Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, this blog contains random musings of a journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and occasionally-ranting rabbi, taken from Shabbat-O-Grams, columns, speeches, letters, sermons and thin air. "On One Foot," the column, appears regularly in the New York Jewish Week, as well as a blog for the "Times of Israel."
Shalom. A special birthday will be
celebrated over the coming days: Jack
Steinberg, a long time TBE member who currently resides at Atria, will be
turning 100. Mazal tov, Jack!
I hope you
can join us at 7 PM (note that time!) for services this evening,
featuring guest guitarist Avram Pengas.
And then you are cordially invited to join Mara and myself at my home
for the Oneg.
suddenly are inundated with unexpected numbers on a holiday weekend, tonight’s
service will take place in the lobby. At
times people have asked why we prefer the lobby to the sanctuary at times when
we are not expecting throngs of worshippers.
Why do we lobby for the lobby?
Let’s be clear, I would love to have 250 here every week – and with
Cantor Fishman and the fantastic array of musical and prayer experiences we are
planning, we are quite likely headed in that direction. But in the meantime, a prime goal of our
services is a sense of intimacy and connection that cannot easily be achieved
in a large, half-empty room. The
difference is profound.
Jewish musician Joey Weisenberg put
his finger on the attitudes of contemporary American Jews, and in particular
millennials, in his work “Building Singing Communities: “If you want to
build a bonfire, bring the logs close together.”
Ashar adds in her essay, “Ideas
for Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood with Warmth, Intimacy and Self Expression”
(p.24), “The suburban arrangement of many American shuls (and much of
American Jewish life) allows people to sit, sing, and pray at a distance.
Choose intimate prayer spaces and ask that people come close during tefilot.”
She offers other suggestions in that brief essay that we might want to
follow. But for our purposes, the key is
that people are praying in close proximity to one another. When we talk about “participation” in
services, which can be achieved with lots of communal singing, or it can be
achieved in silent meditation. We can be
full participants even when simply listening to the cantor or rabbi. But that can happen only when we feel
connected to our community and in
relationship with the people around us. Right now, in our facility, that is
best achieved in the round - and in the lobby.
conversation is not a new one. You can
get some valuable historical insight in this 1994
essay, “Why temples look the way they do.” - “Stage Three (1970s and
on): Synagogues reflect new worship styles. Sanctuaries are built with Shabbat
worship in mind, setting out seats based on expected attendance. To encourage
congregational participation and make the worship leaders more accessible,
the bimah is built low and open, and seats are often arranged
in a “U” or semicircle so worshipers can see one another. Sound systems are
rarely necessary, as discussion and Torah dialogues have often replaced formal
sermons. Organs and choir spaces rarely exist; members prefer a cappella
singing or the use of electronic keyboards or guitar as accompaniment.”
And now, a
generation after that, if anything, the trend is to go even smaller. Yet intimacy can also be felt when there are
lots of people. In some ways, even our
High Holidays can, at times, feel intimate.
But that’s because most of the seats are filled. At TBE, no one should ever feel alone.
So now that
you’ve seen why rabbis and cantors usually lobby for smaller, more intimate
prayer spaces, you can feel free to challenge those assertions. I would love to hear new ideas and a vigorous
conversation about how to have a more meaningful prayer experiences here. We should never stop growing!
But if you
want to lobby against the lobby, please be prepared to answer one simple
question: How do you propose that we build that bonfire?
late Tip O’Neill coined
the phrase, “All politics is local,” he had no idea just how small the
world was about to become. Yet now,
despite the growing hegemony of social media and instantaneous global reaction,
we can take comfort in the stubborn fact that local communities still think for
themselves. So global trends, while
increasingly disturbing and impactful, do not instantly transform determine
local attitudes. That’s very comforting,
given the intensifying global phenomena of Islamic extremism and anti-Semitism.
in Europe is hardly new and it’s not going away. We need to be concerned about it. Were I living in France right now, moving to
Israel (or America) would be an increasingly attractive option. But that doesn’t mean it is rising everywhere. Here in Stamford, our interfaith community is
engaged in ongoing dialogue designed to keep lines of communication open. Last night at the Ferguson Library, over 100
people from a wide variety of racial, religious and generational backgrounds got
together for a conversation about race.
It was a moment we can be very proud of.
I am not so
naïve as to suggest that the evils of the outside world can’t affect us. Do we need to be vigilant about
security? Of course. Especially now. But the local leaders that I speak with,
Christians, Muslims, Jews and none-of-the-above, are all on the same page, the
page of moderation, dialogue and love.
We are fortunate to live in a community where Jews can always live
freely and proudly, a place where our congregation has always been respected
and cherished. No doubt racism and
hatred still reside behind closed doors of many local homes, and no doubt
latent prejudice persists even in the public realm. We need to have ongoing conversations about
how we all too often prejudge people by what they are rather than loving them
for who they are. A generation after Dr.
King, the racial playing field is still far from level.
conversation persists. Extremism may
indeed be global, and the globe is shrinking fast. But hatred, like politics, is still
local. And so is love.
asked of God in 1964:
that we will always reach out
for that which is high,
realizing that we are made for the stars,
created for the everlasting,
born for eternity.
May we learn
again to reach out for those stars
And Let US
be the fulfillment of his dream.
An App for Empathy
By the way, did
you know that there is an app for empathy? According
to “The Wisdom Daily,” “‘20 Day Stranger’ is an iPhone app developed to create
an intimate and anonymous connection between you and another person. For 20
days, as you and a stranger get up, and go to work (or school or travel or
wherever else the world takes you), while the app tracks your path, pulling
related photos from Foursquare or Google Maps along the way.”
After the carnage in Paris, the Jewish State seems more
necessary to Jewish survival than ever before. It also seems to stand front and
center in the global battle against terrorism. Israel’s importance in that war
is out of all proportion to the country’s small size and population. When
Israel occupies such a prominent place on the agenda of world leaders, and on
the world Jewish agenda, when Jews have once again been singled out by history,
North American Jews dare not be silent where Israel is concerned. Our voices
more than ever must be as strong, loving, judicious, faithful—and honest—as we
can make them. What shall we say, as Jews, here and now, to Israel? And—no less
important—how should we say it?
Yes, we have
so much at stake in Israel’s future.
With that in mind, voting has begun in the World Zionist Elections.
(See https://www.myvoteourisrael.com/ to
register). MERCAZ represents Masorti / Conservative Judaism. We have the chance to help shape the World Zionist Congress and,
thereby, have an impact on creating an inclusive Israel by voting for
Mercaz (slate #2).
Mercaz platform is based on three values:
·Religious Pluralism in Israel Did you know that Conservative rabbis
cannot legally perform marriages or conversions in Israel? This is wrong
and must be changed.
·Affirmative Action for the Masorti
(Conservative) Movement Why should the Israeli government give millions of dollars
to Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox synagogues and institutions and the 50
congregations of the Masorti Movement have to fend for themselves?
·Ecology We believe that we are responsible for
safeguarding the fragile ecosystem that exists in the land of Israel.
identifies as a Jew and is over 18 years of age can vote. Registration can be done
in 5 minutes, online at http://votemercaz.org/ .
The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students and young adults (ages 18-30).
Once you have registered, you will be able to go and vote immediately.