"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Day After Thanksgiving – 64 years ago

Before the holocaust, Warsaw was the center of Jewish life, Talmudic scholarship and culture in Poland. Warsaw's prewar Jewish population was more than 350,000. The Warsaw Jewish community was the largest in both Poland and Europe, and was the second largest in the world, behind that of New York City. The Nazi’s occupied Warsaw on September 29, 1939 and in October 1940, the Germans ordered the establishment of a 2.5 square mile ghetto in Warsaw. All the Jewish residents were ordered into the ghetto, which was sealed off from the rest of the world on November 26, 1940. There was an area of the ghetto called Umshagplatz. This was the staging area where up to 6,000 Jews each day were transported to Treblinka. The average life span for a Jew who arrived at Treblinka was 72 minutes. Over 850 Thousand Jews perished in the 18 months that Treblinka operated. If one tries to compares that number to the 2.5 million who perished over a 4-year period in Auschwitz, one still can’t begin to fathom the precision of Nazi cruelty in Treblinka.

During my tenure with NCSY, I had the privilege of leading 4 groups to Poland, 2 tours with JOLT and 2 tours with the March of the Living. These trips where emotionally grueling and excruciatingly painful. The death, destruction, senselessness and loss of potential are so heartbreaking. All of these experiences have led me to the conclusion, that visiting Poland, the Camps, crematoriums, the pits, the graves, the foundations of destroyed synagogues, the bones, the ashes and bearing witness to what happened there and what once was, must be considered one of the 613 commandments.

When you stand at Umshagplatz today, all that remains is a monument erected with 100’s of Hebrew and Yiddish names you would hear in the ghetto. Just a few feet from Umshagplatz is the main street where there is traffic, streetcars, and pedestrians walking to school and work or just taking a leisurely stroll. They nonchalantly walk past a this place where the laws of mercy did not exist. Where men woman and children were herded off to their deaths in cattle cars. People were shot where we stood. People died of starvation and disease just a few yards away. Children were separated from their parents.

If you close your eyes could you hear their screams and their cries? Can you see the blood stained on the pavement? It is not there. You cannot hear them. A paved sidewalk has replaced it. Commercial traffic drowns the echo! There is no sign of what atrocities occurred in this place. It is important that we are there because our presence perpetuates their memories. Our presence and our actions assure us that what occurred in that place will not be forgotten. It is not only critical that we never forget, we must remember. The monument of Umshagplatz and the many other stone monuments across Poland and Eastern Europe will not guarantee that these events and these lives will be remembered. So this year, on the busiest shopping day of the year, remember what happened on this day 64 years ago. Learn Torah, give charity and do an act of kindness. (chesed) Don’t allow inaction to succeed once again. May their lives be remembered, may their memories be blessed and may our lives be honored and sanctified as the lives they once lived.

A Poem to Remember.
They entered the camp with limited facts,
straight from the tracks,
just the shirts on their backs.
Selected meant living
or immediate death,
they watched and they waited,
with abated breath.
Left went for gas,
right went to hell,
no one there knew
and no one can tell.
Armed with Emunah, Betachon, Jewish pride,
this weapon would not burn,
no matter how hard they tried.
Ashes remain,
so it seems to be so,
that the Nazis succeeded sixty years ago.
Our will remained strong,
and the camps we survived,
and now to live Jewish,
is how we will thrive.
The past will remain,
forever a fact,
our future now dependent,
on how we will act.
So choose a life,
a Kiddush Hashem,
we will always remember,
never again.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Have you ever thought you were dying? A Public Service of the American Heart Association.

A few nights ago, I was sitting at my desk when all of a sudden I developed massive chest pain. So I did what I normally do when I have pain, I ignored it! I recently turned 39 years old. B”H, I am reasonably fit, have no cholesterol problem, my blood pressure is great, etc. My only chronic problems are a sore back and occasional asthma. So why should I worry.

After about an hour, I thought maybe I had indigestion. My lovely wife had brought me a 300gr hamburger from burgers bar about 4 hours earlier. So I took a few Tums. But it just did not make sense. I eat burgers all the time, and I mean all the time, and this has never happened. When the Tums did not help, my mind started racing .

I started to think about my good friend Sarah and how two of her close friends in their 30’s had died a week earlier. My mind began to recall all of the people from my childhood who felt sick, decided against going to the doctor and dropped dead. Right there in my head, there they were! I remember how my mother would rant and carry on-and-on, “If only he had called the doctor, if only he had been seen in the ER, if he only………” and then I started to hear my mother’s voice. “What? He had chest pain, for 4 hours and he didn’t call the doctor? If he had only ..., if he had only .....,he would not be d…! Then of course she would add, "These things always happen in threes." Yes, the mind can be very creative, especially mine! Is my arm feeling tingly? What are those warning signs, again?

I have always had a tremendous dislike for going to the doctor. Having been associated with the medical field years ago, I know what these people can do to you. My disdain could also stem from when I went to the doctor as kid. I hated when they “checked” you. I choose not to elaborate here but you can use your imagination. I always hated that part! Oy, how these events can leave scars.

After about 4 hours, of having difficulty breathing, I decided, maybe I should go to Terem. Terem is like an emergency room but not in a hospital. There is a
very convenient Terem about 10 minutes from our home. I must admit, that I was feeling a bit panicked and I did not want to be another statistic. I tried not to show my concern to SB, I did not want to alarm her. She knows I don't like seeing doctors. If I asked her to take me, she would know I was concerned. At about 10:30pm I asked her calmly, if she could drive me to Terem. I told her that I would have driven myself but I was worried that if something were to happen, she would be stuck with out a car. Not sure if that was the best thing to say, but it was all I could come up with.

When we arrived at Terem, I explained in Hebrew that I had chest pain. After asking for my insurance card, they explained to me that before I left, I would need to pay 60 shequel. Then I was asked to sit in the waiting room. I said to myself, maybe they did not understand me or maybe I said the wrong thing.
I thought to myself, Hey, I’m in crisis here, you know this could be an emergency and you want me to sit in the waiting room! I was glad they did not collect the payment right away. I mean, if I collapse in the waiting room, I wont be able to pay your 60 shequel. That will teach them!

After about 10 minutes, I was called in. After asking about my family history where everyone has lived to their 90’s, and determined that I have no risk factors they took my temperature, Normal. Blood pressure, Perfect. EKG, Normal. Chest X-ray to check for spontaneous collapsed lung, hey, it happens sometimes. Clear. Blood test to check for dead heart tissue. Negative! So, says the doctor, your not having a heart attack! Thank G-d I thought. It’s just some muscular skeletal thing. Take some adville and get some rest. It turns out, that after speaking with Dr. Dad, he determined based on my symptoms that I had a virus that affects the lining of the chest wall. The onset can be immediate and can have symptoms that feel like a heart attack. Dr. Dad said that if he was here and had some needles, he would have injected some novacane into the lining of my chest wall to alleviate the discomfort. Great thought. In lieu of Dr. Dad’s needles, he recommended heavy doses of adville and Yes, it did the trick. Both Dr. Dad and the Terem Doc said I did the right thing by having everything checked out. That also made me feel better. No one appreciates a hypochondriac, except my mother.( love you Mom)

So if you think your having a heart attack, do the following:
Call 911 or 101 and/or see your doctor ASAP.
To learn what they real symptoms of a heart attack are, point your web browser to the American heart association.

Enjoy those burgers!

Monday, November 15, 2004

What a joke!

Yesterday, “PA officials announced that a general election will be held on January 9th. In addition, the Fatah council announced that Abu Mazen will be the only candidate, seeking to eliminate the threat of competing against Marwan Barghouti and others who are setting their sights on the PA leadership role.”

We might as well call him "the late" Abu Mazen. I give this guy less than two weeks and I think that is being generous! No people, this is not a death threat, just a new reality for PA officials. Maybe they'll change the PA charter to give their new Chairman weekly terms! That’s about all they will live to serve.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

No Opportunity Wasted indeed! An absolute must see if you love Etan G!

With only three days and three thousand dollars... to produce and shoot a professional music video for one of his songs, have it reviewed by an A-list Rap Artist or Music Industry Executive, and have his mother present during the meeting so he could prove to her once and for all that his career as a Rap Artist is legitimate.

In typical Etan G fashion, the insanity didn't stop there, because... as timing would have it... Etan's wife was going to be induced eight hours after his dream began to birth their first child!

Did he achieve his dream?

Watch the episodes to find out!

Use inspiration to channel negative energy

I have been distressed over world reaction to the death of Arafat. I have found it nauseating to see such an evil excuse for a human specimen, responsible for so much pain and suffering, recognized and lauded by world leaders. To read about and watch the trendsetter of hostage taking, airplane hijacking, school massacres, and suicide bombings receive prime time on CNN and most of the major networks just makes me ill. What is wrong with these people!!!

My heart goes out to the 1000’s of people who have been directly affected by the loss of a child, parent, sibling, teacher, friend,
etc, etc, etc. And all those who continue to suffer thru painful rehabilitation, burn treatments and whose lives have been irreversibly changed because of the evilness of this man. Their pain seeing Arafat glorified, without the mere mention of his victims can only be the proverbial salt to their wounds. I think the French, South Africa, and Indonesia showed their true colors by sending their presidents and heads of state to Cairo. I’m not surprised that Jack Straw would attend. The US Jewish community will never forgive William Burns for his presence. There is even word that in Paris that they plan to name a street in his honor. Is it so easy to turn a blind eye to history?

So when I get distressed about life, I try to look at the positive. Concentrating our energy on so much evil is not healthy. Getting all worked up over it is also not helpful. So I began to think of some of the people who I know that have made a positive difference in our world. Simple people who have made profound impacts on the lives of individuals, families and communities. I did not have to go to far in my thinking.

My dear friend Shimmy who is one of the most talented and dedicated youth educators I have ever met. He is a computer programming genius, who could have made millions with the knowledge of his trade. Instead, he founded Heart Mind and Soul. HMS is an organization that helps teens improve their self-confidence and motivation, develop and have closer relationships, and work toward making their dreams happen. And then there is my wonderful friend Rabbi Elie, an outstanding rabbinic scholar who is creating a revolution in adult outreach, by presenting Judaism in an understanding and exciting way at KJ on the upper East Side of Manhattan. And then there is our equally talented friend Rabbi Mark who founded and directs the very successful Manhattan Jewish Experience on the Upper West Side.

There is my other friend Rabbi Elly who is an outstanding and dynamic Rav in his community of Potomac, MD. His enthusiasm and passion for Yiddishkeit and for people are evident in all of his interactions with his congregation and the people of his community. Rav Elly has a unique ability to gently, yet aggressively charge his congregants and community to take their Yiddishkeit more seriously. I am inspired by his drashot each week as he elegantly and seamlessly weaves his themes with Torah issues with those confronting the world and his community. There is our dear friend Sarah who is an insightful educator and writer who has inspired so many with her knowledge of the mundane and the sublime. She won the hearts of the tough kids in Harlem and long ago inspired Jewish teens with her deep thoughts and stimulating educational programs. Our friend Sarri, the daughter of a Jew Jersey Senator who after surviving the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Bus #14, made the difficult decision to temporarily move back to the US to work for the One Family Fund, an incredible organization that has been remarkable at providing real and meaningful support and services to the victims of terror and their families.

There is my Special Ed who has demonstrating how much a person can grow and what youth leadership is all about. There is our friend Lenny, the King of Shlock who has revolutionized Jewish music and has brought countless (yes, the number is countless and grows each day) individuals back to Judaism with his whimsical and Torah educational lyrics. There is our one and only G-Man. And you have to see him, know him and love him. Eitan G is an incredibly talented young man, who has put Jewish into Rap, really! And as my wife would say, "the boy can move!" There is our beloved Devorah who is so dedicated to her kids that even after leaving her official responsibilities, her caring continues to offer encouragement to so many. There are our friends David and Zehava who we have been friends with for so long, and only appropriate that we made aliya together. The famed Treppenwitz offers timely wisdom, humor, blinding flashes of insight and most of all honesty, to so many people. My friend Jeff, a friend from Brokline who is a columnist for the Boston Globe. He continues to tell it straight and nailed it on the head once again for the world to read, and the world does read what he writes.

Look around. You are surrounded by very special people. Ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. To let Arafat continue to monopolize the headlines only perpetuates his crimes. Remember instead his victims and those who live on and have struggled in the face of adversity. Remember, support and encourage those who make a positive difference in peoples lives, those who are remembered for the good of what they do and how that will effect the generations. In the end, Arafat name will only join with the myriad of Haman’s, Hitler’s, Titus’s and the others who made the Jews suffer, but who failed (and will always fail) to achieve their goals. All those of our friends above and so many others are achieving their goals. Their contributions to our world will have ripple effects forever. When I am feeling down, these are the thoughts that inspire me each and every day.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

An appropriate response

Jewish Group to Mourn Arafat’s Victims as the Father of Modern Day Terrorism Dies
15:30 Nov 11, '04 / 27 Cheshvan 5765

(IsraelNN.com) The following statement was released by Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the Amcha organization, ahead of the rally in memory of the victims of Yasser Arafat’s life of terrorism.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us ‘when an enemy falls, never rejoice.’ Still, it must be said – Yasser Arafat was one of the most vile people of modern times. Arafat is responsible for the deaths of more Jews than anyone since Adolph Hitler; Arafat is responsible for the deaths of American diplomats and civilians; and Arafat is responsible for the deaths of countless numbers of his own people. For all of these and other crimes against humanity, he can never be forgiven.

“Just as the world will be much better off without Osama Bin Laden, so too is the world much better off without Yasser Arafat.

The memorial will be held outside today (Thursday) outside the PLO Mission to
the UN in New York City, at Park Avenue and 65th Street, at 17:00.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Lessons from a shoe shine

I like to get my shoes shined. I always have. Sitting on that big chair with your feet up, sort of feels like a rich and famous life style thing to do. I think that my enjoyment may relate back to when I was a kid and we would travel as a family. My Dad would always get his shoes shined. He would wear cowboy boots and would have to pay the extra $1 for boots. I may like getting my shoes shined because its what my father always did? So when I travel, I like to get my shoes shined.

The shoe shiner people are a rare breed. You can tell the ones who really like what they do. How they take great pride in the new shine, the like new appearance they provide after a job well done. I like the shoe shiners who are old. They seem to possess a rare wisdom that can only come from meeting 100’s of people each day, only once for a maximum of 3-4 minutes at a time. When they inevitably ask me where I’m from, my reply that I live in Israel often invokes a biblical or religious reply. Many of these older men, are black and often seem to be devout to their religions.

On my last trip, I could tell this shoe shiner was very special. His very dark, wrinkly black skin, bald head and huge smile was so welcoming after a very long flight. Shine sir? You bet! Then came the inevitable question. “Where you from?” Israel I replied. “So, you’re a friend of Arafat?” And all of a sudden I began to worry about where this next 3 minutes of conversation was going. Arafat is not my friend, I replied. “Yeh, I hear that,” he said. Whew! I survived that question. Then he asked, “Do you believe that Jews can be Christians.” And I began to worry about the next 2 minutes. I carefully responded that I believe that people should be devoted to the religion of their birth, and a person who believes in G-d is better off than those who believe in nothing. The man looked up at me and said, “You a wise man, a very wise man.” Then he started speaking to himself. “Lots of war, lots of death, killing, many of your people have died over there because that Arafat man. He’s a bad man, a really bad man.” “But you know,” he said, as he put the finishing touches on my shoes, that regained their luster, “ the real war is within. We’re all fighting an internal war. That’s the real war. That’s the important war.” As I gave him $5, I smiled and said, you’re the wise man, a very wise man.

There are many battles we face each day. Some are on the battlefield some are within. The news today, tomorrow and the next will feature the modern day Haman,/Hitler. We should not loose sight that as we celebrate the demise of our modern day Amalek, to focus as much attention if not more on our own internal struggles and doing what is right in the eyes of G-d.

The democratic process is a beautiful thing

Well it’s great to be back in the Holy Land. This trip took me through 5 states and 7 cities in 7 days. It was wild being in the US during the election. I happened to be in Ohio, which became the center of the world for a few hours on election eve. I voted absentee in my (old) hometown city hall on Monday and avoided all the long lines, highly recommended for future voting. Although I’m not sure if my vote was ever counted, I was happy to be a part of the democratic process. Listening to the radio in the car, I was still uneasy about all the campaign ads. So negative, trying to sway and influence the last undecided voters. Some times it was the same message, time after time, after time, and then the sound bite, “I’m George Bush and I approve of this message.” Or “I’m John Kerry and I approve of this message.” The messages I did like were the ones that encouraged people to vote. I think many people heard that message. The democratic process is a beautiful thing.

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