Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I am husband and father,
Brother, son, colleague, and friend.
I am a congregational rabbi,
And a Jew in the pews.
I am a cancer survivor,
And support those with cancer,
And heart disease,
And mental illness,
And people in bad marriages,
And with troubled kids,
And unsatisfying jobs,
And too little money,
And frustrated lives.
I am one human being,
And life moves through me,
And through you,
Except when it doesn’t.
Life is wondrous,
Most of the time,
But sometimes it hurts like hell!
There is a second me too,
And a second you –
The always-present Neshamah
That hovers and waits
To become one with Nefesh,
That keeps us alive.
The Neshamah connects us to Divinity,
And infuses us with Essence,
And inspires us
To think and know
That we come closest to God
When we know that we are no-thing
And part of the All.
When we are most receptive to Neshamah
Our lives work.
In Elul each morning I awake wondering –
What is my greatest challenge?
What troubles me about me?
What gives me heartache and grief?
What ruins enslave me?
Am I patient and kind enough,
Generous and respectful enough,
Understanding and wise enough,
Appreciative and grateful enough?
The Yamim Noraim are coming!
There is little time.
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August 16, 2013 | 6:40 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Classic rabbinic tradition understands well the battle waged within every human being between the good inclination (yetzer tov) and the evil inclinations (yetzer hara), a theme upon which Jews particularly focus during the month of Elul leading to the High Holidays.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) wrote eloquently of this dynamic as follows [note: Rabbi Heschel wrote his books before modern feminism influenced many writers to consider alternatives to gender exclusive language. Out of respect for Rabbi Heschel’s original work, I have left the language as he wrote it, though I suspect he would have written it differently so as to be more inclusive had he lived in a later period]:
Life is lived on a spiritual battlefield. Man must constantly struggles with “the evil drive,” “for man is like unto a rope, one end of which is pulled by God and the other end by Satan.” “Woe to me for my yotzer [Creator], woe to me for my yetzer [the evil drive],” says a Talmudic epigram. If a man yield to his lower impulses, he is accountable to his Creator; if he obeys his Creator, then he is plagued by sinful thoughts.
Should we, then, despair because of our being unable to retain perfect purity? We should, if perfection were our goal. However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again and again beyond the level of the self. Perfection is divine, and to make it a goal of man is to call on man to be divine. All we can do is to try to write our hearts clean in contrition. Contrition begins with a feeling of shame at our being incapable of disentanglement from the self. To be contrite at our failures is holier than to be complacent in perfection. (Between Man and God, p. 188)
August 15, 2013 | 8:01 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
David Harris is the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, and he recently wrote two pieces that appeared in The Jerusalem Post and The Huffington Post explaining why this is the time for the Israelis and Palestinians to make peace and find a two-state solution to their conflict.
David is what most would characterize as “middle-right” on the political spectrum when it comes to Israel. A staunch supporter of the Jewish state, he has always been deeply concerned for Israel’s security and a powerful American Jewish advocate for a close American-Israeli relationship.
In light of his long-standing public advocacy for Israel, the harsh criticism of him from both the political left and the political right in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds is of interest, and his response to these critics that appeared yesterday in both The Jerusalem Post and The Huffington Post is an important read (see links below).
I believe that David is correct in his arguments.
As I watched the Israeli government release long-time imprisoned terrorist murderers of innocent non-military Israeli citizens (men, women and children), I felt a certain horror for the families of the victims and real fear that these terrorists might return to repeat their crimes once released.
I have wondered, as well, that despite the fact that virtually all the newly announced building of settlements was not a surprise and that these building projects are in large settlement blocks that Israel fully expects to keep in any future peace deal, why the Netanyahu government did not promise to stop all that settlement building as long as negotiations were taking place instead of releasing murderers.
Having wondered this aloud I do not want to second guess PM Netanyahu, especially since the release of these murderers had to have been excruciatingly painful for him and for the majority of his cabinet who voted with him. I believe we have to give them the benefit of the doubt on the prisoner release.
Netanyahu must have felt that he had no political or diplomatic choice. No one knows the pressures he feels. No one knows what he is actually thinking, nor what is his strategy. I hope it is straight up and that an end-of-conflict peace agreement with all issues resolved is his true goal.
Time will tell and I wish PM Netanyahu, President Abbas and the negotiating teams of both Israel and the Palestinians God-speed.
Read David Harris here: Jerusalem Post - http://blogs.jpost.com/content/give-peace-process-chance-part-two?msource=DAH081513 ; Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-harris/give-the-peace-process-a-_1_b_3757913.html?msource=DAH081513
August 9, 2013 | 6:11 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I have attended many conferences in my life, and none is quite like the annual national conference of J Street in Washington, D.C. for thought-provoking, inspiring and informative sessions with a wide diversity of views on the issue for which J Street was created five years ago, resolving through American mediation the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all.
J Street’s principles are clear and simple, though the conflict is not: “We believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in Israel, in the Jewish and democratic values on which Israel was founded, and in the necessity of a two-state solution.”
The core of J Street’s argument is that a secure democratic Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side with an independent Palestinian state through a two-state solution is the only way Israel can remain both Jewish and democratic.
J Street represents 180,000 individuals in 50 community chapters and a college division (J Street U) that is active on more than 50 campuses.
J Street's political action committee (JStreetPAC) is the largest pro-Israel PAC in Washington, D.C. and raised $1.8 million in the last election cycle (2012) to support 71 congressional and senatorial candidates, of which 70 won their elections.
J Street expects to bring to its conference between 2500 and 3000 participants, including 650 college students.
The Conference this year will include MK Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the opposition Labor party, and other Members of the Knesset from Labor, Meretz, Yesh Atid, Hat’nuah, Likud and Shas. The list of conference speakers also includes other Israeli and Palestinian leaders, American officials, journalists, and heads of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs.
Among the featured sessions are:
→ A View from the Hill: Is Congress Changing?
→ How Israel Emerged as a Partisan Wedge Issue in US Politics
→ Friends from Afar? The Impact of the Pro-Israel Establishment on Achieving Two States
→ The Future of State 194: Palestinian Politics Today
→ West Bank Settlements and the Two-State Solution: Not Too Late
→ How the Israel Conversation is Shut Down and Opened Up
→ Good Neighbors: Israel’s Role in a Transitioning Middle East
Whether you live in my city, Los Angeles, or anywhere else, J Street welcomes you to attend. See details on the conference here http://conference.jstreet.org/ and J Street’s website here www.jstreet.org.
August 8, 2013 | 10:44 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
With the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul yesterday (August 7) we count down the days to Rosh Hashanah (30) and Yom Kippur (40). During this period, t’shuvah (return to family, friends, community, Torah, God) is the spiritual and emotional per-occupation of the Jewish world. Central in this process of return is the ability to forgive others, ourselves and God.
Forgiving those who hurt us is among the most difficult emotional challenges in our lives. According to a 2001 study, Psychologist Loren Toussaint and colleagues at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, it was learned that men have a more difficult time forgiving than do women, and men have a more difficult time asking forgiveness of others than do women (LA Times, September 9, 2002).
The study upon which this article was based that appeared in an article in the Journal of Adult Development (2001) also found that those people who have forgiving personalities “have fewer psychological problems, feel more satisfied with their lives and are generally healthier than grudge holders.”
It goes without saying that unresolved anger has a negative impact on our marriages and our other relationships because anger hardens the heart and distances us from others feeding mistrust and coming in the way of intimacy.
The best antidote to anger is forgiveness, which really means letting go of what once occurred. Doing so does not require us to forget the harm that another caused us, but it does enable us to relieve ourselves of the negative burdens of the past.
I love this statement by the poet, novelist and playwrite Alden Nowlan (1933-1983), and I offer it at the beginning of this season of forgiveness, return and renewal:
“The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, s/he becomes an adolescent; the day s/he forgives them, s/he becomes an adult; the day s/he forgives him/herself, s/he becomes wise.”
August 4, 2013 | 6:48 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Right-wing extremists in the media and Congress are waging a full-scale assault on millions of poor people by refusing to raise the minimum wage (currently at $7.25/hour = $15,000 annually for full-time work) and include funds for food stamps on the Farm Bill now before Congress.
Watch John Oliver’s brilliant piece on “The Daily Show” focusing humorously – though it is no laughing matter – on the arrogance, ignorance and heartlessness of the “Fox News” crowd! http://americablog.com/2013/08/john-oliver-fast-food-workers-striking-video.html
For more information on the minimum wage, see http://action.ourfuture.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/index.sjs?action_KEY=204
It is the same people on “Fox News” and in the extremist wing of the Republican Party who want to slash billions of dollars out of the Farm Bill that would hurt 47 million food insecure Americans who depend on food stamps to feed themselves and their families. The vast majority these 47 million people are the working poor, children, seniors on fixed income, and people with disabilities.
Hubert Humphrey put it exactly right 45 years ago:
“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”
July 29, 2013 | 9:52 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
My mother, now 96, is in rapidly failing health. Always a model of vitality, it has been difficult for me to imagine the world without her. Yet, as she becomes increasingly frailer, my brother and I decided that it was time for us to tie up loose ends at the cemetery so that when her time came to die, all we would need to do is make a call and set a funeral date.
Twenty-five years ago, our mother told us that she had made arrangements to be buried in a double grave with our father, who had died in 1959. She said we would have no worries and that she had taken care of everything. We believed her.
However, last week, just to be certain everything was taken care of, I made an appointment with a pre-need counselor at the cemetery. It was then that I learned that other than my mother having requested in writing to be interred with my father, she had done nothing else nor paid any costs relative to her funeral and burial.
As my mother’s sight, hearing and strength diminished precipitously over the last two years, along with increasing dementia and changes in her demeanor and behavior, I began mourning the mother I once knew. I felt, nevertheless, emotionally ready to deal with her funeral and burial arrangements.
My pre-need counselor was kind and thorough and covered all the details and costs. About thirty minutes into an hour-long meeting, I stopped her and asked, “As someone who has officiated at hundreds of funerals, guided people through the mourning process, and understands the cemetery ‘business’ as well as I do, this must be for you relatively easy working with me. But what is it like for you to help people who, suddenly, in the shock and grief of a death have to do everything from scratch to prepare for the funeral and burial of their loved ones because nothing had been arranged in advance?”
“John,” she said, “It is very hard! These meetings take a long time and there is much pain and confusion. Sometimes, there is rage directed at me, and people fall apart emotionally in my office. I try and help them in every way. These meetings are often difficult and painful to get through, for them and for me.”
What is the take-away? For the sake of our spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends, I urge everyone to make arrangements for and pay for our own funerals, burial and internment now, long before it is necessary for others to do it on our behalf.
It is unfair, I believe, to leave the funeral and burial details to those we love. It is also unfair to leave them with the bill in the midst of their grief.
I understand why so many of us fail to make these arrangements. We’re afraid, and/or confronting our mortality is deeply distressing to us, especially if we have significant health problems. Some of us do not want to spend the money and we decide that our children will pay for everything after the fact out of our estates.
There is much to consider as we think about options. To assist you, please see a 45-page guide called “Preparing for Jewish Burial and Mourning” that I wrote two years ago that covers everything you will need to understand and consider in Jewish tradition and cemetery practice (click here or here).
This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
May you and your dear ones enjoy long and healthy lives, and may you sleep well at night knowing that what you do now will relieve the people you love the most from having to do after you die.
Kol tuv – Best wishes!
July 26, 2013 | 9:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Ameinu (Heb. “Our People”) is a national, multi-generation community of progressive Zionist North American Jews that believes that “a secure peace between Israel and its neighbors is essential to the survival of the democratic Jewish state.” Ameinu is committed to a “negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Thankfully, this is no longer the position solely of progressive Zionists. PM Netanyahu and a majority of Israel’s Knesset members support this proposition today, as do a majority of Israelis and Palestinians polled in recent surveys.
Yet, cynicism from the right, distortions from the left and distrust between our two peoples make negotiations complicated and difficult going forward.
I have always believed that the more one understands what the truths are on all sides of the conflict, the better prepared one is to support reasonable options that guarantee security for both the Palestinians and Israelis in an end-of-conflict two-state peace agreement.
To this purpose has Ameinu produced a readable and helpful 25-page pamphlet called “The Third Narrative: Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel.”
The pamphlet was written by Dan Fleshler, a media and public affairs strategist and author of Transforming America’s Israel Lobby – The Limits Of Its Power and the Potential For Change (Potomac Books, 2009). Fleshler is a frequent contributor of Op-eds and features in The New York Times Opinionator, Jerusalem Report, Forward, New York Jewish Week, Ha’Aretz, Reform Judaism magazine and other publications. He serves as a board member of Ameinu and American’s for Peace Now and on the Advisory Council of J Street.
This booklet addresses most of the accusations against Israel that one might find on the Web, on college and university campuses and in other settings. As Fleshler notes in the introduction:
“Some of these attacks come from the far left, from activists trying to appeal to Jews and non-Jews who are committed to human rights and social justice. Often, these critics are not just attacking specific, objectionable Israeli policies and behavior. They treat Israel as the epitome of evil. They portray the entire Zionist enterprise…as nothing more than a racist, colonialist and immoral land theft.”
The booklet head-on addresses the following assertions:
• Is Israel An “Apartheid State?”
• Is One, Binational State A Solution To the Israel-Palestinian Conflict?
• Is Pro-Israel And Progressive An Oxymoron?
• Should Palestinian Refugees And Their Descendants Be Granted the “Right of Return?”
• Should Boycotts, Divestment And Sanctions (BDS) Against Israel Be Encouraged?
• Does Zionism = Racism?
• Is “Ethnic Cleansing” Inherent To Zionism?
• Does The Pro-Israel Lobby Have A Stranglehold On The U.S. Government?
As Israel and the Palestinians prepare to enter into negotiations, many of these canards will be raised by the left and by the Palestinians themselves. It is important that the Jewish public possesses informed responses. To that end, Fleshler and Ameinu suggest that the history of Zionism, Israel and the rise of Palestinian nationalism are complex, and that there are multiple truths that must be acknowledged by Jews on the left and right, and by Palestinians themselves.
The following appeared in the Times of Israel about Ameinu’s progressive Zionist approach.
You can learn more about the Third Narrative at http://thirdnarrative.org/
Those interested in acquiring a copy of the pamphlet, call Ameinu at (212) 366 1194 or refer to its website – www.ameinu.net.