Sunday, April 29, 2012

Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim:Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

This week's Torah portion is a double-header. We're reading Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim. They begin by  describing the laws relating the sending out of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur.  It continues with the laws of "forbidden relationships", and then on to a passage in Kedoshim describing what it means to be Holy.

In Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim, we are commanded by God to be a Holy People: "You shall be holy" (Leviticus 19:12) and we are given a list of rules explaining how to do so, which includes, leaving food for the poor, treating those with disabilities with respect, loving the stranger as yourself and having honest business transactions. The Torah also lists sexual prohibitions leading to one of the most disturbing passages in the Torah: "You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is abhorrent" (Leviticus 18:22).

I find it so strange that in one moment the Torah, stressing Holiness and talking about loving thy neighbor as thyself, reiterating the importance of treating others as equals to ensure that no one is discriminated against, and then immediately commands a harsh punishment for someone who has performed something that is considered to be "abhorrent".

The purpose of Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim is to give us rules to live by, and to teach us an ethical lifestyle that is built upon treating others with equality and respect. But, here, the Torah is teaching us that something is unacceptable. The portion certainly seems to sum up the best of us, and the worst of us.

"Love your neighbor as yourself"...something we should all strive for. Jews have always been strong advocates of social justice and thankfully we continue to be leaders in the cause of righteousness and justice for all people. 

Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim reminds me what we need to strive & compassion for others, whether they're straight or gay, Jewish or Christian or Muslim, White, Black or any race, Male or Female, Young or Old, Rich or Poor. That is what Holiness is all about.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Madeleine Albright "Prague Winter:A Personal Story of Remembrance and War"

Madeleine Albright's new memoir says she was never told by her parents of her Jewish roots, and 25 family members were lost in the Holocaust.
The book by the former secretary of state in the Clinton Administration, "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948" is set to be released this week, and says that between 1942 and 1944, at least 25 members of her family were herded into a ghetto by the invading Nazis in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. None survived.
Albright, originally named Marie Jana Korbelova, left Czechoslovakia for England in 1937, when she was 2 years old, and grew up Catholic, and later Episcopalian

History shows that it wasn’t unusual for people of her generation not to probe very deeply into the past. Even if she asked questions, it seems apparent that her parents, anxious to look ahead and not back, had manufactured answers to quell any further curiosity.

For most of the world, it doesn't really matter when or what she knew. The story is a curious one, but not particularly meaningful. In this day and age, few would question whether a Jew is qualified to be America's top diplomat.

For Jews, however, it's a different story, one that deeply touches one of the most painful chapters of our history: the Holocaust .
The Holocaust continues to haunt us. Six million Jews were annihilated in the gas chambers and slave labor camps of Europe.

But more difficult to understand -- and mourn -- are the thousands of Jews, like Albright's family, who left Judaism. Whether out of fear for their safety or a desire to assimilate in a Europe less than friendly to Jews, Albright's parents were not alone in choosing to reject their Judaism.

We now know that Albright's parents fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 not out of some noble political principle, but because they probably would have perished along with the rest of their families had they stayed.  They needed to start new lives.

But starting new lives included depriving their children of their roots.

It took many years, but it seems as though Albright was able to come to terms with her past, in order to face her future. She owed it to herself and others to face her family legacy.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Birthday President Ulysses S. Grant

Coincidentally, today would have been President Ulysses S. Grant’s 190th Birthday. In honor of that event (really a coincidence) I finished Jonathan Sarna’s new book, When General Grant Expelled The Jews. How could it be... General Grant, a firm believer in the U.S. Constitution, discriminated against the Jews as a class and expelled them from the entire territory under his command?  Was their new homeland starting to resemble the anti-Semitic Europe that they left behind?
General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, but it was the most official and most notorious anti-Jewish order in American history: “The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” The document blamed the Jews for the widespread smuggling that affected the area under Grant’s command.

In the end, only a small number of Jews were seriously affected by General Orders No. 11. There was a breakdown in communications when it was announced, and news of the Orders spread slowly. When the Jews were to be expelled, there were protests in Washington on their behalf.

When Grant ran for President in 1868, some still referred to him as a “Haman”, the enemy of the Jewish people, and Jewish politics became an issue of the Presidential Election. He was elected despite of General Orders No. 11.
Eager to prove that he was above prejudice, Grant appointed more Jews to public office than any of his predecessors, and, in the name of human rights, extended unprecedented support to persecuted Jews in Russia and Romania. Time and again, partly as a result of his enlarged vision of what it meant to be an American and partly in order to live down General Orders No. 11, Grant consciously worked to assist Jews and secure them equality. During his administration, Jews achieved heightened status on the national scene, and he made the Jewish Community more self-confident.
Regardless, the memory of what his wife, Julia, called “that obnoxious order”, continued to haunt Grant to his death in 1885. Especially when he was in the company of Jews, the sense that in expelling them he had failed to live up to his own high standards of behavior, and to the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold, gnawed at him. He apologized for the order publicly and repented of it privately.
Nevertheless, General Orders No. 11 marked a turning point in American Jewish history for generations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tazria-Metzora: Words Have Power

This week it’s the double portion of Tazria-Metzora. 

What do you think of when you hear the word “Yente”? It’s come to mean someone who gossips, or a busybody. Well, this week’s portion talks about contagious diseases that affect people and their homes. The Torah specifically mentions Tsara’at, which is translated as “Leprosy”. But, maybe Tsara’at isn’t just about a physical disease. Maybe its about spiritual affliction, like Lashon Hara. Lashon Hara is all about gossiping. Its like Moral Leprosy. You see, Judaism considers slander and gossip to be major sins. The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that when we slander someone, we literally slay him, for when we deprive him of his good name, it is as if we deprive him of his life. Damaging a person's reputation through gossip is like taking his life. The Talmud teaches: "A person's tongue is more powerful than his sword. A sword can only kill someone who is nearby; a tongue can cause the death of someone who is far away" (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 15b).

            Once there was a woman who talked so much about her neighbors that they all went to the Rabbi to complain.  “She tells everyone that I eat cake instead of bread!” complained one woman who pudgy face was pink with distress. “I only said I’d like to, I didn’t say I did. But she goes around telling everybody I do!”
            “She says I’m too stingy to take a deep breath,” said another.
            “Everytime she sees me she tells me how nice I look. But to everyone else she says I look terrible for my age!”
            And another complained—“She’s always telling people what a good cook I am. She tells everybody that I am so good that I can make poor butter taste like manna!”
            “Is that bad?” said the Rabbi.  It seemed to him like a very good thing to be able to do.
            “But she makes everybody think that I buy only the poorest quality ingredients for my fine baking. And it is not true. I buy only the best!”
            “I see,” said the Rabbi. “Yes, I see.”
            And after he had heard all the complaints he sent for the woman to come to see him.
            “Why do you make up stories about your neighbors?” he asked her.
            She laughed, a pleased little laugh. “I don’t really make up stories, “ she said. “I just tell them a little bigger than they really are.”
            “You see nothing wrong in that?” the Rabbi asked.
            She shrugged. “Most of the time it’s just the plain truth—dressed up a little.”
            “And the other times?”
            The woman laughed at the question.
            “Well, the other times, its almost the truth”, she admitted.
            “Anyway, she explained, its only talk”
            “Perhaps you are right”, the Rabbi said.
            After all, Rabbi,” she said, “What’s talk! It isn’t as if I can’t take back what I say.”
            The Rabbi only nodded. He folded his arms and talked of other things.
            As the woman was about to leave, he asked, “I wonder if you would do something for me?”
            “Of course,” she said. “I’m really not a mean person, Rabbi. I’ll be glad to do anything for you.”
            He went over to the couch and picked up a plump feather pillow and gave it to her. He said, “Take this pillow to the town square.”
            “When you get to the town square, I want you to cut it open, and shake out the feathers,” the Rabbi told her.
            “Cut it open!” she said.
            The Rabbi nodded. And afterwards, return here.
            She did exactly as the Rabbi instructed her to do. She cut the pillow open and let the feathers fly. The light breeze in the town square floated the feathers up and away.
            When she returned to the Rabbi’s house she told him that she did what he had asked.
            “Fine!” said the Rabbi. “Now, go pick them all up”
            “But that is impossible!” said the woman
            “Ah” said the Rabbi “So it is impossible for you to take back all the unkind things you have said about others.

Words are like feathers.  Unkind words are easily dropped, but once they leave the mouth, they can never be retrieved.
“O Lord, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile.  And to those who slander me, let me give no heed. May my soul be humble and forgiving unto all.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Violence Against Women Act

Years ago, women that experienced domestic violence had few places to turn.  Many people resisted acknowledging violence because they didn’t want to break up families. There were few services that existed for women that were seeking support.  Prior to 1994, the U.S. government didn’t even recognize domestic violence as a federal crime.

Earlier this week, Vice President Biden hosted a White House event to highlight the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was originally passed in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice since then. Its never been reauthorized with this much fighting, but this time is different.  Vice President Biden said, “It’s bad enough that we’re even debating this issue. But imagine what message this would send to the women and girls of this nation and around the world if we didn’t reauthorize this bill. Imagine the signal it would send to our mothers and our daughters that they are not entitled to be free of abuse.”
Today, the national hotline for domestic violence receives more than 23,000 calls every month! It takes enormous courage to even dial that number. Domestic Violence doesn't distinguish if you're rich or poor, black or white, latino, native-american, gay or straight. We must all become advocates and take a stand.
This bill was never a partisan issue.  But now it is. Now a law that has clearly been effective in saving lives, in preventing violence, in holding offenders accountable, is in question. The bill is expected to come to the Senate floor this week. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, it’s even being debated.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day 2012

The Torah emphasizes that all life is sacred. Knowing that, we are charged with tending to the Earth’s well being. Bal Tashchit, or “do not destroy,” a key Jewish principle, teaches us to serve as stewards and protectors of the land. We read in Kohelet,that “One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever” (1:4). These values compel us to speak out when we see environmental degradation that will greatly impact the health and livelihood of future generations.

“In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, God showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: ‘See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you,’ (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28).

So, what is your family doing this April 22nd for Earth Day?     

Did you know that Earth Day was created by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in the Spring of 1970. By the winter of that same year, the holiday’s popularity had sparked the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, a branch of government designed to protect the environment through regulation.

Whatever you do, make it a day to help beautify and clean-up the earth

Chazak Amenu

"Why are the children of Israel compared to the dove? All other birds when they grow tired find rest upon a rock or the branch of a tree.  But when the the dove tires, she does not cease flying; instead she rests one wing and flies with the other." (Midrash Rabbah)

On this Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, we remember the soldiers who have fallen fighting for Israel’s independence and defending its security. Yom HaZikaron is marked with sirens that alert people to stop all activity and honor the fallen. Traffic grinds to a halt, and both pedestrians and drivers stand in silence.  This holiday’s placement, the day before Israel's Independence Day is intentional: the soldiers who gave their lives were directly responsible for the existence of Israel as an independent state.  In this way, a day of solemn commemoration can be followed by joyous celebration, Yom HaAtzma-ut.

Yom HaZikaron begins at sundown on Tuesday April 24, 2012
Yom HaAtzmaut begins the evening of Wednesday April 25, 2012


"If you will it, it is not a dream."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We Remember

A poster designed for this year’s Yom Hashoah, which depicts a family as the shadow of an old man with the words, “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2012”, pays tribute to both the survivors and the millions who were murdered.

 We must remember the times of cruelty and suffering.  We must remember the old men and women whispering ancient prayers, and the children….we must always remember the children, frightened and forlorn….walking towards the flames rising towards the heavens.  Among those children—future scientists, doctors, scholars, politicians, writers, teachers, philanthropists.  One of them might have invented a cure for cancer or for AIDS.  Those who fell with weapons in their hands and those who died with prayers on their lips.  Those who have no graves, our heart remains their cemetery.
 How can we honor our past so that we can celebrate our future?   It is up to each one of us to be a part of a generation of that teaches its children to never forget, but also אני מאמיו  I believe.
  What an opportunity for each one of us to grow, to learn, to bear witness. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Parashat Shemini - Kosher Korner

                                            This week we read Parashat Shemini, found in the Book of Leviticus.  Our health certainly guides what we put in our mouths.  For some, eating is just a need…they’re hungry, so they eat. This week’s Parashat teaches us what we should eat and what we shouldn’t, and that how we feed ourselves is sacred and relevant to our identity and our community.  Kashrut gives us an opportunity to eat with holiness, and to transform ourselves. It tells us to pay attention to ourselves physically and spiritually. It reminds us who we are to God, and among the Jewish people. The Torah provides a long list of which foods are acceptable and which are not: We learn that we can eat animals with cloven hooves, animals which chew their cuds, fish with fins and fish with scales, and birds that eat grain and fly…you can go dizzy. But do we really know why? Was it all about keeping clean?  And what about the dreaded pig? “And the swine—although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud,  it is unclean.” (Lev.11:7) During the persecutions of Antiochus, the Jews actually accepted martyrdom rather than eating pork. It was that important to them. 

The laws of Kashrut help us understand that what we put into our bodies matter. When it comes down to it, it’s all about keeping up our ‘spiritual potential’. It clogs our Spiritual Arteries and heightens our Spiritual Awareness

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp

The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was liberated on April 15, 1945. Listen to those who were liberated sing "Hatikvah"

Equal Pay Day - We Do It In Heels

Women have supported families; entered formerly male-only institutions and workplaces; and demanded better working conditions and pay, facilitated by a growing societal appreciation for gender equality. The insidious undercurrent to this progress, unfortunately, is our nation's persistent wage gap. Women still make less than men.

NWLC and Lilly Ledbetter Team Up to Win Fair Pay Legislation
I worked as a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Alabama, for close to two decades. I was paid less than my male co-workers the entire time—even though I was doing the same work they were and doing it well. Near the end of my time there, I received an anonymous note alerting me to the discrimination, and I decided to fight for justice.
In 1998, less than a month after receiving the note, I filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then sued Goodyear in a federal district court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A jury found that Goodyear had discriminated against me and awarded me $3 million in damages. 
The company appealed my case and, in the Spring of 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that said I should have filed my complaint within 180 days of receiving my first discriminatory paycheck. 
My case set a new and disastrous precedent, but the National Women’s Law Center and its allies helped me fight back. Together we worked hard to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law on January 29, 2009. The Supreme Court got it wrong, but now all employees have a better shot at pay equity.
My case is over, and I will never be compensated for the many years I was paid less than my male colleagues. But the struggle for pay equity is not over. I continue to fight alongside the National Women’s Law Center for legislation to improve the law so that our daughters and granddaughters will have a chance for a better future.

Achieving equal pay for women is a top priority– and it was the first bill signed into law by President Obama. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reaffirmed a core American principle: equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, race, or background.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers, ensuring any woman facing unfair treatment would have their day in court.  With women making up nearly half of the labor force and mothers increasingly serving as the primary or co-breadwinners for American families, the wage gap hurts families, businesses, and communities.

Today, with women still earning an average of just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, more must be done to level the playing field for all workers
This has strengthened America’s families – because equal pay is not simply a women’s issue; it’s a family issue, and we cant wait any longer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yom Hashoah 2012

            On April 18th, we will commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day
“If my parents and your parents
hadn’t migrated to Eretz Yisraeyl in 1936,
we would have met in 1944
there, on the platform at Aushwitz,
I at 20
And you, at 5.
Where’s Mameleh?
Where’s Tatteleh?
What’s your name?
                   Hanneleh?” (Yehudah Amichai)

What IF our parents, our grandparents hadn’t gotten out in time?
What if they had stayed behind in Europe?
What if?
     Yom Hashoah makes us think about all the “what if’s” there could have been.  We have just celebrated the holiday of Pesach, and we were commanded to re-tell the story as though each one of us had personally been led out of Egypt.  What if?
     In many synagogues, on Yom HaShoah, we read about the Prophet Samuel, who warned the Israelite people of the sufferings that they would endure if they were ruled by a king.  But the people would not listen, and they said, “We must have a king over us, that we may be like all the other nations.”  At God’s command, Samuel conducts a lottery, which selects Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, as King.  Saul became the first King of Israel and, had he obeyed God’s word, the kingdom presumably would have remained in his family instead of being transferred to David and his descendants.  Saul was instructed by the prophet, Samuel to launch an all-out war against Israel’s historic enemy, Amalek, by destroying their property and wiping them out.  Instead, when the battle ended, Saul violated God’s command and spared Amalek’s murderous king Agag, most likely out of respect for a fellow monarch.  Samuel, outraged at Saul’s flouting of God’s command, informs him that the kingdom will be taken from him.  Saul then summons Agag, and says: “As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women.  As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.”  Samuel then kills Agag himself.  From this point on, the king too “tender hearted” to kill Agag, becomes merciless.  Fearful that the kingship will pass to David, he murders 85 men in the city of Nob when he learns that they had given David a night’s lodging.  Jewish tradition contrasts Saul’s behavior towards the murderer Agag and his killing of the innocent men of Nob with the comment “he who is merciful when he should be cruel, will in the end be cruel when he should be merciful.”  Obsessed with the threat to his kingdom from David, Saul hurls a spear at his own son, Jonathan, for remaining friendly with David and accuses his closest advisors of conspiring against him.  He goes into his final battle against the Philistines robbed of all hope.  The night before, Samuel had prophesied to him that he and his sons would die the next day.  But Saul does not leave.  Apparently, death has come to seem preferable to life.  In the end, Saul is wounded and, fearing that the Philistines will capture and humiliate him, he falls on his sword and dies, along with his three sons. (I Samuel 31:4)
            In 1960, Israeli agents in Argentina captured and brought to Jerusalem Adolf Eichman, the chief administrator of the Nazis “Final Solution.”  His 1961 trial became a turning point in Israel’s history.  After being sentenced to death, Eichman asked for clemency.  Citing these words by the prophet Samuel before killing Agag, the murderous King of Amalek, Israeli President Yitzchak ben Zvi rejected Eichman’s petition for mercy, “As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women, As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.”[1]
            It is up to us to create some beauty in this world….to give meaning and hope to the battle.  We have an opportunity to take action to make our voices heard and to prove that we have survived our nightmare.  We have an obligation to stop acts of genocide all over the world, and to send a message to our new generation that what has been done in the past must never happen again. We must not betray them.  We must not betray each other and our children.  We must remember what human beings can do to each other.  We are our future and the future of humanity.
     So, ask yourself…
     What if?  The answer is because you were hated, and you must love the stranger as yourself. You were victims of others’ callousness and apathy, and you must never look on bloodshed with indifference.  And even though things might seem totally absurd, we must try to invent reason, we must try to create beauty, and never stand idly by. 

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Jewish Literacy”. William Morrow and Co. New York. 1991.
JPS HEBREW-ENGLISH TANAKH. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia. 1999.

[1] Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Jewish Literacy”. William Morrow and Co. New York. 1991.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Counting of the Omer

Following their miraculous exodus, the Israelites spent the next 49 days traversing the desert terrain from the confines of Egypt to the foothills of Mt. Sinai.  This marked the beginning of a journey that would forever change the course of history.  They spent those 7 weeks spiritually preparing themselves—cleansing their souls—to make themselves ready to consummate their relationship with God as His chosen nation through the receiving of the Torah.
            In our professional, academic, and personal lives we mark the passage of time as the weather gets warmer, as the school year ends, and as some of us prepare for a well-deserved vacation.
            In our Jewish life, we find ourselves marking time in a different way.  We just finished our Seders, and are now looking forward to the holiday of Shavuot, when we will commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  What connects these 2 holidays to each other is a strange and often misunderstood ritual known as S’firat Ha-Omer—The Counting of the Omer.  
                                                        That's Omer, Not Homer!

            We can almost feel the excitement in the air.  The slow build-up from the Exodus that we celebrate on Pesach to the joyous acceptance of the Torah that will be here very soon is almost palpable.  The high-impact adventure—the 10 miraculous plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea—launching the Israelites into physical freedom!  Yet the miracles of Egypt were only a jump-start to the spiritual possibilities that lay ahead.
  Each day we count 1 more day to another momentous occasion.  The Counting of the Omer is a daily reminder of the excitement that builds as we prepare ourselves to receive the gift of Torah.  So, why did God wait 50 days before giving the Torah? The answer is that they just were not ready to receive it.  They needed to grow up first or they would have wasted the opportunity.  They needed some day-to-day growth and a commitment to each other.  That is why the days of the Omer are counted in a forward progression. In Jacob’s dream, God shows him a vision of a ladder reaching toward heaven.  Spiritual growth, like climbing a ladder, must be taken one step at a time.  During the holiday of Hanukkah, we add one more light in expectation of what is to come.  Each additional day increases our  hopes of what we are going to experience.
There is a wonderful story that illustrates that hope.  One day a farmer was working in his field and heard a terrible crash and then a splash, followed by loud braying and the sounds of braying and kicking.  He ran across the field to find that his most precious donkey had strayed from the barn and fallen into the well.  It was a very deep one, and there was no way for the farmer to lift the donkey out of it.  He called to his neighbors, who tried to tie a rope around the donkey to lift him up.  For hours they tried, but in the end they failed.  What could they do?  One farmer suggested that each of them bring his shovel and that they bury the donkey in the well.  Burying him would be better than leaving him there and listening to his braying.  So, they went to work.  The first shovelful of dirt smacked the donkey on the back.  The donkey cried out, “God, they are going to bury me in this well.”  He shook the dirt off his back and continued kicking. Another shovelful of dirt fell, then another.  Each time, the donkey shook the dirt off.  Soon the donkey realized that he could save himself by pulling his feet up out of the water, which was becoming mud, and stepping up; thus he could climb out of the well.  Soon, all of the water had been absorbed by the dirt, and the donkey was above the water level.  Dirt continued to rain down on him, and he continued to shake off each shovelful.  Shovelful by shovelful, step by step, the donkey climbed out of the well that had trapped him.  And then, to the surprise of the farmers, he emerged from the well and ambled off into the field.
A lot of our lives are spent succumbing to the weight of the world being shoveled on us.  Everyday is an opportunity for growth and self-improvement, if we just lift ourselves a little bit higher.  Ideally, at the end of the Counting of the Omer, we will have experienced a journey, our journey, of self-improvement and be ready to receive the Torah.
We are put here on earth for a specific amount of time. 
The time is now.  The challenge is upon us.  If we thought about it, we would realize that every moment of every day we are given the opportunity to do a good deed, give to charity, influence others in a positive way, volunteer, empower others, and so much more.  We have 6 more weeks until we arrive at Mt. Sinai and God graciously gives us His Torah. Will we be ready?
                                              I'll meet you at the top!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Supreme Court and Freedom

On October 26, 2001, amid the climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the terrorist acts, President George W. Bush signed into law the US Patriot Act, and fundamentally altered the relationship that Americans have with their government. There is very little evidence that the Patriot Act has been effective in making Americans more secure from terrorists.  The Patriot Act was not crafted with careful deliberation and consideration.  It was put together out of fear.  The Act expands the government’s authority to pry into people’s private lives with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.  This authority infringes on the 4th Amendment, which protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the 1st Amendment, which gives us Free Speech
 Its really unfathomable, that in the United States of America you can take your dog for a walk, get a ticket and be Strip-Searched….or go for a ride and forget to put your seatbelt on, be pulled over and taken into jail, and be Strip-Searched. But, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled last week that the Constitution does not prohibit the government from strip-searching people charged with even minor offenses.
The case arose when Albert Florence of New Jersey was pulled over by NJ State Troopers in 2005 while his pregnant wife was driving him and his young son to his parent’s home.  He was arrested for failing to pay a previous traffic fine, even though, as it turned out, it was paid after all.  He was detained in the Essex County Correctional Facility, which has a strip-search policy for new arrests. Florence said that he was put through a humiliating a degrading strip-search, not once, but twice.
After he was released, Florence sued, arguing that strip searches of people arrested for minor offenses violate the 4th Amendment. Many believe that strip searches are an extreme measure that should be used only when the government has reason to believe that the specific person they want to search is concealing weapons, drugs or other contraband.
Many courts have said just what Florence argued — that the Constitution prohibits strip searches of people arrested on minor offenses unless there is suspicion of something very serious. (That includes at least seven U.S. Courts of Appeals, the powerful federal courts that are just one rung below the Supreme Court.)
But the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has given its blessing to strip searches of people who are charged with minor crimes even if the government has no specific reason to believe they are concealing anything. The majority focused on how hard the jailers have it. “The difficulties of operating a detention center must not be underestimated by the courts,” the majority opinion said. Strip searches can help keep weapons, disease and lice  out of prisons. But the dissenters make a much more compelling case. Justice Stephen Breyer made the most important argument: that being forced to get naked and be stared at by strangers is inherently “humiliating and degrading.”
The dissent also demolishes the main point made in favor of strip-searching every arrestee: that it is necessary to keep prisons secure. In fact, there are many ways of keeping weapons and contraband out that are far less degrading. The prison to which Florence was admitted also does frisks of inmates and makes them go through metal detectors.
People do not like being physically humiliated by their government. The outraged reactions of many Americans to the TSA’s post-9/11 airport screening procedures show how deeply people feel about the matter, even when the purpose is the very important one of stopping terrorists from getting onto airplanes. The Supreme Court majority, however, does not seem to get it — or to appreciate the fact that when the government can strip-search people who do not wear a seat belt, it can strip-search any of us.
The Supreme Court majority has been on a crusade in the past few years on behalf of its very peculiar ideal of freedom. 

            The American Jewish community has cherished the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans.  These freedoms are confirmed not only by our commitment to our American heritage, but also to the centuries of our Jewish law.  As modern Jews, we have always tried to strike some kind of a balance between our lives as Americans as we turn to our heritage for spiritual guidance.
            Early Jewish law has always outlined a mandate for privacy.  In addition, we read, “When you make a loan of any sort to your countryman, you must not enter his house to seize his pledge.  You must remain outside, while the man to whom you made the loan brings the pledge out to you.” (Deut. 24:10-11).  Rabbi Akiva went so far as to suggest that one should knock before entering one’s own home “lest another family member require privacy.” (Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 112a)
            Jewish teaching discourages eavesdropping, gossip and the unauthorized disclosure of information.  We are prohibited from revealing confidences and even forbidden to seek out the secrets of others.  When someone’s life is at stake, we are permitted to use all means possible to save them, even if it means intruding on their personal freedom.  We need to know where to draw the line. But,  The Patriot Act makes it too easy for the government to snoop on its citizens and violate Judaism’s sacred rite of privacy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And This Shall Serve As A Reminder

Jewish tradition commands that we each recall our past experience of slavery.  This is our way of making sure that we never become too complacent, that we never just sit back and think that helping others is someone else’s responsibility.
“And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead—in order that the Teaching of the Eternal may be in your mouth—that with a mighty hand the Eternal freed you from Egypt. You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year” (Exodus 13:8–10).
  Passover reminds us that because we know what its like to be slaves, we have a responsibility to help others that are still enslaved. Because we were strangers, we must help strangers in our own land. Oppression is found throughout our country, and it plagues millions of children and families throughout the world. As long as there are people shackled with the daily pursuit of shelter and food, there is slavery.
On Passover, we celebrate freedom from oppression. Let us think of those who are oppressed by poverty. On Passover, we welcome the stranger into our homes. Let us also think of those who have no place to call home. On Passover, we spill wine to represent the ten plagues.  On Passover, let us think of the hunger, the homelessness, the poverty and abuse plaguing so many. On Passover, when we hear our children raise their voices in song and ask the Four Questions, let us remember those who have no voice.