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The $100,000 Lesson

Thursday, November 20, 2014 - 12:42 pm
Posted by Mrs. Yocheved Greenwald

Latour - crying baby - AP.jpgClose friends of mine have a child named Benjamin who was diagnosed with cysts in his lungs as an infant, and had surgery to remove them when he was five months old. Due to labored breathing he never learned to eat properly and was given a feeding tube at five weeks.  As a result, he developed a severe oral aversion and refused to eat anything.  

Other than the feeding tube sticking out of his nose, Benjamin is like any other child—learning to crawl and walk and babble. I’ve watched his mother try to force feed him but he simply cries and cries and it doesn’t work. 

At a loss for other options, Benjamin’s parents put him on the waiting list for an intense three-month feeding course for children which cost $100,000. Seven months later there was an opening in the program and little Benjamin began the course. Thank G-d, their insurance paid the bill.

Benjamin was taken by the nurse and his parents were not allowed to be in the room. Parents can watch from behind one-way glass, but the children are not to see their parents. 

After the first week, Benjamin had already made tremendous progress, and after three weeks his parents knew he was well on the way to eating like a normal, healthy child. 

Upon reflection, Benjamin’s mother realized that essentially all the doctors did was force feed her child, something she had tried countless times herself. Curious, she approached the main doctor and asked, “How is it that you’ve succeeded where I’ve failed? I tried the exact same method, my husband tried it, but with us he just cries and cries, whereas with you he actually swallows the food! Considering how much this program costs, I assumed you would have some magic formula…” 

The doctor explained, “Your child knows that you and your husband love him to pieces. He knows that the last thing you want to do is hurt or upset him. And he knows that when you force feed him, if he resists enough, you will stop. So he cries and cries and you cannot get him to eat. But I am a stranger, and he doesn’t trust me the way he trusts you. He doesn’t feel confident that I’ll stop if he cries, so he eats. That’s the trick.”

Wow! A $100,000 program because a child knows that his parents love him!

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Like everyone else, on Tuesday morning I woke up to the shocking and horrific news of our brethren who were brutally massacred while praying in shul. The sheer brutality of the terrorists who committed this atrocity was dumbfounding. 

I had no words. When something hits so close to home, when something hurts so deeply, there are no words—even crying doesn’t help. 

I have visited Har Nof many, many times, and I spend time praying in shuls daily. This hit home. It could’ve been me. It could have been any of us. 

Pain.
Anger.
Outrage. 

The images of brutally murdered Jews still wearing their talis and tefillin pierce our hearts. The trauma and anguish of the widows and orphans and those who survived the attack is unimaginable. With broken hearts we pray that they find comfort and strength. We pray for the wounded to be healed and for this to be the very last act of violence against our nation. 

We can take a lesson from Baby Benjamin. Benjamin knows his parents love him so he cries and cries and resists until they relent. We know that G-d loves us; it’s time for us to do some screaming. This is not a time for platitudes; it’s a time for outrage. 

We must cry and scream on behalf of the widows and orphans, the wounded and the traumatized. Ad matai? How much longer, G-d? No more!  We refuse to accept it longer. It’s time to take us out of this dark and bitter exile, to a better, brighter future, where peace will reign and violence will have no place. 

And while we cry and beg and beseech G-d, we will keep our faith. We will pray for the IDF which does everything it can to protect Israel, and we will take on extra mitzvot in the merit of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Put on tefillin, light Shabbat candles, give extra charity. We may be far away, but even our small deeds can help make a difference. 

“I Never Called You”

Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 3:44 pm
Posted by Mrs. Yocheved Greenwald

Verizon-iPhone-4-Incoming-Call.jpgA Hebrew school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her six-year-old students. After explaining the commandment  of "honor thy father and mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment to teach us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"

Without missing a beat, one little boy (older brother to several siblings) answered, "Thou shall not kill!" 

As much as we love our siblings, sometimes it's hard to get along.

-------

My close friend, Yankel, shared a very painful secret with me several years ago. He has only one brother and they haven't spoken in many, many years. They are a small family, and it hurts him terribly that they are not on speaking terms over a fairly minor fight. In fact, he no longer recalls the exact details of what they were fighting about!

I strongly encouraged Yankel to reach out to his brother (who lives in Israel) and try to reconcile, but he insisted that he cannot. Perhaps his ego was getting in the way, or maybe he was afraid of being rejected by his brother, or perhaps it had simply been too long, but the silence continued for another few years. I even dedicated a Yom Kippur sermon to this topic a few years ago in the hope of inspiring a reconciliation. 

It's been 22 years now since the brothers last spoke. 

But, just recently Yankel told me he saw a missed call from Israel on his phone from a number he didn't recognize, so he called back to see who was trying to reach him. He didn't recognize the voice of the man who answered his call, so he said, "My name is Yankel, I got a missed call from this number, who am I speaking to?" 

"I happen to be your brother," the man replied, "but I didn't call you." 

"What do you mean? I have a missed call from you!" Yankel insisted. 

"Well, you must have made some sort of mistake with the numbers," the brother explained, "because I never called you." 

Seizing the moment, Yankel said, "Well, it must be divine providence that connected us today..." and they started chatting easily, both eager to make up for lost time. And for the last two weeks they've spoken every day, with plans to meet soon in person and officially reconcile. 

The Torah tells us about Avraham who was forced to send his son Yishmael away because he had become evil and was persecuting his brother Isaac. Avraham certainly would not have done this unless he had absolutely no choice. They became estranged and although Avraham went to visit Yishmael twice, both times he missed him and only his wife was home. But Yishmael did not reciprocate. He never visited his father in more than seven decades, until after his father's passing. 

In this week's Torah portion we read about Avraham's funeral, which Yishmael attended, walking side by side with his brother Isaac. Tragically, he didn't make amends during his father's life.  

As a community rabbi I witness countless fights between people who truly love each other and it's painful to watch. Parents and children, siblings, cousins...you name it! We get into fights and often forget why we were fighting in the first place—we just know we're not talking. But who ends up in the most pain? We do. We hurt ourselves more than anybody else. 

Life is too short. It's time to make up. Even if you have to pick up and phone and dial your estranged relative and then deny that you made the call, so be it! Do it anyway. Pick up the phone and make amends with those you love. 

Housekeeper Convinces Jews to Pray

Thursday, November 06, 2014 - 2:59 pm
Posted by Mrs. Yocheved Greenwald

Hotel_housekeeper.jpgThis past Shabbat morning we'd just begun services in our synagogue, which is in the Marriot hotel, when one of the housekeepers came running over. 

"There's a young Jewish couple upstairs," she explained, "Can I invite them to join your prayer service?" 

"Of course!" I agreed. 

This young couple from Israel had recently married and were honeymooning in New York. Wanting a nice, quiet, private vacation they booked into the Marriot. They certainly hadn't planned on attending services. But when the housekeeper realized they were Jewish, knowing there was a synagogue right there in the building, she told them they should go. 

Reluctant, they gave her all kinds of excuses. "We're tired...We're on our honeymoon...We aren't members...etc." So she came running down to ask me if it's ok, and when I said yes she managed to convince the couple to at least check out the place. Little did they expect to find a full Chabad house operating from the very hotel they were staying in, complete with a big minyan followed by a delicious kiddush!

Well, they stayed and enjoyed a delicious lunch with good cholent, and of course the wonderful company of our community, and they loved every moment. Their parting words were, "What a treat to do this on our honey moon." 

In this week's Torah portion we read about Avraham. G-d Himself came to visit Avraham because he was sick after  being circumcised at the age of 99. But in the middle of their conversation, Avraham sees strangers passing by, so he tells G-d to wait and rushes over to invite the strangers into his home! He prepares a delicious meal for them and makes sure they are satisfied and comfortable. From this incident, the Talmud teaches that the mitzvah of welcoming guests is even greater than speaking to G-d. 

Often, G-d throws us opportunities to do mitzvahs. They come in all kinds of shapes and forms—sometimes via a Marriot housekeeper who is able to convince an Israeli couple to attend services and help us fulfill the mitzvah of welcoming guests.

If Avraham managed to go out of his way, even interrupting his conversation with G-d(!), when he was sick and in pain, to welcome guests into his tent, certainly we can find ways to fulfill this important mitzvah. 

Those Who Bless You Shall Be blessed

Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 6:54 pm
Posted by Mrs. Yocheved Greenwald

Israel traffic.jpgCBS news reported that US-Israel relations have reached a “new low” after a senior government official called Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chicken**” on matters related to the comatose peace process and a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat, in an interview with The Atlantic.

A few weeks ago I visited Israel for my niece’s wedding. Driving to Ramat Gan, where the wedding was to take place, with my wife and daughter in the car, we had front row seats to the spectacle that is Israeli driving.

In fact, a joke is told of an American tourist riding in an Israeli tax. As the taxi approaches a red light, the tourist is shocked to see the driver drive right through without even slowing. Not wanting to make waves, he holds his tongue.

The trip continues without incident until they reach the next intersection. This time the light is green and to the American’s dismay the taxi comes to a grinding halt. Unable to contain himself, he asks the driver, “When you went through the red light, I didn’t say anything. But why on earth are you stopping at a green light?!”

The Israeli cab driver looks at the American as if he is deranged. “Are you crazy?!” he shouts.
The other guy has a red light. Do you want to get us killed?!”

But back in our car, we were not blazing through any red lights. Traffic had piled up and only motorcyclists were able to make any progress. Happy to be avoiding the traffic jam, many of them zig-zagged wildly through the standstill, crossing lanes without checking.

As traffic finally began to move again, I was changing lanes when a motorcycle went whizzing past. He was speeding and certainly not taking notice of the cars around him, and my car touched his motorcycle.

Furious, he cut me off, got out of his car and began yelling at me and cursing me out. For five minutes straight he shouted at me, told me I don’t know how to drive and I should take driving lessons! And on, and on… My wife and I exchanged a look and I said to her, “Welcome to Israel.”

Indeed, welcome to Israel!

Israel is not like other countries. It is at the forefront of fighting terrorism, and its citizens live with the constant threat of violence. Jews have endured thousands of years of persecution and suffering. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis put their lives on the line for their country. Thousands have died and thousands have been severely wounded.  

Israelis know what danger is and they know how to defend themselves. Just walking down the street can be dangerous. The entire country is a frontline. And on top of that, Israel is constantly scrutinized by the rest of the world. They cannot make a move to protect their own citizens without being ripped to shreds by the media and foreign officials. Perhaps this is what makes Israelis so edgy, trickling down to even the driving.

And one thing Israelis are not, is “chicken**”!

In this week’s Parshah we read about Avraham, who stood up for monotheism despite the ridicule of the entire world. Everyone was against him. In fact, the original name for Jew—Ivri—comes from this Parshah. Ivri means “other side,” because Abraham was on one side and everyone else on the other. He was the only person to believe in one G-d, and even after being thrown into a blazing fire because of his beliefs, he did not waver. He was no coward.

And G-d promises Avraham, “I will bless those who bless you [Israel], and the one who curses you I will curse.” This is a timeless lesson and the message is clear: if you want to be blessed, you need to bless Israel.

Crazy Survivalist Prepares for Year-Long Flood

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 2:24 pm
Posted by Mrs. Yocheved Greenwald

blog.jpgImagine if Noach were building his ark today. He brings his wood and equipment to the heart of Times Square and begins to build a massive sea-safe vessel in preparation for the flood that he claims will wipe out the entire world. Media headlines scream, “Crazy Man Builds Giant Ark,” and, “Delusional Man Claims G-d Will Destroy the World via Flood.” The newspapers would have a field day. 

Indeed, this is what Noach endured, albeit pre-Internet. It took 120 years to build the ark, and for all those years he faced constant mocking and ridicule. Had BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and all the others existed, they would have hung Noach out to dry. 

A joke is told about a CNN reporter, BBC correspondent and Israeli commando captured by terrorists. The leader offered to grant each captive one wish before beheading them. 

The CNN reporter said, “Well, I'm an American, so I'd like one last hamburger with French fries.” The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the burger & fries.  The reporter ate it and said, "Now, I can die."

The BBC correspondent said, “I'm a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end.”

The leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and dictated some comments. The reporter then said, “Now I can die knowing I stayed true until the end.”

The leader turned and said, "And now, Mr. Israeli tough guy, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me in my face," said the soldier.

"What?” asked the leader, "Will you mock us in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to please kick me in my face."

So the leader shoved him into the open and kicked him in his face and his back.

The soldier went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9mm pistol from under his jacket, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he reached for his knapsack, pulled out his carbine and sprayed the terrorists with gunfire. In a flash, all the terrorists were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the soldier was untying the reporters, they asked him, "Why didn't you just shoot them in the beginning? Why did you ask them to kick you first?"

"What?" replied the Israeli, "and have you report that I was the aggressor?"

Now this joke would actually be funny if only it weren’t all too true.

This week the Jewish world watched in horror as an Arab terrorist rammed his car into a group of people waiting at a light rail station in Jerusalem, killing a three-month-old baby girl—Chaya Zissel—and wounding nine others, some critically. 

"Her parents waited for a child for many years…" said grandfather Shimon Halperin. He told of her parents' joy after she was born, and described how he enjoyed playing with his granddaughter during her tragically short life. The family was returning from the Kotel (Western Wall) when the attack happened. "The parents are in trauma and are trying to digest the news,” he said. 

The terrorist, a resident of the Silwan neighborhood with previous terror convictions, was shot by a police officer as he attempted to flee the scene. He is now in police custody. And the media has either completely ignored the incident, or published it as, “Israeli Police Shoot Man in East Jerusalem.” If that’s not the most ridiculous journalistic account of an event, I don’t know what is.

Imagine what the AP headlines would have looked like for Noach. “Noach Saves Only His Own Family,” or, “Selfish Man Leaves Everyone to Die,” or even, “Evil Man Floods the World.” 

Despite the years of ridicule, his faith in G-d never wavered. He knew G-d would bring a flood if the people didn’t repent, and that’s exactly what happened. He did not let the mockers get to him. 

Likewise, we know the truth and will not deviate from it. G-d gave us the Land of Israel, it’s our land and we will live in it. We will not succumb to terrorism, or to warped reporting. We will continue to defend our land, our families and ourselves, just like Noach. 

Boy, Do They Kvetch!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 8:40 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Rosh hashana 2.jpgLast week we had our first barbecue of the season for the young professionals. We had a great turnout—a few hundred people attended. 

One of our congregants volunteered to man the barbecue and after the event he told me, “Rabbi, that was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done! Everyone complained non-stop. If the hotdogs were ready, they wanted the burgers. If the burgers were ready they wanted the hotdogs. When everything was ready they wanted it cooked differently! The smoke was burning my eyes, I was sweating with exertion and the kvetching certainly didn’t help. One guy wanted his burger more cooked so he put it back on the grill, went away and forgot about it, and when he came back half an hour later it was burned, of course. Another guy pushed me out of the way so he could roast his marshmallows, while a third guy complained about the lack of beer and a fourth guy complained that there was not enough wine in the sangria. I nearly lost my cool multiple times over the evening, but somehow I managed to hold it together and make it through the night. You’d think these people were paying big money to demand such service, but the $20 charge doesn’t even cover half the expenses!” 

“Mike*,” I said, “I’m so glad you had this experience right now, before Rosh Hashanah. You see, G-d has chosen us as His beloved children, and all year long boy do we kvetch! We complain about anything and everything. But for the most part, G-d takes very good care of us. Every moment of life, health, sun and air is a gift, but more often than not we take it for granted and complain about all the things we don’t have and all the things that are not as perfect as we’d like them to be. 

“How do you think G-d feels about us when we behave like this? In fact, we are told that on the eve of Rosh Hashanah G-d’s enthusiasm for the world diminishes. Maybe the kvetching is a little too much. But then, Rosh Hashanah morning the piercing cry of the shofar, accompanied by our heartfelt prayers, emanates from all the synagogues, shattering through the heavens, straight to G-d Himself. When G-d hears the shofar, it’s as if nothing else exists. Suddenly, He yearns for us, His love rekindled. These same children who complain all year are now the apple of His eye. 

“What a valuable lesson, you learned, Mike—you experienced G-dliness.” 

L’chaim to a wonderful year for all of us, filled with holiness and happiness. Shana tovah!

*Name changed to protect privacy. 

 

I Forgot My Pants!

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 9:29 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10376915_10152341176207584_4913930782077071452_n.jpgLast week I travelled to Israel to celebrate my niece's wedding. I also used the opportunity to visit some army bases and wounded soldiers. Visiting these brave heroes who put their lives on the line during Operation Protective Edge was moving and uplifting. 

As we prepared for departure at Newark airport, my brother Yossi realized he forgot to pack his tefillin! In true brotherly fashion I began ribbing him, "How do you forget your tefillin?! It's the first thing you should pack! You've been using them every day (bar Shabbat) since you turned thirteen. How could you forget something so important?" I wouldn't let him live this one down. 

Of course, he made plans to borrow from someone for the three mornings we'd be away, making sure the tefillin he'd be using would be on par with his own. 

Most of the passengers on our flight were Jewish, so we offered them all the opportunity to put on tefillin during the flight, which gave me ample time to tease my brother some more.  

When we arrived in Israel and began to prepare for the wedding, I made a stunning realization. I took a shower, opened my suitcase to take out my Shabbat clothes, and lo and behold I had left my dress pants back in New York! Oops.

I didn't have enough time to go out and buy a new pair, so I had to make do with the same pair of weekday pants I flew in. 

To say I felt foolish would be an understatement. Here I'd spent the flight good naturedly ribbing my brother for forgetting his tefillin and here I am pants-less! And tefillin are probably a whole lot easier to borrow. They are one-size-fits-all, whereas pants need to be specific to the individual. 

In just one week we'll be celebrating the holy and awesome day of Rosh Hashanah. This is the time to look back, analyze our past behavior and clean up our act. We have to deeply and honestly analyze our faults and sins and resolve to work towards rectifying them. 

We are, in fact, experts at identifying faults--those of our family and friends. Most of us can easily fill pages explaining exactly what is wrong with those around us. This one gossips, that one does business crookedly, the other one doesn't treat his wife well. But when it comes to our own faults and imperfections, suddenly we are clueless and blind. Me? Sin? Are you serious? And when someone points it out to us, we have dozens of explanations and excuses. 

This Rosh Hashanah, we want to stand in front of G-d with a clean slate. So, as we prepare, let's try to switch things around and look at ourselves with a critical, honest eye while seeing others more gently and forgivingly. Surely this will help us start the new year off on the right foot. 

No Feeding the Monkeys

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 9:28 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

774853311_b2450a5501.jpgI just got back from a wonderful trip to South Africa. While there, we visited the Pilanesberg Safari, spending several days in the wild, where we could see lions, buffalos, zebras, giraffes and other animals living in their natural habitat. What an awe-inspiring experience! It's a fantastic way to shut off from the rest of the world and really get in tune with nature and oneself. 

At night we slept in chalets, and on our first morning we awoke to the sound of the door being rattled from the outside; someone was trying to get in. I grew up in South Africa when there was lots of crime, so I immediately assumed a thief was trying to break in. I called out, "Who's there?" but received no response. We opened the door and, lo and behold, a giant ape was standing right on our doorstep! Another 50 or so monkeys were roaming around the camp ground looking for food, and we soon discovered that they'd broken into another chalet and helped themselves to the food they found inside. 

That group of monkeys seemed to follow us around for the next couple of days, and even when we went indoors they would come right up to the windows. But when I asked the staff if we could give them some of our leftovers, they pointed to the signs all over the camp - "No Feeding the Monkeys." They explained that if the visitors were allowed to feed the monkeys, soon they'd get used to being given food and would eventually stop being able to fend for themselves. Ultimately, we would be killing them. Although feeding them seems kind, it would actually be cruel. 

We are currently in the Jewish month of Elul - the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. During this period, we blow the shofar every day to awaken our souls and remind us to repent in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when G-d will judge the world and determine our future. 

It's a time to reflect on our behavior, accomplishments and spirituality over the past year and resolve to correct our misdeeds. It's a time when we have to do the work ourselves. No one can "feed" us. No one can change our behavior for us, no one can wipe the slate clean for us. 

Sometimes we wish G-d would reveal Himself to us, give us a sign He is watching over us. It would be so much easier to keep kosher, put on tefillin and observe Shabbat if we could see His presence. But no. No feeding the monkeys! G-d wants us to do it entirely ourselves. 

Only when we do the hard work on our own will we truly be ready to receive all the blessings G-d grants us over the High Holidays. We must spend the current month, Elul, fashioning ourselves into vessels worthy of receiving His blessings. 

This is the time carefully analyze our behavior over the past 11 months and take the time to recommit to our Father in Heaven. We have two weeks left. Let's make the most of them. 

Steven Sotloff, Talented Journalist & Proud Jew

Thursday, September 04, 2014 - 11:47 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

chi-steven-sotloff-beheading-video-20140902-001.jpegTragically, Steven Sotloff made national and world news this week after ISIS released a video showing his beheading. Steven was a 31-year-old American journalist, and, we now know, the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He travelled to Israel in 2005, studied at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, later accepting Israeli citizenship and becoming a contributor to The Jerusalem Report, a sister-publication to The Jerusalem Post.

A year ago he was kidnapped in Syria. Immediately, his friends and family went to all lengths to hide any trace of his Jewish identity. They combed his online presence and removed anything that could potentially link him to Israel or Judaism. Over 150 people, speaking 20 different languages, joined the effort. They looked through his Facebook page, Twitter account and all his articles. Anything that could potentially endanger him was immediately taken down.

But Steven Sotloff had a powerful Jewish soul, and regardless of how many articles were taken down, and how much effort was made to remove any trace of Jewishness from his online presence, his soul burned bright. Last year on Yom Kippur, Steven risked his life to fast and pray. Even though his captors served him eggs, he feigned illness and didn't eat. He even managed to pray facing Jerusalem! He observed the direction in which his captors prayed, then adjusted the angle accordingly.

Yom Kippur is the day when, regardless of how far we may have strayed, we return to G-d and beg his forgiveness for our sins. This is the day that, in the most desperate of circumstances, Steven chose to connect to G-d despite the great risk to his very life. This was Steven Sotloff - talented journalist and proud, proud Jew.

We are currently in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is the time to reconnect with G-d, regardless of how distant we may have been during the other 11 months of the year. We may have let our connection to G-d dwindle, but now is the time to reignite it. During Elul we blow the shofar to awaken our souls and remind us who we are and what we should be doing. It is a month when we peel away the layers we've built up and get in touch with who we really are our core. Steven Sotloff did just that. Held in captivity, in brutal conditions, his soul burned bright, his relationship with G-d vibrant and alive.

Our hearts go out to Steven's family and friends at this difficult time. Let's honor his memory by following his lead. If Steven was able to pray while being held captive by barbaric monsters, certainly we, who live in luxurious freedom, can pray and connect with our heritage. As we gear up for the High Holidays, let's make an effort to tune in to our souls and reconnect to G-d, in memory of Steven.

If You Are Reading This, It Means I Have Ended My Career

Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 10:35 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

ShowImage.jpeg“If you are reading this, it means I have ended my career.” These were the words written by First Sergeant Daniel Pomerantz, one of eight Golani soldiers killed when the a missile hit their armored personnel carrier in Gaza, in a final note he left for his family before going into Gaza.

This was a young boy! Daniel was just 20 years old, virtually still a child with his entire life ahead of him, but he committed to dedicating three years of his life to serve for his country before settling down.

As I read his words, I tried to imagine what could have possibly gone through this young man’s mind as he wrote this letter to his parents and prepared to enter one of the most dangerous places in the world – Gaza, a place crawling with Hamas monsters who are ruthless and simply want to kill as many Jews as possible. What could he write? Who could even put pen to paper in that situation?

Perhaps he would write, “I wish I didn’t have to serve in the army.” Or maybe, “I wish I was born in a different country,” or even, “I wish I weren’t Jewish.”

But no. He begins, “I never imagined that I would have to write something like this. That probably says it all already. What can I write? What can I add to these words?”

And then he astounds me. Facing the very real prospect of losing his life, he writes, “You should know I am happy. I am happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m happy to be serving in the Golani unit.”

Instead of second guessing his situation, he is proud and happy to be playing an instrumental role in securing his country’s safety, even at risk to his own life.

Wow.

The tragic irony is that Daniel’s mother, Varda Pomerantz, is the former head of the IDF casualty branch, where part of her job entailed informing families of the death of their loved ones. At her son’s funeral she said that she always had a terrible feeling that one day she would be the one being informed, and then in their last phone call he mentioned that he left her a note in case something happens…

We are currently observing the annual 9 day mourning period leading up to the 9th of Av, the day we mark the destruction of our two Holy Temples. For close to 2000 years we have been subjected to a terrible, bitter exile. We’ve had to endure all manner of persecution and ruthless enemies in their attempts to destroy us. The Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, Stalin, Hitler, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Hamas, Hezbolla, Iran and more. But despite the immense pain and tragedy we’ve faced, as a nation we’ve survived.

Daniel’s message is our message and it’s our job to internalize it. “I want you to know I am happy,” he wrote. This, then, is our job. To be happy despite the fact that we are at war, to remain positive in the face of biased media reporting and to spread joy even though we are misunderstood, mischaracterized and criticized. For Daniel’s sake, for the sake of all the other murdered and wounded soldiers, we must stay upbeat and hopeful. Happy.

We are happy to be Jews. Happy to be the chosen nation. Happy to have our dear Father in Heaven. Happy to be his children.

We hope and pray every day for the coming of Moshiach, where we will be able to finally experience the ultimate form of happiness and joy!

Let’s keep Daniel’s legacy alive by holding onto that happiness, appreciating the good in our lives, making good choices and living without regret.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tunnels Of Love

Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 10:09 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10517465_509096359223034_8228915784394298501_n.jpgThe current war with Hamas is focusing on a new and frightening element, one which did not feature prominently in any previous war. Until now, our wars have included soldier-to-soldier combat, tanks, planes, bridges, ships, airports and weapons, but during Operation Protective Edge much of the focus has been on a new threat: the tunnels.

For the first time, the threat is not above ground, it's hidden below. Over the years Hamas has created a virtual labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground. The deadly network originates from basements and private homes in Gaza and extends into Israel - a tool for mass terrorist attacks against Jews.

In order to counter this threat, the IDF has had to dig deep, under hospitals, mosques and private homes, where they've discovered caches of weapons, guns, machine guns, RPG rocket launchers, tranquilizers, IDF uniforms and more - all deadly weapons with the potential to inflict untold harm on the Jewish nation.

Operation Protective Edge has exposed these tunnels, but it has also created a new kind of tunnel: tunnels of love.

During this war, we've dug deep into ourselves and discovered powerful tunnels of love crisscrossing our nation, connecting us to one another and to our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are, regardless of outward differences, a nation that cares deeply.

My brother, Dr Motti Vigler, chief of hand surgery at Rabin medical center, dropped everything this week in order to attend the funeral of someone he had never met. Lone soldier Sean Carmeli was killed in battle, and his family all live in America. When my brother arrived, he discovered 20,000 people had come to the funeral to honor this brave hero.

A day later another lone soldier, Max Steinberg, was killed, and 30,000 people showed up for his funeral as well. And the tunnels of love continue to expand and extend. At the shiva, 300 people, almost all of them complete strangers, showed up to comfort the parents of these brave young men. Strangers on the streets show an incredible amount of care and concern for one another, even during these most stressful times. A stranger uses his body to shield a father and son from a rocket attack. Breslever chassidim dance with soldiers on the front lines. Chabad brings care packages. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, are connecting through tunnels of love and compassion to provide the IDF soldiers with whatever they need.

Hamas may have built tunnels of terror, but we are building and maintaining tunnels of love. We may be different on the outside - one seems to be chareidi, another secular; one is a likudnik, the other is Chassidic - but when it really matters, we know how to ignore the external differences and dig deep, focusing on our commonalities: we are one nation, with one heart and one soul.

We are currently in the annual three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. The Temple was destroyed because of acts of wanton hatred, and it will be rebuilt through acts of love and kindness.

So, nu, G-d, what are you waiting for?!

My thanks to Rabbi Mendel Prus & Yaara Bank-Plotkin for the inspiration of this article.

Must our Brothers Fight Alone?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 7:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10384097_797956533571897_4392162689983165917_n.jpgIn my weekly blog I usually try to connect current events with the weekly parshah, but this week I struggled. So much has already been written about the war in Israel. The differences between Hamas and the IDF have been explored at length. Hamas puts children directly in harm's way, while Israel goes to incredible lengths to protect civilians. What more could I add?

So I texted  my friend, Fred, "Got any ideas for my blog this week?"

He shot back, "I love your blog! Reading them is the highlight of my week! But the last few weeks you've been too militant."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Every week lately you've been writing about Hamas! First Hamas kidnapped the teens, then you wrote about the UN, and then the need for Israel to use more force. I love your blogs that are personal and relatable, but I find the war blogs irrelevant to my life."

In this week's Torah portion the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses to grant them land outside of Israel where they will have plenty of pasture for their flocks. Moses reacts strongly and angrily. "Will your brothers go to war and conquer Israel while you remain here peacefully?" So the tribes promised to leave their families and join the war, which they did years later when Joshua conquered the land. They left everything behind to help their brothers and sisters.

Our nation is at war. I spoke to my sister-in-law today. She wishes her children could start sleeping properly at night without being woken by sirens with less than a minute to get to a bomb shelter. My cousins in Israel are all traumatized, as are their children. It is only because of the incredible miracles we are seeing that we haven't had thousands of casualties.

There's no doubt about it, Israel is under attack. Hamas hates every Jew in the world, make no mistake about it. If they could, they would happily send rockets flying at us as well. This war is not just Israel's war. It is our war.

Moses resounding cry should reverberate in our ears. "Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?!" Should our brothers and sisters in Israel face this war alone while we sit here comfortably in our penthouses?

In fact, this week I logged onto our Belev Echad Facebook page, which we only started a few months ago and haven't marketed yet. I noticed that Hamas supporters had attacked many posts with virulent anti-Semitism and despicable words. So yes, the war is personal.

If we can't fight physically, we can fight spiritually. The very minimum we can do is some extra mitzvot for our soldiers. Put on tefillin for Israel. Put up a mezuzah. Eat a kosher meal. Give extra charity. In fact, we've set up a website where you can donate to send care packages to IDF soldiers in Gaza to help lift their spirits. Do a mitzvah for Israel right now!

World Cup Final – Israel vs. Hamas

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 3:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10451121_10152532248923057_8264431332991170414_n.jpgWorld Cup fever has overtaken the world. When I ask congregants to help make a minyan, they tell me, "Rabbi, Italy's playing, I can't come!" And then when I ask them to join a Torah class it's "France is playing..." Fortunately, the final is right around the corner and then we'll have our congregants back.

I belong to a South African Whatsapp group which is normally pretty quiet. Over the last few weeks, however, it has been buzzing virtually non-stop as people comment on every aspect of every game. I was forced to mute the group because after every game I had hundreds of messages! Now, maybe if Zimbabwe's team had made it to the World Cup I'd be more interested... 

The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world, but as the chosen nation we are currently playing a very different and much more dangerous "game." Israel vs. Hamas. And we are not spectators. We are active participants!

Hamas has fired more than 365 rockets into Israel over the last 72 hours. Because of Israel's amazing "goalie" - the Iron Dome - most of those have been intercepted. Miraculously, when a rocket scored a direct hit on a home in Southern Israel, the family was away in Eilat and nobody was killed.

Unlike the World Cup which began in 1930, Israel has been playing its soccer game for over 4,000 years. And there have been many captains over the years - Moses, David, Joshua, Gidon, etc.

If there's one thing we can learn from soccer it's this:

To win, you cannot play defense.

Israel has played defense for far too long. The country is currently in crisis, being barraged by Hamas rockets at all times of day and night. Most of the country is being forced to run to bomb shelters multiple times a day - at work, at camp, at home, in the middle of weddings, bar mitzvahs and brit milahs - and they have only 15 seconds to reach shelter. This cannot continue!

We need to end this situation, and in order to win you cannot play defense.

In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people were involved in another "World Cup." This time it wasn't Hamas, it was their Midianites enemies, and G-d instructed, "You shall smite them." And they did. They went all out and destroyed the evil Midianites. When facing enemy attack, the only way to win is to play offense and make sure they will never dare attack again.

Since its inception in 1987, Hamas has launched terror attacks against Israel, and Israel has never played offense. We have defended ourselves and destroyed a few targets. But in order to finally win the "game" we have to give them such a powerful blow they will never attack us again. That is what Moses, Joshua, Gidon, David and all the other captains did when they played against our enemies - the Emorites, Egyptians, Ammonites, etc.

In this week's Torah portion Pinchas kills two perpetrators, and G-d says, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace." The only way to true peace is to obliterate the enemy.

The same holds true of our spiritual lives. We can help Israel by playing spiritual offense. Come to shul this Shabbat, put on tefillin today, light Shabbat candles, go to a Torah class. All these acts will help us win the war.

Let's hope and pray that the current government in Israel will do the right thing, will do what is necessary to once and for all win the game against Hamas! Ultimately we know that we have the best goalie in the world. It is not the Iron Dome, certainly not the USA, but the almighty G-d. The G-d of our forefathers has saved us and protected us for the last 5000 years, and we know that he is protecting us right now!

"Hinei lo yanum velo yishan shomer yisrael!"- The guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.

*Thank you to the South African Whatsapp group for some of the ideas in this article!

I Have Been Kidnapped!

Thursday, July 03, 2014 - 10:21 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

nf_3493_41837.jpgShock.
Horror.
Tragedy.
Outrage. 

There are literally no words that can accurately describe the profound loss we feel this week.

For 18 days, I checked the news first thing each morning to see if the boys had been found. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been in our hearts and on our minds virtually non-stop. We prayed fervently and wholeheartedly that our boys would be found alive. I listened to Eyal's grandfather pray at a rally with 10,000 people. When I heard him scream from the depths of his heart, I was sure the heavens would pierce open.

But after 18 days we received the shocking, brutal news that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali had been shot dead in cold blood just hours after they were abducted. We were brought to tears when Rachel Frankel, Naftali's mother, cried, "Rest in peace, my dear son," 

We also finally heard the phone call Gilad placed shortly after entering the car. He was able to call the police and whisper, "I've been kidnapped." In the background are Arab voices screaming, "Put your heads down!" and then shots are fired, which is when the boys were most likely killed. 

But the police center did not react. They thought it was a prank call. The call should have created an emergency alert, mobilizing every Israeli agency from the Shin Bet to Shabak, the IDF to the police. Instead, it was ignored. Every single person involved in security should have been woken and put on alert, but alas, the call was ignored and the kidnappers had a 10 hour head start, resulting in an 18 day manhunt and the kidnappers are still at large.

In this week's Torah portion the Jewish nation is likened to a lioness, crouching in the field, ready to pounce. Often we lie dormant, but when the call comes, we wake up and pounce. 

While Gilad wasn't able to initially mobilize the police force, he was certainly able to mobilize the global Jewish community. There are rare moments in life where we get "that call" - a call to action. This was one of them. “I have been kidnapped.” The call of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali grabbed hold of us, shaking us to the core, refusing the loosen its grip. And even though we, as a nation, disagree sharply on so many things, this call mobilized us as a single unit. We responded as one nation, with one heart. One family. We prayed, studied Torah, lit Shabbat candles, put on tefillin and committed to keeping new mitzvot in their merit. 

For 18 days it didn't matter if you live in Japan, South Korea, Alaska, America or Israel. It didn't matter which branch of Judaism you identify with or which community you belong to. The truth became abundantly clear - we are all Jewish and we are all in this together. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali awakened us and we pounced. 

The unity that prevailed is unprecedented. The immense power of social media enabled us to connect with one another, pray together and cry together. And then tragedy struck. But that does not mean we should abandon the call. No, instead, we should listen and internalize it.

We read in the Torah this week, that the Jewish people are a "nation that dwells alone." We saw that too, over the last 18 days. Nobody cares about us like we do, but the love and care we have for each other stretches across the entire globe. Let's make a concerted effort to continue what Eyal, Gilad and Naftali started - unparalleled love and unity through all segments of the Jewish population. When we are truly united, nothing can stand in our way. 

We continue to demand from our dear Father in Heaven #bringbackourboys, bring Moshiach and redeem us from this bitter and dark exile, when we will be reunited with Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

Israeli Mothers In Den Of Wolves And Hyenas

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 10:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

10409414_10152383734537039_8257990792048564455_n.jpgThe mothers of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the three abducted teenagers, travelled to the UNHRC in Geneva this week, where Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali, passionately implored the international community to put greater pressure on those responsible.

These brave women waged a desperate attempt to explain to the world that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped not soldiers or militants, but young students - a criminal act which blatantly violates every human rights law. 

It was shockingly horrific to watch UN representative after representative mock these poor mothers who had just poured out their hearts and souls.

One after the next, representatives from Syria, Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Russia, China, Cuba, and of course the Palestinian representative, attacked the three Israeli women and accused Israel of every possible - and impossible - crime against the Arab and Palestinian people. They accused Israel of being the biggest human rights violator in the world.

The Palestinian spokesperson screamed, "Why did the Israeli women come? Is there no room in Geneva for the 5,000 mothers of Palestinians?" Is she saying Israel kidnapped or murdered 5,000 young Palestinian students? When and where did this happen? As we know, those inciting against Israel don't let facts stand in their way.

In fact, they had the audacity to blame the kidnapping on Israel(!) because Israel has been "occupying" their land since 1948. What a ludicrous and dishonest portrayal! But it is certainly nothing new. For 60 years the Arab world has been calling us thieves, claiming we stole their land and built our country on Islamic soil.

Well, let me tell you something, dear UN. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped near  Chevron area  and  the IDF search has focused mainly on the Chevron area. My father is an 8th generation Yerushalmi, and his great-grandmother Chaya Bluma Rikel lived in Chevron in 1929. My family is descended from Menucha Rochel Slonim, the Alter Rebbe's granddaughter, who immigrated to Israel and settled in Chevron in 1845.

So long before Israel declared independence and was accused of "infringing on the rights of the poor Palestinian refugees," long before the IDF was even established, my family was living in Chevron, and here's what happened:

On August 24, 1929, local Arabs went on a murderous rampage, butchering and massacring Jews, ransacking homes and synagogues. At the time, 20,000 people were living in Chevron, only 700 of whom were Jews. By the time the massacre ended, 67 Jews lay dead - their homes and synagogues destroyed. Why were they murdered? Simply for being Jews.

Chaya Bluma Rikel's first cousin was Rabbi Dov Slonim, who was extremely well connected and friendly with the Arab leaders. He sheltered about 30 Jews in his home that day, because he'd been promised many times he would never be harmed by the Arabs. But on that fateful morning he, and all the Jews with him, were brutally murdered. Why? Simply for being Jewish! 

Following the horrific massacre, the Jews were forced to leave Chevron, until in 1967 G-d performed a tremendous miracle and returned Chevron to the Jews. At that time, the Arabs were sure the returning Jews would try to take revenge for the massacre, but no. The Jews, who the UN claims are the biggest human rights abusers, let their Arab neighbors live in peace. In fact, they have more rights there than their Arab brothers in most other places.

In 1929 while my family was slaughtered, the British stood idly by. And nothing has changed. Terrorists from Chevron have kidnapped our boys and the world stands idly by. So no, we will not "show restraint." We will do whatever is necessary to bring back our boys.

We know this land is our land. The only reason Jews travelled perilously from Odessa, Vilna, Warsaw etc. to the land of Israel is because G-d gave His holy land to us, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which is stated clearly in the Torah.

We know we'll persevere, we know we'll survive. The tremendous outpouring of unity, love and concern from Jews worldwide proves that nothing can destroy us.

#Bringbackourboys now! May Eyal, Naftali and Gilad be reunited with their families and all of Am Yisrael, immediately!


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