Friday, January 28, 2005
The Harvey Fierstein era has begun in Anatevka and "Fiddler" will never be the same -- nor will God.While it seems to be counterintuitive to have Mr. Unconventional play Mr. Traditional, having Fierstein play Tevye is in fact a match more perfect than even Yenta could have devised.
As Blake Eskin wrote recently in the e-zine Nextbook, the casting "exploits the national hysteria about gay marriage while tapping into insecurities about Jewish masculinity.""Fiddler on the Roof" is the story of Tevye's internal battles against the demons of emasculation; he finds himself equally powerless against the marauding Cossacks and the matrimonial-minded women of his household.An additional counterintuitive aspect of the Fierstein-Tevye synthesis intrigues me even more: How can an avowed agnostic play a guy best known for his endless conversations with God?Sounds crazy, no?
Not really. Agnosticism for a Jew is part of that ongoing dialogue with divinity that is Tevye's specialty. It is in fact the ultimate expression of spirituality, the religious quest as extreme sport.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought about being a rabbi. It was the time that I told an incredulous Jewish classmate in high school that belief in God has very little to do with being a Jew. I'm not sure which of us was more shocked.
I thought about this recently when I looked at a survey by Darren Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University, cited in The New York Times detailing the state of belief in America. It had been commonly assumed that about 95 percent of Americans claimed to believe in God. The study refined that number, revealing that only about two-thirds acknowledged unambiguousbelief in a personal God.
Sixteen percent professed belief but confessed to having doubts, while another 8 percent asserted that they didn't believe in a personal God but did believe in a higher power of some kind.Among Jews surveyed, the number of "believers" dropped precipitously: 27 percent professed no doubts, 21 percent believed in God despite their doubts, and 16 percent looked toward some impersonal "higher power."Not surprisingly, Jews scored high on agnosticism. In the survey, 22 percent responded positively to the statement, "I don't know if there is a God, and I don't believe there is any way to find out," as compared to 4 percent among the overall population.
What are we to make of all this? Are we to chalk it up to simple blue-state proclivities, or do these numbers reveal some darker undercurrent of despair in Jewish life?
The answer is neither.
Surveys like these betray a common misperception about Jews and Judaism. When we are speaking of "belief," religiosity is being measured on purely Christian terms. What such polls fail to grasp is that Judaism is a faith based far more on action than belief. For the Jew, "belief" is not a purely intellectual phenomenon.
More to the point, the essence of Jewish belief is questioning; its spirituality is fueled by skepticism. The very term "Israel" means to struggle with God. The first Hebrew passage a Jewish child learns is the "Four Questions" recited at the Passover seder. Those who claim to be agnostic are actually more true to classic Judaic forms of religiosity than those who profess blind faith. Christians are nurtured on dogma; Jews are nurtured on doubt, which is a prime reason for Judaism's increasing popularity among other Americans in a time of uncertainty.
A few generations ago, American Jews embraced the notion of a Judeo-Christian society, seeing it as an avenue of acceptance into the mainstream. It served us well at the time, but now it only serves to mask the major differences that exist between the traditions.
Jews don't post Ten Commandments on courthouses because for us, those 10 aren't any holier than the other 603. Jews allow abortion in certain cases, especially when the life of the mother is at stake, not because we are godless liberals, but because Judaism teaches that a fetus does not possess the status of aborn human being.
Most of all, Jews challenge everything, including self-evident truths, age-old philosophies and revered leaders. Nothing is sacred. The act of challenging ephemeral truths brings us ever closer to ultimate Truths. We're the ones who drove Moses batty in the wilderness, refused to bow down to imperial tyrants and who have, on occasion, even indicted God.
There is a story of a group of inmates in Auschwitz who put God on trial. God lost. Immediately afterward, they prayed the afternoon service.
Harvey Fierstein acknowledged in a recent interview that although he doesn't believe in God, he prays "three or four times a day." He fits right in as an agnostic playing Tevye. Martin Buber said that "God cannot be expressed, only addressed."
An agnostic is someone who wishes to address God but has simply lost the zip code. Jews therefore are not the most godless people in America, but rather the ones who take the subject seriously enough to grapple with God, never afraid to ask even the most difficult questions.
May God bless and keep those misleading surveys -- far away from us.
|Agnostic Tevye Not So Crazy|
The Harvey Fierstein era has begun in Anatevka and “Fiddler” will never be the same — nor will God.
Friday, January 7, 2005
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman,
Send your friends and relatives the gift of Jewish awareness
a Shabbat-O-Gram each week, by signing them up at www.tbe.org
The Rabid Rabbi
Talking to Our Kids about God
I think it's OK to say "I don't know -- it must have been quiite an amazing thing -- a real miracle." Also, the way it is drawn up in Gen 2 (as opposed to Gen 1, where they are created "in God's image" and that's that), is that they come from the ground --well, Adam does anyway. Adam - Adama (ground). And it's all in the context of the descrption of the Garden of Eden, so it's almost like they grow as in a garden -- God's breathing life into them is almost like watering a plant to make it grow to nurture it into life.
See if that works!
I'm hoping you can help me to finish the following conversation I had on Friday with Eddie (age 4 1/2). It took place in the car (of course) and I know it will come up again. So here it goes:
Eddie: Before there were people, how were people made?
Mom: God made people. He made Adam and Eve and they had babies, who had babies and so on...
Eddie: But how did He make them?
Mom: (trying to remember her versus from Genesis): He breathed life into their noses
Eddie: (quiet for a minute, then...) but, how did he breathe into their noses? If they weren't dead before, there were no noses?
Mom: (counting the months until he enters kindergarten at BCDS) I don't know the answer to that question.
Rabbi, the hard questions always come to me in the car, I need advice on some fast answers. Thanks.
This week, as a number of you head to well-deserved vacations in Vail, Nassau and All-Points-Elsewhere, I am releasing the long-awaited itinerary for this summer’s Beth El Israel Adventure. Though the schedule and final pricing are subject to revision, I know that many have been asking – so here it is. Just click on http://www.tbe.org/site/sog/TBEIsraelAdventure2005.htm and you’ll find it. Right now, if all those who have indicated strong interest indeed sign on, we’ll have a group of well over 30 people! We’ve reserved 35 seats on the flights, so we’ll need to know – soon – who is going. The response thus far (for a trip that we are only now officially announcing) has been tremendously gratifying.
If I am rabid about anything, it is our connection to Israel. Our community is putting together a strategic plan and among the highest priority items is encouraging Jews to visit Israel. I am pleased that our temple board recently affirmed its understanding of that priority. The board needs to be on board, and it is. Just this past week our group from last summer had a wonderful reunion/Hanukkah party at my house, and as we watched the DVD of the trip put together by one of our more techno-skilled teens, I felt a sense of “mission accomplished” that rabbis rarely get to feel (we’re usually too busy responding to the next fire alarm to look back at what has been achieved). The impact of a congregational trip like this is undeniable, reverberating far beyond those families immediately involved.
I can imagine how my great grandparents would have felt if they knew that a there was a Jewish state, it was relatively easy to get there, and yet only nearly two thirds of American Jews have never been there, not even once in their lives (see the stats at http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=83868, for college students, at
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/njps.html). A fascinating, comprehensive study of American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel can be found at http://www.cmjs.org/pdf/IsraelAttitudes.pdf. But it’s not just attachment to Israel that is fostered by such a trip. Jews who visit Israel come home suddenly “getting it” regarding the deepest matters of Jewish identity and personal connection. This is true for all ages.
Last summer I was privileged to share this awakening with several families, including some not from Beth El, who added immeasurably to our experience and became lifelong friends with the Beth El-ers. There is no question, however, that when you go to Israel with your own congregation, Israel itself becomes an extension of our community. And when we return, we bring Israel back with us. It’s even better when we bring some of our leadership with us. I’m pleased that this summer’s trip will have at least two TBE board members on it.
Enough ranting. It’s time to act. Check out the Israel Tourism site at http://www.goisrael.com/ and begin thinking of how you might go this coming year. There is another site at http://www.infotour.co.il/. Also, at least one of our young adults will be going on this January’s Birthright Israel trips. If you are between 18 and 26, how could you pass up a free ten-day trip of a lifetime? Go to http://www.birthrightisrael.com to find out more.
At the Birthright Israel site itself, they ask and answer the question that I used as my heading: Why Israel?
Here is part of their answer:
Israel is about Jews. It is about saving Jews; it is about Jews being able to live regular lives. It is about Jews learning how to live with each other. It's about a Jewish state that sometimes makes mistakes and is not perfect, but that still strives for social justice and protects democratic values. Ultimately, maybe it's not philosophy, theology or history - it's about real live people who are our brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and family.
So, Why Israel?
It's a central part of Jewish history, culture and religion.
It's part of our family.
It's part of the general culture in which we live.
It's a beacon of Jewish pride and creativity.
These ten days are about your own very personal conversation with this most ancient land and most modern state.
KOACH ON CAMPUS
Welcome Home, College students!
Check out the latest issue of Koach on campus.
Koach is the college outreach program of the USCJ.
See the entire ‘zine at http://www.koach.org/index.htm
This month’s issue includes these highlights:
Theme: "Hollywood vs. Holywood"
Judaism is Not a Fad
KOC Assistant Editor Maya Berezovsky, University of Minnesota, looks at many examples of how Jews are portrayed in the media. There’s no need to mock or denigrate Jews, we should be represented respectfully.
We’re Not All Lox and Bagel Jews
KOACH Fieldworker Leemor Dotan shows that Jews are working to change their public image.
Any Press is Good. Good Press is Better
Jill Ingber at U of Wisconsin-Madison says we should be thankful for Jewish celebrities, because how many other things could we have in common with a celebrity?
Israel is a Zoo
Daniel Estrin describes life in Israel. Both the people and the animals are out of control.
Identity Crisis. Who Am I??
Even Moses had issues with his Jewish Identity. Read on, and see how you’re not alone.
Hanukkah Hits the Radio
Matana Abramson at Rutgers is glad Adam Sandler put Hanukkah on the map of holiday radio tunes.
Nathan Fein at Boston U tells us of his activities.
We've been net-publishing our monthly e-zine for several years. All past articles are archived online.
JUST THE FACTS
Lehitraot to our 5th graders (gimmel class), heading out on their class Shabbaton.
Friday Evening Candles: PM (AN ENTIRE MINUTE LATER THAN LAST WEEK! THE HANUKKAH MIRACLE! For candlelighting times, other Jewish calendar information, and to download a Jewish calendar to your PDA, click on http://www.hebcal.com/.
Kabbalat Shabbat: 6:30 in the chapel
Tot Shabbat: the Tot Shabbat Oneg will be sponsored by the Nekritz Family in honor of the birthdays of their children Jason and Hannah.
Mazal tov to our b’nei mitzvah class of 1994, celebrating their ten year anniversary this Shabbat morning. They will also be providing a lunch following services.
Welcome to our guest speaker this Shabbat, Ruth Messenger of the American Jewish World Service
Torah Portion: Vayigash (the climax of the Joseph story) Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15 - 37:28
See a new weekly commentary now available from the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, at www.ujc.org/mekorchaim. Read the Masorti commentary at http://www.masorti.org/mason/torah/index.asp. JTS commentary is at: http://learn.jtsa.edu/topics/parashah/. USCJ Torah
Morning Minyan: Sundays at , Weekdays at – IN THE CHAPEL
We usually, but not always have a minyan of ten at our morning services. If you have a yahrzeit coming up and wish to ensure that there will be at least ten present, drop the rabbi an email at email@example.com and he will e-mail to the congregation a “Guaranteed Minyan” request. Indicate the date of the yahrzeit and whether it would be OK to use your name in making that request.
PLEASE SUPPORT OUR MINYAN BY CHOOSING TWO DATES (AT LEAST) IN DECEMBER TO ATTEND!
GUANTEED MINYAN REQUESTS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE:
PLEASE INDICATE BY E-MAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org IF YOU CAN ATTEND ON THESE DATES. I THANK YOU IN ADVANCE.
Now you can become more comfortable with our minyan, and find out all about it at…
Anti-Semitism on Rise in Connecticut Schools (Connecticut Jewish Ledger, December 15, 2004)
http://www.cjcs.net/survey.htm Jews and the American Public Square. Surveys on Jews’ feelings on church-state issues
A New Period in Arab-Israeli Relations? - Stephen Schwartz
Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom has predicted that "ten Arab countries will soon open diplomatic relations with Israel. A good period awaits us with the Arab world." In the near term, candidates for revived and improved diplomatic relations include Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, and Oman. The inclusion of Oman on the list is, at first glance, remarkable. Oman's majority follows a religious tradition known as Ibadhism that is the most conservative form of Islam in the world. Oman's constitution, the Basic Charter, declares that the state is founded on Sharia law and makes Islam the state religion. Yet Oman differs from Saudi Arabia in permitting open religious worship by non-Muslims, mainly Christians and Hindus. (Weekly Standard)
Reading the Egyptian Sphinx - Efraim Inbar (Jerusalem Post) The new change in tone from Cairo does not necessarily reflect a strategic decision to change Egypt's policy toward Israel.
Defensible Borders for Israel Dore Gold
Israel will require defensible borders to meet the growing lethality of the Palestinian threat, backed by the assistance of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration should provide Israel with assurances concerning defensible borders as it seeks Israel's acquiescence to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Jewish and Israeli Links…
A great resource on all things Jewish: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/news.html
THE MOTHERLODE OF ISRAEL-RELATED LINKS: http://www.israel.org/mfa/go.asp?MFAH00kj0
Israel Defense Force, http://www.idf.il/
Israel Government Gateway, links to Government Ministries, www.info.gov.il/eng
Israel Knesset, http://www.knesset.gov.il/
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.mfa.gov.il/
Israel Prime Minister's Office, http://www.pmo.gov.il/
Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, www.cbs.gov.il/engindex.htm
Israel Tourism Ministry, North America, http://www.goisrael.com/
Buy Israeli Products, http://www.israelexport.org/, http://www.shopinisrael.com/,
Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, www.tau.ac.il/jcss
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, http://www.besacenter.org/
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, http://www.jcpa.org/
One Jerusalem, http://www.onejerusalem.org/
Twenty Facts about Israel
Myths & Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Jerusalem Archaeological Park, http://www.archpark.org.il/
Israel Info Center - Israel Activism Portal, www.israelinfocenter.com/
US White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/
US State Department, http://www.state.gov/
US Senate, http://www.senate.gov/
US House of Representatives, http://www.house.gov/
THOMAS (search for US Legislation), thomas.loc.gov
United Nations Watch, http://www.unwatch.org/
Embassy of Israel - Washington, D.C., http://www.embassyofisrael.org/
Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, http://www.jta.org/
Ha'aretz English Edition, http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
Independent Media Review and Analysis, http://www.imra.org.il/
Maariv English Edition, http://www.maarivintl.com/
Middle East Media Research Institue (MEMRI), http://www.memri.org/
Palestinian Media Watch, http://www.pmw.org.il/
Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre,
Israel Insider, http://www.israelinsider.com/
Jewish World Review, http://www.jewishworldreview.com/
America's Voices in Israel, http://www.americasvoices.net/
@The Source Israel, http://www.thesourceisrael.com/
Other Jewish Sites
The best Jewish kids' site on the Web is http://www.babaganewz.com/ , with games, virtual tours and “J-Pod” downloads, kids of all ages will LOVE it.
Another superb educational site is http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ -- you can be a self-taught “maven” on all things Jewish!
See the contents of nearly the entire Babylonian Talmud, in translation at http://www.come-and-hear.com/tcontents.html
A Jewish Guide to the Internet: http://www.uscj.org/metny/bellmobj/jnet2.htm
On Jewish Vegetarianism and Animal Rights: http://jewishveg.com/schwartz/ (hey, you KNEW I’d put this one in)
How many Jewish hockey players are there? (None right now…there’s a lockout). Find out at http://www.jewishsports.com/
You can find an online Hebrew dictionary at http://milon.morfix.co.il/
Nice Jewish parenting site http://jewishfamily.com/
http://www.jewishgates.com/main.asp Jewish Gates is an amazing site, filled with material on Jewish history, ritual and culture. Go straight to the linked index at http://www.jewishgates.com/fullindex.asp and go to town!
The sourcebook for Jewish history (all periods) can be found at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/jewishsbook.html
Online Texts Related to Jewish History. All the primary sources “fit to print.”
Israel Campus Beat – to get all the latest information on
Did you know there is a listserve for Jewish Stamford? Find out what’s happening – for more info, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JewishStamford/
TOT SHABBAT AT
The 1st, 3rd and 4th Fridays of every month at .
Tot Shabbat is a warm, casual, and family-friendly Friday night service geared especially for children ranging in age from preschoolers to kindergarten. Older siblings are always welcome to participate.
Join us for songs, prayers, games and fun led by Nurit Avigdor who always provides a wonderful evening with her vast repertoire of songs, stories, warmth, and a special way with children. Each Tot Shabbat is followed by a special Oneg.
On December 17, the Tot Shabbat Oneg will be sponsored by Stacye and Stuart Nekritz in honor of the birthdays of their children Jason and Hannah.
For more information, please contact our
Sheryl Young: 203-975-1990
Stuart Nekritz: 203-322-0872
Deb Goldberg: 203-323-3307
Please register to be on our Tot Shabbat mailing list located on the
Cookbook Committee Meeting
Please join our cookbook team to create a kosher keepsake for our Beth El family and friends using our very own recipes.
Call Beth Silver at 967-8852 or email: email@example.com if you are interested.
Profits will be donated to the kitchen renovation project.
Ø Tuesday, December 28, 2004, 7:00 pm
Ø At the home of Samantha Bernstein:
469 West Hill Road, (corner of West Hill and Green Tree Lane (facing Green Tree Lane) – just five minutes from TBE.
Ø Phone: 967-8353
Ø All Welcome!!
Sponsored by the Temple Beth El Sisterhood
Temple Beth El of Stamford, CT
Led by Rabbi Joshua and Mara Hammerman
August 7-August 22, 2005
This unforgettable journey will have something for everyone:
· Full children’s program with youth counselor
· A glorious Shabbat in Jerusalem
· Archeological dig in the Judean Hills
· Relax at a five-star Dead Sea Spa
· Guest speakers and meaningful encounters with Israelis from a wide variety of backgrounds
· Western Wall Tunnels
· Bar/Bat Mitzvah affirmation service and celebration
· Wilderness Experience in the Negev
· Exploring Tel Aviv and the mystical city of Safed
· Visit to our sister city of Afula
· Visit to an army base
· Boat ride on the Kinneret and Kayaking on the Jordan
For detailed itinerary pricing and registration information, go to the trip’s Website:
A Long Way for a Falafel
A Journal of their recent trip to Israel
By Barbara and Marvin Gold
The final installment…
From Jerusalem, we head West. Along the way we pass Bedouin settlements; I see a herd of goats, a few boys riding donkeys, and tents for homes. We turn South towards the Ein Gedi Hotel located on the Dead Sea.
(Site: Qumran National Park, located on the Northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Famous for the discovery, made by Bedouin shepherds, of seven ancient scrolls.)
As we pass Qumran we begin to see the Dead Sea and the hills of Jordan on the opposite shore. Visibility is not good today and Ruby says we are not yet seeing the beautiful deep blue color of this water.
Signs along the road tell us we are now at sea level; then 150 meters below sea level, then 300 meters below sea level, then 400 meters below sea level. The terrain is dusty and brown, then suddenly green, then lined with an oasis of date palms. I see a camel. On our right we are in a Western film set. The view of mountains and caves, of wadis, and desert run parallel with us endlessly. On the left, the sea shows black through the fog.
Along the way, Ruby points to evacuated Jordanian army outposts.
We slow the car at several checkpoints until a soldier waves us through.
At the Ein Gedi Hotel our spacious rooms overlook a backdrop of steep beige hills. If we look carefully, we can just make out a group of goats moving down the slopes. Israeli cousins to our morning doves, barn swallows, starlings, and humming birds fly and swoop against the background. The grounds of the resort, run by the Ein Gedi kibbutz, are lush with palm trees, flowers of every color, cacti, pomegranates and clementines. Marvin helps himself to several luscious dates given by the resort and we are ready for our stay here.
Dinner at the hotel is served buffet style in plenty. Tempting foods occupy every inch of long tables, from many salads, humus, olives, pita breads, vegetables, and hot fish, meat, and chicken courses, and for dessert, cakes, cookies, and "make your own Pareve Sundaes". By the time we waddle out from dinner, we are almost too full to go to Cabaret Night held in the Ein Gedi hotel lobby.
Cabaret Night we soon learn is popular and all the seats set up in the lobby are taken. We stand in the rear and listen as the DJ sings in Yiddish, then in Russian, and then in Hebrew. Senior guests glide smoothly over the floor to the sounds of Mein Shtetele Belz, Ich hob dich tzu fil lib (Ruby translates, "I love you too much"), Blue Suede Shoes, a Samba, Russian circle dancing, and a Moroccan dance. (I think to myself, "The Israeli Borscht Circuit".)
(Site: En Gedi National Park, a nature reserve, located on the Eastern edge of the Judean Desert, on the shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.)
At the En Gedi National Park, we choose the Lower Wadi David trail, the easiest trail to respect my fear of heights. Lush vegetation, the sight of a Hyrax, and groups of Ibex cause me to stop and photograph. The hike is worth it when at the end of the trail we find ourselves at a picturesque spring spilling down into a natural pool. A group of Israeli teenagers are there. Some sun themselves as they sit on the stones which frame the pool and some wade, splash, and laugh with one another in the shallow clear water. Their two guides are now shirtless in the warmth of the day. The younger guide wades in the water, his gun tucked into his belt. The other sits on the rocks, rifle close by.
(Site: En Gedi Antiquities National Park. Contains the remnants of a Jewish settlement from the Roman and Byzantine periods with a restored synagogue featuring an amazing and detailed mosaic floor.)
Later that day, Marvin, Ruby, and I laugh as we float on the Dead Sea, buoyed by the salt content of the water. But at the Ein Gedi Spa, the sight of men and women covered in black mud makes me decide to pass on the benefits of this mineral mud skin treatment.
(Site: Masada, located at the top of an isolated mountain on the coast of the Dead Sea, between Sdom and Ein Gedi.)
(Site: Flour Cave in the Judean Desert: We walk through Wadi P'razim. Picture a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Arc". Move over Indiana Jones, as Marvin and I follow Gene and Ruby through this deserted wadi.)
We're going home. 17 days have surely flown by. We drive to Ben Gurion airport, return the car, and wait to board our 12:01 a.m. plane back to the States. We purchase the last minute chocolates for friends and family, and try to rid our pockets of shekels. Ruby asks for a pishka in which she deposits her remaining coins.
I pack the chocolates in a carry-on bag along with my halvah, Dead Sea body creams, and my thoughts. I'll remember this beautiful land of Israel and its people who, to my eye, appear to live life by a code: with awareness, precaution, courage, laughter, and hope.
Barbara & Marvin Gold
Previous Shabbat-O-Grams can be accessed directly from our web site (www.tbe.org)