Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jew to Jew: On the eve of the high holidays! by Aliza Davidovit

I’m sure mothers are the same in every ethnic group but please oblige me if I pick on Jewish mothers because it’s just plain fun. Last weeks’ Bible reading in which God lists 98 curses that will befall the Jewish people if they don’t behave reminded me of a Jewish mother’s warning every time her child leaves the house: wear your hat or you’ll catch pneumonia; don’t forget lunch or you’ll get an ulcer; park close to the door or you’ll get mugged; call me as soon as you get there or my blood pressure will go up and you won’t have a mother to worry about you, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Then they bid you to have a good day. We didn’t even leave the house yet and we are already advised of 98 ways our lives will be ruined.

Perhaps the above approach does not engender the current trends of positive thinking. But one thing is sure, every advisory, from God and our mothers is packed with deep, deep love. Our souls are all on journeys and when they leave their heavenly house they too are not sent off with such platitudes as “have a nice trip,” but rather are given warnings and codes of behavior. It’s almost like a travel advisory from the State Department.

But when God hides his face from his people and our dear mothers are no longer, who is left to love us? Judaism teaches that each Jew must love the other and watch out for his physical and spiritual well being because even though one may be on the political left and the other on the right, they are in essence part of one body and the injury of any part is deleterious to the whole. The one thing that can sustain the Jewish people is their love and respect for each other--just as Rabbi Hillel summed up the entire Bible by saying what is hateful to you do not do to another. The second temple was destroyed not as a punishment for lascivious behavior but because Jews showed hatred toward each other and lack of compassion, love and understanding.

As a people we cannot preserve ourselves or what we love by hating each other. There are times when the religious right frustrates me and there are times when liberal leaning Jews exasperate me. But just as Hitler did not discriminate over which Jew he hated, the antidote for our people is that we can’t discriminate over which Jew we love. In the open courtyards the Nazis stripped Jews down to nakedness and there were no rich or poor, liberal or conservative, religious or secular. “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before Hashem, your God.”

On the eve of the high holidays, all Jews must recognize that we are responsible for one another which also means that as a Jew when you engage in the secular world, in business, and in all affairs you must conduct yourself with decency and integrity so that when the next Jew walks into the building there are no aspersions cast upon him because of your dealings.

My friends, if the blood or bone marrow of a Jew you disagree with or hate was the only one that could save your child’s or your life, would you reject it? Of course not! So, don’t be so quick in hating. Our survival is symbiotic whether you like it or not. The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael (Jews loving one another) is said to be the deed which hastens the coming of the Messiah. If we don’t love each other, why are we surprised that antisemites hate us? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper, so here, take my hat. It’s a cold, cold world out there.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Hate to Bug You, But… by Aliza Davidovit

The infestation of bedbugs in NYC may have many scratching their heads and other body parts as well, but in a country with so many ways to stay clean, it’s truly a wonder. In recent years we have seen a rise of animals coming out of their natural habitat and attacking people in suburbs and in cities. Snakes are slithering their way out of the rain forests into fancy swimming pools in Florida; coyotes are coming out of the woodwork on the east coast; human deaths by shark attacks have increased; bear attacks are also on the rise. We must surely ask “why?”

Now if you don’t believe in God that’s fine, you can get your facts from Animal Planet. But if you are a believer, you may want to take a look into His Good Book to discover the last time the boundaries between the animal kingdom and mankind’s realm broke down and what the result was: the Flood.

Today, as then, the borders between animal and man are crumbling because the one thing that separates man from beast is his keeping of God’s laws. If not for charity, decency, morality, mercy, and compassion we are just like any other animal. When we stop living as though we were created in God’s image, we start looking more and more like animals every day, driven solely by baser instincts.

Wherein the Garden of Eden man had dominion over the animals, today it appears that the animals have dominion over us--which brings me back to the bedbugs. Man once ate animals to sustain himself, and now these bugs eat upon man’s blood for sustenance. We have become a smorgasbord for them and other beasts.

How ironic it is that New York’s most proud and haughty edifice, the Empire State Building, should be plagued with bedbugs, just as are some of New York’s fanciest hotels, shops, and businesses. And these are only the reported cases. I suspect it won’t be long before it reaches the White House too. It was God who hit the mighty columns of Egypt not with big bombs, but with lice. Leave it to God to bring “the great” to their knees by the tiniest of mites, making fools out of those who flout His word and His ways. Those with no humility come to fear not the sword, but the bedbug.

I cannot help but be reminded of Titus, the emperor of Rome who, according to the Babylonian Talmud, "had an insect fly into his nose which then picked at his brain for seven years. When he died, they opened his skull and found the insect had grown to the size of a bird. The Talmud gives this as the cause of his death and interprets it as divine retribution for his wicked actions in destroying the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.”

As more and more people throw God’s laws out the window with the sanction of corrupted religiosity, of courts and of schools, our country is rotting at the core. Turns out that the sunshine Nancy Pelosi spoke of hasn’t been the best disinfectant after all. Maybe we should give the Ten Commandments another try.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hope is not a Dirty Word! by Aliza Davidovit


It turns out that “the hope we could believe in” wasn’t a bag full of miracles after all. If anything, these days, many of us feel a heightened level of despair and optimism is a hard-to-come-by refuge. But my friends, negativity is a dour compass and sure to lead us nowhere. We are obliged to bequeath to our children not slogans of doom and gloom, but rather to empower them with hope, real hope, based in faith and consolidated by action.

I have only to look to the Jewish people, the most persecuted group in history, to note a nation who is always worried about the future; Jews may as well change their national slogan to “Oys R Us.” With their ever-fearful mindset, it is surprising how God’s “chosen people” have been able to achieve anything at all. But the answer is because stronger than their qualms was their communal investment in hope. Dedicated to their faith, they never succumbed to despair even in the darkest hours when the Nazis’ black boots seemed to stamp out tomorrow. The faith and hope Jews clung to were Disney-like nourishing grounds which feed man to imagine a better life and world beyond crushing realities--to visualize a Promised Land beyond the barbwire fence of a concentration camp. Hope was cultivated to a premium and became a cultural tool that continues to encourage Jews to dream big and to push forward both personally and as a people.

Today, the State of Israel is a remarkable testimony to the power of hope. And it is no coincidence that its national anthem is Hatikvah, which means “the hope.”

As Samuel Smiles said: “Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.”

It is often in human nature to give up when one is beaten down over and over again. And when we look at what is becoming of America and the world today, it may be easier to say, “It’s too late; it’s gone too far. What can I do?” But are you really ready to throw your hands up in the air and surrender? Will we let the world’s devils beat us into submission, or will we, God’s faithful, raise the sword called “hope” and fight for our tomorrows believing that God sits at the tip of our every effort?

Psychologists say that hopeful people differ from the less hopeful in some intriguing respects: “Firstly, they have the ability to envision a broader range of goals; secondly, they have greater willpower and energy in pursuing those goals; and thirdly, they have the skills to generate a greater variety of routes to reach their objectives.” Hope is a smorgasbord and despair a starvation plan. At which table have you seated yourself?

Let’s stop focusing on how and when the world will end and stop escorting the saboteurs to the finish line. Let’s fight to take our country back and the whole world will follow America, as they always have. Yes, hope is indeed something we can believe in, so let’s show ‘em how it’s done!
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Shape Up! by Aliza Davidovit

When we were children my brother had a distorted old pair of running shoes which he refused to throw away because they were so comfortable. My mother, to no avail, kept telling him that distorted shoes affect your walk and can misshape a growing foot. She also had her own theory for me too when I was a teen. She’d say, if you walk around in baggy sweatpants all the time, you’ll grow into them and won’t feel yourself getting fat.

Now this is no blog on orthopedics or weight, but the running shoe and sweatpants admonishments have become symbolic life lessons for me. Where she was a pragmatist, I was a philosopher. How often in life do we fall into what is comfortable for us instead of what is good for us? Too often! People are so reluctant to leave their comfort zones as though it was some exemplary state of being or Shangrila. I can tell you two things: Wearing tight clothes has kept me thin; as for my brother, I’ve seen straighter feet.

The comfort zone, dear readers, is not your friend. It’s a place where we lull ourselves with excuses and it is also a place where we stop seeing who we are and what we are becoming. How many of us have chosen friends because we feel “comfortable” to be “ourselves” instead of finding friends who egg us on to try harder and be better, not out of our envy of them necessarily but because they make us realize that we can be better too. How many of us get too comfortable in jobs that are beneath us or “love” relationships that diminish us or body sizes that inhibit or habits that kill us? We even grow comfortable in our misery: The whole world is bad, I’m the only good normal person left and as such I will disengage, stay in my bathrobe, eat a can of Pringles and watch TV.

Yes, it’s intimidating to dip one’s toe in the big wide world because even as we think we are great, we really think everyone else is better than us, smarter than us, more capable than us. We fear to venture forth and the comfort zone sustains the status quo, we think. But it does not. Life is like a treadmill and it’s always moving; you are either going forward or being pulled backwards, sometimes imperceptibly slowly but going backwards just the same.

From experience I can tell you the world is filled with people just like you and me and some, excuse me, are schmendricks of the highest order. The only difference for the most part between them and us is they got of bed an hour earlier than us and stepped out of their comfort zones. Billionaire Mark Cuban who started out selling garbage bags door to door told me that he got into the computer business not knowing a single thing about computers. You know what his advice to me was? “No balls, no babies!”

This week on the Hebrew calendar marks the month of Elul, which is a month of introspection wherein people try to improve themselves prior to the oncoming high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But change can never really come if we don’t hone in on what needs to be changed. A first clue is offered to us in this week’s Bible reading: “Is there a man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, that he should not cause the heart of his brothers to melt, as his heart." In other words take a good look at who you are “hanging with” and how they are influencing you to advance or retreat in life. It is also written, “You shall set up judges...for yourself,” which on the face means what it means. But it also means to surround yourself with habits, people, environments, challenges that will not let you get too comfortable and which will inspire you and enable you to grow, that will be deliberate in watching you! Don’t be a shrinking violet. Your potential is not to be found amidst the lint in your bathrobe pocket. Comfortable is overrated. Get yourself a new pair of running shoes and as the Nike slogan says, "Just Do It."
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Are You Worth? by Aliza Davidovit

One of the first assignments I had as a Columbia journalism grad student was to write my own obituary. And though I suspected the demanding curriculum would be the death of me, I never imagined it would happen so quickly. But looking at my life backwards, as that assignment forced me to do, gave me an unusual purview. The obit, after all, is the summary of our life stories. What narrative did I want my existence to tell? What story would you want your obit to tell about you? Let me guess, you’d want to be remembered as a good person and in your defense you’d say, “I minded my own business and I never hurt anyone.” A lot of people minded their own business too while Jews where being carted off to gas chambers; a lot of people minded their own business while politicians stole the soul of this country; a lot of people mind their own business while homeless and hungry people “accessorize” their alleys, church steps and park benches. Yes we are all good people but “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

When I had interviewed comedian Jackie Mason and asked what he wanted his obit to say, he answered, “As still living.” I laughed at first but later thought there is indeed a way to live on posthumously and it’s by living a purposeful life wherein your actions and impact on others breathe on in perpetuity. The thing is we really wouldn’t ever need an obit to prove that we died if all along we had purposeful and unselfish lives to prove that we lived. And so when my journalism professor used to tell my overtired and overworked classmates and me, “You’ll sleep when you’re dead,” I knew he was right. There is much to do in this lifetime and the time is short.

And so on this leisurely Sunday I urge us all not to relax too much. The reason we are born is to join God in perfecting this world and making it a better place--in Judaism it is called tikkun olam, i.e., fixing the world. In 2009, on an average day, nearly everyone age 15 and over (96 percent) spent 35.7 hours a week on leisure activities. With our social networking and i-application addictions I suspect the numbers are even much higher than that with respondents embarrassed and reluctant to tell the truth. We have really specialized in the art of relaxing, chilling out, escaping, “decompressing,” and closing off when there is a great wide world out there that is calling for us to engage and begging for our help. We may say what we are doing is harmless, but nothing in this life is neutral, it is either hurting or helping. What have you been busy with lately? We are such a lonely generation because all we care about is ourselves. We are proficient takers and such poor givers. What a beautiful example we are setting for our youth.

In this week’s biblical portion it is written, “I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” It does not include a gray zone. Offering the Sabbath as the day of rest, God then gives His people a lot of things to do and rules to keep, including feeding the poor, sustaining the widow and the orphan, and rooting out corruption. He also decrees, “You shall not harden your heart or close your hand.” Yes we work hard the whole week, but to what end, only for plasma TV’s and other gadgets? Will watching reruns of Seinfeld and playing FarmVille on Facebook be our bequest to the world? Albert Einstein once said, “The value of a man resides in what he gives [to the world] and not in what he is capable of receiving.” By that standard, ask yourself what you are really worth.
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