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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘dont’

Living Respectfully among Non-Jews: an Open Letter to Jewish Parents

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

What would you do if you learned that a small group of people threatened to make Jewish life in our communities less inviting and secure? Would you be concerned enough to learn about them, warn your children about them, and try to blunt the damage these people are doing? And what if “these people” turned out to be ourselves?

The dismissive, uncivil, and disrespectful attitudes and behavior too many of us show to our neighbors threaten our collective future.

Our job at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is to stay on top of trends around the world. Our work takes us around the globe, advocating for Jewish and for human-rights causes. We meet with world leaders, government officials on all levels, and elite cadres of civil society. We have seen the hydra of anti-Semitism regenerate with renewed strength, too often met in the mainstream with apathy, even acceptance.

Campaigns against shechitah need not always be anti-Semitic, but they have been inspired by Norwegian politicians who simultaneously defended whale-hunting while calling kosher slaughter “a blood orgy.” Some people may decide hey are not interested in the medical advantages of milah, but when a national ombudsman for children’s rights in Oslo tells you to your face that it cannot be justified as a religious ceremony because it is a form of “barbaric abuse,” it is time to worry.

Across Europe, the lid has come off the demons repressed for a few decades after the Holocaust.

Yes, you might say, but we live in North America, far from those forms of overt and dangerous threats. But that is our point. We live, b’chasdei Hashem, in a bubble – one that we threaten to burst ourselves.

Not that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist in the Goldene Medinah, but its harshest manifestations are mostly relegated to the margins, and it has not derailed the decades of remarkable Orthodox growth since World War II.

We have, baruch Hashem, built thriving, bustling communities, full of schools, shuls and social service providers. We in the U.S. and Canada have learned to be more confidently assertive. Through the pioneering efforts of Agudah and the OU, we are a presence in state capitol buildings, in the White House and in Ottawa. Kippot appear on the heads of public officials and in sitcoms, and Yiddishisms don’t need to be explained to our fellow citizens.

We have built up huge amounts of good will with many neighbors and politicians and don’t think twice about leveraging that hard-earned good will to accommodate our needs. We ask for – and expect – that testing schedules will revolve around our holidays, that garbage pickups will bend for Pesach, that parking tickets will not be issued when halacha won’t allow us to move our vehicles.

More important, we have come to rely on the largesse of the government and our neighbors for all kinds of support we now take for granted: reimbursement for mandated school services, textbooks, welfare and housing stipends, grants for senior centers and special-needs children. To ensure that the perks keep coming, we build upon our network with politicians, appear at the right public forums, and bundle contributions – just like every other organized interest group.

Observant Jews are no longer seen or treated as a small, quaint, community clinging to its ancient ways on America’s margins. We are mainstream, swimming alongside others in a fishbowl. Our neighbors, the media, and politicians pay attention – not because they hate us but because we are part of society’s fabric. No one should be surprised, then, that our faults and foibles – true or exaggerated – are splashed across headlines and cable news.

Most good people (and the bad ones are in the minority) do not expect perfection. They do expect menschlichkeit and respect – respect for laws and for the rule of law itself. They expect us to show pride in the appearance of our houses and streets, and other good-neighborly behavior. They expect to be valued and treated as respected human beings, just as we expect that of them.

Too often, though, we don’t think in these terms and we do not deliver. The resulting chillulei Hashem, both miniscule and large, weaken our Torah values, erode our shem tov, and potentially threaten our future.

We entirely understand the derision and contempt displayed to non-Jews by some Holocaust survivors. They experienced firsthand unfathomable atrocities, often committed by non-Jewish neighbors they had trusted. But we, the children and grandchildren of those survivors, know full well the difference between their experience and ours – yes, even the difference between one group of people and another. We also know of many survivors whose personal experiences were also horrific and yet they always displayed impeccable graciousness to all human beings.

Some of us, however, continue to speak – and think – disparagingly of every non-Jew. Besides being wrong in a Torah context, this attitude, in our opinion, is suicidal. It will bring catastrophe upon us, as the realities of the new economy will mean more and more groups competing for a shrinking pot of available public funds and resources. We are going to need to generate greater good will from our neighbors. The near-daily allegations of financial irregularities and cheating on government programs don’t help, making the forging of long-term coalitions that much more difficult.

Please don’t get us wrong. We are not saying that what we have described is the majority attitude in our community. Far from it. It is a minority one, but it threatens to engulf us all.

So why are we writing this? Because the attitudes children develop about their neighbors is considerably more reflective of what they learn from family than what they hear in school.

We both had elders in our extended families who survived the violent and genocidal hate of Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Yet we were inculcated to show derech eretz to all people, not only “unzere.”

That is why we are taking this plea to Jewish parents. As parents, you try to give your children every advantage. If, God forbid, Mashiach does not arrive soon, and your children spend years of their lives in what Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, called the “medinah shel chesed,” you want them to live in a hospitable environment. But that will not be the case unless you educate them better than they have been educated until now in how to live respectfully among non-Jews.

Teach your children how different Americans are relative to, say, people in Saudi Arabia, Greece, or Spain. Speak to them about our great mission of Kiddush Hashem, and the severity of Chillul Hashem. Speak to them also about the practical consequences of being part of a minority whose future will be rockier without strong alliances with our neighbors.

An aphorism of a previous generation was, “If Jews won’t make Kiddush, non-Jews will make Havdalah.” It meant that if Jews, who have a special mission to live by Hashem’s instructions and be an ohr lagoyim (a light to the nations), don’t live up to His expectations, He will use non-Jews to remind us – sometimes in unpleasant ways.

Today those words have additional meaning. If we won’t act toward our neighbors with Kiddush Hashem, we will be spurned and shunned by them. This will impact negatively on so much that has been so important in the building of our Orthodox communities.

Bottom line: Let parents lead the way in raising our children to always show humanity and decency. It’s time – for those of us who have not already done so – to mensch up.

IDF: Haredi Yeshiva Deans Cheat, Covering for No-Show Students

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Yesterday, during an in-camera session of the Knesset committee preparing the “equal burden” bill for its second reading before the plenum, the IDF representative at the meeting, Brigadier-Gen. Gadi Agmon, launched a vehement attack on the deans of Haredi yeshivas, accusing them of outright lying and covering up for students who are registered but do not show up for classes, Ma’ariv reported.

The legal arrangement between Israeli governments and Haredi yeshivas over the years, known as the “Torato umnuto” (his Torah study is his occupation) deal, recognized that young men whose only engagement was Torah scholarship would be absolved from enlisting in the army so long as they continue their studies. To be fair, the IDF has been giving similar deals to young men engaged in secular studies, but in many cases those deals involved attending students technical schools who went on to serve a longer stint, often using the skills they had learned.

The “Torato Umnuto” soon became a blanket covering the vast majority of Haredi young men, whether they were actually studying or not. It also turned out to be a two-edged sword, as those young men were barred from legal employment because of their military status, and so many were condemned to a life of dead-end jobs paid for illegaly.

This was the main purpose of the Tal Committee Law, which, back in 2002, was attempting to interject fairness and honesty into a seriously broken system. Many in the Haredi world have pointed to the steady stream of recruits, as well as the steadily rising numbers of Haredim both in the job market and in academic institutions as signs that the Tal law was working. But the Supreme Court, ever eager to equalize the country, was dissatisfied with what it considered lukewarm results and eventually killed the bill in the winter of 2012.

The new law, hammered out by the (Yesh Atid MK and Minister) Jacob Perry committee over the past six months, is a more sweeping version of the Tal law, calling for larger numbers of Haredi recruits in a shorter period of time. But while on paper the numbers might please the high court—in the Haredi world the Perry effort (which they usually pin on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s back) is tantamount to at least the Russian Czar’s conscription of Jews, if not an outright holocaust.

This is the background of Brigadier-Gen. Agmon’s assault on the yeshiva deans, whom he sees as saboteurs of all the arrangements ever reached between the Zionist establishment and the Haredim, whether the Haredi representative were inside or outside the coalition government.

“It is inconceivable that deans of yeshivas would lie knowingly and sign for their students as if they’re present full time in the yeshivas, while in reality they’re not there,” Agmon, who serves as head of the Planning and Military Personnel Dept. in the IDF. “There are thousands who don’t study in the yeshivas [while stating that they are], but we don’t have the apparatus to enable us to identify them and enforce their enlistment,” he added.

Agmon’s appearance marked a distinct change in the IDF’s approach to the new draft legislation being cobbled in committee, this time headed by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked. Until yesterday, the army stayed away from the discussion, essentially committing to carry out whatever the political echelon would decide. But the gloves were taken off yesterday, and all the spades were called out by the general.

MK Shaked decided to keep the session closed to the media, most likely to enable the Haredi committee members to speak frankly, away from their own newspapers which have been frothing at the mouth over the new bill for six months now. According to Ma’ariv, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and MK Ariel Atias (Shas) both agreed that a yeshiva boy who comes of age and is not attending classes should be drafted. Gafni went as far as to say that, should it be needed, those students should go to jail if they refuse to serve.

The problem is that that, too, is part of the Haredi parties’ kabuki theater, whereby they talk a good line, but when it comes to anyone actually encouraging those young men to inject a measure of honesty into their lives and go serve in the army – everybody is collaborating to keep them in the black garb, hat and all.

Infidel

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I’ve written about Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few times, having heard her speak two years running now at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. Each time, in her elegant and dignified way, she put the other speakers to shame. There were quiet and short remarks – there is great beauty is simplicity.

Last year, as several American Jews, diplomats and scholars, debated the need for Israel to surrender more, Hirsi Ali was handed the microphone and now, more than 16 months later, her words remain imprinted on my brain, “Even if you give them Jerusalem…EVEN if you give them Jerusalem, there will be no peace.”

Many clapped for this statement and the first thing I did after blogging about her was to promise myself I would learn more. With a great many excuses, a full year past and I was back again this past June at the President’s Conference, thrilled to have another opportunity to hear her speak. The room was packed – not a vacant seat (I grabbed the last three seats and called Chaim telling him he had to come hear this session). After hearing her speak again, I fulfilled that promise by ordering two of her books – “Infidel” and “Nomad.” These contain the story of her life – up to this point, whatever she wants to tell us – but certainly in much more detail than she could provide during her short presentations.

I learned so much about Islam – about that world on the other side of my borders. To be honest, I knew a lot of it, or suspected it – but she gave depth to my knowledge and then took me way beyond. She gave reasons, deeply rooted in Islam and in the Koran. I knew the results; she taught me the cause.

So here, I have a confession – I am a mother, a wife, even a grandmother, if you can believe that…and though I have joined others in condemning it, I only realized in reading her story what female genital mutilation was. I had no idea…and a part of me wishes I still didn’t know. How these men could do this to their daughters; how they could want this in their wives – I honestly and truly don’t understand.

That is, perhaps, the curse of Western civilization – we cannot comprehend the barbarity and because we are so naive, because we cannot understand, we tend to excuse, minimize the acts. We conveniently use the words and condemn the action…but to read pages that describe the act, the pain and suffering of these young girls – then and for years after was a startling revelation, a glimpse into a world that I had never imagined.

Can a mother want to do this to her daughter, as Ayaan’s mother chose to do to hers? How? In God’s name, how? I have never knowingly caused my daughter’s pain. And when they have been in pain, I have felt that pain throughout my body.

As to Ayaan, her story is amazing…what she survived…what she made of herself is a lesson to all of us – even those of us who, by comparison, have been blessed to live with relatively few hardships. I have never known hunger; I have never been beaten. Medical care has always been available, education, food, and love.

There were several things that got to me in her story (I’ve only read Infidel so far; I’m starting Nomad tonight) on so many levels – as a woman, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a mother.

One of the first things that struck me, even as I found myself deeply involved with her personal story, were the few references to Jews. Until she was well into her 20s, I don’t think Ayaan ever met a Jew. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry when I read, “In Saudi Arabia, everything bad was the fault of the Jews. When the air conditioner broke or suddenly the tap sopped running,t he Saudi women next door used to say the Jews did it…I had never med a Jew. (Neither had these Saudis.)” What I got from this was something I had already known – they really really hate us. They don’t even know us, but they hate us…go figure.

Another thing that bothered me, though I understood her reasoning, was her journey away from Islam. She describes a religion that demands absolute obedience; a religion that has no mechanism for change over time; and a religion that focuses on punishment and the Hereafter – all you do in this life is preparation for the Hereafter and there are seemingly thousands or more things for which you are regularly threatened to be condemned to hell. It seems almost as if it is impossible to get to this heaven, given the number of restrictions – in action and in thought – that are applied to Muslims.

Ayaan’s brilliant reasoning takes all of this into consideration and reaches a conclusion – there is no hell; there is no hereafter. The Koran was written by man, not be God…and from there – she decides there is no God. I’m simplifying it. For her, it was a journey of thousands of miles and many years. She embraced Islam, searching and searching to justify her beliefs. She found contradictions and still pushed on.

It is written in the Koran that you may beat your wife…and Ayaan properly asks, what kind of God would allow that? It is written that you can cheat and lie to an infidel…and what kind of God would allow that?

And while I agree with her, it is also the point where I lose my way in following her. I won’t argue whether Allah is God and God is Allah, but I will say that the God she describes is not my God. I do believe in God – but not this Allah that she describes. My God has told us to choose life, not death. My God does not allow a man to beat his wife and the value of a life – Jew or not, is important. You cannot cheat or beat a slave and even slaves have an “out” clause to their slavery such that they must be set free after a certain number of years. These are the laws given to my people, by our God, a God we refer to as merciful and just.

A man can sell himself into slavery to pay off a debt, knowing that when the debt is paid, he will be freed. I don’t want to get into a legal comparison of Jewish law versus Islamic law – I am an expert of neither.

But I do believe in the hereafter – only different from what Ayaan was taught. We are taught that God waits to the last minute of your life to forgive any transgressions; the Islam she learned involved having two “angels” over her shoulders, each writing down the good and bad you do – and the list of bad could be as simple as being alone with a man, seeing a movie, etc. If you wear pants, if you show any skin except for your face and hands, certainly not your neck, you are sinful and evil.

I don’t blame Ayaan for walking away from a culture in which a man can take several wives and beat them as he wishes; a culture in which a man can marry off his daughter to a someone she has never met; a culture in which a woman cannot move freely unless she is escorted by a man. I can only hope that had God put me in the same culture, I would have found the courage, as she did, to escape. And she didn’t just escape, she took with her a responsibility to try to help others.

I think it took tremendous courage to walk away, to flee and save herself and thousands of other Muslim women by the work she did in Holland and now does in the United States.

I just wish somehow that along her journey, she could have found a way to keep God. It seems to me that Ayaan’s logical conclusion should have been that if Islam is as flawed as she believes it to be…she should understand that their version and vision of God is flawed too. I do not believe in the God she worshiped as a child and a young woman. Flawed, vindictive, vengeful, and promoting inequality – no, these are not traits of the God that I have known.

This Allah she was raised to worship demanded absolute obedience – compare that to the story of Abraham arguing with God to save the few righteous of Sodom. We have been in a dialog with God for thousands of years – and He listens to us. It is a relationship of love, of gratitude.

In Israel, we have seen too many miracles to do anything but believe in God. Every time a missile hits…it is a miracle because moments before a car passed by, a person left the room, a class was in the library. We have seen it all and we recognize the source. I’m sure we have atheists in Israel, but even among secular Jews here, God is pretty much accepted.

The radio broadcaster will bless the memory of someone who has died; will say, “thank God,” when no one is hurt. God escorts us through our lives here and encourages us to be better, kinder, and more charitable. We are not measured by how many infidels we kill, how many women we force into modesty. This concept of honor killing finds no home in our religion or with our God.

We have seen the horrors of what man can do to man (and to woman) but to blame God for the actions of man seems unfair. There is evil in this world – we all know that. We are given the choice – to choose good and God or to choose evil and work against God.

I can’t explain why bad things happen, but I do believe even the horrible serves a purpose. What was done to Ayaan, and so many others, were terrible, almost unimaginable and yet, didn’t these actions form her into the person she is? Overall, as I read her book, I was left with the impression that she was happy with who she is and what she has done. God, yes, I believe God, gave her a task in this life – one that she accomplishes each time she spreads the knowledge of the culture in which she was raised, each time she forces us to open our eyes and see.

Would she have accomplished what she has, without the challenges along the way? I think the answer is obvious.

What I can say is that there is tremendous comfort in believing that there is a God looking out for you, guiding you, protecting you. And I wish Ayaan could have this comfort. God has a plan – perhaps the greatest evil comes when man attempts to control or redirect that plan; when man attempts to become master of that plan.

Perhaps the irony is that the religion of Islam’s greatest flaw is not that it targets infidels, but that it fails to understand what an infidel is. I would say an infidel is a man who beats his wife, mutilates his daughter, encourages his sons to commit suicide. An infidel is one who is so busy defining God for others, he forgets to understand it is not for us to define God at all.

In carefully defining every aspect of how you live, Islam has succeeded in defining nothing. What the Muslim man fails to realize is that when he blows up a building, murders and terrorizes – and it is he who will go to hell, not the poor woman who was seen talking to a man, not the family sitting in the pizza store in Jerusalem. There are infidels in the world – but these are the people who forsake the love of God, for a culture of death and misery.

(It’s still an incredible book and I highly recommend it…I just wish I could tell Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she is where she is in life…by her own intelligence, her own strength, and by the grace of God…if not Allah.)

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

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