Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

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.

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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.

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