Friday, February 15, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 15

Shabbat Shalom and happy President's Day weekend (which reminds me to remind you that morning minyan is at 9 AM on Sunday AND Monday).  It will be nice to get back to a regular Shabbat schedule after being snowed out last weekend.  Join us for services at 7:30 this evening (and Tot Shabbat before).  

Honoring President's Day, I suggest you read George Washington's historic letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island.... where he speaks of "a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance - but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience..."

Also, since many will be away next week, an anticipatory Happy Purim!  Our Shorashim nursery school students just visited me all decked out in great costumes - see above and many more photos in our new Purim @ TBE album.

Join us for our Purim for Adults next Sat night at 8 PM, where we'll be partaking of our Bar-Mitzvah (it's a mitzvah to have a fully stocked bar on Purim) and enjoying some made for TV Purim parodies, like "Sex and the Walled City," "Extreme Makeover: Her Majesty's Edition," "Curb Your Anti-Semitism," "Persian Idol," and "The Biggest Faster."  
And on Sunday the 24th, come to our family Megilla reading and Carnival at 10, PJ Library at 9.

Love and Death: Burying Conflict, Burial Societies and 2 Obscure Fast Days

Although Valentine's Day is behind us, you might want to catch up on why I think it's not only OK for Jews to celebrate Valentine's Day, it fits perfectly into the Jewish calendar, especially this year, when we are also closing in on Purim. And this week we read the portion Terumah, which literally means "gifts of love." In ancient times, the rabbis instituted two fast days in early Adar, and one of them, on the 9th of Adar, is all about conflict resolution - in other words, taking those gifts of the heart and directing them toward building a peaceful world.  On Shabbat morning, I'll explain more about this obscure fast day and why some are calling next Tuesday, a "Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict."   What a perfect antidote to the gun and violence infested society we live in! You can read more about it here.  
We can dedicate this discussion to Rabbi David Hartman, who died this week, a real Hillel for our times, one who gently brought Jews together and helped us all to respect differing approaches to Torah.  Hartman once spoke at Beth El as our Hoffman lecturer and his Shalom Hartman Institute enriches our community in so many ways, including a new series being offered by the UJF called iEngage: The Engaging Israel Project.

The other obscure fast day set to occur this weekend is Adar 7, traditionally the yahrzeit of Moses (and also his birthday). Some say that the timing has to do with the fact that next week's portion, Tetzave, is the only one in the last four books of the Torah that does not include Moses' name.  

Moses' yahrzeit is also considered a time when communities call attention to the important work done by the local burial society, the Hevra  Kadisha.   Why?  The most common explanation: When Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, he carefully brought Joseph's bones out with them. Then in return for that act of kindness (which Jewish tradition considers to be among the greatest acts of kindness of all - a Hesed Shel Emet), tradition says that when Moses died at 120, God Him/Herself served as the Hevra Kadisha for him, preparing his body and burying Moses with love and care.

This Sunday night, our local Hevra Kadisha will gather for its annual dinner.  I am proud of the ongoing support TBE lends to this community organization and of the several TBE members who are actively involved in this loving work.  "Love is as strong as death," says the Song of Songs, and for Jews, Valentine's Day extends beyond the grave.

 Some of our TBE marchers headed to the March for Change

Report from the March for Change: What We Can Do
As the issue of gun violence continues to take center stage across the country, I'm honored to be a contributor to a new book, a timely collection of essays designed to have an impact on the current national and state-wide conversation. 'Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violenceis now available on Amazon. You can see the table of contents here and the press release here.  I hope this book can help to make a difference.

Making a difference is what yesterday's March For Change was about too.  TheStamford Advocate account originally indicated that hundreds were attending - a misleading statistic.  Yes, there were hundreds - like about 55 of them.  The official estimate was 5,500, an important achievement in light of the acclaimed organizing skills of the gun lobby.  Those in attendance included gun owners, moms and dads, young and old, suburban and urban dwellers, and clergy of different faiths.  The push for comprehensive and common sense laws addressing gun violence cuts across the spectrum. 

We had about a minyan from our congregation on the two buses that left from Stamford, but we were representing the entire congregation, many of whom had wanted to come but couldn't' get away on a work/school day.  As far as I could see, we were the only congregation present in significant numbers and when you are talking about fewer than a hundred who signed up for the two buses locally, a minyan from TBE 'aint bad.

But it isn't enough to support one march.  This is a key legislative moment that, if addressed correctly, will result in the saving of untold numbers of lives.

A.P. coverage pinpoints how the Newtown massacre has politically activated many people who preferred to sit on the sidelines before.  Jillian Soto, whose sister died defending the lives of her students, said movingly, "It's not about political party or hidden agendas. It's about life. And my life and the lives of so many are now changed forever because of what guns can do in the wrong hands."

But without concerted action, our changed lives will not save others'.  Saving lives means addressing mental health and school security concerns, but it also means a ban on high-capacity magazines and all military-style assault weapons, annual registration renewals for handguns, universal background checks and mandatory safe storage of weapons.  While consensus seems to be growing on the background checks, both statewide and nationally, people seem to be giving up too quickly on getting rid of the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  The rally yesterday hammered home the notion that it is these high caliber weapons that killed the kids in Newtown and Aurora and to give up on that fight is to besmirch the memory of those who died.  If anything positive can come from these tragedies, it is to prevent future ones.

Click here to see some simple steps that we can take inn CT to save lives. And nationally, this from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA):

Washington is listening! In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama passionately made his case when he pointed to victims of gun violence and urged Congress to give them the vote on guns that they deserve.  
The legislative proposals are already shaping up as well. Last week, a group of Representatives announced their proposals, and it was also reported that a bipartisan Senate group of NRA members and gun safety advocates are negotiating a measure which would require universal background checks for gun sales. 
This is all very encouraging, but we are far from done. An assault weapon ban is still unlikely to pass without more support. Just as no one proposal will solve gun violence, omitting smart proposals - like a ban on dangerous military-style weapons - will leave reform incomplete. 
So what can you do? Keep up the pressure!  We need to write our senators in support of an assault weapons ban.  And in a campaign that echoes the President's rousing call, the is using the hashtag #VoteOnGuns to keep the pressure on Senate leadership to hold a vote.  This week, they're tweeting at Majority Leader Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (@McConnellPress). 
Sample tweets for you to use:
  • America loses 30,000 lives to guns each year! Hold a #VoteOnGuns today to make America safer.
  • Universal background checks could keep guns away from America's schools and streets. #VoteOnGuns today!
We need to take advantage of this pivotal moment to rid our society of violence and needless death. As I wrote recently, this is our generation's moral moment of truth.

TBE History, Recent and Less Recent 

Temple Rock was once again a smash hit, in every respect.  Thanks to all the organizers for their hard work and to the 200 who came.  You can see it all in our Temple Rock photo album.  Many thanks, as always, to Aviva Maller for the photography.

And finally, to mark my 25th year at TBE, I've uploaded some vintage video of major events that have taken place during my time here, including my installation, the funeral for Mel Allen and the Yitzchak Rabin memorial.  This is in addition to the many vintage photo albums that have been createdYou can access the videos here.

Shabbat Shalom - and Be Happy!  It's Adar!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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