Trump’s Scary Tweet

References to numerology on why Donald Trump should be the next president aside, I could not believe my eyes when I read Luke Sanders’ Your Say letter of July 8, “Look to Gematria for Trump Endorsement.”

Perhaps Sanders was not informed or chose not to be informed about the most significant Trump tweet related to  Judaism so far in this campaign — the so-called “Star of David” tweet. It proves that while Trump may or may not be a bigot and may or may not be anti-Semitic, he sure is firing up many in his political base who are bigots and anti-Semites.

Last week, Trump tweeted a graphic of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton with a six-pointed star looking exactly as the Star of David and a pile of $100 bills with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever.” Neither Trump nor members of his campaign staff have apologized for this anti-Semitic tweet. Instead, they deleted the original tweet and uploaded an edited graphic with a circle instead of a six-pointed star.

One well-known Trump supporter, David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan in Louisiana, liked the tweet so much that he followed up with a modified version of Trump’s original graphic. Duke listed Jewish donors to the Clinton campaign and wrote: “Absolutely True!”

Jonathan Greenblatt, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “It’s long past time for Donald Trump to  unequivocally reject the hate-filled extremists orbiting around his campaign and take a stand against anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate.”

The Trump tweet should send a chill down every Jewish spine in the U.S. and cause every Jewish voter — even  Republicans — to pause and reflect deeply before casting a vote for the GOP nominee.

For the Good of All Parshat Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiIs it more important to devote oneself to personal, spiritual development or to work for the good of the nation? I  believe that a good argument can be made that commitment to the nation takes priority over commitment to one’s own spiritual needs. And one such source is a Midrash (Shemot Rabbah, 2:80), which links two kinds of animal slaughterings (not by blood, but by a common word — chukat). The Midrash has in mind the paschal lamb sacrifice of Exodus and the paradoxical ritual of the red heifer (purifying the defiled, but defiling all those involved in its preparation), discussed in this week’s portion, Chukat.

When it comes to the chukim of the paschal lamb and the red heifer, their interpretation by the Midrash focuses on two distinct approaches to Jewish life and practice.

If two identical women go out walking, how do we know which of the two is greater? Explains the Midrash that if one of the women is accompanying the other, is following behind the other, the one who is in front is the greater figure. Paralleling the case of the identical women, the Midrash guides us back to the case of the identical chukim and the original question. Which is greater, the paschal sacrifice or the red heifer? Obviously, it is the one that is accompanied by the other, the one that is leading the other; and although they appear to be similar in stature, the red heifer always accompanies the paschal lamb, following behind.

If the red heifer is about  individual ritual and religious purity, and the paschal sacrifice is about national commitment, it becomes indubitably clear that when one’s own spiritual development comes into conflict with a national issue, then our national commitment must come first; the national commitment is the purpose for the spiritual cleansing.

The paschal sacrifice is the goal, the red heifer is the means.

Alone, many of the most important prayers cannot be said. This doesn’t mean that in Judaism an individual’s self- realization is always sacrificed for the greater good of the whole. Rather, a dialectic and a tension exists between being a “we-oriented” people or an “I-oriented” people. At times, one must zealously, and even selfishly, prepare oneself for ultimate greater service to the Jewish community by shutting out the needs of the world. But the overriding goal of the individual must be to contribute to the needs of the nation so that we may indeed be a kingdom of priest-teachers to perfect the world.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Senseless Tragedy

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

At the time that 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was senselessly stabbed to death last week as she slept in her Kiryat Arba home, my own 13-year-old daughter was enjoying a sleepaway camp popular among Baltimore girls.

Maybe that’s why I, a former oleh who hasn’t lived in Israel since 2011, seem to be more affected by this particular attack than the hundreds of others that have come before.

There will be those who will try to explain Hallel’s murder at the hands of a 17-year-old Palestinian, who was later shot and killed by guards. Some will make a distinction between Hallel’s home — lying as it does inside of a Jewish settlement on the outskirts of the primarily Arab Hebron on one side of the 1949 armistice line separating Israel proper from lands the Palestinians claim for a future state — and those of other Israelis, such as the inhabitants of my old house in Bet Shemesh, who live on the other side of the dividing line. The shooting of patrons at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market just weeks ago should quickly put to rest the implicit argument that living in “the territories” is somehow more dangerous, as well as the assertion that terrorists distinguish between those living in uncontested Israeli land and settlers living in the West Bank.

Others might try to see Hallel’s murder as an aberration, but a months-long epidemic of stabbings throughout Israel should dispel them of that notion.

No, the brutal sacrifice of a 13-year-old defies any explanation other than the fact that there is an evil disregard for human life that seems to be bubbling to the surface in that part of the world with a veracious rapidity.

But for me, my shock emanated not from the horror that human beings, in the 21st century, still had the potential for such evil. It rather was rooted in the pain that I, a father, can only imagine Hallel’s parents are experiencing.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, longtime Baltimore Police Department Jewish community liaison Kenneth Dickstein decided to become a police officer after witnessing the horror that swept through the community in the wake of the 1969 abduction and murder of 11-year-old neighbor Esther Lebowitz. He was 9 years old, but he identified both with those who knew Esther and the detectives who tried to find her.

Tragedy becomes all the more senseless if the darkness that gives it space does not spur others to add goodness to the world in doubled measure. How Israel and the world will continue to respond to Hallel’s murder is anyone’s guess, but I know that I’ll be hugging and cherishing my children more. I invite all of you to do the same.

Sharansky’s Dark Prophecy

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was in Paris last week for a Jewish Agency Board of Governor’s meeting. Many of the lay and professional leaders from around the world who joined him viewed the choice of venue as an opportunity to express solidarity with the Jewish community of Europe in general, and of France in particular.

These communities are rightly viewed to be under siege, facing mounting threats from a growing Arab population, increasing expressions of governmental condemnation of Israel, and worrying incidents of anti-Semitism. But the meeting’s expression of solidarity and support was turned on its head when, in the course of an interview with JTA, Sharansky predicted that French Jewry is doomed. “There is no future for the Jews in France because of the Arabs, and because of a very anti-Israel position in society, where new anti-Semitism and ancient anti-Semitism converge,” he said.

Sharansky’s foreboding prediction is consistent with the language he used in delivering a message following the January 2015 massacres at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. Back then, he warned of further potential trauma to the Jews of France and the unraveling of France’s liberal traditions. At the time, the number of French Jews leaving for Israel was on the rise. And though the numbers have fallen off this year, Sharansky declared that the Jewish Agency is prepared for an inevitable rise and has dozens of representatives ready to assist new olim from France.

We support wholeheartedly efforts by the Jewish Agency to make aliyah easy and affordable for French Jews and any other Jews around the world. That said, we question the utility of Sharansky’s dark prediction about the French Jewish community, which has some 500,000 members and is the third largest in the world.

Declaring Jewish communities dead should not be the business of the Jewish Agency or of any other Jewish organization. There is a disquieting social engineering quality to such pronouncements, which are not at all helpful to Jews in the area who choose to stay put. And while there is nothing wrong with promoting aliyah for those interested in making the move, care must be taken not to do so in a manner that weakens local Jewish communities. Rather, it is in everyone’s interests — including those of Israel and the Jewish Agency itself — to promote and strengthen historic diaspora Jewish communities.

The Jewish Agency made a strong statement of support for the Jewish community of France by convening its Board of Governors meeting in Paris. It’s very next message should not have been the disquieting implication of Sharansky’s words — that the very Jews with whom the Jewish Agency is showing solidarity should all cut and run.

The Stew of Demonization

There may be many reasons — none of them justified — why 17-year-old Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah jumped the fence around the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron and stabbed to death 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel. But even if it is determined why Tarayrah — who was shot and killed by guards after the attack — murdered a child, the case cannot be closed in a larger sense. Not as long as the Palestinian leadership continues to demonize Jews and delegitimize Israel. That drumbeat of hate needs to stop.

A case in point was President Mahmoud Abbas’ June 23 speech to the European Parliament. On the soil where 6 million Jews were murdered after centuries of demonization, Abbas declared, without offering proof, that “certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed.”

Abbas, who was applauded at the time, later retracted the claim. In a statement, his office acknowledged that the assertion was “baseless.” But what seems incomprehensible to us — that anyone would believe that Jews poison wells — apparently seems plausible to the Palestinian leadership and, as a result, to many of the Palestinians they lead. It is reminiscent of the age-old blood libel that Jews bake gentile children’s blood into matzoh. Never true, never proved, but repeated often enough that it was believed. And through the same pattern of demonization the Palestinians have successfully created a wicked image of their enemy — the devious Jew and the Israeli soldier as Nazi — and have peddled their hateful libel to their children.

No matter what it was that drove Nasser Tarayrah to murder a child, one can’t help but express concern that part of what drove him was the stew of demonization cooked up by Palestinian leadership over the past several decades.

We urge Palestinian leadership — whatever their political differences with Israel — to keep their rhetoric focused on their political goals and to established facts. And on this issue, it is important for the United States, Europe and all those who consider themselves sympathetic to the Palestinian cause to push Abbas and his leadership to drop the blood-libel thinking, the lies and the fabrications. Doing otherwise hardens the thinking of even sympathetic Israelis who would like a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, and it provides ammunition to those who say Israel has no one to talk to.

Most importantly, Abbas’ unconscionable rhetoric and its blind acceptance by Palestinians and ignorant Europeans puts lives at stake. While the eradication of hateful speech will not end the bloodshed, it is also clear that so long as such speech exists and is promulgated by leadership, there can be no end to the conflict.

Look to Gematria for Trump Endorsement

Shlomo Kahn (“Strange Bedfellows,” June 16) zogt emes (speaks the truth). Indeed, from a Jewish standpoint, Donald Trump is the authentic biblical candidate for president.

After all, the real estate mogul’s most famous book is the “Art of the Deal.” The  Hebrew word for “deal” (i.e., contractual arrangement) is, of course, brit. The Donald is the “master of the deal,” or ba’al habrit, making him quite literally the “covenantal” candidate.

Moreover, according to the hoary rabbinic art of gematriah, Trump’s name even yields the equivalent numerical value of “messiah, son of David!” For Torah-true Jews, the electoral choice in November is clear. Just sayin’.

Howard County Federation Keeps Moving Forward

ftv_Michelle-OstroffWhen you look around Howard County, we do not seem like a community in need of philanthropy, in need of financial support. In reality, Howard County is no different than any other community in this country. From where I sit every day, I see people who need support … and the Jewish community turns to meet their needs. There are Holocaust survivors, one of whom I met with just this week, asking for our help. He had suffered unimaginable horror, surviving a concentration camp when he was just a boy. He now lives here on a very small fixed income with some help from his children, and all he wants is financial assistance to pay for a Russian TV station. It is our responsibility as a community to be able to help him.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is also our responsibility to support Jewish continuity — the Jewish future. This is not a case for financial need, but for Jewish peoplehood. Our future identity as a people must be nurtured by programs such as Birthright, PJ Library and BBYO. These are not to be regarded as supplemental programs, as nice to have but not needed. I will tell you — as a BBYO parent who has recently listened to 40 teens chanting Havdalah in my basement, 40 teens who are cheerleaders, dancers, soccer, baseball and basketball players,  musicians and Boy Scouts, 40 teens who are also building a strong Jewish identity — we need these programs, for they are our past, our present and our future.

It has been an honor to serve as the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County these last four years, a role I will be leaving on July 29. During this time, we have done so much to grow the awareness of the Federation and serve more community members in meaningful ways, all while continuing to meet our core mission of helping those in need in Howard County, in Israel and around the world. I am especially proud of my incredible colleagues, whose dedication and partnership with the community enables programs such as PJ Library, Red Tent and Jew Year’s Eve to be such successes.

I am confident in the work we have accomplished together, the groundwork we have laid for the future and the continued success the Federation will have in building and enriching Jewish life. I know the Jewish Federation will go from strength to strength!

Michelle Ostroff is the outgoing  executive director of the Jewish  Federation of Howard County.

Absurd Statements

Did Alan Kelman really say “considering homosexuality or transsexuality”? (Your Say letter, “JT Story Troubling,” July 1). Did he really ask, “What if this is a phase and the right psychotherapist working with these young men could turn them around?” What century is he living in? This astounds me. Being gay isn’t a choice or an illness that needs to be fixed. I can’t possibly fathom why you would print such  absurd statements.

Accept All People

After reading the article about the young adults who came to and will continue to come to terms with who they are and how G-d chose to make them, we are all aware that religiously observant Jews have specific challenges if they are not on the binary system of gender and sexuality within our Orthodox communities. My concern is regarding the letter (“JT Story Troubling,” July 1) by Alan Kelman, who also informs us he is a medical doctor.

I agree with Kelman that people are entitled to what they hold or believe to be true. But he talks about being bisexual, homosexual or born with the wrong-assigned physically cued gender as being something that people “choose.” Let me share what I have come to believe,  experience and hold true.

As someone who is Orthodox and who has known several people, both in and out of  the Orthodox community, who were indeed born in the wrong body and identified as a gender other than assigned, who has watched close friends in marriages to people whose sexuality was clearly not a choice and should have never been in such relationships, and who learns and teaches Jewish texts and addresses Halachic topics in my life daily, I assure you that gender and sexual identity is not a matter of choice.

In the Gemarah and elsewhere, we see at least seven  different terms that address gender identity. These categories, along with many others, are considered in terms of various commanded elements of Jewish life and whether inclusion is commanded, exempt or otherwise. It is most important to learn these texts and to understand what our rabbinic teachers from so long ago understood.

But there is also constant discussion in our Talmud and other Jewish texts about  acceptance of those who may not fit into whatever binary systems we set up in our lives. Compassion and concern for the human being and the protection of all life is so important that we can even “push aside” other mitzvot; in fact, we are commanded to do so in so many instances.

Most importantly, we are taught to love and accept all people who are created b’tzelem elokim. So many of us are born with various characteristics that cannot be “turned around,” as Dr. Kelman suggests. We are left-handed, we are women, we have learning differences, we are hearing impaired, sight impaired, physically compromised, born with various physical differences and so on. None of this is a choice. Neither is the sexuality or gender identity that is ingrained in us.

A Show of Courage

Unlike Dr. Alan Kelman, whose July 1 letter “JT Story Troubling” criticized the JT’s “Orlando Shooting Brings UMD Students Out of the Closet” (June 24), I want to commend both the reporting and the courage of the young adults profiled in the article. I was appalled at the condescending and disrespectful tone of Kelman’s letter. So gender identity can be “turned around” by the right psychotherapist? And having a gay or transgender family member constitutes shmutz?  Really? The students profiled in the story are fortunate that they have parents who treat them with more dignity than that.