Friday, January 30, 2015
I understand TBE is holding its first Shabbat service in downtown Stamford in over 40 years. Is that true? And if so, will you be checking out the watering holes on Bedford St after the service?
Tevye Butterfield Tigin
Dear Tigin… I mean Tevye,
It’s true that we’ll be holding our first Shabbat service in 41 years downtown on Friday – at the Unitarian Universalist building just across Bedford St. from the Avon. We’ve been wanting to return to our roots for a long time. Our membership committee has been pounding the pavement down there to let everyone know that Beth El’s back! I envision this grand “Hello Dolly” scene at the Harmonia Gardens…. or something equally dramatic. So get there at 7 on Friday. The service will end early enough for adults who choose to frequent the many restaurants and other gathering places down there to do so, sort of like Jews do in Manhattan after Friday night services on the Upper West Side. All the ingredients are in place: snow on the ground, the coldest night imaginable, and walking out of that and into a very warm, inviting, musical environment to celebrate with a welcoming community. They even have a Jewish star hanging in the front of the room!
Of course there is also this thing called Shabbat…which will preclude me from joining you afterwards…
Where should we park?
Remo Lucky 16 Handler
Wherever you can! That’s the one thing that makes this a little less convenient than services up here. But give yourself a little extra time. There are parking lots and spaces on the street. I’ve been informed that parking at the bank right there is not a good idea. You can also park up here at TBE, but you’ll be lonely. There is no service here this Friday night.
I heard your temple will be playing my music this Saturday night. Can I come?
Absolutely. But be prepared to bid on these items. And please don’t sing the one about Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. It has a dark side, mentions my name and I take it personally.
How about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?
That’s OK. I never went along with the supposed secret messages embedded in that song. But if you are interested in discussing the Jewish view on the legalization of Marijuana, the snowed out session from last Tuesday has been rescheduled for Tues., Feb. 10.
What else is happening this weekend?
Lots. It’s Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song, where we read of the crossing of the Red Sea and the great Biblical song that followed. The Haftarah is the Song of Deborah
Next week is Tu B’shevat, the new year of trees. I’ll be honored to lead a seder for our younger grades on Sunday and on Thursday our older grades will be having another fantastic “Top Chef” contest to celebrate. You can find some Tu b’Shevat materials here and here. Also, this Sunday is UJF Super Sunday. Go down to the JCC and led a hand – and don’t miss the halftime show. And as for later, here’s some “Halacha for Halftime” for those who prefer Talmud to Katy Perry.
Speaking of halftime, what’s this year’s Super Bowl prediction, based on Jewish sources? I need to know, because you are always right!
Shimmy the Greek
I’m recusing myself this year. No not that I feel “deflated” by anything that’s happened over the past few weeks. I already stated my case last week that I would take my lead from a man and family I’ve known my whole life; and on Monday night, Robert Kraft spoke. Unless proven otherwise, his word matters to me more than all the hot air that has inflated the airwaves these past two weeks (though I liked today’s scientific revelation in the NY Times) . But we’ll see.
As for the game, well, this week’s portion’s Song of the Sea states clearly, “Horse and Rider will be thrown to the Sea(hawks).” The horse would have been either the Broncos or the Colts. Is the rider Paul Revere, the original riding Patriot? Not a good sign for the Pats. BUT… the portion’s name is Beshallach, which sounds a lot like the name of a certain Patriots coach.
Looking at Jews in Super Bowl history, it is noteworthy that the Patriots’ Julian Edelman has Jewish ancestry on his father’s side. And the NY Times chips in with the revelation that Tom Brady has a menorah in his Boston area home, which BTW, is located down the street from the Krafts, in my home town of Brookline.
In the Talmud (Berachot 9a) a protector is called a “Patranos.” This clearly refers to the New England offensive line. Also, in Hebrew, “Pitriot” are mushrooms. Go here to see some gorgeous looking Israeli mushrooms, likely from the Hefer Valley (a fertile strip of land between the Mediterannean sea and Green Line in Central Israel). This is one area of the country that was redeemed by the Jewish National Fund in the early Zionist days, and the great symbol of that redemption, at least here, are Pitriot. And since there are three whole pitriot in this photo, so, Patrots by three?
OK. Here’s more proof:
Sexist implications aside, there are clear connections between what Jews call the Patriarchs and what Americans consider "the fathers of our country," the Patriots. Abraham planted trees, George Washington cut one down. Samuel Adams had a biblical name. So did Isaac. Bob Kraft's brother, incidentally, is named Avram.
The words Patriot and Patriarch both appear in modern Hebrew, each beginning with the three-letter root peh-tet-resh. That root yields some interesting words, like "Pehter Rechem," the first born of the womb," for livestock and humans, based on the Passover story and the 10th Plague. I'm not sure about that plague, but I can see the Pats' pass rush reminding Seattle of a few of the others. Then there's the word "Patur," which means "exempt" or "free." It's a rabbinic concept often employed in halachic discussions, especially in deciding who might be exempt from certain ritual obligations. Interestingly, in modern Hebrew a "pehter" is also a "trigger action," indicating that the Pats will be especially effective in the shotgun, and the verb derivative "hiftir" means "to sack." Clearly, their pass rush will be ferocious. Finally, "niftar," the passive form of the root, means to die. I'm not sure what to make of that.
But whichever team wins, the other will be saying what parents have said to their B'nai Mitzvah children for centuries, "Baruch shep'tarani," which means, "thank God I'm not longer going to have to deal with your shenanigans, essentially, and in modern Hebrew, "Good Riddance." All from the root peh-tet-resh. Is that enough for you, Shimmy?
Yes. But what’s on TBE’s schedule for next week?
Glad you asked. We’ll be hearing from Scholar in Residence, rabbi and noted author Jeffrey Salkin. See the schedule below.
And have a Super Shabbat!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Friday, January 23, 2015
With wintry weather in the forecast for Shabbat morning, a reminder of our policies. Shabbat (adult) services are never officially cancelled. Obviously, we want people to stay safe and use discretion in deciding whether to come.
On the other hand, when we have children’s programming, such as tomorrow, when our Hebrew School is scheduled to meet on Shabbat, that could be cancelled. In that case, parents will be informed and an announcement will be sent out. Because we do not send out email announcements on the Shabbat, we will make that call by mid afternoon on Friday. Because of having to decide the day before, we will typically lean on the side of safety.
Regardless, Tot Shabbat (5:30) and Friday evening services (7 PM) are definitely ON for tonight. Last week we had over 100 people for our service and the Oneg at my home. It was wonderful. Tonight our special musical guest will be David Bravo, long time accompanist for the immortal songstress Debbie Friedman. Let’s keep things rolling! And let’s pray for good weather next weekend, with our service downtown on Friday night, followed the next night by Temple Rock.
Mitzvah Opportunity: Used Car Needed
Jewish Family Service seeks a car donation for a client, one who happens to be part of the TBE family. Cars in any condition will be accepted and donations are tax-deductible. If you have a car to donate, or know someone who does, please contact Rebekah at JFS: (203)921-4161 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bread of Deflation
As a lifelong New England Patriots fan, this has been a painful week. I won’t go into all the details of the so called “Deflate-gate,” some of which are widely known and many of which are as yet unknown. The public has not yet heard from the NFL or Patriot’s owner Bob Kraft. I’ll be listening especially for Kraft, because the guiding light of his life is his late father Harry, a man who was a tremendous role model for me as well. He was a true “mensch,” a man of the utmost integrity and moral stature. And humility. All the kids at Kehillath Israel looked up to him. My father, whom Harry helped to hire as cantor, loved and respected him. Harry Kraft used to work with Bar Mitzvah students and he wrote my Bar Mitzvah speech with me… actually for me – in those days, that’s what they did.
So I know one thing, that when Bob Kraft weighs in on this, Harry will be looking over his shoulder. If anyone is responsible for compromising the integrity of the game and the reputation of his team – his family – he won’t let that slide. But he also knows his quarterback and coach better than just about anyone. If he is defending them, that will mean a lot too. In the meantime, my inclination is always “innocent until proven guilty,” but we’ll see how it plays out.
This week’s portion of Bo includes the Torah’s most detailed description of the night of Passover, introducing us to that most deflated of foods, matza. I’ve written much about matza’s symbolism, but the most important aspect of matza is that it is not allowed to inflate – to ferment – beyond a certain amount. The stipulations for making matza are even more precise and strict than those for inflating a football.
So why that precision and strictness? The Chatam Sofer explains that hametz (leaven) is symbolic of the inflation of the ego, and also a metaphor for negativity. Perhaps this whole “Deflate-gate” controversy also revolves around inflated egos and cynicism, whether on the part of the Patriots, their legion of haters, the league, the media – whose feeding frenzy on this reminds me of some old family seders when the matza balls come out (and I must say, I prefer my matza balls inflated and fluffy rather than dense and pebbly). All around, this is a story about ego.
One modern commentator delinates Hametz from Matza in this manner: Chametz is nothing but puffed up matza. But what chametz is actually made out of is nothing less than matza itself! So too there is an idea that the ego is nothing but a corrupt twisted desire that actually has its basis in a drive coming from the soul. For example:
· The soul wants only to give, to help humanity and fix the world. The ego's perverted version of this noble drive is the desire for power and control, the urge to conquer the world.
· The soul wants to connect with the Divine. The ego wants to use spirituality to serve its needs (this is the basis for idol worship).
· The soul wants to connect with other people meaningfully. The ego corrupts this desire into a drive to manipulate and take from people.
By seeing that the ego is often nothing but a corruption of a noble desire we can easily move past it and bring even the ego to serve God.
Some interesting lessons about the need to deflate our egos, to be “Matza Mensches” in all we do.
Which brings me right back to Harry Kraft.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Shabbat Shalom. A special birthday will be celebrated over the coming days: Jack Steinberg, a long time TBE member who currently resides at Atria, will be turning 100. Mazal tov, Jack!
Building a Bonfire
I hope you can join us at 7 PM (note that time!) for services this evening, featuring guest guitarist Avram Pengas. And then you are cordially invited to join Mara and myself at my home for the Oneg.
Unless we suddenly are inundated with unexpected numbers on a holiday weekend, tonight’s service will take place in the lobby. At times people have asked why we prefer the lobby to the sanctuary at times when we are not expecting throngs of worshippers. Why do we lobby for the lobby? Let’s be clear, I would love to have 250 here every week – and with Cantor Fishman and the fantastic array of musical and prayer experiences we are planning, we are quite likely headed in that direction. But in the meantime, a prime goal of our services is a sense of intimacy and connection that cannot easily be achieved in a large, half-empty room. The difference is profound.
Contemporary Jewish musician Joey Weisenberg put his finger on the attitudes of contemporary American Jews, and in particular millennials, in his work “Building Singing Communities: “If you want to build a bonfire, bring the logs close together.”
As Hannah Ashar adds in her essay, “Ideas for Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood with Warmth, Intimacy and Self Expression” (p.24), “The suburban arrangement of many American shuls (and much of American Jewish life) allows people to sit, sing, and pray at a distance. Choose intimate prayer spaces and ask that people come close during tefilot.” She offers other suggestions in that brief essay that we might want to follow. But for our purposes, the key is that people are praying in close proximity to one another. When we talk about “participation” in services, which can be achieved with lots of communal singing, or it can be achieved in silent meditation. We can be full participants even when simply listening to the cantor or rabbi. But that can happen only when we feel connected to our community and in relationship with the people around us. Right now, in our facility, that is best achieved in the round - and in the lobby.
This conversation is not a new one. You can get some valuable historical insight in this 1994 essay, “Why temples look the way they do.” - “Stage Three (1970s and on): Synagogues reflect new worship styles. Sanctuaries are built with Shabbat worship in mind, setting out seats based on expected attendance. To encourage congregational participation and make the worship leaders more accessible, the bimah is built low and open, and seats are often arranged in a “U” or semicircle so worshipers can see one another. Sound systems are rarely necessary, as discussion and Torah dialogues have often replaced formal sermons. Organs and choir spaces rarely exist; members prefer a cappella singing or the use of electronic keyboards or guitar as accompaniment.”
And now, a generation after that, if anything, the trend is to go even smaller. Yet intimacy can also be felt when there are lots of people. In some ways, even our High Holidays can, at times, feel intimate. But that’s because most of the seats are filled. At TBE, no one should ever feel alone.
So now that you’ve seen why rabbis and cantors usually lobby for smaller, more intimate prayer spaces, you can feel free to challenge those assertions. I would love to hear new ideas and a vigorous conversation about how to have a more meaningful prayer experiences here. We should never stop growing!
But if you want to lobby against the lobby, please be prepared to answer one simple question: How do you propose that we build that bonfire?
All Hatred is Local
When the late Tip O’Neill coined the phrase, “All politics is local,” he had no idea just how small the world was about to become. Yet now, despite the growing hegemony of social media and instantaneous global reaction, we can take comfort in the stubborn fact that local communities still think for themselves. So global trends, while increasingly disturbing and impactful, do not instantly transform determine local attitudes. That’s very comforting, given the intensifying global phenomena of Islamic extremism and anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism in Europe is hardly new and it’s not going away. We need to be concerned about it. Were I living in France right now, moving to Israel (or America) would be an increasingly attractive option. But that doesn’t mean it is rising everywhere. Here in Stamford, our interfaith community is engaged in ongoing dialogue designed to keep lines of communication open. Last night at the Ferguson Library, over 100 people from a wide variety of racial, religious and generational backgrounds got together for a conversation about race. It was a moment we can be very proud of.
I am not so naïve as to suggest that the evils of the outside world can’t affect us. Do we need to be vigilant about security? Of course. Especially now. But the local leaders that I speak with, Christians, Muslims, Jews and none-of-the-above, are all on the same page, the page of moderation, dialogue and love. We are fortunate to live in a community where Jews can always live freely and proudly, a place where our congregation has always been respected and cherished. No doubt racism and hatred still reside behind closed doors of many local homes, and no doubt latent prejudice persists even in the public realm. We need to have ongoing conversations about how we all too often prejudge people by what they are rather than loving them for who they are. A generation after Dr. King, the racial playing field is still far from level.
But the conversation persists. Extremism may indeed be global, and the globe is shrinking fast. But hatred, like politics, is still local. And so is love.
Dr. King asked of God in 1964:
... grant that we will always reach out
for that which is high,
realizing that we are made for the stars,
created for the everlasting,
born for eternity.
for that which is high,
realizing that we are made for the stars,
created for the everlasting,
born for eternity.
May we learn again to reach out for those stars
And Let US be the fulfillment of his dream.
An App for Empathy
By the way, did you know that there is an app for empathy? According to “The Wisdom Daily,” “‘20 Day Stranger’ is an iPhone app developed to create an intimate and anonymous connection between you and another person. For 20 days, as you and a stranger get up, and go to work (or school or travel or wherever else the world takes you), while the app tracks your path, pulling related photos from Foursquare or Google Maps along the way.”
Dr. King would have loved that.
An Israeli Election WE Can Vote In
I highly recommend JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen’s posting, “Speaking to and About Israel.” Here’s a salient quote:
After the carnage in Paris, the Jewish State seems more necessary to Jewish survival than ever before. It also seems to stand front and center in the global battle against terrorism. Israel’s importance in that war is out of all proportion to the country’s small size and population. When Israel occupies such a prominent place on the agenda of world leaders, and on the world Jewish agenda, when Jews have once again been singled out by history, North American Jews dare not be silent where Israel is concerned. Our voices more than ever must be as strong, loving, judicious, faithful—and honest—as we can make them. What shall we say, as Jews, here and now, to Israel? And—no less important—how should we say it?
Yes, we have so much at stake in Israel’s future. With that in mind, voting has begun in the World Zionist Elections. (See https://www.myvoteourisrael.com/ to register). MERCAZ represents Masorti / Conservative Judaism. We have the chance to help shape the World Zionist Congress and, thereby, have an impact on creating an inclusive Israel by voting for Mercaz (slate #2).
The Mercaz platform is based on three values:
· Religious Pluralism in Israel Did you know that Conservative rabbis cannot legally perform marriages or conversions in Israel? This is wrong and must be changed.
· Affirmative Action for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement Why should the Israeli government give millions of dollars to Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox synagogues and institutions and the 50 congregations of the Masorti Movement have to fend for themselves?
· Ecology We believe that we are responsible for safeguarding the fragile ecosystem that exists in the land of Israel.
Anyone who identifies as a Jew and is over 18 years of age can vote. Registration can be done in 5 minutes, online at http://votemercaz.org/ . The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students and young adults (ages 18-30). Once you have registered, you will be able to go and vote immediately.
Shabbat Shalom (and Go, Pats!)
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Thursday, January 8, 2015
A reminder that Friday night services now begin at 7 PM. With Cantor Fishman on vacation this week, I’ll be going solo - with a special focus on silence and mindfulness (see below). In addition, we’ll be having a special family service led by our 5th and 6thgraders at 6, with a Disney theme, including prayers sung to Disney themes (I’m tempted to dust off my Lyin’ King Purim parody that I wrote years ago). I’ve seen some of the material and it’s really creative! Great for the whole family.
Next Friday night Cantor Fishman will be bringing musical guest Avram Pengas, a world renowned musician specializing in guitar and oud. Plus, join Mara and for a special Oneg Shabbat at our home after services. Looking ahead, circle January 30 on the calendar for our Shabbat service downtown.
Other than Shabbat, I hope you can join me at three big events next week. I’m really looking forward to the first session of my “Hot Topics for Cold Months” series on Tuesday night, this time focusing on Judaism and Gun Violence. On Wed. at noon, ourLunch and Learn series on Pirke Avot continues. And on Thursday evening, our interfaith “Learning and Latte” will step aside for this month for an interfaith community conversation, Moving Beyond Racism, featuring Mayor David Martin.
Also, our new LGBT group had a preliminary meeting this week. The next meeting will take place on Thursday evening, Jan. 22 at 7:30. A Havdalah / social event is also on the calendar, set for March 7 at a Harbor Point location. Save those dates! More info to come.
And don’t forget our Israel trip - see the itinerary and other info here. We would love to have you join us this July.
Holy Silence, January Cold, Jerusalem Snow, Heschel and “Wild”
Jerusalem in snow
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way....It offers a silence. It offers a solace. It offers a perspective.”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
“The deepest language of the soul is silence.”
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, quoted in the current issue of the digital journal Sh’ma, which features some stirring essays on silence.
Over the holidays, I went to see the excellent film “Wild.” In this week’s portion of “Shmot,” the book of Exodus begins with Moses embarking on a similar journey - remarkable similar, in fact, as he retreats to the silence of the wilderness to escape family trauma (his estrangement from the Egyptian court) and personal calamity (his murder of a taskmaster) in a tortured and tortuous journey of self discovery.
The great conservationist Aldo Leopold spoke of January as an ideal month to explore the outdoors, despite the cold, because, with so much of nature in hibernation, there are few diversions. As I walked across the frozen tundra of my lawn this morning and heard little but the crunch of ice beneath my feet, I could understand what he was getting at.
He writes, in his classic, “A Sand County Almanac,” “The months of the year, from January up to June, are a geometric progression in the abundance of distractions. In January one may follow a skunk track, or search for bands on the chickadees, or see what young pines the deer have browsed, or what muskrat houses the mink have dug, with only an occasional and mild digression into other doings. January observation can be almost as simple and peaceful as snow, and almost as continuous as cold. There is time not only to see who has done what, but to speculate why.”
January, then, is a time when we can pause, meander and reflect. The cold forces us to go a little more slowly (unless you are in Green Bay or Foxboro, that is), and the snow blankets the world with a coat of mystery. It coated Jerusalem with a few inches just this week, and for a fleeting moment, the tumult of the region was replaced by silent stirring, with the only noise being children at play.
Friday marks the yahrzeit of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose contributions to the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s was apparently airbrushed out of the film “Selma,” which opens nationally this weekend. Heschel spoke out against silence, both human and God’s, in the face of injustice. But Heschel also understood the power of silence in prayer. Long before mindfulness became a fad, he practically invented the concept of wonder for the 20th century Jew, living in an increasingly urban, complex and noisyworld.
Here’s what he wrote about prayer, nature and silence:
“To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers - wiser than all alphabets - clouds that die constantly for the sake of His glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.”
...In a sense, our liturgy is a higher form of silence. It is pervaded by an awed sense of the grandeur of God which resists description and surpasses all expression. The individual is silent. He does not bring forth his own words. His saying the consecrated words is in essence an act of listening to what they convey. The spirit of Israel speaks, the self is silent.
...Twofold is the meaning of silence. One, the abstinence from speech, the absence of sound. Two, inner silence, the absence of self-concern, stillness. One may articulate words in his voice and yet be inwardly silent. One may abstain from uttering any sound and yet be overbearing. Both are inadequate: our speech as well as our silence. Yet there is a level that goes beyond both: the level of song. “There are three ways in which a man expresses his deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the second level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into song.” True prayer is a song.
That’s our unofficial mission statement here - to cultivate silence, and to transform it into song.
On Friday night at 7 PM, we, like Robert Frost, Moses and Meryl Streep will also travel “Into the Woods” - I mean the wilderness (got my movies mixed up), with quotes by Cheryl Strayed and others. Let’s see if we can’t experience some meaningful moments amidst the holy silence.
And on Shabbat morning, we’ll deepen mindfulness with a discussion of the portion through the eyes Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, as described in the new book, “A Partner in Holiness.”
"It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts." K.T. Jong
Have a peaceful - and quiet - Shabbat.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Friday, January 2, 2015
Since my main O Gram message was already sent out before the New Year, just a few quick reminders:
- A reminder that services now begin at 7 PM on Friday evenings. Join us tonight! I’ll be talking about “The Times Square Ball Drop and Other Jewish Rituals.”
- This week's portion is Vayechi, as we conclude the book of Genesis. Family dynamics, Jewish continuity and assimilation are major themes of the portion. It also features an often overlooked ritual that has become part of the Shabbat dinner experience: the blessing of children. With that in mind, on Shabbat morning we'll be discussing an advertising campaign that is proving to be very controversial in Israel, and how it relates to the blessing of Jacob’s grandsons. See the controversial TV ad here and preview the entire Parsha packet here, including articles about the “Israeli Friday Night” ad campaign.
- There is no Religious School this Sunday morning, but we DO have morning minyan, as usual, at 9 AM.
- We've added some new photos of our volunteers at Inspirica's Family Shelter on Christmas Eve. You can see them, and our entire Hanukkah photo album, here. And catching up on some recent events, see Sydney Eben’s bat mitzvah speech here and Jessica Olin’s here.
Shabbat Shalom, safe travels, and happy 2015!