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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20’s/30’s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

Egyptian Media Celebrating 1973 ‘Victory’ over ‘the Jews’

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Today is the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s surprise attack on Yom Kippur, 1973, and Egypt is celebrating.

But if you look at Egyptian media in Arabic, very often it says that this “victory” was over “the Jews” – not over Israel, or over Zionists.

While many of the articles only talk about the “glorious victory,” without naming over whom, when the enemy is named, more often than not, they are called “the Jews.”

This interview with an Egyptian general in El Balad  is peppered with referencs to “the Jews.”

Vetogate, while discussing Muslim Brotherhood threats against the celebrations, notes that  it is a happy day because “this is a black day in the history of the Jews.”

This interview with Sadat’s sister at Al Mogaz mostly refers merely to “the enemy” but has a reference to the victory over “the Jews.” Nothing about Zionists or Israel.

Al Masry al Youm incidentally talks bout the “victory over the Jews.”

By the way, here is how Time magazine reported the end of the war that the Egyptians are wildly celebrating:

From a purely military viewpoint it was already clear that the Israelis had come breathtakingly close to a victory that would have matched their swift triumph in the Six-Day War. Despite the important advantages possessed this time by the refurbished Arab armies—the element of surprise, the early losses they inflicted, their easy penetration of the Bar-Lev Line along the east bank of the Suez Canal and Israeli bastions in the Golan Heights—the Israelis managed in scarcely more than two weeks to reverse the tide of battle and push the battlefronts into Syria and Egypt. At week’s end the Israelis claimed that they had captured most of the city of Suez; their armies had fought to within 30 miles of Damascus and about 45 miles of Cairo.

Although the details were still obscured by censorship, the bridgehead made by an Israeli armored force across the southern sector of the canal may rank as the most brilliant military feat in the country’s short but tempestuous history. In the end, Egypt may well have agreed to a ceasefire because it realized that to continue fighting would lead to another disaster.

Enlarging their bridgehead on the west bank of the Suez Canal (TIME, Oct. 29), Israeli forces last week proceeded to neutralize, both militarily and politically, the dug-in Egyptian forces on the east bank. With at least 20,000 men and 500 tanks at their disposal on the southern portion of the west bank, the Israelis cut the vital highway between Suez and Cairo, encircled and later captured most of the city of Suez and pushed on to the port of Adabiya. In the process, they trapped the Egyptian Third Army, which was still in position on the east bank of the canal.

The Egyptian public hardly realized what had happened. At the week’s beginning, a mood of euphoria still persisted in Cairo. Many Egyptians initially resented the declaration of a ceasefire because they believed that it was cheating Egypt out of a clear-cut victory. In any case, full-scale fighting broke out again almost immediately. In the 24 hours that followed the ceasefire, the Israelis drastically improved their position on the west bank. They destroyed large numbers of missile and artillery sites and, most important, they isolated the Third Army, cutting it off from food for its 20,000 men and fuel for its 400 tanks. Time after time, the Egyptians fought ferociously to free themselves but failed.

By [Wednesday morning,] the Egyptian government fully realized to what extent it had blundered in underestimating the seriousness of the Israeli bridgehead on the west bank. But it was too late to change the course of battle; the Egyptian Third Army was, as Moshe Dayan put it, “technically blocked.” In a particularly stinging gesture to the Egyptians, the Israelis announced that they would supply blood plasma to the Third Army, since the Egyptian government was incapable of doing so. The Israelis added that the encircled Arabs were in no immediate danger of dying from thirst or hunger.

… But already, hundreds of thirsty and hungry Egyptian soldiers were walking out of the harsh, blazing desert with their hands up and handkerchiefs waving. From their east-bank positions, the nearest fresh water was 100 miles away; the water conduit from the west was held by the Israelis, who seemed determined to supply them with water only in exchange for surrender. At best, the ones who held out could probably expect to go through what Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a young major, was forced to do in 1949: to await an armistice, after which, by joint agreement, they can walk through Israeli lines to safety.

Israel Asking UN Recognition of Yom Kippur – Is Tisha B’Av Next?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

JTA is reporting that Israel has asked the United Nations to recognize Yom Kippur as an official UN holiday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor met Monday with UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson to request international recognition for Yom Kippur.

It means UN employees would be allowed to take a day off without having to give up a vacation day.

There are 10 UN holidays, including the Muslim observances of Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha and the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, along with Christmas Day, Palm Sunday, Easter and the Islamic New Year.

But, to keep it real, it may not be outlandish to extend to the international body a request to include the Jewish day of mourning for our two destroyed temples as an official day off for Jews—especially since the UN is so frequently involved in attempts to reenact those festivities…

Video Mocking Rabbinic Sermons Was in Bad Taste

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

A viral-ish video (almost 3k Likes) released before Yom Kippur poked fun at the rabbi’s sermon. The video featured puppets teaching the viewer how to write a High Holiday sermon. They said to start with a joke (see: Why Do Rabbis Make Jokes at Serious Times?), then tell a story, then make your point, but keep it short and interesting, unless the audience wants to sleep longer, har har har. It’s classic lowbrow sarcastic humor.



It seems to me that the joke was “funny” because rabbi’s speeches are predictable and formulaic. Further, this is seen as a very bad thing because things that are predictable, especially rabbi’s speeches, are no good.

People thought the video was funny. I didn’t. But I actually have a problem with the concept of the video.

The underlying assumption behind the joke is that speeches should not be formulaic and that rabbis should not follow a script. I think both of these assumptions are wrong.

Things that are formulaic can be amazing. Baseball is formulaic. Pitch, hit, catch, throw. Political speeches are formulaic. Hit the talking points, wait for applause, repeat. Movies and TV shows are formulaic. Law and Order is as formulaic as can possibly be. A good meal has an appetizer, main, a salad, and a side dish. Predictable. But delicious. Formulas can be wildly successful. Just because something has a formula hardly means that it’s not impressive or worthwhile. Some of the most successful things in our world are formulaic. Ted Talks are incredibly formulaic. And incredibly popular. It’s pedantic and petty to harp on the formula of the rabbinic sermon. It’s not a valid criticism.

The second assumption is also wrong. That is, rabbis are usually decent teachers and orators. But to be those things rabbis should follow a script. Rabbis are teachers not entertainers. We don’t want baseball players to juggle chainsaws and we don’t want politicians to tap dance. Why would anyone expect rabbis to do anything other than teach and lead their congregations? Why should rabbis be expected to become entertainers?

Sure, rabbis should attempt to spice up their talks and not be stiff or boring. But the video implies that because rabbis use a basic formula for their sermons they should be mocked. They shouldn’t. Rabbis must be creative within the bounds of the expected formula but that’s it. What do they expect? A variety show starring the rabbi? Improv? Ludicrous.

Spontaneity and quirkiness have their place but a sermon is neither the time nor place for either of those. Perhaps our society overvalues surprising and thinking different. Sometimes we need to not think different and certainly not to mock thinking “the same.”

Using a video to make fun of the traditional rabbinic sermon just before the High Holidays was not only in bad taste, but it only served to subvert the important role that rabbis play this time of year. It was a poor choice to produce the video and an even poorer choice to release it just before the High Holidays.

Ultimately, the sermon formula is not going to change. Nor should it. Different rabbis will have varying levels of success at speaking from the pulpit but it will almost always be within the same framework. This video only undermines rabbis without making a case for how rabbis could even do it any differently. Rabbis are not going to sing their sermon like Operaman sings the news. Rabbis are not going to mime their sermons. Rabbis are not going to direct a three part play. They are going to speak and they are going to use common speaking techniques to get their point across. They are going to make jokes and tell stories to bolster the attention of the audience. That’s the formula. Making fun of it is just dumb.

Visit Fink or Swim.

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

Colorado Floods Close Boulder Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A killer flood in Colorado submerged a synagogue and a rabbi’s home in Boulder County, and the Chabad synagogue rabbi is thankful that Torah scrolls were saved with the help of students from the nearby University of Colorado.

“Thank G‑d, the students have been immensely helpful moving the Torahs and other sacred items to higher ground” before Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Yisrael Wilhelm told a Chabad website.

Several deaths have been reported, and 500 people are unaccounted for, with more rain expected Sunday from Denver to the Wyoming border.

Thousands of people have been evacuated or have fled their homes during the flood that has drenched some areas with up to 14 inches of rain, seven times the average amount for the entire month of September.

JTA contributed to this report.

 

 

 

Did Your Shul Pocket $660,000 from Maftir Yona?

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

“Auctioning” off the honor of being called to the Torah and for the privilege of reading the “Haftorah,” or “Maftir” section of the Prophets, is common in the Diaspora and also in many urban and more affluent communities in Israel, but it takes a lot to top an unidentified Moscow millionaire, or perhaps billionaire, who paid $660,000 for the honor to read the Book of Yona (Jonah).

Hadrei Haredim reported that the money was pledged at Moscow’s central syangogue for Jewish institutions and a yeshiva.

Several Israeli Hassidic synagogues did not do as well but can’t complain. Tzvi Frank of the United States paid $17,000 to read ‘Maftir Yona” during afternoon prayers on Yom Kipper at the Navdorna yeshiva synagogue, according to Kikkar Shabbat. Navdorna is a town that was in Poland between the two world wars and now is Ukraine.

At the Erlau Hassidic synagogue, the same honor was “sold” for $28,000 but Bnei Brak’s Luvlin yeshiva settled for “only” $6,200. However, one person paid nearly twice that sum for opening the Holy Ark continuing Torah scrolls.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/and-how-much-did-your-shul-profit-from-maftir-yona/2013/09/15/

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