Friday, November 28, 2008

Living and Dying for G-d

Most of us live with our beliefs.  We wake up in the morning and hopefully conduct ourselves in a way that would make G-d proud of us.  Being honest in business, helping others in need, improving ourselves as a whole are some of the things that we attempt to do every day.

Some of us have the opportunity to die for our beliefs.  This is not something that Judaism encourages us to do.  There are very few times (three) that we are specifically told that we have to give up our lives for G-d.  However, there are other times where we are not given a choice. 

When the Chabad House in Mumbai, India was invaded in a very coordinated attack these Jews lost their lives.  The terrorists entered two hotels and the Nariman House, known for being a Jewish center of activity.  When a Jew is murdered for the sole reason that he is Jewish, that Jew lost his life in honor of G-d's name.  These Jews were murdered because they had been in a Jewish building.  These people who we now mourn are martyrs.

While those visiting the Nariman House were perhaps only tourists, they had made a conscious effort to do something Jewish while they were in India.  Perhaps it was to get kosher food, or attend a meditation class, we don't know why they were there at that time.  What we do know is that they were there doing something to make themselves better Jews by understanding what Judaism is about.

Rabbi and Rebbitzen Holtzberg zt"l were there (their two year old son was saved by the cook) not for themselves - but to serve other Jews.  They were there to bring G-d to that corner of the world where many Israelis come after their stint in the army.  That's why they were there, an unselfish perspective that many of us do not have.

We're told that the terrorists were ultimately looking for Americans, Brits and Jews.  While many of us identify ourselves with our host countries (myself included), it takes a moment like this to realize that we are more than just "American", "British", or "something else" - we're Jewish.  When there are those who want to murder us just because we're Jewish it is worthwhile to find out what it actually means to be Jewish.

The Holtzbergs serve as example to all of us what it means to live and die for G-d.  They lived their lives according to the Torah - and were murdered because they were Jews.   They were souls that completed their jobs here on earth and have found their places in the World to Come.  Tonight is Shabbat.  Even if you have never lit Shabbat candles, please do so tonight.  (For instructions, click here.)  Do a mitzvah in their memories.

From a former guest at the Chabad House:
I was in Mumbai this year on business.  A city from Dante's hell, filthy and crowded beyond a westerners nightmares.  There is no kosher food or minyan in Mumbai, so I went to the Chabad house.  They have 3 minyanim a day and ... the shaliach and his wife serve meals.  There are 20-50 people eating there per meal, mostly Israelis and businessmen, many frei (non-religious).  I asked Rabbi Holtzberg "where do you get the food from?"  He replied "I shecht 100 chickens a week to serve 400 fleishig meals, and my wife cleans them.  Since there's no pas yisroel here, my wife bakes bread (for about 800 people per week) every bit of food is home made."

They ask for no no money and charge nothing.  By every meal he says a dvar Torah, to inspire the orchim [guests].  Avraham Avinu would be proud of Rabbi Holtzberg.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.  G-d is the true Judge.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jewish Hostages in Mumbai

Jews are some of those being held by Muslim terrorists in Mumbai, India.  Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivka have been seen unconscious but alive after the Chabad center in the Nariman building was invaded by the terrorists.  Information is sketchy, but it seems that the couple's two year old son and the cook were allowed to leave the building.  There may be up to six more Israelis being held hostage.

Chabad Lubavitch is a movement made up of Jews that follow the teachings of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  Many of these Chabadniks have spread themselves around the world in order to give Jews an opportunity to explore their Jewish roots and heritage no matter where they might live.  They truly believe in the Jewish concept of loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

We pray for the the safety of Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivka along with all of those who are being held by the terrorists.  Their Jewish names are: Gavriel Noach ben Frieda Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis.

Please take a moment to say Tehillim/Psalms 20, traditionally said in times of trouble.

The Financial Times has a good article with a bit more information.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jewish Identity and Pride (what's that?)

Kol Yisrael Araivim Zeh La'Zeh - The Jewish People are responsible for one another.  The "Buddy System" at work.

What a crazy concept!  Why should I be responsible for you and why would I ever want you to be responsible for my actions?

The Jewish People make up one whole "body".  When a part of our physical body hurts - our whole body seems to hurt.  If I stub my toe I don't feel good again until it feels better.

The same goes for the Jewish People.  When one part of the Jewish People are hurting - we all hurt.  When our brothers and sisters in the Land of Israel need our support - we should be there for them.  When Jewish identity across America boils down to having a lox and cream cheese bagel, it should hurt us as well.  

If the Jewish identity can be eaten, what does it say for Jewish pride?  How can we have pride in something we know nothing about?  A 4000 year history full of heroic people (yes, men and women) doing heroic things and most of us don't know anything about it.  Jewish pride has been replaced by the mantra "Never Again" - with the focus on a horrific drop in the historical bucket of Jewish history.

What does identity and pride have to do with being responsible for each other?  Why should I care about you, and why should you care about me?  A story will better illustrate this point.  Two men are in a rowboat.  One man pulls out a drill and starts drilling a hole into the bottom of the boat.  The second man yells at him saying, "What do you think you're doing?!"  The first man says, "Hey, mind your own business!"

The obvious problem is that a hole in the boat will drown them both.  The lack of Jewish identity and pride hurt all the Jewish People, not just those who "choose" to opt out.  We are responsible for each other, it's time to notice there's a problem.  The question then becomes - what do we do about it?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Moment of Introspection

Today I went to the funeral of a friend's mother.  Funerals are always heart-wrenching, no matter if you know the person who died or not.  I went to support my friend, but even so there's no way around the thoughts that wander around your head while sitting in the pews.

This isn't (unfortunately) my first funeral, and it brought to mind several things.  All of it centered around what we have left at the end of our lives.  No matter if our lives are long or short, we will always be gone "too soon".  Our deeds are all that we have at the end of the day.

Judaism is not an all or nothing religion. It is a realistic religion.  G-d knows who we are as individuals and sees the situations we find ourselves in.  It's the process and progress we make that is the difference.  Working on one mitzvah and being unsuccessful is better than not trying at all.

We will all be gone "too soon".  Not meaning to be depressing here, it's important to take an accounting of our day to day lives.  Sure, we went to work - spent a lot of energy - and came home again.  Did we do something for someone else at any point?  Did we work on improving ourselves at all during that long busy day?

We stumble to the end of the day exhausted.  Looking for a few moments to improve ourselves seems impossible.  But this is not a new problem.  
Hillel said: not say, "When I am free, I will study," for perhaps you will never be free. (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 2:4)
We have to make time for ourselves and others, otherwise there will be no time.  Funerals are a good time, and usually our only time, for introspection, since we lead such hectic, busy lives.  Take a moment to think about your life.  Don't wait for a something as serious as a funeral.  You are a creation.  G-d's creation.  You are also your own creation.  G-d gave you the ability to create yourself.  Who is the person you want to create?  What kind of a person do you want to be at the end of your all "too short" life?  This is your opportunity.
Rabbi Yaakov said: This world is like the antechamber before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall.  (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 4:16)
What is your mitzvah?  Choose something small that you can handle and stick to it.  There is nothing "minor" about any mitzvah.  Any mitzvah will do.
Rabbi Tarfon said... It is not your obligation to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it... (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 2:16)
The hardest part is to start.  Start now, don't wait for the opportunity to pass you by.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Welcome to Take a Jewish Minute.  This is my corner where I explain my philosophy on life. None of these thoughts are original.  They are a conglomeration of ideas that I've heard and learned about through the years.  

Who am I?  I am a Jewish woman looking at the world through traditional Jewish glasses.  I do not believe in labels - they only limit us.  I've heard too many conversation start with the same refrain, "I'm not religious...", "I'm Reform, I do/don't..."  or "I'm Orthodox, I do/don't..."  The Torah was not given exclusively to one group at Mount Sinai, rather the Torah is the guidebook for all Jews.  

Judaism is about learning and doing.  Striving and moving forward.  Seeing Jacob's ladder - grabbing a hold of it and climbing.  Pushing to do and understand.

Who am I?  I am not a rabbi, nor am I someone with all the answers.  Like my grandfather once said - Who is the wise person?  It's not the person with all the answers.  It's the person who knows where to go find the answers.

Life is about learning and growing.  Judaism is the frame for that process.  I wish all of you well finding your way in that process.  Feel free to comment and suggest ideas.  I look forward to your thoughts.