Friday, April 29, 2011
Think about the inherent paradox of that last expression: How can truth lie? If it's the truth, I mean, it can't lie, can it?
Well, when we're talking about the Middle East, spring 2011, indeed it can. Even the truth can lie, because no one, and I mean no one, knows where this is going to end. Up is down and down is up. Old foes and ruthless dictators suddenly are seen as bastions of stability; democratic uprisings have morphed into religious revolutions. Or have they? Predicting these events is like predicting this year's NFL Draft in a league where there are currently no rules, only the stakes are much higher.
When none of the so-called experts saw the Abbas-Hamas smooch coming, and as James Besser iterates, no one did, why do we keep on going back to them for more disinformation? Where does the truth lie? At this point, only one thing seems certain, the PA just gave up a ton of American financial aid, which legally cannot be provided until Hamas renounces terror and recognizes Israel.
So what are the experts saying?
In this week's issue of Foreign Policy, Michael Oren proves conclusively that Israel is America's Ultimate Ally in this more-unstable-than-ever region, and Jeffrey Goldberg rebuts, stating that Israel's position in the US is now more precarious than ever. And that was written before the bombshell. Robert Satloff looks at the long view in lauding the durability of US - Israel ties as the region explodes around them. Dore Gold chimes in with Why Palestinian Unity Won't Lead to Peace and Jonathan Halevi, in The Fatah-Hamas Agreement: Analysis and Initial Consequences, gives some interesting analysis of how the new Egyptian regime is making use of the Palestinian card and how the unraveling of Syria is compelling Hamas to reorient itself toward Cairo. That Syrian unraveling only intensified with today's mass protests. Ha'aretz in today's editorial claims that Israel can redeem itself by recognizing a Palestinian state.
My take in all this hardly matters, but something tugging within me sees this as having positive potential, despite all the legitimate dangers. Hamas was pushed into these unity talks, we must recall, because of a popular uprising taking place in streets of Gaza. Hamas is far less popular than it was when the last elections occurred, and the PA has gotten its act together in a number of areas. There is far less corruption, which has led to economic progress and increased security cooperation with Israel, despite this week's mishap at Joseph's tomb. Maybe, given the right signals from Israel, this time the Palestinian people and the Egyptian people will vote for peace.
OK, go ahead and call me naïve. After all, I believed the President was legitimate even before he produced his birth certificate. Now, I hear, BTW, that Donald Trump's next tack will be to demand that Hawaii produce proof that it's really a state.
But right now, no matter what citizenship they have, the Palestinian and Egyptian people are all from the "Show Me" state of Missouri. I do believe that they are open to positive gestures, and Israel has to show them all reasons to move their democracies in the direction of regional reconciliation rather than perpetual confrontation.
Israelis need to be shown some things too. It will be interesting to see if the security situation will improve now along the Gazan border.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's job has just gotten harder. Suddenly his visit to the US in late May has taken on an intensified significance. (BTW Let me know if you are planning to attend AIPAC or are interested in going.) Face to face negotiations with the Palestinians now seem more unlikely than ever. But just like all the candidates over here pounding the pavement of Iowa and New Hampshire, the Israeli Prime Minister's got to campaign too, this time for Arab votes, and fill the airways of Ramallah and Cairo with something that is as hard to come by in that part of the world: hope. Otherwise, the Egyptians and Palestinians will vote accordingly.
Freedom is messy.
That's where the truth lies in the Middle East.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
This week, with the Seder’s Four Children still fresh on our minds, my Jewish Week ethics column tackles the controversial and current issue of corporal punishment and child abuse, a topic that has been amplified all the more by the recent showing here of “Race to Nowhere.” See Hammerman on Ethics: Sparing the Rod.
We discussed this topic at services yesterday. See supplementary materials on the Four Children that I brought in, including some scholarly material exploring this famous Haggadah anecdote has changed over the years, an article comparing the Four Kids to characters from “Glee,” and a listing of articles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And as long as I’m handing out materials from the weekend’s services, click here for Friday night’s handout, which included brief meditations (known in eastern traditions as gathas) from many cultures promoting mindfulness on nature. Friday’s service was one of my all-time favorites, as we celebrated Passover and Earth Day with songs and poetry inspired by the Song of Songs, that most earthy and sensual biblical mother-of-all-love ballads (which is traditionally recited on the Shabbat of Passover). Where else but TBE can you recite the poetry of Sitting Bull and Hasidic masters and sing “Dodi Li” and “Morning Has Broken,” all at the same service?
Before we leave “Song of Songs” behind us, I highly recommend this article from the Huffington Post, written by a colleague, on the need to preserve and celebrate the astonishing sensuality of our tradition in the face of what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder,” which is pounding at us from all directions. On the one hand, we are bombarded by the lure of pixels and cling to the virtual instead of embracing the real; and on the other side, religious conservatism has, in its prurient zeal, drained texts like this of their sensuality – and in doing so, they’ve drained Judaism of its vitality (the article gives a stunning example for all you Artscroll fans).
No such danger of that happening here, though. In fact a couple got engaged last week – and they had met right here at services. At TBE, we don’t just read Song of Songs – we LIVE it!
Friday, April 22, 2011
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Friday, April 22, 2011
Q - I was shocked to read recently that corporal punishment is still legal in 20 states. I also know the famous quote from Proverbs, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But on Passover we are taught to answer a child’s questions with patience. Is it ever acceptable for a parent or teacher to hit a child?
A - It is never appropriate to hit a child, at school or at home. Period.
As a youth, I was spanked from time to time. I learned nothing about being a better person from it, and certainly nothing about being a better parent. Effective punishment can be meted out in other ways and the line separating discipline from abuse has gotten too easy to cross. I’ve long felt, in fact, that responsibility to circumcise is placed on the father precisely so that he will inflict upon his child a ritualized blow so intense as to make him recoil, yet so controlled that no damage is really done, to signify that this will be the worst the child will ever know from his parent's hand.
This month, New Mexico became the 31st state to ban corporal punishment in schools , though it is still allowed in American homes . Dozens of other nations, including Israel, have abolished corporal punishment in the family. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said: "We want (children) to learn every day in school, but to do that, they must feel safe first. You cannot do your best or concentrate academically if you are scared."
OK, so let’s begin by banning hitting American children, anytime, anywhere.
Even the author of Proverbs itself seems somewhat uncomfortable with that infamous “spare the rod” quote. Elsewhere in the book he says, “Train a child according to his way.”
Did you notice as you sat around the Seder table that nowhere does the Haggadah speak about whapping the Wicked Child into submission? On the contrary, the sages were supremely uneasy about hitting kids, and the Talmud counters “Spare the rod” with gems such as: “Anger in a home is like rottenness in fruit”; “Never threaten children. Either punish them or forgive them”; and,” If you must strike a child, do so only with a shoelace.”
Remember the notorious commandment in Deuteronomy to stone to death a stubborn and rebellious son? According to the Talmud, it was never carried out, as the rabbis went to almost absurd lengths to legislate it out of existence.
So we’ve evolved since biblical times, but we still have a long way to go. Rabbi Mark Dratch points out that many Jewish children, like children everywhere, are the victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Our chief problem is no longer in how we mete out punishment, but how we abuse children even when reprimand isn’t on the agenda. In the Abraham story, the Torah sent a strong moral message opposing the prevailing practice of child sacrifice. Now, parents have found far more subtle ways to humiliate and torture their kids.
Where there was once "the strap," now we have the college admissions process.
Last month my synagogue screened “Race to Nowhere,” a devastating indictment of our achievement culture that has spawned a movement to transform education and safeguard the health of young people. As I watched this sobering film, the troubling questions kept coming, and they’ve been gnawing at me for weeks.
What are we doing to our kids? Are we literally killing them by piling on the homework and constantly demanding more, forcing them to poison their bodies with stress, stimulants and sleep deprivation? Are we killing their souls by giving them no choice but to cheat in order to keep up and by viewing their accomplishments solely from the prism of a college resume or GPA? Are we denying them a real childhood or preparing them for the pressures of the real world? And is all this "teaching to the test" actually robbing them of the ability to think, to intuit and to explore? Are we robbing them of curiosity and creativity - and in doing so, are we robbing this nation of what it says it wants, a generation of young adults who know how to innovate and think for themselves?
We are grinding our children through numbers machines, turning them into little walking computers, squeezing the humanity out of them, willingly sacrificing quality at the altar of quantity, always asking them for more (or as one girl in the film said, she hates the word "and" because no matter how many accomplishments she can rattle off, the response is always "and???")
The Talmud suggests that parents are obligated to teach their children basic survival skills, like how to swim. Instead, too many of us are throwing them to the sharks. So, while your question is well taken, the problem is far deeper than corporal punishment. The moral issue of the moment is not about whether it’s OK to use the paddle on kids in classrooms. It’s that we are forcing them to row upstream without one.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read more Hammerman on Ethics here. Read his blog here
Monday, April 18, 2011
See on Yad Vashem Site: Marking 50 Years Since The Eichmann Trial Youtube Channel containing over 200 hours of trial sessions and testimony
Mini-site with related video, articles, photos and other resources
http://vimeo.com/19538403 - Deborah E. Lipstadt, Tablet.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Recommended by scholar-in-residence Jay Michaelson: Haggadot.com - contains oodles of supplementary materials on all parts of the Seder. This will help you to put together a seder to your liking. See for instance this timely topic, the Four Sons as "Glee" Characters.
See also Jay Michaelson's own take on that same subject.
I also highly recommend the Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach, which I used on Friday night. Chock full of contemporary creative readings for each part of the Seder.
Also, past TBE president Neil Perlman has once again updated his Passover Questions and Explanations, a comprehensive collections of questions - AND ANSWERS - related to the holiday. Simple and accessible, it is a wonderful gateway into the complexities of midrash and Jewish law and philosophy related to the holiday. With a 2011 update. Click here for the pdf
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Q: A friend told me that in Jewish law, breaking Passover is considered as wrong as illicit sex. Can that possibly be true?
A: If you’re insinuating that eating a bagel on Passover is akin to forcibly raping someone, exactly what planet do you live on? I hate to be so direct…no, actually, I like to be direct. But this is precisely what Rabbi Israel Salanter, the great 19th century Jewish ethicist, was concerned about when he toured a matzah factory and was asked what demanded the greatest attention when baking unleavened bread. He replied: “One must be scrupulous not to yell at the woman kneading the dough.”
Sometimes we allow our obsession with Passover correctness to overshadow basic human decency and common sense. There is something almost erotic about a fixation that leads people to do crazy things like dusting every corner of the house, or, in Israel, diverting the entire country’s water supply a week before the holiday to eliminate the possibility of its being “infected” by bread crumbs thrown into the Kinneret by picnickers and fishermen. There have been years when I’ve timed dental visits to have my teeth cleaned for Pesach. So I confess. I’m borderline obsessive too; but I somehow manage to stay on the right side of the border.
The connection between Passover and sex is not accidental, which is one reason why the new innuendo-filled video, “Just Had Hametz,” a takeoff on the popular video, “I Just Had Sex,” has struck such a chord and why everyone giggled a few years ago when Viagra was declared Kosher for Passover. Hametz has often been seen as a metaphor for all things that inflate, including the ego, so in our oversexed era, phallic inferences regarding Hametz are as natural as the spiritual ones drawn by the hasidic masters a few centuries ago. There’s even a site asking whether Facebook is Hametz, because it “represents our over-inflated sense of self.” I wonder whether rabbis would consider it a violation of the holiday to surf the internet for photos of undressed hallah rolls in provocative poses. And what of those dreaded website “cookies” that pollute our hard drives?
Passover is erotic by design. Spring fever excites all the senses. Nature is manic with newness and our noses and tongues are bursting with the pain of chrain. We read “Song of Songs” on the intermediate Shabbat, a love poem so sexy that Rabbi Akiba had to lobby hard to get past the Biblical censors; if today’s Christian and Jewish literalists read it literally, they would surely ban it. Akiba read the Song as an allegory of the passionate courtship between God and Israel that grew out of the liberation from Egypt. The laws of Hametz might be seen as an early test of that relationship, which had yet to be formalized in the covenant that would be drawn up at Sinai a few months later.
So a callous disregard for these laws could be seen as a serious betrayal of divine love, akin to marital infidelity. The rabbinic punishment for incest and adultery is identical to the one for breaking Passover: Karet, literally being “cut off” from relationship – with God, the Jewish people and with life itself. This punishment is said to lead to a premature death and a living hell in the world to come.
All of this makes it somewhat understandable that your friend would compare breaking Passover with sexual indiscretions. But Rabbi Salanter helped us to place it all into perspective. We need to approach Passover in the spirit of moderation; ridding our lives of leavening should not give us such a rise. Let’s lighten up about Passover. Sometimes a shankbone is just a shankbone.
As for me, my guilty pleasure on Passover is not Hametz. It’s Maalox.
From a very different time, though not much later, here's a Passover edition of the popular Boston alternative Jewish newspaper, Genesis 2, from 1971. Thanks to Ken Temple for sharing with me a part of my past. I grew up at a time when the counter culture was just finding its voice, and for young Jews in Boston, Genesis 2 was that voice. And, like Jewish generations before, we found that voice through the rituals of Passover. Read the review of new liberation Haggadahs, and the letter to the editor about a courageous Soviet Jewish dissident who predicted the demise of the Soviet Union by 1984. He was just a few years off.
I've also posted Genesis 2 issues from early April 1972 (women at Rabbinical Assembly demand equality), April 20, 1972 (evaluating the Jewish student movement), March 1971 (the Jewish Defense League on patrol), March 1974 (an excellent discussion of Breira, the grandfather of J Street, and the wisdom of criticizing Israeli policy), and May 1974 )Israel and Palestine: Two Views). And then there's January 1975 (questioning the priorities of Federation allocations).
The more things change.... Finally, my all time favorite: Chronicles: News of the Past. These mock headlines were, I am dead serious, one of the main reason I am what I am today. This Hanukkah gift combined two of my great passions, Jewish history and journalism, in one neat, creative, educational package. I've scanned two of my favorites. First we've got "Prince Moses is a Hebrew," and then, the all time classic, "We Quit Egypt Today." Imagine a newspaper coming out on the day of the Exodus. That's what we have here.
From here on, all the news about Passover will be written in blogs like this, and in viral videos on You Tube. So it's nice, for one last time, to pay tribute to the quaint ways of Passovers past.
Kulanu, meaning “All Together,” is Stamford’s high quality, dynamic and innovative Jewish education program that brings together Jewish teens in grades 8 – 12 from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs and communities within Fairfield County. The Kulanu MOTL trip is the best in the area, as the teens prepare for the trip ahead of time in a Kulanu class, learning about the war, the camps and all the places they’ll visit. It also gives the group and staff an opportunity to bond together before heading off to Poland and Israel.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Read these Passover features: ‘Google Exodus’ tells the Passover tale via tweets, Facebook
Tips for non-Jews at their first Seder
Women take the lead in this Passover quiz
For selections from the JTA archive of Passover stories from the past 90 years, click here
DID YOU KNOW: A CANADIAN GRANDMOTHER RESCUED
TARGUM SHLISHI LAUNCHES FUND-RAISING APPEAL FOR
DOCUMENTARY ABOUT JUDY FELD CARR
April 12, 2011 – The largest rescue of Jews by an individual since World War II was the rescue of over three thousand Syrian Jews from out of virtual bondage in Syria, a country that was extremely oppressive toward Jews. The rescue, which took place from from the mid-1970s until 2001, was accomplished in secrecy by a Canadian grandmother with no particular connections or resources. Over the course of almost thirty years, Judy Feld Carr bribed, ransomed, and smuggled Syria’s Jews to safety. The rescue was the best-kept secret in the Jewish world.
A documentary film, Mrs. Judy’s Secret, is in the works and will tell Feld Carr’s remarkable story for the first time – how she virtually single-handedly negotiated bribes with officials in the Syrian government, created her own smuggling ring for those who could not be ransomed, and one by one, took 3,228 Jews out of Syria to freedom. Not one was caught or killed.
Judy Feld Carr kept meticulous records and has agreed to grant the filmmakers of Mrs. Judy’s Secret unprecedented and exclusive access and to tell her story on film for the first time. The film will also include stories of five of the rescued families, located all over the world, and will trace the oppression of Jews in Syria.
The film needs your help if it is to be realized. Targum Shlishi is providing seed funding for research and development and spearheading this online fundraising effort in the hope of helping the filmmakers raise the necessary funds to complete the film. At this time of shrinking support for the arts, donations from individuals are crucial. And for documentaries, these development-stage funds are absolutely critical. Later in the process, the filmmakers may be able to turn to broadcasters or distributors to help defray significant costs. But at this stage, they will need to rely on the generosity of individuals and foundations who share their belief in the importance of telling this story.
“Telling Judy Feld Carr’s story is critically important on so many levels that we’re taking the unprecedented step of launching this online appeal to raise funds for the project,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “Her story is, first and foremost, an inspiration to us all. It shows us what one person can accomplish. Judy Feld Carr had no advantages in this work. She was one woman, with children and a career, widowed at a young age and then remarried and mothering six children while holding down a job. Today there are Syrian Jewish children all over the world who are named Judy. This film has a top-notch team with a fantastic track record. At this time of year, as we prepare to commemorate the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, I hope that the people who receive this appeal will choose to support this telling of the improbable exodus of the Jews from Syria.”
Mrs. Judy’s Secret is directed by veteran filmmaker Daniel Anker, an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning producer and director whose films include Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, Music from the Inside Out, and Scottsboro: An American Tragedy. It is produced by Susan Berger Sabreen, a multiple Emmy-winning television producer/director and journalist and an attorney.
When asked about her motivation for producing the film, Sabreen says, “Everyone always says ‘Never Again’ and everyone feels bad when there’s persecution against the Jewish community, but most of us don’t actually take action to fix it; often, we don’t even know how. Judy not only reached out on her own to try, which alone impresses me, but she also succeeded. I find it such an inspiring example of how you can accomplish good things in life if you just try hard enough.”
Of her accomplishment, Judy Feld Carr has said, “God works in strange ways…How did I know how to do this? The whole thing is surreal.”
“Everybody does things according to what they are put there for. Everyone can make a difference,” she says.
The film is currently in the development and pre-production stage. Research is scheduled to be completed during the summer, with production to begin in Fall 2011, if necessary funds are raised. Plans are for a wide international broadcast distribution and national festival play, in addition to potential theatrical distribution. It will also have a major educational outreach component that will accompany the release, designed for Jewish community organizations, schools, and universities. While a best-selling book may reach thousands if successful, a documentary film has the potential to reach millions. With a shelf life of many years, it could potentially reach generations to come.
“I can think of no better example of the power of one than Judy Feld Carr,” says Rubin. “I hope that everyone reading this appeal will step up to the plate and exercise their own power to help support this important film.”
To Support Mrs. Judy’s Secret
Mrs. Judy’s Secret is a project of API Arts and Outreach, a 501c3 not-for-profit whose mission is to produce and distribute not-for-profit content including documentary programming. All donations are tax exempt. The filmmakers will make an effort to acknowledge donors online and in their publicity materials. Donors at $10,000 or above are entitled to on-screen credit.
To make an online contribution: http://www.mrsjudyssecret.org/ To mail a donation: Make check out to:
API Arts & Outreach, Inc. - Syria Project
18 West 21st St.
New York, NY 10010
To learn more about the project: www.MrsJudysSecret.org
To contact the production team with questions: e-mail producer Susan Berger Sabreen at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.
Jewish Boston has published a "Holocaust Haggadah Supplement." You can download it here
See AIPAC's Haggadah supplement here, featuring stories highlighting the strong connection between America and Israel.
The Jewish Federations have put out a new "Haggadah of Hope" with links to a large number of source mateirals and recipes
J Street has put together a Passover Seder Supplement called "Ma Nishtana? A New Generation of Voices at the Table," encouraging participants to share thoughts and questions about peace, freedom, Israel, and the future of our community. J Street’s Seder Supplement includes everything you need to open up the conversation on Israel at your seder: quotes from ancient rabbis and young leaders, discussion questions, and suggestions for taking action. Download J Street’s Passover Seder Supplement: Online viewable version Printable version (select double-sided and flip on short-edge).
Masorti has put out "4 Ways to Connect your Seder to Israel" at http://www.masortiworld.org/4ways
Rabbis for Human Rights has put out these haggadah supplements;
Read about the drive to rescue Ethiopian Jews at http://www.stljewishlight.com/news/local/article_525fb6bc-5562-11e0-a96b-001cc4c03286.html
Passover and Human Rights Interfaith Perspectives Haggadah supplement.pdf
Passover, Gaza and Human Rights Haggadah supplement.pdf
Who sits with Us at the Pesach Table Haggadah supplement.doc
Everyone seems to have one - even the Daily Kos has a supplement!
Here's A matzah of Hope for Darfur and the R.A.C.s Passover, Season of Justice
Also see: Rabbi Amy Scheinerman - Egalitarian Haggadah for beginners or families with children
About.com - Complete Hebrew and English Haggadahs
The Velveteen Rabbi - Passover Haggadah
JewishFreeware - Create Your (free) Personal Haggadah
Judaism.com - Digital Haggadah
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman - Egalitarian Haggadah for beginners or families with children
From the Big Green Jewish site's Jewish Global Citizenship Project:
Pesach and the Four Cups of Freedom - this lesson takes the articles detailed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (see them all listed here) and applies it to the Four Children and Four Cups of the Seder. Beautifully done. That same Big Green Site is great on environmental matters too. From the American Jewish World Service, some nice materials:
The Four Children: A Passover Reading - At Passover, we are confronted with the stories of our ancestors’ pursuit of liberation from oppression. Facing this mirror of history, how do we answer their challenge? How do we answer our children when they ask us how to pursue justice in our time?
Why is This Year Different from All Other Years?: A reading for the Four Questions - Designed to be incorporated during the Four Questions section of the Seder, this reading encourages us to infuse the rituals of the Seder with action for a just world.
From the Sources: Pesach - Exploring slavery, freedom and migration during Pesach
Exodus, Freedom and Responsibility - A text-based lesson plan that explores how the Exodus narrative can serve as a model for our own pursuit of justice.
Monday, April 11, 2011
This skit depicts a joint education program devised by the right-wing (yet mainstream) organization Im Tirtzu with the Ministry of Education that helps kindergarten children be prepared for the complicated life in Israel.
|Passover @ TBE Religious School 2011 (Photos by Dan Young)|
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Open publication - Free publishing - More temple beth el
Click below to see photos of the concert, "George's Journey." Photos by Aviva Maller Phototography:
|Cantor's and 90th Anniversary Concert April 9, 2011 (Photos by Aviva Maller Photography)|
From the "What's Up Band" and Jonathan Cahr, a year after their hit Haiti benefit concert here that rasied money for a 10,000 gallon water tower that we helped build is still providing potable water to over 3,000 people in what remains a devastated country.
"Just Had Hametz" a very funny takeoff on an SNL video; here Hametz on Passover is seen as a guilty pleasure. Some of the angry comments on the YouTube site indicate that some people seriously need to lighten up - which is very hard to do with a ton of matzah balls making their way through your intestines.
For Hebrew speakers (even non Hebrew speakers will get the idea) - very funny scenario involving an Arab who is in the Hametz purchasing business. And now you can sell hametz on Facebook.
An Aussie "Who Knows One"
Miriam's Story, told by the Jewish Women's Archive
and last but not least, the one that has really been going around - and for good reason. Brilliantly done.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I have several different kinds of laughs. There’s my nervous laugh, the kind that comes out when I’m on a scary ride or when I’m about to do a Torah reading… Then there’s my laugh when something is really funny, my laugh at myself when I do something dumb, like when I trip on my Uggs, my sneakers, my socks, or just about everything else. So rather than being embarrassed, I laugh.
Sometimes people laugh at their own jokes because they are afraid no one else will. I do that too, and it’s true… people rarely laugh at my jokes. But this really feels good now!
So what in the world does my portion have to do with laughing? Well, nothing. But everything.
You see, my portion talks about disease and how to cure it. And I feel that one of the best ways to help cure someone who is ill is to put a smile on their face.
For my mitzvah project, I collected 100 DVDs, 900 books and five boxes of toys. In total, I had 19 boxes. I brought them to the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx and gave everything to Doctor Rick Abbott, who was the doctor that saved my father’s life six years ago. My dad was diagnosed with a non malignant brain tumor and without Dr. Abbott and his team, my dad wouldn’t be sitting here at my bat mitzvah here today.
I’m sure that everything I gave lifted the spirits of many patients. I know that when I brought the gifts over, the doctors were all smiles. They had a little reception in Dr Abbot’s office and thanked me for everything I had brought. There was lots of laughter and many tears. Laughter and tears always seem to go together.
The disease that is mentioned in my portion is leprosy, which the rabbis compared to gossip because it spreads quickly. In Hebrew, the expression used for gossip is “Lashon ha-ra” – which means literally “bad language.” But what about lashon ha tov? Can good words be healing? They certainly can, and laughter even more. The rabbis said that even simply visiting someone in the hospital can lift their spirits and help them get well.
But laughter is the most contagious thing of all – aside from a yawn. Did you know that people yawn when others yawn because it is an age-old way of showing empathy? Laughter is the same. When someone laughs, the whole room can feel your happiness and everyone’s spirits are then lifted.
Now that I am a bat mitzvah, I hope to be able to share my gift of laughter to make more and more people happy.
If you look at our first TBE bulletin in 1922, you'll see how many things have not changed, what with appeals for greater service attendance and membership recruitment. There were junior services and Sisterhood meetings and, yes, a United Synagogue convention.
But the world has in fact changed radically since then, and over the past decade, that pace of change has intensified almost immeasurably. We have worked hard over the years to keep up with that pace, and, wherever possible, to be ahead of the curve. When it became clear that synagogues had to open their doors to a wide array of Shabbat programming, we were among the pilots to introduce Synaplex. We were at the cutting edge in our movement's drive to be more inclusive of people of all faith backgrounds and sexual orientations. Before informal education was all the rage, we were taking every grade on Shabbatons. While others were still offering boring, hear-a-pin-drop, custom-designed private Bar Mitzvah services, we were able to synthesize the individual needs of the family with the collective goals of community building. We were also a pilot community for Birthright Israel, the JTS Mitzvah Initiative and over the past few years we have led the way in the engagement of Young Professionals and, all along, the use of technology.
Sometimes we are too far ahead of the curve. But I appreciate the fact that our leadership - and the vast majority of the congregation - have bought into the fact that if we aren't constantly looking at what's around the bend, the next generation will suffer the consequences. Even at the risk of the occasional flop, it's always best to keep innovating. People often ask me whether I take flak for some of the "out there" positions I occasionally take. Maybe it's because you're so used to me that you've stopped listening...but I believe it has more to with the congregation's buying in to the vision that I've been articulating for so long, a vision that we constantly are refining together. We simply cannot afford to stagnate. Because we have kept up with the torrid pace of change, we are well situated as we move toward our centennial year.
Take synagogue music, for example - and read this excellent backgrounder on the dramatic transformations that have taken place. The role of cantor, as we once knew it, is now virtually nonexistent, both in the liberal and Orthodox communities. JTS is trying to figure out what to do with its cantorial school. The role is being reinvented as we speak, and few have done that better than Cantor Mordecai. A decade ago, we were among the first congregations to bring Craig Taubman's "Friday Night Live" to the east coast (the first in the New York area) and now, with Cantor Mordecai, we stand at the cutting edge of the next phase of this revolution that is giving Jewish spiritual expression a global beat, authentic, yet very new. This pulsating music was pioneered by B'nai Jeshurun in New York (read about them in that same article) and our deepening partnership with BJ reaches a new level with this Sunday's concert. It is the music that is fueling our growth.
BJ, by the way, has a close affinity with the philosophy of Conservative leaders like Abraham Joshua Heschel, but they long ago left the United Synagogue. The USCJ's new strategic plan, in fact, is designed to lure creative, sacred communities like B'nai Jeshurun back into the fold.
Unfortunately, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, to a large degree, has not kept up with that torrid pace of change. While we are living in a Facebook world, the USCJ still has the feel of our bulletin of 1922. For many years, I have stood behind our continued membership and it has been a lonely position to take at times, especially in an era of economic challenge. This year, we reached the breaking point. In order to pay the significant sums being asked of us, we would have had to abandon, to a degree, our pursuit of excellence. Were USCJ providing excellent service, that would not have mattered, but that has not been the case for some time.
The board's decision came as a last resort after repeated efforts to seek accommodation at a lower rate. A USCJ leader came here to present the organization's new strategic plan. The plan carries hope for significant reform, though many feel it does not go nearly far enough. Rabbis who helped to craft the plan have spoken publicly of their frustration that an opportunity to completely remake the movement was not seized. For the time being, the organization is in disarray, and our board felt that the considerable sums we are being asked to contribute in annual dues might better be invested in pursuing our goals here. There are lots of things we can do to strengthen Conservative Judaism. But what will help the most is what we can do best - be a role model of transformation, a magnet of energy and sanctity for all to see.
Meanwhile, we are still very much engaged with the Conservative movement through its many other arms, including J.T.S., where I serve on the Chancellor's Rabbinic Advisory Council, Masorti, Ramah, the Jewish Educator's Assembly, the Cantors' Assembly, Woman's League and the Rabbinical Assembly. One could say that part of the problem, in fact, is that there are so many avenues to connecting with the movement and no centralized address. But for now, it helps us. We are still most definitely a Conservative congregation in our attachments and philosophy. We are also working more closely with Conservative synagogues in Fairfield County and are planning joint activities for the coming year. Put Sunday, afternoon Sept. 18 on your calendar for the first such event.
A concern that I know others share is for our youth program. I grew up loving USY and long before this decision was made, was mourning the passing of its golden era. USY still does wonderful things, but, like its parent organization, it is a shadow of its former self (in contrast to the movement's other informal educational arm, Camp Ramah, which is independent of USCJ and is thriving). While regional USY affiliation has benefited many of our teens tremendously, including my own, I firmly believe that our youth program will become stronger over the coming year, even though we are now outside the USCJ orbit. Rabbi Dardashti, who will be youth director, comes to us with creative ideas and a desire to engage our teens to generate their own. And she currently serves a congregation that is unaffiliated.
My sense is that this period of disengagement will be relatively brief and I am hopeful that we'll soon be a part of a rejuvenated USCJ, a renaissance that, along with many other thriving Conservative communities, we'll help to inspire. Looking back at that 1922 bulletin, it is striking how the rabbi had to admonish young people to attend Friday night services more often. But that's the model we've come to accept. Jews everywhere think that going to services is like medicine. You gotta take it, but YUCKKK. We are building a new model here. In an era of what Arnold Eisen calls "The Sovereign Self," people pick and choose how to express their Jewish identities - or not. No one affiliates out of simple obligation. If it tastes like medicine, people will spit it out and flock for the exits. Everything we do needs to generate meaning, community and engagement. We need to connect with people of al types on all levels, intellectually and emotionally. I think we are most definitely on the right track.
As we continue to dream and reflect on what it means to build a sacred community, listen to this just-posted TED lecture by David Brooks: The Social Animal. Always insightful and humorous, Brooks offers ideas from his new book that are especially relevant to those whose lives are centered around groups designed to generate meaning, communities, like ours, that are built upon the power of connection and relationship. Let me know what you think.
I've had the honor of serving this congregation for a generation, and I have a great respect for what has come before. We stand on strong shoulders. But I also feel that our best days lie just up the road. In fact, we've reached them as we reach this crossroads. It is impossible to sway and sing at our Kabbalat Shabbat services each week and not think that this is the beginning of a an era where we will make a profound difference in the lives of all whom we touch.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Seder Guests and the Dysfunctional Family
Thursday, April 7, 2011 - Special to the Jewish Week
Q - "I heard from an observant friend that it is inappropriate to invite non Jews to a Seder; but doesn't it also say in the Haggadah, "Let those who are hungry come and eat?" So am I supposed to invite only Jewish homeless and hungry people? Plus, given my strained family dynamics, I think it would be best not to invite any guests at all. What's the ethical thing to do?
A- So you have three questions here. Should you invite guests at all and if so, can you include non-Jews and does your guest list have to include people who have gone hungry? I'm going to answer this more as an ethicist than a halachist (subtle difference) and say, emphatically, Yes, Yes and Yes. If your nuclear family can handle it without detonating, you'll benefit greatly from inviting others to your table. So invite away: Jewish, non-Jewish, hungry, gluttonous, poor, rich, animal, vegetable or mineral. Let the world come to your table on Passover.
While there are some traditional restrictions on inviting non-Jews to a Seder (or, to be more specific, feeding them on a festival) these prohibitions are hard to justify in an open, mixed society such as ours. There is internal logic to it from a halachic standpoint, but it makes no sense in a world where a majority of American Jews have non-Jewish close relatives or friends and where this year's hot new Haggadah is the best selling "Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families," written by a Cokie and Steve Roberts.
Where there is a moral will, there is almost always a halachic way. Rabbinic authorities have long recognized the importance of having peaceful relations with Gentile neighbors and many have grappled mightily to find ways to be more inclusive on this issue. Sometimes those non-Jewish neighbors are prime ministers and presidents; Israeli embassies have found legal loopholes to overcome this obstacle in inviting non Jewish guests to their seders. If your Seder is in the White House, are you going to tell the President to eat in the kitchen? But for observant Jews, the problem remains.
I've often shared my Seder with non-Jews, including Christian clergy, and there is no better opportunity for the kind of powerful dialogue that invariably strengthens both the identity of the Jews sitting around the table and the perception of Judaism in the eyes of the others. It's also nice to invite Jews who have no other place to go, especially those who might be down on their luck. The Talmud recounts how Rav Huna would open his gate and say, before every meal (not just on Passover), "Whoever is in need, let them come and eat (Ta'anit 20b)." This holiday forces us to recall that we were strangers in Egypt, and the Torah commands us to love the stranger for that very reason. Contributing to a Passover food drive could substitute for an actual invitation.
In our day, with families so scattered, the Seder has become an opportunity for family members to come together to reaffirm their Jewish roots. Awkward dynamics can turn that into a toxic experience, which may make the Seder table a danger zone for guests. But sometimes the presence of a neutral party can keep ornery Uncle Joe, bigoted brother Bernie and flatulent Aunt Fannie on their best behavior (except for maybe Fannie). Only you know whether the toxicity is just too great to be overcome by the presence of an unwitting referee.
If that is the case, if your family implodes at the drop of a matzah ball, some intervention is in order. Or a trip to the Catskills - alone. Otherwise, open your doors wide. There's no better way to transform just another painful domestic dinner into a night different from all other nights.
“A place of prayer for all people”
April 7, 2011
By Deborah Blausten, London
In the daily Amidah my siddur contains the following words, echoing Isiaiah 56:7 ותכין אותה למקום תפילה לכל-העמים ‘prepare her as a place of prayer for all people’ as part of the blessing for Jerusalem. Never before have I said them with the sincerity that I found myself saying them with on Tuesday morning, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, as I joined the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. Arriving alone at the Kotel at 7am in a haze of drizzle, my kippah stowed away under a trilby and my tallit tucked into my handbag, long sleeved, pencil-skirted I passed through security in a throng of seminary girls. As I reached the women’s section and slid in behind the growing WOTW minyan, greetings of ‘chodesh tov’ and ‘welcome’ and smiles reminded me I was among friends. Hat off, tallit out, this was no place for disguises.
Something that has always struck me about WOTW, right from my first encounter with them nearly 5 years ago at the age of 16 is the sheer fearless determination of the women. This month we saw that resolve and bravery tested once again as police threatened the prayer leaders with barring from the kotel and arrest, arbitrarily confiscated marker pens from one participant, and a ‘gesture’ from the police of looking after the Torah to protect it from the rain ended up with the Torah being nowhere to be found. Even the police camera man, zooming in on the faces of the women and filming the entire proceedings was not allowed to dampen spirits; indeed some of the group did a fair job of taking photos of him as well and they can be found here:
I’ve been thinking about WOTW quite a lot over the past year as I’ve attended solidarity gatherings in London and I ran a session about them at Limmud UK this past December. Many of my friends have asked me why the Women of the Wall don’t give up, why they don’t accept that in this case the rule of religious law reigns supreme and stop ‘causing trouble’. My answer, renewed by another morning shared with a very special group of individuals, is defiantly that the women are not causing trouble. There is nothing more natural or more authentic than a group of Jews who wish to share together in a collective expression of their faith. The same women on the women’s side who told me that they would pray for my soul as I joined the group and scowled, tutted and pointed as we prayed, batted no eyelids at the far greater affront to their Jewish practice that several men on the women’s side of the mechitzah presented.
Rabbi Uri Regev once taught a group I was in that there are two kinds of Jews, those who move towards God and those who move away from God. The other labels we may give ourselves, liberal, feminist, orthodox, egalitarian, progressive etc are simply vehicles through which you can travel in one of these directions (indeed one can use the same label to travel both to and from God). The Women of the Wall are seeking one thing only, the journey towards God, to be a living breathing echo of the words of Isaiah with which I opened. I wonder if those who endeavour to stand in their way in the name of religion can claim with integrity to be on that path as well?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
ZEEK: Articles: "We Are Not Like Them": Itamar Massacre Activates A Dangerous Israeli-Jewish Ethnocentrism
Interviewer: “So are we like the Palestinians now?”
“No, there is a huge difference. They have no problem issuing such photos a few minutes after the incident, without asking the family and without blurring anything out. It is also needless to say that, in some cases, fabricated images are released too.”
In the field of psychology, the idea that groups in conflict have an inverted image of one another falls under the rubric of Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT stipulates that people strive to achieve/maintain a positive self-image, and that their sense of self-esteem is derived from both personal and social identity. Their social identity, to the degree that it’s positive, comes about from a perception of group accomplishments, but also from favorable comparisons with an out-group. In other words: “We are great because we are better than them,” or, “We are great because we are not them.” In times of group conflict, this dynamic is often exacerbated, increasing both in-group favoritism and out-group hostility.
..... A number of people on the left blamed it on the occupation and/or the settlers themselves. The settlers, the argument went, are responsible for putting their children in harm’s way and for oppressing the Palestinians. As blogger Richard Silverstein put it: “Do I wish Itamar’s residents to be ‘targets for brutal violence?’ No. But the fact is that they make themselves a target not only by living there but by engaging in brutal acts of violence and murder against surrounding Palestinian villages and international human rights workers who support them.”
Many on the right alternated between dispositional and situational explanations. Some blamed it on the workings of Amalek (the eternal and implacably evil spiritual enemy of the Jewish people), while others on Palestinian and Israeli (left-wing) incitement. David Wilder, a spokesman for the Jewish settlers in Hebron, wrote that the real blame lies with the Jewish leaders and public who have turned their backs on the settlers: “The source of incitement leading to the butchering of the Fogel family are Jewish leaders who are willing to again abandon our land and our people, ‘returning’ all the heavily Arab-populated cities in Judea and Samaria to monkeys dressed up as people.” Unfortunately, such dehumanizing language characterized a great deal of the discourse following the massacre. Talkbacks abound with noxious statements such as: “It’s a natural reaction of bloodthirsty animals. Muslims celebrate death just as we celebrate life.”
Read more of this important article
NORWALK – Lieba and Steve Lander of Stamford will be honored by the Norwalk Chapter of Hadassah at a fundraiser to be held on Sunday, May 22 at the home of Sharon and Ken Sobel in Wilton.
The Landers moved to Norwalk in 1969 shortly after their marriage, when Steve Lander took the position of youth director at the Norwalk Jewish Community Center. They have worked side-by-side as volunteers ever since.
Lieba served as Women’s Division chair of Norwalk UJA Federation during the same two-year period that Steve served as campaign chair. While Steve worked at the Stamford JCC – first as youth director and later as program director and then executive director – Lieba volunteered at the agency, helping in programming and fundraising. While Lieba served as president of Congregation Beth El Norwalk Sisterhood, Steven served as President of Beth Israel Synagogue. The two also served together on the board of Congregation Beth El.
In 1975, Steve left the JCC to found Amazing Stores along with David Lenore. In 2000, he returned to Jewish communal work as executive director of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford. For the past four years he has served as the executive director of Temple Beth El in Stamford.
For the past 16 years, Lieba has served as a teacher in the Gan Yeladim Preschool in Stamford, where for the past two years she has also served as resource coordinator. Previously, Lieba worked in infection control at Norwalk Hospital and as department manager at Amazing Stores.
Long active in Hadassah, Lieba recently completed a three-year term as region president of the Connecticut Region of Hadassah, after having served in many positions on the organization’s board. She also served as president of the Norwalk chapter for several terms and as fundraising vice president, program vice president and Young Judaea chair of the Norwalk Chapter. She is now nominated for a three-year elected term on the National Board.
In addition to her volunteer work at Hadassah, Lieba has served on the board of Family and Children’s Agency and worked closely with its adoption program. She currently volunteers with Friendship Circle of Chabad in Stamford. Steve has served on the board of the Human Services Council.
Among their many tributes, the couple were honored by Israel Bonds; Steve was honored by Catholic Family Services, American Red Cross and American Cancer Society; and last year, Lieba was honored as Woman of the Year by Chabad of Stamford.
Hadassah runs in their family. Steve’s mother served as president of the CT Valley Chapter of Hadassah and their daughter Deborah is now serving her third year as president of her Hadassah chapter in Kfar Saba, Israel.
Steven and Lieba have three children, Joshua and daughter-in-law Jill, Deborah and son-in-law Omry, and Karen; and three grandchildren, Ari, Evan and Eliav.
For further information on the Lander’s tribute contact Michelle Fanwick or (203) 834-1616 or Ellen Donen, or 203-847-5667.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Would we be arguing about the nature of free speech vs. incitement?
Would we be passively accepting that this man continues to go free? See the ADL website for a good backgrounder on Jones and his scary ministry.
The ADL has also expressed concern about anti Muslim bigotry, a fact noted in this backgrounder in the American Muslim.
But where is the hue and cry?
What if it had been a Torah?
Note that I am not connecting this to the horrific murders in Afghanistan. Nothing justifies that. But Jones' act is a hate crime in and of itself.
It was just my luck to get this portion!!!! All this stuff about disease and especially leprosy…not the easiest portion to talk about!
But actually, the portion is perfect for me – not that I have leprosy! What’s interesting is that while the portion speaks about disease, the person who cares for the patient is not a doctor. Instead, he’s a priest – a Cohen – who does the healing. The Cohen was like the doctor of those times, but healing wasn’t purely medical. The main ingredient was to take the patients who were isolated, to purify them and prepare them to come back to their community. It was the priest’s job above all to bring them home.
Speaking of healing and bringing people home, it’s fitting that my favorite TV show is a program about a doctor named “House.” But Dr. House is the exact opposite of the Cohen. The Cohen is not a doctor or a scientist and can’t cure diseases, but he cares about the patient. House on the other hand, is a doctor, but he hates interacting with patients and prefers dealing with diseases. Some have compared him to Sherlock Holmes. For House, the patient doesn’t matter. It’s the disease that challenges him, not the person who has it.
He’s not a very nice guy.
As the show has continued, we’ve found out more about why Dr. House is so obnoxious. As much as he finds cures for others, his patients and co-workers are helping to cure him – they continually help him to grow and be a better person.
In a strange way, Dr. House is inspiring me. I want to be a neurologist because of my interest in this show. I also love animals and may want to be a vet. Either way I want to help heal others and bring them back to the community.
For my mitzvah project, I’ve been volunteering at a local animal hospital, where I’ve gotten to see the vets help the animals and try to diagnose their illnesses. One time, I even saw a cat go into cardiac arrest. I was stunned to see it. The doctors immediately put a cat oxygen mask on the animal and pumped air into its lungs. Thankfully the cat started to breathe again and when I went home, he was doing better. This incident confirmed my desire to heal others – people and animals – as my life’s work.
But being a lawyer would be my backup!!
The other half of my mitzvah project is to collect food to send to Jewish soldiers for Passover. In that way, I’ll help them to feel at home – much like the Cohen helped leprosy patients find their way back home. So much of what it takes to heal is all about reaching out and bringing people home – back to the “House,” so to speak. Passover is a great time to do that – to bring people together and make them feel at home.
As I become a bat mitzvah, I hope to bring some healing to the world, to help people feel at home even when they’re not, to be able to cure disease and to love the patient too –whether or not I can heal them.
Why is the Seder so educationally sound?
1) It is multi-generational
2) NO TESTING, therefore, no teaching to the test. The lessons are learned through annual repetition and experiential activities.
3) It is done by the family - at home - and not at school. The parents are fully engaged as educators
4) Participation is individualized, according to the needs and abilities of all students (the Four Children)No child is ever left behind.
5) Through dramatic reenactments and visual aids (seder plate and those plagues bags), the lesson comes alive. We are THERE 6
) Food - 'Nuff said
7) It is decidedly low-tech. No distractions
8) A little wine can't hurt - but all is done in moderation
9) Games and rewards - bribery is a good thing. 1
0) Time Management skills are taught. It's a long lesson but you have to finish eating by midnight.
11) Music always helps. S
ee the packet for more details.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
|2011 7th Grade Class Wedding (photos by Dan Young)|