Chanukah and the United Nations

David Silverman / Getty



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.


David Friedman: An Ambassador with Skin in the Game



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.


The Power of the Apology


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.


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.


Seeing is Believing



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…

Nice, France – When We Don’t Have All The Answers


Members of the Australian French community remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. REUTERS/David Gray


I just got off the phone with my French cousin Michael Hanneux. Michael grew up near Strasbourg and is today one of many young Jewish professionals living and working in Paris. He sounded so down and almost despondent about the terrible attack in Nice. He said the attack struck home even more since it took place on Bastille Day, the French version of our July 4th. Michael asked me where I thought it was safe to be in the world today and I had no answer, just sympathy. He was looking for deeper answers but I told him that in accordance with this week’s Torah portion, we simply don’t have the answers to all of life’s difficult questions…



Choices When The Walls Come Down – Special to The Jewish Week


Dr. Barry Schwartz, a psychologist, delivered a Ted Talk on what he called the “explosion of choices” we now have: In his local supermarket there are seemingly endless varieties of cookies, soups, cereals and toothpastes. When it comes to health care, patients are offered “options” from which they could choose. Technology allows us to work every minute from anywhere, so when we’re not “at work” it’s our choice whether we should be.

As Jews living in America we are also afforded many choices, but it wasn’t always that way. In the Middle Ages, Jews in Christian Europe were excluded from most professions and by the 13th-century money lending was almost the only legal means for a Jew to earn a living. Forced to live behind ghetto walls, Jews were subject to pogroms. This life of “no-choices” prevailed until the Emancipation in the late 18th century when for the first time Jews were finally allowed to live amongst their gentile neighbors, permitted to enter the guilds and crafts from which they had been excluded. They started having choices 


The Miracle of Israel

Probably the most often asked question I receive in my work is: “Rabbi: Where are the miracles? The Bible is filled with miracles, Why doesn’t God perform them anymore? If God performed a miracle, Rabbi, then I’d believe and maybe I’d even follow in His ways.”

My answer is always the same: God does perform miracles, we just need to be able to see them. They may not be as obvious as the splitting of the Red Sea, but they’re still miracles…and if there was any event in contemporary times where God showed His hand in history, it was the creation of the State of Israel, celebrated just last week on Yom Ha’atzmaut.


Allies in Humanity: What We Can learn from the U.S.-Israel Relationship

Featured on: TIMES OF ISRAEL


MK Michael Oren Speaks at MJEWATCH: Michael Oren gives a fascinating and entertaining lecture about the history and current status of the U.S./ Israel relationship.

For more on the evening, check out this The Times of Israel blog post by Rabbi Mark Wildes on what we can learn from Michael Oren and the U.S./ Israel Relationship:

Posted by Manhattan Jewish Experience on Sunday, November 22, 2015

“As a historian, I am always humbled by our general inability to predict which moments in time will or will not become turning points,” said Ambassador Michael Oren last Saturday evening, as he addressed a crowd of 500 people at the annual lecture Manhattan Jewish Experience hosts in memory of my mother, Ruth B. Wildes of blessed memory. (See video above). “We can never truly know how any event or phenomenon will shape history, but we know one thing for certain right now. As of the horrendous attacks last night in Paris, the world will never be the same.”
His words hit me deeply. READ FULL ARTICLE

We Can All Come Out Ahead

Yom Kippur II 2015/5776

Have you ever been caught on the highway and traffic slows down to a standstill? You assume you are behind an accident, and traffic is moving at a snail’s pace. When you finally pass the cause of the delay, you find out that in fact the accident was not on your road but happened in the lanes going the opposite direction, and that the delay was because of rubbernecking.

Rubbernecking is a very strange phenomenon. It gets me really upset because really the slowdown does not have to happen. So why is there rubbernecking, why do people slow down to look at an accident in the opposite direction? I call this the ‘Lot’s wife synadrome.’ When Sodom was being destroyed Lot and his family were told not to look back, and when Lot’s wife did, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Why is it bad to look back? When I asked people why they looked back, some said that they looked to make sure no one was hurt, or to know to pray if someone was hurt. It might also be a morbid fascination, for the same reason that horror movies are popular, or that they show so much tragedy on the evening news. That is a topic that deserves its own treatment, however the third reason is the one i would like to focus on. I think one of the reasons people look at accidents is because deep inside they feel reassured that the accident happened to someone else and not to them. The underlying world outlook is that there is a kind of zero-sum balance in the world that a certain number of accidents happen, and so if it happened to someone else that means there is less chance it will happen to them.

This outlook is what you can call a ‘win/lose’ world outlook. This term was coined by Steven Covey in the late 90’s, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The premise of the 4th Habit, which is to think win/win, is that most people live with the belief that there are a limited number of pieces in the pie, and if someone else gets more, that means I get less. This outlook is reinforced in so many aspects of our society, from competitiveness in school to SAT scores to rankings of employees according to their productivity in the workplace. The bell curve reinforces this outlook, and the rationale behind it is if there is direct competition between people it will spur them on to greater achievement. However there is a down side which pits one person against another.

Someone told me about his experience in law school which illustrated this aspect of our society. it was before finals time and he had missed a number of the lectures over the semester. He asked one of the person in his study group for her notes from those lectures. She delayed giving him the notes, once she forgot them, then she could not find them. Finally she said to him, to tell you honestly I am not comfortable giving you my notes because I have to look out for myself and make sure I place best in the class and so I cannot help you in your work.

This win/lose outlook permeates so many aspects of our society, and in doing so it trickles down to become part of our personalities. And instead of trying to help others, many people feel that they cannot help anyone else and just have to ‘look out for numero uno’ because ‘it’s a tough world out there.’ It also tends to exacerbate jealousy because we are made to feel that I should have what someone else has. It is the reason why people are often critical of others and put them down, we have whole cultural genres called sit coms and reality tv which pit people against each other and turn petty ill will into an art and into a joke.

This outlook on life is caustic for society, and leads to small minded-ness, meaness of spirit and selfishness. Part of our work on Yom Kippur is not just to look at our past actions and to try to correct them, it is to look at our attitudes and personality traits and try to adjust them. Steven Covey advocates what he calls a win/win outlook on life, that for me to win it does not mean that someone else has to lose, and that I do not have to bring someone down to come out ahead. This is what he calls the abundance mentality, that there is enough to go around for everyone.

This outlook is the foundation of Torah values, and was formulated in the Torah 3300 years ago, placed as the most important value a person can have by Rabbi Akiva 2000 years ago and articulated by Namanides 1000 years ago. The Torah tells us to ‘Love our neighbor as ourselves,’ and Rabbi Akiva tells us in the Talmud that this is the underlying principle of the whole Torah. Now what does this mean, to love another person ‘as ourselves’? If you really loved another person as yourself, then if they had something you did not have, you would give it to them. In the end you would wind up giving away almost all you have because there is always someone else who does not have it. Since Judaism does not have vows of poverty where you give away all your belongings, as some religions do, this must not be the proper way to understand it. Nahamanides instead says that you should wish unto others what you would wish for yourself. The result is that if someone has prosperity, good fortune, gets a promotion, finds a great fiancé or wins the lottery, you are as overjoyed for them as if it had happened to you. This is abundance mentality. I can be happy for another person’s success, without feeling that it will detract from my own and even if I do not have what they do. How do we achieve this? Ultimately if we view our blessings coming from the Almighty, then we feel that we are all given what we are supposed to have in life from the Almighty, and we are accepting of what we have. In the Rabbi business, I am happy to report that we share stories, speeches, ideas for talks and generally have a very supportive attitude towards each others’ success. I guess this is good news, because if the Rabbis at not living by win/win then we are in really big trouble.

There is a whole business philosophy predicated on finding the partnerships that are win/win to build upon. The world of economics does not have to be a zero-sum gain. Now granted, there are some situations where it is difficult to see the win/win. If there are four employees in your group, and there is only one spot open for promotion, then if someone else gets it that means I will not get it. So how do we deal with such situations? Covey does concede that there are some situations where there is no avoiding win/lose.

However in the spiritual realm, win/lose where I accept that someone else will get something that I want and that I will not get it, or I will give them what I have, can be a win/win as well. In personal relationships people who have what we call ‘emotional intelligence’ realize that the more I give to another person, or the more I let them have something that I want, I am not losing out but in fact I am gaining.

The great ethical teachers noted a phenomenon in interpersonal relationships that seems counter-intuitive to some. They noted that the more you give to someone, the more you love them. If I would ask you who loves whom more, do parents love children more, or do children love parents more, I think you would answer that parents love children more, yet it is parents who usually give much more to children that children give to parents. So the more we give to someone, the more we love them. R Eliya Dessler explains this by noting that when you give to someone you ‘put more of yourself into them’ so to speak, and so you feel they are an extension of you. Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm says that when you give to another you feel good about the giving, so you love that person because they bring out the best in you. So the win/win is that you come out feeling good about the giving, and in the end you are getting more then you give.

On Monday I came across an amazing personal piece in the Huffington Post. The writer, Richard Paul Evans, NY Times bestselling author, describes the terrible state his marriage was in. He and his wife were always arguing, and they were both dug into their positions, not wanting to budge. Each chore to be done in the home was evaluated by the other and bargained over in terms of who would have to do it. Their relationships was win/lose, and every day was a battle to make sure each of them won more than they lost, or that they did not wind up having to do more than the other. Their kids later told them that their dread of their parents getting divorced was overcome by the feeling that maybe they should get divorced because of how much fighting was going on.

Things finally hit rock bottom and when the author was a way on a business trip he called out to G-d and begged for something to change. Then he realized that the only responsibility he could take was for his own change, and he resolved to so. When he came home from the trip, his wife hardly acknowledged his presence. He realized how alienated he was from the woman he was sleeping inches away from. The next morning he woke up and he said to her ‘what can I do for you to make your day better.’ She looked at him incredulously, and thought that this was a bad joke. But she went with it, and said ‘you can clean the kitchen.’ That morning he cleaned the kitchen. The next morning he woke up and said ‘what can I do to make your day better?’ She laughed at him again, and said ‘clean the garage.’ Maybe she said it just to spite, but even though he had a busy day he spent two hours cleaning the garage. On the third day, she saw he was serious and said that he should not do anything for her. He said ‘I have to, I made a vow to myself to do this.’ ‘Why?’ she asked? ‘Because I love you and care for you,’ he said. She then broke down and said that the problem was her, and that she was stuck in her unhappiness.

Eventually after a month of doing this his love for her grew, and she truly saw how much he loved her. Decades later he is grateful for the insight and realization he had after crying out to G-d. Today on Yom Kippur, when we call out to the Almighty, let’s think about how we can envision our lives and our relationships with other as a win/win, wish for the success of others, and appreciate the spiritual pleasure that comes from giving in and giving to others. Oh, and next time you pass an accident, speed up, don’t look and just offer up a prayer for the safety of and wellbeing of everyone involved.