Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dr. Newmark and the Rebbetzin: A Private Farbrengen

This past Thursday, as my non-Lubavitch doctor prepared the syringe he would soon stick into my toe, he asked me, "So what are you doing for Chof Beis Shvat?"

Apparently, my plans were to be walking around in Crocs recovering from the surgery to remove an ingrown toenail.

For Dr. Newmark, this would be the one time a year that he went to the Ohel.

The Rebbetzin, he says, was like a mother to him.

I am intrigued, but am distracted by the needle. I hate needles. I want to yell.

So I strike a deal.

“Listen, if you tell me stories while you’re doing this, everything will be fine. I’ll behave.”

So he agreed.

Throughout sterilizing the blades, numbing my toe, and performing the procedure, he spoke.


He wasn’t always religious. A single doctor in his late 30’s, he randomly got a house call to the Rebbetzin’s home.

He had no idea who Mrs. Schneerson was.

Soon after the visit, people informed him that the elderly woman he had visited was non-other than the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife.

So the next time he showed up, he apologized.

“I am sorry, Mrs. Schneerson. If I would have known who you are, I would have worn a yarmulke.”

“Don’t wear a yarmulke for me,” replied the Rebbetzin.

“Do you normally wear one?” she inquired.


“Well, then don’t wear it when you come to me. Wear it for you.”


Dr. Newmark would visit the Rebbetzin often, and she took a real interest in him and his future. Dr. Newmark responded to the Rebbetzins desire to be treated like everyone else by sharing with her the details of his life, including his dating ventures.

One time, she asked him, “So, do you want to get married?”

“Eventually,” he responded.

‘Are you going to marry a nice girl?”

“Of course.”

“Are you going to marry a Jewish girl?”


The Rebbetzin simply smiled and responded, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”


So, every now and then, Dr. Newmark would bring his girlfriends for the Rebbetzin to meet. They were not religious girls.

One, however, became religious after meeting the Rebbetzin. She was overwhelmed with meeting the Rebbetzin (in Dr. Newmarks words, “jaw dropped”) and, for years, was overly appreciative to Dr. Newmark for introducing her. She kept in touch with Dr. Newmark, even inviting him to her wedding. She now is a married woman living in Crown Heights.


Dr. Newmark came to the Rebbetzin often for blessings, which she enthusiastically passed on to the Rebbe. When Dr. Newmark’s father was diagnosed with cancer and told that he had only months to live, the Rebbetzin told Dr. Newmark that she would daven, tell the Rebbe, and everything will be fine. Dr. Newmark’s father lived for another 11 years.


Dr. Newmark later became a full time yarmulke wearer and married a woman who became religious through a Chabad house. Though they don’t call themselves Lubavitchers, they see clearly the blessings that stemmed from Dr. Newmark knowing “Mrs. Schneerson.”

Our Rebbe, Our Rebbetzin

Our Rebbe lived an entirely public life completely extended outward.

When he spoke, his voice trailed over miles, rode over oceans and resonated in the four corners of the world.

His advice pours over pages and pages of printed works.

His every move; watched, photographed, discussed.

Our memories of the Rebbe are colorful, vivid, real.

In contrast, there was our Rebbetzin.

The Rebbetzin lived an entirely private life, completely devoted to her husband, the leader of world Jewry.

When she spoke, it was in the warmth of her own home - delicate whispers in private and personal conversation.

All the Rebbetzin's deeds can not be heralded, for they are unknown.

Pictures are scarce, and we struggle to share our memories.

Talk about a force to be reckoned with.

The Rebbe's voice forces us outwards.
The Rebbetzins smile turns us inward.

Together, these two opposite poles produced a revolution.

Chof Beis Shvat

Our Transparent Rebbetzin

The Rebbetzin and My father

New post coming soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Mimi's Mail: "I'm talking to you, G-d"

[The following is a back-and-forth that ensued following my "I'm talking to you, G-d" post, which was a reaction to the loss of a friend's parents. A reader forwarded her father's impressions, and I responded. ]

Hey Mimi, How are you?

I read your post on your blog, and I was strongly effected by it. The question of why do bad things happen to good people and bad all together has been something that I've searched and asked for a long time. After I read your post I sent it to my father and asked him what he thought .Normally I wouldn't send this, his response to you, but take a few steps back; it's not anything personal it's the theology behind it.

I asked my father if he minds me sending this to you, and he said he, "I don't care if she hates me but I care if she hates Hashem".

It is poetic.

It is immature.

It is theologically wrong.

They are not the words of a wise person with Yiraas Shomaim.

She's not R. Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev, she's an American kid.

She hasn't lived long enough; what does she know about suffering?

Who is she and who is G-d?

Who told her it's OK to be angry at G-d?

Who said it's OK to "hate You today?"

Perhaps today is a day to feel pain and humility and awe?

Who said it's OK to have expectations and make demands?

Perhaps today is a day to focus on what we are here for and to ask G-d if we are living up to His expectations and His demands of us?

Words are very powerful. They can create and they can destroy.

It is not only G-d's words that are like fire; a person's words can be incendiary as well.

The right words can heal a broken heart and the wrong ones can destroy a healthy soul.

I wouldn't be asking these questions if she were a Holocaust survivor; I would hang my head and listen humbly, silently.

I do ask them if she a young person who is just beginning her adult life. She speaking out of turn and out of line


Dear Friend,

While I understand your father's response (and even find it praiseworthy on some level), I cannot accept the expectations and premises inherent in his statements.

My piece was not intended to tell people how they should feel, but meant to represent how many of us do feel.

It is fine if your father does not relate to my outburst, but to expect more from people is unfair. What I wrote was a reflection on the gut-feelings of many, sewn from the collective responses I heard and experienced. Someone from the family (a child of the parents who passed away) read it herself, related, and wants to use it on the family's site.

So your father may not think its "okay" - but it is real.

Sure, saying ‘its human” doesn’t make it right. In fact, Judaism usually demands we rise above our own humanness. But I believe that what we’re dealing with here is a kind of humanness that is more than appropriate.

Your father is right. I have never experienced what one might call true suffering, and I pray that I never will.

But this is precisely why I can scream out to G-d the way I did.

Your father maintains that a more appropriate response to pain would be to “feel humility and awe” and acknowledge G-d’s expectations of us.

But you see, this is not the place of someone who has not experienced the pain herself.

What your father calls “theologically wrong,” I call humane.

How can I tell people about being gracious and counting blessings if nothing “bad” has ever happened to me? How fair would it be for someone who has never experienced real pain to preach to others about understanding G-d’s ways and “focusing on what we’re here for?”

Now that would be "immature."

Furthermore, while we are demanded to personally stand upright in the face of pour own pain; we should never ever do so on the behalf of someone else’s suffering.

While it may seem counterintuitive, this is my experience: it is always the mourner that comforts everyone else. While those unaffiliated to the tragedy rejects the situation and cry out in disbelief, it is always the “victims” that come to a calm acceptance that, yes, “we don’t know G-d’s ways.” And, while your father seems to maintain that this is everyone’s role after a tragedy, I believe it is only a role rightly assumed by the victims themselves.

So it is our own pain that we should see as good, and never the suffering of our neighbor.

As to your fathers comment that “I don't care if she hates me but I care if she hates Hashem” - an idea that is clearly at the core of your father’s response – it is an attitude I oppose most strongly.

G-d doesn’t need our defense. Some people care more about protecting G-d than advocating the cause of our people. Personally, I believe I should care much more about hatred between fellow Jews, than hatred of G-d. I don’t think your father is foreign to this concept. I would even go beyond that to say that, on a human level, hatred of G-d is usually warranted. But the point is this; as a nation, we are there for each other first. We ask G-d questions on our friends’ behalf before swallowing the pain and “understanding his ways.”

As for the accusation that I have no Yiraaas Shamayim (Fear of Heaven), indeed I have a long way to go. But if you read the entire piece, you will see that, while I address the instinct response, I end off with the strong acknowledgment that it is only G-d that we can turn to and seek comfort from. While my piece did cover a sort of inner evolution, I thought this closing point was very raw and clear (much like I felt it personally).

It is my most sincere prayer that such discussions will soon be rendered obsolete, with an end to suffering altogether.

My best,


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


What does it mean to be tolerant?

We have it all fumble-jumbled.

Saying "it doesn't bother me" or "it doesn't affect me" is just indifference.

Tolerance really means "I have strong feelings about something, and yet I can accept you."

I accept that he lives in a way that I do not approve of.

Tolerating those that you don't agree with - that's a talent.

Indifference just means living in a closed world. You're tiny, petty-minded.

Some people have to reject the bible to accept someone.

A mother discovers her son murdered someone.

What does the intolerant mother do? She says, "it wasn't murder." That's the only way she can continue to accept her son.

The tolerant mother says, "My son did something wrong. Now what?"

The tolerant mother says, 'My son the murdered. But my son for better or worse."

The tolerant mother turns her son in, and then visits him in jail.

The mother who says "this is not murder" is essentially saying that she would otherwise hate her son.

But condemning evil is important.

We need to be intolerant of sin, but tolerant of the sinner.

While a sin may be evil, the sinner may not be.

This is a talent. This is tolerance.

This is why we have to know who we are and what we're made of.

If I don't know what makes me ME, how can I be tolerant of YOU?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

We're Jewish, Not Chosen

[Notes from Rabbi Friedman's Class: Night #1 at Bais Chana in Miami]

Is it acceptable that Jews get together to talk about how unique we are?

In fact, isn’t there something frightening about it?

Doesn’t that lead to war and pogroms?

You have to admit…

We’re different and unique, and we’re frightened by the idea. Especially with the way the German’s use it. Right away we think, “Nazis.”

On the other hand, it’s unacceptable to not know what makes you unique.

What if it turns out we have a truly unique mission? What will we do?

We’re concerned that if we’re better, we’ll be….abusive?

A non-Jew will ask a Rabbi, “What do you mean that you’re the chosen people?” The Rabbi will say, “It’s not that we’re better or higher, it’s that we’re chosen.”

Essentially he’s saying, “It could have been your grandfather or your grandfather…it just happened to be mine.”

People think chosen doesn’t mean inherently better.

But this is frustrating and insulting.

What are you trying to pull here?

We’re not better, just chosen? That’s so offensive to people.

It means that everyone else had a chance, and they lost!

You mean you’re not actually better? Just chosen? What are you trying to pull here? You’re saying it could have been ME?!

We need to re-examine this.

A Jew is a Jew and a non-Jew is a non-Jew. What choice was actually made?

When G-d wants something, he creates it. He didn’t CHOOSE Jews, he MADE them.

He chose a nation to give His ten commandments.

The first one says, ‘I am Hashem you’re G-d who took you out of Egypt.”

Who ELSE should keep that?! Its clearly addresses to the people that G-d took out! It’s addressed to the Jews! And if its addressed to the Jews, than what’s the CHOICE?

We’re told the other nations were not interested. Well, now we know why. It was about the JEWS!

Torah was a Jewish thing, so it was given to Jews.

Jews, then, are different creatures. There’s us and everyone else.

We have a hard time saying this to the world. But religious non-Jews who ask never get satisfying answers. They are relieved when they hear that we’re different, but we’re not bold enough to tell them. But it’s our problem, not theirs. Non-Jews feel the rightness; they don’t have a problem at all. We were all created to be what we need to be. Who has a problem with that?

So, we shouldn’t walk around saying we’re the “chosen people.” We were Jewish BEFORE we were chosen.

[Plus, “chosen” sounds like “until further notice,” like G-d can ‘unchoose” us. But a Jew is a Jew is a Jew!]

We are Jewish, not Chosen.

We are a different creation, not a nation picked from the many.

If we knew this, and were comfortable with it, the world would be more comfortable with us.

We’ve been trying to convince the anti-Semites that we’re “just like you.” But they aren’t buying it.

We can’t fool the world.