Rabbinically Speaking with Rabbi Fisch
By Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
In the most recent gubernatorial election campaign in New York, Cynthia Nixon made quite a stir as she was campaigning in the Jewish neighborhood of the Upper West Side. She made her way into a traditional deli, and her request for lunch ignited quite a controversy. At the legendary Zabar’s market on the Upper West Side, the actress-turned-politician ordered a cinnamon-raisin bagel, topped with lox, capers, red onions, cream cheese and tomatoes. “That’s what I want,” she said defiantly.
A local news site captured it all, posting the video online. And for the next several days as the story spread, the sweet-and-savory sandwich was plunged into a boiling controversy. Most vocal were those New Yorkers and other bagel fans who have expressed a firm belief – mostly on social media – that Ms. Nixon committed a gag-inducing gaffe: chewy raisins and sweet dough, briny capers and smoked fish joined together in an unholy union. A chorus of tweets had ripped the unorthodox bagel combo as “gross.” One reporter even went so far to call it a “crime against the bagel gods.”
I couldn’t help but be sadly amused at the manufactured outrage directed at the candidate at a seemingly petty issue. There are so many critical issues facing our society as a whole, but so many of us are bogged down with unimportant matters. I was thinking of the most vital issues facing the Jewish Community on a global level, both in Israel and around the world, and came up with an unscientific list of the top ten issues. Now this list is indeed debatable, as some may take issue with why I list any of these in the top ten or why some have been left off the coveted list. Additionally, some might wonder what is sacred about the Top 10 list and why there is not a Top 12 or Top 9, but we are a people that heard the 10 Commandments, so it’s in this spirit that I share my list:
1) The Iranian nuclear threat to Israel.
2) The spread of Iranian proxies in the Mideast, i.e., Hezbollah, Hamas.
3) The threat of terror attacks in Israel.
4) Growing Anti-Semitism in Europe.
5) The growing divide between religious and secular in Israel.
6) The increasing gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
7) An increasing majority of North American Jews do not affiliate with any synagogue.
8) Strengthening of the BDS movement, especially on college campuses.
9) The challenge for Jewish Day School affordability.
10) Majority of Jewish People disconnected from Torah and tradition.
It’s relatively easy to come up with a list of problems. Coming up with a list of solutions is an entirely different matter. The answers to the above list are extraordinarily complex and beyond the scope of this space to weigh in on. I’m unsure I’m even qualified to offer solutions on all of the above issues. However, that will not stop me from attempting to engage on the most critical issues of our time. I want to outline a three-tiered approach as I attempt to unpack this: EDUCATE, ENGAGE and EMPOWER.
Educate. It’s important to be educated on the potential solutions to the most vexing problems of our times. The challenge of Jewish Day School affordability is threatening Jewish continuity in the United States, as middle-class families are being crushed with rising tuition costs and struggling from paycheck to paycheck. How should the middle-class Jewish family with three to four kids be expected to pay nearly $40,000 a year for a Jewish Day School experience, when they can receive an outstanding education being offered by a public school in Duval and St. Johns County for free? Well, help may be on the way. In the last several years, there has been a growing effort to advocate on behalf of this cause to our lawmakers in Tallahassee. The efforts have yielded fruit. For the school year of 2017-2018, there was $20 million in state scholarship funds for 2,875 Jewish students in the state of Florida. The majority of these students and families were, of course, in South Florida, but the students and families of the local day schools benefited as well. In an era of increased concern on security, there was funding secured of $654,000 in security hardening for Jewish schools in Florida in 2017-2018.
Engage and Empower. It’s essential to be engaged and empowered regarding the crucial issues of the day. One of the problems I highlighted above was the precarious state that Israel faces both on a security and economic battlefield. Many people are rightly frustrated by the double standards that the Jewish State faces daily. However, it’s essential to realize that very little can be accomplished by merely posting something on social media. The best way to affect change is to get involved with the advocacy efforts of AIPAC.
I just returned from the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., where I joined 18,000 pro-Israel activists from all over the country. I was honored and excited to lead a group from Jacksonville to the Policy Conference. This was my sixth consecutive year that I was fortunate to attend, and the highlight for me is always making our way to Capitol Hill to meet our congressman on the last day. When our member of Congress sees that we have made the trip from Jacksonville as his constituents, and we ask him to support a particular piece of legislation that will help Israel, it makes all the difference in the world.
There are indeed many problems in the world, but that should never discourage one from being engaged. As the sage in Pirkei Avot taught, “It is not our job to finish all the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”