It’s OK To Be Selfless

2013_shapiro_marcHaving been a professional journalist for almost six years now, I am hopelessly addicted to telling stories. I love the variety in subject matter and getting to meet all kinds of people. Every now and then, I get to write a story that really stops me in my tracks.

In this week’s issue of the Baltimore Jewish Times, I tell the incredible story of a humanitarian effort to help Korean War orphans that was led by William and Rose Sneider of Asbury Park, N.J., and their family (“Remembering The Humanitarian Project That Time Forgot,” page 24). It was brought to my attention by Mindy Dickler, a grandchild of the Sneiders who is trying to preserve her family’s legacy with the recent passing of her mother.

As I got deeper into this story, I realized how incredible it is, especially given that it was started by one socially conscious couple. It goes something like this: In 1952, Rose Sneider read a plea from a soldier stationed in Korea concerning the dismal conditions in which orphans were forced to live. She and her husband owned a yarn shop, so she decided she would start donating scrap yarn and to make garments for the orphans.

The shop was overrun with volunteers, and the effort went international with an estimated 20 million people contributing to the project and two others that grew out of it. All because of one couple with one shop. And although they were recognized by U.S. congressmen, Korean diplomats and various others, the Sneiders never got bigheaded about it. They sent at least 6,000 garments themselves, taking on all the costs and never affiliating with any organization or group.

Dickler and her family never knew much about the effort until a few years ago. It wasn’t something the family boasted about.

While this was surprising at first, it seems a great lesson in humility. In these days of Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to boast about our achievements, often in real time. And while it’s nice to get ‘Likes’ and be re-tweeted, the Sneiders show that the focus should be on selflessness, not recognition.

I donate to various causes and nonprofits, admittedly not as much as I could and should, but I do. And while my inclination is to post a Facebook status telling people about the donation and urge them to donate, too, I often keep it to myself. I try not to focus on personal satisfaction, even though I do feel some satisfaction knowing my money is going to good causes. I look at it as more of an obligation. As someone fortunate enough to live comfortably and have disposable income, I look at it as my way of spreading the wealth to those who need it.

Another very inspiring part of the story, which you will hopefully read, is how this humanitarian spirit is still alive in the family, even three generations later. Dickler and her children all work in some capacity to give back. Even for the Sneiders’ great-grandchildren, helping others comes almost second nature.

We can all take a lesson from this family, and we can ask ourselves if we are truly giving back to the world that has given us so much.

Deceived By Potential Greatness

I’ve often compared my life to one of those plate spinners. I have 10 plates spinning at all times, and all is going well. Then someone comes by and nonchalantly adds another five plates, and over the next few minutes my heart is pounding, sweat’s dripping down my face, everyone’s giving me disappointing looks as some plates start to slow. Finally, one comes crashing down to the floor … and all everyone cares about is the darn broken plate.

OK, I admit it: I blunder. I make mistakes. Sometimes I crack under pressure. But I’m willing to look back and forgive myself because I know how hard life can be sometimes. But does everyone really have an excuse? For generations people have tried to figure out how Adam and Eve could have messed up when they only had one thing to worry about. How can someone hyper-focused on only one task — and, frankly, not the world’s most complex task — possibly justify any error whatsoever?

The simple answer is that Eve was tricked by the serpent. But how does one convince a person who stands in perfect knowledge of the existence of her creator to defy His one wish? The answer to that question is what makes the Jewish people tick.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch stated that the serpent deceitfully and spitefully convinced Eve that God was afraid of sharing His abilities and that to eat of this fruit would cause Eve to be just as knowledgeable and able as God himself. Neither Adam nor Eve could stand for such a thing. They couldn’t fathom allowing anything or anyone to hold them back from accomplishing their full potential in this world. They were sick at the thought and thus proudly consumed that which they thought would be their catalyst to greatness.

Adam and Eve were tricked and faulted for their gullibility and lack of trust; however, the sentiment and the depth of their yearning for self-perfection are among some of the most profound everlasting lessons of the narrative. In essence, what they sought is what every Jew is supposed to seek.

Rabbi Hirsch, commenting on the Chapters of Our Fathers, stated that Judaism is perhaps the only religion in the world that seeks to render its clergy superfluous. What this means is that every teacher among the Jewish people has the express goal of imparting everything they have to offer upon every one of their students. If a student surpasses the teacher, the only appropriate reaction is unadulterated joy. The rabbis are not intermediaries between the Jews and God. They themselves seek to get close to God, and they seek to help others figure out the proper path to get close to God. But we’re all in the game. Everybody needs to accomplish everything through their own means, everyone has the potential of rising to the top, and no one is exempt from trying, not even for a moment.

Eve was tricked, it’s true. And she and her husband could have done more to make the situation less dire. But that doesn’t change the fact that the serpent’s methodology was embedded in flawless and timeless logic. Adam and Eve desired to reach their full potential — every one of us should do so as well.

Offensive

I take offense at your designating mainstream Orthodox as different from Modern Orthodox (“What Is Jewish Unity?” Sept. 6). Mainstream is Modern Orthodox as historically practiced by the overwhelming percentage of the Baltimore Jewish community and its synagogues, including at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, which now includes the former Beth Jacob, where my father was the educational director, at Ner Tamid and Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim (which was founded by an uncle of mine and others).

What is not mainstream Orthodox is the Judaism practiced by the “ultra” or “fervently” or similar modifiers to Orthodox, as practiced by those who attend the Glen Avenue shul and, more recently, by those who daven at Darchei Tzedek and other “black hat” synagogues, which have proliferated by the dozens in Baltimore. …

Your banishing of me and the rest of Modern Orthodoxy to other than “mainstream” is not only painful, it is also incorrect.
Judy Chernak
Pikesville

Shame On JT

The article “‘Immoral Conduct Costs Area Physician His License” (Sept. 6) was beneath your dignity. What exactly was accomplished by printing this, other than to shame and humiliate a family that has selflessly contributed to Baltimore Jewish life for decades? If Dr. Saul Weinreb is no longer practicing, warnings are not needed. Shame on you.
Nancy Friedberg
Baltimore

My Heart Is Full

I was happy to see the listing for services at the Chabad Center in Owings Mills in your expanded High Holiday calendar. Finding Chabad of Owings Mills, and more specifically Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen and his wife, Chanie, has been a truly unexpected gift beyond words. A few years ago, when my dear friend, Jon Welfeld, told me that he had a special rabbi and shul he wanted me and my family to experience, I had no idea that he was sharing with me the gift of all gifts. It took 48 years for me to be able to say that I have a rabbi. My son, Brady, has a role model like no other. Hamish and welcoming, Rabbi K and Chanie have opened their hearts, home and shul to so many families in the past years that Chabad has found itself a home in Owings Mills.

My experience began with Brady starting Hebrew school at Chabad a few years ago. Now as he is into his fourth bar mitzvah lesson with the rabbi in order to prepare for next September, when he becomes a bar mitzvah, my heart is full. … The unexpected surprise is that I am learning so much, as well — both directly from Rabbi K and Chanie and from my 12-year-old. What could be more beautiful than a son teaching his mother about being Jewish and about stories of our ancestors that inspire him?

And then to attend High Holiday services led by Rabbi K, I was able to experience the holiday in a manner that I had not experienced before. I now have a place to go that feels like home.
Lisa Joy Greenberg
Owings Mills

Editor’s note: Read more about the Chabad Center of Owings Mills in “A Home in 21117

Unconvincing

Regarding the Sept. 20 editorial (“Time To Raise The Minimum Wage”): This article does not convince me that an increase in the minimum wage is warranted. You only cite that a family of four cannot live on yearly earnings of $15,000. I agree, but the percentage of families of four as opposed to the overall percentage of people working for minimum wage has to be pretty small. I would also suggest that you not bring “Old Tax and Spend” and his cronies into your argument. They won’t help your cause.
Norman Wolfe
Pikesville

Who Is Going To Care For Our Senior Loved Ones?

2013ftv_kruppThe United States is recognized as the provider of the most sophisticated health care in the world at an annual estimated cost of more than $1.7 trillion. But while spending significantly more money on health care than any other leading industrialized nation, the U.S. also retains a significantly larger population of unserved or underserved citizens. To further complicate matters, America’s elderly population, the consumers of the largest portion our hour health-care dollars, is rapidly increasing. In 2011, 77 million baby boomers turned 65.

As our population continues to age, how are we going to take care of our loved ones who are in this age category? According to the National Family Caregiving Association, more than one quarter of the adult population has provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during the past year. Based on past census data, that number translates into more than 50 million people.

When you finally decide that a senor loved one needs help, what do you do?

No one plans to be the primary caregiver of a senior loved one.

We should, but we don’t. We save money for our own retirement; we save for our children’s education, weddings and such. We take vacations and spend money on cars and the like. But do we think about the cost of caring for a senior family member?

Typically, when a parent becomes ill, or grows frail, one sibling gravitates toward the role of primary caregiver and takes on the majority of the work. This person may be the closest to the parent geographically or emotionally. Typically, they may be the one who always takes charge, the one with the most time to give or the one who usually takes care of them.

As a family caregiver, you may also experience depression. You may believe that you cannot do enough for the person you care for. You may also be angry because your efforts go unappreciated and unrecognized. Perhaps you don’t get the help and support from other family members. Like many caregivers, you were thrust into this role without much preparation or planning.

You may have believed that no matter what would happen to your loved one, you would have an abundance of love, strength and courage to care for them. But now as the caregiver, you are faced with the realities of the job, your stamina is dwindling and you are feeling resentful.

According to the National Family Caregiving Association, an estimated 61 percent of family members who provide 21 hours or more of care per week suffer from depression. You need to recognize the signs of caregiver fatigue and stress. If not addressed, it can negatively affect your own health and well-being and your ability to provide care.

This is where private duty/in-home care services can help. Family members providing care to loved ones need respite care (respite care is intended to provide a time period of relief for the primary caregiver). Many services can be customized to meet your needs whether for a few hours, a whole day, once a week or every day. These services are there to enhance the quality of life and peace of mind for all members of the family and caregiving team.

To Life!

2013ftv_novickOn a recent visit to Israel this summer, I couldn’t help but notice its beauty — the land and shores, of course, but also the people.

While Israel is known for its brains (more Ph.D.s per capita than any other country) and brawn (an unmatched military), youth and beauty abound. Along with that fountain of vitality is an amazing abundance of energy amid the public, due to a smart diet and a high level of fitness. And, well, they’re darn good looking, too.

The Greeks had Aphrodite, Ares and Athena, but with a oneness philosophically embedded in its religious DNA, the Jewish state singularly embodies that mythical trifecta.

Take a walk along the Tel Aviv promenade and it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of runners, bikers and walkers with a stride that personifies the chai (life) symbol many of them wear around their necks.

Right outside our hotel and directly on the pathway near Gordon Beach was an outdoor gym, where runners, bikers and athletes of every age stop to cross-train. Next door, the volleyball courts were constantly occupied day and night, and to dodge the matkot games was itself an exercise. A block away is Krav Maga Tel Aviv, where I popped in to work out, and next to it is Gordon Pool, which is open to anyone.

But it’s not just Tel Aviv, a city on the sea known for its zesty style and hip youth. In Jerusalem too, to be a walker in the city is to imbibe the sights, sounds and smells of a revitalized youth (and adults with vigor) — whether dancing at the Kotel (Western Wall), hiking the Judean Hills or navigating the shuk (open air market) on a bustling Friday afternoon.

While back in the states there’s an obesity epidemic, with more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) designated as obese, according to the Center for Disease Control, Israel’s population is younger, lives longer and is less obese than those of other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as reported in The Jerusalem Post last year.

For my parents’ generation, if asked to free associate and come up with an Israeli woman, the great Prime Minister Golda Meir probably would come to mind. Today, Bar Refaeli is Israel’s top female pop culture icon. And while everyone knows her to be a pretty face, she also embodies brains and even some brawn for her tough and intelligent stand when she recently spoke out (tweeted) against Roger Waters for his anti-Israel/BDS remarks. In case you missed it, she told the former leader of Pink Floyd to stop using her image in live concerts after he urged fellow musicians to boycott the Jewish state.

Indeed, what Refaeli demonstrated, with her Hebrew tweet, was a personification of Israel’s deeper beauty — of fortitude, courage and integrity.

Amid the swirl of chaos, tumult and horror that surrounds Israel, with governments gassing their own children, Christians being slaughtered and an overall culture of death exalted, it may sound like a cliché to refer to Israel as an oasis. Yet, the contrast is stark. To be sure, just as the song “Am Yisrael Chai” is an outward expression of a life-affirming nation, the truth is that it is also a manifestation of what’s inside the people.

One People

092713_one_peopleAs we come to the end of the High Holidays, with the concepts of renewal, rededication and new beginnings still very fresh in our minds, we are anxious to begin the very important assignments we have accepted on behalf of our community.

We are the chairs of the Annual Campaign and The Women’s Campaign for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. We accepted these roles because we believe that helping our community and Jewish communities around the globe is part of our sacred obligation as Jews. Working with the professionals at The Associated and hundreds of volunteers who give so generously of their time, we will have the privilege to ask one Jew to help another.

Judaism emphasizes that we are all responsible for each other. It teaches us that each one of us has a unique soul, but, together as a people, we are a light unto the nations. We have Jewish scientists, artists, doctors and engineers who consistently contribute to the betterment of the world in profound and dramatic ways. When one of us shines, we all beam; when one of us is disgraced, we all feel shame because we are one people, we’re family. Each of our unique contributions and differences add up to a sum total of a great people.

We come to our roles at The Associated for different reasons, but we share the same commitment to the Jewish values transformed into act-ions by The Associated annual campaign. The funds raised through the annual campaign enable The Associated agencies and programs serving our community to provide a safety net for those in need and build a strong, vibrant Jewish life for future generations.

In our work for The Associated, we have the opportunity to speak with members of our community helped by The Associated and to travel to Jewish communities in Israel and other parts of the world that are sustained and enriched by the generosity of Jewish Baltimore. We see firsthand the impact that our community’s centralized system can make; we are very proud of the fact that our community is the only one in the current federation system that utilizes this model. In Baltimore, agencies do not compete against each other for resources. They collaborate on programs and services that serve the greater good.

Collaboration is a value embraced by The Associated, and it is critical for the success of the annual campaign and the community. Without the support of hundreds of volunteers, we would not have the collective strength to accomplish our goals. Without the wisdom of the professionals with whom we work, we would not be able to thoughtfully plan for our community’s needs. And without the generosity of thousands of donors to the annual campaign in our community, we would not be able to ensure that no need goes unanswered and no aspiration is unfulfilled.

We hope you will join us this year in the meaningful work we do on behalf of The Associated. There is a place for everyone in our community who wants to make a difference, who wants to change a life and who wants to transform our core Jewish values into action. To get involved this year, visit associated.org/getinvolved.

Security Or Provocation?

 

The Cave of the Patriarchs, which sits in Hebron is where Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi was murdered by Palestinian terrorists earlier this week. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu allowed Jewish residents to move into disputed homes in Hebron following the attack. (Djampa via Wikimedia Commons)

The Cave of the Patriarchs, which sits in Hebron is where Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi was murdered by Palestinian terrorists earlier this week. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu allowed Jewish residents to move into disputed homes in Hebron following the attack.
(Djampa via Wikimedia Commons)

The separate murders last weekend of two Israeli soldiers has led to an outpouring of grief. On Sunday, Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi was killed by a Palestinian sniper while on patrol in Hebron. That followed the killing Friday of Sgt. Tomer Hazan, who was lured unarmed to a West Bank village by a Palestinian co-worker. These two murders were graphic reminders that Israel is at war, and concerns regarding her security and that of her citizenry is of paramount importance.

But the Israeli government’s response did not seem to emphasize security. Indeed, one could argue that the response led to an unnecessary undermining of the already tenuous Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

Following the murders, the Jewish Home party and some members of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party called for an end to the peace process. Instead, Netanyahu issued an order allowing Israelis to move into a contested building in a Palestinian section of Hebron.

That announcement did not serve to strengthen the peace talks; Israeli activity over the green line is clearly one of the Palestinians’ chief complaints. And the timing of the announcement was particularly curious, since it came at a time when Israel is trying to improve her international standing, as she tries to maintain world focus on the Iranian nuclear threat during the U.N. General Assembly meetings this week.

The response of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was equally confusing. While Abbas pledged that he would not raise the issue of Palestinian statehood at the General Assembly, he was largely silent about the killings. It was only after he was prompted by U.S. and European Union condemnations that Abbas expressed concern — in English — about the killings during a meeting on Monday with prominent Jews in New York. But even then Abbas added that Israel must condemn the recent deaths of four young Palestinians by the IDF — a garbled reference perhaps to the one suspected Palestinian terrorist shot and killed by Israel on Sept. 17 during a raid on a refugee camp near Jerusalem.

And so the scorekeeping goes on. But keeping score doesn’t get either side very far. In fact, all it really does is enflame the passions of those on both sides who are opposed to the peace effort.

We continue to believe that Israel needs to reach a two-state deal with the Palestinians, and that any such agreement must include clear, uncompromising guarantees of Israel’s security. Efforts and responses to incitement that promote Israel’s security make sense in that context. But a provocative response that doesn’t meet the security enhancement test runs the risk of being nothing more than another provocation.