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On Being Jewish

The Living Jew of Warsaw
His dark eyes, narrowed in concentration, gave him the air of someone far older than his almost thirty years
When I was 18, I spent a year in the Old City of Jerusalem. I had just broken up with a girlfriend and graduated from a public school in Pittsburgh.
‘You’ll Love Us—We’re So Disorganized!’
“Why be Jewish, or any label for that matter?” I declared to the rabbi. “All the problems in the world, well, most of them anyhow, can be traced to some sort of organized religion.
He stared at me in surprise. He looked at my beard, black hat and chassidic garb, and I realized that he hadn’t recognized me from a distance—it was just now dawning on him that a chassidic rabbi had held his hand.
The Unexpected Shabbat Guest from the Gown Boutique
The saleswoman halted and looked at us, somewhat startled. "What did you say?" she questioned me as she turned to Sharone; the cross around her neck swung back and forth on its thin gold chain.
A Jewish-Dutch Tapestry
“My name is Baroness Alice van Slingelandt, and I originate from Vienna," began the elderly vicar.
How I Discovered I Was Jewish
Finding My Jewish Roots in China
All of a sudden I had discovered that I was a Jew, and I had no idea what that actually meant. I did know, however, that it was a big deal. And I knew I was now part of a very clannish, cohesive group with an intense shared history of genocide, persecution, controversy, and a disproportionately prominent role in the course of world history.
Like One Person
How can a 5,000-year-old heritage still leave one man feeling so distant, so estranged?
I Need a Rabbi?
Imagine my surprise, one sunny summer afternoon, to see two Hassidic young men come into our little place of business. My wife and I had been in Montana for only a few short months. How did they find us? And, more importantly, why did they make the three-hour round trip to visit us?
G-d on the Corner of 96th and Amsterdam
The street corner was busy. Too busy. There was certainly no place for G‑d in this scene.
The Power of Kiddush
There was, though, one mitzvah that my grandpa cherished and upheld as far back as I can remember, and up until he became unable to stand: kiddush...
A Sukkot of Lovingkindness
I settled my mother in at the center, and returned to my hosts’ home in time for the holiday. As I blessed the candles, a wave of gratitude enveloped me...
Sustaining the Joy of Sukkot in Our Relationships
After the luster of the new relationship wears away, and couples seek to improve their marriage, much of the focus shifts to what is wrong and what needs to change. While it is important to directly address the rough spots in a relationship, and this is usually what motivates couples to seek counseling, there are ways to effect change by bypassing the negative in favor of the positive . . .
The Art of Forgiveness
One does not decide what happens to him; one decides what he wants to do with what happens to him...
A Rosh Hashanah Lesson from the NFL
Another season in the National Football League is now underway, but it almost never happened. For months, players were locked out of their jobs, as owners and players failed to reach an agreement. This happened to me as a player, but even worse...
Time Multiplied
My point is not to regret the necessities of life, nor to cheat us of the relaxing moments that energize us and give us a little respite so we can go back to whatever we are doing, refreshed or relieved or both. It is that the next time we are faced with the opportunity to do something good for somebody else, or for ourselves, let’s think twice about saying or thinking that “I just don’t have enough time.”
Eternal Love: Understanding Tisha B’Av
On this miserable morning, I stand before G‑d hungry and unwashed, undignified and unadorned, overwhelmed with the memory of countless holocausts unique to the people of His covenant . . .
Schneerson, Guests have Come to Visit Us!
The entire notion of this wedding was surreal – actually, unthinkable. Over 2,000 people from around the world had flown into Moscow to celebrate a Jewish wedding, aided by the Russian authorities.
Morning Devotions
This is quality time spent honing my emotions, refocusing my mind, reinvigorating my trust, and readjusting the compass of my life. By the time I’m through, I can feel spirituality pulsating throughout my being...
Passing the Buck
The Meaning of Shaliach Mitzvah
I stood outside staring at the dollar bill. I wondered why he wanted me to take his money. He could make a donation himself, right?
A New Definition of Fun
My connection to Shavuot
When my two young sons grew older and less dependent on me, I realized that between work and managing a home, there was a part of me that craved something additional. Something I knew I possessed but felt was not being cultivated sufficiently . . .
What Moses Told the Jewish Woman
As a Jewish son, husband and father, I stand in awe and appreciation of the role the Jewish woman plays in the continuity and story of our people. It was her faith which got us out of Egypt, it was her faith that gave us Purim, it was her faith that gave us the strength of the Jewish family, and it is her that in whose merit we will all dance into the Messianic era...
Building Success by Dreaming
Optimism is contagious. We achieve the most when we pass on the tools of success to others. We must lead by example . . .
The Orchestra
The power of community
Each sound another timbre, another color, another world. But somehow, they are all one. The players and the instruments, the instruments and the orchestra, the orchestra and the conductor, the conductor and the music, the music and the energy pulsating through the room. How can so many different instruments produce such a seamlessly unified sound?
Hold On to Your Roots
A Child’s Upsherin
When I got my haircut, it was an experience. But for Jacob, it was an event. I had a professional cut my hair. He had his family and friends contribute . . .
Why It’s Great to Be a Teen
So many teens are terrified. Terrified of the world they are just getting to know, of the future which seems so out of reach, and most of all, terrified of themselves . . .
Your Money or Your Son!
The inner meaning of pidyon haben
Who would ever even consider keeping the money instead of their precious child, G‑d forbid? But when you think about it, we can—often without even realizing it—sacrifice everything, even our child, for some silver . . .
A Sense of Belonging
A Passover memory
One of the most important Jewish things parents can do for their kids is to foster a feeling of connection to the Jewish People. By helping our kids identify with other Jews early on in their lives, parents radically increase the chances that their kids will want to remain part of the Jewish People when they mature . . .
Bonding in De Gaulle
Three Jews bumping into each other in an international European airport; there had to be some inner meaning behind it all. “Do you want to put on tefillin?” I asked. “No,” he answered. He had a story, though . . .
Sosua
Baila, who fled Nazi Europe as a young girl, wept as her 5-year-old granddaughter kissed a mezuzah for the first time. Paula, who grew up in New Jersey and married a non-Jew, has mixed feelings about her own daughter's discovery of Judaism...
Call Me Classic
It’s got to be one of the toughest marketing problems of all time: selling Orthodox Judaism. You’ve got all this long black stuff. And then there are the hats . . .
Hope in Katmandu
The cruel irony of the two photos: in one, the German chancellor with his arm around a 75-year-old Buchenwald survivor; in the second, an Israeli soldier arresting a demonstrator burning tires on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway
People of the Book
Why does she take the word of an archeologist at face value, while rejecting the historic testimony of an entire nation? Why do I accept an ancient document filled with puzzling statements as my guide for 21st-century living?
Two Rabbis Came to the Door
I had been a seeker for many years by the time I knocked on the door of Lubavitch House...
A Letter to My Eldest Daughter
I see you all sitting around a large dining room table, laden with Shabbat delicacies, explaining the Parshah and sharing stories with the participants -- women who are two, three, or even four times your age!
What Jews Do
She looked me up and down as though I were a bug on a pin. Then she said the words that still reverberate through my mind . . .
My Lost Generation
Real adults have the world on their shoulders -- and all those placebos to escape that world. And then there's me, with an awareness of what is and no way to get out of it. It seems somehow unfair
An Easy Life
The thought first occurred to me in the throes of pre-Passover cleaning: What an incredibly easy religion. I don't say it aloud; to do so would elicit hostile stares from all the exhausted people in the room
My Father's Siddur
She went back to the darkest corner of her basement which, to her surprise, was now filled with light. While she was away on her journey, someone must have replaced all the bulbs!
Dancing With the Torah
I was first called to the Torah at the age of 36. It was a short walk to the reading table, but in that brief period of time I became very anxious about what would be expected of me...
When G-d Blinks
Reflections on Shabbat
Shabbat is the pause between, the no-man's land, the dark of light, the in of out, the light of dark, the in-between
Shalom Shabbat
In the endless conflict between earth and spirit, sheer weight often wins out. Shabbat is a reunion with our inner selves, a return to the primal oneness of our souls
A Day Away from Broadway
With a theater enterprise, tottering is its normal gait. Sometimes it does totter to ruin, and sometimes it totters to great prosperity. But I cannot honestly ascribe either result to my observing the Shabbat.
Echoes
They entered me like tiny pieces of a puzzle that found the space, or impression, that was carved exactly to fit their dimensions. Then they would snap together, forming sentences and paragraphs and concepts...
Spitting
"Shalom Gefiltefish!" was the salutation that greeted us upon encountering the smiling face of Mr. B. To our credit, we didn't bat an eye. Hardened by two weeks of searching out Jews in the hamlets and backroads of Montana, in which we'd heard just about anything said to and about us, we simply smiled and took our seats
Spiritual Warrior
I find this battle terrifying, because I have no idea where it will lead. It forces me to confront the plaguing question: if I truly let G‑d in, what will He do to me once He is there? Who will I be?
A Blessed Curse
I had hopes and expectations for everything. Then came the curse, the curse that was a blessing
Confessions of a Fundamentalist
Yes, I was a rationalist. Yes, I believed in evolution and the A scroll and the J scroll and all that stuff anthropologists said about the Bible. But this was too much
Where the Roads Meet
My parents used to tell me not to wave my hands while speaking and not to talk in a singsong. When I asked why, they said that it made me look like a Jew
Kaddish at Fenway
We were doing our thing, what we were suppposed to, and no one felt like we were out of place.
The Bris
Why can't they just allow us our little strip of land and leave us alone?
A Special Wedding
Looking at the radiant bride, the thought crossed my mind that this magical person very nearly did not come to be...
My Ethical Will
As I write this, I am sitting on my Jerusalem balcony, looking through a tracery of pine trees at the view along Rehov Ruppin...
Put On Your Yarmulke
To laugh in the face of fear can be a powerful statement of defiance
In a Ward on a Hill
On an overcast morning one Fourth of July, sullen clouds hinting to the imminent fall of rain, I came to a Forensic Psychiatric Ward in Northern Connecticut.
Late Luggage
"It's a numbers game. Why waste your time with a Jew who is married out? There are so many more Jews that are traditional and with both halves Jewish, that you can work with!"
For Her Child's Future
Precious as Jewish education is, they'd just enrolled their children in the local public school. The cost was just too great, and in the economic crunch, sacrifices had to be made.
 A Side of Grandfather that I Never Knew
On the morning after Kristallnacht, a surprise phone call warned him not to leave his house and definitely not to go to synagogue. But he wasn't going to let the Nazis stop him from going to his synagogue....
Why a Nice Suburban Torontonian Joined the Israeli Army
I still remember arriving the first day. I'd just received my uniform and put it on. After collecting my equipment, I received my M-16; I turned to the commander leading me through all of this and asked, "What do I do with this?"
Conversations on a Park Bench
The Jew Who Wanted his Child to be Jewish
They have a son, they told us, and he's going out with non-Jewish girls. They're terrified he'll marry out. Have we any solutions? Yup, just like that, standing in front of the Bonsai exhibit, in fifty words or less they sought the solution to keeping their son within the nationhood of Jews.
My Sweet, Alone Passover
The decision seemed like a no-brainer, but I didn't go with my brain on this one. I went with my gut. If I was truly to "put Judaism first," I needed to be with my mother; I needed to honor her. For the first time in my life, I made all the seder preparations and drove to Philadelphia, shank bone in tow...
The Shabbat Experiment
Without really even noticing, Shabbat settled in and the vibe of our whole house shifted. It was a quietude that was defined by the fact that we knew it would last, even for only a day. All the pressure was gone...
Become a Leader
Passover Leadership and Responsibility
Up until now, the Staff Sergeant had been dealing with us directly for over 18 hours a day. Now, things were changing. Tonight we were voting, by secret ballot, for our “leader” – the person who would represent us to the brass, the upper echelons of the military...
Golda didn't know what to say until finally she blurted out in Yiddish, "adank aich far bleiben yidden". Her words spread through the throng like wildfire, and she felt her limp words were a poor mockery of prophetic incantation. "Thank you," she had told them, "for remaining Jews"…
Our Last Sukkah?
Every year, we would tell the story of how we first met each other inside a sukkah in Jerusalem, and how the sukkah slowly transformed into a wedding canopy...
Keeping the Focus on Unity
This unity is found in the soul—the spark of G‑d inside each person. If this unity were apparent, we would not have free choice, and there would be no purpose in our existence...
A Lost Luria
On her back, hidden deep inside a sling, the baby boy slept on, blissfully unaware of the cruel world into which he had been born.
The Rebbe’s advice on maintaining a good relationship with your parents and in-laws
A chassidic son-in-law who aspired to be a shliach (emissary) of the Rebbe was something they had never planned for their daughter.
The Doctor's Prison
I was driving to the hospital this morning and I saw something I’d never seen before: “Three Chabad young men were walking on the side of the highway.
The Arizal's Souls
Hundreds of years after his passing, in wondrous ways, this holy man is still leading people toward Jewish connectedness.
My Journey from Kuwaiti Arab to Jerusalemite Jew
It was only yesterday that I wore a white dish-dasha, and now I sport a kipah.
This is the new Jewish community of Russia. The small core of Jews that held steadfast to tradition during the Communist era has either passed on or emigrated abroad. Today, young people fill the synagogues alongside the nouveau riche.
When Almost No One Showed Up…
“It’s just me,” she said sheepishly. “Will you still stay?”
The minute she saw her mother, Anna pounced on her with the question: "Tell me, are we Jews?"
My Grandfather’s Shema, Even in the Barracks of Auschwitz
I know why I am here. Why I became the woman that I am. How I was guided to this incredible life. It was my grandfather’s Shema.