Archive for September, 2010
Sukkot is known as Z’man Simchateinu – the time of our great joy. A time to move away from the heavy prayers, guilt and repentance associated with Yom Kippur and move outdoors – into our Sukkot where we are surrounded by nature and all things beautiful – all creations of God. We are urged to spend as much time as possible in our sukkah – eating, laughing, talking – even sleeping. We decorate our sukkot so that they are cheerful places. The sounds of the birds, the blueness of the sky (unless it rains), the twinkling of the stars through the roof of the sukkah – all of these things make the holiday so special – so joyful. I know Sukkot in South Florida is often difficult to appreciate with the heat and the rain – but when you allow yourself to celebrate it and surround yourself in nature, it is pretty incredible.
For some of us, unfortunately – no matter how beautiful nature can be, Sukkot is torture. No, I am not talking about the people who don’t like to sweat as they sit in a hot sukkah. And I am not talking about people who hate when their hair frizzes if they spend too much time outside. Nor am I talking about those who have allergies to pollen and plants. I am talking about control freaks – those of us who spend our lives doing everything we can to insure that life goes exactly as we plan it. For us control freaks – Sukkot can be hell.
Control freaks might get nervous on Yom Kippur. There is a lot to do. We have to go to the synagogue. Say the required prayers. Control our hunger pangs as we fast. Apologize. Forgive. Do everything required of us so that we will be written in the Book of Life. But control freaks – we thrive on this kind of stuff. Yes, it is a lot of work – a lot of pressure – but we can control it by doing it.
The morning after Yom Kippur – the control freaks – we are happy to wake up and realize that we have successfully gotten ourselves written in the Book of Life for another year. We go about our day – controlling our lives. We’ve got our Blackberries or IPhones attached to our hip. We can’t miss anything. We expect that our employees or colleagues do things just so. Anything else could lead to disaster. We adhere to a tight schedule – and expect our families to follow that schedule. We don’t like things out of place – that is chaos.
A few days after Yom Kippur – we pull out our sukkah. We know where it is. We packed it away nice and neatly last year along with the decorations. Each decoration is hung in the same place every year. We love the kids to help us decorate – but not too much – because, while they mean well, the sukkah won’t look just so. When they get tired of decorating – we go and put things in the proper place. We move our table in the sukkah – prepare the dinner. The guests arrive – most of them on time – but a few are late (that drives us control freaks crazy!).
As we wait for everyone to arrive, the wind picks up. “Oy vey!” A decoration falls from the sukkah. As you rush outside to fix it – the rain starts. And not just rain – a downpour. And the control freak begins to freak out. Plans have to change – no eating in the sukkah. The indoor table is not set! Crisis!!!
Sukkot is torture for control freaks. Nothing about this holiday is permanent. Nothing about it can be controlled. A sukkah is not supposed to stand up to a strong wind. It should fall over. The roof of a sukkah is not supposed to keep rain out and the walls of a sukkah should not prevent the elements from coming in. The wobbly nature of the sukkah does nothing to prevent decorations from falling down. Meals that are scheduled to take place in the sukkah – might very well have to be rescheduled or canceled if the rain comes pouring down. For those who sleep in the sukkah – a barking dog or an annoying mosquito can easily keep you from having a good night’s sleep. Life in the sukkah is uncontrollable.
And for control freaks – this makes Sukkot anything but a time of joy. As a control freak myself, I wrestle with the uncontrollable nature of this holiday every year. But, having wrestled with it for enough years, I have come to realize that every control freak needs Sukkot. We need to go through the turmoil of losing control…of living on God’s schedule and not our own schedule. We need to understand that it can rain and our dinner might have to move inside and we will survive. We need to realize that a beautiful sukkah is one with decorations that fall down – this is proof that God ultimately controls how our sukkah looks – not us. We need to appreciate that no matter how hard we work to build our sukkah – the wind might blow it down and, in doing so, say to us “Ha! You thought you were the boss!!!”
Control freaks need to observe Sukkot. It is a great way to realize that, really, we don’t have control. This is a hard message for us control freaks.
Fortunately this is not the only message of Sukkot. There is a much more important message for control freaks (and for all of us) on this holiday – a message that teaches us what joy really is.
So we are supposed to sit in the sukkah. We are supposed to invite our friends and loved ones into the sukkah for meals. When we do so, our sukkah is filled with conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music…As we sit together, enjoying each other’s company – a huge burst of wind comes along. It blows our sukkah away and with it the decorations. What are we left with? Some might say nothing. Some might say a mess. But, Sukkot teaches us that the answer should be that we are left with everything. Nothing took the family and friends. And because of this, nothing took the conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music. We can move inside – or even sit where the sukkah was and continue enjoying our time together.
You see Sukkot is not about the sukkah or the decorations. It is really about who fills our sukkah – the people. They bring with them the conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music. They bring with them the joy that they share with us. So many of us (especially the control freaks) need this holiday – need this odd ritual of moving in the sukkah – to shake up our routine and force us into a situation where the only thing that we control is who we surround ourselves with. Everything else is beyond our control. Nothing else really matters.
Sukkot is our time of great joy because we have a great excuse to invite our family and friends over for a good time in a flimsy hut that leaks when it rains, gets hot in the sun and might very well blow over if it gets too windy. But who cares – because we can spend some quality time together.
Sukkot makes us live in an uncontrollable environment for a few days. If you have the courage to live in this environment – if you have the courage to stop worrying about the details and the schedule and the time and the weather and the decorations….Sukkot puts everything into focus and you realize that within this uncontrollable environment – the stuff we worry about when we sit in the a/c under a real roof is not all that important. The people we usually don’t have the time to hang out with – the people we sweat with and get wet with in the sukkah – they are what matters. They are our sources of joy. They are what Sukkot is all about.
Go spend some time in the sukkah. And try really hard to bring the joy of this holiday back inside when Sukkot comes to a close.
By FOUAD AJAMI
Wall Street Journal Op-Ed 9/20/2010
From his recent travels to the Persian Gulf—sponsored and paid for by the State Department—Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf returned with a none-too-subtle threat. His project, the Ground Zero Mosque, would have to go on. Its cancellation would risk putting “our soldiers, our troops, our embassies and citizens under attack in the Muslim world.”
Leave aside the attempt to make this project a matter of national security. The self-appointed bridge between America and the Arab-Islamic world is a false witness to the sentiments in Islamic lands.
The truth is that the trajectory of Islam in America (and Europe for that matter) is at variance with the play of things in Islam’s main habitat. A survey by Elaph, the most respected electronic daily in the Arab world, gave a decided edge to those who objected to the building of this mosque—58% saw it as a project of folly.
Elaph was at it again in the aftermath of Pastor Terry Jones’s threat to burn copies of the Quran: It queried its readers as to whether America was a “tolerant” or a “bigoted” society. The split was 63% to 37% in favor of those who accepted the good faith and pluralism of this country.
This is remarkable. The ground burned in the Arab-Islamic world over the last three decades. Sly preachers and their foot soldiers “weaponized” the faith and all but devoured what modernists had tried to build in the face of difficult odds. The fury has not burned out. Self-styled imams continue to issue fatwas that have made it all but impossible for Arabs and Muslims to partake of the modern world. But from this ruinous history, there has settled upon countless Muslims and Arabs the recognition that the wells are poisoned in their midst, that the faith has to be reined in or that the faith will kill, and that the economic and cultural prospects of modern Islam hang in the balance.
To this kind of sobriety, Muslim activists and preachers in the diaspora—in Patterson, N.J., and Minneapolis, in Copenhagen and Amsterdam—appear to be largely indifferent. They are forever on the look-out for the smallest slight.
Islam in America is of recent vintage. This country can’t be “Islamic.” Its foundations are deep in the Puritan religious tradition. The waves of immigrants who came to these shores understood the need for discretion, and for patience.
It wasn’t belligerence that carried the Catholics and the Jews into the great American mainstream. It was the swarm of daily life—the grocery store, the assembly line, the garment industry, the public schools, and the big wars that knit the American communities together—and tore down the religious and ethnic barriers.
There is no gain to be had, no hearts and minds to be won, in Imam Rauf insisting that Ground Zero can’t be hallowed ground because there is a strip joint and an off-track betting office nearby. This may be true, but it is irrelevant.
A terrible deed took place on that ground nine years ago. Nineteen young Arabs brought death and ruin onto American soil, and discretion has a place of pride in the way the aftermath is handled. “Islam” didn’t commit these crimes, but young Arabs and Muslims did.
There is no use for the incantation that Islam is a religion of peace. The incantation is false; Islam, like other religions, is theologically a religion of war and a religion of peace. In our time, it is a religion in distress, fought over, hijacked at times, by a militant breed at war with the modern world.
Again, from Elaph, here are the thoughts of an Arab writer, Ahmed Abu Mattar, who sees through the militancy of the religious radicals. He dismisses outright the anger over the “foolish and deranged” Pastor Terry Jones who threatened to burn copies of the Quran. “Where is the anger in the face of dictatorships which dominate the lives of Arabs from the cradle to the grave? Would the Prophet Muhammad look with favor on the prisons in our midst which outnumber the universities and hospitals? Would he take comfort in the rate of illiteracy among the Arabs which exceeds 60%? Would he be satisfied with the backwardness that renders us a burden on other nations?”
The first Arabs who came to America arrived during the time of the Great Migration (1880-1920). Their story is told by Gregory Orfalea in his book, “The Arab Americans: A History” (2006). The pioneers were mostly Christians on the run from the hunger and the privations of a dying Ottoman empire. One such pioneer who fled Lebanon for America said he wanted to leave his homeland and “go to the land of justice.” Ellis Island was fondly named bayt al-hurriya (the house of freedom). It was New York, in the larger neighborhood of Wall Street, that was the first home of the immigrants.
Restrictive quotas and the Great Depression reduced the migration to a trickle. This would change drastically in the 1950s and ’60s. The time of Islam in America had begun.
It was in 1965, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf tells us, that he made his way to America as a young man. He and a vast migration would be here as American identity would undergo a drastic metamorphosis.
The prudence of days past was now a distant memory. These activists who came in the 1990s—the time of multiculturalism and of what the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “disuniting of America”—would insist on a full-scale revision of the American creed. American liberalism had broken with American patriotism, and the self-styled activists would give themselves over to a militancy that would have shocked their forerunners. It is out of that larger history that this project at Ground Zero is born.
There is a great Arab and Islamic tale. It happened in the early years of Islam, but it speaks to this controversy. It took place in A.D. 638, the time of Islam’s triumphs.
The second successor to the Prophet, the Caliph Omar—to orthodox Muslims the most revered of the four Guided Caliphs for the great conquests that took place during his reign—had come to Jerusalem to accept the city’s surrender. Patriarch Sophronius, the city’s chief magistrate, is by his side for the ceremony of surrender. Prayer time comes for Omar while the patriarch is showing him the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The conqueror asks where he could spread out his prayer rug. Sophronius tells him that he could stay where he was. Omar refuses, because his followers, he said, might then claim for Islam the holy shrine of the Christians. Omar stepped outside for his prayer.
We don’t always assert all the “rights” that we can get away with. The faith is honored when the faith bends to necessity and discretion.
Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Beth Torah – Benny Rok Campus
Kol Nidre Night – 2010 – 5771 – Rabbi Ed Farber
Mee Po Ahnee lo Zaz – from this place I am not moving
You all know the classic Jewish joke which defines a Jewish telegram as having the message: “Start worrying – details to follow.” It’s classic because it so well describes our people. We are always worrying – every generation of Jews worries – will this be the last generation? Every generation of Jews agonizes over how to keep the next generation connected – connected to our people; our religious and cultural heritage. But this generation faces something that no other generation faced for 2000 years – how to keep the next generation connected to the Jewish State of Israel. All previous generations wondered how to keep the idea of a Jewish homeland alive – how to keep a connection with a land that most Jews had not or ever would visit in their lifetimes and which had a tiny Jewish community. But we have the state – we have the reality – and the community inIsrael will soon be the largest Jewish community in the world. It would seem that in this world of instant communication, easy travel and shrinking distances – keeping that connection alive and vibrant would be so much easier. My grandmother never visited Israel. She went from Poland to America and the opportunity to travel to Israel just never presented itself. But her identification with and love for Israel was boundless. I didn’t make my first trip to Israel until my third year of undergraduate school but I went there already connected to and in love with the land and the state – instilled in me by my family, my synagogue and my Rabbis. Given Israel’s incredible accomplishments and the attractiveness of the state on both a secular and religious level – connecting the next generation should be easy. Well – not exactly.
A few months ago a group of 35 MIT and Harvard students, 20 non-Jews and 15 Jews were gathered together to talk about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with public opinion guru Frank Luntz. Luntz describes how within 10 minutes, the non-Jews started with ‘the war crimes of Israel,’ with ‘the Jewish lobby,’ with ‘the Jews have a lot more power and influence’ – stuff that’s borderline anti-Jewish. They had nothing to say about Palestinian terror attacks that had killed over a 1000 Israeli citizens – men, women and children having pizza in a Sbarro restaurant – or a seder in a hotel – or just riding in a bus. All these students could talk about was Israeli aggression, Israeli oppression – Israeli imperialism. And remember these are MIT and Harvard students. What did the Jewish collegiates do while this attack on Israel’s ethical values, on her right to defend herself raged on? Did the Jewish kids at the best schools in America stand up for themselves? Did they challenge the assertions? Not a word – they sat their silently. Frank Luntz was so stunned that he couldn’t control himself. The Jewish students – these Harvard and MIT Jewish students – the best and the brightest didn’t say a dam thing in response – they sat there silently as Israel and American Jews were being maligned. Luntz points out that amongst the Jewish students in the group was the leader of the Israeli caucus at Harvard. 49 minutes of ‘it’s all Israel’s fault – American Jews have too much influence – the media is controlled by the Jews and the American gov’t by the Israeli Lobby’ - 49 minutes – he timed it – before any Jewish student actually responded to the attacks – 49 minutes before one of them opened their mouth and challenged those baseless anti-Israel – anti-Jewish attacks.
After three hours – the discussion ended and Luntz dismissed the non-Jews and confronted the Jews. With them alone in the room he turned to these Jewish MIT and Harvard college students and screamed: You didn’t say ‘crap’ – for 49 minutes you sat there silently – while your community and your Jewish state were being maligned -and when you finally opened your mouths you were timid and almost apologetic. Then writes Luntz:
“And it all dawned on them: If they won’t say it to their classmates, whom they know, who will they stand up for Israel to? Two of the women in the group started to cry. … The guys are like, “Oh my God, I didn’t speak up, I can’t believe I let this happen.” And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.”
Luntz challenged the Jewish students. What’s wrong with you? Israel with all its flaws – is still a far better example of American values such as freedom, democracy, tolerance, and human rights, than any of its enemies. Why didn’t they talk about the oppression of women and homosexuals in the Arab world? Why didn’t they remind Israel’s attackers in the debate that there is no religious freedom for Christians or Jews in any of those Arab countries they are defending so articulately? Why didn’t they remind them that a woman can’t drive a car in Saudi Arabia, a Jew or a Christian can’t be a citizen and no churches or synagogues are allowed in that country? Why didn’t they remind them that Israeli Arabs have more rights and freedoms than they would have in any of Israel’s neighboring countries? And why did these Harvard and MIT geniuses have nothing to say about suicide bombings, the killing of Israeli citizens, the purposeful murder of Israeli children, pregnant Jewish women shot to death at point blank range, and the 1000’s of missiles indiscriminately launched into Israelis towns and cities?
We learn two very painful lessons from this episode: 1) so many of our children are afraid to speak up for Israel; 2) many don’t even know how to speak up for Israel. And from recent studies we learn something even more disturbing – far too many of our children now entering adulthood don’t even care about Israel in any significant way. It has no special pull on their heart strings. They are either alienated from Israel or indifferent. Some studies put the percentage as high as 40% of the next generation of Jews who have no special feeling for – or connection to – the land, the people or the Jewish state. In fact many find it just a source of irritation – always bad news – always bad PR for Jews.
The greatest existential threat to Israel’s survival is an Iran with nuclear weapons – not Hezbollah – not Hamas. But I want to tell you a secret that you may not know. I do not have the power to stop Iran from going nuclear. So I’ll say only one thing about that threat. We must support Israel’s right to use even military force – if necessary – to stop Iranfrom going nuclear and we must encourage our representatives – our government – to stand behind Israel or even cooperate with Israel if military intervention becomes the only means to stopping Iran from going Nuclear.
After Iran - the next greatest threat to Israel’s survival is the world-wide attempt to deny her the legitimate right of self defense and to make her a pariah in the world community – the way that S. Africa was isolated and ostracized for her apartheid policies. But S. Africa’s policies were in fact racist and appalling. No Public relations campaign could have helped her and the apartheid government fell. But Israel is not S. Africa and not racist. Yet Israel’s PR failings are innumerable – I quite frankly don’t understand it. The case for Israel is not hard to make even to people on the left but Israel has not done it well. But if the next generation of American Jews as represented by those MIT and Harvard Jewish students don’t get it then the failure is ours – the American Jewish community – and not the Israeli government. We have failed to successfully communicate to a large segment of the next generation both the justice of Israel’s cause and the critical and vital importance of Israel to all of world Jewry and all democracies. And when I say we – I mean all of us – parents, Rabbis, Jewish educators. And this is the third greatest threat to Israel’s survival – the possibility of a serious shrinkage in support from the American Jewish community. The Orthodox community has succeeded in imparting this love and support in their next generation but they are a tiny percentage of American Jewry. How did they do it?
1) Israel is talked about with enthusiasm and passion in their homes, in their synagogues and in their schools. Is that true in our homes, in our synagogues?
2) They make sure to get their teens to Israel either during High School or college. Because once you’ve been to Israel the justice of her cause and the fact that her goodness far outweighs the problems in her society becomes self-apparent.
3) And in our synagogues – in the Conservative and Reform movements – and I say this with embarrassment and shock – so many Rabbis focus on Israel’s mistakes, her problems even blaming Israel for a lack of a peace treaty. I saw on line that many American Rabbis have given sermons this year about the conversion controversy in Israel. We’ve got Hezbollah with 1000’s of missiles on Israel’s northern border, Hamas with thousands more on Israel’s southern border and an Iranian regime trying to go nuclear while at the same time proclaiming that Israel should be wiped off the map. We’ve got people who represent the Palestinians pronouncing that the Holocaust never happened, that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We’ve got much of the world saying that of course Israel has the right to defend herself and then every time she does she is condemned at the UN for doing just that. We had Time magazine with a cover that said – Why Israel doesn’t want peace! All this and Rabbis want to talk about the conversion crisis in Israel! All these visceral threats to Israel’s very survival and in some synagogues our college kids will hear at High Holy Days this year how Israel has to give up this, retreat from there, apologize for that. It has been the Palestinians who have blocked the path to peace by refusing to recognize a Jewish state and by continuing their terror assault on Israel. What we need to worry about is why those Jewish kids from MIT and Harvard were so hesitant to defend Israel. What we have to worry about is why so many of our kids are ready to travel to every ferkockta place in the world on vacation except Israel. What we have to worry about is the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic trends on University campuses throughout our land. We are sending our kids totally unprepared into the seat of anti-Zionistic thought and agitation in our country – the AmericanUniversity campus.
Let me tell you a true story – a story we should know because it’s the story of our people in the past 70 years.
An American by the name of Judy makes aliyah – meets an Israeli – gets married and has a baby boy. She is visiting in America when the war in the north with Hezbollah breaks out – she’s stuck here – her husband goes into army reserves in Israel. Let’s go back a generation to Judy’s mother-in-law – Zahava – who was pregnant with Judy’s husband – Boaz – when the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973 and her husband – Boaz’s father – was off to war. He survived – the baby boy was given the name Boaz which is the Hebrew name for a redeemer – one who brings hope – as Boaz was the great grandfather of David from whom the Messiah will come. Now let’s go back another generation to Boaz’s grandmother – who was pregnant with his mother – Judy’s mother-in-law – when she was living in an internment camp in Cyprus having just survived the holocaust and her husband – Boaz’s grandfather – was preparing to fight in the War of Independence in 1948! Now – it’s 2008 – Judy is sitting there in LA – thousands of miles away from her husband and family in Israel – watching this war in Lebanon and for the fourth generation in a row – the fourth generation in a row – in that family – a Jewish woman is pregnant while her husband is off fighting to save the Jewish people. That’s the story our children need to hear – not the story of someone being given a hard time by the narrow-minded antiquated, corrupt and medieval Israeli Chief Rabbinate. What our children need to know is that after 9/11 the community which had the loudest cheering in the world, the people who danced in the streets with joy – that fired machine guns in the air celebrating the slaughter of 3000 innocent American, that burned American flags in the streets – were the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and in Gaza.
The simple truths are:
1) Israel cannot be defeated if the Israeli people, American and World Jewry and the United States government stand together and firm on Israel’s security and her right to defend herself with the full force of the Israeli Armed forces if necessary. Iran would back down from her nuclear intentions if she believed that Israel and America would act militarily if necessary to put an end to her nuclear ambitions. Do not be so foolish or naïve as to think that a second Holocaust is not possible. Should we dismiss Iran’s threats to destroy Israel as the threats of a loud mouth bombastic and crazy President – Achmaninajab? Here I rely on the words of Elie Wiesel – the eloquent writer, teacher and Holocaust Suvivor – trust in the threats of your enemies more than in the promises of your friends.
Chaim Weizman, the modern founder of Zionism and the first President of Israel was once asked, “Why don’t you just accept the offer to establish a Jewish State in Uganda?” He answered, “That’s like me asking why you drove 50 miles to see your mother when there are so many other nice old ladies so much closer to your home.”
We drive the 50 miles because she is our mother. And we stand up for Israel because it is our homeland, the cradle of Jewish civilization and home to almost 6 million Jews – more than 1/3 of our people – a very haunting and at the same time hopeful number. That is what we – all of us collectively – have failed to communicate to far too many American Jews and that may be the greatest threat of all to Israel’s future.
Laurie and I were in Israel when the missiles began landing on Haifa in the first days of the Hezbollah war four summers ago, one scene stood out forever in my mind. A newscaster was interviewing the dazed and shell shocked Israelis who were standing amidst the rubble of a shattered apartment building in Haifa. One of them asked a man why he didn’t leave and move away?
The man turned to the camera, he pointed to the broken building and screaming in defiance like a broken refrain – over and over and over again: “This is our home. This is our home – mee po ahnee lo zaz – me po ani lo zaz.” Mi po ani lo zaz – from here I am not moving – from here I am not moving – from here I am not moving.
Why – why not just leave for a few weeks until the war was over and then go back home. The reason that particular Israeli and so many others refused to move – refused to evacuate was simply this: They understood that the war was not about creating a Palestinian State – it’s about whether there will be a Jewish state at all. Let me repeat that – the war with Hezbollah, the recent war in Gaza, the conflict with Iran – they are not about establishing a Palestinian state – they are about whether there will be a Jewish state at all. Once the Palestinians truly give up on replacing the Jewish state with a Palestinian one – and are ready to create a Palestinian state side by side with a Jewish state – peace negotiations will proceed quickly and successfully.
I have quoted Elie Wiesel and Chaim Weizmann but maybe they are the wrong ones to quote to our college kids and our young Jewish adults because they are Jews and Jews are expected to speak up for Israel. Let me instead quote a non-Jew – a Spanish journalist who lives and works in a country which often takes very strong stands against Israel – a country with a very large Moslem population and strong economic ties with Moslem states. This Spanish journalist is a woman by the name of Ms. Rahola. This is what she wrote: ”I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleague? Because I believe that to fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews. As a journalist, it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles -principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn’t want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.” That is the message that we need to convey to each other – to our children – to our government – to our fellow American citizens. That is the message – that Israeli Jew – standing in a blown out apartment building in Haifa was trying to say when he screamed – mee po anhee lo zaz – from this place I am not moving. I have to believe that he had in mind one of the most beautiful poems ever composed about Jerusalem – about Israel.
May al pisgat Har Hatzofim shalom lach yerushalayim –
From the heights of Mount Scopus I greet you
Alfay Golim miktzot kol tayval nosim aylayich aynayim
Thousands of exiles from all parts of the world, lift their eyes to you
B’alfay b’ruchot hayee b’roocha – Mikdash Melech ir melucha
With Thousands of blessings you will be blessed – this city of holiness and royalty
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim ahnee lo azuz mee-po
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I won’t move from here
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim – yavo hamashiach yavo.
Jerusalem will usher in the Messianic era
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim ahnee lo azuz mee-po
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, From this place - from this country – from this Jewish homeland – we will not be moved!
Posted in American Judaism, In the news, Islamic Extremism, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Rabbi Andrew Jacobs, tagged Jewish resistance, Jews, Jews standing up for themselves, Max Nordau, muskeljuden, strong, tough on September 19, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
As I mentioned yesterday, the Imam behind the Ground Zero mosque claims to be afraid to move the location of the mosque. He is afraid that the radical Muslim world will be outraged and react with anger, or worse, violence.
When the pastor up in Gainesville threatened to burn the Koran last week, powerful US officials, even the FBI got involved to stop the burning because the act would illicit a horrible reaction from Muslims – a reaction that would threaten our soldiers overseas and perhaps even us at home.
Remember the slogan for E.F. Hutton, (the old US stock brokerage firm): “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”? Well, whether we like what they have to say or not, when the radical Muslim community speaks – especially from a place of anger – people listen. The world listens! And the world acts to calm the anger.
There is something to be said about this. Granted I am totally opposed to the violence and murder that is often a part of the anger that comes from the radical Muslim community. But, this being said, I am in awe of the powerful voice that comes from this community when they feel wronged.
Did you know that the Gainesville pastor threatened to burn the Talmud too? Let’s say he did – what would we have done? I can tell you: not much. Some of us would have kicked and screamed. But, for the most part, there would have been silence. I dare say many Jews wouldn’t have really cared.
We’ve got horrible anti-semitic incidents going on all over the world all the time – whether it the beating deaths of Jews in Europe, the hate speech coming from political leaders in South America, the lies being told by celebrities like Oliver Stone, the two bomb threats phoned in to Dor Dorim and B’nai Aviv this past week, or the violence and bloodshed in the Middle East. And what do we Jews do with all of this? We remain silent.
We’ve got Israel’s very existence in jeopardy – the fate of six million Israelis in the hands of President Ahmadinejad and his nuclear bomb – and yet we go about our lives as Jews in America – carefree. When it comes to standing up for ourselves, we Jews are pretty pathetic. And to me, this is a sin.
We don’t like controversy. We would rather just go about our lives and stay out of the fray. It started centuries ago in the Jewish ghettos of Europe where we were persecuted, tormented and killed because we were Jews. We got used to living in fear and somehow, along the way, forgot that we had the power to fight back – except for a group brave souls who did fight, following the footsteps of their brave forefathers. We submitted. Hid. Avoided the oppressors. This made it safer. Until they went looking for us.
The Holocaust annihilated six million of us. Gone. Destroyed us. But we were not done. We came back. And many came here. Our grandparents, parents, some of us. And for the first time in a long time, we lived in relative safety and security. But we did not want to rock the boat. Did American Jews rise up and demand that their government do something about the Holocaust? Do we turn out in droves today to demand that Iran be stripped of every possible chemical and tool it could use to make a nuclear weapon? When a swastika is painted on one of our synagogues or a politician makes an anti-Semitic remark, do we cry out as an American Jewish community? When Israel is attacked over and over again for defending herself, do we take to the streets and protest? Do we make it explicitly clear to the world that you better not mess with us? As a community, we don’t do this. Some of us raise our voices. But most of us do not. We don’t have the time. Or the desire. Life here is good. It is easy to be Jewish. Or maybe we just don’t have the guts. Inside of us, we still have that fear – the fear passed down to us from our grandparents and their parents…it is best to be quiet and just not draw too much attention to ourselves. It will pass.
Spending time in Israel this summer made me realize just how apathetic we are as a community. Apathetic – and darn lucky that we can be apathetic.
In America, when a Jewish kid gets ready to go to college, he is often handed a credit card and a car key and sent off to a posh university with new sheets and a comforter for his dorm room. His biggest concern is – will he pass his first semester at college? Or worse, how is the party life on campus?
In Israel, as a kid finishes high school, he is always handed a gun and keys to a military vehicle and sent off to a bare bones military barrack with no comforts of home. His biggest concern is – will he live to see his next birthday?
Walking the streets of Israel and seeing young Jewish soldiers, men and women carrying machine guns – made me count my blessings to be an American Jew. I can’t imagine knowing that my oldest kid would be off to the military in 9 short years. No guarantee that she would survive the experience. At the same time, seeing these soldiers made me realize how much we have lost as American Jews. How wimpy we have become. How we have lost the strength and courage of our ancestors – King David and Solomon, the rebels of Masada, the Maccabees, the leaders of the Jewish Resistance during WWII, the early Zionists, even our relatives who risked it all to travel to America. While they did, we don’t have to fight to be Jewish today. So we’ve lost, in many respects, our Jewish strength. Our Jewish muscle.
There is a Yiddish/German expression – Muskeljuden (created by Zionist leader Max Nordau in the late 1800′s) – Muscle-Jews – an expression that is used to describe strong, powerful, assertive Jews who are willing to take their lives and the lives of their community in their own hands and do what they need to do to protect the Jewish people. American Jews have lost the concept of the Muskeljuden.
For the most part, we teach our children to avoid violence and confrontation. The typical American Jewish parent would be horrified to learn that their child smacked another kid at school. The typical American Jewish family opposes the very idea of guns and weapons. So very different from Israeli Jews.
Sadly, I have learned that not many of us are willing to stand up and defend our Judaism. Many of us are not willing to put our lives on the line for our Judaism.
“Are you willing to call yourself a Jew during the good times and the bad times?” I ask this question to every one of my conversion students before I accept them into the Jewish community. They all say “yes”. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t convert them. But, when I pose this same question to Jews who were born Jewish and explain that calling yourself a Jew during the bad times might threaten your life – I often get a very different answer. What would your answer be?
“Are you willing to call yourself a Jew during the good times and the bad times?” I am shocked and saddened by the number of Jews who have told me that they would not be willing to openly call themselves a Jew or to openly stand up and defend their Judaism during the bad times. Many tell me that they would hide their Judaism or, worse, give it up if need be during the bad times. “Its not worth it,” I’ve had Jews tell me. When you think about how many Jews have died to insure that we are sitting here alive and well today; when you think about all that is incredible about our faith, our history, our culture – I think you will understand that I find the response “its not worth it” to be a sin.
Most Jewish parents today, we are raising our children to be tolerant and accepting of other cultures, religions and races. This is great! The problem that I find is that while we raise our kids to love and accept everyone, if someone says something bad about Judaism, Israel, or Jewish people – we don’t give our kids the tools needed to respond. We’d rather they ‘turn the other cheek’. But, this is a Christian concept – not a Jewish concept. It is great to be accepting of others – but when you can’t stand up for yourself – either because you are afraid or too ignorant to know how to – something is wrong. And something is wrong with our American Jewish community.
Judaism teaches us that we are obligated to stand up for and defend ourselves from those who are out to undermine, harm or destroy Judaism. We can defend ourselves in many ways. We need to learn and be ready to stand up for Judaism and Israel by speaking up and expressing the facts. We need to have courage. We need to realize that we have the right to express the truth about our religion and our spiritual homeland. We need to know what that truth is. And we have an obligation, an obligation, to be proud of who we are and what we stand for. We must stand with the Jewish community and support Jewish causes and – when we have the financial resources – travel to Israel. We must push ourselves to correct those who speak poorly of Judaism and Israel. We need to make a stink when our kid’s school attempts to penalize students when they choose to attend Rosh HaShanah services instead of going to class. Most importantly, we must live wonderful Jewish lives – by living our Judaism – we strengthen our Judaism. And strength is the best defense there is.
Yes, Judaism loves peace. But Judaism is not naïve. Jewish law explicitly states that we are required to stand up to those who threaten our existence. War is bad. But, Judaism teaches us that sometimes, war is necessary. That is simply the truth. To think otherwise is naïve.
War is what Israel and her citizens deal with every single day. She is a country at war. Israeli soldiers are on the defensive constantly because they know that the enemy is out there waiting to attack. The soldiers in Israel openly carry guns – even when they are not on duty – because their job is to protect the Jewish nation from those set on destroying us. The other side is waiting for Israel’s soldiers to put down their guns – waiting for an opportunity to strike. But Israel’s soldiers know better. They are highly trained to defend themselves and us. And no one makes any attempt to hide the fact that they are there, actively protecting the Jewish State. For those of you who have been to Israel, you know what I mean when I say that the sight of armed Israeli soldiers in the street is extremely comforting.
This summer Cheryl, the kids and I traveled down to the Negev, the Israeli desert, on the exact day Israel was attacked on the border with Lebanon. That afternoon, Abigail and Jonah were playing in a park, very close to an Israeli air force base. As they played having no care in the world, an Israeli fighter plane took off, broke the sound barrier, and raced up to the Lebanese border. I knew where the plane was off to and what it was doing. That plane and the pilot that was flying it – probably a kid not much older than our bar mitzvah kids – was insuring that my kids could play safely in that desert playground. It was amazing.
Every day, Israel is under attack. And every day, Israel defends herself. Every day Israeli soldiers put their lives on the line – and too often we lose some of them.
Too often the world condemns Israel for being Musklejuden – strong Jews who defend themselves with one of the strongest, most well trained militaries in the world. Israel’s attempts to stop rockets from being fired from Gaza into her cities, or halt the flow of terrorists from the West bank by constructing a security fence, or preventing ships loaded with weaponry from entering Hamas controlled Gaza are all completely justified, moral and necessary for the very survival of Israel. But the world screams when Israel acts. Where is the outraged, worldwide Jewish voice at these moments? Where is the anger? The mass protests in the streets!? What about when a European Jew is beaten to death in the street simply because he was a Jew or when the crazed world leader starts spewing hatred about us or when a celebrity begins to trash our homeland? Where is the Jewish voice at these moments?
There is a American cartoonist in a hiding today for declaring, rather foolishly: “Draw Mohammad Day”. She had so many threats against her life that she has, at the FBI’s urging, changed her identity completely. No one knows where she is.
When the radical Muslim world feels threatened, look at what they do! Again, I am not suggesting we as a community react with violence. Not at all. I oppose that completely. But, do you know how often in cartoons, tv shows, movies, books, political speeches, the media – how often we are wrongfully portrayed as disgusting, violent monsters!? Why isn’t Mel Gibson afraid of the Jewish community? Why do we tolerate the abuse? It is time for us to act. I am suggesting that we act – not irresponsibly – not immorally – not violently – but do something, say something that shows the world that we will not tolerate this type behavior any longer.
The problem is here in South Florida, in New York and Los Angeles – we feel disconnected from the craziness. We don’t have to worry – at least that’s what we think. BUT the fact is – we do. Because one day, in the not so distant future – Iran will have that bomb. And with the push of a button – Israel could be history. Another six million Jews could be gone in a flash. No matter how well trained our soldiers are – they can’t stand up to a nuclear weapon. And God forbid, if this happens, how will you feel? How will you feel if there is no Israel tomorrow!? What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask you: “Grandma/pa what did you do to stop Iran from hurting Israel?” What will your answer be?
This Yom Kippur, determine what you will tell your grandchildren if they were to ask you what you did to stop Iran.
Upon returning from Israel, I decided it was time to find the MuskleYid (musskel-yid) hidden inside of me. I have begun training with a former high-ranking, Israeli soldier – a security expert who runs a self-defense program here in South Florida that helps train many of our law enforcement officers. He is basically putting me through Israeli boot camp. It is hard work. Physical work – but more significantly, hard mental work.
I am, for the most part, a nice Jewish boy. Nice Jewish boys, I’ve always thought, don’t go out of their way to stand up for themselves especially if it means putting themselves in harms way. Through my ‘boot camp’ experience, I am learning otherwise. I am being pushed out of my comfort zone and learning from an Israeli soldier that I am obligated to put my neck out and stand up for myself, my family and my people. This is not something that is part of our contemporary American Jewish mentality. But it really should be. There is nothing about it that is violent or reckless. This is about being responsible. It is extremely empowering – and reminds me that being Jewish is not about being the victim – it is about proudly owning our faith and insuring her well being as we move into the future. And a nice Jewish boy can be a Muskleyid. (I am happy to say that my teacher will be coming to Ramat Shalom this year and offering self-defense classes for our community.)
Being a Muskleyid means that you “get” that every Jew needs to stand up for every other Jew – loudly, strongly, forcefully. Because we are all in this together. There is simply no excuse to do otherwise. We were once a brave, strong group of Musklejuden. We need to reclaim our strength. We need to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We need to learn to be vocal. We need to learn how to express our outrage. We need to learn our facts so we can stand up to the opposition. We need to learn not to turn the other cheek – but to do the Jewish thing: actively, responsibly and appropriately stand up for ourselves as needed.
There is no reason that pastor in Gainesville shouldn’t fear the reaction from the Jewish community if he burned a Talmud. Why not let the nuts associated with that Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka Kansas know that the next time that they choose to come to South Florida to picket synagogues and JCC’s - as they did recently – they will be met by a very powerful group of Musklejuden? When celebrities and political leaders across the globe decide to trash the Jews, let’s not forget that we, as a community, have the responsibility and the power to make them think twice before they bad mouth the Jews again. And when the media distorts the truth about Israel and her right to defend herself – lets insure that we raise our voices and let the cry of Jewish voices be heard across the globe.
I know talk like this feels so un-Jewish. But, it is not. It is what has allowed the State of Israel to survive countless attacks, it is what has allowed the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years, and it is what we must do as a people as we move forward and face the challenges that lie in the future.
Tonight, many of us owe someone an apology for doing something we had the right to do – or for saying something we had the right to say.
Despite the fact that we had the right to say what we said or do what we did – our words or our actions were irresponsible.
- One of you had every legal right to yell at the waitress for screwing up your order the other day;
- A bunch of us had every legal right to put our work before our family this year and spend time gossiping about our friends to others;
- A few of us had every legal right to come up with an excuse so as not to help someone in need.
- Someone here had the right to be brutally and unnecessarily honest with your mother.
- Someone else lied to his spouse.
- A handful of you have cheated on a test.
- And how many of you have paid more attention to your cell phone while driving than to the road in front of you?
While some of these offenses are more serious than others, not one of them is illegal. But, they are all morally wrong, irresponsible actions that reflect poorly upon us and have the potential to harm our relationships with others.
We engage in offenses like these when we fail to use our moral compass – the part of us that allows us to know what is good and what is not. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t used our moral compass much this year. Sadly, this is not a big deal as society has made the moral compass obsolete by embracing an “if it is legal, it is moral” mentality. Morality has been reduced to law. What is right and what is wrong is now determined purely by what our legal rights are.
Everywhere you turn these days, people are hollering and yelling about their “rights’.
What is a ‘right’ anyway? And just because you have a right to do or say something does that guarantee that your words or actions are ‘right’? Could a right lead you down the wrong path? Sure – just think about some of those things we have said and done this year that were legal – but immoral, irresponsible, or inappropriate.
Tonight and tomorrow, we have the opportunity and the obligation to unpack our moral compass and examine the words we spoke and the things we did last year. Ideally, we won’t pack the compass back up after this holiest of days and we’ll continue using it on a daily basis. But, before we move forward, we must use our compass to help us remedy last year’s wrongs. In most cases, it is not too late to rectify the damage that our irresponsible words and actions have done. That is, of course, if we genuinely take appropriate action and change our ways.
On Yom Kippur, we should not only use our moral compass to evaluate our own personal lives. We should also evaluate moral and legal issues that affect us as a community, as Americans and as Jews. In wrestling with issues outside of our immediate lives and sharing our opinions with others and urging respectful debate and discussion, we play an important role in bringing about Tikun Olam – healing the world. Oftentimes, the debates and discussions can be heated – but this does not excuse us from pursuing them. Judaism teaches us that arguments that are for the sake of Heaven – arguments for the sake of God and the wellbeing of God’s creations – including the wellbeing of our world and the people who dwell on it – these arguments are worth pursuing.
I say this because my words, the opinions that I express tonight, might provoke some arguments. There will be some who disagree with what I say tonight. While you might agree with me, the person sitting next to you – they might disagree with what I have to say. And there is nothing wrong with this. As a community – we can handle this. Ideally, I hope that any disagreement that results from my words tonight will lead to healthy discussion and debate over a complex issue that is part of our national discussion.
Tonight, I ask us all to use our moral compass to examine the proposed Cordoba House also known as the Ground Zero mosque and community center. The building of this mosque is an issue that directly affects us all as we continue to wrestle with the emotions and trauma associated with the death and destruction of 9/11. It is also an issue that affects us as a Jewish community that values our right to build and maintain a religious building in the heart of a major metropolitan area. And it affects us all as Americans who continue to live in a world where the threat of Islamic terror is very, very real.
At the outset, I remind you that I was directly impacted by the horrors of 9/11 – as a resident of New York, I saw American Airlines Flight 11 moments before it hit the World Trade Center. I heard the explosion. I smelled the smoke. As I clutched my newborn daughter in my arms, I frantically searched for friends and family and would learn, in time, that Cheryl and I had indeed lost one family friend that day and thousands of others we never got the chance to meet. As a rabbi, I stood in a burn unit in New York City, days after the attack – visiting a congregant who was clinging to life and other victims who were burned beyond recognition. I was there.
Here we are 9 years later and our country is in an outrage over the proposal to build a mosque at Ground Zero.
As American-Jews, we take pride in the fact that our country is a place where freedom of religion is respected. Our Constitution protects this. Our nation was founded on this basic idea. Legally, there is absolutely no reason not to build the mosque. No reason. Whoever owns that small piece of land in downtown Manhattan, as long as it is approved by the appropriate offices in the city of New York, they have the right to build whatever they wants on that land. Period. As far as I can tell this is a black and white issue.
However…as in our own lives, we must ask just because we have a right to do something, in this case build a mosque, is it the morally responsible thing to do? On this holiest of nights, where we explore our own morality, we must wrestle with this question as Americans who value our freedom of religion.
Recent events teach us that a religious group having a right to say or do something does not mean that the group’s words or actions are ‘morally justified’.
- Consider that just a few months ago, Israel had the right to announce that she was going to build in East Jerusalem. This poorly timed and provocative announcement infuriated the Palestinian community and the larger Arab world and drew condemnation from our own county. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, realizing the ‘irresponsible’ nature of the announcement, apologized to Vice-President Biden and soon after, building plans in East Jerusalem were changed.
- More recently, the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville had the legal right, whether we like it or not, to burn the Koran. Fortunately, the pastor of the church, Terry Jones, was talked out of going ahead with the burning. Even talk of the burning sparked outrage in the Muslim world. On many levels, burning the Koran would have been extremely irresponsible. Even proposing it was morally wrong.
These two events remind us that just because a religious group has a right to do or say something, it does not mean that it is the right thing to do or say.
Before I continue, let me make myself explicitly clear: it is wrong to condemn all of Islam and all Muslims for the attacks of 9/11. We cannot in any way condone the burning of the Koran and other acts of bigotry and hatred against the Muslim world. As Jewish Americans we must speak out against such immoral behavior. And we have a legal and moral obligation to insure that all religious groups have the right to practice their religiou freely here in the United States.
This being said, I believe that it would be morally irresponsible for the Muslim leadership behind the proposed mosque to move forward with the project at Ground Zero.
The leaders behind the mosque have a responsibility to listen to the fears and concerns of the American people and understand that the terrible wound created by a group of Muslims, albeit a radical group, is still raw. The leaders have a responsibility to reach out and create healing by responding to the fears and concerns of Americans in a way that shows compassion and genuine support for the vast majority of people who are still traumatized by the events of 9/11.
As a rabbi, I believe strongly that a religious leader is responsible for strengthening his religion from within while, at the same time, fostering positive relationships with other religious, ethnic and cultural groups. This benefits everyone. I am worried that the religious leaders behind the mosque appear to be extremely concerned with protecting their “rights” and advancing their cause while having little interest in calming the uneasy feelings that non-Muslim American have towards Islam in the post-9/11 world. This is not doing anything to build bridges and create positive relationships.
In some respects, I can understand why the religious leaders behind the mosque are behaving this way. As a Jew, part of a religious minority that is often discriminated against, I am very concerned about the rights of Jewish Americans. Muslims in America do have rights – the same rights that we have. They have a right to practice their religion freely and safely in our country. And this, I am certain, is not always easy in the current climate.
At the same time, the leadership behind the mosque has a moral responsibility to insure that the free practice of their religion does not violate sacred space or jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of other Americans. I do not believe that, at this time, the leaders are living up to their responsibility. I pray that they will change their ways.
A vast majority of Americans of all faiths (including Islam) are opposed to the building of the mosque at Ground Zero because, in our minds, this mosque is throwing salt into that 9 year old, raw wound that has yet to heal. The proposed site for the mosque is located in an emotionally charged area – an area that sits about 600 feet from where the World Trade Center stood and just ½ a block from where World Trade Center Building 7 stood prior to falling down on that dark day.
When United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, part of the plane’s landing gear and fuselage came out the north side of the tower and crashed through the roof of the building where the proposed mosque is to be built. The plane parts destroyed three floor beams and severely compromised the building’s internal structure. For many, understandably so, the proposed mosque site is part of the disaster zone and potentially a grave containing the ashes of my friend and all those murdered by Islamic extremists. To build a mosque and an Islamic center on this sacred site clearly shows a blatant lack of sensitivity and compassion for the victims, their families, and every other American traumatized by the horror of 9/11.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a devout Muslim and the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy is just one Muslim American who is opposed to the building of the mosque. He gets it. He has publicly said that this issue “is not about religious freedom. It is about the importance of the World Trade Center site to the psyche of the American People.”
I was pleased to learn that the Imam, the religious leader behind the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, says he now knows how important this site is to Americans. He asserts that had he known earlier how upset people would be, he would have chosen another location. His reason for not moving the site elsewhere, however, troubles me: he fears that if the mosque is moved, the headline in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack – meaning what? That the radicals will strike once again? This begs the question – is this mosque being built at Ground Zero because the same groups that brought about 9/11 are calling the shots? If this is the case, doesn’t this make the building of the mosque even more inappropriate?
Imam Rauf asserts that he is a bridge builder and committed to improving the relationship between Islam and the western world. He worked with the FBI after September 11th. Unfortunately, he is linked to organizations and statements that support a dangerous ideology. I don’t want to go into them tonight. You can do your own homework and read about them in the papers and on-line. Please do your homework.
I do want to mention, however, the title of the Imam’s book – a book that offers the Imam’s views on how to rebuild the American-Islamic relationship. The title of the book in the U.S. is What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America. However, overseas, the title is The Call of Azan from the Rubble of the World Trade Center: Islamic Da’wa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. Let me explain some of the words in this lengthy title.
The “Azan” is the Islamic call to prayer. It consists of a number of sentences repeated several times including the phrase “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great). Throughout history, this phrase was called out by Muslims from newly conquered sites and has become a phrase shouted by a terrorist before an attack. “Allahu Akbar” was shouted by the terrorist at Fort Hood as he killed 12 people, by the EgyptAir co-pilot as he shut off his plane causing it to plummet to the ground, by the terrorists as they decapitated American Nick Berg, by Palestinian militants as they attack Israel and, most importantly, by the hijackers on Flight 93 as the plane crashed in Shanksville, PA on September 11.
Most Americans don’t want this phrase being called out from the ‘rubble of the World Trade Center.’
The Call of Azan from the Rubble of the World Trade Center: Islamic Da’wa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. ‘Dawa’ is the missionary work by which Islam is spread. Dawa is proselytism. The purpose of Dawa is to implement, spread, and defend Sharia or Islamic law, which, it must be pointed out, many Muslims would say does not condone terrorism. However, the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center believed in their sick minds that what they were doing was in accordance with and supportive of Islamic law. Given this, is the ‘rubble of the World Trade Center’ the proper place to implement, spread and defend Islamic law?
And what about the name of the mosque and community center? The Cordoba House? In order to understand just how troubling this name is we need to talk history. Cordoba is a city in Spain. In 711, Muslims took over the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Spain, and Portugal). Cordoba was proclaimed the Islamic capital of the region. The city fell to the Muslims in the Battle of Guadalete during which whole cities were razed and a grotesque number of people were slaughtered in a general destruction that sent non-Muslim civilians fleeing to the hill countries. Over the years, the Islamic leadership of the Iberian Peninsula would extend its control into Africa under the authority of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Caliphate of Cordoba is often described as giving religions freedom to non-Muslims. This is not accurate. The Caliphate of Cordoba gave non-Muslims the status of dhimmi (a non-Muslim subject of a Sharia law state). The non-Muslim in the region had three choices: 1. Accept the dhimmi status, pay a tax levied on non-Muslims and exist as second-class citizen; 2. Convert to Islam; or 3. Die. This is part of the legacy of Cordoba. It is also very important to note that the first “Cordoba mosque” (the first mosque built in Cordoba) was built upon the ruins of a Christian church. That mosque was a symbol of triumph over the previous religion and culture of the region. And now, the proposed 21st century Cordoba mosque will stand on the ruins of Ground Zero. The symbolism, the message is truly disturbing. Could this be why Cordoba House is now often referred to as the “Park51” project? Does this name change make a difference?
As a nation, we have not yet finished mourning the horrific events of 9/11 that were perpetrated by fanatics screaming “Allahu Akhbar” and embracing distorted Islamic ideals. For this reason alone the proposed mosque is pushing Americans too far too fast. It is totally and completely legally justified but morally irresponsible.
The affiliations and the words of the Imam and the symbolism associated with Cordoba only reinforce for me, my opinion.
Tonight and tomorrow, as we use our moral compass to reevaluate our words and deeds and work to rectify the damage that our words and deeds might have done, we have to believe that everyone has the ability to live up to their responsibilities by correcting their mistakes. Sometimes, we need others to jumpstart our moral compass by pointing out our mistakes for us.
Imam Rauf, if you sincerely want to teach peace, love and understanding, you need to take some bold steps. It is time to focus less on what your “rights” are as a religious leader and more on what your “responsibilities” are as such a leader. Don’t hide behind the threat of your extremist brothers and sisters. Disavow terrorism completely. Disassociate with groups that support terror. And show the compassion you claim your religion has by immediately doing the responsible thing: find another place to build the mosque. The rubble of the World Trade Center is not the place to build. You could create such good will by doing the right thing!
Imam Rauf, if you live up to your moral responsibility, I believe that you will do what is needed to begin rebuilding and repairing many broken bridges that were destroyed in the name of Allah. You will indeed be the bridge builder you claim to be and I believe that over time the wound of 9/11will heal and the building of a mosque will not have to be forced upon a neighborhood – rather it will be welcomed as a sign of true healing, growth and peace.
To those who feel that this will never happen, let us remember that tonight is a night of hope, renewal and change. Let us remember that there are Muslim leaders out there, like Dr. Jasser, who I mentioned earlier, who have publicly stated that the mosque at Ground Zero should not be built. Let us remember and believe that anything can happen tonight. We can all change our ways. We all have the potential to begin again tonight. You must believe this. And I pray that this year will be the year that liberal and moderate Muslims in America, in Israel and across the globe will courageously step forward and put an end to the irresponsible behavior of their extremist brothers and sisters. And when this happens – may we have the courage to reach out to them and do our part to insure that the children of Abraham can live in true peace and understanding.
May it be God’s will.
On Rosh HaShanah, we are supposed to take some time to reflect upon the year that has come to a close – specifically the moments in our lives that, when we look back, contained within them incredible bits of knowledge.
These moments are not always the joyful moments that are captured by photographs, video, or scrapbooks. While they can be wonderful experiences, they can be challenging – or even seemingly insignificant at the time.
If you really give yourself time to reflect on the year that has come to a close – you quickly realize just how many teaching moments you have lived through. Most of these moments come and go and we fail to grasp the lessons they contain. But, they forever remain a part of our own personal “Book of Days”. A book that is available to us year round – but one that we rarely flip through except during these Days of Awe.
Rosh HaShanah gives us the encouragement and the time to flip through our “Book of Days” and mull over where we have been, what we have seen and heard and who we have been in contact with these past 12 Jewish months. And, of course, on Rosh HaShanah, we are not limited to moments that took place in the closing year. Our entire life is fair game. Every year we get a chance to examine every one of our days and grab a lesson we might have missed along the way.
On Rosh HaShanah (Day 2), five members of Ramat Shalom were courageous enough to share a lesson with us from their “Book of Days”. Their stories are below.
When Rabbi asked me to share with you a life-altering event and the lessons learned therefrom, there was no second thought in my mind about the topic. Yet, when one has lived as long as I – three quarters of a century – many events both happy and sad are recalled. I learned when I was very young that the losses can be challenging, but are the maturing occasions of one’s life. The joys must be savored; they are the sustenance of survival.
The date was March 11, 2006, and Rabbi was theresharing it with my daughter (your President), my son, and me. After eight months of our watching, supporting, tending to, and hiding the pain in all four of us, by smiles and encouragement for my husband in his battle with pancreatic cancer, his final 23 hours were difficult.
Stu and I were alone for the first 13, as I saw to his needs, never leaving his side but to prepare him for his next bout. Those precious hours of talking, planning and waiting for the children sustained him; and in a very unique way, although the situation was tragic, it was an extremely significantly personal time for us, and I felt honored to be able to help. Then, in the morning, Bretta picked Seth up at the airport; and shortly after both entered our bedroom, our son called me out to tell me that the end of life would come in a matter of hours. He then lay down next to his dad and took his hand, just as Stu had done when Seth was small and ill. When we were later alone, I shared with Stu what the children had assessed: (as I probably need not mention, Bretta is an RNand Seth, an MD) and Stu’s incredible response was… “Good, I can hardly wait.”
In late afternoon Rabbi arrived, unheralded, but because something drew him to us–one of his unique characteristics. Heremained, and experienced sights and events that no one but loving family needed to endure, but he never flinched and led us in a service and the chanting of Ose Shalom, to which Stu joined in…smiling.
I thought each of us needed alone time with Stu; and during Bretta’s, he required the use of the bathroom, and when she took him, he joked about her strength. Since this had not been a need of his for over 24 hours, I felt a chill when I found them. Although she and I supported each side of him as he slowly walked back to the bed, he was physically unable to get onto it. Miraculously, at that moment Seth rushed into the room and lifted his father.And it was just seconds after that, that Stu’s words no longer came, but his suddenly wide open, crystal clear eyes looked at me and into me with his continued, complete awareness, those eyes now set in a suddenly wrinkle-free face—an amazing pre-death change—and we all knew that it was time.
Bretta, Seth and I held on to him, never letting go, telling him goodbye, thanking him, loving him. I heard my voice coming from somewhere repeating over and over, I love you, Stu;I love you, Stu.
In minutes, the Nashoma came to get him ; I know this, because Stu slowly, almost reluctantly, turned his eyes from mine toward the wall beside our bed, responded with his eyes to the presence of someone or something, then just as slowly returned his eyes to mine, now with a tear under one…and peacefully expired….I always felt that I was the voice of reason and my head agreed totally that death was a gift; it was my heart that got inthe way. We had had no sleep for 48 hours and had the chance to complete things, to say everything that we could think of thatneeded to be said. But all the logic in the world failed to compensate for my selfishness of wanting him with me.So the emotions of the next several months were physically painful with daily anxiety upon waking, and my sense of seeing that final wall. But each day, week, month, year became easier and I was where I needed to be.
Then…35 months after March 11, 2006, love came back into my life… So that is my story; that life-altering day, 70 days short of 50 years of marriage…the survival of the loss of one magnificent man…and the joy of being able to create a new life with another. The lessons, which I share with you that I learned from Stu: Live the best of life! Smile! Remember the past–but don’t dwell in it! As he always used to say: Just do it and “Never sweat the small stuff!”
L’Shana Tova Tikatevu.
Having a best friend that loves you unconditionally should NEVER be taken for granted. Instead, we should treasure each moment and share our lives to the fullest. Although I always believed this, I am not sure I lived it. My dear friend, Candace was always ready for fun and adventure – she was constantly there for me to vent to, share with, question, laugh with, cry around, or simply be with. Not only was she my precious gift, she had a major connection with my children too. She stayed with them when Jeffrey and I went out of town and made an impact on both Andrew and Jessica’s lives. Her enthusiasm for life was contagious. Candace worked hard and played hard.
Saturday evening, October 16, 2004 , we had plans to see the Princess Diana exhibit at the Art Museum in Ft. Lauderdale. Candace, Deanna and I met at the museum and as we wandered through, our conversation was about Princess Diana, and how her life was devestatingly too short. We admired her clothing, gauked at her jewelry and cried together when realizing the major loss her children encountered caused by her death. We had a wonderful dinner together and reminisced about many experiences we shared – both positive and negative. Of course we had delicious desserts – Candace would NOT complete a meal without her dessert! As we said our good-byes, I never thought that this would be the last time I would see Candace alive.
Candace was murdered that evening as she entered her home. She never had the opportunity to do many things that she had on her “Bucket List” although she had been skydiving and traveled the world. My life has been profoundly changed though this horrific experience. In Candace’s memory, I must laugh each day, push myself a bit passed my comfort zone, and always remember her zest for life! Life is way to short to sweat the small stuff, focus on the negative, or just survive. Although this experience has been devestating to me, I have learned from it as well. Take the time to smile and share your life. Be there for your friends and family no matter what and don’t just be – use these moments to truly share yourself – be passionate for life. We should ALL have a tremendous impact on others as Candace did for me and all those who’s lives she touched.
I stand before you today completely and totally humbled. Humbled by the vast support base and love that sits in this congregation. Humbled by the smiling faces radiating positive energy as I stand before you. But most of all, humbled by the way that nearly every one of you reached out to my family during the period of my mother’s passing.
A real mood-killer, I know, but last December, I had my first real experience with death. I had always thought my mother to be invincible, a sort of rock in every storm, so when she told me she was permanently suspending her chemotherapy treatment it hit me with an unexpected brute force. I mean, she was always reassuring me that things were a-okay and, being the naiive sixteen-year old that I was, I had no choice but to believe her. So when she dropped the bomb that she was going to embrace death as an inevitability, everything just felt off-balance and foreign, as if her entire nature had been a cover-up for some larger reality. Not only was I losing my mother, but I was also losing the security I felt that my immediate world was nothing but sunshine and rainbows. However negative this circumstance, deep within it I found a beautiful message that transformed the way I looked at the world.
People are essentially good. It’s as simple as that. I remember reading “Lord of the Flies” in eighth grade and discussing how the book argues that babies are born inherently evil. Now, while much of our human nature oftentimes moves us to immorality and poor judgement, after my mother’s death and the outpouring of love and support that followed, I find that my friends and family (hey, if I can’t speak for the entire human race, at least I can hone in on them) are all genuinely wonderful people and I am blessed every day to be surrounded by them. Over those two days surrounding her passing, I received upwards of 150 text messages and Facebook inboxes (for you older folks just imagine that those things are the equivalent of real-life interactions to teenagers) from people who I both loved and felt close to as well as friends that I never knew I had or hadn’t spoken to for years. It absolutely blew me away how quickly things were looking up.
I now make a conscious daily decision to think of my mother’s passing from a positive perspective, attempting to harbor her love of life and the cumulative love that my family received on that fateful day and turn it back on my friends, family and this congregation. I have also refused to think of the grieving process as a pity party, but rather a time for laughter and memories, as my mom would have preferred. During this time of change, what with Senior year and college applications and many of my friends going off to far-off places to begin the next chapter in their lives, I think back to that span of two days and smile, knowing that aside from making my own lunches and being my own personal secretary, my mother’s passing transformed me in another way entirely, by teaching me so much more about my loved ones than I had ever imagined. All of them, and you, are just so…good.
When I got the letter from Rabbi Andrew, asking me to speak today about an event or day that had an impact on my life, for good or bad, my first thought was that I didn’t really want to share my personal thoughts “with the whole world”. But you don’t say “no” to Rabbi Andrew, and I realized that in one aspect of my life, I have been doing that for almost 20 years.
Nearly 20 years ago, after exercising, I massaged my sore chest and felt a small lump under my nipple. Knowing that men could get breast cancer, my wife and I agreed that I should go to my doctor. The day that changed my life was the day when the biopsy results confirmed our fears: I had breast cancer.
Throughout the treatment ordeal, my wife Louise, our children Michael and Linda, and the whole family was supportive. Friends and family, of all religions, said prayers for me. Louise especially was there for me every step of the way.
The treatments for breast cancer in men are similar to those for women, and I had a modified radical mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. I learned that in the United States, approximately 2000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, but in going through my treatment, with the obvious side effects such as loss of hair, I became acutely aware that even highly educated people often don’t know that men can get breast cancer, and that there was a lack of information and notice about men having breast cancer in the research, charity and medical communities.
Of course, early diagnosis in breast cancer is very important for both women and men. But, unfortunately, because men are often unaware that they can contract breast cancer, they tend to disregard lumps in their breasts. This is particularly bad because breast cancer can be more insidious in men than in women, since owing to the minimal tissue in the breast area of men, breast cancer in men often spreads more rapidly outside the breast tissue to the bones and vital organs of men than it does in women.
I decided that as a result of what had happened to me that day, I would do two things: first, spread the word that, “men can get breast cancer too” , and second, dedicate time in helping to raise funds for breast cancer research.
As part of my new combined goal of raising awareness of breast cancer in men and raising funds for breast cancer research, whenever I read about fundraising efforts for research to cure breast cancer, I would contact the sponsoring charity, such as the American Cancer Society, the Koman Foundation, and the City of Hope hospital and research center in California, and ask that they put in their literature words to the effect that men who find a lump in their breast should also see a doctor.
Although it took years for some charities to change their literature, the City of Hope, upon hearing my request, immediately took steps to get the word out, changing their fund raising literature before their next series of Walks for Hope. Because of their outstanding responsiveness, Louise and I organized a walk team to raise money for the City of Hope, and in doing so, one year I happened to raise the most money of any individual in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. We had our team for several years, and the money we raised went to fund all kinds of research at the City of Hope.
At this point, the story takes an even more interesting turn.
Three years ago, which was 17 years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Louise was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fortunately, she is now in remission. The primary drug used in her treatment was Rituxan, WHICH WAS DEVELOPED AT THE CITY OF HOPE, in the 5 or 6 years during and after I raised the money for Walks for Hope.
Finally, you may be aware that for almost 60 years, The American Cancer Society has had the “Reach to Recovery” peer counseling program, in which trained female volunteers visit with female breast cancer patients referred to the ACS by their medical providers. When I had my surgery, I learned that there were no counselors to talk to men with breast cancer. In order to further help men with breast cancer, I became trained as a volunteer, and I am one of the few, or maybe the only, male Reach to Recovery counselor in the U.S. Although most volunteers only counsel patients in their immediate vicinity, in addition to getting many calls each year to talk to men in Broward County, I often get calls for assistance from all around the country.
Fortunately, I have remained cancer free since my early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. And I continue to tell everyone that if you, or your significant other, whether male or female, finds a lump in the breast, they should see a doctor.
So that day which I will never forget, when I got BAD news, actually had a profound effect for GOOD, not only for me, but also for others.
Twenty years ago, i had what I considered a pretty “periect” life. My husband and I had just moved to South Florida after he finished his medical training and we were busy building our life together. I was a very happy full-time mom to our children Marissa and Jordan and Jeff was working hard at developing his new practice. When Jordan was around 2, my mother’s intuition began telling me that something wasn’t right, even though I was repeatedly reassured by everyone that he was fine.
By the time Jordan was 2 1/2, he spoke only a few words and made poor eye contact. He was very affectionate towards me, but wasn’t particularly interested in playing with other children. Most troubling, when frustrated, he would bang his head on the tile floor so severely that he had an omnipresent goose egg on his forehead. It took an extremely courageous pre-school teacher and a very dear friend to finally say to me that we needed to see a specialiSt. The next day, I was sitting across from a pediatric neurologist receiving the most devastating news of my life: Your son has autism.
There are no words to describe the despair I felt. That evening, our closest friends came to our home. We cried together and sat shivah for the life we had imagined
for our son. For the next week or two, I walked around in a fog of depression and disbelief. Finally, I realized that I had to get to work and find someone who would tell me
what I needed to do to help my son. I know that today it seems that every time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the tv there is a story about autism, but in 1993 the
services for children with autism in South Florida were extremely scarce.
Luckily, even though Jordan couldn’t talk, I could. I began cold-calling complete strangers begging for information and help. Even though I had no patience to sit around and whine about my problems, I went to a support group to try to network. It was at that group that I met the group of other mother’s of children with autism who would teach me how to save my son. They told me about a researcher who had shown that with extremely intensive early-intervention, a small percentage of children with autism had recovered. That was all I needed to hear.
Our home was transformed into a therapy center. Jordan was bombarded during every waking hour with behavioral therapy, speech and occupational therapy. Jeff and I made
the practical decision that I would manage Jordan’s intervention and Jeff would concentrate on making the money necessary to pay for it. Luckily we did not know at the time that 80% of marriages of parents of children with autism end in divorce. I’m happy to tell you that we are in the 20%.
After two years of intensive home therapy, we believed Jordan needed to be around typical children, so I turned to our local Jewish community. In those days, DPHDS had a pre-school. Accompanied by Jordan’s team of therapists, I made an appointment with the headmaster and literally begged him to give my son a chance. He agreed to let Jordan attend the school with a full-time “shadow.”
Very, very slowly, Jordan began to learn to play like the other children. He learned the prayers and songs. Oddly enough, Hebrew was a breeze for him. By middle school, Jordan was doing exceptionally well and this spring he graduated from high school with honors. He is currently a freshman in college studying biology and neuroscience. Jordan became a Bar Mitzvah at Ramat Shalom during Rabbi Andrew’s first year here. Jordan developed an instant rapport with Andrew. Jordan told him he wasn’t’ sure he should have a Bar Mitzvah because he didn’t know if he believed in God and didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Rabbi Andrew assured him that it was ok and I can tell you that many tissues were used that day as there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
I’m not sure what to call what I believe. I believe it’s bershert that when I came to Florida I moved next door to the person who pushed me so hard to get a diagnosis for Jordan when no one else would. I also believe that it’s bershert that we were able to put together the remarkable, talented team responsible for Jordan’s recovery. I don’t know if it was God, or fate, or karma, but I know that it’s not a coincidence and that I cannot explain it.
This past summer, Jordan worked as a counselor at a camp for children with autism. Jordan was assigned a camper who was functionally non-verbal and happened to be the son of a rabbi. One day, everyone was dozing on the bus on the way back to camp after an exhausting day of white-water rafting. Much to Jordan’s surprise, his camper, who could not answer a simple yes/no question, suddenly began singing Oseh Shalom. Jordan said his Bar Mitzvah training kicked in and he sang along with his camper, much to everyone’s amazement. I’m not sure if they were more amazed at the boy with autism singing in Hebrew or his counselor with the mohawk who no one realized was Jewish? Needless to say, I had a lump in my throat that night when Jordan called to share his story.
I used to ask myself “why us?” As the years passed, I would ask myself “why are we the lucky ones?”and was reluctant to talk about Jordan’s progress. Finally a friend of
mine whose son remains very challenged by autism, said to me, “do not ever feel guilty about Jordan’s success. Your story is what keeps me going day after day and
gives me hope for my son.”
Yes, I am a country music fan. And this song is on my mind as we mark 9 years.