Friday, July 1, 2011

Shabbat-O-Gram for July 1

Today is the first of July and tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh Tammuz. The Hebrew and secular calendars synchronize as all nature seems to be harmonizing on this beautiful day. Join us for our first Outdoor Service to actually be held outdoors, this evening at 6:30, here at TBE. We'll be missing Cantor Mordecai this Shabbat, and next week our places will be reversed, as I'll be embarking on a vacation that will take me, among other locales, to South Africa.

So, you ask, what do rabbis do on vacation? Read this entertaining response, "For rabbis on vacation, it's not easy to get away from it all." Anyway, I'll do my best to get away and in doing so conceal my secret identity. Meanwhile, I'm leaving the store in excellent hands. As of today, all hands are on deck, in fact, as we welcome our new Director of Community Engagement, Rabbi Michelle Dardashti. We'll officially welcome her at our "Borechu and Barbecue" service next month, but you'll have ample opportunity to welcome her less formally between now and then.

But this is the last you'll be hearing from me for a while, unless you are one of the many who have friended me on Facebook. If you haven't, I want to be your friend! Really! My Facebook and Twitter buddies will get the inside scoop on my comings, goings and reflections over the summer, and maybe some photos as well.

This week, I've been reflecting a lot on New York State's passage of the Gay Marriage bill. See my thoughts on the Jewish Week site, Gay Marriage: A Moral Choice? In the few hours since it was originally posted, it has already been generating significant interest.

I've also been reflecting on other serious matters including the ethics of rabbis offering college students alcohol at Shabbat dinners (see Shots on Shabbat: Hammerman on Ethics).

Last week marked five years in captivity for Gilad Shalit and there was much coverage of the anniversary. Some focused on the International Red Cross's assertive protest against the Hamas government in Gaza for not allowing single visitation. In Israel, two dozen celebrities secluded themselves in a mock jail cell for one hour each in sympathy with the Israeli captive. What may have slipped you is the increasingly strident tone Shalit's father has adopted in his criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

A little excursus: The Prime Minister, who has done many positive things, has now become untouchable in the eyes of many in the American Jewish establishment, where criticism of the Israeli government is sometimes equated with a lack of support for Israel. A prime example of this is the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, whose vilification of all things J-Street has lately been extended to those who associate with them and other dovish Jewish groups, from the new head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, to most recently, the Hartford JCRC, which recently hosted Israeli politician and diplomat Colette Avital in partnership with J-Street. See the relevant articles on that topic here, here, here, here,here and for an opposing view, here. Fortunately, we now have numerous alternative ways of gaining information about Israel, with a diversity of views, and we don't have to rely on our only in state Jewish newspaper.

End of excursus.

Back to Noam Shalit, who should be heard if we are to take the "Free Gilad" efforts seriously. Israelis have agonized over the fact that the current price for Gilad's freedom would be the release of many terrorists who could potentially strike again. A valid point. Noam Shalit's response is that releasing terrorists will not alter Israel's strategic position one iota. He is claiming that it is disingenuous for Netanyahu to say, on the one hand, that Israel is capable of defending itself, with a security fence that has successfully all but ended the danger of suicide attacks, and on the other hand, be claiming that a few exiled terrorists pose a mortal threat. It's interesting to see how the Israeli right wing now is beginning to vilify him as he loses his sacred cow status over there. I'm not saying that Noam Shalit is right. I'm just saying that his views are worthy of dialogue.

That dialogue exists in Israel, every day. It needs to happen here, without fear and recrimination. We've managed to do that here this year, and I'm exceedingly proud of the wide window of programming we've offered on the subject of Israel and the changing Middle East. What other congregation could boast that it brought in Alan Dershowitz, Jeremy Ben-Ami and Ari Fleischer, all in the same year? Plus, we had a nice group join us at the AIPAC Policy Conference (a number that we want to grow next year) and we've heard from other speakers as well. On that subject, mark your calendars for Thursday, Sept. 22, when the Hoffman Lecture special guest will be Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, with topic: "Revolution and Turmoil in the Middle East: What's Changed? What Hasn't? And What Does it Mean?"

Israel will be even more of a priority for us this coming year, as I hope to and we are now sketching out plans for a congregational trip next summer. Let me know if your family is interested.

As we all depart for summer climes, a special thank you to Eileen Rosner, whose presidential term expires this week. She has been a fantastic president, beloved by all. No one is more dedicated to this congregation. I also congratulate Peter Kempner as he steps up to the presidency, offering tremendous leadership and energy. Thank you to my fellow professionals here, a true "Dream Team" that has just gotten dreamier. I hear whispers, BTW, that the first two year-old class of our Shorashim program, set to open this fall, is now just about at capacity. The expression "waiting list" is music to my ears. Special thanks to Ronnie Brockman, Al Treidel, Steve Lander and the early childhood committee for all their hard work (and see Ronnie's new blog entry My Alll Time Favorite Thing to Plant with Children). Thanks also to Cantor Mordecai for a spectacular first year. And I welcome new board members who are now beginning their terms. They - and you - are what makes Temple Beth El a very special place.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Fourth!

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