Friday, May 28, 2021

Gratitude for the Greatest Sacrifice

America begins its unofficial start to the summer with the arrival of Memorial Day weekend. People will be flocking to the beach, firing up the grill for barbeques, and shopping for mattress sales. It's important to pause and reflect on what this day is actually about. Memorial Day is not just a day off of work or school. It is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice and died in the performance of their military duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  As Jews living in the United States, I believe it is imperative for us to be grateful for the ultimate sacrifice that thousands of members of the U.S. Armed made during the Second World War. It will be 77 years this week, since June 6, 1944, when the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazis. There is an argument to be made that these heroic individuals made the greatest sacrifice in the history of the world. On those few days, nearly 10,000 soldiers were killed. The Allied casualties were comprised of American, British, and Canadian soldiers. Those brave men knew they were going to near-certain death but did so because that was the only way to stop the Nazi conquest from spreading. Although there were high casualties initially, eventually, the Allies broke the Nazi stronghold, and the tide of the war shifted toward the eventual defeat of the Nazis. It's hard to imagine now, but had the Allied Forces not intervened and defeated the Nazis, it would have most likely meant defeat of the Jewish People as we know it. Hitler made no secret about it. He had wanted the world to be Judenrein. The only thing standing in the way of his global ambitions from being carried out were the Allied Forces fighting back with of course, the help of G-d. The fact that the Jewish people survived not only to live another day, but to rebuild a modern Jewish State in their ancient homeland and find a benevolent refuge in America, could only have happened because of those Allied soldiers' great sacrifice. Today in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, there are 9,387 heroes laid to rest in the Normandy American Cemetery. Among them, 149 Jewish headstones are marked with a Star of David. Regardless of which religious symbol occupies the soil, the righteousness of the soldiers that lie on that sacred ground will never be forgotten for the rest of history.  On several of my trips to Washington, I have found myself pulled to the World War Two Memorial in our nation's capital. There is a large inscription with the following words from President Harry S Truman: OUR DEBT TO THE HEROIC MEN AND VALIANT WOMEN IN THE SERVICE OF OUR COUNTRY CAN NEVER BE REPAID. THEY HAVE EARNED OUR UNDYING GRATITUDE. AMERICA WILL NEVER FORGET THEIR SACRIFICES. In an age when sacrifice and commitment have evolved into newer understandings, let us pause and reflect with tremendous Hakaras Hatov toward those without whom we would not have lived to see a better day.  May their memory be a blessing. יהי זכרם ברוך Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 21, 2021

Reflections on a Ceased Fire

As a tenuous ceasefire takes hold in Israel, I think it is imperative to reflect on the situation we find ourselves in and not pretend that all is ok because a ceasefire was announced. While there are many layers to this situation, not least the security of Israel and the continued threats to its existence, I would like to unpack a few factors that should weigh heavily on the collective mind of the American Jewish Community.  It's essential to recognize that 2021 is not the same as 2014 and definitely not 2009 regarding how America perceives Israel and its neighbors. The support of Israel by the United States Congress used to be a non-issue and a strong basis of bi-partisan support. Unfortunately, there appear to be cracks in the wall of support. There are presently a small but growing and influential number of Members of Congress who are not only indifferent to Israel's predicament but also openly hostile to its well-being. It was quite alarming that at the height of recent hostilities, when Israel was facing a barrage of thousands of rockets to its civilians, there was a measure introduced in Congress to block Israel from securing much needed funding for its defense. Equally disturbing was the backlash from the Congressional leadership on AIPAC for daring to criticize a Member of Congress who essentially was serving as the spokesperson for Hamas on Capitol Hill. The tenor and conversation have changed in Washington, and it should concern everyone no matter what your preferred political party is. Secondly, it is deeply worrisome about the violence directed at Jews throughout America. As mobs of anti-Israel people demonstrated against Israel, it quickly spread to violence in several cities, including New York and Los Angeles. Patrons of kosher restaurants were attacked and Jews were verbally and physically assaulted in several communities. For anyone that thinks that the animosity towards Israel and the Jewish People is limited to the Middle East, this was a rude awakening.  Finally, it was dispiriting to see the apathy to Israel from a growing number of people in the American Jewish Community. As we become more assimilated, it is no surprise to see increased disengagement and indifference towards the Jewish State. This week's widely read article in the NY Times highlighted the estrangement of many younger American Jews towards Israel. It quoted a 26-year-old Jewish woman who volunteers in Boston with IfNotNow, a network of Jewish activists who want to end Jewish American support for Israel, has found protesting for the Palestinian cause to be its own form of religious observance. Unfortunately, these groups can no longer be dismissed as fringe and irrelevant as their voices are growing stronger, and of course, they embolden our adversaries.   I heard once from a rabbinic colleague that the role of rabbi should sometimes be to comfort the afflicted and sometimes to afflict the comforted. I take no pleasure in choosing the latter this week. If recent events are not a wake-up call for us to strengthen our connection to G-d, the Land of Israel, and our fellow Jews, I am unsure what can be. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 14, 2021

Israel in Crisis

The Land of Israel has once again become ground zero on the world stage. In just four days, Hamas has rained down nearly 2,000 rockets into Israel. The vaunted Iron Dome has struggled to keep up with the barrage of missiles as the terror organizations attempt to overwhelm the defense capabilities and inflict maximum casualties on the Jewish State. It's essential to understand what the agenda of the terror organizations are and why they deliberately are putting their own citizens in harm's way to advance their nefarious plan. It's not because of a property dispute between Jews and Arabs in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. It's not because of the infringement of the right to worship for any Muslims on Temple Mount. Ironically, according to secular Israeli law, although Jews may enter Temple Mount with special permission, we are forbidden to pray on Temple Mount. There have been stories of Jews getting arrested by Israeli police on Temple Mount for merely reciting a chapter of Tehilim/Psalms. What than is the reason of all this violence that these Palestinian terror organizations have unleashed? It's a very simple yet uncomfortable truth. They are declaring war against the very notion of a Jewish State in its ancient homeland. They are declaring to the world that the Jewish people have no right to be in their homeland. Over the years, they have become more sophisticated and graduated from throwing stones to shooting missiles for hundreds of kilometers into Israel. The rejection of the existence of Israel is what this is about and what they are fighting for. Israel, of course, recognizes the battle that it faces and its security forces are working around the clock to ensure its citizens remain secure. It's important to remember that although we may be geographically distant, we can do much to assist in this time of crisis. Our Rabbis have taught about the importance of turning to prayer in times of distress. It behooves all of us to take a few extra moments out of our day and daven for our brethren in the Land of Israel. It is imperative to pray on behalf of the members of the Israel Defense Forces who put themselves in harm's way to protect us all. We should not delude ourselves into the false sense of security over here and assume that only the Jews in Israel are in danger. There is Jewish blood being spilled all over, and we are in desperate need of the Guardian of Israel to deliver salvation. It's time to move past internal divisions and turn our hearts to our Father in Heaven. The world is in turmoil. The call has been put out. What else are we waiting for? Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 7, 2021

Struggling with Faith

Keeping the faith these days is not an easy thing. It was heart-wrenching to observe the funeral of the 45 victims of the Miron tragedy. I found myself watching a couple of the funerals on the live stream this past Sunday. There was a eulogy given by a father who flew in from the United States to Israel in order to bury his 19-year-old son. The searing pain that one could feel from the father's voice was palpable and vivid. This scene played itself out in funeral after funeral as young parents bid goodbye to their young children who they never see again on this earth. There are many angles of pain and hurt to this story, and it's a challenge to our faith when we witness the holy and the pure taken from us while visiting a sacred site. How do we begin to make sense of this? This is particularly troublesome for a community of faith that struggles to reconcile a just and benevolent G-d with the cruel and painful reality that we are confronted with now.  If we are having our doubts about the hand of G-d in our lives, then we are in good company. The Haftorah of this Parsha Behar (that is not read this week since we read the Haftorah of the second Parsha of Bechukosai) retells a fascinating story about the prophet Jeremiah. At the onset of the Babylonian invasion of ancient Israel that culminated with the catastrophic destruction of the First Temple, Jeremiah receives a prophecy that seemed extremely bizarre. He was told by G-d to purchase a piece of land from a relative and then put the documents that recorded the sale in earthenware vessels so that they may be preserved for many days. He then proceeds to execute this transaction faithfully and not only purchases the property but conceals the documents in a carefully hidden manner. Jeremiah is very troubled by the directive to buy the land in such a painful and tragic time. Here the spiritual leader of the Jewish people who wanted to comfort his flock in their time of peril was busy with a real estate transaction! He began to question G-d about the timing of the need to purchase the land. The prophet appears at his wit's end with this directive, which coincided with the impending invasion of Israel. He even neglects to address G-d as הנורא or the Awesome One. The Talmud provided the necessary commentary on this as Jeremiah felt that G-d's awesomeness was absent. The Haftorah concludes ominously as G-d says that nothing is hidden from Him. The Rabbis have taught that G-d meant to say that Jeremiah was only looking at the present moment, and indeed, the timing to purchase the real estate seemed odd. On the other hand, the infinite and eternal G-d was planning the return of the Jewish People to Zion and Jerusalem with the purchase of the property.  The notion of being in a state of Hester Panim or G-d's concealed face is troubling because we can't see the chessboard of life displayed in a manner that makes sense. While we do not have any answers to the tragedy on Miron, it would be worthwhile to recall the lesson Jeremiah purchasing the plot of land as we look for ways to strengthen our faith.

Servant Leadership

Let's call a spade a spade. The narrative of this week's Parsha is utterly depressing. The (arguably) most exceptional Jewish leader...