Unity in Diversity in Ramat Beit Shemesh

In the US, and I suspect in other Jewish areas such as England as well, the Jewish community in any given area tends to be rather monolithic. For example in New Jersey, Passaic is Litivish Ultra-Orthodox, so is Lakewood. Morristown is Chabad. Monsey (ok, NY but just outside of NJ) is majority chassidic, some parts of town pretty exclusively one chassidic type or another – other parts a mixed bag. Teaneck, Elizabeth, and West Orange.

Yet I up and moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. For those who don’t know, Ramat Beit Shemesh has become, outside of Jerusalem, the premier destination for people moving to Israel from English speaking countries. (And there’s a nice contingent of French speakers there also.)

While Jerusalem somewhat follows the standard monolithic pattern above (again just substitute in neighborhood names to find the chassidic neighborhoods, the Litvish, modern orthodox, sephardic, etc), Ramat Beit Shemesh tries to perform the same exercise on a single street or two at a time. This leads to a level of intermingling that other areas lack.

Walk across the street and go from a more modern area to a litvish area. Another street and it’s chassidic. As an example, on my nearby street corner there’s a litvish shul, a mizrachi (modern-ish) shul, a sephardi shul, and a Chabad shul. There’s even a street of non-religious Jews that drive, slowly and carefully, in and out of the neighborhood on Shabbos.

Ok, people aren’t davening together on Shabbos – everyone has their preferred nusach, Shabbos songs, siddur, etc. But when walking down the street the guy in the shtreimel and gold stripped long coat (Jerusalem bekeshe) says Good Shabbos to the guy in the suite and tie.

Achdus, unity, isn’t becoming the same. It’s respecting each other. And in Ramat Beit Shemesh, that’s a good point.

(For some Torah from Ramat Beit Shemesh, check out Yesh Ma L’asot’s Emunah Institute at http://YeshMaLasot.org )

Akiva blogs at Mystical Paths.

A Glimpse of Redemption

By Michael Freund

This past Tuesday night, at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, I think I may have witnessed a foretaste of the Messianic era.

It was the eve of Yom Yerushalayim, the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, when young Jewish paratroopers armed as much with faith as with firearms stormed through the enemy’s positions and unshackled the Temple Mount from nearly two millennia of incarceration under foreign control.

From across the country, thousands of Israelis streamed into the square in front of the Wall, anxious to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of this historic event and to bask in the aura of this holy place.

Some wore jeans, others wore dark suits or black caftans. But whatever their choice of outer attire, all were drawn to this spot for the same inner reason: to affirm our indestructible bond to Jewish history as well as our unshakeable faith in Jewish destiny.

The Wall stood there in all its grandeur and I could only marvel at the thought of all the despair and dreams, the hopes and the horrors that it must have beheld over the course of the centuries.

Indeed, the jagged grooves and soft cool crevices in the Wall seem to have been chiseled not by the hands of ancient workmen, but by the generations of tears that surely streamed down its façade.

But on this very special night, the massive stones would shine with sheer delight, as a remarkable and uplifting scene rapidly unfolded.

A large group of yeshiva students hailing from the Maarava high school near Modi’in swayed back and forth, deeply ensconced in the evening prayers with their black hats deftly perched atop their heads and dress jackets clinging tenaciously to their shoulders.

At the conclusion of the service, they began to sing, forming a series of concentric circles which slowly shuffled about, revolving in loop-like fashion with solemn intensity.

Nearby, a crowd of students from the capital’s religious-Zionist Horev school made their way towards the Wall, and the contrast between the two could not have been more striking.

With their knitted kipot and sandals, and slightly disheveled teenage look, the Horev boys looked ever so informal. They proudly sported white T-shirts with slogans on the back in Hebrew that said, “there is no Zionism without Zion”, and they were aflame with patriotic fervor.

The Maarava students, by contrast, projected formality and reserve, with their dress shoes, white button-down shirts and dark slacks conveying a seriousness of purpose and resolve.

And then, it happened.

As if by some unexplainable force, the two groups were drawn together. Enlarging the circles and joining hands, they proceeded to dance, and sing, and celebrate in unison.

All the ideological and theological disagreements, all the politics and mutual suspicion were cast aside, as the young scholars of Horev and Maarava joined arms – literally and figuratively – to thank G-d and rejoice in Jerusalem.

Faster and faster they went, picking up speed with each circuit, as their voices rose in a thunderous crescendo. “May this be an hour of mercy,” they pleaded with the Creator, “and a moment of acceptance before You”, as the seemingly myriad schisms that routinely divide our people melted away in the heat of Jewish harmony.

Onlookers stared in amazement at this scene, as Haredim and Religious Zionists, “black hats” and “knitted yarmulkes”, held onto each other firmly and with a familial grip, revealing the brotherly instinct that lay within.

Suddenly, the circles converged, enveloping two men at their center: Rabbi Baruch Chait, the founder of Maarava, and Rabbi Yitzhak Dor, the Rosh Yeshiva of Horev.

They reached across the divide, and toward one another, and started dancing with all the passion and zeal of two young grooms on their wedding day.

Their faces ablaze with joy, these two spiritual teachers gave all those present a tangible lesson in Jewish unity.

Inspired by the scene, their students began chanting a paraphrase of the words traditionally recited in the Sabbath Mussaf prayers by Sephardim: “Together, together, all of them together, shall thrice repeat with one accord the holy praise unto Thee”, with a clear and very vocal emphasis on the word “together”.

The purity of the moment was overwhelming, and I have no doubt that G-d looked down from Heaven like a proud Father enjoying the sight of His children bonding collectively in one accord.

Herein lies one of Jerusalem’s greatest and most intimate of secrets: its ability to unite Jews from across the widest of spectrums.

In just a few years from now, the bulk of those Horev students will be donning green uniforms and taking up arms to defend the state, while many of those in Maarava devote themselves to the study of our people’s ancient texts.

They will vote for different parties, live in different communities, and largely refrain from marrying into one another’s families.

But for a brief instant this past Tuesday, all that seemed very remote.

At the sight of such overwhelming Jewish fraternity, I was sure that the long-awaited Redeemer was about to arrive. Senseless love took the place of senseless hatred beneath the silhouette of where our Temple once stood.

Yet there was no sounding of the great Shofar that night, nor did the Messiah abruptly appear. The dancing eventually faded out, and people inevitably went home, going their separate ways.

But that evening, I am certain, I caught a powerful glimpse of our redemption, when all Jews will unite to serve G-d and embrace one another as brothers.

If we could just translate that moment from passing to permanent, if we could simply gaze beyond all the disparities. Then, perhaps, that glimpse just might finally become transformed into the enduring fixture we all long to see.

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2010

Recognizing the Greatness of a Small Act of Kindness

I’m not exactly sure why I was so struck by this act.

There are many times when we play the equivalent of musical chairs at Mincha. We’re all listening to the Chazzan repeat the Shmoneh Esrai and then it’s time to put our heads down for Tachanun, the next part of the prayer service. And often we find there are more men then chairs and somebody is left without a chair and has to improvise by putting his head on his arm standing up or waiting for a chair.

At the Yeshiva, where I usually daven Mincha, the guys will often give up their chair. But today it seemed different. The young man didn’t know me and the chair was right next to him and a short distance from me. But when it was time to say Tachanun he motioned for me to take the chair. I signaled that he should go first and I would use it afterwords and that’s what we did.

After davening I followed him out of shul and introduced myself and asked him his name. I told him his small gesture was an Act of Geulah, an Act of Redemption. When I related the story to my son, he said I shouldn’t have said anything. But the young man seemed to appreciate my appreciation and we went our separate ways.

From one point of view, what’s the big deal. I’m sure the majority of readers of Beyond BT would have done and probably have done this or something similar. And people have certainly done many small acts of kindness for me which I didn’t acknowledge in this way. But for some reason this act created a connection, and perhaps it wasn’t so much the act, but the recognition of it. I was able to put aside my own preoccupations and see the greatness of this fellow Jew doing the right thing and in the process create a bond between us.

There are three laws of Ahavas Yisroel
1) Speak well of your fellow Jew
2) Respect your fellow Jew
3) Care about their material and physical needs

The reason I’m relating this small story is because it showed me the power of Ahavas Yisroel and how it is the key to redemption. We have so many opportunities every day to fulfill this mitzvah and in the process become greater, not just because we did the mitzvah, but because we have created a bond and helped to add another brick to the building of a greater Klal Yisroel.

Morning Machsom L’Fi – No Loshon Hora from 9:00 Am – to 10:00 Am Each Day

In the Tisha B’Av videos yesterday, the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF) announced the start of a World Wide Machsom L’Fi program where people would accept upon themselves not to speak Loshon Hara from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM each day.

As the CCHF site explains over here:

One of the prime benefits of participating in a Machsom L’Fi is the opportunity to conquer loshon hora in manageable steps.

Once a person sees that he or she can refrain for an hour or two, it becomes easier to maintain self-control and awareness throughout the day.

“The yetzer hara’s most effective argument against working on Shmiras Haloshon is to convince us that it’s impossible to succeed,” says the program’s coordinator. “Machsom L’Fi defeats that argument, showing people that they can do it. This gives them confidence to continue building upon the success they experience.”

“Just as the sunrise seems to travel across the world, now there will be another special light—the light that comes from achdus and shalom— moving across the globe every day, reaching one time zone after another, one Jewish community after another,” says one of the program’s organizers.

“The image is amazing.
The reality can be even more amazing.”

To join you can just accept not to speak Lashon Hora from 9:00 am to 10:00 am each day or you can sign up for a daily email or phone call reminder over here.

On Disabling the “Frumkeit-Checker” In My Brain

It’s Shushan Purim, a school vacation day here in the Holy Land and I’m out with my brood at an amusement park. The children are scattered; some on the bumper cars, others on trampolines and I’m at the plastic picnic tables along with the other bored adults, waiting for the kids to tire out or the place to shut down, whichever comes first.

Meanwhile, I’m using my idle moments to people watch pretending to be Marcel Proust sitting in a Parisian sidewalk café, which of course, I’m not.

Most of the other patrons are secular Israelis, but then I see, one of us, a frum young mother cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She’s cute—the mother I mean: one of those rare creatures who combines her Yiddishkeit with an inbred funk. I’ll bet that she has jazz on her CD player and pesto and sundried tomatoes in her fridge and davens where no one winces at the long curls tumbling out of her beret or the fact that her flary skirt stops just above her knees.

She reminds me of a discarded earlier version of myself. I’ve since gotten stodgier, and frummer, taken on borer and bug checking, shatnez and tznius . But somehow in the course spiritual climb, I’ve gotten judgmental. It is almost as if someone managed to install a frumkeit checker in my brain which automatically monitors the madreiga of everyone I encounter.

Ooops , here comes the young mother’s reading —several notches below me ( I could have guessed that) , definitely not Bais Yaacov material, wouldn’t pass through the admissions board in Kiryat Sefer…. a joke, a pseudo-orthodox Jew….. right?
I look at her again. Now I see that she isn’t alone. Along with her baby, she has another companion— a middle aged woman with thinning red hair dressed in black pants. Now, I put the pieces together.

The old woman is her mother and the young mother is one of us, a ba’alat teshuva, someone with the spiritual fine tuning to hear the Torah’s call over the media’s din. And she’s upended her identity, possibly changing her name, her address, her friends, to mend the broken links in the chain of tradition.

I imagine her fighting grueling internecine battles to establish a beachhead of kashrut and Shabbat and family purity—a real heroine.

The truth is that I’m making this up, but I’m making a point. I think I can size her up in a instant, but—let’s be real, I can’t. Who can I size up? What do I know of the young mother’s life or anyone else’s life, for that matter?

So why the frumkeit checker?

A few reasons come up. It’s a kick, albeit an unhealthy one. Righteous indignation is a high. There is a perverse thrill in that irresistible “how dare she” feeling that comes from sneering at someone else’s (especially someone younger and cuter) deficiencies.

And the checker also deflects insecurity, by marginalizing anyone different and potentially threatening and it begs a little question that most of us don’t like to ask—what if she is right and I am wrong. Putting her down changes that subject.

That is great, but it’s got a problem. The problem is that this isn’t the Torah’s approach. According to the Torah, when I encounter someone different what I need to determine is what I can learn from them, how I can use the interaction to grow .

As to the young mother I have no clue as to why her tznius is not quite normatively Halachic but I do know that she (and most everyone else in the place ) is a Jew.

Once upon a time, when a Jew met another Jew he’d call out “Sholom Aleichem Reb Yid.” Hello Mr. Jew, but that is mostly gone today, replaced by the frumkeit checker and it’s accessories, judge mentalism and divisiveness.

I need to find my own “Sholom Aleichem For this woman (and for all Jews) —at least in my heart and to delegate the job of other people’s spiritual repair to the Kiruv Rabbis and G-d.

As soon as I get out of this park, I’ve got Pesach cleaning to do and my first stop will be the hametz in my own head. Disabling that nasty frumkeit checker is a good first step.

E Unibus Plurum

The casual observer of the current presidential polling data requires little expertise to identify a trend stretching back over the last two presidential elections. The population of the United States has been, and continues to be, split almost 50-50 in their support for a national leader.

At the same time, however, the division of country on a national level stands out in sharp contrast to what is happening locally. In his new book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, author Bill Bishop demonstrates how communities are becoming increasingly homogenous as people sort themselves into demographic cliques. The most striking irony, Mr. Bishop explains, is how the increasing singularity of ideas and values in neighborhoods across the country is resulting in increasing divisiveness throughout the country as a whole.

The statistical evidence is compelling. In 2004, in an election decided nationally by one closely contested state (Ohio) and less than 1% of the electorate, almost half the counties in the country recorded landslide victories locally for either one candidate or the other, nearly double the percentage recorded in 1976.

Here are a few samplings from Mr. Bishop’s introduction:

Freed from want and worry, people were reordering their lives around their values, their tastes, and their beliefs. They were clustering in communities of like-mindedness, and not just geographically. Churches grew more politically homogeneous during this time, and so did civic clubs, volunteer organizations, and, dramatically, political parties. People weren’t simply moving. The whole society was changing…

Marketing analyst J. Walker Smith described the same phenomenon as extreme and widespread “self-invention,” a desire to shape and control our identities and surroundings. Technology, migration, and material abundance all allow people to “wrap themselves into cocoons entirely of their own making,” Smith wrote. People are unwilling to live with trade-offs, he said…

As people seek out the social settings they prefer — as they choose the group that makes them feel the most comfortable — the nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups. We all live with the results: balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible; a growing intolerance for political differences that has made national consensus impossible; and politics so polarized that Congress is stymied and elections are no longer just contests over policies, but bitter choices between ways of life.

Is it ever possible for there to be too much agreement? The mishna teaches that if the entire Sanhedrin votes to convict the defendant in a capital case without a single dissention, the death penalty cannot be given. No matter how overwhelming the evidence, the sages did not trust their own objectivity if none of their members could find even one mitigating factor. Brothers cannot testify together in beis din because they share a common perspective that calls into question their collective objectivity.

The more single-minded a group becomes in its opinions, the more calcified its thinking becomes in its evaluation of unfamiliar ideas, and the more quickly it rejects and condemns opposing viewpoints. Moreover, homogenous groups are more likely to devolve into parodies of themselves, shifting to ever-more extreme positions and allowing arguments that might once have been rational to descend to dogma and character assassination.

This is why candidates lean to the extremes in primary elections, laboring to attract support from the farthest wing of their respective parties, the one that is generally the loudest and most vehement. Then, once they have secured the nomination, the candidates tack back to the center for the general election to try and attract voters from across the political divide. Whichever side eventually claims victory will almost inevitably shift back again to the extremes, fearful of antagonizing the clamoring minority by appearing too moderate.

This is certainly one angle of the mishna in Pirkei Avos that praises machlokes l’sheim shomayim: when debate and dispute are motivated by a genuine desire to achieve true understanding, then such debate endures by producing greater clarity, by yielding new truths, and by bringing together ideological opponents who are devoted to intellectual honesty and ideological integrity.

Such was the nature of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai, who fought fiercely in the study halls but retained love and respect for one another. One has to wonder, given the increasing factionalism within the Torah world, whether students of the two academies would even speak to one another if they were alive today.

After the death of his main disciple, Reish Lakish, Rabbi Yochanon lamented that he had no one to challenge him any more. By posing 24 problems to every law his rebbe taught him, Reish Lakish stimulated the learning of Torah in a way that benefited both students and teacher. The replacement the sages found, Rav Eliezar ben P’das, brought 24 proofs for everything Rabbi Yochanon said, literally driving him mad.

The ideological differences between the different camps within the Torah world are not (yet) so insurmountable that we have any justification for refusing to bear one another’s company. This does not require compromising one’s principles. Rather, it requires a willingness to concede that the world is a sufficiently complex place to allow the coexistence of different but equally legitimate points-of-view, and to not be afraid that the slightest exposure to alternative outlooks within the mainstream of Torah thought will somehow lead to a swift descent down the slippery slope of apostasy.

When two or three schools in one neighborhood, only marginally different in Torah philosophy and united by their inability to make payroll, are each graduating classes of only five or ten students, when men choose to walk into one shul half-an-hour late on Shabbos morning rather than walking into a shul across the street on time because its parishioners wear a different style of kippot, clearly our commitment to the unity of Klal Yisroel is sadly wanting.

From the earliest days of the twelve tribes, the greatest strength of the Jewish people has been our ability to forge diversity into unity. How ironic, and how tragic, that now we have become united against one another.

Learn and Pray For A Specific Soldier

The following “open letter” was received from the Bostoner Rebbe and HaRav Simcha HaKohen Kook. It outlines a plan where soldiers are paired with people who will pray and learn for them. To participate, send an email to maortlmo@gmail.com, saying you wish to pray and learn with a soldier and they will supposedly email you back the hebrew name of a soldier.

An open letter to all Achenu Bene Yisroel

After learning about the heart rendering appeal of the Gedolay Torah to intensify our Tefilos and Torah learning during this very trying time for Klal Yisroel, we have undertaken to join and aid them in their prayers.

The Medrash Rabah and the Yalkut relate that during the war against Midyon, for every one that went out to battle there was a designated person whose task it was to pray and learn for him.

The Great Gaon and Sage Rebbe Chaim Kanievsky shlitah when asked about this tradition pointed out that Dovid Hemelech, as well continued and instituted the practice, that for every individual who was in combat, there was another person selected for the specific task of praying and learning for him.

Therefore in order to continue and accomplish this Minhag, we ask soldiers and/or their relatives who would want a “partner” in Torah and Tefillah to email maortlmo@gmail.com or fax 011 9728 9450027 and give their Hebrew name and mothers Hebrew name without any other particulars such as family name or other identifying factors, so that we may disseminate them among those who heed the call to add Torah and Tefiloh for the sake of those who find themselves in
jeopardy chas v’shalom. Anyone who finds himself or herself chas v’shalom in danger or in shelters because of the war may also feel free to call or email to the
above.

To bond with us and receive a name of your “partner” please email or fax the above.

May Klal Yisroel in the merit of joining together, speedily see a successful end to this trial and campaign as quoted in the Parsha “without loss of life”.

Healing the Rift within Orthodoxy

By Michael Freund (Reprinted with Permission. First Published in the Jerusalem Post here.)

It’s summer time, and Tisha Be’av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, is less than three weeks away.

Normally during this period, religious Jews tend to focus on themes relating to the need for greater Jewish unity, in line with the Talmudic statement that it was the very absence of such cohesion which led to our destruction and exile some two millennia ago.

But these aren’t normal days – far from it – and the mercury in the thermometer isn’t the only thing heating up.

Ever since the conversion crisis erupted nearly three months, the war of words between religious Zionists and haredim has grown increasingly fiery, threatening to drive a stake right through the heart of Orthodox Jewry.

Indeed, one of the consequences of the ruling by the haredi-dominated Rabbinical High Court retroactively annulling conversions performed by religious Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman was to swing open the floodgates of hateful intra-Orthodox rhetoric.

Spokesmen for both sides quickly manned the barricades, and wasted little time hurling insults and invective at each other.

On May 7, for example, Bar-Ilan University’s Dr. Asher Cohen wrote an article in Makor Rishon comparing the Lithuanian branch of haredi Orthodoxy to the murderous Taliban in Afghanistan, and decried what he described as “haredi halachic Bolshevism.”

Is this the language of respectful discourse? The haredi media was no less discourteous in its approach. The daily Yated Ne’eman, in its reporting on the controversy, repeatedly refused to use the title “rabbi” when referring to Druckman.

And on May 25, the editorial in the haredi daily Hamodia denounced Druckman’s conversions in harsh terms, belittling them as “one big act of clowning.”
These are just a few choice pearls of the cruel and undignified attacks that have been launched by both sides against one another in a decidedly unspiritual-like display of deprecation.

Even normally cooler heads have started to join the fray, as a growing number of moderate religious Zionist rabbis speak openly of “freeing Israel” from “ultra-Orthodox hegemony”.

As an Orthodox Jew, I find this clash deeply troubling.

WHILE THE dispute between the two camps pre-dates the establishment of the state, driven by ideological differences over Zionism, events in recent years have further heightened the discord.

Disagreements over how to oppose the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, and controversy surrounding the observance of shmita, brought to the fore a sense of loathing and even hate that simply has no place in a spiritually-oriented community.

Frankly speaking, this is not the Torah way.

And if cooler heads don’t prevail, and soon, it could cause lasting damage to the inner fabric of Orthodox Jewry, potentially tearing the community apart.

The dangers inherent in such a split are obvious. As it stands now, Orthodox Jews are a minority among world Jewry, and there is nothing to be gained by a division among the ranks.

Moreover, so much of what Orthodox Jewry believes in, from traditional values to public decency, is currently under assault. Can we really afford to be expending valuable time and energy excoriating one another when everything we hold dear is under attack? We must find a way to mend the schism within Orthodoxy.

• Step number one in healing the rift: tone down the rhetoric and turn up the respect.

After all, on nearly all the major theological issues, from the centrality of Torah to the primacy of Halacha, we basically agree with one another. Sure, there are differences, and they are far from insignificant, but personal attacks and insults, public humiliation and disgrace, must be banished once and for all from our civil discourse.

• Step number two is surprisingly simple: create an exchange program between religious Zionist and haredi yeshivot. Once a month, on every Rosh Hodesh, students from religious Zionist and haredi academies should get together and study Torah and Talmud.

Let them pore over biblical passages in unison, grapple with the complexities of the medieval Tosafists and stretch their minds together trying to figure out the meaning of Maimonides. That experience alone would generate newfound mutual respect on both sides, and would regularly serve to underline just how much the Torah can bring us together.

It would also tear down the prejudice and preconceived notions that prevail, and in communities that value scholarship, no one could possibly object to the simple act of learning and studying together.

• Step number three: bring pressure to bear on public figures in the religious Zionist and haredi worlds to take active steps towards forging greater unity.

These can include organizing annual summits of leading rabbis from the various streams of Orthodoxy, the issuance of joint declarations, and the publication of compilations of halachic works by both Zionist and haredi rabbis.

JEWISH HISTORY is replete with heated disputes. But now especially, as Tisha Be’av nears, and the embers of the conversion crisis continue to burn, Orthodoxy’s varied adherents would do well to recall the words of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the famed Netziv of Volozhin. In his introduction to the book of Genesis, he cites one overriding reason to explain why the generation that endured the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans warranted such punishment nearly 20 centuries ago.

“Due to the baseless hatred in their hearts towards each other,” the Netziv wrote, “they suspected that those who disagreed with them on religious matters were Sadducees or heretics. This brought them to misguided bloodshed and many other evils until the Temple was destroyed.”

At this critical point in our nation’s saga, it should be clear, we can ill afford to replicate that fatal mistake.

In Light Of Klal Yisroels Current Situation: Kol Koreh From The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

In Light Of Klal Yisroels Current Situation: Kol Koreh From The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

We are in the wake of a terrible destruction, Jewish blood spilled like water in the Holy Land, of precious sons of Zion who fell in sanctification of Hashem’s name in their Beis Medrash – nations have entered the estate of Hashem and turned Yerushalayim into heaps of rubble. And all that is besides the frightening danger to the nation of Hashem from enemies from without who threaten to obliterate it – may it never come to pass, and may Hashem have mercy.

And then there are other heartrending tragedies that have suddenly afflicted our community. We are all enveloped in mourning over the calamities borne by Jews in every land.

We therefore call and encourage the entire community to gird and strengthen itself in what the Jewish people relies upon, the pillars of the world: Torah, avodah and gemillus chasodim – and to gather in shuls and botei medrash to pour out prayers and pleas before our Father in Heaven, through recitation of Tehillim and the Yom Kippur Koton service on Thursday, 27 Adar II, may it arrive bringing blessings.

May our entreaties be pleasing to the Master of all, and may He listen to our cries, accept our prayers in mercy and quickly bring us the Redeemer without delay.

Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America

24 Adar II, 5768

Special Address

Horav Aaron Feldman, Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel and Chaver Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, will be delivering divrei hisorerus b’ inyana d’yoma on the eve of Yom Kippur Koton, this Wednesday evening, 27 Adar II 5768/April 2, 2008, at 8:45 PM.

The Rosh Hayeshiva’s address, which will take place at Agudath Israel of Baltimore, will be broadcast live nationwide by TCN – The Torah Conferencing Network. You can also hear Horav Feldman’s shiur by calling 718-705-5555, and punching in access code 2626.

Achdus!

I once again have the privilege of co-chairing the Achdus Chinese Auction which will be held this year at the New York Hall of Science on Motzei Shabbos, November 10th. Now, most of us that live in Jewish neighborhoods on the east coast are aware that this time of the year is “chinese auction season”. It seems that there is a different chinese auction, (or two, or three) every other day. Achdus, we believe, is different, very different.

The idea for the Achdus auction was developed four years ago when administrators from two different schools, the Bais Yaakov of Queens and Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, realized that they were each planning to run their own chinese auction. They hit upon the idea of combining their auctions thereby lightening the load on the community calendar and enabling the pooling of the respective resources and talents of two administrative and parent bodies to produce one amazing joint fundraiser — Achdus! We believe that this joint fund raising concept is unprecedented.

We have worked extremely hard to produce an elegant, fun evening with great games, delicious food and amazing prizes. There’s really something for everyone: fine jewelry, travel, Artscroll Shas, electronics, trips to Israel, judaica, gift certificates and “Achdus Auction Exclusives“, unique and fun prizes that can’t be found anywhere else. For example:

The Kosher Supermarket Blitz
The winner of this special prize will have five minutes alone in a fully stocked kosher supermarket. The store will be closed to the public as the lucky winner races against the clock to fill his/her shopping cart to overflowing with a bountiful array of kosher groceries. I’m sure this will end up being a phenomenal YouTube moment!

Give Me Two Scoops and Make it Personal
Many of you are familiar with Max & Mina’s Ice Cream store in Kew Gardens Hills. They are famous for their wild flavors such as lox, potato chip fudge and Ring Ding, have been written up in the New York Times and have been named no 1. on the list of Top 10 Unique Ice Cream Parlors in America by the author of Everyone Loves Ice Cream. The winner of this “Achdus Auction Exclusive” will be able to help create their own flavor that will appear on the flavor board and be served up at Max & Mina’s. Anyone up for a scoop of Chewy Teshuvah Chocolate Chunk?

Up, Up and Away
Hop aboard and bring a friend on your private one hour aerial sightseeing tour of New York City. Traffic will crawl beneath you as you glide safely above the City that Never Sleeps.

This year’s Grand Prize is a Kosher Caribbean cruise for two. As old man winter has finally begun awakening from his slumber, imagine yourself surrounded by turquiose waters aboard a Five Star luxury cruise liner with award winning gourmet Glatt Kosher dining, complete spa facilities, top notch entertainment, women’s Israeli dance classes, Shiurim, Daf Yomi, Minyanim, Mixers and much more. The Grand Prize includes two round trip tickets to point of embarkation and $1,000 spending money.

Those of you who are in the metro New York area, please join us this motzei shabbos and stop me to say hello, I’ll be the one running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Those of you who aren’t local, please take advantage of the opportunity to support two great schools, the achdus concept and the chance to win some amazing prizes by purchasing your tickets today.

For a list of all the prizes and to order tickets, check out our website at achdusauction.com

**Today, November 5th, is the last day to take advantage of the early bird bonus ticket packages.**

Ahavas Chinam and the Beyond BT Shabbaton

Before the Beyond BT Shabbaton, at least 2 people asked us about the appropriateness of holding it during Shabbos Chazon. We had asked a shaila and were told there was no halachic problem at all. After having held the Shabbaton I think that this was in fact the perfect time to have it, here’s why.

We know that the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam, senseless hatred, that is hating people for no good reason. An antitidote for Sinas Chinam is Ahavas Chinam, that is loving, supporting and caring about a person for no reason other than that they are a fellow Jew. Let’s look at all the ways people strove to achieve Ahavas Yisroel this Shabbos.

First we had our Passaic coordinators, Chana and Dina who did all the leg work to find the right place and caterer at the right price. Our goals were to make the event as nice and as affordable as possible.

Next were all the people from Passaic who opened their homes to those of us coming from outside Passaic. Included in this group were Dan and Edna Ritz who, in addition to hosting, opened their home for an Oneg on Friday night.

For the food preparations and serving we were blessed by the kindness of Chana’s son Benjamin who coordinated every aspect of the meals with fantastic results.

The next group who gave of themselves were Tzvi, Gary, Ron, Aaron and Reuven who each gave a wonderful ten minute inspirational talk. The quality of the speeches was truly amazing and one participant wondered how we were able to have such confidence in the speakers having never heard any of them speak previously.

Rabbi Yitz Greenman and his wife Leah shared their home and his words of experience on the topic of Integration into the Frum community for the Shabbos afternoon talk. But it wasn’t a lecture, Rabbi Greenman spoke for 15 minutes and then opened the floor for the next 45 as people shared their differing viewpoints on the issues and it’s various facets. It was like a lively comment thread with the same respect for a multiplicity of opinions that we value here.

Living up to their name was our host shul, Ahavas Israel who with their Morah D’Asra, Rabbi Eisenman and their administration and staff did everything they could to make our Shabbos as enjoyable as possible.

Finally there were the participants, a great mix of singles, couples and families who joined together to listen, learn and give chizuk to each other in the common quest for spiritual growth.

I’m sure this wasn’t the first Shabbaton that exhibited such an outpouring of Ahavas Chesed and it hopefully won’t be the last, but this is truly the stuff upon which the next Beis Hamikdash will be built – a foundation of giving, learning and growing. Thanks to the all the participants and thanks to the hundreds of people who come by every day to give and get chizuk in their quest for growth in Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim and collectively discussing the issues the Klal Yisroel faces.

Over the next few weeks, we will G-d willing, post excerpts from some of the topics discussed over Shabbos, so we can keep the discussion going here.

Using Our Talents For Achdus (Auction)

In Rabbi Brody’s recent post “Jewgrass, or don’t throw away your past“, he points out that Hashem doesn’t want Baalei Teshuva to throw away our past – He wants us to bring it into holiness, to sanctify it.

It’s the same with out skills and knowledge, Hashem wants us to use them to serve Him and the Jewish People. A good example of this is David’s involvement in the Achdus Auction. Here’s the writeup of the Auction from the web site:
Read more Using Our Talents For Achdus (Auction)

Family Feud

Fighting is never fun. I remember being in a fight with my younger brother once. It went on for days. One trend I’ve noticed after reading blogs for over a year is the constant in-fighting between the (and I really don’t like labels) “Modern and Charedi” world. The truth is that it’s a feud that exists outside the confines of a computer monitor, as well. We see it with our FFB children who attend day schools. We see in when we meet someone in our own cities and they give us a “look” when we mention which shul we affiliate with.

Often people in the frum world are quick to condemn others who won’t hold by our views, yet at the same time, demand that people accept our minhagim and hashkafah.
My wife always says, “If you want respect, you’ve got to give respect.” The funny thing is, as BTs we should pave the way for Achuds and tolerance within our communities. If anyone knows what it takes to navigate through relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, is it not the Baal Teshuva?

A Baal Teshuva wants others to be tolerant of his lifestyle choices. It is only fair that we should set the example of tolerance within Orthodoxy. We have been described as “pillars of religious conviction” and as “people who are passionate about their Judaism”.

We also have, hopefully, learned how to co-exist with our parents, in-laws, and friends who do not share our views on religion. If I wear a black hat and the guy across the street wears a knitted kipah, then so what? It’s time we look for common ground among our fellow Jews. Tisha B’Av is behind us, but the reasons why we mourn are still present today. Rosh Hashanah is around the corner, and soon we will be judged. How we choose to act towards our fellow “Modern” or “Charedi” brothers and sisters could be one of the greatest contributions of the BT movement to orthodox society. The choice is ours.

Looking for the “Aleph” in Everything

In a previous post Creating Unity and Harmony Instead of Reacting to Strife and Conflict, I highlighted a step by step formula towards creating unity that can be taken by anyone:

1. Absolute conviction in Torah. It is the blueprint for creation as well as a civilized, productive and G-dly society – to offer guidance and to be applied in every circumstance, at all places and all times.
2. Warmth, patience, optimism, the sharing of knowledge, firm in conviction (see “Step 1” above) yet pleasant in tone with a focus on commonality and goodness.
3. The absolute belief and empowerment in the individual which was being interacted with – that they can do [more] good and change the world for good.
4. Always finalized with a call to action for oneself and for one’s immediate as well as extended sphere of influence (a call which reflects the attitude and approach of these 4 steps).

This four step formula equates to “looking for the “Aleph” in everything” that one encounters. What is the “Aleph” and how does one do that?

It is interesting to note that the word for exile, “golus” and the word for Redemption, “Geulah” – the only difference between the two words is the Hebrew letter “Aleph”; “Geulah” [Redemption] contains the “Aleph” whereas “golus” [exile] doesn’t. The “Aleph” represents “the Alufo shel Olam” [the “Master of the World” i.e. G-d].

Many people have a fear of what is going to happen with the imminent advent of the Redemption and they ask – “What will be with all of my business deals, money, property, position of influence and friends (both Jew and Gentile) – will everything will be lost or ruined?!
Read more Looking for the “Aleph” in Everything

Antidote for Baseless Hatred – Part 3

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was kind enough to allow us to repost this article on Beyond BT during the 3 weeks. For more tapes and articles by Rebbetzin Heller please visit her site. To listen or download her mp3s please visit the Aish Audio site. This is the third and final part of this series.

Overcoming Hatred

So now Rambam, the great halachist, presents us with the following issue: What about people whom we don’t like for good reason?

Remember what I said in the beginning: Nobody gets up in the morning and announces: “It’s a great day today—I think I’ll hate people. I’ll put a little butter on the stairs; I’ll turn the TV volume all the way up and leave the house…” When we hear that the Sages said senseless hatred is a terrible sin, we say, “Oh, yes, it’s really terrible. I don’t hate any people senselessly—but apes, like my upstairs neighbors…”

I wouldn’t blame the people who live beneath us for hating us. They’re lovely. They’re immaculate. They mind their own business. They didn’t deserve what happened to them. When we bought the apartment above them, all of my numerous children still lived at home, plus my mother lived with us, so we’re talking about an awful lot of people in one apartment. They didn’t know this. One day, before we moved in, the wife saw my husband and me coming down from the apartment. She smiled and said, “I hope you’re quiet people.” I thought: She’s going to find out the truth soon enough; let her sleep tonight. So I just smiled back. Then moving day came. She sees one kid, and another, and another, and another—a whole procession—and then my mother…

Anyway, Rambam talks about hatred, so we have to define what hatred is. Love, in Jewish terms, is bonding. Hatred, then, is detachment and separation.
Read more Antidote for Baseless Hatred – Part 3

Creating Unity and Harmony Instead of Reacting to Strife and Conflict

B”H

Creating Unity and Harmony Instead of Reacting to Strife and Conflict
A Singular Approach for Common BT Challenges

Whether you are dealing with family, struggling with secular influences vs. Torah values, observing Judaism in the workplace, deciding which parenting methodology is most effective, finding the balance between “being machmir” [strict observance of Jewish law] or “being maykel” [permitted leniencies in Jewish law], discussing Israeli politics or the Arab/Israeli “conflict”, the roles of men and women in Judaism, identifying with a particular Jewish sect, etc. – there seems to be no shortage of issues which finds the BT under the gun and under fire. What often starts for the BT as an exploration of spirituality, happiness and Jewish identity turns into a three ring circus of hopping from one confrontational issue to the next.

Consider the following scenarios:

You’re frum and your family isn’t (yet). Thanksgiving is coming. How do you deal with the “issues”? Your uncle is “married” to a non-jew (G-d forbid) and they are throwing a “bar-mitzvah” for their son or perhaps your younger sister is having her bas-mitzvah in a Reform Temple – do you attend? You start being challenged by your relatives on issues regarding Judaism – in addition to the issues of Shabbos, shomer negiah and kashrus – Reform vs Conservative vs Reconstructionist vs Orthodox get thrown into the fray – do you feel a burning drive to “stand up” for the honor of the Torah? Your parents want you to finish your college degree whereas you want to go to Yeshivah or seminary – what do you do? Are you bound and determined to show everyone “the light”?
Read more Creating Unity and Harmony Instead of Reacting to Strife and Conflict

Focusing on the Strengths of the Paths Within Judaism

As a people we need a refuah. There seems to be so much infighting and negativity against other valid paths within Judaism. We need a lot more love and achdus and a lot less bashing.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg suggests that Judaism defines love as identifying with the positive qualities of another. The more we see and focus on another person’s positive qualities, the more we will come to love them. And the same can apply to groups within Judaism, the more we focus on the strengths of each group the closer we can come to appreciating and loving them.
Read more Focusing on the Strengths of the Paths Within Judaism

Sibling Rivalry-BT Vs. FFB: How Do We Stop It?

I’ve noticed along with others that there sometimes is an anti FFB sentiment running through some comments. I’d like to dispel people’s beliefs for a moment.

First of all let’s realize that if it wasn’t for the FFB world, we wouldn’t be here today on this website (obviously Hashem is the ultimate reason we are here). After all, the first BT’s of this past generation were merkaraved by Aish, Ohr Samayach, Neve, etc. All started by FFB’s. So we owe a tremendous hakaros hatov to the FFB world. Did we ever stop and think who kept the light of Torah burning the last 2000 years? That’s right, those FFB’s.
Read more Sibling Rivalry-BT Vs. FFB: How Do We Stop It?

The Pierced Teen and I

I hardly ever sleep on airplanes. So after an eleven-hour Thursday night flight to Eretz Yisroel, I arrived Friday noontime, jet lagged and exhausted.

I came to spend Shabbos with my daughter, who is studying in a seminary in Yerushalayim. Together we walked through the winding streets of the Jewish Quarter and enjoyed a beautiful, spiritual Kabbolas Shabbos at the Kosel. After the conclusion of the tefilos, we returned to our hotel, which was almost exclusively occupied by Shabbos observant guests, for the evening seudah (meal). I ate rather quickly and was in my hotel room getting some much-needed sleep by seven o’clock. By midnight, I awoke, already having had a full night’s sleep. I quietly left the room and made my way down to the lobby with a sefer, some reading material, and an assortment of roasted nuts that my daughter had purchased for me.

Sitting in the deserted hotel lobby, I looked up and noticed a teenage young man sauntering through the lobby. He was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, sporting a spiked, Israeli-version- of-a ‘mushroom’ haircut and several body-piercing ornaments. Not your average yeshiva bachur.
Read more The Pierced Teen and I

Bridging Backgrounds

It’s very natural to try to insulate yourself with those who are as similar to you as possible. As a BT, we often form bonds with those who have gone through the same experiences as us – those who have also changed the direction of their lives to include Torah. This is a comfortable enclave; there are similar stories to share, others can appreciate the world we came from and can empathize with the current struggles to balance between non-religious familial obligations and our new lives.

The problem is, insulating ourselves with those who have gone through the same experiences as we have leaves out a lot of people – and many who we can learn an enormous amount from. And it also splinters a world that is broken in enough pieces as it is – just in the Orthodox world, there are divisions between Hareidi and Modern, between Chasidish and Litvish. Not to mention the huge divide that occurs between “frum” and “non-frum” Jews, a gap that many often believe to be unbridgeable.
Read more Bridging Backgrounds