Friday, June 6, 2014

Shabbat-O-Gram for June 6

Shabbat Shalom

In this minute and a half between Shavuot and another fantastic Shabbat and weekend, where do I begin? 
  • Let’s begin with Shavuot.  On Tuesday night, over 80 people from our community joined together for what turned out to be a five-hour Shavuot jam session for the heart, body, mind and soul.  We sang, ate cheesecake, talked, meditated and studied Ruth together, dissecting the question of the shifting definition of Jewish identity, with a special focus on conversion, assimilation and patrilineal descent and marriage equality in Israel.  I thank especially my rabbinic and cantorial colleagues from Temple Sinai, Selah and the UJF, and everyone who participated.  You can watch the Shalom TV broadcast of the panel on civil marriage in Israel that sparked our discussion.  Also see the source sheet from the panel discussion, containing an open letter to Chelsea Clinton about the identity of her child, Ruth the Moabite’s “application” to make aliyah, some rabbinic midrash and, oh yes, the Nuremberg Laws.  Jewish identity is a complicated thing! I really cannot overstate how great this evening was.  
  • We also had two enjoyable morning services for the festival, and I thank our lunch sponsors on Wednesday, the Essenfeld and Winarsky families. 
  • Now, onto tonight:  We’ll be getting a sampling of some of the cutting edge music that we will be hearing at the Cantor’s Concert on Sunday.  And we’ll hear the next in our “This American Jewish Life” series, this week featuring recent U of Maryland grad, Joelle Peikes, who will be telling us about her experiences as a Jew in Morocco.  I can recall a time that seems not so long ago when Joelle sat in my office explaining why she wanted to become a bat mitzvah.  She came to our Hebrew School relatively late in the game, but this young student was so persuasive and passionate in her desire to explore her Jewish identity that, well, I just couldn’t say no.  I chalk that up as one of my wiser decisions.  If you join us on Friday evening you’ll find out why. 
Speaking of the series, please let me know if you would like to participate next year.  We are working on the calendar this week.  And stay tuned for more exciting news about “This American Jewish Life.” And speaking of exciting news, SAVE THE DATE of Sept. 16for the Hoffman Lecture, featuring acclaimed author and columnist, Ari Shavit. 
  • Mazal tov to Zachary Rubin and family as he becomes Bar Mitzvah here this Shabbat! And check out last Shabbat’s commentary by Alyssa Goldberg, on parashat Naso.  Also on Shabbat morning, we’ll be hearing from several of our Bi Cultural 8th graders who recently spent a month in Israel. 
  • As we prepare for our own cantor’s concert this weekend, I received an invitation from Cantor Deborah Jacobson for participation in the creation of a new CD of healing music.  For those who are interested, here is the link to her Kickstarter page.  And by all means, plan to join us ours on  of to our congregation.

Our First Fruits - and Israel’s Greatest Opportunity

This week’s portion of Beha’alotcha teaches about the dangers of unbridled consumption during Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.  It also introduces us to a new source of energy, the menorah:  Rashi explains that its lamps did not face out to maximize the illumination. Rather, they were turned inward toward the menorah’s center, as if to indicate that we should cultivate an inward light. So let’s take a few moments this week to review an momentous year for us, for Israel and for the planet.

This coming Tuesday, history will be made at TBE, with the delivery of the first fruits of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Over fifty TBE families are participating in the first Jewish CSA in our area.  We are purchasing produce from alocal farm, which will have a positive impact on our community economically, environmentally, nutritionally, and spiritually.  All the leftovers will be donated to the local food bank, so this will be a big-time tzedakkah project too.  Combined with our solar panels (and our national recognition as a “Cool Congregation”) and Mitzvah Garden, we are making an enormous statement on the urgency of combatting climate change and healing our planet.  Incidentally, the garden has already yielded its first fruits - and just in time for Shavuot, the festival of first fruits - a head of lettuce was picked, which, I was quick to announce at services, gives an entirely new meaning to the expression, “Lettuce Pray.”

While we have been doing our part, a growing crescendo is attesting to the growing impact of our warming earth, melting ice caps and rising seas.  We’re no longer talking about things to come in the future.  The future is now.  Many of the themes of last Rosh Hashanah’s sermon and Senator Blumenthal’s message have been echoed in a number of recent articles and major documentaries, including the series “Cosmos” and, most notably, Showtime’s devastating series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” which concludes this Monday.  Also, see this article from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, where an Orthodox rabbi discusses the issue from the perspective of Jewish law.

Which brings me to Israel.  Doesn’t everything seem to bring us to Israel?  But in fact, one way Israel can fulfill the Zionist vision of people like David Ben Gurion, and be a light unto the nations, would be to help nations to light that very light - to lead the way in providing solutions for the environmental dilemmas of our age. 

Water shortage?  Check.  Israeli “water-tech” is doing amazing things all around the world.  What began with drip irrigation decades ago has advanced to massive desalination projects and even creating water out of thin air

"We have all the water we need, even in the year which was the worst year ever regarding precipitation," said Avraham Tenne this past week, head of the desalination division of Israel's Water Authority. "This is a huge revolution."

As reported by Ha’aretz, since 2005, Israel has opened four desalination plants, with a fifth set to go online later this year. Roughly 35 percent of Israel's drinking-quality water now comes from desalination. That number is expected to exceed 40 percent by next year and hit 70 percent in 2050.

Look at how climate change is contributing to drying up water supplies all over the world, beginning in places like Yemen.  The Showtime series revealed that Yemen ‘s second largest city receives fresh water only two days out of every 40. The country is drying up.  ‘Aint no salmon fishing going on there right now, that’s for sure. 


Take a look at this chart, and you can see Israel’s water expertise could be a geopolitical game changer in its relations with the Arab world.

Alternative energy sources?  Israel has long been a leader in developing solar power.  About a month ago eleven new solar projects were inaugurated in the Negev, which, in case you haven’t heard, has lots of sun.  Check out the Israel 21c website for more exciting developments on this front. 

There is still much to do, and Israeli environmentalists are always wary of urban development run amok, roads destroying wetlands, fragile bird sanctuaries and lots of other dangers.  But perhaps the greatest environmental challenge to the Zionist enterprise lies miles offshore, in the enormous natural gas fields that promise to provide Israel with that energy independence that has eluded it since the founding of the state.  Natural gas is much cleaner than fossil fuels, but as we are discovering here in America, there are concerns about methane leakage that could in fact be far worse for climate change even than coal.  Investigations are ongoing, but recent discoveries in the US are not encouraging.

I’ve seen no reports of methane leakage in Israel’s natural gas fields, nor have I heard of any new technologies or methodologies being devised to stop them.  Israel has more immediate concerns, such as the risk of sabotage by terror groups (as happened not long ago in Sinai), which could simultaneously create a geopolitical and an environmental disaster.   But if Israel could do for natural gas pipeline methane leakage what it has done for desalination and water conservation, that would perhaps be the greatest game changer of all, for Israel, for Zionism, and for the planet.

But if not - if the natural gas bonanza turns out to be an environmental Trojan horse filled with methane, some very difficult decisions lie ahead.  Should Israel plow ahead and drill, baby, drill for short term gain and energy independence but at an enormous environmental risk - or not?  

What would Ben Gurion do? 

Right now BG’s descendants of all parties are so giddy over the offshore discovery that they hardly seem to have considered the environmental risks.  Israel’s been working onconverting organic waste into cleaner gas, which will reduce methane seepage from agriculture, but nothing seems to be in the offing on preventing pipeline seepage offshore.  Meanwhile, Israeli methane emissions continue to grow.

I’m personally hoping Israel puts its best foot forward to become a worldwide leader in developing the cleanest energy options and fighting the effects of climate change.  One way to do that would be to elect Yosef Abramowitz (nicknamed “Captain Sunshine”) as its next President.  The solar energy pioneer is running, and just as with Shimon Peres, Abramowitz would continue to send a message of global concern from that ceremonial position.  It would be a great opportunity for Israel to signal its readiness to take leadership on the crying issue of our times.  And given some of the other candidates(including the Prime Minister’s current favorite, Reuven Rivlin, who called Reform Judaism “idol worship”).

In the meantime, while we give the Israelis time to perform another miracle in underwater methane detection and pipeline safety, we here in America need to continue to do our part for the environment.  Unfortunately, few Jewish congregations have followed our lead.  Read down the list of congregations honored along with ours by Interfaith Power and Light.   Nearly fifty houses of worship, and we are the ONLY synagogue (one other Jewish organization is mentioned, Camp Ramah in California).

I’m proud of what we’ve done, but no time for self congratulations.  We need to continue to proclaim to the world, and most urgently to our own people - that the future of the planet is a very Jewish issue.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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