Friday, January 27, 2012

Shabbat O Gram for January 27

Since I'll be away this Shabbat at a family Bar Mitzvah, let me be the first to offer a Yasher Koach to all who will be participating in this weekend's Sisterhood Shabbat. I've no doubt that it will be as great as always. Special thanks to event chairs Denise Greenman and Linda Hempel Braun and to Suzanne Stone for her d'var Torah. Plus, thanks to Stacey Essenfeld, our Sisterhood president, and all those involved in Sisterhood - and to the Men's Club for providing lunch. I look forward to hearing great things about the service when I get home.

Despite last week's ill-timed snow storm, our 5 and 6th graders (plus kids other local Conservative synagogues) enjoyed a super Shabbaton, thanks in large part to enthusiastic staff from Camp Ramah. A great time was had by all.

Since I won't be here to deliver a d'var Torah in person this week, a few comments about the portion, Bo, beginning with a story:

An elderly lady gets onto a crowded bus and stands in front of a seated young girl. Holding her hand to her chest, she says to the girl, "If you knew what I have, you would give me your seat."

The girl gets up and gives her seat to the old lady.

It's hot. The girl then takes out a fan and starts fanning herself. The woman looks up and says, "If you knew what I have, you would give me that fan." The girl gives her the fan, too.

Fifteen minutes later the woman gets up and says to the bus driver, "Stop, I want to get off here." The bus driver tells her he has to drop her at the next corner, not in the middle of the block. With her hand across her chest, she tells the driver, "If you knew what I have, you would let me off the bus right here." The bus driver pulls over and opens the door to let her out.

As she's walking out of the bus, he asks, "Madam, what is it you have?"

The woman looks at him and nonchalantly replies, "Chutzpah."

Our portion might not contain the world's first example of Chutzpah but it certainly was an example that created a significant model of behavior for future generations, and for us. How do you define Chutzpah? Well, if you live in ancient Egypt, Chutzpah is when your God orders you to purchase an animal that is also the symbol of the Egyptian god, to slaughter it in public, and then paint your doorposts with its blood. How do you think your Egyptian neighbors are likely to respond? What do you think will happen if this Exodus thing falls through? What kind of chutzpah might it take to follow through with such an act - and to have 600,000 of your closest friends and relatives do it too?

That is exactly what the Israelites did. They proved that they deserved to be free with a supreme act of courage - and premeditated insolence. They passed the Chutzpah test. To this day, every Jewish child retakes this test each year, when asked to bring pieces of very crumby unleavened bread to school during the intermediate days of Passover and then to explain to their friends and teachers why they are refraining from Ring Dings that week. It takes Chutzpah to be different.

So this portion is teaching us that the Jewish people came into being not through an act of divine salvation but through a human demonstration of Chutzpah. It takes Chutzpah to believe in simple values when the materialistic society around us worships at any number of golden calves. It takes Chutzpah - or in Heschel's words, "Spiritual Audacity" - to believe that there is meaning beyond absurdity. And it takes real Chutzpah to plant a tree in the middle of the winter. Who ever heard of such craziness? But that's what Jews will do, in a little over a week, on Tu Bishvat. The groundhog may run the other way, but we will plant trees - or at least pay for them to be planted in Israel. We have the Chutzpah to believe that someday soon, those trees will begin to grow.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for January 20

We have lots of guests coming to TBE this Shabbat. 

Each year for the past few decades, dozens of TBE congregants participate in the preparation, delivery and serving of Christmas Eve dinners at local homeless shelters.  It’s not just a one-time thing, as we service the needy of our community throughout the year, including monthly lunches served at New Convenant House food drives for Person to Person and numerous mitzvah projects supporting the Food Bank and other organizations.  But once Christmas Eve comes and goes, many of us tend to push the issue of homelessness to the back burner. 

On Friday night we welcome Carol Walter, Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.  In 2011, over 13,693 adults and children were homeless in Connecticut; and 4,451, including 531 children, managed each day without a place to call home.  During times of economic stress and plunging temperatures, we need to better understand what is happening and how we can help.  Carol comes to us from upstate, but her roots are right here at Beth El.  Carol’s grandparents were founders of TBE and, as she puts it, her favorite aunt was Claire Redniss, of blessed memory, who passed away not long ago. 

Carol will be speaking at the conclusion of tonight’s 7:30 PM Kabbalat Shabbat service.

That’s’ not all…

On Shabbat morning, Rabbi Yonatan Yussman will be giving the d’var Torah at our main service, which will be held in the chapel this week.  Rabbi Yussman is the new Head of School of the Jewish High School of Connecticut, which, in its second year, is making a huge impact on our community.

And there’s more…

This Shabbat we’ll also be welcoming staff from Camp Ramah in New England, who will be running programming for our grade 5,6 and 7 Shabbaton.  We’ll also be welcoming students from other Conservative synagogues in Fairfield County.  So our building will be buzzing throughout this Shabbat.

On Shabbat morning, Shabbaton attendees will participate in our Family Service for grades 2nd and up.  Since the Ramah staffers will be participating in the program, along with Rabbi Dardashti and Cantor Mordecai, it gives our families a chance to see the Ramahniks in action and, afterwards, to ask them about the flagship camp of the Conservative movement.  Ramah has always been close to my heart.  I was a camper and staff member there, sent my son Dan there, and even met Mara there!  Camp Ramah has become one of the enduring success stories of the Conservative Movement.  Kids love it!

And speaking of my sons… Ethan, a junior at Brown, has gotten involved in a new project, an app that will change how people follow sports online. It will be launched this week and you can join me in beta testing it by clicking here.  Perfect timing for the local sports-crazed populace, salivating at the possibility of a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl rematch.

Finally, as Oscar season approaches, this week’s portion of Va’era has some fascinating ties to last year’s Oscar Winning film, “The King’s Speech” on the topic of leadership.  You recall that Moses was “slow of speech and slow of tongue,” in other words, a stutterer.  You can read about it (and other aspects of this portion) here.

Shabbat Shalom – and enjoy the expected snow!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for January 13

This weekend we commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

On the evening of March 25, 1968, ten days before he was killed, Dr. King appeared at the sixty-eighth annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly.  He was presented to the Assembly by Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, his comrade in the Civil Rights struggle of the '60s (whose yahrzeit is today).  Read the transcript of that Conversation with Martin Luther King, as recorded in the journal "Conservative Judaism."  Also see To Birmingham and Back, an eyewitness account from a rabbi who participated in those historic events.

On Friday night, we'll be honored to host an old friend to so many of us, Rev. Ann Schmidt.  At the conclusion of the service, which will be led this week by myself and Steve Leiterstein, with Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper delivering a brief d'var Torah, Ann will discuss the medical and spiritual impact of her recent heart transplant surgery.  From the conversations I've had with her during this very trying period, I know just how moving and profound her words will be.  Please join us tonight, at 7:30 in the lobby.

Last November, the Jewish Home in Fairfield organized an Israel trip like none other, taking several nonagenarians on the trip of a lifetime.  Among them was Leslie Novis, who turns 91 this weekend.  Making the trip extra special for Leslie was the fact that his granddaughters Gaby and Marley Baum participated in a service at the Kotel, where Gaby became Bat Mitzvah and Marley, too young to be Bat Mitzvah, also celebrated by participating in the event.  Click here to see a lovely photo of Gaby, Marley and Leslie.  This Shabbat morning, all three will be participating in the service, as we will have the chance to celebrate with them and welcome them home.

Also on Shabbat morning, we'll begin the book of Exodus by reading the portion Sh'mot, which means names.  At its beginning, the portion lists the names of those who descended to Egypt with Jacob, leading to a description of the astounding growth of the fledgling nation and the decision of a new pharaoh, one who did not know Joseph, to enslave them.  But in fact the most important name revealed in the portion is that of God - the four letter name by which God introduces Godself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:15.  We'll talk about that name in greater detail - along with other names we have for God - on Shabbat morning.  You can get a preview of the
 Parsha packet here.

In his appearance before the Rabbinical Assembly in 1968, Dr. King said something that is as true now as it was then:

"The   fact  is  that   we  are  tied  together  in  an  inescapable  network  of  mutuality.  Whether we like  it  or  not  and  whether   the  racist  understands it  or not,  our  music,  our  cultural patterns, our  poets, our material prosperity and  even  our  food,  are  an  amalgam  of  black  and  white,  and there  can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that  does not ultimately  intersect white routes.  There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not recognize the necessity of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and justice."

Let us take that thought into this special weekend, wherever we may be.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From Generation to Generation

Together with their grandfather, Leslie Novis, who celebrates his 91st birthday this weekend, Gaby and Marley Baum will be coming up to the Torah this Shabbat, as they did in Jerusalem last November, where they joined a group of seniors traveling in Israel with the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield.   

Friday, January 6, 2012

2 Israeli hotels in 'Conde Nast' Top 10

The Inbal in Jerusalem was named one of the top ten Best in the World Middle Eastern hotels by Conde Nast. And we're staying there on our TBE Israel Adventure this summer!
2 Israeli hotels in 'Conde Nast' Top 10

Read the mouth-watering review:

The neo-Byzantine landmark made of Jerusalem stone sits in a former olive grove in the Talbieh district, overlooking Liberty Bell Park. Rooms are decorated in muted cream and honey hues and have marble and glass furnishings; anticipate “unmatched views of the Old City from the huge private terraces of the suites.” “Probably the best food in the city” includes “an excellent breakfast buffet” at Carmel Restaurant. Grilled meat is the specialty at Splash Pool Bar.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for January 6, 2012

Shabbat Shalom!
Welcome to 2012.  If you are missing the snow (personally, I'm not), you need to head on out to Israel's winter wonderland.  And while you are visiting the Israel 21c site, you might want to take a look at the top 10 science stories of 2011 and see why Tel Aviv was named one of the world's most creative cities.  After seeing all that, you might just want to take a look at the TBE Israel Adventure's NEW interactive itinerary.  We've tweaked it a bit, based on the wish list of those who are planning on joining us.  The group is coalescing, so now is the time to sign up!

When the film "Defiance" came out a couple of years ago, it was hailed as the prototype for a new type of Holocaust movie, one where the Jews fight back.  But unlike fantasy films like "Inglorious Basterds," this story is 100 percent true.  On Saturday evening, we'll not only watch the film, but we'll be hearing from Alan Bell of the famous Bielski family, who will introduce the film and then discuss it afterwards. Parents are advised that the film is rated R (primarily for violence), but I would personally recommend it to for most teenagers, accompanied by parents.

Join us for tonight's (Thursday) Comparative Religions class at 7:30.  We've had over 30 people at each of the first two sessions.  Tonight we'll be engaging in dialogue with a local Muslim Imam, Kareem Adeeb, comparing Judaism and Islam.  Even if you missed the first two sessions, feel free to join us tonight, or next week, when we will be in dialogue with Rev. Kate Heichler, comparing Judaism with Christianity.

And join us for services this Shabbat, both Friday night in the lobby (welcome back to Cantor Mordecai!) and Shabbat morning in the chapel (and our Torah for Tot service at 11:15 in the triple classroom).  Todah rabbah to Beth and Robert Golove for sponsoring the Kiddush in honor of their son Austin recently becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  Austin, grandchild of Fred and Sandy Golove, was a student in our religious school until his family moved to Long Island last year.  As he was leaving, I told him that we would be honored to have the chance to celebrate with him here at some point.  This weekend is that point.  So welcome back Austin!

Finally, this coming week, on Tevet 18 (Thursday night and Friday) we commemorate theyahrzeit of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who died in 1973.  Fittingly, within the next week we are also expecting to receive back from the printer an updated version of our service guide, with 32 added pages, including meditations, readings, explanations, transliteration of key prayers and most of all, lyrics to many of the new songs that Cantor Mordecai has brought to us over the past year and a half.  The enhanced guide is one way in which we hope to make our service experience more accessible, relevant and meaningful to people with a wide variety of backgrounds and spiritual leanings.  We are deeply indebted to Norma and Milton Mann for their continued sponsorship of this essential project.

Heschel challenged the synagogue of his day, which he felt was drifting into irrelevance. He wrote:

"Has the synagogue become the graveyard where prayer is buried?  Are we, the spiritual leaders of American Jewry, members of a burial society?  There are many who labor in the vineyard of oratory; but who knows how to pray, or how to inspire others to pray?  There are many who can execute and display magnificent fireworks; but who knows how to kindle a spark in the darkness of a soul?    

As we celebrate the memory of this inspirational man, we strive here to ignite that spark in the soul of each and every person who passes through our doors and joins us in prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman