Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 21



Shabbat Shalom!

Suddenly summer is upon us.  But before we all load up the car and head to the beach, it's great to look back at what has been a fantastic spring.  See our End of Year photo album, and our Cantor's Concert album, along with Liav Vadel's Bar Mitzvah commentary on Naso from last Shabbat.  Special thanks to Aviva Maller Photography for all the concert photos and many others from the past few months.

Please join us for Pride Shabbat on Friday at 7:30.  Katie Kaplan will be our cantorial soloist and Chris Coogan our guest musician. We will spend Shabbat enjoying rich music and conversation about the Blessing of Difference in celebration of Pride 2019!  There will be a short talk and Q&A with Sontaia P. Briggs, Executive Board Member, of Parity, an organization that celebrates the spirituality, faith, and religious expression of LGBTQ people.  She will address the challenges Parity faces in dealing with religious groups that have bias against LGBTQ and consider it sinful. 

Along those lines, I recommend a recent article in the Washington Post asking how Americans' views flipped so quickly on the topic of LGBTQ rights, especially in light of how other prejudices - like anti-Semitism - have stubbornly resisted such change.  The gay rights movement has managed to change people's minds faster than any other civil rights movement in memory.  Still, this rapid change has not eliminated homophobia.  Far from it - as we have seen in the Administration's efforts to roll back a number of transgender rights.  So the battle begun a half century ago is not finished.  But the progress has been remarkable and something for people of all backgrounds to celebrate.  

We'll do that on Friday night!

And of course, join us on Shabbat morning as well, when I'll be looking at the portion of Beha'alotcha and discussing how to take your Judaism "on the road" as you head out in your travels. See the Parsha Packet: "Jewifying" Your Summer Vacation, which includes a selection from my book Mensch-Marks (chapter 19, "The Power Grid.") along with tips on how to bring Jewish values into the Wilderness.

"There are Stars whose radiance..."

"There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. ... They light the way for humankind."

Those immortal words were penned by Hannah Senesh, the great poet and hero who died trying to rescue Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.  

Mina Roth-Dornfeld, a member of TBE, has a grandson, Daniel Bogaev, who is a noted photographer.  You can see his website here.  Mina is presenting TBE with a framed photo that was part of a recent exhibition of Daniel's.  See a facsimile below.


For those who joined our TBE Jewish Heritage Tour of Europe in 2017, perhaps this photo taken at the same site will jog your memory.


It was taken at the secret synagogue in Terezin, which Jews defiantly decorated and utilized for prayer right under the noses of the SS.  Somehow they were able to envision a better future as they looked up at those painted stars, despite knowing that their own fates were almost certainly sealed, knowing that they would become extinct soon - but that maybe there would be a brighter future for humanity and the Jewish people.  Having this photo in our building enable those who have been to Terezin to explain to others just how sacred that synagogue is - and enable the rest of us to dream of reaching out to the heroic victims, and, in their name, reaching for the stars.  We are the stars that they envisioned.

I'm delighted to announce that, at the request of a number of congregants, we will be doing another trip to Poland, Budapest, Prague and Berlin a year from now, in the summer of 2020.

More information will be forthcoming over the next couple of weeks (and yes, the Cuba trip set for next March is still good to go). Let me know if you are interested.  This trip is for all ages (except for young children), and the Holocaust Memorial Committee is offering significant scholarship assistance for those teens and college students who join their parents on this journey, in tribute to Dr. Hesh Romanowitz, of blessed memory. We feel it is a very important trip for all Jews to take.

"We, a community, we, a spirit"

Photo by the Stamford Advocate

Sam Essenfeld, President of the Senior Class at Westhill and TBE teen, had this to say to his fellow graduates at the Westhill graduation this week. Mazal tov to Sam and to all our graduates!

Goooood morning Westhi- sorry force of habit. Gooooood Evening Class of 2019! Welcome graduates, parents, families, friends, board of education representatives, Mayor Martin, Dr. Hill, and Westhill teachers, staff, administrators, and alumni (hi dad).

Since freshman year, we have defined ourselves as role models, showing the rest of the school that we are capable of doing big things, as emphasized on our senior t-shirt, and have always supported each other along the way. Anyone can be a role model - so who are we? If our class had a motto that could really encompass us, what would it be? Some might say, "Westhill and Proud". How about "Nos, civitas, nos, spiritus" meaning We, a community, we, a spirit, or "Bonum Mane, Patria Maris Borealis", meaning good Morning Viking Country! Let's focus on the former.

I say "we, a community, we, a spirit" because whenever I think about us - the class of 2019 - I see everyone as friends and peers. Whether we see each other at the beginning of the day or walking the halls, I can only think of the warm welcomes and passing "hellos" with a smile. This is what I consider to be our Viking spirit. This spirit is not just what we bring to the Purple Pack in the form of chants and cheers. It is a presence that surrounds us each and every day. Its presence is felt at every painting and Viking emblem in the school. It guards our gates and grows on the trees in the courtyard. Our spirit radiates from each and every one of us in the classroom, as we travel through the Finch and Raynor buildings, onto the fields, and throughout every corner of the campus. Now, being graduating seniors, we have accumulated a true spirit that binds us together as a community.

We, the class of 2019 who have gotten up every morning for the past four years to be here today know that simply stating the word "community" doesn't quite embody this experience of graduating Westhill and Proud with our best friends, enthusiastic teachers, and nurturing mentors around us. Would we have the sentimental feelings of reflection that most of you are probably feeling right now if we were not wholeheartedly invested in our academic and extracurricular journey these past four years? I don't think so. That is community.

Principal Rinaldi's sunrise posts from the front steps of the school every morning, rain or shine, inspire us to carry on his Viking spirit and join together as a community. The more we say, "Good Morning Viking Country", the more we feel united. Who here hasn't felt energized after speaking that mantra? Together, day by day, we have built the motto "Nos civitas, nos spiritus", "We, a community, we, a spirit".

Together, we, the class of 2019, have become artists, actors, activists, and athletes who have received accolades. We, the class of 2019, have become entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and engaged thinkers who know that excellence is the point. We, the class of 2019, are creative writers, coworkers, captains and class clowns, culminating this chapter currently in our caps and gowns. We help each other develop our unique skills and encourage each other to keep our hands stretched out, reaching for the goal. Our community of determined spirits is an essential part of who we are. We care for ourselves, as well as others around us. We give, but we don't give up.

When was the last time you said "remember when I..." Isn't it almost always "remember when we...": "remember when we did that activity in our world language class sophomore year?", or "remember when we decorated the halls for the lip dub?" That speaks volumes about who we are as classmates, but more importantly, as a Viking Country.

When you think about your experiences at Westhill, where do you see yourself? In a particular class? At lunch with your friends? Seeking advice from your guidance counselor? This thought has come to you for a reason. These images in your mind and feelings in your heart have influenced your high school experience. In essence, this is your Viking spirit.....

Had to have high high hopes for a living... sorry its still stuck in my head ...

I have full confidence that we, the class of 2019, are going to use our civitas and spiritusto achieve our goals. We all have a path to walk down, that is, after receiving our diplomas. It's been an honor to serve as your class president.

I would like to extend our sincerest thank you to all of the administrators, teachers, staff, families and friends for helping us get here, to this moment sitting out here on the football field. Thank you, mom, dad, and Ethan, for all of your enthusiasm. Thank you, Mr. Rinaldi, for bringing your spirit every day and being an outstanding leader. Thank you, Mr. Wax for being an amazing class administrator who continually provides us with tremendous support. And thank you, Ms. Miraballes and Mrs. Grant, for being awesome class advisors and the driving force behind our class' success. Have a marvelous Monday Westhill!
Best wishes for a relaxing summer.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

And mark your calendars for next week's...

2020 TBE Eastern Europe Jewish Heritage Tour

Sunday, June 16, 2019

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Liav Vadel on Naso

Shabbat Shalom!

Let me tell you something about my life – my home is basically a farm.  Some people have dogs – and yes, I have a dog.  But I also have two chickens… and about thirty fish.  Some of the fish live in a pond in the back yard that I dug myself last summer.

The chickens each provide one egg per day, and it’s my job to gather the eggs.  Sometimes I open the door while a chicken is in the middle of laying an egg, and when that happens they get very offended and start clucking angrily at me.  But otherwise, we get along really well.

The chickens seem to know me.  When I walk up to the coop, they start running around in circles and making noises excitedly.  They know that I’m the one who lets them out, so they can hang out on the lawn and eat grass. 

When you think about how chickens are treated in big factory farms, where they are kept in tight spaces indoors and fed steroids to fatten them up so that they can’t even move, I’d say that my chickens are very lucky chickens.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I do eat chicken, but I would never eat my chickens.  But when my father was a kid and one of his chickens had a cold, they would feed her chicken soup.

While I am not a vegetarian, my caring for animals has helped me to be more sensitive and I understand the need to go above and beyond what others might do, to teach myself that important lesson.

In my portion, the Torah talks about the Nazerite, a person who dedicated himself to God by going above and beyond what most people did.  The Nazerite did not cut his hair, never touched grapes and never drink any wine. 

The idea is to control our cravings by being extra-disciplined.  My taking care of my animals helps me to become extra-disciplined too, because it sensitizes me to their feelings.

Here’s something interesting – before I got the chickens, I was interested in birds, and I heard that if you get quail eggs in the supermarket, you can incubate them.  So, I did that, and in 32 days, from a dozen eggs, nine quail chicks were hatched.  Unfortunately, three died right away. I took care of the others for several months but when it got too cold we had to let them go – so they flew away – and shortly after that we got the chickens.

For me, taking care of the quail helped me to become disciplined enough to take care of chickens.

Ironically, in the Torah – in next week’s portion in fact – quail became a symbol of the Israeliteslack of self-discipline.  They craved meat so much that when God provided quail, they kept on eating until they got sick – and many died.

So for me, those quail chicks helped teach me to have more self-control, so I could aim higher to fulfill my goal of caring for lots of God’s creatures, to go above and beyond, like the Nazerite.  But for the Israelites, their uncontrolled craving led many to their deaths, and they were buried in a place that the Torah calls the “Graves of Craving,” Kivrot Ha-ta’avah.

Naturally, my mitzvah project also has to do with animals.  At my school I am collecting donations for an organization called OPIN, Outreach to Pets in Need,  whose mission is to “PROMOTE ADOPTION OF HOMELESS ANIMALS, AND TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO PETS IN NEED THROUGH MEDICAL TREATMENT, TRAINING, AND EDUCATION.”  You can find the link to donate on their website,

We also bought some dog supplies that we are using for our bima decorations that we will also be donating.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 14


The Shabbat-O-Gram  
is sponsored by 
Shira and Ofer Vadel in honor of their son,
Liav, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Stephne Behrend, new regional president, speaks at 
AJC Westchester/Fairfield Annual Meeting, held here


 On June 21, Pride Shabbat special guest will be Sontaia P. Briggs of Parity.
Parity bridges the gap between LGBTQ and Faith Communities!

- Our Cuba Trip is ON! See our Cuba travel update

TBE's Hannah Nekritz on Jeopardy's Teen Tournament NEXT WEEK
See TBE's Hannah Nekritz on Jeopardy's Teen Tournament 

The tournament starts on Monday, with Hannah's appearance coming on Friday.
Hannah is not allowed to divulge how well she did, she told me as she got into her new limousine.  Just sayin'.  But no matter how well she does (did), we are proud of her! 

Shabbat Shalom!

This weekend brings our "bar mitzvah season" to an end. Mazal tov to Liav Vadel, who becomes bar mitzvah on Shabbat morning.  Friday night offers another opportunity to bid farewell to Cantor Fishman and her family, with a wine and cheese reception being held immediately before the service. This will be Cantor Fishman's final Shabbat here, as she will be on vacation through the end of June.

I hope you will be able to join us at our Cantor's Concert this evening.  This year's concert is very special, offering us the chance to say a special thank you to some very special people.
Cantor Fishman has stirred our souls since her arrival five years ago.  As she departs for Florida, we thank her for lifting us to higher heights.  Rav Kook spoke about the land of Israel as a place where "the old becomes new and the new becomes holy." Cantor Fishman's eclectic musical choices and pulsating rhythms made ancient prayers come alive, as if new, and modern songs gained a new sense of sanctity.  As she moves on, her musical legacy will remain.  We wish her, along with Zarin and Yair, much success and happiness in their new home.
Sylvan and Honni Pomerantz were partially responsible for bringing Cantor Fishman here.  But they have also brought our community a different sort of harmony.  Following the footsteps of their forbears, they have cultivated an all-embracing, inclusive brand of leadership.  I knew we had a gem when we picked a president whose brother is a rabbi - and one for whom family is paramount.  Sylvan and Honni seem to be related to everyone in town, including a number who are not actually relatives.  That's the thing about Sylvan and Honni - everyone is family to them. 

Barbra Streisand said,  "I'm not weird, just different from people who aren't different."Sylvan and Honni both have learned to appreciate those who are different and to cultivate each person's uniqueness.  That is part of the TBE ethic.  That is who we are.  When Sylvan went to Pittsburgh last fall to bring our message of compassion back to his home town, we could have had no better representative.
Through Cantor Fishman and the Pomerantz family, TBE's vision has been on display for all to see and hear.  Tonight we celebrate those individuals, and in doing so, we celebrate that TBE vision, one that is based on harmony and hope - a vision that will, God willing, continue to guide and sustain us for years to come.
Mazal tov - and thank you.

Nathaniel Harrison, who became Bar Mitzvah last week, gave an amazing speech about his relationship to his brother Jewels as well as how he has coped with people who spew hate - see it see it here.

Next week will be Pride Shabbat. Katie Kaplan will be our cantorial soloist and our guest speaker will be Sontaia P. Briggs, Executive Board Member of the New York based organization called Parity, which believes that spirituality and yes, even organized religion, so often antagonistic toward LGBTQ, can unite, rather than divide us. Parity celebrates the religious expression of LGBTQ people. 

Sontaia P. Briggs is the founder of YoUniversity, an online ministry dedicated to uplifting and affirming the gifts of youth and young adults as well as providing in-person college access/success coaching and counseling. Serving as advocate and mentor to youth is Sontaia's greatest commitment and love. 

The topic of the conversation will be Blessed by Difference. Join us for a Shabbat enjoying rich music and conversation about the Blessing of Difference in celebration of Pride 2019!

Check out Parity's website and see how they have succeeded in reconciling identity and faith.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman