Monday, March 30, 2009

Bread of Affliction

Gabriel Mann's powerful Passover video to end hunger. Directed by Stuart K Robinson for "Let my People Sing". Produced by Craig Taubman, benefitting JFSLA.

(Madoff) You Give Jews a Bad Name

Based on the parody song from the radio show "Two Jacks in the Hole" - (

Bernard Madoff gives Jews a bad name. This makes Bon Jew-vi mad. And when Bon Jew-vi get mad, rhey sing about what makes them mad. With their Jewish frontman (now you can't be offended), Bon Jew-vi performs their classic song, "(Madoff) You Give Jews a Bad Name"

Friday, March 27, 2009

The God Questions: A Child's View

Little Rachael Paley, a preschooler, recently had a conversation, with her mother Donna Foster-Paley, about God. Her responses help us to understand how sacred are the insights of a child, for they can go places we adults have long ceased to go. Maybe at your Seders it would be a good idea to go around and ask these questions When the youngest child asks the Big Four, we can add a few more to the mix.

Donna: How do you know there is a God?
Rachael: We have to think in our heads that there is One.

Donna: Can God talk to us?
Rachael: Yes, He calls us on his Cloud Phone.

Donna: What does God do?
Rachael: God grows the trees for us. He makes the colors of this world.

Donna: What does God look like?
Rachael: God can look like any way you think He looks like. i think he looks like a baby (kissing 9 month old brother David). God looks like a creature, like a lion, and He eats up David's toes.

Donna: Does God watch out for us?
Rachael: Yes, that's the boring part.
Donna: What's the exciting part?
Rachael: Chocolate kisses! God makes candy!


Kosher Sex series continues for Young Professionals

Join us for the second session in the Kosher Sex series, “Dealing with Relationships When We’re All So Stressed Out.” This sesion will take place next Thursday, April 2nd, 7:30-9:00 PM at Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Road in Stamford. The session will be co-lead by Dr. Mara Hammerman, PsyD and Rabbi Joshua Hammerman. They will discuss how your relationship can be an oasis of tranquility in a crazy world, dealing with parents, jobs and other distractions, basic communication skills, conflict, resolution, developing a comfort level and the Jewish focus on the power of words. Rabbi Hammerman will also talk about sexuality from a Jewish perspective. There is no charge for this program, but space is limited. Please RSVP on the facebook page, "Young Jewish Preofessionals of Fairfield County."

See the flyer for the entire series by clicking here.

This program is made possible through a grant from United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

G-dcast for Parashat Vayikra

Parshat Vayikra from

More Torah cartoons at

Sixty things I love about Israel

Excerpted from "Sixty things I love about Israel," by Benji Lovitt, found on 60 Bloggers (and if you like these, why not join us this December on our TBE Israel Adventure?)

1. I love that the women are not only hotter than Mitzpe Ramon in July but that they also have a Passover Seder. (Much like the fourth dimension, my human brain is incapable of processing this.)

2. I love the outdoor cafes/kiosks on Rothschild and that Israelis universally agree that Starbucks (the altar to which American consumers bow their heads and pray) stinks.

3. I love that I don’t look at the people I meet as French, Russians, or Australians, but rather as Israelis who are trying to make it here just like I am.

4. I love my Ulpan teacher from Kitah Bet, Dafna, who spoke to us like we were four so we’d understand her.

5. I love that falafel is a healthy snack (OK, maybe I just love choosing to believe the American myth while I scarf it down forty-seven times a week.)

6. I love that people I know from all over the place are always visiting this place, the center of the Jewish world.

7. I love that I can tell a joke about Rosh Hashana at a comedy club here and know that it will be understood by everyone in the audience.

8. I love wearing jeans to virtually any social event.

9. I love the kumkum and the utter shock on every Israeli’s face when they ask “but how do you make coffee in America???” in the same manner that teenagers ask how we survived before cell phones. (Since it takes an hour for my dud shemesh (water heater) to heat up during the winter, next December I plan to shower in the kumkum for the next 3 months.)

10. I love that it’s 12:48 AM, tomorrow is a work day, and Cafe Aroma is still hopping. HOW DO THESE ISRAELI PEOPLE DO IT???

11. I love expanding my already unrivaled vocabulary of ridiculous Hebrew and Arabic slang and that Israelis think I’m fluent because I can say I have to go the bathroom 47 different ways.

13. I love Friday in Tel Aviv.

14. I love English words which are directly absorbed into the Hebrew language. “Slicha, yesh li peepee!”

15. I love how warm and proud of each new immigrant the former olim are and how so many treated me to an “aliyah beer” or dinner when I arrived.

16. I love how cheesy American and international pop music is welcomed with open arms here. For this reason, someone hypothetically can sit in the barber’s chair, get a proverbial spring in his step when “Backstreet’s Back” comes on, look around, and realize that nobody finds it the least bit weird that said song is being played. This is all hypothetical of course. It never happened.

17. I love that I went to World AIDS Day and had my AIDS awareness raised by two macho sperm kicking a soccer ball.

18. I love that people are so unbelievably hospitable to the degree that my American brain cannot understand. Like when 45,000 people invited me to their Passover Seder, including a co-worker who I had only known for a few weeks.

19. I love Adloyada in Holon, the biggest Purim parade in the country which feels like the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving.

20. I love the feeling of unity and Jewish peoplehood on Yom Hazikaron when people stop whatever they’re doing to commemorate fallen soldiers during t’kasim (ceremonies) and during the siren. Even though it looks like aliens have invaded earth and frozen the human race.

21. I love the ridiculous English t-shirts that people wear in this country, usually with no inkling of what they even say or mean.

22. I love that Hebrew is both an ancient and brand new language with words whose roots can be traced as far as the Torah (b’reishit, whose shoresh is “rosh” or “head”/”beginning) and as recently as NOW (“l’sames”, “to send an SMS”).

23. I love the food here and how people eat such a healthy diet, such as my co-worker who ate a whole pepper in her hand as if it were an apple.24. I love the almost meaningless phrase of “yiyeh b’seder” which I continuously mock for its universalness even as I say it myself to make myself feel better.

47. I love how when you walk into an Israeli’s home, approximately 1.34 seconds elapse before they offer you a hot drink. You could enter their apartment with a clown suit and a machete, the first thing they’d say? “Some-theeng to dreenk?”

48. I love seeing my Israeli friends in the days after Shabbat because they feed me. Not just with anything but with the 468 Tupperwares of delicious food that their mothers have sent them home with after the weekend. Where do these mothers find the time??? You leave them alone for 5 minutes on a Friday, when you come back, they’ve whipped up a 7 course meal for the Western Galilee.

49. I love that I saw “Borat” in Israel where everyone was dying laughing from all the hilarious Hebrew. You think that happened in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey multiplex? (Does Cherry Hill have a multiplex?)

50. I love learning some random phrase in Ulpan or in the shetach (”the field”) and then picking it up in conversation days later to my complete delight. This leads to awkward exchanges where I interrupt two people by suddenly screaming “COMMON DENOMINATOR! COMMON DENOMINATOR!”

51. I love how the sample credit card in advertisements doesn’t have a name like John Doe or Shmuel Ben-Tov but instead “Israel Israeli.”

52. I love how the band at the first soccer game I attended played not “We Will Rock You”, but “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem.” What is this, Rivka’s Bas-Misvah?

53. I love how my former roommate tried to teach me how to clean by taking the toilet brush, cleaning the toilet, and then using the same toilet brush to CLEAN THE SINK. And she thought I was the idiot. (Ok, just kidding. I didn’t really love that.)

54. I love when an Asian person stops me to ask where the #5 picks up and we converse in Hebrew.

55. I love how someone stood up and blew the shofar on an El Al flight last September. If that happened on an American airline, this would lead to confused passengers tackling him and the ADL issuing a press release.

56. I love that McDonalds is kosher for Passover.

57. I love that on Israeli Survivor, the contestants are often far less cutthroat than their American counterparts, schmoozing and laughing like….well, Israelis.

58. I love how on Yom Kippur, there are almost zero cars on the road.

59. I love that living here makes me feel like I am contributing to the building of a country.

60. I love that I’ve had this once-in-a-lifetime experience and that it’s not over yet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Here Comes the (Blessing of the) Sun

The Blessing of the Sun, Burkat Hachama is fast approaching - that once in 28 year opportunity to acknowledge the power and importance of the "Greater Light." Weather permitting, I'll be leading a special service - brief but powerful, on Wednesday, April 8, at the (NOTE TIME CHANGE) bright and early but not godforsaken hour of 7:00 AM, down at beautiful Cove Island Park. We'll meet at the totem pole. Just walk straight in, bearing left slightly, and head straight to the back.

This Shabbat morning, I'll be discussing some fascinating source material put together by the Conservative movement, as we prepare for the big event. You can also read this week's coverage in the Jewish Week: For Liberal Jews, Sunup On A Rare Ritual

David Solomon, a world-renowned teacher and Biblical scholar, explains the importance of Birkat Hachama (from a traditional / mystical perspective) in this video. For more information, and the rest of this series, visit and

Life Flow and the Mikva: A Spiritual Web Journey

This week I will have the pleasure of bringing a Jew by choice to our local mikva, where he immersed as the climactic moment of his conversion. Preparing for this event reminded me of the growing significance of this ancient symbol of purification and transition. Whether it is used for conversion, for the purposes of family purity, or to mark a major life transition, such the onset of Shabbat or a holiday, for some, or a recovery from a major illness for others, these natural waters are the perfect metaphor for the ebb and flow of life.

I recently taught a session of the Melton adult education series on this topic, and next week will also touch upon it in the next session of our acclaimed “Kosher Sex” series for young professionals. In preparation for those two classes, I came across some excellent materials and websites that I share with you here.

Take a look at them all, including the Conservative Movement’s Law Committee’s recent rulings on the matter.

While the laws of family purity still appear sexist and repressive (and obsessive) to many, the mikva’s significance goes far beyond those laws. For some women, a monthly immersion keeps them to be spiritually attuned to the rhythms of their bodies and of nature. For women and for men, immersion in life-giving waters is a way of defeating death – for when we lie in water we are suspended for a moment, naked, defenseless, un-breathing, as if dead; and then we re-emerge as if “born again.” The waters also soften us as they transform us, affirming our vulnerability and fragility, as well as our connectedness to nature.

Water is a symbol of life, and blood symbolizes death (though it contains the power of life)... shades of the first plague!

It’s time to take another look at the power of water.

This is the site of the new, pluralistic mikva in Boston, created by Anita Diamant, author of “The Red Tent.” It's called Mayyim Hayyim (Living Waters). See here creative, spiritual ceremonies of immersion:

For a woman following menstruation
For a bride
For a groom
For Passover

Also see

And see from Ritualwell, The Use of the Mikva in Healing from Incest and click here to see various healing ceremonies involving immersion, including incidents of rape and abuse.

Also see (from Ritualwell):

Kavanah for Mikveh Prayer By Carol Rose
A meditation for the mikveh invoking God's healing presence

Prelude to Mikveh Poem By Cynthia Wallace
A kavanah for ritual immersion that focuses on the experience of mikveh as an experience of the Divine

Healing Well Prayer By Ariel Lee
A healing prayer to be said when immersing in the mikveh

Communal Misheberach for Healing Prayer By James I. Greene
An original prayer in both feminine and masculine forms

Waters of Healing Meditation – Kos Refuah/Cup of Healing Ritual Component
By Ariel Lee A meditation based on Miriam's Well

You can find an Orthodox explanation of the Purity Laws (Niddah): from the OU and from The Jewish Womens' Health Network

And the Conservative approach, which combines traditional observance with a more contemporary, feminist view:

Here read some of the questions posed by observant women about the commandment to refrain from contact with their husbands during their time of “uncleanness.” It can get pretty complicated!,, (Is it OK to be sitting on a couch with your husband?) (Can you hand a baby to your husband?), (Can you touch your husband’s chair?),

Read this from “The Golden Bough” on blood taboos in ancient societies.

A fascinating report on mikva from PBS: Religion and Ethics News Weekly - also see this feature, "Memoirs of a Mikva lady"

Finally, read the Jewish Enclyclopedia’s classic studies on the subject, at and

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sam Baden on Shabbat ha-Hodesh

Happy New Year everyone!

In case you were wondering, the biblical new year is Nisan, which begins this week. Today, not only is it my Bar Mitzvah, but it is the first day of spring and shabot hachodesh, the special shabbot announcing this new month. For those of you who don’t know this I was born on the 1st day of Passover, known as chag haaviv, the holiday of spring, and Nissan is known in the torah as chodesh haaviv, the month of spring. So everything, as you can see, really ties together.

At this time of year so much comes alive. From deer frolicking in the fields, and all the snow birds coming back from Florida, and all the flowers growing in your yard, the Yankees getting ready for opening day, except A-roid I mean rod, and of course those annoying bird waking you up at 5am. And this year another cycle of nature is renewed. The day before Passover, we are going to say a special blessing of the sun, which marks the return of the sun to the exact place where it was at the moment of creation, according to Jewish tradition. We only say the blessing once every 28 years, so it kind of a big deal.

As this new cycle begins, it makes me wonder what the world will be like in another 28 years. When I imagine the future I think of flying cars, a giant whole in the ozone layer and maybe by then the economy will be turned around, maybe. And I’ll be 41, wow that’s old.
However, some things will stay the same. For instance, Judaism. It has been going on for 3000 plus years, and it’s still going strong. And I think my mom is old (hold for applause). But seriously, my family also has deep roots, they’ve been right here in Stamford for a very long time. I am the first of the 5th generation to be in Stamford.

I am so lucky to have so much family. Today there are 4 generations in this very room. I’m very privileged to have 5 living great grandparents, 5 grandparents, 12 cousins, and 8 aunts and uncles. I’m the first of 8 on one side, and the second of 10 on the other. I want to give special mention to my 2 talises. One is all the way from Israel, and is from Grandpa Manny, and this talis will be passed all the way through the Leferman side and eventually it will come back to me. My 2nd talis is from Mema, it is very special to me because it’s mine to keep forever.
So once again, happy new year, and I hope you paid attention because I am not repeating this speech for another 28 years

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TBE on Shalom TV

Several major events taking place here at Temple Beth El have been covered by the national Jewish programming network, Shalom TV. You can see excerpts of those presentations at the Shalom TV website:

Heads of Three Rabbinical Schools
In a rare group appearance, Richard Joel (Yeshiva U), Dr. Arnold Eisen (JTS), and Rabbi David Ellenson (HUC-JIR) sit together in Temple Beth El (Stamford, CT) to discuss the future of Jewish life in America and the strengths of their respective movements.
See excerpts here.

Jewish America: Michael Oren
Explaining why a commitment to Israel has been part of the American fabric since the days of the Pilgrims, Michael Oren, Middle East expert and senior fellow at the Shalem Center, delivers the Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture at Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. See excerpts here

Avraham Infeld on Jewish Identity
Jewish identity, for American and Israeli Jews, is the subject of a lecture by gifted educator Avraham Infeld, one of the minds behind Birthright Israel, former president of Hillel and Israel Forum, and chair of The Israel Experience. Shalom TV exclusive coverage. See Excerpts here

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What They Say About Stamford...

This week's Jewish Week features our own little corner of the world, Stamford Connecticut. Read what they have to say about our little town.

That's all well and good. But lately, not all the publicity has been so positive. We are the town, after all, where chimps mutilate humans and high school students tragically shoot their friends (and our hearts do go out to the family and friends of Daniel Villeda). We are the home of professional wrestling and the new home of - did I hear this correctly - Jerry Springer. We've got busloads of Catholics protesting in Hartford even when a proposal offensive to them had been withdrawn. And now, in Fairfield county communities, the village mobs are besieging the mansions of AIG executives who received bonuses. And as Conservative Jews, we have to be concerned about the anger brewing because of the current leadership crisis in Conservative Movement as well.

We're becoming the capital of anger, and there's a lot of it out there right now. At least we are doing our best to keep a lid on emotions here in or little corner of Stamford's Upper West Side. We've been addressing the current economic crisis in a most supportive and caring manner. There is a sense of common purpose that pervades all that goes on here, from classes to meetings to services. We need to continue to be the calm within the Stamford Storm.

This week's portion speaks of the prohibited labors of Shabbat- all of them, by rabbinic extension, but one in particular most directly. In Exodus 35:3 it states:

לא תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם

"Do not kindle a fire in all your settlements on the Sabbath day."

This verse is more than just a reminder not to cook or turn the lights on. It is interpreted to include the fire of anger. As Humash Etz Hayyim puts it, "Arguments and angry shouts are as much a disruption of Shabbat as working and spending of money."

During a time of great stress, let this verse be a reminder to all of us to "cool it," not just on Shabbat, but everyday. Let our Shabbat this week kindle a different kind of flame, that of love and spiritual fervor.

Join us for Shabbat Across America and Shabbat Unplugged tonight - and for services tomorrow - and let's GET HAPPY.

Salute to Spring (A Spiritual Web Journey)

Friday is the first day of Spring, and appropriately, this is also Shabbat Ha-Hodesh, the week where we welcome the beginning of THE month of months, the Spring month, as it's called in the Torah, the first biblical month, the month of Passover. So, happy new year!

In honor of Spring, I'm releasing to the public domain for the first time what was arguably my most environmentally-based sermon (and certainly the most "hands on"), delivered here on Yom Kippur way back in 1991, in my assistant rabbi days. Some might recall it as the "earth ball" sermon, when, while I spoke, the congregation passed a giant earthball, from one person to the next. You can find it just below, or, if that doesn't work, you can find it a variety of audio formats, by clicking here.

Sixty years ago, in 1949, a small book was published that some say revolutionized the environmental movement. In "Sand County Almanac," Aldo Leopold collected his nature writings into a year long diary, bringing us in tune with the rhythms of the seasons in his native Wisconsin. The Almanac was published just after he died, ironically, while fighting a wildfire. Nature's beauty and its cruelty were felt most acutely by this conservationist, who defined ecology as the "science of relationship" and understood that our relationship to the Land is the most fundamental of all. Read more about his life here.

As our thoughts turn to Spring, keenly aware that the Jewish calendar places us right in the front row of nature's miraculous blessings, here are some memorable passages from Leopold's work:

The Geese Return
One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring. A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.

A March Morning
A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese...Once the first geese are in, they honk a clamorous invitation to each migrating flock, and in a few days the marsh is full of them.

Wild Things
There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot....Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.

For more, see The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, Reflections on Sand County, this book review, this tribute and the Zen Birdfeeder.

As John Denver wrote of Spring in his "Seasons Suite,"

Open up your eyes and see a brand new day

A clear blue sky and brightly shining sun

Open up your ears and hear the breezes say

Everything thats cold and gray has gone

Open up your hands and feel the rain come down

Taste the wind and smell the flowers sweet perfume

Open up your mind and let the light come in

The earth has been reborn and life goes on

Do you care whats happening around you

Do your senses know the changes when they come

Can you see yourself reflected in the seasons

Can you understand the need to carry on

Riding on the tapestry of all there is to see

So many ways and oh so many things

Rejoicing in the differences, theres no one just like me

Yet as different as we are were still the same

And oh I love the life within me

I feel a part of everything I see

And oh I love the life around me

A part of everything is here in me

A part of everything is here in me

A part of everything is here in me

G-DCast for Vayakhel-Pekuday

Parshat Vayakhel from

More Torah cartoons at

Parshat Pekudei from

More Torah cartoons at

Cantor Michal Hammerman audio links

I've been getting lots of wonderful feedback regarding my father's cantorial archives, but a number of people have not been able to download or play the Quicktime files. Below are the web links, which hopefully will be easier to access. Let me know if this works better.

Go Down Moses
Bless this House
Eli Eli
Raisins and Almonds
Day is Ending
Tell Me Where Can I Go?
Kol Nidre Live from K.I.
Musaf Rosh Hashanah Live from K.I.
Brothers Hammerman Concert
Our Believing World

If these don't play, you can also go to the archive page and see if you can download it in a format more compatible with your computer.

Letter from Netanya: A Crazy Week

Here is the latest dispatch from Jan Gaines in Netanya, following an eventful week in Israel. Some of her observations are backed up by this disturbing new study, The Gaza War and the New Outburst of Anti-Semitism:

Dear Friends,

While you were watching the media ballyhooed hysteria over AIG, we were having our own emotional roller coaster ride here. Over two events: the failure of the efforts to release Gilad Schalit, and the failure so far of Bibi to get a government together.

In a way, Israel doomed the failure of the Schalit talks with Hamas. There was such a media over the top coverage of the Schalit family's efforts, camped out in tents opposite the prime minister's residence and office, that Hamas probably figured they could just keep asking for more and public opinion would force the government to give in to their demands. That this didn't happen was a great relief to me and to many conflicted Israelis. When is too much blackmail just too much??

Now the govt. is proposing to eliminate all the perks that Palestinian prisoners have here, including TV, email & computer usage, telephone, frequent family visits, lots of exercise, and others. They are only required to allow Red Cross visits and since NO ONE has been allowed to see Schalit in 3 years, it is time for limiting the good life of these Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas is riding high these days. They have been promised lots of money to rebuild Gaza, they have all the NGO's in the world behind them, calling Israel a Nazi regime, committing atrocities. They have pressured the Europeans to loosen up their demands to honor past agreements and to recognize Israel. In short, they are winning the PR battle world wide. All they have to do is bide their time and the west will cave in, as they see it.

Never mind that they can't form a unity govt. with the PA. They can go around Abbas, call for a new election, and win the West Bank that way. And they never hide their repeated vow to eliminate the State of Israel.

In the meantime, Bibi is frantically trying to balance the right wing parties in his coaltion with at least one on the left. Livni has stubbornly held out, refusing to join the coalition using flimsy excuses. She feels certain this govt. won't last and next time she will win. She has ignored calls to join in a unity govt. for the sake of the country, showing that in the end she's just another self-seeking politician and not the clean and principled leader she made herself out to be.

I think she's in for a surprise if she thinks she can win next time.

So Bibi is still trying to woo Barak and Labor, and Barak is dying to come into the govt. but the Labor party is mostly opposed and Barak doesn't have a great deal of control over the party. It would be good for the country if Labor would join, but again, all of the members are thinking only of themselves. They too think a Bibi govt. won't last and they can do better in the opposition, trying to shoot him down.

If Lieberman becomes Foreign Minister, all those Europeans and Americans who are screaming "extremist, right wing racist" are in for a surprise. He has turned out to be very pragmatic. He hasn't made big demands for juicy ministerial appointments. His real platform is electoral reform, civil marriage and a loosening of religious control over conversions. The "loyalty oath" issue has completely faded away here, altho it is used to beat us over the head by the world press.

But here we go into a lovely, cool spring, heralding Pesach. I've written before about how the smells (orange blossoms) and sights (flowers everywhere) and sounds (Pesach songs in the schools) all presage this wonderful holiday. Even tho we have two weeks to go, I'm already trying to clear out my freezer of bread and cake, by inviting friends over or taking leftovers to others for shared meals. This year I'll be with the family I've been with for over 10 years, having Seder on a moshav in the Galilee, near hot springs and Mt. Gilboa. There will be 22 of us, all in one large house, with 5 coming from the States and the rest from Haifa, Kibbutz Ketura, and Jerusalem suburbs. Plus the 3 of us "elders". Each year there is more and more Hebrew spoken and sung and I would like to turn back the clock and grow up here so I could join in.

Time for a morning walk on the beach. It's 65 and sunny.

Shabbat Shalom, Jan

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Once in 28 Year Celebration

Here, courtesy of Hazon, are some explanatory materials regarding a Jewish ceremony done only once every 28 years! Join me at Cove Island on Wed. April 8 at sunrise, 5:15 AM, to welcome the sun's return to the exact spot where it was at the time of its creation (according to tradition). We'll meet by the totem pole (why not) to share some readings and prayers about the significance of the sun. Here is Hazon's take:

We hope you’ll find meaningful ways to celebrate and to learn about the positive role the sun plays in our lives (all life depends upon it!) and about its power as a healthy, renewable energy source. For many, the notion of solving an entire global crisis can be overwhelming. That’s why the second-century sage Rabbi Tarfon teaches in Pirke Avot, “It is not your obligation to complete the task (of perfecting the world); neither are you free to desist from it.”

On their resources page Hazon offers suggested materials for education, ideas for action, tools for advocacy, competitions - as well as ways you can bring a celebration of Birkat HaChamah to your family. Here are some Study and Learn Resources and Articles and Dvar Torah Resources.

Here are some other ideas from Hazon (aside from joining me at 5:15):

  1. Greet the new day with yoga Sun Salute postures.

  2. Symbolically burn chametz using the concentrated light of the sun.
    Construct a solar cooker and enjoy a recipe made prior to April 8 or host a solar cooker cook-off. Click here for do-it-yourself solar cooker instructions; more about solar cooking and healthy solar recipes.

  3. Bake matzoh in your solar cooker prior to April 8 to serve at your seder.

  4. Send in a solar cooker recipe to The Jew & The Carrot Solar Cooker Recipe Raffle and be entered into our raffle. You could win the recently released The Jew & The Carrot - Recipes cookbook with recipes from our blog or Hazon’s Food for Thought. Send your recipe along with your name and contact information to
    Register for the 2009 Hazon Food Conference with the discount code “sunny” and receive $50 off.

  5. Take a sunrise bike ride. Learn more about Hazon’s Jewish Environmental Bike Rides in New York and Israel to support innovative environmental projects including our work in the new Jewish Food Movement. Use the discount code “sunny” and receive $50 off our Rides. Decorate your bike with sun decorations, take a picture and we’ll post it on our site!

  6. Plant sunflowers in your garden!

Here Comes the Sun!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The God Questions

This Sunday I'll be leading the second of two sessions on "The God Questions," as we'll discuss some of the basic questions people of all ages ask about God and Jewish belief. Attendance at session #1 is not a prerequisite to come to session #2.

The questions to be covered include:

How do we know there really is a God?
Where does God come from?
If there is on God, why are there so many religions?
Does God care who wins the World Series or Super Bowl?
Can praying make someone better (well)?

If you would like to look at the questions and my proposed responses, you can see part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here, as recorded in prior Shabbat-O-Grams. I’ve tried to respond to the questions in a manner that would be comprehensible either to a child or an adult. The answers are far from comprehensive, but they point us in the right direction. At the session, feel free to focus in on any of the questions.

Israeli Satire from "Eretz Nehederet"

This is taken from Israel's favorite comedy show, Eretz Nehederet here with English Subtitles. If you think Jon Stewart is irreverent, you 'aint seen nothing until you've watched Eretz Nehederet. This rap video is an instruction manual on how to do "Hasbara," to justify Israeli policy to people living abroad. From time to time I'll be featuring their biting skits to give us a taste of what Israelis are thinking.

Theater That Touches (from the Forward)

Check out this moving story from the Forward featuring an extraordinary theater group that we will be seeing on our TBE Israel Adventure this coming December.

Theater That Touches
By Daniel Savery

Imagine a world of darkness and silence. Now, think how it would be to live like that every day. The experience of what it’s really like — the thoughts, struggles and emotions of a deaf-blind person — is what a unique Israeli theater group is sharing via its latest production, “Not by Bread Alone”

Nalaga’at (literally, “Do touch”) is the only deaf-blind theater ensemble in the world. Housed since 2007 in a renovated shipping hangar on Jaffa’s Old Port, the Nalaga’at Center also houses Café Kapish and the restaurant Blackout. Immediately upon entering, one will notice a type of atmosphere different from that of the usual theater reception. All the waiters employed at Café Kapish are deaf; they greet customers with warm smiles, hand them menus that teach the basics of sign language — “Please,” “Thank you” and “Goodbye” — and before long, people are ordering their cappuccinos without saying a word. At Blackout, diners order and eat in complete darkness, assisted by blind waiters. This allows the customers to focus on taste, smell and touch.

Those senses are later intrinsic to the performance as the audience is taken on a tour through the lives of the 11 deaf-blind individuals onstage — all in the time span it takes to bake bread. During the performance (which is accompanied by Hebrew, Arabic and English supertitles), the wonderful smell of baking bread wafts around the theater, emanating from six ovens that form part of the set. As the show begins, the actors, all wearing chef costumes, prepare the dough and introduce themselves. Only three of the 11 can speak; the rest use interpreters. If that weren’t hard enough, the group members also have to translate among Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English and even Eritrean in order to communicate with one another. Read More

Leadership Crisis in Conservative Movement

NEW YORK (JTA) -- A second group of Conservative Jewish leaders has issued a series of demands of the movement's synagogue association.

About a dozen presidents of Conservative synagogues have hinted they will leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism unless serious changes are made to the organization within 90 days, the Forward reported Monday. Organizers say they eventually hope to garner between 25 and 50 signatures.

(See the Forward article here: Threatening Rebellion, Shuls Demand Conservative Movement Reforms)

The news comes less than a week after a similar letter, signed by a group of Conservative clergy and lay leaders organized under the banner of HaYom, demanded a meeting with the United Synagogue president, Raymond Goldstein. Goldstein told JTA a meeting was in the works.
The synagogue presidents echoed the complaints of the HaYom group, saying the United Synagogue is not sufficiently open and transparent. They also requested that United Synagogue publish its recent budgets and the contract of its current executive vice president, hold a series of open discussions for congregations and shrink its governing boards.

The USCJ last week tapped Rabbi Steven Wernick to be it's new executive director. Read a Jewish Week profile: Wernick Promises Sweeping Change For United Synagogue.

At least he can still wear his yarmulke!

Read the following JTA dispatch and then ask yourself why so many people hate us.

It is not appropriate for the pope to wear a cross at the Western Wall, the rabbi in charge of the holy site said (for more, click here).

See also this response from our Masorti representative: The Rabbi, The Pope and the Western Wall.

Funny thing is, when I dressed as a priest last week for Purim, I consciously decided not to wear a cross, which came as part of the costume. It was less because I would be in a synagogue, however, as that might confuse the children.

The cross is one of those "I'm-from-Mars, You-are-from-Venus" symbols, or like a dog and cat wagging tails. For each party, it means a totally different thing. For Christians it is a symbol of hope and love, for some Jews (and thankfully, fewer and fewer all the time) it connotes intolerance, persecution and death.

But when a pope comes to visit our Jewish state in a gesture of humility, putting a stamp on a profound change of doctrine that has enabled the church to finally recognize and even embrace that state, what chutzpah it takes for someone to tell the pope that he can't wear the very symbol of his position.

It is comforting, though, to know that you don't have to be a Conservative Jew to be so profoundly humiliated at the Kotel (see my prior essay, The Wall and the Mall). Join the club, Pope!

It's also another reason why Israel needs to begin to question the degree to which they've given a few rabbis the power to make the entire state look foolish.

Well, at least the Israeli leadership didn't do something REALLY stupid, like, say, ask the Catholic clergy to give up monetary control of their parish coffers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dayenu! The Musical Legacy of Cantor Michal Hammerman #3

With this third and final installment of this series of archival recordings, my father and Rabbi Saltzman lead Selichot services together and appear together on a pre High Holidays special on WBZ TV in Boston. They were truly an all-star team on the pulpit. When one spoke and the other sang, either way, we were in the hands of a master. Also featured is an excerpt from one of the famous Brothers Hammerman concerts.

"Live from K.I.: Selichot, 1971"

"Live from K.I.: Brothers Hammerman Concert"

"Our Believing World" TV Broadcast prior to High Holidays

Dayenu! The Musical Legacy of Cantor Michal Hammerman #2

This entry in the archives includes "live" recordings of the two key moments of any High Holiday season, Kol Nidre and Musaf Rosh Hashanah. My father was master of nuance and pace. What remains remarkable to this day is how, with no accompaniment or choir, he was able to make of each service a symphony, probing the deepest meanings of the prayers in the subtlest of ways.

"Live from K.I.: Kol Nidre, 1971"

"Live from K.I.: Musaf Rosh Hashanah, 1971"

Dayenu! The Musical Legacy of Cantor Michal Hammerman #1

As we begin preparations for Passover, I'm reminded that this year marks 30 years since my father's passing. It so happens that even he has found his way onto the web, and with a Passover song, no less. That is not surprising, since he loved this holiday and my memories of our very musical seders are no less vibrant today than they were those many years ago.

In the 1960's his album "My Folks, Their Songs" (here seen in an earlier incarnation - and no, that is not me on the cover, but some impostor!) didn't exactly go platinum, but it was a good platform for many to be introduced to a voice that made him the dean of the New England cantorate. Cantor Jeff Klepper paid tribute to him and to the first song on that album, "Dayenu" in his blog last year.

Here's a Dayeinu For The Ages. When I started collecting Jewish novelty songs - think Jewish Dr. Demento (he is Jewish, I know) - I would occasionally come across a track that was recorded in complete seriousness, but hit me funnier than many comedy songs. Not like the stuff on NPR's Annoying Music Show, which is just annoying. I mean great music, the kind that gets better with age. (Sometime I'll let you hear my 10 worst Hava Nagilas and you'll see what I mean.)

So, enjoy this Pesach treat, the late Cantor Michael Hammerman, tenor, beloved hazzan of Brookline's historic Congregation Kehilat Israel, from his album of Jewish songs called Bless This House. I don't want to spoil the fun of discovering it for yourself. I'll just mention, in the third verse, after he gives a krechtz (cry) on the words "try to do it" the track gets more and more bizarre by the second, straight through to the end. This is one you'll want on your iPod. (Here are the lyrics.)

I agree with Jeff on the campy nature of the arrangement (evocative of the era), though I wouldn't exactly call it "bizarre." Unfortunately, there are few examples on the web of his amazing voice.

You can find his name mentioned in the midst of a nostalgic tour of my home town of Brookline if you scroll down half way. If you log in, you can hear the contents of that entire album from a Dartmouth archive found here.

But although Dayenu means "it is sufficient," sometimes even Dayenu isn't enough! I've uploaded some of Dad's "Greatest Hits" here, in celebration of his 30th yahrzeit. Some of these are being made public here for the first time, including "live" recordings of "Kol Nidre," "Selichot" and "Musaf Rosh Hashanah" as taped at Kehillath Israel in 1971 (by the non Jewish janitor, BTW) as well as an excerpt from one of the classic "Brothers Hammerman" concerts that he did with his brothers, who were also cantors, Herman and Saul Z. Hammerman. Zel (as his family called him) passed away just a few months ago and there was an incredible bond between him and my father, which shines through in this excerpt, along with their passion for Jewish music (and the other family trademark, their sense of humor). The Selichot recording also features the long-time rabbi of K.I., Manny Saltzman, known for his great oratory. Rabbi Saltzman also is featured in the "Our Believing World" broadcast, which appeared on Boston television before the High Holidays one year.

These are truly collectors' items. They were recorded at the tail end of an era of greatness for the American Cantorate, reflecting a style that is nearly extinct. There are still great cantors around, but the focus now is much more on participation and more intimate forms of spiritual expression. I'm a proponent of those newer, more indigenous American Jewish forms, but no one can deny the power of the voices of that era - and my father was one of the greatest. When people came into KI during the '50s and '60s, typically the place was packed every Shabbat. Hundreds of people would stream in from all over the Boston area. These were the golden days for my community. North Brookline was virtually a shtetl, especially on Shabbat and holidays. We even had a junior congregation that was filled each week - a service led by teens for teens. Out of this crucible of intense Jewish passion were nurtured over 30 rabbis and many more teachers and educators, including some of the greatest of our era.

This is an era that is no more. In many ways, the Conservative movement now needs to move beyond it, and the nostalgia for those times, so it can forge a new era of greatness. Many shuls are still stuck on those memories and have yet to realize that the caravan has moved on. But as we all move forward, I'm glad that my father's music can now go with us. For those in Brookline and elsewhere who have waited 30 years for this, it took me almost that long to figure out the technology. There are still glitches, but hopefully, if you have QuickTime capability, you'll be able to play them. I've divided these up into three blog entries to help in the downloading process. Through the magic of the Web, I hope you'll feel transported back to simpler times.


"Bless this House"

"Go Down Moses"

"Raisins and Almonds"

"Tell Me Where Can I Go"

"Day is Ending"

"Eli Eli"

Fortunately, my dad made lots of those old reel-to-reel tapes - In that sense (and only that sense) he was the Richard Nixon of the cantorate. Unfortunately, the reel-to-reel tapes have reel-to-reel quality, which is uneven, and the tape always runs out... I've got some more concerts that I can upload from time to time.

But for now...Dayenu!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jews and Addiction: Must Reading

Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper spoke about the subject of Jews and Addiction at yesterday's service. His words were so important that I've uploaded the entire sermon. Click here to see it.

As he said:

The most important thing I want to say about addictions is the
following: Jews are not immune. Jews do use – they use alcohol, they
use drugs, and they become addicted to sex, gambling, food and

While it may be possible that Jews are slightly underrepresented in the alcoholic population, it is thought that Jews are overrepresented in terms of certain types of drug addiction, such as cocaine addiction.

When it comes to what are called “process addictions”, like overeating, spending and gambling”, it is reasonable to believe that Jews are also well represented. How many stereotypes are there of Jews who are compulsive shoppers? How many Jews have food issues, whether compulsive eating, anorexia or bulimia? Jews are just as capable of being sex and pornography addicts as anyone else. According to one source, Jews make up approximately 30% of the membership of Gamblers’ Anonymous nationwide, or four times our percentage of the American population, and in some Florida locations GA meetings are as much as 80% Jewish.

Addiction can also seem pretty hopeless. But it is possible for addicts who really want to, and who are willing to do what it takes to find, with God’s help, recovery and a way of life that is better than anything they experienced before.

Friday, March 13, 2009

This Week's G-dcast for Ki Tissa

You probably remember that awkward little moment the Children of Israel had with the Golden Calf way back in Sinai Time...but did you know what the Calf was made of? Or why Aaron built it?

Really really? Or just Ten Commandments really?

Turns out that calf was made of bazillions of melted down earrings of all things! The people were really excited about making a replacement for their leader Moses who was up on top of a they ripped off their jewelry and got to work.

Tune in to this week's G-dcast for a lesson in how seeing is believing. In just four minutes, you'll learn about what the people saw in their shiny bovine friend. Welcome to Parshat Ki Tisa, brought to you by Washington D.C.'s Sarah Gershman.

Parshat Ki Tisa from

More Torah cartoons at

1,000 Points of Light - and One Shamash

This Shabbat we honor and thank our volunteers. There are literally too many to count. Any religious organization - any society - exists only because of the countless hours put in by volunteers. We are very fortunate and appreciative of those efforts.

During this economic crisis, one noticeable trend that we've found is that people out of work are volunteering more. Rather than focusing exclusively on internal needs (which would be understandable), many are taking this transitional time and putting some effort toward the common good. The generosity of these people has been astounding, it has helped us immensely and undoubtedly it has helped them too. It's always better for someone facing personal crises to redirect that negative energy into something positive, pointing beyond the self and leading to more profound connections.

We have our thousand points of light here at TBE, but what's even more impressive is that each one feels responsible to be the Shamash, that candle that lights all the others. The word Shamash comes from Shemesh, which means sun in Hebrew and is a term actually derived from a Mesopotamian sun god who exercised the power of light over darkness and evil. It's not enough to be a point of light. In these hard times, each of us needs to shine like the sun and light up the world.

Which is a good time to remind everyone that on April 8 at 5 AM, you can join me at Cove Island for the Blessing of the Sun (Birkat Ha-Hachama), a prayer that is recited at sunrise only once every 28 years! It will be an unforgettable experience. You'll hear more about it over the coming weeks - meanwhile see some background here as well as here and here.

Here are some Jewish text sources on volunteering:

Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed: Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.
The world depends on three things:
on Torah,
on worship
and on loving deeds.
Pirkei Avot 1:2

Mishnah Torah 10:7-14 The highest level of tzedakah, exceeded by none, is that of the person who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him to find employment – in a word, by putting him where he can dispense with other people's aid.

Hilchot Isurai Mizbayach 7:11 When you give food to a hungry person, give him your best and sweetest food.

Rabbi Shelom of Karlin (18th Century) If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.

Some other sources:

Spark: The Center for Jewish Service Learning at the Jewish Funds for Justice
To inspire a commitment to service as an important expression of Jewish identity. Site focuses on volunteer resources and service-learning from a Jewish perspective, explaining how to apply religious concepts of service.

STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal - Volunteer Engagement
Titled "Volunteers: The Heartbeat of the Synagogue," this section of the STAR Web site offers a variety of articles and resources.

Synagogue Social Action Resource Guide
A six-section guide from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago to engaging volunteers in many synagogue service projects.

Again, thank you to all who give of themselves to our TBE community!

New Conservative Leader Chosen

According to the Jewish Week, Rabbi Steven Wernick, spiritual leader of Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station, Pa., has been chosen to be the next executive vice-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement's congregational arm. Read about this breaking story here. Rabbis have not been sent any information from the USCJ confirming this news. The USCJ has come under pressure from rabbis and lay leaders alike, looking to this moment of leadership change as a chance for radical transformation of the movement.

Becoming Student Advocates for Israel - by Ethan Hammerman

Proud Papa that I am, I want to share with you an article written by my son Ethan that also may of use to Israel supporters, in particular students on college campuses. His article, which you can find by clicking here, was published in the journal of the Jewish Community Day School Network, known as Ravsak, and teaches some of the important lessons Ethan has learned through his involvement in the Write On For Israel program. It has been a great experience for him, teaching him much about advocacy, persuasion and leadership in general, as well as Middle East politics in particular.

Ethan's advice is valuable at a time when campus debates on Israel and the Middle East will only become more heated over the coming months.

"Jews Do Use: Addiction in the Jewish Community"

This Shabbat morning at our V0lunteer Recognition service will be Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper, who will speak about Jews and addiction. The title of his presentation will be "Jews Do Use." A day-long conference on Jews and addiction will be held in our community on April 26, with a keynote address being given by Rabbi Richard Eisenberg.

Addiction is a topic that people would rather speak about. Jews especially tend to stick our heads in the sand. But daily it is destroying families and taking lives. Our youth all know how prevalent drinking is in the schools (we nearly lost a teen last year from an accident following a beer party) and drugs are readily available and cheap. I hope teens will make a special effort to come tomorrow to hear David.

But this problem effects adults as well. Read about this issue in greater detail at the USCJ website, along with this essay, "Everyone Knows Jews Don't Drink, and other Myths."

Yes Jews do use, and they bet and eat compuslively and display other forms of addictive behavior.

One expert wrote,

There is a misconception in the general public that alcoholism and addiction are not medical diseases, but rather a question of moral character and will power. This idea has helped to reinforce the widely held cultural belief that Jews are immune to the ravages of this deadly affliction. Addiction is a disease that can be diagnosed by the disease model criteria held by the AMA (American Medical Association). It is not the addict or alcoholics fault that they have this disease (the same way diabetics are not to blame for their ailment), yet it absolutely the addicts obligation to recover. Alcoholism and addiction like diabetes is an incurable, eventually terminal disease that can be treated, and with vigilance be arrested for a lifetime. Click here for more.

Here you can find a Jewish version of the Twelve Step Program:

Step One:
A. Self Diagnosis, symptom identification and admission.
B. Powerlessness and free-will choice.
C. What is meant by the idea of the insanity of addiction/alcoholism?
D. Unmanageability.
E. Five mistakes that lead to relapse.
F. The nature of denial and how to break it.

Step Two:
A. Coming to believe, the nature of faith.
B. Why a Higher Power, and is that Power only G-d?
C. Identifying the solution, basic concepts of the Creator.

Step Three:
A. Self-will and the actor.
B. The nature of the decision, and the meaning of the third step prayer.

Step Four:
A. The intent of the inventory and what is searching and fearless?
B. General structure and process of the inventory.
C. The roots of fear and resentments.
D. Removing resentments and fear and understanding the sex inventory.

Step Five:
A. What is confession and what is to be accomplished?
B. What is different now, and what does the exact nature of our wrongs mean?
C. Who should hear the confession?

Step Six:
A. Willingness.
B. Developing a vision for the future.

Step Seven:
A. What is humility?
B. Seventh Step Prayer and intent .

Step Eight:
A. The concepts behind amends and forgiveness.
B. Definitions of harm.

Step Nine:
A. Making Amends to those we love.
B. Making Financial Amends.
C. Amends to those we can’t contact including the dead.
D. Amends to society.
E. The wrong way to do it.

Step Ten:
A. What’s different from the fourth step inventory?
B. Truth and honesty.
C. Motives.

Step Eleven:
A. What is prayer?
B. Why pray, doesn’t G-d already know?
C. Types of meditation.
D. Why do we stand in prayer?
E. Selflessness.
D. Intuition and the mind.
E. Love, Worship and Awe of G-d
F. What is meant by light and spirit?
G. The five levels of the soul.;
H. The five supernal universes.

Step Twelve:
A. Helping Others.
B. Practicing the principles.
C. What is the spiritual awakening?
D. The group experience in carrying the message.
E. Sponsorship.
F. Making the Approach to the newcomer.
G. Taking others through the steps.