Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Remembering the One who holds your hand

September 16, 2010 1 comment

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO –“K’rachaim av al banim, kain Tirachem aleinu…”  Like the mercy of a father on children, may You (G-d) have mercy upon us… [Liturgy]

A little girl and her father were crossing a flimsy bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter:”Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the  river.”

The little girl said, “No, Dad. You hold my hand.”

“What’s the difference?” asked the puzzled father.

“There is a big difference,” replied the little girl. “Dad, if I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But, if you hold my hand, I know for  sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go.”

On Yom Kippur we must remember that Hashem (G-d) loves us with an infinite love and is waiting to hear our prayers and give us what we need. Even if our sins are black as night,
Hashem is waiting with open arms to lovingly receive us, just as a parent will always yearn for a child to return.

May we pour our hearts out to Hashem on Yom Kippur with purity and deep sincerity. May Hashem grant us a happy, healthy and sweet new year.

Dedicated by Dr. Arthur & Eileen Cummins.

Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

The musical staying power of Kol Nidre

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Eileen Wingard

Eileen Wingard

SAN DIEGO — Eighteen segments are featured in Alan Oren’s remarkable documentary about the Kol Nidre prayer, “Eighteen Voices Sing Kol Nidre, Secrets of a Sacred Chant.” Not all are musical voices. There are the Chassidic Rabbi telling a Kol Nidre tale by the Baal Shem Tov, and Neil Levin, from the Milkin Foundation, pontificating about the sources of Jewish music . There are two holocaust survivors recounting incidents where the Kol Nidre lifted their dejected spirits while at a labor camp and in Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Most beautiful are the various renditions of Kol Nidre, first by Angela Buchdahl, senior cantor at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, then by Al Jolson in the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, and later, by Cantor Raphael Frieder of Temple Israel in Great Neck, New York. In addition, Israeli Cellist, Amir Eldon, once the youngest member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, plays the first part of Max Bruch’s setting of the chant. Max Bruch, the son of a Christian clergyman, learned the Kol Nidre melody through his friendship with Berlin’s Cantor Abraham Jacob Lichtenstein. Snippets of other arrangements are heard or mentioned, from Perry Como and Johnny Mathis to Electric Prunes and Memuga Beach Surf Music.

Like an eighteen square quilt, with each piece having the same border, the Kol Nidre melody unifies the interesting narrative.
Oren, currently a professor of journalism at Pace University, is the son of a rabbi. .He is the former Entertainment Editor for USA Today. Other documentaries he has written include the Emmy award-winning “History of Madison Square Garden.”
While visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., he was awed by the power of Kol Nidre on a Shoah survivor. That experience motivated him to create this inspiring documentary. 

During this high holiday season, Public Broadcast stations are airing the documentary in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Denver. Unfortunately, San Diego’s PBS station did not select it. Perhaps we can influence our local station to air it next year.

Wingard is a retired violinist with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and a freelance writer

Yes! Yes! Call me a Jew!

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — Somebody wrote me a nasty letter recently after something I circulated in this publication. 

“You wrote that because you’re a Jew,” spouted my critic.  To this branding, I say, thank you!  Thank you! 

Thank you for attributing to me the greatest possible ethnic compliment.  Call me a Jew, and I shall be satisfied and grateful.  I am so proud to be of a lineage and a people who have survived and even transcended the greatest and most unrelenting challenges ever known to any cultural group in the history of human life. 

We parented Christianity and Islam; the church and the mosque are the edifice-cousins of the synagogue.

We survived Hitler, and we will survive Bin Laden and that crazy fellow in Iran.  We lit the lights of Chanukah and outshone Greek Hellenism.  We wrote the texts of Rabbinic Judaism and outwitted the Roman Empire.  I find old Roman pottery along the beaches of a free Israel; we have a history and a future.

\We made Judaism portable and sprung from the clutches of the Inquisition of Spain, the pogroms of Russia and Poland, the massacres of England, the genocides of Germany, France, Latvia, and the Pale. 

We sent a magic carpet to Yemen, a caravan of relief to the Arab lands, prayer books and matzohs to the Soviet Union.

Out of proportion to our numbers, we marched with M.L. King, because we were the first to leave the bondage of Egypt.  Our Passover Seder remains the international meal of freedom.

On July 4, 1976, we sent the Star of David to rescue hostages in Entebbe and we now send the stars of our American Jewish youth to every university and into every corporate hall in this country and we send our bright and ambitious former youth group presidents to the Congress and—if a Jew had been counting—we would have sent a Jew to the vice-presidency of the United States in 2001. 

Call me a Jew.  I like living in a people who see wrong and try to right it, see trouble and figure out how to relieve it, see life and choose to live it.

Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego

Improving education and doing teshuvah are step-by-step processes

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO–Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt addressed a gathering of Chofetz Chaim alumni, many of whom were yeshiva classroom teachers. They were talking about the difficulties of teaching a  class when there is wide mix of abilities amongst the students. If you teach at a faster pace, half the class gets lost. If you teach at a slower pace, half the class gets bored. If you  teach in the middle, no one is happy.

As each teacher was speaking, you could feel the pain and frustration as each described their experiences.

Rabbi Grunblatt related a similar scene. He told us that Rabbi Noach Orlewick was once speaking to a group that included teachers and parents. The parents were concerned  that their children were being lost in the sauce. Their individual needs were not being met. They were being swept as side and forgotten as the rest of the school progressed. The  parents wanted more attention from the teachers and the school. The teachers present were overwhelmed trying to make everyone in a diverse group satisfied. The teachers  wanted more assistance from the parents and the school.

Everyone was frustrated. It was a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The atmosphere was beginning to get heated and tense.

Rabbi Orlewick calmly proclaimed to the audience, “There is a befairishe possuk (explicit verse) that addresses this exact issue.”

There was silence in the room. All wanted to hear what the Rabbi would say next.

“It is written in the Torah,’Vsheenontom livanecha.’  ‘You shall teach your children.'” 

The Rabbi continued, “Ideally each parent should teach their children individually and there  shouldn’t be classrooms. But the practical reality is that there are classroooms. Now we have to figure out how to make the best of a non-ideal situation.”

Instead of getting caught up in your idealized vision of how the school should be and what everyone else should be doing; accept the fact that things are the way they are, and start  from there to make things a little better, and then a little more better.

We all have this problem as we enter Rosh Hashana. We know we need to do teshuvah, but we make it more difficult by imagining that we are supposed to be perfect tzaddikim.

Then we become despondent that we are falling short of what we have convinced ourselves we should be.

Instead of getting caught up in this cycle, let us accept that things are the way they are, and try to do a little better and become a little better. And then a little more better.

Dedicated by Baruch & Miriam Stehley in honor of their children.

Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

Venturing from the shallow end of Jewish life

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO — When I was a child attending summer camp, I dreaded pool days. I did not know how to swim and hated being forced in the water. I always made sure to stay in the shallow end of the pool and no amount of coaxing would entice me to enter the deep end.

One day during swimming lessons we were told to float on our backs. I lined myself up in such a way that I would stay in the shallow part of the pool and I began to float. The swimming instructor told me to begin a back stroke. I complied and slowly began to move. He continued to encourage me before finally telling me to stop. “Look where you are,” he said. I turned over and noticed that I had backstroked all the way over to the deep end, and I had not sunk or drowned. From that day on I was never afraid of the deep end again.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale spent most of his life promoting the power of positive thinking. You can accomplish whatever you set out to do, he claimed, if you have the right attitude.

The same is true of negative thinking. If you believe you cannot accomplish something, you have already defeated yourself.

The Torah tells us that God’s Instruction “is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…Neither is it beyond the sea.” (Deut. 30:11-13) Rather, “the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deut. 11:14) The commentator Malechet Machshevet notes that in this last verse the Torah reverses the usual order of things. Normally, one thinks about something in one’s heart before saying it. Here the Torah perplexingly says that first we should “say” something and only afterwards think about it.

Malechet Machshevet suggests that the Torah proposes this order because it is talking about performing mitzvot. When it comes to performing mitzvot, we should first do them and only afterwards think about them. He adds that when it comes to mitzvot this is especially important because so many people look at performing mitzvot as a daunting, impossible, or difficult task. When they approach mitzvot with this attitude, their failure to perform them becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. They have already convinced themselves that they can’t.

I can vouch for the veracity of Melechet Machshevet’s opinion. I cannot even begin to count the number of Jews who have told me they don’t want to keep kosher because it is too difficult or expensive, or Shabbat and holidays because they are too restrictive. When one sees Jewish observance as a hardship rather than a joy, one is less likely to give it a try. Such is the power of negative thinking.

While it is easier to stay in the shallow end of Jewish life, it is not nearly as fulfilling or productive as when one ventures into its depths. When it comes to performing mitzvot, it is better to jump in first and think about it later!

Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

Hashem requires honesty, especially in child rearing

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO –Hashem (G-d) promises the Jewish people that if we faithfully perform his commandments He will shower us with blessing. All of Hashem’s blessings and promises have great  meaning to us as the following true story related by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, documented by in a Yated Neeman article written by Rabbi Binyamin Pruzansky, illustrates:

Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky was once visited by an old talmid (student) and his family. After Rav Yaakov greeted them warmly and invited them inside, the talmid wanted to give his
rebbi some nachas. He decided to demonstrate how his fourteen-month-old daughter was learning to walk.

He placed her in a corner of the room and moved back some six feet, while he dangled some candy in front of her to encourage the child to walk toward him. Sure enough, the little
girl balanced on her little legs as she wobbled and toddled her way towards her father. Indeed Rav Yaakov shared the nachas. He broke out in a wide smile as he watched his
student’s little child achieve.

Suddenly, in order to extend the challenge, the proud father, still dangling the candy, moved back a few steps, making it necessary for his daughter to walk an additional few steps.

To his shock, Rav Yaakov’s smile disappeared immediately.

“You must return to where you were just standing and give her the candy in that spot!” said Rav Yaakov.

After the student complied and the little girl had her candy, Rav Yaakov explained:  “The baby was shown that she would receive her prize if she reached a specific area, but then
you changed the area. That is simply not honest. You are being untruthful and teaching her as well. Everything in a child’s chinuch (education) has to be based upon the truth!”

We need to know that Hashem is Kulo Emes (Total Truth). We can be confident that if Hashem makes a promise, He will keep that promise. He will never dangle, delay or
deceive us. We have complete confidence that all of His loving blessings will come to us at the proper time in the proper manner.

Dedicated by Rina Stein


Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

Women of the Hebrew Bible, Part 2: Jochebed

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Jochebed, (c) 2010, Sheila Orysiek


Determined to save the life of her infant son from Pharaoh’s edict to kill all the male infants among the Israelites, she wove a basket and sadly – but courageously – pushed it into the Nile River.  Without her action our story may never have been.

One of a series of seven women of the Hebrew Bible illustrating the moment in their lives when they were at pivotal point, contributed significantly to subsequent events and/or set a precedent in the history of our people.  — Sheila Orysiek

Orysiek is a freelance writer and artist based in San Diego.

What’s the meaning of the ‘eglah arufah’ ritual?

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO–Parashat Shoftim contains the obtuse ritual of the eglah arufah (heifer whose neck was broken).

If a murder victim is found outside of one or more towns and the slayer is unknown, the residents of the town closest to the victim must take responsibility for their burial. Before doing so they must perform the ritual of the eglah arufah and make a declaration that they were not responsible for the murder. They take a heifer which has never been yoked, bring it down to wadi (dry river bed) that has never been tilled or sown, and break its neck.

A Kohein offers a blessing and then the elders of the town wash their hands over the heifer and declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel who you redeemed and do not let guilt of the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” (Deut. 21:7)

The ritual of “heifer whose neck was broken” is strange and the rabbis classified it as a law which lacks rational explanation; it is performed only because God says so. Some of the symbolism, however, is obvious-such as the innocent elders “washing their hands” of guilt after the murder.

Their declaration is nevertheless strange. Why should the elders of the town, who are obviously innocent, have to swear they were not involved? The Talmud explains that the elders were not declaring their own innocence, but that they did not permit lawlessness and violence that lead to murder to flourish in their towns. The Midrash adds: “in our community, no poor person goes unaided to the point of being driven to a life of crime.” (Etz Hayim, p. 1105)

What the rabbis were teaching us is, that while it is obviously forbidden to commit murder, it is also our responsibility to prevent murder and acts of violence from occurring in our society. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We prevent acts of violence by making every effort to insure that those around us are treated justly and equitably, and that poverty and need do not propel people to a life of crime.

When we see injustice and violence we may not just wash our hands of responsibility and walk away. We are obligated to work together to eliminate the causes, attitudes, and lifestyle which lead to a life of hatred and violence.

Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

Pen and ink series illustrates women of the Bible

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Sarah; Women of the Hebrew Bible – A Moment in Their Lives; Pen and Ink on Paper; 16 x 20; (c) Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO (SDJW) — Sheila Orysiek of San Diego has put pen to paper to draw seven women of the Bible at pivotal times in their lives or when their actions “contributed significantly to subsequent events and/or set a precedent in the history of our people.”

For our readers’ enjoyment, San Diego Jewish World will present the drawings consecutively in issues over the next week (Shabbat excluded)

The first focuses on Sarah.

Writes the artist:

“Sarah, wife of Abraham, had accompanied him on all his journeys. She was present when the three Visitors promised that she would bear a son.   She helped Abraham as he hosted the Visitors and though she laughed at the idea of giving birth at her advanced age, she did indeed become the mother of Isaac and thus of Israel.”  

Preceding was a San Diego Jewish World staff report

Commentary: Women of the Wall pioneering true egalitarianism in Judaism

July 26, 2010 3 comments

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

Rabbi Dow Marmur

TORONTO–A scandalous aspect of virtually all religions has been their treatment of women. My own has shunned many excesses — stoning for alleged adultery, so-called honour killings or officially putting the ordination of women in the same category as pedophilia — but it nevertheless has a history of embarrassing discrimination.

One of the reasons for the growth of Reform Judaism, which this month marks its birth in Germany 200 years ago, was to bring about gender equality in worship and practice. Nowadays women and men have identical rights and obligations in Reform synagogues. Other Jewish religious streams have followed their example. There are now hundreds of women rabbis ordained by different rabbinic schools; about a dozen of them work in the GTA.

Though not a rabbi herself, Anat Hoffman is one of the leaders of Reform Judaism in Israel. She heads its Religious Action Centre that champions the rights of all citizens. She also chairs an interdenominational Jewish organization called Women of the Wall that conducts worship services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest place. The aim is to challenge the misogynist franchise that the Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbinate has arrogated to itself there and with which political parties in power cynically collude.

At a service at the Wall earlier this month, Hoffman was arrested for carrying a Scroll of the Torah in the women’s precinct. The ultra-Orthodox custodians regard this as sacrilege and a provocation. In its effort to keep the peace, the local police tend to placate the fanatics at the expense of the women. Hence the arrest.

A couple of days later, Hoffman was in Toronto. When I suggested to her that normative Judaism celebrates holy events, not holy places, she said that the monthly worship services the women hold at the Wall are indeed holy events. It’s the only opportunity anywhere in the world for Jews across the denominational spectrum to pray together. In the 22 years that her group has existed — 21 of them with her as leader — countless women, many of them Orthodox, have participated and been greatly enriched by the experience.

Hoffman insists that the remnant of an outer wall that once surrounded the ancient Temple in Jerusalem isn’t an Orthodox synagogue that would entitle its male worshippers to relegate women to the back, or exclude them altogether, preventing them from even touching Torah Scrolls. She argues that the Wall is a national monument that must be accessible to all. To give one group sole rights to the exclusion of all others goes against Israeli democracy.

But, I ventured to suggest, in view of Israel’s precarious diplomatic and security situation, its leaders have more urgent matters to deal with than gender equality at the Wall. She disagreed and argued that religious fanatics can be no less dangerous than armed terrorists. Erosion from within may turn out to be an even greater threat than attacks from without. The women are defending the soul of Israel, she told me.

They also reflect an important trend in contemporary Jewry. Gender equality has had a profound effect on all Jewish denominations. There are now even Orthodox congregations in Israel and elsewhere that encourage women to be full and equal participants in worship, including holding the Torah and reading from it. A maverick Orthodox rabbinic school in New York ordains women rabbis.

A seemingly local skirmish in Jerusalem is the tip of an enormous iceberg that stands in the way of dramatic changes in the very fabric of Judaism. Anat Hoffman and her group are pioneers. People of all faiths committed to religious freedom and women’s rights have reason to applaud and support them.

Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. This column appeared in the Star of Toronto.