Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy Tish'a B'av

This is the greeting offered by one of my co-workers. Well, I admit, it did make me chuckle. I then explained to her the meaning (as I understand it) of Tish'a b'av, the whole destruction of the Temples thing, and all the awful things that have befallen the Jews over the centuries. But it got me to (continued?) thinking. This whole Judaism thing is really tough. Trying to find ways to inject meaning into things that happened a millenium ago is not easy. So last night we did what we often do on Tish'a B'av, try to figure out where to go. After all, it is one of the very few "holidays" where if you are observant, you can go to the "away ballpark", wherever that is. So the search for which orthodox synagogue in the New York area will provide the most meaningful, spiritual services begins in earnest, a few days before. This year, it was to be Darchei Noam, the egalitarian orthodox synagogue that meets at the Heschel School in Manhattan. In years gone by, it has been The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, (Avi Weiss' Shul), The Hebrew Institute of White Plains. (Maybe I should have gotten a clue when all the places we were going were "institutes" like, short for institution) I think the most "fun" we had at a shul was the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan, with customs dating back two centuries in New York, and going much farther back. So it was determined that we would see what Darchei Noam had to offer in the spirituality department, since we have had such great experiences at Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem. All that was before the "TOE". You see, a few days ago, my wife stepped on a piece of glass in our home. After two visits to the podiatrist, she was not having a great amount of relief. So yesterday, after speaking to a colleague whose husband is a pediatrician, he suggested that she come see him to remove, what she was sure, was more glass in her foot. It was appropriate, of course, since my wife is, how shall we say, a bit of a reluctant patient. So seeing a pediatrician, with his soothing, patient demeanor would be comforting. So off we went, at about 4:00, to see Harry, the Pediatrician. After what seemed like an eternity, he was able to remove what was, in fact, a small piece of glass or two, and off we hobbled, my wife wounded, but on the whole, much better, we believed.

Unfortunately, the trek into the City was now going to be postponed, since the pain, and the impending tornadoes were threatening to put a damper on our plans. So after our ritual seudah mafseket trip to our pre-tish'a b'av restaurant in Westchester County, we made the decision to return home, to our less than ho-hum synagogues to hear the reading of Eicha. Disappointed that I would not have a tish'a b'av experience, and no women reading Eicha that night, (alright, call me a heretic) i suggested to my wife that perhaps we skip the shul reading of Eicha, and instead, do it ourselves. And that is exactly what we did. We went home, and after completing the evening prayers, we sat down, my wife with her injured foot elevated, and me on the floor, in typical tish'a b'av fashion, we dimmed the lights, and I began. Toward the end, my wife took over, beautifully chanting the last two chapters of Eicha.

I had found a way to make it spiritual, after all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Being Part of the Club - or not!

My former brother in law, whom I don't think ever reads my blog, mercifully, seems to have picked me to debate Judaism with. A silly sort of back and forth, since we have some diametrically opposed ideas when it comes to belief and practice.
He started off this barrage with the question, "do you believe?" After I figured out what he was asking that i believed in, he described Judaism as a sort of club, where you either follow the rules and become a member, or opt out of the club. Now opting out of the club does not mean you opt of Judaism, rather just a particular group of Jews.
This has spurred an ongoing debate which neither of us can win, since we both hold immutable tenets that are diametrically opposed to one another. Firstly, he rejects change altogether. Or if not, he feels it needs to take several centuries to accomplish. While I understand the nature of his concern, i disagree entirely, and that is where we ultimately will have to agree to disagree.

But this club he refers to, made me think. Yesterday, as I am sure most people know, several Rabbis were arrested for money laundering from the Deal, NJ community. This is a proud, close knit community of mainly traditional Syrian Jews who I imagine must be sick over the publicity they are getting in relationship to this tragedy. So they must want to leave that club, because membership has negative privileges. Then of course I read the article in the Yeshiva World News that Rabbi Yitschak Tuvia Weiss is encouraging his followers in Meah She'arim to protest in the streets this Shabbos because of the continued opening of a municipal parking lot, which is sure to create hostility, and maybe even a little name calling and throwing of nasty objects.

Another club that I would not want to belong to. And while I really do want to talk about the meat and potatoes of the discussion i have been having, today, i pose the question, "which club do you belong to, and why?" I know the answer to that one for me. So many clubs, so little time.
Shabbat Shalom

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Catskills and a welcoming community

Yesterday was visiting day at my son's camp, so despite the fact that this is his last year, we made the long (170 miles each way) trip to visit. It was a beautiful day, and the drive was very pleasant. After the visit was over, my wife and I decided to relive our youth and pay a visit to some of the other communities in the Catskills that we used to frequent. We headed off to Woodridge, a community with a fair amount of new building and changing communities. It is absolutely amazing to see that the entire Chassidic world moves upstate for the summer. I saw Vishnitz, other assorted chassidim, and the most interesting to me was the "summer home of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin." Now I went to Yeshiva. Trust me, we had no "summer homes." And everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, there are men with beards and payos, and women with sheitels (wigs) and long skirts, and little boys playing, with their tzitzis flying in the wind. The funniest sight was of what looked like a pick up basketball game, somewhere near woodridge, with a bunch of men, some African American with no shirts on, and others, men fully clothed, with long sleeved white shirts and shoes playing a basketball game.
In contrast to my post of the other day, no one was throwing garbage. Or dirty dipapers. Blacks and chassidim playing basketball together. Maybe the folks from Mea Shearim should take notice,

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is this what G-d wants? - The Jewish People - We are our own worst enemies

The violence going on in Israel between the Chareidim (ultra orthodox) and non - Chareidim really disturbs me. (Story here) The gist of it, this time, is that a mother, who apparently nearly starved her child to death, was arrested due to neglect. As the story unfolded, the implication was that the mother had Munchhausen syndrome by proxy , an illness where the mother intentionally harms her child/ren in order to obtain medical treatment and sympathy for herself. In any event, the response by the chareidi community, of which this woman is a part, was to wreak havoc on anybody and anything. Burning tires, throwing garbage, physically assaulting people. I have never witnessed these events, not living in Israel, but I can fantasize the image. Men, (because surely the women would not be allowed to participate in public) in long black coats, hats, and long beards throwing garbage at policemen. What a sight that must be.

Is this what G-d wants? When the mayor of Jerusalem permitted the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat, the chareidim rioted. On Shabbat. I mean, come on, people, on Shabbat? Throwing dirty diapers at innocent people, at policemen.

I am a big believer in letting everyone find their own path to G-d. No matter how you slice it, throwing dirty diapers, while dressed in your Shabbat finest is just not it. You can't convince me that it is. Nothing justifies the chilul hashem (desecration of G-d's name) that this promotes and encourages. Not to mention adding fuel to the fire for those who are anti-chareidi. Because, you see, at the end of the day, we all get lumped together if we are observant, and there is no distinction. I, for one, don't want to be part of the diaper throwing, Shabbat violating chareidim protesting a parking lot. I will find my own way. I wish they would find theirs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kashrut - It's What I've Always Said

So, it has been more than a year, maybe closer to two since I have posted, but I have decided, on a whim, to try to get back into it. There are so many things that go on every day, and so little time, but let's give it a shot.

I came across an article that appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times, sent to me by Yussi, that talks about Hebrew National and its "status" in the Kosher consuming world. (Jewish Times article) I don't fully accept everything that the article says, but much of it is true. The article implies that much of what happens in the Kashrut world is political, and I must admit, from my personal experience as a mashgiach (Kosher supervisor) with two of the largest Kashrut organizations in the world, it did not appear that way. Of course, I was removed from the front office, so I cannot tell you about the wranglings and goings on back there. I will tell you, that what should be of more concern than the politics, is the actual Kashrut of the products being supervised. But I save that for another time. Suffice it to say for the moment, that even among those supervisory bodies that everyone "trusts", there are more than a few problems that could send the whole process into question. After all, if you really want to avoid kashrut issues, eat only fruits and vegetables, and make sure you grow them yourself!

But back to Hebrew National. I ate Hebrew National as a kid. I grew up in a small town far from the Kosher world, and if you wanted Kosher meat, that was what you got. Then off to Yeshiva, where i was told, no, you cannot eat it. Why? Well, it is just not done. Something about a technical issue that the meat was out of the sight of the supervisors during packaging, and therefore, no good. So no more Hebrew National for me. Besides, Nathan Katz? (I think that was the supervising Rabbi for a while) Who the *#@#@ is he? No one knows. Can't trust him. Then, years later the bigger scandal.... they are rinsing their meat in water that is too hot, which at least had some teeth behind it in terms of disallowing it. I know, let's change supervision! And then everyone will love us and trust us.

So, we switch to the Triangle K.

Well, it was a good thought, but Ralbag? (administrator of the Triangle K) No one trusts Ralbag! I remember the rumor when i was a kid, and Drakes became Kosher under the Triangle K. Well, it's only dairy, so how bad could it be? Then I heard the "in"famous story that one day, some unnamed person, called the Drakes company and asked to speak to the Rabbi/supervisor. The alleged response, was "oh, he doesn't come in very often." By the way, we changed the ingredients. Do you think we should let him know? That was it for the Ralbags. True? Who knows, but that was 25 years ago. My brother, (who I am sure would not eat Triangle K anymore) was the one who said to me, "I met Rabbi Ralbag. He is a religious man, with a long white beard." Well, i don't know that the beard length makes much of a difference (if it did, i would grow mine longer) but there is no questioning the Ralabg's (his sons run the business now) credentials or seeming personal qualifications.

So I don't know about all of you, but in the future, Hebrew National might just find a place at my table. OK, so it will be on paper plates.