Dr. Seuss and Being a German Jew

It is clear throughout history that the Jewish people have contributed so much to the world. And I believe that the best is yet to come. There is still so much more that we can contribute to make the world a better place. With the rise of radical Islamic forces and the reemergence of the garden variety European antisemitism on one hand and Jewish disinterest and assimlation on that other hand, it is scary to think that we might disappear. We might be killed by those who hate us or we might forget what it means to love ourselves.

I think being a German Jew, as I am, I am proud of the many aspects of my identities. As Jews, we were always in the avant-garde of Jewish expression in Germany. Being German, we are associated with the brand standard of antisemitism. I think we are in a league of our own in terms of loving to hate ourselves. I was thinking about this recently when our 8-year-old son Yishama asked us a question. He said, ” Is Dr. Seuss anti- symmetric?

 

 

As you can see in his artwork Dr. Seuss was clearly anti- symmetric, but was he  antisemitic?  It seems that Theodor Seuss Geisel was a complex, talented and passionate man. I found a PBS article that said:

[He] struggled to remain hopeful inspite of the “dissemination of stupidity” he saw all around him. Above all, Dr. Seuss and his work were intrinsically political. A self-proclaimed master of “logical insanity,” the author of such fanciful tales as Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat devoted much of his considerable talent and influence to advocating political and social change. From condemning isolationism and attacking anti-Semitism to his later works for literacy, the environment, and against the arms race, Dr. Seuss’s most popular works reflect his passion for fairness, democracy and tolerance.

So it seems that  Dr. Seuss was not antisemitic. But what do I do with the fact that our 8-year-old thinks it is as normative as Dr. Seuss to hate the Jews. To confront antisemitism we will need to understand the the source of their hatred. Anything short of this would not create a lasting solution or worse it would deny them their humanity. How can we get to the bottom of that this without losing our own love for ourselves? I ask this as a German Jew who just loves symmetry.

Shabbat Growth Mindset

Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of Comforting  takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah ( 40:1-26) that speaks of “comforting” the Jewish people for their suffering. There we read, “Comfort you, comfort you My people, said your God.” ( Isaiah 40:1) This haftarah is the first of seven haftarot of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. It occurs on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It is understood to be the start the national healing process. Like no time in recent history we really need this Nechemta- comfort.  But with such suffering now in the world how might we make that shift to comfort?

Recently I have been reading  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset. It is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets. Dr. Dweck argues that having a Growth Mindset is the secret to being successful in everything including sports, parenting, business, school, teaching, coaching, and relationships.

As a nation if we had a Fixed Mindset and we experienced the set back of Tisha B’Av or the current attacks by Hamas in Gaza we would have just given up and been done. We would not have lasted as we have throughout history. But instead, we choose a Growth Mindset. With Shabbat Nachamu we are invited to work and developing our relationships with each other, the world, and God.

I was thinking about this when listening to John Newman ‘s song, “Love Me Again”. In this song he is trying to resolve the nature of a relationship in his life. Will the object of his affection love him again? The song goes:

Now I’m rising from the ground
Rising up to you
Filled with all the strength I found
There’s nothing I can’t do!

I think it is worth listening too.

If we have a Growth Mindset and we are trying to answer John Newman’s question after Tisha B’Av the answer has to be that there’s nothing we can’t do. With Shabbat Nachamu is seems that God is willing to love us again. And if we work on it,  in seven weeks we will be back in God’s good graces. When it comes to how we relate to each other, our neighbors, our friends, and  even our enemies there is much to do.  I hope we will recover a Growth Mindset regarding this crisis in the Middle East. It is time to repair,  prepare, and grow. With the right Mindset there is nothing we can’t do.

 

-Another blog post on Mindset

All Alone Together- Reflections on the Lone Soldier and Tisha B’Av

About a month ago at the start of the Gaza conflict with Hamas I was in Israel for a conference on Israel Education. As part of the conference we had some meetings at the WZO offices on Har Herzl. At the end of the day found myself with about 30 minutes on my hands before my cousin Dubi was going to pick me up. So I decided it would be a good time to go visit Mike Levin’s grave. Mike was a Philly boy turned Chayal Boded- a lone soldier in the Israeli army. Mike was the only American born Israeli soldier who died in the Second Lebanon War.  Mike was also a camper of mine from Camp Ramah in the Poconos. At the bottom of his grave the stone read, ” AN AMERICAN OLEH [immigrant] WHOSE LOVE OF G-D AND ISRAEL IS ETERNAL”. As you can see in this picture here his grave is adorned  by his many visitors who connect to Mike’s love.

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While I was there paying my tribute to Mike and decided to take a picture of the sign indicated the section he was buried in so I could find it easier in the future (Area Deled Section 6). In so doing I noticed the empty plots near at hand. At the time it seemed sad to think that Israel needs to plan ahead for future casualties of those who would die in defense of the State. It is depressing to realize that as long as there are Jews in the world there will be antisemitism and we will need heroes to protect us.

 

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I think about Mike Levin every year on Tisha B’Av. He was most certainly one of those heroes. Now looking back at this picture I am filled with horror realizing just how many people have died this month.  How many people are now in Har Herzl?

Among them have been a number of other lone soldiers. One of these lone soldiers was Max Steinberg from Los Angeles who volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces. He was killed along with 12 other soldiers in the Gaza Strip, amidst an Israeli operation to quell rocket fire and destroy underground smuggling tunnels.  An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral at Har Herzl  on July 23.  I cannot imagine more than a few actually knew Max. Why did so many people show up?

To some degree I think the answer to this is found at the beginning of the book of Lamentations which we read on Tisha B’Av. There we read:

How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. ( Eichah 1:1-2)

Hamas clearly lost the military war, but I am not sure their goal was ever to win. Their goal seemed to be to kill Jews or get Jews to kill Palestinians.  We have yet to see the full extent of damage and harm inflicted on their  people. No one else stepped up to neutralize Hamas and liberate the Palestinian people. Israel was alone. For these demented terrorists this as a victory. In terms of the media Hamas seems to have done very well. Israel is alone and there are none among all of the nations to comfort her . Zion is the city that sits in solitary יָשְׁבָה בָדָד- – yashvah badad. Badad is the same word as Chayal Boded- a lone soldier. The nation mourns the loss of the  Chayal Boded because together we are a nation that has experienced isolation throughout history. We are all alone together. May the memories all of our heroes be for a blessing.

Erev 9 of Av Line

Last year my dear friend and colleague Jon Adam Ross sent this to me a note on erev Tisha B’Av. It said, ” On my way to shul tonight I noticed I was on the correct train. Too bad there’s no 9th of av train to take home.”

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Tzom Kal- Have an easy Fast

Eicha: Questions to Consider

This coming week on Tisha B’Av we will commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Unfortunately this year it will be easy to connect to this holiday. Between the senseless missiles and attacks coming at Israel and the devastation of Gaza  it is all too easy to conjure up the images of destruction.  Glued to the news and Red Alert we all have these images of destruction and the sound of the sirens locked in our heads. When we finally achieve a lasting cease-fire we will have many questions to answer. Similarly, Lamentations is full of questions as to how this destruction came to be. There we read:

How has the Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger! God has cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and has not remembered God’s footstool in the day of God’s anger. ( Eicha 2:1)

Between the senseless violence and hatred from Hamas, their desire to kill Israeli soldiers and citizens alike, their disregard for their own people, the rest of the Arab world being eager to let their children die in the name of their own media efforts against the Jewish State, the media giving legitimacy to the heinous inhumanity of Hamas, and the reemergence of Antisemitism in Europe, there is a lot of cause for anger.  It is easy to give into this self-righteous and all-consuming feelings of divine anger. We need to defend our own, but when this is all over we will need to wage peace. We need to withstand the temptation of acting out of anger.

This Shabbat we read the Haftarah of Hazon which describes the vision of the destruction of Tisha B’Av. In the Haftarah we read:

Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. ( Isaiah 1:16-17)

The only way out of this, that I can see, is that the Israelis and Palestinians have hope. We might be angry, but the Palestinians need to know that we are better for their future than Hamas. In the wake of the conflict in Gaza and in light of Tisha B’Av, we have a lot of questions to answer. There is no doubt that the Arab world also has many questions to deal with as well. Here is one: Where is the voice of the Arab moderates?

 

Coming in the Tunnel: The Ordeal in Gaza and Tradition

Amidst all of the violence it is hard to find words to write anything in this very dark time. Having our brothers and sisters in Israel in mind I wanted to learn one mishna . The mishna is called, HaBa B’Machteret-  the one who comes in by the tunnel. We learn :

[A thief] who comes through a tunnel [into one's house] is judged on the basis of his end. If he came through a tunnel and broke a jug: if he has blood-guilt, he is liable; if he does not have blood-guilt, he is exempt. ( Sanhedrin 8: 6)

On this Rava asks, “Why may one kill the person that comes in through the tunnel?” There is a legal assumption of  human nature that one does not restrain himself when someone takes his money. According to Rashi, the thief anticipates that the owner of the house will oppose him  and try to kill him, therefore the thief plans to kill the owner of the house. The Torah says, if someone seeks to kill you, you should kill him ( Sanhedrin 72.) In the case here we  assume that the person coming in the tunnel is just coming to steal from you, but in fear of being killed by the owner he is ready to kill the owner. So we are instructed to kill him preemptively.  Our tradition seeks to preserve life, but still we understand human nature.

This mishna took on new meaning for me today when I read the report from Ma’ariv that, “thousands of terrorists were meant to cross over to Israel from Gaza through the tunnels and kill and kidnap as many Israelis as they could. The source added that the army learned about the huge planned attack during the interrogations of Hamas prisoners, captured during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.” Reports state that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed his cabinet about the foiled plot during a Thursday cabinet meeting. The leader of the Jewish State reportedly expressed to officials that if this attack was not stopped, the number of Israeli fatalities may have been higher than the over 2,200 deaths Israel suffered during 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In looking again at this mishna I am not seeking a moral justification for the killing of terrorists whose mission is to kill Jews. That does not deserve our attention. All efforts to question Israel’s need to defend itself are just thinly veiled  anti-Semitic opinion. In this case the would be thief coming in the tunnel is not coming to steal, they are only coming to kill and capture Jews. Israel has a responsibility to seal the tunnels, but then what? How do we make sure that our people did not die in vain? How do we create a lasting peace?  I think this is hidden in our mishna.We need to share what it means to live a good and free life. We need to convince them that we will value our lives and their lives more than just our stuff. We need  to convince moderate Palestinians that we do not need to give into this human nature. It is only then that we will remove ourselves from the  cycle of violence described in the mishna. After we finish waging war on Hamas and removing this threat to the Jews and Palestinians alike, we need to wage peace to preempt terrorists tunneling into our homes and destroying our  lives.

Shabbat Shalom – And I mean Shalom.

Red Alert: Israel Above Our Greatest Joy

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of being at a wonderful wedding. Near the end of the chuppah, the officiating rabbi who was also the father of the bride explained the ritual of the breaking of the glass.  Many people who know nothing of Jewish law, tradition, or history know that you break a glass at the end of the Jewish wedding. This custom is based on an event mentioned in Berachot 30b  where Mar, the son of Ravina, was making a wedding for his son. When he saw that the guests were becoming overly joyful, he took an expensive glass and broke it in front of them, thereby tempering their joy. But what is wrong with being joyful at a wedding?

One reason is that we were learn to recall the destruction of the Temple. This is based on the verse, “I shall elevate Jerusalem above my greatest of joys” (Psalm 137:1-6). A wedding is our highest joy, but even at this moment Mar teaches us that we need to keep Jerusalem higher in our consciousness.

I have been to many weddings in my life, but none like this one. Last week when I was in Israel I put the new App Red Alert: Israel by Kobi Snir on my iPhone. Red Alert provides real-time alerts every time a terrorist fires rockets, mortars or missiles into the State of Israel. Without exaggeration I can say that my phone alert went off more than 15 times during the Chuppah. There is no doubt that I was keeping Jerusalem over my highest joy. People ask me  why I did not take the App off my phone after having left Israel. As my phone was going off in my breast pocket I was thinking about Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi‘s famous quote describing life in the Diaspora, “Libi BaMizrach VaAni BeSof Maarav- My heart is in Jerusalem although I am living physically in the farthest part of the west.”  We should be standing under the chuppah and not sitting in bomb shelters. We should be breaking glasses and not dropping bombs. We need a lasting peace for everyone. And I hope that the buzzing on my phone stops soon.

Shabbat Shalom – And I mean Shalom.

 


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