Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Has Justice been served?

Rabbi Mordechai Elon - Photo credit: Ha'aretz
From the Forward

Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon, an Israeli Modern Orthodox leader, was sentenced to six months of community service for his conviction on two charges of sexually assaulting a minor.

Elon was sentenced Wednesday in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for incidents that took place in 2003 and 2005. The student had come to Elon, the former rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem, for advice.

He was also sentenced to 15 months probation and must pay nearly $3,000 in compensation to the victim.

“I welcome my sentencing of community service – I’ve been doing such work for 40 years, and will be happy to continue till I’m 120 years old,” Elon said following the sentence.

He added that the conviction is false. Accusations of sexual misconduct against Elon were first investigated by a Modern Orthodox forum, Takana, which deals with complaints of sexual harassment in the religious school system. The forum in 2006 ordered that Elon no longer have contact with students. Shortly after, Elon left his teaching positions and moved from Jerusalem to Migdal, a moshav in the North, citing health reasons.

The public investigation against Elon began in February 2010 after Takana went to police with the sexual harassment complaints, saying Elon had violated the restrictions on contact with students that had been imposed on him. Elon denied the charges and rejected a plea bargain under which he would have pleaded guilty but not served jail time.

Elon is the founder of the MiBereshit educational program, which is distributed throughout the world in Hebrew and English. He is the son of former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon and the brother of former Knesset member Benny Elon.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A True Friend

Pope Francis & the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has a wonderful post at CrossCurrents about the current Pope. And I could not agree more with him.

I have noted the change in the Church’s relationship for a long time… and have had the same reaction from some of my fellow Orthodox Jews that he mentioned in his opening words. 

I think it is imperative that we see this new reality of our time and address it more publicly. Perhaps the members of the Agudah Moetzes can make some positive and warm pubic statements about the Catholic Church (and even Evangelical Christians like Pastor John Hagee) that will get us beyond the no longer valid hatreds of old.

I should add that a lot of credit goes to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein who has pioneered good relations with Evangelical Christians. Although he is very controversial (to say the least) and I disagree with some of what he does, you cannot take this achievement away from him. His words follow:

Many Jews are so scarred (rightfully so!) by stories of horrors perpetrated upon us in the name of Christianity, that those stories become a defining part of their reality. Christian hatred of Jews is a given, as real and permanent as gravity. They cannot imagine a world without it. If you are one of those, please stop reading. The rest is not for you.

If you have room in your world view for change in the way some people relate to us, and we to them, you might be interested in learning about salient points of the major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis released a short while ago.

Overall, the document is extremely warm and accommodating to Jews and Judaism. It speaks of friendship for a Jewish people that enjoys significance in an irrevocable covenantal relationship with G-d. It owns up to the debt owed to them, and apologizes for their past persecution when done by Christians.

The document includes language important to supporters of Israel looking to defeat the Palestinian and BDS wars against her legitimacy. As I generally eschew political commentary in these pages, I will not write here about that part of the story. BE”H, I hope to publish on it in the general media. I will bring one point, however, to the attention of our readers. I believe it presents an important compliment – and challenge – to frum Jews.

The Vatican regards itself as a sovereign state. It has conducted its own foreign affairs for centuries. Nothing gets out with the imprimatur of the Church without every word and nuance being weighed and measured. There are no haphazard or casual expressions, unless multiple people have blundered. Those people are expert in diplomacy, and assessing the impact their words will have on those who scrutinize them.

This makes it interesting to compare what the document says about Muslims (to whom the Pope also extends the olive branch) with what it says concerning Jews.

Here, in part, is what the document says about Muslims and Islam:
Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”… It is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. 
In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! 
The interest in Muslims is magnified by their immigration to Christian countries. There is some sharing of values. Many take G-d seriously. Francis gives them not so subtle mussar about the importance of learning to respect others, and asks for reciprocity of the freedoms and privileges that Christians have given them.

All of this is absent in his treatment of Jews. The connection of Christianity to Judaism is organic, not accidental. He does not ask anything of them, but talks of friendship and a special relationship.

But most important, at least in my reading, are some key words in Section 249: “G-d continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word.” In other words, there is recognition and expectation that Jews remain an עם חכם ונבון/ a wise and comprehending people. They possess Divine wisdom, and those who seek deeper understanding of His ways ought to listen to what they have to say, when they speak in the name of the Torah.

Some of us – myself included – have witnessed this thirst for Jewish insight again and again, from people light-years away from converting. Some of us realize that we are in the first generation in many centuries that we can even think of trying to apply the Torah’s wisdom to the questions that trouble general society – not as part of a polemic, but simply to enhance the good of humanity, and Hashem’s glory.

It is quite a challenge. How much are we doing to own up to it, and to equip ourselves and our children with the tools to create a kind of Kiddush Hashem that was unthinkable for centuries?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A KIddush HaShem Goes Viral

We need more Isaac Theils. From Tablet - an article by Tova Ross
In a long life of quiet good deeds that generally go unnoticed except by the individuals on the receiving end, Isaac Theil, 65, had no hidden agenda last Thursday when he felt his neighbor on the Brooklyn-bound Q train nod off on his shoulder, and then let him sleep soundly there for the better part of the next hour.
A fellow passenger, taken by this scene, was further struck when Theil politely declined his offer to rouse the dozing straphanger. “He must have had a long day, let him sleep. We’ve all been there, right?” said Theil. The astounded passenger took a furtive photograph, posted itwith an accompanying caption on Reddit, and the rest, as they say, is social media history: the photo quickly made its way through the blogosphere and garnered over one million “likes” and nearly 200,000 shares on Facebook.
“The whole thing was happenstance, and I simply remembered the times my own head would bop on someone’s shoulder because I was so tired after a long day,” Theil recounted, sounding bewildered by his sudden catapult into viral Internet fame. The still-unidentified young man remained fast asleep as the train pulled into Newkirk Avenue, Theil’s usual point of departure, and Theil gently eased him off his shoulder before exiting. “When I got off the subway, I didn’t give it a second thought.”
It was Theil’s sister in Montreal, Pam Russ, who called him early the next morning to let him know he appeared in an online photo; her eagle-eyed son had spotted his uncle and quickly alerted family members. Before long, the phone calls poured in from family and friends who were seeing it everywhere. When Theil arrived at shul for Shabbat the next day, the rabbi gave him a huge smile and two thumbs up before making his way over to praise his Kiddush Hashem.
“Who lets a random stranger sleep on his shoulder in germ-filled New York City?” asked Theil’s 32-year-old daughter Helah. “But this is just typical of Dad.”
Other family members, friends, and neighbors corroborated Helah’s observation of her father’s penchant for doing good deeds in his typically unassuming manner; many shared their experiences with these acts of kindness online. Yehuda Jason Schupper, a neighbor of Theil’s younger daughter Shira, 27, shared the time his wife was waiting outside for an ambulance to take their daughter to the emergency room after an accidental injury. “Mr. Thiel observed my frantic wife and though he knew her only in passing, immediately offered to drive her to the hospital and then did so,” he wrote.
“Isaac’s lovely act of graciousness towards a stranger on the train is emblematic of the life that he leads and behavior that he strives for,” said Orlee Zorbaron, a close relative. “He is a kind and generous person who takes to heart the Jewish tenet of ‘do unto others,’” she added.
Pnina Rudy, a longtime family friend, said that in the 20-plus years she’s known him, “Mr. Theil has always taken a genuine interest in people and asks how they’re doing because he really wants to know, and not because he’s fulfilling some pat obligation to make small talk.”
Even Helah’s ex-husband, Yehuda Feldman, speaks kindly of him; maintaining warm relationships to ex in-laws might be the most irrefutable evidence to Theil’s all-around likeability factor.
“Despite the fact that I am no longer married to his daughter, Isaac made sure to let me know that he would always be there for me if I ever needed anything,” Feldman said. “Needless to say, this attitude is not very common in cases of divorce.”
Elad Nehorai, a popular blogger who runs Pop Chassid, was the one who pulled the photo from Reddit and first posted it on Facebook. As the director of marketing for Charidy, a startup dedicated to reinventing the way people support charities, Nehorai is always on the lookout for things to post on social media that foster communal goodwill. “I thought the photo was a perfect fit as soon as I saw it, though I had no way of knowing if it would take off,” he explained. “Clearly, people have responded, and I think it’s small moments like this one, which are easily captured and spread across the Internet, that help to restore people’s faith in humanity amid the terrible news stories that we’re bombarded with on a frequent basis.”
Of course, the Internet also invites remarks from those who are more small-minded, and several commentators have offered up their worst racial assumptions about the image. Others have taken offense to the photo caption’s references to the religion and race of the two men, as though that was what made the story so compelling.
“Maybe the photo wouldn’t have become so popular if people weren’t seeing a Jewish man with a yarmulke and a black man in a hood, and because they might not necessarily correlate the two,” theorized Theil. “But there is only one reason that I didn’t move, and let him continue sleeping, and that has nothing to do with race. He was simply a human being who was exhausted, and I knew it and happened to be there and have a big shoulder to offer him.”
Theil jokes that his 15 minutes of viral fame are almost up, but he gets serious when he says that what he hopes people remember is not him so much as the opportunity to help the next person out, whether it’s on the subway or elsewhere. “I would love for people to use this as a lesson to just be good to each other.”
Tova Ross is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. She is a contributing blogger at

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Not Yet... What?

Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
Absolutely brilliant! Love it! This essay at NLE Resources by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman really hit home with me. It is a must read. The more I read by him... and the more I hear about him... the more I like him. Here it is in its entirety:

Growing up in Brooklyn, I knew there were ‘frum’ or observant Jews and there were non-religious or non-observant Jews. Bottom line, we were all Jews.
Suddenly, when I was first thrust into the heartland of BT country, Passaic-I had to learn a whole new lexicon.
Jews were now divided between FFBs and BTs. (I am loathing to decipher these acronyms, for by doing so I am disseminating and there by encouraging their usage. Nevertheless, FFB is “Frum From Birth” and BT is “Baal Teshuva” or a ‘born again’ Jew.)
However, as strange and somewhat disdainful, these labels were to me, one new phrase really irked me. The particular expression I am referring to is the way many BTs (and even some FFBs) reference those of our brethren who were not outwardly observant. The phrase they adorned them with is ‘not-yet-frum-Jews’.
At first my need to fit in and not to seem any less ‘frum’ than my peers (and certainly never wanting to convey the impression that the Mitzvah which trumps all other Mitzvohs; the Mitzvah which prompts Challahs to be baked and wallets to be emptied, namely ‘kiruv,’ was not paramount in my mindset), I too began to use this term proudly.
Immediately, my ninety year old cousin from Texas who never put on Tefillin in his life and has had no contact with a Jew in 69 years had overnight become a ‘not-yet-Frum-Jew’.
With a little imagination I could even engage in a little one-upmanship with my BT neighbor. Why stop with just being a ‘not-yet-Frum- Jew’; I began to refer to my cousin as my ‘not-yet-Gadol HaDor-cousin’! This was great. Instantly, no one had any more ‘non-religious’ relatives of friends; we only have ‘not-yet-frum’ relatives and friends.
However, although the phrase is still widely used by many, I have excised it from my lexicon.
Why? Why not join the flow?
First of all, it is not true.
Where does it say that everyone will become Frum in our lifetime?
Yes, perhaps in the Messianic time the recognition of Hashem will be clearer than now which will cause many (although perhaps not all) to return to Hashem.
However, if what we really mean when we refer to our brethren as ‘not-yet-frum’ is an expression of the hope that when the Messiah arrives everyone will return, then why just refer to non-frum-Jews as ‘not-yet-frum’? How about referring to our deceased relatives as ‘not-yet-resurrected-Jews’?!
Can you imagine that? We will stop saying, “My dear departed father” and instead say, “My not-yet-resurrected father”.
And if you contend that the phrase ‘not-yet-frum’ conveys our belief that ‘in this world’ through ‘kiruv’ everyone can return and you are just being optimistic; well statistically it is just not accurate.
The fact of the matter is that precluding a jolting jarring dose of divine intervention, most ‘not-yet-frum-Jews’ are going to remain ‘not’. Sad? Perhaps; however, realistic it is. However, there is an even greater and more compelling reason why I have removed it from my vocabulary.
It is condescending and arrogant and I cannot believe that anyone who hears you refer to them as such would get the ‘warm and fuzzies’. Would anyone of ‘us’ feel good if we found out that Satmar Chassidim refer to us as ‘not-yet-Satmar’? Would you appreciate it if a Modern Orthodox Jew (whatever that is) would refer to you as: “My not-yet-Modern Orthodox” Chareidi cousin?
None of us would be happy if a member of another religion would refer to Jews as ‘not-yet-Christians or Moslems?’
Please forgive the analogy; however, this reference is outright patronizing and by using the phrase, we are disparaging our fellow Jews and their life-choices. Irrespective of the truth of your position, it is hard to imagine that the object of your phrase would be very receptive to your overtures of ‘kiruv’ when it is obvious to them that you are disdainful of their lifestyle and discredit their life choices.
We all have the responsibility and obligation to help and assist those Jews who are in need of assistance.
We must assist them in their material and spiritual needs. However, we also have an obligation to be respectful of them and legitimize them as people. It is a challenge to thread the needle properly. On one hand, we want to share the spiritual riches we have discovered and benefit from. On the other hand, we must avoid the pitfall of denigrating and being dismissive of our fellow Jews It is a challenging. However, the phrase ‘not-yet-frum’ should be discontinued as an idiomatic expression, as it is much closer to being an expression of idiocy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Good Things Happen to Good People

Dining room before makeover
Dining Room after makeover
Wow! This is a great example of both bad things happening to good people - and for a change good things happening to good people. The inexplicable tragedies that the Vaspis have suffered did not deter the selfless good they have done for others. And now, without asking for it, something truly nice has been done for them. Kol HaKavod to the producers of the Israeli version of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. From COL Live:

How can you help a good-hearted family whose entire life is about generosity, giving and helping others while they live in poverty and have suffered a tragedy?

Make over their crumbling home.

Both baalei teshuva, the Vaspis suffered a devastating tragedy when their 1-year-old daughter Menucha Rochel drowned in an abandoned rubber boat that was filled with rain water two years ago.

"You can't actually convey the feeling of losing a beloved child. The world stops," the 43 year-old mother said on the program, which was broadcast this past Motzoei Shabbos on Israel's Channel 10.

The family suffered an earlier tragedy when they were traveling and a bus lost control and hit their car. Their daughter Sheina was severely injured. The doctors needed to amputate her leg, leaving her wheelchair-bound.

And while they have been living in a decaying home and forsaken surroundings, the Vaspis are known for their constant kindness and hospitality. "Our activity gives us strength," the couple said.

The Vaspis
"Their home is open 24 hours a day," said Naomi Tzimering, a mother of 11 children. When she needed to move and could not afford a down payment, the Vaspis provided her with installment checks.

Tzimering was one of the many friends and neighbors who came to help the contractors of "Extreme Makeover" with renovating the Vaspis' home. "They don't even have a lock on the front door," the host Amos Tamam pointed out in amazement about the home that also serves as a kindergarden.

Friends noted how a warm meal is always offered to any in need. "Einav could call Anat at 3 p.m. and notify her that they will be having 30 guests for dinner," one of them said. "And she will never say no."

Seeking inspiration and understanding of the chassidic lifestyle, interior designers Michael Azulay and Gat Namir-Choter-Yishaitraveled to the central Israeli village of Kfar Chabad where they toured the replica of 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY.

They learned about the idea of "bayis malei seforim," that a Jewish home should be filled with holy books, and decided to paint the Vaspis' home in a shade inspired by the red brick row "house of theRebbe of Lubavitch."

While they were working on building a kosher home - separate sinks for dairy and meat, a large display of seforim and photos of the Rebbe throughout - they sent the family on vacation in the Golan Heights.

When the Vaspis returned, after 5 days of hard labor on their house, they were welcomed by a crowd of cheering people and a colorful, modern brand new home and friendly garden which was named the "Joy of Life Park."

"This family contributes to the community every day and this was our chance to give back to them with whole hearts," said the host, thanking the many Israeli firms that donated appliances, tiles and lumber.

They even redid the "farbrengen corner," the barbecue area where Einav holds a weekly chassidic inspirational gathering for men. A frequent guest there is the local Shliach Rabbi Yaakov Reices who came to affix a Mezuzah on the front door.

The mezuza was shaped as the middle column and entrance of the 770 building. "Shehecheyanu Vekiyimanu vahigiyanu," the father blessed with a wide smile, and tears in his wife and children's eyes.

The Israeli version of the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" reality television series has recently featured the house of Einav and Anat Vaspi, residents of the rural settlement Yesud HaMa'ala in Northern Israel.

Creators of the show, which provides home improvements for families that faced some sort of recent or ongoing hardship, were touched by the story of the Lubavitch couple and their 4 daughters.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Is She Right?

Frimet Goldbeger - Photo credit: Forward
I have to say… Frimet Goldberger, a formerly Chasidic (Satmar) but still Orthodox woman  is very hard to disagree with. From the Forward:

As an Orthodox woman, I understand the unique challenges men, especially Orthodox men, face daily in controlling their beastly sexual impulses. I understand because I live with a man. An Orthodox man.
Men, before you get all riled up about my sexist statement, allow me to explain. In a recent article, blogger PopChassid addresses this issue.

“Dear women,” he writes, “I have a request…I would like to ask you to dress modestly…I’ve come to accept something about myself. That inside of me is something dark. Something disturbing. It’s the evil, conniving side of me…It’s what I call my friggin’ bastard within…It’s the side of me that turns people into objects. Especially women… I need to work not to objectify you no matter what. Even if you’re dressed in a bikini or even, for some reason, running around naked. But here’s the thing: just like anything in my life, whether it’s not gossiping or getting angry or anything else — I screw up. I screw up a lot. That’s who I am, that’s who (I’m guessing) you are, and that’s who everyone else. I’m a screwup. It’s my natural state of existence.”

To this I say, Amen, screwup. Women are objectified by friggin’ bastards, all the time. And men have to deal with this, all the time.

That is simply not fair.

You see, as someone who disposed of many of the stringent Hasidic modesty rules, I can attest to the fact that immodest women are objects. In fact, I am constantly objectified by many disturbing, dark, and evil men. For instance, when I dress in a bikini and run around naked (which happens all the time), men need to work that much harder to control their urges.

But, here’s the thing: just like anything in my life — whether it’s not flashing my next door neighbor, or putting on clothing in the morning, or anything else — I screw up. I screw up a lot. It’s my natural state of existence, and I can’t help it.

Before you write me off as a joke, hear me out. I have a suggestion to you, Popper (can I call you that?), and to all struggling bastardly men out there:

Take your request a step further. Demand that women all over (that includes you, Pamela Anderson!) dress according to the tznius standards of the queens of modesty — Satmar women.

The attire for Satmar women is consciously designed with evil men in mind. Women wear long-sleeved refrigerator boxes, short wigs or shpitzels (synthetic hair rolled up into a sausage-shaped accessory, usually worn underneath a scarf, so that only one round inch shows), and bulletproof stockings — which acquired their name from the famous and heroic story of the late Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, who, in order to ascertain the thickness of his signature stockings, had his gabbai shoot through them with a Glock 22, while he wore them on his legs.

What are the benefits of dressing like Satmar women, you may ask. Well, as a former Satmar, I can assure you they are numerous. No Satmar man ever struggles with impure thoughts; he never has to see a pair of elbows that isn’t his wife’s; he also never has weird things happening you know where because of a woman, unless it is in his bedroom — with his wife.

They are the true bas yisroels — the pious gatekeepers of Hashem’s Torah, his children, heck, even his world.

But, I know, this may not be possible for everyone. So — my other suggestion to you is to advocate for modesty standards that comply with those of the so-called ‘Hot Chanis’. One commenter suggested they are as immodest as shiksas. That is false. In fact, men all over prefer tight skirts over pants and $3,000 styled-to-perfection wigs over temperamental hair. ‘Sheitle Hookers’ are perhaps not as modest as Satmar women, but they certainly dress for their husbands and not for other beastly men. I have spoken to some of them and they are completely befuddled by the assertion that they are trying to reel in other men.

PopChassid, as a formerly-Satmar and currently naked Orthodox woman, I ask that you please consider my suggestion. I honestly believe you will be doing women, and especially the women close to you, a great service if you do. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Empowering Special-Needs Kids.

Shira Greenland
There are some really great people in the world today. Shira is one of them. She is everything the following Jewish Week article says and a lot more. She also happens to be the sister of my son in law NCSY International Director Rabbi Micha Greenland:
At Shalem, a Teaneck high school for teens with developmental disabilities — part of New Jersey’s SINAI network of Orthodox special-needs schools — Shira Greenland’s official job title is director.
In recent years she’s also become the school’s theater director — and producer/playwright/choreographer — overseeing such productions as “Newsies,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and, most recently, “The Sound of Music.”
She first tried a production five years ago, inspired by an autistic student who “had a natural ability to act, and I wanted to try and create that opportunity for him. And I felt his peers could do well in supporting roles.”
After that student graduated, Greenland wasn’t sure the show could go on. But because the kids had enjoyed the experience so much, she decided to try.
“What I’ve learned is how capable the kids really are,” she says.
A native of Chicago, Greenland began working with developmentally disabled kids the summer after her freshman year of high school, volunteering as a “shadow” at a day camp.
By the time she started college, at Stern, she knew “this was a population I wanted to work with, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity.” While pursuing a master’s in social work at Columbia, she began working at SINAI, first as a school social worker.
Greenland organizes a variety of chesed projects where her students “are the do-ers of chesed.”
She explained, “I’m trying to teach society that [these students are] capable of giving, not just receiving.”
Before running the SINAI high school, Greenland worked in its group home for adults, where “I’ve made it clear that a developmental disability is not an excuse to sit on the couch and watch TV. They’re adults and part of our community, and there are all sorts of ways they can contribute, whether it’s going to a shiva house and completing the minyan or comforting a mourner by your presence, or delivering meals on wheels.”
Bittersweet move: This summer Greenland, who is single, will make aliyah, something she’s been wanting to do for 15 years. “Last summer I decided I’m not going to wait anymore, I’m going to take the plunge,” she says. “But it also means saying goodbye to my students.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Another Chilul HaShem

I really think that most Yeshiva high schools - including this Modern Orthodox one - simply do not teach their students how to behave in public. And that can only end up in Chilul HaShem. Furthermore, I don't buy the argument made by one of those students at the end of the following JTA article. In fact I think he increased the Chilul HaShem with those accusations! What is the matter with these people?
We’ve all been there before. You’re on a flight and a teenager wearing a Dave Matthews Band t-shirt, headphones and a neck pillow walks down the aisle still wearing sunglasses. Then another one. And another.
Or maybe you’ve been the teenager on a flight, excited to hang out with your friends and schmooze en route to some sunny destination.
Either way, it can be frustrating: for the adult passengers, who just want the damn kids to sit down and shut up; and for the kids, who keep being told to sit down and shut up.
That frustration apparently boiled over on Monday, when 101 Jewish high school students and their eight chaperones were ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight to Atlanta, CNN reported.
The facts of the matter remain, shall we say, up in the air. The crew claims the students, from Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, were thrown off because of their disruptive behavior, refusing to sit down and shut down their phones prior to takeoff. The teachers and students claim the crew blew the situation of proportion and that they were acting well within normal expectations. Predictably, one student felt that it was their visible religiosity that drew unwarranted attention.
“They treated us like we were terrorists,” student Jonathan Zehavi said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m not someone to make these kinds of statements. I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn’t have dared to kick them off.”
The group was put on other flights within the hour.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Picture from a Wedding

I do not get Chasidus. What makes all these people want to look like clones of each other? Why is there such an attraction to a Rebbe? Why do they venerate him so much - as though he were near God-like! This picture is an enigma to me... as is all of Chasidus. Cannot figure them out at all. What does anyone who becomes a part of this world really gain?

This picture depicts a Chasidic Kallah doing a Mitzvah Tanz. She stands there - face fully covered (including her eyes), standing straight, not moving a muscle while holding on to a very long rope or belt while Chasidim are asked one at a time to come up and 'dance' with her while holding the other end of the rope. What in heaven's name are they doing? Why is this done? What kind of holiness does this represent? ... at the wee hours of the morning?!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Agri Star's Kiddush HaShem

Agri Star Donates More Than $50,000 Worth Of Meat Products To Oklahoma Tornado Relief
by Shmarya Rosenberg 

Heshy Friedman, CEO of Agri Star
Happy to cross post a Kiddush HaShem from Failed Messiah:

Agri Star, the successor company to Agriprocessors, has donated 20,000 pounds of meat products to Oklahoma tornado relief in partnership with the haredi chain of soup kitchens Masiba.

The meat and poultry products, which Agri Star says have a wholesale value of more than $50,000, were shipped from Postville, Iowa late yesterday afternoon, Agri Star’s Jo-Ann Chadbourne told me yesterday.

Masiba was attempting to raise the appoximately $3,000 shipping costs but had not raised most of the money when the National Council of Young Israel stepped in and pledged to cover whatever amount Masiba was short, Chadbourne said.

The round trip from Postville, including loading and offloading, takes approximately 30 hours. An additional 10 hours of rest time for the driver before he returns to Iowa is required by law.

The food – much of which is already cooked product like chicken nuggets or deli items – will be delivered to Chabad of Oklahoma City, which has turned itself into a shelter for victims and a resting place for rescue and recovery workers. 

Chadbourne told me that 3 out of 4 pages of the invoice is made up of glatt kosher items under Shor Habor/Aaron's Best Brands; “random items on the fourth page are blended” kosher and non-kosher.

She also said that Agri Star donated a large amount of meat during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Other Women of the Wall

Women of the Wall
I think this woman makes a very important point. I'ts not only about demanding your own rights. It's also about respecting the rights of others. From the Jerusalem Post:

Before my first trip to Israel in 1977, the Reform Movement, which sponsored the trip, told the girls to pack a wrap skirt in their backpacks, so they could cover themselves at Jewish and Christian holy sites. When I came back in 1981 having spent my sophomore year attending an egalitarian minyan and reading from the Torah, I still kept a wrap skirt in my backpack so I could cover my shorts when I ventured into Geula or spent a Shabbat with Ger hassidim in Bnei Brak. When my daughter asked for special vegetables during the last shmita year, I took a bus to a distant makolet every week for a year to accommodate her.

My dear sisters, I love you and so do all the women with whom I prayed at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan. All of us were heartbroken to see the riots, and I for one wish I could have protected you from the mob. I was disgusted at the hilul Hashem, and not one person I know feels differently.

Tolerance works both ways, and so does respect. It doesn’t matter whether you understand why some Jews are devastated when they see you praying.

Where is our right not to have you pray at the Kotel in this manner? By your insistence on moving from Robinson’s Arch to the Kotel, you are literally preventing thousands of Jews, many of whom have gone daily to the Kotel for years and years, from praying.

It’s not just a matter of “you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

There is only one Kotel, and unfortunately there cannot be a win-win situation. I have absolutely no doubt that your prayer comes from the purest place. I know you are sincere and that you yearn for connection with Hashem as strongly as we do. But we all learned when we were toddlers that sometimes we don’t get what we want.

There is something called “compromise” in this world.

For the sake of Jewish unity – yes, your praying at the Kotel is doing more to splinter the Jewish people than any “fanatical” protests are – please discontinue your insistence on praying your way at the Kotel. There will be no place under the tent for us if you insist on your “rights.”

Please think twice about all those you are hurting by your actions.

The Book of Numbers is filled with census after census of the Jewish people. Long lists of names are recorded. The 12 princes all bring the same sacrifice, yet the Torah mentions each and every one of them individually. This is because each and every Jew is precious to Hashem. But we have to accommodate each other.

The Kotel issue is a biggie.

Worship however you want elsewhere, but please give us the same consideration as most Orthodox people give you. The chair-throwers are but a small fraction of our population. If you are as sincere about your love for Hashem as I know you are, then extend that love to include all of His children. Allow us to uphold the status quo at the Kotel.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why the Naysayers Ought to Just Be Quiet!

Rebbetzin Esther Jungries - Photo Credit: Jewish Press
If anyone wants to know why we owe the Zionist founders an enormous debt of gratitude ask Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. What about all the supposed evil they did? What about Perfidy, the Altelena, Rudolf Kastner, Yaldei  Tehran, and just about any other excuse for cursing those founders? I don’t know how true those stories are but there is always two sides to every story. Some would say that there are 3 sides – the third being the truth. Be that as it may Rebbetzin Jungreis’s words  blow all those negatives out of the water. Nowhere is there a better explanation of why we owe them a debt of gratitude than  in last week’s column by her. It follows.

Last week I wrote about the many disappointments in life. So often we dream of something, wish for something, pray for something – only to discover that when it happens, it is not quite the way we envisioned it. I illustrated this concept through a Hungarian story I recalled from my childhood about a little boy who more than anything else wanted a rocking horse, a coveted toy in Hungary. One day his mother became ill and died. He looked out the window and saw a hearse pulled by black horses outside the house. With tears streaming down his face he cried, “This is not the horse I wanted.”
We all have occasions when with broken hearts we too cry out, “This is not the horse I wanted.”
A few weeks ago our Young Leadership group held its usual monthly gathering. As it happened, that evening was Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day. At these events participants are always invited to ask questions on any subject. Some of the young people expressed their confusion regarding Yom Ha’Atzmaut. “Why, they asked, are some Jews ambivalent, indifferent or even negative about this celebration while others are totally unaware that it even exists?”
I wrote last week that my saintly mother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h,never tired of telling us about the “candy trees” in Jerusalem. Even in the darkest moments in the concentration camps my mother would relay the story again and again, and we children never tired of it. The image of those trees imbued us with strength and hope. They became part of our lives, part of our dreams. When I came to Jerusalem for the first time, I searched for those trees. To me Jerusalem was always a city of sanctity and healing, a city where the winds embrace us with love, where G-d hears our prayers, even if we just whisper them. Yes of course, it was a city of “candy trees.”
I realize that our contemporary generation laughs and ridicules such nonsense. How can a mature, intelligent woman believe such fairy tales? But I believed and I continue to believe. To me Eretz Yisrael was always a land of magic, a land where G-d Himself resides. I know G-d resides everywhere; there’s no dot on earth where His presence is not felt. But still, in Jerusalem it’s different. Over there you don’t have to search too hard, you just have to yearn – with all your heart and soul. Just be patient and never give up. If we stay steadfast and cling to our G-d we will hear His answer and discover our own “candy trees.”
The miracle of Eretz Yisrael should touch even the most hardened among us. The living skeletons of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau and Belgen Belsen arrived in our Holy Land only to find their lives once again in jeopardy. With one hand they held a gun and with the other they irrigated the lifeless soil. They planted forests and orchards. They turned a desolate land that was dormant for almost 2,000 years into magnificent garden – and this despite the fact that they had no knowledge or experience with farming.
We who were oppressed, enslaved, tortured and beaten, and who for almost two millennia were not permitted to hold a weapon in our hands, were called on to fight. And, miracle of miracles, we became David and our slingshot defeated the Goliaths. It all happened before our very eyes but we chose not to see. We remained blind and deaf.
King David predicted it all: “When G-d will return the captives of Zion we shall be like dreamers.” Yes, we were like dreamers and have yet to awaken from our slumber.
I remember when I graduated from Bais Yaakov and took my first job. I saved every penny because it was my dream to go to Eretz Yisrael and help my brethren who were arriving home from the four corners of the earth. My parents never thought of stopping me. They understood the fire that was burning in my soul, for they were the ones who kindled the flame.
I boarded a ship to France, traveled by train to Paris and from there to Marseille. It was in Marseille that for the first time in my life I saw a Jewish ship. I saw Jewish uniforms. I couldn’t stop crying. After a long journey during which every moment was filled with prayers and hope, we were told our ship would soon be approaching the shores of Eretz Yisrael. All of us stood on deck the entire night so that we might catch the first glimpse of our Holy Land. When we spotted Haifa we burst out with songs of praise to Hashem. Our joy knew no bounds. I remember the very first time I walked on the soil of Eretz Yisrael. I fell to the ground and kissed every speck of dust I could. And I wept uncontrollably.
Today we travel to Israel on jets and arrive at a state-of-the-art airport. We rush to collect our luggage but instead of falling to the ground or kissing the soil we hail a taxi and ask one another, “Where should we go to eat? Are there any new good restaurants in Jerusalem?” The Psalms blowing in the wind are all but forgotten. We are busy. We are running. We have no patience for sentimentality. We get to our hotel and examine our accommodations. Often they do not meet our expectations.
I recall my first trip to Eretz Yisrael and then I think of today. And once again the Hungarian allegory comes to mind: “This is not the horse I wanted.”
Life goes on. The miracles of G-d continue, but we do not see or hear them. Israel is called upon to battle, and those battles never cease. And yet we survive. It is G-d who is leading us in our battles. Goliath is still determined to blot us off the map. With G-d’s help we are David, we are triumphant. “Ki lo yitosh Hashem es Amo – G-d will not forsake His people.”
Israel is one more proof that He has not forsaken us. But we in our deep slumber congratulate ourselves on our strength and proclaim, “Kochi v’otzem Yadi – my power and my strength did all this.” And so it’s business as usual as we continue to build the walls of hostility, animosity and jealousy that divide us and we fail to see the larger picture – the miracle before us.
Where did we go wrong? Where did the confusion start? We Jews have an uncanny way of doing things in reverse. We celebrate Israel’s Independence Day but fail to ask, “Independent from whom, from what?” The answer to that is the answer to our survival – to our very lives. Yes we are independent of the nations of the world and we do not bow down to their will. But this can only work if we recognize our total dependence on our G-d. Until we understand this basic truth and absorb it in our hearts, I’m afraid the struggle will continue and, G-d forbid, the wars will go on.
In one of my first speeches in Eretz Yisrael – this goes back many years – I spoke of the tragedy of our times: that so many of us speak the holy tongue yet know not how to pray, that so many of us live in the Holy Land yet have no faith. It would be so different if only we opened our hearts and turned to our G-d.
It is so simple and yet so hard. When will we wake up?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Stephen Hawking - Moron!

Stephan Hawking
You know what? Sometimes even a genius can be a Moron. From JTA:

JERUSALEM (JTA) – British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking clarified Wednesday that he decided to cancel a planned visit to Israel to adhere to an academic boycott of the Jewish state.

Earlier on Wednesday, University of Cambridge spokesman Tim Holt said Hawking's cancellation of the trip planned for June, to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow 2013, was due to health reasons, not a boycott. The statement came after the U.K. Guardian reported that the reason for the cancellation was a boycott.
But the university spokesman corrected himself late Wednesday, saying Hawking's office had contacted him to make clear that the decision was due to the boycott.
“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott," Holt said an e-mail sent to the Canadian Jewish News and shared with JTA. “We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”
Israel Maimon, chairman of the Israeli conference, expressed dismay at the news.
“The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission," Maimon said in a statement issued Wednesday after the publication of the Guardian article. "Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.”
The Guardian reported Wednesday that Hawking, 71, wrote Peres a letter last week saying he would not participate in the June conference. According to the Guardian, a statement published with the scientist's approval by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine said it was Hawking's "independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there."
After his participation in the event was confirmed in early April, Hawking was "bombarded" with messages to change his mind by boycott supporters, according to the Guardian.
Hawking, head of the practical mathematics and physics department at Cambridge University, last visited Israel in 2006 at the invitation of the British Embassy. He visited Israel three times prior to that as well, according to the newspaper.
The conference, which is in its fifth year, draws world leaders and intellectuals for public discussions on a variety of subjects. Some 5,000 people from around the world, including executives of major global technology companies, academics, Nobel laureates, artists, and past and present heads of state have confirmed their attendance for this year.
Hawking, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, cannot move his body and uses a wheelchair. He communicates through a computerized voice system.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Portrait of a Hero

Charles Ramsey
A true American hero, Charles Ramsey saved 3 young women yesterday - ending a 10 year long captivity. As he was passing by the huose they were in he heard one of the young captives banging on the door of the house where they had been held captive screaming for help. He immediately went to the door and asked what was wrong.

The young captive said that she had been kidnapped 10 years ago and was being held captive in that house by three brothers.  He asked why she didn't just come out. She answered that the door was locked and she couldn't open it. He broke through from the outside and set them free. The men who held them captive have been arrested.

What is remarkable about this man is that he is a black man in a white neighborhood acting alone under suspicious circumstances. This would not have been the first time that a black man would be looked at as some sort of out of place violent criminal bent on doing harm to 'white folk'. Mr. Ramsey nevertheless put the welfare of those women ahead of his own without giving it a second thought... and ended a 10 year ordeal - not only for those women, but of their families who no doubt had little hope of ever seeing their loved ones alive again.

My hat is off to this man. A truly selfless individual who should set an example for all of us.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jewish American Heritage Month

The President of the United States - Photo credit: Reuters via Jerusalem Post
It's always nice to hear a good word about the Jewish people from the President of the United States. And we hear it once again today on May 1st, 2013 - the start of Jewish American Heritage Month. Yet another holiday for Jews to observe. Who knew? :)

It was apparently established by congress in 2006. Somehow, that one got by me.Here is what the President said as quoted in the Jerusalem Post (JTA)
"Jewish immigrants from all over the world wove new threads into our cultural fabric with rich traditions and indomitable faith, and their descendants pioneered incredible advances in science and the arts," Obama said Tuesday in declaring May as Jewish American Heritage Month. "Teachings from the Torah lit the way toward a more perfect Union, from women's rights to workers' rights to the end of segregation."
Among other Jewish American contributions, Obama listed "scientists and teachers, public servants and private citizens, wise leaders and loving parents."
He said Americans could see Jewish "accomplishments in every neighborhood, and we see them abroad in our unbreakable bond with Israel that Jewish Americans helped forge."

Yay us!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Man in the Bag

Great post by Rabbi Bechhofer today. He addresses the issue of the 'man in the bag' quite nicely. Here is his post in its entirety (sans the quoted newspaper stories.)

First, I do not believe the photo is real. Only Cyprus Air flies Motzo'ei Shabbos from Lanarca to Tel Aviv, and the interior of its A320 that flies that route looks different - see:

Moreover, the necessity for the bag would only be upon landing - and the passenger is not wearing a seatbelt. In addition, the source of the photo is never given.  Not to mention the danger of asphyxiation. Finally, no airline in its right mind would allow this to happen!

What about the story? Perhaps it is true, perhaps not, but I do not believe Rabbi Zilberstein or any other reputable rabbi would have mandated this phenomenon. If something seems that off, it probably is off.

Without getting into excruciating detail, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Hil. Aveilus 57 (370):4 takes care of all the issues with great acumen and finesse.
רכבת נוסעים הנוסעת מעיר לעיר, ובדרך נסיעתה עוברת על בית קברות, יש להקל לכהן לנסוע ברכבת לצורך פרנסתו. [ילקו"י אבלות מהדורת תשס"ד סימן נז סעיף ד, עמוד תשפא. יביע אומר חלק י' חלק יורה דעה סימן נב עמוד דש. ושם בא בארוכה בדין "אהל זרוק אי שמיה אהל"] .

The note to that halacha explains the psak. Besides the extensive reasoning, he cites several mattirim, among them:

Yerushas HaPleitah


Tzitz Eliezer

The first two teshuvos deal with airplanes, the last with a bus - but the principles are similar.

In short, even if the story is true, it did not and does not have to happen.

Toras Hashem Temimah. Eidus Hashem Ne'emanah.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Reincarnation of Pope John the 23rd?

The Pope in Shul - Photo credit: Forward
I am really liking this pope. Just about everything I am hearing about him is good. Especially his attitude towards the Jewish people and his relationship with the Jewish people of Argentina when he was the Arch Bishop there.

Not to mention his honesty about the Catholic Church's role during the Holocaust. Not having been in Europe and hearing all the accusations against - and defenses of it, he just doesn't know what to believe. He has therefore said he willing to open up the Vatican archives to find out the truth. Which he says is imperative. From the Forward:
“Opening the archives of the shoah seems reasonable,” the future pope says. “Let them be opened and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if they could have done something [to help] and until what point they could have helped. If they made a mistake in any aspect of this we would have to say, ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this- the truth has to be the goal.”
Wow. This pope may actually be a throwback to Pope John the 23rd - perhaps the man most responsible for Vatican II which changed the 2000 year old paradigm of latent Antisemitism based on Jews as Christ killers to one of near brotherhood.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Seen at Chasidishe book store in Monsey
Here is another reason why education is important. (Sent to me by a friend.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ohio - Gotta Love 'Em

R' Mordechai Gifter, ZTL - Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe - Wickliffe, Ohio
Ya gotta love the state of Ohio. I guess they don't know about BDS. The following appeared in a JTA news briefing today:

(JTA) -- Ohio has bought $42 million in Israel Bonds, reportedly the largest single government purchase of Israel Bonds in U.S. history. 

 The Mach 1 purchase increases the total amount of Israel Bonds in the state's treasury portfolio to more than $80 million; the Cleveland Jewish News reported it as the largest such buy in U.S. history. 

“We believe this is a sound investment for the taxpayers of Ohio and consistent with our strategy of investing in safe and strong securities,” Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is Jewish, told the newspaper.
The Ohio Revised Code was amended in 1993 to allow the state to invest in foreign bonds. In 2010, the Ohio State Senate passed a bill allowing the state treasury to increase debt earnings in foreign nations from 1/2 a percent to 1 percent of the state’s portfolio, according to the newspaper.
The previous highest single purchase of Israel Bonds in U.S. history was $25 million, made by several states, Thomas Lockshin, executive director for Israel Bonds in Ohio and Kentucky, told the Cleveland Jewish News.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Thousand Words

The Kanievskys in happier times - Source Hadrei Haredim
What a great picture. Makes me almost wonder why we don't see more pictures like this. But I already know the answer to that. In the world of the extreme right - there is no such thing as too modest.

Rabbetzin Kanievsky was a great woman. My family had personal experience with her about 3 years ago. Her passing last year was a big loss for Klal Yisroel. I guess greatness runs in her family. Her father was Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

I truly believe that this picture gives lie to the ridiculous extremes of Tznius that has become increasingly fashionable in Charedi circles these days. Like a recent picture of the inside of a drawer where women's shoes were photo-shopped out of it. Do we really need to be Frummer than Rav Chaim Kanievsky? 

There seems to be little doubt about the greatness of Rav Kanievsky in those circles. Consider that not only was Rav Elyashiv his father in law, but he is the son of the Steipler Gaon.  

But Yichus is not all that he has. He has written seminal works on Hilchos Shvi'is (Derech Emunah) and many other great works on Halacha and Hashkafa. One does not have to be Charedi to recognize that he is a Gadol BaTorah. 

Many Charedim consider him to be the heir to his father-in-law as the Gadol HaDor. Even though the current fight over who that is - is between supporters of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman and Rav Shmuel Auerbach. 

I am not qualified to judge how great each one of these men are - certainly not relative to each other. But I think it is safe to say he is a peer among the greats of Torah knowledgeable people. 

That his wife actually acted like a wife to him in public instead of hiding behind a Mechitza somewhere should be a lesson to Charedim who just love to hide woman from public view. Look at this man and his wife who were photographed in close contact with each other. Learn from them. One picture is worth a thousand words.