Friday, February 5, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 5

Happy snowy Friday. 

Join us tonight as we celebrate our continued relationship with Carmel Academy, and hear head of school Nora Anderson speak on: Teaching Our Children the Value of Justice through the 
Study of Mishpatim.

People are still buzzing about last week’s presentation by Footsteps and Shulem Deen.  You can find a number of his audio and video appearances on his website and you can read more about Footsteps here.

Other follow up from last week: See my study packets on Jewish sources on relationships (from last Sunday’s board retreat) and, from Shabbat morning’s Torah discussion, Jewish sources on leadership and democracy.

See also my featured op-ed in the Times of Israel, “Bernie Sanders and the Return of Old Jew Chic” (an expansion of my comments in last week’s O-Gram)
I hope to see everyone at our spectacular Temple Rock on Sat. night (it just gets better every year – and once again, weather will not be a problem). 

This Sunday marks four important events:
-          Our annual World Wide Wrap family program for b’nai mitzvah families as well as others simply interested in learning about the mitzvot of tallit and tefillin. Thank you to our men’s club for their sponsorship of this event. Click here for FAQs about tefillin and here, for videos and other content from the Federation of Jewish Mens Clubs

-          UJF Super Sunday.  Make sure to answer the call!

-          The actual Super Bowl.  No prediction this year (I’m still getting over that missed extra point), but  here are three Jewish lessons one can gain from the Super Bowl and how the number 18 factors into a bet between Carolina and Denver rabbis.

-          Oh, and the 4th important event?  Happy 25th birthday, Ethan Hammerman! (And happy birthday to Cantor Fishman, too!)

Armor of Light
And don’t forget Tuesday at 7:30, the Stamford Premiere of a film that is receiving wide acclaim, “The Armor of Light.”  It’s got numerous festival raves, was directed by Abigail Disney and will be shown next month at the Avon.  See it here first! I’ve previewed this tale of how an Evangelical preacher, the voice of the right wing, evolved into a gun control activist, driven by his pro-life beliefs. It will get us all thinking and reconsidering our own values,, which is what we try to do here – and a very Jewish thing to do  There is another fascinating Jewish twist to this story, which I will not give away.

A Sad Week
This has been a week of unspeakable sadness in our community.  Aside from the four funerals that have occurred here, there was one other that overshadowed everything else: the passing of a local teenager, Evan Hyman.  On Tuesday evening, approximately 25 teens gathered at my home, where Mara and I tried to help them come to grips with an unbearable pain, reassuring them that we are always there for them and that they are never alone.  Most importantly, we had an open conversation about the growing phenomenon of teen depression, which too often leads to thoughts of suicide – and for some, to acting on those thoughts.  This conversation needs to happen all over our community.  It is too important to push under a rug and goes far beyond the specifics of this case.   I extend a plea to anyone who is having trouble dealing with these events to seek help – and never to hesitate to contact me at  Anytime. 
Our hearts go out to Evan’s family, to the BBYO and AITE students who knew him best and to Temple Sinai’s community.  I also am reaching out to our college students, many of whom have been severely troubled by Evan’s death, some of whom have already contacted me or Mara.  Their pain is ours as well.

Marranos No More
For the first time in nearly seven decades of Israel’s existence, and nearly fifty years since the reunification of Jerusalem, a non Orthodox Jew can pray with pride in his or her own way, at Judaism’s holiest site.

The historic announcement of the revisioning of the Kotel is not without its detractors and legitimate concerns. 

Read here a defiant retort by one of the Women of the Wall, concerned that the WOW are abandoning the objective of free worship in the women’s section, a concern echoed in this article.

My feeling is that this is a historic moment, not because of what it provides for us today, but for what it portends for the future.  Once the new egalitarian section is complete, attractive, open and equally accessible, Jews will all see that many different visions of Judaism are available.  At that point, it won’t be simply about tourists.  Israelis will choose to have their Bar AND Bat Mitzvahs at a place where women don’t need to stand on chairs and crane their necks to see anything.  Israeli schools will bring their kids to see this flowering of a pluralistic Judaism.  Over time, this will make a huge impact.

For the first time in many years, I will be able to go to our holiest site and feel that my way of being Jewish is not second class.  For so long, I’ve felt like a medieval Spanish Marrano, forced to practice my form of Judaism in secret because of the bullying tactics of those in power.  Now we, who represent the largest groups of affiliated American Jews (and most of the unaffiliated too) are Marranos no more.

That is a big deal. But there’s a long way to go: civil marriage, women’s rights, government support for non-Orthodox institutions, but we are on the right side of history and progress is happening, in large part because of the efforts of Anat Hoffman, who spoke here last November (hear the Hoffman lecture).  The reason why the current government, including the Ultra-Orthodox parties, accepted this compromise (albeit kicking and screaming) is that they knew that Hoffman would just keep on taking them to court, and that she would win.
This victory validates that Diaspora Jewry needs to be vocal about Israel – even when it means different with current Israeli policy

Ari Shavit believes that American Jews need an AIPAC style lobby in Jerusalem, to “ensure that Israel’s identity and values are in keeping with those of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.”
He asks, “Why let (American Jews) have a say in what (Israelis) do? Because that is Zionism. Because by its own definition, Israel is responsible to world Jewry. Because Israel was built with world Jewry’s support.  Because even today Israel survives thanks to the strategic front that world Jewry provides it. Thus, it is only right that there be a powerful institution in Israel to faithfully represent the beliefs and ways of life practiced by the Jews of the world.”
We are all now on the front lines of Israel’s fight for survival and against delegitimazation.   So if we are fighting the battles – and absorbing threats and attacks on our institutions – we should be able to make our voices heard

The following is the Masorti movement’s summary of the Kotel Compromise:
This historic resolution has changed forever how the non Orthodox streams will be treated in Israel.
  • This agreement is about a historic compromise that redefines the relationship between religion and state in the State of Israel. For the first time in the State of Israel, in the holiest of places of the Jewish people - the Western Wall - the non-orthodox Streams triumphed in attaining formal status; Women of the Wall prevailed and achieved their own space; and Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism have arrived at familiar landscape.
  • From here on out, solutions to issues of religion and state will be able to rely upon a new legal anchor. From today, every solution to every dispute must give expression to the simple, basic and natural fact that there is more than one way to be Jewish. We did not achieve everything that we wanted, but this day is a day of celebration for Jewish pluralism in Israel. Conversion. Marriage and Kashrut.
  • From the moment that the resolution will come into effect, families will be able to celebrate together - mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies - at the kotel. Standing on plastic chairs in the women's section will be eliminated once and for all!

Achievements of the resolution:
a. One Kotel: There will be one common entrance to the Western Wall after which every person can choose which part of the Kotel they would like to pray at or visit. To choose (!) between the Northern plaza of the Western Wall which respects Orthodox custom, or the Southern plaza of the Western Wall that respects the equality as suited to the customs of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. The two plazas, north and south, will provide Torah scrolls, siddurim, tables for reading the Torah and everything necessary for every man and woman to pray as they see fit.
b. Equality and pluralism: The requirements of safeguarding holy sites will be updated, and for the first time in history, the following explicit words will appear in the law books of the State of Israel: "The customs of this site will be based on principles of pluralism and gender equality, and prayer at this site will be egalitarian and unsegregated, women and men together, without a partition."
c. Size: The egalitarian plaza will have several large and extensive levels. The plaza will spread out over an expanse that will include a raised prayer plaza (constructed) and all of the Herodian Street area. The entire prayer plaza will stand at almost 900 square meters (for means of comparison, the area is about 70% as large as the present men's section at the Western Wall and 130% larger than the present women's section).
 d. Management of the Prayer Plaza: A Public Council, to be appointed by the Prime Minister, will be headed by the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency and six representatives from the Conservative Movement, the Reform Movement and Women of the Wall, alongside six professional representatives from the Prime Minister's office and various Ministries, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority. This is the first Statutory Council in which representatives of the Conservative and Reform Movements in Israel, by definition, will have been officially appointed to participate.
e. Budgets: The Prime Minister's office will assign a permanent annual budget of no less than 5,000,000 NIS for the management of the site, as well as the maintenance, marketing and religious services that will be provided to the public at-large.
f. Round tables: Once every half year at least, the Cabinet Secretary will be responsible to convene a collective round table to manage and settle all issues that remain controversial and/or that may arise between all of the involved parties responsible for management of the Western Wall in both of the plazas – the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (Northern plaza) and the egalitarian Western Wall Council (Southern plaza).

g. The Public Plaza: The upper Western Wall plaza, that which is further up from the current prayer plaza (the men's and women's sections of today) will be defined as the Public Plaza and will be used to conduct national and military ceremonies only. Prayer will only be permitted in the Public Plaza during a specific number of times throughout the year (Tisha Ba'av, the three pilgrimage festivals, etc.) during which there will not be enough space in the lower prayer sections. Prayer at these times will take place in the Public Plaza as per the Orthodox custom.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bernie Sanders and the Return of Old Jew Chic

Bernie Sanders and the Return of Old Jew Chic

FEBRUARY 4, 2016, 5:55 PM 

Bernie Sanders has ignited a revolution in American culture, but it might not be the one he is intended to ignite.
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The mixed Iowa results neither confirmed nor denied that he is on track toward upending the Democratic Party. But while he split the overall vote with Hillary Clinton, he won the youth vote, those between the ages of 17-29, by an astounding 84-14 margin. Let’s put this into perspective. A 74 year old guy who talks and looks like your Zayde shellacked the person who could become the first female President, a woman six years his junior, by an almost unfathomable margin.
I don’t support Bernie Sanders politically, but I LOVE the two unspoken (and likely unintended) messages coming out of his campaign: IT’S OK TO BE JEWISH AND IT’S COOL TO BE OLD.
Sanders is overtly Jewish in precisely the opposite way Joe Lieberman was. Sanders’ Jewishness pours forth in an ethnic, tribal sense – with a Brooklyn accent and neo-Catskills shtick, plus a heavy dose of social responsibility. When he ran for national office, Lieberman’s Jewishness was expressed in terms of his traditional religious observance and unapologetic support for Israel. Both are legitimate – Sanders is the Yin to Lieberman’s Yang. The fact that Jewish identity been not been seen as a political detriment in either case is both highly significant – and profoundly reassuring. They love us! They really love us!
But it’s the “old” part – that’s the real revelation. I’m not just talking about the fact that he is in his mid ‘70s or that if elected he would become theoldest president. What’s telling is that he doesn’t feel a need to hide it and in fact seems very comfortable beneath his Ben Gurion bushel of white. And despite his visible senior-ness, or maybe even because of that, he is a rock star on campuses and is adored in almost Obama-like fashion by millennials and their younger siblings.
This is really important, I think, and a reversion to an era long before old people were derided as irrelevant, out of touch, or worse (anyone recall“Where’s the Beef?” – and John McCain wandering about the debate stage?), back to a time when Leviticus could state, “Rise before the aged,” and the obligation to honor the elderly drew more than lip service at retirement dinners.
I’ve seen it in the rabbinate and so many other professions, where wisdom and experience have been cast aside as congregations and corporations have sought to grow ever younger. Even when I was a young rabbi, reaping the benefits of these distorted priorities, Iquestioned the logic of idolizing youth. As I’ve grown and grayed, I’ve seen a dismaying acceleration of this trend, to the point where prestigious congregations, who once waited for candidates to turn 50 before even considering them for top rabbinic positions, now immediately filter out those who dwell in the valley of the shadow of 38.
Professionally speaking, to not dye was to die.
But now we’ve ushered in the era of grandpa-chic, and Bernie is a rock star on campus.
So are we now entering a new era of old-fashioned respect for those who are fashionably old? Has “Where’s the beef” gone the way of the dinosaur even as old timers like C-3PO are rescued from the trash bin? Does the Sanders revolution auger well for other older candidates and indicate that youthful inexperience is no longer what the youthful and politically inexperienced are looking for? Or will this infatuation with the Bern burn out with each loss in the less friendly Sun Belt states?
Maybe – hopefully – this thing is bigger than Bernie.
Maybe the kids themselves are telling us all to “chill” about aging. It’s not unusual for young people to emulate the ways of their grandparents’ generation – hence the return to electric typewriters, vinyl and Brooklyn. Hence the popularity of names like “Sophie” and “Max.”
I also understand that there may well be an unfair double standard when it comes to women. But for an Old Jewish Guy to be rockin’ like Bernie is, it’s got to be reassuring for people of all ages and all shades of gray.
Maybe they rightfully are showing respect not simply for an elder, but for a person who doesn’t hide his true self. What they are craving is not experience, but authenticity. And they are wise enough to understand that vitality and idealism are not necessary synonymous with youth.
That message is good news for the many 50 and 60-somethings currently looking for jobs. The youth cult may be waning, and the young are showing us the way.
But seriously, kids: GET OFF MY LAWN!

TBE Jewish Heritage Tour of Central Europe

ANNOUNCING:TBE Jewish Heritage Tour to Central Europe, led by Rabbi Joshua and Mara Hammerman July 12 to July 25, 2016...

Posted by Temple Beth El (TBE) Stamford, CT on Thursday, February 4, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Jerusalem After dark (A Photo Essay) Times of Israel

Jerusalem after dark (A photo essay)

JANUARY 28, 2016, 5:45 PM 

Despite the recent violence, on the last evening of my recent journey to Israel, I decided to follow the ancient pilgrim’s custom and make a complete circle of the ancient city walls of Jerusalem. In truth, I was looking for a parking space. I don’t believe the author of Psalm 48 had parking spaces and rush hour in mind when writing “Encircle Zion and go round about her, and count the towers thereof.”
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So I inched along during the afternoon rush, from Zion Gate to Jaffa to Damascus and back around again, observing the teeming life, the incessant traffic, the commerce, the smells, the parents with school children, the shopkeepers, the beggars and the holy schleppers, the same on each side, and yet everyone utterly disconnected from their counterparts on the other side of the city.
And then, as darkness descended, I parked at Zion Gate and strolled though the Jewish quarter and down to the Kotel. I didn’t intend to be there at night, given the tension I had heard was so pervasive. But once I entered, the world immediately quieted down around me. In contrast to the bustle outside the walls, it was so peaceful and quiet inside. Almost no tourists were there at that hour.
At the Kotel itself, hundreds of Haredim were gathered for the evening prayers, a sea of black surrounding myself and my son Dan. When the Ma’ariv service was done, they broke into a circle dance; the song, very familiar, was “L’shanah ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalyim,” “Next year in Jerusalem.” A perfectly inspiring song, from everyone’s Passover Seder and the end of Yom Kippur.  Except that it’s “this year,” and we were/are right there, already in Jerusalem.
That juicy blurring of vision and reality, of past, present and future, echoes the first verse of Psalm 126, “When the Lord restores the fortune of Zion, we see it as a dream.” Are we really here? Has the dream been fulfilled?
“Pinch me, God,” those circling dancers seemed to be saying,  so that we might awaken to a glorious new reality, a new/old old reality, really, an as yet unfulfilled vision fully-fulfilled.
For this group of Haredi dancers there is still some fulfillment that needs to take place – a rebuilt Temple, a messianic restoration,  For others, like me, that “next year” that we are praying for involves two states at peace with one another, bustling and alive, like the two sides of this ancient city on this day. The two sides becoming one, or the one blurred entity becoming two distinct ones, living in peace together.
But we all are singing the same song of longing while dancing in a dream-like place, a place that my great-grandparents could only have dreamed of visiting.
Post-pinch, I awaken, and Jerusalem is not yet “there.” The quiet of the Old City is exquisite yet deafening. The quiet is in itself a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, a beautiful, if fragile, gift, as well as a reminder that for tourists less intrepid (or foolishly impulsive) than I was that day, the dream of a united, peaceful Jerusalem remains far from fulfilled.
Sample below my camera eye’s view of a city descending into its peaceful, quiet, dreamlike night.

See photos here