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DIY Prayer – Yerushalayim

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 15, 2017

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Laws of Shabbos #101

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 15, 2017

Closing the door behind a fly or small insect is not considered trapping as there is plenty of room for it to fly around. However, closing a window, if an insect is stuck between the window and screen would be trapping.

There are two scenarios where closing an insect between a screen and window is allowed: 1) One’s intent is to close the window because of the heat/ cold/ etc but not to trap. 2) There are large holes in the screen that the insect can easily escape through.

 

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Laws of Shabbos #100

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 15, 2017

A fully domesticated animal is considered perpetually trapped as it comes back to its owner on its own. Therefore, closing it into a small area is allowed on Shabbos.

Regarding an animal that is not fully domesticated, one may not close a door of the room they are in as it is a form of trapping. However, one may open the door with their body blocking the doorway, thereby never really allowing the animal to escape, and then close the door after entering. Similarly, a birdcage should be opened as little as possible with one’s hand covering the opening so that the bird cannot escape. Otherwise, closing the door would be a form of trapping.

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Laws of Shabbos #99

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 14, 2017

It is Biblically forbidden to hunt on Shabbos. Included in this prohibition is trapping animals. We will discuss a number of exceptions to this rule.

One may trap a bee or any type of stinging insect as long as it is not done with an actual trap.

A mosquito or gnat may not be trapped on Shabbos. However, if shooing it away does not work and it is on one’s skin one may grab the mosquito (otherwise a form of trapping) and throw it away.

If one is allergic to bees and can have a fatal or very dangerous reaction, one may kill it on Shabbos.

*This section is sourced in The Shabbos Home, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, Artscroll

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Sensitivity to a Sensitive Topic Parshas Eikev

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 14, 2017

I believe it was ninth or tenth grade, I don’t recall, and it doesn’t really matter. One way or another, I was playing hooky, pretended to be sick, and the school administrator fell for it. The school I attended was quite far from home, there were no busses, and so I had to hitch a ride home, which I did. A young man who I didn’t know, who was leaving the school kindly offered me a ride. I gladly jumped into the back seat.

At one point during the drive the driver asked me how the food was in the school’s cafeteria. I told him that our regular cook was sick and someone else was making the food. “So how’s the replacement cook doing?” he asked. “How’s the food?”  

I shrugged and flippantly said, “You know, same old junk.”

At that point he turned around to face me and said, “I don’t think I introduced myself, I’m Moishe, and I’m the replacement cook.”

 

Let’s just say the rest of the ride was just a little uncomfortable.  

But it was a wonderful lesson, it really was. I was a pretty sensitive kid, and this incident made me realize just how sensitive we have to be. And sensitivity is the overarching theme of my talk today.

Last Simchas Torah, the shul auctioned off the opportunity to choose a topic for one of my sermons, and a group of women banded together and did so. This past week they shared with me a number of their suggestions, and I have to tell you, they were all very important and timely topics and I hope to get a chance to speak about many of them in the next few months. But one topic struck a chord, and I would like to try to talk about it today and that is the topic of sensitivity to infertility.

Infertility is not a topic that is often discussed and for obvious reasons – it’s private, it’s more private than private. Discussing infertility is inviting someone into one’s intimate life, inviting someone into their deepest desires and the most personal of setbacks.

Although it’s not discussed, it doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent. “There are more than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States currently struggling with infertility. Up to twenty percent of those who do become pregnant experience a miscarriage. Eighty percent of those miscarriages occur within the first trimester, when the couple is unlikely to have told anyone they were expecting and before the woman begins to show.” (Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Infertility Etiquette) So yes, it is prevalent and yet, profoundly private.

And I think it’s safe to say that living in a community like ours, a Jewish community, that has been obsessed since the beginning of time with children and succession, makes this struggle so much more pronounced. This week’s Parsha when G-d describes the great blessings that He will bestow upon the Jewish People, the first of those blessing is pri vitnecha, children! We are a child-centric society like no other. And in such a society, having no children can be really, really painful. Rachel, like many of our matriarchs, suffered from the pain of childlessness. In one moment of despair, she screamed out in pain, “im ayin, meisa anochi, if I don’t have a child I am already dead.”

The National Infertility Association, Resolve, has a page to guide us in sensitively interacting with this population. It’s written anonymously by someone who experiences infertility and called Infertility Etiquette. I’ll read to you a few rules, but I encourage to read the whole thing by yourself.

“#1 – Don’t Tell Them to Relax

Everyone knows someone who had trouble conceiving but then finally became pregnant once she “relaxed.”… My husband and I underwent two surgeries, numerous inseminations, hormone treatments, and four years of poking and prodding by doctors. Yet, people still continued to say things like, “If you just relaxed on a cruise . . .” Infertility is a diagnosable medical problem that must be treated by a doctor, and even with treatment, many couples will NEVER successfully conceive a child. Relaxation itself does not cure medical infertility.

Rule #2 – Don’t Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen” (As an aside, never say that. To anyone. About anything!)

“Rule #3 – Don’t Ask Why They Aren’t Trying IVF

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a method in which the woman harvests multiple eggs, which are then combined with the man’s sperm in a petri dish. This is a method that can produce multiple births. People frequently ask, “Why don’t you just try IVF?” in the same casual tone they would use to ask, “Why don’t you try shopping at another store?””

The final rule that I’ll mention today is, “Don’t Complain About Your Pregnancy

“This message is for pregnant women. Just being around you,” writes the author, “is painful for your infertile friends. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have.”

If I may, I would qualify this rule of hers. There is the insensitivity of having someone say something insensitive and there is the insensitivity of having a conversation stop short as soon as you walk into a room. (I know, it happens to me all the time!) I don’t believe she is recommending a pregnant woman or a mother to pretend she isn’t. What she is recommending is that we are a little more cognizant of how these words come across. In her words:  “I’d gladly throw up for nine straight months if it meant I could have a baby.”

I remember getting just an inkling of this when I lived in the Pickwick apartments. On Shabbos afternoon, there would be these huge gatherings of women and their young children running around on the lawn. They were welcoming, they were friendly, but the women who did not have any children would often times hang back and wouldn’t come outside. Why wouldn’t she want to come outside and talk to a group of friendly neighbors? Why would she want to stay inside by herself on a beautiful afternoon? Because the pain of having everyone talk about strollers and milestones, and yes, even the complaints about how difficult child-rearing is were simply too painful.

But in truth, we shouldn’t really need rules.  When Rachel screamed out in pain, her husband to whom she directed those words responded. She asked him to give her a child, to which he said, “Am I G-d? How can I give you a child?” 

And you know what, he was 100% right! He was not G-d and her complaining to Yakov made no sense. But at the very same time, Yakov was absolutely wrong. As our Sages commented on this exchange, “Is this how you respond to a person in pain?”

What Yakov was lacking at that moment was insight. By insight I mean the ability to be able to see yourself from the other person’s perspective. He did not place himself in the mindset of his wife and our Sages take him to task for not doing so. 

Some people are blessed with more insight and some people with less. I am sure you may have experienced this in interacting with someone who says something or does something that is just so insensitive, so self-centered, so embarrassing – for them! and you wonder, do they know how those words sound to other people?!

This type of insight is something we could develop, and even if you’ve been blessed with a good amount of insight, you could always use some more. When I prepare a sermon, I spend a good amount of time thinking not only about the message, but how you’ll hear it. I learned this the hard way, because, regretfully, unwittingly, I have insulted people when I didn’t properly think through how the message sounds not only to me but to you.

The way we gain insight is by listening to people, listening really well, by learning to understand others. And so I’d like to conclude today by reading to you a personal reflection from a woman who was experiencing secondary infertility, a condition in which couples who have already had one child naturally are, for no apparent reason, unable to have another. Perhaps in some ways it’s even more painful as people innocently assume such couples are really able to have children but are just choosing not to.

Before I quote her reflections to you,it’s worth acknowledging that no two people experience anything the same way. However, the more we listen the better we become at developing this invaluable skill. Allow me to read to you her reflection:

(Secondary Infertility, Rachel Fayga bas Hinda, Aish.com) “I have conducted endless Google searches in hopes of finding a story similar to mine. I found a handful of message boards and blogs of women suffering from infertility, some of them with happy endings and some not. But for the most part, nobody I can relate to. I felt alone and was desperately seeking a voice similar to mine to give me hope and faith. Lots of people will tell you they know someone who is going through the same thing or went through the same thing, but where are they? Why don’t they speak up and let people know their story?

I decided to be that voice. I know how much more difficult this road can be when you travel it alone; feeling like God is punishing you, feeling like everyone is looking at you and wondering why you are waiting so long. Hearing comments like “Don’t wait too long to give her a sibling otherwise she’ll be spoiled.” I know it’s not meant to hurt, but it does. A lot.

I started on this journey almost three years ago, a few months after my daughter turned two; I was 26 at the time. Getting pregnant with her was pretty easy. I had an amazingly easy pregnancy and a really quick labor. I thought it would take no time to get pregnant again.

Months passed and the pregnancy tests kept coming up negative. I knew I should go see the doctor, but part of me didn’t want to accept that something might be wrong. After eight months with no success I went to my doctor. He ran every kind of test on both me and my husband and found nothing amiss, so I was referred to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). I put off going for two months because I was still refusing to accept that I needed medical assistance to have a child. Finally, at the ten month mark, I went.

I had my initial consultation and the doctor seemed positive that a couple rounds of Clomid (a fertility drug) would do the trick. Three rounds of the drug with two intrauterine inseminations later and still no pregnancy. I became discouraged and didn’t call them back for the next cycle.

I decided we’d try on our own for a while. I started to track my basal body temperature (BBT). BBT tracking helps predict ovulation based on changes in your resting body temperature. After six months of tracking there was still no pregnancy.

During this time, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I was working as a psychologist in a women’s correctional facility. The job was stressful for many reasons, but mostly because on a daily basis I would encounter incarcerated women who were drug addicted and pregnant. I couldn’t understand the justice in that. I began crying myself to sleep every night, waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks or just plain crying, crying while driving to work, and crying quietly in my office at work. Soon the tears turned to rage. I was raging at everyone I met. I was angry at my clients. How could God give them a child and not me? I eventually had to leave the job because it was taking too much of a toll on my own mental health and making me very resentful of God.

I was angry at my friends who told me they were expecting their second after only a couple months. I was angry at my sister-in-law who told me she was expecting her fourth, and then my other sister-in-law made her pregnancy announcement not too long after that. I was especially angry at my husband. I had no good reason for the anger other than the fact that it made his pain less painful to me, but he suffers with this too and blaming him wasn’t changing the reality of our situation. I still wasn’t pregnant.

After the birth of my nephew, I couldn’t pull myself together. There was this constant heavy feeling in my chest and I couldn’t get the tears out of my eyes. The pain was so strong that I couldn’t control when and where I’d let it out. Every milestone or family simcha was tinged with this pain. Each birthday party for my daughter is bittersweet for me. Yes she is growing up, thank God, but she is still alone.

I caved to the pressure and went back to the RE and started rounds of fertility injections. My husband gave me injections every night. I was waking up at 6 a.m. for blood work and ultrasounds every day, suffering from terrible bloating, swollen ovaries, a five to seven pound weight gain (at least!), cramping, and fatigue. Three rounds later and still no pregnancy.

I stopped taking pregnancy tests months ago. I give extra charity, make challah with a blessing almost every week, light extra shabbat candles, and pray my heart out.

I’m done playing the blame game; I’m done being angry at God and feeling like I’m being tormented or condemned to eternal suffering. I’m done ruining my life and my marriage with my anger, jealousy, and negativity. I don’t have any more energy for it. I’m done crying every night (now I only cry once or twice a month). I’m done being ashamed and embarrassed of my condition. I’m done feeling alone and isolated. I’m done trying to avoid those “so when are you guys going to have another one?” questions.

I want my life back. I want to enjoy the two beautiful gifts God has already handed to me on a silver platter and said “Here, have an amazing life!” The gifts I have not paid attention to for the past three years because I’ve been too busy being miserable. They are my sweet, kind, sensitive, brilliant husband and my beautiful, incredible, amazing, daughter.

I began taking my life back eight months ago and while it still hurts each month when I see that I haven’t been blessed with another child, I can still hope and pray while I enjoy the blessings I already have. I know that God has a plan and that there is a reason for the situation I am currently in. Even though I do not understand it, I am learning to accept it. God has always pulled through for me before; there’s no reason for me to start believing otherwise now……

Lastly, for those of you who do not suffer from this condition, please be sensitive to your family and friends. Do not take for granted that they are waiting. Asking or making comments can be completely innocent on your part, but so painful for them. Pray for these individuals that God should bless them with healthy children in the right time.

Please pray for me and know that if you’re in this situation, you are not alone.”

Friends, let’s become more sensitive people; sensitive to the words that come out of our mouth, more sensitive to the people with whom we speak. Let’s grow and develop our insight becoming more and cognizant of how we come across by listening to other people’s stories and stepping into their shoes. And let’s take this woman’s wonderful advice and let’s pray. Let’s pray with all of our heart and soul, for all those who suffer silently. We may not have the right words to share with them – as there are no words, but we do have the words to share with our Father in Heaven, letting Him know that we care.

   

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DIY Prayer – Righteous Aspirations

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 14, 2017

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DIY Prayer – Let Evil Fall/ Do Not Rejoice

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 13, 2017

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DIY Prayer – Justice

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 9, 2017

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DIY Prayer – Ingathering

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 8, 2017

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More Than a Matter of Perspective Shabbos Nachamu

By: Rabbi Motzen | August 8, 2017

What would you say, is the world becoming a safer place to live, a healthier environment, a more tolerant society, or is the opposite true? Is the world becoming a more violent place, disease and illness are rampant, and vitriol hatred is taking the place of civilized discourse? Which one is it? Are we going up or are we going down?

 

On the one hand we can look at the carnage in Syria, the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, North Korean missile tests that can reach the US, the spread of the zika virus, or terror attacks not only in Israel, where we have sadly come to expect them, but all over the Western world, populist governments cropping up in places where you least expect them, and democracies crumbling in places like Venezuela.

Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?

And yet, when we look at the statistics, a very different picture is painted – the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10% for the first time in 2016, global inequality is on the decrease, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels have failed to rise for the third year running, child mortality is roughly half of what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people are gaining access to electricity each and every day. As recently as 1882, only 2% of homes in New York had running water; in 1900, worldwide life expectancy was 31 years old, today, by contrast, it’s 71 – and those extra decades involve far less suffering, too. In the ten to fifteen minutes that I will be speaking today, almost another 2,000 people will have risen out of [extreme] poverty.

Steven Pinker, who is credited with being one of the great champions of this optimistic view, points out that whenever you’re busy judging governments or economic systems for falling short of standards of decency, it’s all too easy to lose sight of how those standards themselves have altered over time. For example, we can be appalled by when migrants die in the Mediterranean only because we start from the position that unknown strangers from distant lands are worthy of moral consideration – a notion that would probably have struck most of us as absurd had we been born in 1700. Yet the stronger this kind of consensus grows, the more unacceptable each violation of it will seem. And so, ironically enough, the outrage you feel when you read the headlines is actually evidence that this is a magnificent time to be alive.

(Source: Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, Is the World Really Better Than Ever)

And so, I suppose it makes sense to be an optimist, does it not?

Well, not so fast.

Oliver Burkeman, in an article in the Guardian, titled, Is the World Really Better Than Ever, points out, “that all the evidence of progress has taken place in the last 200 years – a fact that the optimists take as proof of the unstoppable potency of modern civilization, but which might just as easily be taken as evidence of how rare such periods of progress are. Humans have been around for quite some time; extrapolating from a 200-year stretch seems unwise. In doing so, we risk making the mistake of the 19th-century British historian Henry Buckle, who confidently declared that war would soon be a thing of the past. It was 1857…

But the real concern is not that the steady progress of the last two centuries will gradually swing into reverse, plunging us back to the conditions of the past; it’s that the world we have created – the very engine of all that progress – is so complex, volatile and unpredictable that catastrophe might befall us at any moment. Steven Pinker may be absolutely correct that fewer and fewer people are resorting to violence to settle their disagreements, but (as he would concede) it only takes a single angry narcissist in possession of the nuclear codes to spark a global disaster. Digital technology has unquestionably helped fuel a worldwide surge in economic growth, but if cybercriminals use it to bring down the planet’s financial infrastructure next month, that growth might rather swiftly become moot.”

And so we’re back to where we started, it may be undoubtedly clear that the world has indeed progressed substantially, but to be optimistic or pessimistic, at least about the future, is entirely a matter of perspective.

And that idea, the idea of perspective is the secret behind the celebratory nature of this Shabbos, Shabbos Nachamu. It receives its name from the Haftorah that we just read, in which the prophet begins by saying, Nachamu, Nachamu, ami, be comforted my nation. All over the world, there are concerts this Saturday night, there are celebrations, festivities for what is known as Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of consolation.

I always get the question this time of year by people who take life, and take Judaism seriously, who ask me, how in the world are we celebrating on this Shabbos? We just got off the floor, having spent three weeks of mourning, culminating with Tisha B’av; no music, no celebrations, no joy. And now, people all over the world are celebrating?! Doesn’t Nachamu mean comfort as in Nichum Aveilim, comforting a mourner? But celebrations? How does this make any sense?

A number of commentators explain that the word Nachamu or Nichum is actually much more than comfort. The word nechama, is first found in the Torah when G-d decides to destroy the human race with a terrible flood. Vayinachem Hashem. There’s no comfort there! Rather, the word nechama means a change of perspective. It means that we could look at something one way and then decide consciously to look at the same thing and see it differently. That’s what this Shabbos, Shabbos Nachamu is all about.  

We spent past three weeks reflecting on a destroyed Temple, on an imperfect world, on the suffering that we experienced and still experience. But today, on Shabbos Nachamu, we change our perspective. We say yes, the world is still far from perfect, there are still so many problems, so much pain, but we choose to focus on the fact that despite the brokenness of this world, despite the bleakness of this or that situation, G-d has promised us that He will redeem us, that there will be a new world order, that things will change.

Is that not reason for euphoric celebration? That despite the darkness, G-d promises us that He will bring light?

Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami. What the prophet is encouraging us to do is to change our perspective. Which by the way is not a very difficult thing for you and I to do in this day and age. Imagine telling your great-great-grandmother that Jews will live in a country where they will not be treated differently at all. She would laugh. Imagine telling her that half the Jews of the world will live in Israel and could stand on the Temple Mount. She would laugh. Imagine telling her that if someone harassed her wherever she was, the Israeli government would step in to save her. My oh my, would she laugh. So if I told you that one day there will be world peace, the poor and orphaned will be accounted for, and that evil will fade away – well, crazier things have happened.

That’s what today is all about. We could still feel the pain of the Salomon family from Chalamish who were brutally murdered on a Friday night, we could still cringe over the infighting that takes place among fellow Jews. But Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami, on this Shabbos we take a fresh perspective – look how far we’ve gone and G-d promises us that one day there will be a redemption that will go even further.

This message of perspective, of changing our perspective is relevant not only today on Shabbos Nachamu, it’s relevant every day. Because let’s be honest, we are a nation of pessimists and cynics. And frankly, who could blame us? That’s what 2000 years of tragic history does to you. You think you’re safe, think again. You’re comfortable, it’s time to move. But that cynicism and pessimism impacts the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we act. A few simple examples:

  • A few weeks ago, a woman told me she has a group that gets together every week to talk about tragedies – to lament this crisis and that crisis, and to probably create a few new crises. Imagine what getting together on a weekly basis to discuss horror stories does to your outlook in life – and to your blood pressure.
  • The other day I spoke to a friend who was telling me everything that was wrong with the school he sent his daughter to. With so many things wrong I was kind of surprised that he let his child attend the school. Is there nothing good about the school?
  • The most common and recurring example, when there is a scandal in our community, locally, nationally, the responses that I hear in the media or among friends, is so packed with cynicism and blame that there is no room for even a glimmer of hope, for any possible solution.

I think it’s time to say collectively, Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami – as a nation, we need to change our attitude. It’s not about optimism or pessimism, it’s how we think about problems. And what I mean by that is this:

  • If you tell everyone to pray for someone who is sick, let them know when they’re better. I just heard that someone I’ve been praying for over the past half a year is right now probably healthier than me. Everyone was quick to tell me when she was unhealthy but no one told me when she got better.
  • Let’s be more honest about the issues in society, in politics, in the schools we send our kids to. It’s much easier and much more enjoyable to be cynical. I love cynicism, I do. I love that clever feeling of poking a hole in a perfect structure. But things aren’t as bad as we sometimes say they are, so we deliberately exaggerate, distort, and omit to make our point more powerful. Please stop. It’s bad for our hearts and more importantly, it’s bad for our children. Cynicism is toxic.

I told this friend of mine that perhaps what’s causing children to run away from religion is not only the rules of the school that are sometimes genuinely overbearing, but it’s possibly the parents negative attitude about those rules that really jades the child.

  • And lastly, there are issues in our Jewish community. There are things that are really broken. But how do we talk about them? How do we frame the problem? Do we only blame those who are guilty or do we speak of solutions and how things can change? I am not suggesting we white-wash, sweep things under the carpet or anything of that nature, but how do we critique? Do we do so with intent to destroy or with the intent to fix? And of course we may not have a solution. To suggest that if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, is a little extreme, but is our criticism constructive or destructive?

Nachamu Ami – you could be an optimist or a pessimist in your outlook, either way, it’s time for our nation to adopt a positive and constructive posture.

 

Malky Klein is a name you may have heard of in the past few weeks. Malky, born to a Chassidish family lived in Borough Park. Popular, and fun-loving, she wasn’t very academic; she had some severe learning disabilities. In second grade, one of her teachers told her in front of the whole class that she should have stayed back in first grade. Though she was just seven years old those painful words stuck with her throughout her entire life.

She was rejected from the high school of her choice and after a few weeks in a high school that accepted her she was thrown out and had no school to go to. She was so embarrassed by her predicament that she wore her school uniform all day long so no one would know that she wasn’t in school. The pain of rejection eventually exploded and with time she moved away from her family, away from her faith, and into the dark world of heroin use.

In and out of rehab for some time, she eventually decided it was time to come home. Her first day home she overdosed. Thankfully, her father, who gave her love throughout this entire ordeal, was not too far and administered narcan, saving her life. On Shabbos afternoon, she overdosed again. This time no one was there to save her. Malky Klein, the sweet Chassidish girl from Borough Park, passed away.

I learned all this from a radio interview with Malky’s father. It’s a long interview during which he goes into every detail of her life. Throughout the story I was shaken by the amount of educators who made such foolish decisions, decisions that ultimately paved the way for this tragedy. But as the interview came to an end, the radio host asked Malky’s father if he could please share a message with the principals who rejected his daughter. The host was clearly egging him on, hoping he would yell and scream at how they killed his daughter.

But Avraham Klein, Malky’s father, didn’t take the bait. Instead he chose not to be angry, but to be compassionate, not be cynical, but to be hopeful, not be destructive, despite his destroyed family, and instead decided to build.

“I believe in the Jewish People… When we see issues that we can identify… there is no people who respond to a crisis like we do… We need to concentrate on learning more about the issues so we could help our children so that this doesn’t happen again.”

The world may be getting better, it may be getting worse. We can all agree that there are issues that need to be addressed. Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami. Let’s speak about them positively, let’s speak about them constructively, and let’s make a difference.

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