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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Best Supporting Actor

The Mishkan was the dwelling place for G-d in this world. If G-d could have a house here on earth the Mishkan is what it would look like. The Torah goes to great lengths to describe to the Jewish people exactly how the Mishkan should be built and how it should look. This is a sort of Jewish Feng Shui: It is a lesson in how to make G-d belong in our homes and in our lives. If we can understand the architecture of the Mishkan we can understand something about how G-d relates to this world and to us.

The supporting beams of the Mishkan were a series of very large pillars, called Krashim. The Torah describes the placement of the Krashim in the very human terms of “Isha El Achosa” like sisters standing beside on another.

In the words of the Baal Shem Tov: The world is a Mishkan and we are it’s Krashim. Just as the tapestries of the Mishkan were dependent on the Krashim to form an actual structure, G-d leaves it to us to make the world into a viable and G-dly space. Just as the Krashim gave shape to the Mishkan, we are enjoined to give shape to this world and turn it into a holy structure – a place where G-d can dwell.

Often, great people are also great nonconformists. They have courage and can beat to their own drums; they will become truly great if they refuse to forget their roles as supporting actors.

We are here in this world as ambassadors of G-d. We should represent G-d in everything that we do and to everyone that we meet. We can make this world more G-dly with every nice word that we say and with every moment that we keep our mouths shut. If we can do this then we are truly Krashim. We can be pillars of the world; we can hold the whole world in our hands (and that sure beats a funny looking statue).

Based on Degel Machane Efraim. Thanks to Mr. H. Broncher of Har Nof for introducing me to this vort and to the Degel on Parshas Terumah 5759.

Posted on 02/24 at 05:08 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

On Heathens (and stories)

All of the waters in the entire world split. A few years later there was a tremendous earthquake accompanied by thunder and lightening and a prolonged blast. Scared that this was the beginning of a large scale Tsunami, All of the leaders and kings ran to their local “prophet” Bilaam. At the meeting Paroh and the other kings expressed concern that there would be another Flood. Yisro was also at the meeting because he was the priest of Midyan. Bilaam just laughed at them and explained that the commotion was because Hashem was giving the Torah to the Jewish people. The kings said “OK, that’s all it is” and went home. Only Yisro took a moment to consider that maybe if Hashem and the Torah could make the entire world shake, he should take it seriously. Like the boy who put on his sock, Yisro said to himself: “I think there’s something in it”.

Yisro arrived at the Machane Yisroel with Moshe’s wife and sons, Gershom and Eliezer reuniting the family in the wilderness. Interestingly, the Jews were then gathered at Har HaElokim - exactly the same spot where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the Burning Bush.

Initially, Yisro was barred entry into the camps. He shot arrows into the camp with messages. The first one said: “I am Your Father-in-law Yisro, I have come to you’, the second ‘…and your wife’, and the third ‘…and her two children are with her”.

Moshe decided to come out personally and greet Yisro. Of course, when Moshe went out to greet him, he was joined by Aharon and Nadav and Avihu and all of the Jewish people.  Moshe kissed and greeted his FIL and invited him into his tent where he told him the stories of the past few months in order to inspire him and bring him closer to Hashem. The Torah describes Yisro’s reaction with the word ‘Vayichad’, which means both happy and pained.

Yisro was so impressed and astounded that he became Jewish. Keep in mind that up until now Yisro had been a priest of many different idolatrous cults and had not been very nice to Moshe. Yisro insisted that Moshe’s first born son would be a pagan priest and did not even let him get a Bris! We learn from Yisro that a person must always be prepared to reevaluate and realize that they may have made a mistake. From Moshe we see that when someone seeks the truth we must give them royal respect, regardless of whether they threw you into a dungeon without food for ten years. (If they did something worse – see your Local Orthodox Rabbi).

Yisro noticed that the only Shofet/authority/advisor for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself. Concerned, Yisro forecasted ‘Navol Tivol’ - you will surely wilt.  Yisro suggested that lower judges be appointed to take care of smaller matters, and Moshe would attend to larger issues. Moshe accepted his advice after speaking with Hashem, and changed the face of Jewish leadership forever.

Yesterday, I explained a little too much to the man sitting next to me in Shul. He finally turned to me (with a smile) and said: “Rabbi! I may be a heathen, but I know the stories”.

He’s right. I don’t know very much about Heathen’s but I know that Moshe (at one point) had one for a Father-in-law. He stood to the side while his daughter’s husband started a religion and changed the world, but he finally came closer to Monotheism and G-d because he heard stories. When he came to join Moshe, they didn’t discuss philosophy and theology. They told stories.

Rav Nachman Breslover was a holy, if controversial, rebbe in the eighteenth century. For years, he tried to penetrate the souls of his Chassidim but without sufficient success. Finally he told his followers that he had a change of heart and realized that his old teachings were no enough. “And now”, he said, “I will begin to tell stories”.

My family owns one of the original collections of Rav Nachman’s stories. It reads like a fairy tale in Yiddish with princesses, spells, magic carpats, giants, treasure and far away castles. The stories contain no religious content at all, yet when the first Gerrer Rebbe came across this book he remained engrossed in its stories for one and a half hours. When he finally lifted his head, he told his shocked followers (who were waiting for him to perform a bris), I just reviewd the first section of the Kabbalistic work Eitz Chaim.

We are taught that observing a sage is greater than learning from one and that Torah in action is greater than Torah in print.

Stories are precious, and they have the ability to change a life. To quote the singular Ashleigh Brilliant: “Strange as it may seem, my life is based on a true story”.


Posted on 02/08 at 07:58 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

I Am Not a Tree

The 15th of Shvat is a very important day for every member of the vegetable kingdom. On or around this day most plants, especially those in Israel, approach their final stages of development. This day is the cut-off point for last year’s fruit and the genesis of this year’s fruit. On this day one generation of apples and oranges is on the verge of extinction while the new generation begins to take root. This could be a very meaningful day, if I was a tree.

Us people have our own New Years. New Year can be a day of judgment, a day of resolutions or a cutoff date for tax credits. We are all in the habit of marking our calendars and the day with slight departures from our daily routine. New Years are important days. They are our new beginnings and our new ends. Our lives revolve around these dates.  But when it comes to the New Year for trees, why do we care? Why do we get so excited and sing songs and munch on dried carobs? What’s the big deal?

And yet we’ve been doing this for a while. The Moroccan scholar Rabbi Yissachar Shussan records the custom of eating fruits in his work “Tikkun Yissachar” printed in 1564. And dating back to long before that, the Talmud (RH 2a) records that the deadline for many of the tithes has always been the 15th of Shvat. As a nation we have been marking this day for millennia. The only question is why.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps the very irrelevance of this day is the reason for its significance. We need to realize that while our year may begin on Rosh Hashana and end right before next Rosh Hashana, there are other years too. Ecology has its own year, and its own cycle. There is an entire saga developing every year right in our own backyards. Teachers start their year in September and groundhogs begin theirs in February. Some people plan around the Superbowl and others around Oscars. In the Parks and Forestry Department, they commence on Labor Day. Everyone’s got their own world, their own year, and their own cycle. And it’s got nothing to do with ours. On Tu B’shvat we take a moment to realize that while we aren’t very involved in the life cycle of a tree, the tree is. We don’t have to celebrate extravagantly, but we must remind ourselves that everything has its own beginning, its own climax and its own final destination. These dates and occasions may not affect us directly, but they affect others. They affect the way other people relate to us and they should affect the way we relate to other people.

Occasionally, unforeseen circumstances get in our way and stop us, or at least detain us, from accomplishing our goals.  We have all experienced this frustration many times, but we still become upset and annoyed. We blame the weather, “Mother Nature”, our spouse, children, IT guy and just about anyone who had a connection to the delay. This is not to say that it wasn’t their fault. Chances are that it was!  But we need to remember that each of them has his/her own “world” going. We each have our own jobs, friends, experiences, and deadlines.  Everybody has their plans and their feelings.  How many of us have timed our drive to work and then gotten stuck in traffic? How about that snowstorm we had a couple years ago?  It happens. It’s not tragic; it’s just my “world” merging with another. All of our worlds coexist with the worlds of everyone we know. The worlds of our family and friends, the highway department, the weather, the boss and the trees all affect us in a big way.

Tu B’shvat is the time to stop, think, remember that while G-d allows us to run our lives, it is only to an extent. He wants us to know very clearly that we do not live in a vacuum.

On Tu B’shvat we celebrate a world that we seldom think about but is happening around us every day.

N.B This article was originally written for the Norfolk Area Community Kollel in 2002. A few years later I touched it up and submitted it as essay to Norfolk State University. It was such a hit that the professor called me and accused me of plagiarizing. For interested parties, the NSU version can be found in the extended text. Please do not Plagiarize.)

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The Lifecycle of a Student

In the past I often scoffed, mocked and otherwise misunderstood devotees of the structured school year. These people, though normal in every other way, seemed overly obsessed with events and red-letter days that have little or no consequence to the world at large. In the lives of these people, September 1st, Orientation, “Back to School night”, and graduation seem to be the beginning and the end of any social, personal or medical decision they might be called upon to make.

In recent years, I have experienced a very rude awakening, or perhaps an enlightenment of sorts. Recently, I embarked on a career as a Middle school teacher, and this semester I returned to school for the first time in several years. Suddenly, it seems that I too spend every waking hour attempting to balance my life with that of the school year. August 24th and September 1st are big days. The first day back, PTA and the months of summer are suddenly significant and very meaningful. New milestones have become the sources of excitement and trepidation that shape my hours and days. My life has begun to revolve around points in time that I have, in the past, ignored and scoffed at.

As I sit immersed in my newly acquired, time-centered obsessions, I am beginning to realize that perhaps my blindness was more than just the symptoms of non-involvement in the traditional school year. Perhaps my issue is symptomatic of a more serious condition, an apathy that seems to affect the vast majority of mankind.

Everyone knows that the year begins on January 1st and ends on the next January 1st. What we often fail to realize is that there are other years too: Teachers and students start their year in September and groundhogs begin theirs in February. Some families plan around the Superbowl and others around the next episode of a favorite reality show. In the Parks and Forestry Department, Labor Day is the big day. Everyone around us has their own world, their own year, and their own unique cycle. And more often than not, it has absolutely nothing to do with ours. Even the first day of fall might be a good time to take a moment and realize that although we aren’t very involved in the life cycle of a tree - the tree is. Ecology has its own year, and its own cycle; an entire saga develops every year in our own backyards. While there may be no need to celebrate all of these milestones extravagantly or to keep them at the forefront of our minds, we would do well to remind ourselves that everything and everyone has important and diverse beginnings, peaks and goals. While many dates and occasions may not affect us directly, they do affect others. They affect the way other people relate to us and they should affect the way we relate to other people.

The lesson I have learnt through the changes of the past few years is a message of understanding and sympathy. In the future I will endeavor to spice my conversations and relationships with an added measure of understanding. A deadline, while meaningless to me, may be eating at the health and well being of my friend. The happiest moment of my child’s life could just pass me by if I do not take the time to identify my daughter’s worries, goals, and dreams. I will no longer scoff at the time-affected thoughts of others, and I can only hope that they will not scoff at mine.

Posted on 02/05 at 04:08 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bongo Without a Cause

What if one man could create an atmosphere of peace simply by setting up forty Bongo Drums on a grassy patch outside the Old City of Jerusalem?

About ten years ago, somebody tried, and he invited me to join him. He patiently explained to me that he did not represent any movement, religion or philosophy. He was not trying to pray, meditate or open up gates in heaven. He simply wanted to Bongo with the people.

At the time, I thought it was crazy to make peace without a common goal. Looking back, the Bongo People may have been right.

When our forefathers stood at the Yam Suf they did not have a common goal. Pharaoh had told his people that the Jews were helpless in the desert, and we weren’t so sure that we didn’t agree. There was water blocking our path forward, but we weren’t so sure we wanted to go forward anyway. We weren’t ready for war, and we were homesick for Egypt. The Jewish people saw the shock, the awe, and the might of G-d, but it seems that we weren’t sure why it was all happening.  Yet, we were united.

In Hebrew, the word for group is Chabura. It comes from the word Chaver, which means friend, and Chibur, which means connection. A Chabura is a beautiful thing.

There is also a sinister meaning to the word Chabura. The Torah describes a wound or a bruise as a Chabura. The linguists explain that this is because the blood gathers together below the skin in response to an injury. On some level, this too is a beautiful concept, but in the final analysis it remains a Chaburah – a wound.

I heard from Rabbi Michel Twersky that when we form alliances and unions with each other we are forming a chabura. If the entire purpose of that Chabura is as a reaction to an outside force, then that unity is tainted. The unity is not the result of an intrinsic spiritual or emotional connection; it is the result of an outside force. It is a wound.

When the Jewish people gathered together at the Yam Suf, it was not as a response to the Egyptian enemy – they weren’t sure he was an enemy. It was not even with a goal of reaching the land of Israel – they weren’t ready for that. It was just simply gathering together as “one nation under G-d” aiming to grow and become greater. The Egyptians were also unified as they chased the Jews, but Rashi describes it “With one heart and as one man” – they were of one heart and therefore they were like one Man. They joined together to take revenge. The Jewish people were the opposite: “As one man and with one heart” – we began with no cause but unity and the desire to grow. Later we became united as one heart, and only then did we receive the Torah.

Unity doesn’t begin with a Cause.

Unity begins with Unity.

Drum Roll.

Posted on 02/03 at 06:29 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

“Bottle It”

"Wouldn’t it be great if a fellow could put this stuff in a bottle and stop it up so the gas wouldn’t get away, and he could drink it whenever he wanted? – Benjamin Franklin Thomas, 1887

The sad truth is that nobody made money suggesting this to Coca Cola, but it was a smashingly sweet idea, found (of course) in the Torah.

Moshe said to the Jewish people: Right now you are on a high, you have never been closer to Hashem and the purpose of the mitzvos is clear to you. You think that the rest of your existence as Jews will be the same way. You think that you and all future generations will be able to maintain this constant connection to holiness. Let me tell you about reality. One day, you are going to have a son and he will have no idea what you are doing. He will ask “What is the big deal? Why are you doing all this hard work?” G-d will not always be as obvious as He is right now.”

How do we respond to this question? Moshe told the Jewish people: “You should say to him: This is my Korban Pesach for Hashem. We did this and Hashem punished all of the Egyptians but spared us and our homes.”

The Hagada tells us that the Torah spoke of Four Sons: Wise, Wicked, Simple, and Silent. Even a distant memory of the Hagada includes the stinging answer given to the Wicked son (“knock out his teeth and tell him “Hashem did this for me when I was in Egypt – for me and not for you. If you were there you would not have been saved”).

Why did Moshe give the wrong answer?

Perhaps Moshe’s reminder was not directed at the wicked son but at the parents themselves.

“Stop for a moment”, he told them, “and appreciate the feelings and emotions of what you are experiencing. Define them, bottle them and put them somewhere safe. One day when you are challenged you will be able to pull that memory out of your pocket and say “I remember that moment when I did the Mitzvah of Pesach. I felt closer to Hashem than you can ever imagine”.

We often experience spiritual highs. We need to save souvenirs, memories or commitments, from these highs to give us support at the times when we are low.

To paraphrase Perry Como: “Catch it, Put it in your Pocket, an’ Save it for a Rainy Day”.

Never let it fade away.

Sources: For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes it, Mark Pendergrast, Basic Books, 2000, pp 69-70; Kli Yakar, Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz , Lublin, 1602, Shemos 12:26.


Posted on 01/28 at 09:29 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Israeli Coffee

I was sitting in Little Israel the other day when we were invaded by the United States military. A huge Navy guy - clearly not Jewish - stormed in and made a direct assault on the South-Eastern sector of the store. He extracted five large tins of Elite Coffee and victoriously roared: “Best coffee in the world”.

I’ve had Elite coffee. I once forced down seven cups in a row because the first six didn’t work. I am told that even the ascetic Steipler Gaon of Bnei Berak didn’t like Elite coffee. I have never willingly chosen Elite coffee over any other brand.

Navy guys can drink two or three pots of coffee a day. They travel to ports around the world and (presumably) sample the local coffee. Some even go to the seven star Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai and sample every coffee there. On base, Navy guys can go to the commissary and buy any number of brand name and gourmet coffees at special military pricing. And yet, here was a GI getting his Joe in Little Israel with a triumphant holler and a victorious grin.

Elite does take their coffee very seriously. According to the website, drinking just one cuppa is an opportunity to “Get rejuvenated, excited, discover new worlds and even surprise yourself.” (Maybe we could figure out a way to move the main production plant to Sderot, we would have elite Navy SEALS standing in line for insertion into Gaza to defend their beloved brew. The mid-east crisis would be solved – for beans).

I looked around Little Israel Kosher Deli and Food Store and took in the Israelis, the food, the fighting and the faith and I realized that I haven’t been taking enough time to appreciate Eretz Yisroel and everything it has to offer.

Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky, of Jerusalem, went to the Kosel (Western Wall) for the first time on Shavuos 1967. He was so taken by the experience that he went back to the Kosel the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next. To the best of my knowledge he still walks or rides the bus to the Kosel each and every day. He doesn’t daven shacharis there or give a shiur; he goes to spend a few minutes close to Hashem at the holiest place on earth.

Three centuries ago, a man went to the great Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim ibn Atar because he had no money. He needed one golden napoleon each month to support his family. The Ohr Hachayim gave the man a sealed envelope and told him to place it in the Kosel. From that day on the man found, earned, or otherwise procured a golden napoleon every single month. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity, he went back to the Kosel and ripped open the envelope. The envelope contained but a simple message: “Hashem, Please give this man one golden Napoleon every month”.

Rabbi Aharon Yosef Brizel explained to me that there is a special connection to Hashem that even the holiest Jew cannot achieve unless he is standing at the Kosel. This connection is so simple that many people fail to appreciate it.

Several years ago I was asked to officiate at a funeral for a man I did not know. This man had never been married and had no immediate family at all. When I did some research, I found that the deceased had held the key and acted as caretaker and custodian at the Chevrah Tehillim Synagogue in Portsmouth for over fifty years (it is rumored that Rav Mordechai Gifter grew up in that shul). The shul has not been used in decades and I was surprised to find that very few people gave Sol credit for his devotion. They didn’t understand why he was bothering with an old shul and an ancient cemetery. People tried to sell it, merge it, give it away or knock it down. Sol wouldn’t hear of it. He fought for the shul meticulously and kept it standing and Orthodox until the day he died.

At the funeral, I told the story of Reb Yosi who was traveling through Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. It was time to pray and he searched for a peaceful place where he could pray without interruption. Passing an abandoned synagogue he entered and, amidst the dust and rubble, began to pray earnestly. As he prayed in this holy place the saintly Elijah the prophet appeared and waited patiently. (This was an abandoned building and Elijah wanted to protect Reb Yosi from harm).

As Rabbi Yosi finished his prayers he noticed Eliyahu for the first time. The prophet asked him: What did you hear as you were praying in the abandoned Synagogue? Rabbi Yosi’s answer was surprising: “I heard a heavenly voice crying out”.

Elijah explained to Reb Yosi that a heavenly voice can be heard three times a day in all unused synagogues. Only some have ears to hear it.

“Even in their desolation they remain holy”. A synagogue is more than just a convenient meeting place. The very walls of the synagogue hold history and holiness that only some of us can fathom. Three times daily G-d returns to these synagogues and remembers the Jewish people.

I related the story to Sol and Chevra Thilim, but Rav Kook explains that Reb Yosi’s Churva was none other than the Kosel, the site of the destroyed Beis Hamikdosh.

The Kosel, Jerusalem and the land of Israel call out to us each day. Only some of us have ears to hear and to appreciate.

Maxwell House in Your Cup is not The Best Part of Waking Up.  “Focus on the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life”.



Posted on 01/08 at 06:16 AM • Permalink
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Friday, December 26, 2008

Greek Culture & Rabbi Wan Knobe

When the Greek forces arrived in Jerusalem, they were not unhappy with what they found. There was a civilized culture, a very strong value system and an organized legal system in place. They further improved Israeli society by introducing the arts of architecture and mathematics as well as the secrets of physical well-being and agility. But they were still not satisfied. The Hellenists lived for the tangible and the Jews worshiped the intangible. Even the Greek gods, though they had never been sighted, took on the images of great warriors and mighty giants. The G-d in Jerusalem had no image.

The Greeks launched a campaign to make us forget G-d, they outlawed Shabbos, they banned circumcision and they instructed every farmer to etch into the horns of their cattle “we have nothing to do with the G-d of the Jews”. By removing some of the basics of our religion and forcing us to display anti G-d bumper stickers, they hoped that we would emerge a perfect Hellenistic society. The strategic Greeks knew better than to destroy the Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish Temple. Instead they introduced a tangible, more familiar (to them) idol into the sanctuary and extinguished the lights of the Menorah.

This was not a simple case of one nation attacking another. The Greeks were enraged by the fact that we had such conviction in a faith that they could not understand. Their goal was to annihilate our culture, not our people.

The Talmud tells us that, contrary to popular opinion, the Greek invaders did not break all of the oil jugs in the temple. They simply took each one and removed from the jugs the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the high priest) thus rendering it impure. The mission of the Hellenists in the Temple was not to destroy, it was to defile. They believed that the service of the Menorah could be fulfilled even with impure oil. They wanted to demonstrate that only tangible differences are of importance. The Hellenists loved our Menorah and perhaps even adopted it as the Olympic torch, but they could not understand why we were so meticulous about the purity of the oil. They expressed their feelings by making sure that there was no pure oil to be found in all of Jerusalem.

When the war was finally won and Greeks chased away, the sages of Israel were faced with a dilemma. Although the Torah prescribes only the purest oil for use in the Menorah, any oil can be used in extenuating circumstances, including the present situation.

On the one hand, The Sages were eager to re-ignite the Menorah immediately, to declare the amazing victory of G-d and the Jewish people. On the other hand, to use impure oil would be to admit partial defeat to the Greeks. It would be like saying “you were right, the oil does not need to be so pure after all”. They searched high and low until, miraculously, they came across a tiny flask of oil that still bore its original seal. It was not nearly enough to last the eight days it would take to procure a new batch of freshly extracted and supervised oil. Nonetheless, the people resolved not to use defiled oil only if absolutely necessary. Their mission was to light the menorah and begin anew, and it would be with only the best and the purest. The people would do what they could and the rest would be in G-d’s hands.

The Talmud writes that Chanukah is a holiday of thanks and praise. The Macabees knew that lighting the menorah was not just a celebration of our physical survival and victory. It was an appreciation of the philosophical victory over a nation that sought to destroy the Jewish people’s spiritual strength. This Chanuka, as we light our own Menorahs, let’s use our imaginations to contemplate and celebrate all of the struggles, both physical and spiritual, that have been fought and won in our miraculous survival through the centuries.

Posted on 12/26 at 05:13 PM • Permalink
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Gratitude Attitude

A great rabbi was once riding in a taxi. As the car approached it’s destination, the driver, in an effort to honor his esteemed passenger offered to waive the fee. The rabbi declined and insisted on paying the full amount. “If I don’t pay you now”, he explained, “I will be indebted to you for the rest of my life”.

There is more to gratitude than just saying thank you. There is an obligation to appreciate, to recognize that we have been lucky enough to be the recipient of something good. We should realize that we might have just experienced, albeit in a miniscule way, one of the events that will shape the rest of our life.

Last night, I received as a gift Yonah Weinreb’s illuminated Hallel. If you haven’t seen it yet - get your hands on it. Never before has a volume used art and wisdom and thousands of years of history just to say Thank You.

Chanukah is about praise, we thank God for the miracles that he performs and we advertise it to the world. We sing songs of praise and we eat oily food to remember an amazing chapter in Jewish history.

Together as a nation we thank and praise G-d for the miraculous defeat of a large army in the hands of a small one, of a strong military in the hands of a weak one, and most importantly an unholy nation in the hands of a holy one. And of course we tell the story of the small flask of oil which burnt for no less than eight days.

We are about to spend a week engaged in the art of praise. If praising were easy this would be extremely convenient, but the in truth, praise when it is done correctly, can be one of the most difficult things we ever do.

In order to praise we need to appreciate. It would seem to me that before we can actually praise we need to first realize our potential, praising is about discovering how great we are, what we have been given, and how much we can accomplish. We can only celebrate our great luck after we’ve seen it in all its glory. Basically, Chanukah is about taking inventory. It is about measuring our potential against our actual efforts and accomplishments.

If I had to pick one line of Maoz Tzur that jumps out at me and sits on my conscience year after year, it would be the second last line of the second last paragraph: “U’menosar kankanim naaseh nes lashoshanim” “And from the remnant of the flasks, a miracle was wrought upon the roses (i.e. Israel)”. All this celebration is credited to the ‘remnant of the flasks’. No massive movement, no imaginative discovery, no great strategies, just some residual oil trying its best to activate its full potential. The Macabbi’s too, weren’t a mighty or particularly impressive army. They were just a handful of good people who knew what had to be done and did what they could about it.

Gratitude is an acquired trait. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in the eighth chapter of his classic, ‘Path of the Just’, comments that the most effective tool in spiritual growth and consciousness is for a person to develop a sense of awareness of the goodness that surrounds him and great kindnesses that he is constantly experiencing. He goes so far as to say that if a person would realize how truly “lucky” he is and how much good is bestowed upon him every minute of every day, it is inevitable that he will use his newfound wealth in service of God and the people around him.

Inasmuch as praise is a manifestation of gratefulness, we are only capable of praising to the extent that we can appreciate that which we have received.

The Talmud records an age-old argument between two contemporary schools of thought, the house of Shammai and the House of Hillel. According to Beis Shammai, Chanukah should begin with the kindling of all eight candles on the Menorah. Beis Shammai felt that we should waste no time waiting before celebrating the full extent of the miracle. We, however, follow the opinion of Beis Hillel who felt otherwise. We light one candle the first night and add one more every night thereafter. Celebration and praise are levels and goals to be arrived at, one step at a time. Because true praise and admiration can only happen if they are the result of quality time spent in true introspection and appreciation.

And besides, hopefully our inventory taking will inspire us to take positive action, and we all know that growth is most meaningful when we take one step at a time.

(Originally Published in NickN.A.C.K.s - a publication of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel)


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

al-Zaadi Made Us Think

al-Zaadi pushed his luck;
al-Zaadi made Bush duck;
al-Zaadi tried to teach Bush wrong from right.
Two shoes at the Bush flew from his hand,
But it may not have been worth the slight.
(with apologies to Moshe Yess & Megama)

Palestinian Leaders have invited Iraqi journalist al-zaadi to marry their daughters. According to Muslim law he could actually marry all of them. What the news does not report is that al-Zaadi will have a hard time finding a shidduch in Iraq. It seems that while upholding one Muslim tradition (of expressing displeasure with shoes) he violated a much more basic and important Muslim tradition (of treating guests with respect). Even as they agree with his politics, Muslim poskim are clearly unsatisfied with al-zaadi as a representative of Islam.

Our Zaidie’s don’t throw shoes, but they were often the sole representatives of Judaism and pursuits of the soul to their children and grandchildren.

Back then, America was a new country where there were no unions. Blue Laws were strictly enforced and Shemiras Shabbos was a challenge. Many Orthodox congregations consisted of members who identified with Orthodoxy, but snuck away to work after attending shacharis on Shabbos morning. Rabbis like my uncle, R’ Aaron Paperman ztl, spent their Shabbos afternoons keeping frum children occupied and unaware that their parents had gone downtown to open their stores.

In the struggle to maintain a sense of decorum in Orthodox Synagogues many rabbis drew upon a relatively unknown section of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 53): “Who is Eligible to lead the Congregation in Tefillah?”

Based on a Gemara in Taanis, The Shulchan Aruch writes that the Sheliach Tzibur must be a holy Jew, clean of any Aveiros. The ensuing paragraphs spell out the details of this oft-ignored Halacha: The Chazzan should be twenty, he must have a beard, he should have a good voice and he should study Tanach regularly.

The Mishna Berurah holds (with minor concessions in SK 18 & 22) that these Halachos apply even in modern times where the Chazzan is not permanent and people are knowledgeable enough to daven on their own. The Aruch Hashulchan is more lenient. Everyone agrees that it is preferable for a Chazzan to be Shomer Shabbos.

Small town American rabbis took Orach Chaim fifty-three as seriously as they could. In tens of cities (including Norfolk, Newport News and St. Louis) Rabbis ruled that anyone serving as chazzan on Shabbos or Yom Tov must be Shomer Shabbos .

Heads rolled. People had Yahrzheit and wanted to daven, but the Rabbanim held strong in their policy. Some put their jobs on the line.

This policy, while based in Shulchan Aruch, was unprecedented. It was tailor-made by local rabbis for their individual communities. Yet, as the following story illustrates, the Shomer Shabbos rule raised small-town congregants to levels of consciousness simply not found among their big city counterparts.

The following is by Sid Bridge at the Norfolk Stories blog:

My father really enjoyed observing Shabbos thanks to his newly acquired Shabbos apartment. The gabbai of the Shull called upon him regularly to lead services, and he happily obliged now that he met the Shull’s requirements for Davening at the Omud.

However, one Shabbos the Gabbai asked him, and he politely declined. This seemed a little odd to me, so I asked my father after Shull was over why he didn’t want to Daven.

“I accidentally turned on the light switch this morning. It just didn’t feel right to Daven for everyone. I felt bad.”

My father had put so much energy into becoming Shomer Shabbos, and the prize at the end of it all for him was the important duty of leading davening at B’nai Israel, a very holy congregation. After all that went into getting that Shabbos apartment, he didn’t want to mess up a single Shabbos, and when he did, he didn’t feel as though he was “Shomer Shabbos” anymore.

What a powerful message. I wished to myself that I could be so sensitive about keeping Shabbos and understanding the gravity of Davening at the Omud.  Whoever stands at the front of the Shull must know that there are individuals standing behind him, all righteous in their own areas, in need of inspiration to get the most out of prayer. At that moment, I could think of no one better to represent them than my father.

May we all be so careful about Shabbos and Davening.

Jews don’t throw shoes much, but European Zaidie’s of the last century taught us how careful we need to be as representatives of Judaism to people around us.

Have you ever refused to Daven for the Amud because you spoke too much Lashon Hora?

(Thank You for you votes of confidence)
Audio Blog (Beta)

Posted on 12/21 at 08:10 PM • Permalink
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Mysterious Mr. Malik

Good salesman don’t have business cards. A good deal is now or never; you make the sale or you don’t. Business cards are an excuse to stall, to procrastinate and to forget.

I received this lesson from Louis the Encyclopedia Salesman as he Lassoed me with a bagel at the Fedex store (nee Kinko’s) last week.

I was making copies and generally minding my own business when Louis yelled, “Hey, Are you a Rabbi?!”. I politely complimented him on being an Observant Jew and replied that actually I was an Assistant Rabbi. “Well”, he countered, “I don’t go to shul, and if I did it definitely wouldn’t be yours because you daven in Hebrew”. He went on to explain that he learned Hebrew as a child and didn’t understand why anyone used it but it didn’t really matter because he didn’t go to shul anyway. He claimed that he was mostly Jewish to annoy his mother-in-law who wasn’t. We spent about twenty minutes discussing everything from Mumbai and Manishewitz to Mitzvos, Marketing and Mr.Malik.

As the copier spit my pages into a mess on the floor, I shocked Louis with the news that I was not acquainted with Mr. Malik. Louis patiently explained to me that Mr. Malik was the holiest and most learned Jew in Norfolk. He wore a Yarmulke and even davened every day - in Hebrew.

I walked away from the conversation intrigued by this lost Jew and very curious about the Mysterious Mr. Malik. I lost sleep racking my brains and asking around trying to find a clue to the identity of this righteous Man named Malik.

I didn’t have long to wait. Just two days later I sat down at a very well attended Bas Mitzvah and - in case I did not yet believe in G-d - there was Mr. Malik staring at me from across the table. I almost hugged him.

Once we got past the fact that Mr. Malik could not hear or see we actually had quite a nice conversation. He didn’t remember Louis the Encyclopedia Salesman but he was learned and he did daven - in Hebrew - every single day. “It’s a Mitzvah”, he explained, “and Mitzvas are good”.

My experience taught me a lesson about encounters. Mr. Malik doesn’t remember Louis, but Louis remembers and reveres Mr. Malik. Mr. Malik is arguably Louis’ strongest connection to Hashem.

Louis taught me never to miss an opportunity to inspire someone. I have tens of business cards of people I intended to get back to and get to know. It seldom happens.

Like the Frisco Kid and the Quackers, the person who approaches you in Kinko’s or Kmart is thirsty for a Jewish Moment. You probably won’t see him or her again. Teach them some Torah, recommend a book, make their neshama smile. It is Now or Never.


Posted on 12/14 at 07:16 PM • Permalink
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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Guest That Shouldn’t Leave

"Obey any words that the host does say - unless he tells you to go away”

This counter intuitive piece of etiquette appears in the Talmud (Pesachim 86b) as well as in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law, OC 170:5).
My wise friend, Dr. Behrooz Dayanim explained to me that if your friend is telling you to leave, something is clearly wrong. Our sages are telling us that rather than just leave we should endeavor to stick around and find a solution to our host’s problem.
Dr. Dayanim’s father was the Dayan in Shiraz, Iran. He was responsible for all of the divorces in Shiraz and her neighboring towns. Over his fifty year career many couples came to him - but not one couple actually divorced. Mola Meir Moshe Dayanim would help them work through their issues and send them away in peace.
In contrast, I once had a friend who disappeared. I tried to stay in touch by calling his cellphone every Friday to say good shabbos. One week he actually picked up the phone. He told me that he had left town because he had some personal issues in his life. He didn’t feel right living in our community any more because none of the frum people seemed to have any issues at all. (It’s true: Frum people do have more fun!) I assured him that we have our issues as well - including the very issue that he was dealing with. Sadly, we never spoke again and his cell phone number was eventually disconnected.
My friend assumed that his problems were an invitation to leave the community. Our sages tell us that there is no such thing. We need to find solutions, or in this particular case - find problems. If he had taken the time to realize that he was not as unique as he thought he was, he could have avoided disappearing and actually found some help.
Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidos (who eerily shows up third in the Google Search for Meir Moshe Dayanim) writes in his Divrei Emes that the host referred to in the Talmud is G-d. We need to listen to G-d, but if we hear G-d telling us to give up and leave we can be assured that we heard Him wrong. Like Mario, we need to live with the knowledge that if we come up to a brick wall we have to either break through the wall or go back and try again. The game is never over.
Finally, when we leave the house we take something with us that cannot be replaced. Yaacov had to go to Charan, but Be’er Sheva suffered. Many years later his great-great-grandson Nochum Ish Gamzu kept his shaky house standing just by being inside ("As long as I am in the house - the house will not fall” - Taanis 21a).

Don’t leave the building; you might bring down the house.


Posted on 12/01 at 03:24 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lentil Soup Is Not Red

Some people are troubled by Evolution, Intelligent Design, Prophesy and the Oneness of G-d. I’m cool with all that.

I’m troubled by Lentil Soup.

Lentil Soup Is Not Red. Even the reddest of lentils always turn yellow when cooked.

So what was that Red, Red stuff that Eisav demanded and why was Eisav called ‘Edom’ (Red) from that day onward?

I’ve asked dozens of people without receiving a satisfactory explanation. It seems that people of all ages and around the world (including you) choose to believe in Red Lentil Soup (RLS) despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary. They make excuses: Lentils were different in those days, Red was different in those days, and pots were different in those days. I don’t go for that.

I cannot prove beyond a doubt that there were no other red ingredients in the soup, but I do think it is highly unlikely. The Torah is clear that lentils and their redness were the basis of the story. Also, contemporary mourners have replaced lentils with hard boiled eggs, and I have NEVER heard of anyone mixing ingredients into an Aveil’s egg (to make devil’s egg, for instance). It is most likely that the lentils were eaten plain. Tomatoes are the obvious red ingredient and it is well established that Yaacov Avinu never saw a tomato.

Enter my new hero, Gil Marks. Gil has an entire essay devoted to RLS, he writes:

“There is something unexpected in Esau’s request, for despite his evident hurry and bluntness, he says “na.” This term, like many things in this parsha, can be taken two ways: it usually means please [or immediate - SH], but can also translate as “raw” (Exodus 12:9).  In other words, Esau wanted the stew before it was even fully cooked, which for red lentils is a relatively short time, in as little as ten minutes once the water is boiling.  This corresponds to the tenor of the rest of Esau’s demand to literally “pour the red stuff down his throat,” not even taking time to chew or savor it.  And, in fact, since red lentils tend to turn pink or golden as they cook, a red hue would seem to indicate an underdone state.  Thus Esau was certainly no gourmand, practically begging to wolf down an undercooked, unsophisticated dish.  It was an act of animalistic gratification, far from a spiritual expression and not even a matter of enjoyment.”

There is no such thing as Red Lentil Soup or Stew. The only reason it was red is because it was still raw!

Eisav lived for the moment. He scorned the Birthright by bartering it for immediate gratification. A person who is not even willing to wait for his soup to cook can have no appreciation for something as esoteric and responsibility laden as the Bechora.

I emailed Gil to thank him and to ask for the source of his new insight. This was his response:


Thanks for your compliment.  Glad my writing was helpful.  The pshat on the rawness of the lentil soup is actually mine, developed from my knowledge of food.  I noticed it one time when I was making red lentil soup. 

I believe that is why Hashem made us all different, each of us has knowledge and strength in specific areas that allow us to understand Chumash in a new and special light, and thereby contribute unique chidushim.  Next time you read the parsha, try looking at various items and events in light of your specific strengths and knowledge.  You might be surprised with the chidushim you devise.

Gil Marks”

We need to explore and reevaluate our understanding of the Torah each and every year. Even if, as children, we learned that Yaacov made Red Lentil Soup, we can still take a step back twenty five years later and say “but hey, Lentil Soup isn’t Red!”

It just plain isn’t.

Postscript: My esteemed cousin, Rabbi Avi Horowitz recently pointed me in the direction of of the commentary “Mar Keshisha” written by Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach (1639-1702). He gives an almost identical explanation of Eisav’s red lentil soup.

Posted on 11/25 at 06:10 AM • Permalink
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Do You Have Time for Eliezer’s Story?

Efron the Chitti liked to talk about how great he was, but the Torah did not even spell out his entire name. Eliezer considered himself a simple servant and the Torah quotes his narrative at length.

(Eliezer’s narrative is described as “Siach” and is considered more worthy of space in the Torah than some Torah laws. Siach can also refer to shrubbery and denotes lowliness and humility. The numerical value of Siach is 318, the Talmud tells us that this trait gave Eliezer the strength of 318 men).

The following story was originally written for the Norfolk Stories Blog:

Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, one of the Gedolim of our generation, has a special relationship with the Norfolk community. He has been to Norfolk and has spoken to a standing room only crowd at Congregation Bnai Israel. He visited the school and spoke to each one of the children, and he has been consulted on many communal matters.

In addition, Rab Shmuel is the personal mentor of many members of the community who call him with their most personal and complicated issues.

Reb Shmuel has this same relationship with many communities around the world. He is frequently consulted by many thousands of alumni and serves on the advisory boards of tens of organizations. He runs a large Yeshiva where he gives a regular shiur and is responsible for a large part of the financial burden.

Keeping his busy schedule in mind, I was hesitant about calling Reb Shmuel, who is in his eighties, and asking him to meet with the Toras Chaim eighth graders on their class trip. When I called, Rav Shmuel told me that he would love to spend some time with the boys. I should just let him know when it would work with OUR schedule. We set a time and organized our itinerary accordingly.

(Parenthetically, as we drove the boys to the Philadelphia Yeshiva after a long day of looking at cracked bells and ancient shuls, we witnessed an unforgettable change in Rabbi Mostofsky: Rabbi Mostofsky prepared for Rav Shmuel like most people would prepare for Yom Kippur. His mood become serious, he changed into his best clothes, and he took out his Gemara and learned up to the minute that we saw Reb Shmuel. Rabbi Mostofsky trembled with excitement as we shook hands with the Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Mostofsky’s honor for Talmidei Chachamim left an indelible impression on the boys and myself.)

When the time came, Reb Shmuel welcomed us into his office and proceeded to test the boys and speak with them for forty-five minutes.
His desk was clear besides for the Sefer he was learning with us.
The phone did not ring once and nobody knocked on the door.
Reb Shmuel hung onto every word uttered by the three thirteen year old boys who had come to see him.
One would think that he had nothing else to do.
For almost an hour we were the only people in the world.

We live in an age where everyone wants to look busy. We feel inadequate if we have too much time. Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky probably had less time on his hands and more issues on his mind than any of us ever will. He probably had things to do and people to call.

But really important people don’t need to look busy. They have time to make other people feel really important too.


Posted on 11/21 at 05:07 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mayor Who Comes to Bar Mitzvas

In 2008, as the world watched President-Elect Obama make his way to the white house, the people of Virginia Beach watched their first and only Mayor wave good-bye. Mayor Oberndorf has lead a remarkable career, both in developing Virginia Beach and as an active member of the Jewish Community.

The Honorable Mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf will be remembered for many things, but not many people know about the time she spoke at a Siyum on Masechtas Kerisus.

My chavrusa (study partner), Jimmy Ellenson understands the importance of Torah learning. When he arranged our siyum he arranged for his entire family to attend. His entire family included his brother David (then president of HUC) and his cousin, the mayor.  His sister from Seattle was also there. She’s the one the one who told her friend that if he dropped out of college he would live his life as a loser (Despite ignoring her advice, Bill Gates actually did OK).

Mayor Oberndorf spoke and discussed family history. She discussed how important Judaism and learning had always been to them. She told the story of the sister and Microsoft and she mentioned the old Rabbi in Newport News – Rabbi Nachman Bulman Zatzal. The mayor was a wonderful woman with a wit who did not shy away from personal and revealing statements about her family, most of which were quite inspiring.

The President of HUC spoke eloquently and quoted a gaonic text on Kareis; I spoke and gave a pretty good Hadran which I felt was appropriate for the setting.

Here it is:

A person talking to a great man – for example, the president of the United States – would never have the Chutzpah to interrupt to answer a call from a telemarketer. Yet, in Parshas Vayeira, Abraham, who was in the midst of speaking to G-d, interrupted his prophecy to greet three travelers who were approaching his tent. To add insult to injury, Abraham actually asked G-d not to leave, but to wait a few minutes while he tended to his guests.

We can understand G-d’s patience, but Abraham’s behavior is astonishing! How could he have the Chutzpa to interrupt a rare communication with G-d to tend to three strangers? These people were at best angels and at worst idol-worshipping nomads!

Abraham knew that Man’s mission in life is not about transcending the physical and becoming an angel. If this were his purpose, G-d would have created just a soul. Why the cumbersome body? Avraham understood that our purpose on earth is to live spiritually in a physical world. G-d wants us to take our physical bodies and infuse them with the spirituality of our souls.

Abraham said to G-d: As long as there were no guests around I was “content” to transcend my physical reality and speak to you. Now that I have an opportunity to fulfill my true mission, to use my physical body to serve you; I am sure that you would prefer that I speak to my guests.

Our existence in this physical tangible world is proof that we are created for the purpose of bringing G-d into the physical world.  A person who completely ignores G-d will have a very hard time attaining unity between the physical and the spiritual.  Hashem gave us the Torah and through the Torah he teaches us how to bring spirituality to the mundane. “Torah”, like “Morah”, means teach. In order to act G-dly we must study the torah and thereby become students of Hashem.

Jimmy once invited me to observe his closing arguments at a case at the Federal Courthouse in Norfolk. I found him very compelling and later remarked that if he would use the same talent in our studies as he did in his closing arguments, he would win every argument. Jimmy thought for a moment and then responded: Studying Gemara is not about closing arguments. It is not about convincing each other of our own point of view. Gemara study is about understanding the process that the Tanaim and Amoraim used in understanding the word of G-d. Only through this type of learning can one become a student of Hashem; someone who is able to bring Hashem into everything they do.

Our tractate, Krisos deals with people who did not know what Abraham knew. It deals with people who have sinned so terribly that their body is “nichras” - cut off - from their souls. These people lost their opportunity to bring holiness into everything we do.

Rabbi Yaacov Ettlinger was a very influential and almost radical rabbi in 19th century Germany. He writes in his book, Aruch La’ner, that there are four relationships, four types of Shalom, in which a person must strive for perfection: 
1. The relationship between Man and G-d
2. The relationship between Man and Man
3. The relationship between Man and spouse
The fourth relationship is the one we are discussing: the relationship between physicality and spirituality.

Rabbi Ettlinger identifies the Mesechtos (tractates) of Brachos, Nazir, and Yevamos as dealing with each of the first three categories. The tractate of Krisos deals with the last relationship: the relationship between the body and the soul.

Interestingly, these are the only four tractates that choose to conclude with the exactly identical quote:

Rabi Elazar taught in the name of Rabi Chanina: Torah Scholars bring peace to the world. This is based on a verse in Isaiah 54 “And all your sons will be learned in the ways of G-d; and there will be much peace among your sons”.

(Rabbi Ettlinger points out that the final word “Banayich” – your sons, is actually an acronym for the four tractates Brachos, Nazir, Yevamos, and Kerisos.)

This uniformity indicates that the four relationships which we strive to perfect will affect Shalom in the world. The way to achieve this Shalom is by being “limudei Hashem” – students of G-d.

Rabi Elazar ends with a blessing that the day will come when all of G-d’s children will be learned in His ways leading to much peace amongst G-d’s children.

I believe that Rabi Elazar in his “closing argument” to our tractate is teaching the same lesson that he taught from Abraham: Our job on earth is to become students of G-d. We can bind our bodies and souls by using our bodies to reflect G-dliness. If everyone were learned in the ways of G-d then the world would be a perfect place. Thus -

Rabi Elazar taught in the name of Rabi Chanina: Torah Scholars bring peace to the world. The verse in Isaiah says “And all your sons will be learned in the ways of G-d; and there will be much peace among your sons”.

Thank You, G-d Bless You, and G-d Bless the United States of America.

Note: I originally wrote this article in 2008. I share it today as we mark the passing of Meyera Oberndorf, past mayor of Virginia Beach and long-time member of our congregation. I last spoke with the Mayor when she attended a class I gave Chanuka at the Beth Shalom Home. She was as passionate and graceful as always and proud of our heritage. My class centered around the idea of gratitude for even the smallest kindnesses and celebrating G-d’s miracles rather than our own strength and prowess. I tried to make my points eloquently, but I needn’t of bothered. The mayor was respected by every person in the room and her vehement nodding left no doubt that she agreed fully with the timeless messages of our tradition.

Posted on 11/11 at 03:44 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Kristallnacht at Nine

I shared the following article with my fifth and sixth graders. I though it would be meaningful for them to read about the events of November 9th and 10th through the first hand experiences of a girl close to their age. The piece was written by Chamie’s grandmother, Mrs. F. Gottleib of Har Nof. May she continue to see many happy years. The article appeared in the Horizons magazine and is also available on as a PDF. Many thanks to Mr. Schor for providing the technology necessary to prepare this material.

By: F. Gottlieb
It was November 10, 1938, later to be called Kristallnacht. I was a young schoolgirl living in Mannheim, Germany, together with Mutti, (my mother), two sisters, and one brother. My second brother, the oldest of us five, was vacationing at the time in Bad Duerheim, since he suffered from asthma.
A few weeks before, on October 27, 1938, a Wednesday night, my father, z"tl, and a group of
other Polish nationals in Germany were arrested, each one walking between two Gestapo agents. We children were asleep, and thus were spared seeing this tragic event.
The next morning, October 28, 1938, Mutti broke the depressing news to us and took us with her to the jail where Papa was being held in custody with the other Polish Jewish men. We brought a suitcase for Papa and wanted to say good-bye to him. At first, one of the SS men refused to permit children in, but another SS man let us pass.
I’ll never forget the gloomy, dismal scene; it remains vivid in my mind. My father’s hair had turned white overnight. It was the first time I saw my father cry. (I had been under the impression that men don’t know how to cry.) We all were so sad, and tears were flowing freely. Bidding him farewell was devastating. I had so many unanswered questions. “What is going to happen now?” I felt like screaming, “No, no, don’t take him away. He is my Papa and I love him so.” These were my unspoken words, as I stifled heart-rending sobs. My anguish, grief and suffering were indescribable.
When we returned home, we children gave Mutti all the money we had saved, realizing the breadwinner was now gone. It wasn’t much, but we wanted to help. The Germans deported 1,925 Jews from Mamiheim and 1,906 from Karlsruhe to Zboncyn, which was on the border of Germany and Poland—“no-man’s land.” Germany wanted them out, and Poland didn’t want them in.
The hardships these people endured during and after deportation were often beyond description. For instance, for three months Papa didn’t undress. His jacket and vest served as his pillow. He intended to buy two rolls for supper one day, but needed the money for postage, and that he considered a priority. When he finally returned to us on July 19, 1939, he needed dentures. He’d lost all his teeth to malnutrition. Before his deportation, he never had a cavity.
On November 7, 1938, in retaliation for this event, Herschel Grynspan, the son of one of the deportees, entered the German Embassy in Paris with the intention of killing the German ambassador. Instead, he shot Ernst von Roth, the German third secretary. Von Roth’s death set off a day of anti-Semitic acts and riots that marked the beginning of the end of European Jewry: Kristallnacht.
The morning of November 10, 1938, I was walking to school. On the way, I met some Jewish acquaintances who cried, “Turn back! Go home! The synagogues are burning!” I didn’t need coaxing and immediately returned home. Of course, I was frightened. My mother, siblings, and another woman, who lived alone with her daughter, joined us to pass the uncertain and frightening hours. My mother, o “h, said Tehillim. The day dragged on and on.
In the early evening, we heard the SS men, with their heavy boots, stomping up the stairs. The landlord, a decent goy, tried to stop them by saying, “It is after 5:00 p.m. It’s past the curfew.” The SS men disregarded his warning and stormed in. “Wo ist der Jud?”—“Where is the Jew?” they shouted, marching from room to room, searching for my father.
This was the first time I was happy and grateful that Papa was in Zboncyn. Then, looking at the mezuzos on the doorposts, they asked, “What are these?” My mother calmly replied, “The ten commandments.” They tore them off and left. I guess that they, in a way, heeded the landlord’s words, “It’s past the curfew.”

During this “night of the broken glass”, nearly one hundred Jews lost their lives, over 30,000 were arrested, 191 synagogues and 75,000 Jewish stores were looted.
The SS men came to Uncle Hochmann’s house (my mother’s brother). He was sick in bed. One of the Gestapo men wanted to throw him out of the window, but another one remarked, “Forget about it, Der Jud wind so wie so verrecke—The Jew will croak anyway,” and they left. My aunt’s father in Duesseldorf did not fare as well. They threw him out of the window, and he was badly injured.
All meats and chickens were thrown out of the kosher butcher shop into the street. After that night, no more kosher meat products were available. Men were taken to Dachau, a concentration camp, store windows were smashed, and the riots continued uncontrolled.
This event changed my life. My childhood ended at nine and a half years.


Posted on 11/09 at 06:42 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at