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We return to the real Elul lessons of Kids of Courage. I’ve watched the organization grow from a handful of kids sitting around my Shabbos table, brought to Los Angeles by my son. I never quite understood the name. Courage? What kind of courage do you need to sign up for a dream week of visiting amusement parks?
Despite what I saw in front of me, I too had missed it all. Until Sarah spoke on the second evening. She explained what it took to summon up the energy to even attempt a plane flight. How so many kids had pushed themselves toward other activities that the rest of us take for granted, and how they had failed, and failed again, and yet again. How after failing too many times, you don’t want to risk the disappointment – and the pain – of failing again. How it took, in fact, superhuman courage to try again, plus circumstances that would make it reasonable to try.
Listening to her, it struck me that she was describing Elul. We’ve tried, and tried again, to correct our faults, to make it back to the Ribbono Shel Olam big time. After too many failures, we stop trying in earnest, not wanting to risk the disappointment of more failure.
Like the Kids of Courage, there is a neshamah inside that yearns to express itself, wants to be free of the limitations of our physicality. In our case, God Himself provides the model circumstances to make the trip back – the month of Elul. The real mussar to be taken from these kids is precisely their courage to make the attempt. They are nothing but an inspiration.
Quite a few chassidishe kids were part of the group (along with completely secular youngsters). One of them told his story: When he first became aware of the organization, his parents nixed his participation. As he put it, “After all, the group included nekaivos (females)!” His parents took pride in a chinuch for their children that stressed the kedushah of keeping the genders separate. (Because of the volunteer nature of the organization and the scope of the trips, it is simply impossible to run separate trips for boys and girls. The organizers keep the genders separated as much as possible, e.g. traveling on gender-specific buses. All the counselors are frum, representing all parts of the Orthodox world, including chassidish and YU/Stern.)
His participation was stalled, until my son intervened. He visited the parents, and made his pitch. “I understand your concerns, and your unwillingness to expose your son to anything less than taharas hakodesh. I can’t offer that. The program needs to run the way it does. But please consider what is ahead for your son. Think of his medical prognosis – how limited are the years allotted to him according to what medical science would predict. We are not talking about hard-and-fast prohibitions here, but about a lack of higher refinements of practice that are lechatchilah – the right way to go if you have a choice. In the case of your son, is there any greater lechatchilah than to bring him the most simcha and joy in the time HaKadosh Baruch Hu has assigned to him?”
This was the other wallop of a lesson for Elul. We are all on limited, borrowed time. Is there any greater priority for us than to bring simcha to as many of our fellow travelers as possible, and in so doing, to bring simcha to our Father in Heaven?
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Irmas Adjunct chair in Jewish Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He blogs at Cross-Currents.com.
About the Author: Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Affairs of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the Sydney M Irmas adjunct chair, Jewish Law and Ethics, Loyola Law School.
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The decision to not publicly light the Menorah in Sydney, epitomizes the eternal dilemma of Judaism and Jews in the Diaspora.
Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof
What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.
Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.
The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.
Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US
No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?
For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.
It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.
For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.
Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation
Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.
Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers
A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists.
The desecration was condemned by the prime minister and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people traveled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.
The one hundred and thirty children and young adults share two things. They are all Jewish, and they all contend daily with serious and debilitating illness. Many of them have done so all of their lives. You would think spending time with them would provide the ultimate mussar ride for Elul, an in-your-face confrontation with your own mortality, and the need to be grateful to God for life itself and the parts of it we take for granted.
It doesn’t take very much to lose a neshamah.
The young woman was witty, charming, frum, and a Harvard Law School graduate. She was also black, and lived in an Orthodox neighborhood. One Purim, she was treated in a neighborhood shul to the sight of a young mother with a few children in tow. As her Purim get-up, the mother had chosen to adorn herself and her kids with blackface and thick lips. The connection to Purim was not clear.
“I don’t care what group you identify with, as long as you are ashamed of it.” There is much wisdom in the throwaway line with which Dennis Prager frequently challenges audiences to admit to the flaws of the groups with which they identify.
Ayatollahs in business suits is what Noah Feldman would have the world believe we all are. If the Orthodox were going to leave him out of his alma mater’s reunion picture just because he married out, then Noah Feldman was going to out the Orthodox.
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