Friday, July 27, 2007

Mamalashen

In honor of Chai bas Yehudis, who taught me my mamalashen.

Last year I wrote about the Shema as a meditation.

This year, a story for your table:

During World War Two, countless Jewish parents gave their precious children to Christian neighbors and orphanages in the hope that the latter would provide safe havens for them. The parents expected that they, or their relatives, would take these children back if they survived the war. The few parents who did not perish in the Holocaust, and were able to reclaim their children, often faced another horror. While the parents had summoned the strength to survive the slave labor and death camps, or had hidden out for years, those who took their children were busy teaching them the ways of other religions.

[Additionally,] many Jewish children who were taken in by orphanages, convents and the like, had no parents or close relatives left after the Holocaust. When rabbis or distant relatives finally tracked down many of these children, the priests and nuns who had been their caretakers insisted that no children from Jewish homes were in their institutions. Thus, countless Jewish children were not only stripped of their entire families, they were also stripped of their souls.

In May, 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver from the United States and Dayan Grunfeld from England were sent as chaplains to liberate some of the death camps. While there, they were told that many Jewish children had been placed in a monastery in Alsace-Lorraine. The rabbis went there to reclaim them.

When they approached the priest in charge, they asked that the Jewish children be released into the rabbis' care. "I'm sorry," the priest responded, "but there is no way of knowing which children here came from Jewish families. You must have documentation if you wish me to do what you ask."

Of course, the kind of documentation that the priest wanted was unobtainable at the end of the war. The rabbis asked to see the list of names of children who were in the monastery. As the rabbis read the list, they pointed to those that belonged to Jewish children.

"I'm sorry," the priest insisted, "but the names that you pointed to could be either Jewish or Gentile. Miller is a German name, and Markovich is a Russian name, and Swersky is a Polis name. You can't prove that these are Jewish children. If you can't prove which children are Jewish, and do it very quickly, you will have to leave."

One of the rabbis had a brilliant idea. "We'd like to come back again this evening when you are putting the children to sleep."

The priest reluctantly agreed.

That evening the rabbis came to the dormitory, where row upon row of little beds were arranged. The children, many of whom had been in the monastery since the war started in 1939, were going to sleep. The rabbis walked through the aisles of beds, calling out, "Shema Yisrael - Hear, Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!" One by one, children burst into tears and shrieked, "Mommy!" "Maman!" "Momma!" "Mamushka!" in each of their mamalashens.

The priest had succeeded in teaching these precious Jewish souls about the Trinity, the New Testament, and the Christian savior. Each child knew how to say Mass. But the priest did not succeed in erasing these children's memories of their Jewish mothers now murdered - putting them to bed every night with the Shema on their lips.

(thanks to Miriam Swerdlov for the story)

(From TorahTots)

Boy:

Baby:

Hispanic:

Ethiopian:

Rebbeh:

Matisyahu:

Polish Grunge:

Land of Israel (weird ending):

Father-son (sign):



Shabbat Shalom.


Speaking schedule:

August 7-8 – St. Louis (CAJE):
"You Can Teach the Talmud!"
"Combating Missionaries: The 'Why be Jewish?' Defense"
"Two Plus Five: How to Teach Spirituality"
August 15-16 – Los Angeles (Helkeinu)

(For details, send an email)


Yiddish of the week:
mamalashen — mother tongue

Yiddish review - how many do you know?
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. - I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. – ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. – ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. - ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes - The Four Questions
Oy vey! - Good grief!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanos — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — how wonderful (sarcastic)
Azoy gait es! — That’s how it goes!
Shabbos — Cessation; stopping; day of stopping; weekly sabbatical experience
"Gut Shabbos" — "Enjoy your weekly sabbatical experience"
Neshoma — Soul
meshugass — insanity
meshuganeh — insane
kyna hara — no evil eye
shvitz — sweat
shanda — shame
Lechayim! — Cheers!
Pinteleh Yid — the Jewish feeling in the heart of every Jew
Zreezus — zeal
Mkohm — place (pl. mkohmas)

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Bunk History

In memory of Hayem Elazer Roullah ben Shalom (Babazadeh) whose yarzeit was this week.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

2,500 years ago, the awesome army of Baghdad (then called Babylon) pacified central Israel and hammered Jerusalem until the walls came down, the city was in ruins and the Temple burned to the ground. The cruelty and carnage was unbelievable. Most of the Jews who survived the war were taken in a death march down to Iraq (what it’s called today).

Those who survived the trek were welcomed by a decade-old Jewish community. This influx of immigrants created a Jewish presence along the Euphrates that not only survived but flourished for about 1,000 years, producing many of the greatest scholars in Jewish history and one of our most precious intellectual heirlooms, the Babylonian Talmud.

Even after the Islamification of Iraq, Jewish life continued there for centuries, and like everywhere Jews have lived, they contributed mightily to the prosperity of the society.

Eventually, like nearly everywhere Jews have lived, we became non-grata.

It would be interesting to tell a history of the Jewish people based on places we’ve gone and how those places have affected all of Jewry. For example:

Babylon – Talmud (among other great works)
France – Rashi and the Tosofists
Poland – Hasidism
USA - ???

Should we also mention material contributions?

The USA and Persia (Iran) are two countries where Jews have never been officially kicked out. Uncomfortable at times, but prosperous. I am presently in Los Angeles, where I have met many Persian Jews. They tell me that they are much more comfortable here! But one consequence of their comfort is that the long-term continuity of their community is no longer taken for granted.

Now, remember my friend Shlomo Shulman who is the only Jewish chaplain serving in Iraq? He was recently promoted to Captain. Here is a website with some moving photos of Jewish life in Iraq today – I encourage you to scan through some of these photos.
BAGHDAD MINYAN



25 centuries after Nebuchadnezzar, here are Jews who have returned to Babylon to try to help make the country free and peaceful again.

As my grandmother would have said, How do you like that?

Question for your table: What are three mkomas you’ve been that had the biggest impact on your life?

Shabbat Shalom.


PS – here is a meditational reading for Monday night.


Speaking schedule:

July 24 – Tacoma, Wash.
August 7-8 – St. Louis (CAJE):
"You Can Teach the Talmud!"
"Combating Missionaries: The 'Why be Jewish?' Defense"
"Two Plus Five: How to Teach Spirituality"

(For details, send an email)


Yiddish of the week:
Mkohm — place (pl. mkohmas)

Yiddish review - how many do you know?
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. - I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. – ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. – ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. - ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes - The Four Questions
Oy vey! - Good grief!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanos — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — how wonderful (sarcastic)
Azoy gait es! — That’s how it goes!
Shabbos — Cessation; stopping; day of stopping; weekly sabbatical experience
"Gut Shabbos" — "Enjoy your weekly sabbatical experience"
Neshoma — Soul
meshugass — insanity
meshuganeh — insane
kyna hara — no evil eye
shvitz — sweat
shanda — shame
Lechayim! — Cheers!
Pinteleh Yid — the Jewish feeling in the heart of every Jew
Zreezus — zeal

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Runs in the Family

In memory of Dovid ben Eliezer.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.


Does anybody remember Jim Fixx? He found himself at age 35 an overweight chain smoker and decided to do something about it. By age 45 he had run the Boston marathon and written one of the best-selling fitness books of all time.

Could this be you?

Why not?

What is it about exercise?

It was eerie when Fixx died of a heart attack. Running is supposed to make your heart stronger. (And maybe it did, as his own father’s heart attack came when he was seventeen years younger.)

When my father passed away at age 65, part of the shock for many people was his fitness. He was a little bit zealous about health, challenging others to follow in his footsteps.

One morning when I was visiting from Israel he woke me up at six to run downtown. I didn’t even have time to put on tefillin, as I had started to do. “Honor your father” is in the Top Ten, right? It was a grueling trot through back alleys, down railroad tracks, over and under bridges, taking every chance to stay off the beaten path.

My dad also knew that the way to get someone to overcome their laziness and act with zreezus is to give them a challenge. His favorite was, "How can you run across seven bridges downtown without repeating? His running-mates at the Y created an annual “Denny’s Seven Bridges Run” fundraiser, in his memory (this year it will be on August 3 in the downtown Y).

But the reverberations from the death of a righteous person come from his impact. Jim Fixx and my father had that in common too.


Hamming on camera for the grandkids


I don’t know why I always associate them with each other. Maybe because of Fixx’s famous legs on the cover of his book look a lot like my dad’s did. Maybe because they were born and died exactly 6 days apart on the Hebrew calendar (albeit in different years).

So if you’re like me and not getting enough CV exercise, what’s your excuse?

Try this at your table: What are the most common reasons for people not doing what they know and agree that they should be doing?

I’m of the opinion that health is only half the benefit of exercise – the other benefit is simply the exercise it gives to your free will. After all, it is so hard to get off that couch! But it gets a little easier every time...

The other pillar of longevity, of course, is oatmeal. Needless to say?

So let’s take it out with yet another excellent youtube film, that I know my dad and Jim Fixx would have loved:



Shabbat Shalom.

PS – no, Fixx was not Jewish, to my knowledge, but the lead singer of the Fixx is.

Upcoming speaking schedule:

July 18 – Los Angeles (Helkeinu, 310-785-0440)
August 7-8 – St. Louis (CAJE):
"You Can Teach the Talmud!"
"Combating Missionaries: The 'Why be Jewish?' Defense"
"Two Plus Five: How to Teach Spirituality"

(For details, send an email)


Yiddish of the week:
Zreezus — zeal

Yiddish review - how many do you know?
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. - I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. – ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. – ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. - ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes - The Four Questions
Oy vey! - Good grief!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanos — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — how wonderful (sarcastic)
Azoy gait es! — That’s how it goes!
Shabbos — Cessation; stopping; day of stopping; weekly sabbatical experience
"Gut Shabbos" — "Enjoy your weekly sabbatical experience"
Neshoma — Soul
meshugass — insanity
meshuganeh — insane
kyna hara — no evil eye
shvitz — sweat
shanda — shame
Lechayim! — Cheers!
Pinteleh Yid — the Jewish feeling in the heart of every Jew

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pinteleh Pearl

In memory of my father, Dovid ben Eliezer, whose yartzeit is next week.

Some people tell that they remember my father as a "Champion of Justice". He fought the proverbial good fight, always taking a stand on principle and never compromising on integrity. As a trial attorney, he could see both sides of an issue, yet he also believed in the concept of right and wrong.

Try this at your table: Who believes in the concept of right and wrong? Is there anything that can be called "absolutely right" or "absolutely wrong"?

What about saving a life - is that absolutely right? What if it's Hitler's life?

What about taking a life - is that absolutely wrong? Again, what if it's Hitler?

I haven't seen the film A Mighty Heart, and after reading the critiques by Danny Pearl's father and Rabbi Benjamin Blech, I have no desire to (by the way, the reader comments over there are quite interesting).

The substance of their critiques is that the film projects a moral equivalence between the men who butchered Pearl and the military and law-enforcement men and women who are trying to stop people like those killers.

If two people perpetuate violence, are they morally equivalent?

If so, then what is the meaning of justice?

If not, then how do you determine who is right? By whoever wins?

Finally, is the "bad guy" also a victim? Or is he simply a bad guy?

Youssef Ibrahim, writing in the New York Post, did not love the film. He comments:

My strongest reservation in "A Mighty Heart" is the absurd political correctness that permeates the film; its writers, producers, and directors do not even mention fanatical Islam to avoid offering offense.

The real story of Daniel Pearl offered a sinister, flavorful, meaty set of scenarios — and core values — that ought to be examined by the mightiest, most skilled, and best movie industry on Earth. Instead, they fashioned it into an exercise in sterility.


Compare and contrast Pearl's final words with those of his executioner.

D. Pearl
: "I am a Jew. My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew."
K. S. Mohammed: "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan."

Morally equivalent?

One last question:

Who was Danny Pearl?

Evidently, not the character in the movie.

When we heard those words, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish" I wonder what you were thinking. Was this one of those meaningless scripted statements, read under duress? Or was Daniel fully in control at that last moment of who he was, fully in touch with his own pinteleh yid?



Shabbat Shalom.


Yiddish of the week:
Pinteleh Yid — the Jewish feeling in the heart of every Jew

Yiddish review - how many do you know?
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. - I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. – ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. – ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. - ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes - The Four Questions
Oy vey! - Good grief!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanos — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — how wonderful (sarcastic)
Azoy gait es! — That’s how it goes!
Shabbos — Cessation; stopping; day of stopping; weekly sabbatical experience
"Gut Shabbos" — "Enjoy your weekly sabbatical experience"
Neshoma — Soul
meshugass — insanity
meshuganeh — insane
kyna hara — no evil eye
shvitz — sweat
shanda — shame
Lechayim! — Cheers!

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