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ב"ה

Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

Another Sandy Hook - We are Insane

{This is not intended to be a politically partisan post.}

OUTRAGE
This is simply one human being voicing his pain. I refused to go to sleep last night, not that I could have anyway. I did not lay down because hundreds of people are mourning the loss of their children and grandchildren over a senseless, barbaric, savage, and cruel act. Notice, I did not say animalistic, as even an animal would never kill for deranged reasons unless rabid.
The shooting in Texas comes after other senseless shootings all over the country such as the racist killings of people shopping in Buffalo because they were black, and hence a different race. It is also too much to bear.
I say this to all racists and bigots in the minimal hope that it will change one mind. Whether you like it or not we are all part of the human race. Therefore, for those who think that killing or hurting someone because of their skin color or different dress is chivalry, it is not. It is not only insanity; it is also foolish, stupid and boorish. No one is applauding your racism. 

WHAT CAN BE DONE
While I am thankfully not employed by any think tank corporation in D.C., I still ruminate on what if anything can be done. I am not optimistic though that any change will be forthcoming.
What I write here is once again not political; it is simply common sense thoughts of someone who spent many sleepless nights pondering what we can do to slow down these spiteful and insane massacres. 

GUNS
As a Jew, I firmly believe in the right to own a gun. I spend an inordinate amount of money on armed guards for the center I direct. I refuse to hire an unarmed guard, as it offers little protection. It is a sad truth, especially after the synagogue shootings in Poway and Pittsburgh, that one can only fight fire with fire.
However, there seriously needs to be changes made to gun ownership and availability.  

AGE
Take a look at Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook and Texas. Each one of these murderers were kids. Lanza was the oldest and was only 20!
How about raising the age of gun carriers to 25. This is the age when neuroplasticity seems to set, and is no longer in flux. This is the age when we can honestly call our kids grownups.  
For heaven’s sake, these kids could not buy beer or cigarettes until 21, why should gun carry be less strict?

ASSAULT WEAPONS
High powered, automatic, excessive magazines are not necessary.  If the Texas maniac had less power, the numbers of deaths could have been substantially lower. 
The obvious argument against banning the aforementioned is that if criminals have them, then we will need comparable power to stop them. What an absolute mess.

BAIL REFORM
Talking about criminals…While bail reform is a good idea, all common sense was thrown out with the bath water. I fully understand that someone selling weed and minor shoplifting and other lighter offenses should be given cashless bail. To allow someone who was caught with an illegal weapon out on bail is not only stupid, it is dangerous. The subway shooter last week had 12 prior convictions. Why was he allowed to roam the streets? Why?
I am extremely angry with the NYS Assembly, State and Governor for allowing bail reform to be taken to such extremes. It was sickening to see the former Governor sign this bill into law surrounded by much applause and ado. I was absolutely horrified and I shared my anger and disappointment with my Assemblyman who tacitly agreed with me. It is beyond immoral to allow this nonsense to continue for one more hour. 
The law should be very tough if you are caught possessing an illegal unlicensed gun. It should be so stiff that perps will hopefully think three times before picking one up. 

ARMED GUARDS
While admittedly this is not the solution to our problem, it should be implemented immediately.  Every bank in the nation has armed security guards to protect our money and safe deposit boxes. Why are there no guards to protect our kids? There have been so many shootings in schools; it is high time we wake up. We have enough money in the budget to hand out birth control. So, why not add security to the budget and protect our kids. Am I the only one thinking this way? 

GUNS OVER THE BORDER
You hear much about guns coming over the southern border. If this is true, it needs to be stopped. If our border is porous enough to allow guns and drugs, something is definitely wrong. 

Our children's lives are at stake here. It is not a political issue or game. It must not all come down to votes. It needs to be all about life.

The Fourth Step: The 6 Steps of Human Development

INTRODUCTION
In my previous articles, I began to flesh out a most incredible lesson based on a cryptic mention in the Talmud as to a parent’s obligations to their children. It is literally only one line but the impact and punch behind this enigmatic sentence is powerful.

THE SIX OBLIGATIONS
The Talmud simply states that parents must do the following, which we will discuss and clarify as we progress. They are:

1. Circumcise
2. Redeem the first-born
3. Teach Torah to your children
4. MARRY THEM OFF
5. Teach them an honest living
6. Teach them how to swim

THE PREVIOUS STEPS
We discussed the first three of the six steps. The first was the obligation to circumcise our sons, and we clarified it to mean that as parents we are required to give our children an identity. Our children need to know who they are, where they came from, and what is unique about their ancestry. The second step was redemption, which we explained to mean that as parents we need to give our kids some breathing room so they can flourish and be their own person, and not just a shadow of their parents. The third step we clarified that as parents, we are obligated to teach our children values, and not shirk this sacred responsibility.

STEP #4 COMMITMENT
Another important lesson we need to inculcate in our children is the concept of marriage, or if we broaden this concept, commitment. We need to tell our kids that once we commit to do something, we need to be honorable and follow through. We need to teach them that it is unacceptable not to show up at an event without calling to apologize. Our word must be our unbreakable bond. The only reason why society evolved into the written contract instead of a simple handshake is because people were not honorable. In fact, the Torah/Bible states clearly that the spoken word is so serious that if one violates their verbal pledge, then they need to bring an atonement offering. We must not be flippant in this regard.

CHARITY PLEDGE
As someone who operates in the not-for-profit world, I can tell you that many organizations subsist on donations and may literally take a pledge to the bank as collateral for a loan, which generally banks are loath to do. Therefore, when a person makes a pledge of a specific amount and then proceeds to renege, it is wrong Biblically and the bank reprimands the organization.

ENGAGEMENT VS. MARRIAGE
I was brought up in a culture where engagements are never more than three to four months, which is ample time to make all the wedding arrangements with the hall, caterer, florist, printer and whatever else is needed to make this day extremely special for the young couple. Until I moved to Long Island, I never even heard of a year plus engagement period. The logic behind short engagements has merit and is beyond simply a good idea.
I have always been advised that when it comes to dating for marriage I need to take my time and assess whether this person is the right one for me to spend eternity with. However, once the decision has been reached, a short engagement is to follow. Once a couple gets married, they fuse into one entity. This is not true when a couple is simply engaged. They are yet to become one. Therefore, a bad argument (definition of bad is when you remember all the details a few days later) between the married couple will usually be resolved amicably because the commitment to remain one is strong. However, a bad fight between the engaged couple can lead to second thoughts, doubts, possible breakup and heartache. The difference between the two is true commitment.
Marriage is for good, or for bad, or, most likely, for a little of both. That is, marriage feels both good and bad but is supposed to last a lifetime. Of course, Judaism allows for divorce as a last ditch resort.
This is the main difference between a rabbi and a therapist. A rabbi will clearly advise you to work things out and leave divorce as a last resort, while a therapist will never give such clear guidance, as this is not moral for them to do so.

DISPOSABLE SOCIETY
I cannot tell you how many friendships I have seen destroyed over nonsense. I am witness to how years-long friendships fall apart because of politics. Why does it have to become personal and full of vitriol? In my opinion, the correct way to deal with political disagreements is to shut up and not have them. The term agree to disagree without being disagreeable comes to mind.
While this is true, there are times when relationships have to be severed. Take marriage or business as an example. If a husband abuses his spouse, whether physically or verbally, the spouse needs to run and the marriage is over. Likewise, when one partner steals from another, all trust has been lost and without trust, there is no partnership. In my humble opinion, friendships should not be disposable unless completely untenable.
Other examples of a disposable society that I have observed is the lack of basic decency. As we have become aware and conscious of the negative consequences of disposable bags, straws and bottles, and as New York City is reintroducing the enforcement of the recyclable laws, decency has become a throwaway. We say what we want, when we want and to whom we want without a second thought and consequence. This lack of commitment to be a decent human being before all else has proven to be the fall of many a civilization.
The Mishna says it best, “Derech eretz kodmah L’Torah,” which means civility before Torah. 

God bless.
Please feel free to share.

The Third Step: The 6 Steps of Human Development

INTRODUCTION
In my previous articles I began to flesh out a most incredible lesson based on a cryptic mention in the Talmud as to a parent’s obligations to their children. It is literally only one line but the impact and punch behind this enigmatic sentence is powerful.

THE SIX OBLIGATIONS
The Talmud simply states that parents must do the following, which we will discuss and clarify as we progress. They are:

1. Circumcise
2. Redeem the first-born
3. Teach Torah to your children
4. Marry them off
5. Teach them an honest living
6. Teach them how to swim

THE PREVIOUS STEPS
We discussed the first two of the six steps. The first was the obligation to circumcise our sons, and we clarified it to mean that as parents we are required to give our children an identity. Our children need to know who they are, where they came from, and what is unique about their ancestry. The second step was redemption which we explained to mean that as parents we need to give our kids some breathing room so they can flourish and be their own person, and not just a shadow of their parents.

STEP # 3 VALUES
One of the goals of the obligation in teaching our children Torah is that we as parents need to teach them proper values and morals. We must not, and cannot, rely on the school to teach our kids for us. We must not shirk our sacred responsibility to do this. I firmly believe that parents must be the ones who determine what values they wish to impart. Schools, on the other hand, should teach subjects that will allow their students to be successful in their careers. This is not to say that schools are forbidden to teach values, as this would be a wasted opportunity. The obligation and the determiner must be the parents.

WISDOM & VALUES
An important point to bring forth is that wisdom, education, knowledge, and intelligence quotient (IQ) have zero to do with values and morals. I mean absolutely nothing.

WANNSEE CONFERENCE
Case in point is the “Wannsee Conference,” a high-level meeting of Nazi officials that took place in Berlin on January 20, 1942, to discuss the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. There were 15 high ranking sub humans who attended to discuss how to practically rid the world of Jews. Eight of them had doctorate degrees. There was Dr. Leibbrandt, Dr. Meyer, Dr. Bühler, Dr. Freisler, Dr.Stuckart, Dr. Karl Schöngarth,  Dr. Klopfer and Dr. Lange. One would think that such learned and well-read individuals would be civilized and abhor the genocide of an entire race. On the contrary, they used their intellect and wisdom to be some of the most vile and immoral people to ever walk the earth.  

STEVE JOBS -- APPLE
Lisa Nicole Brennan was born on May 17, 1978. She was the love child of Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs. After Lisa was born, Jobs publicly denied paternity, which led to a legal case. Even after a DNA paternity test established him as her father, he maintained his position. The resolution of the legal case required him to provide Brennan with $385 per month and to reimburse the state for the money she had received from welfare. After Apple went public and Jobs became a multimillionaire, he increased the payment to $500.
Now Steve Jobs was a sheer genius. He had an IQ of over 160, which matched Albert Einstein. Yet, this man filled with smarts, creativity and tenacity as the father of the Apple Computer, was a terrible father to his own biological daughter. You really cannot make this stuff up.

GREATEST VALUES
There are a number of values and morals that parents need to inculcate into their children. The greatest value that the Torah teaches us is that life is precious and needs to be preserved at all costs. The Torah allows us to eat on Yom Kippur to preserve life. It makes you wonder who some of the parents are of these mass shooters. While we really cannot place blame on most or some of these parents directly, we absolutely can blame who these kids hang around with. As parents we need to be vigilant that our children do not associate with thugs to the best of our ability. I remember my mother not allowing me to play with the neighborhood thug for fear of me learning bad vices. I also remember being angry at her for her decision. Now that I am a parent, I completely respect her having grown up a little. 

BOUNDARIES
This leads me to the concept of boundaries that parents must set up for their children. It is okay to assert restrictions on one’s child and you are not being a mean parent. On the contrary, it means that you care. You may tell them no ice cream before dinner. While the child may think you are cruel for this edict, you are not. It is okay for parents to place a curfew on their teenage child. You are conveying to them that you care and that they need to be accountable. They must be told that a school night is not a time to be out until 11:00pm, while a weekend would be fine that late.
This does not conflict with my last article on redemption, because placing a boundary (within reason) is healthy for the child as opposed to forcing them to DO things that make YOU happy.   

While it is clearly difficult to know the balance between when I am being too tough or too lenient, the best solution is to parent with compassion as compassion means what is best for the child, and not what is best for your ego.

God bless.
Please feel free to share.

The Second Step: The 6 Steps of Human Development

INTRODUCTION
In my previous article I began to flesh out a most incredible lesson based on a cryptic mention in the Talmud as to a parent’s obligations to their children. It is literally only one line but the impact and punch behind this enigmatic sentence is powerful.

THE SIX OBLIGATIONS
The Talmud simply states that parents must do the following, which we will discuss and clarify as we progress. They are:

1. Circumcise
2. Redeem the first-born
3. Teach Torah to your children
4. Marry them off
5. Teach them an honest living
6. Teach them how to swim

THE PREVIOUS STEP
We discussed the first of the six steps, the obligation to circumcise our sons, and clarified it to mean that as parents we are required to give our children an identity. Our children need to know who they are, where they came from, what is unique about their ancestry and what is flowing in their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional DNA. It is a huge error not to enrich their lives with as much information as possible as this will help them have a handle on who they are so they do not just float in the sea without a rudder or anchor.

STEP # 2 REDEMPTION
In this short composition we will tackle the next important step that Talmud mentions: Redemption of the first born. As with circumcision there is a special Biblical ceremony for one’s first born male child called “Pidyon Haben.” If you are curious, you may google what this ceremony entails. However, for our purposes, I am going to connect it with human development.

UPBRINGING
One of the most discussed topics in therapy is our childhood. There are an infinite number of approaches to this very topic and the sheer amount written on upbringing, rearing, nurturing and childhood fills millions of tomes. They essentially all say the same thing -- that any and all struggles stem from childhood and will define this child all the way to adulthood. For the most part, all these modalities are correct. Talmud warns about this most difficult issue called child rearing.
There is a great humorous anecdote about three Jewish mothers sitting on a bench talking about how much their sons love them.
Sadie says, "You know the Chagall painting hanging in my living room? My son, Arnold, bought that for me for my 75th birthday. What a good boy he is; he loves his mother."
Minnie says, "You call that love? You know the Mercedes I just got for Mother's Day? That's from my son Bernie. What a doll."
Shirley says "That's nothing. You know my son Stanley? He's in analysis with a psychoanalyst on Harley Street. Five sessions a week. And what does he talk about? Me."

OWNERSHIP
This is what the Talmud is trying to convey; we as parents do not own our children. We are their guardians and are expected to teach them right from wrong and keep them safe. You are NOT their master. As parents we are obligated to redeem them from parental slavery immediately. I have always wondered as to why one needs a license to drive, teach, sell liquor and change an outlet. However, when it comes to parenting, we need no training. We can bring kids into this world, seek to control them, and wreak havoc on their lives and not even know it.
The Talmud’s first lesson is that we need to realize that our children are full-fledged human beings with a heart, mind and soul and we need to recognize that they are no longer incarcerated in the womb. Just like a child needs air, food and water to survive, they also need to be free to make their own mistakes.

FAILURES VS. SUCCESSES
In fact, the best teacher that exists is not actually in the classroom, but rather it can be in many different spaces, as the greatest educator is life itself.   
As parents we obviously celebrate our children’s successes. When our child gets picked for the school play, we are elated, proud, happy, honored, and gratified, and so too is our lucky and talented child. However, the child who did not get chosen for a part, while perhaps devastated, has learned a much greater lesson than his fortunate classmate. Likewise, test grades offer the same lessons.
If a child does not get the part in the performance or if the report card was not all that great, then this child understands that it will take more effort or practice, or alternatively, a need to reach out for academic or theatrical help. Failure is such a powerful motivator and should be viewed as such.
There are a couple of excellent books that guide parents in maintaining balance and nurturing one’s children from disappointment. The ones I enjoyed the most are by author and child psychologist Wendy Mogel.

UNSHACKLED
The next lesson of redemption that parents must teach their kids as they grow is to be confident in their decision-making process. For example, just because mom is a cop and uncle is a cop and grandpa was a cop, this child should be left alone to determine his own wants, dreams and aspirations without being pigeon holed to be in law enforcement. The pressure of expectations is often too much to bear, and we as parents need to pick our battles.
A child should not be forced to eat something that they do not like (within reason). A child should not be coerced to forge a friendship with someone who the parents like. Your child may hate competitive sports, and you must be okay with it, and help them choose activities that they do like. The term unconditional love comes to mind. Your child is not you, and therefore makes different decisions than you. Don’t shackle them to being another you, because you wish to relive your youth. Think of it this way. If they are you, then who are they?

LIBERATION
For so long, the main source of sustenance for Jewish children was the consumption of guilt. It probably started when our ancestors were in Egypt and worked its way down. The Talmud tells us that we need to liberate our children from this.
I personally witness in Hebrew school some children who are only going through the motions for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah out of being made to feel guilty by their parents. They are told they need to memorize this and that and the other just as mom and dad did. I would much rather see this same child “go for it” because he/she is enthused and wants to celebrate this rite of passage with passion and pride. There is so much I can say on this subject but suffice it to say guilt is old fashioned, while loving encouragement is what these kids really need.

BAR AND BAT MITZVAH
As an aside, there is no magic to forcing a child to memorize something that is foreign and that they will never ever use. I believe that Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the time to make them feel connected to their Jewish roots (see previous article on identity). Given enough time I could teach a parrot a Haftorah, and maybe I will just to prove a point. I would much rather teach these kids less text and more love and soul. When I meet parents who wish to enroll their children in The Chai Center’s Hebrew school, I tell them that my main goal is that your child should have a positive and warm feeling about their memories at Hebrew school, which will translate into being connected when they leave home. I hear so often from parents that the day they “graduated” they ran like a bat out of Gehenna.
The way I see it, if children are forced to emulate their parents while they are young, they will feel compelled not to emulate them when they are emancipated. If you unshackle them when they are young, ironically, the bond and desire to emulate will be strong. Agree?

Please feel free to share. 

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