Thursday, April 16, 2015

Shabbat-O-Gram April 17

The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by Beth and
Sandy Weinberg in honor of their son, Noah, becoming a
Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat afternoon and by Barbara and Bruce Friedlander in honor of their daughter, Rebecca, becoming a Bat Mitzvah on Sunday, Rosh Chodesh.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Noah Weinberg and Rebecca Friedlander and their families, as we swing back into b’nai mitzvah mode big-time this weekend.  Also, join us on Friday night when our musical guest will be the one and only Jonathan Cahr (who, back a few lifetimes ago, was actually our youth director, though now he is known for his many musical accomplishments).  This will be a great opportunity to hear Jonathan and Cantor Fishman make beautiful music together.

See our TBE Passover Seder Photo Album.  I consider this album to be a work in progress, as we add to it year after year.  Please continue to send me your photos.

Israel at 67: An Exciting Announcement

Whatever you will be doing this week to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, plan to join us next Friday night for our Mediterranean Service and Israel celebration.  Services will be in the Social Hall, cabaret style, with great musicians and lots of singing.

Also, plan to join us again on Tuesday, May 12, for the first in a new series of Israel Café nights.  Planned by our new Israel Action Committee, these regular events will feature Israeli culture, food, music, you name it.  For the first one we will be showing a first run, acclaimed Israeli dark comedy, “The Farewell party,” hailed by Varietyas a “poignant, provocative, superbly acted dramedy from Israeli helmers Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit. Boasting a dream cast of septuagenarian talent, a finely honed visual sense and superbly ironic comic timing.”  See the trailer.

This film will have its New York premier in on May 22, with national theatrical release on the 29th.  Through special arrangement with Goldwyn Films, it will have its TBE premier ten days before New York’s!!!  Special thanks to The Wallace Family and Samuel Goldwyn Films for making this screening possible.   A portion of the ticket price will also be donated for Charlie Wallace's bar mitzvah project, Animal Friends of Connecticut.

One more Israel related item: Next Tuesday at 7:30, The Jewish Theological Seminary will be hosting “The American Jewish Conversation About Israel,” a panel discussion featuring J.J. Goldberg of The Forward, Jonathan Tobin of Commentary, and Melissa Weintraub of JCPA’s “Resetting the Table” initiative. The event will be livestreamed so you can watch it on your electronic devices.  The link is  After the destructive banter of the past few months, we desperately need to learn how to talk to one another about Israel.  Considering that the two featured, highly esteemed speakers represent dramatically conflicting views. I highly recommend this program as an exercise in how we can better communicate.


Shoah Plus 70: Time to Move On?

Who knows seventy?

Seventy years is an important time span in Jewish symbolism and history. For millennia, it has been seen as the amount of time we need to fully recover from a catastrophe, to the point where the tragedy can give way to a burst of creativity. 

It was seventy years after the first temple was destroyed in 586 BCE that an edict of King Cyrus restored a glimmer of hope to a Jewish people primed to return to Jerusalem.

It was seventy years after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans, in the year 70, that Jews gathered their resolve and revolted, anticipating another redemption, similar to the one that had occurred six centuries earlier.  Although this time hope was crushed with the defeat of Bar Kochba in the 130s, precisely seventy years after that, the Mishnah was completed and rabbinic Judaism came to fruition.

Seventy years after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, Jewish life, replanted in Safed, came to full flower with the publication of the Shulchan Aruch.

Seventy years is a biblical lifetime. 

Psalm 90 states “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.”
In the Talmud, Honi the circle drawer slept for seventy years, awakening to witness the fully grown tree that he had planted for his grandchildren.

It’s a powerful, mystical number, the combination of two sacred numbers, seven and ten.  There are seventy members of the Sanhedrin court, seventy elders to support Moses, seventy words in the Kaddish, seventy faces of Torah, seventy names for God.  In numerology, seventy is equivalent to the letter ayin, the eye that can see hidden mysteries and connections.

So it makes perfect sense that after seventy years, the equivalent of a lifetime, we can at last envision new possibilities and remove ourselves from the traumas of the past.

This week we mark exactly seventy years since the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.  It is now precisely seventy years since the end of the Shoah.  So we are presented with the eternal question of the middle child (the one squeezing between her two siblings in the back seat of the car):

Are we there yet?! 

Where is our Mishnah or Shulchan Aruch?  Where is our Cyrus to release us from Babylonian bondage?  Where is Honi, who can remind us of our duty to focus on the future rather than on the past?

With each prior tragedy-plus-seventy, not only have we been able to move on, but we’ve been able to do it one specific way: by re-imagining God’s role in history.  And by re-envisioning God, we’ve also been able to forgive God - and again be thankful for all of life’s blessings and for life itself.

But the Holocaust is unique, and seventy is not time enough.  We’re not ready to move on.  We’ve seen all too clearly that we are not yet ready to transition from victim to visionary.  There are still too many real victims walking among us, as well as too many who have fallen victim to the Shoah’s lasting scars of cynicism and despair.

It is still too soon to say to God all is forgiven, much less that we are grateful.  It is still too soon to say that all is explicable. Maybe someday it will be.  Right now, the greatest favor we can do for God, and for our own intellectual integrity, is to leave God out of this conversation.  We have a covenant with God, and that is at Sinai.  But Jews have another Covenant: the one made at Auschwitz, the Covenant of Never Again.  The promise to remember is not a pledge made to God, but to humanity.

Seventy years appears to be the point of separation, of moving on. That’s the way it’s always been.  But not here.  Not now.  Not with survivors still walking among us.  Not with so many Jewish souls still singed with anger and mistrust.  And perhaps, some would say, not with so many real dangers afoot as to warrant that mistrust.

Our ancestors could move on, but we can’t.  Not yet.
Perhaps in another seventy years.

Celebrating the Courage of Righteous Gentiles

My son Dan gave a presentation this week on extraordinary deeds of non Jews during the Holocaust, an area that is often overlooked.  Below are three prime examples that he researched.  Dan will become a college graduate in just three weeks - since so many of you were part of the village that it took to raise him, we can all kvell together.

The first person I will discuss is named Jan Dobraczyński. Mr. Dobraczyński was born in Warsaw, Poland on April 20, 1910. He grew up a devout Catholic, joining many Christian groups including the Christian student organization at the University of Warsaw and the national Association of Catholic Writers. After the Nazis invaded Poland, Mr. Dobraczyński joined the Catholic National Party in Poland, which campaigned strongly for the rights of Jews and other minorities that were being persecuted. He was inspired to head the Division for Abandoned Children at the Warsaw municipal welfare department, which was instrumental in assisting in the activities of the Zegota, an underground organization of Polish resistance that aimed to hide Jews from the Nazis. Specifically, Mr. Dobraczyński was responsible for finding refuge for Jewish children in Catholic monasteries, thereby saving many Jewish lives. His resistance to Nazi rule led to his imprisonment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which he ultimately survived. He died in Warsaw on March 5, 1994.

Just as inspiring as those who organized secret accommodations for Jews were those who took on the grave risk of hiding Jews in their own homes. This is exactly what occurred in the case of Polish couple Józef and Wiktoria Ulma. Jozef and Wiktoria were a Roman Catholic couple who had six children and lived in the Polish village of Markowa. In late 1942, as part of Hitler’s Final Solution, Nazi officers executed many Jews in Markova and sent the rest to concentration camps. The Ulmas, along with other Catholic couples in the village, decided to risk their safety and the safety of their children by hiding Jews in their homes. They knew that doing this would be punishable by death if they were discovered, but they were willing to take the risk to protect their innocent Jewish brethren.

Horrified by what they had seen in their village, Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma agreed to hide eight Jews in their attic. Since they lived on a farm, the Ulmas attempted to disguise the Jews’ identities by hiring them as workers on the farm. However, the Nazis ultimately could not be fooled by this. In the evening of March 23, 1944, the Nazis discovered the hidden Jews on the Ulma farm and executed all of them on site. Following this, the Nazis killed the entire Ulma family, including Jozef and Wiktoria.

The final people I want to speak about are ones I was fascinated by when I came across them in my research. As someone who has studied the Holocaust for his entire life, I can say that the righteous gentiles of the Holocaust that are mentioned in Jewish settings are generally Christian. With this in mind, I was very surprised to find a story of Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga are a Muslim couple that lived in Sarajevo. When the Nazis bombed Sarajevo after their invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, they destroyed the home of a Jewish family with the last name Kavillo. Mustafa Hardaga, a Muslim man who owned the family’s factory building, offered for the Kavillo family to stay at his home. The Hardagas made a great effort to welcome the Kavillos into their family, to the extent that the women were not obliged to cover their faces around the Kavillo patriarch Josef, as they would do around other men.

Eventually, the Kavillo family was able to move to an area of Italy that was safer for Jews. However, Josef was soon arrested and imprisoned. Zejneba Hardaga saw Josef as he was being arrested, with his legs chained, and wanting to help her dear friend she began to secretly provide food for him and the other prisoners.

Soon after, Josef managed to escape and he returned to the Hardaga home. At this time, the Gestapo headquarters was located very close by, and the death penalty was threatened to anyone who hid Jews. The Hardagas, however, were fervently committed to giving refuge to Josef and his family, who soon rejoined him. The Kavillo family ended up surviving the Holocaust, and when they immigrated to Israel they asked for Yad Vashem, the world’s largest Holocaust remembrance organization, to include the Hardaga couple in the righteous among the nations. The couple’s bravery was repaid in 1994, when Sarajevo was under attack and Zejneba Hardaga were allowed refuge in Israel without hesitation.

In all of the cases I mentioned, we can see very clear courage, compassion, and love for fellow human beings. These people had nothing to gain from protecting Jews at this dangerous time, and in fact they had everything to lose. However, they chose to risk their lives in order to do what was right. These examples are such clear indicators that love is a universal sentiment that transcends all religions and cultures. No matter what faith you practice, you can and should be loved by anyone just because you are a fellow human being. The fact that we of many religious backgrounds are here to witness this important message exemplifies it significantly. The Hebrew word on my current slide, yizkor, means remember. May we all remember the courage and honor of the innocent people who perished in the Holocaust, and the brave individuals who risked it all so many would not.

Richard’s Rays of Hope

Finally, as we move into spring, at this time of year, many of our congregants participate in various fund raising efforts such as the annual Bennett Cancer Walk. With that in mind, I want to share this letter sent on April 15 by TBE member Richard Heimler.  It is a real story of inspiration, courage and hope.  Once you’ve read this letter, take a look at his astonishing video, Richard’s Rays of Hope at - and share his Facebook page at .  Thank you to Richard for sharing his story with us.  

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is my 11th anniversary since being diagnosed with lung cancer.  I dedicate today to the other 15 million cancer survivors in the United States. A person is regarded as a cancer survivor at the moment their disease is detected.

I am proud to be a survivor. One thing you accept as a cancer survivor is the realization you can never return to life as it was before the cancer diagnosis. Now, I am Richard with lung cancer. I can never go back to being just Richard again.

But being a cancer survivor doesn't have to define my life. I choose to live a little each day than die a little each day. In the book, Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand wrote, “You do not throw a whole lifetime away because it is banged up a bit.” 

This was a difficult health year as I was diagnosed with four new tumors. Fortunately, I started a new personal medicine, Zykadia from Novartis. Three of the tumors responded well to the new medicine; two died and one is shrinking. My radiation oncologist was able to kill the fourth tumor with pin point radiation. But the tumors and treatment reduced my pulmonary function. I am now exercising every day to increase my lung capacity and am thankful to have recovered 50% of the loss so far. And as Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

When you have a diagnosis of cancer, you do think about your mortality but I will not let cancer break my positive spirit. As I continue to live with cancer, I continue to live a full life. I saw a poem once that said “The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals. The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for.”  I have lots of plans and hopefully nothing will interfere with them. I want to live my life like everyone else. What cancer has done for my life is to just make me pedal faster.

The sportscaster, Stuart Scott, who recently passed away from cancer said “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live. So live. Fight like hell and when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let someone else fight for you.” I am so fortunate to have my fiance, Chris in my life. Some days I do not feel good and when I see Chris come through the front door my spirits are instantly lifted. He makes me feel safe and happy because I have someone wonderful to share good times, to survive the hard times and to keep me company all the time. Most importantly, he accepts who I am and who I am not.

Finally, I am thrilled to announce our video, “Richard’s Rays of Hope” has exceeded all expectations. It has been viewed over 6,700 times around the world from the United States to Canada to Australia to Pakistan to Singapore. I believe we accomplished our goal of turning a negative diagnosis into a positive way of life by raising awareness and hope for people impacted by lung cancer. 

In honor of my 11th Anniversary, please tell someone you love that you love them.

For the eleventh straight year, I will end my letter by saying:
Life goes on.......thankfully. 

Here’s hoping for many more!


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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