A good friend, a few years older than me, told me this week that he just received a heart stent to open one of his 90% occluded arteries. His doctors explained that without the stent he risked suffering a massive and likely fatal heart attack at any time.
He appeared vulnerable and in shock and confessed that he felt both terrified and grateful: “My mortality stared me in the face.”
Relieved, I responded: “Thankfully, you have yet to write more chapters of your life!”
Eight years ago following cancer surgery and radiation therapy (I’m fine now), I learned two important truths. The first is that healing physically from surgery and treatment is the easier part of a post-traumatic and life threatening event, but it is very different than the emotional and spiritual healing that’s also required. The latter takes much longer and necessitates far more introspection and inner emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggle to adjust to the new reality of our lives.
Most young people don’t think much about the end of life, but as we age we realize that there are fewer years ahead of us than there are behind us. When we suffer an event as my friend did this past week, we necessarily become excruciatingly aware of our life circumstances.
Thankfully, advances in medicine have extended life expectancy substantially, and there is little doubt that my friend has been given a reprieve by the angel of death.
Twenty years ago after his father died, he told me that he had read all 150 Psalms and had found great comfort and perspective in its verse.
Tradition attributes the authorship of the Psalms to King David as an old man who had lived a full, dramatic, challenging, and often heart-breaking life.
When my friend told me about his experience reading the Psalms, I said that perhaps I ought to teach them in my community. He liked the idea but thought I was too young and though I’d experienced much in my own life already and witnessed much in the lives of the people in my community, the Psalms, he reflected, required a person of age to teach them as they ought to be taught. He believed that no young person could adequately understand them.
I put aside the idea and wonder now if I’m ready.
“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” (Former Senator and Vice President of the United States, Hubert H. Humphrey)
So – the question is this! Does the Senate’s health care reform bill released yesterday pass this moral test?
Our own Reform movement sharply criticized this Republican Senate bill because it would repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, make severe cuts to Medicaid, get rid of the legal requirement that most Americans have health coverage, and remove federal tax credits to aid Americans in paying for health insurance.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. has called this measure “deeply harmful” and yesterday, the RAC made the following statement:
“The Senate bill revealed this morning is a major undermining of American health care that will hurt Americans most in need: the elderly, the poor, children and people with disabilities…Jewish tradition’s emphasis on caring for the sick and lifting up those in need inspires us to call on Senators to reject the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.”
Here are some of the specifics in the bill’s provisions:
- It enables insurance companies to charge five times the cost of insurance to people over fifty;
- It denies coverage for maternity care, mental health care, and substance abuse to millions of Americans;
- It dramatically cuts treatments for those who have opioid disorders;
- It defunds Planned Parenthood on which 2.4 million people depend for their health care;
- It has dramatic cuts to Medicare effective over time;
- The following categories of people will be affected: 49% of all births – 64% for all nursing home residents – 30% of adults with disabilities – 40% of all poor – 39% of all children – 76% of poor children – 60% of all children with disabilities
This bill is an attack on the weakest Americans in order to give massive tax cuts for the top 1% of the wealthiest of Americans – consequently, it does indeed fail Hubert Humphrey’s moral test of government.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will issue a cost analysis at the beginning of the week, but Senate Majority Leader Mitchell has insisted that there be a vote before the Fourth of July Congressional recess. For a bill that affects one-sixth of the American economy and impacts negatively the lives of more than 20 million Americans, he refuses to allow time for debate, discussion, or analysis of this bill.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 took one year to pass with massive amounts of House and Senate discussion and more than 200 amendments. Senator Mitch McConnell thinks that Americans and the Senate have discussed health care enough and it’s time to fulfill the President’s and the Republican promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, though a great majority of the American people don’t want it replaced.
This is not democracy, nor is it reflective of the humane tradition of America.
What ought we to do?
We have a weekend to have our voices be heard and we should make them heard by calling the ten fence-sitting Senators who have not as yet signed onto this Senate bill (per Families USA).
We ought to flood their Washington DC offices with calls and emails to demand that they vote no on this Senate bill.
The ten include Senator Susan Collins (R. Maine), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. Alaska), Senator Bill Cassidy (R. Louisiana), Senator Jeff Flake (R. AZ), Senator Cory Gardner (R. Colorado), Senator Rob Portman (R. Ohio), Senator Ted Cruz (R. Texas), Senator Rand Paul (R. Kentucky), Senator Mike Lee (R. Utah), and Senator Ben Sasse (R. Nebraska).
We Jews are inspired by the example set over many centuries in Jewish tradition which instructs communities to provide health care to their inhabitants. In RAMBAM’s Mishneh Torah (Hilchot De’ot IV: 23) it’s written:
כל עיר שאין בה עשרה דברים האלו אין תלמיד חכם רשאי לדור בתוכה ואלו הן
“A Torah Sage is not permitted to live in a community which does not have the following: a doctor.”
Please make those calls!
My book “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” is a common sense guide and road map for a generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. By illustrating how the tenets of Judaism still apply in our modern world, I offer direction not only to my own sons but to the sons and daughters of Reform Jews everywhere. My sons, Daniel and David, have written the Afterword. The book will be published on September 26 by Jewish Lights Publishing (a division of Turner Publishing).
Why Judaism Matters -Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation
Rabbi John Rosove
6 x 9, 240 pp, Paperback, 978-1-68336-705-5
Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation – Kindle edition by Rabbi John Rosove.
This past week I was invited to speak to fifteen soon-to-be-ordained rabbinic students at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. I was joined by two long-time friends and colleagues on a panel and we were asked to share what has kept us excited, inspired, passionate, and creative in our work as congregational rabbis (I am now in my thirty-eighth year of service).
This question, however, isn’t only a question for rabbis. It’s also for everyone who works hard, takes pride in their work, seeks excellence, wants to make a contribution, and hopes to maintain a healthy balance in their lives.
It so happened that the Torah portion this past week was Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36). At the beginning of the portion there appears a relevant verse to the question we were asked to address:
“The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept burning on it.” (6:2)
The English translation that appears in most editions of the Bible, however, is incorrect. Here is the relevant Hebrew of the final phrase of the verse: “V’esh ha-mis’bei-ach tukad bo – The fire of the altar burns in it [It does not read “tukad alav – burns on it”].”
Since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple by Rome in 70 C.E. when all sacrifices ceased, many Jewish commentators have interpreted the sacrifices (korbanot) as metaphors. The altar can refer to the human heart, and the fire that burns in the altar can refer to the fires of excitement and inspiration that burns also in the heart.
We were asked – What keeps our inner fires burning in service to the Jewish people?
I was moved by the question and took it to my congregants who study Torah with me on Friday mornings, and to my family and friends at our Seder. I asked the question more broadly: “What sustains you in your life and in your work?”
Here are some of their responses:
- Many of the men who learn Torah with me each week say that engaging with the ancient, medieval and modern texts ground them in who they are as Jews, as human and spiritual beings, and as inheritors of 3600 years of Jewish engagement with God, ethics, practice, culture, and history;
- My Seder family and friends said that whenever they read fine literature and poetry and then write themselves, or when they listen to and play musical instruments, visit museums or galleries and create art, work in their gardens and cook creatively, the embers in their hearts are stoked;
- Two people mentioned that the mastery they have attained in their work inspires them to learn more, teach others, publish, and carry on the work;
- A recovering alcoholic said that daily prayer and meditation brings her back to her best and most natural self;
- Many said that helping others and engaging in social justice work connect them to community and to higher ideals that inspire and sustain them;
- Several said that sitting quietly in a favorite place renews them;
- Many spoke of the love they feel for their spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, extended family, and friends as the embers that feed their inner flames.
This is a season to ask ourselves this fundamentally important question – What feeds your inner flames?
I wish for you all more inner light that burns from your deepest embers.
A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others.
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, novelist (1821-1881)
I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, social worker, or any kind of trained therapist. I am a congregational rabbi who has worked in three large congregations in three major American cities over the course of the last nearly 40 years, and I have encountered people with all kinds of emotional and psychological problems.
Since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign, I have asked a number of therapists what they believe is the nature of Donald Trump’s psychology. All of them said that without being able to personally interview, question, and examine him they could not offer anything precise or definitive.
“OK,” I have said to them. “I respect that, but nevertheless, can you venture a considered judgment of his psychology that can offer insight into the man given your many years of experience working with people?”
Each one, as we’ve heard in so many places, said that Trump exhibits signs of classic narcissism.
The Mayo Clinic reviews the common symptoms and causes of a wide range of personality disorders – see http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/dxc-20247656 and http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/home/ovc-20247654.
Here are some highlights:
Antisocial personality disorder
- Disregard for others’ needs or feelings
- Persistent lying, stealing, using aliases, conning others
- Recurring problems with the law
- Repeated violation of the rights of others
- Aggressive, often violent behavior
- Disregard for the safety of self or others
- Impulsive behavior
- Consistently irresponsible
- Lack of remorse for behavior
Histrionic personality disorder
- Constantly seeking attention
- Excessively emotional, dramatic or sexually provocative to gain attention
- Speaks dramatically with strong opinions, but few facts or details to back them up
- Easily influenced by others
- Shallow, rapidly changing emotions
- Excessive concern with physical appearance
- Thinks relationships with others are closer than they really are
Paranoid personality disorder
- Pervasive distrust and suspicion of others and their motives
- Unjustified belief that others are trying to harm or deceive you
- Unjustified suspicion of the loyalty or trustworthiness of others
- Hesitancy to confide in others due to unreasonable fear that others will use the information against you
- Perception of innocent remarks or non-threatening situations as personal insults or attacks
- Angry or hostile reaction to perceived slights or insults
- Tendency to hold grudges
Narcissistic personality disorder
- Belief that you’re special and more important than others
- Fantasies about power, success, and attractiveness
- Failure to recognize others’ needs and feelings
- Exaggeration of achievements or talents
- Expectation of constant praise and admiration
- Unreasonable expectations of favors and advantages, often taking advantage of others
- Envy of others or belief that others envy you
Rabbi Mark Samath posted on the Reform Rabbi list-serve a series of statements about President Trump made by therapists, journalists, current and past government officials, and political leaders. Some of the office holders are Democrats and some are Republicans. Rabbi Samath gave me permission to list what he provided to my colleagues:
- Ted Lieu, Los Angeles Democratic Congressman, will introduce legislation requiring a psychiatrist to serve at the White House: “I’ve concluded he is a danger to the republic.”
- Ruben Gallego, Arizona Democratic Congressman: “The President is mentally unstable.”
- Bernie Sanders, Vermont Democratic Senator, said Trump’s obsession with non-existent voter fraud is “delusional…totally insane.”
- Elliot Cohen, a senior State department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council: “I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this… I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy President.”
- Paul Krugman, Economist and New York Times columnist: “This is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome… If you had an employee acting this way you’d immediately remove him from any position of authority and strongly suggest that he seek counseling.”
- John Gartner, a NYC psychologist and expert on personality disorders: “Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”
- Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican Congressman and Chair of the House Oversight Committee, supports psychiatric evaluation of Trump: “If you’re going to have your hands on the nuclear codes, you should probably know what kind of mental state you’re in.”
- Nancy Pelosi, Democratic House Minority Leader, questioned Trump’s mental competence calling him a fraud, a bully, and a very sick man.
- Al Franken, Democratic Minnesota Senator: Trump’s behavior is “not the norm for a human being.”
- Ben Michaelis, clinical psychologist: Trump suffers from “textbook narcissistic personality disorder.”
- Joseph Burgo, psychologist and author of “The Narcissist You Know”: Trump is an example of an “extreme narcissist.”
- Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism noted: “As psychotherapists practicing in the United States, we are alarmed [by Trump].” See http://citizentherapists.com/manifesto/
- Timothy Egan, New York Times columnist: “Millions of reasonable people are appalled that a madman is in charge of the country.”
- Judith Herman, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, in a letter joined by Drs. Nanette Gartell and Dee Mosbacher, as reported in “Grave Concerns About Donald Trump’s Mental Stability: Harvard Doctors”: Trump’s “widely reported symptoms of mental instability [include] grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.”
- Julie Futrell, NYC clinical psychologist: “Narcissism impairs [Trump’s] ability to see reality;” he falls “toward the pathological end of the narcissistic spectrum.”
- Jean Fitzpatrick, a NYC relationship therapist: “Trump lacks proper reality testing.”
- Gersh Kuntzman in the New York Daily News: “It’s a dangerous, pathological detachment from reality.”
- Steven Rattner, former Obama administration adviser and economic analyst: “Somebody’s gotta do a psychological profile of the guy and find out why he acts the way he acts.”
- Howard Stern, Trump’s good friend: it’s going to get worse and that the presidency “is gonna be detrimental to his mental health.”
- David Brooks, NY Times columnist: “The guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think.”
The question for the country is whether a President with this kind of mental condition can be trusted to act in the best interests of the United States, setting aside for the moment Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, to divest from all business concerns and put everything in a blind trust, and his violation of the emolument clause of the Constitution.
There are, of course, many other reasons that Trump should be investigated and brought up on impeachment charges in the Congress.
Veteran reporter J.J. Goldberg reviews the challenges in this opinion piece in Today’s Forward. I recommend it.
Note: I represent only myself and not my congregation or any other organization.
Today, December 30, would have been my father’s 111th birthday. He made it only to #53, and every year I ponder what he and I would have become together and individually had he lived longer.
My mother, who died a year ago, almost made it to 100. She was eighteen months shy of that millennial milestone.
Their birthdays, yahrzeits, Yizkor, and other significant family events always raise for me the questions “What if…?” and “How do those who live to 100 do it?”
Here are eight responses by people who’ve reached 100 to the question “Why have you lived so long?”
“Eat boiled corn with codfish and cream, and laugh…”
“Smoke a good cigar, avoid alcohol, drink water, stay positive, and sing.”
“Thumb your nose at sadness, turn the tables on tragedy, laugh instead of getting angry, and don’t feel envious of anyone.”
“Find a good wife and drink two scotches every night.”
“Fight injustice, help people in trouble, and keep your mind active.”
“Do something new each day, avoid drama and stay far away from difficult people.”
“Mind your own business, don’t eat junk food, treat others well, and work hard at what you love.”
“Live for God, pray, and surround yourself with nice people.”
So… there you have it – but, not so fast, because even if we do everything right – i.e. eat well, exercise, manage stress, maintain social connections, and live with faith – there’s no guarantee of anything.
After all, some of us are more prone to disease, accident, and rotten luck than others.
Longevity researchers say that both genetic factors and behavioral factors contribute to longevity. These include health and health behaviors, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, stress, social and environmental support, mental health, and life satisfaction.
Perhaps the most important study on longevity is “The Longevity Project” written by psychology professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin of UC Riverside. They culminated an eight-decade-long study, begun in 1921 by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, of 1500 precocious children. Terman died in 1956 so future researchers picked up where he left off, including Drs. Friedman and Martin. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/science/19longevity.html)
The 1500 children were followed in meticulous detail throughout their lives. In studying them Drs. Friedman and Martin conclude:
“The best childhood predictor of longevity [is] conscientiousness—the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person—somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree….It’s not the happy-go-lucky who thrive—it’s the prudent and persistent who flourish through the years.…conscientious people do more … to protect their health and engage in fewer [risky] activities …. are less likely to smoke or drive too fast. They buckle their seat belts and follow the doctor’s advice…They are not necessarily risk averse but they tend to be sensible in evaluating how far to push the envelope. [some are]…biologically predisposed to be …more conscientious and healthier ….less prone to develop certain diseases, … these people have different levels of the chemical…serotonin in their brains [serotonin helps to determine happiness and well-being]…Individuals with low levels of serotonin tend to be much more impulsive… and they eat more and sleep less… Having a conscientious personality leads a person into healthier situations and relationships… happier marriages, better friendships and healthier work situations.”
This study showed that kids described as cheerful and optimistic didn’t live as long as those boring and serious kids (i.e. nerds!?) who worried constantly about school, studied and worked hard.
The one factor that best predicted long life, even more than happiness itself, is purposeful goal-oriented work, whether for a paycheck or for its own sake. People drawn to live their lives with other like-minded, healthy, active, and involved people significantly increase the odds of their living longer and more happily.
Judaism emphasizes that it’s not the number of days or years that we live, it’s the quality of those days that matters and that is the surest way to wisdom (Psalm 90:12).
In this New Year 2017, there’s much about which to be thankful and much cause for worry – e.g. Israel’s security, its isolation and the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; epic changes the Trump administration promises; the well-being of our children, grandchildren, extended family, friends, community, nation, people, the world, and the environment.
We cannot know what’s going to occur in the year to come. However, we can control how we ourselves cope – that is our challenge going forward.
I hope that each of us will be blessed with good health, length of years and the knowledge that did all we could to live our lives ethically, compassionately, patiently, and with love.
Note: This is a blog I posted initially on December 27, 2013 with updates.
Follow me on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/RabbiJohnLRosove
Sixty-nine years ago on December 10, 1948, forty-eight nations signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights . This historic document resulting as a consequence of crimes committed against humanity during World War II was the first global expression of what constitute inherent human rights for all human beings.
On this Shabbat coinciding with the anniversary of its signing, “T’ruah – The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights” invited hundreds of American rabbis and their synagogues to focus on the most dangerous threat to human rights on the planet – climate change.
The theme of climate change coinciding with the Declaration of Human Rights couldn’t have been calendared at a more propitious moment given President-Elect Trump’s selection this week as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a proven ally of the fossil fuel industry and arguably the greatest climate change denier in the United States.
Pruitt’s selection ought to chill the blood of anyone who accepts what 90% or greater of all scientists believe to be settled fact, that human-made greenhouse gas emissions have caused a 1.7 degree Fahrenheit warming of the earth since records were kept in 1880 and that virtually all warming since 1950 has been caused by the human release of greenhouse gasses.
In an article from the NY Times explaining what climate change is and does and what are the politics surrounding it, we read this about people like Trump and Pruitt:
“The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives.” 
The truth, of course, is otherwise – that if we can’t find enough carbon neutral energy as a way to limit global climate disruption, we won’t be able to grow enough food and there will be no space in which we can protect fundamental human rights around the world. Unless we successfully find a way nor will societies be able to maintain democratic governments.
We need not look very far to see evidence of the danger. In the past year increasing fear of Syrian refugees has helped to invigorate right-wing and proto-fascist policies in Great Britain and Europe.
Rabbi David Seidenberg, an activist, writer, and scholar on environmental issues, has written from a Jewish perspective about the climate change threat:
“The intersection between the economy and human rights is … not only found in opposing the building of a toxic waste incinerator near a poor community, or fighting the exposure of children to endocrine-disrupting pesticides…[or] is it in the perceived moments of conflict between human rights and the environment, such as the false choice between making jobs and saving a forest… A deeper intersection is found in the great human tragedy that could accompany global warming. If predictions hold and the rising sea creates millions of refugees from coastal areas, then shelter, which should be a [basic human right], will become an impossibility. Any government trying to protect the most basic human needs and rights would find itself in extreme crisis under such circumstances, and many governments will be tempted to discard human rights in the name of national emergency…Where we find the deepest depths is…where human rights…makes us blind to our place in the earth …” 
Scientists warn that if we allow the warming of the environment, the polar ice caps will continue to melt, the seas will rise, and there will be greater, more frequent and damaging coastal flooding. Rainfall will become heavier in many parts of the world and hurricanes and typhoons will become more intense. There will be a massive extinction of plants and animals, more waves of refugees will flee their lands, and more governments will be destabilized.
What do we do?
First, we all need to become activists and protest the Trump administration’s expected elimination of regulations on the fossil-fuel industry.
We need to support the Paris Climate agreement’s implementation, and in every way reduce our own individual carbon footprints. If large numbers of people did so it would make a difference. Suggestions include insulating homes, reducing our use of power, using efficient light bulbs, turning off lights and heaters, driving fewer miles, taking fewer airplane trips, and reducing or eliminating the eating of beef.
In the Book of Genesis, the first humans were given dominion over the land . Though we were given the privilege to have use of the land and its resources for our benefit, later Jewish tradition gave a warning to the irresponsible use of and the waste of our natural resources:
“Upon presenting the wonder of creation to Adam, God said: ‘See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.” 
When this Midrash was written some 1500 years ago, the intent was likely focused on specific towns and villages. Today, we are confronted with a threat to all life on the earth.
[Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles will celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday, December 10 at 6:30 PM and we will focus our attention during services on climate change and human rights. All are welcome.]
 General Assembly resolution 217 A.
 “Short Answers to Hard Questions about Climate Change”, by Justin Gillis, NYTimes, November 28, 2015.
 Genesis 1:28.
 Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28.