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Post  Admin on Tue 03 Jan 2017, 9:03 pm

Editor's Pick:
Daniel Kravitz and the Neo-Nazi
by Rabbi Shraga Freedman
The anti-Semite with a "Kill Jews" tattoo had no idea the store owner was Jewish.
Daniel Kravitz, the owner of a secondhand furniture shop in Denver, was taken aback by the customer who entered his store. The young man was dressed like a hoodlum, with a shaved head and bare arms covered with tattoos including the venomous message, “Kill Jews!” It was clear that he was a neo-Nazi.
Daniel was relieved that his kippah was concealed beneath a cap.
He spent the next hour assisting his customer. He took the man on a tour of the shop, helped him select a decent array of furniture, granted him a generous discount, and then helped the young neo-Nazi load his purchases into a pickup truck.
After looking the man over carefully to make sure he wasn't carrying any weapons, Daniel cautiously said, “Tell me, do you really feel what all those tattoos say?”
“You bet I do,” the man replied.
“Have you ever hurt anyone?” Daniel pressed.
Daniel paused, then asked, “What do you have against the Jews?”
“They are thieves and liars!” The customer launched into a tirade, spewing out every imaginable anti-Semitic stereotype.
Daniel patiently listened until the man finished speaking. Then he removed his cap to reveal his kippah and said, “Are you aware that you have just spent an hour with a Jew? Haven’t I been honest, kind, and generous this whole time?”
The neo-Nazi gaped in disbelief. “No way! You can't be a Jew, man!”
Daniel motioned to the mezuzah on the door and then showed him a siddur (prayer book) on his desk. “You can see very clearly that I am Jewish, and I’m not at all like the image you have of Jews. You have been brainwashed. I can’t believe that your parents raised you with this kind of hate. You must be estranged from them,” Daniel surmised.
The neo-Nazi grimly confirmed his suspicions; he hadn’t spoken to his parents in ten years. Just then another costumer came in and Daniel wished the neo-Nazi a good day and turned to assist the other customer.
Daniel Kravitz in his store, Home Again Furniture
Six months later, the man returned to the store, this time with a full head of hair, decent clothes and long sleeves to conceal his tattoos. To Daniel’s surprise, the man embraced him warmly.
“I need to apologize to you and thank you,” he said tearfully. “You made me reassess everything I had believed. Thanks to you, I now know what a Jew is, and I’ve decided to turn my life around. I’ve even reconnected with my parents.”
Don't underestimate the amount of light one act can bring to the world.
This story was shared by Daniel Kravitz to Rabbi Shraga Freedman author of Living Kiddush Hashem and sefer Mekadshei Shemecha. Please email for a free download of sefer Mekadshei Shemecha and other resources.

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Post  Admin on Tue 03 Jan 2017, 8:54 pm

Unsettling times for American Jews as dark clouds of anti-Semitism intrude.
by Elana Rabinowitz
I was in the classroom when I saw it. I thought it was the usual inkblot souvenir left by the rambunctious teenagers at the Middle school where I teach, but there was nothing typical about it. Etched on the cream desk was a dark blue swastika, about the size of gumdrop and about as big as anything I had ever seen. Do these children even understand what their graffiti represents?
When I was a child, I watched a lot of TV. A lot. Before cable, before DVR’s, I would sit in front of our Sony television set with the rabbit ears and turn the dial until I found something to satiate my prepubescent curiosity. Instead of getting stuck watching bowling, one afternoon, when I was ten, I found myself glued to a movie called, Playing for Time. Many of the scenes, the imagery – still haunt me all these years later

Menorah Twisted into a Swastika
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
A family in Phoenix wakes up to find their 7-foot menorah turned into a swastika. The community fights back.
Naomi and Seth Ellis wanted to encourage their young sons to be excited about Chanukah.
“There are not so many Jews in our neighborhood,” Naomi explained in an exclusive interview. Looking at all the holiday lights, Naomi’s boys, aged five, seven and nine, wanted to decorate their house with lights “like everyone else”.
Seth and Naomi’s solution: take their Jewish pride and their celebration of Chanukah outside. The couple perched a holiday Star of David on their roof and erected a large outdoor menorah outside their suburban home near Phoenix. The menorah was about seven feet tall, casting its warm light over the Ellis’ yard.

Addicted to the Light
by Sarah Shapiro
My children were spared, but what about me?
Years ago when my children were children, there was one picture book I especially liked reading aloud: The Wretched Stone, by author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. In those days – the mid-1990s – my children didn't object to hearing it more frequently than their own favorites; it was one of the only bedtime stories that didn't put me to sleep.
The story's about the crew of a 19th-century clipper ship, who in the course of an ocean voyage come upon an island that doesn't appear on any maps. The sailors disembark to forage for provisions, and though they find nothing edible, do discover "a strange glowing

A Very Special Passenger
by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein
Something extraordinary happened on my recent flight to Israel.

Home » Israel » Jewish World
A Very Special PassengerA Very Special Passenger
Something extraordinary happened on my recent flight to Israel.
by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein
The only clue that something extraordinary was happening on my recent flight to Israel was a half hour delay in boarding. Otherwise, everything seemed to be quite unremarkable as we buckled up, raised our fold-down trays and brought our chair backs to their full upright position prior to take off. Within minutes, roaring engines peeled us away from the ground. When the seat belt indicator dimmed just after dinner, I alighted from my seat and took a spin around the cabin to encourage the blood in my legs to reacquaint itself with the rest of my body and to rub shoulders with new and hopefully a few familiar fellow passengers.
As I approached the rear of the aircraft I could make out a hospital-blue curtain which seemed to hover above the last 5 rows of the center seats in the shape of a bathtub. Upon closer examination I could see all type of hospital gear attached to hoses, pumps and wires adjacent to what was a flying intensive care unit (ICU), complete with EKG monitor, feeding tubes and intravenous drip equipment.
My first instinct was to satisfy my curiosity and try to steal a look at the patient inside, but I suddenly recalled a talk given by my rabbi in which he underscored the enormous importance the Torah places upon respecting every human's right to privacy -- especially the ill -- and walked on past the impromptu ICU and into the aft galley of the plane.

Editor's Pick:
Daniel Kravitz and the Neo-Nazi
by Rabbi Shraga Freedman
The anti-Semite with a "Kill Jews" tattoo had no idea the store owner was Jewish.
Daniel Kravitz, the owner of a secondhand furniture shop in Denver, was taken aback by the customer who entered his store. The young man was dressed like a hoodlum, with a shaved head and bare arms covered with tattoos including the venomous message, “Kill Jews!” It was clear that he was a neo-Nazi.
Daniel was relieved that his kippah was concealed beneath a cap.
He spent the next hour assisting his customer. He took the man on a tour of the shop, helped him select a decent array of furniture, granted him a generous discount, and then helped the young neo-Nazi load his purchases into a pickup truck.
After looking the man over carefully to make sure he wasn't carrying any weapons, Daniel cautiously said, “Tell me, do you really feel what all those tattoos say?”
“You bet I do,” the man replied.
“Have you ever hurt anyone?” Daniel pressed.
Daniel paused, then asked, “What do you have against the Jews?”
“They are thieves and liars!” The customer launched into a tirade, spewing out every imaginable anti-Semitic stereotype.
Daniel patiently listened until the man finished speaking. Then he removed his cap to reveal his kippah and said, “Are you aware that you have just spent an hour with a Jew? Haven’t I been honest, kind, and generous this whole time?”
The neo-Nazi gaped in disbelief. “No way! You can't be a Jew, man!”
Daniel motioned to the mezuzah on the door and then showed him a siddur (prayer book) on his desk. “You can see very clearly that I am Jewish, and I’m not at all like the image you have of Jews. You have been brainwashed. I can’t believe that your parents raised you with this kind of hate. You must be estranged from them,” Daniel surmised.
The neo-Nazi grimly confirmed his suspicions; he hadn’t spoken to his parents in ten years. Just then another costumer came in and Daniel wished the neo-Nazi a good day and turned to assist the other customer.
Daniel Kravitz in his store, Home Again Furniture
Six months later, the man returned to the store, this time with a full head of hair, decent clothes and long sleeves to conceal his tattoos. To Daniel’s surprise, the man embraced him warmly.
“I need to apologize to you and thank you,” he said tearfully. “You made me reassess everything I had believed. Thanks to you, I now know what a Jew is, and I’ve decided to turn my life around. I’ve even reconnected with my parents.”
Don't underestimate the amount of light one act can bring to the world.
This story was shared by Daniel Kravitz to Rabbi Shraga Freedman author of Living Kiddush Hashem and sefer Mekadshei Shemecha. Please email for a free download of sefer Mekadshei Shemecha and other resources.

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Post  Admin on Thu 01 Dec 2016, 11:22 pm
From Baptist Minister to Orthodox Jew
Moshe Boldor’s harrowing odyssey from hunted renegade in Communist Romania to freedom in the U.S. as an observant Jew.
by Ronda Robinson
Jean Boldor was an auto mechanic and driver for the Director of Mines in Romania, in 1983. He wanted to escape the Communist country where he was born and freely study the Bible. “In a Communist country, you cannot do anything you want,” he says.
The Romanian government forced citizens to celebrate Communist holidays. Boldor thirsted for more. “For whatever reason I was attached to the Old Testament,” he recalls, “and read about the people of Israel and the prophets. It fascinated me how God took the people of Israel from the land of Egypt.”

Always drawn to Biblical learning, Boldor didn’t know until much later that he had Jewish roots. His great-great-great-grandmother was Jewish. From there, the trail grows cold. The Jewish community in his native Lupeni was decimated during World War II, when Romania became a satellite of Nazi Germany and Jews lost their shops and citizenship. At the end of the war thousands of Jews fled Romania. It is estimated that by the end of the 1960s, the Romanian Jewish community numbered no more than 100,000

Wanting to share the joy he found, Boldor began to teach the Bible to young people. “The Communists did not look kindly upon my involvement, so I was taken to the police station many times to be interrogated, handcuffed and beaten – and given time to reflect on my activity.”
I was followed everywhere because I was considered a threat to Communism.
Lay people like Boldor were arrested for asserting their religious beliefs; they weren’t allowed to have Bibles. At age 20, he applied to emigrate to the United States where he could pursue Bible studies.

“From that moment on, I was followed everywhere because I was considered a threat to Communism,” he remembers. “When you applied to leave, they thought you were a danger.”
For five years Boldor lingered in Romania with no end in sight. Life was growing more difficult, so he decided to run away but was caught on a train headed toward the Yugoslavian border.

Military police put him under 24-hour arrest in a room full of screaming people with broken arms and broken feet who received no medical attention. They told him of being beaten with AK-47 assault rifles. After paying a monetary penalty, he was freed and went home.
Then in August 1988, Boldor and a friend, Ion, tried to flee again, going by train and on foot to the border. “I prayed to God to save me. I read Psalms when I had a few minutes. We went three days without drinking any water,” he says.
Villagers saw the two men and alerted the military who surrounded them. The soldiers began to beat them.

“Usually beatings were so bad that very few survived the next week,” Boldor says, “But one sergeant saw that I had a book of Psalms and ordered the soldiers not to touch me. Once again I saw the Hand of God and I thanked Him.”

He was put in military prison for two weeks. Then a friend in Austria sent Boldor $100 through his bank, which was used to bribe an Army captain to let Boldor and Ion go free.
They began plotting their third escape.

“I read in the Book of Esther that Mordechai and Esther fasted three days and three nights to save the Jewish nation from Haman, so I did the same. I fasted three days and nights and cried to God to help us this time succeed.”
I fasted three days and nights and cried to God to help us succeed.
Boldor’s prayers were answered. In September 1988 he and Ion took a train to the Yugoslavian border. They jumped out at a station close to the border and hid in a stand of hay. They slept by day and walked or crawled by night.

When they reached Yugoslavia they walked to Belgrade, about 500 km, 310 miles. In Belgrade they climbed atop a train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to avoid detection by the police.
From Ljubljana they hopped a train to Germany and Austria and at last arrived at a refugee camp near Vienna, their clothes full of dust and oil. Their treacherous two-week journey was over.

“It’s hard to describe what it means to be free and alive after such a long and dangerous trip. When we got there we found out that 180 people had been killed by the Romanian border. So God once again saved my life,” says Boldor.
He kept a promise to God to study the Bible if he survived. As a refugee from a Communist country, he obtained a visa from Canada, where he learned Biblical Hebrew and earned a bachelor’s degree in religious education at a Christian college. He also became an ordained Baptist minister.

Eventually Boldor married, had four children and moved to Seattle, Washington, where he started a small business taking care of seniors. It was during his first trip to Israel in 2004 and visiting the Cave of Machpelach in Hevron where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried that the Baptist minister had a spiritual crisis. He had always believed Abraham was buried in Shechem, as the Christian Bible stated. Now he found otherwise. He started to compare the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and saw other discrepancies. Torah won him over.

“When I went to Israel I saw the beauty of Judaism and Shabbat. It was life-changing for me. The Torah passages came alive,” he says. He followed the murmurings of his heart as a child and decided to convert to Judaism.
Back home in Seattle he resigned his pulpit, began going to synagogue and learn Torah intensely, and started keeping the laws of Torah. The conversion process took 10 years. The former Baptist minister, who changed his name to Moshe, now keeps a kosher home and prays with a minyan three times a day.
Today Boldor makes Torah the center of his life.
His marriage didn’t withstand the changes. His wife didn’t want to convert to Judaism and the couple divorced. Three of their children converted, with one of the daughters making aliyah.
Boldor, 56, studies through an online yeshiva and makes Torah the center of his life. “It is really great to be part of the Jewish nation and follow in Avraham’s footsteps.” Today he owns and manages a nursing home in Seattle.
Moshe today, in Seattle

He transforms the hardships he endured to help others. “I am thankful to God because I was able to come home to Torah and Israel and I am trying to help other Jews. The time is not too late to come home and join the Jewish nation of Israel through following the Torah.

“Sometimes I cry living here in America. In Romania they handcuffed me, tortured me, put me in prison for reading and learning the Torah. Here we have freedom but sometimes it is wasted. My prayer is for God to use me to help other Jews appreciate the beauty of Torah.”

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Post  Admin on Sat 19 Nov 2016, 8:58 pm

God, Stay Where I Can See YouGod, Stay Where I Can See You
Shattered and made whole. Learning to trust God with everything.
by Lori Samlin Miller 
A decade ago, I began a journey toward Jewish observance together with my husband. I embraced performing mitzvahs and keeping Shabbat. I loved the holidays, and began to see through what I previously thought were random events, God’s loving hand in my life.
But all that changed when my husband became ill. Suddenly, God’s management skills came into question. How could this random, awful thing happen to my husband? I much preferred the God I had come to feel was directing my life and orchestrating events that made sense and showed us His love for us. How could I feel God’s kindness now?
My mind split into two screens. Showing in Theater One: Numbness. I was overwhelmed, paralyzed with disbelief, unable to process, accept or absorb the severity of this new reality, let alone confront the necessary steps we had to undergo to determine the choices we now faced. How could my husband – a kind, caring, selfless physician and surgeon who’d devoted his life to caring for his patients – be so sick himself?
Seven fascinating facts about Jewish links with the Land of the Rising Sun.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
Some of Japan’s biggest influences have come from contacts with Jews, and Japan in turn has influenced Jewish culture and history. Here are seven fascinating facts about Jewish links with the Land of the Rising Sun.
Early Jewish Contacts
Some of the first foreigners to sail to Japan during the Age of Exploration in the 16th and 17th centuries are thought to have been Jewish merchants and explorers in the employ of Dutch and British navies. Seeking to insulate the nation from foreign ways, in 1639 Japan closed its doors to the West, forbidding foreigners from entering the country for over 200 years.

This edict was lifted in 1853 and some of the first foreigners to settle in Japan were Jewish. By the 1860s, a Jewish community lived in Yokahama, near Tokyo, and established Japan’s first synagogue there. By 1895, 50 Jewish families called Yokahama home. Though small, the community was diverse; tombstones in the town’s Jewish cemetery are inscribed in Hebrew, German, French, Russian, German and Japanese. Soon, Jewish communities sprung up in Nagasaki, Kobe and Tokyo. Jews fleeing from pogroms in Russia made up many of these early settlers.

Jewish Hero in Kobe
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 pitted the navies of the Russian and Japanese Empires, as Japan sought to check Russia’s eastward territorial ambitions. Over 70,000 Russian soldiers were taken prisoner in Japan, including nearly 2,000 Jewish soldiers.
Trumpeldor in 1917
One of these POWs was a Jewish war hero named Joseph Trumpeldor, who’d lost an arm in the war. Trumpeldor was raised in an assimilated family, but in his POW camp he met Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Volhynia Podolia, Siberia, and other areas in Russia’s empire, and began to feel outraged at his fellow Jews’ experiences of anti-Semitism back home. Trumpeldor organized a Society of Jewish Prisoners of War, became its chairman, and in prison joined the cause to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel.
When he was released from his POW camp, Trumpeldor moved to Israel where he helped organize the Zion Mule Corp and build up the defenses of the nascent Jewish state. He fought in World War I, was wounded in the Battle of Gallipoli, and after the war formed a pioneering youth movement in Russia to prepare young Jews to move to Israel. Trumpeldor was murdered by Arab terrorists who attacked the Jewish town of Tel Hai, in Israel’s north, in 1920.
Chiune Sugihara, Righteous Among the Nations
In the summer of 1940, Japan’s representative in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, was packing: Lithuania had just been annexed by the Soviet Union, and foreign diplomats were leaving. Just then, a messenger came in and informed Sugihara that a delegation of Jews wished to speak with him.
Stepping outside, Sugihara met Zerach Warhaftig, a Jewish refugee who would go on later to become a minister in the Israeli Government. Warhaftig had a request: thousands of Jewish refugees had poured into Lithuania and were desperate to leave. Almost all the nations of the world were closing their borders to Jewish refugees. Only one country allowed Jews to enter – Curacao, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean. But Jews lacked transit visas to cross the Soviet Union and sail to Curacao. Would Sugihara issue the visas?
Moved by the Jews’ plight, Sugihara immediately started issuing visas. Within days, Sugihara was ordered to stop by his supervisors back in Tokyo. Years later, Sugihara’s wife Yukio recalled that her husband had sleepless nights. He was so anguished about disobeying orders but the sight of terrified men, women and children who had walked from war-torn regions, compelled him to defy official orders.
From July 31 to August 28, 1940, Sugihara began to grant visas on his own initiative. He would spend 18 hours a day writing over 300 visas daily, more than one month's regular quota. These were lengthy, hand-written documents. He refused to take breaks to eat, knowing that every moment was a chance to save another life. At the end of each day, his wife recalled massaging his swollen hands.
Sugihara issued approximately 6,000 visas to Jewish refugees. He continued to issue visas until he was forced to leave his post on September 4 when his consulate was dissolved due to the impending Nazi invasion.
Upon returning to Japan in 1946, Sugihara was fired from the Japanese Foreign Service for the “crime” of issuing these visas. In 1984, Yad Vashem honored Chiune Sugihara as Righteous Among the Nations.

A Jewish Yeshiva in War-Torn Japan
Of all the great yeshivas in Europe, only one survived intact throughout the Holocaust, the famous Mir Yeshiva of Lithuania. Thanks to Chiune Sugihara, about 500 students, rabbis and their families left Lithuania for Kobe, Japan in 1940 and 1941. Once in Japan, the Mir refugees found their entry visas to Curacao were no longer valid, and settled in Kobe, reestablishing their yeshiva and holding classes.

At first, the yeshiva’s Japanese neighbors were perplexed. Yeshiva students studied for 18 hours each day, and the sounds of the Jews’ loud singing and praying filled the neighborhood. Local officials were sent to find what was going on and came away impressed. The yeshiva received clearance to continue operating and its members were called “Holy Idealists” by the Japanese authorities.
n 1943, Japan relocated foreign refugees, including the members of the Mir Yeshiva, to Japanese-occupied Shanghai, restricting them to a ghetto within that city. Japanese authorities resisted pressure from their German allies to deport the Jews under their control, however, and the Mir Yeshiva continued to operate throughout the war. In 1946, the yeshiva was relocated to Jerusalem, where it continues to thrive, educating thousands of students each year.

Protecting Women’s Rights in Japan’s Constitution

Japan’s constitution provides some of the strongest women’s rights and protections anywhere in the world, mandating equality and freedom for all citizens. Less well known is that these ground-breaking provisions were written by a 22-year-old Jewish refugee, Beate Sirota Gordon.
Born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1923, Beate’s father Leo, a famed pianist, moved the family to Tokyo when Beate was five to take up a position at Japan’s prestigious Imperial Academy of Music. Beate went to school in Japan, becoming fluent in Japanese, Russian, English, German, French and Spanish. A brilliant student, Beate left for college in the US when she was just 15 years old, in 1939.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Beate lost contact with her parents. Hoping to learn more about their fate, she joined the American war effort. She got permission from her college to study for her exams without attending classes and took a job at a US government listening post in San Francisco, monitoring Japanese radio broadcasts and writing radio propaganda encouraging Japan to surrender. (Despite her work, Beate graduated with a degree in modern languages in 1943.)
After the war, civilian travel to Japan was restricted, so Beate joined Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff as a civilian worker. She travelled with the general to Tokyo in 1946 and immediately went to her family’s home, which was a charred ruin. Beate eventually found her parents in an internment camp and nursed them back to health while working for MacArthur.

In February 1946, Beate was handed a top-secret assignment: help Gen. MacArthur draft a new constitution for post-war Japan. The only woman on MacArthur’s team, Beate was given the job of writing the Constitution’s articles on women and given seven days to complete the task. She was eager to help raise women’s status in Japan: “Japanese women were historically treated like chattel,” she later recalled, and here was her chance to change that.
Beate studied the constitutions of as many countries as she could, then drafted the following two articles in Japan’s constitution. Article 14, which asserts in part “there shall be no discrimination...because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin” and Article 24, which guarantees women’s rights in “choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters.”
Beate married a fellow Jewish staff member, Joseph Gordon, and devoted the rest of her life to introducing Asian arts and artists to the United States. She died in 2013.
Help after the Tsunami
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northern Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami. As with many other tragic disasters, Israel was one of the very first, and largest, responders to the disaster.
As Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rushed to send the initial aid shipment of tens of thousands of emergency items to Japan, Japan’s ambassador to Israel at the time, Haruhisa Takeuchi, issued a public declaration: “I thank you, the crew of medical personnel, from the bottom of my heart, for volunteering to help in the aftermath of this tragedy and for carrying out this difficult mission.”
Israeli aid volunteers distribute supplies to Japanese survivors. Photo via IsraAID
Once the initial aid shipment was sent, Israeli groups established a long-term presence in Japan, training aid workers to help traumatized victims regain their mental health. Meirav Tal-Margalit, a volunteer with the international Israeli humanitarian group IsraAID, explained why Israeli volunteers were so effective: “Israel, sadly, is pretty much a trauma lab… We have extensive experience in this field, and the tools we use here (in Israel) have been proven effective worldwide. We make cultural adaptations, of course, but in the end we are all human and we share the same fears and the same dreams.”
Kosher Sushi
As Japanese cuisine has gained popularity worldwide, Jewish consumers have embraced it with a passion. According to the New York Times, Borough Park, New York’s largest Chassidic community, has 62 sushi eateries. According to Rabbi Elefant, the Chief Operating Officer of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division, 80%-90% of New York’s kosher restaurants serve sushi.

“It used to be that what defined a Jewish community was a synagogue and a kosher butcher… Then it was a kosher pizza shop,” Rabbi Elefant explained. “Now it’s a kosher sushi shop.”
The choice of kosher sushi, and other Japanese foods, is set to expand: both the Orthodox Union and Britain’s KLBD kosher certification have recently opened offices in Japan to help meet the growing market for kosher Japanese foods and drinks worldwide.
  Published: November 6, 2016

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Post  Admin on Mon 14 Nov 2016, 1:20 am
Leonard Cohen: Always a Jew at HeartLeonard Cohen: Always a Jew at Heart
The influential musician had a deep connection with Israel and the Jewish people.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
Although Leonard Cohen, the influential, world-famous Canadian-Jewish musician, who died on November 7, 2016 at age 82, abandoned many aspects of his Jewish religion, he never forgot his connection to the Jewish people and Jewish homeland.

Born in Montreal in 1934, Cohen began playing folk guitar when he was 15, and became part of Canada’s avant garde musical scene. As a young man, he wrote novels and poetry, before devoting himself to folk music in the 1960s. Many of his beautifully-crafted songs recall his Jewish heritage. His 1974 “Who by Fire” was inspired by the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, he explained, and echoes the powerful U’Nesaneh Tokef prayer of Yom Kippur. “Hallelujah”, one of Cohen’s most famous songs, spoke about King David, author of the Book of Psalms: “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord.”

Other songs commented on Jewish experiences. When Cohen was living in Europe in the 1980s, he wrote “First We Take Manhattan”, depicting the way he felt as a Jew, appreciating European life but keenly aware that Jews had been murdered in those very places: “I love your body and your spirit and your clothes / But you see that line there moving through the station? / I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those.”

The Yom Kippur War broke out and Cohen booked a flight to Tel Aviv, wanting to help.
Cohen was living in Greece In 1973, when the Yom Kippur War broke out in Israel and he immediately felt that he wanted to do whatever he could to help the Jewish state. While many people might have watched the war unfold from afar, Cohen booked a flight to Tel Aviv. His plans were vague; he thought he might volunteer on a kibbutz to help fill the labor shortage as young men were called up to fight.
Cohen singing to Israeli troops.

Instead, he was spotted in a Tel Aviv cafe by Israeli singer Oshik Levi, who explained to Cohen that he was about to go to the Sinai Peninsula to entertain the troops and suggested that Cohen join him. Cohen did and spent several months travelling around Israel entertaining troops.
On his first day singing for the troops, Cohen found a quiet spot between concerts and wrote the words to one of his most moving songs, “Lover Come Back to Me”, a wish that Israel’s troops be protected: “And may the spirit of this song, / may it rise up pure and free. / May it be a shield for you, / a shield against the enemy.” In a concert in Tel Aviv in 1980, Cohen explained that the song was inspired “by the grace and the bravery of many Israeli soldiers at the front”.

The following years were at times chaotic for Leonard Cohen. He experimented with Buddhism, and in the 1990s even became a Buddhist monk though, at the time, he insisted “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” His professional life was in turmoil during this time: his long-time manager Kelley Lynch started stealing from him, eventually taking millions from the singer-songwriter, leaving Cohen near-broke, and started a campaign of harassment, calling and threatening Cohen many times a day. (Lynch was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2012.)
In the midst of these troubles, Cohen was targeted by anti-Israel activists insisting that he refrain from performing in the Jewish state. After Cohen announced that would be performing in Israel in 2009, anti-Zionists started picketing his concerts, yelling at audience members, screaming outside concert venues, and holding up anti-Israel posters during Cohen’s concerts.

At first, Cohen tried to negotiate with those who criticized his decision to perform in Israel, taking his protestors at their face value. If the protesters who were hounding him and disrupting his concerts wanted Cohen to help Arabs, he was more than willing to do so. Cohen arranged a concert in Ramallah and even though he was in need of funds himself, asked Amnesty International to help him donate the proceeds of his Tel Aviv concert to peace groups.
Instead of welcoming these gestures, Cohen’s would-be partners rejected them outright. Amnesty International refused to work with Cohen. The Ramallah Cultural Palace, which was to host Cohen’s concert, cancelled, saying that Cohen would not be welcome in Ramallah if he performed in Israel, too. In the midst of the controversy, Cohen, by then in his 70s, collapsed onstage during a performance in Valencia Spain.

Undaunted, Cohen refused to give up. His September 24, 2009 concert near Tel Aviv sold out within hours and he played to a packed audience of about 55,000 Israelis. “May your life be as sweet as apples dipped in honey,” Cohen told his fans, and recited blessings over the crowd.
Though in dire need of funds himself, he took money from the concert, donating the $1 million to charity. Since Amnesty International refused to work with him, Cohen set up a fund of his own, calling it the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace. One program Cohen funded was an Israeli charity that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in terror attacks and war.

Cohen’s last album, “You Want it Darker”, a somber album confronting mortality, came out just weeks before his death. Its title track features background singing by Gideon Zelermyer, the chazzan, or cantor, of the Orthodox synagogue that Cohen belonged to in Montreal, and includes Cohen singing a translation of the Jewish mourner’s prayer. On Thursday, November 10, 2016, Cohen was laid to rest in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony.
Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim released a statement that Cohen “was a beloved and revered member” and that “Leonard’s wish was to be laid to rest in a traditional Jewish rite beside his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.”

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Post  Admin on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 10:21 pm
Mel Gibson: No Apology, No Forgiveness
The disgraced director isn’t expressing remorse for his anti-Semitism. He just wants us to forget about it and move on.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Mel Gibson is back.
After more than a decade as a pariah for his virulent anti-Semitic and racist pronouncements, Mel Gibson, the Hollywood icon who gained notoriety for telling a police officer that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”, is attempting a major comeback. How should we react to Hacksaw Ridge, the new film he directed which received a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice film Festival?

The film tells the powerful story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first “conscientious objector” to receive the U.S. Medal of Honor for heroically saving lives as a medic during the spring 1945 battle for Okinawa, and it is getting early Oscar buzz. Film critics are almost unanimous in praise. There’s no doubt that the movie is a significant artistic achievement.

But the question begs to be asked: Is art independent of moral considerations? Does it make a difference if the director of a film probing the most intense emotions of those who fought against the Nazi regime in World War II has consistently denied the reality of the Holocaust?

Not too many years ago, Mel Gibson announced that he would be doing a film about Judah Maccabee, possibly as an attempt to undo the damage to his image from his appalling portrayal of Jews in his infamously biased retelling of the crucifixion of Jesus in The Passion. That prompted the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance to say, "Casting [Gibson] as a director or perhaps as the star of Judah Maccabee is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or a white supremacist as trying to portray Martin Luther King Jr." Joe Eszterhas, originally hired as scriptwriter for the movie, subsequently pulled out with the explanation to Gibson that “I’ve come to the conclusion that you hate Jews” and the movie never got made.

But with Hacksaw Ridge now released it is relevant to remind ourselves of a famous and somewhat similar controversy in the early 80s. CBS produced the film Playing for Time, a moving portrayal scripted by Arthur Miller of Fania Fenelon, a French pianist, cabaret singer, secret member of the Resistance, and a Jew. Captured by the Nazis, she was sent to Auschwitz where she became one of the legendary orchestra girls who used music to survive the Holocaust. The Mädchenorchester von Auschwitz (lit. "Girls Orchestra of Auschwitz") was first formed in April 1943 as a pet project of SS chief supervisor Maria Mandel for the Germans who desired both a propaganda tool for visitors and camp newsreels, and a tool for camp morale. Fania survived because of her forced involvement in the travesty of musical performances in the heart of hell.

Cast in the lead role as Fania was the PLO sympathizer and vocal anti-Semite Vanessa Redgrave, someone who had been quoted as saying “Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Fania Fenelon was enraged – but she could do nothing about the identity of the actress who portrayed her. In the storm of protest aroused by this indecent casting, CBS took the position that Redgrave’s political sympathies could not be allowed to affect the producer’s judgment of her acting ability.

Allow me to highlight the ultimate irony: The whole point of Playing for Time was to convey the unspeakable tragedy of a barbaric era of recent history, yet its production repeated a fundamental error of outlook which made the Holocaust possible. Fania Fenelon was forced to play music as fellow inmates were marched to their death. It was the expression of German culture which saw no contradiction between music as civilized art and murder as national policy.

The orchestra at Auschwitz had a philosophical underpinning. The SS guard who snatched an infant from his mother’s breast, splattered his brains against the wall and then calmly picked up his violin to enjoy the strains of Beethoven believed the two actions were compatible. What Nazism preached in mid-twentieth century, after thousands of years of supposed progress for civilized man, is precisely what was used to justify Redgrave’s right to be judged solely on artistic rather than moral considerations – even as Germanic “Kultur” disassociated one from another.

At issue was not a role but rather a rationale for creativity. As an ideal of Western civilization, Andre Maurois perceptively told us, “Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more human world.” Was it mere coincidence, then, that the 30s first saw the creation of “life-is-a-cabaret” decadence immediately prior to the decline of the moral fabric of German society?

It was those who forced musicians to play as background music to genocide that left as their legacy the conviction that art has nothing to do with heart and that beauty – in spite of what Keats might have famously told us – has nothing to do with truth.

We ought to know better. Mel Gibson, sad to say, has not really changed from the man who proudly told us that his father, a notorious Holocaust denier, “has never lied to me.” To those who shrug off Gibson’s vile rantings of the past as vodka-induced aberrations, Christopher Hitchens perceptively pointed out that in vino veritas – in wine there is truth – and that “One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all”.

It was in August of this year – not a decade ago but in 2016 – that Mel Gibson shared with Glenn Beck the diatribe that that “Jewish people” had stolen a copy of his Jesus movie more than a dozen years ago and used it to attack him and make his life hell before the film’s release.

In his words, “And then some Jewish people – I guess some rabbis or something, I didn’t get into it – somebody stole a copy of the movie before it was shown to anybody… And then they did a deal in The New York Times with all these rabbis trashing me as an anti-Semite. And I couldn’t believe it… Nobody was really upset that these guys stole the movie…’

So, as Glenn Beck tells us, The Passion of the Christ director is still blaming Jews for his troubles – and I guess crucifying him just as they did Jesus.

Mel Gibson is not expressing remorse and asking us to forgive him; he just wants us to forget about it and move on. Even worse, he is painting himself as a victim, telling late night host Stephen Colbert, “That moment in time shouldn’t define the rest of my life.” He’d like us simply to enjoy his new movie as a work of art.

But there can be no forgiveness without genuine remorse. And after the Holocaust I refuse to separate art from heart – or to confuse any passion for the artistic merit of a film with admiration for the hate-filled director of The Passion.

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Post  Admin on Thu 03 Nov 2016, 10:40 pm
The Cubs Win the World Series & the Coming of the Messiah
Cubs fans waited 108 years to experience this elation. Jews have been waiting 5777 years.
by Samara Kipnis 
The Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series! The Lovable Losers beat their 108-year-long losing streak and killed the goat’s silly curse. They did it!

I bet even the Chicago White Sox fans deep down feel a twinge of satisfaction that the Cubs won. That they feel like, Hey, even though I was not waiting and hoping and wishing that they would win, I’m kind of glad they did. Even the folks from Chicago who don’t care that much about baseball, many of them started watching the World Series and at the last moment joined in on the feeling of hope, to see how it would play out.

And then there are the true Cubs fans, the ones like my great-grandfather who went to game after game and held onto that hope. The ones alive today that had the chance to actually see their team make it and win it. They are elated. This is what they’ve been hoping for.

They bought the gear, they told their children about that stupid goat, and tonight they experienced something unusual, something grand. They experienced the actualization of hope. The answers to their prayers. The joy that comes from wanting something so badly and being let down again and again and again, until finally, 108 years later, they got what they’ve been asking for. Actualization of hope is finding your life partner. It’s getting the cure for illness. It’s the splitting of the Red Sea. It’s the Messiah (Mashiach) coming.

The Cubs give us a taste of this. The waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting… and then, The Win.
And in the end the win happened so fast, in the blink of an eye. Watching the game, I did not even realize that Bryant was the one who caught the ground ball and that Rizzo was the one who tagged first base. Jumping up and down screaming and experiencing the fullness of that moment lasted less than a minute. I’m still on a high from it an hour later writing this, but the intensity of that feeling is fleeting, partly because the present is so hard to hold onto. But life is fleeting. Who knows how long it will be?

The mystical sources say that Mashiach will coming by the Hebrew year 6000. It is now year 5777. We are in the bottom of the ninth. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want an extra inning. I’m ready. I want to be like a true fan, the one who has been waiting and praying and hoping and yearning, really yearning for The Win. For Mashiach, for world peace, for closeness to God, for the actualization of hope and the fulfillment of Jewish destiny. I want to be experiencing the elation of that closeness now, today. Cubs fans have been waiting 108 years; we Jews have been waiting 5777 years for our Win.

The good news is that we’re not the fans; we are the players. It’s in our hands. We make the change. It is in our power whether we hit a homerun, a grand slam, or strike out. It is in our power whether we catch the ball and tag first. It is in our power whether we help give someone what they need, pray for a neighbor or gossip about them. We are the spiritual Bryants and Rizzos, Russells, and Heywards. We can break this 5777-year-long streak.

We can make the world forget what it was like to live in a reality where losing was ever-present and where humanity forgot that it was an option for us to win.
And the fleetingness of the moment? It doesn’t exist in eternity, the Next World, Olam Haba. In the Next World, the intensity of experiencing the actualization of hope lasts forever. Every time you stop yourself from gossiping, every time you do an act of kindness, every time you work on yourself, every time you love the Jewish people, every time work on loving a specific Jew, every minute you spend learning Torah, you are getting on base, hitting home runs, blasting grand slams and tagging first base for the win.

You’re getting us closer. We’re doing it together. And God sees it. He’s coming closer and closer, because of you, because of me, because of us. Keep up the good work, team. We got this.
(I am not related to Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians, but nice homerun in Game 6.)

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Post  Admin on Sun 16 Oct 2016, 6:06 pm
Sukkot: The Dual Festival
An in-depth exploration of Sukkot and its focus on Jewish particularity and universality.
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks 
Adapted from “Season of Joy”, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ introduction to The Gross Family Edition of the Koren Sacks Sukkot Mahzor.
The defeat of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE was the deepest, most defining trauma of the biblical age. We can still feel the overpowering grief of the book of Lamentations, its raw pain undiminished by the intervening millennia, as the prophet sees the defeat of his people and the ruins of the Temple. We can still hear the despair of the exiles who, “by the waters of Babylon,” sat and wept as they remembered Zion. Yet, as the two great prophets of exile, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had promised, the people did return. The Babylonian empire was defeated by a newer superpower, Persia, under whose enlightened leader, Cyrus, Jews were given permission to return.

The situation they found in the Holy Land was devastating. The people had lost almost all contact with their religious heritage. As Nehemiah later wrote, they no longer observed the Sabbath. They had intermarried with neighboring people. They no longer knew how to speak Hebrew: “Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, or they spoke the language of one of the other nations” (Neh. 13:24). Work had begun on rebuilding the Temple, but it hit a series of difficulties, and the returning exiles turned instead to rebuilding their homes and farms. The unfinished Temple was a visual reminder of Israel’s broken state, politically, culturally and religiously.

One prophet who undertook the task of kindling a spark of hope from the dying embers of national identity was Zechariah. His message, astonishing in the circumstances, was that despite its forlorn state, the people of the covenant would revive, and then inspire not only themselves, but the world. The day would come when “Ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you’” (Zech. 8:23). Zechariah also gave expression to one of the briefest and best summaries ever given of Jewish history: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (4:6)

All the prophets had foreseen that the nation would be punished for its sins but would eventually return to God. Beginning with Ezekiel in exile in Babylon, prophecy now took on a darker complexion, as if the road from here to the Messianic Age could no longer pass through the normal processes of history. Israel’s glory would be restored, but this would happen only through Divine intervention into the human script, shaking the foundations of the world. Eschatology, Aḥarit HaYamim, the vision of the End of Days, began to grow more disturbing.
Not only would Jerusalem be the capital of Israel, it would become the spiritual center of the world.
Zechariah was the first prophet to say that even after Jews returned to their land, this would not be the end of their troubles. The nations of the world would form an alliance and wage war against the Jewish people in Jerusalem. God Himself would be forced to intervene to defend His people and defeat their enemies. The earth would shake. God would crush the Mount of Olives and flatten the surrounding countryside. Mount Zion would tower alone, streams of waters issuing from it, and bringing fertility to the land. After these momentous events, the nations would come to acknowledge that there is only one God: “On that day the Lord will be king over all the earth: in that day He will be One and His name One” (14:9) – a verse now one of the best-known lines of Jewish prayer..

It was in the course of this prophecy that Zechariah made a unique prediction. Not only would Jerusalem be the capital of Israel, it would become the spiritual center of the world. The nations would gather there once a year on Sukkot:

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague He inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (14:16–19)

There is no other prophecy quite like this anywhere else in Tanakh: none that says that a Jewish festival will one day be global, observed by all the nations. The pilgrimage festivals were part of Israel’s unique heritage, not its universal truths. They are about Israel and its seasons, and about the formative moments of Jewish history: the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and, in the case of Sukkot, the forty years of wandering in the desert without a permanent home. Zechariah was thus making an unprecedented assertion when he spoke of Sukkot as a festival not just for Israel but for everyone.
What led him to do so? There was one unusual feature of the Sukkot sacrifices that might have inspired this thought. Whereas in the case of the other seven-day festival, Pesaḥ, the offerings were the same each day, on Sukkot they were different. On the first day, thirteen young bulls were offered, on the second twelve, and so on until on the seventh day, when there were seven – making a total of seventy in all (Num. 29:12–34). Seventy in the Torah corresponds to the number of nations into which humanity was divided according to Genesis 10. The sages drew the conclusion that in making an offering of seventy young bulls on Sukkot, the Israelites were in effect sacrificing and praying on behalf of humanity as a whole (Sukka 55b.) Zechariah may thus have been inspired by an idea implicit in the Torah itself.
Sukkot is the most universalistic of the festivals and paradoxically the most particularist of festivals.
Hence the paradox: Sukkot is the most universalistic of the festivals, the only one that will one day be celebrated by all humanity. As Zechariah makes clear, this has to do with its association with rain, and there is nothing distinctively Jewish about the need for rain. All countries, especially in the Middle East, need it. At the same time it is also the most particularist of festivals. No other nation took as a symbol not a castle, a fortress or a triumphal arch, but a fragile tabernacle. No other nation was born, not in its land, but in the desert. Far from being universal, Sukkot seems intensely particularistic, the festival of a people like no other, whose only protection was its faith in the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence.

There are other unusual features of Sukkot. In the list of holy days in Deuteronomy 16, rejoicing is not mentioned in connection with Pesaḥ. It is mentioned once in connection with Shavuot, but twice in the context of Sukkot:
You shall rejoice [vesamaḥta] on your festival…. For seven days you shall celebrate a festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful [vehayyita akh sameaḥ]. (Deut. 16:14–15)
It was this that led to the description of Sukkot as zeman simḥateinu, “the season of our joy.” But why a double joy?
Turning to the account of the festivals in Leviticus 23, we notice something else unusual about Sukkot. It is defined not in terms of one overriding symbol, but two. The first is the command to take the “four kinds” of fruit and foliage:

On the first day you shall take the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Lev. 23:40)

The second command is quite different:
You shall live in booths for seven days: all citizens in Israel shall live in booths so that future generations will know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23: 42–43)
It was this command – to leave our homes and live in a temporary dwelling – that gave the festival its name.

No other festival has this dual symbolism, and their juxtaposition is curious. Not only are the “four kinds” and the sukka different in character: in a sense they conflict with one another. The “four kinds” are associated with the land of Israel. The sukka is the opposite, a reminder of exodus, exile, the desert, and no-man’s-land. In practical terms also they conflicted. The four kinds were, as the sages said, symbols of and a mode of intercession for rain (Taanit 2b). Indeed the rabbis said that rainfall for the coming year was determined on the first day of Sukkot (Mishna, Rosh HaShana 1:2). But the command to live for seven days in a sukka with only leaves for a roof presupposes the absence of rain. If it rains on Sukkot, with the exception of the first night, we are exempt from the command for as long as the rain lasts, if it is heavy enough to spoil the food on the table (Mishna, Sukka 2:9).

All this conveys the impression that Sukkot represents two festivals, not one. In fact it does, and therein lies its uniqueness. Though the festivals are often listed together, they represent two quite different cycles of time. First is the annual cycle of the pilgrimage festivals: Pesaḥ, Shavuot and Sukkot. These tell the singular story of Jewish identity and history: the exodus, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the long journey through the wilderness. Celebrating them, we re-enact what made Israel the particular people it is. The central section of the Amida prayer on these festivals begins with the classic statement of Jewish particularity: “You have chosen us from among all peoples.”

There is a second cycle – the festivals of the seventh month, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Just as the seventh day, Shabbat, is zekher lema’aseh bereshit, a memorial of creation, so is the seventh month. Hayom harat olam, “Today the universe was born,” we say in our prayers on Rosh HaShana. When it comes to Creation, we are all created, and we are all accountable to our Creator, Jew and non-Jew alike. That is why the Mishna says that on Rosh HaShana, “All who have come into this world pass before Him like sheep” (Mishna, Rosh HaShana 1:2). All humanity is judged. The language of the prayers on the Days of Awe is markedly more universal than at other times. The central section of the Amida begins by speaking not about Israel, the chosen people, but about humankind as a whole: “And so place the fear of You… over all that You have made.” Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are about the sovereignty of God over all the world. We reflect on the human, not just the Jewish, condition.

The two cycles reflect two quite different aspects of God as He relates to the world: as Creator and Redeemer.
The two cycles reflect two quite different aspects of God as He relates to the world: as Creator and Redeemer. As Creator we relate to God through nature. As Redeemer we relate to God through history. As Creator, God is universal. We are all in God’s image, formed in His likeness. We share a covenant of human solidarity, made by God with Noah and through him all humankind after the Flood. We are fellow citizens of the world under the sovereignty of God. As Redeemer, however, God is particularistic. Whatever His relationship with other nations (and He has a relationship with other nations: so the prophets insist), Jews know Him through His saving acts in Israel’s past: the exodus, the revelation and the journey to the Promised Land.

It is now obvious what makes Sukkot unique. It is the only festival that is part of both cycles. It belongs to the yearly cycle of Jewish history – Pesaḥ, Shavuot and Sukkot – the year that begins in Nisan, the month of the exodus in which Jewish national history began. But it also belongs to the seventh-month cycle that represents creation and nature: Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The year of nature begins on Rosh HaShana, the anniversary of creation itself. Hence the double joy, and the twofold symbolism.

The “four kinds” represent what is universal about Sukkot. They are about nature. They are the only time we do a mitzva with natural objects: a lulav, etrog, and myrtle and willow leaves. They are about humanity’s dependence on nature, and nature’s need for rain. That is why Zechariah foresaw that when all nations acknowledged God, they would come together in the seventh month to pray for rain on Sukkot. The sukka, by contrast, has nothing to do with rain. It has to do with history and what makes Jewish history unique. We have undergone repeated experiences of exile. Too often Jews have known that where they are is only a temporary dwelling. Jewish history has often been a long journey across the wilderness of time.

Something else about Sukkot, in this case common to both the “four kinds” and the sukka, also points to this duality. The “four kinds” are unprocessed products of nature. The covering of the sukka must also be made of materials that were once growing and are now detached but not yet turned into crafted objects of a kind capable of contracting tuma, impurity. Both the “four kinds” and the sukka covering represent the boundary between nature and culture, what Levi-Strauss called the “raw” and the “cooked.” Nature is universal. Culture is not. Once again we feel the tension between our common humanity and our religious specificity, between what makes us the same and what makes us different.

Our differences shape our identity. Our commonalities form our humanity.
More than any other festival, Sukkot represents the dual character of Jewish faith. We believe in the universality of God, together with the particularity of Jewish history and identity. All nations need rain. We are all part of nature. We are all dependent on the complex ecology of the created world. We are all threatened by climate change, global warming, the destruction of rain forests, the overexploitation of non-renewable energy sources, and the mass extinction of species. But each nation is different. As Jews we are heirs to a history unlike that of any other people: small, vulnerable, suffering repeated exile and defeat, yet surviving and celebrating.
Sukkot thus represents the tension at the heart of Judaism in a way not shared by any other faith. The God of Israel is the God of all humanity. But the religion of Israel is not, and will not be, the religion of all humanity. Even in the Messianic Age, Zechariah tells us, the nations will celebrate only Sukkot together with Israel, not the other festivals – despite the fact that on that day God will be One and His name One.
This is one of the most important truths Judaism offers the world: Humanity is formed out of our commonalities and differences. Our differences shape our identity. Our commonalities form our humanity. We are neither completely different, nor all the same. If we were completely different, we could not communicate. If we were all alike, we would have nothing to say. Our differences matter. But so too does the truth that despite our religious differences, we share a common humanity. Sukkot is thus the festival of a double joy: at being part of this people, yet also participating in the universal fate of humankind.
The Gross Family Edition of the Koren Sacks Sukkot Mahzor completes the entire Koren Sacks Mahzor series. It is available in Standard and Compact sizes online and at local Jewish bookstores.

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Post  Admin on Mon 10 Oct 2016, 10:13 pm

My Journey to Judaism
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to move up.
by Shira Yehudit Djalilmand 
They say travel broadens the mind. Perhaps it does, but that wasn’t the reason why I left England, my country, my home, my family, my entire life behind me and set out to travel the world. By most standards you would probably say my mind was already pretty broad.
At 15 I had already left home. I had been a regular child, in a regular, secular, Protestant home. Middle-class management, two-point-two kids, two cars, two weeks annual vacation. My path was laid out before me – college, career, marriage, children, retirement, death.
And then, as a teenager, I started asking uncomfortable questions: Why am I here? What’s the point? My parents were bewildered by my questions. They had no answers and I concluded that there were no answers, there was no point, and I wanted out.

I fled from my home, a confused, angry 15-year-old, to search for those answers, to find the truth, if there was such a thing. Living in a dirty apartment in a seedy seaside town, hanging out in the twilight world of amusement arcades with a gang of anarchical punks was my first experience to broaden my mind. Like me, they had no answers, but unlike me, they didn’t care. They wanted only to drink or drug themselves into oblivion, and so I threw away my questions and joined them.

Tired of drunken oblivion, I thought perhaps I could find the answers I sought in learning. Four years at university studying philosophy certainly broadened my mind. But I found only questions, no answers, so I moved on.

I tried to fit into the dreaded rat race – career, apartment, fiancé – and threw it away in disgust. I was tired of careers and conventions and the crime-ridden West Indian neighborhood into which I moved attracted me. I drifted into the underworld life of drug-dealing, little caring what would happen to me. But at some point I stopped short. There was still a speck of hope within me that there were answers to my questions. But I knew that I would not find it in England. The time had come to seek farther afield. And I was desperate. If I didn’t find the answer, then there was no reason for me being here. And in that case, I might as well be dead.

I became a wild woman, wandering the world hunting for that elusive truth. I took a one-way ticket to Muslim Morocco. I experienced the exotic scents, sights, and tastes of this most sensual country, and fell in love with its beauty. But I could not accept the life dictated by Islam for the Moroccan women, slaves in their own homes spending their lives serving the men. I was desolate. I had certainly broadened my mind, but I was still empty inside.
The family turned out to be heads of the Turkish mafia. I rebelled against their tyranny and my life was in danger.
Turkey was my next destination. A job as an au pair to one of Turkey’s wealthiest families, vacationing in one of their luxurious beachside hotels, sounded like an experience to broaden my mind. It certainly was. The family turned out to be heads of the Turkish mafia. I rebelled against their tyranny. But Mafia families do not tolerate insults to their honor and I was in danger of my life. Warned by an insider, I fled before they could carry out their “punishment.”

A period of tranquil serenity in a rural Turkish village followed. Surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, I wanted to laze my life away in this timeless wonderland. But it was a dream, a fantasy that couldn’t last – and I still had no answers.
I spent months traveling Spain with a group of street-performers, the days busking in the streets during the Spanish city “fiestas,” and the nights getting high. It was fun experiencing the stunning Alhambra Palace in Granada and the ancient grandeur of Toledo. But the excitement soon waned. Getting high in Spain was little different than getting high anywhere else, and I still had not found what I was looking for.

I returned to England, empty, desperate. I had travelled halfway across the world to find answers, but it seemed there were none. There was no other logical conclusion: there was no reason to live, and so I decided to die. At first, I did it indirectly. Back in the crime-ridden West Indian neighborhood where I had earlier tasted the forbidden pleasures of illegal substances, I began my downward slide. I wasn’t yet ready to kill myself, but if I happened to take an overdose of drugs by mistake, well, so much the better.
I went down, down, down, the mix of illicit substances depressing me even more, until finally, I did take that overdose – deliberately. I was found and taken to the city psychiatric hospital. There I stayed, by court order, for six months. I was under restraint and guarded around the clock from my frenzied attempts to escape this life. This too was travel of a kind – travel into the deepest abyss of mental and emotional hell, a place where you never want to go, even in your worst dreams.
Somehow, I survived. I was released into the world, strangely renewed. I hadn’t succeeded in dying, so I decided to give life a chance. Still seeking that ultimate truth, I decided to travel some more, but in a different dimension – the spiritual dimension. Like Jethro, I tried every type of idol worship under the sun – Hinduism, Buddhism, Hare Krishna, and more. But my soul found no comfort.
I travelled to Israel and after years of tortured travels, I found my home.
What was left for me in this world? For some reason I had never once thought of Israel or Judaism in all my travels, whether physical or spiritual. It suddenly came into my head to travel to Israel as a kibbutz volunteer. And that was where, after years of tortured travels, I found my home – both physically and spiritually. For the first time in my life, I felt that I belonged – to this land and to its people.
I couldn’t explain why. At this point, it was nothing to do with religion – I had barely even met a religious Jew since I came to Israel, and the kibbutz where I was working was rabidly secular and fiercely anti-religion. It was something deep within me, a feeling that I had never had even in England, a feeling that these were my people and this was my land and I was an intrinsic part of them. I felt that I had to be Jewish, and I was ready to do whatever it took, ready to perform all the mitzvot - even if I didn’t yet understand them. I felt that this is where I belonged and somehow yearned to return to my people.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain my feelings to a doubting rabbi at the local beis din, a Jewish court that oversees conversion. Suspicious of my motives, he nevertheless agreed to open up a conversion file for me. And so I began to study the Torah, to the utter bewilderment of my virulently secular kibbutzniks who proudly served chametz during Passover, sold cheeseburgers on Shabbat and could not fathom why anyone would actually choose to become Jewish. In the midst of the atheistic desert of the kibbutz there was a religious settlement, where I began my journey into Judaism – the greatest broadening of the mind ever.
I was totally blown away that there was such deep wisdom in this world. I discovered a pure fire, holy knowledge, uncorrupted, and finally found within the Torah many of the answers I had been seeking for most of my life.

I fasted on Yom Kippur while they ignored the fast day and munched sunflower seeds in front of the television.
I didn’t yet understand the reasons for the mitzvot but I began to observe them with great care. I ignored the mocking laughter of the kibbutzniks as they lit up their cigarettes on Shabbat while I, the non-Jew, refrained out of respect for the holy day. At Passover I ate matzah while they feasted on bread, and I fasted on Yom Kippur while they ignored the fast day and munched sunflower seeds in front of the television. It was hard but I didn’t care. I was filled with fire and enthusiasm. I realized that my finite mind would not be able to grasp the infinite depth of the Torah commandments, but I knew they held vital importance and believed greater understanding would come through observing them. After so many years of hunting, I felt I was finally on the right path.
Intellectually, the truth of the Torah was blindingly clear to me. But that same intellect, tarnished by so many years of atheism and anarchism, was reluctant to give up its independent will and struggled to accept the existence and the mastery of the Creator of the Universe. I had to wrestle with making room for God in my heart.

But I was trapped. The beis din would not convert me if I remained in such a secular environment. And yet until I was Jewish, I could not live anywhere else in Israel without the work visa that the kibbutz had issued me. And so, to my horror, I had to return to England. There, lonely and alone in the country of my birth, longing and yearning for Israel, I had no choice. Desperately, I turned to God, this Infinite Being that until then felt so distant and abstract, and threw myself on His mercy. And incredibly, miraculously, I discovered that He had been there all along. My years of built-up anger against this seemingly cruel, meaningless world had blinded me. Once I realized that I did believe, it came as a wonderful release, as though I had been holding back something vital from myself and now it was all suddenly let out. I realized that deep inside, my soul had instinctively known that the truth was to be found in Israel with the Jewish people.

Visa or no visa, I made up my mind I was going back to Israel. I would trust in God to make things work out. Within the week I was on the plane. I arrived in Israel right before the holiday of Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah – and the timing could not have been more appropriate. I was referred to the Chief Rabbi of the Tzfat where I completed my conversion in a whirl of inspiration and exploration of the holy texts – this was truly mind-broadening. And one Monday morning, in a state of euphoria, my soul was purified in the waters of the mikveh and I emerged newborn as a Jew.
Finally, I joined the Jewish people, to whom spiritually I already felt I belonged. I no longer needed to travel – I had reached my destination

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Stephen Sondheim and the Great Yom Kippur Morality Play
The perils of the unexamined life.
by Sara Yoheved Rigler 
Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Judaism considers all lives worth living, but it considers the imperative to examine your life so important that every year it devotes ten days – from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur – to the process of introspection and recalibrating your life.

An old Broadway show is the best illustration I know of the perils of the unexamined life. “Merrily We Roll Along,” with songs by the genius Stephen Sondheim, is the story of Frank Shepard, a nice guy and talented composer turned successful Hollywood producer. During a party in the opening scene, Frank is abandoned by his second wife, his “lifelong” friend, and his mistress. He cries out, “I hate my life!” This is the end of the story. The show works its way back in time, scene by scene, answering the refrain from the opening song, “How did you get there from here, Mr. Shepard? … How did you get to be you?”

How did you get there from here, Mr. Shepard? … How did you get to be you?”
Gradually, the audience sees how Frank abandoned his youthful ideals and dreams, along with his first wife, his only child, and his two “lifelong” friends, through his heedless choices to pursue fame and fortune. The song, “Merrily We Roll Along,” paints a picture of the unexamined life, where the protagonist simply rolls along, unaware of where his choices are taking him. The lyrics could be a theme song for the Ten Days of Repentance that we are now in:

How does it happen?...
How did you get so far off the track?
Why don’t you turn around and go back?...
How did you ever get there from here?...
How does it slip away slow
So you never even notice it’s happening?...
How did you get there from here, Mr. Shepard?...
How did you get to be you?
Had Stephen Sondheim ever studied Maimonides’ tract on teshuva (repentance), he would have known that it’s always possible to “turn around and go back.” In fact, that’s the definition of teshuva. During this period leading up to Yom Kippur, every Jew is enjoined to “turn around” by examining his or her life. Take some time before Yom Kippur and ask yourself the hard questions, “Am I where and who I want to be? How did I get here? What choices did I make that landed me here?”

For example:
Did I want to be single at this age? What choices did I make that landed me here?
Do I want to have daily friction with my spouse? What choices do I routinely make that bring me to where I don’t want to be?
Do I want to be feuding with my sibling/s? What choices did I make that left me estranged from them?
What happened to my dream of being a patient, loving, parent? How did I become a yelling, critical parent instead?
Is this where I want to be in my career? Did I make bad choices to take the easy route or abandon my dreams out of fear of leaving my comfort zone?
Such self-assessment leads to the first step in the teshuva process: admitting you made a mistake. Usually, we are so invested in self-justification that we rationalize our bad choices. As the joke goes: What are the three words that every wife longs to hear from her husband? “I was wrong.” How sad that most of us value being right over being loved.

No one ends up where he/she doesn’t want to be without having made some bad choices along the way. Introspection identifies those bad choices. Going deeper ferrets out our motive for choosing the way we did. Was it fear? Was it desire? Was it arrogance? Was it laziness?

“I kept saying, ‘yes,’ when I really meant, ‘no.’”
Most of Frank Shepard’s bad choices were rooted in rank desire for wealth and physical pleasure, as well as spinelessness. Thus, in one scene, when his two old friends need him and are waiting for him, he succumbs to the seduction of a Broadway starlet and goes with her instead. As he says at the end, “I kept saying, ‘yes,’ when I really meant, ‘no.’”

Healthy Regret

The next step in the teshuva process is regret. Regret means regretting your own choices, not bemoaning your fate, as if you landed up here through no fault of your own. For a married person, this means not regretting that your spouse has certain bad qualities, but rather regretting that you fail to appreciate his/her good qualities. For a single person this may mean not bemoaning that there are no good men/women out there, but rather regretting that you rejected certain possible mates for spurious reasons.

Regret, as recommended by the 18th century sage Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, requires setting aside a defined time and plunging to the depths of sorrow for your bad choice. Such regret differs from guilt. Guilt is like a low-grade fever; you walk around with it, don’t deal with it, and it drags on and on. Regret, on the other hand, is like a high fever; you go to bed or take medication or see a doctor. When it’s over, it’s over.

During the time you have set aside to do teshuvah before Yom Kippur, set your timer for a few minutes and plunge to the depth of regret for what you have done. When the timer goes off, it’s over. The Talmud says that someone who repents and then revisits his sin is like a dog that vomits and goes back and eats its vomit. “Jewish guilt” is not Jewish. Instead, constructively use your pain to motivate you to change in a positive direction.

A Jew practices “regret” not by feeling like a lowly sinner, but rather by asserting one’s inherent greatness and how the wrong act betrayed that. The three minutes of regret should sound like: “How could someone like me do something like that? How could someone who had such ideals have stooped to act like that? How could someone with my knowledge and values have acted so wrongly?”

Plan for the Future
The next step of teshuva is to make a plan for the future to act differently. How did you get so far off the track? Why don’t you turn around and go back? A Jew can always turn around and go back. The plan must be concrete and comprised of small steps rather than grandiose resolutions that are doomed to fail.
You’re critical of your spouse or children? Dedicate one hour a day to a “criticism fast” where, no matter what, you won’t indulge your critical nature. You gossip? Undertake one hour a day when no negative words about other people will cross your lips. You don’t call your mother because she pushes your buttons? Undertake to call her once a week for ten minutes (and gradually increase that to twice a week).

Ask Forgiveness
If your wrong choices have hurt other people, there’s a fourth step: Ask forgiveness. The relative or friend you’re feuding with? Forget the autopsy of the original argument and who is wrong; just call him or her and say, “I really miss our relationship. I’m sorry for my part in distancing you. Please forgive me and let’s be friends.”
Step five pertains only when property is involved. If you stole something, whether it was from a store or a neighbor, you must return it. This includes borrowing an item and forgetting to give it back. Make sure that there’s nothing in your home that you didn’t come by honestly by purchasing it or receiving it as a gift.

“Merrily We Roll Along” flopped on Broadway in 1981. Based on a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (both Jews), the story is a modern morality play, warning against the perils of failing to regularly examine one’s choices and recalibrate one’s life. The last scene, which takes place 19 years before the first cataclysmic party scene, shows the three young friends fired up with enthusiasm to change the world. Of course the audience left the theater disgusted that Frank betrayed both his ideals and those who loved him. If only Frank had realized that he could still change not the world, but himself! The show would have been better if Maimonides had written the final act.

Click here for a Yom Kippur infographic: We Can Change

Sara Yoheved Rigler’s all-encompassing online marriage program, “Choose Connection: How to Revive and Rejuvenate Your Marriage” is available to readers at a special price. Click here for more info:

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Post  Admin on Sun 25 Sep 2016, 9:10 pm
[VIDEO] Does Judaism believe in Heaven and Hell?
by Rabbi Moshe Zeldman and J-TV
A quick Jewish perspective, with no devil and pitch forks.
View Video

Faith in God: A Jewish Perspective
It starts with the intellect and slowly enters the heart.
by Orit Esther Riter, Author of the Daily Dose of Emuna 
Loosely translated as faith in God, emuna is considered the cornerstone of Jewish belief and practice. What does the term emuna mean? How does this affect my life? When are we as Jews required to have or practice this emuna?

Unfortunately, many people assume that emuna refers to blind faith. However, this is not the case. In the Aleinu prayer recited at or near the end of every prayer service, we proclaim: “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that God is the only God…” We are instructed to ‘know’ that God exists. Blind leaps of faith have nothing to do with knowledge; they are expressions of what one wishes to be true, not what is in fact necessarily true.
Emuna begins in the mind as intellectual Emuna, formed after hard rational work and inquiry. Ultimate contemplation of the world and how it could not be created other than by an infinite Being will help us achieve this intellectual faith.

Knowing in our minds that our Creator is there is the first step. However, in time and with repeated practice, emuna can melt into the heart. After we readily acknowledge that God is part of our life and never leaves, we can work on developing loyalty to God with that knowledge and slowly begin to feel it internally. Rather than pure intellectual belief, emuna should be defined as the act of being faithful or loyal. It is the basic requirement of any healthy relationship and demands constant reinforcement.

With time and dedication we can strive toward living a life permeated by emuna. Emuna is developed throughout a lifetime and needs to be repeatedly contemplated. Loyalty to God becomes essential when life throws us a sharp curve ball which may cause us to lose balance and doubt that things truly are for the best.

Yet at these painful times, it is also more difficult to exercise our emuna muscles. It becomes most challenging when reality presents hardships that conflict with our ability to intellectually understand. The loss of harmony between that which we know in our minds to be true – God is taking care of us as part of His nation – yet do not enjoy or cannot see the logic in, is what provides us with our free will.

Through the means of free will, we choose whether to remain loyal to the word of God in spite of the pain, or to shun the word of God because of its seeming illogicality. Emuna is understanding that we cannot understand the totality of God’s knowledge, but recognizing and accepting that everything serves a purpose despite this.

Once we know logically that God is always with us, and we have started practicing this loyalty regularly, we can now engage in everyday life with trust in Him. This feeling of trust gives us a gift of security knowing that we are in perfect hands as we are being individually directed and handled by God Himself. Therefore, we can enjoy the feeling that we are being led through life by means of a personal guide, and that there is meaning and purpose to every event that occurs.

Emuna comes with practice of the mind and action. Utilizing life’s encounters as a prospect to seeing God in my life increases our awareness of His constant presence. We can use challenges as catalysts to come closer to our Creator since we extract meaning and grow from the experience.

For example, when traveling by bus to Jerusalem we can sit back, relax and enjoy the view. We can be free from worry, knowing that the driver is professional and knows how and where to drive. If we did not trust the driver’s skill, or we thought we could drive a bus better than him,, we may sit on edge the entire ride, questioning his navigation skills and driving abilities. In contrast, with emuna we can calmly sit on the bus, enjoy the scenery and await our final destination.
Sitting in bumper to bumper car traffic is boot camp for strengthening our emuna muscles. Some thoughts to ponder might include:

I must be delayed for a good reason;
maybe it is slippery ahead and needed to slow down or possibly;
I need time to recollect my thoughts before continuing to drive.

The bottom line – there is purpose to my slowing down and it is all good for me even if I cannot readily see it.
Having someone cut the line while waiting for a cashier is another opportunity to exercise my emuna muscles. Perhaps this is a chance to refine my personality by allowing the other person to go in front without feeling bitter?
Emuna is looking beyond the limited now and knowing that we may not fully grasp the meaning of what is happening. We think we know what is best for us, but emuna means have faith that only God really knows. Nonetheless, we also have faith that one day we too will know.
  Published: November 30, 2013
Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) 
We Are What We Remember
One reason religion has survived in the modern world despite four centuries of secularization is that it answers the three questions every reflective human being will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?

These cannot be answered by the four great institutions of the modern West: science, technology, the market economy and the liberal democratic state. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power. The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make. The liberal democratic state as a matter of principle holds back from endorsing any particular way of life. The result is that contemporary culture sets before us an almost infinite range of possibilities, but does not tell us who we are, why we are here, and how we should live.

Yet these are fundamental questions. Moses' first question to God in their first encounter at the burning bush was "Who am I?" The plain sense of the verse is that it was a rhetorical question: Who am I to undertake the extraordinary task of leading an entire people to freedom? But beneath the plain sense was a genuine question of identity. Moses had been brought up by an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh. When he rescued Jethro's daughters from the local Midianite shepherds, they went back and told their father, "An Egyptian man delivered us." Moses looked and spoke like an Egyptian.

He then married Zipporah, one of Jethro's daughters, and spent decades as a Midianite shepherd. The chronology is not entirely clear but since he was a relatively young man when he went to Midian and was eighty years old when he started leading the Israelites, he spent most of his adult life with his Midianite father-in-law, tending his sheep. So when he asked God, "Who am I?" beneath the surface there was a real question. Am I an Egyptian, a Midianite, or a Jew?
By upbringing he was an Egyptian, by experience he was a Midianite. Yet what proved decisive was his ancestry. He was a descendant of Abraham, the child of Amram and Yocheved. When he asked God his second question, "Who are you?" God first told him, "I will be what I will be." But then he gave him a second answer:

Say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has sent me to you.' This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.

Here too there is a double sense. On the surface God was telling Moses what to tell the Israelites when they asked, "Who sent you to us?" But at a deeper level the Torah is telling us about the nature of identity. The answer to the question, "Who am I?" is not simply a matter of where I was born, where I spent my childhood or my adult life or of which country I am a citizen. Nor is it answered in terms of what I do for a living, or what are my interests and passions. These things are about where I am and what I am but not who I am.

God's answer - I am the God of your fathers - suggests some fundamental propositions. First, identity runs through genealogy. It is a matter of who my parents were, who their parents were and so on. This is not always true. There are adopted children. There are children who make a conscious break from their parents. But for most of us, identity lies in uncovering the story of our ancestors, which, in the case of Jews, given the unparalleled dislocations of Jewish life, is almost always a tale of journeys, courage, suffering or escapes from suffering, and sheer endurance.

Second, the genealogy itself tells a story. Immediately after telling Moses to tell the people he had been sent by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God continued:
"Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites - a land flowing with milk and honey.'

It was not simply that God was the God of their ancestors. He was also the God who made certain promises: that he would bring from slavery to freedom, from exile to the Promised Land. The Israelites were part of a narrative extended over time. They were part of an unfinished story, and God was about to write the next chapter.

What is more, when God told Moses that He was the God of the Israelites' ancestors, He added, "This is My eternal name, this is how I am to be recalled [zikhri] from generation to generation." God was here saying that He is beyond time - "This is My eternal name" - but when it comes to human understanding, He lives within time, "from generation to generation." The way He does this is through the handing on of memory: "This is how I am to be recalled." Identity is not just a matter of who my parents were. It is also a matter of what they remembered and handed on to me. Personal identity is shaped by individual memory. Group identity is formed by collective memory.[1]

All of this is by way of prelude to a remarkable law in today's parsha. It tells us that first-fruits were to be taken to "the place God chooses," i.e. Jerusalem. They were to be handed to the priest, and each was to make the following declaration:

"My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great, powerful and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our suffering, our harsh labor and out distress. The Lord then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great fearsomeness and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. I am now bringing the first-fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me." (Deut. 26:5-10)
We know this passage because, at least since Second Temple times it has been a central part of the Haggadah, the story we tell at the Seder table. But note that it was originally to be said on bringing firstfruits, which was not on Pesach. Usually it was done on Shavuot.
What makes this law remarkable is this: We would expect, when celebrating the soil and its produce, to speak of the God of nature. But this text is not about nature. It is about history. It is about a distant ancestor, a "wandering Aramean." It is the story of our ancestors. It is a narrative explaining why I am here, and why the people to whom I belong is what it is and where it is. There was nothing remotely like this in the ancient world, and there is nothing quite like it today. As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi said in his classic book Zakhor,[2] Jews were the first people to see God in history, the first to see an overarching meaning in history, and the first to make memory a religious duty.
That is why Jewish identity has proven to be the most tenacious the world has ever known: the only identity ever sustained by a minority dispersed throughout the world for two thousand years, one that eventually led Jews back to the land and state of Israel, turning Hebrew, the language of the Bible, into a living speech again after a lapse of many centuries in which it was used only for poetry and prayer. We are what we remember, and the first-fruits declaration was a way of ensuring that Jews would never forget.
In the past few years, a spate of books has appeared in the United States asking whether the American story is still being told, still being taught to children, still framing a story that speaks to all its citizens, reminding successive generations of the battles that had to be fought for there to be a "new birth of freedom," and the virtues needed for liberty to be sustained.[3] The sense of crisis in each of these works is palpable, and though the authors come from very different positions in the political spectrum, their thesis is roughly the same: If you forget the story, you will lose your identity. There is such a thing as a national equivalent of Alzheimer's. Who we are depends on what we remember, and in the case of the contemporary West, a failure of collective memory poses a real and present danger to the future of liberty.
Jews have told the story of who we are for longer and more devotedly than any other people on the face of the earth. That is what makes Jewish identity so rich and resonant. In an age in which computer and smartphone memories have grown so fast, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while human memories have become so foreshortened, there is an important Jewish message to humanity as a whole. You can't delegate memory to machines. You have to renew it regularly and teach it to the next generation. Winston Churchill said: "The longer you can look back, the further you can see forward."[4] Or to put it slightly differently: Those who tell the story of their past have already begun to build their children's future.

1. The classic works on group memory and identity are Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, University of Chicago Press, 1992, and Jacques le Goff, History and Memory, Columbia University Press, 1992.
2. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. University of Washington Press, 1982. See also Lionel Kochan, The Jew and His History, London, Macmillan, 1977.
3. Among the most important of these are Charles Murray, Coming Apart, Crown, 2013; Robert Putnam, Our Kids, Simon and Shuster, 2015; Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide, IVP, 2012; Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, Viking, 2016; and Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic, Basic Books, 2016.
4. Chris Wrigley, Winston Churchill: a biographical companion, Santa Barbara, 2002, xxiv.

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Post  Admin on Wed 21 Sep 2016, 9:52 pm

Rosh Hashanah: Can’t Stop the Feeling
Justin Timberlake, celebrating the new year and the joy of being Jewish.

Lyrics by
Music by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Shellback
Cover Track by Ido Zeleznik and Michael HarPaz
Vocals Performed by Michael HarPaz
Directed by Shoot East
Choreography by Street Art Productions. Click here to visit their facebook page.


I got this feeling inside my soul
It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on
I’m doing a mitzvah, I’m coming home
We're flying up, got tzitzis, when we in our zone

I got my Torah in my pocket
Got that good soul leading me
I feel that pleasure in my soul when it does pop, ooh
I can take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally 
Reachin’ out, my soul can rock it, so don't stop

And when I hear that voice inside go 
“Nowhere to hide, you don’t need to grow 
Just be a body, you already know
So just imagine, just imagine, just imagine”
I’m not gonna listen to ya; just grow, grow, grow yeah 
Goodness creeping up on me
Torah – grow, grow, grow, c’mon
All those mitzvahs I should do
Torah, learn and know yeah
And my soul ain't leaving soon, here I grow, yeah

I can't stop the feeling
So just grow, grow, grow
I can't stop the feeling
So here we go, go, go, come on

Ooh, it's something magical
It’s Rosh Hashanah, time to choose, souls yearning on
Don't need no lying, I’ve got control
I fly so high, no cheating, out my comfort zone

'Cause I got my Torah in my pocket
Got that good soul telling me
I got to use all my potential, just choose life, ooh
Time to make that greater vision, living so phenomenally
Rosh Hashanah’s gonna rock it, and that’s right

Open machzor cuz everything goes
A new beginning when God is so close
Makin’ choices when shofars are blown 
So just imagine, just imagine, just imagine
Love that inner Jew in you, just dance, dance, dance
Feeling good, good, creeping up on you
So just dance, dance, dance, come on
All those mitzvahs you can do
So just dance, dance, dance
And my soul ain't leaving soon, so keep dancing

I can't stop the feeling
We got this feeling everybody
I can't stop the feeling
We got this feeling in my soul
I can't stop the feeling
We got this feeling everybody 
I can't stop the feeling
We got this feeling in my soul
I can't stop the feeling
We got this feeling everybody, come on

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Post  Admin on Sat 17 Sep 2016, 8:59 pm
When is the Last Time You Had Goosebumps?
Inject some awe into your life.
by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg 

The home of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven has been preserved and serves as a museum in Bonn, Germany. One historical gem in the museum is the piano upon which Beethoven composed most of his renowned works. The piano is estimated to be worth more than $50 million and is understandably roped off and out of the reach of the thousands of visitors who pass it by each day.

A group of students from Vassar College was once visiting the Beethoven museum. Matthew Kelly tells the story of how one of the students came to the room that held the piano and couldn’t resist the temptation to ask a museum guard if she could play it for a moment. The guard allowed himself to be influenced by her generous tip and let the young woman beyond the ropes for a few moments. She sat at the famed piano and knocked out several bars of Moonlight Sonata. When she finished, her classmates applauded.

As she stepped back through the ropes, the young woman asked the guard, “I suppose over the years, all the great pianists that have come here have played the piano?” “No, miss,” the guard replied. “In fact, just two years ago I was standing in this very place when Ignacy Paderewski visited the museum. He was accompanied by the director of the museum and the international press, who had all come in the hope that he would play the piano.

“When he entered the room he stood over there, where your friends are standing and gazed at the piano in silent contemplation for almost fifteen minutes. The director of the museum then invited him to play the piano, but with tears welling in his eyes Paderewski declined, saying that he was not worthy even to touch it.”

Only human beings get goosebumps for a different feeling: awe.

Non-human mammals get what we call goosebumps, the constriction of skin surrounding hair follicles, when they feel threatened or attacked. Only human beings get goosebumps for a different feeling: awe. Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of greatness, of being exposed to that which is transcendent or extraordinary. Paderewski was in a room with Beethoven’s piano and was frozen with awe. The young student saw the piano and thought it would be cool to casually play it.

Living with Awe
Researchers believe that we are living in a time of awe deprivation. Technological advances have made things once thought impossible not only real, but normal, expected, even mundane and unimpressive. We FaceTime with people on the other side of the globe without another thought, we have search engines that access millions of pages of information in nanoseconds, we instinctively use global positioning satellites to find the quickest route and avoid traffic. The result of the speed with which breakthrough, change, and advance happens leaves us struggling to be impressed with anything.

We have gone from calling everything “awesome,” to reacting to everything by saying (or thinking) “eh.” The byproducts of being awe-deprived are increased arrogance, decreased empathy, greater challenge to find meaning, and even failing health.

Current research shows that the capacity to feel awe makes people more empathetic, generous, kind, and humble

A Wall Street Journal article describes how current research shows that the capacity to feel awe makes people more empathetic, generous, kind, and humble. The actual feeling of awe and the experiences that inspire it make us healthier, improve our relationships, and give more meaning to our lives. The author writes, “Awe is an emotional response to something vast, and it challenges and expands our way of seeing the world. It might be triggered by an encounter with nature, a religious experience, a concert or a political rally or sports event. We’re not likely to find it on a treadmill at the gym.”

She goes on to describe that some experienced awe at the birth of a child, others watching a meteor shower, others visiting the Pine Forest in California, and interestingly, others who found it awe-inspiring to work with homeless people and witness their resilience and kindness. Dr. Dacher Keltner from UC Berkeley found that feeling awe can help fight depression and can even help reduce inflammation in the body. Dr. Paul Piff from UC Irvine explained that “awe minimizes our individual identity and attunes us to things bigger than ourselves.”

Days of Awe

We have officially begun Elul and with it the countdown towards the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. On Rosh Hashanah we will coronate God as King of the Universe and remind ourselves of His awesome omnipotence and omniscience. On Yom Kippur, we will be evaluated and judged to determine if we are fulfilling our role in His renewed kingdom and the purpose for which we were created. As described in U’nesaneh Tokef, these days are in fact, norah v’ayom, they are simply and literally awesome.

But we will only be moved by the awesomeness of these days if we still have the capacity for awe, reverence, and veneration. If everything is so utterly unimpressive, uninspiring, and ordinary, these days will be ritualistic and ceremonial, empty and devoid of meaning and transformation.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner z”tl explains that Amalek is the archrival of the Jewish people because their philosophy is the very antithesis of ours. When recounting Amalek’s attack on the Jewish people, the verse says, “Asher karcha baderech – they happened upon you.” Amalek believes in mikreh, in chance, randomness, and happenstance. They see nothing as significant, meaningful, or worthy of awe. As a result, Amalek’s attitude is to denigrate, to knock down, to destroy, to be cynical, and sarcastic. Amalek mocks and makes fun, they look at something or someone others are in awe of and they seek to demolish, to degrade, to vilify.

The Jewish people are charged to live life with the opposite attitude and approach. Our mission is to live life with awe, to see ourselves as a small part of something much greater. Our charge is to see and create meaning and purpose, to lift up, to build, to admire, to revere, and to venerate that which is worthy and important in the world.

Rav Hutner describes that the battle between the attitude of Amalek and the attitude of the Torah is the battle between what he calls the ko’ach ha’chillul and the ko’ach ha’hillul. The ko’ach ha’chillul is the power of skepticism, the influence of that little voice inside each of us that, like Amalek, tries to get us to be cynical, to mock and belittle, rather than to respect and be filled with awe. The ko’ach ha’hillul is the capacity to praise, honor, identify and admire the beauty and the greatness which is sometimes beneath the surface.

Preparing for the Days of Awe includes working to defeat the Amalek inside us. It demands we weaken and eliminate the ko’ach ha’chillul, our tendency or inclination towards cynicism and skepticism, and strengthen and build up our capacity for ko’ach ha’hillul: to see that which is impressive, remarkable and praiseworthy in people, places, and things all around us.

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle."

Awe is not only the result of being in the presence of, or exposed to, something worthy of awe. Awe results from an openness, willingness, and interest to see greatness and be moved by it. My brother Judah pointed out to me that when Jacob, our forefather, first encounters Mount Moriah he is unmoved and in fact goes to sleep. Only after his dream and epiphany does he awaken with a sense of “Mah norah ha’makom ha’zeh, how awesome is this place?” Even a great person like Yaakov could encounter the holiest place in the world and at first find no meaning in it. Only with new insight and a changed attitude did he see beyond the ordinary stones and identify the place for what it truly was: norah, awesome.

The WSJ article suggests that to preserve and expand our capacity for awe, we must make an effort to have three awe experiences a week. This Elul, look at something, study something, contemplate something, admire someone, experience something that makes you feel “Wow! That is awesome.” “That is incredible.” “That is humbling.”

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." As we prepare for the Days of Awe, let’s choose to see everything as a miracle and be filled with awe as a result.

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Post  Admin on Thu 15 Sep 2016, 11:29 am
The Serpent Crawls; We Don’t
Evil crawls toward us, but we can choose to use our legs and run away.
by Laura Deutsch 
My Nana Evelyn was born in Russia and her family owned a dry goods store. When Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses, the store was placed in the name of a Gentile neighbor. A relative of this neighbor often shopped at the store because he knew he would receive discounted prices. Amidst a wave of violence in Nana Evelyn's community, several Jews were badly beaten in the street. This man was among the attackers.

A few weeks later, he came into the store and realized that Nana Evelyn's parents were aware of his involvement in the violence. He shifted from foot to foot and confessed how badly he felt about what happened. My grandmother remembers that her father busied himself among the shelves, but her mother glared at this man, eyes blazing.

"It wasn't my idea," the man went on to say. "And I wasn't the only one doing it." He quickly made his purchase and left the store.

Nana Evelyn's mother said, "The serpent crawls. We don't."

When God condemned the serpent to slither on its belly, He was not simply punishing a wicked creature. God was promoting free will among mankind. Evil crawls toward us, but we can choose to use our legs and run away. This incident in Russia made such an impact on Nana Evelyn, that her mother's words became hers, and many times I heard Nana Evelyn use this expression when someone was trying to excuse bad behavior.

"The serpent crawls. We don't."

I am often inspired by Nana Evelyn's wisdom, especially during The High Holy Days when we soon begin reading Genesis anew. Her words are particularly poignant this year, for September, 2016 marks 75 years since the tragedy at Babi Yar when, right before Yom Kippur, over 30,000 Ukrainian Jews were marched from Kiev to a huge ravine and shot over a two-day period. It was the third largest massacre of Jews during the war. The slaughter was carried out by Ukrainian locals, the German army, military police and Einsatzgruppen C, one of the four Einsatzgruppen which collectively shot an estimated one million Jews after the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941.
In 1943, Heinrich Himmler spoke to S.S. officers in a secret meeting and praised them for their "natural tact" and the fact that they remained "decent" despite their involvement in mass killings. (He also warned them against personally profiting from the murder of Jews, for this – not the slaughter – would damage their character.)

Himmler himself was quite disturbed by the methods – not the results – of a mass shooting he witnessed in Minsk in 1941

Despite extolling the Einsatzgruppen's nerves of steel, Himmler had come to realize the terrible effect this carnage was taking on the murderers. Himmler himself was quite disturbed by the methods – not the results – of a mass shooting he witnessed in Minsk in 1941. Members of the Einsatzgruppen had a high rate of nervous disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide. And why shouldn't these bloodbaths have taken a toll? How difficult it must have been to hear mothers begging for their children's lives, to see blond, blue-eyed Jews lined up at the pits, or to shoot Jews who might speak German!

This "touching" concern for the welfare of the murderers was one of the reasons Himmler sought alternate methods of killing. Dropping gas pellets down a chute without having to lay eyes on the victims was so much less taxing, and members of the Einsatzgruppen were reassigned once the switch to gas was made. After the war, 24 Einsatzgruppen commanders were tried for crimes against humanity. Four were executed. Within ten years, the rest died of natural causes or were granted early release from their prison terms and absorbed back into society.

The men who made up the Einsatzgruppen were not all illiterate, pre-war thugs. Many came from middle class, educated families. Still, they were able to demonize an entire group and take pride in murder. They placed a shroud of soil over the Jews they shot and draped themselves in medals.

We cannot be sure how many of these men were unwilling participants. But we don't need to know because we know what they did. Photographs show that at least some of them posed for pictures and smiled or carried on nonchalantly. We also know that no one in the Einsatzgruppen was forced to shoot Jews. Only a few opted out of participating by refusing to shoot, requesting reassignment or asking a local to take his place. Perhaps some of these men were demoted, mocked by their compatriots or left out of the nightly card game. But there is not a single record of any court marital, imprisonment or execution of those who wouldn't murder Jews.

We have legs. We have choice. Let’s be sure to use it

This is why my grandmother's saying – "The serpent crawls. We don't." – fills my head with unusual intensity as this High Holy Day Season approaches, along with the 75 years since the bloodbath at Babi Yar.
It is important to remember that it doesn't matter if the serpent is dressed up in a smart uniform or sings catchy tunes. It is irrelevant if the serpent uses "liquidate," "exterminate" or "evacuate" as substitutes for "murder." It is immaterial that the serpent shouts "God is great!" and speaks of glory in the afterlife.

The serpent can still only crawl. We have legs. We have choice. Let’s be sure to use it.

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Post  Admin on Sun 11 Sep 2016, 10:41 pm

My Broken Laptop
To fix or not to fix? A too-good-to-be-true story for Elul.
by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith 

I realized it was a careless thing to do the second I did it. I closed the laptop I use at home while its plug was lying on the keyboard – not hard, mind you – but that unusual cracking noise didn’t sound good. I turned it on and the screen was totally shattered inside, displaying digital abstract art. I couldn’t believe it broke.

It’s Elul, I told myself. I’m not going to let myself get all upset about this. It’s obvious the Almighty is sending me a message about my overuse of the computer.

I schlepped my laptop to the office to give it to the computer support team who service the Aish offices. Our office manager wasn’t encouraging. “Getting a new screen is very expensive. It might not pay to fix it.”
The computer technician called me right away. “How old is your laptop?”
“Two or three years old. But it’s a perfectly good computer.”
“It’s not worth fixing. A new screen is going to cost you between 1500 to 2000 shekels. You can get a new one in the U.S. for that price.”

“What?! Are you sure it’s going to cost that much? Can I first get a quote and then I’ll decide what to do?”
“Sure, but the quote will cost you 300 NIS if you don’t fix it.”

This is absurd, I thought to myself.
“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

Then I remembered this computer technician, a Chassidic woman, who once paid a house call and fixed our computer that got hit with a virus. She was intelligent and affordable. Called her to see what she could offer.
“It’ll cost you 450 NIS. I can come by tonight to pick it up.”

I was incredulous (second time that day). She drove over 9 PM that night in her beat up car and I handed her the goods.
9 AM the next morning she called to tell me it’s ready. “When can I drop it off?” she asked.
Just fix it.

It was too good to be true. I have a rule that I use, especially when it comes to some of the more fantastical submissions to that come my way, that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, though, it was an exception. My laptop was gleaming with its new screen, it cost less than a quarter of the original quote, I got it back in one day, delivery included, and I helped support a mother of many children (they were all packed into the car when she dropped it off) who I’m sure needed the business more than the professional company who services the Aish HaTorah offices.

I was relieved that I didn’t listen to the “expert advice” to buy a new laptop, something I momentarily considered, and just fixed the one I had. Perhaps this is the message I’m supposed to get during this period of Elul: Just fix it. Don’t discard the problem. Don’t avoid dealing with the issue at hand. It's easy to despair when thinking about all the issues you need to fix in your life as you gear up for Rosh Hashanah. How can I possibly create a whole new me? Confronting the problem is just too costly and difficult. It seems impossible to change.

All that negative self-talk is just a distraction designed to get us to run away from dealing with our real issues.

Don't listen to that voice. Fix the problem instead. Confront the challenge head on and with some honesty and a sincere desire to repair it, you’ll be surprised to discover one or two very doable steps that could really make a difference and are not as hard as you initially thought.
Just fix it.

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Post  Admin on Sun 11 Sep 2016, 3:57 pm
Remembering 9/11: Five Important Lessons
Because those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech 
No one can ever forget that September 11. It was 15 years ago but I can vividly recall exactly where I was standing and what I was thinking when I first heard that America was under attack and that the World Trade Center was falling.

It’s hard to believe that there are young people for whom the events of that horrific day are not personal memories but simply moments of recorded history. Yet 9/11 was not just traumatic, it was transformative. It brought a new understanding of the threats to our very survival. 9/11 was a wake-up call for civilization. Let us take stock of these five major messages, mindful of Santayana’s famous warning that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

1. We Are All Israelis
Immediately after 9/11, the phrase “we are all Israelis” appeared in some reports. But it was soon forgotten or hijacked by other groups and different causes. Yet it captured a profound truth. The enemies of Israel turned out to be the same enemies intent on destroying the Western world and civilized society as we know it.
For years the United States as well as other democracies watched the terrorism and the intifada and the butchering and the sadistic slayings of innocents from afar and thought it had nothing to do with them. Suddenly came the recognition that there is no longer a concept of distance for terror. 9/11 made clear that an ocean can no longer keep Americans safe from attack and that the battle against jihad isn’t restricted to Jerusalem.

2. The Terrorists Shouted Allah Akbar
No amount of verbal camouflage can hide the truth. The people responsible for the murder of over 3000 innocent Americans were Muslims who proclaimed their deed a glorious act bringing glory to their God for the death of deserving infidels.
The extremist fanatics of 9/11 must be denounced in every mosque, condemned by every imam, censured by every fatwa on the anniversary of the day which ought to bring shame to every believer in a God of mercy and compassion.
Let us be ready to agree with all those who loudly proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace – but let us be convinced of their sincerity by their willingness to openly censure all those who continued to justify barbaric behavior in the name of their religion.

3. America Had No “Settlements”
The Palestinians have perfected slogans to justify their actions. It’s “the settlements.” It’s “the occupation.” It’s the flavor of the month they choose to give legitimacy to their cause.
No one seems to wonder why the same hatred and desire for the destruction of Israel post 1967 and the settlements was just as intense before Israel prevailed in a war not of their choosing and in which despite unbelievable odds they proved victorious.
There were no settlements nor was there an occupation when the Arabs massacred Jews in Hebron in 1929, just as these rationales for Jew hatred did not exist when the United Nations established legitimacy for the creation of the Jewish state only to be followed by a declaration of war intent on its destruction by the seven Arab nations surrounding it.
The attack of 9/11 against the United States was, in the words of Bernard Lewis, “a clash of civilizations.” Yes, there are those who want to see an end to democracy. Yes, there are those who want to see a global caliphate governed by the rules of sharia. Yes, 9/11 was a demonstration of the larger truth that there is a culture of hatred in the world which masks its essence under the guise of grievances which have nothing to do with its true motivations.

4. Real Evil Exists In This World
Shortly after 9/11, Newsweek magazine featured a column by a college student asking for “greater perspective and greater understanding”. After all, this spokesman for cultural relativism plaintively asked, who is to say whether those responsible should be judged by the standards of our morality rather those of their culture in which they died as martyrs in the name of a greater cause.
It is a point of view which still seems to enjoy some legitimacy in the academic halls of supra-liberalism. Some people, as Bertrand Russell famously put it, are so open minded they allow their brains to fallout. Cannibals may have justified eating other human beings, but being civilized surely demands a higher standard for ethical dining. Spare me the similar defense for Nazis who took part in concentration camp atrocities because “at the time” pushing Jews into the crematoria was considered acceptable.
Evil is evil. “Thou shalt not murder” was spoken for all times, for all places and for all people.

A post-9/11 world needs to remember that extreme evil must be fought even more than it must be understood.

5. Crises Remind Us of Our Potential for Greatness

There is a final message to be learned from 9/11. It is the one with the greatest power to turn tragedy into hope, despair into optimism.
Those of us who lived through the horror recall another part of the story. It was the remarkable effect of communal pain creating an unparalleled sense of comradeship. Unbearable hardship gave us a kind of kinship we hardly ever experience except in times of severe crisis. Somehow we knew and we understood that we were all in this together. Reading the stories of those who perished made us relate to every life in a way we never thought possible, and allowed us to understand all the better the preciousness of every moment of our own existence.

So many of us realized that we could just as well have been among the victims and felt a keener sense of gratitude for all the things we normally take so much for granted.
Abraham was tested with ten trials. The Hebrew word for tested has a dual meaning. It tells us he was tried but it also, remarkably enough, teaches us that he was elevated. Having endured the difficulties he gained even greater stature.
That is what 9/11 must achieve for us as well. On its 15th anniversary, let us hope it can accomplish that if we but heed its crucial lessons.

Click here to read more articles about 9/11.

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Post  Admin on Thu 08 Sep 2016, 10:18 pm
After years of dating I feel I’m still nowhere closer to finding my soul mate.
by Yaara Sandock 
Dear Yaara,
In most areas of my life I’m doing pretty well. I have a good job, good relationships with my family, I work out and eat healthy, I help the community, I try to grow spiritually, and I make time for fun.
But when it comes to dating, even though I try so hard and go on so many dates, I am still at square one in regards to finding my spouse. Why?
When I work hard at my job, I get rewarded and promoted, and make more money. When I work at maintaining my health, I see the weight coming off, pound after pound. When I pray and learn Torah I feel more spiritual.
But when I go on another date and another date, I don’t get any closer to finding my husband. I just go home, bummed out, and have to start all over again! It’s like I’m going full gas in neutral.
How do I keep going when all my efforts and heartache and exhaustion go unrewarded and show no progress?
I’ve been doing this for many years – walking blindly on this road to marriage which has no end in sight. I don’t see any results, any improvement, or any sign that I’m getting closer. Any advice would be helpful.
Yaara Responds
Dear A.,
Have you ever heard the story of the Chinese bamboo? The Chinese bamboo needs fertile soil, sunshine, and water every day. In the first year you see no visible signs of growth.
In the second year still no signs.
Third year, again….nothing. Fourth, nothing…
And finally, in the fifth year the Chinese Bamboo grows 80 feet in just six weeks! 80 feet!
What happened? Did the Chinese Bamboo just lay dormant for four years, and all of a sudden sprout up like that?
Not at all.
So what was it doing during first four years?
It grew underground and developed a root system strong enough to support its huge growth in the fifth year and for the rest of its life.
One day, all of a sudden, you will meet the right one. It will happen in a “moment”. Out of nowhere. Just like the bamboo tree.
Does that mean that you really went from square one to the end result in a single moment?
Of course not.
You’ve been walking down the path towards that moment this whole time.
The only problem is you’re blindfolded and you can’t see how far you’ve walked.
If someone were to take off your blindfold at this very moment, you’d see you’re probably at 7 or 8. Maybe even 9.
Square one would be someone who’s just starting to “want” to date. You’re not there! Square one was years ago.
Since then you’ve gone on numerous dates, singles events, thought a lot about this, spoken to many people, reached out for help, read books, prayed, etc. This entire time you’ve been maturing and developing into the person you need to be when you meet the one. You’re becoming more self-aware, and learning what works for you and what doesn’t, what you like and what you prefer not to have in a spouse.
You’re right. For some reason, in this area of life we don’t see results along the way. We just see them when we’ve reached the end. But let’s not be fooled into thinking we’re at square one just because we can’t see the end result yet.
You are making progress. You’re like the bamboo tree. Things are happening inside you that you don’t even know. And at the same time, things are happening to your future spouse. Preparing you both for the moment you’ll “sprout out of the ground” and finally be able to see what’s been hiding underground all this time.
Stay strong. You’re not at the beginning. You’re almost there.
Keep walking forward.
Your soul mate awaits.
How to Confront Your Mistakes and Try Again
Don’t allow yesterday's mistakes to limit tomorrow's possibilities.
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund 
The millionaire investor James Altucher lost all his money, his home and his marriage in a short span of time. At one of his lowest points during this period, he got into an argument with his parents that resulted in shutting down all communication between them. Not long afterwards, his father passed away from a sudden stroke.
Right before his father's sudden death, his father had called him to try to make amends; James had refused to speak to him. He never got to say goodbye to his father; he never got the chance to say he was sorry. While he was still reeling from the pain of losing his father, James' mother blamed him for his father's death.

I know all this because when James lost everything, he didn't hide away and cover up his mistakes. He began to write, documenting and describing in detail all of his failures and what he had learned from them. He wrote books about his mistakes and what he was trying to do differently now. He picked himself up when he had literally lost everything and he said to himself: I wonder what would happen if I changed? If I stopped drinking to escape my pain. If I stopped making money and possessions the focus of my life? If I married again and built a marriage that I nurtured instead of ignored? If I reached out and tried to help people who were falling apart themselves?

James remarried and had children. He kept writing and falling and getting up again. He kept speaking about his mistakes and what he was learning from them. Today he has all his possessions literally in one knapsack. I don't know if his mother or anyone else ever forgave him, but he learned to forgive himself. He figured out how to move from despair to wonder by telling himself and anyone else who would listen: "The only truly safe thing you can do is to try, over and over again."

Reading his book made me wonder: What if I lost everything that I have? What would I do? Would I be as brave as James and say: I made a lot of mistakes? This is what I learned from them. This is how I'm going to try again. Or would I curl up in shame and lose hope? Be crushed by the guilt? Tell myself that no one else in the world has ever been lonely or scared or confused?
The Jewish month Elul is here; it's a month for us to examine the past year and identify our shortcomings, to find ways to change and become better. But every year when Elul begins, I feel that familiar wisp of dread. I don't want to look back at my whole year and stare at everything I’ve done wrong. I don't want to change. I want to pretend that everything is just fine. I don't have James' courage. I can't remember how to try, over and over again.

But what if I stopped for a moment, dropped my defenses and asked myself: What could I accomplish if I changed? Who could I become if I ask myself each day this month: What isn't working in my life? How can I change it? What would my life be like if I wasn't ashamed of tripping and falling? What kind of person could I be if I picked myself up, brushed myself off and constantly asked myself: How can I begin again?

Instead of denying or covering up my failures, I could learn to say: I made all these mistakes, and I want to learn and grow from them. I could turn to God and say: I want to become better and I need Your help. I want to be close to You again. What would my life be like if I let myself be vulnerable and lived with the reality that God loves me and believes in me?

God doesn't want me to curl up in shame and hide from my mistakes. He wants me to wonder who I can become if I hold onto my connection with Him and refuse to let go. He wants me to refuse to allow yesterday's mistakes to limit tomorrow's possibilities. I wonder what my life could be like if the one thing that I had was the faith my Creator has in me. I wonder who I could become if the one thing I had was something I could never lose: my connection with the One who created a world where hope is never lost and mistakes are never dead-ends.

This is the time to inculcate the belief that we can change anything, as long as we remember that no matter how hard we fall, we can get up and keep trying, over and over again.

Missing My Mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
To the world she was a survivor and trailblazing visionary. To me and my siblings she was our mother who was always there for us.
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff 

 The author with her mother.
These are most difficult words for me to write. Today I got up from sitting shiva for my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. For seven days I opened my mother’s front door, waiting for her beautiful smile to greet me. I walked into my mother’s kitchen where photos of all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren plastered the walls. I looked for her but her chair was empty. The pain is raw. 

Where is my beautiful Ema?
To the world she was The Rebbetzin. The Jewish soul on fire. Powerhouse, visionary, survivor of Bergen-Belsen, founder of Hineni, charismatic speaker who packed Madison Square Garden, trailblazer in the world of outreach, and a woman who fearlessly traveled across the globe igniting the spark she believed lay dormant within every Jew.

While sitting shiva we met people who came from far to share their stories of connection. Some spoke of her blessings that brought children and healing; others of her Torah teachings that helped bring peace to their divided families. Couples who met through her matchmaking shared pictures of sons and daughters who bring joy to our people. Men and women recounted incredible tales of being inspired to discover Judaism and leave assimilation behind.

My tears joined with those who came to offer consolation. They tried hard to express their words but many simply could not speak. The grief was overwhelming. Over and over, I heard, “We lost our Bubby.” “We lost our Torah Ema.”
A great light has been extinguished. Our world has dimmed.

To me and my siblings the Rebbetzin was our Ema. She was my mother who was always there for me, loved me, guided me and gave me life. After each baby I would return home where my mother rocked my newborns to sleep singing the Shema.
To our children and grandchildren, she was ‘Bubba’. How she adored us and made each child feel as if they were the favorite one.

Whenever we would visit, Bubba would insist on walking us to the door. We kissed Bubba and said goodbye. My mother placed her hands on our heads and gave us her blessing. She would always shed tears. Once outside she would call us back. “One more blessing,” she would say. “As long as I am alive, always come back for one more blessing.”

Down the driveway we would turn. Bubba was still standing there. Her lips were moving. She was whispering her blessings. She’d wave and we would wave back. A few more steps before her figure was just a dot. But we knew that she had not budged. She was still watching us, not letting us out of her sight. Constant prayer on her lips.
The Rebbetzin, 1973
When my mother was a small child, before deportations to the concentration camps had begun, young Hungarian Jewish men were drafted for slave labor. Szeged, my mother’s hometown, was their stopover. Zaydah, my grandfather, was the Rabbi of the city so my grandparents’ home became their refuge. Soon after, they were shipped away. These young men were forced to wear yellow armbands identifying them as hated Jews. But at my grandparents’ table they were transformed. They studied the holy books and were enveloped with love. Yellow badges of shame became badges of honor. When the hour would come for them to take leave, Zayda would place his hands on each young man’s head. He would cry and give his blessing. Then he would accompany them to the door and whisper blessings until they were out of sight.

Out of the ashes, my mother brought Zayda’s blessings home to us, the next generation.
My mother’s Book of Psalms is worn, the pages frayed, saturated with her tears. How many times we would call her with our burdens, asking my mother to shake the heavens above with her prayers. Each time a grandchild went into labor, it was Bubba whose number we dialed. “Ema, please daven,” we would ask, no matter the hour.

Who will pray for us now? Who will bless us? Who will see the hidden miracle that lies within each of us?

When my mother looked at you she saw beyond your body. She saw your soul, the ‘pintele Yid’. Though I was just a little girl I will forever remember sitting in Madison Square Garden with thousands of Jews from every walk of life. My mother passionately proclaimed “within every Jew there lies is a spark, a flicker of a light, a tiny flame. And if you wish it that tiny flame can become a great fire from which the words Hineni, here am I, my God, shall emerge. My children, shuvu banim, come home.”

My mother brought the Jewish nation home with her love and unwavering belief in God. The flames of the Holocaust that consumed our great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and infant cousins only strengthened her conviction.
As our children grew, all the cousins would sleep over my parents' home for Shabbos. Friday night after the meal they would run down the stairs and quickly get into their pajamas. “Bubba tell us a story from when you were a little girl.” My mother would share how she had stood in the freezing cold of Bergen Belsen feeling frightened, eyes glued to the ground. She put her hand in her pocket and felt a crumpled piece of paper. Somehow her father had placed the words of the Shema in her pocket. “It was only a piece of paper but it told me that I was not alone, that my God lived. Slowly, I lifted my eyes.”

My mother connected us to our roots. She made us understand that if we don’t know where we’ve come from we cannot possibly know where we are going. She taught us how to live with hope. She created a legacy of emunah, pure faith. She embedded within me the understanding that no matter the darkness, we are a nation of miracles. God is watching over us. Never stop believing. Never be afraid. No matter how you have fallen there is no barrier between us and God.

Ema, my heart is full. I miss hearing your voice. Your seat at my Shabbos table is waiting for you. We ache for your blessings.
Thank you, Ema, for your footsteps. We will try to kindle your light and continue your mission.
And please, Ema, pray for us in the heavens above. Because we are all your children.

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Post  Admin on Wed 31 Aug 2016, 10:03 pm
Dear Single Mother
I was blown away by an encounter I had with one of your 7 children.
by Eliana Cline 

Dear Single Mother,
You don’t know me, but I keep thinking about you and wondering how you did it.
You see, I met your daughter last week at the new indoor playground. My four-year-old daughter looked up the huge spiraling tunnel slide, decked out with ladders, ropes and thrilling tunnels, bursting with excitement.

But then she became hesitant. She had no idea how to get up to the top. Child after child clambered past us, climbing up the ladders and careening down, over and over.

I stood at the bottom of the slide with my little girl and realized that there was no way – even if I wasn’t in my eighth month of pregnancy – that I could climb through the jungle gym and show her how to get down the slide.
That’s when I spotted your 10-year-old daughter, a girl that I vaguely recognized. “Would you please…”

Before I could even finish my question, she reached out to my daughter. “Do you want to come up the slide with me?” My usually shy daughter gave a huge smile and nodded happily, and the two of them went up.
Your daughter patiently helped her to the top and slid down with her a few times, until my daughter was confident enough to go up by herself.

Before we left, I turned to your daughter and asked her name. My ears pricked up with interest. I recognized your name from the community. I don’t know you, but I do know that you have seven children and that you are a single mother.
And I was blown away.
To you, it may not seem like a lot. But your daughter made such a huge impression on me. Her kindness, her willingness and how she barely had to be asked. She is clearly someone who is used to noticing people who were in need.

As a mother, I know the enormity of the task. From the logistics of getting everyone fed, dressed, to sleep, to the doctor, and bathed day after day. Of arranging this child’s swimming lessons and being aware of what’s going on at school, and giving each one what they need.
I know the massive emotional investment being a mother requires. We want to give our children the best chance at success, socially, academically, physically. We endlessly debate the big and small things – from what school is the best fit for our child to what sandwich to make for lunch today. I know how much mental and physical energy it takes to mother just two children with my husband’s support.
And the hardest part is that we never know. Have we done it right? Will our children turn out to be decent people, positively impacting the world? Did we nurture enough and provide right boundaries? There’s no barometer at the end of the day which lights up with “job done well” or “task accomplished”.

And somehow, all alone, you have succeeded. Amidst it all – the car pools, the orthodontics appointments, the school plays, the swimming lessons - you have raised a daughter who displays authentic kindness, who is sensitive and caring and takes notice of those less capable than her.
So dear single mother, I have no idea how you do it but I pray that my daughter will one day grow up to be like yours. And that somehow I could exemplify your amazing parenting skills. Thank you for raising a daughter who will remain etched in my mind as an example of what I pray I will instill in my own children.

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Post  Admin on Mon 29 Aug 2016, 9:29 pm
From Buddha to Torah
by Eylon Aslan-Levy
The unlikely path to spiritual discovery of a girl from Sri Lanka.
As a young girl in Sri Lanka, Lakshmi would stare at the thousands of idols in her local Buddhist temple and feel a sense of emptiness. “I looked at all these idols and I thought this doesn’t make sense,” she recalls. “They can’t even talk. I didn’t feel any connection. I’m offering incense, flowers and food and asking for wisdom, and they’re not reciprocating.”
After a decades-long spiritual journey spanning multiple continents, Lakshmi feels she has found a meaningful relationship with God through Judaism. Now working as a mortgage broker in Toronto, Canada, Lakshmi is undergoing an Orthodox Jewish conversion at Aish HaTorah’s Village Shul.
Lakshmi as little girl
By the time she was a teenager, Lakshmi had strong suspicions that God did not exist. When she approached her parents with concerns, she was told “not to worry about God” because “all the gods” were in the temple. She was afflicted by a conviction that “there must be something more than this", but felt that the religion of her childhood offered no answers. The unsettling theological questions persisted -- "there has to be someone who started the ball rolling -- but she pushed them to the back of her mind, neither an avowed atheist nor a practising Buddhist.

“I looked at all these idols and I thought this doesn’t make sense.”
Lakshmi’s parents sent her to a private Catholic school. In order to instill in her faith, her friends gave her a Bible. Lakshmi read it “for the fun of it,” starting at the beginning—the “Old Testament.” She was intrigued. “I want to know who this is,” she recalls, speaking of the God of Israel.
Lakshmi began exploring faith through practice—recalling the pledge of the Israelites in the desert first to do, and then to hear. “I started praying like a child, saying, ‘God, are you real? Show me some signs that you’re real’. There’s a verse in Isaiah, 55:6,” she says, reciting fluently from memory, “‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.’ This resonated with me.”
Lakshmi with her sisters
Lakshmi with her sisters
Even though her journey began in a Catholic school, Lakshmi chose not to embrace Catholicism. “When Christians came knocking at the door, we would send them away. My family didn’t accept Christianity. In Sri Lanka, Christianity is looked at as western religion, not eastern,” she says, explaining that Christianity was always viewed as expressly alien in a way that Judaism never was.Judaism, she says, is viewed as a religion of the East, originating in the Land of Israel. Although Christianity was also born in the Land of Israel, Lakshmi maintains that it found its full expression through Rome. Her family is accepting of her decision to convert to Judaism, she says warmly.
For Lakshmi, Judaism made instinctive sense. Reading the Ten Commandments, she had the strange sensation that she “already knew this.” Citing the Book of Kings, in which the Prophet Elijah calls on God to prove himself at Mount Carmel, she says God has “proven himself” to her every day. She now plans to visit Israel next year, for the first time; if she gets married, she says she would consider leaving Toronto and making Aliyah.

This seamless connection with the God of the Torah came alongside a sense of revulsion towards the idolatry involved in the Buddhism her community practised in Sri Lanka. This brand of Theravada Buddhism was a syncretic one, incorporating the gods of the Hindu cannon—unlike the Mahayana Buddhism common in China, Japan and Korea. The Buddha is the centrepiece of a temple that also includes a Hindu Kovil, with its panoply of gods. “First you go to the temple, you worship the statue of Buddha, then you go to the site where all these gods are, and you go to every different god. One god has wisdom, one god has health, one god has money, one god offers children. All these little idols,” Lakshmi recalls with disbelief.
In Buddhist theology, the Buddha is not a god—he is a spiritual leader. But in practice, Lakshmi felt, Buddha is effectively deified and worshiped as an idol. “Buddha never said to worship him. He was a teacher. But when he died, people made him into an idol. In the temple, you offer flowers, you offer fruits and incense, and you meditate facing the statue of the Buddha. You don’t focus on him, but he’s the reference point. You’re looking at him. He’s the center of everything. There’s a huge statue. I felt it was idol worship.”

Lakshmi is not the first to tread the tightrope between Judaism and Buddhism. Roger Kamenetz’s 1994 bestseller The Jew in the Lotus brought widespread attention to the Jews who make the opposite spiritual journey, adopting forms of Buddhism. Lakshmi sighs. “You don’t need to move to Buddhism to find spirituality,” she says with a tinge of disappointment. “It’s in your own backyard.” She suspects that these so-called JUBUs “don’t have a clear understanding of God,” so feel compelled to search elsewhere.

“You cannot serve two kings. God is one.

She also suspects that Jews might be attracted to Buddhism because of its more easy-going way of life. “Perhaps they feel they can’t abide by all the rules, and Buddhism is more relaxed,” she speculates. “You’re not accountable to anybody, nobody is watching you – but in Judaism, God’s eyes are always on you.”
Are there nevertheless deep affinities between Judaism and Buddhism? “Buddhism offers a lot of wisdom, and Judaism is all about wisdom,” Lakshmi says cautiously, stressing that since she is still on the path to conversion, she does not feel qualified to speak with authority on the content of Judaism. But she is not interested in inhabiting both worlds. “As Joshua said, ‘Choose whom you will serve’,” she insists, drawing on this bottomless reservoir of Biblical quotes she has committed to memory.
“You cannot serve two kings. God is one.”

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Post  Admin on Thu 25 Aug 2016, 9:47 pm

Rebbetzin Jungreis and My Greatness Meter
As the Jewish world mourns her death, I'll never forget my encounter with this truly great woman.
by Sara Yoheved Rigler 
One of the greatest lights of the Jewish people in our age has been extinguished. With the passing of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis yesterday, our world has become dimmer.
Several years ago I was asked to be the emcee at a charity event for women. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis had agreed to be the main speaker--at no charge to the organization. Her name was a huge draw, and they expected hundreds of women to attend the event, to be held at a major Jerusalem hotel.
I had never met Rebbetzin Jungreis. The day before the event, she allowed me to interview her for at Jerusalem’s Hineni headquarters. I had written a bestselling book about a great woman, so I knew how to gauge real greatness. When you’re in the presence of a truly great person, she gives you her full attention as if you’re the only person in the world for her at that moment. Sitting across from Rebbetzin Jungreis during the interview, the metaphorical “needle of my greatness meter” was jumping so far to the right that I felt like we were the only two people on the planet.
The tzedaka organization holding the event had no professional staff. It was run by two women volunteers who had founded this organization and were eager to see it grow. They were idealistic and enthusiastic, but they had had no experience organizing such a large event. 

Ryan Lochte's Non-Apology
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Judaism and the lost art of true repentance.
Should we forgive Ryan Lochte, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist, for his bizarre behavior in Rio de Janeiro last week?
What he did was far more than a prank. To cover for his own drunken rampage at a gas station he concocted a tale of being held up at gunpoint by robbers posing as policemen – a story that went round the world defaming Brazil, host country of the Olympics, as a Third World nation incapable of controlling violence and unsafe for tourism, a billion-dollar industry. After diligent investigation, Ryan’s version of events was exposed as a lie. As his story of an alleged robbery fully unraveled Ryan had no choice but to admit his guilt. For this he has just lost all of his major endorsement deals worth many millions of dollars.

30 Strangers at a Funeral
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
A group of Jews perform the ultimate kindness for a woman who was going to have no mourners at her funeral.
“This is the easiest funeral you’re ever going to do,” the funeral director told Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach, a local rabbi in Rockland County, New York. There would be no friends or family, the director explained. The rabbi and the funeral director would be the only mourners present.
“I had never officiated at a funeral where I was the only mourner,” Rabbi Weinbach explained in an exclusive interview. “This would have been a first.”
All Rabbi Weinbach knew about the woman who had passed away was her name, age (83), and the fact that she’d once taught piano at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Her name was Francine Stein and she’d lived in a local Jewish nursing home for the past ten years.
“But as I thought about the idea of a woman dying alone," Rabbi Elchanan explained, "it went from being the easiest funeral to a very difficult one. It just seemed so sad. I asked myself, 'How can I give Francine Stein the dignity she deserves at her funeral?'"

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Post  Admin on Thu 25 Aug 2016, 5:44 pm
Family Bonding
The three most important traits every family needs.
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff 
As summer winds down we are given the opportunity to take stock of what matters most. Are there daily choices we can make that would make a difference in our homes this year? Can we implement behaviors and attitudes that help our family grow stronger?
Friendships are important but family is forever.
When a family feels bonded, parents and children share life experiences on a different level. Difficult times are filled with moments of strength, connection and encouragement. Happy occasions become sweeter, brighter, and more joyous.
Here’s how to strengthen your family bond:

1. Loyalty
For families to thrive there needs to be a sense of security. We create a home that is a haven by allowing each child (and parent) to feel safe with one another. Together time should never evoke sentiments of fear or insecurity. No family member should feel the need to withdraw within a shell to feel protected.
How can we build family loyalty?

support each other’s dreams and stand up for one another
don’t use verbal zingers, sarcasm, or derogatory comments to strike each other down
convey that ‘family’ sacrifices for one another. Sometimes it is physical, like sharing a crowded space or cutting a favorite piece of cake in half. Other times it is emotional, like giving time or a listening ear.
parents model respect when disagreeing with each other; they don’t shame each other.
create a tone in the home that does not cultivate fear. This means that verbal abuse, yelling, screaming at one another, or looking for someone to constantly blame are all off limits. (Of course physical abuse and fighting is never allowed).
siblings show concern when one is hurting, experiencing pain or disappointment. While we can’t fix the situation the least we can do is care. Indifference shows a callousness of the heart.

2. Acceptance
We all need to feel that we belong. If a family member feels alone, there is the danger that he or she will look elsewhere for love. Acceptance means that I can lean on you when I fall and you will encourage me when I fail. If I make a mistake, I am not afraid to confide in you because you are approachable. You believe in me; flaws and all.
This does not just apply to children. Husbands and wives, too, need to feel accepted by their spouse.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t give consequences or ignore misbehavior. Rather, there is an underlying sentiment of being loved that allows the relationship to flourish despite the discipline. Acceptance means that we feel positively about our place in the family even if we have caused disappointment.

How can we create an environment of acceptance?

get to know your family. As kids grow parents realize that they are clueless and wonder where ‘my little guy’ or ‘girl’ has gone. Here, too, it is crucial for husbands and wives to continue to make time for one another as years go.
find your child’s inner star. Some children naturally shine and other’s need to have the light brought out. But all of us have been given a Divine gift; make no mistake. Help reveal each child’s inner gifts by showing interests in their likes, challenging their curiosity about the world, and joining them in this quest of discovery.
encourage uniqueness. We are all different, even if we were born to the same parents. Don’t try to raise ‘cookie cutter kids’. Allow for individual likes and tastes.
don’t overschedule your child. Seeking exceptionality brings parents to over expect. Children are made to feel as if they are inadequate if they do not invent a start-up, star on a team, score high on their ACT, or play the violin. What about just being a wonderful human being who is kind, sensitive and a pleasure to be with?
never slam a door on a family member or do something that creates the feeling that they are rejected from the home. Be careful when upset not to say something that can be interpreted as being hateful. While we can dislike the behavior, we must not allow a child or spouse to feel discarded from the family.

3. Appreciation

The foundation of every home must be gratitude. Appreciation is the oxygen of marriage. Children’s gratitude towards their parents, life opportunities, natural gifts and numerous physical blessings creates an environment of respect. We don’t take our family or things for granted. We speak thoughtfully. We take care of our possessions. We don’t allow our children to grow entitled. The entire atmosphere in the home is transformed.
How can we encourage an attitude of gratitude?
parents model thankfulness to one another. This means that acts that we take for granted-like making dinner, driving carpool, family leisure time and trips, buying clothing are all recognized and voiced with appreciation. Children should be taught to follow in parent’s direction.
don’t over buy. We want to create happy homes so many of us make the mistake of equating happiness with ‘things’. We overindulge our children. We keep getting them the latest fads and can’t deal with their tears when we say ‘no’. Then we are surprised by their lack of appreciation and shocked by their disrespect. Truth is we are to blame. The cycle of great expectations has been created. Somehow, it is never enough and they’ve never learned to be happy with what they have.
stop texting while talking. When we look down at our phones while communicating with our loved ones who are standing in front of our eyes, we are clearly showing that they are not important enough for us to even look at. How can I value you if I cannot take the time to see you? Checking emails when returning home from work or when children (or a spouse) are trying to share thoughts with you is plain disrespect. Family time becomes downgraded in children’s eyes.

Combined with the traits of loyalty, acceptance and appreciation is the ability of parents to create an environment of spirituality that anchors the home. Strong roots keep the family grounded. As we approach the Hebrew month of Elul, we near the High Holidays. Contemplating our priorities, values, tone of communication and desire to connect with our traditions become the next step to building families that endure, which will be the topic of our next article.

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Post  Admin on Tue 23 Aug 2016, 8:39 am
In the shadows of slavery, one girl’s persistent questioning leads her on a relentless search for truth.
by Billye Joyce Roberts 
I was born just 81 years after the ratification of the amendment to the US Constitution that abolished the slavery of Africans. I was given a good Southern name – Billye Joyce – although it was a harsh time to be African-American in the United States, especially in the South. We were still called colored or Negroes, and oftentimes the other n-word was used. I was born in Big Momma's (my grandmother's) house because colored doctors were not allowed to use the hospitals in Texas.
My grandmother
I was eight when the Supreme Court decided to end segregation in schools. It wasn't easy and it wasn't quick and it is a battle that is still going on today in some places. My mother did me a great favor by moving us to Southern California when I was three years old so that I would be able to attend better schools.

Slavery wasn't something we talked about in my family. There was too much shame.

Slavery wasn't something we talked about in my family when I was young. My great-grandmother may not have been born in slavery, but her mother most likely was. The reason I don't know for certain is because, although our ancestors were victims, we, the children of the victims, were ashamed, as if it was their fault they were slaves... as if it was our fault. I was taught, in those good schools I went to, that American slaves meekly accepted their situation, that they never fought back or rebelled. I didn’t learn that was untrue until I was in college. Perhaps if my family and I had known those things we might have been less ashamed.

Don't Ask Questions
People often ask me what my religion was before I went to the mikvah. No one displays much interest in the fact that I grew up as a “plain vanilla” Protestant Christian. But their interest perks up when I say I was once Wiccan.
With hindsight, I realize that my journey to Judaism began when I was thrown out of Christian Sunday School when I was six years old for asking a question the teacher couldn’t answer. That question was: “What do you do if you don’t have faith?” What she was really trying to teach me was not to ask questions. (By the way, she failed.)
I was a confused little girl, wondering why I was walking home early for asking a sincere question. And I continued to be confused, with my mind filling up with more and more questions.

But six year olds (at least in my family) couldn't stop going to church, even six year olds with a whole host of unanswered questions. But sixteen year olds can. And ten years later, my last straw was a particularly unpleasant encounter with a minister who was counseling me. I’ll skip the details. My mother was not the sort of woman that one disobeyed, but even she was unable to get me to set foot in a church after that. In fairness, I have to say that what happened really was the very last thing. My sixteen-year-old self had done a lot more thinking and come up with a lot more apparently unanswerable questions. That's what really caused me to stop being Christian. The encounter with the minister was just the thing that pushed me out the door.

When I went to college I ran into all the philosophical “stuff” that one runs into as a freshman. I spent many nights with my friends discussing, with great seriousness, the nature and existence of God, with the confidence that we were going to figure out religious and philosophical issues to which the greatest thinkers in history hadn’t found definitive answers. We didn't, of course, but I did come up with a life philosophy that worked for me for quite a while, based on my certainty that there was a Divine power in the Universe, the gentle meditation of the eternal dance of the ocean waves off the California coast, and the idea that if you did the most good and the least harm you could manage, it would probably lead to a pretty decent, reasonably moral life.

Meeting a Coven of Witches

After college, I moved to Denver, Colorado, where I chanced upon an interesting group of people who practiced Wicca. Although Wiccans (both male and female) call themselves witches, they are not Satanists. They do not worship the Christian devil or any form of evil being. And groups who call themselves Wiccan have many different variations of beliefs and practices.
The folks in my coven were extremely intelligent, studious and their beliefs intersected with many of mine.
The one I was a part of believed in God (though differently named), and in putting positive energy into the world around them in all their thoughts and actions. They were very concerned about the environment. After all, Mother Earth is our home. It is important to respect and care for her. As a group, the folks in my coven were extremely intelligent, studious and their beliefs intersected with many of mine.

As I've learned more about Judaism, I realize how much of what I was attracted to in Wicca came from Jewish sources. Ultimately, Wicca was not my path and when I left Denver I never looked for another coven to join.

Stumbling Upon Judaism
During the years when I wasn’t a part of any organized group, I was still very much aware of God wherever I might be living or traveling. I read a lot of books about religion and philosophy. I more or less continually thought about, fiddled with, poked at what I thought of as “my philosophy about life, death, and everything.” I celebrated God.
My mother had told me, rather sternly, when I stopped going to church: “When you’re old, you’ll come back.” It turned out she was right – sort of. Eventually I began to miss ritual and a community to share it with. Now the only question was, what religion was I going to join to find these things?

I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism and had never met a Jew.
It turns out I know a little about Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, various streams of Christianity, random mystics and assorted philosophers. So I’m not quite sure how I managed to know absolutely nothing about Judaism. I never read about it, had never been in a synagogue or met any Jews.
But for some reason I didn’t understand, I did have a little spark of interest. So I bought some books and had an immediately positive response. Judaism said that religion is how you live every day, not just what you profess to believe on the Sabbath. It is a religion that believes that every human being can be moral and attain a place in the Next World, Jews and non-Jews alike. And best of all, Judaism encouraged questions and discussion, and valued logic and reason. I immediately decided I had to find out more about this.

Feeling God's Presence
I’ve felt the presence of the Divine in a lot of places. Dancing with the ocean on the beach in California. Walking through Stonehenge in the UK. Sitting in a small church filled with corn fetishes in some random little town in the Midwest. Watching the Rocky Mountains when they looked like they were illustrated by Pixar Studios. Driving alone through the desert. Even, from time to time, in a church service, or a Wiccan circle.
And I realized very quickly that even though I was very excited about Judaism intellectually, if I couldn’t feel God in a synagogue, then this wasn’t going to be the right religious path for me.

Imagine my fear walking into an Orthodox shul for my first experience of Shabbat services.

I have always been introverted and uncomfortable in crowds or with strangers. So imagine my fear walking into an Orthodox shul for my first experience of Shabbat services. Added to the fear I came in with, I didn’t understand anything that was going on around me. I knew no Hebrew and I was scared stiff that I would do something to offend someone. But it turned out that despite the surface terrors, I did feel God's presence there. On the drive home I was smiling. I hadn’t realized until that moment how afraid I had been that I wouldn’t.

Eventually I found several Rabbis to learn with, read a lot more books, and after several years of asking questions and soul searching, that curious little girl, now a much older woman, got a Hebrew name of her very own. When I emerged from the mikvah as a Jew named Tziporah Miriam bat Sarah, I burst into tears of joy.
But as happy as I was, the part of me that was still a curious little girl couldn’t seem to be satisfied. I learned as much as I could. But the more I read and studied, the more it became obvious to me, how high, wide and deep was what I didn’t know.
Part of the Jewish community today
I believe in Divine coincidence, that perfect “little thing” that lets you stumble into something that is exactly what you need. Like the seemingly random series of events that led me to Aish HaTorah in Rockville, Maryland.

At first a friend asked me to go to a class with her there. I continued taking classes, and I was more and more drawn to the depth of the learning that I experienced. It was much later that I came to realize how much I was learning simply by interacting with the community and watching so many individuals live their Judaism with commitment and joy. This inspired me to work on increasing my own level of observance. I have a long way to go, but it is a path I am glad to be on, surrounded and supported by this community.

Abolishing Slavery
As an African-American, a daughter of American slavery, and as a Jew, a daughter of the Exodus, I am deeply troubled by slavery today. And I feel I must take this opportunity to share some facts about this continuing evil.
“Today?” you may say. But isn’t slavery something that happened in another time, another place, another culture?
There are as many as 27 million modern day slaves worldwide.
Not according to the U.S. State Department. In fact, there are as many as 27 million modern day slaves worldwide. In addition, the WARChild International Network reports that 250,000 children are actively deployed each year, fighting in almost 75% of armed conflicts worldwide.
27 million slaves worldwide. 250,000 child soldiers each year.
These numbers stun me. Really? In this time, in this modern culture, in this civilized place?
I wish I knew what to do to make slavery something that only happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way. But it isn't. It just isn't.
God may have infinite patience. But I don't. We need to work together to abolish slavery and rid the world of this vile activity.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, formerly Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, said: “The God of history, who taught us to study history, had faith that eventually we would learn the lesson of history: that freedom is indivisible. We must grant freedom to others if we truly seek it for ourselves... Jews [are] the people commanded never to forget the bitter taste of slavery, so that [we] never take freedom for granted.”

Or as the song by the great blues singer Solomon Burke puts it: “None of us are free, as long as one of us is chained, no one of us is free.”
This is on us. Slavery still exists. And we are the people charged to remember it, and learn from it, and hopefully, end it... soon, in our own time.

Over the past few years, the number of countries, which includes the US, that have taken steps to implement the UN Protocol against Trafficking in Persons has doubled. This is a good thing at that level. But what can we, as individuals, do?

We can educate ourselves about what is going on. An internet search using the words “human trafficking” or “child soldiers” will bring up page after page of unbelievable statistics as well as information about the red flags that may indicate human trafficking, and things we can do to help stop it. As a first step, go to CNN’s The Freedom Project. Then… do… something. Your choice of the action, but do it now.
Anne Frank said: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Let's not wait a single moment longer to begin working to truly abolish slavery.

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Post  Admin on Wed 10 Aug 2016, 2:32 pm

Irreversible Damage
by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
A miraculous true story demonstrates the power of prayer and reminds us never to give up hope
The results of the CT scans and MRIs were conclusive and irrefutable: Raquel, a 31-year-old wife and mother of two lying in a coma had irreversible brain damage due to prolonged oxygen deprivation. According to scientific studies, in a case like this it would be next to impossible for a person to awake from their coma.
Weeks earlier, Raquel and her husband were vacationing in Florida when she woke up in the middle of the night saying that she didn’t feel well. She collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. But it was too late; Raquel’s body completely shut down. Every organ in her body was failing and she was put on life support.
“You need to get here as fast as possible. The situation is dire.”
Raquel’s husband called her parents in New York, telling them to come right away. Just before takeoff the doctor called them. “You need to get here as fast as possible. The situation is dire.”
Hours later, the entire family and close friends came together on a conference call to recite Psalms while doctors desperately worked to save Raquel’s life. During the intense prayer session Raquel coded, but doctors managed to get her heartbeat back, and her situation slowly stabilized.

Why Being an Orthodox Jewish Mom Makes Me a Better CEO
Sarah Hofstetter is not your typical ‘ad man.’
by Sarah Hofstetter 
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When 360i, the ad agency I run, won Oscar Mayer’s business in 2010, I politely declined their invitation to sample products from their new portfolio. It’s not that I wasn’t interested—I had spent countless hours trying to win the hot dog maker’s business—but my faith simply prohibited it.
I’ve been keeping kosher and observing the Jewish Sabbath my entire life, along with striving to stick to the other 611 commandments of the Torah. This has meant resisting the temptations of McDonald’s as a child, fending off rebellious friends trying to get me to sneak out with them on Friday nights, and attempting to find the only kosher establishment in Tokyo (yes, it does exist, and yes, they have sushi, not bagels and lox).
At face value, perhaps someone like me shouldn’t be in the advertising business at all, let alone run one. And I’ve been told that many times. From friends. From my family. From others in the business. Yet “vulnerabilities” like mine—whether it’s religion, motherhood, or experience—can actually be major assets.

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Post  Admin on Sun 07 Aug 2016, 10:30 pm

Connecting to the Holocaust
Our daughter was twinned with a girl from Luboml, Poland who perished in the Holocaust. Then the past came to life.
by Adina Soclof
Our daughter’s Hebrew birthday coincides with Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Our family spent a month in Israel where our daughter, Tova, took Yad Vashem’s Bat Mitzvah tour and joined their twinning program. Participants forge a bond with individual children who perished during the Holocaust, children who never had a chance to celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
The program finds something in common between the two children. Our daughter Tova was twinned with a girl named Tova Ziegelman from the town of Luboml in Poland.;
Luboml was a thriving regional market town for several centuries. By the 1930’s it had electric lights, numerous trades and businesses, factories and workshops. There were approximately 5,000 Jews in the town where they led a rich and vibrant Jewish life. The Jews were proud of their shtetl’s major architectural presence, The Great Synagogue. It was built in the 17th century as a spiritual center but also as a fortress; it was constructed with the additional purpose of protecting the Jews in town.
As anti-Semitism and the Nazi threat grew in the 1930's, some Lubomlers began to emigrate to Palestine and the United States. On October 1, 1942 the Germans, who controlled the town, rounded up the remaining Jewish inhabitants of Luboml with the aid of Ukrainian police units and marched them into the countryside. There the Jews were lined up in front of open pits and shot. Tova Ziegelman, only 11 years old, died on that day.

Tova Ziegelman
Our daughter was presented with a Page of Testimony of Tova Ziegelman as well as a special certificate acknowledging participation in the twinning program. Tova’s folder also included two pictures of Tova Ziegelman. The first picture was of her and her family and the second, a picture of Tova with four other children.
On the page of testimony was a number for Tova Ziegelman’s surviving cousin. Aaron Ziegelman. My husband and Tova tried many times to reach him via phone, on Facebook and google, to no avail. Tova took the information that she did have and incorporated it into her Dvar Torah for her Bat Mitzvah.

A few months after her bat mitzvah, Sukkot arrived and we were fortunate to finally have the chance to host my son’s teacher, Rabbi Chanales and his family, for a Shabbos meal.
I set the table and for some odd reason, set an extra plate. It is a good thing that I did. The Chanaleses walked in with their family along with a sprite, elderly women. Rabbi Chanales apologized they had forgotten to tell me that his grandmother was joining us.
Mrs. Chanales, senior, invited us to call her Savta and we sat down to lunch and began to chat. She told us that she lived in New York but was originally from Poland.

Tova in front, her cousin Aaron, his sister Lillian (Savta Chanales) and Blima
“Where in Poland?” my husband asked.
“A small town called Luboml,” she replied.

My husband looked at Tova and said, “Luboml, don't we know about Luboml? Tova go get your folder from Yad Vashem.”
My husband turned to Savta Chanales and said, “My daughter visited Yad Vashem last summer and participated in the twinning project there. What is your maiden name?”
“Ziegelman,” she replied.

My husband flushed red. “Ziegelman! My daughter was paired up with a girl named Tova Ziegelman.”
“That was my cousin!” Savta replied incredulously.
Our daughter returned to the table with the folder and my husband handed Savta Chanales the picture of Tova Ziegelman and the three other children. “Do you recognize anyone in this picture?”

“Yes, I know that picture very well. It is in my living room at home. That’s me and my brother, my cousin Tova and her sister Blima.”
Savta Chanales told us that her father had died when she was young. She had two uncles in the United States who rescued her, her brother and mother in 1938. They were able to get out of Luboml, but the rest of her extended family remained and were murdered by the Nazis.
Her brother Aaron, haunted by the loss of his family, friends and neighbors put together a traveling exhibit of Luboml and arranged for a memorial plaque at the mass grave on the outskirts of Lubomov. He also helped produce a documentary on the town. He once said, "
Before they were victims, they were people…I wanted to restore a portion of Jewish memory destroyed by the Germans, to create portraits of people who lived and loved, who went to school, were married, who knew sorrow and joy, laughter and tears.”
Aaron also submitted the page of testimony to Yad Vashem about his cousin Tova Ziegelman and anyone else he was able to remember from Luboml.
We corresponded with the Savta Chanales and she sent us the documentary her brother had made about Luboml.
My generation, those born in the 70’s, had a palpable connection to the Holocaust through the people who lived through it. We felt the loss and horror keenly. We wanted to ensure that the next generation, our children, will understand the enormity of the Holocaust and not view it as an abstraction.
Meeting someone who actually knew Tova Ziegelman, who lived in the town of Luboml, has made the Holocaust more real and personal for our daughter. Our family is grateful to be a source of comfort to Savta Ziegelman and her brother. We are proud to be able to continue the memory of Tova Ziegelman and the victims from the town of Luboml.
August 7

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Post  Admin on Tue 02 Aug 2016, 10:26 pm
40 Ways Life is Better at 40
Since turning 40, I’m a different person.
by Elana Kleinman
Ever since my 40th birthday last year, I’m different. I am calmer, I walk with a skip in my step, I smile more easily and more frequently. I wake up every day feeling the way I do after clearing a closet or organizing my junk drawer.
I think it’s because I have been doing a lot of emotional de-cluttering over the last few years. I am so much more in touch with where I am, what I have, and what I still need (and don’t need).
So after clearing out a lot of the emotional noise and mess, and in honor of my 41st birthday, here is a list of what I’ve learned and why life is better at 40.
Every day is a gift
Every day is a gift
A few good friends are better than many acquaintances
Simple is better
My life experiences trump my formal education
I can laugh at my mistakes
My relationships are stronger
There is nothing like being in pajamas before dinner
I know that God's plan for me is better than anything I can dream for myself
I’ve found ways to make exercise fun – Spartan, Warrior Dash, Mud Hero
Sleep is my friend
Spending money on making memories is better than buying more stuff
It’s easier to say No…but I say Yes more often
I’m not afraid to challenge myself
I know what I can control…and what I can’t
Friends can become family
A beautiful sunset can make my entire day
I’m less self-conscious
I am a kinder, more sympathetic person
I love that my wardrobe is made up of a few pieces I don’t mind wearing over and over again
I am better at telling the people in my life that I love and appreciate them
I can stand up for myself
Yummy take-out is better than going out to a fancy gourmet meal
I’ve learned how to accept a compliment and learn from criticism
I know when something is not my business
I can admit when I’m wrong – usually
Leaving a sink full of dishes for the morning is not the end of the world
Sometimes taking a walk is better than taking a nap
I’ve learned to let things go
When you feel good about yourself others feel good when they’re with you
Being jealous of someone else is stupid – I have what I need
I’ve accepted that change is not always a bad thing
I can choose my mood
I’ve stopped trying to be like everyone else
Having the house to myself is awesome
Time moves faster – making the good times sweeter and the not so good easier
I appreciate the little things
It’s easier to ask for help
I know who I am…and who I am not
I am stronger – physically, emotionally, and spiritually
The future is exciting
Glamorizing Hitler
Fighting “Hitler Chic” isn’t just an issue of taste. It’s protecting the dignity of the six million Jews murdered and battling resurgent anti-Semitism today.
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
The New York Times recently highlighted a growing trend worldwide: the use of Hitler in advertising, using the Nazi leader to lend prestige to products from selling shampoo in Turkey to fried chicken in Thailand.

Last year, “Hitler 2” blue jeans sold in Gaza City. (Lest anyone miss the violent anti-Jewish message, mannequins wearing the jeans even had knives taped to their hands.) Hitler’s image was printed on sugar packets in Croatia that also contained jokes about the Holocaust. “Hitler’s Cross” restaurant opened in Mumbai, India, in 2006. (The name was soon changed after lobbying by the local Jewish community.)
These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Hitler imagery is commonly used all over the world, and is proliferating, as Nazism gains a sort of glamor in parts of the world.

Here are just a few examples:
In South Korea, Hitler’s image has been used in Nazi-themed bars, to promote a Nazi-inspired clothing line, in purses called “Hitler Bags” and Coreana cosmetics whose controversial ads featured a model wearing a Nazi-style uniform.

Thailand has seen an explosion of Hitler-themed t-shirts, featuring cartoon characters such as Teletubbies or Ronald McDonald altered to look like Hitler and performing the Nazi salute. Some people sporting the fashion get into the act too, giving the one-armed Nazi salute to match the characters on their T-shirts.

So-called “Nazi Chic” is trending in parts of Asia where Nazi-inspired uniforms are popular. In China, it’s become popular for some grooms to dress in Nazi uniforms and pose as Nazi storm-troopers in wedding portraits. In 2014, the Korean girl group Pritz and the Indonesian singing star Ahmad Dhani performed while dressed in Nazi-themed uniforms. In India, a host of products have been linked to Hitler. “Hitler” ice cream cones became popular in the state of Uttar Pradesh in 2015.

This followed the success of “The Nazi Collection” of sheets and pillowcases emblazoned with swastikas in Mumbai and the “Hitler” clothing store that opened in Ahmedabad. (Its logo featured a red swastika instead of a dot over the i.) So pervasive - and prestigious - is Hitler in India, even Hewlett Packard has used a Hitler-themed ad for its products in India.

Even some Western brands have got in on the act. A 2008 ad for A Bela Sintra wine in Brazil featured a photo of Hitler above a bottle of wine with the slogan “Some things get better with time.” Hitler (as well as Mussolini) wine has also been sold in Italy.
These images desensitize us to the horrors of what Hitler and Nazism actually stood for.

For many, Hitler has become a sort of hero. That was the message in a Palestinian Authority-backed children’s magazine, which featured an essay lauding Hitler as a role model for kids. (Not coincidentally, Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography, is a best-seller in Palestinian Authority-administered areas.)

For 17% of students in India’s elite schools, Hitler is their most admired hero, according to a 2002 poll by the Times of India. Mein Kampf is popular in India too. It has become a must-read for business school students in India, many of whom consider it a motivational tract.
In Thailand, some visitors to graduation ceremonies at the prestigious Chulalongkorn University in 2013 were startled to see a specially-painted mural depicted several comic book heroes - including Hitler - giving a Nazi salute. It was removed after the Simon Wiesenthal center complained.
Such reports point to a real lack of knowledge about the Holocaust. One 2014 survey found only 54% of respondents worldwide have ever heard of the Holocaust - and only a third believe that historical descriptions are accurate.

In Arab regions, that number dips to 8%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s 12%. In Asia, only 23% believe the Holocaust happened as historical records describe. Among all respondents, those younger than 65 years old are much less likely to have heard of the Holocaust - and to believe historical records are correct, when they have.

In the generation after the Holocaust, it became popular to say “Never forget.” Today, as “Hitler Chic” surges around the world, “Never forget” is more crucial than ever. It’s not just a matter of poor taste; it is protecting the dignity of the six million Jews murdered - and battling resurgent anti-Semitism today.

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