My brethren in Gaza by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

July 24, 2014

I feel terrible for the people of Gaza.  They live under the rule of a violent oppressor.  But their oppressor is not Israel, it is Hamas, a terrorist entity whose very name means anger and whose actions seem to so revolve around war and hatred, that they cannot spend adequate money, time, or effort on the welfare of the people over whom they rule. 

Hamas has made it a regular practice to use the children of Gaza as human shields and to place rocket launchers and missiles in the people’s hospitals, schools, and mosques and has spent the billions of dollars of aid from Iran, the U.S., and other countries on missiles, bunkers, and offensive military tunnels instead of on schools, food, and medical care.   Hamas even destroyed the rich farming areas and greenhouses left behind by Israeli farmers when Israel withdrew from the area in 2009, as a step toward peace.

I care deeply about the innocent people in Gaza, made in the image of God, and who, going back to Abraham, are my brothers and sisters.  I pray for the people of Gaza. 

Over the past few years Israel has regularly treated the people of Gaza in Israeli hospitals.  A close friend, a Washington University Medical School trained surgeon who moved from St. Louis to Israel 10 years ago, periodically operates at a hospital in Herzliya on Palestinians who need the type of surgery in which he specializes.  And Israel is now fighting Hamas in a way to minimize collateral damage to the civilians of Gaza to the extent possible. This comes at a great cost of self-harm to Israel and to its citizens.  When Israel warns civilians in Gaza of an intended attack so that they can leave the area, Israel puts itself at peril as Hamas operatives are also warned.

In just the last 48 hours, Israel has put down its defenses to allow tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of each of those cease-fires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israeli civilian areas.

A few weeks ago when three Jewish teens were kidnapped and murdered by Arab terrorists, Hamas celebrated by distributing sweets to children.  When an Arab teen was murdered by Jewish terrorists, the Jewish world and Israel’s government condemned the terrible act. 

I hope Israel’s defensive war on Hamas will end soon and that Israel can join other countries in helping the people of Gaza rebuild their lives by providing them with farm equipment, water, electricity, medical care, and food and ultimately empower them to lead fulfilling lives when, with Hamas out of the way, there will be nothing stopping them from sitting at the negotiating table. 

But for now all I can do is pray and hope for a time of peace and security for all the people in the region and mourn for the loss of life on both sides. 

 

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With Hashem’s Help, Let the Indonesia Interfaith Middle East Peace Tour Begin! Rabbi Asher Lopatin

February 20, 2012

Writing from Hong Kong Airport, where I’m waiting for my flight to Jakarta:

It was hard to believe this would happen, but here I am davening shacharit, having lost a day (Sunday disappeared) and facing West to Israel!  I decided that since I lost the Song of the Day for “Yom Rishon B’shabat” (Sunday), I would say after Monday’s Song of the Day “Today is Sunday in Israel, where the Leviim used to say in the Temple…”

The Indonesian government has generously invited five rabbis, four Christian clergy and three American Muslim clerics to fly to Jakarta, meet up with 12 Indonesian (probably all Muslim) clergy, and then head to Dubai (just one night), Jordan, Israel (including Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv), then to Washington DC for meetings with the State Dept., the White House and Congress.  The mission, ostensibly: Finding ways of using our three Abrahamic religions to bridge gaps and promote peace.  Indonesia is a thriving Democracy, by all accounts, but it is on the cusp of deciding: Will it continue to embrace the more progressive, relatively tolerant Islam that it derived in its struggle against colonialism from such thinkers as Muhammad Abdu and Afghani, or will it give in to the newer forces of Islamic fundamentalism coming from the Middle East, which are beginning to proliferate in Indonesia.  While Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, there is potential for warmer relations, and the fact that this group of non-official, but influential,  Indonesians will be meeting with President Shimon Peres and a lot of other Israeli luminaries hopefully bodes well.

I intend to write almost daily on Morethodoxy from each of cities where we will be having conversations and relationship building exercises.  The five rabbis on this trip represent the spectrum of organized Jewish life in America: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.  Certainly none of us speaks for a movement, but together I hope that the discussions are frank and honest, with all sides seeing different dimensions of Judaism, and hopefully Christianity and Islam as well.

Looking forward to writing from Jakarta where I hope to arrive Monday afternoon at 2:00 PM Indonesian time.

Shalom al Yisrael, Peace on Israel and from Israel to the whole world,

Asher Lopatin


Tie School Funding To Israel Education – Rabbi Barry Gelman

August 26, 2011

Having just read this article asking whether building more Jewish museum is the best use of our resources, I began thinking again about two dilemmas facing Jewish communities across the United States.

  1. Decreased concern and knowledge about the State of Israel on the part of Jews in their teens, twenties and thirties.
  2. Day School tuition crisis (i.e. families cannot afford to send their children to Day Schools)

These problems are related to each other.

Let’s start with Israel.

Concern for and support of the State of Israel is related to what people know about Israel. What people know about the State of Israel and their attitudes towards the State of Israel, by and large, is related to their Jewish educational experiences.

Schools should be incentivized to teach about the State of Israel and urge their students to support the State of Israel. I am not suggestion that schools teach that everything that the State of Israel does is right, but their should be a general attitude pervading schools that the State of Israel represents the cumulative aspirations of the Jewish people. Furthermore, it should be taught that Jewish art, learning, and religious and cultural expression can only be fully expressed in Israel.

Once these ideas are firmly established, then the debates about policy, religious coercion, etc, can be entered into. First, however, the positive connection to Israel must be established. It is perfectly acceptable, even necessary for young people to know that they can voice their opinion when it comes to the State of Israel. Those voices are only valuable when they come from those committed to the overall endeavor to begin with.  No doubt certain realties of Israel will disappoint students, but with a firm foundation as to why Israel matters, the students will at least engage in those areas of Israeli life that inspire them.

It is like a family. There are aspects of everyone’s family that are less than pleasant, but because the value of the family is a given, there is engagement and rarely a decision to cut off ties because of those unpleasant realities. This can work for American students vis-à-vis Israel, if the relationship with Israel is strengthened.

How does this tie into the tuition crisis? Easy, Incentives. Jewish philanthropy from private individuals as well as Federations can be contingent on the existence of Israel programing at schools.  Schools that are willing to dedicate significant time to teaching the importance of Israel get a bigger piece of the funding pie. This strategy plays directly into the hands of the Federations in that graduates of those schools who were worthy of the additional funding will no doubt become future donors to Federations soliciting money for Israel.

Trips to Israel are nice. Israel advocacy programs are valuable. None of these attempts to re-engage our youth with Israel will have a large-scale effect to swing the pendulum back. The day schools are the battlefield.

This is a simple formula. People who know about Israel will support Israel, even as they debate the issues.


The Scotch Counter Boycott is Moral and Just: It Is about Drinking Responsibly! By Rabbi Lopatin

June 23, 2011

I love Scotch, and I paskin like the London Beth Din that every single Scotch is kosher.  But I love Israel as well, and I particularly don’t like people picking on Israel. So, I support fully counter-boycotting against Scotch’s made in the area where their local council is boycotting Israel.   From the best analysis I have seen, Auchentoshen is the Scotch to boycott.  Now, Auchentoshan is not my favorite Scotch, so I’m kind of happy that it is really the only Scotch, readily available in America,  that is clearly  produced and distilled  in the West Dunbartonshire (WDS) part of Scotland, where a majority of the local council has voted various boycotts of Israel – including not allowing Israeli books in the local library.  The most precise report of what is and is not produced in this shire comes from Joshua E. London, of the Jewish Single Malt Whiskey Society, who is critical of the boycott.  But even he admits the viciousness of  the WDS local council toward Israel, and that Auchentoshen, while owned  by a Japanese conglomerate, is distilled and produced in WDS.  

I don’t like boycotts because of policy differences, but when someone boycotts Israel, we must send them a clear message that not only will they suffer, but all their supporters suffer.  People in WDS need to understand that if their elected officials pick on Israel,  it is their responsibility to remove them from office.  I want the world to know that there are millions of consumers and advocates who will fight against any boycott of Israel.  These boycotts are not only ignorant and vicious, they are immoral as well.  The distillers and producers of Scotch, have to tell that to elected and unelected officials: if you live in a place that discriminates against Israel, or if you are a school which allows students to harm pro-Israel students and speakers, your competitors will benefit and you will lose.  That’s the new order.  Maybe these crazy socialist/communist/Marxist councils will pick on someone else.

I’m not impressed that Auchentoshen is working to get KLBD hashgacha for their drinks; Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, refused to give hashgacha for any Scotch in his days, because he believed all of it was kosher.  I still hold of the London Beth Din’s rule that it is all kosher.  In fact, I would suggest that the KLBD, the hashgacha of the London Beth Din, raise the issue of the WDS boycott of Israel in their discussions regarding the kashrut of Auchentashen.  The Scotch companies claim that it is not their fault that the local council has voted to boycott Israel; they are just a company and cannot influence elections.   I ask then, that these companies who feel they can’t speak up, and universities who claim that they have to allow free speech to students that disrupt Israeli speakers, make a donation to the Friends of the IDF to show that they have nothing against Israel.  Or, make a donation to Zaka or Hatzala or even Magen David Adom, any Israeli program that helps victims of Arab terrorism. If they make those donations, and are open about those donations, then I would accept that as a demonstration of their good will.

We in the Diaspora are generally not sending our kids to fight for Israel, nor are we living in Israel and subjecting ourselves to all the risks that Israelis face every day.  We are enjoying the bounty of America or some other foreign land.  The least we can do is send a message of support for Israel with everything with partake of – whether it is Scotch, higher education, or anything else that God has blessed us with the means of purchasing.  Let those who support Israel be blessed and let those who would want to harm Israel face the consequences. God has given us the means of making this world a little more just – let us not shirk our responsibility.  Yes, let us drink responsibly!

 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Jews and the Dream Act: Weren’t we just there? Rabbi Asher Lopatin

May 11, 2011

The Dream Act is being introduced in Congress.    All Jews who immigrated to the United States – that’s all of us! – need to support it if we have any gratitude to God for allowing us and those who came before us enter this country, or other countries of refuge.  The Dream Act would enable tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered this country as children and who are either serving in the U.S. Army or going to college to gain legal residency and eventually citizenship.  The Dream Act failed in its first round, mostly because Republicans in congress demanded that the government deal with securing the boarder before certifying any formerly illegal immigrants.  But this issue has to be a priority for America and for the Jewish Community.  It is a moral matter for Americans, who know that our country is the right place for these people who have lived almost their whole lives here, and who have achieved the American dream – of serving our country and getting an education to enable our country to continue its leadership of the Free World.

Just over a week after we commemorated the Holocaust, where millions of our people died because England and the United States refused entry to our people, and just a day after Israel independence day, our beloved Jewish state which was established to Never Again allow Jews to be refused entry to escape persecution.  Yes, these undocumented children are not refugees; their parents came illegally to our country and brought them in illegally.  But our mothers and fathers came to America for a better life as well, and how can we not be sympathetic to people desperately trying to enter our country to better their lives?  Yes, we did not enter illegally, probably.  But these children are innocent of any crime as well.  They were brought in by their parents or others and had no choice.  They are not responsible for being here illegally.  And now they are part of the United States; they have adopted the best values and visions of our country.  If we Jews do not have sympathy for “geirim” – for strangers – if we do not have sympathy for children, who will?  Didn’t the British at least let in the children to England through the Kinder Transports?  That was in 1939.  If Britain of the thirties could take pity on Jewish children, cannot we Jews take pity on Mexican children who only know life in America and are doing their best to be good Americans.

Undoubtedly there were those in Britain who said that if you let  in Jewish children it would cause all sorts of social ills.  Thank God the voices of morality overcame those foolish utilitarians.  Today there may be voices against the Dream Act: American Jews of all political persuasions need to step in and say, Even though this act will only help our country, it is first and foremost a moral act, and we who understand what it means to go from servitude to freedom, know what it means to go from the poverty of Mexico or so many other countries to the freedom of the United States of America.

Because our parents and grandparents got lucky and worked hard to get into this country, we Jews of America are in a position to influence American policy.  Let us not show a lack of gratitude to our predecessors or to God for giving us a position of privilege to be American citizens.  Thank God for America, and thank God their are children who grow up, unrecognized and undocumented, who love our country and are willing to serve it with their lives and with their minds. Let us learn from the tragedy of a world so panicked that it did not let Jews into the bastion of freedom – the USA – nor into our own homeland – Palestine at the time.  Let us commit that it never happen again, not just to us, who suffered so egregiously from that panic, but to any people, and, especially, to the innocent children of this world.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


A Way To Faith – Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 21, 2011

This is the sermon I delivered this past Shabbat (Erev Purim) in my Shul in Houston. Although Purim has passed, I think that the message of the sermon is still reevennt and I hope that it can offer a way to faith for those who struggle with faith while facing difficult circumstances.

A Way To Faith

I am finding it particularly difficult to get into the Purim spirit this year. Like many of you, my thoughts this week have been consumed by the reports and the images of the brutal murder by Palestinian terrorists of the 5 members of the Fogel family in Itamar, Israel as well as by the death of 10’s of thousands of people brought on by the earthquake and Tsunamis that rocked and flooded Japan.

If I may relate my personal state of mind, each of these tragedies has affected me differently. The Japan tragedy is a terrible human tragedy, not to be considered as 10’s of thousands, but as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers – families – just like ours – shattered – never to be the same. That tragedy, savagely created by nature, forces us to confront difficult questions about God and the natural order.

The brutal murders in Itamar conjures up different challenges. That was not just a murder of a family – it was the murder of our family. Here, for most of us, we are talking about 2 or 3 degrees of separation. Of course, this type of despicable deed raises questions, not about faith in God, but about faith in humanity.

I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Yehuda Amital in an interview he gave to Yad Vashem where he commented on having faith after the Holocaust. In referencing a conversation with  Abba Kovner a leader of the Vilna Ghetto revolt, and a kibbutz leader and poet in Israel, Rabbi Amital recalls: “Once we were both participants in a TV panel about the meaning of the Holocaust. He asked me, “Did you have problems with your faith?” I answered him, “I had problems? Your problems are even more serious. I believed in God; now, I don’t understand His ways. But you believed in man; now, do you continue to believe in man, after what you saw in the Holocaust? Truly, we both have a problem.”
[1]

I would like to suggest a way into Purim in light of the recent events. I believe that this approach is important not just for this year, but that it also offers a way to faith that may be helpful.

I will start with a basic question on Purim.

Why do we not recite Hallel on Purim? This question is asked in the Talmud in tractate Megilla and 3 answers are given. For our purposes, I wish to focus on the third answer. According to the Gemara, we do not say Hallel on Purim because even after the great salvation and military victory, we are still “servants of Achashveirosh.”

What the Talmud is trying to get across here is that Purim does not reflect a total victory or salvation. Despite the fact that we declare “Layehudim Hayta Ora…”, there was still much leftover darkness once all the dust settled.

If that is the case, then we must ask ourselves another question. Why celebrate? What is the purpose of celebration if the same sword that dangled over our necks before the Purim saga unfolded, continues to dangle there.

Here the words of Rabbi Zadok HaKoheinm of Lublin are helpful.

Say’s Rav Tzadok[2] – Pesach represents total salvation – we left Egypt and we went and received the Torah. Pesach represents leaving the darkness of exile.

Purim on the other hand, with the left over danger and darkness, represents the ability to cope with remaining in the darkness. That too is a gift from God.[3]

This will be my approach to Purim this year. The murders in Itamar especially, remind us that there are still great challenges and that there is great hatred among our enemies. The murders remind us that even with the establishment of the State of Israel, there is still much darkness to overcome.

But I will also recall this Purim that the Fogel family in Itamar and all those suffering in Japan, have the ability to cope with the darkness and to build new lives on the ruins.

I will also remember that despite the human evil displayed in Itamar and in the Palestinian street as they celebrated the murders, that there are many many good people in our world.

There are 50 or so firefighters who are facing certain death as they try to contain the fires and radiation leaks at the Japanese nuclear power plants.

I will remember the amazing story of Rami Levy, owner of a chain of supermarkets in Israel. If you have not heard the story, it is worth hearing.

According to a number of Israeli news outlets, Rami Levy has gone to the Fogel’s house every day of the Shiva and fills up their refrigerator and cupboard with food.

Someone at the house noticed and expressed their appreciation to him for doing this. He responded that they will be seeing him for a while as he plans to supply them with food and supplies every week until the youngest orphan turn 18.

Who among us does not live with some darkness?

Who among us has not woken up in the morning wondering how to go on living?

This is part of life, but, yet, somehow we manage to cope – and sometimes even thrive under difficult conditions.

That ability, that great power is worth celebrating for it too is a gift from God.

“Even a Holiday that does not merit Hallel, remains worthy of celebration. It behooves us to remember this, because instances of complete salvation are few and far between. We must take joy and show gratitude for the ability to make it through the difficult times, even when our problems do not depart entirely.”[4]

I conclude with a teffilla

Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael…

As for our brothers of the whole house of Israel who are in distress or captivity, on sea or land, may the All-Present have compassion on them and lead them from distress to relief, fro darkness to light, and from oppression to freedom, now, swiftly and soon – and let us say: Amen


[2] Divrei Soferim 32

[3] Cited in Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine – Yitzchak Blau, pg. 41

[4] Ibid


The King Hearings: Building Relationships Through Honesty, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

March 10, 2011

Representative Peter King of New York is conducting hearings on “Muslim Radicalization in America”.  While I wish the name for these hearings would have been something like, “Muslims Americans Speak Out Against Extremism and for Moderate Islam”, I think these hearings are important and will lead to good things.  I hope they expose Americans to Muslims who care about the United States and want to fight terrorism and extremism, and I hope they allow the Muslim community to take some responsibility for the acts of terror that were done on their behalf.

As an Orthodox Jew, I take responsibility for immoral things done on behalf of Judaism and Torah, and I sign petitions against those acts and statements – I am vocal and active in opposing them.  Rav Ahron Soloveichik said that Orthodox Jews had to accept some culpability for the actions of Yigal Amir who assassinated Prime Minister Rabin.  I am grateful that some . Muslims are holding preachers in mosques accountable, and I am thrilled that an early speaker in these hearings was Rep. Keith Ellison who told the story of  a Muslim-American police cadet and hero – an American hero –  who died trying to save lives in the World Trade Towers on 9/11.

Yes, Muslims are singled out because Islam – a popular and influential type of Islam – was used to justify killing American lives at the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, then again, tragically, in Yemen in 2006 with the attack on the USS Cole, then  on  9/11, then at Fort Hood, etc.  There is a pattern here, and there is a pattern of denial as well, most notably in the promotions and retention of the Fort Hood murderer, Major Hasan.  It is sad that Islam is singled out, but it is singled out not by Mr. King, but by all these acts of terror carried out in the name of Islam, inspired by Islam and perpetrated by Muslims – granted, radical Muslims.

Nevertheless, these hearings should not be seen as an opportunity for Islamobashing.  Rather, they should be an opportunity for good people from all religions and backgrounds, Muslim and otherwise, to come together and figure out how to keep our country safe.  From Rep. Ellison we learn how committed so many American Muslims are to this country, and from Rep. King I hope we learn of Muslims who are committed to taking responsibility to fight extremism that is a sad and dangerous reality in Islam today.  Yes, Jews, Christians and even Hindus all have their extremists, but our war is now focused, and must be focused, on extremist Islam, and my hope and prayer is that the Muslim community will have the opportunity to demonstrate how committed they are to that war.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin