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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘North America’

Why Winter Weather Is Good For You

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Many of us in North America, even in areas that are usually relatively toasty during the winter months – like Maryland and Washington, DC – are impatiently counting the days until spring and the promise of warmth and sunny days. Even rain is looking good these days.

After seemingly non-stop snow storms, back -breaking snow shoveling, slippery “ice-walking” and school closings – meaning bored children tearing the house apart, people want winter to be behind them. This despite the fact that winter’s end automatically means Pesach is imminent – and we all know what preparing for this holiday of freedom entails.

However, at this point there are a lot of fed-up, winter-weary adults who hands down (literally) prefer scraping kitchen counters than scraping icy windshields.

I however see many wonderful benefits to cold winter weather – it’s just a matter of opening your eyes even though your vision might be obscured by your ski mask. Below are a bar mitzvah number of reasons why winter weather is a bracha.

1: Good for the skin: Cold temperatures will keep you looking younger longer. After all, everyone knows that meat stays fresher looking in a refrigerator – but look what happens when meat is left out at room temperature (68-72 F).

2: Physical fitness via aerobics: All that jumping and hopping you do to get the circulation back in your frozen toes and fingers will burn calories and speed up your metabolism.

3) Physical fitness via weight lifting: Hours of bending down and lifting shovels full of snow over your shoulders as you clear and then re-clear your driveway and sidewalk, will build up your biceps and triceps and a whole bunch of muscles you never knew you had.

4) Enhanced privacy: You don’t have to worry about unwanted guests dropping in on you all hours of the day and night – not when there is 30 inches of snow on the sidewalk and road. Remember, sleet and snow falling through the day keeps the in-laws away!

5) Lower car expenses: Since you will not be going anywhere for a few days – or until whenever the blizzard lets up, you can save a substantial sum of money on gasoline and wear and tear on your car – unless of course you left it parked on the street/driveway.

6) Peace of mind: You don’t have to worry about getting sunburned or heat stroke if you spend too much time outside (while waiting for the bus that was due 40 minutes earlier).

7) More peace of mind: Bundled up in layers of clothing and sweaters, no one will notice the 10 pounds you recently gained while indulging in latkes and donuts on Chanukah – and snacking on that pile of shalach manos you need to get rid of before Pesach.

8) Power failure will not ruin your food: If the electricity goes off, there is no need to worry about food spoiling. Just take your perishables outside. And if you’re in the mood for an iced tea, or your soda is too warm, you can just reach out of your window and break off an icicle or two.

9) Mitzvah opportunity: Those who are in very good shape can roam around the neighborhood, helping friends and strangers alike to push their cars out of the snow banks they are stuck in.

10) No line-ups in restaurants: Because so many people are housebound, those who are adventurous have their choice of tables and quick service if they go out to eat.

11) Enhanced family togetherness: Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers and children will get re-acquainted as they spend quality – and quantity time together – since nobody will be going out until the snow drifts blocking the doors melt away.

12) Personal safety: If you feel like taking a late night stroll or need to pick something up from the grocery store, you can walk out with confidence knowing that no self-respecting mugger would be caught outdoors in this freezing weather.

13) Heat appreciation: On muggy, hot, summer days, as you feel like you are melting under the broiling sun, you can remind yourself of those frigid, chilly winter days you so recently endured and embrace the heat beating on your head.

As you can see, every cloud – even snow clouds – have a silver lining. You just have to not let the snowflakes get into your eyes!

Intense Debate Follows Orthodox Rabbi’s Presence At D.C. Service

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

A prominent Manhattan rabbi is defending his decision to participate in last week’s National Prayer Service.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City was one of three Jewish clergymen to participate in the service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

As the service was taking place, in response to a call from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Basil Herring, said Lookstein was breaking the organization’s rules by participating in the service.

Herring said Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.

“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate,” Herring said. “If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic. There is no political perspective here that says you should not do it because it is politically sensitive. Of course it is a purely religious question.”

In an interview with JTA just hours after the service concluded and in a mass e-mail to his colleagues later in the week, Lookstein defended his decision.

“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to [Jewish law], I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said.

“But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”

The controversy has triggered a robust debate among Modern Orthodox rabbis, both regarding the substantive question at hand – whether Lookstein’s decision to participate was permitted under Jewish law – and the process question of whether the RCA overstepped its bounds or mishandled the situation by criticizing Lookstein publicly.

The founders of an alternative Orthodox rabbinic group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have come to Lookstein’s defense.

In a statement, Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel defended Lookstein’s right to decide for himself whether to participate and took aim at what they framed as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Orthodox rabbinic bodies, including the RCA.

The RCA’s Herring, in addition to commenting on the situation, sent JTA a statement drafted by the organization.

“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” the RCA statement said. “Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”

Even some RCA members who agreed with the RCA’s view that Lookstein had made a mistake believed the organization should have remained silent or limited its comments to the public statement.

This week, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, denied his organization had ever taken a public stance on the matter.

“We did not issue any press release,” Hochberg said. “We gave you our policy statement about a longstanding RCA policy. There is no comment about Rabbi Lookstein. He acted independently and not on our behalf. It wasn’t going to be sent to anyone. If no one called, it would not have gone out. It was not going to be sent out to anyone.”

Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.

The other four religious representatives to read part of the prayer were Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship in New York City; the Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; and Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.

Earlier in the program Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington, recited Psalm 121.

According to another source, the Obama team was looking specifically for the participation of an Orthodox rabbi.

One person in attendance said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time candidate for vice president and an Orthodox Jew, told Obama that it was incredibly important and a very positive thing that the Orthodox community was represented.

The RCA’s Herring was adamant that the group was not taking a political stance, noting that the organization sent a letter to President Obama congratulating him and expressing confidence that “with the help of God, you will build on the respect and good will that you have earned to lead a united country in a successful confrontation with the daunting challenges that we face both within and without.”

Lookstein said he had two conversations with Herring about his participation. In the first, Herring tried to dissuade Lookstein from participating. In the second, he did not.

“Had I pulled out it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community, which was at least the way I felt,” Lookstein said.

He also said he heavily weighed the halachic implications of his move, and though he would not ordinarily participate in an interfaith prayer service, especially one in a church, in this case he felt “there were other concerns.”

“If I reached a decision to do it, since I am very careful about shmirat mitzvot, you should conclude that I felt halachically this was the right thing to do,” Lookstein said.

Lookstein met Obama after the reading and recited to the new president the blessing Jews say when they come into the presence of a king – only after Obama gave him permission.

“I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, ‘If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again,’ ” Lookstein said. “He responded with a clear assent.”

In Lookstein’s e-mail to his colleagues, he concluded, “Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.”

(JTA)

Intense Debate Follows Orthodox Rabbi’s Presence At D.C. Service

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


A prominent Manhattan rabbi is defending his decision to participate in last week’s National Prayer Service.


Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City was one of three Jewish clergymen to participate in the service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.


As the service was taking place, in response to a call from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Basil Herring, said Lookstein was breaking the organization’s rules by participating in the service.


Herring said Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus.


“To go into a cathedral, in this case an Episcopalian cathedral in the main sanctuary, is certainly by most accounts not appropriate,” Herring said. “If one wants to visit the Sistine Chapel to view the art of Michelangelo it is problematic. There is no political perspective here that says you should not do it because it is politically sensitive. Of course it is a purely religious question.”


In an interview with JTA just hours after the service concluded and in a mass e-mail to his colleagues later in the week, Lookstein defended his decision.


“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to [Jewish law], I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said.


“But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”


The controversy has triggered a robust debate among Modern Orthodox rabbis, both regarding the substantive question at hand – whether Lookstein’s decision to participate was permitted under Jewish law – and the process question of whether the RCA overstepped its bounds or mishandled the situation by criticizing Lookstein publicly.


The founders of an alternative Orthodox rabbinic group, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, have come to Lookstein’s defense.


In a statement, Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel defended Lookstein’s right to decide for himself whether to participate and took aim at what they framed as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Orthodox rabbinic bodies, including the RCA.


The RCA’s Herring, in addition to commenting on the situation, sent JTA a statement drafted by the organization.


“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” the RCA statement said. “Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”


Even some RCA members who agreed with the RCA’s view that Lookstein had made a mistake believed the organization should have remained silent or limited its comments to the public statement.


This week, the RCA’s president, Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, denied his organization had ever taken a public stance on the matter.


“We did not issue any press release,” Hochberg said. “We gave you our policy statement about a longstanding RCA policy. There is no comment about Rabbi Lookstein. He acted independently and not on our behalf. It wasn’t going to be sent to anyone. If no one called, it would not have gone out. It was not going to be sent out to anyone.”


Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.


The other four religious representatives to read part of the prayer were Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship in New York City; the Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; and Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.


Earlier in the program Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement’s top representative in Washington, recited Psalm 121.


According to another source, the Obama team was looking specifically for the participation of an Orthodox rabbi.


One person in attendance said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time candidate for vice president and an Orthodox Jew, told Obama that it was incredibly important and a very positive thing that the Orthodox community was represented.


The RCA’s Herring was adamant that the group was not taking a political stance, noting that the organization sent a letter to President Obama congratulating him and expressing confidence that “with the help of God, you will build on the respect and good will that you have earned to lead a united country in a successful confrontation with the daunting challenges that we face both within and without.”


Lookstein said he had two conversations with Herring about his participation. In the first, Herring tried to dissuade Lookstein from participating. In the second, he did not.


“Had I pulled out it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community, which was at least the way I felt,” Lookstein said.


He also said he heavily weighed the halachic implications of his move, and though he would not ordinarily participate in an interfaith prayer service, especially one in a church, in this case he felt “there were other concerns.”


“If I reached a decision to do it, since I am very careful about shmirat mitzvot, you should conclude that I felt halachically this was the right thing to do,” Lookstein said.


Lookstein met Obama after the reading and recited to the new president the blessing Jews say when they come into the presence of a king – only after Obama gave him permission.


“I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, ‘If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again,’ ” Lookstein said. “He responded with a clear assent.”


In Lookstein’s e-mail to his colleagues, he concluded, “Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.”


(JTA)

The Benefits Of High Gas Prices

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

         People have been bitterly complaining about the rising price of gas. They feel their lifestyle is being threatened by the high cost of fuel. People interviewed by the media at the gas pumps are not shy in expressing their resentment and disgust, and how gassing up has hit them hard financially. Many admit that they are reconsidering their long-distance vacations, and complain that monies normally set aside for entertainment and recreational purposes will have to be diverted in order to pay for the ability to get to work.

 

         But every negative situation has a silver lining; one just needs to look for it.

 

         First, expensive gas will result in more people walking. Instead of getting into the car to drive half a mile to buy milk, bread or soda, people might be more motivated to save money and actually walk the 10-15 minutes to the grocery store. After doing that a few times, they might discover the enjoyment of feeling more energetic and happier. (Exercise releases the “feel good” hormones called endorphins.)

 

          I truly believe that if it weren’t for Shabbos, many heimishe people would never move their legs back and forth for any appreciable distance or time. At least Shabbos forces them to get reacquainted with the sidewalk.

 

          Here’s a true story: A friend of mine, bemoaning her expanding girth, pointed out (after I mentioned that in addition to dieting, exercise would help her lose weight) that she does exercise, as she often gets up from her chair and walks across the office to the filing cabinet or fax machine, etc. Since she drives to and from work, and rarely walks anywhere, she truly thought that she was actually “exercising.”

 

        Unaffordable gas might just save her life one day.

 

         Talking about saving lives, fewer vehicles on the road (because people are walking more often) means fewer distracted, inept or careless drivers causing tragic loss of limb and life. Imagine being able to cross the street at a busy intersection with a green light (and not feel that you should bench goimel) because you safely made it to the other side without being hit by a right-turning or left-turning car. Big-city dwellers and those living in Brooklyn will understand what I’m talking about.

 

         Imagine, as well, being able to breathe relatively fresh air as you walk to your destination – because there are fewer cars spewing their toxic exhaust at you.

 

         Another benefit is that people who share a sidewalk (as opposed to being separated by several tons of steel) have a much better opportunity to meet one another. Repeatedly seeing familiar faces can actually lead to the exchange of greetings, which might lead to a friendship – and who knows, maybe the lady one street over who you’ve become acquainted with has a nephew who would be perfect for your daughter!

 

         Speaking about shidduchim, the high cost of fuel might encourage in-town dating for out-of-towners (re: those living outside New York). Young people in sizeable heimishe communities may actually take a closer look at the local eligibles being redd to them – and actually go out!

 

         When I was in the parshah back in Toronto, it had become very fashionable for the boys to run to New York for shidduchim. We referred to them as “imports,” misguidedly believing the popular but misleading adage that, “The grass is greener on the other side.” Consequently the girls had to do likewise, in what was an expensive and exhausting necessity that, except for a fortunate few, is the norm in communities across North America.

 

         With soaring gas prices increasing the cost of flying and driving, young people may seriously look in their own backyard for their ezer kinegdo – resulting in many very happy and relieved grandparents who will be able to share their precious einiklach over Yom Tov.

 

         For example, my brother was smart/lucky enough to marry a wonderful girl who lived just doors away. His little ones would toddle back and forth from one bubby’s houseto the other, as we watched them from our front yard. They were fortunate to be loved and cherished, and to share magic moments on an almost daily basis with both sets of grandparents.

 

         No debating over which set of in-laws to spend the holiday with, no shlepping for hours by car with cranky preschoolers and bored 10-year-olds.

 

         While not everyone’s bashert is conveniently in town, at least there might be more motivation to try the home front first.

 

         So next time you’re at the pumps, don’t despair. Better health, cleaner air, more friends and even a shidduch might get you speeding on the road to a better life.

Borders And Boundaries (Part 1)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

          Recently, I came across a talk show whose topic of discussion was about managing personal finances. Several people asked the show’s guest, a financial expert, for advice. Most of them were financially in what my parents, a”h, referred to in Yiddish as gehakte tzurris (deep trouble). All were sinking in a quicksand of debt. Most had maxed out their credit cards and some faced the loss of their home.

 

         A break from the litany of woe being expressed on the show came from a woman who stated that she had, over a period of several years, managed to repay over $40,000 of credit card debt. Members of the audience cheered and applauded her- but I couldn’t help wondering how this seemingly intelligent, well-spoken woman had allowed herself to get into such a mess in the first place.

 

         The circumstances that led to her debt were not discussed. Perhaps it was due to circumstances beyond her control, like medical bills not covered by insurance. But based on the little that I heard, my impression was that she, like so many North Americans, just wanted it all – now.

 

         Today’s society seems to be about immediate gratification with no regard for future consequences, a culture beset with a seemingly contagious lack of self-discipline or self-control. If there is something you want, you get it – regardless of affordability.

 

         I feel this chronic self-indulgent behavior is fueled by two factors – low self-esteem and an absence of boundaries.

 

         Most people don’t have what I call a personal “border control.” They have no boundaries. There are no “nos” in their life. Restrictions and limits that were the norm just a generation or two ago are viewed as old-fashioned and seemingly obsolete.

 

         I remember a time when it was a booshah and a charpah (shame and embarrassment) for an unwed girl to have an intimate relationship, let alone be an unwed mother. Pregnant girls were sent out of town to have their babies, thrown out by their families or forced into “shotgun weddings.” Nowadays you are considered a freak and an object of ridicule if you exercise restraint until you’re married. As for single motherhood, it’s become quite fashionable and even respectable in many circles.

 

        Behavioral “fences” have been removed, and I believe one of the reasons for this is the secularization of society. Religious practice for many, both in the Christian and Jewish worlds, has gone the way of the buggy whip.

 

         I remember as a child in Toronto that on Sundays, the city was closed for business. Very few stores were allowed to be open on Sunday – a situation that caused a great deal of financial hardship for Shomer Shabbat businesses that had to remain closed the entire weekend.

 

         Today, however, North America is buying and selling 365 days a year.

 

         The beauty of religion, especially Orthodox Judaism with its myriad rules, prohibitions and regulations, is that it promotes self-discipline. From a young age, children raised in religious homes are taught they can do some things sometimes, but not everything every time. Immediate gratification is not on the agenda in religious homes. Children learn patience, self-discipline and self-control because they must. And eventually, it becomes second nature to wait for what they want.

 

         The ingrained habit of holding off from getting what they want immediately can only serve to maximize their ability to avoid self-destructive behaviors like gambling, drinking or overspending.

 

         For example, obesity in North America is becoming an epidemic – and it is no surprise. When you grow up without restrictions, when you eat what you want whenever you want day after day, you do it – and the consequences are dire. When you’ve never had to hold back or when you aren’t used to doing things you’d rather not do (like awaking early to daven) it is unlikely that you will have developed the discipline to, for instance, hold back on fattening foods or exercising daily.

 

         Sadly, there are Jews who do not believe in a Divinely-given Torah and reject its rules and regulations. Of these Jews, most were never given the opportunity to experience Yiddishkeit. Some, however, were brought up religious, but for various reasons went off the path.

 

         Yet by virtue of the borders that a Torah life provides – because of the boundaries and the resultant self-control that is the life-enhancing gift of a Torah lifestyle – they should reconsider their attitude and do themselves and their families a big chesed by embracing Torah for the magnificent blueprint to life that it is.

 

         There are no guarantees of a perfect life. Torah-observant Jews are still human and subject to human weaknesses and frailties, and some – despite being raised in homes with Torah “borders” – still indulge in unfortunate destructive behaviors and activities. But living a Torah life with its promotion of self-discipline will greatly improve your odds.

 

         In my next column, I will speak about the role negative self-esteem plays in and out of control behavior.

A Haven for Jews in New York (Part I)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
 The Life of Mordechai Manuel Noah (1785 – 1851)
Editor’s note: Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from Mordechai Manuel Noah: A Centenary Evaluation, by Robert Gordis, Publications of the American Historical Society, Volume 41, 1951, reprinted in The Jewish Experience in America, II, pages 110 – 135, Ktav Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 1969. This article is also available at
http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm

In 1825, more than 70 years before the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, Mordechai Manuel Noah startled the world by proposing a concrete plan for the establishment of a Jewish city of refuge in North America. “In the Niagara River, opposite the frontier town of Buffalo, New York, lay Grand Island, a wooded tract of land, which, Noah felt, could serve as the center of a Jewish republic.” (Page 119)  Who was this dreamer who dared to make such a proposal to the world during the first part of the Nineteenth Century? In this article we shall sketch the life of M. M. Noah. Next month’s column will deal with the details of Noah’s attempt to establish the city of Ararat in New York State.

Mordechai Manuel Noah was born on July 19, 1785 to Manuel M. and Zipporah Phillips Noah. Zipporah Noah was a great, great granddaughter of Dr. Samuel Nunez, a Marrano who made a daring escape from Portugal and settled in Savannah, Georgia in 1732. (The story of this escape was told in “Escape from the Inquisition,” Glimpses Into American Jewish History, Part 9, the Jewish Press, December 2, 2005 page 71.

“When Noah was less than seven years old, his mother died and his father disappeared, never to reappear until decades later.” (Page 112) Young Mordechai and his younger sister, Judith, were raised by their maternal grandparents, Jonas and Rebecca (Machado) Phillips.  The Phillips’ home must have been a bustling place, given that the Phillips brought into the world no less than twenty-one children in thirty years!

“The dominant influence on the lad (Mordechai) was his grandfather, who imbued him with a deep-seated reverence for American liberty and its great protagonists who were all alive at the time, and with an equally staunch pride in his people and religion.” (Page 112) Jonas Phillips “was born in Rhenish Prussia, but had been reared in London.  He must have received a better than average Jewish education, since he was trained as a shochet.” (Page 111)

At a relatively early age Noah became interested in drama, and before long he tried his hand at being a playwright. His first play, The Fortress of Sorrento, appeared in 1808. Other plays followed, and he won an honored place among the most important American dramatists of the Nineteenth Century.

In 1811 Noah moved to Charleston, South Carolina, a city with one of the largest Jewish communities in North America at that time. He threw himself into the political arena, and published a series of articles dealing with politics. These, together with three duels (two of which were called off at the eleventh hour by the other side), gave him considerable recognition. By 1813 his reputation had grown sufficiently for him to receive the post of American Consul to Tunis. “At twenty-eight, Noah was on the highroad to success, or so it seemed.” (Page 113) “Then he was personally touched by anti-Semitism.”[1]

Noah had been given a special mission to Algiers in which he distinguished himself by rescuing several Americans who were being held as slaves in the Barbary States. However, while in the middle of negotiations, he received a sealed letter from the Department of State which read in part,

At the time of your appointment, as Consul at Tunis, it was not known that the RELIGION which you profess would form any obstacle to the exercise of your Consular functions. Recent information, however, on which entire reliance may be placed, proves that it would produce a very unfavourable effect. IN CONSEQUENCE OF WHICH, the President has deemed it expedient to revoke your commission. … There are some circumstances, too, connected with your accounts, which require a more particular explanation, which, with that already given, are not approved by the President.

I am, very respectfully, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
[Signed] JAMES MONROE. (Page 114)

Noah was also accused of financial malfeasance. He returned to the United States to fight for his vindication and eventually succeeded. His personal experience of anti-Semitism apparently stimulated him to develop a genuine interest in the problems of his own people.

Noah then became involved in a variety of activities. “His versatility was marvelous – sometimes, perhaps, audacious . . . Sheriff, judge, major, consul, politician, dramatist (or rather playwright) and journalist, with a style racy, easy, genial, and humorous.”[2]

In 1817 Noah became the editor of the National Advocate, a New York newspaper sponsored by the Democratic political group Tammany Hall. “Noah quickly succeeded at his new job. Copying techniques he had used in Charleston, he introduced humor and lighthearted articles into his newspaper. He appealed to women with articles on domestic economy and feminine virtues. He spiced political articles with bons mots, caricatures, and satires. And, he delighted in fierce controversy and scandalous revelations about his opponents.”[3]

Noah became heavily embroiled in politics, and, eventually, a leader of Tammany Hall. Over the course of his tumultuous career he made a number of powerful enemies. Financial considerations led him to become the editor of several newspapers and to change political alliances. There was, however, one constant in all his activities. He was a proud Jew who did his best to further the welfare of his brethren.

In 1821 Noah used his political connections to become Sheriff of New York County.   An incident that occurred in 1822 during his short term as Sheriff sheds light on his character.  “A plague of yellow fever broke out in New York. Noah could not bear to see the inmates of Debtor’s Jail being exposed to the ravages of the disease. Heedless of the legal consequences, he threw open the gates of the jail and thus became liable for the combined debts of all the prisoners. One of Noah’s biographers tells us that as a consequence Noah paid out nearly $200,000, a sum greater than he probably earned throughout his lifetime. But even without these embellishments, the incident is impressive.” (Page 118)

In 1827, at the age of forty-two, Noah married seventeen-year old Rebecca Esther Jackson. She was a young woman of “extraordinary personal beauty who came from a well-respected family.”[4] Her father, Daniel Jackson, was a prominent member of New York’s Jewish community and a well-known political activist.

For a number of years Noah was viewed as the leader of the New York Jewish community.  According to Robert Gordis, Noah “remained loyal to the Sabbath and the dietary laws as well as he was able, and time and time again lamented the widespread laxity with regard to observance.” (Page 133) However, Jonathan Sarna paints a different picture of Noah’s religious observance in a chapter entitled “A Jew in a World of Christians.”[5] He brings evidence to show that Noah, while always being proud of his Jewish heritage, was affected in many ways by the Christian environment in which he lived.

If the above were all that there was to the life of Noah, he “would have rated a footnote as a versatile and energetic figure in early nineteenth century America, but definitely of minor dimensions.  Noah’s claim to fame rests neither upon his varied occupations nor his several avocations, but upon another aspect of his life. Noah possessed one more interest,
remote and impractical enough to stamp him as an eccentric for well nigh one hundred years – a life-long preoccupation with the destiny of the Jewish people, and a growing conviction that the Christian world, no less than the Jews themselves, were obligated to facilitate the return of the Jews to an independent national existence in Palestine.” (Pages 118-119)

The story of these efforts will appear in next month’s Glimpses Into American Jewish History.

[1] The Rise of The Jewish Community of New York, 1654 – 1860, by Hyman B. Grinstein, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1945, page 453.

[2] Jewish Pioneers in America, by Anita Libman Lebeson, Brentano’s Publishers, New York, 1931, page 274.

[3] Jacksonian Jew, The Two Worlds of Mordechai Noah, by Jonathan D. Sarna, Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., New York, 1981, page 35.

[4] Ibid., page 84.

[5] Ibid., pages 119 – 142.

Dr. Yitzchak Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He may be contacted at llevine@stevens-tech.edu.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

Readers Urged To Reach Out To Jewish Serviceman
 
I recently exchanged a few e-mails with an observant Jewish serviceman in Iraq, 1st Lt. Chaim Spilman. He is deployed for a long tour (the address below is good for at least the next three months; he might be sent elsewhere later), and I think he could use some moral support from American Jews.
 
 In addition to sending Chaim letters and packages, and e-mailing my friends and family to enlist their assistance in this endeavor, I am writing to ask if your readers might be interested in reaching out to him and if you might be able to send him a copy or two of The Jewish Press. I am certain that being able to keep up with Jewish events and issues during this difficult period in his life would really be a boost to his morale, and maybe even to that of some other Jewish personnel in his area.
 
In response to some questions I sent him about his situation, Chaim wrote me the following:
 
“I am from Monsey, NY. I went to yeshiva and grew up in a frum environment. I was active duty in the infantry and after that completed my degree and became an officer. There are other Jewish personnel deployed here but very few (especially ones taht come to services). I am currently at a new location, so I am trying to get a handle on the Jewish situation here. There is one Jewish chaplain… At the other place I was at, I held services every Friday night; we will see what happens here.
 
“Food: Obviously limited to none that I can eat in the mess hall, but firneds and family send stuff.
 
“Pesach:  I am not exactly sure yet, but I think a second rabbi is comming…”
 
The following is Chaim’s address. It is a military address, so write it on the envelope or package exactly as it appears here. Please do not write a country name – the military postal system will get it to where it needs to go. Also, please include your name and return address on the letter or package, and write your e-mail on a note inside if you’d like a faster reply from Chaim.
 
Address for letters/packages:
1LT Spilman, Chaim
MNCI-JIATF-FRE
Camp Victory South
APO AE 09342
 
If you’d like to communicate with Chaim directly, his email address is: chaim.spilman@us.army.mil.
 
Thanks to The Jewish Press and its readers for any assistance you might be able to extend to Chaim and his fellow Jewish soldiers.
 
Joseph Alexander
Efrat, Israel
 
 
 
Disservice To PETA?

Re Professor Yitzchok Levine’s March 11 op-ed article, “PETA’s Real Agenda”:

I would like to encourage readers to see for themselves the content and tone of our campaign against AgriProcessors (www.goveg.com/feat/ agriprocessors/) before coming to any conclusions about PETA or our stance on shechita. It would seem that Dr. Levine is asking of his readers that they write off our campaign simply because he does not fully support our founding mission statement. This, I think, does a disservice to all those involved and brings us no closer to a better, kinder world.

Benjamin Goldsmith
Campaign Coordinator
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Norfolk, VA



‘Equal Opportunity Critic’

I think Dr. Levine should get beyond the semantic wrangling and focus on the issue of cruelty to animals. I have supported PETA’s efforts to protect animals for many years, and there is always a pattern. The abusers try to shift the focus to other abusers, or try to discredit PETA. PETA has never hidden its agenda, which is to save as many animals as it can. PETA is an equal opportunity critic of all groups, religions, industries, etc., that harm animals. There is no discrimination here.

Terri David
(Via E-Mail)



Molders Of Our Children

I read with interest Rabbi Moshe Shochet’s March 11 letter to the editor regarding my own letter that appeared the previous week (“From the Heart”, March 4). Rabbi Shochet’s attack on my character notwithstanding, I have no lack of kavod haTorah; my emunas chachomim is just as strong as his; and I take no issue with his statement that he’s “seen many roshei yeshiva at conventions, simchas and other gatherings, and they show beautiful derech eretz to their wives, talmidim and in general to all people.”

I did not impugn the derech eretz that roshei yeshiva show to others, nor did I harshly criticize them. What I did was address some very serious issues facing Klal Yisrael.

The crux of the problem is that today, in North America, we do not have gedolei roshei yeshiva like the Brisker Rav, the Chazon Ish, Rav Aharon Kotler, or Rav Elya Meir Bloch. If the gedolei roshei yeshiva of yesteryear were alive today in North America, the problems of shidduchim, abuse and agunos would not exist.

Am I saying that all the blame rests on roshei yeshiva? Of course not; parents bear a share of it, as do the bochurim themselves. Yes, there are many bochurim who are the very personification of kiddush Hashem, but there are too many others who are the very personification of chillul Hashem – before, during and after their marriages. And too many of our roshei yeshiva either minimize the problem or deny that a problem even exists.

When we as parents send our children away to yeshiva at a relatively early age, we are entrusting their spiritual care, their development of midos tovos, to the roshei yeshiva and their staffs. At that point, we parents no longer have the input we did when our children lived in our homes. We only have our children bein hazmanim; the roshei yeshiva are the ones who mold the character of our children, and all we as parents can do is pray that these roshei yeshiva imbue in them the proper torahdig hashkofos and mentschlichkeit.

It remains my opinion that many of our problems with shidduchim, abuse and agunos stem in no small measure from the failure of our roshei yeshiva to transmit to their talmidim what the roshei yeshiva of previous generations transmitted to their talmidim.

Ben M. Joseph
(Via E-Mail)



Angered By Remark

I am writing this several days after having attended the satellite screening of the Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas. I felt privileged to attend an event that was being celebrated by so many great scholars and religious authorities. But while I’d anticipated only positive and enlightening words from the many wonderful speakers, I felt sadness and, yes, even anger at a remark made by one of those individuals.

I am alluding to a story about a group of women who, after drinking some tea during their husbands’ study session, were, according to the speaker, engaged in frivolous conversation that may possibly have included complaints about their husbands. Does such a statement not denigrate the ability of these women to determine for themselves what is or what is not appropriate? These women should not be treated like dummies or scatterbrains.

It seems to me that those rabbis and scholars in attendance would not have been able to realize their goals and religious aspirations were it not for the support of the deeply committed Jewish women who keep kosher homes, observe the laws of mikvah, raise children in a Torah environment and do whatever else it takes to provide an enriching Jewish way of life.

I am aware that one rabbi at the event did acknowledge the contribution of women. Nevertheless, I still take issue with the rabbi who chose to use a portion of his speaking time to insult the intelligence of women. I sincerely believe that giving more credit to Jewish women will insure their honored place in this world.

It is becoming clear that this creeping of extremism into our lives is chipping away at our ability to experience the joy of being Jewish. The moderate voices of the religious community are being silenced by the more strident among us. The sparks emanating from an event such as the Siyum HaShas would have burned a lot brighter without this touch of negativity.

Phyllis Gross
(Via E-Mail)



‘Davening Glasses’

After going through the effort of waking up early, going to shul, and saying all the words page after page, it’s frustrating to often leave shul unchanged and uninspired. That’s where “davening glasses” come in handy.

Recently, while davening in my shul in Charleston, South Carolina, I found myself struggling to find the inspiration to connect to Hashem. It then occurred to me why I was unable to ignite my prayers: Tefilla is not service of the mind or the intellect, but service of the heart – avoda shebalev.

The heart is the organ associated with emotion. Therefore, the more numb or devoid a person is of emotion, the more stale and uninspired his prayers will be. Emotion is the fuel that launches prayer.

Contrary to popular belief, this emotional fuel that comes from our hearts need not be emotions of joy or love. Rather, a person may take his “emotional flavor of the day” and use that as a springboard for inspiration.

The people who are most connected through prayer are the heartbroken parents of a sick child, or the joyous, love-struck couple recently engaged, or the father who is struggling to support his family’s financial needs. The thread that ties these people together is that their existence is overflowing with emotion, positive or negative, and it makes its way into their prayers.

Hashem often sends us various curve balls and bumps in life as a gift to stimulate and ignite our otherwise “boring” prayers. The challenge that many of us face (myself included) is to find that inspiration on a normal run-of-the-mill day – one not filled with a family simcha or, God forbid, a tragedy.

Therefore, the next time you go to shul, be sure to bring your davening glasses so that you can see the words of the Siddur through the lenses of your own emotions. If you feel happy, angry, depressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, annoyed or ecstatic, use those emotions to help you connect to Hashem. Learn to filter the words through your heart before they leave your lips.

Anyone who attempts to daven without first putting on those emotional glasses will simply be approaching prayers blindly. Alternatively, if we welcome our emotions into our prayers, we are sure to stimulate that vision in others as well.

Rabbi Ari Sytner
Brith Sholom Beth Israel Congregation
Charleston, SC

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