Just about a week and a half ago, an elderly man drove his car through the bushes in front of my synagogue, onto the steps leading up to the main entrance on the service road of Queens Boulevard. It's not clear what the cause was, although because he was driving a Toyota, his claim that the car accelerated on him suddenly seems (pun fully intended) to have caught traction. I don't know. Actually, I wasn't there at the time, and didn't think all that much of it.
The one-two punch of Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s front-page article in The Jewish Week (RCA Seen Caving on Conversions, February 29) and Gershom Gorenberg’s piece in the Sunday Magazine of The New York Times (Proving You’re a Jew, March 2) serves as a painful reminder of one of Israel’s most vexing problems.
Just a few hours ago, an Arab terrorist (maybe two?) made his way into Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalefom and opened fire, killing at least seven Yeshiva students and wounding many others. It doesn’t take a political scientist to attribute this heinous act of barbarism to some form of revenge for Israel’s actions recently in Gaza. Significant numbers of civilians were killed in those actions, and the conventional wisdom in that part of the world is “blood for blood.”
What are we to make of Elliot Spitzer’s dramatic fall from grace? How can it be that the man who was swept into office by a record plurality of votes, running as the Mr. Clean who “judged every decision before him simply on the basis of whether it was right or wrong,” as one of his campaign ads suggested, could be so very, very wrong on so basic a principle?
“Spitzer-fatigue” has set in. For an eclectic variety of reasons, not least of which is the tawdriness and blatant hypocrisy of what Governor Spitzer was engaged in, most people appear to have had enough. It’s time to move on, they say, and to let him and his family deal with the detritus of his epic fall from grace.
By and large, I agree. There is little to be gained by rehashing what is known, and speculating about what is not. True enough. But personally, I don’t think that there’s been enough discussion about it with our children.
As I write, a fierce debate is raging among my colleagues, and indeed among Americans, about the relationship between Barack Obama and his minister/mentor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Americans of all creeds are disturbed by Rev. Wright’s comments- played on what seems like a continuous loop on YouTube- that essentially blame 9/11 on America, and reveal a huge reservoir of toxic anger against insults both real and imagined perpetrated by White America against Black people.
I’ve waited a week or so to write this, mostly because of my disinclination to write things that people will read and respond to by saying “Oh, well, he’s a rabbi, what do you expect?” I don’t at all like when people say things like that. It makes it sound like I- and all rabbis- are somehow less than human, that we don’t know or understand what it means to live in the real world.
But now, having waited, I have to let it out. Does anyone out there in public service still view fidelity within marriage as an active concept?
I have worked with many Jews-by-Choice during my career in the rabbinate, far too many to actually be able to casually come up with a number. Most of my rabbinical work involves rites, rituals and teaching that I’ve done many times before. Conversion is no exception. But while I occasionally will reflect on the challenge of “staying fresh” for bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals, I never find myself challenged in that way when it comes to someone who is adopting Judaism by choice.
Like many others, I’m sure, I awoke Sunday morning to the terrible news of the death of Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein and his wife Deborah, z”l, in a tragic house fire in Scarsdale. I am horrified by the random and senseless nature of their death, and the loss that it represents for the congregants of his synagogue and for the Jewish community.
But in addition to the communal tragedy, I am deeply saddened by the loss of a man whom I met long ago under very unusual circumstances, and whom I was proud to call a friend and a colleague.