On a memorial wall in Washington, D.C., more than 19,000 names are inscribed. They are not the names of men and women who died fighting distant enemies in far-off lands, however. They are the men and women who protect and serve right here at home. The wall belongs to the National Peace Officers Memorial. Wednesday, May 15, was the annual memorial day for these people, who gave their lives in the line of duty. The day comes amid what is known as “Police Week,” which runs through Saturday.
Jews have a long history of distrust for the official police. In all the lands in which we lived over the last two millennia, the police or their contemporary equivalents were the ones who came to herd us from our homes, who publicly humiliated us for sport, and who even put us to the sword, or the gun.
Those days are behind us, however. The men and women who put on their badges or shields, to use the term favored by the New York Police Department, knowingly attach a target to themselves so that we may be safe in our homes and on our streets.
In our area in the past year especially, these people worked overtime — and continue to do so — to protect our synagogues and schools from threats, both real and suspected. When more than a year ago we experienced a series of anti-Semitic incidents that evolved into a potentially lethal firebombing, they turned over every stone until they arrested the perpetrator, even as they placed an even more watchful eye on Jewish neighborhoods and institutions.
It is truly sad that Peace Officers Memorial Day goes by unnoticed by most people in our country. Our community is no different.
Perhaps next year, as a community, we can do something meaningful to mark the day, or the week.
Last week’s column by colleague and brother Shammai Engelmayer brought me joy, not just because he’s rejoining the Jewish Standard as a columnist, as I and so many others had urged him, but because Shammai and I share one great passion: Jewish values. We both believe that Jewish values have the capacity to bring healing to a world that sorely needs it.
On June 4, at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square, my organization, This World: The Jewish Values Network, together with Rambam Hospital in Israel, is hosting a dinner honoring those who most promote Jewish values in the culture. The honorees are not all Jewish, and one need not be a Jew to absorb and promote the light the Jewish people have shared with the world.
Truth regardless of consequences
Foremost among the honorees is Elie Wiesel, the world’s most celebrated Jewish personality, whom we are honoring as “Champion of Jewish Spirit.” Here is where Judaism differs so much from Christianity. The latter looks at evil and has a simple response. It results from Lucifer, a fallen angel. Christianity is profoundly dualistic, dividing the world into competing forces of good and evil. The Nazis went over to the dark side. God was not at Auschwitz and therefore bears no responsibility for the mass murder perpetrated there. But the devil was present, and we must reject him fully and love God.
On Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, a siren sounds at 11 a.m. Throughout the country, everything stops for two minutes. On the highways, cars pull over and people stand beside them, in homage to those who lost their lives creating the state and defending it. On the sidewalks, all activity comes to a momentary halt. In schools and offices, work is briefly suspended and everyone rises to his or her feet.
On Memorial Day in the United States, when we are supposed to pay tribute to “these honored dead,” to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, people flock to the malls for special sales, have outdoor barbecues, and cheer on their favorite ball clubs as they munch on hot dogs and down cold drinks in the nation’s stadia. In the media, Memorial Day is touted as “the official start of summer,” with only passing reference to the dead whose day it was meant to be.
In most communities, there are no sirens, just parades, and the laying of wreaths — outside the view of most people.
There is something wrong with that picture.
This Memorial Day, May 28, at 11 a.m., stop what you are doing for two minutes, stand silently, and think about the freedoms we enjoy because there are people who are prepared to lay down their lives so that we can enjoy ours.
The school year is winding down. Students are preparing themselves for finals; some also are looking toward graduation ceremonies.
We have no effective way of monitoring how the year went in one school or another. We do know that tuitions are high and about to get higher. We do know that not every school has the wherewithal to provide students with the most up-to-date learning technology.
We also know that every school stretches itself to the limit and perhaps even beyond to do the best job possible for its students.
What we do not know is why, as a community, we are not more active in the education of our children. There is no board of Jewish education in northern New Jersey to help guide learning and enrich teachers with new skills.
Lack of funds has forced the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to severely curtail its teacher resource center and continuing education programs for educators. Over the past year, under the able and capable direction of Lisa Harris Glass, the federation has been studying how best to serve our teachers and students with the resources available. It has been a daunting task, but one carried out with a sense of mission.
All the planning in the world, however, will not succeed without a serious commitment from all of us as well. As the school year winds down, we must re-examine our priorities. We have to support the federation’s efforts with dollars, not just with talk. Those of us who have the time have to use the summer to explore volunteer opportunities at area schools. Synagogue boards have to give serious consideration to upgrading their after-school programs, so that they are not mere b’nei mitzvah mills but learning centers for Jewish children whose parents cannot afford day schools, or prefer not to send their children to one.
And parents must take a long, hard look at the year gone by. They must ask themselves whether their children received all the education they should have received. Not just what were their test scores, but what were the tests like? How many free periods did their children have on any given day, and what purpose did those serve? What tools were available to the students this year, and what is on tap for next year?
There are so many questions for all of us to ask — of the schools, of our communal institutions, and especially of ourselves.
As the school year winds down, the planning for the next year takes on a greater sense of urgency. This is the time to ask the questions.
The editorial “Not goodbye, Rabbi” (May 10) accurately elaborates the many accomplishments of Rabbi Neal Borovitz in the community. He has not only been a “tireless worker for the benefit of the entire community,” but a tireless worker as the pulpit rabbi of Temple Avodat Shalom. There is no better rabbi at life events; he is a brilliant educator; he is a true friend and confident.
It is good to see recognition of Rabbi Burstein’s production in your paper (“The play’s the thing,” May 10). The productions that Rabbi Burstein puts on each year have been recognized to be of superb quality, managing to do justice to the tragic and painful topic of the Holocaust. His skills as a teacher and Holocaust educator in the Yaveneh Academy brings out the best in all his students, be it in class or in his yearly productions. Through his book “The War Against God and His People,” Rabbi Burstein has managed to introduce this sensitive subject to young people in the States and here in London in an age-appropriate way. It is good to see how his efforts are recognized in a wider forum.
During his visit to China this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled that the city of Shanghai was “one of the few places that opened its gates” to Jews fleeing Hitler.
Officials of the Chinese Communist government, standing nearby, beamed with pleasure at the expectation that people all over the world would read how their regime rescued Jews.
But is it true?
As the prime minister noted, the port city of Shanghai was a haven for many European Jewish refugees during the Hitler years, at a time when most other countries, including the United States, closed their doors to all but a fortunate few. It is important to note that much of China was under Japanese military occupation from 1931 until 1945, and immigration to Shanghai was controlled by the Japanese government, not the Chinese. The Japanese, hoping to improve their relations with the U.S. and the American Jewish community, permitted about 20,000 German and Austrian Jews to settle in Shanghai during the 1930s.
For more than half a century, rosh chodesh Sivan, the start of the Jewish month of Sivan, has evoked mixed emotions in me.
On the one hand, it heralds the arrival of Shavuot, with its rejoicing at the re-enactment of Sinai; on the other, it marks the yahrzeit of my beloved bubbe, Breineh (Becky) Didovsky Green. Intertwined with communal joy, the excitement at approaching Sinai — and the cathartic effect of making blintzes — is the personal sorrow for the loss of the grandparent whom I knew best and longest, who lived with us in the Roxbury section of Boston and was my constant childhood companion.