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Challenges Bring the Jewish Community Together, and Help Us Thrive

A Torah scroll. Photo: RabbiSacks.org.

This week, conservative pundit Ben Shapiro got caught up in a controversy over remarks he made on his show, suggesting that we get rid of retirement.

“It’s insane that we haven’t raised the retirement age in the United States,” he told his more than one million viewers. “[Otherwise] Joe Biden should not be running for president … Joe Biden is 81 years old. The retirement age in the United States … is 65. Joe Biden has technically been eligible for Social Security and Medicare for 16 years, and he wants to continue in office until he is 86, which is 19 years past when he would be eligible for retirement.”

“No one in the United States should be retiring at 65 years old,” Ben emphatically continued. “Frankly, I think retirement itself is a stupid idea, unless you have some sort of health problem. Everybody that I know who is elderly, who has retired, is dead within five years. And if you talk to people who are elderly and they lose their purpose in life by losing their job and they stop working, things go to hell in a handbasket real quick.”

Not everyone agreed with Shapiro, and there are some quite compelling counter arguments to his thesis that Social Security is an unsustainable “Ponzi Scheme,” as he put it. But broadly speaking, his point is valid — people who lack any purpose in life wither away, and it is the dynamism of an active life that animates our world, often in ways that we are unaware of, far beyond the sphere of our limited personal lives.

Shapiro’s controversial remarks reminded me of an interesting anomaly of the natural world, a world that can only thrive if all of its elements are engaged. One good example of this phenomenon is the sea otter.

Sea otters play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the kelp forest ecosystem through their predation on sea urchins. Much of North America’s west coast waters are host to kelp forests, vast underwater communities which are formed by large brown algae which thrive in cool, relatively shallow waters near the shoreline. The kelp forms towering aquatic structures that offer sustenance and refuge to a diverse array of marine life, including thousands of species of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals.

Sea urchins feed on kelp and can cause significant destruction to kelp forests if their population goes unchecked. Luckily, sea otters feed on sea urchins, and by preying on them they keep their populations at a level that prevents overgrazing of kelp, thereby preserving the kelp forest habitat. The sea otters are critical in maintaining the balance so that there the kelp can do its job, although, without kelp, there would be no sea urchins, and therefore no sea otters. If just one of these elements would cease to exist, the devastation would be overwhelming.

Shapiro argued that by removing the post-65 age group from the equation, the effects on society at large — both on those who retire and on those who remain in the workforce — are devastating. This can be likened to what is known as the “trophic effect” seen in natural ecosystems, where the removal or decline of one species can have cascading effects on the entire community. Just as the sea otters’ presence influences the well-being of the kelp forest and its inhabitants, the active participation of the older generation contributes to the social and economic fabric of society.

This dynamic is very evident in the health of the Jewish world, in terms of the interdependence of Israel’s population and Jews of the Diaspora. The ebbs and flows of this relationship, often unseen by those who are part of it, are critical to the health of the Jewish nation as a whole. And never has this more obvious than it has been over these past few months, since October 7th. What happens in Israel affects Jews across the world, and what happens to Jews and what Jews do outside Israel affects the situation for Jews in Israel.

When Jews around the world are subjected to wanton antisemitism, as we have been ever-increasingly over the past five months, it simply reinforces the will of Israel’s leaders and of the IDF to ensure that Israel remains the one place in the world where Jews are always free from the scourge of antisemitism — the age-old hatred to which Jews are subjected simply for being born Jewish.

Meanwhile, when Jews outside Israel see the existential challenges of their brethren in Israel, they redouble and strengthen their efforts to ensure that no stone is left unturned in the relentless pursuit of security and justice for the world’s only Jewish state in the halls of power and in every forum where pro-Israel voices can make a difference.

And the opposite is also true. When Jewish voices in the Diaspora are raised against Israel, the forces of destruction are reinforced in ways that far exceed the seeming reach of those voices. When film director Jonathan Glazer stood up at the Oscars on Sunday after winning an Academy Award, and declared that he and the producer James Wilson “stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people,” the impact of those words stretch way beyond his intent — perhaps innocent, perhaps malignant — of absolving himself of some kind of collective Jewish guilt for what he perceives as injustices perpetrated by Israel in Gaza.

Thankfully, the forces of community spirit and fraternity in the Jewish world have been ignited like never before, somewhat reminiscent of the ‘”Blitz spirit” of London during the Second World War, a spirit of stoicism and determination to make the best of it so that we triumph over every adversity thrown our way. Wherever we are, in Israel or outside Israel, we are there to help each other, and to provide each other with the support that is needed to get through it all.

In Parshat Pekudei, we find a poignant reflection of enduring spirit and commitment. As the Israelites continued to contribute resources for the construction of the Mishkan, their generosity was so overwhelming that Moses had to ask them to stop, declaring (Ex. 36:6): “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” Reluctantly, the people stopped bringing stuff for the builders to use, as “their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.”

This historical moment encapsulates a profound truth about our community’s default nature: namely, our willingness to go above and beyond for the collective good, even when we’ve already done enough. No true Jew can ever retire from their Jewish identity, nor from their commitment to doing everything they can do to sustain Jewish life, wherever it lives and breathes.

This is the story of the Jewish people — always there for each other, continuing to give of themselves, even when it’s more than enough. The vitality of our collective existence, much like the ecological balance, relies on the active participation of every member. When we withdraw our engagement, the effects ripple through our community, diminishing our collective strength and resilience. This is how we have kept the ecosystem going for well over three millennia, and the story continues apace. Those who opt out are the outliers. But the rest of us continue to thrive and prosper, and whether you are in Israel or in the Diaspora, the future remains bright.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

The post Challenges Bring the Jewish Community Together, and Help Us Thrive first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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OCAD University student is seeking $1M in damages—alleging a lack of protection from threats and abuse

Samantha Kline, 22, presented photos of antisemitic graffiti she says targeted her.

The post OCAD University student is seeking $1M in damages—alleging a lack of protection from threats and abuse appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases New Propaganda Video of Israeli Hostage

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in a propaganda video released by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Tuesday released a short propaganda video featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare.

Trufanov’s mother said in a video released by the family that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but “it was heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Trufanov was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend.

All three were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

The post Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases New Propaganda Video of Israeli Hostage first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Gal Gadot’s Action Movie Nabs Second Place on Netflix List of Most Watched Films in Second Half of 2023

Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone in a scene from the trailer for “Heart of Stone.” Photo: YouTube screenshot

Netflix released its engagement report that details the films with the most views from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, and Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s action thriller Heart of Stone secured the number two spot with 109.6 million views.

The film — starring Gadot alongside Jamie Dornan and Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt in leading roles — was the runner-up to Leave the World Behind, the drama starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke that garnered 121 million views on Netflix.

Heart of Stone, directed by Tom Harper, was released on the streaming giant on Aug. 11 of last year. The action film is about international intelligence operative Rachel Stone, played by Gadot, who goes on a mission to protect an artificial intelligence system, known as The Heart, from falling in the wrong hands. The film was produced by Pilot Wave, a company founded by Gadot and her husband Jaron Varsano.

Gadot also stars in Netflix’s most popular film of all time, Red Notice, alongside Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds.

The post Gal Gadot’s Action Movie Nabs Second Place on Netflix List of Most Watched Films in Second Half of 2023 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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