Tag Archives: Judaism

Open Letter to Shia Labeouf from a Proud Jew

shiaDear Shia,

Thank you.  You helped crystallize an opinion I’ve had for quite some time. In leaving, or I should say believing you’ve left the Jewish faith, you made the statement that you just couldn’t cut it.  It’s important that I make something very clear.  If someone’s faith makes them a better person I respect them for the religion they are following.  However, as a Jew, and  I know I am not alone in this sentiment, someone who says they are leaving the faith I feel is at least to some degree a bit of a traitor.  Proud Jews believe we have something special going here, and when you Shia Labeouf choose to take your manifestation of faith elsewhere, you are, in the eyes of many, saying it’s not good enough of for you.  But I see it differently. I believe you are saying it is too difficult for you.

It is somewhat ironic that I write this letter.  You see, I am not such a great Jew.   Of course when I say this I am referring to my level of observance.  How good or bad I am is something left for God to judge, but there is no debating that my religious practice leaves a lot to be desired.  So when I seemingly go after someone for running from Judaism’s challenges, the irony is that I do that every day.  There’s one difference.  I don’t go elsewhere because I think it is easier.

You might say that I am out of line.  I’m sure I will even hear that from some fellow Jews who read this letter.  After all how can I make the assumption that you left the religion of your birth because it was too tough for you.  I make this assumption because I know that to many of those lost souls wandering around aimlessly,  it is a lot easier to choose a system where they believe that all they need to do is declare their faith. Being a Christian by your perception in what you so spiritually referred to as a not in a  F-ing Bulls*t type of way, doesn’t involve all the restrictions and daily commitment being a Jew in a not F-ing Bulls*t type of way does.  I’ll even go along with your premise and admit that I often behave in ways that makes it seem like I believe in Judaism in a F-ing Bulls*t type of way.  I rather admit my flaws and practice poorly than run to something else where I can appear religious without really doing anything.

I have Christian friends.  I respect them and admire them.  I don’t believe in all the same concepts that they do, but since they respect what I believe in as well our differences don’t matter.  And to be very honest, I have no issue with anyone who chooses Christianity over the faith of their birth unless it was Judaism.  You see Shia, I have a great fondness and pride for what I am.  I know it is tough being Jewish.  There are lots of restrictions, many responsibilities, what sometimes feels like unfair expectations, and with the amount of people who have wanted to kill us over the years and still do to this day, what often feels like a big target on our backs.

There are some who believe that Judaism makes it too hard for people to join the faith.  They believe that conversion should be made easier.  The opinion you helped crystallize by your declaration of conversion is that one of the reasons for anti-Semitism is the way we Jews who are even marginally traditional Jews feel we’re an exclusive group which people have to show real dedication to if they wish to join.  I think it causes many to subconsciously feel, if you can’t join em, beat em.  I myself have struggled with this very question, Does Judaism make it too difficult for converts?  Maybe so.  But I guess it’s because we rather not have someone claim to be Jewish and then be a Jew in a F-ing Bullsh*t kind of way.  It’s usually required that they believe in it in the kind of way that goes beyond just saying in an interview to a magazine that they’ve been saved.

Despite the perceived tone of this letter, I do wish you spiritual peace.  I also want you to know I still consider you Jewish whether you do or not.  You see, I was raised to believe it’s a lifetime membership whether you feel you can handle it or not.  And if I am right you’ll have to answer to God big time.  Then again so will I.  But at least I accepted what he gave me from birth.  You felt you knew better, or found an easier answer.  Good luck with that.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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It’s all Fun and Games until someone loses a Head

isis-videoLet me start by making something very clear.  I am by no means making light of the horrific and graphic murder of journalist James Foley.  I am however asking two very important questions.  My first question is why did it take till now for everyone to take the threat of ISIS as seriously it should have?  And my second question is, as the United States debates bombing a second country after the beheading of one journalist, why has it been so hard for the world to accept Israel’s reaction to the murder of three teenage boys?

The questions seem very different but the answer may be the same.  Regarding the subject of terrorism, Muslim extremism and the threat it poses to the entire civilized world, the Israeli government and its supporters, in Israel and throughout the world, are ahead of the curve.  As much as I dislike them on a personal level, the celebrities who proudly display their anti-Semitic sentiments through opposition of Israel’s actions don’t understand how much they are hurting themselves in the process.  I dare say that to some this is a new Muslim Chic.  Captivated by the culture, the music, the hum of the call to prayer, the smooth talking Palestinian leaders have them taken in by what they see as the Palestinian’s plight.  I am not going to berate Liam Neeson for expressing his attraction to Islam because he did so in a positive context, but I may also want to say to him, come take a look at Judaism.  We don’t have large factions within our ranks looking to take over the planet through brutal violence.

Criticizing the realities that exist within Islam is not racist, its realistic and practical.  Celebrities and politicians who have bent over backward to ignore those realities until now are partially to blame for James Foley’s death and for those who will be murdered by these factions in the future.  When the two young stars, Rihanna and Selena Gomez tweeted messages along the lines of “Free Gaza” or “Free Palestine”, did they ever stop to consider how young women like them are treated by the Hamas government and the society they are defending?  In contrast are they aware of the equality and opportunities provided to young women in Israel, even going as far as being important contributors in the military?  I am sure they didn’t.  They posted it on Twitter because it seemed like a fun, neo-humanitarian thing to do at the time.  Not so much fun anymore when there’s a video of an American journalist being beheaded on YouTube is it?

If the rest of the western world had put the same value on the lives of  Naftali Frenkel,   Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar as Israel did, and supported the operation in Gaza as it should have and understood its importance, it would have sent a message to groups like ISIS and Hamas, and even the oft ignored ringleader Iran, that it understood what is at stake.  But not only did they not do it then, some continue to not do it today.  But to those who needed to see it in front of them to make it real, the beheading of James Foley was a wake up call.  Not so Chic anymore is it?

 

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Why Holland’s Heroes?

9781468573909_COVER.inddSome of you already know the background, but for those of you that have only started reading my work recently I wanted to give you a brief explanation of why my blog is called “Holland’s Heroes”.  In short, I am here today because of Dutch heroes.  My parents, Rabbi Nardus Groen of blessed memory and my mother Sipora Groen, were both Holocaust survivors from Holland.  As I cover in the book “Jew Face: A story of Love and Heroism in Nazi-Occupied Holland”, their actions during the Nazi-occupation of Holland were nothing short of heroic.  Originally set up to promote the book, Holland’s Heroes has developed into something far more important, an avenue from which to promote the truth, defend Israel and the Jewish people, and a platform from which to join forces with all those of all faiths that want a safe and decent future.

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My mother showed incredible courage in some of the most dire situations including sleeping in an underground room for 16 months knowing at any time she could be discovered and killed.  My father was instrumental in saving the lives of many, including my mother.  He escaped the grasp of the Nazis four times including one remarkable escape from the Hollandse Schouwberg, Amsterdam’s equivalent at the time to Carnegie Hall in New York City.   The people who provided my mother a home for 16 months, Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, did so knowing that if they were to be caught, their entire family would be killed.  Despite the grave dangers, they not only gave my mother shelter, they gave her a warm and friendly home.  It hardly gets more heroic than that. And there were so many others, Jew and non-Jew alike that showed such bravery in such difficult times it is almost impossible to comprehend.

So very simply put, I am here today and able to write for you because of heroes from the small nation of Holland.  I’m aware of the problems facing the Jewish community of Holland today and knowing the rich history of Judaism in the country and my own personal connection it is even more heartbreaking for me than what is happening in other parts of Europe.  None of that negates the fact that Holland’s Heroes are the reason I am here today, and for that I will always be grateful and proudly call my blog Holland’s Heroes.

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They are Sanctified through Our Unity

img65649Sanctification is an important word in the Jewish religion.  The Sabbath is celebrated and made holy, partially through the blessing of the wine, known as Kiddush or sanctification.  To behave in a decent and good way and represent Judaism in a strong manner is referred to as a Kiddush Hashem, or Sanctification of God’s name.  And the prayer uttered in mourning is know as the Kaddish, because it sanctifies the memory of the lost soul and lifts them to a higher level before God.

Not everyone has the same reaction to the murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, but what strikes me is the similarity with which we have all been devastated.  Regardless of one’s political leanings, opinions on a response to the murders, or connections to Jewish faith and practice, the horrible events brought to light have united not only Jews, but decent people everywhere in a way that truly sanctifies these boys’ memories.  They should never have been taken so young, but the way in which they have brought us together their souls are truly raised to the highest level.


The Last Seder?

mealDespite my own personal ideological struggles, I am a Jew who believes in the philosophies of Judaism before I believe in those of any other religion.  However, I do feel that now maybe more than any time in history the alliance between Christians and Jews has never been more important.  The rise of Islam, a rise that in many places preaches only Islam, has put the concept of freedom of religion in more danger than any time in modern history.  With that in mind I am making a short post to discuss, and hopefully create a discussion regarding the connection between Passover and Easter.

I often say, only partially tongue in cheek, that there are 2 major differences between Christianity and Judaism.  One is that while Christians are awaiting the 2nd coming, us Jews are still awaiting the 1st.  Either way we are still awaiting the supposed Messiah or Messianic era.  The second difference would be the disagreement over who is the best Jew of all time.  There would be some discussion on the matter, but as a Jew I would put in my vote for Moses, and I would be surprised if I didn’t end up backing the winner.  Christians however, even if they have a fondness for Moses, clearly would pick Jesus.

It is widely believed that “The last supper” was actually a Passover Seder.  Seeing the apparent time of year and the fact that a group got together around the table for discussion, there is much credence to this belief.  Ultimately, those who believe in the Messiah coming in a mystical, ultra spiritual way would see the events celebrated by Christians as a realistic method for the savior to be revealed.  Us Jews however do not believe that has actually taken place.  However, if either belief causes people to behave in ways of peace, love and tolerance, they help the world far more than hurt the world.

What are your thoughts?


Remembering My Father

dadc193 years ago today in Rotterdam, Holland, my father Nardus Groen was born.  His life was one filled with substance, meaning, and love.  I remember him fondly and miss him often.  Despite what one might take from the book “Jew Face”, I was aware of my father’s faults.  Every human being is flawed and my father was no exception.  However, one of the things I witnessed from the time I was a child, was that he never spoke one bad word of his parents who were murdered in Auschwitz.

My father was a great man.  I say that with certainty and pride.  He was principled, strong, ethical, and loving.  I often wonder if he would have liked the book “Jew Face” and my portrayal of his life.  I have often said that the greatest joy for me in writing the book was that in writing it I felt as though I got to know my parents as young adults.  My father never was able to confirm if that feeling of mine was justified, but it is one that I keep with me and cherish.

To use more modern vernacular, when looking at my father in the most difficult of times, my father was a bad ass.  He claimed in later years that he often felt fear, but his actions during the worst of times showed a behavior that showed otherwise.  The hardest thing for me as his son has always been the feeling that I have never been close to being the man that he was.  But then again, many never will be.

He was proud of who he was, and as a Rabbi he tried to use his understanding and extensive knowledge of Judaism to help and teach others, Jew and non-Jew alike.  The debate on what makes one truly religious is an endless one, but in my eyes and the eyes of many others, my father was indeed very religious, even if somewhat unconventional in practice.

He loved my mother, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren very much. No one has ever perfected the art of showing that love, my father being no exception, but to this day his love is never questioned.  Together with my mother, who God willing turns 91 in 2 weeks, a new world sprung forth of decent and loving people who do them both proud.

So today, on what would have been my father’s 93rd birthday, I remember my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, with love and respect, and hope that some of what I have done this past year has helped part of the world know why.


Tisha B’Av: In the Mind and in the Heart

Most of my posts are done with some degree of research and historical reference.  Although the basis of this post will originate in overall Jewish and personal experience, this particular post comes entirely from the heart.  The wide range of emotions felt by any one individual make up who they are and although there are many, the 2 primary ones are joy and sadness.  Emotions are impacted by our level of maturity.  This does not necessarily imply that one is immature if they do not feel certain emotions, but that who we are and how we have grown, positively or negatively, will impact our emotional responses.  I say this because when I look at how I feel about Tisha B’Av today compared to years back, the difference is significant.

I’ve always known the religious and historical reasons for the commemoration of Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.  It is said that both Jewish Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, many years apart, on the same day, Tisha B’Av.  The city burned, people died, and the greatest physical symbol of Judaism was destroyed twice, on the same calendar date.  Since the Holocaust, Tisha B’Av has held greater meaning as it is used to recognize the loss and sadness of the Jewish people during that horrific time.  And yet, through so many of my adult years, although I always intellectually understood the importance and acknowledged it to different degrees, I would be dishonest if I were to say I truly felt sad.  This was until a few years ago.

So what changed?  I did not become more observant.  I am still someone who for right or wrong, picks and chooses what Jewish laws I keep and which ones I do not.  No one sat me down and gave me a speech to influence my feelings.  And yet, tonight, as I sit and write this on Tisha B’Av, I feel a genuine sadness.  I credit much of how I feel to the impact the writing of the book had on me.  However, not in the way one might think.

My experience in writing the book had me immerse myself into the world of my parents between 1940 and 1945.  How fortunate I was to feel at times as though I was there with them yet never actually be hungry, desperate, cold, hunted, and in constant danger.  I imagined I was there yet at no time was my life ever threatened.  What this did was teach me one of the most important and poignant lessons of my entire life.  It’s not all about me.  We all live our lives that consist of the good and the bad.  Many do live with some degree of fear or danger.  I do not, and I thank God for that.  But today I am a different person.  I am now someone who understands that it is not only my personal suffering and tragedy or that of those close to me that matters and should cause me true sadness.  Tisha B’Av is a day to recognize the sadness of others and to allow ourselves to truly feel it with emotion, not just intellect.  A day in which my own personal growth has now given me the opportunity to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see past my comfort and freedom and be truly sad for the pain and suffering of the Jewish people.  Now on Tisha B’Av my heart feels what my mind always knew.  I once heard a Rabbi compare Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur and how we fast full days on both saying, on Yom Kippur if one truly understand the awe of judgment by God, who would be able to eat?  And on Tisha B’Av, knowing the true sadness of the day, who would want to eat?  That makes sense to me now, not because I understand it, I always did, but because now I feel it with true emotion.