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Jewish Journal

Rabbi Elazar Muskin

  • A divine call to action

    March 14, 2013 | 4:39 am

    Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

    As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and...

  • Lessons from a prophet on Tisha b’Av

    July 25, 2012 | 2:28 pm

    A man visiting from Manhattan introduced himself after finishing a Shabbat afternoon class in Jewish ethics and told me the following story: In the early years of Lincoln Square Synagogue, when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was the rabbi, he always wanted a certain leading member to serve as...

  • Shavuot – Torah for everyone

    May 23, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    My daughter, Dina, accepted a summer job here in Los Angeles last year. Before being hired, she explained that she was an observant Jew who would have to take off two days in early June to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. The manager, respecting Dina’s religious commitment, said...

  • Lessons My Grandfather Taught Me

    April 11, 2012 | 11:18 am

    Every Passover, as I sit with my family at our seder, I inevitably think of my paternal grandfather, after whom I was named. I never met him. He died five years before I was born, and I was born on the anniversary of his burial. But from earliest childhood, I felt that my grandfather...

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  • Candle power

    December 21, 2011 | 11:33 am

    Anyone familiar with religious practices can testify to the fact that candles play a crucial role in normative observance for many religions. It is not surprising to find an identical phenomenon in Judaism, the mother of so many contemporary beliefs.

    In our practice, candles are...

  • Back to School

    August 31, 2011 | 10:48 am

    With a new school year upon us, I found the following story, “What Teachers Make,” revealing.

    “The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to discuss the current problems with education. He argued, ‘What’s a kid going to learn...

  • Real Spirituality: Parashat Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    June 28, 2011 | 3:48 pm

    Spirituality, kabbalah and meditation are buzzwords in today’s religious lexicon. But do they really describe religion?

    A number of years ago, my mother, who lives in Cleveland, received a call from the major local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The paper was doing a feature...

  • Engraved Ideas

    May 17, 2011 | 5:55 pm

    In 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed written by Marisol Leon, a young woman who graduated from Yale in 2007 and returned to teach in the same public middle school she had attended:

    “‘Think Ivy League,’ pleaded Mrs.  Anderson, my English teacher. ‘Ivy League? What is...

  • Ears, Toes and Thumbs

    April 5, 2011 | 6:09 pm

    Author Hillel Halkin, reviewing the Koren Sacks Siddur in the spring 2010 Jewish Review of Books, recounts a charming story that he heard from his father:

    “My father, who prayed with great kavanah [concentration] yet was adamant about having no religious beliefs whatsoever …...

  • Wave Your Flag

    May 11, 2010 | 5:04 pm

    Anyone who has chaperoned high school students knows it can add a few gray hairs. I experienced this very phenomenon a number of years ago while serving as the
    rabbinic leader on March of the Living, the annual gathering that takes youth to Poland to commemorate Holocaust Memorial...

  • Holiness vs. Spirituality

    April 20, 2010 | 5:37 pm

    An acquaintance recently asked me about the difference between holiness and spirituality. In America, this person noted, everyone talks about spirituality but no one
    discusses holiness. What is Judaism’s view, my friend wanted to know, about these two ideas?

    Perhaps the answer can...

  • Life’s Journey

    September 9, 2009 | 7:07 pm

    The renowned Oxford professor Benjamin Jowett, the great 19th century translator of Plato, was the ultimate paradigm of the ivory-tower scholar. Once, as he was walking across the commons at Oxford, he stopped a student and asked, “Please can you tell me, am I walking toward or...

  • Fruit of the Vine

    July 14, 2009 | 6:16 pm

    I led a summer Jewish history trip through Central Europe several years ago, which took us to Bratislava and its famous Jewish cemetery, where the great 19th century rabbinic leader, the Hatam Sofer, is buried. Our first stop in Bratislava was at the Danube Hotel, where we were to...

  • Old But New

    April 22, 2009 | 2:02 am

    A number of years ago, when my two daughters were 8 and 6, we had the pleasure of spending a family summer vacation in Israel. We stayed at my mother-in-law’s home right near Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. One day while eating breakfast we heard a truck pass outside with a...

  • Correct priorities

    July 24, 2008 | 12:40 am

    While I was in my synagogue's office one morning, the phone rang, and I answered. The lady on the other end said, "Hello, may I please speak to the owner?"

    I answered, "Certainly, it will be our pleasure to let you talk to him. You have reached The House of God, and the Owner is...

  • Letter from Jerusalem

    March 20, 2008 | 6:00 pm


    Silent slideshow shows images of the funeral in Jerusalem


    Condolence visits are part of a rabbi's life, but no one ever taught us how to make nine visits in a 48-hour period.

    We arrived in Israel on the morning of Tuesday, March 11, and left Israel the following night. Our mission,...

  • Brotherly Love

    December 13, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    With Chanukah recent history, I came across a fascinating review of a new book, "The Business of Holidays." The book's editor, Maud Lavin, notes that 81 percent of U.S. households celebrate Christmas with a tree in their homes, and not everybody is Christian. The line between...
  • Journey of a Lifetime

    September 2, 2007 | 6:00 pm

    After serving as a weekend scholar-in-residence in Indianapolis, I was about to begin the first leg of a trip back to Los Angeles. I shared the aisle with a friendly fellow who introduced himself by extending his hand and giving me a strong shake. Noting his crew cut and strapping...
  • The Parent Trap

    August 23, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Teenagers in Tennessee who want tattoos need a note from Mom or Dad. A minor in Indiana had best have parental permission if he of she is planning to pierce anything other than ears.

    In both Israel and America, parents and politicians alike are searching for some solution to the...

  • Mr. Nobody

    May 17, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    A senior colleague once told me that when he was a student in college he took a creative writing course. One of his classmates could express himself beautifully, but could not conceive any creative ideas on his own. He would always turn to my colleague for ideas, and then proceed to...
  • There Is Nothing Like Home

    February 22, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    In October 1995, the Cleveland Jewish News reported that the guest speaker at the local Federation's Community Relations Committee's 50th anniversary, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, shared his own 50th anniversary story.

    Foxman was born in Poland shortly...

  • Humbling Wisdom

    December 21, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    A number of years ago I had to fly from Los Angeles to Cleveland, with a stop in St. Louis. The plane was supposed to leave at 8:45 a.m. and arrive in Cleveland in the late afternoon. But due to a mechanical problem our flight didn't leave LAX until 1:30 p.m., which put our Cleveland...
  • Priorities

    September 28, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    We love to play Jewish Geography. Whenever we meet a fellow Jew for the first time, we try to find mutual people or places we might have in common.
     
    I was leading a Jewish history tour to Prague when our group encountered a group of seniors from Israel. We immediately began to...
  • Pray at Your Own Risk

    June 8, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    A number of years ago I was invited to spend Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, in Germany. I fell asleep on the outbound Lufthansa flight, and somewhere over the Atlantic I woke up as the sun began to shine through my window.

    With tallit and tefillin in hand, I began my walk to...

  • Good and Late

    March 16, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    Some things never change. We all know the storyline. Moses was expected back after 40 days in heaven where he was receiving the

    Torah. But he was late coming back on the 40th day: "And the people saw that Moses tarried [boshesh], in coming down from the mountain" (Exodus 32:1).

    The...

  • Over a Cliff

    December 22, 2005 | 7:00 pm

    I once heard a colleague recount how, after lecturing about God, a man came up and told him that he was impressed with his lecture. He explained that although he wasn't personally observant and didn't attend synagogue, he had a close relationship with the Almighty.

    This intrigued...

  • Hearing Is Believing

    August 11, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    Summer photos are most revealing. Our family's photos almost always reveal my absence for the simple reason that I am usually the designated family photographer.

    During one vacation in the Northwest, we stopped at a beautiful place called Horseshoe Bay. As I was getting ready to...

  • Uncircumcised Blessings

    July 14, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    While on a summer vacation on the East Coast, my family and I visited some spectacular sights in northwestern North Carolina, especially near Ashville, N.C. On our way to Ashville, we stopped and asked directions from a fine gentleman who turned out to be a Methodist minister.

    ...
  • After the Ashes

    March 24, 2005 | 7:00 pm

     

    On a rabbinic mission to Israel in 1998, Natan Sharansky, then Israel's minister of industry and trade, addressed our group.

    Sharansky recounted to us how he was invited to visit Russia a year after his election to the Knesset. It was the first time in history that a past prisoner...

  • Listen Well

    February 3, 2005 | 7:00 pm

     

    A number of years ago we spent a family weekend in Palm Springs. I asked my kids what they wanted to do. First mistake: Never ask your kids what they want to do on vacation. It's guaranteed to be something you can't do.

    My daughters answered, "Let's go ice skating."

    I looked at...

  • Silence Is Golden

    October 28, 2004 | 8:00 pm

    A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.

    As they drive, the Navajo woman glances repeatedly at a brown bag on the front seat between them.

    "If you are wondering what's in the bag," the...

  • All the ChildrenAll the ChildrenAll the ChildrenAll the Children

    October 7, 2004 | 8:00 pm

    On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the...

  • All the Children

    October 7, 2004 | 8:00 pm

    On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the...

  • Philosophical Blessings

    July 1, 2004 | 8:00 pm

    While on a summer vacation on the East Coast, my family and I visited some spectacular sights in northwestern North Carolina, especially near Ashville. On our way to Ashville, we stopped and asked directions from a gentleman who turned out to be a Methodist minister.

    During our...

  • A Divine Call to Action

    March 25, 2004 | 7:00 pm

    Once, on a mission to Israel, we needed a minyan for a prayer service during the airplane flight. We were a total of six men in our group, so we began to scan the plane for the remaining four for the requisite 10 men.

    As I went up and down the aisles, one fellow turned to me and...

  • Under the Circumstances

    January 15, 2004 | 7:00 pm

    The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman, suffered from polio as a child and ever since has been in a wheelchair. On one occasion, while performing a violin concerto, one of the strings broke. It occurred in the very first movement with an audible ping. Everyone waited to see what he...

  • 100 Lessons

    December 11, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    While studying for rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University in the late '70s, I was at the main study hall dedication where the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik spoke, honoring the great philanthropist, Joseph Gruss, who underwrote the project.

    On that occasion, Rabbi Soloveitchik...

  • Silence Is Golden

    November 13, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.

    As they drive, the Navajo woman glances repeatedly at a brown bag on the front seat between them.

    "If you are wondering what's in the bag," the...

  • The Smart Choice

    September 18, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    Recently, I came across a story about a man who made the "unforgivable" mistake of missing his wife's birthday. When the wife expressed her anger, the quick-witted husband responded, "Sweetheart, how do you expect me to remember your birthday when you never look any older?"

    If only...

  • Straight From Heaven

    April 30, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    During April 1996, I led what was going to be my first of numerous trips to Poland. On that trip I served as the rabbinic adviser for 40 high school students who were participating in the March of the Living program.

    On our trip we took the students to the city of Lublin, and we...

  • Stand Up for Israel

    April 10, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    I always thought standing ovations were reserved for rare and infrequent occasions. That view drastically changed last week when I found myself in Washington, D.C., leading a group of 35 members from my synagogue, Young Israel of Century City, at the 2003 American Israel Public...

  • Knowing the Person

    April 3, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    Did you ever notice how we tend to make up our minds so quickly that we become closed to ideas that might change our opinion?

     Recently, I came across the following sign prominently displayed on an executive's desk that succinctly summarized it: "Don't confuse me with facts --...

  • The Parent Trap

    January 23, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    What makes a good parent? Once, while waiting on line at Passport Control in Israel, I overheard two American couples talking.

    Each was describing how much luggage they had brought. Finally, one said to the other, "We brought nothing for ourselves. The truth is we could have done...

  • Where Have All the Jews Gone?

    January 9, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    It was one of those moments that capture a nation's interest. The Powerball Lottery reached $314.9 million and one person, Andrew J. Whittaker from Hurricane, W.Va., was the lucky winner. As the media descended upon him and his wife, Jewell, asking them about everything under the...

  • What’s the Beef?

    November 14, 2002 | 7:00 pm

    A number of years ago, during the O.J. Simpson trial, I had a conversation with a non-Jewish merchant who told me that right after Simpson was arrested, he met a good friend of Simpson's at church. At the conclusion of the service, the merchant happened to stand right behind this man...

  • Competing Voices

    September 5, 2002 | 8:00 pm

    Last Rosh Hashana began with the most terrible noise. Terror, trauma, tragedy and evil triumphant filled the air. In addition, Israel and Jews worldwide were subjected to the vilest outburst of anti-Semitism since the 1940s.

    After experiencing such violent explosions, where can we...

  • Earth to Heaven

    May 30, 2002 | 8:00 pm

    A woman in Alcoholics Anonymous once told Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, a leading psychologist, the following story: An old friend of hers, who was still an alcoholic, asked her how long she had been sober. She responded that it was already two years. The friend couldn't believe it and...

  • Prophetic Life

    January 24, 2002 | 6:59 pm

    When the intifada began in September 2000, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, received a call at 3:30 a.m. The lady on the other end, with a deep European accent, asked, "Rabbi Riskin, do you know who this is?"

    He admitted that at 3:30 a.m. he wasn't very good at...

  • Behind the Name

    November 15, 2001 | 7:00 pm

    A number of years ago, a philanthropist who visited the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's rabbinical seminary on the Lower East Side of New York prepared to give a large gift to the yeshiva.

    He insisted, however, that the venerable rabbi give him a grand tour of the classes being taught...

  • The Education Equation

    August 9, 2001 | 8:00 pm

    "The wise man is the one who &'9;learns from everyone." (Pirkei Avot 4:1) I discovered the wisdom of this sage observation when vacationing a number of years ago with my family in the Canadian Rockies. While touring the area, we decided to rent a rowboat at Emerald Lake. As chief...

  • Appearance and Reality

    May 10, 2001 | 8:00 pm

    In April 1999, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about growing etrogim, the citron fruit used during Sukkot, in Northern California. The paper reported that in 1980 an entrepreneurial Orthodox teenager from Brooklyn decided to develop a domestic source of etrogim,...

  • Lighten Up

    March 8, 2001 | 7:00 pm

    With the demise of the former Soviet Union and the fall of communism in the early '90s, the story of Soviet Jewry's battle for survival appears to be ancient history. Yet one of the truly remarkable books of our time is the autobiography of one of the famous refuseniks, Yosef...

  • Collective Hearing

    January 11, 2001 | 7:00 pm

    Not long ago, on a trip to Israel, I heard the following story about an Israeli doctor and patient. The patient came to the doctor with a case of poor hearing. After a few moments the doctor realized that his patient had a drinking problem, which was affecting his hearing. The...

  • Greatness

    November 2, 2000 | 7:00 pm

    In most big cities in the United States, horse-and-buggy rides are offered as tourist attractions. It is therefore not shocking to find them lined up in Philadelphia, right near Constitution Hall and the Liberty Bell.

    What was surprising, however, was whom I found driving a horse and...

  • Charity Begins at Home

    August 24, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    Morris Leven-ger was a wealthy, pious Jew who lived in Atlan-ta, Georgia, and attended synagogue daily before going to work. One day the rabbi asked for his help with scholarships for youngsters whose families could not afford tuition for Jewish day schools.

    "Rabbi," he said, "I will...

  • Ethics 2000

    May 18, 2000 | 8:00 pm

    A rabbi in a small community in pre-Holocaust Europe experienced rabbinic burn-out. No matter what he did, no one seemed to appreciate it. Finally he decided to resign and enter business, hoping that this would give him some satisfaction. Prior to announcing his resignation, the...

  • An Attitude Problem

    March 2, 2000 | 7:00 pm

    The personals sections in an Israeli newspaper contained the following ad:

    "Jewish man seeks partner who will attend shul with him, light Shabbat candles, celebrate holidays, build sukkah together, and go with him to brit milah and bar mitzvah celebrations. Religion not important."

    The...

  • Children Count

    January 13, 2000 | 7:00 pm

    Children often are pestered by well-meaning adults. I remember as a child having my cheeks pinched, or, even worse, my ear lobe pulled by some sweet elderly lady. Recounting this experience at one of my evening classes, one student seriously asked me, "Rabbi, did she pull down or...
  • No Miracles Needed

    November 4, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    A young man was courting a young woman, who later became his wife, when he experienced a strange occurrence. The two purchased a box of Cracker Jacks and inside they discovered a little note that proclaimed in bold print: "CONGRATULATIONS! TODAY YOU ARE GOING TO MEET A MAN WITH BLUE...
  • Creative Rest

    October 7, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    During the past few months, I have had contact with a friendly pastor, who is sincerely concerned about the future of the Jewish people both here and in Israel. Immediately after the High Holidays, I received an unusual call from him. He asked: "Tell me, did you survive your...
  • The Parent Trap

    August 19, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    Teen-agers in Tennessee who want tattoos need a note from Mom or Dad. A minor in Indiana had best have parental permission if he of she is planning to pierce anything other than ears.

    In both Israel and America, parents and politicians alike are searching for some solution to the...

  • All Jews Count

    July 15, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    It is a familiar sight. On each flight to Israel, in the back of the plane, a minyan gathers for services.

    It was no different on my flight to Israel last year. Although I was participating in an Israel Bonds rabbinic mission, our delegation from Los Angeles was small, and we didn't...

  • Family Feud

    June 17, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    Recently, on a visit to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I shared an elevator ride with a well-dressed man who was carrying a bulging portfolio under his arm. Wondering what he was doing in the hospital, I inquired about the nature of his visit. He replied that he was a lawyer visiting a...
  • A Place Where We All Feel at Home

    April 8, 1999 | 8:00 pm

    This past summer, while leading a Jewish Heritage tour through Central and Eastern Europe, we spent Shabbat in the beautiful city of Prague. On Shabbat morning, we prayed at the famous 13th-century Altenu Shul. The Altenu Shul is the oldest existing synagogue still functioning in...

  • Mr. Nobody

    April 1, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    A senior colleague once told me that when he was a student in college, he took a creative writing course. One of his classmates could express himself beautifully but could not conceive any creative ideas on his own. He would always turn to my colleague for ideas and then proceed to...
  • Complaining the Jewish Way

    January 28, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    Who are these men perpetually hovering outside the doors of the yeshiva? Who are these children, this gaggle of goslings, and these women, seemingly dutiful and unfazed as they stroll toward their place of prayer? Who are they?

    Sometimes, when the light on the corner of La Brea Avenue...

  • Complaining the Jewish Way

    January 14, 1999 | 7:00 pm

    Schwartz, a wealthy Jew, took ill in Boston. The medics rushed him to the best hospital, Mass General, where he received VIP treatment. But, after one week, he requested to be transferred to Beth Israel, a much smaller and less prestigious hospital.

    At Beth Israel, an intern gathered...

  • Secular and Sacred

    December 3, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    Recently, an analysis appeared in the press about the Jewish elements in American popular music. Discussing musicians such as Gershwin and Berlin, the author noted that these composers included melodies from synagogue and Jewish folk music in their compositions.

    The interaction of...

  • Marital Bliss

    October 29, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    A story is recorded in the inspiring biography about the late Jerusalem rabbi Aryeh Levin, "A Tzaddik in Our Times."

    One of the rabbi's students was about to be married when he came to Reb Aryeh and asked: "How should I behave toward my wife? How should I treat her?" Reb Aryeh looked...

  • All the Children

    October 8, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the...
  • Putting the Joy in Judaism

    September 10, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    A few years ago, two of my colleagues took their families on vacation to Mammoth Lake. While there, the families spent Shabbat with one another, eating their meals together, singing zmirot (Shabbat songs) and enjoying each other's company.

    After lunch, the two rabbis, dressed in their...

  • Torah Portion

    July 16, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    READ A PREVIOUS WEEK'S TORAH PORTION

    Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

     

    Parashat Chuka (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

     

    Parashat Korach (Numbers 16-18)

    ...

  • Fatal Flaws

    June 18, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    Students of drama are well acquainted withAristotle's view about the "fatal flaw." Protagonists of tragedy, nomatter how exalted, are brought down by a tragic flaw from within:bad judgment or bad character.

    Centuries before Aristotle developed his theory,the Torah illustrated it,...

  • Torah Portion

    May 14, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    In April 1994, following numerous suicidebombings, 400 American Jewish leaders took a two-day trip to Israelto show American Jewish support for the besieged State. With a30-percent tourism drop due to the terrorist bombings, these leaderswanted to encourage American Jews to visit...

  • Torah Portion

    April 9, 1998 | 8:00 pm

    An unusual Buddhist-Jewish dialogue took place inSeptember 1989, when the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, metwith a group of six Jewish leaders. The Dalai Lama requested themeeting, not because of an academic interest but, rather, because ofa practical need. He wanted to...

  • The Home of God

    February 26, 1998 | 7:00 pm

    In October 1995, the Cleveland Jewish Newsreported that at the 50th-anniversary celebration of the localfederation's Jewish Community Relations Committee, the guest speaker,Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League,shared his own 50th-anniversary story.

    Foxman...

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