If the Orthodox experience has taught us anything, it is that complete immersion succeeds. Like the immersion in the mikveh, in which every centimeter of the body must touch water, so, too, our commitment requires totality. It is an immersion in our books; immersion in prayer services as punctuation marks for time; immersion in a 25-hour Shabbat experience without smart phones and the internet; immersion in round-the-clock Jewish education, at all costs.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Sunday, September 03, 2017
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
The stomach growls "ewww".
The Jew's body complains, saying, "Give me the food and drink that I am accustomed to!"
A voice, coming from deep within, answers:
"When is the last time that you thought about the Holy Temple that was engulfed in flame?
When was the last time you were in pain because of the ongoing desecration of God's Holy Name?"
The Jew answers, "My mind is devoted to making a living.
This is my exemption.
I don't have time to think about redemption!"
The voice lets out a hardy laugh.
"Lying to oneself is definitely not cool
It is no big deal to deceive a fool."
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
And it was in the second half of the previous century: The Children of Israel that dwelled in New York City, Newark etc. fled from their urban homes to the suburbs of New Jersey, Upper State New York and Long Island. These very same Children of Israel were not ready to serve The Lord with all of their heart and all of their soul and all of their might. On the other hand they not willing to worship the Ba'al. And it was that they built many edifices for their brand of worship, which they called "Conservative Judaism". And so it was that the land of New Jersey was covered with these edifices that they called Temples, complete with a full time rabbi, a Sisterhood, USY, and Bingo games to pay the mortgage.I was inspired to write this by the following article that I read in the New Jersey Jewish News. I added the emphasis in bold:
And it was that these very same Children of Israel took wives and begat children. These children grew up among the nations, and learned from their deeds. The Hebrew School that they attended after Public School was loathsome unto them, as it took place at the time when the children of the nations were playing the holy game of baseball. And it was that two or three generations had passed, the number of congregants dwindled, and these Temples were sold to the local gentiles.
After more than 50 years of existence, Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex in Verona held its final Shabbat service on June 3. The future of the building, at the corner of Grove and Personette avenues, is uncertain but the remaining members will find a new home at B’nai Shalom, a Conservative congregation in West Orange.It is worthy of notice that most of the Torah scrolls were given to Chabad Rabbis. As the Conservative Temples close and merge with one another, Chabad keeps setting up more congregations.
In the end, it came down to money, said Allen Paisner, 28, of Verona, who worked in the synagogue office until it closed last week. But to listen to him talk about the Conservative synagogue, where his grandparents and parents were members before him, it feels like the memories will never run out. “Something special has been lost,” he said. “We were a nice, warm place. There’s something comforting in such a small synagogue.”
Among the last tasks assigned to him was sorting through the books in the library. Some were already packed in boxes for donation, some set aside for burial, and another set placed against the wall to be given to B’nai Shalom.
Debbie Dretel Lawrence, 61, who served as the congregation’s final president, is another third-generation member. Her grandparents joined just one year after its founding in 1936. She remembers from her youth a robust community with a full Hebrew school, when the membership was near its peak of about 350 families, but she acknowledged that the synagogue has always had a niche among older people. It’s just that at some point, she said, it stopped attracting a younger crowd, which would have provided the critical mass necessary for growth. “It’s been a long time coming,” she acknowledged.
Congregants had taken to calling Beth Ahm, founded as the Jewish Community Center of Verona, “the little shul with the big heart.” Closing has taken its emotional toll. But Dretel Lawrence said, “This whole process is something we’ve done together.”
She described the last services as “sad and sweet at the same time.” She added, “There were people there who have been members for a very long time. It was very emotional.” Everyone had the opportunity to have one final aliyah during the Torah service, including Dretel Lawrence.
Looking around, she said, she took comfort in the physical names on the plaques, names she’s known all her life; each one holds a memory. “I find our shul a very comforting place to be. I can still see where my parents sat. I remember coming with my grandparents on Simchat Torah.”
The decision to close came as the synagogue was down to approximately 50 family units, according to Paisner. It was a significant drop from 2011, when the congregation celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala at the Richfield Regency in Verona and still had about 160 members.
But there were concerns even then.
Throughout its history, the congregation was served by eight rabbis. But it was just two, Rabbi Alter Kriegel and his son Aaron Kriegel, who came to define the congregation. Rabbi Alter Kriegel served the community from 1937 until 1974; his son took the helm in 2001 and retired in 2013. The years that followed were difficult.
Rabbi Mark Biller, who succeeded Aaron Kriegel, tried many creative solutions to attract new members, including his “Top of the Morning Shabbat” in 2015, which offered a casual learning and discussion alternative to traditional services. And while Dretel Lawrence praised his ability to engage others in discussion, and to welcome anyone and everyone, it wasn’t enough.
It was something past president Marc Wurgaft, whose father was a close friend of Alter Kriegel, had foreseen in 2011. At that time, he told NJJN that the biggest challenge was neither financial nor a dwindling membership. “It’s what we are going to do when Aaron retires.”
A portrait of the senior Rabbi Kriegel graces the wall in the central entry hall, and the intersection of Grove and Personette avenues bears a second name: Rabbi A. Kriegel Way.
A deal, approved May 1 by the Verona town council to buy the building for $1 million to become the new home of the Verona Rescue Squad, fell through weeks later after neighborhood residents filed a petition citing concerns about the noise, added traffic, and other issues.
The congregation’s five Torahs have already been distributed: two to B’nai Shalom, one to Rabbi Yaacov Leaf at Chabad of Montclair, one to Rabbi Shalom Lubin and his Congregation Shaya Ahavath Torah in Parsippany, and one to Rabbi Efraim Mintz of Brooklyn, who came to the synagogue regularly to teach.
After the congregation sang “Adon Olam” on June 3, the congregation concluded its last service with “Hatikvah” and“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (also known as “America”) the latter a tradition that goes back to World War II, in honor of the members serving in the war. The elder Kriegel is said to have directed that the congregation would sing the song until every serviceman returned. But one member, Private Max Novick, was killed in action, so they maintained the custom of singing, right down to the very end.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Much has been written and said about the Six Day War. One aspect of that war, which I believe is not stressed enough, is that we are dealing with an event of Biblical proportions. Something "really huge", as President Donald Trump might say.
Although prophecy has temporarily disappeared from the Nation of Israel, Divine Providence's guiding hand has not. In fact, through the annals of the Jewish People, the Creator of the world is revealed. "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee" (Deuteronomy 32:7). It's a mitzvah to learn Jewish history. Doing so increases one's understanding of the Divine.
History is being made here in the Land of Israel. One can sit back in his armchair and watch it on the screen, or one can be part of it.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Shulamit Cohen (b. 1920) was born in Argentina and raised in Jerusalem with her twelve brothers and sisters. Her father was from a wealthy Egyptian-Jewish merchant family, and her mother was the daughter of a prominent rabbi in Jerusalem. In 1936, the family experienced severe financial strain, and Shulamit’s father arranged her to marry Joseph Kishak-Cohen, a wealthy businessman from Beirut. Shula moved to Lebanon, and had five kids by the time she was 24. One day in 1947, she overheard people discussing military activities against Israel. Shula recorded the information in a letter to the Haganah, which was fighting for a Jewish state in Israel, addressing it to her brother in Jerusalem. Five weeks later, an agent of the Haganah’s secret service contacted her. For the next 14 years, Shula worked as an Israeli spy in Lebanon. Her work consisted of two major goals. The first was to gather intelligence about Arab military activities, which she was able to do by getting herself into Lebanon’s high society, including the home of the prime minister, who considered her like one of his own daughters. The second was to help smuggle Jewish families fleeing persecution in the Arab world, particularly from Syria. Over the years, she helped countless families find safe passage to Israel. Shula communicated with the secret service using invisible ink, under the code name “Pearl”. She was first caught for smuggling in 1952. Pregnant at the time, Shula was taken to jail just three weeks after giving birth, and spent 36 days in confinement. She continued her clandestine activities for another 9 years before things got too dangerous and she moved to Rome for three months. Upon her return in 1961, she was immediately arrested for espionage. The trial went on for several months during which she was brutally tortured. She was initially sentenced to death by hanging, but the verdict was softened because she was a mother of seven. Her sentence was reduced to 20 years of hard labour. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured Lebanese citizens, and used them in a prisoner exchange for Shula and a captured Israeli pilot. Shula has lived in Israel ever since, and still volunteers at schools and IDF bases, despite her advanced age. Two of her sons have high-ranking roles in the Israeli government. A book about her story has been published, called “Shula: Code Name The Pearl”.I had the privilege of attending the funeral. May her soul be bound in the bundle of life, and may her family be comforted with the builing of Zion.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
In the Passover Haggadah it is written that "everyone who discusses the exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy." I think that one who discusses at length the miraculous accomplishments of the State of Israel, which are numerous, this is also praiseworthy. For one will come to see the hand of Divine Providence that has accompanied the Jewish People from its outset.
I have been here for more than thirty years. In this time period I have witnessed so much progress here. This little country is advancing, not only in the physical realm but in the spiritual realm as well.
“And the gold of that land is good...” (Gen. 2:12) “This teaches that there is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel.”
As I write these words the people of Israel mourn the soldiers that gave their life protecting the country and its people. Tomorrow night at this time the country will a sharp turn to rejoice and gives thanks to the Lord of Israel for giving us the opportunity to live here as free men and fulfill our potential. As Rashi explains, "...there I will make you into a great nation..."
I myself really want to celebrate Israeli Independence Day, but I cannot help but remember what I left behind. All of those poor American Jews, who may be well off financially, may have multiple degrees in higher learning, but never had the privilege of learning Torah or learning what Judaism, real authentic Judaism, is really about. If I have been blessed in seeing the State of Israel blossom, I have also been so unfortunate to watch American Jewry shrivel up and fade away.
Perhaps I should be indifferent to the demise of the American Jewish Community. Our sages tell us that only one fifth of the Israelites actually left Egypt, while the others died during the plague of darkness. Why did they die? Because they did not want to leave Egypt! I have a feeling that the Israelites that did take part in the Exodus did not mourn their brethren who were "stuck in the darkness". So why should I care about the Jews that are "stuck in America"?
Of course this is nonsense. We are one nation, one big family, responsible for one another. The holy Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria taught,
Every morning, before your prayers, commit yourself to love every other Jew as your own self. Then your prayers will be accepted and bear fruit.I am not a kabbalist or even a Hasid, but this is part of my daily routine. I cannot possibly be completely happy while so many of my brothers and sisters are drowning in the sea of assimilation.
This Israeli Independence Day is an opportunity for every Jew to realize that he is part of a nation that in many ways was dormant but has now come back to life. It is time to free ourselves from the chains of the Diaspora, physically and spiritually. A voice is crying from Mount Horeb, and Rachel is crying for her children. Our mother, the land of Israel, is beckoning. "Whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them consider the mercies of the LORD."
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Monday, February 27, 2017
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
We are, as it is written, a stiff-necked people, especially when it comes to Torah and Mitzvot. Settling the land of Israel is a mitzvah. This setback just means that we will redouble our efforts, receiving encouragement from the words of the prophet:
Thus saith the Lord GOD: In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, whereas it was a desolation in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say: This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited. Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD have builded the ruined places, and planted that which was desolate; I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it. Thus saith the Lord GOD: I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. As the flock for sacrifice, as the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed seasons, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men; and they shall know that I am the LORD.'We can also receive much encouragement from recent history. I invite you to view this clip. See how setbacks, even an incredibly awful one, can be followed by a great victory:
Monday, January 23, 2017
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Rabbi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.Unfortunately, sometimes the judicial system can be corrupted. Here in Israel, one cannot help but feel that the verdict of "guilty" in Elor Azaria's manslaughter case was a miscarriage of justice. As Education Minister Naftali Bennett noted:
“We need to say the truth. The trial was corrupted from the outset,” continued Bennett. “The harsh comments by political leaders even before the opening of the army’s investigation, the removal of the soldier himself from the investigation process, the critical media coverage surrounding the case (including Army Radio) caused Elor irreparable harm.”The verdict was based on fake morality, as one would expect from judges that lack the fear of God. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Tzfat had this to say about the verdict:
Judge Maya Heller and her colleagues must console themselves by saying that they at least acted according to their consciousness and morality when they see the chaos they have brought to the IDF.I pray that Elor will be pardoned for his "crime". He and his family have suffered enough. And may God return our judges as in the days of yore.
Well, you should know that their verdict is, first and foremost, immoral, even if the judge read it for two and a half hours.
There is no morality in having mercy on enemies who come to kill our soldiers. There is no morality in breaking the spirits of the soldiers who risk their lives to protect us. How is it moral to give strength to a cruel and merciless enemy when there is nothing between us and ISIS except the strength of the IDF alone?
The Sages of Israel, who were a little bit smarter than you, said about morality and the excesses of self-righteousness: 'The great humility of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolos destroyed our home, burned our Temple, and exiled us from our land. The great humility which a rabbinic authority took upon himself in the middle of a battle against a foreign enemy caused the destruction of the nation and an exile which lasted thousands of years, the crucifixion of hundreds of thousands of Jews by Rome and the rape of hundreds of thousands of women. The Jews became prey for other peoples, being killed and robbed, for generations. Our Sages were wise men and all raised their objections to Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolos, asking him to see the big picture as one might expect from a man of his status.
On this matter is is possible to say to Judge Maya Heller that her morality has broken the spirit of the soldiers. The heads of our attackers have been raised and the spirit of our enemies has been strengthened. There is no morality in a judgment which gives impetus to those who send boys and girls with numbers and knives. There is no morality in strengthening the killers and terrorists. There is no morality or self-righteousness which rests on the backs of the soldiers. They is no morality in trying to beautify hate. In the eyes of Ra'ed Saleh and his followers we all bake matzot with the blood of Palestinian Arab children. All of us. Even you, Judge Heller.