Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Saturday, November 4, 2023
In This Moment: We Can Handle the Truth, Not Therapy; Maps of the Times; Slaying our Inner Amalek
In This Moment
The NY Times' Map Flap
The NYT's cartography department has been very busy lately, using modern technology, primarily open source, to feature in the print and online editions, an array of maps detailing the complexities of the current conflict. The focus has been on Israeli troop movements and the extent of the damage done by Israeli munitions. While no one denies that there has been lots of damage, where is the layer showing us the silos from where thousands of missiles have been launched? Maybe that would help us understand why those buildings were targeted. That information has got to be available. And while we're at it, where is the detailed interactive map displaying the landscape of carnage from Oct. 7 in southern Israel? We've seen an entire website dedicated to that. Where is the map of Hamas tunnels? Where is the map of Hamas hideouts underneath mosques, hospitals and schools? If giving out troop locations during wartime is borderline irresponsible, you shouldn't have a pang of conscience over divulging this information. Get on it, NYT!
"What makes us human, what makes us holy, the Torah teaches, is self-control.... When Abraham did not lay a hand on his son Isaac, by transcending his DNA, by overcoming habit, by not succumbing to conventional wisdom, stock responses and the command of what might have been an imagined, vengeful God – in that moment, all of history changed."
The Amalek Within
Today we read the portion Vayera, which contains that earthshaking story of Abraham and Isaac. We talked about it at our service this morning, but I thought, as part of our "In This Moment" series dealing with the Israel-Hamas War, i would share with you highlights of an especially relevant High Holidays sermon I gave in 2015. Throughout this year, i'll be sharing some of my "greatest hits" sermons, but this one is particularly relevant, and not just because it is from this week's portion.
I've written in this space about how important it is to not rely on impulse at a time like this, to not fall into knee-jerk responses to entirely unique situations. I believe that many who are defending Hamas right now are not really paying attention to the uniqueness of what happened on October 7. Instead they are replaying every other episode between israel and Hamas war for the past two decades and not recognizing how the events of October 7 exposed Hamas's tactics and ideology in a manner that cannot be rationally defended.
But restraint is not just about knee-jerk responses. It's also about unleashed anger and unfiltered frustration, none of which does anyone any good right now. It allows us to be manipulated by emotion - and emotions are all too easily manipulated by social media,
So I invite you to listen to this abridged sermon - which also includes a few entertaining anecdotes.
Interesting story today on how Fox News is luring Jewish viewers with it's pro-Israel coverage. At times like these, one would think we would want to be grateful for all the friends we can get, and I've found myself doing double takes recently when I've found myself agreeing with some people I've rarely agreed with before.
Hey, people have a right to watch what they want to watch. But here are some reasons why Fox is not my friend.
Where was Fox when the alt-right was marching in Charlottesville, and spewing antisemitic manifestos while shooting Jews and others in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Poway and El Paso?
They lied about voting machines and still support illiberal demagogues.
Fox has done more to endanger the non partisan nature of the US-Israel relationship than any other media outlet.
I tend to not like news networks that run smear campaigns against rabbis I hold near and dear (namely, me). So...
Which News Can We Trust?
We Need Truth, Not Therapy
The question should not be who is giving the most positive slant to Israel. We need truth from our news sources, not therapy. And yes, folks, we can handle the truth!
And when it comes to Israel right now, while Oct. 7 was unadulterated evil, the rest of the story is very complicated. We need to accept that. Fox doesn't do nuance very well.
If you are watching news only to have your opinions validated, even if it means not finding out what's really going on, it's time to turn it all off and watch The Golden Bachelor. Really, we can't afford to be uninformed. Our zaydes and bubbes did not raise us to be lemmings. Since I find the American news outlets to be less than stellar on Israel (though improving), I try to augment their coverage by turning to Israeli sources for a more complete picture. The best are Times of Israel, Ha'aretz, JPost, YNet and i24. Of these, only Ha'aretz has a paywall, which I occasionally circumvent for you, since I pay for a full subscription. I check these several times a day. JTA and the Forward are also good American resources. Keep in mind that some Israeli media companies have been accused of corruption in the Netanyahu scandals and others are just hacks for his party. But Israeli news has been amazingly resilient this past year, and thank God for their independence. Social media is completely corrupted everywhere, especially the Chinese-owned Tiktok. The best podcast for news from Israel coverage is the weekly Unholy: Two Jews on the Jews, with Yonit Levi of Israel's Channel 12 News and Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian, two of the most prominent journalists in the world today.
So I'm not about to join the Sean Hannity fan club.
Marc Schulman's latest dispatch: - The most critical point Blinken made, in my view, was in response to a BBC correspondent's inquiry: “The world awaits a ceasefire; when will you compel Israel to agree to one?” Blinken’s answer was unequivocal: “The U.S. will not press for a ceasefire until Hamas is dealt with.” This sentiment was echoed in Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Arab Foreign Ministers, where he repeated his position, opposing a ceasefire despite the other attendees calling for one. None of the participants contested the objective of eliminating Hamas....Despite rapid progress by the IDF in destroying Hamas infrastructure, Hamas’s tunnel network is incredibly extensive. As a result, there are few areas completely free from Hamas's presence. Hamas squads frequently emerge from tunnel entrances to engage IDF forces with RPGs and other anti-tank missiles. Fortunately, the latest generation of protected armored vehicles has proven effective, and the IDF’s superior firepower typically results in the death of most terrorist attackers. However, the IDF still continues to incur casualties, and it is anticipated that more names of IDF fallen will be released tomorrow. The expectation is that the IDF will soon target the core of Hamas's command centers, but a complete eradication of Hamas from Gaza is expected to take months, at the very least.