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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

It’s My Opinion: Diversity 101

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Several South Florida synagogues used a new prayer book this year. Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe was presented to the membership of four Reform congregations this high holiday season. The book is meant to offset what many felt to be the “insensitive” words and themes found in traditional Jewish texts.

“Countertexts” are presented throughout the volume. They are intended to encourage a more open-minded style and discard imagery that might feel uncomfortable in its religious approach. The old liturgy seemed to be filled with xenophobia and in need of a fresh eye.

The idea that traditional Judaism relies on halacha (Jewish law) and Jewish practice seemed to smack of exclusivity in a culture that reveres diversity. Sources in Mishkan HaNefesh include non-Jewish poets and writers like Walt Whitman and Jewish writers like Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley.

Mishkan HaNefesh was put together with a decidedly non-patriarchal agenda. God is referred to in both feminine and masculine pronouns and terms. Brides and grooms are referred to as non-gender “couples.” Political correctness is paramount. The comfort level of each and every reader is imperative.

The people responsible for Mishkan HaNefesh accomplished their goal. Their prayer book is truly p.c. It embraces all.

And perhaps that is its downfall.

Authentic Judaism’s authority comes from Hashem, not people’s sensitivities. Its directive is the Torah, not attainment of every individual’s optimal comfort level.

The efforts of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which published the book, were obviously well-intentioned. However, the obsession with emphasizing feel-good political correctness in lieu of legitimate Jewish concepts removes Mishkan HaNefesh from consideration as a serious Jewish resource. The book’s content is more akin to a text used in a liberal university’s diversity 101 class than to a Jewish New Year machzor.

Perhaps the authors of Mishkan HaNefesh would benefit from heeding the tagline of a popular hot dog commercial and “answer to a higher authority.”

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Shanah Tovah

Monday, October 10th, 2016

The South Florida community is reeling from the shocking death of beloved Miami Marlins superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez, who was born in Cuba, finally made it to the shores of South Florida when he was 15. He and his mother had previously endured three failed attempts to escape from the oppressive communist regime.

During the dangerous crossing, someone on the boat fell in the water. The teenager didn’t hesitate. He jumped overboard to help his compatriot. Incredibly, it turned out the near-drowning victim was his own mother. He saved her life.

The boy grew up and became a talented and famous Florida baseball player. It wasn’t just the sports community that admired Fernandez. He was an amazing athlete, but beyond that he was thought of as a positive role model, especially among the exile community.

Fernandez was 24 when he died. He and two close friends were killed in a terrible boating accident in the waters off Miami Beach. Jose Fernandez had a future. He had plans. How could this have happened?

We have all heard the Yiddish proverb, “A mensh tracht un gut luft” – man plans and God laughs. Apparently, man is not always the final arbiter. Life is actually quite tenuous. Sometimes an unexpected calamity really gets our attention. People of every religion, ethnicity, and background have been moved by this tragedy.

The recent Rosh Hashanah holiday and the upcoming day of Yom Kippur are reflective of the fragility of human existence. It’s easy to get used to operating on autopilot mode. The “high holidays” create a reality check.

“…How many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire…” These heavy words are part of the liturgy at this solemn time. We are urged to be introspective and examine our lives. Hopefully, this process will act as a catalyst to entering the year with a positive, new, and good start.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May you be entered in the book of life and only for good. Shanah Tovah – a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Free Yom Kippur And Rosh Hashanah Tickets

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

The Greater Miami Jewish Federation, The Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, and many participating synagogues in Florida have joined forces to make sure that every Jew can be accommodated with seats for the upcoming Jewish holidays. It is a very special project.

Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are traditionally times that synagogues raise funds by charging for seats in their sanctuaries. However, this expense can be a very difficult challenge for those who barely manage financially from month to month. Unfortunately, these are times where living from paycheck to paycheck is not an unusual occurrence.

Families who have just dealt with back-to-school clothing and expenses find themselves tapped out. Seniors who live on social security or pensions often do not have a dollar to spare. Just putting food on the table and a roof overhead is a daunting task for many of our brothers and sisters.

For some unaffiliated Jews, attendance at a synagogue on the “high holidays” is the last vestige of clinging to their faith. It should not be taken away.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh – All Israel is responsible for one another. If you or someone you know can use this help go online at Jewish.Miami.org/highholidays, which includes a link to the list of participating synagogues, or phone 305-371-7328.

To accommodate everyone and to ensure security, advance registration is required.

See you in shul!

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Recipe For Disaster

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Florida has launched something called “Shabbat Lite.” The innovative Friday night service will begin this month. It is an attempt to accommodate members of the congregation who, according to a story in the local Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, are very busy and “need a taste of Shabbos, even if we can’t devote an entire day to it.”

The abbreviated service is 18 minutes long. Congregational leader Rabbi Allan Tuffs hopes to meet the needs of his time-challenged congregants. The service will incorporate candles, Kiddush, challah, prayers and songs. It will begin at 6 p.m. and end at 6:18 and will leave open the option for attendees to go home to a family Shabbat dinner or “to a nice restaurant or a walk on the beach.”

Unfortunately, Beth El’s quick and easy approach to Judaism is not a unique endeavor in our community. Many synagogues and Jewish organizations have gone out of their way to host and hype a myriad of happenings that are targeted at increasing attendance but have little or nothing to do with Jewish practice or custom. Usually, in the long run, they fall short of their goal.

The simple truth is that despite the best of intentions, efforts to dumb down and modify Jewish tradition always fails in the end. The pintele Yid, that stubborn little spark in the soul of a Jew, rejects the obvious pandering. It is turned off by the misguided efforts. It longs for an authentic experience.

Attempts to accommodate everyone wind up accommodating no one. Speed dating may work for a select few seeking a date, but speed davening works for none seeking spirituality. Efforts to make Judaism “easier” make it irrelevant and meaningless.

The ba’al teshuvah movement prove this premise. The “lite” approach may be successful when it comes to ingredients in fat-free cooking. But in terms of Judaism, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Flying High At Bar Mitzvah Time

Monday, August 29th, 2016

My amazing grandson Jacob Abraham Benveniste has turned 13. His bar mitzvah was held recently and I am filled with gratitude to Hashem to be the grandmother of this incredible young man. Jacob’s affect is sweet, charming, and without drama. However, Jacob is so much more than the lighthearted veneer he can project. He is very smart. He is very determined. He is willing to work hard to accomplish his goals.

Jacob is a talented baseball player. Despite his grueling schedule of a dual-curriculum Jewish day school, he has remained on the local youth baseball team where he is the catcher. Every ball that comes his way is treated with the same effort and focus. Jacob gives each play his best.

Jacob is interested in aviation. His knowledge of aerodynamics is vast. He wants to be a pilot and I have no doubt he will succeed at his goal. He joined the Civil Air Patrol when he was 12 and has worked tirelessly through its daunting ranks. He earned the co-pilot seat on two flights and has actually steered and helped fly the plane.

The C.A.P. is a secular group and yet on several occasions its planned events have been changed because Jacob is shomer Shabbat and cannot attend on Saturdays. He has won the respect of his peers and officers. His presence is a Kiddush Hashem.

I offer my blessings to this wonderful bar mitzvah boy. Jacob, I wish you health and happiness and success in life. I hope and pray that no matter where life takes you, you will always go in the ways of Hashem and follow the path of Torah. I am proud to be your “baba.” Congratulations and fly high!

Mazel tov to the entire Rosenbluth and Benveniste families. May we be privileged to share many celebrations together.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Israel, More Than A Vacation Destination

Monday, August 1st, 2016

I’m back from a summer visit to Israel and processing the amazing experience. The Eretz Yisrael Movement Tour, as always, proved to be the perfect vehicle for exploring a country that is so much more than a vacation destination.

Despite ongoing torrents of negative worldwide negative publicity, Israel continues as a stable and steady environment – and the homeland and birthright of every Jew. For those who fear Israel is unsafe, I suggest they open their eyes and take a good look around. Israel, more than any other country, is ready to deal with the challenges that exist in the world today.

Our tour guide, Margalit Frydman, was the perfect escort. Margalit is equally adept at taking out a Tanach and quoting a relevant passage, discussing history, current events, and archeology – or encouraging her charges to participate in song and dance. Her obvious love and devotion to the land make the journey very special. Her upbeat attitude is contagious.

My family and I were blessed to travel the length and breadth of the Jewish state. We were in Tzefat, Tiberius, and the Kineret. We were in Tel Aviv, the Shomron, and the Jordan Valley. We were in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gush Etzion, and Hebron. We were in the Negev and Beersheba.

It is truly humbling, as a Jew, to be able to stand at holy sites that had been inaccessible to us for two thousand years. I remember coming to Israel as a kid in 1965. There was no Jewish access to eastern Jerusalem, Har Habayit, or the Kotel. There was no Jewish access to Hebron and Kever Machpelah (the burial cave of the Patriarchs). There was no Jewish access to Bethlehem and the tomb of Rachel.

Margalit Frydman (front center) with her Eretz Yisrael Movement group at the Lone Tree in Gush Etzion.

Margalit Frydman (front center) with her Eretz Yisrael Movement group at the Lone Tree in Gush Etzion.

Unfortunately, as we went about our tour, a 13-year-old Israeli girl was stabbed to death in her bed in Kiryat Arba by a Palestinian terrorist and a father of ten was murdered in his car in an attack near Hebron. His wife and three family members were injured in the unprovoked drive-by shooting.

Is Israel a uniquely unsafe place to be or visit? The savage acts of Islamic extremism are not restricted to Israel. Recent events in France, Belgium, and many other locations including America can attest to the fact that the epidemic is worldwide.

On June 13, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American security guard, pledged allegiance to ISIS and then killed 49 innocent people and wounded 53 others in an attack in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Orlando had in the past been associated with Disney World. Now it will forever be tainted by this carnage.

I found it quite ironic that the day before our group journeyed to Hebron, an Israeli man in a store asked me where I came from. When I replied that I lived in Florida, he was aghast. “Florida, it’s such a dangerous place,” he said. “They shoot you up in nightclubs and then the alligators snatch you!” He shook his head. He could not imagine why I allowed myself to live in such a menacing environment.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Go to Israel. Send your children. It is, indeed, home.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: The Happiest Place On Earth

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Disney World in Orlando calls itself “the happiest place on earth.” Great effort has gone into creating the perfect environment to go along with the catchy tagline. The brand is a revered icon, known around the world. The theme parks, water parks, and Disney hotels combine to bring magical moments to all who enter their gates.

Guests want to be immersed in enchantment and are more than willing to pay for the experience. After all, a positive Disney experience has always been something that could be counted on in a world often fraught with worry and negativity.

There is never a frown on any of the faces of the thousands of workers who greet, meet, and seat in Disney’s many properties. There is never as much as a gum wrapper or speck of dirt in the streets. The sights and sounds and pumped-in smells combine to create a place where fantasy becomes fact and dreams come true.

However, decades of Disney nirvana were recently turned upside down when something truly horrific occurred. A two-year-old boy wading in a lake at a Disney resort was dragged away by an alligator. The toddler’s father fought to pull his child from the grip of the beast. He did not succeed. Sadly, divers found the boy’s body the next day.

The Orlando community and the entire country are reeling from the tragedy. It doesn’t seem possible that a calamity of this caliber could have happened in a place that promised such safety and fun.

Enjoying a vacation is often a positive way to counteract the stress of daily life. Disney-style vacation resorts present an illusion of perfection. But the happiness they offer is a figment of imagination. It’s not real.

As Jews, we are instructed “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha,” to serve G-d with happiness. Having a cheerful countenance and positive attitude are important components of our faith. It is difficult to accomplish anything when a person is sad and depressed.

True happiness, however, should not depend on a location. Neither Shangri-La nor Never-never Land nor even Disney World can create a reality of non-stop paradise. The happiest place on earth should come from within.


Editor’s Note: B’ezrat Hashem, as you read this I will be in Israel touring with the Eretz Israel Movement. This amazing organization offers the very best Israel experience. Eretz Israel Movement tours are always special. They combine top-notch tour guides and interesting and informative places to visit with a real and abiding love of the land. I hope to share my experiences when I get back. Shalom and l’hitraot.

Shelley Benveniste

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/south-florida/its-my-opinion-the-happiest-place-on-earth/2016/06/30/

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