Friday, May 12, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Highlights of the Class of 2016-17

Ethan Brudny:
Maybe there’s a limit to the ability of numbers to measure people! What’s true about rabbis is also true about B’nei mitzvah.  It’s not the stats that matter but the people behind the numbers.  That’s why the Talmud teaches us that if you save one life you save an entire universe.  Every human life is of infinite value.

Noa Brudny:
Girl Scouts takes some of the messiness of life and gives it order.  Everyone wears something similar, dresses neatly, and there is a routine that we try to follow.  It’s predictable and that’s comforting. My portion – and the entire book of Leviticus, which we begin today – are all about ritual, and how our ancestors tried to bring order into the messiness of life. In the days of the temple, described in Vayikra, they also had campfires – only they called them sacrifices.  In reality, they were big barbecues, and everyone came together to affirm what’s important to them.

Joshua Schulman:
Years later, I still watch the show, play the game, and collect Pokemon cards. So, I’m sure you’re wondering what all this has to do with my bar mitzvah. Well, it turns out that my Torah portion contains rules that are similar to the rules of Pokemon. My portion contains 74 mitzvot (commandments), more than any other portion in the Torah.  In my portion, these mitzvot are about relationships between people, G-d, and animals.  For example, there’s a law that you shouldn’t force an ox and a donkey to work together, because the ox is stronger.  Also, you shouldn’t muzzle your ox while you’re threshing grain to keep it from eating it.  You should also help a donkey, even if it’s your enemy’s donkey, especially even if it has fallen.  You should also shoo away the mother bird before taking her eggs.

Shane Neyer:
One of the aspects of water polo that makes it so interesting is that so much takes place, literally, beneath the surface, where people cant see whats going on. Some of those people who cant see whats going on happen to be referees. The rules say there should be no kicking of opponents under the water.  But in truth, everyone is kicking.  And not only are they kicking, but many use sneaky tactics to try to draw the opponent into a foul.  I must admit that from time to time I do that too. My Torah portion, Shoftim,  speaks all about the nature of justice. The most important verse states, “TZEDEK, TZEDEK TIRDOF.”  “Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue.” Why is the word “Justice” repeated?  One commentator suggests that not only should we pursue just goals, but we should use just and fair tactics to reach those goals.  In other words, the Torah seems to be suggesting that we shouldnt pretend that we are drowning in the water polo pool just to get the ref to penalize the opponent.  And not only that, but in basketball, players shouldnt flop to draw fouls.  And in football, receivers shouldn’t fall down to draw pass interference penalties.

Evan Goldblum:

The first question I had is how can a person be alone and also wrestling with someone?  This made me wonder: Who or what is Yakkov wrestling with? I read that there may be several answers, including a robber, a demon, Esav's guardian angel or Yakkov's own conscience. I think Yakkov was wrestling with both Esav's guardian angel and with himself. This was a very scary time for Yakkov – – even more scary than standing up and giving a speech in front of over 100 people at your bar mitzvah. Yakkov had to wrestle with his own fear so he wouldn't let his fear prevail. This is a good lesson for all superheroes, as well as for the rest of you out there – – You can't let fear defeat you or keep you from moving forward. Another part of growing up is understanding the different sides that make up who you are and figuring out which parts of your personality reflect the real you deep inside.

Ruthie Price:
All of the special days we celebrate at this time of year mark transitions.  Labor Day transitions us to the fall, Rosh Hodesh transitions us to a new month, and this month of Elul helps us to transition to the new year.  All month long, beginning at the end of this service, we will hear the shofar each day.  You are about to hear it officially for the first time since the end of last Yom Kippur.  Today, I am transitioning too – into a Jewish adult.  And I really am feeling like more of an adult today.  A few examples, A couple of months ago, on my birthday, I got an iphone which clearly means that now I’m mature enough to handle it (or at least in my mom and dad’s eyes).  I’m also transitioning into a better basketball player.  I’ve grown about 4 inches in the past year (in case you haven’t noticed).  In fact, this summer, I was able to play on the 16 and under Maccabi basketball team and I think I held my own pretty well, if I might say so myself. 

Jessica Nirschel:
My portion of B’chukotai contains a list of blessings and a much longer list of curses. Now that the book of Leviticus is ending, with so many laws, the Israelites are learning what the consequences will be for them if they do or do not follow the laws. Let’s simply say that the consequences of not following them are not fun.  But if we look at the commentaries, we see that things are more complicated than they seem. That’s because the curses contain within them the seeds of future blessings. We see this all the time in our world. For instance, big forest fires are very destructive, but the loss of all those trees is necessary in order for new saplings to have enough light peeking in at them to grow. I hope that for everyone there will be only be blessings to come and if God forbid there are a few curses along the way, I hope that even in misfortune we can all find the seeds of success.

Russell Moskowitz:
The Torah has many things to teach about basketball, and lots of those things are found in my portion of Kedoshim, which is filled with important laws.
For instance, there’s the law that states, “DON’T STAND IDLY BY YOUR NEIGHBOR.”  In real life it means to stand up for people who are in trouble.  But in basketball terms, it means to help out on defense.  I can recall a number of times when we’ve teamed up to stop a bigger player and we were able to shut him down.  Or, if my teammate was trapped in the corner, it was my job to find an open space and call for the ball so he could pass it to me.  Basically, the message of this commandment is to be a team player, and that we are ALL in this together.

Ava Sabloff:
As I become a woman, on this holiday for women, I know I am walking in the footsteps of not only the women before me, but I also hope to be a role model to those who will come after me. But as I pay tribute to all these women, I can’t forget the most important woman in my life, my mom, who by the way also became bat mitzvah right here. She had to put up with my yelling about practicing but, nevertheless she stood by me, encouraging me, helping me, supporting me. I LOVE YOU MOM! Dad, you’re OK too… 

Elena Singer-Freeman
 To many, this portion may just seem like a boring rule book, however there are some deeper meanings that I would like to discuss. First of all, by doing things in a certain way you become connected with the community that does these things in the same way. This means that learning and following rules can be a route to feeling that you are a part of a group. Secondly, sometimes it’s not enough to just do something, it needs to be done the right way. In these cases, rules ensure success and show respect. And finally, the journey can be as important as the destination. Sometimes, the method is more important than the result.

Hailey Trell:
So the real question is how is a Sukkah like a home, given that it is not exactly like they kind of home we live in.  And another related question would be, where is home located?  Is it a geographical location?  Or is it, as Robert Frost put it, the place where, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  I think I am uniquely qualified to answer these questions.  I’ve learned that home can mean many different things and that home can also be located in many different places.  I have homes in Stamford and Westport.  Each home is special for some of the same reasons and for some different reasons.  The sukkah is portable, it can go anywhere.  That teaches us that home can be many places.  In fact, it can be just about any place. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, they took their homes with them wherever they went.  Home is basically where I am at any point – that has been the Jewish experience through history.

Carly Fein:
I enjoy collecting quotes and reading the creative ways a simple twist of language becomes inspirational. Some of my favorites include: “Take me as I am or watch me as I go.” “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” “No matter what, you deserve to smile. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.” And a personal quote I use whenever sharing chocolate with anyone, “Break it in half and I’ll take the bigger half.” And here's a great quote I hope to achieve, “My goal is to create a life that I don’t need a vacation from.”
Speaking of quotes, here’s one that relates to my parsha, Vayishlach, “We are strangers. Again.”
In my portion, Ya’akov needs to constantly come up with creative solutions to the challenges he faces, much as I have done with my different art projects and quotes.  One of the challenges is to meet up with his long lost brother Esav, who, by the way, wanted to kill him the last time they were together twenty years before.

Georgia Baer:
A couple of years ago, I participated in a school-wide spelling bee.  I’d never been in one before but I found out I had a talent for it. In fact….I won!
Some of the words I had to spell were jam, respect and cork.  These words might sound easy, and they are, but part of the reason I won was that I understood the need to learn the easy words as well as the hard ones.  You need to start from the bottom and work your way up. So there I was… on the stage of the auditorium at Western Connecticut University, under the spotlight, and I get ready to hear the first word…  and it’s “musicale.”  I Got it.  Then “feldspar.”  I have no idea what it is, but I spelled it right!  Then I lost on the third one, “regime,” but only because the announcer mispronounced it. 
Oh well.  I had a great experience on this journey and learned an important lesson – that whatever journey you are on, you can’t take short cuts.
Abraham and Sarah learned the same lesson in my parsha.   Abraham had to undergo ten tests of his ability and loyalty to God – each one harder than the last one. Just like a spelling bee. 

Shayna Finkel:
My Torah portion looks at various forms of impurity that our ancestors feared removed them from the holiness of the community.  It talks about the impurity of childbirth (Tazria) and skin diseases such as leprosy (Metzorah). The rabbis interpret the term – metzorah to be short for “Motzi-Shem-Ra,” which means a person who brings out a bad name. Rabbi Hammerman explained to me that this mean someone who gossips, or does what we call in Hebrew “Lashon ha-ra.”  Now for those who don’t know me well, you should know that I am a 100% certified chatterbox. I love to talk! Talk, talk, talk. My favorite site - -INSTAGRAM -- lets you post pictures and people get to comment on how you look, about what you are wearing, and even your shoes. You can comment on everything! While it can be a lot of fun, sometimes you may say things that are hurtful. When someone gets hurt, usually a mom will yell and say "GET OFF THE PHONE AND STOP LOOKING AT THAT SITE." If that happens then that kid is no longer in the group.  In those cases, the torah says you need to apologize, make the person feel better and include them back into the group chat. What all of this is really teaching us, is that as a community we all have an obligation to reach out to those who are troubled, the sick or poor, to those who are disabled, and those who are hurting. We have to find a way to bring them back into the community.
So this difficult Torah portion teaches us something very important: We need to confront what is broken in our world to begin to fix it. None of us is perfect. Neither is our world. So, each of us in our own ways, need to help others. 

Rebecca Friedlander:
The easiest thing to do when someone is bothering you is to bother them right back.  But I’ve learned how important it is to not give in to that temptation, and “just let it go” and be nice.   If someone is mean to you or hurts you, the next day just say to them “Let’s just forget about this and move on.” In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hodesh is like a mini Rosh Hashanah.  Every month we get to start over again.  Just as the moon starts again from scratch, on Rosh Hodesh we start with a clean slate.  We get to practice being nice all over again.

Annabelle Raz:
This week’s portion is Ki Tavo.  Ki Tavo literally means when you arrive. The parsha tells us about how Israel is preparing to cross into the Promised Land, in what will be a new beginning for the nation.  This Shabbat also begins our preparation for the new year, and as for me, I am concluding my preparation of becoming a Bat Mitzvah and taking responsibility for my choices and their appropriate consequences.  Let’s not forget that this is also going to be an exciting year where a new president is elected, so “change is really in the air… history is happening” as mentioned in this year’s hit musical, Hamilton.   Back in the desert, the people of Israel face big changes as well.  They have been wandering for 40 years behind the leadership of Moshe.  At this point in the story, we learn that Moshe will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel with the rest of the nation that he led to freedom.  Following the Hamilton and presidential theme, This story reminds me of another great leader who led his people to freedom over the course of many years - our first president George Washington.  Unlike Moshe, George Washington decides on his own behalf that he can no longer lead his nation as President. Like our leaders, Today’s Parsha deals with tough choices and their consequences; Blessings and curses.   

Joshua Sherman:
As a now-teenager, I have watched this presidential campaign unfold on TV, and I hear people arguing back and forth about how bad things are in America right nowAnd as I thought about my Torah portion….about Noah and the Ark….I realized that things were pretty bad back too for Noah, when he decided to pack up the Ark and hit the road… (or the ocean) in his case.  Noah took off because his society was corrupted by violence, destruction, doom and gloom.  And God told him to leave…..and he did.   But here’s the nice thing about our Torah… will often focus on the positive….and the story of Noah is not so much about the destruction….it’s about the story of Noah’s recovery.  About his survival…..About him never giving up…..About him persevering.   That in the end, he survives, and life overcomes death. As soon as Noach gets off the ark, he does an unusual thing.  He plants a vineyard.  It’s probably not the first thing I would have done if I had been on a boat with dozens of smelly animals for a few months—I would have taken a long hot shower, and relaxed a little bit….maybe even gone to Gloss to freshen up with my mom….but not Noah….he went right to work.  In planting a vineyard, Noach chose to grow grapes and produce wine, which is for Jews a symbol of happiness and life.  When we make a toast, we say, “L’chayim,” “To life.”  That’s the message of Noach.

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