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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘heart’

Mir Rosh Yeshiva Recovery Just the Beginning of Israel’s Stem Cell Miracles

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Israeli scientific advancements in the use of stem cells to treat a variety of serious and debilitating illnesses may now be credited with advancing the Torah learning of a generation of students at the Mir Yeshiva, thanks to the miraculous recovery of their Rosh Yeshiva from ALS, courtesy of the breakthrough Israeli treatment.

A clinical trial of ALS patients conducted by Israel’s BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics shows their therapy, NurOwn, is safe and well-tolerated by patients, and not only capable of halting the progress of the illness, but can actually reverse the course of the disease, improving the breathing, muscle strength, and speech capabilities of sufferers with nerve damage in the brain and spine.

Four months ago, when Rabbi Rafael Shmuelevitz was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he was given just 2-4 years to live until he succumbed to the most severe of the neuromuscular diseases. Soon his speech became difficult to understand, and he was confined to a wheelchair.

Yet just one month after beginning an experimental treatment spearheaded at Hadassah, Rabbi Shmuelevitz was back on his feet, teaching again at the 7,000-student Mir, as he has done for the last 30 years.  His recovery was not only touted as a miracle and a joy for the students of the Mir yeshiva, but is being called the first ever recovery from ALS.

Last May, Israel’s Ministry of Health granted approval to biotech company Brainstorm, which specializes in stem cell use, and Hadassit, a company associated with Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, to begin the first-ever clinical trial of stem cell therapy to delay or halt the advancement of ALS.

In the past, ALS patients gradual loss of motor abilities turned into an inability to breathe, with the average sufferer living 3-5 years until dying of suffocation.  Rabbi Shmuelevitz was denied entry to the trial because he was suffering from an additional muscular disease, myasthenia gravis, but was ultimately give the therapy as a last-ditch “compassionate treatment”.

Just days after his first treatment, his speech began to improve, his breathing became easier, and he was able to walk unassisted.  “My students understand every word I say.  It’s truly a miracle from Heaven,” the Rabbi said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news.  “I am a new person as a result of the treatment I received.” Click here for video in Hebrew.

“I am very excited by the incredibly impressive positive effect in this case, Prof. Dimitrios Karussis, Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Hadassah Ein-Kerem University Hospital told Channel 2. “ I was pleasantly surprised, I was optimistic, but not to such a degree,” he said with a laugh.

Researchers and doctors caution that, for now, this is an isolated case, but say the findings are extremely encouraging and could signal a medical breakthrough.  The other 12 patients participating in the trial have also witnessed encouraging results, but not to such a grand scale. Patients in the trial were transplanted with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow and treated with NurOwn stem cell technology.

Some attribute the extreme nature of Rabbi Shmuelevitz’s recovery to prayer rallies held by students of the Mir in Jerusalem and the Ponevitch yeshiva in Bnei Brak, as well as the saying of psalms and the dedication of the learning of pages upon pages of Gemara to Rabbi Shmuelevitz’s health.  No one, however, is denying that BrainStorm’s technology has something to offer those who may have less spiritual leverage.

BrainsStorm President Chaim Lebovits said that preliminary results are so promising that stem cell therapy may soon be used to cure ALS, as well as to treat multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

A Phase I/II trial to measure the safety and preliminary efficacy of BrainStorm’s therapy is underway at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center. The company submitted the interim report to Israel’s Health Ministry.

BrainStorm is awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to begin ALS trials at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Last year, the FDA granted NurOwn orphan drug designation, providing financial incentives for its development.

BrainStorm’s miraculous success is just the latest development in a field of study long dominated by Israel.  In 2006, Bar-Ilan University made headlines when human nerve cells infected with the familial dysautonomia disease were grown in a petri dish to test possible treatments for the peripheral nervous system ailment found exclusively among Ashkenazi Jews.

That same year, in the United States, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill which would have awarded federal funding for stem cell research.

Almost across the board, leaders in Jewish thinking and religion have agreed that research and use of stem cells is permissible according to Jewish law.

In 2004, the US National Institute of Health approved the Technion university as a training center for embryonic stem cell technology and funded two courses – one there and one at Johns Hopkins University – with a $450,000 grant for three years.

In 2006, Israeli researchers were found to be the world’s most prolific authors of scientific articles on stem cells, according to an article published in The Scientist.

In December 2011, Israeli researchers from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the Technion medical school isolated cells in embryonic stem cells capable of repairing damaged tissue, and fixed  damaged tissue in mice for the first time, with expectation that the treatment could be used to repair human tissue and organs in the future, particularly those damaged due to insufficient blood supply.

The team’s findings were published in the November 2011 issue of “Circulation,” the journal of the American Heart Association. The journal also dedicated an editorial to the findings, because of their great medical significance.

Technion scientists created cancerous cells for use in studying the effects of different anti-cancer drugs, and are working to perfect the creation of tendons from stem cells.

In May 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Technion researches had removed skin cells from two patients with heart failure, returned the cells to an embryonic state, and transformed them into beating heart cells capable of communicating with the patients’ existing heart tissue.

Challenges include the risk of stem cells to lose control and become cancerous and difficulty in attuning stem cell-derived cardiac cells to normal heart rhythms

Yet research presses on, with research on ways to regenerate heart tissue on the forefront.

A recent study by researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem has shown the ability of stem cells to perpetually renew themselves and turn into all kinds of mature cells.  The breakthrough illustrates the ability of stem cells to be effective in treating diseases characterized by cell death.

The findings of their study appeared in the journal Nature Communications and was funded by grants from health ministries and scientific organizations in Israel and around the world.

I Surrender…

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

I try not to be defeatist; not to give up hope. I try to believe that it will all be okay. I really do. I do believe I have faith and I do trust God. And having said all of that, I hate to introduce a “but” in there…but…

I surrender. I just give up. I’ve been reading about the Munich massacre in 1972. Only weeks before, I had come to the conclusion, at 12 years old…the age my youngest daughter is now…that I wanted to live in Israel. I watched the Israelis march into the stadium with the Israeli flag and my heart soared – that was my flag! I was proud of the American flag; I really was, but my heart was already Israeli.

And then the report of an infiltration in the Olympic village. The Israelis. The hostage situation and the bungled rescue. A report that the Israelis were safe…and such relief…and then utter and complete shock that not one had survived…not one of the hostages. It would be only later we would learn of the incredible, criminal incompetence of the German police and “rescue” squad.

For weeks now, I’ve been posting and writing about the International Olympic Committee’s pathetic, disgusting and disturbing decision not to grant one moment, sixty seconds, of silence in memory of the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich – not once…in forty years. And today, I read an article about the heightened security concerns. Days after Israelis were attacked in Bulgaria, I surrender.

“In London, Israel’s Olympic team of 38 athletes is training under tight security at the Olympic village, and British forces have even placed surface-to-air missiles at six locations.”

–Reports Israel National News

“More than 17,000 troops and 7000 private security guards will protect the London Olympic Park and 26 other venues, with a further 12,500 police patrolling city streets in a series of ‘rings of steel’.”

– The Australian

Tight security; 24,000 guards and an additional 12,500 police. Is it worth it? If this is what we need to have these games, does it truly represent the great gathering of all nations? Where is the peace and brotherhood that should be symbolized? I surrender – it just isn’t worth the risk. I don’t want the Israelis to go to London. I don’t want to spend my time checking the news to make sure they haven’t been attacked.

I don’t want to trust those guards, those police and those missiles. I don’t ever want to feel what I did back when I was 12 years old watching as the world moved on and continued their games while I watched them loading coffins on planes that flew home to Israel. I couldn’t bring myself to watch them play while we cried.

Let them play – let them play among their missiles; praying they can finish before they are attacked. Let them watch the skies for missiles, the buildings for snipers, the roads for explosives. I know the Israeli team will go; I know they will play. I know others will hope they bring home some gold, some silver, some bronze.

I just want them to come home safe so that we never have to beg the International Olympic Committee’s cold-hearted members for sixty seconds to remember them. Go in peace, I’ll pray to each one…and most important, come home in peace.

The Tremendous Heart Of Pinchas Daddy

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

We’ve just read the Torah portion about Pinchas, an amazing tzaddik who performed an unusual act instinctively and for the sake of Hashem and His honor.

About two weeks ago I was tidying my desk area and the shelves above it. Suddenly, on the floor, seemingly out of nowhere, I saw an old article from a major Hebrew daily, written the day after Sergeant Pinchas Daddy was stabbed in the heart by an Arab who had crept up and attacked him from behind.

Pinchas Daddy. How I loved him; how everyone involved at the Kotel loved him. I had a kiosk near the Kotel and he always greeted me – as well as all the Arab shopkeepers – with a gleaming smile. He was 38 but seemed older – wise and fatherly.

He was like a television cop, twirling his nightstick and helping children cross the street. I’m telling you we all cried, Jews and Arabs alike, when our Daddy was suddenly, and ruthlessly, taken from us.

I picked up the old yellowed article, looked at the photo of that beautiful man and said to myself, “I must call his family and tell them how much I loved and miss him.”

I dialed information and asked for the Daddy family in Talpiot. Moments later I was speaking to Mrs. Daddy. I immediately started crying and told her how I found the little article and picture. She probably couldn’t believe that out of the blue someone on the line was crying for her tzaddik husband.

She told me his 20th yahrzeit – this Thursday, erev Rosh Chodesh Av – will be marked by a ceremony on Mount Herzl. I assured her I would be there.

“Did you ever get remarried?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Yes, I understand,” I said. “Who could ever replace a husband like yours? Pinchas was so gentle, so loving.”

“Our oldest son is a ramach [the abbreviated term for head of a division] at the Russian Compound police station,” she said, “and believe me, he emulates his father’s ways. Pinchas, I’m sure, is very proud of him.”

And now, in his honor, I present the secret power of Pinchas.

When we read in the Torah that Pinchas took the romach, the spear, with which he stabbed Zimri and his idol-worshipping girlfriend, the word romach is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav. Therefore it can be read as ramach, which we use for the number of positive commandments in the Torah.

Ramach is spelled resh (numerical equivalent: 200) mem (40), ches (8), which corresponds to the 248 organs in the body. Each positive commandment fixes and nurtures a different organ.

So the verse hints to us that Pinchas’s meticulous keeping of all 248 positive commandments gave him the strength to do what he did.

But I still didn’t have a proof for my theory until I walked into the Diaspora Yeshiva on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and heard Rav Goldstein, the rosh hayeshiva, quoting the famous Mussar sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, which deduces from a pasuk in Devarim that keeping all the positive commandments makes a person a yorei Shamayim – someone who properly fears Heaven – while a person who tramples even one positive commandment is not a yorei Shamayim.

Now it was clear to me that the verse reveals to us the true power of Pinchas – that it was his careful observance of the positive commandments that gave him the strength to avenge God’s honor.

Returning to our Pinchas, of the Daddy family, let’s remember that Rebbe Akiva declared that loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – equal to all the positive commandments and all the negative ones too.

Even though the human body contains 248 organs and 365 arteries that are fixed and nurtured by each of the 613 positive and negative commandments, the heart is essentially the most vital organ in the body, without which nothing will work. In police terminology, as mentioned above, the ramach is the chief of the department. So certainly the great mitzvah of loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – the heart of all 613 mitzvahs.

A year before he was killed, Pinchas Daddy had suffered a heart attack at the young age of 37. He recovered and was stationed at the holy Kotel, where he shared his heart with every human being, appreciating the importance of the heart to the body and to the mitzvah of loving your fellow man with all your heart – regardless of his color or religion.

A Parent’s Anguish

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

This is the most painful letter I’ve ever written. I’ve been through many horrific experiences. My parents were survivors of the Holocaust; they were shattered people. I know you will understand this since you too are a Holocaust survivor.

The scars of that period never heal in those who went through it. As much as my parents celebrated, as much as they laughed and rejoiced, the nightmare was forever with them. My parents raised us with much love. They literally lived for us. They saw their entire families wiped out and now their children represented all that was lost. They never felt a need take a vacation alone – when they did go away it was always with us, their children.

This was the nurturing I was exposed to, and I brought up my own children the same way. They were always my first priority. I was always home for them. I was always there for them. This was equally true of my husband.

As we know, at the bris of every baby boy we say a berachah that the child may merit to enter the covenant of Torah, chuppah and ma’asim tovim. Yes, the dream of Torah-committed parents is different from that of secular parents, whose hope is that the child will grow up to be successful, which in our society means to make loads of money.

Every Friday evening when I lit Shabbos candles I took an extra few moments to pour out my heart and beseech Hashem to grant my husband and me the privilege of seeing our children under the chuppah embracing a genuine Torah life.

Hashem blessed us with eight children – six boys and two girls. Baruch Hashem, all our children found good shiduchim and we saw them all under the chuppah. But very soon everything fell apart with one of them.

I once met a woman from Jerusalem who had five children, one of whom was killed while serving in the army. An insensitive person visiting her during the days of shiva foolishly said, “Thank G-d you still have four children.” She told me that remark was like a knife in her heart. If somebody has five fingers and one is amputated, would you say to that person, “Your hand is fine – after all, it’s just one finger that’s been severed”? If you lose a finger your entire hand is damaged and can no longer do that which seemed so simple only yesterday.

I often think about that woman’s story. In a way I too have lost a finger have been offered foolish consolation. “Don’t get upset, you still have seven children from whom you have nachas.” They can’t comprehend that I go to sleep and wake up with just one thought: “My child, my child, my child is missing.”

My other children are exemplary in their commitment to Torah, their devotion to mitzvos and the respect and love they show us, but this one son and his wife have caused us terrible anguish. And that anguish has taken over our lives and gives us no peace.

This one son married a girl who has agendas. I do not pretend to be a psychologist so I will not even attempt to analyze the situation. But this little wife has made a great breach in our family and destroyed our harmony, our unity. She does not talk to or recognize any of my other children, her husband’s siblings. She does not visit them and does not communicate with them. She will not allow my son to see his siblings or to visit and talk to them.

My son gives the impression that he is in accord with this. The cousins do not know each other. They are not permitted to spend time together.

Why does my son allow this? I don’t know. We all live in the same community and our family tragedy has become public knowledge. Our entire family has suffered. A hundred and one times I have tried to reach my son and daughter-in-law but it has been to no avail. The same holds true for the attempts made by my other children.

My husband and I begged, cajoled, and compromised our dignity – and our children did the same – but our son and daughter-in-law snubbed all our efforts. They locked their doors and their hearts.

“By the Rivers of Brooklyn”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

As all readers of The Jewish Press surely know, we are in the “Three Weeks” period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day marking the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. During these three weeks, certain customs of mourning are observed to emphasize our great sorrow and loss. For instance, weddings are not conducted, and listening to happy music, dancing, and playing musical instruments are not allowed. There is one thing, though, that you could call a break, and that is the recital of Tikun Hatzot, the “Midnight Lamentation,” can now be said in the afternoon. For people who find it difficult to recite the Tikun Hatzot supplications late at night when they are overtired, this is a chance to recite this very powerful rectification with all of one’s concentration and feeling.

Many people think that Tikun Hatzot is something only for devout Hasidim and mystics, but the practice is mentioned on the very first pages of the halachic treatises, the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura, which state: “If one is able to rise at midnight and perform the midnight service, there is nothing more praiseworthy than this, as it says, ‘Rise, cry out, in the night at the beginning of the watches, pour out thy heart like water before the presence of the Lord’” (Lamentations, 2:19). Our Sages tell us that at this time, God cries out, “Woe to My children on account of whose iniquity I destroyed My House, burnt My Temple, and exiled My children amongst the nations” (Berachot 3A). It is the time when the Divine Presence (the Shechinah) weeps for having been cast into the exile with Israel. The holy Zohar compares this to a king who cast his whoring son out from the palace into exile and sent the queen )the Shechinah) along with him to guard him throughout his wanderings. How painful it is for the royal queen to be sullied in foreign impure lands where she must remain with her son until he returns to the palace. So at midnight, we sit on the floor (some don sack cloths), and cry out over the pain of the Shechinah in exile, over the disgraced and exiled Jews, over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. I try to recite Tikun Hatzot at least once or twice a week. Our Sages formulated the prayers to instruct us how we should feel in our ignominious exile from our Land, dispersed amongst the goyim. The Tikun Hatzot begins with the Psalm:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim 137).

Make no mistake, my friends. America is a foreign gentile land. Canada is a foreign gentile land. England is a foreign gentile land. A Jew in America and Canada and England and France and Australia and South Africa is supposed to feel the terrible pain and disgrace of his outcast and ignoble situation, living as a minority amongst the goyim in a foreign gentile land. If he doesn’t experience his life in exile in this manner, feeling the spiritual emptiness and the strangeness of his foreign surroundings, while always yearning to return home to Zion and Jerusalem, then something is wrong with his Judaism and his identity as a Jew.

How much agony and anguish we are to feel over the Diaspora! Our once proud Nation has been destroyed! We have been stripped of our own Jewish Nationhood (until the establishment of Medinat Yisrael) and scattered to foreign lands. Our Holy Temple lies in ruins! And we are to feel pain for the disgrace of our mother, the Shechinah, for dragging her down into exile in countries polluted with idol worship and Xmas decorations nearly three months of the year. We read the verses that our Sages composed and tears fill our eyes. Shattered by our fallen condition in exile, a despised minority in gentile lands, and with hearts burning in shame for God, who is mocked and desecrated by the goyim who say, “These are God’s children and they are cast out of his Land,” as if to say that God doesn’t have the power to keep His promise to watch over His People in their own Jewish Land. So our Sages instructed us to wake up from our comfortable beds in the middle of the night and recite Tikun Hatzot over the pain of the Shechinah and the destruction of Jerusalem, just as they instructed us to recite this same Psalm after every weekday meal:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion….

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

“If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem, withered be my right hand!

“May my tongue cleave to my palate, if ever I not think of you, if I ever not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”

We are to say this Psalm after enjoying our glatt kosher, triple-decker deli sandwiches with cole slaw, sour pickles, fries and a Fr. Brown’s Celery or Black Cherry soft drink, in order to remind us that Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are where we really belong, and where our true happiness lies.

How many of you recite this Psalm after eating? How many of you really set Jerusalem over your highest joy? If you do, why aren’t you here now?

The great Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, stated that the main devotion of a Jew is to get up every night for the Midnight Prayer:

“The exile has already lasted so long. God is only waiting for the moment to return to us and rebuild the Holy Temple. It could happen any time. Our task is to see that from our side we do nothing to obstruct the rebuilding of the Temple. On the contrary, we must make every effort to hasten it. This is why we should be careful to get up each night at midnight and mourn for the destruction of the Holy Temple. Perhaps in a previous incarnation we ourselves were responsible for something which brought about the destruction of the Temple. Even if not, it could still be that our sins in our present lifetime are holding up the rebuilding of the Temple, and this is as bad as if we had actually destroyed it. This is the reason why we must weep and mourn every night at midnight. When we do so, it is as if we were actually making a tremendous effort to rebuild the Holy Temple.”

The “Pele Yoetz” states:

“It is true that mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple is something that should be expressed in outward actions, especially during the Three Weeks, when one should put ashes on one’s head at the place where one lays tefillin, and sit by the doorway day and night to recite Tikun Hatzot. Still, the main thing is not the outward actions, but the feelings one has in one’s heart. One should feel brokenhearted, shed bitter tears, and sigh mournfully over the pain of Heaven.

“It may be true that today we have fallen to a very low level, and no one understands the full extent of what we are missing and what we have lost, what we have caused because of our sin, and what the exile of the Shechinah really means. Our very lack of understanding and sensitivity should fill us with anguish. Even so, each person is obligated to do what he can. One should imagine how he would feel if his mother was swathed and garbed in black, and was crying bitterly and shrieking, ‘The pain in my head! The pain in my arm! I brought up children, I raised them, and they rebelled against me!’ One should focus one’s mind and heart on similar bitter images and pour out one’s soul in a bitter cry, and then one may be worthy of seeing the consolation of Zion and the building of our Holy Temple in all of its glory.”

Truly, it is not easy to feel the pain of the exile and shed real tears every time one says Tikun Hatzot. After all, the destruction of Jerusalem happened almost 2000 years ago, and tragically, many Diaspora Jews are so used to the exile, they’ve long forgotten that there can be something totally different. And for the lucky Jews in Israel who have the unsurpassed blessing of living in Israel, with the Kotel only a short ride away, Jerusalem wondrously rebuilt, and a thriving Jewish State once again sovereign in the Land, it is often difficult to enter the proper mind set necessary to experience the terrible pain of the exile.

So to help me feel the anguish of the Shechinah who weeps over her scattered and exiled children, I look at pictures. Before reciting Tikun Hatzot, I sit on the floor and look at pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto and Miami Beach and Palm Springs and Lakewood and Monsey and Moscow. I imagine the Jews there, my brothers and sisters, and I cry over their exile from the Holy Land, over their captivity amongst the goyim, over the shame and disgrace of living in foreign gentile lands (and over the horrible fact that many of them don’t feel it!), and over the terrible plague of assimilation which is devouring the Jews in exile, and they remain there, blissfully denying that it could happen to their children or grandchildren as well. When I look at the pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, I pray with all my heart that God open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, living make-believe identities, as if they are Americans and Frenchmen and Australians and Germans, when they are really the descendents of Israelites displaced from their Homeland.

Alas! How foolish and shortsighted we are! For 2000 years, the gentiles made certain to remind us that we were in exile, and made sure that we felt the pain. But today, in the temporary lull, when the gentiles are still resting from the last wholesale slaughter of 6 million Jews, like a rapist who rises from his victim with his lust and violence temporarily spent, we have deceived ourselves into thinking that today in our wonderful exiles, it could never happen again, as if the Almighty has forgotten His vow to return us to Israel, with fury, if need be, dragging us back to Eretz Yisrael by our peyes – chas v’shalom.

May the day come speedily when The Blessed One Holy Be He opens our eyes and give us new hearts to feel the shame and disgrace of our exile in Brooklyn, Boston, Boca, and Beverly Hills. May the flights of Nefesh B’Nefesh begin to be full, day after day, and may this coming fast day and day of mourning turn into a feast of falafel, shwarma, and, yes, yes, even bagels and lox, Israel style, the holiest and most delicious bagels and lox in the world. Amen.

[The full text of Tikun Hatzot, with both Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah, can be found here]

Take Back The Calendar

Friday, July 13th, 2012

How do I take back the calendar
full of mistakes looking eerily back at me?

The echo in her mind chorused back and forth like it always had. Thought after thought. She bit her lip as she tried listening to his droning voice. Just more calories to her ears. Feeding her mind with unnecessary information. Fattening her whole world with more complications. She moved her fork from side to side on her plate trying to listen but also trying to drown out the memories taunting at her. Like somehow purging herself of them. Like throwing them up or flushing them away down the toilet. Just like everything else.

How do I unsay those words?
How do I un-breathe those sounds
and play it all back
and somehow delete it?

To most people life was a long menu of mistakes. Decisions not thought through. To Leah they were just empty calories. Each day was a meal she didn’t need. She glanced down at her phone as she pushed back her bangs. Breathing slowly she scanned the calendar. Just days after days. Feeding her. Feeding her uselessly. Life is just a long restaurant menu, isn’t it? And somehow she just wanted to take it all back. Undo those days. Take back those extra carbs or calories.

How do I make it not happen?
How do I erase those memories
like shredding a paper to morsels
or rip off that day
or rewind that hour?

And as Tzvi’s voice echoed in her mind, she slipped on the ring and tried smiling somehow while the sing song voice still played back and forth. The diamond glimmered on her finger. The smile on his face was almost like a little boy who got his hands on some ice cream. Ice cream. Just more fat and empty calories. Catching her reflection in the mirror on the dimly lit restaurant walls she saw herself feeling useless. Like calories she wanted to take back.

Where all prospects slipped from my palms
and everything crashed to the ground
and shattered to pieces.

But a few days later standing in the bathroom hovering over the sink the chorus was now a full blown orchestra. Like at a fancy dinner. Or at a big meal. Big calories. And she knew they all were waiting for her downstairs. But biting her lip she tried blocking it all out. How would she ever be good enough? That’s what the sing song teasing always reminded her. The blood was beginning to mix with her saliva. Pushing back a strand of her hair she bravely met her own eye in the mirror. Someone else stared back at her. Not the person she knew. Sucking her stomach in a little she thought how the feta cheese in her salad was just some extra fat. Why hadn’t she asked for the reduced fat dressing? And as she fed herself with the air she just wanted to get rid of it all. The teasing and taunting. The scales ticking. Treadmills running. She leaned over the toilet and didn’t hear the gentle knock. Her mind circled and pounded. Louder than the knocking. Louder than her logic. And calorie after calorie thrown up into the toilet swirling down away forever. Like the days of the calendar. Because each day just feeds you but you never digest it. You never needed the calories.

How do I make you forgive me
If I can’t take back the calendar?

And as she leaned back and sat down on the tiled floor, second after second ticked back and forth while the chorus finally started to mute. And the door slowly opened. And through the weak tears, dripping down her cheeks like the lace cookies on the platters downstairs, Leah’s eyes met his. Tzvi’s fingers slid from the door knob. He just stood in place. Like the cake she had left standing untouched.

So now how can you still not forgive me
and tell me it doesn’t matter to you
or that you think it’s over
while every second
guilt carves into my heart
and drop by drop erodes a valley too deep
till I’m cringing and wishing
that somehow I can’t un-dent the silver

Leah’s lips started to quiver. Her voice froze like the sorbet her mother had left in the freezer. She tried saying that it wasn’t what it looked like. She tried explaining. But breath after breath her chest just went up and down. Like the ounces on the scale. The soft hum of the rain falling outside filled up the silence. Like the stuffing in the knishes downstairs. The rain. Feeding the world. Dripping down calories.

or sweep up the glass
and put back the pieces
and take back the calendar.

Slowly Tzvi took a step back not taking his eyes off of her, shaking his head. Sadness frosted over his eyes. Like brownies. Slipping his hands into his pockets and shaking his head a last time, she caught his scared look before he walked away. He looked like he just ate way too many calories.

Let’s Do Lunch

Monday, July 9th, 2012

A homeless man feeds a cat on the streets of Nachlaot, Jerusalem.

We were looking for a cheerful image this morning, but one that won’t belie the assortment of bad news out there. Something that would look good but won’t give the reader the sense that we’re just escaping reality.

So we thought this image of a guy who’s down on his luck but still has enough room left in his heart to share a saucer of milk with a little friend makes us feel good about life without thinking it’s Disneyland out there.

Stay cool. Drink a lot of liquids (mostly because we believe drinking solids is next to impossible).

I Love All Jews

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

That’s right. I love Jews. All of them. I love good Jews and I love bad Jews. I love fat Jews and I love skinny Jews. I love reform Jews and deformed Jews, progressive Jews and regressive Jews. I love assimilated Jews and Jews who have married gentiles. I love homosexual Jews and lesbian Jews. I love leftist Jews and Peace Now Jews. I love Jews who call me nasty names and Jews who say I’m a lousy writer. I even love Diaspora Jews. Some people say I’m too hard on them, but that’s because I love them so much. If you see a blind man about to fall off a cliff, you yell out to warn him, right? What is this similar to? If a person who never heard about heart transplants wandered into the operating room of a hospital and saw a team of doctors removing the heart of a patient, he’d think they were monsters trying to kill him – but the very opposite is the case. The surgeons are trying to save him. It’s the same thing with me. Precisely out of the passionate love I feel for my brothers and sisters in exile, I am trying to open their eyes. I lived in exile in gentile lands too, and I know what it’s like. Living in Israel, you can’t even begin to measure the difference. Jewish life in a foreign, gentile land cannot be compared to true Jewish life in the Land of the Jews. It’s the difference between night and day.

Since the Three Weeks have started when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, this is a good time to stir up the embers of the love we feel for our fellow Jews. Rabbi Kook taught that since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of senseless hatred, it will be rebuilt by gratuitous love. So to help get us started, here are a few things Rabbi Kook wrote about love, from the chapter on Ahavah, in his book “Midot HaRiyah.”

“The heart must be filled with love for all: for all of Creation, for all mankind, and, in ascending order, for the Jewish People, in which all other loves are included, since it is the mission of Israel to bring all the world to perfection. All of these loves are to be expressed in practical action, by pursuing the welfare of those whom we are bidden to love, and to seek their betterment and advancement.”

“The highest love of all is the love of G-d. When it fills the heart, this spells man’s greatest happiness. Consequently, one cannot help but love the Torah and its commandments, which are so intimately linked to the goodness of G-d.”

“Love must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race or country. A person must discipline himself in the love of all people, especially the love of the noblest among them, the intellectuals, the poets, the artists, the communal leaders. It is necessary to recognize that light of the good in the best of the people, for it is through them that the light of God is diffused in the world, whether they recognize the significance of their mission or not.

“Hatred may be directed only toward the evil and filth in the world. We must realize that the kernel of life, in its inherent light and holiness, never leaves the divine image in which mankind was created, and with which each person and nation is endowed.”

“Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself – on the contrary, it strengthens it. For it is not because of the dimension of evil clinging to a person that we include him in our love, but because of the good in him, which our love tells us is to be found in everyone. Since we separate the dimension of the good in him, in order to love him for it, our hatred for the evil becomes unwavering and absolute.”

“It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a divine image, it is proper to love him. We must also realize that the precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that developed in him through circumstances.”

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