Friday, November 17, 2000

Shabbat-O-Gram, November 17, 2000

 Shabbat Shalom.

Va-Yera and a New Humash

This Shabbat we read the climax of the Abraham story, the portion Va-Yera.  Since we read a third of the portion each week, and we're reading the last third of each portion this year, this is the only time in three years that we'll be reading this climactic section -- that is, except for every Rosh Hashanah.  That's because this section includes the Akeda, the Binding of Isaac, so often discussed on the High Holidays.  This week, we'll be able to follow the portion in a new way: we'll be using sample pages from the galleys of the new Conservative movement Humash (Torah and commentaries), due to be completed in about a year.  Our congregation will likely be purchasing this new Humash for our pews, so this will be our first chance to really see it in action.  The entire Torah reading and Haftorah, with commentaries, will be distributed to all who come.

The Hertz Humash, which this will be replacing, has done its job for well over half a century.  But the new book is far more accessible, user-friendly, and up-to-date.  It will take some of the "strangeness" out of the service for all of us, and provide much food for thought.  We'll be using the new book as a basis for our discussion this Shabbat.  Since our board will be discussing the purchase of this book at its next meeting, and congregants have already begun donating money to have bookplates inscribed in these volumes, it is important that everyone have a chance to sample it now.

Brief D'var Torah (BDT)

Although the highlight of the portion is most definitely the Akeda, the prior chapter (read on Rosh Hashanah as well) is fascinating.  In it, Isaac's brother Ishmael and his mother the Egyptian handmaid Hagar, are banished to the wilderness at the behest of Sarah, because Ishmael has been taunting Isaac.  The two outcasts are lost and thirsty.  The text tells us that Hagar burst into tears, yet, it then adds, "God heard the cry of the boy."  The new Conservative commentary states, "But we never hear that Ishmael cried (only Hagar did)," adding that this teaches us that "God can hear the silent cries of the anguished heart, even when no words are uttered."

Remember the outrageous claim by a Southern Baptist several years ago that God does not hear the prayers of Jews?  Well, this is the Jewish response.  What's clear is that God hears even the silent cries of "non Jews."  Ishmael traditionally is seen as the father of the Arab peoples.  So we can say that yes, God even hears the prayers of Israel's enemies. 

Yesterday, I had the chance to hear a speaker discuss the situation among Israeli Arabs at a rabbis meeting of the New Israel Fund.  I am speaking specifically about those who have been Israeli citizens since 1948, who, until recently, have kept somewhat out of the fray.  That changed dramatically seven weeks ago, though the situation has calmed down considerably in Israeli Arab communities.  And now, partly as a result of the violence, a new dialogue is springing up.  Israeli Jews are beginning to hear the pleas of their Arab co-citizens for an equality that they've never fully received.  A commission of inquiry has been assembled to look into the deaths of 13 Arabs in the rioting.  Other issues are being discussed with great seriousness.  There is still tension, but Israelis are now seeing it as in their best interest to promote cooperation and peace on the home front, while having to fight the violence perpetrated by Arafat from beyond the Green Line.

If we can try to hear the cries of Ishmael, at least the Ishmaels who live among us, it might enable the at least some Ishmaels in our midst to hear our own.


Interesting Thanksgiving Links....

Try Judaism Online at:


And finally, Jewish Family and Life has lots of articles on Thanksgiving, at:

Incidentally, Jewish family and Life has just spun off a new site,, where you can find a new discussion of my book in the "night reading" column.

Shabbat Services...

Friday night at 7:15, Nurit will lead a Shabbat Shalom service for families with kids in grades 1-4 (and sibs).  Our regular Kabbalat Shabbat service will be at 8. 

We were originally scheduled to attend services at B'nai Jeshurun in NYC this evening.  That very important journey has been rescheduled for Shabbat morning, Dec. 9.  A bus will leave from here at 8:15 AM, returning in the early afternoon.  This service is truly at the cutting edge of the movement, and our leadership and all interested congregants are encouraged to join us.  Transportation is free.  If you would like to come, bus reservations are being taken on a first come first serve basis.  Contact Roberta Aronovitch at

Shabbat morning, we begin with Psukey d'zimra at 9:15, then the morning service at 9:30.  We'll be naming Emma Stein Listokin, newborn daughter of Elissa Stein and Ted Listokin.  Mazal Tov to the entire family!  At Mincha, beginning at 3:45 PM, Michelle and Stephanie Brodsky become B'not Mitzvah.  Mazal Tov to them and their family!

Other Announcements

Get your reservations in for the Cantors Annual Concert (and the delicious dinner to follow), scheduled for December 10.  The world famous Zamir Chorale of Boston will be here.

Our January Shabbaton is fast approaching, and the reservations are pouring in (nearly 80 at last count).  Space is limited!  We need to hear from you very soon!  Our guest lecturer, Jack Wertheimer, is one of the foremost experts on American Jewish life, and the topic of the weekend will be "Being Jewish in America."  After the past few weeks and months, it a topic that gets more fascinating all the time.

Adult ed on Sunday: "Sing-Along Shabbat Melodies" at 9:45, and "Learn to Read Hebrew" at 10.  The leadership retreat has been rescheduled from this week to Sunday, January 28.

Beth El Cares meeting, Monday at 7.

The AIDS quilt is coming to Stamford in two weeks.  New panels will be dedicated in a special ceremony on Wednesday the 29th at the First Congregational Church, at 7 PM.  And World AIDS Day will be commemorated with a special interfaith service on the following night, Nov. 30, at 7:30, at the First United methodist Church.

On Wed. December 6, the Board of Rabbis will be sponsoring a community-wide event, "Chanukah for Adults."  Find out what this sizzling holiday is all about.  Chanukah will never be the same.  At Agudath Sholom, 7:30-9:00 PM.
Thank you, Shelley!

On a personal note, I wish to extend a very public "Todah Rabbah" to Dr. Shelley Buxbaum, who will be leaving her position at the JCC at the end of this month.  Shelley has done remarkable work there for the entire community and has brought many, many people closer to Judaism.  Her greatest legacy perhaps will be the Derech Torah program, an important bridge to basic Jewish understanding for scores of Jews by Choice and others.  This program has also been the best example of how enriching the partnership between the JCC and local synagogues can be.  I only hope that Shelley's departure will not signal a change in that direction.  It will be all but impossible to replace her -- but the community cannot afford to allow this partnership in the cause of serious Jewish learning to weaken.  I look forward to working with her successor in strengthening that partnership and to watching the community's commitment to Jewish education continue to grow on all levels.  But most of all, I wish Shelley and her family only the best of luck in their future endeavors.

I also take this opportunity to express sadness at the passing of a true giant in American Jewish life, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, whose funeral took place in Westport today.

There will be no Shabbat O Gram next week.  Wishing everyone a warm and festive Thanksgiving holiday.

P.S.  I thought at this point that you'd be glad that I didn't talk about the situation in Florida.  So now I will.  An important milestone was passed this past Wednesday: the national election has now lasted two more days than our longest Beth El election, which now looks quaint and peaceful by comparison.  Perhaps it's a nice reminder that time heals all wounds, even for Republicans and Democrats.  Look, even Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are the best of friends.  In the mean time, let's try not to demonize the opposition.  And for heavens sake, lay off the bubbes in Palm Beach County!  I've heard more jokes about Early Bird Specials this week than I usually hear I a year.  Judaism calls upon us to "rise before our elders."  I think Republicans and Democrats both need to heed those words. 

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