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January 2, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 2, 2009

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PAGE 4A The Good 0000iTord Turning decadence into empathy Now that the secular New Year has officially come and gone, what do we have, in the short run, to look forward to? The Florida- Oklahoma game, and with it football parties and beer and chips and foot-long subs. And after that the annual commitment to getting in better shape and losing the five (or ten) pounds we put on from all the holiday chocolates from clients and the multi-dessert family dinners and the office parties and the champagne toasts and the latkes and the...what, you say? That sounds awfully decadent, like all we do is sit around and watch TV and eat? That the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is more of a food orgy than a reflective celebration of peace and love? Oh my gosh, I think you're right! It's not just the meaning of the holidays that we've lost somewhere along the way. It's the spirit of the holidays. It's not just gift giving and commercialism that's been overdone. It's the loss of our humanity, our empathy for others as we indulge ourselves. When our greatest act of charity during the holiday season is dropping some loose change in the Salvation Army bucket outside the supermarket, some- thing has gone terribly wrong. When we can no longer relate to or even remember what it feels like to be hungry, to wonder what we're going to make for dinner because we don't have anything to make. we have lost part of our connection to those less fortunate, those with needs, not necessarily greater than ours, but more immediately threatening, more pervasively oppressive. That's why, this New Year, there's still time to add one more resolution to your "lose weight get in shape" list. And that could be to be a little mor.e charitable (without coming out of pocket to any great degree), and a little more conscious of those with serious, immediate needs. One way to do this is by volunteering to help serve food to the hungry at organiza- tions like the Coalition for the Homeless. Another way, closer to home, is to support the Peartman Pantry at Jewish Family Services.. The Pearlman Pantry is one of those under- the-radar, unsung jewels in our community, like Belt Hamidrash, our teen high school, or Or Hadash, the successful Jewish network for the 20-40-something crowd. In 2007 the Pantry served more than 77,000 meals, not by cooking for people, but by giving those with proven needs staple items so their families don't become malnourished. As of the end of this November. 76.650 meals had been distributed. a 10 percent increase from a year ago. and last year was rough on families, too. For every Letter from Israel Israeli politics 101 By Ira Sharkansky Israel is a media icon standing for hope. ad- miration, and even salvation: or vilification and unrestrained hatred. Stories concern violence (either Israelis' struggle for survival or their destruction of others); terror attacks, missiles landing in towns, retaliation that pinpoints the guilty or errs and kills the innocent. Related to this is Israel's place on the agendas of the United Nations and international wannabes. Here the focus is condemnation by those obsessed, and defense by others. In this season of political campaigning, there are vignettes that seldom reach the international media. Most are unimportant, except to the people who participate, or political mavens for whom every quest for votes merits attention. They reveal something about the country's style, even if they do not have much impact on what happens. To understand the little dramas it is neces- sary to know some essentials of Israeli democ- racy. (We should ignore those who assert that such an evil place cannot be a democracy.) Israel's politics begin with proportional representation. In the final election, citizens vote for parties, and each party sends to the Knesset a number of candidates on its ranked list according to the proportion of the total votes received. If a party gets enough votes to send 20 members to the Knesset, it sends the highest 20 on its list. For our purposes, we can ignore the rules that apportion votes left over after assigning whole memberships. These fascinate some political scientists and a few others, but they do not affect a significant number of seats. Individual citizens can vote in primaries in order to rank candidates on the lists of the major parties (Kadima, Labor, and Likud). To vote in a primary, a citizen has to join the party, and agree that monthly dues (about U.S. $7 a month) will be deducted from one's bank account. There may be 100,000 members in each of the major parties. No more than 50 percent of each membership voted in this year's primaries. The parties manage their own primaries, and they occur on different dates. A citizen can join only one party. There are central lists, and party functionaries examine them to spot individuals who have registered in more than one party. But others seek to recruit more members, and the checks against doubling up, or tripling up are not foolproof. There is more thorough regulation of cam- paign financing for the final election than for primaries. Individual candidates do what they can to raise money and spread it around for advertisements and other purposes. If you want to find corruption in Israeli politics, this is a place to look. Vote contractors claim to deliver support in the primary for candidates who are their favorites, or who have employed them. Prominent among the contractors are union officials, individuals in companies with numerous employees, and men who have come to prominence in Arab villages. Contractors buy party memberships for the people they manage, and provide a list Sharkansky on page 19A [THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT.   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE  , ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 40 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Lyn Payne Mike Etzkin HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- Sodety Editor Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Harmon Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage Account Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O.. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Steve Levine Tim Boxer David Bomstein Gail 8imons MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman Teri Marks Louis Ballantyne email: Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosky I HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 dollar given to the Pearlman Pantry, $6 worth of food is distributed. If you're looking for a positive way to maximize the efficiency of your charitable giving, you just found it. Sadly, during tough economic times two divergent issues converge. The first is that more people have less money to spend on anything, including food. There are more hungry people out there, more children in need, more families whoare forced to do without. At the same tirrte. as we watch our shrinking family budgets and feel the pinch ourselves, those of us who would normally be philanthropic and give are less inclined to do so. More hungry people. Fewer donations. It's a vicious cycle. Here's what you can do, right now. today. The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, in conjunction with Jewish Family Services, is coordinating a drive for the Pearlman Pantry. You can make monetary contributions, which are always welcome and effective because the Pantry's buying power is multiplied by pur- chasing through Second Harvest Food Bank. You can donate canned goods (refrigeration of fresh meats and produce is not available at the Pantry), and protein, pasta, rice, and pasta sauce are always in demand. Protein is one of the first staple items to go when people are cutting budgets. Diapers, baby food. laundry detergent and personal hygiene products are also badly needed. People who are having a hard time making ends meet have a hard time af- fording to do laundry. It's sonething we might never think about, but it's today's reality. Call the Federation (407-645-5933) or JFS (407-628-0073) and change this New Year from indulgent to inspiring, from decadent to truly decent. You can knock off a resolution and reconnect with your humanity at the same time. And while your stomach's grumbling as you diet to knock off those extra pounds. feel a little empathy for all those people who go hungry, not by choice, but out of desper- ate need. It may change the way you look at your pantry, and encourage you to fill up the community food coffers. And that's the good word. The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual agency or organization. Send your thoughts, com- ments, and critiques to the Heritage or e-mail It's a bird, it's a plane, it's the rabbi By Rabbi Bini Maryles Consider the following: A college kid and his friends get arrested for drug possession. Whom do they call first with that one phone call? Parents? Sibling? You guessed it... the rabbi! A young teen is struggling with serious religious questions about God, faith, Torah, or even less "sublime" matters such as friends, grades, boy/girl friends. Whom do they turn to for answers and a guiding hand? Mom and Dad?... The rabbi. You're stuck on an airplane or in the office and Shabbat is about to arrive. You don't know what to do. Do you call your spouse first, kids? Nope... you call the rabbi. Your cat is stuck in a tree and you don't have a ladder.., ok. on this one call the fire department, but don't be shocked if the rabbi has a ladder or at least calls when the cat is rescued. It's not crazy to think that everything said above is true, because all of these scenarios happened. Make no mistake about it--rabbis are superheroes. Not run-of-the-mill heroes or 15-minutes-of-fame type. There is a big 'R' emblazoned on their chest, although you may not see it or realize it. They are not rock stars or celebrities, but superheroes, and the fictional ones, Superman included, have noth- ing on them and rabbis don't get to turn into Clark Kent. The suit on the rabbi is his cape and his work clothes. Take a 24-hour period in your own lives and compare it side-by-side with the rabbi. It starts at 6 a. m. with davening, or earlier if he gives daf yomi or serves as a mashgiach and there is an earIy morning delivery at the local store he needs to be present for. Davening is followed by office hours, hospital visits, shiva calls, phone calls, e-mails, meetingswith mem- bers perhaps staff if it is a larger shul car pool, shopping.., all before 9 a.m. Perhaps the rabbi has another job (or two) to help meet some of the financial burden, so there is commuting time or classroom work. Then there is prep time for tonight's class and the Shabbat sermon has to be awinner because it's Stevie's bar mitzvah and Sara's bat mitzvah. Next week is Yore Toy, so he has to examine the checklist to make sure the bulletins and the appeal cards are in order. Is the day over yet?... It's hardly past noon. A shoulder to cry on On the serious side, rabbis also deal with our most sobering and personal issues. At a death of a parent, whether under tragic or "normal" circumstances, our first call is to the rabbi. The rabbi arrives at our home or the hospital, provides comfort or a hug or a tear. He is the shoulder to cry on; the person to lean on as we show ultimate respect to our dearly departed loved one. He shepherds us through those moments, providing comfort with words of consolation, with a dignified and moving service and respect for all who come to mourn. In an instant the rabbi gets a call or an e-mail from another family celebrating the just-happened birth of their first child. The parents confided in and consulted with the rabbi as they endured infertility issues for many years. Sorrow to elation, cemetery to hospital, and no time to shower or change shoes. This is the rabbinate. It is gut-wrenching, heart- pounding, stressful and mind-blowing all at the same time. It is juggling private and public life. managing to stay even-keeled and balanced even when you don't want to. It is heroic, whether we know it or say it. Rabbis are superheroes. A number of years ago, during the first year of a friend's time as a rabbi, his colleague became ill and passed away very suddenly. It was the first week after Sukkot. The rabbi had time neither to mourn his friend nor to express his own personal sadness because that same week a young child in his community was diagnosed with a rare iilnessb It required much time to be spent with the family of the young child as well as with the shocked com- munity, to come together to pr@, to learn to cry and yet hope for a miracle. The same week. being Parshat B'reishit. the synagogue's full slate of programs and learning was set to begin. As it was his first year, the rabbi poured out his heart and soul during the holidays, leaving little energy to begin the season and with no battery backup. No time to mourn and no time to breathe. It took close to four weeks before the rabbi had a long moment to consider his friend's untimely death.., and then he finally wept. Say it with me... Superhero. On the private side. the rabbi has his own family and life which on many occasions is sacrificed for the 'good of the people.' It is the great juggling act of the rabbi to find or make time for spouse, children, friends and family, not to mention personal growth time. The rabbi gets the chance to take off his cape at home, but for how long? How does his fam- ily "suffer" for the "greater good?" The High Holiday season ended eight weeks before, and soon it is Chanukah. Ask yourself if during this block of time the rabbi has relaxed at all? Has he taken the 'pedal off the metal' even for a moment? We continue to experience rabbis in so many different situations without let-up. It is amaz- ing. We encounter them in the synagogue and perhaps in our homes and at our tables. They will be in our inbox, our mail and our minds. They will attempt to alter our consciousness with words or stories or even a joke and with deeds. They will spare no effort to inspire us to greater religious, spiritual and emotional heights. They will ask us to go further with ourselves and to push ours'elves beyond our imagination in the matters of Torah, prayer and mitzvot and we will ask more of them... Superhero. So the next time we see the rabbi, let's not waste the opportunity by playing the villain or the gossip and let's not spend the time looking for the cape--trust me it's there. Instead just put an arm around the rabbi and say thank you. Just remember not to squeeze too tight, because you might wrinkle the cape and he will need it tomorrow to fight another day. Rabbi Bini Maryles is director of the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services of the Orthodox Union, a position in which he interacts with and counsels rabbis across North America. Prior to arriving at the OU, he served as a congre- gational rabbi in his community. For more information about the Orthodox Union, visit