Friday, February 2, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, Feb 2001

 Shabbat Shalom!

This week, the O'Gram franchise is off onto yet another new venture.  Later today, I'll be sending out the first "Shabbat-O-Gram for Kids," primarily to our seventh and eighth graders.  If you know someone who might want to receive a short, weekly "Shabbat Shalom" from the rabbi, plus games and surprises, send those e-mails along! 

For those who might be wondering if there is a Jewish connection to "Groundhog Day," but of course.  There's a Jewish connection to everything!  Not that we are afraid to see our shadows --  I'm thinking of the other "Groundhog Day."  The movie.  The one referred to daily in the media last fall in Florida, when it seemed like we were waking up each morning to the same horrible nightmare, replaying itself again and again.

The Jewish response to Groundhog Day can be seen in a single verse from the prayer book, one recited each morning just before the Sh'ma, in the Yotzer (Creation) section of the service: "Ha-mechadesh b'tuvo b'chol yom tamid ma'ase b'reisheet."  In the midst of thanking God for the gift of light, we also express gratitude to the One who "renews each day completely the work of Creation."  What is that saying?  Not that everyday is the same old nightmare.  Au contraire.  In our tradition, every day represents a fresh start, as if all of Creation is being renewed. With that fresh start comes second chances, and third chances too.  We can keep trying until we get it right.  And if we get it wrong again, as inevitably we will, well, there's always tomorrow.  A Jewish groundhog might indeed return to the hole tomorrow if s/he sees a shadow.  But s/he will be right back out there the next day. 


Candle lighting Friday
: 4:57 PM
Tot Shabbat: 7:15 PM, in the lobby
Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00, in the chapel
Shabbat Morning: 9:30, in the sanctuary.  We're trying something different this week.  In order to enhance the community feel, we'll be roping off the sections by the windows and consolidating seating in the middle sections.
Mazal Tov to Janice and Michael Greenberg, whose daughter Jillian Risa will be named at our service this Shabbat morning.
Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room). 
Birthday blessings for February 
at the end of the service
Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekday mornings at 7:30, in the chapel.  We've had minyans all week (but sometimes barely).  Please let me know if you plan to be here on a given day and wish to ensure that a minyan will be present, for a yahrzeit or any other reason.

Shabbat Shalom to our 4th grade, who will be going off on their class Shabbaton this Friday afternoon.

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

BDT Brief D'var Torah:  A Perfect "10"
Back in the days when I had time to watch poorly-made Dudley Moore movies and laugh about men in the throes of mid life crisis (thinking I'd never get there), I was enamored by the movie "10."  No, not because of that untouchable object of Dudley's affections, Bo Derek.  Well, mostly not.  In fact, what amazed me most about the film was not how beautiful Bo looked, but how foolish looked the man who pursued her.  The definition of a "perfect 10" is rather subjective (for me, lots of beads in the hair and a perfectly sculpted nose doesn't cut it).  But whatever our ideal is, when we objectify the goal, set our sights on it and settle for nothing less, we are doomed to look foolish in the process. 

In our portion, aptly entitled "Bo," both Moses and Pharaoh seek the perfect "10," and both emerge from this test of wills tarnished.  Moses, who must have thought Pharaoh would have given in by now, keeps having to return to the palace to plead his people's case.  The word "bo" means "come," as God tells Moses, "Come unto Pharaoh" to make the case yet again.  But for Moses, the call really is to "go" unto Pharaoh, not "come," unless God is to be seen as residing in the palace.  It gets to the point where neither God nor Moses seems to know whether they are coming or going.  The cycle of plague and destruction is spinning out of control. Surely neither of them wished for the climactic catastrophe that takes place in our portion, that perfect "10" of the Ten Plagues, that nuclear option at Defcom 1 (or is it 5?), the slaying of the first born.  Those who are reliving the Cuban Missile Crisis in the current movie "13 Days" might have a special appreciation of how things can so easily spin out of control and how difficult it is to prevent that from happening.  And, in that sense, JFK did a heck of a lot better than GOD.

But for Pharoah, things have spun even more out of control.  Why does he keep hardening his heart?  A close look at the text shows us that, before the latter plagues, it is God who is hardening the king's heart. Earlier, it was the king who hardened his own heart.   Pharaoh has relinquished all control.  In the end he has lost even the power to do teshuvah, to repent.  He wanted nothing less than total victory over Moses and his God, so the result is utter catastrophe. To see Pharaoh lose control is to recall those scenes of Dudley Moore movies when he is drunk, especially in "10" and "Arthur," for no other actor so vividly portrayed that loss of self control, that pathetic helplessness, and how foolish and senseless it looks when you get that way.  That's how Pharaoh looks here.  Not like the Yul Brynner Pharaoh, who still had the world in the palm of his hand, even as his pigtailed first-born lay dead before him.  No, the Torah wants us to think of Dudley Moore's drunk, who, in the end, had barely a heart left to harden (though more than enough liver to go around), and no chance of controlling it. 

All in pursuit of the perfect "10."


UJF Super Sunday Feb. 4
Last week might have been the Super Bowl (for which I made a super prediction), but this week is the true Super Sunday.  Please respond generously when calls are made for donations to our local federation.  The money helps Jews all over the world, including our own community.  One example of how your donation works to benefit our children directly will be held that same day....

...Children's Concert (Rick Recht), Feb. 4, at 10:00 -- sponsored by the Educators' Council of the UJF.  This annual "happening" brings together Jewish students from the religious and day schools of the Stamford and Greenwich area.  Last year over 1,000 kids (and some young-at-heart parents) piled into our building for what could only be termed a celebration of Jewish joy and unity.  How incredible it was to see Jewish of all backgrounds coming together to sing, to dance a little, and just to be happy together.

Kesher (grades 3-5) Goes Vertical: Feb 4, at 1:45.  This program is SOLD OUT; an additional one has been scheduled for April 29.

ADL Speaker on Anti-Semitism
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.

Special Shabbat Service for Young Couples, led by our student cantor, Laura Berman: Feb 9, at 8:00 PM.  If you know of a young couple in the area, affiliated or unaffiliated, whom you think would appreciate a special phone call invitation to this event, please let give us the name and telephone number.  This will be a great chance to meet other people and get together for a nice Friday night.

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." In honor of Tu B'Shevat and the upcoming Sisterhood Shabbat on Feb 10, the Sisterhood is collecting canned and dried fruit for donation to the local food pantry.  The collection box is already set up in the lobby, so people can start donating anytime.

Do a Drash
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.


We'll be having our annual Shabbat of Sharing with Temple Sinai on Feb. 23-24.  Our guest speaker will be Arthur Magida, a noted columnist on religion for PBS and Beliefnet, and author of "Prophet of Rage: A Life of Louis Farrakhan and His Nation," "How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies" and several other books.  The topics:

Friday night (at Temple Sinai -- 8:15PM)
“We WILL Overcome!”
The Black-Jewish alliance of the 1960s was followed by almost three decades of tensions exploited by separatists and hate-mongers. Now, the decline of leaders like Louis Farrakhan, the shared calamity of the Florida elections and the renaissance of a newly strengthened NAACP gives hope for a redefined Black-Jewish relationship.

Shabbat morning (here)
“A Meeting of the Ways: New Interfaith Realities in the 21st Century”
As increased immigration boosts Islamic, Buddhist and Asian populations in the U.S., and as Jews and Christians seek more amicable relations, barriers between religions are lowering. The new atmosphere not only enhances public dialogue
,it gives all faiths a chance to better understand others -- and themselves

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.

JOURNEYS ON THE WEB (and some gratuitous political commentary): TU B'SHEVAT and the ISRAELI ELECTIONS

1) Looking for a portal to Jewish sites? Try  BTW, if you check Conservative synagogues, you will find that we are linked to it.  Ha-rishima, which means "the list," weaves together both Israeli and Diaspora sites, including a number of media links not found elsewhere. 

2) Looking for a liberal Jewish setting for online text study?  You'll find it at the Kollel,  Click on the Mishna section to view Rabbi Neal Loevinger's thoughts on the spirituality embedded in a simple blessing over "the fruit of the tree."'

3) Which brings us neatly to Tu B'Shevat.  Some suggested links for further study: A nice introduction can be found at (Rabbi Sheinerman's Home Page), and at (from JSource -- the Jewish Student Online Resource Center).  We're not doing a Tu B'Shevat seder here this year, so why not do one at home?  Some simple suggestions can be found at  You can download a Seder format from, and find a far more traditional and detailed packet on this festival at

4) Which brings us to the whole area of eco-Judaism, often emphasized on Tu B'Shevat and a growing concern for many.  Click on to find a fascinating take on "Eco-Kosher and Feng Shui."  This article compares Jewish and Eastern forms of environmentalism, focusing on the rabbinic concept of "Bal Tashchit," prohibiting the needless waste of our natural resources.  Fascinating reading.  To find out more, take a trip to the Teva Learning Center.  "Teva" means nature, and this camping program has become a sort of Jewish "Outward Bound" for many students, including, I believe, sixth graders at Bi-Cultural.  Teva is at, and is coordinated by an organization called Shomrei Adama (Keepers of the Land).  Last but not least, there is the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), found at  Here's there mission statement: "
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life engages Jewish institutions and individuals in bringing the moral passion of Jewish tradition and social action to environmental stewardship in order to preserve the integrity of creation, advance social justice, protect future generations, and strengthen the Jewish community."
This site has numerous educational links and action alerts.  This comes at a time when I fear that action alerts will increase dramatically.  How ironic, that, on this New Year of Trees, with the threats of Ozone depletion and global warming already so real, our forests and wildernesses face uncertainty from an administration that goes by the green-friendly name of "Bush."  Ironic indeed, that under Bush, the environment might just hit rock bottom, or, to use another political name of note, its "nadir."

5) Finally, with Israeli elections coming up next Tuesday, check out this week's Jewish Week for a cover story on Sharon's concerns (and another nice article about Conservative women rabbis) at, and then see a column by the always-informative Ehud Ya'ari of the Jerusalem Report, on the developing anarchy in the Palestinian Authority and what it means for Israel, at  To follow the vote, the Jerusalem Post Web site is always helpful, and they now do real-time radio broadcasts at


This world, our world, is imbued with holiness . . . . We are not seeking to escape the everyday, but to hallow it. We do this by cleansing ourselves of the negative behaviors that keep us from encountering the world -- and all beings in it -- with a sense of awe, wonder, kindness, and compassion . . .
--Rabbi Rami Shapiro

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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