Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shabbat O Gram Aug 28

Shabbat Shalom

As you meander on the back porch or beach during this final week of the summer , you are invited to check out our photo album from our recent barbecue along with the recent family picnic. Also see some photos of my trip to Peru.  

Before we being our regularly scheduled programming, some important announcement:
-          Get in the spirit of this season of Teshuvah by downloading last week’s parsha packet on “Self Scrutiny,” or review last year’s list of “Judaism’s Top 40” values and concepts. Read Maimonides “Laws of Teshuvah” translated here.Read more about teshuvah here. Also, cultivate your “soul traits” (Middot) at Rabbi Ira Stone’s Mussar Pathways. Check out the Middot table and work on a different character trait each day: PatienceHumilityCalmness ,Generosity and Trust.  Study Maimonides' "Laws of Personality and Character Development." Find the texts here. Read about  Teshuvah in an article from theclassic Jewish Encylcopedia. See this kabbalistic approach.
-          Join us for our “Shabbat Under the Stars” on Friday at 6:30. Come early with a dairly picnic if you wish.  We’ll be situated just across from the cantor’s house, and the service will just about at sunset.  But as it gets darker and darker, signaling the approaching end of summer, we’ll paraphrase the classic Dylan Thomas poem as we (p)ra(y)ge against the dying of the light - inasmuch as prayer here is a passionate - if not exactly raging - affirmation of life. And save the date for next week’s Selichot service in Westport.  This year, the Conservative congregations of Westport, Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich will be joining together for the first time.
-          This year we are once again including blurbs about loved ones in our “Book of Remembrance.” Send brief tributes to Mindy at
OK, Time for the Hard Sell...

The meme above gives us lots of reasons (read: excuses) why people avoid joining congregations.  But there are many, many more reasons why people’s lives could be enhanced immeasurably by affiliating.  Send me yours, along with reasons why you come come to services on the High Holidays.  I'd love to share some.
Next week, I am going to be hosting some new TBE members and others who are synagogue “shopping.”  If you know of anyone who might be interested in learning more about TBE, please let me or Steve Lander know.  We would love to share with them what’s special about our congregation. An interesting phenomenon we’ve noticed is the return of former members - several just in the past few weeks.  We’re seeing adults who grew up here returning with their young families, as well as empty nesters coming home to roost.
We find that our own congregants (e.g. you) are our best salespeople.  The more members we attract, the better it is for all of us.
So please help us over the next several days.  Circulate the good news on your social media and in conversation with friends.  Encourage people to try us out this Friday night (or next).  Ask them to contact us or give us their contact info.
We have a world renowned cantor, whose music lifts us to the point that our services, in particular our High Holiday services, are beyond comparison.  For those who need further proof, please direct them to the following YouTube clips:  Cantor Magda Fishman sings “Anytime,” at TBE, Yom Kippur 5775 or to  Cantor Magda Fishman sings Avinu Malkenu

By all means, circulate them.  Share them on your Facebook page (with an enticing into like “Hear the song that brought an entire congregation to tears” - which it did). Let the world know how incredible the experience of a service at TBE can be. 
And for those not yet ready to join, let them know that Yizkor on Yom Kippur and the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah are free and open to the general public for those who wish to try us out - as long as they make arrangements ahead of time by . 
If they want to know more about me, send them to my blog, which includes just about every article and High Holiday sermon I’ve given.  Send them to our website or to the TBE photo archive, with nearly 90 albums.  Of course, I’d be happy to speak to anyone directly - or to invite a prospective member to the upcoming meet and greet.
Below you will find something that I dug out of my files.  Feel free to read and pass around.  Your decision to belong to a synagogue - THIS synagogue - is one that can make all the difference, for you, for your community, for the Jewish people and for the world.  We should all consider that... Membership IS a privilege.
By Rabbi Rafael Goldstein
Dear Friend:
I am sorry that I have to write this open letter to you, but I don't know any other way of reaching you. I have been told that you used to belong to a synagogue but you dropped out when your children were through with the school. You are not alone; three quarters of the Jews in our community do as you did. Three quarters of the Jews in our community do not belong to a synagogue. That is a mind-boggling statistic.
Maybe you think that it is too expensive to join a congregation. There is no use denying it. Like the cost of everything else in this world, the cost of maintaining synagogues has sky-rocketed. Synagogues do have reduced rates for those that need them, and we give them without causing embarrassment, but still, I do not deny that it is expensive to belong.

But if you have a limited amount of money and an unlimited number of things that you can spend it on, you have to make choices on the basis of priorities. If you cannot afford both a new car and a trip overseas, then you have to decide which means more to you. If you cannot afford the synagogue and something else, what you are really saying when you choose the other is that the synagogue is not a priority, that the other thing, whatever it is, is more important to you. Everyone has the right to set his own priorities, but know that this is what you are doing.
Maybe you think that you do not need the synagogue anymore because your children have all graduated. Is the synagogue a gas station? When you need it, you use it and when you don't, you drive past it and you feel no deeper relationship, no greater responsibility for it than that? That is not what the synagogue is supposed to be. Being part of the synagogue you are a part of the Jewish people. No other institution unites the Jews as well across the centuries and across the borders.

This is the only institution we have that Jews from Cairo or Casablanca, from this century or the third century can walk into and feel at home. When you are a part of a synagogue, you are part of a fellowship with all those who have been a part of Judaism before you, with all those who built and maintained it before you, and with all those who have been a part, through the centuries.
You open a prayer book and the generations that went before you come alive within you. You open a prayer book and say the same words that they said, and you know that you belong to the ages, and that the ages belong to you; that you are not here today and gone tomorrow; but that you are a part of your people's history, and that history is a part of you.
There is another reason. The synagogue is not only a bond to the past. It is also a bond to the Jewish people of the present. When we meet together in this place, we meet as partners. We stand here with a sense of being connected to each other, and of being responsible for one another. That experience, the sense of being connected in this time is a healing thing. It helps you to recover from the hurt of a loss, to be part of a community that cares.
If that sense of community was always needed, it is needed even more in our time. We live in such a mobile place, in such a transient society. We pay an enormous psychic price for all this mobility. We pay, in that we have so little sense of roots, so little sense of family. Who lives in the same state, or in the same state of mind, as parents or children anymore? In this kind of world on wheels, something has to stay the same. In some place, they have to know me and care about me, not just as a customer or as a client or as a competitor, but as a person and as a Jew.
Sure, you can get a rabbi or cantor and rent a hall for all of the rites of passage - from baby-naming to burial - without having to belong. You can always find some rabbi who will do all of these things for you, out of kindness, even if you don't belong. It is bad enough if you are a number at work, or if you are a stranger to your neighbors, but if you are a number to the one who marries you, or to the one who buries you - if s/he does not know your pain, and if s/he does not even know your name, isn't that a loss? That is what happens if you don't belong to a synagogue.
There is one more loss if you do not belong. Your child, if you have one, may have finished his Jewish education by the time s/he is 13, but have you? You are more experienced in the affairs of this world than your child, and so you should know, better than s/he does, how much you don't know, how lost we all are, how bewildered we all are in this confusing, fast-changing world, how much wisdom and guidance we need if we are ever going to make it in this world. The synagogue does not have all the answers, but at least it deals with the right questions, with the ultimate questions. And it deals with them from the perspective of the centuries, and not just from the point or view of the latest fad or cult. If you come to the synagogue, you will hear some of the central spiritual questions of our time explored questions such as: what meaning does my life have now AFTER I have made it financially? Or, why do my children not understand me? And why is my life so frail, and why is my death so certain, and what should I do with my days before they disappear?
The fourth reason to belong to a synagogue is: we need you. The Jewish people need you, God needs you. For the number of Jews who are left in this world that still care are so few, and the needs of the Jewish people are so great, we need every single Jew we can find. So we say to you, join us, help us, work with us, for we need you.
These are the four reasons for which I would have you join us - or rejoin us - if you have drifted away; because it will connect you to roots from which you come, because it will connect you to a community that cares, because it will connect you to a heritage that contains some wise insights into how to lead a human life, and above all, because we need you, and to be needed is such an important part of every person's life.
I know that you will tell me that the real synagogue is not like the ideal one that I have painted. I know that, at least as well as you do. But that is all the more reason to become part of it; to help correct it, and to make it what it was meant to be. If what I have said here makes any sense to you, I hope you will respond. If you disagree, or if you want to let me have the benefit of your perspective, let me hear from you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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