Friday, October 19, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, October 19, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom

We limp through another week....the first "normal" one without holidays.  Don't know about you, but I'm more than ready for Shabbat.


Friday Night:

Candles: 5:50 PM
Tot Shabbat Service: 7:15 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat: 8:00 PM

Shabbat Morning:
P'sukey d'zimra: 9:15
Shacharit (Morning service): 9:30
We celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of David Ratner. Mazal tov to David and to his family!
Torah Portion: Noah
D'var Torah selection: Try out this fascinating d'var Torah source: "Torah from Dixie," at  Also, try Torah2Go, at

Children's Services: 10:30, with Nurit Avigdor (through grade 2) and Bert Madwed (grades 3 and up). This week, our 5th grade will be "hosting" the older service.  We began this new concept last week with the 3rd grade with sensational attendance (nearly the entire class) and a sensational service to boot.  Religious school and Bi-Cultural students of all grades are naturally most welcome, as are parents.


This week's portion of Noah just begs for reinterpretation in light of the new world we live in.  It is clear, in fact, that a new commentary for the entire Torah will be necessary now.  We'll all be doing that this year, on a week to week basis.  But this portion especially, from beginning to end, screams with relevance.  For beginners, let's take the end: the Tower of Babel story.  The WTC was often compared to the Tower of Babel, long before it's destruction made that analogy painfully real.  Yet to take that analogy too far risks desecrating the memory of those who perished there so heroically.  For the martyrs of Manhattan were nothing like the builders of Babylonia.  To see my own take on the analogy, check out my column in this week's Jewish Week, at  It's a personal midrash (therefore a "Me-drash") based a journey I once took to the World Trade Center and the Lower East Side.  Enjoy!

But far earlier in the portion, other, broader questions arise.  This is a story, after all, where the entire known world is consumed in utter devastation resulting from the proliferation of evil.  The irony of the word for universal corruption used  in chapter 6 almost takes the breath away.  Evil has a name here, and that name is "Hamas."  The new Conservative commentary tells us that "Hamas" elsewhere is synonymous with "bloodshed," falsehood," and "deceit," and parallels "no justice" in Job 19:7.  The commentary adds that in the Jerusalem Talmud, "Hamas" was understood to mean that "people cheated each other for such small sums that the courts could not prosecute them, leading the people to lose faith in the power of government to provide them with a fair and livable world, and society began to slip into anarchy."  In addition, go to and you'll find some Talmudic material describing the three things that the generation of the flood had to do in order to merit mass destruction.   They are robbery, idolatry and sexual deviance.  Rashi equates Hamas with robbery.

Compare that Hamas with our own.  The current anarchic atmosphere, where Congress itself appears spooked, has caused so many of us to lose faith in the ultimate triumph of justice.  Terror of all kinds, including  that of the organization known as Hamas, breeds in an atmosphere of fear.  And the perpetrators are surely guilty of idolatry (turning murder and hatred into an ultimate value), sexual deviance (in their abominable treatment of women), and robbery of our most precious natural resources, such as the very air we breathe, now endangered by the bio warfare.  This is the opposite of "gemilut chassadim," says the aforementioned web site. "Rather than giving someone from your resources, you take his resources for yourself."

Under the principle of "Know Your Enemy," some Internet links on Hamas, the terrorist organization, can be found at and  In  Arabic,  Hamas (means) strength and bravery, according to Al-Mua'jam al-Wasit.  Who said irony is dead? Hamas, PFlP (, Hizbullah and all purveyors of terror need to know that there is no room for them on the Noah's ark of civilized humanity. 

But what of those of us who have made it onto the ark?  What is to become of us? 

It's no secret that people have long been obsessed  in proving the historical authenticity of the Noah story.  For the latest theories, see and .  See a genetic "proof" at  What's behind that obsession is not a desire to get back to Noah, but a true desire to get closer to God.  If we can only "prove" that there was a flood, the logic goes, then that must mean that the Noah story is true; and THAT must mean that there is a God.  And THAT must mean that there is a Rainbow Covenant.  For at the end of the flood story episode, God promises never to do it again.  The world will never again be destroyed by God in so massive a manner.  (see the new book, "Walking the Bible," by Bruce Feiler, ( for an excellent explanation of this).

Not destroyed by God perhaps.  But what about by human beings.  On a gorgeous late summer day, the blue skies of Manhattan were filled with smoke and fire.  On a crisp fall afternoon, the members of Congress spilled out of their offices fleeing Anthrax.   God is fulfilling the divine end of the Rainbow Covenant, yet the world is once again full of "Hamas."  And we are scared.  Just as in Noah's time, we realize that we are all in the same boat, and that boat is floating precariously through rough seas.  I flew to Chicago the other day, and never before have other passengers been so friendly -- friendly and wary at the same time.  It was actually a pleasurable experience.  And I even felt a strange sense of security, knowing that everyone on that plane was ready in an instant to pummel into submission anyone threatening to bring Hamas on board our little ark.

Hey, we ask, who let Smallpox and Anthrax onto the boat?  Did God order Noah to take along male and female microbes too?

There is little we can do now to eliminate the fear.  We haven't sent out the dove yet, much less seen the olive branch in her beak and felt the dry peaks of Ararat.  But what we can do is remind ourselves of the Covenant.  Read the passage (and hear it) at  The responsibility is now ours, and it is an awesome one: The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything is our responsibility now.  God will not destroy us, but we can do the job without God's help.  Bio terrorism could destroy our world, unless we stop it.   The terrorists are killing human beings, and in the process they are filling our world with poison.  Even the air we breathe is now tainted.  They are the embodiment of Hamas.

Go visit the Shalom Center, at  There is much at this site that can help us now, but for now, check out the Noah section at, and in particular the "Rainbow Covenant."  It is a beautiful poem written by Art Waskow a decade ago, which, like the portion itself, has gained an entirely new significance today.   For Waskow, we've been endangering the earth for decades with our own neglect.  Now, the callous destruction perpetrated by others has helped us realize just how fragile this balance is.  When we emerge from this hell, the world will be a better place and we will be better people. 

Right now, however, the boat is rocking mightily.  All we can do is hold on.



ActionIsrael encourages us to write to your local newspapers and politicians and explain to them how Israel is our best strategic ally. For example, senior Israeli military officials met this week with Pentagon officials to discuss Israel’s counter terrorism operations and ways the U.S. can fight terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reported
Monday (October 15, 2001). The military talks were planned before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and are part of "ongoing cooperation," the Israeli army said. The talks focused on Israel’s experience in fighting terrorist groups in Lebanon and in areas controlled by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, and examined how America
can apply some of the lessons learned by Israel to its new war on terrorism. For more info. on Israel as our strategic partner, see:

Join us as we let the world know that America and Israel face a common enemy: terrorism.  Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1:00 PM. 47th St and 1st Ave; coordinated by an Interdenominational Rabbinic Group.  The prayer vigil previously scheduled for 10/21 has been postponed so to have adequate time to bring out thousands of participants to this rally.

"Terrorism is a large-scale version of the phenomenon of domestic violence.  Both involve the use of verbal and physical intimidation to control, subjugate and sometimes even eliminate the other....The more primitive way of interacting is a winner-loser way: ‘I want what I want for me and I Don’t want you to get anything of what you want.'  The extremes of those dominating, subjugative, coercive interactions are called domestic violence when they're found at home. On a national scale, we call them tyrants if they have official power and terrorists if they vent their power as subgroups....It’s a very dangerous question. The perpetrator demoralizes the victim and will be very quick to point the finger at the victim. Why are they mad at us? In fact, the answer has very little to do with the victim. The answer is, the perpetrator has an anger problem, an abuse disorder. A terrorist’s, tyrant’s or abuser’s modus operandi is to be blaming and hurtful."
Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist in Denver and author of "The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage."



1) Scholar in Residence Weekend: October 26-2
8: "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."

2) Midrash: Adding Color to the Bible -- Adult ed series with Rabbinical Student Greg Harris.  Begins Wednesday, Oct. 24, for six consecutive sessions.  We will study the creative genius of our Rabbis as they enrich the biblical text with stories, legends and lore.  These inspired texts blend the sacred position of the Torah with the real human struggle for spiritual understanding.  All texts will be in Hebrew and English.  The feel for the whole course is $18.  To reserve a spot, RSVP to Bonnie at 322-6901 X306.   For those who heard Greg Harris over the holidays, you know that he has much to offer.  We want our enhanced adult education program to be just the beginning of more things to come.  But for that to happen, it requires your support (i.e. your attendance).  I would love to have Greg step off that train this coming  Wednesday night to a room full of your smiling faces. 

3) 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!

4) Lunch and Learn at the JCC -- class next Thursday., Oct. 25, I'll be discussing "Cloning, Bioethics and Judaism" at 12:30.  Cost is $15 for the session, which includes lunch.  The final two sessions of the series, on Nov 1 and 15, will be on the topics of abortion and the death penalty.

5)  As many of you know, our congregation is involved in the exciting new STAR-Tech project for Synagogue transformation through technology. I attended a meeting of STAR Tech this week.  The LIVE WEBCAST to take place on the 29th at 9:00 will truly be historic.  Congregants from all over the country hearing (and seeing) two of our most prominent rabbis, and then our congregation will have a chance to chat about it online immediately after.  This could the beginning of something very big -- a whole new model for participatory adult education.  Be part of this exciting new venture from the very beginning.  You can now go the STAR web site to register.  Details below:

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

6) I'll be teaching a class on "Judaism and Jihad: Jewish Laws of Warfare," Nov 1, at 8:00 PM.  The session is free of charge.

7) 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 out this week for material on other offerings, including Hebrew classes, upcoming classes with our rabbinical student Greg Harris and opportunities for home group study.

8) Read Hebrew with Shirley Fish: Begins Sunday, Oct. 28: 9:45 - 11:00 AM.  Cost: $50.00 for a ten week session.

9) On Sunday, Nov. 11, at 7:30, I'll be giving a first-hand report on our community Solidarity Pilgrimage to Israel, at the November meeting of our Discussion Group (a monthly "Havurah" of  Beth El families that has been meeting for years).  It's open to everyone.  For info and directions, call Elliot Tuckel, at 967-9441.


MAZAL TOV to my sister Lisa, on her marriage on Wednesday evening to Asher Cain, in Israel.

1) JCC Mitzvah Day is this Sunday.   Yashar Koach to all who participate, including those who have brought in books and videos for donation.

2) KADIMA goes to the "Only Game in Town" this Sunday. from 1-5.  Batting cages, Mini  Golf, Bumper cars and more!  $15.00.  For all 6-8th graders.  Contact Marcie at X324 or by email at, for more info.

3) 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.

4) Temple Beth El Sisterhood   Proudly Presents   A Concert of Israeli Music
Featuring Ofri Salam
, direct from Israel, Tuesday, November 13 at 7:30 p. m.  Followed by Israeli dancing led by Yossi Elmani
Of the 92
nd Street Y and the New Haven JCC
Refreshments will be served
Ticket Prices:
Adults $12 Students and Seniors $8
Sponsors (includes 4 tickets)  $100             
Remaining tickets sold at the door  $15
For information: Temple Beth El 322-6901 Ilene Madwed   968-257

5) Sisterhood Paid-Up Membership Brunch
Sunday, November 18 -- 10:00  12:00

"You Can Do This"

Lori Guttman, from The Robert Nevins Plan, will help us start the new year with ideas for healthy eating from your refrigerator.
We would appreciate your RSVP by November 13
Mary Sue Gilbert 322-9372
Ilene Kirschner Madwed  968-2570
Volunteers needed.  Please call to RSVP and to Volunteer.
Sisterhood dues of $25 may be paid at the Brunch.
Bring a friend.  New members welcome to join.

6) Council of Churches and Synagogues Fall Assembly:
"Implications of September 11 and the Aftermath," from a multi-faith perspective.  Thursday, Oct. 25, at 7:00 PM.  Union Baptist Church, 805 Newfield Ave., Stamford.

7) Mercaz and the Zionist Elections: MERCAZ USA is the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement, the voice of Conservative Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora.  Go to to see how you can sign up to vote for the upcoming Zionist Congress elections.  The deadline is fast approaching,  Do it now!

8) Another great offer of Israeli TV in your home -- this time via DVD.  It's new, and it's called Drishat Shalom.  Chekc it out at .

If you are 18-26 (post high school) and have never before participated in a peer Israel experience, KOACH the Conservative movement's college student organization, provides an uplifting and enriching Israel experience, offering first time travelers the requisite spiritual and educational framework for a truly transforming journeyas well as a lot of fun.  Koach "Birthright Israe" trips are booking for this winter!  More information and registration are available at the Koach website,


Please check the bulletin for information on the Birthday Closet project we've just initated.  We're looking to collect unopened children's gifts for the closet, to be housed here and used by local agencies to support needy children.

Person to Person has sent me a lovely thank-you letter, indicating that the Jewish community collected over $29,000 worth of food products these past High Holidays!  Kol Ha-Kavod (well done) to all of you!

11) High Holiday sermons are available in hard copy from our office, or online at our Web site,

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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