Friday, December 7, 2001

Hugging Through Glass (Jewish Week)


Hugging Through Glass
joshua hammerman

When the Israeli novelist David Grossman first visited America, he commented, “Americans are very polite, but trying to relate to them is like kissing through glass.” Now, following a year of unprecedented suffering in Israel and a day of unimaginable horror here, the relationship between Israelis and American Jews has changed in remarkable ways. The Sabra’s legendary coarse exterior has peeled away, revealing vulnerability rarely seen before by outsiders, and the hard crusty New Yorker has softened in kind.

I was in Israel a few weeks ago on a solidarity trip from my community and was dumbfounded by how grateful Israelis were to see me. Every time an Israeli began to thank our group so humbly and profusely I was tempted to shout out, “Wait a minute, you’re supposed to be chastising us for not living here, and we’re supposed to be complaining about your rudeness. Have I landed in Tel Aviv or Mister Rodgers neighborhood?”

An epidemic of niceness has broken out. Have you ever been on a tour where no one in the group complained about anything? That’s what happened, despite the usual assortment of glitches. It’s amazing how even an empty hotel couldn’t provide enough towels in some of the rooms; but even more incredible that it didn’t matter. Our purpose in going to Israel was not to be comfortable. It was, in fact, just the opposite: We were there to feel their pain and for them to feel ours.

In the Yehuda Amichai poem “Tourists,” the author chastises camera-toting visitors for using him as a target marker for a Roman ruin. The poem concludes: “I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, ‘You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruits and vegetables for his family.’ ”

Well, redemption may be at hand. There are precious few tourists on the streets of Jerusalem right now, but those who are there are sitting with the vegetable shopper in Gilo and virtually ignoring that Roman arch. All the old grudges have been set aside; the condescension has melted away. I’ve never felt more enriched by a visit to Israel, yet I used up barely a single roll of film. There was far less posing and a lot more hugging.

Everything has changed and we haven’t gained our bearings yet. Because of that, Israelis and Americans are still talking past each other, however genteelly. Israelis are resigned to the near disappearance of tourism, but they are bitter that a number of American students, including those from various rabbinical programs, have chosen to forego their overseas studies in Israel. What they don’t understand is that for Americans, the issue is no longer merely whether it is safe to visit Israel but whether it is fair to leave one’s own family for a semester when the situation here is also perilous.

I felt that same tug in leaving my family behind in the throes of the anthrax scare, even though I was in Israel for less than a week. Israelis don’t understand that Americans are nesting right now; we’re not even going to Disney World for a week, much less to Mount Scopus for a year.

Most Israelis I spoke to also doubt America’s resolve to carry out the war on terror to its rightful conclusion, indicating, again, that they have no idea just how deep our wound runs. They have adjusted to living under constant pressure and vigilance and have become almost numbed to atrocity. Conversely, they have never experienced so terrible a blow to the very symbols of their society’s existence. How otherwise could they doubt our resolve, knowing that millions of Americans gaze tearfully at downtown Manhattan each day? This national nightmare is far from fading away.

And how could they begin to imagine our shock when the most recent comparable “ground zero” experience over there took place some 2,000 years ago, when the Second Temple was destroyed? Masada has not fallen again, but the World Trade Center has.

They can’t possibly understand, and it shows. Only days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Israeli TV insensitively showed the film “Independence Day,” and in early November a screening of “Deep Impact” followed that. Both films feature fictitious decimations of New York and Washington. That’s like showing reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” on Yom HaShoah — in 1945.

They don’t understand us, and we don’t even come close to understanding them. Our kids still go to malls and movies with little concern. We have little doubt the bus will make it home from school. New York is looking to recover tourists, but in Israel many great hotels have closed completely. Guides are moonlighting as couriers. This might be the greatest economic crisis in Israel’s history, but the monetary loss of the entire tourism industry is only secondary to the psychological impact of feeling utterly abandoned.

Now more than ever, American Jews need to visit Israel. With everyone feeling so vulnerable, a group hug is in order. The more we hug as fellow Jews, the more Israel and America will come together as nations. It used to be that we needed to visit Israel to show them we care. Now we need to visit there all the more, to show our fellow Americans why. n

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn., can be reached at His new book, “ Seeking God in Cyberspace” can be previewed on-line at

Shabbat-O-gram Dec 2001

 I apologize for the duplication, if there is one.  Because it is clear that many did not receive this yesterday, I'm resending it in a slightly altered manner.   Please let me know if you did not receive the first one but DID receive this one.  Thanks for your cooperation. 


Shabbat Shalom. 


L'hitraot to our 6th graders, who go out on their class Shabbaton this weekend!

Friday Night:

Candles: 4:10 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat: 8:00 PM, in the chapel.  

Shabbat Morning:
P'sukey d'zimra (psalms and meditations): 9:15
Shacharit (morning) service begins: 9:30
Teen Service and lunch.  We've got 82 teens participating in this service -- not including our 7th graders who will also be involved.  "Ken ein hora!"
Torah Portion: Va-Yishlach

 to Joel and Karen Liffmann on the naming of Tyler Rose.  "Ken ein hora X2!"

D'var Torah recommendation
:  Guided meditations for the Torah portions, Holidays and healing can now be found at Rabbi Judith Abrams' excellent web site, Maqom and click on the link Guided Meditations).  Each meditation is accompanied by material that links the meditation to the parashah through Drash, Gematria and so forth so the material can be taught as well as used as meditation.If people would like CDs of these meditations already recorded, they need merely to let Judith Abrams know, by writing to her at, and give her their  "snailmail" address.

Children's Services: 10:30, with Nurit Avigdor (through grade 2) and Bert Madwed (grades 3 and up). This week, our 4th grade will be "hosting" the older service.  Religious school and Bi-Cultural students of all grades are naturally most welcome, as are parents.

Morning Minyan: Daily at 7:30, Sundays at 9:00. 


In this week's portion of Va-yishlach, Jacob has his famous joust with a mysterious midnight stranger at the ford of the Jabbok River ( see where on the map at ) While sustaining injuries, he survives the battle and is subsequently renamed "Israel," "the one who has striven with God."  Jacob's famous tussle (worthy of being picked up by the WWF or ESPN Classic) was, in the minds of many commentators, a reflection of his inner turmoil as he prepared to meet his brother Esau, mano a mano, for the first time since he had escaped to Haran two decades before.  Would Esau maintain his old grudge and decimate Jacob's camp, or would he kiss and make up?  Jacob couldn't possibly know for sure, so he divided his camp into two, much as some families now will fly to a destination on two separate planes -- just in case.  

In its commentary on Jacob's long night of struggle, Etz Hayim, the new Conservative Humash, suggests that Jacob is struggling with demons both external and internal.  Externally there is the specter of real fear and danger (embodied in Esau) and internally it is the specter of how he has never coped with fear and danger.   Jacob, you see, has a history of cutting and running.  He ran from Esau, and more recently he ran from Laban, his father in law.  So the question over which Jacob must struggle that long night, and the question that happens to be confronting each of us today, is this:  Are we ready to look evil in the eye without blinking?  Are we able to see it in all its horror, without running away?  Can we face it without resorting to any of a number of defense mechanisms, not the least of which is denial?  (For another perspective, see Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin's excellent d'var Torah on Jacob's coming face to face with the evil within, at

If you go to where the Jabbok meets the Jordan today, head upstream along the Jordan valley to Beit Sha'an and then turn inland, you will not have to go far to stumble across the modern Israeli city of Afula.  I visited Afula, our sister-city, on the recent solidarity trip.  Seven weeks ago, and now this week again, the center of town was desecrated by an act of ultimate evil, a murderous terrorist attack.  Our group stood on the very spot where blood has all too often been shed.   The American envoys trying to jump-start the peace process got a whirly bird's eye view of the attack only minutes after it occurred.  Yet the world hardly blinked.  Or, more accurately, it did blink.  Unlike Jacob, it faced evil here and did not prevail.  We have developed a dangerous tolerance for the intolerable. (To read more of how Afula has suffered over the past decade, and how the world has ignored it, see and  To read about Afula's history, biblical and modern, and it's connection to Stamford in Partnership 2000, see, and

The unimaginable and horrific have become routine, and that is scary.  See Rogel Alpher's commentary in Ha'aretz for some background on how even the Israeli media nonchalanted this outrage in Afula. it's at  Alpher makes reference to Hannah Arendt's essay on the "banality of evil."  Read about it at and  As limited as the coverage of the Aful bombing was over there, here it was hardly mentioned.  On Tuesday morning, it was a tag line at the conclusion of a report from Jerusalem on NPR; and it merited only p.12 in Wednesday's New York Times. 

A certain degree of denial is understandable, especially in Afula.  How could they function without it?  Some facts from the American Psychological Association on trauma and stress help us to understand this, at; also check and

The fact that Israelis have come to accept a degree of terrorism has its advantages.  One way to defeat terror, in fact, is to not be terrorized by it.  Witness the following testimony to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz this week:

"When [P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat] saw that Israeli casualties were low, around last February, he gave specific instructions [to Fatah’s Tanzim militia] to attack, and in the last few months has even told them to work inside the Green Line…When the intifada broke out, the Palestinians estimated that we would not be able to withstand the heavy price that we would be forced to pay, and that would force us to make concessions. They have been surprised…"

Despite the real fear and dejection that Israelis are feeling, they have indeed proven far more resistant to terrorizing than Arafat imagined; similarly, America was considered weak-kneed by bin Laden and a decade ago by Saddam Hussein.  They were all wrong. 

But we can't afford to become numb to the terror.  The way to stand up to it without blinking is not through macho denial, but through defiant and continuous outrage.  If the world becomes numb to shootings in Afula, it makes it far more likely that Saddam Hussein will attach something far more dangerous to the next Scud missile he decides to send over.  And there will be Scuds, guaranteed, if Iraq is next on the American list.  Why?  Because in the Gulf War Scuds were tolerated.  So why not now?  Read to see that Israel was indeed prepared to strike back in massive force back in 1991, but never pulled the trigger.  A dangerous precedent was set.

Ariel Sharon picked the wrong event of 1938 when he gave his now infamous "We-are-not-Czechoslovakia" speech in October.  It's not Munich that needs to be remembered, it's the St. Louis, that boatload of Jewish refugees turned away from American shores, only to return to Europe and certain doom. The ship was later called "The Voyage of the Damned," referring not only to those refugees, but all the Jews of Europe.  For it was from this incident that Hitler learned that no one would lift a finger to save the Jews.  Whenever we fail to stare evil in the eye, we allow for its proliferation.  Read more about the St. Louis at, and

We need to be like Jacob, courageous enough to do three things: recognize evil, fight it unrelentingly, and to always be outraged by it.  The alternative is to become numb and numb-er.  Jacob reaped the benefits of his courage, BTW.  Esau did, in the end, kiss and make up, though in one of the most deliciously ambiguous verses of the entire Torah, we're never sure if that's what he truly intended to do.  He fell on Jacob's neck "and he kissed him" (Gen. 33:3).  There are dots over that phrase, only adding to the mystery.  Perhaps Esau intended to attack his brother, but then got a close up look at Jacob's unblinking, piercing eyes, and meekly fell into Jacob's arms.   As a wresting match, it didn't make for must-see TV, sort of like the XFL.  But the main event had already taken place the night before, at the ford of the Jabbok, before the break of dawn.


"Terrorists impose darkness on the climate of the intellect because they try to force their backward ideas on public opinion under the veil of religious correctness. They construe religious thought to suit their political objectives to reach power…[and disfigure] religious tolerance with insane acts. There can be no worse distortion of religion than that. If world Zionism spent billions of dollars to tarnish the image of Islam, it will not accomplish what the terrorists have done with their actions and words."—
Nabil Luka Bibawi, Egyptian professor of criminal law, writing in Egypt’s Al Ahram, signalling that the Arab press in the Middle East is now attempting to discredit Osama bin Laden. (Int. Her. Trib., Nov. 24-25)

I just LOVE this one:
—(Kabul) Isaac Levy and Zebolan Simonto, the only Jews residing in Afghanistan, maintain two old synagogues and do not speak except to exchange curses across a courtyard. Both say they spent time in jail because of something the other had done. Each accuses the other of theft and of falsely telling the Taliban that the other was an Israeli spy. Levy—a rabbi and former businessman--claims that Simonto falsely denounced him to the Taliban as a spy and that he spent 57 days in prison; Simonto, a store-owner, says Levy accused him of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity and told the Taliban he brought prostitutes home. (N.Y. Post, Nov. 27)


1) Regarding Hanukkah, from United Jewish Communities:
Everything is Sacred:
Rosh Hodesh Kislev:

2) From Newsweek:
The Ones Who Turn Up Along the Way, by Rabbi Jennifer Krause

3) ADL has just published a new report about anti-Semitism in the Arab media.  September 11 and Arab Media: The Anti-Jewish and Anti-American Blame Game, offers dozens of excerpts from newspapers located throughout the Middle East and elsewhere and cites various examples from television and editorial cartoons.  The report is available on the League’s Web site at
For an example of what Arabs are reading, check out

4) More on Harry Potter (I saw the film last week and loved it) and the spiritual diemension of fantasy, from Religion and Ethics Newsweekly:

How will Tehran’s nuclear ambitions affect our budding partnership?


Temple Beth El To Honor Hazzan Rabinowitz

Prior to his change in status to Hazzan Emeritus, and in recognition of the 32 years of dedicated service he has given to our community, Temple Beth El is preparing our tribute to Hazzan Sidney and Sandy Rabinowitz

To prepare for these events, the organizing committee is asking you to:
1. Note these dates on your calendar:
May 4 - Dinner Dance at Temple Beth El
May 19 - Community Event to Honor Sidney and Sandy Rabinowitz

2. Send us any memories, history, personal observations, programs, photos or other memorabilia that can help us make these events as noteworthy as they should be for a truly noteworthy man.

Those wishing to honor the Hazzan with a gift to the temple can do so with an entry in a journal being prepared for the May 4 event.  Watch your mail for details or contact Roberta Aronovitch (for information) at 203-322-6901 ext 304 or by e-mail at


Don't Miss:
Mini Parlor Concert:  "The Many Faces of Jewish Music,
" featuring Cantorial intern Laura Berman along with Hazzan Rabinowitz.  December 2, from 11 AM to noon.  A delightful concert of solos and duets.  You'll hear Hebrew, Yiddish, English, folk and classical selections.  This is the Hazzan's Hanukkah gift to you.  No tickets required.

RALLY FOR AMERICA AND ISRAEL AGAINST TERRORISM: Sunday, December 2 at Noon.  47th St. and 2nd Avenue.

Beth El Senior's Group Hanukkah Luncheon:  Sunday, Dec.2 at 1:00 PM.  Reservations are still possible!  Contact our office at 322-6901 X300.  Nearly 400 latkes were made here last night!  Who knows what else they'll have.

WORLD AIDS DAY INTERFAITH SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE-AWARENESS-HOPE AND HEALING: Sunday, December 2, at 7:00 PM, at the First United Methodist Church, 42 Cross Rd. (near Lord and Taylor).  Join me and other representatives of Stamford's interfaith community.

Midrash: Adding Color to the Bible -- Adult ed series with Rabbinical Student Greg Harris.  Wednesday at 7:30.  And Mazal Tov to Greg, who will be delivering his senior sermon at JTS on Shabbat morning, Dec. 8!

Congregational Shabbaton
 reservations are coming in, fast and furious (over 100, at last count -- and we can only house 150)!  Don't be left out in the cold this MLK Weekend! Sign up now!  Special thanks to Gary and Judi Gladstein, as well as an anonymous donor, for their generous donations enabling us to defray expenses and subsidize costs, and to Penny and Michael Horowitz for sponsoring the guest speaker and prayer leader, Rabbi Steven Greenberg of CLAL (the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership), in memory of Bessie Silver.

The members of the 2002 Bat Mitzvah class have decided to work together with Beth El Cares to secure an Automatic External Defibrillator(AED).
There is a need for an AED in public facilities . On April 15, 2000 11 year old Danielle Brendner stopped breathing. He heart just stopped beating. In the months that followed her parents Sharon and Avi discovered that their daughter was the victim of a silent killer called Long QT Syndrome. It is possible that Danielles life could have been saved if she has been defibrillated.

Every year 225,00 Americans suffer fatal cardiac arrests as a result of various cardiac disorders. The most effective treatment for a person in cardiac arrest is an electrical shock to the heart through the use of an AED.

THE COST OF THE DEFIBRILLATOR IS $3000. If you are willing to make a contribution towards its purchase for the Temple, we would appreciate your support.
Please make the your tax deductible contribution payable to Temple Beth El. On your check please note: Beth 'El Cares /Defibrillator.
If there are any question please call: Barbara Smith 325-8598 or Sue Greenwald 325 1662
Thank you in advance for your support for this potentially life saving project

"Learn to Read Torah" with Hazzan Rabinowitz.  9:45 - 10:25 in the organ loft, on Sunday. Call him at 322-6901 X309 to register.

Sisterhood Shabbat will take place on Dec. 15. Any members of Sisterhood who are interested in participating but have not yet informed us should call Linda Simon at 324-2246 or Karen Hainbach at 322-8842 as soon as possible. In the spirit of Hanukkah, we invite all members of Sisterhood and other congregants to bring along an unopened, unwrapped children's gift to be donated to the Beth El Cares Birthday Closet. You may deliver it to the Religious School office or leave it in the collection box in the lobby. Hope to see you all on Dec. 15!

URGENT!!!!!  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! I've registered.  Have you???   You can register online NOW for the World Zionist Organization Elections at  It only takes a couple of minutes (and $4).


ATID:  ATID (Grades K-2) 
will be having a Hanukkah Gift Making Day & Lunch this Sunday, December 2nd from 1:00-3:30 pm.  Pizza & Salad.  Cost is $10.00.  There's still time to sign-up so call today! RSVP to Marcie at 322-6901, ext. 324.
 Chaperones are needed, please sign-up.

KESHER:  Kesher (Grades 3-5) will be having a Hanukkah Havdalah & Movie Party on Saturday, December 15th.  We will be in the Youth Lounge from 6:00-8:30 pm.  Cost is $5.00.  Snacks & make your own sundaes!  Please bring a wrapped grab bag gift that would be appropriate for a boy or girl. ($10 limit).   RSVP to Marcie at 322-6901, ext. 324 by December 9th.  Parents: Chaperones are needed, please sign-up.

KADIMA:  Kadima (Grades 6-8) will be going to Circle Lanes for a Hanukkah Bowling Party on Sunday, December 16th from 1:00-4:30 pm.  We will meet in the Youth Lounge.  Cost is $15.00, includes transportation by bus, 2 games, shoes, and snacks.   Please bring a wrapped grab bag gift that would be appropriate for a boy or girl. ($10 limit).  You may bring extra money to purchase items at the snack bar.  RSVP to Marcie at 322-6901, ext. 324 by December 9th.
 Chaperones are needed, please sign-up.

USY:  ATTENTION USY MEMBERS!! (Grades 9-12) Stamford USY has been selected to host Mid-Winter Kinnus!!  February 1-3, 2002.  We are very excited to be hosting USY members from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts!!  Please save the date and plan on attending for this awesome weekend - we need you there!!  This event is open to Jewish teens in grades 9 through 12.  If you are interested in helping plan or are able to host people at your home, please call Marcie at 322-6901, ext. 324 or e-mail 


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Hanukkah
I've compiled a booklet filled with information about Hanukkah, including history, texts, meditations, and all the hows and whys.  This booklet is available on the information table in our main lobby.  Feel free to take one when you are in the building.  Don't worry!  We'll make more!  Contact our office at 322-6901 X300, if you wish to have one mailed to you.  The Hazzan's Hanukkah song booklet is also available.

Let’s celebrate Hanukkah together to light the community menorah!
Monday, December 10, 2001 at 5:00 PM sharp in front of the JCC, 1035 Newfield Avenue
Calling all families!!!
 Join JCC KidsPlace kids to lead us in singing the blessings and favorite Chanukkah songs.
After the candlelighting, follow the aroma of latkes to the TRADITIONS ON WHEELS cart in the main hall of the JCC. Dress warmly, we will be outside.  Flashlights are recommended.   Sponsored by the UJF of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien and the JCC.

"The Only Thing We Have to Fear..."
Fear and Courage from the Jewish Perspective: a panel discussion, led by the Board of Rabbis and featuring participants in the recent Solidarity tour of Israel.   in light of events here and in Israel, and in honor of Hanukkah...
Where?  HERE (TBE)  When?  Tuesday, December 11 at 8:00.

Hanukkah Shopping:  Of course, check out our Sisterhood's well-stocked Gift Shop for all your Hanukkah needs.  Additionally, you can buy a book at the Bi-Cultural book fair this weekend.  Beyond that, you can also do a mitzvah by shopping in Israel -- right from your own desktop.  Israel's current recession is far deeper than our own.  The Connecticut Jewish Ledger provided a list of Israeli sites to try.  Among them are: Israeli flags, jewelry, unusual items flowers and gifts from Israel beautiful tallises fabulous selection beautiful ritual items and more food, books, and lots more.  Out of Za'atar?  Begging for Bamba?  Click right here. direct from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City mystical stuff, candles, jewelry, from Kfar Saba.  get ready for a cosmic journey, and that's just the introduction.

And for the latest hit TV programs from Israel sent directly to your home on DVD, complete with English subtitles, you've GOT to try Drishat Shalom.  I got mine this week and have really enjoyed the inaugural edition.  I plan to be demonstrating Drishat Shalom here in the near future.  But for now, go to the Web site at

And speaking of gifts....Don't forget to bring an extra unopened gift to our Birthday closet.  Toys will be distributed to needy children on their birthdays by local agencies.

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