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

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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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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

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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…

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

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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 

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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.

 

The Slavery No One Talks About at the Seder

Authored by Rabbi Mark Wildes, with contributions by Jessica Hendricks Yee of The Brave Collection and Michelle Soffen of MJE

 
Modern Day Slavery. When you hear these words, what comes to mind? Perhaps the phenomenon of being tethered to technology, the need to check one’s email all hours of the day, slaves to our jobs, to our mortgages, credit card bills, school loans, to our relentless self-doubt, or bad habits. This is what I have always explained as Modern Day Slavery, until I met entrepreneur Jessica Hendricks Yee, CEO of The Brave Collection.

The force behind history and our lives: A Passover message

Years ago I heard the following story from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel. It will require a bit of your imagination:

An Olympia airline plane lands in Athens, Greece. An old man steps off the plane. He is none other than Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, now a very old man, having been away from his home for hundreds of years. He steps off the plane and a young Greek porter at the terminal runs up to him to offer some help. “May I take your bag?” asks the porter. The old Socrates looks at the young man confused. “What language are you speaking?” “Greek,” replied the young man. “But why are you not speaking our classical Greek?” asks Socrates. “This is how we speak Greek today” replied the porter, “I studied a little classic Greek in university, but no one speaks it anymore”. The old man leaves the airport to visit his homeland and to his dismay sees nothing familiar. He looks for the usual Greek idols which used to line the streets of Athens but instead he sees a Greek Orthodox Church, a completely different religion. He hears people talking but no one speaking his classic Greek language. He has nothing in common with these people, just geography.

The Secret to Jewish Survival

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For many years, my wife and I would spend time in Boyton Beach, Florida where my in-laws used to live. They lived in a lovely community populated overwhelmingly by Jewish retirees from Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey. It’s a whole world of shuffleboard, mahjong games and early bird specials and over the years I got to know a good number of the older people who live there…

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Does God Care Who Wins The Super Bowl?

You’re glued to the screen, surrounded by spicy hot wings and shouting friends. Maybe you have money on the game, maybe you don’t.

One more down. One more chance to move 10 yards.

“Please, get it. Please God, let them just get it.”

Without even realizing it, you find yourself praying. You are praying to the Almighty… for a play to go your way…for your team to win…for the other team to lose.

But does God care? Does God not have bigger, more important things to worry about? Don’t we?

These questions come up this time every year, leading up to the glorious American tradition of Super Bowl Sunday. We wonder if God is concerned with something so relatively trivial, not to mention whether it’s appropriate, even in a moment of heightened desperation, to use our precious prayers towards the outcome of a sporting event.

I can’t pretend to fully understand God’s plan. That said, Jewish tradition teaches that God is concerned and somehow involved in everything that happens in our lives. Classical Judaism subscribes to the belief that God not only created the world, but also plays an active part in it. The Jewish scholar Maimonides broke with the famed Greek philosopher Aristotle over this very idea. Aristotle believed God created the world and that the Creator relates to humanity but only in a general sense as a species – what is referred to as “General Providence”. Maimonides on the other hand, echoing the traditional Jewish view, taught that God is concerned and relates to each and every person on the individual level – what’s called “Individual Providence”.

And so every concern we have – whether it’s a big issue like a natural disaster or illness, a relationship or something important in our career, or it’s something smaller like who wins the Superbowl – is part of the way the Almighty relates to us. And so from a Jewish perspective it wouldn’t be inappropriate to pray for your team to win, if that’s something which concerns you and you truly care about. Just remember, we also believe in free will and so if your prayers are not answered favorably and your team loses, that just may mean the other team played better, or possibly that you and your team’s other fans were collectively lacking in merit, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit into the bigger picture that we simply can not fully perceive.

What’s important to remember is that God cares about people and that our relationship with Him (as well as the sum of our merits) does somehow play a part in the way everything unfolds, maybe even the outcome of the Super Bowl.

Also remember: praying your team gets a touchdown is still a conversation with God. Judaism teaches we are all meant to have a personal relationship with our Creator which we can’t do without conversing. So, if you want to talk sports with God – go for it! What matters most is that you’re talking at all. Just make sure the conversation doesn’t end when the game is over. There’s so much more to talk about.