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Don’t Look the Other Way When Depression Hits

Refections on the recent suicides of Kate Spade, Avicci, and Anthony Bourdain and how we must act when depression hits

The world was shocked and saddened by the suicide of Kate Spade, a mega-designer, at age of 55 after a long battle with depression. According to her husband, Spade was “actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last five years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety…”

The immediate reactions have returned the spotlight to the real and immediate crisis that serious depression inflicts on our society. Avicci, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams…Depression not only inflicts pain on the one who bears the illness, but it also has the potential to create significant pain, strife, and damage to others.

On the community level how do we address this? If you know someone who seems down, not themselves, withdrawn – don’t look the other way or think that only the “professionals” will be able to help them. According to research, “social connectedness and support from friends, family, communities and institutions may also help people who are struggling for any reason.”

In other words, taking pills and seeing a therapist aren’t necessarily enough. It does not mean that a certain person’s suicide could be prevented with these additions, but it can help.

Judaism Prescribes Community Connections

Many people who are depressed don’t want to be around others, and will push people away. They may retreat into their own worlds making including them in LIFE so much more difficult. They also may turn to drugs to numb the pain of the depression. The self-medication is another malady that compounds the depression and makes treatment more difficult. But don’t give up on them, ever.

We are fortunate that our tradition and Torah prescribes participation in community, ample times for social connectedness, and the mitzvah to look out for one another. Additionally, our daily spiritual practices offers opportunities to strengthen our relationship with our Creator.

But still people can become derailed, feeling that their life has no real purpose, and that somehow they have failed and they may be doing the world a favor by dying, God forbid.

We must tell everyone we know that seems to be falling off the rails,  “Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful.”Throw them a life preserving phone call, house visit, lunch or coffee. Invite them to the movies, a concert, a stroll along the boardwalk. No texting – but real live connections.

God created everyone of us with an individual purpose and also also created a deep interconnectedness that transcends the individual. When someone falls into depression, it calls us to action.

Just turn on with me, and you’re not alone, 

Let’s turn on and be not alone

Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful

Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful

Oh, gimme your hands

— David Bowie, Rock n’Roll Suicide

We all have to act

The Torah teaches in Vayikra (19:16) “lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa,” do not stand idly by your fellows blood. The Talmud in Sanhderin73a teaches that if one sees someone in a life-threatening situation they have an obligation to save them.

Kate Spade’s death is tragic.

She was one of the 123 Americans that kill themselves every day on average. Depression is a real and life-threatening situation that obliges us to reach out and help.

I pray for all those who are depressed to be able to feel how much God and others love them and appreciate them being in the world. And how their death would pierce our hearts and our world and leave a vacuum that cannot be filled.

And I pray that with God’s help we can prevent future tragic deaths.

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Dwelling in Divine Providence: A Introduction to Sukkot for 2015 / 5776

Source: Dwelling in Divine Providence: A Introduction to Sukkot for 2015 / 5776

As the sun sets on Sunday, September 27th, we begin Sukkot, a spiritual harvest festival commemorating the historic journey of the ancient Hebrews across the desert, the bounty of the fall harvest, and our reliance on God. The first two days are Yom Tov, followed by five days of Chol HaMoed, the intermediary days. Sukkot’s finale is Hashanah Rabbah on Saturday night, October 3rd.

The origins of Sukkot are from the Torah, which tells us, “You shall dwell in sukkot seven days…so that your descendants shall know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

In addition to commemorating this ancient journey, Sukkot contains important lessons on the very nature of faith, unity, and God’s will.

The days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are a time of judgement, repentance and forgiveness. But we don’t end there. These Days of Awe are followed by many days of rejoicing and praise.

Called simply “The Festival,” Jewish history books record Sukkot as was one of the greatest festivals anywhere in the ancient world. Thousands of musicians, performance artists and dancers filled the streets of ancient Jerusalem. Kohanim, ritual priests, performed elaborate ceremonies with water libations and giant willow boughs. It was a spiritual Carnival.

Today, while there are community celebrations, Sukkot is celebrated in more modest fashion. Families and communities build a Sukkah, a temporary shelter for eating, celebrating, and sleeping. Each Sukkah bears the mark of it’s creator and are often decorated with tapestries, lights, hanging fruits, posters, and carpets.

In Israel, tens of thousands of pilgrims pray at the Kotel, the wall at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount, commemorating the ancient pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Across the world, from deserts to frozen lands, Jews create these temorary homes next to real homes, on porches, sidewalks, driveways, and in courtyards. Each sukkah a different size and shape. Sukkahs can even be found on tall urban roof-tops.

Why do Jews rough it in the Sukkah for the Festival? Wouldn’t it make more sense to celebrate in a pub, club, snazzy hotel ball-room or frat house?

Let me explain. On Sukkot there is a special mitzvah, an obligation, to rejoice and be happy.

What makes a person truly happy? Is it a new car, season premiers or the Apple Watch?

Sukkot is a remedy for our faith in possessions to make us happy. Surrounded by the walls of our temporary dwelling place, we remind ourselves that focusing on our friends, family and relationship with God can make us sustain our happiness.

More recently, Sukkot encourages us to help the many people who live on a constant basis without permanent shelter.

While the walls of sukkah can be made of practically anything, and need only be two and half walls, special attention is paid to the Sukkah roof, or schach – which has to be one of the hardest Hebrew words for English speakers to pronounce. The schach is made from bamboo, palm, or fir branches generally. Today, specially manufactured bamboo mats, woven together with sting or other fiber and not metal, are very popular. It’s imperative that the schach provide sufficient shade, but is a not solid roof that can keep out the elements and prevent us from seeing the brightest stars.

Our custom is to live in this temporary home as much as possible during the week. We hold festive meals on the first two days, and participate in as many Sukkot events as we can. Or we just chillax in our own sukkah. The more time you spend in a sukkah the better, and each moment is a mitzvah, a special deed, which brings spiritual blessing.

Besides our temporary Sukkah there are other unique elements of Sukkot that to the uninitiated may seem odd. There is the long, pointy Lulav, palm stalk, which at a casual glance resembles an ancient light-saber, and the Etrog, a citron fruit with an eerie resemblance to some ancient hand grenade.

The Lulav and Etrog are joined by the aravot (two willow stems) and the hadasim (three twigs of special myrtle tree) which are waved in six directions during festival prayers. The Midrash relates that whoever fulfills the custom of the four species properly brings peace and harmony among the Jewish people, spritual protection, and love in his heart for all peoples.

Another deeper lesson of Sukkot can best be understood by another name of the Festival. The holiday of Sukkot is also called the Festival of the Harvest – commemorating the time when we gather our crops and fill our storehouses.

If one has been blessed — our profits outweigh our expenditures, our portfolio has grown and our wine cellars are full and satisfaction and trust fill our soul — it is at that moment that the Torah tells us to leave our home and dwell in a Sukkah. The frail booth teaches us that neither wealth, good investments, IRA’s or even real-estate are life’s safeguards. It is God who sustains us all, those in palaces and those in tents. Any glory or wealth we possess came to us from God, and will endure so long as it is God’s will.

And if our toil has not resulted in great blessing — our investments went south, we lost our job and nest-egg, our cellars are empty, and we face the approaching winter with mounting debt and bills, living off credit from month to month, forlorn and fearful for how we will survive— then as we enter the sukkah we find rest for our troubled soul. We spend time with the indwelling presence of God, the Shechinah, which is present in the Sukkah.

Divine providence is more reliable than worldly wealth which can vanish in an instant. The sukkah will renew our strength and courage, and teach and inspire us with joy and perseverance even in the face of affliction and hardship.

May we be blessed to rejoice and put our faith in God, and experience blessings of peace, shelter, and sustenance throughout the whole world.

Half-Truths and Israel-Blaming Don’t Make a Convincing Case for the Iran Deal

The reason [the Iran Deal] it is so controversial in the United States is because the political leader of Israel has said that the deal represents a mortal threat to the security of Israel. — Joe Cirincione

In dissecting the reality that is the confusion surrounding the impending deal with Iran, the Jewish Journal ran an article with an interview with Joe Cirincione. Cirincione is “a nuclear policy expert who served for nearly a decade on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, beginning during the Reagan administration.” He currently runs the Ploughshares Fund, which is dedicated to the eradication of nuclear weapons.

Sometimes all it takes is one line to really understand where someone is coming from.

Cirincione lays the blame for the Iran deal’s difficulties at the feet of Israel and its very vocal Prime Minister. Although Cirincione adds that Republican politics are at play as well, it is Israel that he calls out. Very telling.

That line is enough to undermine what he has to say on the Iran Deal because he cannot possibly be providing a unbiased appraisal of the deal.

But this is a lengthy interview and presents other points that are misnomers or half-truths.

Cirincione argues in favor of the current deal with Iran, and that Israel’s security will be enhanced by the deal. He calls Israeli’ Prime Minister wrong, saying “He’s wrong. Every single argument that he presents has been thoroughly answered and rebutted by the best and brightest national security and military experts in United States government”.

Cirincione seems to have not read that other nuclear experts, military experts, international leaders, and people in his own government are questioning the deal.

Arms-control expert David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector in Iraq, is quoted in the NY Times:

…three weeks might be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of any evidence of prohibited nuclear work. Among the possibilities, he said, were experiments with high explosives that could be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, or the construction of a small plant to make centrifuges.

Alan J. Kuperman, an associate professor and the coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin who published “The Iran Deal’s Fatal Flaw” in the NY Times as well:

By my calculations, Iran’s actual breakout time under the deal would be approximately three months — not over a year. Thus, the deal would be unlikely to improve the world’s ability to react to a sudden effort by Iran to build a bomb.

Then there are the several hundred military experts here in the US opposed to the deal.

In addition to these voices, there are reasoned and critical thinkers, experts on foreign policy, that are critical of the deal.

Robert Satloff has asked 10 questions to Obama via Jeffrey Goldberg, that cannot be ignored, or swept under the rug with “every argument has been thoroughly answered and rebutted” because they have not.

Lastly there is this mistake; “The history shows that you cannot stop a country from getting a nuclear weapon if that country is intent on getting one.”

When Israel destroyed Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities that stopped their respective weapons programs.

Certainly not everything Cirincione said is wrong. For example he said:

This deal keeps the conventional arms embargo on Iran in effect for five more years. Five years from now, will the embargo be lifted? Yes. This deal does not solve all our problems with Iran. It doesn’t address their support for Hamas and Hezbollah; it doesn’t address their human rights record; it doesn’t get American prisoners out of Iran.

What will not stop an Iranian nuclear weapons programs, in my opinion and the opinion of others, is this Iran deal, currently days away from passing, that will allow Iran to maintain a nuclear infrastructure capable of producing a nuclear weapons in three months —  all with the help and oversight of the United States.

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Matisyahu Played, but BDS Racism Won

We won the battle but are losing the war.

As much as anyone I’m thrilled that Matisyahu performed “Jerusalem” at the Rototom reggae festival this past Saturday night in Spain.image

Organizers had to apologize and re-invite him after they cancelled him.

The cancellation was precipitated, according to the festival director, by radicals from BDS who convinced organizers that Matisyahu must submit a public condemnation of Israel and Zionism in order to perform. It’s cynical nasty stuff. It’s inquisition-esque.

Don’t believe the festival director that he cancelled Matisyahu over fears of a seriously disrupted festival. After he contacted Matisyahu, the director would settle for nothing less than a pro-BDS, anti-Israel video or statement according to my sources. It wasn’t just support of a Palestinian state they wanted. They wanted Matisyahu to disavow Israel.

Matisyahu refused to submit. So they cancelled him in a disgusting and public manner.

But racism wasn’t going to win – at least this time.

The festival director came under huge pressure from the government, music fans in Spain and across the globe, and in the Spanish media. This festival after all received government funding. The cancellation was a major embarrassment to Spain who is trying to invite decedents of Jews expelled by the Inquisition back for citizenship. (What Jew is going back to Spain when inquisitors are still at large?)

Matisyahu is no more in control of the destiny of Israeli-Palestinian relations that you reading this article. He’s a proud American Jew and he was targeted because he’s a Jew.

Did the organizers question the gay-hating reggae singers about their political views?

Did the submit the other artists to political and social litmus tests?

No. Only Matisyahu was singled out because he’s a Jew.

While the Jewish community, fans of Matisyahu, and anti-racism and anti-BDS activists are celebrating this victory, we must realize this was still in the long term a victory for BDS.

European festivals next summer are going to think twice about booking Matisyahu. Not Poland which is hosting him again for multiple shows and has been for several years. (Respect!) But Western European festivals in countries with active anti-Israel movements (I think that’s every country) will consider this incident before signing the most publicly Jewish musician in the world.

I’m not surprised that major Jewish artists haven’t come forward to support Matisyahu. In the world of music the money is in touring and famous Jewish musicians will be concerned to be targeted themselves. Better stay quiet it seems.

This episode in the BDS battle against Israel, amid growing European anti-Jewish racism, will have a lasting and negative impact on Jewish musicians who want to perform there – let alone Israeli musicians who will find getting booked increasingly difficult in Western Europe.

As much as I want that to not be true, as much as I believe that Matisyahu’s inspired performance was a victory for justice, we must face the grey future of uncertainty as racism and anti-Israel fervor spreads on the continent that 70 years ago exterminated most of its Jewish population.