Friday, March 22, 2013


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover
This week's Shabbat-O-Gram is  sponsored by David and Dayna Patashnik 
in honor of Aaron becoming Bar Mitzvah
Mazal tov to Aaron Patashnik and his family as he becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat, and to Gail Trell, who will be celebrating her 70th birthday at services Friday evening. We are expecting so many people that the service tonight will be in the sanctuary.  Join us! 

Passover is a time when families come together.  Sometimes, that's not a good thing.  The short film "Passover at the Wellmans" presents one such case.  I previewed it the other day, and then sat with Mark Golub for a Shalom TV panel discussion on the movie.  You can see it this Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday afternoon at 3, on Shalom TV, channel 138 on Cablevision.

President Obama's visit to Israel will be much discussed at next week's Seders, no  doubt. "Operation Desert Schmooze," as Jeffrey Goldberg dubbed it, seems to have hit the mark, at least as the Israeli TV commentators have covered it.  The bromance between Barack and Bibi seems to have come to full flower in the bright Jerusalem sun.  The President's speech to Israeli young people today was masterful, showering love on Israelis while also delivering a clear message as to the need for and advantages of peace. Read the transcript and judge for yourself.  Better yet, watch it.  Palestinians should be impressed at how sympathetic this audience was to their needs.

The Fifth Child  

Last weekend was National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, and with legislation pending both in Washtington and Hartford, this is most definitely a time to heed Hillel's oft quoted maxim,  "If Not Now, When?" This is a time for all faiths to reflect on the plague of gun violence in our society.  
My columns in this week's NY Jewish Week and in Thursday's Stamford Advocate  were based on some reflections I initiated in this month's temple bulletin, on the prospect of having a new "Fifth Child" at our Seders this year.  Also see the Interfaith Seder booklet that I put together for last night's Seder, containing reflections by leaders of many faiths. Click here for photos of the event. See also last week's parsha packet for Gun Violence prevention Sabbath. Also see this EXCELLENT new website exploring Passover themes from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives: Exodus Conversations. I'll be exploring it more during Passover services this coming week.

Below are some excerpts from the Jewish Week piece:
I propose that this year we add a Fifth Child, updating a custom used back in the heyday of the Soviet Jewry movement, and more recently as a stand in for Gilad Shalit or those facing debilitating illness.  Now we have a new Fifth Child.  Alongside the one who does not know how to ask, we must now include the one who can't ask, not because she's stuck in a Gulag or Gazan prison, but because he's been killed, right here in America.  This is the child whose inquisitive mind has been stilled forever by the magazines of a maniac's assault rifle, or by the single bullet of a parent's unlocked handgun, or at the hands of an abusive caregiver, or as result of incessant bullying and unremitting cruelty.  

There are far too many Fifth Children out there, and we've allowed that to happen. We have produced a society where child sacrifice is once again in vogue.  That child, though now residing in our cemeteries, deserves a place at this year's table.

In this way, Passover is exceptionally relevant in the wake of Newtown. It points to the anger and violence that we are combating (I wish we could get beyond military terms.) in our society and within our hearts as well.  The current struggle is about firearms for sure, but it's also about our combustible souls.

According to Slate, in the nearly three months from Newtown to March 7, 2,659 Americans were killed by guns. That running tally is incomplete, but it is illustrative, and that tally includes nearly 200 teens and children.  So in the three months since the children died at Newtown, there have been effectively ten more Sandy Hooks in this country. 

And still, Congress hems and haws. 

Military assault weapons and high capacity magazines continue to be freely available in a civilian society where they serve absolutely no good purpose.  Even after Newtown, the best Washington appears able to do is come up with a plan to enhance the system of background checks.  Our reps appear stuck in these narrow straits of Egypt, addicted to our culture of violence, bound to these narrow straits by political arm twisting and pressure lobbying.  It seems as if our representatives are voting, metaphorically, with a gun to their heads.  There is no other way to explain the lack of outrage and moral resolve in preventing future Newtowns and eliminating the tenth plague of gun violence from our society. It has already resulted in the deaths of the first born.  At least Pharaoh had the good sense to stop the plagues then and there.  But not us.  In our homes, movie theaters, city streets and schools, the second and third born are awaiting their turn. 

The sage Hillel famously said, "If not now, when?"  In Congress, prodded by the N.R.A., that rabbinic call to arms (oops) has been transformed into a sullen teenager's "If not now, whenever!"  I have news for everyone: this is the "now" that Hillel was talking about. If large magazines and assault weapons aren't curtailed now, they never will be.  And if they aren't, more children will die - and their blood will be on our cold, dead hands.

I was one of four thousand clergy to sign a letter written by Newtown clergy imploring senators to vote for strong legislation prevention gun violence.  Four thousand! In this country it's hard to get four thousand clergy to agree that the sky is blue, but the cause of ending gun violence mends denominational differences even as it rends families and communities apart. 

For the rest of the article, click here.


Four Ways to Connect Your Seder to Israel and the Jewish People 

This handy Seder supplement comes to us from the Masorti movement (the Conservative movement in Israel) and Merkaz Olami.  It helps us to incorporate some important current events into our Seders, including the recent election and the Women of the Wall.

Resources from the Rabbinical Assembly
This guide is intended as a brief outline of the policies and procedures relevant to the preparation of a kosher for Pesah home.

B'dikat Hameitz: 
The Search for Hameitz
This one-page sheet includes text, instructions, and transliteration for the ritual of searching for hameitz and the destruction of hameitz.

There are few aspects of Jewish observance as complicated as preparing for Passover. This post clarifies the various hameitz-related preparations for Pesah.


With an "early" Passover sneaking up on us quickly, it's easy to be caught off guard regarding Seder preparations.  As in years past, I'd like to compile a list of households with space at the table for guests who might be looking.  If you have room at your table, please indicate how many spaces and for which night(s), whether you can accommodate children and any other information that would be helpful to know.  I would get back to you with names of prospective guests to invite, as the need arises.


Find the complete 2013 Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide at this link.
Find a Search for Hametz guide with study materials here.
Read about the laws and customs of hametz here.

And Passover services on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the first two days, will be in the sanctuary at 9:30.  On Monday, before the holiday, we'll have a Siyum for the first born at the conclusion of minyan.  And speaking of minyan....

Minyan Mastery
What does the word "daven" mean?  Why do we need ten for a minyan?  With our current emphasis on building up our morning minyan,  here is a link to our "Minyan Mastery" feature, with all the minyan material that's fit to print.

Shabbat Shalom!  A Sweet Pesach!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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