Ground Zero Mosque From A Jewish Perspective

Sfasi Teeftach
Ground Zero Mosque From A Jewish Perspective
August 27, 2010

So I know everyone is tired of hearing about the Ground Zero Mosque, known as Cordoba House. I also know that nearly everything that can be said about this issue has been said. But I want to say a few brief words on this topic from a perspective not normally presented. Read more

Is It Really True That Study Is More Important Than Action?

Ayin Tove
Is It Really True That Study Is More Important Than Action?
August 27, 2010

The Talmud is often quoted as saying that study is more important than action because it leads to action. (Megillah 40b). However, the Talmud also teaches that where knowledge exceeds deeds, it is like a tree with many branches and few roots – – the tree is easily toppled. But where deeds exceed knowledge, it is like a tree with many roots – – it can withstand the wind and soak up water. (Avot 3:22; also Avot 3:12). Read more

A Recent Returnee To Traditional Judaism Speaks Out: Unrighteous Indignation

Sfasi Teeftach
A Recent Returnee To Traditional Judaism Speaks Out: Unrighteous Indignation
August 26, 2010

I am what one would call a recent returnee to traditional Judaism … a baal teshuva, a ‘newly orthodox’, a ‘born-again Jew,’ or what have you. While becoming more observant has been the most rewarding decision in my life, it has not come without its fair share of challenges—as I’m sure many of you who have incorporated more Yiddishkeit into your lives can relate. I am far from being very learned or very pious (the two often go together in Judaism). However, I wish to share my experiences and hear about yours no matter your affiliation or level of Jewish education. The entire Jewish mashpacha is invited to bring their perspectives to the table. There is a popular saying that proclaims: ‘two Jews, three opinions’ so I’m excited to see how this will turn out. Read more

September 2nd Peace Talks: A Primer

Abigail Cable
September 2nd Peace Talks: A Primer
August 24, 2010

With direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders set to begin on September 2nd, I am cautiously optimistic.  The talks are a welcome step in the right direction, but it’s naive to assume that they will result in a final status solution.  Most Israelis are willing to make concessions for long-standing peace; however, history has repeatedly shown that the Palestinian leadership is not committed to a peaceful two-state solution.  Israelis are justifiably reluctant to give up land without an assurance of real and lasting peace. Read more

Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Jill Aronovitz
Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes
August 23, 2010

A few weeks ago, I visited my good friend Tila – another staff member of Gather The Jews – in Washington, D.C.  We had a lovely Shabbos and had an amazing meal with great friends.  One of the dishes Tila made was roasted sweet potatoes.  I’ve never seen anyone make a simpler dish that tasted to good.  The amount of sweet potatoes used depends on how many people you are cooking for.  The averages is one sweet potato for every two people.

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes
Olive Oil
Salt/Pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash sweet potatoes and cut lengthwise into two halves.
Cut each half into bite size pieces so that they look like half circles.
Place the cut potatoes on a baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil / sprinkle salt and pepper.
Toss to coat.
Cover the tray with tinfoil.
Place in oven and cook for about 35 minutes.

Jill Aronovitz is a staff writer for Gather The Jews.

A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world

Michael Lipin
A Maiden Journey From Israel To The Arab world
August 20, 2010

It is July 2010. After years of flying long distances to Israel and exploring it from top to bottom, I feel a growing urge to satisfy my curiosity about what lies on the “other” side of the Jewish homeland. I decide it is time to make my first foray into an Arab country.

I know exactly where I want to go. On a visit to Israel, I catch a one-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport to the Red Sea port of Eilat for a one-night stay at a motel. At 7:30am, a tour company representative picks me up for a short ride to a crossing on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

At the terminal, I meet a Mexican family of five that will join me for a one-day tour of an ancient city recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We clear an Israeli security checkpoint and begin the walk toward the Jordanian side of the terminal, a distance of about 100 meters.

I find myself on a stretch of road lined by fences that crosses a no-man’s land between the two countries. I look for a border line, but can’t see one.

Jordanian Border Crossing

At the other end of the road, two Jordanian soldiers greet us under a sign reading “Welcome to Jordan” with a portrait of King Abdullah alongside his late father, King Hussein. I feel a familiar buzz that comes with visiting a new country and a growing anticipation about where the tour will take us.

We enter the Jordanian border checkpoint and meet our Jordanian guide and his driver for the three-hour ride to the site. It is 9am.

Our route takes us north through the Arabah rift valley, a lowland situated in between gold-colored mountain ranges in Jordan and Israel. The road, known as the King’s Highway, lies on an ancient path leading from Jordan’s southern port of Aqaba all the way to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

We pass a few Bedouin communities en route and stop briefly at a roadside Bedouin market to get some fresh air. This is a sparsely populated region.

By around noon, we reach the central Jordanian town of Wadi Musa, where we pick up our tickets to a nearby archaeological park containing the ruins of an ancient civilization. Petra.

Temperatures are hot – around 35 degrees Celsius. With a big water bottle in hand and a camera around my neck, I enter the park.

Soon, we encounter structures in the rocks around us, remnants of the capital city established by the Nabataeans in Petra about 2,600 years ago.

The Nabataeans were prosperous traders who built an unconventional community of homes, temples and tombs carved into sandstone mountains. They also skillfully irrigated the dry land with a system of canals and reservoirs.

As we walk further along the path, we find ourselves deep within a gorge known as the Siq, which, at times, is only several meters wide.

After more twists and turns, we finally catch a glimpse of Petra’s most spectacular building, the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, which peeks at us through a small gap in the cliffs.

As a big fan of the 1989 film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” I recognize the Treasury’s façade immediately. The film portrays it as the resting place of the Holy Grail. My quest for the cup of eternal life is cut short, though, when I see the Treasury’s entrance is off limits to visitors and guarded by two Jordanian soldiers.

But the building looks spectacular in the bright sun and I waste no time in putting my camera to work. Our guide tells us the Treasury gets its name from a Bedouin legend that pirates hid their loot within its walls. We hear that the building’s real purpose is unclear, but that just adds to its mystique.

A short walk from the Treasury is another impressive structure known as the Urn Tomb, thought to be the resting place of a Nabataean king. It is situated some distance above the ground and requires a short hike to reach it. Entering the tomb’s chamber, I am struck by the rich natural colors of its stone walls.

After descending from the tomb, I retrace my steps through the Siq to return to the Wadi Musa visitors’ center. I join my five companions for one last photo in the park before we board our van for the ride to the south.

We say goodbye to our Jordanian hosts at the border terminal and walk back to the Israeli side. It is almost 6pm, and the end of a brief but memorable visit to Jordan that leaves me wanting to see much, much more.

Michael Lipin is a staff member of Gather The Jews.

Tevye And The Jewish Spirit

Tevye And The Jewish Spirit
Will Gotkin
August 19, 2010

Sholem Aleichem’s character, Tevye, from his classic work Tevye the Dairyman, is a beloved figure in Jewish literature. This novel was originally written in Yiddish. It has since been translated into numerous languages and adapted into several theatrical productions and films, the most famous of which is the American play, Fiddler on the Roof. Each version of the Aleichem’s story is told slightly differently. As a result Tevye is portrayed in a slightly different light in each adaptation. However, he is universally known as a man staunchly committed to Jewish tradition. Through analyzing this character in Tevye the Dairyman one can see that Tevye is committed to certain Jewish values. From studying Tevye’s actions and words we can learn a few things about Jewish values and see how he embodies some of them.

Like the Jewish people as a nation, Tevye is the epitome of a survivor. Tevye is a poor man who suffers much hardship. His tzaaros includes suffering financial set-backs, being duped by a con-artist, losing one daughter to intermarriage, another daughter to the communist revolution in Russia, and losing his home to an anti-Semitic Czarist decree. However, through all of this he retains his youthful optimism, faith, and sense of humor.

It is noteworthy that throughout the book Tevye has spontaneous talks with G-d. In Judaism, the term for casually conversing with Hashem in personal prayer is called hisbodedus. Private communication with Hashem in addition to the thrice daily prescribed prayer services is a great way to build bitachon (trust) and emunah (faith) in Hashem. As one friend pointed out to me, Tevye’s running dialogue with Hashem actually made Hashem a character in the narrative. When we talk to Hashem from our hearts, we make Him more a part of the daily narrative of our everyday life. Many people feel uncomfortable speaking with Hashem or asking Hashem for things. Many feel they are unworthy, but in reality when we speak to Hashem we help to make ourselves vessels to receive the brachos He wishes to bestow upon each and every one of us. That is why taking a little time each day to praise and thank Hashem and to engage in self reflection and teshuva (repentance) each day is so important. It also leads to inner peace and happiness.

There are more ways that Tevey personifies Jewish values. Tevye is a man of modest means, he is forced to labor during almost all of his waking hours delivering dairy products to wealthy Jews who lead lives of leisure of which he can only dream. However, his fantasy is not to become wealthy so he can show off, but so that he can give his children a better life, devote more time to studying his precious Torah books, and give back to the community in the form of tzedeka.

Tevye also expresses a sense of humor that enables him to get through the toughest of situations. He responds to his troubles with sayings like “Who can know the mind of G-d?” and “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” He has strong emunah and recognizes that everything in his life comes from Hashem – his lows as well as his highs. This unshakable faith in Hashem enables him face life’s challenges with vigor. The stories in the book take place over the course of many years. In the book Tevye ages considerably, but his youthful optimism, sense of humor, and faith in Hashem never wavers. Tevye is not perfect, but neither are we. However, the character of Tevye is a testament to the Jewish spirit. Like Tevye, we should all learn to trust in Hashem and involve Him in all of our daily acts. In the true spirit of Judaism, this will assist us increasing our awareness of Hashem’s involvement in the world.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews.

What It Means To Be The Chosen People

Will Gotkin
What It Means To Be The Chosen People
August 6, 2010

This week’s Parsha instructs the Jewish people: “For you are a holy people to Hashem, your G-d, and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people, from among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:2). Elsewhere in the Torah the Jewish people are likened to “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6). Last week we were reminded that we were chosen not because we were “more numerous than all the peoples,” (in fact we were the fewest of all the peoples), but because of Hashem’s love for us “and because He observes the oath that He swore to” the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov” (Devarim 7:7-8). In Rabbinic literature the Jews are often referred to as “the Chosen people.”  But for what purpose were the Jews chosen?

First, it must be noted that the reference above to the Jewish people as a nation of priests does not refer to Kohanim who are descendents of Aharon and serve in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple). Rather, like the Kohanim who served a priestly function in the Temple, the purpose of every Jew is to bring G-d to the world and the world closer to G-d.[1] It is our job to be what the prophet Yeshya dubbed a “light unto the nations.”

Our tradition explains that everything in this world has a purpose. The same principal applies to each and every individual and group of people. The Jewish people have the unique task of spreading the ideas of ethical monotheism, morality, and knowledge of Hashem throughout the world – in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. It is not an easy task. It is well-known that generations of Jews have suffered and sacrificed for this sacred mission. By studying Torah – Hashem’s guide to living – and applying it to his or her life the Jew elevates the surrounding environment. Each mitzvah performed brings out more of the holiness hidden within our world and makes our world a dwelling place for Hashem. In this way, the Jew has the unique ability to draw down Hashem’s presence into the world as well as elevating it. When the world is finally a place worthy of hosting Hashem’s Divine presence, we will have achieved the goal of Creation. It is the Jewish people’s collective responsibility to usher in an age of peace and intense awareness of Hashem’s presence which we refer to as the era of Moshiach, may it come speedily and in our days.

Originally the mitzvos of the Torah were meant for all peoples. However, our Midrash teaches that the other peoples of the world rejected its lofty teachings and did not wish to live according to its rules. Clearly most of the world was not yet ready for the Torah. Understandably most people were not comfortable with having to handle so much responsibility. It was surely a daunting task to agree to uphold all of Hashem’s sacred laws in a world so driven by immediate, physical gratification. But the Jewish people, whom we are taught were the fewest in number and prestige at the time, answered Hashem’s call to adopt the Torah: “na’eseh v’nishma,” meaning “we will do and then we will hear.” The Jewish people are meant to be a nation of teachers guiding the rest of humanity to a higher, more ethical standard of living. In fact while non-Jews are not obligated to keep the mitzvos of the Torah, they are obliged to observe the Seven Laws of Noach. These laws are concerned with the basic areas of morality that every human being is expected to uphold.  For more information on this: http://www.noahide.org/.

A Jew who feels overwhelmed by the thought of having been assigned such an important mission may ask: “Isn’t it enough for a Jew to simply follow the 7 laws of Noach?” The answer is no, because everything in this world has its own unique and special purpose. For example, in an orchestra each instrument plays a different note. However, when the musicians play in harmony the different notes produce a beautiful symphony. In this way the world can be likened to a song and everything in it must play its respective note in order to create a universal harmony. For this reason, it is the obligation of each and every Jew to fulfill his or her mission by studying Torah and observing the mitzvos.

If the Jewish people abdicate their holy responsibility and choose to disappear into the mass of humanity then there will be no one to guide the nations in perfecting the world. Every Jew must make an effort to live up to his or her potential. A Jew need not be afraid to fail. Hashem only gives us tasks we are able to perform. In fact, every Jew is outfitted with a special soul called a neshama that enables us to carry out our mission.

Our Torah promises great rewards in this world and the next to the Jew that makes this mission the bedrock of his or her life. It even says that when we observe the laws of the Torah – even the seemingly insignificant ones above the understanding of human reason – the nations of the world will increase in their admiration and respect for us. Unlike a contract, a covenant is one that is unconditionally binding. Hashem has never strayed from the covenant He made with our forefathers, even in times when we mistakenly believed He did just that. Therefore it is our duty to uphold our end of the agreement. We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of humanity to do our best in living up to our exalted title of chosen people.

Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews


[1]Dubov, Rabbi Nissan Dovid. Key Jewish F.A.Q.’s