Breaking the Silence
Despite the concept of the occupation being an oddly contested one in some American political circles of late, there is much to decry about Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank. And while some security-minded observers focus on the need for an IDF military presence to widen Israel’s narrow territorial waistline, and others see the settlement blocs as a likely eventual permanent addition to Israel anyway, many would agree that there is one place where the crimes of the occupation are particularly egregious. Many would cite Hebron, the city which, in these pages, Letty Cottin Pogrebin called a straight-out example of apartheid, as being the eye of the militarized-settler-colonial tiger.
I, too, had been looking forward, in a way that righteously indignant liberal Zionists are wont to do, to a trip to Hebron with the anti-occupation Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence a few summers ago, until our plans were stymied. The military didn’t grant us the required travel permit.
So it was with some anticipation that I arranged to speak to three American rabbinical students who attended the Breaking the Silence tour to Hebron last week under the auspices of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Each one drew an alarming picture of the hardships Palestinians in Hebron face living among Israeli settlers and under IDF rule. “Stark. Shocking. Ghost town. Cages around the (Palestinians’) windows,” were the words they used. Their tour wasn’t whitewashed. Their first stop was the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the notorious murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers 20 years ago.
Yet all three surprised me with the politically nuanced conclusions they drew.
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
On those very rare occasions when I start to get anxious or freak out or dive down the rabbit hole of “What if this bad thing happens and then this and then this?” I hear the lilting voice of Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg in my head, telling me to breathe and compassionately bring my attention back to my breath.
My first experiences with meditation were with Weinberg at the Jewish retreat center Elat Chayyim when it was in Accord, N.Y. I had come for a 36-hour introduction to Jewish meditation, and simply getting to the center had been an ordeal of inefficiency, with buses that arrived late and cabs that never appeared.
It isn’t every day that I find myself truly inspired by an Orthodox rabbi; it isn’t often that Forward readers hear me espouse such sentiments. But when the Forward put out a call to readers to nominate a rabbi that inspired or touched them in some way, I felt it my duty to nominate the rabbi who unwittingly impacted my life two years ago.
Fortuitously enough, I had sent a long message the day before to this rabbi’s son – who happens to also be an inspiring Orthodox rabbi, if a bit of a different flavor – explaining how profoundly his father impacted my life.
Sometime late in the summer of 2011, my husband and I walked into the office of Rabbi Aaron Fink, Dean of Ateres Bais Yaakov in Monsey, N.Y., armed with the emotional wherewithal to counter what we thought would be inevitable rejection. We came to try to enroll our four-year-old daughter, Ruchy, in his school – an unconventional Bais Yaakov for girls – a school where love, acceptance and empowerment take precedence over other teachings.
This was approximately three years after we moved out of Kiryas Joel – three years of countless rejections by rabbis of various Hasidic and Orthodox schools.
Before we came to Rabbi Fink, we were told that no one wants former Satmar members in their schools, that our leaving the community indicates a desire to abandon Orthodoxy, that parents are afraid to send their children to school with those whose parents are Hasidic deviants, and that accepting us would negatively affect the school’s reputation. When we came to Rabbi Fink’s door, we were ready to give up on finding an Orthodox school to provide a Jewish education for our kids.
When Rabbi Noach Muroff needed a desk, he looked to Craigslist for a good deal. He got way more than he bargained for.
The desk, purchased for $150 dollars, turned out to be hiding $98,000 stuffed in a ShopRite plastic bag, that had fallen behind the file cabinet.
And Muroff gave it all back.
Muroff bought the desk last September, right before Rosh Hashanah. When it wouldn’t fit through the door, he and his wife had to disassemble it. That’s when they spotted a shopping bag full of a cash inheritance that the previous owner assumed had been lost somewhere in her home.
The ninth grade teacher at the Yeshiva New Haven Shul looked at his wife and, despite the fact that it was nearly midnight, dialed the original owner’s number. The money was returned the next day. According to Muroff, he didn’t sleep that night knowing that sum was in the house.
“Our jaws kind of just hit the floor. We were in total shock and disbelief. This kind of thing only happens in the movies,” Muroff said, laughing when telling me the story.
Some of the rabbis from the Newsweek Top 50 Rabbis list. / The Daily Beast
If we’ve ever watched how a well-intentioned concept can generate unintended consequences, it’s the Newsweek Top 50 Rabbis list.
It was conceived back in 2007 simply because we were genuinely curious about which rabbis were considered leading lights and why.
It evolved over the years into a more reported piece, as we tried to showcase the broad diversity of pacesetters, speakers, teachers, authors, activists, and congregational leaders.
We tried to make it more reflective of the rise of women in the rabbinate and we tried to introduce readers to lesser-known trailblazers.
The list never pretended to use any scientific methodology. We were always transparent about its subjectivity. We always kept our sense of humor.
But despite our lightheartedness, the list started to carry too much weight for too many people.
I spent the past few weeks reading hundreds of nominations for the Forward’s new series, America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis. When we launched this project in early February, we hoped that people would respond — that they would take a little time to tell us about the rabbi who inspired them or their communities — but we never imagined we would receive such an overwhelming response.
People wrote in from across the continent, sharing stories of hope, love, loss and kindness; stories about education, conversion and religious acceptance; stories about rediscovering long-lost faith and rejuvenating entire communities. Some nominations evoked deep sympathy. Some made me laugh out loud. Others made me wish I lived in Toronto or Wilmette, Ill., or Edina, Minn., or countless other corners of North America just so I could catch a glimpse of these men and women in action.
Two weeks ago, when the Forward launched its special editorial project America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, we had no idea what to expect. We asked people of all ages, denominations and backgrounds to nominate a rabbi who has inspired them or who had a profound effect on their lives or in their communities. But would readers respond? Would they take the time to write 200 words about a rabbi? Would we receive stories from a cross-section of American Jews — and would those stories move us? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!
America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis marks the first phase of our year-long investigation into the challenges and changing roles of the American rabbinate. Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner launched this initiative in a recent editorial, in which she addressed the effect our stalled economy has had on job opportunities for both young and old rabbis, as well as the difficulties women face breaking into the all-male Orthodox world — and the difficulties the Reform movement faces attracting men to its synagogues. As she concluded, “defining and sustaining the role of the modern rabbi is one of the most vital challenges before the American Jewish community today.”