Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
By now you’ve heard about the Pew Research poll, published this week, that concludes that American Jewry is on its way to oblivion. No need to wait for Hassan Rouhani of Iran to drop a bomb on us. We’re doing an incredibly fine job of destroying ourselves, thank you very much.
What all this shows is that what my friend mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and I have been saying for years is unfortunately correct. Despite the untold billions that have been sunk into Jewish communal outreach for the last half century, it has barely made a dent in the rate of assimilation.
Here are three ways to give mouth-to-mouth to our dying community.
1. Stop creating a divide between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.
Today’s model of outreach is fatally flawed seeing as it necessarily forces a choice on non-affiliated Jews to choose between the Jewish and mainstream worlds. So, a student at University who hangs out with his non-Jewish friends is encouraged to stop going only to mainstream University events and come instead to Hillel or Chabad. I’m not knocking that. We need Jewish organizations that invite Jews in to classes, religious services, lectures, social events, and debates. But far more effective is not forcing the choice on them in the first place. Bring Judaism instead to where they are at. On campus, do colossal events that bring Jewish values, teachings, and wisdom to all students so that young men and women are not forced to choose.
Last week, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of Hillel at NYU, our organization, This World: The Values Network, staged a huge event of over 1000 Jewish and non-Jewish students that had me moderating a discussion on genocide between Elie Wiesel and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.
In a similar manner, bring Judaism to the culture via TV shows, plays, and music that are mainstream and intended for all audiences. Some examples include the new Shlomo Carlebach-based musical ‘Soul Doctor,’ produced by Jeremy Chess, that is currently running on Broadway, the music of Matisyahu, and the TV show I hosted on TLC called ‘Shalom in the Home.’ Like the Kabbalah movement, bring Judaism and Jewish values to everybody instead of just focusing on the Jews. We are not a proselytizing faith, but that is no excuse not to make the Jewish people a light to all nations.
2. Fix the broken and boring Synagogue service.
The overwhelming number of Jews who still step into a Synagogue do so for three days of every year and then swear they will never come back. Sometimes I think we should ban secular Jews from High Holy Day services and shift their attendance instead to Simchas Torah and Purim. But since that’s not going to happen, let’s take the focus off of cantorial recital yodeling, which makes congregants into spectators, shift the teachings away from dry sermons, and focus instead on having services engage the heart and mind. Carlebach-style services that make people sing real spiritual melodies rather than listening to opera is the way to go. Rabbis putting out moral questions between each of the seven readings of the Torah on Saturday mornings is a means by which to influence congregants to apply the lessons of the Torah to their everyday lives, making Judaism relevant rather than aloof. And don’t forget a fantastic Kiddush with fine single malt whisky. Can’t afford it? Build less elaborate buildings and have a more elaborate cholent and sushi.
3. Make the Rabbinical and Jewish day school teaching professions fashionable again.
You basically become a Jewish day school teacher or a Rabbi after your fifth rejection from Harvard Business School. There is no social clout in it and you get paid in cholent beans. How do we change all this? By having AIPAC, Federation, Birthright, and other prestigious Jewish organizations respect Rabbis at their major conventions rather than having them say the blessing on the bread. How do we ensure they can make more money? Take the ten smartest Jewish hedge fund managers and have them create a fund open only to Jewish activists where there money will be managed by the smartest people in the world so that a teacher in cheder will have enough money to marry off his children without having to moonlight as a bar bouncer. The more money Rabbis and teachers make, without putting strains on the communal purse, and the more clout these professions enjoy, the more talent we will attract to those professions that are supposed to be inspiring our youth.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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August 20, 2013 | 11:34 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
This column was dictated by Rabbi Shmuley from the basecamp of Mount Kilimanjaro, hours prior to his attempt to summit the mountain.
I came to Mount Kilimanjaro, the fabled roof of Africa, because I wanted to experience the glory of God as manifest in the beauty of nature. My wife and I were in Africa to see the Rwandan genocide sites we had no visited last year, and to attend our son Mendy’s Rabbinical ordination in Pretoria, South Africa. Squeezed between two extremes of horror and celebration, we wanted to push ourselves to the limit of our own endurance in order to be uplifted by a wonder of the world that can only be seen from its summit of 19,341 feet. I also wanted to bring my Judaism with me to one of the portals of the world, to prove that Jewish observance can be maintained at every time and at every place. Finally, in the 25th year of our marriage, I wanted my wife and me to share an experience of unique solitude and togetherness, to accomplish something jointly that pulled us away from the noise of modern life and threw us into the serenity of an alternate universe atop the world.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a kin to immersion in a weeklong Sabbath. There is no electricity. Your phones, for the most part, do not work. When they do, you feel a small sense of disappointment, but it’s a concession you make because you of course have to check up on the kids. “Okay, I confess. I called the office as well.” Bathing is out, although for your own comfort, and especially that of the people around you, you wash daily in a small basin of water.
Kilimanjaro has provided me with many firsts. It is the first time in my life that I ever heard the sound of silence. It turns out that the sound is not an invention of Simon and Garfunkel. Moving away from our camp, yesterday, at 12,500 feet, I walked to find an inspiring place to recite the afternoon prayer of Mincha. I ambled over a ridge, faced north towards Jerusalem, and looked down at the ocean of cloud that was thousands of feet below me and engulfed the Earth. Suddenly, the utter stillness and total silence began to chime in my ears. And I heard it. The ringing sound of nothingness. I began my prayer, pouring my heart to a creator who was responsible for such resplendent beauty and solitude. Since then, we climbed this morning another 3,000 feet. For us, it was a slow, hard, sludge. But the rule of the climb is single file, and I walked right behind my wife. Her determination and resilience is like an invisible rope that is pulling me up the mountain. The air gets thinner and thinner as you ascend, but the scenery becomes evermore magical and surreal. You pass thru four zones before the summit: Cultivated, Heather, Moorland, and Alpine Desert, the most interesting and dreamlike of all. Nothing grows here, and it’s closest resemblance, although I have no plan to hike there, is the surface of the moon.
Finally, we have reached the base camp to the summit, the final step before we reach the highest point of the world’s most mysterious continent. The air around us is tinny. Breathing, while thank God not difficult, is definitely a strain from our sea level home in New Jersey. We have, thankfully, thus far avoided altitude sickness due to the expert guidance of Onest Mtuy our head guide, and the deliberate but slow pace of James Utanga, our assistant guide. I have had some mild headaches, but they have disappeared once I gulped some water. Still, one of the telltale signs of altitude sickness is disorientation and hallucinations, and it is therefore for you the reader to decide the extent of my exposure from the rationality of this prose.
“Earlier today, my guides thought I had lost it completely when I demonstrated signs of a Napoleon complex until my wife assured them that I had suffered from it all my life.”
We are fortunate to be with the world leader in Kilimanjaro climbs, Thomson Safaris, whose mastery of logistical detail is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Their detailed accommodation of our Kosher requirements – using only brand new utensils and granting us supervision over an all vegan diet – was the icing on the cake.
It takes a team of twelve to fifteen to bring you up the mountain. At first, as a white Westerner, you experience a sense of guilt. This little army just for us? We are not that important. But then you start hiking and you hear the stories of the porters, all of whom are strong, friendly, with fascinating personal tales of the tribes whence they stem. In a country where the average wage is less than a dollar a day, the porters rely on a salary that is considerably more to feed their families. Most are married with children. The Kilimanjaro climbs, they tell me, are an absolute essential part of the regions economy, employing, ultimately, tens of thousands of people.
It’s now approaching the time for us to suit up and get ready for temperatures at the top of the mountain that hover, on average, at ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit. If you are reading this column, you are bearing witness to two miracles. The first is the miracle of technology that actually allowed me to dictate this column from more than 15,000 feet. The second is the glorious miracle from God that I am still alive to tell the tale.
Pray for me that in about seven hours, when we arrive at midnight, I will make it to the top, at which time I will attempt to take off three or four layers of clothing and put on my talis (prayer shall) and tefillin (scriptures in leather boxes donned for prayer) to offer thanks to God from one of the highest points in the world.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the International best-selling author of 29 books and an award-winning columnist. The Founder and Executive Director of This World: The Values Network, an organization devoted to promoting universal Jewish values globally. He will shortly publish his newest book, “Kosher Lust”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. Thomson Safaris can be found at www.ThomsonSafaris.com.
May 14, 2013 | 9:44 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of Albert Einstein, an avowed Zionist who worked to create the State of Israel, and replaced him with the august company of Elvis Costello and other Israel boycotters?
I hosted Hawking for a lecture at Oxford in 1998 where I introduced him to 1000 Oxford students. He could not have been more humble and approachable. Aside from his lecture, delivered through his voice synthesizer, on string theory – little of which I understood but which my students assured me was ‘brilliant’ – I remember his love of babies and practical jokes. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born and Hawking and his wife asked us if he could hold her. I can still picture in my mind how his wife took the baby, placed her on his lap, and then wrapped his enfeebled arms around the baby, which he stared at with a huge grin for minutes. He was enraptured.
After the lecture was over and as we walked Hawking to his car, he suddenly raced off in his wheelchair to Haagen-Dazs where we consumed in ice cream. His wife chuckled that he loved giving his hosts the slip as he indulged his childlike spirit.
All who heard and met him were deeply impressed with his humility and accessibility.
And now this, digging a knife publicly into Israel’s back.
Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional, and political life? Why would Hawking pounce on a nation who, with neighbors like Hamas that routinely murder gays on false accusations of collaboration, grants homosexuals every equal right? And why would he condemn a country whose Arab citizens are the freest and least afraid in the entire Middle East?
Could it be because Israel has still not settled the status of the West Bank?
But if that is the case, surely Hawking knows that Israel has seen thousands of its citizens slaughtered in gruesome terror attacks ever since it granted autonomy to the Palestinian authority to control 97% of the Palestinian population?
Could it be because Israel has yet to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state?
But then Hawking is a highly educated man and he knows that after Israel withdrew fully from Gaza – dismantling its communities and forcibly removing its settlers – that it lead to tens of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli hospitals and schools. And besides, Israel has practically begged the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions to discuss just that, the creation of a two-state solution, but the Palestinians have refused.
Perhaps its because Hawking believes the demonstrably false lie that Israel is an apartheid state. But then a scientist like Hawking would check facts before he would embrace such fraudulence and could easily discover that Arabs serve in the Israel Knesset – where they freely and regularly disagree with Israel – as well as the Israeli Supreme Court, the civil service, and every other area of Israeli life.
No, one must conclude that for all his academic brilliance Hawking might just be lacking in simple common sense.
In his statement embracing the boycott of the Jewish state, Hawking said, “I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this I must withdraw from the conference.”
One would think that Hawking’s response to these academics might be a call to, say, Hamas to start using the billions channeled to the Palestinians as the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid into building universities rather than buying bombs, or educating women rather than tacitly allowing the honor killings of young Palestinian women whose only crime is to have a boyfriend. No, Hawking decided instead to condemn the country whose scholars have won ten Nobel prizes, from a population of six million, while the entire Arab world, numbering in the hundreds of millions, have won two, outside the peace prize (another four).
Clearly, a knowledge of physics is no guarantor of a knowledge of foreign affairs.
Since Hawking is so often called the Einstein of his generation, it is worth reminding him that Einstein was a committed Zionist who traveled around the United States with Chain Weizmann to raise money for the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution that Hawking now refuses to even visit. In a 1921 letter to his friend Friedrich Zangger, Einstein wrote, “On Saturday I'm off to America - not to speak at universities (though there will probably be that, too, on the side) but rather to help in the founding of the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I feel an intense need to do something for this cause.”
Separately, in a letter to Maurice Solovine Einstein wrote, “I am not at all eager to go to America but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists, who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy... I do what I can to help those in my tribe who are treated so badly everywhere.”
And when in 1948 President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish State of Israel, Einstein declared it "the fulfillment of our dream.”
How unfortunate that a man as visionary as Stephen Hawking can peer so deeply into the Universe but it is so myopic as to fail to see the righteousness of Israel’s cause even as it stares him right in the face.
Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ served as Rabbi to the students of Oxford University for 11 years where he created the Oxford L’Chaim Society,which hosted world leaders lecturing on values-based leadership. He has just published The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
January 18, 2013 | 9:28 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
It’s hard to believe that every day the news reports have Syrians dying like flies and noone seems to give much of a damn. The report yesterday that 80 students were blown to smithereens was particularly galling. They were studying at their University in Aleppo when, apparently, death rained down from the sky, either through a missile or a bomb. One image had a female hand with a pen still in it, dismembered from the rest of her body. She apparently died while doing school work.
I was a Rabbi at a University. If 80 students had died in a military attack it would have shaken the foundations of the academic world. Professors everywhere would have condemned this violation of the sacred halls of academia. But in Syria it’s just another day of indiscriminate slaughter.The United States is the world’s strongest nation with the loudest voice. Can’t President Obama speak out? I know we’re not ready to invade Syria or impose a no-fly zone. Americans don’t have the stomach for another war, or an invasion. But does that absolve us from simply condemning the slaughter in the strongest possible terms? What would it cost, in blood and treasure, for President Obama to fly up to New York and address the United Nations with a simple declaration: “President Assad, I’m here today to tell you that the long arm of international justice will catch up with you. Today you’re a brutal dictator killing men, women, and children in order to stay in power. But one day, in the not too distant future, we will catch up with you. You will be arrested for crimes against humanity and tried for your butchery and mass murder. It may not happen today or tomorrow. But I assure that you one day, in the not too distance future, in the dead of night when you least expect it, it will happen. Soldiers of civilized nations will apprehend you and take you to the International Court of Justice at The Hague where you will stand trial before the world for your cruelty. And you will be held accountable for your appalling crimes.”
Isn’t that what the UN is for? It’s bad enough that China, and especially Russia, are protecting Assad and refusing to allow international action against him. But the American president is the very symbol of democratic freedoms and human rights to the entire world. He dare not remain silent.Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that President Obama said that Israelis don’t know what’s good for them. Bibi wants to build in Jerusalem but doesn’t realize that he is isolating Israel further in the international community.
I appreciate the President’s concerns. No doubt Israelis are especially grateful for the American President’s ability to divine Israel’s security needs even better than their chosen leaders. But perhaps our President should focus less on construction of apartments and homes and do something instead about the bombs and rockets that are killings tents of thousands of innocent Arabs. Syria is arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis that President Obama has had on his watch and he is, respectfully, failing miserably in doing anything about it.The Arab leaders have proven even less reliable. While President Morsi of Egypt decries Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, he seems fairly oblivious to the indiscriminate slaughter of his Arab brothers in Syria. But it’s become fairly obvious that it’s not the Jews who are the enemy but brutal Arab dictators who will kill as many Arabs as is necessary to stay in office.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, seems much more interested in forking over to Al Gore half a billion dollars to buy Current TV for Al Jazeera than taking out full page ads in the worlds’ leading publications alerting them to the Arab children who are dying in Damascus.In the book of Genesis God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. Cain has just killed him and in effort to protect himself famously asks, “Am I brother’s keeper?” God’s response is ferocious. “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
We who witnessed the repeated genocides of the twentieth century –from Armenia and the Holocaust to Cambodia and Rwanda – will one day be called to account for our silence in the face of dead students and children.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley’s.
January 9, 2013 | 10:14 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
A few years ago I was out having dinner with my orthodox, gay, Jewish brother when a religious man walked over to me and asked if I was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. From his aggressive posture I knew in my gut that I should not respond in the affirmative but was simply too tired to lie. So I said, yes, I was he. “I think you’re a dog and a disgrace to religion.” After offering a short, “Ruff, ruff,” I asked him what I had done to so offend him. He said, “You call yourself a Rabbi but you’re always out defending gays whom the Bible clearly says are an abomination.” I tried to reason with the man but his hatred for me was such that I had to let it go. What I experienced that day had happened often enough to me to kind of get used to it. But the irony was that my brother was sitting right there and he too has had to endure, since coming out in his late teens, the ugliness of some religious people treating him with vitriol. Still, he has held tightly on to his Jewish faith and its rituals and leads a charitable, compassionate life. He will not allow religious haters to tell him whether or not he is allowed a relationship with God.
This painful story came to mind when I read of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s radical opposition, in 1998, to James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.” Here was a United States senator abusing his power and refusing to allow a nomination for an Ambassadorship to go ahead simply because the man was gay. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that Hagel has not apologized, albeit 13 years later, when political expediency would demand it.
Now, I understand that Luxembourg is an extremely vital diplomatic post and that our chief diplomat there is an essential cog in the larger wheel of national security. But just what was Hagel worried about?
If the issue was that Hormel was not living in accordance with Biblical teachings, then neither was the President of the United States in that fateful year of 1998. Besides, America is a country with separation of Church and State. So a man’s unwillingness to live in accordance with all the laws of the Bible should surely not weigh in any decision as to his worthiness for public office.
And unlike the President of the United States who was guilty of a moral infraction in deceiving his wife through infidelity, homosexuality is a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since noone is being lied to. The ban on homosexuality in the Bible is similar to the ban on lighting fire on the Sabbath. There is nothing immoral about it, but it contravenes religious law.
Perhaps Hagel was saying that, regardless, a man who openly defies the dictates of the Bible cannot be trusted in a public role. But then the Bible also says, regarding Israel and the Jewish people, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9). But that did not stop Hagel from referring to pro-Israel activists as “the Jewish lobby,” with its Protocols of Zion overtones of Jewish manipulation of world affairs, and offered the further slur of saying that “the Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers.” We can only hope that their intimidation is not as severe as those who are openly, aggressively gay.
The Bible further says concerning Israel, “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.” (Zechariah 2:8) But that did not stop Hagel from voting against sanctions against Iran, even though Iran not only wishes to plunder Israel but wipe it off the map. As the New York Times noted, Hagel was only one of two senators to vote against the Iran-Libya sanctions act in 2001, “arguing that it would undercut efforts to engage with Tehran." Were these verses in the Bible less important to Hagel then those banning homosexuality?
Perhaps most famously the Bible says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) But that did not dissuade Hagel from his most unfortunate comment of being “not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” with its disgusting insinuation of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews and dual loyalties.
Now, why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?
While we should always try and judge people positively, it would seem that the only real explanation is that his opposition to gays is motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia. As to the State of Israel, we can only wonder what motivates his lack of sympathy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” this week publishes his newest book, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.”