Thursday, February 19, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 20


Shabbat Shalom!

Tonight our 7th grade class (see four of them above) will be helping to lead our main service.  They'll show us how popular TV programs and movies teach us Jewish values.  With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, I'll assess which Best Picture nominee best exemplifies positive Jewish values (I've seen all but one).  Meanwhile, send me your nominations.  Also, read the Jewish Journal's special "Jews and Oscars" section here, look here to read about the Jew behind the Grand Budapest Hotel, also click here to read about Holocaust themed  foreign film nominee "Ida."  

On Tuesday at 7:30, as part of my "Hot Topics for Cold Months" series, I'll be joined by the JCC's Israeli Emissary Or Berger to discuss the upcoming Israeli elections and, more generally, the state of democracy in Israel.  Here's some homework: read the most recent Israel Democracy Index and follow closely what's going on with the Israeli elections.  It has been wild.  Undoubtedly, we'll come around to what's become a very hot topic on both sides of the ocean, Prime Minister Netanyahu's upcoming speech before Congress.

And finally, please spread the word about next Saturday evening's inaugural event of our LGBT group, a gathering at Harbor Point.

The group's goal is to create a welcoming environment in which the Jewish LGBT community can socialize, celebrate Jewish life, learn together and share experiences. Membership in Temple Beth El is not required, and people of all ages are welcome to the group.  Inclusivity has always been a hallmark of Temple Beth El and we want to remove the sense of alienation that Jews in the LGBT community have experienced in many synagogues when seeking acceptance and a spiritual home.

Meanwhile, as we welcome our most joyous month of Adar today, our joy is tempered by the events of this past week in Copenhagen...

The Copenhagen shooting: Driving a Hole through the Holy


One of our TBE young adults, Lauren Pollack, is spending the semester in Copenhagen and is living very close to the synagogue that was attacked.  She was kind enough to send along reflections for me to share with you.  Look for them below. 

When I visited that very synagogue last summer, I noticed the sign above the entrance (see photo above), which states, "Blessed be the one who comes in God's name."  I could not help but reflect this week on the irony of that invitation, in light of the desecration committed by perpetrators of terror who claimed to speak in God's name, and who violated that sacred space without invitation.

We get hung up on the semantics as to whether those who pervert God's name should be seen as representing their faith.  Like just about everything else in our polarized political landscape, this debate has been used to demonize and paint entire faith groups with very broad brushes.

Judaism teaches that we are all representatives of our faith group - which is why we even have a name for those who give us a bad name by perverting the divine name, or more accurately, we have a name for those despicable deeds themselves: we call such actions a "Hillul Ha-shem," a "Desecration of the Name."  It comes from a verse in Leviticus, "And you shall not profane My holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord who hallows you."  Examples of such "hilluls" in Jewish sources include stealing, desecrating the Shabbat and gossip.

The Hebrew root for "hillul" implies more than a moral desecration of that sacred Name; the imagery is quite concrete and physical.  It connotes a piercing or hollowing out.   Taking this imagery to its logical conclusion, these destructive actions create a cavity, an abscess that infects everything else around it.  The "Hillul Hashem," rather than being a sacred act, is in fact a hollow caricature of the sacred.  The perpetrator dresses the part of piety, but it turns out to be a grotesque disguise.  In other words, it's a cartoon, this caricature, one that renders profane the sacred surroundings and drives a spike of nihilism into the heart of divinity.  They drive a hole in the midst of the holy. 

These purveyors of death, not the journalists and satirists, create the most objectionable cartoons of God.  The unfathomable, unknowable God is rendered two-dimensional by their outrageous breach, and through their nihilism, God's name becomes the greatest victim.

So those who perpetrate terror in the name of God are actually desecrating that name and defaming their faith.  But they remain, to the outside world, representatives of that faith simply by the fact of their identifying with it.  Bernie Madoff identified as a Jew.  His views were as far from mainstream Jewish values as you can get - his life was Exhibit A in the museum of "Hillul Ha-shem."  Exhibit B might well be Rabbi Barry Freundel, who on Thursday pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism from secretly videotaping nude victims at his congregation's ritual bath.  

It is up to Jews everywhere to demonstrate that we, not Freundel, Madoff or Baruc Goldstein, are the representatives of the true Judaism; we need to overwhelm their i evil with our good.  Muslims have no less a burden right now. I work closely with several Muslims on our local Interfaith Council and have great deal of sympathy for their ongoing plight.  I do not regard the terrorists as the true face of Islam, but much of the world does.  Who really is the face of Islam is now an open question, just as it is an open question whether Meir Kahane's disciples are the true face of Judaism.

But this I believe: Those who do God's work here on earth, those who care for others and treasure each precious human life, whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, they are the true face of God.  They are the ones who are filling the breach in the divine Name.  

And they are the ones being welcomed by the sign over the door at the Copenhagen synagogue: "Blessed be the one who enters in God's name."  


The Copenhagen Shooting-A Reflection  
By Lauren Pollack

 I had just gotten home from a short study tour in western Denmark when I heard the news of the first shooting. It's sad to say but as soon I heard that the shooter had fled the scene and the police had begun a manhunt in and around my neighborhood my thoughts instantly jumped to the Copenhagen Synagogue, situated in the heart of Copenhagen, which also happens to be less than a 2-minute walk from my apartment.

I fell asleep before the shooting at the synagogue happened, but at around 2 AM one of the SRA's in my building (Social Residence Advisor-similar to an RA in a college dorm except they're more like mentor and friend) came running downstairs to check if we were all home and safe. I saw how nervous and shaken he was, my housemates started chattering about a shooting that had just happened at the Synagogue. I grabbed my phone and I checked the news.  I saw what I had so unfortunately expected; someone who had been guarding the Synagogue during a Bat Mitzvah had been shot and killed.

The day after the attack I kept finding myself leaving my apartment to walk over to the Synagogue; I went three times in one day. With each hour the piles of flowers, candles, and notes grew larger and larger. The sidewalk is still covered in flowers and candles, and more fresh bouquets are laid down each day. Each time I visit I weave in and out of the people in the crowd and the police who have been stationed there to protect the visitors and the city as a whole.

The outpouring of love and support from the community here in central Copenhagen has been truly profound. Jews and non-Jews alike have been paying their respects at the site of the second attack, but it has also been very eerie and confusing time for many, including myself. A friend of mine has been attending Shabbat services at the Chabad house here in Copenhagen and this upcoming weekend she invited me for Shabbat. But the questions I keep asking myself are, "Do we go now?" "Is it even more important that we go this Shabbat, or would we be making a mistake or taking too big of a risk?"  I keep finding myself considering sacrificing my freedoms of expression, religion, and speech so that I can ensure my safety and avoid calling attention to myself as an American, and as a Jew. Where is that line between being cautious and sacrificing my beliefs in the wake of such a devastating attack?  
I think that I have also experienced the attacks differently because I am Jewish. I have noticed that even though just a few days have past since the attacks, everyone is still somewhat in shock, scared, and upset. I think those same feelings will linger with me a bit longer than many of the students here. Many of my American friends did not contextualize this event and consider it as something that fits into a larger more systemic issue currently facing Jews in Europe and around the world. It's unsettling to me that one of my most immediate thoughts after the first shooting was that Synagogues need protection, that Jews in Denmark, myself included, were very vulnerable.

My reaction to the attacks remains in stark contrast to the reactions of most Danes. Denmark's society is a very trusting one. For instance, during the winter months, the sun is very rarely seen-the skies are consistently gray. So when the sun is shining bright, daycares here will bundle up the babies in their care and place them in their carriages out in the sun, usually on the sidewalk-for the most part unattended. That's just how this society works, and before the attacks I thought it was so beautiful and interesting-if someone left a bike unlocked in front of a store in Washington D.C. within hours it would be gone for good. Reflecting upon this aspect of society following the attacks, it's hard for me to say whether or not I'm confortable submitting to this Danish way of life. Trust is such a fundamental aspect of society here and is engrained in much of their routine, it would be hard for me to adjust back to my new "Danish life" if you will-if I abandoned all trust because of one tragic event; I do have a lot of faith and trust in this country and the people that I have met here so far.
I trust that the Danish police, whose presence was very scarce in Copenhagen before the attacks (part of the trusting nature of the Danes), are working hard to protect this city and me. I trust that my abroad program is working hard to make this situation as manageable as possible and provide resources should any student feel overwhelmed and distracted. I trust that the uneasiness I feel walking around will slowly dissipate, as I know I cannot feel this way forever.
Life moves on. That isn't to say that there is nothing the world can learn from what happened; we have seen attacks like this one before, in Paris at Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket for instance, where many more people lost their lives because they were targeted for exercising their right to free speech and for being Jewish (and in the wrong place at the wrong time). I think personally however, it's important for me to focus on not letting this event dictate how I feel about Denmark, how I feel about being a Jew (especially during such tumultuous times for Jews in Europe and around the world), or influence my time in Copenhagen and my travels.
The Danes have welcomed me so warmly during my first month here and I'm looking forward to the next 3 months I have in Scandinavia and Europe (and for the sun to be a more frequent visitor). Copenhagen is such a beautiful city. Hatred does not belong here; it doesn't belong anywhere.

Below are some photos that I took the day (afternoon and night) of the shooting of the flowers, candles, and letters that have been placed on the sidewalk in front of the Synagogue: 

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