Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Antidote to Antisemitism!

How shall we react to antisemitism in current times?

What is a Jew's first response?

Let's learn the lesson from Mordechai hayehudi ("the Jew"). As soon as he learned of Haman's nefarious antisemitic plot, he immediately gathered many thousands of children and taught them Torah. (See Yalkut Shimoni, Esther 6:1057)

Why? The Torah learning of children is the secret to our survival.

"From the mouths of babes and nurslings You laid a foundation of strength before Your enemies, in order to cause the adversary and avenger to cease." (Psalms 8:3). Our sages taught, "אין עוז אלא תורה -- there is no 'strength' but Torah study," and the strongest Torah study is that of tinokos shel beis rabban, young school-age children. 

Indeed, it is the Torah studies and tefilos of those children which pierced the heavens and brought about the miracle of Purim.

So here's the plan:

Within this past year, many thousands of Jewish children have been unjustly thrown out of their yeshivas and schools. Close to 10,000 just in NY State alone, and many hundreds more in NJ and elsewhere.

Many of these children are sitting at home receiving little or no Torah education.

Instead of cynically blaming parents or hiding behind unjust state policies, let's rise to the occasion and reach out to these thousands of children.

Just like Mordechai the Jew in his times, let's gather these children and teach them Torah with their peers.

That is the surest way to secure our communities and "cause enemy and avenger to cease." 

Guns and security plans are just a temporary band-aid.

What we really need is a firm "foundation of strength" before our adversaries, and the only true strength comes from the Torah study of Jewish children.

Of course, this strength can ONLY be complete when ALL Jewish children are learning torah, when ALL tinokos shel beis rabban are welcome to attend their beis rabban (their classroom) without unjust impediments or hindrances.

Who will be the modern-day Mordechai hayehudi?

Who has the courage and moral clarity to truly address antisemitism and stop it once and for all?

When will be begin to see true Jewish leadership?

Ominous Signs

Jews turning on Jews is an ominous sign.

Jewish opponents of Rabbi Moses Maimonides (known as "the Rambam") instigated the public burning of his writings (Moreh Nevuchim and Sefer haMada) in 1233, by order of the Catholic ecclesiastical authorities in Paris.

In 1242, the Catholic authorities burned twenty-four wagon-loads of Talmuds (an unfathomably-tragic and irreplaceable loss at that time of handwritten manuscripts) in the very same place where the writings of Rambam had been destroyed barely a decade earlier.

Is this what we need at this precarious juncture in history? Jews defaming, excluding and marginalizing fellow Jews? Jews barring Jewish children from schools, camps, and synagogues? Jews demonizing other Jews for (gasp) having another opinion about what to inject into their bodies?

Don't they realize that they and their children are next?

It starts with Jews against Jews, but it never ends there.
לא תקום פעמיים צרה

Root cause of recent antisemitism?

Nary a day goes by without another antisemitic attack in New York.

What is the root cause behind the shocking spate of bloody assaults?

Besides for the actual depraved perpetrators, their inciters and collaborators.... Besides for extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias in media and on campus... Besides for Democrats' failure to distance themselves from the antisemitic fringe in their own party, or from high-profile antisemites like Farrakhan and Sarsour... Besides for government policies that embolden antisemites to commit these attacks without repercussion...

All these external factors aside, let's get to the bottom of this from a spiritual cosmic perspective.
Antisemitism always existed, but why does it rear its ugly head now more than recent past? Who or what is truly responsible for this current climate in which violent Jew-hatred (and in particular, violence targeting orthodox Jews) festers unabated?

This past summer, in the wake of the draconian law passed in NY State banning unvaccinated children from school, and months after Jewish schools in numerous other states began to unjustly expel such children, I was downright exasperated. In vain I voiced my protest, but sadly, my numerous letters (listed below) fell on deaf ears. 10,000 Jewish children were barred from school, and not a single voice of public protest from the NY rabbinate. Appalling and shameful. A shanda of epic proportions.

Before Rosh Hashana, I blogged about this deplorable situation:

The "golden age" for Jews in America is now over.
A Jewish child can no longer get a Jewish education in NY State unless s/he submits to the unjust demands of government that violate his/her bodily autonomy. I'm afraid NJ and MA will soon follow suit.
This is the death knell for religious freedom in the U.S.A., once known as "Land of the Free" (but sadly no longer).
Is it now time to return to the Promised Land?*
Is G-d calling us home?
* Our sages explained that it was called the "land flowing with milk and honey" since Torah knowledge was freely available to all there. The Torah is compared to nourishing milk and sweet honey ("חלב ודבש תחת לשונך -- milk and honey under your tongue" -- Shir Hashirim 4:11). Sadly and tragically, Torah education is no longer available to all children in Galuth America. Time to return to the "Land flowing with Milk and Honey"?

And now, here we are just a few months after I wrote those fateful words, and it’s open season on Jews in New York State.

In the same regions where Jewish children were heartlessly sent out from schools and shuls, antisemites are cruelly entering shuls with weapons of death and destruction. One accursed pair of genocidal murderers in Jersey City were even attempting to target an adjacent Jewish school with fifty children, Hashem yishmor.

Every single day of Chanukah saw a new crime perpetrated against our people.

Ironically, Chanukah is a time to proudly celebrate religious freedom and our inviolable right to educate our children, chanukah from the root chinuch, education.

But alas, there is no longer religious freedom in New York State, or in orthodox Jewish communities throughout numerous other states. Even worse, chinuch – Jewish education – is no longer seen as an inviolable right that every single Jewish child is entitled to. Instead, it’s viewed as a state-granted privilege that the state may withhold at any time to enforce its unjust vaccine policy. Indeed, education has now become nothing more than a tool of cynical blackmail, coercion, and dystopian herd control.

Jewish education has been sacrificed on the altar of "Public Health Policy."

Freedom is gone. Education is no longer.

So the antisemites are brazenly emboldened to act out. It’s a natural consequence.

It's also a natural result of our betrayal of our own. Sinas chinam always begets antisemitism.

(Not coincidentally, targets of recent attacks are specifically the orthodox Jews of Rockland County and NYC, the Jews who were publicly scapegoated for this past year's measles outbreak by media and state in their contrived hysteria.)

King David observed: “מפי עוללים ויונקים יסדת עוז להשבית אויב ומתנקם” -- “From the mouths of babes and nurslings, You have laid a foundation of strength because of Your adversaries, with which to neutralize the enemy and avenger.” (Psalms 8:3)

Our Sages taught that the “mouths of babes” refers to the Torah study of young children. When Jewish children are studying Torah, that is the surest way to neutralize our enemies. When Jewish children are interrupted from their studies and prevented from learning Torah with their peers, then we are all at risk. Our foundation of strength has been compromised, and our security becomes precarious and unpredictable.

US Jewish communities are in peril, due to the reckless lack of leadership of our own rabbis.

Again, I beg you:

Stop banning healthy Jewish children from school!

How many must suffer?

How many of us need to be attacked and targeted before you get the message?

Don’t cower behind state laws. Stand up for Jewish children NOW, before it’s too late.

Be a maccabee and stand up for the chinuch of ALL Jewish children, not just the ones whom Antiochus despotically decided may enter school.

Stop being a Hellenizer-collaborator and stand up for the truth. The pure and unadulterated truth, not the contaminated version you have been fed by media, pharma, and doctors parroting the party line.

Find your lone pure cruise of truth buried within the landscape of your Jewish soul.

Use it to rekindle the flame of Torah learning in your community by getting all those children back into your schools.

Rabbis and administrators. Stop being Kaiser Juden. We have had enough phony kohanim gedolim like Jason and Menelaus. Stop perpetuating our painful history of failed leadership. Cease and desist from your abuse and neglect of innocent Jewish children. End this churban once and for all.
Instruct your schools to fulfill their duty to teach torah to ALL Jewish children.

Start being worthy of your semicha ordination that states that you are "worthy to be מורה הוראה בישראל, one who is competent to instruct his community in Jewish law, and who is guaranteed to not issue unjust rulings, שלא יצא מתחת ידו דבר שאינו מתוקן." Has there ever been a more perverse and illegitimate psak than yours that cruelly banned Jewish children from learning the holy Torah?

Woe to your communities, and woe to klal yisroel.

Heed King David’s timeless words, “From the mouth of babes...”

Neutralize those enemies at once... get those estranged and marginalized Jewish children back into your yeshivos and chadorim, in Monsey, in Brooklyn, in Jersey City, and all throughout the country.

Don’t wait for one more single Jew to be attacked or jeopardized because of your inept inaction.

Act now.

Do it for the sake of the innocent tinokos shel beis rabban you neglected -- עשה למען תינוקות של בית רבן שלא חטאו. Do it for the sake of all of us.

Do it for the sake of Hashem and His holy Torah. 
עשה למענך והושיענו

PS: in case the correlation between the recent spate of antisemitic attacks and our neglect to educate all Jewish children isn’t clear enough, consider the fact that the lawyer who was retained to defend the recent Monsey-shul attacker is none other than Michael Sussman, the same attorney who tried in vain to get a judge to pronounce an injunction on NY State’s unjust law banning Jewish children (and 25,000 other children) from school. Coincidence? Think again...

Links to some of my relevant letters and articles on this painful topic:

Open Letter to Errant Rabbis (Jewish Press Op-ed)
Letter to Chabad Rabbis 
Letter to Rabbis of NY State
Letter to NY State Legislators
First Crusade revisited?
15th of Av and Religious Exemption
What's Wrong with Religious Exemption?
Bodily Autonomy and Halacha
Religious Exemption in Judaism? 
End of Golden Age for Jews in US? 
Kol Nidrei, 2019
Urgent Yom Kippur Message for Rabbis 
One Agudah - Beware Divisive Factions 
Urgent History Lesson for Rabbis 
Ominous Signs -- Sinas Chinam and Antisemitism
Epidemic of Sinas Chinam

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Never Alone

Lighting the menorah on Shrewsbury Town Common is no easy task, but I've done it nearly every night of Chanukah for the past 17 years. The first night's lighting is always well-attended, since we invite the community to participate.
For the following week, I light it myself each day at 4pm (except Fridays 3pm and Saturdays 6pm).
People often come to assist me or just watch while I light the kerosene lamps. Sometimes it's just me.
Today was one of those times. Or so I thought.
As I finished kindling the lights, I alighted from the ladder and began to head back to my van when a man came over to greet me.
"Are you the rabbi who lights this menorah every day?" he asked.
"Yup, that's me," I replied.
"Thank you for doing this," he said. "I'm not Jewish, but I really appreciate this. May I give you something as a token of appreciation? Please wait here for a minute." He ran to his car parked nearby and returned with a small clear-lucite box that contained a small rock glued to a miniature pedestal.
"This rock is from Dachau," he explained. "My grandfather helped liberate it in 1945. I went there several years ago to see it for myself. Please accept this rock as a keepsake. We want people to have them so that no one ever forget what happened there."
After a brief conversation, I was surprised to learn that his ninety-five-year-old grandfather and namesake, R.F. Gouley, a veteran of the U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division, is alive and well, and still living here in town. I asked if his grandfather might be willing to speak to groups about his experiences. He replied that his grandfather cannot speak about the horrors he witnessed, so a mere rock from the concentration camp would have to suffice.
After the obligatory selfie, he thanked me again for lighting the menorah in town, and I thanked him for teaching people about his grandfather's experiences. More importantly, I asked him to convey my deepest gratitude to his grandfather for liberating my fellow Jews who survived the horrors of the first Nazi concentration camp.

As I returned to my van clutching a rock from Dachau in one hand and my menorah lighter in the other, I couldn't help but consider the significance of this fortuitous encounter.
I felt as though the souls of the kedoshim murdered at Dachau sent me a greetings. The rock that witnessed untold horrors and darkest crimes against our people needed to bear witness to the light of our nine-foot menorah proudly illuminating the Town Common of Shrewsbury, MA. From darkness to light.
No, I'm not alone when I light the menorah. Even in snow, sleet, or subzero temperatures. It's never just me.
I am accompanied by all my ancestors from the Maccabees until modern times.
I represent my people, our past and our future, each hero and heroine who fought to live as a Jew, each martyr who died for being a Jew. They are all with me. 
I am joined by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (R' Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) who fearlessly fought to preserve Judaism in the dark days of Stalinist Russia.
I am accompanied by our Rebbe whom I represent here in town as his personal representative, the faithful shepherd of world Jewry who rekindled the menorah of our people from the embers of the Holocaust.
These kerosene lamps that I faithfully kindle each night are no mere "festive lights." They bear testimony to the Rock of Ages. Let that rock from Dachau witness the Rock of our Salvation, Maoz tzur y'shuati.
That's why our light is unstoppable.
That's why our light will ultimately succeed in illuminating the world, in transforming darkness to light.
Think about that when you light the menorah in your own home for the next five nights.*
It's not just you.
You are not alone.
You are part of something awesome and invincible.
You are a modern-day Maccabee.
Your light will prevail.
Happy Chanukah. Spread the light.
* Light it each night after sundown. This Friday, light it before Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sundown (4:03pm locally), and on Saturday light it after nightfall (5:08pm here).

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Letter from Mother: "Please Don't Cremate Me"

Dear Son,

Please heed my silent cry.

You cannot hear it because it isn't audible.

I can no longer communicate with you, though I helplessly wish I could.

This transition is traumatic for me, and it's difficult to describe in human terms.

My earthly life has ended, but my spirit is very much alive... alive in a different way. My soul is also aware, struggling to make sense of my departure from the body that housed me for all these years, with which I had so strongly identified.

I have now come to realize that this body was never me, but a cocoon of sorts.

My earthly remains are not me, but the remnant of the cocoon I left behind.
In fact, these earthly remains are not even "mine" anymore.

They belong to the Infinite One to Whom I am returning.

This new realization is unsettling, to put it lightly, but also liberating.

Dearest Son, please understand.

I am now in a place of truth. All the plans, goals, and stated wishes I may have articulated to you during my mortal stay on earth are irrelevant to me now.

The 401K means nothing to me, nor does the yacht, wardrobe or estate I may have fretted over so much in the past.

Please don't get stuck and feel obliged to perpetuate those things in my memory. I have absolutely no need or interest in those things now.

It's not about "me" anymore. In fact, I now understand that it was never about "me" to begin with.

Most importantly:

Please don't pay attention to final requests I might have articulated that were made out of blind ignorance, misinformation and apathy that are so prevalent in the mortal world. The corporeal body was so overwhelming that it blurred my vision. Please know that where I am now, in a place of truth, I most certainly do NOT wish for the remains of my erstwhile body to be incinerated or pulverized.

That will cause me much trauma, confusion and grief.

Please treat that body respectfully. Do not destroy or deface it. Return it to my Infinite Creator Who had lent it to me for the past 80 years of my mortal life. Please gently restore it back to His earth, the same earth from which He fashioned it.

Please bury those earthly remains that served as my body for the entire eighty years of my mortal sojourn. It experienced my joy, my suffering, my deepest emotions, aspirations, all the good deeds that I accomplished. I am very proud of those, and the body through which I accomplished them serves as reminder of them.

Please don't burn it destructively. Don't reduce it to ashes. Don't destroy that lasting testimony to my sojourning on earth. Don’t dispose of me.

Don't poison the earth's precarious environment with harmful gases that are emitted when human corpses are cremated, polluting the earth's waterways and wildlife. How could I bear such a legacy... that my remains were disposed of in a way that recklessly pollutes and poisons the earth that hosted me for eighty years!

Instead, place it peacefully and gently into the earth. Let its remains regenerate the earth, giving back its fertility to the cosmos.

Let the earth embrace and cradle that lifeless body that served as my cocoon. Think of it as planting a seed. Those remains are still meaningful to me, and the site on earth where those remains are interred will always pull on my soul strings, so to say.

When my remains are planted in the earth, it represents that my legacy will germinate and flourish upon high, and also down below in the hearts of those who remember me.

Moreover, that body will someday house me again in the resurrection of the dead. I know this seems unrealistic and even mythological to you. I can relate, as I had always felt the same way in the past. Now, however, I see things quite differently. My mortal life passed like a fleeting dream. The resurrection isn't too far off, from my present perspective.

Incineration is an awful and violent way to treat those precious remains of my time on earth. It recalls the most horrific abuses against our people during the Holocaust and other times in history.

Remnants of something sacred and cherished aren’t burned but buried, like a faded Torah scroll reverently laid to rest.

Trash gets incinerated. Effigies get set ablaze and reduced to ash in an act of scorn, derision and hatred.

Please lay me to rest in an act of love, reverence, and compassion.

I know that you are probably skeptical while reading my earnest plea. You are probably thinking that some rabbi just concocted it in a creative attempt to convince you of his "religious" precepts.

No! Some rabbi may have written these words, but they capture my sentiments exactly.

I am now a helpless victim of my own poor misinformed (past) choices, and the only one who can save me is you, my dearest child.

Please don't send my mortal remains to some for-profit business where workers, who are paid barely-livable wages, manhandle corpses with their radios blasting. Instead, send it to a Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Fellowship"), a Jewish burial society run by men and women of the community who volunteer out of awe and veneration for the miracle of life and the sanctity of my soul's earthly cocoon. Those upstanding individuals, who consider it the highest privilege to care for my body, will undoubtedly treat it with love and respect it deserves.

Please don't dishonor my remains with chemicals or toxic injections to artificially prevent it from becoming one with the earth from which it was fashioned. Don't embalm me. Don't drain the blood from my body. Please just respect me and leave my body intact. Let it reunite with nature in its present natural state. 

Please don't imprison my body in a non-biodegradable box that prevents it from returning to the earth either. 

Instead, let those benevolent women of the Chevra Kadisha reverently wash my body with purifying waters of the mikva. Let them dress it with traditional humble shrouds and ensconce it in a natural pine casket.

In the place where I now find myself, the fact that I am Jew is incredibly important. As such, the cadaver that once housed me is a Jewish body.

Please bury my body in a Jewish place. I know I may not have lived my life in such a consistently-Jewish manner, but that's irrelevant now. Please restore me to my people. More accurately, please help me assert who I am and always was by returning my body to where it rightfully belongs, in a burial grounds surrounded by the earthly remains of my fellow Jews.

Once we're on the topic, please avoid memorial parks with fancy concrete liners. Just the plain old earth will do just fine. Even better if you can bury my body in the holy soil of Israel with no casket at all.

Whatever you do, please don't put me in one of those upright concrete mausoleums that purport to be "The Abraham and Sarah Mausoleum." That's not the Jewish way. Just let me return to the earth. That's where my body will find peace.

And please… please don't be misled by any mortuaries that offer so-called "Jewish cremations." Cremations are inherently not Jewish. Never were and never will be.

I know I may have told you differently before my mortal passing. Maybe I had expressed that I wanted to be cremated because I perceived it as expedient and economical, and the last thing I wanted at that time in my life was to be an additional burden on anyone. Maybe I didn't want to "take up space," but preferred to simply disappear without fanfare.

Dear son, know that I was sadly misguided. In fact, now I see it as the exact opposite. Burning fossil fuels to create a blazing and fiery 1,800-degrees inferno to incinerate my flesh, organs, sinews and bones... there is no greater furor and disruptive brouhaha than that. I don't want such a furious and destructive fuss over my remains. Money is immaterial to me now, so please spend the extra dollars and have me interred in a quiet and meaningful way, without all that fiery excess.

*          *          *

Yes, yes... I hear your disbelief and skepticism loud and clear. You might even be offended or enraged at the poor rabbi who sent this letter to you, who is only doing his job that our Infinite Creator entrusted him.

Please understand that this rabbi speaks the truth! He has nothing monetary to gain, no stakes in the game, so to say. He just wants to save my body from the horrific fate that awaits it in that accursed crematorium. He wishes to honor me and my memory. Don't be angry at him. Embrace him and befriend him. Thank him profusely for caring so much about me, a fellow Jew from afar whom he never met, and who’s no longer alive to reciprocate his kindness!

If money is an issue, I know that this rabbi will not rest until a traditional burial is paid for in full. It is an honor for Jewish community to pay for this. Judaism calls it a "Meit Mitzva," spiritual opportunity of the highest order. The community will gladly rise to the occasion and help you with any costs. Please allow them that opportunity. Don't be ashamed. Instead, feel grateful that you're a Jew and that Jews care for each other. In fact, you are doing them a favor by presenting them with such an awesome opportunity.

In the world of truth, there is no anger, stubbornness or resentment. I cannot blame you for doing what you unfortunately think, but I will be so eternally appreciative if you do the truly-right thing and bury my remains.

Don't be concerned about not honoring any stated requests made in the past. Realize that you will be honoring me in the highest way by burying my body.

The world of truth has no polemics either, but let me try one more angle that might appeal to your mortal intellect, a posthumous Pascal Wager of sorts:

Do you believe that I have any awareness of what is going on at present? Do you think I will have any gratification if you honor some request I had made before I died? Of course you don’t. You surely assume that it's irrelevant to me now what happens to this corpse. So then why do insist on honoring an obsolete instruction that has no relevance to me now anyway?

The rabbi is begging you not to cremate my remains. He claims that it will hurt me and cause me eternal trauma. You are skeptical, but what do you have to lose by letting this rabbi arrange a burial for my remains? No harm done. It’s better for planet earth and for wildlife. It is good for Jewish continuity and community. It is good for your descendants, who will some day visit my grave site and meaningfully remember that their great-grandmother was a Jew. It’s a win-win situation.

Let go of those foolish cremation plans and do the right thing. Let me repose in peace as a Jew humbly returned to the earth.

*          *          *

Wait. I know what you might be thinking. You want to keep “me” near you in an urn. Yikes.

These remains are no longer me. They do not depict or embody me in any way. Please do not objectify them.
Please let them return to nature organically and naturally.

Burning is wasteful and destructive. It’s the exact opposite of what my life represents. It’s a reprehensible scorched-earth policy of sorts.

The ashes that remain after a cremation are no longer my remains. They are something else, something foreign, a waste-product of wanton and violent destruction wrought by the furious flames of an 1,800-degree inferno.

Cremation will only cause me to be detached, ever distant from you and the world in which you live.

I do not want those charred remains of my desecrated body to furnish your home, nor do I want it displayed atop the mantle of your fireplace.

Don’t you understand? My mortal passing signifies a natural end to the body and the transition of my immortal soul to a purely spiritual realm.

Instead, please adorn your home with good deeds inspired by thinking about me. Furnish your living room with hospitality, charity, and kind words that are dedicated to perpetuating my legacy. That’s all that matters to me now, and that’s how I wish to be remembered.

Please. Don’t reduce my memory to some lifeless urn stuffed with ash that represents death and traumatic destruction. It is NOT how I wish to be thought of. That’s not how I want to feel close with you now.

Instead, your blessings, your mitzvot, your Torah study, your joy and enthusiasm. That makes me feel close to you. Say l’chaim to my memory and sing a happy tune. That’s how we will feel close.

Don’t worry if a Jewish burial means that my remains will be geographically far away from you. To the contrary, by being buried the natural way, my mortal cocoon will forever be part of the earth upon which you walk. Wherever you go, I will be with you.

But more importantly, remember that my mortal remains are not me. I am now in a place where distance can no longer separate us. As my soul soars aloft, I’ll always feel closeness to you. You are my hands and feet in this world.

Please live your life to the fullest and make it meaningful. Find me in your acts of kindness, in your study of Torah. Feel me in warm rays of sun on your walk with your neighbor, in the funny stories you heard from me when you tell them to your own children. See me in a young child’s smile, in the eyes of an elderly person you visit and cheer up. Hear me in the voices of children when they study mishna to honor my neshama. Hear me in the resounding amen that people respond to the kaddish you recite in my memory, ascribing sanctity to the awesome Name of our Creator in the world that He is constantly creating.

Hear me in the sound of your coin dropping in the charity box.

That’s where I wish to be heard, to be felt and seen. That’s where I wish to be found.

My dear child. This is your only chance to make the right choice. Once my remains are cremated, it is irreversible and irrevocable.

Please don't let my earnest please fall on deaf ears. Open your heart and feel my soul vibrations calling out to you.

My soul cries out to you in desperation. The ball is in your court. This is the moment of truth.

Please bury my remains.


Your mother who loves you always, who bore and raised you, was there for you when you were unable to care for yourself, who cries out to you now in her own hour of need,