Purim In Israel, Chabad Style

Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “Purim in Israel, Chabad Style.”

We had the privilege to be in Israel for Purim night. We are going down Ben Yehudah Street in Tel Aviv looking for a synagogue for Megillah reading. Out of nowhere comes this Rabbi in Purim costume dashing down the sidewalk on roller skates. He pulls up in front of me and asks me to join them at the Chabad shul (#770 of course). Who can say no when Chabad is not only so cool and inviting, but also always helping to keep our minds focused on doing another mitzvah and towards the ultimate coming of Mashiach.


Over and over, I find you just gotta love everything about Chabad–they understand faith, ritual, and people’s hearts and for that and their acceptance of all Jews, I truly appreciate them. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Foreboding GW Masonic Memorial

So I took this photo of the George Washington Masonic Memorial. 


On one hand, it is quite a large and impressive structure (9 floors and 333 feet sitting atop Shooter’s Hill).


It is fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, the 7th wonder of the world, that was built after 290 BC, and which guided trade ships into the busy harbor of Alexandria, Egypt.


On the other hand, this memorial is quite spooky in its shape of narrowing ascending floors over a protruding larger base, as well as the noticeable pentagram (often used to signify paganism and the occult) that sits at the top. 


There is also the Freemason square and compass with a big G in it built and displayed in the ground in front of the building. 


The symbols and the building itself just seem more than a little eerie–whatever the rituals are that go on there. 


In a way, I can’t stop looking at the photo of this building…it’s sort of mesmerizing.  


But I feel it somehow has the draw of a dark and foreboding place. 


Like the Lighthouse of Alexandria that was destroyed by three earthquakes between the 10th and 14th centuries, I have an unsettling feeling about this as well. 


Maybe it’s just a feeling…or maybe it’s something more. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Where Does Organized Religion Go Wrong

Organized Religion.jpeg

So I am definitely someone who is spiritual and tries to be faithful to G-d.


I believe, He is my creator and sustainer and that we are here to learn and grow our soul before it goes back to Hashem. 


Yet often, like so many others now-a-days, I find organized religion to be a turn-off. 


Why?


1) There is a consistency and sincerity problem.


To some people, I believe it’s partially the rote and robotic nature of some of the practices–where we just do it, because we are told to do it, and we do it over and over and time after time, again–even when we don’t feel it in the moment, and even if we do other things that are not so right in other areas of our lives.  


In contrast perhaps, there can be more spontaneous and genuine feelings and actions, in the moment and every moment–that come from the heart and the soul of the person and directly to G-d–and they are consistent whether we are in a religious setting to how we treat others and how we act in business. 


In other words, we just don’t follow the rules, but we live them fully and integrated with ourselves and all situations we find ourselves in. 


2)  There is a money and power problem.


In some religious environments, all people are not created equal or treated equal. Instead, the say, the attention, and the honor goes to the powerful and the rich, who are courted for their donations and their votes to the institution and the spiritual leader. Who gets talked up? Who is given the honors at the religious rituals, at the events and the dinners, and with their communal “peers”? 


In other cases, it’s not just money and power that talks, but who is outwardly the “most religious” and presumably walks the walk.  If you but “seem” more religious than the next guy, then you are elevated and exalted in the religious community.  


Instead, what happened to welcoming and caring for everyone–to everyone being children of G-d–to each person having a soul and their personal life challenges. Why can’t we treat everyone as religiously worthwhile and give everyone a chance to learn and grow in their own way from their starting point and to their destination?  


Religion should be the one place that isn’t a competition with others. 


Religion is ultimately between man and G-d!


And only G-d knows what is inside man’s heart and in his soul–and what his actions really are all the time and what they truly mean in context and in essence


I welcome G-d in my life, because I:


– Have faith in Him and that ultimately He has a master plan and that everything is for the good 

– Love Him for giving me the chance to learn and grow my soul to be better

– Fear Him for when I do something wrong in my life and need a course correction 


I wish for a time and transformation when religion would not just be based on outward manifestations but on being sincere and consistent in people’s lives, and where people would no longer be superficially judged and (mis)treated because they are themselves and on their G-d given paths. 


If only we could religiously love, rather than endlessly judge, each other, oh what a heartfelt and inspiring religion that would be. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Relating To G-d Through Rules And Relationships

Arches

So we had some friends come visit last night. 


They are religious Christians (brother and sister) who love the Jewish people, and one of them actually attends our synagogue on a regular basis. 


We had a nice time talking and eating, and I also learned an interesting religious lesson.


The man told me how he understood that Judaism is very focused on rules (i.e. laws) that people are supposed to follow as laid out in the Torah.


But he said, it is also important to build a relationship with G-d.


The relationship being about sincerely knowing that G-d is there for us, that we are bound to him, that we express our gratitude for everything he does for us, and that we ask him for what we need. 


I think the main difference in how he described it was that is was not in a rote and ritualistic type of way, but rather as in a real relationship, where we talk to G-d naturally and recognize him benevolently and lovingly. 


As Jews, we know we cannot substitute a loving relationship with G-d for doing what we are commanded to do, but perhaps we can do both. 


We can follow the rules–the do’s and don’ts–AND we can bind with G-d in a one on one relationship–where we are and feel bound to him not just because we must, but rather because we really love him for creating us, sustaining us, and he is the ultimate good in universe.


When we are in a “relationship” with G-d, it’s because he is someone we want to cling to, relate to, talk to, and yearn for. 


This is a just little different than how I learned about this in yeshiva, where it was much more about loving and fearing G-d in a  rule-based way–again because we are commanded to do it.


But perhaps it is nice also to love and fear G-d, because he is G-d and we are in a deep and growing relationship with him. 😉