Archive for January, 2011

“The purpose of the laws of the Torah is…to promote compassion, loving-kindness, and peace in the world.”

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Dear Friends,

It all happened so quickly. Within a few months, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were rounded up and killed near the conclusion of WWII. By their own admission at the Budapest Holocaust Museum, this horrible action would not have been possible without the help and cooperation of many Hungarians. Having visited a number of Polish concentration camps over the years, it should not have been a surprise to me that people can do this to each other…and yet…once again it was a sobering reminder of the power that each of us has to make both a positive and a negative difference.

We just returned from visiting our daughter in Budapest and I had the opportunity to teach at one of three Jewish schools there. I taught approximately 40 ninth and tenth graders and we discussed the text from Rabbi Hillel where he says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me; If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” We talked about how challenging issues often present us with dilemmas as to whether to look out for ourselves or others. I cannot tell you what I would have done if I were alive during the Nazi period, but I can tell you that each time I see how willing others were to help the Nazis kill the Jews, I am frightened.

Someone raised the question as to how one can help instill the type of values that would encourage us to want to help others, even at personal risk. I wish I knew the answer to that question….if any of you reading this, have any ideas, please write me at and mark the subject, “Helping Others.”. Each time I visit Eastern Europe, I am haunted by the thought that I could have been a collaborator and I am ashamed by these thoughts. I hope I would have taken risks to save others, but…

We also had the opportunity to visit a number of synagogues, many of which stand empty today. It is so difficult to hear about Jewish life that “used to be…” When I was younger, my dad told me that the saddest words he ever heard from old baseball players who were trying to hang on, were, ” I used to be a good player…” Although apparently there are still 100,000 Jewish people in Hungary, most of whom live in Budapest, it is so sad to see just remnants of what used to be a vibrant Jewish life. There was a kosher shop, a couple of kosher restaurants, and a number of smaller synagogues, but Judaism is clearly not what it was….When one sees Judaism on exhibit in a museum, it tears me up and pushes me to be more passionate and about trying to make Judaism more meaningful for others.

Finally, what do I learn? I learn how important it is for us to treasure the opportunities we have to practice our faith in America today, I also am inspired to seek innovative and meaningful ways in which to express our Jewish identities in a world in which I believe that Judaism has much to offer that will help us create a value system that will help us make good choices when it comes to trying to save and enhance the lives of those who are at risk due to persecution, poverty, and other difficult conditions.

I look forward to continuing this discussion in a variety of settings. Please respond electronically of contact me by phone so we can help each other….

Moses Maimonides, a famous Medieval Jewish philosopher who is called Rambam wrote,
“The purpose of the laws of the Torah is…to promote compassion, loving-kindness, and peace in the world.”

As you read my initial recollections from our trip to Hungary, may we find meaning in Rambam’s message and find ways to be more compassionate, do deeds of lovingkindness, and promote peace in our world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft

Letter to Christian Taylor Green…

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Dear Friends,

If I could send her Christina Taylor Green this letter I would….I may or may not send it to her family, but wanted you to know my thoughts…

    Dear Christina,

    I had the pleasure to meet your grandfather when he was the manager of the Chicago Cubs many years ago. He was a very fine baseball man who accomplished many significant things as a baseball manager. It is not surprising to me that you were a young person who loved baseball and also wanted to become more aware of how to become an involved citizen.

    I wish I had answers for the questions which your death raises. I am a rabbi who unfortunately has to grapple with many challenging questions about why bad things happen to good people. I have no explanation for your death but hope that through thinking about your life, I can find meaning in the lessons that your short life has taught me.

    First of all, you were born on a day, Sept. 11, 2001, when our world was torn apart by the horrors of terrorism. Your birth and the birth of all those who were born on that day, inspired so many of us to have hope in a world that seemed hopeless. On this Shabbat,(Sabbath), in the Jewish religion, we are celebrating the Sabbath of Song, which commemorates the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea in Biblical days.Our tradition teaches that one of the reasons the miracle occurred was because an individual named Nachshon was willing to take a chance and step into the Red Sea. While others cried out, rushed into the Sea and drowned and some returned to slavery, Nachshon took the first step into the Sea with the hope that his act might lead to a miracle. His courage led to the freedom of the Israelite people who evolved into the Jewish people that we know today.

    Your first step into the adult world to meet a Congress Person was a miracle, Christina. In a world torn by skepticism and cynicism, you taught us the miracle of believing that we can make a difference. Although you won’t be in this world to see it, the world will be a better place because people will learn from the tragedy that led to your death. They will learn that we must not say gnasty things to each other in a way which causes anger and hatred. They will learn, as the President of the United States, Barach Obama, said that we should use our words to heal and not to wound. They will learn that children still believe in the power of each of us to make a difference.

    Oh Christina, a child of hope on Sept. 11…it is not fair that you should have to die in order for us to remember that basic human decency necessitates that we should be civil with each other. I wish that people would learn to use their words as sources of hope, rather than as weapons. I wish that people would be more sensitive to those who show signs of mental illness and reach out and help them. I wish that people would not use weapons which can kill, in order to hurt nine year old girls and others.

    But…Christina, we live in a world that needs to be repaired. In the Jewish tradition we call this repair, tikkun. May your memory inspire each of us to find an area of our world to fix and devote ourselves to the best for which you hoped…that we can make a difference.

    May your family be comforted during this tragic time and may your innocence and idealism find you a place as G-d’s right hand person, helping to inspire each of us to make our world a better place to live.

We miss you, but will never forget the hope you have given all of us.

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Thougths and Prayers are with Rep. Giffords

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I wanted to share this statement issued by the Religious Action Center about the terrible shooting in Arizona.
Rabbi Bruce Aft

These words from David Saperstein:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a remarkable public servant shot while meeting with constituents today. Rep. Giffords is a member of Reform Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, and our entire community shares her family’s concern and pain.

We send our condolences to the families of those killed in this horrible act of violence, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, and pray for those who were wounded. As dark a day as this is for our nation, we know that it is immeasurably more painful for those whose family members were killed or injured.

We have had a close and fruitful relationship with Rep. Giffords and her staff throughout her time in Congress. She is a leading advocate for sensible immigration reform, a strong and thoughtful voice on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is willing to cast difficult votes on issues she believes in, including health care reform. (It was her support for health care reform, which led to an earlier attack on her office in Tucson.)

We do not yet know the specific motive behind this despicable act. But there can be no ignoring the increasing culture of violence in our nation and particularly in our political discourse. Dehumanizing language and images of violence are regularly used to express differences of opinion on political issues. Such language is too often heard by others, including those who may be mentally ill or ideologically extreme, to justify the actual use of violence. It continues to be far too easy to acquire guns, including the weapon used in today’s shootings. Americans must be able to have robust and healthy differences of opinion while respecting the humanity and patriotism of those with whom they disagree.

We, together with so many others, have supported and developed programs to address the disintegration of our political culture. As we can see from today’s bloodshed, to call for “civility,” only begins to scratch the surface of what is needed. We are committed to working with America’s religious leaders of all faiths, and others, to elevate aggressively the state of our political discourse.

But today, of course, we stand stunned and deeply saddened. And we pray that Rep. Giffords’ husband Mark and her entire family find support comfort and strength among their friends and family, as we join them in praying for her full recovery.

Beloved US Jewish songwriter, Debbie Friedman, dies

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Dear Members of the George Mason Community,

The Jewish community has suffered a great loss. Please keep her in your prayers so her memory will be for a blessing.

Beloved US Jewish songwriter, Debbie Friedman, dies

Rabbi Bruce Aft