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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘story’

Light In The Face Of Darkness

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

As I write these words I am still in my new adopted home. Originally I came to my wonderful friends’ warm apartment with the intention of staying just overnight and I did not even bother packing. My children kept pressuring me – “Ima, you have to go!”

My daughter who lives just a few blocks from me was going to move in with a friend who had a generator and she asked that I come with her. But I planned to wait Hurricane Sandy out. I was confident that while it would be a very intense storm it would not require evacuation. Just the same, all my children kept pressuring me. “Ima,” they pleaded, “you cannot stay in the house.”

My son who lives in a neighboring community was going to Brooklyn to my children there. Baruch Hashem, they all have large families, children and grandchildren. Their houses were full but they lovingly insisted I join them. I was debating in my mind what to do when my very kind talmidah – my Torah daughter – called and begged that I come to her. Not wanting to place added pressure to my children, I decided to accept her loving invitation.

When morning came it was not the dawn’s light that awakened me but the nightmarish news that my community and countless others were under attack by the merciless Frankenstorm that was leaving total devastation in its wake. I heard that ten feet of water flooded the lower level of my home but that was the least of my concerns. There was only one concern in my heart, and that was for my children who stayed behind and the countless other children and families there. I kept repeating to myself, “Ribbono shel Olam, Ribbono shel Olam.” Every few minutes I called my children, though usually I could not get through.

So it was with a trembling heart and tears flowing down my face that I davened and then davened some more. As the days passed and more and more painful and horrific stories emerged, my tears and my fears also increased.

Many of you know that every Thursday night I teach Torah at the Hineni Heritage Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was now Wednesday and the immediate dilemma facing me was whether we should close down or keep our doors open and the classes going.

It wasn’t a hard call. Of course we would have to stay open. If ever there was a time we had to gather together, it was now. It did not matter how many or how few would come. We had to raise our voices in prayer, with Tehillim and the study of Torah. No matter what is going on around us, davening and Torah study must continue. Those are our only weapons, our only salvation, our only hope for help.

I have had good training; I know from whence I speak. I learned in the best of universities that majored in cruelty – Hitler’s concentration camps. My daughter once said, “Ima, no matter what the topic, no matter what the situation, you always go back to those days of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen.”

I had never been consciously aware of it, but as soon as she mentioned it I realized she was so right. Sadly, most of us who were there are no longer here to tell the story, and most of those who are here are elderly or infirm and can no longer speak out. So yes, I do go back and I do tell the story and I can never forget.

In that dire darkness, in that pit of hopelessness, my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught me to never to give up, never to forget that prayers can awaken the dawn and Torah can be brighter then the sun. Through Torah and prayers the sun can shine again and our worlds can be illuminated.

Our Sages teach us “ein doma – there is no comparison to that which you hear and that which you see.” My daughter, who was there with her family, saw the terror and devastation with her own eyes and experienced it with her own heart and mind. Next week I will share excerpts from her diary.

The Petraeus Conundrum

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

There are some fascinating questions that come to mind regarding the current controversy concerning Gen. David Petraeus, and in the coming weeks and months many of the blanks will doubtless be filled in. To be sure, the personal dimension to the story will continue to draw much attention – infidelity and personal failure in high places will always have a certain allure. But there are some serious public issues involved that we hope will be pursued.

It’s obvious that news of this sort would dominate the media once it surfaced. Surely it would have sucked much of the air out of the story of the president’s efforts to rally the nation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It would also have drawn attention away from the president’s newly charged economic appeal to the middle class that had given him some late momentum in his electoral battle with Gov. Romney.

Yet it appears that the news about Gen. Petraeus was circulating long before the resignation, which occurred after the election. Thus, the FBI investigation that led to Gen. Petraeus’s stepping down began in May and continued until late summer, at which point Attorney General Eric Holder supposedly was notified. Yet it is claimed that it was only on November 6– Election Day – that the Justice Department informed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of the investigation; that on November 7the White House was notified; and that the president was first told on November 8.

Maybe. But it certainly seems inconceivable that an investigation of this sort involving the head of the Central Intelligence Agency – including possible criminal liability for compromising classified national security information – would not have been brought to the attention of the president or his senior staff early on. So the issue of whether there was an effort by public officials to suppress the Petraeus story in order to enhance the president’s reelection prospects is squarely before us.

Perhaps more important, Gen. Petraeus appears to be the intelligence source cited by the president and his senior staff as the basis for their refusal, for more than two weeks, to characterize the Benghazi attack as a terrorist act despite evidence that it was indeed a well-planned operation of an Al Qaeda affiliate. Not a few critics noted that to have acknowledged that fact would have been inconsistent with the administration’s position that Al Qaeda and similar outfits had been routed by U.S. military action.

In any event, soon after the Benghazi attack, Gen. Petraeus testified before a congressional committee that the attack was a spontaneous reaction on the part of Muslims angered by an anti-Muhamamad video. Further, Gen. Petraeus was scheduled to testify at two congressional hearings, beginning November 15,on both the failure to anticipate and properly respond to the attack as well as the decision to identify it as something other than a terrorist attack.

With the Petraeus resignation, acting CIA director Michael Morell is now scheduled to testify on behalf of the CIA. Gen. Petraeus has indicated that he will not testify, and as a civilian he will have an easier time avoiding that prospect despite the intentions of some in Congress to demand that he appear.

Was the general’s resignation part of an effort to keep him from having to testify? One need not subscribe to all the conspiracy theories now swirling around these developments. Generally, they are not helpful. But there certainly are questions that need to be looked into.

The Chesed of Satmar and of the American People

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

There’s a story on a website called Behadrey Haredim (in the rooms of Charedim). This Hebrew language – Israeli based website is now available in English. It tells of how Satmar Chasidim, at the behest of their Rebbe have pulled out all the stops to help fellow Jews in neighborhoods such as Far Rockaway and Bayswater that were suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
It is quite in character for Satmar to help fellow Jews in need. They are well known for their Chesed towards their fellow Jew. One may recall that their Bikur Cholim Society is internationally recognized for just that. Chesed. They visit sick Jews in hospitals and provide for more than their needs regardless of how religious they are. It doesn’t matter if a patient is a Satmar Chasid or not. If you are in the hospital and a Jew they are there to help you. In spades!

So this story is not all that remarkable. They are simply living up to their reputations as Baalei Chesed.

But it occurred to me that what they are doing is already being done in spades. Not by Satmar Chasidim but by the good people of New York City – Jew and non-Jew alike – to all people in need, not just their co-religionists.

This too is in character. Of the American people who comprise this Medinah Shel Chesed. There has been story after story of people helping people in need during this crisis.

Two examples come to mind.

One is about how many of runners who were scheduled to run in the NYC marathon used that time to distribute supplies originally reserved for the runners.

Then there was the story of a gas station owner who stayed open despite the fact that electric power was cut off and his gas pumps weren’t working. He somehow found a hand pump and started pumping gas manually to anyone who came to his gas station. And he did not charge them an extra dime for the gas. There have been hundreds of stories of people helping people without expecting anything in return but out of the goodness of their own heart. All of it non discriminatory. None of it selective – based on what religion you are.

So when I hear about how caring the Satmar community is for their fellow Jews and how much they are doing, I feel it is imperative to note that they are not alone. Nor is it uniquely Jewish. Non-Jews are doing it too. Only they are doing it more inclusively than Satmar.

This is not to take away from the great work Satmar is doing. It is only to praise the even greater work is being done by the good people of this great country. To that end I would also note that MASBIA a soup kitchen in Boro Park founded by Chasidim is extending their hand to all in need – Jews and non Jews alike. That is what I like to see. A real Kiddush HaShem.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Title: Alone in Africa

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Author: Avigail Sharer
Publisher: Israel Bookshop Publications

Alone in Africa, by Avigail Sharer, is an original adventure story about three siblings named Nesanel, Penina and Chezky Feiner, who are, well, alone in Africa. Except they aren’t entirely alone – they have animals and two battling African tribes to keep them company.

It all started when the three Feiner kids were flying from home in London without their parents to visit their grandparents in South Africa. The airport-provided chaperon was a rookie teenager who didn’t know what to do when the airplane made an emergency landing in the jungle. The kids became separated from the other passengers, who were driven away by military Jeeps to the airport. That is how they became “alone in Africa.”

They were found by an African tribe named the Lulu was who thought that Nesanel was a prophet named Gift of G-d. The other children escaped, but Nesanel was kept. When Nesanel attempted to escape, his plan was foiled when he was captured by a different African tribe named the Bakayas, who were at war with the Luluwas. There was a rescue attempt by Penina and Chezky, but was it successful?

I liked Alone in Africa for a number of reasons. The plot was fast-paced and full of twists and turns; at one moment they were wandering through the jungle, the next moment they were captured. My personal favorite part of this book was the idea of a non-poisonous, poisonous frog (when you read it you’ll know). The story is also very informative about survival skills. I would recommend Alone in Africa to potential jungle explorers of ages 9-10 who are ready to tackle a chapter book of over 230 pages.

Yad Hashem – Shown With A Foot!

Friday, November 9th, 2012

The following story is 100% true, without embellishment or hyperbole. I can say this because I know each of the parties involved.

As the expression goes, “Hashem fir zich der velt” – Hashem orchestrates all the events that occur in the world. Most of what Hashem does is hidden from us. However, on occasion something happens in such an open way, one would have to be totally oblivious to the world around him to not see the powerful display of Yad of Hashem.

HE was going through a challenging time. He was in his 30s, recently divorced, had limited access to his children and was dealing with parnassah issues. In addition, his grandfather who had been his mentor, advocate, guardian angel and best friend, had passed away. He was existing, but not living; surviving, but not thriving. As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, he settled into a depression, simply going through the motions.

It was a beautiful July 4th day; the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. Perfectly perfect – until a freakish misstep propelled his entire body to the left, with the exception of his right foot, which buckled to the right. As he struggled to get up, his body crumbled to the ground, powerless to withstand his own weight. His initial reaction to his torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) was “Why me? Do I not have enough on my plate? Do I need this too”? Shortly thereafter he realized that it is not our place to question, but rather to accept that all He does is for our good.

Two months pass. It was just before Labor Day and he was enjoying the company of his children. Although still walking with a minor limp, he experienced a spark of true life for the first time in recent memory. The next day, however, the sounds of glee were replaced by the deafening sounds of silence; the unadulterated joy, replaced by an emotional hangover, as his children returned to their mother. Never before had he experienced such a deafening sound as this sound of silence.

SHE was a woman in her 30s, also living a life devoid of true meaning. She had faced challenges from infancy, but embraced her obstacles, never lamenting them. She was a friend to many, yet in essence was alone. She was eager to help a friend in need, yet her personal needs and requests appeared to go unanswered. She danced at the weddings of so many, yet each time the music stopped she lay alone with her thoughts. As the years began to pass her by, she wondered if she would ever find true happiness. Was it Hashem’s plan for her to live a life fraught with unfulfilled dreams?

Many a night she cried herself to sleep; reluctantly accepting her fate, as it appeared to be the will of Hashem. She tried to hold on to the proverbial ledge, even as she felt herself slowly losing her grip on life.

HE and SHE serendipitously crossed paths on one of the Jewish dating sites. They conversed for an hour via the computer as they both wondered if this would be yet another dead-end. Skeptically, he dialed her number as the clock struck midnight. With an accelerated heartbeat she answered her phone. They were both unaware that it was Yad Hashem orchestrating the telephone conversation. I suspect, however, they were somewhat wiser when they finally ended the conversation – 7 hours later!

The conversation transformed two floundering yechidim into a potential zivug – two wandering individual lost souls connected in a most spiritual and emotional manner. They exchanged their personal life’s journeys as time seemingly froze in abeyance. Their somewhat parallel, yet totally different journeys, had them geographically thousands of miles apart, but on that night they were brought together, all human barriers and obstacles falling to the wayside. Ironically, although originally physically separated by over 6,000 miles, they now found themselves residing but a mile apart. Actually, it wasn’t ironic, it was Yad Hashem at work, but they didn’t totally grasp the magnitude of that – at least not just yet.

They consented to meet the following evening, to explore the possibilities of where this budding friendship may potentially lead. As he was still recovering from his torn ACL, and self-conscious of his mild but somewhat conspicuous limp, he reminded her that tomorrow when they would meet, she would most likely notice a mild limp, but assured her that it wasn’t a physical impediment, as he was still recovering from him knee injury.

Can an Orthodox Jewish Woman Have it All?

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

As I began reading an article in the Forward by Aurora Mendelsohn about whether a Jewish woman can have it all (meaning a career and an observant family) I received a call from my daughter about an article in the Chicago Tribune* about one woman who does have it all.

Her name is Talia Mashiach. And indeed she does have it all. And I was glad to see that she didn’t Kvetch about how difficult it is for her to fulfill her role as a Jewish woman and have a successful career at the same time. She seemed to revel in her success at both. More about Talia later.

This is not to say that Ms. Mendelsohn doesn’t make some valid points. She does. But whenever I read one of these feminist based articles, it always seems like someone is Kvetching about how hard it is for a woman to be successful in a male dominated society in general and in Judaism in particular.

Ms. Mendelsohn mentioned the things she has to do in order to be more fulfilled as a Jew while raising children. Like taking turns with her husband going to Shul for Kol Nidre in alternate years. She talks about breaking barriers of stereotypical male-female roles in the workplace and in Judaism. To that end she advocates flextime for parents in the workplace to enable better parenting for both.

And then – as is common among some feminist types – she implies that Rishonim like the Avudraham and later the Shulchan Aruch that reflect his views were influenced by the misogyny of their time. Albeit praising them for recognizing that indeed no one can really have it all – which is why in Judaism women are exempt from most of the time bound positive Mitzvos.

However, in the current spirit of egalitarianism she says that women should be given greater roles in the synagogue while men should be encouraged to become more domestic. Kind of a role reversal.

Right. That is what Judaism is all about. Role reversal. I have heard this argument ad nauseum. Is this what is now demanded?! In order to achieve some sort of parity with men, women need to go to Shul while men stay home with their children?! I guess so if one follows the example of the Mendelsohn household. This seems to be the current trend in Orthodox feminism. Push the envelope so far that men take on the traditional roles of women so that women can take on the traditional roles of men… All within the parameters of Halacha of course.

I am not even going to attempt to argue the point here. Been there and done that. I just want to contrast that with a woman who probably has more of what Ms. Mendelsohn seeks than she ever will and does so without the need to change Orthodox Judaism as we know it.

Talia Mashiach is one of the most successful career women in the Orthodox world. I know her and her husband. They are day school and yeshiva educated Orthodox Jews who send their children to Arie Crown Hebrew Day School. She not only has a successful career in business, she has a successful career as a mother. An Orthodox mother that does not ignore her children or her Judaism.

At age 35, Talia Mashaich is a self-made millionaire. She has created many successful businesses and is about to corner the market on corporate event planning by digitalizing every aspect of it online. Her business acumen has attracted some big name venture capitalists and they have not been disappointed with the returns on their investments. She loves what she does and is highly respected in the corporate world. She does what’s necessary to succeed without sacrificing one iota of her Judaism. She has made sure of that.

As her husband Shmuel said in the Tribune article, she is as good a mom and wife as she is in business.

Talia organizes her schedule so that she can be home by the time her children come home for school. Fridays she generally works out of her house. Evenings are spent with her family. She hires household help to take care of cleaning and cooking allowing her to maximize her time with her family.

Weekends are hallowed time for the Mashiachs and on Shabbos they often host friends and family for Friday night and Shabbos morning meals. And of course she is unplugged from all technology. That – she says – rejuvenates her for the new work week.

She does it all without Kvetching about how Judaism has somehow failed women spiritually.

Before anyone accuses me of being insensitive to those women who feel they need “more” in order to express their spirituality than mainstream Orthodoxy gives them, please don’t bother. I get it. Some people (men as well as women) feel they need more to express their service to God than Judaism requires of them. My point here is that this is certainly not the case for all. Jewish women need not seek Shul participation in order to be fulfilled as a Jew or as a woman. Ask Talia.

That said Talia freely admits that what she does is not for everyone – certainly not everyone has her skill set. But she is living proof that an Orthodox Jewish woman can indeed have it all. Without the need to eat, live, and breathe the feminist clarion call of egalitarianism. There was not a hint of that in this very beautiful article in the Chicago Tribune.

At age 35 she has succeeded in business in ways that would make many even successful men envious. If things keep going her way, she could be the next Mark Zuckerberg. All while maintaining her role as the quintessential Jewish woman without sacrificing one iota of her Judaism. My hat is off to her.

*(Unfortunately one must be a subscriber to the digital version of Chicago Tribune to see the article online. But it is a front page story in the business section – print edition.)

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

In his book, Thirteen Days (1968), Robert Kennedy publicized the inner workings of the Kennedy White House during the terrible days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He described how the President’s special advisory group, known as ExComm, debated the options available to defuse the crisis in light of the intelligence presented to them. Fortunately, JFK and his advisors managed to avoid a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union and compelled Khrushchev to withdraw his missiles from Cuba. For many who have studied this crisis the story ends on day 13 when the Soviet Union agreed to remove its weapons. However, David G. Coleman in his new book, The Fourteenth Day (2012), argues that the story did not quite end there. In fact, an entirely new chapter began on day 14.

The challenge facing Kennedy on that day, and in the subsequent months, was how to ensure that the Soviet Union kept the agreement. Coleman explained that, “One issue stood out as the most urgent: verifying that Khrushchev was following through in having the missiles removed. It was not an easy problem. It hinged on a fundamental issue notably lacking in the U.S.-Soviet relationship: trust. How could Americans be sure that they weren’t being duped? Might it all be some kind of devilish trick, buying time for the Soviet nuclear forces in Cuba to be readied for action” (p.36).

Over the next several months various agreements were achieved, ultimately ensuring the removal of the missiles and Soviet combat troops from Cuba. But to achieve these agreements Kennedy had to go through many hoops and juggle many different constituencies and pressures. He had to address the military’s concerns, he had to convince the American people that he was not compromising their security for the sake of a diplomatic deal, he had to confront the partisan pressures and accusations from his opposition in Congress, and he had to seal a deal with the Soviet Union that would actually decrease tension permanently, thus lessening the chance of a recurring crisis.

Kennedy understood a fundamental aspect of leadership. Success without follow-up is not success. If gains are not consolidated they will evaporate quickly. The essence of this week’s parsha illustrates the importance of this truism. Prior to the events recorded in Chayei Sarah we witnessed Avraham changing the world through feats of international renown. In Lech Lecha he emigrated from his homeland to the Land of Israel. During his journey he and Sarah spread monotheism and taught people how to lead an upright life. In Vayeira we were overwhelmed by Avraham’s defeating an international coalition of the greatest military powers of his day. He then argued with Hashem to spare the lives of the citizens of Sedom. Finally, he was prepared to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to G-d. These events are certainly worthy of note. Yet when we read Chayei Sarah we seem to leave the world of front page news and move to what at best seems like the human interest section. We see Avraham purchasing a grave for his wife and mourning her. We then spend the bulk of the parsha learning how Avraham, through the services of his loyal servant Eliezer, finds a wife for Yitzchak. We conclude with Avraham’s relatively quiet retirement and passing.

This contrast begs the question: What is the real message of Chayei Sarah? Rav Moshe Feinstein in his work of Torah insights, Derash Moshe, suggests an explanation that sheds light on this issue. Rav Moshe questions why the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (9a) claims that with Avraham, the two thousand year period of Torah learning began, when, in fact, there were others who prior to Avraham taught Torah as well. Rav Moshe answers that Avraham revolutionized Torah learning. Torah scholars prior to Avraham, such as Shem and Aver, taught Torah, but only to those people who were self-motivated enough to seek out Torah on their own and who were willing to commit totally to a Torah way of life. Avraham, on the other hand, circulated among the people, encouraging them to join the ranks of Torah learners and explaining that every commitment made to Torah, no matter how incremental, is important and a critical step forward. It is for this reason, Rav Moshe claims, that Avraham is credited with the real beginning of Torah learning. Through Avraham’s actions the Torah achieved a permanent place in peoples’ consciousness.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-chayei-sarah-3/2012/11/08/

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