Monthly Archives: January 2015

Are You Ready for some Football?

 Although nuisances occasionally distract us, such as the King of Saudi Arabia dying, or a coup in Yemen, slaughter in Syria, murder in France, we fortunately are able to soon refocus on the Superbowl. Briefly however it seemed that this fundamental American Rite might be tainted by scandal, the deflation of the game balls held by the Patriots in the playoff game. One might argue that a violation of game rules could have repercussions. One might be right, but the NFL is clear in its priorities. First and foremost among these priorities is to generate vast sums of money though this entertainment business behemoth. Nothing shall keep these messengers from their appointed rounds. Violation of game rules, cheating or wife/fiancé beating and who knows what else, will not keep the NFL from is mission, namely to suck in as much cash as it can and put it into the pockets of those who work to perpetuate this bizarre and perverse sport cum religion.

 Might there be a punishment for the bad behavior of the team caught cheating? Maybe, but it will certainly happen after the great Superbowl and the spectacle including advertising sales is done. Maybe there will be an asterisk along the name of the Patriots whether winners or losers. But if they win, the name of the team shall certainly be listed. Maybe the responsible parties will be fined or punished severely sanctioned or maybe even forced to resign. Too bad it wont be the coach or the quarterback but rather the ball boy, or some other low-level salary-man who likely was doing only as instructed.

 The system will do anything to keep the glory of the game alive and the Superbowl the great event of America despite the fact that its dark underbelly embraces so much of what is wrong and sick in our society. Although, the truth is that this can only happen as long as the American public facilitates the behavior by zealously patronizing the game.

 Oh yes, one final note, don’t forget to watch the ad against domestic violence. It is a wonderful way for the NFL to give back to the community.

 Are you ready for some Football?

My ambivalent relationship with Charlie Hebdo

Je suis Charlie, Je ne suis pas Charlie

Now that the dust has begun to settle around the recent tragic murders in France I wanted to share my thoughts.

My heart goes out to the families of those murdered while at work at Charlie Hebdo. The fanatical rage that drove the two assassins to kill cannot be justified. They destroyed lives and made a mockery of Islam. But my compassion for the people does not extend to the magazine known as Charlie Hebdo.

Our society embraces free speech as a fundamental virtue. What makes free speech truly free is not the defense of easy and virtuous speech, it is rather in the defense of the ugly and the difficult even the vile and despicable. It is here that free speech is truly free. Only if all speech is defended then all speech is protected, including yours and mine. Our caveat has been to limit free speech so that it cannot be the direct cause of harm to others; we cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater is the standard example offered. That is not the only censorship we should consider however.

We must self-regulate. Civility and decorum require we consider how our words affect others. That is based on a respect for our fellow human being and the knowledge that words are powerful and can inflict hurt and emotional pain. We often do not account for how our words impact others and we should before indiscriminately lobbing verbal or written bombs.

Charlie Hebdo is not my cup of tea. Its purpose appears to be to offend wherever and however they can. Charlie Hebdo did not single out Islam for disrespect and mockery; Charlie holds nothing sacred. The tabloid seems to respect little more than its own sense of entitlement and right to print whatever they could to offend whoever they could. This attitude effectively limits their bite. Sometimes there is incisive social commentary, but it is rare enough that most of us do not subscribe to Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy; its circulation had all but dried up. Charlie Hebdo exercised the right to free speech and we exercised our right to protest it by ignoring the rag. That is how civil society deals with such things. Mocking everything means valuing nothing, including the right to express such things. Outrage over the mistreatment of one of the world’s great religions is however understandable. Carnage however, in the name of protecting the religion, does nothing but defile that religion and threatens one of the greatest of all human rights.

Thoughts for Shabbat

The swirl of events both at home and abroad makes keeping an even keel difficult if not almost impossible. The storm rages and calls out to us to react harshly, which can only add to the anger. Some may recall Jonah offering himself up to be sacrificed and when the sailors threw him overboard, the seas calmed. But that is not how it is here. Instead it is more like Nadav and Abihu, the priests and sons of Aaron who brought offerings ostensibly honoring God. But God rejected their alien fire and they were destroyed. The storms call out for more sacrifices but to give in would consume not only our offerings but us as well.

We are compelled to act against the injustice and the evil we see in the world around us, compelled to act against the injustice and evil that seduces its followers to do wrong while believing they champion a worthy cause.   Now more than ever, each of us is compelled to seek the wisdom of our texts, the Ethics of our Fathers, to guide us on straight paths. This Erev Shabbat, I share with you the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:

 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Peace, the PA and the ICC- Fighting Fire With Fire but not losing sight of the Prize

To fight fire with fire is the best way to counter and respond to Palestinian Authority (PA) move to bring charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for war crimes. The PA’s decision to try Israel for war crimes I believe is misguided and foolish; This move into the international criminal court system only detracts attention and energy away from the important issues the PA and the Palestinian people must confront in building a Palestinian state. But the need to respond properly to this move is very important.

 Although the ICC process will bring heightened awareness to the issues surrounding a state of hostility between the parties, the PA essentially willfully mires itself in its victimhood and portrays itself as helpless in a struggle against overwhelming odds rather than a responsible player, an agent of change to create a State for the Palestinian people. This therefore is truly a misguided move and a squandered opportunity.

 However, it must be noted that the PA is seeking redress in the international world community through an established peaceful system. Although I do believe this is a wrong course of action for the PA to take, I must however praise the PA to use the peaceful means available to it. So I suggest that the appropriate Israeli response to this move is one of like kind.

 Israel too should file a complaint with the ICC, seeking redress for the crimes committed by Hamas and other entities in Gaza. Targeting civilian populations is a war crime or terrorist activity at best; planning ambushes and terrorist attacks against civilians are war crimes or terrorist activities at best; seeking to violently overthrow and eliminate an existing legitimate state is a war crime or a terrorist activity at best. The ICC would by necessity need to carefully consider the Israeli allegations and charges against those who are enemies. The gross hypocrisy of not considering the Israeli charges with the same seriousness and determination as the Palestinian charges could not be ignored and would completely undermine the ICC if it to occur.

 This approach does nothing to resolve the matters of creating peaceful coexistence. It does not eliminate those who are dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. It does not help the process of peace or create bridges to building peace. It is however on the world stage a civilized approach to the particular arguments that exist surrounding the gruesome nature of war. To withhold transfer payments or payments of support to the PA seems to be an inappropriate response, a punishment for peaceful actions however politically motivated they may be. The truly important issue is to remember the ultimate end goal, two people living side by side in peace. That must remain the focus; both sides need to embrace this idea before any true progress can be made and the death and destruction of war might someday come to an end.

Rabbi David Levin

A House is not a Home- Thoughts on Parsha Vayechi

Living in the state of Florida, initial conversations with new acquaintances usually had two questions asked early on. The first question was: Where are you from? The second question was: Where do you live? Most of us had come from somewhere else. Most of us were immigrants to the Sunshine State. This meant that our lives and the things that brought meaning to our lives were someplace else. According to the traditional laws of the interstate highway system, our home was somewhere Northeast if you lived on the Eastern side of Florida along I-95, or home was the Midwest if you came to Florida via I-75. Regardless from whence you came, each of us brought our own question, whether we would be able to make our home in this new land. Some made the transition; some maintained a dual identity and some but a ger toshav– a resident alien.

 Jacob made his life in Egypt according to Parsha Vayechi. For 17 years he lived with his extended family in this new land opened to them by his son Joseph. But when it came time to die, Jacob made Joseph promise that he would bury Jacob in his homeland. And so Joseph brought his father Jacob back to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. All of those years living in Egypt as someone of privilege, whose son was so prominent, but Jacob considered his home elsewhere and never fully accepted a place in Egyptian society and culture.

 What does it mean to maintain your identity? The Hebrews remained separate and distinct from the Egyptians. In the next parsha we learn that a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph and feared these strangers in the midst of Egypt, leading to 400 years of slavery and ultimately an Exodus to return home.

 We struggle as we attempt to preserve our families and our values. This is especially true given our mobility today. The American story has been an active tension between the desire to assimilate into American culture and the desire to maintain a distinct Jewish identity. How do we balance these two, which often are in conflict with each other? How do we live out our days fulfilled? What roles do our families play in this process of making a home? What do we pass on to our children as the legacy, their true inheritance?

“Home is where the heart is” goes the adage. But if we do not make our homes wherever we are, isn’t life there incomplete? Where and how do we make our home? The questions raised by Parsha Vayechi remain important. They are as relevant to the person moving to Florida as they were to the person sojourning in Egypt, or to someone moving to a new residence to accommodate to a new set of personal needs as they move into a new phase of life.