Friday, May 9, 2014

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 9

This Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Robin and Greg Druckman in honor of Shayna’s becoming Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

Mazal tov to Shayna Druckman, who becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning! We also will welcome an IDF Sergeant with host family Sharon and Rob Yudell, as part of the JCC’s Tzahal Shalom program. 

A special mazal tov to Steve Osman, honored last week for his work on behalf of the new Mill River Park.  Steve and Harley have done so much for our community over the years.  And the park looks lovely with the new cherry trees in bloom.  And next week, Sheila Romanowitz and Eve Goldberg will be honored by UJA Greenwich.  And next week a whole slew of TBE members will be honored by the JCC, including the Hyacinthe & Harold Hoffman Humanitarian Award to Joy Katz.  TBE teen Rachel Katz and a number of volunteers will also be honored. And lest we forget, next week, Fred and Joan Weisman and our entire congregation will be honored by the Shelter for the Homeless for our longstanding Christmas Eve outreach.  Mazal tov to all!

And Happy Mother’s Day! (You can see my blog about what’s so Jewish about Mother’s Day, or better yet… take that time to call your mother!)

Bennett Cancer Center Walk

At next month’s Bennett Cancer Center walk, our sisterhood will be well represented and also a number of congregants will be memorialized or honored by various teams.  One that deserves special mention this year is the team that has been created in memory of Deb Goldberg by her son Andrew.  With great love for Deb and pride in Andrew, I share his email below.  Andrew and his family will be joining us in Israel this summer.

Dear Community,

I am Andrew Goldberg, I am 12 1/2 years old and I attend Bicultural Day School.  Since my Bar Mitzvah is in October, I have decided to create my own team at the Bennett Cancer Center, Hope In Motion Walk, this year, which is on June, 1st.  I have decided to do this for my mitzvah project in honor of my mother.  My mother passed away in July of 2013, from 4th stage Breast Cancer.  We did the walk each year, and I hope to do the honor of having my own team, and to have many members join my team, in honor of my Mother, Deb Goldberg.  The walk is on June, 1st, and I invite you all to join my team in honor of my mother.  If you are able to join and participate, please even ask your friends and family to do so also.  All of the proceeds raised, support the Bennett Cancer Center.  

Andrew Goldberg

If you would like to sign up for my team, please email me at, and if my team isn’t registered already, I will make sure to do so as soon as possible, and let you know immediately!  See the Hope in Motion website 

P.S. If you aren’t able to attend, please sign up for my team, which will be a donation, and then you will still get the Hope in Motion 2014 t-shirt

“Frozen” and the Chosen

This week it was revealed that the Disney film “Frozen” has become the top grossing animated film ever.  This unbelievable news sent me scampering to my Pay Per View to see what all the fuss is about. I even watched some the soundtrack in Hebrew.   It also happens to be a favorite film on this weekend’s Bat Mitzvah girl.   So at services this Shabbat morning I’m going to explore the “Frozen” phenomenon from a Jewish perspective.

Some interesting tidbits: Hans Christian Anderson, whose story “The Ice Queen” serves as the basis for “Frozen,” actually received his early education at a Jewish school.  (I wonder if his mother considered changing his middle name to “Jewish.”) 

Some reviewers have commented on the Christian themes of the film, but I would contend that the notion of sacrificial, redemptive love, which forms the film’s core,  is very Jewish too.

Others, like Tablet magazine’s Marjorie Ignall, point to the more feminist aspects of the film including the portrayal of a perfectionist girl who worries that she needs to be perfect, as being very resonant to American Jews.  The two main characters are women, but they are no mere princesses waiting for Prince Charming.  Well, even when they are, the princes turn out to be far less than charming, and (spoiler alert) they are incapable of planting “love’s true kiss.”  There’s a lot more to say about that, and I’ll save it for tomorrow.

I watched “Frozen” just as Israel was celebrating her 66th birthday.  The focus of the central celebration at Mt Herzl this year was, fittingly, women.  The ceremonial torches were all lit by women and music emphazied a message of equality and opportunity for women an, even more, for young girls.   One song, Gali Atari’s “Mah She’at Ohevet,” implores girls to do only what they want to do, only what they feel will be good for them.  It was very moving at one point to see a preteen girl, in an angelic white, flowing dress, recite a poem about the unlimited choices she could have, growing up in Israel’s egalitarian society. It was nice to see Israel choose this theme, even if challenges remain in that area, particular in ultra Orthodox neighborhoods. (Embarrassingly, though, the male announcer at the ceremony was paid $1,000 more than the woman, accoding to Ha’aretz).

This week’s Torah reading of Behar also focuses on the need to reduce social inequalities, for women and others.  Let’s hope that the feminist heroes of “Frozen” can help us to accomplish that goal.

The Deer in the Floodlights

On Friday night, April 26, I shared some thoughts related to Yom Hashoah that later were adapted into a featured op-ed on the Times of Israel site. 

I was intrigued by a BBC story that appeared last week about a group of about 300 deer living on the frontier between Germany and the Czech republic. According to the report, fully a quarter of a century after the iron curtain fell, the deer still seem to believe there is an electrified fence spanning what is now a totally open frontier. As confirmed by GPS-equipped collars placed on the herd, the German deer stay on the German side, the Czech deer stay on the Czech side, and never the twain shall meet.

A biologist noted that this is remarkable because the average life expectancy for deer is 15 years, meaning that none living now would have encountered the barrier.

The report adds that scientists believe that fawns tend to follow mothers for the first year of their lives and develop a pattern in their movements, so the same area remains the habitat for each new generation.

In Czechoslovakia, exactly 70 years ago, spring 1944, not far from that same border, a young man named Michael Flack looked out toward the lovely, spring-like countryside surrounding Terezin and wrote:

The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches.
Above, the heavens shriek with blue
Convinced I’ve smiled by some mistake.
The world’s abloom and seems to smile.
I want to fly but where, how high?
If in barbed wire, things can bloom
Why couldn’t I? I will not die!

Behind an electrified fence, a generation ago, a young Jew dreamed of flight. The spirit of freedom never died within him. Like the deer thirsting for water witnessed by the author of Psalm 42, this imprisoned soul refused to allow his life force to succumb to grim realities.
Flack ran the children’s home in Terezin, caring for about sixty children aged four to nine, many of them orphans or who had arrived in the ghetto without parents.
And now, 70 years after the Holocaust – a full human lifespan – we ask ourselves – are we like Michael Flack, who looked around in the depths of hell and saw beauty and let his spirit soar?
Or are we like those deer in the floodlights, who, though they never themselves knew pain of that barbed wire, confine themselves in a virtual prison, their souls are imprisoned simply by force of habit?

Israel’s 66th and Israel’s Vibrant Democracy
 (American Jewry…Not so much)

The decision of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to bar J-Street from membership has created much controversy.  As you know, I’ve always promoted open conversation regarding Israel, because a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel is of ultimate importance to world Jewry and to America.  That security can only be guaranteed if we see Israel clearly, with all its incredible strengths as well as its challenges.  When we suppress or delegitimize those who present contrasting views, especially those from within the community of Israel’s supporters, we do Israel a disservice. 

We’ve invited to our pulpit articulate spokespeople from both the right (like Ruth Wisse and Bret Stephens) and the left (like J-Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami).  Few synagogues have been so vigilant in promoting the open exchange of ideas.  We’ve been vocal supporters of all of Israel’s prime advocates on the world stage, including the ADL and AJC (and both Abe Foxman and, most recently, David Harris, have spoken here), and we have been very supportive of AIPAC’s essential efforts.  So when it comes to open dialogue, we have put our money where our mouth is.

The Conference of Presidents’ decision is problematic because the one umbrella organization supposed to represent the entire spectrum of American Jewish opinion has failed to do that, and therefore risks alienating the most at-risk group from which Israel needs support: those on college campuses.  Those students are truly on the front lines and J-Street’s message is particularly resonant there.  Even those who don’t agree with all of J-Street’s positions see great risk in disenfranchising a large bloc of young Jews. 

If you check out J.J. Goldberg’s piece in the Forward, you’ll see how every organization voted on this issue – and it is clear that almost all those groups that represent the Conservative and Reform movements voted to include J-Street.  So did Hadassah, the AJC and the ADL.  Read their statements, including the sentiments of the Rabbinical Assembly president, Rabbi Gerry Skolnick, and R.A. executive director Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld.    

So who opposed or abstained?  Most of those groups aren’t talking, but Goldberg did the math.

Two arguments are most often offered when discussing these matters:  1) that division with the American Jewish community plays into the hands of Israel’s enemies and 2) that we aren’t on the front lines – Israelis need to make their own decisions without our interference.  I disagree with both.

Granted, I’m not standing in the line of fire on the border of Lebanon.  Oh wait… I have stood there, many times.  I’ve been in Israel during many periods of great tension and danger.  Still, I do understand the difference between being a tourist and a soldier and I would never denigrate the risks IDF soldiers take every day. 

But in this era of global cyber warfare, we are all on the front lines of social media, as are we on the front lines of advocacy and lobbying.  We are foot soldiers, for sure. But most of all, at a time when the Prime Minister is placing such emphasis on Israel’s being the Jewish state, every Jew in the world as a special responsibility toward protecting Israel’s future, and with that responsibility comes the right – and even the obligation - to voice an opinion, without being faced down by what Letty Cottin Pogrebin calls “the new Jewish McCarthyism.”

In Israel, contrasting opinions are expressed most vocally.  National strategies and the decisions of individual politicians can be challenged without having one’s loyalty questioned.  What a novel approach! But here, a third of American rabbis say they are afraid to speak out honestly about Israel.  Like most Americans, I suppose, rabbis prefer to be employed.  I understand the immense power of the pulpit to shape opinion and the manifold roles a rabbi plays, so I pick my spots when it comes to speaking about Israel.  Our community needs to be a big tent, and I do not write this article without some trepidation.

But I know that if I don’t question the wisdom of the Conference of Presidents’ choice, that silence becomes a tacit endorsement, and I won’t sit by and watch Israel’s support continue to erode among our young people.  I owe it to them - and to Israel - to speak out.

In Israel, there is a vibrant democracy.  People are not afraid to express opinions.  Take this spoof that opened the Yom Ha’atzmaut edition of Israel’s signature comedy show, “Eretz Nehederet.”  This show has been called the SNL of Israel, but it is much funnier and its satire far more biting.  In this clip, subtitled by the Israeli Network (which I watch religiously on Cablevision channel 1118), Prime Minister Netanyahu is chewed out by Theodore Herzl and the imbroglio over John Kerry’s use of the “A” word is skewered, as Tzipi Livni mourns over the casket of the peace process.  It goes much farther in its criticism of current policies than J Street ever has. This, on one of Israel’s most popular programs.  On the same broadcast, Eretz Nehederet (which means “Wonderful Country”) also questions a plan to teach the Holocaust as early as Kindergarten (the cynical misuse of the Shoah for political purposes is a prime target of the show) in a manner that most American Jews would find uncomfortable - or even offensive - but for Israelis is routine.  There are no sacred cows.  And that’s what makes for a vibrant democracy.  That’s part of what makes Israel such a “wonderful country.”

And that’s what makes the decision of the Conference of Presidents all the more regrettable.

No comments: