Friday, December 18, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for December 19


TBE Hebrew School students visiting Brighton Gardens for Hanukkah last Sunday.  
Mazal Tov to Julie and Solomon Rose on their son, Michael, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  Todah Rabah to Julie and Sol for sponsoring the Oneg and Kiddush in honor of Michael.
Shabbat Shalom!

This is the final Shabbat-O-Gram for 2015, although we are very much open for business these next couple of weeks. 

For one thing, we will be returning to local homeless shelters on Thursday evening - and thank you to our many volunteers, in particular Amy and Ken Temple, who again are spearheading the efforts.

We have services every morning, of course, as well as Friday nights, and this is the perfect time to bring friends, relatives, college students home for vacation, or anyone looking for a chance to share in our warm and inspiring Kabbalat Shabbat at 7:30 tonight.  And remember that we are now live-streaming Kabbalat Shabbat services just about every week, especially for those who are infirmed, far away or otherwise unable to get here. Thanks to the Rosner Fund, we have added a second camera, so now all services in the lobby as well as the sanctuary can now be streamed.  Contact Steve Lander for the link -

On Shabbat morning I'll be discussing the Jewish value of "dan l'chaf zechut," giving the benefit of the doubt, which Joseph does to an extreme degree in our portion of Vayiggash, letting his brothers off the hook for selling him into slavery.  That's quite a gesture!  Preview the parsha packet here.

This Shabbat is also our final Bar/Bat Mitzvah of 2015.  Mazal tov to Michael Rose and his family.  While honoring Michael, tomorrow I'll also be paying tribute to all our 2015 B'nai Mitzvah - with a surprise gift to all those who attend (oops, I guess it's not a surprise anymore).  At the bottom of this O-Gram, I've included my 2015 Greatest Hits," culled from the brilliant Bar/Bat Mitzvah divei Torah we have heard.
Jewish Heritage Tour of Central Europe

Over the years, people have inquired about our doing a Jewish heritage tour of central Europe, geared to adults and mature teens.  I've been laying the groundwork with a tour company for such a trip and now want to gauge the degree of interest.

A possible date for this trip would be the latter part of this coming July, 2016.  Other dates could be considered, though the options are limited.  The trip, lasting approximately two weeks, would be led by Mara and myself.  Accommodations would be 4-5 star, with kosher food available. 

The proposed itinerary would include Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna and Prague. Stops would include major Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz, Majdanek and Terezin, and the new Jewish museums in Berlin and Warsaw, as well as Oskar Schinder's factory in Krakow.  Aside from memorials to destruction, we would bear witness to the rich history European Jewry and see the renaissance of Jewish life there today.  We would visit Europe's oldest synagogue in Prague, two of the grandest, in Berlin (of all places) and Budapest, and other major historic sites like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenberg Gate.

Please let me know ASAP ( if you have interest in such a trip for this summer, and if you do, how many people would possibly be coming with you.  Also let me know if you would be interested but can't go this July.  I anticipate making  a "go/no go" decision within the next several weeks.

A Patrilineal Proposal: 'Bath' Mitzvah

Click here for the original Jewish Week articlewhich has garnered significant 

Thirty years ago Rabbi Irving ("Yitz") Greenberg looked ominously at the landscape of American Jewry. With spiraling intermarriage rates and the 1983 decision of the Reform movement to allow Jewish status to be determined by the identity of the father, he peered into the future and asked, in a seminal essay in CLAL Perspectives, "Will There be One Jewish People in the Year 2000?" He predicted that, "within decades, the Jewish people will be divided into two, mutually hostile groups who are unable and unwilling to marry each other."

Rabbi Greenberg's prognostication turns out to have been an understatement. If ONLY there were just two mutually hostile groups - for in fact the Jewish community has been divided into many more hostile camps, divided along halachic, ideological and political fault lines. Patrilineal descent is only one of the challenges we now face - but it is a big one, and now, a generation later, we are talking not in hypotheticals; we're talking about real lives, an estimated 200,000 real lives, and counting.

Samantha (not her real name), a college student with a solid Jewish identity and a non-Jewish mother, grew up in a nearby Reform congregation where her family was very involved. She went on a Birthright Israel trip and fell in love with an Israeli guy, who then broke the news to her that most Israelis, including his own family, would not consider her to be Jewish.

Crushed by this revelation, she didn't call her rabbi, who had never told her about the patrilineal descent issue. She called me, the Conservative rabbi across town, whom she had also known since childhood.

I made it clear that she should not feel ashamed or embarrassed in any way, that her Jewish upbringing had been solid and that we could rectify the situation relatively easily. All that would be required is a little dip into the ritual bath. I'd bring a few rabbis, we would sign a couple of documents, and that would be that. 

Samantha took the patrilineal plunge and before she could dry off, her personal existential crisis was resolved, since the Israeli government would have to consider her to be Jewish - even though most Orthodox rabbis there would not accept my conversion.

I began to wonder whether there might be a way to reduce the pain for future Samanthas.

That's when it came to me ... the Bath Mitzvah.

The goal: for every 13-year-old to voluntarily immerse in a mikvah before her big day as a universally accepted part of the bar/bat Mitzvah experience.

OK, I know that at first glance might seem like the dumbest idea since the Betamax. But hear me out.

If Samantha had immersed before her bat mitzvah, the question of parentage would have been rendered irrelevant, since immersion is technically all that is required for conversion of a minor. For boys it's more complicated, but since the vast majority of patrilineal boys are circumcised in infancy, that complication is minimized.

But to ask only patrilineal kids like Samantha to immerse, while giving their matrilineal friends a free pass, would be an insult to Samantha's upbringing, and by extension, to the integrity of those movements that embrace patrilineality. There is enormous pressure on Conservative congregations to accept Samantha and the other patrilineals (and their children), yet to do so would create even more friction with the movements to the right. True, we could say that those movements don't accept our conversions anyway, but that is precisely what the Reform movement said in the '80s in their decision to go down the patrilineal path in the first place.

What we need is a way out that upholds the integrity both of Jewish tradition and all the religious streams. The stakes are enormous for all those who care about Samantha and her cohorts, who, if we don't stop our bickering, will simply throw up their hands and walk away from Jewish communal life. At the very least, I hope my idea can inspire a dialogue that will lead to other initiatives.

As I envision the Bath Mitzvah, students would immerse either individually or as a class (yes, with bathing suits). Mikvahs would be preferred, but I can imagine enormous, community wide splash-fests in South Beach, Montauk or Santa Monica. Like the twinnings with Soviet Jews in the 1980s, this "dunk for unity" would link Jewish students of all backgrounds and become a meaningful component of the rite of passage, standardized and sanctioned by all the movements and supported by secular institutions like federations, JCCs and Israeli consulates. Curricula would be developed to explain how this simple act could unite the Jewish people.  Perhaps the same funding partners that brought us Birthright Israel could incentivize this program by offering scholarships for family Israel trips.

Yes, there would be logistical concerns; compromise would be necessary on all sides. Conversion standards would need to be relaxed among the more traditional movements and those denominations currently accepting patrilineal descent would have to acknowledge the benefits of resolving a problem that they in part created.
There would be a number of ancillary advantages:

-          Bath Mitzvah would send a clear message that we are all, in essence, Jews by choice;
-          It would expose more Jews to the experience of ritual immersion without having to address, for the moment, more complicated questions regarding family purity;
-          It would present a spiritual dimension to the bar mitzvah experience that is so often missing, marking it as a liminal moment - a symbolic passage through a "birth canal" of childhood to Jewish maturity; 
-          It would model for our kids - and for Israelis - how American Jews can work together for the common good, and how, in pioneering Orthodox feminist Blu Greenberg's words, where there's a rabbinic will, there's a halachic way";
-          It would help transition American Jewry to a "post-gevalt" posture on intermarriage, redirecting our entire focus to fully embracing all Jewish children, including those of the 50 percent of Jewish millennials who grew up in dual faith families;
-          Last but not least, it would enable Jews of different streams to more easily marry one another.

Not crazy about my idea? That's fine. 

So what's yours?

2015's Greatest Hits

This is a time when people generally review the past year.  JTA put together this 2015 Jewish Headlines Quiz

Here's an example:

 This summer, an iconic kosher brand ran a provocative ad campaign that was later pulled. Was it ... ?

a. A Manischewitz campaign featuring scantily clad women pouring the sweet libation over their glistening bodies that ran with the tagline: "Yes, it's sweet."

b. An Osem campaign showing terrorists making the company's famed soup nuts by assembling a huge yellow "nut" and then blowing it up

c. A Hebrew National campaign suggesting consumers grill up their hot dogs alongside bacon and clams

d. A Ben's Deli billboard campaign suggesting the company's signature pastrami sandwich was certified gluten-free

The answer, BTW, is c. 

But here at TBE, our greatest hits came out of the mouths of our B'nai Mitzvah.  Here's a stroll down memory lane, to some of my favorite quotes.  I tell you, these kids are brilliant!  And we are very proud of them all.
"I think photography is like life - if you make one adjustment, it changes the whole picture."
-           Carly Fein on Vayishlach

"There's one more bit of advice that we have for Esau and Jacob, and it's really important. Never give up on your twin sibling. Even if it takes a long time, what you share will always be more important than what divides you."             
-           Daniel and Elena Salm on Toldot

"Lot's wife should have taken a cue from Elsa, to just "let it go."  I know it's a lesson I've learned very well."
-           Leah Tuluca on Vayera

"There are no shortcuts to becoming who you are destined to become.   Abraham and Sarah learned the same lesson in my parshaSometimes when you are on a journey you stub your toe along the way.  Well I certainly did that!!!  About two months ago, I fractured my big toe."
-          Georgia Baer on Lech Lecha

Another major challenge that I had to overcome to earn my black belt was breaking a brick. Now I know what you are all thinking, that's impossible, which is exactly what I thought. When the test came around I was confident about everything... except for the part where I had to break the brick...  I broke the brick.  It felt like I had done the impossible.  This really showed me the power of the human spirit. I broke through barriers that I never thought were possible.  The Tower of Babel story is about human tragedy caused by selfishness and greed whereas my black belt celebrates a triumph of the human spirit
-          Zoë Jaffe-Berkowitz on Noah

 I starred in the musical "The Addams Family" in what definitely was the funniest role.   Yes, I played cousin ITT.   Not that you could tell, since I was covered from head to toe with hair.   It was a tough role, having to be a thing, or I mean an "Itt."  An object, something that is looked down upon by society, something considered less than human. Today, I am not a furry, hairy imaginary creature. Today I am a man.  Today I am playing the most difficult role of my life, the role of a mature human being....The idea that people are created in God's image is one of the most important Jewish values. When we look at another person, we are not looking at an object or an it.  Unless of course you are watching me play "Itt".
-          Andrew Patashnik on Bereisheet

 Like our ancestors who spent decades trekking through the wilderness in search of a home, we sit in our homemade sukkas surrounded by nature. We sit in fascination of the Cosmos and all its inhabitants.... During Sukkot, we focus on the transitions that occur in nature. Some of them are seasonal and cyclical, but others involve changes that have occurred over a great amount of time.  In fact, Connecticut preserves snapshots of these ancient periods in Earth's history, from when Mammoths roamed Cove Island 50,000 years ago to when the dinosaurs had just started to rule the Earth 195 million years before the rise of man, leaving traces of their existence throughout the Connecticut Valley.
-          Chase Brownstein on Sukkot

 Just as we put the Torah back into the ark, we sang the "Hashivenu" where ask God to "renew our days as of old."  Does that mean to make today as good as the good old days... Or maybe that the memories we create today, as we become B'nai Mitzvah, be stories that we will tell again and again for the rest of our lives.  Today will be remembered as the "good old days" as soon as the moment we wake up tomorrow. We are committed today to be a part of the change to make the world a better place and to stand for democracy and the State of Israel.  

I think that taking on challenges plays a big role with the Nazarites because staying pure can be quite a challenge in my opinion. Back in the biblical times, I think I would be one of the best Nazarites, maybe even better than Samson.
-          Charlie Wallace on Naso

 My portion describes an ideal society, one where people help one another and take care of other people, even strangers and slaves.  They also care for the land, even allowing the land to rest.  And also the give special care to their animals.  Everyone is included in the household....   I suppose that for me, the ideal community would be one that has the fun of camp, with lots of dogs and plenty of sports - and, oh, yes, where my mother is the nurse. 

Although I’ve been told I have many talents, there is one small area where I fall a little short... (And it’s not my height!!!)
...I am a procrastinator.
Yes, it’s true. 
For example - how do you think I did on the haftarah? 
Well....I winged it.
This speech? 
Wrote it yesterday
My dress?  Also yesterday
My hair?
I woke up like this.
It sometimes drives others crazy.  Like my parents, for instance. 
My portion has something to teach us about procrastination.  It says, “The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.”
The Torah is teaching us not to procrastinate, because when we do, it doesn’t just affect us, it affects everybody else too. 
The sage Hillel said, “If not now, when.”  And I usually say, “If not now, later!”  But I can understand where Hillel was coming from.
-          Morgana Knopoff on Ahare/Kedoshim

My favorite site - -INSTAGRAM -- lets you post pictures and people get to comment on how you look, about what you are wearing, and even your shoes. You can comment on everything! While it can be a lot of fun, sometimes you may say things that are hurtful. When someone gets hurt, usually a mom will yell and say "GET OFF THE PHONE AND STOP LOOKING AT THAT SITE." If that happens then that kid is no longer in the group.  In those cases, the Torah says you need to apologize, make the person feel better and include them back into the group chat....What all of this is really teaching us, is that as a community we all have an obligation to reach out to those who are troubled, the sick or poor, to those who are disabled, and those who are hurting. We have to find a way to bring them back into the community.
-          Shayna Finkel on Tazria-Metzora
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a lot like becoming a superhero.  The world needs a lot of help.  Our task as Jews is to help to repair it - we call that tikkun olam.  It's no surprise that so many of these superheroes were created by Jews.I know that although I'm now a bar mitzvah, it may be years before I really know what my place is in the bigger picture.  But when that time comes, I hope to be ready.
-          Noah Weinberg on Shmini

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hodesh is like a mini Rosh Hashanah.  Every month we get to start over again.  Just as the moon starts again from scratch, on Rosh Hodesh we start with a clean slate.  We get to practice being nice all over again.

About 10 years ago, Maggie came into my life.  Maggie is a black lab who didn't pass her Seeing Eye dog test.  But although she is not a service dog, and so she couldn't come to services, I've come to see how caring she can be. Instead of sacrificing animals to God at the temple, I've learned how animals interact with people, and how they are capable of making great sacrifices for one another and humans, everywhere and all the time.
-          Hannah Bushell on Vayikra

Interestingly, while some commentators see fire as a symbol for anger, one particular commentator sees it very differently.  And he happens to be my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle, a very well known Hasidic rabbi named Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, who was called the Sfat Emet.  When he looked at flames, like the fire on the sacrificial altar - flames that never went out - he said that they represented a raging fire of love that must always burn in the heart of every Jew.  So when we are told not to light a fire on Shabbat, it means that we shouldn't argue, but we also should be careful not to extinguish the fire that already has been lit - the flame of love.
So why is the Golden Calf like a car?  The calf was worshiped as an idol by the Israelites when Moses didn't come back to them quickly enough from Mount Sinai.  Some people think that people worship their cars in the same way - as a symbol of money or status - almost like an idol.  But when I look at cars, don't see something that should be worshiped.  I see something that can be appreciated because it has a special beauty - and some very special qualities... Cars can be appreciated because they are like a portable home on wheels - just like the sanctuary that was built in the wilderness, which is described in great detail in my Torah portion.    That was the world's first assembly line.
-          Sam Teich on Ki Tissa
This afternoon's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, describes a veil that Moses used to wear because his face glowed after his encounters with God. The Torah does not tell us whether the veil was hot pink.  But I figure there is a fifty percent chance it could have been, because it had to be a color that would distract people from that glowing face.  If I were designing an outfit for our ancient leaders, I would include platform shoes to give them height, a cool shiny gold vest, and of course, I would never design an outfit without throwing in a hot pink scarf. Clothes can often tell us a story about who someone is.  For example, people who wear bright colors seem to be more cheerful.  As a cheerleader. I know that most cheerleading outfits tend to be bright and colorful, which matches our spirit....And today, my dad, who was unable to celebrate a bar mitzvah back when he was growing up in Kiev, is wearing my grandfather's tallis.  So I can appreciate the fact that I have the freedom to be able to wear this today, knowing what my family has been through.
-          Emma Ostrovsky on Ki Tissa
I've been amazingly accurate this winter in my predictions... Yes, I did predict a 2-foot snowstorm before the "Historic Blizzard," but I downgraded my forecast as models trended toward a less snowy storm.  My Torah portion is called Tetzaveh, and it focuses us on how technology can help us to make the right choices.... There is a Jewish side to technology. Rabbi Avraham of Sadigora, who lived in the 1800s, once told his Hasidic students that they could learn something from everything: "Everything can teach us something, and not only everything God has created. What man has made has also something to teach us."
-           Ben Goodman on Tetzave
One of my favorite series is the "Divergent" series, the first of which has come out as movie.  It turns out that "Divergent" really ties into my portion of Mishpatim.  In fact, it also has a "bat mitzvah" ceremony.  It's called the "Choosing Ceremony" and is very similar to today, minus a few details.  Don't worry, no blood will be drawn! But when you get beyond those details what's happening?  Teenagers are deciding their future, and starting to make choices for themselves.  It's the first time they are really responsible for those choices.  Also, the Choosing Ceremony, like the Bat Mitzvah is the moment when they start to become independent of their family.  Today, I am making my choices, although thankfully I won't be becoming fully independent and I have a lot more freedom to decide than most people did in the book.
-          Emily Marrinan on Mishpatim

And finally, from Mary Harrison's comments at Jewels' Bar Mitzvah last June:

Jewels loves to sing, and from time to time I would recognize the tune.  He would memorize songs from the radio, songs heard on the streets etc..  A couple of weeks ago, I heard him sing a song he had heard on the radio.  He’d been singing it  A LOT.  In fact, it’s not unusual for him to start a piano lesson with a tune in “his head”. His teacher recognized the song, and gave me the words, the following week.  It goes like this:

There’s Hope in front of me; there’s a light, I still see it, there’s a hand that’s holding me, even when I don’t believe it.   

There’s hope in front of our kids:  for Will, Alex, Elizabeth, for Cos, Michael, and Brandon, for Johnny, Joey, and Jewels and for all those names not mentioned but are on the heart of God.   My Dad used to tell us, the importance of trusting God’s heart when we cannot trace His hands.   Now as an adult I understand.  The children of Israel had to first step into the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds) before God did the awesome act of parting the waters. 

We must  believe the future will be better for our kids, and express that through action, and NEVER, EVER GIVE UP.
I think that just about says it all - and 2015 was quite a year! 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy 2016!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman 

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