Friday, June 14, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 14

Artist's rendering of TBE's roof, soon to be equipped with 850 solar panels, which will generate 70% of our electricity needs, save us thousands of dollars per year and reduce our carbon footprint significantly.  The Solar Panel Project will be dedicated in loving memory of Norma Mann.

Shabbat Shalom!

As things begin to wind down all around us, with summer only a week away. Mazal tov to all the high school and 8th grade graduates - and anyone else graduating these next couple of weeks.   Join us at services to celebrate and enjoy Shabbat together, at 7:30 Friday evening and 9:30 on Shabbat morning, when, weather permitting, we'll have a camp-style service outside, between the office entrance and the garden.  Dress is casual.  On Friday late afternoon, our families with young children will gather at Josh and Hayley Levine's home for a special Shabbat @ Home.  I look forward to joining them there.

For all Father's Day fans out there, "What's So Jewish About Father's Day," from the PJ Library website.  Also see  "Preliminary Thoughts on Father's Day" and "Being a Single Father and Keeping the faith."

This week's portion of Hukkat alludes to the miraculous wilderness phenomenon known as "Miriam's Well," Many legends grew from these allusions.  I've collected a number of them in this Parsha Packet. At our camp-style Shabbat morning service, we'll be discussing some of the legends and traditions that have grown from the miraculous Red Heifer also described in our portion.

Mazal Tov to our High School Grads: Then and Now


In June of 2008, I asked our graduating 7th grade students to respond to the question, "What does being Jewish mean to me?"  This month, most of them are graduating from high school.  This is a very accomplished group, having already made their mark on the world in innumerable ways.  As we get ready to send them off into the world, it's a good time to look back at what they wrote then.  Good for us - and good for them! See their answers here.  We wish them all the best - and hope they will stay in touch while at school, and visit us often when they are home! 

My message to the grads: Remember, you will become alumni of every school you attend, but you never become alumni of your synagogue.  Your congregation follows you and we are there to support you throughout your life.  Wherever you are, we are the home you can always come back to, even when we haven't been in touch for a while.  And we are so proud of you!  Mazal tov to the graduates! 

TBE 2020: Inspiration, Community, Sustainability

It's with great pride and satisfaction that I publish here for the first time TBE's new mission statement, approved by our board this month after two solid years of hard work and deliberation. 

They say a camel is a horse designed by committee - but I happen to think camels are an ingenious creation.  They were invented for the long haul, those treks through the desert, not for the Kentucky Derby.  The same is true of our 2020 Vision Statement.  It was constructed by committee, to be sure, but an expansive committee that listened to the voices of many congregants, clergy and staff, and by a board that took this process very seriously, dedicating many hours to this document's development.  Sometimes, committees don't water down big ideas, they fine tune them.  That's what happened here.  TBE 2020 is a vision for the long haul, for that long trek through the wilderness.

We know that this is a living document, one that will need to be revised constantly as needs and situations change.  But as a compass, it sets us out in just the right direction.  It is a moral compass, a spiritual one, a responsible one.  This is plan we can all be proud of.

Here is the mission statement:

Temple Beth El is a Conservative egalitarian spiritual community that challenges itself to sanctify each day through prayer, action, study, and mitzvot.  We honor our Jewish traditions and infuse them with renewed meaning by practicing them in both traditional and innovative ways.  We pray together by combining music, ritual, dialogue, and reflection.  We strive to place Tikkun Olam ("repairing the world") at the center of our daily lives. We welcome all to join our inclusive community as we aspire to fill the world with spirituality, learning and social justice for all humankind.

Once you've absorbed that for a few moments, you can turn to the Visionary and Strategic Plan Objectives.  You can read them here.  We are anxious to hear your feedback.  Most importantly, we need you to be our partners in this sacred work.

N.S.A, I.R.S., Bar-Noar, Privacy and Jewish Values

The issue of privacy has become paramount recently, with the revelations of government intelligence gathering only adding to the pervasive sense that all privacy has been sacrificed at the altars of security and technological expedience.

How much does the public need to know?  This week's media circus in Israel, where police released details to the press about the Bar-Noar murders only to have a gag order imposed a half hour later, demonstrates just how much we are all groping to preserve privacy in an environment that has become increasingly tell-all and reveal-all. 

How much does the government need to know?  That's the question Americans are obsessing over in light of recent revelations about the IRS and NSA.

A Wall Street Journal poll conducted late in 1999 asked Americans what they feared the most in the new millennium. Privacy loss came out on top (29%), substantially higher than terrorism, global warming, and overpopulation (none higher than 23%).  And back then we could barely imagine the world we now live in.

We have become a society of exhibitionists. A guy in San Francisco, Justin Kan, wears a micro camera on his head wherever he goes. It is always on. You can view his entire life at And he's far from the only one now engaged in what has been dubbed "lifecasting," the broadcasting of one's entire life over the Internet.

Judaism places a premium on preserving privacy and dignity, even of the deceased. Open caskets are anathema to our tradition. Even in Jerusalem, where they don't use caskets, the body is wrapped from head to toe in a shroud.  No one is given the opportunity to gawk at the face of death.  We don't dress up our dead in finery like some Barbie doll. Israeli TV does not broadcast grotesque images of carnage, even when it could help score propaganda points. We are very good at self-regulating our impulse to gawk.

In next week's Torah portion we read the glorious prophecy of Balaam that has come down to us as the Mah Tovu prayer, "How lovely are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel."  That prophecy contains the seeds of an entire corpus of legal material having to do with privacy.  The rabbis wondered what was it that moved Balaam to praise Israel when his intent all along had been to curse them. They concluded that when he saw all the tents of Israel laid out, he was amazed that they were set up in such a way that no one could look into another person's dwelling place.

Based largely on this verse from this portion, the Talmud came up with some important guidelines:

  • That we should knock before opening a closed door, even in our own home.  How many of us do that?  By extension, a creditor is not allowed to enter the home of a debtor - he must remain outside and the person brings his pledge out to him.  
  • That we may not put a window in the wall of our house if it looks in on someone else's house.    
  • In the 10th century, a sage named Rabbenu Gershom ruled that it is against halacha for us to open someone else's mail.  This was punished by excommunication.  And from this ruling is derived the general principle that we are not allowed to search out the secrets of our fellow.  We can't pick through his garbage, we can't do undercover work to discover trade secrets.  What's private must be respected.

Think for a moment about how much that one is violated.  Not only with regular mail, but especially with e-mail.  How often are we forwarded e-mail notes that were sent by a third party, without the permission of that third party.  Not long ago, I was forwarded a very embarrassing e-mail by an attorney, and at the bottom of the note was the disclaimer that it is illegal to forward his own e-mail without permission. Apparently he didn't even read his own automatically-generated directive.

The Jewish value system would not stand for such an invasion of privacy.  In midrashic literature it clearly states that one may not enter the home of another unless the homeowner tells the visitor, "Enter."  There is a whole body of doctrine generated by the concept of hezzek re'iyah, injury caused by seeing, limiting the use of surveillance devices and eavesdropping from a distance, even outside one's home.  Read the rest of this blog posting at the Times of Israel Website.

TBE Israel Adventure 2014!


I'm pleased to announce that our next TBE Israel Adventure tour, led by Mara and myself,  will take place next summer from July 21 - August 4.  We already have had significant interest from people of all age groups of adults and children.  I fully expect a large group and limited space.  Check out our preliminary Interactive Itinerary (still not finalized, but you'll get an idea of what we'll be doing) by clicking here.  We'll have pricing and registration materials soon.  But with camps starting out this week, now is the time to begin planning for NEXT summer - and plan to join our always-amazing TBE tours.

NIF @ Your Synagogue 2013

TBE is proud to be among the synagogues to be hosting distinguished representatives of New Israel Fund on the weekend of June 28-29.  The New Israel Fund (NIF) is the leading organization advancing democracy and equality for all Israelis.  Among their other causes, they have been on the forefront of efforts to promote pluralism, supporting organizations like the Women of the Wall.  OnShabbat morning, June 28, we'll be hearing from Talia Sasson, a board member of the New Israel Fund and co-Chair of its International Council.  She is deeply concerned and involved with efforts to support social justice in Israel. 

She will be exploring Israel after the 2013 Elections and the transformations that have changed the face of the Knesset.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Father's Day

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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