Friday, February 27, 2009

Strategies for Hope: A Jewish "Serenity Prayer"

Last week at services we discussed this selection from the Talmud and suggested that it is somewhat of a Jewish version of Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer." The comments come from a commentary issued by the National Center for Jewish Healing.

Our Rabbis taught: Seven things are hidden from people:
the day of death,
and the day of comfort,*
the depth [extent] of judgment;**
and a man does not know what is in his neighbor's heart;
and a man does not know by what he will earn his living;
and when the Davidic dynasty will return;***
and when the wicked kingdom**** will come to an end.

Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 54b

* No man knows precisely when he will be relieved of his anxieties.
** The great commentator, Rashi (1040-1104), explained that this refers to Divine Judgment.
*** This was probably said in order to discourage those who tried to calculate the advent of the Messiah on the basis of Scripture; see Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.
****Rashi sees this as a covert allusion to the Roman Empire.

During a time of considerable uncertainty, we can gain some comfort knowing that there is so much that is beyond anyone's control. We can't know when a person's grief will end or when a source of income will dry up. We can't predict the stock market or know in advance when the housing market will turn around. We can't control the future; we can only live in the moment and be prepared for whatever the future will bring. What might seem like a setback today might in fact be tomorrow's hidden opportunity.

We at TBE have been taking the lead in offering our community strategies for hope and survival during these difficult times. I cannot be more proud of those efforts. But aside from all the practical help, we need to supplement that by returning to our sources, through meditation, study and prayer, to find more inspiration. That's what I will be trying to do over these coming weeks, with more of these Strategies for Hope.

Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer" had a second stanza, one that rarely is quoted. See it here. He speaks of "Living one day at a time," "Enjoying one moment at a time," and "Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace." He wrote it during the '30s, times not so different from ours. That is what we must do right now.
We need to live in the spirit of Proverbs 3:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge God,
and God will direct your paths.

Tzedakkah from the Heart: The Anti-Madoff

Did you notice that during his address to Congress this week, President Obama singled out Leonard Abess for special mention? He is the anti-Madoff, a lifelong member of Temple Israel of Greater Miami, a Reform Congregation. A rabbinical colleague down there tells me that the sanctuary is named after his mother, Bertha Abess. Leonard recently sold his bank, City National, for nearly $1 billion. It was privately held, in his name. He then set aside $60 million to reward his employees for service rendered since they had no equity in the institution. It was a free-will offering, with nothing, not even publicity, expected in return. It was not owed, not obligatory, totally from the heart. Read more about it here.

Abess is exactly the person we need to be hearing about right now. And Joseph Telushkin has written precisely the book we should be reading.

Exactly three years ago, we were honored to host Rabbi Joseph Telushkin on the weekend of the publication of the first volume of his unparalleled "A Code of Jewish Ethics." The first volume focused on personal issues, such as how to be more cheerful and less angry and how to avoid gossip. Volume two, with a focus on loving our neighbor, just came out this past week, and I'm already devouring it. Telushkin has set up a Facebook group called "The Jewish Ethics Project," a forum for people to share their stories and ideas for making ethics and Jewish ethical teachings part of their everyday lives.

I'll be introducing the new book to the congregation tomorrow morning at services. Since the portion, Terumah, discusses charity (Terumah literally means "gifts of the heart") in the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness, we'll see what Telushkin's new Code says about tzedakkah. It's fascinating.

We'll be exploring other sections of the book in weeks to come.

A Song of Peace

Israel Sending Jewish-Arab Duo to Eurovision Songfest - Israel is sending a Jewish-Arab duo to represent it with a song of peace at Europe's Eurovision competition, a festival which draws some 100 million TV viewers every year, to be held in Moscow in May.

Achinoam Nini, known internationally as Noa, and Mira Awad were selected by Israel's national broadcasting authority. Awad, who will be the first Arab ever to represent Israel at the competition, was roundly criticized for agreeing to go by Israeli Arab artists, even though Nini is a veteran peace activist. Awad said she was going in order to make the point that Jews and Arabs had no option but to find some way to live together. Awad has achieved mainstream popularity, becoming a sought-after television and stage actress. Last year, she starred in the country's first Arabic sitcom aimed at Jewish viewers.

Around a fifth of Israel's 7 million citizens are Arabs, who have equal rights under the law. Nini, an Israeli of Yemenite extraction, said, "Some people will see an Arab girl who looks Jewish and a Jewish girl who looks Arab, which is what we are. Maybe it will open some people's minds." (AP)

So now, listen to the four songs from which Israelis will be choosing. Which of these will Noa and Mira sing?

To hear the complete versions of all four songs, click here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

G-dcast on this week's portion of Terumah

One of the more innovative new Jewish websites is G-dcast, a weekly comic-book style intro to the Torah portion. It just started up a few months ago and already it's going strong. G-dcast looks at the portion from a variety of perspectives, in a very entertaining 4-minute video presentation. This week's feature looks at the construction of the tabernacle as if it's a do-it-yourselfer from Ikea. You can sample G-dcast below, and then check out their website for archived presentations, at

Parshat Terumah from

And with Storahtelling set to return next week to TBE, check out their weekly parsha commentary at

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coping With Stress During Hard Economic Times

This Shabbat Shekalim (see the entry below to see why this is an appropriate Shabbat to be discussing matters economic), with the economy continuing to confound, we'll devote some time at services to the spiritual side of coping with the stress. For a number of weeks, we've had seminars and networking sessions here giving all kinds of practical advice - now we look to augment that with some wisdom from our sources, with learning, meditation and prayer.

Some of the sources I'll be using are accessible on the web, from the Jewish Healing Center and the JBFCS (Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services). They have put together an invaluable collection of Jewish spiritual resources to assist Jews in the current economic crisis.

Also see this interview with Elie Wiesel that appeared in the USA Today this week. A victim yet again (this time wiped out by Madoff), our greatest living hero once again is demonstrating an unbelievable ability to rebuild his life. Granted, one cannot compare Wiesel's current victimization with his prior one, the Shoah, but to lose one's charitable life work in one staggering blow, at the hands of a fellow Jew whom he trusted, is no small loss.

Join us on Shabbat morning for a time of solidarity, healing, discussion and prayer. This will be a Shabbat Shekalim in every respect. Please invite your friends as well.

Why Name a Shabbat After Israeli Currency?

What is Shabbat Shekalim?

Why name a Shabbat, of all days, after Israeli currency?

As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes in, "The Jewish Way," "More than any other holiday, Shabbat reflects the changing moods and concerns of Clal Yisrael (the collectivity of Israel).... In the weeks before Passover, four special Shabbat days prepare the community agenda: Shabbat Shekalim, the occasion to to give the annual gift to the national treasury for Temple sacrifices; Shababt Zachor (Remember), a reminder of the Amalekite genocidal assault on Israel and the ongoing dangers of anti-Semitism; Shabbat Parah (Red Heifer), the declaration of the need to purify in preparation for the Paschal lamb sacrifice and the central national feast; and Shabbat Hachodesh (the Month), an announcement of the arrival of the month of Passover, the new year of liberation."

Just a couple of months ago some of these rare ancient half shekel coins were uncovered in a Jerusalem dig (see photo above). (Incidentally, another major archeological find from the era of the Maccabees was discovered at the Bet Guvrin dig of Archaeological Seminars, a where the archaeologists are primarily tourists. We've taken groups there several times, and just this week our Bi-Cultural 8th graders were there too! The discovery was announced this week.)

The fact that Shabbat Shekalim always comes at the time when I need to be reminded to get my own taxes in order is one way that I have tried to imbue even the secular calendar with the rhythms of Jewish sacred time. It also reminds me that the giving of taxes is in itself a sacred activity. Corny as it seems, I actually improvise a bracha when I put my completed tax forms in the mail, realizing that this money is going to help people who are in need, and help this nation maintain its position moral leadership, not to mention the fact that some of this money also helps to preserve Israel's security.

This year of all years, when billions (and now trillions) are being invested to save our economy and rescue those in greatest need (as well as a few with greatest greed), we need to look at our tax return as a sacred document.

If you're looking for a blessing to recite, take a peek at the "Birchot Ha-Shachar" the Morning Blessings; almost all of them work. Speaking of the mitzvah of paying taxes, we've been treated to a parade of cabinet nominees who have fallen short in that department.

This week's portion, Mishpatim, often referred to as the "Book of the Covenant," is a treasure trove of laws, many bearing a resemblance to the famous Code of Hamurabi as well as other ancient Near Eastern law codes. In it, the festival cycle is introduced, as well as the Sabbatatical cycle for the land. What better week, then, to reflect on the cycles of our own days, months and years, and how we might come to elevate our lives by reclaiming these sacred moments, including the moment we put our tax returns in the mail. This is truly a week for us to reflect on the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, that "the way to nobility of the soul is the art of sanctifying time."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Did the Red Sox Postpone their Opener Because of Passover?

That's the rumor I've been hearing, and I've gotten it from maybe 20 people over the past few weeks. So I checked Snopes -

You'll see there the complete text of the e-mail that's been going around, followed by a discussion, with no definitive answer. But the signs point to its being an urban legend, certainly for this year. In fact, their home opener will be BEFORE Passover, by a day. The e-mail almost seems to be a parody, not meant to be taken seriously. Click here and here and you'll see many reasons why it doesn't make sense.

But it is nice to know that people associate the Sox with Jewish values and pride. As for me, I always used to love going to Fenway on the intermediate days of Passover, during the week of school vacation that followed Patriots Day. What a combination: Baseballs and matzah balls, Carlton Fisk and Gefilte Fish, bat boys and bat mitzvahs.

And when I open my door for Elijah, I'll fully expect Jacoby Ellsbury, the league leader in steals, to be standing there, holding the afikoman.

So no, they didn't postpone their opener.

And speaking of Jews in sports, did I mention that Israeli swimsuit model on the cover of SI?

Here's the latest from a Jewish Sports website (I cannot vouch for its veracity), via my colleague Rabbi Arnold Stiebel:

This year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model is Bar Refaeli, an Israeli model.

She is the fourth Jewish woman to be featured and identified by name on the SI cover.

The others:
Sarah Hughes, March 4, 2002
Jamila Wideman, March 17, 1997
Suzy Weiner (with fiancee Mark Spitz), May 14, 1973

Mark Spitz also appeared on July 22, 1968 and Sept. 4, 1972
Al Rosen was the first Jewish sport’s star to appear on the cover on April 15, 1955.
It was not a swimsuit issue.

Others include:

Ryan Braun, March 31, 2008
Ron Blomberg, July 2, 1973 (with Bobby Murcer)
Jay Fiedler, Oct. 1, 2001
Sandy Koufax, March 4, 1963, April 13, 1964, Dec. 20, 1965 (Sportsman of the Year), May 15, 1967, July 12, 1999, Oct. 9, 2006
Art Modell, Dec. 4, 1995
Howard Cosell, Aug. 8, 1983
Art Heyman, Oct. 28, 1963
Ernie Grunfeld, Feb. 9, 1976
Bob and Bus Mosbacher, yachtsmen, May of 1959
Toots Shor, July 27, 1959

It is possible that Charles Goren, master of the game of bridge, was Jewish and appeared several times (Oct. 14, 1957, May 20, 1960) Several other Jewish personalities appeared in small popups at the top of the cover, most recently Red Auerbach.

Bo Belinsky appeared on a cover, but I have problems counting him since he has made anti-Jewish statements.

Israel Election Update Feb. 12

So now it's all over but the haggling. And that will undoubtedly bring many twists and turns as the new government takes shape. Click here for a chart from Ha'aretz showing who voted for whom geographically and ethnically.

The final election results were revealed today, with the breakdown as follows:

Kadima 28
Likud 27
Yisrael Beitenu 15
Labor 13
Shas 11
United Arab List 4
National Union 4
United Torah Judaism 5
Hadash 4
Jewish Home 3
Balad 3
Meretz 3

What this means is that there is a potential for a center-right coalition of 64 seats, whereas no center-left combination would garner more than 44. Things get interesting when you throw Yisrael Beitenu into the mix, which is hawkish toward Hamas and Israeli Arabs but also a staunch proponent of civil marriage and religion-state separation. Wherever they end up, if they end up in the coalition, there will likely be very strange bedfellows in that government.

Kadima is angling for a unity government with a rotating prime minister, which, in the '90s, produced Israel's most stable government in decades, one that accomplished quite a bit. Likud will hear nothing of it, although it would like to bring Kadima into a center-right government.

One of the great ironies is that Shimon Peres, who has so often been on the other side of these meetings, will, as President, determine which party will have the first chance to form a government. The nod will likely go to Netanyahu, who edged out Peres himself for the honor a decade ago.

What does this mean for Israeli policy? In the long run, the guy living in the White House will have much more to say about Israel's security issues than anyone in Jerusalem. Which is reason for us to remain informed and involved.

The UJC sent out a detailed analysis today.

Some other recommended articles:

Analysis: Election arithmetic puts Bibi in the driver's seat (David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post)

Unity, now - We don't have luxury of wasting precious time on coalition bargaining. (JPost editorial) - a disgusted Israel blogger takes more pride in Bar Refaeli's appearance in SI's Swimsuit issue than in the country's political system.

You can select from several Israeli blog feeds here.

Also see: Israel Goes to the Polls - Editorial- However the political jockeying plays out, Israelis have once again reaffirmed their commitment to a democratic process that, for all its imperfections, will eventually produce a representative, responsible and lawful government. If only the same could be said of the Palestinians and the rest of Israel's neighbors, on whom any hopes for a lasting peace must ultimately rest. (Wall Street Journal)

Israel's Election Winner: Peace Skeptics - Benny Avni- Israeli voters Tuesday threw a wrench into the plans of the world's peace processors - President Obama included. The winners were those who presume that as long as Iran and its proxies are armed and ready to fight, no amount of uprooted Jewish settlements will bring peace. Israeli voters are disillusioned with U.S. special envoys.

Who in the world is Avigdor Lieberman? (JPost)

Hamas says truce near, pending Israeli agreement on details (JPost)

Also see the following videos:

Israel’s post-election policy agenda (English video)

Eretz Nehderet (A Wonderful Country)” Saturday Night Live style spoof of both candidates declaring victory (Hebrew video with English translation on the page). And, shades of Jon Stewart, this show was more popular on election night in Israel than the actual returns.

IBA English News coverage of the election results

Darwin's Birthday: Is it Odd or is it God?

The following is an excerpt from a Rosh Hashanah sermon delivered in 2005, which touched upon the subject of evolution. I include it here because of its relevance on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. To read the entire sermon, click here To listen to it, click here.

There has been a mighty fight lately over a new concept into the study of the origins of life and of the universe. It is called, “Intelligent Design,” and it has been positioned as a more sophisticated alternative to the old Creationism, which simply took Genesis literally, in taking on Darwin’s Natural Selection. Proponents of Intelligent Design are careful to couch the argument in secular terms and do not suggest the identity of the designer. I got one e-mail, in fact, suggesting that the designer was discovered to be “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

One could consider this new theory a sneaky attempt by evengelicals to introduce religion into the evolution debate, and that’s true; but at least it is a big step forward from Creationism. No longer does the Catholic church take Psalm 19 literally, as it did when Galileo was brought to trial for challenging the notion of the sun racing across the skies like a bridegroom. “Intelligent Design” theory is telling us that at least some religious leaders are going beyond the literal and looking for deeper more poetic truths in the Bible. But it is noteworthy that in recent polls 50 percent of American Christians still say that the first chapter of Genesis should be taken literally. And, while most Jews have always championed evolution, a huge debate on this subject is shaking the Orthodox world, and one popular young rabbi, Nosson Slifkin, has had his books banned for his support of Darwin.

But the whole controversy begs an important question. What if evolution itself IS the intelligent design? What if the dinosaurs were divinely inspired? What if it was God’s desire that hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis happen in a random manner? What if God chooses Odd - sometimes?

When you met your spouse, if you have a spouse, was it odd or was it God? (Is it still?) I should say, was it odd – or was it your mother in law? And I can’t tell you how many people I marry met because of a conversation that occurred at a shiva. Life is funny that way. It so often seems pre-ordained. Things always seem to come full circle.

Some things that appear random happen because they are meant to be. We Jews have an expression for that: Beshert, based on a German word meaning “given.” We speak about meeting our life partner as meeting our “beshert” – a special gift from God, the one intended for us alone. In Genesis, Abraham’s servant Eliezer meets Rebecca at the well and when she offers to feed his camels, he determines that this is a sign that she is Isaac’s intended. The Talmud (Moed Katan 18b; Sotah 2a) goes on to say that God spends most of Her time arranging matches for people. (That was before God invented J-date. Lots of people I marry are finding mates there).

You can choose odd or God, in case after case, but the key is that, the only way you can come down on the side of atheism is if everything is and has forever been totally and completely random. Anything else, and the coin turns up “God,” even if it’s a capricious God, an inconsistent God, a playful God, a God who favors randomness, but one who cries at destructive floods because of the rules He set up. If even one event in your life, or in world history, seems to have had a deeper purpose behind it, than there is a God.

...A hurricane looks so beautiful from space. From a God’s eye view, it is gorgeous and filled with symmetry. But that same divine eye is filled with tears at the destruction and the randomness of it all. It is the randomness that God has chosen which yields the serendipity that we embrace.

We embrace it all:

The devastation and the miracles
The bombings and the Beshert
The dinosaurs and the flights to Chicago
The good and the bad, you and me
We embrace it all and we embrace one another.


Valentines Day, Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, and the Jews (Web Journey)

Dear Rabbi,

Can Jews Celebrate Valentines Day?

Dear Dis-heartened,

No need to be heart-broken. While we might ordinarily tend to shy away from holidays dedicated to saints, Valentines Day, as a celebration of love, fits right into our value system. There is in fact a Jewish Valentines Day, called Tu B'Av which occurs in the summer. And yes, we can make the claim that every day should be a celebration of love. And yes, love in our tradition is defined more by commitment than romance (see the V’ahavta paragraph of the Sh’ma and a super article, Shema: A Love Story), but there is a place for romance as well (just look at the biblical Song of Songs).

Here are some other reasons why it Valentines Day is kosher in my book:

The beginning of the month of Adar is seen as a time of great joy for Jews. (Adar begins on Feb. 25 this year). "When Adar enters, joy increases." Says the Talmud. The sages said that, and they knew nothing about the fact that pitchers and catchers are reporting this week. What they did know is that, when Adar begins, Purim can't be far behind. Read about Adar at As you can see from this site, much happens during that month, including the death of Moses (Adar 7), the Second Temple's dedication (Adar 5), and Nicanor Day (Adar 13), marking the anniversary of Judah Maccabee's defeat of Syrian general Nicanor in 161 BCE; originally it was observed as a festival but later became the Fast of Esther.

That's weird -- a feast becomes a fast. Why?

First, read about the destruction of Nicanor here. The source, the 1st book of Maccabees 7:26, states:

"Then the king sent Nicanor, one of his honorable princes, a man that bare deadly hate unto Israel, with commandment to destroy the people."

This Nicanor was one mean dude. Sort of reminds me of What's-his-name from the Purim story. If you read on, you'll see that he was even worse than that other guy; not only wishing to destroy the Jews, but mocking our religion as well.

Now, look at the final few verses:

"So the thirteenth day of the month Adar the hosts joined battle: but Nicanor's host was discomfited, and he himself was first slain in the battle….Afterwards they took the spoils, and the prey, and smote off Nicanor's head, and his right hand, which he stretched out so proudly, and brought them away, and hanged them up toward Jerusalem. For this cause the people rejoiced greatly, and they kept that day a day of great gladness. Moreover they ordained to keep yearly this day, being the thirteenth of Adar."

It all sounds vaguely like the Purim story. Yet different. Read the article by David Holzel, “Nick at Dawn.” He calls Nicanor Day: “the Un-Purim." He claims that the rabbis deliberately sabotaged Nicanor Day by replacing it with a fast day and then one-upping it with an even more raucous day of celebration, Purim, on the following day. (It's sort of like what we've done to Hanukkah, in transforming it into an 8-day present-orgy for our kids, just to compete with that other December holiday…Kwaanza).

Indeed, the rabbis had lots of problems with the Maccabee (read: Hasmonean) family and their descendants, and they were the ones who were writing the history and arranging the calendar. But there's no reason for us to forget about Nicanor, precisely because it will help us to understand the earliest strata of Purim's development.

Many trace Purim not only to the historical roots of Nicanor, but to pagan roots as well.

Excuse me, did you say 'pagan' roots???

Fear not. Just about every Jewish observance has some connection to the environment in which it grew. What the heck is an "Afikoman," but a Jewish reaction to the rather disgusting way Romans would end their meals, called "Epikomios." It's rather obvious that the Purim tale is meant as a reaction to something was going on in the real world of the Jew(s) who wrote it. But the story itself is fiction: -- it's cartoonish, outlandish, hysterical, and the names Mordechai and Esther sound curiously like the old Babylonian gods Marduk and Ishtar. The events may reflect the story of Nicanor, but the names give the book of Esther a mythological, timeless quality.

Ishtar and Haman, life and death, vie with each other for supremacy. Ishtar triumphs; spring returns; and life is renewed.

By the way, did I mention that Ishtar was a fertility goddess. And Purim is on Adar 14. Adar 14…Feb. 14…hmmm.

Could there be a connection between Purim and, gasp, Valentines Day?

Before lightning strikes, I think there is. First of all, it's important to note that Valentines Day predates all this "saint" stuff. Read some of the Roman and Christian roots of Valentines Day’s history here. It all goes back to the Roman festival called Lupercalia. It was a biggie and it was all about the sense of rebirth that comes as winter's winds begin to wane. It was also a bit of a Sadie Hawkins day, much like the aforementioned Jewish Tu B'Av and the ancient celebration of Yom Kippur. The romantic instincts of spring (or summer, winter and fall, for that matter) are universal. Why else would Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue come out at this time of year?

(Sorry, no hyperlink here, but for the first time ever, an Israeli is on the cover, Bar Refaeli, and another Israeli model is featured inside! Or so I've been told.... So I suppose that this issue now needs to become part of every self-respecting Jewish library, right next to Rashi's commentaries)

But the key to the Purim connection to Lupercalia is that a key component of the celebration was that girls and boys would get matched up by way of a lottery! Take a look at Purim: we've got a beauty contest, we've got a lottery and we've got Ishtar. The name Purim itself means "lots."

So what happened? The rabbis, in all their desire to wrest Jews from their Maccabee hero-worship and Nicanor Day, created a new and improved festival of bawdiness -- one that would make all other holidays pale in comparison (and a few of them blush), and they gave it a touch of Roman romance to make it sexy and just enough pagan overtones to make it dangerously attractive.

And to the rabbis I say, WELL DONE! They knew that this is exactly what we need at this dreary time of year. And to keep us from doing what comes most naturally when dealing with fertility rites and such, abusing and objectifying women, they gave us Vashti, just to keep the men in line. (see "Feminist Aspects of Megillat Esther").

If only Vashti were asked to model for Sports Illustrated…. That would be quite a cover-story.

Also, see this interesting essay about the topic, A Jewish View of Valentines Day, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love February 14.

So that’s a long, roundabout way of explaining why it’s OK for a Jew to celebrate Valentines Day. But there is a much shorter reason as well:

It’s my birthday.

Be HAPPY, It’s (almost) ADAR!

Friday the 13th - Part 5769: Jason and Freddie Make Shabbos

See the Friday the 13th" website and see how many Jewish values are exposed in these wholesome films. Everyone goes to camp and sits around the campfire; the hockey mask is a nice touch for Purim. OK, so there’s a little blood, but I've been at hundreds of brisses, so I can take it.

But that begs the question. Why is Friday the 13th considered so unlucky? For Jews, no day brings a greater sense of anticipation than Shabbat, and 13 is a very lucky number – ask any bar or bat mitzvah. So nothing to worry about. But just in case you are concerned, you might want to join us for services….

The number 13 lucky day for another reason: there are 613 commandments, making any day that ends in "13" undeniably lucky.

If you would like to see a list of all 613 Mitzvot, click here. Another version is found here.

Click here to read about the significance of the number 613

The Jewish Virtual Library reminds us that "There is also complete agreement that these 613 mitzvot can be broken down into 248 positive mitzvot (one for each bone and organ of the male body) and 365 negative mitzvot (one for each day of the solar year)." There are also connections drawn to the numerical values of the strings and knots of the Tallit fringes (the tzitzit).

Wikipedia gives us Rashi’s explanation for that here, followed by an opposing view:

Rashi, a prominent Jewish commentator, bases the number of knots on a gematria: the word tzitzit (in its Mishnaic spelling) has the value 600. Each tassel has eight threads (when doubled over) and five sets of knots, totalling 13. The sum of all numbers is 613, traditionally the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. This reflects the concept that donning a garment with tzitzyot reminds its wearer of all Torah commandments.

Nachmanides disagrees with Rashi, pointing out that the Biblical spelling of the word tzitzit has only one yod rather than two, thus adding up to the total number of 603 rather than 613. He points out that in the Biblical quote "you shall see it and remember them", the singular form "it" can refer only to the "p'til" ("thread") of tekhelet. The tekhelet strand serves this purpose, explains the Talmud, for the blue color of tekhelet resembles the ocean, which in turn resembles the sky, which in turn is said to resemble God's holy throne - thus reminding all of the divine mission to fulfill His commandments

But, as you can see from this Ohr Samayach essay, there are many more laws in the Torah than are listed in Maimonides’ calculation or others. These can be seen as broad categories.

Note that many of the 613 can no longer be fulfilled since the Temple no longer stands. In addition, some commandments can only be fulfilled by those living in the Land of Israel. As result, there is not a single Jew living on this planet who can claim to fulfill all the mitzvot. We’re all flawed, to a degree, we’re all imperfect. There is no such thing as the Perfect Jew…. Or even the perfectly observant one.

I like that idea. It keeps us humble.

But Judaism was never an all-or-nothing proposition. If you don’t fulfill them all – and who does? – that doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill some.

In fact you can – right here – this Shabbat!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Exit Polls: Livni Leads

from Haaretz

Exit polls by Israel's three main television stations on Tuesday night showed Kadima as the leader in the 2009 general elections, with Likud coming a narrow second. Channel 1, Channel 2 and Channel 10 polling of voters as they left the ballot box all showed victory for Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni. The Channel 1 poll gave Kadima 30 seats, Likud 28 seats, and Labor 13 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu is predicted to win 14 seats, according to the poll.

According to the Channel 2 poll, Likud will take 27 seats, Kadima will hold 29 seats and Labor 13 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu will have 15 seats in the new Knesset. The Channel 10 poll indicated that Likud will take 28 seats, Kadima will hold 30 seats and Labor 13 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu will have 15 seats.


These polls have been wrong before. But the trend points to Livni being asked to form a government, and in order to do so she will have to incorporate some right wing and / or religious parties.

Israel Votes 2009

What you see above is how Israel's Google search engine is marking today (even though Israeliss don't vote in booths like that).

In just a few hours (2 PM EST), the first exit polls will be announced by the Israeli TV networks. While those polls have been wrong in the past, they will give us a good idea as to the makeup of the next Knesset. Turnout has been high

While we wait, you can read some background in this special section from the JTA. Also see Israel Votes 2009 a site designed to educate visitors about Israel's democracy, and The Jerusalem Post's Election 2009 section. See live coverage from Israeli TV in Hebrew at and - also see other live Hebrew coverge at from Israel's Channel 1 and the IBA, which also has links to the English news feed. Also, Channel 2 has set up a special You Tube site.

See a composite graph of the latest polls here.

Meanwhile, you might want to catch up on the campaign by taking a look at the ads run by each of the major parties, with interesting English commentary, at

Thursday, February 5, 2009

TBE Israel Adventure 2009

Click here to see the full, interactive itinerary for our TBE Israel Adventure, which is now set for December, 2009. Reservations are being taken now, on a first come-first serve basis, and already a number of deposits are in. Space is limited. Contact me for reservation forms, at

Remembering Dana and Reflecting on a Rabbi's Greatest Challenge

This past week, I had to do two funerals, one for a man who died at age 91, a good man, with a wonderful family who grieved over his grave in the frigid air this morning. As the tears let loose, however, I could not help but compare this situation to the service I had to conduct last Sunday for Dana Kraus. Dana was 23 when she died a week ago, inexplicably and suddenly. There were upwards of 900 people at her funeral, people from throughout this community and well beyond, and I can say that in death Dana has touched more people more deeply than most people do while alive.

Some got to know her really for the first time last week. Many have asked for copies of the eulogy I wrote, which, together with the passionate statements of friends and relatives, painted a picture of this loving soul cut down so young. With the encouragement and permission of Dana's family, I've uploaded my eulogy to the Web; you can find it by clicking here.

Thankfully, I don't officiate at many funerals like this one. The experience can be extremely draining, to the point where I felt I needed to take last Friday night off before a weekend of extreme highs and lows. But as much as I dread such situations, I also am supremely grateful to have the chance to help people in a manner that few can. This week, everyone has been wanting to do something for the Kraus family. The shiva has been wall-to-wall people. There have been lots of heroes, so many people who have contributed. The rabbi's part is perhaps the most public, but my no means the most difficult. Some friends stayed all night at the funeral home with Dana to keep her company and prepare her body in the traditional manner. That's much more difficult than anything I do.

I wish I could describe what it's like to be standing in front of 900 people who are riding on every word. Add to that the deep desire to "do justice" to a life of infinite value and equally great nuance. And yet, while there is a degree of pressure, what you feel most of all is a sense of privilege. Rabbis often experience life at the limits, but never more than at these moments.

But how is it possible to control one's own emotions at a time of such utter chaos and dread? When I first started out as a rabbi, in my late 20s. I wrote that "I prepare for each funeral as if it were my first, for it was at my first that I was best able to share in the sense of raw, unadulterated grief that consumed the family." I wouldn't say exactly that today. I understand that people need the calm professional who can hold them up while still feeling their pain. It's almost impossible to balance the two, but it's necessary. At times it means shielding oneself a little. Numbness is is not generally a good thing, but as I wrote more recently, sometimes the only way to survive such terror is to avert its direct gaze.

And then there are the young adults and teens. I felt more for them this week than for almost anyone else, as most of them have never had to deal with something like this. A tiny silver lining is that I've reconnected with a number of young adults who grew up here, many of them choosing now to come to me with questions totally unrelated to the week's events. Small though it may be, this silver lining is part of what the shiva process is about: reconnecting with community. This week, that has happened for people of all ages.

Dana liked Robert Frost. Here's a brief poem that speaks directly to the sadness we all feel at her loss:

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

- Robert Frost

Lost Generation Video

Congregant Sylvan Pomerantz brought this You Tube video, entitled "Lost Generation," to my attention. It is a must-see! It demonstrates that old adage about the Torah from Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) 5:25 (the end), "Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it." Turn this statement on its head and a most depressing message suddenly becomes a proclamation of hope.

TBE Job Networking Group in the News

Over the past few months, our congregation has been proactive in helping people help one another during trying economic times. Fifty five came to our event of Thursday night, and these numbers have been growing. Our efforts at providing networking and other assistance, led by Mike Arons, are featured in a story in the CT. Jewish Ledger. Find it at

My deepest thanks to Michael, Donna Sweidan, plus Howie Ross, who led a session, and Dara Holzman, who help to coordinate tonight's, and all who have enabled us to heal those in greatest need.

Hanefesh USY comes to TBE!

This weekend we are hosting the regional USY Midwinter Kinnus. This marks the first time in several years that our chapter has hosted a major regional USY event, and we welcome the approximately 70 teens and advisors who will be joining us. My family will personally welcome about 10 of them, in fact, as they will be sleeping at our home. Several other congregants are hosting teens as well.

A Kinnus is a gathering, much like a Shabbaton or retreat. USY, the official teen arm of Conservative Judaism, has been a godsend to my kids and many others in the congregation. The teens love the friendship and camaraderie. The parents love that this youth program emphasizes Jewish values, responsibility, leadership and personal growth. At a time when teens confront so many pressures and temptations, I feel secure knowing that mine are under the watchful and nurturing eye of USY. Our region, which spans from the area of Springfield, Mass. down through all of Connecticut to, well, Stamford, is called Ha-Nefesh, which means “the spirit,” or “the soul.” While ours is not the largest region in the country, it most definitely has spirit!

Join us this weekend, as the teens from here and elsewhere will be leading our services. My son Ethan is now regional Vice President of religion and education and will be doing a d’var Torah on Friday night.

On Shabbat morning, by the way, Mara and I invite the congregation to a special extended Kiddush lunch that we are co-sponsoring in honor of USY and Ethan’s 18th birthday, which occurs this Shabbat. It's hard to believe that the little kid who crawled up to the bima during my installation is turning 18.

Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Beth El USY’ers and 8th graders will be well represented during services on Shabbat morning, with Torah readers including Lowell Eitelberg, Dan Hammerman, Sophie Koester and David Rutstein, the haftarah being chanted by Ethan Hammerman and Musaf being led by Melissa Miles. Join us for what will be a very special Shabbat at TBE.

The Greening of Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat has always been our greenest Jewish holiday, celebrated at the whitest time of year. In Israel, it’s not exactly spring either, but you can feel the first stretching of the sun’s warmth with the lengthening of the days.

I’ll be conducting a Tu B’Shevat seder this Sunday night for the TBE Discussion Group, but you can do one on your own. The hagaddah I’ll be using is brand new, created by Hazon.

Click here to read about Tu Bishvat. You can download the Hazon Tu Bishvat Seder manual. The manual provides instructions, guidelines and tips on running your own seder. You can download a draft copy of Hazon's Tu Bishvat Seder Haggadah. The document has been formatted to print to a double sided folded booklet.

Click here to see what schools are doing to increase understanding of how food, the land and spirituality are connected, and here to see a special project that many synagogues are engaged in, called “Tuv Ha’aretz.”

From JTA:

JTA is proud to present Eco Jews: Trends and Traditions in Jewish Environmentalism, a special section at

The arrival of Tu B'Shevat, Judaism's annual ode to the trees, is the perfect time to examine the most significant players and trends in Jewish environmentalism -- and offer some hands-on advice for marking the holiday and greening your communities.

Also part of this special section, JTA is excited to announce the winners of the First Annual Green Beanie Awards, in recognition of groundbreaking environmental initiatives launched by organizations and institutions from all walks of Jewish communal life. Expecting only a small response to our call for entries, we received over 100 initiatives from around the world, featuring people of all ages and from all walks of life. We saw submissions from day schools and Jewish Community Centers, senior homes and High Schools, food co-ops and bloggers.Judges from Hazon, COEJL, and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center had difficulty settling on the top ten. The final selection included Jewish organizational giants like American Jewish Committee and UJA-Federation of New York, but also smaller groups like the Federation of Jewish Mens Clubs; Kibbutz Lotan in Israel; and Jewish Heart of Africa, which brings Israeli green technology to the continent in an effort to spur eco-friendly development.

If you are looking for a liberal Jewish setting for online text study, you'll find it at the Kollel. Click on for some thoughts on Tu B'Shevat, and on for Mishnaic insight on the spirituality embedded in a simple blessing over "the fruit of the tree."'
Some suggested links for further study: A nice introduction can be found at (from the "Jewish Virtual Library -- while you're there, check out the rest of this valuable site, including the "Breaking News" section at
You can find a number of Tu B'Shevat links (including seders) at

There's so much out there about this holiday that it's hard to separate the forest from the trees, so to speak.

A nice collection of freeware on the holiday, called "Tree Bien," was put together by Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner for the USCJ - it's at

Which brings us to the whole area of eco-Judaism, often emphasized on Tu B'Shevat and a growing concern for many.
Click on to find a fascinating take on "Eco-Kosher and Feng Shui." This article compares Jewish and Eastern forms of environmentalism, focusing on the rabbinic concept of "Bal Tashchit," prohibiting the needless waste of our natural resources. Fascinating reading.

To find out more, take a trip to the Teva Learning Center. "Teva" means nature, and this camping program has become a sort of Jewish "Outward Bound" for many students. Teva is at and is coordinated by an organization called Shomrei Adama (Keepers of the Land).

Last but not least, there is the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), found at Here's there mission statement: "The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life engages Jewish institutions and individuals in bringing the moral passion of Jewish tradition and social action to environmental stewardship in order to preserve the integrity of creation, advance social justice, protect future generations, and strengthen the Jewish community." This site has numerous educational links and action alerts. This comes at a time when I fear that action alerts will increase dramatically.

Tu B'Shevat is a fine time to reconnect with that Land of Israel. Our ancestors in Europe looked forward to that taste of dates, figs and other fruits from the holy land, including (ugh) carob (aka Bokser). As we read in a nice Tu B’shevat Haggadah at, "After the exile of the Jews from Israel, Tu B'Shevat became a day on which to commemorate our connection to Eretz Israel. During much of Jewish history, the only observance of this day was the practice of eating fruit associated with the land of Israel. A tradition based on Deuteronomy 8:8 holds that there are five fruits and two grains associated with it as a "land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and [date] honey." Almonds were also given a prominent place in Tu B'Shevat meals since the almond trees were believed to be the first of all trees in Israel to blossom. Carob or St John's bread - was the most popular fruit to use, since it could survive the long trip from Israel to Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa." I've been checking out "carob" web sites -- this far nothing to recommend.

We can experience the Israeli natural landscape more directly at

Ohr Samayach has a nice catalog of articles on the love of the land of Israel, at And you can discover just why I treasure my subscription to Eretz Magazine, Israel's National Geographic, by exploring the links to articles and photos based at

You can also check

And the best way to show that love, naturally, to be there. Second best? Plant a tree: Go to the JNF web site at No, you won't be able to find a photo of "your" tree there. But you will be able to become a modern day Honi Ha Ma'agel (Honi the Circle Drawer). Find out about him at, and bring the kids along for this part of the journey (nice music too at this site). "Just as those who came before us plant for us," Honi said back in the days of the Talmud (, "so do we plant for our children."
Quick list of Tu b'Shevat Resources from Canfe Nesharim:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Letter from Netanya: Multiple Seasons

I share this e-mail received today from Jan Gaines, TBE's official reporter from Israel. We thank Jan for giving us a taste of what it's like to be there during this week before the elections and Tu B'shevat

It’s a time of multiple seasons right now in Israel.

It’s the time of persimmons and pomegranates, of kiwi and strawberries and of course lots of citrus variations. The pomegranates are really beautiful this year and when you cut them open and suck out the red berries the juices roll down your chin full of anti-oxidents. The persimmons are in abundance; a basket of 10 or more costs about $2.00. The strawberries are fresh from the fields, large and juicy, for $1.50 a pound. All of this is grown within a 20-60 mile radius of Netanya so its almost like picking the fruit yourself.

It’s also the season of Israeli elections. This year there are 34 parties running, including Men’s Rights in the family party devoted to divorced men, Destruction of the Banking Authority part, 3 different Green parties, and the best one of all, a merger of the Holocaust Survivors party with the Legalize Marijuana party. Of course there’s the 4 big ones: Likud under Bibi which is supposed to win the most seats (30+), Labor which is trailing with about 20+ seats under Barak, Kadima under Tzipi Livni which is falling further behind, and finally the rightist party of Lieberman, Israeli Beitenu, which is moving up fast to perhaps overtake either Kadima or Labor.
The country is turning right and every missile that lands in the south buys more votes for either Lieberman or further right than that. Israelis are fed up. They know that Oslo was a failure, Annapolis and Wye was a failure and of course Gaza was a failure. They are tired of giving land all the time only to see it turn into Hamastan or Hizbollahstam. They feel that giving more of the West Bank in the so-called “land for peace”formula is foolhardy, just enabling Hamas to take over the West Bank from Fatah in the future with even more missiles pointed our way.

But it is also the season of the Birthday of the Trees. Next week is Tu Bishvat when Israel marches out to the forests and plants more trees. It could be in memory of, or celebration of, or just a school program. There are Tu Bishvat Seders in synagogue everywhere. It is a season of renewal, even before Pesach, because spring starts early here, and everyone feels happy putting a new seedling into the ground to grow another day.

At the same time, it is the season of the worst drought in 10 years in the country. We had zero rain in the month of January. Public watering is forbidden but home rationing hasn’t happened yet. It should This is a crisis, maybe even a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are only two desalinization plants on line; two others were held up by Treasury which didn’t want to spend the money. Bringing water from Turkey has now become a joke., Israelis seems to wait until a crisis happens, but it’s right here, right now!

And finally, it’s the season of rampant anti-semitism all over the world. We see it from Venezuela to Bali to Norway and much of Europe and now to Turkey as well. This latter was a shock. Even tho Erdogan was elected several years ago on an Islamist party ticket, he’s kept a low Islamist profile until now. All that is finished. His outburst and follow up statements since Davos, his huge welcoming rallies and his one-sided condemnation of Israel have stopped relations in their tracks.; Over half a million Israelis yearly travel to Turkey for vacations. Over 70% have cancelled. Many people fly Turkish airlines cause it’s cheap but they are also canceling. Only the military are keeping contact and many feel this will blow over but the damage is done on both sides.

And so Israelis are circling the wagons as they see that once again we are alone in the world. With only the U.S. to rely on, even that looks shaky to some who wonder what friendly overtures will be made to Islamic countries at our expense.

So I’m eating more pomegranates and persimmons, taking advantage of beautiful sunny days to be outside, planting a tree somewhere if I can, and going down to Eilat for a chamber music festival this weekend. I’m trying to put myself into an Israeli state of mind. LIVE FOR THE DAY BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS. Maybe in the end that’s not such a bad idea. With an abundance of pomegranates, persimmons and 34 parties, what could be so troubling. After all.

Love, Jan

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We are One And The Madoff Problem (Jewish Week, Feb. 6, 2009)

We are One And The Madoff Problem
by Joshua Hammerman

‘We are all in this together,” said Denzel Washington from the podium at the beginning of the Obama Inaugural Celebration, adding, “which is why the name of the ceremony is just three simple words: We are One.”

Just behind the actor, Abe Lincoln’s marble replica seemed to be smiling at the idea that, a century and a half after he railed against a “house divided against itself,” true unity might at last be achieved on American soil.

But the expression “We are One” goes beyond mere unity, and President Obama seemed to be hinting at that when, in his Inauguration address, he spoke of our “patchwork heritage.” A unified nation can consist of individuals who align with one another temporarily for pragmatic reasons; but with a quilt, if one patch is stained every other patch feels the pain; the whole quilt has been sullied.

There was once a time when American Jews proudly proclaimed, “We are One.” The popular UJA slogan of the late 20th century may have been more a wish than reality, but it resonated fervently in our ears, as if handed down from Sinai as an amendment to the Sh’ma.

As a teenager in the mid ‘70s, I recall attending a mass rally of my local federation, the CJP of Boston. At the conclusion, the general chairman of the campaign stood before the masses gathered at the Hynes Auditorium and reverently recited the following passage:

If I am a Jew I am commitment
To ideas transcending time,
To values spanning centuries,
To faith surviving tragedy.
I am Maccabee and Minuteman.
Rabbinic scholar and founding father,
Jew and American.
I am pain in a Syrian prison,
I am tears on a cheek in Siberia
I am sweat on a Negev brow
I am loneliness in a bare room in Brighton
They are me, I am they.
I care, I give.

The assembled throng listened in a hushed silence and for a moment, I wondered whether this was what it must have been like during Second Temple times, when scribes would read scriptural passages to the people.

The rebellious teen cynic in me doubted that very many of them actually felt the pain of Soviet Jews or the elderly in Brighton. But I never doubted that for many of them, this passage expressed the essence of their Judaism: vicarious, tragic and joyless, not-too Jewish but all-American, guilt-ridden and philanthropy driven. I still believe that my critique was spot-on, but now, looking back, I may have underestimated the power of One.

For in fact, when everything else has fallen away – Sabbath observance, Hebrew language, when even the Yahrzeit candles remain unlit, that sense of utter interdependence remains. “We are One” lives on. When a plane crashes in the Hudson, we still look for Jewish names. When Bill Moyers lambastes Israel, we react as if he is coming after our mother with a machete. The kind of interdependence Obama seeks is a Oneness that we Jews have enjoyed for centuries.

Which is why it matters that Bernie Madoff is Jewish.

Some have complained that Madoff should not be lumped together with Jews, just as Rod Blagojevich is not considered a Serb or Kenneth Lay a Protestant. But the analogy doesn’t hold. Like it or not, if “We are One,” Madoff is One with us. His filthy patch stains our quilt.

When the Talmud states, “All Jews are responsible for one another,” it speaks in the language of “We are One.” The proof text from Genesis involves Judah’s willingness to become Joseph’s prisoner in Benjamin’s stead. One patch for another, each part serving a greater whole.

Over the centuries, it has become clear that this responsibility extends to both the safety and behavior of our fellow Jews. We pay a huge bounty to ransom our captives, and every Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness for everyone’s sins. The sins of one are the sins of all, and the destiny of one is the destiny of all. Do Serbs repent in the first person plural? Do Protestants routinely return hundreds of potential terrorists for the body of one dead soldier?

For the Jew, immortality and identity are measured primarily in collective terms. If the Jewish people and ideals survive, part of me lives forever. That is why Jews are so concerned that their grandkids be Jewish, even if they themselves are not religiously observant.

The Talmud states (Shabbat 54b): “Whoever can stop the people of his city from sinning but does not is responsible for the sins of the people of that city.” The rabbis felt that each of us, with each deed, can tip the scales one way or another, for himself and for the world. We are utterly and hopelessly interdependent. There’s no escaping it.

For this, and for many other reasons, it is vital that the organized Jewish world respond to Madoff with a formal separation. My proposal for excommunication has been making the rounds, but really, the details aren’t what’s important here. We can model it after the traditional ban or we can create something entirely new. It has been my hope that leaders bridging the Jewish spectrum would unite to figure it out. Until that happens, it is everyone for himself, and a thousand resolutions from a thousand thumb-twiddling boards or brimstone-flinging rabbis will not have the power of one simple statement, uttered and accepted by all.

Until that happens, we’ll continue read the lovely headline, “Jews Ruminate.” We can ruminate until the ruminants come home, but until we do something, our fabulous mosaic of a quilt just gets dirtier and dirtier.

A joint declaration of why Madoff’s heinous crimes are so anathema to our value system would go a long way to restoring trust in our leaders, in our agencies and in the purity of philanthropy itself. A symbolic gesture, perhaps, but a little symbolism can go a long way — to make us whole.

We Are One...

Except for you, Bernie!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Temple Rock Cafe Honors Mara Hammerman (...and her husband)

This past Saturday night, Mara and I were honored at TBE's annual "Temple Rock Cafe." Among the fabulous highlights of the evening was the surprise appearance of Ethan and Dan, who posed with us for the above photo, holding a lovely framed print with the inscription, "It is not for us to complete the work, but neither may we desist from it."

After over two decades here in Stamford, we realize that the work can never be completed in one generation. But twenty years allows us to look back at what we've accomplished together. "Temple Rock" in itself is an indication of the culture that has taken hold. Beth El's culture is caring, informal, inquisitive, honest and warm. You see no black ties in the photo - no need for people to get all dolled up to be in their spiritual home, even for a major event. No need to pretend to be what you aren't. In an age where authenticity is valued because there is so little of it out there, where we're rapidly losing faith in the integrity of institutions and people whom we used to trust, it's so important to have a home base where we all can simply be who we are. In hyper status conscious Fairfield County, that is no mean trick.

At TBE, we took off our ties even before they started doing it in the Oval Office! We do dress up from time to time, for sure, but appearances and pretense tend to take a back seat. There is too much work to do to get all caught up in posturing and politics. Don't get me wrong, every synagogue has some posturing and politics, but we've set our sights on the big picture - and the important work that must be done, which can only be accomplished together.

As if to illustrate how important that work is, the very next day, Sunday, the same venue was filled again - this time for one of the saddest days of my rabbinate, the funeral for a beautiful young soul, Dana Kraus, who was 23. Dana's passing made Temple Rock a bittersweet event for many of us, but it also reminded us why we are here, and why it is so important to sustain our synagogue. Where else can we turn at our happiest moments and our most tragic? Where else can we truly become One Community, while at the same time be unafraid to be ourselves?

Mara and I are so grateful for the chance to have served this community for so long, that our kids could grow up with the congregation (and now be active leaders in their own right) and that the lines between private and public, between my family and yours, has become as irrelevant as black tie dinners. People have always allowed us the space we've needed, but in fact, we've needed very little. It was never about "my kids" or "your kids".... all of them have been "our kids."

I wish there were a secret formula for success in the American rabbinate. Some have called it a tragic profession, because success cannot really be measured and because, by definition, the task can never be completed. Even the knowledge that "ours is not to complete the task" cannot diminish the frustration of taking a step backwards for every two in the right direction.

If "Rent" measured a life in love, I think I'd take a cue from my father and measure a rabbi's success in menschlichkite. That was his motto, "Be a Mensch," and that motto has translated into the role model that I've tried to be. I happened to marry a mensch (or menschette) as well, and I think we've raised two of them. In fact, I think we may have raised a few more.
Leo Rosten (as quoted in Wikipedia), defines mensch as "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." If at the end of the day, my wife and I have helped to nurture and raise a congregation filled of real menschen, that will be the true measure of success. We happen to have that right now - led by a menschy board and a president who is a living legend in the Mensch Hall of Fame. But we know that menschiness feeds on menschiness - it can only be sustained if it is constantly nurtured.

Take a look at the musical montage prepared for the evening, which perfectly demonstrates what I'm talking about, this coming together and caring, the blending of the public and private, this informal, random mix, the blending of rabbinic family and congregational family - that nexus where a community becomes one people, brought together by mutual respect, love, laughter and common purpose. There are lots of photos of my family (including cameo appearances by the Hammerdogs, Chloe and Crosby) mixed together with other temple families.... in other words, our extended family. It's on YouTube at at: When the You Tube viewing screen comes up CLICK in HIGH QUALITY BUTTON on the lower right of the screen for the best quality viewing.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who made Temple Rock happen.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

World Wide Wrap 2009

Here are some photos from today's "World Wide Wrap," with students and adults having the opportunity to learn about the mitzvot of tallit and tefillin. Click on the photos to enlarge.