Friday, May 18, 2012

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 18

Shabbat Shalom

This is a big season for honoring cherished members of our TBE family.  This week I had the pleasure of attending the regional Women's League dinner (held here), Kulanu graduation and JCC Annual Meeting, at which many TBE members were honored or elevated to leadership positions.  On Sunday I'll be attending the Bi Cultural dinner.  Plus, there's our own Religious school closing session and, on Wednesday at 6, the Aliyah Service for our 7th graders.  Mazal tov to all!


This month has been set aside by Taglit-Birthright Israel as a celebration of its Bar Mitzvah year.  Over 150 congregations from 42 states  will be participating in Birthright Shabbats, including us.  It is an anniversary worth celebrating, because nothing has changed the landscape of Jewish peoplehood over the past decade more than these free 10-day trips to Israel.  More than 300,000 young Jewish adults from 54 countries have experienced Birthright Israel, and studies show that the impact of on their life trajectories has been profound, particularly among those from less engaged Jewish backgrounds.  Birthright alums are much more connected to Israel than their counterparts and much more connected to the Jewish community. 

Click here to see my column on how Birthright has changed Jewish life in obvious and not so obvious ways, and the lessons it has taught us.  By far the biggest impact of Birthright Israel is that it has proven, once and for all, that no Jew should ever be written off

Back in 1999, the organizers of the program debated whether to focus on those still in high school or those over 18. I was one of those who felt that a highly subsidized high school trip was a far better investment than a 10 day college quickie.  Catch them before they leave the coop, I figured, so that their parents and rabbis can reinforce the message of peoplehood when the teens come home. Once they are in college, it's too late to reel them in, I thought.

I was wrong.

Birthright ended the "outreach" vs. "inreach" debate  for all time.  Game, set and match.  Outreach wins.

Ten days is all it takes.

Birthright is the 21st century version of the sage Hillel's conversion program.  He accomplished it all while standing on one foot. But then he added, "Go and study." 

The challenge, then, is one we face after any Bar Mitzvah.  We've got to keep them engaged and interested.  But Birthright Israel has given the Jewish community a precious gift - just when we thought they were gone for good, we've got another chance to reach out to them and welcome them home.  Ten days can ignite a flame.  All we've got to do is keep it burning.

Our community is proud to have one of ten pilot communities for the program.  We helped to get it off the ground, and what a difference it has made!  Click here to see why.

As part of the celebration of the Israel experience, at tonight's service we'll hear from five of our teens who have recently visited Israel on the "March of the Living" and "Write on For Israel" programs: Emilie Pollack, Lauren Pollack, Rachel Cohen, Sophie Koester and Brandon Temple.

Join us this evening at 7:30 and the Birthright conversation continues on Shabbat morning!


There has been considerable consternation about the recent New York Times front page expose of how child sex abuse cases are handled in Ultra Orthodox communities. Although this scandal has been discussed for years in the Jewish media, many were shocked to read how informants are routinely shunned and victims banned from reporting abuse to the authorities.  Anti-Semitic websites have had a field day, comparing this Jewish "code of silence" to the Mafia's. 

The Times article correctly pinpoints an obscure rabbinic prohibition as a major source of the problem:

"While some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that a child molester should be reported to the police, others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah, the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name."

It is important to emphasize that most rabbinic authorities concur that Judaism has no place for the protection of sexual predators.  Even for those who might otherwise support mesirah, the prohibition does not apply when there is a perceived public menace.  As Rabbi Moses Isserles states in his gloss to the Shulchan Arukh"A person who attacks others should be punished. If the Jewish authorities do not have the power to punish him, he must be punished by the civil authorities."

Click here to read about the biblical root of this dangerous concept and why I feel it is time to declaw it, so that Mesirah may never again be used to justify the protection of those who inflict suffering on innocent children.


I am proud to announce our first-ever live birth at our Shorashim nursery school. No we are not promising that all students in our program will graduate "Medical School Ready," but at 2:45 yesterday the students did get  to witness a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.  We don't know the sex, weight or length, but baby and students are all doing fine.

And while we are at it, Shorashim has also birthed a new website as of...right now! I was just the first one to click on it!  Go to or simply visit our website's home page and click on the sunflower.  Tell your friends about our exciting new addition and find out why we are so proud of our newborn nursery school.

See you Shabbat - and at Saturday's night's Comedy Night!

Shabbat Shalom (and Happy Birthday Mara! J)

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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