Charlottesville: Racism, Bigotry & The Torah’s Response

 

SERMON DELIVERED BY RABBI MARK WILDES | August 19, 2017

 

In this past week’s Torah reading, Parshat Re’ah, referring to the idolatrous and pagan altars existing in the land of Israel, the Torah commands the Jewish people: “You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; and their Asherim shall you burn in the fire; their carved images you shall cut down…” (Deuteronomy 12:3)

 

Why is there an obligation to destroy and dismantle the idolatrous altars established in the land of Israel? I can understand the Torah’s interest in keeping the Jewish people from being lured into Avodah Zarah, into idolatry and pagan worship, but why the need to actually destroy and dismantle the altars?

 

Those structures and statues represent an ideology and lifestyle which the Torah considers abominable. The culture of idol worship involved immoral sexual behaviors, human sacrifice and a host of other unethical practices and so even a representative structure may not remain. The Torah commands us to destroy the idolatrous structures to totally obliterate any vestige of that theology and remove any sliver of legitimacy that way of life may have held in society.

 

As I watched videos of protesters in Charlottesville calling for the destruction of Robert E. Lee’s statue, I couldn’t help but think about these verses in our parsha – to destroy that which represents something abominable.

 

That statue of the Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederacy surely represents the South’s philosophy during the Civil war which was pro-slavery, a practice which dehumanized an entire race of people in this country for decades.

This ideology must be destroyed and any of its remnants, like a statue, should not be allowed to stand. On the other hand, as some have argued, Robert E. Lee worked to end slavery after the civil war and if we condemn everyone who owned slaves where do we draw the line? George Washington owned slaves, do we take down his pictures and statues?

 

This is an important question but in my mind a distraction us from the real issue which is the hate, racism, and anti-semitism that surfaced in Charlottesville.

 

To hear bigoted, racist and anti-Jewish chants by white supremacists carrying flags with with swastikas – that is what what I want to speak about this Shabbat.

Going back to the issue of Avodah Zarah, the Torah again in this week’s parsha speaks about how it is spread in three ways: First through the “Navi Sheker” or false prophet who claims he is God’s authentic messenger and then uses his position to spread Avodah Zarah. Second, one who is induced by a family member to worship idols and third, the “Ir Hanidchat” -where the whole city has become so engulfed in idol worship it needs to be destroyed.

 

Why does the Torah describe three ways Avodah Zarah spreads, isn’t any one of them pernicious enough?

 

I believe it is to teach us the progression: Like any evil ideology, Avodah Zarah starts with a charismatic leader who uses the right time and his abilities as an articulate spokesperson to spread lies and hate. Hitler took advantage of the low state Germany felt after their defeat in World War One and used the Jew as a scapegoat for Germany’s problems.

 

The next way the Torah speaks of Avodah Zarah spreading is through family members inducing others. In the 1930’S there were kids, brown shirts, so influenced and brainwashed by the Nazi ideology that they turned in their own parents for not following the party line.

 

Finally the last step is the “Ir Hanidachat”- a city so corrupted with idol worship that it has to be destroyed.

 

The progression from one person to a family to an entire society teaches a lesson history has taught us again and again: hatred not called out, hatred not confronted will spread like a cancer until it infects and corrupts an entire society.

 

I have found Americans in general to be tolerant and open minded but there are significant pockets of narrowness and close mindedness ranging from the outright bigots to those uncomfortable with others whose ways of thinking and living are different from their own. We have a responsibility to speak out against the hatred and remind our fellow Americans that this country was founded on the principles of fairness and equality – that slavery was an aberration and a stain on this country’s history and that intolerance and bigotry have no place here.

 

As many of you know I just returned from leading the MJE annual trip to Israel and we were treated to an amazing talk by Dr. Michael Oren in the Knesset. To the left of the room in which he addressed our group was a synagogue, but as he emphasized to the right of our room was a Mosque for Muslim members of Knesset. A Mosque in Israel’s parliament. We should be very proud of how Israel tries to accommodate and even embrace the various non-Jewish minorities and ethnicities that make up the Jewish State.

 

Israel also recently delivered at least 10,000 meals to the African country of Sierra Leone, which is recovering from a deadly mudslide that devastated its capital and killed hundreds. Paul Hirschson, Israel’s envoy to Sierra Leone, said that Israel was the first country to provide tangible assistance to the country. This is not an occasional occurrence but a consistent Israeli practice.

 

America could learn a lot from Israel, especially at this time.

 

Speaking out against bigotry is our responsibility but it is only one of the Torah’s responses. The more powerful reaction is to carry out any one of the many precepts from the Torah which supports groups on the fringe. One such mitzvah is also found in this week’s Torah reading: “ (Deuteronomy 15:7) Taking care of care of the poor is a Jewish obligation. As Mahatma Ghandi famously said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” The Torah tells us no less than 36 times to “love the stranger”  and reminds us: “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We began our nationhood as slaves and so we, perhaps more than any other nation, must appreciate the plight of the oppressed. Generally speaking we do and now we must double our efforts.

 

This attitude is all hinted to us in the new Hebrew month of Elul which we begin in the coming week. One of the acronyms for which Elul stands is: “Ish leraei umatonot l’evyonim”- “a man for his fellow and gifts to the poor”. On Purim we are required to give gifts to the poor and we think how this mitzvah is not limited to Purim but a responsibility all year round, particularly appropriate during the month leading up to the High Holidays.

 

In this week’s  parsha we also have the laws of kashrut spelled out. The Torah tells us what we can eat and what we cannot. Included in the list of non-kosher birds is the Chasidah, the stork. The Talmud asks why is this bird called Chasidah (which means kindness) and answers because the stork does acts of kindness with her friends. Rashi, the great Biblical commentator explains, it’s because she, the stork shares her food with her friends.So why is the Chasidah, the stork not kosher if she behaves in a praiseworthy manner?

 

This question is compounded by what the great Maimonides says in his work the Moreh Nevumchim (Guide to Perplexed) that the birds the Torah lists as not kosher are cruel and since, as it were, we are what we eat, we don’t want to adopt their cruel tendencies, but what’s cruel about the Chasidah if it draws its very name from the Chesed that it does? 

 

Some of the commentators ask: With whom does the Chasidah does her kindness, to which they answer: “Im chavruta” – only with her friends. Any living thing which expresses kindness only with her friends is unfit for Jewish consumption

 

Our obligation extends to all people, not just our friends. We have to learn all people, irrespective of one’s background,  race or ethnicity with the greatest live and respect. All must be treated in this manner because ultimately each of us is created in God’s image: “for in the image of God is man created”.(Genesis??)

 

And so besides speaking out again bigotry and hate let us also strengthen that love and resolve to do more for others, not like us, by increasing our acts of kindness to those in our community and beyond. 

In doing so we reveal God’s presence in the world around us.

 

Shabbat Shalom

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.

 

READ FULL POST ON TIMES OF ISRAEL

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.

CONTINUE READING ON TIMES OF ISRAEL…

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

Featured on TIMES OF ISRAEL

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.

…READ FULL ARTICLE

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.

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