Lessons From Consecrating a ‘Green’ Cemetery

Lessons From Consecrating a ‘Green’ Cemetery By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell By far the most unusual thing I did this summer was consecrate a new, “green” cemetery on a steep, tree-covered hillside a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Having spent close to a month in Northern California this summer helping our daughter and son-in-law adjust to the birth of twins, I learned that most things in the Bay Area are marketed as “green,” “organic” and “vegan.” Though observant Jews utilize biodegradable “green” caskets in all cemeteries, the cemetery we consecrated requires it of even non-Orthodox burials. All graves at this cemetery must be dug by hand (without the help of mechanized machinery). Gravestones are small, natural boulders (no hewn marble) upon which names and dates can be etched. Lastly, this cemetery has no grass to water, which makes perfect sense in this rain-deprived region. The truth is that “Gan Yarok” (which is the cemetery’s name) is actually brown, due to

Are Mega Frum Communities Meaningful?

Are Mega Frum Communities Meaningful? by Rabbi Perry Tirschwell After living out of town for sixteen years , my wife and I moved back to Teaneck. Today’s Teaneck is very different than the one we lived in for 9 years before our years in Boca Raton. When I walked into a restaurant in Teaneck in 1997, I knew nearly all of the people. It’s just not possible today. Is life with twenty shuls, 7 elementary schools, and 6 high schools better? Even at the smaller shuls (like the one at which I daven), congregants often do not know each other, as there are often multiple Shabbos morning minyanim. Our yeshiva choices have been impacted greatly by the information age. Unthought of a few years ago, it’s not unusual today to find families enrolling different children in different schools and switching a child’s school when they are unhappy. The much-celebrated death of brand loyalty has touched our religious life. Our eldest daughter and her husband live in Oakland, Californ

Chareidim & Us

Dancing Around a Coffin: Charedim & Us by Rabbi Perry Tirschwell I travelled back 200 years in time in thirty minutes two weeks ago. My dearly departed father was a committed Conservative Jew whose best friend was a Skvira Chassid. What began as a business relationship developed into an unlikely yedidim k’nafshiim friendship. They took trips to Israel together and bought cars together. My father ordered New Square’s first New York Times subscription for him, and he left a bag of challahs and cake on our doorstep every Friday afternoon. He and his wife came to our simchas, and my parents went to the simchas of their 15 children. They are truly special people- modest, intelligent, welcoming and caring.   When I got the call that this chassid’s brother died, I quickly drove (on an hour’s notice- in New Square they take kavod hameis very seriously) to New Square for the funeral. Though only thirty minutes from Teaneck, New Square is a parallel universe. There ar

The Students We Expelled

The Students We Expelled By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell I’ll never forget that phone call. There was a half an hour between the end of school on Thursdays and mishmar. Though we took dinner orders from the boys from a popular restaurant which delivered, there were always boys who wanted to get from a different restaurant (no matter which restaurant we picked!) They left campus by car and inevitably returned to mishmar late. Though it was against the school rules, we turned a blind eye. We were keeping them after school to learn Torah, and wanted the Torah to “taste sweet” (literally and figuratively).    “Two of your seniors have been arrested”, said the owner of the local Kosher burger joint. Numerous police cars were outside his establishment- “Get over here quick!” The parents of one of the boys had given their son a jet-black Camaro with blacked-out windows, along the bottom of which the young man added purple neon lights. The boys drove around the strip mall wi

A Rabbi’s Take on the New Museum of the Bible

A Rabbi’s Take on the New Museum of the Bible by Rabbi Perry Tirschwell Should Orthodox families and yeshiva day schools visit this museum , which opened just before Thanksgiving in Washington DC? It was founded, and to a large extent paid for, by the Evangelical Christian family who are the owners of the 600 store Hobby Lobby chain, who successfully challenged Obamacare’s mandate to pay for morning-after pills in the Supreme Court. Is this museum a subterfuge for Christian indoctrination? I went to find out. I was simultaneously blown away, and underwhelmed, by the Museum of the Bible. If a Martian’s first exposure to the Bible was this museum, he’d guess that approximately 50% of this nation is Jewish. The Old Testament is called Hebrew Bible and Tanakh, and there are verses in the original Hebrew throughout. It’s truly remarkable that there is a sofer on staff who sits in the middle of the museum writing a Sefer Torah (blown up a large screen TV so you can see

A Mechitza for My Car

A Mechitza for My Car An Educator’s Reaction to “Modern Orthodoxy from a Teenager’s Perspective” By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell In my high school yearbook’s “Last Will and Testament” , my class bequeathed to me a mechitza for my car. It reflected my classmates’ perception that 1) I was one of the most intensely-observant students in our class, and 2) The close relationships I had with a number of girls in our co-ed school (and perhaps the contradiction between numbers 1 & 2). I understand where the yearbook editors were were coming from . I spent the previous summer learning full time at Morasha Kollel. My classmates ran to Springsteen concerts, I ran to Mordechai Ben David. I spent each Shabbos at an inspiring NCSY Shabbaton and drove every Motzei Shabbos to learn with one of my Kollel counselors. I questioned why our 12 th grade rebbe let a student interrupt shiur with impromptu birthday parties. When I think about how I viewed the world as a teenager, Billy Jo

"We're # 1" is Bad News, and What to Do About It.

Oy vey- We’re #1! How to Tackle the Never-ending Tuition Talk  Nishma Lessons Part 2 By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell For many newspapers the biggest takeaway  from the  First Survey of  the Modern and Centrist Orthodox Community  is that 89% of the respondents listed  " Cost of Jewish Education" as a serious problem facing our community. Though 70% were very sasfied with the quality of our limudei kodesh, only 61% were satisfied with limudei chol. Argh! The Tuition Crisis has been the Jewish community's focus for  over twenty years . Our best and brightest have tried to solve this. No frills day schools, increasing enrollment and fundraising, increased government funding, joint purchasing, blended learning- we're still experimenting. Though these have all made us more effective and efficient, they have not (and will not) make a dent in tuition. This is because we have significantly improved (and will continue to improve) our security, technology, fa