Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



Last Wednesday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution had an article about the extensive damages to Southwest Georgia’s farms from Hurricane Michael. It especially caught my attention because it began with the tale of Eric and Rob Cohen. The article said: All around the brothers, their pecan trees lay bent over, split open, shattered. It looked like a bomb had exploded. In all, they lost 800 acres of crops…destroying pecan groves their father has owned for half a century…

“My brother and I, we built this business from nothing. We will make it,” Eric said…Asked what else they needed, Rob and Eric offered a simple one-word answer: Prayers. “First of all, we want to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Rob said.         

What??? You want to thank your lord Jesus Christ??? I felt sorry for them and the devastation they suffered, but I was devastated by this remark as I read it. I had to go back and read it again. A man by the name of “Robert Cohen” would ask for the help of Jesus Christ? What’s happened to our Jewish world?

In today’s Torah portion the Torah introduces us to Abraham—the 1st Jew. Gd appears to him and tells him: Lech l’cha meyartz’cha (Get up and leave your home and go) el haaretz asher ereka (to the land that I shall show you). Who is this Abraham? The Torah provides no bio, no CV, no resume, no list of accolades of what made him worthy of such an honor of Gd appearing to him and later telling him he will father Gd’s people.

The Torah is teaching us that to be a Jew means that you are a child of Gd; and a child is a child, is a child, under all circumstances—no matter what a child does. I may have a child who gives me nachas (joy), and I may have a child who causes me sleepless nights. I may have a child who loves me, and a child who has issues with me. I may have a child who calls me every day, and a child who calls once a year—if I’m lucky. But they’re all children!

None of them is more of a child than the other one. Yes, one of them may behave more like a child; one of them feels more like a child. But they’re all equally children—a child is a child, is a child. This is also the story of our people for a Jew is a Jew is a Jew—no matter what!

Yes there are Jews who deny and disguise their Jewishness —but they’re still Jews. Who among us knows who Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz is? He’s better known as the former host of the “Daily Show,” Jon Stewart. Do you think Winona Ryder would have made it as Winona Horowitz? Bob Dylan was Robert Zimmerman; Natalie Portman was Natalie Hershlag. There are many more who felt that if they were going to make it in this world they had to perform a lobotomy on their Jewishness.

Did you hear the story of how Hadassah buys a list of names and gives them out to its members to make calls for a fund raising phonathon? The 1st volunteer calls for a donation and a man answers in a thick British accent: “Madam, there must be some mistake. My name is Oliver Andrew Jones the 3rd. I am not Jewish!” And with that he hangs up.

By some mistake, the name goes to another volunteer who calls and receives the same answer: “Young lady, there must be some mistake. My name is Oliver Andrew Jones the 3rd, and I am not Jewish!”

Again the name goes by mistake to a 3rd volunteer who calls. This time the man really blows up. He says indignantly: “Madam, there must be some mistake. My name is Oliver Andrew Jones the 3rd and I am not Jewish. My father, Oliver Andrew Jones the 2nd is not Jewish, my grandfather, Oliver Andrew Jones the 1st, alav hashalom—which in Hebrew means, “may he rest in peace”—was not Jewish either!”

Yes, you can try to hide from being Jewish, but once it’s there it’s always a part of you. Chabad Rabbi Aaron Moss from Sydney Australia writes about an email he received. Let me read it to you:

Dear Rabbi Aaron Moss,

Although I was raised in a traditional Jewish home, was brissed and barmitzvad, I have never had any faith or “religious” belief. I am now aged 34, and would describe myself as an atheist. I have no wish to be buried in a Jewish cemetery (and my Will will also make this clear) and have married a non-Jew in a civil ceremony.

My question is, can I consider myself officially non-Jewish, by my effectively opting-out, or do I need some sort of form or dispensation to be officially no longer Jewish?

Many thanks for your help with what is perhaps an unusual question.


Can you imagine receiving such and email? I thought about it and was at a loss how I would respond. Then I read Rabbi Moss’s response and thought it was brilliant! He writes:

Dear Edward,

I would like to help you, but I feel there’s nothing I can do.

According to your question, you have done everything possible to negate your Jewishness: in practice you do not keep Jewish tradition; in belief you are an atheist; in family life you have married a non-Jew and thus won’t have Jewish children; and even in death you are determined not to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. One would think that all this would be enough to confirm your un-Jewishness.

But no! For some reason, you are still unsatisfied: you still feel Jewish! So much so, you feel you need official dispensation!

And so, being an atheist, who do you turn to to solve this problem? A doctor? A psychiatrist? The civil celebrant that married you? No...You turn to a rabbi!

I’m reminded of the child who ran away from home, but ended up just going around and around the block because his parents told him never to cross the road by himself.

I’m sorry, Edward. There is nothing more you can do. You are as Jewish as Moses and the Chief Rabbi of Wales!

In fact, it seems that being Jewish is the most dominant factor of your personality. It is even influencing the place you want to be buried! [Why would an atheist care about where he is buried?]

Edward, Jewishness is not a belief, a feeling, a conviction or a lifestyle. It is a state of being. We can either celebrate it or fight against it. But it will always be there. So why not celebrate it?

Yes, my friends, you can try to hide from being Jewish, but if you’re a Jew, it always will be a part of you. So why not celebrate it? In today’s Jewish world as so many Jews deny and even try to disguise their Jewishness…thousands more of Jewish ancestry are making their way back into the fold to be with Hashem, His Torah and His people. I saw that 1st hand with my work in Nicaragua the summer before last. And thousands more who are not Jewish are seeing Hashem’s truth and His light. And our congregation, Baruch Hashem, bears testimony to both!

To Eric and Rob Cohen I can’t tell you how sorry I am for all that you have lost. But as you work to reclaim your farm and its pecan trees, consider reclaiming your Jewish ancestry as well. Amen!

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