Thursday, February 28, 2013

Do Jews Run Hollywood? "The Gatekeepers" comes to town, Moses vs. Aaron, A Stiff-Necked Shabbat-Across-America-O-Gram

 Ah, the craziness of Purim; for more photos see OUR PURIM ALBUM

The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Mia and Lonny Weinstein
in honor of their son, Edward, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom 

This weekend is the 17th annual Shabbat Across America. Even if you are not signed up for our SAA dinner, there are two things you can do join thousands of others who are becoming part of the biggest, boldest continent-wide event unifying Jewish communities across North America:

1)     Have a great Shabbat dinner at home or at a friend's.  You can download this packet of materials with all the info you need to do Shabbat on your own.

2)     THEN COME HERE FOR OUR Musical "Shabbat With a Global Spin." (see flyer at bottom). Cantor Mordecai has put together a very special service with the help of some superb musicians from NYC.  Come and bring lots of friends!!!!!  

Mazal tov to Eddie Weinstein and family - Eddie becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.  During the service we're going to focus on the two key figures of the Golden Calf episode, which is read in the Torah that morning: Aaron and Moses.  One was known for patience, the other for action.  Which trait makes for a better leader?   See the parsha packet for a sneak preview.  It's also Shabbat Parah.  Read about its significance.

Oscar Follow Up: "The Gatekeepers" in Stamford

One of Israel's two best-documentary nominees is coming to the Avon this weekend.  The Gatekeepers has been called "A documentary potent enough to alter how you see the world..." by the L.A. Times.  It features interviews with a half dozen former heads of Israel's secret security services, and their testimony is - from what I hear - mind boggling.  At a time when Israel is justifiably wary of all that is going on, it is hard to consider what it could be doing to advance the chances for a two state solution; but evidently that does not stop these Shin Bet leaders from suggesting that Israel could still be doing much more.  I'll have to see the film before further comment.

 I will not be at AIPAC next week, but I look forward to Shalom TV's coverage (channel 138) and hearing about it from our TBE congregants attending, including three of our teens - and if you are going there, look for my son Dan, who has been putting in mega-hours as an AIPAC intern this semester in Washington.  You can download the AIPAC 2013 app from iTunes and follow a live stream of the conference on AIPAC's website.

Oscars Follow Up: Do the Jews Run Hollywood?

Last week's Academy Awards presentation was noteworthy for its tasteless humor.  Although I am one of the handful of people who actually liked the film "Ted" when it came out last summer (must be those scenes at Fenway), the Seth MacFarlane teddy bear character crossed the line last week in comments made about secret synagogue meetings and Jews running Hollywood. 

The comments in and of themselves weren't horribly out of place in a culture where crude and self consciously offensive humor has become the norm - and often is seen as mocking real prejudice, misogyny and homophobia.  I think of  Broadway's "Book of Mormon" (and its South Park relations)  as an excellent example, and Monty Python's Spamalot - with its hilarious song about, yes, Broadway and Jews.  

So what made MacFarlane's bit so distasteful as to incur the wrath of the ADL and theWiesenthal Center?  From what I can see, the contents of his remarks were secondary to the setting.  If his character had said the same thing on "Family Guy," a billion people all over the world would not have been watching, many of whom happen to believe the very things he was saying.

But the other factor that made his remarks so offensive is that they simply were not funny.  They came off sounding like rehashed canards, not piercing satire.  The Spamalot bit is funny.  Jon Stewart's "War on Purim" segment this week was hilarious.  The "Ted" bit was not. Dov Hikind in blackface was not. If people aren't laughing, therefore it is not a joke.  It's that simple.  And if it's not a joke, and it was said, the words are out there, naked, and when they fall flat, they hurt.

Still, I was prepared to let it all go, until, a few days later, I was talking to a former student, a young adult struggling with his Jewish identity.  And in the middle of the conversation he suddenly asked if it's true that the Jews run Hollywood.  At that moment I realized that MacFarlane's unfunny bit had caused the most damage where we can least afford it: not in the minds of Iranian mullahs who hate us anyway, but in the hearts of young Jewish adults who are impressionable and confused.

No, we don't run Hollywood, nor is there a "Jewish lobby" running Washington or a Jewish cabal running the media.  Jews don't run the banks nor are Jewish radicals intent on taking them down.  Jews aren't neocon warmongers intent on getting America into another foreign entanglement, nor are we the peaceniks whose naiveté will get Israel destroyed.

What we are is a "stiff-necked people," an expression that comes from this week's portion, Ki Tisa.  In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, this stubbornness which is seen primarily as a negative characteristic is actually not a tragic failing but a noble and defiant loyalty.  We are a people marked by persistence, and that persistence drives us not simply to achieve, but to seek truth and justice and to fight beyond all measure for a better world.  Persistence is what turns dreams and ideals in to Pulitzer Prize winning exposes, Nobel winning discoveries and Oscar winning scripts.

If Jews have succeeded in Hollywood and elsewhere, you can blame the stiff neck, just as Moses and God do in our portion. 

One can only wonder when Moses and God talked about us in those mocking tones, were they laughing?

Latest on Gun Violence

See this inspiring Photo Montage from the "March for Change"   Because it is so important to see this thing through, I continue to run weekly updates sent to clergy by our Interfaith Council Exec., Rev. Kate Heichler. 

Please sign on to participate in this important weekend of worship and witness in support of stronger and more protective gun laws in our nation.     Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence hopes that thousands of faith groups from all across the country will join in. The more that are registered as participants, the stronger the message to decision-makers and media that we are serious in our desire for action. 

Participation can be as simple as including a prayer for gun victims orlegislators in your worship that weekend, or more involved, such as preach- ing on the subject or incorporating an activity like writing letters tolawmakers encouraging action on proposed legislation.    


Every Friday at 9:30 (the time of the Sandy Hook shooting)
 Call your legislator or members of the Gun Violence Task Force
and remind them it has past time we had a package of legislation to pass.  

Come hear Marian Wright Edelman in Hartford March 14:
Follow-up to the March for Change -RSVP here
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 13th at 7:30pm, McMANUS ROOM, Westport Library
FRIDAY, MARCH 15th at 10:00am, CHRIST and HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, 75 Church Lane, Westport 

  1. Strengthens our assault weapons ban with a focus on improving current list and strengthening functionality features; apply "one military feature" test to definition of assault weapons.  Bans possession and sale with no grandfathering.
  2. Bans large capacity ammunition magazines of more than 7 rounds.  No grandfathering.
  3. Requires universal background checks on ALL sales and transfers, including long guns.
  4. Requires registration of handguns with annual renewal. Require annual fee and annual background check for all guns owned; stipulation that they are still in the possession of original purchaser or transferee; explanation for any gun still not being in their possession. Require safety inspection every three years. Charge fee on initial registration and renewal.
  5. Make gun owners liable for negligent storage if any person gains access to firearms and injures himself or another person or causes damage to property. The violation would be a Class D felony.
  6. Requires permit/license to purchase and carry all guns, including long guns, and to purchase ammunition
  7. Prohibits sales of guns or ammunition via internet to CT residents.
  8. Restricts handgun sales to one gun/month.    

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


Aaron vs. Moses: Who is the Ideal Jewish Leader?

Who is the Ideal Jewish Leader?

Mr. Patience vs. Mr. Action

Mr. Cool vs Mr. Hot-Under-the Collar

Aaron vs. Moses

Click here for a Parsha Packet for the portion of Ki Tisa, discussing who is the ideal Jewish leader, Aaron or Moses? The Torah sets it up as a clear choice and interesting dichotomy, and later Jewish sources chime in.  

And in this portion God comes off as both types of leader: infinitely patient (in fact the very definition of mercy in Exodus 34) yet also willing to inflict severe and immediate retribution.

ו  וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן--אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת.
Exodus 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;
ז  נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה
Keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin

Add to this the fascinating historical background provided by modern biblical critics connecting this story to the biblical account where King Jeroboam constructs two golden calves at  shrines in Dan and Beth El (see in this link notes 71-76). In fact there were those who sought to discredit the entire Aaronic line of the priesthood by tying him to this story.   

So who would YOU pick?  The guy who threw down the tablets or the guy who built the Golden Calf???

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Diverse city: Stamford demographics are reason to celebrate (Stamford Advocate Op-ed)

I've had the privilege of living in Stamford for 25 years. While the true natives will never consider me indigenous, I'm feeling more like a native all the time.

I was particularly interested to see The Advocate page-one story of Feb. 17, "Changing Tides," discussing the demographic shifts that have taken place in the public schools. I consider our splendid diversity to be among the most positive aspects of living here. But demographic heterogeneity, like biodiversity in an ecosystem, is fragile, and needs to be nurtured and carefully sustained in order to enrich the lives of all. My concern is that people fitting my demographic profile might read these statistics and choose to opt out of a community of unparalleled richness, for all the wrong reasons.

When you look at it objectively, there is simply no better place to bring up kids.

So much has changed in our city over the past quarter century, almost all of it positive. When I got here, no supermarkets were open all night, and, to be honest, there were hardly any supermarkets at all. When I got here, downtown at night was a dark, forbidding place, and it wasn't much better by day. Now it has become a mecca of entertainment and great food, pulsating with street life and youthful energy. Now we've got Chelsea Piers and the spectacular Mill River project and the Balloon Parade and "Alive @ Five," and it just keeps getting better.

Beyond its variety of age and ethnicity, Stamford has an unparalleled religious diversity too. Fifteen years ago, I became the first pulpit rabbi to serve as president of what was then called the Council of Churches and Synagogues of Lower Fairfield County. Back then, I considered it amazing that a rabbi could be warmly embraced in neighboring communities that have not always been so welcoming toward Jews. But now, interfaith cooperation has become the norm, and we've added Muslims, Hindus, Baha'i, Sikhs, Buddhists and others to the mix, and Spanish- and French-speaking congregations as well.

When we all get together, and we often do, the effect is spellbinding. On March 21, my synagogue will host our community's annual interfaith Seder, with this year's timely theme, "From Egypt to Sinai, Selma and Sandy Hook: Liberation from a Culture of Violence." At last year's Seder, we heard a Muslim talk about the figure of Moses in her tradition and members of a Spanish-speaking congregation talk about their recent pilgrimage to Israel. Such lessons in loving our neighbor cannot easily be taught in a homogeneous classroom. In Stamford, our diversity enables the city to become that classroom.

A few years ago I had an eye-opening experience as the rabbinic consultant to the all-city production of "Fiddler on the Roof." Students from every school in the city were in the cast, including public and private, parochial and day schools; a hundred of them on a single stage, kids from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Tevya was Catholic and two of his daughters were African American and Asian; yet as a story of Jewish wanderings and perseverance, it all seemed to make sense.

Both my kids have attended Westhill and thrived there, socially and academically. They have been able to go as far as they wished and most of their teachers have challenged them to do just that. They both got into their first-choice colleges; but more importantly, they have been prepared for life, real life, in a nurturing atmosphere respecting difference and embracing diversity.

I do alumni interviewing for Brown University, speaking to students from all over Fairfield County, which includes some of the top private schools in the nation, and I can tell you that the students from Stamford's public schools often top my list. Why? Because not only are they highly motivated and wonderfully talented, they are interesting. Why? They can recount tales of family migrations and insurmountable challenges surmounted, they project a passion for learning and an ability to view the American experiment from fresh eyes, and their diverse community has prepared them perfectly for the interconnected, fully integrated 21st century global environment they will be entering. Colleges recognize that.

Those students who spend their formative years in cloistered, homogeneous settings are, frankly, at a disadvantage when they get out into the real world, into an America whose demographic makeup is fast coming to resemble -- drum roll please -- that of the Stamford schools.

Let me make it clear that I see great value in private and parochial schools too. They are part of the fabric of a diverse community -- my kids attended a local day school for several years and they received a superb education. We need both options in order to attract the widest array of families here, and we have them. If the kids don't meet in the classroom, they meet at dance class or on the ball field. Diversity is for everyone, not just the public schools. So I encourage people to move to Stamford and, if they've already set down roots, to stay.

I recall words I spoke 20 years ago at Stamford's other congregation across town with the same name as mine, Bethel AME, noting that our collective name, derived from Jacob's famous dream, means "House of God."

"Stamford has two very different Beth Els who wish to bring the entire city to an understanding of how we can build that ladder to heaven. We can become a healing city, a place where all citizens feel sustained and nurtured in its midst. We can become an organic city, not of disparate neighborhoods and conflicting groups, but a collage where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. If we can come together, the rest of the city will have to follow. If they see that we can care for each other, we who are so different, we who still have somewhat differing agendas, but we who do care for each other, if they can see us holding hands, if we can pull this off, the rest of the city will take notice."

Over the past two decades, that vision has been, to a large degree, fulfilled. While we still have miles to go, I, who have brought up two children here, from infancy to college, have seen the great power this community has to nurture its children to adulthood. And that power begins with its schools.

Who would not want to live in such an amazing place?

Read more:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Death and Downton (Times of Israel)

In Pirke Avot chapter 2, Rabbi Eliezer states:
The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger.  Repent one day before your death.
Here in America, season three of Downton Abbey came to a crashing conclusion last night.   For those who haven’t seen it, this entire column is one enormous spoiler, so go check the weather report.
The weather in Downton is perpetually sunny.  Even the deaths are sunny – or at the very least, tidy, as if scripted by Rabbi Eliezer.  Not that they aren’t tragic, for this year they’ve been the most tragic deaths  imaginable:  A mother and a father both died on the very day their first child was born.  And while neither death was predictable, a second look will delineate certain patterns that made these deaths very Downton-like, emerging from an orderly universe where even the most random of endings can occur only when one’s most complicated life conflicts have been oh-so neatly resolved.
Both Lady Sybil and Cousin Matthew died only after uttering the final “I love yous” that so often in the real world are left unsaid.  They said them, and then some.  Matthew was a walking Hallmark commercial in recent weeks, waxing so poetic as to leave the otherwise sardonic Mary drained of all her bile.  The two marriages were at such blissful states that the only alternative to death would have been lives of saccharine boredom and pedestrian parenting.  It’s sad that boring, successful marriages have such a hard time making it on TV.
For both of the victims, all issues of class and money were neatly resolved pre-mortem.  Sybil’s ex-chauffer husband Tom was fully welcomed into the family and he was, at last, dressing the part; and Matthew’s grand modernization plan to keep Downton economically viable was finally accepted by his doubting father in law.  Matthew’s fertility was no longer in doubt, of course, and mercifully we only had to see Lady Mary deal with the indignities of pregnancy for one episode.  It would have been unseemly to see her beg Matthew for pickles or Chinese takeout.
When season four begins, the Downtonites, upstairs and down, will again be decked in black, as custom begs them to do.  The tears will be crowned in ritual and the suffering will give way to the basic survival instinct that has propelled the entire enterprise – theirs and ours: Things change, so we’d best change too, while clinging to traditions that strengthen us, family and friends who nurture us, and a steadfast belief (defying all visible evidence) that there is a guiding sense of order to it all.
And, next season, as soon as a relationship appears to have tied up into a neat, uncomplicated bow, with all words of love and forgiveness uttered as Rabbi Eliezer would advise, watch out!

Slouching Toward a New Year (Jewish Week)

We’ve reached the new century’s bar mitzvah year and, just as with any bar mitzvah, we scrutinize this specimen standing before us and we wonder, what will this budding adolescent become?   In mid December, while America lurched from the anguish of Sandy to the horrors of Sandy Hook, “Saturday Night Live” brought us comic relief in the form of Jacob the Bar Mitzvah boy, who, while mimicking just about every bar mitzvah speech we’ve ever heard, inserted the refrain, “But don’t tell my parents I said that.”

As we begin 2013, we are Jacob. Our voice cracking, we sway nervously from side to side, unable to stand up straight. The secure, predictable world our parents inhabited has vanished and we aren’t proud of what it has become.  Our parents would not shep nachas over Aurora or Oak Creek.  Photos from the nightmarish presidential campaign would not grace the family album.  The missile-war in Israel and Gaza yielded no commemorative songs to share on YouTube.  We have no nostalgia for the fiscal cliff, Benghazi, Syria and Egypt, and we’re terrified of the relentless Iranian push for nukes.

Yes, some good things did happen in 2012.  Israeli entrepreneurs developed a cardboard wheelchair along with a waterless toilet that turns solid waste into odorless, sterile fertilizer.  We’ll need all the sterility and hygiene we can muster to fight off the flu epidemic that greeted us as 2013 began and the worst outbreak of Whooping Cough in 60 years. 

We’re proud of gymnast Aly Raisman, who made “Hava Nagila” cool again, and two Israeli Oscar nominees for best documentary, though both highlight the ever-smoldering Palestinian issue.  Plus, we can take pride in Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” the Israeli-inspired series “Homeland,” and Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”  Let’s see, a movie about the Civil War and TV shows about terrorists in the backyard and STDs in Brooklyn.  Yep, it was a great year. 

Barbara Streisand returned to sing in Brooklyn and then made a movie about a Jewish mother where no one dared to utter the word “Jewish.”  In Washington, Eric Cantor held up the right flank and Debbie Wasserman Schultz the left, while beyond the Beltway, Sheldon Adelson and Jon Stewart fueled the political fires, so that Jews could continue to be simultaneously accused of being bleeding hearts and neocons.  Anti-Semitic incidents in the US dropped by 13 percent but, if Jack Lew is approved as Treasury secretary, his squiggly signature on every dollar bill will light up the Web with anti-Semitic conspiracies about Jews controlling the economy.

Jews are perpetually nervous.  Woody Allen summed up the current state with of the Jewish psyche in his otherwise forgettable 2012 film, “To Rome, With Love,” saying, “Don’t psychoanalyze me! Many have tried. All have failed.”  Moment Magazine recently devoted an entire issue to Jewish anxiety.  It’s like the waiter addressing the table filled with Jewish mothers: “Is Anything OK?”

There was no Mayan apocalypse last December, but still we found ourselves slouching toward Bethlehem – a line from William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, “The Second Coming,” which, though written in 1920, opens like an ode to 2012.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

We all are still swirling in Sandy’s widening gyre.  The tide of blood flows from gun violence.  The best lack conviction and the worst fire AK-47s in classrooms and crowded theaters.  Things are falling apart:  Our thoughts are measured in smarmy applause lines and stinging Super Pac attack ads as we scamper from gotcha sound bite to gotcha sound bite.   The cacophony of status updates, texts and tweets has deafened us, like the falcon, rendering us unable to respond to the falconer’s clarion call to action.  And while polar ice caps are swiftly turning to slush, we are more polarized than ever.  

2012 was the year we stopped dreaming.  Up until the final moments of the year, as a fiscal cliff loomed, grand bargains continually were pulled from the table in favor of incremental gains and stopgap measures.  President Obama won the election, but “Hope and Change” never made an appearance in this down and dirty campaign. 

We’ve been battered and bruised on so many fronts, and as 2013 begins, everywhere we look there are no bold initiatives to address these challenges.  Newtown shocked us but did it change us?  Or have we become numb to the violence that infects our society?  Homeowners struggled to keep their mortgages above water only to turn around one October day to find their homes literally under it.  Hurricane Sandy gave us a vision of what lies ahead with oceans rising steadily and climate change apparently irreversible.  Now the boldest proposals involve building stronger seawalls to counter the oceanic onslaught.  Gone are the dreams of reversing the earth’s warming and lowering those rising oceans.  Israel can tout its Iron Dome as a response to Hamas and Iranian rockets, but no grand plan exists to keep the rockets from being fired in the first place.  The only hope is to stiffen our resolve to face the next assault, be it from waves of terrorist rockets or waves of, well, waves.  We’ve given up.

In Israel, dreams of peace seem more distant than ever, so distant in fact, that as elections approached, even the opposition tried to change the subject from diplomacy to the price of cottage cheese.  Large pluralities of Israelis say they still want peace and a two state solution, but no one seems to have an idea of how to get there.

At a time when America and Israel need to be in lockstep over how to deal with Iran, the dream of a peaceful, secure Israel no longer unites American Jews, despite record tourism and the success of programs like Birthright Israel.  Now, with the Israeli government swerving rightward, American Jews are becoming increasingly emboldened in confronting it.  Recently, over 700 rabbis and cantors signed a letter protesting the Israeli government’s plans to develop the controversial E-1 area outside Jerusalem.  The letter also protested recent activity in Jerusalem itself.  Imagine, 700 North American rabbis openly criticizing an Israel prime minister…over Jerusalem.  And this follows massive protests over the arrests of women at the Western Wall.  Prime Minister Netanyahu will likely try to bolster American Jewish support with some lip service over pluralism and women’s rights, but all signs point to a widening chasm and increasing polarization among those who care.  And post election polls indicate that fewer do care, with Israel increasingly becoming a low priority concern for American Jews.

So for the coming year, will this slide toward polarization and apathy continue, and will tensions increase between Israel and American’s emboldened, reelected leaders?   Will we face the Moment of Truth with Iran around midyear, as many experts predict, where diplomatic options will have been exhausted?  Have we passed a tipping point regarding climate change and gun violence?  Will Israel’s borders remain relatively quiet, even as she builds more fences and faces increased diplomatic isolation?   Will Spielberg win the Oscar?

And will we once again be able to start dreaming again, about a world where children everywhere can live without fear - a world that even Jacob the Bar Mitzvah boy could proudly tell his parents about.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ruth Calderon's Speech to the Knesset

Below is a subtitled version of the Knesset speech of Ruth Calderon, the Yesh Atid member who has broken new ground for women and non Orthodox Israelis. Read a transcript of the speech here.


Photo Montage from "March for Change"

Photo montage of what it was like to be in the crowd at The March for Change on February 14th 2013. In Memory of the 26 and Victims of Gun Violence. Photo/Production Credit : Noa Eisenberg


Friday, February 15, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 15

Shabbat Shalom and happy President's Day weekend (which reminds me to remind you that morning minyan is at 9 AM on Sunday AND Monday).  It will be nice to get back to a regular Shabbat schedule after being snowed out last weekend.  Join us for services at 7:30 this evening (and Tot Shabbat before).  

Honoring President's Day, I suggest you read George Washington's historic letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island.... where he speaks of "a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance - but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience..."

Also, since many will be away next week, an anticipatory Happy Purim!  Our Shorashim nursery school students just visited me all decked out in great costumes - see above and many more photos in our new Purim @ TBE album.

Join us for our Purim for Adults next Sat night at 8 PM, where we'll be partaking of our Bar-Mitzvah (it's a mitzvah to have a fully stocked bar on Purim) and enjoying some made for TV Purim parodies, like "Sex and the Walled City," "Extreme Makeover: Her Majesty's Edition," "Curb Your Anti-Semitism," "Persian Idol," and "The Biggest Faster."  
And on Sunday the 24th, come to our family Megilla reading and Carnival at 10, PJ Library at 9.

Love and Death: Burying Conflict, Burial Societies and 2 Obscure Fast Days

Although Valentine's Day is behind us, you might want to catch up on why I think it's not only OK for Jews to celebrate Valentine's Day, it fits perfectly into the Jewish calendar, especially this year, when we are also closing in on Purim. And this week we read the portion Terumah, which literally means "gifts of love." In ancient times, the rabbis instituted two fast days in early Adar, and one of them, on the 9th of Adar, is all about conflict resolution - in other words, taking those gifts of the heart and directing them toward building a peaceful world.  On Shabbat morning, I'll explain more about this obscure fast day and why some are calling next Tuesday, a "Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict."   What a perfect antidote to the gun and violence infested society we live in! You can read more about it here.  
We can dedicate this discussion to Rabbi David Hartman, who died this week, a real Hillel for our times, one who gently brought Jews together and helped us all to respect differing approaches to Torah.  Hartman once spoke at Beth El as our Hoffman lecturer and his Shalom Hartman Institute enriches our community in so many ways, including a new series being offered by the UJF called iEngage: The Engaging Israel Project.

The other obscure fast day set to occur this weekend is Adar 7, traditionally the yahrzeit of Moses (and also his birthday). Some say that the timing has to do with the fact that next week's portion, Tetzave, is the only one in the last four books of the Torah that does not include Moses' name.  

Moses' yahrzeit is also considered a time when communities call attention to the important work done by the local burial society, the Hevra  Kadisha.   Why?  The most common explanation: When Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, he carefully brought Joseph's bones out with them. Then in return for that act of kindness (which Jewish tradition considers to be among the greatest acts of kindness of all - a Hesed Shel Emet), tradition says that when Moses died at 120, God Him/Herself served as the Hevra Kadisha for him, preparing his body and burying Moses with love and care.

This Sunday night, our local Hevra Kadisha will gather for its annual dinner.  I am proud of the ongoing support TBE lends to this community organization and of the several TBE members who are actively involved in this loving work.  "Love is as strong as death," says the Song of Songs, and for Jews, Valentine's Day extends beyond the grave.

 Some of our TBE marchers headed to the March for Change

Report from the March for Change: What We Can Do
As the issue of gun violence continues to take center stage across the country, I'm honored to be a contributor to a new book, a timely collection of essays designed to have an impact on the current national and state-wide conversation. 'Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violenceis now available on Amazon. You can see the table of contents here and the press release here.  I hope this book can help to make a difference.

Making a difference is what yesterday's March For Change was about too.  TheStamford Advocate account originally indicated that hundreds were attending - a misleading statistic.  Yes, there were hundreds - like about 55 of them.  The official estimate was 5,500, an important achievement in light of the acclaimed organizing skills of the gun lobby.  Those in attendance included gun owners, moms and dads, young and old, suburban and urban dwellers, and clergy of different faiths.  The push for comprehensive and common sense laws addressing gun violence cuts across the spectrum. 

We had about a minyan from our congregation on the two buses that left from Stamford, but we were representing the entire congregation, many of whom had wanted to come but couldn't' get away on a work/school day.  As far as I could see, we were the only congregation present in significant numbers and when you are talking about fewer than a hundred who signed up for the two buses locally, a minyan from TBE 'aint bad.

But it isn't enough to support one march.  This is a key legislative moment that, if addressed correctly, will result in the saving of untold numbers of lives.

A.P. coverage pinpoints how the Newtown massacre has politically activated many people who preferred to sit on the sidelines before.  Jillian Soto, whose sister died defending the lives of her students, said movingly, "It's not about political party or hidden agendas. It's about life. And my life and the lives of so many are now changed forever because of what guns can do in the wrong hands."

But without concerted action, our changed lives will not save others'.  Saving lives means addressing mental health and school security concerns, but it also means a ban on high-capacity magazines and all military-style assault weapons, annual registration renewals for handguns, universal background checks and mandatory safe storage of weapons.  While consensus seems to be growing on the background checks, both statewide and nationally, people seem to be giving up too quickly on getting rid of the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  The rally yesterday hammered home the notion that it is these high caliber weapons that killed the kids in Newtown and Aurora and to give up on that fight is to besmirch the memory of those who died.  If anything positive can come from these tragedies, it is to prevent future ones.

Click here to see some simple steps that we can take inn CT to save lives. And nationally, this from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA):

Washington is listening! In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama passionately made his case when he pointed to victims of gun violence and urged Congress to give them the vote on guns that they deserve.  
The legislative proposals are already shaping up as well. Last week, a group of Representatives announced their proposals, and it was also reported that a bipartisan Senate group of NRA members and gun safety advocates are negotiating a measure which would require universal background checks for gun sales. 
This is all very encouraging, but we are far from done. An assault weapon ban is still unlikely to pass without more support. Just as no one proposal will solve gun violence, omitting smart proposals - like a ban on dangerous military-style weapons - will leave reform incomplete. 
So what can you do? Keep up the pressure!  We need to write our senators in support of an assault weapons ban.  And in a campaign that echoes the President's rousing call, the is using the hashtag #VoteOnGuns to keep the pressure on Senate leadership to hold a vote.  This week, they're tweeting at Majority Leader Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (@McConnellPress). 
Sample tweets for you to use:
  • America loses 30,000 lives to guns each year! Hold a #VoteOnGuns today to make America safer.
  • Universal background checks could keep guns away from America's schools and streets. #VoteOnGuns today!
We need to take advantage of this pivotal moment to rid our society of violence and needless death. As I wrote recently, this is our generation's moral moment of truth.

TBE History, Recent and Less Recent 

Temple Rock was once again a smash hit, in every respect.  Thanks to all the organizers for their hard work and to the 200 who came.  You can see it all in our Temple Rock photo album.  Many thanks, as always, to Aviva Maller for the photography.

And finally, to mark my 25th year at TBE, I've uploaded some vintage video of major events that have taken place during my time here, including my installation, the funeral for Mel Allen and the Yitzchak Rabin memorial.  This is in addition to the many vintage photo albums that have been createdYou can access the videos here.

Shabbat Shalom - and Be Happy!  It's Adar!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Announcing the publication of Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violence

For Immediate Release:
National Contact: Rabbi Menachem Creditor (
Local Contact: Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, 203-322-6901,
*Contributors are available for questions and press events

Announcing the publication of Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violence. 

With a Foreword by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Introduction by Pastor Michael McBride, Director, PICO Network’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign and spiritual leader of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, CA; an Afterword by Teny Oded Gross, Executive Director, Institute for the Practice and Study of Nonviolence; and edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA.

On January 29, 2013, nine rabbis from across the United States joined the Pico Networks Lifelines to Healing Clergy gathering at the White House. More than 80 faith leaders raised up their voices and prayers for a moral response to the scourge of gun violence plaguing the country, especially in the inner-cities. From that gathering, Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violence was born.

The collection of 21 essays, by some of the leading voices in rabbinic social justice, call for the recognition that we cannot stand idly by in a country where thousands of people lose their lives to gun violence each year. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT., who attended the Washington conference, is among the contributors.

The prophet Jeremiah told the weary and heart-broken exiles of Jerusalem that they should "seek the peace of the city." Rabbis, along with faith leaders of every tradition, teach that a broken society is one in which we fail to take care of others. This book asks some very hard questions of America in the midst of a Gun Violence epidemic, and presents a passionate, hopeful, healing response to a moment of national pain and fragility. The rabbis in this collection ask: How many innocent deaths will it take for our elected officials to respond with moral conviction? How long must America wait to acknowledge that we lose 30+ American lives to Gun Violence every day, scarring our national life? How many tears must be shed? Learn, connect, and be inspired with the voices of today's rabbinic leaders.