Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tisha B'Av - The Saddest Day of the Year 

Tisha B'Av FAST starts on Monday, July 31, 2017  (before sunset)  - Ends Tuesday, August 1st (after sunset)

For exact times of the Fast please visit:

In Biblical times, it was on this day that the 12 spies returned with a bad report about the Land of Israel, causing a decree of 40 years of wandering in the desert. About 500 years later, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed on Tisha B'Av. And about 500 years later - on the same calendar day - the Second Temple was destroyed as well. Only one wall, known to us as the Wailing Wall remains at its place.

The harshness of Tisha B'Av has continued throughout the generations. 

Tisha B'Av, 1492, one of history's most infamous deadlines arrived. It was on that day that the Jews of Spain had to convert or leave the country.

To contemporary people, the tragedy of our century is the Holocaust. As history has shown, WWII was a consequence of many political events that happened due to WWI. 

World War One began on Tisha B'Av. 

On July 23, 1942 Tish B'Av of that year, Heinrich Himmler received formal Nazi approval to implement the Final Solution.

On Tisha B’Av we abstain from:

·       Eating and drinking. Anyone over bar/bat mitzvah fasts, including pregnant and nursing women. Feeling ill? Consult a rabbi.

·       Bathing or washing. Exceptions: soiled hands, upon exiting the restroom, and the morning ritual handwashing(only the fingers).

·      Applying lotions or creams.

·      Wearing shoes that contain leather.

·      Marital relations.

·     Learning or reading anything other than subjects concerning the Temples’ destruction or other sad events of Jewish history. 

In the 1800's, the Emperor Napoleon passed by a Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter in France. The day happened to be TishaB'Av. He heard the sounds of weeping and wailing coming from within.

He summoned over one of the Jews and asked, "What is everyone crying about?" "We are lamenting the destruction of our Holy Temple (Bais Hamikdash) in Jerusalem." "When did this happen," asked Napoleon, aghast, "I didn't hear anything of this and my ministers report to me twice daily of all the current news and events around the world." "Sire, our Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans." Said Napoleon, "A people - that passionately mourns a national tragedy that took place over 17 centuries ago - is ETERNAL."

In 1967, Jews from all over the world flocked to Israel to see the Kotel (Wailing Wall), which had been off limits to Jews for many years. The Israeli army set up guards near the wall. During one particular shift there were two soldiers standing guard, watching the steady stream of people of all Jewish backgrounds pouring their hearts out at the holy wall. One of the soldiers started crying. The other soldier asked, "Why are you crying?" "I can understand all of these people being emotional over the Kotel for they are religious Jews; but, you and I were brought up on a nonreligious kibbutz. Religion has no meaning or significance to us. So why are you crying" The first soldier answered, "I am crying over the fact that I am not crying." "As I see these people, I realize that there must be something very special - something very deep and profound - about the Destruction and about the whole religion. I know that there is something very beautiful that I am missing. It is for this that I cry

For my Russian speaking friends, please watch my 15 minute video on this subject:


For more information please download:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Changed by Caring

Many years ago a young woman I'll call Robin was admitted to Gateway out of prison where she was jailed for repeatedly committing crimes to support her narcotics habit, some of those crimes fairly ugly. Her therapist at the center took great interest in her and told me that it was imperative we find a long term facility for Robin rather than sending her back out on the street. She was certain that if Robin was released from our relatively short program that she would relapse, violate her probation, and end up once again in prison.

I found a program for Robin which could provide residential treatment for a year. However Robin refused to hear of it.

We periodically hold meetings with staff and patients where we gather to discuss various issues and air grievances. At one such meeting, with Robin in attendance, the director threw the room open to anyone who had something to share. After some silence, Robin's therapist blurted out that she was going to quit. She began to cry. She went on to say that she had put her guts into Robin and she was positive Robin would not stay clean if she left treatment. Rather than watch her patient destroy herself, the therapist was determined to quit.

At this point Robin rose, walked across the room and put her arm around her therapist whose despondency persisted. Many of the patients and staff members tried to cajole her into going on for more treatment but Robin remained adamant. It was quite a role reversal with the therapist crying and Robin comforting her.

A few days later the therapist found me in my office and said, "Something about Robin has changed. I think she can make it on her own as an outpatient after all." Indeed, Robin left the facility, attended recovery meetings and remained out of jail.

I wondered just what had worked for Robin and at a recovery meeting I heard her tell her story: she had been raised in several foster homes. "No one had ever really cared for me," she said. "I got to feel useless, a burden to everyone. I hated the world for treating me like a worthless piece of junk.

"I didn't believe anyone could care for me. When my therapist cried over my refusal to go for long term treatment, worrying about what might happen to me, it was the first time in my life that anyone ever really cared about what might happen to me. I couldn't believe her feelings were for real and for a while I continued to test her sincerity. When I realized her caring was genuine it gave me hope that maybe the world was not as cruel or uncaring as I thought."

Robin's therapist cared for her and not only within the artifice of the therapist patient connection. Caring for another is a gift, showing that feeling is a good deed. The connection that results from this sharing of feeling forms an unbreakable bond. 

(©2017. Printed with permission from Rabbi Baruch Lederman, author of Shulweek  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

5 Steps to a Happier Life


Change your attitude, change your life.

A friend confided that she wakes up each morning with a tight feeling in her chest. “The news is so frightening, life and family pressures pull me, and sometimes I just can’t take it anymore.” It is easy to fall into negativity but we can help ourselves become happier and more positive.
While there are certain situations we cannot change, our attitude and spirit can most definitely influence our moods. When we focus on transforming our outlook we breathe new energy into our daily lives. If you want to be a happier person, begin by identifying where you can change.

1. Happiness is Our Choice

It is time to stop pointing fingers. Blaming others, being the martyr in a relationship, or thinking that it’s always someone else’s fault is a waste of our time and energy. We can accuse our boss, spouse, mother in law, or ‘karma’ for our unhappiness. Or we can decide that we choose our feelings, and no one can force us to choose misery. Once we accept that happiness is a choice, we begin to own our life. The moment we realize that this is true we start taking responsibility for our actions and moods. Life is too short to walk around in a chronic state of unhappiness.

2. Stop Expecting

We create our own obstacles by expecting behaviors and actions from others and then being let down. Once we stop anticipating we can move on and grow wiser. Too often we feel slighted or overlooked while in reality we caused our own bad feelings with unrealistic hopes.
A mother of teens shared that she is constantly being disappointed by her own mother. Birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations go by without being acknowledged. Every conversation is a self-centered dialogue. Here is this woman, already a mom of grown kids herself, finding herself lost in child-like emotions because her mother cannot meet her expectations.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if things were different? Of course it would be. But her mother is not changing and that’s a fact.
After years of hinting, discussing, and analyzing the bottom line is that the only way to stop feeling frustrated is to stop expecting alternative behavior. If this mom can take her experience and use it to acknowledge her own children with love and attention, then at least the experience will have been purposeful.

3. Invest in Friendships

Ethics of the Fathers teaches us to “Acquire for yourself a friend.” Our sages recognize how vital companionship is to our quality of life. Hundreds of Facebook friends don’t count. One good friend, who is loyal, kind, wishes you well, and shows good character is all you need.
But time creates distance. We become obsessed with our careers, engrossed in parental duties, busy with balancing budgets and responsibilities while good friends are left on the wayside. Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if we have invested enough hours and energy into our relationships.
Spouses count as friends too. If all we do is talk about the kids, problems, and credit card bills we have failed to cultivate the most cherished ingredient of marriage. Love cannot grow without nourishing the friendship between husband and wife.
Our burdens become lighter and our joys become sweeter when we share them with friends. Don’t wake up one day to realize that you have lost touch and taken the best people in your life for granted.

4. Put the Past Behind You

Stop living life while looking in the rear view mirror. We bring ourselves down when we can’t let go of past hurts and mistakes. Allow yourself to say goodbye to the chaos that has hounded you. This takes inner courage and strength. But if you continue to hold on to the pain you will never see yourself as a potent force in your life. You are grieving, hurting, and aching but you are not living.
We are either the sons of our past or fathers of our future.
Victor Frankl explained that we are either the sons of our past or fathers of our future. “When we are no longer able to change a situation –we are challenged to change ourselves.”
I often meet people who tell me that it is impossible for them to be a good father or mother because their parent was such a failure. Instead of working on parenting skills they opt to walk away from their families and spend years talking about what dysfunctional parents they had. A new generation is being raised and there is another vacuum in the place where love and guidance should lead. What an awful way to live.
You can break the cycle and fix the mess if you can make peace with your past. Ask yourself this question: How can I make my today better than my yesterday? Give yourself real goals to help you move on. Embrace the people in your life instead of creating barriers. If you see that you are struggling with holding onto a grudge or that you can’t move forward, realize that you are allowing your past to destroy your future. It is up to you to discover the desire within to live life better. Studying Torah’s wisdom, surrounding yourself with positive people, and concentrating on choosing emotions like tolerance and patience instead of anger and resentment are all keys to finding serenity.

5. Rid Yourself of Envy

Jealousy creates bitterness. It brings out the ugly side in a person. Envy consumes –it does not allow you to enjoy your blessings. Instead you are too busy counting everyone else’s good fortune. Resentment grows as you view others Instagram photos, track vacations on Facebook, and attend weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with a begrudging eye. “What about me?” you wonder.
You don’t realize how unpleasant your comments have become. You slowly suck the joy out of every happy occasion. By focusing on what you believe you are missing, you lose touch with the good that you have been given. Discontent eats away any satisfaction you may have had.
Many wonder about the power of ‘ayin hara’-the evil eye. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler teaches that an evil eye only has power on someone who possesses an evil eye himself. If one has a good eye and wishes others well, he has nothing to fear. Let’s use this teaching as a catalyst to rid ourselves of envy. We will discover that contentment is within reach. How much happier we will feel!
Why continue wasting emotions and energy on negative thinking? Despite the challenges it is possible to change our attitudes and transform our lives. Happiness is within reach. You can put these five points into practice and work on making it happen.

5 Steps to a Happier Life

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Light of Second Chances

This year, May 10th is Pesach Sheini, the "Second Passover." 

Image result for second chances pictures

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Pesach Sheni was a "second chance" for those who were unable to bring the Passover offering the first time.

Why are second chances so important? With self-doubt, insecurity, or ambivalence we often give up trying if we fail. And yet ...

Thomas Edison struggled in school. His teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He met failure in his career too and was fired from his first two jobs. As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Eventually he succeeded and invented the light bulb, the phonograph, the wireless telegraph, and much more.

When Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team he went home and cried. Over time he grew a few inches and kept practicing his skills with failure fueling his motivation. Several years later he was the NBA Rookie of the Year. In his career he won numerous championships and retired with the highest score in NBA history. Henry Ford failed five times in business. Despite being broke and a failure, he kept going and eventually founded the Ford Motor Company. His innovations in assembly lines made automobiles affordable for the first time to the average American.

Theodore Geisel’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers. If he 
hadn’t continued we still wouldn’t be reading children's classics such as “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”.

If we understand the importance of second chances then we might ask why wasn’t Pesach Sheni included with the original discussions of the Laws of Passover? Why did we receive this second chance only later?

Rashi suggests a beautiful answer. G-d deliberately delayed the transmission of the laws of Pesach Sheini in order to reward the individuals who approached Moses with their concerns that they missed the Passover offering and wanted a second chance. 

What a great message! If you want it, sometimes you need to ask.
Pesach Sheni reminds us that “Nothing is ever lost: it’s never too late!” The previous Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak said, “The Second Passover means that it’s never a ‘lost case.’”There is always a Second Passover in which we can make good on what we missed the first time.

Rabbi Aryeh & Rosie Weinstein

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It happened at 8:30

A young boy came to Rabbi Shlomo Farhi, who is involved in outreach in England and shared this story.

During the summer of 2005, a young man would travel by train to choir practice in London every Thursday morning. It was a long trip from his home, and he needed to be there at 9 a.m. One morning, as the train was just a couple of short stops away from his destination, he looked at his watch and saw it was 8:30. There was a coffee shop across the street and he figured he had plenty of time to get off, get himself a cup of coffee, and relax for a few minutes before getting back on the train and going to practice. Shortly after he exited the train, he heard a deafening explosion. He turned and saw that the train had blown up. With tears running down his face, he watched the mayhem that ensued with sirens blaring and fire engines and ambulances rushing to the scene. He tried calling home to inform his family that he was all right, but the cell phone network had crashed.
The boy started walking home, and two hours later, he walked through the door. He found his parents crying and sobbing. As soon as they saw him, they rejoiced.
       “You’re alive!” they exclaimed. “We can’t believe it! You were on that train!” They told him that there was a synchronized terror attack on the London transit system, and multiple explosions took place at 8:50 a.m.

       “No,” the boy said, “it didn’t happen at 8:50, it happened at 8:30!”
       “That’s wrong,” his parents replied. “All the news stations reported that the attack took place at 8:50.”
       The boy looked at his watch, and his mouth dropped. It still read 8:30. G-d had made his watch stop so he would think he had enough time to go get a cup of coffee, and this is how his life was saved.
       “Do you have a picture of that watch?” the Rabbi asked.
       “Rabbi,” the boy said, “if you want I will give you the watch to keep.” He ran home and brought back the watch. The Rabbi looked at it, and saw that it had stopped at 8:30.

“If I ever experience any doubts in my faith and trust in G-d at any point for the rest of my life,” the Rabbi said, “I will look at this watch and remind myself that G-d is controlling the world.”

This story was verified by Rav Shlomo Farhi, who is involved in outreach in England. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Daniel Kravitz and the Neo-Nazi

Daniel Kravitz, the owner of a secondhand furniture shop in Denver, was taken aback by the customer who entered his store. The young man was dressed like a hoodlum, with a shaved head and bare arms covered with tattoos including the venomous message, “Kill Jews!” It was clear that he was a neo-Nazi.
Daniel was relieved that his kippah was concealed beneath a cap.
He spent the next hour assisting his customer. He took the man on a tour of the shop, helped him select a decent array of furniture, granted him a generous discount, and then helped the young neo-Nazi load his purchases into a pickup truck.
After looking the man over carefully to make sure he wasn't carrying any weapons, Daniel cautiously said, “Tell me, do you really feel what all those tattoos say?”
“You bet I do,” the man replied.
“Have you ever hurt anyone?” Daniel pressed.
Daniel paused, then asked, “What do you have against the Jews?”
Daniel patiently listened until the man finished speaking. Then he removed his cap to reveal his kippah and said, “Are you aware that you have just spent an hour with a Jew? Haven’t I been honest, kind, and generous this whole time?”“They are thieves and liars!” The customer launched into a tirade, spewing out every imaginable anti-Semitic stereotype.
The neo-Nazi gaped in disbelief. “No way! You can't be a Jew, man!”
Daniel motioned to the mezuzah on the door and then showed him a siddur (prayer book) on his desk. “You can see very clearly that I am Jewish, and I’m not at all like the image you have of Jews. You have been brainwashed. I can’t believe that your parents raised you with this kind of hate. You must be estranged from them,” Daniel surmised.
The neo-Nazi grimly confirmed his suspicions; he hadn’t spoken to his parents in ten years. Just then another costumer came in and Daniel wished the neo-Nazi a good day and turned to assist the other customer.
“I need to apologize to you and thank you,” he said tearfully. “You made me reassess everything I had believed. Thanks to you, I now know what a Jew is, and I’ve decided to turn my life around. I’ve even reconnected with my parents.”Six months later, the man returned to the store, this time with a full head of hair, decent clothes and long sleeves to conceal his tattoos. To Daniel’s surprise, the man embraced him warmly.
Don't underestimate the amount of light one act can bring to the world.

This story was shared by Daniel Kravitz to Rabbi Shraga Freedman author of Living Kiddush Hashem 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

South Korean UN Ambassador

Mr. Sol Werdiger, CEO of Outerstuff, a company that produces sports apparel, received a phone call from Mr. Oh Joon, the South Korean UN Ambassador, asking to meet him for lunch at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan.

Although Sol did not know the purpose of the meeting, he agreed to meet with Mr. Joon.

When they met, Mr. Joon told him the following: “I have always heard negative stereotypes about Jews and Israel and I took it at face value. Then, my daughter took an internship working on design in your company. Throughout the year, she has been telling me how wonderful it is to work at your company.”

Mr. Joon continued: “There are four areas which stood out and impressed my daughter.

“1) Every day, at 1:30 p.m., no matter what was going on at the office, all the men, including those from neighboring offices, retreated into a room to pray with sincerity and calm.

“2) Every Friday, the office shuts down early in the afternoon in preparation for your holy Sabbath and is closed on the Sabbath – this includes all workers, no matter which faith or religion they maintain.

“3) My daughter observed that each petitioner for charity – and there were many – were treated with respect and left with a check in hand.

“4) My daughter was treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”

Because of the amazing experience and lessons the company taught his daughter, Mr. Joon took out his checkbook and was ready to write out a check returning all his daughter’s earnings.

Mr. Werdiger wouldn’t hear of it.

“Your daughter worked and earned her salary and rightfully deserves her pay,” he said. “I will not accept any remuneration.”

Then the ambassador relayed the most amazing thing: “As you know, I have voting privileges at the UN. Because of my renewed appreciation of the Jewish people, I abstained from voting on resolutions against Israel on three occasions. At one resolution, I was the ninth vote needed to pass the motion and resolution against Israel, and because I abstained, it did not pass!”

Mr. Werdiger told me that no one at the office had any idea that this girl was the daughter of an ambassador, and no one ever imagined what type of impact their typical conduct at work had on her or how this impacted the votes against Israel.

G-d has entrusted us to follow the example of our forefathers to be trailblazers and to set examples, becoming a light unto all nations by living exemplary lives as outlined by the laws, personalities and experiences of our precious and timeless wisdom