Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Two important blogs have appeared in recent days shining a light on the desecration of the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall (Hakotel), at the hands of the Chief rabbi of the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Jerusalem District Police Chief Yossi Pariente.
Not only are women not allowed to wear a tallit as they pray in this holy site, they are also barred from singing the Psalms of David and the Jewish liturgy aloud, and from reading from a Torah scroll. Now, there is a new controversy that threatens to prohibit women from saying the Mourner’s Kaddish at the Kotel.
Who makes those decisions? One man, who Susan Ester Barnes (below) rightly calls a “dictator,” the Chief Rabbi of the Kotel with the acquiescence of the Jerusalem District Police Chief.
According to Katharine Nasielski's blog (below):
“Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky met with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. He told the rabbi in their meeting, “The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord.” According to Sharansky, Rabbi Rabinowitz ensured him that the restrictions would be stepped back, although we are still waiting for that statement to be made formally.”
These two blogs will bring you up to date. Communicate directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu your outrage that anyone controls the religious character of the most important religious site in Judaism.
"The Women of the Wall and the Dictator" - Posted by Susan Esther Barnes.
"Women Barred from Mourning at the Kotel?" By Katharine Nasielski.
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April 3, 2013 | 10:45 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Harriet Rossetto was a bright Jewish kid with success written all over her. Like other young women growing up in the early 1960s, she went to college, got married, had a child, and hoped to live happily ever after. It didn’t turn out quite that way, but today she is more fulfilled than she ever expected to be.
Harriet is the CEO and Founder of Los Angeles’ renowned non-profit drug and alcohol treatment organization called Beit T’shuvah (House of Return), the only institution of its kind for Jews in the US. She earned an MSW and then, as she describes her life at 45, she became unemployed and homeless, hitting rock bottom. From that despairing place one day she picked up an LA Times classified ad for a job as a Social Worker at the county jail. The ad specified the need for “a person of Jewish background and culture to help incarcerated Jewish offenders. MSW required.”
That turned out to be a fateful day. The job, working with Jewish addicts and cons, led Harriet to found Beit T'shuvah and meet her husband and partner, himself an addict and con, who would eventually be ordained Rabbi Mark Borovitz.
Harriet is brutally honest and self-revealing about herself, her struggles, her life, and addictions. She also speaks movingly of the central role her return to Judaism played in her journey, offering the essence of what she discovered this way:
“Judaism began to rest on a few core beliefs that helped me redefine my perception of myself, of others and of the purpose of life.
I matter. You matter. I have a holy soul. I am imperfect by design. My value is a birthright. Change is possible and mandatory. Right action is the bridge to wholeness of self.”
Harriet recognizes that her formerly negative view of life, that "nothing matters and who cared anyway, had been shifting: Everything [now] mattered, I realized. Everything. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: something sacred is at stake in every event.”
Hers and Mark’s quest turned out to be the classical Jewish mystical quest, to confront both the darkness and light in the individual soul, and to struggle towards the light and bring others along with them.
It is an irony that this child of middle class Jewish parents found her most natural home among addicts. She identified with them, struggled along with them, hit bottom like them, and became their teacher and guide:
“My qualification to be your life teacher is I have been where you are. I’ve seen it all. I know your torment, your war against yourself. I have battle-hardened experience and I still struggle every day. And I have learned how to live an integrated life. You will too. You are sure that whatever you’re addicted to is the only thing that will relieve the misery of your emptiness, the hole that aches. Without (fill in your own blanks) drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, money, power and prestige… there is no reason to get up in the morning….you will want to use again, and you might. But if you don’t, one day you will start to feel better. Alive again, in fact.”
Harriet teaches that, similar to other 12 step programs, “faith in a Power greater than oneself was necessary in order to stay sober. The addict has to learn how to live from within and stop seeking external solutions to internal discomfort.”
Unlike other 12 step programs, hers is based in Torah and Judaism:
“Torah is the Big book of Jewish recovery from human broken-ness. We believe if you can see yourself in every Parsha it is the Path to Shalem (wholeness) and Shalom (Peace of Mind.)”
Those accepted into Beit T’shuvah for treatment are required to live according to strict rules of the house. Prayer, meditation and learning Torah are essential components of daily life, alongside productive work, therapy and mutual support.
Beit T'shuvah is funded solely by voluntary contributions. No one is turned away because of inability to pay. Grateful parents and grandparents, foundations and friends support it because it works.
Harriet’s spiritual memoir is a moving tale of ongoing recovery; hers, Rabbi Mark’s, and all those who pass through. Her story, though unique and extraordinary, in truth is everyone’s story because each of us can locate ourselves somewhere along that continuum of addiction to non-addiction. We’re all broken somehow. All of us yearn for healing and liberation from our personal Mitzrayim (“Egypt” – lit. “the narrow constricted places” that enslave us and bow our heads).
Harriet’s book is one more thing – It is moving testimony to the capacity of each one of us to lift ourselves up, turn our lives around, one step at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.
March 31, 2013 | 2:19 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
President Obama’s Jerusalem speech has been praised by most American Jewish Organizations for his eloquent support of Israel, its security, his respect for the historic Jewish attachment to the land of Israel, his tough stand against the Iranian nuclear threat, and his desire to help the parties resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
e I should be happy with this praise, but I am instead worried, not for what most of these organizations said in their press releases following Obama’s Middle East visit, but by what they did not say.
In reading the statements of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and J Street, in all but the RAC and J Street statements something important was missing.
The AJC quoted Obama as “reaffirming the US supported goal of a negotiated two state-solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and calling “on the Palestinians to return to direct talks with Israel…” noting that the President praised “Abbas as a partner for peace.”
The ADL said that “The President conveyed a deep understanding of important challenges facing Israel, including the peace process…” and “that the peace process can only be achieved through negotiations without preconditions…”
AIPAC noted that both Obama and Netanyahu “share the view that direct talks should resume between the Israelis and Palestinians without preconditions, with the objective of two states for two peoples.”
The ZOA made no mention of a two-state solution because it does not support a two-state solution.
Here are the relevant remarks in the RAC and J Street statements that are missing from all the others:
The RAC, quoting Obama, repeated: “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn. I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for these talks.”
J Street said: “[Obama] also laid out the moral case for peace with the Palestinians, based on full recognition of their national right to self-determination and their right to build their lives free of the daily humiliations of military occupation. The President also made it clear that peace is possible and that Israel does have partners in …Abbas and…Fayyad…who are committed to negotiations and to a peaceful solution.”
It seems to me that in their press statements the organized American Jewish community ignored most of the 20 minutes of the President’s 49 minute address that spoke directly and compassionately to the Israeli people about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation and their legitimate rights to a national home of their own side by side with Israel.
Here are a few of the most important lines of Obama’s speech that were not alluded to except by the RAC and J Street:
“[T]he Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes.
Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
Peace is possible. It is possible. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not, but it is possible.
Let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.
Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim its future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the great story of this great nation."
What concerns me is the potentially obstructionist role that some in the organized American Jewish community might take (as has happened in the past) when President Obama and Secretary Kerry put concrete proposals on the table about borders, settlements, security, Jerusalem, and refugees. I hope that what is missing in their press statements are merely oversights. I hope as well that the organized American Jewish community will support President Obama fully in his efforts without second guessing him and without partisan rancor in order to help the Israelis and Palestinians find an end of conflict two-state solution without getting in his way.
If this occurs in this next year, come Pesach 2014 we will truly be able to say – Dayeinu!
March 27, 2013 | 10:06 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Letty Cottin Pogrebin has written an indispensable guide when a member of one’s family or a dear friend becomes ill or suffers a tragic death, what to do, say and not say, how to respond and be the friend the stricken most needs.
Letty is a founding editor of Ms Magazine, an award winning journalist, a non-fiction and fiction writer (this is her 10th book), a political and peace activist, and a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend.
As a rabbi who confronts every kind of illness, trauma, disability, and loss, I have not seen a more complete and exhaustive guide than this book on how we can all help each other when we are in need of a friend.
Letty is insightful, intuitive, generous, kind, empathetic, warm hearted, and loving. She is refreshingly self-revealing in this book and so the book is also an autobiographical chronicle, which gives the reader permission to be vulnerable and to share with our own loved ones our vulnerabilities and needs.
She was moved to write this volume after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. During and after treatment Letty was struck by how her family and friends reacted to her, how awkward some were and how others understood what she needed and how to help, support and nurture her.
In her research she spoke with more than 80 fellow patients, family and friends who had had cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s Disease, diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, mental illness, dementia, catastrophic financial ruin, and the death of children. She interviewed doctors, nurses, and hospital workers, clergy of various faith traditions, and complete strangers. She learned the Do’s and Don’ts of interacting with the ill and their families, that there is no one template on how to behave, that everyone has different needs, and that sensitive friends will thoughtfully think through what makes sense for the individuals they love and what are their unique needs, and then behave accordingly.
“The stories I collected from others,” she wrote, “helped me understand my own reactions and fueled my determination to be a better friend to my ailing friends. Among other lessons, I learned that it’s not enough to be a good hearted person if you’re oblivious to the pain in someone’s eyes; that friendship can nourish, help, and heal but also disappoint and suffocate. With every interview I marveled at how thin and permeable is the membrane between good intentions and bad behavior, how human it is to be both strong and vulnerable, and how people process the sickness, stress, and sorrow of their friends in many different ways.”
Letty considers every conceivable aspect of how to refine the art of friendship when a dear one becomes ill or suffers loss. She reviews “Goofs, Gaffes, Platitudes, Faux Pas, Blunders, Blitherings – and Finding the Right Words at the Right Time.” She reflects on what to ask of a patient and what to avoid saying. She offers a list of “Ten Commandments for Conversing with a Sick Friend” and enumerates who should visit and what constitutes a “good visit.” Her list of “Twenty Rules for Good Behavior While Visiting the Sick, Suffering, Injured, or Disabled” is a common sense guide that even those with plenty of sechel are well-advised to review.
Letty considers as well the differences between men and women in their coping with illness, about the importance of being sensitive to a person’s shame and/or need for privacy, and the necessity that friends always “show up.”
She writes: “Entering other people’s truth, I learned that illness is friendship’s proving ground, the uncharted territory where one’s actions may be the least sure-footed but also the most indelible; that illness tests old friendships, gives rise to new ones, changes the dynamics of a relationship, causes a shift in the power balance, a reversal of roles, and assorted weird behaviors; that in the presence of a sick friend, fragile folks can get unhinged and Type A personalities turn manic in order to compensate for their impotence; and that hale fellows can become insufferably paternalistic, and shy people suddenly wax sanctimonious.”
Letty not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2009 requiring surgery and radiation (I am fine now) just before Letty’s own diagnosis, she was an attentive friend from across the country. Supportive, nurturing and kind I felt seen and cared about that inspires my gratitude still.
What she learned subsequent to her own diagnosis deepened her capacity and understanding not only of what she needed, but what others need. Now she has written a book that offers the reader the benefits of her experience, wisdom and love.
I recommend this volume without reservation.
March 24, 2013 | 7:05 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Uri Regev, Founder and Director of Hiddush, asked me to write a Passover Supplement for inclusion in your family Seder on themes and values upon which both the State of Israel and the United States are founded. That piece is titled:
“Imagine: Liberation, Marriage and Gender Equality in Israel and the Diaspora”
You can find it here.
Hiddush is Israel’s leading civic organization dedicated to the implementation of the basic values guaranteed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence - freedom of religion and equality - without which no enlightened democracy can exist. See for more information - http://www.hiddush.org/
In light of President Obama’s extraordinary address to the people of Israel and his commitment to bring the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians together to negotiate a two-state end of conflict peace agreement, Ba-shanah haba-ah Bi-y’rushalayim – Next year [May there be a real peace] in Jerusalem.
Hag Pesach Sameach from my family to yours.
March 22, 2013 | 6:10 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Nothing in the Seder is as it appears. Each symbol, midrash, vignette, poem, and song evokes layers of meaning that help fashion the Jewish heart, mind and soul. The Seder carries such deep religious, cultural, moral, historical, and political significance that Passover is among the richest and most observed rites in Judaism today.
A little known figure in the Haggadah is worth mention especially in light of the President’s journey to the Middle East this week. His name is Nachshon, the son of Aminadav.
Nachshon is not mentioned in the Biblical exodus story per se (he is cited in Numbers 1:7 as the chief in the Tribe of Judah), yet he looms large in rabbinic literature as a critically important figure in the narrative at the Sea of Reeds.
It is written that as the Israelites fled Egypt they faced before them the impassable Sea and behind them in the pursuing Egyptian army. Terrified, they turned on Moses and cried, “Why did you bring us here to perish?”
“Rabbi Judah says: ‘When the Israelites stood at the sea one said: ‘I don’t want to go down to the sea first.’ Another said: ‘I don’t want to go down first either.’ While they were standing there, and while Moses was praying to God to save them, Nachshon the son of Aminadav jumped up, went down and fell into the waves.’” Talmud (Bavli, Sota 36a), Mechilta (Parashat B’shalach)
What is the meaning?
First, that Moses’ prayers were insufficient to convince God to split the sea. Only when Nachshon took the initiative and jumped into the waters did God respond.
Second, at a very early stage in Israel’s history there was a basic understanding about the mutual relationship between God and humankind, that though the people might have felt alone and abandoned, God was with them all along.
Nachshon’s “leap” was a significant turning point in the Jewish experience. His willingness to take history into his own hands became a fundamental tenet of Jewish religious activism and a defining element in the character of the Jewish hero.
This past week, J Street, a pro Israel pro peace Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C., published an insert on the symbolism of the Karpas. It was written by my teacher, Rabbi Richard Levy, and intended for family Seders this year. What follows is a portion of Rabbi Levy’s moving text:
“On the nights of Passover we celebrate Israel crossing the …Sea from slavery to freedom. In this light, karpas has other overtones: we remember the heroic example of Nachshon ben Aminadav, who was the first to step into the salty sea. As the Israelites faced the raging waters, Nachshon alone plunged in. Because of his courage, the Midrash tells us, God divided the sea in two so that all the people of Israel could walk across. When our karpas represents Nachshon, …the salt water no longer suggests tears, but the grit of heroes.
Nachshon represents those willing to stand up against the raging waters of intimidation, to state what is right and just and reasonable. In our time Nachshon might say: Israel can be freed of her occupying status and survive as a just, peaceful, and secure state only alongside a just, peaceful and secure Palestinian state… if enough people, ordinary citizens like Nachshon, speak enough to the leaders who represent them, they too will understand that the waters can part, that the just and practical solution – a two-state solution – can emerge out of the depths, and the freedom and peace of two peoples can be assured.”
At this critically important moment when hope flickers still that peace can be achieved, I offer my prayers for the success of American efforts to assist Israel and the Palestinians in arriving at a two-state solution leading to an end of conflict peace agreement.
I pray that President Obama and Secretary Kerry will utilize all their wisdom, resources, strength, and stamina to do what must be done.
And I pray that the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority may seize this opportunity together to achieve what should have been done years ago to end this bloody and demoralizing conflict once and for all, thereby allowing two states to flower and thrive side by side in security and peace in a new Middle East.
Ken yehi ratzon – May it be God’s will and ours.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Pesach sameach.
March 20, 2013 | 7:39 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This week I joined with 250 leaders of J Street in Washington, D.C. for a leadership summit. J Street is the largest pro-Israel Political Action Committee in the nation’s capital that gave 50% of all pro-Israel contributions to Senate and Congressional candidates in the 2012 election. (See www.jstreet.org.)
On Tuesday of this week J Street activists held 101 meetings with members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Each delegation made three points:
I personally visited, along with other J Street activists, six House members. All except one were gracious, open hearted and curious about J Street’s understanding of the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what it would take to achieve a peace agreement.
One member we visited, however, was impatient and hostile to our group from the very beginning even before we sat down, despite the fact that several of us, including me, are his constituents. He interrupted us constantly leading me, as the leader of that delegation of eight, to say to him, “Congressman, you have limited time as do we – I ask you to be quiet and give us a chance to explain why we are here.” He demurred and we were then able to articulate our three talking points.
This meeting was disturbing not because of his lack of civility, though his behavior was rude. Rather, we were shocked by what he said to us.
It is important to acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is considered to be among the most complicated, intractable, potentially explosive and destructive, and difficult international problems the United States faces in the world. In order to bring about a two-state resolution, both sides will require extraordinary efforts to listen to each other, grasp the other’s narrative, and appreciate and respect the legitimate fear, distrust and hatred that the other holds (Israeli to Palestinian and Palestinian to Israeli). The nuances of this conflict must be studied and understood by everyone in order to reach a successful resolution of the conflict.
This House member, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and should know better, said, “I’m not interested in nuance. Tell me only the facts I need to know so I can vote. I care what 98% of the population wants and they could care less about nuance. Nuance is a waste of time.”
I was shocked because his attitude is so clearly the opposite of what is needed at this critical time in Israel’s history, and especially from a House member who sits on the very committee that is responsible for foreign relations.
Thankfully, the other five representatives we visited, as well as dozens of other House members and Senators, were very different indeed. They appreciated complexity and wanted very much to do the right thing on behalf of the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.
As we parted each representative we presented an article published in the NY Times by Allen S. Weiner (February 23, 2013) entitled “Why the Middle East Needs America.”
Professor Weiner is the Director of the Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law and co-director of the Stanford Center on International conflict and Negotiation. He is pre-eminent American expert in conflict resolution. His article is an important read for what will be needed to reach a successful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
March 15, 2013 | 11:21 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
On behalf of J Street, we are proud to send you Rabbi Richard Levy’s stirring meditation on the karpas, the vegetable dipped in salt water during Seder. Rabbi Levy urges us to become as courageous as Nachshon ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Judah and the first Israelite to brave the waters of the sea. The Midrash recalls that he went forward while others hesitated. He demonstrated conviction when others wavered.
Today, our hope for Israel and for peace calls upon us to aspire to Nachshon’s courage. Around us are our many sisters and brothers who vacillate, who hesitate to step forward and act with resolution for peace and Israel’s long term well-being. Deliver Rabbi Levy’s message to your Seder participants and, as they dip their karpas, call on them to act with alacrity. In the year to come may every one of us, in the spirit of Nachshon, eagerly advocate for the end of occupation and the beginning of peace, security, hope and freedom for Israelis and their neighbors. As a supporter of J Street, tell them, “This is our time to lead!”
Click here to download the J Street Seder supplement, Dipping into Salty Waters: A Karpas for Our Time.
Warmest wishes for a sweet Pesach,
Rabbi John Rosove and Rabbi John Friedman
J Street Rabbinic Cabinet