Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Once a year, the eyes of the whole world turn to Hollywood...and a distinguished movie star opens an envelope...and announces the name of the best actor of the year....and the audience goes wild with excitement as the movie star hugs those that are sitting near him, and then, to tumultuous applause, climbs up to the stage and receives the Oscar.

And once a year, the eyes of the whole world turn to Hollywood…and a famous television star tears open an envelope and reads the name of the best actress of the year in a television program and the audience goes wild as an excited actress hugs the people she is sitting with and then comes up on the stage to receive an Emmy.

And once a year, in an office somewhere, Buddy Selig, the commissioner of baseball, announces that the votes have been tallied, and so and so has received the MVP, the most valuable player award.

And once a year, the eyes of the whole world turn to Congregation Shaarei Shamayim on Sukkot, and before a congregation that listens with baited breath...I announce the “Lulav Of The Year Award.” What is the “Lulav Of The Year Award?” (With thanks to Rabbi Jack Reimer for the thought.) And why does it have that name?

It’s the award that I will give to that person who has shown the most courage during the past year or so or whose courage was revealed in the past year. Why do I call it “The Lulav Of The Year Award”? Because while a Shofar you can hide in your pocket, if you want to, and a tallis, you can carry in a bag, even a plain brown paper bag...and no one will know what you have inside…but a lulav you can’t hide. A lulav sticks out, and stands tall.

The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that in ancient times, the residents of Jerusalem would take a lulav with them wherever they went on Sukkot. It was a strong affirmation of who they were, for a lulav can’t be hidden. The Midrash teaches us that a lulav is symbolic of the spine. And therefore it is an appropriate symbol to give to a person who has the spine to stand up tall, for what he believes is right.

And now the envelope, please. And the winner is…TED CRUZ. Rafael Edward Cruz is the junior US Senator from Texas. Elected in 2012, he is the 1st Cuban American or Latino to hold the office. Cruz is a Republican conservative and a darling of the Tea Party. He’s considered a viable possible candidate for president in 2016. Now I’m not a fan of the Tea Party, but I have become a fan of Ted Cruz and let me tell you why.

On September 10th, Ted Cruz was the keynote speaker at the new “In Defense Of Christians” organization’s dinner in Washington DC. It was a 3-day inaugural summit and it brought together hundreds of Christians: Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians from America, Europe and the Middle East. Christians are key supports of Ted Cruz and he would need their help in any presidential run. Cruz said he wanted to speak at this event, “to help shine a light on the tragic persecution and slaughter of Christians by ISIS and Islamic radicals throughout the Middle East.” However, he outraged many in the crowd with his comments, including one in which he said that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” which drew outcries from the audience.

Cruz continued even as the crowd started to turn against him. He could have chosen the easy way out and changed the subject to immigration or fiscal policy. But no, he stood up to the crowd saying: Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. If you hate the Jewish people, you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason…

          Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel. And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike. Hate is hate, and murder is murder…

          I must say that I’m saddened to say that some here—not all here, but some here—are so consumed with hate. The audience shouted back at him and he said: If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you and Gd bless you. Cruz then walked off the stage.

Later Cruz said: Tonight, in Washington, should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself “In Defense of Christians.” Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred…When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded. But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.

Cruz further noted that detractors, “cannot shout down the truth,” and the American people “should not shy away from expressing the truth, even in the face of—especially in the face of—ignorance and bigotry.”

And so this year’s Congregation Shaarei Shamayim Lulav Award goes to Ted Cruz. His actions that evening is reminiscent of the line from a recent New Yorker article about Cruz: “That is the kind of politician Cruz has become―one who came to Washington not to make a deal but to make a point.” The point he courageously made that night is that even in as worthy a cause as defending Christians from extinction in the Middle East, we cannot compromise our fundamental commitment as Americans to the right of all people to live free.

This is not an endorsement of Ted Cruz for any office. It is, however, a Yasher Koach.  Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

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