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Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

A Tale of Two Resumes

AN ANECDOTE
I once heard this humorous anecdote about an extremely wealthy man who decided wisely that he needed to pre-plan his funeral. In the process he was on the hunt for the perfect Rabbi who would deliver the most inspiring, gut wrenching and meaningful eulogy.
Well, the story goes that he met with a renowned Rabbi of the largest congregation in New York City. Being duly impressed with the Rabbi he inquired about procuring his oratory skills for an unspecified date sometime in the future. The Rabbi gave him a proposal as follows: platinum package is $10,000, gold is $5,000 and basic is $1,000. The man asked him to explain the differences between them.
The Rabbi responded, “In the platinum package, I speak for 75 minutes, I cry anywhere from 7-11 times and I embellish the story of your life to the extent that there is not one dry eye in the audience. It will be so powerful that The New York Times will reach out to me with permission to reprint the eulogy.” The wealthy man, albeit miserly, inquired about the next lower package. “The gold package will be 45–52 minutes of sheer brilliance. I will put you in the best light amongst your peers. However, I will only break down once at the beginning and then once at the end. Oh, and the obituary will be in the Long Island Business News.” The man now inquired about the lowest package available. The Rabbi responded, “As far as the basic eulogy package for $1000, I will simply speak the truth.”

MY RABBINICAL FUNERAL EXPERIENCES
As a pulpit Rabbi, I am asked to officiate at quite a number of funerals in any given month. I am requested to officiate at funerals of executives, professionals, white- and blue-collar workers. Each person is unique and so vastly different. Some have huge personalities, while others do not. Some are born in the United States while some are immigrants. I have officiated at the funerals of Holocaust survivors and survivors of the Great Depression. Some are philanthropic while some are not. The bottom line is that every person is unique and no one family is like the other.

COMMON DENOMINATORS
There are two fascinating common denominators that I have observed over the past 29 plus years that I wish to share with my readership.

1.     Every eulogy, whether given by the family or myself after speaking with the family, extols the values of the person in terms of how he/she related to that family. Examples include showing up at various sport games that his/her kid participated in, awesome family vacations in the Caribbean, how he/she donated to the UJA, paid the brother’s hospital bills, saved the synagogue from foreclosure and helped his/her niece get into a rehabilitation clinic. The stories are beautiful and touching.

2.     The other common denominator is that not one eulogy ever speaks about the amazing watch collection that the person had, or the obsession with the Porsche Targa which was waxed and polished three times a week. No one ever talks about how this person was a workaholic who did not see his family all week because they left at 6:00am and came back at 11:00pm.

TWO LIVES
It seems that these people had two different resumes or two very different lives. One life they actually lived and another that is delivered at the eulogy by the family.

LIFE # 1 - LIVED
One resume depicts a complete preoccupation with the pursuit of materialism, fame, fortune, power, honor and influence. The fixation of collecting things like stamps, cars, watches, cards and coins are critical to this life. It portrays the person as a master deal closer who has the ability to bring his business adversaries to their knees and squeeze until there is no better deal to be had. This life reveals the amazing, almost miraculous accomplishments of being able to work 16–18 hours every day and still remain sharp as a tack. This life also commands a Mcmansion, where every blade of grass has been imported from Portugal and the burnt sienna color of the patio bricks came from a refurbished factory in Greece.

LIFE # 2 – EULOGIZED
The life that is eulogized is very different. It illustrates a caring parent, good provider, pillar of the community, considerate friend and loving spouse. There is nothing untrue here as who would lie at a funeral. Of course, the person did the right thing and was a great humanitarian. There is no argument that he donated $200,000 to the alma mater and another $25,000 to Save the Whales Foundation.

THE DIFFERENCE
The major difference between the two is that the life lived fills 200 pages of accomplishments, while the life eulogized takes about 15–20 minutes. There is so much more in the first resume of life than in the second. One resume is literally a book, while the other is a pamphlet.

THE CORRECT APPROACH
The correct way to live is that the two resumes of life should be balanced in terms of accolades, praises and credit. Better yet, the life eulogized should be way longer and more heartfelt than the life lived. 
It is for this very reason that in Judaism, we recite a parting Psalm right after burial which basically concludes with these words: “When a person passes, they do not take their belongings with them and their prestige and power is meaningless.” What the Psalmist is teaching us is that heaven is not impressed by how much gold and silver have been accumulated, or whether one drives a Bentley or the latest model Tesla, or how much Apple stock you own.
Heaven, family, God, friends, relatives and fellow humans will only remember the person for the good that they have done with people. The make and model of the Peloton is not important at all.

We need to all think about what our legacy is and how we can assure that the resume in the eulogy and the resume of life are at the very least similar in content and size.

Food for thought that you may share.

Purim and Putin - Some things never change

The Jewish holiday of Purim this year took place on Thursday, March 17th.

For those who are not familiar, Purim is an extremely festive holiday that commemorates a dark time in Jewish history. Sometime around the year 357 BCE, the Prime Minister of Persia named Haman, and his wife Zeresh, plotted to kill all Jewish people in the Persian Empire. To make a long story short, Haman’s plans were foiled by Mordechai who was the leader of the Jewish people. Together with his orphaned cousin and adopted daughter Esther, who had by some quirk of fate become the Queen of Persia after her marriage to King Ahasuerus, they thwarted the evil plan. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing among the Jews.

As Jews we are taught that all Jewish holiday celebrations are not just simply commemorative and a look into ancient history, but rather they are most importantly a time to reflect on our personal and collective journeys that we currently find ourselves in. We are supposed to gain strength from these heroes of yore and transform ourselves to become the heroes of today.

I don’t know about you; I see quite a few similarities between the story of Purim and our current events.

WICKED PEOPLE
The story of Purim relates that the wicked Haman’s absolute disgust and revulsion for the Jewish people was because there was one single solitary Jewish man named Mordechai who simply would not bow or bend the knee to the Prime Minister as was the custom. This act of defiance drove Haman insane and led to uncontrollable rage which led to the diabolical plot of annihilating a whole nation of people no matter the age. He took his anger out on men, women, children and even infants.
To me, this sounds like Putin, whose feathers got ruffled, and who has now decided that all Ukrainians have to be punished regardless of age. It has become apparent over the past couple of weeks that the Russian military has no qualms about bombing schools, hospitals, residential apartment buildings or houses of worship. Under the direction of Putin, innocent civilians, some of them kids, are being slaughtered literally on the streets in the various cities and towns in Ukraine.
The common denominator that led both these powerful people down the wrong path was that their ego could not tolerate insolence and therefore all reason, civility, humanitarianism and compassion were literally thrown out to be replaced with savagery, cruelty and barbarism.    What we learn from both these stories is that egos are literally dangerous and need to be nipped in the bud before it drives a person to violence.

WEAK PEOPLE
The Megillah/story tells us that the King of the huge Persian Empire was a weak leader and a vacillator. The sages depict him as a people pleaser who always agreed with the last person who spoke to him. The Megillah states that he threw huge drunken parties and orgies for his constituents so that he would be more popular with the masses. In reality, no normal people need a Mardi Gras to foster respect and loyalty. What human beings really need from their rulers is compassion, fairness and a listening ear. The King, who willingly signed the document that sealed the fate of the Jews, actually blamed Haman for this vicious plan. He completely shirked any responsibility, accountability and ownership.
Once again to me this sounds like the European Union, NATO and the United States. There is no real leadership to be spoken of. While thousands of innocent people are dying, these leaders of millions upon millions of people cannot seem to make up their mind as to what to do. I get that they are in an extremely perplexing and dangerous position, but for crying out loud, they need to do something before the thousands of deaths turn into hundreds of thousands of deaths, God forbid.
What we learn from both these stories is weakness is not a virtue. A leader (even a parent who leads their household) has to be decisive and have a backbone.

HEROIC PEOPLE
Queen Esther was ready and willing to give up her very life in order to stop the killing and bloodshed to come for the Jewish people. She placed herself in the lion’s den in order to manipulate her drunken husband and his wicked Prime Minister. The likelihood of her surviving this encounter was minimal, as she knew with almost certainty that she would be beheaded. She even told her uncle that she is ready to go in to meet with the King and she said, “If I perish, then I perish.” What guts coming from this 20 something year old innocent young woman, who was probably enrolled in a Jewish high school when she and her classmates were kidnapped by the King’s court so that the King could marry a virgin, and not someone else’s widow or ex.
Vladimir Zelensky was elected in 2019 as president of the independent country of Ukraine. He too was young and inexperienced. He was a comedian and a singer before he ended up leading a country. Yet, to me, he is one of the few heroes in this story. Like Esther, he is putting his life on the line. He clearly knows and he says it publicly that he may get killed in this conflict. He gets it just like Esther that someone has to do something. He is a true leader. He was offered safe passage where he could live in exile, but he refused because, as a leader, he needs to be on the ground with his people. He, like Esther, came to the same conclusion that hiding behind the palace gates is not the proper thing to do. An amazing parallel.
What we learn from both these stories is that one person can make such a difference in this world. A person should never say to themselves or to others, “I am just one person, what can I do?” Esther and both Vladimir’s teach us that just one person can do plenty of good or evil.

TAX INCREASE
The last few lines of the Megillah discuss that when the anemic war against the Jews was over, the King decided to immediately raise the taxes on all his millions of loyal subjects. This was the last thing the weary nation expected from their King.
I wonder what they would have paid for a gallon of gas back then.

Please feel free to share.

Lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian war

WAR!
February 24th the country of Russia, under the despot Vladimir Putin’s charge, invaded its neighboring country, which like all the former Soviet states, is wholly independent from Russia. Truth be told, Ukraine was violated by Putin and Russia back in 2014 when Russia took over the Crimea region.
Like most, I am completely sickened by any war, as the needless deaths of thousands of men, women and children, combined with destruction, devastation and ruin, are too much to bear. I am crazed that in the time it takes for me to drink a latte, another dozen people are slaughtered.

KABBALAH LESSONS
The famed Kabbalist, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, teaches that everything we see, hear and experience must be internalized. To simply watch life go by as a voyeur is not living to one’s potential.
Based on this premise, I began to mentally search for lessons that can be gleaned from this tragedy and heartbreak. I have come up with a few that seem to resonate with me. I am sure that there are many more.

LESSON #1 - EVIL
Yes, there still is, despite the global minute to minute news reels, very malevolent and wicked people who care not about anyone other than themselves. Putin completely disregards life, world opinion and lacks emotion. Even the bastard Hitler had some concern about what the world will think and do, and therefore hid the final solution of atrocities committed against innocent human beings from the press. To be so transparent and just not care what the world thinks about innocent death is beyond appalling.
Let this be the answer to those who claim that a Holocaust could never happen again. It can and it is on some level happening in Ukraine 2022. While there are no death camps (yet), the systematic bombing of civilian homes and businesses will cause thousands upon thousands of people to die. In addition, I am positive that the protesters against the war on Russian soil will not have a happy ending either.

LESSON # 2 – RESILIENCE
The response of the much smaller country and army is inspiring. President Zelensky set the tone that Ukraine is not going down without a fight. The moral strength and courage to stand up to a bully that is much bigger and stronger than you, is a lesson that is not seen or heard enough. Zelensky is a true leader as he motivates his country to fight the tyrant knowing that each day is going to be more punishing, yet rewarding.

LESSON # 3 – ALONE
The next obvious lesson is that reliance on someone else to help is only part of what one needs to do to survive this sometimes brutal world. The saying God helps those who help themselves comes to mind. While it is true that we need a mentor, clergy, therapist and friend, the difficult work can really only be accomplished by the one who it affects most.
I am sure that Israel is taking note of the fact that the world is only willing to fight this evil from the outside. Sanctions are great and isolating Putin and Russia as a pariah makes sense. However, for Europe to allow Ukraine to fight this war alone does not seem right. We made that mistake once when the world watched as Hitler invaded Poland. Hitler’s thirst for war was not quenched by Poland alone, and I cannot imagine Putin will be happy with just Ukraine. If this hands-off approach is taking place in Europe, you know that the world will stand by when it comes to Israel.

 

LESSON # 4 – GOODNESS
The outpouring of assistance, money, love and physical support has been incredible. I have no idea how much money has been raised from people like you and me, but I know it is huge amounts. When I witness pictures of baby strollers on the Polish border, all donated by Polish mothers, it warms my heart. I think to myself that yes, humanity is alive and well.
There have been so many heroic stories coming out of this tragedy. It seems like heroes are being produced en masse. One story in particular that touched me was when Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm from the city of Zhytomir arrived in Israel with hundreds of children from his orphanage after a grueling journey, lasting many hours, with many miracles along the way. You would think that he would run and take a shower, maybe have a normal meal after not eating properly for days. But no, he found an Israeli Jew at the airport who needed to do the Mitzvah of wrapping Tefillin. So, that is what he did.
This is a hero.

 

LESSON # 5 – INSTABILITY
This war is just a microcosm of the macrocosm. The world seems to be very unstable right now. So much distortion, confusion, misunderstanding, ego, immorality and hatred. We need to get our acts together. All the aforementioned bad attributes led to war which is the antithesis of what human beings should be involved with. You think man was created for war? A resounding no. It is our sacred duty to make this world that we live in a far better place than it was before we came into it.

 

We need to play and not fight. We need to talk and not shout at one another. We need to help people, not kill them. We need to work on our humility and not our ego. Compassion, sympathy and empathy are the ingredients of human to human interactions and relationships. Not being caring or compassionate is inhumane.

 

Love is the antidote – spread it around some more.

 

Please feel free to share.

 

History of Jewish Ukraine: Amazing Perseverance

UKRAINE’S SORDID PAST
If you would have asked me a few weeks ago how I feel about the country of Ukraine, I probably would have responded that I have no feelings or maybe I would have retorted that I loathe, despise and detest the very country that has hurt my family and my people for too long.

There is in all likelihood not one square inch of earth in that whole region that does not have Jewish blood spilled all over it. It is amazing to me that the very soil does not have a reddish tint to it and a blood copper smell.

I should know, as my ancestry comes from Ukraine and from Russia. I have no great love for Russia either as the persecution of Jews and the Jewish religion was so bad, that I firmly believe that the communist leaders and those who followed were mentally sick. Let’s, however, stick to Ukraine.  

The history of the Jews in Ukraine goes back over a thousand years. According to those who enjoy statistics, Ukraine has the fifth largest Jewish population in the world. Did you know that the Yiddish language was printed on the currency between the years 1917-1920? Another interesting tidbit; because of the enormous presence of Jews, one of the three Kyivan city gates (circa 1015) was called Zhydovski (Judaic).

1648–1649
While there was anti-Semitism everywhere, it was raised up a significant devastating notch in 1648, run by a bloodthirsty Cossack with the last name Khmelnytsky. He led vicious bands of thugs and went on a killing rampage, all based on the premise that since the Jews were landowners the general public had to pay them rent. The Ukranians were aghast they were beholden to people they considered inferior. Ridiculous. The whole region was owned by noblemen. It was a common practice that the noblemen leased out their vast acreages to entrepreneurs who subleased to others. Many Jews were industrious, and they took the risk of signing this huge lease in the hopes of subletting. The Jew was hated and not the noblemen because it was the lessee’s job to collect the rents.   

The estimates of deaths range from 20,000 (recent revisionists) to 300,000 Jewish men, women and children slaughtered in horrifying and horrendous ways. After the dust settled (the dust never really settled), over 300 Jewish communities were totally destroyed. The devastation was so great that to this day, Jews mark a certain day in the Hebrew calendar as a day of mourning and reflection. There were mini pogroms over the years until …

1821, 1859, 1871, 1881 and 1905
Anti-Jewish pogroms began in Crimea and then spread to Odessa and to another 62 cities and an unbelievable 626 Ukrainian villages. These pogroms were commonplace.  No clear number of how many dead or wounded. Needless to say, one life is more than enough. Pogroms continued on and off continuously throughout the years.

1917–1921
Horrors took place between 1917-1921 when Russian and Bolshevik armies invaded the independent Ukrainian state that had been established in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Specifically, between 1918 and 1921, over 1,000 anti-Jewish riots and military actions took place in about 500 different locales throughout what is now Ukraine. Armed militants tore out Jewish men’s beards, ripped apart Torah scrolls, raped Jewish girls and women, and, in many cases, tortured Jewish townsfolk before gathering them in market squares, marching them to the outskirts of town, and shooting them. On at least one occasion, insurgent fighters barricaded Jews in a synagogue and burned down the building. Sound familiar?

The numbers are difficult to pin down, but a conservative estimate is that 40,000 Jews were killed and another 70,000 subsequently perished from their wounds. Others put the number closer to well over 100,000. Approximately 600,000 Jewish refugees were forced to flee across the border, and millions more were displaced internally. About two-thirds of all Jewish houses and over half of all Jewish businesses in the region were looted or destroyed.

Why, you may ask.
Some posit that the White Party who were always anti-Semitic went after Jews with renewed enthusiasm because so many Jews sided with the Red Party, called the Bolsheviks. They pointed to Trotsky who had actually disavowed his faith as a symbol of Jewish perversion. While this fact may or may not be true, this did not stop the Bolsheviks from taking horrible actions against the Jews, killing and beating and of course forcing Jews to the front lines of war and treating them as third-class citizens. 

Historians also point out that Jews were blamed by all sides for hoarding bread, importing hostile ideas, giving comfort to the enemy, and conspiring against the nation. Like Nazi, Germany, the newspapers, journalists and official proclamations fueled this false narrative.

COMMUNIST RULE 1918–1987
Communism has killed more people in the 20th century than all wars combined. While I have no idea of how many Jews were killed under Lenin, Stalin and their horrific successors, the low estimation of people killed by communism is 60,000,000 and the high is well over 100,000,000.

UKRAINE 1941-1945
Close to a million and a half Jews were shot and killed by the Einsatzgruppen and by local Ukrainian supporters in various regions of Ukraine. In fact, the largest cemetery in the world is a ravine called Babi Yar, located in the capital city of Kiev. The first documented massacres took place on September 29-30, 1941, killing approximately 33,771 Jews over those two days. It is estimated that this sacred ground holds the remains of close to 150,000. When I visited Babi Yar a few years ago, I was disappointed to witness that the ravine held a playground and a dog park. It was disheartening to say the least. To add further anguish, the Russians recently bombed the Babi Yar ravine

2014
When I learned that a Jew by the name of Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor and comedian with no prior political experience, became the sixth President of Ukraine, I was so impressed. An elected Jew leading a country with such a repugnant past is incredible. The fact that he won with 70% of the vote is nothing short of amazing.

2022
Irony of all ironies, the hated Jew of Ukraine is now not only a national hero, he has become the international symbol of resistance to tyranny and oppression. He has the world behind him (whatever that means). He comes from a long line of warriors as his family fought off the Nazis and other invaders in the past. However, President Zelensky took this battle of good vs. evil to new heights. I am proud that this giant of a man is from the tribe.

May God bless him and his family. 

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