Monday, December 15, 2014

What Do The Coming Elections in Israel Mean in the Real World?

With the breakup of the government, the media is in a frenzy, ecstatic about the prospect of the coming elections in March for two reasons: it gives them something to talk about, but even more importantly, politicians will be spending gobs of money buying media in all its myriad forms for the foreseeable future. Now is a good time to own a newspaper. Or a radio stations. Or a PR firm. Or all three.
Many think that other than the unending chatter about who will run with whom and which place he or she gets in the party rankings, the elections have no real bearing on the lives of regular Israelis. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I'll give two small examples, both connected to the Ministry of Education.

Reform #1: Bagrut Exams 
Love him or hate him, it's a recognized fact that Rav Shai Peron took on the post of Minister of Education with great passion and energy. He decided that Israeli education is too test-based, connected to the rote memorization of information, and uninspiring. (If you ask me, he's right.) So, in less than two years, he introduced a series of sweeping reforms that literally altered the high school curriculum for students across the country. He made teachers lives' harder, giving them greater freedom (and responsibility) in the classroom, and removed entire swaths of required subjects, drastically reducing the number of Bagrut (matriculation) exams both in terms of subject matter and number of tests. Teachers complained (somewhat legitimately) that he imposed the program too quickly, without giving them time to adjust to the new system, properly explaining how it would work, or giving them the necessary training (all valid complaints). He responded by telling them, in so many words, to deal with it.

Reform #2: Getting into College
I work in the admissions office of a large college of education called Orot. Our state-sponsored, four-year, degree-granting college awards its graduates both an undergraduate degree as well as a teacher's certificate. Because we're a government recognized (and funded) college, the Ministry of Education determines the requirements for acceptance, which are universal for all teachers colleges. If you can get into one school, theoretically you should be able to get into any of them.
In the past, in order to get into pretty much any undergraduate program in Israel, you needed to take (and score relatively well on) a test called the Psychometry. (its pronounced psee-cho-me-tree in Hebrew). Israelis universally hate the exam, as it's a combination of Hebrew language, advanced math, and English language. Kind of an SAT on steroids. Students understandably hate it. And, like in the United States, an entire industry has sprung up around teaching how to study for and take the test. Also, like in the States, the connection between success in the Psychometry and in college is anecdotal at best. Remember also that for most Israelis, there's at least a three year break between the end of high school and the start of college. Think about how hard it must be to return to formal education by preparing for a mindnumbingly annoying, pointless exam. Welcome back!

Last year, the Ministry of Education changed the admission standards (at least for colleges of education), requiring far less students to have taken the exam to gain admission. It in fact left the choice of which students to admit up to the schools, leaving, to borrow a Hebrew term, a balagan. Like many government decisions, the exact details of the regulations were left somewhat opaque and would only be determined over the course of time. Now, with the fall of the current government, no one really knows how many students to admit, and what requirements to ask them for.

So, if you're a high school student, you really have no idea how many subjects you need to learn over the coming years to graduate high school. My tenth-grade son came home and told me that he and his classmates were planning on going on strike (yes, he really said that) to protest the fact that they didn't know what subjects they were supposed to learn. (His mean dad made him go to school. Apparently, so did every other parent in the country.) And if you've completed your army service or national service and want to gain admission to college, do you need to invest thousands of shekel and hundreds of hours to take a meaningless and essentially pointless test to get into college or don't you? No one really knows.

And truthfully, no one will really be able to answer these questions until well after March 17th, when the new government (and Minster of Education) is not only sworn in, but settles into his or her new job enough to be able to answer these very simple questions.

And, truth be told, these are relatively minor issues. How about the people running hospitals, or army divisions? Who answers their tough questions between now and March about future policy decisions that need to be made now?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hallel on Chanukah: Praising God Despite the Darkness

What would happen if this week, leading politicians from across the political and religious spectrum in Israel declared a new national holiday for our victory over terrorism? How would we react? I imagine that we would be at least somewhat perplexed. Celebrate? This week? Isn’t it just a little bit early? For all of our efforts this past summer, Hamas seems determined to proclaim its great hatred and wish to annihilate us. Iran is lurking in the background, and even our friends celebrate terrorists as martyrs. It's hardly a time to celebrate.
Yet, this is exactly what the Jewish people do during the Chanukah war. The conquest of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the Beit Hamikdash by no means signaled the end of the war against the Greeks. In fact, the war dragged on for at least another two years, and the hero of our story, Judah the Maccabee, died in a subsequent battle against the Greek army. One can easily wonder: how could they celebrate? OK – rededicate the Beit Hamikdash  and quietly begin the sacrifices again. That much we can see. But why not establish Chanukah at the end of the war, when everyone can enjoy the peace and prosperity that peace finally brings?
The answer to this difficult question lies in the words of Hallel that we say throughout Chanukah, words that reflect an important Jewish value that we must keep in our minds, especially during such difficult and trying times.
When we examine the chapters in Tehillim that comprise Hallel, at face value, several sections don't seem like much of a Hallel at all. What’s supposed to be praise turns out to be rather depressing. Yes, there’s the הודו לה' כי טוב – we do praise God for the good, and declare His greatness and goodness to us. But then there are entire chapters that are not so positive, that really must make us wonder what they’re doing in הלל.
אפפוני חבלי מות ומצרי שאול מצאוני – the pains of death encircle me, the confines of the grave have found me;
אתהלך לפני ה' בארצות החיים: I will walk before God in the lands of the living
האמנתי כי אדבר אני עניתי מאד: I have faith even though I say, “I have suffered greatly.”
How is this הלל? Why are these words of praise and thanks to God?

During my first year of study in Israel at Yeshivat Sha’alvim, I learned what הלל is really all about. On יום הזכרון, Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers, Rav David Kimchi, then a Madrich at the yeshiva who had fought in Lebanon in מלחמת שלום הגליל – the (first) War for Peace in Galilee in the 1980’s, spoke to the American students. He described the terror of battle and the randomness of war. You simply didn't know who would live and who would not. After surviving a tank battle, he explained how the paragraph of מה אשיב came to have special meaning to him:
מה אשיב לה – how can I repay God for all his kindness to me – for saving me from the chaos and horror of battle?
נדרי לה' אשלם – I will repay my vows to God. What vows? What does King David mean? Rav Kimchi explained that when you’re in battle, in a tank – and things aren't going well, you’re scared – terrified, and cry out to God for salvation. So you make נדרים: “God, if you get me out of this alive, I promise to learn this many pages of Gemara; to do this many מצוות.” So, when we are delivered, we must keep our vows.
Finally, David says, יקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו – “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his devout ones.” Everyone, said Rav Kimchi, lost a friend, a platoon member, and family member. Those are the חסידים – the devout ones who give their lives for the Jewish people. 
This is the Hallel of King David. He says praise and dedicates himself to God not when things are wonderful and happy. Rather, he says Hallel when the pain of war still burns freshly in his mind – when the smell of the battle and the vivid and painful images fill his head. It is at that time that King David says: Yes, I have suffered – BUT. Yes, I feel pain – BUT. But, I must still give thanks to God. But, I must still say הודו לה' כי טוב – and give praise to God, for all the good that I still enjoy.

Yes, BUT. There must be a but, and we must continue to say הלל, because we must also see the positive side of the picture, and appreciate what we take for granted in today’s day and age.

This past year has been more challenging than years past. We endured a challenging war which placed many Israelis - citizens and soldiers - in the line of fire. We have witnessed a resurgence of terrorism that once again strikes, seemingly at random, leaving horror and dread in its wake. And still we say Hallel and give praise, because we have so much for which we must be thankful.

When we read the history of the Chanukah revolt, historians teach us that one of the most perplexing aspects of the entire Chanukah story is Antiochus himself. After suffering a humiliating defeat in Egypt, Antiochus returns to Jerusalem to reassert his authority on the Holy Land. Yet, in a real sense he is already in control. He has no real need to rule with an iron fist, but for some reason he does. Repudiating the Greek policy dating back to Alexander the Great to let the local culture maintain its own religious practice, Antiochus decides that he’s going to get rid of Judaism. And he does try, although to this day, no one really knows exactly why. Upon his return to Judea, the Book of the Maccabees tells us that he and his army massacre Jerusalem, murdering 40,000 people, and selling another 40,000 into slavery.
One can easily imagine today what would happen to the Jewish people were we not in control of the Land of Israel. Let’s not kid ourselves: we know how our enemies about us. There would be no worldwide outcry if an Ayatolla turned himself into another Antiochus. He’d love the opportunity. But this time things are different. Finally, for the first time in Jewish history since Chanukah, we can protect ourselves. We can, and we do.
And for this, even during our suffering, we must say Hallel.
The lighting of the Menorah does not signify the end of the war by any means. Yet, the people during those times are able to see יד ה' – and to rededicate themselves to their traditions and their teachings. They’re able to pick up and go on – and not focus on the terrible suffering that they have endured, and continue to endure at the hands of the Greek army. So too we must do the same: to cry for those we lose, but to never lose sight of the יד ה', and never to forget the goodness that we enjoy and can never take for granted.
Even while we say יקר המותה לחסידיו – “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his devout ones” – we must still say, הודו לה' כי טוב, and forever remember the goodness and blessing and strength that God gives the Jewish people today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeshev - Yosef's Sin

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeshev - Yosef's Sin

Dedicated in memory of my father, Harav Simcha ben Yitzchak Kalman, whose yartzeit was this week.

The Sages castigate Yosef for failing to have faith in salvation from God by asking the Egyptian Minister of Wine to rescue him from prison. I've always wondered: Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Aren't we supposed to try and save ourselves? Why is he criticized, and in the eyes of Chazal, punished so severely, for an action that seems, at face value, positive? I think I have an answer, but you'll have to listen to the end to hear it.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeitzei - Rachel's Hidden Agenda

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeitzei - Rachel's Hidden Agenda

Why did Rachel steal her father's "trafim"? What in the world are trafim? We discuss biblical motivations, voodoo dolls, and the unintended consequences of our actions.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Audio Shiur: Parshat Toldot- Our Response to the Har Nof Murders - The Persistence of Yitzchak

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Toldot- Our Response to the Har Nof Murders - The Persistence of Yitzchak

The single chapter that describes the life of Yitzchak highlights the strong influence and presence of Avraham in his son's life. We discuss the theme of strength through persistence, and how Yitzchak's gevurah entrenched the spirituality of Avraham, and gave us the strength to overcome terrible challenges such as the one Klal Yisrael faced this week.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Persistence

Each of us, in our own way, suffered – and continues to suffer – as the slow passage of time edges us away from the horrible murders in Har Nof. In an age of instantaneous media, the images are now firmly etched into our psyches: of blood stained tallitot and siddurim; a lifeless hand still wrapped in Tefillin. I haven’t tried to make sense of the events in my own mind because I know that any such attempt would represent an exercise in futility. There is no sense to be made in abject hatred. There’s no logical explanation, no legitimacy possible for the murder of Talmidei Chachamim as they pray Shemeh Esreh. But there is a response; not a military or police response. Those tasks are left to others. Rather, our response must follow the response of the residents of Har Nof, who undoubtedly did what those four scholars would have insisted they do; what they would have done themselves; what we all did:
They got up in the quiet of the morning and went to daven. In shul.
Daily minyan isn’t one of the more glamourous aspects of Jewish life, but it might very well be its anchor. A shul – any shul – no matter how many members it may boast, no matter how many outside scholars it welcomes, no matter how lavish its kiddushim may be – is only as strong as the daily minyan. The act of rising, each and every day, to try and commune with God before (and after) the day begins together with the larger communit, represents both an individual dedication and desire to live a pious life, together with a recognition that we find our great religious meaning not in the bombastic moments of exciting ritual; not in the Bar Mitzvah or wedding, and not even only in the passion of the Yamim Noraim; but in the rigor of repetition of ritual, day in and day out. It is the daily davening and the daf yomi that makes us who we are. Without them, we lack the bedrock foundation that gives us both strength and a true, deep-rooted connection to God.
This week, terrorists, knowingly or not, attacked this bedrock of Jewish living. They were probably looking for the easiest target available, but in that effort focused on people who dedicated their very existence to maintaining this anchor of the Jewish condition, not only through prayer, but through their ongoing, ceaseless devotion to Talmud Torah, built over uncountable hours of study in the Beit Midrash, again invested without pomp or fanfare or nary a Facebook post or Tweet. It was these attributes of Judaism that were attacked in that quiet shul in Jerusalem: a dogged persistence to prayer, a steadfast devotion to Torah study, and an untiring dedication to religious ritual that has sustained the Jewish nation through two millennia of exile.
Thus, the most fitting response – the only response – is exactly how the people of Har Nof, of Jerusalem – of Jews throughout the world – did indeed respond. We went back to shul that night, and the very next morning. We maintained our vigil. We make it clear, each and every day, that no matter how many of our enemies rejoice and celebrate at the sight of murdered Jews, no matter how many candies they distribute or garish cartoon they publish, we will continue to rise early each morning to reestablish our relationship with God.
This vigil – the persistence – represents the strongest reason why those Jews are now living in Jerusalem, in Har Nof today. For thousands of years, Jews have risen each and every morning to pray to God: ולירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב – “return us to Jerusalem, Your city, in compassion.” ותחזינה עיננו בשובך לציון ברחמים – “May our eyes witness Your return to Zion with compassion.” After so many centuries of heartfelt prayer, someone, armed with the divine blessing of God, decided that it was time to transform those prayers into reality. God returned, and so did we.
It was that persistence that brought us here, and it’s that very same persistence that will keep us here. So, the morning after the murders, Jews across Jerusalem, and around the world, rose early in the morning once again for daily prayers. We were all a little heartbroken, a little at a loss for words. But we went to shul, because that’s what we do. We didn’t do it to tell our enemies anything. We didn’t do it to send a message. But, in our daily acts of devotion, we do indeed broadcast to the world in a loud, clear voice: We aren’t going anywhere.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayera - the Mystic Mount Moriyah

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Noach - Unraveling the Mystery of Avram's Origin

Why is the mountain called Mount Moriyah? We give you seven - and maybe eight - different reasons. Also, did Avraham fulfill the commandment to sacrifice Yitzchak with alacrity, or did he drag his feet? Evidence is mixed.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Drashah for Lech Lecha 5775 – Eli Klausner’s Bar Mitzvah - Unlocking the Greatness Within

I spent Shabbat as a Scholar in Residence at my old shul, the Young Israel of Oak Park. Here's the drashah that I gave.

Eli, imagine that archaeologists in Iran somehow discovered to old report cards of Avraham Avinu – his mother saved everything in earthenware jars. Except back then he wasn’t Avraham Avinu; he was just plain Avram. What would his teachers have written on his report card? You might think that he would have gotten all A’s. After all, he’s one of the greatest leaders and teachers in our national history. And, as we all know, the Midrash teaches us that even from a very young age, he sensed the presence of God. But you’d be wrong. He didn’t get all A’s. The comments would have looked something like this:
“Avram is very disruptive in class. He doesn’t pay attention, especially during idolatry.” (that’s from his Zoroastrianism teacher). And his homeroom teacher would have written: “Avram refuses to pray to the idols like the rest of the class, and instead fidgets uncontrollably during idol worship.” And of course there would be the mark about his suspension from school for damaging school property.
You see, Avram, even from a very young age was different. But that difference wasn’t easy, far from it. It must have been very, very hard to be different than everyone around him. But that struggle, perhaps more than anything else, is what made Avram into Avraham Avinu. By facing difficult challenges, and overcoming those challenges, Avram became Avraham, and unlocked the potential hidden inside him that would ultimately change the world.
In fact Eli, the entire Parshah that you read today is a chronicle of Avram’s lifelong experience of being different. The very first commandment God gives Avram – לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך – “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s home” – that command, in the language of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, represents the first of a series of tests that Avram must pass on his journey to greatness.
עשרה ניסיונות נתנסה אברהם אבינו עליו השלום ועמד בכולם, להודיע כמה [גדולה] חיבתו של אברהם אבינו עליו השלום [על הקדוש ברוך הוא[
Our forefather Avraham was tested with ten tests, and he passed them all, to teach us how great was God’s love for Avraham Avinu.
The first test? Leave your homeland. Leave your comfort zone. Go away, where no one knows you, where your reputation won’t help you, and begin life anew. Avram followed this commandment precisely. For the rest of his life he was known as אברהם העברי – which some think means, “Avraham the Hebrew” – but that’s not accurate. עברי refers to עבר הנהר – from the “other side of the river.” He’s Avraham from “over there” – he’s not from “here” – wherever “here” happens to be. It’s hard to always live life as a stranger. But that’s what he does, always moving from place to place to place.
The entire story of Avram is a series of tests: he leaves his home in חרן and travels to כנען. Almost as soon as he gets there there’s a famine, and he must leave once again. And then his wife is commandeered by the Pharaoh of Egypt. And then he must fight a war to free Lot. The list goes on, one test after another.
Why? Why all these tests? Because, as the Mishnah says, to teach us how must God loved him.
We might have thought the opposite: My grandfather, עליו השלום, used to take us fishing in the canal behind his house in Miami. We never caught a single fish. Not one. But he used to ask us: Do you know what the fish say? They say: "If you like me, leave me alone."
Don’t you think that at some point Avram would have had the same feeling? "God, enough with the tests!" If you really love me, leave me alone and let me spread Your Name in peace." And yet, that’s not what happened. Challenge after challenge, test after test. Why so many tests? Why so many challenges?
Ramban suggests an answer that carries an important message for us all. Introducing the final test of עקידת יצחק, we read:  - ויהי אחר הדברים האלה והאלקים נסה את אברהם -"And it was after these events, and God tested Avraham."
Again with the tests. Why so many tests? Why such a difficult one as asking him to sacrifice his beloved son? Ramban explains:
“The actions of man are of his own free choice whether he chooses to act or not; but the “tester” – God – commands him, in order to bring out from his potential into actuality, so that he will have the reward of a good action, and not just the reward of a good heart.
Yesterday I was in a shul in Cleveland, and the rabbi asked an interesting question. Last week, when the Torah introduced Noach, we read that נח איש צדיק, תמים היה בדורותיו – “Noach was a righteous man – a tsaddik, pure in his generation.” Why is there no such verse about Avraham, who must have been far greater?
The answer, I believe, is that Avraham wasn’t born אברהם אבינו. He had the potential for greatness; it was inside him, hidden in his heart. But only through challenge; by passing tests, and overcoming obstacles, did Avram release his hidden potential, and transform himself אברהם אבינו  - into the person that changed human history.
***************
People have been asking me about how things are in Israel. Thank God, for us personally – for me and Rena and the children, things are really great, thank God. Busy, but great.
But, as you know, it was a very, very challenging summer. Yad Binyamin, where we live, is 37 kilometers from the Gaza border, and we had about a rocket siren per day. That means dropping whatever you're doing, and running to the protected room in the house. Thank God, they usually fired at us during the day, so it wasn't so bad. But for people living in Ashkelon or Ashdod, it was far worse. The country spent the entire summer on pins and needles – defiant, strong. But the war, which followed the terrible murder of those three boys took a toll, and by the end of the summer the entire country was on edge. It was a very hard summer.
Then again, at the same time, it was perhaps the greatest summer for the Jewish people in decades. On the evening before the discovery of the bodies of those three boys, tens of thousands of Israelis from all walks of life - secular and religious - gathered in Rabin Square for an evening of prayer, and song, and unity. Those mothers – they were the embodiment of the Imahot; giving strength and inspiration to a nation. And then, during the war, people just gave; women made challot and cookies. People made hundreds of sandwiches, and just drove them down to the makeshift army camp outside Sderot. Barbers came down and gave free haircuts to soldiers. It got so crazy that the army simply had to close the area to civilians and say, “Thanks. We know that you love us, but we’ve got a war to fight.” People who had lived in Israel for decades said that they couldn’t remember the country being so united since the Yom Kippur War.
We were tested. And that test, and the painful sacrifices we made during those months brought out something that’s usually hidden and that we forget as we’re fighting the usual fights over budgets, and religious issues, and politics: We are one nation, and when pushed together, our power to love each other gave us a strength we didn’t remember that we have.
What was true for Israel this summer, is true for each of us as well. Most of us don’t enjoy struggle, and trial. We like things quiet. But that’s now how life is – life is about meeting the tests that we face head-on, and using those tests to become better people; better communities; and a stronger nation.
Eli, today might have been one of the hardest things that you’ve ever had to do, and we’re all – your parents, and teachers, and friends – so proud of you for the work that you put in for your Bar Mitzvah. And I’ve got good news, and better news. The good news is that for this week, the hard work is over, and now you can enjoy the Bar Mitzvah. But the better news is that for you, this is only the first test of many that you’ll face in life. And those tests, like the one that you had today, will challenge you – to become better, and different, and stronger, and make you the person that you have the potential to be.
Eli, anyone who meets you can sense your warmth and caring; your sensitivity to others, and your desire to help. In that sense, you’re following in your parents’ footsteps, who spend so much of their lives helping others: both in their professional lives and in the chesed that they do. When your mom isn’t helping the poor with legal aid, she’s working in the community, on shul committees, and with community institutions. And, aside from literally saving lives during his day job, your dad serves the country to ensure national emergency preparedness; he went to New York after 9-11, and spent weeks somewhere in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. So, if you’re wondering where you get that sensitivity and caring from, you don’t need to look that far.

Eli, as we celebrate your Bar Mitzvah together with you, the greatest brachah we can hope for you is that, as you grow, you continue to face your tests head-on; and, like Avraham, each success will make you a greater, more complete person. We will watch with excitement as you unlock and discover the greatness inside you, and become the person you are meant to be. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Audio Shiur: Parshat Noach - Unraveling the Mystery of Avram's Origin

Audio Shiur:
Audio Shiur: Parshat Noach - Unraveling the Mystery of Avram's Origin

The Torah gives conflicting evidence about the origins of Avram, our first Patriarch. What happened at the beginning of his life? Where was he born? Why did he leave? Was he really thrown into a fiery furnace? A careful study of the text reveals that there's a lot more to the story than what we all learned in nursery school.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Monday, October 20, 2014

On the Convert's Bill of Rights

Bethany Mandel has written a fascinating piece demanding a convert's Bill of Rights in which she lists ten points that she feels converts deserve as they undergo the process of conversion. Generally, her article is courageous and important, if only to give "outsiders" (non-converts) perspective into the ordeal and challenge of conversion. I agree with almost all of her points, but have a few caveats.

She writes:
1. Converts are in a state of persistent limbo. During the process we are never told how long it can or should take. We cannot get married if we are dating, we cannot date if we are single. We lose control over the most important choices in our lives and hand them over to men with whom we are unfamiliar for an indeterminate amount of time. I was unable to give a new job a start date, to give my former job proper notice, sign a lease on a new apartment or set a wedding date because I was kept in the dark about how much longer my conversion could possibly take. Days? Weeks? Months? A year? Several? This is psychological torture. A rough estimate and a clear plan for how to move forward to get to the finish line, the mikvah, is the least that a convert deserves.
While this point seems to make sense, it doesn't really address the process of conversion. Conversion is not a course that one takes and then passes the test in a linear fashion (although in Israel it is precisely that, which is one of the primary criticisms about the process of conversion here). Rather, conversion represents a a process of spiritual growth and change that is not linear, but dependent totally upon the progression of the candidate. How is it possible to know when the candidate is "ready"? True conversion represents the inculcation of values, spirituality, passion and commitment. How do you demonstrate those in a written exam? How much time does that take? For some it can be weeks. For others, much, much longer. Imagine being given a clear timeline, and the rabbi feels that the person just isn't ready. Should he convert her anyways, because he needs to adhere to the schedule he gave her? And if he ignored the schedule, wouldn't that be worse? The limbo must indeed be painful, but I imagine that the entire process is painful as well, and sometimes that pain is a sign of growth.
3. The reasonable costs associated with conversion should be clearly laid out from the outset.
Right on. I have heard too many horror stories about people undergoing private conversions and being told, late in the process, about unexpected costs that they'd have to pay to "finish".
4. Communities have welcoming committees for Jews who move to the area but nothing in place for converts in the process.
5. Converts are constantly asked to discuss extremely personal questions by strangers in social settings.
6. Help us with matters of Jewish ritual. This falls on rabbis and community members alike.
These are, to my mind, common sense. Sadly, there's often not enough common sense in our communities.
7. If converts are expected to provide their “papers” proving their Jewishness for a school, synagogue, or wedding ask born Jews for the same.
This already happens in Israel to anyone wishing to get married. It probably also happens in many Diaspora schools and shuls.
8. The conversion process for those of Jewish heritage should be accelerated and unique.
This is a subject of great debate among contemporary poskim and one of the primary reasons for the ongoing debate about the proposed conversion law in Israel. While the concept of zera yisrael can be justified halachically, it's far from agreed upon by the vast majority of poskim. This isn't a common sense issue or a mentchlechkeit issue, but a halachic one that doesn't belong in this article.
9. Converts deserve to be treated with the same love and care as Jewish orphans from the moment we become Jewish.
10. We should not have to live in fear about the status of our conversions in perpetuity.
Also both true, and should be obvious.

Ironically, I believe that the effort to unify conversion standards was all about alleviating that fear: if rabbis adhered to a standard, then no one could come afterwards and question whether they were properly converted or not. This effort stemmed from decades of shady practices of rabbis from Orthodox communities who converted too many converts without requiring proper kabalat hamitzvot. Rather than blaming the rabbis who worked (and continue to work) tirelessly to uphold the honor of geirim, we need to point that finger at rabbis who perform personal conversions knowing all the while that they're following a da'at yachid not accepted by the broader community. When this type of conversion is called into question (and it will be), people will write angry editorials at the Times of Israel blaming the RCA and the Beth Din of America, when they should really blame the rabbi who converted them in a questionable manner.

While I can try and appreciate the anxiety of converts who now fear that their conversions will somehow be questioned due to the troubling allegations about Rabbi Freundel, in truth, the thought never entered my mind. It's good, I guess, that the RCA just issued a statement affirming the validity of past conversions, but I doubt that the issue was ever in doubt. (This was probably one of the easier statements for the RCA to publish in recent memory).
Rabbi Barry Freundel was the head of the Conversion Committee. But there was an entire committee committed to ensuring that each and every Beit Din adhered to the mutually agreed standards. The whole idea of the GPS is to take the individual rav (and his reputation - for better or for worse) out of the equation, so that we would never question the validity of the giyyur. Had Rabbi Freundel performed the conversions alone with a Beit Din of his own construction, people might be doing just that. But because he acted within the framework of a unified system, anyone who questions the validity of the conversions is doing so either to stir the pot, or to promote their own personal agenda.
I don't think that we could ever have imagined these circumstances, but to my mind, the GPS worked exactly as it was designed, protecting the Jewish status of converts even when a major representative from within the GPS is called into question.

It's now clear that opponents of universal standards will use the recent news as proof that unifying standards is a bad idea. Tragically, if they get their way, they will ultimately be harming the very converts they claim to defend.