Thursday, April 30, 2009

Three Initiatives and 10,000 Doors

It was Albert Einstein who said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

This philosophy has guided Jews through many turbulent times. The Talmud records one rabbi laughing jovially while walking on the embers of the destroyed Second Temple because, within the destruction, he could envision the seeds of a future restoration. Jewish history is replete with examples of how, in the words of Psalm 118, the stone cast aside by the builders later becomes the cornerstone of something bigger and better.

So it is that during these very trying times, our leadership has not stood still. Acting wisely, deliberately and with fiscal conscientiousness, the Board of Trustees has initiated three projects that will have a long-term positive impact on Beth El and the entire community. Any of these three would alone merit headlines, but taken together, they represent a visionary outlook that will set us up well to take advantage of the many challenges that will remain long after the recession has receded.

The three initiatives are:

1) The renovation of our social hall
2) The creation of a new senior position of Programming Director (and we’ve hired a superb candidate to fill that position in Ariela Pelaia).
3) The decision to open a nursery school in the fall of 2010.

All three initiatives were studied carefully at the committee level and were approved overwhelmingly by the board. There are many people who deserve our gratitude for their hard work and due diligence in enabling these dreams to become reality; a special thank you to Gary Gladstein and Judi Schnelwar Gladstein z’l, who have been the driving force behind the social hall project.

I’ll leave it to others to go into greater detail about the three projects; in this space I’d simply like to share some reflections on what, cumulatively, these initiatives will help us accomplish:

1) We’ll be able to be a full-service synagogue as never before, touching the lives of our congregants “from womb to tomb” with quality programs. The portfolio of our Programming Director will include singles, young couples, teens and interfaith families, helping us to build on the successes we’ve had this year in attracting these groups to programs like the acclaimed “Kosher Sex” series, Shabbat @ Home and, beginning this May, our much anticipated Shabbat potluck dinners. We’ll also be able to build on the fantastic outreach programs we’ve provided for those seeking employment, and the major successes we’ve had at drawing empty nesters and retirees to lectures and Synaplex events. Never before has our synagogue been so relevant to so many in need.

2) Young families will have a greater opportunity to affiliate affordably with a synagogue while enrolling their children in a Jewish nursery school of the highest quality. National surveys show that only half of Jewish families send their kids to a Jewish preschool. There are excellent ones already in our community, but these statistics and anecdotal evidence tell us that there are large numbers of Jewish families out there to draw in, many of whom will be attracted to the particular blend of tradition, openness and inclusiveness that Conservative Judaism offers. There are many Jews moving from other places where nursery schools and synagogues are synonymous, who want their children to have the experience of seeing the rabbi and cantor visit their child's classroom regularly and take them into a sanctuary, where they can be amazed at the glittering Torahs and majestic ark. We'll be the first synagogue in Stamford to provide them with that opportunity. And I can't wait!

3) With the best facility for Kosher celebrations in this area (and one of the few of this size in the entire tri-state region), combined with our priceless sanctuary and the marketing expertise of Steve Lander, the new social hall will generate the outside income necessary to sustain our growth without adding costs.

4) These initiatives will solidify our reputation for cutting-edge innovation, making Judaism come alive on every level. Ironically, in welcoming Craig Taubman back this month for the Cantor’s Concert (I hope to see everyone there!), we are celebrating that very fact. For it was Taubman’s last visit, his first-ever NY area “Friday Night Live” in January 2000, that changed us forever. On that night we experienced the chance to “Sing unto Adonai a New Song,” and we encountered ancient prayers as if for the first time. Taubman’s visit made us a more vibrant congregation (see the seminal article I wrote immediately following his visit). That’s good for Stamford, for the Conservative movement, Israel and ultimately for everyone. The world needs a vibrant Jewish people.

5) The ripple effect of these initiatives will buoy membership, Hebrew School enrollment and fundraising; but this is less about numbers than it is about mission, less about the sustainability of a single institution than long-term viability of the Jewish people. It’s as simple as this: the more we thrive, the more Jews will move here. The more we reach out to untapped sources of the unaffiliated, as only we can, the stronger our little corner of the Jewish universe will be. The more we demonstrate to the world the warmth of our pluralistic vision, the purity of our ethical values, the authenticity of our strivings, the better our entire community will be. For ours to be truly a model Jewish community, we need an excellent JCC, and superb federation and JFS, scintillating schooling alternatives - and the best possible Orthodox, Reform and Conservative congregations. We’ve come a long way toward that goal in recent years. Just look around you! Now we need to do our part, to make TBE as great as it can possibly be.

I’m pleased that we have partnered with so many local Jewish organizations this year on so many vital causes; we are committed to continuing to do so. I look forward to building on our partnering successes as we move ahead in this rapidly changing landscape, forging together a Jewish community with multiple gateways of entry, replete with a warmth derived from a sense of interdependence and common vision.

You might have seen a magnificent new marketing campaign by the United Methodist Church called "10,000 Doors" "What if a church wasn't a building," the campaign asks, "but thousands of doors?" The same can be said for a synagogue, and for a Jewish community. The more gateways, the better. The more people saying "Welcome! Please come in!" the better. For too long, synagogues have been waiting for families to find their way in. Now we are committing ourselves to seeking out those families, some of whom may be seeking us without even knowing it.

Our new programming director, renovated social hall and the Temple Beth El Nursery School will go far to making that vision of 10,000 doors come to fruition, not just for Temple Beth El, but for our entire community.

I'm so proud of our leadership and our membership for having the strength of spirit and unified vision that have been forged by President Gary Lessen.

Yes, In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

JTS Announces $5.5 Million Budget Gap

In this article by JTA, The Jewish Theological Seminary announced that it still has a $5.5 million budget gap even after a round of cuts. In a letter to the seminary community Monday, Chancellor Arnold Eisen detailed the cuts, describing them as "challenging and painful," and noted that more steps must be taken.

Swine Flu and Kashrut: Some Hazarai from Israel

Yes, amazingly, somehow even Swine Flu has gotten caught up in Jewish politics. According to this story in Ha'aretz, Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents 'Mexico Flu,' rather than 'Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher.

I understand that Minister Litzman has also declared that "hamsters" must now be called "gerbils-on-steroids," and that even my name needs to be changed, to "Harem-man" to eliminate the possibility of associating the word "ham" with anyone Jewish (let alone a rabbi, which, thankfully, he would not consider me to be). Not that I mind being associated with a"harem," although I'm very happily married, but I know that "harem" is exceedingly close to "herem," excommunication, which is undoubtedly what he would like to do to anyone who has "ham" in his name.

Can you imagine going to Israel next Purim and discovering that Haman's name has actually been blacked out of every Megilla in the country, fulfilling two commandments at once (in Litzman's eye): to blot out both the villain's name and the mere mention of ham. Did you know that the Doctor Seuss book in Israel is called "I Am Not Hungry - I Do Not Like?" But at least the pictures look the same. Litzman wanted to go as far as to ban Dr. Seuss entirely, since his name in Hebrew means "horse," another unkosher animal.

"I do not like ham, nor do I like clam," Litzman said, declaring the entire mollusk phylum off limits in Israel. "I do not like them with lamb chops, I do not like them with a bissel schnapps." He was particularly peeved when he heard that some octopi were seen sneaking into the country cleverly disguised as Hanukkah lamps.

So what do the people of Mexico think of all this? Considering that their tourism industry at this point rivals Gaza's ("Great beaches, if you can stand the murder and mayhem"), I don't think they will take too well to having a frightening disease named for their country. Just ask the Lyme, Connecticut Chamber of Commerce about that. According to one blogger, in retaliation, Mexico announced that it will now start referring to Manischewitz as "Jew Juice." There has been, as yet, no rebuttal from Litzman, but tequila imports to the Knesset are likely to suffer as a result.

Of course this is all a bunch of hazarai, which Yiddish scholars define as "junk food," but comes from the word "hazir," meaning pig. It now has the more general meaning of "junk," or something not fit to eat. That word, too, has been banned by Litzman.

In fact, Litzman's new name was heavily criticized by the Mexican ambassador and an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said "Israel has no intention of giving the flu any new names. It was nothing more than a slip of the tongue."

Let's hope that after that tongue sandwich, Litzman waited at least three hours before having dairy. I would suggest that he eat some crow too, but Israelis we are not allowed to say "crow" anymore, since they aren't kosher. They call them "very dark chickens."

G-DCAST for Aharay Mot and Kedoshim

Parshat Acharei Mot from

More Torah cartoons at

Parshat Kedoshim from

More Torah cartoons at

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Alex Benjamin on Tazria-Metzorah

Today we begin a very special month, the month of Iyyar. Part of what makes it special is that it includes Israel’s Independence Day, which takes place this coming Wednesday.

So what does this all have to do with me? Well, it begins with my Hebrew first name, Lavi, which means “lion.” You see, one of the symbols of Israel is the lion of Judah, and that lion appears on the emblem of Jerusalem. Also, one of Israel’s most famous fighter jets is also called the Lavi. There’s even a kibbutz in the north of Israel called “Lavi”!

I’m named for my grandmother Lois, who died shortly before I was born. She had the heart of a lion, fighting off sickness for many years. For me, I had to learn to be a fighter right from the start, when, like my grandmother, I had to fight for life. My grandma also wanted a red headed grandchild –she said my dad was her best shot--- and here I am.

Actually, my hair isn’t really red. I guess if you were to limit it to the four basic hair colors, red would be the closest. It’s more of a strawberry blonde – some might say it is the color of a flame. And flames aren’t really red. Flames, lions and I all share a red-orangey mix.

Well, if you look at my Haftarah, chapter 66, verse 15 of Isaiah, it says, “The Lord is coming with flaming fire…with fire will the Lord contend.” So indirectly, I’m mentioned in my portion. Now, here’s where it gets weird. If you look up “Lavi” in the Hebrew dictionary, it will say that it means “Lion,” but another definition of the word is “flame colored.”

Lions are known for their physical strength and royalty, but in Jewish texts, they are known even more for spiritual strength and courage. For Jews that means the courage to care. I especially care about those who are hungry. For my mitzvah project, I organized food drives at my school and at the temple in order to donate to an agency called Person to Person. I donated a total of 1,330 pounds of food. I’m hoping to add some more to this donation to make it an even ton, starting with the baskets of food on the bimah today.

I wanted to end this speech with the worst pun possible. So… I guess I would be “lion” if I was to say wasn’t having a “roaring” good time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Erev Yom Ha-Atzma’ut – A Brief Reminder About Purpose

As we reflect on Israel's 61st birthday, see this excerpt from Daniel Gordis' blog, "Dispatches from an Anxious State."

Now, Israelis wonder if the Americans have quietly resigned themselves to a nuclear Iran. If Israelis become convinced that that is the case, it will be not Netanyahu or Lieberman, but American policy, which will have caused Israeli intransigence. For an Iranian nuclear weapon, even were it never used, would reverse the change in the existential condition of the Jew that Israel made possible. Once Iran has nuclear capacity, every Israeli parent will put their children to bed at night knowing that once again, our survival and that of our children will depend not on what we do, but on what others decide our fate should be. An Iranian nuclear weapon would represent not only a failure of American deterrence, but the failure of the promise of Zionism, to create and sustain a Jewish state that could keep its citizens safe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Museum of the Diaspora's New Site

Beth Hatefusoth, the Museum of the Diaspora, has ceased to be on the A - list of destinations in Israel, but when it opened it made quite a splash, at a time when multi-media museums were not yet the norm. I took a number of groups there and they were uniformly mesmerized by the visuals telling the story of the Jewish people during the roughly 2,000 years of dispersion, from 70 CE to 1948. Of course the message of the museum was that, with the return to Zion made complete in 1948, the Diaspora's time has passed. But we could excuse that bit of hyperbole. The museum is located in the northern 'burbs of Tel Aviv, after all.

But over time the museum got dusty and lost its luster. Now, with the introduction of its new website, launched just yesterday, we can give it a second look - and best of all, we can do it from our comfy chairs right here in the Diaspora!

Head to and see for yourself. Check out the core exhibition, which has models of synagogues from throughout the Jewish world, and marvel at the architectural diversity.

The site is still incomplete (I can't wait for the giftshop to be fully operational) - but it's defintiely worth a peek as we approach Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Friday, April 24, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Morgenthaler on Parashat Shmini

Shabbat Shalom!

I’ve heard that in the old days, bar mitzvah students have stood and said, “Today I am a man.” Well, that’s not really true. I’m not a man yet, but becoming bar mitzvah is sort of the half way point, when a boy really starts becoming a man. But that’s something I’ve already had to think about for a long time. It’s hard enough to be a good role model as an adult, but I’ve had to do it as a kid.

Because my parents are leaders in USY, I’ve spent many weekends of my childhood going to teen conventions and other events. I love to go; in fact, I was at Spring convention just a couple of weeks ago. Even though I’ve always been much younger than the rest of the kids there, I’ve had lots of responsibilities: helping out, setting up, cleaning up, hanging out – and basically just not getting into trouble.

That wasn’t the case in my Torah portion. Aaron’s kids didn’t know how to stay out of trouble and they paid a very steep price. They brought a strange offering, which some have said was an attempt to upstage their father, and because of it, they died in a flash fire.

Unlike Aaron’s sons, I have no need to upstage my father. I have my own way of showing him up without getting into trouble – its called golf!

About two years ago, I became a better golfer than him. Now, I beat him a lot… well, sometimes. The best part of it is that I get to beat him, … and we get to hang out together.

I’ve also learned that young people can be role models if they focus not on tearing things down but on building things up. In USY, we talk about something called Tikkun Olam – it means repair of the world. In other words, Mitzvah projects.

That is one way a younger person can be a role model. Aaron’s sons were reckless. I don’t like to wreck anything. Instead, I like to fix things. I’ve had lots of practice with legos. (the biggest most impressive thing I’ve built is a boat – from scratch, without any instructions.)

I’m very handy, and in my house have been known to fix anything and everything, all I need is a hammer or screwdriver and I’ll fix a kitchen door, the garage door and stain the deck in no time. Outside the house, I do lots of hauling and carrying. I’m really handy with machinery – I’m really good with lawnmowers and snowblowers. I even mow the lawn at my grandfather’s and other neighbor’s houses and our summer home. And I don’t even charge them that much!

For the last few years, I’ve been helping my dad to finish the basement on the Cape. We’re halfway there. I’ve put up sheet rock, insulation, and wood paneling.

Building and fixing is all part of what it means to be helpful and responsible, not to mention kind and caring. In USY, in school and from my parents, I’ve learned how important it is to be caring. I also learned that from my grandparents.

As some of you know, my mitzvah project involves raising money for ALS, in memory of my Grandma Phyllis. I’ve participated in the ALS walkathon for the past two years. Our first year my grandmother was there and my mom pushed her the three miles in her wheelchair. The following year, we participated in memory of her and we will continue to do so for years to come. I’m also going to be donating the supplies in the bima crates that you see in front of you. They are filled with school supplies, that will be put into backpacks and then given to children who are from families with ALS.

My grandma would have approved of this, because education, learning and reading was so important to her, as she was a librarian for years.

So while it isn’t always easy for a 13 year old to be a role model, it’s much easier for me, because of the role models I’ve had, my parents and both sets of grandparents.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Iranian Threat

If you've been reading the headlines, you know that Iran is now perilously close to achieving its nuclear aims, thereby creating the greatest threat to the world (and to the Jewish people) since the Holocaust. This Yom Hashoah is no time for mere reflection - now is the time for action.

See AIPAC's site for more details on The Iranian Threat as well as how to take action to Stop Iran's Nuclear Program.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Ben Lavietes on Pesach

Shabbat Shalom! Oh, and Happy Passover!

I’ll bet you’ve never been to a Passover Bar Mitzvah before. Well, I haven’t either! Well, it might seem complicated, but actually, Passover and Bar Mitzvah have a lot in common. Yes, it does pose some problems, but it also made me think more about my place in the Jewish people – and we Jews have always found ways to overcome challenges. For instance, there will be no Bar Mitzvah cake at my party. But actually, there will. It will be an ice cream cake! But it won’t matter anyway, because after two seders and a bar mitzvah feast, no one will be hungry for dessert anyway.

Another challenge was the candy. We always throw candy at bar mitzvahs, but today we had to use Passover-friendly candy. And we couldn’t just simply toss gobs of horseradish or chocolate covered matzahs. Now, I’ll compare Passover and Bar Mitzvah by looking at each item on the seder plate:

First, the matzah. The matzah reminds us of how quickly our ancestors had to leave Egypt when they were given the chance to be free. Well, I’m always in a hurry too, to get things done. I’m sure I’m not the first bar mitzvah student who was told to slow down. And, just as matzah crumbles easily, you can take the crumbs and turn them into matzah meal, which can be used to make matzah balls; or you can fry it up and make my personal favorite, matzah brei. But the most important thing is to not be in a hurry all the time, otherwise it won’t get done correctly and you’ll wind up doing it again.

The egg reminds us of the miracle of being born. My haftorah talks about the people of Israel coming back to life in the vision of the dry bones. When you become a bar mitzvah, it is like a new beginning to a Jewish life, since I’ll now count in the minyan and be able to fast on Yom Kippur as well as performing other mitzvot.

The bitter herbs remind us of the times when you think you’re not going to make it – the way every bar mitzvah student feels until the end of the process, when things suddenly come together.

The green vegetable is dipped into salt water, to remind us of the tears of the slaves.
Remembering is very important to Jews, even when it involves remembering sad events. Today I want to remember my mom. I didn’t really get a chance to know her, but from the stories I’ve heard from family and friends, I feel like I’ve known her all of my life, and I’ll always remember her.

The haroset reminds us that during sad times, there is always sweetness. In just a few minutes, when I’m done with all this hard work, the feeling will be sa-weeeeet, like the haroset. The haroset reminds us of the mortar that helped glue the bricks together that were used by the slaves. The bar mitzvah is sort of like the glue that helps to bind together the building blocks of my life. And I have lots of important people who have helped to make this all the sweeter here in Stamford, including my Dad and Diane, Rebecca, Jenna and Adam, Aunt Hillary and Uncle Craig, cousins Zachary, Nicholas and one soon to come, and Grandma Roz and Grandparents Joyce and Stanley. Plus so many other friends and relatives both locally and far away – but always close to my heart.

In the end, I’ve discovered that a bar mitzvah is like a matzah ball. The soup is the party, and the matzah ball is the service. Even though everyone enjoys the soup, what you really remember is that matzah ball. And the fluffier the better. And, like a matzah ball, once you finish your haftorah, you really feel like you’re on a roll.

Holocaust Related Links

Where can I learn more about the Holocaust on the Web?

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel.
A Cybrary of the Holocaust,
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Nizkor: a Holocaust Remembrance (Fighting Denial)
The Holocaust History Project Homepage (The Holocaust History Project is a free archive of documents, photographs, recordings, and essays regarding the Holocaust, including direct refutation of Holocaust-denial).
Holocaust Survivors an excellent educational resource about the Nazi Holocaust of Jews in World War II, includes interviews, photographs and audio recordings
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust Holocaust Selected Readings, Events, and Items of Interest (invaluable primary sources, including photos)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

News from Yad Vashem

With Yom Hashoah approaching on Monday night, Yad Vashem’s central theme for Yom Hashoah this year is “Children in the Holocaust.” Click here to read an article highlighting this theme or visit Yad Vashem's Yom Hashoah mini-site including online exhibits and educational resources. Visit, “Children in the Ghetto” an interactive website that portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of ghetto life as accessible as possible to today’s children.

"Unto Every Person There is a Name," a worldwide Holocaust memorial project is now marking its 20th consecutive year. The project is aimed at perpetuating the memory of Shoah victims through public recitation of their names on Yom Hashoah. Click here for lists of Shoah victims’ names for recitation ceremonies or to read the names in this short video and accompanying text, which provides brief biographical information about the victims.

The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names has been enlarged and now contains close to 3.6 million names of Holocaust victims, all of which are accessible online. " The Names Database now contains over 2.15 million Pages of Testimony, about two-thirds of the total number of names in the Database. Tens of thousands of Pages of Testimony were gathered as a result of intensive activity of the Names Recovery campaign in the Russian-speaking sector.

Over 600,000 name occurrences of victims and survivors from archival lists and other documentation were digitized, among them archival documents gathered in Hungary, the former Soviet Union and other areas.

The Commanding Voice of Auschwitz (by Emil Fackenheim)

Here is the classic statement of the renowned 20th century philosopher Emil Fackenheim about our post Holocaust obligations as Jews. Given the urgency of the Iranian threat at this moment in time, Fackenheim's words, written in 1968, could not be more relevant than they are right now.

What does the Voice of Auschwitz command?

Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories. They are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz lest their memory perish. They are forbidden to despair of man and his world, and to escape into either cynicism or otherworldliness, lest they cooperate in delivering the world over to the forces of Auschwitz. Finally,they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish. A secularist Jew cannot make himself believe by a mere act of will, nor can he be commanded to do so….And a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary relationships with Him. One possibility, however, is wholly unthinkable. A Jew may not respond to Hitler’s attempt to destroy Judaism by himself cooperating in its destruction. In ancient times, the unthinkable Jewish sin was idolatry. Today, it is to respond to Hitler by doing his work.

For a Jew hearing the commanding Voice of Auschwitz the duty to remember and to tell the tale is not negotiable. It is holy. The religious Jew still possesses this word. The secularist Jew is commanded to restore it. A secular holiness, as it were, has forced itself into his vocabulary…

Jews after Auschwitz represent all humanity when they affirm their Jewishness and deny the Nazi denial… The commanding Voice of Auschwitz singles Jews out; Jewish survival is a commandment which brooks no compromise. It was this Voice which was heard by the Jews of Israel in May and June 1967 when they refused to lie down and be slaughtered…

For after Auschwitz, Jewish life is more sacred than Jewish death, were it even for the sanctification of the divine Name. The left-wing secularist Israeli journalist Amos Kenan writes: “After the death camps, we are left only one supreme value: existence.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Start Spreadin' the News (The Jewish Week, April 15, 2009)

by Joshua Hammerman, Special To The Jewish Week

As a devoted technophile, I should be delighted by the new wave of Web 3.0 options for information sharing: the proliferation of blogs, social networks and video streaming, and the increasingly collaborative nature of online journalism. But with newspapers rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, I’ve become more sentimental lately, waxing nostalgic for the old-fashioned printed word.

There will likely be a time, not too far off, when even Twitter will seem verbose, and when the Kindle, Amazon’s cool wireless reading gadget, will seem cumbersome and old fashioned. No doubt my grandchildren will have news-gathering devices implanted directly in their brains so that they’ll be able to bypass reading altogether.

They will be the poorer for it. True, a newspaper might be environmentally inefficient, messy, bulky, smelly and best for lining birdcages and training puppies. But that’s all part of the charm.

One of the highlights of my stint in journalism school was when, while interning at the Daily News, I had the pleasure of seeing a complete stranger on the subway reading an article with my byline. The next day, when I saw that same page, shredded, on the platform, I was reminded of the fleeting nature both of fame and of news itself.

Years ago, someone had the brilliant idea of imagining what a Jewish newspaper would have looked like back in ancient times, and “Chronicles: News of the Past” was born. The three-volume set, beginning with Abraham and ending with Herzl, was my all-time favorite Chanukah gift, combining my passions for Judaism and journalism. Their Exodus headline is a classic: “We Quit Egypt Today!”

Imagine Moses Twittering: “9:30. Arrive at Red Sea. Egyptians giving chase. Oy vey.”

It’s just not the same as “We Quit Egypt Today.”

Newspapers organize our lives in a manner that cannot possibly occur online. Much like the Passover seder, there is a beginning, middle and end. There’s a front page, containing the day’s top story (the Exodus), followed by some sidebar features, lending depth and perspective (the Four Children, Ten Plagues), an interview with some rabbis in B’nai Brak, and an op-ed by a wandering Aramean’s son. Then, tucked neatly in the back pages, the soft news: a lengthy Food section, the comics (featuring a little goat) and assorted columns and editorials about wiping out our enemies, beckoning Elijah and, at the very end, the travel section, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

We read every Friday evening in Psalm 96, “Spread the news each day, of God’s saving help.” Shabbat is itself found on the back page of Creation, reminding us that real life is lived not in the banner headlines, but tucked away in the small print. The front page tells of war, famine and corruption. But it is in the back sections where salvation can be found: the weddings and bake sales, the deaths and births, the song of life that never ends.

For 2,000 years the Jewish people lived quite nicely on those back pages. Now that we make the headlines more often, we need to remember that, at its very core, Judaism thrives most in these everyday happenings. We live in the Living section, create in Arts and Leisure, dream our own dreams in the Classifieds, spin the tales of our heroes in Sports — and then confront our own mortality in Obituaries. Letters to the Editor are actually newfangled prayers, public pleas for salvation, far more effective than a fax to the Kotel.

In these days of instant global communications, there is something quaintly inefficient about a paper’s delivery. We’ve lost the human factor almost everywhere else (except for getting gas in New Jersey), but here it remains. True, the idyllic “delivery boy” is no more. That bike-riding teen has been replaced by an adult, in my case an immigrant, who swerves wildly in his jalopy, chucking papers out the window, in a desperate attempt keep his family fed.

The New York Times guarantees delivery by 6:30 a.m., a deadline that hasn’t been met, in my experience, since the Carter administration. Since I have to leave for school drop-off and morning minyan at 7, a late paper presents a problem.

I’ve tried everything from calling the 800 number to scribbling a note on the guy’s Christmas gratuity check. Yes, the slaves in Egypt had to wait four centuries for their deliverance, as compared to my 15 minutes, but darn it, I want my news to arrive on time. So I started calling daily, to complain and to be reimbursed.

On the second of March, the region woke up to several inches of snow. Naturally, I was not going to be so cruel as to complain on this nasty day. But when morning turned to afternoon and no Times appeared, my impatience got the best of me. So I called.

The next day a scribbled note fell out of my newspaper, saying, “Wy you call? It sno. They no pay me.”

I felt badly, but my Pharaoh-heart soon hardened again. He got what he deserved, I thought. No paper — no pay.

Four days later the temperature churned up to 60, the snow banks melted and I saw, peeking out from the bottom of a bank that had been ploughed closest to the street, the corner of a blue bag poking its way through the gray snow like spring’s first crocus. I haven’t complained since, having conquered my inner Pharaoh, and I’ve come to appreciate that what’s “fit to print” is also worth waiting for.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pesach, Day 5: A Hunger for Israel

It's pretty hard to go hungry on Passover. But at this time of year, I find myself most hungry for all things Israel. So I allow my mouth to water over these Passover-friendly menus from restaurants in Jerusalem, found at

And Israelis scatter all over the country during Hol Hamoed to various festivals, most notably the granddaddy of them all, the Ein Gev music festival along the shores of the Kineret, in the north. Read all about it and see highlights of prior festivals at this YouTube site.

I've done one better. I'm listening to it live, right now, on Israel's Reshet Bet radio. You can access it here or here. The songs are classics from more innocent days, when the Galilee was young and a paradise was being forced out of the malaria-infested swamps. I had dinner at Ein Gev last summer, just across the lake from the blinking lights of Tiberias. It is one of Israel's most beautful spots.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Letter from the Cove: Here Came the Sun!

Photos by Kenneth Jay Cohen

This morning I was joined by a number of intrepid, chilled sun appreciators (as opposed to sun worshippers) down at Cove Island Park for that much ballyhooed once-in-28-years event, the Blessing of the Sun. We met by the totem pole to the left of the park's entrance, at 7 AM. Fittingly, the Orthodox group was congregated to the right, but our left-of-center location situated us as close as possible to the rising sun.

As if on cue, the sun made it's first appearance from behind a low bank of clouds at precisely 7. No less spectacular than the timing was the sun itself, first peeking through with a ray pointing heavenward, then with rays stretching forth in all directions, bathing each boulder and treetop with light, adding several degrees of whiteness to the surf and of heat to our frigid fingers.

We read selected Psalms and contemporary readings, pausing for eclectic musical offerings from my iPod, ranging from a soulful Israeli "Shir La-ma'alot" (Song of Ascents) to "Sunrise Sunset," to Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken" to "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In.

Our special siddur, put together by the Conservative movement just for this occasion, included this excerpt from a letter written in captivity to her family by Colombian senator and political activist (and recently rescued hostage) Ingrid Betancourt:

...We must think of where we come from, who we are and where we want to go. I aspire to our having that thirst for greatness one day that makes people rise from nothingness to the sun. When we are unconditional vis-a-vis the defense of life and liberty of our own, that is, when we get less individualistic and more committed to the common good, less indifferent and more involved, less intolerant and more compassionate, then at that time we will be the great nation that all of us would like to be. That greatness is there asleep in our hearts.

TowardBold the end of the service, we were faced with a dilemma. We needed to bow for Alenu, and to face the east, but staring directly at us in that direction was Ol' Sol - and we didn't want to lend the impression that we were bowing toward the sun, thereby worshipping it. This matter is covered extensively in halachic literature. So we shifted slightly to the left and bowed toward Darien instead. Read into that what you will (a little more toward the north and would have been facing Canaan ... New Canaan that is).

The highlight was the blessing itself, "Praised are You, God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who carries on the constantly unfolding work of Creation."

We concluded with another quote from the Conservative prayer book, this from W.E.B. Du Bois:
Lord of the springtime, father of flower, field and fruit, smile on us in these earnest days when the work is heavy and the toil wearisome; lift up our hearts, O God, to the things worthwhile - sunshine and night, the dripping rain, the song of the birds, books and music, and the voices of our friends. Lift up our hearts to these...and grant us Thy peace. Amen.

And we were transported back, as if to the moment of Creation itself, to a world of utter and complete serenity and order, with a heron's squawk in the background punctuating the slap of salt water against a rock beneath us.

This evening as we chew on that green vegetable salted in water, I'll more likely think of the Cove and Creation than of the tears of slaves.

There is nothing to cry about today.

The world has been reborn.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Haggadahs: Popular, New, Rare or Your Own

Read about the rare Rothschild Haggadah (pictured above) at

See some highly recommended contemporary haggadahs at Jewcy's site.

Create your own Haggadah at the Open Source Haggadah.

Or go to to see 1,000 rare haggadahs that were recently uploaded to the web.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Blessing of the Sun From the N.Y. Times, 1897

Thanks top Jennifer Meth for forwarding the original story. Click here to see the original reprint from the New York Times: "Hebrew Festival marred: Rabbi Arrested For Observance of an Ancient Talmudic Ceremony in Tompkins Square."

Good thing they didn't see them "shlugging kapparos."

A "Sunday Ha-Gadol" at TBE

This past weekend was Shabbat Hagadol (the Great Shabbat), but in truth it was also a Sunday Ha-Gadol for TBE children of all ages, and their families. Things were humming in the building, with an array of pre-Pesach activities, described in an e-mail below written today by TBE parent Dan Young to myself and to our Director of Jewish Life Education, Al Treidel. My thanks to Dan for permission to share it with all of us. In addition, our new pre-K program on selected Sundays is having a remarkable run of success (see photo above - click to enlarge) led by teacher Dayna Patashnik.

Finally, I had the chance to be with our teens at the regional USY Spring Convention in North Haven, where we received the "Chapter on the Rise" award, being held in this photo by USY board member Jonathan Arons.

Here is Dan's e-mail:


I just wanted to share a few observations from today.

First, I couldn't agree more with the statement you made to me and the other parents before the day began about how important it is to utilize successfully every moment of education time we have with the kids. We have relatively few hours of time with these kids before their Bar and Bat Miztvahs and, unfortunately, for many adults, their Hebrew school education represents the vast majority of their Jewish education. As a result, I think careful planning and good ideas are essential, and I know all of the kids really appreciated everything you did to make today so fun.

As a parent and member of the shul, I'm thrilled with how educational it was. In law school, we were often told that we were being taught how to think like lawyers, as opposed to just being taught the law. I feel like today we both taught the holiday and continued the kids' learning of how to think like curious Jews.

The 7th grade lesson of having the kids update the 10 plagues was great.The kids really put a ton of thought into their brainstorming of new plagues, and the competition of trying to come up with new plagues as the papers were passed around made it very exciting. I was particularly pleased to see how the kids really got into the project. I had a few boys who I anticipated were going to be "too cool" for this project, and they loved it. They had great ideas, and they did a lot of thinking.The preparation you put into categorizing the plagues into "personal tragedy," "weather," "economic," and "health" made the activity so successful, because it provided the framework that really had the kids thinking.

The 6th grade lesson on coming up with the 5th child and his or her question was also very successful. Sydney in my group I think came up with a fantastic thought that I intend to share with our guests at our seder. We talked about how the 5th child would be confused about why there is so much to do for Passover - dipping, eating different foods,reclining, re-enacting, tasting tears, etc. Sydney suggested that in order to celebrate, you have to "do," not just read or pray. She said that to celebrate spring and to celebrate freedom, you have to get into it. She likened it to New Year's eve or some other celebration where you party, eat, drink, dance, etc. instead of just talking about why you're happy, appreciative, and the like. Perhaps I'm not the swiftest,but that was a thought that had never previously occurred to me before and one that I think is very smart. I think it is also why Passover issuch a favorite holiday, especially for the kids. We all really celebrate.

The 5th grade lesson updating the symbols on the seder plate was also great. Again, the kids loved passing around the papers, reviewing everyone else's ideas and coming up with their own. Andrew told me how much he enjoyed it, and it again had the kids really thinking about all of the symbols on the seder plate, what they mean, etc. The group of girls I had really were excited by the project, and reviewing the ideas at the end and voting with stickers kept them interested from your first word until the activity was over.

Most of my legal practice recently focuses on employment law, and I've spent the last several months most days dealing with people who have lost or are about to lose their jobs. Helping today at Hebrew school helped me get out of that funk and remember how much we have to be hopeful of. The kids that I interacted with in all three grades were mature, thoughtful, smart, and caring. To the extent they are the future of our synagogue, we have a lot to be proud of and many reasons to believe that our temple will be even better in the future. Thank you for sharing today with me.

I also wanted to let you know what a great day Marissa had. I don't think she knew Chad Gadya or Echad Me Yodaya before, and I assume it was Nurit that taught her both songs in English. We literally spent more than an hour this afternoon and evening singing both songs, and I was very surprised that Marissa remember all of the lyrics to Echad MeYodaya and lot of them from Chad Gadya. She couldn't stop singing during lunch, and after dinner, while we were cleaning for Passover, she again broke into the tunes and sang them from beginning to end again.

Finally, I'm not sure what kind of vantage point you had for the "fire drill," but the exit from the building was very orderly, and I was particularly impressed with how Dayna dealt with Jeremy's class. I was nervous that he was going to be upset by the alarm, and I watched the mall holding hands and walking outside, quiet and orderly. When they got out, Dayna immediately counted and just seemed in perfect control. Of course, it also appeared that the rest of the teachers and students were in control.

To me, Passover is an extraordinary learning occasion and one of the few opportunities we have to sit around positively reinforce our children's Hebrew school education by letting them show off at the seders in front of family and friends how much they have grown and how much they have learned. Today's activities exceeded my expectations. Thank you. We are very lucky to have you.-


Daniel M. Young, Esq.

From Babaganewz: Pesach Playlist for Your Seder

Pesach Playlist

Get out the Haggadot, the Kiddush cups, the matzah… and Pesach Playlist! These tracks will entertain Seder guests and make the evening fly by. Your real iPod doesn’t belong at the Seder table, but here is your chance to try this iPod at the Seder!

To the right is Track 4 - Yahatz (Breaking the Middle Matzah). The black text is a question, the red is an activity, and the blue is a Did You Know fact.

1. Click here to print Pesach Playlist, a set of fun Haggadah bookmarks, before Pesach starts (Wednesday night, April 8, 2009).

2. Cut out the bookmarks.

3. Pass them out to your friends and family at the Seder and ask them to participate with their "track" at the appropriate time.

Click here to download Seder Bingo. Click here to return to Pesach Central.

For more Passover materials for your seder, click on NEW - 5769 SEDER SUPPLEMENTARY READINGS PDF from Jewish Freeware.

How do you create, write and edit a Haggadah that will suit your own particular circumstances, wishes and wants? Here are multiple options by which you can create your own Haggadah and then conduct a more meaningful Seder.

Siddur Audio - Passover Seder
Audio files for each of the Haggadah texts with traditional chants.

This file contains in Davkawriter Platinum 6 format the complete text of the Haggadah in Hebrew/English/Transliteration that can be opened in Davkawriter Platinum 6 for electronic editing before printing. In this fashion you can be very creative with regard to Hebrew an English fonts, type size, digital and graphic insertions, colors of text and background, text boxes and more. In addition consider editing in supplementary Seder readings from files on this, adding songs from the Seder Song Book also at this site and you remove those texts which under other circumstances you might have "skipped" in your Seder.

This file in PDF format is designed to be downloaded and printed. Then the printed hard copy can be manually edited by adding or removing pages. NOTE: page numbers - this version has no embedded page numbers in the download; after you have your final collection ready for printing for your Seder, don't forget to manually write in your page numbers to "have everyone on the same page." You can add selected pages from other files at this same website, for example, from "Seder Supplementary Readings" of different years, "Passover Song Book," or your own original pages of selected texts, artwork or illustrations.

This file contains the largest known collection of English songs - original for Passover, parody Passover lyrics to popular melodies - and also traditional Hebrew hymns. You can download and then print the songs you wish to creatively insert into your Haggadah.

UPDATED with 154 Seder Songs for fun and involvement for all ages, songs to familiar popular melodies but with Passover Parody Lyrics.

The enclosed materials are intended to make your Seder more memorable and meaningful. Download the PDF and then select those readings you wish to print and include in your Seder.

Passover Greetings from the Stamford Board of Rabbis

We say during the Passover seder, "Kol dichvin yaytay v'yaychool" - let all who are hungry come and eat.

Our synagogues are working with Jewish Family Service to collect Passover staples to help those who might not otherwise experience Passover. The last day to drop off your Passover bags at your synagogue is Sunday, April 5.

In this time of celebrating our freedom, we should remember that there are individuals and families in our community who need our help everyday, not just at Passover. Please bring your nonperishable, unopened chametz to your synagogue for donation to the Kosher food pantry.

Wishing you a happy & healthy Pesach,

Rabbi Marc Disick, Temple Sinai
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Congregation Agudath Sholom
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Temple Beth El

Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Passover

Below you will find a summary of the ruling of the Israeli authorities of our movement on the confusing topic of eating legumes on Passover. These are typically prohibited in Ashkenazi culture but permitted for Sefardim. This ruling applies to Israel only, as there are other complicating factors here in the Diaspora, and in Israel, Pesach-supervised legume products are readily available. Still there is much of value here, in helping us to distinguish between what is merely custom and what is truly at the heart of the Passover laws. Read more background on this topic here, here (including the complete Rabbinical Assembly guidelines for Passover preparation), and this comprehensive article from "" and to see the latest on this controversy, this article from the Forward, "Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New Permissive Ruling.

Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesach
(OH 453:1)

In light of the ingathering of the exiles, would it be possible to eliminate the Ashkenazic custom of not eating legumes on Pesach?

1) In our opinion it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom. It is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b) and is also in contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud except one (R.Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesahim 35a and parallels). It also contradicts the theory and the practice of the Amoraim both in Babylonia and in Israel (Pesahim 114b and other sources), the Geonim (Sheiltot, Halakhot Pesukot, Halakhot Gedolot, etc.) and of most of the early medieval authorities in all countries (altogether more than 50 Rishonim!).

2) This custom is mentioned for the first time in France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R. Asher of Lunel, R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil - from there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different explanations for the custom. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a "mistaken custom" and R. Yerucham called it a "foolish custom".

3) Therefore, the main halakhic question in this case is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to do away with this type of "foolish custom" (R. Abin in Yerushalmi Pesahim, Maimonides, the Rosh, the Ribash, and many others). Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this "foolish custom": a) It detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods; b) It causes exorbitant price rises, which result in "major financial loss" and, as is well known, "the Torah takes pity on the people of Israel's money"; c) It emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (hametz, which is forbidden from the five kinds of grain); d) It causes people to scoff at the commandments in general and at the prohibition of hametz in particular - if this custom has no purpose and is observed, then there is no reason to observe other commandments; e) Finally, it causes unnecessary divisions between Israel's different ethnic groups. On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. Obviously, this desire does not override all that was mentioned above. Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to eat legumes and rice on Pesah without fear of transgressing any prohibition.

4) Undoubtedly, there will be Ashkenazim who will want to stick to the "custom of their ancestors" even though they know that it is permitted to eat legumes on Pesah. To them we recommend that they observe only the original custom of not eating rice and legumes but that they use oil from legumes and all the other foods "forbidden" over the years, such as peas, beans, garlic, mustard, sunflower seeds, peanuts etc. Thus they will be able to eat hundreds of products, which bear the label "Kosher for Pesah for those who eat legumes." This will make their lives easier and will add joy and pleasure to their observance of Pesah.

Rabbi David Golinkin
Approved Unanimously 5749

Friday, April 3, 2009

Living Day to Day, from Di to Dayenu (A Passover Strategy for Hope)

The whimsical portrait above, sent to me by my sister Lisa, pretty much encapsulates how all of us are getting by these days. With unemployment at the highest levels in a generation, with life savings depleted and with competition keener than ever for every break, the rat race seems to have left us gasping in the midst of a raging Red Sea.

Vin Scully, the great broadcaster, once said of a baseball player on the injured list, "He's listed as day to day....but aren't we all." That's how we're feeling these days, as we are swept away by the tides of chance. God seems to be playing games with us... this week, on the very day that I buried an elderly woman whose Hebrew name was Chana, I performed a baby naming for little girl, whose name became, you guessed it, Chana.

The Hebrew word "Dayenu" means "It would have been enough," and we consider it an exclamation of cup-runneth-over satisfaction. We'd have been completely satisfied with the Exodus, but no, God also gave us the Torah...and the land of Israel...and...and the iPod too! What more could we ask for!

But before we say "Dayenu," we always say "Dai" "Dai," which in Hebrew conveys precisely the opposite meaning. It means, "Enough, already! Get off my back! I can't take it anymore!" In Israel you'll hear "Dai" much more often than "Dayenu," on just about every bus, or any time anyone turns on the news.

What makes the song such a puzzlement is that it only takes a fraction of a breath for a person to make the long, difficult journey from "Dai" to "Dayenu." It doesn't have to take years of therapy or even a cold slap in the face. Simply by moving forward one syllable, you can make the journey from being a hopeless cynic, distraught by the world's endless frustrations, to being eternally grateful for every little speck of goodness that happens to us.

It's at that moment that we realize just how dependent we are on the whims of chance, and how that mere fact places us all on the same boat.

When applying for jobs these days, there is no reason to respond to that typical interview question, "Why did you leave your last job?" The question is not even asked anymore. It's no longer a matter of ability or even seniority. It's all a matter of chance. Everyone knows why you left...and you had nothing to do with it.

This week my son Ethan fortunate enough to get into Brown, his first-choice college. We're extremely proud of him, and he is incredibly deserving, but so were most of the 23,000, or roughly 90 percent, who were rejected from that school. I'm very proud of all our Beth El seniors, all of whom are richly deserving, and I have confidence that all will succeed on the next level.

This entire process of college application has been gut wrenching; now that I've seen it up-close, I can see just how much of it is left to chance. Good grades help, when accompanied by a passion for service and leadership. Talent often wins out. But even more often, it doesn't. Being a third generation legacy student undoubtedly played a part for Ethan, but a huge majority of legacy applicants were rejected too.

In the end, it's as if some celestial dean of students throws the souls of our kids up high in the air, sees where they happen to land and says, "That's where you're going to school." My only hope, as a parent and rabbi, is that those souls don't shatter on impact.

That's why we have to see it all, shake our heads, and simply say, "Dayenu." We're all on that same path crossing the Red Sea. Some are on the bus, some on a bike, some at Harvard and some at the school of hard knocks. Some are unemployed this week, a few hundred thousand more will be next week. It's enough to make us all want to throw up our hands and yell "Dai!!!!"

But instead, we'll knock back four cups and sing "Dayenu."

...And be glad to be alive, be sitting with family around the table...

... Happy Passover - and while I'm at it, happy birthday to my son Dan, who turns 16 on Monday!

Did someone say "Learners Permit?"

G-dcast for Parashat Tzav

Parshat Tsav from

More Torah cartoons at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New York Times: Trigger Happy on Israel (Camera)

New York Times Trigger-Happy on Israel - Gilead Ini

On March 20, just one day after the story broke in Israel, the New York Times covered allegations about unarmed civilians being killed in Gaza in a front page story. A follow-up piece the next day repeated the allegations. And a day later yet another piece dealt with the issue. Even before the New York Times published its three pieces, those charges had been substantially discredited. Israel's Channel 2 television reported that the source of one of the allegations admitted his story was based only on rumors. Yet the three Times articles wrongly described the allegations as "eyewitness accounts." It took mo re than a week for the Times to finally reveal (on page 4) that the core of what it reported earlier was nothing more than hearsay, but the damage was already done. In March 2008, American veterans of the Iraq war got together near Washington to publicly recollect their battlefield experiences. They told stories of indiscriminate fire, the killing of innocent civilians and systematic cover-ups of wrongful deaths. Although these veterans' charges were clearly more relevant to American readers of the New York Times, the Times didn't report on it at all. The writer is a senior research analyst at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. (Jerusalem Post)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Synagogue Renewal in Turbulent Times

These are challenging times for Jewish institutions, as they are for just about everyone out there. We at Beth El have been fortunate to have escaped the full force of the economic downturn - for now - thanks in large part to the generosity of our members, and in no small part to the ability of our lay leaders and staff to be increasingly relevant, visionary and welcoming. We see this not as a time for retrenchment but an opportunity to plant the seeds for future growth. The Conservative movement is doing tat as a whole, with an intensified push for urgent restructuring, led by rabbis and presidents of the largest Synagogues, called "HaYom." Read about some of those conversations here and here.

These conversations transcend one movement, though. STAR's exec. Rabbi Hayyim Herring has an interesting op-ed on the topic, written for the JTA. He writes:

* The small number of Jews who already describe themselves as religiously observant continue to drop and is now at 1.2 percent, or 2.7 million people, according to the recently released American Religious Identification Survey. (The drop is consistent with another survey reporting that traditional organized religions are playing less of a role in the lives of Americans.)

* Because of the high cost of being Jewish, formative Jewish experiences such as synagogue involvement are increasingly open only to the financially privileged.

* Funding for Jewish causes across the board may shrink by as much as a third in proportion to financial losses in the Jewish community. How do financially demoralized synagogues remain spiritually viable?

Also, Synagogue 3000 has an interesting new report on the spirituality of American Jews. Review the findings at here and the full report here.

Finally, also on the S2K site, see this comprehensive study on the impact of Craig Taubman's "Friday Night Live" services, ten years later. We have a special stake in this, considering that Craig brought FNL here in 2000 for it's New York area premier. And we have since followed up with Shabbat Unplugged, which is also based on Taubman's model. With Craig Taubman returning to Beth El for a concert on May 14, this would be the perfect time to take a close look at just how much has been accomplished. Read this report!

Challenging times, indeed, but Passover is the time for Jewish institutional renewal. While we focus on the individual on the High Holidays, this is time to think collectively. Let's do that over the coming days and weeks.

"Facebook Haggadah" has an ethical backstory

Jeffrey Weiss/Reporter - The Dallas Morning News blog

A very funny parody that pokes fun both of the frankly confusing traditional Passover Hagaddah and of Facebook is getting plenty of linkage. Cathy Grossman on USAToday and Steve Waldman on Beliefnet, for example. Some of the jokes will only make sense to someone familiar with a Passover Seder. But some of it works for anybody. Here's a nugget:

25 things you didn't know about me by God
1. Guilty pleasure: Smiting people.
2. I had another universe once, it was so much better than this one. But I got really wasted one night and lost it in a game of craps. :( I'm never doing that again.)

And the link.

But there's an interesting backstory you won't find there (or on the other linkages to the Hagaddah).Ii e-mailed the creator, Carl Elkin, and asked him for some background. I'll post his reply at the jump (Hint: He's trying for more than just funny.)

I sent him a simple request for background: "So, um, who *are* you?" Here was his reply: more

Popular Passover Videos (from JTA)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) -- Here are 10 popular Passover videos of years past: many animated, many musical, not all kid-appropriate.

20 Things to Do With Matzah
Michelle Citrin and William LevinA funny acoustic guitar song about using leftover Passover matzah. "You can make a matzah pick and play the guitar/or you can make a matzah license plate for your guitar."

Moses Rap: A Pesach/Passover Video
Matt Bar Beat and Music ProductionOld-School, MTV-style hip-hop video showing recording of the song mixed with Passover's 10 plagues. "Moses in the Red Sea/Like who's gonna follow me/Pharaoh's in the tides, we're gonna ride to our destiny..."

Matzah: hip hop fo' Hebrews
Smooth-E (comedian Eric Schwartz) of "Crank That Kosha Boy" fame, produced by Jib-Jab.Slick, animated hip-hop kid (in "Chai" baseball cap and bling Jewish star ) sings about matzah."How could one bread rock it so famous/when the taste is the same flavor of the box it came in?"

Matza Ball Rap
D' Dog Dorf for Giving Tree Productions, a marketing company for Jewish nonprofits.Grainy parody of Sir Mix-A Lot's "Baby Got Back.""My rabbi tries to warn me/ but those matzah balls got me so horny/oh roll that knaidel ..."

Who Let the Jews Out
Sam Apple, for his book "Schlepping Through the Alps."Simple animated greeting card Pharaoh sings to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out."LAMB: "Oh hello, Pharaoh. Listen, the Jews have escaped." PHARAOH: "What! That's impossible!"

Get Down Moses!
Taglit Birthright hired Brendon Walker (of "Chinese Food on Christmas" fame).Ancient Moses gets fired from his modern-day job and goes to the streets to part hair, rap and sing."We'll eat some good food if you come to my seder/ My favorite mode of transportation is the elevator/We'll put you on the show, I'm quite the showman/But you gotta RSVP so we know if you're afikoman."

Matzah Man
American Comedy NetworkKid-friendly animated dancing matzahs to the tune of "Macho Man.""Matzah Matzah man, I'm gonna be a Matzah man."

Getting There is Half the Fun
Stephen and Joel Levinson for Nextbook's "God & Co." series of modern interpretations of Bible stories.Animated sketch of Aaron "roasting" his brother Moses (with some profanity) after 40 years in the desert."My brother Moses is such a great man, if we had known what a great leader this kid was gonna become, mom might have not thrown him in the Nile!"

Happy Passover!
Unleashed TVA "Family-Guy" type animated sketch in which a Hollywood agent invites a talking dog to dinnner.DOG: "I wanna bring over the breadsticks." AGENT: "There's no bread." DOG: Breadsticks!" AGENT: "Oh, I guess that's alright."

The Matzah Challenge
Video Jew Jay Firestone for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.A fake news story on the tasting of five matzahs."This unleavened bread can sometimes be accused of tasting bland ... and that argument has more holes than the subject in question."