Friday, January 25, 2013

Tu B'Shevat O Gram

Join us tonight for services at 7:30, with our special guest harpist Lisa Tannebaum and speaker Gershom Gorenberg, who will speak tonight on "The Crisis of Israeli Democracy and What to Do About it," and tomorrow morning on "Israel and Diaspora: A New Relation for a New Generation."  Gorenberg is the author, most recently, of "The Unmaking of Israel," a superb analysis of Israeli society today. This Shabbat we also welcome guests from other Fairfield County Conservative shuls as part of 5-7th grade Shabbaton, staffed by our friends from Camp Ramah.  We've got 50 kids coming, and they will be here all Shabbat long.  Kudos to Al Treidel, all who will be staffing this event and all the parents who are helping out.

Israel and Passionate Centrism

Having lived my entire life as a "passionate centrist" (I'm a middle child, after all), long promoting a Conservative movement espousing "passionate centrism," it's nice to have seen this week that Israelis too are tired of polarization.  The polar extremes are there, still, as they are here in the U.S., but those polar ice caps are melting - and in this non ecological sense it's a good thing.

David Hazony put it best in the Forward:

Indeed, if Israelis seem disillusioned by the Oslo Accords and the prospects for peace-through-negotiations, they're also disillusioned by the settlement movement and the prospects for peace-through-strength. There has been, quite decisively, a shift away from the extremes toward the center. 
Yair Lapid's passionate defense of religious pluralism, delivered to Conservative rabbis last spring, has been making its way around the Web, and for good reason.  In Israel, centrism is not new, but passionate centrism is.  As a congregant commented to me, "modern Jewish history has been characterized by ferocious debates about ideas that are now no longer respected."  Jews have long argued about ideology but now, the ideologues are taking a back seat.  The Labor party has stored its red flags in the attic and the revisionists are now recoilong as well, realizing that they went just a bit too far last week, when Jeremy Gimpel of HaBayit Hayehudi (Naftali Bennett's party) was caught on tape speaking to supporters in Florida about blowing up the Dome of the Rock and building a third temple.  My sense is that this revelation, which got big play in Israel, was a significant cause behind the late shift of many voters to the Lapid camp.  He converted a whole bunch of Israelis into passionate centrists.

Memo to right wing politicians in the US and Israel: Next time you speak to supporters at a Florida parlor meeting, make sure no one is taping. 

Gimpel claimed last week that he was joking.  Yeah.  Well, his "joke" likely kept him from being elected.  He was 14th on the party list and the final Knesset results left his party with only 12 seats, less than was expected.

J.J. Goldberg lays out nicely the hard choices ahead for Lapid and Netanyahu.  The most likely outcome, it appears, is a secular government that will be static regarding an already moribund Peace Process but will make significant progress on social issues and matters of religion and state.   If the region stabilizes, the Iranian threat abates and the Palestinians indicate a true willingness to engage in dialogue (each of these will require much US involvement), it will be time for Bibi and Yair to switch partners and form a government more able to negotiate.  But by then, there well could be new elections. 

In any event, Lapid is now a factor and passionate centrism is a force to be reckoned with. 
Tying the elections nicely into the Torah portion, Storahtelling's Amichai Lau Lavie writes,

Moses instructs Joshua, at the end of this week's epic Torah text, B'shalach. "Choose the people who will fight for us against the tribe of Amelek" (Ex.17:9) . This is happening five minutes after the song of the sea and the big euphoria of the Exodus. Bam. right into war and the choosing of people is the first thing that they have to as a nation to survive- pick leaders to battle the dangers. It's not at all the same kind of choosing as the one we had this week but inherent in the action is the same primal drive - for security, for trusted leaders, good people who will stand up for real values, and fight  fear. Amalek, in many traditions, does not represent another race or nation - Amalek means Fear. And to stand up against fear we need good people, leaders, teachers, friends.

The people chosen this week, as Moses told Joshua, are our people - people for the greater good of this bigger reality, one way or another, I hope and trust - it's all good choices. There are new leaders, some of them good friends, who will help us with more trust, less fear, less wars, more peace, and change for the better.

Tu B'Shevat Resources

This weekend we celebrate Shabbat Shira and Tu B'Shevat.  As we reflect upon the deeper spiritual and environmental messages of the New Year for Trees, take a look atBeth Boyer's excellent d'var Torah on the secret (Jewish) life of bees (and the name of the heroine of this week's haftarah, Deborah, means "bee").   Also, this week's portion brings the Children of Israel through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, and that's where their incessant kvetching begins.   They should have read The ten things we think will make us happier, but don't.  They didn't, but you can.

There's so much out there about this holiday that it's hard to separate the forest from the trees, so to speak.  Here are some Tu B'Shevat resources:

-          A nice collection of freeware on the holiday, called "Tree Bien" can be foundhere

-          The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), found at has lots of Tu B'Shevat information.

-  has Mishnaic insight on the spirituality embedded in a simple blessing over "the fruit of the tree."'

-          You can find a number of Tu B'Shevat links (including seders) here.

-          Tu B'Shevat is a fine time to reconnect with that Land of Israel. Our ancestors in Europe looked forward to that taste of dates, figs and other fruits from the holy land, including (ugh) carob (aka Bokser).  As we read in a nice Tu B'shevat Haggadah at, "After the exile of the Jews from Israel, Tu B'Shevat became a day on which to commemorate our connection to Eretz Israel. During much of Jewish history, the only observance of this day was the practice of eating fruit associated with the land of Israel. A tradition based on Deuteronomy 8:8 holds that there are five fruits and two grains associated with it as a "land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and [date] honey." Almonds were also given a prominent place in Tu B'Shevat meals since the almond trees were believed to be the first of all trees in Israel to blossom. Carob or St John's bread - was the most popular fruit to use, since it could survive the long trip from Israel to Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa."

-          We can experience the Israeli natural landscape more directly at

-          And the best way to show that love, naturally, to be there. Second best? Plant a tree: Go to the JNF web site at No, you won't be able to find a photo of "your" tree there. But you will be able to become a modern day Honi Ha Ma'agel (Honi the Circle Drawer). Find out about him at, and bring the kids along for this part of the journey (nice music too at this site). "Just as those who came before us plant for us," Honi said back in the days of the Talmud (, "so do we plant for our children."

-          Finally, my personally favorite Jewish environmental website, Hazon.  Here istheir explanation of Tu B'Shevat. Also, Healthy, Sustainable Tu B'Shvat Resourcesand the piece de résistance:   the Hazon Tu B'Shevat Haggadah.  The Hazon Tu B'Shvat Haggadah is designed to help you think about your responsibility towards the natural world in relation to four different levels: physical place, community, world, and spirituality. Each section of the haggadah relates to one of these four levels of responsibility, and offers texts, questions, and activities to spark conversation around your seder table. You may also download the Haggadah in booklet form.

Happy Tu B'Shevat and Shabbat Shalom!

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