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22
Mar
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Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l

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With sadness I share the news of the passing of Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l (not to be confused with YU RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter yltv”a), beloved husband of Mrs. Penina (nee Gewirtz) Schacter, beloved father of my beloved teacher and mentor Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, beloved father of Dr. Miriam Schacter of Riverdale, beloved uncle of my colleague and friend Rabbi Gershon Gewirtz of the Young Israel of Brookline.  Although Nissan is not a time period during which Hesped– eulogy is permitted, the Halakah exempts a great rabbi and/or teacher from this proscription.  And although, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik tz”l (whose 20th Yahrzeit will be observed this Chol HaMoed Pesach) taught, the purpose of a Hesped is partly to make us cry, my purpose with these reflections is to inspire and honor a life dedicated to the Jewish people.

 

Rabbi Herschel Schacter graduated Yeshiva University in 1938, and in 1941 became the first musmakh of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l at RIETS.  He was also a student of the Rav’s father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik zt”l. Rabbi Schacter was the former Director of Rabbinic Services at YU/RIETS, and the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  He was the Rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center for more than 5 decades.  There was a very poignant article about the Mosholu Jewish Center’s last Shabbat (close of an era…) not too long ago in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/22/nyregion/final-sabbath-for-spiritual-hub-synagogue-that-embodied-earlier-bronx-closed.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm  For more of his communal and rabbinical achievements, I append below the New York Jewish Week Obituary for him that appeared today.

 

Although emphasis should be given to the community building, Jewish education and pastoral work he did as a rabbi for over five decades, these essential sacred activities remain primarily unseen and untold.  Rabbi Schacter’s place in the history books stems from the role he played in the Shoah and its aftermath.  During World War II, Rabbi Schacter was a chaplain in the Third Army's VIII Corps. and was the first US Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 and later aided in the resettlement of displaced persons.   

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, tells of Rabbi Schacter’s role in liberating him at Buchenwald.  In his must-read inspiring memoir, Out of the Depth’s http://www.amazon.com/Out-Depths-Story-Buchenwald-Returned/dp/140278631X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363963616&sr=8-1&keywords=from+the+depth+lau,  Rabbi Lau writes: "I remember the looks of horror on the faces of the American soldiers when they came in and stared around them. I was afraid when I saw them. I crept behind a pile of dead bodies and hid there, watching them warily…Rabbi Herschel Schacter was the Jewish chaplain of the division. I saw him get out of a jeep and stand there, staring at the corpses. He has often told this story, how he thought he saw a pair of living eyes looking out from among the dead. It made his hair stand on end, but slowly and cautiously he made his way around the pile, and then, he clearly remembers coming face-to-face with me, an eight-year-old boy, wide-eyed with terror. In heavily-accented American Yiddish, he asked me, 'How old are you, mein kind?' There were tears in his eyes. 'What difference does it make?' I answered, warily. 'I'm older than you, anyway.' "He smiled through his tears and said, 'Why do you think you're older than me?' "And I answered, 'Because you cry and laugh like a child. I haven't laughed in a long time, and I don't even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?'"

Here is an iconic picture of Rabbi Hershel Schacter leading a Shavuot Service at Buchenwald on May 18th, 1945. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buchenwald_Religious_Services_26278.jp

 

Rabbi Schacter had previously led a Pesach Sheini Seder at Buchenwald on April 27th, 1945.  In the Torah, Pesach Sheini is the holiday of second chances.  The Pesach sacrificial observance for anyone who for reasons beyond their control could not participate in that year’s Passover.  This was probably the first Pesach Sheini Seder since the time of the Beit HaMikdash.  Could you imagine a Pesach Sheini Seder for liberated concentration camp victims?!

 

Shiku Smilovic, in his autobiographical memoir,  "Buchenwald 56466," tells the following about that day http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/ce/cc/nf-camps-buchenwald-01.htm:

“All Jews were invited by Rabbi Schacter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn't observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date. Rabbi Schacter brought Matzos and distributed them to everyone. Rabbi Schacter started to deliver his sermon, when suddenly he was interrupted by a fellow prisoner. When he heard the Rabbi say, "We know what you have gone through" The man screamed and said: "No one, but no one, can dare say that he knows what we went through unless, he or she was there! Only they can say, I know what you went through!" He continued at the top of his voice with quotes from the Torah and other scriptures. He was no plain ordinary every day Jew. He spoke with authority. "Why did G-d forget about his children? And we were devastated, just because we are Jews?" he continued. "Before we make a blessing and eat this Matza. We want a Din Torah with the REBONEH SHEL OLAM (Hold Court with the All Mighty): Why? Why the little children? They didn't have a chance to sin yet? Why so many thousands of true dedicated Talmidei chachomim (Jewish learned men), that were sitting and learning JOMAM VLAJLA day and night? You can take your matzos back to America. I don't want them, as far as I am concerned. The rest of you: you are free! You can do what your heart desires!" Rabbi Schacter did not interrupt the man and he let him finish. He moved his fists towards his heart and said, "Chotosi Uvisi Pushati Lefonecha: Please, may I have your forgiveness?" The man raced up to the Rabbi and embraced him for a while. The rest of us just stood there in silence, and our tears did the talking. After that scene we all decided to have some Matzo anyway. We made the blessing of ACHILAT MATZOT in unison. I am sure that this blessing was heard in heaven, and all the Angels answered Amen.”

 

Shiku Smilovic also tells how after visiting Buchenwald post-liberation, General Eisenhower ordered that the men, woman, and children from the nearby city of Weimar, about 10km away, be forced to tour the liberated camp.  “[After] being herded into Buchenwald through the main gates. They were then shown all the corpses and all the killing facilities in Buchenwald, some of them couldn’t take it any longer, some fainted, some of them were holding their hands over their eyes, but the G.I.s removed their hands and told them: "Look, look good and never forget what you have seen here today. Maybe you will be able to tell your children, and grandchildren, what your beloved Fuhrer Adolf did to mankind in the twentieth century. In your fatherland, and all over Europe." When the exhibition was completed, they were all assembled on the Apell Platz, where Rabbi Schacter, the Chaplain of the American first and second division of the liberation Army, spoke to the German population of Weimar from the top off a military truck. In his hand, Rabbi Shachter held a young Jewish boy who looked about 6 years old. He raised the child for everyone to see and with his great voice declared: "This child was your Fuhrer's greatest enemy! Can you imagine a greater enemy?" he asked. Their faces were stiff, frozen and ashamed, being part of this devastation. Rabbi Schacter continued and said, "This child will be a witness to your persecutions, and also a witness, that over one million Jewish children never made it." 

 

That child was Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the future Chief Rabbi of the Modern State of Israel!

 

I met Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l many times during my tenure as a rabbinic intern and then Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi J.J. Schacter at the Jewish Center in 1993-95.  He was an exquisitely nice, soft-spoken, older Jewish man, a mostly-retired rabbi who took great-pride in his increasingly prominent rabbi son.  I had heard some of his stories from him, from Rabbi J.J., and through the rabbinical grapevine.  I remember him as being kind, gracious and complimentary to me.  I remember thinking then, as now:  He seems so kind, so nice, so normal.  A consummate Zeide figure.  But I also knew that he was a giant of a man, a “Bemakom she-‘ein Ish” type of mensch, and a rabbi of our time and for the ages.  Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”  Rabbi Herschel Schacter’s greatness stemmed from all three sources.

 

May his living memory inspire all of us on this Pesach to find the greatness within ourselves and our community.  May we, a people once enslaved, who walked with faith across the dry bed of the roiling Sea to Sinai, and then onward the Land of Promise, may we find within ourselves the courage and compassion, strength and determination, to rise above everydayness to a measure of greatness as modeled by Rabbi Herschel Schacter throughout his life.

 

The funeral took place today, Friday March 21st at 10 am at the Riverdale Jewish Center, 3700 Independence Avenue, Riverdale, NY.  Shiva will be observed until Midday Monday at 3701 Henry Hudson Parkway (Corner 237th St.) Apt. 7B.  The phone number there is (718) 543 3919.  Minyan times are Sunday: Shacharit 8:30 am, Mincha/Maariv 6:50 pm, and Monday: Shacharit 6:45 am.  Rabbi Schacter can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

May the Omnipresent comfort the extended Schacter family and all of Klal Yisrael with all those who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim

 

3/21/13 The New York Jewish Week, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Chaplain At Buchenwald Liberation, Dies At 95http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/national-news/rabbi-herschel-schacter-chaplain-buchenwald-liberation-dies-95

 

Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a national Jewish leader and the only Jewish chaplain present at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, died Thursday at the age of 95. The first rabbi to be ordained by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, the resident of Riverdale led the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx for more than 50 years and held leadership roles in numerous national Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which he chaired from 1967 to 1969. A statement from Richard Stone, chair, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference, described the rabbi as “an exemplary leader who often spoke of his `deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity.’” The rabbi’s son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, and daughter, Miriam Schacter, a psychotherapist, recalled: “Our father modeled for us the great importance of caring for other Jews and devoting one’s life and efforts to the Jewish people.” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, described the senior Rabbi Schacter as “a warm, friendly man and an orator’s orator, someone his colleagues would turn to [for guidance on] speeches and sermons.”  While serving as a chaplain in the VIII Corps of the Third Army of the United States Armed Forces, Rabbi Schacter participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp and brought comfort to many survivors.  He then led a UNRRA Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland after World War II. In 1956, he was a member of the first rabbinic delegation to the USSR, and he escorted a transport of Hungarian refugees from Austria to the U.S. His communal activities included president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi; founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry; chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board; and director of Rabbinic Services at Yeshiva University. In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife, Pnina (nee Gewirtz, who he married in 1948), four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Rabbi Schacter should not be confused with Rabbii Hershel Schachter, who is Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

 

Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels

Congregation Shaarei Tefillah

35 Morseland Avenue

Newton, MA 02459

(857) 636-8489

Pager (781) 748-7790

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

http://www.shaarei.org

 

 

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11
Feb
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Jews of Sephardic Origin Needed for Bone-Marrow Transplant

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Shalom from Israel.  

Our son, Guy Bar-Yosef, was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia this past April 2012.  He  underwent aggressive chemotherapy for 8 months, and now the doctors are saying that there is hope for recovery only if he receives a bone marrow (=stem cell) transplant from a matching donor.   We are turning to everyone and anyone who may be able to help.  

Because of Guy’s genetic lineage, we are specifically looking for donors with mixed genetic backgrounds, and hence this letter to your synagogue membership.  My husband Ami's parents were, respectively, of Moroccan and Lithuanian origin, and my parents hailed from Latvia (Baronovich, Russia, and nearby). (My father was a Conservative Rabbi - Morris Gordon from Washington, DC).  In Israel the organization which does tissue typing and matching is “Ezer Mizion”, and in the USA it’s “Be The Match” or “Gift of Life”.  Healthy donors are accepted into these international registries between the ages of 18-45.  Blood type does not matter.  There are not enough people of Sephardic origin in the international bone marrow donor registries.  This is a chance to save a life!

People in the USA can ask for a kit to do the test at home and mail it in.  All other developed countries have similar setups, and the Israeli hospital is conducting a worldwide search on our behalf.   The initial test is merely a saliva swab taken from inside the cheek.  It is painless and quick.  If someone is found to be a tissue match, he/she will be asked to come and donate blood on a given day, at the hospital in Tel Aviv.  The procedure is similar to donating blood.  No surgical procedure is involved. If the person is from abroad, his/her flight to Israel and all expenses will be paid. 

Another way to assist us at this time, is by a monetary donation, in any amount to "Ezer Mizion".  They claim that it costs them 250 NIS ($65) to process each test, and as they don't have the necessary budget, they seek donations to cover the costs.   The website is: https://www.ezermizion.org/Donate   (tax-deductible receipts will be issued).  There is a place to mention the name of the person in whose honor the donation is being made - in this case, Guy Bar-Yosef.  Tests take a few weeks to process.  Therefore, Time is of the essence. Anyone who has Facebook or other social network media, or who work or study in places where they can notify friends, colleagues, etc., is kindly asked to help spread the word.  We sincerely appreciate every and all effort made on Guy’s behalf.

Guy is a licensed tour guide in Israel, and works in Jewish education.  He has led many Jewish high school groups and Birthright groups, as his way of interacting with youth is special, and highly valued by various sponsors of  Jewish tour groups.  He is married, and the father of 5 young children who need him.  He deserves any help, and we are seeking every possible avenue.

Thanks so very much.   Arlene and Ami Bar-Yosef, Moshav Sittrya, Israel

Questions can be addressed to me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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10
Jan
0

HOW I TRAVELED TO ISRAEL AND HAD MY BATHROOM REMODELED

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EB congregant Fran Israel just returned from a harrowing, but inspiring trip to Israel. Here's her personal account - enjoy!                                                                     

     We often hear the saying: “ Three Mishaps In a Row And You Are Home Free.”  I was leaving on a long anticipated trip with my daughter, Marilyn and grandson, Adam to visit family in Switzerland, Joe & Becky Benardeti, and then fly to Israel.  We had three panic inducing episodes that seemed to cloud the future of our trip:  First, there was the missing cash from my purse, then the credit card left at a Lausanne restaurant, and finally, when we arrived in Israel a piece of luggage missing?? –stolen??  After a hectic two-hour search with Israeli security, a young Israeli policewoman found the bag—it had been left on the luggage carousel.

     We checked in to the lovely hotel by the sea and breathed a huge sigh of relief, as we firmly believed nothing further could happen to us—we were home free.

    The first week in Tel Aviv -was filled with sightseeing and visiting friends and family.  We visited Old Jaffa with its wonderful shops and ancient cobbled stones.  Adam was always at my side offering his strong arm for assistance.  We visited Dr. Scott and Karin Pollock in Netanya and had Shabbat dinner with my cousin, Daniel Beyar and his family in Kfar Sava.  Dan was a former Attorney General and is now a superior court judge.  Adam was busy nights teaching master dance classes and private dance lessons.  The swing dance community at Dance Tel Aviv had invited him to teach. Therefore, we coordinated our trip

so that he could travel with us. His students included physical therapists, occupational therapists, the director of medical tourism, and Esther B., a flamboyant ballroom dancer who edited medical journals.  Adam is a musical theater actor who dances like a Sephardic Gene Kelley.

      The culmination of that week was a guided all-day tour to Cesarea, the B’hai Temple, Haifa— past the beautiful and mystical landscapes, and the Sea of Galilee, that paved the way to Sefat, the seat of the Kabbalah, where I purchased lovely hand-woven tallit for my grandsons and delicate Havdallah candles.

     The last day in Tel Aviv was Tuesday, October 30, a day I shall never forget.  We had gone to the Carmel Shuk enjoying the splendid array of art, jewelry, food and other delights.  We were on our way back to the hotel to leave for Jerusalem.  Strolling on the sidewalk, I was suddenly hit by a bicycle riding at a furious pace.  The shoulder strap of my purse caught on to the handlebar of his bike and I was lifted up and slammed on to the cement.

     Lying on the cement, in excruciating pain, I heard Adam’s anguished cry:  “You have killed my Grandmother.”  And then, “Call 911.”  Miraculously, the ambulance came even though it was the wrong number.  The rider of the bike was 22 year-old young man who had been in a hurry to get to a meeting.  In spite of the fact that he was contacted twice and informed of the outcome of his carelessness, he never expressed any remorse, nor did he make any effort to apologize.

(A police report was filed; as of this writing I have not heard anything.

     At the hospital, the Sourasky Medical Center, I was wheeled to the emergency room with Adam at my side.  At the front desk, Marilyn who did not speak Hebrew was met with a barrage of questions—all in Hebrew.  This was not the hotel where everyone spoke English; this was a different system, the Israeli Health System, a different world.

    After the tortuous ex-rays, the doctor told me that my shoulder had been dislocated and fractured; my hip was also fractured and needed immediate hip replacement surgery. I was then wheeled into a small screen cubicle where the atmosphere was far from serene:  there was loud talking, noises, babies crying, and the man next to me who had broken his arm was wailing loud and piteously.  Marilyn and Adam were asked to leave but they stubbornly refused.

      I remained in this chaotic place for 11 hours before being admitted to the hospital. The next day, Dr. Pollock tried to find out the time for my surgery but was told we would know only 10 minutes before the operation.  And to my dismay the surgery was postponed even longer because I developed a high fever. They had not been monitoring my temperature and to prevent this from happening the next day and thus delaying surgery again, Adam ran down to the pharmacy to buy a thermometer.

     I awoke from the surgery in a large room blazing with yellow light.  I perceived other beds around me.  I felt a strange pulsating monitor under my arm that arose like a worm under my armpit.  It seemed as if I were in a den of fiends and that I had died.   Suddenly, this gloom was dispelled by a cheerful, matronly woman who introduced herself to me:  “Hello, I am Yehudit, your nurse, I am Jewish, I will take care of you.”  And when she saw tears in my eyes she sang to me with gestures:  “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”

     There were other quirky characters that cared for me during my stay in the hospital:  There was Igor, the tall blond Russian with the gentle face.  He told me that I was his hero, but I never knew why.  Then there was Emile, a small dark-haired man who always wore orange clogs and looked like a detective in a B-grade movie.  There was also an extraordinary tall poker-faced man whose name we never knew but who moved like Lurch from the Adam’s Family.  They were all very kind people whose services were scarce.  It became clear to me that they were all seriously over-worked and that the main job of attending to my needs was to fall on Marilyn and Adam.   For example asking for pain meds required some dramatic feats: grimacing and groaning—until they said, “Ahh—Ahh, Pyeer- ko- set.

     Adam wheeled me around the hospital wherever I needed to go.  One day someone asked him  “Who are you?”  “I am Security, “ replied Adam.  “And this is a famous film celebrity who I am protecting.”  Other family members pushed their loved ones right in their hospital beds on to the terrace where they could smoke freely.  Sometimes Dr. Gilad would come to draw blood all the time complaining that I left my veins at home.  He finally took blood from an artery with Marilyn assisting.

     After 5 days in the hospital, I was ready for rehab.  The influential dance community, which included the occupational therapist at the PALACE, a private rehab facility, decreed that is where I needed to go.  From my hospital room, several blocks away, I could see a tall cream-colored building with the words PALACE emblazoned at the top.  Before we had time to ponder this decision, a smiling young woman with curly red hair appeared in my hospital room wearing a white fleece pantsuit with the PALACE insignia.  In my hospital gown, with a pillow between my legs, as prescribed for hip surgery, she wheeled me through the busy streets of Tel Aviv, horns honking, and Adam and Scott following behind us.  Marilyn and Karin had stayed behind to quickly gather up my clothes from the hospital room.

     The reception room at the PALACE was like the Four Seasons with gorgeous marble floors and crystal chandeliers.  A lovely woman received me all dressed in white.  I said to her, “If this is the PALACE, you must be the queen.  She nodded and smiled.  She did not understand a word I said.

     By this time Marilyn and Karin had caught up with us.  Marilyn was once again prepared for a lot of questions and forms to fill out and was amazed that there were none.  All that was needed was a credit card.

     Thus, my life at the PALACE began.  I was whisked up to the 11th floor to my beautiful private room complete with marble bath and shower.  In the morning a nurse appeared to take my vitals and then another nurse would appear and say, “Bath”?  I was showered and dressed, my shoulder was still immobilized and in a sling.  Then I was gently pushed into the elaborate dining room all covered with white tablecloths and given a menu—all in Hebrew.  The nurses were all very sweet and attentive but only spoke Hebrew and Russian that seemed like the language of most of the patients there who were from Moscow.  My life became one of signs and gestures and often seemed surreal.  I looked forward to the afternoon to visits from Marilyn and Adam who often ate with me as well as Karin & Scott, Dan & Ahouva, also Talya, my daughter-in-laws niece who had made aliyah several years, was another welcomed guest.

     I was fortunate in that all of the physical therapists at the PALACE spoke English.  They were very kind and inspired hope and confidence that I would fully recover.  On the first day of my therapy they had me climb stairs.  My therapy began each morning when a nurse would escort me to the lower level of the building to a large brightly lit room where physical therapy would take place.  The room led to a terrace and gardens where I often walked with my therapist.

     I spent 11 days at the PALACE and while they were pleasant enough, I longed to leave my gilded cage and go home.  I was excited when we finally heard from our travel insurance company that plans were being made to re-book our flights home.  First it was Tuesday, then Wednesday, and then the rockets began to fall.  At the PALACE, when the sirens went off, we were rushed to the “safe” room, a clatter of wheelchairs and walkers.

On the beach, with temperatures in the 80’s, Adam ran into the ocean for a last swim.  And then the sirens went off again.  He had to turn around and race back grabbing his mother, who had been on the beach admonishing him not to go in, and together race for a shelter.

     Finally our flight home was arranged.  The travel insurance ordered a rescue nurse to fly with us.  We dubbed him the Jewish Indiana Jones.  While all of us were anxious to go home, we were saddened to see the trouble that Israel once again had to endure.  We flew home on November 17th with the rockets still flying.

                                                      ************

     In the beginning of this whole catastrophe there were many frantic calls home to worried family members.  Now Sari, my youngest daughter called to talk:  “Mom, she said, “I know you like to bathe in your beautiful bathtub, but this is not going to work for you now.  Rick and I have contracted to have a walk-in-shower installed in the other bathroom.”  I felt tears move down my cheeks and for the hundredth time I thanked God for the wonderful, loving family He gave me.  At the same time, I was deeply grateful for the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists that helped restore my battered body.

     I also remember, with laughter, the pretty physical therapist that said:  “Come back next year.  Choose which leg you wish to break—and come back!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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26
Dec
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Rabbi Sack's Latest Piece - from the NY Times

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Special thanks to Dan and Barbara Melber for making me aware of this op-ed.

The Moral Animal—New York Times Op Ed—12/23/12

By JONATHAN SACKS  --  London

IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West’s newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?

At first glance, religion is in decline. In Britain, the results of the 2011 national census have just been published. They show that a quarter of the population claims to have no religion, almost double the figure 10 years ago. And though the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation — double the number a generation ago.

Looked at another way, though, the figures tell a different story. Since the 18th century, many Western intellectuals have predicted religion’s imminent demise. Yet after a series of withering attacks, most recently by the new atheists, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising.

The irony is that many of the new atheists are followers of Charles Darwin. We are what we are, they say, because it has allowed us to survive and pass on our genes to the next generation. Our biological and cultural makeup constitutes our “adaptive fitness.” Yet religion is the greatest survivor of them all. Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animals, from chimpanzees to dolphins to leafcutter ants.

Neuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animals.

The precise implications of Darwin’s answer are still being debated by his disciples — Harvard’s E. O. Wilson in one corner, Oxford’s Richard Dawkins in the other. To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

No one has shown this more elegantly than the political scientist Robert D. Putnam. In the 1990s he became famous for the phrase “bowling alone”: more people were going bowling, but fewer were joining bowling teams. Individualism was slowly destroying our capacity to form groups. A decade later, in his book “American Grace,” he showed that there was one place where social capital could still be found: religious communities.

Mr. Putnam’s research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. This may go to show that God has a sense of humor. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God.

Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords

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24
Dec
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Klal Perspectives

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I would like to warmly recommend check out a relatively new online (and hard copy) pubilcation; "Klal Perspectives" has many thoughtful articles dealing with the issue of outreach - and inreach - in the Jewish community. To see the online version, click on http://klalperspectives.org/

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14
Dec
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YU Statement on Allegations of Past Staff Sexual Misconduct

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The revelations of the past 24 hours of molestation at Yeshiva University during the 70's and 80's -- are truly horrifying and disturbing.  Just as I posted the RCA statement regarding the scandal in the Satmar community, I am posting the RCA response to the YU scandal.  Below that, the statement of President Richard Joel, whom I have the pleasure of meeting on several occasions - both here in Seattle and in New Jersey - immediately follows.  It is crucial that in these types of matters, we distance ourselves from institutional and philosophical allegiances - and openly condemn all such behavior and the Chilul Hashem (Desecration of G-d's name) that comes in its wake - RM

Dec 13, 2012 -- The Rabbinical Council of America is deeply troubled by the allegations made in the Jewish Forward regarding abuse at Yeshiva University's High School some twenty-five years ago. Abuse is an issue of concern to all denominations, institutions, and communities and cannot be condoned or excused. 

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated, "Our sympathies and support are extended to all victims of abuse. It is especially hard to confront improprieties which may have occurred in our own house, yet that is where the responsibility lies. We are confident that Yeshiva is equal to the task."


The RCA commends President Richard Joel for his forthright response and statement of concern.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Statement from President Richard M. Joel in Response to Allegations of Past Abuse

Dear Yeshiva University Community,

The safety and well-being of our students is Yeshiva University’s highest priority. The inappropriate behavior and abuse alleged by The Forward to have taken place in the past, and described in statements attributed by The Forward to Dr. Lamm, are reprehensible. The actions described represent heinous and inexcusable acts that are antithetical both to Torah values and to everything that Yeshiva University stands for. They have no place here, in our community, or anywhere at all. The thought that such behavior could have occurred at our boys’ high school, or anywhere at this institution, at any time in its past, is more than sufficient reason to express on behalf of the University, my deepest, most profound apology.

At this institution we continually review and strengthen policies and practices addressing the safety of all members of the Yeshiva family. We are vigilant and responsible, and always will be. While we cannot change the past, I can say with absolute certainty that Yeshiva University has implemented, and will continue to maintain and enforce the policies and procedures necessary to assure a safe environment. Such policies and procedures, established in consultation with outside experts, include:

  • At each and every one of YU’s schools, including Yeshiva University High School for Boys, there is zero tolerance for abuse or sexual harassment of any sort, of students, faculty or staff. If, despite our best efforts, they should occur, procedures exist both to swiftly deal with the perpetrators and aid the victims. These policies are posted on our website and are communicated directly to all employees annually.
  • Members of our own faculty and staff, at every level, undergo training designed to increase sensitivity to these issues, including mandatory training for new hires concerning sexual harassment.
  • Students are encouraged to report any incidents of abuse to the University administration and should feel safe knowing that their security is our number one concern. A hotline exists to enable confidential reporting of such complaints. The hotline number is 866-447-5052.

Yeshiva University’s many programs in this area for rabbis, teachers, care providers, community leaders, parents and children widely impact the broader Jewish community:

  • The Comprehensive Abuse Response Education (CARE) program at YU’s Institute for University-School Partnership works with day schools around the country to keep children safe in their schools by addressing abuse issues with research, training and consultation.
  • YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration offers a NYS workshop and certification in preventing and identifying child abuse.
  • Members of our faculty advocate on behalf of victims of child abuse; consult and advise around the world, including with child protective service organizations, and in communities across the spectrum; and present educational programs designed to prevent abuse both to parents and children.
  • A curriculum developed at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future called “Life Values and Intimacy Education: Health Education for the Jewish School,” is now taught in grades 3-8 in many day schools around theUnited States.
  • CJF offers continuing educational programs to rabbis and rebbetzins, including a certificate program, to help them recognize and address all forms of abuse in their communities.
  • Before embarking on service learning and experiential education missions where they will work with children, students are taught to recognize warning signs of child abuse and to refer concerns to appropriate authorities.
  • All candidates for ordination at YU’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary are required to complete a course that addresses the role of rabbis in preventing and identifying child abuse. Additional related coursework, including simulation, is required for students planning to become congregational rabbis or chaplains.

Anyone who may have suffered harm is invited to contact us in confidence. By emailing  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , counseling resources of the University will be made available to you, and I welcome the opportunity to personally and confidentially discuss any issues with anyone who may have suffered harm. I can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "  or (212) 960-5300.

Thank God, communities across the nation are well aware of these issues today, and hopefully address them appropriately. At Yeshiva University we are committed to our sacred obligation to ensure that best practices are set and followed on our own campuses, and to play a key role in the broader community in keeping our most precious resource, our children, safe from harm.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Joel

President and Bravmann Family University Professor

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05
Dec
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Rabbinical Council of America’s Statement Regarding JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality)

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A topic that has not received a lot of attention in observant circles is the question of the Torah position of therapy for same-sex attraction. Please read the following statement published by the RCA earlier this week.  Comments welcome!

Nov 29, 2012 -- In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America's first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), "the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight" in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions. Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions.

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH. Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered. As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, "We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error."

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients. The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session. Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, "Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality," the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH. In response to the negative reports about JONAH's activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

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19
Nov
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"Bomb Tel Aviv" with the Hamas Boys Choir

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19
Nov
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Hamas Human Shield Strategy

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16
Nov
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Mark Regev, Netanyahu Spokesman, on CNN

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15
Nov
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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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14
Nov
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IAF Liquidates Hamas Commander

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30
Oct
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Ezra Bessaroth Statement regarding the Desecration of the Rhodes Holocaust Memorial

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Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, founded by Sephardic immigrant families from the Greek island of Rhodes, is horrified and disgusted by this weekend’s defacing of the Rhodes Holocaust Memorial. Dedicated in 2002, the monument stands in the Jewish Martyrs Square with a replica in our congregation’s courtyard in Seattle.

It reads: “Do not ever forget the eternal memory of the 1604 Jews of Rhodes and Kos who perished in Nazi death camps”.

Israel Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, himself a survivor of the Shoah, visited Ezra Bessaroth this past summer. Upon hearing that our memorial is modeled on the original Rhodes monument, Rav Lau stood looking at it in silence, touched it and kissed his hand as if the monument was a mezuzah. "Ze Makom Kadosh" ("This is a holy place"), he said.

This weekend’s hate crime - a pitiful, cowardly attempt to blot out the memory of Kedoshim of Rhodes and Kos - simply serves to strengthen our resolve to perpetuate the profound values and rich way of life of those that perished.

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29
Oct
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Rhodes Memorial to Holocaust Victims Defaced

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A shocking incident in Rhodes:  
See Michael Behar's link at http://networkedblogs.com/E4ulj

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04
Oct
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Defacement of Jerusalem Church - A Statement from the RCA

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Rabbinical Council of America on the Defacement of Jerusalem Church

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in the world, condemns the recent defacement of The Church of the Dormition on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, as well as other recent acts against the sites and clergy of other religions. The hateful language that was scrawled on its walls are against the respect and decency called for by the Torah whose "ways are ways of pleasantness and whose paths are those of peace."

From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, then Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, of blessed memory, declared it an obligation, rooted in both religious tenets and international obligations, to protect the integrity of the minority religious communities, including the persons and buildings of Christianity and Islam in the Jewish State.

Jews, who have suffered from religious persecution and oppression by members of other faiths in in the name of their religions, call on all people of faith to conduct themselves in respectful ways with other faith communities. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, said, "We expect the legal authorities in Israel to do all they can to protect these religious sites and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. We extend our words of encouragement and support to Fr. Pierbattista Pizzabolla."

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10
Sep
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RCA Statement on German Circumcision Ban

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Sep 10, 2012 -- The Rabbinical Council of America, representing more than 1,000 rabbis worldwide, calls upon German Bundestag to expedite the passage of legislation that assures the right of Jews to practice ritual circumcision. Furthermore, we call upon the courts of Bavaria to immediately drop all criminal charges filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, the Chief Rabbi of the Bavarian city of Hof, for performing a circumcision.

We applaud the strong support voiced by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle for such legislation. However, we note that until legislative action occurs, a single maverick German citizen can use a decision by the Cologne court to press charges against those who follow Jewish tradition. Such actions have fanned the the flames for contempt of Judaism and of religious freedom.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America has noted that "history has taught us that the use of bans against circumcision are a way of disparaging Jewish tradition. That such action can occur in a democratic Germany of today is shameful."

As rabbis, we pray that this most regretful episode in modern history will soon end and will, through true moral leadership, lead to greater understanding and the full protection of religious rights for all Jews and other minorities.

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17
Aug
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The IDF Rabbinate....Wants You !

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The IDF Rabbinate Wants You!

idflogoMy good friend, Lt. Col. Rabbi Yedidya Atlas has once again contacted me regarding the needs of IDF soldiers over the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashana through Sukot.  Here is an excerpt from his letter:

 .... Approximately 40,000 soldiers and officers are scheduled to participate in “Operation Slichot” this year. Among other items, the IDF Rabbinate has leased three locations with multiple lecture halls and rooms in Jerusalem for the pre-Slichot discussions and lectures following the walking tours of the Holy City’s old neighborhoods. 35,000 copies of the special user-friendly Slichot book ….with easy explanations of the T’filot, clear instructions and translations of difficult words and their meanings to clarify context etc. have been printed ....the soldiers and officers walk through the Old City...and end up at the Kotel at 12:30-1:00 AM to join the multitude of their fellow Jews who come every night to recite Slichot. As part of the on-going activities of the IDF Rabbinate to strengthen the IDF soldier’s Jewish awareness and identity and to strengthen the Jewish fighting spirit, “Operation Slichot”, which began 4 years ago with 10,000 participants and last year nearly 30,000 came, and this year there is another increase of some 30%

…..the production and outfitting of another score of Field Beit Knesset kits and Field Aronot Kodesh  for combat companies in the field.. preparing for the upcoming Chagim from new Shofarot to expanded Sukkot; educational projects such as publishing the newly completed and especially written (but as yet unprinted due to lack of funds) book on Jewish family values for married couples where one or both of the spouses serves as an officer or non-commissioned officer in the IDF regular forces.... And third and last, but certainly not least, the on-going Chesed projects, which while concentrate  around Chagim also solve problems of individual soldiers throughout the year. Such cases are the result of the requisite officers dealing with welfare issues in their respective units asking for special assistance for specific cases who cannot get either sufficient or fast enough help through the normal framework in the Ministry of Defense. 

I will take donations from now until Rosh Hashanah for the needs of IDF soldiers—both spiritual and physical.  Last year, we as a Kehilla donated $2000 and provided 3 sukkot for IDF soldiers. Can we rise to the challenge again this year? Any checks should be made out to the EB Discretionary Fund.
On behalf of Lt. Col. Atlas, I thank you!  -
Rabbi Meyers

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12
Aug
0

Updates from Israel

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06
Aug
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A Bio-Hug from the State of Israel

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We've noted on many occasions how the Jewish mission to be a "Light Unto the Nations" reflects itself not only in meaningful Torah study, but in its contribution to scientific and medical knowledge. Here's a video - courtesy of Israel National News/Arutz-7 -highlighting the latest Israeli innovation - the Bio-Hug vest. Enjoy!

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03
Aug
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Erev Shabbat: Is a Strike on Iran Imminent?

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We have had a great visit so far here in Israel. I look forward to seeing you all again in about 12 days' time.

Though it continues to have its share of internal issues, the country continues to flourish, with the threat of a strike on Iran, and G-d forbid, an extended war, preoccupying the Israeli media.  Here are some of today's articles in the Israeli dailies on the issue; the ideological leanings of the papers are somewhat evident in their respective approaches:

Times of Israel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/efraim-halevy-if-i-were-an-iranian-i-would-be-very-fearful-of-the-next-12-weeks-ex-mossad-chief-tells-ny-times/

Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=279955

Maariv (for Hebrew speakers)http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/392/040.html?hp=1&;cat=875&loc=1 ("Netanyahu does not have the patience to wait for a US strike on Iran")

Yediot Acharanot (op-ed) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4264089,00.html

Haaretz: (op-ed) http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/as-netanyahu-pushes-israel-closer-to-war-with-iran-israelis-cannot-keep-silent.premium-1.455672

Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/158563#.UBvT9k1lQ1E

Debka: http://debka.com/article/22237/Iran-prepares-for-60-percent-uranium-enrichment


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