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August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘North America’

Opposition Mounting To Proposed Israeli Conversion Bill

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.

Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.

The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.

Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.

Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.

Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert – including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance.

But in giving the Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the Diaspora warn.

Rotem says the bill should not concern Diaspora Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jews in the Diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”

Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.

“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.

In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”

The RCA called on Diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, albeit incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”

The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel.

Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halachah,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.

The executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, in an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community, wrote: “The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system.”

The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.

“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.

“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.

The letter’s text has not been made public.

Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.

“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

(JTA)

 

See related article titled “Religious Zionist Rabbi: Conversion Bill A ‘Haredi Ploy'” by Steve K. Walz.

Opposition Mounting To Proposed Israeli Conversion Bill

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010


WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.


Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.


The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.


Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.


In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.


Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.


Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.


Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert – including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance.


But in giving the Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the Diaspora warn.


Rotem says the bill should not concern Diaspora Jews.


“It has nothing to do with Jews in the Diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”


Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.


“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.


In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”


The RCA called on Diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, albeit incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”


The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel.


Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halachah,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.


The executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, in an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community, wrote: “The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system.”


The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.


“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.


In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.


“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.


The letter’s text has not been made public.


Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.


“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

(JTA)

 

See related article titled “Religious Zionist Rabbi: Conversion Bill A ‘Haredi Ploy'” by Steve K. Walz.

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/borders-and-boundaries-part-1/2007/11/21/

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