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What to do About the Refugee Problem?

Syrian-refugees-landing.jpgI, too, am an immigrant. I first came to the United States in 1995 at the age of 17. It took me 10 years to become a citizen. So, on some level, I can relate to the current global discussion regarding the refugees. 

After it was revealed that at least one of the terrorists involved in last week's horrific Paris attacks gained access to France by posing as a Syrian refugee, there has been much discussion about if and how to allow refugees to settle in Western countries. Obama is adamant about allowing thousands in, but at least 32 governors have insisted that they will not allow refugees into their states. 

It all boils down to a few key questions: Who are the refugees? What is their goal? Will some of them declare Jihad against America or will they be peace-loving citizens dedicated to our ideals of freedom and democracy?

Essentially, we need a tough vetting process. 

The truth is, we are all immigrants in this world. Our souls were basking in Heavenly spiritual paradise before descending into this physical universe. We are here temporarily; for 70-80 years, and G-d had a vetting process for us, too. Before we joined the world, he made us promise to uphold the values of truth and kindness. And we swore!  Because that was the only way to enter the world. 

As immigrants, our job is to permeate the world with goodness and holiness. We need to set an example for others. Every day we ask ourselves: Are we good citizens? Are we honest and kind? Do we go out of way to help others?

Interestingly, this week's Torah portion talks about the very first refugee. Yaakov, our forefather, was running away from his hometown in Beer Sheva, Israel. His brother Esav hated him viscerally and wanted to kill him. So Yaakov fled. As he fled, he was robbed of all his possessions. 

Frightened and penniless, he arrived in a new country (Charan, which is in northern Iraq) with a new language with just the clothes on his back. Despite his sorry plight, Yaakov teaches us how to act as a refugee.

First, he showed gratitude to his host community for allowing him in. Second, Yaakov took the holiness of Israel and transported it into his new country, sharing it with his new people. Although he lived in the morally depraved Charan with a deceitful father-in-law, Yaakov remained a holy Jew dedicated to honesty and kindness. 

He stayed in Charan for 20 years, creating a life and amassing a fortune. He was an upstanding citizen and fathered a large family. He obeyed the laws of the land and effected those around him in positive ways. 

We can all learn from Yaakov. When we behave like model immigrants, we will bring peace to the world, ushering in an era where there will be no more slaughter, bloodshed and terror: the era of Moshiach.


9 Year Old Moshe – The Voice of Jacob

Blog.jpgOn Sunday night I attended grand banquet of the annual conference of Chabad emissaries. Each year, all the shluchim (emissaries) in the world get together for five days of workshops and brotherhood, which culminates in the grand banquet. This year’s highlight was when Moshe Holtzberg stood in front of thousands and read the tehillim in a sweet, pure voice.

You see, the last time I saw Moshe Holtzberg was seven years ago, right after his parents were killed in a brutal terror attack in Mumbai, India. His parents, Gabi and Rivki, the Chabad shluchim to Mumbai, ran the Nariman House, providing selflessly for all who came their way. Exactly seven years ago to the day, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, terrorists took the Chabad house hostage, killing everyone inside.

Except for little Moshe.

His nanny, Sandra, had been hiding on a lower level, and when she heard the two-year-old boy crying, she ran upstairs and found him standing and crying over the bodies of his parents. She grabbed him and fled.

When I watched his parents’ funeral, I saw Moshe on the television, crying, “Ima, Ima… (Mother, Mother…).” This beautiful two-year-old child was crying for his mother who he would never see again.

Fast forward seven years… Moshe has been living with his loving grandparents in Afula. And when I saw him Sundaynight, this was not the pitiful two-year-old I remember. He strode onto the stage with confidence and maturity. He read a chapter of tehillim, praying for world peace, and inspiring us all. He received a standing ovation; the shluchim could not stop clapping.

The last time I saw Moshe I cried, and this time I cried too. But this time it was tears of joy, nachas and triumph for this beautiful boy, who has overcome so much tragedy in his short life.

In this week’s Torah portion we read, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of Esau.” We see now, as clearly as ever, that our enemies’ strength lies in their hands. They use knives and guns to attack, terrorize and kill us. Of course, we have to do everything in our power to defend ourselves, but we also need to remember that our true strength lies in our “voice” —our faith, observance of the mitzvot and belief in G-d. 

I remember the Mumbai terror attacks vividly. I remember the hand of Esau coming to the Chabad house, and for 48 hours we had no information about what was going on inside. We were shocked and banded together in prayer and hope. Tragically, when the siege ended we found out that the worst had happened.

When I heard Moshe’s voice on Sunday night, I knew we had emerged victorious. Moshe is alive and well, strong and confident. He carries the legacy of parents, Gabi and Rivki, proudly and with confidence, continuing where they left off. May he continue to heal and forge ahead with strength and clarity. 

Are you a “Maybe” or an “Interested”?

Screenshot (24).pngThis week I started planning our Chanukah party for young Jewish professionals, who will be joined by 12 severely wounded IDF soldiers. I created a Facebook event for the party and called it “IDF meets NYC with a Night Aglow.” 

This is certainly not the first Facebook event I’ve created. Far from it! I’ve been using social media for years, and I create and host several events per month. Until now, upon receiving a Facebook invite, users could choose from three options:

1.      “Going.”
2.      “Not Going”
3.      “Maybe”

But this week, Facebook replaced the “maybe” option with the new “interested” option.

When I create an event on Facebook most people simply ignore the invite. Especially with the holiday season approaching, and people receiving dozens of invites a week to all kinds of events and parties, people simply don’t respond.  

But then there are people who cannot ignore me because we have a relationship, so the easiest solution is to respond with a “maybe”. The“maybe” acknowledgesthat they have received my invitation and don’t want to be rude, but they cannot commit just now.

This was frustrating. Were they just being polite? Did they have any intention of attending? It was impossible to know. Facebook agreed that the “maybe” option was too non-committal and ambiguous, so they replaced it with the “interested” button, in an endeavor to better engage users into giving a meaningful response.

This week’s Torah portion describes the very first shidduch. Eliezer was tasked with finding a wife for Isaac. He narrowed it down to Rivka, and when her family asked her “Are you interested?” she responded with a resolute “Yes!”

Firm, confident decisions serve us well when it comes to dating and marriage.

“Are you interested in another date with the guy?”

“Well…maybe...I don’t know…if he wants to…”

As we travel life’s trajectory, it’s very easy to pass the buck with an ever-ready “maybe.”

But we need to learn how to change that “maybe” into an “interested.”

Very often I email congregants, “Can you make it to Shabbat morning services?” and they respond, “Maybe.” From experience I know that “maybe” means “probably not.”

Like the new Facebook option, Judaism requires a firm commitment. With Facebook, it’s as easy as a click of the button. With Judaism it requires a little more effort.

We can all learn from this week’s Facebook update. We need to do away with the easy, non-committal “maybe” and decide that from now on we are interested. Interested means moving forward, committing to one more mitzvah and then another and another…

From now on, I am an interested Jew!

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