Our Very Broken World: Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and Sensationalism

In 1983, my great-aunts, Phoebe Shapiro z”l (of blessed memory) and Anne Stern z”l were brutally attacked in their home on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  Phoebe was 83 and Anne was 78.  They begged their attacker not to hurt them, telling him to take anything he wanted.  He took nothing. Instead, he severely beat both of my great aunts.  Phoebe’s jaw was badly broken and she spent many weeks with her mouth wired shut, recuperating in the hospital.  She eventually recovered and moved into an assisted living facility where she lived until she was 97.  Sadly, my great-aunt Anne succumbed to her injuries and passed away days after the attack.   According to Phoebe, with whom I was very close, the attacker was a young, black man.  He was never caught.  Not long after Anne’s death, I remember sitting with my grandfather, Phoebe and Anne’s younger brother, as he wrestled with the reality that his sister’s murderer might never be brought to justice.  This tormented him for the rest of his life.

 

I have been thinking a lot about my family’s tragedy this week as I read about Trayvon Martin and his death.  Despite what some are saying about Martin and the shooter, George Zimmerman, there are many questions yet to be answered about this case.  But one thing is clear: this death has become a racially charged tragedy.  Zimmerman has been labeled a criminal by many.  The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 reward for his capture.  Celebrities like Spike Lee and Rosanne Barr are tweeting the home address of Zimmerman’s parents to their followers.  Zimmerman, who is not in custody and has not been charged with anything, might be guilty of a crime.  But, he also might be innocent.  In this country, we believe that one is innocent until proven guilty.  A 17 year old is dead.  I understand that emotions are running high, understandably so.  But, this is no excuse to disregard American values and laws.

 

Unfortunately, national leaders are fanning the flames.  Reverend Al Sharpton has made it clear that Trayvon was killed by George Zimmerman because Trayvon was a “black kid”.  In response to Martin’s death, Reverend Jesse Jackson said that “blacks are under attack”.  Some elected officials have acted and spoken out in ways that lend support to Sharpton and Jackson’s assertion that race is the reason Trayvon was killed.  We don’t, however, know why Trayvon was killed.  Zimmerman might be a racist.  He might have been acting out of self-defense.  We don’t know.  There are too many unanswered questions.  An investigation needs to take place.  Rushing to judgment will get us nowhere.  Surely, Jackson and Sharpton know this.  They were very much involved in the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal – which, as many of you know, stirred racial tensions and resulted in charges being dropped against the falsely accused lacrosse players. Sharpton also knows the dangers of rushing to judgment after the Tawana Brawley controversy in the late 1980’s.

 

I know personally the emotions that surface when a loved one is killed.  In my family’s case, while the perpetrator was never captured, we know that he was black and that he murdered my great-aunt.  As my family learned about the horrific crime back in 1983, emotions raged.  The attacker was unknown – but, nonetheless, he was hated by my family.  There was an intense desire to find him and bring him to justice.  Yes, there were questions about whether or not he attacked my great-aunts because they were white and/or Jewish (this pre-dated the infamous Crown Heights riots in 1991).  But, there was no media coverage of this incident.  There were no press conferences.  There was no intensive investigation that followed the murder (perhaps if the attacker was caught, this would have been different).  The murder was considered a burglary gone bad.  As I reflect back on this nightmare, I realize that despite their anger and sorrow, I never once heard my great-aunt Phoebe, my grandfather or any other family member assert that white citizens of Crown Heights or Jewish citizens of Crown Heights were under attack.  My family’s loss never became “us vs. them”, “white vs. black”, “Jews vs. non-Jews”.  It could have.  But, my family understood that by asserting, without proof, that my great-aunt’s murder was a racial or an anti-semitic hate crime would have been racist in and of itself as the only “evidence” we had was the attackers skin color.  To blame something on skin color is racist.  Despite their emotions, my family managed to accept the fact that Anne’s murder was a horrific tragedy committed by a deranged individual who just so happened to be black.

 

I find it telling that as the media’s attention has been focused upon the Martin tragedy in Central Florida, most of us had no idea that on Wednesday, in Sarasota, Shawn Tyson, a black, 17 year-old, Floridian received a life sentence after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24 – both white tourists from England.  I find it telling that while most of us know about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, we are unaware of the fact that 41 people were shot in Chicago earlier this month and 10 of them were killed!  One of the victims was 6 year old Aliyah Shell who was shot by gang members.  Her murder, the murder of other innocent souls in Chicago and the conviction of Shawn Tyson received very little media coverage.  There are no celebrities speaking out on behalf of little Aliyah Shell.  There are no rallies. Why?  No politicians spoke out on behalf of James Cooper and James Kouzaris and their parents are asking why?  The answer – the media focuses on sensationalism and gives the spotlight to those whose words startle and shock rather than teach and heal our very broken society.  This is so sad given that we live in such a broken world.

Let me be clear, I know that racism is alive and well.  I know that people are killed because of their skin color. This being said, at this point, it is completely irresponsible for anyone to declare that George Zimmerman is a racist who murdered Trayvon Martin because of his skin color.  And it is irresponsible for the media to put the spotlight on those making such declarations.  Let the investigation take place.  Allow the courts to pursue justice.  Give the jury time to deliberate.  And while we wait, perhaps the media can send their reporters and their cameras to places like Aliyah Shell’s neighborhood to determine why a 6 year old little girls was killed!

No matter what the outcome of the Trayvone Martin investigation may be, I pray that many in our nation come to realize, just like my great-aunt Phoebe and my grandfather did after the death of my great-aunt Anne, that despite the terrible racially motivated crimes that do take place, there are indeed many horrific crimes that are committed by deranged individuals whose skin color represents them alone and not an entire racial group.  If we can embrace this reality, perhaps we will do a better job at pursuing justice and bringing about the healing of our very broken world.

The Incredible Strength and Wisdom of Chava Sandler

My words from Friday night

On Monday, the Jewish community was rocked to its core yet again.

Rabbi Yonaton Sandler, 30, a teacher at Ozar HaTorah Jewish School in Toulouse France was walking into school, along with his two young children, Gavriel, 3, and Aryeh, 6.  Along with them was Miriam Monsinego, 8, the daughter of the school’s principal.  Before they were all safely inside, they were gunned down by a radical Islamic terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda.

This act of hatred against our people hit very close to home for me.  I am the husband of a rabbi who works at a Jewish school and she brings our two children with her to work every day. (For my Orthodox friends reading this, you read that correctly, my wife is also a rabbi.)

Monday’s attack was a brutal reminder of a fact we in America just don’t want to accept: people still want to kill Jews – just because we are Jews.  We falsely believe that this is not true.  Monday pulled our heads out of the sand and stuck the reality before us.

As the bodies of Rabbi Yonatan, Gavriel, Aryeh and Miriam arrived in Israel for burial on Wednesday, the images of their funeral served to remind Jews everywhere of just how important Israel is to us all – a safe place, a true haven during horrific storms.

As I looked at the photos from the funeral, I was reminded of stories I had heard a few years back about French Jews purchasing property on the coast of Israel as their “just incase homes” – just incase things in France got so bad they had to flee to Israel.  As I read an interview of a Jew who calls Toulouse home and learned that he no longer feels safe in Toulouse, I wondered if he had a “just incase” home somewhere in Israel or if he had to continue living in a place where he felt threatened just because he is a Jew.

Monday was a terrible reminder for all of us Jews – no matter where we live – that the world can be a very unsafe place for us.

Upon learning about the murders of Rabbi Yonatan, his children and little Miriam, I felt outraged.  Outraged at the killer.  Outraged at the hatred and antisemitism that exists across the globe.  Outraged at the response of some global leaders to this tragedy.  As I watched the reaction of the African-American community to the senseless murder Trayvon Martin, I even found myself feeling outrage at the global Jewish community – wondering, where is our reaction!?  Where are our rallies and demonstrations!?

As I prepared for Shabbat, I was having a hard time letting go of the outrage – not an emotion I wanted to bring into Shabbat.  Fortunately, I was blessed to receive a powerful message in the form of a letter – a letter written by a mother, not just any mother, Chava Sandler – the mother of Gavriel and Aryeh, the wife of Rabbi Yonatan.  Chava had the courage and the strength to write to her community, the Jewish community and speak to us all via Chabad’s website.  Her words allowed me to move past my outrage:

My heart is broken. I am unable to speak. There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain resulting from the murder of my dear husband Rabbi Jonathanand our sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the dedicated principal of Ozar Hatorah and his wife, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Monsonego.

May no one ever have to endure such pain and suffering.

Because so many of you, my cherished brothers and sisters in France and around the world, are asking what you can do on my behalf, on behalf of my daughter Liora and on behalf of the souls of my dear husband and children, I feel that, difficult though it may be, it is incumbent upon me to answer your entreaties.

My husband’s life was dedicated to teaching Torah. We moved back to the country of his birth to help young people learn about the beauty of Torah. He was truly a good man, loving, giving, and selfless. He was sensitive to all of G-d’s creatures, always searching for ways to reveal the goodness in others.

He and I raised Aryeh and Gavriel to live the ways of Torah. Who would have known how short would be their time on this Earth, how short would be the time I would be with them as their mother?

I don’t know how I and my husband’s parents and sister will find the consolation and strength to carry on, but I know that the ways of G-d are good, and He will reveal the path and give us the strength to continue. I know that their holy souls will remain with us forever, and I know that very soon the time will come when we will be together again with the coming of Moshiach (the Jewish Messiah).

I wholeheartedly believe in the words of the verse: “The L-ord has given, and the L-ord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the L-ord.” I thank the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband. Now the Almighty wants them back with Him.

To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this Earth.

Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.

Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone.

Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night. (Please do so a bit earlier than the published times as a way to add holiness to our world.)

The holiday of Passover is approaching. Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at a Seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom.

Along with our tearful remembrance of our trials in Egypt so many years ago, we still tell over how “in each and every generation, they have stood against us to destroy us.” We all will announce in a loud and clear voice: “G-d saves us from their hands.”

The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed.

May it be G-d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness.

I send my heartfelt condolences to the Monsonego family for the loss of their daughter Miriam, and I pray for the speedy recovery of Aharon ben Leah, who was injured in the attack.

Thank you for your support and love.

For some of us living outside of the Orthodox world, Chava’s words are difficult to relate to at first.  But, when you stop to reflect upon her words, you realize that they do indeed speak to us all.

Chava reminds us that we are one community: French, Floridian, Orthodox, Liberal – we are brothers and sisters – Jews.  The murder of her family was an attack against us all.  But, outrage is not going to move us forward.  Yes, it is a logical feeling at this time.  But it is not productive.

What is?  Remembering that the Jewish spirit can never be extinguished if we do everything possible to make certain that this spirit survives.

And how do we do this?  By living Jewish lives.  By being proud of our heritage and tradition and making them our own.  In Chava’s Orthodox community, this is done by lighting candles, observing Shabbat, studying Torah.  In our progressive Jewish world, many of us do the same things and do them proudly.  But these are not the only ways to proudly embrace Judaism.  Coming to services, learning more about our faith, raising Jewish kids, giving tzedakah, volunteering, traveling to Israel, performing tikun olam – these are just a few ways to live Jewishly.  No matter how we decide to embrace our Judaism, Monday’s murders demand that each of us finds our Jewish path and embraces that path with pride.  Monday cried out to us all to do what we can to live as proud Jews.  Chava Sandler is asking us, in memory of her family, to do the same thing.  As I read her request on Friday afternoon, her words helped me to transform my outrage into pride.  What an incredible blessing….

In each generation, Chava reminds us, they have stood against us to destroy us – and we have survived.  As we remember these Jewish lives that have been taken from us – we need to insure that our Jewish lives are as bright and strong as possible and that our Jewish light – our spark of G-d that the Kabbalists teach us dwells within us all – burns so brightly that it is visible – like a Chanukah menorah placed by a window – to all, that it touches and inspires everyone.  If we can share our light like this, we will be living our lives as proud Jews.  And, when we do this, we will send a clear message to the world that we Jews are alive and strong and well – despite the obstacles we have had to face and continue to struggle with.  Nothing can stop us.

By living proud, Jewish lives, we will honor the memory of our brothers and sisters who were murdered on Monday and teach the world that despite their senseless deaths, Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people lives.

Thank you Chava for your courage, your words and your wisdom during the darkest moments of your life.  May the memory of your dear husband, your little boys and their friend Miriam only serve as a blessing.

Some Passover Fun

I shared this great story Friday night and as promised, here it is.  It is so important to fill our seders with fun, engaging stories….this one is perfect for all ages!  Enjoy….

Taken from Does God Have a Big Toe by Rabbi Marc Gellman

When the children of Israel escaped from Egypt, they found the dolphins of the Red Sea waiting for them, chirping their happy dolphin chirping sounds and splashing the blue waters of the Red Sea with their flat tails.

Suddenly, the people heard the terrible sounds of Pharaoh’s great army chasing them from Egypt– “We’re trapped!” They cried. But Moses raised his arm. And God zipped the Red Sea right down the middle!

The sight of the Red Sea split in half was amazing and confusing to the children of Israel. But can you imagine just how amazing and confusing this was for the fish of the Red Sea?

A Red Sea fish would be swimming along minding his or her own fish business when, suddenly, it would be swimming in midair–which is nowhere if you’re a fish.

The dolphins tried chirping a warning to the fish: “Don’t go there!” But the fish would ask, “What do you mean don’t go there? Where is the there?” And the dolphins would answer, “There in the air!” And then the fish would say, “Huh? We don’t see any air there.” And by the time the conversation was over because the fish were already there–in the air–which is nowhere if you are a fish.

And fish in the air was not the only problem the dolphins had to face. The children of Israel left Egypt with some flocks of sheep and goats and a few cows. And on their way across the Red Sea, some of those flocks walked right through the walls of water and right into the bottom of the Red Sea–which is nowhere if you’re a sheep or a goat or a cow!

So the dolphins would quickly swim down to the bottom of the Red Sea and shoo the sheep and goad the goats and carry the cows back into the air, which is somewhere if you’re a cow or a sheep or a goat.

As if fish in the air and sheep in the sea were not enough to handle, the dolphins saw that the army of the Pharaoh was gaining on the children of Israel.

The dolphins tried to slow down the Pharaoh’s army by flicking their tails through the walls of water and showering the wheels of the Pharaoh’s war chariots so they stuck in the mud.

When the walls of water came crashing together, the children of Israel were happy because they were free at last. The fish of the Red Sea were happy because there was no air anywhere near there. The sheep and the goats and the cows were happy because there was no Red Sea anywhere near there. But most of all the dolphins of the Red Sea were happy because they could go back to doing what they liked best–chirping their dolphin sounds and splashing the blue waters of the Red Sea with their flat tails.*

SHAME on Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Affairs Chief

My letter to Mr. Mann, Ms. Ashton’s Cheif Spokesperson

Dear Mr. Mann (Michael.MANN@eeas.europa.eu),
As an American Jew, a rabbi here in Florida, I write to say how disappointed I am to hera Ms. Ashton’s words (cited below from the Wall Street Journal) regarding the murder of Jews in France.  I understand there has been effort from your office to clarify her words and I appreciate this effort.  However, Ms. Ashton’s comments still equate the murder of Jews at the hands of an Islamic terrorist (and the murder of other innocents by radicals) and the torment of children in southern Israel to the “situation” in Gaza.  Her words, at this terrible time in the global Jewish community, are not only insensitive, they are also dangerous as they equate the murder and torment of innocent people (Jews and non-Jews) to the self-defense of the sovereign nation of Israel which is under attack by Islamic militants.  Such words incite violence and hatred against Israel and it is irresponsible that a global leader would say them.
“And in days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances, the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy… when we remember what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened when I was in Norway last week a year ago, when we know what’s happening in Syria, when we see what’s happened in Gaza and Sderot. In different parts of the world, we remember young people and children who lose their lives.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304724404577293580827858776.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
L’Shalom,
Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

Clergy and Politics: Elevating the National Discussion

Pompano Pastor Calls Mormon Church ‘racist,’ Calls on Romney to Renounce Religion

My letter to the Pastor:

13 March 2012

Dear Reverend Dozier,

We have met at many events in South Florida.  We are both members of the clergy.  I last saw you at a Jewish Federation, pro-Israel clergy committee meeting.  We share friends. We share Broward County as our spiritual home.  I write to you today as a concerned colleague.

Reverend, I know that you have very strong political beliefs.  I do as well.  Being a clergyman with strong political convictions is not easy!  Those of us with strong convictions often put our feet into our mouths.  But, hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and use greater care when speaking about issues that move us deeply.

I write to you tonight to express my concerns over your actions today,  I do so with the hope that you will understand my feelings and, perhaps, take them into consideration the next time you speak from your powerful pulpit.  

Reverend, I was very disappointed to learn about your press conference today in which you asked Governor Romney to renounce the “racist” religion of Mormonism. 

I believe that as as a Reverend, you DO have the right, even the obligation, to ask questions about a candidate and what he or she believes – especially if his or her beliefs appear to teach values that fly in the face of what we as religious, moral American people believe.  But today, you did not ask questions, Reverend.  Today, you asked Governor Romney to quit his “racist religion”.  Such comments do not encourage healthy debate or discussion.  Rather, they evoke anger, distrust and even hatred.  We as clergy need to rise above these emotions.  We need to encourage our communities to talk about religious differences and encourage mutual understanding.  Instead of opening up a very important doorway to what could have been a productive, spiritual, meaningful dialogue among Jews, Blacks, Native Americans and Mormons, your incendiary comments slammed that door shut.  And in a world filled with misunderstandings and faulty perceptions, this is so unfortunate Reverend.  What a missed opportunity!

You stated that Mormonism (the entire religion) is racist and prejudiced against Black, Jews, and Native Americans.

As a Rabbi, I feel I can speak best to your assertion that Mormonism is prejudiced against the Jews.  Certainly there has been tension between the Mormon Church and the Jewish people, most recently over posthumous baptisms of Jews – but this practice has been strongly condemned by Church leaders.  For the most part, Jewish-Mormon relations have been quite good.  In 3 Nephi 29:8 there is a strict prohibition against anti-semitism.  In his work, A Message to Judah from Joseph, Ezra Taft Benson (who was the 13th president of the Mormon Church and the Sectry of Agriculture under President Eisenhower) wrote:

“our affinity toward modern Judah is not prompted merely out of mutual suffering; it is prompted out of a knowledge of our peculiar relationships together—relationships which claim a common heritage. Jeremiah has prophesied that in the latter times ‘the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together.’ (Jer. 3:18.) My prayer is that because of evenings spent together like this one, this prophecy will come to be fulfilled. We need to know more about the Jews, and the Jews ought to know more about the Mormons. When we understand one another, then perhaps you will understand why Ben-Gurion said, ‘There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.'”

Reverend, as you know, Mormons are, for the most part, incredibly pro-Israel and relations between the Jewish community and the Mormon community are, for the most part, good.  (As an aside, I to assume that you would not want a Mormon to serve on the Jewish Federation’s pro-Israel committee that you and I are both a part of – am I correct?)

You also know well that the religions of other candidates have not had a “perfect” history with the Jewish people – so I suggest you use great caution in condemning Mormonism for the way it treated the Jews.  This condemnation opens Pandora’s Box.  In the same way, other religious groups have had a history of excluding or treating differently other minority groups: Blacks, Native-Americans and others.  In Judaism, for example, there is much discussion about how we embrace Black Jews.

It is my understanding that today there are many Black Mormons and the numbers are growing across the globe.  But, again, I don’t claim to be an expert here.  My point to you, Reverend, is that anyone can look at the history of any religion and use its past beliefs and practices to unfairly characterize the modern day religion.  I would argue that most Christian and Jewish denominations have evolved over time and have become more accepting.  At the same time, most religious groups still have boundaries that they are not willing to cross and beliefs that upset members of other faith communities.  This is why dialogue is so important.

Today, Reverend, you used your power and your pulpit to malign another faith.  You have shared extremely potent accusations that cannot be taken back – accusations that your fellow clergymen are left to deal with as we face our own religious communities in the days ahead.  I urge you, as you move forward, to use your words to encourage spiritual dialogue that only elevates the national debate surrounding the 2012 Presidential election.  Ask important questions, Reverend.  Get people talking.  But, please Reverend, do not use your position and your pulpit to drive a wedge between religious communities.  There is enough hatred and division in this world.  We, religious leaders, need to work together to overcome this hatred and division and help our nation grow stronger.

L’Shalom (in peace),

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

Returning from AIPAC’s 2012 Policy Conference

What I Fear Is The Morning After

(my “sermon” Friday night, March 9th)

I was proud to be one of 13,000 pro-Israel delegates at the 2012 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference that was held in Washington, DC on March 4th-6th.  As I return to South Florida, I wanted to take this opportunity to share just a few reflections on this incredible event.

First, it is clear to me that the vast majority of Congress, Democratic and Republican Senators and Representatives alike, stand with Israel and her right to protect herself.  Our South Florida Senators and Representative are some of the most pro-Israel folks out there.  Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have both co-sponsored bills that support tougher sanctions against Iran.  We owe them our thanks and appreciation.

Second, “AIPAC” is not a “PAC” – a political action committee.  AIPAC stands for the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee”.  It is a lobbying group.  As such, it does not take sides.  It works to develop strong working relationships with every elected official.  AIPAC’s insistence upon maintaining good relationships with both sides of the aisle frustrates some (even me sometimes!).  However, these good relationships are the key to insuring strong American support for Israel.  AIPAC does not rate, endorse or finance candidates.  This is probably why more than 50% of Congress attended AIPAC’s Gala Event on March 5th.

Third, despite the push by some in Congress to keep Israel from becoming a partisan issue and the bipartisan support in Congress for Israel, Israel is, without a doubt, a very partisan issue.  This was more than evident in the speeches and presentations that I heard at the conference.  This is largely due to the fact that 2012 is an election year and both parties are trying to prove that they have done “good” by Israel.  I attended many “stump speeches” given by politicians attempting to prove that their party done a better job at supporting Israel than the other party.   Despite this, what I truly appreciate about AIPAC is that Democrats and Republicans, right and left, conservatives and liberals and everyone in between can gather together to have healthy debate and discussion about the Jewish State in a tremendously pro-Israel environment.  AIPAC’s tent is huge and many delegates attending the Policy Conference come from incredibly diverse backgrounds.  It was nice to see non-Jews attending the conference and playing such an important role.  Any South Floridian will appreciate that AIPAC’s big tent had room for both Representative Allen West and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz – two members of Congress who don’t often see eye to eye, but who were able to find a home at AIPAC.  AIPAC constantly reminds speakers, presenters and delegates that respect of differing views is a must.  And, for the most part, I felt this respect.

Fourth, and most important, the most pressing issue discussed at the Policy Conference this year was Iran and the desire by the Iranian government to make a nuclear weapon.

There was a lot of talk about why it is so important for us to prevent Iran from getting “the bomb”.  Experts talked about how dangerous Iran is now – without “the bomb”, serving as a base for terror and a source of tremendous unrest.  The terror and violence in Syria is directly linked to Iran.  In addition, the fact that the President of Iran has openly declared his intention to annihilate Israel makes the possibility of Iran owning a nuclear weapon even more alarming.  It has been reported that Iran has missiles that can not only reach Israel, but our own shores here in the US and has openly expressed the desire to do harm to the United States.  Once armed with a nuclear weapon, these missiles become even more potent.  In addition, we were reminded in DC that just blocks away from the site of the Policy Conference, Iran attempted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador.  Iran is a dangerous regime. Period.  A nuclear-armed Iran is even more dangerous. Exclaimation mark!

Both President Obama and the Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed AIPAC.  In listening to both men, it is clear to me that there are two major differences between the two of them.

The first difference has to do with the fact that both men lead different countries and, thus, have different priorities.

President Obama is the leader of the United States of America and, as such, is responsible for the safety and security of the USA.  While stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is certainly in the best interest of America – the President is committed to insuring that other aspects pertaining to the safety and well being of Americans are addressed.  Whether it be retaliatory strikes on the United States by Iran after a preemptive strike on her nuclear facilities, exorbitant gas prices that are created by an escalation in the Middle East, or the cost of US involvement in a war with Iran during this economic downturn, President Obama is putting the United States and her citizens  first.

Understandably, Prime Minister Netanyahu sees things very differently.  He puts Israel and her citizens first.  He is responsible for the safety and well being of more than 6,000,000 Jews who call Israel home and 2,000,000 non-Jews who call Israel home.  He is determined to prevent the annihilation of his nation by Iran.  And will do anything to insure the safety and security of the Israeli people.  And when it comes down to it, Israel, not the United States, is on the front lines when it comes to Iran.  The Prime Minister puts Israel first and has to because if Iran gets the bomb, Israel will be affected first and most dramatically.

The second difference has to do with what we are trying to stop Iran from doing. 

President Obama wants to stop Iran from possessing an actual nuclear weapon.  This is clear.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined to stop Iran from having the technology needed to create a nuclear weapon.  If Iran has this technology, than she has the ability  to make the bomb and she will.  According to the Prime Minister, once Iran has the technology, it is too late.  And many are questioning how much time we have left before Iran has this technology.  Interestingly enough, it seems that many members of Congress share the Prime Minister’s point of view on this.

Clearly feeling we have more time to pressure Iran than the Prime Minister, President Obama is leaving all options on the table.  As the Policy Conference wrapped up on March 6th, the President agreed to reenter negotiations with Iran, who, after a very tough speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu the night before, in which he made it quite clear that Israel will do whatever it has to do to secure herself, decided to open up a nuclear site to international inspectors, but only after significant details are worked out.

Certainly we’ve been on this road many times before with Iran.  Negotiations have always failed.  But they have been successful in giving Iran more and more time to develop the technology she needs to create a nuclear weapon.  It is no secret that Iran has a history of lying about her nuclear ambitions, making promises to stop enriching uranium, delaying the process, dropping out of agreements, going back to enriching uranium, threatening Israel, the US and others when they push her too far.  Over and over again, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has condemned Iran for failing to live up to its end of negotiations.  Over and again, the IAEA goes back into negotiations only to be slapped down again.  The fact is that Iran is enriching uranium.  Iran is very close to or has the capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.

In his powerful speech on March 5th, Netanyahu reminded us that Iran claims to want to use its nuclear technology for medical purposes and to generate power for the country.  The Prime Minister asked us, if this was the case, why does Iran need to hide from the IAEA?  Why has she lied so often? Why are her nuclear facilities built so far underground, hidden away from the world?  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the Prime Minister exclaimed, we need to call it is a duck!

The Prime Minister told the crowd of 14,000 people on March 5th that Israel has waited for years as negotiations failed with Iran. Sanctions, even tough ones, have not seemed to stop Iran from seeking the technology needed to build a nuclear weapon and have done nothing to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Even Leon Panetta, now the US Secretary of Defense, argued that sanctions may “help weaken” the Iranian regime and “create serious economic problems” but he cautioned that sanctions, no matter how tough, would probably not curtail Iran’s nuclear dreams.

The efficacy of some tough sanctions that will be kicking into place soon, such as sanctions involving SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) which would cut Iran off from the international banking community, are yet to be seen. AIPAC was lobbying Congress to support such sanctions.

I do not feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu is, as some claim, “beating the drums of war”.  He doesn’t want war.  Who does!?  But he is a realist.   The fact is, if Iran gets the bomb, they will use it.  And if they don’t use it to annihilate Israel, they will use it to control and manipulate not just the Middle East, but the entire world.  And this is not acceptable to Israel and should not acceptable to the US and other global powers.  If negotiations fail (which they probably will), if sanctions fail (which I pray that they don’t – but there is not much time to pray and see results!!!), what do we have left?

While the Prime Minister made it clear that he was not going to talk openly about his country’s plan regarding Iran, he did make it clear that the longer we wait, the closer we get to an Iran capable of building a nuclear weapon.  And this is not something that the Prime Minister is willing to wait for and I can’t blame him.

The most powerful moment of the Prime Minister’s speech was when he pulled out letters from 1944, letters exchanged by the World Jewish Congress and the United States government.  The WJC asked the US to bomb train lines to Auschwitz in a last ditch effort to save the Jews of Europe.  The US response was that it was unclear that such an attack would be effective and that it would certainly provoke a vindictive response from the Germans. What could be worse than the murder of 6,000,000 Jews!?  As the Prime Minister read these letters, all 14,000 people listening to him knew the obvious parallels he was drawing between the Israel and the United States today and the effect that a strike against Iran would have on the safety and security of Israel’s 6,000,000 Jews.  An incredibly powerful statement!

After reading the letters, the Prime Minster reminded us that it is not 1944.  He said very clearly, today, in 2012, America has our back.

But, he did not stop there, however.  He reminded the world that the Jews in 2012 have a State of our own (and a powerful military to go along with it) and the Jewish State will do everything in her power to secure the future of this Jewish State.  The Prime Minister left no one guessing if he had to get the United States’ approval or blessing before going after Iran as he told the crowd: Israel will defend herself, by herself, against any threat.

So, as I leave AIPAC and return to Florida…..

I know that Israel will protect herself if and when it becomes necessary.  I believe that Israel will do what is in her best interests and not what the United States wants her to do. While I hope that Israel will not need to pursue a military option against Iran, I know that if that is what it comes down to, she can and will pursue this option.  And I am comforted by the fact that our Congress appears to be extremely supportive of Israel defending herself as needed.

I know that our Senators and Representatives are working tirelessly to toughen that sanctions against Iran and I pray that somehow, someway, they effect incredible change in a very short period of time.

I worry, however, about the morning after – the morning after Israel decides enough is enough and takes action by eliminating Iran’s nuclear facilities.  I am not worried about Israel’s abilities to do this.  I am also not overly worried about Israel’s abilities to fend off the countless missiles that will be launched against her by Hezbollah and Hamas and others.  It won’t be easy – but Israel can defend herself.  I am worried, however, about the response of our own country.  President Obama says he has Israel’s back.  But if Israel attacks without the blessing of the President, what will this mean?  How will he respond?  When the UN and nations across the globe attack Israel for being aggressive, what will President Obama say?  What will he say as gas prices escalate and, perhaps, the US is hit with retaliation by Iran?  Will he still have Israel’s back?  And I worry about the response of our fellow Americans who will have to pay higher gas prices and live in a world that might feel unsafe as a result of an angry Iran.  What will they say about us – the Jews, the supporters of Israel, the nation that “caused this problem”!?  And, I even worry about us!  Will we stand by Israel during this trying time?  Will we be willing to support Israel’s actions or will we join the cry against the Jewish nation?  It is one thing to say that we have Israel’s back, that we support her now that things are “okay”, but what about the morning after the attack as the global rage against Israel roars across the planet?  What will we feel like at that time?  This is what I worry about.

But, I pray that such an attack won’t be necessary.  I pray that sanctions will cripple the Iranian regime and Israel will be safe.  But, if the Prime Minister of Israel determines that it is in Israel’s best interests to pursue a military option, I pray that the United States not only has Israel’s back, but stands by Israel’s side as the Jewish nation takes the lead in protecting the world from a nuclear Iran.  May it be so…..

A Dr. Seuss-shan Purim Shpiel For Kids

A Dr. Seuss-shan Purim Shpiel

by Dana Baruch and Robbi Sherwin © 1998 all rights reserved

In celebration of Ramat Shalom’s 36th Birthday, we celebrate Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday

 

Sh’ma yeladim and hear us well

For now is the story of Purim to tell.

It took place in Shushan so long, long ago.

Now off to Persia we all will go.

In this beautiful kingdom ruled Achashverosh, a king

A king with no brain, who’d think such a thing?

He spent all his days and his nights having fun

Parading his wealth in the warm Persian sun.

A queen named Vashti was his loyal wife

She promised to love him all of her life.

She promised, that is, until he did ask

For her to perform an unthinkable task.

At his grandest of parties the king did command

Queen Vashti dance for royal men of the land.

“I am Not your servant, and dance I will Not!”

Vashti refused the king’s stupid plot.

For Vashti, you see, was not known as a fibber

She was, in fact, history’s first women’s libber.

Vashti was banished – away she did go.

Where did she go? That we do not know.

In this fair kingdom lived also the Jews

Who could not practice the religion they choosed

No Torah, no Challah, no Matzah Ball soup

For a villain named Haman had started a coup.

“Bow down to me now”, cruel Haman did say

“For I am an important man of the day.”

“I’m the King’s right-hand man – I rule all that I see

If you don’t bow down now, you will cease to be!!!”

Meanwhile back at the palace grand

An announcement went out throughout the land

A new queen to be chosen in an unusual way

In a beauty contest held the very next day

All the maidens of the land were forced to appear

From near and from far, from far and from near

Be them skinny or zaftig, quite brilliant or dumb

From near and far they were ordered to come.

One such maiden had brains and had grace

Esther was her name…Such a pretty face!

A Jewess of humble origins and needs

With the kind of body and soul that would make a heart bleed!

Encouraged by her Uncle the great Mordechai

“I beg you dear Esther, this you MUST try”

“With your brains and your beauty YOU he would choose

“Go, go, go, go! “Comb your hair. Wear nice shoes!”

“Besides that my dear,

With your grace and your charm

You will blow them away.

You’ll be on King Achashverosh’s arm!”

Unsure of herself but willing to go

Because she loved her Uncle Mordechai so

She entered the contest

But said, “Uncle dear

Promise me that you’ll always stay near.”

Mordechai did promise and promise he did:

“You betcha – I’ll always be here, Kid.”

The contest was held – They came one and all

And Esther of course was the Queen of the ball.

Chosen for her beauty in a contest quite shallow

Esther learned to love this not-quite-clever fellow

Though Achashverosh chose her

And she was now queen

There was one rotten rule

She had not foreseen.

Under penalty of death she had to obey

The following rule in an unbending way:

Her new husband commanded she could only see him

When HE chose to see her – and on HIS whim

So now back to Haman, that cruel crusty fellow

At the top of his lungs he continued to bellow:

“Bow down, bow down NOW I command!

Or great harm will come to you in this land.”

Mordechai, of course, refused to obey

“I bow only to G-D to my last dying day!”

Haman’s face turned red with anger and hate

“I’ll get you my pretty, if it’s the last breath I take!!” (Cackle cackle cackle)

Mordechai turned his back, and the Jews they did follow

As for Haman, well, his pride he had to swallow

“That Jew, Mordechai has ruined my heinous plot

Because of this affront I will have to draw lots

The straw that I pick, the one that comes nigh

Is the day that the Jews of Persia shall die!”

Into his three-cornered hat – he did cast

All of the dates – the future which is now the past

The lot that he picked was the 13th of Adar

“Make ready the gallows! Adar is not far!”

Right after Haman he did pester

Went Mordechai to see Queen Esther.

‘Cos at the palace gate, two eunich guards he did broach

Bigthan and Teresh were to kill King Achashverosh!

Brave Mordechai protected his king and his land

By revealing the plot in the palace so grand

His loyalty and his brains gave him the upper hand.

The king in his chamber that evening did read

Of Mordechai’s loyalty in the “Book of Good Deeds”

With the smallest of brains, the king thinked and he thinked

“Who is this Mordechai who saved me from the brink?

“Who, who, WHO is this man who foiled the guards’ plan?

I must reward him – send for Haman!”

A question to Haman, Achashverosh did pose:

“How should I honor a man who has been on his toes

Who has saved my kingdom through heroic deeds

Without a single thought to his own needs?”

Haman, thinking this hero was he

For saving the kingdom from the Jews

Pompously swelled with excitement and greed

He knew the king would his words heed:

“I think my dear king no reward is too great

Give him diamonds and jewels—a house by the lake”

“Fabulous clothing and all of the best

Let him ride the king’s horse on your next birthday fest!”

“Make it so, dear Haman, loyal right hand man

Bring forth Mordechai the Jew…this is my command!”

“Instruct all my tailors, my jewelers my builders

To spare no sheckles, no rubles, or guilders

Call all the king’s horses and all the king’s men

To honor this Jew again and again!

Haman astounded, speechless at best

Felt his anger spread from his feet to his chest

Could it be that this man who refused to bow down

Must now be honored all through the town?

Seizing the moment, the opportunity here,

Mordechai to Esther did appear

Using his Wits and Oh, so clever Brain

Mordechai made history, now Esther has fame.

“You must risk your life and go to the king

And tell him about this heinous thing

That Haman is planning the Jews will all die

You must go brave Esther…this you MUST try.

“But Uncle,” she said – trembling with fear

“Without his permission, I cannot go near

It could be my life – I am so afraid.”

But Mordechai replied:  “You can do this, BABE.”

“Use your brains and your charm and your prettiest skirt

And your shaina punim…What could that hurt?”

So, Esther swallowed her fear,

And she calmed her nerves

She went after this task

With Vim and with Verve

At a party given that very same night

She walked into the banquet, trembling with fright.

Although shocked to see her, the King did beckon

“I’ll see her, I’ll see her…It’s fine, I reckon.”

“Dear husband.” she said, “I’ve gotten some news

So horribly horrible that I did choose

To come un-summoned to be by your side

You must listen to me – After all, I’m your bride!!”

Risking her life Esther told him the story

Of Haman’s dastardly plan—Evil and Hoary

Esther, still trembling explained to her mate:

“My lord, at the risk of sealing my fate

I must tell you something that to you may be news…

Someone is planning to kill all the Jews!”

“This includes Mordechai, And all of his kin

And in this category, you must put me in.

For you see, I am Jewish, but so loyal to you

Please don’t hurt my people…Please don’t hurt the Jews.

I fear my dear husband,

Unless you act with your heart

I too will die on the 13th of Adar.

Oh, please me smart!.”

Thinking the thoughts a king would sure think

(That his loyal wife deserveth a mink)

He called for his henchman…His Number Two

To question again—what should he do

In order to save his wife and her kin

Haman of course, slunk right in.

“Esther, dear Esther, tell Haman your fear

Don’t be afraid—Tell him my dear.”

“Okay, here goes nothing,” said Esther inside.

She looked straight at Haman, and summoned her pride

“You wicked wicked man…How dare you pretend

That you are loyal to my king to the end?

You who did plot to destroy all the Jews

Also will kill ME Whom the king did choose!

For I too am Jewish, you hateful old coot!”

“Turn around,” said the king…”while I give you the boot!

I sentence you now to the gallows you built

Not a single drop of Jewish blood shall be spilt!

Pack up your belongings but don’t go far

On the gallows you’ll be swinging on the 13th of Adar!!!”

The moral of the story, Yeladim, you now know

Is to honor G-D and all people wherever you go.

To stand up and speak out for all that is right

And to you Chag Sameach…Laila Tov, and good night.