Category Archives: Judaism

Why I Invited an Atheist to my Sukkah (and You Should Too)

One of the things that I’m incredibly passionate about is reaching out to Unaffiliated members of the Jewish community. (In fact, my first blog post was titled “Unaffiliated by Default” and discussed that very subject.)

I truly believe that every Jew, no matter what their observance level or personal beliefs may be, has a place in the community and we need to welcome them. By welcoming I mean not judging, not being critical, and not trying to bully them into changing. 

One such person is a lady that I know from childhood. We attended Hebrew School together and were marginally friendly, but not close. We weren’t in touch for many years until she reconnected with me on Facebook. Our lives went in very different directions. She is a single mother, with two kids, by two different men, and neither one is in the picture. Her current boyfriend, who is a multiple-time felon, is literally covered head-to-toe in tattoos and is obviously not Jewish. 

I have invited her to my home at least half a dozen times to celebrate various Jewish holidays. She has always refused, stating that she is a Humanist, an Atheist, and doesn’t believe in a “Unicorn Fairy Tale Book” (meaning the Bible). She has not been inside a temple since her Bat Mitzvah, even for her brother’s funeral. 

While I don’t agree with any of her ideas or lifestyle choices, I refuse to give up on her and her kids. The holiday of Sukkot, which is a harvest festival, presented the perfect opportunity for more outreach. Because she is a vegetarian and into camping and outdoor stuff, I suggested very casually that she was welcome to stop by my Sukkah and share dinner with us. 

After considerable hemming and hawing, she agreed, provided there was no religion discussed and no praying. Without hesitation, I accommodated her wishes, not because it was my first choice (certainly not), but because her presence and the presence of her children was important—to me, to their identity, and to the Jewish People as a whole. 

Though I haven’t seen her in person for over 20 years, it wasn’t awkward at all. It was simply two families sharing a meal, during a holiday, without either side imposing their will on the other. I’m pretty sure it was her kids first experience with anything Jewish and definitely the boyfriend’s, so I wanted it to be low key and warm. 

With huge segments of the Jewish community inter-marrying or simply cutting themselves off from traditional Jewish institutions, I feel strongly that we must make allowances for these folks and meet them where they’re at. If we are negative or preachy, they will never come back! By being kind and understanding, and not shoving religion down their throat, they will (hopefully) find their way back into the fold. 

Do I hope that she will become religious again? Of course! Do I want her children to have a full and rich Jewish life? OMG, Yes! But that can only happen in stages, over time, with encouragement and positive reinforcement. 

Every member of the Jewish community is important. Every one should be valued and honored. It doesn’t matter if they live wrong, think wrong, whatever else is wrong, because one day they may get it right. We owe it them and to ourselves to make the effort. We can not afford to turn our backs on anyone!

That is why I invited an Atheist to my Sukkah and I think you should too. Don’t expect someone else to make the first move. Extend the hand of friendship, expecting nothing in return, and truly care about that person. That, above all, is what God commands us to do—love each other unconditionally. 

In Shifra’s Arms: Crisis Pregnancy Care & Post-Abortion Support for Jewish Women

According to statistics, 1 in 2 pregnancies in America are unplanned. Millions of women, from the youngest teens to ladies in their late 40’s, have to face this difficult situation. For unmarried women, the temptation to end their pregnancy can be incredibly strong, particularly if they’re in school, not financially stable, have an unsupportive partner, and/or lack family approval.

The Jewish community, like every other, deals with it, though it’s not often talked about. There is so much fear, guilt, shame, and judgment that many women are afraid to reach out, and those who want to, may not know where to go. An amazing organization called In Shifra’s Arms is a priceless resource.

They’re a non-partisan social service organization, with members from every stream of Judaism—secular, Orthodox, and everything in-between. They provide free, confidential counseling. For those who are currently pregnant and want to keep their babies, they can offer care packages, financial assistance, and local connections—things these moms need and deserve! For those who want to have—or already had—an abortion, they provide emotional and spiritual care. 

I’ve personally known women who went both routes, with various outcomes and various levels of regret. None of them would say it was an easy decision. This topic is so emotional, with no simple answers, and I, like most folks, agonize over it.

While I believe that life begins at conception, viability certainly does not and I do think abortion within the first trimester should be legal. (After that, only in a dire emergency.) The Torah does allow abortion, but it’s never encouraged, just something that is viewed as an unfortunate reality of human existence in this troubled world. 

If a lady feels so incredibly desperate that her only choice is an abortion, I would never, ever judge her, nor should anyone else. Usually it’s fear and isolation that caused her to make that choice. What bothers me is the enormous misinformation campaign that goes on; both the pro-life and pro-choice groups do it equally. Anyone who claims that abortion is a good thing is a lunatic or a total liar. Abortion is the loss of life—for the baby always and quite often, it’s an emotional death for the mother. Women who go through the hellish ordeal of abortion need compassion, never condemnation.

The choice to end or continue an unwanted pregnancy may be the most heartbreaking decision any woman could ever make. Nobody should have to do it alone. Talk it out, with a non-judgmental person, and be sure that you’re informed. And if you made a choice long ago that you regret now, there is hope and healing for that, too. 

In Shifra’s Arms is the best place to start.

 

Because this topic is so sensitive, anonymous comments are fine, but I am begging everyone to be understanding and sympathetic. Different opinions are ok, but I will trash stuff that is intentionally cruel. 

Kristallnacht 80th Anniversary Commemoration Play

November 9, 2018 is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht (aka “Night of the Broken Glass,” which was a Nazi pogram that targeted German Jews.) To commemorate this terrible tragedy, with the hope that history will never again repeat itself in this awful way, a talented playwright is coordinating a worldwide event to raise awareness

Phyllis Zimbler Miller—who is a lovely lady I met through Twitter—created The Thin Edge of the Wedge based on firsthand accounts of survivors and saviors who were there and lived to tell the truth. Originally published in the 70’s as a newspaper article, she then turned it into a one-act play.  

Her goal is to have the play performed or read simultaneously around the world, by as many people as possible. (Only 4 actors are needed and no scenery is required, so don’t think this is overly complicated.) This would be a wonderful activity for High School, Hebrew School and College students, in addition to temples and community centers. Holocaust education is sorely needed!

Anyone who’s interested, can contact her via her website and she will send you the script. 

First Torah Designated to Honor Jewish American Soldier

Rabbi Yechezkiel Tenenbaum is holding a very special Torah: it’s the first one ever designated to honor the memory of a Jewish American soldier. Both the Torah itself, and the man who inspired it, have an interesting history. 

The 75-year-old Torah originally resided in a Baltimore temple that has since disbanded. One of its former members, Michael Steininger, purchased it with the hope of dedicating it to his late brother, Martin, who served in Afghanistan and died at the age of 38. 

Fixing the Torah would require considerable skill that came at a high cost. Help was provided by Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach, which repairs and lends Torahs to Chabad emissaries around the the world. (A “Gemach” is a free loan fund that assists Jews, financially and/or materially.)

Steininger was connected with Rabbi Tenenbaum, who is chaplain of the Maryland Defense Force. He provides spiritual guidance to Jewish military members, police officers, and firefighters.

In what can only be described as an amazing coincidence, Rabbi Tenenbaum requested a Torah at the same time that Steininger inquired about giving one. (Talk about a perfect match.)

The Torah that was inspired by Martin Steininger’s memory, and was entrusted to Rabbi Tenenbaum’s care, was used for the first time on Rosh Hashanah. 

Stories like these make me so happy and show how divine intervention actually works. Most miracles, after all, are subtle, and if we don’t pay attention, they’re easily overlooked. Just beautiful!