Hate On Lowell Street

This past Saturday afternoon, my friend and colleague Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad and I were taking a Shabbos stroll on the way to the beautiful Peabody bike path. To walk this way, we had to walk for a short bit on Lowell Street.

Walking and chatting while visibility Jewish, kippas, beards and tzitzits flying about was apparently too much for a bunch of pickup truck drivers. There were 3 or 4 large pickups, one with red hubcaps, and modified mufflers to sound really loud as they drove by.

The driver of the first truck slowed down and flipped us the birdie and yelled out “****ing Jews.” A moment later, he threw a penny out of his window and shouted another anti-Semitic slur something to the effect of “go pick up the penny ****ing Jew.”

Now, I am not unaccustomed to people yelling things to me or honking from the safety of a driving vehicle that I cannot catch up to. However, the angry and hateful vitriolic tenor was new and quite upsetting. My kids, have often shuddered when we walk the streets to or from shul and a car drives by (usually with a few silly teens) and yell or whistle at us. Recently, one of my kids said, “Tatty, why do they hate us so much?”

I didn’t have a good answer, so I deflected and told him that they were just a bunch of rowdy kids excited to be driving their own car, so they were just being silly. This Shabbat insult was nothing of the sort. This was simple, clear, unvarnished, hate.

I write this today to bring awareness to the hate in our community (or at least driving through our streets) and if you know of that caravan of trucks, please report them. We will never again be silent in the face of hate. Never again means NEVER AGAIN! And that can only happen when we stand up to it, announce it, report it, call it out for what it is EVERY SINGLE time we see it.

Like Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin recently told Germany, we will not get rid of our skullcaps/Yamulkahs because of those who hate. The solution is not to get rid of the kippa. The solution is to get rid of the hate.


Then there is the academic side to it.

Why does this person hate so much? I have never met him. In all likelihood he never met an Orthodox Jew in his life. I’m confident he never did business by an Orthodox Jew. Still, he felt the need to endorse the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are thieves and cheapos.

He didn’t look Middle Eastern (no Kafiya or anything so identifying) so I am assuming this was not related to the growing anti-Jewish anti-Israel hate (well documented in films where children and adults in many Middle Eastern countries are taught to hate). No, this does not mean that every Middle Eastern person is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. This was a homegrown form of hate that is starting to invade this country – spreading from the halls of our government to our college campuses and beyond. 

So what’s the source of the hated?

My only guess, and that is all it is, is a guess, is the upbringing and training. Children – and later adolescents and adults – are impressionable. If they are taught that McDonald’s is a healthy square meal, then in all likelihood people will raise their children that way. If they are taught that rich people are evil or that people of color are dangerous, then they will likely transmit that training to their progeny.

If they are taught (as many children, here and abroad tragically are) that there is a sub-human group of people that are a danger to society, a blight on the pure human race, for whatever concocted or perceived reason, that will be transmitted to their children.

So, to you, Mr. Pickup truck driver… 1. Shame on you. 2. Shame on those who taught you to be a wimp and shriek from the safety of your vehicle with the ability to speed off. Next time you have something to say to me, pull over and say it to my face. I want to see if you are still so brave. 3. I actually don’t hate you; I am mostly sad for you. Mend your ways and I will forgive you. 4. Most importantly, not only for my children’s sake, though that is the main reason for me personally, I am not going to tolerate your disgusting hate without responding. I will announce it to the world every time, and stand up to you. I am not afraid of you.


Today, I write on Memorial Day. Our soldiers fought for the right to live in peace and to practice the faith of your choice, and for that I am eternally grateful. I don’t think they fought for people to yell, scare, frighten and promote hate and division.

*** As of this writing, this post has been liked/cried/hearted on Facebook over 300 times, shared more than 200 times and commented on over 1000 times, and it is only 8 hours old. I can’t say for sure why it has caught fire, but I think because it touched a nerve that is very raw and exposed by all, Jews and non-Jews alike, and as much as we try to hide it or from it, it is still there and very sensitive.



Here is the thing about commitments, they are made to be broken (and repaired). I had pledged to myself to write an article/blog once a week for 52 weeks and that was going well until it wasn’t.

Nothing in particular, other than life got in the way. Usual work/family drama (yes, even rabbi’s have that) and then a lackadaisical energy that doesn’t promote the creative juices.

After missing my deadline for a couple weeks, I knew that I need to do something different if I had any hope for a different result. So, I packed up my trusty little iPad and keyboard and went to one of my favorite North Shore spots. The Lynch Park in Beverly, where you have water on three sides.  (See picture) There is something calming and soothing about the water that gives a general reset.

So what is it about commitments to do good that don’t seem to have the staying power? Why is it that I don’t need motivation and encouragement to eat cheesecake an ice cream regularly, yet for things of worth it is so challenging?

I suggest the answer might be found in the command to say the Shema prayer (3 times) daily. Why is there such a law? If we read it yesterday, presumably our awareness of that information has not disappeared or dissipated so quickly that it needs such a refresh.

Perhaps a once weekly reminder would suffice? Yet that is not enough? We are obligated to say it day in and day out? The answer is, that Hergel Naseh Tevah, getting used to something makes it second nature.

This cuts in both directions. At times it works in our favor, that by doing something religiously (pun intended) you just get used to it and do it regularly. Think gym, and other similar good things that while difficult can become part of your daily routine. On the flip side, we can adopt bad habits, like that cheesecake and ice cream habit I referenced a moment ago.

However, then there is something in-between. Where your rote in doing something makes you start to take it for granted. For example, prayer, and specifically the Shema prayer. This prayer, which focuses on the essence of our faith, and acknowledging that Gd is the All Powerful One, can also become robotic and without meaning to the person saying it.

That is the great danger with all commitments. What begins as passion, dies or goes into a comatose state, and not for lack of usage. Just lack of reinvestment in the original intent.

When that happens, you need to a) identify it b) commit to doing something different to get a different result.

If it is prayer, you need to revisit what you started to pray, what that prayer means to you, and how to reignite the original passion again. Look inward and realize how many blessings you have, and to express gratitude and thanks, and conversely, how many blessings you still need and focus on Who can provide them.

If it is a blog, you need to reconnect with the origins of why you started to write and how to keep that passion going or, in some case light it up again from scratch. In my case, to open the creative juices I know are flowing in my head.

And if it is a diet/bad habit, like the cheesecake and ice cream we’ve been discussing, to revisit why you agreed or endeavored to stop that behavior in the first place.

So, goodbye dear ocean – you can be sure I will be back to see you again and again – and know that I will learn from you.

Your waves lap against the shore, and that happens again and again and again, regardless of weather conditions or internal and external factors. Regardless of life’s dramas, stresses and ever changing realities, you continue to splash on the sandy shore with the same original passion as the last gazillion times. I pledge to emulate your ways in all my ways (the blog being the least of them) and recommit myself to the things that got me started in the first place.

Blog 31/52 Picture my iPhone

Dear Gd, Here we go again

Dear G-d,

Here we are again. Last we spoke, it was right after the Pittsburgh Massacre. There you told me, how you weep with me, and how if I could understand Your ways (which I cannot since I am not GD), I’d be less pained.

Yet you cried with me, at pain the Jewish family was enduring. The loss of life, the carnage, the insecurity that Your children were experiencing. You seemed to walk this fine line between being the Adult in the room, who knows what He is doing, and the empathetic parent who cries with their child who is going through the pains of growing up.

Lori Kaye’s daughter, Hannah at her memorial service. Photo AP

I walked away from our discussion, feeling that while my questions were not answered, I knew you were on top of things, and there was order, where it seemed like chaos to us. I walked away somewhat comforted knowing that you hadn’t abandoned us, notwithstanding the facts on the ground, mixed with blood and tears.

Yet, now I am here again. Knocking on your door asking you why? Why would a sister Chabad Center in Poway, California, a home dedicated to love, and compassion, a home that is but a branch of nearly 4000 similar homes, be targeted by a hateful and vile individual. How could you allow it? Why there? Why anywhere? In the past month, there three major faiths in the world had their houses of worship attacked, and we just proceed on. Are you in charge or not?

We just finished Holocaust Memorial Day, where the images if the greatest mass destruction of our people in the History of the world dominated our news cycle, our social media feed, and all the pain, anger and mistrust has risen to the surface again.

Perhaps my greatest consternation is this pacifistic, soft response I am hearing from all those Chabad Rabbis. A little light pushes away a lot of darkness. Or the “we fight evil with goodness and kindness” and a plethora of other Chamberlain-ian responses? I get that they mean well, but wouldn’t they be better off learning from history and getting gun licenses and other aggressive proactive efforts?

Sorry for taking your precious time,Gd, but I really need your help understanding all of this.

Dear Son,

Oh my son, you are so wise and you ask such difficult questions, but I won’t shy away from your tough questions. If I am truly the father that you see me to be, I will guide and instruct, and hug and cry with you, in every scenario I will do what I deem to be the right response for that time.

Today, I will hug you for your fear. I will cry with you for the loss of dear Lori and the Rabbi and those injured in Poway. I will remind you to be responsible and protect yourself and your Chabad Centers as the responsible people that you are.

However, I want to answer your last question. I want to remind you, that your Rebbe, my trusted servant answered this already, and I am only going to remind you what he already communicated.

There was a time in history, that the modus operandi was that you fight evil with evil, and only once evil is vanquished can you start to focus on the good.

The classic chassidic analogy had been when dealing with sin. “You don’t bring furniture into the house, while the house is still dirty.” Or as it relates to this discussion, you can’t work on spreading love and light until you have crushed the enemy of love and light.

We live in a different time. We live in a pre-messianic era where the rules of the game have changed. Not simply because I willed it so, but because after generations of constant beating at the evil, the evil HAS been softened. We build on that, or sustain our accomplishments and even further our work by doing those acts of goodness and light. That is the radiation that doesn’t allow the cancer to come back.

(Even if today it doesn’t appear so. Today you are hurting, but next week, when you have had a chance to process a bit and see the world through different lenses, you will see that there is an immense amount of goodness out there. There is care for the wounded, programs for those with physical and emotional challenges. There are nations who are dedicated to not only promoting peace and democracy in their own borders but around the world. The world IS a better place.)

So, all those Chabad Soldiers, my Shluchim, from Peabody, to Poway, from Kathmandu to Crown Heights, they are correct. You no longer need to wait until you have banished evil to promote light. Do a good deed, and it further melts a softening evil world. Light a Shabbat Candle and the darkness that gets banished is not just the physical darkness in that room, but the darkness in our souls and the souls of those who have true deep seated darkness.

That greatest mistake would be to allow your questions, to stop you from being the beacon of light I created you to be. You have a job, you have a responsibility, to be brave, even while scared, to convey this message to the world. Your Rebbe did it since 1951. He is counting on you to keep on doing it.

It’s not a slogan, it’s not a cliche, it is a fact. Random acts of kindness, little acts of light, do indeed combat evil and darkness.

Farewell my son, I hope not to see your tear streaked face knocking at my door ever again. Let’s meet at our other happy and uplifting gatherings.

In fact, lets meet at Shul this Friday night or Shabbat?

Blog 30 of 52