This past Friday afternoon, about one hour before candle-lighting, I was flipping channels on the TV and I happened upon channel 219, which is the Jewish Broadcast Service (JBS). The Friday Night Service from Central Synagogue in Manhattan (Reform) was being telecast. I was very curious, as I had never seen a Reform service before, and I watched for a few minutes. (I sincerely hope I did not violate any halachah by watching Reform services for a few minutes.)
I observed the usual stuff one would expect to find in a Reform temple, such as the lack of yarmulkes on the men (I think a larger percentage of women were wearing kippot), musical instruments accompanying the prayers, the rabbi giving the usual “woke” sermon, etc. Unfortunately, I observed one other thing in the Central Synagogue that is severely lacking in most Orthodox shuls today – decorum and respect. The congregants in the Central Synagogue were sitting quietly and respectfully and were not discussing the day’s events, nor were they talking about the Mets’ and Yankees’ chances to make the playoffs, nor were they talking about the stock market. They were praying and listening. I am not suggesting anyone start attending a Reform or Conservative synagogue, because we, as Orthodox Jews, are not permitted to daven in non-Orthodox synagogues. But we, as Orthodox Jews, can learn a valuable lesson about decorum and respect from our brothers and sisters at the Central Synagogue.
Kew Gardens Hills, New York
It pains me to say this, but the “Your Say” letters to the editor section in your otherwise fine publication is becoming a farce. Every week, I can pretty much predict who the letter writers will be: the usual rogue’s gallery of self-assured political wingnuts, COVID conspiracy theorists, and pundits who all may as well be considered regular columnists at this point. I can’t comprehend why the editors think the broader readership actually enjoys this. We can get that on Facebook.
Last week, it seemed a new low was reached with the publication of Mordechai Samuels’ truly disgusting screed, lambasting – of all people and organizations – Alexander Rapaport and Masbia. Apparently, we’ve reached the point in Orthodox society where feeding hungry human beings other than Jews is something to be scorned, and the concept of tikun olam is an epithet and unworthy of a Young Israel shul. Samuels asserts that Rapaport is somehow “breaki[ng] the law” (?), and thinly implies that he should only be serving visibly observant Jews, and not “outsiders,” and of course links all of this to political boogeymen like ”leftists,” Democrats, and former Mayor de Blasio. Finally, he calls for an “investigation and closer scrutiny” of Masbia.
What have we come to?
The Talmud (Y’vamos 79a) tells us that all Jews are baishanim, rachamanim, and gomlei chasadim – we feel shame, compassion, and the desire to perform kindness. The Talmud states that if someone is missing any of these qualities, he is unfit to be part of the Jewish people, and his Jewish ancestry should be seriously questioned.
By his proud letter, it is clear that Mr. Samuels not only lacks basic compassion for human beings and the desire to perform kindness, he also lacks any shame for these deficiencies. Perhaps it is Mr. Samuels’ Jewish ancestry that needs investigation and closer scrutiny.
Dr. Simon Joseph
West Hempstead, New York
White House Pres Secretary Karine Jean Pierre lecturing us on how wonderful the economy is under Bidenomics reminds me of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, better known as “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Information during the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. While the United States Army was decimating Iraq, Baghdad Bob would hold daily press conferences telling the listening audience how the Iraqi army was able to beat back the US military, hundreds of American soldiers were committing suicide and a US defeat was inevitable. As Americans, we all laughed when we heard this nonsensical propaganda.
Despite the downgrading of the United States credit rating, the collapse of multiple banks, some very clear markers that the housing bubble is about to burst, a sharp uptick in consumer credit card, mortgage, and auto loan debt, and a growing number of Americans who can’t afford groceries, our president’s Press Secretary tells us that the economy is in fantastic shape, thanks to Bidenomics. Anyone laughing?
As hurricane season approaches, I’d like to share the following PSA with everyone. Although it was originally uttered by President Biden in 2021, the message is timeless. He stated:
“Let me be clear. If you’re in a state where hurricanes often strike...a vital part of preparing for hurricane season is to get vaccinated now. Everything is more complicated if you’re not vaccinated and a hurricane or a natural disaster hits.”
Everyone can make up their own minds (at least now that the courts have struck down most vax mandates) how they prepare for potential storms. But if you get hit with the Big One and you’re unvaccinated, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Moshe Hill’s column on former President Trump’s chances of winning the election went about how you would expect. To run through a few highlights:
He clearly thinks President Biden’s economic record is a major liability. But the economy that Trump (who was gifted a very strong economy by former President Obama) handed off to him was in very bad shape. You can of course blame that mostly on COVID, but surely you then have to admit that it was also a major factor in what Biden has had to overcome! Just as it doesn’t make sense to compare numbers from Trump’s last year to pre-pandemic times, the same goes for Biden, as the world economy is clearly still dealing with the cascading effect of COVID’s impact. And by many metrics the economy under Biden has made a very strong recovery. While there’s certainly room for improvement, you can’t just cherry-pick one stat as Mr. Hill does and pretend that it tells the whole story. Context is important, and the US is doing better than almost all comparable countries in key areas such as inflation, wages, and unemployment. There is increasing hope that we can defy earlier dire predictions and have a “soft landing” that avoids a recession.
Mr. Hill also takes aim at Biden’s age and what he claims to be bad health. That might be an argument when comparing him to other candidates, but his column is about Trump, who even his most ardent supporters would have to admit isn’t the picture of good health. (That was a joke; his biggest fans might be delusional about even that.) Just look at recent clips of Biden and Trump and see who seems to be speaking more clearly and lucidly, and who is moving better. At the very least, it’s not a topic that either candidate should be bringing up about the other, but we know that likely won’t stop one of them. And as always, you can question the mental state of someone who is primarily focused on insisting, for all sorts of deluded reasons, that he won an election that he definitively lost. Most people probably aren’t aware of his near constant unhinged ramblings on his Truth Social platform.
Mr. Hill also repeats his unfortunate habit of excoriating Biden for his withdrawal from Afghanistan, while ignoring the fact that Trump is the one who signed the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, released their prisoners, and withdrew most of the American forces. Sure, you can try to argue that Trump would have somehow made a perfect withdrawal with those diminished forces and a resurgent Taliban (something Mr. Hill doesn’t even try to do), but Trump sure didn’t seem to be preparing for that, despite the fast approaching withdrawal date that he had set for soon after the election. (For example, he had stopped issuing visas for those who wanted to leave.)
While I highly doubt that Trump can finally win the popular vote on his third try, I do agree with Mr. Hill that there’s definitely a chance he can come out on top on the electoral side. But part of that is because certain people are sure to buy into certain narratives about President Biden, no matter what the facts show.
Inanimate objects do speak to you. No, I’m not referring to AI. Instead, I’m talking about your refrigerator, which might occasionally leak or make banging sounds. No, that’s not normal. It means that you must get it fixed or face an even larger bill when you have to throw out all the food inside the fridge. This brings up the subject of one’s avoiding the inevitable.
When you were in school and neglected to study for a test, you failed the exam. At work, if you failed to meet a deadline, you were yelled at by the boss or you were fired. These two examples bring up Chodesh Elul. Huh? Well, you have to face the inevitable and do t’shuvah.
If your mouth leaks, and you speak too much lashon ha’ra, count to ten and say nothing. If you are jealous of your friend who has a pool or who shops regularly on Central Avenue, consider something you have that she doesn’t (e.g., good friends, good health, a good family). If you are still angry at someone for a perceived wrong that was done to you, take a deep breath, count again to ten, and exhale.
My point is just as you shouldn’t postpone fixing the fridge (which I did for five months), you shouldn’t push off fixing yourself. Your Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will go a lot better if your mind is cleansed of lashon ha’ra, jealousy, and anger. Besides, it won’t cost you $165.
Thoughts About My Recent Trip to Brazil
I recently returned from a three-week trip to Brazil. It was not a sightseeing trip but a celebration of the birth of my grandson Matheo, whose Hebrew name is Meir Natan. He is named after my husband Marshall (Meir) and my father-in-law (Natan). A mohel flew in from Sau Paulo to perform the bris milah, since there is no Orthodox mohel in Brasilia. I brought kosher bagels from New York, since there are no bagels in Brazil. I experienced the joy of beholding my grandson, my husband’s namesake, and carrying him on a special pillow to the bris. I sang HaMal’ach HaGoeil and the mohel explained in Portuguese the significance of a Bris Milah to my daughter-in-law’s family. As much as I enjoyed this moment in time, I missed having a Jewish community to celebrate with me.
Eight years ago, after my husband died, I wrote about the importance of being part of a Jewish community when one is grieving. I was blessed to grow up in Washington Heights and later moved to Forest Hills where there are a plethora of shuls and a Jewish community. That is not the case in other parts of the world. In Brasilia, the one shul (Chabad) is far away and not within walking distance. One can observe Shabbos at home, but it is not the same as feeling part of a community. I was in Brazil for Tish’ah B’Av and it was challenging to fast and feel the sorrow alone. Community is essential to our observance of joy and sadness. Let us not take our synagogues and communities for granted. We need to support them and cherish them!
If you believe what our institutional leaders tell us, President Biden received 81 million votes. It is assumed by many that he beat Donald Trump in 2020, largely due to the perception that he was not as toxic as Trump and his image as a kind-hearted, gentle senior citizen. He was dubbed “Captain Empathy” and “Consoler-In-Chief” by our fawning media. He was to be the loving Grandpa our increasingly divided country needed.
What has emerged over the past few years must be considered especially surprising to those who viewed Biden as a positive alternative to Trump. Sure, there were signs of cracks in warm, loving Joe, the mainstream media sold us in 2020. Signs such as him lying for decades about the nature of the accident that killed his wife and daughter about 50 years ago. Biden stated publicly on many occasions that the other driver in the accident was drunk when this was not true. The media dismissed this as a grieving widower venting, irrespective of the damage inflicted upon the other party. The suspension of Biden’s 1987 Presidential campaign for plagiarism in law school, lying about his academic record and plagiarizing a campaign speech was also a tipoff to the type of person he is. The media rarely brought this up and dismissed it as youthful indiscretions. His lies about marching in civil rights movements when he didn’t, his remarks about Republicans “putting ya’ll back in chains” and his labeling of Barack Obama as the “first mainstream African American who is articulate, bright and clean” were all dismissed by the media under the rubric of Biden is a Democrat; ergo, he can’t be racist. Credible charges of Biden assaulting a female campaign aide of his 35 years ago, which included very specific details, were also dismissed by the media as unsubstantiated, and years of Biden’s creepy public behavior towards women was ignored as just Old Joe being Joe.
To more astute observers of Biden’s behavior, his prior conduct and overt personality flaws of the previous five decades were predictive of the type of behavior we would get from him as President. Biden checking his watch three times while attending the dignified transfer ceremony for the 13 servicemen killed in his botched Afghanistan withdrawal was as cringeworthy as it was unconscionable. His refusal to acknowledge his seventh grandchild for five years because she was born under less-than-optimal circumstances (I’m being charitable here; this is a family newspaper) was disgusting. Biden has never shown an iota of sympathy for American citizens living in border towns overrun by illegal aliens waltzing through the border he left open. He refused to visit East Palestine, Ohio, after the town was ostensibly nuked when a supposedly controlled demolition left a mushroom cloud of hazardous materials over the town. When asked by the media about the wildfires that destroyed Maui last week, the vacationing, beach-bound Biden could only muster a “no comment” to suffering Hawaiians.
It is very clear that Biden does not care about anyone or anything that he cannot benefit from politically. The nice guy veneer has been stripped away, exposing a callous, heartless old man. Biden ran in 2020 on a platform of “Restoring the soul of the nation.” After nearly three years in office, it’s become glaringly obvious that Biden has no soul.
Let Al Speak For All Afghans
August 2023 represents the second anniversary of New York’s CBS Channel 2’s unannounced last-minute cancellation of August 16 Monday nights’ “United States of Al” repeat episode. It did not soothe America’s guilt. The Biden Administration’s incompetent planning for the evacuation of thousands of our own citizens along with Afghans who served as interpreters or worked for Americans did nothing to save many of their lives. The Taliban have extracted their revenge over the past two years for those citizens who worked with us during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
It is too bad that no one in the Biden administration paid attention to the public service announcement at the end of one episode. Two of the actors, Adhir Kalyan who plays Al, the Afghan interpreter, and Parker Young who plays Riley, the Marine, promoted a private organization dedicated to bringing Afghan citizens, who put their lives on the line for us, helping them come to America.
CBS should have been ashamed of themselves for promoting Taliban-style censorship to America. They have the moral courage of the Cowardly Lion from the land of Oz, known as Hollywood. They weaseled out of their previous legal contract to produce a second season of United States of Al.
Great Neck, New York
I applaud the clarity, common sense, and courage of letter writers Jason Stark and Meir Kirschner, as they ask difficult questions about our leadership during the pandemic.
A hallmark of intelligence is the ability to compare similar phenomena and draw significant distinctions between them in order to arrive at logical conclusions. Anyone who opens any tractate of the Talmud will immediately realize that much of Talmudic methodology is based on this fundamental approach to learning. It’s also no coincidence that we focus on drawing our children’s attention to differences between the goings-on of Passover night and “all other nights,” both as a means of teaching about Passover but also as an introduction to this basic method of learning by comparing and contrasting.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 (this is not mere 20/20 hindsight), it has thus dumbfounded me that so few of our leaders have availed themselves of this basic approach to knowledge as a means of informing their understanding of the pandemic and societal responses to it and as a way to guide them in their own responses and their leadership.
As apropos to the issue at hand, I present our leaders and readers with ten questions written in the style of the “Four Questions” of Seder night:
- With all other complex medical issues we looked to history and precedent to guide us regarding effective and responsible responses and treatment, but for this pandemic, we rejected history and precedent in favor of disproven and even dangerous interventions.
- With all other complex medical issues, we entertained multiple perspectives, often going for second and third opinions as a way of seeing all sides and arriving at potentially effective approaches. But with this pandemic, we relied on one opinion and denounced all others, refusing to even consider them.
- With all other complex issues we relied on career experts who possess intelligence, experience, and humility and who demonstrate level-headedness. With this pandemic, we relied on talking heads who were motivated by greed, power, and popularity and who reveled in fearmongering.
- With all other complex medical issues, we recognized commercials and media as being motivated by self-interest and thus didn’t rely on them. But with this crisis, we relied almost solely on media and commercial pressure despite their obvious self-interest.
- With all other vaccines, 10-15 years was the typical time taken for development and safety testing. But with this vaccine, its safety and efficacy were unquestionable after only six months of “testing”!
- With all other vaccines, there was no need to worry that your body itself was being used as a genetic germ factory. But with this (mrna) vaccine, your genes were being manipulated in ways they never had been before – but that’s okay.
- With all other vaccines, we were primarily concerned with administering it to those who were susceptible to the sickness. But with this vaccine, we were coerced to administer it to children who were not susceptible at all.
- With all other vaccines, the medical profession was concerned about potential side effects. But with this vaccine, the “experts” knew in advance that there couldn’t possibly be side effects.
- With all other vaccines, the VAERS database was regarded as the gold standard for measuring side effects. With this vaccine, VAERS and its millions of reported side-effects was dismissed out of hand as being “anecdotal.”
10 With all other vaccines, victims of side effects were believed, shown empathy, and often compensated for their injuries. With this vaccine, those with side-effects were dismissed as malingerers or worse and subjected to humiliation.
I could probably write another ten or 20 ways in which it was clear that the handling of this pandemic showed a complete break with all previous medical knowledge and even logic. Considering even one of these questions should have been enough for any leader (and any person) to start questioning the official narrative and at the very least to resist promoting the untested, disproven, and even dangerous and deadly interventions that many of our leaders actively promoted.
Sadly and tragically, throughout the pandemic craziness and vaccine craze that followed, our leadership failed us by not using the basic tools of learning – to compare and contrast – in order to question and better understand what was happening and why, and thereby learn how to guide us more responsibly. Whether this failure was due to fear, ignorance of relevant data and sources, peer pressure, public pressure, or financial incentives is mostly irrelevant. The bottom line is that this was a failure in leadership, which cost lives, needlessly fomented fear and distrust, and justified dysfunctional and damaging interpersonal exchanges. This failure of leadership still hangs in the air and demands to be addressed.
I continue to hope that those leaders who supported and promoted useless COVID restrictions and harmful vaccination recognize and own up to their egregious errors and apologize profusely for them. Barring that, I hope we are worthy of finding more capable and competent leaders who have intelligence as well as the courage and integrity to effectively apply it for the benefit of their followers – even in the face of significant pressure. To my mind, that is the hallmark of leadership.