Although most of us are now focused on Pesach and rolling up our sleeves - both physically and mentally - we need to keep close to our hearts a wrenching message that was brought to the fore this particular Purim. For me and many other Jews, Purim was not "business as usual" in terms of having great fun, merrymaking and partying. Our joy was deeply tempered by the haunting images of the murdered Fogel family - a young mother, father, and three of their six children, including a three-month old infant girl - who were ruthlessly slaughtered as they slept, by Palestinian descendants of Amalek.
"Another day another dinar," sighed Esther as she prepared her daily infusion of Turkish coffee before leaving for her job as an assistant editor at her Uncle Mordy's business, Megillah Publishing. As usual, she turned to the classified/singles section of her favorite newspaper, The Persian Press, the largest independent Anglo-Persian weekly in the world - distributed in all 127 provinces. "Sounds interesting," she thought to herself as she glanced at an ad announcing a singles shabbaton taking place in the much buzzed about B'nai Benyamin shul that recently opened (at the cost of a million dinar) in the suburban sand dunes outside of the city. There would be tent hospitality for the guests since there was no hotel in the vicinity.
A letter to the Chronicles in Crisis column in the Magazine section of The Jewish Press a few weeks back (12-24-2010) greatly disturbed me. The writer expressed her opinion that many "older" female singles were not doing what was necessary to maximize their looks. She writes, as an example, that she was at a lecture given by a visiting rebbetzin from Eretz Yisrael and a quick glance at her fellow attendees affirmed her observation that many were "plain Janes" who were not trying to look more attractive - and hence be more marriageable.
In my previous three columns (1-7, 1-21 & 2-04-2011) I wrote about my experience with thyroid cancer - a disease that I actually had twice, almost nine years apart. I was very lucky that this is a very curable carcinoma, and even more fortunate that I never felt any real discomfort or pain from the two surgeries and radioactive iodine treatments I underwent. Even when I was very hypothyroid - a prerequisite for the radioactive iodine to have the maximum affect on any cancer cells that were not removed by the surgery - I still felt fine.
Back in the fall of 2002, nine years after my initial diagnosis of thyroid cancer - and hearing for four years that I was cured - my doctor found, to his great surprise a lump in the area where my thyroid used to be. The pathology report indicated that I had recurrent metastatic thyroid cancer.
Back in the fall of 2002, nine years after my initial diagnosis of thyroid cancer - the last four of those being told that I was cured - my doctors discovered a tumor in the area where my thyroid used to be. (My malignant thyroid been removed via surgery.)
In my last column I pointed out certain things people should - or should not do - to keep themselves and/or their loved ones off the Tehillim list. Of course, despite one's best efforts, whatever Hashem has decreed will take place; yet, we are admonished to do our outmost to "watch over our soul."To that end, we need to take precautions, educate ourselves and be proactive in taking the necessary steps to protect ourselves. Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, putting up beeping motion sensors near swimming pools, learning how to swim - were some of the things to put on one's immediate "to do list."
Over the past years, like most people in our global community, I have received emails, phone calls and other notifications with requests to say tehillim for various individuals who sadly have life-threatening issues. Some are battling serious illnesses; others have been in car crashes and other mishaps; while some have almost drowned or been hurt in fires. The latest one is for someone I know who is now tragically in a hospital burn unit.
I was deeply saddened by the petira of Mrs. Irene Klass, a"h, wife and daughter of Rabbi Sholom Klass, z"l and Mr. Raphael Schreiber, a"h, founders of The Jewish Press. Although our paths only crossed once - and just for a minute - that one very brief encounter had a lasting, positive impact on the quality of my life. The handful of words that Mrs. Klass, a complete stranger, said to me ignited a flicker of light on the gloomy road I was on, a light that was to grow stronger and brighter with the passing of time. Almost comically, this encounter took place over 25 years ago in a swimming pool at the Homowack Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Throughout the centuries, following the Jewish people's exile from the land of our forefathers, when the name Rachel was evoked, the word "Imeinu"- our mother -was attached to it. Traditionally, Jews cry out to "Mother Rachel," one of the nation's four matriarchs, asking for her help in alleviating whatever woes we are enduring; beseeching her to petition Hashem on our behalf for relief and succor. Many have risked their lives to visit her burial place, known as Kever Rachel, in Bethlehem.
It seems like yesterday that we were shuddering in shul on Yom Kippur, pleading with Hashem to forgive our sins, wrongdoings and transgressions. Especially those that involved unethical and mean-spirited treatment of friends, relatives and strangers alike.
"And Avraham expired and died at a good age, mature and content and he was gathered to his people." (English translation of verse 8, chapter 25, Parshat Chayai Sarah in the Book of Genesis.)
Having been raised in a home where Yiddish was spoken as often as English, I can say with some confidence that I understand mamaloshen quite well. But I have to admit that the first time a friend, "Chaya" in a tentative, hushed voice, stated that a mutual acquaintance had "yene machlah," I was confused. I knew that she unfortunately had cancer, so why was "Chaya" saying in Yiddish, THAT illness? Why the reluctance to use the actual medical term for the disease. Why not just say it - like when someone has a stroke or a heart attack.
The week-long holiday period that includes Sukkot, Chol Hamoed, Shmini Atzeret andSimchat Torah is almost over, as are all the attendant festivities, celebrations, family gatherings and trips, and of course, all that over-eating and indulging in food and drink. Most of us will happily (or maybe not so happily) go back to being absorbed by our day-to-day routines; for the great majority, life will return to "normal."
In a recent column I suggested that a crucial component of being in a successful relationship - whether a friendship, a marriage or in the office - was the ability and willingness to validate - if not necessarily accept - another person's "take" on a particular situation.
As much as we may scratch our heads in disbelief, the fact is summer is ending, (and with it hopefully, the heat). For Jews everywhere, this means that we are approaching the days in the Jewish calendar during which we take time out from the familiar flow of our daily lives to think about the things we would rather not think about, like illness, misfortune and death.
It goes without saying that the process of getting set up on marriage-oriented dates, going out several times and eventually making the decision that "this is the one" is emotionally and even physically taxing. However, as hard as getting to the chuppah may be - being happily and successfully married is even more difficult and challenging. Two diverse individuals with distinctive mindsets, shaped by their unique experiences from the minute they were born, must suddenly mesh their way of looking at things and their way of reacting to them.
The somber Three Weeks period of semi-mourning that we observed recently has been quickly replaced with the whirlwind post Tisha b'av "wedding season." With an avalanche of invitations spilling out of mailboxes, and myriad calls made regarding time and place of sheva brachot, it seems like everyone you know is joyfully making a simcha.
Way back in the "good old days" in Jerusalem, before the Jews were exiled, singles looked forward to the 15th day of Av, known as Tu B'Av. On this day, unmarried girls and boys had the opportunity to pair off and become couples. The girls, all dressed in white and in a way that none could tell who came from wealth or poverty, would dance in front of the young men, who would then choose the one who caught his eye and marry her.
The ominous Nine Days, that culminate in the somber day of mournful remembrance called Tisha B'av, will soon begin. Most people in our community have, since childhood, been warned and exhorted to be extra careful and cautious during this period of time. We are taught that these particular days have a history of being especially tragic for Klal Yisrael, with many great misfortunes having taken place over the centuries during this time of year. To that end, for example, despite the oppressive summer heat, we are not allowed to go swimming, since the potential for injury or even death is increased. Traveling is also greatly discouraged, as is any activity that has an element of risk.
In my previous column I noted how the great sage Hillel, when asked to teach the entire Torah in the time it took for a man to stand on one leg, stated without hesitation that people should not do to others what they wouldn't want done to them - and that the rest was commentary on that point.
Back in the day when I was growing up, members of the Jewish community were categorized into three groups - Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Those who kept kosher and were shomer Shabbat were considered Orthodox. Period. How men or women dressed, their choice of head covering - or not - was irrelevant. In fact, going to public school didn't disqualify you from being viewed as Orthodox. The fact that you brought your own lunch, while everyone else lined up at the cafeteria for burgers and French fries confirmed your religious status.
While some people have the extreme mazel of knowing within an hour of their date that the person sitting across from them is the "right one," the vast majority of those on shidduch (blind) dates aren't so lucky. I would guess most first dates are parve - with the consensus being, "I had a nice time, but not amazing."
Dear Readers, As a change of pace, I wrote a short story with the hope that it might provide some insight as to how young children can assess ordinary situations in a way that may be surprising to grownups.
I was eating in a restaurant recently, enjoying both the food (post-Pesach) and the company, when a few minutes into the meal the sound of a baby shrieking shattered the subdued ambiance. I looked around and saw a young mother and father sitting at a table, a baby carriage nearby. To my annoyance, they continued just sitting there, despite the fact that their child's cries had become more strident and ear shattering. They seemed oblivious to the noise, and were not in any hurry to do something about it. It was only after they noticed that people at other tables were eyeing them with mild (to extreme) disgust that the mother stirred herself to get up, pick up the infant - who looked to be about one month old - and try to calm him down.