My earliest memory of doubt regarding God was as a kid of about 10. As the son and grandson of Orthodox rabbis, my existential moment was not about whether there was a God, though, but rather why He wasn’t doling out more punishment.
As I recall, one of my less observant friends was visiting my house on a Shabbat afternoon, and while we were playing in my room he flicked on the light switch. Having long been taught that such acts were forbidden on the Sabbath, I immediately cringed, waiting for a bolt of lightning to come down from the heavens and strike him.
Jerusalem — How do you explain to an American Jew who hasn’t visited Israel how safe one feels being there? Or that many Israelis really do enjoy their lives, despite the constant tensions they live with every day?
And how do you make an Israeli who has not spent much time abroad understand what “Jewish identity” means to an American Jew? It’s an alien concept to large numbers of people in the Jewish state who have no need to parse the Jewish and Israeli aspects of their DNA, and see themselves simply as Israelis.
Last Wednesday, the day after the elections, Elliot Prager, the principal of Moriah, a Modern Orthodox day school in Englewood, N.J., was approached by a 9-year-old student in the hallway, who asked him if he was afraid.
“Afraid of what?’ I asked,” Prager recalled the other day. “Afraid of Obama,” the child replied. “My Mommy and Daddy told me that he doesn’t like Jews and is dangerous.”
Just back from Israel and reflecting on the Israel-diaspora relationship, and in particular the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, held in Jerusalem last week, I am thinking of how we Israeli and Americans keep missing each other.
‘Leadership” is the mantra of our times. Countless books, articles and lectures have been devoted to the theme of developing leaders in the world of business, politics, communal life and virtually every other endeavor. And surely the dramatic election of Barack Obama has only spiked interest in the notion of leadership as the key to success, a message that resonates particularly in a Jewish community buffeted by reports in recent years that it is shrinking, in numbers and commitment, as well as growing older and rudderless.
Bernard Madoff is not the only trustee of Yeshiva University who resigned in shame last week.
While international attention continues to focus on Madoff, who faces charges for his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, some leaders in the Jewish community, particularly within Modern Orthodox institutions, are expressing shock and anger at the role played by J. Ezra Merkin, a prominent investment guru and philanthropist, who appears to have misled at least some investors.
As I read the Torah portion last Shabbat, I couldn’t help but smile at the contrast in style between Moses, in his first appearance as the future (and greatest) leader of the Jewish people, and Barack Obama, as he becomes president of the United States and Leader of the Free World.
Could two men be more different in accepting the mantle of responsibility?
While the tragic violence in Mumbai was still unfolding on Nov. 27, a Washington Post report noted: “It is not known how the attackers seized on the low-key Chabad House.”
It was one of several press reports at the time that professed surprise when the best-known Jewish site in the city became a target for the gunmen, later identified as Pakistan-based Islamic terrorists.