letters to the editor the rabbi’s turn
friday, august 16, 2013 .
“We’ll be moving to ‘our’ country, our homeland.”— Tzippy Twersky, who will be moving to Israel with her husband in the fall. Read about several now-former Washingtonians who have made aliyah on page 28.
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Rabbi Sholom beR levitin
Rgional Dirctor, Chabad o th Pacifc Northwst andRabbi, Congrgation Shaari Tfllah – Lubavitch
I’ll begin with three shortstories. In June o 1967, I wassitting in the central ChabadLubavitch Yeshiva at theamous 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, N.Y. At approx-imately 1:45 p.m., Yankel theBeder, who took care o themen’s mikvah, which I andothers used beginning at 5a.m. each morning, ran intothe yeshiva and gave a loudshout: “Men sloked a Yid!” — a Jew isbeing beaten up!Religious and racial strie was accel-erating in those years in many Brook-lyn communities. Within 15 seconds, thewhole yeshiva was on the street, everyoneasking breathlessly, “Where? Where?”Someone shouted, “On Kingston and Lin-coln Avenue!”We all ran, weaving through heavy tra-c. A major altercation was taking place— even the police were already there.Everyone had instinctively respondedto the call, to the extent that no one hadclosed his Gemorah (almud) or otherreligious book o study. No one asked theafliation, level o observance, or gendero the Jew being beaten. We only heard“Men sloked a Yid.”In the summer o 1968, the situation inBrooklyn’s Jewish communities was dete-riorating. Our amily lived in an apartmentcomplex that housed a mix o Chassidic, Ari-can-American, and Latino amilies. Gangso young people lived there, and it was very dangerous, especially at night, to navigatethe streets and even our complex. I had threeyounger teenage sisters (Rebbetzin DevorahKorneld is the youngest o my sisters), andother young Chassidic teenage girls also livedin the complex. We had a real problem.Te head o the gang was a young ellow by the name o José, and I made it my busi-ness to beriend him. Here I was, a Chas-sidic rabbinical student, black hat and all,only about a year or two older than he was.I you had dropped me in Manhattan, Iwould have had difculty navigating back to Brooklyn. Our community was insularand did not assimilate with other culturesat that point. All I did was talk to him, ask him about school. He was a Dodgers an,and I was a Yankees an (ull disclosure:I once played hooky to go to Yankee Sta-dium in the Bronx to watch my baseballidol Mickey Mantle belt some home runs).We schmoozed, and over time hebecame a riend. Ater that, wheneverthe teenage girls would walk through thehalls, or the elderly Chassidim would walk down the street near our com-plex, José and his riends werementschlach and respectul.Aer I’d moved to Seattleas part o my regional respon-sibilities I began to travel toAlaska — rst to Anchorage,where I have developed somelielong riendships, and thento Fairbanks. In December1979, it was a reezing, win-tery day — and I mean reez-ing. By then we had organized a group,and it was their rst evening with Chabad.Fieen people showed up rom a crosssection o the general Jewish community.I tell my children and grandchildren that15 people in Fairbanks, Alaska at that timeis like having a crowd o 25,000 in Man-hattan today.Aer my presentation, which ocusedon the Chassidic philosophy o embracingall Jews with love and compassion in a non- judgmental way — and, or that matter,bringing the universal message o belie inGod and the Noahide Code to all people —a man by the name o Mike stood up andasked, “Rabbi, do you belong to the groupthat burns the bus signs in Jerusalem?”During those months, commercialsigns with pictures o men and women inswim clothes were hung in Jerusalem’s very Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood andits environs. Tis caused consternationand anger among many members o thosedevout communities. Some o these signswere burned by individuals living there.“Mike,” I responded, “I strongly con-demn any acts like the ones you aredescribing. Especially in our Holy Land,and especially in Jerusalem.”But then I added, “Mike, let’s have aconversation. Te people living in thoseneighborhoods o Jerusalem are three,ve, 10 generations o devout Jews, withtheir unique way o lie, with large ami-lies. I condemn the burning o those signs— strongly. But where is the sensitivity?o come into these neighborhoods, wherenearly 100 percent o those living there aredevout Jews, maintaining their religiousliestyle or hundreds o years throughdevotion and sel-sacrice.” And then Iasked Mike where he had lived beore hecame to Anchorage.“Minneapolis,” he answered.“Did you belong to a synagogue?” Iasked.He responded that he had belonged toa temple.“Mike,” I asked, “i during Kol Nidreservices, Yom Kippur eve, a man or
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Steven Blum’s discussion o the difculties o covering Holocaust-denial stories, such asDavid Irving’s impending trip to Berlin, was right on target (“German preoccupation: Whybother with David Irving?” Aug. 2).However, in his annoyance at the claims o Irving’s supporters that his “right to reespeech” has been violated, he misses the obvious counter-argument.David Irving was not condemned by a British court or his intentional and malicious distor-tions o history because someone tried to deny his right to ree speech. He was in that posi-tion because he himsel sued American historian Deborah Lipstadt or libel.It was Irving who tried to deny Proessor Lipstadt’s right to ree speech, when she used herscholarship to expose his historical malpractice. The court simply examined the evidence heand Lipstadt presented, and determined Lipstadt’s critique was accurate.Irving’s supporters are demanding or their hero a right he tried to deny to his critics.
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Part o what drew me to Judaism and weekly studies at Temple was Judaism’s welcoming,and even encouragement, to ask questions about what I was being told.The article by Janis Siegel titled “Back on the Bus” (Aug. 2) eatured recent bus ads run inBellevue by Pam Geller and her organization AFDI claiming that “The Palestinian Authority iscalling or a Jew-ree state.”I looked at the articles Pam Geller cited as “proo” and ound that every mention o thephrase “Jew-ree state” was a abricated distortion o what Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud Abbas had actually said.What Abbas actually said — back in 2011 when the rumor appears to have started — wasthat there would be no Israeli soldiers or Israeli settlers in any uture Palestinian state.Abbas made specifc reerence to Israelis that are serving as instruments o colonialism(Israeli settlers) and military occupation (Israeli soldiers) — not to Israelis like journalist AmiraHass, who lived or several years in Gaza beore moving to Ramallah, and certainly not to Jews.The ofcial Palestinian Authority position is that people o all aiths are welcome in a uturePalestinian state.The equating o “Israeli soldier” or “Israeli settler” with “Jew” is deeply problematic orthe many Jews worldwide, including the many Israelis, who consider Israel’s ongoing settlerand military dispossession, weekly violence, and deprivation o rights as antithetical to Jewishvalues. Even more “mainstream” Jews like beloved Fiddler on the Roo actor Theodore Bikel(whose amily ed Nazi occupation to Palestine) are speaking up. Search “Theodore BikelPrawer” on YouTube or his video condemning Israel’s newest plan to expel 40,000 Bedouinrom their homes and villages in the Negev.I traveled to Gaza several weeks ater Israel’s Operation Cast Lead with a delegation thatincluded many American and Canadian Jews. Several told the Palestinians we visited with: “Iwant you to know I’m Jewish.” Overwhelmingly, the Palestinians’ response was, “We have noproblem with Jews. Our problem is with Israel’s occupation and oppression.”According to all the articles I looked at in response to Pam Geller’s claim, that’s what thePalestinian Authority has been saying all along.
woman had walked in dressed in swimclothes, and sat down — not botheringanyone — how would you eel? Do youthink that would be appropriate? Wouldthey not be asked to leave? Or to some-how nd suitable clothing? Would that berespectul and sensitive — to you and thewhole membership — on Kol Nidre?”I emphatically reminded him that Icondemned the burning o those signs,that it was not how to have a discussionamong brothers and sisters.“But,” I concluded, “sensitivity goesboth ways.”“Rabbi, thank you,” Mike said. “I seeyour point.”Now we get to the hard question. Tehard question is — as one learns, as we allshould, Rambam, Maimonides, in Hilchoteshuvah, chapter three, (it’s all in Eng-lish today and it would be suitable or usto learn these laws beore the New Year):
Accordingly, throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced betweenmerit and sin. If he performs one sin,