Monday, March 14, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 12


Shabbat Shalom

As we Spring Forward this weekend, we can even look beyond this Spring, even as we look back to a fabulous Shabbat-Across-Stamford last weekend, where we shared the Sabbath with over 400 from our community.   Our summer trip to Central Europe is a "go," and we are extending the deadline for those who still wish to sign on.  Please go to the trip's website for more information and to sign up.

Syrians, Stamford, Israel and Islam: A Response to Hate

How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.  

This week saw more terror attacks in Israel, including one that took the life of American tourist, Taylor Force in Jaffa, a short distance from where Vice President Biden was eating dinner.  This low-grade intifada seems destined to continue for some time.  It is outrageous that acts of violence are not sufficiently condemned by Palestinian leaders.  It is also unfortunate that neither the Arab nor Israeli leadership offers the slightest glimmer of home for a path out of this quagmire. (For a more humorous look on how Israelis don't let the terrorists win, see this popular video).

Despite the continued terror and other provocations, the accusations, heard again this week, that "Islam hates America" are unfounded and incendiary.  To paraphrase the NRA (which I don't often do), religions don't kill people, people do.  If books could kill, our Bible would be on mayhem's best seller list. There are many objectionable verses in the Tanakh (you can start with these). But hundreds of years after the Good Book was completed, the rabbis in the Talmud took bold and revolutionary steps to offset its most troubling ideas, just as the New Testament reinterpreted the Hebrew Bible for Christianity.

Just as Judaism is much more than a few problematic verses from the Torah, Islam is much more than the sum of the Quran's most troubling parts.  While there is no doubt that a virulent strain of Islam has caused tremendous destruction in the Muslim world - and constitutes a great danger for everyone else - Islam remains an honored world religion that teaches love and tolerance.  For those who believe that the Muslim world could never accept the state of Israel, for example, it is hard to explain Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, two Muslim world leaders who explicitly did. Read of the Albanian Muslims during the Holocaust, along with many Turks and the Grand Mufti of Rhodes - that's the part of the Muslim-Jewish story people don't talk about.

So what can we do?  How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.

A Syrian refugee family is coming to Stamford.  That's right.  Stamford. It's all paid for.  We are working on bringing a second.  I have made a meaningful contribution from my Mitzvah Fund so that our congregation could be counted among those who are demonstrating the same kind of warmth and hospitality Jews received from the Albanians and Danes during the Holocaust.

The First Congregational Church on Bedford St. is leading the way in providing an affordable two bedroom apartment.  Much as we did for Russian Jews when they came here, the community will provide furnishings for these refugees and will help them settle into their new surroundings.  Translators are being sought, and I'm sure there will be other needs to fill.  I'm very proud of how our interfaith community has stepped up, in the face of the human tragedy that we have been witnessing.  Stay tuned!
Welcoming the stranger is a mitzvah repeated 36 times in the Torah.  Once you get beyond the objectionable verses, there's lots of love there. 


It's along those lines that we are reaching out to interfaith families - and to their parents - as never before - so that no one will feel like a stranger here.  See at the bottom of this email a flyer for our upcoming inaugural program, "Sharing Passover with your Interfaith Family."  And spread the word!

The Pewish State

Those people at Pew have done it again.  Just as they surveyed American Jews in 2013, now they've surveyed Israel's Jews, and the results are both obvious (most Jews say Israel is necessary for long term Jewish survival) and stunning (48% of Israeli Jews think Arabs should be expelled).  You can read everything at the survey's website.  There's a lot to digest (here's the full 247 page report; download for your Shabbat reading pleasure)but I've already taken a heaping helping and plan to discuss the results during our weekly Torah study session at services this Shabbat morning (which, incidentally, is also a Hebrew School Shabbat-School day, so I encourage parents to stop by in between their sessions). Here are some of the survey's charts and graphs, which will form the basis for our discussion.

I tend to be an optimist, but it's hard to downplay that daunting number of Jewish Israelis who favor some sort of population transfer of Arabs - 48 percent.  Even during times of great fear and unceasing terror, such a number is both perplexing and tragic.  

Again I ask, as I did above: How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.  Maybe this survey will help Jewish Israelis to understand that their Israeli Muslim neighbors are feeling a tremendous amount of pressure as well. Maybe it will inspire some more efforts at building trust between groups.  And looking at this survey, Arab-Jewish relations are not the only concern. 

It's also not encouraging that Reform and Conservative Judaism have made such minuscule inroads over the decades, claiming an affiliation of around 5 percent.  But a look at the larger picture says something quite different.  Most Israelis who call themselves secular or "traditional" are actually closer to American style Conservative Jews, in practice and ideology, than they might realize.

You can read my comments on the 2013 survey of American Jews, along with an interesting perspective from Rabbi Art Green, "From Pew Will Go Forth Torah."  Here is the original 2013 survey. One question it raises: What does it really mean to define oneself as "religious" or "secular" in this day and age?  The lines are not so clearly drawn.  The same is true  among Israeli Jews.  

Judaism's Next Big Things

In this week's portion of Pekuday, we read in Exodus, chapter 40:

יג  וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן, אֵת, בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתוֹ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתוֹ, וְכִהֵן לִי.13 And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments; and thou shalt anoint him, and sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest's office.
יד  וְאֶת-בָּנָיו, תַּקְרִיב; וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ אֹתָם, כֻּתֳּנֹת.14 And thou shalt bring his sons, and put tunics upon them.
טו  וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר מָשַׁחְתָּ אֶת-אֲבִיהֶם, וְכִהֲנוּ, לִי; וְהָיְתָה לִהְיֹת לָהֶם מָשְׁחָתָם, לִכְהֻנַּת עוֹלָם--לְדֹרֹתָם.15 And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto Me in the priest's office; and their anointing shall be to them for an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.'
Just as Aaron was told to anoint his successors, so in the Jewish world do we need to look to a new generation of ideas and role models.

This past week, the Slingshot Guide was released.  Slingshot's work is to help Jews find, fund and connect to meaningful, exciting experiences in Jewish life.

The organizations included in the Slingshot Guide are driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities - both within and beyond the Jewish community - as never before.

TBE has been involved with and inspired by more of these groups than you can imagine.  Most recently, for example, we heard from Footsteps, which assists those leaving the ultra-Orthodox world to transition to the mainstream community.  My Shabbat morning Torah lessons are often inspired by educational websites like Sefaria or G-dcast.  Our kids have found the magic of Jewish books in the PJ Libraryand KESHET has helped us to become more LGBT-inclusive.

I've linked this year's list of Slingshot organizations here. Take some time to immerse yourself in them.  Maybe it will inspire you to come up with the Next Big Idea to enhance Jewish life!  And maybe some of the ideas you discover can enhance the life of this congregation more specifically.

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