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September 1, 2016 / 28 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

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

It’s My Opinion: Animals, Humans, And Common Sense

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Harambe, a silverback gorilla, was recently shot to death at the Cincinnati Zoo. The 450-pound ape grabbed a three-year-old boy who tumbled into his enclosure. The unexpected arrival of the child and the screams of the crowd agitated the gorilla. Harambe dragged the boy about in the moat like a tiny rag doll.

Zoo officials determined the child was in grave danger. They concluded that a tranquilizer dart would take too long to act on the gorilla and in the interim might lead to further agitation. They opted to shoot the gorilla to save the child’s life.

Animal lovers and animal rights activists have reacted with outrage. The 17-year-old Western lowland gorilla was a member of an endangered species. He has been made into a tragic martyr. Some Facebook posts have said the bullets aimed at Harambe should have been aimed at the parents whose lapse in watching their child caused the death of an innocent animal. Tens of thousands of people signed a petition demanding “Justice for Harambe.” A tearful vigil was held at Cincinnati Zoo. Mourners left flowers and gifts at the gorilla exhibit. A sign read “Gorillas’ Lives Matter.”

Farther south, people were experiencing their own angst with the animals that shared their habitat. A large alligator was found with a man’s partially eaten body in its mouth in Lakeland, Florida. The nine-foot reptile fled when local law enforcement arrived at the gruesome scene. The beast was later found and captured by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials. An investigation has been launched to learn the identity of the victim and determine whether he was killed by the alligator or had already been dead and was just used as a convenient snack. Residents of the area were horrified. How could this have happened?

Humans are often confused when it comes to understanding the actions of animals. It is quite common to ascribe human motives and behavior to pets and other creatures. But it’s a false premise, a projection of our own ideas, and has little to do with the workings of other species.

Harambe yanked and dragged the little boy though his pool because he was an anxious animal. The child was an unanticipated presence and the crowd was loud. He was in an unforeseen situation and probably felt threatened. No police psychologist could talk him down. He was, after all, a gorilla.

The alligator was chomping on his human lunch because he was hungry. He certainly was not going to refrain from eating anything he could get in his mouth because of any sense of propriety, good manners, or suitability. He was, after all, an alligator.

Jewish law stipulates that it is a major sin to cause an animal unnecessary harm or suffering. However, Hashem created the world and gave human beings dominion over all other creatures. Yes, animals’ lives matter, but human lives matter more.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Heartfelt Condolences

Monday, June 6th, 2016

The lifeguard stand at Haulover Beach had two signs: “Swim in guarded area only” and “No lifeguard on duty.” Recently, several vacationers ignored the warning and entered the ocean from this isolated spot.

Three of these men would soon be caught up in an inlet known for its rip currents. Despite valiant efforts by an off-duty police officer and a lifeguard on a Jet Ski, two of them lost their lives.

The two who perished were businessmen from New York. One was a diamond dealer. The other was a real estate developer. They were pillars in the Satmar communities of Brooklyn and Kiryat Joel.

One can hardly fault the desire of these men to enjoy the beautiful sand and surf Hashem has created. They went to a deserted part of the beach to have an innocent swim. Obviously, they were trying to comply with the halachic directives on modesty by avoiding mixed swimming. Many have done the same thing.

Summer is here and many will be entering the ocean, lakes, and pools. Unfortunately, some of these warm-weather encounters have the capacity for disaster. The proverbial tide can turn quite quickly.

Take precautions. Heed all warnings and posts. Most of all, make sure there is always a lifeguard on duty.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the men who drowned. May we only hear good news in the future.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: A Taste of Marror

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

South Florida’s Jewish community has received a jolting dose of reality. Until recently, the threat of terrorism had been a largely theoretical concern. Security precautions were often carried out by rote, a fire drill without any real expectation of the smell of smoke. Everything has changed.

James Medina, a.k.a. James Muhammad, was arrested during Passover, on Friday evening, April 29. He was charged in federal court on the following Monday with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Medina was allegedly planning to blow up the Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura.

Luckily, the man Medina had conspired with was an FBI undercover agent. The “bomb” he was given was a dud. Medina, reported to be a recent convert to Islam, told the agent he believed that the act would “inspire other Muslims to attack as well.”

The agent stated that Medina wanted to “strike back at the Jews, by going to the synagogue and just spraying everybody.” Medina said, “When I’m doing this, I feel that I’m doing it for a good cause, for Allah.”

Medina seems to fit the profile of the classic and dysfunctional lone wolf. He has an arrest record on various charges including aggravated stalking. FBI documents reveal an acquaintance reported he wanted to become a martyr. He is divorced and out of work. He seems to have acted on his own.

It is quite compelling that a man with no notable assets or resources was able to pull himself together to hatch a plot that could have resulted in bloody mayhem. It is quite telling that his target was a group of innocent Jews at prayer in their synagogue.

Participants at the Passover Seder are mandated to taste marror, the bitter herb. It is a reminder of the bitterness of our ancestors’ lives as they dealt with slavery and Jew hatred. The new pharaoh, who did not know of Joseph or his people, really had no valid grievances against the Hebrews. He resented their success. He feared, with no proof or basis, that they might rise up against the Egyptians. His groundless loathing knew no bounds.

The existence of such sinat chinam, baseless hatred, in our own times is a bitter pill to swallow. Perhaps, in some ways, nothing has changed.

Shelley Benveniste

It’s My Opinion: Emergencies

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Last week, two girls from the Lubavitch Educational Center’s Bais Chana High School in North Miami went missing at a school-sponsored Shabbaton. The event was held at a resort in Kissimmee, Florida. The young ladies took a Shabbat afternoon stroll. They wound up lost in the woods. Of course, they did not have cell phones. It was, after all, the Sabbath.

The news quickly swept through the South Florida community. Tehillim were recited. Search parties were organized. Hundreds of volunteers gathered to search the area. Hatzolah and Chesed Shel Emes of Miami joined with private individuals and the Osceola County sheriff’s department in an attempt to find the two 16 year olds.

Brocha Katz and Rivka Moshe spent the night huddled together. Baruch Hashem, they were found on Sunday morning. A sheriff’s helicopter spotted the missing pair. They were in the woods, not far from the resort. Despite being covered with scratches and insect bites, the girls were OK.

The yetzer tov, the good inclination, seems to shine during times of crisis.

New Yorkers rose to the occasion in the aftermath of 9/11.The incredible acts of bravery on the part of first responders is legend. Acts of random kindnesses performed by average citizens were rampant. Thousands lined up to donate blood. Petty crimes, like pickpocketing, were at a historic low. American flags were flown from poles and worn as pins on lapels. There was a real sense of unity.

Individuals all around the world tend to rally when faced with a natural catastrophe or a terrorist attack. They forget their petty differences and work together. They establish a sense of camaraderie.

The Jewish people are no exception to acting in this manner. We seem to come together with achdut at time of personal, as well as national, peril. If life is a test, we are not scoring high during the interim.

Baruch Sandhaus, executive director of Hatzolah of Miami-Dade County said, “The Chabad community has an amazingly strong network. I received local calls from all over South Florida from people wanting to volunteer in the search. Concerned response came from across the United States and also from Israel and other countries. The Jewish community’s outreach was truly overwhelming. It showed that others care. We are not alone.”

Hopefully, we can hold on to that feeling and use it in our day-to-day lives. Our ahavat Yisrael, love for each other, should not be reserved for disasters.

Shelley Benveniste

Sexual Choices

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Sexual depravity, like violence, was the natural state of the pagan world, with temple prostitution and human sacrifice going hand-in-hand. Even in the Bible, some of the greatest of men allowed their sexual urges to make fools and sinners of them. The Israelites, fresh out of Sinai, were seduced by Moabite purveyors of sex. The Mishna states unequivocally that lust is one of three things that can destroy a person.

In spite of all that, in Judaism sex is regarded as something wonderful, positive, and a gift of God. Provided of course one accepts the limitations and disciplines that the Torah teaches are necessary to fully appreciate its sanctity. Indeed according to the majority opinion in Jewish law nothing is forbidden sexually between consenting and permitted partners.

But we live in a world where sex has become a pervasive, trivial release of human urges, no more significant than a sneeze. Sex has always been misused. But in our world we have reached new lows. Women and children are abused sexually in the most barbaric and inconceivable ways. And I am not talking about those parts of the world still suffering from oppressive male religious hypocrisy. Even in the strictest of religions, the tendency to exploit and sexually abuse women has time and again proved to be more powerful than the strongest of taboos. The availability of pornography at the click of a Google search is a blight on civilization. It is the strongest argument for parental control of the internet.

If someone enjoys sadomasochism that is a private affair, and if consenting adults do whatever they feel like that is also a matter of privacy. Similarly, Christians and Muslims are free to try to convert me, and I am free to tell them to get lost. I know I am constantly being bombarded by adverts, overt and subliminal, all trying to manipulate me to buy something. But if I am mature enough I can withstand such pressures religious or profane.

When society seems to be losing its sense of sexual values, it is natural that some, religious or not, want to hold the line somewhere and preserve a comfort zone. All societies go through cycles of permissiveness, followed by repression, followed by relaxation. Often the way they do this is by falling back on standards that they believe once worked (even if they did not, or the circumstances were entirely different).

Many moderns look at Jewish laws that forbid sex during a woman’s period and give her time to recover as both primitive and unrealistic. But tradition can argue that, on the contrary, a voluntary form of abstinence enhances a relationship. Of course sexuality and how one treats it very subjective and personal, and no system works for everyone. But in my opinion, and as I have experienced it, it respects the right of the woman to decide how her body measures its rhythms. It respects her space. Again I stress that my experience tells me that periodic abstinence helps maintain the excitement of intimacy, which in too many relationships becomes mundane, loses its passion, and withers. There is lot to be said in favor of self-discipline.

I should stress that I have no idea if this is why we have these laws, but I do know I can see the benefits, whether intended or not. We live in an era of self-indulgence. The more spoilt you are the less you appreciate physical pleasure. You take it for granted, and the more addicted you are to instant gratification, the more you run the risk of needing constant stimulation. It’s like any addiction.

Traditional communities struggle to maintain values that they believe enhance life while in the world around them they are accused of being old fashioned. In a liberal society we believe in choices and freedoms. But the same rights must be extended to those who make other choices provided of course they do not interfere with others.

Currently a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, with a large Persian membership, is the center of a storm over the issue of gay and lesbian marriage. Most of the community embraces the decision of its rabbi to perform religious marriages for same-sex couples. A traditional minority has balked. It wants to adhere to traditional Jewish attitudes which insist that Kiddushin, the religious sanctification of a union, should conform to traditional requirements. You cannot say “According to Law of Moses and Israel” if it is not.

Jeremy Rosen

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/sexual-choices/2013/08/25/

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