Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
I stayed up late in Israel on Monday to watch the memorial ceremony at Fort Hood and was struck both by the loss, and the crime that was committed. The memorial was truly poignant and my heart goes out to the families of the victims, and for a full and speedy recovery of those who were injured.
I was also struck by the fact that while in some news outlets and media reports (perhaps more so as facts are discovered), the majority have not focused on the reality that the perpetrator of this crime was motivated by Islamic extremism and hatred. There’s no need to suggest that this makes all Moslems bad. That’s not accurate and not fair. But there’s also no need to bury this out of a sense of hyper political correctness. That’s also not accurate or fair because, especially in the case of such fanaticism, people deserve to know the facts and to be aware of challenges that may confront them, be it at a shopping mall, sky scraper, at an airport or even within the security of a US military base.
Does hyper political correctness breed or foster terrorism? No. Terrorists foster terrorism and any other excuses are simple folly. However, if we can’t call an Islamic terrorist a terrorist, are we blinding ourselves from the probability that not only will it happen again, but that it will catch us off guard, and possibly enter a military base or other area which we never imagined would be within the terrorists reach. Of course, nobody ever imagined that Islamic terrorists would ever take down the World Trade Center, murdering 3000. Except the terrorists.
It seems that in an effort by the Obama administration to reach out and establish dialogue with the Moslem world, the US has had to dumb down certain realities relating to Islamic terror. The Administration does not use Islamic and terrorist in the same sentence, even when it’s as plain as day and incontrovertible. Too much of the news media is quick to follow suit. The Administration seems to go out of its way to stick its' head in the sand to avoid risking the ire of Moslems around the world, putting our collective head in the sand along with theirs by making the average person simply not aware of the realities and challenges that these terrorists pose. How, in a representative democracy, do we hold our elected leaders accountable for doing their job, or not, if they’re hiding the truth to begin with.
In the early aftermath of the reporting of the terrorist attack at Fort Hood, I was watching Geraldo Rivera as part of a panel discussing this. Geraldo is not known to be the most conservative of thinkers to put it mildly. It was telling that when the issue of addressing this as an Islamic terrorist attack and the potential need to give extra scrutiny to Moslems within the US military, even Geraldo hesitated. His inclination is that it’s wrong, but faced with the facts, his hesitation was significant. I appreciate that many people feel that politically such scrutiny, maybe even (hated) profiling, would be an affront to their democratic sensibilities. I love that we can have that debate in a free and open society, even though I fall on the side of those who would limit personal freedom for the greater good and public safety. But equally telling is that when a man like Geraldo whose own social and political leanings are to the left hesitates to give what might otherwise be a knee-jerk reaction, you know that there’s something wrong with this picture.
When President Obama, and the majority of the news media, cannot bring themselves to connect the fact that the perpetrator espoused violent and hateful fundamentalist Islamic ideologies, and that the murder was an Islamic terrorist attack against Americans on US soil, the best one can say is that it is misleading. The President can allude to this by calling it a “tragedy” and saying “no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts, no just and loving God looks upon them with favor,” but by not calling it what it is, but not expecting Moslems who find this an affront as well to look deeper inside their own communities to out those who would seek to harm others and the interests of the United States, is as much of an outrage as it is to call the murders at Fort Hood merely a “tragedy.” It’s tragic when a young person dies needlessly in a car accident or by some other natural disaster. It’s tragic when a child is left without his parents. But Fort Hood is much more. The same way the President said that “no words can fill the void that has been left,” so too the wrong words can cause this to happen again.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack took place on the same day as the execution of another murderer, John Allen Muhammed, the Beltway Sniper. Some have attributed his murder spree as an attempt to set up a terrorist training base in Canada. Who knows? But we deserve the right to know, and not have the religious origin of this, or any other crime, clouded by the opiate of political correctness.
Shakespeare wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So to terrorism by any other name would be as foul. But first let’s call a rose a rose, a spade a spade, and an Islamic terrorist an Islamic terrorist, and stop with the modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s other timeless question, ”to PC or not to PC, that is the question.”
Let us hold elected leaders and news media accountable for lies of omission, and let them call a terrorist a terrorist without worrying how it will play in Cairo, Riyadh or Tehran. After all, if we can’t stop Islamic terrorists from trying to kill us, I’d at least like to know who it is taking aim so I can be careful.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It’s still incredible to me that the pace of life in Israel revolves so much around Jewish life and holidays. Perhaps since I did not grow up with it and have only been living here for five years it takes getting used to, but I hope it will always be special and something that neither I nor my kids take for granted.
For the past few weeks, people have greeted one another in the spirit of the holiday seasons with wishes for a Shana Tova (a happy new year) and a gmar chatima tova (Literally: A good final sealing, idiomatically: May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good.) This is common throughout Israeli society, even among entirely non-observant people, and through every element of society. I was struck recently when listening to a particular secular oriented radio program and the hosts were wishing that to one another and to their call in guests.
In Hebrew, chatima also means signature. That got me thinking about signatures in general and about how the greeting is especially appropriate before Yom Kippur, not just as a greeting and good wishes, but as a charge and commitment.
As a child growing up in New Jersey, a place central to early American history, I learned many stories of the American Revolutionary War era. One was the story of John Hancock. Hancock was the first to sign the American Declaration of Independence. He did so in big, bold and even flamboyant letters so as to make a statement despite that the British viewed this and other similar actions of the colonies as criminal. Hancock and others were wanted criminals. But he didn’t care and used this opportunity not just to ratify the Declaration of Independence, but to make a statement in doing so.
Some 200 years later, having “borrowed” Hancock’s name and legacy as the name of a financial services company, a clever ad campaign suggested that the company had the integrity of its namesake. Similarly, the name “John Hancock” had become synonymous with one’s signature.
The season between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is one where we are to account for our sins and wrongs both between man and God, and one another, to sincerely commit not to do them again. We wish one another and ourselves to be inscribed, and sealed, in the Book of Life. But to do so requires action and commitment. Not just hollow words and following of a ritual prayer.
So too, when we sign our signature, it means that we are putting our name behind what we write. Whether the name on a check (made all the more relevant in a post-Madoff era) to vouch that the money is there (and perhaps that it’s been earned legally), on a letter or memo to a colleague or business associate giving our word and commitment to them, or on something as rudimentary as a note to school saying that your child can’t play sports because s/he does not feel well.
In short, our signature is our guarantee. We don’t literally sign a contract with God that we promise to do better, but we do that in effect through our words, thoughts, and actions. The opposite side of the coin beseeching God that we be inscribed is our “signature” that we commit to uphold our end.
Having the sincerity and humility to account for one’s shortcomings is not an easy thing in and of itself. Recognizing and understanding them is a process, especially when one has the challenge of turning over every figurative rock to reflect on such transgressions, even, or particularly those that were not intended. Apologizing and making amends for these is equally as hard, but it’s essential. Only then can we truly be forgiven, and only then can we really be accountable to make a commitment that we won’t do it again. Short of that is insincere, and though we may utter the words and beat our chest, it’s not complete.
Albeit impersonal but no less sincere, I realize that some of my writing in the past year has upset, offended or disappointed some readers. I value and appreciate the feedback (positive and negative), and truly try to internalize the constructive criticism, even when I do something as simple as butcher the grammar. So if I have hurt, offended or disappointed you at all in my past writings, please know I am truly sorry. Sometimes what I want to say and how I say it are not 100% in sync, and even when they are, there’s room for errors. But I will, and do, strive to continue to present my thoughts and insight in a way that is honest and accurate, and most definitely not offensive, unless speaking about Jimmy Carter. Sorry, I am still only human.
May we each go into the Day of Atonement with the humility and sincerity to account for the wrongs for which we are responsible, and make every effort to be sure that as we ask God to SEAL us in the Book of Life, that our word is as good as our signature. The legend is said of John Hancock when he signed the Declaration of Independence, he said, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!”
Indeed. Let our “signature” this Yom Kippur be big enough for The King to read, and read into it the sincerity in every curve of every letter.
May you and your family be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I have looked at the High Holidays very differently the past few years. I have been wondering what has shaped this new outlook and keep coming back to one word: Death.
Going through daily prayers during Elul, preceding Rosh Hashanah, and preparing for Rosh Hashanah itself, and the Ten Days of Repentance until Yom Kippur, I am more mindful (perhaps than ever) of the tone of the prayer. We devote ourselves to God and to keeping His commandments, but more now than during the whole year we have to reflect on our shortcomings and strive to do better in the coming year. We beseech God to be inscribed for a year of health, prosperity, peace and life.
And in going through this process we are aware that as much as He is the final Judge, the outcome of that judgment is in our own hands. How we behave, how we observe God's commandments, and how we interact with others all factor into the sealing of our fate for the coming year.
The Holidays are supposed to be a time of great joy, as well as introspection and prayer. Far too many Israeli homes will have an empty seat at the table this year and that is a hard thing to face, in general, and especially for those who have experienced death and loss through terrorism and war. For those paying attention to the prayers, there must be many among them who say the words, but do so with the feeling of a bone in one's throat. They wonder as they mourn, praying for health, life, peace, an annulment of harsh judgments, how God could have taken their loved one, whether three years ago in the Second Lebanon War, or two decades ago during the (First) Lebanon War, or just last week. They weep over the many ways we see that death can happen: fire, water, thirst, hunger, etc. and wonder how God could have allowed that Katyusha to kill the way it did, or the terrorist to be on target at that very moment, the plane to crash.
Others I am sure cannot even utter the words for they are too painful.
Thirteen years ago I went through a similar conflict. My father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer ten months earlier. We were told that by being diagnosed so early, he stood a better chance to survive if the treatments were successful, even though the survival rate from pancreatic cancer was a fraction of a percent. But after successive hospitalizations and surgeries, all the doctors told us there was no hope. I watched him decline physically, and I was probably in denial even until the very end. He came home from his final hospitalization just before Rosh Hashanah 1996, and my mother had the good sense to call hospice to be sure that his final days were lived in comfort and with as much dignity as possible.
That year, each time my wife lit candles to usher in another yom tov when we would be detached from news and communication with the outside world, my physiology changed. I feared that my father would die and I would not know about it for a day or two after.
Sitting in shul was about all I could do. I felt it was dishonest to follow a ritual of prayer that asked to heal the sick, annul judgments against us and to be inscribed in the book of life. My father lay dying, he could have been dead for all I knew, and my head and heart were not in it at all. I am sure I was angry. My faith hit rock bottom, and my grief was profound.
We were blessed during that time with an interruption of the pain in the birth of our third daughter. She was a joy to behold, and to hold. I argued with my wife that we should adopt the Sephardi custom of naming for the living rather than the Ashkenazi custom that we name for those who have died. She won, and she was right. But even in the minutes after she was born, as the whole world was filled with joy and happiness at her arrival, I was overcome by sadness and grief that she and my father would never get to know each other.
My father did get to meet her and hold her twice. He was clearly in awe, and fell in love with her instantly as he had with his other two granddaughters before that. But I stared on in pain because it was just not fair that these two opposite sides of the life cycle should come together like this.
My grief, anger and fear increased as Yom Kippur ended and Sukkot began. I wondered in a very strange way WHAT I HAD DONE to deserve the punishment of my father's death. How could God punish me like this?
Even as he lay unconscious from the increased medication to ease his pain, I was in shock, and definitely partly in denial. My father died on the 27th of the Hebrew month Tishrei, days after Simchat Torah when we literally renew the cycle of reading the Torah. The Torah ends, and we begin reading it again from the start. Moshe dies after leading the Jewish people for 40 years, and then God creates life. There is no pause, no break in the reading from one week to the next as is done during the year. Many brighter than I have commented on this, but in its most simple form, this underscores that life itself is a cycle.
It has taken me the better part of these thirteen years to realize this, celebrating my daughter's 13th birthday as we approach my father's thirteenth Yahrzeit. Three years ago, my mother died somewhat suddenly. When she was alive, we had the occasion to speak about death more than a few times. My fear of death has gone, and the grief after my mother's death was very different. Maybe it's not having living parents any more that has enabled me to crystallize these thoughts. My mother's healthy approach to living, not simply the state of being alive but doing something meaningful and productive with that time, however little or long we are given, is an inspiration for me. I know that she, and my father as well, would not want their death to be the end of our living.
As much as the grief and sense of loss has never gone away following my father's death, and that it was renewed by my mother's death, I am older and wiser and know that rather than my being punished, I was given the privilege of wonderful parents and many blessings along my life so far. I am happily married, raising six extraordinary children, and live in a beautiful home in the heart of
At my mother's funeral, I spoke about the saddest part of the Torah, for me at least. That's the death of Moshe. He was the leader, the teacher, the inspiration that God chose and who the Jewish people followed to begin life again as free people in our own land. His death must have been met with a level of grief that was simply unknown until then. That's how I felt at my mother's death, the end of a generation and passing of the torch to a new generation. It is scary, sad and challenging to realize that you no longer have parents to fall back upon for support, unconditional love, wisdom and advice. And how much more so it must have been for the Jewish people to realize the awesome task of going forward without their leader.
These past few years, I have read the ending of the Torah with a new perspective. In a few weeks we'll read of Moshe's death, but what is happening now, building up to that point, is he is preparing the people to go on without him. He's reminding them what he taught them before. He is training a new leader to follow in his place. And he is giving us inspiration and hope that as hard as things may get, everything will turn out alright.
It has taken thirteen years, but I realize that now. My father's death thirteen years ago, and my mother's death just over three years ago were the saddest days of my life. Days and events that have shaken the foundation, but ultimately reaffirmed that which I already know. That which they imparted in me. The grief and loss are still palpable, but I also understand now that life does go on, that everything will be OK, and that this is part of the cycle of life, albeit that I would have rather experienced as a much older person.
For those in Israel who mourn the victims of war and terror attacks, or anyone who lost a loved one in the past year, as hard as it is now, hopefully you will come to this point as well. For others with a parent or loved one in the same situation as I was in thirteen years ago, I hope this provides an element of perspective and comfort.
May we all be sealed in the Book of Life, and for those who are not, may their survivors have comfort and understanding, and the strength and courage to move on in living. Through living, we celebrate the memory of those who have left us physically, but who will never stop being part of us.