Chairman’s Message – Spring 2015

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A caveat: while reading the cover story in this issue about the frightening rise in anti-Semitism, it is easy to succumb to the notion that Jews are being targeted the world over, that we have no friends, that every non-Jew—from our colleagues at work to the neighborhood “Shabbos goy”—is, beneath his or her courteous exterior, a rabid anti-Semite. This is, of course, patently absurd.

While the escalating anti-Semitism in Europe cannot be ignored, we cannot allow our fear and anxiety to overshadow the true, genuine friends and allies the Jewish people and the State of Israel have around the world. We cannot allow the bigots and the haters to eclipse the compassionate, the just and the decent.

Allow me to share a personal story.

I began my media career working for a local radio station as a news writer. At one point, I was hired by a major national radio broadcast network as a news editor. I was ecstatic to land such a prestigious job so early in my career, especially because I was probably the only Orthodox news editor in the industry at the time.

A few short weeks later, when my boss realized that I would have to leave early on winter Fridays, he promptly fired me. Suddenly, I understood why there were no Orthodox news editors.

But the story does not end there. Subsequently, I got a job as the PR director in a material handling company. My boss was a wonderful Italian non-Jew named Joe. One Friday, as I was about to leave for home, I realized my car had a flat. To make matters worse, the spare in my trunk was flat as well. Shabbos was in an hour and a half; my ride home would take about an hour and fifteen minutes. With little time to spare, I rushed back to the office to call a cab. I then went to tell Joe that I would be taking a cab home and would have to leave my car in the parking lot over the weekend.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“You are not taking a cab home,” he insisted. “I’m driving you.”

He spent an hour or so driving me home and then an hour driving back to the office. That’s the kind of person Joe was, and still is. He went on to serve as my professional mentor, and I am proud to say that we are still friends today.

After my encounter with intolerance in the workplace, it was Joe who restored my faith in humanity.

Rabbi Dayan Berel Berkovits, zt”l, once recalled a beautiful story about his father. In the summer 2005 issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Berkovits wrote:

My father, alav hashalom, was an East European rav through and through, brought up living Torah and steeped in the yeshivah world of the tradition of the Chatam Sofer. He was a Holocaust survivor, who led a kehillah under three years of German occupation and lost his family in Auschwitz. Yet, he never lost his compassion for humanity . . . . We had a plumber who had leased a house from the Church Commissioners. Owing to a minor failure to comply with the terms of the lease, they evicted him from the house (taking with them, for good measure, the tools of his trade). Overnight, he became a wreck of a man.

My father went to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask him to use his influence to rectify a moral wrong and reinstate the man in his house. I well remember my father’s reaction when he came home in shock and disbelief. “Is this a man of the cloth?” he said, “the leader of a religion? The Archbishop said to me: ‘My dear rabbi, you are perfectly right; but the Church and the Church Commissioners have nothing to do with one another. The Church deals with matters spiritual; the Church Commissioners, with finance and investments.’”

And so, my father, the rav, took into his house the Christian plumber, who had been abandoned by his church. For weeks on end he lived with us; my father sat with him for hours, listening to him and encouraging him; and every morning (to avoid kashrut problems), my father personally prepared his breakfast for him.

Just as there are those who thrive on hate and prejudice, there are decent, good, caring and compassionate human beings as well.

Wim Kortenoeven, a former member of the Dutch House of Representatives who is quoted in our cover story, is just one example of a non-Jew who has spent his life defending Israel and the Jewish people. There are many, many more such examples.

In addition to the thoroughly researched article on European anti-Semitism which covers country by country, the issue includes articles on the disturbing rise of hate on campus, the upsurge in French aliyah, as well as an interview with Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky.

On a lighter note, food writer Carol Ungar analyzes how the Passover diet has evolved from kneidels and potato kugel to kosher for Passover muffins, granola and pizza. Finally, an expanded health section features articles on the benefits of marathon running and how the modern Israeli diet has the potential to be a model diet.

Before signing off, I want to wish all of our readers a chag kasher v’sameach.

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This article was featured in the Spring 2015 issue of Jewish Action.
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