Out of Borough Experience

Back in the fall, a candidate for the New York State Assembly made construction of major new housing in Borough Park the centerpiece of his campaign. A New York City councilman heartily endorsed that same goal. Currently, a developer is planning to build 13 six-story edifices in the neighborhood that will provide nearly 130 new apartments.

To those of us who don’t live in southern Brooklyn, efforts that will add to the population density and vehicular traffic there (an area some of us call Borough Double-Park) seem to border on irrationality. But of course, to residents who wish to see their married children settle in the neighborhoods where they were raised (and to those children who wish to live near their parents), new housing is an urgent priority.

No one lacking the requisite rebbishe credentials should arrogate to suggest to others how they should make decisions as important as where to live. But, having just spent a warm, memorable and inspiring Shabbos in Cincinnati, Ohio, I’d like to at least share a few impressions of that small but vibrant kehillah; and some others about some others.

Neither my wife nor I had ever been to Cincinnati before, and the … Read More >>

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R Dovid Winiarz z’l

by Meir Goldberg

After the holocaust, the broken survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were gathered and provided for in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. The Klausenberger Rebbe Zt’l acted as both a father and a Rebbe to many of the Jews there, constantly providing them with material and spiritual chizuk.

There was a young man in the DP Camps, who grew up in a religious home who now refused to have anything to do with the Yeshiva that was set up or anyone in the frum community. In spite of all of the pleading and cajoling of his friends, the young man would not respond to them at all. The exasperated bochurim decided to speak to the Rebbe to see if he could impact this fellow. The Rebbe summoned the young man to his temporary residence. The Rebbe said to the man, “I know why you’re​ upset. It’s because they took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe again said, “They took the best ones and they just left us.” The Rebbe held the young man in a tight embrace and together they sobbed and cried and repeated over and over, “They took the best ones … Read More >>

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Cross-Currents Enters World Politics

Which is the last thing I wanted or expected. I have avoided commenting on purely political issues, whether domestic or global. I’ve tried to be true to Cross-Current’s original self-imposed mandate of focusing on such issues only insofar as they illuminate Torah life, or where Torah thought can illuminate them. I do plenty of the pure politics and advocacy at my day job, and I try not to mix office and home.

So when I wrote a short while ago about Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s extraordinary remarks at Al-Azhar, my intention was only to draw a parallel between his concern for the image of his faith with what should be our parallel concern. And there I left it.

The message from David Benkof, a frum writer for The Daily Caller was therefore quite surprising to me. He had noticed the piece, and the editors were a bit miffed that Western press had ignored what to us seemed like an extremely important statement. Would I, they ask, tweak the piece for publication at The Daily Caller? And could I do it in about an hour or so?

My colleague and mentor Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I then scrambled to … Read More >>

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Private Matters

It comes as something of a revelation to many to confront the Rambam’s treatment of kiddush Hashem, or “sanctification of Hashem’s name” for the first time. One definition of the concept in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 5:10 – perhaps its most essential one, has nothing to do with readiness to give up one’s life or to act in a way that presents a good image of a Jew to others.

To be sure, that the Torah commands us to be willing to perish rather than violate certain commandments (or any commandment – even custom – in certain circumstances) is well-known to most Jews with a modicum of Jewish knowledge. And the understanding that living an upstanding life, exemplifying honesty and sterling demeanor, is also a form of kiddush Hashem is likewise widely recognized. The Gemara in Yoma (86a) famously describes various amora’im’s examples of such projection of Jewish personal values, labeling them kiddushei Hashem.

What is surprising is the Rambam’s statement that kiddush Hashem is something that can be accomplished as well entirely in private. In fact, particularly in private.

“Anyone who violates, willingly, without any coercion, any of the precepts of the Torah…” reads the Rambam’s psak, “has … Read More >>

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We Owe an Answer

President Reuven Rivlin made an important speech opening a conference on chareidi employment sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee two weeks ago. He began by pointing out that the 20% of the school children in Israel between first and sixth grade are now in chareidi educational frameworks.

The chareidim are no longer a beleaguered minority, their very survival at stake, said the President, but this fact has not yet registered either with the chareidi community or its opponents. We have gone too long without “changing the tape,” as if nothing has changed from the early days of the state, said Rivlin. What is needed now, he argued, is a partnership of equals between chareidim and non-chareidim.

Much of what President Rivlin had to say will be music to chareidi ears. He strongly criticized the 19th Knesset for the discussion of chareidim. He pointed out that efforts at coercion had backfired miserably and only succeeded in triggering a backlash resulting in fewer chareidim in the IDF and lessened chareidi involvement in the economy. “When one group feels that their world and cultural existence is under threat, it will not lead to a breakthrough in the relations, but a withdrawal. I … Read More >>

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Remaining Bnei Torah after Kollel

Few issues are of greater significance for the future of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael than the status of those young (and not so young) men in transition between kollel and either the workplace or academic/vocational training in preparation for work. The numbers of such men increases from year to year..

The primary impetus for leaving kollel is economic, Low child benefits by Western standards, small kollel stipends, increased tuitions, skyrocketing housing prices for young couples, and the exhaustion of any accumulated wealth from previous generations combine to put most chareidi families under great financial strain, even when the mother works.

Yet even for a family struggling to put food on the table, the decision to leave kollel is often an extremely painful one. First and foremost, there is the dramatically reduced time for Torah learning. Then there is the loss of one’s carefully nurtured identity as a kollel yungerman. A man’s status in the eyes of his wife, his children, his wider family, and the community of Torah learners with which he identifies comes under threat.

There will inevitably be those who try to convince the former yungerman that his departure from kollel is a form of … Read More >>

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Interesting Dialogue in Dialogue

Sometimes, you just have to use strong words.

I imagine that was the intention of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, in a critical conversation that he had with someone described as “the president of one of the largest secular Jewish organizations in America, as he relates the encounter in the new issue of Dialogue. Some gvir told Rav Feldman that the poor bloke (whom we shall refer to as SF, for secular fellow) was in free-fall in the aftermath of Gaza, and needed “urgently to talk to a Rabbi.”

How could it be, asked SF, that a bunch of primitive terrorists could send thousands of rockets into Israel, thwart the full effectiveness of one of the most capable military machines in the world, and then get the world to label Israel as the aggressor for simply attempting to defend herself?

Rav Feldman’s answer must have been devastating to SF’s world view. He cited Devarim 32:21 הם קנאוני בלא אל כעסוני בהבליהם ואני אקניאם בלא עם / They angered Me by believing in a non-god; I will anger them through a non-nation. “Israel is founded on belief in a non-god,” Rav Feldman told him, by which he explains … Read More >>

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Greed Is Gross

The carnival of carnage that seems a constant in the Islamic world proceeded tragically apace last week, with a suicide bombing at a gathering in Ibb, Yemen to commemorate Islam’s founder’s birthday. At least 23 people were killed; an Al Qaeda affiliate is the suspected culprit.

Then, over in Afghanistan, at least 26 people attending a wedding party were killed, and 45 wounded, when a rocket struck a house during a firefight between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

But what might rank as the week’s most senseless loss of life took place in a non-Islamic land, China. At least 35 people were killed and 43 injured during a stampede in an area of Shanghai where tens of thousands had gathered to celebrate the advent of a new calendar year.

The cause of that disaster is unclear, but it was reported that shortly before the crowd had grown restless, people in a nearby building had dropped green pieces of paper that looked like American $100 bills.

Now, there’s an awful metaphor for our covetous times. The pursuit of money is nothing new, of course. It has been the engine powering many a civilization, and the rot destroying many a human … Read More >>

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Yesh Atid, Elazar Stern, and the religious status quo

About two weeks ago, Binyanei Haummah in Jerusalem hosted a Rabbinic conference regarding the aggressive legislative action taken during the reign of the recently fallen government in matters pertaining to State and religion.

The organization responsible for the gathering (called Libah Yehudit) put out this clip:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/PMt5-G20hT0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Prominently featured are Yesh Atid MKs Aliza Lavi, who states at a Conservative conference that she cannot go as far as she would like to make changes because she would otherwise lose her legitimacy within the Orthodox world and thus have no political clout; Yair Lapid, who proclaims at a Reform gathering that he will work toward granting the heterodox equal religious footing; and Shai Piron, who retracts his statement that a homosexual couple is not a family and lists his accomplishments on behalf of LGBT recognition in Israel.

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The Power of Personal Testimony

by David Mandel

[Editor’s note: This video is groundbreaking in its courage, impact, and ability to make us direct, rather than avert, our glance from yet another problem we have been silent about for too long. It requires no introduction, but David Mandel, one of the most important personalities our community is blessed with in attending to the needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, was kind enough to offer some introductory thoughts.]

Imagine you were mugged and robbed of your most precious jewels. The bodily injury you suffered will heal. The loss of your family’s ancestry represented in your mothers ring and necklace and your fathers watch is irreplaceable. It is causing you emotional torment. It has been in the family four generations.

The mugger is caught. The jewels are not found. He is convicted and sent to jail.

How should you react now? Are you a victim of a mugging? Are you a survivor of a mugging? How long do you remain angry or feel responsible for the loss of an important family history? Was it indeed your fault even if it was not?

Elisheva was the victim of a mugging and … Read More >>

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Sisi’s Remarkable Statement

We knew that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has it in for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has taken strong steps to suppress it. We did not expect the president of the most populous Arab country to call for a religious revolution against Muslim extremism, and back it up with specific programs through his religious ministry.

Western media ignored the statement in droves. We shouldn’t.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection with Mohamed’s upcoming birthday, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] … Read More >>

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Bricks for Bombs

A driver, reportedly shouting an Islamic slogan, rammed a vehicle into pedestrians in the French city of Dijon last Sunday, injuring twelve people.

Understandably, the attack (and several subsequent ones in France) brought back memories of this past autumn’s spate of vehicular terrorist attacks in Israel. Although they seem to have abated in Israel (despite much Palestinian social media encouragement that they continue), the devil’s brew of blood-lust and creativity in some Arab and Muslim hearts continues to boil apace.

Spewed from the cauldron recently was one Yasmin Sha’aban, who, according to the Shin Bet, was planning to carry out a suicide attack in Israel. She intended to receive a permit (“for medical reasons”) to travel from Jenin, where she lived, into Israel proper. There, she hoped to disguise herself as an expectant Jewish woman, with explosives hidden under her clothes, and create as much carnage as she possibly could.

That plot, baruch Hashem, was interrupted by Israeli security forces; Ms. Sha’aban and several compatriots were taken into custody. It turned out that her friends had also planned to bomb a bus carrying soldiers and to kidnap a soldier.

The perennial question returns: How to discourage such … Read More >>

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Leaf Bag Lesson

An aroma all but absent these days but deeply evocative of childhood to many of us who grew up before pollution laws is the bouquet of burning leaves. Back in the day, we would rake the dry debris of autumn into a pile or put it into a metal trash can (remember those?) and set the leaves aflame. The resultant smoke, at least at somewhat of a distance, was a seasonal perfume, an olfactory hint that the snow days weren’t far off.

Today we put what we’ve raked into very large double-reinforced paper “lawn bags” and leave them for the recycling pickup. (I don’t imagine they put the leaves back on trees, but surely something worthwhile is done with them.)

A few weeks ago, while I was doing the final leaf-raking of the year, the lawn bag I was filling provided me some timely spiritual direction.

I needed the chizuk, and for a reason not unrelated to how distant a memory the scent of burning leaves is, to how many years have elapsed since it would regularly waft through the autumn air.

Having several months ago passed the 60-year life-mark (the “new 40,” as I prefer to imagine … Read More >>

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Lessons in Emunah from…Professional Wrestling

UN Condemnations

We often get frustrated by the gross prevalence and utter, unfathomable irrationality of anti-Semitism (commonly also cloaked as anti-Zionism). The above chart says it all.

“If only we could more clearly remind the world of the good that the Jews have brought it; if only the world realized that Judaism is the source of Western moral values; if only the world would understand that Israel is fighting more humanely than any military known to man, defending itself against unprovoked attacks from its malicious neighbors who seek its annihilation…” We can’t understand why the world hates us and cannot see things with a modicum of objectivity. It can be so upsetting.

Rabbi Avi Shafran recently penned a beautiful and brilliant column, When I Drifted Off the Path, in which he described his very short-lived pre-adolescent flirtation with heresy. In order to briefly address the points about anti-Semitism raised in the above paragraphs, I would like to share and draw from one of my own juvenile, inelegant interests: professional wrestling. Tampa, Florida, where I grew up, was once the South’s capital of professional wrestling, and … Read More >>

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What Can We Do for Them?

I suspect that most of us if asked, “What can we do for those murdered in Kehillat Bnei Torah?” would be hard pressed to answer. We might mention contributing to the families of those slain, but for the pure korbonos themselves, we would be stumped. After all, they are already in the Olam HaEmes far beyond our reach. If pressed, we might come up with learning mishnayos or some other good deed l’ilui nishmasam (for the elevation of their souls), but nothing more than we might do for anyone who passed away.

These various responses, however, fail to take account of the sudden, shocking manner of their deaths, and the worldwide attention that they garnered, first and foremost among Torah observant Jews. In a hesped for Rabbi Moshe Twersky, H”yd, at the end of shiva, his brother Rabbi Meir Twersky distinguished between different forms of dying al Kiddush Hashem. In some cases, an otherwise ordinary and incomplete life might be somehow redeemed by the manner of its ending. But with respect to his brother, he said, the death al Kiddush Hashem, was the natural culmination or fulfillment of a life lived al Kiddush Hashem.

Rabbi Moshe Twersky himself seems … Read More >>

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Candles and Candor

A non-Orthodox writer recently reached out to ask if I would participate in a panel discussion about Chanukah. The other panelists would be non-Orthodox clergy.

While I cherish every opportunity to interact with Jews who live different lives from my own, I had to decline the invitation, as I have had to do on other similar occasions. I explained that my policy with regard to such kind and appreciated invitations is a sort of passive “civil-disobedience” statement of principle, “intended as an alternative to shouting from the rooftops that we don’t accept any model of ‘multiple Judaisms.’ So, instead, [I] opt to not do anything that might send a subtle or subliminal message to the contrary.”

“Sorry,” I added, “Really. But I do deeply appreciate your reaching out on this.”

The extender of the invitation, Abby Pogrebin, was a guest in the Shafran sukkah this past Chol Hamoed. Both my wife and I were impressed with both her good will and her desire to learn more about traditional Jewish life and beliefs. In fact, she is currently writing a series of articles for the secular Jewish paper the Forward on her experiences observing (in both the word’s senses) all … Read More >>

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In Brief:

Pesach Shiur Now Available

-- 1:45 am

A bit more somber than usual. We live in somber times. May Hashem soon bring the geulah we so desperately long for.

Some thoughts on magid from R. Hutner, RSRH, R. Soloveitchik, and the new Beis Shaar.

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What We Mean When We Talk About Fire Safety And Jewish Observance

-- 10:33 am

An article I wrote about the blaming of the recent horrific fire in Brooklyn on Sabbath-observance appears in Haaretz here. You may need to register (free of charge) on the site to access it.

May we hear only happy news from all Jewish communities.

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Annual Pre-Pesach Shiur For Women

-- 9:38 pm

My annual shiur for women on aspects of the treatment of the baalei machshavah of the Haggadah will take place BEH this Wednesday at noon on the third floor of the headquarters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. For security reasons, potential participants need to pre-register if they are thinking of attending. Email mkochba@aol.com. No charge.

As in the past, I hope to post it online later that day.

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Who Won?

-- 5:28 pm

Before you dismiss this as naive, ask yourself whether you wouldn’t prefer that more people would write and think this way than what you witnessed during the election.

And whether the accolades to the “Nation” are not in fact consistent with both the thought of Chazal – and recent history.

From Rav Aviner, question as to who won:

The answer is simple: The Nation, because all of the political parties are good. They all love the Nation of Israel. They all love the Land of Israel. They all love the State of Israel. And they all love the spirit of Israel. But no one possesses all of the truth, all of the justice and all of the integrity. Hashem, in His kindness for His Nation, spread the talents and good qualities among the entire Nation of Israel and among all of the political parties. Everyone is required to find which party has the most positives and the least negatives. No one can claim that his party has it all. And if someone thinks that his party does have it all, he is dangerously close to “Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.” “Sinat Chinam” is hating for no reason. Then why does he hate? He hates anything which is different. It is forbidden to be different. “Everyone is obligated to be exactly like me. And anyone who is not exactly like me is an enemy of the Nation.” Not true! We are all important. And I will remind you who established the State of Israel – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in the War of Independence – it was the Nation. And who was victorious in all of the wars – it was the Nation. And who built up the Land and transformed it from desolation into a garden of Hashem – it was the Nation. And who absorbed all of the exiles – it was the Nation. And who strengthened the economy- it was the Nation. And who returned the Torah to the Land of Israel – it was the Nation. Everything was done by the entire Nation. Our party is the Nation. If only we could establish one party of all of the Jews from one extreme to another! In the meantime, it is not possible and there are different parties with different opinions. But do not forget: we are one Nation and all of the parties must act with respect towards one another, with love towards one another and with the recognition that we need one another. Then, we will have “Ahavat Chinam – baseless love.” “Fortunate is the Nation for whom this is so” (Tehillim 144:15).

[Thanks to Martin Brody]

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35 Comments

Election Inversion

-- 3:08 am

Here in the US, we’ve come to expect an escalation of dirty campaigning and inattention to facts as campaigns drag on. Ironically, as we get closer to the Israeli election, some truths have emerged in the UTJ (“Gimmel”) election material. A number of commercials were quite good. My favorite:

The subtlety in the contrast between the kollel man and the working man is impressive – as well as the upbeat message that they are united by a common respect for the authority of Torah leadership. More impressive is the takeaway, which would seem to include the tacit message that “working charedi” is not an oxymoron. The fact that UTJ has taken to both YouTube and Facebook to troll for votes is also a concession of sorts. In the desperate hunt for votes, some images of the campaign will be impossible to completely erase after the last ballot box is stuffed – including the likelihood of an increasing role for women in the future.

Of course, the message is a mixed one from its inception. Just a short while ago MK Moshe Gafni insisted that he does not represent working charedim, who are not properly charedi.[Postscript – There is reason to believe that the translation of the interview with Gafni is seriously flawed. See the discussion in the Comments section.]

[Hat tip to Dr. Saul Newman, LA]

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Sounding the Shofar in Adar

-- 7:59 am

“The days of the elections draw nigh,” explained Maran Rosh HaYeshiva [Harav Steinman] Shlit”a, with tears on his cheek. “A person might make petty calculations and miss the moment. He can act correctly, spur others to action, and vote only in order to save Yiddishkeit from those who seek its harm, and to save his household. And that is his duty; that is the mission of the moment. But each person can have in mind that he is going out to make His great Name great. He can think that he is joining a huge community that votes for the sake of the honor of Heaven, the masses who refuse to kneel before the Baal, who do not want a government that wishes to uproot the kingship of Hashem, and they vote for the sake of His Name, with love. By way of a small act and a great thought, one can attain a moment that has none to surpass it, to cause ‘His great Name to be made great and sanctified.'”

Yes, casting a vote has a pragmatic aspect to it. But on a much higher plane, it is an uplifting declarative moment of unswerving loyalty to Hashem. The more this declaration is internalized and amplified, the greater the Kiddush Hashem.

R' Chaim Kanievsky casting his ballot

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Mishloach Manos from the Rebbetzin

-- 1:49 pm

The “Ayelet HaShachar” organization, which is the arm of the Wolfson Foundation that focuses on raising awareness of Yiddishkeit in small towns and kibbutzim, arranged for Rebbetzins of several leading lights of the Charedi community to deliver Mishloach Manos to the bereaved mothers and widows of IDF soldiers who fell in the recent Tzuk Eitan operation in Gaza.

Among the participants:
Rebbetzin Kolodetzky (daughter of R’ Chaim Kanievsky)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of the Rishon Letzion)
Rabbanit Yosef (wife of youngest brother R’ Moshe)
Rabbanit Lau (wife of the current Chief Rabbi)
Rebbetzin Ezrachi (wife of Rav Baruch Mordechai, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael)
Rebbetzin Zohar (wife of R’ Uri)
Rebbetzin Rabinowitz (wife of Rav of Kotel)
Rebbetzins of Ger, Sanz, Erloi, Slonim, Boston.

Here is Rebbetzin Kolodetzky reading her inscription to Mrs. Pomerantz, mother of Daniel Pomerantz HY”D, 21, Golani Brigade.

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Lichovod Purim

-- 10:29 am

An article I wrote about how Purim is a celebration of how Divine irony vanquishes mortal iron, appears in the Forward today. You can read it here.

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Purim – When Caution Is Everything

-- 4:18 pm

…Please help me keep our precious children safe. This is unchartered territory for them! Don’t let them convince you that they have everything under control. Be intrusive! Insist on clarity! Again, I will reiterate that I must be informed of all plans… Let us help the boys have a Purim as close to the ruchniyusdik simcha it was meant to be. Thank you for your cooperation!!

Although my son’s yeshiva high school is comprised of clean-cut, peaceful boys, whom I could never imagine getting into trouble or going where they should not be, I was thrilled to receive a long letter from my son’s principal sent to all parents, of which the above quote is a small segment. Purim is a time when one can never be too cautious, and it is a time when proactive, extreme control and intervention to prevent problems is fully warranted.

Although I wrote this article after last Purim, when it was too late to be of immediate use, readers may wish to peruse the article this year in advance of Purim, to consider what I feel are some critical precautions and to ponder how failing to establish necessary guidelines and limits can lead not only to danger, but to totally missing the deep message and powerful inspiration of Purim.

Purim is a time to perceive Hashem’s behind-the-scenes Presence and Providence; it is a day packed with the most profound and stirring of lessons and hadracha. Let’s capture the energy and beauty of Purim and not risk losing and sabotaging it all through unchecked self-comportment.

A freilichen Purim to all.

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Metzitza Bipeh

-- 12:06 pm

C-C readers are probably aware of the fact that a tentative agreement was reached yesterday between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and an association of mohelim and Orthodox representatives with regard to the practice of metzitza bipeh.

An article of mine that appeared in Haaretz yesterday on the ostensible tie between the rite and the cold sore virus (which can be dangerous to babies) can be read here.

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Klal Perspectives – The Next Issue

-- 7:37 pm

Readers are always weighing in on ideas for future issues of KP. The editors take them very seriously. In the last few weeks in particular, a number of people contacted me offline with ideas that I thought had considerable merit. I encouraged them to put them in an email, and I would forward them to the full board. I have no recollection of who they were.

I don’t think anyone did! And here we are, ready to decide on our next issue. If you were one of those people, now is the time!

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Thanks (I Think), NYT

-- 2:17 pm

I can’t say with any certitude that my repeatedly bugging of the New York Times’ public editor (who sent the criticism to a different department — which never responded to me) had anything to do with it. Or that my opinion piece last year (at http://hamodia.com/2014/08/06/ugly-times/ ) did.

But I’m happy to report that the “Times Journeys” offering of a tour to Israel with the theme “The Israeli-Palestinian Conundrum” seems to no longer feature Hanan Ashwari (who David Harris once said “is to truth what smoking is to health”) as one of its resident experts for the tourists. (The come-on is at http://www.nytimes.com/times-journeys/travel/israeli-palestinian-dialogue/ .)

But it never hurts to be a squeaky wheel (and to encourage others to squeak along); sometimes one may get the grease. One thing is certain: every proper hishtadlus is worth the time and trouble.

And thanks, New York Times, if you did, for taking the criticism seriously.

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