In January, I had the honor of meeting the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, at the Jewish Federation. The attendees were a select group of community leaders that gathered to hear about his first of many years as Chief Rabbi.
Since the majority of the attendees were non-Orthodox Jewish leaders, one can imagine how quickly the discussion turned to the ideological differences regarding the Chief Rabbi’s Orthodox stances. Not surprisingly, almost every question asked in the Q&A session had an undertone of frustration and disapproval with the current state of affairs that are under the Chief Rabbi’s purview. Topics included gay marriage, legitimization of conversions, lack of discord between religious and non-religious Israelis, and lack of denominational dialogue.
One would think that such a set up would inevitably lead to a room full of tension, or at least a lot of passive aggressive behavior. I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised. The civility and mutual respect that reigned in the room was an unexpected breath of fresh air for this Middle-Eastern Jew so accustomed to emotionally charged religious debates. This specific morning was everything but that. All of the questions were asked with the utmost respect for the Chief Rabbi, including one from a female Reform Rabbi whom, in jest, opted out of the Chief Rabbi’s Rabbinical outreach program. The answers provided in return were said with full respect, but also with conviction and belief, without an inkling of the judgmental attitude so often seen by those in positions of power.
Obviously, the differences were not going to be solved or even properly addressed during a one hour breakfast session. Rather, Rabbi Lau kept driving the message that we have to focus on the many values shared by all Jews including love of Israel, Shabbat, and the importance of Jewish continuity.
I was personally impressed with how much progress he has quickly frontiered in an office that is known to be traditional and by nature reluctant to change. He has taken an honest inward look at the religious establishment in Israel and has taken thoughtful and brave measures to correct them. He recently modified the Rabbinical ordination exam, when he noticed many Rabbis were too focused on the ritualistic Mitzvot (Kashrut, Shabbat, etc.) at the expense of the personal ones (Lashon Hara, Honesty, etc.). A quick google search will show all initiatives he has taken to bridge gaps between secular and religious elements of society, and his halachic rulings in favor of women’s causes, among others.
Although some might say that there is a long way to go in bridging that gap, I am personally amazed with what he has already accomplished.
Your Community Needs You
Growing up in the Iranian Jewish community, I was never exposed to information pertaining to genetic diseases associated with my heritage. Now, as a young adult who has studied about the prevalence of certain diseases that affect our community, I believe it is time to address our lack of engagement with these issues. I believe it is our right to know about our genetic risk factors, especially for those in childbearing years (like myself, according to my maman).
Genetic disease prevention is empowering, or at least should be, and the reluctance of members in the Iranian Jewish community to obtain genetic testing/screening is perplexing. To this day, we have not been handed the necessary tools to make informed decisions about genetic disease prevention. Perhaps this can be attributed to the disconnect between scientific research and the greater community; as more genetic mutations are found, the gap between these two groups widens. It is my hope to bridge this gap. I want to explore the reasons why Iranian Jews would or would not obtain genetic carrier screening.
I urge you to help me uncover the factors that may persuade or dissuade us from getting screened. Attached is a flyer that will direct you to a brief anonymous online survey. The information collected from this survey will be used to examine the factors affecting genetic screening behavior. This research will initiate the groundwork for further prevention efforts to eradicate the genetic disorders to which we are most susceptible. The survey will take 10 minutes to complete and you could win a $100 gift card by participating. Join me in contributing to the health and longevity of our community.
CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE: http://goo.gl/4e8VgZ
Caroline Sahar Hebron
Master of Public Health (c) – CSUN
Biology & Mathematics, BSc – UVIC
Kol Ahava: A Cabaret For Our Family Far Away
Saturday night, November 8, marked a night for which our community had been waiting for months, the Bnai Zion’s Cabaret by Kol Ahava. Upon entry, this event transported me to another era. The decor had a refreshing element of a classic 1920’s burlesque lounge—feathered boas and all—but with a modern twist a la black lights and structured furnishing. That’s a difficult combination to pull off successfully, but this event nailed it.
The Cabaret’s main goal was to raise money for Bnai Zion Medical Center, which has taken on the remarkable task of building an underground, fortified state of the art medical facility in Northern Israel to treat patients without fear of an attack. Only months ago, pre-ceasefire, when Israel’s painful war was the main topic trending on Facebook, when it felt like it was us against the world, it was clear that B’nai Zion should be Kol Ahava’s next focus.
With LA Jews ranging from orthodox to secular (and everything in between), such a high attendance was made possible because Kol Ahava did their best to accommodate various beliefs. Their priority in serving only kosher food and beginning their events after Shabbat ends ensures that most won’t feel excluded. Plus incorporating two rooms, a lounge and a party room, allowed for people to choose the type of night they wanted to have. It’s a balancing act to which I know I can relate, and the coordinators did a great job.
The “minglers” could eat food catered by Simon, enjoy the crepe bar (it was too good to just lump in with “food”), drink, watch an aerial dancer, and play at any of the casino tables in each corner of the lounge. Meanwhile, those who wanted to lose themselves on the dance floor could do so in the party room, complete with two bars, jam-packed dance floor, an even more impressive aerial dancer, and DJ Child’s Play spinning on stage.
The attendance of roughly 750 people, Saturday, depicts the immense importance of this cause to the community.
It was truly successful. According to their post-party survey, which generated 80-90% positive feedback, the Kol Ahava general board of 32 (plus their extended team) clearly did something right. The exact number for money raised by this particular event has yet to be determined (it will eventually be posted on Facebook), but since their very recent launch in 2012, has raised over $218,000 for their choice causes. How’s that for some inspiration? If I were wearing a hat I would raise it to them.
Weathering the Storm
Everybody has story to tell – a story that venerates the significant, yet meaningful, moments of their lives which cultivate the ideals comprising the very essence of their moral fibers. I’m going to begin this piece by briefly recounting my story…not out of a sense of narcissism or conceitedness, but rather as a means to a noble end. If I haven’t already scared you off, then keep reading…I promise it’ll be worth your while.
I’ve had a very interesting childhood. I grew up in a typical Iranian-Jewish family consisting of 23 first-cousins, 5 uncles, 4 aunts, parents who were (and who still are) in a loving marriage, two goldfish named Tom and Jerry, and a younger sister who – for better or for worse – always considered me to be an ideal role model. However, my childhood was somewhat atypical: I was by no means a quiet kid…and, as a teenager, my occasional rowdiness continually gave rise to a myriad of after-school detentions and referrals to the principal’s office.
Despite my boisterousness, I always excelled in my schoolwork while also managing to make plenty of close friends. I earned straight ‘A’s in school; I was a starting forward on my middle-school basketball team; and I received flattering notes and prank calls from the occasional “secret admirer”. All of this essentially translated to a rather-seamless childhood, right?
Wrong. All throughout my early-youth, and well into my adolescence, I grew up with the worst possible speech disorder imaginable: I was a stutterer. The stutter wasn’t just something that reared its ugly head whenever I became “nervous” or “anxious”. Rather the overt signs of my speech impediment were as unremitting as monsoon rains of South Asia: they were characterized by nothing less than perpetual cycles of tense pauses and blocked speech. Needless to say, my stutter had a significant impact on my self-confidence for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was the fact that a widespread ignorance of my ordeal ultimately fed into peoples’ derisions and misconceptions of me. As such, I was always disinclined to participate in class discussions, or to otherwise approach my teachers with any pressing questions that I may have had.
The twist in my story is that I am now a practicing attorney who can’t keep from talking: I argue fact-intensive cases in open court, I negotiate complex settlement agreements and, if need be, I present my arguments before a panel of twelve jurors (and anybody else who happens to be sitting in the courtroom gallery). If, twenty years ago, I had been asked whether I would be an attorney who speaks publicly for a living, my answer would have been a resounding “NO.”
So…what ultimately led to my “transformation?” How did I end up talking for a living when, as a young man, I couldn’t even construct a coherent sentence? One word suffices for my answer: willpower.
What do Moses, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Nicole Kidman, and James Earl Jones have in common? They were all stutterers who prevailed over their hardships through an unparalleled determination and a strength of mind. The irony is that all of these figures were also involved in pursuits which required them to speak publicly.
Moses had initially resisted G-d’s commandment to approach Pharaoh: “Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” Yet, he almost single-handedly unchained the Israelites from Egypt’s venomous control. Three-thousand years later, King George VI and Winston Churchill orated among the most awe-inspiring speeches at a time when the British suffered heavy losses at the hands of their German counterparts. On the entertainment front: James Earl Jones has either won, or has been nominated for, a total of eight primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe awards, and two Oscars. Nicole Kidman, for her part, has won so many awards that there is an entire Wikipedia entry devoted exclusively to her list accolades.
Their stories aren’t simply quirks of fate: they had steep mountains climb; and while, on occasion, they subjectively felt as if they would lose their grips and thereby plummet into the depths of the violent river below them…they nonetheless hung on, pulled forward, and never allowed their personal tribulations to obstruct their paths toward definitive success.
Now, I happen to believe that movies are an indispensable means of gaining constructive insight into the human experience. By situating yourself into the shoes of the protagonists and antagonists of a well-crafted film, you can acquire a true sense of the human dispositions to which you would not otherwise be exposed. That said, the premise of this entire piece can be summed up by many inspirational films such as Rudy, A Knight’s Tale, Gladiator and The Karate Kid. However, one film in particular – GI Jane – does an exceptional job in conveying the morals of this piece.
GI Jane is a 1997 film that recounts the fictional story of a woman who experiences the rigors of U.S. Navy Seal Training. Jordan O’Neil, the main character of the film, sought to defy all odds in enduring the physical strains and the mental demands of Seal training. She was the only woman in a class of one-hundred male recruits who sought to successfully negotiate “the most intensive military training known to man.” Hence, she was not only required debunk the stereotypes of “physical weakness” commonly associated with women, but she also had to overcome the chauvinism that personified the temperaments of her male classmates. Her unsurpassed fortitude ultimately laid the groundwork for her successful induction into the U.S. Navy’s fictional Combined Reconnaissance Team. The message of the film is clear: when you surrender to your own shortcomings and to external pressures, you’ve cheated yourself out of the potentiality for greatness; but if you weather the storm, the possibilities for success are virtually limitless.
Confidence isn’t something that just magically sprouts into existence; it’s something that’s gradually developed after you learn how to face your fears and to cope with your hardships. Impoverished people have become wealthy CEOs; overweight people have become world-class athletes; stutters have become famous celebrities and politicians. All of them have one common characteristic: they’ve developed their confidence by standing firm in the face of adversity, and by always swinging their bats at all of the strange curveballs that life throws their way. Every person reading this article knows personal agony and misfortune; but what really attests to a person’s character is how they cope with their struggles. You can either hopelessly accept it without a challenge… or you can defy the odds, and prove to yourself that you can, indeed, climb that unclimbable mountain. The option is yours; but choose wisely…because regardless of what you decide, your children will almost certainly learn of your judgments with their own eyes, listen to your beliefs with their own ears, and grow up following your examples.
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