Chairman's Message

Chairman’s Message – Spring 2009

As I write these lines, a tenuous ceasefire in Gaza has just taken effect, bringing Israeli soldiers home, and ending, at least for now, the war in Gaza.

Here in the United States, we are in the midst of a deepening recession with no reprieve in sight. Our financial institutions—some of which have been around for more than eighty years—have collapsed in what seemed like a matter of days. The crumbling of these institutions, along with the devastation wrought by the Madoff affair, has shaken the Jewish institutional world, both here and abroad.
imageThere is no question that we live in confusing, challenging times. How is a Jew supposed to respond during times of challenge and travail? What is the classic Jewish response to pain? On a collective level? On an individual level?

This is the main theme of this powerful issue, which hones in on a particular type of suffering—that of serious illness. As observant Jews, we do not believe that events are random; we believe God runs the world with care and precision, and that troubles should lead one, ultimately, to a greater, deeper connection to the One Above.

Crisis—whether it be economic devastation or the ravages of disease—is one way God communicates with us. Our challenge is to try and discern His Hand behind the fall of Bear Stearns, behind the incessant missiles holding Israel’s southern cities hostage, behind the various crises that besiege us as a people and as individuals.

In this issue, we focus on the individual, and his or her quest to find God during a struggle with serious illness. We follow the life of Simcha Esther Gershan, for example—a forty-one-year-old woman stricken with stage-four cancer, who, summoning all of her spiritual resources to battle her disease, remarkably concedes that her illness has been an “amazing, awesome and holy journey.” As writer Carol Green Ungar notes in her poignant article on Gershan, “More than anything, Gershan is rallied by the sense that Hashem is with her, ‘holding her hand’ throughout this ordeal.”

We have included other meaningful articles on the topic of coping with illness, including Rabbi Zev Schostak’s beautifully written essay on hospice care and facing the end of life, and journalist Steve Lipman’s entertaining piece on how laughter is—literally—the best medicine.

Is this issue sad and depressing? I hope not. I hope it reminds us of the extraordinary power of prayer, of the tremendous potential inherent in teshuvah, of the enormous responsibility we have, both as members of a klal and as individuals, to renew our faith in Hashem—before a crisis hits but most certainly when we are in the midst of one.

As this is our Pesach issue, we also focus on holiday preparations. As many of you are aware, this erev Pesach is unique as it presents us with the opportunity to engage in one of the most uncommon rituals in Jewish life: the recital of Birkat haChammah, a blessing we say once every twenty-eight years. In his penetrating analysis of the background and laws of the blessing, which includes astronomical calculations, Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich, rosh yeshivah and rosh kollel lehora’ah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, notes that while Birkat haChammah is rare, “even rarer is the occurrence of Birkat haChammah on the fourteenth day of Nisan, erev Pesach….” (The last time this occurred was in 1925!) We hope Rabbi Bleich’s article will give you a deeper understanding of and appreciation for this most unusual blessing.

On a lighter note, writer Felisa Billet, commenting on a new trend in the frum world, notes the plethora of professional organizers who fuse “their talents and their religious sensibilities to help Jewish women organize their homes—and their lives.” Billet’s “home organizers” provide invaluable tips, instructing the frenzied Jewish homemaker on how to have a stress-free Pesach. Additionally, OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Yaakov Luban offers an insightful analysis of chametz sheavar alav haPesach; nutritionist Shira Isenberg provides useful advice on how to handle the potato fatigue that inevitably occurs during Pesach and Norene Gilletz gives readers a literal taste of Pesach with her array of tantalizing Pesach dishes.

I won’t point out every article in this jam-packed issue. But I will invite readers to read the issue slowly and carefully; I assure you there are gems in each and every article.

As always, I encourage you to send us your feedback—both positive and negative—by e-mailing We love hearing from you! Best wishes for a chag kasher vesameach!

This article was featured in the Spring 2009 issue of Jewish Action.