Friday, March 29, 2019

Reflections from the AIPAC Conference

It was with great excitement and trepidation that I traveled to Washington D.C. this week for the AIPAC Policy Conference. I had the honor of leading our shul delegation of what was my sixth consecutive year participating in this significant conference. We had the opportunity to hear first hand from the highest ranking officials in the country about the importance of the United States Israel alliance. It was refreshing that in an era of increasing of hyper-partisanship, the support for Israel remains a bipartisan concern overwhelmingly. That reminded us in these remarks delivered by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

I've traveled with over 150 of my fellow Democratic members of Congress to meet with those that live under the constant threat of terror. And yes, we've met with the bipartisan Republican delegation in Israel to let them know that it is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it is an American issue.

This August I will lead what I expect to be the largest delegation ever, probably more than 30 Democratic members of Congress including many freshmen. By the way, there are 62 freshman Democrats -- you hear me? Sixty-two, not three.
Yes, we stand with Israel because we stand for America's security.

Yes, we stand with Israel because we stand for freedom.

Yes, we stand with Israel because we reject bigotry and prejudice.

Yes, we stand with Israel because we abhor the violence directed throughout the millennia at our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Yes, we stand with Israel because we respect their courage, their resilience, their refusal to be forced out of the land of their ancestors.

Yes, we stand with Israel because we are loyal Americans -- patriots who believe it is an American interest that Israel remains a strong free and supported place of refuge from the haters of the world.

Yes, we stand with Israel.
It was invigorating to hear these remarks especially at a time when necessary support of Israel is being reexamined in the halls of Congress. However, it was also chilling to listen to the words of Joan Ryan a British MP who just resigned from the Labor Party over increasing anti zionism and anti-Semitism. She made it clear about why she traveled across the pond to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference. “I am here to remind you how quickly things can change. To remind you that we must stay on guard and to remind you we must stand our ground.
“We must condemn antisemitism and anti-Zionism unequivocally wherever we find it, whenever we find it.”
Ryan noted that she and several other colleagues who walked away from the Labour Party would “never have believed three years ago how the organization was now riddled with antisemitism.”
It was a stark reminder of despite the strong support that Israel enjoys both in the White House and Congress, things can change rather quickly. Let us always remain vigilant for this cause. The next AIPAC Policy Conference is March 1-3, 2020. Please circle your calendars now. I would love for you to join me next year.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Smile Because It Happened

Purim 2019 at Etz Chaim Synagogue. Put it in the books. What a fantastic day it was! As I look back fondly at what our amazing community and shul accomplished over this great day, I am humbled and honored to be the Rabbi of such an amazing kehilla. The four mitzvos of the day were performed in such a compelling way by one and all.


Megila reading This year we were privileged to host SEVEN MEGILA READINGS. In addition to the two readings in the evening, we had two minyanim on Purim morning for the first time. There were two readings in the afternoon as well. We were honored to host the Torah Academy Megila Reading for children and families. Special thanks to Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Kaiser, and Rabbi Rabinowitz for reading the Megila to the community.

Mishloach Manos- Our local NCSY chapter led by its director Joey Hamaoui organized over 200 beautiful Moshloach Manos packages to be delivered around the community. Sixteen different volunteers delivered the mishloach manos on 18 different routes. This program was a fundraiser for our local youth group, and as we heard from Joey, this directly funds all the amazing outreach efforts that NCSY and JSU do locally. This coming year, our JSU will have regular programs in six prominent local public and private schools. All of the funding of these and other teen outreach such as sending kids to NCSY summer programs to Israel come for our Purim fundraiser. This year our campaign B’H raised $16,000! Yasher Koach to Joey Hamaoui and his entire team for a job well done!!


Matanaos L’evyonim- This year our community stepped up to assist those families in dire need of funds for the most necessities such as food, rent, and utilities. I collected over $2400 over Purim for this cause. It’s hard to describe the look in the eyes of the people that I distributed the funds. They were so appreciative of everyone's generosity and extending a warm had to them.

Purim Seuda- Over 200 people attended our annual Purim Seuda. The annual gathering was an event to remember as Beth Beyer, and her crew volunteered their time to cook a delicious meal for the community. Our amazing youth director, Gitty Cohen, organized an excellent set of activities for kids of all ages to enjoy. Rabbi Hauptman and Benjay Kempner kept going on the stage for hours, and everyone enjoyed their music. Special thanks to the hard work of the dedicated Etz Chaim Staff including Jesus, Terri and of course Rabbi Feigenbaum for all their dedication. As Purim fades into my memory bank, I can't help but think of something I learned from the wise Dr. Seuss, “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”


Friday, March 8, 2019

A Visit to the Citadel of Torah

It was with great excitement this week that I led our first ever Etz Chaim Synagogue trip to the largest yeshiva in the United States. We made the pilgrimage up to Lakewood, New Jersey to visit the famed Beth Midrash Govoha. While Lakewood may not be considered a large metropolitan area, in terms of Torah study and scholarship its the citadel that punches far above its weight. There are several thousand students that occupy the Beis Midrash that span several locations and devote themselves to serious Torah study. Our group was privileged to study in Beis Midrash that had over seven hundred students. The sound of the Torah being analyzed in that room was electric, and the energy was palpable. The members of our group got to be partnered with faculty members of the yeshiva and began to pore over the Talmudic and Halachic texts for two days. We studied the laws of interest and its wide variety of modern-day applications in the workplace. As part of our two-day experience, we got to meet some of the leadership of the yeshiva including two of the Roshei Yeshiva who took time out of their busy schedules to meet us.

Our Rabbis have taught that while there a wide variety of Mitzvos that allows one to connect with G-d in this world, there is one medium that is unmatched in terms of its ability to connect with G-d in this world. That medium is the study of Torah. That is what it means when we recite in our morning prayers” the Study of Torah is equivalent to all the Mitzvos.” With all the busyness in life, we don’t get to spend enough time with this precious gift of Torah study. For two days, I was privileged to lead a group of men that wanted to connect to this unmatched spiritual energy in the arena of this citadel of Torah. It was an experience that left us with our hearts and souls filled with inner satisfaction and a sense of purpose. I sincerely hope that more people from Jacksonville will have an opportunity to have that experience next year.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Let's Choose Wisely

When Adar Arrives, Increase Your Joy. The sages have taught us this timeless mitzvah over the last few millennia. It sounds like a pretty simple mitzvah to perform. Just be happy and joyous. As with most meaningful things in life, internalizing happiness and joy in life can be quite challenging. Most people are mistaken to think that happiness is reserved for the folks with no problems and stress in life. In fact, the people that are happy and grateful must choose to be of that, and people that are miserable must choose to internalize the misery. This is not to discount the genuine hardship and sometimes tragic events that individuals encounter but whether someone will be in a state of perpetual happiness or misery is their choice. I have been speaking for a while about the need to be grateful and how that is a catalyst to joy. In the same vein, I came across an article “Six Simple Strategies for Achieving Misery” by Dr. Sol Herzig which articulates this well. These are his thoughts:

1. Cling to Entitlement: Always feel entitled, that life owes you, that you were born to receive. Always look for the injustice in others having something that you do not, and do not agree to any concession or compromise.

2. It’s all personal: Always assume that everything was done with evil intentions. Always try to find malicious intent and seize every opportunity to see it as conclusive proof that you do not matter to others.



3. Focus on Problems: Keep careful track of all your problems and continually review them. Nurture the attitude that you can’t move on to anything unless everything is resolved first.

4. Magnify Everything: Do not cheat yourself out of misery by maintaining perspective. Try to cultivate negative thinking in respect to every mistake or mishap and magnify it, without allowing for regret or forgiveness.

5. Expect Catastrophe: It’s important to remember that terrible, horrible things might happen any minute, and to let your imagination run wild. Diseases, disasters, terror attacks – don’t let anything surprise you. Be alert.

6. Just say “No thanks” to gratitude: Take everything you’ve received in life as a given, without thanking those who caused it. Try to focus on what you don’t have rather than what you do have.

There’s a powerful idiom from the Talmud: From the negative, the positive can be implied. The choice to be happy or miserable belongs to every one of us. Let’s choose wisely.

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