Friday, February 10, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 10

 Take a look at our Temple Rock photo album and World Wide Wrap photos.  

Shabbat Shalom! 

I hope you are managing to navigate this slippery, snowy day.  As for last week’s spot-on Super Bowl prediction, I never doubted it for a moment.  Well, maybe for one moment.  But just as the most watched Super Bowl ad, which featured an Israeli startup, celebrated perseverance and grace under extreme pressure, so did the action on the field.

Yael Stolarsky, JCC Emissary 

Join us for services this evening at 7:30, as, on this Shabbat Shira (Shabbat of Song). I will be joined by guest musicians Katie Kaplan and Gòn Halevi, (Cantor Fishman is away this week).  We will also be hearing from JCC Israeli Emissary Yael Stolarsky, who will be discussing recent events in Israel, and in particular the important case of the Hebron shooter, Elor Azaria, which has become a major story in Israel.    Also, this evening is our 5th and 6th grade “Superhero Shabbat” service and dinner.
On Shabbat morning, we reenact the Song of the Sea in this week’s Torah portion.  It is also another of our B’nai Mitzvah Club and Shababimbam Shabbats.  If you know of anyone with little ones (babies through preschool), let them know about our vibrant, exciting young family programs.  Send them to our new TBE Tots Facebook page.  And speaking of B’nai Mitzvah, take a look at this d’var Torah given last weekend by Charlie Schwartz.
This weekend brings us another Super Sunday, this one on behalf of our local federation.  Please support the UJF, whether by volunteering or giving,  so that it can continue to sustain the Jewish present and future, for all the important work that it does.


Come to Europe with us - See our revised itinerary!

The lecture on "Secrets of the Warsaw Ghetto" by Dr. Samuel Kassow, postponed last night, will now be held this coming Wed., Feb. 15, at 7:30.

At a time when the Holocaust’s very veracity is being questioned and it’s uniquely Jewish nature pooh-pooed even by the White House, every Jew must affirm that we are witnesses.  The registration deadline for our Jewish Heritage trip is just a few weeks away.  We have just revised the itinerary, based on feedback from the group. See that itinerary and other information on the trip’s webpage.  Contact me directly with any questions.

Recommended Reading

What Trees Can Teach Us

This weekend is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees.  Why do trees need a new year?

The tree has always been a source of mystery and sustenance for Jews  (see this article and some more background here).  In ancient sources, the cypress, cedar, myrtle and willow have special symbolism.  The Torah itself is called a “Tree of Life.”
But the origin of Tu B’Shevat can be found in this passage from the Mishna:
On the first of Shevat is the New Year for the tree; the fruit of a tree that was formed prior to that date belong to the previous tithe year and cannot be tithed together with fruit that was formed after that date; this ruling is in accordance with the statement of Beit Shammai. But Beit Hillel say: The New Year for trees is on the fifteenth of Shevat. 
So it was all about tithing; not that big a deal.  For the Talmudic rabbis, celebrating Tu B’Shevat would have been akin to our having parties on April 15.  But Tu B’Shevat has changed over time, as this article demonstrates.  Tu B’Shevat has been reinterpreted in four ways: for the Sages, for medieval Jewish mystics, for modern Zionists and for environmentalists.  Each of these adds an important element to this multilayered celebration.   
Contemporay versions of the Kabbalistic Tu B’Shevat Seder bring together all of these elements.  We’ll be having such a seder for our younger grades this Sunday.  Here are some more ideas on how you can celebrate Tu B’Shevat.
Like many of you, I’ve always been inspired by Shel Silverstein’s timeless classic, “The Giving Tree” (which you can read here in full).  It speaks of how a tree continues to give of itself, even after it is chopped down and becomes merely a stump.  It’s a lovely poem, but the premise, that trees actually form relationships, seems a little far-fetched.
Or does it.
Now we are finding that trees indeed interact with those around them.  Dr. Tamir Klein of Israel’s Weitzman Institute recently made a startling discovery that neighboring trees relate with one another in complex ways. In the forest, trees are known to compete for resources such as light and nutrients, but Klein found that the same trees also engage in sharing.  Trees compete, but they also form communities and protect one another, and amazingly, they also form families, with parents protecting their children.
These discoveries are echoed in the current bestseller, “The Hidden Life of Trees,”  by Peter Wohlleben, which I picked up a few weeks ago and have been reading in honor of Tu B’Shevat.  The complexities of a tree’s ecosystem are mind-boggling.  As Wohlleben writes, “There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet. A mere teaspoonful contains many miles of fungal filaments. All these work the soil, transform it, and make it so valuable for the trees.” 
When strong trees get sick, as happens inevitably, other trees rally to their support, through root networks and in how they grow in ways that maximize sunlight for those who need it most.  This all plays out at a much slower pace than humans are used to - but it does play out.  Trees mount defenses.  Trees even feel pain: leaf tissue sends out electrical signals, just as human tissue does when it is hurt.
Wohlleben speaks of a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects trees and other vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods.  He writes of how trees communicate through emitting and interpreting scents, often as warnings when predators approach.
 “If every tree were looking out only for itself,” he adds, “then quite a few of them would never reach old age.”
Here’s another gem from the book:
“Under the canopy of the trees, daily dramas and moving love stories are played out. Here is the last remaining piece of Nature, right on our doorstep, where adventures are to be experienced and secrets discovered. And who knows, perhaps one day the language of trees will eventually be deciphered, giving us the raw material for further amazing stories. Until then, when you take your next walk in the forest, give free rein to your imagination-in many cases, what you imagine is not so far removed from reality, after all!” 
It comes as no shock to us that trees are living beings.  Perhaps it is time to stop calling them “things.” Decades ago, Martin Buber wrote in “I and Thou,”
I contemplate a tree. I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of blue silver ground. I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, thriving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air - and the growing itself in the darkness.... One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity. Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.”
I’m not suggesting that we stop picking their fruit or using their wood for our homes.  Even Wohlleben acknowledges that in order to survive, we need the help of organic substances of other species.  All animals do.  But just as we have now come to understand that other animals too have complicated emotional existences (yes, even fruit flies have feelings), we need to see that tree as a “thou” rather than an “it,” one not existing in isolation but living in relationship with all of us.
Shel Silverstein was not far off base in bringing us that immortal tree-buddy.  Neither was Disney’s Pocahontas.  And if we can begin to anticipate every walk in the woods as chance to forge new relationships, sort of like a high school dance with sap, maybe our world would be much better off. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’Shevat! 
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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