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VIDEO Featuring Rabbi Chaskel Besser on his 5th Yahrtzeit

This Shabbos marks the 4th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Chaskel Besser. For over 40 years he led Congregation Yisroel Chaim on the Upper West Side and he was a member of the Agudat Yisrael Presidium. He was the founding Chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission which completes the Talmud every seven years. Kiddush and 3rd meal at Pico Shul will be dedicated in honor of his memory this week. See below for video about his life. You can buy a book about his life on the Essentials page.

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Who is to Blame for the Doheny Meat Scandal?

blog_doheny_meatWe are.

Let me explain.

Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the current Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, England, spoke in the aftermath of a major kashrut scandal which rocked Monsey, NY, in 2006. He recalled the story of the Prophet Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon. The story describes a huge storm that was capable of overturning the ship. Everyone on the boat was frightened and took out their idols. They started praying to the idols. When that didn’t work they woke up Jonah. What did he say about the raging storm? “It’s because of me.”

Jonah could have easily blamed the storm on the boat full of idol worshippers. Perhaps his presence on the boat was a mere accident, and the boat was destined for doom. No, Jonah said that responsibility is mine.

Today, in the wake of the Doheny “Kosher” Meat scandal, it is also our responsibility.

Of course people are mad and want to find someone to blame. After all anyone who ate Doheny meat, whether bought from the store, or eaten through of the many restaurants and caterers that sourced their meat there, consumed food that was potentially trief.

Yet, let’s remember that the Prophet Jonah says, “it’s because of me.” We read this on Yom Kippur to remind us that we need to take responsibility, and need to do a soul searching.

As it says in the Talmud, it is not the mouse that is the thief, it is the hole.
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A Rabbi’s Testimony: The Repression and Elimination of OccupyLA

Protester is pinned to the cement by four LAPD officers during non-violent civil disobedience at OccupyLA Nov. 29, 2011. Notice the severity of his treatment after sitting in a circle in the middle of City Hall park after being ordered to leave.

There are many reports, videos and photos online capturing the protests, violence, and arrests as the final, large-scale, Occupy protest in the country came to end. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to tell my story as a clergy witness to the police crackdown on dissident voices and the disappointing conduct of Mayor Villaraigosa and the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department.It’s difficult to describe the entirety of events which took place as OccupyLA was raided and dismantled late Tuesday night, November 29th, into the early morning hours on November 30th. The protest had persevered for two months camped out at the foot of LA City Hall through torrential rains and heat. OccupyLA was unlike anything the city has ever seen. (See my article “Don’t be Afraid of People in Tents, Learn From Them,” in the HuffingtonPost.com) As I write these words I am still overwhelmed with emotion thinking of the amazing community of righteousness, giving, and tolerance, crushed in one evening by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mayor.

When news of the impending eviction of the protest reached me by text message, I rushed downtown wearing a hastily made shirt with “CLERGY” written in duck tape on the back. I intended to be there when the hammer dropped. Having served as a clergy witness at the Bank of America civil-disobedience on November 17th, I was intent on bearing witness to the end of OccupyLA.

Police had posted temporary no-parking signs on every street within three blocks of city hall. I found an all-night parking lot a half-mile away, and walked quickly to the park. People streamed in from every direction. People were already marching around the park waving signs, swelling the number of suporters of OccupyLA to what seemed like a thousand..  Starting around eight o’clock that evening, I stood with other clergy in the center of the park in a circle hoping and praying for a peaceful resolution of the impending conflict. We also offered hugs and spiritual support to those who needed it. We were a mixed interfaith group of clergy – Christians, Muslims and Jews — many who were familiar with one another from other social justice campaigns.
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I am heartbroken.

The Jewish world weeps over the brutal murders of Jews, Indians, and others in Mumbai. News of the tragedy spread around the globe in minutes. We are all truly connected.

The response to the tragedy cannot be depression, but hard work.

The way for us to avenge the blood of the murdered is to erect pillars of loving kindness and charity.

Let our own efforts on behalf of the Jewish people be increased to honor the memory of the slain selfless Jews serving the Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom