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Afflicted Women: ReReading Lamentations Today as a Man

On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—who suffered at the hands of their oppressors. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. 
To these ends we will sit on Saturday night and Sunday morning and read Lamentations. There we will read:
Our fathers sinned and are no more; And we must bear their guilt.
Slaves are ruling over us, With none to rescue us from them.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives, Because of the sword of the wilderness.
Our skin glows like an oven, With the fever of famine.
They have afflicted women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah. ( Lamentations 5:7-11)
In this time of darkness, we experienced pain, suffering, and degradation. In his explanation of “violated women in Zion” the Ibn Ezra says, “all sex that is against her will is called ‘affliction.'” It seems that ultimate expression of declaring the line between “us” and “them” is that they raped our daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives. While sex aught to be an expression of intimacy, love, and closeness, here it is violent, a means of subjugation and objectification, and represents a deep division.
I have been thinking about this the last two weeks as we have seen the unfolding of the case Israeli teenagers falsely accused of rape being released from a Cypriot jail returning to a heroes welcome back at home. In her compelling analysis of this case Chen Sror Artzi wrote:
But the culture of rape, which has been around for millennia, does not skip anyone. The story of what happened in Cyprus is just a distilled version of a rotten culture, in which consent is deemed to be the yardstick, not desire or active willingness. (The Lesson We Should All Learn from the Cyprus Affair, Ynet)
Artzi is correct, that this rape culture has existed long before it was even reported here in Lamentations. One of the challenges is our black and white thinking. Even if it was consensual and not rape, it does not mean that these teens were right.  It is not just two options of right or wrong. And we need to stop just thinking about us and them.
How can we immerse ourselves in Lamentations and Tisha B’Av and not look deep inside and recognize that our boys did wrong? While it was not rape, what they did was clearly not love or an expression of closeness. Sharing that video was clear objectification. Our giving them a heroes welcome  represented a deep division.  Surely this young degraded British woman did something wrong by accusing them of rape, but she too is someone’s  daughter or sister. She was not raped, but she was surely afflicted. She too demands our empathy.
As a man, father of daughters and sons, husband, son, and human being I feel compelled to do more. But what can I do?

As men, it’s time to say clearly that we do not condone any sex — or any other behavior — that humiliates women, whether it’s consensual or not. As men, it’s time to teach our boys that a higher moral law must guide our conduct. That we are watching. As a community of men, we must take full responsibility for individual acts of violence against women and for a culture that systemically abuses and takes advantage of women.

Consensual. Irrelevant. A loophole. When it comes to our behavior as men, what another might accept — or what we might get away with in secret or under the law — does not absolve participation. It’s a short slide down a moral ladder from gang sexual humiliation of a woman to becoming the next Jeffery Epstein.

Where are the men? Where are the men who — at the airport — would have clopped those boys on the head and told them that they are a moral disgrace and a disappointment to true masculinity? Where are the men who stand for integrity and accountability, the men who would have required each of these boys to do acts of community service and to learn about healthy sexuality?

The global ManKind Project has launched a campaign in response to the #MeToo movement called #IamResponsible. ( Times of Israel)

As a man reading Lamentations I must wrestle with these “sins of the father”. We do not need to be enslaved by toxic masculinity. If we want to see change we must commit to breaking this chain afflicting all women in our society. Solovy offers us the ManKind Project pledge:

As men, we are committed to individual and collective evolution, we take responsibility for creating the society we want to live in and share for the generations to come. We are responsible for the GOLD and the SHADOW of masculinity, for the gentleness, fierce caring, and protection, AND for the abuse, violence, and domination. We are responsible as creators and as role models. We are responsible as victims and as perpetrators. We recognize the pervasive systemic factors that promote abuse of power and teach harmful gender roles to both boys and girls.

This year when reading Lamentations I will have to interpret it anew in the context of this Cyprus Affair, Jeffery Epstein case, and the larger #Metoo movement. There is nothing to celebrate this Tisha B’Av. When I think about the “women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah” and all women who have been afflicted I will meditate on the words of Rabbi A.J. Heschel when he said, “In a free society, some are guilty; all are responsible.” 

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The Kind of Story We Need Right Now: Love Without Cause

This year we will observe Tisha B’Av this Saturday night and Sunday. On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—now refugees who were forced to migrate. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. In the words of Dr.Brené Brown, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

Maybe if we took some time to better understand why the Temples were destroyed we would empathize with other people who are currently suffering. While,the Rabbis provide us with a number of different rationales, the most famous of reasons for our destruction and exile was Sinat Chinam, hatred without cause. In the Talmud we learn:

But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, observing the laws, and giving tzedakah? Because therein prevailed Sinat Chinam,hatred without cause. That teaches you that senseless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together (Yoma 9b)

This is making a big claim as to the severity of Sinat Chinam, but what is hatred without cause? It seems to be groundless animosity brought on without provocation. I would not say that hatred as a response to something with a rationale is good, but at least in that situation there is a pathway to reconciliation. The challenge of Sinat Chinam is that it origin seems to be without cause and so it the recovery.

In many ways the paradigm of Sinat Chinam is found in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. There in the Talmud we learn:

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. This is as there was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. He once made a large feast and said to his servant: Go bring me my friend Kamtza. The servant went and mistakenly brought him his enemy bar Kamtza. The man who was hosting the feast came and found bar Kamtza sitting at the feast. The host said to bar Kamtza. That man is the enemy [ba’al devava] of that man, that is, you are my enemy. What then do you want here? Arise and leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: Since I have already come, let me stay and I will give you money for whatever I eat and drink. Just do not embarrass me by sending me out.The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: I will give you money for half of the feast; just do not send me away. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza then said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast; just let me stay. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Finally, the host took bar Kamtza by his hand, stood him up, and took him out.After having been cast out from the feast, bar Kamtza said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, although they saw how he humiliated me, learn from it that they were content with what he did. I will therefore go and inform [eikhul kurtza] against them to the king. He went and said to the emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you. The emperor said to him: Who says that this is the case? Bar Kamtza said to him: Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it. (Gittin 55b- 56a)

Here is a great Bim Bam take on this classic story of hatred without cause.

For no obvious reason the host would not allow Bar Kamtza to stay at the party. And in response to this hatred without cause bar Kamtza helped set into motion the destruction of the Temple. What could have happened if bar Kamtza was allowed to stay at the party? Nothing bad and that is for sure.

Juxtaposed this story of someone not being allowed to show up at party I wanted to share with you a clip from Seth Meyers in a segment he calls, “The King of Story we Need Right Now.” This is an amazing story:

While bar Kamtza was told to leave the party, this guy showed up and showed up in a big way for a complete stranger. This is a story of love with no cause.  I share this with you because this is truly a story we need right now.

Unlike any time in recent history, we are living in a world of hatred without cause. We are seeing a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, incitement, acts of hatred, and a general lack of civility like no other time in recent American history. Right now, we are still reeling from the most recent wave of hate-fueled gun violence. It is especially clear that the toxic combination of hateful rhetoric and easily available weapons present a national crisis. Many of these shootings were influenced by white supremacist ideology, the aim of which is to annihilate “others”; in this case, immigrants and communities of color (or “invaders” as the El Paso perpetrator said). Hateful supremacist doctrine is an affront to us as Jews, who deeply empathize with the experience of being “othered.”

In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In this era of alternative-facts it seems that there is no real cause for any of this hatred. Before we react we need to ensure that we know the facts and that we act with due cause. Anything else runs the risk of being divisive and destructive. And since it has no cause it is not clear how we might address what happened and repair what gets broken. In the mean time it would never hurt for all of us to share our love without cause.

As a companion to the resource of text and discussion to reflect on the immigrant experience in the spirit of the Three Weeks in the context of today’s events me and my team wanted to share other modalities to help people explore issues of xenophobia and senseless hatred on Tisha B’Av.

Holding Leaders Accountable: Words Matter

In Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion, Moshe teaches the leaders of the tribes of Israel the laws governing the annulment of vows. I understanding the need these laws. We all make commitments that we cannot keep. As the saying goes, “A fellow who says he has never told a lie has just told one.” There in the parsha we read:

Moshe spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the Lord has commanded: If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips. ( Numbers 30:2-3)

While there is plenty one could say about the challenges of setting additional limitations for oneself, I am more interested in the value of words to create commitment and to set up a system of accountability. While all of Israel was told “do not render a false oath in My name and thereby desecrate it”(Leviticus 19,12), why does the leadership get a special communication here?

Rashi’s answer to this is simple. He write:

This does not mean that he spoke only to the princes of the children of Israel and not to the people also, but that he showed respect to the princes by teaching them first and that afterwards he taught the children of Israel. ( Rashi on Numbers 30:2)

It seems by design politicians tell people what they need to get into power. It is hard not to see that our leaders always need additional instruction when it comes to over-promising and under-delivering. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union , said, “In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.” Here in the United States under our current alternative-facts administration we see that lying has again become a pillar of the State. Is this message in our Torah portion really about showing “respect to the princes”?

Our leaders need to know that words do matter. They routinely make oaths, create obligations, and make pledges, that other people need to pay for with their effort, money, or even their lives. Maybe the”respect to the princes” is that our leaders need to know that we are listening and watching. Our leaders need to know that ultimately they will be held accountable for their words, their deeds, and their leadership.

The Sound of a Ripple

Pinchas, the main character from this week’s eponymous Torah portion, is very similar to Elijah, the main character from this week’s haftorah (I Kings 18:46-19:21). Both of them zealously and selflessly fight for their God and their people. In the haftorah we see Elijah fleeing the death sentence issued against him by Queen Jezebel. He runs to the Judean desert. While he slept, an angel awoke him and provided him with food and drink. Reenergized, Elijah went for forty days until he arrived at Mount Sinai and took shelter in a cave. The word of God came to Elijah and asked him for the purpose of his visit. He responded and God instructed him to leave the cave and stand on the mountain and experience God’s Presence. There was a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders, but Elijah realized that God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake followed by fire, but again Elijah understood that not in the earthquake nor the fire was God. After the fire there was a Kol Demama Daka- still small voice, and Elijah realized that the Divine Presence had appeared. Again God asked him why he was there and instructed Elijah to return and support the people.

It seems very mysterious, what is this “still small voice”? I was thinking about this a few months ago when I was working with Josh Lake and Caroline Rothstein on a program for the Cornerstone Fellowship based on Ripple the iconic song by the Grateful Dead.

In the classic Rabbinic Tradition, we explored this song as a primary text and added commentary on it in the from of a contemporary page of Talmud. I invite you to take a look at Ripple In Still Water or any of the other pages I have made. On this Daf we explored the meaning of the lyric:

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air (Ripple)

What does it mean that things might be “better left unsung”?  For Josh, Caroline and me, it resonated with this idea of the “still small voice” from our haftorah. As we wrote:

While Elijah thinks that God might be found in the large scale sensory experiences, God is in fact uniquely to be found in the subtle quiet moments when things are left unsung.

When reflecting on this and the people of Pinchas and Elijah, it is interesting to realize that not all zealotry is meant to be acted on or even heard. Some of the deepest acts of faith, family, and fraternity are subtle and even silent, like a ripple on still water.

Eulogy for James Joseph Orlow z”l

My father James Joseph Orlow z”l passed away on August 23rd,  the 12th of Elul 5778. I had the honor of delivering a graveside Hesped, eulogy,  for him. Seeing that today we did his unveiling it seemed appropriate to share the eulogy today.  I truly appreciate all of the love and support that I have received from my family, friends, colleagues and community members this past 11 months. There is do doubt that this loss will be a weight I will carry for the rest of my life, but with your support it is not at heavy. 

 

As the baby of this large clan and my father’s son “the Rabbi”. I “get to” have to go last and say what has not yet been said.

Named for my father’s father Abram Orlow who died when my dad was just a boy, I always has many questions about the the shoes I was supposed to try to fill. And to be frank reflecting back on my father’s life, my Pa was also a bit of a mystery to me. My dad was a puzzle. This was not shocking for someone that was a member of Mensa, loved a complicated law case, or could win Trivial Pursuit in one turn. Pa always liked a good puzzle.

It was not always easy for me to get him. He was at once self defined as irreligious and yet I have so many memories of him spiritually sitting in his chair reading the Bible. He was a sort of modern-day tormented Rav Nachman.

I have spent a lot of time in the last 44 years trying to figure out the puzzle of my Pa. Since his passing it has been meaningful for us to get together as a family to put the pieces back together- A bit of a jigsaw.

Who was James Joseph Orlow- Yakov Yosef ben Avraham V’Leah z”l?

As the baby brother coming home I can relate to the character of Yosef in the Torah portion of VaYeshev. There we read:  

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef ben Sheva Esreh Shana…

These are the generations of Yakov, Yosef was 17… when he went to taddle of his siblings. (Bereishit 37:2)

Interestingly the Torah never actually outlines the generations of Yakov.

And no, I am not here to share a tell-all about my siblings.

But I wanted to share one story. When I was around 17 like Yosef and clearly taller than my brothers. They would often joke that the milkman was also tall.

Seemling on this point Rashi, the premier medieval biblical commentator, provides an alternative reading of VaYeshev. Instead of  reading it as “Eleh Toldot Yakov- These are the generations of Yakov”. Instead he reads it as, “ Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef- These are the generations of Yakov Yosef “- my dad’s name. Rashi quoting the midrash said:

Yosef’s facial features bore a striking resemblance to those of Yakov. Further whatever happened to Yakov happened Yosef. ( Rashi on Bereishit 37:2)

The puzzle of my father was a puzzle of looking in the mirror. My interest in Halacha and those alienated by it was to emulate his devotion to immigration law. My desire to learn Torah was a reflection of his constant brimming with pithy wisdom. For many of us he was a fount of wisdom. A life filled with my father’s Perkei Avot:

Found in his wallet on Friday was a fortune cookie, “Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog the scenery never changes.”

Profound work Ethic- “ The harder you work the luckier you get”

“Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life”

Marry up- do not be afraid of a strong and smart woman like your mother. Or as he like to say, “ Don’t marry a woman who is pretty but stupid, because your children will think like her and look like you, you ugly bastard.”- Luckily with Mom and my wife Adina we got both brilliant and beautiful life partners.

Let people share their own good news, “Don’t rain on my parade or I will piss on your’s.” – And look around Dad, it is such nice weather today.

Theodicy- “ We live in a world in which no good deed goes unpunished”

Always be intellectually interested and interesting. One of my earliest memories was giving a mini Dvar Torah  as a rider to his  Dvar Torah in the Chavurah- library minyan. Or later his pushing me regarding the rigor of going to yeshiva in Israel. “Always be curious and confident.”

His favorite belt buckle reads “ Dazzle them with your brilliance or baffle them with your bullshit.”

And there was the profound reflections in actions that often spoke loader than words. Build things (including community) with your hands:

Chop your own wood

The tree house for Beth Hillel Beth El Preschool

The Aaron for the Chavorah

My Shtender

The porch add-on for the cabin in the Poconos

Endless projects in the Berkshires

His deep love of Sukkot.

For him the the Sukkah was never the Aninai HaKavod, he was into the Sukkah Mamash.

Family First- From sailing trips, time at the beach, Poconos, and Bershires

Shabbat Meals, Holiday Meals, so many family meals from clients to St. Michaels.

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see my father (not the milkman)

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see a puzzle

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see the man I am striving to become

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look around I see the generations of Yakov Yosef  

James Joseph’s highest joy was his 14 grandchildren. They will carry his legacy.

As we place Pa into his final resting place. We help him finish the puzzle- putting it all together:

Profound Wisdom and Curiousity

Deep connection to community

Family First

Thank you all, family and friends.

Special thank you to Doda Rachel who has played a critical role in the lives of my parents. We all owe you a profound debt of gratitude.

Finally James Joseph Orlow Yakov Yosef ben Avraham v’Leah

We lay you in your final resting place; a life well lived and a puzzle complete.

 

Other posts in memory of my father James Joseph Orlow z”l

Seen This One Before: The Border Crisis, the Three Weeks, and My Father

Tomorrow I will headed down to Philadelphia for my father’s unveiling. He passed away 11 months ago and I miss him. My missing him is not just the love of a son to his father. I also miss his expertise from a lifetime of experience as a highly regarded immigration lawyer. I have been thinking how livid my father would be if he was alive to see this administration’s callus expression of xenophobia. At this moment we are deep in the crises of ICE rounding people up, separating families, intentional administrative slow down, and the horrifying abuse at the detention centers. We could use my father’s wisdom and insight at this time.

When he passed away at 83 he was still working. In the week’s that followed my brother Daniel nobly went down to shut down his practice and pack up his office. There he found some interesting piece of art. One of pieces he found was this framed cartoon from 1946:

 

It is sad to say, but we have seen this before. How might we learn from history to ensure that we do better in the future than we have done in the past?

In my work with Jewish camps I have been thinking how we might help them prepare their camp programming in the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. The refugee crisis is a continually evolving situation, and we recommend reading the most up-to-date information on detention and abuse of immigrants at the US border before this discussion. To supplement that information and provide a Jewish lens to help facilitate discussions around the topic, we offered camp the resources and discussion questions in this attached resource to reflect on today’s events in the spirit of the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, Check out: Within the Borders: A Text Study & Discussion Guide on the Border Crisis

We have seen this before. We know better. Now, lets make it better.  Miss you Dad. 

Check it out on the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s resource bank :

BORDER CRISIS DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR TISHA B’AV

 

All of Them: Hearing the Question, Adaptive Change, and Parshat Chukat

In Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the continued travails of the Israelites in the desert. Here we learn the people were kvetching and Moshe struck the rock to get water.  There we read:

The community was without water, and they joined against Moshe and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moshe, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” ( Numbers 20:2- 5)

Moshe’s response to their myriad of questions was to come with Aaron to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and they fell on their faces. God instructs him to go and speak to the rock to get water for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock he admonished the people and stuck the rock.  The water poured out and God punished Moshe. There we read,“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” ( Numbers 20:12) He spent his life to get his people to the Promised Land and just like that he could not join them. The punishment seems to far outweigh the crime. What did Moshe do that was so wrong?

From their herd mentality to only thinking about food and water, throughout the book of Numbers we see the Israelites acting like children. On the simple level in our case they were complaining for water. One of Moshe’s missteps is that he reacts to their childish kvetching instead of actually answering their questions. Yes he does get them water, but their questions linger.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend recounted a story about  Libi, our three-year-old who is about to turn four this week. My friend asked Libi, “How many legs does an octopus have?” As it was shared with me, Libi looks at my friend with indignation as if it was a stupid question and said, “All of them”. All too often we get swept up into the questions that we think people are saying without just dealing with the simple level of the actual questions they ask.

Why did God need them to go into the wilderness and almost die? Why was it important for them to leave Egypt to subside without “grain or figs or vines or pomegranates”? There is some depth to their questions. Why do we suffer? How do we make meaning when things do not go as planned? Surely they were thirsty, and they were also asking questions which could not be quenched by water.

The notion of ever getting to a Promised Land without suffering or issues of theodicy might always be beyond our reach. Moshe gave them a technical solution to what was clearly an adaptive problem.  In words of Martin Linsky, “An adaptive change that is beneficial to the organization as a whole may clearly and tangibly hurt some of those who had benefited from the world being left behind. “(Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading) The Israelites needed an adaptive change which would help them as an organization, but sadly to achieve this Moshe needed to be left behind. 

-It is crazy to imagine fOuRLOW turning four. Happy Birthday Libi. Thank you for reminding us to not lose the question in the process.


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