This January I had a very scary experience when I traveled to Israel. It didn’t happen in Israel, it happened on the El Al airplane … not when it was in the air but when it was still on the ground. Sherry and I had boarded the plane and had taken our seats when a group of Chasidim got on and were headed toward us. I started to sweat and shake. What if, God forbid, one of the men asked Sherry to change her seat so he shouldn’t have to sit next to a woman? Knowing Sherry, I said to myself: this could get ugly. Thank God, it didn’t happen. But what if it did?
Because it oftentimes does! There have been repeated cases of flight delays, arguments on board because an ultra-Orthodox Jew refused to sit next to a woman so as not to have any contact with her. They asked her to move and she has refused. What do you do then? You know what you do? You go to court!
The story was told to all the world in the February 26 issue of the New York Times about Renee Rabinowitz, a PhD in educational psychology and child survivor of the Holocaust. She recently found herself settled comfortably in her aisle seat in the business class section of the El Al flight from Newark to Tel Aviv when, as she put it, “This rather distinguished looking man in Chasidic or Haredi garb – I guess around 50 or so – shows up.” The man had been assigned the window seat in her row but he did not want to sit next to a woman. Thinking that inadvertent contact was forbidden by Jewish law, reluctantly Ms. Rabinowitz, an 81 year old grandmother who walks with a cane, agreed to move. But now, she is suing El Al, claiming discrimination as she says, “For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself: here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world … and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?” READ MORE
There is a war going on out there. We were all reminded of that this week. Israelis need no reminder … they fight a war every day.
It has long been said that “war is hell.” If you want to know what that means in the 21st century, let me recommend two movies to you.
I am not much of a movie-goer. If I need entertainment, I have my grandchildren! I choose my movies carefully and only go to those I think will teach me something and, quite frankly, that might be used as sermon material. I recently saw two such movies … one a few months ago and the other this week. One is a Danish film that had been nominated for Best Foreign Film of the year called “A War.” The other was the recently released “Eye in the Sky.” READ MORE
It happened to a man who died 60 years ago this past month and it is still studied and discussed by Jewish and Christian scholars alike. Most people are unaware of what happened, but it happened! Shockingly, indeed, unbelievably it happened … and people still wonder why it happened. Together let’s step back in time and recall the story of Rabbi Israel Zolli –the Chief Rabbi of Rome. Our story begins in June, 1944 when Rabbi Zolli, the Chief Rabbi, officiated at a Shabbat ceremony held in Rome’s central synagogue, the Tempio Maggiore, to commemorate the war dead and to celebrate the liberation of Rome from German occupation. Zolli delivered a message of hope, moving to tears many of the thousands of people who attended the ceremony. No one at the time could ever have imagined that nine months later, in February, 1945 an even larger crowd would gather in that very same synagogue for another ceremony … this time to sit shiva and to mourn for Rabbi Zolli who had not died, but had announced his conversion to Christianity. And not just him, but his wife as well! And to top it off, at his Baptism in the chapel of Santa Maria Degli Angeli, he took on the first name Eugenio, in honor of Pope Pius XII … referred to by some as “Hitler’s Pope.” READ MORE
What do you give the Jewish man who has everything? The question is sort of rhetorical. What Jewish man do you know who thinks he has everything? Well, I came across an item that I think speaks to every Jewish man. It is a house for sale in Ft. Lauderdale, FL … 3600 Estate Oak Circle, to be exact. It is going for $7.5 million but listen to what you get: aside from the usual accouterments of 12 bedrooms and 13 ½ bathrooms … the house features a high-tech home theater, fully equipped gym, salt water pool, a billiards room, a basketball court and your own private elevator. Who wouldn’t want a house like that? But it is particularly enticing for a Jew! You see, the sellers are Yitzhak and Liat Toledano, and Mr. Toledano is an Israeli-born real estate developer and obviously an observant Jew because included in the house are three kosher kitchens, right off the dining room is a hand-washing station, above which sits a mirror into which the blessing of Netilat Yadaim is etched. Not bad! Three kitchens – I guess for milchigs, fleishigs and a little treife on the side when no one is looking! But here is the clincher: this Florida mansion includes within it its own synagogue! No more schlepping to shul… you can daven in your pajamas! No more rabbi or Cantor or Board of Directors … YOU are the master of the house – the master of this house of worship! READ MORE
You know, as a rabbi, I can’t, I don’t and I won’t discuss politics. To do so would be a violation of the separation of church and state. But in case you haven’t noticed, this is not a church … and so today, while I won’t tell you who Jews SHOULD vote for, I will tell you who Jews are NOT going to vote for!
Most political commentators agree that the next President of the U.S. is going to be one of five people: either Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, or Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio on the Republican side. There is Jewish support of varying degrees amongst the candidates. READ MORE
It happened six months ago and was immediately forgotten. And I don’t know why!
In August of 2015, a truly historic event took place. And while it was covered in newspapers and on television, soon thereafter it was like it never happened! We oftentimes refer to the first heart transplant that was performed by South Africa’s Dr. Christian Barnard, but the transplant I have in mind, in many ways, had an even greater consequence for the future. It happened to Patrick Hardison, 41 years of age, on August 14, when doctors performed on him the most extensive face transplant in history! Hardison had been injured 14 years ago while fighting a fire as a volunteer and he was left with disfiguring burns across his face, neck and upper torso. He lost his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose as well as his hair, including his eyebrows. On August 12, 2015, David Rodebaugh – a 26 year old – died in a biking accident. His heart, liver, kidneys, eyes and bones were transplanted in several people, but his entire face was transplanted on to Patrick Hardison. The surgery lasted more than 26 hours and involved a medical team of over 70 people. The hospital, New York University’s Langone Medical Center, footed the bill of $1 million. READ MORE
Almost from the day I came to Beth Tfiloh, 38 years ago this month, our great benefactor, Haron Dahan, and I had a very close relationship. We spent much time together; with him making my dreams turn into reality. Our High School and this magnificent sanctuary are examples of this. Working together over so many years, you get to know a person! Haron used to share some of his pearls of wisdom with me, some thoughts and quotes, that made him tick. He oftentimes would say, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail,” or “Give a man a fish and you give him a dinner, teach a man to fish and you give him a livelihood.” One of his favorite and oft-quoted words was the Talmudic expression, “Tafasta merubah lo tafasta” … loosely translated meaning, “One who grabs too much ends up with nothing.” A Native American version of this tells us: “If you chase two rabbits you will lose them both.” Yes, we should all aim for the stars but keep your feet on the ground. You have to know when to hold, know when to fold, know when enough is enough. This philosophy of “Tafasta merubah lo tafasta” worked for Mr. Dahan. He left a foundation of over $100 million. READ MORE