyptians as a living god; his word was absolute law. Yet despite the terrible dangers in defying his orders, Shifra and Puah resisted.

The Medrash recounts that when a Jewish woman was ready to give birth, Shifra and Puah would rush to her side to help with the delivery, keeping the birth of a new Jewish baby boy a secret. When they were questioned by Egyptian officials about their clandestine activities, Shifra and Puah hid their activities, keeping the identities of the baby boys they’d delivered a secret.

Jewish tradition explains that Shifra and Puah were in fact Yocheved and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moses. The Jewish sage Rashi explains that “Shifra” meant “improver” and referred to the fact that Moses’s mother Yocheved would help clean up and tend to the Jewish babies once they were born. “Puah” referred to the cooing noises (which sounded like Puah) that Miriam made to help soothe the newborns in their first moments of life (Rashi, Exodus 1:15).

Marat Yuskah
Jewish women sometimes worked as medical advisors in Medieval Europe. One of these early nurses or healers was Marat Yuskah, a Jewish woman who lived in the thirteenth century in flourishing Jewish communities of northern Germany. She was a specialist in eye problems; her detailed description of the way she prepared medicine to cure bloodshot eyes has survived, giving us a key insight into what medicine looked like in the Middle Ages.

“Take calamine that is similar to a white stone(s)...and burn them. Remove it with tongs and put it into a jar of strong vinegar…” her prescription describes. Though this medical advice runs counter to today’s medical knowledge, Marat Yuskah’s prescription was used for many years as a way to treat red eyes and clouded corneas.

Phoebe Yates Levy Pember
While the great battlefield nurse Florence Nightingale is often considered the founder of modern nursing, after caring for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War of 1853-1856, less than a decade later Phoebe Yates Levy Pember – a Jewish woman from Charleston, South Carolina – also helped to establish modern nursing when she oversaw care for wounded Civil War soldiers in what was the largest military hospital in the world.

Born in 1823, three years after Florence Nightingale, Phoebe Yates Levy Pember grew up in an affluent Jewish family in South Carolina and Georgia. In 1862, when the American Civil War broke out, she became Chief Matron at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. She worked there for the entirety of the Civil War, overseeing care for over 76,000 Confederate soldiers and revolutionizing the way soldiers were cared for.

While army surgeons treated soldiers’ wounds, Phoebe was in charge of ensuring their comfort, tending to their emotional needs, and overseeing purchasing supplies, cooking thousands of meals each day, and running a massive military hospital. She spent countless hours with her patients, playing cards with recovering soldiers, sitting with the ill and wounded with them when they were in pain, writing letters for wounded men to loved ones back home, and praying with the men in her care.

Phoebe wrote about her experiences as a wartime nurse in her memoirs A Southern Woman’s Story, published in 1879. She describes her first day on the job, when she was confronted with gravely sick men and had to hastily arrange meals with only a small, ill-equipped kitchen. It seems she drew on her Jewish culinary roots, harking back to the Jewish comfort food of her youth. “A stove was unearthed, very small, very rusty, and fit only for a family of six. There were then about six hundred men upon the matron’s diet list, the illest ones to be supplied with food from my kitchen… Just then my mind could hardly grope through the darkness that clouded it, as to what were my special duties, but one mental spectrum always presented itself - chicken soup.”

In addition to caring for the men in her hospital, Phoebe always had to be on the lookout for thieves seeking to make off with hospital supplies. She kept a gun in her office, which she used on more than one occasion to scare off would be attackers. In one passage of her memoirs, she described how a thief “advanced towards (the supplies), and so did I… I interposed between him and object of contention. The fierce temper blazed up in his face, and catching me roughly by the shoulder, he called me a name that a decent woman seldom hears…” Phoebe describes showing her gun: “You had better leave I said composedly..for if one bullet is lost, there are five more ready, and the room is too small for even a woman to miss six times.” The thief quickly fled.

Hannah Sandusky
Hannah Sandusky was born in 1827 in Kovno, Lithuania, into a medical family; her mother worked as a midwife and Hannah followed in her footsteps. She married Louis Sandusky and moved to Pittsburgh in 1861, where she volunteered as a nurse and midwife with the Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society. A devout and righteous woman, Hannah lived a life of service: she never charged for helping with births, and also sought out other ways to come to people’s aid. In addition to nursing, she volunteered sewing shrouds for the local Jewish burial society, and also worked as a matchmaker. The mother of seven children, Hannah was also active in Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol in Pittsburgh, which she and her husband helped found.

Hannah would sometimes help a local doctor with particularly difficult deliveries, and he later sent Hannah and her son to Germany so that Hannah’s son could consult a famous eye specialist for some medical problems that he had. While her son was undergoing medical treatment in Germany, Hannah Sandusky formally studied nursing and midwifery, becoming a qualified midwife. Upon her return to Pittsburgh, she set up practice in the Hill District of the city, tending to poor Jewish immigrants who were pouring into Pittsburgh from Eastern Europe, and also working with the Black community.

Known as “Bobba (Grandma) Hanna”, she became a beloved fixture in the neighborhood. She used to wear a black bonnet and cape, and always had a pocket full of candy for the local children. “My mother told me that when I saw Bobba Hannah I should run and make hot coffee because she was our honored guest,” explained former Pittsburgh resident Etta Meyers Katz, in an interview years later about Hannah Sandusky. Hannah only retired in 1909, at the age of 82, after having delivered 3,571 babies.

Florence Greenberg
Florence Greenberg is well known in Britain as a doyenne of British cookbook writers. Yet she also had an equally stellar, if little known, career as a nurse during World War I.

Born in 1882 in London, Florence Oppenheimer (as she was known then) was determined to be a nurse, yet her father refused to give his permission, thinking that the career wasn’t proper for a young lady. At the age of 29, Florence was worried that she would soon be too old to be accepted to nursing school, and made one more appeal, eventually gaining her father’s permission and enrolling in nursing school.

She graduated in 1911 and soon found herself drafted as a wartime nurse after the outbreak of World War I. Florence worked on several hospital ships tending British wounded off the coast of Egypt and Turkey. With shelling within earshot and the risk of being torpedoed by German U-boats a constant threat, Florence wrote to a friend that she finally understood what war really meant. 1,800 patients were cared for by a skeletal medical staff of just ten. Conditions on board were difficult, and friendships became intense. Florence received at least one marriage proposal from a doctor on board, but turned it down explaining that she was Jewish and could never consider marrying outside her faith.

Florence worked throughout the Middle East, including working as a military nurse in a British hospital in Cairo, and spending time in the Land of Israel, before returning to London. She received a citation for her wartime service from Winston Churchill, Britain’s Secretary of State for War.

Back in civilian life, in 1920 Florence married Leopold J. Greenberg, a 58-year-old widower who was the editor of the British Jewish newspaper the Jewish Chronicle. In addition to being a talented nurse, Florence was a fabulous cook and Leopold urged her to write a cooking column in the newspaper. Florence eventually wrote several influential cookbooks, including her classic Florence Greenberg’s Cookery Book, which was a beloved reference in countless British Jewish kitchens. She maintained her interest in nursing, as well, becoming a founding member of the London Jewish Hospital and aiding in the establishment of a nurses’ home annexed there.

Selma Mair
Selma Mair transformed nursing in Jerusalem, introducing high medical standards to the nascent Jewish state and devoting her life to helping Jews and others in the Land of Israel. She was a devout Orthodox Jew who dedicated her life to helping others. Born in 1884 in Hanover, Germany, Selma’s life was touched by tragedy. Her mother died in childbirth when Selma was just five years old. This harrowing loss led Selma to want to help others and learn all she could about medicine. She was one of the first women in Germany to enroll in nursing school. In 1913, she and another nurse became the first Jewish nurses ever to become certified nurses in Germany.

At first Selma worked in the Salomon Heine Hospital in Hamburg, covering many different departments. She was a sought-after nursing professional and had her pick of jobs. In 1916, however, she decided to leave Germany forever when she was recruited by the great German Jewish doctor Dr. Moshe Wallach. An ardent Zionist, Dr. Wallach had founded Shaare Tzedek Hospital, an Orthodox Jewish hospital just outside the Old City in Jerusalem. Now, he was returning to Germany to find a professional who could assist him in bringing modern medicine to the Middle East. Dr. Wallach was impressed with Selma Mair, and hired her as Shaarei Tzedek’s head nurse and matron.

Immediately, Selma imposed rigorous order and high standards on Shaare Tzedek’s nursing. She trained generations of nurses and midwives. She also acted as the hospital’s director as it grew, and oversaw the building, equipment, and made sure that the hospital’s kitchens adhered to the highest kosher standards. When Dr. Wallach operated, it was Selma Mair who assisted him. Patients flocked to see her from across the city. On days when “Shvester Selma” (Nurse Selma) had office hours, the line of patients waiting for her care sometimes stretched around the block. Selma oversaw the care of scores of Jews who were injured during the Arab pogroms against the Jews of Hebron in 1929, and coordinated care for polio victims during periodic epidemics in Jerusalem.

In 1936, Selma helped found Shaare Tzedek’s nursing school, and taught all of the school's practical nursing classes. One of the express aims of the school was to provide a place for Jewish women to flee Nazi Germany and learn a trade in the Land of Israel. By giving them a place to study and live, Selma Mair and Shaarei Tzedek saved the lives of a generation of young Jewish nurses.

Though she never married, Selma Mair was a mother several times over through adoption. She kept working at Shaare Tzedek for sixty eight years, until her death at age 100.

Today, these brave Jewish nurses are being joined by countless other nurses on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are heroes, and we all owe them our thanks and support.

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Post  Admin on Tue 07 Apr 2020, 7:32 pm

How to Reach Your Personal Exodus
Apr 6, 2019  |  by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.
How to Reach Your Personal Exodus
Liberate your will by embracing the power of small.

Passover is the holiday of freedom, the opportunity to expand and grow beyond one’s perceived limitations. In Hebrew, the word Egypt means “narrow.” Egypt was a place that limited human potential and enslaved the will. Freedom from one’s personal Egypt is the experience of expanding and moving beyond one’s personal limitations by harnessing and liberating one’s will.

One’s personal Egypt is the pain of wanting to improve oneself in a specific way but feeling powerless to bring about that change. In place of growth, one feels stuck and hopeless.

Gary has struggled with loving people and feeling connected to them for as long as he can remember. He has tried so many techniques hoping one of them would result in the breakthrough he longs for. He has a pattern of learning about some tool for loving people, getting excited about it, and after two weeks or so, quitting, as he realizes it’s not working for him. Recently he read about a technique called the “love game” – the suggestion is to study someone closely and make a list of five virtues that person possesses. Love being defined in this context as the pleasure we get when we identify someone with their virtues and excuse their faults. Gary once again felt a rush of excitement because the idea made so much sense. Unfortunately, after two weeks, he ran out of gas again. Feeling like a loser, he felt resigned to living a life of disconnection.

I think we all can identify with Gary’s frustration. There are aspects about who we are that we long to change so badly but have given-up, feeling resigned to living with our limitations.

One’s true free-will point is that small step that one can make consistently, without herculean effort.
Our sages taught, “Nothing can stand in the way of one’s will.” We have the power to improve ourselves in any way we truly want to. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler taught that the secret of liberating one’s will is to identify where one’s free-will point lies, or what I call “our personal points of real possibility.” One’s true free-will point is that small step that one can make consistently, without herculean effort.

There always exists some meaningful change that a person can make, some step towards becoming better. That change may be so small that one may be inclined to discard it, thinking it’s not much of an accomplishment. That’s a big mistake. Making any real change, no matter how small, is significant and deeply fulfilling. This is the “power of small.” And it is the key power to liberating oneself from imprisoned will and attaining authentic growth and transformation.

A common reason why people fail in improving themselves is that they consistently set the bar too high with goals that are too difficult to reach. The Talmud tells us, “If you try to grab too much you’ll end up with nothing.” Realistic growth that takes an honest look at one’s free-will point is the best way to avoid what I call self-improvement burn-out. Don’t be seduced by the dramatic accomplishments encouraged by life coaches and mentors. For many people, this is a formula for chronic frustration and depression.

Know yourself and accept your limitations. Don’t compare yourself with others; competing with others distracts us from being honest with ourselves. Be secure with who you are – an imperfect person striving to grow. Avoid grandiosity and perfectionism. Celebrate instead every tiny step of growth.

Gary’s real problem was that he was always setting the bar beyond his free-will point. The tools he had tried were out of his range of real possibilities for him. If Gary were able to be honest with himself, he would discover that his free-will point would be a very small change. Fortunately, with some guidance, Gary discovered where his free-will point was. Once a day he would greet one person with a sincere and genuine smile. When he received a nice smile in return, he felt connected and more positive about that person.

After a month Gary was astonished by the change in the way he felt about himself and others. He was feeling empowered and convinced that he could maintain this change without pushing himself overly hard. Once Gary felt he had mastered this change, he felt ready to raise the bar a notch. He even felt that he could begin thinking about looking for virtues in others as his next step in loving people.

This approach to growth is truly empowering. The power of small is ultimately about living in reality and striving for genuine transformation. Every exodus from our personal Egypt begins with small steps that are located at our free-will points. With the power of small, we can understand why our Sages say, “Nothing can stand in the way of will.”

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Passover and the Eleventh Plague
Mar 30, 2020  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Passover and the Eleventh Plague
The linkage between Passover and Tisha B'Av offers us tremendous hope and comfort in this tragic time.
Ten plagues are listed in our Passover Haggadah. Today our minds are preoccupied with the eleventh. Suddenly we are confronted with the reality of the coronavirus which has turned us into contemporary victims like the ancient Egyptian taskmasters of our ancestors.

When we recite the plagues during the Seder, we spill a drop of wine from the cup before us. As a little boy my father taught me the rationale for this beautiful custom. Although the Egyptians were our enemies who brutally enslaved us, we need to remember that they were still human beings. And when human beings suffer our cup cannot be full, our joy cannot be complete. There needs on our part to be at least a drop of compassion for the pain of others.

How much wine should we then spill from our cups this year during our global pandemic?

A friend of mine put the problem of celebrating Passover this year into stark perspective. “It just doesn’t feel like Pesach this year – it feels much more like Tisha B’Av.”

Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the calendar year. The list of tragedies it commemorates, the terrible events that occurred precisely on this Hebrew date are a statistical improbability of the highest order, beginning with the destruction of both temples on exactly the same day. Passover, on the other hand, is the most festive and widely observed of the Jewish holidays. In Israel 93% of Israelis participated in a Seder last year, according to the most recent survey. The Seder has always been a synonym for joy – the finest expression of Jewish love for family, for home, for the glories of our past and for the hopes for a future.

Surely the observation that the current plague can elicit the feeling that this year’s Passover seems more like Tisha B’Av is cause for weeping. And yet strangely enough Jewish tradition made this very connection between the saddest day and the most joyous day long ago: both occur on the same day of the week. What is the meaning of this linkage? It is a connection that offers us tremendous hope and comfort in this tragic time.

Tradition teaches us that the Messiah who we hope to welcome on Passover will be born on Tisha B’Av. From the tragedy of the one comes the redemption of the other.

Passover reminds us that despite our challenges, there is a higher plan that is unfolding.

We may not comprehend the ways of God and understand suffering. We may sit perplexed in our homes, unable to go out, mystified in the very same way biblical Job had to contend with his inexplicable misfortunes. But there is one truth we cannot abandon. The name of the month of our collective tragedies is Av. Av means father, and no matter what befalls us we continue to believe our Father in heaven will never forsake us. Which is why Tisha B’Av has within it the seed of the holiday of Passover. We will set a cup for Elijah at the Seder with full confidence that on the 15th of Nisan, the month of miracles, he will personally appear to prepare us for Messiah’s arrival.

At the Seder we have a tradition of eating a hard-boiled egg. Some commentators explain it to commemorate the meal of mourning immediately prior to beginning the fast of Tisha B’Av. Once again it is meant to remind us that from tragedy will come redemption.

We do not unfortunately know when Messiah will come. But the rabbis have prophetically left us one clue to alert us to his imminent arrival. It is recorded in the Midrash by way of a mesmerizing parable.

A student once asked his rabbi: “We have been waiting so long for the Messiah to come, yet he still has not made his appearance. How will we, the Jewish people, know when he will at last reveal himself? What is the sign we can look for that will announce his imminent arrival?”

The rabbi responded, “I will answer you by way of a story. A father and son journeyed together on a long trek through a desert. Their destination was a faraway city. Weary from the trip, the young boy pleaded with his father to give him a sign so that he might know when they were close to their final destination. In response, the father told the boy, ‘This will be a sure indication before you. Remember this sign. When you will see a cemetery, you will know that the city is near.’ This parable,” the rabbi continued, “is the answer to your question. When you will see a cemetery, you will know that redemption is near. So too did God reveal to his children that in the aftermath of being beset by horrible tragedy, death and destruction, the Almighty will have mercy and answer the prayers of the Jews, as it is written (Psalms 20:4) ‘And the Almighty will respond to you in the day of great hardship.’”

And it is the Tisha B’Av of today’s plague that may perhaps be the cemetery of the parable.

History fulfills a divinely ordained order meant to lead us to a prophesied destiny. The ultimate Seder.
Thomas Cahill, the Irishman who wrote the best-selling book The Gift of the Jews, claimed that Jews should be given credit for gifting the world with the idea of history, that we were the first to grasp the significance of the past and the relevance of memory. What he should’ve added is that Jews joined the idea of destiny to the meaning of history. History has a purpose. History has a plan. Better put, history fulfills a divinely ordained order meant to lead us to a prophesied destiny. The word for order in Hebrew? It is Seder, the very name given to the most important Passover ritual.

One of the most powerful prayers recorded during the Holocaust was the prayer of a rabbi who beseeched God with these words: “Heavenly Father I do not ask you to explain why. I know that Your thoughts are not our thoughts. I understand that our finite minds cannot grasp Your management of the universe. Please do not tell me why. I ask only that you reassure me that there is a why.”

That is indeed the ultimate message of Passover. To celebrate it is to reaffirm our belief that history is His story, that even sorrowful events are part of a divinely sanctioned Seder, a destined order, that even the tragedies of Tisha B’Av are somehow a prelude to the ultimate Passover of final redemption.

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Post  Admin on Tue 31 Mar 2020, 4:37 pm
After the Plague: From I to We
Mar 30, 2020
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
After the Plague: From I to We
The shared hell of WWII changed Britain for the better. Coronavirus will do the same.

When this bleak time is over, when schools and pubs and theaters reopen, when we no longer need fear the warmth of a handshake or the closeness of friends, will life simply return to normal or will something within us have changed? Will we look at community, society and humanity differently? Will something good emerge from all this anxiety and pain?

I think it will. When people go through tough times together, a profound bonding takes place. That is what happened after the Second World War. While the war was on, people for the most part lived from day to day. There was little time and tranquility to think about the distant future.

Yet it was precisely then that the seeds were sown for a different kind of society. There was a deep sense that much needed to be changed. There were too many inequalities. There was too much poverty. The economic crash of 1929 and the depression of the 1930s had left scars that had to be healed. Britain had to become a more caring, cohesive and compassionate society.

The architects of this vision in the early 1940s were figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, the political theorist and historian R. H. Tawney, and the economist William Beveridge, people of widely different orientations yet united in their belief that something positive should emerge from the fog of war.

The result was the creation of the welfare state, a system of social insurance for everyone regardless of income or age. The 1944 Education Act provided compulsory free secondary education for all. In 1948 the National Health Service was born. These were revolutionary changes that reshaped Britain from then to today, and almost certainly they would not have taken place without the collective experience of war.
Something very similar took place in the USA. There were the benefits, financial and educational, for ex-service men and women, known as the GI Bill of 1944. There was new legislation governing labor relations, a minimum wage, social security, disability and unemployment insurance. These too were the result of the intense social solidarity that emerges whenever a group experiences threat and collective danger.

One of the greatest challenges in free societies is to maintain a balance between the ‘I’ of self-interest and the ‘we’ of the common good.
What happened in both countries is what I describe in my new book, Morality: Restoring The Common Good In Divided Times. There was a shift in emphasis in society from ‘I’ to ‘we’.

One of the greatest challenges in free societies is to maintain a balance between the ‘I’ of self-interest and the ‘we’ of the common good. We must be able to compete but also to co-operate. There is within each of us an ‘I’ that asks: ‘What’s in it for me?’ But there is also a ‘we’ that knows that ‘we are all in this together’.

The longer any nation has known uninterrupted peace and prosperity, the more likely it is that the ‘I’ will prevail. This generates much liberty and creativity, but it also leads to huge inequalities, an emphasis on rights not responsibilities, a breakdown of trust and a feeling that society is unfair.

When a nation encounters adversity, on the other hand, the sense of ‘we’ grows stronger. At such times people are acutely conscious of how much they depend on one another.

Dame Vera Lynn, who recently celebrated her 103rd birthday, recalled her time during the Second World War "when we all pulled together and looked after each other" and urged us to summon the same spirit "to weather the storm of the coronavirus." People remember the tough times more vividly than the easy ones, precisely because they do bring us together.

We have seen striking examples of both in recent weeks. There has been the ‘I’ behavior of people stockpiling and hoarding goods, focusing relentlessly on themselves and their families at the cost of other people. Heaven alone knows why someone feels they need 600 rolls of toilet paper. People have been flouting isolation and insulation guidelines. A Russian woman escaped a coronavirus quarantine and posted her story on Instagram, explaining that "I have a right to my freedom." Well, no actually. We do not have a right to our own freedom if exercising it harms or seriously endangers others. That is why you can’t have rights without responsibilities.

But we’ve also seen some amazing ‘we’ behavior. Following a call from the Health Secretary for an ‘army’ of volunteers to support health professionals, we now have more than half a million people who have signed up to do a variety of tasks from transporting medicines and shopping for those who can’t, to speaking to the lonely and isolated on the phone.

Millions took to the streets, to their balconies and their windows on Thursday night to applaud the bravery of our brilliant NHS workers. It was an extraordinary sight that none of us could ever have imagined only weeks ago. That is a Britain of which we should feel proud. Throughout the country, individuals and groups have been establishing contact with their neighbors, the elderly, the vulnerable and the lonely, offering help.

Virtually all the synagogues I know have established such groups, and I am almost certain that the same is true of churches, mosques, gurdwaras, temples and other religious congregations. Faith is one of the great seedbeds of altruism.

There’s also been an almost non-stop stream of videos and messages on social media, packed with music and humor, lifting people’s spirits and teaching them how to avoid catching or communicating the virus in a gentle and smiling way. Humor heals. It preserves our humanity.

We feel better when we exercise the ‘we’ rather than the ‘I’. We are social animals, hardwired for altruism. There is compelling research evidence that, above a certain income level, we gain more pleasure from giving than from getting. Volunteering has been shown to strengthen the immune system. Making someone else’s life better floods our own with meaning, and this itself has huge health benefits.

I would hope that we emerge from this long dark night with an enhanced sense of ‘we’ in five dimensions. There is the ‘we’ of global human solidarity. Never in my lifetime have we lived through a period in which people in every country throughout the world are suffering the same fears, the same dangers, the same risks. The poet John Donne’s famous words could have been written for now: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’

There is the ‘we’ of national identity. The divisions over Brexit that once seemed to overshadow all else can now be put in perspective. When it comes to real fundamentals like life and health, what unites us is greater than what divides us.

There is the ‘we’ of humility. Despite all our affluence and technological powers, one tiny virus has brought humanity to its knees. From here on, we should never underestimate our vulnerability.

There is the ‘we’ in acts of kindness. Reaching out with help to others should make us permanently aware of other people’s problems, not just our own.

And there is the ‘we’ of hope. Passover contains a message of hope for all of us. Each year we tell the story of the exodus, that begins in suffering and ends in liberation and joy. That is the shape of the human story. Out of the bad, comes good, out of the curse comes blessing. Out of the coronavirus pandemic will come a new sense of collective responsibility, and we will all feel renewed

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