Tag Archives: London

Remembering the Rally cry of my youth: Torah v’Avodah

Bnei_akiva_logoTo all those out there who have either been members of, or been exposed to the Jewish youth group B’nei Akiva, the title of this post will immediately strike you with what will most likely be a fond and warm recognition. Although the practice of my faith has a lot to be desired, the rallying cry of Torah v’Avodah seems more important to me today than maybe any other time in my life.

Some of you reading this will have shared some fun times with me when I was part of the organization as a teenager in Philadelphia and London and belonged to what was called, Shevet Amichai, literally the “Tribe of Amichai” based on the names given to each age group.  I have no trouble admitting my reasons for being a member were social more than anything else.  There were the few, such as the late great Ari Horowitz, or my dear friend Danny,  that seemed to be motivated by some idealism at that age, but for me it was simple.   It was about the girls and the fun gatherings of friends.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to do with B’nei Akiva.  My last memory was one I should be somewhat ashamed of, but seeing as it was over 30 years ago and no one got hurt, I look back at it with more amusement than shame.  Me and 3 other friends, 2 from Dublin Ireland and one from Liverpool went to the small town of Petach Tikvah, right outside of Tel-Aviv, went to a B’nei Akiva gathering and falsely portrayed ourselves as the heads of branches.  Two in Dublin, one in Liverpool, and myself in London, where I was a member of the organization from 1976-1980.  It worked like a charm.  We achieved a degree of celebrity status for the day and each of us had dates with some of the cutest girls in the group for one very enjoyable summer Saturday night.  It was all in good fun, not all that serious, and went no further than that.

Today I think of B’nei Akiva, and being significantly more mature than I was 30 plus years ago, the 2 words that represent the group have a far greater importance than ever before.  Jewish unity is critical.  Everyone needs to do something during this very difficult time in our history.  It is my feeling that what makes the term Torah v’Avodah so poignant today is that no Jew who genuinely cares about the Jewish people and the State of Israel has an excuse not to at least choose one or the other.  If you are a dedicated and practicing Jew who follows the laws and listens to and studies Jewish teachings(TORAH), then you are strengthening the Jewish people.  If you question religious dogma or philosophically struggle with Jewish practice, that should not stop you from making some efforts or working (AVODAH) towards helping Israel and the Jewish people.  And which ever one you choose, unless it is both, I implore you to show respect towards those who choose the other.  For without unity we are lost.

And then there is that one lesson I learned from being part of B’nei Akiva even when I was just there for the girls.  That the future of the Jewish people is tied to the State of Israel.  Something all Jews need to realize today more than any other time in my lifetime.

Shabbat Shalom.


Of Course Holland lost..They’re my team

USP SOCCER: WORLD CUP-ARGENTINA VS NETHERLANDS S SOC BRABehind every perception of destiny, irony sits waiting and ready to pounce.  But I will get back to that.  The title of this post is by no means rooted in self-pity. Pity is never the feeling I have regarding the futility of the teams I support.  As a somewhat well-adjusted individual, I generally get past the pain of my sports teams’ demise within an hour of it happening.  I must say I am pretty good when it comes to that.  After all, and this is the root of the title, I have a lot of experience with it.

We can of course start with the most recent result of which irony played a major factor as well.  But again, I will get back to the irony later.  When the Netherlands lost to Argentina yesterday in the FIFA 2014 World Cup semi-final, I knew that another World Cup would be played without Holland lifting the trophy.  I watched Holland once again secure its position as the best team to never win the World Cup.  I took solace in the fact that they lost with class to a team with class, but nevertheless, once again, their World Cup ended in defeat.

I move on to the National Football League.  I credit the great New York Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor with getting me into football.  Sure I watched the game and followed the playoffs and Super Bowl, admiring the skills of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in particular, but it was LT who got me excited about the game.  And living in New York I cheered on the football Giants when they won their Super Bowls with Taylor, Simms, etc.  But it was not till I began to admire the tough character and skill of Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan Mcnabb, and enjoyed games with my family that I considered myself a true fan of a team.  The Eagles would go on to 4 straight NFC Championships and one Super Bowl, but would never win the big one.  And as football fans know, they still haven’t.

In 1976 I began what would be 4 years of school in London, England.  I picked a team.  Sure, I could have picked Arsenal just as easily, a team that won titles and cups, but no, I picked Tottenham Hotspur, probably the most consistently mediocre team in any sport in any country.  And since they are exceedingly mediocre, that’s all they are getting in this piece.

Being a marginal Basketball fan I put my allegiances behind the home team New York Knicks and watched as they always came up short against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.  Except of course for the times the Bulls were without  MJ when the Knicks came up short against Hakeem Olajuwons’s Houston Rockets.  Whatever, they came up short.

Then there is the team I am most emotionally invested in on a yearly basis, the Philadelphia Flyer of the National Hockey League.  Having lived in Philadelphia during their 2 glorious Stanley Cup victories, I will always be a devoted fan.  Even if we end up never winning another cup.  Does it count at all when the Los Angeles Kings win?  Flyers fans and educated hockey fans understand that question.

Lastly I will speak of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.  In 1985 when I moved to New York I picked a team as my local team.  I picked the very charismatic and entertaining Mets.  In 1986 I got my immediate reward, s the Mets not only won the World Series, they won it in the most dramatic and exciting of fashions.  The 1986 Mets have been the reason I have remained a fan of theirs till now, despite the fact that they are generally not very good.  And since I am a fan, when I say it that way, I am being nice.  The greatest overall significance of my support of the Mets now is that their 1986 team is the last team I am a fan of to win a championship in their sport.  Yes, that is almost 30 years.

And on it goes.  Yes I pushed the idea of Holland’s World Cup destiny, and the fate surrounding the teams they would need to beat, and of course started the online campaign of “Win it for my mother”, but in the end it was not to be.  My mother, whose maiden name was Rodrigues-Lopes, or in every day use, just Rodrigues, was the son of Marcel Rodrigues.  My grandfather’s nickname was Max.  So he was indeed known by many as Max Rodrigues.  So when Argentina needed just one more goal in penalty kicks to put them through to the finals and send Holland packing, I looked down, smiled wryly, shook my head and mumbled to myself, “of course”.  Stepping up to take the kick was Argentinian football veteran Maxi Rodriguez, who subsequently put the ball in the back of the net and guaranteed Holland would once again not the win the World Cup.  I guess I was right.  Sports destiny did play a factor.  It just did so with a tremendous sense of irony.  Good thing it only takes me an hour to get over it.


Being Jewish on Christmas

jewishchThe most intriguing thing for me as I sit and write this is the question continuously going through my mind.  Although I write this for everyone, is this piece more important for those close to me who are Jewish, or those close to me who are not?  Maybe I’ll have my answer by the time I finish it, but for now let me first begin by wishing all those who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas.

Now that I may have lost the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Atheists among the readers let me continue.

Let me begin by stating the obvious.  Jesus, as we all know, was Jewish.  So being Jewish on Christmas is a complicated concept to begin with.  This past week I had a mini debate with someone who insisted that Jesus converted to Christianity.  I insisted that was not true.  This person insisted they were told that in school, while I assured them they were never told any such thing.  Now of course I can’t be sure what the teachers actually said, but to the best of my understanding Jesus lived as a Jew and died as a Jew.  Christianity was the religion formed from those who followed him and believed him to be the Messiah as understood by Jewish teachings.  To the best of my understanding Jesus never turned away from Judaism, he just created a following of those who felt he was the Messiah, or Savior which subsequently caused him to be seen as a problem by many in the Jewish hierarchy, an issue that causes some to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, even though in reality it was the Romans.

Now that I may have lost the ignorant and anti-Semitic among the readers let me continue further.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household that was, in many ways open-minded.  Christmas decorations, movies, and music were all appreciated for their beauty and not seen as a threat to our religious makeup.  The result of this is me being an adult Jewish male capable of enjoying the atmosphere in households with Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas music and lights.  It’s all very nice and uncomplicated and allows me to enjoy whatever situation I am thrown into, or dare I say even pursue this time of year.  What all this does not do is answer the one question.  What does it mean to be Jewish on Christmas?

Well the first answer is very simply, it depends on the person.  I know that to some Jewish people it means nothing.  Although some do find it diametrically opposed to all they believe in, for many of those that fall into this category it is not something negative, merely something insignificant.  I understand this point of view because to those who focus entirely on the religious aspect, Christmas is something to be celebrated only by those who believe in Jesus being more than a man.  I remember a trip I took to London that included me being there on December 25th.  The majority of my friends, people who I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school with, were getting together with their families for “Christmas dinner”.  In fact I was told that in the days leading up to Christmas the Kosher butchers sold turkeys by the dozens and ended up selling out of them completely.  To these friends of mine this was clearly not a religious pursuit, rather it was an opportunity to get together with their family and have good food and some fun.  Not unlike Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

I dare say that to some Jews there may even exist a phenomenon that could be called Christmas envy.  It is why sometimes we say Merry Christmas first, just to get a “same to you” response.  After all, who wants to be excluded from “good will to all men”? I sure as hell know I don’t.

Now that I may have lost those who feel the use of the word “hell” is inappropriate and not Godly let me conclude.

I like Christmas.  It is a nice holiday, filled with good food, pretty sights and the best of intentions.  If you believe as I do, that the major difference between Jews and Catholics is really only whether or not the next coming is the first one or the second, you have no trouble with any of the religious significance.  When no religiously motivated hatred exists on either side, all that really matters is the fact that people are getting together with those they care about, or at the very least like enough to be at a party with.  For many Catholics who indeed celebrate Christmas, the religious significance is not what is even important to them about the holiday. Instead it’s the decorations, food, and family, making it not at all complicated for me to justify my enjoying it as well.

So to all of you who celebrate, or to those of you like me who have a good time any time I am invited to be part of the celebration, Merry Christmas.

And should there be any out there who I lost at this point because they felt that as a Jew I should not be so comfortable in speaking of the beauty that can surround Christmas, I urge you to read the following excerpt from the book “Jew Face”.  It is indeed one of my personal favorite excerpts and speaks of my parents and their experience on Christmas Eve 1944 in what was then Nazi-occupied Holland.

 

 

Excerpt from “Jew Face”:

Christmas Eve

It had been close to a year now since Sipora had arrived in Lemerlerveld, and although she hoped and prayed that she would not have to live out her days in the conditions in which she currently found herself, the te Kieftes had been extraordinary in their treatment of her and Nardus, and the people of the village had made her feel as much at home as they were able to under the circumstances.

There was no hatred toward the Jewish people in Lemerlerveld. However, being that the population of the town was mainly Protestant, Jewish practices, customs, and holidays were not part of the life here, and living there meant that Nardus and Sipora could not practice their faith. With the positive treatment they received, they were welcomed by Bertus and Geeske, as well as their family and friends, to celebrate their events and holidays.

So on December 24, 1944, as the German forces had fallen in the south, and the Allies moved closer to what they all hoped would be the end of the brutal occupation of Europe, Nardus and Sipora were invited to join the Christmas Eve dinner and celebration at the Oosterwegels household.

For one night, it felt like all the horror, sadness, and tragedy was frozen in time. The night was a special one. The atmosphere was wonderful. The home was filled with the warm glow of candles and the aroma of a special meal. The guest list was a mix of people from town, Bertus and Geeske with their two children, Bertus’s brother with his family, underground activists, Communists, and Nardus and Sipora. Maybe the specter of an impending Allied victory made the evening more special, but the warmth and joy present on this night was something neither Nardus nor Sipora would ever forget.

There are days, events, and situations when the world feels like one place, when people who come from different backgrounds and different beliefs come together under God’s watchful eye and show that even with all the force and determination of evil forces, good still survives and, on occasion, even thrives. When the manner in which you worship takes a back seat to the basic fact that you do worship. And all that has happened and will happen doesn’t matter for those moments that get frozen in time, bring joy to many, and give everyone the hope that there will be a reason to continue on with life’s efforts.

Christmas Eve 1944 in Lemerlerveld, in the Oosterwegel household, was one of those nights, and Sipora and Nardus were glad to be part of it.