Friday, October 12, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, Oct. 12, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom

This is Shabbat B'reisheet, as we return to the beginning of the Torah and the Beginning of the universe.  We'll also be inaugurating officially the new Conservative Torah text, Humash Etz Hayim (Tree of Life).  During the service on Shabbat morning, I'll be distributing materials and discussing how this Torah commentary is the first that truly incorporates that uniquely eclectic Conservative approach to textual study.   The first time you pick up this book in our services, you will notice a difference.  The Torah reading, and therefore the service as a whole, will instantly become more accessible and engaging to you.  You'll find yourself  becoming absorbed by the commentaries, as well as the numerous provocative essays in the back.   We'll be comparing it to the texts of other movements (which all happen to be unique in their own way, and very good) and to the old Hertz Humash.  You can preview the Humash at

Yes, the new ones are in and yes we are already enjoying them and making good use of them.  If you would like to dedicate one or more, please contact our office. While we say hello to the new, we also say good bye to the old. Our collection of Hertz humashim are being stored in our library for ONE MORE WEEK. If you would like to rummage through them to find one that you've dedicated in the past, or if you simply wish to take one home (it's still a very nice, though not-too-contemporary commentary), please stop by.  In a week, we'll be sending them along to new homes in needy congregations. One of the congregations we're assisting is the new Conservative shul in Wilton, which we are helping to get off the ground in this manner.

SPIRITUAL JOURNEY ON THE WEB: War and Terrorism, Creation and Destruction

Yesterday I began my fall "Lunch and Learn" series at the JCC with a timely discussion of Jewish laws of warfare.  BTW, I've received a number of requests to do a version of that program in an evening, and we're going to do just that, on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8:00.  But you can do much of the research on your own.  An EXCELLENT, comprehensive, though somewhat academic source is has a number of superb articles on other topics too.  If you are really into the history of warfare, you might want to check out, "Weapons and Warfare in the Ancient World."  (The home site,, Bible History Online, is a superb research tool for ancient studies)

But really, all you have to do to learn about the Jewish way of war is to open any Humash commentary to Deuteronomy 20.  Or, for the true foundation, go to this week's reading (translated at  For it is in the Creation account that we read how humanity was created "in God's image."  To destroy a single human life, then, is to diminish the divine imprint on the universe.  It was from the rabbinic discussion of this portion that the famous "Save one life -- save the world" equation was derived, found in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 (  The sages were asking why God says to Cain that the bloods (plural) of his brother Abel are screaming out from the earth.  They conclude that not only was Abel killed, but an infinite number of potential descendents.   That passage from the Mishnah should be memorized by all religious school students, not to mention the rest of us. To understand that is to understand why Jews hate war, but why we'll fight fiercely to protect the innocent. 

While Judaism is not by nature pacifist, it is supremely reverent of innocent life.  An interesting source along these lines is the material offered by the Jewish Peace Fellowship, at  It may be slightly out of step with what is happening now, but that might be precisely the right time to be reading material like this. 

Right now, with accurate information hard to come by, the Internet helps us to substitute quantity for quality.  There are a number of pretty reputable places for us to be scanning, some with points of view, others with points of view but claiming to be objective.  Some that have been recommended to me include, with the inside scoop on terrorism,
and, from the University of Michigan, If you are looking for news from Afghanistan, the Afghan News Network comes closest, at

For an Israeli perspective, I recommend that you sigh up for the daily updates at And to see the latest critique of news media double standards on terrorism, read, "When Terror is not “Terror” by Alex Safian Associate Director, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America an interview with Daniel Pipes, by Bob Warner,Philadelphia Daily News, October 8, 2001, on "Islam" vs. "Islamism," is found at  Finally, go to for an interesting perspective from The Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt on  how ill-prepared younger American Jews are to be fighting this battle in the trenches of  college campuses, and why.

“…You do not make weaponized anthrax in Afghan caves. For that you need serious scientists and serious laboratories…Richard Butler, the former chief arms inspector in Iraq, tells us that Iraq has weaponized anthrax and VX gas. Syria has chemical weapons. Iran is developing nukes. They all sponsor terrorists. Now is the time to go after state-sponsored terrorism. This does not mean invading every country. It means getting some regimes to change policies and others to fall—whether by economic and diplomatic pressure, internal revolt or, as a last resort, military action…”—
Columnist Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post, Oct. 5)


Friday Night:

Candles: 6:00 PM
Shabbat Shalom Service: 7:15 PM

Shabbat Morning:
P'sukey d'zimra: 9:15
Shacharit (Morning service): 9:30
We celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of Gregory Schneider.  Mazal tov to Greg and to his family.  BTW, if you want a good laugh (which we all need), read about a recent Bar Mitzvah that was nothing like Gregory's will be, featuring the rapper Emenem.   I'll let this one speak for itself.

Children's Services: 10:30, with Nurit Avigdor (through grade 2) and Bert Madwed (grades 3 and up).  this week we'll be implementing something brand new -- our upper grades will be "hosting" the older service periodically, with their teachers present.  This week's hosts will be the third grade.  Religious school and Bi-Cultural students of all grades are naturally invited.

There's been much healthy discussion here on the importance of children's services lately.  Our Board of Ed has recently taken the courageous step of formalizing a policy that had been practiced all-too casually in the past: the linkage of Shabbat morning attendance with our Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, both for Religious School and BCDS students.   Yes, we are saying, we believe that a vital component of any Jewish child's education is the development of skills related to participating in Shabbat morning services, as well as a solid "comfort level" in attending these services.   The policy has nothing to do with how families choose to observe Judaism in their homes, and everything to do with setting  minimal standards of Jewish education for children.  If we don't take that task seriously, we'll be nothing more than a Bar Mitzvah mill, and at such meaningless services we might as well replace the clergy with Emenem (see above).  Learning about Shabbat on a Tuesday but rarely experiencing it on a Saturday gets us right back to the world of the shoe box Sukkah, a world we need to leave behind.

I am very pleased to note that Shabbat morning attendance has increased significantly thus far this fall.  I thank all the parents who have demonstrated such commitment to the partnership between family and synagogue that can help us all to achieve our goals.   This was especially evident over the Sukkot holiday and Simhat Torah, both evening and morning.  On Simhat Torah night we had over 250 here, and over 100 the next morning -- on a weekday, that is remarkable.  What's more, in the morning, about 30 kids led parts of the service.  It was sensational, and the "ruach" (spirit) level as we danced with the Torahs has never been so high.  It was just what we needed during these troubled times.

I am aware of the sacrifices that many of our families have to make in order to be here with children and am sensitive to the fact that some feel that we have not communicated our goals and policies adequately.  I personally apologize to those who have felt that way and invite you to contact me so that we might discuss these important matters personally.  We wish to work with families so that everyone will end up a "winner" in this.  The Shabbat morning attendance policy has an inordinate amount of built-in flexibility.  As of this week, my children and several others already have fulfilled their requirement for the year! (dating from Sept. 1 to now).  No family will have to alter their lifestyle in any significant way to fulfill the minimal goals of the policy.  Of course, I hope that people will want to do much more.  Because ultimately, we all want our kids to love being here.  Our youth and education program is so good that almost all kids do -- all we have to do is escort them through the door a few times to make that happen.

I also take full responsibility in making sure that our adult services are as accessible, warm, welcoming  and engaging as possible for those parents who might choose to attend.  If they are not (or if they are) for you, I need to know.  Parents, of course, are also welcome to attend the children's services.

In the end, as your rabbi, I answer to three different sets of bosses (aside from the one Upstairs).  One is you, all of  you.  The second is the Jewish people, past, present and future.  And the third is our children.  Not our children now, however, so much as our children 25 years from now.   When today's fifth grader is in his thirties, I want her to be able to say to me, "Thank you for helping me to love being Jewish and for helping me to feel at home in any synagogue anywhere."  Our Shabbat attendance policy is a small but symbolically important part of a comprehensive program filled with content and overflowing with joy.  Without one, the other cannot stand.  Without minimal standards of commitment, we can never get to the fun part.  If you are having difficulty seeing this big picture right now, I appeal for your patience and support.  If you are beginning to see some of  the fruits of our labors, as I believe most are, I thank you for the confidence you've placed in your professional staff and Board of Ed.   It is a trust that we do not take lightly.


Mazal Tov to Matt Field and Gale Greenstein, who are to be married this Sunday morning, and to Barbara and Joe Field, Matt's parents!
Shiva Minyan -- at the home of Ron Gross, Sunday and Monday at 7:30.  Condolences to Ron on the passing of his mother, Pear Gross.

1) "Is Tragedy Required for Jewish Unity?" Sunday, Oct. 14, 5:00-7:00, at the JCC; co-sponsored by the JCC, Beth El and other local synagogues. Speaker: Rabbi David Geffen, chairman and founder of "Common Denominator," bridging the differences between Jews in Israel and here. Find out more about him and his work at

2) Red Cross: to donate blood, call 1-800-GIVE LIFE; for other donations; 1-800-435-7669,  Americares: 800-486-4357

3) Scholar in Residence Weekend: October 26-28: "The Shape of the Human Spirit: Bringing Kabbalah into the 21st Century" with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Keiner.
Friday, Oct 26, at 8:00 PM: "What's All This About Jewish Mysticism?" (lecture after services)
Shabbat morning, Oct. 27 during services: "Learn Torah Like a Mystic," followed by lunch
Shabbat afternoon at 4:00 PM : "Meditative Mincha," featuring niggunim, chant and contemplation to enjoy the quirt day of rest; followed by seudah shlishit (a traditional third Shabbat meal). RSVP 322-6901 X307 for this program
Sunday morning at 10 AM: "A Contemplative Service."

5) New Program for Pre-schoolers!
Mechina, with Nurit Avigdor, begins this Sunday. For 3 and 4 year olds, an hour filled with singing, arts and crafts. Two sessions available -- call our education office for info (322-6901 X306). Open to members and non-members of Beth El. SPREAD THE WORD!

6) Karov
A very special program for developmentally challenged students, ages 5-10, meeting from 10-11 each Sunday morning, beginning this week. Taught by Special ed. specialist Marcy Nirschel, this entry level Jewish enrichment program will include stories, arts and crafts, music, holiday celebrations and a weekly Shabbat experience. Class size is limited to 10. Please spread the word about this to your friends. Open to the entire community. For more information, contact the education office (322-6901 X306)

7) Shabbaton reservations are coming in, fast and furious! I expect the demand to be greater than the "supply" this year, given the enthusiasm shown by those who attended last year, when we were sold out. Don't be left out in the cold this MLK Weekend! Sign up now!

8) Lunch and Learn at the JCC -- no class next Thursday.  On Oct. 25, I'll be discussing "Cloning, Bioethics and Judaism"

9)  As many of you know, our congregation is involved in the exciting new STAR-Tech project for Synagogue transformation through technology.  I'll be attending a meeting of STAR Tech next week.  Meanwhile, take a look at what's coming up (and mark your calendars!!!)

STAR--Synagogue Transformation and Renewal Announces LIVE WEBCAST

Don’t miss an exciting opportunity to join in a national discussion from a Jewish perspective with other members of our congregation and well-known panelists without ever leaving your home or office. 

A Discussion of Fear and Courage: A Jewish View,” featuring well-known Rabbis, Irving “Yitz” Greenberg and David Wolpe, moderated by Nessa Rapaport.

Monday, October 299:00 p.m. Eastern

Log on to and participate in this interactive dialogue about fear, courage, mourning and other issues related to the September 11 tragedy. 
Immediately after the webcast, please follow the links on your screen to our chat room so that we may continue the conversation within our synagogue community.
* You will need Microsoft Windows Media Player version 6.4 or higher, and Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or higher.  If you do not have these programs, a free download link is available at

10) Our Sisterhood plans to send out Chanukah packages to all college freshman.  Laura Markowitz is in charge of this effort.  Names and addresses of students should be forwarded to Laura at: or call 968-2598.  I also would LOVE to have the e-mail addresses so that I might include them on my college e-mail list.

11)  I'll be teaching a class on "Judaism and Jihad: Jewish Laws of Warfare,"  Nov 1, at 8:00 PM

12)   If you are interested in some basic information on Jewish customs, history and prayers, why not take our Judaism 101 class, taught by myself and Barb Moskow.  The class meets as part of the B'nai Mitzvah group curriculum, but it also can be audited independently.  Meets Thursdays from 7-8.  Also see the Adult Ed brochure that was sent ouit this week for material on other offerings, including Hebrew classes, upcoming classes with our rabbinical student Greg Harris and opportunities for home group study.

13)  LAST CHANCE TO JOIN OUR ISRAEL GROUP -- NOV 4-11. Never has it been more important to show solidarity with Israel.  Our community pilgrimage of about 20 people will be hearing from Israelis from all over the political and religious spectrum.  We'll be joined by a reporter from the Advocate, making a significant statement for the community as to the bond of democracy, decency and humanity that ties all Americans to all Israelis.   You can be a part of this, but you need to contact the UJF pronto (321-1373).  Sadly, I believe Beth El's laity is underrepresented on this trip.  Please give it some more thought -- this weekend!

14)  I PROPOSE A DEAL: You don't talk about the Red Sox, and I won't talk about the Yankees.  Agreed?

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 To check out some previous spiritual cyber-journeys I have taken, see my book's site at

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