Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Is Love?

I just received this from a friend - though I almost always delete what he sends, for some reason I stopped to read this particular email. I'm glad I did.

What is Love?

For those who misuse the word love, even kids have a better understanding than adults. A group of professional people posted this question to a group of 4 to 8 year olds: "What does love mean?" The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

1. When my grandma got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandpa does it for her now all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.
Rebecca - age 8

2. When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouths.
Billy - age 4

3. Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving Cologne and they go out and smell each other.
Kari - age 5

4. Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French Fries without making them give you any of theirs.
Chrissy - age 6

5. Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.
Terri - age 4

6. Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.
Danny - age 7

7. Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My mommy and daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.
Emily - age 8

8. Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.
Bobby - age 7

9. If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.
Nikka - age 6

10. Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.
Noelle - age 7

11. Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends, even after they know each other so well.
Tommy - age 6

12. My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.
Clare - age 6

13. Love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.
Chris - age 7

14. Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.
Mary Ann - age 4

15. When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.
Karen - age 7

16. Love is when mommy sees daddy on the toilet and doesn't think it's gross.
Mark - age 6

17. You really shouldn't say "I LOVE YOU" unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.
Jessica - age 8

And the winner was a 4 year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly man who had just lost his wife. When the child saw the man cry, the little boy went over into the man's yard and climbed on top of the man's lap and just sat there.

When the boy's mother asked him what he'd said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."

Friday, May 20, 2011


My Twitter feed exploded – EXPLODED – yesterday afternoon. You would have thought there had been a terrorist attack, or perhaps Donald Trump had reentered the presidential race. What made my Twitter feed explode was something I had to read twice: President Obama had called on the Israelis to acknowledge the ’67 borders as the basis for a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians (UN Resolution 242, for the uninitiated).

Really? THIS is what made my friends and acquaintances go crazy? And it wasn’t just my Jewish friends – oh no – going apoplectic. My Christian, Israel-loving friends had gone even MORE mad. “Time to pray” some said. Well, they are certainly right about that.

What is an Israel-loving American Jew – who happens to be a Democrat – to do about the current state of affairs? I look left and right and see pundit after pundit declare it’s time for a major paradigm shift; American Jews may now withhold support for Obama in 2012…which Republican candidate will step up and “out-Israel” the field for the love and affection (and money) of American Jews…and what about me? Should I disavow my political leanings and pledge support to the next Republican candidate for President who can offer me the most sincere, God-inspired pledge of fealty to Israel and the Jewish people? Are you meshuganah??

Let’s first lay out a few simple, elucidating facts.

1) UN Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw from territory gained in the 1967 war. 242 has been the basis – some would say obstacle – for every major Israel-Palestinian peace dialogue for the last 25 years. The Oslo Accords of 1993 – you’ll remember the poignant handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat – essentially codified an agreement based on the ’67 borders as a starting point. The borders of 1967 have ALWAYS been the center of fulcrum, so to speak, as a basis of negotiations.

2) President Obama said nothing new or controversial. He didn’t demand that Israel withdraw from land taken in the ’67 war. “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” Maybe I’m missing something, but MY read is that he’s calling for the borders as the basis for negotiations – not the end of them.

3) Americans love Israel, and want two states. Public polling couldn’t be more clear on this. In a poll conducted last year by The Israel Project, a majority of Americans agreed with the sentiment that “Even with all the problems that America faces at home now, we must still work hard to create a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Unless someone has the land deed to Madagascar, it’s pretty clear where that second state is going to go.

4) Most importantly, ISRAELIS believe this is the right thing to do. More than 3 in 5 Israelis support the two state solution. And more than 3 in 5 accept the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations. If the ISRAELIS want it – for crying out loud – why should WE have such a problem with it?? (of course, the answer is we don’t; just a handful of screeching politicians make it seem that way).

So as we enter the silly season of Presidential politics, I think it would serve everyone to step back from the ledge – or away from their Twitter or Facebook page – and consider this: the Peace Process has failed. Year after year, decade after decade, leader after leader, the same language and promises and stalemates repeat themselves time and again. To allege that Barack Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus” is a gross misrepresentation of his intention – not to mention completely wrong, given that American Presidents have said and done far worse with no such outcomes (remember George HW Bush cutting off loan guarantees for West Bank settlements?).

To simply give in to the political posturing robs us of yet another opportunity to have a real, measurable impact on what has long been an aching sore in the backside of American foreign policy – nay, this is bigger than American foreign policy. Two peoples – cousins – have been at war for the better part of 65 years, and I, for one, welcome the effort by President Obama, even as I remain skeptical. Because the sad truth is, if history is a lesson, to be optimistic is a little crazy – call it my Meshuganah Conundrum. I want to believe – truly – that there can be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with two states, recognized by the other. Even if it does sound a little crazy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On Women - A Two State Solution?

Israel has been called a country of cleavages: secular vs. religious, Arab vs. Jew, Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi. One of the most troubling cleavages for me, however, is the schism over gender roles. Today is International Women’s Day – the 100th anniversary (as if such things needed to be marked in time) – and the Internet is replete with stories of great women, of their accomplishments, and the distance they still must travel for equality (note: I am NOT a woman). But what you won’t hear too much of, I fear, is the situation for women in Israel, where nearly half of the candidates of officers in the IDF are women, yet there are bus lines in Jerusalem where women must sit in the back of the bus, separated from men.

I’m sure it has been studied, but there must be more than just a little truth to the notion that the most successful societies are ones in which women are empowered to do great things. A quick glance at the world’s wealthiest countries will also reveal countries where women have fared considerably better than their sisters in less-developed countries. Countries where they serve in the armed forces, occupy corner offices in the largest companies, and hold power at the highest levels of government.

And, yet, the statistics are staggering, even for these “developed” countries. Women still earn less for the same amount of work than men, are frequently overlooked for promotions, and are far less represented in government than their total population would warrant. And, if you are like me, this becomes even more troubling when you realize that the smartest, most capable people you know lack a Y chromosome.

But, such inequalities pale in comparison to the situation we see in the most religious of communities in Israel. Women – perhaps revered for their most gender-limiting roles – are nonetheless captive to a philosophy defined by what any rational person would call institutionalized misogyny. Women in these shtetls are discouraged from working, from partaking of civic responsibilities reserved only for their male counterparts, from enjoying the very essence of living in a free and modern society.

But it is the separation that I find most odious. To this day, I refuse to go to the Kotel – the Western Wall – because I cannot possibly derive spiritual satisfaction from a place where I am prohibited from enjoying it with the most important women in my life. For my wife – a Cantor – it is an affront I cannot imagine. But for my two young daughters, it is an insult that as a parent I cannot tolerate.

Perhaps there will come a day when those who decide such things will recognize that men and women are equals, both created in the image of God, and equally deserving of the privileges and protection a modern society can and should offer. On this International Women’s Day, let us all resolve to work toward a day when our daughters will no longer fear being forced to sit on the back of a bus.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tweet, Pray, Love

The last week in Egypt has been stunning, and inspiring, and not just a little bit scary, and though no one knows how things will end up (or who the real winners and losers will be), there are three images that have left an indelible imprint on my memory. For me, they serve as a reminder that while we watch these events unfold on our televisions and computers from 5000 miles away, there are real people involved – there is a human element that cannot be ignored, and for better or for worse, we are all God’s children and are connected – if by nothing else – by those things that we all do, and often take for granted.




Friday, January 7, 2011

Debbie Friedman

There are many people who know Debbie better than I, but I do know her, and wanted to share a few thoughts about her. I know Debbie in three different ways. As a young, rather confused 20-something working for NFTY, I had the honor of being Debbie’s “body man” for a concert she was doing at a NFTY event, even getting the opportunity to play a little bodyguard at the front of the stage. I met her in her hotel room with her pianist, heard a couple of ribald jokes on the way down to the stage from her room, and ended things with a hug, a smile, and a friend.

The second way I know Debbie is through my wife, Rosalie. Rosalie is a cantor and a songleader, and through her I have known Debbie as a friend and mentor, someone who both inspires and encourages. She has always tried to lift Rosalie up, professionally and personally, and to see her impact on Rosalie has always left my heart warm.

The third way I know Debbie is through my mother, and it’s that relationship that made the greatest impression on me. The first time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, we got very lucky – my mom went through all of her treatments like a champ, fighting through the chemo, surgery and recovery with the spirit and fire for which we had all come to love her. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Debbie got involved. For the life of me I can’t remember how, but Debbie and my mother began exchanging emails. My mother was a convert, a true daughter of Ruth, and had always been the driving Jewish force in our family. She was also incredibly musical, and Debbie’s music enveloped her with a warm yet powerful embrace, welcoming my mother into Judaism in its own unique way.

I can’t say I know the nature of the conversations between my mom and Debbie; all I can say is that Debbie took the time and energy to reach out and befriend a woman she didn’t know, a woman who was in clear need of a kind, heartfelt mishbeirach. It is for this that I have always loved Debbie. Not for her music, which I adore, or her friendship, which I treasure, or for the role she has played in my wife’s life, which I cherish. For a brief time, long before darker days clouded my mother’s sky, she and Debbie Friedman were friends. When my mom was in need of a r'fuah sh'leimah, Debbie was there for her.

Debbie – I am now here for you. We all are. You have always been here for us in our times of need. Now we are here for you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Trip To Be Thankful For

Two millennia. For nearly two thousand years, Jews were personae non gratae in the Catholic world, vilified and demonized as the killers of Christ. In the Jewish ghetto in Rome (what’s left of it), there’s a painting on a church directly across from the Great Synagogue that essentially calls out the entire Jewish people for “making a very poor collective choice.”

Even prior to the establishment of Catholicism as a great religion and the faith of local designation, Romans took great pleasure in torturing the Jewish people. The Arch of Titus, which greets tourists as they enter the great Roman Forum, was built in 82 AD to commemorate the sacking of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and was used in later years by the Pope as the choice location to force Jews to submit to the authority of the Church.

All of that began to change, however, in 1965, with the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. From that meeting emerged the Nostra Aetate, a document that effectively absolved the Jewish people of the death of Jesus. This was followed shortly thereafter by the establishment of the internal International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in 1971. And those efforts toward reconciliation have continued since, culminating last week in an amazing journey of 20 American Reform Cantors to Rome.

The Catholic Church is a massive, almost byzantine (forgive the pun) institution; perhaps the largest bureaucracy on the planet, with more than a billion adherents around the world. The Vatican is a self-contained city-state, a sovereign nation with defined borders and immense wealth. Rome is a 3,000 year-old city that was the seat of political and religious power for the better part of 2,000 years, and gave us what is today the model of our American “republic.”

In the face of this daunting history and power, 40 Jews from across the United States – clergy and congregants, staff and spouses – boarded planes last week with the goal of continuing the dialogue between the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths. The instrument of their design was a concert; the uplifting of voices and of spirit, with a call for greater understanding between Jew and Catholic. The mission was idealistic, the challenge enormous, and the expectations high.

The concert certainly did not disappoint. Each of the musicians assembled were at the top of their form, and the music was truly beautiful. Nearly 100 people were in attendance, and the setting – the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, designed by Michaelangelo – reminded those of us there of how truly inspiring the occasion was.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the Pope himself was unable to participate in any of the events. I imagine these things happen in a bureaucracy as large as the Catholic Church. But his absence in no way detracts from the larger mission or what these cantors accomplished. The relationship between Jews and Catholics has a long, sordid history, and the fact that after nearly two thousand years sincere efforts to reconcile these two faiths are happening is a remarkable occurrence.

If the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true, then it must be doubly true that the rift between the Jewish and Catholic peoples will be healed over the course of time as well. And for those 20 cantors who gave their time, energy, and spirit in order to continue the process of reconciliation, one can only hope that they view their trip and their efforts as one very positive step in bringing our two faiths closer together. And for their work, we all should be thankful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

So a Cantor and a Pope walk into a bar...

I've always been interested in interfaith dialogue; as the son of a convert to Judaism, raised as a Jew in the very deepest part of the Bible Belt, it was only natural that I became interested in how people of different faiths communicate (even if for a while it was only as a matter of survival!).

Soon after my wife and I started dating, I taught in a Hebrew High School program on comparative religion, and even in my work today, I'm exposed to some really great faith and interfaith organizations, such as the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.

So I am totally thrilled to be a part of an incredible event in Rome, a journey that began in 1965 with the release of the Nostra Aetate by the Second Vatican Council, absolving generations of Jews of the death of Jesus. The path of reconciliation has continued since - though not without some speedbumps - and continues tomorrow with our trip to Rome.

While I am only an observer (and an incredibly lucky husband), I am excited beyond words to be a part of this momentous occasion. This trip marks the first time that a concert of Jewish music will be performed for the Pope, at the Basilica of Santa Marie degli Angeli e dei Martiri before Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders. Just typing that gives me goosebumps!!!

I hope to write some from Rome as the trip unfolds, but I wanted to share a personal reflection on the eve of our trip:

Our world is a beautiful, fragile, divinely-inspired creation. All too often we let our differences obscure the many common traits and values we share, and it is only through dialogue and humility that we can begin to achieve Tikkun Olam - to fix our world, to heal its soul, and bring us all closer to the vision of what can truly be: a reflection of God's image.