Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shabbat-SNOW-Gram, Feb. 7

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Birthday, Ethan!

I’m Dreaming of a White Shabbes

I hope this O-Gram finds you safe and warm on what is predicted to be a very snowy weekend.  This is being sent out early, on Thursday night.  Our longstanding practice has been never to cancel our Shabbat evening and morning services, partly because it is so difficult to notify people once the sun has set.  But given the potentially dangerous nature of this storm, we may have to do that.   Sisterhood Shabbat, which also is rarely cancelled, is scheduled for this weekend.  An email will be sent to the congregation by midday Friday announcing any schedule changes for Shabbat services (Tot Shabbat has already been cancelled). Whatever happens, we are grateful for Sisterhood leadership and those who planned and have prepared for this service.

Also, as with prior storms, should there be widespread power outages, and should TBE once again be spared that plague, we’ll open our doors for everyone once we are plowed out, presumably on Sunday morning. If you lose power, find a way to check your email for any messages from us. And as we ride it out, you can return to the Spiritual Storm Resources I sent your way before Sandy. 

And while I’m one who typically shies away from technology on Shabbat, if you find yourself stranded at home and our services are cancelled – and if you just can’t find your trusty prayer book – this might be the perfect time to explore The Open Siddur Project. Or spend an hour or three exploring Jewish traditions new and old at Ritualwell…or go to MyJewishLearning to read about Valentines Day, Hamantaschen and Jews, which reminds me of my own defense of V-Day, Valentines Day, Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue, and the Jews.

On this snowy weekend, take a few moments on how we can save lives this week simply by showing up at the March for Change next Thursday in Hartford.  You can still sign up for the bus (an additional one was ordered) or see parking details at the website (the song there, “Return to Me,” is hauntingly beautiful, especially with Newtown on our minds). The list of presenters was just released including families of victims from Newtown and Aurora. Don’t forget to wear green.

The call for common sense gun reform has become the moral cry of this generation.  And that is precisely why members and leaders in religious institutions cannot ignore it, and why I, along with over 200 other clergy, have signed the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut’s letter to help bring an end to the scourge of gun violence in our communities, our state and our nation, asking our elected leaders to take action for sane and reasonable controls on the sale, purchase, and use of fire arms and ammunition.  Also see my article, “Guns and Moses,” at the “Times of Israel” website and Gun Violence Resources.  
Here’s an excerpt from an article by bestselling author and theologian Jim Wallis.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant. 

The world is not full of good and bad people; that is not what our scriptures teach us. We are, as human beings, both good and bad. This is not only true of humanity as a whole, but we as individuals have both good and bad in us. When we are bad or isolated or angry or furious or vengeful or politically agitated or confused or lost or deranged or unhinged — and we have the ability to get and use weapons only designed to kill large numbers of people — our society is in great danger. 

As we have just seen again, when such destructive weapons are allowed to be used out of powerful emotion without restraint or rules, that is bad. In dangerous situations, we as parents cannot tell our children they are safe. We cannot, because they are not. After Sandy Hook many child psychologists were counseling parents like us (I have a 9-year-old and 14-year-old) to hold and love our children, tell them they were safe. We can and did hold and love them, but we cannot tell them they are safe. Not as long as such weapons are available to human beings when they are acting badly.

When we are good, we want to protect our children — not by having more guns than the bad people, but by making sure guns aren’t the first available thing to people when they’re being bad. Being good is protecting people and our children from guns that are outside of the control of rules, regulations, and protections for the rest of us. 

Judaism 24/7

This week’s portion is Mishpatim and it is also Shabbat Shekalim.  So, you may ask, why name a Sabbath after Israel’s currency?  Click here to find out, to see some rare ancient half shekel coins and see why this reading reminds us that it is time to perform the sacred act of filing our tax return.

While the chapters of the Torah that comprise Mishpatim contain many laws – and the portion’s name even means “laws” - the Israelites were not afraid to commit to them, even before knowing specifically what the laws were and how this decision would impact their lives.  They said, Na’aseh v’nishma,” “We will do -- and THEN, we will understand. 

The commentators differed on how to interpret this verse.  Rashi interprets the word “nishma” to mean not “to understand” but rather, “to obey.” In his view, the Israelites pledged what amounts to blind obedience to God in accepting the commandments sight unseen.  Rava in the Talmud sees this not as an example of blind obedience, but rather of a deep trust in God. 

If the word “nishma” means understand, the verse is telling us that only after you perform a mitzvah can you begin to understand its true meaning.  Reb Nachman of Bratzlav said that for the Jew it is not enough to simply accept the commandments – that was the “na’aseh” part.  By also saying “nishma,” we are demonstrating a willingness to go above and beyond them, to continue to grow every moment of every day.

I find it so fitting then, that “na’aseh v’nishma” is found in none other than chapter 24, verse 7 of Exodus.  To be a Jew who just says “Na’aseh,” “I will do,” is to be a Jew only when it is absolutely necessary.  But to be a Jew who says, “Na’aseh v’Nishma,” is to be a Jew 24/7.  And to be a Jew 24/7 means to go above and beyond the call in everything that we do.

So what does it mean to live a 24/7 life?  Here are some examples:
                Na’aseh – do the assignment exactly as it is assigned.
                Nishma –  to do the extra credit question.          
                Na’aseh – to walk to dog.
                Nishma –  to clean up after him.
                Na’seh  - to come to services on Shabbat
                Nishma – to like it J

                Na’aseh – to cook a meal for the poor
                Nishma – to go to the homeless shelter to serve it.

                Na’aseh – to support Israel
                Nishma – to GO to Israel

As the flakes fall outside and we sit back by the fire, maybe this weekend would be the perfect time to step back and ask how we might take a mitzvah and go just a little above and beyond the call – that’s what it takes to be a Jew 24/7.

TBE History Unfolding: Rabin, Allen, Installation

Another snowy day activity: To mark my 25th year at TBE, I've uploaded some vintage video of major events that have taken place during my time here.  This is in addition to the many vintage photo albums that have been created.

You will find
here video from the community gathering that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in November, 1995.  Due to the great leadership of UJF exec Sheila Romanowitz, all the community rabbis participated and, just one evening after the horrible tragedy occurred, over 800 turned out.  The video includes Shalom TV coverage of that gathering, along with other news programs from that week, including an ABC Nightline Town Meeting that took place in Israel that week (you can find the remainder of it on my YouTube page).

I’ve also uploaded four additional videos from my installation as Senior Rabbi on Sept. 11, 1992. Little did we know at the time how infamous that date would become nearly a decade later. On that night we all felt completely blessed.  Toward the middle and end of the program, you'll see lots of cameos of congregants young and old, including many faces familiar to many of us. There were presentations by tots, b'nai mitzvah, teens, choirs, my uncle Cantor Saul Hammerman, Rabbi Goldman, Hazzan Rabinowitz, Rabbi Mark Golub, Rev. Brenda Stiers and more, all MCed by committee chair and past president Alan Kalter.  It was a real celebration of the congregation, more than of any particular rabbi, as a major milestone was reached. It seems like only yesterday.

Finally, click here to see the video of what may have been the most widely covered funeral ever held in our sanctuary, that of Mel Allen, the great Yankee broadcaster and long-time TBE member.  A pantheon of Yankee greats (including DiMaggio, Berra, Ford and Rizzuto) and media notables were in attendance.

You can access all those vintage videos here.  And send along any YouTube links or DVDs that you feel could be added to our growing TBE video archive. 

Two more announcements….

·         Purim is coming on Sat night Feb 23 (and the following morning). For our “Purim for Adults” Megilla reading on that night at 8:00 we’ve acquired some hilarious parodies based on popular TV shows.  These skits, written by professional comedy writers with ties to “The Daily Show,” and late night shows, are short, easy and lots of fun to produce.  If you are interested in gathering a few friends to perform one, let me know.  First come, first served!  The options are:   “Sex and the Walled City” (taken); “Extreme Makeover: Her Majesty’s Edition,” “Curb Your Anti-Semitism,” “Persian Idol,” and “The Biggest Faster (parody of “The Biggest Loser,”).  Each skit has about half a dozen parts.  So call your friends and get back to me A.S.A.P.  Teens are also welcome, but the evening will definitely have a PG-13 feel to it, and – since it IS Purim, there will be some imbibing going on.  ‘Nuff said.

·         Registration for the upcoming summer 2013 round of Birthright Israel trips will open next Wednesday, February 13 at 10am EST for all new applicants (Monday, Feb 11 at 12pm EST for returning applicants).  Applications, eligibility requirements, and details about the upcoming trips including special options such as niche trips, community trips and the new Birthright Israel PLUS trips are located on the Birthright Israel website:

As the skier said…

Shabbat Slalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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