Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Carly Fein on Vayishlach

Shabbat Shalom

I’ve always been interested in finding new ways to approach things and finding ways to be creative.

For instance, where someone might see a used-up paper towel roll, I see a pencil holder.  All you need is some colored duct tape and some pencils.

One day cleaning up my room I found some leftover rope from a broken drawstring bag. Instead of throwing it out, I thought of a great way to organize all of the pictures I have of me and my friends form bar and bat mitzvahs. I clipped the photos to the rope with colorful close pins and hung it on my wall. Now I have a great picture wall-hanging and a lot less clutter on my desk.

I enjoy collecting quotes and reading the creative ways a simple twist of language becomes inspirational. 

Some of my favorites include:
“Take me as I am or watch me as I go.”
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
“No matter what, you deserve to smile. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.”
And a personal quote I use whenever sharing chocolate with anyone, “Break it in half and I’ll take the bigger half.”

And here's a great quote I hope to achieve, “My goal is to create a life that I don’t need a vacation from.”

Speaking of quotes, here’s one that relates to my parsha, Vayishlach, “We are strangers. Again.”

In my portion, Ya’akov needs to constantly come up with creative solutions to the challenges he faces, much as I have done with my different art projects and quotes.  One of the challenges is to meet up with his long lost brother Esav, who, by the way, wanted to kill him the last time they were together twenty years before.

Ya’akov was afraid of what would happen, but not afraid to leap into the unknown. He doesn’t run away, but instead he divides his camp into two.

First, he sends Esav presents.  Ya’akov is always thinking outside the box…
Then, on the night before he was about to confront Esav, as he crosses the river, Ya’akov fights with a stranger – we’re not sure if it’s a man or an angel – but he prevails.

Some say that Ya’akov was actually wrestling with himself.  Maybe he was struggling to overcome old fears and find new approaches to the situation he was facing.

Like Ya’akov, I too, am always looking for creative solutions.  
One of my hobbies is photography and sometimes I experiment by changing the settings on the camera. There are many ways to control the amount of light and focal-range for each picture.
I think Photography is like life – if you make one adjustment, it changes the whole picture.

In school we’re reading a book called “Out of My Mind.” It’s about a girl who can barely move or talk. Only her mother can understand her but they didn’t give up trying to communicate.  Finally, they learned about a new technology, a machine, that she could use to speak for her. It’s a great example of being open minded when searching for solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

Now that I am a Bat Mitzvah, I hope that I can help find creative solutions to many problems that people face.

For my mitzvah project, I did just that. I held a bake sale to raise money for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County and raised nearly a thousand dollars.  I’ve also been volunteering at the
Food Bank to help organize the food in their storage room which I will be doing periodically throughout the year. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Daniel and Elena Salm on Toldot

 E: Good morning and Shabbat Shalom! As you may know, our Torah portion today discusses the worst-ever relationship between a set of twins, the one between Esau and Jacob.

·         D: If Elena and I had been around during the time of Esau and Jacob, then we could have given them some helpful pointers on how to get along better, since we have so much experience living together as twins.

·         E-: We’re pretty much experts on this topic. And, as twins, we have a lot in common with Esau and Jacob, with one major difference.

·         D: …We don’t want to actually kill each other.

·         E: …most of the time. But seriously… we do get along…

·         D: Certainly better than Jacob and Esau. Not to sound competitive, but I, was born first, though some say it’s because my sister kicked me out.

·         E: Well, it was pretty crowded in there! But that’s exactly how it was for Jacob and Esau. The Torah tells us that they wrestled with each other before they were even born, making them rivals even before they were born.

·         D: Just as in other ancient tales about twins, each of them was described as half of a complete personality. Each had qualities that the other lacked, and, together they were viewed as one complete person.

·         E: In our Torah portion, Jacob was the clever; thinking brother and Esau was the athletic, active twin. The problem is that no person, especially a twin, should be seen as half a person. 

·         D: Just like Elena and me -- each of us likes to study and we also like sports.  Well, maybe we like sports more, but each of us is a complete person.

·         E: So here is our Twin Survival Guide for Jacob and Esau.

·         D: Even though we are both complete personalities, it is important to have individual interests and be your own person, so that we don’t always do the same things. Sometimes, those interests can complement each other. For instance, just as Esau was a big outdoorsman, I like to ride my bike and go fishing. 

·         E: …and I like to swim. Fortunately, I never swim where he’s fishing.

·         D: One of my other interests is that I like playing baseball.

·         E: And after going to my brothers’ baseball games for so many years, I know all the rules of baseball inside out, and enjoy watching baseball -- but not as much as I like watching “Project Runway.”

·         D: Speaking of watching, we both love movies, but I prefer comedies like “Happy Gilmore.”

·         E: And I like creepy, horror movies. But we can always find room to compromise by watching t.v. shows like “River Monsters.” 

·         D: Because it’s a TV show that has swimming,

·         E: scary Monsters,

·         D: AND fishing!

·         E: So this is our advice for Jacob and Esau. If you want to get along, stop trying to one up and compete with each other so much. You don’t have to be rivals just because you’re twins. Remember, friendship and brotherhood (or sisterhood) is more important than winning an argument or a competition or favor from a parent.

·         D: In another part of today’s Torah portion, Esau trades his birthright for a bowl of soup. As the first-born twin, I know that even though my favorite soup is Ramen chicken noodle, I wouldn’t trade my birthright for it.

·         E: …and I would never cook up some chicken noodle soup in order to trick you into giving me Dad’s blessing—I’d just trick Dad instead.

·         D: Well, I have some news for you. You’re too late.  Dad’s blessing already went to Nathan.

·         E - But that brings up another important point. Parents should not be seen as favoring one twin over the other.

·         D: Yes, Rebecca and Isaac were way out of line in how they favored one child over another.  That probably didn’t help them get along.

·         E: As twins, the other key to getting along is to be able to share the things that we both enjoy!

·         D: like pizza or our dog Tino.

·         E: No, like family or being there for each other or community or our Mitzvah Project, which was really great. We volunteered at the Ferguson library last summer, where we helped kids participate in the summer reading program.

·         D: Also, we collected the books that our now in our bima baskets and we are going to donate them to the Prison Book Program in Quincy, Mass., the city where our Grandma Dale grew up.  She was a big reader, and I think she would have been happy about our project. We’re so happy to be able to give actual books to people who people in prisons who are having tough time and who don’t have access to books or reading.

·         E: There’s one more bit of advice that we have for Esau and Jacob, and it’s really important. Never give up on your twin sibling. Even if it takes a long time, what you share will always be more important than what divides you.

·         D: It took twenty years, but eventually Esau and Jacob learned that lesson and came back together to become one big happy family. Finally, their rivalry was over.

·         E: So those are Daniel and Elena’s helpful hints for our “Twin Survival Guide.” If only we’d been able to help Jacob and Esau, maybe they could have been friends for those 20 years and their lives would have been so much more meaningful having a brother and a friend around.

·         D: Well, Elena, at least we’re friends.  We get on each other’s nerves, but we also have lots of laughs.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 13

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to the Salm family on Elena and Daniel's becoming b'nai mitzvah on Shabbat morning.  At that service, I'll also be reprising our ever popular "Great Toldot Taste Test."  This week's portion is a Jewish Foodie's paradise.  In it, food changes history, not once, but twice: first, there's Jacob's "Lentil Soup a la Ruddy" which entices Esau to sell his birthright, and then Jacob and Rebecca cook up a dinner scrumptious enough to trick isaac into giving his younger son the big blessing.  Read more in this week's parsha packet. Once again this week, we'll have a blind taste test of four scrumptious local hallahs.  Which one is the best?  BTW, to see a plethora of Jewish recipes, click here.

Anat Hoffman: Time to Roll up Our Sleeves
The rave reviews for this week's Hoffman lecture, attended by more than 300 people, are pouring in.  If you did not have a chance to hear it, or more to the point, if anyone in your family has expressed a sense of alienation of hopelessness regarding Israel, this lecture needs to be heard.  I have uploaded the audio, along with a photo album of the event. You can access both by clicking here.  Share the link!

Hoffman stated that when there is a job to be done, we have a choice: to throw up our hands or roll up our sleeves.  With regard to Israel, far too many of us have opted to walk away.  She gave us hope that positive change CAN happen, and in fact it already has, especially with regard to women's rights (not just at the Kotel, but even on the streets of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods).  But there is much more work to be done, especially with regard to minorities and the non-Orthodox religious streams.  I was very encouraged by the turnout and the quality of the questions.  I think our community is ready to play a growing role in Anat Hoffman's important work.

Some follow up. 
  • Click here if you are interested in seeing and purchasing the Women of the Wall tallit.  Makes a great Hanukkah gift!
  • Speaking of Hanukkah, Anat Hoffman spoke about a campaign for a woman to light the Hanukkah menorah at the Kotel.  Here is the link for that.
  • And speaking of the Women of the Wall, today is Rosh Hodesh Kislev.  See the archived video of this morning's service as live streamed just a few hours ago.
  • And speaking of live stream, we are now streaming our own, amazing Friday night services - for now the link is available on request, as we complete our "soft launch."  Feel free to ask for it -but of course if you are in the area, there is no substitute for being here (as those who attend regularly will attest!)
  • And speaking of everything we've been speaking about, join us for the showing of the film "Gett" on Tuesday at 7:30, followed by a discussion of this important and difficult film.  When it was shown several months back at the Avon Theater, a number of people asked me to explain the Jewish laws of divorce, which seem so unjust and unfair in this film (and yes, they are).  So we'll talk.  Time to roll up our sleeves, indeed.
Cantor Fishman at USCJ
We take great pride in Cantor Fishman's acclaim as one the great contemporary voices of the Jewish people.  Just this weekend, in addition to our Friday night and Shabbat services, she will be appearing at Bi-Cultural's Auction on Sunday, and then on Monday night, at the convention of the USCJ.  Take a look at this overview of the convention as well as the schedule, to get a sense of where the Conservative movement sees itself at this place and time.  And if you know someone who is attending, odds are you will hear something from them about how fortunate we are to have Cantor Fishman here.


I've written before about a remarkable teen in our congregation, Gaby Baum.  For a number of years, her rare medical condition has forced her to subsist on a very limited diet. Read her story in her own words (see p. 12).

But that has never stopped her.  Several years back, when she was still in middle school, she became her own best advocate, increasing awareness with a walkathon at her school.  She's been involved in a number of charitable projects in our community and has taken a real leadership role.  She has faced innumerable and escalating health challenges since then, with complications that would crush the spirit of a lesser person.  But Gaby has continued to maintain a remarkable air of optimism. She refuses to get down on herself or on the world, focusing instead on how she can help others.

During a recent visit, I suggested that she begin to write about her experiences.  I'm so glad that she has now begun doing just that.  Here is her first blog posting, appropriately entitled, "SMILE."  In fact, she has turned that word into an acronym.  Here's what she writes:

"In the mist of the past month through all the ups and downs this word has been in the forefront of my mind. This one word has kept me going and continues to remind me every day of how lucky I am. I am surrounded by amazing family and friends. Because of them I am able to smile and overcome the challenges I face.

I want to start my first blog post with this word. For me personally a smile's meaning is more than an emotion that your muscles express when you are happy. A smile shows that you care, that you can keep going, that everything is all right. One smile can change a life. Through my journey these past few years I have met some extraordinary people and each one has given me the gift of a smile. If there is one thing that I can say that I have learned and what to pass on it is this...


So Much In Life (To) Enjoy

That is what a Smile is and that is what it does. Sitting in the hospital and at home I am trying to find a way to spread my message and do something. This is my first step on that road and I want to help spread the message to as many people as possible. It all starts with you.  If you see someone today at school, work, or on the street - give them a gift of a smile. It is a small and simple gesture that may change that person's day and goes much farther than the eye can see.

Here I am sending a smile to all of you :)"

Please check out her blog and pass along her timeless message to everyone you know.  And let her know how proud we all are of her.

Baby Hitler Refuses to Die

Suddenly, Baby Hitler is everywhere.  Since I presented four responses to the classic ethical dilemma in my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sermons, the little rug rat has been featured in the Atlantic and a New York Times poll (here are the results);Ben Carson has chimed in (won't kill him if he's a fetus) and Jeb Bush ("Hell, yeah!") too, and Stephen Colbert gave his take.  The Washington Post speculated on what a world without Baby Hitler would look like.  Social media outlets have piled on the satiric memes and tweets, and yes, there were tasteless Halloween bay Hitler costumes galore.

I'm not implying a causal effect between my sermons and the current craze.  In fact, I'm a little embarrassed by the connection, which has somewhat trivialized what I hoped was a very serious series of messages.  I wish the thing would run its course already, like a bad virus.  It only confirms what I claimed on Yom Kippur, that the obsession with Hitler (and by extension the Shoah) has intensified to the point of become unhealthy for Jews and other living things.
To reiterate my four responses to the moral dilemma, with quotes from the sermons:

1)    I'd hug him. 

I truly believe that every act of unconditional love has redemptive power. Each of us has incredible power.  All we need to do is hug a child to save the world.

But instead, what are we doing to our children? 

We're shooting them. We are stabbing them.  We are burning them.  We are sacrificing them on the altar of our ambitions.  We are humiliating them.  We are overindulging them.  We are ignoring them.  We are racing them to nowhere.  We are over-programming them.  We are infecting them with hate.   We are victimizing them because we hate.  We are enslaving them.  We are trafficking in them.   We're allowing them to wallow in loneliness. We are casting them off.  We are burdening them with excessive educational debt.  We are poisoning their earth.   We are filling their bellies with sugary soft drinks. We're numbing their minds with electronic distractions.  We are failing to show them the importance of service and seeing a world that is much larger than themselves.

For it's not about the mustachioed child we didn't hug in 1891, but the cherubic, innocent child we can hug today.  For that hug could save a life, or ten, or, who knows... millions. 
That hug could avert the evil decree.  That hug could redeem us all.            

2)    I'd kill him, and in doing so wipe out the "Amalek within."

Since it was Hitler's struggle to release the world from the "burdens" of morality and restraint, all the more so is it our crusade to reinforce those so-called burdens.  It is our task to champion conscience.  Our struggle - our Kampf - is to subdue that inclination to follow the crowd, to succumb to our first whim and to mindlessly obey the orders of impulse. 
In that way, God willing, may we vanquish Amalek - and its modern incarnation Hitler - forever from within our hearts.

3)    We cannot change history, nor should we want to.

No, I would not change history and kill two-year-old Hitler in order to prevent the Holocaust.  Nor would I go back and change a single choice that I've made, even ones that I regret.  Life is not lived backward; it is lived forward.  In fact, it is lived Fast Forward.  It is lived Far Forward. For while we humbly accept that we can't change history, let us boldly affirm that can make history - and let us forge that future as we walk along that tightrope, one step at a time, never looking down, never looking at ourselves, but always by imagining unborn worlds while fulfilling ancient dreams.

4)     I'd kill him, and in doing so cut off at the roots, at long last, the nightmares that continue to haunt us.

Google "Hitler" and you will find 101 MILLION results - the past year alone, over seventeen million.  The guy is dead seventy years.  We are giving this guy a shelf life he doesn't deserve.  It's time to slay the demon.  It's time to put little Adolf to bed, once and for all.

Listen, no one should be naïve to the real dangers that exist. One reason we are afraid to trust again is that we've been burned by trust in the past.   And by burned I don't just mean metaphorically.  So I get it.  It would be naïve to believe that after the scores of terror bombings, the thousands of missiles, and a million broken dreams, anyone would be willing to take large risks to trust the world right now, especially Israelis.

By killing the demon, I am not suggesting that we forget.  Heaven forbid we should forget the Holocaust!  On the contrary, any Judaism to emerge out of this new era must place the Holocaust experience directly at its core, or it will not be authentic; it will fail to speak to our need to confront this black hole in our history. But just as the new Judaism we are forging cannot ignore or deny the abyss, it must also speak to our religious need to affirm joy, beauty, renewed life and at least the possibility of a responsive divinity, or it will not be sustainable.  There needs to be a new balance between Auschwitz and Sinai that takes into account the lessons of both.

Our goal should be nothing less than for the next generation to see bearing witness not as a burden, but as a privilege, an honor, and yet another source of pride in who they are.

So I've presented four responses: By hugging the child, no matter who he or she may be; by reasserting the value of conscience and restraint; by taking the long view and thereby overcoming our inbred self centeredness; and finally, by cutting off at the roots, at long last, the nightmares that continues to haunt us, so that we might learn to have trust once again in the wondrous and priceless gift we have been given.  We must conquer the mistrust that paralyzes us, whether in commerce, in the public square, at home, in the synagogue or in the depths of our souls.  Too much is at stake - and there is so little time.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hoffman Memorial Lecture 2015: Anat Hoffman, "What We Talk About When We Aren't Talking About Israel's Security"

Click below for audio, or, for other audio options, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for October 30

Shabbat Shalom!
Join us tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow morning at 9:30.  This week’s portion, Vayera, details Judaism’s first-ever continuity crisis.  It didn’t take long; in fact, it was the first Jewish family who dealt with continuity concerns, as Abraham took the Egyptian Hagar as a concubine and Sarah fretted that she would not have offspring of her own.  Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. An important new survey, which you can preview here, was released last week by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis.  This studyis the first comprehensive assessment to examine the religious upbringing, college experiences, and current attitudes and practices of millennial children of intermarriage.   We’ll be discussing the results of the survey in some detail on Shabbat morning.
Some of you have noticed that we’ve begun live streaming our Friday night services on a regular basis. We are still in “beta” phase, but comments have been positive.  The idea is to make our service available to those who can’t otherwise get here to experience it in person, whether because of illness, distance or whatever.  For now, the link is available on request.  Our services have a reputation that extends far and wide, so we want people who live in those places (e.g. FARgo, North Dakota, orWIDEopen, England) to be able to see us.  But if you are neither from far or wide and live around here, join us in person!  Part of what makes our service such a great experience is the active participation of lots of people who are filling the seats.
Make sure to circle the dates for these special November events:
November 6, NEXT FRIDAY NIGHT: Latino Shabbat.  Another of our renowned themed, “World Shabbats,” with great music, dessert, a real fiesta (and siesta) for the soul!
November 20 and 21: Judaism Mind-Body-Soul During both Friday night and Shabbat morning services, assisted by TBE members Pamela Tinkham and Katie Kaplan, we’ll be exploring now ways to approach our ancient prayers, using movement, meditation and chant. 
Our TBE Family in the news....
Congratulations to TBE's Lauren Redniss on her latest book “Thunder and Lightning,” and its terrific write-up in the NY Times Book Review.
Halloween Links
Rabbi costume for adults (Hey, I have nothing to wear!)
And don’t forget to turn your clocks back on Sunday morning.
Praying in Her Own Voice
Join us next Tuesday, to see the film detailing the struggle of the Women of the Wall, and then the following week, on November, 11, to meet Anat Hoffman.  She will be speaking about the many ways she has been working to help Israel fulfill the vision embraced in its Declaration of Independence, that the new state “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure 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...”
More than almost anyone on earth, Anat Hoffman has worked toward achieving those aims - and with astounding success (despite the frustrating setbacks).  She’s become a real watchdog for human rights.
This is what she wrote this week in her weekly email message:
Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens never had so much in common as they do today. Both the Jewish majority and the Arab minority agree that what Israel and they need most is hope.
If everyone is looking for it, if we all want hope, this may possibly be the worst time to legislate that Arabic will no longer be one of Israel’s official languages, or that Israel’s official calendar will now be based only on the Jewish calendar (today, for example, is 13 Cheshvan 5776). This would be a terrible time to pass legislation legalizing segregated neighborhoods by letting Jews refuse to allow Arabs to move into their communities.
All three examples, and more, are included in the so-called Nation-State Bill that has been dusted-off, repackaged, and proposed for consideration by the government.  
Sometimes our legal team writes legalese, and sometimes they simply write common sense. After reading the new bill, our lawyers told government officials that the proposed bill denigrates Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and tramples the rights of millions of Arab-Israelis. We called out the proposed legislation for what it is: unnecessary, dangerous, and the worst possible way to calm the tension and the violence that has been preoccupying us during the past month.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced, without much fan-fare, that he would not allow the bill to be fast-tracked for a vote, as some had hoped.  Common sense won out over divisiveness. 
Being a majority comes with responsibility. We are measured as a democracy by how we protect the rights of minority groups. With PM Netanyahu’s decision, the delicate balance between two of Israel’s basic tenants-Judaism and Democracy-survives intact for another day. So does hope.
Interfaith Climate Summit
I will have the honor of participating next Thursday in the Interfaith Climate Stewardship Summit in West Hartford.  The Summit is a full day conference designed to educate and inspire religious and lay leadership on the issue of climate change as the moral imperative of our time. 
The distribution of the long-awaited Papal encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home”, was a watershed event in the spiritual lives of many people of faith around the world. In deeply moving and eloquent language, Pope Francis laid out the unimpeachable grounds for humanity’s responsibility towards all creation. In addressing the current global crisis of widespread poverty and ecological degradation, the encyclical calls for a “new synthesis” - integrating the faith community’s concern for social justice and upholding human dignity with a dedicated commitment for safeguarding our natural environment.
The Climate Stewardship Summit will build upon the encyclical’s moral vision for developing an “integrated approach” in seeking solutions to tackle the increasingly grave consequences of global climate change.   For more information, please visit the conference website 
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Leah Tuluca on Vayera

Good evening! This day has been on my mind for a very long time now; I really never though this day would finally come. Those of you who me, know how much I love tennis.  I started playing when I was seven, following in the footsteps of my sister Danielle and cousin Levi.  At about ten, I started getting more serious about it, and now I play in 2 to 3 tournaments a month.  I’ve won my share, but for me it’s never just about the winning (though I guess I am pretty competitive). It’s much more about learning from my mistakes and getting better….
…Which is why I found my portion to contain a very important lesson.  When Abraham’s nephew Lot and his wife are running from the city of Sodom (S’dome), as it is being destroyed, they are warned not to look back at the flaming city.  But Lot’s wife does look back, and she is turned into a pillar of salt.
From this we learn that we should always look ahead in life, and not back. While we can learn from the past, including our mistakes, we shouldn’t dwell on them.
In tennis, we have no choice but to quickly let go of our mistakes.
Two years ago, I was playing a match against someone I know pretty well.  I usually beat her and I knew that I could. But I wasn’t really playing my game and made a lot of unforced errors. So I lost. 
I got really, really mad at myself.  I just didn’t have a good day and I felt terrible.
One thing that’s important to note is that I didn’t take it out on her. In fact, win or lose, no matter how competitive I am on the court, I’ve learned how important it is to let that go when I’m off the court.  My portion speaks of how Abraham was so concerned about hospitality toward guests and maintaining a cheerful attitude.  He was in a lot of pain at the time the guests visited him, but he put on a cheerful face.  I try to do that too. But I don’t simply pretend that I’m cheerful.  I really try to let go of the match I’ve just played.
And even on the court, it is important for me to let go of my anger at myself, when I make a mistake, and focus on what I need to do to get better. 
In this case, I needed to practice more and work on the things I did wrong in the match – especially my serve (my mom really hates double faults! J).  But the thing I needed to work on the most was keeping my emotions under control.  So now, when I lose a point, or whenever I make a mistake, and yes, even when I double fault, I don’t look back like Lot’s wife did.  I’ve learned to let it go.
I’m a better player for what I’ve learned…. And more importantly, I’m a better person.  I’ve learned to let go of the occasional bad grade or the misinterpreted comment that was meant to be a joke but came out all wrong, or the one or two times J when I didn’t do my Bat Mitzvah preparations perfectly.
Lot’s wife should have taken a cue from Elsa, to just “let it go.”  I know it’s a lesson I’ve learned very well.
For my mitzvah project I collected used or new tennis equipment from my friends to donate to an organization called Kids Serving Kids.  The equipment will go to help kids who are playing wheelchair tennis.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for October 23

The Shabbat-o-Gram is sponsored by Inga and Luciano Tuluca in honor of their daughter, Leah, becoming a Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat afternoon

Our Hebrew School in action: 
th graders' time capsule of Rosh Hashanah wishes 
and tefila (prayer) with the me and Cantor Fishman

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Leah Teluca, who becomes Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat afternoon.   And Mazal Tov to the Mets as well!

This Sunday evening is the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by the Hebrew calendar.  At services on Friday evening at 7:30, we'll recall this moment in word and song, as we did on Yom Kippur.  On Shabbat morning, our Torah study will unpack ideas from  Avivah Zornberg's magnificent literary commentary, "Genesis: The beginning of Desire." If you would like to read the chapter in advance, you can download it here (but no advance preparation is required).

This week, we continue to worry about the terror in Israel, which took the lives of two more Israelis, as well as acts of reprisal that have caused great concern, including the mob lynching of an Eritrean asylum seeker who was an innocent bystander in a Beersheva terror attack.  The terror attacks, primarily stabbings, have occurred almost daily; on Thursday, two terrorists tried to board a school bus in Bet Shemesh. They wounded one person before being subdued.  We cannot overestimate the impact on everyday existence of always having to be "watching your back," in the face of this wave, which appears to be becoming the "new normal," though there are some small signs that this fever is beginning to run its course.

If it is, it's not because of any constructive words coming from those in power.  I am troubled by the apparent unwillingness of leaders on both sides to lower the temperature - including yet another N.H.A. (Needless Holocaust Analogy), this time by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, in his zeal to paint the Palestinians with a genocidal brush, seemed to absolve Adolf Hitler of responsibility for the Final Solution - a gaffe that resulted in the absurd scenario of the German government pleading, "No, it's our fault!"

Meanwhile, another illustrative dispatch from my son Dan contrasting two places where Arabs and Jews live in close proximity of each other. One of them is Lod, where he is working in an Arab school, helping the students to learn English.  See the photo below (Dan is on the right). #couldnotbeprouderofwhatheisdoing
Our TBE Family in the news....
Let My People Know: A Proposal

An important new survey of was released this week by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis.  This study is the first comprehensive assessment to examine the religious upbringing, college experiences, and current attitudes and practices of millennial children (born between 1981-1997) of intermarriage. 

The great news is that a many more of them are choosing to identify as Jews than was indicated in prior surveys.  This trend would have an immediate impact on Jewish population estimates, raising the figure to as high as 7 million in the United States.

Some will claim that many of these self-defining Jews are not Jews by traditional halachic standards.  But that begs the point - the fact is that they want to be seen as Jews and are proud of it.

Many will also ask whether it matters that one be called a Jew if there is little or no Jewish content to that person's life.  Is that kind of identification sustainable to the next generation?  With affiliation and observance levels down and Jewish literacy decreasing, it is debatable whether these high identification rates will have legs.  But it was even more debatable a generation ago, when only 28 percent of children of intermarriage were being raised as Jews.  That number now has apparently increased significantly.  Among Birthright Israel applicants of interfaith families, 77 percent are identifying as Jews.  Still Jewish literacy is a prime concern.

This recent essay by David Bernstein in e-Jewish Philanthropy details the problem from a historical perspective.  During the height of Rome's world dominance, Jews were said to have comprised 10% of the Roman Empire's population, an astounding number.  But that number dwindled quickly, according to one book cited in the essay, because of the lack of basic Jewish literacy among that population.

A knowledge of basic Judaism instills a comfort level that fosters further exploration and makes it much easier to pass through those scary doors of the local synagogue, or other community gateways.  It also enables Jews to speak a common language, one that goes beyond schlepping, finagling and chutzpah!  A common language will help us to draw in this next generation, combined with the warm embrace of a community that reaches out and welcomes them.  I feel that outreach needs to be our #1 priority, and opening doors wider to a community that offers a nonthreatening approach to Jewish literacy will help us to achieve that.

As the essay states:

"The typical Jew in a Western country today may be a highly educated professional, but is Jewishly only semi-literate. His (or her) Jewish education was from a Sunday school, or afternoon congregational school. Forgetting about the quality of that education, it is extremely limited in its intensity, and usually not much reinforced at home or by the suburban environment in which so many Jews live. Many Jews cannot read Hebrew at all; of those who can, many can sound out the words, but without comprehension....  In the struggle for Soviet Jewry of the 1970's and 1980's, there was a slogan: "Let my people go!"  What if we used a slightly different slogan: "Let my people know!""

Bernstein quotes Harry Frischer, who wrote in an article entitled "Building a Robust, Reform Shabbat Community":

"Imagine a worship community that values Jewish learning and literacy, and where members find depths of meaning in the regular study of Jewish texts. A community where members are inspired to acquire the skills needed to navigate Hebrew liturgy, and where members regularly chant Torah and haftarah, deliver divrei Torah, and lead in so many other ways."

Imagine indeed.  We have long tried to build such a community here, encouraging service involvement and learning on a number of levels, with many gateways (including virtual ones, like these Shabbat-O-Grams).  We also have an Intro to Judaism class going on right now.   But people are busy, or shy, or whatever, so many who would otherwise want to take such a class do not.  Many tell me that adult education is always the second most important priority on a given night. They would love to do it, but....

So I want to propose a much easier way for our congregation to make a concerted effort to increase Jewish literacy this year - and you can do it at home, on your own time.

All you need are three things:

1)     A book or online source for the answers (I recommend Telushkin's "Jewish Literacy" and MyJewishLearning.com
2)     A blank journal (either paper or electronic)

Take a look at that "Let My People Know" questionnaire.  It is an adaptation of something I used to use for b'nai mitzvah families.  This project is just in its beta stage, so I need your feedback.  How could this project best be implemented?  Would it be best to organize into small groups (described on our website as havurah groups), so people can periodically meet to share their progress? Or should people work with me directly as they complete sections of the project?  Are there areas that you feel should be emphasized more - or less?  How should we recognize those who have completed it?  At services?  On the High Holidays?  Or not at all?  I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Meanwhile, you can feel free to simply start completing the tasks on your own. If a few people become a little more Jewishly literate from this experience, to that I will say, Dayenu!

Oh, and what does Dayenu mean?  Check it out.
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman