Friday, June 5, 2015

Jewels, Miriam... and Caitlin / Shabbat-O-Gram for June 5


Thank you to David and Mary Harrison for sponsoring this week’s Shabbat announcements and Shabbat-O-Gram in honor of Jewels’ bar mitzvah this Shabbat.  Mazal tov to Jewels and his family!  

And please join us for this special celebration Shabbat. Tonight, our guest musicians will be Asaf Gleizner....and Jewels Harrison! Incidentally, Jewels would love it you sing along when he plays “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” You can print out the lyrics here.

First, some quick notes.
  • Best of luck to all who are participating in this Sunday’s Hope in Motion walk! We have an incredible lineup of walkers in TBE’s group, and many others from our congregation will be walking with other groups.  Thank you all for taking our Jewish ideals and translating them into world-repairing action.
  • Next Friday night we will at long last be hearing from Marcia Lane, as part of our “This American Jewish Life series.  She was postponed this past winter. And mark your calendars for Friday the 19th, our Pride Shabbat. And the following week, the 26th, we celebrate our High School graduates while also hearing from noted expert on Israel advocacy on campus, Linda Scherzer, former CNN reporter and current director of the Write on for Israel” program.
  • Service Times: Nearly 100 responded to our quick survey about service start times, an indicator of great interest in our Friday night services.  One clear signal sent was that there is a far greater likelihood of getting more people to a 7:30 service, while inconveniencing fewer.  Since the service has been building attendance even at or experimental time of 7, we see real possibilities for a significant attendance bump with a switch.  So, our senior staff, augmented by our ritual co-chair and incoming president, deliberated on this and decided that the best tack right now would be to shift back to a 7:30 start time beginning next month - in July. The board was apprised of this on Wed night.  Our goal is to have more Shabbat dinners here before the service, including potluck, to make it more convenient for people, especially families with younger children.  (Some have asked me about our potluck policy, which is based on the successful “Two Tables” model used in other Conservative shuls. Our current policy was introduced in 2009. See that policy here.  BOTTOM LINE - IN JULY, SERVICES RETURN TO 7:30.
  • Two key conferences take place next week, regarding Israel, the Middle East and world Jewry.   Both will offer livestreaming opportunities.  The 15th Herzliya Conference features plenaries on strategic issues.  See the impressive schedule here.  The AJC Global Forum speaks of Israel and the Jewish world, as other global issues.  Here is their schedule.  Check the websites for livestream options. Meanwhile, the new Israeli government coalition poses deep threats to religious pluralism in Israel - a situation that was already tenuous - but coalition agreements with Haredi parties will make things much worse. Click here for a full analysis by a new watchdog group called “Hiddush.”
  • You’ve received a number of reminders regarding the Cantor’s Concert next weekend.  There is still time to click here and send the cantor a message of welcome in our journal.  I recall a year ago when we were in the midst of the cantorial search, and how much I was moved by this column by the noted columnist David Suissa (one with admittedly Orthodox leanings and a general preference for male hazzanim.  He wrote: “With the Los Angeles sunset framing her angelic face, Fishman picked up her trumpet and played a slow and moving solo that opened the evening. Then we all sang "Shalom Aleichem."I confess -- I felt a frisson of spirituality. I know "spirituality" is a nebulous term, so I'll say it more clearly: I lost myself. I stopped thinking and started feeling. It helped that every time I looked up at Fishman, she also looked lost. Lost in her prayers, her melodies and the moment. She was receiving from God as much as she was giving to us.” One year later, I couldn’t agree more.
  • This Tuesday is the last Learning and Latte of the season.  Our monthly interfaith dialogue takes place at the High Ridge Diner at 7:30. This month’s topic is “Life Transitions.” We were thinking about this being a time of graduations, weddings, etc., but little did we know how much conversation there would be about other kinds of transitions this week.  So maybe that will come up too.  Speaking of Caitlin Jenner, if you are interested in Jewish perspectives on transgender issues, Lisa Gittleman-Udi suggested to me the Transtorah website.  Also see the Jewish Transitions site

Jewels’ Bar Mitzvah


I’ve been talking and writing a lot about this weekend’s very special bar mitzvah.  Jewels Harrison will be leading much of the service on Shabbat morning, and it would be wonderful for the community to come out and support him and his family. You can read his remarkable story here.  And here is an article about him from today’s New Canaan Advertiser.  We are extremely proud that Jewels has grown up here, literally from the day of his bris, which took place on a morning when we celebrated another special bar mitzvah, for an 83 year old gentleman named Bill Zelermyer.  What you see Jewels doing tomorrow - and tonight, when he will be playing keyboard - is happening totally because Jewels wants to do it.  He may get distracted at some points, but as with all our b’nai mitzvah, the goal is not perfection - it’s intention.  And Jewels is purekavvanah.  Both tonight and tomorrow will be extraordinary moments for us all.

Please be aware that the service on Shabbat morning will be curtailed somewhat to make it easier for Jewels to maintain focus. All the key prayers and blessings will be included.  But the service will be considerably than the typical bar mitzvah here.  And his greatest involvement will be in the early parts.  So please try to be here right at the beginning, at 9:30.

Jewels, Miriam...and Caitlin

I attended the showing last night of the film “Paragraph 175.” Immediately afterwards, I participated in a panel discussing the Nazi era persecution of homosexuals andinclusivity in our Jewish community today.

I learned much from the film that I never knew before.  The numbers of homosexuals impacted and the percentage killed was far lower than that for Jews that is not the point. There’s no question that the Nazis singled out the Jews alone for complete annihilation.  But many gays were also Jews (and members of other targeted groups), so comparing the numbers is essentially meaningless.  It’s also true that once the war was over, while those Jews who survived were essentially “liberated,” homosexuals were still considered deviants and fugitives - and Paragraph 175, which branded them as such, was not removed from the German criminal code until decades later.  Nor was the situation much better in more friendly countries, as those who saw the recent film, “The Imitation Game,” featuring the tragic case of Alan Turing, are aware.  In our own country, the US vs. Windsor Supreme Court decision has dramatically reversed the course of discrimination, with this month’s Supreme Court decision being eagerly anticipated.

Jews and gays have always been canaries in the coal mine of hate and intolerance.  There are other canaries too; we are all joined in our belief that any nation or group that targets one marginal group will ultimately despise anyone who is different.

In this week’s Torah reading, Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam engage in gossip against their brother and Miriam is afflicted with leprosy.  Why Miriam and not Aaron?  Beats me - yet another Torah verse to struggle with. (Some say God had to set Miriam as an example because she was so highly respected - nice try.  Makes God sound like Roger Goodell.  Not buying it).  But for whatever reason, she’s afflicted, and Miriam is removed from the community. Moses then takes it upon himself to pray for her healing - a spontaneous, beautiful prayer:  אל נא רפא נא להel na, refa na la -- "please, God, heal her." Read about it as a tool for contemporary Jewish healing and hear it chanted.  Moses then makes sure that she can be rescued from the margins and brought back, whole, into society.

The rule of thumb is that we Jews are the anti-Nazis.  That’s why they, and other totalitarian rulers, hate us so.  We embrace the stranger, including all those groups that the Nazis marginalized and ultimately killed.  We as Jews are called upon to bring them back from the margins, as Moses did for Miriam.

This is not to say that all groups need “healing” - certainly not LGBT (as recent studies have shown).  But all groups - all individuals - are entitled to be cared for, to be loved, to be accepted, to be respected and to have their dignity affirmed. 

Among the other groups targeted by the Nazis were the mentally and physically disabled, who were systematically euthanized. Jewels Harrison, who copes with autism, would undoubtedly have been at the top of their list.  This is why we will revel in his accomplishments this Shabbat, and be grateful for the precious gift he is giving us, by opening that window, just a crack, allowing us to peer into his deep, melodic and joyous soul.

And what does all this have to do with Caitlin Jenner, aside from my wanting to get you to read to the bottom?

There are many reasons for the unprecedented reaction to the release of her Vanity Fair cover photo.  Part of that was sensationalism, but a large part of it discomfort.  When people feel uncomfortable, they tend to marginalize and to objectify.  So a serious matter becomes a circus side show and in this country, another name for “side show” is “reality TV.”  Eventually, though, we have to take out the “TV” part, hold up a mirror to ourselves and deal with the reality. 

All people deserve to be loved, because ours is a God of love.  It’s time for the marginal to become mainstream.  Not every synagogue would allow Jewels to fulfill his dream as we are going to here this weekend.  But we are not every synagogue.

Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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