Friday, May 4, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 4

Sanctuary picture
Shabbat Shalom!

Another busy weekend is upon us.  We begin with a K,1,2, dinner and service this evening as well as our always-inspiring  congregational Kabbalat Shabbat services and Shabbat morning services (main and family services).  This Shabbat afternoon Roni Moskowitz becomes Bat Mitzvah - Mazal Tov to her and her family.   On Sunday, our K'tanim graduates will be saluted and then they'll participate in a special community wide P.J Library program that we'll be hosting, and later Sunday, our teens have another lounge night and TBE past President Brian Rogol will receive the Mitzvah Award from JFS.  Mazal tov also to Arty Selkowitz who will be feted as Stamford's Citizen of the Year, along with many other TBE members who are being honored throughout the community over the coming weeks.

7th Grade Wedding Photos 2012

This year's 7th grade class simply outdid themselves in preparing a very special ceremony as part of their lifecycle curriculum. Sarah Goldberg and Jacob Koester were the bride and groom, but the entire class really came together over this project.  Click here to the first photos of the event, and check back in a few days for more!

Leadership Circle

Next Shabbat, May 11, we will be honoring our Leadership Circle of Temple benefactors with a special Friday night service and dedication.  Please join us!

TBE Young Adults in Israel / Write On, MOTL and Birthright Israel

And save the following Friday night as well, May 18, as we will hear from students who recently returned from Israel on the March of the Living and Write On for Israel Programs.  We'll also be honoring the 10th anniversary of the Birthright Israel program on that night, and I invite all TBE Birthright alumns who have participated to join us.  Nearly 100 of our Beth El young adults have gone on one of these life-changing trips (See their names here - and let me know of any omissions, for which I apologize). It's quite a lineup.  Plus, several teens went on a high school Birthright pilot trip for which our community was selected.   I'm soon to do my first Birthright Israel wedding where the couple never met on Birthright!  But they both went on the trip and reprioritized their lives afterwards, went on J-Date and the rest is history. 

51,000 participants a year- one out of every two young Jewish adults-will experience a Birthright Israel trip by 2013, transforming our Jewish future.

I invite the TBE 100 to write to me ( to let me know how Birthright Israel changed YOUR life.  I'll collect the testimonies and share them on May 18 (please indicate also if you would prefer that your comments remain anonymous).  We are part of a 


This week's Torah portion contains what many believe to be the foundation of Judaism and indeed all religion: "Love your neighbor as yourself,"וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ - Leviticus 19:18.  This has been a very good week for that. Click here for the Golden Rule as found in ten religious traditions.

This coming week, an ADL regional board in the Philadephia area is expected to elect S.A. Ibrahim,a  local businessman originally from India,, who will become the first Muslim to serve on the Anti-Defamation League's regional board -- or any ADL board for that matter.  And it was encouraging to see that at their convention this week, the Methodists rejected a call to join an anti-Israel boycott.  In doing so, they heeded the call of Jewish leaders from across the denominational spectrum.

On the topic of Israel right now, there would appear to be no two more outspoken, passionate defenders of opposite viewpoints these days than Peter Beinart and Daniel Gordis.  This week they debated at the 92nd St Y and by all accounts the conversation was surprisingly civil in tone.  We who hosted Ben-Ami vs. Dershowitz should be especially happy to hear that.

Meanwhile, Israel seems headed to early elections, most likely on September 4.  Read aboutwhy they are doing that here.  Incidentally, this decision most likely indicates that any military initiative regarding Iran will be delayed until the dust settles following both this and the American elections, at the very least, unless something unforeseen happens.  I don't expect either campaign to be overly civil, but it would be nice to see this week's news become a trend.


I often talk about the power of young people to change the world (see the TBE 100 listed above). One such person is Alli Green, who is spending time on a fellowship in Jerusalem, doing the kind of things that do us all proud, promoting dialogue and cooperation.  Last week she emailed me regarding her first encounter with the Women of the Wall, a monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer group at the Kotel.  Her experiences were both shattering and uplifting, and they inspired me to write an op-ed that was featured on the Times of Israel website  (Created by David Horovitz, former editor of the Jerusalem Post, the site has quickly become a must-see Israel news source).  The piece has drawn considerable interest.  I excerpt from it below - to see the rest , including Alli's complete email - click here.

Just as the so-called "War on Women" has become a major issue in American politics, it appears likely that it will be prime subject in the upcoming Israeli campaign. Pundits and politicians from around the world, including Hilary Clinton, have joined Israelis in questioning continued segregation, discrimination and humiliation of women in the public sphere. The images of females being shunned on buses and spat at on their way to school have generated an outcry even among Israel's most solid supporters, and they've found their way into the mainstream media, permeating the pages of The New York Times and the airwaves of CNN.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that the treatment of women is a ticking electoral time bomb. Although most of the coverage of his March speech at AIPAC dealt with his use of Holocaust imagery and the Iranian nuclear duck, something he said at the very end of the speech got one of the loudest ovations:

And as prime minister of Israel, I will never allow anything to threaten Israel's democratic way of life. And most especially, I will never tolerate any discrimination against women.

While the prime target of feminist scorn is typically the haredim, there is more than enough blame to go around. Secular leaders and police have tacitly accepted the increased humiliation of women because of coalition politics and simple apathy, but also ostensibly out of respect to ancient traditions. Funny, I don't recall where the Talmud states that women need to ride in the back of anything. And nowhere do Jewish sources suggest that there should be gender segregated HMO clinics, banks, elevators, grocery stores and pizza parlors, and a corner snack shop in the Bukharian quarter of Jerusalem that has a side entrance with a sign marked "women only" (as reported in "Excluded, for God's Sake: Gender Segregation in the Public Sphere in Israel").

Maybe this tipping point of outrage will bring about a change in attitude that, for too long, has tolerated the intolerable.

Since 1989, the Women of the Wall, a prayer group consisting of women from all Jewish streams, has been denied the basic right that every Jewish group should have: the opportunity to pray peacefully at Judaism's holiest site. The Kotel should be for everyone. Sadly it is not. As one committed to egalitarianism and inclusiveness, I've long since stopped bringing my congregation groups to the Kotel Plaza to pray together. Too many scary experiences have led us to the Robinson's Arch area, which is the Kotel's equivalent of the back of the bus - though also a beautiful and peaceful spot.

Who said the back of the bus can't be comfortable?

It's the same Wall, but an area that can only be used by appointment and it is clearly not the place that people think of when referring to the Kotel. For Jews from the liberal streams, to visit the Kotel these days is to experience a new form of exile at the very moment of supposed return. The Judaism that we grew up with is not accepted in the singular place that was intended to be for all of us, our courtyard of ingathering. Historically, the Kotel was never a synagogue, nor should it be one now, much less a place that excludes the majority of Jewish congregations from praying as they normally do. But even if it were a synagogue, what synagogue have you ever seen that sanctions people throwing everything from verbal abuse to chairs to excrement at women?

I recall my first visit to that holy spot, on Tisha B'Av when I was 16, on a summer teen tour. In ancient times, the Kotel was the Temple's outer, retaining wall, the place where all the people could gather, from the largest to the small, sheep and pigeons in hand, before arriving at the inner courtyards where degrees of separation set in. The Kotel has always been a festival of earthy democracy for the plain folk: the sweaty Herodian-era laborers who moved enormous slabs of rock; the late-Roman period artisans who scribbled joyous graffiti from Isaiah; the dying whispers of medieval pilgrims, having reached their long-sought final destination; the teary paratroopers in '67; and the final breath of my grandmother, who never got there. At the Wall, the Jewish body beat with one heart.

When I first came to the Kotel that Tisha B'Av, I saw a white dove about halfway up, glowing in the light, perched on a nest of moss. I quivered with recognition of the Shechina, God's most manifest and loving presence, sent to that very spot to weep with Her people among the ruins. For centuries, that legend and that weeping bound motionless stones to a yearning nation. Now the stones have lost their heart - and strangers beware.

The courageous Women of the Wall continue to stand their ground.  Each month on Rosh Hodesh, they pray in the women's section of the main plaza, at least for a while. In order to read Torah, they then descend to Robinson's Arch. And they do this in an atmosphere of intimidation and abuse, some of which is tolerated by the police, reminiscent of the anti-Semitism faced by Jews over the centuries as they sought only to pray in their little shtiebels in peace.

To see the rest of the posting, including Alli's complete email - click here.

So What is FANIUM?

And finally, in the qvelling department, if you like sports, check out Ethan's newest project, a website called FANIUM.  It just went live this week and it is absolutely going to change the way people follow sports.  Yes, I'm biased, so read what others have to say.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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