Tonight is our annual 7th grade sleepover at my house. Mara and I are looking forward to it! Mazal tov to Joshua Labkoff and family, as Josh will become Bar Mitzvah here on Shabbat afternoon, snow or shine! BTW, If you think the forecast is bad here, it's been snowing like crazy in Jerusalem; they are calling it the worst storm in decades. Check your email on Sat. night or Sun. morning for weather-related announcements. Even if our Israel Trip meeting is postponed for this Sunday, know that spaces are filling fast. Check out the trip's website and contact me with any questions.
A Workout for the Soul
This Shabbat we will be joined by Beth Styles once again, but this week she will be coming both on Friday night and Shabbat morning. In light of the Pew Report, congregations have to be prepared, with an even greater sense of urgency, to experiment more with what goes on in our pews. We feel we have hit upon a superb formula for Friday nights, a communal prayer experience that opens up our hearts to loving one another. As people return again and again and our numbers continue to grow, the experience fills a very personal need for each participant, bringing us to a higher level of purpose and unity. In simplest terms, it feels good - and the service is becoming as indispensable for many as a daily workout or yoga exercise. It is a workout for the soul, strengthening the heart muscle, our capacity to care.
Beth describes our service as "a beautiful way to bring special meaning to life, reflection of the week we just experienced, our accomplishments, our joys, our challenges and desire to connect with the divine, the universe, and our community."
That pretty much sums it up.
This week we'll be introducing some of that Kabbalat Shabbat musical style, with guitar and keyboard, to Shabbat morning.
It's a one-week experiment, for now, but one I hope you will try with an open mind and, even more to the point, an open heart. This week, of all weeks, we need that place where we can find comfort and healing together, Friday night AND Shabbat morning.
So join us this Shabbat. And if you are coming tomorrow, try to be here for the beginning, at 9:30, as we will be introducing some new music right from the start.
Life after Newtown
Today is a difficult day on several calendars: Friday the 13th (which is actually a lucky day for Jews) coincides with the Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast day. This weekend is also the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre - an additional reason to fast (which I am doing right now). We'll be marking the Newtown anniversary at services both this evening and on Shabbat morning, with special songs and prayers. On Shabbat morning we'll be hearing from Dana Horowitz about her family's harrowing history with gun violence. You can read more about that in today's Stamford Advocate article about the vigil that took place last evening (see photos on this page) and the Stamford Patch article here. I had the honor of attending a brief portion of the vigil and can only commend those behind the event, including Dana and Marni Amsellem, for their dedication toward addressing the tragedy of gun violence.
How can we best recall the senseless murders that took place a year ago?
The Torah leads us in that direction this week, with a portion where both Joseph and Jacob die is named, literally, "he lived." See Godcast's cartoon summary of Vayechi. Unlike the Egyptians, who glorified a cult of death, Jews respond to death by perpetuating life and by helping the living.
For us this week, propelling the post Newtown world toward life takes us in three distinct directions.
1) Healing - tonight and tomorrow we'll pray and sing together, and through our tears will emerge some sense of healing. We are all affected so profoundly by what happened last year.
2) Activism - see the 2013 State Scorecard and see how improved gun laws could really make a difference for public safety. Connecticut is way ahead of most states, for which we can be proud. But nationally, there is a long way to go. And so we ask, what can we do to change our culture of violence?
3) Acts of Kindness - The people of Newtown have asked that we remember the victims through performing 26 acts of kindness and love, one for each of the victims. See the Newtown Kindness website, and learn more about the victims on the very moving Sandy Hook family site.
All of these options lead us in the direction of life, affirming and choosing life in the face of death, life after Newtown.
Picking up a loose end...
Last Shabbat we had a fascinating discussion related to the Torah portion about displacement of populations (in the portion, Joseph did just that to Egyptian farmers). I made mention of the current proposal to displace Bedouins living in southern Israel, called the Prawer plan. Well, this week, to the credit of the Knesset, the Prawer Bill was scrapped.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman