Friday, February 17, 2012
As you know, today’s Torah portion
includes the Ten Commandments. While I have no problems with the Torah’s choices, I thought this would be a nice opportunity to reflect on what my own Ten Commandments would be.
o Thou shalt not hurt another human being or any living thing, including your sister, at least so long as she is bigger than you.
o Thou shalt visit Israel. And when you do, thou shalt go to that gelato place on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.
o Thou shalt not judge people by appearances…unless they are Patriots or fans (sorry about that loss, Rabbi.). But seriously, for my mitzvah project, I’ve donated money to the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps soldiers rehabilitate after suffering major injuries in battle. These injuries may have altered their appearance, but we can never forget that they are heroes.
o Thou shalt never quit learning or you might not be able to handle what challenges life throws at you. I understand that bar mitzvah is not the end of my Jewish education. In some ways, it’s only the beginning.
o Honor your parents, because they can really make life miserable for you if you don’t. But seriously, I love you guys.
o Thou shalt not rip your quarterback anonymously in the papers, especially when you have just choked away your chance at the playoffs. Don’t worry, fellow Jet fans. There are brighter days ahead.
o Thou shalt not hate anybody, because as Jews we know how it feels to be hated.
o Thou shalt have no other gods before me, including such false idols as money, success and popularity. Or, in other words, the Miami Heat
o Thou shalt not steal…especially when I’m crouched behind home plate
o And finally, thou shalt always wear matching clothes. Yes, it’s true, my clothes always match – and I’m the one who picks them out. It’s important to wear matching clothes because it demonstrates self respect and it shows organizational skills. I’m a very orderly person, although I must admit, I don’t always clean up my room.
So there you have it, my Big Ten. Not including the Golden Gophers, Hawkeyes, Cornhuskers, Buckeyes, Badgers, Spartans, Wolverines, Hoosiers, Boilermakers, Illini, Wildcats and Nittany Lions. They are the other Big Ten, and there are actually twelve of them. But for my Ten Commandments, there are just ten.
Actually here’s an eleventh. Thou shalt always be thankful to those who have helped you along the road.
March to Passover
Sign up now for ConTEXT, a month-long exploration of Passovers past and present that we are piloting with the Jewish Theological Seminary. We're calling it our "March to Passover." Each of the four classes will focus on how Passover developed at a different point in history, employing JTS's signature approach to teaching, one that bridges the gap between contemporary scholarship and the quest for personal meaning. The classes, taught by top-notch professors, journey will take us from the biblical Passover to the Seder of rabbinic times. We'll view the holiday through the prism of Jewish-Christian relations and then, in the fourth session, taught by Dr. Ellen Umansky of Fairfield U, we'll learn how it has been re-imagined in contemporary America.
Our March to Passover will culminate on March 29 with a community Interfaith Seder, co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Southwestern CT. Together with our neighbors of different faiths, we'll sit down and discuss the impact of the Exodus story and Seder ritual on all our lives. This Seder is an outgrowth of the highly successful Comparative Religions class taught earlier this year by the cantor and myself. The Seder will be open to the entire community. See all the info here and sign up for ConTEXT.
In honor of President's Day, read
"Dung Happens" - a look at this week's portion and Shabbat Shekalim
Rabbi Dardashti will be delivering this Shabbat morning's D'var Torah, and Hank Silverstein next week's (thank you in advance to both), so a few of my own reflections on the weekly portion to set the stage:
Last week's portion of Yitro, you may recall, ended with the bang of God's thunder at Sinai. This week's portion offers a stunning contrast. We go from the mystery and cacophony of Sinai to the nitty-gritty of daily life -- the laws of slave and slave holder, the details of petty feuds, of accidental death and injury, the goring ox, the thief in the night. Mishpatim thrusts us back into the midst of daily life, facing its mundane concerns, and that's where we will stay for most of the rest of the book of Exodus. Yitro and all the portions before it describe life lived at the peak a life of cataclysmic events, like the Exodus and Sinai. Mishpatim is life as it is lived every day. We add to it the fact that this is Shabbat Shekalim, with the special portion dealing with the most mundane subject imaginable, taxes. But these are the building blocks that create a just and caring society.
At first glance what we have in Mishpatim looks like an anthology of laws -- but they are best seen as stories told around a fire, or at a card game, or at a local pub. They are the stories from the back pages of a newspaper. Did you hear the tragic tale of Joanne, who was pregnant and lost her baby when she accidentally wandered into that fight between Joe and Sam? And how about what happened to Judah's ox! It wandered away from the threshing field and fell into that open put that Joshua dug! So who is going to pay? And did you hear the latest gossip at the market -- about that guy who lent that other guy a sheep and then one night it died - and whose fault is it anyway? Stories intertwined with stories -- leading to hours and hours and weeks and weeks of discussion. These discussions are what became eventually the Talmud. No portion is a greater argument on behalf of an Oral Law than this one.
And there are principles too: Don't give a false report, don't follow a multitude to do evil; don't oppress a stranger in your midst; don't take a bribe. But these too are stories, even without the narrative. We fill in the details. We imagine the members of the crazed lynch mob that killed Leo Frank in 1915, or the mean kids in a middle school classroom today, each one following the multitudes, each one a living example of what happens when the stranger is oppressed.
And then there's this week's incident at a Florida airport, where a woman left her $6,500 Rolex watch in a bin while going through security and a man then stole it. Who is ultimately responsible? The TSA? The woman? Or the thief? This issue is in fact right out of Mishpatim, which deals with issues of responsibility and compensation.
Mishpatim is a vast painting -- not a landscape, but one of those medieval Bruegel painting, a portrait of all the real people, teeming with life. What lies behind it all is the Torah's eternal plea for justice, compassion and nobility.
The people described in this portion are not named. Justice in the end is not about fame, or in some cases, infamy. God is not in the peak moments of Sinai, Mishpatim seems to be telling us, as in the details of every day life. God is not in the words of Moses or other great leaders so much as in the stories of the little people and their travails.
And really, God is in both. It's instructive that if you visit Jerusalem, you can approach the holy Temple in all its grandeur. Even as an archeological ruin, that grandeur is still palpable. And yet the entrance to the old city closest to the Temple mount is called, of all things, the Dung Gate. Even with all the nobility of that exalted spot, the most sacred spot in all of earth, "dung happens."
And dung is good. Dung is real. As real as the laws of Mishpatim. If God is in all the details of daily life, God is most certainly in the dung.
Friday, February 10, 2012
This Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Michael and Ilene Koester
in honor of Jacob becoming Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.
Mazal tov to Jacob Koester and family as he becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. The Koesters joined me on my most recent Israel trip - which reminds me that now is the time to sign up for this summer's TBE Israel Adventure. See the information and interactive itinerary here - and check out this lovely time- lapse video of Israel here.
Mazal tov also to our 3rd graders, who will be receiving their siddurim at Shabbat morning's Family Service.
Meanwhile, join us tonight @ 7:30, for an update on the current situation in Israel from AIPAC's Southern Connecticut director, Elana Lichtenstein. She will address us at the conclusion of our Friday night service.
A Dangerous Neighborhood
Iran, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Gaza... People used to say that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and aside from the peaceful boundary with Jordan (and the relative lull in terror from the territories), that remains true.
But the 'hood is changing dramatically. Imagine living on a street where not only do most of the neighbors not like you, but the shouting and screaming going on inside each of their houses is keeping you up all night. Some of the families have completely broken up. A few no-good spouses have been given the boot from some homes and in others the parents are turning on their own children. Meanwhile, down the street, the neighborhood bully is threatening to set your house on fire, as soon as he can procure a can of kerosene.
Once the families in the neighborhood complete their transitioning, the place will be very different; the upside potential is great. But right now, there's no doubt that the dangers are even greater, and the ability of Israelis, Americans and other world leaders to navigate through this pivotal period will be vital.
These next few months will change history. That's why I am going to the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4-6. I want to learn about this historic moment from the people who are forging it. I also want to better weigh options as they are weighing them, by hearing from the experts who are studying this swiftly changing scene. Mara will be joining me and other TBE members, along with Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, many Congressional leaders and most likely every significant Presidential candidate. I'd love to see you there too. Sign up for AIPAC here and come hear Elana Lichtenstein tonight.
March to Passover
And speaking of signing up, sign up for ConTEXT, a month-long exploration of Passovers past and present that we are piloting with the Jewish Theological Seminary. We're calling it our "March to Passover." Each of the four classes will focus on how Passover developed at a different point in history, employing JTS's signature approach to teaching, one that bridges the gap between contemporary scholarship and the quest for personal meaning. The classes, taught by top-notch professors, journey will take us from the biblical Passover to the Seder of rabbinic times. We'll view the holiday through the prism of Jewish-Christian relations and then, in the fourth session, taught by Dr. Ellen Umansky of Fairfield U, we'll learn how it has been re-imagined in contemporary America.
Our March to Passover will culminate on March 29 with a community Interfaith Seder, co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Southwestern CT. Together with our neighbors of different faiths, we'll sit down and discuss the impact of the Exodus story and Seder ritual on all our lives. This Seder is an outgrowth of the highly successful Comparative Religions class taught earlier this year by the cantor and myself. The Seder will be open to the entire community. See all the info here and sign up for ConTEXT .
Finally, last week's Temple Rock fundraiser was a smash success. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make it happen. Check out the photos on our TBE Facebook page (and while you are there, like us!)
This week's portion of Yitro features that climactic moment at Sinai where the Ten Commandments were given. As we explore deeper, personal meanings from that seminal event, let's reflect on this poem by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Amichai Lau-Lavie:
My father was god, but he didn't know it.
He gave me the Ten Commandments, not with thunder or fury, fire or clouds,
but softly, with love, caresses, kind words.
He added 'please, please' and sang the words 'keep and remember the Sabbath day' and cried quietly: 'don't bear false witness, don't lie'. He'd cry, and hug me. 'Don't steal, don't lust, don't kill'.
He'd put his hands on my head like the Yom Kippur blessing. "respect' he's say 'love and live long upon this earth'.
His voice was as white as the hair on his head.
The he turned his face to me, like that last day, when died in my arms, and said: "I want to add two more commandments to the ten. The eleventh: never change. The twelfth: change, change."
So spoke my father and walked away into his strange distances.
See lots of photos from last week's very successful TBE Temple Rock fundraiser - the Album is are on our TBE Facebook Page. And while you are there, like us!
Monday, February 6, 2012
Friday, February 3, 2012
"How good it is to wrap oneself in
prayer, spinning a deep softness of
gratitude to God around all thoughts,
enveloping oneself in the silken veil of song."
Abraham Joshua Heschel
A perfect quote with which to begin an O-gram marking both Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath of Song) and this Sunday's World Wide Wrap, where our 7th graders will be learning to put ontefillin. This annual program is sponsored by our Men's Club and the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. It begins at 9 AM and is open to all.
On Shabbat Shira, we read the Torah portion, Beshallach, which includes the crossing of the Red Sea and the Song of the Sea. Plus, the haftarah features the Song of Deborah. Lots of songs this weekend: Great singing on Friday night, biblical chants on Shabbat morning, and at night, we Temple Rock! Join is for our annual Temple Rock bash! It promises to be spectacular. On Shabbat we are spiritualists, and on Sat. night we'll feature a mentalist.
Mazal tov to Anya Castle and to her family, as she becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat. AndL'hitra'ot to our 8th Grade students at BCDS, who leave for Israel this week! We'll be honoring them with an aliyah this Shabbat morning. On Shabbat morning I'll also be teaching some Halacha for Halftime, a "Jewish alternative to the commercials" put together by the Rabbinical Assembly for this Super Bowl weekend, exploring the myth of the pigskin football and the rabbinic attitude toward being a spectator at Roman gladiator matches.
If that doesn't satiate your appetite for all things Jewish and Super Bowl, take a look at Jews in Super Bowl History, appearing in this week's Jewish Ledger. And see also Super Bowl features super Jewish Philanthropists.
I know that I usually make a grand prediction when Super Bowl weekend comes around. But this year's matchup hits too close to home - and, more to the point, my prediction before Super Bowl 42 (of a Pats win) did not work out too well. So, because I prefer not to jinx my team, no prediction this year.
Just before Super Bowl 42, you recall, the Patriots were busted for spying. In my prediction before that Super Bowl, which I am not repeating here, I noted that in the book of Numbers when the Israelite spies confronted "giants" as the scouted out the land, they reported back that they felt "like grasshoppers." I noted that anyone who has ever been to Boston knows that high above that home of the original Patriots, Faneuil Hall, there sits a weathervane in the shape of, you guessed it, a grasshopper!
I also noted (in that prediction, which I'm not repeating here) that the Patriots wandered for just over 40 years before winning the first championship in 2002. So they had already served their time for the sin of the spies, which, as you recall from Numbers, was 40 years. For 40 years, the Patriotic spies were never able to stand up to the Giants...or the Raiders or Steelers or Dolphins, for that matter. But no more. First they sacrificed the Rams in Super Bowl 36, then they pillaged the Panthers and flew on wings of Eagles. Now, coached by a former Giant, they have become giants - in their own eyes, and the eyes of the other teams in the league.
I then noted (but am not repeating here) that Giants are called both Nefilim and Anakim in the Torah. The Nefilim were mythic humanoids that filled the earth before the flood, much like the Titans of Greek mythology (a Giant-Titan Super Bowl would have been a doozy), while the Anakim were the ones who petrified the Israelite spies. There is one other giant of note in the Bible: Goliath. But it isn't just Goliath who bit the dust, folks. When Rashi tried to explain the term Nifilim, he related it to the Hebrew word "nafal," "to fall." As Rashi (he was so good at predicting games that they called him "Rashi the Greek") understood it, the Giants fell.
Based on Rashi, I concluded then that the Giants would fall. What I didn't account for was the heroism of an unexpected David, whose last name is Tyree, who also happened to be a Giant.
That was then, this is now. I can't repeat my prior prediction, lest I tempt fate and repeat the result.
But I can predict this: the victor will win by three points. That's been the margin in all four Patriot Super Bowls this century. Who will that victor be?
Ask me Monday.
The due date for reservations for our TBE Israel Adventure is rapidly approaching. So fill out those registration forms and get those deposits in. Everything can be accessed fromhttp://joshuahammerman.blogspot.com/2011/12/tbe-israel-adventure-new-interactive.html - including the interactive itinerary that actually "takes" you to most of the places we'll be visiting, like the Inbal hotel, which was recently voted the top hotel in Israel (and one of the top ten in the Middle East) by Conde Nast Traveler. Check it out!
And sign up for AIPAC! Mara will be joining me and other TBE members at this year's Policy Conference, along with Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, many Congressional leaders and most likely every significant Presidential candidate from both parties. Sign up here. And join us next Friday night, Feb. 10, for an update on the current situation in Israel from AIPAC's Southern Connecticut director, Elana Lichtenstein.
Speaking of Israel, check out this week's Letter from Netanya from Jan Gaines. Jan writes from a country that has actually experienced winter! The rainiest January on record. But that will lead to a greener Israel , which brings us to next week's holiday, Tu B'Shevat, whch begins Tuesday night. Read The Greening of Tu B'Shevat, which includes many Tu B'Shevat links and resources.
After Temple Rock, you'll be hearing a lot about some really big things upcoming, including a five part series called ConTEXT, where we'll be partnering with the Jewish Theological Seminary to bring top-notch Jewish scholars here to teach about Passover from a variety of perspectives. Meanwhile, join me and Dr. Harry Romanowitz next Thursday for toe first session of a two part mini-course on Jewish Medical Ethics.
Shabbat Shalom and see you at Temple Rock!
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Here is another letter from Jan Gaines, longtime TBE member and current resident of Netanya, on the situation in Israel.
I always seem to be bragging about our beautiful winter weather in Netanya while you are shivering with cold, but today I'm also shivering with cold and pleased as punch about it. This is the coldest and rainiest winter I can remember in Israel and as the Kinneret keeps rising and the snow keeps falling on Mt. Hermon, I keep cheering.
Bring It On!!
It may not be so great for the tourists here, but they are good sports. I'm thinking especially of Hadassah's WIN program (Winter in Netanya) people, including that wonderful couple from TBE, Stephne and Kerrin Behrends.
I've had a chance to host them a couple of times and hope to do more but in the meantime they are just gobbling up their experiences here with teaching English in 2 different high schools, studying a bit of Hebrew, going on special trips, and really digging into everyday Israeli life with gusto. I'm sure they will have lots to tell when they get back!!
We're in political primary season here too, but there's little resemblance to what is going on in the States. The Likud primary was held yesterday with a foregone conclusion. Bibi Netanyahu had no real competition. The Kadima party, a centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon, is in the midst of a bitter struggle for leadership between the present leader, Tzipi Livni, who has been a big disappointment to almost everyone, and another former chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz,who will probably win. The Labor party has been rejuvenated with the leadership of another woman, Shelley Yacimovich, a former TV anchor. And since Ehud Barak was almost thrown out of the Labor party he has started his own party which is par for the course, but which isn't taken too seriously.
The country is still in its center-right frame of mind. Bibi could be elected today very easily. There's a gorgeousguy famous from TV, books, etc., Yair Lapid, whose father Tommy Lapid was a very popular and outspoken crusader against the influence of the Haredim, who has just announced he is running but hasn't yet chosen which party he will join, or whether he'll form his own, but he isn't considered a threat to Bibi yet. And the longer the PA remains intransigent and opting for UN approved statehood, the more public opinion is going to lean to the right. The PA has a very good Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, but he just can't get any traction against the old guard, or support from the general public, or from Hamas. Just today, the Jerusalem Post cited his retreat from trying to impose meaningful income taxes on both businesses and the public.According to a poll by the Near East Consulting group out of Ramallah, " if the PA faces a financial crisis it is not their fault. Israel is to blame because of the barriers it imposes." The Poll showed that "54% prefer foreign support as the best way to solve their deficits." They see their financial situation "as the responsibility of the international community." So their position of "victimhood" (my word) just continues.
The paper also cited the extent of of support from U.S.AID. Since 1994, it has spent $3.4 BILLION in development aid to the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians keep expecting the rest of the world to support them financially and politically and so far the world has obliged. I'm sure that in your news media, the failure of the current talks are due to Israeli refusal to accept the two conditions the PA are demanding: a pull back to the pre-1967 lines, and a cessation of "settlement" construction. Never mind that almost all settlement building is in existing towns within the boundaries of greater Jerusalem which Israel will never give back. There are no new settlements being constructed.
\Yes there's a big debate over how to handle the real illegal settlements to avoid any bloodshed between the police and the young "hilltop youth" but slowly the government is taking down temporary hilltop sites and I'm sure will do more in the coming months. One thing that has slowed things up is that the land Palestinians claim as theirs isn't necessarily theirs. There is no documentation. So a new trio of retired legal experts has just been appointed to help set some parameters for this problem.
Except for the wild and welcome weather, things in Israel are flourishing. The unemployment rate just went down again. It hovers around 5%. Tourism is big this year, the economy is robust, but bracing for a turndown because so much of our exports go to the U.S. and Europe, and both have slowed greatly. But people are quite content. As much as Israelis can be "content". I'm not sure that's an apt adjective for the Israeli spirit.
There was an article in the January 30 issue of the Jerusalem Report which you can find on TBE's magazine rack upstairs, which cites an OECD survey of rates of longevity across the world and Israel is ranked 4th, after Japan, Switzerland and Spain and Italy tied for 3rd. And Israeli men take the title of "the world's highest life expectancy,- - - -living on average to 80.2 years." So think about that, you people who are planning to retire. Come to Israel and live longer.
Happy Tu Bishvat and Happy Living. Jan Gaines