Friday, March 2, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 2

Shabbat Shalom

Purim, CMTs and CAPTs
It's March, I'm back from vacation and things are unbelievably busy here.  We've got about 150 people coming to Shabbat Across America on Friday evening, and while reservations are now closed for the dinner, anyone can come to the Klezmer Service in the sanctuary at 7:30. Join us! On Shabbat morning we'll celebrate with "leap couple" Sherry and Ken Cohen on their anniversary and "leap year baby" Herb Horowitz on his birthday.  I will also be discussing themes related to this special Sabbath, Shabbat Zachor.  With Purim just around the bend, we focus on the serious questions of how to remember those who caused bad things to happen to a good people, "a certain people," as Haman called the Jews. 

Purim arrives on Wednesday night, with our fun-for-all family Megilla reading beginning at 6 PM and the carnival following just after.  Unfortunately, when the holiday was first declared, Mordechai and Esther did not realize that Stamford school kids would have standardized tests this week.  Alas, we can't move Purim, but we can promise to get things rolling as quickly as possible so that everyone can have at least a little time to enjoy the carnival before bedtime.  And I promise a special Rabbinic Blessing for those kids who come!  High scores are guaranteed - or your hamentaschen back.  Plus, you'll get to shed those pre-test frustrations by hitting me with a sponge!  That's got to be worth a few points!  Plus, you'll get to see what costumes our clergy and teachers are wearing...and wear creative costumes of your own.  And bring creative noisemakers too, so we can drown out HIS name whenever we hear it.  How could any Jewish child miss a year of Purim? What kind of message does that send?  "Sorry Joey.  You get to beat your chest and fast and sit in services all day on Yom Kippur...but Purim, the fun one, we're gonna skip this year."  And don't forget this Sunday at 10:30 - bring the family to our Mishloach Manot making party!

Hadassah Hop-ital
How could any adult miss Purim either? At 8 on Wed. night we'll daven Ma'ariv and read the full Megilla. And then the joint will be hopping for Hadassah. This year, Purim for Adults honors Hadassah on its 100th anniversary.  In the Purim story, Hadassah is Esther's Hebrew name and there is no better time to honor the heroism of Jewish women, ancient and contemporary.  I thank our local Hadassah leadership in advance for the presentation they've prepared honoring their organization.   And  for those interested in further exploring the Whole Megilla, I'll be leading an hour-long Lunch & Learn study session on Wed. at noon. 

Downton Abbey and Shabbat at Hillel
Last week's vacation seems like it was a month ago.  On Friday night I had the chance to welcome Shabbat at Brown Hillel, along with over a hundred students at their Havurah service. We were there with Ethan, celebrating his 21st birthday.  It was the first time I've been at Brown Hillel for Shabbat since I was leading services as a student there a few eons ago.  All I can say is that rumors of the impending demise of the Jewish people are greatly exaggerated.  Brown's is only one of many campus Hillels that are thriving. Hillel's going to great length to avoid the cliquishness of the past and, with the help of outstanding crossover programs like Birthright Israel, they are reaching Jewish kids who would never have been caught dead doing Jewish things on campus only a few years ago.  (And check out Ethan's acting debut in this Hillel Purim promo).  This week we'll get to see Dan in D.C., where he is already becoming a leader of Jewish student activities at American.

While away from then office, and having sworn off ESPN ever since the Super Bowl, I managed to do two things I'd been hoping to accomplish in order to keep up with the zeitgeist:  I read "The Hunger Games" and watched the entire second season of "Downton Abbey." 

For now, I'll have to hold onto most of my thoughts on these cultural phenomena, except to say that  I'm now ready for this month's Harry Potter-like onslaught of "Hunger Games" hype in advance of the long awaited movie premier.  And I was thrilled to discover that "Downton Abbey" is nothing less than "Fiddler on the Roof" in tux and tails.  What we see in Abbey-tevka is this:  a tradition-espousing patriarch who holds it together as his world crashes down around him, lovely daughters who challenge those traditions to varying degrees - and a house full of yentas.  I look at Sir Richard Carlisle and see Lazar Wolf, a manipulative, unfeeling rich guy proposing a match of status rather than love.  Tom Branson, the Downton Abbey chauffer and resident revolutionary, IS Perchick - only Siberia in this case turns out to be Ireland.  I can't say much more right now without giving away the plot (although I suppose you already know that they leave Anatevka at the end).  I'll return to "The Hunger Games" in a few weeks.

What I'll be looking for at AIPAC: an Iran-Clad Agreement
And last but certainly not least, I'll be joined by Cantor Mordecai, Mara and many from our community this coming week at what will certainly be a historic AIPAC Policy Conference.  I'm pleased that over a dozen from TBE will be there, a marked increase from the past. If all goes well and my battery allows, I'll be tweeting and blog posting as time permits - so if you haven't already, look for me on Twitter and friend me on Facebook.

Put simply:  We'll be hearing from President Obama on Sunday morning and PM Netanyahu on Monday night. In between, they will be meeting.  What they decide when they are together will be of enormous significance, for Israel's existence, for American security, for Iran and its cronies, for the world economy and for the American election.

Nothing else matters.

Not that there won't be a slew of other dignitaries on the rostrum - with names like Peres, Panetta, McConnell, Pelosi, Lieberman and Gingrich.

But all that matters is what happens between the President and Prime Minister.  The best case scenario, in my mind, would be an iron-clad agreement (or is it Iran clad?) defining what red lines the Iranians must not cross and what each party will do if that happens. If the US agrees to take on the burden of military action providing Israel holds back, this would send a strong signal to the world that sanctions will be taken to the limit, but that there is a limit.  It would demonstrate Israeli pragmatism and American resolve, two things the world needs to see. Such cooperation could well bring the Iranians closer to blinking, as the North Koreans seem to have done this week.  It would keep the pressure and focus on Syria and not let Assad off the hook.  It would keep Hezbollah off balance and Hamas at bay and increase the diplomatic isolation of the Russians and Chinese.  It would de-politicize the matter here in America, where Israel must not become a partisan issue.  And it would eliminate that dreaded daylight between American and Israeli positions that threatens to sabotage the special relationship that AIPAC, among others, has so carefully nurtured. 

I hope we can hear clearly that an agreement has been reached. If not, the two leaders need to get back into a room until they have one. My fear is that both will succumb to political miscalculations and try to weaken the other politically.  I'll grant that Obama and Netanyahu have not had the smoothest relationship.  But for now - and quite possibly for years to come - they are the guardians of this special alliance, and right now BOTH nations face real peril. By standing together, the US and Israel could do a lot of good for the world.

That's what I'll be looking for in Washington.  Follow events closely next week - and check out my tweets and postings.  Meanwhile, read Israel's Last Chance to Strike Iran from Thursday's NY Times, Jerusalem, Washington and the Iranian Bomb by Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz and James Besser's analysis of the current state of AIPAC and American Jewry.   Each article points out the urgency of this moment. Shavit writes, "Next Monday, in the White House, the man from Washington and the man from Jerusalem will look into each other's eyes. Each will see the abyss in the other's pupils. If U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail again to rise above themselves and don't start working together as allies, they will bring disaster on their nations."

Impending the hands of a lunatic from Persia...  Something tells me we've been here before. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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