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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Headshot

Changing Englewood's House of Terror Into a Home of Jewish Values

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Press reports this week stated that I was seeking to buy the Libyan compound next door to me in order to establish an international center for Jewish values. These reports are accurate.

Aside from wanting to push the Libyans out of New Jersey, which has 39 families that still grieve over loved ones lost over Lockerbie, I have long wished to establish a permanent institute for the identification and dissemination of Judaism's core values. A place where scholars and students can publish Judaism's answers to the great social challenges facing our nation. A values-based institute that will due for Judaism what, say, the Heritage Foundation has done for Conservatism, spreading Judaism's unique wisdom on the great issues of our time.

America faces four great social crises. The first is growing materialism and an addiction to greed. The second is the collapse of the family, skyrocketing divorce rates, and singles who date recreationally but do not commit. The third is the dominance of celebrity culture and an obsession with fame, rendering non-showy achievement almost irrelevant by comparison. And the fourth is the depression and unhappiness that is becoming endemic in American society, with the United States consuming three quarters of the earth's anti-depressants and one out of three American women on Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.

These four challenges will only be addressed through a new set of American values. No longer can the Forbes 400 determine who matters. And there was must be some stigma attached to men who make a buck and immediately drop a wife of 25 years in favor of some hot, young thing. Likewise must teenagers learn that helping their parents with household chores and volunteering to raise money for Haiti is more noble than winning American idol. And happiness? Well, that can only come from a life that has purpose. Narcissism is a prison that breeds loneliness and depression.

Never before has Judaism been so much in need for its values. While Christianity speaks of getting into heaven, Judaism says that paradise is found around a functional family that gathers for Friday night Shabbat dinners. While Islam seems obsessed with its humiliation at the hands of Western power and progress, Judaism says real shame stems from taking a noble world religion and treading on G-d's greatest teaching, to love one's fellow man as oneself, and to treat others and we ourselves wish to be treated, as Hillel declared.

Pat Robertson may have indicted all of Haiti for having, as he says, been in league with the devil. But Judaism cites the example of Abraham who lifted his fists to the heavens when notified of the coming destruction of Sodom, crying out to G-d, "Shall the Judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?" It speaks of Moses challenging G-d that if He were indeed to destroy the Jews after the sin of the Golden calf then, "Blot my name out of your Torah." Where Christian leaders indict man and exonerate G-d in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Jews have always accused G-d and exonerated man whenever innocents have perished. G-d does not need defense attorneys. But vulnerable and powerless humans do.

How is that we have kept all these treasures to ourselves? Yes, we are not a proselytizing people, believing that one need not become a Jew in order to draw close to G-d. Each of His children may have a relationship with Him by living a righteous life, however they were born and whatever they believe.

But there is so much healing the world can gain from Jewish wisdom. Should we not try and give America a single national family dinner night, on Fridays, where kids stop texting and parents start talking? Should we not teach men that while evolution says they are walking sperm banks, Judaism says they are, at heart, not sex but intimacy seekers, and that, try as they might to find sexual adventure with women other than their wives they will never be satisfied because only their soul mate can understand their heart? Would this teaching not have saved Tiger Woods who acted as a champion on the golf course but as a slave to his libido?

Christianity maintains that people do not have real choice, that notwithstanding righteous action they were born in sin and only faith in Christ can save them. Freud likewise maintained that we are not the masters in our mental household as we might have supposed and that an uncivilized Id would always rear its ugly head. Modern science echoes the sentiment with its emphasis on genetic predisposition that goes against the belief we are in control of our actions. But amid this triple assault on free will, Judaism stands alone in maintaining, as its most basic foundation, that our lives are unscripted and we can become whatever we choose to be. Astrology is a sham, as is every other supposed limitation on our capacity to chart our own destiny.

I am currently embroiled in a dispute with my Congressman, Steve Rothman, for his misguided press release defending the Libyan Ambassador's right to dwell in Englewood based on an agreement he helped broker 27 years ago. Likewise, I am profoundly disappointed with Englewood's city officials for allowing the Libyans to live tax-free, even as they have now informed me that they are beginning to bring pressure on the Libyans to pay for basic city services rather than having Englewood's hard-pressed citizens, who are taxed to the max, subsidize an oil-rich dictatorship.

But I am prepared to bury the hatchet with both groups if they do the honorable thing and get behind a sensible plan to transform the Libyan mission from a home, quite literally, of an enemy of the State of Israel - the Ambassador Shalgham recently accused Israel of War Crimes in the UN Security Council, and last March his mission accused Israel of turning Gaza into a concentration camp - into an institute for the dissemination of family values, moral instruction, and a higher life calling.

My Congressman and city officials can begin by approaching the Libyans to discuss a sale and to inform them, in no uncertain terms, that their sojourn in Englewood is simply untenable. I look forward to their response.