Month: September 2019

The Day My Daughter Saved My Life

daughter

This past weekend I had a very crazy and unforgettable moment with one of my daughters. She was in a terrible mood, due mostly to the ever-present fighting with her sister. So we split up into separate groups, and I walked holding my precious daughter’s hand.

We had a beautiful and fascinating conversation about bullying. She was as attentive as I’ve ever seen her. Impressively so.

We started walking across a major street in Jerusalem. I began crossing the middle section. When all of a sudden I heard my daughter shriek, “Aaaaaabba!!” And I felt her tugging on my arm as hard as can be.

I looked at her confused, and then turned around to see a huge bus passing the spot where I was standing just a split second earlier. It took me a moment to collect my thoughts, and clear the fog roaming through my head. And when I did, I realized what I had done.

The Jaywalker

I crossed the street on the red. I am a typical New Yorker, at least in that jaywalking is something that I think all human beings should do and do freely. And I’m also typical in that I’m usually extremely careful. I always look both ways, even on a one-way street. I trust no one.

And in 42 years, I’ve done so without a hitch. But this time was slightly different. I was sleepy, first and foremost. And it was Shabbat, so there were hardly a lot of vehicles to begin with. I wasn’t paying great attention, since I was so thoroughly engaged in the conversation with my daughter. But most importantly, I had for a split-second forgotten that this part of the street had two-way traffic.

And there I was, nonchalantly stepping into an empty street… right in front of a bus that was making a turn.

The Forever Hug

When I finally realized what was going on, I grabbed my daughter, and we hugged for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t want to stop. I was bizarrely calm. But she had tears running down her face and was shaking like a leaf.

And thus became the theme of the next 24 hours or so. My gorgeous daughter clung to me like never before. And every time her mind gave her a moment to think, the tears came back.

This was a special moment for me, on so many levels. One I expect to someday reminisce about with my daughter’s children. Here are five takeaways from my brush with danger, and my child’s amazing instinctual reaction:

1) My Daughter Loves Me A LOT

Kids complain. They complain a lot. And it could take years before they develop essential life perspectives, like empathy and priorities. And because of all that, it’s very easy to forget how important you are to them as a parent.

This moment gave me some perspective I would not have otherwise. My girl can be challenging sometimes. And sometimes the way she acts can make me feel like she doesn’t even want me in her life at all, God forbid.

But that shriek and passionate tug on my arm erased years of trying to cope with all the complications. She loves me. She really, really does. And she couldn’t fathom a world without me in it.

2) Laden with Blessings

Listen: I’m not going to say you should wander in front of a bus in order to see how it impacts your relationship with your children.

However, I can’t deny that something was different after the incident, and something undeniably positive.

Throughout the weekend she wanted to hold my hand every free moment she had. And something felt qualitatively different than when she held my hand in the past. It was filled with more love, more admiration and appreciation.

I love my daughter with a passion. But this is the closest we’ve ever felt to one another.

3) How Quickly Roles Can Shift

I am a typical father. I am grossly protective of my children, and would unthinkingly fight to the death to protect any one of them.

It’s just an innate sense. I must be there for them in every way. It is my duty in this world to keep them safe at all times.

And in one quick moment, the tide can turn. My wife and I spent the weekend assuring my precious 9-year-old that even when she wasn’t watching my back, I was safe. She needed to know at all times that even when I was out of sight, I was being careful, and there were others making sure I was out of harms way.

It is beyond humbling when your own child needs to be the one protecting you.

4) Surprises Lurking behind Every Corner

I’ll be honest. My daughter acted with efficiency and speed. Her reaction time was flawless. And I’m not sure I could have predicted things happening the way they did. She rose to the occasion, exceeding expectations.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same little girl who I recall a whole five years earlier charming every person she met. I’ll never forget our time in the airport on our way to New York. She would sit down next to a perfect stranger and start asking questions. At first, they’d be annoyed, and wished to return to their newspaper. Within 30 seconds the newspaper was set down next to them, and they were fully engaged in conversation. The same scenario happened several times!

To this day, the same daughter makes new best friends everywhere she goes. And instantly.

This little angel is not one to be underestimated. Ever!

5) Something’s Different Now

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Words are failing me to express what’s different today than yesterday. However, it’s clear to me that something has changed. Perhaps I’ll understand at some point, perhaps I’ll never quite grasp it.

This is not my first brush with danger. It’s not the first time where I looked back and said I was inches from death. But it is most certainly the first time that the danger was averted at the hands of my very own daughter.

I am humbled.

I am grateful.

And I am ecstatic to continue using my gift of life.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, personal story, 1 comment

Healthy Religiosity, Israel vs. the World

religiosity

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately. Folk who come to live in Israel, and slowly but surely their religiosity starts to dip.

The Religiosity Counterintuitive

On the surface, this is quite counterintuitive. There are so many reasons why one would think this could never happen. First and foremost, we’re in the Holy Land. On every corner there’s a synagogue. Everywhere you look there are religious people, objects, and opportunities. And the land itself is covered from top to bottom with history and significance. So how could it be that in an environment such as this, one could possibly lessen their enthusiasm, observance, or religiosity?

I’d like to suggest five possible reasons:

1) The Israel Challenge

Israel is generally a challenging place to live.

If you are elsewhere, and you live in a beautiful, large home, your high-power job pays a fantastic salary, and you are surrounded by endless activities, life in general can be much easier.

But who has time to think about going to classes and services when they’re not sure how they could possibly cover their rent or where their next meal is coming from?

On a philosophical level, it’s easy to say that one’s connection to God and religiosity should never parallel how great one’s life is. But in reality, that’s how it is for most of us. It is far easier to stay strong and focused when we’re happy, fulfilled, stress-free, and well fed. Throw some powerful life challenges into the mix, and it seems reasonable that some observance might shrink away simultaneously.

2) The Adversity Discrepancy

On the flip side, there are certain challenges to living outside of Israel that can possibly strengthen one’s connection and religiosity.

When you are surrounded by people just like you, the tendency is to become complacent. It’s easy. Being one of the Chosen People is a given, and takes no work whatsoever.

But when you find yourself surrounded by hatred, the tendency is often to pull yourself together and learn to love your circumstances even more. I have watched as barely connected Jews stared bravely into the eyes of evil antisemites. They didn’t consider their own wellbeing; they were pushed to stand up for what’s good and right in this world.

Being just a face in the crowd of a bunch of people exactly like yourself, might encourage complacency. Needing to defend your people, may encourage loyalty and pride.

3) Challenge Breeds Awareness

It’s a bit odd. I sometimes miss certain inconveniences of living outside of Israel.

There are two obvious examples of where this comes into play all the time: Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and Shabbat observance.

In Israel, and especially Jerusalem, you can meticulously observe both practices while barely breaking a sweat. The society is designed to make them simplistic. Entire grocery stores are filled exclusively with kosher items, and many areas are lined with kosher restaurants. The city shuts down for the Sabbath, and the best way to spend the day is feasting with family and friends.

But not so outside of Israel. You need to work harder to make sure you’re always purchasing the appropriate items. You must look at literally everything you take off the shelf. If there’s no kosher bakery around, or you’re dissatisfied with the selection, you’ll need to learn to make those beautiful Shabbat challahs on your own. Yeah, all of this is a pain… but it promotes awareness and a stronger connection to what you are actually doing.

Another great example is something called an eiruv. According to strict Jewish law, we may not carry anything outside during the Sabbath. In order to get around the rules, we create something called an eiruv (a virtually invisible, and extraordinarily complicated, legal structure). And voila, we carry items like there never was a rule in the first place. In Israel, it’s easy to forget this is even happening, since there seems to be an eiruv everywhere, and someone somewhere is in charge of caring for it. In many places outside of Israel, this is something that may require greater focus.

Sure, these issues can be a pain or an inconvenience. But when we work for something, we tend to have a greater appreciation for it. And further religiosity may ensue.

4) The Opportunity to Shine

Take someone out of their pond and place them elsewhere, and that’s when the opportunity to shine comes up all the time. Here in Israel, I almost never have the chance to explain Judaism to a perfect stranger, something I felt was practically a daily occurrence when I lived elsewhere. And nothing makes your love of your own people grow more than when you know your conversation partner is listening attentively to every word, and yours might be the only explanation they ever hear.

We have a very special responsibility to the world. Every day we must represent our people to the best of our ability. And that responsibility, as daunting as it may be, has a huge impact on how we carry ourselves and conduct our daily lives. Remove us from the world at large, and even though that responsibility is alive and well, it’s quite easy for many to think it’s irrelevant. And without the many watching eyes upon us, it’s simple to cease being our best selves.

5) We Are Unique

It’s very easy to feel faceless in Israel. I am just another one of the thousands and thousands just like me. My contributions are minimal and my knowledge is hardly unique. I’m surrounded by others who know everything I know, and many of them know much, much more.

But place me somewhere else, and now I’m something special and exotic. In Jerusalem, no one ever asks me why I don’t eat milk with meat. Elsewhere, I’m something different. And those differences matter.

We don’t always want to be special. It’s so much easier and more convenient to just do what everyone else around us is doing. Sometimes it’s simpler to just be faceless and to disappear into the crowd. But for many it feels quite nice to be something special. And it affects how we act and feel every day of our lives.

What do you think is the reason for this paradoxical religious shift?

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, religion, 1 comment

Religion and the Next Generation

generation

We work hard. Every day is a struggle to be better versions of ourselves. And as much as we basically have total control over who we are and who we wish to become, we have so little control over the next generation, over what happens with the future of our little ones.

Moshe vs. Yehoshua

I used to question the designation of Moshe (Moses) as the greatest leader of the Jewish people. His successor, Yehoshua (Joshua), seemed to have all the same leadership qualities. And he even merited to have some of the very same miracles occur for him as Moshe had. But whereas Moshe was not allowed to enter Israel, Yehoshua would forever have the accolade of being the one who led the entire Jewish people into the Holy Land. He would be the commander of the greatest conquest our people would ever experience.

So why Moshe as our greatest leader and not Yehoshua? My answer: Moshe was greater than Yehoshua because of Yehoshua. Moshe set up a situation where the people could be happy with and confident in the leadership even after he left this world. But what followed the reign of Yehoshua? Hundreds of years of craziness and disaster! The truly great person not only considers what happens when they’re around, but does everything in his power to ensure the next generation is taken care of. The next generation must be able to thrive as well.

The Next Generation Code

Moshe unlocked a code. He did something almost no one knows how to do. He could pass on his greatness for another generation. He was great not just because he was great, but because he took his greatness a huge step beyond, unlike anyone before or since.

What About the Kids?

It’s damn near impossible not to be concerned when you’re a parent. Everything you say and do can impact the decisions and actions of your children. And as much as ones positive influence is strong and utterly important, it seems to get overshadowed by any of the mistakes we make. Each day we tiptoe around our children’s souls, and every time we turn and knock something over, we are just inches away from irreparable damage.

So what is the key to passing on religion from one generation to the next? If one holds steadfast to his values, and thus believes his ways are the sole way of getting closer to God, how could he not want to pass every last bit of it along to the next generation?

There are no easy answers. Not even close.

The Next Generation

We all know the family where most children followed the path of the parents, but others didn’t. Or most left the fold. In other cases there are parents who did everything objectively wrong, only to find themselves with children who are everything the parents could have ever hoped for. And others where they tried their hardest, sought the best advice, and did everything they could think of to preserve future generations, yet their results were anything from unsuccessful to downright disastrous.

And let’s not forget for even a moment that parents are just one piece (albeit a very important piece) of a giant puzzle. Influences, positive or negative, come from peers, siblings, schools, and communities. Everyone is working together to create a final product. Except even though their influence is upon the same person, their methods, motivations, and behaviors are by no means coordinated.

The Next Generation Models

There are certain models available, each with its own fears and flaws. Probably the most common is to force your ways upon your children. In many aspects, it’s also the easiest. Everyone in your household is required to do as you do, no questions asked. And hopefully this will work for all children, there will be no rebellion, it will carry into adulthood, and the same methodology will be passed down to the next generation as well.

The system seems flawless… for a while. Little children are given candy as positive reinforcement for doing what they’re supposed to do. Little achievements are celebrated. And laughing little people, devoid of any discernment or baggage, play along. They don’t love the way of their people. They’re just forming habits.

Teenage Years Are Coming!

But those teenage years are creeping up. They’re just around the corner, waiting to pounce upon the unsuspecting parent. Now, suddenly, questions begin to form. Things they’ve heard and experienced over the years aren’t adding up. The children see elements that don’t sit well with them. They recall some negative associations with their religion. All just as their emerging minds are trying to figure out the best way to rebel.

Suddenly, the cute children who did what they were told for the eagerly anticipated sweet is starting to see a bigger picture. We created a utopia, where little ones ecstatically behaved like their parents, but it was all just one fleeting performance. It wasn’t real. And it came with an expiration date.

What Happens Next?

Then what happens? Do we continue to promote a fake show, void of any real connection to what they’re doing and feeling? When there’s resistance, do we just push harder, forcing our ways upon the children?

Do we give them room to make mistakes and room to grow as they see fit? If so, when does that begin? And how much room do we give? There are also many additional factors. Preserving the sanctity of our homes. Ensuring our other children aren’t overly influenced by things we don’t wish for them to see.

How much can we rely upon schools or social pressure?

And when all the smoke clears, when everything is entirely out of our hands, how do we react when the results are drastically different from what we had hoped for?

The Results

In the final analysis, every parent wishes the best for his or her child. And if one is a true believer, the “best” includes the children following in the parents’ footsteps. And every day is a brand new struggle to try and positively influence children to land where we want them.

There will be ups and downs. Some days will be filled with joy, others with utter disappointment.

And an ongoing struggle to be joyous and loving regardless of the results.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, religion, 0 comments

Religion and the Neato Factor

neato

For the most part, every religion wants the world to believe they are harbingers of the one truth. Some are very brazen about their beliefs, while others are far more humble about their approach. Some are very intellectual, while others prefer anything from appeals to emotion to the worst forms of manipulation.

Judaism is certainly different from the average religion. Like with all religions, the Jewish people believe that Judaism is truth. The Torah is real, the stories within the Torah are timeless pieces relevant to the entire world, and Judaism is the path all Jews must take to achieve the greatest Heavenly rewards.

Nevertheless, Judaism is unique in that it doesn’t believe every human being alive needs to or even should be Jewish. The world at large has many paths to take to come closer to God, and whereas Judaism is one of them, it is by no means mandatory.

Everyone or Just Some?

It’s a curious piece to Jewish theology. I’ve often wondered what others must think. On one hand, it’s a point of pride for many Jews. It makes our religion unique, it reflects a certain level of confidence and self-sufficiency, and it prevents us from being a nuisance to so many people. On the other hand, if you truly believe you are correct, why would you not what to shout it out to anyone who could possibly listen?

Nevertheless, the theology is very different when it comes to other Jews, for whom the belief is that every Jewish person must accept upon himself the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith.

There are many paths that people take to try and influence others to adopt their religious practices. Some choose rigorous debate, replete with complicated philosophical explanations. Some appeal to emotions, and speak of the continuity of our people.

My favorite “method”, and the one that I believe reflects the greatest amount of confidence in ones faith, is just living your life to the best of your ability, and letting others decide for themselves. Don’t shove your beliefs down the throat of others. Invite people to your home for a Shabbat meal, encourage someone to come to your class, and let their own curiosity and intelligence take it from there. Since, after all, religion is something one should choose, not something they should be forced, badgered, or manipulated into. Anything less produces a tenuous and superficial relationship with the religion.

The Neato Factor

And then there is what I like to call the “Neato Factor”. These are things people use all the time to boast about the veracity of their religion; however, these “proofs” aren’t actually proofs. In fact, they are nothing but minor elements that at best complement real intellectual rigor. They prove nothing in and of themselves, and at best just make things a little more interesting.

When someone tries to proves their religion using one of these three ideas, the only reaction that makes any sense to me is, “Neato. But now what? Is that all you’ve got?”

My three Neato Factors:

1) Neato Codes

I don’t know if other religions make claims such as these, but there are elements among the Jewish people who explore Jewish texts with such detail, they’ve found what they consider “codes” hidden within the text. These so-called codes are without a doubt fascinating. They’re very fun. Some are even shockingly impressive.

But that’s where everything stops. Even if we were to explore each and every one of these codes, and determine that the statistical improbability borders on miraculous, we still have to ask the question, “So what?”

What do these little additions to thousands of years of tradition and philosophical debate really add to the discussion? It’s like when I discovered that the person I was dating had a Hebrew name with the same numerical value as mine, the chance of which is off-the-charts unlikely. It was certainly cool. Worth noting. A fun story to tell our friends and great grandchildren. However, if I were to base whether or not I would marry her on this alone, I would be nothing but a fool (there were TONS of other great reasons #HeChoseWell).

Things like the Codes are fun. But they are spices, and nothing more. We could eat a steak without spices. Sure, it might be bland. But we’d enjoy it nonetheless, and we’d benefit from its iron and protein. However, we’d get quite little from downing a few spoonfuls of salt and pepper…

2) Neato People

Another tactic used by those who wish to prove their religion is demonstrating that theirs either has really special practitioners or they’ve heard the veracity of their claims from great people.

Years ago I was reading Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I like his books. I find Lewis very intellectually honest, and very philosophically astute. However, he basically stated that the reason he believes in Christianity is because he heard of its truth from great people, who heard it from great people…

There are countless reasons I find this to be a weak argument. At best when you can show me a great religious person I will think to myself, “Neato. That sure is a nice person. I’m really glad you have such wonderful people in your life.”

However, there are flaws galore to this as a “proof” of any religion. For every amazing member of your religion, I can show you a handful of absolute bastards who practice the very same religion. And I can show you a whole bunch of equally wonderful people who practice other religions, or no religion at all.

3) Neato Miracles

Which leads to my least favorite way of “proving ” religion: Mentioning all the different miracles that have occurred to you and other members of your religion. Miraculous moments so unlikely, their existence can only be attributed to the one true God.

Go to any religion and you’re bound to hear miraculous stories. They might be amazing, even inspiring. But once every religion has its own stories, we’re just left with one giant stalemate.

All we can say is: That story is neato. But what am I supposed to do with all these miracle stories? Should I absorb all of them and thus accept all religions as truth? Should I toss them all in the waste basket, since their existence has by definition negated all the other ones? Or do I pick and choose, and if so, what’s my standard of measurement?

So in the final analysis, we’re left with three concepts used to show the truth of religions, three concepts that are no doubt fun to explore. They are, in fact, neato. But they do nothing to show the truth of anyone’s claims.

For that, we must look just a tad bit deeper.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in religion, 0 comments