Rumors

When looking at stories on social media, one can see how damaging fake news can be to those the stories are about,  The   only purpose of a rumor is to do another damage or harm.  It is a non physical form of violence.  Once out there, it can not be taken back.  I wondered what the laws of Judaism said about rumors and false information.  I did some research into the subject and found some interesting information.

One of the 613 Mitzvot or laws in the Torah states not to carry tales, Lev 19:16.  It has been said that disparaging speech kills three; the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told, as found on the website Judaism 101.  This includes gossip and slander.  Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech.  It is forbidden even if  the statement is true.  In order to understand this law from the Torah I wondered what the defiinition of speech is and if non-verbal forms of communication are considered speech.  According to the website businessdictionary.com, the definition of non-verbal communication is:  1. Behavior and elements of speech aside from the words themselves that transmit meaning. Non-verbal communication includes pitch, speed, tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, stance, and proximity to the listener, eye movements and contact, and dress and appearance.  Just because one is communicating in a non verbal way does not mean it is not speech.

If we are to put this definition into context with what is going on in the world around us today, it would imply that using appearance, gestures, facial expressions, body posture stance and proximity to the listener, if used to demean or cause a person personal or financial harm,  is forbidden in Judaism, even if the statement is true.  That would make cyberbullying, fake stories on social media, using ones clothing or appearance to demean another are serious sins.

There are circumstances however when tale-bearing is allowed.  It is not commiting a sin if one is using speech to tell a story of another when it is a form of testimony.  This can be interpreted as meaning if one is telling a story to defend oneself or another regarding legal matters or other instances when such speech is necessary.

Today almost everyone has access of some sort to the internet.  Many people have social media accounts.  Unfortunately some use these sights as a means of harming some in their community by spreading false rumors and tales.  Our society has become dog eat dog, or in other words I need to be ahead of everyone else.  This has become so consuming to the young generation that they are willing to through people sunder the bus so to speak in order to get ahead.

If this trend continues our society will be in serious trouble.  Rumors affect the stock market, can ruin relationships, cause people to lose or not be able to obtain jobs.  Rumors have a negative rippling effect and can cause an increase in poverty, homelessness and an unstable society and economy.

Before you follow the trend and post a rumor on Facebook or where clothing intented to annoy or embarass another, think about what that says about the kind of person you are, how you are affecting others and the look at the big picture about how that is affecting our society at large.

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Abraham Joshua Heschel

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.  There is no society to which Amos’ words would not apply.

Hear this you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying:  when will the new moon be over that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat.  Amos 8:4-6.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a spiritual leader who cared not only for his own people, but for all people the world over.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust he went on to become a rabbinical leader, professor, activist and author,  He believed in social action and fought for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and protested against the Viet Nam war.  He saw many changes in his lifetime and was responsible for bringing about positive societal changes himself.

Early Life

Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in 1907 in Warsaw Poland.  He descended from preeminent European rabbis on both sides of his family.  Through the Holocaust he lost most of his family while still a young man.  His father died when he was 9.  His sister Esther was killed in a German bombing.  His mother was murdered by the Nazis and his other 2 sisters died in a concentration camp.

Heschel attended school where he studied Talmud and Kabbalah.  he then moved to Berlin and attended a university where he also taught Talmud.  In 1937 Martin Buber appointed him his succesor at the Central Organiation for Jewish Adult Education.

In 1938 while renting a room in Frankfurt, Germany he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland.  Ten months later He left Warsaw for London with the help of HUC president Julian Morgenstern.  He never returned to Poland, Germany or Austria.  He wrote,

“If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.”

Move to the United States

Heschel moved to the United States in 1940, relocating to New York City.  He then served on the faculty of the Hebrew Union College (HUC) for 5 years.  He married Sylvia Straus, a concert pianist in Los Angeles, California.  In that same year he took a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism.  He was professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism until his eath in 1972.

A Call to Social Action

Believing the teachings of the Hebrew prophets were a call for social action, Heschel worked for African American civil rights and met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr while at a conference on race and religion in Chicago.  He marched with Dr. King in Selma.  He also spoke out against the war in Viet Nam, stating in an interview on The External Light on NBC in 1972,

“How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent peope in Vietnam?  In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

The presence of God

Abraham Joshua Heschel rose above the tragedy of the Holocaust to live a life dedicated to teaching the wisdom of the Judaism and participating in social action.  He once said,

“We are called upon to be an image of God.  You see God is absent, invisible, and the task of a human being is to represent the Divine, to be a reminder of the presence of God.”

 

 

 

 

Why I Choose to Follow the Laws of Kashrut

When I began my conversion to Judaism one of the first things the rabbi had me do was to eat Kosher.  He said it was not necessary but he wanted me to give it a try and see what I thought.  At first I had to read every label and think about everything I ate.  Over time however eating Kosher became an everyday norm.

Why do Jews eat Kosher?

Jews follow the dietary laws described in the Torah.  The laws of Kashrut are mentioned three times in the Torah, making them important.  The Torah states which foods are permitted and which are not.  The rabbis interpret the phrase, “A kid shall not be boiled in its mother’s milk,” as meat and dairy should not be eaten together.

Is There an Easy Way to Keep Kosher?

An easy way to begin eating kosher is to follow a vegan diet.  Vegan diets exclude meat and dairy, therefor making it easier to follow without having to think too much about it.  One does have to think about what things are cooked with and cooked on when eating out if planning to follow a kosher diet.  For example grills that vegetables are cooked on may also be used to cook meat or prohibited items.  Cooking meals at home guarantees you know where your food is cooked and what it is cooked with.  Allowed items can be added if you so choose.

How Does Eating Kosher Add to my Jewish Experience?

Eating kosher for me reminds me of my beliefs every time I sit down to a meal.  It is something I think about on a daily basis, not only on Shabbat.  It makes me think about everything I eat.  It is one of the things that makes me a Jew.

The only thing I miss since I began keeping kosher is pepperoni pizza, but that is a very small price to pay for finding where I belong.

The Healing Power of Ritual

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the definition of ritual is a set of actions or words performed in a regular way, often as part of a religious ceremony.  The power ritual actions and words can act as a means of healing. The act of keeping kosher and observing Shabbat can be the beginning of small weekly and daily rituals.

Although a ritual is performed regularly and often, it is different from an addiction or habit.  Unlike an addiction or habit, spiritual ritual has a positive affect that one can benefit from, rather than have a need or desire to stop.  Even a small tiny action performed once a week can have enormous benefits.

Many Jews observe a ritual at every meal by eating Kosher.  Simply put eating Kosher is abiding by the dietary laws in the Torah.  Jews do not eat pork or other foods listed as forbidden. We also do not eat meat and dairy together as the Torah states, “a kid shall not boil in its mother’s milk.”  At every meal we are reminded of the dietary laws in the Torah by the foods we choose to eat or not eat. Eating kosher exemplifies self discipline and brings one spiritually closer to God.

Observing Shabbat is another practice that Jews perform and take seriously.  The benefits of observing Shabbat are many. Attending service on Friday night and Saturday morning bring observant Jews together as a community.  No matter how one”s week was, what is going on in ones life either positive or negative, it can be comforting to know in a world of uncertainty where you will be spending your Friday night and Saturday morning and who you will be spending it with.

Each branch of Judaism has a different service although many of the same prayers are said.  Each week depending on what service is being held, the same prayers will be said and will be said in the same order.  This gives Shabbat a structure on which to build.

On Shabbat the Torah states that one is to refrain from doing work.  In American society this can be hard to accomplish as electronics keep us tied to all of the obligations and urgencies of our daily lives.  It may seem impossible to take a day to just relax, spend time with one’s family and to be offline. Once you start doing this as part of a Shabbat ritual it is amazingly rewarding.  At first your friends and family may push back wondering why you did not return their call or text. After some time they will know and come to accept that you are observing Shabbat and they will have to wait.

These are two small steps in observing Jewish ritual.  Performing these actions and words every day or week can keep one grounded as we experience life’s challenges and rewards.  There are only benefits, spiritual enlightenment and a feeling of being closer to God. I invite you to try it.

 

Me Too

I am one of the many women who have experienced harassment only to have my complaints thrown to the wayside.  The man who harassed me was a member of my synagogue.  He and his wife invited me to stay with them for a while as they knew I did not have a place to stay.  I was excited that members of my synagogue would be so kind.  I was in the process of conversion and I was hoping to learn how a Jewish household was run, how to prepare Jewish food and celebrate holidays.  I thought I might be able to help them out as well as their house and yard were big.

The first few weeks I was there they were away on a cruise and I watched their dog.  Upon their return they became different people than the ones I had met at synagogue.  They had always been friendly and kind.  Now that I was living with them they suddenly changed.  They began taunting me with things they found out about me.  Nothing bad, but these were things that only my landlord who had sent me into homelessness would know.  I realized they must somehow know her, probably through the senior services office she had worked at.  A friend invited me out for a drink on my birthday and I was treated as though I was a minor, even though I was 54 at the time.  I was told I wore children’s clothing, they insinuated that my ex’s family only pretended to like me, and on and on and on.  It got worse instead of better.  I knew through experience not to over react and leave, as I had no where to go.  They knew this, and it was winter in Seattle.  I bit my tongue at all of their verbal abuse and weathered out the winter.

The abuse was not only at home.  He was active in the same political groups that I was and tried to sway their opinion of me for the worse rather than the better.  This had an impact on my employment as the people involved in the political groups were also my employers.  At Torah study they mocked me and carried on theatrics to make me look bad.  I had no idea why they were doing these things to me and I was very hurt by it.

I moved out of their house and their abuse continued at political functions and at synagogue.  I decided I could no longer be a door mat.  I went to a demonstration at a Macy’s store by employees.  I decided to join them as I had once worked their and agreed with their objections.  While I was in the picket line he showed up and eventually walked up to me.  I told him in a calm tone of voice, “I am going to ask you nicely to leave me alone.”  He tried to say something and I repeated my words.  He walked off and I hoped he would respect my wishes.

Instead of respecting my wishes, his abuse became worse.  The theatrics at synagogue continued, and he and his wife constantly insinuated that I needed to be made homeless.  The only reason I could think of that they acted this way was my former landlord. A convention was held in Seattle over a weekend.  He tried to approach me, and I reminded him I had asked him to leave me alone.  At one of the sessions he sat across the room from me, which I found acceptable.  He them moved to a seat next to the woman I was sitting with.  I reported this to the convention staff, yet he continued to harass me. At a meeting of the King County Labor Council he signed that he was going to take my seat away from me, which he was successful at doing.  He took away my career at the union.

I take my time spent worshipping and studying Torah at synagogue very seriously.  Having someone like him constantly harassing me was devastating, especially after what happened with the union.  I complained to the synagogue staff about his behavior.  nothing was done and the behavior continued.  He sometimes acted like a small boy pestering a playmate and he often had a grin on his face.  The continued harassment began to take a toll and was causing depression.  Instead of being a victim I decided to take action.  I tried to serve him with a restraining order.  The police said they were unable to find his house.  I went to court anyway and the judge did not do anything.

I finally moved away from Seattle, for many reasons, that being one of them.  I am still dismayed at all he was able to  do to try and destroy me.  I spoke up and complained about what he was doing to me, something I would not have done in the past.  No one would help me, they continued to support him and treated me like I was a pain in the ass.  Members of my synagogue signed that they were going to make me homeless.  Retaliation for speaking out.

I have not in my past accused a man of harassment.  It took a lot of courage to speak up and to try and do something about someone who was not only harassing me, but trying to destroy my character and good name and was successful at it.  I spoke the truth and was treated as a nuisance.

I am glad the women of Hollywood have been more successful than I at calling out bad behavior and that action is being taken.  Nothing makes one feel so small as to have the courage to speak up and then to be ignored.  It is time that we stop ignoring those who speak up.  I was not sexually abused, but harassment is harassment.  I think in horror about those who are sexually abused and ignored.  It is an ill our society needs to fix as it leaves permanent scars.

Unwanted Harassment

When it comes to harassment women have a hard time in getting the harassment to stop.  The legal system does not have a system set up that would allow women peace of mind by legally forcing a harasser to stop.  When we have a president who has committed offenses himself there is little hope.

For about 2 years I experienced unwanted harassment from a man and no one would do anything about it.  I asked him nicely to leave me alone to his face at first.  He agreed he would leave me alone and walked away.  However the harassment did not end there.  I ended up going to the police, my rabbis and members of the political organizations to which we both belonged.  I was unable to get help from anyone.  I ended up being treated like I was the one doing something wrong.

What is harassment?

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of harassment is:  to annoy persistently,
 to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.

Being Harassed at Synagogue

In my case my harasser would come to my synagogue and harass me during our Torah study and services.  This happened at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, WA.  I complained to a rabbi and office staff that this was taking place.  They listened to me and did absolutely nothing, even though his harassment was witnessed by others and recorded on video.  Instead I was treated as though I was a pain in the neck, I was unreasonable.  Meanwhile the harassment continued.

The rabbis at Temple de Hirsch went along with the harassment and participated in some of it themselves. I wondered where in the Torah does it say that a congregant who only wants to go to synagogue to pray and attend services should be harassed.  I wondered why religious leaders would teach others, especially young men, that it is ok to harass women if you do not like them because nothing will happen to you and all that will happen is that the victim will be humiliated and embarrassed in public.  I felt I was being punished for standing up for myself.

The problem comes down to money.  My harasser had a lot more money than I do, so he could do more to support the synagogue.  His bad behavior would be overlooked because he donated a generous amount every year and apparently I do not matter at all.  I feel I should have been able to attend synagogue without being harassed.

Using Legal Means to Stop Harassment

I tried using legal means to stop his harassment.  I filed a restraining order.  According to the court the police were unable to serve my harasser.  I went to the appointed court date anyway.  The judge was a man and has no sympathy for me.  He laughed and said nothing would be done.

The Emotional Toll of Harassment

Constantly being harassed by someone you repeatedly ask to stop takes a huge toll on a person emotionally.  First of all for someone not to heed your repeated requests for the harassment to stop has mental issues that need to be addressed.  It makes a person feel unsafe to know that anywhere they go that person may show up.  I felt like I was being stalked.  Knowing no one would help me make him stop made me feel helpless and I began experiencing depression.

In the end it was one of the reasons I moved to California from Washington state.  I think I have made the right choice as the women of Hollywood are fighting back.  They are setting examples and being role models for other women who are experiencing unwanted harassment.  The worst thing a woman can do is to be silent about abuse or harassment.  No one should experience abuse or harassment and the culture is shifting to protect those who have become victims.

 

 

Finding Judaism (Part 3)

After about 3 months of attending synagogue, Rabbi Telrav left Denver for the East Coast.  I stayed at Temple Sinai for a while, but when I got a job as an innkeeper at a bed and breakfast my schedule would make it impossible to attend that synagogue.  I decided to attend an Orthodox synagogue as Reform was all I knew.

At the Orthodox synagogue I met with Rabbi Ben Greenberg.  He was a wonderful teacher and I was happy to have read To Be a Jew which explains the Orthodox rituals.  At this synagogue I attended services with a Mechitza, a wall that separates men and women.  During service the rabbi stood in the middle.  I learned a great deal about Jewish tradition, keeping kosher and observing Shabbat.  When my job ended I moved back to the Seattle area.

In Seattle I wasn’t sure where to attend.  Luckily the union I belonged to sent me to an event that was held at a synagogue.  Rabbi Daniel Weiner spoke at that event and I decided to attend a service.  I really felt at home there and began attending.  I enjoyed all of the rabbis there and ended up taking the class required for conversion.  I worked on my conversion with Rabbi Aaron Meyer.  Rabbi Meyer always challenged me to do more.  After 5 years of studying Judaism it was time for the mikvah and to make my conversion official.

Going to the mikvah, a ritual bath, was the most spiritual moments of my life.  I entered the room with the bath alone and took off the robe I was wearing and entered the bath.  Through a screen the rabbis said a prayer and had me repeat it.  I then went under the water once.  Another prayer was said and I went under again.  A third prayer was said and when I went down I knew that when I rose out of the water, after the five years of studying and hard work, I would be a Jew.  It was a moment I can not describe in words.  I felt that I was becoming the real me.

Becoming a Jew has been the most life changing experience I have had.  It has been a positive force in my life and has changed the direction I was going for the better.  I have never worked on something so continuously and with so much enthusiasm.  Allowing faith to enter my life has made me a strong, more thoughtful person.  I thank all who guided me along the journey.