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Post  Admin on Thu 15 Aug 2013, 2:19 pm

 Peace on Earth in 30 Min., 45 with Traffic
Rosary beads, a yarmulke, and a lot of overthinking.
by Eric Brand         
At 8 a.m, I waited sleepily next to Route 3 for bus 192 into New York, third in a line of commuters. In front of me a businessman hauling a valise on rollers, his bad comb-over blowing straight up in the gusts from the trucks roaring by. In front of him, an Indian woman wrapped head to toe in bright orange and yellow flowing fabric, thin sandals on her feet and a scowl on her face. Behind me, a teenager with numerous bits of metal stuck into his face and a t-shirt that loudly directed the reader to bite him.
In case you don’t know, Route 3 is in New Jersey.
The bus came, I climbed on, flashed my monthly pass, and sat down in the first seat available, directly behind the driver, next to a lady in the window seat. Following the Code of Bus Commuting Etiquette, she straightened her skirt slightly to ensure I wouldn’t sit on it as I sat down, not otherwise acknowledging my existence. And for my part, I plopped down without swinging my heavy backpack into her face. I placed it on the floor between my legs, likewise ignoring her existence, pushed the seat back a few inches – ignoring the existence of the person behind me – and pulled out my little siddur to finish up some of my morning davening, or prayers. I had 30 minutes, 45 with traffic.
That’s when I noticed the rosary beads.
The woman next to me had rosaries on her lap. Was she a nun?
The woman next to me had them on her lap, running them through her fingers. Was she a nun? I didn’t want to violate the Code, so I couldn’t just turn and look. I also didn’t want to distract myself from my davening for too long. (How long is too long? I think it’s similar to the five-second rule for eating food you dropped on the floor – a moment is okay, after that you’re asking for trouble.)

Then I noticed the plastic divider in front of me, which separated us from the driver (affording him protection from spitballs, if nothing else). It was reflective, and I could see my seatmate perfectly well in it without having to turn.

She was middle-aged, dressed conservatively, her nondescript features notable only for the intensity of her expression, her lips moving in fervent prayer. Was she a nun on holiday, and thus out of her habit and habitat, or just a holy roller on her way to work? Was she even now praying for the return of Jerusalem to the Church’s hands? Had she noticed me with my siddur and added in a few prayers for the salvation of my soul? Or maybe its damnation! After all, she’d no doubt been taught that someone in my family had killed her Lord. Even though her Lord was actually someone in my family.

And maybe she hadn’t started praying fervently until she saw me sitting next to her. Maybe she saw this as a test from God! Would she have the right reaction when she found herself stuck next to a Jew?
That ticked me off. Was it right to stereotype and scapegoat me? Hadn’t my people suffered enough? Did I have to be subjected to this? I was just a guy on a bus!
I tried to go back to my siddur, but I could see those hands working the rosary beads out of the corner of my eye, and I could sense those lips going a mile a minute, spewing who knows what. Well, okay, lady, I thought, maybe this is a test from God to see if I have the right reaction! How about I throw in some prayers for your soul? How about we have a nice debate and pick apart your faulty theology?

I was mulling this over, thinking about a good opening crack, when I was struck by another thought. If I can see her, she can see me. And she can see me looking at her – and not davening. Better get those lips moving, buddy, you don’t want to give this religious nut a leg up on feeling superior.
That’s when I noticed that in the reflection in front of me I could also see everyone behind me. The guy with the comb-over, the woman with the scowl, the kid with the hardware. And if I could see them, they could see me. Us! So now the stakes were higher. Now we were a couple of ambassadors of two great religions, playing out in miniature the confrontation that had consumed the Western world for two millennia, the Cross and the Star, Jacob and Esau, the Lamb of God and the Lion of Yehuda – all performed in 30 minutes, 45 with traffic.
I flipped through the siddur looking for the Psalm with that good stuff about God smiting your enemies, wondering how far you have to be from someone getting hit by lightning to be safe. It’s a tight fit on those bus seats.

I was still mouthing some words from the siddur when my brain re-engaged momentarily and focused on what I was reading. “God is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely.”
I stopped. I turned to look at Saint Agnes, who was now looking out the window, a serene expression on her face, her hands still holding the beads, but no longer worrying at them. She must have sensed me looking at her, or maybe caught my reflection in the window, because she turned and caught my gaze – at first a bit surprised, then a quick, polite smile, and then a return to the window.
She was no longer Saint Agnes representing a thousand years of oppression. She was a woman on a bus who seemed to be calling upon God sincerely.
I turned away too. After all, the Code hadn’t changed, even if everything else suddenly had. Because she was no longer Mother Theresa or Saint Agnes or a scornful bigot representing a thousand years of oppression. She was a woman on a bus who in retrospect seemed to be calling upon God sincerely. And if that were the case, God was close to her. Who was I to stick my snap judgments and baggage between the two of them? The fact is, she could have easily been putting in a good word for me and not hoping I’d spontaneously combust and keep combusting in the afterlife.

Maybe the sight of the two of us together, talking to God each in our own way, beads in hand, yarmulke on head, lips moving furiously, had caught the attention of our fellow commuters and even inspired them. Now I was feeling pretty good about my religious seatmate and the wonderful thing we’d done together. The bus pulled into Port Authority and I stood, trying to catch the eyes of my fellow travelers, to acknowledge silently but assuredly this tremendous experience we’d shared, this transformation from a ride to a rite, a commute to a community.
Of course, no one met my eye. This was New York. Plus, the Code strictly prohibits interaction with strangers, especially eye contact.
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But I left the bus undaunted – even after Comb-Over stepped on my foot as he rushed to get to the escalator – with a smile on my face. Jewish tradition tells us we should consider the world as though it was created for each of us. Because each of us has a unique touch of godliness that gives the universe purpose.

But there’s another way to look at it. We each create the world for ourselves. Our perceptions, our attitudes, our thoughts produce the world around us every moment of our waking days. We see, hear, experience what we want, what we will. And in doing so, we affect all the other people busily creating their worlds.
That’s a big responsibility. I'm glad I was able to figure this out before the journey ended. Fortunately, there was traffic.

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Post  Admin on Thu 15 Aug 2013, 2:09 pm

Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
"A wise child is a joy to his parent." (King Solomon, Proverbs 10:1)
"Three children have I. To the first I bequeathed my appearance, to the second I bequeathed my money, and to the third I bequeathed good character. When they were young, the child of my appearance received my fondest love. As they grew, the rich child was at the heart of my attention. But now, in my final days, I see with a vision these fading eyes could never perceive: better had it been for them and me, if good character had been the legacy of all three."
Teachers & Orthodontists
Parents will warn their children to avoid drugs and teenage pregnancy. Yet why don't we hear with such frequency a father instructing his child to refrain from being pessimistic or unkind? I have yet to meet the person who said that his father pressured him more about developing good character than he did about developing a high-paying career.

And what parent is there today, who is so cruel and uncaring, who would not take his child to the orthodontist and fork out large sums of money for braces? Yet does this same parent pay as much attention to his child's spiritual well-being?
Do you want your child to be wealthier than you? What about more kind and generous, more caring and considerate? If so, from where is he going to learn these values? Maybe you think comments made now and again, such as "share your toys," or "be nice" are the keys to generous and caring children. Or maybe you think they will learn to be good people in school – from a school that in fact teaches there are really no absolute values!! Unlikely.

Where do you think your child is going to learn values? Are you teaching them? Is the school? Is not your precious child going to spend much (if not more) time with his teacher than you? Would you place your child in the chair of an unqualified dentist?
When you select a school for your child, do you examine the teachers for their morals and values as well as for their diplomas? Is the school even qualified to teach values?
You may claim that you don't want your child learning values in school. But there is no such thing as a vacuum. Be assured that, one way or another, your child is absorbing an approach to life.
[b style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Geneva, Swiss;"]Good Habits, Bad Habits[/b]
This week's parsha points out that a child is not punished for the crimes of a parent (Deut. 24:16) nor a parent for a child. But the Torah also tells us (Deut. 5:9): Children will suffer the consequences for crimes they commit, even if they have inherited such delinquencies from their parents.
Will your child inherit your bad traits? Do you want to inflict your child with all the pain that you have suffered? Will he not most certainly inherit these flaws from you ... if there is no instruction to the contrary?

It is true your child will probably inherit your good side, too. But does that mean you should not try to make things better for him?
At the very least, we should worry over the dangers of him acquiring our traits of selfishness, anger, pride and frustration. A child will see and imitate these traits, just as a child will often imitate a parent's drinking habit.
The image of a pregnant women smoking is one for which we all have disdain. But what about a pregnant woman being unkind? None of us seem too concerned! Yet, what terrible harm is awaiting that unborn child!
[b style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Geneva, Swiss;"]Leaving the Right Nest-Egg[/b]
How noble it is to leave one's heirs a nest-egg in case of hard financial times. But are we giving our children a similar repository of wisdom to know how to deal with the hard times of life?
Does your child's school curriculum have a course on building relationships, a class on personal crisis management, or a seminar on developing a system of personal values?
Are we living such wonderfully happy lives, care- and problem-free, that our only concern is that our children's teeth are straight and the right college diploma hangs on the wall?
Shouldn't we be equally concerned that our children may lack the fortitude and wisdom to deal with the kind of personal problems we have faced?
When all is said and done, your children may be well-equipped to buy you a tombstone. But will they know what to write on it?
When we look back in our final days, will we say with confidence that we made the right choice for each of our children's inheritances?
Aren't we just wishing upon a fallen star that against great odds our children will figure all this out by themselves?
[b style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, Geneva, Swiss;"]Brainstorming Questions to Ponder[/b]
Question 1: Would you be surprised if your children turned out to be less moral than you? Why? Is this acceptable to you?
Question 2: What steps have you taken to ensure that your child will be wealthier than you? What about more kind, generous, caring and compassionate?
Question 3: If you could send your child to a school that taught wisdom for living alongside science and geography, what three classes would be the most important for your child to take? Why haven't you sought out such a school?

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Post  Admin on Sun 04 Aug 2013, 11:38 pm

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

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

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

Identify what I am feeling by naming the feeling, for example, sad, mad, glad, fear, shame etc.

Clarify why I am experiencing this particular feeling, at this particular moment and in this particular context.

Decide what I want to do about this feeling now that I understand the meaning of it.
I realize something is bothering about something my wife said to me. I identify that I’m feeling sad. The reason I’m feeling sad is that within the context of the situation, this sadness means that she doesn’t understand something important about who I am. I feel distant from her. I decide that I need to have a conversation about how I feel and see if I can help her understand me better so we can reconnect.

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

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

Understandably, there are some who distrust human emotions. After all, giving into ones feelings blindly or impulsively “doing what feels good” can certainly lead to disastrous results. From this perspective, it is understandable why some believe it is best to try to get rid of bad feelings while opting to rely on reason and logic.
By understanding the meaning of our pain, we can learn to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.
Nobody wants to be in pain. Patients come in with an expectation that my job is to help them get rid of their pain. Instead, I tell them my job is to help them understand the meaning of their pain, which will help them to tolerate and ultimately integrate it.

The desire for comfort is king in our culture. The drug industry is a multi-billion dollar business because so many people want to get rid of their uncomfortable feelings. (This is not to say, that there are certainly good and appropriate uses for such medications.) When we try to get rid of them we lose precious opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Rather than taking an adversarial stance vis-a-vis our feelings, we need to take a friendly and curious stance. We shouldn’t be afraid of our feelings.
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Dating & Feelings
A final illustration of the importance of listening to our feelings is in the realm of making good decisions. In my work with singles, I tell them that in dating it’s very important to be aware of your feelings when choosing the right person to marry. How does this person make me feel? Is there something that consistently doesn’t feel right? What is my greatest fear if I marry this person? Do I respect this person? Do I trust this person?

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

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Post  Admin on Sun 04 Aug 2013, 10:17 pm

Al Qaeda Threat & Elul
When danger is everywhere, listen to the siren of the shofar.
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund         
American officials met Saturday to discuss the weekend closure of 22 US embassies and the severe travel warning issued to Americans abroad. The State Department has announced that the warning will remain in effect throughout August, and that this is the most serious threat that we have faced in years.
Unfortunately, there are no specifics about the threat except that in the past terrorists have targeted public transportation and tourist sites. The vagueness of this ominous threat is frightening. We don't know where or how or exactly who is planning to carry out the potential attack. The danger is everywhere.
It is like googling one symptom when you feel sick. You will get hundreds if not thousands of possible illnesses as a result of the search. It can take hours before you realize that you are back where you began: with a symptom and a fear that it can mean anything and everything. This is when most of us stop googling and make a doctor's appointment.
But what happens when there is nowhere to turn for answers? When there is a known threat with unknown parameters? When we can't google or predict or close down anymore embassies? Do we cancel our flights and trips? And what if the threat is closer still, like it was on September 11? What if the danger lies in walking into our own offices on a bright, summer day? We are all on alert. But for what?
This week the Jewish month of Elul begins, and we will hear the shofar each day. The cry of the shofar should stir us. It's a siren. A wake up call. There are threats to our souls, to our bodies, to our lives. The danger is everywhere, but most of the year our radar is off.
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During Elul we hear the siren telling us to turn the radar back on. And suddenly we can hear a wailing in our hearts. So many warning signals we didn't pick up throughout the year, such disconnection from our Creator and ourselves that we don't know where to begin.
There are thousands of results for each symptom. But this is an opportune time to narrow down the search just by utilizing the power of this month's potential. The Hebrew letters of Elul are an acronym in Hebrew for: I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me. When the danger is everywhere, and we don't know where to turn, that is where we begin – with our connection to God. When we don't know how or where or who is attacking us, we listen to the shofar's ancient call telling us that this is the time to wake up. It beckons us to shut down our virtual searches and call out to the only One who can heal.
It warns us that the danger may be everywhere, but the Guardian of Israel is everywhere too. And perhaps this is His high alert message. It's Elul, and the shofar's cry is echoing throughout the world. Danger lurks everywhere; it's time to wake up.

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Post  Admin on Thu 01 Aug 2013, 9:33 pm

What to do (and not to do) after a death.
by Robin Greenman         
When I heard that Leslie's father had died, I thought, hmmm, what should I do? I honestly had no idea. Leslie and I belonged to the same congregation, but I didn't know her well. All I knew was that she was more religious than I was. Then again, who wasn't?
We had recently moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon and had been hunting around for temples. Back in L.A. we had taken an Introduction to Judaism class because we realized that we had to pass down something to our new baby.
The class required regular attendance at a temple of your choice, so we went to a Reform one where we felt comfortable. Due to events that I won't bore you with, we spent a year in Vancouver, BC where Reform is more like Conservative. In this Reform "shul," they called it, you wrapped tefillin. To me, that was the height of piety -- strapping those black boxes on your forehead.
We were suddenly too religious for the Reform temple; us, who knew practically nothing.
When we moved to Portland, we were suddenly too religious for the Reform temple; us, who knew practically nothing. I thought of my father intoning the ultimate Yiddish put-down to all pretentiousness: "Ka-nocker." Look who thinks she's such a big shot.
The next weekend we went to the Conservative shul. Too big. We tried Reconstructionist. Instead of a rabbi, services were led by people like us, only wearing Birkenstocks. Jewish Revival? Too much music; I wanted to grab one of those infernal tambourines and break it over my knee. There had to be someplace for people like us.
"Oh no, not me! If you want to go there, you go alone!" That was my loving reaction when my husband suggested going to the Orthodox shul. He had taken a class given by the new rabbi there.
"He's really a nice guy. Let's try it," pleaded Adam.
"But it's got one of those..." my hand made a frantic chopping sign. "Those things down the middle that separate the men from the women."
Long story short, I went and I HATED IT. I went again, and I cried through the whole service. "I miss L.A.!" I sobbed into my prayer book turned to the wrong page. I went again, and asked the woman standing next to me, "How do you know all these songs?"
She answered, "You just come." Oh, so easy. I heard my father's voice -- "Ka-nocker." Nothing's ever that easy for me. I can't whistle, I can't knit, and I sure can't learn to sing songs in Hebrew.
But we kept coming back, and not just because we'd run out of choices. I had never seen people pray with such sincerity. I knew I'd never be that woman in long sleeves rocking back and forth, but I envied her intensity, her belief that God was actually listening.
We had been going to Kesser Israel for about six months when Leslie's father died. Not knowing what to do for her, I called and asked. "Do you guys need anything? Dinner or..."
Her husband saved me, "No, thanks, we're fine."
I was off the hook, that is, until I heard that people were visiting Leslie while she sat shiva, the seven days of Jewish mourning. Cold as it may sound, I was not in the habit of doing things for people I wasn't close to. I was a good friend to my friends, and I did volunteer work for strangers, but this in-between status threw me. I forced myself to visit her, unsure of what I should do or say.
As I approached Leslie's door, I saw Sarah, another congregant coming up the walk. She was carrying a large tin-foil container.
"What did you bring?" I asked, ashamed of my empty-handedness.
Sarah smiled. "I made lasagna."
"Oh, I would have brought dinner, but Michael said they didn't need anything."
"I know, people never tell you."
"You just come," the singing woman had said. "You just do," Sarah didn't need to say.
"You just come, you just do."
Sarah walked in without knocking, like Snow White, and put her lasagna unannounced in the refrigerator. She had trouble finding room among all the other dinners that had been brought without being requested. I followed her into the living room where Leslie was sitting on a low stool. Sarah quietly hugged her and sat down. To compensate for this curiously mute moment, I told Leslie how very sorry I was for her loss. She smiled and thanked me.
Several months later I lost my own father. It was then that I learned about the custom of entering a shiva home without knocking -- to spare the mourner from having to get up to greet you. I also learned the reason for Sarah's initial silence; visitors let the mourner set the tone. She can speak or not speak. Or she can just cry. She's not a hostess at a party.
I deeply appreciated not having to hang up people's coats and offer them something to drink. My father was dead, I was sad, and they were there to support me in my grief. "They" were all the people in my congregation, people I loved, liked or barely knew. It didn't matter. They came because "You just come, you just do."
My refrigerator was full. If I hadn't been so depressed I would have enjoyed peeling back silver foil to reveal dinners I hadn't had to make.
Grateful and humbled, I realized what I needed: my own moment's notice shiva recipe. The answer appeared on page 117 of the kosher cookbook my best friend, Meredith, had given me: Meatloaf. It was quick, easy and best of all, comforting. I vowed to always have ground beef and aluminum tins on hand, and over the years, unfortunately, I've had many occasions to make it. Incredibly, I've also learned a few Hebrew songs along the way.
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Five Star Meatloaf 
(from Beyond Chicken Soup, Jewish Home Auxiliary, Rochester, NY)
2 lbs. ground beef
1 c. regular oatmeal
6 oz. tomato juice (or sauce)
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 c. horseradish (the red kind)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 c. ketchup
Preheat oven to 375. Mix beef with oatmeal, juice, onion, eggs and spices. Place in 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and spread ketchup on top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until top is browned and meat is firm. Serves 6-8.

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Post  Admin on Sun 28 Jul 2013, 7:53 pm

Trancoso's Hidden Jews

More than five centuries after Portugal's Jews were compelled to convert to Catholicism, the Torah has finally returned to Trancoso.
by Michael Freund         

Slowly but energetically, the festive procession made its way through the narrow and winding alleyways of the ancient Portuguese town.

The sounds of buoyant Hebrew song cascaded off the cool stone walls, prompting residents to open their windows and stare inquisitively at the unfamiliar sight, as dozens of people from across the country danced and clapped in a rousing surge of emotion.
Dancing with a Sefer Torah in Trancoso, PortugulAmong the participants, who were all swept away in the moment, many a moist eye could be seen glistening in the midday sun at this remarkable and most unexpected turn of events.

More than five centuries after Portugal's Jews were compelled to convert to Catholicism, the Torah has finally returned to Trancoso.

In a moving ceremony organized with the local municipality this past Sunday, Shavei Israel, the organization I founded and chair, arranged for the dedication of a Torah scroll to inaugurate the village's new Jewish cultural and religious center.

It will serve the large numbers of B'nai Anusim (people whose Iberian Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries and whom historians refer to by the derogatory term "Marranos") who reside in the area.

The facility, named the Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, is named after a 17th-century Trancoso-born physician and philosopher who came from a family of B'nai Anusim. Cardoso later moved to Spain with his family and then fled to Venice to escape the Inquisition, where he and his brother Miguel publicly embraced Judaism.

He went on to publish a number of important works on philosophy, medicine and theology, including a daring treatise in 1679 titled The Excellence of the Hebrews, which defended Judaism and the Jewish people from various medieval stereotypes such as ritual murder accusations and the blood libel.

The initiative for the center came from Trancoso's mayor, Julio Sarmento, who invested more than $1.5 million in erecting the modern structure, which will include an exhibition about the Jewish history of Portugal and the renewal of Jewish life in the region in recent years.
At Sarmento's insistence, the building also contains a new synagogue, Beit Mayim Hayim, "the House of Living Waters," whose name was suggested by Rabbi Raphael Weinberg of Jerusalem, the first rabbi to visit Trancoso.

Near the entrance to the synagogue is a memorial wall filled with the names of B'nai Anusim who were tried and punished by the Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism, including some who were publicly burned at the stake in the 18th century, nearly three centuries after their ancestors had been dragged to the baptismal font.

Located in the Guarda district in Portugal's northeastern interior, the charming village of Trancoso was home to a flourishing Jewish community prior to the expulsion and forced conversion of Portugal's Jews in 1497.

A local journalist and historian, Jose Levy Domingos, who has spent decades lovingly recording and preserving the town's Jewish past, has discovered well over one hundred stone etchings and other physical traces of that bygone era in Trancoso's old Jewish quarter, some of which are poignant and emotive.

On typical Jewish homes, for example, the windows were laid out in a decidedly asymmetrical fashion, at varying heights and lengths, creating a sense of architectural imperfection and inadequacy.
Domingos explains that this was done intentionally because the Jews wanted to underline that only the Temple which once stood in Jerusalem embodied perfection.

Many of the medieval homes have crosses engraved adjacent to the entrance as an ostensible statement of piety. Fearful of running afoul of the watchful eyes of the inquisition, Trancoso's B'nai Anusim also engaged in this practice, albeit with a twist.

Domingos points out that at the bottom of the etching, they added what appear to be three prongs, as if holding up the cross. But to Jewish eyes, it is clear what their real intention was as the three spokes clearly form an inverted "Shin," the Hebrew letter that is often used to denote one of the Divine names.
This was how Trancoso's hidden Jews sought to cling to their heritage, subtly indicating that they had not forgotten, nor abandoned, the faith of their forefathers.
The Jewish spark cannot be extinguished. We truly are the immortal nation.
It is in memory of their tenacity that we gathered dozens of their descendants, all of them Portuguese B'nai Anusim, to take part in the ceremony this past Sunday. Symbolically, we began the procession with the Torah facing a large and imposing cathedral in the very same public square where the Inquisition had once tormented Trancoso's hidden Jews.

Speaking to the assembled crowd, my voice cracked with emotion as I pointed at the basilica and told the B'nai Anusim, "we are here today because your forefathers did not surrender to those who sought to force them to abandon their faith. They bravely and stubbornly clung to their Jewishness in secret, risking everything. Let us all take inspiration from their example."

As we neared the synagogue, I noticed a young man, one of the B'nai Anusim from a nearby village, looking longingly at the Torah, but seemingly shying away from it at the same time. Taking the scroll, I went over to him and offered it to him to hold. He hesitated for a moment, the surprise on his face giving way to joy as he lovingly embraced it and danced it towards its destination.
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It was, I later discovered, the first time since his ancestors had converted to Catholicism in1497 that he or anyone else in his family had ever held a Torah in their arms, as far as he knew.
And then I understood as clearly as I have ever felt before: the Jewish spark cannot be extinguished.

We truly are the immortal nation.

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Post  Admin on Sun 28 Jul 2013, 7:32 pm

Vilifying Israel
by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
The systematic exploitation of international humanitarian law by the Palestinians comes at the expense of others in need.

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Post  Admin on Tue 23 Jul 2013, 9:01 am

The EU: Hypocrisy, Hostility and Prejudice
EU’s hostile fixation with Israel and its settlements is based on a series of deliberately misleading and flawed legal and political assumptions.
by Alan Baker         
The current dispute between the European Union and Israel emanates from the publication on June 30, 2013, of guidelines by the European Commission on the eligibility of Israeli entities, in territories administered by Israel since June 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War, for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards. The current commission notice reflects a number of decisions taken recently by EU bodies on how past EU-Israel agreements are to be applied.1
On December 10, 2012, the EU Foreign Affairs Council determined that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”
The EU statement added that the determination also conforms to the EU’s long-standing position that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”2
Pursuant to the European Commission’s June 30 notice, the EU published a directive to its 28 member states, effective July 19, 2013, forbidding funding, cooperation, scholarships, research funds, or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The regulation requires that any agreement or contract signed by an EU country with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not part of the agreement.3
The directive includes a territorial clause stating that all agreements will be valid only within Israeli borders recognized by the European Union, meaning the borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. It forbids cooperation by European Union members with private or governmental bodies located beyond the “Green Line.” The European Commission notice states that its aim is “to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.”
This directive complements intensive activity by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, devoted almost exclusively to the issue of Israel’s settlements, and repeated calls to EU foreign ministers to fully enforce EU legislation regarding the labelling of products from Israeli settlements, with a view to preventing such products from benefiting from lower tariffs, and to rendering them easily visible to European consumers and importers. As stated by Ashton: “Our consumers have the right to an informed choice; this initiative will help support our retailers to provide this. The correct labeling of products is necessary to ensure our consumers are not being misled by false information.”4
As such, the publication of the commission notice is the culmination of a concerted policy initiative led by Ashton, with active and substantive encouragement by the EU member governments and the official EU representation to Israel, directed against Israel’s settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], the aim of which is to press the Israeli government into making territorial and political concessions, by harming the products coming from the settlements.
Flawed Legal and Political Assumptions
This unprecedented and hostile EU fixation with Israel and its settlements, to the almost total exclusion of the other pressing issues in the Middle East, Europe, and throughout the world, is based on a series of long-standing and deliberately misleading and flawed legal and political assumptions regarding the illegality of Israel’s settlements and the status of the pre-1967 armistice lines as Israel’s border.
These assumptions are all the more misleading and misguided in that they totally negate or deliberately flout the historic and legal rights granted by the international community, including Europe, to Israel and the Jewish people in a series of international agreements and commitments. The assumptions totally ignore the indigenous rights of the Jewish people in the area, as protected by international declarations.
Similarly, they negate the very positions supported by the European states that endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 242 from 1967 calling for “secure and recognized boundaries,” and negate the EU’s own commitments as signatory and witness to the Oslo Accords, to honour the content of those accords, and not to predetermine and undermine specific negotiating issues including the final status of the territories, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, and other issues.
As such, the present EU policy, including the commission notice, specifically undermines the negotiating process by taking sides, and by pre-determining the negotiating issues of settlements, Jerusalem and borders. As such, this fixation prejudices and obviates any claim by the EU to impartiality, and precludes the EU from performing any function within the negotiating process.
Israel’s Rights Cannot Be Denied
The legality of Israel’s settlements stems from the historic, indigenous and legal rights of the Jewish people to settle in the area, granted pursuant to valid and binding international legal instruments recognized and accepted by the international community. These rights cannot be denied or placed in question.
They include the declaration unanimously adopted by the League of Nations, including the major European states, in the 1920 San Remo Declaration, affirming the establishment of a national home for the Jewish People in the historical area of the Land of Israel as well as close Jewish settlement throughout.5 This included the areas of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. This was subsequently affirmed internationally in the League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate instrument,6 and accorded continued validity, up to the present day, by Article 80 of the UN Charter which determines the continued validity of the rights granted to all states or peoples, or already existing international instruments (including those adopted by the League of Nations).7
The “1967 Borders” Do Not Exist
The “1967 borders” do not exist, and have never existed. The 1949 Armistice Agreements entered into by Israel and its Arab neighbors, establishing the armistice demarcation lines, clearly stated that these lines “are without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.” Accordingly, they cannot be accepted or declared to be Israel’s border.8
UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) called upon the parties to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and specifically stressed the need to negotiate in order to achieve “secure and recognized boundaries.”9 The European state members of the Security Council approved that resolution.
The Geneva Convention Does Not Apply to Israel’s Settlements
The EU assumption regarding the illegality of Israel’s settlement policy is legally flawed, and ignores authoritative sources regarding the provenance and interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). This article prohibits the mass transfer of population into occupied territory, as practiced by Germany during the Second World War. It was neither relevant, nor was it ever intended to apply to Israel’s settlements.
According to the authoritative and official commentary by the International Committee of the Red Cross, published in 1958,10 as well as opinions by prominent international jurists, Article 49 relates to deportations of over 40 million people subjected to forced migration, evacuation, displacement, and expulsion. The vast numbers of people affected and the aims and purposes behind such a population movement speak for themselves. There is nothing to link such circumstances to Israel’s settlement policy.11
One may further ask if this is not a misreading, misunderstanding, or even distortion of that article and its context.
Contradicting the Oslo Accords
In the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel and the PLO undertook to negotiate inter alia the issues of borders, Jerusalem and settlements, and undertook not act to change the status of the territories pending outcome of the permanent status negotiations. The EU signed and witnessed this agreement, and as such cannot now undermine it or take a position that is clearly ultra vires the terms of the agreement.12
Israel and the PLO agreed in the 1995 Interim Agreement (together with the EU, Egypt, Jordan, Russia, the U.S. and Norway as witnesses) on a division of their respective jurisdictions in the West Bank into areas A and B (Palestinian jurisdiction) and area C (Israeli jurisdiction).13 They defined the respective powers and responsibilities of each side in the areas they control. Israel’s powers and responsibilities in Area C include all aspects regarding its settlements – all this pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations. This division was accepted and agreed upon by the Palestinians, and acknowledged by the international community, including the EU and the UN.
The Palestinians entered into the various agreements constituting what is known as the “Oslo Accords” in the full knowledge that Israel’s settlements existed in the areas, and that settlements would be one of the issues to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations. Furthermore, the Oslo Accords impose no limitation on either side regarding planning, zoning, or construction of homes and communities in their respective areas of jurisdiction and control, pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.
The repeated use by the EU of the term “occupied Arab,” or “Palestinian territories” to refer to the area of Judea and Samaria has no basis in law or fact. Prior to 1967, there was no Palestinian state in the West Bank, which was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The area has never been determined to be Palestinian territory. Thus the continued EU usage of the term runs against the very concept of negotiations to resolve the dispute regarding these areas, supported by the EU, to determine their permanent status.
The EU Fixation with Israel’s Settlements
The EU fixation with Israel’s settlements, and the action presently being taken against Israel pursuant to its directive, is clearly incompatible with the EU’s standing as a member of the International Quartet, and serves to neutralize any pretentions the EU might have to serve a useful function in the negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The EU cannot presume to come with clean hands and claim to be an impartial element in the negotiating process. The EU has taken sides and as such, in its actions against Israel, it is undermining the negotiating process. Moreover, the rigid fixation of the EU to assert that its agreements with Israel must reflect the non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over any territory beyond the 1967 lines stands out in contrast to European policy toward other conflicts.
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The EU has many free trade agreements and other commercial understandings with countries whose territorial boundaries are in dispute. The EU has been negotiating a free trade agreement with India, yet its applicability to Kashmir is not under discussion. An EU fisheries agreement from 2005 allows European fisherman to operate in Western Sahara, even though the EU does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty in this territory. In Israel, EU policy is likely to be perceived as a case of double standards, according to which Israel is not granted the same rights as other states, in defiance of the principle of sovereign equality.
Finally, the position and actions of the EU against Israel are all the more unfortunate and regrettable in light of the tragic Jewish history in Europe, which cannot be ignored or forgotten. One might have expected that realization of this factor would guide the wisdom and logic of the actions of the EU.
This article originally appeared on

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Post  Admin on Fri 19 Jul 2013, 10:28 am

Terrorist on Rolling Stone Cover

Where is our human decency and compassion?
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund         
Rolling Stone magazine is being bombarded by criticism for its cover treatment and photograph of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The article, by contributing editor Janet Reitman, is called “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” The feature includes interviews with childhood and college friends, teachers, neighbors and police officers. Readers, especially from Boston, bashed the magazine on its Facebook page, claiming that the cover page is turning a terrorist into a “rock star.”

CVS pharmacy, Walgreens and Massachusetts-based Tedeschi convenience stores all said that they are refusing to sell copies of the magazine. Tedeschi Food Shops wrote on its Facebook page that “it cannot support actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone. Music and terrorism don’t mix.” The Woonsocket, R.I-based chain CVS wrote on its Facebook page: “As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.”
Some of the reader comments on Rolling Stone Facebook page wrote:
“Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs, should be on the cover.”

“The best example of why Facebook needs a dislike button.”

“I am so disappointed with Rolling Stone magazine. I have enjoyed your magazine until now. I will no longer buy/read the mag. You have just made him a ‘rock star.’ How could you?”
Reading these comments and seeing the glamorized portrait of this murderer reminded me of a conversation I had at a dinner party in New York years ago. We were visiting from Israel during the height of the intifada, and it seemed like every week there was another terrorist attack. We couldn’t go into a restaurant or board a bus without glancing around in fear, and we had been a few blocks away when the Sbarro pizza shop was bombed. Still in New York, I could hear the echo of that horrific explosion and the sirens that seemed to never end afterwards.

One of the people seated at our table began talking about Israel and asked me whether I thought that the terrorists should be pitied because of their impoverished circumstances. I almost choked on my food. How could he? Does poverty excuse murder? Does being taught evil excuse a person from making up his own mind to actualize that evil?
I didn’t say any of that. Instead I stared at him for a moment before asking, “If one of your children had been killed in a terrorist attack, would you ask that kind of question? If you had lost an arm or a leg yourself, would you ask this question?’
“Yes, I believe I would,” he replied.
I didn’t answer him, and I didn’t believe him. Not for a moment. And I don’t believe that the editor of Rolling Stone would publish such an article if she had lost her legs in a bombing. Or her child. Or her arms. Or felt anything close to the pain that the victims of the Boston marathon bombing are still grappling with.

This past Tisha B’Av Rabbi Wallerstein read out loud a list of suffering in our generation: the infertile, the impoverished, the lonely people who can’t find spouses, the drug addicts, people suffering from cancer, from eating disorders, from marriage problems… The list was long, and at the end of it he paused and said that some of the people listening are not afflicted with anything on that list. And perhaps, there are some of us who have happy marriages and beautiful children and secure finances and health. And perhaps we hear the above list and think, That’s sad, but what does it have to do with me? My life is fine so who cares? We don’t say it, but perhaps we sometimes think it.

This lack of empathy is the antithesis of Judaism. If we can’t feel another’s pain, then God can’t feel our pain. If we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s place, then we don’t have a real sense of a spiritual self. There is no such thing as “mind your own business” in Torah.

A young man once came to the Chafetz Chaim and begged him for a blessing to cure a terminal illness. The Chafetz Chaim gave him a blessing and soon afterwards, this young man was cured. Years later, a relative of the man was struck with the same disease, so the man returned to the Chafetz Chaim and asked for a blessing to cure his relative. The response of the Chafetz Chaim is chilling:
“Years ago, I gave you a blessing that you should be cured, but it wasn’t just the blessing that cured you. I fasted 30 days so that you should recover. And I’m sorry, but now I am too old to fast that way again.” For 30 days the Chafetz Chaim fasted for someone he didn’t even know. That is how deeply he felt the pain of another.
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But we are so far from feeling one another’s pain. Where is our sense of human decency and compassion? How can we glorify a murderer on the same cover as a rock star? The pain of the victims of the Boston marathon bombing is still so raw. Many of them are learning how to live without limbs. Without children. Without bitterness. And here is a photograph screaming in their faces: “It didn’t happen to me. It’s very sad. But I don’t care. I’m more interested in sensationalizing this kid and showing everyone how ‘normal’ and victimized he was.”
This is not who we are. This is not who anyone should be, including the editors of Rolling Stone. Even if it makes a good story. It is a tragic failure to feel another person’s pain.
Let us know what you think of the Rolling Stone cover in the comment section below.

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Post  Admin on Mon 15 Jul 2013, 9:30 am

 Tisha B’Av: The Greatest Hatred
Understanding the story the sparked the destruction of the Temple.
by Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport         
Nearly 2,000 years ago, on the 9th of Av, the heart of the Jewish people, the Holy Temple, was set on fire. Since then, our history has been filled with scattering and suffering. Like many broken and burnt hearts, it started with a mistake that turned into a fight that escalated to epic proportions. To heal and rebuild, we need to understand what went wrong and what we can do to fix it.

It began with a party. Like most parties, there were the invited, the not invited, and the exceptionally unwelcome. Bar Kamtza had the misfortune of both being invited and being exceptionally unwelcome. In family affairs this happens sometimes, but here it was unintentional.

The host of the party had a friend and an enemy, whose names were quite similar, one called Kamtza and the other Bar Kamtza. Since it was a fancy affair, hand-delivered invitations were sent out. Unfortunately, the messenger confused the friend and the enemy, and delivered an invitation to the wrong person, who subsequently came to the party.

It is surprising that Bar Kamtza would go the party of someone whom he knew disliked him. Perhaps he thought that the invitation was a move toward reconciliation and therefore was happy to receive it, showing up to demonstrate his own willingness to put aside the past. In light of this, what happened next is even more tragic.   
Upon seeing his enemy at his home, enjoying the food he had provided, the host, feeling quite incensed, told this invited/unwelcome guest to get out of his house immediately. Rejection, and all the more so such a public rejection, would be very painful to Bar Kamtza. He tried to reason with the host and pleaded, “Please don’t throw me out. I will pay you for whatever I eat, but please do not embarrass me.”

The host refused.
“I will pay you for the cost of your entire party, just please do not force me to leave.”

The host refused and threw him out.
It is remarkable that it was worth more to the host to hold on to his hatred than to have his entire party paid for in full. In any case it was a bad move, and things got worse from there. The Sages of the generation were present at this gala affair and did not protest the host’s treatment of Bar Kamtza.

Now, Bar Kamtza, by this time was in a pretty bad mood. When he saw all the Sages sitting there silently, he concluded that the way he was being treated was fine with them. If so, they were also to blame and he would take his revenge on them as well.
Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and told them that the Jews were rebelling against them. They asked for proof. He said to them, “Send a sacrifice to be offered in their Holy Temple and you will see that they will refuse your sacrifice.” The Romans sent an animal with Bar Kamtza to the Holy Temple to check what he was saying.
On the way, Bar Kamtza made a slight blemish to the animal that would render it unfit according to Jewish law. When he got to the Temple some Sages argued that they should offer the sacrifice anyway because not to do so would be endangering their lives. 

Their opinion was not heeded. Some suggested that they should kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go back to the Romans and incite them against the Jews. This opinion was also not heeded. In the end, the offering was not brought up, and Bar Kamtza took his revenge by going back to the Romans and slandering the Jews, leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple, the loss of many lives, and our subsequent exile.

If we consider the centrality of this story in the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the level of tragedy that resulted from it, it stands to reason that it is about more than just a dislike between two people. When we take a closer look, we see that it is a story about a lacking in the humanity of the Jewish people as a whole, from the greatest scholars to the common man. There is a question that screams out from beginning to end: Why didn’t anyone do anything?

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Hatred is seeing others in pain and danger, and not caring enough to get up and do something.
When Bar Kamtza was publicly shamed, why did no one try to help him? When Bar Kamtza later came to take vengeance, threatening the lives of the entire Jewish people, why do we find no dialogue trying to appease him? At the very least, he should have been killed in self-defense as the Talmud teaches that if someone comes to kill you – kill him first! The level of passivity that we find when it came to considering others’ welfare, whether emotionally, as in the case of Bar Kamtza’s shame, or physically in the case of his revenge, is astounding. Where was our humanity?

When the Sages taught that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, this is what they were referring to. Hatred is not just actively doing others harm. It is also about not caring. It is about seeing others in pain, others in danger, and not caring enough to get up and do something. If we think about, treating others like they do not exist is the greatest hatred.
If we wish to rebuild the Holy Temple, we need to begin with our hearts. When we care enough to really see the people that are around us, whether they are our spouses, children, work associates, or neighbors, we are laying the foundation of our sanctuary. Each time we move beyond ourselves and take action to make a positive difference in the life of another, we are adding a golden brick. With time, sensitivity, and positive action, we have the power to heal and rebuild the heart of our nation and build a holiness that will last forever.

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