Friday, June 1, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 31, 2001

Shabbat Shalom!


Scholar-in-Residence Shabbat with Egon Mayer
Who is Egon Mayer?  Find out at, then find out more at

Friday Night:

Candle lighting: 
8:03 PM

Torah Portion: Naso

Kabbalat Shabbat: 7:00, outdoors weather permitting, otherwise in the downstairs lobby.
We welcome the J.C.C. Young Couples Group to our service, and thank them for their donation toward Friday night’s Oneg Shabbat. 


At 8:00, 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 during the time of the lecture.

Shabbat Morning:
: 9:15 - Pesukey d’Zimra -- introductory Psalms; 9:30  Shacharit.  Family (congregant-led) Service
Children’s Services: 10:30

During the main service, Dr. Mayer will speak on the topic, “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 or reply via e-mail to me). Topic: “The Demographic Revolutions of America’s Jews: Major trends that are transforming the prospects of the Jewish future in Modern American society.”  There is still limited space available! Call now!

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.”  RSVP to Roberta Aronovitch if you are coming to this, or reply via e-mail to me).





It was fitting that the film “Pearl Harbor” opened last weekend, on the festival of Shavuot, as Jews everywhere were singing “Torah Torah Torah.”

But seriously, ever since Spielberg’s  “Saving Private Ryan” and Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation” came out a few years ago, there has been an obsession among aging boomers and X’ers to learn more about the heroism of our parents and grandparents.   We who have never had to lay our lives on the line for God and country are mesmerized at the thought that so many did that voluntarily. 

In this week’s portion, the concept of the Nazerite (found in our portion) gives us some clues as to the essence of heroism.  A Nazerite vowed to give up certain things to live in a state of holiness: alcohol, proximity to a dead person (except close relatives) and cutting the hair.  The most famous Nazerite was Samson, the subject of this week’s Haftarah, who did OK until it came to the hair thing.  Each of these self-imposed prohibitions likely was connected to ancient cultic practices that might sway one from the path of disciplined holiness.  The key is discipline and self control, something that was also the key to Samson’s tragic undoing: He had none.  And for a Jew, self-discipline is the key to heroism.  “Who is a hero?” asks the sage Ben Zoma in the tractate Avot “The one who conquers his passions.” 

So we must ask whether our obsession with the previous generation has less to do with their valor in war than with the fact that they possessed a degree of self discipline far greater than our own.  They survived on small rations of butter, painted-on nylons and blacked out shorelines, while we can’t bear to live without instantly gratifying every whim. 

Israelis often look back to the days of the pioneers, pre and post 1948, with a similar nostalgia.  The irony is, Israelis have never had to STOP sacrificing.  They seem to have gone straight from the Kibbutz watchtower of the ‘30s to the bomb shelter of the ‘60s to the sealed room of the ‘90s.  And now, they must heroically go on with daily life knowing that each time they go to the mall or shop for groceries, a loved one might never return.  And each time they send their children off to school, a foreboding hovers over that hug goodbye.  Now, with last week’s terrible wedding hall disaster, Israelis can’t even feel secure INSIDE their abodes.  It takes unbelievable heroism just to go about one’s daily lives over there, and an equally great sense of self-discipline not to give it all up and leave.   While Israelis have always faced uncertainty and danger, this might be their most difficult challenge yet.

Yet, with the type of self-discipline even a Nazerite could admire, the Israeli government has chosen for the time being to hold fire and minimize the use of force.  If the terror attacks continue, that policy will have to change and Israel will need steadfast support from American Jews and the American government.   That is why I’ll be going to New York on Sunday.

The Solidarity Rally for Israel

We are being offered an important opportunity to tell the world that Israel does not stand alone and that there is no moral equivalency between cold blooded murder and legitimate acts of self-defense.  The Solidarity Rally for Israel will be held at 11 AM on Sunday at the Israeli mission to the U.N., on 2
nd Ave between 42nd and 43rd Streets.  Over a hundred rabbis and congregations are sponsoring the rally (including ours) representing an unprecedented demonstration of unity among the branches of Judaism.  It is essential that many thousands show up; more important than any such rally since the Soviet Jewry March on Washington over a decade ago.   That’s why I’ve decided to go.  For more on why this rally is so important, see the Jewish Week’s coverage at and the editorial at

It wasn’t an easy decision.  I’ll be missing part of our scholar-in-residence program that day (it will still  take place) and other important events within the congregational family.  But all I have to endure is a little inconvenience; in Israel, they are putting their lives on the line daily.  Going to New York on a pleasant Sunday in June to stand behind Israel is the very least I can do.

It’s the least you can do too. 

Since the location is easily walkable from Grand Central, I’ll be taking the train.  My online Metro North schedule ( tells me that there is a 9:03 from Stamford Station arriving in New York at 10:09.  I’ll be on it.  If I am going to represent us alone, so be it.  But if Stamford Jewry fills the train, all the better.  This might be the most important political statement in support of Israel that we will be able to make in this generation.  Maybe someday we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren that this support helped pave the way to peace by showing Arafat that we are steadfast and showing President Bush that moral equivalency leads invariably to moral bankruptcy.  If we can accomplish this, we might be seen by our grandchildren as “The Greatest Generation” too.  At the very least, our brothers and sisters over there will hear us, and they, and we, will sleep better for it.

So, what are you doing this Sunday?

Nazerite on the Web

Some additional sources on the Nazerite: (good background) (d’var Torah) (introduction to the Talmudic material on the Nazerite) (all the downloadable Talmud that’s fit to print, of you have Hebrew fonts) (helpful charts for the Talmudic material  still very technical)

Self Discipline on the Web (Chancellor Schorsch tells us why Ben Zoma never received the title “rabbi” and analyzes his quote on self-mastery in relation to the Joseph story) Columnist Jeff Jacoby’s moving “Letter to My Son.”  Quotes Ben Zoma) (Nice quotes on self-discipline, but where’s Ben Zoma?) (text and commentary of the full Ben Zoma quote) (Rabbi Michael Gold on family and sexuality: “Sexual discipline stands at the center of the Torah's vision of family life.”) (“Ten Ways to Help Your Teenager Develop Self-Discipline” Helpful, especially #8, “Pick Your Battles Wisely.”) (For a mystical site, not terribly mystical) (for kids) (seminar on discipline in biblical child rearing) (read the end, on the connection between self-discipline and the Jewish dietary laws)


More on Israel: Gilo Speaker on June 14 at 8:30, in our chapel.
If you are concerned about Israel, whether or not you can make it to the rally, do join us to hear from a rabbi who is living through the nightly gunfire aimed at his neighborhood of Gilo, on southern border of Jerusalem. We’ll be hearing from Steve Zacharow, rabbi of Kehilat Shevet Achim, a new Masorti synagogue. 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).

Send in Your Surveys! 
The arrival rate of your surveys has dropped off precipitously over the past few weeks. That means that many of you have put it aside for later or discarded it. That's bad news, because we need your input to determine our future and this is the main vehicle for the Strategic Planning Committee to determine what our congregation wants to become over the next several years. If you haven't submitted your survey, please set aside an hour to complete it. If you have misplaced it, call the office for another copy. We can't know what you expect of our Temple unless you tell us -- and this is the best time and place to do it and have your voice recognized as we set our course for the future.

2nd annual TBE Seniors Barbecue
At 5:30 on Tuesday, June 5; reservations are a must! Cost is $5 per person. Hopefully we'll have as good, if not better, a turnout as last year when about 70 people attended!

Kadima Trip to Lake Compounce
Sunday all day.  There are still spaces available!

Baruch Dayan Emet
And while we are speaking of our Youth Program, we extend our deepest sympathies to Marcie Gelb on the passing of her grandmother this week.

Pre-school Program for the Fall
This fall, we’ll be featuring Mechinah, a new Sunday morning Jewish enrichment program for pre-school students, plus other special holiday-centered activities on select Sunday afternoons.  Also, we’ll be adding one more Friday evening Tot Shabbat per month, and we’ll be enhancing our Shabbat morning program for young children, as Nurit Avigdor will now be here every week.  For registration materials and information, contact our education office (322-6901 X306).

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to hundreds of Beth El congregants and others. Feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of anyone who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at . To be taken off this e-mail list, simply click on "reply" and write "please unsubscribe" in the message box.

For more information on the synagogue, check out Beth El's Web site at And to check out some previous spiritual cyber-journeys I have taken, see my book's site at

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