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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘chesed’

Overhauling Orthodox Education To Make Better Jews

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I am in shock.

A friend of mine was visiting the United States and his ride to the airport for his return flight to Israel fell through. At the last minute he needed to find a ride to a terminal that was 50 minutes away in order to catch a bus to New York City where he would then take a shuttle to the airport.

A young man, fresh off a year of Torah study in a top hesder yeshiva and looking forward to his second year of learning in Israel, offered to drive this visiting rabbi. This boy would appear to be a yeshiva high school success story – religious and learning Torah. Of course, he was told, the rabbi will pay something to offset gas expenses and for his time.

They arrived at the bus terminal and my friend decided he would give the boy more than what he thought the effort was worth since he appreciated the gesture. He offered the young man $50. The boy said it was not enough. My friend offered $60. The boy said, “You have to pay me double because I now have to drive back.”

My friend was taken by surprise and said $60 for 90 minutes of driving was certainly fair. The boy insisted on asking a cab driver what he would charge. The cabbie answered $60. The boy would not accept that. He demanded $100. The rabbi said he needed cash for more buses and for food. The boy responded that this was “taking away time from Torah learning” and he needed to be compensated accordingly. My friend managed to find $84 only to be met with the boy saying, “This is just not right.” And with that they parted ways.

My friend related how just that morning during Shacharit he was thinking about how “off target” we are as he watched rabbis barking at children to stand during “vayevareich Dovid” and the “vihu rachum,” part of Tachanun at a youth minyan. He was not suggesting we shouldn’t find ways to encourage our children to stand when our custom dictates standing during prayers. But the degree to which the kids were being scolded for not standing struck a chord that led him to reflect upon what we teach as important and what is not important.

When this yeshiva boy then squeezed him for money, it all came together in his mind and I could not agree more.

There is no doubt the horrifying actions of this young man are not mainstream. However, sometimes reaching a new low can shock the system and prompt introspection. A yeshiva high-school graduate – after a year in shana aleph and preparing for shana bet – acting in this manner is certainly a significant low and brings issues I have been thinking about for years to the fore.

Let’s take a step back and see where the average yeshiva high school boy stands upon graduation from high school. Is he fluent in Hebrew? No. Can he prepare a Gemara on his own? No. Does he enjoy studying Gemara? No. Does he know Tanach? No. Does he enjoy davening? No. Does he understand basic Jewish philosophy about God, the purpose of creation, and why we do the things we do? No. Does he stand head and shoulders above the rest of society in terms of his dedication to acts of loving-kindness and basic human decency? No.

The time has come for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and work to make change.

What can be done? I would begin by following the advice of my teacher and mentor, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, and teach Hebrew. Twelve years of school is more than enough to produce students who are completely fluent in Hebrew and capable of opening both prayer books and classic Jewish texts and having a basic understanding of the meaning of the words.

Another one of my teachers pointed out the shame that if every Book of Chabakuk were to be removed from all our schools and study halls, no one would even notice. The Written Torah contains God’s eternal messages to us and therefore we should shift away from our focus on Gemara and produce students who are proficient in Tanach and Mishnah.

Caring For Our Parents: A Child’s Hardest Job

Friday, July 27th, 2012

They say that one mother can take care of five children, but five children cannot take care of one mother. One of the most challenging situations, and perhaps the most unnatural, is when children need to take care of aging or infirm parents. Why is this so difficult and why do so many of us fail at caring for our parents when they need us most?

As I put pen to paper, it is my father’s yahrzeit and I contemplate my continued responsibility to act on his behalf, to learn and do chesed to uplift his neshama. With Hashem’s help, these words should be an aliya for the neshama of Rav Yekusiel ben Dovid. I often think of how I am unable to fulfill the amazing mitzvah of kibbud Av, and I regret not doing more while I had the opportunity. When my father was niftar, a rav told me that I still have the opportunity to honor my father by respecting my mother, since that would be his wish. Additionally one can continue to show respect by doing good deeds and learning Torah in a parent’s memory. Chazal tell us that children are the feet of their parents in Heaven, and when the children grow in Torah their parents grow as well.

Over the years, I have encountered many men and women who have deep regret at not having shown respect for their parents during their lifetimes or for not having taken care of their needs during their final years. At a levaya of a parent we request mechila, forgiveness, in two different ways. We ask forgiveness for anything we may have done while they were alive and did not properly atone for. These are sins of commission that all children do, but most don’t get the opportunity to properly atone for. The harder form of mechila is for sins of omission, requesting forgiveness for all the things we should have done, but either did not get the chance to or did not do because of our skewed priorities. If the Torah places such importance on our respect for and fear of our parents, again I must wonder why it is such a hard mitzvah to fulfill properly? Besides for the reward of a long life for those who fulfill the mitzvah, it clearly seems to be the logical and correct thing to do.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin tells us that parents will give up anything for their children. “A man can be jealous of anyone, except for his child or student” (Sanhedrin 105b). The theory is that giving to a child is in essence giving to oneself as children are extensions of ourselves. Giving to a child is natural. I was once famished and about to eat a slice of pizza. My children came home from school and eyed my small feast. When they asked for some pizza, I told them that their mother had made them a delicious supper and it was waiting for them in the kitchen. I was hoping to divert their attention for long enough to enable me to eat the pizza. When they predictably responded that they still wanted my pizza, I allowed them to take some… until there was none left for me. At that moment, I was happier making my children happy than I would have been had I eaten the pizza myself, and I realized that I love my children more than they could ever love me. I asked myself–if a parent loves a child so much and gives a child so much, then why isn’t it natural for the feelings to be equally reciprocated?

Chazal tell us that the way we treat our parents is the way our children will treat us. They relate a parable of a man whose elderly father lives with him. The father slurps loudly and makes a mess when he eats, so the son makes a large wooden bowl and spoon for his father to use and has him eat in the kitchen. After many months, the adult son sees his own son carving something out of wood and asks what he was making. His young child responds that he is making a bowl and spoon so his own father would have something from which to eat when he aged.

Important Moments In Becoming A Ba’al Teshuvah (Part I)

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

You don’t become a ba’al teshuvah overnight. There were many events in my life that contributed to the deepening of my religious commitment, including a party I attended with young, beautiful church members who tried to make me one of them, and how I met their “Jewish priest.” (I’ll discuss both experiences during the course of this continuing column.)

Two key factors helped me in my religious progression: I come from a family that practiced chesed on many levels and, since childhood, I’ve had an intellectual curiosity that seeks the truth.

As a playwright and humorist when I moved from Philadelphia to New York to further pursue my creative dreams, little did I know, thank G-d, what I was getting myself into. A little over two years after arriving in the Big Apple, I was religiously observant. And my parents, who had given me such a strong foundation in the trait of kindness – so important to religious Jewish observance – showed me yet more kindness by accepting my new lifestyle.

At Lincoln Square Synagogue, where my religious growth had been accelerated by my attendance in the beginner’s service led by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, I was often asked what had led me to become shomer Shabbos. I’d answer that I was writing plays whereby the main character was trying out so many different lifestyles, but by the end of the play, he was returning to synagogue. I decided to follow his lead.

Looking back, there was one evening that ultimately played a major role in my religious growth. It’s time to go back to the day of the church party. Earlier that day, I was alone writing at an eatery. Relatively new to New York, being alone was a recurring theme in my daily life. At least while I was writing I didn’t experience the loneliness and lack of connectedness to others that I felt strongly at other times.

My focus on writing was suddenly interrupted by the sound of nearby sweet, feminine laughter. I looked up to see two beautiful women at the next table. Having walked down the aisle at my chuppah around eight years prior and seeing my marriage within my faith break up in divorce, I was not overly particular as to the religion of a woman I’d meet – particularly if she was stunningly attractive. And the two women next to me were beauty pageant material.

You can’t go out with two ladies at a time, so I paid attention to the one closer to me. I was surprised by how eagerly she responded to my repartee, considering the fact that we were perfect strangers. Usually, even with the best of my witticisms, there would be a longer period of time breaking the ice – perhaps with a few smiles at first and a begrudging response to one of my observations. While being careful with a new guy who’s trying to chat her up is the common modus operandi of women I’ve encountered, this lady (I’ll call her Susan) was laughing and verbally responding right from the get-go.

I passed it off to my irresistible charm and sense of humor, but as I would later learn there was something else going on. During the enjoyable conversation, she mentioned something about being involved with a church in the neighborhood. But I was so taken by her looks and personality (and by her singular wonderful trait of laughing at all of my jokes) that her religious affiliation barely registered.

Then she said something that made me feel good all over. She invited me to a party that she and the other woman were attending that night.

“Yes” was my reply, a millisecond after Susan was done talking.

“Oh good,” she said, obviously very happy that she would see my face there.

“It’s a lot of fun. We play board games. We talk. Everybody gets along.”

It sounded good to me, as I could not remember the last party I had been to. Then I quickly went over in my mind whether I had another commitment that night. No, I was scot-free. And aside from some proofreading work in the early parts of the next three days, I was free to spend time with Susan during the rest of those days. The same applied to all day on Friday and on Saturday after 11:30 a.m. (I spent one Saturday morning a month attending a beginner’s service at a synagogue in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.)

A Call To Action

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Ten years ago, If you had asked a victim of sexual abuse what he or she wanted most, the answer would have been, “I want my abuser to apologize, to acknowledge that it was his fault and not mine.” Today, if asked that same question, the victim would speak of prosecution and justice.

Years ago, victims struggled in an uphill battle to be believed and validated. They were victimized and then felt re-victimized by the community. Victims felt that just as perpetrators had the upper hand when they abused, they maintained that upper hand even after victims disclosed. These many years later, victims remain frustrated by the continued lack of communal support.

Just recently, the attorney for former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky castigated his client’s victims, saying they were motivated by money. Make no mistake, while some of the victims at this point may be interested in money, all were motivated by justice. And justice they received.

There are countless ways our community has led by example – chesed, tzedakah, services to the disadvantaged – helping untold thousands lead a better life. These similar efforts must be expended to demonstrate support to victims of sexual abuse.

For every story we read in newspapers or see on television of an Orthodox Jewish victim or perpetrator, we can multiply that by the hundreds more we don’t hear about.

It is widely believed that one in four girls and one in seven boys in the general population are victims of some form of sexual abuse. These are not isolated incidents nor are they unique to any one neighborhood. In the absence of any conclusive comparative data in the Orthodox Jewish community, these are the figures that are often cited. It may be uncomfortable for us to think in such stark terms but, thankfully, of late there is growing awareness of the magnitude of this issue. This realization should translate into a greater collective response.

OHEL has been at the forefront in educating the Jewish community on prevention and response to sexual abuse by speaking out through seminars and consultations, articles and radio programs, the publication of books and informational DVD’s, training mental health professionals and educators, and participating in conferences throughout the United States and overseas. There are many others in our community who have similarly worked tirelessly in this mission.

To accomplish a systemic behavioral change in our community’s gestalt on sexual abuse, we must take action that goes far beyond any achievements to date.

1. All people should be mandated reporters as is the law in eighteen states. Mandated reporters in New York are limited to select professionals including physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers and educators. The law should require all people to report to child welfare authorities or the police thus removing any ambiguity.

2. Eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. Victims of sexual abuse have described their experience as the killing of the soul. Just as there is no statute of limitations on the killing of the body, so too, there should be no statute of limitations on the killing of the soul. The scars that sexual abuse can leave on a person can be equally permanent. Many victims disclose their abuse years later, as such, there should be no restrictions for prosecutors to pursue such crimes.

3. We need to more actively support victims who disclose and report to police. As far back as October 1999, I wrote in The Jewish Press of the imperative to report abuse to police, to prosecute child molesters, and for the community to support the victim. How can our community justify organizing a high profile fund raising event for an alleged abuser but not yet come out in greater support of victims whose primary reason for not disclosing is their feelings of personal shame and the resulting stigma. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has championed the need for an outpouring of support for victims. We must all add our voice to the cause.

4. We should require fingerprinting of all employees in yeshivas and private schools. This legislation has long been championed by attorney Elliot Pasik, president of Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. Admittedly, this may take years to yield significant results – until many more child molesters are reported, prosecuted, convicted and registered. But the longer we delay implementation, the more such people can unwittingly be hired.

Getting Back Together

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

We all know we have to take the Three Weeks seriously. But at the same time we all just want the time between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av to pass already.

Each year seems more worrisome; this year is no exception. Every day brings new evidence that the world situation is deteriorating, with tzouris on every level. Of course, Israel is becoming more and more isolated. The rockets fall, and no one cares except us.

What exactly should we focus on during this sober time of year?

We all know that sinas chinam, gratuitous hatred between Jew and Jew, caused the destruction of the Second Temple. We all know it, but clearly we are having trouble incorporating it into our lives. The knowledge is not going to help us unless it becomes an imperative whose urgency is driven by our desire for a real solution to our problems.

We’ve all become somewhat depressed, affected by the cynicism we learn from the surrounding society, which is content to try to enjoy itself as the world spins out of control. How many people really believe the world can ever be transformed into a peaceful planet on which the Children of Israel can live in our Holy Land, “each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4)?

Let’s try to understand how we can really make this happen. If we took this seriously, we could well be rejoicing soon in the new Beis HaMikdash. Since we are not there yet, we obviously need to hear it again.

Here is the source:

“[At the time of] the Second Temple, [we know] that the people occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and acts of kindness. Why was it destroyed? Because of the gratuitous hatred that existed there. This teaches you that gratuitous hatred is tantamount to the three sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed [put together]” (Yoma 9b).

I know of instances in which Jews try to hurt each other and do hurt each other. This is crazy, of course.

People are not using their brains. Maybe it is because so many of us are lost somewhere inside our smart phones or computers. If we would think, we would not act this way, because this behavior is suicide.

All our tzouris stems from the fact that we have no Beis HaMikdash.

“Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land and sent far from our soil. We cannot ascend to appear…before You…in the…great and holy House upon which Your Name was proclaimed…” (Yom Tov Mussaf). When we will return to our land in teshuvah, Hashem will “command rain for your land in its proper time, the early and later rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied” (Shema prayer/Devarim11:14).

* * * * *

I am going to suggest a few ideas.

There are things we can do.

We have to become closer.

We are one family.

My wife and I recently conducted several programs in the beautiful Syrian community of Mexico City. Before going, we wondered how we would be able to relate. After all, we are Ashkenazim from New York. It’s a different world, right?

Wrong!

It is unbelievable how close we all are. In fact, we learned that our granddaughter from Israel was best friends with the daughter of our host in Mexico. They had met at camp in the Catskills. Do you understand? It’s 7,732 miles from Israel to Mexico, and they met at a camp in between.

Mashiach is almost here. We are all about to unite as “one man with one heart.” Let’s get serious. It makes me insane when I see not only how cruel we can be to each other but how we often just distance ourselves. Would you pass your brother on the street and not greet him? Would you stare in the other direction as if he didn’t exist? If we all would try to modify our actions, then perhaps one – even unnoticed or invisible – act of chesed could tip the scale and bring Mashiach.

Jewish Connections

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Yom Yerushalayim, a national day of thanksgiving to Hashem for the liberation and reunification of the Holy City of Yerushalayim, is celebrated in Israel with many different meaningful programs. One of them is the annual bike ride from Hebron to Yerushalayim, celebrating the former’s liberation.

As we looked out from our mirpeset (porch) across the fields, we saw many of the bike riders. Among them were our daughter-in-law and two of our grandchildren, but despite looking through our binoculars we couldn’t find them among the throng, as there were just too many riders going from the City of our Fathers to the Holy City. However, we heard the sounds of joyful music accompanying the bikers, which traveled into our home and enhanced our happiness.

It was also a personal day of remembrance, as it was the yahrzeitof the heroine of this story, Malka Metzger, my husband’s grandmother.

* * *

The time: the beginning of World War I; the place: Baligrod, Poland.

Malka Metzger, married with five children, stands at the doorway of her home, saying goodbye to her husband Alter Ben Zion. He has been drafted into the army. He dies in Trieste and his wife is left alone, without any source of income to care for her three sons and two daughters (one of the daughters was my mother-in-law, a”h). Malka was an intelligent woman whose strength, courage and faith in Hashem helped her whenever she faced difficulties.

She had a reputation in her town for baking delicious challot, breads and rolls. She decided to use her skills to make a living for her family. Malka approached one of the town’s wealthier Jews, Mr. Rubin, for a loan to buy flour and other ingredients for her baking. She promised to repay him and began doing so when she made some money. Malka fed her children with the baked goods left unsold. But when things began to deteriorate in Baligrod, Malka left for the U.S. (with tickets sent to her by Alter Ben Zion’s sister).

* * *

The time: the early 1920s; the place: New York City’s Lower East Side.

Malka’s children find jobs and through hard work and siyata d’shemaya, they are able to help their mother with living expenses. Her sons are able to save enough to open their own businesses, selling retail poultry. All the children get married and the family begins to grow. One of Malka’s sons, Yitzchak (Itcha), locates the two daughters of Mr. Rubin (the aforementioned generous lender) who also relocated to the Lower East Side. Itcha collects money from the family to help these women with their expenses. Malka lives to see the marriage of her children, and the birth of grandchildren and great- grandchildren.

She inspired all who knew her, and everyone respected the Metzger name.

* * *

The time: 2012; the place: Yerushalayim.

Malka’s granddaughter, Judy, and her husband are visiting Judy’s brother Gershon and his family in Yerushalayim. Judy is introduced to Gershon’s grandchild. The young man’s name is Yitsy Beri Rubin. As soon as Judy hears this, she wonders if there is a connection; Rubin is, after all, a common name. After much discussion, they conclude that indeed Yitsy is the great-great-grandchild of Mr. Rubin, the tzaddik who supported Malka Metzger when she was a poor almanah.

In 2012, Yitsy Rubin marries Malka Metzger.

If it wasn’t for Mr. Rubin’s tzedakah, who knows what would have happened to Malka and her family? Her faith that one Jew could, and would, help saved her and her entire family. And the Metzger family, Malka’s descendants, is well known in Jewish communities both in Israel and throughout the United States.

Baruch Hashem, today’s Metzger family members carry on the family tradition by living lives of Torah u’mitzvot – showing hakarat hatov, giving tzedakah, and performing acts of chesed.

Imagine the joy in heaven when this union between the Rubins and Metzgers came to be!

Neighborly Chesed: Above And Beyond

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

My husband and I are living in our house for over 30 years. We have wonderful neighbors on both sides. The one on the right, a non-frum Jewish couple, lived in their house longer than we’ve resided in ours. We always got along very well with them, as they are unusually kind, friendly and helpful people. When I had an injury many years ago and couldn’t function properly, the husband always offered to drive me – and indeed drove me – to therapy. He was happy to pick up anything I needed from the store – and always with a smile. I tried not to take advantage, but I very much appreciated his and his wife’s help.

In recent years a frum couple, also friendly and kind, moved in on the other side of these people. The man, a doctor, offered his services whenever they needed it, and was always available for advice and help.

Our non-frum neighbors always commented about how they could never move away, even though they were retired and didn’t need a house the size of theirs. After all, they were thrilled with their neighbors, as well as with other people on the block.

The non-observant wife of the aforementioned couple was born a non-Jew and claimed to have converted to Judaism. While not giving that fact much thought, I found it difficult to believe that she would have been converted by an Orthodox rabbi since she had no intention of being observant. I thus assumed that a Reform rabbi probably converted her. Whatever her religious status, our good neighborly relationship remained intact.

This woman (we’ll call her Carol) unfortunately became ill four years ago. Throughout her illness, she remained positive and lived life to the fullest. Sadly, things took a turn for the worse and she recently passed away.

The doctor and his wife (the frum neighbors mentioned earlier), always looking to do chesed, asked Carol’s husband on the day of the funeral for Carol’s conversion papers so as to ascertain if she was really Jewish. To their pleasant surprise, as well as to ours, Carol’s conversion papers revealed that an Orthodox rabbi had performed her conversion. The papers, written in Hebrew and English, were signed by a well-known rabbi.

The frum doctor and his wife arranged through our local rabbi to have Kaddish recited for Carol. The doctor’s wife, another neighbor and I shared the cost.

Despite not practicing her religion, Carol’s soul – due to her caring neighbors – now has Kaddish being said for her three times a day. Her husband and family, overcome with emotion, filled with tears upon hearing this even though they didn’t understand the depth of our action.

I’m quite sure Carol’s neshamah is smiling and that Hashem is proud of the chesed Am Yisrael does for one another. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/lessons-in-emunah/neighborly-chesed-above-and-beyond/2012/06/20/

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