Friday, February 19, 2016
100 Years Young
There are some significant 100th birthdays to celebrate over the coming days. One is for the Stamford JCC, which is been like a sibling to TBE’s over the decades, ever since our “childhood” together on Prospect Street.
I also had the pleasure of stopping in on one of our oldest congregants, Elsie Ralph, on the eve of her hundredth birthday. Elsie is still completely independent and ever able to adapt to changing times. How many centenarians do you know who are proficient at sending email? Elsie shared with me an excerpt from her personal memoirs (which I am sharing with her permission), where she tells some spicy tales about the personalities who were an important part of our history. Mazal tov to Elsie – and to the JCC!
A Community in Solidarity (Twice)
On Monday, February 22 at 7 pm at Stamford High School, our Interfaith Council is gathering the community for "Stronger Together: A Community in Solidarity," a response to the recent spate of Islamophobic and anti-refugee rhetoric we've endured as a country. We are proud of how we celebrate diversity in Stamford, and want to have an event that reflects our shared values. Chris Shays will be the featured speaker. See the flyer here.
And don’t forget Shabbat Across Stamford on March 4. Hear Ruth Messenger, a real modern day Jewish hero. The event is filling up very quickly, so click here to sign up. Space is going fast!
Be Funny, it’s Adar!
New York Magazine recently ran a piece listing the 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy, to which the Forward noted that fully half of them have a Jewish connection; In the list, Jewish humor is not merely concentrated in one era, but reflected across the decades, from the Marx Brothers to Amy Schumer. Since Adar is our month to increase joy, it’s natural to focus on Jewish humor, especially this year, when the month is doubled (read more about the Jewish and secular leap years in last week’s Parsha Packet). During this doubly joyous month, I invite you to bring in your favorite Jewish joke to share during the “Wow of the Week” segment of our Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Israel’s Winter of Discontent
Here’s what you may have missed while cursing out the “one percent” or watching the iron cage match between Donald Trump and the Pope. Israel is in a low-grade “state of hopeless.” Every day there is another attack on Jews in Israel and the West Bank, primarily knifings by Arab teenagers. The Jewish victims who have died just since January 1 include Alon Bakal, Shimon (Shimi) Ruimi, Amin Shaaban, Dafna Meir, Shlomit Krigman, Hadar Cohen, and just yesterday, Tuvia Yannai Weissman, who ran toward the attackers, rather than fleeing, even though he was unarmed. It’s remarkable how Israelis routinely run toward the incident, rather than away from it. Click on their names to read the victims’ stories, because each of them should be remembered.
OK, so since everyone should be remembered, here are the names of the Palestinians killed in the early months of this wave. Many were attackers, who were killed, justifiably, in self defense. But some were not. And even the perpetrators are victims - primarily of their own leaders’ incitement, but also of a situation that has been allowed to deteriorate and shows no signs of abating.
It’s too bad that there is not a single website that presents both lists of names, side by side. I take no pride in the sad fact that I might be the first person to suggest such a site. It is all too easy to eliminate the names of the Other, or to dismiss them as “wild beasts.” “Only someone who acknowledges the humanity of his enemy can fight him when necessary, and make peace with him when possible,” writes Carolina Landsman. As the Israeli poet Zelda reminds us, ““Everybody has a name.”
Here is the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s listing of the attacks that have taken place during the current wave of terror that began in October. Meanwhile, if you want to read a Palestinian perspective, you can find that alternate universe here. It’s a viewpoint Israel’s supporters rarely choose to look at and much of it can be classified as propaganda. But since the perpetrators of these attacks seem to be getting younger all the time, we need to begin to understand why their hopelessness is so pervasive. Here is an interesting analysis of the lone wolf violence by an Israeli right wing think tank. And here is an analysis from a left wing Israeli source. Whatever the root causes, I can pretty much guarantee that a 12 year old girl is not dreaming about 72 virgins when she decides to take a pair of scissors to school and attack a soldier. The reasons must be far less simplistic – and far more depressing.
The pervasive feeling of hopelessness cannot be overestimated. Even the Israeli leftist opposition cannot see a two-state light at the end of this dark tunnel, and many believe that the current stalemate portends only increasing chaos on the West Bank. Last week, no less than Thomas Friedman gave up on two states. In a Brookings Institute blog, Dan Kurzer provides a thoughtful analysis and scary thought experiment as to what would happen were Israel to annex some of the West Bank and offer the Palestinians there full citizenship.
The situation seems bleak for Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians alike, and then throw some other bleak news items, like the incarceration of former prime minister Olmert, numerous sexual harassment scandals, outrageous attempts to reign in free speech, intensified culture wars and lots of other tzuris. But still Israelis find a way to laugh – even as they make pointed political and social statements about their predicament.
Jews being Jews and this being Adar, we need to find ways to chuckle amidst the tears. This coming Tuesday night at 7:30, I’ll share some of reflections from my recent visit and show highlights from Israel’s most popular comedy program, “Wonderful Country” (Eretz Nehderet). The excerpts are subtitled; plus I will give a running commentary. I look forward to an open, respectful conversation about the serious (and humorous) predicaments Israel confronts.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned in last week’s SOG, one of our TBE teens, Steph Hausman, an international officer of BBYO, participated in last weekend’s international convention. You can see her presentation here (go to about an hour and a half in). That was amazing, but I was also blown away by the presentations right before and a bit after Steph’s. The one before involved an inspirational teen with cystic fibrosis. The one after was a moving talk about Israel by popular Times of Israel blogger Sarah Tuttle Singer (about 2:06 in), entitled “I want to tell you about My Israel.” Simply inspirational, at a time when such negativity abounds. She put her thoughts in two writing in a subsequent column. I find many of her thoughts to resonate in my own experiences in Israel last month.
Israel has so many challenges, not the least being the campaign of delegitimization being waged against her. Some of that campaign is legitimately anti-Semitic, designed at its core to eliminate the Jewish State, no matter where her borders are drawn. But some of it is based on the fear that Israel’s current government, the most right wing in its history, wishes to dissolve any notion of there being a “Green Line” and along with any hopes for a two state solution. And that is not sitting well with almost every country in the world, as well as an increasing number of American Jews, particularly progressives. As Peter Beinart writes in Ha’aretz this week:
The only way to stop Israel’s growing “delegitimization” among American progressives is to convince those progressives that Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state… The struggle for Israel’s legitimacy and the struggle for Israel’s democracy are one and the same. Any organization that fights for the former without fighting for the latter is wasting its time.
A tall order indeed, as long as there is not even the hint of progress on the diplomatic front.
Which brings us back to the feelings of hopelessness being felt by Israelis and those of us in this country who love Israel. Which brings us back to the need for satire and humor during dark times.
Which brings us back to Adar.
Which, I hope, will bring you here on Tuesday night at 7:30, for our program, “Israel’s Winter of Discontent.”
Magic and Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been an increasingly significant part of our culture for a while now, thanks in large part to Jews who like so many, found meaning in eastern meditative philosophies. Mindfulness of course is also deeply embedded in authentic Jewish practices and is completely compatible with our traditional prayers. Read more about the Jewish roots of the mindfulness movement here.
Recently, a spate of articles have reinforced the idea that, in an age of information overload, pausing to smell – or even notice – the roses, can significantly reduce stress and that increased stress lowers life expectancy on a number of levels, even increasing our cholesterol.
The WNYC “Note to Self” podcast , which explores effects of technology on our lives, recently ran a week-long series called Infomagical, providing a number of concrete steps we can take to reduce the stress called by information overload and our techno-crazy lives. You can sign up and participate in the program, or simply listen to the series. The producers issued five challenges to participants over five days – involving single-tasking, tidying our phones, avoiding meaningless memes, delving deeper into conversations, and setting a larger "rule" or "mantra" for information consumption.
Let’s say you take them up on this challenge and follow it for five days, beginning Monday. So let me issue a sixth: Shabbat, the most stress free day of all. Our magical, mindful and musical Friday nights are designed specifically to help us unburden ourselves by channeling the support and love of community. As soon as our service begins, one can feel, palpably, the release of pressure, the calming of nerves and the restoration of hope and joy into our lives. Most weeks, I include poetry and Kavvanot from Jewish and non-Jewish sources that are designed to help us find that inner peace that we all seek.
So if you are stressed out? Come to our Kabbalat Shabbat regularly and order your stress-OUT!… And in doing so, in evicting that stress from your life, you’ll renew your body and replenish your soul. It’s much better to be here in person, but you can now live-stream our services almost every week from anywhere in the world. Just go to our Livestream page and follow TBEStamford, and you’ll receive an email reminder each time we go online.
But I’ll up the ante even more. If your office, whether it be law, medical, educational, financial, political…whatever, I would be happy to come and run spirituality sessions to de-stress you and your co-workers. Please be in touch! We could all use a little more mindfulness in the midst of our hyper busy lives.
JOIN US THIS SUMMER IN CENTRAL EUROPE!
Finally don’t forget about March 8th, when we will have our 30th anniversary showing of “Spark Among the Ashes,” recalling the Bar Mitzvah of Eric Strom in Poland, the first by a Jew since the Holocaust. At that time those interested in our upcoming trip to Poland, Budapest, Prague and Berlin will have the chance to find out more about the trip.