Love the Stranger, for you were Strangers in Egypt

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The most repeated commandment in the Torah is to Love the Stranger, for You were Strangers in Egypt.  This commandment is repeated 36 times in the Hebrew Bible.

But who is the stranger?  According to my teacher Moshe Halbertal, professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, the stranger is the occupant of the lowest rung of the community: a non-Israelite, poor, no kin, defenseless and often exploited for labor.  Such words can easily describe the plight of the “illegal” immigrants to our shores (or in our time, even “legal” immigrants who are looked upon with disdain).

Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted his Scripture (from the New Testament) to justify tearing children away from the mothers-provided that those children are poor, brown, without protection, and defenseless.

To quote a recent Trump advisor, “there is a special place in Hell” for a man who uses the Holy Bible to justify tormenting children.


Two Shabbat Candles after another Shooting Tragedy

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On Shabbat, we light two candles. Why two? Twice the Ten Commandments are stated in the Torah; once in the Book of Exodus and once in the Book of Deuteronomy. There are slight differences in the two texts of the Commandments, however. In one, it is commanded to “Zachor”, remember the Sabbath day. In the other, it is stated to “Shamor” protect, guard the Sabbath Day.

The Sages, of blessed memory, taught us that the two candles are to represent both words-Remember and Protect.   They additionally taught that G-D spoke both words together, “Shamor ve-Zachor bedibbur echad”-the words were spoken in one Divine phrase. As we kindle the Shabbat lights, after this week of tragedy, we remind ourselves that we are to Zachor-remember those slain and make of their memories a blessing. As a nation, we do that frequently, and well. But we are also to Protect– and that we do quite poorly, failing time and again to ensure that our children are safe, protected from the devastation of gun violence. The Sages taught that Shamor ve- Zachor bedibbur echad– “Remember” and “Protect” are both Divine commands, and yet when it comes to gun violence, we only faithfully observe one of them.

Causeless Hatred-and the Inspiring Women who Defy It

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Rosh Hodesh Av 5777

“Are you sure you want to walk with me? -this is the most dangerous part” said Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall as she and I walked alone together to the Western Wall exits. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m a woman wearing a tallit, and we are at the Kotel.”

I looked at the tallit that Anat was wearing, and it was the very same tallit that she wore a month ago in Westfield, New Jersey when she spoke to my congregation about her struggle for equality in Israel.   At that gathering, she spoke passionately about Women of the Wall, the group of extraordinary women of all denominations who gather monthly at the Women’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray with tallit, tefillin, and a Torah scroll. Anat has been arrested several times, for it is considered a “provocation” for a woman to wear a tallit or read from the Torah at the Western Wall, which is under the rigid control of the ultra-Orthodox. I promised Anat that I would join her at the next prayer service.

So it was that yesterday morning I was standing at the edge of the Women’s section in support of the Women of the Wall, who were conducting a lovely and highly spiritual worship service. I was standing next to a small group of like-minded men, all there in support of women determined to exercise their right to worship in freedom.   Unfortunately, we few men were surrounded by dozens of ultra-Orthodox, men and boys, screaming epithets in Hebrew and English at the women as they prayed. “Reform are worse than Arabs!” “Reform go home!” “Get out of our Holy Land!” “You are not Jews!” are some of the milder things I heard.   Ultra-Orthodox women and men blew whistles and shouted curses. At one point, a young man who came to pray wrapped in a tallit was taunted so harshly he left in tears. A few of us, having had enough, began to confront the protestors, but a male representative of Women of the Wall present amongst us gently asked that we refrain from causing a disturbance. Even when one of the younger ultra-Orthodox Jews tore up a Women of the Wall prayerbook, this gentle man simply took the pieces of the book and asked the stupidly grinning boy to leave.

The service ended as the Women of the Wall sang Hatikvah, which I could barely hear as the protestors screamed and blew whistles. Many of the women were spat upon as they left.

Saying goodbye to Anat and leaving the Western Wall, I spotted two of the most nastily vocal ultra-Orthodox Jews outside the walls of the Old City. I came right up to them and said in Hebrew; “Why do you act with such causeless hatred towards fellow Jews”? They stared sullenly and looked away. As I walked, they shouted at my back, “Go home, American, you don’t belong here”. I stopped, came right back to them and said “Again, why do you act with causeless hatred? And by the way, I belong here as much as you do.”  They walked away without speaking.

The bravery and spirit of these women, determined to pray and sing in the face of such hate, is an inspiration and represents the best of what Judaism can be.

Holocaust Denial and the White House

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For the first time in my memory, a key tenet of Holocaust denialism has been put forth by an official White House spokesman.  Remember please that Holocaust deniers argue that concentration camps were not killing centers, and that there is no evidence that Jews were gassed. (They argue that Jews died from disease, as in any war, and the numbers are greatly exaggerated).    As you undoubtedly now know, Sean Spicer, Press Secretary for our President, has stated that “Hitler did not use gas on his own people”.  After multiple attempts to explain his statement, he has finally apologized, but only after pressure to do so.  The fact that a key tenet of Holocaust denial has been put forth by the official spokesman for the White House should be a cause for concern for every Jewish American, indeed, any American at all.  Recently Dr Gil Kahn of Kean University spoke at my synagogue.  He is a strongly pro-Israel, right leaning politically conservative academic and writer, and an expert on anti-semitism.    He is frankly terrified that for the first time, there appears to be the malevolent presence of neo-Nazi ideology in the highest office in our land.


The Unmaking of Governor Christie


In the movie “Goodfellas” Tommy, the uncontrollable hood that did hits for the mob, is unceremoniously “wacked” when his behavior gets out of hand.  Tommy, we are told, was a “good earner”-and so his behavior was tolerated.  He screwed up once too many, and the “dons” could no longer bear him.  They lure Tommy to his doom by promising to “make” him-and then he is killed.  Once his usefulness ended, so did he.

Our Governor, who has literally ruined our state, has now been unceremoniously  dumped from the Trump inner circle.  Governor Christie succeeded for so long by playing by the unique rules of Jersey corruption-don’t get greedy, and make money for the other guy too. He was also protected by a thoroughly corrupt legislature and a largely ineffective, weak press.

What Christie didn’t realize is that while he was “a good earner” for the bosses, he simply screwed up once too often, and eventually the “Don” would not tolerate his behavior.  Bridge gate, coupled with his insatiable narcissism, was his undoing.  It gives me no pleasure to write this about our Governor. He has decimated our state, and it will take years to rebuild our infrastructure that has degraded and our treasury which he looted for his own ends.

It is time to say it. It is 1938 and Trump is…..


At a meeting of the Federations General Assembly a few years back, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “It is 1938 and Iran is Germany”.  American Jewish supporters of Israel enthusiastically cheered his comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany and Mr Netanyahu continues to use this analogy to this day, as do many who support Israel against the Iranian threat.

If such comparisons to Nazi Germany are appropriate when discussing the threat posed by Iran, it is now time to abandon any pretense that it is inappropriate to use such analogies when discussing the rise of Trumpism.  Anti-semitism has become a regular meme of his supporters, and Trump himself has been condemned by the ADL and other Jewish groups for using anti-semitic language.  Now there is this at a Trump rally yesterday.

The campaign condemned the remarks, but I don’t recall such behavior at a Ted Cruz or John Kasich rally.