Friday, February 28, 2014

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb 28

As we wait for March to come in like a (snowy) lion, a few odds and ends to start:

Best of luck to Rev. Ann Schmidt, who retires from her post as pastoral director after a dozen years at Stamford Hospital and many more serving our community in a number of ways.  She is a dear friend to me and so many others here. We've heard from her here twice this week, and she has mentioned that TBE has been a true spiritual home for her.  Below is a photo taken in Jerusalem in 2002.  We'll miss you, Ann!

I've received an urgent request, which I am happy to share, from TBE congregant Claudia Lubin, on behalf of a relative of hers.  You can read the request here.

Have you reserved for Shabbat Across America yet?  You won’t want to miss an incredible dinner and service. And bring your friends!  Click here for more informationClick here for online reservations.

We mourned Rabbi Ehrenkranz and Harold Ramis this week.  You can read the Board of Rabbis tribute to Ehrenkranz, which reflects my own sentiments.  This evening at services I’ll pay tribute to Ramis, and tomorrow morning at services we’ll be discussing some vexing questions about Jewish identity, in relation to the portion (Shabbat Shekalim) and in particular, patrilinear descent.

Save the date for AJC Exec David Harris Appearance at TBE: March 13.

Are you reading the MUST READ book of the year, Ari Shavit’s “My Promised land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”? Read it and come to hear my reactions and discuss it with me on Thurs., March 27 at 7:30.

Great stuff coming for Purim in two weeks: Super family megillah reading carnival in the morning and on Sat. night, in the spirit of the holiday, the megillah reading will be spiced by a Scotch (or nonalcoholic alternative) tasting led by our own Ron Zussman, and special speaker Glenn Dynner, author of “Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor and Life in the Kingdom of Poland.”

Jew-vie notes on Oscar Weekend

This being Oscar weekend, some thoughts, through a Jewish lens, about this year’s nominees for Best Picture. I’m not one to subscribe to the idea that  Jews own Hollywood.  To the contrary, this year’s crop speaks voluminously to some our most embarrassing mea culpas, just in case we were getting too full of ourselves. 

We’ve got films based on two big time Jewish crooks, “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” reinforcing some of worst Jewish stereotypes of greed, shrewdness and bad hair. 

Philomena,” which I saw last week, describes the unpardonable sins of the Catholic church.  Although no one has accused Jewish organizations of enslaving young moms and selling their babies, the inexcusable betrayal of trust by religious organizations to cover up crimes of clergy, particularly sexual abuse of minors, has become all too prevalent in our backyard.  Just last month, a court let Yeshiva University off the hook because the statute of limitations had run out on the cover up of hundreds of acts of abuse by two rabbis and an alumnus during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.  A close friend of mine and noted rabbi recently revealed that he was a vicitim of those crimes.   There is no statute of limitations on the pain of the victim.  I loved “Philomena” for reminding me of that.

In “Gravity,” a profoundly spiritual film, Sandra Bullock floats through the valley of the shadow of death.  Her most telling line: I know, I know, everyone dies; not everyone knows the day.”  This line echoes Rabbi Eliezer, who advised, “Repent one day before your death,”   Expressing the fears of so many Jews and others, Bullock adds,  . “No one will mourn for me. No one will pray for my soul. … I’ve never prayed. … Nobody has taught me how. …  By the end of the film, when she embraces the mud, looks heavenward and says “thank you,” she has learned how to pray as a Jew prays, not asking for the moon, but being grateful for some dry land to stand on and some blue sky filled with breathable air.

Her” has a Jewish connection, aside from Scarlett Johansson, and it’s about loneliness and the limits of technology to satisfy our most human needs.  I’m a big techno-fan, but there is something to be said for unplugging once in a while – which is a nice promo for next week’s Shabbat Across America, which is also the National Day of Unplugging.  (Sign the pledge and upload a photo). When we fall in love with our machines, that means that we have fallen in love with ourselves, the work of our hands, and there is no more virulent form of idolatry.

12 Years a Slave?”  Well, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Jews were 400 years a slave!  This film reminds us that we Jews have lots to teach the world about how to live by a moral code that stresses that all humans are created in God’s image.

Last weekend I saw both “Philomena” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”  Without being too much of a spoiler, AIDS figures prominently in each.  At a time where the Berlin Wall of homophobia seems to be crumbling before our eyes, in the courts (Kentucky and Texas this week, following New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio and Virginia), on the playing surfaces of the NFL and NBA and even in the statehouse of Arizona, the prejudices exposed in both films are receding as the arc of inclusiveness continues to bend precipitously.  Any Jew who remembers the Nuremburg Laws, not to mention Jim Crow, had to find Arizona’s proposed law both repugnant and dangerous.  Fortunately, bipartisan outrage made its mark.  Yes, it’s troubling that the law actually passed at first, especially in the name of “religious freedom,” but maybe this was the tipping point. 

I did not see “Nebraska” or “Captain Phillips,” so I’ll leave it to others to find the Jewish messages embedded there. 

Of the ones I saw, which did I like best?  I liked them all. And I’d rather award them a collective Oscar.  We’ve come a long way since the homophobic 1980s, and the clergy abuse of the ‘70s and ‘60s.  We can still avoid the dehumanizing, techno-landscape of the near-future in “Her.”  We’ve come to see the fragile beauty of our precious blue planet as seen from space in “Gravity.” We’ve come to understand the destructiveness of excessive greed.  And slavery is no longer the law of the land.  We may not own Hollywood, but Jewish teachings and historical experiences can help humanity set a course for a better future.

And yes, there is much more work to do.  Hatred still exists, so does greed, so does narcissism, sexual abuse and there are 30 million slaves on earth, 60,000 in the US

Someone will probably mention that when “12 Years a Slave” picks up the ultimate gold statuette on Sunday night.

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