Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Jew and Society - The Perils of Isolationism

Guest contribution by Rabbi Akiva Goldsman*

The following post was submitted by a Charedi Rebbe in a Yeshiva high school for over 20 years in a small town. I know his identity but he asked for anonymity for personal reasons which I accepted.

Considering his circumstances and the fact that he identifies as Charedi, I believe he presents an important perspective on issues I frequently discuss. His words follow.

This post is adapted from my online book called "Getting Torah Right" (

A Jewish community - representing the Jewish nation as a whole - is expected to be an inspiration and guide to its members and to anyone it encounters. It's not enough to quietly and privately observe God's Torah: the 
Jewish people's example must elevate the entire world (Yeshaya 49:6).

We must live lives of morality and justice whose wisdom enlightens and warms all around us (Devarim 4:6). We are instructed to take an active interest in the health and well being of all our neighbors, Jew and non-Jew (Yirmiya 29:5-7). Individuals who don't actively work for the general good of society (אין עוסקין בישובו של עולם) are deeply mistrusted.

How closely does your community fit that vision?

# Isolationism

I understand why Jews might want to cut themselves off from the secular world. There's plenty out there we'd be wise to avoid. But as with anything in life, it's important to weigh a possible solution against its consequences. Cigarettes might help you manage stress, but there's a very good chance they'll also kill you.

What's the negative side of isolation?

Consider this. If you're raised to believe that you can't engage with the world around you because the people who live there are טמאים ‫ומושחתים how likely is it that you'll grow up treating them with respect? Isn't it more likely that you'll look at "goyim," "freiya," and "modernisha" as subhuman "untouchables"?

Here's another thought. If you're raised to believe that they're all טמאים ‫ומושחתים who unjustly impose their unholy laws and taxes on us (and prosecute "tzadikim" who they think are criminals), then how likely is it you'll grow up to respect your country's laws and practices? Isn't it more likely that you'll instead choose to live in a shadow economy where "goyishe" laws and safety standards are ignored and various flavors of theft and fraud are rationalized?

One more thought. No community gets everything perfect. We can all improve. And in a world that's constantly changing, the need to intelligently address new challenges becomes all the more urgent. But if you're convinced that you're surrounded by טמאים ומושחתים and that you've got a permanent monopoly on the truth, then you will probably lack the basic psychological capacity to change and grow.

All this happens. Not everyone living in isolated communities is involved of course, but far too many are. Stories describing the proliferation of violence, crime, and corruption in many Charedi communities regularly reach me. In disbelief, I often ask friends and relatives who live in Israel whether those stories are exaggerated and they all sadly tell me "No. This is the way it really is."

Millions of dollars are regularly stolen from both American and Israeli government programs to fund non-existent or non-compliant yeshivos. Charedi politicians and public officials are frequently arrested, tried, and imprisoned for serious crimes. Public riots involving violence and shocking disregard for the rights and needs of others are common.

I'm well aware of the many wonderful things that go on in even the most isolated kehillos. And since every group has its criminals it should hardly surprise us to learn that Orthodox Jews have them, too. But that doesn't excuse bad behavior. Should being "no worse than anyone else" be enough for a nation that's supposed to be nurtured by God's Torah? And besides, some of the crimes we're seeing here require the cooperation - or at least complicit silence - of hundreds or even thousands of neighbors. To some degree, the crime seems to be embedded within the culture itself.

There is in many communities a stench not only of burning garbage dumpsters and diaper-strewn streets, but of disgusting moral corruption. And of a society where many have lost their moral bearings and others are too frightened to say anything. Where's the kiddush Hashem in all that ugliness?

# Where do you stand?

Whether you like it or not, you do actively benefit by living within your country, state, and city. Each time you take public transit or drive along a safe, well-lit highway, you're enjoying the fruits of taxation. (Subway fares, you might be surprised to learn, don't fully cover the actual cost of your ride: the service is subsidized.) And who can say he's not protected from some pretty nasty enemies by his country's military and police forces?

The fact that you willingly accept benefits acquired through taxpayer-provided funds means you acknowledge your government has the legal and halachic right to collect those taxes. After all, if they didn't have that right, you'd be benefiting from stolen goods (שו"ע חו"מ שס"ט ב). And the fact that you accept a country's currency as payment for goods and services, means that you recognize its legal status (רמב"ם גזילה ואבידה פ"ה הל' י"ח).

The government, representing its citizens, provides you with valuable services. In return, your fellow citizens have the right to expect you'll behave responsibly. At a bare minimum that would require you to observe the law and protect the common good. Ideally, you'll do all this freely and with a generous spirit. Your attitude, in fact, may count for more than your actions.

So building a healthy relationship with the people around you is definitely something worth working on. Given the fact that governments and secular institutions are themselves no strangers to corruption and crime, there's nothing to be gained by pretending this will be easy. In the face of often justified cynicism of the public sector, maintaining a healthy idealism in your communal activities can be a challenge.

# Finding a balance

How should things work? Torah values and halachic behavior must always dominate our lives. If we ever find ourselves forced to choose between the Torah and a clearly conflicting social requirement, then we'll unquestionably stand firmly on the side of Torah. But seriously: how often is that going to happen? Remember, the conflict has to be clear. 

Most of the time, thinking through the issue objectively will show you that you'll be better off keeping your head down and avoiding a confrontation altogether. Sometimes halacha will allow - or even require - you to "compromise" just a bit. And sometimes you've just misunderstood the conflict...or the true halacha.

The bottom line: you must always be a ben Torah. But who said ostentatiously flaunting it in
public will lead to kiddush Hashem?

*Not his real name

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sincerity in Teshuva

How is it that on Yom Kippur we can do Teshuva pretty much knowing that afterwords we will very likely go back to our old sinful ways? Isn’t that a bit dishonest of us? Is saying you’re sorry to God that we have sinned in essence lying about it to God if we keep doing it anyway?

Obviously one of the things Teshuva is all about is changing our ways. And yet rare is the individual that can do that. Once Yom Kippur passes we tend to go back to the same pattern of behavior that led us to ask God to forgive us for.  Every year. Shouldn’t sincere teshuva require us to actually change in order to be forgiven? And yet every year we do the same thing asking God to forgive all over again for the same sins we do year after year.

Imagine if you wronged a loved one every year and at the end of the yea you ask for forgiveness only to keep wronging them after they have forgiven you. Is there any possible way that they would continue to forgive you after reverting to that behavior year after year? No sane person would do that.

Does this mean we should just throw our hands in the air and say trying to do Teshuva for recurring sinful behavior is futile? That God shouldn’t trust our pleas for mercy that are accompanied by promise that will  surely be broken because of a track record?

I believe it was Rav Shlomo Wolbe that addressed this very question when he was asked about it by someone.

What he said is the following. If someone truly regrets his sins and wants to stop his sinful behavior –even knowing that he will likely revert to his old ways, that is enough for God to grant forgiveness for past sins.

This is the Midah of kindness and mercy  in God that does not exist in man. Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change our ways. It just means that God is very  forgiving if sincere regret is there.

At this time I would like to wish all of my readers a G’mar Chasima Tova and and easy fast.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Caring Essay with a Glaring Omission

Agudath Israel Board Chairman,Shlomo Werdiger
Survivor. That is a term I have heard most of my life. If someone said they were a survivor, I would know exactly what they meant. They were a survivor of the Holocaust - the most horrific period for the Jewish people in history. And that’s saying a lot since there have been plenty of tragedies that have befallen us since the Second Temple era. While the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is considered the greatest tragedy in Jewish history, there is no question that in terms of the sheer number of Jews brutally murdered and tortured, nothing surpasses the Holocaust.

In our day another group of people has begun using that term to describe themselves: victims of sexual abuse. They prefer to be called survivors. I am not in a position to comment on whether the use of that term is appropriate in light of its more common usage for Holocaust survivors. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. The trauma survivors of sex abuse have experienced is horrific in its own right.

There is an interesting parallel between the two that might help to better understand the severity of the trauma in each case. Many survivors of the Holocaust lost their faith. The same is true of survivors of sex abuse. Many survivors of both groups that were observant before their trauma - ended up becoming non observant after it.

I do not believe that anything can compare to what most survivors of the Holocaust went through. Bur survivors of sex abuse have nonetheless gone through their own hell - and in all too many cases continue to go through well after their abuse. Many of them have contemplated suicide as the only way out! Calling themselves survivors drives home that point.

Which brings me to an article in Mishpacha Magazine a few weeks ago by Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of the board of directors of Agudath Israel of America. He wrote about Mendy Klein who passed away suddenly a few months ago.  Mendy helped set up Amudim, an organization that deals with the Jews suffering from a variety of problems. Among them, drug and alcohol addiction, and sex abuse. The one thing that stuck out for me is the fact that of the 400 suicides and accidental overdoses reported to Amudim, 80% were victims of child sexual abuse. 80%!

That is a shocking number. But it was gratifying to see this acknowledged in a major Charedi publication. Even though summertime is mostly over and the school year has begun, it was also gratifying to see Mr. Werdiger note that summertime is a veritable minefield for those kids slipping through the cracks and that these kids were more likely to be hurt at that time of year. He credited Mendy for what he calls ‘the impossible’ to happen: getting the Orthodox Jewish community to recognize that abuse and addictions need to be acknowledged and remedied.

Most of us already realize that we have this kind of problem (although I doubt most of us know the actual extent of it). That the chairman of the board of Agudah now recognizes it and uses some of the same strong language used by survivors and  survivor advocates is a huge step in the right direction. A step that has resulted in an institution like Amudim.

And yet there is still one glaring omission. In a sidebar box in that article there is some excellent advice on teaching children summer safety with respect to potential abuse. What is not so excellent is the omission of making sure accusations of abuse are reported directly to the police. Nowhere is that mentioned. Interestingly, neither is Agudah's requirement to first report accusations of abuse to rabbis. The entire subject is ignored. It’s almost as if he knows what doing the right things is and refuses to mention the Agudah policy on it.

It is a troubling omission that I believe may have had as its goal to not undermine Agudah’s policy on reporting sex abuse. Their Daas Torah has spoken. That others may disagree doesn’t matter. 

I wonder though if in his heart of hearts, Mr. Werdiger actually believes that rabbis must be told about abuse first and get permission from them before reporting it to the police. His lack of saying anything about it either way - makes me wonder…

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Travel Day

I’m off to the holy land for Sukkos. I will be once again staying in Ramat Bet Shemesh (Aleph) until October 7.

Those readers that happen to live there or happen to be in town for any reason, come on over and say, ‘Hi’. I can be found daily at the early morning Shachris at Massas Mordechai (Mogen Avraham Minyan or in the alternative the Vasikin Minyan). The Shul is centrally located on Dolev. I will be staying in an apartment across the street. Regular posting will resume tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Is the Uman Experience a Truly a Religious One?

Snapshot of the event from 2013 (Times of Israel)
I am a 7th generation descendant of a Chasidic Rebbe (Rebbe Shimon Maryles MiYaroslov). But I am not a Chasid. Not even slightly. I am much more in line with R’ Shimon’s father, R’ Yisroel Leib Elbaum who was an ardent Misnagid and vehemently opposed Chasidus. I say that as a disclaimer so that those reading the following will know where I am coming from.

I recently spoke to an acquaintance, a wonderful fellow and true Baal Chased  who went to Uman for Rosh Hashana. I asked him what it was like and he went into a fawning description of his experience there. He said that it was by far the most exhilarating and Jewishly meaningful experience of his life. I nodded and went on my way. But I have tremendous reservations about this phenomenon.

For those that don’t know what this is all about, Uman is the city in the Ukraine where the Rebbe of Breslov, Rebbe Nachman MeUman is buried. He is the great grandson of the founder of Chasidus, known as the Baal Shem Tov. He attracted thousands of followers in his lifetime and is still a major influence on a great number of Jews that consider themselves Breslover Chasidim. Even though he left no heirs to his Chasidic dynasty. There is no Breslover Rebbe today.  

Upon nearing his death, Rebbe Nachman called two of his closest Chasidim as witnesses and declared that anyone that visits his grave, gives some charity, and says certain chapters of Tehilim (Psalms) will be pulled by him from the depths of hell no matter what they did to deserve it (as long as they did not return to return to their foolish ways.)

His Chasidim had always made sure to be with the Rebbe on Rosh Hashana. After his death, this continued in the form visiting his grave on that day at the urging of his prime disciple, - aided by the Rebbe’s ‘promise’ has generated many pilgrimages to his grave by Breslover Chasidim. It has evolved into an annual tradition during Rosh Hashana where today it attracts tens of thousands of Jews - 34,000 this year. And according to the Times of Israel  2700 hundred of them that became sick or injured (directly or indirectly) by this event were treated by United Hatzalah, a volunteer Jewish EMT organization based in Israel that accompanied them. One person there died of heart failure.

I can understand being swept up in the emotion of the moment. The fellow I spoke to really believed he had a deeply religious experience. I don’t really want to take that away from him. But still - I have to question just how much of that experience was actually a religious one. When a multitude of people show up to pray anywhere, it can generate those kinds of feelings.

Even though there is a source for doing this directly in the Torah, I am not one to pray at the burial places of Tzadikim - great religious figures. The idea behind doing that is the desire to take advantage of the merit of the deceased Tzadik buried there when praying to God. But far too many people mistakenly pray to the deceased Tzadikim, themselves. Which is almost idolatrous!

For me, prayer involves a direct connection to God. Which can be done anywhere.

And if there is any place that one should seek to be closer to God, it is not the Ukraine, which was perhaps the most antisemitic European country during the Holocaust. That would be the last place I would go to seek closeness to God no matter who was buried there. Would not going to the place nearest the Holy of Holies be a better pilgrimage?  Wouldn’t the Kotel be that place? 

And yet Uman draws many thousands of people who testify to what they believe is a legitimate and unparalleled religious experience. Do the 34,000 people that attended this year and feel that way prove me wrong?

I don’t think so. For one thing the 2700 that needed medical treatment  shows that it isn’t exactly the same experience for everyone. Certainly not for the fellow that had a heart attack and died - even if it was through natural causes.

We do not pray to intermediaries to deliver our prayers to God. We pray to God directly.

Then there is the fact that this is an all male event. Which means that their wives and children were left at home to fend for themselves on Rosh Hashaana. I don’t see how doing something like that pleases God in any way.

There is also the fact that the Ukrainian locals don’t really like it when so many Jews come into town and ‘suck up all the air in the room’: 
The pilgrimage has created friction between the predominantly Israeli pilgrims and locals, many of whom resent the cordoning off of neighborhoods by police. Street brawls are not uncommon. 
Is it really all that wise to stir up all that latent antisemitism?

I see nothing inherently positive about this trip. The experiences felt there are not in my very humble opinion - truly religious. No matter what they may seem like. I do not know the mind of God but I tend to doubt that this is what He has in mind for His people on Rosh Hashana.

What works better than going to the grave of a dead Chasidic Rebbe in the Ukraine is sincere Teshuva. And that can be done by anyone, anywhere.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

LGBT - A Torah True Approach

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the UK (Getty images via the JC)
One of the things that separates the extreme right wing of Orthodoxy and the more moderate right wing (in which I include moderate Charedim and Centrists) is in how  we see those among us that are LGBT (people who have issues of forbidden sexuality - whether it is same sex attraction or gender dysphoria - self identifying as member of the sex one was not born with).

My own view, which I believe reflects the vast majority of moderate Orthodoxy is the classic ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ approach. Which basically means that we are not in a position to judge anyone on matters of sexuality or even behavior, no matter how sinful that behavior might be. And we certainly may not judge an individual who has issues of gender identity. What we must instead do is treat every human being created in the image of God with the dignity that description deserves.

Which means that individuals that have any of these issues is the bearer of no sin, unless he does things that are sinful. Just like the rest of us. And if they succumb to their forbidden desires they are to be treated like anyone of the rest of us that succumb to our own forbidden desires. What we may not do is glorify any behavior that the Torah describes as sinful.

It is in the celebration of forbidden desires as equal to permitted ones,  that I take issue with. (Which is one reason I oppose gay marriage for example.) If I had to criticize LGBT activists, that would be my main bone of contention.

The Orthodox Chief Rabbi of the UK (United Kingdom), Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, has just issued guidelines for Orthodox day schools and Yeshiva high schools about how o treat students  that are LGBT. From the JC
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has published ground-breaking guidance for Orthodox schools on their duty of care to LGBT+ pupils.
He says schools must adopt robust policies to prevent bullying and be equipped to offer pastoral support with sensitivity and understanding.
His 36-page booklet, The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils, has been produced with input from LGBT+ Jews and with the support of KeshetUK, the organisation which promotes equality on their behalf within the Jewish community.
Orthodox Jewish schools, Rabbi Mirvis emphasises, “can and must be a safe haven for all children and teens, a place where every pupil can feel nurtured and protected”.
Commenting on its publication, the Chief Rabbi said he believed the document was “an extremely significant milestone and will have a real and lasting impact on reducing harm to LGBT+ Jews across the Orthodox Jewish community. 
“Our children need to know that at school, at home and in the community, they will be loved and protected regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.”
In his introduction, the Chief Rabbi paid tribute to (Keshet UK an LGBT activist group), which had been “totally respectful of Torah values, never seeking to undermine or contradict any issurim (prohibitions)) or important areas of hashkafa (religious outlook).” 
Rabbi Mirvis’s views are right on target. Young people have a right to be protected form bullying regardless of their sexual or gender identity. I am happy to see that Rabbi Mirvis and I are on the same page.

I’m sure that this pamphlet was issued in response to Ofsted, (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) the UK’s educational arm. They have recently examined whether Orthodox schools provide a secular curriculum comparable to that of their public school curriculum and that the values taught are in concert with British values.

I believe that most Orthodox schools do provide a curriculum in line with Ofsted’s standards. I also believe that Rabbi Mirvis’ pamphlet is in concert with British values.

The extreme right wing school are not in concert with either of these. My views about offering a decent secular studies curriculum are well known to most readers but are beyond the scope of this post. The issue here is about whether the values taught in those schools  are in concert with British values and whether implementing Rabbi Mirvis’s guidelines contradict Torah values. 

The extreme right wing must think they do.

And they have cried foul! They see this as an intrusion into what they believe is their democratic right of freedom of religion which includes their right to teach their children their religious values as they see fit.  

How can there be such a vast chasm  between two Orthodox segments of Jewry? That is a good question. But that is exactly the case. Form another article in the JC
Strictly Orthodox leaders have distanced themselves from the Chief Rabbi's guidance on LGBT+ pupils, saying it applies only to schools under his authority.
In a document unprecedented for Orthodox schools, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said they should have an explicit policy to look after LGBT+ students and have measures in place to prevent bullying.
But the rabbinic committee of Chinuch UK, the new campaign group established to defend the strictly Orthodox educational system, stressed they would provide their own directions, in a memo circulated before Rosh Hashanah. 
First, I take exception to the description of the extreme right wing as the strictly Orthodox. Because that implies that Rabbi Mirvis is not strictly Orthodox. That is an outrageous and false claim that must be refuted in the strongest possible terms.  The proper term for them is extreme right wing.

Why are they so opposed? I believe it is because they do not seem to be able to separate the sin from the sinner.  Nor are they able to even discuss these matters with their students because they consider any talk about sex or sexuality as immodest (not Tznius). 

What does that do to a child in their system that might be LGBT? Surely it destroys any chance he or she will have at leaving an observant life. It will certainly not discourage bullying. If one of their students is outed, it will no doubt do the opposite. Which can obviously ‘kill’ the student. Destroying his or her ego to the point of despair, depression  and even suicide.

How is this approach in any way a Torah approach? How can Chinuch be allowed to ignore matters that can lead to life and death situations for reasons of Tznius? What is so terrible about Rabbi Mirvis’s common sense approach which is as in line with the Torah as is that of the extreme right?

I believe it is high time – long overdue even – for the extreme right wing to see the light and stop making trouble for themselves. They ought to adopt those wise guidelines. Because the path they are on now cannot end well for them. 

None of us like government interference with our Chinuch. But is this a hill worth dying on? It would be wise for them to pick their battles more carefully. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Thank You, Mr. President

PLO Office in Washington (WSJ)
First let me restate the obvious. (Something I have done many times.) Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are suffering.  The optics of which point to Israel as an oppressive occupier as the cause. But let me hasten to add the less obvious - but no less true fact. Israel is not at fault. They do what must be done for security reasons. Which ends up being oppressive to Palestinians.

The people that should really shoulder the blame for Palestinian oppression are their leaders. Espicially in the more militant terrorist wing of Hamas (and other Jihadist groups) that continually terrorize innocent Israeli civilians  randomly in a variety of ways including suicide bombings over the years. 

Anyone with half a brain should realize this. Only those that purposely blind themselves to this clear and obvious fact (or plain old fashioned antisemites) could blame Israel for Palestinian suffering. 

None of this is new. But it needs to be repeated as often as possible against the backdrop of a world narrative that blames Israel for all the troubles in the Middle East.

I also bring it up in another context. According to the Wall Street Journal the Trump administration has just announced it will be closing the PLO office in Washington for its lack of willingness to come to the peace table. 

This follows a reduction of aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) because of how they used it. A lot of that money was paid to families that lost children that  ‘martyred’ themselves trying to kill as many innocent Jews as possible in suicide bombings or other violent attacks. All in the cause of trying to liberate Palestine from the Jews.

I’m not sure how the liberal element sees this development. Perhaps they see it as yet another nail in the coffin of a ‘two state solution’ where Palestinians would have a sovereign state living side by side with Israel in exchange for an end to all hostilities.  

I too used to be a fan of this as the only viable solution to the conflict. I still would be if I believed that Palestinians would – or even could - honor such a commitment. But they have shown no such ability in light of PA conflict with Hamas. 

I even question whether they ever really did have such a commitment in their heart of hearts considering how they actually view Israel. Which is as a group of illegitimate European colonizers that have no legitimate right to their land. I believe that their leadership (and many Palestinians in the street) have as an ultimate goal to take all of their land back by any means necessary. 

What happened in Gaza after it was handed over to the Palestinians is a demonstration of that kind of resolve. The only difference between the PA and Hamas is in tactics.

I don’t know how to make life better for Israelis or Palestinians. But as  much promise as a two  state solution once offered, it cannot be taken seriously anymore. It has become increasingly clear that under current conditions - giving Palestinians the West Bank would – sooner or later - result in more terror and bloodshed against Jews in Israel And it would make Israel’s security goals virtually impossible to meet.

Which brings me to the Trump administration. I think they see this in exactly the same way I do. And I for one applaud them for doing something about it. There have been some very positive changes in  US policy with respect to Israel that I would have never predicted. 

Aside from the two things just mentioned there was the fulfillment of Trump’s campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A move that everyone feared would cause a massive wave of violence by Palestinians. That never materialized. All the angst over it (including my own) proved to be unwarranted. Life goes on there as it was prior to that – other than expression of anger over it by Palestinians leadership.

Then there was the Trump administration’s cancellation of that terrible nuclear deal with Iran. One that everyone warned would bring back Iranian resolve to build the ‘bomb’. That hasn’t happened either. Instead the current Islamist regime there is teetering on collapse. Their economy is in free-fall. 

Iran wasn’t doing that well before Trump reimposed sanctions. But their demise has been accelerated by it. The typical (non fundamentalist) Iranian in the street blames their own government. You no longer hear ‘Death to America’in the streets. You here ‘Death to their clerics!’ We’ll see what happens. But so far so good.

Than there was the administration announcement that they would stop funding UNRWA  - the UN relief agency that helps Palestinian refugees.  As Nikky Haley put it:
The countries that we give money to, do they believe what we believe? Are they still actually wanting to be our partner and work with us? If they’re not and shouting ‘Death to America’ why would we give them a single penny? And so you are seeing the efforts to defunding those things that are not helpful to us and not in the United States’ interest.” 
UNRWA can stay there, and we will be a donor if it reforms what it does. If it goes and makes sure that they are not doing this teachings in textbooks , if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering with them.”  
Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton has also just announced that the US will sanction the  International Criminal Court of Justice if it takes up cases brought against Israel by the PA The US sees this as a blatant attempt to discredit Israel with a one sided argument about Israel’s oppressive security tactics. Bolton said that any disagreements should be dealt with in negotiations, not in the International Court of Justice. By taking Israel to the ICC it is a sign that the PA is not interested in good faith negotiations. The US is not interested in supporting the ICC under such circumstances.

Let us not forget that the aforementioned UN Ambassador to the UN, Nikky Haley is the best thing to happen to the UN in decades Especially as it relates to Israel. And she is a Trump appointee.

And now this from the Jewish Press:  
Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” offering an inside look at the Trump presidency, claims that the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was behind the clandestine alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia – a move he advanced against the advice of more experienced, senior White House officials, namely Defense Secretary James Mattis, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
According to Woodward, Kushner began pushing for a Tel Aviv– Riyadh axis almost as soon as President Trump had taken office in early 2017, proposing that the President’s first foreign trip would include stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel. 
The fact is that relations between the United States and Israel have never been better. This is reflected by a high approval rating of the Trump administration by Israelis (49% strongly approve; 23% slightly approve). 

Looking strictly at the US relationship with Israel, one would have to admit that it has never been better.  Although I’m equally sure that the left will vehemently deny that - and spin all of the aforementioned positives into negatives. I obviously strongly disagree with them. In fact I believe we ought to recognize that and  thank the President for his strong support.

Which is why I said it is so very hard to condemn him. Which I still do.  Donald J. Trump is not fit to hold this high office for an abundance of both moral ethical reasons. But that does not mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the good he has done. And I certainly do.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

A New Year's Prayer

As the year 5778 comes to a close, I wish to ask Mechila - forgiveness from anyone that I have offended in any way. Intentionally or unintentionally.  I have already granted Mechilla to those that have offended me. 

May God give us all, good health, peace and prosperity.

May God heal the sick and grant them a quick recovery from their illnesses.

May God grant those that are looking for Shiduchim – finding them, getting married, and having a great life together, with children that will be loved.  

May God grant our religious leaders the wisdom to lead us in ways that will produce a true Kiddush HaShem.

May God give our political leaders the wisdom to lead us wisely and honorably.

May God help us end – once and for all – all forms of abuse and cover-ups that have plagued us for so many years.  And may He quickly heal the pain of the survivors and their families that have suffered so much because of that.

May God give us all the wisdom to end all discrimination against the Ger (convert), the Baal Teshuva (newly religious), or those with different Hashkafos - and to instead love them.

May God end all prejudice against different races and ethnicities …or anyone different from ourselves  …and open our hearts to accept and honor all human beings created in His image.

And finally - may God grant peace to the people and the land of Israel - and may it come quickly.

May the New Year 5759 bring all of these blessings and more.

K’siva V’Chasima Tova

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Yabloner Rebbe

George C. Nagel - aka the Yabloner Rebbe (screenshot)
Rafi Goldmeier posted a fascinating video on his blog Life in Israel (reproduced below). It is appropriate for the upcoming Day of Judgment – better known as Rosh Hashana. There are 2 take-aways from this. One is that anyone can lose their faith, no matter how religious they are. And the other is that it is never too late to do Teshuva - to repent for our sins.

(The following narrative is taken directly from the video below.)  

This is the story of a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of Yechezkel Taub. He became the Rebbe of a group of wealthy Chasidim in a small town in pre war Europe called Yablon. 

Early in his leadership, the Yabloner Rebbe urged his Chasidim to make Aliyah - believing that Moshiach's arrival was imminent. His Chasdim resisted - but he was able to convince many them to do it. He argued that the wealthier ones would build their own homes. And the rest would buy land from wealthy Syrian land owners and along with him build a city, which would include a dairy farm. 

He raised a ton of money from the wealthier Chasdim and bought 10,000 acres of land in the North of Israel. He then made Aliyah with between 2 and 3 hundred of his Chasidim. But then everything that could go wrong –went wrong.  Disease, murders. And no one in the Jewish agency seemed to care about them. They had no money and couldn’t get any from them. 

The Rebbe offered to make a deal with the Jewish agency and told them that even though they don’t have any money, they had land. He would give them the land in exchange for food and expertise in building a farming community. They agreed and sent food and a group of Religious Zionists farmers to train them.  Long story short - things started to get better.

Meanwhile the Chasidim that gave him money to buy land started immigrating to Israel because of the rise of antisemitism in the 30s. When they got there and asked for the land they paid for, the Rebbe told them it was gone... That he had to trade it to save the lives of the starving Chasidim that came with him. They asked for their money back. But he didn’t have it. Needless to say, those wealthy Chasidim were very upset calling the Yabloner  Rebbe a thief.

He decided that he had to go America and raise the funds to pay them back. His wife went back to Poland (there were no children).  And in the middle of all this World War II broke out. He then heard that his entire Chasidus had been wiped out. He could not go back to Poland. He could not go back to Israel.

At that point the Yabloner Rebbe decided that can no longer be religious. He took off his kipa, shaved off his beard, cut off his Peyos, and stopped keeping Shabbos. He moved to Los Angeles and changed his name from Yechezkel Taub to George T. Nagel.  He had nothing to do with the Jewish community – an very few people know who he really was. His family in Israel did however maintain contact with him, however.

The Yabloner Rebbe started a successful construction business and became very wealthy.  But then lost most of it in a development project that went south. He got so ill from that experience that he was hospitalized.

While he was there, he made yet another life changing decision – turning  away from his goal of making a lot of money. He realized that he doesn’t really need it and preferred instead to gain more knowledge.

In 1972 at age 77, he enrolled in a University (CSun), moved into the dorm where he became a celebrity student to his younger peers. He eventually got his bachelors degree in psychology and started working towards his masters degree.

He was at that point somehow convinced to return to the community he built (now called Kfar Chasidim). He agreed but wanted to first finish his masters. Which he did and in 1980 - not sure what to expect.

Upon his rival there was a big party thrown for him and each of the original pioneer settlers went up to him. This is what they said:

‘Rebbe, you saved our lives’.  ‘Our families all died in the Holocaust.’ ‘You pushed us like crazy to come here.’ ‘And we hated you!’ ‘We wanted to go back to Poland’.  ‘But you made us stay, and we stayed.’ ‘Our families (in Poland) all died’ ‘There’s nothing left of them.’ ‘Look at our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.’ ‘Look what we’ve set up here!’ ‘It’s all because of you!’ ‘Please come home!’

George Nagel put his Kipa back on, grew back his beard, grew back his peyos and became the Yabloner Rebbe again. He passed away in 1986 and was buried next to some of the other founders of that city.

What a remarkable and inspiring story this is. Here you have a man that was a charismatic religious leader who because of his belief that Moshiach’s arrival was imminent - was able to convince many of his reluctant Chasidim to make Aliyah.

And then because of the tragic events that befell him - including the loss of his Chasidim slaughtered in the Holocaust - he lost his faith! To such an extent, that he had nothing to do with Jews or Judaism for many decades of his life. And then came back to it all when he realized what he had done to save so many of Chasidim who had grown into large families. He must have seen the hand of God in all of this.

I know that there are some readers here that were once observant and no longer are. I am not here to criticize or judge any of them.  I do not blame anyone for going OTD after experiencing the trauma that is usually associated with that. I only thank God that I was never tested that way. But what one can see from this story is that it’s never too late to come back. If anything counters the claim those who go, do not return, this story is it.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Painful Yet Necessary Condemnation

US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman (Jerusalem Post)
It is difficult to condemn a President - many of whose policies I believe have done so much for this country. And whose Middle East policies are more pro Israel than all those that preceded him - with the possible exception of Harry Truman.  

And yet that is exactly what I recently did and continue to do – difficult though that may be. (Although as I also recently said - I am equally convinced that there are many people that will deny that any of things Trump does are good. They will defend that perception but in my view it is just blind hatred generated in part by politics.)

Recent stories reported in the media sum it all up for me.  A story in the Jerusalem Post has highlighted what is good about Trump with respect to Israel and the Jewish people. The US Ambassador to Israel notes that the President has slayed some sacred cows. Deservedly so, in my book. He cites 3 examples.

The first example is that US is about to cut funding for UNRWA. This agency was created by the UN in 1949 for purposes of humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees. While on the surface cutting aid might seem cruel. One has to consider where much of that the money went. It was used to pay the families of terrorists killed while attacking Israel. It is not pretyy well estblished by the Palestinian Authority that if someone chooses to blow themselves up in service to killing Jews their family will be compensated. The US should not be providing funds for that, no matter how humanitarian UNRWA is supposed to be. 

What about the majority of Palestinians that  aren’t terrorists and could really use the help? One should ask PA president Mahmoud Abbas about that. He is the one directing where the money should go. If it weren’t used to pay terrorist’s families for their son’s ‘service’ to the cause, those poor refuges would continue to get even more US aid through UNRWA. Instead they will get nothing from the US. 

(Not to worry. Leave it a European nation (the UK)  to fill the void. Why would a country that holds dear an antisemite like Corbyn care if terrorists families are rewarded for killing Jews?)

Another Trump accomplishment Friedman noted was tearing up that horrible nuclear deal with Iran. All that talk about Iran going nuclear again has not come to pass. What has instead happened is that pulling out if that deal precipitated the worst financial crisis in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. No one there is talking about building the bomb. They are talking about survival.  As the NewYork Times reports: 
Iran’s rial fell to a record low on Wednesday, part of a staggering drop in the currency’s value since the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal only four months ago.
Those who went to work at the start of the Iranian week on Saturday saw their money shed a quarter of its value by the time they left the office on Wednesday. Signs of the currency chaos can be seen everywhere in Tehran: Worried residents lined up outside beleaguered money changers, travel agents offered vacation prices only in hard currency, and diapers disappeared from store shelves. 
A third thing mentioned by Friedman was Trump’s recognition of Jeruslam as the capital of Israel. The fear that it would stoke additional violence never materialized. Instead Jerusalem is now recognized officially by the United States for something it has been since the founding of the modern state back in 1949: Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. There is no going back. I don't see the US reversing that decision in the future even under a Democratic President. Once it is is done - it is done. To put it the way Friedman did: 
“Now, the United States did not make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. That was done by King David some 3,000 years ago under God’s direction,” he said. “But, I hope you will agree with me that it feels awfully good that for the first time in 2,000 years since churban bayit sheni – the destruction of the Second Temple – the most powerful and moral nation on earth has made this important recognition of the primacy of Jerusalem to the State of Israel and the Jewish People. “So, baruch Hashem (thank God), it was a good year in many respects,” he said. 
How wonderful it is to hear those words from a US Amabasador to Israel. I don’t believe any past ambassador has said anything close to those words.  Such a pleasure to hear.

As far as what else Trump has done, let us not forget his appointment of Nikky Haley as US Ambassador to the UN. I don’t think we will ever get anyone better than that.

This is what makes it so difficult for me to condmen the President. But how can I not considering the flow of events that paint one of the ugliest pictures of an American President in US history (At least in my lifetime.)  Two events that occurred in rapid succession pile on to the stories already told by others who either worked in the White House or had free access to it.

One might recall Michael Wolff's takedown of the President in his book, Fire and Fury. That was followed by Omarosa Manigault Newman’s  expsose’ calling Trump a racist and reporting that there were people high up in the administration that were secretly working against some of what he wanted to do. Then a few days ago, there was Bob Woodward’s book, Fury, detailing the actual opinions of so much of Trumps staff – including some of his most important cabinet members.  From The Atlantic: 
Woodward delivers a raft of jaw-dropping anecdotes about the administration: Secretary of Defense James Mattis saying the president has the comprehension of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” Chief of Staff John Kelly calling Trump an idiot. Trump saying Attorney General Jeff Sessions “is mentally retarded.” The economic adviser Gary Cohn orchestrating the theft of a letter from the president’s desk to prevent him from signing it.  
And as if that weren’t enough, the following day there was an anonymous oped in the New York Times that was perhaps the most damning of all. Here in large part what it said: 
We want the (Trump) administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.
But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making…
In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic…
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier...
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility. 
I wish I could say that I am shocked by all of this. But I’m not. It is not too hard to see all of this happening right before our eyes – and the eyes of the world. On an almost daily basis. But when an insider picked by the President has these same observations from the inside - there can be little doubt that ‘what you see is what you get’ with this President. There is no way in the world that Donald J. Trump is good for this country without the help of those insiders that work against his uninformed, amoral, impulsive, and erratic nature.

That’s the conundrum.  There is no way I can support a President whose behavior has been described in such terrible terms by so many different sources. These are no his enemies. Or the media. Some of those sources that he handpicked to serve him. And even support many of his polices as being good for the country. As I do.

Just to be clear, I obviously do not know the President. I have never met him. And there are some great stories prior to becoming the President  about his behavior that seem to be the antithesis of what it is now. One of them a personal experience mentioned by Ambassador Friedman. But his behavior in office has yet to show any of that.

In my view, there is no possible way that anyone with an ounce of common decency can support a man like this to be the Commander in Chief and the leader of the free world. No matter how much we like some - or even all - of his polices. Thank God there are insiders like the author of that anonymous New York Times oped writer that do what they can to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office. Without that, who knows what the world would look like.