WHAT'S INSIDE COVER STORY
Growing Up in the Public Eye
Cover: Andrés Moncayo
HISTORY A Business of Her Own By Faigy Grunfeld PROFILE Q & A: Up Close with Children’s Author Bracha Goetz By Avigayil Perry What’s on Your Child’s Reading List This Summer?
LETTERS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE The Time Is Ripe for a National Conversation By Mark (Moishe) Bane FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN Some Personal Reflections on Communal Discourse CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE By Gerald M. Schreck INSIDE THE OU INSIDE PHILANTHROPY
COVER STORY Growing Up in the Public Eye: Children of Rabbis In the Limelight By Bayla Sheva Brenner Rabbi's Son Syndrome By Dovid Bashevkin
RABBINICS Majoring in Rabbinics By Barbara Bensoussan EDUCATION The Battle for Safe Schools By Nechama Carmel
KOSHERKOPY What Could Be Wrong With . . . ? By Eli Gersten
WELLNESS REPORT Stress Less This Summer By Shira Isenberg
THE CHEF’S TABLE Simply Elegant Summertime Meals By Norene Gilletz
BOOKS Making It Work: A Practical Guide to Halacha in the Workplace By Ari Wasserman Reviewed by Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
96 98 100
Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage By Dov S. Zakheim Reviewed by Daniel Renna Reviews in Brief By Gil Student LEGAL-EASE What’s the Truth about . . . the Apple in the Garden of Eden? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky LASTING IMPRESSIONS The Making of a Jewish Wedding By Kylie Ora Lobell
Jewish Action seeks to provide a forum for a diversity of legitimate opinions within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. Therefore, opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the policy or opinion of the Orthodox Union. Jewish Action is published by the Orthodox Union • 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 212.563.4000. Printed Quarterly—Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, plus Special Passover issue. ISSN No. 0447-7049. Subscription: $16.00 per year; Canadian, $20.00; Overseas, $60.00. Periodical's postage paid at New York, NY, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Jewish Action, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.
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HOW A MINHAG EVOLVED I have followed with interest the discussion concerning standing for a chatan and kallah as they walk down the aisle (“What’s the Truth about Standing for a Chatan and Kallah?,” by Ari Zivotofsky [winter 2016]). This now-universal practice was virtually unheard of until the late 1980s. It is difficult to imagine that from the 1940s until the 1980s, when thousands of weddings were presided over by rabbanim and roshei yeshivah of a generation ago, the then-universal practice of remaining seated was halachically problematic. In fact, I have read that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky and Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, zichronam livrachah, all did not stand during the chuppah procession. I would ask the following of Jewish Action readers: If you were married before 1990, take out your wedding album. Most likely, you will not see anyone standing while you and your spouse walked down the aisle. This is a fascinating demonstration of how minhagim evolve. Peretz Perl Brooklyn, New York
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THE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE Thank you for your excellent coverage of a topic that needs to be addressed—divorce and its effects on children (spring 2017). I especially appreciated Avigail Rosenberg’s “Children After Divorce,” which was practical and encouraging. “The Data on Divorce” interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Yitzchak Schechter was helpful as well—hard facts are indisputable. However, statistics do not reflect the whole story. For example, in the study cited, when questioned, many divorced people said that they were doing well. How was that measured? Are their children not suffering from the breakup of their homes? Thanks again for your wonderful magazine. Malka Kaganoff Jerusalem, Israel
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Parental alienation is a significant problem in the Orthodox community that should have been addressed in your articles on divorce. Unfortunately, the topic is rarely acknowledged by the community or by community leaders. Too many parents suffer silently each day, hoping that someday their children will realize that there is another side to the story, and that the alienated parent still loves and cares for them, despite what they may have been told. I am hopeful that one day I will reconnect with my children. Anonymous DR. YITZCHAK SCHECHTER RESPONDS I thank the letter writers for their important comments. It is gratifying to see that the article is generating much discussion. Parental alienation and the effects of divorce on children are two very important aspects that require further analysis and study. As I mentioned in the interview, we have only begun to release the findings of our study of divorce in the Orthodox community. Data is essential to turn insight into action. As important as data is, however, it is not the be all and end all of decision-making nor the sum 2
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total of people’s experiences. There are many other pieces to consider with regard to divorce, and we do not pretend that our current understanding is comprehensive. There is much work for us and others to do, and I look forward to keeping Jewish Action readers updated as further findings emerge. IVF, GENDER SELECTION AND HALACHAH In “The Future of Reproductive Medicine: What Does Halachah Say?” (spring 2017), the authors write: “Regarding sex selection using IVF, only when there are medical reasons to engage in IVF can sex selection be considered as a halachic option.” Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg, author of the Encyclopedia Hilchatit Refuit (Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics), recently wrote the following in an e-mail to me: “I spoke with Rabbi Asher Weiss and Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg and both clearly stated that there is no halachic prohibition to [engage in] IVF-PGD in order to have the other gender in [the] case of [a family] with four or five children [of the same gender]. Rabbi Weiss added that he does not encourage a couple to do so, but if asked—and there is a strong [desire from the parents] to have the other gender—he allows it.” Richard V. Grazi, MD Genesis Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Brooklyn, New York
MEMORIES OF THE SIX-DAY WAR I very much appreciated your section on the Six-Day War (“Jerusalem Reunited: 50 Years” [spring 2017]). In my mind, Yom Yerushalayim is tied to a different time and place. Fifty years ago, my husband, Rabbi Saul Koss, was an American army chaplain and we were stationed in Germany. Several times a year, a retreat would be held for Jewish personnel and their families stationed throughout Europe; these were held at Hitler’s famous mountain retreat center in Berchtesgaden, Germany, which had been taken over by the US military. On the evening of June 7, 1967, in the midst of one such retreat, a number of us were sitting in a local café, discussing the escalating war in Israel when the conductor of an Austrian band that had been playing came over to our table (the kippot revealed our identity). He cried: “Jerusalem is in your hands!” Suddenly, the band suddenly began playing Hava Nagilah and we, full of emotion, celebrated this extraordinary victory, while stamping our feet on the ashes of Hitler. Here we were in the heartland of Nazism and we were not only still around, but we had won! Susan Koss Silver Spring, Maryland We want to hear from you! Send letters to the editor to JA@OU.ORG
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Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
THE TIME IS RIPE FOR A
NATIONAL CONVERSATION By Mark (Moishe) Bane
t is time for American Orthodox leaders to begin a national discussion regarding communal priorities and resource allocation. Our community has evolved from the fledgling start-up of earlier days into a robust, growing and increasingly complex society. Marvin Schick, in his Avi Chai day school surveys, reports that Orthodox day school enrollment has increased by more than 38 percent in the past fifteen years, and the number of Orthodox Jewish children enrolled in special needs programs has increased by 204 percent in the same period. The pages of this magazine have reported on the rising divorce rate within the Orthodox community, as well as the increasing prevalence of both alcohol and drug abuse. Homes for battered Orthodox women have been established, and organizations for LGBT individuals seeking to remain within the Orthodox community have sprung up, often to much controversy.
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These developments, some terrifying and others wonderful, introduce new responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is the duty of leadership, on a national level, to review the numerous opportunities and challenges facing the community and assess the relative priority, weight and attention that each issue deserves. This type of global review is compelled by the limited resources that are available to address communal needs collectively. Currently, both communal and personal resources tend to be distributed to those who scream the loudest or campaign for support with the most charisma. Often, needs that may be more fundamental to communal survival are neglected in favor of needs that, although legitimate, have a far lesser consequence on a community-wide basis. Moreover, little attention is paid to the duplication of efforts within the community, the respective effectiveness of alternative projects addressing identical or overlapping issues, and the need to assess which communal concerns are more effectively addressed by smaller institutions and which would be handled more efficiently through a larger collective effort. Currently, each cause has its own advocates, and each approach its own adherents. Only an objective analysis, performed by the most trustworthy and respected communal leaders, can reliably identify redundancy and duplication, and prioritize the allocation of resources based upon an assessment
of the impact that each issue may have on the growth of the community— both physically and religiously. This assessment, which may well include different views, should be distributed, and thereby serve to guide the allocation of the community’s valuable resources, whether financial, intellectual or human capital. No single body or institution can undertake such an endeavor alone. We at the Orthodox Union are certainly proud of our programs, initiatives and accomplishments. Other very effective Orthodox communal institutions continue to make invaluable contributions. Individually, however, each organization has its own focus and responsibilities, as dictated by its institutional history, its primary constituency of supporters and its leadership. At the OU, we continually reassess our priorities after monitoring our programs’ impact and effectiveness, and after considering ever-evolving communal needs. I assume that other organizations do the same. But these assessments address only allocations made internally, within a single institution. There is no forum for conducting an objective assessment on a national, community-wide basis. Moreover, guidance on communal resource allocation, for the most part, Mark (Moishe) Bane is president of the OU and a senior partner and chairman of the Business Restructuring Department at the international law firm, Ropes & Gray LLP.
Geography, however, is no longer the dominant factor in identifying segments of the Orthodox community. The remarkable advances in technology, transportation and communication allow individuals and families of like mind or culture to collectively identify themselves as a “local community,” even when they reside great distances from one another.
is provided by individuals already invested in a particular aspect of communal needs, usually areas that happen to be the focus of an institution or project they either founded, support or work for. Such views fail to carry the requisite credibility to sway communal priorities, even when the individuals providing advice are highly regarded and have unassailable reputations. As described below, American Orthodox leadership lacks authority, and thus its views have sway only to the degree determined by the community. While Orthodox leaders frequently have a particular group of followers who adhere to their guidance, on a communal-wide basis little deference is paid to their opinions. Alas, such deference must be earned. I suggest that were communal leaders to expend their valuable time on the interests and needs of the broader Torah community, even sacrificing a degree of focus on their own institutions and respective personal day-to-
day responsibilities, they would thereby exhibit love and respect for other Orthodox leaders and sub-communities across cultural and sociological divides. Moreover, they would then engender the respect and deference that would ensure that their guidance will be acknowledged and followed. To fully appreciate the necessary components of a broad-based communal needs assessment, and to understand why our communal leaders should make this a priority, we must first recognize the nature of contemporary Orthodox leadership and its limited power, and understand why our community currently has no leadership that is actually national in form. The Nature of Contemporary Orthodox Leadership American Orthodox leadership lacks authority, and thus exercises influence only through social pressure. Admittedly, social persuasion is powerful, partic-
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ularly as imposed through community schools’ admission policies and, even more so, through the shidduch process. Nevertheless, individuals and families are subject to these pressures only by dint of voluntarily seeking to integrate into the community. Unlike in past eras and in other lands, American religious communal leadership is neither government mandated nor government appointed. No Jew is compelled to associate with the Jewish community, and those who do may freely decide whether or not to associate with the Orthodox community. Similarly, even Orthodox Jews wholly committed to observance are not required to belong to a congregation, and no congregation is forced to belong to an association of congregations. Unlike many other organized American religious communities, each Orthodox congregation has full autonomy to select its rabbinic and lay leadership, and individual rabbis and lay leadership groups are free to establish their own internal policies and practices. By the same token, of course, community members, rabbis and congregations are entitled to react as they wish, and express their views regarding the Torah authenticity and validity of the policies adopted by others. Not only are our leaders handicapped by the absence of enforcement authority, and the array of social options available to communal members, but they are further weakened by the prevailing culture that idealizes autonomy, and imposes a zealous focus on individuality and an Ayn Rand-like derogation of respect for collective identity and responsibility. Since American Orthodox leadership lacks enforcement authority, it can only exert influence by engendering the respect of communal members or by providing the inspiration necessary to earn the deference of the community. Our leaders’ participation in a national conversation regarding communal priorities will not only produce invaluable thoughts and insights, it will also significantly elevate our leadership’s status and its ability to influence the broader community. Among other discussions, 6
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they would evaluate the relative impact and priority of various communal concerns and opportunities. They would consider the effectiveness of competing approaches to addressing a communal need, and identify efforts that might be revamped or consolidated. By acting and working collectively, a true national leadership will emerge, accompanied by the respect and deference due to authentic national leadership. What Is a “National” Organization? Our community is currently sorely lacking in national leadership—at least as such term must be properly understood. It is thus no wonder that so many
The rich array of cultures and paths within Orthodoxy preserves the majesty of our history and the centrality of our mesorah. The vibrancy of multiple styles and approaches allows families and individuals to express their allegiance to Torah in a manner aligned with their needs. of us have a cynical view of leadership, and few individuals occupying high-level positions of communal responsibility enjoy broad-based respect. National leadership, however, can be reinvigorated, and its fruit would be sweet and plentiful. The American Orthodox community is a conglomeration of communal segments of varying sizes. In earlier times, the parameters of each segment were based on where its members lived. Community organizations were categorized by their respective geographic breadth, reflected by the geographic expanse of where their participants lived, and the geographic reach of their respective influence. An institution servicing a local neighborhood was distinct from one that addressed the needs of an entire city, and even more
so as compared to one that engaged a full region. An organization focusing on the interests of Jews living across the United States was regarded as a national organization. Geography, however, is no longer the dominant factor in identifying segments of the Orthodox community. The remarkable advances in technology, transportation and communication allow individuals and families of like mind or culture to collectively identify themselves as a “local community,” even when they reside great distances from one another. Thus, while American Orthodoxy remains an amalgamation of smaller community segments, each sub-community is now primarily recognized by its members’ cultural and sociological allegiances and identity, and not necessarily by the neighborhood in which they reside. This is even true of Chassidic courts, origin-based sub-communities, and sub-divisions of the Orthodox world distinguished by ideology or lifestyle. Similar to the redefinition of Orthodox sub-segments, an organization is now “national” only if its influence and constituency encompass a broad range of distinct sub-communities. A truly national organization is one with which all observant American Jews affiliate. While several prominent organizations enjoy impressive geographic scope, from a cultural and ideological perspective, each actually functions as a “local” organization, to one degree or another. Even the OU, with its increasing breadth of influence and involvement, is by no means national. The segmentation of American Orthodoxy is healthy and inevitable. The rich array of cultures and paths within Orthodoxy preserves the majesty of our history and the centrality of our mesorah. The vibrancy of multiple styles and approaches allows families and individuals to express their allegiance to Torah in a manner aligned with their needs. In addition, particularly for young people, the intense identification enjoyed with one’s social sub-segment strengthens social loyalty, which serves as an effective barrier to the abandonment of Torah Judaism, and a frustration of assimilation in
general. There are few more impactful tools in engendering commitment and loyalty than identification with cohorts of similar goals and ideologies. While all of Torah Jewry surely shares a uniform aspiration of serving Hashem as directed by the Torah, a more specific identification with a particular approach merely strenghtens one’s sense of identity and affiliation. Each sub-community typically has ideological, cultural or socio-economic distinctions that require tailored approaches in many areas, most prominently in the fields of education and social services. The unique characteristics of communal sub-segments should not, however, eliminate or negate kehillah-wide responsibilities. Contending with the impact of technology and other cultural threats to the Torah belief system of the younger generation, addressing social and health concerns unique to an observant Jew, and dealing with tuition affordability
Not only are our leaders handicapped by the absence of enforcement authority, and the array of social options available to communal members, but they are further weakened by the prevailing culture that idealizes autonomy, and imposes a zealous focus on individuality and an Ayn Rand-like derogation of respect for collective identity and responsibility.
are examples of important communal concerns that transcend segmentation. Unfortunately, the paucity of collective thinking and cross-segment discussion compromises the likelihood that these very serious concerns will be solved any time soon. Finally, I believe that participation in community-wide discussions will evidence selflessness, objectivity and mutual respect. By coming together to engage in a national conversation, American Orthodox leadership will raise its stature in the eyes of American Orthodox Jewry. Perhaps most significantly, by working collectively and addressing challenges and opportunities that transcend one’s own particular community, Orthodox communal leaders will collectively constitute an authentic national leadership. Thereby, American Orthodoxy will be blessed with the national leadership that it sorely needs, and our leaders will receive the deference and influence they truly deserve.
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FROM THE DESK OF ALLEN I. FAGIN
SOME PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON COMMUNAL DISCOURSE
his past February, the OU distributed to its member shuls the responses of its Rabbinic Panel to questions posed to it regarding women’s ordination and related issues, together with a Statement from the OU regarding these responses. To summarize their primary conclusions, the Panel determined that women: (i) should not be appointed to serve in a clergy position (i.e., carrying out the duties generally expected from, and often reserved for, a synagogue rabbi); and (ii) could, with the guidance and approval of the synagogue’s lay and rabbinic leadership, carry out a wide array of critical roles, including teaching classes and shiurim; serving as a scholar-in-residence or community educator; serving as a professional counselor to address the spiritual, psychological or social needs of the
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community; serving as a mentor to guide women through the conversion process; serving in senior managerial and administrative positions within the synagogue; and (with the approval of the synagogue’s or community’s rabbis, and in close consultation with them) serving as a yoetzet halachah. Reactions to the responses and the accompanying OU Statement were virtually instantaneous; they were numerous, varied and often vociferous. Many of the reactions—from communities across the country—hailed the documents as a significant step forward in expanding the opportunities for women to serve Orthodox congregations and communities in multiple, significant— and halachically acceptable—ways. Other reactions—perhaps predictably— were quite negative, questioning both the substance of the Rabbinic Panel’s Responses, the necessity for having solicited them and their potential impact on the unity of our community. I have no intention in this forum of either reprising these arguments—either for or against —or debating their substance or merits. Perhaps on another occasion. What follows, however, are some purely personal reactions to the manner in which the various reactions unfolded and, perhaps in the process, some observations (again, purely personal) on how our community can productively engage in reasoned discourse on matters that are complex, nuanced and often divisive. I want to stress that
these views are my own, and I share them not only because I believe them deeply, but also to encourage rigorous, thoughtful and respectful discussion about them that can hopefully strengthen us as a community. Conversation vs. Sound Bites One of the more distressing reactions to the debate was the all-too-frequent absence of meaningful analysis; the inability to recognize or appreciate subtleties and alternative vantage points; the reduction of complex thoughts and issues to simplistic sound bites. My distinct impression in reading a number of the comments was that the authors had failed to read (or to completely read) the material they were commenting on, relying instead, it often appeared, on misleading headlines or the summaries of others. Perhaps some of this superficiality can be attributed to a desire to argue rather than to reason, to demarcate rather than to converse. F. Scott Fitzgerald defined “the test of a first-rate intelligence” as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I have no doubt that our community is largely populated by those with first-rate intelligence; we need to train ourselves to be more reliant on it. Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.
One culprit standing in the way of real communal conversation is the ubiquitous use of social media as the medium of choice for social discourse. For all of its benefits, the digitalization of discussion has, in my view, left us increasingly bereft of the ability to reason together. In her recently published New York Times bestseller Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, author Sherry Turkle documents the impact of digital communication on our ability (or inability) to converse with one another: Although the web provides incomparable tools to inform ourselves and mobilize for action, when we are faced with a social problem that troubles us, we are tempted to retreat to what I would call the online real. There, we can choose to see only the people with whom we agree. And to share only the ideas we think our followers want to hear. Real conversation requires listening—the recognition that a subject of consequence is more complex than one may have imagined. It requires the openness to changing one’s mind, in whole or in part. Real conversation requires courage and compromise. It involves moving beyond mere sound bites. One can elect to avoid meaningful conversation both on and off the web; the infatuation with the “online real” just makes it a lot easier to do so. The remarkable technology that makes it possible to interact with everyone does not necessarily result in everyone interacting. Quite the contrary. As Turkle concludes: The web promises to make our world bigger. But as it works now, it also narrows our exposure to ideas. We can end up in a bubble in which we hear only the ideas we already know. Or already like. The Philosopher Allan Bloom has suggested the cost: “Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities.”
The Hierarchy of Pesak I do not believe that anyone can seriously doubt that the Rabbinic Panel we approached was comprised of seven of the most distinguished halachic decisors of our community— individuals of unparalleled reputation and integrity, to
Halachah is not determined by popular petition, or op-eds or Facebook posts.
whom broad segments of our community have routinely turned for pesak on matters of personal and communal import and consequence. Yes, there were those within our community who disagreed with their pesak. But such disagreement must acknowledge a fundamental principle that is foundational to our lives as Orthodox Jews—pesak is not democratic; it is, by its very nature, hierarchical. Not every rabbi is a posek (certainly not in the sense of determining halachah in matters of true novelty, or those that affect broad issues of significant communal concern). In such instances we turn to gedolim. If I needed medical advice for a family member with a critical health issue, I wouldn’t turn to my general practitioner. I would seek the opinion of the foremost medical authority I could find. The realm of halachic determination is not, and should not, be different. In short, halachah is not determined by popular petition, or op-eds or Facebook posts. It is the province of controlling halachic texts, as elucidated by our mesorah and the careful, systematic explication of the Torah and Torah values by renowned halachic authorities using time-honored methods of halachic analysis developed and accepted over the millennia. As committed Jews, we accept the authority of our gedolim, who in each generation translate Hashem’s will into practical halachic determinations for the Torah community.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, decried the populist approach to halachic determination. The determination of halachah is not a democratic act, in which every intelligent person may engage. To the contrary, Rav Soloveitchik argued, “when people talk of a meaningful Halacha, or of unfreezing the Halacha, or of an empirical Halacha,” they are basically proposing an egalitarian approach to the determination of normative halachic conduct—an approach that may align with our democratic sensibilities, but which flies in the face of the halachic system that has guided and sustained us for 2,000 years. Civility Matters The line between zealous advocacy for one’s point of view and language that is demeaning, disrespectful—or worse—surely is somewhat porous and occasionally subjective. But much of life requires us to exercise such judgments, and remain on the right side of the line—all the more so when respect for talmidei chachamim is at issue. Fortunately, much of the debate, while intense, remained dignified. I particularly commend the Lehrhaus Symposium, which invited a number of distinguished participants to comment on the Rabbinic Panel’s Responses and the OU Statement. The participants did so—candidly, occasionally critically, but with respect and due regard for the complexity of the issues. Occasionally, however, the debate engendered by the Rabbinic Responses and the OU Statement crossed that del-
Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
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icate line. For example, one writer likened the Rabbinic Responses to a sermon delivered on the eve of the Civil War, defending the institution of slavery. One theme that repeated in a number of blog and other social media posts accused the Rabbinic Panel of formulating their views in order to maintain their “hegemony” as well as their “dominion and control.” Not only was such an argument the height of disrespect,
The Rabbinic Panel . . . emphasized—indeed, repeatedly celebrated—the enormously important and successful roles that women can and must play within our communal and synagogue structures, including as community educators and scholars.
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it was also entirely illogical. While the Panel made clear that ordaining women as rabbis was at odds with halachah and mesorah, they likewise emphasized—indeed, repeatedly celebrated—the enormously important and successful roles that women can and must play within our communal and synagogue structures, including as community educators and scholars. Regardless of our substantive point of view, can we not all agree that civility in our communal discourse matters? Tone matters. Courtesy and respect for divergent viewpoints, even if they are believed to be fallacious, must be the order of the day. As our sages recognized: “Divrei chachamim be’nachat nishmaim— The words of the wise are most likely to be heard when communicated pleasantly.” Wherever we stand on any issues, particularly those of communal importance, we need to begin with this goal in mind. We have only scratched the surface of the constellation of challenges facing our community. Many of these challenges are not new. The numerous passionate and insightful comments on the Rabbinic Responses and the accompanying OU Statement—from both women and men across the Orthodox spectrum —highlight the need for ongoing, vigorous but respectful discussion. Such a discussion can elucidate the multiplicity of pathways available to meet our communal imperatives while remaining true to halachic and hashkafic norms. Let us pray that our community can truly internalize this imperative, l’hagdil Torah ul’ ha’adirah—to glorify the Torah and ennoble it.
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By Gerald M. Schreck
re books dying? With the advent of digital reading, this question has been explored incessantly online and in print media, as well as in these very pages. Hundreds, if not thousands, of eulogies have been written in anticipation of the demise of printed books, yet it seems that the end of books may not be so near after all. A recent Pew Report found that while a growing number of Americans are reading e-books on digital devices, “print books remain much more popular than books in digital format.” This is heartening news—and yet, while American adults are still reading books, what about kids? According to a 2014 study by Common Sense Media, kids are reading (electronic or print books) less and less for fun as they get older; the study found that 45 percent of seventeen-year-olds say they read by choice only once or twice a year. Reading rates have also declined significantly over the past three decades. According to government studies, in 1984, 8 percent of thirteen-year-olds and 9 percent of seventeen-year-olds said they “never” or “hardly ever” read for pleasure. In 2014, that number rose to 22 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Indeed, why should kids read when they can text, post photos on Snapchat or play an addictive electronic game?
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
With so many digital distractions out there, it’s surprising that kids are reading at all. I haven’t seen any studies done specifically on the reading rates among Orthodox kids, but I’m fairly optimistic that frum kids are still reading. Firstly, there’s Shabbos, when cell phones are turned off for a blissful twenty-five hours. Secondly, the Jewish children’s book-publishing industry has seen phenomenal growth in recent years. When I was growing up in New York City in the fifties and sixties, there was little Jewish-oriented literature geared for my age. Today, our kids are so very fortunate—there is a plethora of high-quality engaging Jewish children’s books catering to every age and interest. A recent article we published on the exploding Jewish children’s book-publishing industry noted that there are “new publishers, authors and books appearing each year.” The article quoted book shepherd Stuart Schnee, who stated that “more children’s titles are being released by Orthodox publishers than ever before.” Seemingly, frum kids are still reading. And yet, we cannot take anything for granted. In the digital world in which we live, every few months or so, it seems, sees a new digital fad, a new mind-numbing electronic distraction. So even if our kids are still reading books today, there is no guarantee they will still want to read books tomorrow. So what do we do? Whether we are parents, grandparents or great-grandparents, we need to encourage our children or grandchildren to turn off their iPods and iPhones and spend a few minutes enjoying the simple, old-fashioned pleasure of curling up with a good a book. Incidentally, we need to put down our own smartphones and read ourselves. And summer—with its slower pace and longer days—is a perfect time to do just that. With children’s literature a focus in this summer issue, we asked a diverse
group of educators to respond to the following: Which book do you suggest children read this summer, and why? (Warning: while the recommendations are mainly “children’s books,” some of them seem so enticing, you may be tempted to read them!) Additionally, this issue features a Q & A with the well-known Jewish children’s author Bracha Goetz, who shares her insights and advice about the writing process and how to foster a life-long love of reading in children. Our cover story, by the talented Bayla Sheva Brenner, examines the challenges and pressures children of rabbis or other communal figures face while growing up in the public eye. At the same time, it sheds light on another dimension of their lives: the extraordinary spiritual benefits of having parents who are deeply devoted to klal work. “Despite the expectations, visibility and sacrifice,” writes Brenner, “these children of rabbis or high-profile rebbetzins saw close-up what it means to take a community under one’s wing, and to dedicate one’s life to uplifting others.” Also in this issue, researcher par excellence Faigy Grunfeld explores how Jewish women over the ages were active in the business world. (According to the author, there weren’t too many Jewish “stay-at-home” moms in the Middle Ages!) Grunfeld demonstrates how some of these women were, in fact, impressive entrepreneurs who played a vital role in the world of business and commerce. Aside from these thought-provoking articles, this issue offers our usual array of articles on halachah, kashrut, health, recipes and the latest Jewish books. Don’t forget to e-mail your thoughts and comments to email@example.com, and best wishes for a healthy and a happy summer.
Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and vice chairman of the OU Board of Governors.
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Postcard depicting a Jewish woman, a buyer of secondhand clothing. From the Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
A BUSINESS OF HER OWN JEWISH WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS OF THE PAST By Faigy Grunfeld
lose your eyes and envision the quintessential Jewish woman of centuries past. Perhaps she is stirring a pot that hangs over a fire while singing a Yiddish folksong to her young daughters. Maybe she is rolling pastry dough while urging her boys to get to cheder. Or perhaps she is haggling with vendors at the marketplace, triumphantly brandishing her purchases after securing a sound price. But while the quintessential Jewish woman of the past most likely did stir pots, roll pastry dough and haggle with vendors, she was also a formidable force in the business world. Medieval Professions In Talmudic times, women contributed to their household incomes mostly through spinning and weaving, which were important ancient industries; some sought out extra income by serving as a “wailing woman” at funerals. However, the medieval Jewish woman was a truly impressive commercialist.
Christianity condemned usury because of the Biblical prohibition: “Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother” (Deuteronomy 23:20); however, as Jews and Christians were not considered “brothers,” many Jews took on the role of moneylenders. Because of their connections to Jewish communities around the globe, they were able to access significant funds, and often became indispensable to many princes and nobles. French women like Minna of Worms (eleventh century) and Pulcellina of Blois (twelfth century) were savvy moneylenders and extended services to the nobility in their regions.1 In thirteenth-century England, Licoricia of Winchester dominated the profession, with her name appearing in many business documents along with those of nobles and monasteries. However, the majority of Jewish women who were moneylenders conducted small-scale transactions with their local Christian neighbors. Women were also successful
traders, reflected in travel documents and business inventories. While the most common profession for women was textile production—weaving and embroidery—women were also land-renters and conducted largescale business transactions, and often appeared in beit din, as evident from various documents.2 Farming was another popular profession—at least until the Middle Ages. Jews had been involved in agriculture from Talmudic times until twelfth and thirteenth-century medieval Europe, when they were barred from owning land. One letter, preserved in the She’eilot u’Teshuvot of the Maharam, a medieval Tosafist, highlights the hardships of a particular widow who worked as a farmer.
Faigy Grunfeld teaches English and history. She lives in Detroit, Michigan with her family.
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Detailing the travails of the woman, the letter asks that the Jewish community lower communal taxes. She sweats a lot and eats little. Sometimes the fruit is burnt or becomes decayed or injured . . . the sharecroppers take half the profit.
Madame Minna of Worms, Germany (eleventh century) Minna was respected and admired by Jews and Gentiles alike. Her economic achievements as a successful moneylender brought her to the door of many nobles and wealthy members of society. When the First Crusade passed through Worms, the local gentiles begged Minna to convert rather than condemn herself to death. Below is an excerpt from Mainz Anonymous, one of the three medieval chronicles of Jewish suffering during the First Crusade. A distinguished woman, named Mistress Minna, found refuge below the ground in a house outside the city. The people of the city gathered outside her hiding place and called: “Behold, you are a woman of valor. Perceive that God is no longer concerned with saving you for the slain are lying naked in the open streets with no one to bury them. Yield to baptism.” They fell all over themselves entreating her, as they did not wish to slay her, for her fame had traveled far because the notables of her city and the nobles of the land used to frequent her company. But she answered by saying: “Heaven forfend that I should deny God-on-High. Slay me for Him and His Holy Torah, and do not tarry any longer.” There she was slain, she who praised in the gates. From Shlomo Eidelberg, “Mainz Anonymous,” The Jews and the Crusades (Hoboken, 1977). 16
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Sometimes there are reverses, such as too much sun or too much cold, too little rain or too much rain, or hail or several kinds of locusts.3 Jewish men and women were barred from medieval universities, and therefore had no opportunity to earn a doctorate in medicine (medieval universities awarded these rare degrees after over a decade of study). Many therefore learned the art of healing through apprenticeship. In Frankfurt during the 1420s and 1430s, there were seven Jewish female doctors, four of whom were ophthalmologists. One Yehuda ben Asher records his near blindness and subsequent treatment in his ethical will: Then a Jewess, a skilled oculist, appeared on the scene. She treated me for about two months and then died. Had she lived another month, I might have recovered my sight fully. As it was, but for the two months’ attention from her, I might never have been able to see at all.4 City records indicate there were Jewish female doctors practicing in thirteenth-century Paris, as well as in fourteenth-century Aragon, where one particular Jewess, Floreta Ca Noga, even treated the queen of Spain. Was the “working woman” a widespread personality or was she a rare phenomenon? Evidence of a strong female presence in the workforce is found in the Jewish cannon itself. Medieval rabbinic authorities dealt with a plethora of questions related to female finances. Societal shifts during that period led rabbinic authorities to adjust previous restrictions relating to women doing business with gentiles, swearing in court, traveling alone, and compensating for damages and other liability issues. Rabbi Eliezer ben Natan of Mainz (the Raban, twelfth century), took a more permissive stance than his contemporaries regarding female autonomy in business matters, as indicated in his work, Even HaEzer, section 115: In these days women are legal guardians and vendors and dealers and lenders and borrowers, and they pay and withdraw and collect and deposit
money, and if we say they cannot swear or affirm their business negotiations, then you will forsake these women and people will begin to avoid doing business with them. In many communities, certain professions were reserved for the rabbi’s wife so she could contribute to the family’s earnings beyond the small rabbinic stipend. Her jobs included making Havdalah candles, weaving tzitzit, manufacturing parchment used for Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, and embroidering curtains for the Torah ark. Businesswomen in the Early Modern Era (1500-1750) By the early modern period, women’s businesses were evolving. After a series of expulsions and crusade attacks, Ashkenazic Jewry slowly began to move to Central and Eastern Europe, burrowing roots in Poland and Lithuania. In this environment, women were again critical to the financial infrastructure. Raszka Fishel was a banker, and so indispensable to the Polish court
Print of a Jewish couple in Frankfurt am Main, 1703, dressed in everyday garb, possibly on the way home from the market. From the Leo Baeck Institute, New York
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Pulcellina of Blois, France (twelfth century) Pulcellina was a wealthy moneylender with significant political influence. She had close ties with the region’s Count Theobald V of Blois, with whom she had many business dealings. Because of her political power, however, she had many enemies. The local lord resented her influence with the count, and the local Christians were quick to plot against her. In 1171, a Christian servant saw a Jew watering his horse, with an animal hide resting on the horse’s back. The servant imagined the hide was a Christian child who had been murdered by the Jewish horse owner, and quickly hurried to tell his master. The master relished this opportunity to bring down Pulcellina and her people. The following account is taken from the works of Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob, a twelfth-century Talmudist and author of Sefer Zechirah: The next morning the master rode to the ruler of the city, to the cruel Theobald. He was a ruler that listened to falsehood, for his servants were wicked. When he heard this [the incident with the “slain child”] he became enraged and had all the Jews of Blois seized and thrown into prison. But Dame Pulcellina encouraged them all, for she trusted in the affection of the ruler who up to now had been very attached to her. However, his cruel wife, a Jezebel, swayed him, for she also hated Dame Pulcellina. [Theobald’s wife was Alix, the daughter of King Louis VII of France.] All the Jews had been put into iron chains except Pulcellina, but the servants of the ruler who watched her would not allow her to speak to him at all, for fear she might get him to change his mind. The end of this story is tragic. Pulcellina was unable to speak with the Count, and thirty-one Jewish lives were lost to death by burning. Pulcellina was offered clemency by the Count, but she refused this if her community was not extended the same. She died with the rest in the fire.
were vulnerable to the bitter cold of Eastern European winters. Despite the prohibition against crossdressing, Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (the Bach, seventeenth century), permitted women to wear the warmer men’s coats.8 Most women involved in commerce had to hustle to make a living, acting as hawkers, stand-owners or wholesalers. Occasionally women were highly successful, as was the case for seventeenth-century Gitl Kozuchowski from Poland who, along with her husband, built a flourishing commercial house. Her husband outlined her role in his will: She is to deal in all business that there is according to her desire and will . . . because she is the lady of the house, dominant and ruling over the entire estate and business for all of her days.9 The Widowed Woman Widowed women had no choice but to be financially active. Glückel of Hameln’s memoir outlines some of her business dealings as a widow.
From Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791 (New York, 1938), 128-129.
that when the Jews of Cracow were expelled in 1495, Raszka was the only one allowed to remain in the city by order of King Jan Olbracht.5 Raszka was a formidable businesswoman. The men in her family were scholars and mystics, while she dealt with the more practical aspects of life. She acted as lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, and convinced the king to use her silver to produce coins in royal mint (and she finagled a fabulous rate for her silver). She secured for her son the post of tax collector for the king, and for her son-in-law, the position of chief rabbi of Poland. Through these appointments, the Fishel family came to dominate many avenues of power in Poland.6 Eventually, poverty in Poland caused Jews to shift from being 18
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moneylenders to money borrowers, so that usury was no longer a realistic profession for Polish Jewry. Industrious women became tavernkeepers or inn-keepers. Indeed, the memorable zydowka (Jewess) who ran the karczma (tavern) has a nostalgic grip on our imaginations. Her responsibilities, including serving, feeding and housing travelers and visitors, seemed to suit her maternal nature, for she filled this role more successfully than her husband.7 There were also cheese-makers, goose-herders, washerwomen and the poorest of the lot—market vendors. Testifying to the presence of Jewish women in the workforce, the latter profession gave rise to the halachic question regarding women wearing men’s winter coats. During those long market days, female vendors
Illuminated page from the Rothschild Miscellany of Sefer Mishlei, showing the “Woman of Valor” as the mistress of the house, giving counsel to her husband and sons. The Miscellany is a collection of illuminated texts from Veneto, Northern Italy, circa 1460-80, housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Photo: Bridgeman Images
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I was busied in the merchandise trade, selling every month to the amount of five or six hundred Reichstalers. Besides this, I went twice a year to the Brunswick Fair and each time made my several thousands profit.10 The widow’s finances certainly deteriorated once she entered this new status, evidence that both men
Licoricia of Winchester, England (thirteenth century) Licoricia was a wealthy Jewess from her youth, most likely due to a large inheritance or ketubah gift. She became an active moneylender while a young woman. Her first husband died, and she remarried David of Oxford, another wealthy English Jew. He similarly passed away after a few years of marriage, and because of his tremendous wealth, all of his possessions were seized for tax evaluation by Henry III. Licoricia was placed in custody to ensure she would not escape with any hidden assets. She was finally released, but only after paying a tremendous sum to the king, who used the funds to rebuild Westminster Abbey in the gothic style. (This was not uncommon in Jewish history. Monarchs have often utilized Jewish wealth to fund their own projects.) After this incident, Licoricia continued to loan funds to the nobility of England. She and her Christian maidservant were murdered by robbers when she was in her fifties. From Emily Taitz, Sondra Henry, Cheryl Tallan, JPS Guide to Jewish Women (Philadelphia, 2003), 80-81.
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and women were necessary for a household’s financial stability. Shtetl Life (1750-1940) The Eastern European shtetl11 conjurs up an image of an idyllic world marked by milkmen and water-carriers, bustling marketplaces and cozy wooden homes. But the nostalgia for the simplicity of shtetl life overlooks the unrelenting hardships, extreme poverty and overt anti-Semitism that was part and parcel of shtetl life. Against this backdrop, the shtetl wife was electric, alive, in motion. The shtetl mother was up by 3:00 am and went to bed long after her children. Strong, shrewd, capable and always employed with some task, she defined vitality and grit, and was both affectionately and warily referred to as a “Cossack.”12 Many writers reflecting on life in the shtetl recall that they never saw their mothers sleep. Wives of scholars had to assume the responsibilities of daily life, for their husbands had little experience with paying taxes, tending the vegetables or shoveling snow. This reality prompted many women to say knowingly, “As for Olam Haba, let the men say we can’t get there without them. They couldn’t manage this life alone, no doubt we will have to do the job for them there too.”13 Female productivity in the workforce was so vital, in fact, that when researching a shidduch, many parents would look for a girl who spoke Polish, so she could conduct business with the locals. In some shidduch letters between Rabbi Shmuel of Kelm and his nephew, a prospective girl is described as “educated in reading Hebrew, Polish, German . . . and also the Russian alphabet is not unfamiliar to her.”14 Although unmarried girls were usually absorbed with household chores and helping with the younger children, some instances show these young women working towards their own dowry, as in the case of Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm’s daughter, who simultaneously earned
her dowry and aided her parents with their finances by running a shop.15 Girls without a dowry or financial stability worked as household servants in wealthy Jewish homes, and after a few years saved up enough to finance their own shidduch. By the nineteenth century, shopkeeping became one of the most widespread occupations for women, especially for wives of Torah scholars in nineteenth-century Lithuania. Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam’s wife ran a bakery, Rabbi Meyer Yonah Barentski’s wife was a merchant and the wife of Rabbi Aderet of Ponovezh managed a dry-goods shop. Many heartfelt letters reflect the anguish of rabbinic scholars who often traveled to other towns for study, leaving their wives to shoulder a multitude of responsibilities, including the children, the business and aging parents. In early twentieth-century America, industrial growth and financial success made it so that women were no longer critical to the family’s earnings. Ironically, these economic and societal improvements actually created a stigma against women who did work. (This reality paved the way for the second wave feminism in the 1960s, which fought for financial independence for women.) So while many of our mothers and grandmothers may have been stayat-home-moms, it is very probable that our great- and great-great grandmothers were industrious businesswomen. Over the millennia, the Jewish woman has drawn upon her many talents, skills and resources to confront a myriad of challenges—be they physical, spiritual or financial. When necessary, she valiantly joined the workforce, adding new responsibilities to her tiringly long list, personifying Rashi’s assertion that women can simultaneously “tend the vegetables, spin flax, teach a woman a song for a fee and warm the silkworms.”16 With remarkable inner strength, tenacity and faith, the Jewish woman occupied her various roles of homemaker, mother, wife, daughter, breadwinner, supporter
A Husband’s Eulogy Dolce of Worms, a thirteenth-century pious woman, earned a livelihood for her family so her husband could devote himself solely to Torah study. (This was not commonplace in medieval Europe, a time when men and women were both vital to the workforce. Rabbinic figures often received a stipend from the community, and their wives brought in supplementary income. Wives supporting husbands learning Torah is more of a nineteenth-century Lithuanian phenomenon.) After her death by the hand of the Crusades, her husband, Rabbi Elazar (the Rokeach), wrote the following eulogy describing her many virtues.
A woman of valor who can find? She was the crown of her husband . . . She sought out white wool with which she wove fringes, with the willingness of her hands. She thoughtfully planned her mitzvot, and was praised by all who saw her. She was like the merchant ships, feeding her husband, enabling him to study. The women who saw her paid tribute to her good merchandise. She gave food to her household and bread to the boys. Her palms held the spindle to weave filaments for the holy books. With alacrity she spun sinews for use in tefillin, megillot and Torah scrolls. Fleet as a deer, she cooked for the boys, catering to the needs of the students. She girded her loins with vigor, sewing forty Torah scrolls. She cooked and set the table for all the men who studied Torah. She forged goodness and adorned brides, starting them off on married life. She willingly washed the dead and sewed their shrouds. Her hands mended both the garments of the students and the torn books. From her labor, she distributed funds to those who study Torah . . . Her lamp would not go out at night as she made wicks for shuls and study halls . . . she organized the regular services, morning and evening. All mitzvot she fulfilled enthusiastically and with great piety. She purchased milk and engaged tutors for her children from her earnings. From Rebbetzin Sarah Feldbrand, From Sarah to Sarah: Fascinating Jewish Women Both Famous and Forgotten (Lakewood, New Jersey, 2005)
and caretaker while managing to raise generations of God-fearing and righteous Jewish sons and daughters.
1. Baumgarten, Elisheva, “Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348),” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, 1 March 2009, Jewish Women’s Archive, https://jwa.org/ encyclopedia/article/medieval-ashkenaz-1096-1348. 2. Judith R. Baskin, “Jewish Women in the Middle Ages,” Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, Second Edition, ed. Judith R. Baskin (Detroit, 1998), 105-110. 3. Emily Taitz, et al., The JPS Guide to Jewish Women (Philadelphia, 2003), 87. 4. Israel Abrahams, trans., Hebrew Ethical Wills, Second Edition (Philadelphia, 1976), 165-166. 5. Rosman, Moshe, “Poland: Early Modern (1500-1795),” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, 1 March 2009, Jewish Women’s Archive, https://jwa.org/ encyclopedia/article/poland-ear ly-modern-1500-1795. 6. Byron L. Sherwin, Sparks Amidst the
Ashes: The Spiritual Legacy of Polish Jewry (New York, 1997), 62-67. 7. Rosman, “Poland: Early Modern (1500-1795).” 8. Bach commentary on the Tur, YD 182. 9. Rosman, “Poland: Early Modern (1500-1795).” 10. The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, trans. Marvin Lowenthal (New York, 1960), 179. 11. This article focuses on the classical trajectory of Ashkenazic Jewry; however, there is a rich history of women in Western Europe, the Muslim Empire (Sephardic), Italy, America and Israel, which is beyond the scope of this article. 12. Menachem Brayer, The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature, vol. 2 (Hoboken, 1986), 57. 13. Ibid., 52 14. Immanuel Etkes, “Marriage and Torah Study Among the Lomdim of Lithuania,” The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory (New York, 1989), 166. 15. Ibid., 169. 16. Rashi, Ketubot 66a.
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UP CLOSE WITH
A Harvard graduate who just came out with her thirty-third book discusses her decades-long career as a writer of Jewish children’s books
By Avigayil Perry
ow did you get started as a children’s author? I always loved reading as a child. Even as an adult, I am drawn to children’s books. I like to write about deep subjects in a simple way, to simplify a deep concept and bring it down to a child’s level. I like geting to the crux of an issue. I’m not a person of many words. I don’t like a lot of embellishment. I wrote my first book while watching my children on the playground. I decided to send it to a publisher, but I had no expectations, so I was surprised to receive an acceptance letter not long after.
What are your favorite children’s books? My favorite books are Dr. Seuss, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, The Catcher in the Rye and The Diary of Anne Frank. I also love Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, the Peanuts comics by Charles Schulz and especially the Happiness Is… books by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. I enjoy works that use words sparingly, and yet manage to be both deep and delightful. 22
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What are key elements that make a children’s book work? Children love seeing pictures of children. They love funny illustrations with vibrant colors. They also love repetition, but take care—a children’s picture book shouldn’t be too didactic. The book Is it Shabbos Yet? by Ellen Emerman is full of repetition and so many wonderful messages—the kinds of preparation involved in making Shabbos, the joy of Shabbos and the bond between the mother and daughter. My What Do You See? series [a word-and-picture book series for toddlers—What Do You See at Home?; What Do You See on Shabbos?, et cetera] subtly contains vital concepts, such as the need to express gratitude and include everyone in games. If the books are enjoyable, children don’t realize that they’re internalizing these messages. Lessons about simchah and giving, for example, are readily absorbed into a child’s neshamah. Avigayil Perry lives in Norfolk, Virginia, with her family and writes for various Jewish publications.
How do you get your ideas? I like to write books that I wish I’d had as a child, as I didn’t grow up frum. Often I read a non-Jewish book and realize we need a Jewish version. This is how the What Do You See series came about. One of my newer books is called Secrets of the Aleph Beis. I am fascinated by the aleph beis. The book describes how the shape of each letter is meaningful. As my introduction states, “At 22, I found 22 new letters that gave my life new meaning.” Sometimes I see a need, and the idea evolves from there. [For example,] I saw a need for frum children to appreciate nature. Remarkable Park opens a child’s eyes to lessons from nature. Other times I’m asked to write certain books. Not long ago, I was asked by Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah to write a book that teaches children how to keep a connection to someone who passed away. I Want to be Famous is about how shining one’s inner spotlight is far more essential in life than yearning to have a spotlight shine on a person externally. How a soul shines is what really matters. The book contains a quote from Rabbi Yisrael Salanter even though it’s published by a nonJewish publishing company. Have you seen the Jewish children’s market change over time? And if so, how? In 1982, I didn’t have a computer; I used a typewriter. I had to wait around for letters to arrive from publishing companies. Today, with e-mail, I receive an answer immediately. I also have more say over the design. Today, there is also greater receptivity to publishing books on difficult topics. It took four years to get Let’s Stay Safe published. [The book includes
Bracha Goetz reading one of her books. Courtesy of the Baltimore Jewish Times
information about providing protection from abuse.] Talking About Private Places [about the dignity and respect with which our bodies are to be treated]
I’m not a person of many of words. I don’t like a lot of embellishment.
took even longer to get published. Hashem’s Candy Store took time as well—the book raises awareness about eating healthfully. Many schools give out soda cans [and other sugary treats] as prizes, which does not promote children’s health. Ba’alei teshuvah are often not okay with just accepting the status quo; we look to improve certain areas within the frum community. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Picture books need to provide a lot of joy. An important aspect of parenting is filling the home with joy. I have heard that writing for children is much harder than it looks. Why is that? [For me,] writing children’s books flows naturally. [Though the editing process may be slower,] getting into a child’s head is not difficult for me. I tend to see the world through a child’s perspective, with a sense of wonder. Picture books need to provide a lot of joy. An important aspect of parenting is filling the home with joy. What I find most meaningful is when my writing affects a child; the effect can last a lifetime. I get e-mails from people around the world telling me how my work affected them. One Friday night, we had a family over for the Shabbos meal. One of our guests, a twenty-one-year-old young man, was shocked to find out that I was the author of The Happiness Box. As a child, he had experienced bullying.
Reproduced from Let’s Stay Safe, with permission from the copyright holders, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD
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To cope with the bullying, he would go into his homemade happiness box where he got to practice his happiness skills. He explained to me how this book helped him focus on what was positive in his life so he could cope and eventually thrive. Which work do you consider to be your best? I consider Let’s Stay Safe and Talking About Private Places to be my most important published books. My favorite book is Hashem’s Candy Store because I love Dena Ackerman’s wonderfully whimsical illustrations. Aliza in MitzvahLand teaches children that we are in this world to be givers, not takers. My children learned not to be bored—there are always mitzvot to do. Let’s Appreciate Everyone was written after my granddaughter was born with disabilities. Everyone kept saying, “Now, you’ll write a book about disabilities.” And that’s what ended up happening because my eyes were opened and I became more sensitive to the issues affecting children with disabilities. Recently, I started to write books for the general public, not only the frum community. You touch upon certain sensitive topics in your books. Can you explain what caused you to tackle these topics? Through my work as director of the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Program (JBBBS) of Jewish Community Services in Baltimore, I have become aware of sexual abuse and how it affects children. Sexual abuse also affected my own family. I didn’t have a book to teach my children about
sexual abuse awareness and prevention when I raised them. I taught my children about stranger danger but I didn’t know that far more often, it is a familiar person who presents this type of danger. I saw a gap that I felt was vitally important to fill. What advice would you give to a child who wants to be a writer? Everyone carries stories within them. I tell people that it takes twenty years and twenty minutes to write a story— twenty years to sit down and write, and twenty minutes to actually write the first draft. Just do it! I have been rejected so many times. The day I receive a rejection, I try to send out a manuscript again right away. That keeps the momentum going. What are you working on now? A number of projects. For a new publishing company, Jewish Children’s Book Club, I am working on a book based on Where’s Waldo? that is about looking for hidden mitzvot, and also a book about the courage of Daniel. I just completed my thirty-third book called Where’s God? The book, which was written for a general audience, is about a boy who searches for God. The book answers the questions that children everywhere ask in a way that fills their souls. It Only Takes a Minute, to be published by HaChai, demonstrates the amazing things we can accomplish in a very short time. We are all here to accomplish unique missions in this world. I have a magnet on my fridge that says, “Here is a test to find out if your mission in life is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
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Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
WHAT’S ON YOUR CHILD’S READING LIST THIS SUMMER? Jewish Action asked a number of educators to answer the following: Which book would you recommend children read this summer and why?
Young Children The summer, or frankly any other season, is the perfect time to read or listen to poetry. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (New York: Random House, 1983) is a wonderful collection of poems for elementary school children. The volume includes classics like “The Crocodile” by Lewis Carroll, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and contemporary poems reflective of our students’ lives, like “Since Hanna Moved Away” by Judith Viorst and “Homework” by Jane Yolen. Funny poems, silly poems and tonguetwisters by poets like Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak complete this volume. Reading poetry is a wonderful way for children to enhance their decoding, comprehension and fluency skills. For reluctant readers, poems often provide a way into the world of children’s literature; their shorter length, rich 26
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language and poetic devices— metaphors, similes, personification and onomatopoeia—help the reader visualize and understand them. Poems can also serve as “mentor texts” and inspire young readers to become poets as well. Risa Zayde, director of curriculum and faculty supervision, Ramaz Lower School, Manhattan Peanut Butter and Jelly for Shabbos (Brooklyn, New York: Hachai Publishing, 1995) by Dina Rosenfeld is just the right type of book for a parent or sibling to read to a young child. Children (and adults) are entertained and intrigued by Yossi and Laibel’s increasingly complicated attempts to solve a problem. The theme is presented in a charming rhyme that reinforces the lesson without becoming pedantic. There’s humor, delightful illustrations and a satisfying ending.
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Parents should make the most of every opportunity to read with their children. Grab a comfortable chair, share a favorite story and read, read, read! Morah Marcia Bitman, kindergarten teacher, Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Elementary School, Baltimore, Maryland. Middle School Dual Discovery: A Historical Drama by Zecharya Hoffman (translated from the Hebrew V’Hitzalti, by F.H. Einhorn; Mizrachi Publishing, 2004) is a solidly written historical novel that tells the incredible story of shibud Mitzrayim, the enslavement in Egypt, and Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus. In powerful and descriptive language, the author takes us back in time and makes us feel as if we too, are personally experiencing the geulah. Drawing upon various meforshim, Hoffman brings this time in history to life, introducing us to a cast of realistic and accurately portrayed characters, some from the chumash, others convincingly created. The hundreds of middle school students I have recommended this book to have all loved it. After reading it, one can never view Yetziat Mitzrayim and the geulah in the same way. Chaya Statman, librarian, Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Middle School, Baltimore, Maryland
An historical fiction novel set in Denmark in 1943, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (New York: Sandpiper, 1989) tells the poignant story of two ten-year-old friends—one Danish, one Jewish—against the backdrop of Nazi occupation and the courageous efforts of the Danish Resistance to save the lives of its country’s Jews. Narrated through the eyes of a child, the book illustrates the power of friendship and the importance of doing what’s right even under the most difficult of circumstances. An excellent first read of this genre, it is light enough to nurture a healthy childhood belief in the triumph of good over evil. As the summer typically runs at a more relaxed pace, there will be time for any discussions you might want to have with your child as a follow up to the book. Jenny Gulkowitz, fourth grade teacher, Torah Academy for Girls, Far Rockaway, New York
The Little Prince is really a moving tribute to the opportunities ensconced in childhood.
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book is filled with simple yet brilliant perspectives on the nature of friendship and the ways different people construct meaning in their lives. Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm (1824-1898) noted that the image of children resided on top of the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a reminder to all that the only way to develop a relationship with Torah and spirituality is by retaining the curiosity and wonder for life that children possess. The Little Prince is a short manual for how to do just that. Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, director of education, NCSY Teens
The dedication page of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (New York: Harcourt, Inc, 1943) begins with an apology: “I ask children to forgive me for dedicating this book to a grownup.” And it is no wonder it begins this way. The Little Prince is really a moving tribute to the opportunities ensconced in childhood. It is easy to forget the wonder and mystery that children possess; this short classic serves as a reminder that the curiosity and simplicity of childhood should not be so unceremoniously discarded for the specious importance of adult life. The Little Prince details the story of
a lost traveler and a young and naïve prince. Perhaps most remembered for the immortal line “that which is essential is invisible to the eye,” the
Like a steaming bowl of chicken soup, this book will warm your heart and satiate your appetite for meaning and inspiration. Emunah With Love and Chicken Soup: The Story of Rebbeztin Henny Machlis, the Brooklyn-born Girl who became a Jerusalem legend by Sara Yoheved Rigler (Brooklyn, New York: Shaar Press, 2016) is the story of an ordinary girl from New York who grew up to become nothing short of extraordinary. Opening her humble Jerusalem home to over 150 guests for every Shabbat meal, Henny Machlis, a”h, lived and breathed emunah and chesed. It is from Henny that we learn
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and doctoral student at Yeshiva University Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education
about proper middot, relationships, tefillah, community, compassion and love of one’s fellow Jew. Reading this book will change your perspective of Shabbat, chesed and the power of acceptance and will leave you dreaming big and aiming to make a positive impact on the world. Leah Moskovich, student activities coordinator at Central High School in Holliswood, New York; director of NCSY’s GIVE WEST summer program;
Danny was a teenager who grew up in the city but left it for nature and a calmer life. He traveled around the United States and ended up joining the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. Although Danny finally felt like he was a part of something meaningful and spiritual, a wise elder of the Sioux Indians told him that he should learn more about his Jewish heritage. Danny hitchhiked back to New York and eventually met Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld (1925-1990), the rosh yeshivah of Sh’or Yoshuv Institute in Far Rockaway, New York. After learning about Danny’s background and listening to his stories, Rabbi Freifeld happily accepted him into the yeshivah. Subsequently, Reb Shlomo went to the local public library and borrowed a mound of books about the culture and traditions of American Indians so
he could better support Danny in his religious growth. This is just one of the many anecdotes found in Reb Shlomo: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld by Rabbi Yisroel Besser (Brooklyn, New York: Judaica Press, 2008). Reb Shlomo was a teacher who listened carefully to a generation of adolescents seeking to be understood and to find their place and purpose. He emerged from an educational tradition of valuing the uniqueness of each person, and he created an inclusive, joyful, and animated yeshivah environment that became “a world where questions were welcomed, not shunned” (p. 62). This upbeat biography is filled with stories about Reb Shlomo’s youth, his teachers, his students, his Torah viewpoints, his humor, and his remarkable approach to embracing and educating every Jewish student. Rabbi Simcha Willig, Judaic studies teacher, Yeshiva University; Westchester Hebrew High School, Westchester, New York
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Top: Rabbis Emanuel and Ilan Feldman. Photo: Harold Alan Photographers/Harold Schroeder Bottom: The Feldman family, circa 1960. Courtesy of Ella Szczupak 32
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IN THE LIMELIGHT CHILDREN OF RABBIS By Bayla Sheva Brenner
s soon as President Trump entered office, his son Barron became public property as “First Boy.” The media analyzed Barron’s every move and rumors ran rampant. His childhood was up for grabs; his life was no longer his own. Growing up as the child of any influential person poses challenges, and the children of shul rabbis, prominent lay leaders and other important community figures are no exception. I spoke with the sons and daughters of well-known rabbis, rebbetzins and community leaders about how their childhoods in the limelight shaped their worldview, their self-image and their lives. Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter is professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought at Yeshiva University, senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at YU, and the son of the late Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a national Jewish leader and revered rabbi of Mosholu Park Jewish Center in the Bronx. He
realized early on that his father was unlike other fathers. In some ways, Rabbi Schacter enjoyed his privileged status. He watched as his father stood at the synagogue bimah and spoke before hundreds of people. While the congregation sang Adon Olam, he got to sit on his father’s lap, and he relished the special attention. But his status also meant greater expectations. When Rabbi Schacter was eight years old, his father found him playing in front of the shul after Shabbat morning davening. He asked his son where he had been during the derashah. He wasn’t happy with the answer. Sometimes the expectations are not from the rabbi or his wife; they come from the community. “During shul, I’d be playing outside with other kids,” says Esti Schwartz, twenty-three, the daughter of Rabbi Allen Schwartz, the longtime rabbi of Congregation Oheb Zedek on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “People would come over and only yell at me and my brother, because we were the rabbi’s kids.”
Nechemia Katz* the son of a rav who is involved with assisting kids at risk, admits he wasn’t the best behaved child, but feeling pressured to keep up a good-boy image, he played the part. He didn’t want to risk embarrassing his family. But not every child of a rabbi feels the stress of having to live up to a certain image. “My parents expected me to act a certain way, not because I was the son of the community rav, but because they wanted me to be a mensch,” says Rabbi Ilan Feldman, the son of Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, founding rav of Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta, Georgia. Similarly, Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, the daughter of Rebbetzin Zlata Press, the noted lecturer and principal of Bnos Leah Prospect Park Yeshiva, a girls’ high school in Bayla Sheva Brenner is an award-winning freelance writer and a regular contributor to Jewish Action. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I felt there was no way I could possibly ever project myself as a rabbi in a world so full of my father’s presence. How could I ever do anything in my life that could remotely resemble what he did? Brooklyn, claims she “didn’t have the ‘preacher’s kid’ problem.” “I don’t think my identity was shaped by being my mother’s child,” she says. “My mother encouraged us to speak our minds. She would engage us in serious conversations about [consequential] topics and raise thought-provoking questions—taking our responses seriously.” In turn, when her mother suggested that she consider scrapping her plans to become a university professor, and that teaching high school would prove more fun and more religiously fulfilling, she took her advice. Today Dr. Schwartz is a high school administrator and popular lecturer. A Sense of “Otherness” The perception that the offspring of rabbis are a different breed leaves some with a persistent feeling of “otherness.” Esti found herself frequently fielding questions about kashrut from her schoolmates. To her mind, in the same way that an accountant’s child isn’t necessarily good at math, being the rabbi’s daughter didn’t make her a better davener than her peers or an expert on halachah. Similarly, throughout his childhood, Rabbi Feldman felt pigeonholed as the un-athletic rabbi’s kid. “I was always picked last for the team,” says Rabbi Feldman. “There was a feeling of futility that I would never fit in,” he says. Time Management for Rabbis Much like a medical doctor, a rabbi is constantly on call. The time pressures make it nearly impossible to carve out 34
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quality time for his family. Dr. David Pelcovitz, professor of psychology and Jewish education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education, sees this as the major challenge facing a rabbinic family. “Rabbis have to be mindful about finding that exclusive family-focused, text-free, phone-free, one-on-one time with one’s wife and children,” he says. During his early years as shul rav, Rabbi Schwartz delighted in hosting a guest-filled Shabbat table. His eldest daughters, however, weren’t so pleased; they complained that they didn’t enjoy Shabbat and that they didn’t feel they were in their own home. Thereafter, Rabbi Schwartz and his wife designated Friday nights as family-only time. By the time Esti came along, her childhood included “special Tuesdays with Abba.” Every other week, she and her younger sister enjoyed exclusive time playing board games with their father. Nonetheless, certain sacrifices had to be made. “I remember days when we were about to go out bowling together, and my father got an important phone call. We had to wait another twenty minutes,” says Esti. “It’s just something you learn to be patient about.” While spending quality time with one’s children is a challenge facing all parents, in a study conducted back in 1988 and written up in Tradition, clinical psychologist Dr. Irving Levitz found that 70 percent of rabbis’ children in his study believed that their fathers were “over-involved with synagogue life.”
During the week, Nechemia’s father ran Jewish educational programs. He also led several Shabbatons. Although Nechemia appreciated his father’s demanding work, he missed him. “A child needs a mother and father,” says Nechemia. “I’ve seen people involved in the kehillah who don’t make time for their families. For some, [communal work] can become an obsession. I don’t think [the obsession with work is] necessarily unique to someone prominent in the community. It could be a lawyer or doctor with long hours outside the home, or the head of a major investment firm. They’re not putting their families first; they’re putting themselves first.” One rabbi’s child I spoke with tells a poignant story. “Towards the end of my father’s life when he was too ill to engage in conversation, my mother told me that he was sorry he didn’t devote more personal attention to me while I was growing up. I [told my mother], ‘I’m sorry too.’” Making Time Rabbi Schacter grew up knowing he had a world-famous and very busy father. On April 11, 1945, the senior Rabbi Schacter was the first US Army chaplain to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp to liberate the survivors. Anguished by what he saw, he remained in Buchenwald for two and a half months, comforting the broken, displaced Jews and giving them hope for the future. He also arranged for and led a Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland. After his return to the States, he went on to become president of Mizrachi of America and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He was president of 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 YU. His young son felt enormously proud of his father’s accomplishments. And he cherished the opportunity to spend “one-on-one” time with his father.
As a teen, he would learn with him for three to four hours at a clip. His father also came to visit him numerous times during the year he spent learning in Israel, taking him to meet Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the then chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis and Menachem Begin. “My connection to my father was through these public experiences,” says Rabbi Schacter. “[I believe] he expressed his love by taking me along on those visits.” Sharing the Mission To Slovie Jungreis Wolff, educator, author, international lecturer and daughter of the late Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, private and public life were one and the same. Their home was abuzz with communal activity and everyone got involved. On Purim, the entire family would pile into the car; each member had a job to do. One sibling checked the list of two hundred mishloach manot
Left: Rabbi Herschel Schacter. Photos courtesy of Rabbi J.J. Schacter Right: Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Rabbi Ruwin Jona Weisbord, a”h (Rabbi J. J. Schacter’s late father-in-law) and Rabbi J. J. Schacter at his wedding, September 4, 1972.
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Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis in 2004. Photo: Carol Halebian/The New York Times/Redux
Purim while describing the meaning of the holiday. The family would then drive back to the house to reload the car, and then take to the road again. “My parents’ mission was our mission,” says Slovie. “This was our life. We were strengthening Yiddishkeit in America, carrying the torch from the Holocaust—continuing what [those who perished] could not.” Dr. Pelcovitz stresses that parents who include their children in the causes they believe in are not only sending the message that this is a worthwhile way to invest one’s energies—they are helping the message become an integral part of their children’s identity. As the son of Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz, beloved rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Far Rockaway, New York, Dr. Pelcovitz remembers setting up the room and preparing the sefarim for his father before he would deliver a shiur. Over the decades, the father and son have continued to collaborate—they cowrote several articles and books on parenting and enhancing Jewish life. Rebbetzin Tehilla Jaeger, daughter of the late Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, legendary educator and founding rosh 36
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yeshivah of Sh’or Yoshuv Institute in Lawrence, New York, is convinced that the message of working for the klal was “mixed into her baby food.” She watched her parents transform the lives of hundreds of Jewish youth, products of the sixties and seventies hippie generation who were searching for a deeper meaning. As a young girl, she remembers regularly setting and cleaning up tables for their Shabbat and yom tov guests and sharing her bedroom with the constant flow of ba’alot teshuvah sleeping over. Her father, insisted, however, on giving his hardworking rebbetzin periodic Shabbatot off, taking the children shopping for takeout instead. “There had to be time to reenergize in order to go back into the trenches,” says Rebbetzin Jaeger. “That was an important lesson for me.” My Father/ Myself—Choosing One’s Own Path As adulthood draws near, adolescents begin to contemplate their place in the world independent of their parents. Nechemia knew his parents expected him to go into the rabbinate. He felt pushed. He pushed back harder.
“Becoming a rabbi was never my path; you really have to have a certain kind of personality,” he says. “The conflict put a strain on the relationship. I became a troublemaker, and was not interested in religion. I was trying to show my independence. As I matured, I came back [to religious life]. Some don’t.” “It’s never wise to push a child to become something he is not,” says Dr. Pelcovitz. “Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, the revered mashgiach of Mir Yeshiva in Poland, taught that when Yaakov Avinu gave the berachot to his children [the shevatim], he did so according to their individual paths. Rav Levovitz said if you give a berachah to a child with your own dreams in mind, it’s like watering a plot of earth that has no seeds in it. It’s a berachah l’vatalah. Good parenting is about letting your child follow his own aspirations, his own potential, his unique spark.” Dr. Schwartz’s independent spirit was already evident in her teens when she attended the high school where her mother was the assistant principal— and in charge of enforcing school discipline. Her mother maintained a clear division between her public role and her role as a parent, which didn’t always work for her daughter’s benefit—especially during a school dress code run, when Dr. Schwartz decided to wear a top with NYPD printed across the front. “My mother pulled me out of class and sent me home to change,” she says. “I still have the shirt. I kept it as a valuable memento of my wayward youth.” Continuing the Legacy Despite the challenges of growing up as children of celebrated community figures, virtually every one of the sons and daughters I spoke with chose careers involving service to the klal— even though for some of them, doing communal work was initially the last thing on their minds. “I felt there was no way I could possibly ever project myself as a rabbi in a world so full of my father’s presence. How could I ever do anything in my life that could remotely resemble what he did?” says Rabbi Schacter, who originally planned to become a
Jewish historian and scholar. But while he was learning at Torah Vodaath, his father urged him to get semichah saying, “You never know.” After spending four years on a fellowship at Harvard University, earning him a PhD in Near Eastern languages, the gnawing feeling that he wasn’t doing enough for the Jewish community prompted him to join the rabbinate. Rabbi Schacter became the first rabbi of the Young Israel of Sharon in Massachusetts, where he succeeded in creating a vibrant Torah community. He went on to serve as rabbi of The Jewish Center in Manhattan for nineteen years and, subsequently, dean of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. Rabbi Feldman also had little interest in pursuing a career in the rabbinate. Like Rabbi Schacter, he set his sights strictly on Torah scholarship. When an assistant rabbi position opened up at his father’s shul, the kehillah urged him to fill it. He acquiesced and eventually succeeded his father as rav upon his father’s retirement in 1991, but not without some apprehension. “The criticism of the rabbi can be intense,” he says. “It took a while for me to establish my own style.” Despite his initial concerns, Rabbi Feldman continues to build on his father’s work, bringing a community kollel to Atlanta, now known as one of the leading centers of Orthodox Jewish life in America. Both of Esti’s older sisters, who promised themselves they would never marry a rabbi, did in fact marry rabbis. One of her brothers just received semichah and the other is in the process of doing so. Despite the expectations, visibility and sacrifice, these children of rabbis or high-profile rebbetzins saw close-up what it means to take a community under one’s wing, and to dedicate one’s life to uplifting others. Rabbi Schacter saw this in the most profound way. In the summer of 1967, he was walking with his father on King George Street in Jerusalem. Suddenly, they noticed two frum young men coming towards them. As the men approached, they stared at his father and then ran towards him, threw themselves on him and began weeping uncontrollably. Then, without saying a word, they dried their tears, pulled themselves away and continued walking. “I knew exactly what that was,” says Rabbi Schacter. “They had been children on the Kindertransport from Buchenwald. [That incident] was a microcosm for the intense power, the impact that my father had in saving these lives. He gave them chizuk, a sense of hope, their Judaism. He gave them back their humanity.” When Rabbi Schacter was five years old, his father went away for seven weeks as part of the first delegation of American rabbis to visit Jews trapped in the Soviet Union. He asked his mother, “Vi iz Tatty?” [“Where is father?”] She answered with the familiar refrain. “Tatty iz gegangin helfen Yidden.” “That’s huge, to be taught this as a little boy,” he says. “My father went to help Jews.”
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Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
RABBI’S SON SYNDROME:
RELIGIOUS STRUGGLE IN A WORLD OF RELIGIOUS IDEALS
By Dovid Bashevkin
n a cramped office overflowing with rabbinic tomes and papers in need of filing sits a daughter with her father. The daughter, Tamar, is showing her father an artistic portrayal of their relationship. She points on her laptop to a crude animated rendering of a girl walking in her father’s shadow. No matter where the girl walks in relation to her father, his shadow casts over her. Tamar’s father does indeed cast a long shadow. Tamar is the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a rosh yeshivah of a prominent yeshivah and community in Israel and one of the acknowledged visionaries of the Religious Zionist movement. This scene, part of the moving 2011 Israeli documentary The Rabbi’s Daughter powerfully depicts some of the struggles of those who grow up as a child of a rabbi. The documentary, which presents three different stories
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of daughters of prominent Israeli rabbis, highlights the somewhat counterintuitive relationship that those who grow up in rabbinic homes often have with religion. Whether one is the son or daughter of a rabbi or any other clergy member, growing up in a devout religious home can often result in a deleterious relationship with religion. A rabbinic home, one would assume, would be the best environment in which to be raised in order to ensure lifelong religious commitment. And, to be sure, some of the most prominent rabbinic leaders in history have been a part of rabbinic dynasties. The Sofer, Soloveitchik and the Kotler families are but a tiny minority in the rich history of rabbinic dynasty. Nonetheless, children of rabbis, and clergy in general, often have a particular struggle with religion. Understanding this phenomenon— the religious struggle of children of
clergy—can help provide a framework to consider why religion itself leads some away from religion.1 In a 1988 Tradition article entitled “Children of Rabbis,” Dr. Irving Levitz, a psychologist and professor, investigated the “impact of the rabbinate on the developing selfidentity of rabbinic children.”2 The study, which was conducted through a series of in-depth interviews with forty children of rabbis across the denominational spectrum, uncovered some important themes in the religious struggle of children of Jewish clergy. While the subjects in the study were from American families, some of their testimony could have just as easily been featured in the Israeli Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin is director of education for NCSY and is a doctoral candidate in public policy and management at The New School in New York.
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Love of Torah does not always translate into love of people—or even love of God. documentary. One woman in Dr. Levitz’s study expressed the following: I always struggled to maintain an identity of my own. I was always introduced by name, then followed by “the rabbi’s daughter.” It was as if I couldn’t be whole without having the attachment to my father’s profession noted . . . My bothers had it worse . . . I used to cringe at overhearing congregants comment on the “Little Rabbis.” Even though I really believe that many of these remarks were well intended, the reality was that my brothers and I felt as if we were stripped of the dignity of being who we were first and foremost.”3 For many children growing up in rabbinic homes, the otherwise difficult struggle to develop a personal identity is compounded by the cumbersome expectations foisted upon them. Citing an earlier study from 1980, Dr. Levitz emphasizes the connection between religious struggle and religious expectations: . . . the higher standards and greater expectations placed upon children of clergy create for them inordinate difficulties in growing up. Consequently, children of clergy experience feelings of isolation and inner conflict emanating from the strong desire to maintain the family image while being accepted by peers as individuals with an identity apart from their ancillary role.4 Religious life, by definition, demands high religious standards. Growing up in a rabbinic home, however, puts children squarely in the center headquarters where those standards are shaped and regulated by the community. The loneliness and isolation created by the religious expectations within the rabbinic home are, of course, nothing new. David Assaf, in his incisive work 40
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Untold Tales of the Hasidim, examines some of the more infamous tales of children of rabbis who eventually left religion all together.5 Most of his analysis centers on the varying versions surrounding the religious departure of Moshe, son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rabbi. Before delving into the precise details surrounding Moshe’s alleged apostasy, Assaf cites a moving memoir of Yehuda Leib Levin, whose grandfather was Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin, a harbinger of the Slonim Chassidic dynasty. Yehuda recounts how his parents’ anguish exacerbated the difficulty of his departure from religious life: My parents’ anguish and their sighs depressed me. Alas, would that my parents had been cruel, would that they had excoriated and humiliated me, or had lifted a hand to punish my rebelliousness, for then I would have already departed and found my path in life. But my merciful, kind parents, who loved me more than themselves melted and tortured me with their tears and their distress, and though my heart was torn by pity I was unable to still or to calm them.6 The cultural openness ushered in by the Enlightenment made such parental pain all too common. As the walls around the Jewish ghetto crumbled, families and communities were left unsure how to stem the tides of assimilation. For children of rabbis, the pain of departure includes an added element whereby the very efficacy of their parents’ rabbinic powers could be called into question. If the communal rabbi cannot inspire his own children, how can he expect to inspire the community? Such questions, however, disregard the prevalence of rabbinic children who choose another path. Far from being an indictment on
Torah study... should be an endeavor that is sweet for us and for our children. the parents, the history of children of rabbis who struggle with religion, as we will soon see, may be as old as the rabbinate itself. Why Rabbinic Dynasty May Be Challenging One of the most successful rabbinic dynasties in history is undoubtedly the Sofer family, begun by Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), also referred to as the Chatam Sofer. His descendants continue to serve in rabbinic leadership positions in the Jewish community. All of Rabbi Moshe Sofer’s sons became rabbis. Following Rabbi Sofer’s death, his eldest son Avraham Shmuel (the Ktav Sofer), assumed his father’s position as head of the Pressburg yeshivah. Curiously, this famed father-son rabbinic duo both ascribe (in separate essays) the first incident of struggling rabbinic children to the first rabbinic leader of the Jewish people: Moshe.7 The details of Moshe’s life encompass most of the Torah. His birth, his leadership and his death are all recounted. There is however, one glaring omission—his children. “These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe on the day God spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai” (Bamidbar 3:1). Oddly, the Torah proceeds to recount only the children of Aaron. Rashi, noticing the discrepancy, explains that Aaron’s sons are also considered the offspring of Moshe, an illustration of the concept that the students of a Torah teacher are considered to be the teacher’s offspring. Still, why leave out Moshe’s children all together? In an astonishing indictment of Moshe, both the Chatam Sofer8 and his son9 contend that Moshe’s communal obligations obstructed his parental obligations. Moshe’s sons are absent from the recitation of his offspring because they
did not appreciate or adequately benefit from Moshe as a parent. In fact, adds the Chatam Sofer, the verse specifically recalls God’s revelation to Moshe at Mount Sinai to reinforce that it was the experience of revelation—and the subsequent communal responsibility it demanded—that interrupted Moshe’s focus on his biological children. The Sofer family was certainly no stranger to the demands of communal responsibility and the potential strain it places on the family. Likely, their successful negotiation of these demands presented a newfound appreciation for the ease with which some parents manage to find the proper balance between communal and familial responsibility. For those who find the proper balance elusive, there is consolation in knowing that Moshe, our first rabbinic leader, dealt with the same struggle. A Talmudic Take on Rabbinic Children The Talmud was not oblivious to the phenomena of rabbinic children struggling with their religious affiliation and expression. In fact, the Talmud (Nedarim 81a) asks outright: “Why do the children of rabbis so rarely become rabbis themselves?” In response to this question, the Talmud presents five approaches: Rav Yosef says it is so that people do not say Torah is an inheritance. Rav Sheishet, the son of Rav Eidi, says so that they do not become arrogant among the community. Mar Zutra says so that they do not become too dictatorial against the community. Rav Ashi says it is because they [speak negatively about common folk]. Ravina explained because they do not make the requisite Blessing on the Torah. Of all of the explanations, Ravina’s seems to be the most puzzling. What Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Raising Happy Rabbinic Children 1. Make sure your children know that they are number one in your life. Designate regular shul-free, private time with the family, as well as with individual children. Arrange for Shabbat and yom tov meals with just the family. 2. Engage your child in conversation every day. Demonstrate an active interest in what’s going on in your child’s life, what’s important to him or her. Encourage the development of his or her individual identity and abilities. 3. Allow your child to be a child. Placing higher behavioral standards on your child, or expectations that are beyond the child’s maturity level, creates inner conflict. To please his parents, he’ll contort himself to maintain the family image. Yet, he longs to just be himself and to be accepted by his peers. 4. Talk about your work. When you ask for your children’s feedback and ideas, they feel respected and valued, as well as rooted in the family structure, identifying with its ideals, goals, struggles, triumphs and disappointments. 5. Help your child to feel that her or she is an integral part of your mission. To the degree that a child is given opportunities to contribute to her parent’s mission, she will have a sense of family solidarity as well as enhanced self-esteem. Involve your children in shul projects, stuffing envelopes, delivering food packages or setting up for Kiddush and shul events. 6. Let your adolescent discover his or her own unique spark. Honor your children’s aspirations and choices of career paths. In turn, they will hold yours in higher esteem. And a bit of advice for rabbinic children: know that your parents are trying their best!
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does the Blessing on the Torah have to do with the religious outcome of one’s children? And are we really to assume that great rabbinic scholars all skipped the Biblically mandated Blessing on the Torah made each morning? Rabbi Yehuda Loew (1520-1609), known as the Maharal, explains why the Blessing on the Torah is so critical for the success of the children of rabbis.10 Love of Torah, explains the Maharal, can be divisive. Torah learning is inherently a pursuit for the religious ideals of life. The love for the ideals contained in Torah can easily distract one from loving God or even from loving other people. Many families have been party to the potential discord buried within the quest for religious advancement. Take, for example, the teenager who adopts stricter kosher standards but does so in a manner that is disrespectful of his parents. Love of Torah does not always translate into love of people—or even love of God. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk caustically noted that increased religious observance is not always for the purpose of worshipping God, but rather sometimes it is for the sake of “worshipping the Shulchan Aruch.” Individual religious achievement is sometimes built upon the dissatisfaction or disapprobation of others’ religious laxity. In order for personal religious achievement to translate into interpersonal success we need to recite the Blessing on the Torah. The Blessing on the Torah is not a typical blessing that one makes, for instance, on food or even other commandments; it is a prayer that our love for scholarship should not obscure our love for people. The text of the Blessing of the Torah contains a reminder that our personal pursuits of religious perfection should not come at the expense of our appreciation of others. The Blessing reads: Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us to engage in the study of the words of Torah. Please, Lord, our God, make the words of Your Torah sweet in our mouths and in the mouths of Your people, the House of Israel, so that we, our descendants (and their descendants), and the descendants of Your people, the House of Israel, may all know Your name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Lord, who teaches Torah to His people Israel. We do not simply recite a blessing on the commandment to study Torah, but we pray that it is received by those who study, and those we teach, with sweetness. It is not just a blessing on our scholarship, but it is a prayer for scholars and students. Our Torah, we plead, should not divide—it should unite, for this generation and the next. The Blessed Reminder of the Priestly Blessing This theme emerges not just in the Blessing on the Torah, but can also be seen in the Torah text on which we recite the blessing. Standardized in each siddur, following the Blessing on the Torah is the text of the Priestly Blessing (Bamidbar 6). Why was this text chosen as the standard-
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bearer for the first Torah text we study each day? This question is further underscored when we consider that the other texts chosen to be studied immediately after the Blessing on the Torah each relate to the importance of Torah. What message does the Priestly Blessing contain concerning our daily affirmation of our obligation to study Torah?11 For many Jews, Birkat Kohanim evokes memories of listening quietly to the Kohanic chants while under a tallit or with their faces buried inside of their prayer book. But the Priestly Blessing is not just an obligation for the Kohen to bless—it is also an obligation for the people to feel blessed.12 Before the Kohanim recite their blessing, they say a blessing of their own, “to bless the people of Israel with love.” No other blessing ends with this particular formulation. We do not recite the blessing on the lulav to “take it with love” or a blessing on matzah “to eat it with love.” Only Birkat Kohanim ends specifically with an acknowledgement of love, because inherent in the obligation of the blessing is that the recipient, the people of Israel, feels beloved. In fact, a Kohen who is not in good standing within the community or is involved in communal disputes is not allowed to bless the people. Rabbi Leible Eiger (1817-1888), himself a scion of a famed rabbinic family, summarized the essence of Birkat Kohanim as “a reminder to root within our hearts the love of the Jewish people, that each person should seek the good in his fellow man.”13 Specifically, he writes, “If there is, God forbid, some burden pressing on a particular individual, we should anticipate and long for expansiveness to be bestowed on such a person.” Birkat Kohanim is an acknowledgement that the Jewish people are blessed and beloved.14 This, in turn, may be why the Priestly Blessing follows the Blessing on the Torah. As we begin each day recognizing the centrality of our obligation to pursue our attainment of Torah, we pause to acknowledge the possible dangers inherent within 44
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a singular focus on Torah study. The ideals of Torah study cannot be achieved at the expense of the appreciation of the people. Our study of Torah, like Birkat Kohanim, should leave those in our lives feeling more beloved and more blessed. The Priestly Blessing and the Blessing on the Torah preceding it dually ensure that our Torah study is not just the fulfillment of a commandment, but an endeavor that is sweet for all those around us. Sweet for us and for our children. “For the rabbi’s child,” concludes Dr. Levitz, “self-esteem is enhanced with the experience of feeling valued as an integral part of the family group in its designated work with the congregation.” It is a sad fact of religious life that our personal growth can often come at the expense of others’ self-worth and self-esteem. The Torah and Talmud were both acutely aware of this danger. The ideals and expectations of religious life can be divisive wedges within families and communities. Each morning, when saying the Blessing on the Torah followed by the Priestly Blessing, we pause and tacitly acknowledge that concern. But if our blessings are successful, we can rest assured that our religious commitments remain “sweet in our mouths and in the mouths of Your people.” Notes 1. This phenomenon, of course, is not limited to the children of Jewish clergy. There is an extensive body of literature that discusses the corollary of this phenomenon in the Christian world, where it is often referred to as “preacher’s kid syndrome.” See, for example, Rebel With a Cause (Nashville, 1995), the memoir of Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham. See also: Carole Anderson, “The Experience of Growing Up in a Minister’s Home and the Religious Commitment of the Adult Child of a Minister,” Pastoral Psychology 46, no. 6 (July 1998): 393-411. 2. Irving N. Levitz, “Children of Rabbis,” Tradition 23, no. 2 (winter 1988): 76-87.
3. I bid., 79. 4. I bid., 77. 5. David Assaf, Untold Tales of the Hasidim: Crisis & Discontent in the History of Hasidism (Waltham, Massachusetts, 2010). 6. I bid., 30. 7. I n a recent article on the site Lehrhaus, Elli Fischer couches the phenomenon of rabbis’ children in an earlier Biblical figure—Yitzchak, the son of Avraham. See his “The Patron Saint of Rabbi’s Kids,” available online here: http://www.thelehrhaus. com/commentary-short-articles/patron-saint-of-rabbis-sons. 8. See Torat Moshe, Bamidbar 1:3. 9. See Ktav Sofer, vol. 8, where he explains that Aaron’s children were reluctant to get married in order to avoid having children and repeating the parental mistakes they witnessed Moshe make. 10. S ee his introduction to Tiferet Yisrael. 11. See Rabbi Shlomo Rabinowicz of Radomsk’s (1801-1866) Tiferet Shlomo, Moadim, p. 6 and Rabbi Aryeh Zvi Fromer of Kushigluv (1884-1943) in his responsa Eretz Tzvi, no. 20, both of whom pose this question, though they offer different approaches than what proceeds here. 12. See Sefer Chareidim 12:18, Responsa Devar Avraham, vol. 1, no. 31 and the presentation of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in Shiurei HaRav, Tefillah u’Kriat Shema, no. 22. 13. See his Imrei Emet, Naso, 5624. more on this approach to the 14. For Priestly blessings, see my B’rogez Rachem Tizkor, no. 1, 21-30. The Talmudic custom to pray for one’s dreams during the Birkat Kohanim is also explained.
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MAJORING IN RABBINICS
WHY THE CAMPUS HAS BECOME AN IDEAL TRAINING GROUND FOR RABBIS By Barbara Bensoussan
Ed. Note: OU-JLIC’s educators work together as a team to strengthen Orthodox life on campus. The program’s success is rooted in the fact that it primarily hires husband-and-wife teams—enabling couples to serve as religious mentors for both men and women. The article below focuses on how the OU-JLIC experience prepares rabbis for the pulpit. In a future issue, we will explore the critical role of female OU-JLIC educators as well as rebbetzins in the community.
hile there are many paths to the rabbinate, aspiring pulpit rabbis generally opt to attend an appropriate semichah program, segue into a position as an assistant rabbi and then take on a congregation of their own. Today, however, some newly-minted rabbis are opting to hone their skills not in communities, but on college campuses. Serving as educators through the OU’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC), these campus rabbis develop a close-up view of the next generation’s needs, concerns and sensitivities. OU-JLIC, designed to help Orthodox students navigate religious life on secular campuses, is currently found on twenty-three university campuses across the US and Canada. “Trends start on the campus,” says Rabbi Ilan Haber, the national director of OU-JLIC for the past twelve years. “That makes our rabbis especially equipped to understand the dynamics that will play out in shuls down the road.” Campuses tend to be ultra-liberal environments in which anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist sentiments are no longer anathema, and are even considered politically correct in some circles. Campus life ricochets between intense bouts of
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studying and intense bouts of no-holds-barred partying. And with gender roles and identities often called into question, rabbis are increasingly being called upon to deal with students’ sensitive questions in these areas. “Campuses are five to ten years ahead of where a congregation is in dealing with issues like gender equality or alternative lifestyles,” says Rabbi Noah Cheses, a former OU-JLIC rabbi at Yale University who currently serves as rabbi of the Young Israel of Sharon, Massachusetts. But gender identity issues extend way beyond the university. “All rabbis, from Chassidic to the most Modern Orthodox, are challenged by this,” says Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president, emeritus, of the Orthodox Union. Indeed, conflicts between Torah values and modern secular beliefs may be heightened on the campus, where young people often find themselves confronting professors whose beliefs challenge their own. At this stage of life, students Barbara Bensoussan has worked as a university instructor and a social worker and currently writes for Jewish newspapers and magazines.
Rabbi David Pardo (left), a current OU-JLIC educator at Brandeis, learning b’chavrutah with a student. Photos: Kruter Photography
have plenty of freedom and time to contemplate the Big Questions. But while the OU-JLIC rabbi finds himself tackling these clashes, inevitably they arise sooner or later for every shul rabbi on one level or another. Preparing for the Pulpit Like pulpit rabbis, OU-JLIC rabbis organize minyanim, give shiurim and derashot, host community members for Shabbat meals and help their congregants negotiate life-cycle events. “A campus is not so different from a shul, even in terms of size,” says Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, director of Jewish Career Guidance and Placement at Yeshiva University. “At campuses like Rutgers or Maryland, a rabbi can be dealing with hundreds of Orthodox students. The rabbis are also dealing with faculty and administration, organizing lectures and programs, and serving as ambassadors of the Orthodox community to other religious groups.” When Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, a former OU-JLIC rabbi at Princeton
University and now the rabbi of Anshei Shalom Bnai Israel Congregation in Chicago, made the transition from campus to congregation, he found the greater administrative demands required some adjustment. “A synagogue rabbi has to be the CEO of the shul,” he says. “He’s an administrator who’s involved in programming, in addition to pastoral work and Torah teaching.” But Rabbi Eli Kohl, who spent seven years as the OU-JLIC rabbi at the University of Maryland, had already managed a very large kehillah and dealt with hundreds of students (the Orthodox presence doubled during his tenure there). When Rabbi Kohl
began looking for a pulpit, someone suggested he take an assistant rabbi position. He responded, “But I’ve been doing more than many senior rabbis!” Campus rabbis tend to transition well into the formal rabbinate because the campus, says Rabbi Schwarzberg, “provides a wealth of organizational, pastoral and leadership opportunities.” An OU-JLIC rabbi will typically have some students who’ve returned from studying in yeshivah in Israel and have a sophisticated level of Gemara mastery, while others may rank as beginners. Regardless of level, the average college student is bright and requires an engaging lesson. Similarly, a pulpit rabbi’s duties include
Trends start on the campus . . . that makes our rabbis especially equipped to understand the dynamics that will play out in shuls down the road. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Regardless of where a rabbi falls on the Orthodox spectrum, much of the job today is about counseling and inspiring congregants. Being a rabbi is no longer just about paskening what to do when the milchig spoon falls into a fleshig pot. delivering shiurim and derashot that appeal to a wide range of attendees with varying degrees of Jewish knowledge. Exploring innovative ways to reach one’s students or congregants is key for an effective rabbi. “These [OU-JLIC] rabbis are exploring new ways to convey halachah and mussar,” says Rabbi Weinreb. “They aren’t kiruv rabbis, but there may be elements of kiruv in their work. They’re also involved in kiruv for Orthodox youth who have been disillusioned and need a rabbi to make Torah study interesting and inspiring for them. Then there’s the challenge of how to make tefillah meaningful. That’s a big issue in pulpits as well as on campuses.” Recently, an article on Forbes.com addressed the growing challenge of maintaining synagogue membership. According to the article, young Jewish professionals are resisting institutional affiliation, which is
Rabbi Ari Neuman served as a religious advisor and mentor to the 500 Orthodox students on the University of Maryland College Park campus. 48
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having an impact on Orthodox shuls. This is one of the trends Rabbis Wolkenfeld and Cheses observed during their tenure as OU-JLIC rabbis—the millennial preference for niche minyanim like hashkamah or house minyanim instead of the main minyanim at large shuls. Having witnessed this trend, they understood the need for “micro-communities” once they became congregational rabbis, and introduced innovations such as a monthly Carlebach Friday night davening that alternates between the shul and someone’s home. “We learned how to serve the needs of this generation while convincing them of the importance of the ‘main minyan’ and affiliation with the large Orthodox institutions,” says Rabbi Wolkenfeld. Building Communities Many former OU-JLIC rabbis feel that one of the most important skills they honed on campus is the ability to build a community—one relationship at time. OU-JLIC rabbis tend to devote most of their time to building personal, deep and trusting relationships with as many students as possible. “Honing this ability to build community through individual relationships has enabled us to do the same in a congregational setting, ” says Rabbi Wolkenfeld. When Rabbi Cheses served as rabbi in Toronto, he created a vibrant community of young professionals. He did this by forging close relationships with congregants—he usually split his time between providing spiritual counseling and learning Torah with congregants. This eventually led to the creation of a dynamic professionals committee that met every few weeks to
plan engaging, fun events (i.e., mystery Shabbat lunches), which attracted new members and brought many members from the periphery of the community to the center. The community one builds on campus will, of course, consist of a younger, more specific demographic than the typical shul population; OU-JLIC rabbis officiate at fewer britot, weddings and funerals. Rabbi Wolkenfeld, however, points out that serving a more narrow demographic isn’t true only of campus rabbis: “Many shuls are composed primarily of either younger or older people.” But OU-JLIC rabbis are also available for professors, who aren’t youngsters and may be dealing with births of children or grandchildren, caring for elderly parents or coping with children choosing a different religious path. “In some places, the OU-JLIC rabbi heads the only Orthodox minyan in town, so many non-students join,” Rabbi Wolkenfeld says. Rabbi Weinreb concurs: “For an OU-JLIC rabbi, the buck stops with him. Often there’s no one else around.” One of the biggest misconceptions, says Rabbi Ari Neuman, who served as an OU-JLIC educator at the University of Maryland for three years, is that when people hear the term “campus rabbi,” they immediately think that it’s a kiruv position. But OU-JLIC educators work primarily with the Orthodox student population on campus. While Rabbi Neuman, for example, did interface with the nearly 6,000 Jewish students at the University of Maryland, his primary role was to serve as a religious advisor and mentor to the 500 Orthodox students on campus. His experiences there were remarkably broad: he taught the students
For an OU-JLIC rabbi, the buck stops with him. Often there’s no one else around. how to run a kosher kitchen; he answered their theological questions; he oversaw the campus eruv. “Everything I do in the rabbinate, I’ve done in OU-JLIC,” says Rabbi Neuman, who currently serves as the assistant rabbi of Congregation Torat Emet in Columbus, Ohio. “I have yet to find something I haven’t done [at Maryland]. Unfortunately, I even had to officiate at a funeral.” In fact, even some of the challenges are the same. The key issue today is engagement, says Rabbi Neuman. On campus, most students attended Friday night services and dinner, since Friday
night is a big night out on the campus, but attendance on Shabbat morning was weak. The situation in his shul is reversed: Friday night sees less of a crowd but on Shabbat day, parents tend to bring their kids for services. “It’s really the same challenge: why aren’t people engaged in Jewish life the way they should be?” So many of the same dynamics and stresses of “regular” life exist on campus. Students may have difficult relationships with their peers, they may struggle with sick parents, or suffer from loneliness or depression or other mental illnesses.
“Regardless of where a rabbi falls on the Orthodox spectrum, much of the job today is about counseling and inspiring congregants,” Rabbi Weinreb says. “Being a rabbi is no longer just about paskening what to do when the milchig spoon falls into a fleshig pot.” The bottom line, Rabbi Cheses points out, is that “human problems are human problems, whether you’re twenty or eighty years old. Loneliness, anger or broken family relationships happen at all ages.”
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Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, in Florida.
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THE BATTLE FOR SAFE SCHOOLS
AMID RISING ANTI-SEMITISM, WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING TO KEEP OUR CHILDREN SAFE? By Nechama Carmel
n an unusually warm day in late February, Shari Dym, an administrator at Silver Academy, a Jewish day school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, went into emergency mode. When the alarms went off in Silver Academy, Shari and her colleagues knew it was not a drill because they had just put the students through an evacuation drill the week before. This time it was real. Someone had called in a bomb threat to Silver Academy. Over the next two minutes, Shari and her colleagues evacuated 200 students. “The fear is something that I will never be able to explain to anybody who hasn’t lived through it,” Dym says. “You can never think that this is just a hoax, because you don’t want to be around the day that it’s not.” Silver Academy is not alone. In 2017, more than 160 Jewish schools and community centers around the country received bomb threats. While these incidents turned out to be the isolated hoax of one individual, they came amid a flurry of increased anti-Semitic activity in the country. Defiled cemeteries, swastika
graffiti on subways and college campuses, and a growing white supremacist presence have sparked a new wave of concern across Jewish communities. According to a report recently released by the ADL, antiSemitic incidents rose by 86 percent in the United States in the first three months of 2017, with 541 attacks and threats between January and March— compared to 281 incidents in the same time period in 2016. While expressing relief that the perpetrator was caught, Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the ADL, warned in a statement that “JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant.” Anti-Semitism in the US, he said, remains a very serious concern. With Jewish day schools considered “high risk” for attacks, many schools— especially those located in urban centers—are focused on security. “In today’s world, lockdown drills at Jewish day schools are almost as prevalent as fire drills,” says Michael Buchman, chief investment officer at the Hilton Foundation and a community activist in Los Angeles.
Making Strides in Washington But while school security has become an even more pressing issue in recent months, the topic has been on the OU’s agenda for years. In the aftermath of 9/11, the OU Advocacy Center, the non-partisan public policy arm of the OU, along with other coalition partners spearheaded the creation of the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Under the NSGP, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awards grants to schools, synagogues and other nonprofits to enhance the security of their buildings. “In 2001, we saw the rise in threats against the Jewish community and understood that making our facilities more secure for all who use them would cost a considerable amount of money,” says Nathan J. Diament, executive director of OU Advocacy. “That’s why we spearheaded the coalition to create the federal NSGP and fought to ensure it would provide grants to day schools and synagogues— an aspect of the proposal that, at the time, was opposed by some.” Nechama Carmel is Editorin-Chief of Jewish Action. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
“Remarkable as it may seem, prior to 2013, nonpublic schools in New York State received zero state dollars in security funds.” Since the NSGP began in 2005, the DHS has awarded more than $200 million in NSGP grants to nonprofit institutions including more than 1,000 Jewish schools and shuls. Each nonprofit can receive as much as $75,000 to make its building more secure. The funds can be used for installing fencing, lighting, video surveillance, metal detectors, concrete barriers and other security measures. For vulnerable Jewish institutions across the country, the grants have been critical. “The first thing you need in a country, in a school, in a building—is to feel safe,” says Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Congregation Ohab Zedek on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “Thanks to the grant that we were fortunate enough to receive, we feel safe.” “Every year since it was first created, we work intensively to ensure that this critical program receives sufficient congressional funding,” says Diament. The program provided $20 million in grants in 2016. Recently, Congress passed a budget deal that included $25 million in federal security grants for the 2017 budget year. Amid the surge in attacks across the country against Jewish facilities ranging from cemeteries to synagogues, OU Advocacy is working to increase the funding level even more in the 2018 fiscal year. New York State Takes the Lead Soon after the Sandy Hook massacre that claimed the lives of twenty children and six teachers, OU Advocacy launched the Teach Advocacy Network. One of its primary goals: to make schools safe for every child. “Unfortunately, security is not a new concern for Jewish institutions,” says Allen Fagin, 52
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OU executive vice president. “Around the world, Jewish schools, houses of worship, and community centers have always been targets of terror. But since the Sandy Hook shooting made school safety a national priority, it made it easier for us to advocate for serious security funding.” With a presence in six states, the Teach Advocacy Network relies on a nationwide network of lobbyists, dedicated lay leaders, partner schools and devoted grassroots volunteers to advocate for government funding of nonpublic schools and do whatever it takes to make sure Jewish schools have the resources they need to keep their students safe. While only in existence for four years, the Teach NYS office, the largest of the Teach Advocacy Network, already delivered approximately $150 million in state assistance last year to Jewish schools across the Empire State. “Remarkable as it may seem, prior to 2013, nonpublic schools in New York State received zero state dollars in security funds,” says Maury Litwack, executive director of the Teach Advocacy Network. Teach NYS made a compelling argument: New York nonpublic schools educate some 400,000 students but receive less than two percent of state education funds, including security
funding. Don’t all students deserve to be safe regardless of the type of school they attend? The argument resonated with lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo. When the Legislature passed the SAFE Act in 2013, Teach NYS lobbied to include nonpublic schools, with an initial allocation of $4.5 million in security funds, or $10 per pupil. In 2016, Teach NYS successfully advocated for increasing security funding to $15 million, or $30 per pupil. This year, Teach NYS went one step further. In an historic move, Teach NYS brought 600-plus students, teachers, parents, rabbis and lay leaders to Albany to meet with Governor Cuomo and various legislators to impress upon them the need for greater security funding as well as other funding for nonpublic school students. “This was the largest delegation to Albany of yeshivot and Jewish day schools and quite possibly the largest Jewish delegation ever,” says Litwack. Not surprisingly, the historic mission had a tremendous impact. Addressing the group, Governor Cuomo promised support, stating that he had given religious schools . . . “more money than ever before in history.” “We did that last year,” said the governor. “And we’ll do it again this year, where we propose even more funding than ever before for the religious schools.” The governor was true to his word. The New York State budget for the 2018 fiscal year allocates almost $300 million in nonpublic school funding, including an unprecedented $40 million for nonpublic school security, a 166 percent increase over last year’s allocation. “This is the largest security
Since the NSGP began in 2005, the DHS has awarded more than $200 million in NSGP grants to nonprofit institutions including more than 1,000 Jewish schools and shuls.
ADVERTORIAL allocation for nonpublic schools anywhere in the country,” says Jake Adler, Teach NYS policy director. “The OU and its supporters pounded the pavement in Albany for months, and Governor Cuomo and the New York Legislature responded to our urgent request with a record-setting security grant for nonpublic schools,” says OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane. “All children deserve to go to schools in a safe environment.” “We are extremely thankful to the New York Legislature and Governor Cuomo for responding to the security concerns in the Jewish community, but there are many more schools that need help,” says Fagin. “Our goal is to replicate our success in New York across the country.” OU Advocacy called on other state legislatures to follow New York’s lead, and the victory has inspired Jewish education activists around the country to work even harder. “The success in New York is not limited to New York; it’s a model we can export and use in different states,” says Buchman, co-chair of Teach CA. Game-Changing Legislation At the city level, there’s been significant progress as well. Thanks to the efforts of New York City Councilman David Greenfield and two years of intense lobbying spearheaded by OU Advocacy with an array of partners, New York City became the first city in the country to pass legislation that provides children in nonpublic schools with the same protection as their peers in public schools. Councilman Greenfield championed the new provision, known as Introduction 65-A, which provides nearly $20 million for nonpublic schools to hire licensed security guards to protect their students. “It took years to get the Council to vote on Introduction 65-A and for the mayor to sign the law,” says Councilman Greenfield. “By the time we passed the law, we had forty-five out of fifty-one Council members signed on as sponsors. That’s not a coincidence. It was due to the hard work of the OU and Teach NYS that worked with us hand in hand to get this done.” Once New York City passed this groundbreaking legislation, school administrators, concerned parents and even some members of the media were elated. “Kudos to the mayor and to the speaker for doing the right thing—and to the key group that pushed this bill, the Orthodox Union,” wrote the New York Post in an editorial shortly after the bill passed. The legislation has already sent security guards to sixty-four yeshivot at absolutely no cost to them, and many more schools are going to be added next year, according to the Councilman. “We now have over 50,000 yeshivah students protected in New York City,” he says. “I think every city should have a law like ours that provides free security guards for nonpublic schools. Children everywhere deserve safety, no matter where they go to school, simply because they are children.”
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For the first time in history, New York State will reimburse millions to Jewish schools for math and science classes.
Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union, helped secure $300 million in this year’s New York State budget for nonpublic schools, including millions to reimburse science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers in our Jewish day schools. This is the first time in the history of New York State such a program has existed. If we continue down this path, we can make a real difference for our schools.
Sign up at: www.teachnys.org
Recent Teach NYS ad that appeared in various national Jewish publications.
From Coast to Coast With offices in states including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and California, the Teach Advocacy Network serves “close to 90 percent of the American Jewish day school world,” according to Litwack. Its strategy is deceptively simple: in each state, the Teach Advocacy Network builds a strong and dedicated team of lay leaders who are committed to promoting government funding of nonpublic schools. Recognizing that each state legislature is influenced by its own local politics and culture, the Teach Advocacy Network connects leaders and activists in each state with top lobbyists and strategists to draft legislation specific to their needs and circumstances. Lay leaders cultivate relationships with public officials, bring legislators to Jewish schools to visit with administrators and students, and create coalitions with local Jewish day schools, federations and other allied stakeholders to fight for equity through greater government funding for nonpublic schools. Below, we provide a snapshot of the Teach Advocacy Network’s efforts for each of the states. _______________________________ Fighting for Security—State by State The Keystone State Not long after Teach PA was established in 2013, it conducted
an informal survey of Jewish day schools in the state. “We discovered that while their chief concern is tuition affordability,” says Arielle FrankstonMorris, director of Teach PA. “Second on the list is security. Unfortunately, the cost of keeping a school safe is prohibitive.” In 2013, Teach PA created and helped pass the Safe Schools Legislation that allows schools to use that funding for security personnel. Other security grant programs, such as the Homeland Security Grant, can only be used for the purchase of “target hardening equipment” (i.e., security cameras, fences, et cetera). Currently, there is no allocation in Pennsylvania for enhancing the security of school buildings. The Safe School grant entitles recipients to $40,000 the initial year for a “school police officer,” $20,000 the second year, and zero dollars the third year. The following year, they are allowed to reapply for the grant. “Unfortunately, this is not a sustainable program,” says FrankstonMorris. “From year to year, schools are unable to budget for a security guard.” And while many schools and synagogues in the state are eligible for federal security money, the national dollars have their limits. The money cannot be used to hire security guards, and schools like Silver Academy in Harrisburg do not qualify for the
federal funds because they operate outside of an urban center. “What about the Jewish schools in Allentown, Scranton and Harrisburg?,” asks Frankston-Morris. “They are equally as vulnerable to anti-Semitism and terror attacks as day schools in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.” For now, Teach PA has two priorities with regard to security funding: to work with the Legislature to expand the Safe Schools program to include long-term security funding for security personnel and to ensure day schools receive funding necessary to make their buildings safe. “Without the proper funding for security equipment or a guard, schools are vulnerable,” says Frankston-Morris. _______________________________ The Garden State Determined to address the security needs of New Jersey’s more than 41,000 Jewish day school students in 170 schools, in 2015 Teach NJS helped create the first new funding line in the state budget for nonpublic school students in more than two decades. Last year, the state provided $50 per child in security funding for nonpublic school students. In 2016, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill, sponsored and championed by Assemblyman Gary Schaer of Passaic, that provided $75 per child in the 2017 budget. This
Council Member Mark Levine (speaking), chairman of the New York City Council’s Jewish Caucus, stands alongside [from left] Council members Andrew Cohen and David Greenfield at a Teach NYS press conference at City Hall, March 2014.
TeachNYS_MakeHistoryMoon: Recent Teach NYS ad that appeared in various national Jewish publications. 54 JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
year, Teach NJS, a partnership of twenty-one Jewish day schools and two federations across the State of New Jersey, ratcheted up its efforts, urging Governor Christie and the New Jersey Legislature to increase security funding to $144 per child for all nonpublic students in the state—thereby creating parity with public schools. As of this writing, however, the budget for 2018 has not yet been released, and it is uncertain how much money will be allocated. “When you put your child on the bus in the morning, you need to feel confident that he or she will be safe and secure,” says Ariella Noveck, director of grassroots operations, Teach NJS. “Every child, regardless of the school he or she attends, has the right to a safe learning environment,” says New Jersey Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer. Intensifying its efforts, Teach NJS brought Jewish day school parents to testify before the State Assembly and Senate Budget Committees this past March to impress upon them the very real threat facing Jewish day schools. “When Teach NJS asked me to take time off in the middle of a work day to testify before the Assembly Budget Committee, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Erik Kessler, director of operations at The Moriah School in Englewood. “As a school administrator and a father of three children, this was the most important thing I could do for my students and kids.” In his testimony to the committee, Kessler highlighted the urgency of this fight. “At my school in Englewood, located less than three miles from the George Washington Bridge, nearly 1,000 people a day pass through our gates. Our proximity to New York City, as well as the size of our fourteen-acre campus, makes us a target.” Over the next couple of months, while the New Jersey Legislature hammers out the details of the state budget, Teach NJS is determined to make sure the collective voice of its community members is loud and strong. “Government has a responsibility to protect all of our students—no matter which kind of school they attend,” says Nathan J. Lindenbaum, co-chair of Teach NJS. “We are cautiously optimistic that Governor Christie and the legislature won’t leave our children stranded.” _______________________________ The Sunshine State Thanks, in part, to the efforts of Teach Florida, Florida boasts the largest tax-credit scholarship program in the country (some 2,400 Jewish day school students in the state receive scholarships); however, the state did not provide any funding for security for nonpublic school students. Until now. Over the past few months, Teach Florida worked with Senator Lauren Book (D) and Representative Randy Fine (R) to draft legislation that would provide funding to upgrade security at nonpublic schools; subsequently,
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Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
it spearheaded advocacy efforts for its passage. As we went to press, we learned that the Florida state budget will be allocating $645,000 to enhance security in nonpublic schools. “This is the first allocation of security funding for nonpublic schools in the state of Florida,” explains Mimi Baron Jankovits, executive director of Teach Florida. Dr. Leon Melnitsky, volunteer chairman of the Security Committee at Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale, works closely with Teach Florida and has spent years researching and implementing security standards and protocols for the school. But for Dr. Melnitsky, the issue of school security is not theoretical. In 2016, James Medina, a convert to Islam and a resident of Hollywood, Florida,
planned an explosive attack on a synagogue in nearby Aventura that was thankfully thwarted by the FBI. That incident, among others, helped to focus attention on what Dr. Melnitsky had been fighting for all along. “We face threats that are unique to the Jewish community,” he says. “It’s clear that the threats are out there. But it’s very painful to be aware of what the security standards are and to know that your school falls short because it cannot possibly afford to implement them.” Calling the new legislation “a tremendous achievement,” Dr. Melnitsky is grateful to the OU for its forward-thinking approach to solving the problems facing Jewish day schools. “Teach Florida gives us the means to protect our children,” he says. “We have made tremendous
It’s very painful to be aware of what the security standards are and to know that your school falls short because it cannot possibly afford to implement them. 56
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progress with the help of Teach Florida in pushing through the legislation for funding. And there’s no doubt in my mind that this legislation will help save lives.” _______________________________ The Golden State Currently, nonpublic schools in California receive zero state dollars to keep their children safe. Teach CA co-chair Michael Buchman is determined to change that. In recent months, Teach CA helped draft AB 927 with Assemblyman Marc Levine to establish a $10 million grant to provide security at nonpublic schools. Thanks to Teach CA’s rallying efforts, including Buchman’s testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the bill is working its way through the legislative process. “We were looking at what was going on in the East Coast [with regard to funding for nonpublic schools], and said ‘why not do it here?,’” says Buchman. While admitting that they are just at the beginning and it’s an “uphill battle,” Buchman says, “the fact that this has been done elsewhere gives us a framework and more importantly,
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Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
gives our local government a paradigm to look to.” With the help of the Teach Advocacy Network, Buchman organized a group of community leaders as well as a coalition of Jewish day schools in the state committed to seeking change. He also began working on building a broader coalition comprised of other faith communities—including private Muslim schools. “It doesn’t make sense for the Jewish community in California to do this alone,” he says. In fact, Teach CA found an ally in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA legend and Muslim activist, who called on California to support this proposed legislation. The fact that the bill was drafted and is moving forward has “galvanized the Jewish community, and is building a sense of excitement,” says Buchman. “There’s a lot of Jewish advocacy on the national level, especially as it relates to Israel, but outside of the tristate area, organized Jewish advocacy efforts on the state level don’t really exist, certainly not in California. This is uncharted territory and we are excited about the potential for what we can achieve.” _______________________________ The Old Line State For Jewish schools in Maryland, security is not a new issue. “Because of our proximity to Washington DC, our schools and synagogues have always been focused on security,” says Sam
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
The number-one question I would get from politicians is, ‘Where are the people?’ If this issue really is so burning, where are the people?’ Melamed, a community activist and the co-chair of Teach MD. But despite the fact that the state is considered high-risk for a terrorist attack, it never provided security funding for nonpublic schools. A new security grant bill will change that. “Most of the yeshivot and day schools in the state hire their own guards,” says Melamed. “But it’s a significant expense and a difficult burden that we feel is unfair to bear. The state and county should be responsible for the safety of all schoolchildren.” Known as HB 1161, the bill, introduced by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Senator Roger Manno, awards security grants to private schools and day care centers deemed “at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.” What’s more, the bill allows schools to use the funds for security guards as well as to make
their buildings more secure. “It was important for us to include language that would allow us to fund security guards, which is a huge expense,” says Melamed. Teach MD and Maryland Parents for Education, a partner organization of the Teach Advocacy Network, drafted the legislation and led the effort to secure the passage of the bill. Yehuda Neuberger, co-chair of Teach MD, testified before the Maryland Senate Education Committee about the need to ensure the safety of all children. While the bill does not specify a dollar amount, Melamed is confident that the governor will make security a priority in his budget. “The important work of shepherding the bill through the legislative process has been done,” he says, still marveling at the fact that the bill passed because a small group of school leaders and activists cared to make it happen. Melamed, the CEO of an insurance trust who had no experience in advocacy prior to joining Teach MD, has become somewhat of an advocacy maven in his local community. Four years earlier, Melamed attended a Teach Advocacy Network symposium in Washington DC where representatives from other states presented their accomplishments in securing government funding for nonpublic schools. “It blew my mind when some of the speakers reflected on the fact that years earlier they didn’t even know if they lived in the city or the county, or who their representatives were. And now they are the ‘go-to people’ in their communities when it comes to political issues,” says Melamed. “That convinced me that we could make a difference in Maryland too.”
Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Keeping Your School Safe • Develop a comprehensive threat and risk assessment of your facility. Work with local law enforcement agencies to assess your school. • Change the culture. Make safety and security part of the culture of your school, involving staff, students and volunteers. Teachers and students should be educated to notice and report the presence of individuals who don’t seem to belong or any suspicious activity. • Be proactive. Prepare for potential security scenarios. Create emergency procedures and security plans, regularly assess risks and revisit your security plans to update them accordingly. Provide ongoing security training. Practice and drill all of your emergency procedures. • Make sure to have a reliable communications system. You need to be able to communicate with the staff during an emergency. • Develop relationships. Meet and develop relationships with the local law enforcement and first-responder agencies. Response protocols should be clear and understood by all parties. Make sure all first responders know your facility well. • Secure the building. Make sure all points of entry to the school and school grounds are limited and controlled. • Use security technology for monitoring purposes. Wireless panic alarms could easily and inexpensively be made available in every school. Special thanks to Rabbi Yehuda Friedman, OU associate director of Synagogue Services and director of Long Island/Queens region, and Dr. Leon Melnitsky, volunteer chairman of the Security Committee at Brauser Maimonides Academy, for their assistance in preparing these tips.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
“What I heard at the symposium was true,” he continued. “It’s amazing how quickly I learned about the political process, how accessible and responsive our public officials are, and how impactful we can be when we get involved.” The Power of Grassroots: Making It Happen The story of the Teach Advocacy Network—which is still in its infancy—is a story about advocacy. But it’s also a story about the power of community. The historic victories achieved in New York—and indeed all of the Teach Advocacy Network’s successes in recent years—are the result of years of hard work on the part of schools, parents, teachers, administrators, lay leaders and community activists around the country. “The Teach Advocacy Network is essentially a grassroots effort,” says Adler, Teach NYS policy director. “Our lay leaders and activists spent months making endless phone calls, sending e-mails to local legislators, and hosting meetings in their communities,”
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says Litwack, executive director of the Teach Advocacy Network. “All of these big and small steps contributed to this historic budget in New York. We have community leaders working with rabbis, board members of schools and parents in each community, taking responsibility and saying, ‘I believe that we can make this happen.’ Teach NYS was founded with the idea that if we really apply ourselves, we can make something happen.” One of the ways the OU reaches community members is through its vast network of shul rabbis, who are attuned to their congregants’ most pressing concerns. “These rabbis hear about the struggles of affordability every day,” says Rabbi Yehuda Friedman, OU associate director of Synagogue Services and director of Long Island/Queens region. “They motivated their congregants to come to Albany and be heard.” Shortly after Teach NYS was founded, when it would organize missions to Albany, some fifteen or twenty people would show up. This 62
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presented a huge challenge. “The number-one question I would get from politicians is, ‘Where are the people?,” says Litwack. “If this issue really is so burning, where are the people?’” The politicians were, of course, right. Indifference, Litwack says, does not lead to results. “I heard the governor say that politics is a zero-sum game—you’re either at the table or you’re not. We needed to show up at the table,” agrees Cal Nathan, a member of the Teach NYS Executive Board. “I’ve worked in politics for a long time, and politicians listen when you make your voice heard,” says Litwack. “The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we ready to get involved? Are we ready to step up in a meaningful way?” Many yeshivot and day schools are acknowledging that change is inevitable. The financial model that had worked for the Jewish day school community for decades is no longer sustainable. “The schools see the writing on the wall,” says Morris
Tabush, a Brooklyn parent and a member of the Teach NYS Board. “Something has to change.” “Change doesn’t happen overnight,” Fagin adds, “but our efforts in legislatures across the country show what is possible when communities demand their fair share. We will not cease our advocacy efforts until every child, whether he is educated at a public, private or parochial school, is provided with equivalent security services. But the fight for our children’s safety requires the active efforts of everyone in our community. The more people get involved, the more we make our voices heard and the more successful we will be.” “The recent mission to Albany, which drew some six hundred people, finally opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that government funding is a real option for them, that it represents a real opportunity,” says Tabush. “The mission was a key point in getting our communities on board. If we can get 600 people in 2017, there’s no doubt we could get 6,000 in 2018.”
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INSIDE the PROGRAMS OF THE ORTHODOX UNION
Whether it’s spending Shabbat in Melbourne, Australia or Honolulu, Hawaii, teens get to see how they are a part of an expansive culture and nation. Judaism isn’t just what you’re used to here in the States.” ELLIOT TANZMAN, Director of NCSY Summer Recruitment, describing Kanfei/Bnos Kanfei, a new NCSY summer program now available through partnership with Camp Kanfei Nesharim. On a five-week journey through New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, participants explore their Jewish identity against the backdrop of some of the world’s most wondrous and beautiful locations. Bnos Kanfei is an all-girls trip.
For teens today, there’s a focus on commencing their career-building activities earlier in life. On Next Step, teens can explore their Jewish identity in Israel while learning new and important skills. It’s the best of
DAVID CUTLER, Director of NCSY Summer, explaining Next Step Israel Internships, another new NCSY summer program where teens gain career skills and develop a connection to the land of Israel. Through partnerships with Israeli companies, participants can intern with biotechnology companies, engineering firms, start-ups and nonprofits, among others.
Design: Rachel First
Also this summer, NCSY Kollel, NCSY’s longest running Israel summer program, is introducing Mechina, geared to teens with limited Jewish backgrounds who want to spend the summer honing their Jewish learning skills and touring Israel. Fifteen public school students will attend Mechina this summer, thanks to generous scholarship funds provided by Olami, the OU and National NCSY.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
Especially in out-of-town rabbanus, the rabbi really has to wear a lot of hats. It’s a challenge to stay centered, to remember that the main focus is to elevate and bring kedushah into people’s lives.”
There is a ‘disspiritualization’ that has hit the Orthodox world, a de-emphasis on understanding ourselves and developing our spiritual sense, which leaves religious life feeling numb and empty for many. It is the job of today’s
RABBI AVRAHAM SCHEINBERG, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, Texas, discussing some of the topics raised at the OU Western States Rabbinic Retreat in Canyon Gate, Nevada. Held this past April, the three-day retreat for OU shul rabbis from western states presented the opportunity for new and veteran rabbis to connect and share their experiences.
rabbi to bring back spiritual quality to religious life,
and that’s a major challenge.”
RABBI DR. DAVID FOX, a well-known psychologist, dayan and accomplished author from Los Angeles, who was one of the main presenters at the OU Western States Rabbinic Retreat.
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Total scholarship dollars awarded by NCSY, the OU, federations and local organizations to send over 250 teens on NCSY Summer trips to Israel in 2016.
People came through the doors of the Seymour J. Abrams World Center in Jerusalem (the OU Israel Center), a hub of Torah study, Jewish culture and spiritual growth in 2016 to attend its many varied programs.
Consumers watched OU Kosher’s popular seventh annual Pre-Passover Webinar, held two weeks before Passover. Leading OU rabbis presented their expertise on topics including the Kosher for Passover status of coconut, soy and almond milk and quinoa, as well as ways to kasher an oven.
Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Making Their Voices Heard:
Historic Win for Nonpublic School Funding
This past April, Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union, secured a historic victory for nonpublic schools in the 2018 New York State budget, which allocated $289 million in nonpublic school funding, including a record-breaking $40 million for nonpublic school security. The final budget also includes $210 million for state mandated services, $25 million for technology, $7 million for immunization, and the creation of a new reimbursement program for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction. Teach NYS advanced STEM and security funding as key priorities for the 2018 budget, continuously highlighting the inequity in New York’s education system for nonpublic school students. On March 1, Teach NYS brought an unprecedented group of 600-plus yeshivah students, parents, rabbis, teachers and lay leaders to Albany to urge New York legislators to increase funding for nonpublic schools. Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the Teach NYS group and pledged his support. “We are extremely grateful to Governor Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Speaker Carl Heastie, and the New York Legislature for making STEM education and security for nonpublic schools a priority in this year’s final budget,” says Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union. “Next year, children in yeshivot and Jewish day schools across New York will be safer, better educated and more secure.” Teach NYS has been on the frontlines of the fight for funding equity for nonpublic schools, forcefully articulating the important role these schools play in the state’s education system.
This was truly a historic day in New York State. All children deserve a quality education – regardless of what type of school they attend.” — M A RK (MOISHE) BA NE, PRESIDENT OF THE ORTHODOX U NION
More than 600 Jewish students, teachers, parents and lay leaders from a broad array of yeshivot and day schools trekked to Albany to show their support for Jewish schools in what was the largest group of Jewish education activism in Albany to date. Above, students entering the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
Rabbi Eli Mansour (third from left), Co-Chair of Teach NYS Sam Sutton (fifth from left), and Teach NYS leadership listen to Governor Andrew Cuomo deliver a stirring speech in support of funding for nonpublic schools.
Students came from a broad array of schools, including Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn, North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck and ASHAR in Rockland County.
Students on Teach NYS mission in the New York State Capitol building.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan addressing the Teach NYS mission.
Executive Director, Teach Advocacy Network Maury Litwack addressing the Teach NYS delegation.
I’ve given the religious schools in my budget more money than ever before in history. We did that last year, and we’ll do it again this year, where we propose even more funding than ever before for the religious schools.” — GOVERNOR A NDREW CUOMO AT THE TE ACH N YS MISSION
Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
AROUND THE OU
Thousands Explore Options Outside of New York City Close to 2,000 people attended the OU’s Fifth Biannual International Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair this past April in Manhattan. Fifty-six communities from nineteen states were present, including some first-timers like Nashville, Tennessee and Brighton, Massachusetts. The fair highlights thriving communities across the United States that have the amenities of Orthodox life at a lower cost of living than in the New York City area. With Omaha, Nebraska booth representatives sporting t-shirts proclaiming, “If I can’t live in Israel, second-best is Omaha,” and the Stamford, Connecticut booth featuring an interactive Monopoly board adapted to reflect their community, the fair offered a fun, informative afternoon for those who came in search of more affordable Torah communities. The throngs of participants walked down the rows of booths filling the Metropolitan Pavilion, while stopping to learn about the different communities and helping themselves to popcorn, ice cream, balloons and other free giveaways. “It’s really amazing to be able learn about all of these communities without having to travel across the country,” says Eliana Biel, a young professional from Washington Heights in Manhattan. “The fair continues to be our best source of leads—so many of our new community members learned about us here,” says Michael Feldstein, representing Stamford, Connecticut.
The Kansas City booth offered popcorn and Mid-western charm to fair go-ers.
A Greater Boston representative encouraging fair goers to spend a Shabbat out of town. 68
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Thousands attended this year’s fair, breaking previous records. “I’ve been here since year one, and it just gets better every year,” said Josh Weiss, president of Congregation Anshe Chessed in Linden, New Jersey. Photos: Kruter Photography
Allen Fagin Appointed Co-Chair of New York State-Israel Commission Shortly after the Teach NYS mission, OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin was invited to accompany Governor Andrew Cuomo to Israel in an expression of solidarity with the Jewish community. Following a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the Governor announced the creation of a New York-Israel Commission, charged with assisting in the creation and promotion of opportunities for the development of new programs and economic partnerships and celebrating the relationship between New York State and the State of Israel. Governor Cuomo appointed Mr. Fagin as Co-chair of the Commission.
OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin introducing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at the Teach NYS advocacy mission.
“New York and Israel have always shared a deep cultural, social and economic bond and I am proud that we are working to make our partnership stronger than ever before,” Governor Cuomo said. “These individuals will help continue to strengthen our relationship with the Jewish community and reaffirm our commitment to Israel, and I look forward to seeing the impacts of this partnership resonate across the state and the globe for years to come.”
NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS Joshua Caplan has been appointed as New Jersey Director for Teach NJS, a branch of the Teach Advocacy Network. Josh has been involved in political advocacy throughout his career, most recently as the Director of Development and Community Outreach for Manhattan Day School. At Teach NJS, Josh will advocate for increased state funding for security, STEM, nursing services and textbooks. Josh previously worked in the cable television industry, where he handled his company’s political advertising—he even did a few voice overs for commercials—and was the go-to person for local elected officials. He received his bachelor’s degree from YU and holds an advanced certificate in Jewish philanthropy from YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
Max Dayan joins Midwest NCSY as Director of Development. A native of Skokie, Illinois, Max previously served as the Director of Development for the Libenu Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit providing supervised group housing for Jewish adults with developmental disabilities. At Midwest NCSY, he hopes to reach out to and further engage with NCSY alumni. His first project, set for June, will be a networking event for NCSY alumni. Max enjoys new and different experiences; he spent a semester studying in New Zealand and once unicycled down Masada. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two children.
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SPOTLIGHT ON ISRAEL Easing the Way for Teen Olim
The teenage years are challenging in the best of times. Add being a recent immigrant to the mix, and the challenges are that much greater. Teen olim must contend with cultural differences, social limitations and a significant language barrier. Recognizing these challenges, in 2015 Rabbis Michael Kahn and Yosef Ginsberg launched NCSY Israel, the only Israeli youth movement designed specifically for teen Anglo olim. “We’ve created a smooth transition for teens who make aliyah,” says Rabbi Avi Berman, Executive Director of OU Israel. “They know that they can come to Israel and join NCSY, just like their friends in America.” “People always say that the first year in Israel is the hardest,” says Deena Berman, an NCSYer from Givat Ze’ev. “I can tell you that it’s true. NCSY Israel has introduced me to new friends and advisors I could relate to and really enhanced my high school and aliyah experience.” “The number of teens participating in NCSY Israel has grown around 100 percent in just our second year running,” says Rabbi Ginsberg. “NCSY Israel is crucial in helping teens grow into emotionally healthy Israeli adults.”
Creating a Sense of Community For Young Professional Olim Every year, hundreds of young, idealistic professionals fulfill their aliyah dreams. But the practical challenges of klita (integration)—finding a home, a community, building a career—can overshadow their vision of living a passionate Torah life in Israel. Enter JCHAT, the Jerusalem Community Hub for Anglos and Torah, a new division of the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center (the OU Israel Center) that provides support and a sense of community for young professionals via monthly events, shiurim and mentorship. “JCHAT is all about building ruchniyut and providing support for young professional olim as they build their lives here,” says Rabbi Sam Shor, Program Director of the OU Israel Center and founder of JCHAT. “JCHAT was started to fill in the gaps, since we want to serve the entire gamut of the Anglo oleh population, from young kids to seniors.” Recent JCHAT programs include Tu B’Shvat tree planting, a pre-Purim cooking demo with celebrity chef Danielle Renov and a new monthly event—dinner and shiur with Rabbi Shor.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
Band members of The Soulful Sounds of Nuriel after performing at a JCHAT event. Photo: Rikki Liff
NEW FROM OU PRESS
Chumash Mesoras HaRav: Sefer Bamidbar—The Neuwirth Edition Edited by Arnold Lustiger OU Press, Nehorah Publications and Ohr Publishing
In this volume, the fourth in the Chumash Mesoras HaRav series, we again encounter Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s brilliance and eloquence, in the form of a commentary alongside the text of the Chumash. According to the Rav, Sefer Bamidbar describes a decisive turning point in Jewish history. In its first ten chapters, Bamidbar chronicles the Jewish people’s triumphant march toward the Holy Land under the leadership of Moses. Had this journey been completed, the Rav surmises, it would have ushered in the final redemption. But this was not to be; instead, the remainder of the book records the tragic failures that doomed that generation, as well as its leader Moses, to death in the desert. Yet Bamidbar contains not only gloom, but also a message of hope for the following generation that would enter the land. The Rav’s commentary accompanies the reader in understanding the meaning behind these events. As one example, the Rav offers the following distinctive insight into the purpose of the ill-fated mission of the spies (Bamidbar 13): Moses needed no military intelligence when the Jews left Egypt, and he needed none here. Moses knew very well that the entry to the Land of Israel would be accompanied by miracles, as was the Exodus. There was no need to send spies to collect intelligence data. Instead, Moses acted in accordance with the principle that one must not propose to, let alone wed, a woman he does not know,
no matter how highly recommended (Kiddushin 41a) . . . When one takes on such an all-inclusive, all-encompassing commitment, one cannot trust anybody, no matter how loyal and trustworthy the other person might be. The Jews at this time were ready to march to the Promised Land. The entry into the Land of Israel, we have to understand, was not just a physical act of crossing the Jordan River. It was a marriage between a people and a land, a union of the rocky hills and the sandy trails with a people returning to its origin. The entry signified the destiny of a people united with the destiny of a land. Consequently, the people could not just enter the land without meeting it first. They knew it was a land of milk and honey, but they had to experience it and get acquainted with it before they became united. That is why, a short time before the planned entry into the Promised Land, Moses sent explorers to study the land—not to gather intelligence data, which was completely unnecessary. He sent the would-be groom to meet and to see the would-be bride. To offer one more example, in discussing Korah’s rebellion against Moses’ leadership and Korah’s claim that “the entire congregation are all holy” (Bamidbar 16), the Rav comments: No one can deny Korah’s assertion that the whole community is holy; it is the very essence of our chosenness. Every Jew possesses intrinsic sanctity. As far as holiness is concerned, there is no distinction between Moses and a simple woodchopper. Hence, Korah asked, what right did
Moses or Aaron have to lead, to guide, to rule? . . . If the individual derives his sanctity from the community, then Moses derived as much sanctity from the community as did the simple woodchopper. From this perspective, every Jew’s sanctity would be commensurate and equal. This sanctity is not personal and intimate, but is a universal, community-rooted, and community-nourished holiness inherited from one’s progenitors. However, Judaism was not satisfied with the social aspect of kedushah. If the community were the only source of sanctity, then the individual would be deprived of his creative role, his individual initiative, his originality and uniqueness. The outstanding person would not be able to develop into a great leader. Hence, the Torah says, there is a second resource of kedushah—the sanctity which the individual detects in the inner recesses of his personality. No one else has a sanctity like his; an individual’s sanctity cannot be shared with somebody else . . . From this viewpoint, the community derives kedushah by integrating the countless kedushah experiences of the individual members of the community. The single person sanctifies the community. These two excerpts provide a small sampling of the originality and depth of the teachings contained within this volume. Dr. Arnold Lustiger has again performed a great service in assembling such a diverse array of material into a unified commentary which, nevertheless, reflects the Rav’s multifaceted persona. This volume will undoubtedly earn its place in the canon of classic commentaries on Sefer Bamidbar. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
On Iyar 28 Jews around the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Yerushalayim’s reunification - the bracha of being able to connect to our holy city in person.To honor this jubilee milestone, The Orthodox Union invited five prominent Torah scholars to share their perspective on our religious connection to Yerushalayim. More than 300 synagogues, schools and organizations* joined in this incredible Torah event. We’d like to thank our scholars who enlightened us through a kaleidoscope of Torah sources and helped bring our Mesorah to life:
Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter
Rabbanit Shani Taragin
WE’D ALSO LIKE TO EXTEND OUR GRATITUDE TO EVERY INSTITUTION THAT JOINED IN THIS EVENT, ALLOWING THIS CONTENT TO BE VIEWED BY THOUSANDS. B'rov am hadrat Melech (Mishlei 14:28)
If you have not yet seen the videos yourself or would like to watch them again, we invite you to view the shiurim online at OU.ORG/YYvideos
Moishe Bane, President
a complete list of participating organizations visit ou.org/YY *For JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
PHILANTHROPY Demand for the OU's diverse array of community services continues to grow. From teen outreach to family and vocational services for individuals with disabilities to our Israel programming that touches the lives of tens of thousands, the need for increased fundraising dollars is critical. In this section of Jewish Action, we highlight some of our fundraising activities across the globe as we continue to meet the ever-pressing and ever-changing needs of the Jewish people. We invite you to become part of what we do. To get involved, contact Arnold Gerson at email@example.com.
Portrait of Philanthropy In His Own Words In 1976, shortly after I made aliyah, I founded, together with Dr. Yaakov Zerem, Ophir Technologies, a company that produces laser power meters, energy meters and beam profilers. The word “start-up” didn’t exist in those days, but it truly was a start-up. We didn’t know then that nine out of ten start-ups fail. We were one of the lucky few. Today, we are a multi-national company, with almost 700 employees in five locations around the world. At some point, I decided it was time to give back to the country—I came to Israel as a student, with next to nothing, just one duffel bag, and now that I had built something, I wanted to give back. I was introduced to the extraordinary Dr. Ephraim Greenfield work of the OU through our longOU Israel Supporter time friends, Rabbi Menachem and Chani Persoff. There are many kashrut agencies out there, but the OU is unique in that it uses the proceeds to do good for the Jewish people. OU Israel’s Rabbi Avi Berman took me to the Pearl and Harold Jacobs Zula Outreach Center, a drop-in space for Israeli at-risk teens, which serves some 4,000 kids
n Thanks to the Zula, a drop-in center and program for teens at risk run by OU Israel, more and more parents are sleeping better at night, knowing their children have found a safe haven from the dark life of the streets.
annually. At the Zula, kids find a haven from the drugs and crime of the streets—the Zula literally saves lives. Rabbi Berman also introduced me to the Mashiv Haruach program, which introduces IDF soldiers who know little about Judaism to their rich heritage. I’ve been happily supporting these valuable programs ever since I first saw them in action. OU Israel is there, in the trenches, serving the needs of youth of Israel. This is what Israel’s future depends on.
Dr. Ephraim Greenfield lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Rita, and is the CTO of Ophir Technologies.
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When The Steaks Are High By Sara Spielman
Holy Cow. Literally. In NCSY’s Southwest Region, a cow is helping Jewish teens embrace their Jewish identity. Initiated by the NCSY Southwest Region, the popular Annual Summer Scholarship Cow Raffle drawing, to be held in early June, raises scholarship funds to send teens to Israel. “A number of our NCSYers are inspired to spend their vacation connecting to their heritage and can’t afford to do so,” says NCSY Southwest Director Rabbi Gershon Meisel. “We run this program to help us to close the financial gap that they face.” Last year, the raffle helped raise roughly $35,000 in scholarship funds to send about thirty high school students from the Southwest Region to NCSY summer programs. The approximate value of the first prize, a cow, is $2,000—donated by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt from Dallas, Texas, owner of Rosenblatt Meats, who has donated a cow each year since 2011.
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Dallas chapter of NCSY (pictured above with some of Dallas’ finest in Blue) celebrating its annual “NCSY Backs the Blues” event. This event is inspired and sponsored by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt of Rosenblatt Meats, who is also the sponsor for the yearly cow raffle in support of NCSY summer programs (Rosenblatt is third to the left of the banner).
Yachad Expands Services in the Five Towns/Long Island This past February, Yachad celebrated the opening of its newest branch in Long Island’s Five Towns at an intimate Melave Malka, featuring sushi and wine tasting. “While we have served hundreds of children and adults in the Long Island community for many years, it is so gratifying to increase our Inclusive social/recreational programming as well as other vital educational and clinical services in the Five Towns to meet the needs of Long Island residents,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, International Director of Yachad. The Five Towns branch has hired a program director, formed a monthly parent support group and began working on a vocational program. At the event, funds were raised to support the new array of programs. “We are very excited to answer the call of the Five Towns and greater Long Island community and provide much needed support, services, programming and more to the community,” says Rabbi Ahron Rosenthal, Director of Yachad, New York.
Raizy Hackel, a Five Towns resident, spoke about how important Yachad has been for her daughter. Supporters and friends of Yachad at the Melave Malka. From left: Sholom Yona Weis, Moshe Weiss, Shlomo Hackel and Benji Fisch.
Yachad will be partnering with local schools to run Inclusion programming and is planning to open an after-school program and an elementary school in the area.
Photos: Eliyahu Ebrani
Midwest NCSY Raises $500,000 Nearly 300 community members came out to honor Rabbi Moshe and Devora Isenberg for sixteen years of dedication to NCSY at the Midwest NCSY Annual Banquet held this past February in Lincolnwood, Illinois. Rabbi Isenberg, who has held a number of different positions at Midwest NCSY, was hailed for his creative, out-of-thebox thinking. Mrs. Isenberg served as a volunteer NCSY advisor for many years, and was a true partner in her husband’s efforts. The event raised $500,000 to help NCSY programs reach even more teens in the Midwest region. “Rabbi Isenberg taught me to think big, because he thinks big,” said Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, Director of St. Louis, NCSY.
left: Honoree Rabbi Moshe Isenberg; NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland and Midwest NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Donny Schwartz. Photo: Nessie Vinitsky
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Gone Fishin’ n (above)
Henry Zieleniec, co-founder of the fishing expedition fundraiser, displays his catch at last year’s event. n (above,
right) Participants at last year’s fishing expedition.
By Sara Spielman
Something fishy is happening at NCSY Canada: the Sixth Annual Fishing Expedition.
And while reeling in a good-size fish, participants are not just having fun, they are benefiting NCSY.
Held every July 4-5 on a serene lake on a privately-owned 150,000-acre property three hours north of Toronto, the two-day fishing expedition draws around twenty major donors, attracted by spectacular scenery and good company.
“We have a lot of repeat donors and they bring new people, which is really wonderful,” says Sonya Budd, Director of Development, NCSY Canada and Torah High. “Some people even fly in from Atlanta and New York.” For more information, call Sonya 905.761.6279, ext. 226, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Coast Teens Head to Israel More than 100 teens from the Western States will be heading to Israel this summer on NCSY programs, thanks to friends and supporters of West Coast NCSY. This past January, at a dinner held by West Coast NCSY, some $200,000 were raised to ensure these teens have a life-changing experience. The dinner also celebrated the accomplishments of former West Coast NCSY Executive Director Rabbi Effie Goldberg and former West Coast NCSY Chairman Dr. Josh Penn for their many years of service and support.
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honorees are presented their awards. From left: West Coast Regional Director Rina Emerson; Dr. Josh Penn; Rabbi Effie Goldberg; NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland and West Coast NCSY Chairman Dr. Moshe Benarroch.
Yachad’s On the Run “It was awe-inspiring to witness individuals of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels reaching the finish line together,” says Marla Rottenstreich, Assistant Director of Yachad, who ran the Yachad Miami Marathon with more than 150 runners. Runners came from across the Northeast and from Israel, including participants from Yachad’s IDVU schools to join the eighth annual Yachad Miami Marathon, held this past January. The marathoners raised $300,000 for Yachad programming. This past March saw 567 Team Yachad runners—including eighty-four from overseas—racing to victory for Inclusion during the sixth annual Yachad Jerusalem Marathon. Participants raised $500,000, which will go directly to help those with disabilities attend Yachad Shabbatons, summer programs and an array of other inclusive activities.
Runners at the Miami Marathon.
Photo: Uri Arnson Photography n (above)
Racing for Inclusion at the Jerusalem Marathon.
Photo: Shimmy Sokol
Scholarship Funds Raised at Ben Zakkai Dinner Nearly 300 friends and supporters of NCSY attended the 22nd annual Ben Zakkai Honor Society—NCSY National Scholarship Reception this past January in Manhattan. At the dinner, chaired by Vivian and David Luchins, awards were presented to longtime outstanding NCSY trailblazers. Dinner proceeds provide scholarships for NCSYers to participate in life-changing NCSY programs. Dinner honorees included OU Officer and Dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike and Professor of Bioethics at Columbia University Dr. John Loike, of Jamaica Estates, New York; Former Chair of New Jersey NCSY Youth Commission Joey Bodner of Teaneck, and Joan and Dr. Alan Weinstock of New Haven, Connecticut. The dinner also included memorial tributes to Dr. Louis Cooper, a”h, of Silver Spring, Maryland and to Steven Billauer, a”h, of Cedarhurst, New York.
Drs. Loike receiving the Rebbetzin Ella and Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik Memorial Award. From left: Dr. John Loike; OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin; NCSY Associate International Director Keevy Fried; OU National Vice President David Luchins, Dinner Chair; OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane; Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike; OU Vice President Isabelle Novak, Chair of the Ben Zakkai Honor Society and Vivian Luchins, Dinner Chair. Photo: Reisbord Video
Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
$100,000 & OVER THE AVI CHAI FOUNDATION ARIELA BALK in honor of the Mendel Balk Yachad Adult Community Center
MARK (MOISHE) AND JOANNE BANE MR. AND MRS. NEIL COHEN FALIC FAMILY FOUNDATION ALAN AND BARBARA GINDI BECKY AND AVI KATZ DR. SHMUEL AND EVELYN KATZ MORDECAI AND MONIQUE KATZ KARMELA AND JERRY KLASNER STEPHEN AND NATALY NEUWIRTH ERIC AND GALE ROTHNER RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION IN MEMORY OF ANNE SAMSON A"H UJA FEDERATION OF JEWISH PHILANTHROPIES
$50,000 - $99,999
Thank you from the OU family for your generous annual support of our vital programs, including: YACHAD - Inclusion for people with disabilities OU-JLIC - Supporting Jewish life on college campuses NCSY - Life-changing teen empowerment and inspiration program OU ISRAEL - Outreach to at-risk youth, support for soldiers and olim SYNAGOGUE & COMMUNITY SERVICES - Educational content, programs, consulting for synagogues and communities IFS BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL - Connecting Jewish youth with their heritage OU ADVOCACY CENTER - Promoting Jewish interests in the halls of government
MR. RAANAN AND DR. NICOLE AGUS ALLEN AND DEANNA ALEVY DANIEL AND RAZIE BENEDICT MR. AND MRS. JACK FEINTUCH DR. EDWIN AND CECILE GROMIS MS. LORRAINE HOFFMANN IN MEMORY OF JUDY LEFKOVITS LEGACY HERITAGE FUND MR. DAVID LICHTENSTEIN THE RABBI NATHANIAL AND SHIRLEY POLLACK MEMORIAL FOUNDATION STEVEN AND MURIELLE URETSKY LILLIAN ZEIDES A"H
$25,000 - $49,999 DANIEL AND LIORA ADLER MAX AND ELANA BERLIN BRIAN AND DAFNA BERMAN DENNIS AND DEBRA BERMAN JUDI AND JASON BERMAN BEVERLY HILLS MARRIOTT JO AND JONAH BRUCK JOSE AND YAEL CHEREM CRAIN-MALING FOUNDATION: www.crainmaling.org
Members of the newly launched OU Benefactor Circle lead through their philanthropy. We applaud them all for their commitment, those whose names appear as well as those choosing to remain anonymous. We invite you to join them in making a difference.
OU.ORG/BENEFACTOR To learn more about the OU Benefactor Circle or to become a member, please call Arnold Gerson, Chief Institutional Advancement Officer, at 212.613-8313 or email email@example.com. 78
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
GERSHON AND AVIVA DISTENFELD MR. AND MRS. FRED EHRMAN DRS. ROBERT AND KAY FAGUET HOWARD TZVI AND CHAYA FRIEDMAN GREATER MIAMI JEWISH FEDERATION DR. EPHRAIM AND RITA GREENFIELD DR. ELLIOT AND LILLIAN HAHN MR. AND MRS. ROBERT HARTMAN LANCE AND RIVKIE HIRT ALISSA AND SHIMMIE HORN KIM AND JONATHAN KUSHNER MRS. FEGI MAUER MAYBERG FAMILY FOUNDATION MR. AND MRS. MARTIN NACHIMSON RAPHAEL AND RIVKA NISSEL HENRY AND MINDY ORLINSKY RALPHS FOOD4LESS FDN ROBBIE AND HELENE ROTHENBERG MR. AND MRS. GEORGE SCHAEFFER YITZCHOK AND BARBARA LEHMANN SIEGEL
BARRY AND JOY SKLAR MORIS AND LILLIAN TABACINIC THE WEIL FAMILY JESSICA AND LENNY WEISS THE WEISS FAMILY, CLEVELAND, OHIO MR. JERRY AND MRS. SARA WOLASKY MASA YEHUDI
$18,000 - $24,999 JUNE AND DAVID ABOKSIS ART AND TRADITION LEWIS AND LAURI BARBANEL SABY AND ROSI BEHAR PETER AND LORI DEUTSCH LINDA AND MICHAEL ELMAN JOSEPH AND BELLA ESSAS MR. AND MRS. ERNIE GOLDBERGER ROBYN AND SHUKIE GROSSMAN JAMES AND AMY A”H HABER JOAN AND PETER HOFFMAN MORRIS AND SANDRA KAPLAN MR. AND MRS. JACK NAGEL YEHUDA AND ANNE NEUBERGER ISABELLE AND DAVID NOVAK MICHAEL AND ARIANNE WEINBERGER DAVID AND GILA WEINSTEIN GEORGE AND JONI WHITE DRS. YECHIEL AND SURI ZAGELBAUM JOSHUA ZEGEN
$10,000 - $17,999 ALISA ABECASSIS ADM/ROI MR. AND MRS. EMANUEL ADLER MR. AND MRS. LIOR ARUSSY AARON AND TAMMY ATTIAS YALE AND ANN BARON MR. HARVEY BELL DR. MOSHE AND BRYNDIE BENARROCH MRS. JULIA AND MR. BRAD W. BERGER MR. AND MRS. ISAAC BERMAN MR. AND MRS. BRIAN BILZIN CCS FUNDRAISING VIVIAN AND DANIEL CHILL COMBINED JEWISH PHILANTHROPIES MR. AND MRS. ROBERT COPELAND THE CROWN FAMILY NEAL AND BETH CUTLER MR. SHELDON J. DAVID DR. AND MRS. SHLOMO DRAPKIN DRS. GILAT AND YOSSI ENGLANOFF MARK AND CHERYL FRIEDMAN MURRAY AND BATSHEVA GOLDBERG ABE AND RONIT GUTNICKI MR. AND MRS. DAVID HARTMAN ED AND ROBYN HOFFMAN Hoffman Catering
MR. NATE HYMAN JEWISH FEDERATION OF ST. LOUIS DR. AND MRS. BERNARD KAMINETSKY RABBI JOSEPH KARASICK ETTA BRANDMAN KLARISTENFELD AND HARRY KLARISTENFELD
ROBIN AND BRAD KLATT DRS. DAVID AND MICHELE KLEIN JONAH AND FRAN KUPIETZKY JOAN AND BILL LOPATIN DR. AND MRS. SAMUEL LUPIN IRIS AND SHALOM MAIDENBAUM AZI AND RACHEL MANDEL DAVID AND MICHELLE MARGULES JEFFREY AND ADRIA MANDEL MRS. ELLA MEISEL MR. AND MRS. SHALOM MENORA MERIDIAN CAPITAL MR. AND MRS. EITAN MILGRAM ASHER DAVID MILSTEIN GILA AND ADAM MILSTEIN ETAN AND VALERIE MIRWIS AND FAMILY DR. MICHAEL AND LIZ MUSCHEL MR. CAL NATHAN RALPHS GROCERY COMPANY DR. AND MRS. JAY ROBINOW HENRY AND GOLDA REENA ROTHMAN SAMIS FOUNDATION MR. AND MRS. MARVIN SAMUELS GENIE AND STEVE SAVITSKY DR. STEPHEN SCHLOSS MENACHEM AND RENA SCHNAIDMAN MR. BARUCH SINGER JAIME AND MARILYN SOHACHESKI WILLIAM SOLOMON RABBI SHLOMO AND MINDY SPETNER DR. AND MRS. ETHAN SPIEGLER TALK N SAVE ISAAC H. TAYLOR ENDOWMENT FUND STANLEY AND ELLEN WASSERMAN SUSANNE AND MICHAEL WIMPFHEIMER MR. AND MRS. ALAN ZEKELMAN
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WHAT COULD BE WRONG WITH. . .? By Eli Gersten
Is it acceptable to eat out at a vegetarian or vegan-friendly Indian restaurant if the hashgachah (certifying rabbi or agency) is unreliable?
In some circles, it has become increasingly common, and even acceptable, to eat out at Indian restaurants that are vegetarian or vegan-friendly even though the hashgachah may be unreliable. The thinking goes something like this: Indian restaurants don’t serve meat or fish, and I can order foods that don’t contain dairy, so there is very little that can go wrong. Indian restaurants are “almost” kosher. So long as there is a rabbi vouching that it is kosher, though he might have lax standards, isn’t it good enough? This reminds me of the time I received a call from an out-of-town vaad ha’kashrut (kashrut agency) that was contemplating giving certification
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to a local Indian restaurant. The restaurant was owned and managed by non-Jews, and there were a number of halachic questions the vaad was unable to resolve. The rabbis decided to speak with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, who was an OU senior posek at the time. Small Jewish communities often lack the resources to support a kosher restaurant. To contend with this challenge, a vaad might try to find an existing (uncertified) restaurant in the neighborhood that is willing to make the necessary changes to become kosher. For this to work financially, it is essential to find a restaurant that is “almost” kosher, i.e., one that will need to make the smallest number of changes. From a kashrut perspective,
vegetarian Indian restaurants do indeed have many advantages. The vaad posed several questions and Rabbi Belsky was able to offer simple, straightforward solutions. However, one of the questions presented a challenge: “Does the prohibition of bishul akum apply to dosas, a fermented crepe made from a batter of rice and black lentils?” Dosas were apparently a staple of the restaurant. Bishul akum is a rabbinical enactment that prohibits eating cooked foods if there is no Jewish participation Rabbi Eli Gersten is the recorder of OU pesak and policy and maintains a large database of OU Kosher piskei halachah.
in the cooking. However, not all cooked foods are subject to these laws; bishul akum applies only to those dishes that “would be served to nobility.” Unsophisticated foods, such as toasted grains or breakfast cereals, do not fall into this category. The rabbis needed to know—does a dosa qualify as a food fit for nobility? Would the laws of bishul akum apply? Rabbi Belsky was unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, so we arranged for an Indian restaurant to deliver a dosa to the OU offices in New York City. I recall how Rabbi Belsky analyzed the question from many angles, but in the end, he concluded that a dosa is subject to the laws of bishul akum. For a kosher restaurant that has a mashgiach temidi (full-time rabbinic supervision), ensuring Jewish involvement in the cooking is no big deal. The mashgiach simply needs to light the fires every morning and then monitor them throughout the day to ensure they are not turned off. But for a restaurant located out-of-town,
Even in the best-case scenario, there are hundreds of changes that need to take place before an “almost kosher” restaurant can become kosher. which cannot afford a mashgiach temidi and has a mashgiach drop in two or three times a day, the issue of bishul akum can be a deal breaker. Some vaads maintain that it suffices for the mashgiach to stop in to light the oven pilot lights and have a system in place ensuring that they do not turn off. I don’t know if this particular vaad ever found a way around this issue, but this incident illustrated to me that there is no such thing as “almost” kosher. Truthfully, even in the bestcase scenario, there are hundreds of changes that need to take place before
an “almost kosher” restaurant can become kosher. What are possible halachic problems in even an “almost kosher” restaurant? • Most likely, the wine and wine vinegar used in a non-kosher restaurant are not kosher. Kosher wines and wine vinegar are typically more expensive and are not as easy to find as the non-kosher versions. One of the most common kashrut violations, even in well-supervised restaurants that have a mashgiach temidi, is when a chef tries to sneak in a bottle of non-kosher balsamic
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Despite the fact that a restaurant’s employees may be honest, if the food establishment is not regularly inspected, non-kosher ingredients are guaranteed to turn up. vinegar. (Apparently some chefs are bothered by the taste difference between non-kosher balsamic vinegar and the kosher substitute.) • Processed foods generally require kosher certification, even when certified vegan. One cannot tell if a product is kosher merely by reading the label. Even if all the ingredients seem innocuous, there is no way to verify information about the manufacturing process. For example, the factory that manufactured the product might also produce non-kosher meats and cheeses. Tomato sauce might seem to have a fairly simple ingredient list: tomatoes, oil, salt and spices. But factories that manufacture vegan sauces may also produce sauces with meats and cheeses. Plain sauces made on the same production line as the sauces with meats and cheeses are non-kosher as well. Bottom line: Despite the fact that a restaurant’s employees may be honest and well-meaning, if the food establishment is not regularly inspected, non-kosher ingredients are guaranteed to turn up. • As we mentioned above, some cooked foods are only kosher if there is Jewish participation in the cooking. Taro, rice, eggplant and many other cooked vegetables require kosher certification in order to ensure that the laws of bishul akum were complied with throughout the preparation of the food. If a restaurant does not have a mashgiach who visits every morning to light the fires, and then drops by during the day to see that none have been turned off, or at the very least, has a system to ensure that the fires always stay on, one must assume that the foods being served were prepared in violation of the laws of bishul akum. • One of the most complicated kashrut concerns at any kosher restaurant is ensuring that the vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, are insect-free. A mashgiach 82
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must devote a large portion of his time to washing, checking and then often re-washing vegetables until they are clean. Restaurants that are not regularly visited, even if they are meticulous about cleanliness, will not take the time and effort to ensure that everything is 100 percent insect free. (This is especially true since overwashing vegetables can negatively affect their appearance.) • In a vegetarian, non-vegan restaurant, the kashrut issues are compounded. Similar to the prohibition of bishul akum, there is a prohibition of eating gevinat akum (non-Jewish cheese). Even if all the ingredients in a particular cheese are kosher, the cheese will still not be considered kosher unless it is made with Jewish participation or under Jewish supervision. A kosher consumer who is careful to avoid gevinat akum should be aware that there are certain kashrut agencies that certify cheeses prepared without Jewish participation. Some of these certifying agencies apply the leniency of chalav stam to cheese. Chalav stam is a leniency applied to milk produced in the US. Jews can only drink the milk of kosher animals, and therefore for milk to be considered kosher, it should require Jewish supervision. However, due to US government regulations of milk production, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z”tl, ruled that in the US, it is reasonable to assume the milk is 100 percent cow’s milk, as labeled. Applying this leniency to cheese, however, is not condoned by Rabbi Feinstein or by other great posekim of the past generation, nor is it followed by the major koshercertifying agencies. • Even if one orders a vegan dish in a vegetarian restaurant, there is still the concern that the pots, pans and cooking utensils are used for all of the foods in the restaurants. The pots and pans
require hagalah (purging with boiling water) or libun (burning out with fire) in order to be deemed kosher. If the pot was not kashered, food cooked in the pot will become non-kosher as well. • Even if one knows what is acceptable and what to avoid at such a restaurant, others who are less astute might infer that everything is acceptable. Halachah states that one shouldn’t eat in a non-kosher restaurant even if it serves kosher food too, due to maarit ayin—actions that are permitted according to halachah, but nevertheless give onlookers the impression that one is doing or has done something that is prohibited. Other people might see him and say, “If he can eat there then so can I.” The details as to which foods are permitted and which are not invariably will be lost. Thus, even if one is able to overcome the kashrut concerns discussed earlier, there is still the issue of maarit ayin. In a certain Orthodox community it was accepted that one could purchase coffee at the local Dunkin’ Donuts that did not have kosher certification. Wanting to boost sales, the store secured kosher certification, but the local rabbis considered it unreliable. The rabbis let it be known that religious Jews should no longer patronize the store even to buy a coffee. This was due to maarit ayin. Until that point, if someone saw an Orthodox Jew entering the store, it was clear that he was only going to buy a coffee. Once the unreliable hechsher was in place, one could possibly conclude that an Orthodox Jew entering the store was going to purchase food there. This could result in people erroneously concluding that all of the food in the store was kosher, when it was, in fact, not. Taking all of these considerations into account, it should be clear that “almost kosher” is not really kosher.
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STRESS LESS THIS SUMMER By Shira Isenberg
Everyone seems to be enjoying their summer—besides me. The kids are off schedule, driving me crazy, while I’m packing up every Thursday and sitting in traffic just to end up in our hot, crowded bungalow for the weekend. It’s gotten to the point where I almost feel my blood pressure rising every Thursday. What is wrong with me—and how can I start enjoying summer vacation?
You’re describing an interesting phenomenon. Summer is supposed to be a time to refresh, to rejuvenate from busy lives and hectic schedules. Yet, paradoxically, the longer days and warmer weather frequently bring up stress levels for many people. When the season shifts from spring to summer, employees report an increase in stress, according to a survey by meQuilibrium, a company that provides stress management coaching. Think about it. Summer vacations require planning,
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expenditure of extra funds and timing issues, like making your flight or sitting in the car for hours. More family time may mean more potential for getting on each other’s nerves. And if you’re away, you may miss the typical comforts of home or other essentials you forgot to pack. Plus, you may get less sleep in the summer, feel uncomfortable from the heat and have less downtime for yourself. It’s no wonder you are feeling stressed! Here’s the thing about stress—many think they can just shrug it off, but stress takes a toll on one’s physical and mental health.
“When you are stressed out, you are likely to experience some degree of a ‘sympathetic nervous system response,’” explains Dr. Shoshi Lewin, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Baltimore, Maryland. “This is your body’s response to a dangerous experience—Hashem’s way Shira Isenberg is a registered dietitian and writer with a private nutrition practice in Nashville, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in public health nutrition from Hunter College in New York.
Spending more time in that “stressed out” state affects the body and mind in the long run. of protecting you and allowing you to seek safety and protection.” In moments of acute stress, the body switches to its fight-or-flight response as a defense mechanism. Resources are automatically redirected to the central nervous system and whatever parts of the body are currently undergoing stress, away from “less important” functions like digestion, immunity, growth and reproduction. Heart rate, breathing rate, and yes, blood pressure too, increase. “This is largely due to the effects of cortisol, also known as a ‘stress hormone,’” Dr. Lewin states. The goal of this reaction is to help you respond to the emergency situation at hand, so you can ultimately return the body to homeostasis (that state of equilibrium where everything runs on an even keel). It’s really an adaptive response, one that helps you survive. The problem is, spending more time in that “stressed out” state affects the body and mind in the long run. For example, chronic stress may increase blood pressure and risk of heart attack or stroke. Some research suggests the prototypical “type A” personality—who operates at a certain level of chronic stress—has a higher risk of heart disease. Hormonal changes from stress can impact blood sugar levels, a particular problem for people who have diabetes. “Stress can have long-term effects on a person’s physical systems, and can make other illnesses worse,” adds Dr. Lewin. “People under stress will observe muscular tension or muscle ache; have difficulty focusing; butterflies in the stomach, increased blood pressure; headache; exhaustion; or sleep disturbance [sleeping too much or insomnia]. In its extreme forms, it can affect most bodily systems.” When it comes to mental health, “extreme stress, and high levels of cortisol hormone, can cause depression and even psychosis [though this decreases when the level of cortisol decreases],” says Dr. Lewin. “Since stress often causes sleep disturbance, a person is susceptible to exhaustion. In this exhausted state, you might make poorer decisions about your own health, such as not eating as well or not exercising adequately, both of which can make a problem worse. Also, long-term stress can make you more sensitive to further stresses, which makes it into something of a cycle of stress.” But a key determinant in how stress affects you might actually be your perception of stress. In an illuminating
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2013 TED talk—“How to Make Stress Your Friend”—health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal cites a study of 30,000 adults: those who experienced a very stressful year had a higher risk of dying only if they believed stress was detrimental to their health. “People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die,” says Dr. McGonigal. “In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study.” In other words, if you think stress won’t kill you, it probably won’t. Dr. McGonigal recommends reframing how you think about stress. Instead of getting stressed out that stress is hurting you, think of the stress response as a way your body becomes stronger, getting you ready to face adversity. When Harvard researchers asked people to do this, their bodies responded much like they do when experiencing courage or joy, rather than stress—eliminating some of the negative cardiovascular changes typically associated with stress. “It is really interesting how much our expectations play into our personal realities,” comments Dr. Lewin, “such
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as ‘If you think good, it will be good.’ This is reminiscent of the idea of the placebo effect, meaning, if you believe something will improve your health or work to your benefit, then it will translate into a beneficial effect. It is so effective that researchers will usually test procedures or medications against a placebo, because our expectations of something being helpful can make it truly help us in a measurable way.” Dr. McGonigal points out another positive aspect of stress—it prompts you to seek support from others. One stress hormone is the “hug hormone” oxytocin (so called because it’s released when you hug someone). Oxytocin sends a message to your brain to seek out closer relationships, to be more compassionate. “Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up,” she explains. “When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.” This, in fact, is what Jewish tradition advises when it comes to conquering stress. The Talmud, based on a verse in Mishlei, states that if one is anxious, he should discuss his concerns with others (Sanhedrin 100b). To put these ideas into action in your situation, try adjusting your thought process as you prepare for your weekends away. When you feel yourself getting worked up, take a breath and remind yourself that your body is only helping you rise to the occasion. Then pull out your phone and vent to your sister or close friend—or pull over one of your kids and give him or her a big hug. While you’re working on your response to stress, focus on also reducing the overall stress load in your life too, with these suggestions: 1. Take time for yourself. Sounds impossible? Self-care is a critical piece in stress management. This could be as simple as spending ten minutes enjoying your morning coffee, or picking an activity you actually like over something that only the kids will enjoy.
2. C ut your to-do list. “When in doubt, leave it out,” advises Dr. Lewin. “Stress often gives a sense of being overloaded with tasks, and some of them are not necessary.” For instance, simplify that elaborate menu or dessert for weekends that you are away. You may even decide to forgo traveling some weeks altogether. You don’t have to spend every Shabbat away. 3. Don’t “keep up with the Cohens.” “Stop comparing yourself to other people,” urges Dr. Lewin. “Each person, based on his or her own biology and life experience, gets stressed out by different situations. It is not fair to yourself to tell yourself, ‘Reuven doesn’t get stressed out from car trips, so neither should I!’ or ‘Sara invites over her relatives for Shabbat all the time—why does that stress me out so much?’” 4. Break it down. “Try to divide things into their component parts,” Dr. Lewin suggests. “Not every task needs to be addressed as a whole; some tasks are more manageable bit by bit.” Instead of leaving all the shopping and packing for Thursday, split it up so Thursday is more relaxed. 5. Delegate. Have others pick up some of the duties that stress you out. Assign specific packing tasks to the kids, or hire a babysitter or mother’s helper to take on childcare duties. 6. Change expectations. “Vacations are supposed to be relaxing” is the script playing in your head—so you get distressed when your trip is the opposite. Go in with the knowledge that you will be stressed, but there will also be enjoyable times too. You won’t feel disappointed and you’ll appreciate the vacation more. Special thanks to Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, editor of OU Torah, in preparing this article.
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SIMPLY ELEGANT SUMMERTIME MEALS By Norene Gilletz
Planked Salmon Reproduced from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver with Norene Gilletz, with permission from the copyright holders, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD.
t’s summertime—so the cooking should be easy. When the weather turns hot and humid, it’s a perfect time to get together JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
with friends and family and gather around the grill. Here are some easy, elegant dishes that are perfect as family fare, yet are
Norene Gilletz is a leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada.
fancy and fabulous enough for guests. The colorful, nutritious salads and brain-healthy salmon recipes are ideal for the Nine Days. Enjoy!
Crisp Summer Salad
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple Elegance by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 8 servings There’s something about combining a crunchy fresh vegetable with a sweet summery fruit. This salad is no exception—although it is exceptional! 5 ears corn, husked and cleaned 1 lb snap peas, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces 2 mangoes, peeled and diced 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil Dressing: 1/3 cup olive oil 1/3 cup lime juice 2 Tbsp maple syrup 2 tsp Dijon mustard Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add corn; simmer for 5-7 minutes, until tender-crisp. Drain corn; place into ice-cold water for 5 minutes. Drain; pat dry. Shave off corn kernels with a sharp knife, leaving them attached to each other, if possible. Place into a large serving bowl. Add snap peas, mangoes, scallions and basil. Combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar; seal tightly and shake well. Add dressing to salad. Toss gently to combine. Cover; refrigerate until shortly before serving time. Norene’s Notes: • Variation: Instead of mangoes, use nectarines or peaches. Canned or frozen corn (lightly steamed) will also work well in this salad. • Substitute: No maple syrup? Replace with honey.
Tomato Dill Salad
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 8 servings Daniella likes to use ripe heirloom tomatoes when they are available, but cherry or grape tomatoes are easier to find. This salad multiplies easily for a crowd and you can make half the recipe for a small family. 3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved 6 scallions, thinly sliced 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill Dressing: 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp fresh lemon zest 1/3 cup lemon juice (preferably fresh) 2 tsp Dijon mustard 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste Freshly ground black pepper In a large serving bowl, combine tomatoes, scallions and dill. Combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar, seal tightly and shake well. Add dressing and mix well. Serve chilled. Norene’s Notes: • Variation: Add 4 baby cucumbers, diced. • Dairy Variation: Add 1 cup of baby bocconcini balls, halved. An easy alternative is mozzarella cheese sticks, cut into half-inch slices.
Cedar-Planked Salmon with Strawberry-Chili Salsa
Adapted from The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 4-6 servings Grilling on a cedar plank is a simple way to cook and serve salmon, infusing it with a subtle smokiness. Strawberries make a perfect counterpoint to the salsa’s chili pepper. The plank keeps the fish warm while serving.
Special Equipment: 1 or 2 untreated cedar planks (about 12 x 7-inches) Salsa: 2 cups diced strawberries 1/2 cup diced red onion 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint or basil 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil Juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp) 1 serrano or jalapeño chili pepper, finely diced (remove seeds first for less heat) 1 tsp kosher salt 1/4 tsp black pepper Fish: 4-6 salmon fillets (about 6 oz/180 g each) 1-2 Tbsp olive oil Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Soak 1 or 2 cedar planks in cold water for at least 1 hour. Top planks with two or three unopened cans to keep them submerged while soaking. Salsa: In a medium bowl, stir together strawberries, onion, mint, oil, lime juice, chili pepper, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate. Fish: Preheat grill to mediumhigh. Remove plank(s) from water and place on hot grate over indirect heat for 6-8 minutes, until hot. Using tongs, carefully turn plank(s) over and place salmon fillets on top. Brush fillets with oil; season with salt and pepper. Cover grill and cook for 12-15 minutes or until salmon flakes when lightly pressed with a fork. It’s not necessary to turn the salmon. Remove from grill and spoon salsa over the salmon. Serve salmon directly from the plank(s). Norene’s Notes: • Oven Method: Place soaked planks onto a baking sheet. Top with salmon; brush fish with oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 425°F oven for 12-15 minutes. As the water evaporates from the plank(s), steam will be released, keeping the fish moist and aromatic. • Do not freeze the salsa. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
Grilled Chicken With Mango Salsa
Adapted from Simple Elegance: Effortless Recipes with Sophisticated Results by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 6 servings Everyone loves salsas. They’re fresh in flavor and an easy way to add fruits and vegetables to our diets. This colorful salsa is bursting with bright, refreshing flavors that will liven up any meal. Mango Salsa: 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced 2 ripe peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and diced 1/4 cup diced red onion 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil Juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp) 1 Tbsp brown sugar 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil Grilled Chicken: 6 single boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 12 boneless, skinless thighs) Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil Prepare the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine mango, peaches and red onion. Add oil, lime juice, brown sugar and basil. Mix gently. Cover; refrigerate. Prepare the chicken: Heat an indoor grill, setting it to medium-high. Sprinkle chicken on all sides with salt, pepper, and basil. Grill chicken for 4-6 minutes per side, until grill marks appear and juices run clear. Transfer chicken to a serving platter; top with salsa.
Crisp Summer Salad Reproduced from Silver Platter: Simple Elegance by Daniella Silver with Norene Gilletz, with permission from the copyright holders ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, LTD.
mouths. Skirt steak has an intense, beefy flavor that is enjoyed by eaters of all ages. Threaded onto bamboo skewers, this dish adds rustic charm, whether served as an appetizer or main protein.
Grilled Skirt Steak
1 (about 2 lb/1 kg) skirt steak 1 Tbsp olive oil Juice of 1 lemon (3-4 Tbsp) 2 Tbsp honey 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 1/2 tsp) 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or basil, plus more for garnish Skewers (optional)
With thin, easy-to-chew slices, skirt steak might be the best cut of beef to serve the kids, but it’s not only for little
Cut skirt steak into long, thin, narrow pieces. In a medium bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, honey, garlic and mint; mix well. Add skirt steak; marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature. Then skewer meat.
Adapted from Simple Elegance: Effortless Recipes with Sophisticated Results by Daniella Silver and Norene Gilletz (ArtScroll) Yields 4-6 servings
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
Preheat grill or barbecue, setting it to medium-high. Grill over indirect heat for 4-5 minutes per side, until grill marks appear and meat reaches desired doneness. (For medium, cook to an internal temperature of 145°F.) Garnish with additional mint leaves. Norene’s Notes: • No grill? Broil skewers in your oven about 4 inches from the heat for 4-5 minutes per side. • Variation: Add cubed red bell peppers and/or sliced mushrooms on ends of each skewer. • Skirt steak, which comes from the plate, is marbled with fat, which makes it very juicy. Since it is very salty, don’t add salt when seasoning the meat.
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MAKING IT WORK: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO HALACHA IN THE WORKPLACE By Ari Wasserman Feldheim Publishers New York, 2016 538 pages
Reviewed by Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
hen I saw the cover of Making It Work: A Practical Guide to Halacha in the Workplace, I admit feeling pessimistic. The cover highlights three questions the book addresses: •• What is the halachah regarding shaking a woman’s hand if she extends it first? •• I have a meeting at a non-kosher restaurant and can’t change the location . . . •• Can ma’aser money be used to pay off debts, taxes or other government fees? I groaned. One Even HaEzer (Jewish law on marriage, divorce and intimacy) question and two Yoreh Deah (diversified area of Jewish law) questions. What about questions pertaining to Choshen Mishpat (laws about finance, torts, legal procedure and loans and interest), which presumably should be the main topic in such a book? Even more importantly, what about the values that should compel an eved Hashem to go beyond the letter of the law in the context of the workplace? Despite my reservations, however, the book does not disappoint. Indeed,
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the first inkling that we are in for a gratifying experience is to be found in a glowing approbation by Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita: In particular, I enjoyed what you wrote concerning honesty in business and dina d’malchusa dina. Chazal’s words in Shabbos (31a) are well known: the first question one is asked on the Yom HaDin is, “Did you deal honestly in business?” Rabbi Ari Wasserman—a respected attorney specializing in corporate contracts and mergers—peppers his book with interesting anecdotes. Rabbi Wasserman, who is also the author of the five-volume Hegyonei Haparashah, a collection of essays on topics in halachah based on the weekly parashah, begins the first chapter with a story, and concludes with a synopsis that encapsulates one of the fundamental themes of the book: the critical importance of making a kiddush Hashem.
"With so many observant women currently in the workplace, it is a pity that they are clearly, at best, a secondary target audience."
When we venture out into the world, we do so with a built-in identity as religious Jews. Our behavior will always be subject to an extra degree of scrutiny, and will reflect on all Jews . . . We will either be respected specifically as observant Jews (a kiddush Hashem), or disliked, also specifically as observant Jews (a chillul Hashem, G-d forbid). “Neutral” will not be one of the choices. These are high stakes, requiring an ongoing, conscious effort on our part to make a kiddush Hashem. A wonderful contribution is the section on “Staying Connected:
Davening and Learning.” As Making It Work is a work of both halachah and hashkafah, it is appropriate that chapters such as “Making Time to Learn” and “Maintaining Motivation to Learn” impart both inspiration and practical advice. The book states: It is no wonder that Daf Yomi has been so successful in inducing so many of us to actually spend an hour or two every day learning gemara. Daf Yomi’s attraction is that it is based on definitive, concrete milestones that lead to a definitive, concrete objective—to finish Shas. To get to that goal, one must obviously finish the masechta, and to finish each masechta, one must obviously do whatever it takes to get through today’s daf.1 While there are many such laudable and impressive chapters in this book, unfortunately, the book does not address a certain segment of the Orthodox Jewish population: working women. With so many observant women currently in the workplace, it is a pity that they are clearly, at best, a secondary target audience. Yet observant women certainly could use some chizuk and concrete suggestions for maintaining yirat Shamayim while navigating the business world. Some women are not aware of certain basic halachot that can be spiritually beneficial as well. I recall mentioning at a conference for professional women a few years ago that women are halachically obligated to daven Minchah. Many of the women present—some of whom attended the finest Jewish high schools and seminaries—were shocked to hear that this is the halachic “baseline.” Now, there are various heterim (leniencies) upon which many women rely to not daven Minchah. But, as I explained at the conference, davening Rabbi Gavriel Bechhofer, a frequent contributor to Jewish Action, serves as a dayan on the Beth Din of America in Choshen Mishpat cases.
Minchah is a great source of chizuk in the middle of one’s workday. Rabbi Wasserman (Making It Work, pp. 179-180) even relates a story about how his wife was hardpressed to daven daily Minchah while on a work-related excursion. Yet nowhere does he clarify whether or not a woman must daven Minchah altogether! I hope that in a future edition the author will choose to focus on the avodat Hashem of working women as well as men. One of the work’s few flaws is that the author cites posekim and ba’alei machashavah who may be regarded as questionable morei derech for the book’s target audience. An example of a questionable stringency that Rabbi Wasserman cites is a ruling by Rabbi Menashe Klein, zt”l, based on an aggadah in the Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu (Chap. 8), that severely limits eating with gentiles in ways the vast majority of posekim permit. Obviously such a ruling has farreaching implications for social gatherings at work and work-related conferences. In such areas, Rabbi Klein is not a “mainstream” authority for most of Making It Work’s readers.2 But these are relatively minor shortcomings in this work. One of the most important themes addressed in the book is the major challenge facing the average yeshivah alumnus who enters the workplace. A chavruta of mine—who is also a successful entrepreneur—expressed this challenge as follows: Someone who has learned in yeshivot for many years may enter the world of business and commerce and unfortunately become a naval b’reshut haTorah—“a coarse and base person with the Torah’s permission.” This concept is elucidated in a famous Ramban at the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim, where he gives various examples of one who fits this description. In our context, a naval b’reshut haTorah is one who deploys halachah and hashkafah in ways that rationalize dishonesty, poor treatment of colleagues and employees, and cutting corners—while ostensibly upholding the letter of Jewish law. As my chavruta put it, our schools and yeshivot excel at teaching halachah and hashkafah—but they do not necessarily impart the concept of “values” to their students.3 A ben or bat Torah in the workplace is well served by considering his or her values—and making them lodestars of his or her work lives. Values such as authenticity, balance, fairness, justice, kindness, peace, service, trustworthiness and wisdom are all compatible with—and often demanded by— ratzon Hashem and the Torah. But we are not trained to think in terms of such values.4 The failure to think in terms of values has farreaching implications. Several years ago, I wanted to publish a piece on racism in the Orthodox community in a certain Orthodox Jewish publication. A member of the publication’s editorial board vetoed the idea. He explained that he himself categorically
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Our schools and yeshivot excel at teaching halachah and hashkafah—but they do not necessarily impart the concept of “values” to their students—values such as authenticity, balance, fairness, justice, kindness, peace and trustworthiness. . . rejects and abhors any form of racism in our community. However, he does not believe that these attitudes can be eradicated by writing about them. He therefore preferred not to “wash our dirty linen in public” by raising the issue altogether. He went on to say that for this reason he also discourages the publication of articles on honesty in matters of Choshen Mishpat. He reiterated that he categorically rejects manifestations of dishonesty and impropriety in our community. But, he continued, while any such conduct is utterly wrong, he understands its antecedents in the unjust financial policies imposed on the Jews by non-Jewish governments and institutions in pre-war Europe. Therefore, he opined, it is almost impossible to eradicate such failings, and in this area too, it is better to not wash our dirty linen in public. Over and over again, Making It Work stresses the most fundamental value of all: kiddush Hashem (and the avoidance of chillul Hashem). Essentially, the entire book— including chapters on shaking hands with members of the opposite gender, commuting by public transportation, personal use of office supplies, taxes and dina d’malchuta dina (twenty-four chapters in all)—is an elucidation and elaboration of that value. Which is why it is so gratifying to find in the very first chapter of the book (pp. 29-30) the passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Bava Metzia 2:5) that may be the most important 94
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
gemara in the entirety of the two Talmuds. In Rabbi Wasserman’s paraphrasing: The Tanna Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in flax. Seeking to ease his workload, his students purchased a donkey for him from a non-Jew. When the donkey was delivered, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach discovered a very valuable pearl attached to its ear. The proceeds of its sale would have allowed him to give up the flax business altogether. From a halachic standpoint, he was not obligated to return the pearl to the donkey’s former owner, but he chose to give it back for one reason: the potential for a kiddush Hashem. The nonJew gratefully accepted the pearl, saying, “Blessed is the God of the Jews!” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach’s exceptional honesty was credited not only to himself, but, above all, to the “God of the Jews.”5 As Rabbi Kamenetsky concludes his haskamah: “With this essential work, Rabbi Wasserman . . . will have the zechus of being among those who bring merit to the community, whose righteousness endures forever.” Notes 1. Making It Work, p. 137. I asked a close friend, Mr. Berger, what he is currently learning, and he told me that he is now systematically pursuing the completion of Shas Mishnayot, with numerous reviews built into the system. This is an alternative system that facilitates regular and substantive learning (see a moving story about such a system in Making It Work, pp. 136-137). 2. Rabbi Klein’s interpretation of the Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu is questionable in and of itself, as the case in point was of King Chizkiyahu hosting non-Jews at his table. There are many distinctions that can be made between the circumstances in that case and scenarios that may be faced in today’s business world. 3. A relatively short list of fifty sample values can be found at http://jamesclear. com/core-values. A more extensive list of 400 values is at http://www.stevepavlina. com/blog/2004/11/list-of-values/.
4. A good summary of the core Jewish values is given by the prophet Michah (6:8): “Asot mishpat, ahavat chesed, v’hatznei’a lechet im Elokecha—do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” 5. This is not a precise translation of the Yerushalmi, but captures the gist. I think it is worthwhile to provide here a more exact translation: Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in linen. His students said to him: “Rebbe, desist from this trade. We will buy you a donkey [to make an easier living as a donkey driver] and you will not have to toil so much.” They went and purchased a donkey from a bandit. The students subsequently found a precious stone dangling from it. They went back to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and said to him: “From now on you need not exert yourself.” He asked: “How so?” The students responded: “We purchased a donkey for you from a bandit and a precious stone was dangling from it.” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked: “Did the donkey’s seller know that the stone was there?” They answered: “No.” He then said to them: “Go return it.” The students remonstrated with Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach: “Although theft from an idolater is prohibited, is one not permitted to keep an object that an idolater has lost?” He responded: “What do you think, that Shimon ben Shetach is a barbarian? More than all the wealth of the world, Shimon ben Shetach desires to hear [the nonJew say]: “Berich Eloko d’Yehudo’ei” (“Blessed is the God of the Jews”).
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NEHEMIAH: STATESMAN AND SAGE By Dov S. Zakheim Maggid Books New Milford, Connecticut, 2016 246 pages
Reviewed by Daniel Renna
he most recent US presidential campaign was characterized, amongst other things, by the question of leadership: the leadership of the United States in the world, the type of leadership needed to improve the lives of millions of Americans adrift in the era of globalization and, at its core, the kind of leadership necessary after a decade and a half of seemingly unending military entanglements and “leading from behind.” Moreover, Americans appeared desperate to heal the deep wounds of division and what many perceived as social disintegration. Over the course of American history, the United States has found itself at this kind of leadership crossroads many times, notably in the years leading to and during the Civil War, in the depths of the Great Depression and in the midst of economic turmoil at the height of the Cold War. The decisions the American people have made have significantly altered the trajectory of the nation, precisely because these times for
choosing have revealed leadership from quite unexpected quarters and via often unlikely people. What Rabbi Dov Zakeim’s Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage reveals is that this type of leadership predicament is not a novel concept. Twenty-five centuries ago, one such unexpected leader, stepping into the fray at the height of an existential crisis for the newly returned Babylonian exiles in Jerusalem, was successful in altering the course of Jewish history for the next 700 years. When Nehemiah ben Hachaliah, the cupbearer of the Persian King, was solicited to repair the walls of Jerusalem in the opening verses of the book that bears his name, it set into motion a startling chain of events that would eventually see not only the refortification of the Judean capital, but the revitalization of its people, its social fabric and its religious commitment to Jewish nationalism. Following King Artaxerxes’ granting Nehemiah temporary leave to rebuild Jerusalem—a diplomatic feat in its own right—the courtier journeys to Judah as its new governor. There, he faces rival satraps of neighboring provinces who see him as a dangerous interloper. Decades after following Zerubbavel back to Judah, these Jewish nobles have resorted to ignoring their responsibilities to the landless poor, despite the presence of Ezra the Scribe, the foremost religious leader of the time. Nehemiah makes the conscious decision to chide his fellow nobles, advocate for the destitute and eschew his governor’s salary to illustrate his camaraderie with the poor. Through a delicate balancing and sequencing of priorities, the creation of strategic alliances and the deployment of some skillful public relations, Nehemiah is able to thwart his enemies, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem—despite his mistrust of some of those taking on the task—and repopulate and revitalize
Daniel Renna is a foreign service officer and currently the political-economic counselor at the US Embassy in Gaborone, Botswana. He has served in various capacities as a diplomat at US embassies in Slovakia, The Gambia, Armenia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and as the senior desk officer for the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the State Department in Washington, DC.
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
Twenty-five centuries ago, one such unexpected leader, stepping into the fray at the height of an existential crisis for the newly returned Babylonian exiles in Jerusalem, was successful in altering the course of Jewish history for the next 700 years.
Jewish religious and national life in Jerusalem. The deft leadership skills necessary to achieve all this in a relatively short time appear breathtaking, especially coming from someone who ostensibly had no governing experience on his résumé. Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage, the culmination of years of research and study, adheres closely to the thirteen chapters of the Biblical text, giving meaning and much needed political, economic, social and historical context to what amounts to the personal memoir of one of post-exilic Jewry’s most important lay figures. That Rabbi Zakheim is himself an expert in international affairs—a distinguished thirty-plus-year career at the US Department of Defense where he has held significant and high-level leadership positions—enhances the political and social analysis of the moves Nehemiah takes upon arriving in Jerusalem to restore the city and its people to their national heritage. This insight is readily apparent throughout as he brings copious examples from modern American, Israeli and world politics to illustrate how the challenges Nehemiah faced are as timeless as human nature itself. Nehemiah charts the seemingly fraught relationship between the governor and Ezra, and how the former capitalized on the latter’s station as a
Nehemiah makes the conscious decision to chide his fellow nobles, advocate for the destitute and eschew his governor’s salary to illustrate his camaraderie with the poor. priest and as the foremost religious leader at the time for the political and social betterment of the people. This is revealed in Rabbi Zakheim’s detailed explanation of Nehemiah’s uniquely secular and political viewpoint of Ezra’s reading of the Torah on Rosh Hashanah and the great celebration of Sukkot in chapter eight in the Book of Nechemiah. Apart from the religious aspect of these one-off ceremonies, Nehemiah used the emotional energy exuding from a population saddened by their realization they had been remiss in following God’s laws to remind them of Judah’s former glory and energize them not only to a religious but a nationalistic renewal of what it means to be a people bound together simply by a common revelatory experience at Sinai. Of special significance as well is Rabbi Zakheim’s description of what he calls the “Jewish constitution” that Nehemiah convinces many of the inhabitants of the newly restored Jerusalem to sign in chapter ten. Not merely a new covenant along the lines of Moses or Jeremiah, Nehemiah’s pledge allowed its signatories the free-will choice to take on the religious and social responsibilities listed therein, including the dissuasion of intermarriage, the observance of Shabbat, the rededication to the upkeep of the Temple and the keeping of the shemittah Sabbatical year, all of which had clearly fallen by the wayside and had become serious continuity problems amongst a population struggling to survive in a precarious neighborhood. Drawing on traditional, contemporary, medieval and modern sources, Nehemiah elucidates the unprecedented nature of the governor’s pledge; in highlighting free men consenting to curtail their natural liberty for the sake of a greater good, Rabbi Zakheim fascinatingly points out Nehemiah was shockingly before his time by developing what has become the hallmark of modern Western constitutions. Through Rabbi Zakheim’s careful presentation of deep context and analysis, Nehemiah emerges as a unique leader for his time. His successes in fortifying and repopulating Jerusalem, in terminating the nobility’s exploitation of their countrymen and in restoring national pride and religious commitment amongst a people who in a backwater of the Persian Empire had sadly lost their way were nothing short of remarkable. In the end, through Rabbi Zakheim’s methodical approach to the text, Nehemiah, with his political acumen and keen faith in God, emerges as the unlikely leader responsible for essentially making Judah great again.
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REVIEWS IN BRIEF
RAV AND REBBE
By Chaim Dalfin
Jewish Enrichment Press New York, 2016 379 pages
Reviews by Gil Student
abbi Chaim Dalfin conducted extensive interviews to amass the network of facts and memories about two great Jewish leaders of the twentieth century, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“the Rav”) and Rabbi Menachem Schneerson (“the Rebbe”). As a result, this book is full of interesting information that will delight historical trivia buffs. For example, how did the two meet? Rabbi Dalfin (p. 200) quotes the story from Rabbi Julius Berman, the Rav’s lawyer and confidant. When studying in university in Berlin, one day the Rav took a nap in his apartment. He awoke to see a young man standing over him. The Rav asked who he was and the Rebbe identified himself. How and why did he get into the apartment? The young man explained that he barely knew anyone in Berlin and recognized the Rav’s name, so he came to the apartment. He knocked; no one answered; he tried the door and it opened, so he entered. This interesting but somewhat strange story is one of the many historical tidbits in this book. However, despite the many facts and anecdotes in the book, Rabbi Dalfin’s interpretations of the history are often so biased that he has effectively twisted those facts into a falsification of history. The pivotal moment with which the book begins is the celebration of the Rebbe’s thirtieth anniversary in his position in 1980, which the Rav attended after being repeatedly asked by various followers of the Rebbe. By all accounts, the evening was magical and revealed
JEWISH ACTION Summer 5777/2017
true friendship between the two leaders. Rabbi Dalfin declares that “on that chilly Monday evening in 770, the last chapter was written on the 200 year old regrettable saga of divisiveness between the Chasidim and Misnagdim camps” (p. 4). Throughout this book, the author himself demonstrates that this thesis is exaggerated. First, the two had been friends while in university in Berlin, as described above. Additionally, the Rebbe’s father-in-law had reached out to the Rav in 1941 and had developed a supportive relationship. Perhaps most importantly, the Rav’s daughter had married the son of a Chassidic rebbe in 1954! Clearly, the Rav had warmed to Chassidim before 1980. Additionally, Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Shach led Mitnagdim in attacking Chassidim well past 1980, which continues today long after his passing, so the final chapter has not yet been written. The book contains many outlandish statements implying that the Rav and his ancestors were secret Chabad followers. “One might even suggest that the Soloveitchiks understood that the Chabad Rebbes had been gifted [with] a ‘higher power’” (p. 30); “The Rav, a man of truth and Torah, seems to be arguing for the preeminence of a Lubavitcher yeshiva” (p. 50); “While the Rav followed the Misnagid approach to practical Halacha, he was still a strong believer in the deep philosophy of Chasidus” (p. 63). The Rav taught that “even if our logic at times dictates otherwise, when we hear the directive from a Tzaddik [namely, the Rebbe’s father-in-law]—we follow” (p. 227). This is all an exaggeration to the point of distortion, which occasionally Rabbi Dalfin admits: “I say ‘accept’ [Chabad] because as much as he may have respected Chabad, at the end of [the] day (as he himself said numerous times in public) he remained, ‘A Misnagid from the Misnagdic house of Volozhin” (p. 61). The Rav had a deep bond of friendship with the Rebbe from their time together in Berlin and a respect of his leadership and accomplishments in America. The Rav also greatly appreciated the Tanya, the founding
work of Chabad theology. But in reporting these undeniable facts, Rabbi Dalfin omits important context. The Rav had even deeper bonds of friendship with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Shneur Kotler, among other Torah luminaries. The Rav appreciated even more the theological teachings of the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon. The Rav was not a closet Chabad follower but a man with broad intellectual interests and, like just about everybody, a nostalgia for his youth that created a bond with his impressive friend from those pre-War years. In endnote 92, Rabbi Dalfin implies that Rabbi Berman was hesitant to provide an interview because he worried this would become a “propaganda tract for Chabad.” Rabbi Berman was right to be concerned. This flawed, inconsistent and, at times, strange book contains a great deal of interesting information that can serve as a second-hand historical witness only if read deeply critically. MEANT TO BE: A MEMOIR
By Marvin Hier Toby Press Jerusalem, 2016 368 pages
onald Trump’s presidential inauguration included an invocation by an Orthodox rabbi for the first time in American history. Rabbi Marvin Hier, who has criticized Trump but respects the office of the president, enjoys access to world leaders and Hollywood stars and has won two Oscars for documentaries he has produced. Rabbi Hier did not set out for this high profile role. In his Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and runs Torahmusings. com. He is a member of the Jewish Action Editoral Board.
memoirs, he describes growing up in the Lower East Side, learning in the yeshivah of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, courting his wife while working as a busboy in the Catskills in upstate New York and stumbling into a job in the rabbinate. The first portion of this memoir describes a typical rabbinic success story. Bright and enthusiastic, Rabbi Hier energized his Vancouver synagogue with innovative programming, bringing song and high-profile scholars to his growing community. In 1977, Rabbi Hier moved to Los Angeles to start a yeshivah for collegeage students. Partnering with Yeshiva University in New York, this yeshivah opened as Yeshiva University Los Angeles, fondly known as YULA. A few years later it expanded with a high school and has since become an institution of American Orthodoxy. Rabbi Hier continued to serve as the school’s dean until 2005. If that was all he had done, he would have enjoyed a remarkably successful career in the rabbinate. Leading a congregation, outreach, education, strengthening a community—these are what young rabbis dream of accomplishing. But these successes were only the beginning. He also opened a Holocaust remembrance and education center. He convinced two very different kinds of celebrities to join the effort—Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter, and Frank Sinatra, the entertainer. Wiesenthal gave the center purpose and direction while Sinatra helped raise money. The Simon Wiesenthal Center grew into an organization that fights for human rights and opposes anti-Semitism. It built the Museum of Tolerance, which opposes all prejudice and has a special area devoted to the Holocaust. Meeting with foreign dignitaries, fighting against injustice and advocating for his people, Rabbi Hier has become a part of history. This book starts with a yeshivah-trained rabbi serving in a pulpit and building a yeshivah. Then it turns into a Who’s Who of celebrities, dignitaries and philanthropists, all told with the story-telling charm of a Lower East Side yeshivah bachur.
DARKEI HASHGACHAH—THE PATHS OF PROVIDENCE: DOES G-D CONTROL EVERYTHING?
By Chaim Gross
Menucha Publishers New York, 2015
n a sweeping survey of Jewish thought over the centuries, Chaim Gross thoroughly explores the different views among the Medieval and modern thinkers about hashgachah peratit, individual providence. Despite all the many different opinions that he explains, Gross ably shows trends of thought. Medieval thinkers generally see limits to individual providence. God allows for nature to take its course and intervenes under specific circumstances. God rewards observance of commandments and punishes sins. He directs species and nations. He closely guides the righteous. But individual, average people sometimes live under the laws of nature. In the modern era, however, Jewish thinkers adopt a view of universal individual providence. God guides everything that happens in the world. Everything that happens to you, whether good or bad, is decreed by God. Chassidim and Mitnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, with few exceptions, adopt this belief. All this is fairly common knowledge in Jewish thought. Aside from his clear explanations and breadth of citation, Gross adds little new information up to this point; however, Gross’ contributions are two-fold. Gross asks when and why the view of individual providence changed. He vividly demonstrates a dramatic shift in thought in the eighteenth century. The seventeenth century experienced a number of trends and events that
led to an embrace of mysticism. The Arizal lived in the prior century and his kabbalistic teachings spread. The pogroms of 1648-1649 (Chmielniki Massacres/Tach Ve-Tat) spurred many to look for mystical explanations for their suffering. Spinoza’s heresy in the seventeenth century and its further growth in the Haskalah in the eighteenth century caused a mystical backlash against rationalism that pushed the expansive view of individual providence to the fore. Gross further shows a surprising convergence in the twentieth century. Jewish thinkers operating within the framework of complete individual providence have moved closer to the earlier view of limited individual providence. These thinkers struggled with classical Talmudic ideas about providence. In explaining them, they give up much ground of individual providence. For example, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler explains general providence as meaning that everyone receives individual providence, but sometimes one only merits it if he is part of a larger group. Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that negligence leads to suffering not as a natural result, but as a Divine punishment for the negligence that appears natural. Effectively, individual providence often acts as you would expect nature to act. In effect, Gross argues, recent thinkers who have adopted complete individual providence have still greatly limited it. Their worldview moves closer to that of Medieval thinkers, despite protestations to the contrary. Gross’ book engages the reader in deep discussion of Jewish thinkers throughout the ages. His encyclopedic treatment examines texts and concepts in an accessible way. Darkei Hashgachah surveys the post-Talmudic history of Jewish thought and raises new points that deserve consideration. We are supposed to see God in our lives, but how much? This book takes you through the different Jewish answers to that question across the centuries.
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WHAT’S THE TRUTH ABOUT. . .
THE APPLE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN? By Ari Z. Zivotofsky
Misconception: Chava fed Adam an apple in the Garden of Eden. Fact: The fruit’s identity is not revealed in the Biblical text, and while early Jewish sources offer a variety of suggestions about which fruit Chava fed Adam, an apple is not one of them. Background: Shortly after God created man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden, with but one prohibition: “And God took the man, and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to protect it. God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you 100
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may certainly eat. But from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, do not eat, because on the day you eat from it you will certainly die’” (Bereishit 2:15-17). God then created Chava, who was tricked by the devious snake. “And the woman saw that the Tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes and that the Tree was attractive to make one wise; she took some of its fruit and ate it, and she gave some to her husband and he ate. And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig
leaves together, and made for themselves loincloths” (Bereishit 3:6-7). Despite their central role in the story, the Tree and its fruit are never identified in the text. That did not stop subsequent generations, including the rabbinic Sages, from trying to identify the Forbidden Fruit. Modern Western lore, as expressed through art, literature and popular culture, portrays the Forbidden Fruit as an apple. The Talmud (Berachot Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a professor of brain science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
40a; Sanhedrin 70a-b) offers three suggestions, and the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 15:7) repeats these three and then supplies a fourth. Each of these suggestions is supported by some aspect of the story. Classic Suggestions: Chazal state that the Forbidden Fruit was one of following: Wheat: The Gemara explains that children know how to say “Daddy” and “Mommy” only after beginning to consume grains. The Midrash says that when one lacks intelligence, others comment that he has not eaten wheat bread. These statements provide a basis for concluding that the “Tree of Knowledge” was actually wheat. The Midrash,1 however, raises an obvious question: the verse discusses the “Tree of Knowledge” (eitz); how does a wheat stalk resemble a tree? The response given is that in the Garden of Eden, wheat stalks resembled pillars as tall as cedars in Lebanon. The Talmud (Ketubot 111b) foretells that in the future, wheat stalks will appear gigantic once again. An alternative answer provided is that the word “eitz” in the Bible can refer to either tree or wood, and thus, in this context, it could have meant “wood,” referring to the stalk of the wheat. Such a usage of the word eitz is found in Sefer Yehoshua regarding flax (2:6; Shabbat 2:3). Identifying the Forbidden Fruit as wheat is further supported by the similarity between the words chitah (wheat) and cheit (sin), alluding to the fact that this was the quintessential sin. Wheat is not usually eaten raw. Did Chava actually produce bread? The Midrash implies that she did not, but rather the wheat stalks in the Garden of Eden gave forth finished bread. Adam’s punishment that “by the sweat of your brow you will eat bread” (Bereishit 3:19; cf. Berachot 58a) seems to support this idea by suggesting that post-sin, the acquisition of bread became significantly more difficult. Fig: The immediate consequence of the sin was Adam and Chava’s realization that they were naked and they covered up their nakedness with a garment made of fig leaves (Bereishit 3:7). The Sages understood that the same object with which they sinned was used
to begin to repair the consequences of the sin.2 Grape, vine or wine: The Gemara states that wine can cause wailing, as found in Bereishit 9:21, and the Midrash observes that wine can bring about bitterness, as evident in Devarim 32:32. Eating the Forbidden Fruit brought death with its accompanying wailing and bitterness to the world, perhaps indicating that wine was the culprit. Conversely, the Gemara (Yoma 76b) notes that wine makes one wise and thus it would make sense to refer to the grapevine as a “tree of knowledge.” Indeed, wine has contradictory characteristics. It is used on joyous and holy occasions, but can have devastating effects when used inappropriately.3 The verse states that after eating from the Tree, “their eyes were opened” (Bereishit 3:5); indeed after drinking wine, one sees the world in a different light. The identity of the Fruit has practical implications since a number of customs developed as a result. There is, in fact, a custom for women to not drink wine from Havdalah and some of the explanations offered relate in part to the sin that Chava committed with grapes in the Garden of Eden.4 The Gemara implies that the grapes themselves were eaten, while another midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 19:5; cf. Vayikra Rabbah 12:1) states that Chava squeezed the grapes and they drank the wine. Etrog: The suggestion that the fruit was an etrog is found only in the Midrash. Focusing on the unusual phraseology, the Midrash notes that the verse does not say “the fruit was good for eating,” but rather “the Tree was good for eating” (Bereishit 3:7). Consequently, the Midrash postulates that perhaps the fruit was an etrog since Chazal say (Sukkah 35a) that the etrog tree is the only tree in which the fruit and the tree taste the same. Surprisingly, the Ramban (Vayikra 23:40) rejects the Midrash’s first three suggestions regarding the identity of the fruit and accepts this last one. He says that an etrog in Aramaic means chemda (desirous), perhaps alluding to the sin.5 Ramban adds that the mitzvah of arba minim is to atone for the sin in the Garden of Eden that occurred with
the etrog. A late custom developed (Elef Hamagen, in the back of Mateh Efraim 660:6) that on Hoshanah Rabbah pregnant women break off the pitum from the etrog and recite a prayer for their and their child’s well-being that centers on Chava’s sin. The Tannaim who made these four suggestions link them to some aspect of the story. Furthermore, each of these Tannaim, who lived in Eretz Yisrael, suggested plants, with the exception of the etrog, which grew in the Mediterranean region and are included in the Seven Species for which Eretz Yisrael is praised. Later Suggestions: Banana: In the Middle Ages, the notion that the Forbidden Fruit is the banana appeared in several places. In 1277 Nathan HaMe’ati translated the Rambam’s medical work Pirkei Moshe (Aphorisms of Moses) from Arabic into Hebrew. In the section detailing the medicinal effects of the banana (20:88), Nathan HaMe’ati calls it the “apple of Eden.” The sixteenth-century Rabbi Menachem de Lonzano, in his Ma’arich, a work explaining foreign words in rabbinic literature, says the banana is a well-known fruit in Syria and Egypt that the Arabs call “the apple of Gan Eden.” Today, some bananas are known by the Latin names Musa paradisiaca (fruit of paradise) and Musa sapientum (fruit of knowledge). Identifying the Tree of Knowledge with the banana appears to be a Christian tradition from at least the twelfth century that enjoyed popularity but was never adopted by rabbinic sources. Sabra: One of the most unusual suggestions made is that the Forbidden Fruit is the sabra. This is odd, as the sabra originated in Mexico and made its way to the Middle East in the sixteenth century. However, the sabra plant grew rapidly in Eretz Yisrael, and its origins were quickly forgotten. Known in Spanish as “higo de Adam”—Adam’s fig—the sabra was associated with the fruit of the Garden of Eden. In 1865, Rabbi Moshe Raisher wrote that the sabra was called the “fig of Adam HaRishon” (Sha’arei Yerushalayim, Sha’ar 6 – Fruits of the Land [p. 120 in 5768/2008 ed]). Rabbi Raisher describes Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
the sabra as having a thick skin that is full of thin needles and flesh that tastes as sweet as honey. Similarly, in the early nineteenth century, Rabbi Yehoseph Schvartz (Tevuot Ha’aretz , 382) reports that in the Land of Israel there is a “wild fig” called in Arabic “altz’aber,” but called by the masses “the fig of Adam HaRishon,” because they say that it is from the leaves of that plant from which Adam and Chava made for themselves a garment. But Rabbi Schvartz points out that the common name must be an error because the thorns in the leaves of a sabra are as sharp as needles, and it therefore cannot be used to make garments.6 And he correctly notes that the sabra is as an American species, implying that it is unlikely to have been in Gan Eden.7 Apple and Tapuach Today, whether in art or popular culture, the Forbidden Fruit is most often depicted as the apple. In most European Christian8 art the fruit is depicted as an apple9 as well. The obvious question is, how did this idea come about? In the early Jewish sources there is no mention of an apple, and furthermore, in the Jewish tradition, the apple usually has a positive connotation and is associated with sweetness, not sin.10 There are several suggestions as to how the apple came to be associated with the Forbidden Fruit. Latin confusion: One possibility is the confusion between the Latin term used for the Tree and the Latin word for apple. In the Vulgate—the Latin translation of the Bible— “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” in Bereishit 2:17 is called “de ligno autem scientiae boni et măli.” The word măli is derived from the Latin noun mălum (pronounced mah-lum), meaning evil. However, there is another Latin noun mālum (pronounced may-lum) meaning apple, which was borrowed from Greek.11 In light of the similarity of the words, and due to the fact that in Europe the cold-weather apple was very popular, it is easy to see how people began to identify the Tree as an apple tree. Etrog as apple: As noted above, in rabbinic literature there is quite a bit of support that the fruit was an etrog. Seemingly, in Biblical and rabbinic 102
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sources, the word tapuach refers to an etrog. The tapuach is described as being particularly scented (Shir Hashirim 7:9)12 and having fruit that appears on the tree before the leaves (Shabbat 88a). Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Shabbat 88a, s.v. pir’yo; Tosafot, Taanit 29b, s.v. shel) suggests that tapuach in the Bible and Talmud refers not to what was called tapuach in his time (the apple) but to the etrog.13 Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that the confusion between tapuach and etrog is responsible for the idea that the Forbidden Fruit was an apple (see Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Harav [Jerusalem, 1994], 209-210). The generic fruit: For most of history, the words used today to connote an apple (“apple,” “tapuach,” “pomme” in French, “pomum” in Latin) were words that denoted a generic fruit or a round object.14 The Mishnah (Tamid 2:2) calls the large pile of ashes in the center of the altar “tapuach” and the Rosh explains that anything gathered together and piled high is called tapuach.15 The pile of grapes in a wine press is referred to as a tapuach (Avodah Zarah 55a), as are the heel of a foot (Vayikra Rabbah 20) and the gold and silver round bells on a sefer Torah (Shulchan Aruch, YD 282:16). Rashi (Sukkah 35a, s.v. atu) seems to use the word tapuach to refer to “fruit.” In other languages the word apple is used to refer to generic fruit or round objects. In French, a potato is a pomme de terre, “apple of the ground,” the source of the Hebrew tapuach adamah. The name pomegranate is Latin for “seeded apple” and is known in some places as a “Chinese apple.” The Modern Hebrew name for orange, tapuz, is a contraction of tapuach zahav. In Italian the tomato is pomodoro, from “apple of gold,” and in French it was called “pomme d’amour,” leading to the colloquial “love apple” and the Hebrew agvania, which alludes to courtship. The phrase “apple of my eye” derives from the fact that the pupil was thought to be a round object and was called an apple. An Adam’s apple, the laryngeal prominence on the human neck (mostly found on males) is named either because it looks as if a piece of the apple got lodged there or, more likely, because it is
a round bulge. Put simply, not so long ago the word apple connoted both a generic fruit as well as a particular fruit; therefore, when one discussed the “apple” in the Garden of Eden, he meant the fruit that Adam and Chava ate.16 Eventually, this led many to conclude that the Forbidden Fruit was the fruit known today as the apple. It has been suggested that starting in the twelfth to thirteenth century, richer, larger apples began replacing the small apples used for cider in northern Europe and lush apple orchards were planted by monks, setting the stage for this now common and popular apple to be the central fruit in paradise.17 Yaakov brought it in: When Yaakov entered to receive the blessing from his father Yitzchak while wearing the clothes of his brother Esav, “[Yitzchak] smelled the fragrance of his garments, and blessed him. He said ‘See my son’s fragrance is like the smell of the field blessed by God’” (Bereishit 27:27). Commenting on this, Rashi quotes a midrash that says that the scent Yitzchak detected was that of the Garden of Eden; in a separate comment, the Talmud (Taanit 29b), again quoted by Rashi, says the field referred to is a “tapuach”orchard.18 If one understands the Biblical tapuach to mean an apple, then based on these sources one can conclude that the Tree was an apple tree. Blame the Targum: The Targum to Shir Hashirim 7:9 “and the aroma of your face is like that of tapuach” translates tapuach as “tapuach deginta dieden”19—the “apple” of the Garden of Eden. From there, it made its way into other translations. The unknowable fruit: Many assume that the forbidden Tree was a recognizable, natural tree whose produce was forbidden in the Garden of Eden and when consumed it had a supernatural effect, yet today the tree’s fruit is permitted to be consumed. Furthermore, they assume that although the Torah did not identify the Tree, it provided clues through which the careful reader can deduce its identity. These assumptions are not necessarily accepted by all. The midrash cited earlier that provides four suggestions for the fruit’s identity (Bereishit Rabbah 15:7) concludes with
an entirely different view: “Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Yehuda Bar Simon said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ‘Heaven forbid! The Holy One, blessed be He, never revealed [the identity of] that Tree to any person, and He never will.’”20 According to this view, God does not want humanity to look at a specific tree and say that it brought about the downfall of humanity.21 The other Sages seemingly did not agree with Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Yehudah Bar Simon, as they did not hesitate to try to discover the identity (although their discussions may have been more about drawing out various ethical lessons than verifying the Tree’s actual identity). Certainly according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the identity of the Tree is not important. The story of Gan Eden has a message irrespective of the fruit’s identity: Man was given a blessed life but needed to adhere to certain boundaries and restrictions; he failed and paid the price. That message is relevant whether the Forbidden Fruit was a grape, a stalk of wheat, an apple or any other fruit. Notes 1. This question is not asked in the Gemara, because the entire discussion begins with Rabbi Yehuda classifying wheat as a tree with regard to the recitation of berachot. 2. In a similar vein, when God later made “garments of skin” for Adam and Eve (Bereishit 3:21), Targum Yonatan understood they were made from the skin of the snake. 3. See e.g., Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4
and Midrash Tanchuma (Warsaw), Parashat Noach 13. 4. See my article entitled, “Wine from Havdalah, Women, and Beards,” Hakirah 10 (winter 2010): 175-187. 5. Ramban points the reader to the Targumim on Bereishit 2:9, Shemot 20:14 (or Devarim 5:18), and Tehillim 45:14. 6. Even if the Forbidden Fruit was the sabra, I am not sure why it was suggested that they made the garments from its leaves; the verse explicitly states that fig leaves were used. 7. For more on the sabra, see my article entitled, “What’s the Truth about . . . the Origins of the Sabra?” Jewish Action (winter 2004): 65-67. 8. While more common in Christian art, it can be found in Jewish sources as well. The Prague Haggadah, published in 5287 (1527), contains an illustration of Adam and Chava each holding an apple on the page with “Shefoch Chamatcha.” 9. In older art, the Forbidden Fruit is often a non-descript fruit. 10. For example, it was customary to send tapuchim to the sick (Tosefta, Bava Metzia 7:4); the Tur (OC 583) says it was an ancient custom to dip a sweet tapuach in honey on Rosh Hashanah; the Ben Ish Chai (year 1, Nitzavim: 4) says to eat a cooked apple with sugar on Rosh Hashanah and offers many reasons; and tapuach is suggested as an ingredient in charoset (Pesachim 116a). 11. The binomial scientific name for apple is Pyrus mālus. 12. In giving examples of edible
fruits with good aromas, the Mishnah Berurah 216:8 mentions etrog, apple and peri adamah. 13. A seeming proof that the tapuach in rabbinic sources is not the etrog: Ma’asrot 1:4 and Eruvin 29a mention them separately when listing fruit. A proof that it is a citrus and not an apple: in Pesachim 116a, it says the tapuach is added to the charoset to make it tart. On the confusing of apple and etrog, see Ari Zivotofsky and Naomi Zivotofsky, “Mixing Apples and Oranges: The Elusive Pesach and Rosh HaShana Ingredient,” Young Israel of Cleveland Torah Journal III (1996). 14. Despite other opinions, Professor Judah Feliks (EJ  3:223) is convinced that when tapuach is used in Tanach to mean a specific fruit, it refers to the apple (Pyrus mālus). It appears in multiple contexts in the Bible and rabbinic literature and plays a role in tradition. The Targum translates tapuach as etrog (Shir Hashirim 2:3) and as tapuah deginta dieden—the apple of the Garden of Eden (ibid., 2:5, 7:9). 15. The source for this may be the similarly written word tafuah, swelling. 16. This occurred with other words as well. “Deer” used to mean any animal, as in “But mice and rats and such small deer” (King Lear III.iv.144), and today refers specifically to ruminant mammals of the family Cervidae. Similarly, “corn” once meant any grain, hence the King James Bible has the Biblical Joseph storing corn, but today “corn” refers to the Mexican maize. 17. See Miklos Faust, “The Apple in Paradise,” HortTechnology 4 (Oct/Dec 1994), 338-343. 18. The Gra says that the berachah took place on Rosh Hashanah and this midrash is one of the reasons for the custom of dipping specifically an apple in honey (Gra, OC 583). 19. Some assume that this was referring to the banana. 20. This seems to have been the Rambam’s opinion (Moreh Nevuchim 2:30). 21. Meam Loez (Bereishit 2:17) learns from the Torah’s silence on the Tree’s identity not to remind one of a sin that he committed. Summer 5777/2017 JEWISH ACTION
THE MAKING OF A JEWISH WEDDING By Kylie Ora Lobell
was standing in the women’s section of the Western Wall as snow was falling over Jerusalem. I had just accepted my boyfriend Danny’s proposal. I prayed to Hashem and placed a note in the Wall describing all my wishes for our marriage. I was elated. Then panic set in. We had to start planning the wedding, which was to be in six months. I had no idea how to go about this. I wasn’t the type of girl who dreamed about her wedding day; this was all new to me. On top of that, I wasn’t Jewish yet, and I was planning a traditional Jewish wedding. What if I messed up some crucial part of my wedding and, God forbid, our union wouldn’t be valid? At that point, I’d been observant for four years throughout my conversion, and I was set to convert right before my wedding. But I still needed guidance. After all, I hadn’t really learned about putting together a Jewish wedding in my classes on Judaism! When Danny and I arrived back in the States, I started reading up on wedding planning and talking to lots of Orthodox Jewish friends. Our friends warned us how stressful wedding planning can be. I imagined that there were going to be a lot of headaches throughout the whole process. Thankfully, the Jewish community is there for you when there’s a simchah. Over the years, I’d participated in meal trains for women in the community who had given birth and arranged sheva berachot meals for newlyweds. In shul, to celebrate birthdays, my rebbetzin would arrange a festive kiddush replete with colorful decorations and delicious homemade cookies, pareve red velvet cakes and elaborate fruit platters. Now, when it was Danny and my turn to celebrate, everyone stepped up
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to lend a hand too. Danny’s mom flew in early to help with the wedding, and we went shopping for flowers and centerpieces. I couldn’t believe how much the local arts and crafts shop was charging for glass bowls. My future mother-in-law suggested we check out the local gemachs to see what they had available. There are a dizzying array of gemachs scattered throughout the frum community of Los Angeles—many of which are absolutely essential in the Jewish bridal world. There are gemachs for wedding centerpieces, silk flowers, dresses for the bride as well as for the mother of the bride, chuppahs, bridal jewelry, bridal chairs and wedding “shtick” (masks and costumes to help liven up the dance floor). I was amazed at the number of women who devote so much of their time and energy into running gemachs. These women store the goods in their garages, basements or spare rooms. The gown gemach I visited had an impressive assortment of elegant gowns for the mother of the bride as well as high-end yet modest satin bridal gowns. Another gemach had a wonderful selection of beautifully arranged centerpieces— including the pricey glass jar centerpieces I’d seen in the store. These selfless women who run the gemachs either purchase their merchandise on their own or get donations. And they don’t ask for anything in return; they simply want to lend a hand to a fellow Jew. Leading up to my wedding, people in the community wanted to help too. One member of my shul offered to bartend the whole wedding as a gift to us. Many people offered to host a sheva berachot meal. A friend said she’d love to make us a pareve coconut cake for the wedding. A woman I had only met once told me she designed ketubot, and that she’d
give us a discount on one of her stunning originals. A friend of a friend was an opera singer, and he graciously offered to sing under our chuppah. Our rabbi spent a significant amount of time with us, giving us a detailed rundown of a Jewish wedding as well as a few lessons on the meaning behind the various customs. My rebbetzin gave me a lesson on the religious significance behind the mitzvah of hair covering, since I hadn’t learned about that particular mitzvah in conversion classes. She gifted me some attractive scarves as well, so I didn’t have to worry about running out and purchasing a few. The day of our wedding, friends from out of town schlepped all the drinks, the bridal chair and the chuppah from the gemachs to the hall. One of our friends brought fluffy hydrangeas for the bridesmaids and me, and another played guitar throughout the tisch. Our wedding day felt like a true team effort; we received tremendous support from friends and family, and from the entire Los Angeles Jewish community (or so it seemed). When I stood under our chuppah and looked around at everyone, my heart was so full. I was grateful that when we needed people the most, they were there for us. I knew I couldn’t have planned the wedding without all the help and generosity. I was taken aback by how much everyone wanted to give, even people who barely knew us. The whole experience encapsulated what Judaism is all about: spreading love and kindness to others. Our simchah brought that out in our friends, in our family and in the community. Going forward, I hope to be able to help make others’ semachot just as wonderful. Kylie Ora Lobell is a Los Angelesbased freelance writer.
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