Monday, August 12, 2019

Russian Revolutions (Times of Israel featured post)


Russian revolutions

We Jews are old hands at fighting Russian hegemony, and we must defend democracy in the US and in Russia, just as Russian Jews are poised to do in Israel

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Ben Gurion airport, June 25, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO/File)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Ben Gurion airport, June 25, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO/File)
Have you watched what’s being going on in Russia these past few weeks? While Americans and Israelis been justifiably focused on other things, tens of thousands have been taking to the streets of Moscow to demand democracy, precisely at a time when Vladimir Putin is reportedly contemplating moves to make his rule permanent.
Even if the current protests in Moscow do not yet rise to the level of 1917, Russian revolutions are happening wherever we turn.
Take Israel, where once again, the Russians are interfering in an election. Only this time, the mastermind is not named Vladimir Putin, but Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, whose supporters are primarily veterans of the great, late 20th century exodus from the former Soviet Union to Israel — the exodus that American Jews proudly championed. Liberman’s goal is not to divide and conquer, a la Putin, but to bring together a unity government that would revolutionize Israeli politics.
Believing in Liberman is not easy for me. Let’s just say that when I think of him, the words “liberal democracy” aren’t the first that come rolling off my tongue. He and Natan Sharansky are the Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky of the Cyrillic set. While Sharansky has prioritized broader coalition building, Liberman has been the ultra-nationalist, and his vision has prevailed among the million-plus Russian olim (15 percent of the Israeli electorate), whose political muscles are now being fully flexed.
Israel’s Russian-speaking community is both nationalistic and fiercely secular — few had any Jewish education back in the USSR, and many are not halachically Jewish. It is precisely that secularity that has made Liberman a strange but welcome bedfellow to the many Israelis who have become tired of ultra-Orthodox hegemony over their personal lives. His audacious redrawing the Israeli political map along a Haredi–progressive axis, rather than according to the traditional hawk-dove divide, has gained some allies in strange places, like the Upper West Side, Tel Aviv, and other enclaves of Jewish progressivism, where people fear the overreach of rabbinic authorities and the anti-democratic trends that have marked the latter stages of the Netanyahu regime.
Meanwhile, in America, where Vladimir Putin continues to subvert our democracy, Russia also holds the key to Jewish unity. Just as the fight for Soviet Jewry brought American Jews together a half century ago, a crusade to repel Putinism, the greatest danger to democracy everywhere, can bring American Jews together again in a renewed sense of purpose.
This anti-Russia revolution should be bipartisan. Were it not for the reluctance of Senator Mitch McConnell, who recently held back votes designed to protect US elections, bipartisanship would have prevailed, as it did in 2017, when both houses of Congress approved strict sanctions against Moscow with near-unanimity.
So how can Jews come together to fight our common enemy? We wrote the book on how to overturn the 20th century’s Russian Revolution; we just need to open that same playbook to stop Putin’s hegemonic designs now.
We can begin by protesting all things Russian — their embassy, their consulates, even their cultural emissaries, from hockey teams to the Bolshoi Ballet. It is time to get serious. Hey, Americans once showed displeasure to the French by serving “freedom fries” — so how about a boycott of Russian dressing?
Speaking of boycotts, some are talking of avoiding tourism to Poland, given Polish leaders’ stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for the Holocaust. But if Jewish tourists are looking to boycott a country, no other nation has been more responsible than Russia for the swirling hatred that is infecting our world, the suppression of free speech, the corruption of the press and muddling of truth, the murder of innocents, the exaltation of the cult of personality, and the continuing and as yet unchecked attacks on America’s most sacred institution, the unfettered right to vote. I for one will not consider visiting the land of my grandparents as long as Vladimir Putin continues to spread his venom across the globe.
I don’t support some boycotts, like BDS., but let’s not forget that it was the Jackson-Vanik amendment, linking trade directly to the cause of Jewish emigration, that denied Russia its coveted most-favored-nation status and was a key factor in triggering the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse. Imagine how much a united American Jewish community could achieve if we denied Putin our tourism dollars, while championing legislation sanctioning the Evil Empire for their invasion of our democracy.
When Elie Wiesel took up the cause of Soviet Jewry in his 1965 book, Jews of Silence, he challenged Jews to come together to resist autocracy and support the powerless, for when we do, the world listens. When Natan Sharansky was freed from the Gulag in 1986, he drew 300,000 to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza outside the UN on Solidarity Sunday (an annual day of protest that was like a third High Holiday for Jews). As Gal Beckerman recounts in his history of the Soviet Jewry movement, When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone, Sharansky pleaded for support not merely for Jews still held captive, but also for other human rights activists. “As a Zionist and a Jew, I support universal justice, the call from Sinai,” he proclaimed.
Now, as then, the stakes could not be higher. Muscovites are taking to the streets to defend democracy in Russia. In Israel, those Russians whom American Jews helped to liberate a generation ago are suddenly poised to save the Jewish state from becoming an illiberal theocracy, what Liberman has dubbed a “halachic state.”
Meanwhile, in America, we are poised for what could be either liberal democracy’s last stand or its finest hour. If we unify against Putinism, we can win. The Jewish community, proud and united, can once again lead the way in the cause of human rights and freedom. And once again, we could become a Russian tyrant’s worst nightmare.
Wherever we gaze, these are revolutionary times.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Midwest Book Review: Mensch-Marks is " extraordinary and potentially life enhancing read"

And Midwest Book review just shared:

The Judaic Studies Shelf

Joshua Hammerman
Health Communications, Inc.
3201 S.W. 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442-8190
9780757321771, $14.95, PB, 240pp,

Synopsis: "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi―Wisdom for Untethered Times" is Rabbi Joshua Hammerman personal memoir told as a sacred story, as how-to book, as a series of personal vignettes in dialogue with one another over the span of decades, resonating with eternal ideas that span centuries.

"Mensch-Marks" traces Rabbi Hammerman's own personal growth while providing a road map for people of all backgrounds seeking a life of moral vision. The wisdom is shared not from a pulpit on high, but rather from an unfolding story of a fellow traveler, one who has stumbled, failed, and persevered, struggling with the questions large and small. Through it all, Rabbi Hammerman has tried to live with dignity and grace, what he calls the "nobility of normalcy."

The central message of Rabbi Hammerman's "Mensch-Marks" is that we can turn things around, one mensch at a time!

Critique: Inherently interesting and ultimately inspiring, "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi―Wisdom for Untethered Times" is an extraordinary and potentially life enhancing read that is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections, as well as Judaic Studies supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Mensch-Marks" is also available in a digital book format (eTextbook, $10.99).

Editorial Note: A celebrated rabbi and award-winning journalist and blogger, Joshua Hammerman, has served Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut, for over three decades. His essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Times of Israel, The New York Jewish Week and many other places. Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for columns on the Bernard Madoff case. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association for excellence in commentary. Rabbi Hammerman received ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary after getting an MA in journalism from NYU and a BA, magna cum laude, from Brown University.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Another Glowing Review of Mensch-Marks

Review of  “MenschMarks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times” by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman. It appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton’s The Reporter, located in Vestal, NY. You can also find the review on The Reporter’s website at

Book Review: Trauma and everyday life

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman
Sometimes the most important teaching a rabbi does occurs outside the classroom – when giving sermons and lectures or during counseling sessions. Two rabbis offer the lessons they learned over the course of their rabbinate in two new works: Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Ph.D., discusses how to overcome traumatic experiences in “Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma” (Adam Kadmon Books/Monkfish Book Publishing Company), while Rabbi Joshua Hammerman focuses more on everyday living in “MenschMarks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times” (Health Communications). Both rabbis hope their thoughts will help readers live more meaningful lives.

Much of Firestone’s work is based on what is known as the epigenetic factor, the idea that experiences – particularly traumatic experiences – can be passed through the generations even though the experience does not change their DNA. What the trauma does do is change people’s body chemistry and reactions that are then passed to their descendants. She sees this most clearly with the families of Holocaust survivors when the second and third generations’ react to events based on what happened to their parents and grandparents, even when they are unaware of exactly what they suffered. However, those are not the only traumas she discusses: Firestone also interviewed Israel soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress and Israeli parents who lost children during their army service or because of terrorist attacks.

The first section of her work contains stories of people Firestone counseled or interviewed for this book. She looked for people who overcame trauma, not by ignoring it, but by realizing the power the trauma had over them and finding ways to limit its effects. She notes that most people’s natural first reactions – to either isolate themselves, be hyper vigilant or numb one’s feelings – not only don’t help in the long run, but create more problems. The second section focuses on ways to heal from trauma, including the importance of facing a loss and then harnessing the power of pain. She also notes the need to find a community that can help one to heal and to stop identifying as a victim. Other suggested ways to find wisdom in trauma are to resist falling into a blaming stance, since dehumanizing others only serves to increase trauma, and to take action to put this newly found wisdom into helping others.

Firestone’s original interest in learning about trauma comes from personal experience. The discussions of her family – her parents and siblings – were the most interesting in the book. She notes the traumas her parents faced and how their reaction to them affected her and her siblings. After one brother committed suicide and another sister began to experience symptoms of mental illness, Firestone found herself looking for answers to their dilemmas in order to save herself. Her original journey took her far from Judaism, but she then came to realize the benefits of Jewish religious practices – although not the same ones as her parents – something that led her to become a rabbi.

While Firestone’s focus is on people who have suffered major traumas, Hammerman looks more closely at how to become a mensch – a good person – during regular, everyday life. Over 42 chapters (which represent the 42 stops the Israelites made when wandering through the desert toward the Promised Land), his mostly brief essays suggest ways to attain personal growth. What makes these essays work is that Hammerman is not preachy: he clearly acknowledges his own faults and how he has struggled to overcome them. Sections focus on such themes as work, loving, pain, belonging, the importance of normalcy, failure and forgiveness. 

The most interesting chapter (MenschMark 34) looks at Hammerman’s own crisis, one that occurred after he wrote a satirical article about religious extremism and sports fanaticism. The backlash was quick and fierce. In fact, the article was mentioned on national television, but the comments were not positive. Hammerman admits that he went too far in his satire and began reaching out to evangelicals in order to better understand their thoughts. He does receive (sometimes lukewarm) support from his congregation and greater support from the interfaith group to which he belongs. The author turned his experience into a sermon the next High Holidays – not to justify what he wrote, but to note that everyone makes mistakes. While he emphasizes the need to hold ourselves to high standards, he also discusses how we must learn to forgive ourselves and others.

Other essays that struck a chord include: 

MenschMark 6, which includes a list of subjects that are usually considered taboo to speak about on the High Holiday and the reasons it’s important to talk about them.

MenschMark 13, when Hammerman writes about the dilemma of having your child in the hospital at the same time one of your congregants is also having a medical crisis in the same building. What is more important in this case: being a parent or being a rabbi?

MenschMark 14, when he writes about his developmentally disabled brother and the fragility of life.

MenschMark 16, which talks about the beauty and necessity of boredom, and how it can enrich our lives and lead us to be everyday heroes.

MenschMark 24, which tells of a funeral Hammerman performed for a gay man who requested that his homosexuality be outed during the eulogy in the hope that it would help those who were unable to accept their true sexual nature.

Hammerman ends his work writing about how important it is to find meaning in our lives. He echos what his father used to say to him – “be a mensch” – and questions whether or not he has attained that status. 

Both Hammerman and Firestone hope their readers will emerge better and wiser people.

Shab-Not-O-Gram for July 12


A great time was had by all at our recent Shabbat-at-the-Beach at Cove Island

Shabbat Shalom. (Not)

Since there are no official Shabbat-O-Grams in the summer months, this is not one; but I do want to highlight a couple of things before I head off for my summer break.

1) This Shabbat Morning

This Shabbat morning will feature not one, not two, but THREE ufrufs!  All three couples are very special and they are connected to the TBE family in very different ways.  Join us this Shabbat as we celebrate with Jennifer Greenman & Matt Sakofs, Claudia Lubin & Mark Creedon, and Hope Stanger & Brian Steranka - and make sure to warm up that throwing arm, as the candy will by flying all morning long.

At this service, we'll also be hearing from TBE congregant Belle Horowitz, who heads up our TBE Immigration Task Force.  Belle returned recently from a trip to the US-Mexican border and I've asked her to report back to us on what she saw.  This is especially important in light of recent reports by journalists and government sources, including a government report, detailing squalid conditions.  Fittingly, this week's Torah portion introduces the legend of Miriam's Well, which nurtured the Israelite refugees during their wanderings toward the Promised Land.  This mythical well, which stopped providing water after Miriam's death, has gained deeper meaning over the centuries.  Click here to read more about Miriam's Well in this week's Parsha Packet.  We need to apply Miriam's nurturing, maternal instincts wherever we find wanderers, the tired, the poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free - especially when they are children.

2) Friday Night

Join us also on Friday night, when Beth Styles will once again co-lead the service with me.  It's been wonderful to see continued excellent attendance on Friday nights, even into the typically slower summer season.  Over the past few weeks, we've been introducing various innovations designed to foster the kind of intimacy that promotes a prayerful experience.  The early reviews have been very positive.  Let us know what you think - and my thanks in advance to all those who will be leading services during the weeks when I'll be away.

Incidentally, it's also important to support our morning minyans and Shabbat morning services, especially during the summer, when some "regulars" are away.  Please pick a day - or a week - and support our services!

3) Next Summer's Europe Trip

People have been asking - so here it is!   The itinerary for next summer's Eastern Europe trip is now available at THE TRIP'S WEBSITE, WHICH YOU CAN REACH BY CLICKING HERE.  Pricing and other registration info will be available from that site soon as well.  Once the site goes "live," reservations will be taken on a first-come-first-served bases, as it has been for our (now full) March Cuba trip.

4) Some exciting news!

I'm proud to announce that I have been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Religion News Association Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence. Winners of this year's awards - which showcase religion journalism excellence in the news media among 20 categories of print, online, multiple media, broadcast, book and student entries - will be revealed Sept. 21, at the RNA Annual Conference Awards Banquet in Las Vegas. You can see the names of the finalists here (some pretty steep competition):  Here are the three articles of mine cited in the Excellence in Commentary category:


Enjoy your summer and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, June 28, 2019

Honored to be a finalist for another Religion News Association award - and in great company

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News & Press: Contest
2018 Contest Winners

My three entries for the Excellence in Commentary category:

Finalists named in 2019 RNA Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence

Tuesday, June 25, 2019  
COLUMBIA, MO — Congratulations to the finalists named in the 2019 Religion News Association Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence.
Winners of this year's awards — which showcase religion journalism excellence in the news media among 20 categories of print, online, multiple media, broadcast, book and student entries — will be revealed Sept. 21, 2019 at the RNA Annual Conference Awards Banquet in Las Vegas.

Book finalists

Stephanie L. Derrick, The Fame of C. S. Lewis: A Controversialist's Reception in Britain and America
Dominique Dubois Gilliard, Rethinking Incarceration
James Hudnut-Beumler & Mark Silk, The Future of  Mainline Protestantism in America
Tom Linthicum, A Man Called Mark: The Biography of Bishop Mark Dyer
Jonathan Merritt, Learning to Speak God from Scratch
Elaine Storkey, Scars Across Humanity
Judith Valente, How To Live: What The Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Reconstructing the Gospel

Broadcast finalists

Becket, Religious Liberty for All
Elaine Clark, RadioWest
Audrey Galex & Jim Raymond, AIB Network
Interfaith Voices: Amber Khan, David Wynn, Laura Kwerel, Stephanie Lecci & Melissa Feito
Interfaith Voices: Amber Khan, Ruth Morris, Catherine Osborn, Stephanie Lecci & Melissa Feito
Interfaith Voices: Amber Khan, Ruth Morris, Alex Kronholm, Stephanie Lecci & Melissa Feito
Interfaith Voices: Amber Khan, Stephanie Lecci & Melissa Feito
KMGH-TV: Kevin Krug, Teal Tyszka, Eric Lupher, Jaclyn Allen, Andrew Bray
Joy Lambert & Alanna Delfino, WBFF
NPR: Danny Hajek & Jason DeRose
NPR: Jerome Socolovsky, Jason DeRose, Diamond Kennedy, Amara Omeokwe
StartUp: Eric Mennel, Lulu Miller, Sara Sarasohn, Lauren Silverman
Studio 360: Sonia Paul, Tommy Bazarian, Andy Newman, Jocelyn Gonzales
Finalists will not be named in the TV National or TV News Magazine categories.

Newspapers, online, magazine finalists

Hannah Allam, BuzzFeed News
Taha Anis, Moment Magazine
Elisabeth Auvillain, Global Sisters Report
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
Stacey Barchenger, Asbury Park Press
Michelle Boorstein & Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post
David R. Brockman, Texas Observer
Norris Burkes, The Ledger
Christianity Today
Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News
Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times
Mike Ellis, Greenville News & Independent Mail
Sarah Ellis, The State
Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, National Catholic Reporter/Global Sisters Report
The Forward
Silvia Foster-Frau, San Antonio Express-News
Loretta Fulton, Abilene Reporter-News
Tim Funk, Charlotte Observer
Catherine Godbey, The Decatur Daily
Emma Green, The Atlantic
Rachel E. Gross, Undark 
Melissa Harrison, The Media Project
Christopher D. Herlinger, Global Sisters Report
Aysha Khan, Religion News Service
Lori Johnston, The Washington Post
Melanie Lidman, Global Sisters Report
Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service
Paul Moses, The Daily Beast
Sharon Otterman & Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times
Manya Brachear Pashman & Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune
Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter
Bobby Ross Jr., The Christian Chronicle
Heidi Schlumpf, National Catholic Reporter
Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service
Bob Smietana, Christianity Today
Tiffany Stanley, The Washington Post Magazine
Laura Turner, Buzzfeed
Jeremy Weber, Christianity Today

Multiple media finalists

Al Jazeera: Imaeyen Ibanga, Sana Saeed, Omar Duwaji, Sarah Nasr, Brian Joseph, Michael Zipkin, Kathryn Wheeler
The Associated Press: Dake Kang, Yanan Wang & The Team  
Christianity Today: Ted Olsen, Mark Galli, Alecia Sharp, Sarah Gordon
Dilshad Ali, Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
Julia Bicknell & Barbara Baker, World Watch Monitor
Julia Bicknell & Steve Dew-Jones, World Watch Monitor
David R. Brockman, Texas Observer
Liz Bucar, Freelance
Liz Bucar & Amanda Randone, Teen Vogue
Daniel Burke, CNN
Steph Chambers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Gary S. Chapman, Christianity Today
Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News
Julia Duin, & The Wall Street Journal 
Cathleen Falsani, Sojourners
David Gambacorta, The Philadelphia Inquirer
John Gehring, Commonweal
Global Sisters Report
Emma Green, The Atlantic
Joshua Hammerman, RNS & The New York Jewish Week
Fouad K & Julia Bicknell, World Watch Monitor
Brian Kaylor, Word&Way
JP Keenan, Sojourners
Jacob Lupfer, Religion News Service
Jamie L. Manson, National Catholic Reporter
Steve Mellon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service
Josh Nathan-Kazis, The Forward
Manya Brachear Pashman & Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Jeremy Roebuck, Julia Terruso, William Bender & The Boston Globe: Jenn Abelson, Thomas Farragher 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Moment Magazine
Alexandra Radu, Religion News Service
Andrew Rush, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Heidi Schlumpf, National Catholic Reporter
Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today
Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service
Simran Jeet Singh, Religion News Service & The Revealer
Tiffany Stanley, The Washington Post Magazine
Irving Cabrera Torres, Religion News Service
Krithika Varagur, Freelance
Celia Viggo Wexler, San Francisco Chronicle
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service
Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post
Finalists will not be named in the sections category.


Hannah Bernstein, Northeastern University
Shoshy Ciment, Yeshiva University
Benjamin Collinger, Trinity University
Zachary Davis, Harvard Divinity School
Hannah Jane Finnerty, Bowling Green State University
Devika Girish, University of Southern California
Haidyn Harvey, Pepperdine University
Lauren Jackson, University of Oxford
Samantha Nower, Ball State University
Seana Scott, Dallas Theological Seminary

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 28


Shabbat Shalom!

Join us Friday evening at Cove Island for our Shabbat at the Beach.  Steve Epstein and Natasha Fenster will lead music for the kids at 5:30 and at 6:30 (note the time), Steve will assist me for a relaxing, family style Shab n' Surf (not "surf n' turf") service.  The service is for all generations and the yahrzeit list will be read.  The forecast is for clear weather, so join us!  From the parking lot at Cove (and we have special permission to park without a sticker), simply walk to the right until you find us on the beach.

During the summer, the Shabbat-O-Gram is typically on hiatus. So this is the final official one until Labor Day, though I'll be sending out periodic reminders and special messages.  The world does not stop during the summer, and that means, sadly, that it may be important to share important perspectives on current events, such as the statement from the Conservative Movement leadership that you will find elsewhere in this email.  And don't forget to join us for services all summer long.  One highlight will be on July 13, when we'll have three ufrufs - a TBE first!!

Last week I mentioned that we would be receiving a photo of the secret synagogue of Terezin taken by noted photographer Daniel Bogaev.  Well, it has arrived and you will soon be able to see it in our lobby.  For those looking for more background on that synagogue - and why it is so inspirational - here is the backstory.


As i announced last week, 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.


Summer Camp Transformations and Hebrew

This week's Canadian Jewish News scoured the internet for Jewish summer camp experiences.  And lo and behold, the writer found something I wrote over a decade ago.  It still rings true today.  I shared a letter that I sent home from camp:

"Dear Folks,
I REALLY am sad now. I need more food because I haven't had anything to eat. My swimming teacher is making me jump into the water but I don't want to. I'm scared of putting my clothes into the laundry because I'll lose them and they'll come back different colors. Send ear plugs."

What's funny is that I actually loved camp-even that first year-because I discovered there what children have been discovering about summer camp for decades, and what Jews have known for millennia: When you leave home, you can reinvent yourself. As Eric Simonoff wrote in his book about the American summer camp experience, "Sleepaway," camp was the place, "where I knew I wouldn't be that weird, bookish kid who always had his hand up in class-where, instead, I would be the popular kid, the lifelong camper who knew all the counselors, all the camp songs."

Summer camp is, in short, a transformational experience.  

This week, Tablet Magazine features an article about how some Jewish summer camps tried to create a Hebrew speaking utopia in the heartlands of America, particularly during the baby boom years after World War Two.  The birth of Israel had just transformed us from perennial victims to victors.  I was part of that experiment, attending Camp Ramah in New England, though at a time when the use of Hebrew was not quite so doctrinaire as it had been in '50s.  (You can read about the Ramah movement's history and vision here)

The Tablet article talks about the phenomenon of Hebrew Infusion.  Interestingly, the Hebrew that was taught at Ramah and other camps developed a life of its own.  I suspect many Israelis would not recognize aspects of it. But I still can hum the lyrics of West Side Story in Hebrew - we performed the musical when I was in 5th grade.

Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv - America - West Side Story
Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv - America - West Side Story
And I can umpire an entire game of softball without ever once reverting to my native tongue.  What's a ball?  Ka-Door.  An out?  Yitzi-ya.  What about a home run?  The same term used for circling the sanctuary with the Torah is used for circling the bases: Ha-ka-fa. 

When speaking a new language becomes as natural as circling the bases (and I was quite the athlete back in my camp days), something transformational has happened.

And something else transformational happened to me as a counselor at camp.... I met Mara - and our anniversary is tomorrow! 

So what are some of your memories of camp?  And what made summer camp so significant in your growth?

Wherever you are and wherever you go, have a transformational summer!

And as a public service, here is a brief lexicon of summer-y words in Hebrew.  See how many you can use over the coming weeks! 


And your word for the day is GAL-SHAN - surfboard.
dani sanderson - my surf board
dani sanderson - my surf board

 Conservative/Masorti Movement Expresses Anger at Immigrant Detention Centers
The Conservative/Masorti movement of Judaism expressed intense anger today at the status of immigrant detention in the United States, particularly reports of children being held in inhumane conditions and that a former internment camp used during World War II for Japanese-Americans at Fort Still, Oklahoma is now slated to be used as a new detention center for immigrant children.
The movement issued the following joint statement:
"Today, most Americans recognize the 1940's internment of American citizens of Japanese descent as immoral, illegal, and certainly lamentable. How tragic that America is again on the verge of incarcerating a new generation, this time of would-be immigrants. Hundreds and thousands of people are so desperate for a better life that they flee to the United States of America  - knowing that the country's leader says they are not wanted - and once here are placed in pens, cages, jails and prisons. Our government is paying for-profit companies with arguably no supervision and no oversight to hold these human beings - for unlimited time in subhuman conditions.
Judaism has a strong tradition of calling for loving the stranger (Deut 10:19) because we were strangers in a strange land. Two of the most powerful values Judaism teaches are the dignity of all creatures (k'vod habriyot) and b'tzelem Elohim, the firm belief that each and every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.
Our tradition values children. They are our future and our hope. Yet today in this country, we leave them in outdoor detention pens - with no diapers for babies, no toothpaste, no soap, often no clothes to speak of, and certainly no toys.
Children must be reunited with their families immediately and everyone seeking asylum at our borders deserves a fair hearing. We need more judges and more adjudication of asylum seekers at our borders, not more camps. We need more humanity and sympathy. Not more camps.
Further, we continue our support for a fair immigration policy that guarantees due process in immigration proceedings and protects the civil liberties of immigrants. We vehemently oppose capricious immigration raids like the one recently proposed.
To detain human beings in prison-like conditions, for undetermined amounts of time, despite the fact that they are not charged with any crime is unconscionable. Today's transfer of children is only the first of many critical steps needed. The detention centers must be closed. Now. The United States of America and the Jewish community know this all too well from our histories. When we say never again, we mean it."
Rabbinical Assembly
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Cantors Assembly
Jewish Educators Assembly
The Jewish Theological Seminary
Jewish Youth Directors Association
Masorti Olami
Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano
The North American Association of Synagogue Executives
Letters FROM My Palestinian Neighbor

This week's Tablet Magazine features a video essay marking the publication in paperback of Yossi Klein Halevi's  Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, which broke important ground when first published last year.  At that time Klein Halevi practically begged for a Palestinian to engage him in dialogue, distributing the book for free in Arabic.

Much to his delight, many letters came in, and an extensive selection of them is printed in the book's recently released paperback edition.  As the Tablet article points out, one letter in particular stood out: Its author was Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, an Al-Quds university professor and former hardliner who, five years ago, took a delegation of Palestinian students to visit Auschwitz. To capture their exchange, author and producer Peter Savodnik put together a three-part mini-series. No matter where you stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that such a conversation is even possible ought to make you pause and reconsider.

Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 1
Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 1
Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 2
Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 2

Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 3
Neighbors: Yossi Klein Halevi's Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back, Episode 3

More Mensch-Marks

I'll be discussing my book Mensch-Marks next week at Atria on 3rd St.  Contact Atria for more information. Meanwhile, I've been getting some interesting feedback from readers too (though nothing as interesting as Yossi Klein Halevi's).  The JCC of Suffolk County sent me a chart, "The Alef Bet of Being a Mensch," filled with menschy quotes for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  And a reader in Westchester came up with his own Mensch Matrix, based on the Periodic Table for Being a Mensch found in the book.

These are the prime qualities of being a mensch and how they interact. Click here for an enlarged, clearer version of the chart and here for more details.  And thanks to Jonathan Gellman for putting this together.

Have a wonderful summer and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman