Thursday, February 28, 2013

Signs that the Redemption is near?

For years, the American magazine, Sports Illustrated, has run a weekly mini-report entitled, “Signs of the Apocalypse” (or something like that).  It is a one-or-two sentence announcement that features some weekly occurrence in the Sports world. Typically, it focuses on someone doing something really stupid. It highlights how incredibly awful highly-paid or famous people can be. Such   behaviour by those we honour, the piece suggests, is surely a sign that our world must soon end.

Mostly, these incidents entertain.

That magazine comes from America. We live in Israel, which follows a different religious and cultural orientation. So if someone in America thinks about Christian-inspired Destruction, perhaps we can think about a Jewish-inspired Redemption.

Consider now some recent examples from the news that, in some way—humorous and not so humorous-- might suggest that the world might be preparing for something New. If you don’t see how these headlines might pre-sage a Jewish Redemption, that’s okay. That just means that your ‘Redemption training’ isn’t up-to-date.

For February, 2013:

-Seriously, what's so funny about a trillion dollar coin? (Al Jazeera English)

-France's Le Pen battles 'Islamonazi occupation' (Al Jazeera english)

-Debtpocalypse and the hollowing out of America (Al Jazeera English)

-Anti-Semitism Rising in Every Nook and Cranny (Arutz Sheva)

-Fire is bursting up through the streets of Omaha (

-6.7-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Chile (Arutz Sheva)

-Politicians Seek Blessing from Influential Gerrer Rebbe (Arutz Sheva)

-Australian (national) Election Scheduled For Yom Kippur (Arutz Sheva)

-Person claiming to be pastor leaves waiter note: ‘I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?’ (Yahoo!news)

-Water Authority: "Israel's Water Crisis Has Ended." (Arutz Sheva)

-History Made as Natural Gas Flows from Ship to Hadera (Arutz Sheva)

- Photo of Dead Arab Children Wins International Press Award (Arutz Sheva)


Do these headlines signal that a ‘change’ is coming?

Should we believe that hyper-inflation and debt in America—along with water 'growth' and natural gas discoveries in Israel--could signal a sea-change for us all?

When politicians go to the Gerrer Rebbe for blessings, do we conclude that they know something we don’t?

Maybe such headlines are meaningless. Perhaps we needn’t worry about these things. After all, who cares if the streets of Omaha are on fire?





Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Purim question about Western academicians


 Here’s a Purim test: does the West understand the Middle East?

You can answer this question only if you can answer another question: do chickens have (easily identifiable) lips?

My bet is, most Westerners, particularly non-science academicians, know nothing about chicken anatomy. That’s a shame, because if they cannot answer the chicken question, they may not be able answer the Middle East question.

Fail this Purim test and you may be forced to conclude that academicians know as much about the Middle East as they know about chickens, which is to say, not much. This is troubling. Non-science academicians write a lot about the Middle East.  Scholars, they are supposed to know how to complete objective, sober research. They are also supposed to know about intellectual integrity, which requires one to remain sober enough to understand that you must accept conclusions which do not conform to pre-existing beliefs.

Does the demonization of Israel by academicians suggest they fail some intellectual sobriety test—or are they simply guilty of scholarship incompetence?

Neither. They do not fail any intellectual test, sober or otherwise. They are not incompetent.

On Purim, our underlying reality is revealed; and the reality is, Humanities and Social Science academicians have a purpose. They focus on their specialities for a reason. They aim to understand the complexity of human and communal life to help humanity. Therefore, their true focus is not the Middle East. Instead, they aim  to answer a question: what is the simplest way to help humanity cope with the two greatest threats to happy life--fear and uncertainty?

On Purim, our celebration brings clarity: in vino veritas. By late afternoon, we can see that Western academicians answer their own question. Their answer is simplicity itself: Haman.

That is their genius. They study the human condition.  They understand that what humanity wants—has always wanted-- is a good scapegoat. This is where the Jew comes in. He’s the scapegoat.

Ask Haman. Better yet, Ask Iran President Ahmadinejad.

Think about it. Why would otherwise intelligent people (academicians) spend so much time promoting hatred? 

The answer is simple. It brings clarity to a frightening world. It helps us fight fear.

When life becomes frightening, Jew-haters can press the ‘Jew’ button. Automatically, we know how to respond. It’s like watching your favourite magician perform. You watch his tricks. You know what he’s going to do. You’ve seen it all before; and yet you cheer every time he performs because his repetition gives you pleasure. That’s why medical clowns repeat their tricks—that repetition gives children in pain remembered pleasure to distract them from that pain. That’s what academicians understand. They cannot make our pain go away. They have no answers. But they can distract us with familiar pleasure.

 On one level, the Purim story is about Jew-hate. It’s the Jew-hate that resonates because Jew-hate provides social and human comfort. Jew-hate soothes.

By late-day Purim, it all becomes clear: our world can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. We are afraid. Western academicians simply show us a way to cope: blame the Jew.

Of course, Jews don’t like that. But that’s okay. Jews didn’t like what Haman had in mind, either.

Western academicians are our cultural psychiatrists. They understand our pain. They offer a sobering palliative. The problem is, a psychiatrist takes an oath—first, do no harm. It’s certainly noble to offer a moment of pleasure to someone in pain; but it’s quite a different story to do that at the expense of another human. If our academicians do not fail the intellectual integrity test (their conclusions about Jews are true to their goals), and if they are not incompetent (for the same reason), they nonetheless fail their most basic test: do no harm to the humanity you seek to help.

How does Jew-hate hurt humanity? Look at the history of World War Two. Jew-hate before that War may have been a cultural palliative for a painful world-wide economic Depression, but it brought a bitter consequence. It allowed the West to tolerate a rabidly anti-Jewish Hitler—and we know what that brought.

 If you are compassionate to (or tolerant of) the cruel, you will end up being cruel to the compassionate. That’s what we allowed to unfold before World War Two; and it’s what we allow today.

Jew-hate, despite its culturally palliative effect, brings horrific disaster. It is not benign. That’s what Haman teaches us. Today, international Jew-hate once again distracts us from social and human pain; and once again, it brings us to the brink of war, this time with nuclear overtones. 

As Western economies weaken, Arab Jew-hate spills into the West because it soothes. Haman’s voice is familiar. But Haman and his modern academic friends do not bring peace. Their efforts promote war. Their good intentions bring chaos.

Perhaps Western academicians would be smarter to study chickens.  If they did that, the rest of us might live longer, happier lives.







Sunday, February 17, 2013

The consequence of ignoring history


Before World War One, the philosopher George Santayana was quoted as saying, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’  After World War One, Winston Churchill is said to have echoed this thought when he said, ‘those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.’ Perhaps today we can update this notion by saying, simply, ‘those who fail to learn from history are doomed.’
We have come a long way since the world of Santayana and Churchill. Once, men of goodwill worried about losing peace and tranquillity because of tyrants like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Today, however, Hitler and Stalin are gone. We no longer worry about powerful dictators controlling large armies; we worry instead about powerless terrorists. We no longer worry about an iron fist enslaving Europe.  We worry about religious fanatics glorifying their god by killing hundreds, even thousands, with the contents of a knapsack.
In case you haven’t noticed, our world—and our worry—has changed.
To deal with such change, we can learn much from the last century. History has lessons for those who would defend our tranquillity. Indeed, we learn everything we need to know from World War Two: the causes of war are few--appeasement, accepting lies as truth, giving evil men power and maintaining silence in the face of that evil.
The lessons of history are before us and many will agree: peace requires a combination of moral absolutes, military preparedness and the courage to stand up to evil; war comes when moral and military responsibilities are abandoned, allowing evil to fill in the vacuum. Evil feeds on appeasement.  Sometimes, you have no choice but to fight; and when that time comes, you not only know it, but you also know that the longer you wait, the bloodier it will be. Peace does not come from avoiding war at all costs; it comes from giving the bully a damn good bloody nose—and the sooner that happens, the better it will be for all.
Read history: if you do not stand up to the bully, you lose.
Throughout history, the man who turns the other cheek usually gets slapped twice, then three times. He has no peace until he fights, leaves or dies.
Religious hate never brings peace. Peace comes only when good men silence hate —not the other way around.
Do you understand these lessons? Many have died because we ignore them.
Today, we stand on the threshold of a religious war that involves bus bombs and nuclear weapons. With such threats, we lose the luxury of appeasement and delay. Today, appeasement and delay will not lead to a bloody war on someone else’s land. That war will come to us. The blood will flow on our land because those who aim to kill have learned their own lessons:  how to energize the rage of followers, how to kill innocent people and then use propaganda to create enough sympathy that the victims invite the killers into their own back yard. Our refusal to learn history’s lessons will mean painful schooling by killers. War today will not mean your neighbour’s son could die in some faraway battle; it means your brother and my sister die right here in town. The tranquillity we lose will not be a political abstraction; it will be the tranquillity of our own neighbourhood. Today, the risk of ignoring history’s lessons is not just another war. The risk is war on our own street. If we ignore history, we will not simply be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. We will be doomed.
We face this existential threat because the war we confront is not simply a war over land. Listen to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad. Listen to the Muslim Waqf of Jerusalem. Listen to Arab TV. The war we face is a religious war with a religious goal—the destruction of Little Satan (Israel) and Big Satan (America). This is not just a war over territory or borders. This is about religion. It is about G-d.
Perhaps G-d makes you uncomfortable. That’s too bad because this war gives you only two choices:  you either stand for G-d or wait for madmen to create nuclear weapons.
Although history teaches that land is often the cause of war, it also teaches that land is not the only cause of war. In fact, history presents a cruel reality: when land is not the only cause for war, land is not the goal of war; and when land is not the goal of war, death and killing do not end when land is captured.
History is simple but brutal: ignore the lessons of your past and you will have no future.
The consequences of ignoring history could kill your children.








Sunday, February 10, 2013

The American Jew: are you one of the eighty per cent?

If you know the Biblical story of the Jewish Exodus from ancient Egypt, you know about slavery and plagues. We have been reading about this story for most of the last several weeks, covering the first twenty chapters of the Book called, Sh’mot (Exodus) during our weekly Torah readings.
If you recall, this story begins with insolence, when the Egyptian Pharaoh appears to deny both G-d and Moshe (see text and commentary in The Chumash, The Stone Edition of the ArtScroll Series, Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY, 1996, pp.292-414). Pharaoh, we learn, is arrogant. He is dismissive. He has little time--and no patience--for these Jews.
We see such insolence today. We see the arrogance. In fact, we may even see hints of what that ancient Pharaoh saw, signs and wonders. The challenge we face is his challenge: do we say that what unfolds before us is part of our Destiny, or do we react with some form of dismissal or, worse, Pharonic ridicule?
Most American Jews fail that test.
The truth is, Jews in America are like the Jews of the Exodus story. For example, we see the Hamas Charter and the PLO/Fatah Charter, where Arabs call to kill Jews and replace Israel with a religious Islamic state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. We see videos of Muslim clergy calling to their followers to kill Jews as an Islamic duty. We see it all. What do we do? We watch. Then we harden our hearts--against Israel.
Reform Jewish leaders, J Street and all who choose Liberalism over Judaism turn against Israel, preferring instead to promote an Arab narrative of victimhood by Jewish oppression. TV, newspapers and political commentators around the world carry the Arab story: Jews control the world. Israel is a Nazi state. Jews wantonly kill innocent Arab children.
We feel the hate. We see the arrogance. We ignore it—and then buy into the notion that justice has nothing to do with the Jew.  
It’s what the Jews of the Exodus story did.
Curiously, as we accept lies as truth, the world we live in changes: the air we breathe becomes foul. Water becomes unsafe to drink. Economies teeter.
Essayists wonder what plagues us just as accusations against Israel grow more intense. The European Union scorns Israel. Thomas Friedman demonizes Israel. Islamic clergy, the Church of England, the Presbyterian Church and Catholic leaders speak out: the Jew is not the Chosen. He is a brutal oppressor. He must be opposed by all good men.
Prompted by religious leaders and media, the hate spreads. At the same time, oceans and rivers become polluted. Beaches close. Fish die.
TV reports it all.
A madman in America kills children. Sharks attack at the Egyptian coast. Israel is blamed. Can you believe that? There appears to be no end to the hate.
Look around: snowstorms kill. Food prices increase. Jews are repulsive.
What plagues us?
In ancient Egypt, the central focal-point for the Egyptian economy was the Nile River. Many worshipped the power of that River.
It turned to blood.
In America, the central focal-point of modern capitalism is the New York financial district. Many worship the power of that place. On September 11, 2001, that district turned into a poisonous grey ash. Thousands died. More than eleven years later, America’s economy still hasn’t recovered.
The River that is America’s economy has become foul with unemployment, underemployment and lost hope. For many, ‘quality of life’ has turned to dust.
Meanwhile, the Left shapes our morality. Hate redefines justice. The Left calls us to action when it cries, ‘for world peace, destroy Israel’.
We hear it. We see it. We feel it. We say nothing.
What’s next? Does America become an ancient Egypt? Does there arise a new Pharaoh who turns against Israel?  
We should learn from our past because, sometimes, the past foretells our future.
 Think about it. You see the world around you. You hear what the world says. Consciously or unconsciously, you draw conclusions. You make decisions.
Like most people, you believe you are smart. The world can fool you once, but not twice. You understand what you see. You are nobody’s  fool.
So here’s a piece of advice: the Jews of the Exodus story went through the same thought process you face. They saw. They heard. They thought it through. They, too, were surrounded by hate, arrogance and disaster.
Nevertheless, eighty per cent of them chose not to leave. They chose Egypt over Israel. Only twenty per cent chose Israel.
Being religious is not the issue. The Jews of pre-war Europe learned that the hard way. The issue is exile. Period.
That’s the choice the Jews of the Exodus story had to make. It’s also your choice: exile or Israel.
Are you one of the eighty per cent?








Sunday, February 3, 2013

Is the American Jewish exile a Bible story?

When we read the Biblical story of the Jewish people in Egypt, we think of the Exodus, our Redemption from slavery and the Ten Commandments. But that’s not entirely correct. That’s the end of the story. There’s also a beginning, when Jacob, called ‘Israel’, brought his entire family to Egypt. Jacob saw that Egypt as a refuge. He wanted freedom from famine.  Egypt offered him that freedom.

The Egyptian slavery of the Jews began, in other words, because Israel turned to Egypt for help. Egypt was the greatest superpower in the world. In a world threatened by the evils of physical starvation, Egypt stood tall, wealthy with food. Egypt opened its doors.  It welcomed an Israel seeking a better life.

In the beginning, Egypt was kind to the Jew. Joseph the Jew became powerful. Egypt listened to the Jew’s advice.

Then, a change occurred. We don’t know what prompted that change. Few details are given. Perhaps a sitting Pharaoh brought in new advisors. Or, perhaps a new Pharaoh ascended the throne with a message of ‘change’.

We have seen such new leadership before. We saw it in 1933, when Adolf Hitler was elected to lead Germany. Some see it again in the European Union, where political Parties often attract strong voter turnout with a message of change that is based on anti-Semitism.

Look at the history of the Jewish people through the eyes of Rabbi Yosef Eisen, Miraculous Journey, Targum/Feldheim, Southfield, MI, 2004): the cycle of Egyptian welcome-and-change is the cycle of our history (see pp. 12-20).

Do American Jews see such a message?  Has a new leader arisen with a message of change?

For the first time is history, a new American leader has called for Israel to shrink itself to 1949 borders (euphemistically called ‘1967’ borders) as a road to ‘peace’ with an enemy who vows to destroy Israel. For the first time in history, a new American leader bows to Israel’s enemies and apologizes humbly for offending those enemies. For the first time in US history, the words, ‘Islamic terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are ordered stricken from official use by police and intelligence services.

Some of the details of change in America are known, some are not yet known. In the Biblical Egyptian story (in the opening of the Book called, Sh’mot, or ‘Exodus’), there are also few details. But for those who can see, the message of change is clear.

Our Jewish Heritage hints to us how the historic Egyptian change unfolded. Egyptian leadership stopped looking favourably upon the Jew. Suddenly, Jews provoked suspicion. They were accused of becoming too powerful. Their very presence on the Egyptian political map became a threat. Whispers were heard in the halls of power: perhaps the Jews could no longer be trusted. Perhaps they would join an enemy and turn against us; perhaps they would start their own war. Perhaps, it was whispered, Egypt would be stronger if it was no longer so accommodating.

Bit by bit, Jews saw change.

But they didn’t care. We know they didn’t care because, when we see the end of the story, only twenty per cent elected to leave Egypt. Eighty per cent elected to remain.

Eighty per cent chose Egypt over Israel.

We also know that when Moshe came to the Jewish people to declare that he was sent by G-d to Redeem them, they were not entirely happy about that. They complained. By standing up to Pharaoh, he was creating a disaster. They claimed that every time Moshe stood up, Jewish troubles got worse, not better.

Eighty per cent of the Jews chose Egypt over Israel.

Today, perhaps seventy per cent of America’s largest Jewish sector—Reform Jews--choose America over their Jewishness. There’s even a name for what they do: ‘out-marry’. That means they marry a non-Jew without bothering to have that spouse convert to Judaism.

In some places, the rate of out-marriage reaches ninety per cent.

America’s Reform Jews, like their ancestors in Egypt, appear to choose ‘Egypt’ over ‘Israel’.

We also see a movement away from support of Israel. In 2011, 400 Reform Rabbis signed a public letter demanding Israel commit to a ‘two-state solution’. They said Israel must sign a peace with those who would destroy her.  In 2012, some 400 ‘Rabbis and Cantors’ signed a similar letter.

Also in 2012, the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)--Israel’s two partners for that ‘two-state peace solution’-- both declared that their goal for their newly recognized ‘Palestine’ was to position their state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River—thereby eliminating Israel altogether. This is the plan that much of Jewish leadership in America promotes:  the complete destruction of Israel.

Reform Jews are not the only Jews in America. But the question remains: do American Jews recreate Biblical Egypt?