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Obama & Trump - where were you born?

Everybody in America is well aware by now of Donald Trump’s raging tirade against President Obama, maintaining that one not born in America cannot qualify as its president. To disprove the claim, the president publicized his birth certificate this week, which indeed proves him to be of Hawaiian origin.

If you think about it, why should American birth be the underlying stipulation for presidency? I for one can think of many naturalized U.S. citizens who would sacrifice much more for this country than many actually born here. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that each person is intrinsically connected to their place of birth, whether positively or negatively. Indeed, that connection forms the fabric of one’s being and shapes his identity.

This week saw the conclusion of the beautiful holiday of Pesach. Our shul, which normally boasts hundreds of people on a regular Shabbos, was practically empty during the chag, for most of our congregants flew over to spend Pesach in Israel or Florida. Our first night Seder though was an incredible affair with 130 international guests from Israel, France, California, India and Africa. Despite the language barrier, there was an electrifying common denominator: we were all Jews coming together for a single purpose.

As we sat singing together and retelling the story of the Exodus, a friend confessed that although he came to the Seder and obediently drank wine and ate matzah, he felt no connection to the ritual. Originally from Russia, he had never experienced a Pesach Seder before, as the government had outlawed Judaism. I turned to him and explained that whether we feel a connection or not is irrelevant. There is no such thing as a Jew without a connection, because Judaism pumps through the very blood of the Jew, it is the very fabric and fiber of who he is. Unlike other religions, being a Jew is not about what you do, it’s about who you are. We are all born as citizens of Judaism. Whether or not we are aware of it, each one of us has it within us to become the very President of Judaism.

Matzah - the ultimate lifesaver

This week after returning home from delivering boxes of matzah to members of our community, a woman emailed me to say thank you. She wrote that matzah holds a cherished place in the hearts of her and her family because it had saved her husband’s life. Intrigued, I called her to find out the story…

Two years ago Pesach, Lisa* and her husband Adam* sat at the seder table, surrounded by family and friends, crunching matzah as is customary. Only, Adam apparently ate way more than he should have. On the last night of the chag, he experienced severe stomach pain and was rushed to the emergency room. The matzah had caused a blockage in his small intestine and the resulting obstruction needed to be removed surgically.

On the table, surgeons discovered Adam harboured a very rare cancer in his jejunum, a section of the small intestine. The matzah had gotten caught in the tumours, resulting in excruciating pain. Small bowel cancer amounts to only two percent of all gastric cancers, resulting in a dismal survival rate since symptoms and thus diagnosis only occur during stage four when other organs have already been affected.

Adam’s cancer had already progressed to stage three; his prognosis, a mere six months.

What does a Jew do when a doctor tells him he has six months to live? Change doctors, of course! But due to the rarity of the disease, no chemotherapy treatments had been proven effective, so Adam was instead treated for regular bowel cancer with successful results. The tumours shrunk and no further treatments were necessary. As Lisa herself put it, “If not for the shmura matzah the tumour would never have been discovered in time and there is no doubt I would be a widow today.”

Six months later, on Rosh Hashana, a perfectly healthy Adam, together with Lisa, first davened at our shul in the Marriot. On the holy day when members are called for an aliya to the Torah, I encourage them to commit themselves to keep one extra mitzvah for the upcoming year. Call it a new year’s resolution if you wish. So when Adam asked me to suggest a mitzvah to him, I proposed tefillin. After yom tov, Lisa called me to find out where she could purchase a pair.

I must admit that after the chagim, with the return to regular routine and the demands of the shul and office overwhelming me, Adam’s commitment slipped my mind and I forgot to follow up with him. When I finally did months later, it turned out Adam had not missed a single day since he had bought his tefillin. Until today he remains devoted to his commitment.

This past Rosh Hashana Adam again received an aliya. This time I recommended he take on the mitzvah of kashrut. Due to its challenging nature, we came to a compromise: Adam agreed to keep kosher once a week. Since then, Lisa informed me that the family orders Glatt kosher take-outs at least once a week, sometimes more than that.

Kabbalists have described matzah as “bread of faith” on the first night and as “bread of healing” on the second. Judaism advocates that if healing precedes faith, you can be certain the afflicted was indeed ill. But if faith is followed by healing, there was no sickness to begin with.

While it is indeed praiseworthy to remember G-d and thank Him after a recovery, this attitude is somewhat twisted, for a primary component of the healing process involves initial prayer and a firm trust. Hence the Kabbalists labelled this person sick. Those whose faith sustains them through a dark period, spurring them to constantly pray and beseech G-d’s mercy, remain totally healthy at the core. They appreciate that ultimately it is G-d who decides the outcome, no matter how bleak the test results may be.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

This article was written in March 2010 

Is Manhattan abusing you?

ticket.jpgI am having real bad luck with tickets lately. Just this morning I double parked on 95th Street. Ninety seconds later, once I had completed my errand, I saw an officer inspecting my car. I jumped in and was about to speed off when he informed me that he had no intention of ticketing me originally, but now that I had nearly slammed my door into him, he changed his mind. And this came two weeks after I received a ticket for receiving too many tickets within a few months! It was all too much, so I decided to go and fight one.

The ticket in question was graciously handed to me last November for talking on my cell phone while driving. As I was waiting for my turn before the judge, the man in front of me requested a trial postponement. When the judge asked him why, after two previous postponements, he required a third one, the man replied simply that his wife had thrown him out the house and his papers were all there!

Later that day as I headed home on the train, I read a newspaper article written by a woman who claims that Manhattan is like an abusive boyfriend. He treats you terribly, robs you of all your money and abuses you, yet you can’t help loving him. Living in Manhattan is the same thing. Rents are extremely expensive, cost of living is exorbitant yet people still love living on this island.

Pesach is traditionally known as the festival of freedom, the celebration of the Israelites’ Grand Redemption from their Egyptian bondage four thousand years ago.

The Torah tells us, “In each generation, every person needs to see himself as leaving Egypt.” In other words, each Jew needs to recreate a mini redemption in his personal life. The word Egypt - “Mitzrayim” shares a root with “meytzarim” - constraints. Egypt in our lives today represents all our limitations, every circumstance that restricts us and holds us back. Some people are stuck in marriages where issues seem non-resolvable; others are sinking in debt, while some struggle through anger and depression. Leaving Egypt means breaking free, doing everything in our power to liberate ourselves - whether that means seeking the necessary therapy or counselling. Only then can we break free of the shackles that tie us down.

I am not suggesting that anybody leave Manhattan. Personally, I love living here and I’m thrilled with all Manhattan has to offer me, most of all, our growing community that lends so much meaning to my life. But I do think that to live in a place that is abusive to you is ludicrous. Life throws so many obstacles in our way, if you are able to rectify at least one, you’ve got to give it a shot.  

Regarding my restrictions, I’m still stuck with countless traffic violations.  And as for the judge’s decision, you guessed it, I lost the case.

Let us all go out of our current exile and greet Moshiach right now! 


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