Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Netanyahu: Gilad Shalit to return home in days

Stories of help by Karmey Chessed

A smile back on her face - literally!

Raising eight children alone in the shadow of her husband's incapacitating illness, Sarah was suffering on all fronts. Money for much needed groceries, medicine and heating was completely nonexistent. Who could possibly come to her aid and pay for all these daily essentials in the bitter cold winter?

To compound the problem, Sarah a young woman in her 30's, suffered from genetic dental problems. Her extensive tooth loss caused her severe shame, and she was too embarrassed to go out in public. She spent hours crying over her plight, knowing that dental implants was not only too costly but completely out of the question when her family couldn't afford milk.

When other organizations turned her down, Karmey Chessed stepped in to help Sarah. After providing monetary assistance for the family's most basic needs, Karmey Chessed surprised Sarah with a gift of dental care, covering the entire cost of her much needed dentures. While the funds for groceries, medicine, and utilities brought joy to her home, the dental care definitely put a smile back on her face!

"Mommy, I'm thirsty!"

A small run-down apartment, with peeling paint and crumbling walls housed the eleven members of the Katz family. Although at one time they had been financially stable, their lot took a turn for the worse and business was bad. Today, nine children filled the home, but there was no income there was no funds to pay the bills.

The electricity had already been turned off when Moshe, one of the younger children, walked over to the kitchen sink. With no food in the house, he learned to fill up on water to quench his hunger. He reached over to turn on the faucet and let out a moan - there is no water either. The municipality finally gave in to its threats and cut off the water.

Learning about this dire situation, an emergency fundraising campaign was underway and Karmey Chessed collected close to $1500 for the Katz family. The funds were used to pay the family's utility bills, restoring electricity and water. Karmey Chessed toured the home and discovered how many basic household appliances were missing. The organization purchased a much needed washing machine, and stocked the fridge and pantry with food.

A Cry in the Dark

Until they moved into a slightly larger dwelling, Dina's three room apartment was packed with ten children. Unfortunately, the move did little to lessen the suffering of this needy family.

In Dina's attempt to save her children from starvation, a ten thousand shekel debt was accrued at the local grocery store. But the generosity of the grocery store owner wore thin and when he no longer allowed Dina to purchase food on credit, the cupboards were bare.
A cry is heard in the darkness - the electric company cut off the family's electric supply. Pitifully, checks return regularly due to insufficient funds. One of the children suffers from a bent back due to severe malnutrition, and this little girl requires $100,000 corrective surgery. Who can Dina turn to in her time of anguish?

Karmey Chessed is the only organization that can lift this needy family out of the debts of thier despair. The exorbitant sums were immediately collected and food baskets and volunteers are sent regularly, continuing to help Dina and her children. Thanks to Karmei, Chessed Dina and her family has finally begun to see light in their lives.


Karmey Chessed, literally translated as vineyards of kindness, offers a cluster of services for the needy Jewish family in Israel. Grapes, one of Israel's seven special species, require proper care to ensure that they grow properly. Likewise, we work tirelessly along with our dedicated volunteers to provide these families with both their physical and emotional needs. At Karmey Chessed we strive to aid unfortunate families in any possible way, helping them maintain their dignity and get back on their feet.

The organization's activities are currently centered in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Modiin, Beitar Illit, and Gush Etzion, but due to the high demand, efforts are expected to expand to other areas of the country.


An Educated letter by Scottish Professor

An eloquent letter written by a non-Jewish Scottish professor to his students who voted to boycott Israel.

by Denis MacEoin

The Edinburgh Student’s Association made a motion to boycott all things Israeli since they claim Israel is under an apartheid regime. Dr. Denis Maceoin is an expert in Middle Eastern affairs. Here is his letter to those students.

Received by e-mail from the author, Dr. Denis MacEoin, a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly,

TO: The Committee Edinburgh University Student Association.

May I be permitted to say a few words to members of the EUSA? I am an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence Elwell Sutton, two of Britain's great Middle East experts in their day.

I later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University. Naturally, I am the author of several books and hundreds of articles in this field. I say all that to show that I am well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and that, for that reason, I am shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and vote.

I am shocked for a simple reason: there is not and has never been a system of apartheid in Israel. That is not my opinion, that is fact that can be tested against reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose to visit Israel to see for themselves. Let me spell this out, since I have the impression that those members of EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in matters concerning Israel, and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims of extremely biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby.

Being anti-Israel is not in itself objectionable. But I’m not talking about ordinary criticism of Israel. I’m speaking of a hatred that permits itself no boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly referred to as a “Nazi” state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor? Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS? The Nuremberg Laws? The Final Solution? None of these things nor anything remotely resembling them exists in Israel, precisely because the Jews, more than anyone on earth, understand what Nazism stood for.

Calling Jews Nazis is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think of.

It is claimed that there has been an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No honest historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think of.

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a situation that closely resembled how things were in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is.

That a body of university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad comment on the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for apartheid would be the country’s 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights as Jews or Christians; Baha’is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in Israel, where they have their world center; Ahmadi Muslims, severely persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general population).

In Iran, the Bahai’s (the largest religious minority) are forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: why aren’t your members boycotting Iran? Arabs in Israel can go anywhere they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. They use public transport, they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they go to cinemas alongside Jews – something no blacks were able to do in South Africa.

Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theaters.

In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often escape into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home.

University is supposed to be about learning to use your brain, to think rationally, to examine evidence, to reach conclusions based on solid evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view against one or more others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students who have no idea how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak.

I do not object to well-documented criticism of Israel. I do object when supposedly intelligent people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific in their treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest upheaval in the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it’s clear that Arabs and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight back by killing their own citizens.

You have a chance to avert a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play.

Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do not rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran . They prefer to make false accusations against one of the world’s freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that has taken in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives refuge to gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that protects the Bahai’s…. Need I go on?

The imbalance is perceptible, and it sheds no credit on anyone who voted for this boycott. I ask you to show some common sense. Get information from the Israeli embassy. Ask for some speakers. Listen to more than one side. Do not make your minds up until you have given a fair hearing to both parties. You have a duty to your students, and that is to protect them from one-sided argument.

They are not at university to be propagandized. And they are certainly not there to be tricked into anti-Semitism by punishing one country among all the countries of the world, which happens to be the only Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish state in the 1930′s (which, sadly, there was not), don’t you think Adolf Hitler would have decided to boycott it?

Your generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of anti-Semitism never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear signs that it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please tell me that this makes sense. I have given you some of the evidence. It’s up to you to find out more.

Yours sincerely,
Denis MacEoin

life most important app..

Appreciating more with less.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler

The text messages of a dying man reveal a lot about who he was. Larry Melzer, 37, was losing his 17-month battle with leukemia. Lying in a bed in an Israeli hospital, suffering from viral pneumonia after a bone marrow transplant, Larry was on a respirator. His four little daughters were at home in Jerusalem. Larry’s devoted wife Jen was at his bedside. Shabbat was approaching. Larry could not eat, drink, nor speak, but his fingers kept maneuvering his iPhone.

Shortly before Shabbat, Larry received a text message from a friend who was also battling cancer, commiserating how dreary it was to spend Shabbat in the hospital. After Shabbat the same friend wrote:

Thinking of u. Hope Shabbos was bearable!

Larry texted back:

It was great, jen was here, don’t worry it will be great

Great? He was hooked up to 15 separate antibiotic infusions, his once-athletic six-foot frame was shriveled, his handsome face aged and wizened. He had endured a Shabbat without reciting Kiddush, eating challah, singing songs, enjoying food, or embracing his beloved children. The only bright spot was that his faithful wife Jen was there. Yet Larry considered that Shabbat, “great.”

In great pain due to sores from radiation, while receiving an emergency blood transfusion, Larry said with a smile, "I’m so happy.”

A few months prior, Larry had been rushed from Jerusalem to a hospital in Haifa. As his friend Daniel Irom relates: “After a long drive, after he hadn’t slept in a few days due to being on large doses of steroids, while in great pain due to mouth and throat sores from radiation, while receiving an emergency blood transfusion, Larry turned to me with a smile that seemed to come from Heaven and said, ‘I’m so happy.’”

What was he happy about?

Larry and Jen, at the peak of their successful Yahoo careers, had a fabulous Manhattan apartment, an SUV, many DINK [Double Income No Kids] friends, and two dogs. Then they started to become interested in their Jewish heritage. In 2004, they went to Jerusalem for a six-month sabbatical to study Judaism.

There Larry fell in love with Judaism. With his personal charisma and passionate personality, he reached out to share his enthusiasm with everyone he met. While continuing to enjoy the pleasures of the physical world, he infused them with a spiritual awareness and appreciation. “More than once,” relates Gabi Leventhal, “I would be enjoying a wine, a whiskey, a delicious meal with Larry, and before we began to fulfill our appetites, Larry would redirect everyone and talk about all the kindnesses that God has done for him and for everyone else present." He transformed the enjoyment of eating to a sublime state of gratitude.

Eric Rayburn, a former single from Manhattan, recounts a conversation he had with Larry during the period of his struggling to adjust to the Spartan standard of Jerusalem while learning at Aish HaTorah. Larry said to him: “Jerusalem! This is the Wall Street of Judaism. Do you know how many people would love to trade places with you?”

“But, Larry,” Eric protested, “I live in a room without a window and it’s smaller than the second bathroom where I used to live!”

"The key is appreciating what you have. Every second is a precious million- dollar gift."

Larry, in a corporate business manager tone, replied: “I understand, and you are so lucky that the Almighty has invested His time in you to teach you how to appreciate more with less.”

“To appreciate more with less” became Larry’s approach to life. A month before he died, he posted this blog on his website:

Fighting Leukemia for me is about becoming unspoiled. I feel like I went from being a spoiled baby to a mature adult during this 16 month process. I have a zest for life I never had before!

This zest for life is indescribable. How can I possibly communicate being able to see the hand of God in everything? I live in a world where everything is perfect.

The key is appreciating what you have…. Every second is a precious million dollar gift.

Sukkot and Happiness

Sukkot is the holiday of “back to basics.” For seven days (eight in the Diaspora), we move out of our comfortable home into a flimsy sukkah. We leave behind the central heating, the furniture, the posturepedic mattress, the recessed lighting, the carpets, the hardwood flooring, the DVD player, the flat-screen TV, and—how spoiled can you get?—the rain-impervious roof. Yet this is the holiday when we have a mitzvah to be especially happy! What exactly are we supposed to be happy about?

In the snuggest juxtaposition in the Jewish calendar, Sukkot comes a mere five days after Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, the day when every person’s destiny for the year is sealed, we pray and plead for life. Yes, we also pray for good health, livelihood, marriage, children, a new job, and whatever else we relish, but most of all we pray for life.

Then here we are, five days later, in our cramped, no-frills sukkah. We don’t have our creature comforts or our hi-tech pleasures, but we do have—life. We have no guarantee that we’ll be alive a few months—or even a few days—from now. But right now, sitting on a folding chair in the sukkah, we have life, the fulfillment of our cherished desire. Of course we should rejoice in it.

We also have relationships. No one builds a one-person sukkah. We sit in the sukkah with family — parents/siblings/spouse/children. If Larry Melzer could consider his deathbed Shabbat “great” simply because his wife was with him, how can we not appreciate that greatest accoutrement to life: relationship? The presence of a loved one turns a house into a home and a sukkah into a sanctuary.

There’s one more ingredient to the joy of Sukkot. On Yom Kippur we are cleansed of all the tainting culpability that has tinged us throughout the year. We emerge from Yom Kippur pure and perfectly prepared for the closeness to God that the sukkah affords.

A simple formula: appreciate life, relationships, and closeness to God. That’s a lot to be happy about.

Larry's Final Words

For both Larry and Jen, the fact that he was dying was no excuse to stop living. At one point, after ten rounds of chemo, Larry was in remission. It seemed like he would make it, after all. Then his doctor in Haifa told Larry that she was 95% sure that he was no longer in remission. Larry phoned Jen to break the news. “Jenny, the doctor said I relapsed.”

Jen, devastated but always encouraging, replied: “It’s going to be okay.”

Sobbing, Larry continued: “The doctor wants to talk to you about when I’m going to restart chemo. She says I have to restart chemo tomorrow.” Larry paused, collected himself, and said cheerily, “But tonight let’s have a date night. Let’s go out to dinner.”

“That’s a good idea,” she enthused. “We need to have fun, not worry about it.”

He left me with a big sack of faith. That’s how a young widow with four children can face the world with a genuine smile.

“Larry had unbounded faith,” Jen recalls. “On the day he got the original diagnosis, when they told him he had a matter of days to live, Larry said to me, ‘All news is good news.’ He meant that everything is from God and therefore everything is for the good. That’s what he left me with, a big sack of faith. And that’s how, as a young widow with four children, I can face the world with a genuine smile.”

At the end, losing the battle against viral pneumonia, Larry's doctors decided to induce a coma. At that point, Jen had been with her husband for five days, around the clock. Larry clasped her hand, looked into her eyes, and with gasping breath, said, “Thank you.”

“It was clear to me, “ Jen recalls, “that Larry was thanking me for everything I had done for him during the last 17 months, for getting his medications and making sure he took them, for feeding him, being his personal nurse, taking care of the kids single-handedly, paying bills, food shopping, and keeping the family afloat. He knew he was coming to his end, so he left nothing unsaid. He thanked me. It meant: I love you; you did everything right.”

Larry knew only one way to say good-bye: Thank you.

This Sukkot, let’s acquire life's most important app — appreciation.

Jen Melzer, Larry’s widow, is available to speak to groups of women on, “My Life after Death—with Happiness.” To book her, please contact: jenmelzer@gmail.com

Sara Yoheved Rigler’s November North American tour will take her to Canada, the Midwest, and the Tri-State area. To invite her to give her Marriage Workshop or Gratitude Workshop in your community, please write to slewsi@aol.com

Monday, 10 October 2011


¿Por qué el humilde sauce juega el rol culminante durante Sucot?

por Rav Aarón Lopiansky

La festividad de Sucot tiene muchos elementos. El elemento más evidente es la sucá que conmemora la estadía de Israel en el desierto, y su total dependencia de la benevolencia Divina.

Después de la sucá, está la mitzvá de las “cuatro especies”. Hay muchas explicaciones específicas – pero hay un tema predominante que calza con todas las explicaciones. Es una forma de alabar a Dios con un “bello ramo”. Ya sea que los elementos individuales simbolizan partes diferentes del nombre de Dios, o diferentes órganos de una persona, o integrantes diferentes del pueblo de Israel – la idea es que alabamos a Dios ofreciéndole este “ramo” en gratitud y alabanza.

Mientras que los rabinos brindan muchas explicaciones específicas, la que prevalece es la que habla de la unión de los elementos diferentes de la nación judía. Están los miembros de Israel que son instruidos, y la calidad de su sabiduría es simbolizada por su fragancia, como las hojas de mirto. Luego están los miembros de Israel que son menos instruidos, pero que están llenos de buenas acciones – simbolizados por la palmera que da frutos. Luego están los pocos selectos que combinan ambas – simbolizados por el único y singular etrog, que tiene fragancia y es comestible. Y finalmente están los humildes sauces – ni comestibles ni con fragancia, simbolizando a aquellos judíos que no poseen ninguna de estas cualidades.

La necesidad de tomar las simples ramas de sauce junto con las otras es vista como un gesto de inclusión, de incluir al sencillo, al que no tiene talentos, para hacerlo sentir que es parte del todo.

Sin embargo, una mirada más profunda a la forma en la que realizamos la mitzvá nos brinda una imagen muy diferente.

En el último día de Sucot realizamos la mitzvá de tomar las cuatro especies como es usual. Pero luego dejamos esas cuatro especies, y tomamos un grupo de ramas de sauce en nuestra mano. Rezamos plegarias especiales para la lluvia, y así es como terminamos con la mitzvá de tomar las cuatro especies. Esto está basado en una costumbre comenzada en los días del Templo. En cada uno de los siete días de Sucot adornábamos el altar poniendo altas aravot (sauces) a su alrededor, y en el día final de Sucot girábamos alrededor de él siete veces, y comentábamos acerca de aquellos sauces: “Qué hermoso adorno son para el altar”.

¿Cómo se convirtieron estas simples y comunes ramas de sauce en el clímax de la festividad?

Para responder debemos considerar con mayor profundidad la descripción de nuestros rabinos acerca de estas especies.

No estamos hablando de gente diferente que se está ofreciendo a Dios, sino de las diferentes facetas de la propia personalidad de cada individuo. Expliquemos: Una persona está felizmente casada; ¿Qué es lo que la une a su pareja? Tú responderás inmediatamente: “Sus muchas cualidades”. Pero las cualidades maravillosas son una razón para unir, no la unión misma. ¡La unión misma es la sensación de que el cónyuge irradia que no puede existir sin el otro! Si la otra persona irradia una completa independencia y ninguna necesidad por el otro, entonces no ocurrirá ninguna unión.

Ese vacío fue lo que hizo la unión del matrimonio en primer lugar.

Casi paradójicamente, no son los logros de la otra persona los que consuman el matrimonio, sino sus deficiencias y vacíos. Es conmovedor ver cuánta gente exitosa, con vidas ocupadas, colapsa cuando sus cónyuges mueren, y parecen nunca recuperarse. La percepción de ese vacío es lo que hizo la unión del matrimonio en primer lugar.

Volvamos ahora a las cuatro especies. Después del Día del Perdón, hemos sido limpiados y purificados, y queremos presentarnos ante Dios lo mejor posible. Traemos un ramo de nuestro estudio de Torá y de nuestras buenas acciones, porque sabemos que eso es lo que Dios desea y eso es lo que Lo enorgullece de nosotros, por así decir.

Pero el final glorioso no es lo que hemos logrado, sino nuestro sentido de humildad ante Dios. Sabemos que no somos nada delante de Dios y que nuestra dependencia es total. Los sauces en el Templo estaban ubicados alrededor del altar, y sus “cabezas estaban” alrededor del altar, porque esa es la postura natural del humilde.

Como dice el profeta: “Los cielos son Mi trono y la tierra Mi banquillo… ¿Y a quién miro? Al hombre simple, de espíritu humilde, que está deseoso de cada una de Mis palabras” (Isaías 56).

Entonces, esta es nuestra paradoja universal del servicio Divino. Buscar sacar lo mejor de nosotros y de los demás, pero continuar parándonos delante de Dios modestamente simples, adornados con la belleza de la humildad.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A story of friendship between muslims and jews

PARIS — The stories of the Holocaust have been documented, distorted, clarified and filtered through memory. Yet new stories keep coming, occasionally altering the grand, incomplete mosaic of Holocaust history.
Martin Bureau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The film's director, Ismaël Ferroukhi.
One of them, dramatized in a French film released here last week, focuses on an unlikely savior of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France: the rector of a Paris mosque.
Muslims, it seems, rescued Jews from the Nazis.
“Les Hommes Libres” (“Free Men”) is a tale of courage not found in French textbooks. According to the story, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the founder and rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, provided refuge and certificates of Muslim identity to a small number of Jews to allow them to evade arrest and deportation.
It was simpler than it sounds. In the early 1940s France was home to a large population of North Africans, including thousands of Sephardic Jews. The Jews spoke Arabic and shared many of the same traditions and everyday habits as the Arabs. Neither Muslims nor Jews ate pork. Both Muslim and Jewish men were circumcised. Muslim and Jewish names were often similar.
The mosque, a tiled, walled fortress the size of a city block on the Left Bank, served as a place to pray, certainly, but also as an oasis of calm where visitors were fed and clothed and could bathe, and where they could talk freely and rest in the garden.
It was possible for a Jew to pass.
“This film is an event,” said Benjamin Stora, France’s pre-eminent historian on North Africa and a consultant on the film. “Much has been written about Muslim collaboration with the Nazis. But it has not been widely known that Muslims helped Jews. There are still stories to be told, to be written.”
The film, directed by Ismaël Ferroukhi, is described as fiction inspired by real events and built around the stories of two real-life figures (along with a made-up black marketeer). The veteran French actor Michael Lonsdale plays Benghabrit, an Algerian-born religious leader and a clever political maneuverer who gave tours of the mosque to German officers and their wives even as he apparently used it to help Jews.
Mahmoud Shalaby, a Palestinian actor living in Israel, plays Salim — originally Simon — Hilali, who was Paris’s most popular Arabic-language singer, a Jew who survived the Holocaust by posing as a Muslim. (To make the assumed identity credible, Benghabrit had the name of Hilali’s grandfather engraved on a tombstone in the Muslim cemetery in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, according to French obituaries about the singer. In one tense scene in the film a German soldier intent on proving that Hilali is a Jew, takes him to the cemetery to identify it.)
The historical record remains incomplete, because documentation is sketchy. Help was provided to Jews on an ad hoc basis and was not part of any organized movement by the mosque. The number of Jews who benefited is not known. The most graphic account, never corroborated, was given by Albert Assouline, a North African Jew who escaped from a German prison camp. He claimed that more than 1,700 resistance fighters — including Jews but also a lesser number of Muslims and Christians — found refuge in the mosque’s underground caverns, and that the rector provided many Jews with certificates of Muslim identity.
In his 2006 book, “Among the Righteous,” Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, uncovered stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and included a chapter on the Grand Mosque. Dalil Boubakeur, the current rector, confirmed to him that some Jews — up to 100 perhaps — were given Muslim identity papers by the mosque, without specifying a number. Mr. Boubakeur said individual Muslims brought Jews they knew to the mosque for help, and the chief imam, not Benghabrit, was the man responsible.
Mr. Boubakeur showed Mr. Satloff a copy of a typewritten 1940 Foreign Ministry document from the French Archives. It stated that the occupation authorities suspected mosque personnel of delivering false Muslim identity papers to Jews. “The imam was summoned, in a threatening manner, to put an end to all such practices,” the document said.
Mr. Satloff said in a telephone interview: “One has to separate the myth from the fact. The number of Jews protected by the mosque was probably in the dozens, not the hundreds. But it is a story that carries a powerful political message and deserves to be told.”
A 1991 television documentary “Une Résistance Oubliée: La Mosquée de Paris” (“A Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris”) by Derri Berkani , and a children’s book “The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust,” published in 2007, also explore the events.
The latest film was made in an empty palace in Morocco, with the support of the Moroccan government. The Paris mosque refused to grant permission for any filming. “We’re a place of worship,” Mr. Boubakeur said in an interview. “There are prayers five times a day. Shooting a film would have been disruptive.”
Benghabrit fell out of favor with fellow Muslims because he opposed Algerian independence and stayed loyal to France’s occupation of his native country. He died in 1954.
In doing research for the film, Mr. Ferroukhi and even Mr. Stora learned new stories. At one screening a woman asked him why the film did not mention the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European origin who had been saved by the mosque. Mr. Stora said he explained that the mosque didn’t intervene on behalf of Ashkenazi Jews, who did not speak Arabic or know Arab culture.
“She told me: ‘That’s not true. My mother was protected and saved by a certificate from the mosque,’ ” Mr. Stora said.
On Wednesday, the day of the film’s release here, hundreds of students from three racially and ethnically mixed Paris-area high schools were invited to a special screening and question-and-answer session with Mr. Ferroukhi and some of his actors.
Some asked banal questions. Where did you find the old cars? (From an antique car rental agency.) Others reacted with curiosity and disbelief, wanting to know how much of the film was based on fact, and how it could have been possible that Jews mingled easily with Muslims. Some were stunned to hear that the Nazis persecuted only the Jews, and left the Muslims alone.
Reviews here were mixed on the film, which is to be released in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. (American rights have been sold as well.) The daily Le Figaro said it “reconstitutes an atmosphere and a period marvelously.” The weekly L’Express called it “ideal for a school outing, less for an evening at the movies.”
Mr. Ferroukhi does not care. He said he was lobbying the Culture and Education Ministries to get the film shown in schools. “It pays homage to the people of our history who have been invisible,” he said. “It shows another reality, that Muslims and Jews existed in peace. We have to remember that — with pride

Sunday, 2 October 2011

the blessing of failure

What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?”

That was the tantalizing title of the lead story in the New York Times Sunday magazine a few weeks ago. The article makes us rethink an attitude that has become culturally accepted as unquestioned truth, and more profoundly, its conclusions encourage us to acknowledge the wisdom of Jewish tradition and the insights it asks us to emphasize in our observance of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a day dedicated to acknowledging our failings.

Related Video: Yom Kippur: Everyone Falls

Over and over again we repeat the words, "I have sinned." We recognize that in many ways we "missed the mark," the literal translation of the Hebrew word for sin. We admit we weren't perfect. If we were to be graded by God for our actions during the past year, we confess that in some areas we deserve an F.

And yet whoever heard of a mark like that in our contemporary culture?

For decades now parents have been told by many ostensible experts that all they are permitted to do in rearing children is to praise them. Criticism is always destructive of self-esteem, and self-esteem is the highest value we must pass on to our progeny. Make them feel good about themselves; that way they will feel happy and self contented. Don't ever burden them with the verdict that they have failed to fulfill any objective. Don't ever crush their spirits by telling them they could've done better. Rewards, not criticism or punishments, are what children need to become responsible adults.

The teaching profession, too, was slowly drawn into this philosophy of "praise at all costs" without any reminders of failure. Grade inflation turned everyone into a scholar, because "he tried his best and he might feel bad if he didn't get an excellent mark." Valedictorians were eliminated in many schools because those who didn't earn the honor felt the loss of self-esteem, and it just didn't seem right to acknowledge that some weren't as perfect as others. More liberal schools eliminated competitive sports - or if they had them, rejected keeping score - so that nobody would ever have to admit to being a loser.

We need to acknowledge our weaknesses and failings if we are ever to improve and become what we are capable of becoming.

But what if the real secret to success is failure?

What if we need to keep score in our own lives and to acknowledge our errors, our weaknesses, and our failings if we are ever to improve and become what we are capable of becoming?

The New York Times article is an eye-opener because it forces us to confront what previous generations knew and we chose to forget: Recognizing our shortcomings is the only way to achieve success in life.

Paul Tough, the author of the essay (the appropriateness of his last name is stunningly obvious), concludes his lengthy analysis with this observation:

Most Riverdale students can see before them a clear path to a certain type of success. They’ll go to college, they’ll graduate, they’ll get well-paying jobs — and if they fall along the way, their families will almost certainly catch them, often well into their 20s or even 30s, if necessary. But despite their many advantages, Randolph [the headmaster of this exclusive and very wealthy school] isn’t yet convinced that the education they currently receive at Riverdale, or the support they receive at home, will provide them with the skills to negotiate the path toward the deeper success that Seligman and Peterson hold up as the ultimate product of good character: a happy, meaningful, productive life. Randolph wants his students to succeed, of course — it’s just that he believes that in order to do so, they first need to learn how to fail.

To learn how to fail is nothing less than a succinct five word summary of the Yom Kippur confessional. It requires us to be mature enough to face up to the personal failings which well-meaning parents, teachers and friends tried to shield us from recognizing. It asks us to admit we’re not perfect precisely because we’re willing to take on the challenge of perfecting ourselves.

On Yom Kippur we have to define ourselves in light of a concept that Benjamin Barber, a political scientist at Rutgers University, believes is an ultimate truth about human behavior. We love to categorize people, usually by labeling them by one of two distinctly different characteristics. People are skinny or fat, introverted or extroverted, optimists or pessimists, serious or funny. All of these lead to stereotyping and to generalizations that aren’t completely accurate. But there is one division of people that Barber claims is the most crucial and correct way to differentiate between them. He says:

I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners - those who acknowledge their failures, learn from them, and move forward as opposed to those who can't admit ever having done anything wrong, never learn from their mistakes, and doom themselves to reliving the errors of their ways.

That's why on Yom Kippur, when we’re asked to reflect upon whether our lives can be considered a success, we’re judged by whether we’re courageous enough to confess our sins and to admit our failures.

To acknowledge, to God and to ourselves, where we've gone wrong in our lives doesn't diminish us. On the contrary, it affords us the wisdom and strength to grow and to improve.

S. I. Hayakawa, former U.S. senator from California and a specialist in semantics, alerted us to an all-important distinction between two English words that most of us assume are identical: “Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, `I have failed three times,’ and what happens when he says, `I am a failure.’” To think of yourself as a failure is to create a perpetual self-image as a loser. But if you learn from your experience, if your failure inspires you to surpass yourself and to do it better next time, if you understand that failure is merely a momentary event but doesn't define you—then you are an alumnus of the best school in the world, and your failure was the tuition you paid for your eventual success.

On Yom Kippur we evaluate ourselves. On Yom Kippur we are critical of our failings. On Yom Kippur we don't deny our sins - we build on their memory for spiritual growth.

On Yom Kippur we realize the truth that failure - acknowledging it, learning from it, and rising from it - is really the secret of success.

To Spread the word.. Pasa la voz

Jonah was a prophet who lived in the first Temple period. His first mission was given to him by the most famous of first Temple prophets, Elijah -- he was to anoint Jehu as king in the year 705 BCE. His were stormy times; the Jewish people were trapped in a pattern of spiritual decline that ended with first the conquest and expulsion of the Ten Tribes by the Assyrians in 607 BCE, and finally with the destruction of Jerusalem, which was followed by 70 years of exile.
As a prophet, Jonah knew far better than we can imagine what the inevitable end would be if no transformation would take place.
After the failure of his second mission, to rebuke Jehu's successor, Jeroboam the second, he was given his final mission.
The mission that God gave him was one that he could not open his heart to accept. He was sent to the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, to urge its population to repent. How bizarre the assignment sounded to him! His own people were falling uncontrollably into a chasm that seemed to have no bottom, yet he was sent to save others -- the archenemies of Israel!
Jonah actually dreaded success of this mission far more than he dreaded failure. How could he bear to witness the contrast of the Assyrians returning to God in the face of his prophecy, with the Jews stubbornly resisting any chance for spiritual self-preservation. Therefore, he attempted to escape from his destiny.
Jonah fled from Israel by ship to silence the voice of prophecy that can only be heard in the Holy Land. But a storm at sea forced him into the recognition that no one can escape from God. In the midst of calm waters, his boat was tossed in a tempest until it was on the verge of breaking. The sailors prayed to their gods.
Jonah went to sleep.
He knew the truth. It was he who had already cut himself off from God; there was nothing to say and nothing to pray for.
His apathetic behavior aroused the curiosity of the sailors. He told them his story. He believed in God, yet he was running away from Him.
Knowing he was the cause of the storm, he implored the sailors to toss him overboard so they could save themselves. As decent people they resisted this suggestion until the critical moment when it became clear that within seconds they would all die. At that point, they listened and threw him into the turbulent depths. The storm abated immediately. Jonah thought his story had ended.
But it had just begun. He was swallowed by a whale, and miraculously survived. In the dark fetid innards of the whale, he recognized what he had never truly been willing to see, in his most exalted moments of prophecy, God's intimate knowledge and care over each life and each moment. He was a prophet and awareness of God was not a novelty to him. But recognition of the depths of God's mercy was.
It was then that Jonah did teshuva -- he repented, returning to God and the best in himself.
Now he recognized that no matter how painful the contrast between the Assyrians and the Jews would be to him, that God's motivation could only be one of mercy. Once he recognized this truth, he was willing to open the gates that he had closed so resolutely -- the gates of prayer. He was now ready for the most significant undertaking of his life.
The whale spit him out at the shores of Nineveh.
He told the residents of Nineveh what awaited them: In forty days they could either make radical changes in their lives, or the city would be destroyed by God's wrath.
The changes in Nineveh happened with speed and drama. The king himself led the people into a total reformation. Nineveh's destruction was postponed for 40 years.
Everything that Jonah had feared had come to pass. The contrast that he dreaded was more vivid in reality than it was as a prophecy. He had only one further request that he be spared of seeing the destruction of his own people, which he knew would come eventually and at the hands of the Assyrians at that. The fact that the Jews would not take example from Nineveh would be the final act of callousness that would seal their fate. God did not answer Jonah's request with words. He answered by deed.
After Jonah left Nineveh, he went to the outskirts and made himself a shelter in the shade of a kikayon tree. It was a source of consolation to him in his anguish, and made him aware of God's compassion. But God sent a worm to eat through the branches and kill the tree.
In response, all the pent up feelings of agony poured forth from Jonah's lips. God replied "You took pity on a kikayon for which you did not labor ... Shall I not take pity on Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120 thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well?"
In short, what God was telling Jonah is the flaws of the residents of Nineveh did not make them unworthy of life. Each person is part of the world's spiritual ecology, and brings benefit to the world at least as much as the kikayon plant brought benefit to Jonah.
Yalkut Shimoni, the most encyclopedic of all Midrashim (written by Rav Shimon Hadarshan in the thirteenth century) gives us deep insight into the most profound recognition of Jonah's life:
At that moment he fell on his face and said, "Rule your world according to the attribute of mercy" as it is written "to You, God, is mercy and forgiveness."
The message of Jonah's prophecy is one for each one of us. The Vilna Gaon tells us that Jonah's journey is one that we all make. We are born with a subconscious realization of the fact that we have a mission. We seek escape, because our mission is often one that we are afraid to attempt.
In the text of the Jonah story we are told that the places that he sought were Yaffo and Tarshish. While these places actually exist and are known as Jaffa and Tarsis, the literal meaning of the names of these cities are "beauty" and "wealth."
We comfort ourselves externally, by escaping from our inner knowledge of our mission through the pursuit of wealth, and by surrounding ourselves with beauty. Our bodies are compared to Jonah's ship. We face moments in life in which the fragility of our bodies is inescapable, as in when we face illness, or confront moments of danger that seem to last an eternity until they are resolved.
The sailors on the ship are the talents and capacities that work for us. They too cannot save us from our futile desire to escape ourselves. The whale is the symbol of ultimate confrontation of the recognition that our ultimate fate is the grave. For some, that recognition almost feels like a welcome refuge. For others, facing death forces them at last into pursuing life!
As with Jonah, our recognition of our own vulnerability can bring us to finally transcend our ego, surrendering our desire to control events, and beginning at last to accept our mission in life, no matter what it is.
We can suffer the vicissitudes of life, and recognize that we ourselves have caused the storms to toss us back and forth. We can move forward to fulfill our purpose, but we are still not free of conflict and anxiety until we finally recognize that every step along the way, we are embraced by Divine compassion.
It is then that we are ready to return to God. While for each of us the path is our own, and never yet explored by any other person, Jonah knew the beginning and the end of the journey that we all make.
Yom Kippur is the day in which each one of us can relive Jonah's journey. Let us finally move towards whatever the next step is for us in fulfilling the mission for which we were created. Let us use the time to return to God with joy and love.