Posts

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

Peace Through Strength – Stop The Deal!

As seen on The Algemeiner

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.


Does the administration truly believe the Iranians will keep their word and honor this agreement? We all know the only real gauge of any country’s future performance is their past performance and based on what we’ve seen with Iran and their nuclear program in the past, what is our government thinking? Even if the deal is honored (with a big “if”), it still allows for a nuclear Iran in another ten years. And my biggest problem with the deal is what it does right now: pumping vast amounts of money and support into the hands of the largest terrorist sponsoring government in the world. Are we so naïve as to not believe that this American funding will not find its way into the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups Iran finances?

IT’S NOT DEAL VS. WAR

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 THROUGH STRENGTH

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.


TAKE ACTION

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:

  1. Join me and MJE in attending Wednesday’s Stop Iran Rally in Times Square
  2. Take a moment out of your day to call or email  your member of Congress
Call
(202) 225-3121
to reach Senate and House members through the Capitol switchboard
your members of Congress
your members of Congress
  1. Educate yourself on the issue by reading suggested articles below
  2. 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
  3. 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



Photo Courtesy of StandWithUs

BACKGROUND INFO/ INTERESTING PERSPECTIVES

Take Down The Flag – Why Symbols Matter

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.