Henkin Murders: What American Jews Can Do

The heartbreaking murder of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife, Naama, gunned down by Palestinian terrorists in front of their children, will generate tear-filled eulogies and anguished recitations of Psalms throughout the Jewish world. As they should.

But then what?

The depressingly familiar post-terrorist attack ritual is already unfolding before our eyes. The Obama administration issued a formalistic condemnation, adding its standard, amoral appeal: “We urge all sides to maintain calm.” (As if “all sides” are to blame for disrupting the “calm” in the first place.)

The news media will portray the murders as a response to something that some Israeli did or is suspected of doing or might have done, somewhere, at some point. And the United Nations will, of course, remain silent. Palestinian murders of Jews don’t interest anybody in that august building.

American Jews will watch all this in anguish and frustration. There will be some angry news releases, some heartfelt tears and more Psalms. As there should be. (It’s also a particularly personal cause for my own family, which has supported the Henkins’ work at the Torah-study institute Nishmat by endowing the Alisa Flatow Program for International Students in memory of my daughter, who was also a victim of Palestinian terrorism.)

What usually happens next, however, is that the news of the murders retreats from the headlines, the memories of the victims fade from public consciousness, and we all collectively turn the page and shift our attentions elsewhere.

But it shouldn’t be that way. There are concrete actions that American Jews can take in response to the Henkin murders:

First, urge President Barack Obama to put Fatah on the official terror list.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is the military division of Fatah, has publicly boasted that it committed the murders. Fatah is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the parent body of the Palestinian Authority. (Mahmoud Abbas is chairman of all three: Fatah, the PLO and the P.A.) When the State Department first created its official list of “Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations” in 1997, it left Fatah off. It’s time to urge Obama to put it on the list.

Next, support the Meehan Bill for terror victims. The House of Representatives this month overwhelmingly approved legislation to take $43 billion from frozen Iranian assets and give it to American victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism who were awarded that amount by U.S. courts. The Obama administration would like to just give the money to the Iranians. The bill now heads to the Senate. American Jewish organizations should be making it their top lobbying priority.

We can also advocate for action against killers of Americans.

Yes, this is a time for tears and prayers. But it must also be a time for action by American Jews. Let’s contact our Jewish leaders and our elected representatives and make it clear that the time for business as usual is over.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His family has established the Alisa Flatow Program for International Students at Nishmat and dedicated Nishmat’s building in Alisa’s memory.

The Drive to Inspire Kindness in the World

In this day and age, doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. Although the concept of tikkun olam is rooted in Jewish texts and traditions, its importance and application transcend the Jewish community and can be applied to achieve change in the world at large.

Every fall, during the holiday period, I find myself re-reflecting on the meaning behind a message from Rabbi Hillel I have across from my desk at work: ”In a place where there is no humanity,” he wrote, “strive thou to be human.” These words serve as a reminder of my father and the sense of compassion he instilled in me and my three siblings. He taught us that kindness and empathy are the foundations on which humanity will stand or fall. For this reason, and many others, he was my mentor, best friend, hero and also one of the inspirations for KIND — the brand I conceived 12 years ago.

But before he was any of these things, my dad was a 9-year-old boy who had to live through one of the darkest periods in human history. When World War II started, my father was living with his parents and his 14-year-old brother in Kovno, Lithuania. Eventually, he, his brother and my grandfather were sent to Dachau, where they were left to starve in subhuman conditions and forced into slave labor.

But, as evidenced by my father’s experiences there, the human spirit shows itself even amid the worst circumstances. My father never forgot a German soldier who risked serious punishment by throwing a rotten potato at my dad’s feet when others were not watching, providing him the sustenance to endure and offering him a glimpse of humanity in the midst of such darkness.

When we look for it, we see the transformative power of kindness around us, too. Small acts of kindness are happening everywhere, all the time, each one contributing toward shared efforts of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Collectively, these acts of kindness — both big and small — make this world a better, more tolerant place to live.

In creating KIND, I drew on the principles of tikkun olam in a 21st- century environment. Despite early setbacks (of which there were many), I never lost faith in my commitment to developing KIND as a “not-only-for-profit” business that sells healthy and tasty products while also doing its small part to positively impact society. I started my first “not-only-for-profit,” PeaceWorks, in 1994 to foster joint ventures among neighbors striving to coexist in conflict regions. At KIND, we have a different model but a similar intention. Our social mission, known as the KIND Movement, is to spread and inspire kindness in the world, and it has been part of our DNA since 2004.

As I reflect on the past 12 years, I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to honor my dad’s memory. I was inspired by the lessons he left behind to conceive KIND in his honor.

These same lessons have made me increasingly and acutely aware of our shared responsibility, as human beings, to leave this world a better place than we found it.

Daniel Lubetzky is the CEO and founder of KIND Snacks and author of The New York Times best-seller “Do the KIND Thing.” A version of this column first appeared in the The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

‘Pennies for Preemies’ Parshat Noach

This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Noach, and my Haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. As a result of the flooding Israel was experiencing,Isaiah likens Israel to a barren woman whom God is ignoring. Now, Isaiah is not saying literally that Israel is a barren woman, but he is expressing that all things that seem bad can be temporary, because we can always come back to a relationship with God. In verse 7, God says, “For a little while I forsook you, but with vast love I will bring you back.” This means that at the end of hard times, God promises to always step in, save the day and help those who are suffering.

In verse 7, God says, “For a little while I forsook you, but with vast love I will bring you back.”

This reminds me of the stories I hear of my birth. I was born three months prematurely and was placed in the NICU at Sinai Hospital. I was only 2 pounds, 8 ounces; I could not breathe on my own. I was in the NICU for 11 weeks during which I started to be able to breathe on my own and grow and get stronger. While I was there, my family realized there was nothing for my sister or brother to do because they were too young and were spending a lot of time with my parents in the hospital. For my first birthday, my parents and grandparents raised money for a makeover on an old space in the hospital that young visitors could enjoy.  They called it Devin’s Room, and it can be used by all family members visiting the infants in the NICU. In this room, young siblings have activities, like books to read and board games and computers to play. This way, the young brothers and sisters can keep themselves busy while parents and grandparents visit in the NICU.

And now, 13 years later, I am on the bimah and have become a bar mitzvah and also am able to breathe just fine. For my bar mitzvah project I am collecting “Pennies for Preemies” to donate to Devin’s Room at Sinai Hospital. The room needs new toys and games for the families spending time in the NICU, and I would like our community to share our compassion with these families. We can be partners with God in helping people in our community in need and in helping bad situations be only temporary.

Devin Lewis is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School

Carson’s Remark Makes Perfect Sense

I would like to comment on the JT’s Oct. 2 editorial, “Extremism in the Defense of, What?” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” The editorial stated that “Carson’s statement was bigoted and incorrect.”

The editorial neglected to report that Carson also said that Sharia Law [the law of Islam] is incompatible with the Constitution. I would like to add that Sharia Law has given the world terrorist bombings and the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East.

This country was formed by Christians and encouraged all religions, even giving them tax-free status. None of these religions call out for “Death to America.”

Letter Writer Guilty of Ideological Fraud

Although Rabbi Mitch Wohlberg is more than capable of defending himself and his opinions in this or any other venue, the remarks made by Gideon Donnelly (Your Say, Sept. 25) do more than criticize and impugn the rabbi and his shul; they are an exercise in propaganda and disinformation. Donnelly in his diatribe ignores the fact that the recent AIPAC rally was not a synagogue-sponsored event, it merely took place with Beth Tfiloh as the venue in order to accommodate the large gathering that participated, which included Jews of diverse backgrounds, religious affiliations and political persuasions.

He further fails to understand that AIPAC is a nonpartisan organization. It engages in education of American officeholders and policymakers regardless of their political persuasion on topics of interest to their constituent body, which is comprised of a remarkably diverse population of predominantly Jewish Americans, who themselves identify across the political spectrum.

Also notably omitted from Donnelly’s rant was that Beth Tfiloh recently hosted Alan Dershowitz, a thought leader and advocate for Israel whose progressive/liberal credentials are impeccable, regardless of whether they dovetail with Donnelly’s suicidal ideology and agenda. Finally, his objection to the calling out of J Street, a rather extreme liberal lobbying group whose ideas and ideals are consistently at oddswith — if not directly contradictory to — the mainstream of American Jewry, as well as the security interests of Israel, whom it purports to “support,” is emblematic of the far left’s various and sundry tactics at subverting and stifling the First Amendment. There is nothing partisan or political about criticizing an organization that consistently embraces ideas and policies that undermine the morale and, more importantly, the legitimacy and security of Israel and Israelis who stand on the world stage as the sole Middle Eastern Democracy and a bastion of personal rights.

While stupidity is pardonable, egregious willful ignorance is unforgivable. In science, deliberately omitting data that does not agree with one’s premise is fraud; Donnelly is thereby guilty of ideological fraud when he ignores or omits evidence that he finds to be inconvenient.

If he wants to ignore the snarl of the Iranian mountain lion in the night, that is his prerogative, and he is more than welcome to sleep at the mouth of the cave. I myself, with my more prudent brothers and sisters, prefer to keep watch several dozen yards back, armed with torches, spears and appropriate weapons of self-defense. I make no apologies, nor should anyone else have to, for vigorously opposing governmental policies that achieve no ends other than smoothing the feathers and lining the pockets of an avowed arch-enemy of not only Israel and the U.S., but civilized nations worldwide.

Pro-Israel Jews Are Ones Being Denied

The claim by Jewish Voice for Peace, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian Arabs, that it is denied access to free speech is an example of the pot calling the kettle black (“On the Attack,” Oct. 9). Ask anyone on a college campus as to who is being denied access to free speech and certainly it is pro-Israel supporters. Jews on campus have been subjected to continuous harassment; pro-Jewish speakers have either not been invited or their presentations silenced by vociferous and sometimes physical attacks.

The attempts by pro-Palestinian groups to hinder free speech have been all too successful and bring shame both to the colleges and the administrators who allow it to continue.

Putin Steps In

Russia’s entry into the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar Assad’s regime provides a stark contrast to the fuzzy U.S. policy that promised to strengthen moderate rebels fighting Assad as part of an effort to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State group that has taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq. The psychological and practical impact of Russia’s moves are even more powerful at a time when American allies — including Israel, the moderate Sunni Arab states and Ukraine — all appear to have lost faith in the Obama administration’s commitment to them.

Russia’s presence in Syria is much more than a decision to back an ally and help secure its strategic military sites. Its very active presence in the skies and on the ground in Syria is a direct poke at Washington and further undermines U.S. influence in a region where that influence has appeared to be receding. Russian President Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

Four years ago, President Barak Obama called for Assad to step down, then did little to hasten the day. A $500 million U.S. plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels was recently deemed a complete failure. What we have seen in Syria and in Ukraine is American words — threats and promises — without actions. But words alone cannot do the job on the world stage. A leader must back up his rhetoric with tangible actions, up to and including the use of force, if necessary. Obama either disagrees with that view or didn’t have the confidence to follow it.

For all of his faults — and he is by no means a leader we as Americans should be looking up to — Putin’s actions make clear that he understands this truth about power politics and that he is prepared to take advantage of opportunities wherever he can. A year ago it was Ukraine, today it is Syria.

Which begs the question: Where will it be tomorrow? While Putin may find himself in a quagmire in Syria — quagmire being the reason Obama has likely been cautious about committing American troops there — his aggressive moves show the inherent danger in the United States being perceived as weak. Russia’s moves in Syria have literally backed Obama into a corner. He must now find a way to increase the perception of U.S. power or risk further destabilization in the Middle East.

Avoiding an Intifada

Masked Palestinian girls take a break while throwing stones during a clash with the Israeli army north of Ramallah. (Mohammad Alhaj/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom)

Masked Palestinian girls take a break while throwing stones during a clash with the Israeli army north of Ramallah. (Mohammad Alhaj/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom)

Calming the cycle of violence that has taken Israeli and Palestinian lives and set the two communities closer than ever to the abyss since the last intifada will require a level of leadership that few believe either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or President Mahmoud Abbas possesses. While both men have called for calm, each has put the blame entirely on the other party — in a clear display of different messages for different constituencies.

But regardless of the motivations, finger pointing and name calling are not tactics that will defuse a situation that appears to be spiraling out of control.

“Is this the Third Intifada?” many have wondered — meaning, is this another top-down Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation? Netanyahu wasn’t ready to go that far. He has said Israel is facing a “wave of terror” that is mostly unorganized. Analysts also noted that Abbas has directed the Palestinian Authority police to keep working with Israelis on security.

Still, the Hamas terror group has called for an intifada in the West Bank.

Civilians on both sides must be protected from violence. And that requires the judicious application of security measures coupled with a lowering of rhetoric from all corners, particularly from the Palestinian leader, who continually blames, without evidence, Jewish bogeymen seeking to imperil a Muslim presence on the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount-related accusations appear to be the immediate cause of the surge in Palestinian violence that has claimed several Israeli lives. And Abbas appears to know exactly what he is doing when making those kinds of accusations in an atmosphere that has been
looking for a spark since the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement in last year’s U.S.-backed peace negotiations.

So, what is the answer? While many voices are proposing a return to some form of talks, most people in the region and beyond rightfully view a return to the old ways of an overzealous State Department seeking a deal at any costs as a fool’s errand. Particularly since neither Netanyahu nor Abbas appears to have the political backing — or even the desire — to reach a settlement, that assessment seems right. But with no hope of a settlement and the interactions that flow from such efforts, what will bring the calm we all pray for?

The burden here clearly shifts to leadership. While this may not be a Third Intifada, it could become one if cooler heads do not prevail.

Reality of Abuse

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

With so much craziness and evil in the world outside, it’s easy for many of us to lull ourselves into thinking that the community we live in is perfect.

Such has been the thinking in past generations — and probably of some in the current day and age — who comforted themselves with the hope masquerading as knowledge that we Jews were different. Alcoholism and drug addiction? Non-Jewish problems, they’d say. Domestic violence? Nonexistent.

Even at the time, such notions were ludicrous, of course, but many don’t realize that communal efforts to combat the afflictions of substance abuse and domestic violence are relatively modern phenomena. In the ’90s — the ’90s! — a Jewish acknowledgement of spousal and sexual abuse, for instance, was far from common, let alone the acknowledgement that Jewish victims deserved a response sensitive to their very real Jewish needs.

In Baltimore, that all changed 20 years ago with the arrival of CHANA.

As you’ll read in this week’s cover story, the organization, which is supported by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has its roots in the discovery by Brenda Brown Rever that safe havens for Jewish women were lacking. At the time a board member of The House of Ruth, Rever noticed a trend of Jewish women calling the shelter’s helpline but not availing themselves of its shelter services. Some inquired about kosher facilities, but those didn’t even exist.

But with a mission to provide a Jewish response to trauma for primarily Jewish victims of abuse, CHANA does so much more than provide shelter to women seeking safety. Its case workers serve segments of the community dealing with sexual abuse and counsel male victims of domestic violence; the organization even helps non-Jews who seek out its help. The assistance is comprehensive, comprising legal help, psychological treatment, therapeutic activities and shelter.

A relatively new effort is also taking aim at abuse of senior citizens and the homebound elderly, with a senior-friendly safe house set to open in 2016.

“As we expand our definition of what abuse is,” says director Nancy Aiken, “we have to expand our response.”

For all the good the organization does, it’s difficult to accept that its work is so revolutionary. And while few hold the dangerous beliefs of the past that led so many to cower in the shadows, the need for an organization such as CHANA is a sobering reminder of how imperfect we truly are.

Herein lies the duality we face in caring for the abused in our midst. While it’s tempting to project our hope for Jewish perfection onto a reality that is anything but, the very fact that our global Jewish community, like any other in the world, is made up of human beings means that we too must deal with the horror human beings are all too capable to inflict on others. Acknowledging that reality is the first step to overcoming and ultimately transforming it.

But aiding victims does not happen in a vacuum, a fact that underlies CHANA’s mission to also educate the wider community about the signs of abuse and what can be done to minimize its occurrence.

CHANA’s staff speak in terms of tangible progress being made. Because of their efforts, maybe the conversation 20 years from now will not be about abuse, but rather healing.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Angelic Advice’ Parshat Bereshis

It is a lesson that I was first taught as a schoolchild, just beginning to study Torah. But, like so many other important lessons in life, I ignored it back then, only to finally learn it as an adult. But then, I learned it the hard way.

The lesson was a simple one: Don’t make important decisions without consulting others.

Self-confidence is a good thing, and it is typical of younger people. Sometimes, however, too much self-confidence can lead us astray so that we make choices in life without first discussing them with someone older or wiser, or even just with someone whose perspective is different from our own.

Admittedly, when I was a much younger man, my self-confidence often took the form of, “No one else can tell me what to do.” It was not necessarily a healthy self-confidence but instead reflected my need to assert my autonomy and independence.

Luckily, the mistakes I made by not consulting others were never disastrous. They required correction, and correction was fortunately possible. Too often, however, the failure to consult others results in mistakes that are irreversible and occasionally even tragic.

My initial exposure to this lesson was in the fourth grade. We were studying one of the earliest verses in the entire Bible, which appears in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bereshis (Genesis 1:1-6:8). The verse is a deceptively simple one. It follows a passage that describes how the Almighty, having created the entire animal world, concluded that “this was good.” He then says, “Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

Note that the Lord uses the first person plural as He contemplates creating mankind: “Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.” Shouldn’t He have used the first-person singular? Should not verse 26 have read, “Let Me make Man in My image, after My likeness”? Whom else can the Almighty conceivably be addressing besides Himself? Dare we conclude that the One God had a partner, perhaps even several partners, in creating the human race?

These were the questions that our fourth-grade teacher, the late Theodore “Teddy” Silbermintz, who also masterfully conducted our school choir, asked us to consider. I must confess that, although we understood these questions, we were much too young to be troubled by them. But others in the course of Jewish history were profoundly
troubled by these questions.

For example, the Talmud (Megillah 9a) records that in ancient times, King Ptolemy gathered 72 Jewish elders, confined each of them to separate rooms and ordered them to translate the entire “Torah of your master Moses.” Unanimously, they carefully substituted the singular pronoun “I” for the plural pronoun “us.” They took the liberty of rendering our verse thus: “I will make man in My image, after My likeness.” By altering the original text, they assured that King Ptolemy could never again contend that two or more gods created the world. They deprived him of the ability of finding support in our Torah for his polytheistic theology.

In another Talmudic passage (Sanhedrin 38b), we learn that the Sadducees, who, unlike Ptolemy, were thoroughly familiar with the accurate original text, did indeed conclude that more than one god created man. The fact is that in verse 27, the Torah “self-corrects” and reverts to the singular pronoun to preclude misinterpretations of our verse 26. But the Sadducess were apparently unimpressed by that “self-correction.”

But the question posed by the use of the plural pronoun in verse 6 remains. To answer it, our dear teacher excitedly paraphrased Rashi’s answer to us, in a language we could understand and in words that can I still recall almost verbatim:

“Despite the risk that the plural form would be misinterpreted by nonbelievers, Scripture did not refrain from sharing some practical common sense and prescribing a dose of humility. The Supreme Being consulted with His heavenly court before embarking upon an act as
crucial as the creation of mankind. We must learn that no matter how lofty is one’s position in life, he must consult with others, even ‘lesser’ others. Don’t be blinded by your ego.
Realize that others have much to offer to you as you go about making your life’s decisions. Their light may illuminate your darkness.”

As I continued to pursue Talmud study over the many decades since that fourth-grade “teachable moment,” I discovered numerous other passages conveying the identical message.

One of them is a teaching of Rabbi Hanina bar Papa (Bava Batra 75b), a teaching with prophetic implications for an urgent contemporary issue:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, sought to confine the area of Jerusalem, as it is written: “‘Where are you going?’ I asked. ‘To measure Jerusalem,’ he replied. ‘To see how long and how wide it is to be.’ But then the ministering angels objected: ‘Master of the Universe, you created so many cities in Your world for which You set limits to neither their length nor their breadth. Yet for Jerusalem, which contains Your Name, where Your Holy Temple is located, and in which the righteous are to be found, for her You set limits?’ The Lord immediately
relented: ‘Run to that young man and tell him: Jerusalem shall be peopled as a city without walls, so many shall be the men and cattle it contains’” (Zechariah 2:6-8).

One cannot help but wonder. The Lord of the Universe is the creator of heaven and earth. He is aware of all secrets and knows the future until the end of time. Does He require the input of His ministering angels to sensitize Him to Jerusalem’s honor?

Apparently, what we are to learn from this puzzling prophetic passage is the exact same lesson as Rashi teaches us in verse 26 of this week’s Torah portion. The Almighty, as it were, goes out of His way to model for us the essential importance of listening to others and not “going it alone” when decisions must be made.

The great 19th-century ethicist Rabbi Israel Salanter insists that one who neglects to consult others while making important decisions is not qualified to be a leader of a Jewish community. This is what he writes in one of his letters:

“He who stands firm and stubbornly maintains his original position without seeking the advice of others is prohibited from becoming a rabbi or rabbinical judge. If he clings to his original position and does not consider the possibility that he is in error, he is doubly negligent; not only has he stubbornly adhered to error and faulty reasoning, but he has mislead those who follow his teachings and rulings.”

There is no better way to conclude this week’s message than by quoting King Solomon, that wisest of men:

“A wise man is strength;

A knowledgeable man exerts power;

For by stratagems you wage war,

And victory comes with many advisers” (Proverbs 24:5-6).