Friday, March 30, 2012

Global march on Jerusalem

The "Global March on Jerusalem" is officially underway. The prospect of hundreds of thousands of "peaceful" protesters massing on  Israel's borders, backed by international sympathies and dizzying media coverage is frankly frightening.
What boggles the mind is how many ostensibly intelligent people have been swept up in the hysteria around the "Judaization" of Jerusalem and the rhetoric of the Middle Easts' only democracy being an "Apartheid State". Yet, academics, politicians, journalists and even some Jews seem to subscribe to the ongoing and escalating fictions leveled against the millennia-old epicenter of Judaism.
Next Friday evening, as we sit at our Seders, we will read how "in every generation, they have risen against us to destroy us". Well, that hasn't changed. We'll also read how each time "The Holy One Blessed Be He saved us from their hands". That won't change either, which is the good news.
Meanwhile, as the drama unfolds (and tomorrow could prove to be a very challenging day for the Israeli government- something akin to the Arab Spring), we need to know how to think and respond as Jews.
Jerusalem is the keystone of our nation. We pray three times a day facing Jerusalem and ask G-d multiple times daily for Jerusalem's restoration. To us, the ultimate purpose of Creation is to return to our Temple in Jerusalem.
Jewish mysticism teaches that everything exists in time, space and within the human. As Yom Kippur is the year's holiest day, Jerusalem is the world's holiest location. Within us we each have both a Jerusalem and a Yom Kippur. Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in Hebrew, refers to a perfect, wholesome relationship with Hashem. Our personal Jerusalem is the part of our soul that is completely dedicated to G-d and absolutely proud of its Jewish identity.
Throughout history, nations have challenged our hold on Jerusalem and we have lost is multiple times. Likewise, we have each faced challenges against our own fundamental Jewish connection and identity. 
Only this time, the challenge to Jerusalem is not by those who wish to conquer it as much as by those who wish to claim it was never ours to begin with. This spiritual battle is not for us to fail as Jews, but to lose our sense of what it is to be Jewish. 
Recently, young Jewish people seem to have lost the typical South African sense of Jewish tradition. More young people are questioning why they should fast on Yom Kippur or avoid eating bread on Pesach. Way more are inter-dating and intermarrying. Jerusalem, the holy epicenter of Judaism, is being challenged in an unprecedented fashion.
Now is a critical time for us to stand proud as Jews. Now is a the key time to decide for ourselves and convey to our children that Jerusalem is eternally Jewish and non-negotiable; that no matter how unpopular a position it may be, Jewish pride and Jewish values are what define us- and these can not be compromised. Ever.
May G-d help us to stand proudly Jewish, may He protect Israel from its overt and covert enemies and may we all join the Global March to Jerusalem with Moshiach now!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Toulouse- how to respond?

It's been a tough week, or is that a tough month? Joburg Jewry has had a spate of tragic stories and the Toulouse massacre has rattled the whole Jewish world. As "Why?!" reverberates through everyone's mind and a strong sense of vulnerability sets in, we can't expect answers. But we do need to formulate a response.

This week, a teacher and three children were mowed down by a terrorist. 
You wonder how anyone can be so inhuman as to target a school and cold-bloodedly plot to murder little children. You wonder about the depraved depths of a man who could stare into the frightened eyes of children as he shot them, while filming his murders. You wonder what ideology kills compassion and fuels blood-lust- and you wonder how many more assailants it has let loose on the world's streets. You wonder what you can do to feel strong at this vulnerable time- strong enough to make a difference.
In 1956, a teacher and five students were mowed down by terrorists who burst into their classroom in the fledgling town of Kfar Chabad in Israel. Chabad Israel was stunned, the Jewish world wounded. As the townspeople mourned and questioned the wisdom of growing their exposed little settlement, a telegram arrived from the Rebbe in New York. All it said was "Through continued building, consolation will come".
No, we won't get answers- at least not before Moshiach comes. But the Jewish response to seeing young lives ripped away is to build. 
Jews are at war with death. We always have been. Our Torah is called the "Torah of life" and the "Tree of life". Our religion glorifies life and prioritizes life beyond every other facet of Jewishness. Death is an aberration, a toxic spill from the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, a chronic disease that must be fought and overcome. Judaism's ultimate world is a place of eternal life and the reversal of death through resurrection. Each time death or its agents triumph, we recommit ourselves to move forward to the era when death dies. 

This week, terror and disease have struck hard at our confidence, Jewish commitment and optimism. Tough as it feels, the right response is greater confidence, more Jewish commitment and sustained optimism. Now is a time to wear your Judaism proudly in public, to come to shul more, to add a shiur to your schedule or to help someone in need. Please G-d, we hope to very soon see the day when death vanishes forever.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Purim is that overly-joyous, fun-filled holiday of masquerades, food and more food and gifts to friends and the poor. Here's your overview of what to do:

Esther was the heroine of the story- the Jewish gal who landed up in the lion's den and pulled off a massive rescue of the Jews from Haman's clutches. Although the fast is named for her, it's not the same fast she fasted. When the Jews battled Haman's cronies, they fasted (the Jewish custom was to fast when at war). We commemorate their fast with not food/ drink from dawn to dark on Wednesday. 

Even if your Purim knowledge is up to scratch, you need to hear the whole story read live, in the original Hebrew on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Hopefully the fellow reading it at your Shul doesn't drag it out, but even the ADD crowd can make a noise here and there when Haman's name is mentioned (he's the villain, so we want to blot out his memory).

Purim is a holiday of joy. For Jews holiday and joy must include food :) Pack at least two ready-to-eat snacks and deliver them on Thursday to a friend (more friends = more food packs). Who knows? Maybe you'll get a snack-pack back in return. (Traditionally, men give to men & women to women).

You should give charity every day. On Purim day, you are meant to give gifts to at least two Jewish poor people (or the organisations that care for them). On Purim, you should not turn anybody away empty-handed. (Remember, G-d treats us as we treat others, so try asking Him for things you need on Purim).

To commemorate the miracles of Purim (overnight turnaround of a madman in the Middle East threatening the lives of all Jews to a national holiday- that may sound familiar, so let's hope for a Purim 2012), we add the "Al Hanissim" segment to the Amidah prayers and the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals).

Thursday is the day to party with your family and friends. Set the table as if it was Yom Tov, have bread and drink a few lechaims. You should get the meal underway before sunset on Thursday, but can keep going all night long.

One of the big mitzvos of Purim is to put on Tefillin. If you don't get to do it daily, make a point of donning yours on Thursday morning.

Have a wonderful, joyous Purim! 

Friday, March 02, 2012

Learn everything- in just one year!

I know you're busy. Who isn't? 
You have days when you don't have the time to eat lunch, right? You're probably not looking to take on new projects, especially big ones- like getting to know everything about Judaism in just one year. After all, studying Judaism is supposed to be a life-long endeavour with no shortcuts. You would probably quicker open a Nigerian lottery email than a  "learn the whole Torah in a year" proposition.
Well, it can be done. In fact, it has been done by tens of thousands of people annually thirty times now. That's right, there are people in the Jewish world who have gone through the whole Torah 30 times in the last 28 years. 
You probably imagine that I'm talking about big scholars who dedicate hours a day to study. Sure, some are. But many are ordinary professionals or business people with as much on their plate as you and I. None of them would claim to now be a leading Torah authority, but they have a solid general knowledge about every area of Jewish law. 
How did they do it? A step at a time.
In 1984, the Rebbe launched a maverick Torah-study programme that would revolutionize the Jewish world in two ways: 1) This project would allow anyone to become familiar with every aspect of Jewish life. 2) It would unite the whole Jewish world by having thousands of people globally study the same information each day. 
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam or Maimonides) was the first Torah scholar to collate all of Jewish law into an indexed encyclopedia of Judaism. Unlike the Code of Jewish Law, he included laws that are not practiced today when we have no Temple or king in Jerusalem. 
Back in '84, the Rebbe split the fourteen volumes of Rambam into daily sections. Whoever would follow the programme (studying three chapters a day) would complete all fourteen volumes (the most comprehensive, yet concise work on Jewish law) within just under a year. His or her general Jewish knowledge would have grown exponentially. 
You may not feel ready to study three chapters a day, but the Rebbe also included an option of studying a single chapter or even just a handful of mitzvos from the Rambam's "Book of Mitzvos" each day. Now, the "Book of Mitzvos" option really does not take very long. It requires five minutes or less of commitment each day. What it does for you is it gives you an overview of everything Judaism is about. 
Just imagine: Five minutes of reading a day and you no longer feel ignorant when the rabbi discusses shemittah oryibum, and you know what to respond to your work-colleague who asks if Jews are allowed to charge interest or own statues or neuter their pets. 
The Rebbe's vision for fighting Jewish ignorance is about to launch it's 31st cycle tomorrow. Why not take part? You could get the info emailed to you daily or you could read it online. If you prefer the look and feel of a book, subscribe to the weekly Chayenu magazine that carries the daily Rambam and other interesting Jewish information. However you do it, take a step to educate yourself further this year.