The Price of Hate: Thomas Meixner

Hate of any kind twists our minds. It makes us believe something that is patently false and leads us down a road of death and destruction.

Back in October, Thomas Meixner was murdered. His crime was speaking out against antisemitism. The man who is accused of killing him (who will not be directly named in this post) took his life because he believe that Meixner was Jewish. He was not Jewish.

What it is going to take to force people to open their eyes? Antisemitism is real and it still exists. I would love to say that it ended in 1945, but it didn’t.

The only way to stop it is to speak out and make it clear that it is wrong and unacceptable. Until that happens, we will continue to mourn the loss of innocent lives.

May his memory be a blessing.

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Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence Book Review

Rape and sexual assault are unfortunately a part of human history. For as long as anyone can remember, women have dealt with this reality on a daily basis.

Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, by Ken Auletta, was published in July. This biography tells the story of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the 2017 revelation of the numerous women he forced himself on.

Born to a Jewish family in Queens, Weinstein was an insecure boy who grew into an insecure man. Though this business acumen is notable, how he treated people (and women specifically) is another story. Though there were instances of kindness and generosity, those events were few and far between. He was temperamental, impatient, arrogant, and threw his power around like a frisbee.

The stories of the women Weinstein assaulted are basically the same. He would turn on the charm and make them believe that he was genuinely interested. He would then invite them to his hotel room to discuss possible career opportunities. Once that hotel room door closed, it was just a matter of time.

For obvious reasons, this book is hard to read. It is a long read and the subject is obviously a difficult one.

The psychological profile that Auletta presents is that of a bully. Like all bullies, he has unresolved issues. Instead of dealing with them in a healthy manner, he lashes out and takes his anger out on others.

If nothing else, it should get us all angry. The problem is not just Weinstein’s actions, it is the complicity of everyone around him. As Auletta points out, his sexual reputation was not unknown. Instead of rallying around his victims, the majority stayed silent. If they had the gall to speak out, there were consequences. It was only after the initial revelations in 2017 that the silence was acknowledged and genuine change started to occur.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also state that this is one of the top five books of the year.

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Thoughts on Tashlich, Yom Kippur, and Starting Over

No one is perfect. We all have our flaws and mistakes that we wish we can undo. However, there will (hopefully) be opportunities to start over.

Earlier today, I completed tashlich. To make a long story short, bread is thrown into an open body of water. Each piece represents a sin from the previous year. In casting off our sins, we hope that we can start fresh.

After I finish, I can’t help but feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I walk away shedding a few tears and feeling emotionally refreshed.

Yom Kippur starts on Tuesday. As usual, I will be fasting for 25 hours, and praying for another turn around the sun. If nothing else, it makes me grateful for what I have (food obviously included). There are many who are surviving on much less.

If I have hurt or offended anyone over the past year, I apologize. To everyone fasting next week, have an easy fast. May you be written in the book of life.

Yeshiva University Should be Forced to Recognize and Legitimize its LGBTQ Student Organization

Religion is a beautiful thing. It can bring people together, create communities, and ensure that traditions are passed on to the next generation. It can also be used as an excuse to exclude, murder, and destroy people and ideas seen as “other”.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that in the Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance case that in the short term, the university does not have to recognize its LGBTQ student organization. While the school was waiting for the decision to come down, the administration chose to suspend all student-led clubs.

According to a survey released last year, only 22% of Americans attend religious services of any kind. In this same survey, 31% have never prayed in a formal setting.

It goes without saying that the institution’s cultural and academic foundation is based on traditional Jewish values and teachings. If a particular student is not happy, they are free to continue their education elsewhere.

I disagree with the resolution (Unorthodox podcast talks about it at 20:07). Religion is well and good. But if it is so stuck in the past that modernity and the march toward equality are ignored, that is a problem. If faith leaders want to increase attendance in the various houses of worship, they cannot bury their heads in the sand. This is why people walk away from organized religion. They feel disrespected, ignored, or both.

It’s akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I don’t get it.

I have not attended Saturday morning Shabbat services in more than twenty years. When I do go to services (which are mostly on the high holidays at my parent’s temple), I am turned off by the lack of acknowledgment of women within the prayer book. I know there are other synagogues that are more egalitarian. But, in this case, I wish that I was seen and respected within the liturgy.

Inclusion and respect is the only way to increase participation in formal religious practice and live up to the ideals set up by our founders. I think it would behoove Yeshiva University administrators to rethink the choice they have made.

Thoughts On Rosh Hashanah 2022

It’s amazing how busy the day gets. Work, writing, errands, etc. Before I know it, it is time to go to bed.

Rosh Hashanah starts this coming Sunday evening. For two days, Jews around the world will temporarily put their daily schedule on hold and ask our creator to forgive our sins and mistakes from the previous year.

For my part, I am looking forward to the holiday. It will be the break I have been looking for. This time of year is the busy season for my industry. For the last six weeks or so, I have been putting in long hours that have thoroughly put me through my paces. This time away from work and the very long to-do list is just what the doctor ordered.

To everyone celebrating, have a sweet and happy new year.

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Mrs. Houdini: A Novel Book Review

There is an old saying about men and women:

‘Behind every great man there’s a great woman’

In 2017, Mrs. Houdini: A Novel, by Victoria Kelly hit bookstores. The novel is the story of Bess Houdini, who is best remembered as the wife of legendary magician Harry Houdini. The story moves between two time periods: after Harry’s death and during their many decades of marriage. After he dies, Bess does her best to reach him in the other world.

Though they were of different faiths and different temperaments (Bess was Catholic and easygoing and Harry was Jewish and passionate), they made it work. Bess, in addition to being part of her husband’s act, took care of the behind-the-scenes duties that were not seen by the public. When she meets a young photographer who wants to help to reconnect with Harry, she learns that his magic may have been more than a fantasy.

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I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of The Other Einstein. Bess is not just the pretty assistant in barely there clothing or the wife stuck in the domestic sphere. She is an integral part of her husband’s career and life. Without her, he would not become the legend whose life and work still inspire magicians today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Mrs. Houdini: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

It’s Been 100 Years Since the First Bat Mitzvah

Every culture and society has its own ceremony or experience to mark the point in life in which a young person starts on the road to adulthood.

In Judaism, this commemoration is called Bar Mitzvah (for a boy) or Bat Mizvah (for a girl). Usually held around the child’s 13th birthday, it is both a religious experience and a time for family and friends to celebrate the new phase in this person’s life. While Bar Mitzvahs have been held for centuries, a Bat Mitzvah is a relatively new addition to the Jewish life cycle.

Last Friday was the 100th birthday of the first Bat Mitzvah. On March 18th of 1922, Judith Kaplan (daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) became the first girl to officially celebrate her entrance into the world as a Jewish adult.

Coming only two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it was just reading from the Torah. It was a revolutionary act, opening the door for future generations of Jewish women to move beyond the traditional spheres of marriage, housework, and motherhood. Since then, it has become standard practice within most streams of Judaism that both girls and boys will have their turn on the bimah.

In honor of this anniversary, an Instagram account has been created to tell Kaplan’s story in a way to speaks to this generation of kids. It’s cute, charming, and reminds me of my own excitement of becoming a Bat Mitzvah almost 30 years ago.

If I am reminded of one thing, is that feminism, like all social movements, cannot exist in a bubble. Without allies, it is nearly impossible to turn slogans and ideas into reality. Rabbi Kaplan, in our modern vernacular, was a feminist ally. It is through him and his daughter, we would still be stuck in the dark ages and the outdated idea of what women can and cannot do.

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Thoughts on the 3rd Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

There is a joke about Jewish history: “they tried to kill us, we survived. Let’s eat”. But like any joke, there is a truth behind the laughter. Though we are still here, the collective emotional scar of the losses is still with us, even if it is generations after a specific event.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. To even type those words hurts. It could have happened in any synagogue in America. But this person chose to walk into Tree of Life and started shooting. What I remember about that day is the fear as I watched the news. I have not attended services reguarlarly in decades, but I have family who does. My initial fear was that this heinous act had reached my relatives. Thankfully, it didn’t.

The message that was sent did not need to be spoken. According to the gunman and those who think like him, we do not belong in this country. Our “differences” (which are merely on the surface) mark us for at best being questionable outsiders and at worst, put a target on our backs. I would love to say that in the three years since 11 innocent people were murdered, that this was the turning point away from hate and prejudice. Unfortunately, as we all know, it wasn’t.

May the memories of those killed that day be a blessing. Z”L.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World Book Review

When we think of rituals, we often think of them attached to a specific religion or religious experience. But rituals can be more than that. They give us structure and allow us to deal with challenges and occurances that life can throw our way.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, by Sasha Sagan, was published earlier this month. Sagan is the daughter of the late scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/producer Ann Druyan, was raised as a secular Jew. A secular Jew is one who is part of the faith by virtue of being born to Jewish parents. They identify as Jewish, but limit how, when, and where they practice. As a child, she was taught nature, science, and space can tell us more about life and it’s various stages more than any tale created by humans.

When Sagan’s daughter was born, she started to examine how the concepts she learned as a youngster influence how we approach life events. Her goal was to create new rituals that emphasize the moment without relying on a specific religious perspective.

This book is very interesting. Her approach is to study multiple religions and cultures to compare and contrast how each views and approaches life and its various changes. Talking about life, death, and everything in between, Sagan is both respectful and curious, introducing the reader to people and beliefs they may or may not have heard of.

If nothing else, we learn that for all of our outward differences, human beings are all the same. The names, procedures, and details differ. But once we get past that, the similarities are remarkable.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present Book Review

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of Jewish history knows that it comes down to one phrase: they tried to kill us, we survived, now lets eat”. Though its a joke, the truth behind it is far from funny. Over the millennia, we have been accused of lies, forced to convert and assimilate to survive, persecuted, and murdered.

Dara Horn‘s new book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, was published last month. A respected novelist and writer whose work has often focused on anything and everything related to Judaism, Horn examines how we look at deceased Jews are looked with starry eyed nostalgia. But yet, when it comes to living members of the faith, antisemitism is still an all too dangerous part of our lives. Using examples such as Anne Frank, Shylock, and the Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, Horn looks at how modern Jews are experiencing the same bullshit that our ancestors went through.

I loved this book. Pulling no punches, the author knocks the rose colored glasses off the reader’s face. She forces us to take a long and difficult look at the past and how its time to get real. As I see it, we have an opportunity to put to rest the deception that has caused too many generations to suffer for no reason. The question is, are we willing to do so? Or is it easier to just repeat the actions of our predecessors?

Do I recommend it? Yes.

P.S. There is an adjoining podcast, Adventures With Dead Jews that is the perfect complement to the book.

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