Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Life Until Now: A Personal Spiritual Journey

I come from a family that can trace its ancestry (both parents) back many generations and in both cases the ancestry leads to Sephardic Jewish roots both in Spain, France, Iraq, as well as a touch of Ashkenazi from Germany.

I was born in January 1949 (Jewish year - 12 Tevet 5709) and my parents divorced when I was age two (I’m pretty sure I had nothing to do with that decision).  I was raised by my mother who was quite liberated in her thinking, even during the early 1950’s when I was the most impressionable she ensured I learned to be an avid reader beginning at age three and directed my mind to be open to any possibility.  My bent toward the inquisitive I inherited from her.  By age five I was already engrossed in the works of philosophers such as William James, Spinoza, the Greek classics and so much more.  I really became enamored of the spiritual and political aspects of life at an extremely early age and have remained such to this day.

I grew up with the full knowledge of my Jewish ancestry on my father’s side due to our family history being shared with me on a consistent basis by my fraternal grandfather.  He, however, had converted long ago - sometime during WWI -to Christianity and became a staunch Baptist, but never tried to persuade or push me in that direction.  It was only in the last several years that I learned of my mother's Jewish ancestry which was long hidden from the family until my maternal great Uncle and myself began a serious look into our family background.  My own spiritual journey was fostered by my mother who exposed me to several religious disciplines, including Judaism in order to allow me information on all so that I could make up my own mind which to become a part of, or not, if that was my decision.  As I was growing up her leanings were to spiritualism (what is now called New Age), and while I found those concepts most enlightening and informative (and still do), I was left to make up my own mind.  As stated earlier, my Jewish ancestry on my mother’s side of the family only came after years of looking into our genealogy and discovering that both her father and mother’s ancestral line were of Jewish origins in the Old World of France, Germany and Iraq - however neither of my parents lived as Jews (or Christians).  Eventually, over the course of her later years my mother converted to Christianity and became active in the Christian Church - Disciples of Christ denomination, a somewhat liberal movement.

By the time I was age twenty and was stationed in the Philippine Islands while serving in the military I was going through an emotional crisis and became a perfect target for a fellow airman who was a “Full Gospel” Christian and he shared the story of Jesus with me, utilizing the typical missionary-style methods and I found myself interested in this Jew named Jesus and how this man who lived 2000 years ago might have meaning for my life at that time.  Having no solid foundation in the faith of my Fathers I accepted the “Full Gospel” teaching with one caveat, I simply found it extremely difficult to accept the idea that this man, even if he was the Messiah, was G-d, and never fully bought into that Christian dogma, but followed (almost to the letter) the rest of Christian teaching for many years.  I even became a missionary myself traveling through literal jungles and metaphorical deserts spreading the so-called “Good News.”  However, over time I realized something was missing and terribly wrong.  What was missing was the soul of Jewishness which I felt to have always been at the core of my existence, even though I couldn’t (at that time) explain it in that way. About that same time a new movement was coming on the scene that was called Hebrew Christianity, now more commonly known as Messianic Judaism.  This I thought was the answer for what was not right about Gentile Christianity and I became a part of this new idea.

After a while my wife and I began a Torah study out of our home in Pennsylvania  and as it grew it soon developed into a Messianic Synagogue.  I was also attending a Messianic Rabbinic Yeshiva and after four years of study and training was given rabbinic ordination.  It was soon after that period that I began noticing a significant change in the Messianic movement.  Until that time, while most of the leadership within the movement readily accepted the divinity of Jesus, it was not a requisite.  While, at the time, I had no problem accepting that Jesus was the Messiah, I still found it impossible to accept the notion that he was G-d and the pressure to do so was mounting.  Also I became upset as I saw the movement degrade more and more into an arm of the so-called Pentecostal Christian experience, a concept that literally made me sick to my stomach.  Eventually, I came to a crossroads and was faced with a real spiritual dilemma; to continue living a lie or drop the whole Jesus commitment altogether.  Thanks to a phone call (which over the course of a year turned into several) from an Orthodox rabbi living in New York, I broke completely away from the Messianic and Christian religion and began living a fully Jewish life with no vestiges of Christian attachment.

My wife and I began to seek out which (branch) of Judaism would best suit our intellects, outlooks, faith and reason.  We found all forms of Orthodoxy a bit too restrictive and Conservative Judaism felt too much like a fence-riding view of Judaism.  Reform Judaism offered for us the ability to live a fully Jewish life, and a study of Torah that lent itself to an open-mindedness and intelligent discourse. While I may disagree with the more liberal political nature of many in Reform Judaism, spiritually and on certain social issues we are generally on the same page.

There are four basic important ideas in Judaism: G-d, the Torah, Israel and the Messiah (Mashiach). Over the course of six-plus decades this has become my foundational philosophy on the four.

G-D:  “In the beginning G-d...”

G-d is Creator of all that is and is not.  G-d is not a man, neither is It a son of man.  G-d is Spirit, without substance. It is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.  Other than that I honestly don’t think we can know much more about the real G-d other than what It chooses to reveal about Itself in Its commandments; nor can It be explained because once G-d can be placed into any kind of box of finite human understanding or reasoning ability then G-d ceases to be G-d and simply becomes a creation of human imagination.  I am content with the understanding that G-d Is.

TORAH:  “G-d spoke all these words, saying...”

By its very definition Torah is teaching.  It is a set of teachings (whether G-d inspired or not) that unites a people under one banner with many shades of colors.  It is both a written and oral teaching that can be adapted and reinterpreted to the various epochs of human history so that it never looses it relevance for any generation.  Through the Torah and its many rabbinic interpretations a tradition has grown, one that tells the people who they are and what G-d expects them to do.  I firmly believe that any Jew can go through an entire lifetime without knowing or understanding Torah.  They are not any less a Jew, however, are the poorer for not delving into and practicing its precepts. I also think the writer of this particular verse was correct when he or she stated concerning the Torah -- “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth....”(Joshua 1:8).

ISRAEL: “All the things the Lord has commanded we will do.”

Israel was a man, is a country and eternally remains a people.  For me it is foremost a people.  Israel the man, a.k.a. Jacob is long dead. As Jews we have not always possessed or lived in the Land, but we, since the days of Sinai, have always been a people - the people of the Book, the people of G-d. What makes us a people is the bond made between our ancestors (therefore, all succeeding generations) and G-d at the base of Mount Sinai, what keeps us a people is G-d’s remembrance of that day and Its faithfulness to keep Its word and promise to us, the people Israel. The Land, while having not always been our physical possession, has remained a part of the stream of Jewish consciousness, thus the phrase each year during the Passover Seder “Next year in Jerusalem.”  As a nation, Israel is the ancestral home of every Jew, whether Sabra, Olim or Diaspora and is deserving of as much spiritual, emotional, political and financial support each of us can give it.

Messiah: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet."

The idea of and belief in a coming Messiah (an anointed deliverer - prince) is as old as Abraham himself. Before Mount Sinai, before the Land even was fully inhabited G-d gave the promise of a future anointed king that would be the final deliverer of Its people, Israel. The 12th of the 13 Principals of Maimonides states: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Mashiach, and, though he tarry, I await him every day, that he will come." For a fuller understanding of my own views of the Messiah please read Mashiach Part I and Mashiach Part II.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Made in the U.S.A. - READ Those Labels!

From: Earl Schmidt

I received a very interesting email from a friend named Denny Hodges whom I have known for over 40 years. He and I served together in the military overseas in the 1960's. He received this information from one of his friends and thought all my readers would find it both interesting and eye-opening. My wife and I are avid label readers and do our best to buy products made, produced or manufactured in the United States. This is getting a lot harder to do lately as most of the big box stores have gone almost entirely international and are importing more and more of their products from other countries. What was eye-opening for me in this piece was just how brainwashed we have become into thinking that a product made in China, or say, Mexico is cheaper in cost than the same item made in the U.S.A. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, many items now routinely found on store shelves in shops like Bed Bath and Beyond or Wal-Mart are made in other countries and are more expensive than the American made equivalent. Read Earl Schmidt's piece and READ those labels.

According to a report by ABC News anchorwoman Diane Sawyer Costco sells Goodyear wiper blades for almost half the price that you will pay elsewhere and they are made in the U.S.A. What is also very encouraging is nearly all products in ACE Hardware stores are made in the U.S.A.

Did you know that there is no electric coffee maker made in the United States? Very few kitchen appliances [are made in America] other than the Viking brand. I have been looking at blenders available on the internet. Kitchen-Aid is at the top of my list because it is made in the U.S.A.

[I wasn't aware until lately that] Hallmark Cards are made in China and are more expensive! I have started buying my cards at the Dollar Store where they are 50 cents each and made in the U.S.A. Yesterday I was at Wal-Mart looking for a wastebasket. I found some but were all made in China for a cost of $6.99 each. I didn't want to pay that much so I asked the sales clerk if they had any others. She took me to another department within the store and there they were selling at $2.50 each. These were just as good as the Chinese-made product and were made right here in the United States. The same thing happened with a kitchen rug I needed. I had to look around but I found some made in America - WHAT A CONCEPT - and they were $3.00 cheaper than the overseas made brand.

We are all being brainwashed to believe that everything that comes from China or Mexico is cheaper. NOT SO!

I was at Lowe's the other day and just out of curiosity I looked at some hose attachments. They were all made in China. The next day I was at ACE Hardware and just for the heck of it I checked out the hose attachments in the store. They were made in the U.S.A. We need to really start paying attention. In our current economic situation every little thing we buy or do affects someone else - most often, their job.

My Grandson likes Hershey's candy. I noticed though that it is now marked "Made in Mexico." I don't buy it anymore. [This one flabbergasted me also since I lived in Pennsylvania for decades. Hershey products were a staple of the State and one of those items you thought would surely forever be made in Hersey, PA. The last place I would expect such an iconic product to come from would be somewhere outside of the country].

My favorite toothpaste, Colgate, is now being manufactured in Mexico. I have switched to the American-made Crest. [NOTE: Check the Crest label. Some of their toothpaste comes from U.S.A. & some from Germany - also other U.S.A. made toothpaste products include TOM's of Maine from Trader Joe's stores, Nature's Gate brand and Sensodyne].

You have to read the labels on everything. This past weekend I was at the Kroger grocery store. I needed some 60W light bulbs and a box of Bounce dryer sheets. I was in the light bulb aisle and right next to the GE brand I normally buy was an off-brand labeled "Everyday Value." I picked up both brand of bulbs and compared them. They were exactly the same except for the price. The GE bulbs cost more than the Everyday Brand. However, the thing that surprised me the most was the GE bulbs were "Made in Mexico" and the Everyday Brand bulbs were produced - you guessed it - in the U.S.A. at a plant located in Cleveland, Ohio.

So, on to the next aisle for my Bounce dryer sheets. Yep, you guessed it, Bounce costs more money and are made in Canada or Mexico. The stores Everyday Value Brand costs less and is made in the U.S.A.! I did the laundry and the dryer sheets performed just as well as the Bounce Free brand I have been using for years, but, now I can get the sheets for almost half the price. My challenge [to everyone]: Start reading the labels when you shop for everyday things and see what you can find that is made in the United States of America. The job you save may be your own or your neighbors! If you accept the challenge, pass this on for others to read and soon all Americans might begin to buy USA made products one light bulb at a time.

Stop buying from overseas companies [or from U.S. companies who have sold out and moved all their plants overseas] - you're simply sending the jobs and dollars over there.

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