Authored by Rabbi Mark Wildes, with contributions by Jessica Hendricks Yee of The Brave Collection and Michelle Soffen of MJE
When it comes to arguments or debates I’m usually pretty good at seeing the “other side”. My years spent studying Talmud and going to law school have taught me that life is complex and there’s always another perspective. But when it comes to the deal the US Administration has brokered with Iran, I just don’t get it.
Many that support the deal are labeling the opposition as warmongers. They are painting a picture that turning down this deal is synonymous with a step towards war with Iran. This is simply not true. The alternative is allowing time for sanctions to create a situation where the Iranian economy is so bad that either the government becomes so desperate they have no choice but to agree to stop their nuclear ambitions or their own people force them to do so in order to improve the economy. In short: the alternative is NOT WAR — it’s staying strong and insisting on a better deal.
Peace is the ultimate goal, let’s not forget. As Jews we pray for peace every day. In the Grace after Meals (benching), we conclude the prayer with the well known phrase :
“Hashem will give might to His people; Hashem will bless His people with peace.”
What does “might” have to do with peace? Can true peace be imposed by might?
President Obama’s general strategy of reconciliation and negotiation, while appropriate and even admirable for some countries, is not appropriate for every situation. This is the Middle East, not Sweden or some other peace loving country. In this playground, there are a whole different set of rules. Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to ever make peace with Israel did so because they became convinced that Israel could not be defeated militarily, and because they weren’t run by religious extremists. Iran is not intimidated by Israel’s military prowess and it’s a country run by religious fanatics. However, it has also shown that it responds to strength. Interestingly, the ONLY time in history Iran actually suspended its nuclear program was in 2003, when the U.S. was already in Afghanistan and then went into Iraq.
No, peace can not be forced by might, but it can be earned. Peace is not a deal, it is a process, and sometimes the right next step is standing strong and holding out for the right kind of peace, even when it’s scary.
For these reasons and more I strongly encourage you and all peace-loving people, Jew and non-Jew alike, to take action. Here is what you can do:
Join me and MJE in attending Wednesday’s Stop Iran Rally in Times Square
Take a moment out of your day to call or email your member of Congress
Educate yourself on the issue by reading suggested articles below
Attend the MJE dinner this Friday Night (July 24) where we will be hearing from Joel Mowbray, an expert on counterterrorism, about the ins and outs of the Iran Nuclear Deal. REGISTER HERE
Also attend our Tisha B’av program, this Saturday night (July 25), which will be devoted to learning more about Anti-Semitism and the Iranian threat. REGISTER HERE
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BACKGROUND INFO/ INTERESTING PERSPECTIVES
Shopping: The suparmarket at which he shops, offers 285 varieties of cookies, 75 brands of iced tea, 230 types of soups, 174 types of salad dressings and 40 different brands of toothpaste from which to choose.
Healthcare: It used to be that when you got sick you went to the doctor who told you what was wrong and what medicine to take. Today doctors are trained to give you “options”. Option A or option B. Option A has certain benefits and certain risks. Option B has these benefits and these risks. “Doc; which one should I choose?”. “You need to choose yourself, you’re the patient”.
Family Life: Back when most people tried to get married and have kids when the first opportunity presented itself, the only choice one had to make was: with whom? Today it’s not just whom do I want to marry but when? Before my career gets off the ground or after? What if I choose to push that decision off till after my career is doing OK but then I fall in love? More choices.
Work: Technology has enabled us to work every minute of every day from anywhere in the world so now we have to keep deciding whether or not we should be working at any given moment! We could be with a friend, spouse or significant other and the cell phone buzzes. Even if we choose not to pick it up we still have to decide whether to take the call or answer that email.
In the TEDxStanford talk, “Sometimes it’s good to give up the driver’s seat,” marketing professor Baba Shiv reveals that discomfort over making choices extends into medical decisions. Five years ago, Shiv’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Researchers Sheena Iyengar and Emir Kamenicar looked at the retirement savings choices made by half a million employees through the Vanguard Group. Analyzing the data, they found that for every 10 additional funds offered to an employee, the chances that an employee would invest in none of the above increased by 2.87%. Dr. Schwartz in his talk explains: “With 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose that you’ll just put it off until tomorrow. And then tomorrow, and then tomorrow,” he says. “By not participating, they are passing up as much as $5,000 a year from the employer.”
Life and Death Decisions
It seems that when it comes to having options, less is more and this principle holds true when it comes to more serious life issues. In her Ted Talk “The Art of Choosing,” Iyengar tells of another study conducted on parents in both France and the United States faced with the horrible decision of whether to take their infant off of life support. In the United States, this decision rests on the parents. However, in France, this decision is made by medical professionals. Iyengar and her fellow researchers looked at how the parents felt a year after in both countries. They found that while American parents harbored hugely negative emotions about the experience, the French parents were more able to reframe the tragedy with statements like, “Noah was here for so little time, but he taught us so much.” Although the American parents felt strongly that they would not have wanted their doctors to make the decision, their experience with this challenging situation was in the end worse than their counterparts in France.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems
Schwartz mentions another favorite study conducted by David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University. In looking at market data, the two found that — even though the gross domestic product had doubled in the United States over a 30-year period — the proportion of the population describing themselves as “very happy” had declined by about 5 percent. When given far more choices 14 million Americans reported feeling less happy than their peers 30 years before.
The studies demonstrating this point are endless – but the message is clear. More options does not always equal more happiness. In fact, the most common results of all this “freedom” are paralysis and/or crippling doubt – a phenomenon I refer to as being “trapped in the wild.”
Considering the alternatives are stalling out, going the wrong direction over and over again, or crashing and regretting, consulting some kind of system like the Torah to help us make some of the more important choices isn’t such a radical or crazy religious thing to do. Not only does it help us make better decisions (especially if you believe Torah comes from a higher place), it takes some of the pressure off deciding so many important things for ourselves. The Torah is a tried and tested way to make choices and to pave a good path in life. It is a system that, regardless of where you believe it comes from, has maintained the Jewish Nation throughout centuries of persecution, and not only allowed us to survive, but to give back to the world in such a powerful and productive way.
And now I challenge you. Take note this week every time you are prompted to make a decision. Whether it’s something as mundane as brand of mustard to buy, or as important as what type of degree to get or to commit to someone you’ve been dating – take notice of how you make that decision. Do you consult a value system, a particular mentor, a philosophy, or are you completely on your own? Do you feel overwhelmed and stuck, or do you feel empowered and confident? Why? Just hold onto these answers, or share them below. We will continue to explore this topic in future blog posts.
In the wake of the senseless killing of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and eight others in a historic African American Church, new calls were made for the removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag.
Removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s State Capitol has been a long standing debate but the controversy was reignited by the fact that while the U.S. Federal flag was lowered in response to the recent tragedy, the Confederate battle flag remains high, literally padlocked into place.
For some, the Confederate flag represents an important part of Southern pride and for others it’s a painful reminder of the past bigotry and slavery of the South, as well as some remaining white supremacy and racial intolerance. Personally I agree with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag, and with President Obama’s statement that it belongs in a museum. I hope it will be soon laid to rest.
But you could ask — why is EVERYONE talking about this?
CNN, The New York Times, Fox News and my favorite, John Oliver, are just a few of those weighing in. So, does it really matter? Why all the fuss over a flag – after all, it’s just a bunch of stars woven into a piece of fabric, right?
Wrong. It actually does make a difference. Whatever your take on the Confederate flag, one thing is clear: symbols matter.
Symbols, in the political arena or anywhere else are powerful ways to evoke feelings and passions. One small image, like a swastika can arouse such animosity, and a Star of David such pride. Symbols – the inanimate objects and images we surround ourselves with – have the power to shape us. This is probably why the Jewish faith is replete with images and symbols, all of which are intended to educate and inspire.
Take for example the Mezuzah; the rolled up parchment encased in a beautiful cover containing the first paragraph of the Shema which Jews affix to their doorposts. It is not just a pretty ornament intended to let people know “Jews live here.” Some suggest that the Torah commands us to post the Mezuzah as a way of reminding us of our belief in God and of our very purpose and mission in this world. You may ask: if you believe in God and in Judaism’s teachings, then you believe – why the need for a reminder? Because a symbol allows, or even on some psychological level compels us, to reflect on our beliefs in a way nothing else can. A home in Jewish tradition is not merely a place to live, in the purely physical sense. It is the place or the context within which we carry out our very purpose in this world. It’s where we build our most intimate relationships, where we raise our families, where we pray and observe the Sabbath. The very sight of the Mezuzah triggers the thoughts and feelings that are vital in using our homes to carry out our Divine mission in life.
And so the Menorah, Shabbat candles and Jewish books we have in our homes are not merely relics of an ancient tradition used for perfunctory rituals – they actually have a direct effect on the way we go about our lives today and the people we become.
A symbol – be it a flag, a logo or a piece of Judaica – holds energy that impacts us day in and day out on both a conscious and subconscious level. Indeed images have surfaced of the man who took the life of Reverend Pinckney and the eight other victims, proudly holding the Confederate flag.
Symbols matter. Let’s make sure we surround ourselves with the right ones.
And yet I would be remiss to not mention the dangers of placing too large an emphasis on the role of any one component in a tragic event. The swastika did not perpetrate the Holocaust – the Nazis did. A flag did not senselessly shoot the innocent church goers – a person did. Though symbols inherently hold power, it is what we DO with them that really matters. It is how we use them and what we let them become.
So, let us not allow this flag to become a distraction from the matter at hand. Let it instead serve as a reminder of the discussions we MUST be having – about racial intolerance, gun control, and mental illness. No crime is committed in a vacuum. Let US use symbols – not the other way around.
A CALL TO ACTION… #ShabbatOfSolidarity
Speaking of symbols, take a look at this iconic image. This photo is one of many reminders that the Jewish community marched with Martin Luther King Jr., and that we will always stand with those who fight for equality and against intolerance.
This Shabbat, 13 Jewish organizations are calling for a “Shabbat of Solidarity” with the Black community as a protest against racism and discrimination. MJE will be joining the list of communities participating.
This Shabbat, I call on my students, readers and entire community to not just participate superficially, but to truly pray in solidarity. Pray for the healing of the families, friends, and communities of the victims. Pray for the voices calling out against intolerance to be heard. Pray for an end to senseless killing.
But most importantly – let’s lower “the flag” within ourselves. Let us look deep inside and recognize where we have padlocked “flags of intolerance” – intolerance for other communities, for our co-workers, our neighbors, and even our own families. Take down those flags and let us lay them to rest.
“Richard; do the right thing here — [Dramatic Pause] — lie on the stand,” says Erlich Bachman, part owner of tech startup Pied Piper, in this Sunday’s episode of the hit HBO comedy series Silicon Valley. This is Erlich’s under the circumstances “reasonable” advice to Richard just moments before he is called to the stand.
Quick context for those who don’t watch: the evil tech giant Hooli has brought an absurd intellectual property lawsuit against protagonist Richard and his brilliant but floundering startup Pied Piper, in a low blow effort to tie them up in legal fees so they can beat Pied Piper’s much better app. Hooli really has no case, until the prosecution realizes that Richard did in fact make one tiny mistake, having used a Hooli company computer during his time there to perform some small and insignificant test for his app.
“I just wanted to be different…but if this company is built on lies, then we’re really not that much different from Hooli. The law says that I lose everything – my whole company, everything that I worked for, because I used one Hooli computer to test and modify one block. Is that right? I mean, is that fair? To me, if the system says that’s fair, then I guess I’m probably not meant to be a part of it…”
This is the genuine and vulnerable speech Richard makes in one of the few sincere moments the show has ever had.
Silicon Valley writers have, of course, left this episode with a major cliffhanger: what will the judge decide? Will Richard’s menschy compulsions pay off or will they be forever stuck at the bottom of the valley? It is a comedy after all, so things will probably work themselves out — but in real life doing the right thing, even at the expense of personal gain, can make or break the kind of people we ultimately become.
One more difference: our lives are not a predictable 10 episode season scripted by other people. In real life, we write our own scripts and all we really know is that every action we take directly impacts the long-term narrative for our soul.
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