Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
If you let your imagination run and your fervor for being Jewish soar, how would you finish a sentence that begins: “On Shabbos, I…?” Or “Judaism inspires…”? Or “Israel can depend…”?
There is an age-old exercise that can be used to illuminate one’s views, or to compare and contrast them with the views of others. The premise is simple. The beginning of a sentence is given, and you then complete it. You make a full sentence out of an initial fragment, taking it in any direction you wish. Participants may agree to permit answers consisting of two or three sentences, as long as those sentences form one thought. The responses can shine a light on the mindset of the participants.
The exercise can be used in schools and at political meetings, in social settings and at job interviews, as a party game as well as an interesting way to pass some time on a long Shabbos afternoon. Topics can span the spectrum of human thought and endeavor.
For our purposes, we will focus on Jewish-related subjects and call it “What’s Your Jewish Perspective?” A variety of themes can be utilized, including halacha, culture, lifestyle, food, religious identity, prayers, Jewish holidays, ethics, and morals, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, Jewish humor, Jewish politics, and Israel.
The goal is to complete the sentence in a profound or thought-provoking way that invites discussion. A person should not take an unreasonable amount of time in formulating a response, and responses should not ramble on or go off topic.
In this exercise there are no right or wrong answers – only thoughts and opinions and beliefs to be evaluated, considered, mulled over, discussed, or debated. After a response is given, other participants may comment or ask the respondent for further explanation before a discussion begins.
To illustrate the possibilities, The Jewish Press asked distinguished representatives from the fields of Jewish politics and religion to complete 10 beginning sentence fragments. First we’ll see what those in the political realm had to say.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League since 1987, is a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism, bigotry and discrimination.
Alan M. Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School and a prolific writer who’s been called “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, is widely credited with reviving the ZOA after ascending to the group’s presidency in 1993.
Here are the beginning sentence fragments and responses from Messrs. Foxman, Dershowitz and Klein:
Peace in the Middle East…
Foxman: can and should be achieved in our lifetime.
Dershowitz: will be difficult to achieve because so many Arabs and Muslims refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people.
Klein: won’t happen until the Palestinian Arabs stop promoting hatred and violence against Jews and Israel in their media, schools, sermons and lectures; outlaw terrorist groups and arrest their members, as Oslo requires; and accept Israel as a Jewish state.
In the next ten years, Israel…
Foxman: will not only continue to be a start-up nation model but will also begin to be a spiritual and cultural center uniting the three great faiths.
Dershowitz: will face great dangers from Iran and from more sophisticated weaponry as the technological gap narrows.
Klein: will be even stronger and more Jews will move there.
An independent Palestinian state…
Foxman: will only come about if the leadership of the Palestinian people begins to educate its children toward coexistence and peace.
Dershowitz: if peaceful and committed to the prevention of terrorism, is in the best interest of Israel.
Klein: will not happen; they turned down statehood in 1937, 1948, 2000 and 2008, and will not make a deal accepting a Jewish state because their goal is Israel’s destruction, not a Palestinian state. If a state were established, it would be a terrorist Iran-Hamas beggar-state promoting cross-border attacks into Israel and would make alliances with terrorist nations, perpetrate human rights abuses, and be Judenrein.
When it comes to Israel, the United Nations…
Foxman: is blind and bigoted.
Dershowitz: does more harm than good.
Klein: is anti-Semitic, continuously passes anti-Israel resolutions, and allows genocidal anti-Israel states to remain members.
Boycotts of Israel…
Foxman: will not succeed; if terrorism and suicide bombers did not undermine Israel’s spirit of survival and resilience, boycotts never will.
Dershowitz: make it more difficult for the Palestinians to accept reasonable peace offers.
Klein: are simply anti-Semitism; the real human rights abusers are Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, Iraq, and many African countries.
American support for Israel…
Foxman: is critical for Israel and a national security interest of the United States.
Dershowitz: will remain strong so long as Americans know the truth.
Klein: is strong; according to a recent ZOA poll there is overwhelming backing for Israeli positions…on settlements, Jerusalem, and Iran sanctions.
Israel’s best interests…
Foxman: are to value, appreciate and respect the diversity of the Jewish people.
Dershowitz: will be protected only by Israel itself.
Klein: would be served by Jewish groups and Israeli officials holding press conferences exposing the extreme terrorist, anti-Semitic nature of the Palestinian Authority – for example, its glorifying Jew-killing terrorists; refusing to show Israel on any map; naming schools, streets, sports teams and children’s camps after terrorists; promoting Jew-killing in their sermons; proclaiming that no Jew will be allowed in a Palestinian state; paying special salaries to Israeli-imprisoned Jew killers and their families.
Diplomatic approaches to peace…
Foxman: are the only possible path to bring about a reconciliation and coexistence.
Dershowitz: are necessary; war should always be a last resort.
Klein: won’t work because it’s a religious war whose goal is Israel’s destruction.
Jewish history teaches…
Foxman: never to forget; in the Seder we say that in every generation forces come up to destroy us, and yet we overcome – with faith – to survive.
Dershowitz: us to rely on Jewish power.
Klein: that in every generation Jews have to deal with Jew hatred and violence.
The world should learn from Israel…
Foxman: to stand firm against intimidation and terror; to have faith in one’s principles; to have the courage of one’s convictions; and to have confidence in the justice of one’s cause.
Dershowitz: how to fight terrorism within the rule of the law; how to create a more cultural democracy; how to build a strong economy without natural resources; and how to help the world with its technological advances.
Klein: that hard work, perseverance, talent, and belief in Torah have allowed Israel to survive and prosper in the midst of constant threats, terrorism, and war.
A set of 10 beginning sentence fragments is now directed to three rabbis for completion.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author of the forthcoming The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein spends most of his workday advocating for the Jewish people and the Jewish state for a large NGO. He teaches Jewish law at Loyola Law School and is on the editorial boards of Cross-Currents, Klal Perspectives, and Jewish Action.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, a musmach of Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, zt”l, and talmid of Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, has been writing weekly essays for 15 years (his work can be viewed at rabbiavishafran.com). He also serves as director of public affairs of Agudath Israel of America, a position he has held since 1994.
A rabbi I once knew…
Pruzansky: I still know, because you are forever known by your words, deeds and thoughts.
Adlerstein: became an inspiration for life.
Shafran: seemed to never stop smiling other than when he was concentrating while praying or studying; his default facial expression was simply one of joy. His name was R’Dovid Hecksher, and I didn’t just “know” him; he was my rebbe in Yeshivas Kol Torah during my first year of yeshiva gedolah who was called by his Maker at a young age, leaving our world a much less happy place. May his memory be a blessing.
Pruzansky: should set aside time to study Torah daily as a matter of love and not obligation.
Adlerstein: has a share in the World to Come; he or she ought to find out what that implies.
Shafran: is an essential piece of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, without whom our people would be unwhole; hence our obligation to love and value every Jew.
In studying the Torah…
Pruzansky: one should choose something that is both enjoyable and enriching. There is a part of the infinite world of Torah that can appeal to everyone. Find it, cherish it, and then broaden your horizons with it.
Adlerstein: one must gravitate toward the subject matter he finds most attractive.
Shafran: each of us connects his or her mind to every other Jew who is doing the same, and with every Jew over history who did the same.
A rabbi should…
Pruzansky: never be afraid to teach the truths of Torah, but it must be imparted in a variety of ways to make it palatable to disparate audiences.
Adlerstein: blend expertise with reason and compassion.
Shafran: always remember three things: that he is an example for others and thus has a special responsibility to act in an exemplary way; that, despite his title, others may be more learned and more wise than he; and, if he serves a shul, to keep his sermons short.
By following halacha…
Pruzansky: a Jew connects with the Creator and perfects his own soul.
Adlerstein: a Jew binds every part of his or her being to the Divine.
Shafran: we prove, and empower, our faith in a Creator who, by virtue of His omniscience, knows better than we what is best for us.
The future of Judaism…
Pruzansky: is secure, not because of the Jews but because of their God.
Adlerstein: is with those who accept the yoke of mitzvos.
Shafran: will lead to the final redemption of Klal Yisrael, no matter what. Our great opportunity is to be positive parts of what brings it about.
It’s a miracle…
Pruzansky: that the Jewish people have survived until today, are prospering, and have been reborn as a national entity in our own homeland. It is such a stupendous miracle that we take it for granted.
Adlerstein: is a phrase that properly should be applied to all phenomena equally, taught the Ramban.
Shafran: that Klal Yisrael exists as an entity, despite the persecutions it has endured, despite the exiles it has suffered, despite its scattering around the world, and especially despite its so-often internal disharmony.
My belief in Hashem…
Pruzansky: informs, I hope, my thoughts, values, character and deeds.
Adlerstein: is at the core of my being.
Shafran: needs no assistance, unlike my recognition of His omnipresence, which so terribly does. Even R’Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students needed the same, since he blessed them as he lay dying with the words: “May the fear of Heaven be to you like the fear of flesh and blood.” When they exclaimed: “Is that all?” he responded, “If only! Just think! When a person commits a sin in private, he says ‘May no person see me!’”
Judaism teaches us…
Pruzansky: that all human beings are created in the image of God, but that doesn’t mean we are all obligated in the identical divine service or that all roads lead to the same destination. It does mean that our human identity, capacity to think and make free-willed choices is divine – and the greatest challenge of our lives is to ascertain God’s will and surrender to it.
Adlerstein: first how to be a mensch, and then how to be holy (Kuzari).
Shafran: that we exist not for ourselves alone but for others, and the Other.
My dream for the Jewish people…
Pruzansky: is a long era of peace and quiet, so we can behold the complete implementation of the Torah in modern life, a respite from our enemies, and a chance to sit and learn Torah. That is to say, the arrival of Mashiach.
Adlerstein: is to value and understand Torah sufficiently to be able to take it on the road to the rest of mankind.
Shafran: is that it be entirely united by the grand unifier that created Klal Yisrael in the first place, at the foot of Har Sinai, 3,326 years ago.
About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel Series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.
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