Jewish Learning is Not Just for Children

Every one knows that Jewish civilization rests on the bedrock of the education of children. However study of Jewish texts and values is not limited to children. It happens to be one of the fundamental behaviors that Jewish men and women of all ages are enjoined to practice throughout their lives: study is a lifelong aspiration and a primary goal for all Jews. Here in Montreal, we are fortunate that classes are held all week and every week at various venues, synagogues and community centers. We are blessed with exceptional teachers and can be busy with Jewish learning every day of the week. In addition Rabbi Steinmetz and Rabbi Jacobsen have been offering a full day of learning to the community every year for the last several years. The most recent day of learning took place last Thursday, June 25th, 2015. This time I recorded their classes and want to share them with you so that you too can taste the nature and scope of what we call Jewish learning. I videotaped these talks and share them with you here.

1) Hachnasat Orchim – Hospitality towards strangers in the Jewish tradition: What is its Source and Why is it Important?  (Rabbi Steinmetz)

2) Why are the Jewish people called G-d`s witness. What does this mean and what are we being called upon to  witness or to testify to? (Rabbi Jacobson)

3) Talmudic Study: “acquiring an accidental treasure, when unanticipated value emerges, who owns it?” Rabbis and class sharing one on one discussion. This is typical of the way Jews study texts via inquiry but difficult to video.

4) The Racist Murders in Charleston: Is Forgiveness possible? This talk was a response to the families of the murdered victims in the Charleston Church shooting offering the murderer forgiveness at the funeral of the victims. Rabbi Steinmetz argues that offering forgiveness without asking for any reflection from the perpetrator deprives the perpetrator of the opportunity for  acknowledging his transgression and working through any personal responsibility abd regret that is involved in “asking for forgiveness? (Rabbi  Chaim Steinmetz)

5) Quebec’s Bill 52 and the “right to die”: A Jewish perspective on this issue. 1,the obligation to avoid suffering and 2. the need to appreciate every life to its very end.

(Rabbi Jacobson)

Passover and the Arab Spring in Middle East Media. 2013

Dear friends,

I thought you would appreciate these two videos which I posted this week.

One is a Passover teaching by Rabbi Chaim Stenimetz:

And the second is about “The Impact of the Arab Spring on Arab anti-semitism“, a lecture by Yigal Carmon with video clips from middle Eastern television programs.

Is there any connection? Passover is the celebration of the journey from slavery to freedom. During the Passover seder, we relive this journey. Rabbi Steinmetz points out in the first video that freedom can only begin when and if one begins to question one’s servitude. Without a challenge to the status quo, no movement is possible.

There is no question that the Arab spring was initiated by people asking questions of their leaders, and seeking freedom from oppressive regimes. Has this resulted in greater freedom of expression and has it led to “freedom”? The answer has to be both “Yes” and “No”. We have all seen how the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the Middle East seem to have been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.

We often forget that the toppling of the Shah of Iran was also billed as a movement of the people overcoming the dictatorial Shah. Very few Iranians anticipated that the revolutionaries who championed the Shah would be arrested and murdered by him as soon as he took power. Very few, least of all America, in the person of Jimmy Carter, anticipated the stranglehold of the Iranian clergy that would take over the political realm of Iran.

Nevertheless, peoples of the Middle East continue to seek freedoms: freedom of thought and freedom of speech. The contrast between the fascism of the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the Muslim clergy, and the efforts of the people to speak up were both clearly apparent in the talk by Yigal Carmon, founder of MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) who spoke recently in Montreal. MEMRI monitors the treatment of Jews and Israel in Middle East media. He shared actual clips from Arab television. First he explained the ingrained anti-semitic (i.e. anti-Jewish) tropes of Islamic culture promoted by important Imams and political figures, even President Morsi of Egypt. Then at the 59:33 point of his talk above he shares a clip from a young scholar which I link here. Dr. SA’id Okasha of El Ahram University on Al-Faraeen TV (Egypt January 29, 2010. If you click on this link you will see for the first two or three minutes, the presentation of the anchor regarding the “facts of the Holocaust” that she has “researched”, followed by the attempt by Sa’id Okasha to refute these “facts”. The debating match between them on live television is an exciting thing to watch. And as Yigal Carmon reminds us, the next day Dr. Sa’id has to go back to his university and his colleagues at El Ahram University.

But Dr. Sa’id is not the only one speaking out. Below I discovered on Youtube an amazing woman in disguise, ridiculing Hassan Nasrallah speaking about the Syrian revolution.

This brings me back to the Passover seder, The annual festival that Jews celebrate as the holiday of freedom from slavery. We forget that modern day slavery, especially the slavery of ignorance, is still very much present in many parts of the world. But the first step towards redemption is the questioning of the status quo.

Happy Passover to all who strive for freedom from tyranny.

Rochel Steinmetz, Zichrona l’ivracha, the blessing of her memory


Many of you know Rabbi Chaim Stenimetz and the great work that he does through the videos that we have been posting in collaboration with AskAbigail Productions. He is always witty and wise and speaks to the issues of the moment.

This last week, his mother, Rochel Steinmetz, passed away without warning. I visited him with the rest of the community according to Jewish mourning practices of comforting the mourner. He shared with all of us her story. Rochel Steinmetz, was born a Hungarian Jew. A survivor of the Holocaust, she and two of her sisters survived the death march from Auschwitz. Rochel Steinmetz, survived and lived to immigrate to the US and marry an American college graduate in Chicago. She and her husband moved to Monsey, a suburban New York community that was then starting a Jewish community. Rochel gave birth to three children and was one month away from giving birth to her fourth child, (Rabbi Steinmetz), when she lost her husband in a car crash. She did not give up. She went on to raise her four children, in the same house and the same community, as a single mother; with courage, perseverance and optimism. She devoted herself to the task with grace and courage. Aside from Rabbi Steinmetz’s memorable stories of his mother’s patience and wisdom, a member of the community came out of the woodwork to acknowledge her spirit in a eulogy.

When she passed away, last week, at the age of 83, she had 18 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. She is remembered for her resilience, optimism, and faith, which carried her through many challenges in life. Her memory survives as a beacon of courage for all of us.

11/25/2012

Rabbi Steinmetz wrote this at the time of unveiling the gravestone for his mother in Jerusalem. It is a moving and deep meditation on the process of mourning. (published in the Washington Post)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/canadian-rabbi-on-a-mothers-unveiling-the-undoing-of-closure/2012/11/13/9ed992f6-2dc9-11e2-89d4-040c9330702a_blog.html