Korach’s Rebellion and the BLM Movement

Last week in synagogues, Jews studied the Torah portion on Korach’s rebellion Numbers 16:1 – 18:32 about Korach leading 250 of the leaders of the Israelites against the authority of Moses and Aaron in the desert.

The parallels that can be drawn between this parsha/portion and the anti-racism riots and demonstrations led by the Black Lives Matter movement happening all over the world are astonishing.

In this Torah portion, a cabal of influential rebels tries to take power from Moses, daring to risk their lives to promote their own self-interest over the sacred destiny of their people.

Korach and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of taking power and prestige for themselves at the expense of the community. The commentaries point out that Korach’s challenge to Moses is rooted in personal ambition, not the love of God or of the Israelites. He does it by using arguments that sound plausible, and brings two hundred and fifty others along with him in a showdown. (source: The Power Struggle Moses vs. Korach by Rabbi Rachel Cowan).

The death of George Floyd has flooded the airwaves, the internet, radio, and television. Racism, systemic racism, and police brutality are without doubt of great concern to all of us. I have studied these issues over the last couple of days and realized that the way the Black Lives Matter movement has framed the argument is more like the rebellion of Korach – a grab for fame and power – rather than an argument for truth and justice.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks has spelled it out very clearly in his recent publication: How Not to Argue (Korach 5780). He refers to the lies that the BLM organization continues to propagate against Israel and the canceling of any opinions that do not agree with theirs. Below are black scholars who have also spoken up to object to BLM claims and their methods. Candice Owens, Coleman Hughes, John Mcwhorter, and Glenn Loury. And her is another alternate view to the BLM hysteria recorded  Feb 11, 2019.

What we have been witnessing from the BLM organization is a group enjoining people into anarchy, violence, and chaos, with any dissent or objections being stamped out by a vicious cultural auto-da-fé; all of which is hell-bent on destroying the west’s identity as a culture based on freedom, tolerance, rationality, and rule of law.

The antisemitic bias of the BLM movement is especially painful to me as a Jew. The Nazi ideology was built on the idea of the superiority of the Aryan (German) race as opposed to all other groups – Jews, blacks, homosexuals, gypsies, Slavs and it would have moved to Americans if it had been allowed to flourish. That was systemic racism – racism that was legitimized by governmental power and which could only be opposed by complete destruction of the leaders and their organized followers, the army, and administration.

The United States, a democracy, where free speech is enshrined in law, has made great strides in repudiating slavery and espousing freedom of opportunity to all of its citizens. Not to deny that prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious does not exist.

Raheel Raza, a Canadian journalist, speaks about this situation in Canada.

 

 

Yes, there are problems, but the way to address them is not through violence, but through listening to each other and looking clearly at what can be done by people of good will working together.

 

The Jewish Lens on World Events

May 21st, 2020 was the 42nd day of the Omer, 10 weeks post Covid-19 and Yom Yerusahalayim (Jerusalem Day), a Jewish holiday commemorating the recapture of Jerusalem on June 6, 1967, 27th of Iyar 5727, on the Hebrew calendar. Today, June 21st. we are celebrating the annual Israel Day Parade which is happening virtually on Facebook.

It was on the second and third day of the miraculous six-day war in which Israel, physically threatened by her surrounding Arab neighbours, Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, and, Jordan to the West, took the initiative and trounced all three of their armies in 5 miraculous days, acquiring the Sinai desert from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the area known till then, as the West Bank of the Jordan River and the ancient old city of Jerusalem which had been in Jordanian hands since the armistice of 1948.

On this day, almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, Jews regained sovereignty over the temple mount and the entire city of Jerusalem. This was not a war of conquest. For a long month before the war broke out, Israel was being physically threatened by her surrounding Arab neighbours – Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, and Jordan to the west. The outcome was not at all predictable. For a very long month, Egypt was threatening to destroy Israel and was building up military supplies while the UN was turning a blind eye and the US urging against war. Fear was very powerful. The military itself was expecting a possible 100,000 dead and had delegated rabbis to expropriate parks as potential burial places.

I was studying and living in Israel from 1966-1971. I recall the tiny area of Jerusalem that was in Jewish hands before the war – two main streets, Yaffo and King George. I was not listening to the radio, but my parents in Montreal were watching the news carefully. Not accepting my cheerful appraisal that there was nothing to worry about, my father arrived in Jerusalem to bring me home. We travelled to Haifa and stayed at a hotel. They were hanging blackout drapes on all the windows. We seemed to be the only ones there. We then travelled north to a farm settlement to visit my father’s cousin: He was digging a ditch as a shelter. I suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation, and I flew back to Montreal with my Dad.

The day we arrived in Montreal, the Israelis attacked. They took the initiative and trounced the Egyptian army in the south in six hours, destroying all of their 300 planes on the ground and in the airfields and capturing all the Sinai. The Jordanians attacked in Jerusalem and this led to the routing of the Jordanian army and the recapture of the Holy City of Jerusalem by Jews after more than 1800 years of foreign occupation. The Syrians also attacked from the north, and lost the Golan Heights to Israel.

Now, 52 years later, Jerusalem is a megalopolis with countless residential neighbourhoods on all the surrounding hills, schools, museums, courts, government offices, and a fast train and highway system connecting Jerusalem to all of Israel.

How did this happen?

Over the last few years, I had the tremendous good fortune to delve into the Jewish canon with wonderful teachers in Montreal and Jerusalem. I acquired a new perspective of Jewish history, theology, philosophy, agriculture, civil and criminal law, and government. The Jewish nation exists today because it never let go of its rich cultural heritage. In good times and bad, we continued to study and hand down the legacy from generation to generation. Among the Five Books of Moses, the prophetic scrolls, the Talmud and the commentaries, there is not a subject under the sun that has not been carefully dissected. Somewhere in these texts, the conversation continues into the present.

Rabbi Shlomo Vilk of Jerusalem gave a zoom class on “Why the temple was destroyed”. He shared that according to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the temple was destroyed because there was corruption and dissension among the ruling Jewish priesthood of the time. But, the Jewish canon was preserved via the Rabbis who abandoned Jerusalem and continued to study and to share their legacy via the creation of the Talmud.

The classic statement is that the temple was destroyed because of violence and hatred among brothers – sinat hinam in Hebrew – unwarranted hatred of the other – what is commonly called unjust discrimination whether based on colour of skin, or religion or creed, and the Rabbis of that period tell us that the  temple will be rebuilt when the Jewish people can bring disparities together and treat every man as a brother. Last night, I got up at 4 am to watch this amazing video about the miracle of the Six-Day War and Jerusalem. It’s an hour-long celebration sharing both the present and past history of Jerusalem. I urge you to take the time to watch it. I think you will never again think of Jerusalem in quite the same way.

Jerusalem, the beating heart of Jewish faith

Jerusalem, the old new city for the old and renewed people. Yom Yerushalayim sameach! Happy Jerusalem Day!

Posted by Rabbi Sacks on Friday, 22 May 2020

 

The victory is a moral one that has only gotten better over the years. 2000 years ago, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Talmud tells us that the law had become rigid and not focused on people.

The Talmud is our living connection to those times and to the present. Rabbi Wilf Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Hatorah in Jerusalem explained in a zoom class the problem when someone who thinks that he alone has found the truth. If someone feels totally complete, alone, and has no need for others, that too is problematic. Additonaly, communities, governments, leaders who feel that they know everything – that too is a danger. This is why we all need, both as individuals and as leaders, to embrace the prime virtue of “humility”. According to the Rabbis, Moses the premiere leader of the Jewish people, is described by our legacy texts as the “most humble person who ever lived”.

For we are all social animals as the Covid-19 pandemic has proved. We need each other in our homes, and as parts of broader communities, whether local or global. Perhaps, this is what the Covid-19 pandemic is here to teach us.

Jerusalem/Yerushalayim shows us the way to behave and to weather the storms – have compassion, help friends, neighbours, and others in the world. If we all were to embrace this path, we would truly be on our way to the messianic times prescribed in our holy texts – “when the lion can lie down with the lamb” and be comforted.

 

Principles to Live By: New Year 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 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 have 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 done so as well. Talmud study previously had been relegated to the realm of mainly 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 situations.

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 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 suggests to guide our conversations:

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 the 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 principle 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 walk away 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 though 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!

Five Memoirs: the Jewish Hungarian Shoah/Holocaust Experience

Personal Testimonies: Memoirs

As part of my work for the Moshe Kraus Project, I have come across these amazing first-person accounts of people’s experiences before during and after the Shoah/Holocaust in Hungary.

1. Budapest 44, by Moshe Holczler 

  • The young Slovakian businessman planned to join his wife in London, but the Nazis marched into Austria and life would never be the same. Mandated by his illustrious father to remain in Europe to help his people, R’ Shmuel Binyomin (Wolf) Frey embarked on a saga of rescue and relief that had reverberations beyond his wildest dreams. Who was the mysterious Raoul Wallenberg, and how did R’ Wolf come to work with him? Why did the Hungarian Minister of Defense have such a startling change of heart? Did the gypsies have any redeemable qualities? Would his fellow Jews really turn him over to the Germans? Where was the safest place for a street child to be at night? What were those Nazis doing in that building across the street? A house made entirely of glass? How long could they fool the communists? Were those nuns to be trusted…? Let us follow R’ Wolf to Hungary, and marvel at the incredible hashgachah pratis, the Divine providence, that followed him through one menacing situation after another. With unshakeable faith, with remarkable foresight and bravery, against impossible odds, he resisted Evil incarnate. He never thought of himself as a hero, but his courage and ingenuity will remain with you forever. Budapest ’44, his story, is an unforgettable tribute to the human spirit.

Budapest 44 by Moshe Holczler gives a wide panorama of all of the rescue efforts organized within Budapest during the Nazi invasion of Hungary, in 1944, including the efforts of Wallenberg, and many Jewish and non-Jewish undercover volunteers. It is a remarkable story that has not been told or shared enough. Much of the detail is astounding, and it is a first person account by Moshe Holczler who is not only a chronicler but also a participant. I found it quite amazing and a must read to understand what actually was happening in Budapest in 1944.

2. Miracle in the Ashes is a first person memoir, by Maurice Lowinger, a Hungarian born Jew from Mezotur in central Hungary, – his valiant efforts to support his family and the Budapest Jewish community. Towards the end of the war, and all through the siege of Budapest, he took over his father-in-law’s position on the committee whose mission was to feed, daily, hundreds, the destitute remnants of Hungarian Jewry via the soup kitchen at the Dohany Synagogue, in Budapest. He and the committee managed to keep it up until the very end of the war – the arrival of the Russian army in 1945.

3. Surviving the hell of Auschwitz and Dachau is Leslie Schwartz’ memoir of his survival as an under-age, under-size, 12 year old. The subtitle is A teenage Struggle Toward Freedom from Hatred, as he recounts his story of the individuals, who came out of the blue, to help him, sometimes with a single glass of milk, or a sandwich, and how he tracked them down one by one, after the war to acknowledge and thank them: And he continues to speak about his experiences both in Germany and the rest of the world.

4. Hassidic Tales of the Holocaustedited by Yaffa Eliach – are first person accounts of Orthodox Jews, as they attempt to flee, and are some times entrapped, and sometimes, miraculously saved, all over Europe.

5. Deadly Carousel, is about Vali Racz, the Hungarian Marlene Dietrich, who during WWII harbored a Jewish family, as well as a Hungarian fascist escapee, and Russian military brass, in her home, in Pest, as told to her daughter, Monica Porter, who is also the author of this book. It’s also a terrific recounting of what actually was going on in Hungary, for both Jews and gentiles, socially and politically, before, during, and after the war, up to 1956 – the Hungarian revolution. The book is written by Vali Racz’ daughter, Monica Porter, who had the opportunity to interview her mother extensively for this book.

Written October 27, 2019 – Parshat Bereshit – which brings the blessing of new beginnings, renewal, starting over – every day of our lives – seeing with fresh eyes.

Written by Abigail Hirsch, social worker, blogger, filmmaker

 

 

 

 

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Shofar, but Were Afraid to Ask

Now you are probably wondering what is the meaning of the shofar? The shofar is a ram’s horn, which when blown like a musical instrument,  is reminiscent of human vocal expression, and is supposed to awaken us to do the work of self-evaluation and introspection regarding the world and our place in it, during the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, and also integral to the High Holidays – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services – when in addition to our own introspection, G-d himself is judging our efforts and making decisions about the coming year: “Who will live and who will die: Who will be raised up and who will be brought down and so on….” words of the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur prayer service…riffed on by Leonard Cohen, the famous Montreal born singer/songwriter. (1)

And by the way, getting a sound out of that shofar is harder than it looks. (Yes I tried and failed). But here are some examples of people who succeeded.

The longest shofar blast.

And a totally new initiative, the shofar flash mob, groups who got together at different places in the world to blow shofar together.

And last but not least, here is an adorable video of my nieces and nephew wishing you all a happy Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tova!

(1)  Leonard Cohen – Who By Fire (Live In London) (Official Video) Lyrics begin at 1:52 Min.

 

Lyrics: And who by fire? Who by water? Who in the sunshine? Who in the night time? Who by high ordeal? Who by common trial? Who in your merry merry month of May? Who by very slow decay? And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip? Who by barbiturate? Who in these realms of love? Who by something blunt? Who by avalanche? Who by powder? Who for his greed? Who for his hunger? And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent? Who by accident? Who in solitude? Who in this mirror? Who by his lady’s command? Who by his own hand? Who in mortal chains? Who in power? And who shall I say is calling? And who by fire? Who by water? Who in the sunshine? Who in the night time? Who by high ordeal? Who by common trial? Who in your merry merry month of May? Who by very slow decay? And who shall I say is calling?