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Posts tagged ‘Jews’

Kaddish

“These are people who were killed because they were Jewish, they are bodies of holy martyrs.”
—Rabbi Daniel Wasserman

Words do not come. A leaden ball occupies my lower half; a river of ice runs within. My hometown community suffered a loss that is larger than the holy souls whose lives were ripped from them as they worshipped. This wasn’t supposed to happen here, not here, in America. But this is not about me; rather, it is about my people, my town, my tribe, my family. It’s personal.

Despite the all-too-familiar terror attacks in Israel—Ari Fuld, Ziv Hajbi, and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel murdered within the past six weeks; despite the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher murders in France; despite the shooting attacks at Jewish Community Centers—Los Angeles and Overland Park, Kansas;  despite attacks on Jews individually and collectively worldwide, this was not supposed to happen here. Certainly not in my town, on the streets where I walked, in a shul (synagogue) where I have been, the spiritual home of many people who I know. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

The synagogue shooting on Saturday, October 27th occurred on the 18th of the “bitter” month of Cheshvan, or MarCheshvan on the Jewish calendar. The month is characterized as being bitter because it has no holidays. Now it has 11 more yahrzeits, death anniversaries. A madman targeted Jews, came into our place of worship, and murdered 11 people, wounded 6 more, including brave responders from the Pittsburgh Police.

My uncle, who was a hidden child in Holland during the Holocaust said, “It feels a bit [like] when I was 7 or 8 and people disappeared and you did not know whether [they were] picked up or in hiding or what.” You simply did not know.

We awaited the names of the deceased, and as they were released on Sunday morning, we sighed and cried whether we knew them or not. Our family members were on that list; everyone I know knows someone who knew someone…. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

The first of the funerals are today. It is Jewish custom to bury the dead as soon as possible, but it was not possible in this situation; the funerals will continue through the week. I know the pain of the waiting—it is tense and confusing to those of us accustomed to quick burial. We Jews do not have wakes, our dead do not lie in front of us. Not usually, but this situation is beyond unusual. People are planning to arrive from all over to mourn with the bereaved families. However, my synagogue emailed a funeral notice with a request that only close friends and family attend shiva (the seven-day period after burial where people visit the bereaved to offer condolences and support). We all want to mourn together but we must respect the privacy of the families.

At the graveside, the kaddish prayer will be recited by the mourners. “Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world…” it starts.  The ending is a call for peace, “May He Who makes peace in His heavens make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.” Kaddish affirms the existence of a Creator and extolls Him. No mention of death or loss are contained in the ancient Aramaic words. It has always given me pause: in the moment of our deepest grief we raise our voices to G-d, to Whom else can we turn?

I’m having a hard time not reading the news, like I’ll hear something new, some detail that will help make sense of the shootings. We’re all talking about it: Pittsburgh, gun control, mental health; hate sites; online forums; Israel; safety; what to do. Glued to the radio, the streaming media, video clips, Facebook—I must consciously disconnect. My sense of safety and surety shivers in horror. What next? How? The questions keep coming. It’s not about me but it’s personal.

I pledge to make my corner of the world a place where light rules, and not the darkness. Do a mitzvah. Do many mitzvahs. I am Pittsburgh, but more so, I am a Jew. Let light reign.

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • brothers Cecil, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54
  • husband and wife, Sylvan, 86, and Bernice Simon, 84
  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Melvin Wax, 88
  • Irving Younger, 69

They were murdered for the crime of being Jews. It’s not about me but it’s personal. I’m a Jew.

Hashem yinkom damam, “May G-d avenge their blood.”

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Open Letter to NPR

I listen to NPR programming throughout the day and am struck how there has been little mention, if any, of the fires consuming Israel for the past week. Certainly this maelstrom has not been mentioned at the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria, however, has been reported in that brief time. On the Middle East section of your website, as of this writing on 29 November, the latest story is dated 24 November: “Tens Of Thousands Evacuate As Wildfires Rage In Haifa, Israel” presented on All Things Considered, elapsed time 2 minutes 59 seconds.

The “Fire Intifada” wrecked thousands of lives. A warped, desperate culture of violence spawned this destructive and terrifying activity. NPR apparently chooses to report on Israel only when it can point a critical finger at Israelis. NPR serves as the battlefield for this image war, but NPR chooses the rules.

beit-meir-fires-credit-jerusalem-post-courtesy-israel-police

Beit Meir fires. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, courtesy of Israel Police.

There have been many more fires since that time. Residents from the small town of Beit Meir, 9 miles from Jerusalem off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, were evacuated in the middle of the night. To be fair, apparently a flare fired by Israeli border guard troops set off the fire during while they chased suspicious individuals. But what were those people doing there? Fire engorged the sole entrance of the town.  Over 100 families, and dozens of boys residing at the yeshiva, fled in the pre-dawn hours.

Footage of arson, West Bank. Credit- Israel Nature and Parks Authority.jpg

(Video) Footage of arson, West Bank. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, Courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Indeed, arson is the cause of some of Israel’s fires, the so-called “Arson Intifada.” At least 35 suspects have been arrested on suspicion of arson this past week, and there is video evidence of an arsonist setting fire in the northwestern Etzion region. To date, over 100,000 people have been displaced—innocent civilians—and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.

Certainly this maelstrom was not mentioned in the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria was reported in that short time, so it can’t be an issue of NPR not reporting international news. Furthermore, on 27 November, 4 minutes 40 seconds were dedicated to “Abused Animals Find Refuge In A New Sanctuary In Jordan” on All Things Considered. Sheesh!

Indeed today, Israeli troops at a West Bank checkpoint stopped 3 Palestinians who were trying to start a blaze near Ariel in Central Israel. I consider that to be relevant news.

NPR reported on 3 deaths caused by wildfires near Gatlinburg today. I do not mean to diminish the devastation experienced by those people in the least, nor minimize the suffering and loss of the residents, but that tragedy pales in scope compared to what is happening in Israel—except it is US news.

NPR’s Middle East reporting is so unbalanced. NPR seems to only publish news about alleged Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. With this recent rash of fires, NPR had the opportunity to congratulate the many countries that assisted Israel in fighting the fires—including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, and the US. That was a true gap in coverage.

NPR get your act together. Report news about Israel fairly, because in the end, you shape public opinion.

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Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

Urban Orchard?

Urban Peach Orchard

Urban Peach Orchard? ©JustHavingFun

People plant fruit trees because the blossoms are beautiful. They bloom in the spring about the same time as the early flowers such as daffodils and tulips. Fruit trees frequently make up a portion of formal plantings that bloom in sequence. Think of the cherry blossoms that adorn Washington, D.C.

As a child I learned how to identify plants by their leaves and trees by their bark in nature studies classes. I would spend hours hiking in the woods marveling at the diversity of species in my area. I retained these skills into adulthood and at some point became a gardening enthusiast. Although I lack a garden now, I enjoy looking at other people’s plantings. I like seeing how each apartment building distinguishes itself from the next in the foot-wide strip of soil between it and the pavement. Hence, I stop to “smell the roses”—or Rose of Sharon—whenever I can.

There are few fruit trees in Washington Heights. It is a Jewish custom to say a particular blessing over a blossoming fruit tree in the springtime, in the Hebrew month of Nissan (approximately mid-April to mid-May). Since most New Yorkers can’t identify fruit trees by their leaves and bark, lacking the nature studies classes I enjoyed, some Jews took it upon themselves to publish a map identifying the fruit trees in the certain neighborhoods! Some people even hang a placard from fruit trees with the text of the blessing to aid their fellow Jews. There is one such tree on Bennett Avenue across from the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center. I visited that tree and said the blessing at the appropriate time last spring.

I knew about this particular tree on Overlook Terrace without seeing it on a map. I’d espied it and watched the fruit all summer. It’s unusual to see fruit tree blossoms that actually come to fruition in the city. It’s even more unusual to see one of these trees smack dab up against a building, adjacent to a fire escape, hiding behind a hedge of exuberant Rose of Sharon. Peering at the tree, I spy little blushing peaches emerging from under the leaves! It lives! It is growing!! Next to the subway station yet!!!

There used to be farms in this part of Manhattan. Oh, it was long ago, but it is indeed documented. What would those farmers say about their acreage now? How could this tree happen to grow precisely here? Did an opportunistic peach pit grow between the hedge and the bricks? Not likely. Unsprouted peach pits that are hundreds of years old have been excavated from the trash heaps of Old New York. These hard hearts don’t sprout easily. Could someone actually have planted this tree? Maybe. There is evidence it is cared for: it is tied where it intersects the top of the ground floor window. There’s a scar where it had been pruned.

Will these peaches rot on the tree, get pecked by birds, or be plucked by the person whose window they cover? Someday I expect I will emerge from the subway station and see some nouveau urban farmer climbing a ladder to harvest the peaches. Straw-hatted and overall-clad, he will set each booted foot carefully on the rungs as he climbs. He will test the ripeness of each with a little squeeze. He will pluck each one and lay it in a wicker basket depending from his arm like in an old-timey painting. Thus he will reanimate the ghosts of long ago farms in this part of the island. A fanciful dream, but what a dream!

There is no comment possible

The Eiffel Tower Cries for its people.

The Eiffel Tower cries for its people.

There is no comment possible for the slaughter in France. Radical Islamists struck again.

Twelve cartoonists murdered at publication Charlie Hebdo.

Innocent Jews shopping for Sabbath supplies in the Hyper Cacher Kosher supermarket were targeted by madmen. Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada, and Phillipe Braham were killed by a gunman who stormed the market, and were buried in Israel. Thirty were protected by hiding in a freezer, led there by a Muslim shopworker, now a hero.

We are heartbroken, shocked, and outraged. We cannot process the horror. What is happening in France, cradle of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality? What is happening around the world?

Pray, my friends. Pray.

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