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What Happened at LA Rally in Support of Israel?

Yesterday’s large rally in support of Israel at the Federal Building has been tainted by the violence that erupted while rally was ending. I recited prayers and psalms at the start of the rally, and the crowd was peaceful, positive, and non-confrontational with the counter protestors who I estimate numbered no more than 50-75.

Conflicting accounts on several news stations about how many arrested, who arrested, how many people at rally. CBS claims 2000+, LA Jewish Journal 1200, and LA Times at 500.

Since the accounts are so different I am now hesitant to say what exactly happened. An off-duty sheriff’s officer said four men with Palestinian flags attacked Jews with sticks. LA Times is reporting that Palestinians supporters were retrieving a flag taken and vandalized by pro-Israel supporters when the fight broke out.

The most remarkable part of the story is that a gunshot was fired by an officer with Federal Protective Services. The Federal Protective Service (FPS) is a federal law enforcement agency that provides integrated security and law enforcement services to federally owned and leased buildings, facilities, properties and other assets. Some say he shot in the air, but nothing is clear.

We will have to wait until we know more about what happened. What is certain is that people were arrested, although even that number is debated by news sources. Most reports are that four men were detained on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

(Photo Jewish Journal)

Our Rightful Place: Parashat Ki Teitze

road_hazard“During these days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we owe it to ourselves to help God restore our soul to its rightful place.” My Torah commentary on this week’s Torah Portion Ki Teitze appears in this week’s Jewish Journal:

“If you should see your friend’s ox or sheep straying, don’t ignore them. Instead return them to your friend. But if your friend is not close by, or you don’t know the owner, bring it to your home and hold onto it until the owner finds you, and then return it to them” (Deuteronomy 22:1-2).

Often the Torah will teach us a law whose idea we may have come up with ourselves. In other words, a law that just makes sense. These mitzvot are referred to as Mishpatim. God is reminding us of something. It makes sense that if we want to live in a society where people respect one another, we should be careful with each other’s property and actually look out for their property as if it were our own.

It is certainly important for Torah to provide us with a guide to decency. Yet, if the Torah is merely reminding us of something that makes sense, and something that we could have figured out ourselves, perhaps the Torah is also trying to convey to us something else. When the Torah exhorts us to respect one another’s property, creating a system of integrity of ownership and trust, it is offering us something so much deeper. Read More

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Jewish Lists: What it Tells About us


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Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent column in Bloomberg, is a very powerful argument for canceling the recent proliferation of media-inspired “Jewish Lists”. This article is a must read. It also got me thinking about what the lists that we create today say about our generation, because lists are a valuable insight into our culture.

Whether we are aware of it or not, published Jewish lists have been around at least since the 6th century when of the scholars and leaders of the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia directed the academies of Sura and Pumbedita. These leaders, collectively called the Geonim were charged with making hard decisions and protecting the safety and welfare of Jewish communities. As such they worked hard to help keep continuity by making complex law and philosophy more easily understood. The famous scholar Sa’adya Gaon made a list of commandments in the Torah. He was followed by other rabbis, and the Ramban and Ramban both wrote lists identifying what they felt were the exact listing of Biblical commandments. Later the Sefer Ha Chinuch made a list of mitzvot, this time with a beautiful explanation of each mitzvah and this is still popular today – eight centuries later. (And let’s not forget the most cherished list, The Ten Commandments.)

More recently, it became popular to make lists of Jews in sports, music, film, writing, Nobel Prize winners, and other public Jews who are part of the tapestry of 20th century Jewish life. List making became a new who’s who directory of famous Jews. (Even the “Book of Lists” was written by a Jew.) What these lists have in common is a desire to highlight to the world and the Jewish community itself that we are making a positive contribution to society. We should be proud of our collective contributions to America, for example.

Within the community, it seems another reason for these lists is to inspire our children with Jewish role models — even if some of these Jews were never open or proud of their Jewishness. It seems as if the people making these lists think it will energize a listless Jewish community or perhaps make the community more inviting to any Jew standing on the margins.

Of course there are insidious Jewish lists as Goldberg so eloquently points out- such as the lists put together by Nazis, Communist regimes, other totalitarian regimes, Senator McCarthy’s infamous political enemies list, American White Power movements, Islamic radicals…just to name a few.

Recently popular list making is being scrutinized as doing more harm then good as pointed out eloquently by Goldberg. There is also Danielle Berrin‘s long expose about the 50 Most Influential Rabbi’s list and Dennis Prager’s column in the Jewish Journal.

There are other lists as well: The Forward’s list of top American Jews, the Forward 50 Fifty, and Most Influential Jews list by the Jerusalem Post — which seems to be the final straw for Goldberg. And there are others. (In full disclosure I have been listed on some lists, most recently on a list of ten top Jewish influencers in social media.)

The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists do not achieve the purpose that communal list-making served in the past. Instead of serving to clarify, inspire and teach about who we are as a people, as were the stated goals of our ancestors, today’s lists are of people and not ideas or values and can only serve to divide an already quarrelsome people.

We can honor the work of our Rabbis, leaders, thinkers and revolutionaries better by supporting their projects and causes, supporting and building upon the good we see them doing instead of putting them on a juried list that more than anything serves as a cultural barometer of the year the list was made.

Additionally celebrity list-making takes the focus and attention away from the real issues that matter in the Jewish community.

When lists are used to enhance our appreciation and the beauty of our heritage, the turbulence of our history, and the innovation of ideas they can have great use. Instead of a list of most influential individual people we could be giving people access to the great Jewish ideas of the past and present. Valorize the Jewish things that are making a more humane, safe and spiritual place for our people and all the people of our shared world. Let’s harness the power of list generation to better serve ourselves and the world around us. And we might even inspire a few Jews standing on the margins who just might want to connect to that which is worthy of their attention.

Graduates, Your Mountain Is Wating — New Blog Post @ Jewishjournal.com

Graduates, Your Mountain Is Waiting

Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

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Mazal tov graduates! I have some sage advice that can make you rich. Broaden your horizons.

Not to be a downer, but according to the statistics, the job market for you is as low as it can go. I’m really sorry. The chance for a job that actually requires that major of yours? It’s even lower. So exactly how are you, the Facebook Generation, going to get rich? Expand your worldview.

Don’t waste your time in a search for a dead-end job or a career. The world is a big place, and you will never have this chance again. As one of our greatest teachers,  Dr. Suess said in The Places You’ll Go, “Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”

Volunteer somewhere in this vast world where your help is really needed. A billion people want to learn your native language English. Impoverished communities from Guatemala to India, can benefit from your idealism and energy.

Here at home in America, communities ravaged by poverty and natural disasters need you to help pick up the pieces. Joplin, Missouri, alone could keep you busy for a year. Detroit needs an army of teachers to battle illiteracy. read more…