Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews - The Atlantic

Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews - The Atlantic

It just gets worse and worse. Sarkozy and Obama move over. We who love Israel and are upset by this, we DO have to deal with it every day. The only alternative, which is unacceptable, is to disengage.


See the videos and read Jeffrey Gold berg's comments below.

I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads. I understand the impulse behind them: Israel wants as many of its citizens as possible to live in Israel. This is not an abnormal desire. But the way it is expressed, in wholly negative terms, is somewhat appalling. How about, "Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.'s"? Or, "It's always sunny in Israel"? Or, "Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you"?

These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the "Christmas" ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren't in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I'm not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that's for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don't mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg that it is offensive, but it is hardly new. This is reflective of the stereotypic way Israelis have viewed American Jews and Judaism for decades. We, in their eyes, are Jewishly irrelevant - which is laughable, because they, in many of our eyes, are Jewishly malignant. Visiting Israel ignites the Jewish soul. But the right wing extremist strains of Israeli Judaism are threatening to turn that ignition into a conflagration. Maybe we all need to settle down and recognize that none of these stereotypes is entirely accurate - and in the case of the Jewish child who knows not of Hanukkah, they are stunningly inaccurate. And if anything, many American Jews know more about Israel's civic celebrations (like Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron) than they know of Shavuot and Tisha B'Av. But if American Jews (and the Israelis who marry them) are not as comfortable with Israeli culture as we should be, it's because Israel is in the dark ages in disseminating their culture to us. Where is the Israeli Al Jazeera, broadcasting all things Israeli in English to a world wide audience 24/7? The Israeli Network, a poor excuse for internationalized Israeli television, can be seen only by those who have DISH Network or the chosen few who can get it on Comcast cable. We get the occasional film festival and cold falafel, while Polish, Russian, Italian, French,Chinese, South Asian and of course Hispanic transplants feast on their homelands' manifold offerings on local cable systems. The best of Israel's news and entertainment programs are nowhere to be found.

But of course, if Israeli cultural fare were easily available here, not only would American Jews identify more with Israeli culture - but the Israelis living here would have one less reason to go back. And American Jews, used to getting one-sided and distilled Israeli news from their propagandists of choice, miss out on the rich and nuanced dialogue that goes on in Israel's news media every day.

But maybe, again, that's what the Israeli government wants.

December, No Dilemma

As of midnight tonight, we'll arrive at that month both anticipated and dreaded by Jews. Play word association with "December" and you will all too often hear Jews reply, "Dilemma."

But for us at Beth El, December = Dialogue, as on several fronts we are fostering deepening understanding among faith groups. Just yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a tour of our sanctuary to a dozen confirmation students (8th graders) from the First Congregational Church of Darien. They had amazing questions about Judaism. And look what's going on over the coming days:

-- We'll be participating in the annual World AIDS Day interfaith service at 7 PM on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the First United Methodist Church, 42 Cross Road. This service always is most moving, bringing together people from all segments of the community.

-- This month, and extending into January, Cantor Mordecai and I will be leading a four part series "Tweets of Abraham: Judaism, Islam and Christianity in an age of Globalization." Because the AIDS service is this week, the first class has been moved toNEXT Thurs., Dec. 8 at 7:5. During this series, we'll have the chance to speak with local Muslim and Christian leaders.

-- This Sunday, I'll be a guest speaker at St Francis Episcopal Church on Long Ridge Rd., discussing Jewish views of the Messiah. Their service begins at 10 AM, and guests are welcome.

-- And speaking of dialogue, Senator Blumenthal will be joining us at Kabbalat Shabbat services this Friday at 7:30, to discuss how to "break the gridlock" (in Washington, I presume, and not on the Merritt Parkway). Invite your friends to come and experience our service and the senator's presentation.

Now more than ever, we need to be talking to one another. Therein lies the true dilemma, as we enter this month of December.

Sen. Blumenthal at TBE -THIS FRIDAY NIGHT

Friday, November 25, 2011

Toldot, Black Friday and Impulse Buying

Click here for our Parsha Packet of study materials for this Shabbat morning's Torah discussion. The topic is instant gratification, which has great relevance to the portion (see: Esau and the birthright) and Black Friday. How much is impulse buying necessary for the growth of our economy? Should that be considered a virtue or a vice? What of Esau's impulsive makeup can be corroborated given modern psychological research? How do traditional commentators react to those character traits? And what in the world does all this have to do with Nimrod (thy guy, not the sandals) and the soon-to-go under Feline's Basement.

For a hint to that last answer, some of my fondest childhood memories (not) involve going with my mother to the aforementioned bargain hunter's paradise and watching civilized people fighting over a marked down garment at the bottom of a large pile of clothing. A bunch of Esaus bargain hunting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shabbat-O-Gram for 11/24/11

When you are so stuffed that you can't eat another bite...or when all those out of town relatives are beginning to go a little stir crazy...




Show us off to your relatives! We like that! Show your college students what all the buzz is about (we love to welcome them home)! Work off that second helping of stuffing by belting out a few verses of Lecha Dodi! But most of all, come here to feel spiritually renewed, ever grateful for the blessings in our lives.

Join Cantor Mordecai and myself on Friday evening , and on Shabbat morning too.

Also, morning minyan will be held on Thurs., Friday and Sunday at 9 AM.


Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

PS - Take a look at my "Hammerman on Ethics" piece

"Is Turkey Kosher?"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rachel Sherman on Toldot

Shabbat Shalom!

At the beginning of my Torah portion, Toldot, Rebecca discovers that she is about to give birth to twins. She feels them fighting inside her, and when they are born, things get even worse. Jacob and Esau could not be more different. Jacob is the student, who spends most of the time indoors. Meanwhile, Esau is the hunting type. He loves to be outdoors. Rebecca loves Jacob and Isaac loves Esau. Jacob is the younger one, but in the end he wins out, and gains the birthright and the blessing through deception. Later commentators see Esau as one of the least liked figures in Jewish history, but the Torah itself doesn’t think Esau is that bad. He’s just misunderstood.

From the first time I rode on the back of my father’s bike when I was little, I’ve always loved the outdoors. Imagine my surprise when Esau is described as a man of the outdoors. I could relate to him immediately. Not only is he outdoors, but, like me, he’s the first born and his father’s favorite.

So today I want to state the case for Esau. Loving the outdoors has helped me to grow in so many ways.

Last summer at camp, I went on a 33 mile hike. It wasn’t easy. Imagine huffing and puffing your way to the top of a mountain in Vermont, and then looking down and realizing that you still have 28 miles to go! But I did it and I felt really proud that I was one of only five from my group of 25 kids to finish, and we even broke the record, finishing the “Death March” in less than 6 hours.

Those who know me know that I love to ski and snowboard. Gliding down a trail and looking over at the other peaks is an amazing feeling. You can’t get that inside of a tent.

I’m all for studying – my favorite subject is history – but maybe it’s important to be a little like Jacob and a little like Esau. I understand how it’s important to be a studious person like Jacob. But it’s also important to be athletic like Esau – except for the hunting part.

Maybe the Torah, in making these two characters twins, is telling us that there is a little of each of them in each of us. Sometimes these two parts of us fight for control, much like Rebecca’s twins fought in the womb. There are times when I really want to play basketball outside with my brother and my dad – but I have a big math test tomorrow. So what do I decide to do?

Of course….STUDY!

So in this case the Jacob in me wins out.

And there are times when my parents ask me to clean my room and those are times when the Esau in me wins out and I go outside and play basketball.

In the Torah, a couple of portions from now, the two brothers unite once again, but this time, instead of wrestling, they embrace.

And so, in order to correct a big historical injustice, I thought I could say some words on behalf of Esau today. Because in the end, there’s a little of Esau in all of us.

For my mitzvah project I’ve been helping less fortunate kids at the Domas foundation by running a khaki drive. I’ve been asking people in my school to donate their used khakis that they’ve grown out of.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Shaina Lubliner on Sukkot

Those who know me know that I love theater. My mom passed that love on to me when I was very young. I remember my first acting experience, at Curtain Call when I was about six. It was a medley of Disney songs. Since then, I’ve been in over a dozen shows and I’ve seen lots more, on and off Broadway.

There are a lot of similarities between my showbiz career and becoming a bat mitzvah. There are lots of lines to learn, hours and hours of practice and rehearsal, the butterflies of opening night and one other thing. When you finish a show, the experience stays with you long after the lights have gone down. When this service is finished, I’ll always remember this day, but even more so, I’ll remember the lessons I’ve learned in preparing for it.

Add to all this drama one more thing. This is the festival of Sukkot, which involves more choreography and staging than a production of Les Miz. We wave the Lulav on other days of the festival and march around the sanctuary. Out there is the set for this drama, the sukkah, where we’ll be going at the end of the service. And there are special readings for Sukkot, including one that we did earlier in this service, a selection from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, or, as it’s called in Hebrew, Kohelet.

Kohelet is a very old book filled with very modern wisdom, and many of the pieces if advice it gives remind me of shows that I’ve seen and participated in.

For example, the verse, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns unto God who gave it.” This reminds me of the musical, “Once on this Island,” which speaks how when we die we return to nature.

Kohelet also said, “One who loves money will never be satisfied.” I played an orphan in a production of “Annie” at Curtain Call. In that show, both the bad guys and even the hero, Daddy Warbucks, need to learn that lesson.

I was also in the all-school production of “Fiddler on the Roof” a couple of years ago, playing one of Tevya’s daughters. Kohelet must have had Anatevka in mind when he wrote, “Enjoy life with the one you love all the fleeting days of your life that have been granted you under the sun.”

One of my favorite musicals, Pippin, actually has a song that begins with a line from Ecclesiastes. Pippin, the prince, is trying to figure out his place in the world, much as a bar or bat mitzvah does. So he sings, “Everything has its season, everything has it’s time; show me a reason and I'll soon show you a rhyme.”

How many of you have seen and loved the musical “Wicked,” like me? (PAUSE). I first saw it when I was about ten, and I found it so thought provoking that I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the way home on the train. How is it that someone we’ve always thought was evil, the Wicked Witch, could turn out to be good? And how could the ones we thought were good, actually be so selfish? I think Kohelet asked the same types of questions when he wrote, “There is not one righteous person on earth who does only good and never sins.”

This teaches us that no one is perfect and we should not judge a book by its cover – even if that cover happens to be green.

Finally, “Eat your bread in gladness and drink your wine in joy,” says Kohelet. Which is sort of what I sang when I played the role of Balloo in the JCC’s production of “The Jungle Book.” All you need to get by are the “bare necessities” of life, things like good friends and family, which is what I have here today.

For my mitzvah project, I’ve been raising scholarship money so that other children will have the opportunity to participate in Curtain Call, so that they can share in my passion for theater.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is Turkey Kosher (Hammerman on Ethics)

Is Turkey Kosher?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sydney Gubner on Hayye Sarah

Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for fashion and interior design. I always liked to shop, but about two or three years ago, I really began to get into it. I got my first sketch pad and started to get some ideas and before you know it, I had sketched several outfits.

It’s so perfect that the portion for my bat mitzvah introduces one of the most important accessories invented in the history of fashion: The veil.

Rebecca was about to meet Isaac for the first time, after she had been chosen by Abraham’s servant to become Isaac’s wife. She was on a camel and isaac saw her from a distance. When Rebecca saw Isaac, she put on a veil. She when he met her close up, her could not even see her face. But he loved her and took her to be his wife.

The Torah is teaching us that love runs much deeper than what you can see on the surface. That’s what happened for Isaac and Rebecca, and for hundreds of generations since then, brides have been wearing veils at Jewish weddings.

Not just Jewish ones, of course. One of my favorite TV shows is “Say Yes to the Dress,” where brides come into a bridal shop to find their dream dress. I love looking at all of the different designs, from ball gowns to mermaid bottoms to the sweetheart necklines. Usually when the bride is not sure about a dress, the salesperson will bring out the veil and a little jewelry, and that is when she says “yes.” The veil is the most important accessory and often “makes” the dress.

The veil adds a sense of mystery, but on the other hand, since it is removed during the ceremony, it shows that the couple should ways be learning more about each other and never take anything for granted.

But most of all, in a wedding, the veil adds an element of surprise.

I think surprise makes for strong statements in fashion. When I design clothes or living spaces, I always aim for surprise.

For instance, the rabbi asked me what I would do if I were given the job of redesigning this sanctuary in my own way. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the sanctuary how it is right now, because I am the 4th generation here at this temple.

But I also know that things have to change.

So, with that in mind…..If I were to redesign the sanctuary, the walls would be hot pink. That would keep everybody awake!

Instead of the benches, I would replace them with long white leather couches, and a pink curtain around the Torahs.

Below the bema there would be flashing lights, and a runway down the middle! Also you can’t forget the sparkles everywhere- there HAVE to sparkles! The effect is that you don’t know what you are walking into. You’re expecting to come into a sanctuary, like dozens of sanctuaries you’ve seen before. But instead, it’s like walking into
Fashion Week in Paris.

And for Jews, we all know that doing good never goes out of style. It’s always fashionable to learn the lessons of the Torah and to help others. And that’s what it means to become a bat mitzvah.

For my mitzvah project, I’m helping to fight kids being hungry in America by supporting an organization called “Share our Strength: No Kid Hungry.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

7th Graders Plant Bulbs - Photos

Today our TBE 7th graders planted hundreds of bulbs in our Finkelstein Mitzvah Garden. The class decided that as their mitzvah project, they will donate the flowers to nursing homes and hospitals, and also sell some for Passover and donate the proceeds to plant trees in Israel. Before the planting, I spent time with the kids discussing Judaism's focus on envionmental sustainablilty. The garden, a centerpiece of TBE's educational programming, had been damaged severely by Hurricane Irene, but recently was fully repaired. Click on photo below for pics:

2011 November 13, 7th Graders Plant in Mitzvah Garden

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 11/11/11

Shabbat Shalom, on a day when we salute our veterans and set our clocks to 11/11/11. Mazal tov to Sydney Gubner, who becomes Bat Mitzvah tomorrow afternoon. And click here to see the Torah commentary given by last week’s Bat Mitzvah, Tori Katz.


Aside from Veterans Day, this week is the yahrzeit of Reb Shlomo Carlebach z’l, whose music has revolutionized how Jews pray. We’ll be paying tribute to him and his music this evening at services. Join us at 7:30. In honor of this yahrzeit, I am pleased to release to the public for the first time this vintage recording of a concert featuring Reb Shlomo, recorded in the mid 1960s at my home shul, Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Mass. It also features my father, Cantor Michal Hammerman z'l and Cantor Alex Zimmer. My dad brought Reb Shlomo to Brookline as part of the local Jewish Music Forum. The recording features not only some of his famous melodies, but his inimitable storytelling style. My father had the concert taped, but it was never mass produced or released. Until now. Click here to listen to this vintage recording.


This has been a sobering week at Penn State. We can only be heartbroken to hear of the victims of these horrible alleged crimes, and perplexed – if not enraged - about the efforts to cover them up. I’ll be sharing some reflections at services on Shabbat morning (OK for older kids, but given the subject matter, keep in mind that we do have Junior Cong. tomorrow as well). We’ll be connecting this topic to some lessons from our portion (think Sodom and Gomorrah) and Jewish laws of gossip.

As shocking as the revelations are, the news regarding Iran is far more urgent. The UN report released this week reveals for the world the extent of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. I’ve heard Israeli experts say that they are still a couple of years from being fully operational., but that should not make us complacent. See several editorials on the topic and read Dore Gold’s report, The Significance of the November 2011 IAEA Report on Iran.


Check out our new, updated website, created in cooperation with JVillage . While the design is similar to the old one, it has many new features and more accessible information, although some of that has not been uploaded yet. Soon we’ll be able to handle many financial transactions and reservations online, so when you wake up at 3 AM and say, “I can’t go back to sleep until I’ve donated to TBE,” you’ll be able to! You can also take a look at early childhood director Ronnie Brockman’s blog entry, “This Thanksgiving, Let’s help Our Children Embrace Diversity.”


Check out this TV report on TBE B'not Mitzvah who will be on the Jewish Home’s Israel Trip. What an amazing journey it will be. Mazal tov to Gaby and Marley Baum and their family!


Read about my experiences last summer on safari and how it helped me to better understand why I do what I do, in my op-ed from this week’s New York Jewish Week. And see also this week’s “Hammerman on Ethics” column, Davening for Dollars, where a reader asks if it’s OK to pray that God help improve his financial situation when others are even less fortunate.


Please note that the meeting date has changed to Dec. 12, at 7:30, at my home and there is a strong chance that the trip will be departing on August 12 rather than July 30, to accommodate those with camp schedules. Please join us at that meeting if you are interested in coming on this incredible trip. View the current itinerary. See the Pricing and Registration forms.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Shlomo Carlebach z'l, Vintage Concert Recording

This evening we'll commemorate the yahrzeit of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, incorporating some of his melodies and stories into our Shabbat service. On the website of the Carlebach Shul in NY, the following passage echoes our own philosophy:

Our secret is rooted in two fundamental Torah teachings: Neshama Yeteira, a special soul we receive on Shabbos, and Lechem Mishnah, the two loaves of bread we have to Shabbos commemorating the double portion of Manna we received in the desert for Shabbos. Finding the special Shabbos souls who are hungry for G-d (the Neshama Yeteira) and feeding them the double portion (Lechem Mishnah) is our goal. Indeed, in order to reach the lofty goal of a "never-ending Shabbos," The Carlebach Shul, together with its rabbi, is dedicated to bringing Reb Shlomo's Torah teachings to Jews of all backgrounds in an atmosphere of warmth and joy.

On this his yahrzeit, I am pleased to release to the public for the first time this vintage recording of a concert featuring Reb Shlomo, recorded on a stormy night in Nov. 1972 at my home shul, Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Mass. It also features my father, Cantor Michal Hammerman z'l and Cantor Alex Zimmer (and my mom at the piano). Carlebach begins about 35 minutes in. See the program here.

My dad brought Reb Shlomo to Brookline as part of the local Jewish Music Forum. The recording features not only some of his famous melodies, but his inimitable storytelling style. My father had the concert taped but this was not a professional recording (there is some unevenness in the sound); this tape was never mass produced or released. Until now. Click on the player below or you can access the concert here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Davening for Dollars (Hammerman on Ethics)

Hammerman on Ethics

The Jewish Week

Q: When I daven, I am tempted to ask God for help improving my difficult financial situation. But I always feel this is wrong since so many other people are in worse circumstances involving their health, safety and even worse financial conditions, whereas I at least have a job and a healthy family. Is it unethical to ask God for more money, or should I just be grateful for all the good things I have?

A – Not only is it OK to ask, but a number of our traditional prayers do just that. The weekday Amida is chock full of requests, especially the 9th blessing (of 19), where we ask God to bless us in this year “for good.” “Good” is assumed to mean agricultural sustenance – i.e. food – but it can be expanded to mean all things material. Some say that “good” implores that the material gains we receive from God’s blessings not distract us from spiritual pursuits. Other Amida blessings focus on other personal needs: knowledge, forgiveness, security, redemption and health. While most of these blessings are formulated in the first person plural, there are opportunities to add more private, personalized prayers. Other prayers, like Avinu_Malkeinu, ask God for all kinds of material favors (I cringe every time I see the line asking God to “fill our coffers with plenty”). So it’s done.

But it’s not done much.

Most Jewish prayer is not petitionary. On Shabbat, even the Amida sheds nearly all requests. And even when we ask for things, the net effect of the asking is to help us appreciate what we already have. We ask for rain “in due season” in order to help us appreciate the significance of timely rain, so that we’ll act responsibly to conserve our resources long before there is a drought. Also, by asking in the first person plural we are reminded that the accumulation of wealth is not a zero sum game. We pray that everyone be blessed, which encourages us to share our blessings with others. The American Jewish World Service has put together a collection of source mateirals calling for concerted action to address the global food shortage during this harvest season.

But what if it IS a zero sum game? Is it right, for example, for an athlete to point heavenward and thank God for bringing him victory, if that means that God then would have wanted the other team to lose? Does God love the St. Louis Cardinals more than the Texas Rangers? (Let’s leave aside God’s clear fascination for torturing Cubs fans). Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez claims God wanted his team to collapse this year. If that’s true, what then of 2004, when, as I wrote at the time, the Sox victory seemed heaven-sent?

I’ve found that it’s best not to credit God for bringing us victory or blame God for losses. But I also understand that caring passionately about my sports teams is what trained me as a youth to care for things that are even more important. And when we care passionately about something, we naturally turn to God.

So it’s fine to pray for financial gain, as long as it doesn’t require someone else’s loss. It’s also not a good idea to confuse God with Bernie Madoff: if your earnings just keep going up up, up, I’d pray for the occasional reversal.
If your financial situation is dire, by all means, seek strength from prayer – then go out and hire a good accountant.

Send your ethical queries to Rabbi Hammerman at

TBE B'not Mitzvah on Jewish Home Israel Trip!

See this TV report about an incredible journey that will be taking place next week!

Jewish Home residents heading to Israel:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jews In The Jungle (Jewish Week)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Victoria Katz on Lech Lecha

Hi, everyone----Shabbat Shalom

My portion is all about journeys.

In fact, Lech lecha means “go out.” And in the portion, Abraham had to leave his homeland and father’s family in order to follow God’s plan and to fulfill his destiny.

The message here is that you need to take journeys to new places in order to grow.

Abraham’s journey involved many trials and challenges. He had to overcome fear and doubt, and he had to learn to be empathetic and help others along the way.

Interestingly, the final challenge for Abraham takes place on a mountain, when he is instructed to bring his son Isaac up there to be sacrificed.

Mountains have been a big part of my life. Either I’m climbing up them or skiing down them. And in each case, like Abraham, I journey far from home, help others, discover new places and overcome the fear of the unknown.

Many of you know that I ski competitively. I’ve been skiing since I was 4. My specialty is freestyle, including moguls, and in particular Big Air. Big Air is exactly what it sounds like. You go off a jump and get “BIG AIR”

The first time I tried Big Air, I was scared crazy. It was about 4 years ago. My friends encouraged me and I just decided to face my fear and let it fly. I don’t remember, but it probably wasn’t the smoothest landing or the biggest air.

In fact, whenever you try anything new in freestyle, you’re probably going to fall more often than not. Abraham also made a number of mistakes while on his journey. It comes with the territory, but in the end you are a better person for having done it. For Abraham it was a leap of faith. For me, it was literally a leap, and I had the faith that I would end up on my feet or at least my skiis.

Here’s a tip regarding overcoming fear when you are skiing. It looks a lot harder when you’re watching someone else do it or looking down, than when you are actually doing it. I now can understand the Nike philosophy, “Just do it!”

By the way, (that would not have good advice for Abraham on the mountain with Isaac,).

What goes down, must go up.

Just as I love to go down mountains on skis, I also am looking forward to climbing up one. This mountain however is one of the top seven summit in the world. Next June, I will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania- Africa. I’ll be doing it to raise money for Rett Syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system. In most cases, girls loose purposeful use of their hands, have muscle weakness and often have limited mobility. I have a family friend named Jessie who has Rett Syndrome. I’ve known her just about all my life and she has been a real inspiration to me. I’ll be thinking of her throughout my journey. We are calling my trip “Step Up 2 Rett” as it’s the second time our family is climbing the mountain and I am proud to be doing it with my sister Abby. We are going to climb for all the girls who can’t and bring awareness to Rett Syndrome. Shortly, you will be able to make a donation to the Foundation.

Why do we climb an enormous mountain? As the famous British climber George Mallory once said when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he simply replied, “Because it’s there.”

This is true for all kinds of challenges, not just mountain climbing - we need to set the bar very high (and there’s nothing higher than a mountain). The goal is finding a cure for Rett Syndrome, this is an obstacle that we all need to overcome.

I can really relate to Abraham and his journey, even though I’ve only just begun mine. In some ways, it begins today, as I become a bat mitzvah.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 4, 2011

The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by Laura and Daniel Katz in honor of Victoria’s becoming a Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.

This weekend, as we move the clocks back, we move forward to the beauty of our Friday night and Shabbat morning services, the drama of a Bat Mitzvah (mazal tov, Tori), the hilarity of Comedy Night (BYOB and tickets are available at the door) and, for our our Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, an important session on bullying this Sunday, coordinated by the ADL and sponsored by our own Herb Kahan.

Busy, busy, busy.

I hope everyone has power back by now - I know this has been a difficult week for so many. But this Shabbat we also think of those who have it much worse, whose concern isn’t simply whether they will be able to charge their computers or need to pile on an extra blanket (not to minimize the inconvenience of having no heat) but to fill their stomachs each day. Global Hunger Shabbat will be a prime focus of this weekend’s programming. This week’s portion includes the first famine in biblical history - no sooner do Abraham and Sarah arrive in Canaan than the food shortage forces them to relocate to Egypt. Read our Parsha Packet for Lech Lecha for more information on this and other aspects of Global Hunger Shabbat.

Speaking of Parshas, read what last week’s b’nai mitzvah, Elias Boyer and Jessica Rubin, had to say about their portions.


This weekend marks the anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Rabin - one of those rare years when the Hebrew and English anniversaries virtually coincide. Today, President Shimon Peres lit a candle at the memorial site, eulogizing Rabin as one who “paved a path to peace.” That path was paved my many good intentions, but now we see a diplomatic stalemate with the Palestinians (who apparently have been stifled at the Security Council without need for a US veto) and, more than ever, the focus being turned on the looming threat of a nuclear Iran. The leaked news this week of Prime Minister Netanyahu having opted for the military option was either an unintended blunder of a dysfunctional Israeli leadership or a brilliant thrust designed to redirect the world’s attention and turn up the heat on Tehran. Whatever it was, Netanyahu has backed out of attending the annual Federation General Assembly in Denver - and that tells us something. I just don't know what!

There is another anniversary this coming week - Kristallnacht, on Wednesday.

See also this week’s Hammerman on Ethics column, Killing Kaddafy: Was it Ethical?

Our new, updated website should be live within a very short time. While the design is the same, you notice enhanced features, greater accessibility and much more information at your fingertips. We’ve had some delays, which has caused the old site to go somewhat stale, but the wait will have been worth it once the new one is in place. Features will include increased educational content, better online payment and reservation options, more of the cantor’s music and tutorial materials, archives, photos, and lots more. It will be a few weeks before all the information is uploaded, but check it out anytime.

So as we move the clocks back and readjust our bodily rhythms to that depressing feeling of darkness at 5 PM and winter on the way, this is a good time remind ourselves that we can avoid these gloomy shifts by instead setting our clocks to Jewish Time.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Killing Kaddafy - Was it Ethical?


Q - Was it ethical to kill Muammar Kaddafy and Osama bin Laden on the spot, apparently in cold blood, rather than arrest them and bring them to trial? Didn’t it work for Iraq to try Saddam Hussein?

A – Yes, it was ethical to kill them right then and there.

It would have been nice to bring both to trial, but in both cases, it would also have been impractical and dangerous. The trial of Saddam Hussein proved cathartic to the Iraqi people and a boost to the nascent Iraqi justice system. But in Baghdad the Americans kept watch over the prisoner and the process to keep nefarious parties at bay. Such was not the case in Libya, where Kaddafy’s compatriots were still fighting to the finish on the day he was killed. Meanwhile, bin Laden’s buddies would have gone to great lengths to disrupt a trial, likely killing, maiming and kidnapping many along the way. Who knows what his Pakistani protectors would have done.

Think about it. If one Israeli soldier was traded for a thousand unknown terrorists, how many innocents would have been kidnapped to exchange for these prize prisoners?

Since the Shalit deal, in fact, some Israelis have argued for capital punishment for terrorists. They argue that imprisonment is hardly an impediment these days, given the current “rate of exchange” of a thousand to one. But the Israeli judiciary’s dedication to due process and the lack of capital punishment should not give too much comfort to those bent on terror – because Israeli drones are not nearly so charitable, and its security services have ways of making ticking-bomb terrorists disappear. The “ticking bomb” ethical scenario has been used to justify targeted killings and torture. This approach provides ample deterrence. Still, it is comforting to know that once terrorists are taken prisoner, Israel follows the norms of civilized nations ruled by law and protects the rights of prisoners to be kept alive and given a fair trial (with one controversial exception – the Bus 300 affair in 1984).

Gone are the days of Nuremberg Trial; those postwar proceedings neatly closed the door on a genocidal era that had commenced with the racist laws enacted in the same city just over a decade before. Perfectly symmetrical – what began in Nuremburg ended there. There was no such tidy culmination for families of the victims of 9/11 or Lockerbie, with no trial for the ringleaders. But the facts of those crimes were incontrovertible long before the prime perpetrators were killed, the guilt long since proven, confessed and even boasted, without need of a trial. History will be the ultimate judge of Kaddafy and bin laden. No jury is necessary.

Killing those two likely saved many lives, so on utilitarian grounds alone these were defensible acts, especially in wartime. That Kaddafy and bin Laden were also monsters responsible for the deaths of thousands only serves to further justify their treatment. They needed to be eliminated and buried in secrecy, so that they and their movements might be simultaneously snuffed out.

Global Hunger Shabbat

This is Global Hunger Shabbat, at TBE and around the world. Read about this AJWS sponsored event here. And see our parsha packet for Lech Lecha

See how we can help to reverse hunger...