Tag Archives: Jerusalem Gay Pride parade

Gratitude in response to complacency and despair

7 Aug


In our household at the end of a Shabbat meal our family usually sings outloud Birkat HaMazon, the Grace after meals. Our 6-year old daughter has taken it upon herself to lead Shir Haamalot, the opening Psalm (126) in the prayer. If someone else dares to start singing before her, she has a fit because she wants to start. This shows the power of ritual to give us a framework towards an ethical imperative, in this case, expressing gratitude. Does this ritual guarantee our children always express gratitude at the appropriate times? No. Sometimes they need gentle reminders; however, ritual helps.


The Jewish practice of reciting grace after meals is rooted in a verse in this morning’s Torah portion. In fact, this same verse is the centerpiece of the liturgical text of Birkat HaMazon The verse reads:

וְאָֽכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ אֶת־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ

When you have eaten and you are satisfied, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you (Deut. 8:10).


The Torah goes on to explain two verses later, “When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָֽׁכַחְתָּ אֶת־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִֽיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִֽים

“[B]eware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God who freed you from the Land of Egypt, the house of bondage” (14). The Sages later enacted the practice that we recite blessings before we partake of food since everything belongs to God, and we seek permission from the owner, as it were, before making use of it. However the Sages also remind us that the grace after meals is Biblically mandated. The Torah itself in its own explanation acknowledges that in moments of satisfaction, it is easy to forget the ultimate source of all goodness. Therefore, when we finish eating, before we run to do something else, our tradition bids us to say Birkat HaMazon.


The Torah reminds us that gratitude helps us guard against complacency and indifference to the world around us when we are blessed with plenty. Last week, I discussed the two recent cases of horrific violence  in Israel: a Haredi Jew stabbed six people at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, one of whom died; and one or more members of an extremist Jewish terror cell firebombed a Palestinian home, killing an 18-month-old boy. One has to wonder how the criminals who carried out these blasphemous acts could be so blinded by hate that they failed to imbibe the basic value of gratitude for the blessings of living in a free Jewish state.


Israel and the Jewish community must engage in deep contemplation over these acts of violence to ensure that we do not tolerate a culture of hatred and incitement that led to these acts.  Even in this challenging time gratitude is essential. Gratitude helps us avoid total despair when we are down and things are not going our way. The name of our people, Yehudim, grew out of a moment of despair. Leah the matriarch had endured many years of being in the shadow of her sister Rachel, whom Jacob loved. The names of her first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi, reflect her great anguish. Yet when her fourth son is born she says Ha-pa’am odeh et hashem, “This time I give thanks to God.” Al ken kar’ah sh’mo Yehudah (Genesis 29:35). Therefore she named him Judah.” When Leah names Judah, it is the first time in the Torah that anyone thanks God with the verb lehodot, to thank, related to todah. It is Yehudah, Judah, who goes on to become a leader among his brothers. It is his name that lives on in our people today. In this spirit, we should be grateful that the Jewish community across the board in Israel and around the world has been so outspoken against acts of violence committed in the name of Judaism.


My own angst about this particular moment in Jewish history was assuaged to some extent when I read a brilliant poem by Chanie Gorkin, an 11th grader at Beth Rivkah High School in Crown Heights. The poem is titled “Worst Day Ever?” and was posted on PoetryNation.com. Over the last few weeks, it has spread like wildfire on Facebook and social media because it struck such a chord with so many people.
The poem reads:
Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.


The wisdom of Chanie Gorkin teaches us that even in the face of trouble, we must seek something positive. In the wake of unthinkable violence carried out in Israel in the name of Judaism, we must continue to be grateful for the free and democratic State of Israel and pray and act whenever we can for its well-being. We must never take this gift for granted. We must continue to give thanks to God for the blessing lehiyot am hofshi be’artzenu of being a free people in our own land and work hard as a people to live up to the responsibility that this gift entails. The Torah teaches us to be grateful to God for the blessings in our lives, both to guard against despair during difficult times and to guard against complacency when things are going well. Let me close with a prayer that each one of us will find within us the strength to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, whatever our present situation. May God hear our thanks and grant us the ultimate gift of Shalom, peace and wholeness.



Comfort as an action

31 Jul

This week is Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of comfort. We are supposed to derive comfort that Tisha B’Av is behind us. Last week, we recalled how the destruction of the Temple was brought about by sin’at hinam, the causeless hatred that Jews showed towards one another. When we enter the month of Av, we nickname this month Menachem Av, the month of Av the comforts. The name of the month de-emphasized the prominent day of destruction and emphasizes the hopeful tone of the rest of the month. We are supposed to be more optimistic about our redemption. Alas, this Shabbat follows a very difficult week in Israel that leaves me wondering where the comfort is.

On Thursday, six people were stabbed and injured at the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem. The alleged perpetrator was a Haredi man who had just been released from prison a few weeks ago after serving a sentence for the exact same act at the exact same parade ten years ago.

Then, Thursday night, another shocking incident occurred outside of Nablus. The home of a Palestinian family was burned down in a savage arson attack that killed an 18-month old Ali Saad Dawabsheh and injured his parents and brother. Hebrew graffiti was sprayed nearby with the word nekamah, revenge, appearing next to a Star of David. Authorities suspect this was the work of the Price Tag gang of thugs, Jewish terrorists who attack Palestinians in the name of their ideology of a Greater Israel.

Both incidents have been strongly condemned, and rightly so, by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Yet, we brace ourselves with great concern for what may follow, particularly in response to the firebombing.  Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by an increasingly confident Iran, may be looking for excuses to stir up trouble in the West Bank and beyond.  What can be done?

The answer comes, in part, from the special haftarah this Shabbat. After 45 years in exile, following the destruction of the first Temple, the Jews now have an opportunity to return to their homeland.   The 40th chapter of Isaiah begins Nachamu nachamu ami, yomar Eloheichem.  This phrase is often mistranslated as: “Be comforted, my people, says God.” Perhaps more familiar is the King James version sung in Handl’s “Messiah:” “Comfort ye, my people.” On closer analysis, this reading is problematic. Nachamu is not a reflexive verb calling on people to comfort themselves. That would read hitnachamu. Rather, it is a transitive verb in command form: “Comfort! Comfort my people!” If that is the case, then we must ask to whom is God speaking? Commentators differ. Some say God is speaking to the prophets. Some say the priests (LXX). Some say all the nations of the world are commanded to comfort the Jewish people. Professor Shalom Paul of Hebrew University argues that God is speaking to the Divine Council, commanding the celestial beings seated there to comfort the Jews.  Whatever interpretation you choose, the common denominator is that comfort is not a passive process that just happens to someone. It is an active process that one must do to bring comfort to someone else.

Yair Lapid, a centrist Knesset member, wrote an op-ed piece yesterday titled We Are at War, arguing that those who care for the survival of a vibrant Jewish State need to combat extremism. “He who burns a Palestinian baby declares war on the State of Israel. He who stabs young people at a Pride March declares war on the State of Israel.” He cites other recent examples of violence and incitement and calls extremists “natural partners of Hamas, of Hezbollah, of ISIS. They look like us but they aren’t like us. They are traitors to all that is sacred to us, traitors to the very idea on which the State of Israel was founded, traitors to Judaism.” He concludes: “We’re at war. For the future, for Zionism, for our existence. As in every one of Israel’s wars, we cannot afford to lose.” On the surface, his words are not exactly comforting. When is it ever comforting to speak of war? Yet, in the spirit of Isaiah, comfort is an active process. People of good will must be vigilant against violent extremism for the good, and ultimately the comfort, of all.

Where racism, hatred and indifference are allowed to fester, particularly towards vulnerable members of society, it is not a long road for that culture to transform into a culture of violence. I pray that this week’s events were aberrations and not a new normal for Israel. There is some reason for hope.

Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern visited the victims of the anti-gay terror attack on the gay pride parade. He called on the public to pray for the recovery of the victims and condemned the attack in the strongest terms, saying the attack was the polar opposite of everything Judaism stands for.

Furthermore, Netanyahu and leaders of his government, including Naftali Bennett, condemned the arson as an act of terror. Their task going forward will be to face down the extremists in their own camp so that this violence is not repeated.

I’ll conclude with a poignant statement released by the Masorti Movement in Israel.

“Jewish fundamentalism is neither better nor worse than any other fundamentalism. The knife, raised against the parade in the heart of Jerusalem last evening, and the match that ignited a family home in the village of Douma, near Nablus, in the early morning hours, are the despicable products of religious fanaticism. Tendentious use of verses can justify almost any wrongdoing, yet the legacy of Israel throughout all generations has always known to maintain a firm moral rule, “Do the right and the good” (Deuteronomy 6:18). Those who educate for hatred, spread evil, and call for harming innocent people are distorting Judaism, not building it. Murder, attempted murder and lust for murder have nothing to do with Jewish tradition.

We extend a comforting hand and embrace to the LGBT community that suffered a severe blow yesterday, send strength to their families, and offer prayers for the injured hospitalized in Hadassah and Shaare Zedek hospitals in Jerusalem.

We send condolences to the family Daobasa, whose infant son was burned to death last night by Jewish terrorists, and pray for the safety of other family members who are still hospitalized.

Oseh Shalom Bimromav/May God who makes peace on high,
Hu Yaase Shalom Aleinu Make peace for us,
v’al kol Yisrael/For all Israel,
v’al kol yoshvei teivel/And all who dwell on Earth.
V’imru/Let us say, Amen.”

And I’ll add: may we find the strength as a people to take meaningful action to bring comfort to our people and the world.