“”Now that I am old I admire kind people.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I am a collector of quotations on every conceivable theme. During the month of Elul each year I revisit my ever-expanding collection with particular focus on the midot, the moral and ethical virtues that are Judaism’s foundational values.

The virtue of loving-kindness (Hebrew – chesed) is one such midah, and one I learned early in my life by example from my father (z’l) who taught my brother and me to “always be kind.” When our father died so long ago, this was a lesson I took deeply to heart not only for its own sake, but because by being kind (I like to think) I become worthy to be his son. I try and emulate his kindness in everyone I encounter.

I have in my collection pages and pages of quotations on the theme of kindness. I offer below a few of them:

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.
-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.
-Henry James

A thoughtful act or a kind word may pass in a moment, but the warmth and care behind it stay in the heart forever.
-Marjolein Bastin

Always be kind!
-Leon Rosove

The best portions of a good person’s life are little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.
-William Wordsworth

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
-Philo Judaeus

It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than to try to be a little kinder.
-Aldous Huxley

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
-Leo Buscaglia

Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.
-Robert Brault

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.
–Oscar Wilde

Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.
-Samuel Johnson

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
-Étienne de Grellet du Mabillier

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
-Audrey Hepburn

The Rider and the Elephant – Truth Telling During Elul


“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.” So it is written in The Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha.

Was the Buddha right, that the mind can determine the nature and direction of our lives?

Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business, if I have read him correctly, believes that it can, but it isn’t so easy. He writes that the conscious, reasoning part of our mind has only limited control on what we think, feel and do, and that the mind is actually divided into two parts that so often conflict. He uses the metaphor of an elephant and a rider to explain.

The elephant, Dr. Haidt says, represents our gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions, and intuitions. The rider is the elephant’s ‘presidential press agent’ whose job it is to rationalize and explain whatever the president (i.e. the elephant) believes, says and does.

The elephant and rider each have their own intelligence, and when they work together they reveal the brilliance of human beings. It is then that the individual is integrated in body, intellect, heart, soul, and spirit. However, these five classic dimensions of the human being do not usually work so easily or smoothly together despite that being a goal.

This month, preceding the High Holidays, is the season in which we Jews strive to make sense of why the ‘elephant’ and ‘rider’ within us are of different minds and not well-integrated together. It’s our time to seek greater understanding about who we are. It’s our opportunity to assess the nature of our thoughts, assumptions, feelings, intuitions, and beliefs and what impact they all have on our lives and relationships with others, with Judaism and with God.

Dr. Haidt suggests that when the rider and elephant are at cross purposes, and we wish to change one or the other to go in a different direction, we need to look first at the elephant and retrain the beast within and not the intellect. That is not so easy to do.

The elephant, after all, is wired by its nature, by how it was raised and by patterns long-since established upon which the conscious mind and reason (i.e. the rider) have little influence.

Dr. Haidt urges us to address directly the elephant and suggests three different means of doing so for maximum impact and productive effect:

The first is meditation or prayer, the goal of which is to quiet the mind, to detach from that which drives us towards dysfunctional and destructive behaviors, to be able to glimpse ourselves in a much larger context in which we are not the center of the universe but an integral part conscious of all the other parts.

The second is cognitive therapy, the goal of which is to dig into our deepest emotional and psychological motivations, our unconscious impulses and hidden agendas, and to “unpack” all the baggage that we carry around with us, the memories, joys and injuries of childhood, our life’s successes and misfortunes, all of which taught us early on (for better and worse) how the world works and how we need to behave and think in order to survive in it.

And the third is biochemical support. I am not a psychiatrist nor a licensed therapist, though I have been a pastor for many in my role as a congregational rabbi and teacher for forty years. I have learned enough to know that in some cases medication for depression, anxiety and a lack of impulse control can enable individuals so overwhelmed and afflicted to more effectively address the dysfunction and unhappiness in their lives that they otherwise would be unable to do. Such individuals should consult with qualified mental health professionals to determine if such treatment is warranted.

The elephant operates from a powerful subterranean unconscious mishmash of forces, and given the beast’s size and weight, rational argument is mostly ineffective in addressing deeper non-rational forces except to better understand them. What is necessary for each of us is to retrain the elephant within that we might effectively break from repeating destructive patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that alienate us from those we love, from community, tradition and God.

Yes, life is what we deem it to be, an essential truth affirmed during the High Holiday season, and change is necessary because life is dynamic. But change and growth are never easy. That being said, we can indeed redeem ourselves – and that is precisely what we are meant to do.

Chazak v’eimatz – Be strong and courageous.
L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah – A good and sweet New Year.

Note: Jonathan Haidt is the author of two excellent works – The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Apologies that are NOT Apologies


Too many people think that they have done their duty by apologizing for their insensitive remarks to and about others, wrongs committed against others and acts of omission towards family, friends and co-workers when they say “If I hurt you, I am sorry.

THAT is NOT an apology. Full apologies are not conditional, especially when it is clear that we have actually hurt another human being deliberately or even by accident.

A full apology sounds like this –

“I hurt you when I did such and such. I know it. I am truly sorry because I should not have done it. Please accept my apology. I hope you can and will forgive me. What else can I do to make it up to you, to wipe the slate clean and to begin again together to restore your trust in me?”

THAT is an apology because it is unconditional, direct, specific, full hearted, and humble.

The often-used “if I hurt you” does not do a number of critically important things. Those who want to fulfill the mitzvah of making amends and going to people they have not hurt, just to cover themselves and seem to be pious, saying, “If I did anything this year to hurt you, I apologize” are acting in a silly and unnecessary manner. I encourage people not to do this.

Second, the above “apology” is not real until full unconditional verbal confession is made.

Third, such “faux-apologies” (i.e. “If I hurt you”) leave in the mind of the recipient an unsatisfied feeling that the apology was never in fact made because it wasn’t. Consequently, there is no possibility from these words of a true reconciliation.

In a true apology, the act itself must be acknowledged and verbalized – such as:

“I did not call you when you were very ill. I know that as family/friend/colleague/co-worker that hurt you. I am sorry and apologize.”

Or – “I spoke ill of you to others, and it got back to you. I should not have succumbed to l’shon ha-ra (evil speech) and I know I did a terrible wrong. I also know that I hurt you and destroyed the trust we had built up together, and I deeply regret it. I want to make this right and I am willing to go to those to whom I said those things and take them back, and when I do I hope you will forgive me so we can restore trust between us.”

Or – “I flirted with another man and I know that I violated our relationship, and that I wounded you. I regret the flirting and I regret hurting you. I want to restore our relationship of trust. Please forgive me and help me do this.”

Those are full hearted and complete apologies because they include acknowledgement of the bad act and its emotional impact on the victim, verbal confession to the individual, a desire to give compensation of some kind, and a willfulness to restore the relationship.

To do all this requires that the doer feel vulnerable and a measure of shame and then demonstrate courage in owning up. Those who have persuaded themselves that they are always in the right have the greatest challenge before them, and those who live with such people are often frustrated because though they know the truth, the person who thinks he/she is always right and always the victim when it is not the case rarely takes responsibility for him/herself. I suggest that such people need effective psychological counseling to help them gain greater self-insight, of which they are sorely lacking.

This is the season for us to pause and examine what we do (cheshbon hanefesh) and how what we do impacts others for better and worse.

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (i.e. Maimonides; RAMBAM), in the Mishnah Torah (Laws of Repentance) wrote the following:

“What is teshuvah? It is when a wrong-doer abandons his sin and removes it from his thoughts, and resolves in his heart not to do that deed again… And he must confess in words these things that he has resolved in his heart.” (2:2)

“It is very praiseworthy for the penitent to confess publicly and announce her sins, and reveal to others the transgressions she committed against her fellow… Everyone who is arrogant and does not reveal but rather conceals her sins – her teshuvah is not complete…” (2:5)

“Even if one only injured the other in words [and not in deed], he must pacify him and approach him until he forgives him.” (2:9-10)

“What is complete teshuvah? When one comes upon a situation in which she once transgressed, and it is possible to do so again, but she refrains and does not transgress on account of her repentance.” (2:1)

Very few people have mastered their yetzer hara (“the evil inclination”). Jewish legend relates that there are only 36 completely righteous people in the world (the lamed vavniks). Everyone else – i.e. all of us – struggles to do right and to return to those we love and care about, to Torah, to Judaism, and to God.

I wish for everyone well and success this year in your self-examination during the remaining days of Elul and during this coming High Holiday season.

4 Articles About Hamas, Netanyahu, Settlements , and Fear among American Rabbis to speak about Israel

Now that the fighting has stopped, sober analysis of the most recent war has begun. Here are four articles I believe worth reading, among many.

1. Failure in Gaza, By Assaf Sharon – New York Review of Books

Assaf Sharon is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He is the academic director of Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.


“Understanding how we got to this point—and, more importantly, how we can move beyond it—calls for an examination of the political events that led up to the operation and the political context in which it took place.”

“False assumptions, miscalculations, and obsolete conceptions robbed Israel of initiative. Lacking clear aims, Israel was dragged, by its own actions, into a confrontation it did not seek and did not control. Israel was merely stumbling along, with no strategy, chasing events instead of dictating them. What emerged as the operative aim was simply “to hit Hamas,” which for the troops translates as a license for extensive and unchecked use of force.”

2. Israel’s Lessons From the Gaza Wars, by Ali Jarbawi – NY Times, September 4, 2014

Ali Jarbawi is a political scientist and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.


“The road to peace is both clearly delineated and short: It is the public acceptance of the legitimate right of the Palestinians to end the occupation and establish a state.”

3. Israel’s land appropriation: Foolish, ill-timed and self-destructive – By Rabbi Eric Yoffie – Haaretz – Sep. 3, 2014

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and is now writes frequently in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post –


“Perhaps there could be a more foolish, ill-timed, and self-destructive decision than the one made by Israel’s cabinet this week, but it is hard to imagine what it might be.
Israel’s enemies in the Middle East and throughout the world are rejoicing. If you really despise the Jewish state, nothing makes you happier than a move by Israeli leaders to expand settlements. The move, in this case, was a decision by the cabinet to appropriate 1000 acres of West Bank land for settlement building in the Etzion settlement bloc, near Bethlehem. The land has been designated as “state land,” even though ownership is claimed by local Palestinians.”

“Nothing unites the world against Israel like settlement building. Even Israel’s staunchest supporters abroad, trying to make Israel’s case to a skeptical public after the Gaza war, are asking: Why undermine us now?

4. Muzzled by the Minority, By Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, Reform Judaism Magazine, Fall 2013


“Many rabbis don’t express their true views about Israel publicly for fear of clashing with a handful of congregants who might lash out against them. But there are ways to navigate this minefield of divided opinion.”

Rabbi Yoffie worries aloud about the lack of civility in the American Jewish community vis a vis Israel, and offers a five-fold approach to resolving this issue. He confronts, as well, a number of challenges facing American rabbis and American Jews generally in our relationship to the state of Israel, and sites a number of opinion surveys of American Jewish attitudes towards Israel, the occupation, settlements, and the rightful role that American Zionists have in expressing views publicly that may counter the policy positions of the government of Israel. He notes that according to the 2013 Pew Research Center poll, the majority of American Jews remain strongly devoted to Israel without necessarily agreeing with everything Israel’s leaders do, and that the majority opinion in the American Jewish community is dovish, not hawkish, contrary to what many organized American Jewish organizations say and would like us to believe.

When Egyptian Imams Study with American Rabbis

Sometimes light shines unexpectedly from unexpected places. Such was the case this week when I participated in a study seminar with a group of 10 American rabbis and 10 Egyptian imams.

The ten Muslim scholars are visiting the United States from Egypt’s Al Azhar University. They were brought to the United States through a grant from the American Embassy in Cairo as part of a program called “Muslims in America: Community, Democracy and Political Participation.”

Rabbi Reuven Firestone, Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Sarah Bassin, the immediate past Executive Director of the LA-based NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, hosted us.

We began our two hours of learning and dialogue by coupling one rabbi with one imam, and introducing ourselves to each other by explaining the origins of our names. Then we studied in chevruta pairs the traditional story of Cain and Abel/Qabil and Habil as it appears in both the Torah (Genesis 4) and the Quran (Sura 5).

I paired with Saudi Arabian-born Sheikh Ahmed Wessam Abbas Khedhr, a scholar in the Department of Shari’ah Law at Al Azhar University, who is also a member of the Council of Egypt’s Fatwa House and an imam (prayer leader) and khateeb (deliverer of Friday sermons) at Al-Rahman Al-Raheem Mosque in Cairo.

Ahmed spoke no English, so a translator simultaneously translated as we spoke to each other. He is a gentle, kind, dignified, and intelligent man about half my age. As we read together the Torah and Quran stories of Cain and Abel/Qabil and Habil, as well as one rabbinic text from Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 that is based on the story of Cain, we found the following common message: “…anyone who destroys one human soul is considered as if he destroyed an entire world, and anyone who establishes one human soul is as if he has saved an entire world.” (see also Quran – Sura 5:32)

We then focused on the theme of compassion and its central place in each of our religious traditions. I shared with Ahmed the Talmudic statement that “One who shows no compassion, it is known that he is not of the seed of Abraham.” (Bavli, Beitzah 32b) He shared with me that one of Allah’s most significant other names is Rahman (“the Mercificul”) and I was able to share with him that in Jewish tradition the Hebrew cognate Rachamim (“Compassionate One”) is also one of God’s names.

Ahmed raised the issue of terrorism, and wished to emphasize with me that Islam utterly rejects terrorism and violence against innocents. I shared with Ahmed that the same holds true in Judaism.

Very quickly we found that we share many common religious values and that they are central to our respective faith traditions despite vast differences between Judaism and Islam. From there, each of us palpably relaxed and settled into a wonderful exchange of ideas.

Our conversation ended all too quickly as we were drawn back into a larger conversation with the complete group of 10 imams and 10 rabbis. Rabbi Firestone reminded us how important it is for Jews and Muslims to respect each other’s religious faith traditions, not simply to tolerate each other, but to come to understand and then accept each other as exponents of a true expression of God’s revelation.

I had earlier shared with Ahmed the idea that God’s light is so brilliant that it cannot be seen by any human being, and that the Divine light is refracted as if through a prism into many colors of the rainbow each of which represents a particular religious path and tradition. Only when all peoples’ faith traditions are taken together as one can humankind begin to glimpse a small portion of God’s light.

I was exhilarated to be a part of this study session, and we agreed that there is too little of this kind of dialogue taking place here and in the Middle East.

Our ignorance of each other’s traditions is substantial, and that ignorance inevitably leads to distrust, the creation of negative stereotypes and simplistic absolutist thinking about each other.

Reuven concluded by sharing the hope that when our guests return to Cairo they would speak more to the international media on behalf of moderate Islam, because the world needs to hear from them and not Islamic extremists.

As we parted, Imam Ahmed Wessam bid me farewell as “Brother John,” and I returned the compliment saying, “Brother Ahmed – Assalamu Alaikum.”

A Podcast I Highly Recommend Coming out of Israel

For those who want, crave, need to be engaged with all things Israel, I have recently become a huge fan of a year-old podcast produced in Tel Aviv that I listen to daily.

After I listened for two weeks, I emailed the station TLV1 to offer my complements and gratitude, and their Sales and Marketing Manager, Itai Shelem, contacted me. He told me the following about the station’s mission:

TLV1 is an English-language internet radio station broadcasting from Tel Aviv – the heart of Israel and cultural barometer of the Middle East. Reflecting Tel Aviv’s vibrant fusion of East with West and traditional with modern, TLV1 interweaves Israel’s rich cultural history with an exhilarating future embodied by the hi-tech industry.

Whether from street-level or the hallways of government, in earnest or in jest, TLV1 has its finger on the pulse: From breaking news to culinary trends, from musical pioneers to game-changing entrepreneurs, we don’t miss a beat.

Then Itai, said:

We’ve got over 20 different shows ranging from music, culture, sports, and food – all available via podcast and on-demand on our site. We supply radio content to Haaretz.com. We are working on putting on radio plays and taking our radio shows on the road, in front of a live audience. I’ve very excited about that.

The Tel Aviv Table, The Promised Podcast, StreetWise Hebrew, and So Much to Say are our most popular programs. We’ve got two music editors that select music for shows, often based on the content at hand.

I have found the show “So Much to Say” particularly enlightening. It is a 5-day a week hour news broadcast of stories making the Israeli headlines made up mostly of interviews with Israeli experts on a wide range of issues including the recent war in Gaza, PTSD among Israeli children in the south, growing racism in certain sectors of Israeli society and the Ministry of Education’s efforts to combat it in the schools, Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas terrorists and its relationship to international law (see my earlier blog on this issue), and the recent re-opening of the Chabad house in Mumbai after a terrorist strike three years ago. Interspersed between every story is Israeli or international popular music. The hosts are smart, well-spoken and well-informed. Their agenda is simply good, thoughtful and probing journalism.

Itai told me as well that the number of listeners is growing dramatically. He wrote:

“Last month (July), 74,000 unique listeners tuned in, consuming nearly 160,000 on-demand radio segments, which does not include listeners to our live audio stream. These listeners represent over 185 countries and territories, and more than 6,800 cities.”

Just to be certain you understand my motivation in recommending TLV1, and especially “So Much to Say” – I am not on their payroll and have no relationship to anyone at the station. I receive nothing in response to blogging about TLV1, just the satisfaction that some of you will download the podcast, listen and be as enlightened with accurate cutting-edge reporting as I am.

If you don’t trust my judgment, then listen in yourself and make up your own mind.

Deferments in Battle and Ultimate Purposes – D’var Torah Shoftim

There are three deferments allowed soldiers going into battle according to this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (see Deuteronomy 20:5-8).

If a person has built a new house and not yet dedicated it, planted a vineyard and not yet harvested it, or paid the bridal price for a wife and not yet married her, the individual may be excused from fighting a war.

I asked a former Israeli officer in the Navy Seals what deferments or accommodations the IDF allows its soldiers. He explained that even before young Israelis turn 18 years old, from about the age of 16, young people are tested to determine many things, including their intellectual aptitude, emotional disposition and physical capacities so that by the time they reach the draft age, the IDF is able to direct them appropriately, as soldiers destined for battle, as officers, as intelligence specialists, and a myriad of other duties that the IDF needs fulfilled. People with serious physical or emotional disabilities are excused. Religious students are also excused per agreement with the ultra-Orthodox religious parties, but that is beginning to change.

The question for us relative to the Torah portion this week is this – ‘What links the un-dedicated house, the non-harvested vineyard, and the not-yet-married groom? The answer includes both practical and religious concerns.

An effective soldier cannot be distracted while in battle, and both uncontrolled fear (see Deuteronomy 20:1-4) or distractions such as these three deferments were understood to limit the soldier’s effectiveness. Though every soldier, ancient and modern, is frightened when going into battle, Israeli soldiers understand that Israel cannot afford ever to lose a war. If it does, the soldier knows that his/her family and friends are in danger of losing their lives and everything that the Jewish people has worked so hard to build in the state of Israel will be destroyed.

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, in a JTS commentary (August 26, 2006), wrote that the religious concern at the basis for these deferments involves ways in which Jews sanctify life. Judaism calls one’s home a mik’dash m’at, a small sanctuary (reflective of the Beit haMik’dash – the Temple in Jerusalem), a sacred space in which God’s presence abides and the inhabitants are inspired to live lives of higher meaning and purpose.

One’s vineyard produces the wine or grape juice used to sanctify Shabbat and the holidays; in other words, the sanctification of time.

And one’s marriage reminds us of the first commandment in Torah, p’ru ur’vu (Genesis 1:28), to be fruitful and multiply; that is, our obligation to bring forward the next generation of Jews and sanctify the future.

Though family is defined in the Bible narrowly, it is important for modern Jews to embrace family in much larger and more expansive ways, that those who may not marry or have children of their own can nevertheless impact the future of our community in many significant ways; as teachers, health care workers, big brothers and sisters, favorite uncles and aunts. They can work on behalf of the elderly, act politically to assure the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our community, use one’s business and financial resources to bring comfort, solace, compassion, and justice into our community affairs.

The sanctification of space – the sanctification of time – the sanctification of the future – all are fundamental Jewish values brought forth through the generations since the earliest stages in Jewish history.

This is the first Shabbat in the Hebrew month of Elul that precedes Rosh Hashanah, and so it is a time for us to begin to ask ourselves questions such as these:

How do we sanctify space, time and the future?

How do we define a life based in meaning and blessing?

In what ways are we sanctifying our lives and the lives of others?

What tasks have we completed that have brought a great sense of holiness into our lives, our families and friends, our community, people and nation?
These are all worth pondering now as we move closer to the High Holidays.

Shabbat shalom.

Targeted Killing and International Law – An Israeli Expert Speaks

This morning (August 24) I listened to the TLV1 Podcast of “So Much to Say” that featured an interview conducted by host Hillel L. Cohen of Daniel Reyzner, an attorney, international law expert, and former head of the International Law Department of the IDF. The subject was Israel’s targeted killing of the three Hamas leaders this past week and possibly the killing of Muhammad Deif, among the very top Hamas Generals. Cohen wanted Reyzner to explain the differences between “assassinations” and “targeted killings” and the principle of proportionality that results in civilian casualties.

Reyzner said that “assassination” is a term used to denote an unlawful killing by a private individual. “Targeted killing,” however, is very different and is what America, Great Britain and Israel have used since 9/11 and the 2nd Intifada. This is more than a semantic issue, because Israel’s enemies would like to delegitimize Israel’s targeting of Hamas militant leaders by calling it “assassination.”

Until fifteen years ago, the logic of law enforcement in most of the western world was that the role of a representative of a government (the police, a soldier, etc.) was to arrest individuals who were allegedly guilty of a crime or who were about to commit a crime and bring them to justice. However, this traditional standard of law enforcement breaks down concerning groups shooting rockets and missiles and making suicide attacks from a neighboring country. Israel has no means or ability to arrest and prosecute such individuals.

Since the 2nd Intifada and 9/11, terrorism is understood by most western nations as “warfare,” and therefore, fighting terrorism falls under the laws of war.

Once one accepts this logic, the next step is to distinguish between combatants and civilians. In Gaza, for example, since there is no opportunity to arrest combatants, it is lawful for Israel to target militants and kill high-ranking Hamas officials.

Israel, more than most nations, has much experience in this kind of warfare, according to Reyzner, and has developed clear standards by which it may act against enemy combatants. The original set of standards was developed in 2000 after the 2nd Intifada and had five conditions. A later Israel High Court decision taken in 2005-6 under former Chief Justice Aharon Barak approved those standards. The five include:

1. That credible evidence must be shown that individuals targeted are centrally involved in attacking Israel;

2. That legitimate areas for such attack are Gaza and some (but not all) places in the West Bank;

3. That no approval for attacks will be given to any commander operating in an area controlled by Israel (i.e. Area C in which Israel has security responsibility) where it is possible to seek out, arrest and bring suspects to justice;

4. That when Israel attacks individuals, per the above conditions, it must comply with the principle of proportionality in times of war. This means that the commander must balance between the anticipated military advantage of the attack and the resulting danger, death of innocent civilians, and damage to property that is likely to occur. The complicating fact that Hamas deliberately embeds itself in civilian neighborhoods, homes, apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, clinics, mosques, and UN centers, has complicated Israeli actions severely. The risk, of course, is that if an Israeli commander violates any of these standards, he may become guilty of a war crime. The problem is that such charges are usually brought long after the war has ceased by people sitting in committees under the protection of international courts and the Hague, who have never fought in a war themselves and do not understand the pressures in battle, and who may not have the relevant expertise in international laws of warfare (as is the case with the recently established UN commission to investigate Israeli war crimes – no mention of Hamas is in its mandate!). The Israeli commander in the field, Reyzner explained, is given latitude to make decisions in real time with the best information he/she has. On the one hand, this flexibility gives the commander the freedom to make the right decision, but on the other it increases risk that someone else will say he made the wrong decision. When evaluating Israel, it takes the most extreme precautionary measures than any other western country;

5. This was a procedural item requiring all the first four standards to be fulfilled.

I found this interview particularly enlightening and recommend your listening to it.

10 Suggestions For Elul

Despite all the turmoil in the Jewish world, war with Hamas, intensification of anti-Israel feeling in Europe, racism in Missouri, Isis, destabilization in so many places in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine, the High Holiday season is the time for the Jewish community to return to itself, to God, to family and community, to Torah and the central life of the spirit.

This does not happen by itself. Our effort is necessary.

The month of Elul begins this coming Wednesday evening. It is the “get ready” month before the High Holidays, and the more we do in preparation in advance of the holidays, the more we will personally benefit. We need that focus as individual Jews now more than ever.

Ala David Letterman, I offer ten suggestions in descending order of importance to think about and do starting Wednesday evening, if not before in the spirit of t’shuvah (return).

#10 – Break your daily routine. Identify one bad habit you wish to break. Focus on the good qualities of others and not their bad qualities. Begin to let go of your anger, resentment and hurt. Clean up your language. If you wouldn’t say certain things in front of a child or your mother, then don’t say it at all, ever.

#9 – Take your shoes off. A USA Today study reported years ago that those who habitually kick off their shoes under the dining table, desk or pew tend to live three years longer than the average American. Your feet are like the soul. Feet bound for too long begin to stink, and cloistered souls prevent divine light from shining forth.

#8 – Meditate - The American Institute on Stress reports that 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. Meditation is a means to become more aware and conscious. It can be done at any time, when listening to music, looking at fine art, reading a good book or poetry, exercising, or sitting still. Meditation trains us to listen to what is happening within and around us, and consequently to be more present with our loved ones.

#7 – Exercise every day – Walk, swim, ride a bicycle, and keep your body toned. Whenever possible, walk the stairs. Park at the far end of a parking lot. The number of calories we burn this way will result in the loss of pounds over the course of a year, lower your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, create a healthier physique, and enable us to feel a greater sense of well-being. At the same time, reduce the number of calories we take in, eliminate sugar and salt, and eat well (see #6 for occasional relief!).

#6 – Do one “wild” thing each day, such as:
• Have an ice cream
• Eat chocolate
• Buy a loved one a gift for no good reason at unexpected times
• Laugh whenever possible
• Stretch everywhere
• Sing in the shower
• Say hello to a perfect stranger
• Smile at a attractive woman or good-looking man (as long as you are alone and not with your spouse or partner), and for God’s sake, smile back if you’re smiled at
• Be kind for no reason at all
• Let the guy cut in front of you in traffic
• Pet a dog and look into its eyes – there is more sweetness and love there than you are ever likely to see anywhere else

#5 – Learn to say “No” more often when you are overtaxed and exhausted. And say “Yes” to spending time doing those things that feed your soul, inspire you, infuse you with strength, and draw you closer to the people you love and care most about. Read great literature. Find great teachers. Do mitzvot that accentuate kindness. Give tzedakah every time poor people ask it of you, and don’t question their motives or worthiness. Visit the sick. Call the lonely. Touch, hug and kiss an elderly person who might not have been touched in a very long while.

#4 – Strengthen your friendships – express gratitude to your dear ones more freely. Tell them why they are precious to you.

#3 – Come to worship services more often. Join with others as a community in praise and prayer. Studies indicate that those who worship regularly are less lonely and actually live longer.

#2 – Light candles on Shabbat even if you are alone. Buy or bake challah and fill your cup with good wine to the very top – and then drink it all! Acknowledge God’s presence everywhere. Feel humility before the Creator. Know that all creation is interconnected within the great Oneness of God.

#1 – Learn Torah. Take advantage of adult learning opportunities. Find one verse or more in the Hebrew Bible that speaks to you personally, and let it become your “mantra.” It may be “Vay’hi or – Let there be light!” V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – Love your fellow as yourself”, “V’ahavta et Adonai Eloheicha – Love Adonai your God”, Tzedek tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue. “Shiviti Adonai l’negdi – I have set God always opposite me.” “Sh’ma Yisrael – Listen O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone!” Commit the verse to memory. Make it your own. Say it to yourself frequently and become its words.

These are my 10 suggestions for this Elul. I wish you well in fulfilling one or more of them. May the 30 days from Wednesday to Rosh Hashanah be time well spent. May these days create a pathway filled with sweetness, wisdom, light, and love.

Shabbat shalom!

My Tribute to Leibel Fein

Leonard Leibel Fein’s death is a particularly painful loss to the liberal social activist progressive Zionist world. He spoke and wrote always the truth as he understood it, inspired by a deeply Jewish vision, with an eloquence and a precision of language that inspired, opened the heart and renewed a sense of purpose and hope in anyone who was open and receptive enough to resonate with his message.

I first met Leibel 44 years ago when I was a college student at the summer Aliyah of then Brandeis Camp Institute (now Brandeis-Bardin) in Simi Valley, California, where he had come to spend a month with us 70+ young people from all over the country and world. He spoke to us and with us, lecturing about American Jewish life and religion, God, Israel, Zionism, Soviet Jewry, and social justice.

Those were the heady euphoric years after Israel’s lightning victory in the 1967 Six-Days War, yet Leibel (an early scholar of the Israeli enterprise at Brandeis University) understood intuitively that the great victory of three years earlier on the battlefield that resulted in the reunification of Jerusalem and the acquisition of the West Bank, Golan Heights, and Sinai desert, did not address the deeper far more complex moral challenges that confronted the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

He emphasized that there were at least four significant challenges confronting Israel and world Jewry at that time; (1) the 1967 war would not be the last war Israel would be forced to fight; (2) Israel’s Jewish culture, moral and democratic character would be defined in part by how it settled the Arab-Israeli conflict, how it conducted itself as an occupier of more than a two and a half million hostile Palestinian Arabs then living in the West Bank and Gaza, and whether it treated Israeli-Palestinian citizens of the state as equal citizens with Israeli Jews; (3) what would be the fate of the three million Soviet Jews then trapped behind the iron curtain, and (4) looking us in the eye, what we young American and Canadian Jews (and a couple of Israelis), then in our late teens and early twenties, would become as American Jewish leaders.

For some reason, Leibel singled me out all those years ago (he was only 36 at the time), gently but assuredly, and privately challenged me to become engaged seriously with the American Jewish community as a Zionist and a leader. In that way, Leibl became one of my earliest Zionist mentors.

I read nearly everything he would subsequently write, and so often over the decades he focused my thinking and redirected how I considered the great issues facing America and the Jewish people. He never lost his intellectual, moral and compassionate verve. As this last column (link below) that Leibel wrote for The Forward so eloquently and movingly expresses, with its introductory note by the Forward’s editors, what made Leibel Fein’s thought so deeply Jewish was that the prophetic tradition was always his proof text and he led as much from the heart as from the mind.

As Leibel battled his own demons over the years, suffered the tragic loss of his daughter, and finally illness that seemed to plague him for far too long, he never lost what made him that unique and compelling thought leader.

I will miss him, though we only saw each other at J Street conferences in recent years, but he is embedded in my heart as he is in the hearts of so many of us.

Zichrono livracha. May his memory abide as a blessing.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 227 other followers