Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

The Transition from Baby to Adult

One of my daughters recently gave birth and blessed my wife and I with a grandson. This morning as I was cradling him, I was thinking to myself that this little bubbeleh sleeping in my arms is so pure, cute and innocent. He was sleeping, breathing deeply, seemingly not conscious of his surroundings.

As I was holding him and reflecting on the miracle of life, I thought to myself that since every baby is born cute, pure and innocent (some more cute than others), what is the core ingredient that brings about a change that turns a human from innocent to being jaded, from genuine to insincere? The questions are endless. Why are some adults mean while some are gentle? Why are some people givers while others are takers? Some are righteous while others are evil, etc.

The obvious answer is that life’s experiences change us. My continued nagging thoughts asked me to clarify what that means. Which life experiences have the most effect on us? I have come up with a list of experiences that I hope the reader finds interesting. Each of the following influences do impact us and little by little we metamorphosize into who we are now. 

Ask any mental health professional and they will tell you that every human is a product of their upbringing. I remember when our first child was conceived, I was guided that even in utero, we need to be mindful and sensitive to the words we speak and the tone we use. Even more so once a baby is born.
Jewish parenting looks at each infant and sees that child as created B’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. Therefore, we need to carefully respect the sensitivities of our children. We need to bring them up with Godly morals and values that they will hopefully continue when they grow up. Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to child rearing as great honest to God, salt of the earth, best-intentioned parents, may end up with a dishonest child, pathological liar or worse. Of course, we as parents need to do our very best to give them a head start in the right direction, but once they fly the coop, we can only advise them and love them.

Many argue that the more educated the better, as education, especially in the higher schools of learning, helps breed refinement. I would disagree with this strongly, and I bring proof from the infamous Wannsee Conference which took place on January 20, 1942. The Wannsee Conference was a high-level meeting of German officials to discuss and implement the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (mass murder).
Ten of the fifteen participants had been to university. Eight of them had even been awarded doctorates! Can you imagine it took eight PhD’s less than two hours to reach the conclusion of how to dispose of the Jews. There were various proposals given as to the best solution (the term extermination was never uttered out loud during the conference). These bright minds ultimately decided on gas vans as the best way, which was then “upgraded” to gas showers.
I have always maintained that the study of parallelograms does not make one a better person, and the pursuit of “Physics for Poets,” a course taught at Stanford University, is a waste of time, as is Princeton University’s, “The Invisible Renaissance: Science, Art, and Magic in Early Modern Europe.” What I would like to see are courses entitled something like Philanthropy 101, How to be a Consummate Volunteer, Pursuing Civility 302, Love Thy Neighbor – Community Activism, etc.
As a Rabbi, I can honestly share that the Torah and rabbinic sources greatly stress being a mensch first. I think of Maimonides' laws of charity, where he lists how to give charity and in what order. Maimonides concludes that even better than a handout is a job where the person can maintain their dignity. More than half of the 10 Commandments place emphasis on being a moral and just person. So, I guess it depends on the quality and the value of the education received.

This is probably the most impactful cause of change in a human being’s thinking. It used to be the books that we read, but books are considered old media when compared to social media. Let’s face it. It is not so easy to publish a book (I should know). Aside from it taking many months from writing a book to it being published and on the shelves, your “words” are as good as your agent’s connections. To stand on a soapbox and be recognized as an influencer on Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter is much easier, quicker and has the potential of gathering an audience in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.
Now many of these powerful influencers with thousands of followers are benign as they focus on important but benign topics such as bird watching and butterfly catching and which pearl millet grain is best for cattle feed. However, there are very malignant social media stars out there who are dangerous people who are hell bent on the destruction of our Souls. Followers of these types of influencers are cult-like in that they repeat what they hear from their Instagram guru and wreak havoc on society. Yes, I would say that social media is very close to the top 10 of “purity destroyers.”

The same principle would apply to one’s social construct. The people who one socializes with on a regular basis are extremely influential on one’s behavior. This influence can cut both ways positively or negatively. This is what the Mishna means when it writes, “Be careful of who your neighbor is.” Your neighbor can be taken literally, as well as your classmates, general neighborhood and even the local school district’s board.
You know all it takes is one bad teacher or professor to change a person from innocent to jaded. This is especially so because teachers are authority figures, and their opinions, as good or as warped as they may be, are taken very seriously.

I do not know the answer as to how to preserve one’s naiveté, other than one should spend more time reading luminaries such as Maimonides and less time on Reddit and other social media venues.

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The Holocaust Syllabus: A better definition

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the six million Jews who were victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.

This got me to ponder the DEEP conflict I have about teaching Holocaust education the way they do in the schools. I am obviously a strong proponent of educating the tragic WWII history and exposing the cruelty of the Nazis and their cohorts as well as the sickening apathy of the world. And yes, the fact that millions of civilians were killed, particularly the six million Jews who died, 1.5 million of whom were innocent children, needs to be taught. My conflict is rather more of a practical one, which is why I worry about our Jewish youth.
When these kids are schooled about the Holocaust, which is retaught in Hebrew school, they learn that there was a mass murderer who managed to galvanize thousands upon thousands of people to hunt down Jews and others and kill them in the most innovative and cruel ways possible. Have you ever thought to yourself that it is no wonder we are losing our youth’s interest in Judaism. If our Judaism is relegated to the Holocaust, then why would a kid want to be associated with death, destruction, martyrdom and victimhood?
On the other hand, the Holocaust did tragically happen and therefore must be taught. We cannot be naïve about these things. We need to be aware and fully cognizant that “Never Again” is more than just a slogan. It is a vow to never allow ourselves to be marginalized by any government or group of people.
So, what to do about these conflicting thoughts? I agree that it is unacceptable not to teach about the Holocaust. I believe that we are neglecting to teach a large part of the Holocaust history. Believe me, if we teach our Jewish youth the rest of the story, we will be able to recapture their young spirit.

What is the solution to this conundrum?

We cannot ignore the fact that the Holocaust is indeed central to Jewish education, Jewish history and Jewish discussion. It should be, especially when there are those who seek to heap indignity upon the memory of the six million by trying to deny what happened and erase the lessons that must be learned from that very dark stain on human history. However, while this horror did happen to our people, we must teach more than just the bloody slaughter.

We need to take the following next logical step when we teach about the Holocaust. We must not stop short of the real lesson.
It is not the horrors, the torture, the sadism, the suffering and the genocide of the Holocaust that defines who we are. We do not share those stories to make the point that we are the world’s victims. On the contrary! All the stories are intended to reinforce the fact that we are victors. The real thrust of the stories is not that we suffered, but that we survived; not that we died, but that we are alive!
Hitler was a failure. Nazism failed. If you wish to learn about the Third Reich, there is much written in Wikipedia or on Google. However, if one wishes to meet a Jewish family who survived the Holocaust, all you have to do is knock on the door of a home that houses a Jewish family, and you will be nearly guaranteed that they will have a story of survival for you. Hitler wanted the Jews to be remembered solely in a museum and not as an actual people. Turns out that he and his ilk ended up in museums instead.    
This, to me, is the message of the Holocaust.
I believe that the best way of honoring the memory of the six million is by keeping alive the ideals and values that they lived for. What a tragedy it would be if we were simply reduced to being known as victims of society.

Yes, the memories are sacred. It is what we do with those memories, however, that needs to be more clearly understood.  A philosopher once famously said that Judaism has 613 commandments… “The 614th commandment,” he said, “is to deny Hitler any posthumous victories.” Reducing Jewish identity to victimhood would be such a victory – and we must not allow that to happen!

We are the architects, builders and educators of human civilization. This country was based on Judeo values. We are the teachers, and we are the inspiration for our founding fathers. No victims here!
This is in line with the philosophy that victimhood has never been, and is not now, the foundation of anyone’s identity.
Whatever our individual circumstances in life may be, let us not see our struggles and challenges as obstacles to our achieving a true sense of happiness and fulfillment in life. On the contrary, let us see them as opportunities to propel us to newer and greater heights in all aspects.

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