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Po Żydowsku: Telling our Story of Jewish Poland 1991-2001

Here we are back in Warsaw after 13 years. We returned to to participate in events marking the 25th anniversary of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Poland. Thanks to Ambassador Lauder, the foundation that he built, his rabbi, and the naive idealism that we shared, Rachel and I spent nearly all of the first years of our marriage, from 1996-2001 in the complex, paradoxical, humorous, tragic, hopeful, ironic, and ultimately lovable universe of post-communist Jewish Poland.

Our lives were so inextricably tied to the future of Polish Jewry that we even celebrated our honeymoon in a Polish Carpathian village so that we would be able to work the rest of the summer at Oboz Laudera, the Jewish Summer retreat where the future of Polish Jewry was rekindled – or as our dear friend Kostek Gebert said – resuscitated by defibulator.

We don’t know how long it will take us to tell our story on Po Żydowsku, a blog that will dedicated to this oral history. I suppose that doesn’t even matter. We are opening the pandora’s box of memories for ourselves and for our children, for the Jewish Polish world of today and for you the reader. Everything is from our perspective, and others might remember things differently. It’s ok. We are not seeking to retell the entire story of Jewish life in Poland. We are offering what we know and our expe

riences.

I remember when I asked Prof. Ezra Mendelsohn, who was in Oxford lecturing about American Jewry, why after such amazing work on the history of interwar Poland he stopped writing about Poland altogether. He replied, “I couldn’t take one more meeting where a Polish Jew would get up in the room emphatically waving their hand and saying – I’m from Poland at it wasn’t like that!”

If you feel compelled to wave your hand and say, “it wasn’t like that, I know, because I was there.” Please remember that we were there too.

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Countering This Darkness With Light: Responding to the Jerusalem Synagogue Massacre

I spent too long on Twitter trying to get CBC News to apologize over the “Jerusalem Police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack” headline on their website. Looking back, that time could have been spent much more productively by being a first and foremost a Jewish first responder.

We all have a responsibility to be vigilant about media blunder, bias, and sensationalizing. However, I am afraid that I became so preoccupied on how this horrific tragedy was portrayed in the media that I neglected the Jewish response. I got into this “Honest Reporting Sheriff” mentality and forgot what God wants now that I am faced with his unbearable tragedy.

While my first response at that moment was to mourn — I let is pass by quickly as my emotions turned to anger and frustration. I “got up in the face” of CBC and CNN and who knows else on Twitter. I called them out for what they are.

When I realized that this anger was taking me nowhere fast, I returned to mourning. I cried over the loss of precious life, and to screamed out to God in frustration. I organized prayers for the dead and for the injured at our synagogue, and reached out to comfort students at USC who were in mourning. I hugged my children tightly to calm their sorrow.

Having helped to stem the bleeding of from our hearts, I turn my time to help bring light to the world that was filled with darkness and chaos. It’s time to make the world a more blessed place and tie myself to efforts around the world that are seeking healing.

So I joined a worldwide psalm recitation website to increase the time I am committing to prayer. I organized a new weekly Talmud study partner (chevruta) and a new Torah learning event, Leil Shishi, at Pico Shul. I committed myself to helping someone who can’t pay their rent this month and a young couple that need help making a wedding. I have added psalms to be said at Shul every week for peace in Israel.

Next time tragedy strikes I will only be checking twitter to get updates on what’s happening. I am done being a “Media Watchdog.” I’ll leave that to others.

I am going to be busy organizing a Jewish response to tragedy helping to repair the tear in the heart of the Jewish people and countering the darkness with light.

We mourn the loss of Rabbi Moshe Twerskis, Rabbi Calman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg Zayig Sayif.

And we pray for the complete and speedy recovery of Eitan ben Sarah, Shmuel Yeruchem ben Baila, Yitzchok ben Chaya, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka And those who need healing.

May God comfort the mourners and bring healing to those injured, and may we see the redemption soon, quickly, in our days. Amen.

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How are we Doing as a Planet This Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has profound meaning for the entire world and humanity. Most people familiar with the holiday think of apples, honey, shofar, and as one of the two days that every Jew goes to synagogue.

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is about being a better person, reflecting on the past year, and refining our own personal spiritual goals and aspirations for the year to come. All of that is true and important. What we often fail to approach is the deep connection between Rosh Hashanah and the world around us. For every year on Rosh Hashanah we have the opportunity to reflect upon the state of our planet, our environment, and look at our past actions and set goals for the next year of Life on Earth.

The ancient sages teach that on Rosh Hashanah all of humanity is judged for its actions, and that includes how we treat our world. How did we act as citizens of the planet? How much did we factor into our actions the impact that we are having on the environment? And as one of the Hasidic masters taught, “where did we succeed and how can we get better?” One of the areas that I am especially sensitive to this year is energy. Much of the darkness in this world is related to energy; the competition for resources and the environmental, justice and geopolitical consequences of energy extraction and management. If we want to change the world, to help conquer that darkness, we just have to look up.

The sun.

We have failed as a society to harness the great potential of solar energy to help alleviate the world’s energy problems. The sun can offer healing to a planet that is desperate for ways to maintain progress without damaging the environment. Yet, with all the ingenuity in the world which manages to put into the palm of our hands a computer more powerful that the ones which brought us to the moon, the average household relies only on solar energy to power calculators.

Don’t look to rabbis to solve the world’s energy problems. However, in my discussions with people whose business is energy, and research of reliable studies, I have learned that investments in solar energy — and renewable energy sources in general — are far below what experts recommend. While solar to energy conversion rates are improving, meaning that we can harness more energy of the sun per solar panel, we are not directing significant capital into R&D to improve solar energy technology. Imagine if the folks that created the smartphone were given 5 billions dollars to work on solar energy.

It’s almost Rosh Hashanah. The time has come for us to make some serious decisions about the future of our relationship with the planet this coming year. If we are truly to be a light unto the nations, then we can light the way towards cleaner sources of energy.

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Join me for a Shabbat Camping Spiritual Adventure

Shabbat Tent and Pico Shul are organizing the second annual Mountain High Shabbat Spiritual Adventure for young adults in their 20s and 30s, August 22-24, in the Angeles National Forest Jackson Flats Campground.

This awesome summer camping weekend will take place from August 22-24 at Jackson Flats Campground 7,500′ high in the Angeles National Forest. Grab your backpack and camping gear, and we’ll provide the food, l’chaims, and spirituality. Space is very limited, so we need everyone to apply. Fill out this application if you are interested in this adventurous spiritual retreat. We will do our best to include all who apply, but unfortunately we cannot promise a spot to everyone this time around.

I will be leading the teaching and Shabbat programs.

Upon acceptance to the program you will have 48 hours to submit your registration fee or potentially loose your spot. Registration prior to Aug. 11th costs $75, and afterwards cost $99. Price includes camping and kosher meals from Friday dinner through Sunday brunch.

Register at www.MountainHighShabbat.com

Thank you to our generous sponsors:
Allen and Deanna Alevy and Family
Barak Raviv Foundation
French-Friedman Foundation