Friday, May 11, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 10, 2001

Shabbat Shalom!


Friday Night:
Candle lighting: 
7:43 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat (outdoors): 7:00 PM

Shabbat Morning:
: 9:15 (Pesukey d’Zimra -- introductory psalms), 9:30 (Shacharit)
Children’s Services: 10:30
We celebrate as Michael Karp becomes Bar Mitzvah.  Mazal Tov to Michael and his family.

Torah Portion: Emor
This week’s Lear Torah With commentary is found at,
by Rabbi Myer Kripke, who has Stamford connections and has often attended services here.  Ironically, if you check out the JTS d’var Torah this week, at
Rabbi Matt Berkowitz informs us that the Kripke Tower (donated by the very same), was dedicated this week.  This tower, holding the priceless library collection, had been destroyed by fire in 1965.  At long last, it has been rebuilt, thanks to one of the great philanthropist rabbis of our generation (and a very sweet and gentle human being).  Berkowitz writes:

“The lamp about to be kindled atop the Kripke Tower is a precious symbol, reminding us of the biblical menorah of this week’s parashah. But more than that, let it remind us of the precious treasure of Talmud Torah that is the essence of JTS; an undertaking to which we bring the best of ourselves, a love that must continually be stoked and nourished, a light that radiates outward, as the light of the menorah, and a light that burns from generation to generation. Let JTS as a modern mishkan be a model for each of us in our own religious lives - learning with hitlahavut (fiery enthusiasm) and then turning outward to enlighten and illuminate the world in which we live.”

In case you haven’t noticed, Israel is at war.  There is no such thing as a “low level war” or “tolerable casualties.”  In Judaism, one innocent life lost is an entire universe.  And in case you haven’t noticed it, we are all on the front lines of a very important theater of this war.  Our job, like that of the classical Hebrew prophet, is to convey truth to power. Essentially, that means to lobby the leaders and monitor the media, with the understanding that war is not the path that Israel has chosen, but the one that has been thrust upon us.  We can never lose sight of the ultimate goal of peace and reconciliation, but right now it seems that the only way to achieve it is for the civilized world to take a united stand against terrorism.  The U.S. has come a long way in understanding that there is no moral equivalence between the accidental death of a baby in self-defense, and the deliberate murder in cold blood of two innocent teenagers.  That’s why Arafat has not been invited to the White House.  It’s time, I believe, for the US to make even stronger statements of support for embattled Israel.  Clearly, the way of the honest, objective peace broker hasn’t worked.  The Mitchell commission almost sounded pre-historic in its attempts to show balance this week.  This is not a balanced situation.  The message that we need to convey is clear: All innocent death is equally tragic, but all who cause such death are not equally innocent. We must keep on hammering it home.  

We also need help Israel maintain the moral high ground, by encouraging Israel to treat its Arab citizens with with equality and fairness, by seeking to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible, as it has, and always to be pursuing peace.

I propose that we establish immediately within our congregation an emergency Israel Defense Committee, to help us coordinate long and short-term actions on Israel’s behalf.  And I propose that our first meeting be held on Thursday, June 14.  That evening, at 8:30 PM in our chapel, we’ll be hearing from  Steve Zacharow, rabbi of Kehilat Shevet Achim, a new Masorti synagogue in the embattled Gilo section of Jerusalem. His lecture is entitled "Gilo Story: Life on the Frontline."  That presentation might be the perfect springboard to further action on our part, something we can discuss both during and after the presentation.  (BTW, the Bi-Cultural graduation that night, also taking place in our building, will be over before the lecture begins).  Let me know if you wish to be on this emergency committee.

Some Israel-related articles worth reading this week:

On the Pope’s visit to Quneitra (and the misinformation spread re. the destruction of the town): see Smarter Times (NY Times watchdog site)at I’ve yet to see CNN called on the carpet for it’s shoddy reporting on the matter, as seen at

For some follow-up on the silent response of the Vatican to the outrageously anti-Semitic statements made by Syrian President Assad in the Pope’s presence, see Richard Cohen’s article at, and the Jewish Week editorial at
And while you’re in the activist mood, sign the petition on behalf of Israel’s missing soldiers, at, if you haven’t already.


Mazal Tov
: to Robin and Greg Druckman (and to grandparents Ron and Belle Agronin who were back in Stamford for the blessed event) on the birth of Shayna Arielle Druckman.

If you did not receive a Membership Survey in the mail, or if you have misplaced yours, please call Mindy in the Temple office at (203) 322-6901, ext. 301 or e-mail, and she will send one to you immediately.

Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Class
With approximately 20 participants, this is the largest such class ever at Beth El. There is still room for you. Classes are being held on Thursdays from 7-9 PM. The course will last exactly one year. All skill levels and backgrounds welcome. Contact the education office for more information (322-6901 X306).

Scholar in Residence: Egon Mayer
Our Scholar in Residence this year, on the weekend of June 1-3, will be Prof. Egon Mayer. The theme for the weekend will be "LOVE & TRADITION: Marriage, Family Patterns and the Jewish Future." Mayer’s specialty is outreach to those at the fringe of Jewish communal life, including and especially interfaith families. Our program for that weekend will be most appealing to those families, as well as to the rest of us, so it is incumbent upon us to reach out and find them. 

The lecture schedule will be as follows:

Friday evening, June 1: Services will be held at 7:00 PM (outdoors, weather permitting), followed by a dinner at 8 (contact our education office to reserve).  During dinner, Dr. Mayer will speak on the topic: “Tevyeh’s Lament: What’s Love Got to Do With It -How Modernity Broke Tradition in the Lives of the Jewish People.”  We will have concurrent programming for children with Nurit Avigdor but keep in mind that it will be late, and there is no Tot Shabbat that night. 

Shabbat morning, June 2: During our family services -- “A Sermon on the Future of Welcoming and Reconciliation -- Ready or Not: Thinking Beyond Minority Status.” Lunch and questions following the service

Saturday evening: Dessert-Havdalah evening of discussion at the home of congregants Milton and Norma Mann, with limited space available (RSVP to our education office soon to guarantee a spot).  Topic: “The Demographic Revolutions of America’s Jews:  Major trends that are transforming the prospects of the Jewish future in Modern American society.

Sunday morning, June 3 at 9:30 AM: brunch for the leadership of the congregation (board, ritual committee, board of education, sisterhood, men’s club leadership, and anyone else who is interested), following morning minyan (minyan at 9:00, brunch at 9:30). "Developing Strategies for Outreach.”

Background materials: take a look at the latest statistics on children of interfaith families:
“Do Kids Of Interfaith Families Choose Judaism?

The book “Kaddish” by Leon Wieseltier will be reviewed by Rabbi Hammerman (that's me) as part of the Jewish Historical Society’s book review series, at the JCC on Wed. May 16, at 10:30 AM

Kindergarten Open House  May 20
Let all your unaffiliated friends know that, if they have a child entering Kindergarten in the fall, they are cordially invited to see our remarkable school in action on May 20, at either the early (8:45) or late (11:00) sessions.  RSVP to bonnie in the education office, at 322-6901 X306.  We look forward to greeting them!

Thank you: to all the Volunteers that did a great job working on the Americares House Project last Sunday!.

Thursday night and Friday bring us the least understood and most mysterious of all Jewish holidays: Lag B’Omer. About the easiest thing to explain about it is the name. Since each Hebrew letter has a corresponding numerical value, the letters lamed and gimel add up to thirty three, and Thursday night indeed is the thirty third night of the counting period between Passover and Shavuot known as the Omer.

What’s the Omer?
OK, so what’s an Omer? The Omer happens to be explained in this week’s Torah portion, Emor. It is also known as the Sephira, which means counting, but Jewish mystics have tied that into the notion of the Sephirot, God’s emanations. So let’s see, we’ve got Omer, Emor, Sephira, Sephirot…let’s call the whole thing off!

No, let’s just go to the experts for help. At, you’ll find Eliezer Segal’s excellent tie-in to the portion, including an explanation as to a humdinger of a rabbinic controversy regarding the Jewish calendar. The Omer is considered a semi-mourning period. Find out why at Then, for a detailed summary of the Sephira laws, go to, the site of Young Israel of Passaic.  It is interesting to note that, even within the traditional world, “In the post-Holocaust era, uniformity of practice is virtually no longer possible to implement, since pockets of population with all sorts of customs have descended upon all Jewish communities. Accordingly, in one city it is no longer surprising to see a host of customs simultaneously observed.”

This can often leads to much confusion in the scheduling of communal events, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings at this time of year. You can have a halachic field day on all this at the OU site,

The Kabbalalists loved the Omer concept both because of the tie-in to the Sephirot. To see how they do that, check out this from Reb Goldie Milgrom, of the New York Center for Jewish Meditation, at IF you really want to learn all about the Sephirot, got to For a Breslaver Hasidic view, see

And finally, kudos to Rabbi Sue Fendrick and for developing the concept of the seven-week counting leading us to constructive acts of world-repair. Find out how, and see some terrific articles, at

What’s Lag B’Omer?
Now we focus on the big day itself. is a good place to start. If after that you can figure out the difference between Rabbi Akiva and Shimon Bar Yochai, you’re ready for the Lag B’Omer hot sites at From there you can really go to town on this stuff. I mean that quite literally, for there are several visits to those hotbeds of Lag B’Omer festivities, Meron and Safed, nestled high in the hills of northern Galilee. will take you to Meron, describing the white-hot bonfires, and you’ll also be exposed to some relatively palatable selections from the Zohar, that magnum opus of Jewish mysticism. Continue to explore Mount Meron with nice photos, at, and find out at how the Meron scene is really akin to “Meah Shearim meets Woodstock.” On the other hand, the article at says that Meron “’aint exactly Woodstock.” Lots less rain and lots more clothes, I suppose.

Back on earth, Lag B’Omer is more of a nature festival for those non-mystics among us. (I agree with those who see a definite May Day tie in, both holidays sharing ancient pagan roots with other  spring nature festivals). In the early days of Zionism, it became a perfect time to celebrate the spectacular spring weather in the Land of Israel, with bonfires and picnics. All the secular youth groups would take part. A nice photographic reminder of that can be found at

For the kids, a nice story about Rabbi Akiba, one of the heroes of the festival, can be found at For the cooks, some Lag B’omer picnic recipes are at

I loved the material at I have little knowledge of the background of the sponsor of this organization in South Africa, and a few thigns I see there make me wary, but the Lag B’Omer material is top-notch, with a special focus on Simon Bar Yochai You’ll also find a full mystical Omer chart there, at

And one final, sobering note: Yitz Greenberg teaches us the lessons of Lag B’Omer’s history at
“Most people think of Lag B'Omer as a warm, fuzzy semi-holiday with a nature-loving theme.   But in the Talmud, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer period is a devastating reminder of a catastrophe caused by Jews' divisiveness. Today, Jewry seems headed for a repeat of the disaster.”

And, in recognition of Yitz’ valid points, I pledge to hold back in my usage of inflammatory language involving other Jews.  I suppose that means my even putting the term “fundamentalist” to rest for a while, although I still do reserve the right to use “literalist” from time to time.

Happy Lag B’Omer, Happy Mother's Day and Shabbat Shalom to all the people of Israel and the world.


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