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An Open Letter to Those Coming to Florida for Yeshiva Week and to My Fellow Floridians…

on Thursday, January 17 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for floridaThis week marks the much-anticipated and highly-celebrated time on the Jewish calendar – Yeshiva Week, when many Jewish day schools and yeshivos give vacation and it feels like a significant percentage of the Jewish world goes on pilgrimage to Florida.  There are many beautiful aspects to welcoming so many fellow Jews to our community.  For me, I look forward to meeting and greeting guests, and learning about new people and the places they are visiting from.  Nevertheless, for some visitors and local residents, yeshiva week can be challenging and frustrating when waiting on lines, looking for parking or struggling to get a table.

In general, whether we see the beauty and blessing or instead focus on the frustration and aggravation is really all up to us.  In our Parsha, the Torah describes that after the Jewish people experienced the miraculous splitting of the sea, they encountered a problem.  Lo yuchlu lishtos mayim mi’marah ki marim heim, they weren’t able to drink the water from Marah because they were marim, they were bitter. The Kotzker Rebbe asks, what was bitter?  We traditionally translate that the water was bitter and it logically follows that this is what precluded the people from drinking it.  The Kotzker, however, says marim heim is describing the people.  The people were bitter, disgruntled, critical, judgmental, dismissive and dissatisfied and they accordingly infused a bitter taste into the water and were unable to drink it.

There is a phenomenon that psychologists call the ‘Missing Tile Syndrome.’  When a person is in a beautifully tiled room, his eye is not drawn to the ornate tiles or to the detailed labor.  Rather, if there is one tile missing in the whole room, our natural tendency is to be drawn to and focused on that tile.  We tend to fixate on what is missing, on what is lacking or deficient, instead of emphasizing the beauty, the abundance, or the plenty.

Our Jewish world too often has a culture of criticism. We suffer from the Missing Tile Syndrome, drawn to what we think is wrong or missing, instead of focusing on the abundance of blessing.  Yeshiva Week presents a fantastic opportunity to bring parts of the Jewish world together, to form relationships and enjoy each other’s company while on vacation.  We can focus on the blessings, the opportunities and the good, or we can be fixated with hyper criticism on what is frustrating or wrong.

There is always more we can do to make each other’s lives even more pleasant.  Here are some suggestions:

 

To our Yeshiva Week visitors:

We hope you have a safe and smooth trip down here and enjoy your time in our community.  We are very excited to welcome you and to benefit from the influx of your energy, enthusiasm and participation.  We are grateful you have chosen to visit our community and to support our local establishments and attractions.  If we can be helpful in any way during your visit or can offer any hospitality, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you don’t mind, here are a few reminders that may be helpful during your visit:

  1. Unlike the Beis HaMikdash, our restaurants don’t expand based on the pilgrimage of Jews. Our proprietors and their staffs are doing the best they can. Please be patient, understanding and courteous, and please be generous with your tips, since the waiters are doing the best they can during an overwhelming time.
  2. Please note and be sensitive to the fact that while you enjoy our many kosher dining options and kosher supermarkets, it is the local residents who support them all year long and enable them to be available to you when you visit.
  3. Our community has many minyanim each morning and each evening. Please attend one of the listed minyanim and do not form a new one based on what time you arrive.
  4. In South Florida, life moves at a little slower and more relaxed pace. If the light turns green and the person in front of you doesn’t step on the gas within a millisecond, be patient, take a deep breath, take in the palm trees, and enjoy being on vacation.
  5. If you encounter a line, see it as an opportunity to spend time with others in your group or to read, learn, or listen to a shiur. Talk to the person in front of you or behind you; they are as eager as you to get to the front.
  6. If you enjoy the minyanim, shiurim, learning opportunities, programs, mikvahs, eruv, or kashrus available in our community, please feel free to make a contribution of any amount to our Tomchei Shabbos or chesed fund that can use help and support.

Over the course of your stay, please come say hello and introduce yourself.  If you are considering moving here, please let us know if there is any way we can help or any questions we can answer. We would love to get to know you.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

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To my fellow Floridians,

This week begins the annual influx of visitors for Yeshiva week.  This week is a great reminder of the honor and privilege we have to live year-round in the very place that others choose as their vacation destination.  True, it may be hard to find parking, eat out or have your usual seat in shul during this time, but those are small prices to pay to offer gracious hospitality to fellow Jews.

If you don’t mind, here are a few reminders for the coming few weeks:

  1. While we support the local establishments all year, don’t minimize or dismiss the economic boon that our proprietors have come to rely on from vacation week.
  2. Be warm and welcoming when you see visitors and new faces. Offer a smile and a kind greeting.
  3. Be patient, gracious and hospitable, and treat every visitor the way we would want to be treated when visiting or vacationing elsewhere.
  4. If someone is sitting in your seat in Shul, don’t say anything or gesture to our guest to move; please find another seat. Our visitors aren’t doing anything malicious or with bad intent, they are just trying to experience davening at BRS.
  5. Know it will be hard to get a table or eat out and plan around it. We can enjoy our wonderful restaurants all year long, let others have them for the week or be patient when eating out.
  6. Don’t use social media to share any frustrations or displeasures. Post about all the beautiful tiles in your life, not the missing one.

Looking forward to welcoming our guests and enjoying this vacation period together.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

 

 

What Brings a Reform and Orthodox Synagogue Together? Giving Israeli Combat Veterans Some Peace of Mind

on Thursday, January 10 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

As American Jews or Jewish Americans, even if we don’t formally have dual citizenship, we unapologetically feel loyalty, appreciation and devotion to both America and Israel.  But make no mistake, the freedoms we enjoy, both in America and Israel, don’t come without a cost.

It is no secret that America and Israel have enemies, adversaries who seek the demise of these two great countries, their people and the values they have in common and hold dear.  It is only because of those who risk their lives protecting and preserving those freedoms that we have the luxury of enjoying the religious lives and the lifestyles that we do.

Each time I have visited the VA hospital in West Palm Beach I am struck by a sign at the entrance that puts so much in perspective: “The price of freedom is visible here.”  The hospital is filled with those who carry physical, emotional, and spiritual scars created by witnessing, experiencing, and perpetrating unimaginable things.Image result for price of freedom visible

About 20 American veterans commit suicide each day, irreparably broken by the PTSD, the post-traumatic stress disorder that haunts them.  We recently hosted an extraordinary program called Heroes to Heroes, which brings American veterans to Israel to find healing, meaning, and support. The program has had remarkable success in helping veterans find hope and faith and empowering them to turn their lives around.

One of the visiting veterans who suffered before going on the trip described his PTSD as experiencing a life-threatening car accident every single day for a year.  A local veteran has been unable to drive on Palmetto Park Road under the Turnpike overpass because it reminds him of an overpass in Iraq in which he engaged in a fierce battle.

This week, in collaboration with Temple Beth El and the Helping Israel Fund, Boca Raton Synagogue is hosting another exceptional program called “Peace of Mind.”  Twenty Israeli veterans of the IDF, together with three of their therapists, are spending a week in our community, continuing their intense therapy, participating in community programs and events, and enjoying much-needed and well-deserved relaxation and recreation.  This extraordinary program helps combat soldiers who saw a lot of violence transition back into civilian society.

Each Shabbos, we say a Mi SheBeirach in Shul for the members of the US military and for members of the IDF.  Some people use this opportunity to step out of shul, others’ minds are wandering, and still others engage in conversation. It seems evident that given all the soldiers do for us, we should all use those moments each week to remember that we and our children have not been drafted nor did we or they raise our hands to volunteer and enlist.  Both in America and in Israel, our lives have been protected and defended by those who have and the least we can do is pray on their behalf with our full attention and concentration.Image result for idf

The Peace of Mind project is particularly meaningful for two reasons.  First, it enables us to do our very small part to fulfill the slogan of the Friends of the IDF – “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.”

But it is not just the project that is special, it is the partnership we are engaged in to make it happen.   We are living in an increasingly polarized world, divided by religion, politics and more.  We have lost not only the capacity to engage on things we disagree about, but even to remember there are things we have in common.

Temple Beth El, a local reform synagogue, and BRS have important and significant differences.  Nevertheless, our love of the Jewish people, Israel and the IDF is something we very much have in common.  It has been an honor and pleasure collaborating with their rabbinic and lay leadership who have been incredibly accommodating and sensitive to ensure the program is inclusive and compatible with BRS needs and standards.  We are deeply indebted to them and to our own Rabbi Moskowitz and Glen Golish who worked tirelessly to make it happen.

Our sincere hope is that the soldiers will gain from their time in our community. But there is no doubt that the greatest benefit will be felt by our gracious host families, by our Shul and by the whole Boca community who are proving that we can work together with a spirit of partnership, collaboration, and love on the things we both care passionately about and have in common.

Kavana and/or Convenience, Can You Have Both? A Measured Appeal to Those Who Attend Neighborhood Minyanim Instead of Shul

on Tuesday, January 1 2019. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for tyranny of convenienceIn recent years, there has been a proliferation of neighborhood minyanim that serve as alternatives to attending Shul.  Some of these minyanim rotate between homes, while others are in fixed locations.  Some meet only Friday nights while others also meet for Mincha and Maariv on Shabbos/Motzei Shabbos as well.  All were started for convenience: for some the convenience of not walking longer distances, for others the convenience of a shorter, less formal service, and for some both.

I am sympathetic to the merits of such minyanim as I grew up attending one my entire childhood.  We lived in the Northeast, close to a mile from Shul, with cold winters and regular snowfalls.  With the rabbi’s permission, a minyan met in rotating basements.  Besides the weather convenience, the minyan also provided the opportunity for young people to lead the davening, layn, and get kibbudim, opportunities often denied at the large shul. There is no doubt the minyan enabled and encouraged some who otherwise wouldn’t have davened with a minyan or even at all.

Personally, my first experience with Jewish communal leadership came as a teenager when I served as gabbai and made announcements at our local basement minyan.  I am genuinely grateful for that experience and the lessons it afforded me.

And yet, as much as I see the merits, there are several halachic considerations and concerns regarding attending such minyanim.  In an excellent article in the inaugural volume of Yadrim, the Torah Journal of our BRS Beis Medrash, Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz addresses many of them.  Indeed, given the halachic and meta-halachic concerns, it is surprising how many people who are generally scrupulous and vigilant with not only keeping halacha, but observing minority opinions and stringencies, have no hesitation to host and attend home minyanim.  Perhaps it is the absence at Shul of those who are admired for their religious fervor and davening with kavana that has the biggest impact and is felt the most.

Colleagues from across the country have described the same phenomenon we are seeing in Boca – the increase in neighborhood minyanim is, on a very practical level, impacting the attendance, feel, energy and experience of davening in the Shul itself.  Having a large crowd with high energy is not just a nice idea in theory, but it is an important value.

The pasuk (Mishlei 14:28) describes an axiom of Halacha: B’rov am hadras melech, the larger the gathering, the more glory and honor we give God.  With this in mind, the Shulchan Aruch (90:9) records that one should always try to daven in Shul. The Magen Avraham (90:15) offers this encouragement even if one has a minyan in his own home, ruling that one should still attend shul since more people will be davening together.

Beyond the halachic considerations mentioned above, we need to be thinking about the practical impact of attending home minyanim.  The casual atmosphere in a home, the presence of countless distractions, and the informal nature of the minyan almost guarantee the quality of davening will be inferior to davening at shul.  But even if it is not, or even if we don’t care if it is, we need to be sensitive to, and considerate of, the impact of our absence on the Shul itself.

To be clear, I am not addressing the phenomenon of those who attend Shtiebels as alternatives to traditional shuls.  I am referring to people who belong to and are loyal to their Shul, pay membership, attend Shabbos morning and participate in programs, classes and events, but for convenience stay on the block or nearby on Friday night and Shabbos Mincha and Maariv.  In our community, the existence of neighborhood minyanim doesn’t affect our budget or the size of our membership.  But it does negatively impact both those who are still coming to Shul and I would argue, also impacts negatively on those who are choosing not to.

At times a home minyan is held for someone who is ill, debilitated, or unable to attend shul due to extenuating circumstances.  In most cases, however, the motivation for the minyan is simply convenience.

In a recent column in the New York Times, The Tyranny of Convenience, Tim Wu writes:

As Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, recently put it, “Convenience decides everything.” Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. Easy is better, easiest is best…But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear.

Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life…

We need to consciously embrace the inconvenient — not always, but more of the time. Nowadays individuality has come to reside in making at least some inconvenient choices. You need not churn your own butter or hunt your own meat, but if you want to be someone, you cannot allow convenience to be the value that transcends all others. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are…

So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.

Yes, walking a few more blocks or participating in davening that lasts a few more minutes is less convenient.  But since when is convenience the priority in decision-making or the core value in determining what we do, particularly something as important as where we daven?

I know convenience isn’t the only factor. Neighborhood minyanim breed friendships, camaraderie and provide a sense of sub-communities within the greater community.  But I believe if we are honest, we would admit that those can be accomplished at other times and in other ways.  It seems to me both from my youth as a participant and now as an interested observer, convenience is in fact the main driving force behind these minyanim.

As Tim Wu argues – it is time we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of convenience and allow ourselves to experience the satisfaction that results in having exerted a little more effort.  Walking a few more steps, planning our erev Shabbos to be ready a few minutes earlier, spending a few more moments in song and communal prayer, are not only more elevating and more enriching, but doing them cultivates and brings out the best version of ourselves.

The walk to and from Shul often offers quality time, memorable conversations and positive interactions among family and friends.  Embrace it, lean in and take full advantage.

What do our children learn if they see us consistently choose convenience over kavana, expediency over excellence, and comfort over community?

Contributing to attendance at Shul and by extension the quality of the davening is the very definition of being a good neighbor. The Shulchan Aruch (90:11) quotes the Gemara (Berachos 8a) that goes so far as to say that anybody who has a Shul in his city and doesn’t come to daven there is considered a shachein rah, a bad neighbor.

The Noda B’Yehudah (Tzlach drush 23) writes: “Whoever has a Shul available to daven in, but chooses to daven at home, is called a bad neighbor.  Even if there is a quorum of ten people, it still cannot compare to tefillah in Shul.  A Shul is a Mikdash and Hakadosh Baruch Hu resides there…The holiness there is similar to the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael.  The prayers go up to Heaven…When one davens at home, he loses out on all these benefits.”

The Yerushalmi, commenting on the pasuk דרשו ה׳ בהמצאו, call out to Hashem when He is found, says Hashem is found in the Shul and that is where we should go when we want to speak with Him and want our tefillos most readily heard.

We need to ask ourselves – do we aspire to meet the Torah’s definition of a good neighbor or simply to do what comes most convenient?  Is a closer location or shorter davening worth losing all the benefits of being part of the community of people davening in Shul, in Hashem’s home, where He Himself has told us He can be found?

And so, on behalf of our shul and shul attendees everywhere, here is my simple appeal:

Alternate.

If attending a local home minyan is more convenient, or gives your children opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, by all means attend.  If it is helping you build friendships and grow a sense of a small community within the larger one, I am not asking you to stop altogether.  But I am asking you to alternate where you daven and make it a priority to be among those who participate in davening at shul by coming every other week or every third week, certainly at least once a month.

Free yourself from the tyranny of convenience by also coming to shul regularly.  Your davening in Shul will enhance the experience for all who attend.  Your presence will strengthen the mother ship of the community.  But it will also help bring out the best version of yourself as you put kavana ahead of convenience and do the more correct thing, even if it takes a little more effort or sacrifice on your part.

Like a good neighbor, please be there, at least every now and then.

LeBron James Doesn’t Deserve a Free Pass and Neither Do Those Who Are Giving It To Him

on Wednesday, December 26 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for lebron james anti semitismLeBron James has a following on Instagram more populous than 203 countries.  When nearly 46 million people sign up to read everything you have to say, you have a responsibility to be extra thoughtful, careful and mindful of what you post.  LeBron is well aware of the platform he has, as he mentioned in his statement reacting to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last year:

I know there’s a lot of tragic things happening in Charlottesville. I just want to speak on it right now. I have this platform and I’m somebody that has a voice of command, and the only way for us to get better as a society, and for us to get better as people, is love. And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to conquer something as one.

He continued by calling for us to take personal responsibility for how we speak and our attitudes towards one another:

It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. All of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’’ And if we can all do that and give 110 percent and give both foots forward, then that’s all you can ask for. So, shout out to the innocent people in Charlottesville and shout out to everybody across the world that just want to be great and just want to love.

Fast forward to this week, when LeBron failed to meet the very standard he called for.  Last Saturday, one of the most famous and recognizable athletes on the planet posted to Instagram the lyrics of a song by the performer 21 Savage: “We been getting that Jewish money. Everything is Kosher.”

Throughout our history, it is well-documented that oppression, persecution and attempted exterminations began with rhetoric and propaganda revolving around Jews and money. Invoking the trope connecting Jews to money is as hurtful to us as posting a lyric that contains a stereotype that would offend any other minority.

The author of the lyric tweeted to his 2.8 million followers what he thought was an apology, but in actuality was just a further insult:

The Jewish people I know are very wise with there [sic] money so that’s why I said we been gettin Jewish money I never thought anyone would take offense.  I’m sorry if I offended everybody never my intention I love all people.

LeBron’s Instagram post attracted attention and criticism.  He responded:

Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone. That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the byproduct of it. So, I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody.

LeBron’s apology is the perfect example of how not to say you are sorry.  Rather than accept responsibility for making a mistake, he wrote the popular but ineffective if: “if I offended anyone.”  Rather than take ownership, he offered an explanation. “I always post lyrics, that’s what I do.”  Rather than admit it was poor judgment and an objective mistake, he said it was misunderstood “through the lens of a lot of people.”  Apologies filled with rationalizations, explanations and deflections are not apologies.

In fact, even using the word apology is very different than saying sorry.  The origin of the word “apology” is the Greek “apologia,” which means justification, explanation, or excuse.  One who truly feels regret and feels bad for the hurt he caused others doesn’t offer an apology, but simply says the simple but effective words that are missing from LeBron’s apology – “I am sorry.”

The news media and sports world apparently have accepted the explanation LeBron offered and have given the superstar an unconscionable pass for a terrible insensitivity and for posting a hateful slur.

When another person with an enormous platform, President Trump, has made incendiary comments, he has correctly been called out and criticized.  We must reject hateful comments, intentional or not, from the right or the left.  But while many celebrities and public figures have lost their jobs for mistakes and missteps that were equally or even less egregious, not only did the NBA announce that LeBron wouldn’t be fined, the world moved on immediately, spending more time on his recent injury than how he has injured an entire people with his callousness and carelessness.

Am I overreacting about the impact (particularly in a down economy) of publicly associating Jews and money in a post to 46 million followers?  Maybe if it were an isolated incident, but LeBron is not the only one promoting old stereotypes, even if only out of ignorance.

This week the New York Times picked up on a story that has been picking up steam for weeks regarding the Women’s March and how it has been roiled by accusations of Anti-Semitism.  As it turns out, a movement that was supposedly formed to combat misogyny, bigotry, and racism counts among its leaders those who hold anti-Semitic views.

At the first meeting of a group of women who shared a passion for addressing these issues, Vanessa Wruble, a Brooklyn-based activist, told the group that her Jewish heritage inspired her to try to help repair the world.  Instead of welcoming her, the conversation turned to how Jews need to confront their own role in racism.

The antagonists were Tamika Mallory, a black gun control activist, and Carmen Perez, a Latina criminal justice reform activist.  Mallory, who is now co-president of the Women’s March organization, has called Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam and unrepentant anti-Semite, “the GOAT,” or “greatest of all time,” on social media.

According to Evvie Harmon, who was at that initial meeting, Mallory and Perez began berating Wruble.  What do you think they attacked her about?  What else, Jews and money.

Harmon recounted the conversation: “They were talking about, ‘You people this,’ and ‘You people that’ and the kicker was, ‘You people hold all the wealth.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, they are talking about her being Jewish.’ The greatest regret of my life was not standing up and saying ‘This is wrong.’”

We must not have that same regret.  These anti-Semitic comments cannot go unanswered and nobody deserves a pass simply by offering an excuse.  The ADL, which does so much important work in calling out and fighting anti-Semitism, was shockingly silent. It is sad enough that the media moved on, but where are Jewish organizations and groups expressing outrage and calling for more?

If LeBron is sincerely sorry, he shouldn’t move on, he should educate himself and then others about why that lyric is so hurtful, wrong and even dangerous and we should demand that of him.  Moral people of conscience, no matter their politics, should hold the founders of the Women’s March accountable and refuse to participate in their activities until these individuals resign from their positions of leadership and the movement publicly repudiates and distances themselves from these views.

A concerned friend of mine sent me an email about LeBron’s post, writing, “Time to speak up, to yell, to protest, before it’s 1936 again!”  Comparisons to 1936 are inaccurate and unhelpful.  Describing these incidents or even the spike in anti-Semitism as a precursor of another Holocaust smacks of hysteria and causes the very people whose sympathy and help we want to tune out.  Anyone who truly thought things were that bad would move to Israel immediately.  If one is staying in America they clearly don’t believe it is 1936 Germany, so invoking the comparison lacks credibility.

Nevertheless, equally true is that anti-Semitism is not a relic of our past or something we are immune from, even in this blessed country.  As we recite in the Hagaddah, b’chol dor va’dor, in every generation there are anti-Semites who rise up against us to eliminate us.  Our generation is no exception and if wethink we are, we are only fooling ourselves.  According to the FBI, Jews were the subject of 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2017, despite being just 2% of the U.S. population.  That is alarming and demands our attention and our efforts to reverse it.

Comments like LeBron’s, even if posted without malice, contribute to a stereotype and bias that historically have evolved into hatred, scapegoating and ultimately to pogroms, persecution and even the murder of 6 million of our brothers and sisters. The more casual anti-Semitism is ignored or swept under the rug, the more incrementally dangerous our country grows as a place for Jews to live comfortably.

Now is not time to panic or overstate the concern.  But it is also time not to turn a blind eye or give anyone a pass, even a popular superstar.