Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
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This Mayor Qualifies to be the Mayor of Chelm
Wise Men of Chelm
In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm (Pol., Chełm; Yid., Khelem) functions as an imaginary city of fools, similar to that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others.
The legendary "town of fools," often presented ironically as "The Wise Men of . . . ," is a feature common to most European folklores. Chelm, as was the case with its counterparts in other cultures, spawned hundreds of tales describing outlandish naiveté and stupidity that have been printed in dozens of editions in a variety of languages. Many of these are titled The Wise Men of Chelm.
Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for its Torah scholarship.
The Mayoral Solution In Chelm
A large sinkhole opens up in a remote town. An alarming number of people fall into it and injure themselves and it's difficult to get them all to the small hospital they have.
The mayor gathers the city council to figure out a solution. The smartest city councilor suggests they park an ambulance next to the hole to get people to the hospital faster. The rest unanimously agree.
However, they only have 2 ambulances and they're needed more in the center of the town to get there quickly.
So the mayor gathers the council a second time. The second smartest councilor suggests they close the road between the hole and the hospital so the ambulance can ferry people faster. Everyone nods in deep wisdom. Alas, after a few days it's obvious! not really doing much and it just creates more accidents with too many cars on the smaller roads.
Finally, they gather for a third time to take drastic measures. The third smartest councilor says they need to tear down the hospital and rebuild it next to the hole. Finally, the mayor can't take it anymore. He slams his fist on the table and yells: "You idiots! Do you know how much moving the hospital will cost?! There's an obvious and easy solution to this problem! We fill in the hole and then we dig a new hole next to the hospital!"
Kabbalists of Tzfat compiled a Tu B'Shvat seder, somewhat similar to the seder for Passover which you can do today or this evening for TuB Shvat
Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for the Trees. As in all other points in the Jewish calendar, Tu B'Shvat offers a unique opportunity for insight into living and personal growth. Throughout the centuries, Kabbalists have used the tree as a metaphor to understand God's relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his 18th century classic The Way of God, teaches that the higher spiritual realms are roots that ultimately manifest their influence through branches and leaves in the lower realms.
In the 16th century, the Kabbalists of Tzfat compiled a Tu B'Shvat seder, somewhat similar to the seder for Passover. It involves enjoying the fruits of the tree, particularly those native to the Land of Israel, and discusses philosophical and Kabbalistic concepts associated with the day. Among other things, the seder is a great way to appreciate the bounty that we so often take for granted, and to develop a good and generous eye for the world around us.
The seder presented here is based primarily on the Kabbalistic work, Chemdat Yamim, later published separately under the title Pri Aitz Hadar.
To enjoy this experience in your own home, try to prepare the basic items mentioned below. Don't worry if you can't find all these items; do the best you can. Since the order and the contents of the seder do not follow a specific Jewish law, there is much room for flexibility and creativity.
You will need lots of fruit, including:
The seven species by which the Land of Israel is praised:
wheat and barley (in the form of bread, cake or cereal)
Various nuts with the shells (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, coconut), and fruits with peels (oranges, pomegranates, avocado)
Other fruits with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries)
Other fruits with inedible pits (e.g. peaches, plums)
Wine or grape juice, both white and red
Important note: Since insects are not kosher, check your fruits to make sure they are bug-free. Bugs are especially common in figs, dates, and dried apricots. To check, split the fruit in half and look carefully before eating.
(2) THE SEDER BEGINS
The leader asks:
Why do we celebrate the New Year for fruit trees on Tu B'Shvat?
Since the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people could no longer bring the First Fruits (Bikkurim) to Jerusalem. On Tu B'Shvat we offer instead of the fruit of our lips, to praise God for all the fruit trees in the world.
A participant says:
Tu Bishvat marks a new period for taking tithes, a portion of which is given to the poor. Therefore:
When a person is privileged to eat in the presence of God, he must show his appreciation by giving charity to the poor and feeding them, just as God in His bounty feeds him. ( Zohar – Parshat Trumah)
At this point, it is appropriate to pass around a 'pushka' to collect tzedakah. After the seder, the money should be donated to a worthy cause.
A participant says:
The Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashana says that Tu B'Shvat is New Year for the TREE (singular). This reference to a singular tree alludes to The Tree – the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb-yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing the fruit of its kind.' 'Fruit tree' means the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which put forth blossoms and fruit. 'Bearing fruit' is the tzaddik, the basis of the world. 'Of its kind' means all the human beings who have in them the spirit of holiness, which is the blossom of that tree. This is the covenant of holiness, the covenant of peace – and the faithful enter into that kind and do not depart from it. The Tzaddik generates, and the tree conceives and brings forth the fruit of its kind. ( Zohar – Bereishit 33a)
One should intend that he is eating at the celestial table before God, in the Garden of Eden before the Divine Presence. ( Raishit Chochma – Shar HaKedusha)
Take a few moments and think deeply about being in the company of God... sitting at His table... experiencing the sublime spiritual pleasure of a relationship with the Creator Himself.
A) When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were permitted to eat only fruits and vegetables. Only after Noah's Flood did God permit meat. In what ways is it considered spiritually higher to eat meat? And in what ways is it considered spiritually higher to be a vegetarian?
B) There were two trees in the center of the Garden: the Tree of Life (representing Torah and eternal life) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (representing death and distortion). Another way of expressing this distinction is that the Tree of Life is objective wisdom, while the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a personal experience. Why would Adam and Eve have chosen to eat from the latter, especially since God had explicitly instructed them not to?
A participant says:
Man's very name – Adam – is derived from the word Earth, Adama. While the man is at once the pinnacle of creation, the master and caretaker of the world, he is also dependent on the earth for his most basic needs. The Torah, in outlining the negative commandment of destroying fruit trees, refers to the man himself as a tree of the field (Deut. 20:19). Our sages learn from this verse a prohibition against any needless destruction. In other words, fruit trees serve as the archetype for man's relationship and responsibility to his environment.
It was through a mistake in eating fruit that caused Adam and Eve's exile from the Garden of Eden. Eating fruit is a metaphor for our interaction with this world. Correct usage leads to a perfected world and spiritual bliss. Misuse leads to destruction and spiritual degradation. The seder of Tu B'Shvat is our opportunity to rectify the past iniquity and return once again to our rightful place within the Garden.
Adam and Eve erred by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To correct this mistake, we eat our fruit today with pure intentions, as if from the Tree of Life.
A participant says:
Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote:
My teacher [the holy Arizal] used to say that one must intend while eating the fruits [at the Tu B'Shvat Seder] to repair the sin of Adam who erred by eating fruit from the tree.
Partaking in the physical world inappropriately, for its own sake, lowers us spiritually and diminishes our enjoyment. The solution is to engage in the physical world as a means to a worthy end – i.e. appreciating the greatness of God who created all.
(3) THE SEDER CONTINUES
A participant says:
In the Talmud, Rabbi Abbun said: In the next world, a person will be judged for all the fine fruit that he saw but did not eat.
Rabbi Elazar fulfilled this teaching. Although he was very poor, he saved up small coins which he kept in a special pouch, to purchase new fruits as they came into season. He tried to make a blessing over every kind of fruit at least once a year.
Why is one held accountable for not eating a new fruit when presented with the opportunity?
Because each life form, even fruit, is entrusted to a specific angel. By saying a blessing over a fruit, we empower that angel to reproduce more of that fruit. One who refrains from partaking of a fruit deprives the world of the spiritual influence that the blessing would have provided. ( Chemdat Yamim )
The Talmud (in Tractate Brachat) says that someone who eats and doesn't say a blessing is considered a thief. Why? Because every aspect of God's creation is inherently holy. So when one eats a piece of fruit, he is depriving the world of a piece of holiness. A blessing re-infuses the world with holiness. Eating without a blessing, however, lowers the level of holiness in the world without replacing the loss – and is regarded as theft. (Maharal of Prague)
A participant says:
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidut, was once visiting the home of Rabbi Yaakov Koppel. When Rabbi Yaakov danced in front of his Shabbos table for an hour, the Baal Shem Tov asked to explain this unusual custom. Rabbi Yaakov replied: Before I taste physical food, I absorb the food's spiritual essence. In doing so, I become so excited that I sing and dance!
The leader says:
Everything in the physical world is a metaphor for a deeper spiritual concept.
Eating is to the body, what knowledge is to the soul. When we eat, we internalize the good part of the food – and through that, we grow and develop. Similarly, when we learn a new piece of information, we must chew it over, digest it, and integrate it into our very being. Only then can we truly grow in wisdom and spirituality.
(4) GRAIN PRODUCTS
Now comes the part we've been waiting for: drinking wine and enjoying other delicacies!
Wheat and barley are the first two of the seven species connected to the greatness of the Land of Israel, as it says: A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey (Deut. 8:8).
We begin by eating bread or cake. When Tu B'Shvat falls on Shabbat, it is appropriate to incorporate the seder into one of the Shabbat meals, using challah as the bread.
The leader says:
Before saying the blessing, let us pause and reflect on our good fortune. God has given us innumerable blessings, enabling us to enjoy this food. God could easily have arranged for humans to be nourished by photosynthesis like plants, or by eating bland oatmeal, or by taking pills. Instead, He created a seemingly endless variety of appetizing and nourishing foods for us to enjoy. He gave us taste buds, and many miraculous organs with which to eat and digest the food.
A blessing is a thank-you note to our Creator. The sages say: Who is the wealthy person? The one who is happy with what he has. The more we appreciate our gifts, the more sincere is our thanks, and the more sublime is our pleasure.
If eating cake or cereal, recite the following blessing:
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates species of nourishment.
If eating bread, begin with the washing of the hands, twice on both hands and say:
As we raise our hands, we remind ourselves that the food we are about to eat – even though it was made by a human being – ultimately comes from God. As the verse says: He would feed him with the finest wheat (Psalms 81:17).
Without speaking from the time of the washing, we then recite the blessing on the bread:
A participant says:
The verse says: 'When you eat the bread of the Land, you shall bring an offering to God' (Numbers 15:19). This refers to the waving (tenufah) of the Omer. Tenufah can be read as tenu feh – give a mouth. The mouth is symbolic of the honor we give to God. Hence the Omer was waved to show that we give to God this month, since the chief praise of God is when the Jewish people give Him honor and glory.
Why was the Omer made from barley and not from wheat? Because barley ripens first. Wheat (Chita) is the more perfect food, being symbolic of the elimination of sin (chet). There are those who say that wheat is the plant with which Adam sinned. ( Zohar – Balak 189a)
Savor each bite of the cake or bread. Appreciate that God loves us and created everything for our good.
On Tu B'Shvat, we eat the fruit by which God Himself praises the Land of Israel. As the verse says: The trees have borne their fruit, fig tree and vine have yielded their strength. Children of Zion be happy, rejoice in the Lord, your God. (Yoel 2:22-23)
If you have a preference, eat the fruits in the order you most enjoy. Otherwise, the order of eating should be: olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates.
Say the following blessing and then eat one of the fruits:
Baruch Ata Adod-nai Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam boray pri ha-aitz.
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.
If there is a seasonal fruit at the table which you have not yet tasted this season, say the following additional blessing before eating the fruit:
Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Take each fruit one by one, as the appropriate paragraph below is recited. Enjoy the many unique flavors and textures. Reflect on the reality that the Creator of time and space wants us to take pleasure in everything that He put into the world.
Participants take turns saying the following paragraphs:
God called your name 'a green olive tree, nice and beautiful fruit.' (Jeremiah 11:16)
Your children shall be like olive plants around your table. (Psalms 123:3)
Rabbi Yehoshuah Ben Levi said: Why is Israel compared to an olive tree? Because just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter, so too the Jewish people shall not be cast off – neither in this world nor in the World to Come. (Talmud – Menachot 53b)
The Sages taught: Just as olive oil brings light into the world, so do the people of Israel bring light into the world. (Midrash – Shir HaShirim Raba 1:2)
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree (Psalms 92:13). The righteous are fruitful and sweet, just like a date palm.
Your stature is like a palm tree (Song of Songs 7:8). Just as the palm tree doesn't bend or sway, so too the Jewish people.
No part of the palm tree is wasted. The dates are for eating; the Lulav branches are for waving in praise on Sukkot; the dried thatch is for roofing; the fibers are for ropes; the leaves are for sieves, and the trunk is for house beams. So too, every one of the Jewish people is needed. Some are knowledgeable in the Bible, others in Mishnah, others in Aggada (homiletic understanding of the Torah). Still, others perform many mitzvot, and others give much charity. (Midrash – Bamidbar Raba 3:1)
Just as a vine has large and small clusters and the large ones hang lower, so too the Jewish people: Whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah, seems lower than his fellow [due to his humility]. (Midrash – Vayikra Raba 36:2)
Rabbi Yochanan said: What is the meaning of 'He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit'? (Proverbs 27:18) Why is the Torah compared to a fruit tree? Figs on a tree do not ripen all at once, but a little each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs he finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds. (Talmud – Eruvin 54a)
Let us get up early to the vineyards. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if the grape blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates have budded. There I will give you my love.
If the pomegranates have budded. These are the little children who study the Torah and sit in rows in their class like the seeds of a pomegranate. (Midrash – Shir HaShirim Rabba 6:11)
Rami Bar Yechezkel once came to Bnei Brak and saw goats grazing under a fig tree. Honey was dripping from the figs and milk from the goats – and they became intermingled. He said: Behold, a land flowing with milk and honey! (Talmud – Ketubot 111b)
Ask participants to share a story or experience he/she had while in the Land of Israel.
At the Tu B'Shvat seder, it is traditional to drink four cups of wine, similar to the Passover seder.
First Cup – pure white
Second Cup – pale pink (white with a drop of red wine)
Third Cup – darker pink (with more red added)
Fourth Cup – almost totally red (with only a drop of white)
A participant says:
White wine represents nature in potential. Red wine represents nature in full bloom. On this day, we begin to leave the winter behind and move into a period of renewal and life.
It is stated in the Zohar: Wine has two colors – white and red. White is from the right side [of kindness]; red from the left side [of strength and judgment].
As we progress from white to red, we move from potential to actuality. We are able to appreciate God's judgment as well as His kindness. We see God's design and goodness in the world with increasing clarity.
A participant says:
Wine rejoices the heart of man. This refers to the wine of the Torah. Yayin (Hebrew for wine) equals 70, the numerical value of Sod, meaning secret. [Wine represents the hidden aspects of the Torah.] ( Zohar – Parshat Pinchas).
A participant says:
The Talmudic section dealing with agriculture is called trust in God. When a farmer plants a seed, trust in God gives him the strength to survive the winter. On Tu B'Shvat he begins to see that trust rewarded.
Similarly, when we plant a seed for personal growth, it requires trust and patience to survive the 'cold,' before we see the fruits of our labor.
We will now drink four cups of wine (or grape juice) in conjunction with four different categories of fruit. Each of these pairs corresponds to each of the four spiritual realms (from lowest to highest):
action – asiah
formation – Yetzirah
creation – briah
emanation of pure Godliness – Atzilut
Each level becomes more spiritual and connected to the Creator. As we eat, we elevate the fruits – and ourselves – through the various levels, rising higher and higher.
A participant says:
The Almighty said: Although wine can be a source of trouble in this world, in the future I shall make it only a source of joy, as it says: 'And it shall come to pass on that day, that the mountains will drip with sweet wine' (Yoel 3:18). (Midrash – Vayikra Raba 12:5)
Pour the first cup of wine (all white):
All say the following blessing, and then drink from the wine (if you haven't already done so during Kiddush):
Baruch Ata Adon-ai Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam boray pri ha-gafen. Blessed are you God, King of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine.
Slow down and really enjoy the taste of the wine. The most prestigious universities offer courses in wine tasting. There's a lot to appreciate in life. Be a connoisseur!
The leader says:
We now eat fruits with inedible shells or peels. For example: nuts, pomegranate, oranges, avocado. The edible part of the fruit corresponds to perfection and purity, while the inedible is connected to deficiency and impurity. This is parallel to the realm of action (asiah), the lowest of the spiritual worlds – a world which is enveloped by materialism, just as the fruit is enveloped in its peel/shell.
A participant says:
Rabbi Tarfon compared the Jewish people to a pile of walnuts. If one walnut is removed, each and every nut in the pile is shaken and disturbed. So too, when a single Jew is in distress, every other Jew is shaken. (Midrash – Shir HaShirim Raba 6:11)
A participant says:
As it is the virtue of a nut to be closed in from all sides, so too the Heavenly Chariot which goes out of the Garden of Eden is hidden on all sides. And just as the four sections of walnut are united at one side and separated on the other, so are all parts of the Heavenly Chariot united in perfect union – and yet each part fulfills a specific purpose. ( Zohar – Shmot 15b)
As you toss away the peels and shells, see one of your bad character traits (anger, impatience, etc.) being tossed away. In your mind's eye, picture the bad trait as the shell. Then, as you toss it away, feel the trait leaving you. That's not the real you. The real you is the fruit... delicious and nourishing. See the trait going into the garbage.
(7) CUPS 2, 3,4
Drink the second cup – pale pink (white with a drop of red).
The leader says:
We now eat fruits with inedible pits. For example: dates, olives, peaches, plums, cherries. This stage is comparable to the realm of formation (Yetzirah).
The edible parts of the fruit represent holiness. Pits represent impurities which have penetrated the holiness.
As the color of the wine begins to gets darker, we can start to see the potential turn into reality. The inedible part has now moved from the outside to the inside of the fruit. This is an advancement toward purity. In addition, the inedible part is no longer waste; it is a seed with the potential to grow.
Imagine one of your bad traits as this seed. Really see it. Then, see that trait growing and developing into something great. This trait no longer holds you back, but propels you forward. Many great people have turned their faults into assets. You too can become great.
Drink the third cup of wine (dark pink).
The leader says:
Now we eat fruits that are completely edible: blueberries. This is the realm of creation (briah), the highest level in the created world. (The three lower worlds – asiyah, Yetzirah, and briah – are referred to as ma'aseh Bereishit, the act of creation. )
Things are coming close to their full potential. Even the seeds are now edible. They not only have future potential, but are also delicious and ready to eat right now.
Think about an area of life you would like to improve. Picture your ideal self. Realize that's the real you. Now, for the rest of Tu B'Shvat, actually, be that person. Act as if you're already there. The experience can be transformational.
Drink the fourth cup (red with a drop of white).
The leader says:
We now taste the fruit on the table with the best fragrance. This is comparable to the realm of pure Godliness (Atzilut). This level is called the ma'aseh Merkava, the act of the Chariot. The prophet Ezekiel saw a Chariot in his vision relating to the mysteries of creation.
A participant says:
In Leviticus 23:40, the Esrog is described as pri aitz Hadar – fruit of the majestic tree. The Esrog is the most spiritual of all trees, as it's fruit and bark both have fine taste and smell.
On Tu B'Shvat, when all trees are judged, it is fitting to pray for a beautiful Esrog during the coming Sukkot.
A participant says:
The sense of smell is the purest and most elevated. It is through the nose that God invested Adam with a soul, as it says, God breathed into man's nostrils a breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Since there is no perceptible physical matter to smell, it is the most spiritual and Godly of the five senses. Burning the fragrant incense was designated as the holiest act of the Jewish year – performed by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.
The leader says:
Eating 12 different fruits is significant, since this corresponds to the 12 different arrangements of the four-letter ineffable Name of God. Upon eating the 12th fruit, we recite the verse:
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit each person under his the fig tree and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Micah 4:3-4)
Eating 15 different fruits is also significant, since this is the numerical value of Yud-Heh, the Name of God which connects the physical to the spiritual, between this world and the next world. In the Holy Temple, the Levites would sing each of the 15 Shir HaMa'alot Psalms as they ascended each of the 15 steps.
After enjoying all the wonderful pleasures that God has given us, we complete the process with a meaningful, heartfelt thanks to the Creator.
Those who ate bread say the full Grace After Meals. Otherwise, we say the three-faceted blessing – including the relevant lines for cake, wine, and/or fruit, plus the special insertion for Shabbat if applicable.
A participant says:
Rabbi Abba taught: There is no more revealed redemption – no greater indication of the impending redemption – than that which the verse (Ezekiel 36:8) states: And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for my people Israel, for they shall soon come. (Talmud – Sanhedrin 98a)
Rashi explains: When the Land of Israel will give fruit bountifully, this is an indication of the impending redemption, and there is no greater indication than this.
We come to the end of the Tu B'Shvat seder. We have only touched the surface of the true meaning of the holiday and of the significance of trees and fruit in God's creation. That is the beauty of the Jewish calendar. Each year we celebrate the same holidays, yet each year we grow and develop many new insights.
The rest of the evening or day is spent singing and learning Torah. Next year in Jerusalem!
The Question That Explains Almost Everything By Dennis Prager
If you want to understand a human being or the human condition, what is the single most important question you should ask?
Most religious people would probably ask, "Do you believe in G-d?" The most important question most secular people, especially progressives, could imagine asking is probably a policy question. Today it would be "Do you support Donald Trump?" Otherwise it might be "Do you support abortion rights?" or "Do you support gay marriage?"
As important as all these questions are, in attempting to understand human beings, especially large groups of human beings – i.e., a society – the most important question to ask is "What in life gives you the most meaning?"
The answer does not explain everything, of course, but it explains the human condition better than any other question. Why is that? Because after food, the greatest human need is meaning. Even more than the ability to reason or speak, this is the great divide between human and animal. We share all other needs with higher animal species and share many needs with some lower animal species. Like them, we need food, shelter, and companionship.
But while human beings seek and need meaning more than anything except food (and companionship – but for human beings, companionship usually provides some meaning), no animal needs or seeks meaning. As an aside, this is one of the reasons I believe in G-d, the Creator. There is no evolutionary explanation for the need for meaning. Meaning is not a biological need.
The problem, however, is that just as the need for food has no inherent moral quality, the need for meaning has no inherent moral quality. Meaning can be found in evil just as it can be found in good. Nazism provided millions of Germans with as much meaning as helping the dying in Calcutta provided Mother Teresa. Slaughtering infidels gives radical Islamic terrorists as much meaning as feeding the poor gives those who work for the Salvation Army. Killing the "Christ-killer" Jews gave some medieval Christians as much meaning as saving Jews gave some European Christians during the Holocaust.
For most Americans until the last generation, the need for meaning was filled by family, religion, community, and patriotism (i.e., love of and belief in America as "the last best hope of earth," as Abraham Lincoln put it).
Today, all – or nearly all – of those sources of meaning are being lost. In fact, the present generation of Americans has few or none of them.
Regarding family: Americans are marrying at a later age than ever before. Fewer Americans are marrying than ever before. And fewer are having children than ever before.
With regard to religion, more than a third of millennials – by far the largest percentage of any generation in American history – do not identify with any religion.
As for community, a vast number of Americans – of every age – have lost ties to any community. This is a major reason for the epidemic of loneliness that afflicts so many Americans (and so many others) at the present time. The New York Times wrote in 2018 that in Britain "more than nine million people in the country often or always feel lonely, according to a 2017 report published by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness." Then-Prime Minister Theresa May actually appointed a minister of loneliness.
And regarding America, what is there to believe in? For more than a generation, young Americans have been taught contempt for this country: Its past is essentially racist, genocidal, and imperialist. So much for patriotism.
So, then, what is to give meaning to Americans who have lost all or most of the above? Something has to, because the need for meaning is as built in and as universal as the need for food.
The answer is self-evident: Whatever it is, it must provide meaning without being dependent on family, community, religion or patriotism. And what is that? Leftism.
For leftists, feminism, environmentalism, socialism, and trans rights provide meaning. The life-filling meaning of leftism is most evident in the constant leftist use of the term "existential threat." President Donald Trump "is posing an existential threat to America," wrote leftist Frank Rich in the latest issue of New York Magazine. "Bloomberg, in Campaign Event, Calls Trump an 'Existential Threat,'" ABC News headlined two months ago. A Mother Jones headline two weeks ago read, "Trump Is an 'Existential' Threat: Ilana Glazer, Eric Holder, and 2020."
Fighting President Trump means fighting for the very existence of the world's order and democracy in America. What could possibly give those devoid of meaning more meaning than that?
Well, there is one other thing: fighting for the very existence of the world itself. That is the animating impulse of the left's obsession with global warming. "[T]he world is going to end in 12 years if we don't address climate change," says Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a recent CNN town hall that the "climate crisis" is an "existential threat to the planet."
The proof that this alleged saving of democracy and the world from extinction are nothing more than left-wing meaning givers is this: The only communities who don't believe it continue to possess all the traditional meaning givers. We don't need the left's substitutes.
Kirk Douglas's quintessential American Jewish life
Actor Kirk Douglas may have been the last surviving star from the golden age of Hollywood. So his death this week at the age of 103 is a chance for fans of cinema to appreciate not only his impressive body of work, but his role as a transformative figure in his industry as it evolved from the era of Hollywood studios to one in which individual actors and their production companies began to dominate.
Douglas was the quintessential star of the era in which the movies dwarfed popular culture. He evolved from being a Hollywood bad boy actor to an independent filmmaker and producer to eventually become a patriarchal figure whose struggle to overcome the impact of a stroke carved out a new and cherished role for him in the country's memory.
Douglas will be remembered for powerful performances in a host of great movies. But his acclaim was also based on his championing of personal projects, such as the classic anti-war film "Paths of Glory," as well as the fact that he was the one who broke the infamous Hollywood blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo to write "Spartacus." That move ended a dark era in which some left-wing writers were banned from contributing to films under their own names after being identified as Communists or Communist sympathizers.
But his journey was also a Jewish story—one that aptly illustrates the way Jews have carved out for a place in American life and struggled with the choices its freedom presented to them with respect to their unique heritage. His path was, in part, one of typical assimilation. But it was also one in which his fierce loyalty to his identity, love for the State of Israel and ultimately a return to Judaism made him an example that offers hope for a community struggling with demographic implosion and a loss of a sense of Jewish peoplehood. Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories
Born Issur Danielovich, the son of Yiddish-speaking Russian Jewish immigrants in Upstate New York, he grew up in poverty but worked his way through college. He legally changed his name to the non-ethnic sounding Kirk Douglas and eventually was able to establish himself as an actor, first in New York and then in Hollywood.
Douglas was famously difficult, an aggressive personality who was known for a ruthless, self-interested way of working in a business in which prima donnas proliferate. As he ascended to Hollywood stardom, Judaism and the Jews were not topics that interested him. He married non-Jewish women (and serially cheated on them), and his children were not raised as Jews. In that sense, he was a typical mid-20th-century American Jew who largely discarded anything that interfered with the ability to break through to success in secular society.
But even during that period of his life, Douglas had a strong connection to Israel. In 1953, he made "The Juggler," the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the Jewish state, where he played a Holocaust survivor struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, a rare instance of the subject being broached in that era. More than a decade later, he would return to Israel to make "Cast a Giant Shadow," a film depicting the life of a real-life Jewish hero, Col. David "Mickey" Marcus, an American who played a key role in the 1948 War of Independence.
Douglas was also a philanthropist who, along with his second wife Anne Buydens, donated more than $100 million to charitable causes. He was particularly associated with support of Israel, where he helped fund various projects in Jerusalem. But like so many Jews of his generation, his Jewish connections were largely tangential to thoroughly secular life.
While he would be remembered fondly by Jews for his Zionism and philanthropy—as well as for all of the acting parts that made him an icon of the 20th-century film—the final decades of his life provided yet another chapter to his Jewish story.
In 1991, during a stay in a hospital following a helicopter crash, Douglas decided to reconnect with Judaism that was a relic of his childhood. In a memoir, he later wrote that he had asked himself why he was spared in a collision that left two others dead and decided that it was "because I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish."
What followed was an intensive course of Torah study with a number of rabbis and a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. While he had rejected the possibility of studying for the rabbinate as a teenager determined to make it in the secular world, Douglas had come back to the world of Jewish practice at last.
The example he set influenced his oldest son, Michael, a Hollywood icon in his own right, to embrace his father's heritage and led him to win the 2015 Genesis Prize awarded to those who exemplify Jewish values. A year earlier, Douglas's wife had surprised guests at their 50th-wedding anniversary by announcing her conversion to Judaism.
Like so many Jews of his generation, his might have been a life in which Jewish origins were merely a footnote to a biography of other concerns that took precedence. But by retaining a strong sense of Jewish pride, he never entirely lost touch with the Jewish world. And by returning to Judaism at the end of his life, he seems to have ensured that not only would some of his grandchildren be raised as Jews, but that he had set an example that inspired many others to do the same.
While he will always be chiefly remembered for playing Spartacus, Vincent Van Gogh and dozens of other iconic roles, his place in the history of American Jewry is also secure. May his memory be a blessing.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
IN WITH THE OLD: THE SEVEN ANCIENT SPECIES OF ISRAEL AS A BASIS FOR MODERN NUTRITION
There are seven specific foods that formed the basic nutrition of the ancient Israelites. They were Wheat, Barley, Dates, Figs, Pomegranates, Grapes, and Olives. With the many passing years, we have replaced these ancient staples with such foods as "the Shwarma", "the Falafel", and "the Boureka". Funny how much can change in a few thousand years. In the pursuit of a "better" life, we have turned to fatty fried foods and processed sugars. The proof in this miscalculation is literally in the pudding.
So how do we fix it? Is it even fixable? The answer is yes, and here is how.
What we need to do is to reintroduce the seven ancient foods of our ancestors back into our daily diets. Found within these foods are the three macro-nutrients our bodies need in order to thrive: They are healthy fats, plant proteins, and quality carbohydrates. These nutrients allow for cellular stability, muscle growth, and readily available energy so that we can perform life's tasks to the best of our ability. But more specific then that is the individual breakdown of each food type and what that specific food type brings to the overall equation of health.
The following is a basic overview as to how amazingly healthy these seven species are and what they can do for your general health and wellness.
Wheat when it is in its whole form, meaning it's not enriched or refined is a great source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber enables the body to both properly absorb and dispose of food with improved efficiency. In addition, the whole wheat is a good source of magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a big part in keeping the heart-healthy. It also helps make sure that bones are strong. (If you are sensitive to gluten then this is not one you should focus on)
Barley's claim to nutritional fame is based on its being a very good source of selenium, a powerful antioxidant. Selenium has been shown to fight cancer by protecting the body's cells from damaging free radicals. Barley is also known to be a good source of phosphorus, copper, and manganese, key minerals the body needs in order to maintain and protect itself.
Grapes one of the most delicious fruits, are rich sources of vitamins A, C, B6, and foliates. In addition to essential minerals like potassium, calcium, and iron, grapes contain flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to slow down the aging process due to its protective nature in maintaining cellular health. Other health benefits of grapes include the ability
to treat constipation, indigestion, fatigue, kidney disorders, and macular degeneration and to prevent cataracts.
Figs. The ancient sweetener contains about 83% natural sugar. If you are one for liking things sweeter than they naturally are, then figs can be your answer to doing away with added white sugar. Because figs digest so well due to their high fiber content, using them as a substitute sweetener will enable you to use more of this carbohydrate
calories as immediate energy and less of it will end up in fat storage. Your body will process more efficiently what's more natural to it, rather than what is less natural like added sugar and chemical substitutes.
Dates. It is said that dates are so important that in order to maintain a balanced diet one needs to consume at least one a day. Dates help in fighting constipation, intestinal disorders, weight gain, heart problems, sexual weakness, diarrhea, and abdominal cancer.
Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants that can keep one's cholesterol from oxidizing. This degradation of cholesterol seems to be an initial step in the development of atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Pomegranate juice, like aspirin, can also help keep blood platelets from clumping together to form unwanted clots. Consumption of this fruit enables one to literally keep their pipes clean.
Olives are concentrated in monounsaturated fats and are a good source of vitamin E. The stability of monounsaturated fats translates into a protective effect on the cell that, especially when combined with the antioxidant the protection offered by vitamin E,
can lower the risk of damage and inflammation. This is key to healthy cellular maintenance. There are several ways to get more olives and olive oil into one's life. Whether it's in a salad or used as a spread on bread, both olives and olive oil are a great addition to one's diet.
In conclusion one can plainly see the overwhelming benefits and pluses to a diet rich in these seven foods. It's time we looked back to what we once were so we can all avoid what we are becoming. Simply put, Fat.
It is no coincidence that we Jews are blessed to inherit a country with the natural ability to provide all of us with what our bodies need to both thrive and survive. And with so many great ways to buy blue and white, these native species of the Land of Israel are now accessible by everyone around the world.