8th Day of Chanuka: Review for 2019 & Prayer for 2020

Today is the 8th day of Chanukah and the 30th of December 2019 – a good time to take stock of the last year and think about the one to come.

For myself, this has been a very fruitful year. In June 2019, I visited Warsaw, Krakow, Tokay, Kereztur, Niregyhaza, Munkacs, and Uzhorod/Ungvar, (Poland, Hungary, and the Ukraine) – part of my research for my current film project regarding Chazzan Moshe Kraus and the experience of Hungarian Jews over the last century. My next stop was Jerusalem, Israel. And, I ended up spending several months learning with Yehudis Golsheveky and others at Shiviti, Yeshiva for women which has greatly enriched my life and my appreciation of Jewish history and Jewish thought.

I am now in Montreal, January 9th 2020. This holiday period has been marked by serious  antisemitic attacks on Jews in New York and New Jersey and the rocket attack on and death of Quasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds force; uncontrolled fires in South Wales, Australia, and serious flooding in Israel, with some unfortunate deaths along the coast: And some positive events as well: Celebrating Chanukah for one, and also, thousands all over the world got together to celebrate their completing seven years of Talmud study – one page per day over seven years. In Israel, there was even a celebration of thousands of women who had completed the same study!!! Talmud study previously had been relegated to the realm of men in Jewish society.

Since it has been mostly cold and grey here in Montreal, I have been surfing the internet, listening to the CBC and other media, and mulling over what to make of all these competing voices.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks has a video addressed to the current divisions among Jews called Seven Principles for Maintaining Jewish People hood. These principles if applied to the world would have the potential for “bringing the messiah” which in Jewish thought refers to the condition of peace among all peoples – a time when the “lion will lie down with the lamb” Isaiah 11:6.

The first principle that Rabbi Jonathon Sacks enumerates in his video, and which I think is the most important one in the face of all these events: “Keep Talking – Those who keep talking will eventually make peace, And he notes, “Jews are ferocious arguers, and that’s part of our strength… but it was the inability to keep talking with each other that caused the three exiles of the Jewish people.”

And here are the other six principles which he quotes to guide our talking.

Principal #2: Listen Israel – “Listen to one another, hear what your opponent is saying. We are great arguers but poor listeners. Listening by itself is profoundly therapeutic.”

Principal #3: Work to understand your opponents’ point of view – “Try to understand the people with whom you disagree… This is why in conflicting opinions, in the Talmud, the Talmud always goes according to the opinion of Hillel, because Hillel always presented and studied Shammai’s, his opponent’s argument before his own.”

Principal #4: (This is my favorite) NEVER SEEK VICTORY – “NEVER EVER SEEK TO INFLICT DEFEAT ON YOUR OPPONENTS. IF YOU SEEK TO INFLICT DEFEAT ON YOUR OPPONENTS YOUR OPPONENT MUST, BY HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY, SEEK TO RETALIATE – TO INFLICT DEFEAT ON YOU. THE RESULT IS YOU WIN TODAY, YOU LOSE TOMORROW AND IN THE END EVERYONE LOSES.”

Principal #5: IF YOU SEEK RESPECT GIVE RESPECT – He quotes from the Book of Proverbs: “As water reflects face to face so does the heart of man” – as you behave to others so they will behave to you. If you show contempt for other Jews they will show contempt for you.

Principal #6: It’s not about agreement but caring – “The ultimate rule of Jewish people-hood: when one Jew is injured we all feel the pain. We are a family – if you disagree with a friend today, tomorrow they may not be your friend, but if you disagree with your family today, tomorrow they will still be your family. All Jews are responsible for one another.” (another principal of Torah).

Principal #7: Remember that G-d Chose Us as a People – “God chose us not as individuals but as a people. He didn’t choose only the righteous or only the saints or only the very very holy people – he chose all of us. It is as a people that we stand before G-d and it is as a people that we stand before the world. The world doesn’t make distinctions… anti-semites don’t make distinctions… we are united by a covenant of shared memory, of shared identity and of a shared fate… even if we don’t share a faith… Therefore next time you are tempted to walkaway from some group of Jews you think have offended you, make that effort, that gesture, to stay together, to forgive, to listen, to try and unite, because if G-d loves each of us, can we try, and do anything less…”

Now that you have reviewed these principles, I think you will agree with me that if the world were to take notice of these principles, we could actually come to achieve peace for all mankind, and we could easily solve all the challenges facing us – challenges of poverty, racism, climate change, and anything else that might come up.

And this is my prayer for the coming decade – that we learn to keep talking to each other, to keep listening, even through the most painful events, and to keep trying to understand the other, and to care for the other, and thereby create the one united world that G-d wants us to create.

Happy Chanukah! Happy New Year World!

The Journey of Redemption: Bogdan’s Journey: Kielce’s Journey

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Yesterday, I saw an amazing documentary film about the journey of teshuva – Hebrew for repentance or redemption – of an entire community, Kielce, led by a Polish born non-Jewish Prophet, named Bogdan Bialek.

 

This last week in synagogue, we read the chapters that speak about Abraham’s encounters with G-d: One of them is the story of how Abraham bargains with G-d to save Sodom and Gomorroh – two cities that have become the symbol of evil that according to G-d require total destruction which was carried out in the Bible.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorroh? There are several back stories contained in the Jewish books we call “midrash” which many of the commentaries to the bible base their ideas on. I came across this interpretation in Tablet magazine yesterday.

In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah—recounted in the Torah in Parshat Vayera, which will be read this Shabbat—the Bible addresses the question of ethics head-on. These towns represent a human society so thoroughly corrupt that it is beyond the possibility of repair. There are other stories in which God finds human behavior to be abhorrent, but there is usually some redemption (as in the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah), or a remnant remains that holds the potential to rebuild (like the living things in Noah’s ark). Only here does an entire place get annihilated with fire and brimstone.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorroh?

…The prophet Ezekiel brings it up in one of his warnings to the kingdom of Judah in the sixth century BCE:

Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility; yet she did not support the poor and the needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Centuries later, the ancient rabbis fleshed out Ezekiel’s charge in a midrash—a snippet of biblical interpretation. Here is a passage from Genesis Rabbah, a collection of commentaries compiled in the third century CE:

There was an incident concerning two young girls who went down to fill pitchers with water from the spring.

One of them said to her friend, “Why is your face so sickly?”

The other said to her, “Our food is all gone and we are about to die.”

What did the first one do? She filled her pitcher with flour and switched the two, each girl taking what was in the hand of the other.

When [the people of Sodom] became aware of this, they took her and burned her.

The Holy Blessed One said, “Even if I wanted to keep silent, the judgment in the case of the young girl does not permit me to keep silent.”

This midrash paints a terrible picture: A young woman burned to death as punishment for an act of compassion. And her burning was not the work of hooligans. God uses legal terminology—“judgment” and “case” —implying that the people of Sodom took the compassionate girl to court for sneaking food to a starving neighbor. She was tried and convicted under the law of the land. In Sodom, feeding a hungry person was a criminal act that carried the death penalty. The act that forced God’s interference was a legal one.

Does not this account of the midrash remind you of the reign of Nazi Germany, in our time, when to offer any compassionate help to Jews was a legally criminal act  liable for instant death!

The crimes of the Nazi State continue to be an open wound to both Jews and non-Jews. However, In this film, Bogdan’s Journey, we see Bogdan and the town of Kielce attempting to come to terms with a massacre of Jews on Polish soil (in Kielce) in 1946.  In spite of almost total denial by almost everyone living in Kielce, Bogdan Bialek, a young man resident of Kielce, initiates and continues his crusade for the townspeople of Kielce to begin to acknowledge the 1946 massacre and in spite of firce resistance ends up with ackowlegdement, healing, and reconciliation, showing that yes, a group, can come to repent, to address these issues voluntarily, and to transform itself into an aware and caring empathetic entity.

It is a must see movie for anyone who has had any connection to the Shoah or indeed to any horrible uncontrollable traumatic events whether personal or collective.

To watch the movie for institutional or private screening go to Bogdan’s Journey. I believe you will thank me! I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Postscript: After the screening, the producer, director, and several guests from Poland including Bogdan himself met at the Tel Aviv restaurant across the street from the Sherman Oaks Laemmle movie theater. After I wrote this blog I sent him the link and here is what he wrote to me:

On Nov 27, 2019, at 7:19 AM, Bogdan Białek <naczelny@charaktery.com.pl> wrote:
Dear Abigail,
Thank you very much for your beautiful and touched text on your blog. If
you agree, I would like to use it on Jan Karski Society site. The
meeting in the Sherman Oaks was very interesting. For the first time I
was in so great home and so excellent company. I hope that we will have
other possibilities to meet each other. Of course, if you will be in
Poland remember about my the warmest invitation to Kielce.
I will try to buy a book, which you reccomend.
Best regards
Bogdan

Dear Bogdan,

I have been thinking about your response below and would like to add your letter to my post, and to also add a link to your Jan Karski website.
Best regards,

Abigail 

Dear Abigail, I am in Israel now. I’m so sorry for the silence. Of course, you can use anything you want. I am very grateful for your text. It will stay in my heart for a long time.

Regards

Bogdan

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Wiadomość napisana przez askabigail <askabigail@me.com> w dniu 11.12.2019, o godz. 06:17:

 

Confronting BDS Today: a conference in Baltimore

In May of this year, with several students, I attended a conference sponsored by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists at the University of Baltimore Law School on Confronting BDS – the radical left wing Palestinian movement to boycott Israel on campus.

Richard Landes, a renowned historian, put forth the ideological underpinnings of BDS as more of a secessionist religion of converts that believe in its mission as an ideological utopia rather than as an intellectual debate.

Alexander Joffe, a scholar and an author spoke about his research regarding the funding networks of the BDS movement and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and CAIR.

Jeffrey Herf, an intellectual historian, sociologist, political scientist and Professor of Modern European History shared the exact timeline and actions that took place in his fight to lead the members the American Association of Historians to vote “no” regarding  a BDS motion. His talk exposes the nefarious tactics of the people who promote these motions in an attempt to politicize campus academic institutions.

Allan Dershowitz, the renowned lawyer and retired Harvard law professor answered  questions from the audience:

 

Jerusalem Post Conference: Elyezer Shkedy

I recently attended the Jerusalem Post conference and filmed it in its entirety. I personally resonated with the talk of Elyezer Shkedy since he and I share some personal history.

His father is a sole survivor of a Hungarian family and my family, also, is Jewish, Hungarian, and survived those terrible times.

The theme of the conference was building the Zionist Dream and he exemplified this in the talk below.