Be modest, but just do it

In case you’re still thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, here are a few tips from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, author of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right and president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC:


ltARabbisJourney1. Trust the power of your words.  Simply declaring to do things differently can have a real impact on our lives. This is an insight as old as Genesis.  Recall the story of how the world was brought into reality by the declaration — “let there be light, and there was light”.

2. Be modest in your aspirations.  You don’t have to fix everything at once, so pick one attainable goal and pursue it.  When we grasp for too much, we end up with nothing at all.  But, if we pick a goal to which we can really hold on, we need never let it go.

3. Just do it.  Whether it’s getting to the gym, eating healthier, spending less money, or any of the other popular resolutions, start doing it and let your emotions just catch up with your practice.  It really works.

4. Don’t go it alone.  No different from communal worship or major building projects, when it comes to personal growth there are heights which we can attain only with the support of like-minded friends.  Find a supportive community which encourages you to keep going even when you want to give up on your resolutions.

5. Distinguish a practice from its desired result. Eating healthier and working out are different from losing weight and looking “better.”  You can only control the first two.  Eating healthier and working out are both valuable in their own right. Focus on the value of the practice and whatever happens, you will feel better and be better.

6. Give yourself time off for good behavior. Taking an occasional break from our new practices can actually help us stay committed to them over time.  Think of it as a Sabbath.  But if you find that your time off exceeds one seventh of your time (like Sabbath), you need to get back to your resolution, pronto!


Also, offers some background on the whole concept of resolutions:


Like other Christian festivals, the celebration of New Years Day in the West started before the church came into existence.

At first, the Romans celebrated the beginning of the new year on March 1, not January 1. Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of “New Years resolutions” began in this earliest period, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral flavor: mostly to be good to others.

When Rome took on Christianity as its official faith, the Christians kept New Years Day. Only, they traded the vaguely moral emphasis for a practice of fasting and prayer aimed at living the New Year in the New Life of Christ. Soon, however, the new year celebration reverted to March 1, and this early emphasis on spiritual things dissolved.

Everywhere you look: pictures of rabbis in handcuffs

All the media coverage of the New Jersey corruption sweep — featuring black-hatted, bearded rabbis — is bound to be making a lot of people uncomfortable today.

It’s a pretty ugly affair, for the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn and New Jersey and the fabled institution of crooked Jersey pols (all that’s missing is Tony Soprano in cuffs).

Five rabbis — including the national Syrian-Jewish community’s top rebbe — are accused of laundering money, in part through Jewish charities. Yuck.

I’m sure that many are on the lookout today for anti-Semitic reactions and stereotypes — and there are plenty of nasty comments on several websites I’ve perused.

Media coverage will also be dissected for Jewish cliches.

Right off the bat, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a respected commentator on many religious and cultural issues, released a statement taking the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s website to task for bordering on “Jew-baiting.” He thought that yesterday’s initial coverage of the arrests was eager to play up the involvement of Jews and rabbis, but offered few specifics about who is accused of doing what.

Hirschfield writes:


When a headline reads, “NJ officials, NY rabbis caught in federal money laundering, corruption sweep”, one expects a story which describes that event. In this case however, no mention is made of any rabbis actually getting arrested. Despite plenty of details about various politicos being taken into custody, there is nothing about rabbis.
This may be a big deal, but the headline and the story don’t match – where is the info on the rabbis? This kind of coverage actually borders on Jew-baiting, and it potentially says something at least as ugly about the author/editors as it does about those who committed any crime. Consider the following quote found on the paper’s website and carried on CNN:
The arrests…”began with an investigation of money transfers by members of the Syrian enclaves in New York and New Jersey,” the newspaper said on its Web site, Those arrested Thursday “include key religious leaders in the tight-knit, wealthy communities,” the report said.
“Enclaves”? “Tight-knit, wealthy communities”? Could it be that the paper harbors deep resentment against Jews who they see as over-privileged, stand-offish people who operate as a law unto themselves? Is this the moment to celebrate how “those people” will now get their comeuppance? If not, why describe the community in classically anti-Semitic ways instead of calling out the specific leaders who broke the law, violated the religious rules of their own community and should be punished to the full extent of the law for any wrongdoing they committed?


Hirschfield doesn’t seem to take into account that the early news reports were based on what was likely the only information available. The Star-Ledger’s Web reports — and everyone else’s — have been regularly updated as more info was released.

This morning, there seems to be plenty of specifics about who is accused of doing what.

As far as the Syrian Jewish community goes, from what I’ve read, it may well qualify as an “enclave.” It is certainly a “tight-knit” community. Is it a “wealthy” community? I don’t know, but it may be.

I don’t see those three terms as necessarily pointing to a “deep resentment” against Syrian Jews by the editors and reporters of the Star-Ledger. How were they supposed to be describe the Syrian Jewish community?

Hirschfield concluded his statement with this:


This story needs to be told, but it needs to be told better than this. It needs to be about justice, not just desserts. By the way, when all this calms down, the Syrian-Jewish community should also take a good look at itself to see what they do which contributes to their being perceived of this way by their neighbors.
While victims of bias should never be blamed for the bias against them, in most cases for a stereotype to take hold it must be rooted in some partial truth. Ironically, coverage like that in the Star Ledger will make that ever less likely to happen, confirming the kind of hostility which is used by any community looking for a reason to turn inward.


The corruption sweep is a huge story. If the allegations turn out to be true — certainly not a given — it would be a deep, long-term black eye for the Syrian-Jewish community. I wonder how many members of the community are worried about media coverage today.

Kneel before Super Bowl week!

People are always comparing sports to religion.

The passion. The rituals. The good guys and the bad guys. The highs and lows. The fervor.

The parallels are easy to see (even if, in my opinion, they tend to be overblown).

Super Bowl week is an especially popular time to look at the American obsession with big men who chase balls in matching uniforms (And, hey, I’m one of them. I have a zealot’s passion for the Oakland Raiders, which is like being part of a denomination that has seen better days).

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC, is a thoughtful guy who now and then shares his thoughts on the news of the day.

And these are his “talking points” on the Big Game:


The Super Bowl is a national holy day that is about much more than who will be declared the best team in professional football. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance, which speaks to their hopes and aspirations.

At this moment any opportunity to celebrate is really important, especially this one, because it doesn’t cost anything to gather in front of the TV. Experience of cheering for anything is very important right now. Too easy to fall into thinking that every day brings new despair. We still have it within us to scream good things.

Competition between a team that would have/could have/should have moved out of Pittsburgh ages ago (heart of the rust belt) and they didn’t, they hung in. The Cardinals did move from St. Louis to Arizona. They followed the growth curve of America. Two stories of America. Reflect on both. Learn from both.

Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday are more alike than most of us realize. Probably no accident that recreation and re-creation are the same word. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are as Gods.

Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough.

We experience that sense of “being in the zone,” what psychologists call “the flow state,” of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally.

The importance of using this safe experience to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter really cannot see beyond his own team and cannot appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallels to other groups in our world is clear.

People will create communities and celebrate this event, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.