When It Comes To Dating, Chats Beat Apps Every Time

COURTESY OF GO2FILMS DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING

 

Despite the ease with which men and women connect using phones, social media and the Internet, lasting relationships seem to be harder than ever to obtain. When it comes to Millennials, there are serious obstacles in finding compatible members of the opposite sex online or in person. The popularity of reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” seems to reinforce this challenge.

The irony is that connecting has never been easier. Yet those online connections are often unsatisfying because they take place in an artificial environment. Many of my Millennial students tell me that meeting on a dating site can be stressful, what with having to find the most flattering photos and choose the right lines to make the best impressions…

 

Millennials and Religion: A New Perspective

Young Jewish woman prays at Amuka on the MJE Israel Trip

 

Research indicates that significant numbers of Millennials reject or are at best indifferent to religion. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2015 concluded that 35% of Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) identified themselves as religious “nones” and that number appears to be growing. Young people seem to have a general resistance to organized religion or to any system that tends to be formulaic, authoritative and restrict their decisions or lifestyle. Many Millennials have adopted the prevailing attitude that religion is out of tune with the times and irrelevant to their life. Apart from those enrolled in religious institutions of higher learning, most college and graduate students and young professionals simply lack the interest to engage in any formal involvement in religious practices.

At the same time, studies also indicate that Millennials treasure meaning and purpose in much of what they do, especially in their work and in relationships, along with positive “do-good” mission trips. They are less motivated by money and professional advancement than previous generations. However, because today’s Millennials are also the products of moral relativism, religiously taught on many college campuses, their relationships are becoming more unsustainable since relationship-building requires the very values that are being called into question. In addition, they wrestle, as we all do, with the seeming randomness of life where bad things seem to happen for apparently no reason.

At the very least, faith-based communities can offer Millennials some solace and comfort by offering a warm and accepting community during difficult moments. One of my students, a woman in her mid-20’s who recently lost her father, was blown away by how comforting her faith-based community was, in this case the Jewish community. Not a religious person per se, she nonetheless found the Shiva, the week-long period of mourning Jewish tradition mandates, very comforting. During the week, her home was filled with streams of visitors offering comfort, prayers and mountains of food. She felt the embrace of the community when she most needed it and it got her to see the value in some of the other Jewish rituals and traditions.

But that’s just one advantage religion has for Millennials. Perhaps even more importantly, religion offers a moral compass, a value system so desperately needed to navigate the turbulent waters of morality and ethical issues with which we are all confronted. Ethical relativism and value neutrality make today’s world a confusing place with little definition of where the lines for right and wrong are drawn. Even more reason for organized religion to share its teachings that have been developed over millennia. The cohort of 18-29-year-olds are frequently unmoored by the shifts in what is and isn’t acceptable with regards to ethics in the workplace and morality in social relationships. It’s time for the clergy to step up, reach out and help young people find guidelines that will resonate and provide a haven. Religious leaders have become convinced that young people simply don’t care about what we have to say and that is just not the case. Young people arelooking for guidance. We just must make a compelling case for how a core teaching of our faith can make a difference.

One example where religion can provide guidance is by helping to provide values and guidelines for healthy relationships. One Millennial student of mine (let’s call him Josh) had been dating a young woman and was about to move in with her. He was conflicted by the pressure to get married on one hand and a few red flags signaling caution, on the other. Seeking some breathing room to reflect, Josh decided to join us on our weeklong trip to Israel which also included classes on religious values and ethics. In his own words Josh said, “While dating, particularly in a secular context, I didn’t apply any kind of religious values. Upon reflection, I realized those values could help guide me in making my decision. The classes and readings made me acutely aware of the value of family and among other things, the woman I was dating was disrespectful to my parents, a core Jewish value.”

Josh continued, “Were it not for these values, I would have walked into a dead-end marriage.”

The spiritual void many Millennials feel in their lives has also been filled to some degree with technology. Not successfully of course. No one really believes an electronic device can speak to the deeper existential part of who are but we have done a pretty good job at distracting ourselves with technology. Like anything else though “it comes out in the wash”. There will be those moments when Millennials feel so unfulfilled, so empty because they’ve spent hours online, ‘connecting’ with others, yet feeling so disconnected.

I have felt that way often after “spending time” with my kids while we’re all on our devices. The time goes by and there’s this emptiness, like we were with each other but we weren’t. This void can be filled by religions that offer a “time-out” or some version of a Sabbath. In Jewish tradition, as my kids know, Friday night through Saturday we go into a “no phone zone” for 24 hours, detoxing from the rest of the week. It is a day of being “unplugged”. The freedom from technology allows us to hit “pause” so we can seek the higher purpose of our lives that eludes us during the week. That “pause” may include many different activities, ranging from study and prayer to communal rituals, socializing and even board games which force us to connect in a way we usually do not all week. Unplugging is one of the great ways religion can help Millennials truly feel more connected, both to each other and to something that approaches the spiritual.

Another major benefit religion can offer Millennials is to show how greater levels of happiness can be achieved by being more aware of the blessings we already have. We constantly yearn for what we don’t have while we overlook the blessings we do possess: health, a roof over our head, family, the company of good friends. Judaism and other faith systems compel us to acknowledge those gifts through the simple recitation of a blessing. Whether the blessing is made over food or the discharge of bodily waste (there is in fact such a blessing in Judaism), uttering a few words helps focus us on what we do have and that makes us into more grateful people. Studies show the more grateful the person, the happier and more content he or she is.

These are but a few of the advantages religion can offer Millennials and really all of us. We all yearn for something deeper which will give us greater meaning and purpose. The click of the keyboard and the tap of a phone app may give us access to the world but only religion can provide a portal to the sublime.

A Holiday In Memoriam – To Celebrate or To Mourn?

PUBLISHED ON THE HUFFINGTON POST

By Rabbi Mark Wildes, with contributions by Michelle Soffen
Dedicated to the memory of slain student Second Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Black Civil War Union Soldiers from the “4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment”

 

It’s 8:00pm. The world around comes to a sudden halt. Cars break mid highway as phones are put away and conversations paused. A nation unites in complete stillness, and for an entire minute, no sound can be heard for miles but the cry of a siren.

This soul penetrating ring is the official start of Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day in Israel; the national day of remembrance set aside for honoring fallen heroes who died in active duty defending the Jewish homeland, and for the thousands of civilian victims of terror. Throughout the next 24 hours, graves are visited, ceremonies held, and tears shed. By law, all places of entertainment are closed and tv stations mark the solemnity of the day. One channel screens the entire list of names of all those being remembered.

23,544 – The number of Israeli soldiers remembered this past May 1.

3,117 – The number of victims of terror in Israel also remembered this past May 1.

21 Million – the number of cases of beer purchased to wash down the 818 hot dogsconsumed per second during “peak hot dog season”, kicked off on Memorial Day in the United States just a few weeks later. This is in memory of the 1.3 Million members of the armed services who lost their lives in conflict, and the 42+ Million veterans who have served the United States during war time.

Barbecues, beer, beef, 2 for 1 sales, marathons, auto racing, and travel – this is what Memorial Day looks like for the average American. It is the unofficial start of the summer season, a day for busting out the white pants, and enjoying a day off work.

An Israeli friend of mine visiting the U.S. experienced Memorial Day here for the first time last year. “I was at first horrified,” she explained to me. “I was expecting something similar to what we do in Israel. I couldn’t understand how you are all so happy – drinking, going to the beach, having barbecues, on the day you are remembering the people who sacrificed their lives for you. But then an American friend explained to me that it is not meant to be a solemn day here – that instead of mourning you choose to celebrate the many freedoms the U.S. cherishes; the freedoms that the army fights to protect.”

She paused to think, then continued. “It makes sense; you should of course celebrate your wonderful country – but it could never be this way for us on Memorial Day in Israel. I don’t want you to think I am judging you; for us, it is just different. There is not a single person who is not directly affected by the conflicts we face. We all know someone personally in active duty, and we all know someone either in our immediate circles or extended circles who has died because of the conflict. I think until we have security and peace with our neighbors, it will continue to be an extremely sad day for us.”

My friend’s remarks got me thinking. How did the U.S. Memorial Day become what it is? How did it start? And have we come so far as a country to merit a day of pure celebration marked with little to no solemnity for the average American?

CONTINUE READING…

Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut Event 2017: Remarks by Rabbi Mark Wildes

Rabbi Mark Wildes delivers opening remarks at Yom Hazikaron Memorial Service

 

Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut Event 2017: Remarks by Rabbi Mark Wildes
May 1, 2017 | The Jewish Center

 

Thank you all for joining us this evening.

For those of you I haven’t had the honor of meeting, my name is Rabbi Mark Wildes of MJE and this year we are proud to combine MJE’s Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzamut event with The Jewish Center.

I want to thank my friends Rabbi Yossi Levine and Rabbi Dovid Zirkind of The JC for working so closely together with us and to especially thank Rabbi Zirkind for his hard work and vision on tonight’s program. This event, now in its 5th year has been organized by the JCC in their effort to bring together all young professionals from the upper West side including many of the synagogues co-hosting tonight: Kehillat Reim Ahuvim, Ramat Orah, WSIS, Ohav Zedek. Thank you to Rabbi Moshe Grussgot, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Daniel Sherman of the WSIS and the lay committee that have built this event over the past few years. This would not be possible without the generous support of The JCC and UJA and its UWS Celebrates Israel Initiative. Please see your brochures to learn about all the other events happening this week. Special thanks to Talia Kaplan, Matt Schwartz and the strong committee of young professionals for all the planning to make tonight a meaningful evening. Thank you to Atara Neuer from the MJE staff for proposing we join together tonight and for working on all the planning to make tonight possible. I also wish to recognize the MJE Rabbi’s here tonight: Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, Rabbi Ezra Cohen and Rabbi Joshua Klein, Educational Director Ruthie Brafman and our Executive Director Doodie Miller.

 Tonight Yom Hazikaron & Yom Haatzmaut is truly an appropriate time for the ENTIRE community to be together and as such we will recite the Tefilot –  the special prayers in such a way as to accommodate the many beginners and veterans so we can all commemorate and celebrate together on this special evening.

 Last weekend Israel received three additional F-35 fighter jets from the United States. Last June when Israel acquired the first two F-35’s the following question was posed to Rav Yehuda Aviner,  the head rabbi of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim, a brilliant halachick authority:“With Hashem’s kindnesses, the State of Israel received F-35 Stealth Fighter Jets. Should the blessing of Shehechiyan, the blessing of renewal be recited, or is it not recited because the fighter plane is a weapon of war? And Rabbi, if it should be recited, who should say the blessing?”

 In 2002,  a young man who was about to participate in his IDF swearing in ceremony, asked a similar question: At the height of the ceremony, after the soldiers have taken the oath of allegiance, the highest ranking officer calls the soldiers up, one at a time and gives each soldier two gifts: a gun and Tanach (Hebrew Bible) . The gun so that they can defend the country, a Tanach so that they can know WHY they’re defending it.

 “When I receive my gun, asked the soldier, should I make the bracha of Shehechiyanu?”

Like the F-35 it’s a good question because the blessing of  שהחיינו is generally said when you receive or experience something new and happy – but not for a sad event. A gun is carried because we have enemies who SADLY want to destroy us. Yet Rav Aviner answered that a Shehechyinau should be said when a soldier receives his gun. He should say the words: “Thank you God for allowing me to live and reach this time” That we have guns and that we have an army should not elicit sadness. אדרבה –he says: Just the opposite; it should elicit joy, that we have merited to become a free nation in our homeland, to have a Jewish government an army to defend ourselves.

 If you heard from the survivor we interviewed last week on Yom Hashoah, Dr. Moshe Avital – imagine what it would have meant to have a gun in the camps. What would he have done to for a country to flee to? To be part of an army?

 We heard how after surviving 6 concentration camps, Dr. Avital snuck into Palestine and was elated to fight in the Haganah; to be able to finally defend himself and his people.

 A Jewish soldier makes a Shehechiyanu on his gun and Rav Aviner ruled that the head of the IAF, the Israeli Air Force, should make a hatov vhamativ, the blessing that God is good and does good, over the F-35 Fighter plane. Why? Because even though these are weapons, the joy and pride in being able to defend ourselves demands these blessings

 But these blessings are not just about pride and joy; it goes deeper.

 One of the great religious Zionist thinkers Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook wrote: “Fighting to protect our homeland is a mitzvah.  It is a mitzvah binding on all Klal Yisrael. Therefore, everything connected with it, every gun and every weapon that is our response to our enemies, everything connected with establishing and protecting Jewish sovereignty, ‘Hakol Hu Kodesh’  – It is all holy.”

The chayalim/soldiers we remember tonight, They are all Kodesh and what they use to defend the Jewish people, even what they wear takes on a level of holiness. Rav Aharon Lichtinstein tz’l was once asked by a student, a soldier in Israel, whether he had to change out of his dirty military clothes before davening Mincha. Rav Aharon posed the question to his teacher Rabbi Soloveitchick who answered, “No –he doesn’t have to change his clothing because his uniform is like the ‘bigdei Kehuna’ – like the Priestly garments.”

Another great Rabbi, Reb Shlomo Zlaman Arbach was approached by one of his students who informed him that he was leaving Jerusalem to go to Tzfat to pray at the graves of the great rabbis buried there. Rav Aurbach said to him, “You don’t have to go to Tzfat to pray at the graves of the richeous, just go down the block to Har Herzl, to Israel’s national cemetery, that’s also where the tzadikkim are buried.”

Those who gave their lives for Israel, who defend our people and our land, THEY are holy people. Their uniforms are like that of the Cohanim and their weapons demand a blessing. They put everything on the line for us, their people, and so we owe them – our holy soldiers – everything. Therefore before we begin to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut/ Israel’s 69th Birthday, we remember the soldiers who gave their lives in all of Israel’s wars and we on the Upper West Side take note of the many lone soldiers, individuals from our own community who served in the IDF. Who better than they to show the honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers that they so deserve? It is my great pleasure to call upon one of those soldiers, Matthew Schwartz to now share a few words.

 

Removing the Mask: A Purim Lesson in the Wake of Israel Apartheid Week

Rudy Rochman blows the Shofar on Columbia’s Campus. Photo by @idost_nyc.

 

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Megilat Esther or the Scroll of Esther is the book of the Hebrew Bible Jews will gather to read this Saturday night to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Purim. The Megilah speaks of a beautiful woman chosen to be Queen of the ancient Persian Empire who must hide her Jewish identity. Her very name, Esther or “hidden”, bespeaks the double life she is forced to lead. Esther grows accustomed to hiding her Jewish identity in the royal palace, but when the anti-Semitic Prime Minister is about to carry out his genocidal plot to annihilate the Jews of Persia, she risks her life and reveals her true identity to the King. This was no easy task for Esther, but because of this revelation, her strategic planning and courage to share who she truly was, the Jewish people were ultimately liberated.

The 13th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week is taking place all around the world this month. In hundreds of cities, through lectures, rallies, and demonstrations featuring “apartheid walls”, IAW participants attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel. According to their website, “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Last week was Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) at my alma mater, Columbia University. Anti-Israel sentiment at Columbia definitely existed when I was a graduate student in the early 90’s, but it has grown increasingly worse over the years and Israel Apartheid Week, which has spread to 225 cities as of 2016, plays a huge part. Many Jewish students at Columbia and other campuses feel intimidated or lack the knowledge and confidence to stand up to the BDS and SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) activists, and as a result the slander and lies of their campaigns often go unchallenged.

This year was different.

A student group at Columbia called Students Supporting Israel (SSI), under the leadership of Jewish Israeli student Rudy Rochman, launched “Hebrew Liberation Week”. I went with a few members of the MJE Staff and some of my students to show my support and see what all the buzz was about. What I found was both moving as well as effective Israel advocacy, setting a wonderful example for students all over the country.

CONTINUE READING ON TIMES OF ISRAEL…

Chanukah and the United Nations

David Silverman / Getty

 

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The irony of a UN resolution condemning the Jewish settlements during the holiday of Chanukah is pretty incredible. Chanukah celebrates the establishment of Jewish political sovereignty over the land of Israel, including the very areas the United Nations now claims no longer belong to Israel! Besides the spiritual victory of Jews refusing to abandon their faith in favor of Greek Hellenism, Chanukah celebrates the successful Maccabean revolt against the Greek Seleucid Empire, resulting in more than 200 years of Jewish political sovereignty over the land of Israel. That Jewish sovereignty lasted for two centuries until the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 CE and exiled our people.

Although Jews always continued to live in Israel since the Roman exile, it wasn’t until the creation of the modern state in 1948 that political sovereignty and independence was returned to the Jewish people. As we know, this happened through a majority vote taken by the General Assembly of the United Nations. 19 years later in 1967 when Egypt and Syria were about to simultaneously attack Israel in an unprovoked war and Israel was forced to strike preemptively, she not only defended herself against annihilation, but in six days reunited Jerusalem, captured the Sinai Dessert, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. That defensive war gave Israel the legitimate right to govern and once again exercise political sovereignty over those lands.

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David Friedman: An Ambassador with Skin in the Game

 

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What ultimately makes for a good Ambassador? A good Ambassador is someone who possesses a deep knowledge and concern for the history, politics and future of both the country he or she represents and the one to which he or she serves as liaison. David Friedman, whom I have had the honor of knowing for the last several years, fits the bill. He is a proud and patriotic American, never taking for granted the opportunities this country has given him and his family. He is also extraordinarily knowledgeable, in a real and practical way about Israel, and for his entire adult life has been personally invested in the American-Israel relationship. Friedman travels to Israel several times a year, owns a home there, supports many wonderful Israeli charities and has had a number of his own children studying abroad in Israeli schools. He’s got what you call “skin in the game”, unlike most career diplomats who certainly have more experience in international affairs, but are often less knowledgeable and invested in the host country.  American interests in Israel can be better represented by someone who speaks the language, understands the culture and more importantly has a personal stake in the outcome of the relationship between the two countries.

CONTINUE READ ON TIMES OF ISRAEL…

The Power of the Apology

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We’ve all experienced that horrible moment. The moment we realize something we’ve said or done has truly hurt another person. Our first response is to justify. We’re hard wired with defense mechanisms to ensure we maintain enough self-esteem to live with ourselves and carry on. Coupled with our aversion to confrontation, we ignore the situation praying the memory of our wrongdoing will simply fade with time. Sometimes it does but often it doesn’t, and not just in the mind of the victim. The wrongdoer also experiences a lingering sense of shame, guilt and a diminished sense of self.

Back in High School, being the drummer for a Rock, Blues and Klezmer band provided me with more self-esteem than anything else. However at a Chanukah concert before hundreds of my peers, I began to stumble as the band started to play Led Zeppelin’s famous “Stairway to Heaven”. I just needed a moment to remember the beat but before I could do anything, some other drummer from the audience took over and played the song as I watched in total humiliation. I was crushed. Angry and hurt, I carefully avoided the other drummer for weeks. It was a terrible feeling, and I could tell he felt awkward as well.

Jewish tradition for over 2000 years has recommended and mandated the most simple and straightforward way to resolve conflicts: Take responsibility and say “I’m sorry”. Recent advances in science and mental health fields demonstrate that there’s more to this ancient tradition than meets the eye.

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Family Values: My Mother and John Lennon

Lennon family

Rabbi Mark Wildes’ opening remarks at the 2016 MJE Annual Ruth B. Wildes Memorial Event/ “JOHN LENNON VS THE USA” by Leon Wildes Book Launch | September 7, 2016 @ Cardozo School of Law

Thank you all for coming tonight.

Tonight is a very exciting evening for our family because it marks two important events. First is the launch of my father’s long awaited book on his extraordinary representation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Tonight is also the 21st Annual Memorial event, which we hold each year in memory of our mother Ruth Wildes, of blessed memory.

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to remember my mother than by having this book warming event tonight. My father dedicated his book to my mother’s memory and to John’s and it was so appropriate that he did so – because the kind of family person our mother was, turned out to be a huge part of the relationship that John and Yoko had with our parents. In the years during which my father represented the Lennons, John had taken a break from the world of music to become more of a family man, to be a better husband and to become a father. However the people John and Yoko surrounded themselves with were mainly artists and musicians, not necessary family oriented people. And then they met my parents and specifically my mother. My mother was a huge Beatles fan (unlike my father who had actually never heard of the Beatles) but what my mother took the greatest pride in – what she truly valued, was her role as a wife and as a mother. She was a giving person by nature and she loved to give to her family, something John and Yoko admired and wanted to learn from when creating their own family.

Our mother’s love for family stemmed from her traditional Jewish upbringing which places a great emphasis on marriage/family building. In fact in this coming week’s Torah portion, Parshat Shoftim, we are told of three individuals who are exempt from military service: a man has just built a home but hasn’t lived in it yet, someone who plants a vineyard but hasn’t yet eaten of its fruit and finally a man who becomes engaged to a woman but who hasn’t married her yet.

These exemptions all have the home at the center because even more important than the Synagogue or the Yeshiva (the academy), the home is the most important institution of Jewish life, and it was the most important thing to our mother. Nothing was more significant to her than her family and her children, she wanted them to have it all. When John and Yoko’s son, Sean was born, my father wanted to buy something special for their  new “beautiful boy” and arranged with another client (also a huge Beatles fan) to have a small child’s chair carved from wood with Sean’s name on it. When my mother saw the chair she said to my father: “that’s very nice, but what about your own children? Shouldn’t they their own chairs too?” So my father had chairs made up with our names on them that each of us still have in our respective homes today.

This was the kind of Jewish mother she was and the kind of home she built. But it was a home that nurtured – not only our family – but the community at large. Virtually every Shabbat my mother hosted newcomers at her ever expanding Shabbat table. She wasn’t an immigration lawyer like my father but she did a pretty good job of welcoming in the stranger and any newcomers from the outside and making them feel like part of the family. It was for this reason we established MJE in her memory: to perpetuate the way she reached out to those outside of our home. MJE this year is celebrating its 18th year in existence. MJE for the last 18 years, through our talented staff has brought in tens of thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters into our Shabbat Dinners, Weeknight Classes, Retreats and Trips to Israel. All following our mothers’ example of reaching out and making everyone feel at home in our community.

I thank you all for coming tonight, for showing such honor to our mother, z”l and to paying tribute to my father whose life legacy in the field of Immigration Law is truly worth hearing about and learning from.

Thank you and good evening.

CHECK OUT PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT

Seeing is Believing

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israel-trip-blog

Sitting on the plane returning from MJE’s annual trip to Israel, I ask myself the same question every year: What is it?

What is it that makes such an enormous impact on those who travel to Israel? What is it about this place, that in just a week, can radically transform a person’s perspective on Judaism?

There are many answers to this question but one is evidence. Israel provides evidence of the authenticity and realness of Judaism.

To many young Jews growing up in America, Judaism is presented as something almost like a fairy tale. We are told stories of a great and glorious history, but it’s a relic of the past that may or may not be true, and, for most, has almost no relevance to everyday life in America.

Much of this changes when you visit Israel because in Israel you don’t simply hear about Judaism, you experience it yourself. In Israel you don’t just study or read about Jewish history, you see it. And seeing is believing. CONTINUE READING ON TIMES OF ISRAEL…