You have to go back to Spiro Agnew and his bullyboy ventriloquists, Pat Buchanan and William Safire, to find this kind of sneering contempt for educated people.
Condescension and shame make a toxic combination. As I read "My Holocaust, "howling -- but aching -- through page after page of relentlessly acerbic comedy, I was reminded of Masada and the Grand Canyon and found myself wondering: what makes good satire?
Propelled by curiosity, I asked, "By the way are you Jewish?"
"Not at all," he answered. "I was born Presbyterian, and now I am a Baptist. Maybe one day I will become Jewish. What do you think of that?"
Deciding it would be best not to answer, I acted Jewish and responded with a totally different question: "How do you know so much about Judaism and Chanukah?"
With total seriousness he said, "You can't claim to be a religious Christian without knowing Judaism. All religious wisdom starts with Judaism."
Judaism is a simple religion containing many complexities. No one could realistically hope to understand everything. It is important to question and to learn. But when we don't understand something, or don't agree with something, we need to remember that it doesn't give us license to not follow halacha or to not keep the Torah.
Moving from a familiar home and letting go of things owned for years can feel like an additional loss. It's not just the loss of the objects that has an impact; it's the connection with the past that these objects symbolize.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently recognized Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in Washington, D.C., by bestowing on it the Boxer Excellence in Education Award.
I favor the type of acrylic French tip nails that are considered fashionable only by midlevel porn stars.
The message is a universal one and it is directed to all mankind. How much better would the world be if we looked at people and thought first of what we have in common with us instead of analyzing how they differ from and are therefore inferior to us?
We Jews aren't exactly famous for agreeing with one another. Of our community, it is frequently said, "Five Jews, eight opinions."
Grief erases all regular rules. All the logic that has ever seemed to govern one's life suddenly seems useless. More than useless, it seems pointless.
Torah Portion. "Why do human fingers resemble pegs? So that if one hears something unseemly, one can plug one's fingers in one's ears." -- Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 5b
Aaron receives the commandment to light the menorah everyday. The Torah states: "Aaron did so; he lit the lamps, just as God commanded" (Numbers, 8:3).
Rabbi Elie Spitz wrote a wonderful book, titled "Does the Soul Survive?," dealing with life after death, but for me this title is the question that I continuously ask in regard to life after birth.
In this week's Torah portion, Moses elaborates the laws of impurity. Touching or holding something impure will render people, clothing, food, beverages, containers, wood, leather, earthenware and ovens impure. Shemini is concerned with the consequences of contact with living, ritually impure animals, as well as carcasses.
Most of us remember our parents telling us when we were children that when they were our age they had to walk two miles, every day, in the snow, uphill, both ways, to go to school. In ancient times we can imagine our ancestors telling their children that when they were their age they were slaves to Pharaoh.
I am completely frozen.
I have just walked out of a pitch meeting in Santa Monica. Wilshire Boulevard is breezy and gorgeous. It
is 4 p.m. I have been married for 17 years and now, it appears, I'm not. For the last 17 years I had a wife, a family, a home, a dock in the open sea of the world.
Moreso, for the last 10 years, I've had chubby, laughing babies to return to, who then morphed into muscled cyclones, ready to hurl themselves onto my back the moment I walked through the door, then preteens, eager to sing me their triumphs, real and imaginary, at school.
At the end of the day, I knew where to go -- home.
"Biblical stories are in our present -- in the cheder [Easter European elementary school] we cried when we learned of the sale of Joseph -- and we rejoiced in his ascendancy to power. There was a freshness, a vigor, a nearness, which we felt in that drama." -- Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik
Jordan Cinnamon, 15, has been crazy about the ocean since he was a little kid, so when it came to choosing a way to spend the summer, the idea of going to a regular sports camps didn't appeal to him.
Part of my traditional upbringing as a yeshiva bocher was the belief that anything that took my attention away from a page of Talmud was bitul Torah -- a waste of time. And while that may have been a good lesson for an easily distracted teenager, I have since discovered as an adult that there is so much Divine beauty in the world that we forfeit if we keep our noses exclusively inside our books.
We are all familiar with Jacob, the refugee who returns to his homeland to the dreaded encounter with his vengeful brother Esau. I believe most of us read the story through Jacob's eyes, but is it the only way? What if it were possible to unearth these biblical heroes' diaries? What would they say? Here are the events of our parsha as described by the two brothers:
The Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl (1730-1797), teaches in Parshat Vayera, which we read three weeks ago, that the Torah is a blueprint for each and every one of us. There is an Avraham within us -- the part of us that pleads in front of God, fighting the existence of evil. There is the Sarah within us -- the part of us that has to make painful decisions on behalf of a greater good in the future. Our self-doubt is Amalek, our self-sacrificing voice is Rachel.
Chauvinism, of one kind or another, probably has always been with us. This week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayera, for example, appears to lend itself to the charge of male chauvinism. The Torah tells us that the three angels who came to visit Abraham brought news that Sarah would give birth to Abraham's son. Sarah laughed when she heard this, whereupon God chastised her, saying to Abraham, "Why is it that Sarah laughed ... is anything too hard for the Eternal?" (Genesis 18:13-14).
Abram was despondent in his tent, deeply wearied from battle, having just returned from chasing kings from Dan to Damascus.
Abram had looked death in the eye and sat distraught over his own future. God listened to His friend's lament and then He took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And he added, "So shall your offspring be" (Genesis 15:5).
This verse is remarkable in many ways, and like every verse of Torah, it has an elixir of magic cleverly hidden in its heart, which we will together attempt to uncork.
This week, while fires raged, strikes festered and three or four wars smoldered, most of the urgent phone calls I received were about Chaim Seidler-Feller.
A newly religious female artist came to Chana Rochel Shusterman and told the Orthodox counselor that she was torn between her artistic drive and her religious sensibilities.
On the first Saturday of each month, while weekly, traditional Shabbat morning services are taking place at Adat Shalom synagogue, another service transpires behind the main sanctuary that is anything but traditional.
It is easy to feel small. As you fall asleep one night, try to watch yourself in your mind's eye, your body growing quiet on your bed as your mind begins to wander. You are one person falling asleep in one room. Beyond you are two, five, 20 others in your home or apartment building or on your block. Imagine yourself rising, now hovering a thousand feet in the air and peering out across the lights of Los Angeles. There are almost 10 million people in Los Angeles County, each person unique. There are 260 million people in the United States, each with a story different than the other. Each soul has walked a journey unlike any other. Rising higher, you see the vastness of the United States below.
One of the best things about being the editor of a Jewish paper is I get to meet a lot of Jews.
To what extent do we (and would we) internalize the essence of the Torah?
In the sprawling Southland, I've learned there's more to the rules of attraction than "How You Look," "What You Do" and "What You Earn." There's "Where You Live."
Rhonda Van Hassalt's concerned father offered her $1,000 not to go to Israel. Although the money would have been enough to send both Van Hassalt's and her boyfriend to Europe for winter break, it wasn't Europe that was tugging at her heart -- it was Israel.
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 -- my mind is already made up."
If that is true about life in general, it is even truer about the way we judge people. We rarely give people much time before we decide what we think of them. It is this very point that Judaism teaches in a fascinating fashion in this week's Torah portion.
"The world exists only because of the innocent breath of schoolchildren," attributed to Jewish sages, first century Talmud.
Ask any rabbi or community relations professional; in Jewish communities across the nation, there is support for the Bush administration's Iraq policy laced with healthy doses of skepticism and outright opposition -- the whole range of reactions of a worried nation.
I have no dating advice. None. I won't suggest clever phrasing for your personal ad or how to choose a photo to post on JDate. I'm not an expert on any of these things, but without bragging, I will admit I'm truly excellent at one thing: how not to date.
Sam Glaser's music is considered contemporary spiritual. He started out as a rock 'n' roller in the '80s, touring nightclubs in Southern California, but, in 1991, Glaser started keeping Shabbat, and his music changed accordingly.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, known as the Rav to his many thousands of students, takes exception to the usual distinction many make between the chukim (decrees) and the mishpatim (judgments). Usually, some think that chukim are nonrational laws, while the mishpatim are rational, easy-to-understand, logical laws. The Rav finds that even the mishpatim are as much pure abstract, and not necessarily explainable laws, rooted in the divine will as are the chukim.
To illustrate this idea, the Rav asked, "Which law would you say is the most logical?" Usually the answer would be lo tirtzach (don't murder). Everyone knows that this is a logical law, without which society couldn't exist.
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 just fine with a carry-on case. All our oversized bags are filled with items for our children and grandchildren. We took orders for whatever they wanted and shlepped it here." Then she added the ultimate Jewish thing. "Isn't that what parents are supposed to do?"
The other couple, nodding in agreement, replied, "Yes, and may you do so for 120 years."
Suddenly from all over the hall came, "Amen!"
He was the kind of guy you would take home to your mother. He was Harvard educated, well-mannered, spent time with the elderly, and held an executive position at a major network. He had traveled the world, written a few books, and was shopping for a home. And naturally, he was Jewish. This was the pitch I got from the mutual friend that was going to set the two of us up on my first blind date ever.
The art of public speaking is a special gift. In the anthology "Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History" (Norton & Co., 1997), New York Times columnist William Safire collects 200 of history's outstanding instances of oratorical eloquence.
He divides this compendium of great speeches by categories, including Memorials and Patriotic Speeches; War and Revolution Speeches; Tributes and Eulogies; Sermons; Inspirational Speeches; and Speeches of Social Responsibility. Among the outstanding public addresses are Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.
For many of us, this season is marked by being with families and sharing our family stories. In the Torah cycle it is the time of the year that we read the powerful story of a family of brothers, a story about forgiveness and reconciliation. Buried in this story about brothers is a one-line mystery about a sister.
After Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he sends wagons to bring his father, Jacob, to Egypt so Joseph can take care of him. The text tells us: "Then Jacob and all his offspring came to Egypt. He brought with him his sons and his grandsons, his daughters and his granddaughters -- all his offspring. And these are the names of the children of Israel, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt" (Genesis 46:6-7). What follows is a very long list of men mostly, except for Jacob's daughter, Dinah, and one granddaughter: "And the sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah, and their sister Serah" (Genesis 46:17).
Most of my congregation knows from references I've made over the years that I am a devoted sports fan. Ever since I was a youngster,
sitting with my dad watching football on TV, I've had "my teams" -- the Rams, the Dodgers and the Bruins. On rare occasions I have even gone to the games, and there, like everyone around me, I've participated in cheering on the players. That has always seemed to me perfectly reasonable behavior -- it is, after all, recreation -- and, in the last analysis, it's just a game. There are limits, of course, to acceptable behavior in the stands -- I never could get into booing and screaming epithets at the other side, or at the referees and umpires. Starry-eyed idealist that I may be, I have always believed in good sportsmanship.
Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?
Oh where, oh where did my single friends go? Seems the chicks in my clique are all dating, married or hauling around gargantuan diamonds.
In this week's Torah portion, we are introduced to the concept of a chok (statute) -- a divine law that we do not understand.
We are required to do it without knowing why, or what we are accomplishing spiritually with the performance of the mitzvah.
Question: Are chukim statutes that have deep significance that we just don't know, or are they just dictates from the Almighty for us to follow without any inherent reason or meaning?
One day, my oncologist was in a talkative mood. He was raised Roman Catholic, but after 30 years in the lung cancer world, he knows that religion doesn't always help his patients.
"How are you doing?" he asked. "I mean, this has to be a big test of faith."
Now, 18 months after receiving a devastating diagnosis, my understanding of religion has been transformed.
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 asked, "How did you do it? In less than a week I would be back to drinking." She answered, "Every day when I awake, I start my day by asking God, 'God please help me and keep me sober.' At the end of the day before going to sleep I say, 'Thank you God for helping me.'" The friend was dumbfounded by this explanation and asked the woman, "How do you know it is God who helped you?" She responded, "I didn't ask anyone else, did I?"
All of us have heard, or experienced a variation of the following story, told of a father and his daughter. She, a busy professional; he, a retired widower. In one of their virtually nonexistent exchanges, he asks: "With your booked schedule, will you be able to attend my funeral?" Her response: "Of course, how could you say such a thing?" His retort: "I need you in my life now, before I die."
The great Israeli author, Shai Agnon, related a fable about a little boy and his old father, who together tended a goat. Each day the goat wandered off and returned at evening, its udders filled with the sweetest of milk. The boy wished to know where the goat went, and on what grass it grazed to give such extraordinarily sweet milk. So he tied a string to the goat's tail and followed.
In a parsha that features spectacular displays of sound and light, the most dramatic moment is actually the quietest one. In fact, it sometimes feels like the opening chapter's tumult and noise only serves to draw us even deeper into the second chapter's thunderclap of silence.
Sixty members of Young Israel of Century City gingerly walked on the muddy path and crowded into Dalia Har Sinai's little farmhouse in the southern Hebron Hills community of Susia.
Our parasha includes a description of possibly the first shidduch (arranged marriage) in history. With the death of his beloved Sarah, Abraham turns his attention to the future and sends his servant back to "the old country" Haran to find a wife for Isaac. The mission with which he charges the servant is clear:
In today's world, it is so easy to get caught up in the development and achievement of the many goals we set for ourselves. From the time we are very young, we are trained to begin thinking about what we want to be when we grow up and how we will get there. And as we grow up, those objectives multiply as we consider the many goals we set out to achieve: getting ahead in our careers, earning money, getting married, having children -- the list goes on. And, as we continue through life, we set new goals and set out to do all the things necessary to achieve those goals. Once we achieve one goal, we are already planning the next, ready to run out to complete it and move on to another one.
Jewish history begins with God's call to Abram: "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." This call resonates through the millennia in two important ways. It connects our earliest beginnings and very identity as a people to the Promised Land, Israel. And it roots being Jewish in renunciation, deviation from the natural flow of events and radical independence.
Fall was just beginning to turn the Moscow air crispy when the lot of us -- 10 high school seniors and three faculty members of YULA Girls' School -- trudged down the stairs of our Intourist Hotel in the late '80s, and began our walk of several miles, not to the better-known Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue or to the Moscow Choral Synagogue, but to another shul in the city's nort
Here we go again! We start the New Year by reading the Torah all over again from the beginning. Why do we do this, year after year? Why do we read the same things over and over again? Maybe we can find the answer in the word that means "year" in Hebrew: shana.
To know the mind of Israel today, you needn't consult a Gallup poll. Just jump into any taxicab and ask the driver about ha'matsav (the situation). His first response, "Milchama [war] -- there's going to be a war. We need a war," he'll carefully explain, "to show them we're still stronger. It's the only language they understand." Then, shifting gears (literally and figuratively), he turns reflective: "On the other hand, what happens after the war? What do we do with all the Palestinians? Maybe we have to talk after all." But a moment later he answers himself: "But talk to them? How can you talk to them? The only language they know is the language of power. So there has to be a war." And as he begins all over again, I reach my destination.
"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your cities."
This divine commandment to establish a judicial system serves as the basis of all Western law; a fair system affording protection to each of its citizens and guests.
Though this is a communal responsibility, it is stated in the singular, lecha. Why? Why is God talking to each of us as individuals? What message lies in this portion dealing with judges for us, the non-judge community?
Society needs to feel there is an operative judicial system. Community, as we know it, can only run when there is a feeling of justice.
Now, I know what you're thinking. When a guy comes over to take you out for a drink, and instead requests Aleve and a bottle of wine, perhaps he's not really going to work out.
Unworthiness is not a quality that carries positive connotations. It's usually thought of as a state to be overcome, or a situation to be avoided. Perhaps, though, it has a redeeming feature. Perhaps feelings of unworthiness should actually be reveled in and appreciated -- at least sometimes.