Friday, December 10, 2010

Illuminating the Answers

Well, it’s almost Shabbat and I haven’t posted a blog since Monday. It has been a hectic week but one filled with light…

During the work week I have been able to indulge myself a bit. This past week, I would head down to the lobby and slowly turn the next orange bulb, lighting the chanukiah. In a matter of seconds these moments passed but the feeling of bringing some small sense of light to the holiday lasted until I lit the next candle. With the last candle lit, I was feeling a bit down. I am not used to this as most of the time I begin the week on a down note (I know many people feel the same way about Mondays) and end the work week with the anticipation of Shabbat on Friday night.

However, as Chanukah drew to a close and my mood continued its downward trend I received some unexpected news. First, in the form of an email from my insurance company… it is dividend time again and, this year, we would be receiving a $136.04 credit. Woo hoo! One less payment I have to make.

But that wasn’t the event that really touched me. That came a few hours later.

Earlier in the week I had received my order from Artscroll. The previous week ended with me ordering a couple of books from them that I had been meaning to get for some time. Of course, 40% off had some influence as to my decision to order. Well, the box arrived on Monday but I didn’t open it until Thursday night. When I did, I pulled out the two books I ordered and realized that the box wasn’t empty. A third book had been accidentally placed in the box.

I admit that I was tempted to just put it on the shelf and not say a word about it but I couldn’t do that. Hashem has given me so much (including the means to order the two other books). I couldn’t steal from others and still say that I am putting forth ever effort to be a better Jew.

The next morning I put the book in my bag, brought it to the office, and got everything ready to go to ship it back. Unfortunately, there was no invoice included in my box and I wasn’t familiar with the return policy so I gave Artscroll a call. I explained the situation and asked what the return policy was. They seemed a bit surprised by my call so I was put on hold.

About five minutes later, a different woman picked up and asked me to explain the situation again. After that she asked me to confirm the order number and tell her what the extra book was that I received. She confirmed the order and then I asked what I needed to do. She began by thanking me profusely for calling them about the extra book and then said to me, “keep the additional book as our gift to you.”

Well, that got an immediate Happy Chanukah and then it was my turn to say thank you (multiple times). Woo hoo #2!

In the midst of the kindness and light of the holiday I feel as though I have been tested. I guess the more appropriate term would be questioned. We are tested throughout our lives, question after question, and we have to provide the answers and those answers are given directly to Hashem. What we have to remember is that we are not alone during this exam and we are never asked questions that we already have the answers to: G-d gave us the Torah for guidance and G-d has given us one another for support.

We have all of the answers we just have to be willing to listen and accept them.

Shabbat Shalom.   

Monday, December 6, 2010

More Than a Meal

On Sunday, my wife and I finally made it to the kosher deli on Main Street in downtown Metuchen called The Orchid. We were one of three groups partaking in the wonderful delectable’s they had to offer. On one side sat a completely secular couple while on the other was an observant husband and wife debating with a secular guest who, once the food arrived (in the middle of their conversation), got up from the table, washed their hands , and recited the bracha "Netilat Yadayim".

I noticed their act of devotion to G-d but it didn’t fully register until after the meal. As they sat quietly and said Birkat HaMazon to themselves, I felt my painful lack of gratefulness for the gifts from G-d that I still take for granted. I was confronted with my biggest challenges in my striving to become more observant: my lack of knowledge and awareness!

It is not simply a matter of learning the blessings; I can begin by reading and learn when and how to say them. My daily consciousness has to be shifted to see and acknowledge the presence of G-d in everything I see, everything I do, and every gift that is given to me. It is not just a matter of the blessings surrounding meals; it is a matter of thanking Hashem for another day, for another Shabbat, for life, for health, for the beautiful things in life, for Torah, for all the gifts that I am granted and all the opportunities G-d provides.

It is going to be a long process and a difficult transition to make but, no matter how many times the old habits breach the surface, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, to be closer to G-d, to enjoy life. Sometimes, all I can say is, “Baruch Hashem!”

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Don’t Want to Be Homeless

I have been thinking about the conversion law being considered in Israel since we first decided to make aliyah in June and it has continued to eat away at me since. I remain optimistic that the Israeli Supreme Court ruling will hold but that fails to ease my fear. I am living in fear that my dream will be taken away from me and that the future that I was hoping to provide for my wife and our future children will disappear.

I can understand the need to oversee the conversion process as many such conversions in the US are lacking but many sincere converts have taken significant steps along the way to ensure that all the proper steps were taken. I have seen the extremes within the reform and conservative movements and can see, and to a certain extent agree, that some should not be recognized.  

However, if the convert is heartfelt in their devotion to Hashem and the Jewish people and is willing to shoulder the burdens that come with that I have no issue in welcoming them as a Jew. But, beyond the commandment of circumcision, the Beit Din, and the Mikvah, there are a few things that, I believe, converts should be required to agreed upon (some of which you have the right to disagree with):

1.      Acceptance of the Torah as the word of Hashem (I am a little lenient so divinely inspired is acceptable);  
2.      Acceptance the mitzvoth and the obligation to fulfill them and strive to do so throughout their life;
3.      Acceptance of the fact that learning never stops and they must strive to be closer to Hashem;
4.      Proclaim their willingness to join their fate with that of the Jewish people;
5.      Acknowledgement of Israel as the rightful home of the Jewish people;
6.      Pledge their willingness to defend Israel and its right to exist;

This is a simple, and incomplete, list but I think it is a decent overview and a reasonable starting point. With all this said, if you chose to make aliyah you should be held to a higher standard upon your acceptance into the Homeland (i.e. you shouldn’t walk around in a tank top and shorts every day, you must learn Hebrew and shouldn’t avoid speaking it by moving into an “Anglo” community, etc.) because one should show respect both for their people and their home.  

In the end, it is a give and take. Israel must adapt to the needs of Diaspora Jewry and those of us currently in the Diaspora must adapt to the needs of Israel and the Orthodox Rabbinate. We are one people with one home.

Hashem, please let us go home!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Jew to Zionist

A recent story by Ines Astrug published on The Jewish Agency’s website got me thinking about the price that many of us have paid over our love and support for our Homeland. Some have be fighting their entire lives on this subject while some of us are more recent entrants in the debate.

As many of you have read in my previous post, I completed my conversion in June 2008. I have been fortunate in that my family has been incredibly supportive (my parents even paid for the conversion class and were there when I went to the Mikvah) but I can’t say the same for many of my friends. Everyone had questions, friends and family alike, but once I sat down and answered all of their questions they were accepting of my decision and supported the choice that I had made.

However, other responses ranged from a simple piercing glare to downright refusal to accept the fact that I didn’t believe what they saw as the only “right” faith. Once the shock of these responses dimmed, discussions and debates ensued resulting in agreements to disagree and tenuous friendships at best.

Within the year, those relationships were destroyed. Operation Cast Lead brought about a change both in me and in my relationships with others. In the beginning, I kept my opinion to myself having the occasional mutually respectful conversation with coworkers.

As the media continuously blasted Israel as an “evil occupier”, the hibernating Zionist in me woke up. At the same time, pointed posts and emails began flooding Facebook and my inbox: anti-Israel and, sometimes, anti-Semitic. I was not going to just sit and listen anymore so I began calmly commenting and respectfully responding to their hate filled rants.

Almost instantaneously, my friends began to dwindle with nasty emails following suit as a going away present. They couldn’t accept a viewpoint that was contrary to the media… but “CNN said this” and “The New York Times printing this story”. Intelligent people simply reading a script and following the directions presented to them. No one stopped to question the facts; no one dared take the side of Israel. It was sad and, many times, surprisingly disturbing….

Not everyone relied on the media to form their opinions. Some people confided in me that they were having the same problems with, now former, friends while others reveled in the excuse to mask their anti-Semitic tendencies in the anti-Israel media circus. “Unfulfilled genocide” was a common phrase that peeked from behind the veiled argument.

This only got worse as the public was force fed leftist stories anchored by the Goldstone Report. The same people that wanted nothing to do with me before were now reconnecting because “now that their argument was supported by an UN report”, I would admit that I was wrong. They didn’t expect that my response would consist not only of defending my stance and my Homeland but would also address the inconsistencies in UN policy and the clear bias that exists in that institution. Needless to say, they didn’t appreciate my response and, once again, disappeared.  

It has been nearly two years and I haven’t spoken to any of those people since. They are intelligent people with which I miss having interesting conversations but I can’t compromise what I believe in nor can I forget the hurtful things they said. They would rather attack and accused rather than try to understand or see things from another perspective.

Do I hate them? No. I just hope that one day they will be able to see the other side of the argument. I don’t expect them to become Zionists I just want them to accept me for being one because I am not only proud to be a Jew but I am proud to be a Zionist.