Trump: No Way!

During my recent trip to Israel laying to rest my beloved wife, may she rest in peace, many Israelis, as well as articles in The Jerusalem Post and in the JT, have expressed concern about Donald Trump becoming the next president of the United States.

In essence, I told the Israelis that based on my analysis Trump has zero chance of being elected president for the following reasons:

> Thoughtful Americans will not vote for a crude and arrogant egomaniac who has no experience in domestic, foreign and military affairs.

> His outrageous rhetoric has split the Republican Party. Only 45 percent of Republicans voted for Trump during the primaries.

> He has very little support among women, African-Americans and Hispanics.

> Millions of people who acquired medical coverage as a result of Obamacare will not vote for Trump, who has  promised to get rid of it.

> He preaches “America First,”  but “ Trump First”  is his primary goal. Reportedly, he has filed for bankruptcy four times. This saved his neck, but it cost the government, financial institutions and individuals millions of dollars.

> He advocates to reduce or remove our troops from the Persian Gulf. This would continue President Barack Obama’s policy, which has created a vacuum in the region that has been filled by our — and Israel’s — enemies.

On Closer Inspection

Right diagnosis, wrong patient (“Misleading with Contempt,” May 13). David Samuels, the author of The New York Times piece cited, is a long-standing implacable foe of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action who has even supported, in print, an Israeli air strike against Iran.

As J.J. Goldberg notes in his Forward analysis “What That Ben Rhodes Profile Really Tells Us About the Iran Deal”  (May 12): “The article is long and  engaging and manages to slip almost unnoticed between  direct quotes by Rhodes … and Samuels’s own observations. For example, although it’s been widely reported that Rhodes denies Rouhani is a moderate, he never actually says that. It’s Samuels who puts ‘moderate’ in quotes and makes it a critical factor in ensuring the deal’s public acceptance — and by implication, its legitimacy.”

Samuels has clearly spun his presentation to paint the Obama administration in the worst possible light. The editorial’s outrage at “a level of chutzpah that is downright offensive” has much more to do with Samuels than with Rhodes and qualifies as an apt characterization of the (lack of) integrity of Samuels’ journalistic practice.

Read ‘My Promised Land’

I can’t believe that any Jewish Democrat or Republican could be sympathetic toward the Palestinians for killing Jews in Israel (“Israeli Lives Matter,”  May 13). What are the Jews doing to these poor souls that justify the Palestinians’ murderous actions? I will be glad to argue with any Jew who has that attitude, providing that person has read “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit, because until you read that book, you can’t understand what the real situation is with Jews in Israel

Inclusion of All Jews is Halachic Imperative

We in the religiously observant Jewish community hold onto fundamental teachings and standards of behavior that dictate what should be the ideal application of the system of life that is taught by and exemplified in Halachah, the Jewish laws that instruct and informs our lives daily. However, we often live in the reality that falls far short of this ideal on so many levels.

One area of challenge that has received increased attention in our contemporary Jewish world is that of inclusion and validation of our LGBT members. While we duly note that in the non-Orthodox world, this issue has generally receded as a challenge and that acceptance of all on this spectrum is taken as a given in most settings, this has been more of a challenge in the Orthodox Jewish world.

Enter Eshel, the consortium of Orthodox LGBT Jews and their families.  It states as its mission “to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay,  bisexual and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities.” Annually, LGBT members of our Orthodox world gather together for support, validation and community.  Similarly, the parents of LGBT Jews in our Orthodox world also come together annually for the same sense of sharing and validation.

This year’s parent retreat was held May 13-15 at the Berkshire Hills (N.Y.) Retreat Center. Our keynote speaker was Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, who dialogued with the parents at the retreat to understand what can realistically be expected and how Halachah is quite helpful in distinguishing between “what we are,” that is, how G-d made us, and “what we do,” as well as what Halachah says and how we can and must show the same compassion to each other that the Master of the World shows to all of us daily.

Eshel is clearly at the forefront of this entire issue and is in many ways the go-to resource for teachings, texts, speakers and initiatives to promote  an embrace of our LGBT  community members in the Orthodox Jewish community so they do not feel shut out. To  address this, Eshel has embarked on a Welcoming Shuls Project in which we are interviewing  Orthodox rabbis throughout North America to ascertain where LGBT community members can feel welcome and comfortable. We are continually heartened by the increasing number of our religious leaders who are acknowledging that we have a responsibility,  a chiyuv, to welcome every  Jew into our religious spaces,  ensuring that all are safe and  respected.

Saundra Sterling Epstein is a parent in the Eshel community as well as a  Jewish educator in Philadelphia.

The White House’s New Jewish Liaison

In the Washington area, just about every politically active member of the Jewish community considers himself or herself a Jewish liaison to one or more politicians. In the case of the White House, however, it is the president who chooses the person who will convey the administration’s message to organized Jewry and who will respond to Jewish opinions aimed at the administration. That same person also has the highly sensitive responsibility of deciding who gets invited to the annual White House Chanukah party.

Last week, State Department staffer Chanan Weissman was named as the White House’s associate director of public engagement, the Jewish liaison’s official title. Weissman, 32, is a Baltimore native who attended the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and spent several years as a resident of Greater Washington while studying for his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland and his master’s degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He attends services at Pikesville Jewish Congregation.

Weissman succeeds longtime liaison Matt Nosanchuk, who stepped down from the post in March after nearly three years. Nosanchuck’s tenure was not easy. He weathered the U.S.-led Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in 2013, and struggled to survive the Jewish communal split over the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nosanchuck deserves credit for his endurance, and we wish him well.

Weissman’s tenure won’t be as long. It will be barely eight months before the next president will be sworn in — still, Weissman will get to preside over invitations to the last Obama Chanukah celebrations. Weissman will be Obama’s sixth Jewish  liaison. Seven people held the post in George W. Bush’s eight-year administration.

So what can we expect from Weissman? Given his record of accomplishment, we doubt that he will be a mere placeholder. Obama is still hunting for his legacy. And although reports indicate that Obama has publicly given up hope of achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority before he leaves office, the administration does not appear content to let things lie. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry has given a green light to French-led peace talks over the objection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu, a move that will likely reopen the still-healing communal wounds of the Iran deal and the last round of peace talks. It will fall to Weissman to deal with those very sensitive issues.

Weissman deserves a hearty mazel tov for being tapped by the president. But in extending that wish to him, we emphasize the literal translation of the words: Good luck.

Getting Serious about Zika

In February, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and prevent a major outbreak in the United States. Last week, the Republican-controlled Congress finally responded, and it looks like the Senate and possibly the House of Representatives will soon vote on their own measures.

Even though the figure emerging from the Republican leadership — $1.1 billion — is smaller than the White House request, we are pleased to see Congress finally moving on this issue. But until actual funds are made available for this vital need, the slow-moving legislative branch will be  responsible for what could end up being a public health disaster.

There is no vaccine for Zika, so part of the emergency funds would go toward vaccine research. And while Zika produces mild symptoms in most people, pregnant women infected with the disease are at substantial risk for having children with birth defects. Researchers who reviewed a surge in such cases in Brazil have concluded that Zika causes the birth defect microcephaly and the autoimmune condition Guillain-Barré syndrome, both life threatening.

In its February request, the White House made clear that the requested funding would be used for actual treatment, research, education and prevention. Given the apocalyptic threat of the Zika virus, they are all needed. In fact, since new research shows that the virus likely will not be confined to hot, Southern zones, as was previously thought, it is  becoming all the more clear that steps need to be taken to better track the spread of the virus and to find ways to control the mosquitoes that infect humans with the virus.

Zika has been detected in the Aedes  albopictus mosquito, which travels as far north as New England, and that mosquito is also more common than the Aedes  aegypti species that has been the focus of cases in Latin America. In Puerto Rico, the first case of Zika-related microcephaly case — a fetus — was announced on Friday. The commonwealth reportedly has 925 cases of Zika, including 128 pregnant women. Those numbers are almost certain to rise.

When Congress failed to act earlier in the year, the administration moved $589 million from other projects — including the effort to combat the Ebola virus, whose crisis has passed for now — for  immediate Zika use. More is needed. When Congress finally agrees to fund this necessary public health campaign, we hope it will be at the necessary level, and that it will come in time.

Lives literally depend on it.

True Friends



According to many, the United States, perhaps Israel’s best friend in the world, is justified by virtue of its friendship when it publicly calls the Jewish state to account for its civilian presence and military activities in Judea and Samaria, areas presumed to be a part of a future Palestinian state. Serious reflection, however, will demonstrate that the “friends can tell each other anything” argument is not only flawed, but damages the friendship itself.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, fractures between the United States and Israel stand to potentially deepen if a new round of peace talks, this time led by France, moves forward despite the objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As if on cue, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer spoke of his country’s long friendship with America by referencing the distance that has popped up over the last few years.

“The test of a relationship between two countries is not how strong it is when their two governments see eye-to-eye,” he said at the Israeli Embassy’s Yom Ha’atzmaut party last week in Washington, “but rather how strong it is when they don’t — and the relationship between Israel and America has passed that test with flying colors.”

Dermer was right, but the real test of a friendship during periods of disagreement is how each party behaves during the fight. And the last year has been a study in how friends should not behave.

Contrast that with the impressive showing Sunday night by an organization literally built upon the idea of friendship. At the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Gala of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, close to 600 people — the region’s largest gathering — demonstrated how the strongest acts of a friend are in deeds, not words. The dinner in Tysons Corner revealed that the Northern Virginia Chapter had adopted the Nachal Brigade Headquarters battalion of the IDF. The news came on the heels of executive director Ari Dallas announcing that the Baltimore Chapter was hosting 40 children who had lost a parent in the IDF for a 10-day program at Capital Camps this summer.

“One of the greatest motivators for a soldier,” said Sgt. Eliana Starr, a native of Silver Spring, Md., who serves as a lone soldier in the IDF, “is the knowledge that the community at home supports us.”

If only the FIDF’s open-armed embrace of those putting their lives on the line for America’s steadfast ally in the Middle East was an attitude shared by all decision-makers and political aspirants in Washington! But there’s a message for each of us as well: Those of us who call ourselves friends of the Jewish state, of her military and of her people, sometimes are all too quick to qualify our stance, to modify our support by publicly calling her to task. Well-intentioned dissent among friends is all well and good, but so is knowing when to bite our tongues. When the chips are down, our friends in Israel must never question that we have their backs.

The True Role of Jewish Leadership Parshat Emor

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiThe theme of the priesthood, explored in our portion of Emor, is further amplified in the Haftorah, where we read, “And they [the priests] shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the ritually impure and the ritually pure. And in a controversy they shall stand to judge … and they shall hallow my  Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 44:23-24).

The priests were obviously the religious leaders of the  Israelites. However, there are a number of problematic issues regarding their office, status and function. First, one of the great mysteries in the Torah concern the laws of the Red Heifer, whereby the priest is commanded to conduct a complex ritual so that a person defiled by contact with the dead is returned to a state of purity (Numbers 19). At the same time, the dutiful priest discovers that while facilitating the impure person’s return to purity, he himself has become impure. Is it not strange that the very individual who purifies the impure must himself become impure in the process. Why?

A further difficulty concerning the priesthood emerges from the Torah’s commandment not to give the Levite tribe, which includes all priests, an ancestral share in the land. Their housing problem was solved by transferring 42 cities from the other tribes’ inheritance to the Levites and priests; these cities, as well as six additional “cities of refuge” described in the Torah (Numbers 35) as such, were all islands of protection for anyone who killed accidentally, the fear of revenge by blood relatives of the victim forcing the ‘killer’ to flee for his life. Inside these 48 cities, the accidental killer could receive asylum, starting his life all over again without the fear that one of the victim’s relatives would kill him (Maimonides, Laws of the Murderer, 8, 9).

We have to remember that all sorts of unsavory types fit into the category of the accidental killer; even someone who intended to murder X and ended up murdering Y, or someone who merely intended to maim significantly but not to murder, was called an accidental killer (shogeg) and had a right to seek asylum. Such individuals may not warrant the death penalty in a Jewish Court of Law, but they certainly cannot be counted among the elite of serious Jewry.

Is it not strange that the Torah commands the priestly class, whom I would have imagined to be located as near to the Holy Temple as possible, to have their lives intertwined with such trigger-happy  criminals and lowlifes?

Finally, the Kohen- Priest ascends the bimah to ask the Almighty to bless the Israelites with the words: “Blessed art Thou … who has sanctified us with the Sanctity of Aaron and has commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.” Do we have another instance in our laws of benedictions wherein the individual  bestowing the blessing must do so with love? What does this signify?

In order to begin to understand the true role of Jewish leadership, we must remember that Abraham was not the first person after Noah to devote himself to G-d. Noah’s son, Shem — who according to the Midrash was not only born nine generations before Abraham but lived 40 years after the first patriarch died — really qualified for this pre-eminent position.

So, why does the historic chain of the Jewish people begin with Abraham and not with Shem or even his son, Ever, who preceded Abraham by 10 and seven generations respectively?

This question is raised by the Raavad (1125-1198) on his gloss to Maimonides’ Laws of Idolatry, when the “Great Eagle” describes how even “their (gentile) wise men … also thought that there was no other god but the stars and spheres. But the Creator of the universe was known to none and recognized by none save a few solitary  individuals such as Enosh, Methusaleh, Noah, Shem and Ever. The world moved on in this fashion until that pillar of the world, the patriarch Abraham was born.” Our first patriarch “would travel and cry out and gather the people from city to city and kingdom to kingdom until he arrived in the land of Canaan, where Abraham proclaimed his message, ‘And he called there on the name of the Lord, G-d of the universe’ “ (Genesis 21:33). And Maimonides details how people flocked to Abraham, who would then instruct them about the true path. (Laws of Idolatry, 1, 2).

But where, asks the Raavad, is Shem in all of this? “If Shem and Ever were there (and we know as we’ve pointed out earlier that they were the leading Sages, the gedolim) why didn’t they protest this idolatry?”

The Kesef Mishnah (Rabbi Yosef Caro) offers an answer to this question: “Abraham would call out and announce [to all the peoples] belief in the unity of G-d. Shem and Ever taught the path of G-d (only) to their students. They did not awaken and announce the way Abraham did, and that’s why Abraham’s greatness increased.”

Said simply, Shem and Ever were Torah giants, but they were deeply involved only in the spiritual progress of their students, the intellectual and religious elite.

Abraham on the other hand, understood that the mitzvah v’ahavta et Hashem Elokecha (And you shall love the Lord your G-d) means that one must make G-d, the G-d of righteousness, compassion and peace, beloved by all  humankind; this requires going out and traveling and teaching the masses.

This element of the Abrahamic personality was codified by the Torah into the priesthood. And the Kohen-priest had to love his fellow Jews so much that he would gladly be willing to defile himself so that  another Jew could become pure! This is the secret of the mystery of the Red Heifer.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat.

Stay Holy as a Jew Parshat K’doshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27

If a dictator came to power in the U.S., people were being killed constantly and there were bombings every hour, how would you feel? What would you do?

People are experiencing that right now, in Syria, and other places around the world.

As Jews, we have the responsibility to help when someone is in need and not stand idly by. My parsha, K’doshim, is the Holiness Code. It talks about how to react in certain situations and how to stay holy as a Jew. It mentions “standing by the blood of a neighbor.” It also talks about not placing a stumbling block in front of the blind or more realistically, layering on more to the burden that somebody already is tired of carrying, and about not gossiping and spreading rumors.

Think about Syrian refugees and how many people will refuse to help them. Declining them entry is only making matters worse, ‘putting a stumbling block before the blind.’ So instead of declining refugees take a chance and help them out. Doing something good for someone else makes you feel happy as well as the person being helped. Instead of the person in need and yourself being sad, be courageous and be happy.

My parsha, K’doshim, includes dozens of mitzvot through which a Jew sanctifies him or herself and relates to the holiness of God. These mitzvot include the mitzvah of charity, the rule of equality before the law, keeping Shabbat, and sexual ethics. These apply to modern problems too. For example, you can easily donate to a local charity and make a difference in the life of someone less fortunate. Another example can be related to use of the due process of law, such as Syrian refugees, who are often assumed to be guilty even if they did nothing wrong.

Becoming a bat mitzvah means that I will be considered a Jewish adult before the congregation. It means I have more responsibility to take action in things I believe in.

I decided to help Syrian refugees by collecting things like sports equipment and school supplies and donating them to the International Rescue Committee. This is very important to me because I believe that nobody should suffer as much as these refugees have. People have experienced scarring things that they will never be able to forget, and many of them have been physically harmed or are sick.

The IRC is located in many different countries and helps with many different problems.

There are so many ways to help out, so please try at least one of them. Volunteer at a local IRC office or if you are not comfortable working face to face with refugees donate money to them or you can look online to find out more ways for you to help.

Sammie Wittenstein is a 7th grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Inspiring Women



It’s been 14 years since the unprecedented election of four women to the U.S. Senate led reporters and the public to dub 1992 the Year of the Woman, but here in Baltimore — even without the presence of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket — an equal claim could be made for 2016.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland, the last of its kind among federated Jewish women’s umbrellas in the country, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Some might view the group as coming from another era, a time when synagogue sisterhoods and similar organizations pooled the collective talents of the Mrs. Steven Cohens of the world to build gardens, sponsor projects in Israel and send local students to college.

In that sense, the continued existence of the Federation of Jewish Women is a bit of an anachronism. Except that its members all use their own names — they dropped their husbands’ first names as monikers beginning in 1963 with FJW president E.B. Hirsh — and it continues to address such issues as refugee support, community education, reproductive health, domestic abuse and climate change. Commitment to social justice is always in vogue and never as necessary as it is today. These women get that.

Instead of looking at those who will celebrate May 19 at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation as a throwback to another time, we all should view them as an example of what it means to put such notions as community, dialogue and advocacy into practice. The tragedy is that there aren’t more groups like the Federation of Jewish Women, more organizations dedicated to wholesale empowerment and communal involvement on a grand scale.

“We’ve organized trips to D.C. and Annapolis to meet with our elected officials and testified on committees on behalf of [many] issues,” says FJW’s current president, Sheila Derman. “While we’re not lobbyists per se, we’re really teaching federation women the importance of being involved, in a bipartisan way. That’s the way things happen.”

At a time when apathy increasingly plagues the United States — just less than 55 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2012, while more than 80 percent took part in the Philippines’ presidential election this week — we all should be wishing the Federation of Jewish Women another 100 years. We should also be looking for other organizations to join, ways to educate ourselves, and opportunities to dedicate our time and talents to the community.

The Year of the Woman may have come and gone. With an eye to the sisters, mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers at the FJW, let’s make 2016 the Year of the Involved Citizen.