Friday, January 26, 2001

Shabbat-O-GramJanuary 25, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom!

Today (Thursday) is Rosh Hodesh Shevat.  This Hebrew month contains the New Year for Trees, Tu B'Shevat, a signal to all of us that, despite the snow and ice, Spring is not too far away...  To learn more about this environment-friendly celebration, hug a tree at the JTS Web site,  And for those who impatient, my officiial, authoritative Super Bowl prediction is found at the bottom of this e-mail.

This week, our e-mail list has almost doubled in size, with the addition of over 175 congregants who provided e-mail addresses for the recently published congregational directory.  From here on, any member who provides us with an e-mail address will automatically be included on the list, just as we would automatically send snail mail to all members who provide us with a land address.  Naturally, anyone wishing to be deleted from this list simply has to click on reply and write "unsubscribe."  In keeping with the pledge that we have made in the past, we will not inundate you with e-mail, sending this weekly Shabbat-O-Gram, plus occasional important announcements (including funeral notices) as necessary, and we will keep your e-mail address private.  Now that we have the capacity to reach more than half of our membership online, it will add to the feeling of open, two-way communication that the Internet can provide, as we strive to become, by every measure, a synagogue without walls.  If you know of congregants who are not yet receiving this, including college students, young adults or teens who might wish to be included on our special lists for those groups, please let me know.


Candle lighting Friday
: 4:48 PM (8 minutes later than last week. Fret not; spring is on the way!)
Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00, in the chapel
Shabbat Morning: 9:30, in the LOBBY (dress can be casual, as we do with our lobby services) -- this is a change from our original calendar, by popular demand, and it is a "Family Service," one of our monthly services led almost entirely by congregants.  It will be followed by a scrumptious lunch, prepared exclusively by congregants.  The lunch is free, of course, but if you would like to sponsor it to mark a simcha, or just like that, contact Roberta at
Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room).  Last week's special parent-child service led by Laura Berman was very enthusiastically received.  We will be doing more of those, with the schedule to be announced soon.
Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekday mornings at 7:30, in the chapel

This Week's Torah Portion: Va-Era
The "Learn Torah With" commentary on this portion can be found at

BDT: BRIEF D'VAR TORAH: Speaking Truth to Power...and Hope to the Powerless
Last week I introduced you to the "Table Talk" series, an excellent way to bring Torah discussion to your Shabbat dinner table.  It's located at Here is one question raised there in regard to this week's portion:

Several years ago, Eli Wiesel spoke to then President Reagan concerning Reagan's planned visit to the Bitberg Cemetery in Germany which included graves of Nazi airmen. Wiesel discouraging Reagan's visit said, "I must speak Truth to Power." Moses was speaking truth to power when he spoke with Pharaoh. How do you speak truth to power when it comes to parents? To teachers? To other people in authority? What might be the cost of telling the truth?

This question is even more relevant, given Wiesel's heart-felt and courageous op-ed in the New York Times this week about Jerusalem, found online at

Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Laureate, has spent the better part of half a century being the conscience of the Jewish people.  His comments to Reagan carried immense moral weight, as did his defense of innocent Moslems in Bosnia at the time when the Holocaust Museum was dedicated.  His comments this week, though directed more at us than others, are equally powerful.  Moses had a doubly difficult job in encountering Pharaoh.  He had to convince Pharaoh that he (and God) meant business, and then he had to convince his own people to believe.  And to do this, all God gave Moses was a couple of two-bit joke store gimmicks; you know, the old rod-turns-to-snake-trick.  In the end, neither Pharoah nor the Israelites were easily convinced. 

Now Wiesel faces a task as daunting as Moses faced.  He's already succeeded in speaking truth to power, but he now needs to speak the calming words of faith to this own people, powerless as we are to change the bitter reality of perpetual strife in Israel.  His charge: to give realistic hope to the hopeless.  First, that means speaking the truth, the bitter truth, that it looks like Oslo has run its course.  In fact, Oslo did much of what it was supposed to do: it exposed the true intentions of Arafat before it was too late.  But the red line that the Palestinians now insist that we cross is Jerusalem, and Wiesel reminded all of us, including those who would give almost anything for peace, just why Jerusalem is our heart and soul.  Some of his historic references (specifically to 1948) are now hotly debated among historians, but no one can question his love for Zion and love for peace, and that that combination has sustained all of Israel through decades of war and rejection.

It is not enough to speak the truth to the powerful.  Wiesel's brilliant piece also gives us hope, reminding us that, for the Jewish people, a quarter century is just the blink of an eye.  And maybe, if peace is built incrementally, a quarter century from now we'll be able at long last to find a way to share even the holiest of holy places.  Maybe then, but not now.  Maybe an interim agreement now that will help to separate the populations now, but not there.  Not Jerusalem.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever. 

To understand the depths of Wiesel''s feelings, you have to have walked the streets of the holy city.  Israel is aching for tourism, and I would implore you to consider going on one of the solidarity tours being offered by the United Jewish Communities, among other groups, or on your own.  All reports I hear from people who have been there recently are that the country is as beautiful as ever, but that the people definitely need a morale boost that tourism could bring.  My own schedule has made it difficult for me to go this year, but our Birthright Israel Teen Tour is still a "go" for this summer (see below), and some quickly arranged solidarity trip of adults might be possible here if there is interest.

Here's another hopeful sign: If ever we felt that some things can never change, all we have to do is look eastward for some solace.  No, not to Jerusalem, but to, of all places, the Kremlin.  Yes, the fortress of Stalin and Lenin has made its kitchen kosher in preparation for the visit of the Israeli President, just a quarter century after Sharansky and the other Prisoners of Zion (whom Wiesel once called "the Jews of Silence") began to speak truth to power at the very same Kremlin.  If that can happen, well, ANYTHING can happen, even peace between Israel and her neighbors.  A Kosher Kremlin?  Who would've thunk it?  Add another "Shehechianu moment" to the list!


Israel Teen Tour
On Thursday, Feb 1, from 7:00-8:30 PM, there will be an informational meeting for our Israel 2001 Teen Tour.  Parents and teens will be hearing from Dr. Joe Freedman, director, Ramah Programs in Israel.  He'll address the questions that are on everyone's mind regarding security and discuss itinerary changes that have been implemented in light of recent events.  Once again our federation has been selected as a Birthright Israel pilot community, meaning that extensive scholarships of approx. $1,500 will be available to participants.  It is quite possible that these scholarships will not be available in the future.  Given this, and in light of the phenomenal success of last year's tour, it is vital that we give this tour every chance of succeeding if it possibly can.  So, if you have any interest at all, this Thursday is the time to come, to listen and to ask.

Sisterhood Shabbat is being held on Feb. 10, with a special emphasis women's issues, the crossing of the Red Sea and Tu B'Shevat.  Come and see a dramatic presentation, "The Great Gender Shift."

Atid (grades K,2) Havdalah and movie night, this Saturday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 (rescheduled from last week)
Board, Ritual Committee Strategic Planning Retreat, Sunday, Jan. 28,  9:30 AM (at Mark Lapine's office)
Tot Shabbat, Feb. 2, at 7:15 PM
Grade Four Shabbaton, Feb. 2-3
Children's Concert (Rick Recht), Feb. 4
Kesher (grades 3-5) Goes Vertical: Feb 4
Special Shabbat Service for Young Couples, led by our student cantor, Laura Berman: Feb 9, at 8:00 PM

Want to learn how to interpret the Torah? Always want to know who Rashi really was?  Even if you never wish actually to stand up in front of people and pontificate, you can still learn how to "Do a Drash" at a special one hour seminar I'll be leading on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 10 AM.  If the group wishes, we might expand the class into a more substantial workshop on later dates -- but first things first.  Let the school office know if you are interested.

They told me to add Saturday March 3 to this "save the date" list.  Don't know why.  Must be because the Teen Service will be that morning.

Pick up Beth El Cares note cards in the office and write a note of support and friendship to an Israeli soldier.  Bring it back here and we will send it over to Israel. where the cards will be distributed among the embattled troops.  Adults and children can participate, in English or Hebrew, or, for young children, a simple picture will be just fine.  Special thanks to Rabbi Holman's fourth grade class at the Bi-Cultural Day School for their participation in this project.

A week ago, I mentioned that following the Shabbaton, some people had suggested that we gather a small group of people who might be interested in discussing our struggles in building meaningful Jewish lives for ourselves and our families.  I received about a dozen enthusiastic responses immediately, primarily from couples with babies or slightly older children, and we are now planning a get-together in the near future for those families.  There was some (but not yet enough) interest expressed by singles and empty-nesters.  I'd love to help plan more of these, for all groupings, including possibly ones for interfaith couples, singles of various age groups, and anyone else.  If you would like to be part of such a gathering, let me know.   

...In fact, we already have such a discussion group and it has been active for over 30 years. This Sunday at 7:30 in our library, the Beth El Discussion Group will be hosting Joel Kay, an attorney for the Anti-Defamation League, whose topic will be, "The Global Anti-Semitic Scene."  All are most welcome to attend.

REQUIRED READING ON THE WEB (If you find something exciting of a Jewish interest (including relevant non-Jewish sites), send them along!


Remember "Friday Night Live" with Craig Taubman?  We hosted it exactly a year ago, and here's a recent article from the Forward on what FNL is accomplishing back in L.A. now:
The spirit of FNL lives on here, in that we'll be hosting a special, contemporary-style service especially for young couples on Friday, Feb. 9 at 8:00.  It will take place in the lobby (our regular service will be held in the chapel as usual).  This service will be led by our student cantor, Laura Berman.  If it proves successful, undoubtedly we'll be expanding the program to offer it to other groups, including singles.

Check out Sh'ma, an excellent journal of Jewish discussion, for this month's dialogue, at
I especially liked the letter to President Bush penned by Susan Weidman Schneider of Lillith Magazine.  From Sh'ma you can click right to one of its sister publications...

3) SOCIALACTION.COM  There you'll find some excellent, action-oriented Torah commentaries.  This effort is being coordinated by Rabbi Sue Fendrick, who was our guest at an in-house Shabbaton we held here two years ago.  (Does that make the last one an "out-house" Shabbaton?)... 

...And while you're at it check out the brand new online hub of Jewish activity,, which is also part of the Jewish Family and Life network of Web sites.  It is just about to launch but already you'll find lots there for families, kids, teens, young adults in their 20's and 30's, interfaith families, you name it.  Definitely worth a look.

One more of this JFL network of great Jewish sites is this new one, featuring the latest in books of interest to Jewish readers.  It's at and this issue features a review of our own Alvin Rosenfeld's recent book, "Hyper-Parenting" (which was also featured in this week's Newsweek).  This site was launched in November. 

If you are interested seeing in my latest column in the Jewish Week, it's at  Some of you may remember the context of the piece from my Kol Nidre sermon.  While you are there, something else of interest is just a click away, at

Thanks to Sherry Shamir's publicity efforts for the recent Cantor's Concert, we have been chosen as a featured community this week at the statewide home page at Go there, click on "communities," and look for us!

There are different ways to approach this.  Which city has more Jews?  Baltimore or New York?  Or is it Baltimore or Hackensack? One thing for sure, Baltimore and New York couldm well be the most densely populated Jewish communities in the country (Of course, Bostonian Jews are far less dense).  But, even assuming population matters, would God wish to have the city with more Jews celebrate -- or suffer? 

So let's look to the sources for guidance.  Ravens and Giants play important roles in our history.  In the Torah, the raven (o'rev) is mentioned among the unkosher birds in Leviticus 11:15 (so the Giants can't eat 'em for dinner), and Noah sent out a raven from the ark to scout for dry land. It "went to and fro until the waters dried from the earth."  Sounds like a solid air attack. The raven did all the dirty work, and the dove, which went out only after the waters had subsided, got all the credit.  Did you know that meal spikes were placed on the roof of the Temple in Jerusalem to prevent ravens, undoubtedly attracted to the remains of the sacrificial offerings, from sitting there and disturbing services with their raucous cries.  If the Giants wear metal spikes on Sunday, that could be a good omen for them.  Isaiah (34:11) saw the raven as a sign presaging bad tidings, but ravens actually fed Elijah when he hid in a brook (Kings 17:2-6). 

Giants are called both Nefilim and Anakim in the Torah.  The Nefilim were mythic humanoids that filled the earth before the flood, much like the Titans of Greek mythology (a Giant-Titan Super Bowl would have been a doozy), while the Anakim petrified the Israelite spies who went to scout out the land in the book of Numbers.  There is one other giant of note in the Bible.  His name was Goliath and the less said about him, the better for Giants fans.  But it isn't just Goliath who bit the dust, folks.  When Rashi tried to explain the term Nifilim, he related it to the Hebrew word "nafal," "to fall."  The Nefilim, then, are the "fallen ones," men of renown who led society toward the depravity that resulted in the flood, which brought us Noah, which brought us that unsung hero of the whole thing, none other than the raven.

You can see where this is heading. It says here -- which in Hebrew is "poe," as in Edgar Allan -- that I'm afraid, from the Jewish perspective, that it looks as if it will be "Once upon a midnight dreary" for the Giants, who will na-fall to the Ravens.  Now, what about the points?  Of course I do not advocate betting, but since the Nefilim are mentioned in Genesis 6, and the raven is mentioned two chapters later, I look for a 2-point difference.  How will it happen?  Listen to Poe: "While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping."  So, late into the night, if there is poe-etic justice in the universe, the Ravens will win on a last-second toe-tapping field goal of 47 yards and then dedicate their victory to Scott Norwood.  Who is he?  Well, ask any Giants fan.

So, to reiterate, Quoth the Maven, "Ravens by 2."

I will make one prediction that is an iron-clad sure-thing.  The game's MVP, from either team, will say he's going to Disney World, then will assure us that Jesus was rooting for his team to win all along.

A Super Shabbat Shalom

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to about 425 congregants and others, plus to a college student list of about 60.  Please feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of any congregant, college student or anyone else who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at my temple address,
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