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

Posts Tagged ‘diaspora’

Praying for Moshiach

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

I just saw this on Facebook, and it deserves a proper response.

Praying For Moshiach

There was a massive flood in a town, but one holy man managed to survive by getting up onto the roof of his house.

As he sat there watching the waters rise higher and higher, he prayed and prayed (3 times a day, in fact) to God to save him from drowning.

A boat came by, but he turned the rescue crew down, telling them he’s waiting for God to save him.

Then a helicopter flew by, but he turned down that rescue crew too, saying that he’s waiting for God to save him.

Shortly afterwords the holy man drowned.

The man reached heaven and in righteous anger asked God, “Why didn’t You save me?”

God sighed and responded to the holy man, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter! I even sent a free El Al flight to Israel for you, your family and your entire congregation, with an absorption basket to help settle you in! What the heck were you thinking when you were you praying for Moshiach to have no more 3 day Yom Tovs?!”

(Dan l’kaf z’chut – benefit of the doubt: Maybe the Facebook post was somehow referring to Rosh Hashana?)

Sharansky to Suggest Women’s Kotel Prayers Away from Main Plaza

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is preparing to suggest that women pray whenever they want, complete with prayer shawls and a Torah scroll, at the southern edge of the Western Wall, known as Robinson’s Arch.

The proposal was reported by the Forward, and afterwards the Jewish Agency released a fudgy statement that “Sharansky will present his recommendations to Prime Minister Netanyahu upon the chairman’s return to Israel from his visit to college campuses in the United States.”

“One Western Wall for one Jewish people,” Sharansky said, adding that he hopes his recommendations will allow “the Kotel will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”

“Strife” is a police war. “Hatred,” ”jealousy” and “stiff-necked” are closer to the truth.

The Women of the Wall argue that the Haredi rabbis in charge of the Western Wall are insensitive to their needs and treat them as second-class citizens.

Although many if not most Orthodox rabbis in the United States have no problem with a women’s prayer minyan, the Chief Rabbinate as well as  and many non-Haredi Orthodox rabbis in Israeli have a problem with it, based on their application of Jewish law.

They charge that a women’s prayer minyan, complete with their own Torah reading, would offend their religious sensitivities.

An unstated but obviously huge difference is that there is no place for prayer in the Diaspora that has the holiness like the Western Wall, and there is no public area for prayer that is attended by both women and men.

The conflict will probably hit the headlines again Wednesday and Thursday, the two days that are the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar. The High Court has allowed the Women of the Wall to hold their own minyan at Robinson’s Arch, but the women demand they be allowed to pray at the more widely attended portion of the Western Wall.

Every Rosh Chodesh, they try to break the ban at the Western Wall and frequently are arrested. Pictures in  American media of a policeman struggling with a woman holding a Torah scroll have helped rip to the seams the fragile relationship between the Diaspora and Israel.

Sharansky has come up with a compromise that would give the women half of what they want and would spare the Western Wall rabbi and Haredi worshippers from having to pray at the Kotel while knowing a women’s minyan is taking place next to them, despite a partition, and being exposed to hearing women’s singing, which they consider a violation of Jewish law.

Anat Hoffman, leader of the WOW movement, previously has rejected what she calls a “separate but equal” solution.

Her position has been that having the right to pray in a separate minyan is only part of an overall goal, in her words, “to dismantle the Western Wall Heritage Foundation,” the Haredi Orthodox entity that oversees the Western Wall.”

After Sharansky’s proposal went public, she backed off and said she welcomes the compromise.

The idea is “very ambitious,” Hoffman said. ”You don’t always have to be right; you have to be smart — and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here.”

Neither side can get it wants without grossly offending the other, but the Haredi community cannot be expected to accept her agreement without suspicion.  If WOW want to pray as they wish, there is nothing to stop them from claiming they have the right to pray together with their husbands or male friends in a mixed minyan, which is totally prohibited in all Orthodox circles and would offend Orthodox worshippers.

But Hoffman appears to be smart enough to accept the Sharansky solution, putting the Western Wall rabbi in a position that he might as well agree gracefully rather than pitting himself against the entire political establishment outside of Haredi circles.

If he does agree, there is a good chance that the power of prayer can exceed political power.

Aliya: What’s it All About?

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

The Hebrew term “Aliya” literally means “elevation.” The term is widely used in the Jewish culture to describe being called up to recite the blessings on the Torah reading in the synagogue, as well as to describe immigration of Jewish people to the land of Israel. Each of these Aliya opportunities is considered to be a great honor.

In Jewish thought, the land of Israel is considered to be higher than the lands of the other nations. The diaspora is considered a punishment – banishment from our homeland, the special land singled out from among all others in the Bible and allocated by God himself for a nation which was also singled out for a special mission: to be a light unto the nations.

Some ponder the reason God Almighty would give this land, of all others, to the people that he loves so much. Could he not have picked one with at least some natural resources? The Arabs got the oil, the Africans precious stones and metals. What does the land of Israel have to offer?

With that in mind, the special connection of the people of Israel with their homeland is a phenomenon which is hard to explain in rational or pragmatic terms. But the fact remains that for 2000 years, the Jewish people retained their devotion to their land in a manner unique throughout all humanity. There is no other people in history that survived an exile for so long, while retaining their national identity and yearning to return to their homeland.

The Jewish people spread our in a diaspora which reached every location in the world. Three times every day, all through that time, we would turn towards the holy capital city, Jerusalem, and pray that God would have mercy on us and allow us to return to our land and rebuild our country and again live as a sovereign nation.

This new blog is about Aliya and living in the land. I will use this platform to share my own experiences and enthusiasm about this wonderful historic opportunity, as well as to discuss the unique challenges in making Aliyah and some practical aspects, in hopes of encouraging other Jews to make the move and return home to Israel.

Please feel free to ask questions.

The Super Narishkeit Bowl

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Narishkeit means foolishness. It’s something that some people consider important, but which really isn’t important at all. Like the Super Bowl. Such a big deal is made of it! What for? What’s the big deal about watching 20 people running after a pigskin and tackling the poor shmoh who’s got the ball? Narishkeit. Bitul Torah. A total waste of time.

Once again, all I can say is: thank God I live in Israel! Here, if you didn’t click on CNN, you wouldn’t know it was Super Narishkeit Sunday at all. All the hoopla and nonsense surrounding the game simply doesn’t exist here. Who cares? What’s it have to do with the Jewish People. Zero. It’s a pastime of another country. Why should a Jew fill his head with such nonsense?

It’s the same thing with the World Series. In Israel, you wouldn’t know that there is such a thing if you didn’t walk into the dormitory of some yeshiva where American kids are studying. For them, it’s like the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, but Israelis couldn’t care less. Why should they?

Thank God I live in Israel where all of that nurishkeit doesn’t exist. It’s the same thing with Xmas. Here in Israel, if you didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in Bethlehem, you’d never know it was Xmas. The two month long tidal wave of Xmas jingles, Xmas stockings, Xmas store display, Santa Clauses, and Xmas trees, just doesn’t exist here. Why should it? This is the Jewish Land. The Holy Land. The nurishkeit of the gentiles doesn’t belong here in the Land of the Jews.

Sure, there’s imported Western trash here as well that secular Israelis love to imitate, but it gets swallowed up by the overall holiness of the Land. Just the fact that we don’t have the Super Bowl, the World Series, Xmas, and Groundhogs Day is proof.

The same thing goes with the Academy Awards. It doesn’t exist here. Yes, the morning after on the radio, there’s a mention of the winners at the end of the news, but there’s none of the preoccupation with the gods and goddesses of Hollywood, their see-through dresses and latest affairs. Who cares?

Thank God I live in Israel, the Land of the Jews, and not in a foreign land like America, where the Jews identify with everything foreign and think that things like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards are important, who keep Shabbos, but come Saturday night, unscrew their heads, store them away in the closet for next Shabbos, and put on gentile heads instead so they can go out to the movies and, come Sunday, watch the Game of the Week with its thrilling cheerleader close-ups.

Sure, when I lived in America, I watched the Super Bowl too. And the World Series. And the Academy Awards right to the end. But since I became religious and moved to Israel, I have absolutely zero interest in any of those things. Zero. I honestly can’t even tell you what teams are playing in the Super Bowl. I don’t know who’s won the World Series for the last 30 years, and in the same three decades, I haven’t seen more than five movies (when I gave lectures on screenwriting) and I don’t miss movies at all.

After all, who has time to sit in the dark and watch narishkeit? We have a country to build.

Why Not Stay in Egypt?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Since in our weekly Torah reading, we’re right in the middle of the Exodus drama, getting ready to leave Egypt on our way to Israel, we can ask the question – why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in America, I mean Egypt, where they were?

In fact, as we mentioned in our previous blog, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? They enjoyed the best of both worlds. What did they lack?

In the eyes of 80% of the Diaspora lovers , it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the Exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!

And so, we ask the question they asked – what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frum Jews.

Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Moshe wanted to teach them. Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Hashem wanted them to follow, a Torah that is not merely a list of private, ritual commandments, but the Constitution of the Jewish Nation, which, in addition to keeping kosher, includes serving in the Israeli army, going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws unique to the Land of Israel, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Hashem wanted the Jews to leave Egypt, because He doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build the economy of gentile lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building their own land – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel, the special Holy Land that Hashem promised to the Jews. Hashem didn’t want the Jews to stay in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh, because He wants His People to serve Him as an independent Jewish nation, in its own Jewish homeland, and not as scattered individuals and communities interspersed amongst the goyim around the world. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the frum nation of Israel in the Land of Israel because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world, when the Jews have their own powerful Torah nation – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can – even if a Jew is appointed to be Secretary of the Treasury for a few years – whoop-dee-doo!

That’s the meaning of the Exodus. Hashem chose us to be His special Holy nation, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, separating us from the goyim, in order to bring us to His Holy Land, just as He promised He would.

Is that so hard to understand?

Would American Jews Have Told Moses to Get Lost?

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Imagine if Moses were to come to America today with the mission of bringing the Jews to Israel. Chances are that his call would be met by deaf ears. Maybe he’d be stoned. Let’s face it – outside of a few weirdos, who would listen? He’d be interfering with their plans, their college degrees, their careers, their businesses, their golf games, and tennis lessons. Some would question his authority. Others would want to see proof that God had really sent him. Reform Jews, like Pharaoh, would say, “Who’s Hashem that I should listen to him?” Others would laugh at Moses’s biblical garments and staff. Probably most of them would tell him to get lost.

Not that it would ruffle Moses. After all, he had witnessed the very same scenario before, when he came to take the Jews out of Egypt. Back then, only a fifth of the Jews agreed to follow him to the Land of Israel. Four-fifths of the Diaspora-loving Jews died in the plague of darkness, as this week’s Torah portion reveals.

The Torah describes the plague as darkness that could be felt, darkness “mamash” (Shmot, 10:21). The darkness was so thick, you could literally reach out your hand and feel it. Rashi says that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were Jews in that generation who were wicked and they did not want to come out of Egypt, and they died in the three days of darkness, in order that the Egyptians should not see their fall and say, ‘They too are smitten as we are’” (Shmot, 10:22). To avoid the great embarrassment that His people, the Children of Israel, did not want to go home to the Land of Israel, G-d brought a thick, tangible darkness over Egypt so that the goyim wouldn’t see this terrible disgrace.

Unfortunately this same dense darkness has enveloped Diaspora Jews today. It is a darkness so thick, you can actual feel it. Jews who have made aliyah, and who go back to America, or France, or England, to visit relatives, know what I mean. After speaking with fellow Jews there for a few minutes, you get the creepy feeling that they are totally out of touch with what’s really important. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t know what’s going on at all. You can talk about aliyah until you are blue in the face, but they don’t understand a thing. Things that aren’t important at all, like the latest hit movie, their new car, their jobs, and the standing of the Knicks, are what really turns them on, not what’s going on in Israel. Whenever I have to go there, I get the feeling that I am in a gigantic Alzheimer’s ward, where the patients have forgotten who they are.

I’m not talking about the many devoted addicts of The Jewish Press, who click on every day to see what’s happening “b’Aretz.” I am talking about your average Haredi, Modern Orthodox, or assimilated Jew. For them, Washington D.C. is their nation’s capital. America is their homeland. Judaism is their religion, not their nationality. They are Americans first. Hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at baseball games gives them goose bumps. Their children pledge allegiance to the American flag. Their forefathers are Betsy Ross and George Washington. If Moses himself came and tried to persuade them that the Land of Israel was their real home, they’d look at him like he was nuts.

That’s the meaning of darkness so dense you can feel it.

I am not blaming them. The darkness of materialism is so great, who can fight against it? And there is nobody there to teach them about true Judaism and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah. So instead of working to bring an end to the exile, they endeavor to lengthen it by strengthening their local Jewish communities. That was all well and good before God established the State of Israel, but now that we once again can live in our own Holy Land, strengthening Jewish life amongst the gentiles in American, France, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa, is darkness “mamash,” just like back in the days of Egypt when 80% of the Jews didn’t want to leave and follow Moses to Eretz Yisrael.

Another Milestone for the Jewish People in America

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

For those who have been in a coma for the last couple of days, Jack Lew who is an Orthodox Jew and currently the President’s Chief of Staff will be nominated by the President for the cabinet position of Secretary of the Treasury. Although as of this writing it has not been made official – It seems that this will indeed happen. I also believe that he will sail through the confirmation process.

First let me echo the OU’s congratulatory response. I could not be prouder of my co-religionist, Jack Lew, my country, the United States of America, and my President, Barack Obama.

That’s right. I said I am proud of the President for looking beyond the criticism he got from the Jewish community about Hagel and choosing the best man for the job at Treasury even though he is Jewish. I believe the President is a man of integrity. Though I strongly disagreed with him about Hagel, I think he truly believes Hagel to be the best man for the Secretary of Defense.

I think Hagel will be a negative influence vis-à-vis Israel. But I believe (or at least hope) that the President will stick to his polices with respect to Israel. His polices are for the most part very supportive of the Jewish state. Although I still don’t like the fact that someone who has shown great antagonism towards “The Jewish Lobby” will be a member of his cabinet – I do not believe that the President sees us that way. He has certainly never referred to any of us that way.

That Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew whose Sabbath observance might seem to be a hindrance to his duties has the confidence of the President says a lot about both men. Apparently the President cares that his employees do not sacrifice their principles for their job. In fact the President himself has seen to it that Mr. Lew does not violate the Sabbath. He has been Jack Lew’s Shomer in that regard – reminding him on Friday’s that sunset was approaching and he better hurry up and get home before Shabbos begins.

It is interesting to note an article that appeared a few days ago in the Forward. It was about just how far an observant Jew can go in the workplace these days despite some apparent obstacles. Avital Chizhik, an Orthodox woman, writes about her experiences in seeking a job.

When asked about there indeed her religious observances would hinder her – she replied that she was not that religious. Her interviewer laughed and offered her the job saying he was glad to hear that.

She felt guilty afterward realizing that indeed she was ‘that’ religious. But after thinking about it, she realized that she was really responding to an image and not reality. Unfortunately our image as observant Jews does not always project confidence in an employer about our dedication to our jobs. Her reaction was made to counter that notion. She goes on to say that the sense of purpose that drives her religious beliefs and actions is also channeled into her work – making for a much better employee.

Although I am very happy for Ms. Chizik’s success, there is no better role model for an Orthodox Jew achieving career success than Jack Lew. Of course he is not the first Orthodox Jew to achieve it. Former Vice Presidential candidate and senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman did it first.

The job Mr. Lew is about to take on is not an easy one. Which adds to his prestige. His job will perhaps be the most difficult one in the President’s entire cabinet. He will be presiding over an economy that has yet to completely recover from the recession of 2008. Whatever improvement or deterioration happens in the economy will be under his watch. He will either get credit or blame.

Which leads me back to a common fear many Jews have about a Jewish public servants in positions of power in the government. Some people will say that they regret the choice of any Jew, let alone an Orthodox one, being in such a position. They fear that if the economy goes really south, “the Jews” will be blamed for it. As they always have in the past by European governments. The last government to blame the Jews for their problems ended up with the Holocaust!

I understand their fear. It is based on a very long and sad history of persecution of the Jewish people by governments that were at first friendly and welcoming to us. They will say it happened “there” when no one expected it, it can happen here just as easily. “The Goyim don’t need much to turn on us.” Germany was great to the Jewish people for generations of Jews. And look what happened. We should not be naïve about our standing here… that it’s all smoke and mirrors and when the chips are down we are going to be the first ones to be blamed.

Like I said, I understand it. But it’s just plain wrong. Aside from the fact that this country was founded precisely on the principle of religious tolerance, the American people are a fine and decent people who know not to blame their troubles on any one ethnicity. There has unfortunately been many examples where high profile religious Jews have done wrong.

The American people have had ample opportunity to blame “the Jews” for a variety of behaviors of its miscreants. Bernie Madoff could have easily sparked an anti-Semitic backlash… as could any one of a number of high profile Jewish miscreants. High profile because of their obvious Jewishness. How many Orthodox Jews wearing Kipot and other religious artifacts have been arrested or convicted of financial fraud? How many Orthodox Jewish molesters have been in the news lately? There is certainly enough of that kind of thing to bring out any latent Antisemitism. And yet it hasn’t.

Instead we have a President nominating an Orthodox Jew to perhaps the most important cabinet position in America right now… a nomination that should – as I said – sail through congress. So even if God forbid the worst happens and the economy really tanks, perhaps Jack Lew will be blamed. But in no way will “the Jews” will be blamed. Those among my coreligionists who don’t understand this and think I am naïve, are themselves naive. They truly do not understand what this great country is all about nor what the American people are made of.

What a Country!

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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