Sunday, March 9, 2014
Friday, March 7, 2014
A Day to Unplug
Tonight’s Shabbat Across America coincides with a new tradition, an annual National Day of Unplugging created by the think tank Reboot. Read about the Day of Unplugging here and download your own unplug sign (examples below). This is a perfect day to reconnect with real people, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child. For lots of you, that will begin here tonight, with dinner and our Klezmer service.
· You can now call me by my Travoltafied name, Jorja Hazmaton. And did you notice that not only was I spot-on in my prediction for best picture, but I even predicted correctly what the winners would say in their acceptance speech.
· Next Thursday evening at 7:30 we are privileged to host one of the most articulate and influential leaders on the American Jewish scene, AJC Exec David Harris. Get here early.
· Are you reading the MUST READ book of the year, Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”? Read it, take a look at this reader’s guide, and come to discuss it with me on Thurs., March 27 at 7:30.
· Great stuff coming for Purim next week: Super family megillah reading carnival on Sunday morning and on Sat. night, in the spirit of the holiday, the megillah reading will be spiced by a Scotch (or nonalcoholic alternative) tasting led by our own Ron Zussman, and special speaker Glenn Dynner, author of “Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor and Life in the Kingdom of Poland.”
· Click here to read Rosalea Fisher’s stirring d’var Torah delivered a couple of weeks ago marking her 50th bat mitzvah anniversary.
· Shabbat morning will be our next in a series of Learner’s Shabbats where we focus on a particular prayer. This week we’ll take a close look at the Morning_Blessings (also see this introduction) along with our Torah reading in Leviticus, and how Judaism encourages us to develop an “attitude of gratitude.”
· Reflecting on these waking-up prayers is perfect for a weekend when we (thank God!) return to Daylight Savings Time. Can spring be far behind? Speaking of which…
On Sunday, March 9, Hebrew school students across America will file into class, either more cantankerous and exhausted than ever - or an hour late. That's because, as it has for the past nine years, daylight savings time will begin on the second Sunday of March.
From 1986 - 2005, Americans sprung forward an hour on the first Sunday of April, but then the federal government decided that we needed one month more of DST. Even normally impetuous Israelis will be waiting until March 28 to spring forward. This year Americans are the ones jumping the gun, much to the chagrin of airline pilots, computer programmers, parish ministers and Hebrew school teachers, all of whom stand to suffer from this premature shift.
Advocates claim that we'll save up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day by being less reliant on light bulbs during working hours. But really, when's the last time we had a 9-to-5 workday? That's so 20th century! In an era of 24/7, with filled pre-dawn commuter trains and midnight teleconferences to Hong Kong, are we really saving anything? The shift was, I suspect, a bone thrown to environmentalists, buried in a 2005 energy bill granting tax breaks to Big Oil. Little did they know how this little, obscure add-on would wreak havoc on bar mitzvah schedules nationwide during the first few years of the early March experiment. With receptions thrown off schedule, many Shabbat-observant relatives were forced to wait an ungodly extra hour for the sun to set in Syosset before making that mouthwatering pilgrimage to Leonards of Great Neck.
…As I age along with the rest of my Baby Boom lot, at no time in my life have I had a keener awareness of my growing need for daylight. I recently marked that peculiar rite of passage where I strategically placed a pair of reading glasses in every room of the house. Not long ago, for the first time ever, I didn’t grimace when a wedding videographer asked my permission to set up extra lighting for the ceremony. Not only did I give the OK to those intrusive, obnoxious beams, I positioned one over my right shoulder so I could read the fine print on the Ketubah. So I should be exulting that now there will be one more hour of light.
A recent birthday triggered this reflection: Perhaps this premature daylight savings has little to do with preserving energy and everything to do with saving daylight. I’ve always been a baby boom baby, born at the tail end of the postwar population explosion. While I am beginning to sense my mortality big-time, millions of older boomers must really be getting worried about their own darkening shadows. And these are precisely the people who now sit in Congress, the ones who voted to move up DST nine years ago. They voted to delay that moment each day when they have to reach for their glasses…
For the rest, see my Times of Israel op-ed, “Saving Daylight.”
Israel “Apartheid Week” – A Concerned College Student Asks
I hear from our college students all the time and this week received an email expressing concern about so called “Apartheid Week” activities on her campus. An op-ed in her college newspaper was particularly damning – and confusing.
It so happens that Dan is interning at a noted Israeli think tank this semester, so I forwarded the article to him for his reaction. Both he and I feel there are some clear untruths in it. But what is most disturbing is need to deny Jews their historical connection to this land and the lack of a desire to live side by side with a Jewish state. I know of many Jewish groups on campus who have reached out to Palestinians and have been rebuffed.
I offer to our college students this page of talking points from the Jewish Federations of North America, that belie the great lie of Israeli apartheid.
The BDS movement has done a good job of focusing on Israel’s infractions (some true, some trumped, some outright lies) distracting from the bigger picture of Israel’s long-term security concerns and the short term insane asylum that is Israel’s neighborhood.
But when I speak with troubled college student – and many older adults – it is important to be honest. I have long been seriously troubled by Israel’s settlement policies, as have many Israelis and, according to the Pew report, most American Jews. It would be much easier to make the security argument for Israel if they weren’t continuing to create facts on the ground. I do distinguish between far flung settlements and Jerusalem, along with those areas that will eventually become part of Israel under any peace plan. These matters are discussed openly in Israel all the time. If you watch Israeli television all the time, as I do, you know that. But American Jews have for too long been afraid to admit to Israel’s shortcomings, thereby leaving our kids unprepared to confront them on campus.
The new book by Ari Shavit, “My Promised Land,” covers this question with balance and skill. I cannot recommend it more highly. See the reader’s guide (and come here to discuss it on March 27). Meanwhile, let’s hope the American efforts to produce an agreement bear fruit and that the Palestinians and Israelis will both say yes.
One more thing: Despite the clear economic and diplomatic dangers posed to Israel by the BDS movement, expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu this week at AIPAC as well as President Obama and Sec of State Kerry, I do not agree that this movement, insidious as it is, is a mortal threat to Israel. In fact, I am thrilled that the Palestinians have chosen the path of non violence as their prime strategic path toward statehood. That path has not been embraced by all parties, as this week’s Israel’s interception of a cargo ship bringing Iranian rockets to Gaza attests; but all the op-eds in student newspapers and peaceful protests at the security fences will not kill a single Israeli on a bus. The more that this battle is being fought with words rather than weapons, the better off we all are.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Temple Beth El congregants and our guests, especially my sister and my cousin. Thank you for sharing this special 60th anniversary of my becoming a Bat Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia. I will begin by sharing my memories of that milestone moment in my life and then I will speak about today’s Torah portion.
What do I remember about my Bat Mitzvah? There are times these days when I can’t remember what I’m looking for as I walk into a room, but I do remember much about the preparation and the day of my Bat Mitzvah and the feelings I had throughout the experience. It was Friday night, February 12, 1954, almost 60 years ago to the day. Our family was a member of Har Zion Temple for many years. It was in a Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia called Wynnefield. The synagogue was just a two block walk from our home.
In addition to attending Hebrew School 3 days a week, we had two B’Nai Mitzvah teachers, a man and a woman to teach us the prayers and how to chant them and Jewish traditions. I remember having trouble staying on pitch with the prayers. I knew the Hebrew very well as I had attended Religious School three days a week for many years. I also went to Shabbat morning services where I remember being the only girl. I felt like I was the only child who loved Hebrew school. I loved the preparation time learning my two teachers. My mother always proudly called me the family “rebetzin.” I think she hoped that someday I’d marry a rabbi.
It was common practice at Har Zion for two girls to become Bat Mitzvah on Friday nights. I shared the bima that Friday night with Sandra Marder.
I also studied Jewish traditions with Mrs. Rosen. My mother had studied Hebrew with her. Bat Mitzvah classes were conducted in the organ loft where the choir sat, a very dark room with a heavy wooden lattice screen that overlooked the huge wood paneled sanctuary. I remember her teaching our small group about Kashruth. I was fascinated with the reasons and rules for keeping a kosher home.
I remember walking home from synagogue that day and asking my mother why our family wasn’t Kosher. I can’t remember her exact answer, but I can remember that just two weeks later, she had transformed our kitchen into a kosher one – two sets of dishes, two sets of cutlery, and two sets of pots and pans. From that day until the day she died, she had a kosher kitchen. It all seemed very comfortable and natural to our family.
What else do I remember? In the beginning of the service, I remember my voice and my legs nervously shaking. I remember chanting half of my Haftorah portion, sharing it with my partner. I don’t remember what else or how I chanted that night. But I do vividly remember Yigdal, the last prayer I chanted. By that moment, my voice was strong and on pitch, and my legs had stopped shaking. I knew the service was over at that point, but I wanted to do more. I didn’t want the service to be over. I loved the prayers and I loved the music. We will all be chanting Yigdal today at the end of the service.
Of course, I remember the beautiful navy blue faille dress and the matching Capezio shoes my mother bought me and the yummy sweets served at the Kiddush downstairs. I remember the proud faces of my parents and sister and brother and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. When I close my eyes, I can remember the wood paneled huge sanctuary with a raised bima. I remember Rabbi David Goldstein and Cantor Isaac Wall, two larger-than-life figures in their black robes who I only knew from afar. Cantor Wall’s voice was always inspiring.
And now 60 years later, I stand here with you. My knees and my voice are not shaking now. My ability to stay on pitch has improved tremendously, thanks to Hazzan Rabinowitz, Cantor Jacobson, Cantor Littman, Cantor Mordecai and Beth Styles, the present director of our Temple Beth El High Holiday Choir. A special thanks to Judy Aronin, my dear friend and present musical coach. As you can see, music is an important part of my life. It gives me great joy to sing in the choir and in the New World Chorus, Stamford’s interfaith singing group.
Today’s Torah portion is T’Tzaveh which means “you shall instruct.” It begins with Exodus Chapter 20. God gave precise instructions to “all who are skillful” for weaving, cutting and stitching to create special garments of linen and wool, precious stones and gold for Aaron, the high priest, and his sons. They would wear these garments when they performed their sacred duties. Aaron’s garments consisted of 8 pieces; the garments of the ordinary priests would have 4 pieces.
What followed was a seven day ritual of investiture when Aaron and his sons and the sacrificial altar were dedicated. Aaron was anointed with oil and dressed in the robe, miter and breastplate of the High Priest. He and his sons were anointed with sacrificial blood and then for the seven days, they offered bulls and lambs, flour and oil to purify the Sanctuary as God’s dwelling place. God instructed Moses to build an incense altar of acacia wood to stand before the Holy Ark.
Aaron and his sons were commanded to keep a light of burning olive oil in the Sanctuary from morning until evening. And today, we women light our Shabbat candles. We women are not high priests and our homes are not as showy as the Sanctuary, but our hearts and our hands are as pure as those of the priests, and our candles shine as brightly as theirs as we perform the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles.
When I prepare for a D’Var Torah, I always read many sources. I read Torah, A Women’s Commentary published by the Women of the Reform Movement. My favorite book is The Five Books of Miriam, a women’s commentary on the Torah. In this book the question is asked, “Who made the elaborate garments for Aaron and his sons?” The Torah says “all who are skillful” but does not say who made these elaborate garments. “Skillful” can also be translated as “wise of heart.” Artisans in Israelite society were held in high esteem; their ability to create beautiful items was attributed to God.
According to Ellen Frankel, the author of The Five Books of Miriam, we can make a pretty good educated guess. Since women have been the primary weavers and tailors in every culture since before recorded time, it’s likely that it was the skillful and wise of heart Israelite women who knitted, sewed and created these garments.
Today, women still are the weavers, the knitters, the quilters, the embroiderers, although not exclusively. My mother taught me how to embroider, how to knit and how to sew. I remember sitting next to her as she “instructed” me to do the regular stitches and when I was ready, the fancy stitches. It was one generation teaching another. We were a mother and daughter bonding together. For a number of years, my mother made clothes for my sister and me. We always felt so proud to wear them.
And over the years, I have continued the tradition of her handwork by needlepointing, by knitting, by weaving and by quilting. I have made quilts for Jodi and Michael, and another quilt graces our dining room wall. I also made his tallit bag. I helped to create the TBE chuppah that many of our women worked on.
My mother and I worked on a huge cross-stitch tablecloth together. We embroidered every stitch of the table cloth and all twelve napkins. At our Kiddush lunch today, one table will be graced with this tablecloth that we created. The napkins will be on the round tables.
I was asked if today’s Torah portion is the same as it was 60 years ago. My first response was, “I have no idea.” Then, I decided to look in my baby book. Lo and behold, there was the bulletin for that week, announcing many synagogue functions which included my Bat Mitzvah and the portion for that Shabbat – it was T’Tzaveh. You can see the announcement in the handouts. I had no idea months ago when I asked Rabbi Hammerman if I could deliver the D’Var Torah today that this would be the Torah portion. And coincidentally, T’Tzaveh is also Rabbi Hammerman’s Bar Mitzvah Torah portion. I am honored to share this Torah portion with him.
As we have learned, T’Tzaveh means to instruct. God instructed the women to create garments for Aaron and his brothers. My teachers instructed me to chant and to read Hebrew. My mother instructed me to knit, to embroider, and to sew. She also instructed our family how to keep a kosher home. My choir leaders have taught me to sing. My friends have taught me to quilt and to knit. For many years I taught Sunday school here at TBE, and I taught women to read Hebrew. Many of them went on to become B’Not Mitzvah. For 25 years I taught children in the public schools. And now I teach adults English as a Second Language.
In my high school yearbook the quote under my photo said, “And gladly would she learn and gladly would she teach.” It was true then and it certainly is true today. I love to learn, and I love to teach, and preparing this D’Var Torah has certainly been a learning experience.
Shabbat Shalom to all of you. Please join us for a Kiddush lunch after the service. I hope you will also join me ten years from today when I will celebrate the 70th anniversary of my becoming at Bat Mitzvah.