Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Elul -- time for change

Elul zman.  A few weeks ago Rabbi Rakkefet spoke in a local shul and he said that he remembers one of his Rebbeim saying that in Lita, once Elul came, even the fish in the sea were trembling.  Rabbi Rakeffet remarked that even in Israel, where he has experienced davening with all the chumros, with all the hiddurim, with all the intensity of yeshiva davening there, there’s still something missing – there is no trembling.  And us here in NY?  Kal v’chomer. 

But I don’t mean be down today, not when my trust in mankind to find its way to teshuvah has been rekindled by this article.  Rabbi Richard Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, someone who identifies as “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi,” and someone who for forty years (!) was a subscriber to the NY Times, suddenly woke up and realized the truth – the Times is “intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.”  I know… what took him so long to figure it out?  But I’m in a charitable mood and am inclined to say better late than never.  Those who are mystically inclined may believe those 40 years correspond to 40 days of yetziras ha’vlad for this new phase in Rabbi Block’s life.  I don’t know.  I pray that getting rid of the Times is the first step and next (hopefully it won’t take another 40 years) will come dropping the Reform before title rabbi and the affiliation as a Democrat.  Baby steps…

Rabbi Block learned something and changed. What have we learned from events this summer and what changes are we going to make as a result?  Or has a week or so of cease fire made you forget already?

My kids, like so many other kids, are returning to school today.  In Daniel Gordis’ book ComingTogether, Coming Apart: A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel he recounts a conversation he had with a French school principal.  He asked the principal if he has made any changes to the message to students based on the rising anti-Semitism in France.  The principal answered:
“We’re teaching exactly what we’ve always taught them,” he responds.  “The parents here know our position.  There’s no future for Jewish kids in France.  Today it’s more clear.  But we’ve known it for a long time.  So we teach what we’ve always taught: graduate high school, and go to Israel.  Study.  Join the army.  Whatever.  But get out of here.  And go there.  It’s your only chance for a future.”

This conversation took place a decade ago – if this message was true then, how much more so now.  What’s changed is that now, the same message needs to be given to students not only in France, not only in England, not only in the Netherlands and Belgium, but also in Teaneck, in the Five Towns, in Monsey, in Boro Park. 

Waiting until they start smashing shop windows or firebombing shuls (lo aleinu) is waiting until it’s too late.  Events move too quickly.  If I would have told you 10 years ago that we would have a Secretary of State who refers to Israel as an “apartheid state” and a President more enraged at the State of Israel than at terrorists who behead people, an event he can only react to with canned phrases of sympathy before going off to a golf course, I guarantee you would have laughed in my face in disbelief.  Yet here we are.  And so many in our community are still willfully blind to the changes that have happened.  You still have writers in our Orthodox community penning op-eds lauding this President's support of Israel.  The blinders are glued on so tight... 

Change does not happen overnight.  It took Rabbi Block 40 years to get it.  I worry that we don’t have another 40 years to spare. 

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