Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

A Thanksgiving Thanks - even when it hurts

We are approaching yet again the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a time where families get together and celebrate life. The past couple of years, we have been dealing with Covid and its ramifications. We should be thankful for this positive change this year and pray that it continues.
The concept of offering thanks is not alien to Judaism. In fact, as we shall see below, thanks are offered every single day in a myriad of ways. The basic thrust is that we need to thank and thank often, and never take anything and anyone for granted.

When the holy Temple in Jerusalem stood before it was destroyed by the Romans, there was a special thanksgiving sacrifice offered by those who wanted to say thank you to God. The Talmud informs us that there are four situations which obligate a person to bring this thanksgiving offering.

1.   One who has crossed the sea.
2.   One who traversed the desert.
3.   One who was sick and became healed.
4.   One who was incarcerated and became free.

The common denominator of all four occurrences is that they were saved from danger. To recognize this fact and thank the one above, a special offering is brought. Since there is no longer a Temple, we substitute these offerings with a special blessing during a public Torah reading. There is also a Jewish custom to invite family and friends to a special thanksgiving meal upon surviving a life-threatening illness.

We are taught in the Jewish code that the first thing we do upon awakening, before we say good morning to our kids and sorry to our spouse, is to sit at the edge of our bed, bow our heads and say a thank you prayer. The specific wording is that we thank God for restoring our Soul, and giving us another crack at completing our unique mission in this world. An acknowledgement that life is fragile and that there is much to accomplish.

As a Jew, I pray three times a day. These prayers are held in the morning, afternoon and evening. The Morning Prayer is the longest and is said before we go to work and begin our tedious day. The very first word that we utter as a congregation is the word “Hodu” which means thank you God for listening to our prayers.
At the pinnacle of all these three prayers, we are advised to ask God for individual and specific help. We stand, put our feet together and ask God to fulfill our wish list. This prayer is called the Amidah Prayer. The last page or two of this comprehensive wish list is completely devoted to thanks. Essentially, we are thanking God in advance for our very breath, food, job, children and life.

We are all human and most of us have had a thought-flicker that perhaps God is not listening to our prayers. And some of us are completely convinced that the thing they asked of God definitely went unanswered. I, as a Rabbi, get asked this over and over again.
My thoughts on this are that God’s sense of fairness, justice and thought is completely different from ours. We are a finite being and trying to understand God’s way of reasoning is impossible. We have not fully discovered and neither do we understand how our own brain works, let alone God’s brain. Even scientists who have mapped out the brain admit that they have only scratched the surface. Therefore, it is unreasonable to say that what God did or did not do was wrong or that He did not listen. God operates on a completely different wavelength.
It is very possible (I don’t know God’s brain either) that God did hear everything you asked for, and for whatever reason the answer was a resounding no! Does this make God inattentive or obtuse? I don’t think so. Is a mother evil when she refuses to allow her child an ice cream right before dinner? Even though there are plenty of other mothers (every dad will offer the ice cream and more) who do allow the dessert before dinner, a mother saying no to her child does not make her a bad parent. Quite the opposite. Not only is she not a bad person and mother, she is acting responsibly and fulfilling her divine obligation flawlessly. Likewise, when God says no, it is because there is a reason for it. We are like the child who does not understand how his/her parents can be so mean and not allow ice cream.

The bottom line is this. There are literally so many things to be thankful for. Even if we are hurting from something that is plaguing, troubling or afflicting us, we are obligated to see the good as well. Even if it is not easy to think positively, we must summon the strength to do so. To only see the negative without also seeing the positive is wrong and can be dangerous to one’s physical and spiritual health.
Some examples of simple but important thanks and recognition of the good: We need to be thankful for living in a civilized country with laws and courts as opposed to a place like Afghanistan that is ruled by whims and bullets. We must be thankful that we have a job, home, spouse, family and friends (a great Rabbi?). Even if you do not like your current employment, this should not stop you from being thankful that you have an income and are not homeless and living on the street. Your kids may be a massive drain on your energy, but always be mindful that there are people who are desperate to have children but cannot, etc.

My daughter recently sent me a picture of my grandson at the zoo. His mouth was agape with wonder, his eyes filled with love and hands reaching out to touch whatever animal he was looking at. The picture made me realize that sometimes children are way more appreciative of their surroundings than their parents. Why is this? Because adults are too cynical and are unable to see the forest for the trees. We need to be more hyper sensitive to all the good things happening around us and less critical.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to start.
Please feel free to share.         

Extreme Living

Many people I speak to love this time of the year. The climate is not too hot or humid, and neither is it too cold and unpleasant. In fact, the weather of late has been perfect. While it is true there are those who love the extreme climate of intense heat or cold, I would think that it is nowhere near the majority. You see people, for the most part, appreciate the elements somewhere closer to the middle of the thermometer.
This is not only true of weather, but also of most things. Even politics and religious attitudes need to have a modicum of thought and common sense.

Let’s take politics first. An extremist on the right or on the left leaves us/me with a raised eyebrow. Political extremes are simply an unhealthy way to be. As a Jewish person, I am unnerved by someone who is extreme, as it usually spells trouble for the Jews. I also find that people who are extreme regarding politics have no life or extracurricular activities. It overtakes the individual to the point where friendships come secondary to their opinion. It is like a political cancer has taken over the mind. It is not supposed to be like this.

Same with religion. There is a reason why the Torah has to stipulate that to save a life we are allowed to violate Jewish law, even though for you and me it is obvious that life is the most precious thing that we possess. The Torah however, needs to spell it out as God knows that there are those who are so extreme that they will not eat on Yom Kippur even if it means that they could perish.
Maimonides in his magnum opus only advocates an extreme position if it is to rid oneself of negative behavior like alcoholism, etc. For the most part, Maimonides takes great pains to emphasize that the middle path to serving God and mankind is the proper one: “Such people may then return to the middle path, which is the proper one, and continue in it for the rest of their lives.”

Recently the Torah gave us two scenarios of extremes and condemned both of them. A couple of weeks ago, we studied the Torah portion all about the flood. There it states clearly that God brought a flood upon the masses because no one showed any respect for the other. Life was all about living a selfish and greedy existence. There was no consideration of someone else’s space, property, or belongings. As the Torah testifies, the people took what they wanted when they wanted and how they wanted. There was a total disregard for morality, honesty, decency and integrity. Rape and pillage were so common that God ultimately decided that this is not a world He wants to be king over.
A little further on in the same portion, the Torah discusses that all mankind lived together in one place and the Torah further testifies that mankind had but one language and wished to build the Tower of Babel. God was displeased and scattered them all over the region and altered their dilalects. Have you ever asked yourself what was so bad about people living together and all speaking the same tongue?  What is the Torah really telling us?

The answer is a fascinating one. The generation of the flood focused on the self, the individual and not on the community or family. The generation of Babel on the other hand were the polar opposite but also to an extreme. The Babelites strictly focused on community and they had complete disdain for the individual. They had no regard for differing or dissenting opinions. If someone did not agree, then they were classified as the enemy of the state. The philosophy was such, that you are either with us or against us – there is no middle ground. God decided then that I have no interest in being involved with this oppressive communistic approach either. 
So while the flood victims died because of extreme negative behavior, the generation of Babel were also disbursed for the same reason, extreme negative behavior. What God was looking for was a hybrid, where both the individual and the community matter.
Rabbi Hillel said it best. If I am not for myself, then who will be for me. If I am only for myself then what am I?

Please feel free to share.

The Powerball Lottery

The Powerball lottery is up to the staggering number of $1.5 billion dollars. This is a boatload of money.
While it is true this amount can be paid over a few decades, if you choose to take it all in one lump sum,
$700 million is pretty darn good.
I remember writing an article about a fellow from Michigan who won a $2 million lottery jackpot in 2010 and was found dead a decade later. The body of Mr. Leroy Fick was found floating in a Michigan river.
The reporter continued that Mr. Fick, from Auburn, won the jackpot in 2010, and after about two years, the money was gone. Fick spent $200,000 on the construction of a new home and about $200,000 in annuities, in addition to losing money in investments and fireworks.

It is mind boggling to me that a person receives a gift straight from heaven and then squanders it. Not only was $2 million lost, it happened in only 24 months. There must be some reasonable explanation to clarify how someone goes from rags to riches in a quick decline.

Of course, the most obvious explanation is that there were bad actors involved who made themselves available to “take care” of the newbie’s newfound wealth and then proceeded to wreak havoc on his bank account.

One explanation is that when a person not only goes from rags to riches, but also goes from rags to riches to rags again, it is usually because the newly wealthy person may be so overwhelmed with so much money so quickly that the individual is not comfortable with their new station. It is not unlike a prisoner being released from incarceration after 20 years, feeling uncomfortable on the outside and having a very difficult time acclimating to their new reality. Someone told me recently that ironically, they are more content being depressed, as it is so familiar and comfortable.

I once read that actor Nicholas Cage, who was a top earner worth $150 million, could not hold on to his money and squandered it on some strange and eccentric purchases, eventually facing foreclosure on several properties and owing the IRS $6.3 million in property taxes. To give you an idea of the eccentricity involved, he owned not one, two, or three homes, but fifteen residences, including two castles, islands and a pet octopus. This is another case of money overload.

There is another explanation gleaned from the Kabbalah that is fascinating as well as practical. As you may know, Adam &Eve were introduced to the Garden of Eden and told, “You may eat from every tree, except this one in the middle.” Can you imagine being Adam & Eve? They had every available fruit and veggie at their whim. They had grapes, dates, oranges, mangos, papaya, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, etc.
They could eat whatever and whenever they wanted as a gift from God at no charge. There was one expectation that they should not eat fruit from a particular tree. Everything else was free game and allowed except one single solitary tree. What did they do? They ate from the forbidden fruit and were promptly punished. They were booted out of the Garden of Eden. Now all of a sudden, they had to grow their own produce, by the sweat of their brow.

The Kabbalah explains what happened here with an interesting analysis. The Kabbalah calls this “Bread of Shame.” Bread of Shame is what Adam & Eve felt when every single one of their needs and whims were met without earning it, without working for it. They felt unworthy and embarrassed that they were on God’s welfare program. This feeling of unworthiness eventually led to resentment, which eventually led them to an attitude of not caring anymore about what God says because they lacked nothing. In other words, spoiled children whose parents do everything for them rebel against the very same people who take care of them. This is truly a case of biting the hand that feeds you.

It is fascinating to read the punishments that Adam & Eve received. They had to now work, and work hard for their sustenance. No more freebies being thrown their way. God took them off the payroll because He was not appreciated and was completely taken for granted. Their new life entailed having to work for their supper, which enhanced their self-esteem. They earned it and therefore it felt so much better.

Secondly, God introduced mortality. Living forever will allow people to rest on their laurels. I have all the time in the world, why do this today when I can do it tomorrow. This is also a form of “Bread of Shame.”
Not appreciating that every moment counts. The timer on the clock is counting down, etc.

Thirdly, God promised that not only childbirth will be difficult, but also child rearing. If our children sail through their upbringing with no issues whatsoever -- no calls from the teacher or principals, no drama with the neighbor’s kids and no hospital visits to cast yet another broken bone -- then the child will become invisible or at the very least very low profile. God wants us to appreciate our kids by creating them with instructions, “Don’t let your parents rest, kid. Give them a run for their money.” This way, the hard work we put into their upbringing will allow us to appreciate them even more.

The bottom line is this. Being born with a silver spoon can be a blessing or a curse as money can be a blessing or a curse. I think Philo, a Greco-Jewish philosopher in first century Alexandria said, "The family, the land and all of humankind can ultimately be destroyed as a result of failure to suppress desires for various pleasures." My Hebrew teachers (who were probably poor) were fond of saying, “Being wealthy is a bigger test than being poor.”

Having said the above, I still pray to win the lottery. As my friend’s father was oft to say, “I have been poor and I have been rich, and it is much better to be rich.”

Please feel free to share.

Why I applaud Adidas

Unless you are a politician up for election, you should be keenly aware of what transpired after Kanye
West (Ye) spewed hateful, venomous and vomit worthy nonsense from his rapper mouth. While West is far from being an idiot, he is most definitely ignorant and probably mentally unstable. Being a talented rapper and businessman does not make him a world historian. Clearly, he has no common sense and equally as clear, he has no love for the Jewish people.

I am not sure what “death con 3 on Jewish people” means. I assume he was referring to the term defcon
3. Hmmm, maybe he is an idiot after all. In fact, anytime you use the term death with the word Jews, people get nervous and become very unforgiving. The bottom line is that there is no defense of what he said. There are no reasons in the world that would make it right. Kanye West has now been outed as another anti-Semitic boar.

Talking about the bottom line, the only reason why anyone would defend the indefensible is to protect their bank account. My father used to tell me the following quip, “If there is something that is incomprehensible to you, if there is something that does not make any sense in any way and you cannot
figure out what is at play here, then you should realize that it has to do with money and has nothing to do with morality, logic or science.” How profound.

So now we get to Adidas and other companies who took down the Yeezy line and severed the connection with this hatemonger. Let’s face it; Adidas makes a lot of money by partnering with the boar.
They wooed him away from Nike and have made an absolute financial killing with this branded sneaker partnership. Yeezy sneakers, which cost between $200 and $700, generate about 1.47 billion dollars (billion) in annual sales for Adidas, making up a little over 7% of its total revenue, according to estimates from Telsey Advisory Group. Shares in Adidas, which cut its full-year forecast last week, closed down 3.2% this week.

Furthermore, Adidas has everything to lose by not branding with him. Ye is an American icon. The entire Gen Z is head over heels over his music. What Adidas did was incredible because it is completely counterintuitive to let him go. The temporary financial loss to Adidas is staggering. (The permanent losses to Ye are refreshing).

It is for this reason I support Adidas and I encourage my readers to purchase their products to show them your thanks. This decision to lose him could not have been an easy one. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the board meetings. Can you imagine losing your greatest single asset in one fell
swoop? I am positive that this is the reason the decision to run took a few days.

What Adidas did makes no financial sense and yet they did it. My father would have been gobsmacked. Thank you to all those who put this dangerous man in his place. He now has a lot less money to peddle
his influence, and this is a good thing.

It takes a village

 Yom Kippur may be over for this year but by no means is the holiday festival season passed. In fact, many argue that this is the Yom Tov (holidays) really start. Sunday night begins the celebratory holiday of Sukkos which continues for 8 days.

Getting ready for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and beyond at The Chai Center is a mammoth task. There are so many moving parts that without multiple people, we could never have executed the busy time as well as we did.

Thanks to Caroline Tamer & Diane Facompre for going above the call and beyond to keep things running smoother than smooth. Not easy but handled with aplomb.

Thanks to Peri Rothman for putting to together all our social media & website development which allowed the greater community to keep abreast of the happenings.

Thanks to Zoey Saacks and Chaya Saacks who took it upon themselves to plan the high holiday junior congregation as well teaching the Hebrew school students all about these special holidays. No detail big or small was overlooked.

Thanks to our Chazzan Zalman Katz for exquisite services. Really beautiful.

Thanks to Paz Manyevitch who made sure that the building was ready for whatever came its way. From set up to break down, Paz was the manager in chief.

Thanks to Eric Diamond, Brad Becker, Alex & Jillian Nehkanevich, Preston Schoenfeld, Hal Schupak, The Morse family, Allan Richter, Joel Seleznow for not missing a beat and took it upon themselves to assist Paz and The Chai Center in a myriad of ways.

Thanks to Limor Shapiro for supervising the Junior Congregation and for all her work in the kitchen. Kiddush, Teens, Women’s programs and cooking for the needy as well.

Thanks to Sharon Penn, Jeremy Poland, Jillian Nekhanevich  and Michael Valdes for all their hard work in making sure that the Junior Congregation was at its best.

Thanks to our incredible group of teens Talia Mishkin, Abbey Strent, Drew Tannenbaum,  Shir Pinto, Chloe Dubinsky, Tatiana Poland, Breanna Alterescu, Zachary Alterescu, and Charles Morse.

Thanks to Andrew Schild for all the Audio Visual set up.

Thanks to Steve Bender and Bana Electric for all the lights, switches and relays.

Thanks to Yaghoubzaeh family, Levy family, Hova family, Dorfberger family, Fialkoff family, Morse family and Mikhael family for sponsoring the break the fast.

Thanks to Mandy Cohen for arranging the break fast and being the kiddush coordinator as well.  

Rosh Hashana - Not Rush Hashana

It is unbelievable that Rosh Hashanah is literally just a few days away. Everyone is shopping for round challahs, honey, pomegranates and a seat at the local Shul (No tickets needed at The Chai Center) We are running to buy new outfits and shoes. All fine and dandy and very appropriate.

However, one critical ingredient can be overlooked and this is what to pray for on this Rosh Hashanah. We need to be prepared and organized so that when we open the prayer book, whether at home or in shul, one must absolutely identify what it is that we are asking for. If we only start thinking about the most important aspect of Rosh Hashanah, it will feel rushed and hence the name Rush Hashanah.

The following is what I believe to be universal needs, wishes and wants, so therefore applicable to everyone.

Health is critical. Any person struggling with real health concerns (like men with a common cold), can tell you that it is overriding and prevailing. It literally trumps all other concerns and issues. In fact, it makes most other worries and fears look trivial compared to health. The body is very complex and while the medical and scientific community have made huge strides, they still have a long way to go. Take Covid as an example of something that has baffled virologists and other experts.
Therefore, while we put our trust in doctors, nurses and specialists, we must put our faith and belief in a higher power. We should pray this Rosh Hashanah that we have good bodily health, plain and simple without compromise.

The Talmud states that rearing is extremely difficult, and it is. To know when to discipline or coddle one’s child takes great Solomonic–like wisdom. I once heard someone say that “disciplining children is like holding a wet bar of soap. Either a grip that is too firm or one that is too gentle will cause the bar of soap – or a child – to slip through your hands.” We need to ask for divine guidance to know when to hold and know when to fold them. When do you look away and when must you not look away?
I once met a man while I was engaged to be married and he told me that he is the parent of 10 kids. I asked him how he manages to love and discipline them. His response was that he attributes his success with having good kids as10 percent from he and his wife and 90 percent from above.

The way I see it is that there are two types of love. Parents, by nature love their child(ren). From the moment the child is conceived there is this extreme love. Then there is the love between husband and wife. It was born long after this man and woman were born. And therefore, no matter how intense the love, it fades over time. No marriage has ever survived on passion and love alone. The Hollywood claim that this may be the case has destroyed many a marriage. Maintaining a successful and harmonious marriage involves work, commitment and dedication. It also takes a cargo boatload of patience, wisdom and discretion -- when to say something, when to keep quiet, etc. Once again, we need divine assistance to navigate the turbulent waters of spousal war and peace.

Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be successful. Some are not satisfied until they own vacation homes on three continents. Others collect rare cars, while others go nowhere and do not own a car, but do own real estate in midtown Manhattan. So, what financial success should we be praying for? Judaism teaches us that it is a beautiful blessing from above to become wealthy as long as it does not affect who you are.
I heard a story when I was a child about a regular hard-working man who earned a decent living and gave 10 percent to charity. He was reliable and consistent. Then the strangest thing happened. The moment his business became lucrative, he eased up on his charity. It seemed the more money he made, the less he helped others. This went on for a while until his Rabbi intervened and taught him a very profound lesson. The Rabbi took him to a window that was completely transparent and showed him the street below. He then showed him a mirror that reflects the viewers face and is not transparent. The Rabbi explained that the window and the mirror are both made of glass. The only difference would be the silver backing behind the glass. The businessman understood the metaphor that a little silver caused him to only see himself.
It is okay to make a verbal contract with God during your prayers. Help me be successful so that I can take care of my family, and I promise to take care of your family.

May we all be blessed with health, happiness, exquisite joy from our children, peace of mind, peace at home and the world over.

Please feel free to share.

The Rosh Hashana Moon - The Circle of Life

Before you know it, Rosh Hashana will be here and the Jewish holiday marathon will begin. If you are familiar with the Jewish lingo, you will hear that Rosh Hashana is late this year. What they mean is that Rosh Hashana is celebrated in late September instead of the beginning of the month, which is “early.” Truth be told, Rosh Hashana is neither early nor late. It is just on time.

Rosh Hashana, which translated means Head of the Year, is also always the new moon. The Jewish calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one, is lunar centric, while the Gregorian calendar goes according to the sun. Therefore, regardless of whether Rosh Hashana is beginning, mid or late September, it will always be a moon.

One would think that Judaism with all its ancient, divinely inspired wisdom would use a solar calendar. After all, the sun is a constant; the sun represents life, light and warmth. The sun embodies God’s awesome strength and power. The moon does not have any of its own light but rather borrows from the sun. It is completely unreliable as it waxes and wanes and one cloud blocks it from doing its job. The moon is cold and Judaism teaches that coldness is the opposite of life. The moon seems like a horrible way of calculating the calendar year. Furthermore, the lunar month is not even a complete number as it is a 29 ½-day cycle. The sun is way more of an attractive choice, don’t you think?

355 DAYS
Another issue that comes up when you go by the moon is that the lunar year is 355 days and not 365 days. So, eventually Rosh Hashana gets earlier and earlier, and without a correction of a 30 day leap year every few years, Rosh Hashana will be in the spring as opposed to fall. Seems like a mathematical hassle to me.

The Rabbis teach that we go by the moon specifically because it has the aforementioned issues and quirks.

The moon is a better teacher of life than the sun could ever be. The Jewish people know full well what it means to wax and wane. We have waxed and waned in so many places that it is hard to keep track. Besides, it is unrealistic to only have good times. There are good and bad times and we have to celebrate the good and deal with the bad.

The waxing and waning itself is a powerful lesson. Even if life is particularly bad right now, we must learn from the moon to never give up. It may seem to disappear and give up. In reality, it knows that right now it is a meaningless sliver but it will grow again.

The 29 ½ fraction is also a lesson. We cannot live alone or be alone. We need people and we need purpose. We were not created to be a full-service human. We need other people to compliment us. You cannot be a doctor, lawyer, barista and mechanic. We cannot do it all. We are simply a fraction and not a complete entity.  

As far as the leap year goes, the lesson is inspiring. Sometimes we lose ground. While life and society should hopefully always improve, sometimes it goes south. We could be employed for 20 years and then we get the ax. The leap year does not build back 10 days over three years but rather 30 days in one shot. Yes, we may suffer the pain of losing a job, but it is possible that it was the very best outcome. You were hired by a new company with a much larger salary. What would normally take three years to gain seniority at your old place of employment, you were just promoted in the blink of an eye in the new firm. This is the lesson of the leap year. The future can change for the good, even if things look bad right now.

Join us for the High Holidays if you are able. Maybe we will toast the New Year with some moonshine.

Customized New Year Prayers - One Size Does Not Fit All

As the High Holidays are just around the corner, we are taught that it is prudent to start getting our thoughts in order so that Rosh Hashana does not become Rush Hashana. There are many themes on Rosh Hashana. One of them is that it is a propitious time to ask G-d for help and guidance in the upcoming New Year. 

While it is true that there is a special High Holiday Prayer book called a Machzor, which arrange our prayers for us, nothing can compare, however, to our own individualized and customized prayer that we lay out for ourselves and our own particular and specific needs. Just as there are no two fingerprints alike, so too there are different and definite needs that we all have.

Once Labor Day passes, I begin reflecting on what I would ask for and what assistance I need. The following is my preliminary contemplation, and I am sharing this to help you get your own Soul searching happening.

Almighty G-d,
Thank you for sustaining me for yet another year. While this past year has been a difficult one personally, communally and globally, I will not dwell on it as it is past, over, gone and finished. You gave us eyes only in the front of our head and not also in the back, to teach us that we must only look forward and not live in the past. I do hope that having said this, I would have learned from my past mistakes in order to recognize what not to repeat in the future.

I pray that this coming year my children are happy and healthy and that they struggle with only small obstacles. Please fulfill their positive wishes and aspirations and guide them on their respective paths to maturity and stability. I ask that my wife and I be given the strength and wisdom to be able to be there for them, undistracted, and that pride and joy be in abundance. Please give us the tools to be able to help them when needed. Please bless our respective siblings and their extended families.

I ask that you once again provide a modest living so that my family and I do not become a burden on anyone. I request that any monies I do earn be through dignified means.  I do affirm that I believe that I cannot earn a penny more than you have blessed me with. At the same time, I do understand that I need to make myself a receptacle for blessings by doing my part.

Please endow all branches of government with a positive disposition towards the Jewish people. Do not allow a few anti-Semites to poison the other lawmakers. Bestow on the three branches of government the ability to make right and moral decisions so that this country can truly remain these blessed United States. Heal our divisions and allow all its citizens and residents to come together for the common good. Protect these shores from those who seek to destroy. Help our government through the challenge of accepting immigrants, while at the same time keeping us safe. Guide them toward peace and never war.

As a Rabbi, I am responsible for the community I reside in and serve. I urge G-d’s blessing to rest on all of us to be healed from our wounds, whether physical, mental or spiritual. Help them with clarity of thought and peace of mind. Give them what they need and free them from nonsense burdens so that they can be free to devote time to doing acts of kindness and caring. Inspire them to continue making good decisions.

Please protect her from her multiple enemies from within and beyond her borders. Keep her morally strong and do not allow her agitators to weaken her integrity. Allow Israel to spread her goodness and ingenuity to all the world. Give her leaders the wisdom to be able to communicate effectively with her neighbors. Protect the citizens from murdering thugs who have been misguided and manipulated by evil people.

These are just some of my general thoughts that I have started to put together.

Feel free to share.   

Rosh Hashana Birthday Reflections

Before you turn around Rosh Hashanah will be upon us. Whether you feel it is early this year or late, it does not change the fact that we are getting real close to the big day.

I am sure you have noticed the stark differences between the Jewish New Year and the civil one. On New Year’s Eve (December 31) we gather together in an exuberant atmosphere and party hard, accompanied with blowers and streamers, champagne and cocktails and we celebrate in the streets.
Contrast that with Rosh Hashanah eve; we get to bed as soon as we can because tomorrow is a very long day, and we need to hear a different type of horn, which has no definitive tune.
Furthermore, January 1 is a day to sober up from the previous night’s festivities. In the Jewish New Year however, instead of sobering up from last night’s nonparty, we sit somber in the sanctuary hopefully absorbing every word of the Rabbi’s sermon, and with any luck, enjoying the cantor’s heartfelt melodies.

It is true that in Judaism, like the rest of the world, we recognize we do need to celebrate the New Year.
After all, we made it to yet another year. In Judaism, we add an additional component to the day, which understandably changes the narrative. To understand this better, we need to really appreciate the reason as to why Rosh Hashanah is even a Jewish holiday.

Our sages share that Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the anniversary of the creation of the world. In essence, we are commemorating the world’s birthday. However, the sages clarify that Rosh Hashanah was not the first day of creation, but rather the sixth. In other words the first day of creation happened six days before Rosh Hashanah on the calendar.
Why celebrate day 6 and not day 1? You see, on day 6 humankind was first introduced to the world. Day 1 through day 6, God created heaven and earth, light and darkness, seas and clouds, sun, moon and stars, fish and fowl, beasts, animals, reptiles and the West Nile mosquito. The last thing God created on Friday late afternoon was Adam & Eve.

The Rabbis explain that the reason we do not celebrate the 1st through 6th is because until then God was not acknowledged. Once a discerning human being was created, someone recognized God as its creator and therefore a day of distinction.

In other words, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of humankind. We are taught that Adam & Eve were created last to show the significance of the fact that a human being was brought into a ready-made world because humans need to have everything they need to accomplish their God-given mission immediately. We were brought into existence to make this world a better place. If God made Adam & Eve first before everything else, they would have to hang around for six days in a desolate existence. There was no sun to soak in, and there was no beach to relax on. Can you imagine a world without Manischewitz wine? Adam & Eve would have to wait until everything was ready to go to start making a difference.

These powerful thoughts teach us that laziness is detrimental to our mission, and it conveys that the world was made for us to be productive. God is our boss and demands that we make a positive difference to the world every single day.

Since we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the day mankind was created because mankind was commanded to work with what you got, it follows that Rosh Hashanah is the actual birthday of mankind.

A birthday in Judaism is so important that it is not something that we take lightly. A birthday is the day God decided that the world needs you TODAY to come into this world and get to work. There is no redundancy in Judaism. No two people were created for the same reason. Each one of us has a unique mission to fulfill and today is the day.

As Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of mankind, we need to reflect on what good we need to accomplish in the coming year. Likewise, an individual’s birthday is spent the same way, pondering and ruminating.
We do not want to blow this special day by getting drunk in the streets, rather we pray for guidance and clarity, peace of mind and serenity.

Allow me to be the first to wish you all a happy birthday. May we all fulfill our specific purpose and may it be with ease.

Worth praying for.

Please feel free to share.

LaGuardia Airport - An Inspiration

Like most New Yorkers, I avoid LaGuardia Airport like the plague. The airport was built in 1939 and was never modernized. Everything about that airport irked me. The traffic, the parking, the neighborhood, and even the scruffy carpet that led you down the hill to your gate. I have seen much nicer and classier airports in impoverished countries. For me, LGA was an embarrassment. Maybe I am an airport snob, but I think most people agree with me.

This all changed over the past couple of weeks. I booked a rare ticket leaving LGA. I knew that there had been years of construction, and I was looking forward to even more debris, garbage and ugliness than usual. I arrived and proceeded to Delta at Terminal C, and I could not believe my eyes. This place was not just patched up; it was completely overhauled to the point where it was unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.

The place was spacious and opulent. No detail at least to my eyes was overlooked. Nothing was held back from making this the NY icon it should be. Even the carry-on baggage belt and x-ray had been overhauled to a sleek looking tunnel. It looks like an Elon Musk invention. LaGuardia Airport succeeded in completing its goal of creating a world-class, 21st century passenger experience.

I was so impressed with it all that I could not stop thinking (much time to kill on the flight) that if LGA can turn itself around, then anything can.
Many couple’s marriages are a trainwreck -- full of debris, baggage all over the place and a fire burning through the fabric of their relationship. The love has completely derailed and is tumbling down faster and faster. A couple may ask themselves, “How did we get here.” It is my opinion that the main question the couple needs to ask themselves is, “How do we right the train.”

The answer in one word is LGA. You see, LGA had been under construction for over six years and cost billions. They worked and worked on it and did not stop until it was completed. They could have just completed part of it and rested on their laurels, but they kept on going until the structure was sound and complete. Their great effort really shows.

Any marriage takes work. A troubled marriage can take years to rebuild trust and assuage fears. Do not give up halfway. Keep on at it until the marriage is sound and complete. There is no question that rebuilding cannot be done if there is minimal effort. I remember when I was a young married man, I was told that if each spouse offers their 50% then it still does not add up to 100%, but rather only 50%. In fact, it probably will not even add up to 50%. Rather, you need 100% participation from both.

The same hard work is needed to keep up a relationship with one’s children. Just because you raise them, do not think for a second that they will always be close to you. The older they get the harder the work it is to maintain a healthy kinship. My wife and I work extremely hard to foster love between us and our adult children, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. My point is that parenting grown children cannot simply be on autopilot. It takes great effort. Just because you no longer need to protect them from a school bully, you still need to love them and protect them from adult bullies.

Lastly, the country, just like LGA, needs a major overhaul. It will take a lot of effort and many years. I am confident that we as a nation will persevere.

Please feel free to share.

From Oy to Joy: How to Transform Negativity

This past week we experienced the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On this day, the Jewish nation fasted, sat on a low mourning chair, and lamented the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. This day of national mourning is called Tisha B’Av, which translates into the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This always occurs in mid-summer or if you live down under, mid-winter.

The Talmud states that the 9th of Av has historically been a negative day for the Jewish people. The Rabbis list five terrible tragedies that occurred on this day.

1. The day God decreed that Moses and the Jewish people will die in the desert and will only enter the Promised Land in another 40 years.

2. The first temple built by King Solomon was destroyed in the year 586 B.C.E.

3. The second temple was destroyed on this day close to 600 years later in the year 70 C.E.

4. The City of Beitar, which led a revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E., was squashed and the leader/warrior of the Jewish people, bar Kochba, was killed along with tens of thousands of Beitar’s citizens.

5. After the Beitar defeat, the Romans plowed through the city of Jerusalem to get rid of any trace of the Jewish homeland. It is for this reason that the Temple Mount does not look like it is on a mountain. We are taught that the Romans shaved off 1,000 feet of the mountain to reduce it to a hill.

There are other tragedies that happened on the 9th of Av that took place after Talmudic times. They are:

1.  All Jews were expelled from England in 1290.

2.  The last day for Jews to leave Spain happened on this day in 1492. Anyone who stayed was either killed or forced to convert to Christianity.

3.  Germany’s entrance into World War I, which led to the eventual rise of the Nazi regime.

4.  The “Final Solution” gained approval on Tisha B’Av in 1941, creating the Holocaust, which killed one third of the world’s Jewish population.

The Talmud further teaches that the negative energy of the 9th of Av was caused by the people and was not God’s innovation. In other words, we brought this bad juju upon ourselves. The Rabbis posit that because the Jewish people were hesitant to enter the land of Israel upon leaving slavery and bondage from Egypt, God got upset. They were terrified that they would lose against the Canaanites and perish.  However, they should have had more faith and instead of crying bitter tears for days and nights beginning on the 9th of Av, they should have been gung ho. God told them that since you cried for naught, I will give you something to cry about and there started this day of hell for the Jewish people.

Our ancestors, as just mentioned, were the ones who caused this regular day to be one of pain, strife and death. They spat in the eye of God who just took them out of Egypt by way of 10 plagues and the splitting of the sea, and instead of feeling grateful, they turned down God’s vision of bringing this newly emancipated nation to the Promised Land. I don’t know about you, but if I saw a sea being split in half or a river turning to blood, I would either be a complete believer or stop drinking so much scotch. I can’t judge because I was not there in bodily form when this occurred. 
The lesson is obvious. If we were punished because we cried for nothing, then the antidote to all this negativity is to be happy for nothing.

How is someone supposed to be happy when there is nothing to be happy for? How are we supposed to be happy when we are in pain? The antidote to all this pain seems to be out of reach for the majority of people, with the exception of those who are completely emotionally numb and feel no pain at all. Even those who are emotionally numb will have difficulty being happy, as they are numb.

The solution, brought down in the esoteric books of Kabbalah, is to essentially lead a double life with compartmentalized emotions. On the one hand, when life is tough, I kvetch, cry and complain. On the other hand, simultaneously, despite whatever it is I am going through, I must feel privileged to be a part of God’s world where God decided that I am needed to help galvanize whatever it is I am chosen for.
None of us was created by mistake. None of us is redundant or no longer needed. One of Judaism’s founding principles is that we all have a distinct purpose and reason as to why we were brought down to this rat race.
Therefore, during the pain, we can pause a moment and reflect to ourselves, “Oy, this is so painful and say oy vey, I wish this nightmare would end.” However, the pain does not exonerate me from fulfilling my Godly purpose. You must say, “I am alive because God thinks I matter and therefore I must get up from my melancholy right now and do what my creator asks of me. I am privileged that God chose me and this fills my heart with joy.”

This short pep talk puts life into perspective. We have a dual existence and we must do our best to be our best in order to compliment both of them. Just living a life of pain is a waste of life. On the flip side of the same coin, simply living in euphoria, without recognizing that you need help, is foolish.

Be blessed. 

Forgetting the Unforgettable

Human beings can be very forgetful at times. We have the ability to forget birthdays, anniversaries and other theoretically non-forgettable dates. Someone once told me that as a man you could only forget your spouse’s birthday once, because she will make sure that you never make that mistake again. When we lose a loved one is another example of when brain fog can set in. We say to ourselves during that most difficult time that I will never forget you. While this is technically true, there can be times where we do not think of the person and a whole week can go by where we temporarily forgot to remember the person. Parenthetically, losing a child, God forbid, is not the normal loss we are speaking of here.

There are certain things that become a little fuzzy over time and we don’t quite remember most of the details. This is so because we are wired to forget. In fact, if we remembered vividly every single negative thing that happened to us, we would adopt the fetal position, and never be able to get out of bed. I always tell newlyweds that it is normal to argue, bicker and even fight with one another in the course of their marriage. So how can they tell if it was a particularly bad argument, one that requires a therapist or other intervention? I advise the young couple that if after a couple of days you remember every bit of the argument clearly and exactly what you were fighting about and who said what, then that was a bad one.

There is of course something called The Forgotten War. The Korean War was fought from 1950 until 1953 and pitted the United States, South Korea, and their UN allies against North Korea and the Chinese Communists. The Korean War is often called the “Forgotten War” because it was largely overshadowed by WWII and Vietnam. History has shown that many Americans began forgetting about the Korean War even before the armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.

I honestly do not know what it means to “forget” a war. I mean how can the war against Korea, where close to 40,000 soldiers were killed mostly in direct battle with the enemies, be forgotten. I think that perhaps they did not so much “forget” the Korean War, but rather, never thought much about it to begin with.

I remember reading the shocking findings of a survey that was taken in September of 2020. I was so troubled by it that I saved the survey and look at it from time to time. The survey found that 10% of the 11,000 participants questioned whether the Holocaust actually occurred, while 3% actually denied that it ever took place. This was a 50 State survey. What I find most disturbing is that over 19% of those surveyed in New York State claimed that Jews caused the Holocaust! Can you imagine the ignorance? Who would have thought that over 60% of those surveyed had no idea that the number of Jews killed was six million, What apathy. There are plenty of other statistics that are equally as troubling. You have to ask yourself what does "never again" mean.

Have you noticed that the reports on the Russian offensive against Ukraine are basically no longer talked about? The media for the most part is silent, and very very few of my concentric circle even bring it up anymore. I wonder how many journalists are actually still there on the front lines. I think that R. Kelly gets more press than this war. This is extremely painful to me because civilians are being indiscriminately killed and we remain silent. I am sure it was like this during the Holocaust as well. I am quite positive that not one golf game was cancelled when word started to get out about the atrocities being inflicted on human beings. I wonder how many people lost sleep at night.
To avoid hypocrisy on my part, I wish to share the following. According to Ukraine’s official count (not saying it is accurate), the gory numbers are as follows: 10,000 killed, 30,000 wounded, 7,200 missing (5,600 captured). Even according to the UN High Commission (more like useless commission), over 4,400 civilians have died and another 5,500 wounded. These are innocent men, women and children whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t know about you, I lose sleep every night over this and other painful issues which are beyond the pale.
In my opinion, apathy is not something we should be proud of but rather ashamed of. If we are apathetic and there is loss of life as well, then you have to wonder if we have learned anything since we were cave dwellers. Do not let another hour go by without contemplating the plight of these poor people. Say a prayer as it cannot hurt and it shows you are a sensitive person.

Feel free to share.

Between Two Worlds

As a student of Jewish philosophy, I have been taught that a human being does not live and exist in just this world. We also exist simultaneously in realms and worlds higher than our understanding. It has been ingrained in me that my every act has consequences, positive or negative, and affects upper and lower worlds. The Kabbalah teaches us that one way to draw down blessings is to do something good, which creates positive energy and then goodness will be reciprocated back to us. It is not unlike the four main stages in the water cycle. They are evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection. In other words, water evaporates and ascends above and then comes back down in liquid form.
The way I understand this is that while my feet are firmly planted on terra firma, my consciousness ascends much higher. I have a material life as well as a spiritual one. Often, I feel caught in the middle of two worlds where my ego tells me one thing, but my humble side tells me something else. The ultimate goal is to make peace between the two, which means live life to the fullest physically and materially and nurture one’s spiritual side at the same time.

Lately I have been feeling that I am caught between two worlds wherever I go. Some examples: If I turn the channel to CNN (not that I do anymore) I get one set of world news, but when I go to FOX (not that I do anymore), I get a completely different picture. I sometimes ask myself, are they talking about the same topic? How can the news be so disparate when news is supposed to be a reporting of the facts? If it is not factual then it cannot be called news, can it?
It is more than just the news. I am on social media and I am witness to two completely different worlds. One person writes, if you believe ABC then unfriend me now, while someone else posts if you believe XYZ then unfriend me now. I am so surprised that Facebook and Instagram have any friends left.
I am in my 50’s so I know it was not always like this. The country is so divided that I am actually fearful for my children. If things do not get better soon we will be in deep trouble. We must find a way to reach common ground so that we can talk to each other. As I have insomnia, I think about this plenty. The following are my humble offerings.

I have been doing the following as of late and I find it really helps me be a better person. When someone says something that I vehemently disagree with, I do not respond with an immediate knee jerk retort. What I do instead is thank them for their perspective and opinion and calmly give my opinion. I do this not in a warlike way, but rather in an intellectual discussion between two adults. This allows me to learn something new and it allows the other person to hear me out, which he would not do if I were engaged in verbal warfare.

Another way to help lower the flame is to simply spend a few moments to think for yourself. The media shoves a lot of garbage down our throats. We can be so gullible that we take every talking head at face value. I have met people as you have that seem cultish the way they talk about the burning issues of the day. I understand passion and have great respect for it, but I will never understand cult like behavior. What I mean by this is that some of these people that I meet cannot function properly. Their work is lacking, friendships are torn apart and children’s playdates are cancelled. It is really obscene to witness. If it has gotten to this stage, you need to take a giant leap back.

Personally, I like to call myself an independent thinker. I do not vote down party lines and I definitely do not agree with half the issues that each party brings forth as gospel. I regurgitate the information I hear and come to my own decisions.

Which leads me to the next thought…Common sense is clearly not so common. In fact, I find it to be quite rare. There are so many things that I have seen over the past few years, both domestically and globally, where I say to myself whoa, that does not make sense and it is actually counter intuitive. How can this be? Why has simple logic been thrown out the window? Of course, there are many things that are above my paygrade and I lack information. However, there are many things that lack basic common sense. I am always open to attempting to understand the reasoning or ruling but I am not foolish. Logic comes before party and common sense comes before uncommon sense.
I have not mentioned anything specific because I do not want these thoughts to deteriorate into politics. I am caught in the middle of a storm and I do not like it. We need to go back to civil disagreements as human beings. Remember Blockbuster?  Be kind – rewind. 

That’s all for me.
Share if you think it will help.

Fostering the Ability to Choose

The only correlation these thoughts have to Roe vs. Wade is the word choice. This article has nothing to do with abortion. Truth be told, after listening back and forth about the right to choose, etc., I realized that choice is a very powerful concept.

I met this famous Rabbi and author once on Fire Island. We developed a relationship and we spoke many times. Rabbi Weiner was the founding rabbi of Temple Israel of South Orange, N.J. He served his congregation for over 34 years until his retirement in 1982. Rabbi Weiner was the author of two books, "Nine and One-Half Mystics" (1969), and "The Wild Goats of Ein Gedi" (1961). He once told me a story that affected me deeply and I share this idea with many people I meet.
Rabbi Weiner told me that on one occasion during a meeting with the grand Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, the Rebbe asked him as to whether the Bar Mitzvah students at his Hebrew school are taught about the mitzvah (command listed in the Torah) of tefillin (phylacteries). Tefillin are worn daily for life beginning when a boy reaches 13-years-old, which is the age of Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi Weiner responded that he does not want to force this mitzvah on the kids, and therefore, he will let them decide for themselves when they become adults.
The Rebbe pressed on. Do they know what tefillin are? Have they seen what tefillin look like? Rabbi Weiner responded that no, they have not seen a pair of tefillin. The Rebbe was incredulous and asked the following question. How are they able to make a choice about the tefillin if the choice has been taken away from them?
What the Rebbe meant was for real choice to be had, the individual who needs to make the choice should have all the cards on the table before them. You cannot remove some of the items/concepts and expect a person to make a choice if they have no idea what it is they are choosing. This is true in many aspects of life. I tell many parents who enroll their child in our education system that our goal is to empower your children to be able to make a choice when they go to college and beyond. 
This is where faith comes in, and why it is so important. The idea of faith is that you do not know factually and with certainty about what you are choosing because it is not humanly possible to understand Divinity. Therefore, you make a conscious decision that even without all the information, you will “choose” to believe.
It is vital that parents give their child a proper foundation and give them the tools to be able to know universal right from wrong. If they have no idea what right is, then how are they supposed to make an informed choice? The greatest threat to Judaism in my opinion is continued ignorance. So many people do not even know that they do not know. Who knows? If they knew, then maybe different choices would be made.
Feel free to share.

Jewish Lives Matter - Or do they? Up to us

It has not been the best of times for Israel nor the Jewish people. Then again, I do not know when it has been a good time. However, there are certain recent outrageous incidents that should have been spoken about in the news media but are unfortunately too inconvenient and therefore omitted or glossed over. Once again, it is my opinion that choosing to ignore certain facts is not only immoral, but is also dangerous, especially to the Jewish people.

As an example, how many of you know that during the June 2022 North Carolina Democratic State Convention the following resolutions were discussed. The fact that they even came up is wrong, but actually discussing these issues is horrific and frightening.
Resolution #1:  In the resolution entitled "A Resolution in Support of Human Rights in Israel/Palestine," the NCDP called on the United States to apply existing laws on equipping and aiding foreign violators of human rights to Israel and to impose "targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on those individuals and entities that continue to commit," human rights crimes. The state convention accused Israel of several human rights violations.
Resolution #2:  There was a resolution calling to commemorate a Nakba Remembrance Day, asserting that journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was deliberately killed by Israel.
I do not know about you, but I am shocked and repulsed that these resolutions were discussed over more pressing matters locally. I mean, maybe the convention should have focused on the fact that in 2020, 670 people in North Carolina died as a result of guns, up from 511 the prior year. In 2022 alone, there have been hundreds of shootings just in Durham.
During this time of unrest in our country including violent fatalities, stagflation, high costs of gas, lack of baby formula, etc, it seems idiotic (hateful) to talk about Israel.

Did you know that Facebook and Twitter are funding and working closely with a pro-Palestine charity that is linked to alleged terror groups that revere convicted killers and had a Holocaust denier as a guest speaker – along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Have you seen this on the news? Meta, Facebook's parent company, provides funding and works closely with pro-Palestine charity 7amleh.
Ironically, the partnership is one of many launched by Meta with the aim of “keeping harmful content off our platforms and helping to prevent risk offline.”
That a number of convicted terrorists are on the board or are employed by 7amleh should be a leading story on the news. I heard nothing about this; have you?

Maher Abdel Qader of the Palestinian American Congress has friends in high places. It makes total sense that this hater of Jews and Israel should be aligned and freely fraternize with other like-minded haters such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep Cori Busch of Missouri and Keith Ellison who is the AG of Minnesota.
What does not make sense is the friendship with NYC Mayor Eric Adams. The Mayor has this country’s largest Jewish population and appointed two Orthodox Jews to his administration. However, these two are friends nonetheless. Early in 2021, Abdel Qader was one of only six community leaders to speak with Adams on a Zoom call and talk over the then-candidate’s “campaign vision [and] issues,” as well as to “engage in his campaign.” Why has Adams not distanced himself?
In case you are wondering what makes him so bad, the reasons are too numerous to print all of them out. Read just this one paragraph.

“JEWS planned 9/11 = Now-defunct Project for the New American Century = Coordinated and executed by Mossad = NOW called “Foreign Policy Initiative” = Same criminal Jewish cabal members after the creation of Greater Israel (Oded Yinon Plan), with all Jews of the world called to migrate to the expanded Jewish homeland following the persecution by angry host populaces of the collapsing once-wealthy and once-stable nations now overwhelmed by the undesirable non-White races. = Ashkenazi Khazars are nation-wreckers with an agenda to destroy the diversity of the world = Mongrelize the races to rule over from Greater Israel, their seat of unilateral totalitarian hegemony. Solution = Expel almost ALL Jews from Europe & AMERICA + END Oded Yinon.”  

Nice guy. Friends with politicians.

More importantly, why do we tolerate this? I know the Jewish way is not to burn cities but we must do something. What can we do? I believe that we need to tackle all three suggestions simultaneously to be most effective. In a nutshell:
1. Be outspoken. Do not be timid. Reach out to Meta, Adams and the North Carolina politicians and anyone and everyone else. We need to be vigilant in our defense.
2. Be proud of who we are. Continue to thrive and grow despite those who wish terror and death upon us. Build more houses of Jewish worship, more community centers, Jewish schools and kosher restaurants.    
3. Discover what it means to be Jewish. Explore our rich history. Pray, study, and join a warm community. Much more dangerous than a Rashida Talib is apathy. How can we expect others to like us if we do not have a proper grasp on who we are? If knowledge is power then self-knowledge is powerful to self.  

God bless.

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.