Saturday, June 17, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jason Busch on Shelach Lecha

I’m sure most of you remember where you were on the night of Feb. 5.  That’s because over a hundred million Americans were watching the Super Bowl.  And at halftime, about 99 ½ million thought the Patriots were going to lose.  As a big Patriots fan, I have to admit that I was one of them.
After halftime, it was as if they were a different team.  But things didn’t get better right away.  First they gave up another touchdown to fall behind 28-3.  Twenty five points down!
But slowly they began to come back.  First they got a touchdown, but they missed the extra point.  Then they drove down again, but had to settle for a field goal.  Again, it would have been easy to give up.
You know the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?”  Well that’s what happened to the Patriots.  They scored the last 31 points of the game, including a touchdown in overtime, to win the Super Bowl.
But that expression could have been invented by Joshua.  In my haftarah, Joshua, the new leader, who had just taken over from Moses, sends two spies to scout out Jericho.  Forty years earlier, Moses had sent spies to check out the land.  That time, things didn’t turn out so well.  My portion of Shelach Lecha describes what happened.  Twelve spies were sent and, while they all thought the land was worth inhabiting, ten of them were terrified at the people who were living there.  They told the Israelites that they felt like grasshoppers in their eyes and that the people in the land looked like giants.
But this time, forty years later, the two spies who went to Jericho discovered that the inhabitants of the land were terrified of them.  
With that good news in hand, Joshua set out to conquer the city.  But the walls were huge!  (insert joke here J)
So God told Joshua to march around the city and complete one circuit, and repeat that for six days.  They did as God told them.  Then, the seventh time around, when they concluded the circuit, they blew the shofar and, as the song says, the walls came tumblin’ down. 
What’s the lesson here?  Why did they need to walk around it so many times?
I think it’s to prove this point – that nothing good in life comes easily, and when things don’t go right, keep on trying.  As Edwin Louis Cole said, “Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit.”
As I become bar mitzvah this morning, that’s an important lesson that will help me as I face the challenges in life.
For my mitzvah project, I am donating food and other items for people who are less fortunate to the Kosher food pantry of the Jewish Family Service.
Now its time for the thank yous

Friday, June 16, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 16

Shabbat shalom!
This Shabbat we celebrate with the family of Jason Busch, who becomes bar mitzvah.  Also, join us this evening as Meira Rosenberg, a longtime TBE member, will talk about her journey to authoring her new young adult novel, Indiana Bamboo.  Mazal tov to Jason and Meira (and you can read the d'var Torah of last week's bat mitzvah, Sarah Eisenstein, here).
This evening we'll also be featuring some fabulous new musicians, Vladimir Katz and Efrat Shapira(See Efrat on YouTube).  

Looking ahead to next week, on Pride Shabbat, we will feature Brian Gelfand and the long anticipated return of world famous violinist Alicia Svigals.

As we celebrate Pride Month at next week's service TBE member Elise Feldman will share some personal reflections about her journey.  Many of us have come to know Elise well through her involvement in our choir, Hevre young families group and her leadership in any number of areas.  We are grateful to have her here!
On a related topic...
Hiddush, a watchdog for religious freedom and equality in Israel, just released a fascinating new survey stating that support for same-sex marriage/civil unions in Israel has reached a - record high of 79% of the Jewish Israeli public. This reflects a consistent increase in public support for the official establishment of state recognized same-sex partnerships in Israel, which stood at 76% in 2016 and in previous years ranged from 60-65%. These findings arose from a Hiddush-commissioned survey conducted by the Rafi Smith Polling Institute.  And as you can see below, this support runs pretty much across the political spectrum, except among the Ultra Orthodox.

That's the good news.  The rest of the story, as Hiddush reports, is not so good:
Israel not only denies same-sex couples the right to marry, against the clear public will, but also denies hundreds of thousands of heterosexual couples the right to family because it granted exclusive monopoly over Jewish marriages to the Orthodox Rabbinate. This political reality also forces more than a million and a half additional citizens to marry in ceremonies that do not befit their beliefs and lifestyles. The data prove that the establishment of legal marriage for same-sex couples and religious freedom in general have practically become the public consensus of the Israeli Jewish population. The public's will has never been translated into legislation because all successive Israeli Governments, from both the left and the right, have instead traded away the public's freedom of marriage and divorce to the Orthodox parties in exchange for their political support.
Israel remains the only Western democracy in the world, which severely restricts the freedom of marriage. In fact, nearly ten percent of the population cannot marry at all. 42 countries now allow for marriage or legal registration of same-sex couples. In other words, the gap between Israel and the rest of the enlightened world in the arena of LGBTQ rights is only increasing. 
The gap between the Israeli public and Israeli government on the issue of civil marriage and religious freedom is growing.  Last month Hiddush released a survey showing that well over half of Jewish Israelis would prefer that the Chief Rabbinate not have a monopoly on performing weddings.

And that, in my mind, is further good news, for although this unfair situation has been around since the beginnings of the state, the public push for change is eventually going to force that change to happen, as it did here in the US with interracial and gay marriage.  Marital freedom in Israel is something that American Jews need to see as our issue too, since questions of personal status speak to our legitimacy as Jews and the core values of the Judaism we espouse.  And the fact that Haredi Jews, who represent only ten percent of the population, can impose their will on everyone else, is very troubling and inherently undemocratic.
These issues should matter to those who really care about the future of Israel. That's why I've invited Rabbi Uri Regev, executive director of Hiddush, to speak here this coming fall.

A Trip of Many Lifetimes

Exactly two weeks from now, Mara and I will lead a group of 22 from our TBE family in TBE's first-ever Jewish Heritage Tour of Central Europe.
Some aspire to take the "trip of a lifetime," but the significance of this one will span hundreds of lifetimes, as we look back upon central events of Jewish history, bearing witness to some of our greatest triumphs along with undoubtedly the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen.  
Elie Wiesel believed that when we hear the story of a witness, we too become witnesses, and through us the story lives on; a living scroll ever unfolding.  "Because I remember, I despair," Wiesel said. "Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair." 
As I remarked on Yom KippurWiesel's death last year was the end of an era - he was our Survivor in Chief, representing all the witnesses.  He was our prophet, and the prophet's voice has now been silenced. But he charged us with the responsibility of being witnesses in his stead.  That is why this congregational trip is so important.  This is not merely a tour of places like Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Prague and Berlin - although we'll have lots of opportunity to enjoy these glorious cities.  Make no mistake, this is a pilgrimage, to places where Jewish civilization thrived for a thousand years, and to Auschwitz, where human civilization nearly died in a thousand days.
Auschwitz was the epicenter of it all.  It is a place where all civilized human beings must go, to remember, and pray, and to take upon ourselves the mantle of witness, to pick up the gauntlet from Wiesel.  It is not a burden, but an honor to respond to that sacred calling.
Ultimately, this "trip of many lifetimes"will direct our attention less to the past than to the future. 
The Jew has an obligation to remember, but then to shed the shell of victim, the confining shell of resentment and anger and despair, and to transform the disaster into an embrace of life and a relentless pursuit of justice and dignity for every human being.  For a Jew is responsible not merely to be a witness, but to dream, to imagine a better future, despite the darkness that surrounds us.  Shimon Peres, who also died last year, said we should use our imagination more than our memory.  "Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death," he said, "but they live very different lives!"
The message of this trip is this: To be a Jew is to live acutely, relentlessly and compassionately, and to be moving forward while always glancing over our be a witness to the past and a beacon toward the future.  To cling to life and purpose with all our might.   And all the while to be totally and unabashedly human.
This trip will hardly be a downer: Along the way our group will encounter some true heroes to inspire us - like Mordechai Anielevicz and Janusz Korczak in Warsaw, Rabbi Moshe Isserles and Oscar Schindler in Krakow, along with TBE's own Eric Strom, Hannah Senesh and Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest,  the Maharal of Prague and the beautiful children of Terezin - and then, in the supreme irony, we will go to Berlin, where the destruction began but where an incomprehensible Jewish renaissance is taking place, and where a new spirit of reconciliation is taking root.
Oh and we're going to have lots of fun. Still, as witnesses, we'll represent this community, and one of our missions will be to bring the rest of you along with us through what we send back to you in real time.  So in early July look out for photos, videos and words from me and the others, testimony that will go far beyond a few random Trip Advisor ratings, as we embark on this trip of many lifetimes.

So much of our purpose in taking this journey is embedded in Emil Fackenheim's idea of a 614th commandment (quoted below), never to forget the Holocaust and to prevent Hitler from gaining a posthumous victory.  We have many reasons to bear witness, ranging from the particularistic (preserving the Jewish people) to the universal (to prevent genocide from happening anywhere).  No doubt, though, that Auschwitz has become sacred ground - a holy place that every Jew - and every civilized person - should visit.

What does the Voice of Auschwitz command?
Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories. They are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz lest their memory perish. They are forbidden to despair of man and his world, and to escape into either cynicism or otherworldliness, lest they cooperate in delivering the world over to the forces of Auschwitz. Finally, they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish. A secularist Jew cannot make himself believe by a mere act of will, nor can he be commanded to do so....And a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary relationships with Him. One possibility, however, is wholly unthinkable. A Jew may not respond to Hitler's attempt to destroy Judaism by himself cooperating in its destruction. In ancient times, the unthinkable Jewish sin was idolatry. Today, it is to respond to Hitler by doing his work.
          For a Jew hearing the commanding Voice of Auschwitz the duty to remember and to tell the tale is not negotiable. It is holy. The religious Jew still possesses this word. The secularist Jew is commanded to restore it. A secular holiness, as it were, has forced itself into his vocabulary...
          Jews after Auschwitz represent all humanity when they affirm their Jewishness and deny the Nazi denial... The commanding Voice of Auschwitz singles Jews out; Jewish survival is a commandment which brooks no compromise. It was this Voice which was heard by the Jews of Israel in May and June 1967 when they refused to lie down and be slaughtered...
          For after Auschwitz, Jewish life is more sacred than Jewish death, were it even for the sanctification of the divine Name. The left-wing secularist Israeli journalist Amos Kenan writes: "After the death camps, we are left only one supreme value: existence."
Five Rabbinic Suggestions for Father's Day
My father, Cantor Michal Hammerman, on the right, 
with his two cantorial brothers, Saul and Herman, 1971

While Jewish mothers usually get all the attention, this is the weekend to celebrate Jewish fathers.
1) A child should not stand or sit in a place where his father is accustomed to standing or sitting (Kiddishin 31b).  Some call this the "Archie Bunker Law."
 2) A child should not support his father's opponents in a scholarly dispute. In other words, they forbade "Patrilinial Dissent." (Sorry for that groan-inducing pun)
 3) The rabbis praised Duma, a heathen who refused to awaken his father, although he needed a key lying under his father's pillow in order to conclude a transaction that would have netted him a profit of 600,000 gold coins. One can imagine how proud Dama's father was of his son when he woke up...
4) The rabbis state firmly that a child is obligated to attend to the material needs of his parents while they are alive and to mourn for them properly when they die.
 5) One more suggestion not mentioned in the Talmud: on Father's Day, let your dad sleep nice and late!
-          Also, read how Jewish fathers are the opposite of TV dads.
-          Check out this historical survey of Jewish fathers.
-          Two favorite articles I've written about fatherhood, following the births of my two sons: "Birth Rite" and "Fathers and Sons"
-          The Forward asked for Six Word Memoirs about Jewish fathers. Here are a few of them:
Actor, scrap man, embellisher of of stories.
Ilene Stein, 64, Riverside, Calif., about Max M. Fields
He lives generously. That's my inheritance.
Paula Chaiken, 42, Kingston, Pa., about Gene Chaiken
Dad's matzo balls? Hard. Heart? Soft.
Cheryl Levine, 48, Yellow Springs, Ohio, about Barry Levine
Dad, homework done, healthy. Don't worry!
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 46, congresswoman, Weston, Fla., about Larry Wasserman
Always making puns, always causing groans.   (See "Patrilineal Dissent," above)
Julie Grossman, 26, North Bethesda, Md., about Garry Grossman
Sense of humor, debt-free educations.
Alexandra Schmidt, 44, Niskayuna, N.Y. about John Lutch
Eating ice cream in underwear. 5 a.m.
Rich Cohen, 45, author of "Israel is Real," Ridgefield, Conn., about Herb Cohen
Zayde shined my shoes and heart.
Donna Erbs, 52, Portland, Ore., about Max Joffee
Waiter, I ordered the kosher lobster.
Shira Kaiserman, 28, New York, about Ronald Kaiserman
Clean linen handkerchiefs comfort me still.
Roberta Rosenberg, 58, Clarksville, Md., about Harry Rosenberg
Brimming bookshelves - bent, leant and shmoozed.
Wayne Firestone, 49, president of the Genesis Prize Foundation, Rockville, Md., about Bruce Firestone
Mel Brooks movie marathon: perfect Shabbos.
Casey Stein, 25, New York, about Alan Stein
Dude dug prunes, melbas and mama.
Henry Greenspan, 65, Ann Arbor, Mich., about Albert Lewis Greenspan
Theirs - writer, scholar, lecturer. Mine - Aba. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Father's Day!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sarah Eisenstein on Behaalotcha

Let me begin with a story, since I love to tell stories, especially this one, which has to do with my dad’s bar mitzvah. 

His rabbi was very strict and formal - unlike Rabbi Hammerman – and yes, Rabbi Hammerman told me to say that.

So in my dad’s bar mitzvah speech, he was not allowed to tell any jokes… and jokes are pretty much what my dad is made of!

But on the day of his bar mitzvah, he left his speech at home.  And while my grandpa and the rabbi were fuming on the sides, my dad had to reach back to try to remember what he could…but all he could remember were the jokes he was going to put in. 

So he gave his speech and the congregation was roaring with laughter, while the rabbi was pouting in the background.

 By the way, there’s no restriction on how many jokes I can use.  After all, my portion of Beha’alotcha is the funniest in whole Torah.  It’s so funny it actually has the word “ha” in it!

This is where you are supposed to be laughing!

Life is filled with stories funny and sad, and they all come together to teach us lessons and help us grow.  The stories in the Torah help to map out the journey of our lives, and in many ways my journey to adulthood beginning today.

My portion also contains many stories, both humorous and serious, and each has lessons that can help me on my journey.

It so happens that the theme for my celebration is based on my interest in Asia, where my grandma is from.   Having a diverse background has helped me to appreciate how travel can change our perspective.  The more we experience, good and bad, the more we grow - even from our mistakes.

In my portion, the Israelites begin their journey toward the land of Israel, after months of staying put. These verses are framed by two nuns, Hebrew letters that are facing backwards.   It’s a little strange and no one really knows why those backwards nuns are put there in the first place. 

Maybe it’s to teach us that while we always need to be moving forward, at the same time we need to look back and learn from what we’ve done in the past.    Or perhaps it’s to prepare us for the fact that for every two steps forward, there will be one step back.  There will be lots of setbacks – or step backs - along the way.

Incidentally, the prayers where we take the Torah out of the ark, along with the prayer when we return the Torah to the ark, begin with these verses that are between the nuns.   Back in those days, the Ark would actually lead them on their journey.   Today the ark stays in one place, but the Torah’s journey to and from the ark is a reminder for us to take the lessons of the Torah with us on OUR journeys.  Just as the ark goes on a journey, so do we.

One example in my portion is a story where Miriam and Aaron gossip about their brother Moses.  As a result, Miriam gets afflicted by a terrible disease, leprosy.  But Moses forgives her and prays for her recovery.  This is an example of how we should always be open and forgiving, as Moses was.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 9


The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Jon Eisenstein
 and Debbie Eisenstein in honor of their daughter, 
Sarah, becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

 Hope in Motion and Harmony in Action
Scenes from Sunday's Cancer Walk and last night's Cantor's Concert
and stay tuned for photos from last night's concert.

Shabbat shalom!
Mazal tov this weekend to Sarah Eisenstein and her family as she becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.  This evening,we will be honoring our graduating 12th graders with a special blessing (and a gift) and also awarding our Men's Club Scholarships.  Additionally, some TBE college students will join us, particularly those who have been on Birthright Israel or wish to share campus experiences regarding Israel.  We will have some 8th graders as well who also just returned from Israel experiences.  This is a perfect way to recall the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, as we are this week.

And mark your calendars for June 16, when TBE's Meira Rosenberg will discuss her new book, Indiana Bamboo.  Mazal tov, Meira!  Also, our annual Pride Shabbat will take place on June 23rd.  Stay tuned for more on that!
Stay tuned also for our Jewish Heritage Trip to Europe will embark on July 2.  Twenty two of us will be going, and in a real way we will represent the entire congregation as we will visit places that continue to define us, both as Jews and Americans.  I am hoping to send back a number of dispatches from our journey.
Fault Lines and Menorahs

The Six Day War jubilee has stirred considerable interest in Israel and in the conflicting narratives that often confuse us.  Over the coming months, we will be commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN resolution that paved the way for partition  and that will be followed up with Israel's 70th anniversary next spring.  So it will be a big Israel year here.
With that in mind, please mark your calendars now for two special events in the fall:
November 7: Hoffman Memorial Lecture.  Our speakers will be Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart, well-known authors and pundits who span the right-left spectrum when it comes to Israel.  Through their popular podcast series sponsored by the Forward, "Fault Lines" they cross their ideological divides to tackle pressing issues facing the Jewish community. Peter and Daniel prove that meaningful conversation can take place despite significant fault lines. We are delighted to be hosting them both.
December 1: Uri Regev, executive director of Hiddush and former head of the Reform movement in Israel, will speak to us about religious freedom and equality in Israel, with particular regard to marriage rights for Jewish Israelis.  Regev visited TBE this week to speak to a group of Fairfield County rabbis and cantors (and it was so nice to meet with colleagues from up and down the pike) about many of the issues surrounding Jewish pluralism that tend too often to be swept under the rug. 
Uri also told me an interesting tale about the large cast iron menorah that is outside my office (see photo above).  The artist, David Palumbo, is well known for having designed the cast iron gates to the Knesset as well as the gates to the memorial pavilion at Yad Vashem.  What I did not know was that this decorated Israeli artist was a victim of Israel's endless culture wars.  His workshop was on Mt Zion, not far from a yeshiva that on a weekly basis extended a chain barrier across the road to keep people from driving in the area on Shabbat.  On a fateful Friday in 1966, Palumbo was riding on his motorcycle on Mt Zion, did not see the chain and was killed in the most gruesome manner imaginable.

One could say that the man who created the greatest artistic works of Jewish national unity, spiritual inspiration and healing, was killed by an act of religious intolerance and exclusion.

The menorah as a religious symbol has a fascinating history - and it is the subject of our Torah and haftarah readings this Shabbat. (Click for info packet)
Uri Regev, like Gordis and Beinart, are seeking to empower all of us to feel fully invested in contemporary Jewry's great work in progress, the State of Israel - the state symbolized and brought together by the menorah.

Three Pillars: My Greeting for the Cantor's Concert

Here are my words  as originally posted in the electronic journal for last night's concert:
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome everyone to our annual Cantor's Concert.  Tonight is about partnership and a leadership formula that has sustained Jewish communities for centuries.
A synagogue, like a stool, requires three firm legs to stand - a formula that is even found in our liturgy.  Almost exactly a thousand years ago, a prayer was added to the siddur to be recited on Shabbat morning, bridging the Torah reading and the Musaf service.  This prayer is called Yekum Purkan (literally, "May the deliverance arise"). (See that prayer in our new prayerbook). Its three paragraphs ask for divine protection for 1) religious leadership and students, 3) the membership as a whole, and 3) administrative leaders and volunteers who provide for the essential needs of the community, such as candles, wine for Kiddush and Havdalah and food for guests and the poor.
Even a thousand years ago, leaders understood that the sacred work of a congregation had to be a team effort, and if any of those legs were missing, the stool would not be able to stand.
Tonight we celebrate the strength of each of those pillars.  With regard to religious leadership, I could have no partner more passionate and inspirational than Cantor Magda Fishman.  Each day she challenges us to climb ever higher into the spiritual stratosphere, and her voice and energy give us a hefty boost in that direction. And this evening I warmly welcome her travel partners, the Divas, to Stamford and TBE.
With regard to membership, the incredible buzz generated by this concert is in no small part due to the sustained dedication our membership has demonstrated for our sacred work, and the excitement that we all share as we complete a highly successful programming year.  Special thanks are due to the family of Norma and Milton Mann z'l and the Mann Foundation for their sponsorship of our Cantor's Concert series.
And last but certainly not least, there is that third vital leg, embodied here for the past decade by our executive director, Steve Lander - and embodied by Lieba elsewhere in our community.  I've often thought that Steve and I aren't simply partners.  To paraphrase the Joker and Jerry Maguire, Steve completes me.  All the areas where I am not particularly skilled (like, say, fixing anything) are areas where he excels.  I'd say that the reverse might be true too, except that Steve delivers a mean d'var Torah - and he never steps on the punch line.  
My family and I have come to know the entire Lander family quite well over the past decade, and our love and respect deepens by the day.  If Cantor Fishman is the soul of our synagogue, than Steve Lander is its beating heart.  I could not be more fortunate to be partnering with them - and with our other talented professional and lay leaders.
So let's all celebrate - for tonight is a reflection of who we are and what we aspire to be.
Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Mickey Flaum-Souksamlane on Shavuot

Chag Samayach--Happy Shavuot!

Today I would like to talk to you about how both positive and negative experiences have the ability to leave an impact on our lives.

I am sure if you thought about it, you could think back to the most impactful moments of your life, and see how they affected you.    What made these experiences so powerful for you?

Powerful experiences are shaped when you’re part of an event that makes you feel something so strongly, that your brain imprints the experience and then stores it away.

The most impactful experiences are usually derived from fear, sadness, happiness, curiosity, or pain.

When these emotions are at the center, you are most likely to be impacted in a real way. These experiences can also shape your morals and stay with you forever.

For example, a moment that really impacted me was when my little brother Evan was born.  I was about three at the time.  Then later on, I remember teaching Evan how to swim.  The experience made me become more protective of him – and more protective in general.  I don’t let anyone pick on Evan – except for me!

The Torah reading I read for you today describes what most would call the most impactful of all experiences in Jewish history because this is when the Jews received the Torah.  It’s found in Exodus chapters 19 and 20.

One aspect of the scene at Mount Sinai is especially curious.

It states in chapter 19, verse 17: “Moses led the people out of the camp toward God and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.”

The Midrash interprets the phrase ‘bottom of the mountain’ quite literally: the people were standing, not at the foot of the mountain, but underneath it.

The Midrash continues, saying,

“The Holy One held the mountain over them like a bucket and warned them: If you accept the Torah — good. And if not — here you will be buried.” (Shabbat 88a)”

Imagine the pressure they felt at that moment.  It’s amazing how the Midrash uses the term bucket to describe the mountain, because the Israelites must have felt the same pressure under the mountain as Michael Jordan felt in game six of the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz when he made the game winning bucket.

Overcoming pressure and hardship is what makes an experience truly impactful – the key is to take that hardship and turn it into a positive.

Specifically, as I stand here, I remember my mother explaining to me the hardships that my grand-mother went through, and how those hardships ultimately led her to her untimely death.  After my grandpa died of a heart attack when my mom was 4, my grandma got super depressed and committed suicide while my mom was still young.

My Bar Mitzvah project is to spread suicide awareness in memory of my grandma by raising money.

Suicide is a big problem that needs to be fixed:
  • Each year, 44,193 people die by suicide,
  • There are an average of 25 attempts for every suicide that results in death.
  • More people die by suicide than by homicide in the United States.
  • Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death across all ages
  • In addition, for the age range of 10-34 suicide is the second leading cause of death.
  • Suicide costs the US $44 billion a year
I’ve put together a list of suicide prevention programs that you can donate to online.

On this Shavuot, I am accepting the Torah, just as the entire Jewish people accepted it thousands of years ago, which is just a little bit longer than Dirk Nowitzki has been in the NBA.  I’m proud to be celebrating my bar mitzvah on this special holiday.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sophie Blomberg on Naso

Good morning folks. Shabbat Shalom. Those of you who know me know that I lead an unbelievably busy life. Check out my schedule on a random Thursday. I wake up at 6:45 am.  If needed - facetime friends to finalize studying for a test, out of the house and on the bus by 7:30, in school until 2:30, school basketball until 4:00, race to Hebrew School until 6, grab a slice of pizza at temple, meet my Bat Mitzvah tutor until 6:45 when mom picks me up and takes me to Travel basketball practice until 9.  
I arrive home around 9:15. Dinner. Homework and more Bat Mitzvah prep. No time for TV, no time to hang out. Bed by 10:30-11.
7 hours later I do it all again except delete Hebrew school and tutor and add in 1.5 -2 hours of swim practice or a private lesson.
You may think I am a bit nuts. A bit overscheduled.
You might think that this schedule would make me a little bit cranky. That is just not the case.   I get good grades, enjoy everything I do and can usually smile my way through the day.
            So… you may ask… what is my secret? I will tell you in a second… but first a word from the Torah.
My portion includes something very unusual and unexpected. There was a class of people in ancient times known as the Nazirites. Nazarites took vows to be set apart from others for the service of G-d; which required them to abstain from certain foods and beverages - including wine. They refused to cut any hair on their bodies.  They could not even visit the graves of their deceased family members because they did not want to be “ritually impure.”  They went above and beyond what others did at the time. They imposed strict order and limits on how they controlled their life and they did this voluntarily, dedicating themselves to G-d.
So, the Torah is teaching us, that in order to get control of our lives, we need to give something – and to go above and beyond the rules that are already in place.
In order to structure my time to get things done, like the Nazerite, I have chosen to give up certain things, like social media with my friends on most weekdays and, believe it or not, television.  Yes it’s true.  On most weekdays and even weekends when I have games or meets or, yes, services, I watch almost no TV.   For instance, I’m still on the second season of Grey’s Anatomy, which came out twelve years ago
People of my generation have found other ways to reduce their stress levels found in this chaotic world that do not require giving up something like TV.  Unfortunately for the Nazerites, they never had Fidgit spinners, Fidgit cubes or Stress balls - are all items that we use today to reduce our stress. And then there is slime…Most of you know that beginning this past March, slime was a big hit. Slime is today’s silly putty. It can consist of a wide variety of ingredients including glue, foam hand soap, shaving cream (preferably your father’s Barbisol hidden in the closet), lotions, food dye and borax.  A true slime maker will also have glitter, foam beads or sequins on hand. You may wonder why in the world anyone would want to make this gooey, sticky, substance.
Well, it accomplishes several goals.  For one thing, it drives our parents crazy, including mine.  I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say, that slime stain is still on the kitchen ceiling.  Also, I used to sell slime to my friends and made some money off of it.  But most of all, slime gives us a way to relax when we are stressed out.   If the Nazerites had had slime, their life would have been much less stressful!
I don’t know if it’s the slime or the lack of TV or the time I don’t waste online, but whatever it is, I think I’ve found the secret to being able to live a happy life with such a chaotic schedule.
In fact, I just don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now that my bat mitzvah studies are over.  I suppose I could stop by and read some Torah from time to time. Or maybe I’ll just finish Grey’s Anatomy.
(Put hands out as if weighing your options)
Torah…Grey’s Anatomy…. Grey’s Anatomy… Torah.
You know what?  I might just do both!
For my mitzvah project, I arranged for a swim event at the Westhill pool as a fundraiser for Swim Across America, helping to raise money for cancer research.  Thus far I’ve raised $2,294. 
Swimming is a great passion of mine.  I’ve been swimming since I was five and made the state meet twice; I practice five times a week for up to two hours each time and… which is why I wanted to write a dvar Torah about how to manage a very busy schedule!
Raising money for cancer research is very important to me because cancer has touched my life in many ways. I was named after my great grandmother, Estelle Klein, who died after a very long battle with cancer at age 93. I understand she was a very strong and special person who always put others before herself. She was a fighter. Although she wasn’t an athlete like me, she never gave up. Sadly, I never got to meet her but I can see that I got my strength and drive from her.
I have also been touched by a close friend’s brother, Eli Schwartz. Eli was diagnosed with cancer at age 5. Like Estelle, Eli fought hard and never gave up. As I got to know Eli, he became the little brother I never had. Eli, who is now in 4th grade is very happy - and most importantly I'm happy to say healthy and cancer free. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 2


The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by 
Jeff and Jill Blomberg in honor of their daughter, 
Sophie, becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

7th graders at their Aliyah Ceremony last week. (Photo by Dan Young) 

Shabbat shalom!
Mazal tov to the family of Sophie Blomberg (four generations at TBE!) and also to our ufruf couple, Jaclyn Bolno and Michael Becker.
A very special Mazal Tov to all our graduates, and to Brad Boyer, who is retiring from the US Navy this weekend after 30 years of service.  He will continue to serve our nation in other important ways.
On Sunday, TBE'ers will be well represented marching here in Stamford at the annual Hope in Motion cancer walk and in NYC at the Celebrate Israel parade.  Good luck to all our marchers.  And for those who wish to watch the parade, Stamford has a viewing area on the east side of 5th Ave. between 61st and 62nd St.
Next Friday, June 9, we will be honoring our graduating 12th graders with a special blessing (and a gift) and also awarding our Men's Club Scholarships.  Additionally, I am inviting our TBE college students to return that night, particularly those who have been on Birthright Israel or wish to share campus experiences regarding Israel.  For those 12th graders who can't make it on the 9th, we're setting up an alternate night for us to see you off with a blessing, on June 30.

And mark your calendars for June 16, when TBE's Meira Rosenberg will discuss her new book, Indiana Bamboo.  Mazal tov, Meira!

Cantor's Concert Next Thursday,  June 8


Did you see the article about Steve and Lieba Lander in the Advocate?  See it here, and if you haven't yet ordered your tickets for next Thursday's Cantor's Concert, featuring our own Cantor Magda Fishman and the Divas on the Bima, with the Landers as our honorees as we celebrate Steve's 10th year as our Executive Director, you can do so here.  Tickets are going fast.

In Gal we Trust

Forgive us for going a little Gal Gadot crazy, as "Wonder Woman" opens to huge audiences and scintillating reviews.  She's been called the most significant Israeli export since Waze, and I'm wondering whether even Waze might run into some traffic trying to keep up with this former Miss Israel.  Gadot also served in the IDF, as most Israelis do, and so as result her film is being boycotted by the Lebanese.  I would call it their loss, but most will be able to buy the DVD eventually, so the boycott will have little impact.  Somehow I think even Hezbullah and ISIS fighters will be caught by their superiors streaming scenes from "Wonder Woman." 
Gadot's interview on Israel TV crept into that political zone and was summarily censored by her handlers as if the word "Lebanon" had been designated as classified by the FBI. But she transcends politics and brings people together, giving us something hopeful to cheer for during trying times.
She is primed to become the greatest Israeli superstar ever (sorry, Natalie and Bar) and Israelis are kvelling with pride.   Tel Aviv's Azrieli Towers were decked out with the words, "We are proud of you, Gal Gadot! Our Wonder Woman!"
To our gal Gal we say, we're proud too.
LeBron or Jordan - with a side of Curry
With the NBA Finals now in full swing, the question of the hour is this:  Which all-time NBA great is all-time greater?  This week, I tried to answer this question using my patented Super Bowl predicting methodology, which, as you will recall, is nearly infallible.  Yes, I was slightly off in picking the Patriots to win, 34-31 instead of 34-28, but who knew there would be overtime?
So which of these two basketball giants is truly the best? 
  • Take a look at Joshua 4:7 (using the King James translation, of course), and you find this:  "The waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark when it passed over Jordan."
In an imaginary contest between the two, it seems that Jordan was cut off by Lebron as he drive down the lane, where Lebron, because he is taller, was able to pass over Jordan when he drove. Two points for James. 
  • Look at Kings 7:4 - "In the plain of Jordan did the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarethan."  
Here, it looks like King James cast Jordan right into a series on Klay's turf, Klay being Klay Thomson of the Golden State Warriors, who often covers James.  This shows that Lebron is focused totally on the current matchup and is tossing the Jordan comparisons aside for the moment.  He says that the argument is good for barber shops, but not much else.  He is immersed in the here and now, rather than contemplating his legacy.  And it's a good thing, because the Cavs were dismantled in Thursday's opener. 
  • Meanwhile, the Warriors' Stephan Curry is angling to insert himself into the argument.  He has a Hebrew tattoo stating, "Love never failed to be."  Yes, it's from the New Testament, but Hebrew counts for something. 
  • Curry, incidentally, comes from the Hebrew word that means "cold."  While his shooting was red hot last night, his name means "cold" and the Jordan River is cold, so I suspect Curry would align himself with Jordan in this "who's better" argument. 
  • Jordan was expert at the pick and roll.  In this video, his fans are cheering him on, singing, "Roll, Jordan, Roll!" 
So who is better?  The jury is still out. Lebron has his defenders.  Some have even claimed that James is Jewish. But in Jewish folklore, as well as Christian, it is the Jordan that inspires the most hope and faith - such as in this song by the great Israeli songstress Ofra Haza:
Yet to come is the day
When shalom and salaam will be established,
And the Jordan will flow
As a river of peace among us.
Yet to come
Is the day when shalom and salaam
Will be established- The day will come.

So while Lebron may be King, in my book, Jordan still rules.

The Mitzvah of Stewardship
Last week I emphasized how the world's religions have joined with the overwhelming majority of scientists, corporate leaders and nations in supporting the Paris Climate accords.  It is profoundly disappointing that President Trump has chosen to further isolate our country by aligning America with Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations on this planet not to sign on.
In response, it makes sense to share a few excerpts from the sermon on sustainability delivered in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, as we dedicated our award winning solar panels project (read about that project here):
The Hebrew word for wind is ruach, which also means "spirit."  In Judaism, the meteorological and spiritual are deeply intertwined.  The experience of a storm is a profoundly spiritual one, even in our day.  Perhaps especially in our day, since, we can pinpoint well in advance what will happen, yet we are completely powerless to stop it.  The weather is one of the few things left that reduces us to mush in the face of its power.  It makes us realize how insignificant we really are.
Except that we're not. 
We're not insignificant here.  Because we can make a difference.  We can turn the tide, in a very literal sense.  If we each take action, some of the damage of climate change can be reversed, or at least slowed.  Roxbury Road does not have to become beachfront property.  And from a Jewish perspective, what is most important is that we can fulfill God's call to Adam and Eve by preserving our planet - and we could save lives.
Feeling small is a cop out.  Being helpless is a crutch.  Not wanting to bother fighting for a sustainable planet because it is politically controversial for some inexplicable reason, well that is inexcusable.
In the words of environmental activist Nigel Savage, "You could argue that the Jewish people have been thinking about sustainable energy ever since God spoke to Moses out of a bush that burned but was never consumed. Moses was perhaps the first environmentalist: He recycled his staff into a snake, got Egypt to turn off all its lights for three days, and convinced an entire nation to go on a 40-year nature hike.  The Maccabees took a small cruse of oil and stretched it out for eight miraculous nights."
If Moses could do it, so can we.  If the Maccabees could do it, so must we.
Our sustainability efforts will continue, with our CSA, our Mitzvah Garden and of course the panels -and we plan to intensify those efforts as we look to refit our building over the coming years.         
Stewardship is a Mitzvah.
In case you missed what I shared last week:  Here is a collection of statements, organized alphabetically first by religion, then by denomination.   This list demonstrates the nearly unprecedented unity within the religious community on this important issue.
Have the world's major religions ever agreed so wholeheartedly and single-throatily about anything else?  Undoubtedly a stray pastor or two will buck this overwhelming stampede for stewardship.  There are a few outliers who reject the scientific consensus, though if they've ever read the bible, it's hard to reject stewardship on religious grounds.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman