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No Growth Allowed

On April 29, 1986, a catastrophic fire erupted in the main downtown Los Angeles Public Library. By the time the fire was under control, tens of  thousand of books had been destroyed, including irreplaceable historical documents. Many firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, and it remains the worst library fire in United States history.

Last week, in December 2019, I saw a video of a respected community leader pontificating foolishly and revealing that he had no idea of the seriousness of the question he was asked.  Watching  the clip made me feel embarrassed for him and for the community he represents (of which I am a member) .

What does a giant library fire have  in common with a dignified leader slipping on a verbal banana peel? 

When the Los Angeles library burned in April 1986, my husband and I had five children under the age of five. The 29th of the month fell out during Passover when family and communal demands rocket sky-high. In addition to leading our flourishing Jewish congregation near the Los Angeles beachfront, my husband was running a business. We were busy.

Along with everything going on in our own lives, the frenzied 24-hour news cycle was not yet in existence. Since we did not watch television in our home, we would not have seen the library fire on the news.  Internet news sites were not to come into existence for nearly another decade, so while personal computers were around, they were not delivering a constant stream of information. Surely, we must have heard about the fire via radio or newspaper? Surely it had to have been a topic of conversation after synagogue services? Neither my husband nor I have any recollection of this inferno.

A well-known saying claims that a picture is worth a thousand words. That is certainly true, not only in conveying ideas but also in influencing how memorable those ideas are. This is true whether what is caught visually is profoundly true or misleading, representative of a greater reality or an inconsequential outlier. Video is pictures on steroids.

The ease with  which every step and word today is caught on video magnifies the impact enormously. There is not a one of us who has not said foolish, hurtful or false words. Sometimes we realize our mistakes ourselves, sometimes others point them out to us. We have an opportunity to grow from our blunders and, if we are fortunate, we can undo some of the damage we may have wrought.

Yet, today, our missteps remain frozen in time. If reporters and activists bent on malice and  mischief  comb through old yearbooks looking to destroy political opponents, what hope do those growing up today have? Anyone and everyone around them can capture their lives on ubiquitous cell phones. Privacy is increasingly non-existent both as a concept and as an actuality.

Perhaps the day after the community leader’s ill-conceived remarks, his wife, colleagues or even some of his students offered differing views to him. Maybe he will take steps to be more careful in the future or even to apologize and speak publicly on the same topic in a more thoughtful way.  In the “olden days” we would have called that maturation, repentance and moving forward. Yet, because of the existing video clip that was distributed around the world almost instantaneously, words at an event that I did not attend will most likely stay in my memory in a way that a raging blaze did not.  The damage from a misspoken or mistaken word—even an uncharacteristically malicious one— can set aflame far more than stacks of book in a treasured building.

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Why Do I Write Thought Tools?

No country has been more hospitable to its Jewish population than the United States of America.  It is hard to think of another nation in which a Jewish community has enjoyed a longer period of tranquillity and affluence. 

For two thousand years, in different countries, at different times, the wandering Jew found a resting place for his weary feet.  Some of these resting places were more hospitable than others, many were downright painful, but they were the temporary abode that God had arranged for His people.  However, after two world wars finally left America as the mightiest economic and military power in the world, her Jewish community achieved maturity and emerged as the healthiest and wealthiest of all Jewish communities.  The hospitality that Jews have enjoyed in America is unparalleled in recent times and perhaps even in all time.

One explanation often advanced to account for the hospitality enjoyed by America’s Jews has been the size of the American Jewish community along with its economic and political influence.  In other words, America has been good to her Jews because Jewish power has allowed her little alternative.  In addition to demonstrating breathtaking ingratitude, this argument is as wrong headed as claiming that turning on street lights causes the sun to set.  Even a moment’s humble reflection reveals that American Jews have achieved affluence and political prominence precisely because of the security and tranquillity they have enjoyed here for so many years.

A valuable clue in the search for an explanation of America’s fondness for Jews and Israel is that it comes most often from precisely those politicians who do not preside over major centers of Jewish culture.  For example, it is hard to make the case that Congressman Louis Gohmert supports Israel in order to placate the large number of Jewish voters in Texas.   If America’s support for Israel were based entirely on political expediency, that support would originate from the State Department.  It does not.  Instead it springs from the heartland of America as a reflection of the deep commitment to Judeo-Christian values felt by so many Americans.   Clearly something more profound lies behind several hundred years of affinity and friendship between America and its Jews.  The question is, what?

The real answer is that in the history of the world, only two nations were founded on an idea rather than on a land. The founders of America, the Pilgrims, were called “separatists.”  Similarly the early Jews, Abraham and his family, were called “Ivrim”—Hebrews, or in English—”separatists,” those who have crossed over to a new side.

Benjamin Franklin once proposed that the Great Seal of the United States should depict the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land.  William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony was a fluent scholar of Hebrew and studied the Old Testament in its original.  Several founders proposed Hebrew as an official language of the United States and a commencement speech at Harvard University was commonly delivered in Hebrew well into the twentieth century.

The intrinsic similarity between these two great nations was not lost on the early Americans.  Neither is it lost on their descendants, so many of whom still share a devotion to the Judeo-Christian principles that fueled our earliest visions.

The graciousness extended by most Americans towards their Jewish friends is not the result of having been intimidated by those friends into a mood of sullen acceptance.  It is a wholehearted belief in one sentiment best expressed by the Scriptural words, “and I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you, will I curse.” (Genesis 12:3)  Many Americans still revere those words as they do God Almighty who spoke them.  American Jews have always been the beneficiaries of that sentiment.  The joyous serenity of living as an American Jew is safe only for as long as most Americans continue to subscribe to that Biblical sentiment. 

We are embarrassed and unhappy that so many of the implacable foes of the president, who have been plotting his downfall since his inauguration, are Jews. Nadler, Schiff and Schumer are only 3 of the 34 Jews in Congress all but 2 of whom oppose the most pro-Israel and possibly the most philo-Semitic president in the past 70 years.  As part of their political impeachment ploy, they recently brought four constitutional scholars to explain the legalities that they claim justify the impeachment of President Trump.  Three of these four lawyers are Jewish.  In fact, it is amazing to note that although Jews constitute less than 2% of America’s population, 6% of the United States Congress is Jewish. (Sadly, all but 2 are Democrats).  This amazing acceptance of Jews is not found in any other country than America and Israel.

We are embarrassed and unhappy that the political, economic, and social ideas of so many American Jews are shaped by the nihilistic values of secular fundamentalism and not by the Bible.  In fact, a greater proportion of all Americans, both Jewish and not, is Biblically illiterate than at any earlier time in our history.  The future for America, Israel, and all freedom loving peoples is bleak unless we succeed in replacing secularism with Judeo-Christian Bible-based values as the culture’s dominant sculptor of popular outlook. The organization that I serve, the American Alliance of Jews and Christians  strives to restore, not Biblical laws, but Biblical values to the hearts and minds of all.

Here is the paradox.  It is tragically true that many American Jews have replaced the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the gods of secular socialism.  It is also undeniable that these Americans of Jewish ancestry have exerted a baleful influence on our culture and politics.  Jewish rebellion against God is an old story—one only need read the book of Judges as an example. However, it is equally obvious that without the contributions of countless American Jews to the tapestry of American life—since its founding—we would all be the poorer and the nation would have flourished less.  The urgent task confronting us is to diminish the seduction of secular fundamentalism and turn more hearts and minds to those Biblical values that nurture civilization. Both Jews and Christians who believe in God need to step up and forcefully defend their views. 

At this time of the year, we particularly appreciate whatever support your heart calls upon you to offer.  The American Alliance of Jews and Christians works to diminish the powerful influence that secularism and its advocates exerts on civilization.  We help build counterweights in the form of educating effective people willing to speak out. 

This work and more, will continue in 2020 as we see enthusiasm for our efforts grow. With your help this can be done. The programmed activities planned for 2020  require a budget of $700,000.

I greatly appreciate the support you have offered in the past and I humbly enlist your support for what lies ahead. Any amount that your heart and prayers lead you to devote to this work will be a sacred element of our efforts and I thank you.

Whatever support you can give to our work will be very much appreciated. American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization (EIN 26-07642520). We have several different ways that you can make your tax-deductible donation:

By mail (Check or Cash) to: AAJC, PO Box 58, Mercer Island, WA 98040

Through our secure website (Credit Card or PayPal) http://bit.ly/AAJC-DonateViaWebsite

Via the AAJC Facebook page http://bit.ly/AAJC-DonateViaFacebook

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May God bless you and protect you and may we all be privileged to do our part in protecting the legacy He entrusted to humanity on Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago.

Thank you for helping make my life work possible,

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

I want to support everyone’s rights – should I support BDS?

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I’m not sure if you’ve heard what’s going on in Ireland, and I’m trying to figure it out. [In Ireland and in many other places, attempts are made—often under the banner of the Palestinian led BDS  (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement to isolate Israel, especially when it comes to products made in the disputed territories.]

What I’m trying to understand is if there is any truth to this or if it’s a new form of ant-Semitism. But I also respect everyone’s right to disagree and to speak out when it comes to their beliefs even when I have a hard time with it.

I believe in standing for everyone’s freedoms and rights. I want to see no one hurt or rights suppressed. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on if that makes sense. Is this good or bad; is this a new form of anti-Semitism?

Thank you!

Helen

Dear Helen,

In general we are not fans of accusations of “isms”. By that we mean sexism, anti-Semitism, racism and the like. We dislike these accusations because the terms are often undefined and used as cudgels with which to bludgeon and destroy people. Too often, there is absolutely no way in which to defend oneself against an “ism” allegation.

Having said that, we are also not fans of the double standard. When a double standard exists, two entities are treated differently based on a factor that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. If a professor demanded a 90% on a multiple choice exam from all students in order to earn an A, but demanded that those of a certain color, religion or nationality earn 95% to earn the same A, that would be an example of a double standard.

There is no question in our minds that Israel is continually held to a standard in a way that no other nation in the world is. For example, it is constantly condemned in the United Nation by nations who regularly commit egregious abuses of human rights with no censure.

There are dozens of land disputes in the world, including many hostile occupations.  In none of those (Russia-Crimea, Turkey-N. Cyprus, Morocco-Western Sahara, etc) do we find accusations or attacks on the occupying power from countries all around the globe.  In fact in just about every case, (including all of those mentioned above) the governments that condemn/sanction Israel are actually engaged financially through state owned companies, literally building the infrastructure for the belligerent occupier.  

We also know that much of the information shared about Israel is based on lies. The history of the Jewish State, the Palestinians and the neighboring Moslem-controlled Arab countries is complex and the story goes back centuries. There are grievances on all sides, many sinners and no saints—we are talking about people after all. There is also an entire story of different groups living together and flourishing in modern Israel today that is under-reported and ignored.

Anger stoked by the BDS movement is leading to attacks on Jews in many countries. Whether this is anti-Semitism or disseminating and encouraging hatred to achieve a political result, the bottom-line is that in today’s world the separation between criticism of Israel and hatred of all Jews is becoming invisible. This disappearing dividing line means that,  whatever the motivation, the BDS movement walks hand-in-hand with a desire to rid the world of a Jewish people. The fact that many of Jewish descent, and organizations that label themselves as Jewish,  are among the biggest haters of Israel and Judaism adds to the complexity but doesn’t change the reality.

Do your own research. Don’t limit your understanding by allowing yourself to be manipulated by newspapers and articles published by those who used to pride themselves on being unbiased. On this as on so many other issues today, it takes a great deal of effort to reach the truth.

Finally, we want to add that as admirable as it may be to “believe in standing for everyone’s freedoms and rights” as you do, in the real world that is not possible.  Trying to stand for everybody’s often means standing for nobody’s.  This is because in an imperfect world, imperfect humans often have different and incompatible ideas of their rights.  As hard as it is, being a morally responsible adult means making a decision about whose rights you will support even if it does necessarily mean not supporting those of someone else.

Hope this helps,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My Children, My Brothers?

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

The Torah stresses respect from children for parents, so a verse in Genesis should raise eyebrows. Let’s take a look at Jacob’s relationship with his sons after they have left Haran and are on their way back to the Land of  Israel. (Genesis 31) Rachel and Leah’s father Laban pursued Jacob and eventually Jacob and Laban made a non-aggression pact over a mound of stones.  Verse 46 says, “And Jacob said to his brothers, ‘Gather stones,’ and they gathered stones and made a mound.” 

Jacob spoke to his brothers?  What brothers did he have there?  Rashi, a key transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us, “heim banav,”these were his sons who were his brothers in arm, and partners joining with him at times of trouble and hostility.

Isn’t that interesting?  Is this similar to modern touchy-feely philosophy of being your children’s best friend? Not at all. Jacob’s children, at times, became his partners, like brothers, to join with him and come to his aid, not to reduce him to come to their level. 

I like this verse because so often parents feel unsure about asking their children to contribute and help out at home.  They wonder when it’s okay and how much is okay.  While it is possible to have unhealthy dynamics when a parent relies on a child’s help too heavily or uses a child as a crutch, this verse is a good reminder to us that it is important for our children to be partners with us.  Helping out at home, not only gives a child important opportunities to build life skills and confidence, but it also makes them feel important and valuable because they have contributions to make to their family.

I recently went with my mother and one of my children to watch a documentary about adolescence, technology, and mental health.  They reported a study where researchers put mothers and their children alone in a room and gave each child a puzzle to solve that was meant to be too hard for him or her. The researchers were inducing failure in the child while the mother watched.  The mothers were told not to interfere or help their child with the puzzle, but inevitably, the mothers stepped in and helped their kids with the challenge. 

Here’s the fascinating piece.  When the mothers stepped in to help, their own stress levels (heart rate, cortisol level, etc.)  went down, but their children’s stress levels went up!  By taking away their children’s opportunity to work through a difficult challenge on their own and stepping in to take control of the situation, the mothers felt better but their kids felt worse. 

Our children need to have opportunities to tackle big jobs, they need a chance to be our “brothers” and partners, helping us with cooking, yard maintenance, cleaning, and many other areas where we can allow them the opportunity to stretch, grow, and be in partnership with us. Rather than focusing on how we can help them, let us allow them to help us and stretch and grow in the process.

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Why Do I Write Thought Tools? December 12, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - No country has been more hospitable to its Jewish population than the United States of America.  It is hard to think of another nation in which a Jewish community has enjoyed a longer period of tranquillity and affluence.  For two thousand years, in different countries, at different times, the wandering Jew found a resting place… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • I want to support everyone’s rights – should I support BDS? December 11, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Dear Rabbi and Susan, I'm not sure if you've heard what's going on in Ireland, and I'm trying to figure it out. [In Ireland and in many other places, attempts are made—often under the banner of the Palestinian led BDS  (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement to isolate Israel, especially when it comes to products made in… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • No Growth Allowed December 12, 2019 by Susan Lapin - On April 29, 1986, a catastrophic fire erupted in the main downtown Los Angeles Public Library. By the time the fire was under control, tens of  thousand of books had been destroyed, including irreplaceable historical documents. Many firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, and it remains the worst library fire in United States history. Last… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Thanksgiving November 26, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Expressing gratitude, whether to God, to people, or one’s country, is a mysterious but reliable portal to optimism.  There is no more effective way to induce the happy sensation of optimism and hope in our souls than finding opportunities to say, “Thank-you!” Wishing us all a meaningful Thanksgiving. Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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