Danger on Campus

I have been following some very disturbing events taking place on college campuses both here in Florida and across the country.  The events involve an organization known as the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Anyone with a child on a college campus today must be aware of the MSA and the impact that this organization has upon our college students and the communities that they are a part of.

A little history…In 1963, the Muslim Brotherhood (the same organization linked to terror and jihad that you have been hearing about in Egypt) created the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Today, MSA chapters are present on many college campuses across the country.  I encourage you to watch this video in which a MSA leader offers the MSA’s “pledge of allegiance”, an oath that is based upon the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood.  If you watch the video, you will see for yourself the organizations commitment to jihad and the willingness of MSA members to die to establish Islam.

The links between the MSA and the Muslim Brotherhood have been well documented as a result of the 2007 United States vs. The Holy Land Foundation trial – the largest terrorism financing trial in U.S. history.

Today, at the University of Central Florida, Imam Siraj Wahhaj — who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a character witness for Abdel Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik — was invited by the Muslim Student Association to speak on campus.  TODAY!

A few months ago, on November 4, also at UCF, the Muslim Student Association invited Jamal Badawi, a former board member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a current board member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to speak. CAIR, as many of you know, was created by the International Muslim Brotherhood in 1994 and is widely reported to have ties to Hamas. CAIR was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007 Holy Land Trial. In 2004 Badawi issued a fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) for “Islamonline”, detailing when a wife can be beaten as a result of her bad habits.  Furthermore, Badawi was involved in another 2004 fatwa which explained that it was a religious “duty” for all able-bodied Muslims to wage jihad against the American military. In 2006, Badawi justified Muslim suicide bombings, saying they were legitimate tactic of jihad. In the summer 2007 Holy Land trial Jamal Badawi was listed, along with CAIR, as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Last February, at the University of California Irvine, 11 members of the Muslim Student Union (an organization associated with the Muslim Student Association) were removed from a lecture given by the Ambassador of Israel, Michael Oren, after disrupting the lecture, attempting to shut it down and violating the UC Irvine’s free speech policy.  Watch it here.

UC Irvine disciplined the students.  However, upon learning of the planning that went into the disruption created by these students, the local District Attorney filed misdemeanor charges against them.  Many, including the ACLU, are outraged that these students are being charged and they are protesting – saying that the freedom of speech of the 11 MSU members was violated.  What about the freedom of speech of Israel’s Ambassador?

It is important to point out that a man who asked a challenging question, during a question-answer session, to Mr.  Badawi at his November appearance at UCF was forcibly removed from the lecture by uniformed police.  The ACLU has not challenged this man’s right to freedom of speech.

What’s going on here?

Clearly, there is a major problem going on our campuses.  The attacks against Israel, the presence of speakers with ties to terrorism, and the increasing support of Muslim student groups at the expense of Jewish student groups is on the rise on our campuses.  Our kids are at risk.  We need to educate them and ourselves.  Imagine what it is like to be a Jewish kid, a kid who supports Israel, to be on a campus where pro-Israel voices can be suppressed while voices with connections to terror can be heard loud and clear!  We have a problem!

Given this, I am happy to announce that on April 13th at 7:00PM, we invite all of you, any of our college students who are around and our high school students to a special viewing of  “Crossing The Line” – a film that deals with the struggle college students face when it comes to supporting Israel and the values we hold dear.  This is not to be missed.

Please call Ramat Shalom for more information (954-472-3600)

Appreciating G-d’s Back

“You will see My back but My face shall not be seen.”

Exodus 33:23

This verse is spoken by Gd to Moses after Moses begs Gd to “show me Your glory!”  Moses desperately wants to see Gd, but all he gets is Gd’s back.

There are moments in our lives when we would be happy to simply get a glimpse of Gd’s back.  At least this glimpse would be proof that indeed Gd exists.  At the most challenging moments in our lives, being able to experience Gd would be incredibly comforting.  All too often, at these challenging moments, we wonder where Gd is.

I have experienced my share of challenging moment.  In January, 1994, I was living in the San Fernando Valley when the 6.7 Northridge earthquake struck.  I lost my apartment and had to relocate with what I could salvage from my home.  As most of you know, I was living in New York on 9/11.  I saw one of the planes moments before it struck the World Trade Center.  I was one of the first clergy to enter the burn unit at Cornell Medical Center – the unit that received the handful of severely injured survivors who were pulled from the World Trade Center. I, like many of you, lived through the damaging effects of Hurricane Wilma.  And, of course, as a rabbi, I have sat with many families after the loss of a loved one has left them in shock.

During all of these traumatic moments, I found myself asking “why?”, searching for answers and looking for Gd.  There are no good answers that explain any tragedy.  And finding Gd during the darkest hours is often a futile, frustrating effort.  What I have come to understand, however, is that this effort becomes less challenging the farther away from the event you get.

While I will never forget the feeling of hopelessness I had while walking the streets of New York the week after 9/11, the images of brave rescue workers, determined health care professionals, and flag filled neighborhoods are etched into my mind forever.  In the same way, while the negative memories of the Northridge earthquake and Hurricane Wilma will never go away, these negative memories now blend with the beautiful memories of caring neighbors, the power of community and the joy of the electricity coming back on.  And, the darkest moments in our synagogue’s life are forever countered by the power of memory and shivah minyans and, of course, the incredible strength that those left behind have to turn tragedy and heartbreak into blessing.

My experiences have taught me that while we usually can’t find Gd during a crisis, time empowers us to discover that Gd was indeed with us all along.  This is what the Torah is teaching us by explaining that Moses was only able to see Gd’s back.  We are no different than Moses.  There are times that we can only appreciate Gd’s presence after it has passed us by. Gd is with us during the tragic moments – present in the strength of individuals, the power of community and the human determination to survive.  It is only when get through the darkness that we can look behind us and realize that we were in the presence of Gd all along.  At the time, when Gd’s face was before us, we were not able to realize what we were looking at.  Thank goodness we have the gift of memory that enable us to appreciate Gd’s back.


Judaism and Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday – Jews can and should tell those they love how they feel on this day and every day!

And, did you know, Judaism has its own Valentine’s Day?  Check it out: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Modern_Holidays/Tu_BAv.shtml

When God Give You Olives….

Today, when we talk about olive oil, we are usually talking about salad dressings or the health benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.  This Shabbat, however, when we read about olive oil in the Torah, we are reading about the fuel that was used to kindle the lamps in the ancient, desert sanctuary.  According to the Torah, this fuel was to be “pure, virgin” olive oil.  Today, pure, virgin olive oil refers to oil that contains very little acid content and was not refined or produced with chemicals.
But things were different in ancient times.

In ancient Israel, olive oil was doubly graded. The first grade was based upon the tree position of the olive from which the oil was extracted.  The higher the olive was on the tree, the riper it would be; the riper the olive, the better the oil. The second grade was based upon the purity of the oil.  Oil purity was determined largely by the means used to extract the oil from the olive.  The purest oil was the first drop squeezed from the olive.  Lower categories of oil included  oil extracted by pressing or crushing the olives.Based upon this, it would be safe to assume that the “pure, virgin” oil described in this week’s Torah portion – oil used to kindle the lamps in the ancient sanctuary – must have consisted of the first drops of oil squeezed from olives that were picked from tops of olive trees.  But this might not have been the case.

According to the Talmud, the location of the olive on the tree was not important.  While an olive at the top of a tree was likely to be riper than an olive at the bottom of a tree and, thus, more likely to yield better oil than the oil at the bottom of the tree, the Talmud teaches that what really determined the quality of an olive’s oil was the manner it which the oil was extracted.  Thus, the first drop squeezed from an olive at the bottom of a tree could be used to kindle the lights in the ancient sanctuary.  Oil that was extracted by crushing an olive that grew at the top of the tree could not be used to kindle the lights.  The holiness of the oil had nothing to do with the “status” of the olive but, rather, the way the oil was harvested.

What can we learn from this today?

No matter what our position is in the various different communities, organizations and groups that we are a part of – we have the potential to do, say or create something truly remarkable.  While we might be the lowest guy on the totem pole, our skills, creativity and effort can produce something that outshines the guys at the top.  When God gives us lemons, we are taught to make lemonade.  This week’s Torah portion teaches us a slightly different lesson: if God gives us low-hanging olives – squeeze out the highest quality olive oil.