Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Spencer Stoff’s Bar Mitzvah – June 12, 2010 – Queens, New York.

Granpa Sheldon Stoff’s Address:

I am now eighty years old so I give myself permission to voice some very heartfelt opinions.

The first day after my own Bar Mitzvah, I asked my Rabbi, “When will you teach me religion.” He seemed shocked at my question. Actually, that was the day I stopped going to Temple. I had attended Hebrew School six days a week for six years. I had learned reading, writing, ethics, and history—all of which I could have learned at the public school across the street.

Judaism is more than learning out of a book! Judaism is more than book learning! In Book 3 of the Hebrew Scriptures—Leviticus (the law of the priests), we find several important commandments. Suggestions these are, yet there is one which is elevated to law: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” These words are the essence of Judaism as well as the essence of all western religions. The rest is but commentary,often in opposition to the very essence claimed.

When speaking of a very deep love, far beyond the comprehension of many, we realize that this love is the primary force of the universe—yes the primary force of the universe. On the physical level, love, compassion and concern for others are our greatest source of happiness. Not only is this love a primary source of happiness for individuals, but it is at the very heart of the good nation and good religion.

Through love and kindness to others, the heart opens and you rest in peace, at home, and in your country.

Love and compassion are not biased. They are filled with equanimity for both friend and foe. You cannot expand your inner love if any bias is to be found. To quote the late chief rabbi of then Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: “Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself, on the contrary, it strengthens it.”

Another factor in expanding our love is the need to develop patience. Without patience you could not develop love because you would be subject to irritability so often. In developing your love, freed from bias, you will find it to be the basis of human rights. You do not solve problems with anger. It is love that smoothes the playing field.

Compassion, flowing from love, is the spirit out of which we bring happiness to others, and to ourselves. We awaken our essence in a very deep love. Love can even transform anger. My wife has a saying which she repeats at bedtime and upon awakening, “Only love is real.”

The sole source of peace in the family, in the country, and in the world is love and compassion. It is that vital part of our being that we want to expand each day. Again, from Rabbi Kook: “The love for people must be alive in the heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement.”

Professor Martin Buber said, “Feelings are ‘entertained.’ Loves comes to pass. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love. That is no metaphor, but the actual truth. Love does not cling to the “I” in such a way as to have the Thou only for its ‘content,’ its object, but love is between I and Thou…In the eyes of him who takes his stand in love, and gazes out of it, men are cut free from their entanglement in bustling activity…Love is the responsibility of an I for a Thou.”
Our much valued “reason” or intellect (the intellect is the world of separation) is but one necessary step toward the unity of the I-Thou. There will come this moment wherein reason will be encompassed by love. Wholeness (and holiness) will be our lasting reward.

When we define religion, any religion in the present or future, let us speak of love, charity, gentleness, tolerance and kindliness. Religion must not be allowed to become a barrier to growth and spiritual maturity. It must instead become the motivator and the sacred stepping stone. True religion, by this definition, is spiritual religion.

With our inner life filled with love, we can now act out of true compassion toward others. Yes, love binds together “I” and “Thou.” We realize our spiritual unity. We are one self in all beings. We are oneness in all that is—bound together in love.

Each of us is a leaf on the tree of life. To live in reality is to know that the leaf is part of the tree and part of everything which can be beheld.

The I-It relationship is one of manipulation and separation and also defines itself as “me and not me.” In reality, maturity is the I-Thou, forever bound together in love, forever part of everything that it can behold. The world of spirituality is the actuality of unity, of oneness. That is where a true religion takes you. All barriers have parted, all husks have been removed, blindness is no more. All is in Oneness. It is to that gateway that the true religion, the spiritual religion, will take us.
--Sheldon Stoff
June 12, 2010

Friday, September 4, 2009


By Sheldon Stoff and Barbara Smith Stoff

We have attended a “town hall” meeting. It was a long evening. There was much noise and emotion, seemingly no understanding, and little reasoning. Positions seemed to have been firmly taken even before anyone had spoken. We had innocently thought that there would be an honorable presentation of thoughts and facts and that this meeting would offer an opportunity for deeper understanding of the healthcare reform issues. This was not to be. If only for our own self-therapy, we are writing about our thoughts about this experience, while still recovering from a kind of sick feeling.

There were three wonderful speakers...don't know who they were. One was a man who stood up to share with us the reading he had been doing of the actual bill. The crowd laughed at him, and the congressman interrupted him to call for a sudden expression of yays and nays from the entire assembly. Exactly what they were yaying and naying about, I was not sure. Once the shouting subsided, the man was allowed to continue. At this point I began to feel some anger that this man, who had attempted to do his homework and become informed, was laughed at and basically prevented from speaking. Another was a man who brought a five year old girl with him "to see how democracy works"...He spoke of our need to learn to care for each other. And then there was a woman who spoke movingly of her feelings in response to the irrational fear and selfishness stirring in the crowd. Other than that...the atmosphere was just plain toxic and irrational. We have tried to write something of value to counterbalance...a feather in the wind.

The Republican congressman who had called for this town hall meeting presented his position, but did not present “the other side of the argument” for rebuttal or even discussion. There were posters, signs and slogans, and even loud cat-calls by some attendees. Those supporting President Obama were in the minority, and seemed more reasonable in their behavior. Those siding with the congressman seemed absolutely sure of themselves, and their opinions and were very passionate in their spontaneous vocalizing. Very few seemed to take notice of the realities, or points of view, of the others. There was no meeting of minds, no reconciliation, no understanding—just a hardening of positions. It was an experience in futility.

That night both of us had a very restless sleep. Even our dreams seemed to be invaded by all those wildly gyrating placards… “What would Jesus do?” … “No socialized medicine.” …”Healthcare is a right.”… “Don’t take away my freedom!” Often, in our meditations, as we ask for clarity, our inner guidance somehow offers an answer. This morning, after some time, it came:

“You are responsible to your brothers and sisters. Let that responsibility guide you on this path.”

So, for us, this is the answer. This is a moral responsibility, a mutual and communal responsibility. We need to join quietly together, as a nation, to forge a new path toward Healthcare Reform. It must meet the test of responsibility to our brothers and sisters. We emphasize responsibility to…Responsibility includes responsiveness to our brothers and sisters. There is a difference between responsibility for and responsibility to. There is a difference between giving the man the proverbial fish and the proverbial teaching him how to fish.

It seems that the direction of the looked-for solution to the problem is guided by the basic assumption about the nature of our human society. One thought, or assumption, is that it’s everyone for himself or herself. Another thought, or assumption, is that it’s “we’re all in this together.” Both assessments say something about the basic belief about what is possible for humankind, and whether we as individual participants have some say in the direction humankind takes for the future. Together, let us create a more benevolent path.


Robert Reich's blog on the subject of these 'discussions'....

Wendell Potter | Against Wall Street's Health Care Takeover
Wendell Potter, Common Dreams: "I would like to begin by apologizing to all of you for the role I played 15 years ago in cheating you out of a reformed health care system. Had it not been for greedy insurance companies and other special interests, and their army of lobbyists and spin-doctors like I used to be, we wouldn't be here today."

Editor’s Note: Now he established the International Center for Studies in Dialogue. He also received the Outstanding Educator of America Award in 1974. He is author of The Two Way Street, The Human Encounter, The Pumpkin Quest, Universal Kabbalah: Dawn of a New Consciousness, and the newly released The Western Book of Crossing Over: Conversations with the Other Side. As well, he is co-author, with Barbara Smith Stoff, of the forthcoming Partnership Community: Listen to the Gathering Voices. Barbara Smith Stoff, teacher, painter and poet, Professor Emeritus at Adelphi University, Sheldon Stoff taught a course on the philosophy of Martin Buber while he was studying for his doctorate at Cornell University. During in his long career as an educator and spokesperson for Humanistic Education, with inspiration from Dr. Buber, is producer of Emmy Award winning “Poems of Wonder and Magic.”