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Questions Responsible Parents Are Prepared to Answer

on Friday, June 15 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for keep your kids safeWith school out, the period of the year designated for formal education has come to a close.  Nevertheless, for many children, summer presents different types of education, many of them negative or dangerous.  While parents find relief in not having to supervise studying, prepare for tests or make lunches, in some ways more supervision is necessary this time of year than any other.

As we head into the summer, I want to share with you some reminders of precautions we must take and conversations we need to have:

  • The lack of homework often translates into much more time available to watch TV and surf the web. There are a great deal of damaging images, themes and content for adults, let alone children, easily accessible today.  Do your children’s devices have filters and do you monitor both the amount time they spend and how they use their technology?  Are there guidelines and limitations on what they can watch and access?
  • When children wander and roam the neighborhood with no particularly destination in mind, they can find trouble. Are you comfortable with how they are presenting themselves as they leave your house?  Have you reviewed stranger danger? Do you know where your children are headed, who else will be there, that they got there, and what they did there?  Are you comfortable with who is driving if it is a friend or peer?
  • Summer generally signifies a break, but our religious identity and responsibilities are never on hold. Do you encourage your children to daven each day, find time to learn, and engage in positive and growth-oriented activities, like chesed and volunteer opportunities, even when off from school?
  • Experimentation with, and abuse of, substances among young people, is a growing epidemic. Be aware of signs you should look for and changes in behavior that might indicate a problem.  Do you monitor your liquor cabinet and do you monitor how you consume liquor, particularly in front of your children?  Do you model moderation and appropriateness and set a good example?
  • Is your home physically safe? Is your pool fence sturdy and closed?  Are you careful to make sure children don’t swim unsupervised or alone?  Are all of your smoke detectors & carbon monoxide detectors in appropriate locations and working? (If anyone cannot afford them, please contact me). Do you have a routine to ensure you locked the doors to your car and home?

Lastly, while the world is generally a safe place and the people our children are exposed to are almost always appropriate and safe, sadly the threat of abuse is real. Research has consistently shown that the most important and effective tool to protect our children is education. As loving and trusted parents, we have the capacity to safeguard our children, but it means having a difficult and uncomfortable conversation.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, an experienced and respected voice on the topic of child safety education, identifies four points to communicate to our children in order to empower them to protect themselves and to transform them into difficult targets for predators:

  1. No secrets from parents – In a non-anxious, calm conversation we must remind our children that we love them beyond words and that they can feel confident confiding in us about absolutely anything. We must make them recognize that we take them seriously, we will honor their concerns and fears, and we will always do everything in our power to serve their best interests.
  2. Your body belongs to you – It is crucial for children to understand the concept of personal space and that our bodies belong to us, and us alone. Our private parts are ours and absolutely nobody—not a friend, family member, or person in any position of authority—can have access to them.
  3. Good touch/bad touch – Not every touch is bad and qualifies as abuse. However, there is touch that is categorically wrong and should set off an alarm for our children. They must understand the difference so that they can be aware and respond appropriately.
  4. No one should make you feel uncomfortable – Lastly, we must communicate to our children that no one should make them feel uncomfortable. If they do, they have a right to walk away and tell someone they trust.

Too many parents are avoiding this talk because they think they will introduce their children to a topic that will make them fear adults and worry excessively. The experts explain, however, that rather than fear adults, children will feel safer knowing they can trust their parents and will feel empowered to protect themselves going forward. While it is never comfortable to broach this subject, good opportunities for bringing it up can be bath times for young children, clothes shopping for older children, or at the time of a doctor’s appointment.

Should God forbid an issue arise, the best way to respond to our children is to tell them that we believe them and that we will react swiftly and appropriately. Halacha (Jewish law) is clear that safety concerns must be reported to the appropriate authorities and all mandated reporting laws must be observed. Remaining silent, covering up, or excusing inexcusable behavior leaves other children vulnerable to abuse and trauma that will haunt them their entire lives and inflict what can be irreparable damage.

May our children remain safe and may Hashem grant us the courage and strength to be vigilant in protecting them.

Friendship Before Philosophy: The Formula For Winning the Unity Prize

on Thursday, May 31 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

This week marked the fourth yahrzeit of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the three boys tragically kidnapped and murdered in the summer of 2014.  Their disappearance and subsequent deaths united our people, not only in Israel, but around the world.  Jews in communities across the globe felt connected, bound by a shared history and destiny.

For eighteen days, our differences and disagreements didn’t matter, our diverse opinions and interests didn’t divide us.  For a short time, Jews of various backgrounds, philosophies and denominations felt as one, all pained by the episode and all invested in what this meant for our people, our country, and our future.  None of us will ever forget the experience of being glued to the news, desperate for an update in the search for the boys and holding out hope for good news.  When the news arrived and it was the worst possible outcome, we remained united in grieving, mourning and in our outpouring of support for the people of Israel and members of the IDF defending them.

In an effort to capture the feelings from that summer, and to perpetuate them going forward, the three families collaborated with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the organization Gesher, instituting the Jerusalem Unity Prize and inaugurating the observance of Unity Day.

While unfortunately most of the Jewish world has since returned to the disunity that characterized the days before the summer of 2014, the Unity Prize seeks to recognize those that maintain a commitment to Jewish unity and work to spread the values and practice of Jewish peoplehood.

This year, we are immeasurably proud and honored that the Boca Raton Jewish community has been awarded the 2018 Jerusalem Unity Prize. An interdenominational delegation of rabbis and community leaders will travel to Israel this week to receive the award at the home of Israel’s President, Ruvi Rivlin.  While I truly wish I could travel among them, the ceremony conflicts with my daughter’s high school graduation and the father prize comes first.

Why has our community of South Palm Beach County been singled out for this distinction?  Matt Levin and his team at our Jewish Federation and Rabbi Broide and his amazing work at the Deborah and Larry D. Silver Center for Jewish Engagement have played a critical role in bringing our diverse communities together to collaborate on projects, participate in dialogue, and work together.

There is no question there are critically important, foundational, and fundamental issues we disagree about.  Torah, halacha and mesorah are immutable; they are non-negotiable.  A fidelity to our tradition demands that we reject the legitimacy of distortions or misrepresentations of it.

So how do we maintain our beliefs and stay true to our principles and at the same time practice unity and peoplehood?  The answer is rather simple and straightforward.

In 2003, as a young Assistant Rabbi at BRS, I served as one of the rabbis on the March of the Living, a teen trip to Poland and Israel.  At the time, I didn’t have relationships with rabbis of the other denominations in Boca and hadn’t worked with them on any projects.  The foundation and formation of my connection with them came from a shared experience, a profound journey through the darkest period of our people’s history.  Following the emotional march from Auschwitz to Birkenau with thousands of teenagers, we took a three-hour train ride to Warsaw.  I found myself sitting with Rabbi David Steinhardt of Bnai Torah, Rabbi Bob Silvers of Bnai Israel, and Rabbi Broide.  Though exhausted, we spent the entire time in deep conversation.  We reflected on the experience we had just shared, we spoke about our families and backgrounds, we compared our interests and hobbies and we formed a friendship that has only grown in the years since .

When I became Senior Rabbi at BRS, working with them did not come from my seeking an intentional exercise of unity with other denominations, and it didn’t take work or effort, it was just natural to want to connect with friends on common causes that didn’t compromise any of our core values.  Over the years, I have formed similar friendships with many other colleagues with whom I have gone out for coffee, met for lunch, or played a round of golf.  The common denominator of all these interactions was that the agenda was not debating the origin of the Torah or the nature of halacha.  The sole agenda was to develop a relationship, to form a friendship.

This past year at AIPAC policy conference, I participated on a panel with Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner and Rabbi Denise Eger, conservative and reform rabbis with whom I traveled to Israel on the Leffel Fellowship trip.  When we finished the panel and went behind the stage, a very high-ranking Member of Knesset remarked, I wish the rabbis in Israel could get along like the three of you.  I told him we get along because our relationship didn’t start with having to work together or trying to solve intractable issues together, it began with a shared experience and a good time.

I believe the key to Jewish unity is to focus on friendship, not philosophy, especially while forming a relationship. Love fellow Jews as members of the same family, not as counterparts or colleagues.  When you have someone in your family with whom you disagree about politics or sports or religion, in an effort to remain unified and loving, you avoid those topics and instead connect through things you have in common and that you both care about.  There is no greater concern you share then your family’s well-being, safety and security.  The same is true for our Jewish family.  Unity begins not with debating or seeking to resolve differences, but with a shared experience, a cup of coffee, or a round of golf.  Unity blossoms when we work together on protecting our shared family, our homeland and the values we have in common that are near and dear to our hearts.

If the foundation of the relationship is strong, then when issues of conflict arise, which inevitably they do, the person who sees things differently or advocates for different policy is not just “the other,” a faceless adversary whom you speak about vociferously and insensitively, but they are a friend, a member of the family whose feelings you care about, even while you differ with their opinion or behavior and advocate for an alternative to their position.

This formula for unity—first friendship and only then philosophy—is not only true for the rabbinate, it is critical to many arenas of our increasingly polarized world.  Imagine if members of Congress from opposite sides of the aisle got together more often for drinks, a meal, a softball game, or a Bible study. How much more productive would they be and how much more could be accomplished if they knew each other’s families and cared about one another as people.  Not only would they find more ways to work together, but even when they couldn’t they wouldn’t demonize one another, call each other names or model the very behavior we tell our toddlers is reprehensible.

Our Parsha includes the command to Aharon to light the Menorah, the candelabra in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.  The many branches of the Menorah and its base were fashioned out of one single piece of gold.  The commentators point out that the vehicle for light, the instrument of illuminating the world, had to be unified, united and made from one.  It isn’t a coincidence that it was Aharon who kindled that light.  The Mishna in Avos instructs us to be students of Aharon – to love all people and bring them close to Torah.  Aharon, the person of ahavas Yisroel, loving all Jews, lit the Menorah, the utensil that lit the world and dispelled the darkness.

I don’t know if we can ever recapture the feelings Jews around the globe had for those 18 days.  Even while a hundred rockets rained down on our brothers and sisters this week, Jewish disunity continued.  I hope and pray we can develop the friendships and feeling of family that can form the foundation of a relationship that can transcend our differences and enable us to navigate our important divides.

Applaud your Rabbi for his relationships across denominations and encourage him to have more.  I promise you the trickle-down impact on the total community will be felt and celebrated.  Ask your elected officials to connect with those on the other side of the aisle and to care about them.  Our entire nation will benefit as a result.

On the one hand, our South Palm Beach community can be and should be proud of being awarded the unity prize.  We have worked hard to overcome differences, to develop friendships and to focus on peoplehood and we have more work to do.  On the other hand, we have done nothing special, practiced nothing extraordinary.  We have simply acted like a family, sometimes with disagreements or debates, but ultimately, always with loyalty and love.  We long for the ultimately prize for Jewish unity, the arrival of Moshiach, speedily in our days!

Mazel tov!

Making History by Recognizing History: Reflections on Witnessing My Generation’s Israel Moment

on Tuesday, May 15 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Image may contain: Daniella Hellerstein, smiling

Attending the Embassy opening with my sister Daniella, who made aliyah with her family 17 years ago

If you would have told a Jew in Auschwitz in 1945 that just three years later, the United Nations would vote to award the Jewish people sovereignty over their ancient homeland, and that they would build a strong army and develop a robust economy, he or she would never believe you. If in May of 1967 you would predict that Israel’s enemies would collaboratively wage war against her and rather than be decimated or sustain catastrophic losses, Israel would preemptively wipe out her enemies and eliminate the threat in just six days, you would be dismissed as delusional.  And if in 1973, in the shadow of Israel’s monumental and sweeping victory just six years earlier, you would say Israel is ill-prepared and vulnerable to another attack, you would be dismissed as ignorant.

If Jewish history has taught us anything, it is that our people’s story is unpredictable and capricious.  And yet somehow, rather than learn to be cautious and humble when interpreting our unfolding destiny, we continue to fall into the trap of overconfidence when analyzing current events and staking political positions with certitude and conviction.

The unpredictability of the Jewish story struck me profoundly this week as I sat with hundreds of others at the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem, celebrating its historic and monumental inauguration. If you would have told me just a year ago that the greatest superpower in the world would be recognizing Yerushalayim as the historic and eternal capital of Israel, I would have found it highly unlikely.  If you would have then told me that the same month the US would pull out of the Iran deal, the Mossad would pull off a risky operation to take 300,000 files out of Iran, that in four hours Israel would eliminate Iranian positions throughout Syria, and that despite efforts to marginalize and boycott Israel, an Israeli would win the Eurovision contest, I would have suspected you of indulging in a hallucinogen.

And yet, all of those things happened in a span of a few days of each other, each one less likely than the next.  The culmination took place exactly 70 years after the declaration of the State of Israel, almost to the minute, when the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem and with it announced to the world unequivocally and unapologetically that the Holy City of Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel.

I was not alive to experience the miraculous founding of the State in 1948 or the victory against all odds in 1967.  This is my generation’s Israel moment.  A day etched in our memory, when a truth we have known for over 3,000 years and that has been reestablished for the last seventy, was affirmed and put into policy by President Trump and now carries the weight of the United States of America, the strongest and most powerful country in the history of the world.  And so, when I was blessed to receive an invitation from Ambassador Friedman to attend the embassy opening (for which I am eternally grateful to his Chief of Staff, my friend Aryeh Lightstone), though it was scheduled right before Shavuos and I would only be able to stay in Israel for one night, I didn’t hesitate to book my ticket.

Since its inception, Israel’s government—including its prime minister, president, Parliament and Supreme Court—have all been housed in Jerusalem.  But the centrality of Yerushalayim for our people began long before 1948.

Yerushalayim is mentioned more than 650 times in Tanach.  It is described by our rabbis as the center of the universe (Yoma 54b).  Wherever we are in the world, Jews face Yerushalayim and it is there our prayers are collected and delivered to the Almighty. The sanctity of Yerushalayim is permanent (Rambam). Our rabbis tell us (Bereishis Rabbah 59:8) Yerushalayim oro shel olam, Jerusalem is the source of light of the world.  As our holy city shone that day, honored by the presence of dignitaries and celebrated as the city of unity, peace, justice and love, the world was a little brighter as result.

Transportation to the event was provided on special busses that traveled with a police escort.  Residents of the city lined the street waving flags and taking pictures.  The energy on the bus, filled with Jews and non-Jews, dignitaries and ordinary civilians, was electric.  As we turned up the hill to the embassy, passing the garden whose flowers formed the flag of the United States, it was the evangelical leaders on our bus who burst out in song – oseh shalom bimromav, praying for peace in the city and around the world.

Millions of evangelicals, members of Christians United for Israel and other such groups have worked tirelessly through lobbying, advocating and praying for this day. They see the moving of the embassy in a religious context, the very fulfillment of ancient prophecies and open evidence of God’s love for His children, the Jewish people.  At a reception earlier that morning, I heard Pastor Hagee declare the verse from Hallel, “zeh ha’yom asah Hashem, nagilah v’nismecha vo, this day was made by God, let us rejoice and take pleasure in it.”

As we waited for the program to begin, an impromptu Mincha was arranged.  To be honest, with all the activity, commotion and personalities around, it was hard to concentrate.  And then I arrived at the paragraph of “v’liyerushalayim ircha b’rachamim tashuv” in which we ask God to return Jerusalem to us and to return His presence to our holy city.  Earlier that morning, at a reception hosted by the OU, Ambassador Friedman said, we pray this day is a fulfillment of “v’sechezena eineinu b’shuvcha l’tziyon b’rachamim, let our eyes see Your return to Yerushalayim with compassion.”  When I arrived at those words, in that place, at that moment, I got chills and was overwhelmed with the feeling that we were living the very fulfillment of millennia of our ancestors dreaming of such a moment and recognition.

In the sheva berachos recited under the chuppa, we pray b’kibutz baneha l’socha b’simcha, may her sons be gathered into her with joy and end that blessing, mesamei’ach tziyon b’vaneha, may Zion rejoice in her children.  Former Chief Rabbi Rav Bakshi Doron (Binyan av 4:76:1) explains that Yerushalayim is the mother of the Jewish people.  Like a child has a deep, natural bond, connection and longing for his or her mother, so too the Jewish people are inextricably bound to our mother, Yerushalayim, from whom we receive nourishment, nurturing, and love.

For over 2,000 years, the world has said our mother is not our mother.  For the last 50, despite our being reunited, the world has continued to argue she is not in fact our mother.  But this week, the most powerful and influential voice declared unequivocally, finally, a truth that though obvious to us, was nevertheless, disputed in the world.  Other countries will no doubt follow and will move their embassies to Jerusalem, declare it the capital of Israel and further cement the special bond we have with our city, enabling it to further rejoice in the return of Her children.

The day was indeed worthy of the shehechiyanu blessing, and it was in fact recited three times at the event alone, by Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and by Ambassador Friedman.  I was moved to tears by the feeling of what a merit and blessing that Hashem has sustained us and guarded us and enabled us to arrive at this most propitious day.

Jared Kushner spoke of his grandparents who were forced to hide in a forest during the war, pursued for their lives.  They not only survived, they thrived and built a successful business and a family.  They would have never dreamt that their grandson would be the president’s special advisor, let alone son-in-law, credited in large part with getting the embassy moved and having Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s eternal capital.

Yes, the Jewish story is unpredictable, irrational and often defies logic or explanation.  This past month’s extraordinary events, anticipated by very few, are a strong reminder of why we must not be strident, vociferous and definitive when espousing our opinions on current events.  Reflecting on the circuitous and erratic path of our past should humble us when communicating our opinions of the present or offering predictions about the future.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act passed overwhelmingly in 1995. Despite no shortage of campaign promises, presidents since then failed to execute the law.  President Trump and his administration deserve great credit for not only making the promise but fulfilling it.  Children of Jerusalem should express our deepest appreciation and gratitude for his willingness to defy enormous pressure to keep the status quo.

But make no mistake, ultimately it is Hashem who brought this reality to happen.  “Harbei sheluchim la’makom, Hashem has lots of agents and messengers” (Bamidbar Rabba 18a) and we don’t know why He chooses to employ any in a given situation or time.  Long ago King Shlomo (Mishlei 21:1) taught us, “Palgei mayim lev melech b’yad Hashem, al kol asher yachpotz yatenu, the heart of a king is like a stream of water in the hand of Hashem, wherever He wishes, He will direct it.”

We say every single day in our davening, “Al tivtechu b’nedivim, don’t place your faith and trust in princes and diplomats.” As believing Jews, we recognize that it is the Master of the Universe who orchestrates domestic, foreign and all policies and their consequences.  To be a student of Torah and of Jewish history is to see the Almighty’s guiding hand.  His hand guided our history and ultimately, it is His hand that is guiding our destiny.

My oldest daughter Rachelli was born in Sha’arei Tzedek hospital in Yerushalayim.  Nine days later we flew back to America and so I went to the consulate to apply for her US passport. I was terribly disappointed then, and still remain disappointed today, that her passport lists the place of her birth as Jerusalem without identifying it as Israel.  I hope and pray that the momentous and courageous move this week will soon bring a change in policy at the State Department so that her passport, and those of countless others, can reflect the undeniable truth, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

While we were celebrating the embassy move, just a short distance away, corrupt Hamas leaders were using civilians to advance their agenda of violence, resulting in the tragic and utterly unnecessary loss of life. What will it mean for Israel, how will the international community react and what should Israel do going forward?  What does the future hold?  We cannot know with any sense of confidence.  What we do know, is that to be a son or daughter of Jerusalem is to follow the instruction of Dovid HaMelech, who taught (Tehillim 122:6), “Sha’alu Shlom Yerushalayim, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Let us pray the embassy move is a step in the journey towards a lasting and true peace that will emanate forth from our Holy Capital of Yerushalayim.

Mother’s Day With Sensitivity For Those Not Yet Mothers

on Thursday, May 10 2018. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

While some are counting down to Mother’s Day this Sunday with great excitement and anticipation, many are looking at the calendar with dread and anxiety.  For those desperately longing to have a child but have been denied by nature or because they are waiting to find a spouse, Mother’s Day and all the fanfare that surrounds it only pours salt in wounds.

While many of our young men and women of marriageable age assume that once a couple decides they would like start a family it is simple to conceive and bring a healthy baby into the world, the truth is not so simple.  One out of eight couples suffers from infertility, which includes the inability to get pregnant, secondary infertility, or loss of a pregnancy/stillborn.  Up to twenty percent of those who do become pregnant experience a miscarriage. Eighty percent of those miscarriages occur within the first trimester, when the couple is unlikely to have told anyone they were expecting and before the woman begins to show.

Our matriarch, Rachel, knew the pain of childlessness. She screamed out, “im ayin, meisa anochi, if I don’t have a child I am already dead,” from which the Gemara (Nedarim 64b) likens that the pain of being childless while wanting children to a form of death.  Indeed, those longing to have children describe the pain of their disappointment as the death of their dreams and hopes and the grief similar to the loss of a loved one who isn’t coming back.  Day after day of taking shots, undergoing fertility treatments, attempting IVF cycles, and going into debt to afford it all is extremely painful, but well worth it if resulting in a healthy baby.  But when the results come back negative, the procedure turns out not to help, or the IVF proves unsuccessful, the physical and material pain is negligible compared to the emotional agony and anguish.

Compounding this deep pain is the reality that most of the people struggling with infertility or who have suffered a miscarriage are grieving without anyone even knowing. They are forced to spend their days interacting with others as if all is well, when in fact it isn’t.  Since others don’t know about their struggle, they are deprived of awareness, support, love, or assistance and it leaves them feeling lonely.

Talk to anyone suffering with infertility, or with loneliness and the longing to meet someone and start a family, and they will tell you that worse than the indifference of friends and acquaintances is the unintentional insensitivity of so many who have been blessed with healthy children and who make comments, tell stories, share pictures, or complain about their kids.

Our parsha enjoins us, V’chai achicha imach, when your brother or sister is feeling down and out, uplift them and support them.  We can’t necessarily help our single family and friends find their spouse and we often don’t even know who around us is in anguish from infertility.  However, we can all do better—we must do better—to be sensitive in how we talk, what we post, when we share.

On Mother’s Day, rather than turn to social media as a public stage to profess love and appreciation to mothers and wives, we should directly and personally tell the mothers in our lives how we feel, or take the time to write a private heartfelt card making our loved one feel good without making others feel bad.

Rachel’s prayers were answered, and her hopes realized.  She not only became a mother, but is known in perpetuity as our Mama Rachel, the mother of our whole people.  Take a moment on this Mother’s Day weekend and pray that all those longing to be married and those longing to have children have their prayers answered and their dreams fulfilled.

(Since its inception, the BRS Segula Fund has helped more than 20 couples realize their dream of having a child. Unfortunately, the needs and requests continue. With your help and support, we can help and enable all BRS couples who seek our support. Please make a gift of any size at www.brsonline.org/segula or through a check made out to the BRS Segula Fund.)