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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘class’

The Holders of Absolute Truth

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

A few days ago, en route to the south of Italy, where the cultural climate is less influenced by Europe than it is by the Mediterranean, there was a row even before the plane took off, a heated exchange between the Italian chief steward and two Egyptian sheikhs wearing the robes of Egypt’s premier religious university, Al-Azhar. The dispute had erupted over where the two sheikhs were to sit: the steward insisted they sit in their assigned seats in the economy class, while they insisted on moving to business class seats. When, as the conscripted interpreter of last resort, I explained that they had to sit on the seats specified on their tickets, they expressed their extreme displeasure at what they called European arrogance and inflexibility. There was eventually no choice but to point out that as they had paid for economy class tickets, they had no right to business class seats. This seemed to incense them even further; their anti-European tirade grew even more ferocious. The situation was finally resolved by the captain, who explained to his enraged passengers that they had only two options: either to sit in their assigned seats or to get off the plane. Acknowledging defeat, the Azharites accepted the first, and settled into the economy class seats they had paid for.

Returning to my seat, I recalled another Azharite sheikh who had travelled to Europe in 1826 as an escort and mentor of a group of young Egyptians sent by Mohamed Ali to study in a number of French institutes of learning. A luminary of Egypt’s intellectual regeneration in the nineteenth century, Sheikh Rifaa Rafii al-Tahtawi [1801-1873] lived in France for five years. After his return in 1831, he wrote a number of books introducing Egyptian readers to the civilization and culture he had known during his five-year sojourn in Paris, the most impressive of which areTakhlis al-ibriz fi talkhis bariz, Al-murshid al amin fi tarbiyat al-banat wa al-banin and Manahij al-albab al-misriyya fi manahij al-adab al-casriyya. In addition to his own writings, Tahtawi translated more than twenty-five books from French into Arabic. This great Azharite, despite going to France not as a student but as the spiritual preceptor, orimam, of the mission, used his time to delve deeply into a variety of subjects. Blessed with a curious and contemplative mind, as well as with a wholesome personality, Tahtawi was a great admirer of the achievements of Western civilization, not only in the field of applied sciences but also in the cultural, intellectual and moral fields. He was apparently particularly impressed with the importance accorded to modern education in Europe; the respect in which men held women; the plans and cleanliness of the towns; the integrity of Europeans, and their solid work ethic. The incident on the Cairo to Rome flight underscored a serious flaw in the cultural foundation of the two Azharite sheikhs. Although apparently living in Rome for five years, neither spoke any language other than Arabic. Moreover, they could see none of the merits of Western civilization. In direct contrast to their insularity, Tahtawi learned to speak French fluently even though he could not speak a word of it before 1826. In fact, he learned the French alphabet on the ship taking the mission from Alexandria to Marseilles. What he admired most in France, he said, was democracy, respect for the individual, respect for women and the great importance accorded to education and learning. The two Azharite sheikhs on the plane, who refused to observe the rules of civilized behavior, were the antithesis of their great precursor, Rifaa Rafii al-Tahtawi, a man able to appreciate and celebrate not only his own great civilization, but also the achievements and contributions of other great civilizations, from the time of the earliest, whether it was on the banks of the Nile, or on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates in the land now known as Iraq.

In southern Italy, at the extreme southern tip, stands the town of Brindisi (the name in Latin means the “deer’s antlers”), which overlooks the Adriatic. There you can see a portrait of the outstanding Italian scientist Galileo Galilei that should cause a pang in your heart if you compare the debased cultural environment we are living under in Egypt today and that in which the great scientist [1564-1642] lived. Known in advanced societies as the father of modern science, Galileo, in his 70s, was put on trial on charges of heresy for saying that the Earth goes around the sun — a “crime” for which his predecessor, Giordano Bruno, a few years earlier, had been burned alive at the stake. Galileo was taken to a dungeon where he was shown the instruments of torture that would be used on him unless he recanted; and spent the rest of his life not allowed to leave his house. Bruno’s and his findings had run counter to Scripture at a time when a culture of strict religious orthodoxy held sway, when not only society but scientific truths were subordinated to what the religious establishment believed to be religious truths.

Audiologist in Training Writes

Friday, June 29th, 2012

It’s time for finals and I’ve been studying hard for all of my exams. My favorite class this semester was audiology, and studying more about the field has solidified my decision to pursue audiology as a career.

In the beginning, we focused mostly on the anatomy of the auditory structures. Not just the outer ear – the one people get pierced or make fun of if it sticks out too much – but also the middle and inner ear. The middle ear contains the three tiniest bones in your body. They magnify sounds from the outside and transfer the mechanical signals into the inner ear and the cochlea. The cochlea contains the fluid that stays in contact with thousands of little hair cells, which are connected to nerve ending. This is where the sound wave – mechanical signals – are made into electrical signals and carried to the auditory processing portions of the brain.

Learning about the normal chain of events that happens automatically to make you hear is inspiring to begin with. And that’s before you begin to consider the vestibular system that controls your sense of balance, and which can be extremely debilitating when impaired. Just ask anyone who has ever experienced vertigo!

In our recent unit I learned about the myriad of things that could go wrong and the disorders related to ear function. There are conditions relating every area that should be opened and for when they are closed. For example, otic atresia, a narrow or malformed ear canal; patulous or chronically open eustachian tube, which regulates middle ear pressure; perforation of the tympanic membrane or ear drum – just to name a few. Otosclerosis, the leading cause of hearing loss in adults, occurs when the smallest of the tiny bones, the stapes, is immobilized and can’t pass on the vibration messages as it’s should.

Reciting the blessing of Asher Yatzar after using the restroom is a way of giving thanks for our digestive health and overall bodily functioning. Saying Asher Yatzar becomes automatic for many, but if we do give it a moment’s thought, let’s keep in mind our miraculous ability to hear together with all the heart valve and digestive openings and closings too!

Redemption

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Close your eyes. Picture a family full of smiles, and joy. See all the moments they spend together and support each other, through blessed times and difficult ones. Picture the holidays filled with warmth and laughter, and the Shabbat with delicious treats, while sitting around the table and hearing divrei Torah. The younger children have not yet really begun to live, whereas the older ones are only just starting their lives.

Then something destroys the serenity. There are soldiers everywhere, holding guns and wearing long, shiny boots. The family is rushed out of their house, their home, and allowed to take only minimal belongings with them. Their new residence is a corner in one of the rooms of a small house, where twenty other families live as well. The hunger and diseases are horrible, and end the lives of many people living in the ghetto.

Now they are being shoved into cattle cars with no room to breathe, with hundreds of other people just as confused as they are. The train ride lasts for more days then they can keep count of; there is no source of food or water to keep their fragile bodies from dying. They leave their wastes in the corners of the car, attracting insects and disease. When their destination is finally reached, the women and men are separated, never to see each other again. They are then led to the gas chambers where their lives are taken from them brutally. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families like this one were destroyed by the Nazis, may their name and memory be obliterated.

I know this since I walked on my own feet into the gas chambers. I saw the stained walls, and felt the scratches on them made by innocent people with only the simple, and most reasonable desire to live. Statistics show that if the six million Jews had not been murdered almost seventy years ago, the worldwide Jewish population today would have been doubled, if not tripled.

The same question is asked over and over again, how could human beings become so horrific? How is it possible that they acted so maliciously towards innocent people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Humankind is, supposedly, inherently good. The fact of the matter is the Nazi army had long lost their humanity. Being able to look a mother in the eyes, while she hugs her child to her chest as close as she can, trembling, and then take her life with one merciless bullet is not a human act.

The Nazis were abominable in every way. We know today of six death camps throughout Poland, though there might have been more, where numerous Jews might have been murdered, but there are no survivors to confirm it. As frightening of a thought as that might be, the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust grows statistically every year as well, becoming closer to seven million.

I know all of this because it is information I learned on my trip to Poland last year. I trembled while stepping on the blood soaked ground of Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz where Jews had been slaughtered demonically. I felt the ghetto wall in Warsaw, and I visited Jewish cemeteries that have been around for centuries. I kept trying to picture myself alive during that horrible time, G-d forbid, in order to try to empathize with the holy people who are no longer living, but I just wasn’t able to.

Baruch Hashem, I have the privilege, the prerogative to live in the land that our ancestors had yearned to just set foot in. I can live a normal life as a proud Jew, and not be afraid to hide my religion – I can practice it. I attend a Jewish school, and will be serving my country next year, as it is the ideal way to show gratitude to the land I grew up in, cried in, laughed in. My living in the land promised to us by G-d as a proud Jew and belonging to the Jewish nation, while continuing along the generations is the greatest revenge. They wanted to see us lose our humanity, and we prove to them that the world does not evolve without the Jewish people. They wanted to see our nation aborted, and we fight back with the simplest of weapons – children. The murderers plan was to abolish the Jewish children first, as that would cut the nation short, for without our children there is no future. By living in Israel I am avenging in the simplest way, and that is the only way to show the Germans, the entire world and all the Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites that the Jewish nation is eternal.

RASG Hebrew Academy Holds H.S. Graduation

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy held its high school graduation on May 22. The lights were dimmed as the class of 2012 walked down the center aisle to the stage. The ceremony began with a blessing given to the parents and teachers of the 40 graduates.

The audience was then treated to a delightful video. Each student was featured as a baby and then as a high school graduate in cap and gown.

Inspiring speeches were given by Hebrew Academy board president Leah Klein and head of school Dr. Roni Raab. Graduating seniors Brianna Cohen (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Congressional Award winner), Rebecca Masin (salutatorian), and Ron Lipkin (valedictorian) each spoke. They shared their thoughts about reaching the milestone of high school graduation.

One by one, graduates were called to center stage to receive their diplomas. Finally, there was one more “graduate” to address: English department chairperson Mrs. Ellen Averbook, who was retiring after 26 years of dedication to the RASG Hebrew Academy.

The entire graduating class has been accepted by prestigious universities, yeshivot and seminaries in the United States and worldwide. Many of the graduates were recipients of academic and athletic awards.

RASG Hebrew Academy is an Orthodox college and yeshiva preparatory day school serving children through grade 12. The school inspires and equips students to reach their fullest potential by focusing on their individual attributes and instilling eternal Torah values in a changing world.

For more information about the Hebrew Academy, contact Ami Eskanos at 305-532-6421, ext. 105, or aeskanos@rasg.org.

The Key to Greatness

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Most people never achieve their full potential, either, because they don’t really know themselves, and don’t know where their potential lies, or because they have some barrier in their way.

Meir Kahane knew himself. Even when he was a teenager, he knew that he wanted to help the Jewish People as much as he could. He recognized that Jewish identity and the true practice of Torah had been distorted by the exile and by life in foreign non-Jewish lands. Stemming from this, he recognized the great dangers of assimilation and yearned with a towering passion to cry out and warn his beloved brothers and sisters. He knew what he wanted. He understood his potential. But there was a barrier in his way. He stuttered. That’s right – Rabbi Meir Kahane, perhaps the most dynamic Jewish orator of our time, a speaker capable of inflaming hearts and inspiring the masses, a par-excellence TV debater who chopped the glib intellectual banter of opponents into tiny insignificant scraps, he had a bothersome stutter in his youth, which had to be mastered in order to fulfill his dream of reaching out to the Jewish People.

This is how he did it, as revealed in the gripping biography, Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought, written by his wife.

He overcame his barrier. Through his example, we can learn to overcome ours.

Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought

From Chapter Three

During his high school years, Meir began to stutter, or at least to become conscious of it. A classmate said he did not stutter when they were together in fourth grade; if he did she would have been aware of it, because her own brother stuttered.

When Meir was 20 and attending the Mirrer Yeshiva rabbinical seminary during the day and Brooklyn College at night, he decided to do something about his stuttering. In July 1952 he enrolled in the Martin Hall Institute for Speech Disorders in Bristol, Rhode Island. In a summary written for a therapist at Martin Hall, Meir related:

“When I was 9 years old my parents gave me a book for my birthday, titled, ‘So to Speak: A Practical Training Course for Developing a Beautiful Speaking Voice.” I did not know then why they gave me the book. In grade school I had no trouble. I recited in class and acted in plays. I recall going to the office, speaking to the principal, Rabbi Braverman, about skipping a grade, and to Mr. Hirsch about being the valedictorian. I was not afraid then.

“In high school I had no trouble, as far as I remember, during the first and second terms [the first year] – except that I would rather read [aloud] than speak in classes. I had trouble speaking in Rabbi Feivelson’s class, and I think he expressed surprise, but I had no trouble speaking to kids or teachers informally. Once in class, Farber poked me to say I stuttered in reading … even though I was better in reading than in talking…. The teacher definitely expressed surprise. I also had trouble in French class. (I think I was AFRAID.) I also had trouble in English at Lincoln giving reports.

“I spoke up in class, especially English … recited, etc. I approached Rabbi Zuroff about a Begin meeting. I was definitely much better conversationally than now, and had no trouble speaking to girls. My friend Victor confirms this.”

One of the most difficult things for a stutterer is making phone calls. Meir names the friends he phoned easily and those he was afraid to call. He has a fuzzy memory of being nervous about making calls for his father. He recalled a Betar meeting where he could not talk to two girls. He was afraid to speak up at the Betar convention, but he overcame his fear, and a friend assured him that he had not stuttered. In college, Meir’s fear of stuttering became worse. He wrote:

“I did do some speaking in class … though in History, I was afraid but wasn’t BODILY afraid…. I was afraid to give a report in economic geography, and walked out of the Bible Hebrew class. I was deathly afraid of speech in my last term. In fact, I dropped a previous speech class when the teacher said I stuttered. I had bad trouble asking for transcripts. I showed a paper to the guidance counselor [instead of speaking]. I stammered controllably at interviews. I had trouble answering when attendance was taken. I was afraid to talk up in sociology…. When I was 19, I couldn’t ask for a stapler at Macy’s.”

Some stutterers discover that they cease stuttering when they are distracted from their usual speech patterns. Almost any novel stimulus, such as tapping a finger, swinging the arms, or stamping a foot, can serve as a distraction (until the novelty wears off). Meir’s trick was to blink, as he did on various occasions in later years.

Hebrew Class of West Side B’nai Israel Synagogue in Duluth, 1915

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The photo was taken at a class outing in Lincoln Park in Duluth. B’nai Israel consolidated with congregation Adas Israel in 1930.

Itamar, a Year Later – “We Will Prevail”

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

A little over a year ago, five members of the Fogel family from Itamar were murdered in their sleep by two Palestinian terrorists. The terrorists entered the Fogel home on Shabbat eve, March 11 2011, and slaughtered the father Ehud, the mother Ruth, and three of their children, Yoav 11, Elad, 4, and baby Hadas, only three months old. Three siblings survived. Twenty-five thousand people attended the mass funeral. The terrorists, aged 18 and 19 were arrested a month later, and recently received life sentences.  This incident is one of the most horrifying in recent memory.

Leah Zak, 36, mother of five and resident of Itamar for the past seven years, remembers that night vividly. She remembers that her family slept until about two in the morning. Initial reports came through the emergency message system, but they did not hear them. They awoke to hear loud banging on their front door. The RRT (Rapid Response Team), a civilian counter terror unit, was at the door. “They asked us if everything was all right. They told us that there was an infiltration into Itamar, and that we should close all windows and lock the doors. We didn’t know exactly what happened, but the situation seemed grave,” Leah recounts. One of her sons was woken up by the knocking on the door and was very frightened. “We went back to bed. We were told to turn all the lights out, so it was completely dark. I couldn’t read out of a book, so I prayed from memory. At some point we fell asleep. The RRT came back again at four. At that point we were completely awake. We received a message through the emergency message system that sessions would be held later on for everyone. We understood that something terrible had happened.”

Leah’s husband went to Shul, and there, she says, he learned of what had happened. “There was much confusion and the details were unclear, but we knew that the parents and some of the children had been slain. I was totally shocked, and began to cry. I tried to find out who of the children had been murdered. I found out, and we told the children each separately about what happened, not wanting them to hear in a different fashion. One of my sons was a classmate of one of the children murdered; another, a classmate of one of the surviving children. They cried, and later went to the meetings held for the children, on that Shabbat day.”

In the following hours and during the next days the Zaks and the residents of Itamar felt a great surge of support. Many from around the country offered their help. Many Rabbis and leaders came to show their support, offering words of encouragement. Leah elaborates: “Following this devastating event, and taking into consideration the community’s history, many of the adults wondered if the community was being punished, why they have been inflected with so many terrorist attacks and casualties. The Rabbis explained that one could not explain these incidents on a personal level, that the greater scheme of things was to be considered. Many volunteered to come and watch the children, encouraging us to attend the funeral.”

As the weeks passed, Leah’s children continued to exhibit signs of sadness and grief. They spoke a lot about the attack, occupying themselves with the details. They told stories about their lost friends. “One of my sons, the one who was woken up by the knocking on our door during the night of the attack exhibited real signs of fear and stress. During the first week he refused to leave home, was constantly demanding that we shut all the windows and doors. For the first few weeks he refused to sleep in his room or fall asleep alone. He went to group meetings meant to help deal with these fears. As for myself, every time I would close my eyes to fall asleep I would see Ruthie before my eyes. This difficult situation in the family lasted for about a month.”

“My oldest was in the same class as Yoav. The class received psychological counseling. My second oldest was in the same class as one of the children who survived, Roi. He subsequently left Itamar and moved in with his grandparents. My son grieved for the loss. Roi was very friendly, a good kid and my son was sorry to lose him. There was a farewell party arranged for him, but Roi was scared to come to Itamar, so his entire class traveled to Jerusalem to hold the party there for him.” Over time there were a few occasions that he came to Itamar. Every time he came there was great excitement.

Months after the tragedy, people continued come to Itamar to express their support. This created an amazing positive feeling. “Many people who I have not spoken to for a long time contacted me. Rabbis came to show their support, strengthen the spirits of the residents, constantly stressing that this incident was part of a bigger picture in Jewish history, that it was not a punishment for any individual person or act. Many visitors from abroad came as well. Many large events were held, and all these visits and events served as a great source of strength and comfort.”

For the most part, the attack jolted the town into activity. Many invested themselves in social projects. The general trend was a desire to continue to build and become stronger. Many of the supporters from outside offered various initiatives. There was an overall positive attitude. But Leah did not completely relate to this sentiment: “I felt a bit frustrated, it seemed odd to me that everything was progressing as usual, that the State did not avenge this attack.”

A bit more then a year after the attack, Leah still has mixed feelings. At the beginning she had a hard time just believing what happened. At times she imagined that she saw Ruthie. “A year later, am I different? More vulnerable? Definitely not! The opposite is the truth. In a sense, the whole story has helped me grow. I have become more stronger, a stronger believer, a more joyful person. I constantly try to think what I can learn from Ruthie, how I can implement her teachings in my life. It’s a choice I have to make – to elevate myself, or to fall and crash. I didn’t want to crash, so I progressed with it, with a lingering sense that I lacked a choice”.

After the Shloshim, the thirty day mourning period, foundations were laid for a Beit Midrash, a study hall in Itamar, which was named Mishkan Ehud after the father. The study hall was inaugurated on February 29, a year after the attack. Class rooms were also built in memory of Ruth and the children. During the inauguration event a new Sefer Torah was entered into the Hall’s Holy Ark, constructed of rocks and soil taken from the Fogel family garden.

Leah participated in the inauguration. The weather was stormy, but the event was well-attended by people from across Israel. The room was so packed it was impossible to get in or out. The structure wasn’t complete – funds are still being collected to complete this endeavor – but it all recognized the importance of holding the event on the anniversary of their death.

“The event itself was very impressive, very joyful,” Leah remembers, “I was very much moved, chills running through my body. The event was very joyful, but very sad as well. It was very joyful because we had finally established this building which we have been waiting for a long time. It was sad because people had to die to enable its construction.”

Itamar has a complex history, with several terrorist attacks in its past, but Leah has no doubts about living there. She says it’s simply her place, no question about it. She is connected to the people, the land. She feels more connected to the Land of Israel in Itamar. Here she can find the education she sees fit to give to her children. The danger will not cause her family to leave. “I am not making an ideological statement – This is the place that is good for me. Other places are dangerous as well. We live with it, cope with it.”

Leah concludes by inviting everyone to visit Itamar. “From afar is seems dangerous, but it not. It’s clear to me that this is our place.  There are massive open spaces. In my eye’s mind I see them being filled with houses. All we need is people to come.”

A Very Bad Hair Day

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Tina was in my kindergarten class last year. Each day Tina’s hair flew all around her. It would tumble into her eyes and she would bat at it periodically throughout the day just to see. Sometimes I’d use whatever hair accessory I had at hand – even just a rubber band – to put Tina’s hair out of her face.

I once asked her mother to please make sure Tina’s hair was tied back in a ponytail or in a headband. Mom smiled and nodded, but there was never any change in Tina’s hair for the rest of the year.

This puzzled me, for I had taught Tina’s older sister several years ago. I remembered how carefully Tina’s sister’s hair was combed each day. One day when this sister had gotten a bit older, her hair color appeared much lighter. Curious, I asked Tina’s sister why her hair seemed different, and she whispered that her mom had had it highlighted professionally. The sister was about eight or nine years old at the time. I wondered why her little sister Tina was now being sent to school daily without her hair even being brushed.

This year, Tina’s first grade teacher also noticed. She was curious why each night Tina’s homework would not get done. Her teacher also fretted that Tina looked neglected. So she called the mom to tell her about the concerns she had.

Tina’s mom was appalled. She was angry at being accused of not caring for her child. She did not hear the quiet concern in the morah’s (teacher’s) voice, the care and love that was being offered on the phone. The very next day our school had a request for transcripts to be sent to a different school. Little Tina would now be sent to public school, just in time to learn about the winter holiday.

Today Tina no longer learns Torah. She will no longer learn how to daven (pray). She will not receive her first siddur (prayer book) at the end of the year with the rest of the first grade class. Tina now eats in a big cafeteria with all the other children in her neighborhood. Her Jewish heritage was taken away from her. All because there was a teacher who cared too much.

Teaching out-of-town children in the city’s only day school can be very rewarding. There is nothing like teaching about Hashem (G-d), about how the world was created, and all the amazing journeys of our Avos (Forefathers) and Imahos (Matriarchs). How delightful it is to experience the myriad of Jewish holidays with students throughout the year, especially the ones who do not experience them at home. Teaching our diverse student body makes us appreciate our religious lives even more. We know these Jewish children may be having a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn Torah. Every single child we teach is precious, for however long he/she remains in our school, before he/she moves on to the public school system, which may be in grade school or, hopefully, not until high school. It is truly a miracle that we have non-observant parents who are willing to sacrifice so much for their child’s Jewish education.

Teaching out-of-town also presents strange challenges. Like the time that I taught Mark in kindergarten. Mark thrived in my class and his mother was amazed at how proud he was of being Jewish. Once, Mark came into class waving a picture he had drawn the night before. The picture was a peculiar one, unlike the pictures of flowers or hearts that I was accustomed to receiving from my young students. Puzzled, I asked Mark to tell me about the picture. With a big smile, he told me that it was based on a picture I had shown the class the day before. For a moment I was baffled, trying to remember, and we were both a little frustrated. Then Mark waved his hands, telling me about lines that went up and down. Of course! The class was shown a picture of the Shulchan (ShowTable) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). His pencil drawing had lines crisscrossing purposefully in many directions. I was touched that Mark had remembered our lesson when he had gotten home, illustrated it, and brought it in to show me.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/judaism-101/a-very-bad-hair-day/2012/05/17/

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