Friday, October 16, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for October 16

The Shabbat Ann
ouncements are sponsored by Devra Jaffe-Berkowitz and Parry Berkowitz and  
Beth and Ray Baer in honor of their daughters. Zoë and Georgia, becoming B'not Mitzvah this Shabbat. 
Shabbat Shalom - and Mazal Tov to the Jaffe-Berkowitz and Baer families, in particular to grandparents Sari and Alan Jaffe and Betty and Sherwin Baer.  It's hard to recall a time when we've had a pair of three-generation celebrations on the same Shabbat!  

A personal thank you to TBE member Lindsay Rosenberg, for making possible the superb concert that will take place here on Sunday night, featuring Franc D'Ambrosio and Cantor Fishman.

Oh, and one more thing..."Let's Go Mets!"

America's Holy City

Last weekend I was honored to officiate at the wedding of Marisa Levi and TBE's own Andrew Staines, in Charleston, S.C..  I'd never been to Charleston before - I'll talk about the place a little at services this evening. It is called the Holy City and now I can understand why.  For now, I want to share a few photos, of the synagogue, the oldest in continual use in the US, of the Emanuel AME church, site of last spring's horrible murders, and finally, of a spectacular sunset view of New York that greeted us on our return. 


Shabbat of Unity

This weekend has been declared a Shabbat of Unity with the People of Israel.  It was kicked off last night with a very meaningful prayer vigil bringing together our entire Jewish community and sending a strong statement of solidarity. Along with many other Conservative congregations, we'll be reciting this kavannah (meditation) written by Rabbi David Wolpe, as we pray for the safety and security of Israel's citizens and the healing of the injured victims. 

El Maleh Rachamim -- Compassionate God,
We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
Our prayers are not for a perfect world but a better one
Where parents are not bereaved by the savagery of sudden attacks
Or children orphaned by blades glinting in a noonday sun.
Help us dear God, to have the courage to remain strong, to stand fast.
Spread your light on the dark hearts of the slayers
And your comfort to the bereaved hearts of families of the slain.
Let calm return Your city Jerusalem, and to Israel, Your blessed land.
We grieve with those wounded in body and spirit,
Pray for the fortitude of our sisters and brothers,
And ask you to awaken the world to our struggle and help us bring peace.

And the Children Shall Lead Us


Amidst the palpable and growing despair over the current violence, there are some oases of hope.  One is a bold educational experiment called "Hand in Hand," which brings together thousands of Jews and Arabs in six schools and communities throughout Israel.  You might recall that this school was firebombed by Jewish extremists last year, and the students subsequently were invited to light Hanukkah candles at the White House.
But just as young Arabs in East Jerusalem and elsewhere are the ones whose minds are being poisoned by anti-Israeli incitement on social media - and so many of the "lone wolf" attackers have been teenagers  - so are young people, Jews and Arabs, among those who are providing the first glimmers of hope.
Hand in Hand's response was featured in this inspiring (subtitled) report from Israel's channel 10 news as well as on the cover of Yideot Jerusalem a local section of the Friday paper of Israel's major newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, on October 9, 2015, with a full article within the paper itself.   Here is a translation of that report:
Nadia Kinnani and Arik Sporta, Principals of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem After returning to school this week, the first lessons were dedicated to class discussions. Both Jews and Arabs expressed concern and frustration about what is commonly referred to as the "conflict". But alongside these feelings were also pride, determination and confidence in the justness of the path they are treading together. 

There are those among our student body, both Jews and Arabs, who are apprehensive about traveling on public transport wearing their school shirt with Arab writing emblazoned upon it- and so our students, both Jews and Arab, organize to walk to school in groups so they won't be exposed to trouble on the streets. There are Jewish student activists that attend demonstrations while understanding the difficulty in their Arab friends joining them there. One student spoke of her experience traveling to school through East Jerusalem where she passed by burning garbage cans and surprise spot-checks; another student was attacked in the evening in a local mall by a group that detected his Arab accent. But the bottom line is that most students still arrived to school this week, to this safe yet complicated place, a place that inspires confidence in our path, our place.
Our students know that it is here where we will contend with this terrible wave of violence. It is the courage of their parents to continue sending them to school, despite their trepidation; It is thanks to the students that see their bilingual education not only as a requirement, but as a personal statement; And it is thanks to our teachers, who sustain the daily routine of educating towards values; against violence and the killing of Jews and Arabs.
Alongside the many differences, we witnessed this week something important that is shared by both our Jewish and Arab students: a desire to not be satisfied by the daily act of arriving to school as a response to this period of violence, but to go out from its protective walls to initiate social and civic engagement in an attempt to end the violence.
Our students are right, and we cannot leave the arena of positive action to them alone. It is during this time that our role as school principals becomes clear: We, as educators in the city, call upon the educational leadership of Jerusalem to learn from our students and to initiate formal civic action against the violence, to ensure that it does not dictate daily life in our city. The younger generation is showing us the way, and it is our responsibility to choose to traverse this path with them.
I am pleased to announce that we will be visiting "Hand in Hand" next May on our interfaith pilgrimage to Israel.  That trip came closer to becoming reality at a preliminary meeting this week, where community members expressed significant interest and excitement and the tour coordinator discussed the itinerary and otherdetails.  See the flyer at the bottom of this e-mail and click here to check the updated itinerary.

When Past Isn't Prologue: Remembering Rabin
(I adapted some ideas recently discussed on the High Holidays in this column for the New York Jewish Week.  Click here to share it)
We are approaching an important date, a watershed that's been anticipated for three decades. On Oct. 21, if you happen to be in Hill Valley, Calif., down by the Texaco station and the clock tower, you might just see Marty McFly whiz by on his hoverboard.
That's right. Oct. 21, 2015 was the date McFly and Doc Brown set their sights on in "Back to the Future 2." They needed to come to that future date from the present, that is, Oct. 21, 1985, which is now precisely 30 years ago, in order to correct something that was about to go terribly wrong to McFly's family. This came immediately after "Back to the Future," when Marty and the Doc corrected another fatal flaw after going back 30 years earlier, to Oct. 21, 1955, the date of the high school dance where Marty's parents fell in love.
Just a few days after Oct. 21, on Oct. 25, the 12th of Cheshvan on the Hebrew calendar, we'll be treated to another journey down memory lane, this one laced with tragedy, as we recall the 20th anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
If only we could go back in time with Doc Brown, pull up our DeLorean alongside Kings of Israel Square on that fateful night and somehow make sure that Rabin would miss his rendezvous with destiny.
If Rabin had lived, would Oslo have succeeded? Would the fragile but growing trust between mortal enemies have been nurtured rather than quashed? Would Yasir Arafat have ceased being Yasir Arafat just long enough to allow the more peaceful facts on the ground to be implanted in the minds of those Israelis and Palestinians yearning for normalcy? Would the youth of Israel, so galvanized in their grief following the murder, have been able to channel that same idealism into genuine progress, building relationships with their Arab neighbors one person at a time and forging a grassroots coexistence?
These are questions that endlessly dog us as we watch Israelis and Palestinians fall into yet another hopeless cycle of hopeless terror and needless death. 
If only we could turn back the clock...
Earlier this year, an old ethical dilemma became a prime topic in social and mass media: Suppose you could go back in time and you see Hitler as a 2-year-old playing in a sandbox. You have two minutes to decide what to do. You could go up to him and kill him by any means. If you do kill him, all of history will be changed. There will be no World War II, no Holocaust, 50 million people and six million Jews will have been saved.
Imagine a world with no Shoah, a world where "Naptime for Hitler" had taken place. How different would it be? A third of our people would have survived to write great novels, make fantastic scientific discoveries and bring Judaism to new heights.
In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks referred to that dilemma and asserted that the world we have could never have come to be without World War II. The Hitler question is really about changing all of the past. To erase mistakes from the past is to obliterate your world now, he wrote.
It's a real good point. If we were to change any event in history, especially a massive event such as the Holocaust, everything occurring after that event would now be different; which means, if you want to get technical about it, that anyone born after the Holocaust would most likely not have been born. 
Would you choose to have the world exactly as it is right now, with a Holocaust; or one without a Holocaust, but without you ... a completely different world with a completely different set of people? Who knows, possibly no Israel. On the bright side, no Kardashians - but if you are under the age of 70, no you.
That question about changing the past teaches us that it is pointless to dwell on the could-have-been's, and points us toward the might-yet-be's. That's the real question at hand.
Which brings us back to Rabin. 
What made him such a visionary leader is that he was able to let go of the past without losing his historical perspective. There are lessons to be learned from any experience, and he had learned plenty over the course of his epic career. But he never let old resentments cloud the fact that every new day presented a gleaming blank slate of possibilities. 
Though not a religious man, he embodied the spirit of the prayer Jews recite each morning, praising God "who renews in goodness each day the work of Creation." Every day God presses the "reset" button. Rabin was able to do this as well, like Mandela and Gandhi, Lincoln, Sadat, Martin Luther King Jr. and other visionary leaders (many of whom also met violent ends) - and unlike all the Israeli and Palestinian leaders who have followed him.
When he received his Nobel Prize, Rabin said, "...of all the memories I have stored up in my 72 years, I now recall the hopes.  Our peoples have chosen us to give them life. Tonight, their eyes are upon us and their hearts are asking: how is the authority vested in these men and women being used? What will they decide? What kind of morning will we rise to tomorrow? A day of peace? Of war? Of laughter or of tears?"
Rabin could have fallen back on his litany of tragic memories, of countless comrades buried, of opportunities wasted, of incessant terror and reprisal, of hatred endlessly regurgitated. He chose instead to "recall hopes," a seeming oxymoron, to retrieve - from his past - a future-focused buoyancy that is at the very core of Zionism, a hope that is its anthem's very name, and to use it to forge a vision of astonishing promise and endless possibility. He chose to go back to the future.
And so must we. 

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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