Thursday, February 11, 2016

Leaving Mother Russia

Today was the 30-year
anniversary of Natan Sharansky’s walk to Freedom from the Soviet Union.
He spent 9 years in the
Gulag as a prisoner for the “treason” of wanting to emigrate to Israel.

When he was finally released across the “Bridge of Spies” in East Germany, those
waiting for him at the West Berlin checkpoint saw him walking a zig zag back
and forth.  They feared that he was
either drugged or unhinged.

When Sharansky got to the other side, he explained that he had been told by his
minders to “walk straight across the bridge.”
He final act of defiance
was to Not obey his oppressors.

“We are leaving Mother Russia,

We have waited far too long.

We are leaving Mother Russia,

When they come for us we’ll be gone.”

“…My friends we know what
silence brings,

Another Hitler waiting in the wings,

So stand up now and shout it to the sky,

They may bring us to our knees but we’ll never die!”
Safam “Leaving
Mother Russia”

We live in a world where
anyone under 30 years old, not only may not know who Natan Sharansky is, but
who do not know what the Soviet Union; Communism; and the Cold War were…
We are living in a world
where those under 30 have no clue as to what happens when you surrender your
life to The Government in order to have the “freedom” Not to struggle…

OR, conversely, what happens when you surrender your life to someone larger
than life; a polar opposite demagogue who says: “I like making deals,
preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”
“If you ask me exactly
what the deals . . . all add up to in the end, I’m not sure I have a very good
answer. Except that I’ve had a very good time making them.”

Natan Sharansky suffered for well over 9 years
in an empire that imprisoned people’s minds and souls because he refused to be
a slave to the bribery of comfort, where someone or something else would take
care of him.

He suffered because what he wanted above all was his Freedom to be a Man in a
system that killed Men; to be a Jew in a world that despises Jews; and to be
Free to think and choose in a world that has largely given up thought and

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life is beautiful all the time.
Back about 25 years ago, when the world was young and it was a Soviet Empire, not a Muslim Empire that was our nemesis, we lived next to Irvington, NJ, which was next to Newark, NJ.
It was a mixed neighborhood where the residents were more “working class” or newly arrived in their corporate jobs and therefore less financially stable.
Next door to us lived a very nice older black couple who had been there for at least 25 years. He was retired from the merchant marines. On the other side lived a very white Catholic family. He had a landscaping business and was not very friendly towards my Jewish family. Across the street were immigrants from England where the husband was newly employed as… a guy who created the chemical formulas for flavors in food… or something like that. And, behind us was an Orthodox Jewish Lubavitch family who father worked in the financial world.
Most of our other neighbors were either immigrant families, white and black, or “ethnic” white folk who were a tad less educated or cultured than to that which we were accustomed.
One day, when my eldest (Jewish) son was not home, two of the (very “Christian”) neighborhood boys stopped by to see if they could “play” with him. These were cousins, I believe 6 and 7 years old, respectively.
When they were informed that our son was not home, they responded rudely and began riding their little bikes around in our driveway, swearing like little sailors, using rather foul language as to why our son wasn't home.
I was both shocked and bemused, not comprehending how they could possibly be upset or why they would express themselves in this way.
From my back porch I asked them to stop and to leave. They ignored me.
Back in days of yore, I was not so even tempered and sweet as I am today (well, at least that is how I see myself now; others might differ).
I strode down off of my back porch, onto my driveway, and literally grabbed each child by the scruff of his neck, stopping them and making them dismount from their bicycles.
I then began to march them out of my driveway, while they held onto their bikes, telling them that I was taking them to their own houses to talk to their parents.
It so happened that by the time I got to the end of my driveway, the mother of the younger of the two was walking by. I told her what had happened and she, appropriately, scolded her child and took him home while telling her nephew to go home to his father.
And, all was well with the world.
My wife’s mother was visiting with us at the time. Some time later, my wife and her mother were sitting on the front porch when they sent my son to get me. He told me that the 7 year old's father was out front and wanted to talk to me. My mother in law and my wife both appeared rather nervous. When I went outside to talk to this man, I understood why.
The father was a strapping young man with a close haircut, wearing what I believe is commonly called a “wife beater” sleeveless t shirt, showing off his impressively muscular physique. He was about 6’ 2” and he was not happy.
I, on the other hand, was about 6’, overweight, slightly balding, and not a particularly impressive specimen of manhood. Apparently, my wife and mother in law were afraid that this guy was going to beat the bejeesus out me.
His son was with him, still on his bicycle.
I walked up to him as he stood on the sidewalk outside of my house, curious but unafraid.
“Hi,” I said, “I understand that you want to talk to me.”
“Did you put your hands on my son’s neck?!!” he inquired with obvious anger.
“Yes, I did,” I replied, intending to continue...
“How dare you touch my son!” he yelled at me, stepping closer and getting menacingly “in my face.”
“Whoa,” I replied, more astonished than fearful. “Your son and his cousin were riding around in my driveway, swearing, using extremely bad language and would not leave. Are you okay with that?”
He took a step backward and repeated, “Don’t you ever touch my son again. I’ll sue you for everything you've got!”
“What?” I replied truly confused. “You are angry with me for not letting your 7 year old son swear at me in my driveway? And you want your son to stand here listening to you threaten me and tell me that his behavior is acceptable. Really?!”
My antagonist was momentarily disconcerted and brusquely told his son - “Go home.”
His son pedaled off. He had been smirking thus far during our brief conversation but, he looked a bit put out himself as he left. I don’t think he understood why his father was letting this “old fat guy” send him away…
His father continued to threaten me with lawsuits and angry rhetoric.
And, I continued to try and ask him why he thought it was okay for his son to do this.
Each time I would ask him something like: “You really want to bring your son up this way?,” he would take a step backwards.
I did not step forwards but, with every comment or admonition I made, he would jerk backwards almost like I was punching him. He probably took about five steps backwards to my comments, retorting each time about how he was going to sue me, until he finally turned and left.
I was totally amazed. I also had a “fight or flight” adrenaline rush as I only then realized that my body, if not my mind, had fully expected him to pummel me into the ground.
It was an extraordinary experience.
That whole enterprise was brought to mind via the contemplation of a new perspective I have picked up recently called – a false narrative.
A false narrative is one where the whole premise upon which it is based, is a lie. It is an invented story to explain whatever point of view the author wishes to justify.
The boy’s father in question based his false narrative on the idea that I was criminally wrong to place my hand upon his son’s neck and escort him off of my property.
My questions did nothing to dispel his belief in this false narrative; however, my questions did confuse him enough to back away and go away.
(And, no, he did not sue me. I never saw him again.)
Today, we live in a world of false narratives…
Many of us blithely accept these narratives as true and thereby do a great of damage to our own integrity and our relationship to truth.
We know Right from Wrong.
If we choose to not question that which is Wrong, and instead worry about being “sensitive” or “poetically correct,” then we are supporting what is wrong. We are supporting a false narrative; a lie.
I learned a little bit from my experience that G-d supports us, even in peculiar circumstances, when we support truth.

Friday, May 30, 2014

“How odd of G-d to choose the Jews.”

Once more we reach my parsha in the Torah where the third aliyah that we read during the weekday, the aliyah of Yisroel, begins with “the sons of Murray!”  
I love this parsha…    
Do I detect skepticism among some of you?  The parsha plainly says: בְּנֵי מְרָרִ, that’s “b’nai,” the sons of; and mem resh resh yud, which certainly sounds like M r r y or, in my case, Murray!   All right, so the Torah pronounces it Merari.  But all that means is that, for the gentile world, the sons of Merari gradually became Murray’s.  After all, Kohein became Cohen, nu?

However, perhaps a more important feature of this week’s parsha is not the parsha of Naso itself but, what follows.
And what follows is Shavuous – one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals where all Jews were required to travel to Yerushalayim to bring Offerings to the Bais HaMikdosh, our Holy Temple.
And, Shavuous, where G-d Gave His Holy Torah to His Chosen people on Har Sinai.
Where the Jewish People said: “Na’aseh v’nish’mah,” We shall do and we shall hear!
This is the seminal moment of Jewish History when the Children of Israel Choose to become the Chosen People!

(For the rest of the non-Jewish world, the Christian holiday of Pentecost comes somewhere around this day, June 8th this year.
This year, Shavuous begins on Tuesday night, June 3rd, and it continues on June 4th and June 5th.
Pentecost, meaning the “50th day,” is the day associated with the apostles speaking in the different languages of all of the Jews that came from around the world to celebrate Shavuous in Jerusalem which is, according to the Torah, 50 days after Passover.)

I heard this story from a lawyer – I am not sure who.
He was a relatively successful lawyer and was trying a case where the next court date was supposed to be on Shavuous.  
He explained to the Judge that he could not make that court date as it was a Jewish holy day and he was not allowed to work on that day.
The Judge told him: “Mr. Lawyer.  I am Jewish.  I celebrate the Jewish holidays of Passover and Chanukah.  So don’t try and make up some story about some invented holiday that I have never heard of!”
The Judge did eventually come to find out that this was a real Jewish holiday but, that is an example of how little known is Shavuous, even to most non observant Jews.

Nonetheless, over 3,300 years ago, Am Yisroel; the Jewish people, received the Torah at Har Sinai and formally became G-d’s Chosen People. 
Moshe Rabbeinu informs the Jewish people that G-d tells them: 
“And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” 

However, we are informed that it was not that G-d Chose us, rather that Israel Chose G-d.

The Midrash tells us that G-d not only revealed Himself to the Jewish People but – to all the Nations of the world.

We learn that G-d first went to the children of Esav and asked them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
The Children of Esav answered, “What’s in it? 
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not commit murder.”
The Children of Esav said: “L-rd of the Universe, the very essence of our father Esav is that he is a murderer.  As it says, (Bereishis: 27:22) ‘And the hands were the hands of Esav,’ and (Bereishis: 27:40) ‘By the sword you shall live.’ 
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

G-d then went to the children of Amon and Moav and He said to them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
The Chidren of Amon and Moav answered, “What’s in it?” 
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
The Children of Amon and Moav said: “L-rd of the Universe, our very essence is that we come from adultery. As it says (Bereishis: 19:36), ‘And Lot's two daughters conceived from their father.’
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

G-d then went to the children of Yishmael and He said to them, “Will you accept My Torah?”
 The Children of Yismael answered: “What’s in it?”
Hashem said: “Thou shalt not steal.”
The Children of Yishmael said: “L-rd of the Universe, our very essence is that we live from thievery and robbery. As it says (Bereishis: 16:12), ‘his hand will be upon all, and everyone's hand upon him…’
L-rd of the Universe, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

Hashem went among all the nations of the world.  There was not a nation to whom G-d did not speak and on whose door G-d did not knock, asking them whether they wished to accept His Torah.  And every nation refused after hearing what was in the Torah.

 After G-d had spoken to all the nations of the world, G-d came to the Children of Yisroel and He said to them: “Will you accept My Torah?”
And the Childen of Yisroel said: “Na’aseh v’nish’mah; We shall do and we shall hear!”
We learn that Israel immediately pledged their loyalty to whatever Hashem wanted them to do even before they knew what was being asked of them.
This is the one seminal moment in Jewish history when the entire Jewish Nation spoke as One and proclaimed to G-d – Whatever you ask of us, we will do – even before we know what it is.
Israel Chose G-d and thereby became the Chosen People.

For most Torah observant Jews, the above is sort of “inside baseball,” a well known midrash.
However, I heard an additional understanding of “Na’aseh v’nish’mah” from one of our Kollel rabbis, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, the other night –

Judaism is not a religion.   It is a Relationship.
“Na’aseh v’nish’mah; We will do (whatever you want) and (then) we will hear (what you want us to do)” is the Relationship that the Jewish People pledged to Hashem in their Greatest Moment at Har Sinai.
And, for over 3,300 years, we have been trying to remember to infuse this sacred Relationship which we Chose to have with G-d into every aspect of our lives.

And, for men, there is no more important place to remember to instill this Relationship than in marriage.
“We will do and then we will hear” is, quite frankly, the opposite of my and, I suspect, many men’s responses to their wives’ requests.

G-d Chose the Jews because the Jews Chose to have this special Relationship with G-d.
There is not a married couple who, somewhere inside of them, does not want this special Relationship with their spouse.
The Torah was given to us to transform our lives by taking each mitzvah; each lesson that the Torah can teach us, and applying it to every facet of our life.
For men, imagine the Relationship you could have with your wife if every time she asked you anything, your immediate response was – I will do whatever you ask, even before you tell me what it is….
May we all be zocheh to such a Relationship with our spouse’s and to remember that we Chose this Relationship at Mt. Sinai by proclaiming to the world that we agree to do what is necessary before we even know what it is that is necessary to do.
Gut Shabbos and Gut Yom Tov.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Yamim Noraim

These are the Yamim Noraim; the Days of Awe.
Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur.
These are the High Holy Days of the Children of Israel.
During the entire previous month, Elul, we have prayed that Hashem give us the strength to Repent; to Return to the Ways of G-d.
And now we are Judged. And now we are Signed and Sealed.

Unesana Tokef

“Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seats, (counts and calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Chronicles - it will read itself, and everyone's signature is in it. The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them - and they will say, 'Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!'- for they cannot be vindicated in Your eyes in judgment.”

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.”

“But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY Remove the Evil of the Decree!”

- from the Machzorim (Prayer Books) for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

"Three books are opened on Rosh HaShana: one for completely wicked people, one for completely righteous people, and one for those in the middle. The completely righteous people are immediately inscribed and sealed for life; the completely wicked people are immediately inscribed and sealed for death. Those in the middle have their judgment suspended until Yom Kippur. If they merit it, they are written for life; if not, they are written for death."
- Talmud; Tractate Rosh Hoshana; 16b

Towards the end of her book, “Life is a Test,” Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis examines the idea that G-d sends us “wake up calls” through the events that happen in our lives.
One such event was September 11, 2001.
She noted that, on the Internet, the idea was being circulated that the number Eleven was significant –
9/11 – Nine plus one plus one equals eleven; the Twin Towers resembled the number eleven; September 11th was the two hundred and fifty fourth day of the year – two plus five plus four equals eleven; the flight number of the first plane to hit the towers was eleven; ninety two passengers were aboard – nine plus two equals eleven; after September 11th there were 111 days left to the end of the year; 911 is the call for help; and there were many, many more “elevens” that were significantly tied into September 11th.
The Rebbetzin wrote that originally she did not take much stock in the idea that the number 11 had anything to do with Judaism or “Jewish answers” to 9/11.
However, she then went on to look at the significance of the number 11 in Judaism and the Torah.
She found that September 11th occurred on the 23rd day of the month of Elul. Elul is the sixth month on the Jewish calendar and – two plus three plus six equals eleven.
The portion of the Torah that we read that week is called Nitzavim. There is a section that has eleven “cantillation dots” over the words: “The hidden things are for Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” (Deuteronomy 29:28)
There is a system of numerology in Judaism called gematria. Every letter and word has a numerical value. The numerical value of teshuva in Hebrew is 713. Seven plus three plus one equals eleven. Teshuva is commonly translated as repentance. It means Return to G-d. It is what we are called to do when G-d sends us a wakeup call that our lives are not on the right track.
Rebbetzin Jungreis brings many other “Elevens” from the Torah and their significance to the idea of teshuva – repentance.

There is one particular example that the Rebbetzin bring from the Torah that is most closely related to Rosh Hashanah; the New Year of the Jewish calendar when G-d Judges the World and calls His People to Repent; to do Teshuva, and Return to Him. It is from the Halftorah portion that we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
The Rebbetzin writes:
“The numerical value of the Hebrew for Rachel Imenu – “Mother Rachel” is three hundred and thirty five. Three plus three plus five equals eleven!
Regarding Mother Rachel it is written [in the Halftorah we read on Rosh Hashanah], ‘A voice is raised on high – wailing and bitter weeping, Rachel is crying for her children. She refuses to be consoled for her children are gone. Thus said the L-rd, ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears – there is reward for your labor… Your children shall return to their borders.’ (Jeremiah 31:14-17). Mother Rachel, to whom G-d gave this unconditional promise, died on the eleventh day of the Hebrew month of Chesvan.”
The significance of this whole idea of the number 11 being associated with teshuva – repentance, is that it is possible to pause and view events that happen in this world as more than just “coincidence.”

This Jewish Year 5772, that began on this Rosh Hashanah, is the beginning of the 11th year after the events of September 11th, 2001; Elul 23, 5761.

In the Talmud; Tractate Rosh Hashanah, it states:
“On Rosh Hashanah, all of the world’s inhabitants pass in judgment before Hashem, like sheep passing single file in review before the shepherd. As the verse states (Psalm 33:15): ‘He fashions their hearts together and discerns all of their deeds.’”
There is a discussion in the Rabbis of the Talmud that, actually, a person is judged every day; that a person is judged every minute… So, what is the particular significance of the awesomeness and uniqueness of Rosh Hashanah if we are judged every day; every moment?
We are told that on Rosh Hashanah, the Angels that represent the Nations of the World converge to accuse Israel and the Jewish People and list all of their misdeeds before the Throne of G-d.
Because of their many sins, these Angels demand of G-d that the Jewish Nation be either destroyed or assimilated. They demand that Hashem terminate the existence of Israel as G-d’s Chosen People.
It is at this time that Jews are required to come to their own defense by giving their only Advocate – G-d – their sincere Repentance; their sincere Prayers; and their sincere example of Righteous Behavior. One of the symbols used to communicate this Sincerity is the Sounding of the Shofar. The Shofar represents the Wakeup Call that Jews take upon themselves as they recognize G-d’s Wakeup Calls that He gives both the Jewish People and all Mankind.
Sincerely and loudly proclaiming G-d as the Only King is the only defense of Israel as the Angels of the Nations gather together to wipe out our existence and to deny that we are suitable to be G-d’s Holy People.

As we learn in the attacks of 9/11, the significance of the number 11 is Teshuva; Return to G-d, so we should learn from all of the other “wakeup calls” that Hashem has given us.
According to our Rabbis, the “natural disasters,” that have occurred with astonishingly massive results in the last ten years are a wakeup call that the Jewish Nation needs to Return to G-d; Repent; and recognize G-d as the One and Only King.
The Children of Israel are a People of Wonder - at times the Nations of the World become astonished at their own cruelty and horror that they afflict on the Jewish People. And, at times the Nations of the World become astonished at the Miracles that G-d has performed for the Jewish People.
But whether the Jews have been cursed, or the Jews are Blessed, every significant event that happens to the Nation of Israel is a communication from G-d to turn towards Him in Prayer; in Repentance; and in Righteousness. Hashem keeps calling His Children to Him.
This Rosh Hashanah, 5772, we can see the Hand of G-d reflected from the Heavenly World to This World; the World below.
As the Accusing Angels of the Nations of the World petition before the Kisei HaKavod; The Throne of Glory, that Israel should be destroyed, so do the Nations of the World petition before the Seat of Power in This World; Olam Hazeh – the United Nations, that Israel should be destroyed.
It is no coincidence that it is only last month, during the Month of Teshuva; Repentance, Elul, that the Nation of Turkey, an ally of Israel since 1949, should repudiate its friendship with Israel;
That Egypt, ostensibly at peace with Israel since 1979, should attack the Israeli embassy;
That Iran, another former ally of Israel, should call for the annihilation of Israel;
And that the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority should demand that Israel be dismembered and her Holy Places given over to Yishmael.
As above, so below.

What happens in This World is a reflection of what happens in the Heavenly Spheres.
Our only defense in This World and in the World of Truth is Teshuvah; Tefillah; and Tzedakah.
As we enter the Year of Repentance in This World, may the True Judge be our Advocate and may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a Year of Blessing; Prosperity; Peace; and – Teshuvah.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections on 9/11

Every year, at this time, I watch one of the first 9/11 memorial videos made.

 America Attacked 9 1 1 

The only way to really remember is to be emotional.  This video does that.

I have never let go of 9/11.  My brother, an assimilated Texan and a Vietnam vet, gave me a lapel pin shortly after that was an American flag with a red white and blue memorial ribbon around it that says 9-11-2001 on the bottom. 
I am still wearing that pin. 
In my Orthodox Jewish world, people do not wear American flag pins with what looks like a candy cane around it. I get peculiar looks in some of the Orthodox enclaves where I visit or daven. 
I have often thought that maybe it's time to take the pin off – I have also been flying the American flag on the flagpole outside of my house and, I sometimes think that it's time to take that down too… 
But, I don't. 
When the rare person stares at my lapel pin with a questioning look in their eyes, I try and explain  - 
There is a Great Evil in this world that is seeking to destroy us all. It is present and ongoing. Bin Laden was simply the Evil that attacked us on 911.

This exact same Evil is present in what is today called the "Arab Spring" – which is just a continuation of a murderous 100 year Great Sectarian Civil War in the Muslim and Arab worlds. 
This Evil worships Death and wishes to destroy all those (particularly other Arabs and Muslims) who do not worship Death in the same manner. 
This Evil wishes to obliterate Israel. 
This Evil wishes to destroy the United States. 

If we do not remember this Evil and fight against it, it will, indeed, "destroy" our world. 

So, I wear my lapel pin and I hope that I remember to remember.


Live Free or Die

The World; the United States; and Israel, face a problem called History.
With the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Islam lost its stabilizing governing power.
In the hundred years since that time, every tinpot Islamist Death Cultist has declared that THEIR Death Cult was THE Death Cult that all should follow.
In some areas, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, these Death Cultists managed to change normative Sunni or Shia Islam to their new fascist version of the same.
In the rest of the world, Muslims and Arabs have been engaged in a never ending war against each other as to who gets to be Top Dog.  The current "Arab Spring" is a manifestation of this never ending Civil Sectarian War.

The US and Israel have been trying to deal with these lunatics on a macro level while ignoring the micro terrorism that these fascists foster on a daily basis.
And, that is doomed to failure.
Afghanistan will never be a "country."  The US will never succeed in establishing a stable society there.
Iraq will continue to be ripped by factions that are bent on killing each other.
Saudi Arabia will continue to support Wahhabi terror cells all over the planet.
This will never end.

Unless - the US and Israel deal with each micro event with total force.
Invade Gaza and free Gilad Shalit from his kidnappers.
Invade Iran and free our kidnapped Americans from their captors (as we should have done in 1979 when Iran invaded the United States).
Bomb the crap out of all of Hezbollah's missile sites.
Cease supporting all Arab/ Muslim fascist regimes - from Egypt to Pakistan, with American dollars.
Respond to every single act of terror against innocent civilians with overwhelming force and determination.
Support only those Arabs and Muslims (and the rest of the world) who support both Israel and the United States and are willing to defend that way of life with their blood.
We either Live Free - or die.

If the US and Israel would spend 1/10th of their treasure and might that we currently spend on the "war on terror" on these individual problems and terrorist acts - we would win and the fascist death cultists would lose.





Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Mitzvah of Ransoming a Captive


I am making an appeal.

I have a friend who needs help.

Her name is Wendy Runge; Zeva Rochel bas Chaya 

Wendy; her husband Pinchus; her children; her parents; her siblings and their spouses; and Pinchus' father, are all personal friends of mine who have all, in one way or another, enriched my life; my Yiddishkeit, and the lives of my family and friends.

Wendy has been unjustly accused and is being unjustly sentenced for crimes she did not commit.

Below is a letter written in her defense by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger, the Rav of Knesseth Israel synagogue here in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Rabbi Goldberger mentions Shalom Rubashkin in his letter in defense of Wendy.

For those who are not familiar with Shalom Rubashkin, Google his name and find out more.


Interestingly enough, I also consider myself a friend of Shalom and his family.  

When I first moved to Minnesota, he was kind enough to hire me to remodel his house in St Paul, and I spent six months practically living with his warm and loving family as he commuted back and forth to his new job in Postville, Iowa.

Shalom Rubashkin was treated unjustly and unfairly by the Iowa legal system.

Baruch Hashem that he has a large mishpocha and kehilla that has rallied to his defense and is working tirelessly to overturn this injustice.

Shalom Rubashkin has many strong advocates in the greater Jewish community and in the US political and Justice system.


Mrs. Runge's case has not been as notable as Shalom Rubashkin's.  Her family and friends, who have supported her; are supporting her; and are universally convinced that she is being treated with incredible harshness and injustice by the Iowa justice system, are also not as influential or as large as Shalom's wonderful supporters.


This is a plea, for anyone reading, to read Rabbi Goldberger's letter; to donate to her cause; or to just publicize her cause and this appeal. Wendy needs to radise money to defend herself in the appeal process which, in this country, is incredibly costly.

The Runge family is already in debt to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the initial trial and appeal.  Without the additional funds for her appeal, the judge is going to sentence her to 10 years in prison.


In the Talmud, Bava Basra 8b, the gemorah explains that pidyon shvuyim; ransoming Jewish captives, is considered a Great Mitzvah; a mitzvah rabbah and that captivity is worse than death and starvation.

The Rambam; Maimonides, rules that he who ignores ransoming a captive is guilty of transgressing commandments such as: "you shall not harden your heart" (Devarim 15:7); "you shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother" (Vayikra 19:16); and "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Vayikra 19:18).


This injustice needs to be publicized.

Wendy needs to be supported.

Please help.

Thank you.


A letter from Rabbi Goldberger:

Let me state from the outset – I am opposed to gratuitous charges of racism or anti-Semitism. Such claims have become tools too easily used to batter an ideological or political opponent into undue submission. 

But bias can and does exist. Even in our cultured and progressive world, instances have been known to occur in which conclusions have been reached as a result of pre-conceived perceptions about a member of a racial or religious group, conclusions in many cases grossly unsupported by the facts. 

The only way to discern true prejudice from intemperate hysteria is to examine the facts of a given case. 

I refer to the case of State of Iowa vs. Mrs. Wendy Weiner Runge, which has recently taken an unexpected and malevolent turn.




When we last reported on this story, Wendy's trial had ended with a plea deal, releasing Wendy from all but one charge, to which she admitted guilt. That was the charge by which she substituted one named future film project for another on an application for State financial credit, an action she took only after having been assured by the authorized State official that it was permissible. As it turned out, the official's assurance was in error. The substitution was, in fact, against the law, and Wendy accepted responsibility for this mistake in the court of Judge Douglas Staskal. 

In the plea arrangement, not only did Wendy agree to plead to the one count, she also agreed to cooperate in the prosecution's ongoing investigation of any other of the filmmakers against whom the State had filed complaints. 

In exchange, the Attorney General agreed to drop all other charges against Wendy, including all charges of financial misconduct – all of which she had denied vigorously from the outset and none of which the State could prove – and to refrain from having the judge pass sentence on her guilty plea until after all other court proceedings in this matter were complete (assumed to be at least a year or more down the road). Compared to the ominous threat of immediate and lengthy prison time as well as an enormous financial fine that had faced the mother of four throughout her trial, this eleventh-hour deal was embraced by Wendy and her legal team with great relief and even celebration.  This plea agreement stipulated a POSSIBLE prison time of not more than ten (10) years and/or a financial settlement not to exceed $10,000. 

It was more than jarring when Wendy received a notice from the judge less than two months later summonsing her to an immediate sentencing hearing on her charge. She had cooperated fully when the DA sent an investigator to interview her about the other defendants. What had gone wrong? 

Evidently, what the State wanted from Wendy was more than cooperation. They demanded Wendy present incriminating evidence they could use to prove guilt against the other defendants. Wendy had consistently asserted that such a thing did not exist, as no financial conspiracy had ever taken place. And so, despite opening all her records to the prosecutors, and despite telling the truth as she knew it, the Attorney General decided Wendy was not being cooperative. 

And he reneged on the deal. 

And so, as swift as it was disheartening, the Attorney General sent a note to Judge Staskal saying he was no longer interested in using Wendy as a witness in any upcoming trials and thus there was no longer a reason to delay her sentencing. 

Two associates of Wendy on the film The Scientist had earlier pleaded guilty to felony theft (Remember – no wrongdoing on anyone's part was ever proven in court. The associates decided to take the guilty plea to avoid the enormous expense of mounting a legal defense.) 

The two were sentenced on that same day by Judge Staskal to probation. With regard to Wendy's sentence, the pre-sentence assessor, taking into account the relatively minor nature of the charge, her being a first time offender, and her being a solid community citizen responsible for the care of four children and an elderly father-in-law, recommended Wendy be given a suspended (no actual jail time) sentence. 

Shockingly, Judge Staskal ignored the recommendation and sentenced her to an unprecedented ten years in prison – the maximum sentence allowed and agreed to as a part of the original plea deal. 




How did Judge Staskal justify the disparity in his penalties? He claimed Wendy showed no remorse over her crime. Had she spoken out defiantly at the hearing, such a conclusion might have been warranted. But in fact what she did at the hearing was read a statement expressing appropriate regret commensurate with her crime – apologizing to the State for having assumed the assurance of the State official was sufficient to rely upon when in fact it was not. She did not apologize for theft, because no money had changed hands; she did not apologize for financial misconduct, because there was none. But to Iowa's justice system, which had desperately wanted to nail her on these charges, this was defiance. 

The judge went further. Where was the evidence of Wendy's lack of remorse? In entries on her personal blog expressing joy over the dropping of the original charges, and in an earlier newspaper article in which Wendy was quoted as wondering what might have caused the assistant attorney general to bring up Sholom Rubashkin's recent conviction at a deposition. In the judge's words, Wendy Runge failed to demonstrate sufficient remorse, as evidenced by entries on her blog alleging vague conspiracies and an article alleging anti-Semitism. 

The judge issues a harsher sentence to a lesser crime on the grounds that he believes he is being falsely accused of anti-Semitism?   This allegation is a result of the initial request for information about Rabbi Rubashkin.  Then in May 2010, the Court knowingly scheduled the pre-trial hearing on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (5 months later) even after Jewish holidays were carefully outlined and the religious significance was detailed to the court.   The response was, "Rosh Hashana is NOT a recognized holiday in Iowa."  After numerous (expensive) motions, hearings and a letter from the highest religious authority, ONLY the day before Rosh Hashana the court relented just in time for Wendy to return home from the hearing for candle lighting, a traditional Jewish ceremony that officially enters the family into the holiday. 




The facts of Wendy's case do not match with the aura assigned it by this judge. 

The plain facts an impartial judge is to consider in passing sentence include: 

  1. only the charge for which the defendant was found guilty, not charges that were dismissed 
  2. mitigating factors (which Wendy has in abundance) 
  3. the seriousness and/or violent nature of the charge (little to none here) 
  4. the recommendation of the pre-sentence assessor 
  5. parallels to others similarly charged


The judge's decision fails on all five.


Prejudice, in its purest state, indicates a prior leaning to judge a person based on your perception of his proclivity to commit the offense – irrespective of his actually having done so. From the beginning, Wendy was treated as one who was likely to have committed all the crimes for which she was charged. Despite her dogged insistence on having been misled by State officials acknowledged to have misrepresented the State's tax credit program, despite the State having been unable to prove a single charge against Wendy or any of her associates, despite the utter inadmissibility of personal, out-of-court communications into any aspect of a judicial hearing without due process, and despite the legitimacy of Wendy expressing a natural sense of joy and vindication on her personal blog, Judge Staskal continued to relate to her as a criminal mastermind who had somehow managed to slip through the system. 

According to the Victim Impact Statements and Pre-Sentencing Probation Reports section of the Women's Justice Center Handbook: 

In most all cases, judges abide by the sentencing recommendation that is formulated by the pre-sentencing probation officer. 

In his attempt to justify straying wildly from this recommendation, Judge Staskal has crossed serious boundary lines touching on questions of judicial bias, presumption of innocence, and First Amendment free speech rights. 

I would like to remind the reader than Wendy was NEVER allowed to make a formal statement about the circumstances that lead her, her attorneys and others to believe that the Film Commissioner was the appropriate authority.




Let us take a look at another recent sentencing, that of Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Unlike Wendy Runge, Tom DeLay was verbally defiant at his sentencing: 

"Everything I did was covered by accountants and lawyers telling me what I had to do to stay within the law. I can't be remorseful for something I don't think I did." 

DeLay called the case "politically motivated" and spoke about how it had affected his wife's health, forced him to raise and spend $10 million in legal fees, and cost him everything he had worked for – including the second-highest post in the U.S. House. 

As with Wendy, the prosecutors in the DeLay case wanted a ten-year sentence and said he should not receive probation because he had shown no remorse. 

Tom DeLay was convicted of a crime scheme designed to launder money and illegally influence Texas elections. He is a major public figure. He was openly defiant at his sentencing. He does not have a large family to care for at home. 

How long a sentence did Mr. DeLay receive? 

Three years. 

Compare that with the treatment given Wendy. Wendy pleaded her own guilt. She was misled by a State official. She received no State money as a result of her crime. She spoke with no defiance in court, restricting her frustrations to personal communications that are supposed to be outside the reach of the court. 

What did she get? Ten years.




We must reach out in support of Wendy and her family. Her attorney believes she has a powerful case for reversal on appeal, but the appellate process is costly, with a large retainer due immediately to her attorneys. Rabbi Michel Twerski remains on record that this mitzvah qualifies as Pidyon Shevuyim – the highest rank among Tzedakah obligations. We look forward to sharing news of Wendy's redemption – and indeed that of all K'lal Yisrael – with you in the very near future. 


Please help Wendy not have to go to prison by making a much needed contribution. Send your checks, payable to The Rabbi's Discretionary Fund at Kenesseth Israel Synagogue

4330 W. 28th Street Minneapolis, MN  55416.

And put Wendy Runge's name in the memo line


May Zeva Rochel bas Chaya have an immediate yeshua


With blessings and appreciation,


Rabbi Chaim Goldberger


Funds are desperately needed ( $50,000) to pay her attorneys to file the appeal. Please help her by sending a check payable to the Rabbi's Discretionary Fund at
Kenesseth Israel Synagogue
4330 W. 28th St.
S. Louis Pk., MN 55416
and put Wendy Runge's name in the memo line, 
or online at ( once you have enter the amount and click donate, you are taken to the page where you enter your credit card info. Click on " add a designation" and type in Rabbi's Discretionary Fund for Wendy Runge

Please forward to anyone you might know who can help, and may Zeva Rochel bas Chaya have an immediate yeshua.


Thank you for caring.