Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Bar Mitzvahs - Shabbat O Gram for June 12



Shabbat Shalom

Friday night at 7 PM we will at long last be hearing from Marcia Lane, as part of our "This American Jewish Life" series.  Read her fascinating bio. We also welcome backKatie Kaplan and David Bravo.  

A reminder of the unforgettable evening of music and memories that awaits us at this Sunday night's Cantor's Concert. As if that isn't enough, toward the end, we'll also have an important announcement to make.

Also, you won't want to miss next week, Friday the 19th, our Pride Shabbat.  We'll have some special guests, superb musicians Alicia Svigals and Uri Sharlin. Alicia is the world's leading klezmer fiddler and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics (her bio is beyond belief).  She is also very active within the LGBT community. Uri enthralled us just a couple of weeks ago playing keyboard and accordion.

And the following week, June 26th, we celebrate our High School graduates while also hearing from noted expert on Israel advocacy on campus, Linda Scherzer, former CNN reporter and founding director of the Write on for Israel" program.  All high school and college students and their parents are encouraged to come to this very important program.  Since Shabbat starts late, we are also planning to take some reunion photos of our students (it's always fun to compare our 12th grade graduates now to what they looked like then...)

And please note that as of July 3, our Friday services will be returning to the 7:30 start time.

Speaking of graduations, up top is a photo of our recent 7th grade graduates, courtesy of photographer Fred Canpolat.  See all the graduation photos and their complete Lifecycle Album here.

A Tale of Two Bar Mitzvahs



It was the best of Shabbats and the worst of Shabbats.

Here at Beth El last Shabbat, Jewels Harrison, challenged by autism and unable to speak a word until he was three, was able to fulfill a dream in becoming bar mitzvah.  He read Torah and led prayers, inspiring hundreds who attended and many, many others who have since heard about it. The service was attended by a member of the US Congress and a number of community leaders.

Meanwhile, we found out after Shabbat that a bar mitzvah for autistic students in Israel was cancelled and the kids' hopes dashed, by none other than the President of Israel, who followed in the footsteps of the Rehovot's mayor in scuttling the plans, for the simple reason that the service would have involved a Masorti (Conservative) rabbi. This betrayal, on top of the Rehovot betrayal, has infuriated many people.

This week, the leadership of the Conservative Movement reacted in an unprecedentedly unrestrained manner after the most recent humiliation.


And below is a letter being circulated among Conservative congregations:

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, you received an email about the regrettable actions of Israeli President Rivlin, which demonstrated disdain and disrespect for the more than two million Conservative Jews around the world, many of whom work tirelessly for Israel, lead some of the most important Jewish organizations in the country and are loyal and steadfast supporters of the Jewish State.

Today, we are asking you to add your voice to the chorus of outrage by sending the following email to one or all of these addresses:

As we are commanded by our tradition to speak out in the face of injustice, we believe that the volume of voices raised in protest may help President Rivlin reverse his wrongheadedness. In this spirit, please become an activist for the cause of religious pluralism in Israel. Write to President Rivlin - there's an email template below for your convenience.  Post this on your Facebook page. Ask your friends to do the same.  Ask your rabbi to speak about it from the bimah. Write something for your synagogue bulletin and e-newsletter. Alert your Federations.     

Take action now, send an email to President Rivlin.  

The Masorti Foundation

I only hope that the Israeli government does not underestimate the anger that this callous action has caused on this side of the pond. It's one thing to constantly humiliate non-Orthodox clergy, who have come to expect such treatment - perhaps to a fault. It's one thing to humiliate prospective converts or those who pine for civil marriage. They've gotten used to shipping off to Cyprus or some such. It's one thing to keep us from praying in our authentic, egalitarian manner at the Kotel, and to arrest our women and pummel those men who dare to help them.  But it's another to callously dash the hopes of the disabled.

The President's office is feeling the heat.  I texted with a member of his staff on Wednesday and he was very concerned that after Rivlin gave a major address (and ahvery important and good one, on changing Israeli demographics) at this week's Herzliya conference, the press asked only about this incident.  The staffer said that if I bring a million Conservative Jews to Israel on aliyah, then life will become very different for the non-Orthodox streams.  That's not an appropriate response, even if it is the unfortunate political reality.  Israel is the state of all the Jewish people, not just those who live there - at least that's what the Prime Minister keeps on saying.  Rivlin has done a very good job at uniting Israelis. He does care about the disabled.  He also cares about Israel's image.  So do I.  He is a good and decent man, who does listen.

Please take action.  We need for him to listen now.


In light of the Rehovot mess, the contrast with what happened here last Shabbat cannot be greater.

Mary Harrison, Jewels' mom, gave a stirring speech last week.  She cited current statistics, which show that 1 in 68 children born today is diagnosed with autism.  In 1975, it was roughly one in 5,000.  We do not know why the surge has been that dramatic, but, according to Stephanie Seneff, research scientist for MIT, by 2025 one in two children will be autistic.  To date, there is no cure. The cause is unknown.

Then Mary added:

"Autism does not discriminate, autism doesn't care what a person's religion or race is; it doesn't care where you live, or economic circumstances, autism has no regard for heritage.    It affects any and all demographics.

Those on the autism spectrum might very well be the most misunderstood and misrepresented group in our society today.   We live in a time where we are most comfortable slapping a label and writing a prescription.   Where devices have replaced direct communication."

Mary then spoke of a recent conversation, where the topic came up about whether children with autism can actually understand God.

"I believe God made us and has placed in each person a desire for truth and justice, for love and compassion.  It's like we are all born with a missing part that only God can fill. Jewels from an early age seem to naturally connect to God."

And indeed, from infancy, Jewels was exceedingly comfortable here and people always were welcoming of him. I can't recall a single "shush," as he would run around and sing Hebrew melodies. He enjoyed being at services, and especially delighted in the music.

His exuberance reminded me of a time when my son Daniel (who, in case you didn't hear it yet from the eternally kvelling dad, recently graduated from college) was just three. One morning, I brought him to minyan. Midway through the Kedusha he abruptly left our row and began running circles in the aisle, singing out letters of the alef-bet.

Embarrassed, I coaxed him back to his seat.

Later he told Mara, "Daddy didn't want me to dance at temple today."

It made me think of how we drain all our kids of the passion, the pulp of prayer, the pure joy, and how only the lucky few survive to reclaim it when they are older.

Jewels helped the rest of us to see what the pure oxygen of prayer can be. Few of us can ever get to his degree of spiritual joy. But in order for our communities to get there, we need him as much as he needs us - if not more.

The kind of support Jewels Harrison received has been callously snatched from the students in Rehovot. For pettiest of purposes, the President of Israel has kept some treasured children from dancing and singing before God.

He may have intended to slap down a few Conservative Jews, but his real victim has been joy itself.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

No comments: