This week’s Torah portion is called Kedoshim, which in Hebrew means, “You shall be holy”. The full sentence reads, “You shall be holy because I, your G-d, am holy.” Everyday, I live up to this statement. I am holy from the moment I wake up and I say Modeh Ani, a short prayer thanking G-d for allowing me to live. I am also holy by cleaning my body physically and spiritually. Engaging in spiritual acts, such as praying or studying Torah also makes me holier.
Scott Zimmerman, of blessed memory, was a bar/bas mitzvah teacher for many of my friends, and a mentor to all. He always offered a kind word and a smiling face. This Shavous, we honor him for all he did for the Jacksonville Jewish Center. When we remember the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, we will also remember Scott, who “gave” the Torah to hundreds of children through his teachings.
Scott may have only lived to be sixty, but he fulfilled more than just one favor. He often served as a substitute teacher for me, and every year, with the eighth graders, made an object to put in the middle school’s bees tefillah. Some years it was paintings; others it was an Aron. My class will be first in many years to note do a project with Scott.
This Shavous, Scott’s Shavous, let us remember this great man for all he has taught us.
Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/134756213823311163/
Last Friday, we conducted a model seder for the residents of Mt. Carmel. Mount Carmel is a mainly non-Jewish elderly home, but we still had about 30 people attend. We sang Pesach songs and had a generally fun time. The mitzvah that we performed is called in Hebrew Bikur Cholim. It is usually translated as visiting the sick, but can also be known as visiting the elderly, which we did at our model seder.
For our journal this week, we were asked to listen to the song “Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick and explain what it has to do with the homeless. Well, it has to do with homeless people because it says in the song, “And if you see me in the street and I start to cry each time we meet walk on by”. That’s like the homeless people who sit on a bench on a street with an old hat and a sign that says, “Help I’m Homeless”, and then we walk by and give them a dollar. They can get so emotional and happy that somebody helped them. That one little act could brighten their whole day.
Ruby Nell Bridges was born on September 8, 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi. She moved to New Orleans when she was four. At the age of six, she passed a test administered by the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People for black students to join the better white schools, as part of the integration program. Six students were chosen from New Orleans. Out of those six, two decided to stay where they were, three went to McDonogh No. 19, and Ruby went to William Frantz Elementary. She had to be escorted by U.S. Marshals everywhere because of segregation, even to the bathroom.
Every day, as she walked to school surrounded by the marshals, there were crowds of people protesting her joining the school. On her first day, she had to sit in the office the whole day. One woman would scream that she would poison Ruby; another waved a little black doll in a coffin at Ruby’s face. Bridges said later that the coffin scared her the most. None of the teachers would teach her except for Mrs. Barbara Henry, a woman from Boston. Since all of the parents pulled their kids out of school in protest of Ruby’s joining, she was the only child in the whole school for a year. Their whole family suffered because of this; Ruby’s father, Adon, lost his job, and they were banned from entering stores.
The next year, everything changed. There were about twenty other students in her class, and she wasn’t the only black girl in the school. Ruby Bridges was an extremely brave girl who was able to start the change of racial segregation until how we know it today. Even after graduating school, she went on the found the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which was formed to try to stop all forms of discrimination and segregation.
Ruby Bridges (second from right) meets with President Obama.
Image Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Frantz_Elementary_School#mediaviewer/File:Ruby_Bridges_and_Obama.jpg
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a great man who helped end segregation, but was killed in the process. He was aided by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Conservative rabbi who marched arm-in-arm with MLK from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Rabbi Heschel later wrote, “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.”
I believe that Rabbi Heschel believed he was doing a holy action by marching. He was trying to stop evil in the world and to make all people equal. He was doing a very great mitzvah by marching with MLK Jr. He participated in the march because Jews aren’t just supposed to care about themselves; that would be selfish and wrong. Instead, we are taught to try to make the whole world a better place and help all people.
The march from Selma to Montgomery was a little over fifty miles. If another civil rights march occurred, I would try to join it. Theoretically, a march could be arranged to walk from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, a distance about 41 miles long. The march would be organised in protest of the shootings that happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York City. I would definitely walk some part of it because even though these shootings happened hundreds of miles away, they still matter to me. Racial discrimination must end today.
Rabbi Heschel presenting the Judaism and World Peace award to MLK Jr.
Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Heschel_with_MLK.jpg
Last week, I had my bar mitzvah, the Jewish passage into adulthood. I had a large ceremony and lunch, on which I gave a speech related to the Torah portion of the week. Enclosed is my Dvar Torah, the speech that I gave.
Good Shabbos! This week’s parsha, Shemos, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.
Now, you may ask, why do we need to know this? The parsha, set like an episode in a reality TV show, chronicles the first 80 years of Moshe’s life. Moshe is born in an atmosphere of slavery, and then thrust into the world of Egyptian royalty at the age of twelve, according to the midrash. Without those fundamental first years of learning and establishing a strong Jewish basis in Moshe, he probably would’ve succumbed to peer pressure and abandoned his Jewish roots much like us today. According to Chassidic texts, he would then rise to become the overseer of Pharaoh’s palace, and then be forced to flee Egypt at the age of 18 in defense of his people to kingdom of Kush in modern-day Ethiopia. He would then serve in the army their and eventually reign as king for forty years. From there he continued on to Midian, where he married Yisro’s daughter Tziporrah and served as a shepherd. As a poor shepherd, God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush ad commanded him to become a leader once again, but this time of Bnai Yisrael, to take them out of Egypt and confront the same Pharaoh who he had to flee from sixty-two years ago. What would you do if you openly saw a direct miracle- a burning bush that was not consumed- and God’s voice came from it, commanding you to go to Egypt and free His people? You would do it, right? Not in Moshe’s case. In fact, the midrash tells us that it took Hashem a week to convince Moshe to take the leadership? Why would Moshe be so stubborn?
The answer is simple; humility. The very trait that Moshe was praised for was also his weakness. In his own opinion, he didn’t believe he was worthy of such a task; after all, he had killed a man! Moshe quietly suggested his older brother Aharon as a candidate for such a task; after all, he had already been a prophet for eighty years. Because of that outrageous suggestion, Hashem got so angry at Moshe that he took away his ability to be a kohen! It was Moshe’s humility that caused him to lose the priesthood.This shows that extreme humility like Moshe’s is not always a good trait; you have to believe in yourself to succeed. It also shows that we must have belief in Hashem because he always wants what’s right for us. He always has a great plan for everything in the world. That is why even if we stub our toe, we have to think to ourselves that there was a reason for this. What can I learn from stubbing my toe? Should I move the cabinet to a spot farther away from my bed? Should I wear socks in the house? We are supposed to learn from everything. Even the slightest change can make a big effect. Every one of God’s tasks that we should perform, we shouldn’t oppose it, we shouldn’t doubt it. And I’m even talking about mitzvahs today such as praying and keeping kosher. We shouldn’t try to challenge God; look what happened to those who built the Tower of Bavel! Rather, we should perform it with “bchol lavvecha ovchol navshecha ovkol meodecha”- with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might, just like we say in the Shema three times a day. Just like the story of Moshe, we too must tackle the daily obstacles in our life with a clear mind and set heart- and to always remember that somebody up there is watching out for us. Good Shabbos.
This year, as we do every year, we gave toys to needy children and foster children. We were asked to pick either a foster child (through Jewish Children’s and Family Services) or a MaliVai Washington child. I chose a foster child and got a boy who’s eight years old, and wanted basketball or a football. I got for him a medium-sized basketball. I think it’s important that in the season of giving, we can give and not just receive.
Hillel, one of our great Torah sages, taught:
“Do not separate yourself from the community.”
This relates to our project because we are fulfilling this quote. Instead of looking away at the suffering at our neighbors and greedily opening our presents, we first give. Only after we give, then we will get. I think it’s such a beautiful idea to give Christmas presents in a Jewish school.
Dear First Responder,
Whether you are firefighter, police officer, EMT, or ambulance driver, I would like to take this oppurtunity to thank you. I thank you for your service and time. I thank you for your devotion to keep Jacksonville safe. A special thanks on this day when, you should be at home celebrating with your family, you are instead on the case to help us all. I hope that you stay safe and one day will not need to do your job, for their will be no more murders, car accidents, or fires.
I hope you enjoy the cookies and have a Merry Christmas,
Last Friday, sixth grade and a few eighth graders delivered Shabbos boxes to people. This is a project I created to give two candles, two homemade challahs, and a bottle of grape juice to give to elderly people in our community, so that they may perform the mitzvah of Shabbos. This is the second time we’ve done this this year. It is an act called gemilus chesed, or an act of kindness. It’s an act of kindness because we don’t need to do this; theoretically, if these people wanted to celebrate Shabbos, then they would’ve gotten these items by now. We do this for the people so that they don’t forget, or if they are too weak to go out.
Challah. Image Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Challah_Bread_Six_Braid_1.JPG