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Jewish woman explains why damaging a Torah isn't just anti-Semitic—it's a historic tragedy

Jewish woman explains why damaging a Torah isn't just anti-Semitic—it's a historic tragedy

On December 15, 2019, a man broke into the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA in the middle of the night and vandalized it. Furniture was overturned, brochures and other papers were strewn about, prayer books and prayer shawls were destroyed, and parts of the sacred Torah scrolls were tossed on the ground.

The vandal has not been caught, but the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.


While desecration of a sacred book is always disrespectful, damaging or destroying Torah scrolls is a particularly weighty offense. Not only are the scrolls sacred scripture—they are also priceless, handmade, historic artifacts.

RELATED: A man was shouting anti-Semitic slurs at two children, so a woman in a hijab stepped in to stop him

Paige Leitman, a Jewish woman, explained in a viral Facebook post what makes a Torah unique among religious scripture, and why the loss of one Torah is a loss for all Jews.

She wrote:

"Damaging a Torah is not like damaging a bible, even an expensive and valuable one.

A Torah scroll is written, BY HAND, with a quill, and specially prepared ink on specially prepared animal hides. Every one. It takes a scribe the better part of a year to write it, and there are special calligraphic standards. They are not mass-produced. You won't find them in your nightstand in a hotel.

A Torah scroll is a historic object. For instance, many of them are hundreds of years old and few new ones are made. The Torah in my temple was smuggled out of a Jewish town in Russia before it was burned to the ground. Bibles are mass-produced and have been for years. There are a few priceless bibles. EVERY Torah scroll is a historic object.

A Torah scroll is HELLA expensive. Many are literally priceless - as in no amount of money can buy them. They are gifted, loaned, and tracked carefully. A person doesn't own one - a person really can't. There are too few and they are too valuable for one person (generally speaking). A **congregation** owns one. ONE Torah for the whole congregation. Unlike bibles where each congregant may own many copies.

A Torah scroll is paraded proudly around the synagogue while people stand in respect and sing the special Torah-appreciation song. People reach out their prayer shawl or prayer book to touch it so it's not accidentally gotten dirty by someone's hand. People on the edges of the pews that touched the Torah "transfer" the touch by touching prayer shawls or prayer books to their neighbors and then kiss that book spine or prayer shawl because THAT is how important a Torah scroll is.

The Torah is so valuable that we do not touch the scroll with a hand while reading it. We have a special pointer stick, often with a tiny sculpture of a human hand at the end, made of metal or wood, to hold one's place in the line of text just so your hands don't accidentally get dirt on it, and so generations of use don't smudge the text.

The Torah scroll has specially made rollers to put it on, a special belt to put around it, a decorated velvet or brocade cover to put over it, and the gold and silver crowns are placed on the top of the rollers. Every one of them. ALL of them. It is a huge production to make. We literally put jeweled crowns on every Torah.

The Torah must be held in a special ark, which is a huge and valuable large cabinet. Every single one. You can't just throw it in a nightstand, a backpack, or a classroom.

The Torah is so spiritually important to us that we will never allow it to be in the dark. A special light burns in every sanctuary, never to be extinguished (nowadays with special generators in case of a power outage). My last name is Leitman, which meant my family were the people who showed up at the sanctuary in snowstorms, in the middle of the night, to make sure that light never went out. Just keeping the Torah under light is a job so important that it becomes a family legacy for the rest of the line.

In Judaism, you need a minimum quorum of ten Jews to have official prayers. The Torah is so important, it's considered as counting for a whole Jew so you need only 9 if you have Torah scrolls. (Note this is from family oral history, and the actual rabbinical ruling on this is not clear.)

Sure SOME folks are buried with bibles. However, when a Torah scroll is damaged beyond repair, the SCROLL ITSELF gets a full Jewish burial. Individual cemetery plot in a place of honor, a full headstone, a nice casket. Everyone shows up and mourns. It's a big honkin' deal and hugely expensive, but they are THAT important.

Anything less than this and a Torah is not considered kosher and may not be used in a synagogue. Yes, there are plenty of knock offs out there to buy that are machine printed, or not calligraphied appropriately, or whatever. But they're not real.

Please, I beg you, don't say a Torah is anything like a bible or that Torahs are treated like bibles are treated. Vandalism of Torah scrolls is a HUGE thing.

Ask three Jews a question and you'll get four opinions, it is known. Talk to your Jewish friends about how serious this is. A lot of us are really weary of the murders, the vandalism, and the blatant hate."

Unfortunately, the U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in anti-semitic hate crimes in the past few years. According to The Wall Street Journal:

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents—including harassment, vandalism and assault, as reported to the league by victims, law enforcement and the media—jumped 57%, the largest single-year increase since the group began tracking such data in the 1970s. While 2018 was slightly better, it still had the third-highest total of anti-Semitic incidents the group has ever recorded, with anti-Semitic assaults more than doubling from 2017.

In addition, New York City, with the largest population of Jewish people in the U.S., has seen a 51% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes so far this year compared to the same period last year.

But hate crimes are only the most obvious manifestation of antisemitism. Jennifer Rosen Heinz, a Jewish American woman, shared with Upworthy how she feels living in this time period as a Jew:

"There's anti-Semitism in America on the right and the left. There's anti-Semitism in even well-meaning support of Jews, Judaism, or Israel. It's never been so pronounced in my lifetime. I always thought that it existed in some deep, dank caves of America where people didn't know better. But to see that people who should know better don't... to see that repeated and propagated and developed, to see folks espouse these things openly, with some measure of glee... that has left me breathless."

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Heinz points to a recent executive order from the White House, which equates Judaism with the nation of Israel in the definition anti-Semitism, as one example of how Jewish historical trauma plays out in political discourse:

"Last week, when the NY Times published reporting about a proposed executive order which, on its surface, was announced to fight anti-Semitism, American Jews panicked. Because the details of what was being proposed were firmly aimed not at curtailing anti-Semitism, but in restricting political discourse in universities. It became apparent to me that most non-Jews had no idea why Jews were freaking out about this thing that, on its surface, seemed to them would be something we would support, that would protect us.

Yet defining Jews as on par with a race or nationality has historical precedent, and spoiler alert: It's all bad. Like, really bad. Throughout history, when other groups have sought to define us for political purposes, it's led to exclusion, anti-Semitism, expulsion, and genocide. These things are not academic words to a Jew. They are not history. They're a trauma which is encoded in our DNA. It may be quieted by long periods of peace and inclusion, but it's always, ALWAYS present in some form. Anti-Semitism feels like some virus which has been encased in arctic ice so long and is now let loose. Freed and activated.

Only those with personalized memory of what happened are sounding the alarm because we know the plot to this story. We know the virus has been relegated long enough, the general population's immune systems have forgotten how to fight it. But we remember. Our bodies remember. Anti-Semitism quakes our very cells."

Learning from history, and especially from those with personal ties to specific history, is important. As with any marginalized group, listening to the feelings and experiences of the people within that group—and believing them—is vital. And hearing the alarm when it's sounded—not after the worst has taken place—is how we keep human atrocity from being repeated in our lifetime.

The alarm is being sounded now.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

89Stocker and cottonbro studios|Canva

Mom makes case for getting life insurance on child's other parent

Nobody wants to think about what happens if their child's other parent dies unexpectedly. It's not a pleasant topic but unfortunately it is something that happens sometimes and parents have to do their best to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss. One mom, had the unfortunate experience of living through this tragedy and she took to social media to explain the steps she took to prepare for this day.

Kelsey Pumel, a multi-hyphenate TikTok creator recently had to help her young daughter process the unexpected loss of her biological father. Pumel and Kobe's father were never married and had broken up years prior but she admits to carrying a life insurance policy on him. The topic was brought up when her viewers informed her that she should file for social security death benefits to assist with the financial responsibility of caring for Kobe.

That's when the mom of five revealed that she took out a life insurance policy on Kobe's father when she was pregnant for multiple reasons.


"I have gotten many rude comments about the life insurance and some wild accusations made but I'm going to say this and I need y'all to hear me. If you have a child with somebody, you should have life insurance one that person, period," Pumel says. "If something were to happen, you're going to get that kickback of money to help you either raise your kids or to make up for the income that is now missing."

In a follow up video she clarifies that you do need the other person's consent in order to take out the policy. Pumel also answers the question on what she's doing with the insurance money after the death of her child's father.

"When I first got the money, I did take a chunk of it and I paid off all of my student loans, now stick with me. Why did I do that? Well, I had about $95K worth of student loans, my interest was over $6K a year. I wasn't even cutting any of it down trying to pay it with that type of interest." She reveals after talking it over with her dad who was helping pay the loans.

"So we came up with a payment plan that pays the entire $95K plus interest back to Kobe, paying it monthly into a 529 Plan, which is a college fund for her. So all that money will go into that plan for her. If she doesn't go to college or doesn't use all of it, it will be kicked over in an investment account that she will be able to pull at retirement age."

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @bossyasf83 Correct me if im wrong about SS benefits but thats what I was told. But Kobe is going to be alright! I promise you I am getting her the brightest future possible set up! ♥️🫶🏼 #lifeinsurance

Not only is Pumel making sure Kobe has money to retire with, she's taking some of the money and putting it into a high yield account for her daughter. She also plans to buy a real estate property that will go to the little girl when she turns 18. Really, Pumel has thought of everything she could to make sure her daughter is set up to be financially secure her entire life.

While no one wishes for their children to experience the death of a parent before their time, this mom proves that having a life insurance policy on a coparent is simply a smart choice. Parents in the comments are applauding her for talking about this so openly.

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @ohitsamber84 There are so many ways to set up an financial future for your children without big chunks of money! I strongly recommend talking with a financial advisor if you have kids and seeing what options you may have to ensure them a strong future. ♥️🫶🏼

"And BOOM that is how generational wealth is made baby! Good for you mama," one person says.

"Girl your daughter may not understand now. But when she gets older she will thank you immensely," another writes.

"That's perfect! Exactly what she'll need! Car, college, house...set her up to have no debt," someone else proclaims.

There's one word you can't say on a cruise ship.

On December 10, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas set sail on the Ultimate World Cruise—a 274-day global trek that visits 11 world wonders and over 60 countries. This incredible trip covers the Americas, Asia Pacific, Middle East, Mediterranean and Europe with a ticket price that ranges from $53,999 to $117,599 per passenger.

Aboard the Serenade to the Seas is popular TikToker Marc Sebastian, who has been sharing his experience on the platform.

In a recent video with over 4.3 million views, he revealed what he’s learned over his first few weeks aboard the ship; the biggest was the one word you’re not allowed to say: Titanic.


“Who knew that? I didn’t,” Sebastian said. “I brought it up to an entire room of people having lunch that our ship is only 100 feet longer than the Titanic — when I tell you that utensils dropped. Waiters gasped. It’s dead silent.”

@marcsebastianf

someone get whoopi on the line girl i have some goss for her #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #serenadeoftheseas #cruisetok #cruise #9monthcruise #titanic

After the unexpected reaction, his cruise friend told him, “You’re not allowed to talk about the Titanic.” It makes sense. Who wants to be reminded of the tragedy that killed around 1,500 people while sinking one of the most impressive engineering feats of the era? "When I went on a cruise, my mom told me saying Titanic was equivalent to screaming ‘bomb’ at an airport," Mikayla wrote in the comments.

Later in the video, Sebastian admits he was surprised to learn that cruise ships have godmothers and that the pools are filled with seawater.


This article originally appeared on 1.25.24

@inspiringbelfast/TikTok

Maybe this dose of wholesome humanity brighten your day.

Imagine walking down the street, minding your own business, when a complete stranger unfurls a red carpet at your feet. What do you do? Awkwardly avoid it and continue along your route? Tell the person off for not respecting boundaries? Or do you wholeheartedly accept the impromptu invitation and strut your best stuff?

For the passersby of Belfast, option three was the only choice.

Alan Wallace, who routinely posts uplifting videos that “share the warmth” of his hometown over on TikTok, recently added a video of himself going up to random folks on the street and giving them a moment to shine. And let’s just say, they nailed it.


Folks from all walks of life—including a construction worker that could be Michael Sheen’s doppelgänger—lit up at the opportunity to catwalk, skateboard, cartwheel and even do the worm down the crimson strip.

In a mere matter of seconds, we see all that humanity has to offer—humor, free expression, joy, inclusivity, connection. Such powerful stuff shown in the simplest way.

Even if the moment wasn’t quite as spontaneous as the video makes it appear (Wallace likely asked for permission before rolling the carpet out each time) these people still agreed to play. And that’s what’s magical about it.

“Everyone understood the assignment, from young to old, it was perfect,” one viewer wrote.

@inspiringbelfast Red carpet for strangers in Belfast #inspiringbelfast #belfastcity #belfast #heartwarming ♬ Beautiful Things (Sped Up) - Benson Boone

It’s natural for most people to not want to interact with strangers. And of course there are legitimate safety reasons influencing this instinct. But a lot of the time our avoidance comes from expecting things to be unenjoyable. And yet, research shows not only that people are often pleasantly surprised by how much connection, kindness, belonging and optimism they end up experiencing.

So maybe we don’t need a red carpet to simply enjoy saying hi to someone we meet on the street and reaping the benefits. But hey, it certainly helps.

Representative Image from Canva

Every parent should know about this game. Many have experienced it as kids.

Nurse and mom Jinny Schmidt wants parents to be aware of a game that’s circulating amongst tweens right now, because it’s not a game at all.

In a PSA posted to her TikTok, Schmidt shared that her daughter informed her that boys in her class were beginning to play what she called “The Firetruck Game.”

As Schmidt begins to describe what the “game” entails, it’s easy to see why she’s concerned. All parents should be.


Here’s how the game works: a boy puts his hand on a girl’s lower thigh. And he tells her “my hand is a firetruck” as he slowly moves it up her leg. When the girl gets uncomfortable, she is supposed to say “red light.” Except for when the girl says “red light,” the boy responds with “sorry, firetrucks don’t stop for red lights.” And so they run their hand all the way up the girl’s leg, Schmidt explains, and sometimes they “touch the girl’s crotch.” Yikes.

Many viewers noted growing up with the Firetruck Game, or a version called “The Nervous Game,” or “Red Light Green Light.” Suddenly The “Squid Game” version of “Red Light Green Light” doesn’t seem so bad.

No matter what it’s called, though, it’s touching without consent, and is inappropriate on so many levels, not least of which being that it’s an excuse for sexual assault. Hence Schmidt’s alarm.

“I know that kids will be kids and kids will do some stupid shit, But we’ve got to do better teaching our boys to keep their hands off of other people and teaching our girls that it’s okay to have boundaries,” she says, before asking parents to “be aware” if they hear their kids talking about it.
@the.funny.nurse Y’all gonna see me on the 6 O’clock news. #jrhigh #kids #tween #preteen #parents #moms #momsoftiktok #dads #dadsoftiktok #teacher #teachersoftiktok #publicschool #school #firetruck #firetruckgame #firetruckgameawareness #girls #boys #game ♬ original sound - Jin-Jin

And she is, of course, absolutely right. Folks who watched her video wholeheartedly agreed that the behavior should not be tolerated, and many shared some pretty intense, although warranted, reactions to it.

“We’d be playing a game called Ambulance next,” one person wrote.

“Press charges,” said another.

“We have a game also. It’s called ‘oops I broke your finger,’” a third added.

But many also chimed in to say that they would be talking to their kids immediately about it, which is probably the best route overall. That way kids can protect themselves, and others around them.

Middle school years in general are pretty rough. They can be just as difficult to navigate for parents as they can be for the kids going through it. It’s painful to watch your still baby-faced child go through many of the same awful pains that you did, many of which are unavoidable. But some things, like terrible and abusive games, can be avoided. So make sure to have those important conversations when you can.