Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Bagels! by Aliza Davidovit

Dear readers, we are close enough for you to know that I suffer from opsomania, which is, the abnormal love for one kind of food. In my case it’s bagels. Therefore, I cannot deny that as Passover approaches, I lament the loss of this round shaped carbohydrate and my spirit sadly flattens like a whole wheat matzo.

But Passover is not just about cutting bread from the menu or getting rid of the last possible crumbs from your fridge, your car, your sock drawer, or anywhere else you are harboring baked stowaways. On a deeper level, Passover, just as Easter, is a time for us to take an introspective look at ourselves, to clean up our spiritual crumbs, and to commit ourselves to do things differently today than we did yesterday.

The yeast that makes bread rise is compared to a man’s pride and to the puffery we entertain ourselves with in our ego-driven lives. Yet matzos are hardly attention getters, either by sight or smell. Everything about them bespeaks humility. Quite frankly, they are a needed reminder to a people who, bloated with their own success, forget that at any moment history can take the air right out of them. The destiny of a Jew can pivot in a second.

This past week, as we watched politics play out with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we were reminded of that fact. And ominously, in the shadow of Passover, history seemed to repeat itself.

Once there was a leader named Moses who came before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” But Pharaoh’s heart was pumped up on self-importance, ego and pride. Though he had chance after chance to do the right thing, he spurned Moses and God. He was, figuratively speaking, a yeast filled bagel. But egos make for poor scaffolds and thus the Egyptian empire crumbled. Netanyahu, too, arrived in the columned halls of DC with a similar message regarding housing for Jews in Jerusalem, basically saying, “Let my people grow.” The prime minister was met with the same defiance and arrogance of a true enemy of the Jewish people, a dislike that breached all former protocol, decency and semblance of friendship. Pharaoh told the Jews to make bricks with no straw, Obama tells Jews to build houses with no bricks.

My friends, the moment is as brittle as a matzo. This night is certainly different than all other nights as the US-Israel relationship hits an historic low and Iran casts an ominous gloom on the tiny Jewish state. Let’s pray for the sake of sparing lives and friendships that Obama will learn something from the humble matzo and soften his stance toward America’s stalwart ally in the Middle East. As for Netanyahu, like Moses, I implore him to stay the course, despite the pressures, so that God will continue to stand behind him and bless the Promised Land. If the president would have spent less time listening to his reverend’s hateful speeches and more time listening to scriptures he would have learned that the bread you cast upon the waters flows back your way. But, until it all plays out, let us just be glad that Obama bows and bends to foreign leaders as if he was a Geisha girl-- like this he won’t feel too disjointed if the God who watches over Israel has to bring him to his knees.

Happy Passover and Easter!!!
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

From Toe to Head by Aliza Davidovit

As I was lying on my couch with my feet propped up on the armrest reading the Bible that was resting on my stomach, I realized that from above the top of the page I could see my toes. Something about my position seemed disrespectful to me. I didn’t think my feet should be elevated above God’s book. I started to tell myself I was being silly and continued reading but my toe kept looking at me straight in the face. I then began to investigate if there were any discussions about this in Judaic literature and discovered that I didn’t invent an issue where there was none. Turns out that there are many rules on how to handle holy books. For instance, one can’t put a book down on the same bench you are sitting on, or place a book face down or on the floor. It is even a sign of respect to close the book when one is not reading it and to kiss it once done reading it or if you drop it on the floor. This search led me to read on about other traditions that advocate respect, such as requiring a woman to dress beautifully before lighting her Sabbath candles in order to show respect to the holiness of the day, or the past requirement of Talmudic students to sit on a lower level than their teacher, or that of priests officiating in the temple to wear special garb. All these procedures were followed in the name of respect.

These traditions touch me deeply even though they may seem benign and boring to others. It touched me because what I think is at the core of so much of today’s problems, from broken families to strained relationships even on the political scene, is the lack of respect between individuals. When I see all the fences religions erect vis-a-vis inanimate objects in order to preserve respect and to enhance our ability to differentiate between the holy and the mundane, I wonder why it’s not blatantly evident that the same has to be extended to people in order to preserve relationships.

The other week I was walking in a shopping mall when I heard a little girl, probably aged 9 or 10, tell her mother to shut up. I was disgusted with the mother, not the child. For it is obvious that that parent didn’t put up the essential scaffold that maintains all relationships: respect. I’m sure there were many infractions which went unchallenged before that impudent kid had the nerve to tell her parent to shut up. I have seen brides and grooms read their vows with such love and devotion and just a few years later they call each other every name under the sun. As a little girl I used to wonder how people who loved each other could actually get divorced. At what point does it break down, at what point does it become irreversible? We all recently saw how the United States spoke very rough and tough to Israel, its steadfast ally.

Relationships don’t crumble overnight. As we let our guard fall as to how we speak to others and how we let them speak to us, these insipid leniencies that seem meaningless and harmless in the moment end up creating a great chasm. A child shushes you quiet at 5 years old and tells you to shut up at 10, you call you husband “stupid” as a joke the first year of mariage and five years later you’ve expanded your liberties and call him a *!!@$%!@@*. The Holy Book starts off on your bookshelf and ends up as a coaster on the coffee table. Strategic interests unite two nations but harsh words and disrespect seem more potent in defining the future.

I guess this whole blog is to urge us all to guard the moments and to realize how important respect is as the glue to preserve all that’s decent and precious. We’ve become such an informal generation, and respect is one of the greatest casualties. In my temple growing up there was a big sign above the pulpit that said, “Know before whom you stand,” I think I too started forgetting, but my toes served to remind me.
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who is left to protect Israel? by Aliza Davidovit

Someone once told me that if you want to see how well Jews are doing just read an antisemitic paper. In it, the Jews, who make up .02 percent of the world population, are alleged to be running the entire world. The statistics alone would prove this to be preposterous.

Yet as my BlackBerry lights up like wild fire with 100s of e-mails a day from legitimate news sources, it is quite evident that Jews are in deeper peril today than ever before. All the fences Jews relied on to protect them are crumbling before our eyes. The troubles facing the Jewish State of Israel lay at the core of these tenuous times for the Jewish people. A new generation has arisen that remembers not the smell of smoke which arose from the crematoriums. This generation knows only Facebook, Twitter and iPhones and faces the world through flat plasma screens and not in 3-D reality where hate is spreading with alarming speed. It does not realize that without Israel every Jew throughout the world is a hated orphan who will be abused, assaulted or even murdered though they have assimilated into their local cultures. Remember the Jews of post-Weimar Germany. They, too, felt more German than Jewish…until they were brutally awakened as to their true status in the Fatherland.

In the past, education and strong ties to Eretz Yisroel have preserved a people confronted by villainous persecutions. But today Jews have become too comfortable in their host countries and have forgotten how much they need Israel for their survival. As such, Jews donate more charitable funds to save opera and whales than they do to save Jews. What message does this send to the next generation? As the "poisoning" of America's elites against Jews and Israel, especially in academia where anti-Israel agenda is metastasizing across campuses, our Jewish youth doesn't even know how to respond because they don't know the facts. Their ignorance has become our enemy’s greatest tool. Our kids live in an educational vacuum that we have let others fill. So, who is left to defend Israel: Obama, Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hilary Clinton, the United Nations, or you and me?

My friends, I believe that as pertains to the Jewish state there is an enemy in the White House. How can we forget that prior to becoming president, Obama addressed AIPAC in 2008 and said, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided”—until he changed his mind the next day. Now that’s commitment! Maybe we missed the fine print on his AIPAC statement which modified the word “undivided” as meaning that Jews can’t build houses in Jerusalem but Arabs can.

Oh, and then there was Obama’s promise in that same AIPAC speech in which he promised, "I'll do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” which translates into, “We will do nothing but offer carrots and sticks until they have a chance to complete their nuclear program and be a certain existential threat to Israel and the Western world.” If that devotion to its loyal ally is not enough, the president now sends Vice President Biden to Israel to make sure Israel does not defend itself against Iran in a pre-emptive strike. I ask you again, “Who is left to defend Israel?”

Shouldn’t we all be terrified when Biden calls the United States’ bond to Israel “unshakable” on Tuesday and then three days later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells Netanyahu that building housing for Jews in East Jerusalem puts Israel’s bilateral relations with the U.S. into question. I have never seen something so unshakable shake so quickly.

This week Jews begin to read the third book of Moses, Leviticus. It begins with a call of duty to Moses, but its timing has never been more crucial. It is a call of duty to all Jews and friends of Israel to defend the Jewish homeland by all means. For Jews who voted for Obama it’s time you woke up and realized that behind whatever facade you wear in this life you are a Jew and no one will let you forget it as hard as you may try. It is time to get behind your people and your Jewish homeland; it is time to teach your children and wake up already.

If you still believe in the “yes, we can” man, fine, but put the pressure on him to stand by America’s most loyal ally in the Middle East. Tell the contortionist-in-chief to stop bowing and bending to foreign leaders and to stand up straight for his friends.

The days of wine and roses are over. There is a jihad against our people and the clock is ticking in double time.
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Shouts Heard Around the World by Aliza Davidovit

This week’s blog marks the end of the second book of the Bible. And as we review the lessons learned to this point it becomes evermore clear that God's book is not a history book, but a living legacy. It demands not only that we increase the flame but pass the torch from generation to generation. As such, today’s piece will be co-written by my younger cousin Brittany who will be bat mitzvahed in the coming year. As it says: “Teach your children and your children's children” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Although the first bullet has yet to be shot, America is engaged in a Civil War. There is such polarization between political parties and people that the yellow tape which is usually used to mark a crime scene can now be used to outline the map of the United States. The greatest country in the world has become the brutalized victim of divisiveness because each side is so arrogantly absorbed with its own existence. But any rational mind would know that truth, civility and cooperation are not found in the extremes but rather down the middle of the road. Can it truly be that the Republicans are 100% right? That the democrats are 100% wrong? Can there be no exchange of wisdom and compromise that would serve us all better as a people and a nation?

In this week’s biblical portion God tells Moses to tally the people by taking a half monetary unit from each, in other words, instead of a dollar, each was counted by giving fifty cents. The moral of the story is clear: None of us is SO complete as to obviate the need of others in order to form a perfect whole.

With that lesson in mind, perhaps our country is in urgent need of a humility lesson. For in pride and arrogance and self-absorption, we become evermore fragmented as the parts begin to mistake themselves for the whole “pie.” The dumbest student in the class and in life is always the one who thinks he knows it all.

Just imagine that America is a child in a huge custody battle. Would it serve the child best for the opposing parents to demonize each other and keep the hate alive or to realize that a child needs both parents for healthy balance and growth?

Another powerful lesson we learn from the biblical account is that the Torah was given not on the loftiest and proudest of mountains but rather on Mount Sinai, a comparatively small and humble one. This, too, is a symbolic lesson meant to teach that even God’s laws and wisdom which should be powerful enough to ram through any heart can only enter a humble heart, a heart that does not overestimate its own wisdom.

Perhaps these shouting matches that have deafened a nation along partisan lines should be toned down and a softer and more common sense approach should be used. Often school teachers whisper instead of scream to get their students to tune in and pay attention. Maybe we should try this quieter approach of engaging before it's too late and a nationally fatal shot is heard around the world.
By Aliza Davidovit & Brittany Pekeles
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