Friday, August 22, 2014

TWO ORTHODOX SHULS TO BE PROUD OF…..

As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I often find myself standing too far to the right or too far to the left or without much of a standing at all in a world that is defined too often by extreme positions. How sad! When I remember the Orthodoxy of my childhood, it was gentle, open, and caring. People did not ask what went on in the bedroom or your kitchen or your home and then judge you on it – that was between YOU and G-D. Unfortunately, today in our world in which there is EXTREMELY too much EXTREMISM, the intended quality of life and support of community that Orthodoxy meant and means to so many is getting lost in the details which occupy too many conversations and force people too often into categories of “accepted” or “not accepted.” Years ago, a friend of mine schlepped (such an appropriate word here, thanks MG) me to a meeting at which women were trying to make matches (shidduchim) between young men and women they know. The wonderful Rebbetzin (who is quite religious and observant by every measure you can come up with) got frustrated with questions about white tablecloths and whether or not and how the mother of the girl covers her hair and just lost it – she basically said this was shtuyot (craziness) and NOT what being an Observant Jew is about. She and her husband remain one of my favorite Orthodox Rabbinic couples until today.

Those of you who know me could sit together and we could get frustrated, angry, share many laughs and/or cry a bit about this phenomenon. That being said, I want to share a wonderful personal story about TWO ORTHODOX SHULS of which I am very proud. We are members of both!

Several months ago, one of our daughters became engaged to the love of her life – and now I will have a new daughter-in-law. Needless to say, living in the Orthodox world with a gay child has its challenges. It has recently brought us untold joy. One of our shuls, Mekor HaBeracha, is ALWAYS amazing regarding every possible issue of human needs and comfort and this is due to the able and menschlach leadership of its Rav, Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, who is no less observant than other Orthodox Rabbis – he just observes BOTH the Mitzvot between him and G-d as well as those between people, also dictated by Ribbonu shel Olam and teaches about them equally. From the moment we announced Rachie and Liz’s engagement, there were Mazel Tovs, hugs and just a wonderful celebratory feeling. We all felt blessed and grateful that the shul community could be part of and add to our simcha.

Additionally, we belong to Young Israel of Elkins Park, where I, to be honest, do not always feel so comfortable, given my knowledge, profession, life view and politics. That being said, I respect the standards that are maintained and continue to be part of this Kehilah along with our many wonderful friends. My husband and I spoke long and carefully crafted how we would present this news to the people in our more centrist/leaning to the right Orthodox shul community. We were having a big engagement party and we wanted to invite our friends but knew that not all would be comfortable. We carefully indicated this to people and received one of four responses. Either they said they would come, needed to check in with their spouse, would have to think about it or did not think they could come. That being said, everyone WITHOUT EXCEPTION was kind, caring and respectful and wished us Mazel Tov. When the party did come, there were over 90 celebrants present to rejoice with our family and our daughter and her fiancĂ©e. Not only that, but we were able to sponsor a Kiddush in BOTH shuls in honor of the many semachot in our family, including the engagement of Rachie and Liz. And in BOTH shuls, everyone wished them Mazel Tov, including our “black hat” Rabbi and his wife. Honestly, we have received nothing but validating and wonderful feedback and caring reactions from all we know with only two sad exceptions – who are not part of either of these communities, but rather within extended family connections.

I want to be very clear. We have been respectful, advocated for our children and acknowledged that this may be a problem for some – all simultaneously. The reaction we have received has been respectful of us in turn, loving for our children and acknowledging of our position in our communities.

In a sadly explosive climate where we hear too many stories of intolerance, I want to state how extremely proud I am of both of our synagogue communities and that with respectful approaches, shared knowledge, and understanding of our most foundational Jewish principles of protecting and celebrating life, we CAN all live together in a meaningful and validating way, just as is intended for our Jewish community.

I know there are other communities out there like ours, so please consider sharing wonderful stories of acceptance and validation with all you know so that our voice is not eclipsed by others who would attempt to shout us down.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 8, 2014

LESSONS ABOUT COMMUNITY FROM A STRING AND A LOAF OF BREAD

Back to my Gemara learning! I am in the middle of ERUVIN, the Masechet about boundaries. You may remember – I already spoke about great processing lessons and what wonderful teachers are from its pages. So, now I am in the middle of a very complex and detailed discussion about how ERUV, in this case the placing of loaves of breads by all of the households of a courtyard or area is negotiated in terms of allowing movement and sharing on Shabbat.

Basically the Halachic (Jewish legal) concept is this: On Shabbat, movement is one of the 39 forms of activity that is forbidden – carrying, moving or otherwise changing the location of various things. Further, there are limits in terms of how far an individual can move them self, either directly or indirectly. That being said, there are so many extenuating circumstances and needed accommodations that are required to facilitate movement and comfortable living during this period of time. Therefore, there are extensive discussions about how one encloses an area with a stated and intended boundary of string and wood posts or dividers, or indicates a shared area by placing a food item (usually bread, though many other options are permitted and discussed) in a designated place.

Within this discussion, issues regarding non-Jews that live in the shared area are indicated and questions about a Jewish member of the community who forgets to do his part to create shared space are also broached. Within the details, one can begin to glaze over, but there is something critical that is becoming clearer and clearer as the one who studies this text (me, in this instance) continues to make too many charts to be clear about which Tanna or Amora (the various Rabbinic teachers and authorities) said what, who agrees with whom, and the various leniencies that are provided by different authorities, and so forth…

THIS IS ABOUT COMMUNITY!!!!! That is the important take-away lesson. How does one create community in which every member is equally invested and taken care of in a way that is healthy and appropriate? Further, how does this community function on Shabbat as such with the given that there will be non-Jews – that is, people who are not part of this Shabbat community – living in our midst? THIS CAN AND SHOULD BE ACCOMMODATED and it is just that in the pages of our Talmud!

What a wonderful lesson for us today, and so needed, to be sure, as we watch our world around us crumble in too many regions! We are inundated by ISIS, the crisis in Israel and Gaza, the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and the list goes on and on... Too many stories about too many horrible and troubling disasters that threaten so much in our world in which we have advanced so far. Rulers so removed from reality and who don’t have their citizens’ safety at heart, dictators who forge ahead in building their own empires, terrorist leaders who dictate what their subjects must do from far-away-safe hotels. What are we to do?

When our Rabbis of the Talmud were engaged in these discussions and deliberations, it was based not just on the texts they studied but on the reality they saw. They sat with the people whom they were instructing, they lived in communities that would feel the impact of their rulings and they LISTENED to each other and processed what was said and even changed their minds (often!) based on the observed and experienced reality. Those pieces of string and loaves of bread were real – representative of a COMMUNITY that was bigger and more valued and validated because of the people who made it up – rich or poor, learned scholar or water carrier, young and old, Jew and non-Jew.

They all lived together and here too there are details about which method of creating an intentional community is more reasonable for a rich person, a poor person, a traveler, or an individual based on where their house was actually located in the courtyard. When one stops to consider this, the details about whether or not one uses a loaf of bread or a smaller piece, or goes to place it in a location or sends someone else to do so, or …. it is not about these things per se, but rather the people who need COMMUNITY to be there for them and to be part of it!

One of the most beautiful texts of Torah which we say every day as we enter our shul – the gathering place of our prayer community – is “Mah Tovu Ohalecha” – How beautiful are your tents of Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel?” It is important to remember the source of this statement. It is attributed to Balaam, the prophet that was sent by Balak to curse the Jews. However, he saw how beautifully and peacefully they lived and could not help himself – thus the words of blessing of COMMUNITY!

I am thinking of the many Palestinians whose own rulers do not see their daily reality for what it is. I am thinking of the Iraqis who are huddled in make shift camps fearful of yet another potential genocide. I am thinking of the multitudes of individuals who are held hostage by the Ukraine/Russian conflict. And of course, I am holding my Israeli friends and families in my heart along with all people who are suffering in our fractured world.

Years ago, a student of mine asked quite innocently, “Why can’t we all just make sure the leaders/decision makers/ those who do not get it have a good night of sleep and then share some coffee and doughnuts and relax together, you know, get to know each other? Hmmmmm, maybe they need to learn a text together – involving a string and a loaf of bread!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

About Israel and Clarifying our Thinking About Hamas

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

http://www.inquisitr.com/1375724/israel-hamas-tunnels-planned-for-huge-terrorist-attack-for-rosh-hashanah-the-jewish-new-year/

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

http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/07/17/violent-riots-target-israel-embassy-in-turkey-ihh-head-says-turkish-jews-will-pay-dearly-photos/

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.

MAY THE ONE WHO SHELTERS US WITH PEACE BRING PEACE.

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.

http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2014/07/al-jazeera-syrian-army-can-learn-lot.html

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

THE MOST IMPORTANT LITTLE SEEDS AND BOUNDARIES TEACH US SO MUCH!

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!