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When Silence is a Crime

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

Now featured on Time of Israel!

 

The Virtue and Crime of Silence

Silence can sometimes be a virtue. For example, when the Biblical figure Aaron lost his two sons in a tragic episode, Aaron’s silent acceptance of the Divine decree was seen as meritorious. Silent acceptance of a sad or challenging situation in one’s life, is seen by the Jewish Sages as a courageous act of faith, a virtue.

However, silence is not always the appropriate response to tragedy. Perhaps the greatest example of this kind of silence – where silence as a response to tragedy was not a virtue but a crime- was the Holocaust, which will be memorialized internationally this Sunday.

The world may never forget the six million Jews who perished in the concentration camps, but we must also never forget the hundreds of millions who watched and remained silent. The dozens of governments and heads of state who had the opportunity to intervene, but would not sacrifice military, political or even economic support to save innocent Jewish lives. The quota system in this country allowed only a handful of Jews into the United States and turned boatloads back to Europe where they were perished.

Ambassador Letters Sent to Blind Eyes

As part of an assignment I had when I was in graduate student in Columbia, I studied the letters sent by the U.S. Ambassador to Germany George Wilson to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Ambassador Wilson detailed the implementation of the various Nuremberg racial laws to the Jewish citizens of Germany, how Jews were made to give up their property and forced out of their businesses. He sent letter after letter only to be met with a response informing Wilson how to deal with American Jews who happened to be situated in Germany at the time, ignoring the plight of Germany Jewry.

The only thing more disturbing than the US government’s failure to act was the lack of reaction by members of our own Jewish community – Jews in position of authority and leadership who failed to act. Even one of President Roosevelt’s primary Jewish advisors stopped Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. from presenting to the President a plan to start a rescue policy for Europe’s Jews.

A Better Question Than “Where Was God?”

The New York Times once published a series of letters between two Jewish cousins corresponding during WWII – Julian Hess in the US and Max Schohl in Germany. Schohl reaches out to Hess, desperately seeking safe haven for himself and his family. Hess, sympathetic and motivated to his cousin’s cause, encountered one of the major hurdles that many Jews, and other immigrants, face today – a restrictive immigration quota system. In 1938, the same year as Kristalnacht, there were 220,000 applications for visas to the US at consulates throughout Germany. The annual quota for Germany that year was 27,370 – a little over 10% of the total requested. Of the annual quota, sadly, only 18,000 visas were ultimately issued.

After a failed attempt to nail down a teaching position in the US, Schohl was forced to try and emigrate his family to England instead – a feat requiring a substantial amount of money. With his business and assets frozen, he had nowhere to turn other than his cousins. Hess approached other family members and wealthier cousins, who to his surprise, were very reluctant to help out. Before the money could arrive safely, Britain declared war on Germany, making emigration to England now near impossible.

More failed attempts for Schohl followed, including efforts to emigrate to Chile. Schohl and his family wrote from Yugoslavia in 1941, but the next letter would not come for another four years. Schohl’s daughter penned the correspondence, due to her father’s murder two years prior by the German secret police.

Julian Hess and Ambassador George Wilson were incredible individuals who did everything they could to warn and save the Jewish people from the Holocaust. But by and large, they were just individuals in a world which watched in silence as Hitler continued to the next phase and proceeded to implement his final solution.

So as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, I’m sure many will ask “Where was God?” Personally, I’ll be asking “Where was man?”

(Photo is from US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Santa vs. Latkes: Fighting for a Deeper Judaism On Chanukah

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

 

 

Rabbi Mark Wildes of Manhattan Jewish Experience on Hanukkah, Chanukah

 

Since Chanukah is such a joyous time I hate to get negative. However, as a student of Jewish history and a rabbi involved in outreach, I feel compelled to respond to some of the disturbing opinions Michael Lukas wrote in his New York Times opinion piece, The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah.

The first is the depiction of the Maccabees who fought against the Greeks as “violent fundamentalists” and “religious zealots who lived in the hills of Judea and practiced an ancient form of guerrilla warfare.” Lukas must be unaware that the Greek Seleucid Empire, governing over ancient Judea, banned Jews from practicing their religion under the penalty of death. They forced Jews to offer pigs unto the Greek gods and converted the Jewish Temple into a house of idol worship and prostitution. What actions would he have had the Jewish community take? Back then, there were only two choices: Give up your Judaism or suffer martyrdom. The Maccabees defied all odds and created a third option: they rebelled and ultimately expelled the far superior Greek military force from ancient Israel. Defending your own faith from destruction does not make you a violent fundamentalist or a religious zealot. Our ancestors did the right thing in not allowing Judaism to be replaced by paganism. Had they acted differently Greek Hellenism and its pagan foundations would have replaced Judaism and the very cosmopolitan liberties and values Lukas holds so dear.

The second point is more contemporary and goes to the very heart of raising Jewish children in America today. Lukas writes how he needs to compete with Santa, “sparkly trees, ornaments and fruitcake” with Judaism’s “latkes, jelly doughnuts and eight nights of presents.” If Lucas could share something deeper about Judaism with his daughter he wouldn’t have to do so much selling and competing with Christmas. Judaism at its core offers timeless values and a heightened sense of living through its traditions, holidays and teachings. Take the Sabbath: When a child feels that because of the restrictions the Sabbath places on technology use, they now have their parents total focus and attention (at least once a week), Judaism becomes valuable in their eyes. When they encounter the pains of growing up, whether it be a struggle to fit in or spouts of bullying, they can rest assured that once each week they will have a Sabbath meal and real down time with their family and loved ones and not get sucked into the cyber world of Instagram, Facebook and the latest iteration of Candy Crush.

In my book “Beyond the Instant,” I outline other Jewish practices with endless benefits to both parents and their children, such as:

  • Praying offers time for meditation, mindfulness and awareness that yoga and other modern activities have tried to replicate.
  • The focus Judaism places on giving through acts of loving kindness and charity have been proven to lead to great happiness.
  • Reciting blessings before and after we eat develops an attitude of gratitude.
  • The Jewish High Holidays raise children with the idea that it’s never too late to change the direction of your life and improve ones character.

We will never have to compete with Santa or a Christmas tree if we raise our children to yearn for something deeper, real, and relevant. If we instill Jewish values in our children, values grounded in happiness, giving, mindfulness, and depth, we just might look into our arsenal and find a lot more than latkes and jelly doughnuts.

Type in ‘Jewish’ and ‘Money’: See What Comes Up

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

 NOW PUBLISHED ON TIMES OF ISRAEL

 

 

Mark Wildes on Manhattan Jewish Experience

On November 9, Twitter user @voidmstr tweeted at Shutterstock, a leading American stock photography company, an image hosted on their site that depicts Jews as money hungry people, an age-old anti-Semitic stereotype. It took five days until the image and the related photo series were taken down. However, with a simple search of keywords “Jewish “ and “money,” the photos can still be viewed on competitor site depositphotos.com.

I cannot comment on what the intentions behind the pictures were, but we need to get answers to some fundamental questions: Are image hosting and stock photography sites remaining vigilant in keeping racist and stereotypical images off their sites and how does this play into the larger national landscape of how tech companies are manipulated by extremists to promote their hate speech?

In this specific scenario, the market of this anti-Semitic photo involves three players: the photographers that pose and sell stock photography, the websites that host their photos, and the people buying the photos. Should we place the blame on the photographers who may be responding to image requests, either by websites or by consumers? There’s no way to know the full motives behind any of the players, although one can ironically guess…money.

This question is not a first amendment issue and whether we should allow the creation of these images. The larger issue is: why are these images still popping up and mischaracterizing the Jewish people on such a popular website like Shutterstock? These kind of images draw out bigots from the woodwork, validating the racist thoughts they harbor. Just as garbage attracts flies, we must first dispose the garbage before swatting the flies.

How we tackle this issue will have real-world implications. America is facing a surge of anti-Semitic acts over the past couple of years. From Charlottesville’s white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in 2016, the desecration of Jewish tombstones in St. Louis in 2017, to the fatal shooting of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago. The Anti-Defamation League reported a rise of 60% of anti-Semitic acts in 2017.

In at least two of these major incidents, social media and online relationships played a serious role. The people who marched in Charlottesville and the Pittsburgh shooter were reported to have used social media and lesser-known, second-tier websites to spread their hate, since their speech was considered too extreme for Twitter and Facebook. One of the ways racists communicate their hate speech is through memes and doctored images. An image that may seem innocuous, such as the picture in question, is ammunition in the hands of anti-Semites who can then share on their preferred sites. The Pittsburgh shooter, for example, used a social media site called Gab to blast his anti-Semitic rhetoric with others who held similar views about Jewish people and even posted on Gab right before the shooting. The site was taken down after the shooting and has recently been put online again.

Given the known stereotypical conflation of Jews and money, no reasonable person viewing these photos would consider them appropriate. If these images can’t be used for corny or fun advertising, then exactly who are these photos for? We must hold the sites, photographers and purchasers responsible for profiting from these images. Remaining vigilant against the barrage of anti-Semitism, in all of its forms, is the only way to confront the bigotry to which the Jewish people have been subject for centuries.

Some People Take Revenge. Jews Do Something Else

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

 

 

 

Rabbi Mark Wildes of Manhattan Jewish Experience on Pittsburgh Victims and Jewish Revenge

The Jewish Sages teach, based on the life of the matriarch Sarah, that a righteous person never stops growing. A pious person never becomes complacent where they are, no matter what their age. That’s why one of the most striking things about the terrible attack in Pittsburgh was the age of the people killed. Their ages ranged from 55 to 97.

But they weren’t just older people – they were older people who came to shul early.

Why Come To Shul Early?

Our Jewish brothers and sisters in Squirrel Hill taken from us attended shul early because of their devotion to prayer and community – because they wanted to continue to learn and develop themselves. To honor their memory, synagogues around the world very appropriately made a push for more people to come to synagogue and, what I think is even more appropriate in subsequent weeks, is to try to come earlier.

In a letter to Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue, I informed the rabbi that our community will strive to have eleven people at MJE Shabbat services on time, each and every week going forward. I told the rabbi this is not an easy task given the young age of our community and the fact that growing up, most MJE participants never went to shul on Saturdays. But I said we would do this as a way of elevating those eleven souls and our way of telling the world: we may have lost eleven holy Jews but another eleven will rise up in their place.

There’s an even deeper reason behind this campaign for more Jews to come to shul on Shabbat. It’s not just to tell our enemies: we won’t back down, we won’t be intimidated or prevented from practicing our faith. We’re saying something much deeper: by more of us coming to synagogue on Shabbat, we show how Jews deal with tragedy.

How We Deal With Tragedy

How does the Torah teach us to confront a tragedy? The Torah teaches to deal with it, even to learn and grow from the unfortunate experience, but then to move on. We confront the problem, which here is clearly anti-Semitism. We figure out the best way to deal with it but then we move on – not to forget it – but to ensure it doesn’t stop us from our mission.

In Jewish tradition mourning only lasts 30 days. The only exception is mourning for the loss of a parent, which goes for an entire year because of the mitzvah of honoring parents, but that’s the exception. For everyone else, mourning ends with shloshim (30 days) because tragedy, sadness and loss can never be allowed to prevent us from carrying on with our purpose and mission to live a life of Torah. And with regard to this tragedy, and with any act of anti-Semitism, that is precisely what our enemies want – to stop us from living as Jews.

The Jewish “Revenge”

We have a tradition of not excessively dwelling on tragedy, on mourning, or in this case on the hate and anti-Semitism. We have to talk about what happened so we can figure out the best way to keep our synagogues safe, but we don’t allow that conversation to distract us from the mission: from coming to shul and praying, from building our community and from being a light unto the world. The natural feeling after such an attack is to focus on the hate or even to try somehow to get back at our enemies. But we Jews have our own unique form of revenge.

I was speaking with my friend Charlie Harari, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust. Years ago, when Charlie had his first child, he brought his son to meet his grandparents. When he walked into the room his grandparents pointed at the baby and said: “that’s our revenge against Hitler”.

That’s the Jewish concept of revenge: others may spend their lives hunting their enemies, exacting violent revenge.

But Jews?

  • We have children.
  • We build hospitals.
  • We create cures.
  • We make the world a better place.
  • We move on and we build further.

An amazing documentary on the Chasidic community in Williamsburg recorded a reporter asking a random Chasid on the street how many children he had. The Chasid looked at the reporter and without any emotion answered:

  • “Twelve”
  • “Twelve children?!” the reporter exclaimed, “are you planning on having more?”
  • “Yes, of course,” he answered
  • “More than twelve, how many kids do you plan on having?”
  • “6 million” he answered.

That’s how we come back from tragedy. We don’t get consumed with hate, we defend ourselves with vigor, but we spend our energies getting back to our mission of being a light, of keeping the mitzvoth, of studying Torah and making the world a better and more spiritual place.

How Jews Operate

Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a member of the Tree of Life synagogue, also happens to be the President of Allegheny General, the hospital where Robert Bowers was brought for treatment. After Dr. Cohen walked into Bowers’ room to check on him, an FBI agent on guard said to the doctor: “I’d never be able to do that.”

Most people would not be able to do that, but that’s the way we are ideally supposed to operate. We don’t allow these situations to destroy our values and bring us down to the level of our enemies. We don’t operate in their world, we operate in ours. The murderer’s nurse in the ER was also Jewish. She treated him too because we’re above acting like our enemies.

Building on their Legacy

As explained, the Jewish approach to tragedy is to deal with the pain but then to move on, but we don’t just move on. Tragedy changes us. Losing a loved one creates a void and the people who are no longer with us not only deserve to be remembered, ultimately, they leave a legacy from which we build. The Sages of the Midrash teach that after the matriarch Sarah died, the special miracles that existed in her home disappeared: the Shabbat candles which remained lit continuously, the special blessing in her dough and God’s cloud of glory which hovered over her tent. These miracles disappeared when Sarah died but when Rebecca came into Sarah’s tent, they suddenly reappeared. This teaches that Rebecca did not simply replace Sarah as the new Matriarch, but rather she built upon her legacy. Rebecca took the foundation that Sarah established, moved back into the tent Sarah lived in, and from there continued to build the Jewish people, not as something new, but as a continuation of the past. We too are not just carrying on from those whose lives were taken in Pittsburgh; we are building on their legacy.

Rebecca took Sara’s place but Sarah and her teachings were never forgotten. We live her values every day of our lives and we will carry on the legacy of those souls from Pittsburgh by continuing to come to synagogue and by living the full Jewish lives of which they were so proud. Our eleven will be their eleven. Through us, they will never be forgotten.

Rabbi Mark Wildes Featured in The Forward – “How One Rabbi Keeps Singles Safe”

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

 

 

NEW OP-ED NOW FEATURED ON THE FORWARD! Click below to view.

Rabbi Mark Wildes featured on The Forward

 

Kavanaugh & Ford: Two Jewish Principles at Stake

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

 

 

 

Rabbi Mark Wildes on Kavanaugh and Ford

Watching Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings was upsetting, shocking, and anything but bipartisan. However, if we remove all the politics involved, the situation raises two ethical issues: sexual morality and speech.

Both are fundamental Jewish principles and go to the very heart of what it means to be a human being. Parshat Bereishit famously tells us: “God created man in His image” (Bereishit 1:27).

So what does it mean to be created in God’s image? There are a wide range of views of what “His image” means.

The Impact of Speech

Maimonides said that it refers to man’s cognitive abilities – that only human beings can reason/think in a certain way. Only humans can freely choose their path in life and rise above the instinctual part of who they are – something an animal cannot do.

There is another fascinating interpretation by the great scholar Onkelos. Onkelos says that what separates man from animal is man’s capacity for speech. Rashi also says this, namely, man was given something extra – “deah v’dibbur”- he writes, intellect and speech. The human capacity to speak is reflects on us as intellectual beings that are able to communicate complex thoughts.

Thus when we misuse speech, “lashon hara,” we are tainting an inherent, “Godly,” trait that makes us fundamentally human, undermining mankind’s holiness. By misusing speech, we risk losing our very humanity. We must always stay vigilant and careful about what we say to each other and the impact of our speech on others.

Sexual Morality

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchick, in his comments on the Chanukah story, points out Maimonides’ very specific language in his description of what the Greeks were trying to do to the Jews:

“The Greek oppressors laid their hands on our property and on our daughters.”

That kind of attack on the daughters of Israel (during the attack, the Greeks made Jewish women submit to their officers)  went to the heart of who we are because, as Rabbi Soloveitchick wrote, sexual morality is a fundamental principle in Judaism:

“No other moral norm is as central and as important in Judaism as that of sexual modesty. Judaism held the view that human dignity and majesty can be achieved only through protecting sexual morality. If the latter is abolished, then man, no matter how agreeable and creative, forfeits the extra existential dimension that the Almighty granted him.”

The Rav refers to our sexual identity as an “extra existential dimension” – a gift that goes to the essence of who we are as human beings. Therefore, acting in a way which violates another’s sexual integrity can cause that individual to feel less than human because, like speech, it’s a fundamental aspect of who we are.      

Not Out of Our Control

We can’t control what happens on Capitol Hill, but we can try to make sure that in our own lives and in our own community we treat these two areas – speech and sexual propriety, the holiness, respect and utmost of seriousness they deserve.

The Jewish community is not immune to what we see happening all over the country, including inappropriate sexual advances and badmouthing that can ruin a person’s reputation. In the last few months, I’ve had to bar two individuals from coming to MJE: one who I became convinced was inappropriately touching women (who very bravely came forward) and another who spread unfounded/unsubstantiated claims about someone else. Both refused to acknowledge or apologize so both are no longer a part of our community.

Jewish law is very clear: we must never say anything untrue about another person. Even something which is true, but negative, we must learn to keep to ourselves UNLESS it is necessary to protect ourselves or to protect another from harmful or wrongful behavior. Then it becomes a mitzvah to say something. Speaking out in that kind of circumstance should be seen as an act of heroism, because – in all probability – you won’t only be saving yourself, but also the next victim.

If we can learn to get this right, we will fill our lives and our community with the kind of holiness our world so desperately needs and ensure we remain true to the divine image in which each and every one of us was created.

Looking Beyond the Instant to Find Happiness

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

NOW UP ON THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

Where the Happiest People Live

A new study surveying 20,000 young people from 20 different countries reveals a fascinating trend when it comes to people’s level of happiness. The study, conducted by the Varkey Foundation, called “Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey – What the World’s Young People Think and Feel, reported that young people living in developing countries reported they were the happiest.

Indonesia emerged as the happiest, Nigeria came in second and India third place. Young people in developed and more prosperous nations like France, England, Australia and Japan ranked well down on the happiness scale with the United States somewhere in the middle.

How is it that people living in countries like Indonesia and Nigeria consider themselves happier than those living in the United States or England?

Factors That Determine Happiness

The simple answer is that prosperity and economic advancement are not factors which guarantee happiness.

Despite the opportunities and conveniences that science and technology has given our world, and despite the healthier, longer and more affluent lifestyles people in the West are thankfully living, our happiness levels, particularly amongst young people, have dropped. From my 20 years of working with young Jewish professionals, my strong sense is that this is due to our generation’s unfulfilled need for a lasting value system, like no generation before.

Freedoms That Trap Us

The instantaneous nature of the Western world today has paradoxically deprived us of the very activities and lifestyle that produce dedication and loyalty, values necessary for sustaining meaningful relationships. There are no longer constraints on the kind of mate we choose or how we date and pursue relationships. Moral relativism, now religiously taught on college campuses, has left us on our own in terms of how we make ethical decisions.

We do what feels right to us or simply adopt the ever-changing norms of society, but both leave us questioning whether our lives have any real guiding values or principles. We don’t want to be told what to do or what to believe in, but we know something is missing and we’re less happy.

In the West, and certainly in America, we are proud of the freedoms we enjoy and feel privileged to live in an open society, but because we lack a higher wisdom to tap into for moral and spiritual direction, we feel trapped. We’re trapped in the open with too many options, the only guiding value being our freedom to choose.

But what should we choose?

Living “Beyond the Instant”

What are the values and principles that will truly fill our lives with purpose and meaning, and enable us to lead happier and more fulfilled lives?

This question is precisely why I wrote my first book, Beyond the Instant: Jewish Wisdom for Lasting Happiness in a Fast Pace Social Media World.

Too many of us have relegated the wisdom of our religious faith to the past and locked it away. We view the Bible as a relic, an antiquated artifact that loses its relevance after one’s Confirmation or Bar/Bat-Mitzvah. I have spent the last 20 years reconnecting young men and women to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Sages, and I have devoted myself to this enterprise because I believe these works provide timeless wisdom for the very issues young people, and really all of us, struggle with in our contemporary society.

It’s a unique kind of spiritual wisdom which brings about happiness beyond the instant, which can help sustain relationships for the long run. It’s an approach that I’ve seen build confidence, character, and sense of self like nothing else can.

To me, no value system is more relevant and helpful to the issues and challenges facing Americans and Westerners than the philosophy and heritage of Judaism.

Nothing speaks more to the modern issues of consumerism, materialism, lack of meaning, and fulfillment than does the Hebrew Bible and the wisdom of the Jewish Sages. Their principles and values can afford modern men and women not simply a way to worship, but a way to live.

Beyond the Instant represents my humble attempt to demonstrate how much contemporary relevance there is to Judaism and, ultimately, how its teachings, if studied and applied, can fill our lives with the kind of purpose and meaning so many of us seek. I have been privileged to personally witness the transformative impact Jewish values can have on people, and how its profound insight and wisdom give the kind of meaning and direction so many young people are looking for today.

Religion Can Be A Spiritual Guide

Ours is a generation skeptical of religion. Its teachings are viewed as primitive and outdated, and so we’ve turned to psychology and works of self-help to find a guide. There is certainly wisdom to be found there, but why not also consult a system that has withstood the test of time and from which the great monotheistic faiths have emerged? Why let our religious cynicism deny us a perspective that has provided meaning and direction for billions of people for close to four millennia?

Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork, one of the top start-up companies (worth $20 billion at the time of writing), attributes his happiness not to his financial success, but to his turn to Sabbath observance.

Mayim Bialik, the Emmy Award-winning actress on The Big Bang Theory (the highest ranked comedy on TV), blogs about how Jewish values and observances bring great meaning to her life.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, nominated by Al Gore for vice president in 2000, consults with rabbis and Jewish scholars for spiritual guidance on the most pressing issues of his life.

These high-profile individuals have found personal fulfillment and greater professional success by accessing the wisdom of the Torah, and so can all of us. Beyond the Instant draws upon Judaism’s unique reservoir of wisdom to answer questions like:

  • What produces sustained joy and happiness?
  • What should we be looking for in a potential mate and once we’ve found that person, how can we make the relationship last?
  • What is sex really supposed to be about?
  • How can we learn from our failures and take more control of our lives?
  • Do we have a mission in life and how can we choose values over popularity?
  • How can we be more present to enjoy life more and is real change truly possible?

The answers to these questions may not alone produce the kind of enlightening happiness our generation lacks, but I’m confident that applying Judaism’s tested values to one’s life can make a real difference. I’ve seen it with thousands of my students – the change is real and it’s the kind of change we need in our world today in order to live “Beyond the Instant.”

Marching Against Bias

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience

NOW UP ON THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

By Rabbi Mark Wildes

Last week, as MJE has done for 20 years, we marched in the Annual Celebrate Israel Parade. The parade was watched by over 40,000 people and included officials such as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. We found love and support all around us – in our MJE community, local NYC leaders and politicians and friends and family.

Besides the simple fun of strutting down Fifth Avenue to Jewish music while waving Israeli flags, why is marching in the parade important?

Showing Jewish Pride

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

First, there are simply not enough times when the Jewish community displays unadulterated pride in Israel or in simply being Jewish. We tend to take more pride in how honest and critical we are of ourselves (and of the Jewish State) than we do in all the good Israel and the Jewish people do for Jews and the world at large.

Being self-critical is an important Jewish teaching, necessary for spiritual and moral growth. However, this can only happen when the critique is fair and balanced with some “feel-good” opportunities. Otherwise we become overly negative and cynical about ourselves. The Israel Day Parade is one of those few opportunities and experiences left in America to feel good and positive about ourselves and Israel.

Offsetting Unfair Media Bias

The parade is also critical to offset the unfair bias to which Israel is continually subjected to in the media. Reporting on the recent conflict along the Gaza border, articles on the subject were mostly entitled: “Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the protests” (Reuters).

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any articles which read: “Israel defends herself against deadly protests.”

This spin is nothing new. It’s as old as the Bible itself. In last week’s Torah reading, before the children of Israel enter Israel, spies are dispatched to scout out the land. The spies return with a negative report, introducing doubt to the masses who now want to give up on going forward into Israel and instead return to Egypt. But what was so wrong about the report with which the spies returned? It seems from a simple reading of the Biblical text that they just reported on what they saw. Were the spies supposed to falsify their report? Nachmanides, the great medieval Talmudist and Mystic, explained that the spies reported the facts but they articulated themselves in such a way as to cast doubt and instill fear within the rank and file to support their own personal opinion and agenda. They made up their minds that going forth into Israel was not a good idea and described what they saw in that light, as opposed to simply reporting on what they saw and allowing the people to decide for themselves.

Stories the Media Doesn’t Cover

Just three years ago, I received the following email from a student of mine who is now a pediatric surgeon in Israel.

“Thursday I am doing a big operation on a three-year old girl from Gaza with a giant abdominal tumor. She came in April, malnourished, her abdomen was completely full of tumors and she was half dead-the product of a lot of neglect. We diagnosed her problem, inserted a catheter for chemotherapy and treated her with chemotherapy. The tumor is much smaller, she looks much better, is much stronger and now she is ready for surgery. Her father speaks no Hebrew or English but you can tell how happy he is. Where is the media for this story? We do this kind of stuff all the time, every week almost and there is no coverage at all…Where are you guys? At a time where Israel is being villainized daily for the “horrors” they are perpetrating in Gaza we do this stuff all the time. This story needs to get out there.

I suspect the media never covered any of the surgeries my student performed on Palestinian children for the same reason the spies in the Torah reported things in the way they did: it simply does not fit in with their narrative or personal opinion.

If You Don’t March, Who Will?

Why take the time to make it through the crowds and onto the busy 5th Ave?

Marching exercises our freedom of speech and if we don’t speak out in favor of Israel… who will? We are fortunate to live in a city that’s so accepting and supportive of Israel. However, this isn’t true universally, or even throughout the US. If we have a chance to march and express our support, we should! Past generations of Jewish people never thought they would live to see the creation of a Jewish State.

Seventy years later, we march in their stead to exercise our freedom and the pride we have in being Jewish, showing the world just how extraordinary Israel truly is.

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

From Adversity to Celebration

BLOG POST: Rabbi Jonathan Feldman

March 29, 2018

Life has its ups and downs.  We have some good months, and we have some not so good months.   At one moment we get a promotion, and then we lose a job, we have a good relationship, and then we get heartbroken. But there are times in our lives when we are in a bad way, and then things take a turn for the better, and at those moments we feel gratitude to the Almighty for helping our lives move in the right direction.

The Rabbis (Talmud Pesachim 116a) tell us that when we fulfill the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus, we begin talking about our denigrated state and we conclude with praise for our being saved.  According to Shmuel, the denigrated state was the slavery in Egypt, and the praise is for G-d freeing us.  In the Seder we have symbols and stories that remind us of both these states. I would like to focus on the symbolic elements of the Seder, and trace these two themes of denigration and suffering, and freedom and joy.  Parts of the seder remind us of our freedom, like eating and drinking in a position of leisure and comfort, which is why we lean, and parts remind us of our suffering, like eating the bitter herbs (which is why I take a bite of actual horseradish, to feel the burn).

The Matzah embodies both of these messagages, it represents both slavery and freedom.  At the beginning of the Haggadah we start by holding up the matza and saying.  This is ‘lachma anya’, which can mean either the bread of poverty or the bread of suffering.  This is the unadorned, dried, unflavored bread like the bread which our ancestors had to eat in Egypt when they were slaves.  When you read books about the Holocaust you read about the dry hard bread they survived on.  You also read about how they would not eat the whole morsel at once, but would squirrel away part of it for later or for the next day because you did not know when you would next be getting any food.  This is one of the explanations of why we break the matza and put the larger half aside as the afikomen, like a poor person who keeps food for later.  All of this is meant to allow us to experience what it is like to be a poor person who is suffering.

By contrast, when we get to the end of Magid, the telling of the story of the Exodus in the Haggadah, how do we describe the matza?  Rabban Gamliel says. Why do we eat this Matzah?  We eat it because the bread that our ancestors had baked did not have time to rise because G-d took us out so quickly.  It is the bread of freedom, the bread that represents the quickness with which G-d saved us. So the bread that reminds us of suffering and pain can also be the bread that reminds of how quickly G-d saved us in Egypt.  The message is that sometimes we are in the darkness and nothing seems to go our way, and we feel like there is no way out.  And things change, a medical treatment works, we get a job lead, and the circumstances that brought about our anguish and pain turn into the vehicle through which we feel joy and appreciation of the blessings.  May this Passover be a time when our pain and adversity turns into joy and celebration.

 

Chag Sameyach!

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…

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