Sunday, December 21, 2014

TBE Lights Hanukkah Menorah at Government Center

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Shabbat-O-Gram December 19


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

We've been very busy here already this Hanukkah, and the best is yet to come: Friday night's dinner and service.  Hundreds of people are expected.  You won't want to miss this Hanukkah Happening for all ages.  If you are coming just for the service, a reminder that we now begin Friday night services at 7:00 PM.  And on Shabbat morning, we'll be naming Abigail Sophia Klein, daughter of new TBE members Robert and Emily Klein.  Born on Yom Kippur, named during Hanukkah.  Join us as we welcome Abigail and wish mazal tov to her family.

This afternoon we lit the candles downtown at the Government Center with Mayor Martin (see photo above).  Also, our Hebrew School 7th graders have been busy preparing Hanukkah treats to bring to the Jewish Home in Fairfield, and last Sunday our K.1. and 2 students made latkes. Lots more will be happening this Sunday morning.  You can check out the photos in our online Hanukkah album.  

We will also be very busy helping our neighbors to celebrate Christmas, next Wed. night at Pacific House and, for the first time, also at Inspirica's facilities on Franklin St. Once again, so many of our congregants have volunteered to help bring holiday cheer those most in need of it.  BTW, a reminder that morning minyan will be at the special 9 AM federal holiday start time next Thursday (when I have yahrzeit for my father) and again the flowing week on New Year's Day. 

Happy Birthday, Alberto!

This week our staff celebrated a special birthday for Alberto Eyzaguirre, who has served this congregation for more years than anyone...ever.  Alberto showed me this photo of our staff, taken at one of his birthday celebrations here in the late 1980s, and this photo of him holding my Ethan a couple of years later.  Happy Birthday, Alberto!  And thank you!


A Jew at Home

I get lots of questions around Hanukkah time.  Last week at services, someone asked whether, when we put the Hanukkah menorah in the window, the positioning of the candles be determined by how they appear from outside or inside the house.  It's a good question. 

Over the centuries there have been rabbinic debates as to whether the hanukkiah should be lit inside the house at all, or should it stay outside all the time.  The consensus is that for security purposes as well as the winter weather, which can be nasty even in Israel at this time, it's best to keep it inside.   But I think it should be, regardless.

We place the candles in from right to left and light them from left to right.  Once those candles are lit, what's important is what they look like from the perspective of those who are sure to be looking at them - and that means us. If others are looking at them too, on the other side of the window, wonderful.  But before publicizing the miracle to the world, let's make sure we've publicized it to ourselves.  If others see it, so be it.  From my house, if someone sees my candles from the outside, they've either got telescopic vision or antlers.  Or they are at the cemetery - and as the Psalm says, "The dead do not praise You."  Let's take care of business inside our homes first.  Judaism should be first and foremost a private affair.

We spend too much time wondering about what others think of us.  We worry too much about our public image, wearing our religion on our sleeves and rarely letting it penetrate the heart.

Back at the beginning of the Enlightenment, the talk was that newly emancipated Jews should be "Jews at home and human beings on the street."  The idea was to hide one's Jewishness, reserving it for the private realm, and to appear just like everyone else in public.  But now the situation has been reversed.  For so many, our Jewish identities revolve around our organizational affiliations, our meetings and lunches, our postings and proclamations, rather than our inner lives.  So while it is good to proclaim the miracle for the world and to show pride in who we are, the flames of the Hanukkah candles mean nothing if they don't ignite a spark in each of our souls. 

Hanukkah Exotica

Hanukkah is complicated. Nothing is as it seems. For one thing, it is the festival the ancient rabbis wanted to get rid of. They hated the Maccabees (primarily because their descendants, the Hasmoneans, became corrupt rulers) and devoted very little space in the Talmud to discussions of this holiday. Purim gets an entire tractate, Hanukkah barely a page.  But it was too popular to get rid of.  So the rabbis tried to gerrymander it to fit their visions.

I was asked how we could say, in the blessing, that we are commanded to light the Hanukkah candles, when Hanukkah is not even in the Torah.  The rabbis got around that one by invoking a verse from Deuteronomy ascribing special authority to sages living during the second temple period.  Once again, it's complicated, but the idea is that the verse gave these sages authority to give a non Torah activity "mitzvah" status, to be included among the 613 commandments.  So a new commandment was shoehorned into the Torah for a holiday that's post biblical.

Even the simple dreidel game, one of Hanukkah's best known customs, is complicated. It's in fact derived from an English and Irish medieval Christmas custom.  Sorry, Virginia, it's one of those freaky ironies of Jewish history that in order to celebrate a holiday that marks our victory over cultural assimilation, we play a game that resulted from cultural assimilation.  You can read more about the origins of the dreidel and more Hanukkah exotica, here

Also, see these Hanukkah goodies from the Rabbinical Assembly:

All Miracles, Great and Small

Last Tuesday, our Learning and Latte monthly interfaith conversation reconvened at the Parkway Diner (We thank them for their hospitality, but with no latte on the menu, we might want to rename it "Learning and Lasagna").  It was a really special evening.  Along with about a dozen Jews, mostly from TBE, there were three Muslims, three Christians and assorted agnostics and spiritualists; this on a day when Taliban terrorists killed 140 Muslims, almost all of them children at a Pakistani school.   Rather than dwell on this horror, we paused for a moment to reflect, and then declared that we need to be the solution.  So we engaged in some meaningful, constructive dialogue, discovering how each of our faiths focuses on blessing and life, and how our faith traditions teach us to appreciate the small miracles that come into our lives. 

It was really a fantastic hour.  Our next L and L will take place on Thursday, January 15, the topic will be racism, and Mayor Martin will attend. The location and exact time TBD.

This week, a cell of Jewish racists was arrested in Israel for vandalizing Jerusalem's Arab-Jewish "Hand in Hand" school.  Two young students from that school, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, created a menorah following that event - and that menorah was lit at the White House last night.  Once again, the response to darkness and hatred was to spread the light.

Let's look for the good in one another and find miracles in the simple act of standing together "hand in hand."

Or hand in paw. 

The New York Times recently reported that Pope Francis indicated that there is a place in heaven for dogs. The report proved erroneous, although something similar was said by another pope, but the point is moot.  I know that for my dogs, at least, whenever one of their humans comes through the door, especially a human who has been away for a long time (say, in college), they are in heaven.  Maybe the point isn't that we should hope to see Fido at the Pearly Gates.  What we should try harder to do is see the world through Fido's eyes, and understand that any time we truly connect with another living being, that is heaven, right here and right now.

This week is a time for people of all faiths to stand together - dogs too. 

Wishing everyone a joyous season of lights and the sensation of heaven right here, right now.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

A Jew at Home

I get lots of questions around Hanukkah time.  Last week at services, someone asked whether, when we put the Hanukkah menorah in the window, the positioning of the candles be determined by how they appear from outside or inside the house.  It’s a good question. 

Over the centuries there have been rabbinic debates as to whether the hanukkiah should be lit inside the house at all, or should it stay outside all the time.  The consensus is that for security purposes as well as the winter weather, which can be nasty even in Israel at this time, it’s best to keep it inside.   But I think it should be, regardless.

We place the candles in from right to left and light them from left to right.  Once those candles are lit, what’s important is what they look like from the perspective of those who are sure to be looking at them – and that means us. If others are looking at them too, on the other side of the window, wonderful.  But before publicizing the miracle to the world, let’s make sure we’ve publicized it to ourselves.  If others see it, so be it.  From my house, if someone sees my candles from the outside, they’ve either got telescopic vision or antlers.  Or they are at the cemetery next door – and as the Psalm says, “The dead do not praise You.”  Let’s take care of business inside our homes first.  Judaism should be first and foremost a private affair.

We spend too much time wondering about what others think of us.  We worry too much about our public image, wearing our religion on our sleeves and rarely letting it penetrate the heart.

Back at the beginning of the Enlightenment, the talk was that newly emancipated Jews should be “Jews at home and human beings on the street.”  The idea was to hide one’s Jewishness, reserving it for the private realm, and to appear just like everyone else in public.  But now the situation has been reversed.  For so many, our Jewish identities revolve around our organizational affiliations, our meetings and lunches, our postings and proclamations, rather than our inner lives.  So while it is good to proclaim the miracle for the world and to show pride in who we are, the flames of the Hanukkah candles mean nothing if they don’t ignite a spark in each of our souls. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jessica Olin on Vayeshev

Aside from this being my bat mitzvah and Shabbat, today is a very special day.  It’s December 13, so that makes it 12/13/14.  And for those who are wondering, that magic moment of 12:34, on 12/13/14 will occur while we are at the Kiddush.   Ever since the year 2003, we’ve had one of these dates every year.  But that will now end.  This is the last time there will be consecutive numbers for month, date and year, for 89 years, until January 2, 2103, or 1/2/3.       
Aside from this thing with the dates, there are a lot of other lasts that we are celebrating today.   This is the last bar or bat mitzvah on Shabbat morning at Temple Beth El in 2014.  As you may know, I am also the last of my siblings to become bat mitzvah.  And I am the last student in my Hebrew School class to become bat mitzvah, too.

  Some might think that this is a bad thing.  But there is a Hebrew expression that says just the opposite:  Acharon, acharon haviv.” It’s based on a Talmudic commentary but its meaning is basically, “last but not least.”

It turns out that in the Bible, virtually every great hero is the youngest!  We see it especially in Genesis. Isaac and Jacob were both the youngest and they turned out to be more important than their siblings.  Elsewhere, Moses is the youngest of his siblings, and so is King David.  It gets to the point when we are surprised when the Bible hero is NOT the youngest sibling.

In my portion, Joseph is the second youngest – but since he had ten older brothers, we can consider him as good as the youngest – especially since he was Jacob’s favorite.

Being the youngest was not always an advantage for me. For all these years I've been schlepped around to Josh and Ilana’s activities.

Following in the footsteps of two really high achievers has been extremely difficult.  It has put added pressure on me to succeed in school, at gymnastics, & in EVERYTHING!

But, there have been many advantages of being the youngest.

I've gotten to learn from their experiences.  Navigating school was easier, and I had the inside track on which teachers to watch out for, or how to approach a particular assignment.  Josh & Ilana have been VERY helpful with homework, since they’ve taken the same classes.

When Josh & Ilana got their first cell phones, they had to get basic phones. Josh's cell phone still is!!!  But last Hanukkah, when I received a ringing box, I was thrilled to open it and find an iPhone!  Way back in Josh and Ilana’s day, iPhones weren’t as popular.  But now they’ve become crucial to a teenager’s survival!

Also, had I not been schlepped to gymnastics with Ilana from the month I was born, I might never have discovered my passion for it. It started with Mommy & Me when I was 18 months old, and from what I’ve been told, I crawled around in the gym even before that.  Gymnastics is (and has always been) such a huge part of my life.  I love it so much, even though sometimes that commitment means that I don’t have as much time to be with my friends.

Being last has other advantages.  At gymnastics meets, when awards are given out, first place is always announced last - save the best for last!  As they say, “Acharon, acharon haviv!”

Some say that the youngest sibling grows up faster. I definitely did, especially having two older siblings, including one who is already in college. Not too many kids my age watch Homeland every week, or “Grey’s Anatomy,” – and even if they do, not too many of them understand all the medical talk that’s going on.  I guess that might also be because I have a doctor in the family.

And finally, in addition to the pressure of following my siblings, I have the added pressure of being last in my Hebrew school class.

We’ve been going through this together for the past 8 years – and the past 13 months for bar mitzvahs – and this is the end not just for my family, but for all of us.  There’s a little more pressure, but it’s also a great honor to be the last one.

So being the youngest isn’t so bad… even if I complain about it from time to time!

My ​M​itzvah ​P​roject is collecting gift cards and toys for David’s Treasure Tree toy closet in the pediatric unit at Stamford Hospital. After my Bat Mitzvah, I will go to the hospital and help put the items I collect into the closet and help organize the closet.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shabbat and Hanukkah-O-Gram for Dec. 11


Shabbat Shalom, and mazal tov to Jessica Olin and Sydney Eben, the last TBE b'not mitzvah of 2014 - and to their families, who are sponsoring this week's Shabbat-O-Gram and weekly announcements.  Click here to read Max Trell's Torah commentary from last Shabbat - and to see the connection between Jews and professional wrestling!  This Shabbat morning, Jessica will be the final student from our Bar/Bat Mitzvah class of current TBE 8th graders.  Mazal tov to all of them!


The Hammerman family menorah

Hanukkah begins this coming Tuesday night (and don't forget our big musical Hanukkah celebration next Friday!)  Here are some resources for you:

Newtown, Two Years Later

Today is the second anniversary of the Newtown shootings.   Propelling the post Newtown world from darkness toward light takes us in three distinct directions.

1)       Healing - as we pray together at services and at events like this evening's vigil coordinated by the Enough Campaign at the Ferguson Library, and through our tears will emerge some sense of healing. We are all affected so profoundly by what happened two years ago.
2)       Activism - see the 2013 State Scorecard and see how improved gun laws could really make a difference for public safety.  School shootings have become so commonplace that they are no longer front page news in this country.  This is madness.  Connecticut is way ahead of most states, for which we can be proud.  But nationally, there is a long way to go.  And so we ask, what can we do to change our culture of violence?
3)       Acts of Kindness - The people of Newtown have asked that we remember the victims through performing 26 acts of kindness and love, one for each of the victims.  See the Newtown Kindness website, and learn more about the victims on the very moving  Sandy Hook family site.

All of these options lead us in the direction of life, affirming and choosing life in the face of death, life after Newtown.

With that in mind, I share here, with her permission, the testimony shared by Dana Horowitz last winter here at Beth El.

Memories of a Father, by Dana Horowitz

Some called him Brewer.  Some called him Bruce Lee.  Others called him Brucie.  His name was Bruce Horowitz and I called him dad.  His smile would light up a room.  He was one of the friendliest and most personable people you would ever meet. 
He loved taking hikes, especially at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, CT, listening to music, photography, sailing with the sun shining on his face, and most of all he loved doing these activities with me, his only child.  I was proud to call him one of my best friends.
On May 1, 1992, my dad turned 46.  It was my junior year of high school.  He had stopped by my house that morning, (my parents divorced when I was 10), so that I could give him his birthday gift: a photo of us from a photography project we worked on together, smiling and eating cookies.  He loved the picture.  Little did I know, as I watched my father pull out of the driveway smiling ear to ear that it would be the last time I ever saw him.

Three days later, on the morning of May 4, he was shot and killed, point blank, in his place of employment in Hamden.  He was a public insurance adjuster who had a meeting with his supervisor, and their 31-year old client.  This client shot and killed my father, and then my father's supervisor with a 9mm gun.  A gun he had without a permit.  A gun he shot a total of 10 times.
I was eating lunch in the courtyard of my high school when I was summoned and escorted to the principal's office.  As I walked in, my heart sank at the sight of my mother in tears; I knew something was terribly wrong.
"Your father was shot and killed at work this morning," she said to me.  I was 16 years old and couldn't believe what I was hearing.  Could this really be happening in my life? I was in shock.

The immediate days that passed were not easy.  Despite my heartbreak and disbelief, this double homicide had become front page news all over New England.  On the day of the funeral, local news channels reported directly outside of the funeral home as cars were pulling into the parking lot. Our privacy was lost and our pain was shared with complete strangers.  My father's name was in the news for days, as was mine.  When I returned to school after a week of mourning, I felt like people looked at me differently, they didn't know what to say.  Most said "I'm sorry", but it was never comfortable for them or me.
That morning, my world changed forever.   My father became a statistic, another victim of gun violence.  Now, more than 20 years later, whenever I read about gun violence at a school, on a university campus, in a movie theater, or just in someone's neighborhood, my heart breaks for the families that lost loved ones.  I am angry that someone made a life choice that not only left someone dead, but left a permanent scar on their family and their community.  Using a gun to kill innocent people is horrible.  No one should have to endure the pain of losing someone they love before a full life was lived. 
I now have two children of my own and the hardest question my five year old daughter asked me, which I have not yet honestly answered, was "How did your daddy die?"  How do I answer that question?  What do I say?  A five year old is just a child, an impressionable soul that embraces life with such joy and wonder.  I never want to take that away from her.  One day she will know the truth, but it won't be for a long, long time. 
My dad would have been the best grandfather.  He would have taught my kids about trust, equality and love just as he taught me when I was a child.  He would have been proud of both of them for all of their large and small successes.  He would have made each child feel special and valued as he did for me during the sixteen years he was in my life.  My dad was a special man and despite his life being stolen from me, I take comfort in knowing that no one can steal my beautiful memories.  Memories live forever.


Acceptance Speech of Lisa Manheim for Harvey Peltz Award

Lisa Manheim received the prestigious Harvey Peltz Award at last night's UJF Annual Meeting, held here at TBE.  Her words were so inspiring I asked if I could share them here.

My Federation story began on a rainy Sunday in February, 1985.  I straggled into the Bridgeport JCC with my parents, who were chairing something called Super Sunday.  I expected a carnival or a dance party for an event whose title included the word "Super."  What I walked into instead was a large room, filled with black telephones, lined up on tables which were set up in rows.  In the back of the room, there was an enormous cauldron of soup simmering, to feed the volunteers.

My dad sat me down and explained that Super Sunday was a day when the Jewish community came together to call on other Jews to pledge money to our Jewish Federation.   I'm sure we had a long conversation about all the good and important things that Federation does,  but what I really remember was the soup. The smell was intoxicating- onions, garlic and vegetables-as it permeated the auditorium of the JCC.  I had come for the Super, but I stayed for the soup. It's what I remember most about that day.

And I realize now, 30 years later, that Federation is all about the soup.

I think about my mission to Israel in 2000, cooking lentil soup in a small kitchen in Be'er sheva, with Jews who had just emigrated from Ethiopia.  With the help of Federation dollars, they had made the harrowing journey to Israel, which included days of walking in the desert.  
I remember the chicken soup I brought to an elderly Jewish woman in Budapest on another Federation mission. She was dressed all in black, living on the 5th floor of a crumbling walkup.  She had escaped from the Nazis during World War II and come back to her home city, determined to pick up the pieces of her life.

I recall matzo ball soup served at the monthly Shabbat dinners that UJA sponsored in New York City, where I created a chevrah of friends who, to this day, are known as my "UJA friends."  And I think of the Sunday afternoons with these friends in soup kitchens and shelters, ladling soup to people in Queens and Harlem, Jews and non-Jews, who were having trouble making ends meet. 

United Jewish Federation is all about the soup. We feed people who need food, we nourish people who need warmth, we provide community for those who are alone or seek company.

I am thankful to UJF for honoring me with the Harvey Peltz Award.  It has been pointed out that I am following in some mighty footsteps, men and women who know the true meaning of mitzvot and generosity.  I strive to live up to their examples. 

Jeff, Emmet, and I are lucky to have a community who nourishes, feeds, and warms us every day.
Thank you to Gan Yeladim, Shorashim, JCC, and Carmel Academy who have imbued Emmet, and our family, with strong Jewish values and high academic principles.

Thank you to our synagogue, Temple Beth El and Rabbi Hammerman, for providing us with our spiritual home (and often our social playground).  I am proud to serve on the Board of Trustees of this wonderful place.  

Thank you to those at United Jewish Federation, particularly Jim Cohen, Rebekah Raz, Sharon Franklin, the YLD Board, and my partner in crime Dana Horowitz.  I truly love and believe in this organization and it is my pleasure and honor to work with all of you.

Thank you to my friends, who are always supportive.  As one friend put it, "It's expensive to be Lisa's friend."  (It's all for a good cause).

Thank you to my parents for setting such an important example, all those years ago, for my sister and me, about the importance of community, tzedakah, and tikkun olam.

Thank you to my husband and Super Sunday co-chair Jeff, who understands these values as well and as deeply, and makes it possible for me to attend lots of meetings with only a minimal amount of guilt.  I am also trying to get him to join more committees.

And for those of you who don't know, Jeff and I are co-chairing Super Sunday this year, one generation after my parents chaired it before me. To everyone in this room, we look forward to your participation on February 1.  There will be a pot of soup waiting. 


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, December 5, 2014

Statement by Conservative/Masorti Leadership on Possible Nation-State Legislation

“The past months have been a time of great concern for the security and defense of the State of Israel and also for rising anti-Semitism around the world. Indeed, the continuing need for a secure Israel, a proud Jewish and Democratic state, is made more apparent every day. The achievements of Israeli society to the betterment of life around the world are expressed through the remarkable contributions of the Jewish state to humanitarian causes and advances in science and technology.

Current versions of a new nationality bill now under discussion will erode, rather than strengthen the democratic character of Israel. Strong and clear opposition by leading figures currently in office, including President Reuven Rivlin, raise important issues of the possible erosion of democratic freedoms resulting from this bill, the risk of attrition of the rights of Arabs and other minorities and the risk of further eroding values of religious pluralism.

We call upon Israel’s political leadership to refrain from passage of any bill that weakens the social contract already effectively expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws which delineate Israel’s most precious ethical, moral and democratic political values.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President, The Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbi Bill Gershon, President, The Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbi Steve Wernick, CEO, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Richard Skolnik, President, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Shueli Fast, Chairperson, Masorti Movement
Yizhar Hess, CEO, Masorti Movement

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Max Trell on Vayishlach

Shabbat Shalom!

For the past few years, I have become a big fan of wrestling.  All kinds of wrestling.  Everything from the WWE to MMA – (which is mixed martial arts).   Within a few weeks, I expect to earn my junior black belt in Kempo karate– so it would be best not to mess with me. 

I’ll bet you never knew that Jews have historically been big in the wrestling world.  Why, we even call one of the martial arts JEW Jitsu!

And there’s also JEW-Do!  

n the professional ranks there have been great Jewish wrestlers, including Macho Man, Paul Heyman (who did not get his name from Purim) and of course, Goldberg!  So you can see that wrestling is really big for Jews!
To top it all off, my portion contains the most important wrestling match ever, with the possible exception of when the Rock defeated Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania 18 in 2003.

Of course I’m talking about the main event of Wrestlemania –negative one thousand, the match where Jacob the Patriarch took on The Stranger – part man, part God, part angel, part Jacob himself, in a fight to the finish along the shores of the Yabbok River.

Jacob’s name, Ya’akov, by the way, could be a play on the name of that river, or, more the point, even a play on the word Ya’avek, which means “he wrestled.”

During that wrestling match, which lasted until dawn, the angel nearly won it with his patented hip-breaker move.  Jacob was down for the count – his hip socket injured.  But then he got up, wrapped his arm around the angel’s neck and won after the angel tapped out.  It might be the most talked about match ever – today, Jews all over the world are talking about it. 

Oh yes.  One other detail:  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel – which means “he wrestled with divine beings and people and lived.” 

So when you think of it, not only was one of our great heroes a wrestler, our entire nation – Israel – MEANS wrestler.  So basically one might consider the land and state of Israel to be just one big wrestling arena.  Unfortunately, that’s true.

Wrestling is also a key to living as a Jew.  Nothing comes easy, brother!  Having just prepared for today, I am living proof of that! 

Through this process, I’ve learned that the struggle is even more important than getting to the finish line.
Sometimes the hardest match is when we wrestle with ourselves.  On the night Jacob crossed that river, Jacob didn’t know what to do, whether to confront Esau, his brother, whom he ran from twenty years before, or to run away.  He had always run away before.  Whenever the going got tough, Jacob got going.

In my life, I’ve had to wrestle with some tough decisions too, like the choice of which school to attend, when I moved this year.   It was not an easy choice – but it was mine to make, so I couldn’t run from it.

The good thing is that although I now live in two communities, I have deep roots here at Beth El.  I’m the 6th generation of my family to belong here.   Just outside in the lobby, there is a program for the groundbreaking of the old Beth El building on Prospect St, and I saw that it contains the name of my great great great grandfather, Harris Gruber.   I’m proud to be carrying on the traditions of the Gruber family and the great legacy of Goldberg, Macho Man and Paul Heyman.

As I become a bar mitzvah, I understand that we never really stop wrestling… but that’s also what helps us to grow.

Big Tents and Red Tents - Shabbat-O-Gram

Shabbat Shalom and mazal tov to the Trell family, sponsors of this week’s Shabbat-O-Gram, and a special mazal tov to Max Trell, who has deep TBE roots on both sides of his family (6th generation on his dad Jeff’s side) and becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.  And happy December 5, a date that has a very unusual connection to Jewish liturgy.  It’s when we praying for rain in an agricultural blessing in the middle of the daily Amida.  Why Dec 5?  All I’ll say is that it is complicated and has to do with the date growing season in ancient Iraq.  Curious?  Read the whole story here.

Also, join us for Comedy Night on Sat. night if you haven’t already made reservations.  And we’re proud to note that Cantor Fishman will be featured at some concerts in the tri-state region this weekend, including this one produced by the National Yiddish Theater.

Big Tents and Red Tents

Today’s Shabbat-O-Gram revolves around the theme of Big Tents and Red Tents.  That fits in nicely with tonight’s “This American Jewish Life” presentation by Beth Styles at our 7:30 Kabbalat Shabbat service.  Beth will talk about her life journey and the rediscovery of her birth parents (who will be here).

Earlier this week, I was proud to have participated in Stamford’s 17th Annual World AIDS Day Interfaith Service, always one of the most important events on this community's interfaith calendar.  The Advocate immortalized me on the next day’s front page (see photo below), even though I was the least colorfully adorned clergy there.  It was an honor to be sitting next to my friend, Imam Kareem  Adeeb, the only Muslim leader to be president of an interfaith council in this country.  Stamford’s interfaith community is indeed a big tent.

“The Red Tent” on Lifetime

In 1997, Anita Diamant’s biblically based novel, “The Red Tent,” became a word-of-mouth hit, sold three  million copies and has been translated into more than two dozen languages. This Sunday it will be featured on Lifetime as a miniseries.  See “The Red Tent” home page on Lifetime, along with this Lifetime study guide.  It can’t be a coincidence (or can it?) that this Shabbat we read the story of Dinah, the subject of the novel.  Dinah’s was Jacob’s 13th child and only daughter. Dinah never founded a tribe, unlike all of her siblings (and Joseph got two), but hey, she got a best seller and Lifetime miniseries, which is more than I can say for Naftali and Manasseh. 

The “Rape of Dinah” as it’s so often called, is one biblical tale that they did not teach us in Hebrew School.  The novel (and the steamy miniseries) and some contemporary commentaries tend to see Dinah’s controversial relationship as more consensual, which makes this a very appropriate time to discuss a whole variety of hot button issues not necessarily covered in the novel, including date rape, campus party culture, the silence of the victim, intermarriage and ethnic “purity,” and whether collective punishment is ever justified.  Dinah’s story deserves a novel, and she deserves a voice. See some contemporary feminist material on Dinah that I’ve collected from various sources.  Also see this ”Women of Faith” conversation guide on “The Red Tent.”

I haven’t previewed the series, but I’ll be DVR-ing it this Sunday (hey, it’s up against “Homeland,” “The Newsroom” and last but not least, Patriots-Chargers; incidentally, “Homeland” fans will notice that Brody’s wife has morphed into the matriarch Rachel in “The Red Tent.”)

Israel’s Big Tent

…Big Tent as in Big Top, because Israel’s political system has turned into a circus.  The government is dissolving after less than two years in office and new elections will be held in March.  Apparently, the Jewish Nation/ State basic law that was approved by the cabinet last week but will likely not be voted on by the departing Knesset, was a device used by the Prime Minister to hasten his government’s collapse so that he can go back to the polls, in his hopes of cobbling together a more right wing coalition that could then pass the same bill.  One of the largest organs of American Jewish journalism, the LA Jewish Journal, has made it clear that the proposed bill could well be the “red line,” the final straw that ruptures ties between American Jewry and Israel.  If you read through some of the articles I’ve collected on the topic, you’ll have a better idea as to why. 

In fact, the proposed law is legally unnecessary and symbolically redundant.  The Declaration of Independence serves well in defining Israel’s character as both Jewish and democratic, assuring the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”  One response to the proposed bill has been to make that Declaration of Independence, signed by Israel’s founders, the preamble to an as yet nonexistent Constitution.   That’s a great idea, except that some believe, not without justification, that were Israel’s Declaration of Independence to be voted on by the current Knesset, it might not pass!

So, aside from creating a tempest to blow up the government, there seems to be a more fundamental, underlying goal of this Nation-State Bill, and that is to pave the way for a “one state solution,” annexing a good deal of the West Bank (Naftali Bennett wants to immediately annex 60 percent, “Area C” as it’s called) where a potential Jewish minority would assured preferential legal status.  There is a word for that - the dreaded “A” word.  In other words, this bill would be the greatest gift Israel could ever give to the B.D.S movement, an early Hanukkah present for Jimmy Carter and, as the LA Jewish Journal correctly states, the red line that American Jews simply will not cross.  We Jews have gained too much from living in a democracy to abandon democratic values now – especially since such blatant discrimination flies against the very Jewish values a truly Jewish state is supposed to promote.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “It’s Iran, Stupid.” While the Israeli government should be doing everything it can right now to keep the world’s eye on the single most pressing existential danger to Israel and the region, they are fiddling with something totally unnecessary.  Additionally, if the Prime Minister truly believed in a two state solution, as he has claimed, or at least if he wants to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic hand at a precarious time, he should not be the one shoveling dirt on diplomacy’s grave.  At a time when hatred is spilling over in the country, including an alarming increase in lone-wolf terror attacks and the despicable arson attack at the only Jewish – Arab cooperative school in Jerusalem, a responsible government would be calming the fires rather than fanning the flames.  When the brother of a Druze policeman killed in the line of duty during the horrific terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue last month heard about the Jewish state bill, he said the Druze equivalent of “What are we, chopped liver?” and suggested that these incredibly loyal Israeli citizens would bristle at the prospect of second class status.  To this, a Likud Knesset member proposed an amendment to the bill granting special status to Druze who serve in the military.   That proposal only confirms how ludicrous the bill was in the first place.  If you need to devise a plan for affirmative action even before the law takes effect, there is something rotten about the whole idea.

If Israel is to fulfill its vision of being the Big Tent that its founders promised, both for Jews and for other groups, the Jewish State bill is a red line it dare not cross. On the other hand, were Israelis and Jews throughout the world to come together and affirm the basic values espoused in that visionary document, signed on a day in 1948 when the nascent state was being existentially threatened by armies attacking from all sides, this red line could be transformed to glorious hues of blue and white.