Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for Nov. 16-23

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving and Rosh Hodesh Kislev.

Since there will be no regularly scheduled Shabbat O Gram next week, I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.  These two weeks are the perfect time to bring homecoming students and visiting relatives to share in our services - Friday night at 7:30 and Shabbat morning at 9:30.  Cantor Mordecai and I will be here to greet you both weekends.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have much to be thankful for (like this week's b'nai mitzvah, Olivia Wise and Evan Kaplan, and next week's, Rebecca Gatz, and next week's naming for Ainsley Pankowsky) - but in Sandy's wake, also much to be concerned about.  See last week's parsha packet "After Sandy: Coping with Disaster, Climate Change and the New Normal," for a list of ways that we each can help.  In that spirit,. this week TBE is donating ten Thanksgiving turkeys to the local Food Bank.  We are also looking for ways to become "greener" and soon we'll have some exciting news to share on that front.


I'm sending out this O-gram early to update you on today's events:

On Wednesday, following days during which over a hundred rockets were fired at southern Israel from Gaza, Israel struck back today in a big way, killing Hamas' Defense chief Jabiri, widely considered the architect of all Hamas terror directed against Israel in recent years, including the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.  The Israeli response, called Operation "Pillar of Defense," has been brilliantly executed, as prime missile sites were also hit - including Fajr rocket sites capable of hitting the area of Tel Aviv - but now Israeli is bearing the brunt of the counter strike.  This evening alone, rockets have been fired at Beersheba (17 intercepted thus far by Iron Dome) and, for the first time, Dimona.  Damage and injuries have been held to a minimum thus far, but this is a difficult night of watching for the people of southern and central Israel. Our prayers are with them. 

I encourage you to monitor Israeli news sites as often as you can, and to sign up for the Israeli Network on Cablevision, which has a full, English subtitled newscast at 8 PM and breaking news in Hebrew throughout the day.


At the same time, Thursday is Rosh Hodesh Kislev, there is rising concern over the continued harassment women who pray at the Western Wall each month on Rosh Hodesh, the Women of the Wall.  When Jeremiah the prophet waxed eloquently about a revived Jerusalem filled with cries of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, the voice of the bride, it was clear to him that somehow Jerusalem would continue to be impoverished without the sounds of  both men AND women singing.  

Yet, last month, Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwoman of Women of the Wall, prayed at the Western Wall and was arrested and charged with the "offense" of wearing a prayer shawl and disturbing public order. 

In August, I went down to the Kotel to see Women of the Wall and what I heard did not disturb my peace.  Instead, it was a lovely, rousing cacophony of voices, sounding much like Jeremiah must have imagined as he dreamed of Jerusalem reborn.  

On the left, a men's group was singing madly - much louder, incidentally, than the women.  Their location, hugging the divider between the men's and women's sections, and the sheer volume of their singing, led me to the impression that they were trying to drown the women out, sort of like a big sing-down at the camp mess hall (perhaps they were also planning to raid the girls bunks that evening).  But the effect, when combined with the soft voices of the women chanting Hallel, to my mind, only added a grander sense of harmony.  This was no disturbance of the peace.  

It's time for the Kotel to be reclaimed for all the Jewish people.




This week at the annual gathering of Jewish federations, Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky sat together to reminisce about what may have been the most significant and successful revolution in the Jewish world of the past half century, yet one no one ever talks about.  

The struggle to free Soviet Jewry, a 25 year battle, not only succeeded in tearing down barriers to immigration and Jewish identity, it helped to bring down the iron curtain itself.  It did so bloodlessly, and it galvanized the American Jewish community as it had never been galvanized before and hasn't since.  It enabled Jews to project pride and political clout in a manner that presaged AIPAC, despite being only tacitly endorsed by much of the Jewish establishment.  In fact, it was primarily student led, or as Sharansky's KGB captors scoffed "A bunch of students and housewives."  Yet somehow, these students helped to push an agenda that promoted human rights for all people and, through the Jackson-Vanik amendment, became a prime instrument of U.S. policy to pressure the Soviet Union.

Ironically, Jackson-Vanik is slated to be rescinded by Congress this week (see an interesting take on this from the from the Moscow Times). 

Twenty five years ago, on December 6, 1987, 250,000 Jews marched on Washington to demand freedom for Soviet Jewry.  The numbers far exceeded everyone's expectations, and coming as it did on the eve of a Reagan - Gorbachev summit, historians now know that it made a huge difference in accelerating the process of liberation.  For American Jews, it was a cathartic do-over, a chance to redeem ourselves from the perception that we had not done enough to help our brothers and sisters during the Shoah.  It was a huge moment.  For those of us who were there, it was unforgettable.  It was, for me, the first major community event I attended after moving to Stamford and it cemented relationships with other community leaders. 

This 25th anniversary of the climactic event of a 25 year revolution is a very big deal. At your Thanksgiving tables, recount the stories of what you did to help save Soviet Jewry, and to help resettle them when many came here.  It was, arguably, Stamford and American Jewry's finest hour.


SAVE THE DATE OF SHABBAT MORNING, DECEMBER 8, WHEN, IN HONOR OF THIS 25TH ANNIVERSARY, WE WILL BE HOSTING GAL BECKERMAN,  opinion editor at The Forward AND AUTHOR  OF "When They Come for Us, We'll be Gone,"-  The riveting story, never before told, of the three-decade struggle that became a global cause.

Finally, if are looking for a real pick me up, check out one of our TBE teens,  Brett Mayer, skating a few days ago in the Eastern Sectionals.  We are all very proud of Brett! 

And for Thanksgiving, direct from the Shabbat-O-Gram archives: 

Shabbat Shalom and a blessed holiday for all!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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