Friday, November 10, 2023

Serenity Prayer with a Jewish Flavor

The recent crisis has triggered many different emotions within us, including fear, depression, anxiety, confusion, hope, optimism, dread, and Jewish pride, among other emotions. Many of us want to help if not outright, solve the situation. If you are not a combat soldier for the IDF fighting inside Gaza, there are still things you can do to play a constructive role. Some things are beyond our control, and we must rely on G-d for a good outcome. The vexing question for us is what falls into the former category and what is part of the latter. In times such as these, I reflect on the serenity prayer. The source or author of this prayer is subject to a debate, but its words definitely resonate. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Rabbi Shaul Alter, the Rosh Yeshiva of Gur in Israel, visited Boca Raton Synagogue this week and shared a modified version of the Serenity Prayer with a more traditional flavor. God give me the strength to do what you demand of me and what you ask of me in the current situation. And give me the strength to trusting you when it comes to matters that are not in my hands and that I cannot change. Give me the wisdom to differentiate in times of confusion, fog, and doubt to know which areas I need to act upon and which areas need to trust in you. While prayer and faith are fundamental to Judaism, we are sometimes called upon to action. Everyone needs to assess for themselves their capacity for action. For some, it is traveling to Washington to participate in the mass rally to stand for Israel. For others, it strengthens their Torah Study and time spent on meaningful prayer. There are numerous actionable items that can practically make a difference, as I detailed in our weekly Israel Crisis Update. For that reason, I made the decision to travel to Israel for eight days this coming week. I plan on visiting with Israeli soldiers and displaced residents as an expression of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in our homeland. I also plan on attending the Yarchei Kallah learning program in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I will not be there as an individual but rather as a representative of our community who will be conveying messages of love, brotherhood, and unity from our community in Jacksonville. One bright spot of this crisis has been the renaissance of the unified Jewish spirit that binds us all together yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Monday, November 6, 2023

Time to Make Kiddush

With the steady news drip coming over from Israel, there was a damning statement coming from the FBI director that deserves attention. Christopher Wray, the FBI National Director, stated, “In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group (Jewish Americans) that represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they account for something like 60% of all hate crimes,” Wray said of the Jewish American population. He added that this is not a time for panic but rather for vigilance especially as the war in Israel intensifies. There are too many examples to note of active Jew hatred becoming less isolated and more prominent in nearly all arenas of society. (It’s also important to note that we have many friends and allies here that have shown us support in these challenging times.) All things considered, the antisemitism in the United States is mild compared to most countries. Homes in Paris and Berlin were defaced with paintings of Jewish stars on the homes of Jews. This was of course reminiscent of a much darker time in our history when this occurred in Germany. From an airport in Dagestan to demonstrations in Western Europe to people ripping down posters of innocent hostages abducted by Hamas, it feels like the world has once again turned on us. I have spoken to many community members, and I hear the fear and anxiety in their voices. I would like to suggest sharing a perspective about utilizing this crisis as an opportunity for growth. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, a sage from the 18th century in Lithuania, famously stated, “If the Jew does not make kiddush, the non-Jew will make havdalah.” Translation: A Jew must embrace his identity that he has a greater responsibility in this world to spread Godliness and holiness. The reality is that Jews are different and distinct from other nations. It is not because we believe in racial superiority, but as we accepted the Torah from God, we have a higher mission and greater responsibilities. While all of humanity must keep the basic Noahide Laws, the Jewish Nation must uphold all of the Mitzvos as part of our eternal covenant. For centuries, many Jews have deluded themselves into thinking there is no difference in being Jewish. Many people have tried to solve the problem of anti-Semitism by various approaches. In the 19th century in Germany, some championed actively assimilating into Western Society by removing any reference to returning to Zion and Jerusalem. The mantra sadly became “ Berlin is our Jerusalem.” Others thought that the anti-Semitism would be solved if we created our own state. The rationale was that we are hated because we are viewed as nomads in a foreign land. If only we had our own independent state we would no longer be hated. The sad irony is that about a hundred years later, the number one reason for anti-Semitism is the reality that we have an independent Jewish State. It’s time for us to embrace the reality that, yes, we are different and have more responsibilities in this world. If we continue to delude ourselves that we are no different than everyone else, we will continue to be reminded by our adversaries that we are different. The Sage from Volozhin succinctly framed this point in history for our generation. We can continue to let the non-Jews make havdallah, or we can make kiddush. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...