Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween: What on Earth am I Missing?

Dear Henry,
       I am going to toot my own horn for just a second. If you haven't noticed I am a very hip rabbi. To say I'm in with the times would be a massive understatement. I know what Breaking Bad is. I know the theme songs to the OC and One Tree Hill by heart. I know Snoop Doggy Dogg changed his name to Snoop Dogg, and then again, to Snoop Lion. I have two fantasy football teams, and I am beating most of my opponents. To put it simply, I am cooler than ice cold. Cooler than the other side of the pillow. After receiving a text message from me, One girl responded "a texting rabbi! I always knew Jews were so cool." Little did she know I also got BBM. Like I said, I'm cool.
      So it greatly confuses me that I completely, and absolutely do not for the life of me understand the American borderline obsession-like craze about Halloween. I write this not as a religious Jew, but as a father of adorably precious little children. 
      I first noticed this feeling of confusion last year in August, when we first moved back to America, after having lived in Jerusalem Israel for two years. We went to the book store, and I was amazed to see that the whole kids section was dedicated to scary stories involving Halloween, which was coming up right around the corner, in a mere 3 months. I thought to myself quite simply, as much as I want my children to be mortified and spooked before they go to sleep, I will pass on these books for now.
      I again recalled this feeling of bewilderment a few weeks ago when I was in New Jersey for a Shabbos. We were walking around a large community and I saw on every other lawn statues of bloodied, mangled corpses, some playing the piano. Some were half-buried. Again I thought of my kids: this is probably awesome seeing bleeding dead looking people in people's lawns. These are healthy images to inhabit the innocent minds of my 2 and 4 year olds. Although an observant Jew, I get the appeal of having beautiful lights on one's trees outside, or even a friendly looking dude with a cool white beard on a sled, with some deer behind him. Thats pretty cool. But bloodied, mangled corpses?Hands and legs sticking out of the ground?
      Henry, maybe I am old fashion, but this type of stuff downright gives me the willies. 
      Maybe instead of having limbs scattered across the lawn, we could make new types of lawn decorations. Maybe we should start making statutes of a young man or woman helping an elderly person cross the street. Or maybe a young whippersnapper helping up a stranger who had tripped and fallen to the ground. Or perhaps depict an image of a person giving money or a sandwich to someone less fortunate. Or even a high school student shlepping her grandfather's groceries up to his apartment.  These are the images I want to implant into my children's brains when they walk outside-- not the annual vivid memory of bloodied human remains.
      Is our obsession with the morbidity of Halloween any indication of our society at large?  Like, perhaps our TV shows are too violent, and our video games are too graphic?  Am I living on a different planet? What am I missing? Maybe all this stuff is good old fashion plain fun. But can't we have fun by going to a baseball game, playing checkers, or going apple-picking?
     This might sound radical--which is crazy-- but when my kids get older, I would much rather they remember their childhood autumns by the stunningly exquisite leaves on the trees, than by the ghosts and skeletons hanging from them.
Danny Wolfe

Friday, October 18, 2013

Judaism and Bowls of Salad


Dear Henry,
      Now that the US Government shutdown is over, I am also putting an abrupt end to my blogg shutdown. You see, dear Henry, as an act of heroic and darn-right patriotic solidarity to the Grand Canyon, which was closed as a result of the shutdown, I decided I would be a hypocrite if I did not also shut down my blogg. So I shut it down. But now, the government is not shut down anymore. So, my blogg is not shut down either.  You see, America is by far, one of the greatest nations on G-d's green earth. I love this nation. My country tis of thee; sweet land of liberty. O beautiful for patriot dream, That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!  
    In short, America is awesomely awesome. What is so amazing about America? Is it that it is the Great Melting Pot where everyone becomes the same and melts together as one? Or I would suggest that perhaps this is not such a great thing, for everyone to lose their own personal identities and characteristics. Maybe the awesome thing about 'murica is that I can be a religious Jew living and practicing freely, while you can be a devout Protestant, living how you want, and he can be an observant Muslim living according to his traditions, and she can be a Buddhist, doing her thing. We can all live in the same salad bowl, each of uniquely retaining our own identities. 
    My question, that came up this past week, is why is it that so many of my Jewish brethren so desperately want to be melted into a massive pot, losing their Jewish identities? This past week I probably asked several hundred college students in a campus on the East Coast of this beautiful country of ours two questions: A) Are you Jewish? B) If so, are you interested in a FREE trip to Israel. Henry, I am now about to analyze these two basic seemingly simplistic simple questions, and then I am going to call it a day. 
    Firstly, we will deal with question number 1: Are you Jewish. For some reason, the word "Jewish" itself inherently displays ambivalence and lack of conviction. Have you ever had a Christian say I am Christian-ish. Or a Muslim say I am Muslim-ish. Or, do they tell us, proud as can be, "I am a Christian! I am a Muslim!" This ambivalence and shyness about being Jewish was on clear display this week, as we would ask people. There would be a group of 3-4 Jews, and after hearing the question, the Jew would look away, while the non-Jewish friend would nudge them, and say, "she's Jewish," at which point the Jew would dejectedly look down, accepting defeat. 
    Now, we will analyze question 2: Do you want a free trip to Israel? That is a seemingly straight forward question that does not even need our analysis. I walked over to a table of three students who were studying. I said, "Sorry to interrupt, but are you Jewish, and do you want a free trip to Israel?" The guy at the table looked down embarrassedly, and told me he is Jewish, but does not want the free trip to Israel. The girl at the table looked me straight in the eye and said, "I am not Jewish, but would LOVE the free trip to Israel. Maybe if we could somehow change places, I would be happy to go!"
This happened more than once. Can you imagine if you went to a Catholic, and asked them if they wanted a free trip to Rome, or the Vatican, and they hurriedly declined? Its hard to fathom. 
    Admittedly, throughout our glorious history, us Jews have sometimes had it rough. We have been through the Crusades, expulsions, pogroms, and outright genocide. However people mistakenly think that all of our problems would just go away if we ran away from our identities and just melded into the culture in which we live, losing any trace of our past. But that doesn't work. History has brutally and tragically disproven that false premise.
    The point, dear Henry, is that all of us in general--including the thousands upon thousands of readers of this blogg across the globe--and us Jews in particular, need to be proud of where we come from. We shouldn't be shy about our religion. We should flaunt it.  Just like the bright yellow pepper stands apart in my blue salad bowl on the dinner table, so too, we need to stand proud in the salad bowl that is American Society.  

Danny Wolfe

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

To the Shutdown US Government: I Thank You!

Dear Henry,
      Inasmuch as the American Government is currently shutdown, I decided now would be an appropriate time to write a new blogg entry. My thought process went as follows: I have thousands of viewers across the vast planet. Hundreds of them are undoubtedly government officials, park rangers, and museum employees. Therefore, they need something to do these next few days-- so  figured I would do the United States a service, and provide everyone effected from the shutdown with compelling, beautiful, thought-provoking, and downright brilliant reading material. So to all my readers from America to China-- you're very welcome.
     Tonight I wanted to write about one Friday morning in the month of April. For many, April 19th 2013 was a day like any other. But for the city of Boston, April 19 2013 is a day that will not soon be forgotten. Boston was locked down, and the police and SWAT teams were patrolling the streets, performing a manhunt for the cruel, sadistic Boston Marathon Bomber.  As I sat, staring at, watching this, I realized that every single one of these brave, heroic boston Police officers was risking their lives so that Boston-- and all of America-- could be safe. I realized, almost in an epiphany, that every day, police officers and firefighters risk their lives, so that we can be safe and live in comfort and security. 
     Then I thought to myself, its quite likely that these heroes are greatly undervalued and under appreciated. How often do we thank them? How often do we look at them with disdain, casting them off, along with their stupid speed traps? How many times do we laugh uncontrollably when we see their cruisers parked outside Dunkin Donuts? 
     I realized that every day we need to value and thank these heros-- But with the Bostonian police officers on the streets of Boston actively risking their lives-- today was the day to express my gratitude. I decided to bring these heros some goodies to express my thanks. I drove to Trader Joes, and I purchased a few of the containers of their deliciously delicious chocolate peanut-butter cups. From TJs I headed down to the station. When I walked in, a lady was chatting with the police man, who signaled for me to come in. I put down the bag of goodies and said, "with everything going on in Boston, I felt responsible to come in and express to you the incredible amount of gratitude I have towards you guys, for protecting us. Sometimes you might feel unnoticed and unappreciated. But we notice you, and appreciate it very much. Thank you, and G-d bless you." The policeman dumb-foundedly looked at me, and asked what organization these were from. Surprised by the question, I simply responded, no organization-- they were just from me-- a simple American. 
    Judaism teaches that gratitude is a fundamental value incumbent upon us at all times. The Torah teaches that the first thing I am required to do every morning, even before jumping out of bed-- is to thank the Almighty for allowing me to wake up, and remain alive. Undoubtedly, hundreds of people every night throughout the world do not wake up. How fortunate are we every day that G-d returns us our souls. 
    It is hard to fathom anything more frustrating than working very hard at something, expending enormous effort on behalf of someone, and going unnoticed, and unthanked. One of the harshest descriptions one can use to describe a job, is to describe it as "thankless." A person can go through a day, accomplish incredible things, and go completely unvalued. Most of us though who go un-thanked (fortunately I am not included in this category of human beings) don't receive acknowledgement for trivial things like making the coffee, or helping a coworker. Police, however, go un-thanked as they risk their own lives for our safety and well-being. And the truth us, most human beings have a basic need to be acknowledged. Fascinatingly, the word in hebrew for gratitude, "Hoda'ah" is the same as the word in hebrew for acknowledgement.  To thank someone is to acknowledge them as a human being. To ignore them, is to dehumanize them. There are stories told of how victims of the Nazi Holocaust demanded that their murderers look them in the eye before killing them--forcing them, at the very least, to acknowledge that they were butchering not rodents, but human beings.
    Despite having no malicious intent, many of us hurriedly run through our busy lives, failing to thank those who help us. It is our duty as decent human beings, to start thanking anyone and everyone. Thank the nice person who cleaned your table before you sit down to eat. Thank the lady for being your cashier after buying a bagel. Thank your parents for their constant love. Thank your spouse for being your spouse. Thank your garbage man and your mail man. Thank your child's teachers. Thank the shutdown American government for giving you freedom-- for us Jews, a religious freedom unprecedented in the history of our long and brutal exile.
 And most importantly, thank the Almighty for all the wonderful gifts He has given you. 

Danny Wolfe