Tuesday, July 29, 2014

About Israel and Clarifying our Thinking About Hamas

Before reading anything I write, please go to this link:


In Istanbul, rowdy groups have been going around Jewish areas and screaming: "Now it's your turn Jews, get out!"


THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOUR POLITICS! THIS IS ABOUT TERRORISM! Consider this scenario. Three Israeli teenage boys are on their way home and are abducted and killed. Sweets are handed out in the street of Aza and there is mass celebration. One Palestinian boy is beaten and killed and Israelis apologize and take an accounting of their own tactics. In the meantime Palestinians come to the home of the family of one of the Jewish children killed and Jewish Israelis go to the Palestinian home. This is a story of people coming together and wanting peace and for the terrorist fueled fighting to stop!

I have often written on this blog and lectured and spoken about the need for us to hold Israel, that Israel that we fiercely love, accountable. I have written also about the MANY MANY organizations and initiatives in Israel that help bring Palestinians and Israelis together, encourage inter-religious dialogue and understanding and the critical importance of looking at the work of places that foster this understanding as well as the multitudes of people who participate in all of this attempt to heal our fractured world. In doing so, I often become the persona non gratis as the "right" consider me too liberal; and the "left" claim my love for Israel clouds my eyes. I have always and will continue to advocate for innocent citizens, social justice and human rights AND to maintain a reality check about the notion that Israel, with all of its warts that are out there for all of us to see, is doing its best to respond to these overwhelming challenges -- presented by its own people, refugees seeking asylum, and those who are not protected by their own government.

LET US MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! HAMAS IS NOT PART OF THIS EQUATION! HAMAS IS A THREAT TO ALL OF US. Benjamin Netanyahu speaks publicly and often about the sorrow and horror at the loss of ALL lives, Palestinian and Israeli, in this horrible situation. In the meantime, HAMAS HANDS OUT SWEETS AND CELEBRATES AND REFUSES TO ACCEPT CEASE FIRES!

It is critically important for ALL OF US to be extremely careful in not adding to harmful rhetoric. HAMAS IS NOT A PARTY TO PEACE, NEGOTIATIONS OR ANY TYPE OF SUSTAINABLE REALITY FOR ITS OWN PEOPLE much less the Israelis or anyone else.

Please, I beg of you, whatever your politics, at this critcial and very frightening hour, please do not "flip" to either side of the spectrum of heated arguments. Speak on behalf of humanity! Speak on behalf of the country and government (with whom we will not always agree) who IS CONCERNED about the various groups involved and who has supported SO MANY projects and involvements throughout its land that brings together people from these different groups to better be able to live together. Remember, other terrorist chapters of history that need not be repeated here and their dire outcomes. For that matter, remember how HAMAS came into power in Aza in the first place and the many Palestinians who claimed they only wanted to send a message of warning to the PA -- not hand the government over to HAMAS.

May G-d (Allah for Moslems)-- the ALMIGHTY ONE that each of you believe in guide us through these troubled times and help all of us to resist this horrible threat that is compromising and so dangerous to our sense of humanity. May we all learn from the citizens who continue to come together in Israel and throughout the world to try to maintain a sense of shared purpose in these dark times that cause so many to question their loyalties.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Al-Jazeera, the Israeli army, Malaysian Airlines, and our messed up world

Al-Jazeera, the Israeli army, Malaysian Airlines, and our messed up world

What a horrible situation we all find ourselves in. This is one of those times, I just feel like the world is falling apart and what can I or anyone else do? Watching the news about what is going on in Israel, the Ukraine, downed airplanes, one does not know what to cry about first.

Interestingly enough in such times, one looks carefully at what people are saying and who is saying what. Look at the link below for a very interesting perspective where the humanity of the Israeli army is held up in Al-Jazeera as the model for Syrians to look at. Quite ironic in many ways for all of the obvious reasons on the surface, given where this is found. That being said, I have long waited for voices of reason from the Islamic world to be heard. I know many wonderful such people who unfortunately do not have the clout we would like them to have in their own community – there are wonderful voices of reason in the Moslem world and we must remember this in our most desperate times.


Now, another source to share. Look at this piece that comes from Morethodoxy.org which I HIGHLY recommend going to for wonderful words of Chizuk (strength) and Otzma (courage). Rabbi Hyim Shafner writes as follows: I

I care deeply about the innocent people in Gaza, made in the image of God, and who, going back to Abraham, are my brothers and sisters. I pray for the people of Gaza.

Over the past few years Israel has regularly treated the people of Gaza in Israeli hospitals. A close friend, a Washington University Medical School trained surgeon who moved from St. Louis to Israel 10 years ago, periodically operates at a hospital in Herzliya on Palestinians who need the type of surgery in which he specializes. And Israel is now fighting Hamas in a way to minimize collateral damage to the civilians of Gaza to the extent possible. This comes at a great cost of self-harm to Israel and to its citizens. When Israel warns civilians in Gaza of an intended attack so that they can leave the area, Israel puts itself at peril as Hamas operatives are also warned.

In just the last 48 hours, Israel has put down its defenses to allow tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of each of those cease-fires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israeli civilian areas.

A few weeks ago when three Jewish teens were kidnapped and murdered by Arab terrorists, Hamas celebrated by distributing sweets to children. When an Arab teen was murdered by Jewish terrorists, the Jewish world and Israel’s government condemned the terrible act.

I hope Israel’s defensive war on Hamas will end soon and that Israel can join other countries in helping the people of Gaza rebuild their lives by providing them with farm equipment, water, electricity, medical care, and food and ultimately empower them to lead fulfilling lives when, with Hamas out of the way, there will be nothing stopping them from sitting at the negotiating table.

Source: http://morethodoxy.org/

In my ongoing work with building bridges between and with various groupings of the HUMAN FAMILY OF WHICH WE ARE ALL PART, let us all remember that we are all made in the image of G-d and must reach out as far as we can to join with others to change and repair what the powers that be do not seem to be able to. Shabbat Shalom to all and may this Shabbat bring a true peace and sense of well-

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Aging and Reversed Roles

First the child cries when Mommy leaves, then Mom cries when the child leaves... We are in Baltimore about two times per month to visit my 91 year-old mom and 90 year-old dad. This past Friday when we left, it was particularly difficult as my mom cried and was visibly miserable when we walked out of the door of their wonderful Assisted Living facility that is now their home, as it needs to be.

Of course, it is so difficult to walk away and leave her like that, as it undoubtedly was for her when any of her three children cried at being left at school so long ago. It is at moments like this when you realize that yes, life has definitely thrown us into reversed roles.

As we watch and rejoice as our eldest daughter, Yoella and her husband, Jeremy’s three adorable girls – Neli and Neima at almost 4 years of age and Adel Raya heading towards 4 months --- learn more and more and put together so many pieces of the puzzle called their life, I watch my mother’s completely unravel. This is dementia.

It is unsettling and upsetting to see this person that looks like the woman that raised me but to remember that I cannot assume there is memory or sense of where she is at any given moment. If there is, that is a major victory like when little ones begin to walk. However, unlike new skills that will be strengthened and reinforced in these young and relatively new lives, in my mother’s case, this is fleeting, and any knowledge or awareness of this moment in time may or may not be continued for the next moment.

This is a completely different relationship. It is one based on memories and respect and a sense of Kibbud Av v’Em for me. For my mother, I am not sure what it is based upon. And then there is my dad – who is so sad and frustrated. This is in many ways even more painful to witness.

A friend of mine at Israeli dancing and I speak about how we are fortunate to be amongst the few in our age bracket in this group that have both parents. Her parents, Baruch HaShem, are generally well and still vital in their own way. This is the case for most of my parents’ remaining friends as well, whom we saw recently at the birthday celebration we had for them.

We as Jews bless each other with the words “Ad Me’ah v’Esrim” meaning, “You should live until 120 years old. The blessing is wonderful as a platitude. As for me, I really do take that seriously – I have a lot to do and want to live a long and healthy life, as we all hope for …. except in looking at my mom and seeing the fear, the confusion and the complete lack of sense of context too often in her disoriented face, I have to wonder….

One thing I have been doing is sharing information about what we are learning about aging with those that are directly related to my mom. As our medical professionals tell us, we have and are making great strides in living longer. The question is how to we prepare to live longer and more healthily?

It is so hard to see my mom this way. I remind myself daily this is the meaning of adult children observing Kibbud Av v’Em – to continue to treat her with the respect and honor she is accorded, whether or not she is aware that I am doing so.

May we all live to 120 with health, a sense of well-being and a feeling of accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent Loss of Young Lives in Israel

Okay, I do not usually do this, but this is really important. Please read the following brief article that has been going around about the recent incidents of loss of young lives in Israel. When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat sat together so long ago and showed each other pictures of their grandchildren, they promised to work for peace so that these beautiful children whom they each loved so dearly could be friends. Unfortunately, these children are grown and we are not anywhere near there yet. May G-d help all people to learn how to respect life and each other more than personal gain and agenda and so much else that causes precious lives to be lost.

I ask all of you who value life in the way that our foundational values of the beliefs we hold asks us to --- think about what YOU can do to join the millions of people of all faiths who are working to achieve peace and well being amongst all of our children and those we love.

************************************************************ Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort Rachel Fraenkel Touches Hearts With Open Door Policy

By Sigal Samuel

The families of murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel and murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir are drawing comfort from an unexpected source: each other.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat took to Facebook on Sunday to write about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.” He said that during his visit to the Fraenkel family home, he had a chance to speak to Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and express pain at the “barbaric” murder of his son.

Barkat then suggested that Abu Khdeir speak to Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of Naftali Fraenkel who recently told the press that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew. Blood is blood, and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab.” The two men took Barkat’s advice and comforted one another by telephone.

In a separate visit organized by Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, chair of the religious council of Gush Etzion, Palestinians from the Hebron area showed up at the door of the Fraenkel family, looking to comfort the bereaved.

Asked why they had come, one Palestinian said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other. Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews.”

He later said that the visit went very well from his perspective. “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible.”

“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”

The Palestinian visitors also mentioned an initiative spearheaded by Jews and Muslims to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day known as 17 Tammuz, into a joint fast day for people of both religions who wish to express their desire to end violence in the region.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


I am presently learning Masechet Eruvin in my daily Gemara (Talmud) learning. The discussions are about precision and possible conflicting purposes regarding various limits and the source of all that we have and know in our world, even the seeds we use to fulfill so many needs. I have always loved the notion that “EVERYTHING BEGAN WITH A SEED.” It’s so true and to that end, it is no surprise that the first order of the Talmud is called ZERAIM or seeds. For without the things that grow from seeds where and what would we be? Fair enough.

So, as I am trying not to get lost in the quagmire of details about what can be purchased with designated funds, what can be used to establish a Shabbat boundary and so much else, I find the most sparkling gems of insight to be discovered. Yes, to be sure there are clearly stated proverbial pearls of wisdom within the juxtaposition of how time, place and purpose come together to define the many conditions of our lives, whether we are concerned about the defined boundaries we may follow or the definition of what those boundaries are when we consider how we observe and mark the day of Shabbat and our Yom Tovim – our special days to be lived by following special conditions, boundaries if you will.

Allow me to cite just a few of these salient lessons. First of all, in so many, if not most cases, the Rabbis listened to each other and considered each other’s opinions and chain of tradition. This is yet another lesson about those we choose for our teachers and leaders (as discussed in an earlier post). Do we blindly follow what one person says or do we look at the consideration THAT person put into their development of their position? This is advice that just continually jumps off of the pages of the Gemara as I learn – to watch how your teacher and leader learns and figures things out.

Additionally much discussion is about correct attribution of opinions and rulings. Why? Because, as we saw with Beit Hillel, many of our Talmudic figures would in fact cite the teachings of another even if they did not support or agree with these opinions. Imagine that – not only listening, but repeating and handing over the opinion of someone with whom we disagree to another.

Giving the other the benefit of the doubt is also a recurring theme when discussing not crossing boundaries. There are many discussions about not approaching the end of the boundary of the Eruv that permits movement and carrying during Shabbat (and Yom Tov) and what one should do if they see someone doing so. The text teaches that if it is a Torah scholar, he is probably so lost in thought that he wandered to this area unaware and we should not interrupt his thought. If it was a normal citizen, he may have lost his donkey and might be looking for him. Imagine that -- instead of reprimanding another for an action that we might think is inappropriate, we are to imagine that he is not intending to commit the infraction we are thinking about.

I remember when our daughter Talie still lived at home and we would be driving about. People would cut us off, run lights causing us to come to a sudden stop, and commit other infractions in that tenuous traffic community of which we are all part. Needless to say, I would not be pleased and would say so – not so politely at that! Talie would constantly and calmly say “Maybe she is rushing to the hospital to have her baby.” When the second car would race by, Talie would, without skipping a beat, suggest that, “He might be the doctor that has to deliver the baby.” Until this day we laugh at Talie and her “Dan Lechaf Zechut” (giving the other the benefit of the doubt) code of behavior, but truly, she is on to something. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could do what the Rabbis of the Gemara suggest and Talie practices!

We are taught that the process of the text is as important, even perhaps more so than its content at times. In our modern times, we often speak of Musar – the code of Jewish teachings that remind us about the required BOUNDARIES of our behavior, which too often are forgotten. While some may look at Masechet Eruvin as being about not-so-important, outmoded and outdated realities, I find these jewels and lessons of wisdom that are encased in mundane instructions that inform daily life. Where better to find them!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Greatest Mitzvah of Helping Others and Buying Great Art

This will be a short post because what I really want for you to do is to go to this web site and see the most amazing art:


Here is the story. Five and a half weeks ago, I broke my shoulder. For the past three weeks -- once we returned from Israel, I have been going for physical rehabilitation. Displayed in the halls of the hospital where I go for rehab is one of the most amazing and HEARTWARMING art exhibits I have ever seen. I love to frequent art shows and really like good art.

What is so unique about this art show is that all of the wonderful and creative artists are disabled -- from Traumatic Brain Injury to blindness, amputees and paralyzed artists, chronic pain sufferers and multiple sclerosis, and so many more. THIS IS THEIR THERAPY and as a result, their creativity and love of life as they know and wish it comes forth. The colors are vibrant, the textures amazing (particularly from one of the blind artists) and these artists are nothing less than inspirational not to mentioned talented.

Maimonides teaches that the highest form of TZEDAKAH is to enable another to work. Here we have a great opportunity. The art pieces are not exorbitantly expensive and yet are as beautiful and rich and begging for your interpretation as those produced by the professional artists I see in my art show outings.

The show closes June 24th so you have the week to go to the site and look at this wonderful art. It will give you instructions on how to make purchases if you wish to. You can click on pieces in which you are interested to see a larger representation of it. I am not one to buy art on line but I will tell you, these pieces are amazing. There is also a phone number to call for further information.

So if you are looking for art and want to do a wonderful Mitzvah at the same time, go for it!

Happy art collecting!

Monday, June 16, 2014

PARSHAT SHELACH LECHA 2014 (adapted from my D’var Torah to our monthly Kabbalat Shabbat group)

Subtitle: The Best Therapy Ever and Reclaimed Hopes and Expectations

Lately I have been able to engage in the best therapy ever – hanging out with adorable 3 ½ year old girl twins and a 10 week old baby girl. Its so much fun and actually quite relaxing, albeit it, sometimes in a rather frenetic way. I really try to be completely attentive to the world according to Adel Raya, Neli Shimona and Neima Hadar. While I am playing with them often with my daughter Yoella present, we (Yoella and I) occasionally engage in fantastical conversations about what they will grow up like, what their personalities are going to evolve into and such. These conversations about these healthy and happy young children at the beginning of their life journey are always hopeful and optimistic and filled with unfettered joy.

I imagine that might be some of what G-d was feeling at this moment in the beginning of the Torah narrative when proclaiming in Bereshit 1.26 LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE AND JUST LIKE US... (YAY TEAM!)!

Commentaries abound about the word NA’ASEH – “let us make.” To whom was G-d speaking? So, in addition to the angels, man, all other parts of Creation, the plants, etc., MAYBE G-D WAS JUST ANNOUNCING THIS AMAZING BIRTH TO ALL AND EVERYTHING --- kind of like we do when a healthy new life is bestowed upon us!

There is always excitement and optimism and truly a sense of the continuity of the universe when we greet new life. Sadly, too often that excitement turns to disappointment and distress. In our own life, we call that the TERRIBLE TWOS, ADOLESCENCE, MIDLIFE CRISES, AILING ELDERLY PARENTS and such – the points that will invariably come during our life times when our hopes and optimism are challenged and even dashed to bits. Parents watch the disappointments of their children with great pain and children clearly do not often follow paths preferred by their parents. If we do not learn to cope and move on, taking the pleasant memories and the lessons learned with us as we continue our lives and work hard to reframe and reformulate our expectations while adjusting our hopes, these moments can truly do us in.

Perhaps we see a bit of this a few chapters later in the beginning of our narrative with The Flood, or THE BIG MISUNDERSTANDING AND COMING TO TERMS --BETWEEN G-D AND MAN. Note that we read in Chapter 6 that G-d had destroyed the entire world and all that was on it because of profound corruption and discord and perverse behaviors that had RUINED EVERYTHING!

The horrible and misguided actions of the human being that G-d had so lovingly and hopefully created had corrupted and perverted all, so much so, that utter destruction and the hope of a do-over was the only possible solution, according to G-d. It must be pointed out that G-d actually regrets making the human being and then regrets G-d’s reaction to how much the human being disappointed G-d. Again, you can be sure our commentators have much to say about this.

We read as follows a bit later on in Parshat Noach:

"And G-d said, This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life" (Bereshit 9, 12-15).

At this point, I believe that something so significant and pivotal happens. G-d comes to terms with the reality of the human being G-d has created with free choice and agency and readjusts expectations regarding them. In fact, G-D CREATES A SIGN TO remind both G-d as well as us of this contractual agreement, if you will. I want to suggest that we are continually doing precisely this in our own lives with our children and those in our relational orbit – that is reminding ourselves to balance our hopes and expectations with the reality of our lives and those in it.

Now we come to Parshat Shelach Lecha. Look at the words that this Parsha which deals with the scouts that are sent to check out the land of Israel begins with:

SEND FOR YOURSELF (YOUR BENEFIT) LEADERS (TO SCOUT THE LAND) We recognize this formulation well from elsewhere in the Tanach. The notion is that you will do this for your own sake because it serves your purpose. While on the face of things, this grammatical formulation does not seem problematic, it is actually quite so. The problem is that our commentaries want to figure out WHO IS TO BLAME for the fiasco that this hopeful mission turns into and the perceived abject failure as indicated by the chaos that results from the negative reports of the majority of the scouts. After all, these were LEADERS that were carefully chosen – Eagle Scouts in their own right if you will (having a son that just became one!) – and they were to SCOUT out the land and bring a report that would be helpful and encouraging to the people waiting at the precipice of this important moment. As we know, this is not exactly what happened. Quite the opposite!

In fact, it is interesting to note that this is the first narrative in the book of Devarim, as Moshe speaks to the B’nai Yisrael before his death, performing his last task as the leader of the nation. I often like to ask my students WHY they think this story of all others is the FIRST in this review lesson. What is the salient lesson here? After all, there are many other texts that could be chosen for their didactic value due to the many missteps taken by the Children of Israel and their leaders.

Nechama Leibowitz explains something critical regarding this experience. She teaches that the scouts and the people use their free agency and that when this happens, the giver of that agency, namely G-d, with so many hopes and aspirations cannot control its use. Her point here is clear. G-d can no more CONTROL the steps and decisions and words of the people created – even the leaders of the B’nai Yisrael – than we can control the steps and decisions and words of our children. THIS IS THE NATURE OF BECHIRAH CHOFSHIT – the ability to choose freely that most clearly identifies what is specific about the human element in all of us.

So G-d will continue to be disappointed in the people. The B’nai Yisrael are clearly disappointed in G-d as indicated by the complaining about the food choices or lack thereof in last week’s Parsha, or Miriam and Aaron’s creation of family discord in their speaking about Moshe, the upcoming rebellion of Korach, not to forget to mention the Egel HaAZahav, and so on. The book of BaMidbar is called IN THE DESERT in Hebrew – because that is where we physically were. In English it is called NUMBERS after the census that was lovingly and repeatedly taken in the journeys of the B’nai Yisrael to help keep track of all. Perhaps it is important for us to think for a moment that we were IN A PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL DESERT and DISAPPOINTED EACH OTHER AND G-D MANY NUMBERS OF TIMES. This does not make the text any less valuable or meaningful. Quite the contrary – it makes it more real and applicable to us.

We are taught that G-d DID NOT destroy the entirety of the people again, though admittedly we do still question why so many incidents of destruction and devastation still occur. G-d REGRETTED expecting too much from the human beings here. Ramban teaches that the work of the SCOUTS was that of a normative RECONNAISANCE mission and should not be taken as intentional wrongdoing on their part. They were just being honest and using the agency that G-d had given them to give the report of what they experienced. Similarly many of our contemporary theologians propose that we MUST ACCOUNT for the choice factor in the human being and the consequences of those choices instead of constantly “blaming G-d” for anything that goes awry. When all is said and done, each person has agency to determine what and how they will choose in going through life. Maybe this is a powerful message of this narrative. Things may not, and WILL NOT transpire as expected … and we have to reframe and reclaim and then move on.

I think that herein lie important lessons and precedents regarding how we develop and nurture our relationships with each other. G-d cannot control what G-d creates when G-d creates the human being, notwithstanding the initial joy and expectations G-d may have felt. The one who was responsible for the scouts being sent, and herein lies so many disagreements regarding the commentators, could not control their reports. The scouts giving the reports could not control the reactions of the people. And in the end, we cannot control each other. The best we can do is to remember the reason that we are doing what we are doing and the part we play in the larger picture. Yes, the scouts were in fact sent for the benefit of the people – and part of that benefit was clearly the reality of readjusted expectations as life wears on and bears down on us.

I think that today we are clearly aware of this aspect of our human reality and this is why so many of us do yoga, meditation, visualization and use other strategies to try to get back to peaceful being and expectations. While life happens all around us and there are giants who will overwhelm us, making us feel as mere grasshoppers, as in the experience of the scouts, let us remember the good fruits and the promise of the land and future given us by G-d, also observed by the scouts. Let us all accept the challenges and reboots that life throws at us, making us stronger and more resolved. I myself try to think of such things when I watch these three little girls with whom I get to play – as Adel discovers the world in which we live and Neli and Neima laugh hysterically as they create their own little wonderful world inside of it.