Rabbi John Rosove writes, “Richard was a once-in-a-generation rabbinic leader whose influence cut across denominational lines. His kindness is legion, his joyfulness ever-flowing, and his love for his family, friends, colleagues, the Jewish people and humankind a model for us all.”
I’ve been preparing for retirement for some time, and I’m now days from leaving the position I’ve held for 30 years and the profession in which I’ve worked for 40 years. I’ve read many books about this “encore” period of one’s life as well what this new life stage means and might be.
This past week a friend sent me a link to an essay in The Atlantic called “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think – Here’s how to make the most of it” by Arthur C. Brooks (July, 2019).
Brooks describes life’s trajectory from one’s 30s to 80s, when we peak intellectually and professionally, and when the capacities upon which we depend for work success begin to decline. He describes as well the nature of success at different ages, and what brings us the greatest happiness in each life stage.
See my complete blog at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/retirement-into-re-fire-ment/
Note: Chemi Shalev, the Haaretz opinion writer, warns that Trump and Bibi are playing with fire vis a vis Iran and Hezbollah.
“Netanyahu puts country’s trust and fate in hands of impulsive president with little experience and no achievements
The prize for most ludicrous statement this week goes to authoritative Israeli officials who briefed reporters that as far as the looming clash between Iran and the U.S. is concerned, Israel “will stay out of the picture.” For most people and governments around the world, Israel is the picture itself. Against the world’s better judgment, Benjamin Netanyahu pressed Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran, thus putting Washington and Tehran on an inevitable collision course. Even now, Netanyahu and his ministers have to exert themselves to hide their drooling over the prospect of seeing Tehran down on its knees – because of the threat of war, or because it was carried out.
The prime minister’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, who is not bound by the gag order imposed by Netanyahu on his ministers, advocates a powerful preemptive strike by the U.S. against Iranian installations, including, presumably, its nuclear infrastructure. “In two hours, it will all be over,” he said in a radio interview last week. Even though the rule is that predictions of quick victory are notoriously short-lived, especially in the Middle East, Amidror and the many Israeli officials who agree with him privately may be an exception – provided they have received ironclad guarantees that a devastating U.S. strike won’t induce Tehran to unleash its doomsday weapon – thousands of Hezbollah missiles – against America’s number one ally, Israel, the root of all evil.
Netanyahu and his colleagues have understandably shied away from preparing the public for the possibility that the campaign against Iran could entail retaliation by Hezbollah – such an eventuality might mar Netanyahu’s reputation as the grandest schemer of all time. The lack of any other public discussion of the threat, however, is puzzling. Whether it derives from a false sense of security that the missiles from the first set won’t fire in the third; or relies on expert analyses that Hezbollah wouldn’t dare risk its privileged status in Lebanon, never mind its very existence; or stems from trust in Israel’s power of deterrence or from blind faith in Netanyahu’s diplomatic acumen, the lack of debate reflects a willful blindness toward a clear strategic and increasingly present danger to Israel’s future. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, such collective myopia was dubbed “konceptzia.”
If Hassan Nasrallah fails to disobey an order from Tehran to “die with the Philistines,” as Samson said before bringing the house down on himself and his enemies, Hezbollah could impose a harsh military campaign on Israel. In a worst-case but nonetheless plausible scenario, Hezbollah could fire thousands and thousands of guided and unguided rockets and missiles on Israeli strategic targets and civilian population centers. Many of these missiles carry a 500-kilogram or 750-pound explosive device, capable of flattening a city street and killing anyone within a 100-meter range. The thought of the destruction and loss that could be wrought by one such rocket – never mind hundreds – makes Hamas rocket attacks in the south seem like child’s play.
Out of a healthy respect for the organization’s potential to wreak havoc, Netanyahu and the heads of Israel’s security services have traditionally walked a fine line with Hezbollah, careful not to push the Shi’ite paramilitary group into a corner of desperation. In the present confrontation with Iran, however, Israel isn’t calling the shots. It has put its fate and trust in the hands of a capricious U.S. president whose foreign policy achievements so far include volunteering to serve as Kim Jong Un’s stateside PR manager while he continues his country’s nuclear drive, as well as the ambitious “ultimate peace plan” which so far has only yielded the debacle in Bahrain, to which, it seems, Israel is not invited.
Trump is entering the fray like a lone ranger, devoid of allies, with a sense of self-confidence that is in inverse proportion to his experience and diplomatic talents. He is engaged in a complex game of brinkmanship with people long considered masters of the art. For now, however, Israeli public opinion, guided and encouraged by its leaders, is giving Trump standing ovations.
There may come a day of reckoning, in which Netanyahu is asked to account for his string of decisions on Iran – from confronting Barack Obama to goading his successor Trump, from advocating the abandonment of a flawed but workable nuclear agreement in favor of a risky and complex clash with Iran, managed by an impulsive novice.
But such a accounting will take place only after the rubble has been cleared, the dead are buried, Netanyahu explains there was no other choice and promises that the goal of stopping a nuclear Iran is clear-cut and close at hand, if only the world would listen.”
Yossi Klein Halevi’s book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (written in English, translated into Arabic and soon to be translated into Hebrew) is a must-read explanation of the Zionist and Israeli experience, the first time an Israeli Jew reached out to Palestinians to explain what Israel means to the Jewish people.
Yossi invited Palestinians to respond, and he received many hostile emails but also a thoughtful and serious response from Mohammad Dajani, once was a leader in Fatah.
Mohammad’s letters are included in the republished paperback of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor along with 50 pages of other Palestinian responses.
Both men come from extremist backgrounds. Mohammad explains how his mind and heart opened to the Israeli experience when his father was treated respectfully as a cancer patient at Hadassah Medical Center by Israeli doctors and nurses, and his mother was treated with respect by Israeli doctors at the time of her death.
As a teenager and young man, Yossi joined the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane in protecting elderly Jews in Brooklyn from anti-Semitic attacks, but he rejected Kahane when the extremist rabbi turned his wrath against Palestinian Arabs.
Below is the link to an interview of Yossi and Mohammad conducted by David Horowitz in The Times of Israel. The two men speak frankly and honestly about themselves and their personal histories, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the evolution of their understanding of the “other.” Their dialogue represents a pathway to reconciliation. Neither man, however, wears rose-colored glasses. Each understands the hatred and fear that define the relationship of Israelis neighbors with their Palestinian neighbors and the risks each takes in advocating for dialogue and learning about the other.
Palestinians bombed Mohammad’s car in an assassination attempt after he took 27 Palestinian students to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust. He refuses to deny or retract on moral grounds anything he said publicly after his journey to the death camp.
Mohammad believes that many Palestinians are open to learning about Jews and Israelis, but Palestinian extremists threaten Palestinians who do so with the charge of treason and assassination.
Yossi believes that many Israelis and Diaspora Jews too are open to learning more about the Palestinian experience despite Jewish extremists charging such efforts as disloyal and treasonous.
Read the interview (link below) and then buy Yossi’s second edition paperback volume Letters to My Palestinian Neighbors.
In this week’s Torah portion B’ha-a-lo-techa (Numbers 8:1-12:16) we read this description of Moses – “a very humble man, more so than any other person on earth.” (12:3) The Hebrew for ‘humble’ is anav and appears only one time in the five books of Moses – here. Given Moses’ extraordinary career as a prince, shepherd, prophet, liberator, chieftain, military leader, and judge – arguably the greatest Jew in history – it’s legitimate to wonder what “humility” meant as it applied to Moses.
I answer this question in my blog at The Times of Israel. See https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-most-humble-person-who-ever-lived/
In response to Ambassador David Friedman’s comments that the Trump administration could likely endorse potential unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami issued the following statement:
“David Friedman has once again made clear that he is acting not as the US ambassador to Israel but as the settlement movement’s ambassador to the United States. By essentially giving the Netanyahu government a green light to begin unilaterally annexing Palestinian territory in the West Bank the Trump administration is endorsing a flagrant violation of international law. They are discarding decades of bipartisan US policy, trampling on the rights of Palestinians and helping the Israeli right-wing to destroy Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
Even limited unilateral annexations in the West Bank would be intended to help make the occupation permanent and to prevent the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Over the past few weeks, both the House and Senate have introduced resolutions opposing annexation and rejecting any US effort that would accept or promote it. All Members of Congress who genuinely care about Israel’s future and support a two-state solution should immediately add their names to those resolutions and hold this administration accountable for its disastrous policies.”
Note: The following is a letter sent today to the Reform Movement by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice President of the Reform Zionist and Israel Committee for the Union of Reform Judaism and the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). It is worthy to be read and distributed widely.
“The Zionist movement had a central goal of creating a Jewish State. Yet, it also had a goal of instilling Jewish pride. Of creating the “New Jew”, or as Max Nordau referred to it, to create “Muskeljudentum” or “muscular Jewry.” This would be the antithesis of the old Diaspora Jewry, who was weak and defenseless, who couldn’t handle physical labor and were not masters of their own destiny. But Jewish pride wasn’t only about backbone and brawn. It was about getting past the self-deprecation, being the anti-nebech and being proud of our tradition, our heritage, and of what we were able to accomplish.
Many Jews the world round felt that sense of pride with the State of Israel – especially in its triumphant moments after the Six Day War, the raid on Entebbe, and every subsequent Nobel Prize or public achievement. When Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European championship and American-born Israeli star proclaimed “anachnu al hamapa, ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa!” a literal translation of an English phrase into his adopted language, but a novel saying in Hebrew, became a new, popular phrase in Israel meaning: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
Having Jewish pride meant the ability to raise our flag high and be unabashed to waive it proudly. But Jews never really had a flag until the Zionist movement came around. Which is why it was so deeply troubling that the Washington DC Dyke March chose to ban this flag as well as any semblance of the Magen David at today’s march.
Friday’s march, according to its organizers, seeks to celebrate groups of people who organizers said typically are excluded from messaging around Pride, including those of various races, religions, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. I don’t level this accusation lightly, but despite being promulgated by two Jewish activists, this reeks of antisemitism. The ban is so full of irony and hypocrisy as Rabbi Rachel Timoner writes:
“…you can’t be against nationalism when it comes to the Jewish people and in favor of nationalism when it comes to the Palestinian people. In this line of thinking, DC Dyke March organizers say that they’ve banned the Jewish star on flags because it’s a nationalist symbol, but that they welcome the Palestinian flag. They say that they stand with the Palestinians because they are a displaced people. A cursory study of Jewish history would demonstrate that the Jewish people have been displaced over and over again, all around the world.”
So, where does the symbol actually come from?
According to scholar Gershom Scholem’s “Magen David – History of a Symbol“, which was released 27 years after the author’s death, the symbol was seen in biblical times as decoration, but the first book that referred to the symbol as “Magen David” was written by Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century, and as a mystical talisman in the early middle ages.
The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. (One of these flags can still be found in Prague’s famous Altneushul).
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.
Of course, not every Jew feels that sense of pride. For some, that symbol may stand for occupation and oppression. It is our job and to change that. Not through spin-doctoring or propagandizing, but through the real work of making our society better and righting the wrongs that have occurred. To make our flag stand for our values of Jewish peoplehood, and a Jewish Nation-State and just society. And a flag of justice, equality and peace.
The Dyke March and Pride marches the world around are incredibly important for LGBTQ rights and recognition. For the simple and basic human notion that a person should be able to be who they are, to be open, and free. We need more marches. We need them in places where those rights – after all these years of struggle – are still not a given.
We, as Jews, need to be there. To say that we’re proud to be Jews of many identities and orientations. And we need to fly our flag.
As Reform Jews, I’m proud that our Movement helped lead the Pride March in Jerusalem yesterday and that we led it with our Torah and values flying high.
On this Shavuot take pride in who we are. Learn our Torah and sacred tradition. And don’t be afraid to fly your flag high.”
[Note: I am a huge fan of Chemi Shalev, and his sensitive and eloquent memorial to Nechama Rivlin below is yet another reason for my deep respect.
May Ruvi Rivlin find a measure of comfort in knowing that the Jewish people honor him as among our greatest leaders and will remember his beloved wife as a true eshet chayil.]
Nechama Rivlin’s graceful tenure as first lady stood in stark contrast to the pathetically pretentious airs of the prime minister’s faux-royal family
Reuven Rivlin’s personal grief over the death of his wife Nechama is truly fathomable for just a part of the Israeli public, mostly older. Only someone who has felt the loss of his or her closest and dearest – cherished parents, beloved offspring or devoted spouse – can conjure the excruciating pain of loss, which never goes away. Rivlin is bound to be inundated with many thousands of condolences, but he will never find consolation – “nechama” in Hebrew.
Rivlin, however, isn’t just a bereaved individual; he is the president of Israel. His Nechama, though she probably abhorred the title, was our first lady.
Formally, her passing is like a death in the wider “family” that is Israel; the grief is undoubtedly shared by one and all, with the despicable exception of depraved right-wing zealots who publicly wished for her to die.
Ironically, while Nechama Rivlin was known for cherishing her privacy, avoiding the limelight and symbolizing the values of the Good Old Israel, she died in an era of a sensationalist and intrusive press and all-pervasive social media, a time in which the personal is on full public display and the mourning is more intense and collective than ever before.
This was true, with all the stark differences, of the global outpouring of grief that followed the death of Princess Diana 22 years ago. The human obsession with the British monarchy, the suspicious circumstances of the Paris car crash in which she died and the tragic romance/soap opera that was her life were certainly prime factors in sparking unprecedented and worldwide mourning for Diana.
Looking back, however, sociological studies found that many of those who felt a personal loss at Diana’s death were most devastated by the symbolism of a beautiful princess cut down in her prime. Her mystical world of good was sullied and tarnished forever. In this regard, Nechama is a princess too.
The sublime union between Reuven and Nechama, a merger of opposites between his exuberant and extroverted personality and her fiery yet subdued artistic passions, was an ode to love itself. The budding romance that led to marriage almost half a century ago was augmented with a deep and caring friendship that sparked envy among married couples everywhere. If Huey Lewis and the News asked in one of their first great hits “Do You Believe in Love?” the Rivlins showed that the only possible response was a proud and presidential “Yes!”
Given that during his five years as President, Rivlin has emerged as the standard-bearer of honesty, integrity, love of fellow man and woman – including Israeli Arabs – as well as selfless devotion to the state, the grief over the death of his life partner is stronger among those who cherish such values and who fear they’re being trampled.
Together with her husband, Nechama Rivlin’s years in the president’s residence in Jerusalem broadcast modesty, propriety and sincere concern for the underprivileged. Those traits shined ever brighter because of their stark contrast with the vulgar pretentiousness of the self-anointed royal couple living in the prime minister’s residence not far away, which only made the Netanyahus hate the Rivlins even more.
Nechama was the solid rock that the President leaned on to avoid the ill fate of so many of his Likud colleagues. Instead of going down in history as yet another hopelessly naive revisionist old-timer nonchalantly sidelined by Netanyahu, Rivlin drew strength from his Nechama to preach for Israel’s increasingly besieged values of decency and democracy.
With Nechama by his side, Rivlin was the beleaguered Dutch boy made famous in U.S. novelist Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 best-seller, “Hans Brinker”, frantically trying to stick his fingers into the increasingly numerous holes that Netanyahu is drilling in the dilapidated dike that safeguards Israel’s once cherished liberal values.
Inspired, no doubt, by his partner’s brave endurance of her chronic and debilitating lung disease, Rivlin found his inner steel. He became a one-man resistance movement to Netanyahu’s divisive incitement and anti-democratic impulses without crossing any of the red lines that come with his largely ceremonial role. Empathy with the president’s personal pain is thus accompanied by practical concern that he will be overwhelmed, overpowered and ultimately paralyzed by the grief over his wife’s death.
Many will regret squandering the opportunity to acquaint themselves better with Nechama Rivlin and her stellar qualities during her lifetime. Her death will be necessarily be seen as an omen of bad things to come.
Her passing encapsulates the opening line of a beautiful Hebrew song poignantly performed by singer Chava Alberstein, “One Human Tissue”, whose title can also be translated as “One Human Tapestry”, which, needless to say, Nechama graced and elevated by her very presence: “With her death, something in us has died as well.”
The Jungian therapist Robert Johnson wrote in a little book called “We”:
“Here we are confronted with a paradox that baffles us, yet we should not be surprised to discover that romantic love is connected with spiritual aspiration – even with our religious instinct – for we already know that courtly love, at its very beginning so many centuries ago, was understood as spiritual love, a way of loving that spiritualized the knight with his lady, and raised them above the ordinary and the gross to an experience of another world, an experience of soul and spirit.”
I discuss the medieval myth of Tristan and Iseult the Fair in the context of this week’s Torah portion Bamidbar, the Biblical prophet Hosea, and the Festival of Shavuot that begins this Saturday night as similar expressions of spiritual love.
To read my d’var Torah, you can find it on my blog at the Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tristan-and-iseult-courtly-love-and-covenant/