THANK YOU GOD FOR MAKING ME A WOMAN

Women who have the ability to emulate G-d by bringing children into the world and wear multiple hats on any given day are truly unique and beyond measure.

A woman is her husbands’ confidante, the mother of their children, the family psychiatrist, the family doctor, interior decorator, educational director, chef and so on…

Women have so many responsibilities, they emulate G-d more than men in this regard, and are not counted; they are one and unique and truly beyond the limitations of numbers.
~ Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin

THANK YOU GOD
FOR MAKING ME A WOMAN
by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin

~ review by Cindy ( and endorsed by Keren)

Recently I ran across a very troubling one-sided video that shared Rabbinic quotes about women, negative quotes that were often taken out of context. As presented, there was an implication that these negative teachings were standard in Judaism and shared by the majority of Rabbis. What the creators of the video failed to convey is that there are various and diverse views and midrashim on the perception of women – some good, some bad. Unlike any Christian commentary I’ve read, the Talmud is extremely varigated and includes numerous views on every issue imaginable. In typical Hebraic thinking, it does not always present a cut-and-dried, ‘politically correct’ and acceptable-to-all view. The Talmud presents all sides of any particular subject or argument. It is expected that the reader will question and examine the issue at hand him/herself.

Though this review on Rabbi Raskin’s book in no way ignores the religious chauvinism and discrimination against women that exists in many societies today, we are honest enough to understand that this discrimination is held by some leaders and members among all faiths. This review is being shared with the hopes of balancing out the scales and welcoming honest discussion.

Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin shares a story as told by Rabbi S.B. Avtzon:

One time, the Rebbe Rashab and Rav Yitzchok met with a certain Christian minister to convince him to rescind a certain anti-Semitic decree. In the course of their discussion, the minister said, “We have the right to persecute you Jews. You despise us, and you say it so clearly every day in your morning prayers! Take a look at your prayer book. Every morning you say, ‘Blessed are you G-d…Who has not made me a gentile.’ You Jews hate us!”

Without hesitating a moment Rav Yitzchok replied, “Honored Minister, do you love your wife?” “Do I love my wife?!? I love her more than anything else. I would do anything for her!”

“We also love our wives,” said Rav Yitzchok. “Yet, right after the blessing you just quoted, we say an additional blessing, ‘Blessed are you G-d…for not making me a woman.’ What is the meaning of this blessing?”

Seeing that he had attracted the minister’s curiosity, he continued. “A woman carries a child for nine months, has labor and birthing pains, then the responsibility of raising children in addition to running her household. This requires a great amount of strength, endurance and patience, things most men lack. So we thank G-d for not giving us the responsibility of a woman.

“The same is true regarding gentiles.” Rav Yitzchok concluded, “Every person, Jew or gentile, must serve his Creator. We, however, have it easy. G-d gave us 613 laws that tell us exactly what to do. A gentile was only given seven laws, and he has to figure out the rest on his own. We thank G-d for making our job easier.”

Surprised by Rav Yitzchok’s swift, novel response, the minister burst out laughing. He turned to the Rebbe Rashab. “You’re lucky you have such a clever person with you. I am retracting my decree.”

Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin’s approach, as he informs us in the book’s preface, is based primarily on the teaching of his illustrious teacher and mentor: the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Rabbi Raskin shares that the Rebbe had three monumental teachings:

  1. The Midrash (Tana Dvar Rabbi Eliyahu Ch.9) states that a woman ossah, which can be translated as “fulfills” the will of her husband. The Rebbe translated ossah as “creates,” as in “the woman creates the will of her husband.”
  2. The Rebbe often quoted the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 11B), which states that it was in the merit of the righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt. He took this quote to the next level to say that it would be the righteous women who would usher in the coming of Moshiach.
  3. The Rebbe would often quote Proverbs 31:10, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” The Rebbe understood that this did not mean that a wife is an accessory or adornment of her husband, but rather, with the advent of our ultimate redemption, the role of women will ‘crown’ and truly topple and outshine the role of men.

Every word of Rabbi Raskin’s in Thank You God For Making Me A Woman, is based upon the absolute premise that according to Torah, men and women have always been equal and often in Judaic understanding there are areas where women are held superior.

Rabbi Raskin points out that many of the laws concerning prayer, and particularly from the daily Amidah prayer, are derived from the prayer of Chana (Hannah). In addition, that in traditional Judaism a woman’s testimony carries more weight than two men; that women have been endowed with the sacred ability to reveal the G-dliness that is concealed here in the world, and to reveal the potential of all human kind, and that women are born with a greater binah (understanding, intelligence and intuition) than men. Over and over again Rabbi Raskin touches on the fact that in Judaism women are considered not only equal to men but are often endowed with greater spiritual qualities.

Written with the highest respect and great sensitivity, Rabbi Raskin wraps up each chapter with a heartwarming story that illustrates the spirit of what was shared in the preceding pages.

As a woman (and as a branch cut from a wild olive tree and grafted into the olive tree of Israel) I received every word the Rabbi wrote as stemming from his absolute belief that “the potential and capabilities of every man, woman, or child, Jew and gentile alike…were created equal, and with their own distinct, respected role in the world.”

Every human being has as specific role and design that contributes to the grand picture of creation.

As it should be with any excellent book, Thank You God For Making Me A Woman lends itself to honest dialogue and open discussion, never belittling, insulting, or diminishing any person. If you are interested in the layers of meaning behind the birkhot ha-shahar (morning blessings); the job given to women of lighting the Shabbat candles; baking the challah; the mikvah… Rabbi Raskin writes in a way that is not only simple to understand but very engaging!

You can purchase this short read – just 166 pages long – Thank You God For Making Me A Woman from Amazon.comThank You GOD For Making Me A Woman: Empowering Women for the 21st Century

If you are looking for a good study on Biblical womanhood from a Hebraic perspective consider Dr. John Garr’s 3 volume series Feminine and Free also available from Amazon.com –
God and Women: Woman in God’s Image and Likeness
Coequal and Counterbalanced: God’s Blueprint for Women and Men
Feminine by Design: The God-Fashioned Woman

Listen to Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin tell the story behind the writing of his book Thank God For Making Me a Woman:

HEALING OF THE SOUL, HEALING OF THE BODY

The truth is: When you are sinking, when you are totally wrapped in your own fear and pain, it is still possible to break out.

God’s Loving Presence surrounds you at all times; God shares your pain as only an infinite consciousness can. Hashem feels your hurt, kisses your wound compassionately. The divine steadfast love enfolds you even when the longed-for miracle does not come.

Pain can obscure but it cannot degrade your preciousness to Hashem; fear can erode but not cancel the truth of your being loved. You are an image of God, of infinite worth, unique, irreplaceable. God’s face is toward you, God’s eye is on you at all times…

With this truth fixed firmly in your soul, you may yet sing out joyfully the song of existence embraced. But if not rescued, the one who trusts in a Loving God is surrounded by steadfast love. Listen. The voice speaks. “Fear not, for I am with you.”*

 

HEALING OF SOUL,
HEALING OF BODY
Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength & Solace in Psalms
Edited by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, CSW

~ Review by Cindy

Most of us have found ourselves in the position of having no words in response to bad news and suffering of friends and family. Searching for something to say, we may have spoken Scripture only to find our words coming across as empty and hollow comfort. Though most of us want to speak healing too often the words we speak fall like salt on a raw wound and we join the club of Job comforters. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease… emotional and psychological trauma… loss. Sometimes my heart is overwhelmed with the suffering and sorrows of this world. But how can we encourage or be encouraged ourselves on the journey through pain, suffering, and loss?

It was the recent sharing of a friend whose husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that sent me on a prayerful journey to find something gentle, simple, and yes practical. Something that would encourage and even prompt one to understand, receive and join the psalmists in response to the challenges of suffering and pain in our own lives. My search brought me to Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body.

Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body, is an inspiring read that focus’s on Tikkun HaKlali (the Complete Remedy) – the ten Psalms Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (18th century Hasidic master) identified as healing Psalms. Though all the Psalms give solace and strength, Rabbi Nachman identified these ten Psalms as containing ten kinds of song, embodying the concentrated power of the entire book of Psalms.**

From the introduction: “Viewed together, the Ten Psalms reflect an unfolding of many emotions and reactions common to those dealing with illness

Each of the ten Psalms is accompanied by a reflection from one of ten different contributors with hopes of being a bridge of healing, hope, and praise.

Psalm 16 is translated by Rabbi Harlan J. Wechsler; all of the other translations are by Rabbi Simkah Y. Weintraub. All ten Psalms are shared both in Hebrew and English translation.

It is universally accepted that one cannot translate great poetry and expect to achieve similar artistic impact in the second language. Poetry is neither linear nor simple, neither two-dimensional nor generic; it is not just words but about relationships which cannot be replicated. Elements such as cadence, rhyme, imagery, structure, and composition simply cannot be “recycled” from one culture to another, or easily transplanted from one century to the next.

Compounding the basic challenge is the fact that the Hebrew of the Book of Psalms is, to vastly understate the situation, problematic – consider how frequently translations are footnoted with “meaning of Hebrew uncertain.”

…The translations here are offered, then, with a healthy dose of humility and deference to the Author of the psalms. They are meant as a bridge to the text and not as a substitute for the psalms themselves – a reflection and a refraction of the meaning…

 

A valuable resource, from a Hebraic perspective, for those who are suffering, those who are ill, and those who are caretakers. Healing Of Soul, Healing of Body is a short read just 114 pages long. You can purchase Healing Of Soul, Healing of Body here, from Amazon.com

Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength & Solace in Psalms

* Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Afraid But Not Alone – Meditation on Psalm 32, Healing Of Soul, Healing of Body
**
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Through ten expressions of praise the Book of Psalms is composed:
Nitzuah, Niggun, Maskil, Mizomor, Shir, Ashrei, Tehillah, Teffillah, Hoda’ah, and Halleluyah.

OPEN HEART – by Elie Wiesel

I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by G-d and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.

Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one therefore turn away from humanity?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves. Or not.

I know – I speak from experience – that even in the darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor…

I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose wether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or console.

OPEN HEART
by Elie Wiesel

~ review by Cindy

In front of me, the cemetery; behind me, the garden of my childhood. The future is shrinking; the past is dying.

In June – 2011, 82 year old Elie Wiesel is told he needs emergency open-heart surgery. Faced with this diagnose, Elie Wiesel reflects back on his life and his own mortality. Open Heart is Elie Wiesel memoir of this time.

We sanctify life, not death. “Ubakharta bakhaim,” says Scripture: “You choose life” and the living.

Unlike the heaviness of Elie’s other reads, Open Heart is softer, more settling. His words are peppered with hope and speak life. Elie’s voice in Open Heart will resonate with many of us who have more years behind than ahead of us or for anyone who has reflected on their own mortality.

All my life, until today, I have been content to ask questions. All the while knowing that the real questions, those that concern the Creator and His creation, have no answers. I’ll go even farther and say that there is a level at which only the questions are eternal; the answer never are.

And so, the patient that I am, more charitable, repeats, “Since G-d is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers.”

Deeply intimate and profoundly moving, Open Heart is a short read, only 79 pages long. Though Open Heart can easily be read in one sitting, it is one to go back to time and time again.

I am not the man I was before June 16, 2011, but on a level close to the absolutes that are life and death, I have remained the same. What is different is that I now know that every moment is a new beginning, every handshake a promise.

I know that every quest implicates the other, just as every word can become prayer. If life is not a celebration, why remember it? If life – mine or that of my fellow man – is not an offering to the other, what are we doing on this earth?

You can purchase Open Heart here from amazon.com
Open Heart

AND THE SEA IS NEVER FULL

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth forever.
The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north;
it whirleth about continually,
and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full;
unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it:
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
Ecclesiastes 1:3-8

AND THE SEA IS NEVER FULL
MEMOIRS, 1969 –
by Elie Wiesel

~ Review by Cindy

A dawn unlike any other. It will mark my existence forever. This little fellow in the arms of his mother will illuminate our life. I look at him and look at him. And as I look at him I feel the presence of others also seeking to protect him.

And The Sea Is Never Full, is the continuation of Elie Wiesel’s memoirs. Written in the middle of his life, this work begins with two life-changing and joyful events – his marriage in Jerusalem to Marion Rose (1969) and the birth of his son, Elisha (1972).

I have a wife I love, and yet I write not about love but about solitude. I have a home filled with warmth, and yet I write about the misery of the condemned.

Driven by memories of the Holocaust, Elie’s memoirs are a cornucopia of the thoughts, observations, and struggles of a man firmly rooted in his faith but struggling with both G-d and man. In And The Sea Is Never Full, Elie shares that he feels obligated to “turn my attention to those who have been judging me.” Shadowed in all he relates is the responsibility to bear witness. As always there is an intensity in Elie’s words that make this a worthwhile but, at the same time, a heavy and challenging read.

In this conversational narrative we enter a labyrinth and meet world leaders, rabbinic scholars, travel the world, dip into the political arena, and engage in pressing issues of the day. Woven throughout Elie’s personal experiences are Hasidic legends and stories. Prevalent throughout the book is a heaviness that Elie is seeking answers to unanswerable questions.

A writer cannot detach himself from his story. He is responsible for it to the end.

As a champion for human rights Elie speaks forthrightly and, honest to his understanding about persecution, racism, refugees, always, always, always for those he perceives to be the underdog. And, throughout the narrative, Elie remains deeply involved with, and concerned about, Israel.

Deeply honest, this personal spiritual journey of Elie’s is one we wish we could wholeheartedly recommend but in truth cannot. 80% wonderful, 20% left oriented, we cannot, without reservation, recommend a read in which we consider that an unbalanced view of the Israeli – Arab conflict is expressed. (A view that we believe Elie balanced out later in his life). This book, however, does stand in contrast to those critics who have said Elie Weisel had the tendency to whitewash all Jewish behavior and blindly support Israel.

As I write these words, I contemplate the photograph of my home; it is always before me, heavy and sealed under the weight of darkness. And yet I want to go back to Sighet one last time. To write the last pages.

I am not afraid of losing my way. Like Elhanan in ‘The Forgotten,’ I am afraid of forgetting. I read, I reread what I have written, what others have written. And God in all that? I stumble on three poignant words in Book of Lamentations – the prophet says to the Lord, “Haragta lo khamalta – You killed, You had no pity.” Earlier the prophet said to the Lord, “In Your anger, You hid and persecuted us.” Why, God? Why? I am afraid to know the answers. I am afraid not to. But above all, I tremble at the idea that my memory could become empty, that I could forget the reasons that have allowed me to set one word after the other.

I am afraid to know the end before I begin.

What shall I begin Father?

I feel like singing, singing of happiness and serenity. I want to love, to laugh, to accompany the lonely on their road to nowhere. I want to pursue the work G-d started in the heart of man.

How am I to sing, Mother, how am I to sing the songs that your father, Grandfather Dodye, taught us on Rosh Hashanah eve?

How can one still love in this life, when you, Tsipouka, my gentle sister whose future was stolen by the enemy, when you entered death so small, so frail, so innocent?

I still have so many questions to ask you, Father. So many doors to open, so many secrets to discover. Will I have the time?

 

NIGHT – Elie Wiesel

“If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one. Just as the past lingers in the present, all my writings after Night, including those that deal with Biblical, Talmudic, or Hasidic themes, profoundly bear its stamp, and cannot be understood if one has not read this very first of my works.” *

night

NIGHT
by Elie Wiesel (obm, ז״ל)

~ review by Cindy

NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night, seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my G-d and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as G-d Himself.
Never.**

Elie Wiesel was 15 years of age when he and his family were forced into Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps. It is beyond grievous to imagine the mark that this unthinkable horror, total humiliation, unmatched hatred, and the complete contempt for life would leave on anyone’s heart, let alone the tender heart, mind, and spirit of a young man. The pain and anguish of that time is felt in much of Elie Wiesel’s works but his memoir, Night, is agonizingly raw.

He was deeply sensitive and observant – even as a child – and it helps to keep in mind these words of Elie Wiesel’s as you read Night:

I have never renounced my faith in G-d, I have risen against His justice, protested His silence and sometimes His absence, but my anger rises up within faith and not outside it. I admit that this is hardly an original position. It is part of Jewish tradition. But in these matters I have never sought originality. On the contrary, I have always aspired to follow in the footsteps of my father and those who went before him…It is permissible for man to accuse G-d, provided it be done in the name of faith in G-d.***

Night reveals where Elie’s struggle with G-d began. But just as Elie never forgot that night, he never forgot G-d.

Night is a short read, only 120 pages. But it is 120 pages of suffering, horror, and honesty, that will leave its mark on your heart.

Elie Wiesel ( ז״ל) – may his memory be a blessing and may his words continue to bear witness.

Some people might not agree with or ‘like’ Oprah but she was profoundly touched by his memoir Night. This is a sincere interview that started a caring friendship between the two.

*Elie Wiesel, Night, preface
**ibid, 34
*** Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run To The Sea, p. 84

VIOLINS OF HOPE – Violins of the Holocaust

It’s often past belief that I, that I alone
of all the millions who had come to grief,
that I without a scratch climbed from the vale of bones.
At times I can’t imagine it, it’s past belief.

Perhaps I too was burned to ash with all the others,
like them, just like the rest of them, my sisters, brothers,
burned up, burned up like Moses’ bush, his desert thorn,
and out of the hot ashes I arose newborn.

But how it happened I’m unable to remember –
as if a mother’d given birth to me once more
to cry out for a reckoning to the last ember

for all who dies in flames or in the poison chamber,
for every child and mother butchered in this war,
all, all, six million lives to be accounted for.*

“For the dead and the living…we must bear witness.” ~ Elie Wiesel

violins-of-hope
VIOLINS OF HOPE
Violins of the Holocaust – Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour
by James A. Grymes

~ Review by Cindy

Tracing the stories of violins played by Jews in the Holocaust, author James Grymes allows the story of each instrument to be a voice and a memorial for the souls of those who played them. These stories raise out of the hot ashes of brutality, unimaginable horrors, and a time of incredible darkness – speaking for those who cannot speak.

Juxtaposing these stories, James Grymes shares the story of Amnon Weinstein whose father Moshe opened a violin shop in Tel Aviv in 1938. After the war, Moshe learned of the death of 400 family members. The pain of that discovery lead to Moshe’s first heart attack and he never again spoke to Amnon of his family.

Amnon grew up to be one of the most respected violin makers in the world and by the 1990’s was ready to reclaim his lost heritage. He began to reflect not only on the Holocaust but the role that music played in the the lives of Jews during that time. Amnon began to locate and restore the violins played by the Jews in camps and ghettos. He is now founder of Violins of Hope Cleveland.**

In the pages of Violins of Hope, James Grymes gives us a glimpse of Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel and his interaction with Jewish violinist, Juliek:

On January 19, 1945, after the survivors of Auschwitz III had been taken on a two-day death march to the Auschwitz subcamp of Gleiwitz, Wiesel found himself on top of Juliek in a packed barrack. Later that night, Juliek extricated himself from the pile of living and dead bodies long enough to play a Beethoven concerto on the instrument he had brought with him from Auschwitz III.

“Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound. In such silence,” Wiesel later recorded. “All I could hear was the violin, and it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow. He was playing for his life. His whole being was gliding over the strings. His unfulfilled hopes. His charred past, his extinguished future. He played that which he would never play again.”

When Wiesel woke the next morning, he saw Juliek’s lifeless face staring back at him. Next to Juliek was his crushed violin – a fitting symbol of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives that had been destroyed in Auschwitz.

Painfully raw, Violins of Hope is a testimony to the strength, perseverance, and hope of the Jewish people. It is a book that haunts the reader long after one has read the last page.

Violins of Hope is available via amazon.com:

Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust–Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour

Watch a powerful, moving, and hope-filled documentary film featuring Amnon Weinstein:

Violins of Hope – Strings of the Holocaust

*Avrom Zak (December 15, 1891-May 22), 1980, Out Of The Hot Ashes
** Violins of Hope Cleveland

IN THE NARROW PLACES – Daily Inspiration For The Three Weeks

Suffering humanizes us. Ignoring suffering dehumanizes us… Attunement to suffering makes us more compassionate. It also helps us appreciate where we come from and all that it took to get us to where we are.
We have to remind ourselves that we don’t diminish our happiness when we spend a day or a few weeks meditating on the tragedies of history from which we emerged. We become more grateful, holding tightly to our blessed life because we can.

In-the-Narrow-PlacesIN THE NARROW PLACES
Daily Inspiration For The Three Weeks
by Erica Brown

~ Review by Cindy

Bein HaMitzarim*  – the Three Weeks – is a lesser known appointed time. It is a time of mourning starting on the 17th of Tammuz and cumulating on Tisha b’Av, The Ninth Day Of Av.** [23 July – 14 August this year.] This is a somber time commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temple, the exile of the people from the Land, the persecutions and pogroms, and the Crusades and Inquisitions executed against the Jewish people. If you want to mark this period with focus and purpose, In The Narrow Places is a great tool.

In The Narrow Places includes a short discourse for each of the 21 days – each ending with a Kavana, which is:

…a specific spiritual focus for the day that involves reflection, imagination or action to integrate the learning.

Exploring chiefly the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah (text central to this season), Erica Brown also draws from other Biblical text and Rabbinic literature. She reminds us that:

Our summer reading is temporarily replaced by more strenuous language that offers us the linguistic tools to speak about tragedy, to plumb its depths and encircle our hearts at the same time.
Each year, we encounter these texts anew. We read them into recent news broadcasts and personal distress; we marvel at the way that these ancient voices pierce our modern reality and offer a way of understanding a world that can seem confusing and disorienting … there is a language of pain, a way to articulate suffering.
The period of the Three Weeks is captured in the prose-poetry of Jeremiah, in the wailing women of Lamentations, in the protests of Job.

Erica Brown understands well the challenge of the Three Weeks falling smack dab in the middle of our lazy-hazy days of summer,

The Three Weeks fall in the middle of summer, dampening the weather and the usual summer breeziness of outdoor activities and much-needed vacations. In the minds of many, the period of the Three Weeks becomes a spoiler. It makes demands at a time of year which is usually demand-free – if not in reality, then at least in perception: school is out, and workloads lighten…

A friend once remarked, “I would trade Three Weeks in the summer for five weeks in the winter,” underscoring how difficult the summer season is for the expression of pain.

With it’s message of rebuilding and affirmation of hope, In The Narrow Places is a great, inspirational companion to help you pause and reflect on each of these 21 days.

And they shall build the old wastes,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall renew the waste cities,
The desolations of many generations.
Isaiah 61:4

You can purchase In The Narrow Places here from Amazon.com
In the Narrow Places

Bein HaMitzarim means “between narrow straits. This name is derived from Lamentations 1:3. The fast of 17th day of Tammuz is mentioned in Zechariah 8:19-23 in which Adonai tells us that this fast will become a time of joy.
** You can find a Hebrew calendar online at https://www.hebcal.com

LOVING EVERY CHILD – by Janusz Korczak

LOVING EVERY CHILD

IMG_4569 (1)

by Janusz Korczak

Book Review – Keren Hannah

With the unspeakable horrors being perpetrated against children by radical Islam and other factions worldwide, this little book is balm to the soul. But, who is this man, Korzcak?

200px-Janusz_Korczak

JANUSZ KORCZAK (a Polish Jew, born  Henryk Goldszmit, Warsaw, 1878) was an author, doctor, and educator.  He established orphanages in Warsaw, one of which he directed himself. There, he lived in the attic, worked with the children and helped care for them.

In 1934 he visited Israel and stayed for six weeks on Kibbutz Ein Harod, built near Gideon’s spring in the Jezreel Valley. The same beautiful kibbutz, incidentally, where I had the pleasure of studying Hebrew and working with the children for two years. Korzcak was so impressed with both the Land and the education of children on the kibbutz that he planned to open an orphanage in the Upper Galilee. However, in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and his dream ended. He was ordered by the Nazis to relocate his orphanage to the Warsaw Ghetto. There, surrounded by the desperate hunger and disease, he made regular rounds begging for the food necessary to feed his 200 children. He attempted to retain a sense of normalcy in the orphanage by maintaining the regular routine and with continued studies and games. 

Although many influential friends offered him a way to leave and to save himself, Korzcak refused. He remained with the children until the end when, in 1942, he accompanied them in dignified order, each child carrying one favorite toy or book, onto the cattle train that transported them to the gas chambers of Treblinka. The march of death they undertook from the orphanage to the train, on an unbearably hot August 5, is legendary in Warsaw. Although weakened by malnutrition, Korzcak, holding the hands of a child at each side, marched with head held high and dignified contempt for the perpetrators in his gaze. The children, in rows of four, followed quietly behind. One held aloft the flag Korzcak had designed for the orphanage: one side carrying white blossoms on a green background and the other, on a pure white background, the blue Star of David.

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Well known Polish journalist, Marek Jaworski, wrote: “The bodies of Janusz Korczak and his children were burned. All that is left of them is a handful of ashes and clouds of smoke, which the wind has scattered to the four corners of the earth. However, with this smoke Korczak’s ideas circulate around the world – ideas which nothing can destroy or consign to oblivion now.”

Korczak always stressed the importance of respecting and listening to children and that adults beware of overusing their power. Excerpts from his writings are presented in this little book. One gem…

Children are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today. They have a right to be taken seriously, and to be treated with tenderness and respect. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they are meant to be – the unknown person inside each of them is our hope for the future.

And a few more…

“The child is honest. When he does not answer, he answers. For he does not want to lie and he cannot say the truth. Sometimes, silence is the highest expression of honesty.”

 

“There are many terrible things in this world, but the worst is when a child is afraid of his father, mother, or teacher. He fears them, instead of loving and trusting them. If a child trusts you with his secret, be grateful. For his confidence is the highest prize.”

 

“Because a child cannot be idle, she will poke into every corner, inspect every nook and cranny, find things and ask questions about them; everything seems interesting to her, the moving dot which turns out to be an ant, the glittering glass bead, or an expression which she overheard. Think how much we are like children when we find ourselves in a strange town or unusual surroundings.”

 

I am deeply grateful that Korczak echoes a bedrock belief in Jewish, and Israeli, and Bible-believing families. Why? Because this is the key difference between us and the enemies who fill their children with hate and death. We must have faith and hope but the greatest strength is love. 

Love for the child, including the child still learning and growing in one another, truly is our hope for the future.

 

You can purchase “Loving Every Child” via Amazon. Click link here:
Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents

 

Pics: Photograph circa 1930 and memorial at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem. Credit: Wikipedia

THE TRIAL OF GOD – by Elie Wiesel

For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But simply to ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference? No. You can be a Jew with God. You can be a Jew against God. But not without God. [1]

 

the trial of godthe trial of god
Elie Wiesel

~ Review by Cindy

 

Men and women are being beaten, tortured, and killed – how can one not be afraid of God? True, they are victims of men. But the killers kill in God’s name. Not all? True, but numbers are unimportant. Let one killer kill for God’s glory, and God is guilty. Every person who suffers or causes suffering, every woman who is raped, every child who is tormented implicates Him. What, you need more? A hundred or a thousand? Listen: Either He is responsible or He is not. If He is, let’s judge Him; if He is not, let Him stop judging us. [2]

The trial of god is a Purimshpiel (Purim play) within a Purimshpiel – and is, as Wiesel himself says, “meant as a tragic farce.” The idea for this play came from an event that Elie Wiesel witnessed as a boy in Auschwitz:

Three rabbis – all erudite and pious men – decided one evening to indict God for allowing His children to be massacred. I remember I was there and I felt like crying, but nobody cried. [3]

Taking the story out of the Holocaust, Wiesel re-situates the story into 1648-49 just after the brutal Chmielnicki pogroms and on the eve of Purim. Wiesel’s own words best describe the plot of this story:

What is the story? Three minstrels, three Purim spielers, come to a city called Shamgorod in the Ukraine. It is Purim eve, and they want to perform a play in order to get food and drink.

The innkeeper says, “Are you crazy? Don’t you know where you are? You are in Shamgorod. There was a pogrom here last year. Everyone was killed. I and my daughter are the only Jews here. And you want to perform here?”

They insist on performing and finally he says, “All right. Under one condition – that I will give you the idea. The theme will be a ‘din torah’ with God, a trial of God. I want you to indict God for what he has done to my family, to my community, to all these Jews.”

The hungry performers accept.

In the first act the decision is made to hold a trial. In the second act there is a problem; nobody wants to play the role of God’s attorney. In the third act we have the trial itself. [4]

In most of Wiesel books he writes as a witness of the Holocaust. His voice reminds the world of the importance of remembering. This play by Wiesel is no different.

It is impossible not to become emotionally invested in this story. From Berish, the innkeeper who is tied to a table to be a witness to the murder of his family and friends and the repeated violation of his daughter Hanna, to the tortured fragile Hanna, to the bold gutsy Maria, to the priest who is not so much indifferent as ineffective, to the stranger Sam, and the three minstrels, this story forces one to ask the question, “Where am I?”

Wiesel shows us that it is fine to question God, fine to challenge, fine to even be angry. Anger and questions do not necessarily mean a lack of faith nor a crisis of faith, neither are they sacrilegious. In the face of tragedy, and so very much in face of the horrific hell that Wiesel and others experience in Auschwitz and Nazi Germany, it is understandably a part of mans wrestling with God.

What I so deeply love about Wiesel’s writing is not the answers he gives but the questions he raises – questions that have no pat answers, no easy resolution. I will be pondering this read for a good while to come.

You can purchase The Trial of God at amazon.com

wiesel - holocaust[5]

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble.

I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

 

~ Elie Wiesel, One Generation After, Excerpts From A Diary

 

1. Elie Wiesel, quoted from a television interview about the trial of god in Andrea Carter and the Family Secret, Susan K. Marlow, pg. 130
2. Elie Wiesel, the trial of god, pg. 54
3. ibid, from the introduction
4. ibid
5. photo credit – Jewish Virtual Library – Weisel is in the second row of the bunks, seventh from the left.

Elie Weisel

Elie Wiesel is the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize, and is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

Listen to the podcast – The Tragedy Of The Believer, an intimate conversation between Elie Wiesel and Krista Tippett.  You can also listen on iTunes

CHRISTIAN ZIONISM – Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border by Dr. Faydra Shapiro

 

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Dr. Faydra Shapiro – an outstanding scholar and teacher, who is also a warm and wonderful woman I am honored to call friend – invited me to review her new book on Amazon. It is an honest and brave work and a true and refreshing challenge to one’s ingrained and established dogmas. This is the kind of scholarship we need – real and open – in order to recognize and constructively deal with the many ‘bugaboos’ both Judaism and Christianity have entrenched in their thinking. Thereby we can begin to move some of the man-made fences erected for protection or in hostility and can begin, finally and happily, to sit together as brothers and sisters.

Recognize the Bugaboos and Help to Move the Fences!

Keren’s Review on Amazon 

Dr. Faydra Shapiro has placed herself in the midst of the relatively modern struggle for understanding and partnership between the historically estranged camps of Judaism and Christianity. An estrangement that is the result of valid causes; the predominant of which has been Anti-Semitism, usually politely submerged but too often openly virulent and violent. Again, unbelievably, in our post-Shoah days, this curse is exposing itself in the form of Anti-Zionism.

An unprecedented factor in this fray is the emergence of Christian Zionism, whose members, although largely evangelical, are found across the Christian spectrum. A common element shared is shock at the knowledge of atrocities committed against the Jewish people at the hands of Christianity (the most recent being Hitler’s attempt at genocide and Anti-Israel political hostility), together with the determination to not stand idly by as Jews again come under unjustified and disproportionate attack.

Beyond politics, however, in the attempts at reconciliation something deeper is slowly emerging. The esteemed Rabbi Meister, of blessed memory, applied to the endeavour the term, “a sacred calling.” All who share a strong faith in the common ground of the Hebrew Scriptures are aware of the hand of G-d in the unfolding of history and in His plan for the redemption of mankind. It is in this vital and challenging arena, which demands interpretation of these very Scriptures, that significant problems arise to produce tensions in the complex Jewish-Christian relationship.

This sacred quest for mutual understanding can only be undertaken in a spirit of care and respect for the “other” who also is created in the image of G-d. And when we, “…stand on the sure foundation of the love of G-d,” as my husband of blessed memory Dr. Dwight Pryor expressed, Jews and Christians working together constructively and kindly, are able to recognize the bugaboos and can help to move the dividing fences.

Dr. Shapiro has risen to the challenge to navigate the Jewish-Christian border and, engaging in dialog as fairly and objectively as possible, she delves into the issue of Christian Zionism and its corollaries. She presents a masterful and refreshingly readable book that offers a clear view of the bigger picture. Both Jews and Christians need to be aware and informed as to the political and religious conflicts concerning Israel, as the implications and resulting effects, for both camps, are too serious to be apathetically avoided or ignored.

Challenge your thinking and read the book!

Keren Pryor

You can take a look and purchase at the link below, via Amazon.com

Christian Zionism: Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border

A GOD WHO HATES

America will never win the war [against terrorism] until Americans read about Islam from Arab sources, word for word, without distortion or falsification. Reading this material will enable them to draw their own personal conclusions and help them to understand what kind of enemy they are facing…

After the events of September 11th, I watched a press conference with an American general whose name I can no longer recall. In the course of the conference, he declared that he had read the Koran twice, and one of the reporters asked him, “What conclusions did you reach after you had read it?” He bowed his head for a moment before replying, “We have to defend ourselves.”

 

9780312538354_p0_v1_s192x300A GOD WHO HATES
The Courageous Woman
Who Inflamed The Muslim World
Speaks Out Against The Evils of Islam

by Dr. Wafa Sultan

~ review by Cindy

When I was a fourth-year medical student, at the bus stop one day near the hospital where I was doing my training, I saw two small boys aged about six and eight. Each boy had a small bird in his hand and was plucking out its feathers. The birds were cheeping with pain and struggling to escape. The sight upset me and I went over to the boys and said gently, “Boys, you mustn’t do that. Please stop it.”

The elder boy fixed me with a piercing stare that seemed to penetrate every cell of my body and said vehemently, “There’s nothing wrong with plucking a bird. What is wrong is that a woman like you should be walking around off the leash in mixed company without a head covering.
Go and bury yourself at home!”

Dr. Wafa Sultan saw Islam up close as she was born into a devote Muslim family in Baniyas, Syria. She has written her life story as witness to the nature of Islam’s god – Allah – a god who, Dr. Sultan says, hates women and she makes her point well by quoting both from the Quran and Hadiths.* She reveals Muhammad’s character, his deeds, and words and shares from first hand experiences his influence on Muslim men (and young boys) and how they treat women today.

The story of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha has a further and more horrifying effect on the relationship between Muslim men and women. In the story of the marriage, Muhammad pounced upon the nine-year old Aisha the moment her mother placed her in his arms on a bed in her own home. Through the story of this “marriage,” Islam denies women the right to read the stage of physical, intellectual, and emotional maturity at which they are fully ready to marry. It denies Muslim women the right to marry as a rational human being. That a girl should jump from her swing and become within a few minutes a mature woman in the arms of a man – this is something the most basic law of morality cannot accept. The great misfortune is that his incident has been sanctioned by both religious and secular law and has become a way of life.

This is a difficult read as her first hand knowledge of unimaginable cruelty that woman suffer in Islamic society is inconceivable to most of us who live in the West. Dr. Sultan shares story upon story of young girls (her niece** among them) whose childhoods are violated in the Islamic world.

As well as her focus on the plight of women, Wafa Sultan touches on the broader scope of Muslim belief. If you have ever looked at ongoing events in the Middle East and thought, “I just don’t get it!”, this book will help you to better understand the mindset of Islamic society.

Dr. Sultan is a woman trying to get her message out – not just to the West – but the Muslim world also. Her message is one that needs to be heard – especially in a world that is so blinded by political correctness.

This is a raw and honest read, written by a very courageous woman.

Dr. Sultan said in an interview***:

I receive death threats on a daily basis. I’m a well-known writer in the Arab world. My writings expose me to millions of devout Muslims who have nothing positive to prove but the sheer cruelty of their teachings. Islam has deprived them of their intellectual ability to face criticism in an effective and acceptable way.

Being born and raised as a Muslim has helped me to realize how serious these threats are. While I try to not let the threats interfere with my mission, at the same time I don’t ignore them either. Prior to the release of my book, “A God Who Hates,” I was forced to go into hiding.

It hasn’t been easy, but since I believe in my mission, nothing will deter me from accomplishing my objective.

In a world that seems to be in a moral decline, A God Who Hates, is an important and much needed read.

You can purchase A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam from Amazon.com

Dr. Wafa Sultan shares about what women in Islam endure:

 

Footnotes:

* A collection of sayings of the prophet Muhammad that, with accounts of his daily practice, constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Quran.
** Dr. Sultan shares how her 10 year old niece was made to marry a man of 40. She ran away time and time again to her father’s house but under pressure from her family would return. Seeing no other way out, her niece committed suicide at age 26.
*** http://www.examiner.com

RETURN – DAILY INSPIRATION FOR THE DAYS OF AWE

Teshuvah, the belief and the mandate that we really can and must change… demands hard internal work because teshuvah requires good decision-making.
The poet Robert Browning once bemoaned the difficulty of making decisions: “Life’s business being just the terrible choice.” But choose we must: every word we say, every small gesture, every action is a decision that has a causal impact on the next decision.
…We repeatedly sin so we ask that God repeatedly forgive. But at this time of year, we ask that God give us the wisdom and strength to make good decisions so that our repeated pattern of moral weakness and apology will finally be broken.

~ from Preface

ReturnRETURN
Daily Inspiration For The Days Of Awe
by Erica Brown,

~ review by Cindy

I have longed for a inspiring read for The Days of Awe and found that longing met in Erica Brown’s book – Return.

Return is a day to day study and reflection for the Days of Awe. Each chapter is broken into three sections:

  1. Eric’s thoughts (and some great Erica Brown midrash making)
  2. Life Homework – practical ideas to apply what you read to your own life
  3. Additional Rabbinic passages taken from three works:
    – Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Repentance
    – Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto, Mesilat Yesharim, The Path of The Just
    – Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot Teshuvah, The Lights of Repentance.

Each chapter is based on a different verse of the Yom Kippur prayer Al-Het (for the sin that we have committed before you…).

Erica touches on ten topics as related to teshuvah:

  • Faith
  • Destiny
  • Discipline
  • Humility
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Honesty
  • Holiness

One – among many – favorite thoughts falls under day two – Destiny – “For the sin we committed before You with a confused heart.”

Erica shares:

How can confusion ever be a sin? It is not intentional. Confusion is not an act; it is a condition brought about by the ambiguities of a situation. But we can perpetuate confusion by not seeking clarity soon enough or not at all. And for that we confess…

So meaningful for the times we find ourselves in.

There are times I wish the chapter hadn’t finished quite as soon as it did but I realize that this books beauty is it’s brevity (just 149 pages) making it manageable to read in a ten day period.

Drawing from Scripture and Rabbinic sources, this book will enlarge your understanding of teshuvah. A precious and practical read for the Days of Awe, but full of wisdom for every day of the year.

THE PROPHETS – Abraham Joshua Heschel

The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society to which Amos’ words [Amos 8:4-6] would not apply.

Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice–cheating in business, exploitation of the poor–is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.

prophets

THE PROPHETS
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

~ review by Cindy

This book is a masterpiece study of the Hebrew prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk. Mammoth in size, The Prophets was first published as a two volume set but is now sold as one.

In the first half of the book Herschel goes beyond just a commentary of the text and delves into the heart of the prophet — What manner of man is he? What are his thoughts, emotions, and challenges? He shows the anguish of the prophet’s heart – torn between compassion for man and sympathy with G-d.

In the second half of the book Hechel speaks to a number of different aspects of the prophets experience – understanding G-d, the self-sufficiency of G-d, the meaning and mystery of wrath, poetic inspiration, prophecy and psychosis… and he crowns all this with The Dialectic Of The Divine-Human Encounter:

In prophetic thinking, man is the object of God’s vision, concern, and understanding. It is man’s vision, concern, and understanding for God that is the goal…
In the prophetic type of experience, the object is not to be sought in the “I,” but the “I” in the object…
“Know thy God” (I Chronicle 28:9) rather than “Know Thyself” is the categorical imperative of the biblical man.
There is no self-understanding without God-understanding.

Rabbi Heschel writes in a way that is easy to read and can be well understood. However, at the same time, he challenges one’s thinking. His writing is so profound that, in order to absorb the fullness of his words, one needs to savor it word by word, sentence by sentence.

Beyond a study, this book is deeply moving.  Heschel succeeds in bringing the compassionate heart and love of G-d more clearly into the reader’s heart.

You can purchase The Prophets from Amazon.com
The Prophets (Perennial Classics)

prophets quote

I ASKED FOR WONDER – Abraham Joshua Heschel

Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame.
I asked for wonder, and He gave it to me.*

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I ASKED FOR WONDER
A SPIRITUAL ANTHOLOGY
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

~ Review by Cindy

Taken from the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, this collection of short excerpts was complied by Rabbi Samuel Dresner.

In his introduction Rabbi Dresner writes:

– Heschel’s writing is an embarrassment of riches. So compelling are his sentences that a paragraph literally chokes from wealth.

– He [Rabbi Heschel] had the gift for combining profundity with simplicity… startling the mind and delighting the heart…

Covering a wide spectrum of Heschel’s writings, this anthology is oresented in themes:

  • God
  • Prayer
  • Humanity
  • Sabbath
  • Religion
  • Awe
  • Life and Death
  • Bible
  • Obedience
  • The Divine Image

Reading Rabbi Heschel’s books can at times overwhelm and I have found that most often I can only think on one phrase or sentence at a time. Rabbi Dresner takes the overwhelming richness of Rabbi Heschel’s words and presents them to us in bite size pieces that one can sit and dwell on.

I was delighted that one of my favorites of Heschel’s passages begins this remarkable collection:

The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide.
It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding.
Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh.
We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions.
We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.
Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.

These words remind me of how much I will miss if I am unwilling to leave the shore.

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.**

A short book, only 158 pages, but a very deep read and one that does stretch you to go beyond the shore.

cup - 1

* Preface in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book of Yiddish Poems
** Psalm 107:23-24 – and see also Yesuha’s words in Luke 5:4

THE SABBATH – Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath - Heschel

 THE SABBATH
ITS MEANING FOR MODERN MAN
by Rabbi Abraham Heschel

~ Review by Cindy

The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence.

The Sabbath is a short, poetic read that inspires one for celebrating this weekly feast. Deeply refreshing, purely delightful, and overflowing with joy – Rabbi Heschel gives one a greater understanding of Shabbat – a gift from G-d to all mankind.

Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to the holiness in time. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of Eternity planted in the soul.

You can purchase The Sabbath from Amazon.com The Sabbath (FSG Classics)

 

Heschel - Sabbath

 

WOW!! If you can set aside some time, the following two YouTube videos are a rare treat – a recording of a lecture that Rabbi Heschel gave in Ottawa, Canada, in May 1967.