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June 30, 2016 / 24 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘people’

American Culture: How to Reconcile the Brutal and the Effete?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

I’m deeply confused about American culture. Let me cite two incidents as examples and then talk about some attitudes I hear about from my son’s reports on visits with friends. Perhaps readers can explain this contradiction between the effete and the brutal.

Arriving in the United States, I go to the nearby Trader Joe’s food store. It is of course very PC. At the checkout counter, the clerk asks, “Have you returned anything?” I did a double-take. Is this a bid for higher taxes? A taunt to the 1 percent who shop there?

No, he explains that they have some kind of program about bringing back bags. “The people in Bethesda,” he smugly asserts, “are the smartest!”

By coincidence, I had just heard some article saying that using returned bags is potentially dangerous since there can be some food remnants that rot and may breed bacteria. (I certainly don’t know what is true scientifically.) Unable to resist, and out of curiosity, I said, “Maybe they are not the smartest,” and explained my concern.

Instantly, he changed his attitude, snarled and said, “They’re the smartest!” No contradiction would be tolerated. Anyway, he started it. But given all the waste involved in a supermarket business–let’s start with the packaging–the small but highly right-thinking-people gesture of reused bags strikes me as a laughable symbol. Not to mention the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t giving out food to the poor or opening stores to take big losses in what Michelle Obama calls, “food deserts.”

Is this salvation on the cheap, like those in wealthy California coastal cities that take away the farmers’ water to save some obscure fish and then congratulate themselves on their enlightenment?

About the same time, I sit in a sandwich place and a song comes on the radio. My jaw drops. A female singer repeats the lyric, “I said drive, bitch,” apparently it’s a car-jacking? She just keeps going over and over again in a very aggressive tone. At the end, the sound effect indicates that the female driver has been shot and fell down dead.

I sat there speechless. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If there is a “war on women” isn’t it actually waged most vigorously in certain sectors of popular music? The same could be said of the music of the much honored Jay-Z or many others.

Now perhaps this is a silly taking of two extreme phenomena, and I’ll accept that verdict if that’s what you think. But it symbolizes perhaps a bigger thing. On one hand, American culture today (should I say popular culture?) is one of watch your language, goody-goody, we are just so virtuous. There is rap music and the message given to children in Politically Correct lessons.

On the other hand, though, on film, television, literature, music, and public discourse it is intolerant and at times proudly brutal. Is that a valid observation? And if so how is this tension reconciled?

During a visit to the United States, conversations among young teenage boys, who in school were subjected to intense indoctrination, run like this:

–They make fun of alleged gays among them, flinging the charge as insulting but then quickly adding, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

–They show very vile disrespect toward girls of their age. It doesn’t seem that there is any change over the decades, but there certainly isn’t a reduction of “sexist” attitudes. They discuss them far more openly. The concept of gentleman or even restrained behavior is gone, perhaps in conjunction with the musical examples. Attitudes that would once have been derided as “low-class” by the elite have now become common place. So how is there then an elite setting a good example?

–They use far more racial epithets and negative stereotypes of others than my generation, though it is covered by frequent accusations that this or that is racist. Dubbing of something as racism is used as a weapon, a description of something one doesn’t like.

–They see themselves as part of some downtrodden class even though they are financially well-off. For example, they talk about rich white people but when pointed out that they live in big houses, they say the houses are bigger in some other neighborhoods.

Barry Rubin

What’s Your Sin? Removing the Number One Stumbling Block in Your Life

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

With the High Holidays rapidly approaching, we begin to take stock of our lives. Here are five fundamental and common sins. Which one is your biggest stumbling block?

Wronging others. We may have wronged others emotionally or financially. We frequently excuse our behavior by saying, “I didn’t intend any harm. I was just…” But good intentions do not whitewash sinful acts.

Ask yourself, “Is there anyone I offended or whose feelings I have hurt? Have I caused someone distress? Have I made fun of someone (even good-naturedly)? Do I owe anyone money? Have I reneged on an agreement? Have I enriched myself at the expense of others?”

You may think, “I’ll straighten it out later. I’ll make good in the end.” But repentance is only possible while you are in this world. Nobody knows which day will be their last. Once a person’s body shuts down, so do the gates of repentance. Whatever you can correct, do so while you still can.

Action steps: Can you recall any time you hurt someone, perhaps a friend, neighbor, family member, fellow congregant or business associate? Even if you think you have both moved on since then, you still need to make amends and/or apologize.

Hating your fellow Jew. Perhaps you do not hate anybody, but how about intensely dislike? Are there people you cannot be with and feel distaste just looking at them?

We do not have to go out of our way to spend time with people we do not like; often, it is good to limit contact with those who push our buttons. But we are forbidden to harbor personal animosity toward our fellow Jew, as the Torah cautions us (Leviticus 19:17), “Do not hate your brother in your heart…”

Some people just rub us the wrong way. When we look at them, we think about their real or imagined faults. Instead, remind yourself that you do not know everything about them and judge them favorably. In addition, think about their good points. Everyone has good qualities and has done good deeds. Search for and admire the good in others.

Action steps: Make a list of those you dislike. Write down their admirable qualities and the good they have done. Next time you see them, bring to mind what you wrote and try to give them a genuine smile and greeting.

Being callous. Sometimes, our issue is not that we have wronged others, or that we hate them, it is that we ignore them. Often, we are so focused on our own lives that we do not pay enough attention to others. We may ignore the difficulties they have, perhaps in finding a job or a spouse, coping with illness or paying bills. Although we cannot help everyone, we still have to do whatever we can. Pirkei Avot reminds us, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, yet you are not free to withdraw from it (2:21).”

When we hear about a difficulty or tragedy, often our reaction is, “What a pity. Thank God I’m not affected.” And we go on with business as usual. But we are affected: Our brothers and sisters are struggling. We have to ask ourselves, “How can I help? What can I do?” If you cannot provide physical, financial or emotional assistance, do not minimize the importance of including them in your prayers.

Action steps: Devote a portion of your time and resources to helping others. At least each week, preferably daily, do an act of kindness. When you meet someone, show an interest in that individual and see if you can be of assistance.

Neglecting our relationship with God. Sometimes, people get so busy with daily life they forget about their Creator. God created us to have a relationship with Him. Each day we do not develop this relationship is a day lost forever.

Action steps: Every day, connect with God by: Praying to Him, performing a mitzvah mindfully, sensing His presence, thanking Him for one of His blessings and thinking about how He guides every aspect of your life for your highest good.

An essential part of having a relationship with God is not disrespecting Him. For example, we must ensure that we do not talk during davening or leave the synagogue while the haftarah is being read.

Yaakov Weiland

Liberty 101: The Principle of Establishment

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Developments at home and abroad are forcing Americans to think anew about the meaning of liberty and the proper nature and function of government.  What is important to us, and what must we do to keep it?  How do we change the things that manifestly aren’t working, and are in fact doing us daily harm?

Liberty 101 is a series devoted to discussing these topics.  And the subject for today is what I call the principle of establishment.  Very simply, the principle of establishment recognizes that liberty and the protection of natural rights don’t just happen.  They are not the end-point of unguided trends in human life.  They cannot be claimed as entitlements, on the basis that someone else must then bestir himself to “provide” them to us.  They are elements in a moral, sociopolitical code, which we must actively establish, and which we must arrange, through our own efforts, to protect.

The only reason America started out with our unique Constitution and polity is that we established them.  We took what had been, and deliberately established something new.  To get to the point of having options in that regard, we had to fight a war.  It was by no means “settled” political theory, in anyone’s philosophy, that we had any “right” to do this – i.e., a right that should have bound Great Britain to accede to our wishes.

In the Declaration of Independence, the signers appealed to natural rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – as the citizen’s moral basis for challenging and limiting government.  But the Declaration is not a statement that these God-given rights confer a “right” to “dissolve the political bonds which have connected” one people with another.  Dissolving our political bonds with Britain was a necessary but essentially mechanical step in the process of establishment.  The Declaration makes it clear that doing that is a choice, one for which the signers and the Continental Congress proposed to take responsibility.

Our Founders had spent at least a decade appealing to king and parliament.  In this process, they suggested that their rights should be binding on the governmental decisions emanating from London.  It didn’t work.

After that, the Founders decided; committed; fought; won; and then established.  The God-given rights enumerated in the Declaration were to be the guiding premise for establishing a new order in the former colonies.

The significance of the establishment principle cannot be overstated.  It is necessary to the installation and preservation of liberty.  If we lose sight of its necessity, we will lose the prospect of liberty.  Liberty is not what our fellows on this earth have the natural urge to accord us.  It is certainly not what government of any kind naturally respects.  It is antithetical to all schemes for collective salvation, whether we are to be saved from sin, inequality, or climate change.  Liberty interferes terribly with ideological messianism, just as it does with the unfettered collection of revenues for complacent governments.

Liberty always – always – has to be deliberately established and hedged about with protections.  It never just emerges, through a process of defensive horse-trading, from anyone’s current arrangements.  Defending liberty is hard enough; establishing it requires being prepared to say “No” at least as much as “Yes,” and even being prepared to kill, where necessary, as much as to die.  It is something we must want badly to win, in the only way that can be effective:  that is, over the objections of the enemy who wants to deny it to us.

The urge to deny liberty to others comes in many forms.  All three of the great monotheistic religions have gone, to differing degrees, through periods in which denial of liberty to others of their faith was a key feature of temporal administration.  (To differing degrees, all three have also identified doctrinal reasons to change course or shift emphasis on this.  Judaism and Christianity, in particular, provided the core of the West’s moral thinking about God-given rights and man’s rights against the state.)

The monotheistic faiths are by no means unique in this regard; the pagan religions of the ancient empires, in the Americas as well as the Eastern hemisphere, were used robustly as a means of subjugating populations.

Up until the last two centuries, governments were almost universally engaged in subjugating their people.  There has been no such pattern as that of government defending the people against the encroachments of religion; governments are invariably, and by nature, the worst offenders.  Indeed, it was precisely through using the powers of government to enforce religious orthodoxies that denial of liberties became institutionalized in, for example,  the Christianity of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

We fool ourselves badly, meanwhile, if we think modern collectivist ideologies represent a change from that pattern.  Rather, they are simply the continuation of it: imperial statism and religious authoritarianism in post-Enlightenment clothing.  Jacobinism, Marxism, Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, progressivism, radical “environmentalism”: all have had their essential features in common with the dark spirit of ancient imperialism, the perverted, politicized Christianity of religious wars and Inquisitions, and the radical Islamism of today.  In dismissing or even promoting the loss of life and liberty as a virtual sacrament, moreover, the modern collectivist –isms complete the circle of ancient human-sacrifice religions.

On a more local and pragmatic level, we are all familiar with the “creeping statism” endemic in government of any kind.  Give government a charter to manage something for us, and its portfolio will do nothing but grow.  There is no such thing as a naturally quiescent state of liberty.  Someone always has an idea, not just for a better mousetrap, but for a scheme to require us to purchase and use it.

Unless he is actively stopped, by convention and expectation, underlaid with shared values but also with implied force, at least one of our neighbors is always one sign of weakness away from telling us what size we can make our house, whether we can hold Bible studies there, and how much of our income we have to spend on medical services.  This, and not an Eden of self-effacing tolerance, is the reality of human life.  Liberty requires establishment and protection, because in every generation, there is a thriving industry in grievances, social prophylaxis, and knowing better than others do how they should live.

If you want liberty, you can’t wait for others to recognize your right to it.  You must establish it and protect it.  This is actually true of all good things in our common life on this earth.  None of them just happen.  They require establishment and protection.  Establishment and protection are accomplished in different ways; in today’s consciously-stabilized geopolitical environment, they occur almost entirely within existing borders, as when colonies became new nations after World War II, or autocratic regimes were changed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But America is the chief and most singular example in our modern era (indeed, in all history) of the establishment principle.  Only one other nation shares the principle of radical establishment that ours represents, and that is Israel.  Both nations were established for unique, historic purposes, in the teeth of opposition, with a specific moral and political commitment as the premise of their self-proclaimed charters.  Both invoked the God Jehovah in their establishing premise; both intended to found a unique project in which there would be irreducible liberties, and priorities that would overrule, in perpetuity, the importunings and temptations of a given generation.

Both nations took it as a given that the ordinary course of human affairs wasn’t good enough: that paying tribute and living at the sufferance of “empires” was a sure path to servitude, extortion, and death.  It is a point for another day that the nation-state is the only viable entity for acting on this proposition; suffice it to say here that establishing liberty and a principle of nationhood require holding and living independently on territory.  Someone will always object to that.  Someone will always object to the establishment of liberty, which always and everywhere means that the territory in question cannot be held for slavery and tribute.

The question is not whether liberty will ever cease to be obnoxious to mankind’s oldest patterns and urges.  It won’t.  The question is what choices we will make, knowing that liberty must be established and protected, and that that will inevitably be considered offensive by noisy and determined enemies.  He who insists on establishing liberty will always encounter opposition.  But there is no other way to have it.

J. E. Dyer

Looking Back on the Life of Barack Obama

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

He Taught us to Laugh, He Made Us Believe, and then He Took All Our MoneyHe was the first black President of the United States, and he also became its last President when in 2019, after his term in office had been extended indefinitely by HR:0666 or “The Hope and Faith in Obama’s Everlasting Presidency Act” (Holo-Link), he was forced to leave office because the government had run out of money to pay for itself.

Though he lived a very public life, few could agree on even the basic facts of his life. For a man who spent most of his life in front of the camera, his death leaves us with few answers about who Barack Obama (Holo-Link) really was. Obama only added to the uncertainty swirling around him by using multiple names,  multiple birthplaces and even passports.

The bestselling Presidential biographies of Obama, from Edmund Morris’ “America’s Greatest Con-Man” to Michael Beschloss’ “Obama: Citizen of the World” cover the range of opinions on Obama’s presidency.

And long after the fall of the United States, there is still no real consensus by former Americans on who Obama really was.

Yet to many Barack Obama represents a nostalgic time in history; the last years when such diverse nations as the Confederate States of California (Holo-Link), the Republic of New Hampshire, the People’s Republic of Minnesota, the Empire of Texas, El Reino de Aztlan and the Arch-Duchy of Upper New York were all part of one single nation that stretched from ocean to ocean.

His Life

Born in a hospital in some still undetermined part of the world, Barack learned to use multiple names and identities at an early age. Traveling from country to country, the young Obama or Soetoro, would quickly become adept at blending into any culture. This skill would prove crucial in his political career, allowing him to invent new identities and win the trust of his audience. If there is one thing his biographers agree on, it’s that he had a genuine gift for sensing what his audience wanted to hear. Unfortunately like most con artists, he lacked the same ability for long term financial planning, that he did for short term schemes to extract money from a gullible American public.

There is no denying that Obama cheerfully used fraud and strong arm tactics throughout his political career, but the chief weapon in his arsenal was flattery. Many of his supporters remember the special feeling of being made to feel that he was their friend. As one former aide wrote, “He taught us to laugh, he made us believe, and then he took all our money”.

This conflicted legacy helps explain Barack Obama’s popularity, even after his corruption and abuses of power destroyed the  government, ending the era of the United States for good– he was ranked 4th on the prestigious Dow Jones’ “Most Likable Celebrities in North America in 2019” index (Holo-Link).

It helped that Obama left the White House voluntarily after learning that there would be no more money left for his trips abroad, and that due to the failure of the Federal Reserve and the secession of 23 states from the Union, no national budget would be possible.

He did leave with everything of value in the White House that his family and associates could grab or pry out of the walls, but by then most Americans were too busy dealing with the problems of the Great Partition to notice. Even the farewell party that burned down most of the White House seemed a small thing in the wake of the Detroit Food Riots or the discovery of the Red River Gulag (Holo-Link).

His popularity afterward enabled Obama to begin several successful careers in the entertainment industry, including a long-running stint on the soap opera General Catastrope, his own line of shammy infomercials and a music career with such nostalgia singles as, “Where’s Da Money”, “Where All Da Money Go” and “What Happen to All Da Money?”

Even today viewers watching old fashioned television can still catch commercials of Obama in his older years, holding up a shammy cloth, dipping it in a spilled pool of olive oil and telling the audience to have faith that the mess would be gone. Even his famous tagline, “At a price that won’t bankrupt you, unlike me” was meant to be a good humored reference to his controversial two and a half terms in office.

Daniel Greenfield

Egyptian Jews: We support Military’s Fight against Terrorism

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

When Magda Haroun was out on the streets during the unrest now rocking Egypt’s capital, she saw someone standing over the body of a dead soldier.

“Not even a Jew would do this,” she heard him say.

Haroun, the president of the Egyptian Jewish community, doesn’t enjoy hearing anti-Semitic slurs on the street. She gets nervous when she hears Egyptians are burning the churches of Coptic Christians, a much larger religious minority than the country’s tiny Jewish community. She assumes that most of her compatriots have forgotten there are any Jews left in Egypt.

But when protesters filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of June calling on President Mohamed Morsi to step down, she was right there with them.

“The amount of people in Tahrir was breathtaking,” Haroun told JTA. “The unity between people was breathtaking. Some of the people recognized me because I was on TV. They were shaking my hand and telling me, ‘God bless you. You are a real Egyptian.’ ”

Haroun, 61, is the youngest of the 14 women who make up Cairo’s dwindling Jewish community. Most are now in their 80s, living off charity and rental income from properties the community has owned for generations.

But though small in number, Haroun says the community is proud of its country and, like many Egyptians, supportive of the army’s campaign to quell Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The latest round of unrest in Egypt began last month after mass protests in Tahrir Square led the army to depose Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader, and install a new government. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the move as a coup and confrontations raged between its supporters and the military, leaving more than 1,000 Egyptians dead in just the last week alone.

Jews have lived in Egypt for millennia. Around the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, the community was estimated to number 75,000, but in the decades that followed the vast majority fled.

Those that remain are happy to call Egypt home, Haroun says. Although she has relatives in several European countries, she vows to “never, never, never” leave.

“I’m very proud to be here,” she said. “I want to do whatever I can to help. We are a strong people. I am very happy now that people [are] in the street. Instead of talking about football, they are talking politics. There is more awareness about the importance of our country.”

On Tuesday, CNN reported that the White House was withholding some military aid to Egypt in protest of the military’s violent crackdown on Morsi supporters. But for Haroun, the army’s assertion of control is a welcome development she sees as “fighting terrorism.”

Haroun says the Jewish community thus far has not experienced any anti-Semitism as a result of the fighting — probably, she says, because it’s so small.

Under Morsi’s rule, however, it was a different story. Soon after taking office, the government voted to end a monthly subsidy of $1,000 to the Jewish community it had provided for more than 20 years.

“The way they wanted things to go, it’s a fascist movement,” she said. “I hope we’ll start a new era in Egypt where everyone will be equal regardless of political beliefs. I am very confident in the future.”

Another believer in a more tolerant Egyptian future is Levana Zamir, whose family was expelled from Cairo when she was 12. Now living in Tel Aviv, Zamir remembers an Egypt that strived to be open to the world.

“I’m very proud of Egyptians that they want to go back to the secularism and cosmopolitanism of Egypt,” said Zamir, the president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel. “They need someone like [former President Anwar] Sadat, who wanted to open the Arab world.”

Haroun says that as much as the casual anti-Semitism she hears bothers her, she believes it comes from Egyptians’ unfamiliarity with Judaism.

“It’s all talking, there is no action,” she said. “The talk about anti-Semitism is ignorance. The Egyptians are loving. They love each other. It’s ignorance that pushes them to hate and to burn churches.”

Egypt’s unrest will prevent the community from celebrating Rosh Hashanah together in a few weeks. In past years, the community has hosted festive meals and invited foreign dignitaries and non-Jewish Egyptians.

JTA

What’s Wrong With the Star-K Kosher Phone?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

About a month ago the Star-K, a world renowned Kashrus agency, announced that they were certifying kosher phones. These phones have no access to the Internet, cannot place or receive text messages, cannot take photos, and most importantly, cannot be hacked to perform any of these tasks.

It’s not troubling to me that people would want a phone that is insulated from certain tasks. Although I think it is an unnecessary measure and perhaps counter productive, I don’t begrudge people their personal self control restraints.

What is troubling is that a kashrus agency is part of this initiative. A kashrus agency should be concerned with one thing and one thing only. Their singular concern should be the kosher status of the food. I don’t even think that a kashrus agency must concern itself with humanitarian or other ethical issues that may arise. I have no problem with a secondary agency coming in and providing a secondary level of supervision. But the kosher status of the food cannot be affected by anything other its status as kosher food.

So when I see a kashrus agency entering into the phone market, I see an agency that should be worried about kosher status of food but is now legislating morality. It’s not even as if the technical skills involved in kosher supervision overlap the neutering of cell phones. They have nothing to do with each other. I don’t think it is smart for kosher supervision to be intertwined or even related to morality supervision.

Similarly, when kosher supervision agencies make demands on the clientele or ambience of an eating establishment I believe they are overstepping their bounds. There are restaurants that are not allowed to be open at certain hours because they will lose their hechsher if they are open. This is far beyond the scope of kosher supervision. Tell me if the food is kosher and I will decide if I want to patronize the restaurant. That is all we need from a kashrus agency. The stretching of their authority serves no important purpose for the public. It seems to me that it is merely a self-serving, self-righteous way to legislate their morality. If they can legislate phones and who can eat where, what’s next?

I am not making a slippery slope argument. I am pointing out that there is no logical connection between the kosher status of food and the kosher status of a phone. There is also no relationship between the kosher status of a restaurant and whether teenagers are hanging out. In other words, the kashrus agencies are already legislating their morality. There is no reason to think it only will apply in these two instances because there is no connection between these two things and the kosher status of food.

We need to stop using the word kosher for things other than food. Yes, the word is a general term but it has evolved into a word that describes whether food can be eaten by orthodox Jews who keep kosher. We don’t eat anything that is not kosher. Using the word kosher for phones and Internet implies that the non-kosher versions are not allowed to be used. This is sophomoric and divisive.

If anything, the kashrus agencies should be concerned with the ethics and morality of the actual food. This is something they have resisted time and time again. I am not recommending they get into the ethics of food business, but if they must expand their business and purview of supervision I think that is the first place they should be looking to legislate seeing as they have the knowledge and expertise to monitor and report on that aspect of food production. But teens mingling and phones? They don’t belong there at all.

Visit Fink or Swim.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

Tossing a Jewish Lasso over Wyoming’s Wild West

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Carin M. Smilk

Summer is winding down in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a short season, weather-wise, but it’s also a season that brings in tourists, lots of them, who come for the mountains and national parks, the outdoor sports and the wide open spaces. They come to make good on the state slogan: “Like No Place on Earth.”

Not long after they leave, winter beckons a slew of other travelers, those lured to the skiing and snow activities. It’s another bustling time; the two seasons bring in about 4 million visitors a year.

And about 1 percent of them—an estimated 40,000 people—are Jewish.

That helps make life busy for Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-director of Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming with his wife, Raizy. Not that it’s so quiet the rest of the year. The couple, based in the town of Jackson—in western Wyoming near the border of Idaho, almost completely surrounded by mountains and in the well-known valley of Jackson Hole—serves the roughly 500 permanent Jewish residents there, out of a general population of nearly 10,000. It’s an interesting mix, says the rabbi, of singles, couples, families, retirees, tourists and those with second homes in the area.

“We have a very small community,” acknowledges Mendelsohn, “but we offer quality services—substantive services. We’re reaching out to individual Jews in a very personal, warm, inviting way.”

Since their official 2008 move to Jackson, they have started all kinds of programs. There’s the annual Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival, which brings in bands and performers from all over, coupled with Camp Gan Israel, a Jewish women’s circle, a “Mommy & Me” class, Torah study, lectures, “Coffee & Kabbalah,” and Shabbat and Jewish holiday dinners and services. Currently, they rent space for High Holiday services but are looking for a place to buy.

 

Also on tap are lecture series, including one to take place this weekend, Aug. 16-17. The Shabbaton will include services and a Friday-night dinner, then Saturday-morning services and a three-course lunch, with lectures both days by guest speaker David N. Weiss. A Hollywood film writer with several blockbusters to his credit, Weiss has traversed religiously from being a secular Jew to a Christian youth worker, and now follows a life of observant Judaism.

“His story is very compelling,” says Mendelsohn. “He never really had the opportunity to study Judaism in-depth. It shows that you can always start fresh and new, even if you’re very famous or a celebrity. You can always rediscover your roots.”

The series has attracted 50 to 60 people on average, and the rabbi expects a similar turnout for Weiss.

‘Very Much at Home’

 Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

So how has life changed for a couple raised in completely different living environments? The rabbi, in his early 30s, hails from Miami, Fla., and Raizy, in her late 20s, grew up in Israel. What’s it like to live in the least populated state in the nation?

“We felt very much at home right away,” says the rabbi. “People are warm and welcoming; there’sthe renowned Western hospitality. It’s a cowboy town, it’s the Wild West, but people also have a more spiritual character here. And our goal is to introduce a Yiddishkeit element to it.”

That sense of spirituality could have something to do with the physical backdrop. Jackson is a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. The rabbi talks of the everyday appearance of bison, moose, deer, wolves and bears. “There’s wildlife in the streets,” he says, pausing to add that he just saw a herd of elk run up the side of a nearby mountain.

He also notes the atmosphere—both scenically and spiritually—is good for the couple’s four young children. After all, for kids in such a place, aside from their home-schooling time, “life is surrounded by G-d’s great outdoors.”

Of course, it’s not all vales and wild flowers. There’s no kosher food, no Jewish schools, no other Orthodox presence and no mikvah. The closest mikvahs are in Bozeman, Mont., and Salt Lake City, Utah—both a five-hour drive or one-hour flight away.

“Still,” says Mendelsohn, “we have a wonderful community, and we are honored to also accommodate visitors who come through. I travel around the state quarterly visiting Jewish people. We’ve put up about 60 mezuzahs in the last three years all over the state. One by one, we’re connecting Jews with their heritage.”

“That’s the story of Wyoming. We may be one of the most remote Jewish communities in the country, but I want people to know that Yiddishkeit is alive and well and thriving in Jackson Hole.”

Laura Goldstein, 34, can attest to that. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Victor, Idaho, which borders Wyoming and is about a 45-minute drive from Jackson. She and her husband Howard, a wildlife biologist, came to live out West in 2009, and she says the rabbi was one of the first people they met.

“We were looking for a way to connect with other Jewish people, and we knew Chabad would be a good way to do that,” says Goldstein, an administrative assistant. “They invited us over for Shabbat dinner, and it was lovely. They were so gracious. They make you want to be part of the community.

“And every opportunity they have of doing a mitzvah, they do. It’s incredible.”

She’s also seen Chabad grow as an organization. At Rosh Hashanah, there used to be three men, not even a minyan; now there may be 14. And Shabbat dinners in the summer can draw 40 to 50 people. She even mentions that just this year, she met a Jewish woman from New York who runs a clothing store/jewelry shop in Victor.

Learning by Example

Most of all, Goldstein says she and her husband have modeled their Shabbat observance at home on the Mendelsohns’ example. “Knowing them has been a huge part in that direction. We feel that we’re better Jewish people out here. It probably wouldn’t have been as big a part of our identity” back East.

She adds that Raizy has shown her how to make challah, light Shabbat candles and recite the Havdalah prayers.

“It’s great to see how they bring in what they need,” says Goldstein. “These people are making it work; they’re doing it.” So she figures she can, too.

“Rabbi Zalman,” as Josh Beck and other local residents call him, “is involved in everything. He’s an amazing man.”

“And he’s one of my closest friends here.”

Beck, 41, an orthopedic surgeon from New Jersey, has been living in Wyoming for seven years. He says he considers himself a very big supporter and very active with Chabad there.

He attends Shabbat dinners (the true reason, he says, is because of “Raizy’s fantastic cooking”) and various programs, but admits to preferring “the off-season, when there’s a handful of locals.”

He says that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter “love living out here.” Beck hunts and fishes and skis; in fact, he notes, he found his job there while on a ski vacation.

A Spiritual Change of Scenery

Cross-country skiing also appeals to Stephen and Linda Melcer from Boca Raton, Fla., who have rented a house in Jackson the last two winters and intend to come again this year.

“It’s a nice change of scenery, of climate,” says Stephen Melcer, a 61-year-old lawyer. “It’s also a nice change religiously and a change in diversity.”

The couple belongs to Boca Raton Synagogue, an Orthodox shul. “Whenever we travel, we look for a place to be for Shabbos, and a good place to start looking is Chabad. We’ve noticed here that a lot of people attending are travelers, and a larger percentage of people are not observant.”

Melcer says he appreciates “going into an environment where a rabbi is focused on the less observant.”

“They are very warm,” he says of the Mendelsohns. “I think they enjoy the challenge of it. And they certainly have a lot of challenges. The incredible thing is that challenges never cross their minds.”

Ken Begelman is glad that’s the case. He and his wife, Helen, helped the Mendelsohns come to town.

Twelve years ago, the Begelmans moved to Teton County, about 8 miles outside Jackson, from Palm Beach County, Fla. When they arrived, they wanted a shul—a congregation of some type. Begelman says he was familiar with Chabad rabbinical students coming to Wyoming temporarily (they have for decades, as part of the “Roving Rabbis” program), and got in touch with people in Brooklyn to work to make it happen permanently.

“He’s a very outgoing guy, very inclusive; he gets along with everybody,” says Begelman, a 66-year-old retired cardiac surgeon, of Mendelsohn.

He notes that there’s a large number of 20-year-olds who come to work during ski season or in the summer who have never had any religious affiliation or education, and “the rabbi has turned a lot of these kids around.”

As for Wyoming, the former Floridian insists that “it’s wonderful here. It’s what America should be. Everybody respects everybody else. You don’t have to lock your house or your car. There’s no crime.”

Sure, the winter temperatures can fall to 20 below and the snow can average 38 feet a year in the mountainous regions, but residents insist that it’s an invigorating experience.

In regards to future expansion, Begelman says that if “one new Jewish family a year comes permanently, that would be a lot.” Population growth is indeed slow; Begelman has seen signs in the state that note there are 10 horses for every one person residing there.

As far as the rabbi and his family go, “I’m very happy that they’ve fit in well in the community and that they like it here. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

Chabad.org

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tossing-a-jewish-lasso-over-wyomings-wild-west/2013/08/20/

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