Marching Together

Current Read: (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump

This evening I had the wonderful opportunity to be involved in an extremely important community event. Our Temple-Synagogue Religious School was part of robust programming for a community-wide celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., given that Monday is officially Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United states. This event was held at a local church, and we had a handful of students and teachers from our religious school present. The kids did some readings that talked about the similarities in treatment and oppression that have plagued both the Jewish and African American communities over time, and I was proud to assist with the singing of Hineih Mah Tov and Oseh Shalom. While many of the event’s speakers approached the subject matter from various Christian perspectives, it felt (and still feels) extremely important that even a small Jewish voice was present at the event during this chilly afternoon. 

As I have been reading about in Jonathan Weisman’s latest book (the link is above), there exists a strong historical connection between Jews and African Americans in terms of the civil rights movement in the American south. When one thinks of the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan, the horrific treatment, intimidation and violence against African Americans directly arises in the consciousness of the majority, and for good reason. Did you also know that Rabbi Ira Sanders took the stand in Little Rock, Arkansas to combat legislation that promoted segregation? Rabbis and Jewish civil rights allies were harassed, beaten, and attacked for their opposition to segregation and discrimination. Weisman’s book discusses the beating of Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld during a march in Hattiesburg, and the Klan bombing of Rabbi Perry Nusbaum’s Jackson, Mississippi synagogue in 1967 (his house was also subsequently bombed). What many Jews might recall as the strongest connection between the African American and Jewish communities during the 1960’s is the image, mental or otherwise, of Martin Luther King Jr. joining arms with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as they famously marched from Selma to Montgomery. 

It is important that classically oppressed people have each others’ backs; and today’s event felt like an important local step to ensure that community connections are made, and that we, as Jews, do not become so insular as to disconnect from the rest of the world due to our unique type of historical suffering. Jonathan Weisman does claim that most anti-Semitism does not get to “…flourish out in the open”, and “When anti-Semitism flares, it is usually inflamed by people who don’t know Jews all that well, if at all.” It seems that Weisman’s view of anti-Semitism is that it can be stealthy, until it is too late. Jews are generally viewed as the strange “other”. The “other” that cannot always be so easily identifiable in a physical sense by those who are eager to spew hatred and vitriol against a group of people. The Jew becomes a strange idea to many, and one of the only methods to combat this type of singular ignorance is to be seen and heard.

Yes, to be a Jew is to embrace some practices that are different from society’s idea of the norm. It is easy to find an hour or so of commonality with people of all colors when at the end of the day, everyone is praying to the same Jesus Christ. Jews do not share this religious similitude with people who might differ in skin tone, but convene in prayer. This simply means that we must find the human congruity that exists within all of us, regardless of color, creed, or any other possible difference. Jews do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, but we do believe in the repairing of the world, or Tikkun Olam. How can we repair the world if we cannot build beautiful and fruitful relationships with those who might not think just like us, but who cry like us, laugh like us, and hope like us. We all feel loss, love, disappointment, shame, and exaltation. If we thank Adonai or Jesus in a moment of bliss, how truly different are we as a people? 

I believe that Abraham Joshua Heschel and so many other Jewish leaders and thinkers like him marched with African Americans for justice and peace because to see any group oppressed is to see a world of oppression. In Judaism, if one life is diminished, so is the entire world. So yes, Our strange-seeming Hebrew songs and our different views on Messiah (Mashiach) might seem a bit foreign to some. But, our goal should not be to exist in a world that is colorblind. We can admit to noticing our differences of color, creed, and many other attributes. It is OK to see our disparities. We must not feign naivete. What is important is that we celebrate our differences in a way that enriches our kinship, and creates a beautiful potpourri of perspectives and worldviews. 

Whatever lens you see the world through can be resplendent and joyful, as long as it is one of respect and inclusiveness. I hope that our religious school students’ brief moments on the stage during the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will spark at least one person to deepen their curious compassion regarding the Jewish people and our unique experiences. 

When all of the talk of fighting oppression, social injustice and discrimination becomes overwhelming and like a seemingly insurmountable task to bear, it seems we can all take the following advice of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” 

May we all find the great things that seem small in our own lives, and make a commitment to engaging in them with a full heart, and remembering the advice of our own Mishkan T’filah:

“There is no way to get from here to there, except by joining hands, marching together.”

March we have, and continue to march we will.

Shalom,

Joshua

One King Away

This week we have moved on in our Torah reading cycle to the Book of Exodus, or Shemot. This parshah is particularly resonant in one of its earliest messages. The Book of Genesis tells us of Jacob and his sons, and how Joseph became one of the most powerful people in all of Egypt, even though he was a Jew. Upon the conclusion of Genesis, it almost seems as if the Jewish people should possibly let their guards down and be comfortable. Joseph died at the ripe old age of 110, and was even buried in Egypt. Generations of Joseph’s family remained in Egypt and lived out their days. It seems that this Jewish family was fully assimilated and accepted.

Fast forward to Shemot, and a glance at just how quickly the tables can turn against the Jewish people. The Torah tells us of a new King who arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph. This new King decided that there were far too many Jews in the land of Egypt, saw them as a potential threat to the kingdom, eventually enslaved them, and forced them into lives of oppressive labor. The King became so paranoid regarding the Jewish people that he demanded that all newborn male Jewish babies be killed via drowning in the Nile. This story eventually leads us to Moses and his journey. 

Does this ancient turn of events not ring just as true in modern times as it did during the time of Torah? Jews can assimilate, live comfortable and even highly successful lives, but there always exists the possibility that the dominant culture will turn toward scapegoating, violence, and even genocide when it comes to the Jews. All it took in Shemot was one King of Egypt and a willing populace. The King became wary of the Jewish people, he blamed the Jewish people, and he enslaved and killed the Jewish people. Adolph Hitler was wary of the Jewish people, he blamed the Jewish people, and he enslaved and killed the Jewish people. Once it happened in the Torah, and most recently (on a grand scale at least) it happened in Nazi Germany. One instance was thousands of years ago, the other, mere decades. 

Even when the storms of prejudice and hatred toward the Jews seem to be at bay (they are not right now), we must never allow anyone to forget how swiftly the tides of society can turn to darkness. The Jews of Egypt were numerous and successful for a time; as were the Jews of Europe. One leader who expresses mistrust, aggression and hatred can, and has, changed the course of Jewish history. We cannot teach The Holocaust “too much” or be “too focused” on Jewish suffering as we educate our children. We as Jews simply cannot afford to become complacent or entirely comfortable. As I have written before, and as the Mishkan T’filah tells us: “…wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt.” 

Is it over the top to figuratively sleep with one eye open as a people? I do not believe so. History and Torah seem to teach us that we should be accepting of the stranger, as we were once strangers, or perhaps always are, save Israel. The Torah also seems to give us fair warning; signalling to us the potential consequences of nonchalance. Joseph was alive to see the children of three generations of Ephraim in Egypt, and again, one King was all that was required to drastically alter the narrative. 

The Jews of Egypt. The Jews of Europe. Looking back through history you can find so many more cases that I will not list comprehensively. If you are interested, look up what else happened on the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. It has nothing to do with Columbus, and everything to do with the expulsion of the Jewish people. 

What do we take away from the Torah and from history? History is doomed to repeat itself unless we remain steadfast in our mission to prevent anyone from ever forgetting the horrors that have occurred across eras.The Jew is always living on the edge of assimilated society, and must remain friendly and welcoming, but vigilant. Always be teaching and be taught, and remember that any anti-Semitic moment, be it seemingly small or large, is momentous. We simply cannot afford to “let it slide” as a people. The slope is too slippery, and the repercussions far too dire. Be kind, but remain aware.

We are always one King away from one who knew not Joseph. 

Shalom,

Joshua

Sorry to Kvetch

I do make a conscious effort to keep this blog as positive as possible, but let’s face it–sometimes we all need to kvetch a bit. As sleep seems to elude me on this particular night, I recently found myself scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. By nature of my interests (Jewish thought, study, practice, etc.) I have a myriad of Jewish websites and organizations whose posts flood my feed. I have noticed a trend that I do find a bit disturbing, and I am not calling it universal. Perhaps what I am witnessing is just a case of synchronicity, but I am beginning to doubt that. 

While the majority of periodicals, websites, and writings that concern Judaism are thoughtful, educational, and often inspirational, there do seem to be many exceptions. I am going to target some millennials now, and I am absolutely allowed to do this due to the fact that I am considered to be a part of this group. The vast majority of the articles and posts that I see on many pages (I won’t name them here) that are meant to appeal to millennials and Gen-Z are…well…cringeworthy. If I see another article with the variation of the titles, “10 signs that you’re a Jew in New York City” or “25 Reasons Why Bagels in Williamsburg Should Have Mustaches” (OK, I made that one up. But, it’s really not that far off), I might have to blow into a shofar or something. 

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who knows me is aware of my lively sense of humor, and my willingness to find the fun and lightness in all things possible. I am however, starting to get a bit worried. I read numerous articles around the holidays wherein young Jewish writers referred to themselves as “grinchy” and “scroogey”, and then went on to write about secondhand shopping, and navigating how to date people who work on Wall Street, as legitimate activities of Judaism. Yikes. 

As a Jew who happens to be a millennial, these facts worry me on a couple of different levels. Are younger Jews so void of Jewish education and interest that a “Jewish” website or periodical featuring The demographic of interest has been relegated to promoting material that is reminiscent of some reality TV Jewish-Kardashian type of schlock? I know that when I write a post, I want it to be thoughtful and attempt to at least touch upon some Torah, or Jewish teachings, thoughts, and ideas. Also, if one is truly a practicing, educated, or well-informed Jew, we should know that being called a “grinch” or “scrooge” is anti-Semitic in that it implies a Jew’s lack of Christian practice as a hostile act. We should be bothered by being labeled as such, and we should absolutely avoid using it in reference to ourselves! 

I do believe that much of these issues harken back to the religious non-affiliation of the young Jew in America. When Jewish places of worship and study do not interest and draw in the millennial or Gen-Z Jew, we are left with generations of Jewish people whose Jewish identities are relegated to their memories of summer camp, their favorite Jewish delicatessens, and witnessing how their parents observe Judaism. Many young Jews seem to be identifying largely in a cultural sense that lacks any sort of profound practice or affiliation. If one does not daven, read Torah, study Hebrew, or engage with Jewish texts, what remains appears to be some idea of Judaism as it exists in the minds of those who view Jews as archetypal cultural caricatures eating bagels and deli, while also possessing strange attitudes about Christmas.

Perhaps much of the material that is out there is a reflection of the times that we live in. Easy reads and instant gratification rule the day. It is obviously much simpler to read a list of “25 things every Jewish 20-something needs to know about J Date” (or something) than to delve into an article that deals with a topic that tackles Jewish perspectives on current issues with a Torah-based backdrop.

I recognize that we, as Jews in the Diaspora, are constantly walking the line between assimilation into dominant culture versus maintaining healthy Jewish identities. When I see the promotion of trivial cultural writings on popular mainstream Jewish sites that employ the usage of anti-Semitic tropes, I worry. I am not intending to be judgmental, but only aspiring to maintain Jewish interest, study, and engagement that recognizes the robust and bountiful beauty of spiritual life and knowledge that is Judaism. 

I sincerely hope that the millennial and Gen-Z Jews of America will find their way to a Judaism that is deep and meaningful as I have been able to. I feel it is my responsibility as a member of the demographic to let my fellow young Jews know that it is OK to feel moved to pray, to study, to read. If we do not lift one another up to see the rich profundity of Judaism, we will be stuck with more lists about the best everything bagel in Bushwick in place of thoughtful discussion on pressing Jewish issues. We must move into the future as educated, enthusiastic Jewish people if we are to continue thriving. 

And thrive we must!

Thank you for letting me kvetch a bit.

Shalom,

Joshua

“Go!”

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what it means to be brave. When we are children, being brave and bold can start with sliding down the big slide on the playground for the first time, or finally taking that dive into the deep end of the pool during a sweltering summer day. Sometimes we walk over to a new face we did not previously know, and that figment becomes a fast friend. Being brave is tangible and often immediate when we are young and eager. 

If we are lucky enough, we inevitably grow up a bit. Responsibilities, routines, and other facts of adult life can bog down the thrill that comes with being brave and bold. When one is tied to a desk for 40 hours in a week, it is often difficult to match the sensation of riding your bike down that big hill you were always warned about by the old people when you were 10. 

While pondering bravery and boldness as an adult, I immediately found my mind wandering to parshah Lech-Lecha (which is not the Torah portion for this week). I thought of how G-d told Abram (later to be Abraham) to leave his father’s house, and go to a land that He would show him. Abram, his wife Sarai (later Sarah), and nephew Lot, picked up and left on a new and unknowable journey. Lech-Lecha can be translated to “go” or “leave.” G-d told Abram to make a change, and Abram listened. One of the more impressive details of the parshah is that Abram was not a spring chicken by any stretch when he made this massive life change. He was 75-years-old. Abram displayed a tremendous amount of bravery and boldness at an advanced age. 

How one interprets the message of this Torah portion is largely dependent upon how one interprets Torah in a more macro sense. Did Abram hear the literal voice of G-d, or was G-d the urge or push that lived inside of Abram at this time in his life? Was he answering a Divine call to action from within himself?

Don’t we all have a little voice inside of us that guides us through decisions–whether they be daily minutiae or larger life-changers? Abram’s willingness to heed the call can inspire us as adults to maintain that thrilling bravery that can sometimes vanish in tandem with our own perceptions of youth. It is never too late to change your life. Are you happy doing what you are doing? Have you always wanted to try something–travel somewhere–do something–be something? There are so many roadblocks that we can create, and there certainly always exist a sundry of reasons not to try something. We might not all change from Abram to Abraham (“The Father of Many Nations”), but regret is much worse than failure. It is certainly better to try and fail than never to try at all. 

If you take one thing from this short post, I wish it to be this: I hope you will listen to the divinity or spark–the eternal light that lives inside of you. Heed the call of your own soul. It is simply never too late to be everything that you have ever dreamed of and more. 

In other words, be brave–Lech-Lecha!

Shalom,

Joshua

Connection by Disconnecting

My brothers often make fun of me for being a bad millennial. They ask me why I even have an iPhone, and comment on the fact that I would likely be well-served by an old school style flip phone. “You use the ESPN app, the Internet and some Jewish apps.” This is true. I have one sibling who can literally build computers for fun, and another who can expertly navigate complex musical recording software. I sometimes use the flashlight feature on my phone to find something in the dark or to see if my throat is red when sore.

While I am not technologically illiterate, I think that I do spend more time trying to find the beauty in things that are becoming obsolete as opposed to updating my tech. For example, I refuse to buy a kindle. I read a lot, but I don’t think I will ever be able to replace the smell and feel of one new book in my hand with an electronic device that stores thousands of them. There is something magical about holding a book, as there is something divine about reading from the Torah. 

Those of my generation still remember what it was like to grow up without technology. Most of my younger days were lived without a computer. When our home got its first computer, it was in my parents’ room, and was a fairly nebulous white machine to my puerile mind. I did not have a cell phone until I was in the 10th grade, and the phone I did have was that old clunky Nokia that had no texting ability (texting did not exist yet). I mostly kept that device in my backpack, and really did not have much use for it. During my even younger days, if I wanted to play with a friend, it actually required either calling their house on a telephone, or…going to their house in person and ringing the doorbell. *Gasp* I am glad that I can use technology, but I am also truly thankful that I got to experience childhood without the sundry of screens that dominate today.

While a schul is a great place to become connected, I am finding that much of its beauty lies in its ability to profoundly enhance my propensity to disconnect. The Shabbat Siddur discusses retreating from the flight of time, and pausing for a while to listen to the rain. When I am at Temple, I find that I am simply able to exhale in a manner that is different from exhalation anywhere else. I can release the stress and tension that comes along with a world that is so connected that privacy and mystery are mostly a thing of the past to now be reflected upon. The Temple is a window into a time when we listened to each other speak–in person. When the Rabbi gives his Drashah, or leads a prayer, we, as congregants, live at once singularly and connectedly. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other avenue of social media cannot replicate the tangible energy that dances so freely in a physical space. How can you ever get a feel for a room full of people if you never entirely immerse yourself in one? 

I believe that there is much to be gained by sitting with others–by oneself. In Judaism, we honor the past and those who lived there. This is not to say that I am naively looking into the past with rose-colored glasses. The past is not some idyllic Pleasantville in which the milkman waved hello as he strolled by in his white getup. Let’s be honest–most people have some sort of dairy allergy. Also, as Jews and other marginalized groups know all too well, the past was not without its trials, tribulations, injustices, and traumas. But, this does not mean that we cannot pull positivity and meaning from an imperfect place. There was something charming about a time when we passed hand-written notes and did not mindlessly click “like.” There was a mindfulness to living without constant connection. You kind of had to work for it. 

The schul is my link to a time–perhaps aggrandized by my mind–in which connection happened in a consequential manner. There are no phones, no computers, and no updates during a service. There is a bridge…a bridge to the ancients, and a bridge to my own personal antiquity. 

So, maybe my brothers are right. I might be lacking when it comes to many forms of technological savviness (I think I get along just fine), but I am happy to experience the stillness and quietude that allow me to breathe life into my connection with a perception and place that exist outside of the walls of time.

Shalom,

Joshua

What Can We Do?

“What can we do?”

 the Rabbi asked us to reflect upon these words during his drashah. Outside of the Temple, a New York State Trooper patrolled between the two local schuls, ensuring that the soft targets that are our houses of worship would not be welcoming to those whose intentions were troublesome or worse. 

I have written much about the scourge of anti-Semitism, and how its rise in the United States and the world is more than a bit unsettling. I will not spend another post rattling off statistics or talking about the latest incident of violence against Jews. Instead, I want to reflect and then act upon the Rabbi’s question. What can I do to make a difference? 

Firstly, I will be proud of my Judaism. When we start hiding or becoming too insular, anti-Semitism does not go away. We simply put our heads in the sand while the dust storm ravages the land that exists above our chosen momentary level of consciousness. 

I will have conversations with those whose views differ from my own. If I do not agree with you, and you do not agree with me, I still hope we can have a beautifully human conversation. The world is filled to the brim with disparateness, but only by having those uncomfortable conversations, and sometimes embracing the harsh silences sprinkled throughout, can we see one another as multidimensional and fully human. 

I will tell you if you are a part of the problem, and I hope you will hold me to the same standard. When our synagogues need arming, the little things can not slide. Any language or actions that degrade, dehumanize, or serve to imbrute Jews or any other marginalized group will not be accepted as part of the composition of my conversations and experiences.

I will educate, even as I learn more. I was watching a short YouTube documentary about a non-Jewish man who spent the day alongside a Hasidic Rabbi in their shared neighborhood in Brooklyn. They lived life in a parallel fashion alongside one another, but had never communicated before. At the end of their shared day, both men came to the conclusion that it truly is difficult to hate someone whom you get to know. I will be a part of the educational “getting to know you” process as much as possible. If someone asks me a question about Jews, Jewish people, Jewish practices etc., I will try to answer. If I don’t know, I will admit that, and then proceed to find out. Education is as incredibly rich for the educator as it is for the learner. Please ask questions, and I will sincerely try to answer them, even from my lay position. Education is the nemesis of ignorance.

Finally, I will fight through fear, uncertainty, and pain. No matter what efforts are taken, anti-Semitism will not just fade away or suddenly cease as a hail storm. This does not mean that we cannot pick up the pieces. Although it might seem at times to be a Sisyphean task, Jews have never been a people who are prone to giving in or giving up. Even as horrors occur and the pieces continue to fall around me, I will do what I can to pick some up; at least in some small way. 

Moses and the people of Israel stood at the vastness of the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army fast approaching. The people could have easily been dissuaded and overcome by the tremendous obstacle that lay before them. Even with the sea at his feet, Moses did not slump over in defeat, or collapse prostrate to the sandy earth. No, Moses did just the opposite. He stood up, tall and majestic, lifted his arms up over his head, parted the Red Sea, and led the People Israel across to continue their journey. What met the people on the other side was not an oasis, or final destination to be settled. More traveling and work was to be done.

How many seas must we, as Jews or allies, part in order to continue to sojourn?

As many as it takes. 

Shalom,

Joshua

Replace the Rhetoric, Please

I wish this post was unlike so many of the others that I have written in my short time publishing this blog. Last night we had a beautiful Chanukah celebration at our home. Family was here, and we ate traditional foods, played some fun games, lit the menorah, and simply spent joyous time together. Last night, in Monsey, New York, Jews were celebrating the festival of Chanukah as well. The difference was that in Monsey, Jews were attacked in a rabbi’s home with a machete. Rabbi Rottenburg’s Schul in the Forshay neighborhood was the target of what is being labeled as an act of domestic terrorism. Five people were wounded in this horrific attack, and two are in critical condition as of the latest update. A 37-year-old man, whose name I will not give any publicity, brazenly entered the home/schul and simply started looking to kill Jews. He eventually fled and was caught by the NYPD. Yes, this was a Hasidic community. Yes, they dress and practice differently, but that hardly matters. When Jews are attacked anywhere, Jews are attacked everywhere. I know that by now. 

This one felt particularly close to home. Maybe it’s because this happened on the same night as our own Chanukah celebration, or because it only happened a few hours down the highway. I can spend another post condemning the hatred, calling for education, and venting about how this all just needs to stop. But, let me address something that simply needs attention. People have asked me: “Why is this happening to the Jews?” and, “Why are Jews being attacked so much?

While it is true that Jews have been historically oppressed, scapegoated, and targeted as a people, that does not change the fact that attacks are on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League reports that reported anti-Semitic incidents have risen 150% when comparing 2013 to 2018. To drive the point home, this number includes only recorded incidents, and does not take into account every microaggression, every swastika, and every comment made that represents a huge influx of anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the United States. 

Here I come:

You might not want to hear it, but I can’t stop thinking about Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. During a “Unite the Right” rally, white nationalists held tiki torches, and eventually began chanting “Jews will not replace us.” That phrase, and the response from President Donald Trump has become infamous. Here is a fact: People chanted “Jews will not replace us” while holding tiki torches, and aggressively marching. The President of the United States of America said that there were “very fine people on both sides” when asked about the white nationalists and opposition groups. 

“Very fine people on both sides.” 

Rhetoric matters. It matters a great deal. Trump, who admittedly loves the “uneducated,” has played with fire for far too long. The kindling that he has set in place has ignited into a full fledged and almost uncontrollable blaze. Let’s be honest about something. A large majority of people in the United States know nothing-to-very-little about Judaism and the Jewish people. Many politicians describe the United States as a Christian nation, and almost no attention and education is given regarding what Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah is. Right or wrong, good or bad, the masses tend to get their information from the media. They regurgitate the ideas and opinions of others. When the most powerful individual in the United States of America claims that “very fine people” chant “Jews will not replace us,” something very momentous and dangerous happens to the psyche of society. Indirect permission is granted to remain or become intolerant. When brazen anti-Semitism is met with a hint of praise from the top, the trickle down impact is horrific. 

When politicians solely use Israel as a political talking point, the Jews are left alone in the wake to handle the consequences. When politicians call Israel an apartheid state, and support the anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, all Jews are endangered. The United States body politic likely does not care whether or not the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or where the U.S. Embassy is located within the Jewish state. These are hollow actions that serve political motives. The Embassy can be moved all over Israel like a traveling circus, but what are the words that are being spoken by our leadership?

I still go back to Charlottesville 2017. How can it be more blatant? Is there something I am missing here? When a group chants “Jews will not replace us,” and the President lets us all know that there are “very fine people on both sides,” he is opening the anti-Semitic floodgates. If you don’t believe me, just look at the rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. Numbers generally do not lie, and a 150% increase is a large number, and did not occur out of thin air. 

The Jewish people have always been targeted, and the entire history of anti-Semitism is something that has been examined and studied for many years. Whatever the multitude of “reasons” for the existence of these sentiments is, we must move forward. And while doing so, we must choose our words carefully. In a country where most people do not know Jews as multi-dimensional individuals, the information for a myriad of people will come from widely stated rhetoric. “Jews will not replace us” labeled the Jews as a threat, and the subsequent “very fine people…” response echoed and amplified the words. Quick condemnation and action against those who engage in hate speech and action is the only acceptable response. Anything else sparks age-old anti-Semitic thoughts, ideas, and then horrible actions.

The list of dreadful attacks will only continue to grow until those in power realize that people are listening to the words that they speak. When a politician is praised for “telling it like it is,” it is intuitive that “very fine people…” will believe him. 

May we all choose our words carefully, and realize that the power of our sound waves stretches far beyond the moment in which we say them, in both space and time. Have a beautiful, peaceful, and safe eighth night of Chanukah. 

Shalom,

Joshua

Watching Rockets From America

Tonight is the 4th night of Chanukah, and our family went over to my mother’s to light the candles and order Chinese food. Since it happens to be Christmas today, Chinese was the plan. We all know that Jews and Chinese food on Christmas are like latkes and applesauce. They just go together. As we pulled back into our driveway after the night with family, I decided to turn on the radio, and listen to the news. The first story that came up was discussing how a rocket was fired from Gaza toward the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon today. While many Jews in the diaspora were at home today (likely eating Chinese), Jews in Israel were faced with yet another imminent threat. The rocket seems as if it was fired in the direction of a Benjamin Netanyahu Campaign rally, which is similar to another rocket attack that was aimed his way this past September. The former attack was spearheaded by Palestinian Islamic Jihadist Baha Abu al-Ata, who was later killed by a counterstrike from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). One thing we do know about this most recent attack, is that someone has picked up where al-Ata left off. 

Whether one is a fan of Netanyahu and his policies or not is irrelevant. The fact remains that Jews in Israel are forced to live in a consistent state of vigilance. I have previously discussed how Israel’s government, and especially its military, are under a very powerful worldwide microscope. One seemingly false or even controversial move, and people are calling for the destruction of the Jewish state itself. The IDF is often the primary target of criticism regarding their tactics, and the world consistently paints the IDF as overly harsh and aggressive. 

I am not an Israeli citizen, and I cannot speak to the direct experience of those living in the region. But, I would like to pose a question which I think is especially salient for those who are quick to nitpick Israeli policy and action. If rockets intended to kill were being fired into the United States, how would you expect our military to react? I will not answer that myself, but I think it is sometimes important to humanize the middle east. Our media spends so much time talking about the instability of the region in macro terms, that it could be easy to forget that what we are truly discussing at the end of the day is human lives. What if your loved ones lived there? 

Luckily, this latest rocket was intercepted by the IDF’s Iron Dome aerial defense system before it could do any quantitative damage to person or place. I will make it clear that my intention is not to place Israel on an untouchable pedestal and to claim that the state can do no wrong. But, current events will happen, and I will generally try to respond. The fact remains that Israel was attacked from Gaza, and I firmly believe that when Jews get attacked anywhere, Jews are attacked everywhere. It will likely only be a matter of time before someone from Gaza takes responsibility for this launching, and unfortunately, this will all probably happen ad nauseam. 

If this were to happen in America, we would likely be scrambling to discover who carried out this horrific attack, and to make sure that they were neutralized moving forward, whatever that were to mean specifically. Does Israel have this same right? If Israel responds with force, will its tactics be viewed as oppressive, hyper-reactive, and terroristic by many? Most likely, yes. 

So, as most of America exchanged presents, laughed, ate, and drank with family (some just had a regular Wednesday with Chinese), Israel’s defense forces shot down a rocket that was intended to kill Jewish people. I actually had to scroll through most of the American news websites to even find mention of the attack. To add even more insult to injury, the articles were generally framed as Benjamin Netanyahu articles; “and oh by the way, there was a rocket, but Benjamin Netanyahu…”

Israel is the only Jewish state in the world. I do believe that Israel has the right to protect itself, and I even understand why the state might seem a bit edgy and hyper-alert at times. Without a keen focus on surveillance, rockets like this latest one would be resulting in casualties. 

I would urge you to at least take a pause the next time you rush to criticize Israel, and just keep this in mind…While most of America sat down for a Christmas meal, a rocket flew over the people of Israel. 

Shalom,

Joshua

**Update** The IDF has already responded with aircraft strikes at Hamas terror strongholds in Gaza. Since Hamas runs Gaza, this is not surprising news.

Chag Chanukah Sameach

Well, here comes the 25th day of the month of Kislev. This means the beginning of the 8 nights of Chanukah…Hanukkah…Hanukah…Hannuk AHHH! Well, however you want to spell it is fine with me, although I was told that the agreed upon spelling according to the Union for Reform Judaism is “Hanukkah.” So, I suppose I will run with that one. I have already mentioned Hanukkah in this blog quite a bit, and how it is not the “Jewish Christmas,” and how it is actually a relatively minor festival in Judaism, and how it has become so ingrained into secular popular culture due to its usual correspondence with Christmas. I won’t continue to beat that with a hammer.

Speaking of hammers…The Maccabees. Most of you have probably heard of this famous Jewish crew. By the way, Maccabee means “hammer,” so Judah the Maccabee had a pretty tremendous nickname. Without getting into every detail of the Hanukkah story (that’s a quick Google), we know that around 200 BCE, Judea, which is now the land of Israel was under the control of the Greek-Syrian King Antiochus III. As it turns out, baby Antiochus IV was a bit harsher than his dad. Once in power, this malicious king decided to outlaw the Jewish religion completely, and eventually went on to massacre many, and ultimately destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the most sacred place in all of Judaism. Jewish holy leader Mattathias and five of his sons, Judah included, decided that they had had enough of this, and led a revolt against Antiochus and his army. Judah took over the Maccabee army when his father passed, earning his nickname through guerrilla warfare and hard-nosed battle tactics. Eventually the Maccabees took back the Temple, but it was certainly left in shambles by the Greek idol worshiping enemies. 

There are many interpretations regarding what the 8 nights of Hanukkah actually represent. Many believe that a miracle occurred. The Ner Tamid, or eternal light, had gone out in the Temple, along with the Temple’s menorah. There supposedly existed only one night’s worth of oil left, but that bit lasted for 8 nights as the rebuilding of the Temple began. Hanukkah literally translates to “dedication,” as in the dedication of the Temple after its destruction.

* If you are interested in cool tidbits, check out a dreidel the next time you come across one. The Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin appear. 

These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or, “A Great Miracle Happened There.” In Israel, the phrase would be “Nes Gadol Haya Po”, or “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”*

OK, so we have talked a bit about the Hanukkah story. So, why celebrate it? As many Rabbis and scholars would agree, this is a time to be proud of your Judaism. During his Drashah on Friday night, our Rabbi mentioned (this is not verbatim) how Jews would never be fully accepted in America. This seems like an intense statement, and it certainly is. But when looking at Judaism across history, he is right on the money. The Jewish people have always operated a bit outside of assimilated society, and the Jews are often scapegoated, oppressed, or even massacred. But through sheer force of will, dedication to tradition, miracles, or some other divine occurrence, the Jews survive and prevail. How many groups have been consistently persecuted for thousands of years, have never truly been the majority population, and have survived as a proud and in tact people? Even if one does not ascribe to the story of Hanukkah, or any other story that they have not viewed with empirical evidence, history tells us that Judaism is a miracle

Just as the Maccabees were steadfast in their beliefs, even in the face of imminent danger, Jews of today can apply this directly to our own lives. It might be “easy” or “safe” to assimilate completely into dominant culture. It might save a few difficult conversations with our children if we were to just grin and bear it. But the Jew has never given in. In a society that is rife with antisemitism, partisanship and prejudice, we must face the modern Antiochus’ with the same zeal and determination as Judah and his brothers did. 

This is by no means a call to war, but simply a call to remember. Remember that being Jewish has never been simple and easy. Being Jewish has never been popular. But it is important to be proud, because being Jewish is truly a miracle

Chag Chanukah Sameach,

Joshua

Joseph: Dreamer, Coat-Wearer, Wheat-Collector

This week’s parshah from the Torah is Vayeshev, which translates to “and he lived.” While I don’t generally use this blog as a weekly Torah study or discussion (there are plenty of scholars and rabbis who beat me to the punch), I think that this particular week’s portion is worth talking about, if not only for its widespread prevalence in popular culture. Vayeshev introduces us to the famous Joseph and his colorful tunic, coat, or whatever one wants to refer to it as. Many of us know the story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, and his jealous brothers. Perhaps you have even seen the Donny Osmond version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” To summarize, Joseph really grinds the gears of his brothers when he tells them of a particular dream that he has had. Joseph lets his brothers know that in this vivid dream the whole family was putting sheaves of wheat together, when suddenly Joseph’s sheaf stood up tall, and his brothers’ sheaves all began to bow to his. Oy. 

Now, for those of you who don’t know the rest of the story; this outright arrogance got Joseph shipped to Egypt, where he eventually fell into favor with the Pharaoh, and moved up the corporate Egyptian ladder. When Jacob and his other sons were desperate during extreme famine, they eventually traveled to Egypt, and begged the now-successful and powerful Joseph for help. Ultimately, Joseph’s initial dream came to fruition. Lesson–Joseph was a master dream interpreter, but certainly could have used some lessons in social tact and humility. 

In all seriousness, I found myself quite interested in Joseph’s dream of sheaves of wheat. After doing some reading, I stumbled across a lesson from the parshah that truly resonated with me. According to Rabbi Menachem Feldman, The collection of disparate stalks of wheat into a bundle could actually be representative of the purpose of the Jewish people. What does that mean? To me…

Perhaps, the ultimate journey of the Jewish people is to collect all of the moments that occur throughout lifetimes and to tie them together into a meaningful purpose. I often write about the living of life Jewishly, and finding the profundity in everything. It is easy to feel a great sense of divine purpose when praying at schul, but those moments are specific and relegated to particular times of the week. How do we live with purpose while simply walking down the hall, filling out paperwork, or waiting in line at the DMV? It can often be difficult to appreciate the beauty and divinity that encompasses us at all times. If we are living our lives with intention, or that wonderful Kavanah (Read my post about Kavanah!), perhaps we can move in a direction wherein we are beginning to bundle those seemingly dissimilar stalks of wheat into a consequential collection. 

If one truly ascribes to the ideas of Tikkun Olam (the healing of the world), every breath of life is a possibility for divinity. Every deed, even the seemingly most miniscule, can repair the entire world. It is certainly not always easy to feel so impactful, but we absolutely are. Holding open a door, greeting people using their names, or actually taking 30 seconds to listen to someone–all of these, and so many more, can send ripples throughout multiple lives. Listening, truly listening, is an art form, and I would encourage you to try listening without giving advice. It is much more difficult than you can imagine. If we are able to live each moment as if we were methodically collecting stalks of wheat–with the idea of a grand sheaf always somewhere in our purview, no moment would pass without a glimmer of the divine. 

May all our lives be as the tunic of Joseph, whose coat of so many seemingly separate colors, intersected at one point in time and space to become a beautiful piece of art. The colors become a coat, and the stalks become sheaves. Our moments become legacies, and our legacies span across lifetimes.

Shalom,

Joshua