Monthly Archives: August 2014

The World Just Became So Much Darker

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A 2 dimensional page, a written word, and a flat screen can be boring, lifeless, false, and inauthentic when contrasted with a 3-D, living, breathing human being.

Examples:

First: Facebook.  While good for some things, Facebook was aptly nicknamed “Fake Book” to reflect the facade that our lives (like our social profiles) are all laughter, gourmet dishes, and well groomed children.

Another example, now that I’m extremely familiar with job hunting, resumes from unknown people with no connections are generally ignored.

Lastly, dating profiles are mostly not even a glimpse into a person’s essence, lifestyle, or daily thoughts, feelings, speech, or action.

That said, I am striving to maximize the power of the written word while knowing full well it won’t do her justice.

Who is “her”?

She is the woman who I met when I was at the self-absorbed, self-indulgent, carefree age of 18.

I took a gap year after high school in order to learn more about Judaism. I chose a seminary where I knew I could have fun at night, and maybe (when I wasn’t sleeping) learn during the day.

Apparently, I was supposed to be expelled due to my repeated absences, broken curfews, and other misdemeanors. I didn’t know this until I left the program when the director told me. I wasn’t asked to leave because my family had a strong tie to a very important person in religious circles and no one wanted to break the news to him that I was out.

So, I stayed. The whole year.

When I did attend class, I picked wisely. I didn’t want the “dry” stuff I was forced to listen to in high school. No, I was way past that.

I wanted something to jolt me, I wanted something I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to be awakened, electrified.

There were around three such classes (there would have been a fourth but it began at the ungodly hour of 8:00am so that was an impossibility. Epilogue: My children never let me sleep past 6:00am. Karma?).

One class was taught by a woman who was everything I had learned to avoid during my four high school years in Los Angeles.

She was NOT fashionable. It gets worse. She didn’t CARE that she was not fashionable. She (how dare she!) didn’t WANT to be fashionable.

She wore floral shirts with matching floral skirts. To be fair, she also had a beautiful, wide smile and big, warm brown eyes.

What she lacked in trend, she made up for in dignity. Ten fold. A hundred fold.

I have only scratched the surface.

Mrs. Weiner was young (30s) but so wise. She was incredibly honest and shocked us by exposing our rights and ideals as the frauds they sometimes were.

In class, when she spoke, she made us mad. She WANTED to make us mad. It was the only way we could begin to CARE. It was the only way we could WAKE UP.

I was out with a friend one night, sometime in the middle of my gap year,  involved in a silly conversation on a Jerusalem public bus when my cell phone rang.

It was Mrs. Weiner.

“Hi Rachel, it’s Mrs. Weiner. I know it’s late but can you come over to my apartment? By the time you get here it will be about 11:00pm. Is that okay? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

I was intrigued. I was so curious. Why the urgency? The late hour? All her small children and jobs to wake up to the following morning. This must be BIG. Did I go? You bet.

When I arrived, she was plating chocolate chip cookies for me which I declined. Her husband made a quick appearance in the living room to grab a cookie, and she bantered with him. Their back-and-forth was so witty, so quick, and also familiar, relaxed. It was strange that they lived what I considered a serious, idealistic life and yet were taking pleasure in it.

We finally got down to business. “Rachel, I wanted to talk to you because I heard you were spending time with the wrong crowd.”

That’s what she wanted to tell me?

I WAS OVERJOYED. This woman was taking such an interest in me. Also, I was flattered that she called my crowd “wrong”. What 18 year old wouldn’t want that? (never mind)

We talked for a while. I vehemently denied any wrong doing. I loyally told her my friends were all top-notch, squeaky clean, and on the up-and-up.  We talked some more.

I floated out of her little apartment that night feeling utterly loved.

After seminary, we lost touch for the most part. I saw her every few years and when she had her baby (about 11 or 12 years ago),  she texted me the news from her hospital bed. I felt utterly loved again.

I took absolute pride in introducing her to my husband, and bragged that we lived in Jerusalem and he learned Torah ALL DAY long.

It is for these reasons that I’m at a loss. In shock. I never fully appreciated the phrase “the world became a little darker that day” until yesterday.

My beloved, tell-it-like-it-is, funny, nurturing, vibrant, vivacious Mrs. Devora Weiner died and I didn’t even know she was sick.

I’m deeply saddened. Not only for my personal loss but the loss the world has just suffered.

Mrs. Weiner would probably say something profoundly true in a matter-a-fact way like the time she told me that all people have days when they love their spouse and days when they hate their spouse. I was horrified at 18. At 31, even with a perfect husband like mine, I understand her gist.

Mrs. Weiner, I’m sorry I never told you before. Thank you so much for teaching me a multitude of life lessons. Thank you for personifying true beauty and grace. Thank you for exemplifying what a Jewish woman can and should be, a wellspring of blessing to all those around her. I love you and I miss you not being in this world.

 

 

 

 

I Smiled at a Muslim Woman Today

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The title says it all. I took my kids out for ice cream this afternoon and consequently felt  wholesome, spoiled, and blessed all at once. As the kids licked their cones of world-class chocolate, I walked between our seats and the cashier grabbing napkins, dabbing faces.

I was smiling at the image of my sons relishing their treats when I looked up and saw a woman walking our way. As she passed us, with the smile still firmly on my face, we made eye contact.

Living in San Diego, I often spend time at the Bay, the beaches, or the library and have noted a rising number of religious Muslim couples and families frequenting these same attractions. Sometimes I get the sense that I am being stared at, or maybe even- when they see my husband’s kippah – glared down.  Not wanting any negative attention, I either avert my eyes or attempt a small fleeting shadow of a smile.

Today, at Baskin Robbins, I involuntarily made eye contact and smiled at a Muslim woman. And…

She smiled back.

Our smiles didn’t halt or slow down any of the cruelty and violence issued out by Islamic States, Muslim Brotherhoods, or Islamic militant groups like Hamas. We changed nothing. I don’t even know what she was thinking.

“The Torah ideal is to greet each and every person with a pleasant facial expression.” But what about a woman who may support jihadi groups (which have more than doubled over the last few years)?

I certainly have no obligation to smile at an enemy, do I?

On the other hand, what if she doesn’t align herself or support the feelings behind such hateful groups? Surely this, too, is a fair and strong possibility.

A Talmudic pearl of wisdom that was passed on to me and has caught on as a common Hebrew expression: Respect & Suspect. We have an obligation to treat everyone with the utmost respect and we also have an obligation to exercise prudence, to take cautionary measures, and not trust those very people we are honoring.

In other words, I fully respect the mystery woman who I encountered and I have every right to suspect her as well.

My six year old boy, with his kippah and peyot, is all too familiar with bomb shelters, Hamas, and antisemitism. Somehow, he caught the exchange between this woman and me.

My son and I were both thinking the same thing but neither one of us said a word. We just looked at one another and…smiled.

Who’s Holding the Smoking Gun: Studying the Events Prior to Israel’s War in Gaza and Modern Day Antisemitism

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Disclaimer: This may be a controversial post (not sure but I’ll find out soon enough). Read with caution.

 

If you’re a Jew- no matter where you are reading this in the world- you have skimmed hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, tweets, statuses, and photos regarding the war in Gaza. You probably have also noted the increasingly overt antisemitic sentiments expressed internationally.

 

History was never my favorite topic in school, but I do remember adults wringing their hands, worrying about how us kids would remember the Holocaust. Particularly as our Old World grandparents aged, who would deliver the personal accounts that bring to life Nazi Germany’s atrocities and brutality? Who would serve as a living reminder that the Jewish people are vulnerable to persecution, subject to unadulterated hatred?

 

Fast forward to August 2014. Only last week was the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, a day preceded by three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple.

So many of us had the most meaningful fast day of our lives. Fresh in our minds were the murders of Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and the heroes who died fighting to protect the people of Israel so this horrific tragedy never repeats itself.

Do you remember last Tisha B’Av’s hot topic for the Jews?

 

Rewind to August 2013. I only drudge up the past to strike a contrast. Women of the Wall were making headlines in both right and left-wing newspapers. Everyone had an opinion and the counter-group, Women for the Wall emerged.

I’d prefer to avoid the details of how one group of Jewish women were protesting another group of Jewish women protesting over their role in prayer. And I’m not voicing my opinion on the matter because it bears no relevance. I’m also not saying that it’s wrong to stand up for what a person believes to be right.

Last year, the three weeks of mourning were launched with the Western Wall barricaded so Jewish people couldn’t pray at the holiest place on earth- not because of any terror threat– but because we as a Jewish nation couldn’t come to a peaceful resolution.

Let’s examine the significant consequences of this heated debate. We, Jews, were pitted against one another in total strife, oblivious to the world’s feeling on modern day Jewry, while Gil-ad, Eyal, and Naftali were safely at home.

I was actually embarrassed by opinions and articles I heard and read, each disparaging the other side, accusing one another of terrible intentions, no one seeking to wave a white flag and make up. We are family after all.

While I obviously could never say “our boys” would still be safe at home if not for our infighting, I do know that baseless hatred between Jews is what destroyed the Holy Temple thousands of years ago. Division between Jews seems to always be followed by persecution from a Gentile nation.

It’s as if there’s a power that forces us together every time we try to break apart whether through assimilation or hatred for each other (usually both).

 

As I began my blogging journey this past year, I was (naively?) shocked to discover an underworld of Jewish people who wanted to prevent outreach on campus to Jewish students. These Jewish people vehemently disagreed with outreach professionals intentionally exposing Jewish students on campus to their own heritage. Hosting Shabbat meals, giving classes, meeting one-on-one all became acts twisted by manipulation and control. I’m still saddened that this demographic exists. You can check my archives for the debates. On a positive note, two of the many lessons I learned from this experience were:

1. How incredibly sad it is that people would want to stop Jews drawing other Jews closer to Judaism.

2. How special it was to feel so strongly in opposition to this view, while still remaining respectful and even befriending (via Facebook) the Jewish leader who unified these voices. (Some of these voices were less than friendly, in fact, but the woman who I was actually debating always encouraged respect from her followers).

Jewish people are a thinking bunch and having differing opinions defines us as a nation. But tearing one another apart for our differences? This is our downfall. This is us loading a gun and pointing it at ourselves. And then turning the gun over to Hamas or whoever the group of the hour is that wants Jewish people obliterated.

The best way to honor our Holocaust survivors and those murdered in every pogrom, inquisition, and attempted genocide is by keeping our Jewish family united and connected to each other and our heritage vibrant.

Thank God, the IDF is doing a bang-up job defending us, protecting us, and strengthening us. But our enemies, with their desire to see us disappear, will not go away until we- differences and all- unite as a nation with love and respect.