Friday, January 22, 2010

Israel Helping Haiti Part 2

I am sure that you join me in praying for the people of Haiti.  The destruction and continued suffering are difficult to comprehend.  In the midst of this there is a bright spot for the Jewish people.  Days after the earthquake, Israel rushed aid to Haiti.  As of January 20th, 383 people have been treated in the IDF's field hospital, among them dozens of children, 140 life-saving operations have been performed, 60 patients are currently hospitalized and 7 babies have been born in the hospital.  View the CNN video now making the rounds among those of us who feel that we can now really hold our Jewish heads high.  Caring for the world at large seems to feed that part of our being more than just caring for ourselves.  For more details about Israel's efforts and many more videos visit the Israeli government websiteThen again today's Times reports that Israelis feel great ambivalence about the aid efforts.  I for one am still hounded by the innumerable articles, sermons and discussions about God's role in the disaster.  I fail to understand the tendency to blame the Haitians for this earthquake or the need to defend God before the indifference of nature.  Read this week's New Yorker for more on this theme.  Let's be honest about nature.  Let's be honest about faith.  And so I conclude with the words of the Psalmist: "God is our refuge and stronghold, a help in trouble, very near.  Therefore we are not afraid though the earth reels..."

Wearing a Religious Device

If you have not read about this you have to watch the following YouTube video about how a Jewish teenager's wearing of tefillin forced a US Airways flight to make an emergency landing.  I am sure that this is not what God intended when saying, "Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children..." (Deuteronomy 11)  The police officer's characterization of tefillin as a religious device is most unusual.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Israel Helping Haiti

I wish the American media covered stories such as these.  It is a brief video of the IDF unit helping Haiti's earthquake victims.  The Israeli soldiers delivered a baby who is now named, "Israel."

Responding to Haiti

I respond to the ongoing tragedy in Haiti first with prayer and then with action.
And so I begin with a prayer written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  It was first composed in response to the 2004 Tsunami:  "We join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world, for the victims of the earthquake which this week has brought destruction and disaster to many lives.  Almighty God, we pray You send healing to the injured, comfort to the bereaved, and news to those who sit and wait. May You be with those who even now are engaged in the work of rescue. May You send Your strength to those who are striving to heal the injured, give shelter to the homeless, and bring food and water to those in need. May You bless the work of their hands, and may they merit to save lives.  Almighty God, we recognize how small we are, and how powerless in the face of nature when its full power is unleashed. Therefore, open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity, so that our words may bring comfort and our gifts bring aid. Be with us now and with all humanity as we strive to mend what has been injured and rebuild what has been destroyed.  Ken Yehi Ratzon, ve-nomar Amen.  May it be Your will, and let us say Amen."
Second, I offer this picture of the State of Israel's quick humanitarian response.  The Israel Defense Forces’ emergency aid team arrived in Haiti on January 15.  It consists of a medical unit as well as search and rescue teams. The mission has established a major field hospital adjacent to Port-au-Prince’s soccer stadium. At present this is one of the largest medical facilities currently operating in Haiti with the capacity to treat up to 500 patients per day.  To view more pictures follow this link.

And finally I urge you to join me in giving tzedakah in order to support the ongoing efforts of the many aid organizations now working in Haiti. I am giving to the American Jewish World Service.  This is always my top pick in such situations. To read more of the AJWS's efforts follow this link.  May healing soon come to the nation and people of Haiti!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Follow Up

Here are two recent articles related to my post Stopping Terror.
In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens writes: "One of life's paradoxes is that we are as often undone by our virtues as by our vices. And so it is with civilizations, ours not least."  I disagree that torture (that is my view of waterboarding) should ever be permitted.  I agree that we should stop worrying about political correctness.  Terrorism is a danger coming from the Muslim world.
In today's New York Times, Tom Friedman writes: "Finding people with the courage to confront that breakdown — the one identified by the father, the one that lures young Muslims away from the mainstream into a willingness to commit suicide against innocent civilians as part of some jihadist power fantasy — is what matters most right now."  Until the Muslim world loudly cries: these terrorists are our enemies as well, this is not Islam; we have no choice but to add their countries' citizens to the list requiring extra searches.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pope Pius XII

A great deal has been written in the Jewish press about the march to canonizing Pope Pius XII as a saint.  In Jewish eyes the man who served as pope during the Holocaust remains a controversial figure.  Did he do enough to save Jews from the Nazi onslaught?  Did he do enough to save Europe from the evils of the Nazi regime?  It seems clear to me that he did not.  To be honest there were few in power who did enough.  The United States failed to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz arguing that it would divert valuable resources from the war effort.  We turned away the SS St Louis from our American shores, sending hundreds back to Germany and most to death.  Some historians have argued that this act emboldened Hitler (y"s) in his march to the final solution.  Through the lens of historical hindsight few did enough.  There were of course a few extraordinary individuals.  These righteous gentiles were almost always simple, pious folk and not those who occupied positions of leadership or power.  Read Yad VaShem's account of the righteous gentiles here.  I wish the Pope did more. I also wish the Catholic Church would open its archives so we can learn more of the history.  The question about Pope Pius becoming a saint is different.  I believe every human being is fallible.  This is part of what makes me a Jew.  This is what I learn from reading the Bible.  Moses is a great leader but given to anger.  David is an extraordinary warrior and poet but given to, shall we say, sexual indiscretions and even murder.  I would not call these leaders saints.  I would not call anyone a saint.  I believe that people are given to errors.  I believe in the infallibility of no one.  I have no saints.  I have only one God.  Whether Catholics call Pope Pius a saint is in their hands.  The issue is more a matter of Catholic belief than Jewish history.  Jewish belief is clear on this point.  History has yet to rule on the matter.  For more information about Pope Pius's wartime record read this article.  

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stopping Terror

I just returned from a short trip to visit my parents in St. Louis.  I traveled through the airports with relative ease despite the increased security following the attempted terror attack in Detroit.  My bag was searched by hand at Laguardia and my tubes of shaving cream and toothpaste were confiscated.  (I always forget that four ounce rule.)  Herein lies the problem with our current system.  We make new regulations and restrictions in response to each thwarted (thank God!) attack.  We have to take off our shoes.  We can't carry on toothpaste.  But our approach is backwards.  We are so wrapped up in individual rights and so worried about trampling on them that we are left to regulating objects and things.  Unfortunately our enemies are individuals not things.  Terrorism is an instrument used by hate filled individuals.  People whose hearts are so steeped in hate will find whatever things they can place their hands on to cause damage, destruction, fear and terror.  So we need to worry more about the individuals who would cause us harm.  We need to call such individuals our enemies.  We need to identify them before they board a plane.  One clear and decisive rule would be this.  If a father alerts authorities about his son's increasing radical views then he should be placed on an immediate no-fly list.  If your dad turns you in then you are really headed for trouble.  I can't imagine doing something so terrible that  my dad would call the police first.  But this very bewilderment explains why I went to St. Louis in the first place.  And one final point.  Regulating things creates the illusion that we can fashion a system that is 100% effective.  All you have to do is design a better machine to detect my potentially harmful five ounce tube of  toothpaste.  (See David Brook's recent column for more about this point.)  This illusion keeps us from the more important task of identifying hate-filled individuals before they can cause us harm.  Unfortunately you can never keep out all of our enemies.  Terrorism will be a part of our landscape for a long time to come.  But you can prevent it from creeping into your hearts.  You can prevent it from sowing hate.  That, and that alone, is 100% in our hands.