Monday, December 29, 2008

Operation Cast Lead


Each year at Temple Emanu-El, staff members are assigned to facilitate the lighting of our outside menorah on all eight nights. The final night happened to be mine, as I was returning from vacation that day. Right after we finished singing a few songs and lighting the last candles, a videographer for one of our local news stations approached. Though he initially asked about the meaning of Hanukkah, his real question for the nightly news was about operation Cast Lead, Israel’s current military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
The name Cast Lead is a reference to Hanukkah because in preparation for Hanukkah molten hot lead was poured into molds to make dreidels. Of course this is a double entendre in a way because bullets are often manufactured using the same technique.
I think the videographer might have been caught slightly off-guard by my response. Instead of the usual, we pray for an end to the violence, I basically articulated the argument that Israel has the absolute right to defend herself from outside attacks.
When people look at the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they often think of it in terms of David and Goliath, with Israel somehow being Goliath, and her attacks against terrorists as being disproportionate. Yet those who make these comparisons almost invariably fail to mention that this attack was not instigated by Israel, and the last time we in the United States were attacked by a foreign threat, we invaded not one country, but two. People are also quick to forget that Israel peacefully gave up sections of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to establish more peaceful relations with the Palestinians. The result: kidnappings and more violence.
Israel’s goals in this operation are straightforward as indicated in an opinion piece on ynetnews.com by Ron Ben-Yishai http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3645007,00.html Israel wants to establish a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, end the rocket attacks, stop the military escalation, hopefully be able to finally bring Gilad Shalit home, and end the terror attacks near the border. Israel, as it has demonstrated in the past, will attack when provoked. But the only way for the violence to truly end is if Hamas and the Palestinians renounce it as a form of conflict resolution. Until then, sadly, Israel probably has no other recourse that is accepted in the Middle East no matter what the U.N. might say.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sylvester's Resolutions


Jewishly speaking, our New Year occurs on Rosh Hashana. It is during that time especially from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur that we as Jews strive to return to God and our truer selves through the process of teshuvah.

Yet the impulse to make resolutions around this particular time of year is part of our innate nature as well, especially because it is so pervasive in the English speaking world. Even in Israel, where the New Year was months ago, Anglos can often be heard wishing each other a “Happy Sylvester". This tradition is tied to Saint Sylvester, an early pope of the Christian Church, who died around the year 300 on December 31st.

Thus the secular New Year is very much in our consciousness, and when it approaches, we often make promises to ourselves. Some of the most popular include: losing weight, stop smoking, spend less money (especially since the credit card bills are arriving in the mail), or even to finally sit down and write that great American novel.

But by February or March, with the year’s gym membership paid up, we fall off the horse and return to our old patterns.

I have spent a lot of time pondering why we fail at so many of our resolutions, even though they are filled with good intentions. I think there are really three major reasons. The first is because it is natural for us to return to our normal patterns. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to break out of habits, because they are in fact habits. The second is, I think, because we tend to be very ambitious in our resolutions. We don’t resolve to lose three or four pounds, no, we resolve to lose twenty pounds in two months. It is just simply too unrealistic. And the third reason is because we focus on just one area of ourselves. Stopping smoking while not finding something else to fill in the void, just leaves one not only empty but tempted as well.

In response to this, I have come up with a proposal for myself and maybe for you as well. First of all, I think one needs to set reasonable achievable goals. As any psychologist will tell you, success builds upon success. Secondly one needs to set up resolutions that are not only physical in nature, but also spiritual, emotionally satisfying, and intellectual as well. The more we wish to improve, the more opportunities should come our way everyday.

With this in mind, this coming New Year, I have decided rather than be ambitious in scope, to be ambitious in quantity. And being a list person, here they are in no particular order:

1. To be able to run a 10K. After watching ‘Run Fatboy Run,’ I thought, why not me. But running a marathon is not only incredibly arduous, but also extremely ambitious. Maybe I should start with a small distance and see how my body holds up. Plus I wouldn’t mind losing a few of these Rabbi pounds that seem to have come my way.

2. Be more patient.

3. Be more loving and appreciative especially of my wife and daughter.

4. Keep in touch regularly with my friends. Hopefully Facebook will be helpful in this. Besides, it is wonderfully addictive.

5. Learn something new everyday.

6. Become a better guitarist. I know, this means I will actually have to take time to practice.

7. And my personal favorite: engage in a creative endeavor everyday. I find when I have created something new, I just feel better throughout the rest of the day.

Good luck with your resolutions, and I will keep you posted as to how mine are going. And to all, a very Happy Sylvester.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Golf, a form of Jewish Worship?


I am proud to announce that I just recently took up the game of golf. And no I have not played a round with a priest and a minister just yet. Instead I purchased a set of used clubs from our local golf exchange store where the salespeople were friendly and extremely helpful. This was in stark contrast to the giant box golf stores I went to where I found the salespeople to be condescending and quite rude. I won't say which store it was, but it rhymes with "dolfwith."

Since I purchased the clubs I have played a grand total of two rounds over the past six months. But in those two rounds, I discovered something quite intriguing. I have found that my time on the links gave me a greater appreciation for Jewish prayer.

Aside from the beautiful nature of the courses in the Tucson desert, and my constant prayers that my drives would not veer so far to the right that they actually hit houses, I began to see the correlation between prayer and golf.

First of all, I know no one can just show up at a course twice a year and expect to shoot par or better or even necessarily under 100. This is quite similar to Jewish prayer. One term for prayer is avodah, which literally means 'work.' In order to have a successful worship experience like a good round of golf, one really needs to take the time to practice.

Also golf, like prayer is a private experience done in a communal setting. Think about it, it is just you and the ball (insert Chevy Chase saying 'na,na',na'), while gathered with three other people, all hoping to accomplish the same task.

And golf, like prayer, also involves a lot of shmoozing. No wonder why so many Jews play the game.

Of course this metaphor only works so well. Unlike golf, one does not need any additional equipment, though there are times in the Temple building where I think a beverage cart would come in handy.

I'll let you know the next time I head out to hit the links. Hopefully it will be sometime before next Rosh Hashana.