Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
The most frustrating thing for me about President Obama’s foreign policy is that he is letting an obsession with issues in the Middle East take him away from the most pressing and devastating humanitarian issues going on in the world: Darfur – where hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation and bombings – a brewing civil war between North Sudan and the soon-to-be independent South Sudan, including plans for ethnic cleansing and worse, and most of all the horrific murder and rape campaigns going on now in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A recent U.S. study, released May 12, estimated that during the study’s one-year time frame, between 2006 and 2007, 400,000 women were raped in the Congo, or 26 times higher than what the United Nations has been reporting. 400,000 rapes! In one year!
How can anyone excuse talking about the plight of anyone in the world – whether it is the Palestinians or anyone else – when there are 400,000 women being raped in one area in one year. Shameful! We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on helping a unknown group of rebels in Libya while we are ignoring millions of women being raped, and thousands of men, women and children being killed,per year?
If you are Jewish, whether on the Left or the Right, you have every right to obsess on Israel – that is your religious, cultural and national obligation. And if you are Palestinian, by all means you can complain about Israeli checkpoints which are forcing people to spend hours in traffic getting to work, or a security fence which is separating you from your friends and relatives. But if you are not either Israeli, Jewish, Arab or Palestinian, then you have no right to focus on Israel and Palestinians or even Libyans or Syrians or Bahrainis while hundreds of thousands are experiencing death and rape and genocide in sub-Saharan Africa. It is morally repugnant for our first African American president to be ignoring the worst humanitarian crises in our world, simply because the Arab world and the Palestinians, and many Jews, are “dreying his kup” – are distracting him – for their own interests. President Obama needs to set the moral agenda of America and prioritize the areas that truly need our humanitarian attention: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan – not Israel or the Middle East.
And to the Jewish community I have a message: If we want the Administration to continue to obsess on Israel-Palestinian peace, we just need to remember that we are being selfish; we need to remember that for every hour Obama has to meet Netanyahu to pressure him, that is an hour that hundreds of more women are being raped in the Congo and another hour closer to finishing the genocide in Darfur. We may feel that getting Israel out of the West Bank is worth it, or ending the occupation for West Bank Palestinians is worth it, but when the tally of deaths and rapes in Africa is taken, I hope it is not on our heads that the leader of the free world ignored his own homeland and left them to continue living in a hell of rapes, killings and destruction. May God open our eyes and hearts to the suffering of our fellow human beings in Africa, and make sure our President is addressing this moral imperative as he should.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
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May 25, 2011 | 11:48 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Among 10,000 friends and comrades, I stood and applauded, as the Prime Minister forcefully stood in the breach. The State of Israel would never accept borders that cannot be defended, or allow itself to be undone as a Jewish State through the return of generations of refugees, or negotiate with the cult of death that even now explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction. I stood and applauded for the Prime Minister.
And I did so, even as the faint scent of death began to enter the room. Even as the inescapable reality of deadlock, the unavoidable trajectory of conflict, the inevitable prospect of bloodshed, descended hard upon at least one more generation. It was difficult to fault the Prime Minister for then proceeding to hammer nails into the coffin of the search for peace. After all, the President of the PA had already nailed the coffin shut in deciding to partner with Hamas. So I kept on standing and applauding. The applause that would be the prelude to tears.
The day is over, and the dusk is deepening. The path of peace, if it was ever more than an illusion, is sunk beneath the sea, disintegrating into the undifferentiated bottom. The choices have been made, the die has been cast. Our tears will soon flow again. May it be God’s will that it not be so. If only God could be so kind as to shield us from the inevitable.
We applaud today, but will cry for the next Fogel family of Itamar, God forbid, tomorrow. We applaud today, but will cry, God forbid, for lost sons tomorrow. And then we will rally, and vow “Am Yisrael Chai!”, and then applaud again. And a month later, cry again. And this is the path.
Another generation at least. Applause as the prelude for tears. Applause. Tears. Repeat.
May 18, 2011 | 1:41 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Honorable mayor , City clerk , City treasurer, new and returning members of the City Council,
As you enter on this new journey together, I bless you with the “Traveler’s Prayer”:
May it be Your will, God, that you guide us toward peace and let us to reach our desired destination for life, joy and unity. Rescue us from the hand of every foe, every challenge along the way, and all afflictions that may trouble our city. Send blessing in our work and let us find grace, kindness and compassion from You and from all who see us take on the sacred task of making our city work.
As we begin this new era in the history of our city, the blessing of renewal:
Baruch ata ado-nay elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, shehechiyan, vekiymanu, vehigiyanu lazman hazeh,
Blessed are you God, who has given us life, strengthened us and brought us to this wonderful moment!
And let us say, Amen.
May 11, 2011 | 5:30 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” -Proverbs 24:17
“Then Moses and the children of Israel sang…Pharos’s chariots and army God has drowned in the sea!” -Exodus 15:1
Should we cheer at the fall of Bin Laden? The Biblical book of Proverbs would seem to indicate we should not. On the other hand in the Biblical book of Exodus when the Jewish people walk through the Red Sea and the Egyptians who are perusing them drown Miriam and Moses lead the Jewish people in song and dance in thanks to God for saving them from Pharaoh and his army. So which is it?
The Talmud, Judaism’s most basic book of law, in discussing capitol punishment asks how capitol punishment should be carried out if a criminal is deserving of the death penalty. The Talmud concludes that it must be carried out in the most painless way possible. This is learned from a familiar Biblical verse used in a shocking way:
“And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” - Choose for him a good death (Talmud, Sanhedrin 52b).
Of those we are inclined to see as “our neighbor” to be treated as ourselves, the least likely candidate for such status is a criminal so horrendous they are deserving of capitol punishment. Yet it is precisely to such a situation that the Talmud understands the Biblical dictum to apply.
I remember about 15 years ago I was in the dollar store and came across a book by Jeffrey Dahmer’s father about his son’s life. Dahmer was, in most of our minds, the most horrid of criminals. He met men at bars, brought them to his apartment, had sex with them, cut them up into bits and ate them. I paid my dollar and snuck the book out of the store as if it were pornographic.
In reading the book I was amazed. This individual whom I saw as so horrible as to not really be human, at least not the same catagory of human as I, had a real life, a real father, mother, and childhood, not unlike most of us. He played, ate, waked the dog, and had what seemed to be normal parents. It was a revelation to me. Suddenly this person whom I thought was so other, so disgusting as to not be of the same humanness as the rest of us, was indeed much like the rest of us.
It made me wonder if perhaps we all have the potential to be so evil and I began to see the most horrendous of criminals as a little less “other” -as my neighbor. Which does not mean we should not punish them or even mete out capitol punishment when deserved, but at the same time we must realize they are human like the rest of us, and in loving them, our neighbor as ourselves, we must do the work of choosing for them the best death. Death and justice certainly, but a death in which we can not free ourselves from seeing them, we can not see them as wholly other, but as our neighbor….albeit a neighbor so wicked they deserve death.
Perhaps the message is that justice must be done, it is good to bring Osama Bin Laden to death and rid the world of a bit of evil, but at the same time perhaps we must not separate ourselves mentally from him, we must realize he is “our neighbor” and choose for him a good death. A death not of revenge and pain, but of mercy and justice.
May 11, 2011 | 3:25 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
The Dream Act is being introduced in Congress. All Jews who immigrated to the United States - that’s all of us! - need to support it if we have any gratitude to God for allowing us and those who came before us enter this country, or other countries of refuge. The Dream Act would enable tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered this country as children and who are either serving in the U.S. Army or going to college to gain legal residency and eventually citizenship. The Dream Act failed in its first round, mostly because Republicans in congress demanded that the government deal with securing the boarder before certifying any formerly illegal immigrants. But this issue has to be a priority for America and for the Jewish Community. It is a moral matter for Americans, who know that our country is the right place for these people who have lived almost their whole lives here, and who have achieved the American dream - of serving our country and getting an education to enable our country to continue its leadership of the Free World.
Just over a week after we commemorated the Holocaust, where millions of our people died because England and the United States refused entry to our people, and just a day after Israel independence day, our beloved Jewish state which was established to Never Again allow Jews to be refused entry to escape persecution. Yes, these undocumented children are not refugees; their parents came illegally to our country and brought them in illegally. But our mothers and fathers came to America for a better life as well, and how can we not be sympathetic to people desperately trying to enter our country to better their lives? Yes, we did not enter illegally, probably. But these children are innocent of any crime as well. They were brought in by their parents or others and had no choice. They are not responsible for being here illegally. And now they are part of the United States; they have adopted the best values and visions of our country. If we Jews do not have sympathy for “geirim” - for strangers - if we do not have sympathy for children, who will? Didn’t the British at least let in the children to England through the Kinder Transports? That was in 1939. If Britain of the thirties could take pity on Jewish children, cannot we Jews take pity on Mexican children who only know life in America and are doing their best to be good Americans.
Undoubtedly there were those in Britain who said that if you let in Jewish children it would cause all sorts of social ills. Thank God the voices of morality overcame those foolish utilitarians. Today there may be voices against the Dream Act: American Jews of all political persuasions need to step in and say, Even though this act will only help our country, it is first and foremost a moral act, and we who understand what it means to go from servitude to freedom, know what it means to go from the poverty of Mexico or so many other countries to the freedom of the United States of America.
Because our parents and grandparents got lucky and worked hard to get into this country, we Jews of America are in a position to influence American policy. Let us not show a lack of gratitude to our predecessors or to God for giving us a position of privilege to be American citizens. Thank God for America, and thank God their are children who grow up, unrecognized and undocumented, who love our country and are willing to serve it with their lives and with their minds. Let us learn from the tragedy of a world so panicked that it did not let Jews into the bastion of freedom - the USA - nor into our own homeland - Palestine at the time. Let us commit that it never happen again, not just to us, who suffered so egregiously from that panic, but to any people, and, especially, to the innocent children of this world.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
May 11, 2011 | 12:22 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
What would it be like to ritually count each passing day of our lives? As each new day begins, “today is the 13,562nd day of my life. And then, “today is the 13,563rd day of my life.” Such a ritual would surely make us acutely aware of the passage of time, of the progression toward, well, the end. But it might very well also considerably improve the way we live, as each day we’d feel compelled to ask, “Where am I today relative to where I was a day ago? Have I made a day’s worth of progress?” And in more general terms we’d invariably ask, “What have I accomplished so far over these thousands and thousands of days? Are these accomplishments sufficient in quality and quantity to justify all of these days that have been invested in me?” And looking forward we might well ask, “So today will be day 13,563. Where should I reasonably expect to find myself by, say, day 14,000? What should I have accomplished by then?
A ritual of literally counting each and every day of our lives could, in theory, make us very holy people, as it would ensure that we always feel acutely accountable for our time in the eyes of God and in the eyes the people who love and depend upon us.
On the other hand, it could also make us literally crazy.
So God does not ask us to count off each and every day. Instead, He asks us to take one particular stretch of 49 days each year, and to just count those. It’s a short enough period of counting so that we don’t become completely neurotic, but a long enough period of time so that we get the idea. So that all through the year we expect progress of ourselves as the days pile up. And so that we continuously aspire to truly justify the time with which we have been endowed and blessed. And so that we set goals.
Blessed are You God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His mitzvot, and who has commanded us to count the Omer.
May 5, 2011 | 7:39 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
I just read that the JTA is reporting that the Chief Rabbinate has decided to accept all Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. I question how they will define what is Orthodox, and who is Orthodox. But it does seem like real news regarding opening up a closed system. Another difficult question: Is the enticement of getting your own conversion accepted going to lure previously excluded Orthodox rabbis into forgetting about the other fight going on: Reform and Conservative fighting to get their own conversions accepted in Israel. But remember that for now, Reform and Conservative conversions done in America are accepted by the State of Israel regarding Law of Return and citizenship; non-establishment Orthodox conversions are not. So things are crazy, especially for our Jewish state that is always worrying about demographics. The Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the other Orthodox International Rabbinic Fellowship are both having their conventions in two weeks – with new presidents coming in. Let’s hope that is a time of real change, where Jews all over can connect with their land and with Judaism. Great way to go into Yom Ha’atzmaut weekend.
May 5, 2011 | 11:27 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Have you ever heard of a school named for the biblical figure Hagar? Until last Shabbat afternoon, we hadn’t either. Now though, we’ll never be able to forget it.
This past Shabbat afternoon, our shul had the unlikely privilege of hosting Amal Alhjooj, who hails from a Bedouin family in the Negev, and Hagit Damri, a Ben Gurion U alum, who settled in Beer Sheva. Together they founded a school named for Hagar, an academically excellent, bi-lingual school in which equal numbers of Jewish and Arab kids learn and play together, and also learn about one another even as they are encouraged to fully embrace their own religious identities. A school that’s spawned an entire community of Jewish and Arab parents and grandparents who enjoy hikes and other outings together, who have, in a very organic way, established a model of mutual respect and cooperation. A school that’s growing by the year. Maybe it was because we’ve become so overloaded with bad news and hopelessness, or maybe simply because our two guests were painting a picture of the way our deepest intuitions tell us the world should be, but a lot of us were crying through our smiles as we listened, enraptured.
Part of it was also the stories that they told. Amal told us about her first bus ride in Montreal, to where she had come to do graduate work in the field of community development at McGill University. She spoke English, but the bus driver whose assistance she need, spoke only French. Frustrated and anxious, she then heard a woman a few rows behind her speaking Hebrew to her child. And for the first time in Amal’s life, Hebrew was not the language of the “other”, but a language she shared with the Jewish people. The language of someone whom she could turn to for help. Weeks later, in early September, Amal called her father back in their Bedouin village in a panic. She had just discovered that her graduate advisor was Jewish, and was worried that this would adversely affect the advisor’s feelings toward her. “Take an apple and some honey”, her father told her, “knock on her door and say Shana Tova”. Amal did. Her advisor received the gift, and began to cry. And lifetimes of walls came crumbling down.
Hagit recalled the time that she and her family took a wrong turn during a vacation in northern Israel, and found themselves in the middle of an Arab village. Nervous, she and her husband rolled up the windows in the car, and began to strategize with each other in English, employing that time-honored, but invariably futile tactic for “not scaring the children”. Hagit’s young son, a student at the Hagar School, said, “Mom, roll down the windows and ask for directions. Why are you afraid?” And they did. And sure enough they found friendly faces on the outside. “We adults learn from the kids”, Hagit observed.
Yes, there’s a long long way to go. And the dream of regional peace in the Middle East, peace for Israel and the Jewish people, still appears to be quite distant, and still faces obstacles that no one seems to know how to scale. But as we learned last Shabbat, there are dreamers out there. Dreamers who are also builders. Dreamers who have already accomplished the inconceivable, and who are just getting started.
And we cried through our smiles.
You can learn more about the Hagar school at www.hajar.org.il