Friday, December 6, 2013
Shabbat Shalom! And thank you for coming here today from far and wide as we celebrate my bar mitzvah.
This week, we also celebrated a once in a lifetime holiday: Thanksgivikkah. Today is also a special day for other reasons: it’s Shabbat, my dad’s birthday as well as mine, and of course, my bar mitzvah.
Many things have contributed to my being here today. As most of you know, I am a black belt in karate. What you may not know, is that my karate skills are very similar to the skills I have learned in preparing for today.
No, I am not going to chop through the torah or anything! Because in karate, I have learned that there are many was to be strong. I have also learned it from being Jewish.
In karate, in fact, being strong is not the most important thing. It’s more important to be focused and quick. You must also be patient, calm not only in your head, but your soul as well.
The same is true in scouting, which I also love. The scout Oath is “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to obey the scout law. To help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Physical strength is not enough.
The message of Chanukah is very similar. You have the Maccabees, who possessed great physical strength. But the message from my Haftarah is different. It says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit.” This means that I would not have learned everything today by might or power, but by my will to learn as much as I can and then, when it would be easy to stop, to keep on going.
The key is to be strong in many different ways. For me, a way to be strong is through self control. Self control came to me through Karate, as we have to be very mature, and not fool around when we are sparring or anything else that we are doing during the class. We have to focus all our energy into each move, and not to have any distractions.
In my Torah portion, Joseph had to show self control to not reveal himself to his brothers, and in teaching the Egyptians to store the food during the 7 years of plenty, so they would have food for the 7 years of famine.
On Thankgivukkah we had to have self control to not eat too much turkey and potato latkes.
As I grow into an adult, I am hoping to use the lessons that I have learned from my grandfather, who unfortunately has passed on. He was a man who has extremely strong moral character and physical strength too. He was able to fix things so easily. He even fixed the ark upstairs in the chapel. Whenever when I go into that chapel, I think of him. I know he is smiling down on me today.
For my mitzvah project, I volunteered at Person to Person and helped sort all kinds of food and then put items on the shelves. I’m also donating a part of my bar mitzvah money to the food bank of Hawaii. The organization donates mass quantities of both perishable and non-perishable goods to 250 charitable agencies on Oahu. The Food bank of Hawaii now feeds over 183,500 people in Hawaii. That is over 14% of the population of Hawaii. This includes children, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled, low-income families, and the unemployed.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
From last Sunday's Religious School Chanukah Challenge CLICK HERE for more photos
This week's O-Gram is sponsored by Evan and Nancy Finchler in honor of Noah's becoming Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning
There's the December Dilemma and now the November Dilemma, but Thanksgivukkah Resolves the GREATEST Dilemma of all...which is, of course, whether to spell Hanukkah with an H or a CH. This year, we spell it with an TH! But with one K or two? For the record, there are sixteen ways to spell Hanukkah.
Join us for services at 9 AM on Thursday AND Friday, at 7:30 on Friday night (I’d love to see some of our returning college students), when Beth Styles once again will join us for some fantastic music, and on Shabbat morning too, when Noah Finchler becomes Bar Mitzvah. Mazal tov to Noah and family!
In the midst of all the holiday preparations, the agreement with Iran is causing considerable consternation and confusion among American Jews, myself included. Most of those weighing in at this point are shedding more heat than light. Since this IS rocket science, I think it best to rely on experts here rather than the opinions of pundits or politicians. For those seeking more light and less heat, I suggest this collection of observations from the Brookings Institution, along with this analysis.
For your reading pleasure, especially for those waiting endlessly at airports, some Thanksgivukkah links - and please do not read these while driving!
Photo album from last Sunday’s TBE Religious School Chanukah Challenge (the kids had an incredible time with a dreidel spinning contest, human menorahs, and more!)
Hanukkah message from the Stamford Board of Rabbis (in today’s Stamford Advocate) (see text at the bottom of this email)
Light My Fire Hanukkah App from the Jewish Museum - the coolest way to light up your smart phone or tablet!
From UJA-Federation New York:
- Dress a turkey (PDF) in a variety of costumes, from Batman to Elvis, or design your own.
- Color a variety of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holiday icons (PDF). Then search for those icons in a Thanksgivukkah word search (PDF).
- Decorate a dreidel (PDF), then print it out and play a game or two with family and friends.
- Give thanks for the things that make you happy while you color a menorah (PDF).
- Thanksgivukkah is a great opportunity to blend the culinary traditions of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Draw your favorite food (PDF) in a frying pan, and hope that it appears on the table!
Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for reflection. Give thanks for the things you are grateful for and acknowledge the important role that Jewish tradition plays in your life with a Thanksgivukkah service (PDF).
After the Feast
Once the turkey is done, it's time to light the menorah. Keep the Thanksgivukkah theme going by creating a pumpkin menorah for your celebration and lighting it with help from a menorah lighting guide (PDF).
Some easy ways to "green" your Hanukkah gifts.
Leftovers are a tradition that everyone can get behind. Make the most of your "day after" dinner with Thanksgivukkah Knishes With Cranberry Mustard, adapted from a recipe by Shannon Sarna.
- Hanukkah Quiz
- Hanukkah 101 Brush up on the basics of the festival of lights.
- Hanukkah At Home Home rituals celebrating light as a metaphor for spiritual freedom.
- For Families Eight days of fun.
- Hanukkah In the Community Jewish communities around the world celebrate Hanukkah with parties, songs, and games.
- Candlelighting There is a set procedure that is followed in this home ritual.
- Blessings Blessings for lighting the Hanukkah candles.
- Publicizing the Miracle The home ceremonies followed today were the conscious creation of the Talmudic rabbis.
- Video: How to Light The Adventures of Todd and God.
- How To Play Dreidel Rules for the popular Hanukkah gam
From Israel 21c:
- Eight Fun Facts about Hanukkah
- The top eight things to do in Israel on the eight days of Hanukkah
- Hanukkah in Jerusalem (video)
- Israel21c. top eight Hanukkah videos
An Ideal Convergence of Holidays - Stamford Board of Rabbis
While American Jews are familiar with the so called "December Dilemma," when Hanukkah and Christmas coincide, we only rarely confront "November Nirvana," when Thanksgiving and the eight-day festival of Hanukkah overlap. This abnormally early Hanukkah will actually have a seven-hour head start, as the first candle will be lit at sundown on Wednesday. According to some calculations, the next time the two holidays will intersect in this manner will be in 79,000 years. This year's calendrical anomaly is truly significant.
This convergence of holidays, whimsically dubbed Thanksgivukkah, is a match made in heaven. Both holidays are incredibly popular and widely practiced. Both celebrate a small band of deeply religious people who successfully regained precious freedoms and then forged new rituals with which to mark their gratitude to God. And ironically, both holidays can be traced to a common root -- the eight-day biblical festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which both the Pilgrims and Maccabees used as a model for their new celebrations.
The 19th century Hassidic master, Nachman of Bratslav, wrote that "The days of Chanukah are days of Thanksgiving." Indeed, our Hanukkah prayers conclude by defining the festival as a time "to offer thanksgiving and praise."
This year, the American Jewish community is blessed to celebrate both holidays simultaneously, to eat our traditional potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) along with turkey, cranberry sauce and pie. Even with the mashed potatoes taking the year off, we could well break all time records for cholesterol consumption this Thursday.
As children, we dress up as Pilgrims and Native-Americans and many participate in grade-school dramatizations. The story of the Maccabees with the dreidels (tops), the olive oil and the Syrian-Greek soldiers are part of our dramatic culture as well. The Pilgrims traveled to a faraway and dangerous land for their freedoms; the Maccabees were compelled to fight for theirs. And there is no contradiction, only added value.
To top it off, while Thanksgiving offers a cornucopia of choices for the American sports fan, the Maccabees became the very model of the Jewish athlete; Israel's most famous basketball team and the quadrennial Jewish Olympics have adopted that name. Whether on the playing field or at the dining room table, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are indeed perfect together.
We offer our most heartfelt gratitude to God for our Jewish holiday celebrating the miracle of light and freedom, while at the same time recalling the plight of the Pilgrims and their thanksgiving meal with their new neighbors. The word Jew actually means to give thanks. Today we proudly display our Jewish and American identities together by offering our appreciation to God for all of our bounty and blessing. Happy Thanksgivukkah!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” All throughout life, people try and focus on the “big picture,” but sometimes, the smallest of things makes the biggest difference.
This is shown in many ways, one of which is movies. As many of you may know, I love to watch movies, and over the years I have noticed that it’s not always the main character who contributes most to the plot. It’s the secondary character, the unknown character… the little guy!
Why am I bringing this up, you may ask? My Torah portion, Vayeshev, relates to this idea of noticing the “little things” very well.
In the portion, Joseph has some dreams that cause his brothers to get very angry and jealous. A short time later, Jacob sends Joseph up to see them where they are grazing with their flocks. On the way, he gets lost and asks an unknown man for directions. This person is someone you would never expect to be important – he (or she) doesn’t even have a name! Jewish history was changed by this supposedly unimportant person. Without him Joseph never would have found his brothers and never would have been sent down to Egypt, and his brothers and father never would have gone down either, where they stayed for hundreds of years only to become slaves of Pharaoh….. but that’s another story.
This kind of thing happens in movies all the time. The little guy turns out to be very important. I especially love Disney movies. There’s a perfect example of this in “Cinderella.” The four mice are certainly little, but these characters lend Cinderella a lot of moral support. And with a little bit of magic, they became the horses that took her to the ball. Without those little mice, she never would have gotten there.
This coming Thursday is a combination of three holidays that will never happen together again: Thanksgiving, the first day of Hanukkah… and my birthday! I call it Thanksbirthukah!! Each of these celebrates the power of the little guy….or girl, to make a difference. The pilgrims were outcasts in England. The Maccabees were bullied by the Greeks. And me? Well, no one has made me an outcast, but it took a while for my voice to be heard. Literally. When I was a young baby I couldn’t speak because I had speech apraxia, a severe motor speech disorder. And it was only with special care and speech therapy that I eventually became the talkative person I am today.
So I know firsthand how much of a difference the single individual can make. For my mitzvah project, I volunteered at the Community Center for Northern Westchester, where I worked at the food pantry and clothing boutique. I will continue volunteering there hoping to make a difference for the families in need. You can read about the Center in my Bat Mitzvah booklet. Thank you for your donations. I also hope I made a difference for a child when I donated my hair to Locks of Love.
Friday, November 22, 2013
This week’s O-Gram is sponsored by Jill and Mark Teich in honor of Mara’s becoming Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning
Mazal tov to the Teich family! Join us for services tonight at 7:30 (if you haven’t sat in the comfy new sisterhood chairs and participated in our services lately with Beth Styles joining us up front, you’ve simply GOT to come!
November 22: America’s National Yahrzeit
Fifty years ago, JFK was killed in Dallas. I was very young at the time - it is one of my first news-related memories. I recall my father picking up the phone and crying out, “Turn on the TV!” I remember the flashing word “Bulletin” on the screen - and in this case, the lack of picture was worth a thousand words. My home synagogue was just down the street from JFK’s birthplace and a memorial service and march took place there on the day of the funeral. You can read about it here and see vintage video of that march, including my father, z’l, in his cantorial garb.
November 22 has become America's National Yahrzeit, really the only one that Americans observe. Once a person has died, Jews typically observe the anniversary of a death and not the birthday; but other Americans continue to focus on birthdays, even long after someone has died. This is really the only exception. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) is far better known than his “yahrzeit” (April 15). But for JFK (born May 29), November 22 will always be the date that we remember.
There is a fascinating conversation in the Midrash about why, as Ecclesiastes 7:1 puts it, the day of death is better than the day of birth. A story is told of rabbis walking along a pier and noticing that a ship on its maiden journey is sent out with great fanfare, while one returning from its final voyage at sea is greeted in silence. Rabbi Levi suggests that the opposite would be more appropriate. When a child is born, all that we have is potential; there are plenty of unknowns. But when a person dies, we have a whole life to celebrate, all the achievements, the full impact of that person's deeds, which will continue to resonate to eternity.
When a person is born, the life of his family changes dramatically. But when that person dies - and not just a president but anyone - the ripple effect can be felt globally, and beyond. A yahrzeit can be celebrated, but the celebration is always tinged with sadness. We say Kaddish on the yahrzeit because that prayer recognizes that even God has been diminished, that the universe has a spiritual black hole in it, that the garment of sanctity has been torn.
Today we will say Kaddish for President Kennedy, because a nation was torn that day in November, fifty years ago. And even as the jubilee year usually marks a time of release, we’ve not yet been released from the trauma of this event. The wound to our national psyche has not yet fully healed. But we can still celebrate the hope and promise that was that moment in time that we called Camelot.
This week’s memorials have been cathartic. But many more yahrzeits will pass before we will be able to say, with no reservations, that America has truly moved on.
Eisen’s “L’Chayim” to Conservative Judaism
Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has just posted on the Jewish Week site a spirited defense of Conservative Judaism in the face of those predicting its’ imminent demise. I must admit, the vultures are circling gleefully. I experienced one of them in the form of Jerusalem Post columnist Isy Liebler in the “L’Chayim” roundtable last week on Shalom TV. He held court for the show’s final seven minutes, denying me the chance to respond properly. But the response really does not need to come on a televised talk show. The response needs to be seen in our deeds - in a community that plays out its vision every day, as I believe we do, in all that we do. And what is that vision? Eisen described it well in his article:
“If I had to chart a future for Jewish life in North America, and guess what path is most likely to secure that future, I would put my money on a model of Judaism that sees the world through an egalitarian lens, accepts the best that modernity has to offer; appreciates science and the arts; respects other faith communities and other Jews; and understands that, while good fences make for good neighbors, it relies for its survival upon low walls and high regard for others. I would bet upon Jews to learn by study and practice - albeit in ways that are new or evolving as I write - what is distinctive in their heritage so that they always have something Jewishly serious to offer the world, resources with which to resist the many temptations of modern life, something to root them and infuse them with ultimate meaning in the face of fashion and ephemera.”
Yep, that’s it. Call it Conservative or anything you want. Throw in some passionate, warm and welcoming prayer experiences (as you will see tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow morning too), and that’s the response. That’s who we are.
Another Jewish Week op ed has been getting lots of play this week, this one written by an Orthodox rabbi who has decided to eschew denominational labels altogether. The article, “I am Not Orthodox,” makes the persuasive case that movements more often divide Jews than unite us. That’s true, but only when one washes out every ounce of vision from them - leaving us with just affiliation or blind loyalty. In truth, whenever we hear someone say “I accept all Jews, no matter what their affiliation," we need also to hear what is implied: “...as long as they eventually come around to my way of thinking.”
I wonder, for instance, whether or not that Rabbi Teldon would accept an interfaith family where the non Jewish parent refuses to convert. I can state unequivocally that we would. Would he accept someone who has left the Orthodox fold? No doubt he would try to love that person, but with the goal of luring him back. Is acceptance merely the means to and end, as it is among missionaries of all faiths, or an end in itself? To be truly accepting, one must be fully committed to the notion that each of us is on a distinct spiritual journey, and we must respect the integrity of that journey, even as we try to model for them what we feel is the best that Judaism can offer.
True, as Rabbi Teldon insists, we are all one family. We are all "Just Jews."
And a rainbow is all "just colors." But red and blue are equally lovely - despite and because of their differences. And together they make something even more incredible: purple. I would gladly pray in either red's synagogue or yellow's. And I would see in each a shading of the truth. Would Rabbi Teldon pray at my shul? Would he accept as Jewish a child converted by a rabbi not of his movement? I would eat in green's house and blue's. Would he?
Rabbi Teldon states that denominations are "artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same Torah given by the One and same God." I agree. Labels divide. Same Torah. Same God. But very different ways of understanding that Torah and struggling with that God.
Let's offer the possibility that even conflicting Judaisms can each possess aspects of truth. If we all could truly do that, what a remarkable world this would be. We would not have labels. But the colors would be so incredibly vivid, and united.
So much has been written already about next week’s harmonic convergence of holidays. We know that it’s the last time this will happen for a gazillion years. We know that this day will break all time records for cholesterol consumption. Is there anything new to add? Well, try this out: the song “Oils” (a takeoff on the song “Royals” has been cleaning up on YouTube - here’s the link to the edited, “clean” version. Here’s another one, from Jewcy. Only 2 million to go before next Thursday. Then it will be gone forever.
So has it been overblown? Sure, like everything else. But for a good cause.
For this one day, the last chance for another 79,000 years, we will get to revel, simultaneously, in our Americanness and our Jewishness. While it can be argued that neither holiday is the most important holiday in either culture (though Thanksgiving comes close to July 4), this is still a huge deal. Imagine a chance to light Hanukkah candles without having to run out for an evening meeting, an opportunity to give thanks on a holiday that celebrates miracles. The only thing that does not fit perfectly into this match is mashed potatoes, which must be trumped off the plate by latkes.
Thanksgivukkah is one holiday definitely worth going over the river and through the woods to celebrate. Enjoy it!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgivukkah!