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Inbox: Issue 956

“Cremation is both a tragedy and a crisis in the Jewish world, with approximately 50 percent of all Jews choosing cremation”


Barely Scratched the Surface [Class Act / Issue 954]

I am writing in response to your recent feature article about Rabbi Armo Kuessous. While I would like to commend Mrs. Bensoussan for a great read, and I appreciate the positive things that were said about him, I feel that the article barely scratched the surface of his true greatness.

As someone who has known Rabbi Kuessous for more than 20 years, I can attest to the fact that he is an extraordinary person in every way. His qualities and attributes are truly incredible, and he is a gift to his family, his friends, his talmidim, and to the entire Jewish community.

What puzzles me most about Rabbi Kuessous is how he manages to do all that he does. I recently spoke with him late on a Thursday night or early on a Friday morning, and even though he had already had a long and busy day, he gave me his full attention as if it was the only thing on his plate. His dedication to his work and his community is truly inspiring.

Rabbi Kuessous is a man of tremendous integrity, compassion, and wisdom, and his contributions to the Jewish community are immeasurable. He is surely following the direction he received from his brother Rabbi Moshe Kuessous ztz’’l: “Be a role model.”

My brachah to him is that he continue doing the great work for many happy and healthy years and that more people have the opportunity to experience the depth and breadth of his remarkable qualities.

Binyomin Ginsberg

Toms River, New Jersey


Voicing the Unpopular View [Inbox / Issue 954]

A huge yasher koach to D. Steinberg for writing a clear and eloquent letter regarding the judicial reforms being proposed in Israel. I agree with him and have nothing to add but this: Mishpacha also deserves a yasher koach for publishing a letter that goes against the opinion of its own publisher, editors, contributing writers, and I imagine many of its readers.

It showed tremendous integrity by giving voice to an unpopular point of view.

Peretz Mann


Wholly Undemocratic [Inbox / Issue 954]

In response to the letter from D. Steinberg questioning why an American Jew would support the proposed judicial reforms in Israel, I would like to explain why these reforms are so important.

The letter writer mentions the fact that the Supreme Court in the United States has acted as a protector of our religious rights, and therefore a defense against tyrannical government, as indeed it has been.

The Israeli system, however, bears no resemblance to the United States for several reasons.

First, while the US has a written constitution that acts to outline the powers (and limits) on the government and Congress, Israel does not. Israel is similar to the United Kingdom in that its parliament, the Knesset, is the ultimate source of law and as such by definition cannot act illegally. In the UK, the Supreme Court can declare a government’s actions to be illegal, but it cannot say that a law is illegal. Only a further act of Parliament can overturn a prior one.

When SCOTUS overturns or blocks a law or action, it is done so by reference to the rights and powers enumerated in the Constitution. Anytime the Supreme Court looks at areas such as religious rights, it does so through the lens of the Constitution. When the Israeli High Court blocks a law, it does so not based on reference to an overarching document that binds every person and institution; it does so based on a standard invented by former Court President Barak — that of “reasonableness.”

Second, while in most countries the attorney general is the government’s legal advisor and, among other things, defends the government’s actions, in Israel the AG has taken on a role of effectively acting for the High Court — dictating that a law is legal or illegal even before a case has been brought. Therefore, not only has the Israeli High Court taken the position that it is the arbiter of every action taken by the Knesset using its own “reasonableness” standard, it has also handed that power to one individual (who in turn can delegate to their assistant).

In addition, while SCOTUS doesn’t act unilaterally (i.e., picking and choosing laws to overturn as they are passed), through the power given to the AG, the Israeli High Court does.

Finally, in the US, the president nominates and the Senate approves incoming SCOTUS justices (and all federal judges). In Israel, the Knesset is a minor player in appointing justices, and the High Court has more or less a built-in majority to decide whom to vote for. It has created a self-perpetuating unaccountable body with the ability to decide on matters of law.

While the details of what reforming the Israeli High Court can be discussed, including what would be needed to overturn a decision, there is no doubt that the role it has arrogated for itself is wholly undemocratic.

Laurence Franks


It’s the Parents’ Decision [Divided Loyalties / Double Take – Issue 954]

I always enjoy the Double Take stories. I usually find it hard to take a side. When I read the story about the grandmother who wanted her granddaughter to come help her clean for Pesach, however, it was an easy choice.

I say this as one who has also made Pesach for over 40 years and who has quite a few teenage granddaughters, baruch Hashem. The bottom line, however, is that parents raise children. Not grandparents.

Whatever decisions there are to be made about children are made by their parents. It is not the place of grandparents to tell parents where their children should go or what they should do. They can ask, to be sure, but the decision of the parents is final.

That being said, I am not unsympathetic to the plight of the grandmother; I am one as well. But the reality is, we each need to understand our limitations and work within them. A woman in her sixties who cannot make Pesach on her own for three sets of married children (which is a tremendous undertaking) needs to get help. And if she cannot get a granddaughter to help, then she needs to pay for help.

If she does not want to (or cannot) pay for help, she needs to cut back. Her married children could bring food. Or pay for catered food. Or pay for help. Or all three.

Hosting a son and his family from Israel is one thing, but perhaps the other two US-based ones don’t need to come for Yom Tov. They can come visit on Chol Hamoed.

There are many possibilities. But the reality is, something needs to give. Once the grandmother sustained an injury, this becomes all the more the reality.

Whatever solution is decided upon, one thing is clear. The parents make the call about what their daughter should do.

Marsha Grant, Jerusalem


Turning the Tide on Cremation [Words are Not Enough / Issue 954]

I would like to express my gratitude to Mrs. Rivka Streicher for the excellent article, “Words Are Not Enough,” in which she shared the efforts of NASCK (the National Association of Chevra Kadisha) to save Ethel Barr from cremation.

As the story noted, we unfortunately did not prevail in either of the two court hearings that were held to decide her fate, since she had not put her wish to be buried into writing. Miss Barr’s story ended, tragically, in a crematorium. We at NASCK, however, walked away from that case with a recharged mission to confront the crisis of cremation.

We first created the EMES card, a wallet-sized card that attaches to an ID or driver’s license, stating the carrier’s objection to autopsy and cremation. At that point, it made sense to make the EMES card into a quasi-legal Halachic Living Will, instructing all emergency medical decisions to be directed by the agent and rabbi named on the card. This had the added advantage of making the card useful for Orthodox Jews, as well. (EMES Cards are available for free by contacting NASCK.)

Cremation is both a tragedy and a crisis in the Jewish world, with approximately 50 percent of all Jews choosing cremation. NASCK is confronting this challenge with Project Last Kindness, a proactive, nationwide campaign to stop cremation among Jews. Project Last Kindness provides one-on-one guidance, a hotline for urgent matters, and has two websites: lastkindness.org, designed to appeal to Jews at risk of cremation, and endcremation.org, which equips the Orthodox community to open a conversation about cremation and burial with people in their circles who may be considering cremation.

The lesson learned from Miss Barr is still ringing in our ears over a decade later. We recently consulted with lawyers in the US and Canada to create a way for every person who chooses burial to document that choice in a quick, easy, and legally binding fashion. My Burial Wishes forms for every state and province are available on lastkindness.org, endcremation.org, and nasck.org.

With siyata d’Shmaya, we will be able to turn the tide on cremation, and provide every Jew with a Jewish burial, the kavod they deserve for eternity. Thank you for dedicating space in your magazine to addressing this important and timely communal issue.

Rabbi Elchonon Zohn

Founding President of NASCK


Scream From the Rooftops [To the Highest Degree / Issue 953]

I really enjoyed the article about Dr. Mandelman and his approach to dealing with children who are struggling with something in particular, as well as dealing with regular everyday challenges that come up for kids all the time. It was the kind of article that I wish I could read, and be reminded of, all day.

There was an integral point made several times throughout the article that I wish would be screamed out from the rooftops, so I decided to do my little part and remind your readers about this message: “Children don’t misbehave because they want to. There is always a reason behind their behavior, and it’s our job to figure out what that is.”

Children naturally want to succeed. If they’re not succeeding, the problem is not with them; parents need to step up and learn how to help their children.

Sending a kid to therapy and hoping that will take care of the issue is a very one-dimensional approach. I have a few friends who are therapists, and they have told me that they would much prefer to hold therapy sessions with parents on how to parent a specific kid instead of sitting with the kids themselves.

Hearing that sparked a mental shift for me. My children are not really trying to be difficult or stubborn; they too wish they would approach things that bother them with more ease. The first step to addressing this is having compassion for the children and treating them like real people.

Miri K., Lakewood, NJ


Teachers Should Address the Issues [To the Highest Degree / Issue 953]

Mishpacha’s feature on Dr. Shmuel Mandelman was incredibly informative and thought-provoking.

One thing that stood out was the prevalence of mental health issues, particularly among school-aged children and adolescents in yeshivah or Bais Yaakov.

Although Dr. Mandelman is optimistic about the fact that there is growing awareness of mental health issues within the school systems, what I’m wondering is — is that enough? If so, many of our children are being severely compromised by crippling mental-based challenges. Can we be satisfied with being able to merely identify that there are issues at hand?

The truth is that therapy is extremely cumbersome and financially draining, and even if a problem is identified, there is little guarantee that the therapy will happen or be effective. Shouldn’t there be a greater effort placed on ensuring that mechanchim and mechanchos receive proper training in actually addressing the issues that they identify?

I recognize that their training would not reach the level of professionalism of a licensed clinician, but that doesn’t preclude them from being able to help. And the fact that they are in constant contact with their students, and their counsel is free, makes the possibility of increased effectiveness a very likely reality.

In short, I would like to humbly suggest to Dr. Mandelman, and all those like him, to work alongside school administrations in launching intensive training for our rebbeim and moros to educate them, not only in identifying issues, but in treating them as well.

M.B., Brooklyn, NY


Painful and Touching [Last Stop Serial]

I just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying Bashie Lisker’s serial, “Last Stop.” The dynamics are beautiful, heartbreaking, and compelling — I was drawn in, and loving it, from Chapter One. Naftali, Yudi, Eliezer, Chana, Rivky... the story is so beautifully written, and the undertones and themes are touching even in their painfulness.

Before this one, I know Mishpacha ran another mini-serial, “Growth Curve,” which I also really liked, and I was wondering... what do you do with the mini-serials when they’re finished? I know the larger serials usually get made into a book, but what about the mini ones? I hope something gets done with them — they’re too good to waste!

S. K. S.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 956)

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