Friday, October 29, 2010

"Heads Up" Interesting, Comprehensive Profile of J-Street from Tablet

This is about the best profile I've seen exploring the origins and growth of J-Street and placing it in the context the anti-establishment Jewish left as it has evolved over the past few decades.

J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami calls the plays for the first self-confident alternative Jewish establishment

Hammerman on Ethics: To Gift or Not To Gift, That is the Question

To Gift or Not To Gift, That is the Question
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Special to the Jewish Week

Q. My daughter’s bat mitzvah will occur next December, and she is currently in 6th grade. Parents are encouraged to invite the entire Hebrew School class, but because the synagogue office has been giving out addresses by calendar year and not by grade, she is already getting a number of invitations from 7th graders whom she doesn’t know.

She won’t be attending, but are we required to send a gift? And this brings up a more serious question as I begin to make my plans. Is it ethical to invite someone (to a bar mitzvah or to anything) who you know will not be able to come? And do I have to invite family members who have snubbed us in the past?

Click here for the response

Sign the JCPA Statement on Civility

Sign the JCPA Statement on Civility

In American society, especially in our diverse Jewish community, we value robust and vigorous debate about pressing issues. Such debate is one of the greatest features of our democracy and one of the hallmarks of our people. We revel in our tradition of debate: A frank and civil exchange of ideas helps to inform our decisions, provoke new ways of thinking, and sometimes even change our minds.

And yet today, the expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience. Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges. Such incivility serves no purpose but to cheapen our democracy. When differences spiral down into uncivil acrimony, the dignity of individuals and community is diminished, and our precious democracy is weakened. People holding diverse views cease to listen to each other. Lack of civility makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to open minds, much less find common ground.

Therefore we as a community and as individuals, must pledge to uphold the basic norms of civil discussion and debate at our public events. We do this not to stifle free expression of views, but rather to protect it.

We will discover civility in the guarding of our tongues and the rejection of false witness. We will find it wherever we show care for the dignity of every human being, even those with whom we may strongly disagree. We will find it by listening carefully when others speak, seeking to understand what is being said and trying to learn from it.

This pursuit has deep roots in Torah and in our community’s traditions. Our Sages saw the fruit of arguments that were conducted l’shem shamayim, “for the sake of Heaven.” They fervently believed that great minds, engaged in earnest search and questioning, could find better and richer solutions to the problems they faced. They refrained from insisting on uniformity. They sought to preserve and thereby honor the views of the minority as well as the majority. They did so through their understanding of the great teaching of Eilu v’elu divrei Elokim chayim, “both these words and those are the words of the living God.”

As a community, we must commit ourselves and ask others to open their hearts and minds to healthy, respectful dialogue based on our love for our neighbors and our people.

We therefore agree to treat others with decency and honor and to set ourselves as models for civil discourse, even when we disagree with each other.

We commit ourselves to this course to preserve an essential element of a community – the ability to meet and talk as brothers and sisters.

Fairway Opening in Stamford!

I'm forwarding this very important announcement from the local Kosher Activist Committee (SKAC). It's an enormous leap in the quality of Jewish life for our growing community.

The Stamford Kosher Activists Committee, along with the rest of the local kosher community have been anticipating this month’s long awaited Grand Opening of the new Fairway Market, the company’s seventh store opening, right here in Stamford at Harbor Point ( 699 Canal Street), just south of I-95 and the train tracks.

The store’s layout and product selection of competitively priced fish, meats, baked goods, fruit, vegetables, cheeses, coffees, gourmet and organic foods will be quite similar to their other closest store in Pelham Manor, NY ( exit 7, off Hutchinson Parkway).

The Stamford store has similar kosher departments, such as a Kosher butcher (fresh Glatt kosher meats and Kosher chicken), freshly cut and packaged on premise, under the Rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Avrohom Marmorstein (Mehadrin Kashrus) and the Vaad Hakashrut of Fairfield County (VKFC), who will also supervise the Kosher bakery. The cheese department will offer an assortment of both hard and soft kosher domestic & imported cheeses, including Cholov Yisroel, throughout the store.

Besides what is packed out daily on the store shelves in the fresh glatt kosher meat dept., orders will be accepted over the phone (203-388-9815) or from the in-store phone, located near the kosher meat dept.

Most orders will be available the same day. Larger and specialty orders will be available 24-48 hours, following placement.

The bakery will have signage directing customers to kosher parve and dairy products.

The Kosher grocery aisle will have a variety of products, produced regionally and from Israel. There is also a kosher frozen section as well.

There will also be a Fairway Wine & Liquor adjacent to the Market store, carrying a variety of kosher wines for your shopping convenience.

SKAC is planning a local Kosher community wide meeting with the Kosher dept. management at Fairway in early 2011, allowing both store management and its customer base to create a dialogue of both availability and customer product and service requests.

While shopping at the store, please take a moment to say hello and thank you to Mr. Moshe Morrison, Director of Kosher Foods.

Local kosher shopper patronage, will of course provide a position of strength to the SKAC, to work with store management, to discuss expanding the current planned kosher depts. even further.

The store is open from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM Daily
Visit their website at
Store Phone # 203-388-9815

Eat & Enjoy,

Avi Greif


Premiere: Judd Apatow & Friends Working For AJWS

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kirtan Shabbat

Vampires and Judaism

For those looking for a Jewish connection to the Twilight series and the Vampire craze, take a look at this Parsha Packet: this Parsha Packet, which asks the question, was Esau the first Jewish vampire?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sam Schulman on Vayera (and Get Smart!)

Good Shabbos.

In my portion of Vayera, we read about the destruction of the city of Sodom. In Vayera, Abraham tries unsuccessfully to negotiate with G-d to save Sodom. He does this by asking G-d to save the city if he can find 50 righteous people, which he can’t. Then they look for 45, 30, 20, 10. No luck. There is even an episode of one of my favorite shows, Get Smart, which reminded me of the story of Abraham negotiating with G-d to save Sodom. In this episode, Agent Smart tries to save himself by saying to a Chaos agent, “Would you believe that we are surrounded by seven Coast Guard ships?” After the Chaos agent says he doesn’t believe him, Agent Smart says, “Would you believe six Coast Guard ships?” Then, after the Chaos agent says, “I don’t think so” Agent Smart says, “Would you believe two cops in a rowboat?”

Getting back to the Torah, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family were stuck in the city and had to flee in order to save themselves during the destruction. The Torah then tells us what happened next, "Lot's wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt."

Some commentators note that this teaches us that when people are suffering like those in Sodom, you shouldn’t stare – it would be like pouring salt on a wound and rubbing it in. Now people get that sensation by swimming in the Dead Sea, which is exactly where this incident happened. There’s even a pillar in that area called “Lot’s Wife.”

For me, her sin was not that she was rubbing it in, but just simply that she was looking back, rather than going forward. She also disobeyed a direct order from God – that’s never a good thing. But I think the deeper message the Torah is trying to teach us here is that we shouldn’t dwell on the past but rather on the future. You can remember it, but you shouldn’t live in it.

Some people consider me to be a real forward-looking person. I do tend to look ahead as far as my classes are concerned. Sometimes I look WAY ahead. For example, I recently began reading some of Shakespeare’s plays. I recently read Macbeth, Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors, which are books I probably would read in high school. I even have a list of books I intend to read over the next two years. I guess you could say that I like to think ahead.

And then there’s technology. I love it! I keep up with current NASA missions. Did you know that the final launch of space shuttle Discovery is set for next week, on November 1? Did you know that they already have flying cars? I’d like to drive one someday! I’m a real fan of the future. I can’t wait to get there.

On the other hand, I also understand the importance of looking backwards at times and the importance of remembering the lessons of history. History is one of my favorite subjects in school. George Santayana, a famous philosopher, wrote “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Jews have learned that lesson all too often in our history.

So as I become a bar mitzvah, I understand the true lesson of Lot’s wife: When you are constantly looking backwards, you can never have a future.

For my mitzvah project, I am going to be donating new and unused toys to
David’s Treasure Tree at Stamford Hospital. The toys will help kids of all ages, giving comfort to those who might be unsure what the future will bring. A toy from David’s Treasure Tree helped me feel better when I was in the hospital as a little kid.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on Dershowitz - Ben Ami

Last Friday's discussion about the "conversation" drew about 50 people. We stayed and talked for nearly two hours after services; it was the type of civil discussion that I only wish had been more present at the original event.

At one point, things got slightly heated, over the question of tactics used by Israel during the War in Gaza. But the two most passionate protagonists listened to each other and, at the end of the evening, they hugged. When I heard about the hug later on, I was tremendously moved.

But the fallout continues. See this week's Jewish Week - an oped column that somewhat ironically, is situated next to mine (on a completely different topic). It's not pleasant reading, and rather unfair, but important nonetheless: Exclude Me At Your Own Peril.

You'll notice in the comments following the original essay some that were contributed by the person who participated in our discussion last Friday after writing a scathing crtique of the original event in the Advocate.

The Crematorium And The Crouton

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Joshua Hammerman
Special To The Jewish Week

I used to be bothered by change, back when I thought religion’s purpose was to act as a bulwark against it. I was wrong. Judaism actually has a bias towards change, recognizing that both the world and our bodies are transforming dramatically by the second. Each person replenishes up to 70 billion cells daily; we’re not so much human beings as human becomings. At the Passover seder, the agent of stability (matzah) confronts the force of fermentation (wine), and long after the final afikoman crumb is consumed, the wine remains on the table. We still have two cups to go, plus another round for Elijah. Change wins.

Darwin was right. Survival requires constant adaptation. I learned the hard way how we must continually grow with the flow, and how each breath propels us forward.

Last April, just a couple of hours after my first visit to Auschwitz, I nearly died of suffocation. Earlier that afternoon, I stood in the gas chamber, struggling to imagine how I would have responded if crammed alongside hundreds gasping, denied of air. My eyes were transfixed by the victims’ scratch marks that can still be seen on the walls.

Still shaken from that close encounter with genocidal asphyxiation two hours later, I was having dinner in Krakow when a soup crouton no bigger than a pea — about the size of a pellet of Zyklon B — somehow got lodged in my trachea.

For what seemed like an eternity, I couldn’t breathe.

The world was filled with clogged air passages that week. My group’s flight from New York to Krakow had been delayed because of thick fog over Poland — the same fog that took the life of Poland’s president the next day. The following week we left Warsaw for Israel just as the airways of Europe were being choked by the Icelandic ash cloud.

In the midst of a large hall filled with hundreds of March of the Living teens and chaperones, the adults in our group sat at a long table for an impromptu staff meeting, a fortunate thing since our staff included two physicians. I sprinkled a couple of spoonfuls of soup nuts (the Israeli kind that I’ve always loved) on my vegetable soup. A few gulps in, I felt something not quite right in the back of my throat. When a swig of water didn’t clear up the problem, I began to get concerned. A few seconds later, I could feel the crouton slide an inch or two and my air passage was blocked.

I stood and began shaking my head. Someone near me asked me to try to breathe, but all I could do was let out a seal-like bark, loud enough to startle everyone in room. One of the doctors came up behind me, wrapped his arms around my diaphragm and pumped hard. I felt some air squeeze out, but the Heimlich didn’t work.

The doctor said that some air was getting in, but I didn’t believe it. Frankly, I’m not sure what I believed at that moment. I’d be lying if I said I thought about the irony of choking here, in Zyklon’s backyard. I didn’t see how people were reacting around me. All I knew was that my mouth was wide open, my face a contorted “Scream” mask, but no air was getting in.

My time was running out.

I mentally clutched every molecule of oxygen still in me and began to feel the compulsion to breathe again.

Another deathly croak.

“Some air is getting through!” I heard the doctor, but began to feel dizzy and a full panic set in. Not here. Not now. Don’t black out!

The doctor behind me attempted one more Heimlich thrust. Hard.

I felt a whoosh. Something moved inside. It was the soup nut.

I sucked in my most significant breath since birth, the last time a doctor had slapped some air into me. I breathed in Neshama, the sacred breath of Life, and each act of inhaling became a prayer, a testimonial to the priceless, fragile gift of being alive.

And then we all continued with our dinner.

Analogies are dangerous and I would never claim to have nearly become victim 6 million and one. I was no Janusz Korczak, the Polish president, or Anne Frank; just an unlucky swallower, one fortunate enough to have doctors around who were trying to save me rather than kill me. But I will now be able to convey the martyr’s story with a unique empathy. The overwhelming drive to survive and the terror of asphyxiation are things that I can now begin to understand.

The horror of being cruelly stripped of all humanity: that is something I’ll never comprehend.

Ten days later, our plane home from Israel took a circuitous, southern route to avoid ingesting that volcanic cloud of Icelandic ash. Somewhere over Provence, I set my iPod to shuffle and up popped John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

Corniest song ever written.

But maybe it was the lilting music, the lyrics or recalling Denver’s own untimely demise; it all suddenly hit me: the crematorium and the crouton, the overwhelming beauty and fragility of life, the enormity of what had nearly happened; it took my breath away.

Did that incident change me? Well, I’ve stopped eating those croutons. I smile more. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I get angry less. I feel revitalized. Rebooted. And I thank God every day for the chance to keep on changing.

I’ve taken about three and a quarter million breaths since that April evening. My heart has thumped about 700,000 times and 9.6 trillion cells have been replenished in my body. Now, for the rest of my days, I’ll be doing literally what the Jewish people have been doing for the past 65 years — measuring my life by the number of breaths taken since Auschwitz.

And I pledge, more than ever before, never to stop growing until the moment I breathe my last.

CAMERA vs. the New York Times and "60 Minutes"


New York Times Plays Blame Game on Negotiations Impasse
Direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been frozen, and replaced with debate over which side is to blame for the impasse. The Palestinians insist Israel's settlement policy is the reason for the derailment of talks. Israel responds that, unlike the Palestinians, it wants direct talks to resume immediately, and that the issue of settlements, like other areas of dispute, can only be solved by way of peace talks. Meanwhile, the New York Times, which is expected to report this news in an impartial manner, has instead become a participant in the blame game.

The problem isn't so much that the Times isn't impartial, which CAMERA demonstrates convincingly (also with regard to the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and most significantly, CBS' "60 Minutes'" recent report on Jerusalem), the point is that many Jews (and of course others) buy this and do not read CAMERA's rebuttals. The ratings for that "60 Minutes" program were among the highest for the week. So simply to say it's biased and incorrect isn't enough. We also need to address those aspects of the report that have validity - if we are to maintain our own credibility as advocates for Israel.

Teen Bullying, Gay Bashing and Suicide Prevention: "The Silent Scream"

In light of recent suicides by teenagers due to bullying, cyberstalking and gay-bashing, some startling information has come out as to the extent of these abhorrent activities.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed bullying at services in light of the recent suicides, and told the bar mitzvah class, "If you want to see your rabbi cry, all you have to do is be cruel. If you are cruel to a classmate, I guarantee you will see my cry." I've uploaded the parsha packet that I distributed - it has lots of valuable material, including a test that kids can take.

I've also uploaded one of my all-time favorite (and requested) sermons, called "The Silent Scream," which I gave here way back in 1988. It deals with teen suicide.

See Study: Half of high school students admit to bullying‎ and Is Bullying Getting Worse? Four Preventative Actions for Parents & Schools. Also see this article. At the Federal Bullying Prevention Summit in August, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked:

"One out of nine secondary school students, or 2.8 million students, said they have been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on during the last school year. Another one-and-a-half million students said they were threatened with harm, and one million students reported they had their property destroyed during the school year."

Here are 5 Essential Bullying Statistics Every Parent Should Know and some more statistics on bullying.

Some more follow up information that I've received since my prior posting on this subject:

FROM JESNA (Jewish Educational Resources):

In recent months, there has been much media attention to bullying and harassment; in the classroom, the schoolyard, and online. Many of the stories reported recently have ended in suicide, particularly among LGBT youth, with the sobering statistic that 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school last year. The response to these tragedies continues to unfold; and the Jewish community has made its own strides toward addressing bullying in our synagogues and classrooms. JESNA has, therefore, begun a new category in the Sosland Online Resource Center for the topic of bullying, drawing on resources both from the Jewish world and the larger educational landscape-- including our own benefactor, Dr. Blanche Sosland, whose new book Banishing Bullying Behavior: Transforming the Culture of Pain, Rage and Revenge (co-authored with Dr. SuEllen Fried) is reviewed here. This issue of Sosland OpenSource will be devoted exclusively to this new topic. View the entire listing of items in this topic here.

From the ADL: See Bullying changes with the times

From Keshet: Please see the pledge– . The goal is to send a message to everyone in our communities that we will not stand by in the face of suffering and injustice. Our goal is to gather 18,000 pledges by the end of the calendar year. All Jewish community members, youth and adults are being asked to sign, so please forward widely.

You can also find more information about Keshet, at Keshet is a grassroots organization dedicated to creating a fully inclusive Jewish community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews in Greater Boston and across the country.


From "Keeping Kids Healthy," a show produced by TBE members Susan and Richard Sabreen: a program on girls bullying:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hammerman on Ethics: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - at a Coffee Shop

See my latest ethics quandary at the Jewish Week website: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - At a Coffee Shop. And save the date of Dec. 7 for my "Ask the Ethicists" panel with NY Times Ethicist Randy Cohen. The topic will be "Relationships: What Should I Do?" Send in questions about your work, love and social relationships to The most interesting entries will be presented to the experts (anonymously) for discussion at the event, which will take place at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. Here's todays:

Q - Last spring I lent $200 to a woman who works at a midtown coffee shop near my office. I've gone in there every day for years and have gotten friendly with her - in fact, I know her whole life story and we are on a first name basis. When I lent her the money to pay for an emergency medical procedure, she promised to pay me back, although I had my doubts that she would be able to.

I went away over the summer and when I came back to the coffee shop I decided not to mention the loan and see what would happen. But when I went to pay for my coffee she smiled and waved me by and said, "It's on the house." This has now happened for a couple of weeks and I suspect she is giving me the freebies to pay off the loan. The problem is, she doesn't own the shop. What do I do?

A - Many eating establishments allow employees to grab a cup of coffee for themselves from time to time.

Even a behemoth like McDonalds allows a free drink and half-price meals to those behind the counter. If the coffee comes from her perk rather than her boss's pocket, everyone's a winner. She is reimbursing you, one cup at a time. If she is repaying you by stealing from her boss, however, not only is that a crime, but you are an accessory, and if it's discovered, she could lose her job. It's classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. (click here for the rest of the response)

Rabbis for the Women of the Wall

I took the liberty to sign on to this worthy effort, when it went public yesterday. Here is the press release.


The attached statement signed by twenty-eight prominent rabbis has been sent to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Rubi Rivlin, opposition leader and Head of the Israeli Kadima Party Tzipi Livni, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, and Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz Shlita.

With the issuing of this statement, we, Orthodox, Conservative (Masorti), Reform (Progressive), Reconstructionist and Renewal Rabbis-whose brief bios are attached-have launched a new social justice movement called Rabbis for Women of the Wall, a trans-denominational campaign to support the rights of women to lead worship, wear a prayer shawl, carry a Torah scroll and read from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a holy site that carries great symbolic significance for Jews everywhere.

All rabbis everywhere are invited to become Rabbis for Women of the Wall by signing the statement for delivery to Israeli officials. Jewish congregations, federations, JCRC's, JCC's and other institutions are invited to become Organizations for Women of the Wall by endorsing the same statement to Israeli officials. Individuals-including both women and men-are also invited to sign a differently worded statement to the same Israeli officials. To sign on, go to TAKE A STAND on the Women of the Wall website

"The launch of Rabbis for Women of the Wall is a defining moment that far surpasses Jewish denominational distinctions," says Rabbis for WOW Co-Chair Rabbi Menachem Creditor. "The status of the Jewish People in Israel, and therefore the world, is at stake, and we, the rabbinic community of North America, have an important voice."

"Yes, there are unique ideological commitments that lead to spirited encounter when we come together," says Co-Chair Rabbi Pamela Frydman. "But the blessing is in coming together. With the increasing marginalization of non-Charedi (non-ultra-Orthodox) Judaism in Israel, every facet of our people, including Charedim, is in danger. When we segregate our schools, fund intolerance, and arrest women for holding a Torah or reading from it, we are in need of healing."

"We are the rabbis of North American Jewry, and we are here to lead and support every part of the Jewish People." Continues Rabbi Creditor. "When a part is attacked, we all feel the pain. This is a painful moment, and it is our time to speak."

Vayera's Top Ten Songs

The Top Ten Songs from the Portion of Vayera

1) "Fire and Rain" (see under: Sodom and Gomorrah)
2) "You're Having My Baby"
3) "Sara Smile"
4) "When I'm 64 ( 35)"
5) "Angels from Heaven"
6) "Sho-far Away"
7) " Ewe Are So Beautiful"
8) "Light of the World" (..."You are the SALT of the earth")
9) "Laughing Out Loud"
10) "Dance with my Father"

Parsha Packet: The Akeda Interpreted (Vayera)

I often distribute Parsha Packets at services. Here is one for the portion Vayera (a reading also done on Rosh Hashanah) regarding the Binding of Isaac, the Akeda. Click here to read a listing of 22 possible lessons we can learn from this complex and disturbing story.

Parsha Packet for Vayera: Jewish Sources on Visiting the Sick

I often distribute Parsha Packets at services.

Click here for a packet for the portion Vayera, "Jewish sources on the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim (Visiting the Sick). What is this important mitzvah, how did it originate with our portion and why is it so important? Most of all, how do you do it properly?

Parsha Packets: A Failure to Communicate (Vayera)

I often distribute Parsah Packets at services...

Click here for a Parsha Packet, Vayera - A Failure to Communicate: Miscommunication and Listening: A Jewish Perspective. See two examples of miscommunication from our portion and how the Internet age has only made miscommunication more common - and more dangerous.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Emily Weinstein on Lech Lecha

Shabbat Shalom!

Many of you know that I love to travel – a trait I inherited from all of my grandparents. So when I found out that my portion would be Lech Lecha, I thought it was the perfect one for me. After all, the expression “Lech lecha,” actually means “travel.” God commands Avram to leave his birthplace, his father’s house, and his land to go and discover new places that he had never seen before.

It’s amazing to me to know that the first commandment God gave to the first Jew was to journey. That’s the kind of religion I could really go for! Even though it may be another 5 years before I leave my birthplace and my father’s house, whenever I take a vacation with my family, I can feel like I am fulfilling a mitzvah!

So going to Cancun was a mitzvah! Going to Paris was a mitzvah! Going to Zion? Of course THAT was a mitzvah… even if it was Zion National Park.

OK, so maybe it’s not a mitzvah to go to Cancun, but it is important to note that the first thing asked of the first Jew was to leave home and go somewhere else. I’ve had the privilege of doing that quite a bit over the years, visiting places like California, London and Paris. I also visited Las Vegas, which I would describe to you, but as you know, what happens in Vegas….stays in Vegas.

Today, I feel that I am qualified to be your tour guide, in leading our journey through my portion.

We begin our journey as Avram crosses over into the new land – and some say that’s why Avram got the name Ivri – Hebrew – the one who crosses over. Usually I recommend that you pack light. But in Avram’s case, the luggage limit was whatever you could load onto 80 donkeys and a few dozen camels. Soon, they have to leave Canaan and relocate to Egypt because of a famine. Realizing that his wife’s beauty could potentially cause his death, Avram asks her to pretend to be his sister.

As you can see, a trip like this always involves a degree of risk. I learned that first hand. Exactly one year ago today, I was playing basketball in school when I tripped and broke both wrists. And I wasn’t even travelling!

Travel can also bring about adventure and requires the ability to adjust to changing circumstances. In Lech Lecha, Avram went down to Egypt because of a famine and nearly gets killed. Then he became involved in a big war between groups of kings. Avram chose the winning side, freeing Lot, who had been taken captive.

As your expert guide, I don’t recommend getting involved in a war.

When I went to Zion and Bryce National Parks in Utah, the amazing rock formations really opened my eyes to the beauty of God’s creation. I was able to bring these WOW moments back home with me, and they really changed me.

I’m sure Avram was changed by his journeys too – in fact, he was changed so much that his name was switched to Abraham – and Sarai’s to Sarah.

So, I’m sure you’re all waiting to see if I recommend the places Abraham visited. Well, in fact, I give them five stars – of David. I recommend the Promised Land so highly that I am actually planning to go there – next February, with my graduating class at Bi Cultural – and I can’t wait.

My mitzvah project is also connected to Israel. I will be donating money to the Jewish Agency to help young people who have just made aliyah adapt to their new lives as Israeli citizens. Just like Abraham, they took risks to journey to the Promised Land. The other piece of my mitzvah project involved more “travel”! In fact, just like Abraham, I took a walk. On September 19th, as part of the Bi-Cultural Chesed Club team, I participated in the Friendship Circle walk and raised $445 for the program. The Friendship Circle provides social and Judaic experiences to children and teenagers with special needs. I am proud to have participated in this fundraising effort.

My journey here to my Bat Mitzvah has taken thirteen years. Just like Abraham in today’s portion, I make my covenant with Hashem to accept the responsibilities of a Jewish adult.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The War to Delegitimize Israel

Three questions: So what is being done to combat the delegitimization of Israel on the world stage? What else is being done to attract Jewish college students to join that battle? And, where ELSE was Alan Dershowitz this past week?

All these questions are answered in this press release from CAMERA:

Now, more than ever, Israel finds itself in a battle for fair treatment on the world stage. CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has just concluded a two-day conference at Boston University that brought together international experts to articulate the enormous challenges of the moment and to formulate constructive action. The important event was co-sponsored by the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University.

More than 1000 people attended the conference – all across America, as well as Australia, England, Canada, Argentina, Israel, and France. Over 200 of these were college students, from 13 U.S. states, Argentina and Canada.

Renowned figures from journalism, academia and other fields focused on the role of the media, NGO’s, the UN, academia and the mainline churches in threatening Israel’s legitimacy and offered strategies for reversing the situation; they also turned to urgent conditions in Europe and examined solutions there as well. Attendees participated in hands-on sessions dedicated to training and activism. Featured speakers additionally led special workshop sessions geared exclusively towards students and young adults.

"The goal of the conference," said CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin,"was to define the issues, raise awareness, and create an action agenda. It won't be easy to turn back the tide running against Israel, but it's impossible if people aren't clear about the prime sources of the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state."

Read more about the conference here and see a student's perspective here.

Rabbi Yehuda Levin

Rabbi Yehuda Levin absolutely has a right to feel the way he does about any number of topics. He even has the right to compose a candidate's self-destructive speech about gay rights. Read the whole story: New York Times.

But here in America, at least he can't be a kingmaker. In Israel, he potentially could.

Here, he is merely a distasteful side show in the political circus, and we can take comfort that this man won't be able to say outrageous things from a parliamentary podium. In Israel, he would be firing his barbs from the Knesset rostrum or Chief Rabbinate's office.

He is the perfect example of why Israel needs an American style separation of religion and state. Soon.

See also: New Israel Fund Protests Loyalty Oath Requirement and High Court Rules against Street Barrier Separating Men and Women

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jonathan Pollack on Noah

I thought my bar mitzvah was a big deal, but then I found out that the entire Stamford school system had declared this a four day weekend. I guess I’m more important than I thought. They were so considerate that they wanted me to have extra time to get a head start on my thank you notes.

Interestingly, a main theme of my portion, Noah, is how even an average person can actually be more important than anyone could have imagined.

At the beginning of the portion, Noah is called a righteous person for his generation. All the commentators wonder why it has to say “for his generation.”

There are two main possibilities. One is that he wasn’t very righteous, but that compared to everyone else of his generation, he was. The rest of them were so bad that even an average person would look good in comparison. The other possibility is that when everyone else is so bad, it’s a lot harder to be good – or even to be just average. So someone who is just average in that crowd is really great.

The commentators compared Noah to Abraham. He’s considered to have been a greater person than Noah, but his generation was better, which made it easier for him to be great. So in a way, because his generation was so evil, Noah could have been greater than Abraham.

Throughout history, up until our day, average people have often been called upon to do extraordinary things. Think of Columbus, the other reason, aside from me, for our day off from school on Monday. He discovered the Americas. What else did he do in his life?

In the world of sports, we have people like David Tyree, who is now a re-tiree, ending a short NFL career in which he happened to have had a major impact in only one game. That game happened to be the Super Bowl when he made the greatest catch in NFL history.

Sorry, rabbi. For those of you who don’t know, my team, the Giants, beat the rabbi’s team, the Patriots, in the Super Bowl.

So, is this my moment? Is this my chance to do something great, like Noah, Columbus, and David Tyree?

There are two ways to look at it.

Yes, I have just read from the Torah for the first time and also recited a haftarah. This is a very important day and I’m proud of what I have accomplished.
But the other side to this is that, no, today is not “my historic moment” because today is just the beginning. It’s really just the preparation, the basic training for that moment. No one knows when it will come. But whenever the time comes, I know that I’ll be prepared as a Jewish adult to take it on.

So even though what I’ve done today is very special, I know that I’m going to be called upon to do a lot more. Not simply to read Torah again, but to use what I’ve learned, my knowledge and my talents, to help people and to help the world.
One way I’m doing that is through my mitzvah project. I am organizing a toy drive for the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. I am collecting new toys for infants and DVDs and books for adolescents. If you would like to donate today, there is a collection box in the lobby. Otherwise, you can either donate by dropping items off at my house or writing a check to me, which I will use to buy the appropriate items. I will be collecting for the next two weeks. I greatly appreciate your help and support. In addition to the toy drive, I have also helped out in the last year by tutoring students at Roxbury Elementary School and participating in a basketball league with children with special needs.

So maybe it’s a little too early to say that these days off from school are dedicated to my bar mitzvah. But my time will come and I’ll have lots more opportunities to show my talents. This is just the beginning of my special moment.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Joey Chimes on Lech Lecha

My portion, Lech Lecha, is all about journeys. In fact, the title MEANS “go out.” Well, technically, it doesn’t EXACTLY mean that, and that’s where it gets interesting. The literal translation of lech lecha is “go to yourself.”
What does that really mean?

On the surface, it seems like Abraham was told by God to go a different place. So what “lech lecha” might be telling us that is that when you go to a different place, you find out new things about yourself.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to go far away from your comfort zone in order to learn who you really are. That was true for Abraham and Sarah. It was also true for someone else who did a lot of travelling whom we recall this weekend: Christopher Columbus. And it’s true for me as well.

Back in Abraham’s home, everyone was stuck in the old way of thinking, believing in idols. So then he went to the new land and immediately he faced challenges. There was a famine, so he had to go down to Egypt. There he faced even more challenges. Then when he returned to the land, his nephew Lot was kidnapped and Abraham found himself fighting in the middle of a war. He managed to rescue Lot and win over lots of new friends. At the end of the portion, he receives a new name (his prior name had been Abram), a new son, Ishmael and a promise that he will be the father of many nations.

Abraham is also given a title – a name. He’s not called a Jew (Jews didn’t exist yet), but a Hebrew. The word Hebrew, or IVRI, means one who crosses over. Abraham has literally crossed over to a new place and new identity. But he also has learned how to be the only one on one side, while the whole world is on the other. Part of being on a journey of self discovery is learning how to stand up to peer pressure.
Some of you may know that I enjoy watching classic movies. One movie stand out that has a similar theme to the Abraham story, the film “Twelve Angry Men,” starring Henry Fonda, who plays the one juror who refuses to believe that the accused has committed murder, even when there is a lot of evidence against him. In the end, he is really persuasive and the one lonely juror is able to convince the others to come over to his side. In the end, we never know whether the guy is guilty or innocent. Not even Fonda knows. But we learn not to rush to judgment. The jurors are on their own journey of self discovery and they end up very far from where they begin, even though they have never left the room.

Now that I am a bar mitzvah, I know that there will be many times when I have to take a stand, maybe even an unpopular one. It also means being able to stand up for those who need assistance. For my mitzvah project, I am working with Habitat for Humanity to improve low income housing in Fairfield. I’m also doing a fundraiser for earthquake victims of Haiti.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saving Carly

One of the key revelations of last week's heated Hoffman Lecture was that the huge gathering was far better behaved than the participants. Nonetheless, there were a few bad apples in the bunch, and that is very unfortunate. J-Street discussed some disturbing incidents in their blog and a column in Friday's Stamford Advocate also made reference to it.

As isolated as such incidents were, they are a stain on all of us, especially in light of the work we have been doing to encourage younger Jews to re-engage (which was one reason we brought J-Street here in the first place).

The day after the Hoffman Lecture, I happened to receive this e-mail, which had nothing to do directly with the lecture, and yet everything to do with it.

Rabbi Hammerman,
I just read an answer you wrote on to a woman asking you about being an agnostic Jew, and I was wondering if you could give me some advice as well. I am in my late twenties, newly moved to the city, and am looking for a community in Washington DC that I think synagogue can provide. The trouble is that I have never been a religious person, though I am a Jewish person. I went to a casual unaffiliated Hebrew school as a child but never had a bat mitzvah. I am not sure if I feel comfortable going to a synagogue. It is a strange idea for me. I would need to find a place that was extremely liberal in thinking and didn't force me to be spiritual in a certain way or expect me to already know or to learn many rituals, etc. that are based on worship and god. Honestly, I am even undecided on the Isreal/Palestine issue. It is something I truly struggle with. While I understand Isreal’s importance to the Jewish people, it would make me uncomfortable to have politics like that preached in the service as well.
Is there a type of synagogue for me, or do I fit in no where? If there is, do you have any advice for finding a place near where I live?

Thank you for your time and any help you can offer,
Carly (a pseudonym)

Notice that the two words she misspelled were “Isreal” and “god.” That about sums it up for a large percentage of Carly’s peers. They are excruciatingly uncomfortable with the synagogues of their parents – from which most of their parents also long ago fled. I would venture to guess that Carly’s folks disengaged from their community even before Bat Mitzvah time came along – but truthfully, it’s no less damaging to the Jewish future than the disconnection that so often takes place after Bar Mitzvah, or a few years later when the nest becomes empty. To compound the problem, Carly has little or no connection to the Jewish homeland – she can’t even spell it.

What are we to do with Carly and her generation? Write them off? For us not to be proactive in addressing Carly would be akin to leaving our own future out in the cold.

That is why we at TBE have developed a multi-pronged strategy to Save Carly – not at the expense of those who are older (or younger), but understanding that we have the potential of a lost generation on our hands, a generation that we produced. So here’s some of what we are doing for Carly and her peers:

- We are growing the community’s only professionally staffed Young Professionals Group – and it has been a great success.

- We’ve developed Shabbat services designed especially to excite all generations – including and especially Carly’s. We need your help – bring a friend (younger or older) to Kabbalat Shabbat, any Friday!

- With full use of the Internet – including my own work along with Ariela’s on and Facebook – in order to reach them where they are.

- Through high-profile events both in and outside the synagogue designed to appeal to that demographic (and others), like my upcoming program with NY Times Ethicist Randy Cohen in Manhattan on Dec. 7.

- With progressive, generous incentives to encourage membership for Young Professionals, realizing that this is not a generation of “joiners.” Several already have taken advantage of this.

- By intensifying our connection with our own young adults, the ones who grew up here – and by encouraging their families to remain affiliated and involved: it makes a difference (of course the families have to be willing to meet us half way).

- Simply by being friendly (and never judgmental) to all visitors, but with a special eye to the Carlys who happen to walk through our door.

The Hoffman lecture was a phenomenon that I’ve discussed elsewhere, but a key reason for our wanting to bring Jeremy Ben Ami here is that J-Street has been attracting lots of Carlys (read her letter again and you’ll see why); it is important for them to know that there are friendly portals open to them within the “established” Jewish community…and yes, even at a synagogue. We’ve already developed a solid reputation for inclusiveness, but high-exposure programs like this, along with our Friday night services that are growing by leaps and bounds, are what will help cement that reputation. Even the few bad eggs that taunted some of the young people following the Hoffman Lecture will not be able to change that, but they reminded us that our task will not be easy.

So whenever you see someone like Carly come through our door, looking a bit nervous and out of place, stretch out your hand and say hello. That’s our future you are talking to.

Tractate Avot states, “Do Not Separate Yourself from the Community.” Now more than ever, it is our sacred task not to let that happen to our kids.

And they are ALL our kids.

After I replied to Carly, giving her several suggestions, I heard back:

Rabbi Hammerman,
Thank you so much for writing me back. It means a lot to me that you would take time out to write such a thoughtful response to a stranger who lives states away. It is amazing, but just reading your response has made me feel more at home as a Jew and as myself. That you seem to care about me and how I am doing makes me feel like I belong.
I will look into the organizations you mentioned. You are very kind,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dershowitz - Ben Ami: Who Speaks for American Jews?

Listen to the Hoffman Lecture: Dershowitz and Ben Ami here.

To obtain the audio files in different formats or to embed, click here.

Some comments after a draining evening:

I came into this evening's dramatic conversation between Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben Ami hoping for a clearer sense of whether American Jewry and Israel can effectively speak in multiple, nuanced voices in support of Israel. That question never really was answered.

The evening was great theater, but more tragedy than comedy. I left it feeling somewhat deflated, that the great theater overwhelmed the potential for what could have been much more. Over a thousand people filled Beth El's sanctuary (extending well into the social hall) and the audience was, for the most part, remarkably civil and respectful. People really were trying to listen. I was proud of our community for handling this challenging evening with such dignity. There was plenty of applause for both speakers and very few boos. Lots of solid debating points were scored. But I felt that the evening was almost too much about scoring debating points.

It got personal. Time was wasted on airing personal grievances and asking for apologies. There were several moments where the audience was squirming as Dershowitz hammered home the unfairness of how he was depicted in a J-Street ad and Ben Ami retorted that Dershowitz had subsequently demonized J-Street unfairly. At one point I really wanted to hold each one's hand in the sandbox and ask them to apologize simultaneously. Then we could have moved onto more substantial matters.

At the end of the evening, I made a plea to the young people (and there were many here) not to dissociate themselves from Israel or from the American Jewish community. As things got more and more emotional on the bima, I could sense the impact that might have on some of them. I later heard of at least one young woman who was brought to tears. It was intense. One almost got the sense that Dershowitz was trying to finish J-Street off.

In the end, demonizing J-Street will not destroy it (Do you hear me, Connecticut Jewish ledger?) any more than demonizing Breira crushed dissent in the 70's, or earlier, the attempts of the federation movement to sideline the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. J-Street will live or die on the merits of its message, the honesty and transparency of its administration and the conviction of its funders. But that demonization might well drive away those many young supporters who feel they have no where else to go to express support for Israel and connect to the Jewish community. People may not like the critical approach J-Street has taken regarding Israel, but without it, the dialogue among American Jews would turn into a spiritless monologue, without taste and texture. I firmly believe that we need such a dialogue, just as King David needed his dialogue with the prophet Nathan to remind him of his own highest moral aspirations. Nathan always seemed to be there with bad news and stinging accusations. But David kept him in the palace because he knew that he needed him.

American Jews have never spoken with one voice about Israel and we aren't about to start now. It's positively unJewish to walk in lock step about anything, much less the most important thing -which is Israel. We're not a bunch of walking talking points to be programmed.

What is sad is that Dershowitz and Ben Ami agree on so many of the important issues, including settlements and the security fence (though perhaps not the precise location). But they couldn't get beyond that to forge a common message. As J-Street continues to evolve, I hope it will find ways to feel less constrained about the pro-Israel part - it needs to become unabashedly pro-Israel, while at the same time continuing to play the role of Nathan the prophet. Nathan did, after all, reside close to the palace.

Ben Ami did not make reference to the impressive number of rabbis and cantors who have joined its very large rabbinic cabinet (including me). That surprised me. It shows that there is something about his message that is resonating well beyond the halls of Yale and Berkeley. Say what you will about rabbis, we're not all idiots. We, like many others, are attracted to that moral message. But it can not become a message of moral equivalence. Dershowitz hammered home the moral equivalence thing, that Israel has made enormous risks and sacrifices and the Palestinians have not responded in kind. Arafat blew it at Camp David in refusing the Clinton/ Barak offer. (One of Dershowitz's best lines was when he said that Yasser Arafat died an untimely death - four years too late). Ben Ami's retort was that the blame game does no good, that the two narratives are both filled with suffering and pain. Both points are well taken.

On Monday I attended a regional AIPAC event. Dore Gold spoke, eloquently and persuasively, about Israel's security needs - specifically how any peace plan must include an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. I would love to see J-Street acknowledge that need more clearly. I sense that they agree, but I didn't really hear that concern tonight. I didn't hear the existential ache about Iran from Ben Ami tonight either. The question as to whether resolving the Israel-Palestinian matter would help neutralize the Iranian threat was one where both made good arguments. The fact is, we don't know.

When Dore Gold took questions on Monday, person after person rose to toss him softballs. Some of the questions were interesting, but there was not a Nathan to be found...until one man got up and had the courage to ask something like, "So why can't Bibi just freeze the settlement building for two more crummy months?"

There was an audible hush - and more hisses than I heard all of tonight (with about a quarter of the number of people). It scared me that such a question could not be asked without ostracism. Gold's answer was about as persuasive as the page of talking points we were given about the settlements. Since we know that it's really about party politics and messianic fervor, the talking points seemed disingenuous. C'mon. Really. Israel needs to bargain from strength, I know, and these things can't be preconditions, I know. But to jeopardize a possible chance for real peace, however remote, for the sake of two more months?

And if these talking points weren't persuasive to me, (and I know they are not to Alan Dershowitz either - he's been very public about that), what of that Yale student whose classmate keeps on shouting that Israel doesn't really want peace. What's he to say to the classmate when the talks disintegrate over two crummy months?

Fortunately, an AP report tonight offers a glimmer of hope that a compromise might be reached and the talks resumed for two crummy months.

Fortunately also, while he was discussed, George Soros did not play a central role in tonight's conversation. The talk of Soros then spun into the question of what constitutes someone who is "pro Israel" and are all of J-Street's supporters really pro-Israel, or are some, as Dershowitz put it, "virulently anti-Israel." And he's the one who has accused J-Street of McCarthyist tactics! The litmus test being applied to J-Street's list (which BTW, includes all those rabbis) gave cause for concern. I wish all members of my congregation were pro-Israel too, but I know that not all are. Still, I wouldn't kick them out for that reason - or become less pro-Israel myself. I wish Dershowitz hadn't pursued that line of argumentation.

And I want to go on record as saying that I absolutely and proudly WOULD accept a George Soros donation to my synagogue.

But most of all, I just wish Ben Ami had apologized for lumping Dershowitz together with Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other right wingers in that notorious ad. Here's how you do it, Jeremy - and I know all about this. I apologize to people for a living. You call him up and say, "Alan. My bad. Your not like Sarah at all. You're much better looking. I went a little overboard. Sorry. Now let's get onto the important stuff."

If only he had said that tonight, it would saved us all a lot of grief. Then maybe we could have gone back to the question that remained unanswered: Can American Jews speak about Israel to Congress and other Americans in multiple - and occasionally critical - voices?

I'm just hoping that, in the end, we can keep on talking to one another.

10/10/10 - Noah and Climate Change

This Sunday, 10/10/10, has been declared a "Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions." The Top Ideas thus far for 10/10/10 Events:

#1 Organize a Tree Planting
#2 Go Solar
#3 Work on a Community Garden or an Organic Farm
#4 Go For a Bike Ride
#5 Harness the Wind
#6 Get Efficient
#7 Do a trash cleanup
See more examples at

This weekend coincides with arguably our most environmentally-oriented portion, Noah. You don't see massive flooding and Rainbow Covenants all the time, after all. For more info on how the portion ties into this theme, see a collection of resources.

Also see, from Canfei Nesharim (an Israeli environmental organization) The Rainbow Covenant: Establishing a Relationship with the Earth, Study and Discussion Guide (PDF) Watch a video about Torah and climate change
Statement on Climate Change and the Parshat Noach Sustainability Project

Also, you can download and listen to the full rabbinic conversation with Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Rabbi Naphtali Weisz, Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Keiner, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Ethan Linden and more...

Roni Lang on Volunteering

Roni Lang was our "Kallat Bereisheet" (Bride of the Torah portion of Genesis) last week on Simhat Torah. Here is what she had to say about volunteering and her expereince at TBE.

It’s a real honor to be recognized on Simchat Torah as Kallat Bereishit, along with Allan, as Chatan Torah (who is in real life is my Chatan).

I became a member of Temple Beth El 18 years ago, when I married Allan, so this is my “chai” year of membership. Allan cinched the deal for me to relocate to Connecticut, from California, with a marriage proposal and my very own pew seat in the sanctuary. For all these 18 years, the Beth El clergy and congregants have been here for our family, through simchas and tsuris. Rabbi Hammerman married us; my daughter, Gabrielle, attended Merkaz Torah and was confirmed here; about one year ago, the Rabbi married Gabrielle and Jeremy. So the beat goes on.

It didn’t take long for me to find that TBE could also be my own spiritual home. I made new friends, started attending Temple events, and felt — more and more — a part of the TBE community. I joined the women’s book discussion group, participated in Sisterhood Shabbat , got the opportunity to present a D’var Torah, and with encouragement — or rather, a firm push — from Rabbi Hammerman, I became the chair of the adult education committee. Working with a great committee, we planned some interesting programs. One of the most memorable programs was on Jewish medical ethics.

My work with adult education morphed into my becoming co-chair of the Synaplex committee again, thanks to Rabbi Hammerman’s suggestion. (This time, the rabbi gave me a gentle nudge.) Working as chairwoman of the Synaplex committee continues to be a source of satisfaction for me, as the committee tries to promote fresh and innovative ways of worshipping, celebrating Jewish holidays and festivals, and studying and discussing important aspects of Jewish life. I work with a great committee and staff and committee members have now become friends.
A colleague at worked asked me why I volunteer at my temple and what does it do for me.

Well, I don’t do it because:
I need it for my college application
I need to fill in blanks on my resume to get a job
I’m bored and need to be busy….
I’m a pretty busy person so why then add another dimension to my life?

• Precisely because it is another dimension. Like Shabbat , volunteering at TBE adds another aspect to my spiritual life. It makes me more connected to my religion, and the community.

• I enjoy a sense of satisfaction and personal fulfillment from helping the Temple with special projects

• It feels good—to work on Synaplex or lend a hand as needed

• I get a chance to make new friends

• Feel connected to Synagogue in active not passive manner

• I enjoy TBE more when I show up… and I show up more when I volunteer

• Volunteering is a win-win proposition- good for the Temple and good for me

• Rabbi Janet Marder wrote that being a member of a synagogue brings us out of the narrow circle of self-concern and help open us to the needs of others." I think volunteering at synagogue widens the circle even more.

• Putting on my therapist /social work hat for a moment I can tell you that volunteering is good for your health and well being. If you doctor has read any of the recent studies of the health benefits of volunteering, next time you don’t feel good his advise might be “take two aspiring and volunteer in the morning.”

• In addition to measuring the psychological rewards of volunteering, research shows that the benefits of volunteering go well beyond just making the participants feel better about themselves; it helps you stay healthy and may even prolong your life. Volunteers live longer

• Volunteering leads to spiritual and emotional growth too.

I hope to continue to volunteer in programming and leadership roles at TBE, as participation is both an honor and a privilege.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do Not Stand Idly By: A Heartbreaking Trend

Any person who has even the slightest bit of compassion in his heart has been stunned and saddened by recent reports of a spate of suicides by young people who were harassed or humiliated for being gay. The added specter of cyberbullying has only increased the avenues for such humiliation. Last week's incident at Rutgers involving student Tyler Clementi was particularly heartbreaking (see background here).

The Jewish community has thankfully swung into action. Keshet is a Boston-based grassroots organization dedicated to creating a fully inclusive Jewish community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews. They have initiated a campaign entitled "Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives"

You can sign on by clicking here and following the instructions. I am proud to announce that, with board consensus, our congregation is now going to be on that list.

In signing on, we understand that, as uniquely horrible as gay-bashing is, this phenomenon of bullying goes beyond even these tragic suicides. Bullying is bad in all cases, whether the victim is gay or straight, whether the methodology is cyberspace or in-your-face. And it's not just about teens, either.

But today we do mourn these tragic deaths: of Seth Walsh, 13 years old, Asher Brown, 13 years old, Billy Lucas, 15 years old, Tyler Clementi, 18 years old and Raymond Chase, 19 years old. May their deaths not be in vain - but may they inspire us all to work harder to make our world a gentler, more tolerant place.

See below how Keshet describes the campaign and which organizations have signed on thus far, and at the bottom a prayer written by a rabbinic colleague that reflects the sadness that we all feel.

As members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance.

We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect.

Campaign launched by
Keshet in partnership with (as of 10.5.10):

Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community
Adas Israel Congregation
The Adventure Rabbi Program
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado
The Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago, IL
Bay Area Masorti
Be'chol Lashon
Beth Chayim Chadashim, Los Angeles, CA
Congregation Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh, PA
The Bronfman Youth Fellowships (BYFI)
California Faith for Equality
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)
Cleveland Jewish LGBTQ2A Inclusion Project
Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston
Congregation Am Tikva, Boston, MA
Congregation Bet Haverim, Atlanta, GA
Congregation Bet Tikvah, Pittsburgh, PA
Congregation Beth Ahavah, Philadelphia, PA
Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, NY
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York, NY
Congregation Beth El, Berkeley, California
Congregation Beth El Binah, Dallas, TX
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, NY
Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood, CA
Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley, CA
Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, San Francisco, CA
The Curriculum Initiative
The Dobkin Family Foundation
Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association (GLYDSA)
Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement Program (GLOE)/Washington DC Jewish Community Center
Hebrew College
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Hillel at Stanford
Institute for Judaism & Sexual Orientation, Hebrew Union College-JIR
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
JALSA - The Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action
Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance
JESNA - The Jewish Education Service of North America
Jewish Communal Leadership Program, University of Michigan
The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, London, UK
Jewish Gay Network of Michigan
Jewish Milestones
The Jewish Multiracial Network
Jewish Organizing Initiative
Jewish Outreach Institute
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Jewish Transitions
Jewish Women’s Archive
Jews United for Justice
Joshua Venture Group
Judaism Your Way, Denver, CO
Just Congregations of the Union for Reform Judaism
JQ International
Kehilat Hadar, New York, NY
Kehilla Community Synagogue, Piedmont, CA
Kehilla School
Kolenu, Seattle's Young Adult GLBTQ Group
LGBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation, San Francisco, CA
Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation
Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh
Mechon Hadar
Moishe House
Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House
The Morningstar Foundation
The Natan Fund
Nathan Cummings Foundation
Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue, Jamaica Plain, MA
Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality
New Jersey's Lesbian & Gay Havurah
North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY)
NUJLS: The National Union of Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Students Orthodykes NY
Progressive Jewish Alliance
Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbinical School of Hebrew College
The Rainbow Center, Atlanta, GA
RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Repair the World
Rockville Open House
ROI Community
Ruth Allen Ziegler Foundation
The Samuel Bronfman Foundation
Shalom Amigos, Mexico
ShefaNetwork: The Conservative/Masorti Movement Dreaming from Within
TBS Keshet, Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA
Trembling Before G-d Outreach Project
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ)
United Synagogue Youth (USY)
University of Washington Hillel
UpStart Bay Area
The Youth and Gender Media Project
World Congress of GLBT Jews
A Wider Bridge
Women of Reform Judaism
Zeek Media, Inc.
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

As a side note, today the leading Jewish organizations working on behalf of gays and lesbians in the Orthodox world announced a historic new partnership to build understanding and community for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. It's called Eshel, after the “Eshel Avraham,” the tamarisk tree under which the patriarch Abraham would welcome visitors. It can be accessed at

A lovely response has been circulated by my colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor, in the form of a prayer:

Dear God,

I just spoke to a group of your precious children, learning with them from my aching heart about a world that caused at least 5 young people to lose hope, despite the Majesty of being created in Your Image. I wish those 5 teenagers had had a safe place, an affirming community, a place for generating personal hope. I will never stop trying to build and demand that notion of "home."

Being Gay is sacred.
Being Straight is sacred.
Being Human is sacred.
May no more people be hurt for being themselves.