Friday, May 10, 2024

People Love Dead Jews

People Love Dead Jews. Dara Horn authored this book with this provocative title. Society is fascinated with the death of Jews but cares little for living Jews. To Horn, the destruction of world Jewry is a compelling historical narrative, but the current crisis of antisemitism is minimized. In a subsequent interview with The Atlantic, Horn argues that Western society prefers to tell stories about how Jews died rather than how they lived because "it's much easier to mold dead Jews into martyrs and morality tales than it is to coexist with living ones." A chilling example of this theory came to the forefront of the national arena. The President delivered remarks in observance of Yom HaShoah. He said, "'Never again,' simply translated for me, means never forget. Here we are, not 75 years later, but just seven-and-a-half months" since October 7, "and people are already forgetting." On the very same day, the WhiteHouse confirmed that it was withholding key weapons Israel needed to wage war against a genocidal enemy. Let that marinate. Israel is fighting an existential war that it did not ask for against an adversary that unabashedly calls for its destruction. Not to mention that this adversary is still holding over 130 hostages. Israel is told by its "greatest ally" that it will not be granted the weapons in this just cause. How can these actions be reconciled with the rhetoric of remembering October 7? While there can be different theories on disconnect, the words of Dara Horn ring accurate as for too many, Holocaust remembrance means feeling sad for the Jews. However, helping Israel defend itself with capabilities to bolster its defenses makes it equivocate. As a community of faith, we are reminded of the words from the Mishna, עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם. This is translated as (In the End of Days), upon whom should we rely? Only upon our Father in Heaven. The silver lining to all this upheaval is the benefit of gaining clarity. For years, many have thought the secret to the military strength in Israel was due to its reliance on its "best friend" or commitments that were "ironclad." The auspicious times we find ourselves in are an opportunity to turn again to the true Guardian of Israel, who can deliver us salvation. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 3, 2024

Shattered False God

Many false gods have been shattered since October 7. Sometimes, we find ourselves stunned when these false gods disintegrate before our eyes, and sometimes, I wonder if we should even be surprised. The latest false god to hit the dust has been the institutions of higher education, including the universities in the vaunted Ivy League group. The disconnect between its stated purpose and mission and the reality on the ground is vast and pathetic. For example, the Mission Statement of Brown University (one of the eight Ivy League schools)" is to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation." The reality at Brown University is quite the opposite. In a capitulation to the bullying protests and threats in favor of Hamas, Brown University became the first university to consider divesting from Israel officially. It will convene a vote if it should formally divest from Israel. The decision was celebrated by the Pro Hamas coalition of students and others who hailed this decision as a "great victory." The charged atmosphere has resulted in Jewish students being concerned for their physical safety. There are too many schools to mention that have become a cesspool of hatred and bigotry. (Of course, other schools, especially in Florida, are not kowtowing to the bullying tactics of agitators, but they appear to be the outliers.) There is a widespread custom to study Pirkei Avos, the foundational text of Jewish Ethics, on Shabbos afternoon in the weeks following Pesach. The first Mishna begins with a rather bizarre introduction, stating that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted the teachings to Yehoshua, which started the transmission of sacred Jewish belief. The famous sage from the fifteenth century, Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, wrote this introduction in Pirkei Avos, which is necessary to teach us that our ethics and values emanate from the original transmission of the Torah at Sinai. The Oxford Dictionary defines wisdom "as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment." The notion of someone acquiring wisdom at any of these institutions of higher education seems remote. It may be an opportune time to re-acquaint ourselves with the ancient wisdom of Pirkei Avos. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, April 19, 2024

Looking at an Extraordinary Night with Multiple Dimensional Lens

With so much noise and distractions, it's easy not to reflect or even quickly forget the extraordinary event of the major Iranian attack on Israel. The attack involved more than 120 ballistic missiles, 170 drones, and more than 30 cruise missiles, with the launches also coming from Iraq and Yemen. I am not sure most of us, including myself, can comprehend the potential damage to lives this attack could have incurred. I saw the photo of the missile that Israel received from the Dead Sea, and it was nothing short of astounding. According to the IDF, the Emad missile had an estimated 1,100-lb warhead. Only the missile's fuel tank was recovered, as the warhead and engine were destroyed during its interception by the long-range Arrow air defense system. The missile's fuel tank remains — 36 feet long and is just 70 percent of the entire projectile. The massive missile, one of 120 ballistic missiles fired at Israel, was found on Sunday morning floating in the Dead Sea. It had flown more than 1,500 kilometers from Iran to Israel in around 12 minutes. Just trying to imagine this missile slamming into a major population center is too horrific to contemplate. The missile defense system that Israel deployed with some help from others far exceeded expectations with over a 99% success rate. My understanding is that there should be a 90% rate of interception. That would mean one could have anticipated about 30 missiles to penetrate Israeli territory and cause catastrophic damages. The stated reason that did not occur is the superiority of the Israel missile defense program. That is, of course, true, and as a community of faith, we understand that this situation is not simply to be understood with a one-dimensional lens. It must be viewed with a multiple-dimensional lens that includes a spiritual lens and understands the hand of God in the background. King David states in Tehilim/Psalms 127, "unless God watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain." According to Google Trends, the fifth most searched for term among Israelis on the night of the attack was Tehilim. There may have been millions of Jews reaching out to our Father in Heaven at the time of the attack. Anyone who is skeptical of the hand of God might dismiss this as a coincidence. As Pesach approaches and we retell our story again, we can't escape the conclusion in the long game of history: the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, April 12, 2024

Thoughts on the Eclipse

Millions of people dropped everything this week to view the solar eclipse phenomenon. Some even traveled thousands of miles to be in the region where one can view the total eclipse. A total solar eclipse, when the moon totally blocks the sun, results in temporary darkness for up to five minutes in spots along the path of totality. The solar eclipse generated much discussion in Jewish Thought and lore about whether the eclipse may, in fact, be a bad omen for the world. A respected and venerated scholar, no less than the famous Rashi, stated, “I have not heard a reason for this.” If Rashi can profess he is “not in the know” about the connection between an eclipse and being a bad omen for the world, then I am comfortable not being “in the know.” I want to offer an interesting perspective by another famous sage, the Ramban or the Nachmanides. He writes that, unlike the popular perception, “everything is a miracle because nature does not act independent of G-d. What we call nature is nothing more than what we are accustomed to and do not consider it to be a manifestation of G-d’s controlling hand, because generally, He prefers to govern the world in a manner that appears to be normal.” From the marvel of the intricacies of the human eye to a baby being delivered into the world to the sun rising every morning, these are all miracles that we tend not to appreciate because of their frequency. We tend only to notice the miracle when it is lacking, such as when a person is ill or another misfortune occurs. It’s important to reorient ourselves on a regular basis and recognize the amazing miracles that are unfolding in front of us all the time. It’s a tragedy when we become so desensitized that we lose appreciation for all the gifts and blessings in our daily lives. Reorienting ourselves to view life with this perspective should doubly apply during difficult times in the world, as we are experiencing at the moment. As much as the eclipse was incredible to experience, I hope it can also be a gateway for us all to be more cognizant of all the miracles that are bestowed upon us. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, April 5, 2024

Double Standard?

Amid the fog of a brutal war, there was a military attack on aid workers working to bring assistance to civilians. The military mistook these civilians for terrorists, and their lives came to an abrupt end. The attack took place in Afghanistan on August 29, 2022, and the forces that committed this tragic mistake were the United States Military. The targeted victim was 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi, who died with nine members of his family, including seven children, when a missile from a US Air Force Reaper hit his family and struck his car as he arrived home from work in a residential neighborhood of Kabul. The United States most senior General, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, initially called the attack a "righteous strike." Later, the General acknowledged the action as a "horrible tragedy of war." Unless I missed it, I don't recall the President ordering fundamental changes in the way its forces allow aid workers to reach innocent civilians trapped in wartime. It seemed to be understood that although tragic, this attack was not a reflection of the moral standing of America or its values. The grace accorded to America after this incident was not offered to Israel after a tragic mistake in which Israel killed seven members of the World Central Kitchen in Gaza. The attention given to this story is nothing short of remarkable. The celebrity chef who runs the aid organization is reportedly putting pressure on Washington to change its policy of support to Israel. It's hard to digest the hypocrisy in watching the President and his most senior advisers publicly upbraid its supposedly greatest ally, Israel, in a strikingly similar incident. The outrage was communicated in a public manner, and America made clear to Israel that unless it fundamentally changes how it fights an existential war against an enemy committed to destruction, it will withhold vital military assistance. What is good for the goose is obviously not good for the gander. In the wars that followed 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States killed over 400,000 civilians and displaced over 38 million people. The number of civilians killed in these wars was actually higher than military fighters. (These figures are from a comprehensive report conducted by Brown University.) I don't recall America remotely having the sensitivity to civilian lives in the wars it waged to the sensitivity it demands Israel accord the civilians in Rafah. Meanwhile, the most righteous cause that many have embraced is the "Free Palestine" movement. These enlightened people preach to the world that the root cause of the conflict is the lack of a state to the oppressed Palestinians. One can reasonably ask why the Tibetans and Kurds who have aspirations for a state are not accorded the same seriousness for their legitimate desires of statehood from America and its allies. It's hard to escape the conclusion that all the outrage associated with the plight of the civilians and aid workers in Gaza is for one simple reason. The entity, in this case, embroiled in the conflict is Israel. The selective outrage is once again directed at Israel from countries that would never think that these standards should apply to themselves. If there is a silver lining to the unfolding series of events, it is that we are getting clarity on who our friends are and, more importantly, an opportunity to reflect on our status as Jews in the modern world. It would be a worthwhile exercise of personal reflection to contemplate our people's mission and destiny and the role that the ultimate Guardian of Israel plays in the saga that continues to unfold. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, March 29, 2024

Rest in Peace, Joe!

It’s hard to dismiss the ominous feelings of the end of an era with the passing of Joe Lieberman. The former senator from Connecticut was not only a patriotic American but a stalwart ally of Israel and a proud and observant Jew. As recently as last week, he penned an op-ed in the WSJ to denounce his former colleague who now carries the title of Senate Majority Leader. Lieberman wrote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Thursday crossed a political red line that had never before been breached by a leader of his stature and never should be again. That makes his (Schumer) equivocation a particularly troubling and disappointing sign that the Democratic Party is catering to members and voters who are hostile to the Jewish state. Senator Lieberman also carries the distinction of being the only Jew ever nominated to the ticket of a major presidential candidate with his nomination by Al Gore to be his running mate. He famously kept his Shabbos observance while campaigning for the vice presidency. Joe had the unique ability to take what he did very seriously but not himself too seriously. I remember him speaking at an event in Jacksonville a few years ago. He recalled the morning after Al Gore had conceded the race to George W. Bush, which finally brought the 2000 election to a conclusion. Joe was having his morning coffee when his wife Hadassah entered the kitchen and quipped, “Joe, in this house, you will always be vice president.” I think perhaps his greatest legacy was in being a role model to millions of Jewish Americans that you can pursue your highest professional ambitions without needing to compromise on your Judaism. For years, he walked several miles from the Senate to his apartment on Friday nights to avoid violating Shabbos. He also wrote a book about Shabbos called “The Gift of Rest.” The prominent United States Senator summed up his Jewish Identity this way. “My Jewish faith is central to my life. I was raised in a religiously observant family. Given to me by my parents and formed by my rabbis, my faith has provided me with a foundation, an order, and a sense of purpose in my life. It has much to do with the way I strive to navigate in a constructive way though every day, both personally and professionally, in ways that are large and small.” Rest in Peace, Joe! Your legacy and life will not be forgotten. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Playbook of Mordechai and Esther

As we get ready to celebrate Purim this year, we cannot ignore the difficulties the Jewish People have experienced over the last several months. A saying that comes to mind reminds me of the times we live in. The saying is, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The baseball sage Yogi Berra put it this way, "it's deja vu all over again." I think of this as we read the the Megila once again. I always found the dialogue between Mordechai and Esther as to how to effectively rescind the decree of the proposal to exterminate the Jews so fascinating. Mordechai pleads with Esther to use her influence with the King to intercede on behalf of the Jews. Esther responds that Mordecai should use his influence with the Jews to gather for prayer and fasting. Ultimately, they followed each other's advice and while Esther lobbied the King for a positive outcome, Mordechai was quarterbacking the spiritual response. Haman and Hamas have similar ideologies in regard to their genocidal aspirations. As with Haman, many in the world would be more than fine if Hamas would achieve their objectives. The anti-Israel rhetoric has been finding itself in more mainstream arenas over the last few months. Many of us have been afraid and shocked about the turn of events. It's essential that we do not succumb to despair but rather be inspired by Esther and Mordechai to do what we can to improve our lot. The Esther approach is to engage in diplomacy. The other side has been very effective in its PR against Israel and the Jewish People. There has been a sad joke about the rediscovered zeal to establish the "two-state solution." Many in Israel refer to the "two states solution" as Michigan and Nevada. That is, the cooling of American support to Israel is in response to the administration's fear of losing those two states in the upcoming presidential election. Especially in today's political climate, it's important to let our elected officials know where we stand on the most important issues to us. The potential military aid on the table for Israel is just a critical example of how diplomacy can make a difference if Israel has what it needs to defeat its neighbor with genocidal ambitions. The Mordecai approach of engagement with a spiritual response cannot be overlooked. Yesterday, on the Fast of Esther, there was a global declaration of the Shema led at the Kotel. The heartfelt prayers that have been offered up by Jews around the globe, especially from people who have been estranged from their faith, have been very inspirational. As we observe Purim this year with a heavy heart, we pray that the One who answered Mordechai and Esther in Shushan may also answer us." Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

People Love Dead Jews

People Love Dead Jews. Dara Horn authored this book with this provocative title. Society is fascinated with the death of Jews but cares lit...