Archive for June, 2011

UPDATE: Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story

A little over a month ago I wrote about a news report here in Israel that detailed the history and upcoming meeting of Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Recently, that post of mine has seemingly become viral and has brought thousands of new visitors to this site. And so, I’d like to thank a reader of mine, Eric, for directing me to this article on

Henry Abbott of linked to the story reported on my blog and asked Kareem, “I have heard this amazing tale about your dad and a boy he helped liberate from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Would you mind recounting briefly the story of Rabbi Lau and your dad?”

Below is Kareem’s answer:

That story — people have gotten that all mixed up. There was a reporter in Israel who put my father into the tank battalion that liberated Dachau. My dad was a police officer in New York. One of the guys that he was a police officer with was in a tank battalion that liberated Dachau. Rabbi Lau was a boy in Buchenwald, which was also liberated by black troops, but it was a totally different group than the one that my dad’s friend was in. The group that helped liberate Buchenwald was the 183rd Combat Engineers, an all black unit.

To further illustrate the mix up, (perhaps due to the language barrier of the Israeli reporter?) Mr. Jabbar continued to clear the air swirling around this story by explaining that:

The reporter in Israel mixed all of the facts up, and got it all conflated. People were thinking my dad was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. My dad was a lieutenant in the New York City Transit Police! And that’s how he got to know Smitty, who was one of the liberators of Dachau and other camps.

That said, he did express his great respect for the Rabbi when he mentioned that as early as 1997 he had met Rabbi Lau when he was in Israel. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar remarked that, “I just wanted to say hi to him because he had a particular regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation!”

However, this recent claim of Mr. Jabbar goes contrary to what friends, acquaintances, and even published author and the former Dean of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, Rabbi Dovid Landesman, had heard from Kareem himself!

A number of years ago, Kareem visited an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills by the name of: Beth Jacob Congregation. Indeed, he addressed the audience and as Rabbi Landesman, (who ironically enough wrote a book entitled, There are no Basketball Courts in Heaven) recalled here:

He retold the story, mentioning that he had been amazed that Rabbi Lau a]had remembered his uncle’s name (after all these years) and b] gone to the trouble of making a reception to express his gratitude (towards Jabbar during his visit to Israel). He told the audience that it had been a life lesson on what it means to express thanks!

While I was not present at Beth Jacob that particular Shabbos, I remember there being many teens who were not only buzzing about the fact that a Lakers great visited their Shul—but also about the powerful message that he relayed. And so, I wish I could utter with certainty the famous line of the legendary newscaster Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”

However, I can’t. There seems to be a contradiction between Kareem’s words in his recent interview with ESPN and his words that Rabbi Landesman recalled him making to the Orthodox congregation.

In Abbott’s piece Kareem dismissed the story by not simply being “misquoted” (which seems to be a line used by athletes sometimes) but  instead being “mixed up” or perhaps lost in translation.

On behalf of all the the seemingly hundreds of people who have emailed me asking for any more information on this story, I can only hope that Henry Abbott of or perhaps Brian and Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O’ Lakers Blog on, can help us all clarify this story once and for all.

For the record I do believe that Kareem should get his coveted statue outside of Staples Center!

A Simple Solution to Solving Shabbos Texting!

Earlier today, Rabbi Steven Weil, the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union noted that, “Everyone’s tweeting about it.”

You may ask, “what is the proverbial it?”

In this case, Rabbi Weil is referring to the The Jewish Week article that highlights the increasing phenomenon of Orthodox teens texting on Shabbos! Indeed, there are already several terms coined for this behavior such as: Half-Shabbos or Shabbos Texting.

Before we even discuss this topic, I want to ask the following question: should this topic be discussed in the open?

I believe the sagely Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai already answered this question for us. The Talmud (Bava Basra 89a-b) relates that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was debating discussing a particular topic in public and ultimately remarked, “Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I do not speak.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai resolved his dilemma on the basis of a passage in Hoshea (14:10) that states, “The ways of Hashem are straight.”

The Maharsha suggests that the reason why he decided to publicize corruption and sin was that even if a sinner may stumble—by putting this information out there—there will also be honest people who will be saved from making mistakes.

I believe that this same resolve can be applied to the now very public discussion of Half-Shabbos.

As someone who educates young Jewish women hailing from all across North America, Administrators and Educators (ranging from the Bais Yaakov world to the Modern Orthodox world) have over the past two years, turned to me for my personal input as far as how to deal with this silent—and now seemingly louder—crisis.

Frankly, this phenomenon should come as no surprise. The use of texting seems to be the preferred form of communication with a teenager. In fact, according to this recent report, the average teenager sends 3,339 texts per month. Moreover, teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month.

That’s more than 6 texts per waking hour!

Despite us sitting in the year 2011, the above mentioned figures are in line with the words of the Talmud. After all, the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) notes that a woman is innately more of a communicator, by teaching us that, “Ten measures of speech descended to the world and women took nine measures of speech.” And so, while I have no concrete statistic in front of me, I’d venture to say that this issue is arguably even more prevalent with teenage Jewish girls.

So…how can we even begin to tackle this issue?

I know that there are those who may reply by saying it’s finally time to rewrite the typical Yeshiva High School curriculum. I’ve heard others privately comment that our sons and daughters need to focus on the basic fundamentals of our faith. In other words, our kids should learn more about topics discussed at an Aish Discovery Seminar, and not be bogged down in the archaic Aramaic language of the Talmud. Alas, I will leave these suggestions aside.

I believe the answer to beginning to solve the crisis of Shabbos Texting starts with the one word that defines what teens are doing when they text. That one word is: communication.

In my capacity as Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s I have the unique opportunity to travel to various Jewish cities and neighborhoods throughout North America. In so doing, by davening at the local Shul or visiting a kosher eatery I enjoy being able to get a firsthand look at Jewish Americana.

And so, I’m pleased to have seen signs in various schools and other community establishments that beseech people to respect the prayer service by not texting during Minyan. Likewise, I saw a sign in several Yeshiva High Schools that encouraged a strict adherence to the laws of Lashon Harah by reminding students to “think before they text.”

These signs are nice. They are graphically pleasing and looked catchy. They communicate to the reader an ever important Jewish ideal. Moreover, the poster encourages teenagers to join committees or groups that will help create awareness towards Lashon Harah, Tzniut, and so on and so forth. However, before printing any more signs asking people to not text and to Daven, I believe we need to have signs and campaigns that champion, restore and evoke pride to all who observe Shabbos!

Just as Yeshiva High Schools have a S.N.A.P. (Shomer Negiah And Proud) Committee I encourage any school to have a S.S.A.P. (Shomer Shabbos And Proud) Committee. We must do something even at a student/grassroots level that will engage our youth to learn about the beauty of Shabbos and not simply be, as one person cited in The Jewish Week article said, “bored.”

The desecration of Shabbos is a dangerous spiritual disease in our midst that cannot be taken likely. At a physical level, the Surgeon General’s warning steers people from cigarettes. At a spiritual level, we must communicate and steer our children and students just how very meaningful Shabbos is to us. Fittingly, it was just announced this week that the Surgeon General will further communicate to the public at large the dangers of cigarettes. The Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packs will soon be replaced by a much larger and more graphic a) image and b) warning! If the Surgeon General is upping their awareness I believe we need to do our part on a spiritual plain and create an infographic and campaign to educate teens about what sanctity, and by extension, how fully celebrating Shabbos allows us to experience kedushah in the physical world.

Without this form of communication, countless Orthodox teenagers will sadly view Shabbos as and not a day filled with kedushah. Rather, it will simply be a day to nap and read the paper. Frankly, I must admit that I could see myself also getting pretty bored if this was my understanding of Shabbos. I mean, let’s be honest. Who reads the newspaper anymore?

I hope that this article will come as a wakeup call to us all.

I hope that many are invigorating to communicate or to explore once again the beauty of Shabbos.

In so doing, we can begin to restore Shabbos as The Holy Day of Rest before it simply becomes known as, The Holy Day of Texts!

If you have any insights on this topic please share them in the Comments Section

VIDEO: Shyne Gives Shuir!

For months now, young and old residents of Jerusalem have been intrigued by the comeback rapper Shyne (a.k.a Moshe Levy). After years of incarceration for a New York City club shooting, he has been studying here with the likes of Jeff Siedel and Belz Chassidim.  In addition to his Torah learning, he is still working on his rap career. Sharon Udasin wrote an article this week that covered both the opening of Israel’s first solar field by Arava Power Company and Shyne unveiling his newest song, “Solar Energy.”

However, what isn’t written about, and by extension, what people don’t know is that he is full of inspirational words of Chizuk. Below is the full video of his shuir that took place at Yeshivat Ohr David. He incorporated his story with relevant nuggets of Torah that he was currently learning. He told the boys that in prison he used his time to get close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. “For eight years straight,” revealed Shyne, “I davened Shacharis at sunrise!” He said that he knew that if he started his day with Tefillah and Tefillin, it will protect him from danger that surrounds him.

All in all, while I can not attest as to where his Hashkafos are or where he is “holding,” I did hear him state that when it comes to his rap music, “I don’t use profanity and I just have a different conversation now. I rap about people who stand idly by while others need help. I always prayed to G-d before shows and I never had girls or drugs on stage!” Likewise, he was very matter of fact when he pointed out that one shouldn’t think that he doesn’t have temptations, but “I know that there is a G-d above and that I’m going to have to answer to him.”

And so, if you know someone who is need for a bit of Chizuk, Shyne is certainly someone who will enlighten any neshama at any level!

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