Friday, February 26, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb 26


Our Hebrew School students celebrated a snow-delayed Tu b'Shevat last Sunday.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal Tov Maddy!


No congregation can afford to be one size fits all, especially in this day and age. Some students decide to go on a decidedly "unorthodox" path to Bat Mitzvah. Such was the case with Maddy Cohen (with the tallit in the photo), one of our teens (and daughter of Jeff and Joan), who became Bat Mitzvah at a BBYO Shabbat service a few weeks ago.  I asked her if she could share with us some of what she said on that day.  Speaking about the portion "Yitro," (which features the Ten Commandments), she stated, "To me, it means you have your own commandments. It means staying involved with other things, whether in college with Hillel, or making sure I keep in touch with my friends, and ensuring that they know that they can come to with any problems they may have."  She went on to say that BBYO has helped her understand that being Jewish is "a massive part of who I am and I want to embrace it and celebrate it."   Mazal tov Maddy! We are really proud of you!

This Shabbat @ TBE

Join us this evening for Kabbalat Shabbat services at 7:30; we are delighted to welcome Beth Styles as this week's guest musician.  I'll also be featuring some readings from the new Conservative prayer book, Siddur Lev Shalem, just published this month.  I've been devouring the book this week (and if I seem extraordinarily preoccupied while praying you now know why).  The new book is modeled on the well-received High Holidays Machzor of the same name. Read more about it here.  Over the coming weeks, our Ritual Committee and other leadership will be looking closely at this book, for possible purchase.  If you would like to take a look at it, come by during the week (or after services tonight and tomorrow) and I'll be happy to show it to you.

And our celebration of Shabbat begins at 6 PM tonight with a special family Shabbat experience led by our 5th and 6th graders, featuring an American Idol theme (perfect for this week's portion of Ki Tisa, which is all about the Golden Calf).

Next Week: Shabbat Across Stamford

Don't forget Shabbat Across Stamford on March 4.  Hear Ruth Messenger, a real modern day Jewish hero.  Click here to sign up (today is the deadline).  Space is going fast!  Services next Friday evening will not be held here.  They will be at the Crowne Plaza on Summer St., and will begin at 5:30. The services are open to the public.

Leapin' Lizards, a Double Leap Year!

Feb. 29 is next week. It's rare that Jewish and secular leap years coincide.  The last time was 2008.  Now they do again.  While it might seem quite complicated to navigate two leap years simultaneously, this need not become the year of leaping dangerously.   But it can become a year of leaping meaningfully if we take advantage of that extra day AND that extra month.  For me, Adar 2 is allows me to double the joy of this most joyous month while giving me more time to prepare for Purim and Passover.  For more about the Jewish leap year and how it fits into the rhythm of Jewish time, , see my article, Judaism's Mulligan Month.  To see an excellent historical survey of how the Jewish leap year fits into other ancient calendars, click here.  Click here for an exploration into the magic and mystery of Feb. 29. And click here for a recent Parsha Packet with ideas on how to make the most of that gift of an extra day - or extra month - in our lives this year.   Finally, although Passover is still six weeks away, local supermarket chains have no idea that it's a Jewish leap year.  So if just like them you are chomping at the bit for matzah, here is the new, revised Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide.

 "Israel's Winter of Discontent" Rescheduled- Tues at 7:30

Bad weather brought us to postpone the "Hot Topics" program, "Israel's Winter of Discontent," until NEXT TUES., March 1, at 7:30 PM.   Join us for an hour of clips from Israeli television shocking, often inspiring, usually biting and almost always very funny (in a Jewish, "laugh-until-we-cry" kind of way).  So come for an hour - Super Tuesday will still be happening when you get home.  I promise!  I'll also share some of my reflections following my trip to Israel in January.  Speaking of which...
Lod Will Find a Way: Changing the Narrative

Arab and Jewish children sharing a snowy experience in Lod 
Photo by Dan Hammerman (see Dan's blog posting about this)

During my recent week-long trip to see Dan in Lod, I discovered that that city of shattered dreams in 1948 is fast becoming a gateway to reconciliation in 2016. I don't know at what age people begin to mistrust, but I do know that hatred can be arrested, because I saw that in Lod. Maybe this little city, mocked by Israelis but loved by the Louvre, can become the place where Jews and Arabs will learn to live in harmony.  See the rest of this article on my Times of Israel blog page .

There is no question that my son's experience in Lod has helped him to see a more human side of Israel.  In today's Ha'aretz, Ari Shavit bemoans the image of Israel among Jews on American campuses and suggests the creation of an Israeli Peace Corps, which will engage Jewish young  adults in acts of world repair.  It's a great idea, which, much like the American Jewish World Service, will channel the fantastic idealism and energy of young Jews in the direction of world repair.  As Shavit writes:

"The fact is that while most young people in North America and Europe have adopted universal values, both Israel and the organized Jewish world are perceived as tribal. The fact is that in an era in which the three gravest sins are Power, Privilege and Particularism, we are distortedly perceived, as Powerful, Privileged and Particularistic."  

Shavit admits that this idea is no panacea.  "If Israel betrays its democratic values," he writes, "no liberal young woman from Boston will want to be its partner in working for justice in the Negev, the Galilee or Africa. But in parallel to the internal struggle for the soul and future path of the Jewish democratic state, a new national enterprise for the Jewish people is needed, one that will bring us back to ourselves and to a righteous destiny."

This week, I was part of an interfaith panel at Greenwich High School.  It sounds like a joke... "A rabbi a minister and an imam walk into Greenwich High School," but it was very serious, and for me, eye opening.  The students were extremely attentive and open, and they asked great questions.  Fundamentalism and religious extremism were prime topics, as might be expected.  But when a question was asked about Israel, I sensed no sympathy in that packed room, even among people who identified as Jews.  I did my best to make Israel's case in a credible manner, but Shavit is absolutely correct when he writes:

 "No public relations campaign, no matter how brilliant, can defeat the BDS movement. Young America's growing aversion to Israel and the attacks on the Jewish state will not magically dissipate. The deep identity crisis that has befallen many young Jews will not be resolved with rhetoric. Only if we create a framework that will allow young Jews of the Diaspora and young Israelis to experience together the work of tikkun olam and tikkun Israel will we be able to tackle the enormous damage we brought upon ourselves in the last decades and ready the Jewish nation for the challenges of the third millennium."

Then I think back to what I saw in Lod and what Dan's program and programs like it, are trying to accomplish.   I faced some tough questions at Greenwich High.  Perhaps Lod is, at least in part, the answer.  What is clear to me is that American Jews who care about Israel need to be more engaged than ever, to help save Israel from its real external enemies, of which there are many, and also to help save Israel also from itself.  Only then will we be able to change the narrative on our high school and college campuses.

"Wedding Crashers," the Sequel, per Shulem Deen

People are still buzzing over Shulem Deen's visit a few weeks ago.  For those who want more, see this fascinating piece by Shaul Magid in Tablet Magazine.  (Prof Magid, also was involved in this recent intense conversation over the place of Jews and the Temple Mount, from Times of Israel).

And then there was this posting of Deen's last week on Facebook, describing his uninvited presence at his daughter's wedding.  It's lengthy, but hey, we're emotionally invested in this guy.  So here goes:

A special share:

Yesterday, I saw my two eldest daughters.

For eight years I waited for this, wondering if it will ever come, wondering if this was forever.

Yesterday, my second daughter, "Freidy," got married. I was not invited to the wedding, and I didn't plan to go, but in the end, encouraged by friends and family to "just show up," I put on my suit, ordered an Uber, and took the hour's drive up to New Square. I arranged with my brother to meet me, and we arrived around 1 am, just before the mitzvah tantz was to begin.

I was greeted at the door almost immediately by a man I call "Shragi" in my book -- real name is Yoily Breuer -- who ordered me to leave, would not allow me to enter the wedding hall, and threatened to call the cops. I told him he could call if he liked, but I wasn't leaving.

He screamed wherever I turned: "You write dirty books and dirty articles! Your children don't want you here!"

I didn't want to ruin my daughter's wedding, and I knew that by entering the hall proper I would create chaos, so I lingered in the lobby, where for over 30 minutes this maniac hovered whereever I stood, screaming, shouting, harassing.

"You write dirty articles in trayf magazines all over the world. You embarrass your children!"

I don't know where he gets his info from -- the man is a complete illiterate. This is the man I've had to deal with all along, the man who orchestrated my children's estrangement from me, has been telling them horrible things about how I chose to live my life, continues to lie to them outright just to get them to stay away.
All the while, other men came out of the hall to greet me. A group of men even started dancing with me, right there in the lobby. All the while Breuer circled and screamed like a maniac.

At one point, the groom heard I was there, as did my oldest son-in-law -- neither of whom I'd ever met -- and they came out to greet me, with big smiles, thanked me for coming.

One man wanted to know just one thing: "NU, did you bring a check? For the chosson-kallah?" He tapped the back of one hand on the palm of the other. "NU? DID YOU? Give me -- I'll make sure they get it."

Zisha Schmeltzer (who has a cameo in my book as "Zisha Schnitzler" asking for a donation at my son's bris in exchange for a blessing) was there too: asking now again for a donation in honor of my simcha, in exchange for a blessing. "My blessings work, you know it." He hasn't changed in 16 years.

Other men came out, shook my hand, asked me to come inside -- all the while Breuer stood shrieking that if I didn't leave I was ruining my daughter's wedding, and that he was going to call the cops. It was truly a surreal experience. On the one hand there was friendliness and genuine warmth. On the other was such cruelty by a handful of maniacs, led by Breuer and some others in my ex's family, who kept shouting insults. It was infuriating and comical and crushing all at once.

I wondered at one point if he might be right, that my children perhaps didn't want me there, and that the commotion was unsettling to many of the attendees. Soon after, however, my older son-in-law came to me and said: "Tziri wants to see you." 

She would meet me outside.

It took me a moment to recognize her, but no longer than a moment -- of course it was her.

What do you say to a beloved child you haven't seen and spoken to in eight years, whose entire adolescence you were barred from, whose wedding you missed? What do you say when there are so many questions, so many things to say, all of them urgent, but your mind is dizzy with the suddenness of it all?

What came out of my mouth was, "I've missed you." I felt my insides crack. Last time we spoke she was 13, angry and sullen. Now she was 21, beautiful and grown and smiling, yet still very much the same person. We barely had a few seconds. My brother, who was with me, snapped a couple photos with his phone, which wouldn't do the moment justice, and before we knew it, the Breuer fellow was right next to us, screaming at my daughter for daring to speak with me. Frightened of him, she froze, and I turned to ask him to leave. His yelling continued, and my daughter, looking traumatized and overwhelmed, quickly ran off.

I did not get to see her again.

Later, with the help of the tzaddik of our generation, my ex-BIL Lipa Schmeltzer, my "Freidy," the bride, came out. Her mother and some others tried to prevent her, but Lipa persisted. I was stunned when I saw her; she looked beautiful and so grown-up -- it was hard for me to reconcile it with the image of her as a little kid. I told her how radiant she looked, what a terrific guy her groom looked to be, and how happy I was for her. Also, how much I think of her every single day.

Now, too, Breuer was back beside us, screaming for me to stay away from her. I told her I loved her. She leaned in close to me, and put her hand on my arm, and I couldn't resist and hugged her -- despite my brother hissing at me prior: "no hugs!" Her groom stood nearby the whole time, beaming. "Make sure she gets this," I said, and I handed him an envelope with some letters and gifts and cards that had been returned unopened over the years.

Then she disappeared back inside.

It hurt that I didn't get to see my younger ones -- Chaya Suri, Akiva, Hershy, (18, 16, 14). Chaya Suri was surrounded by women who wouldn't let any
one close to even try. A couple people tried to get my sons to come out, but they chose not to. I left feeling at once uplifted, sad, angry, joyful, and anxious -- the kind of mixed emotions that keep your adrenaline going and leave you awake in bed for hours afterward. Joyful for the good. Sad that it had to be this way. Angry at those who sought, out of pure malice, to inflict unnecessary pain. Anxious about where this will all lead, about the if/when/where/how of the future. Anxious about doing what's right not only for me but for them, for everyone.

It all lasted only about an hour. I got home at 3 am. Now, a day later, I am still processing. Still shaking. Still feeling the insanity, but also seeing the bright gleaming ray of hope.
Below: (1-2) "Tziri," my oldest, with her husband and me; (3-4) at her own mitzvah tantz three yeas ago, when we were entirely estranged; and (5) during the "good times" as a child.

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