Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Elena Singer-Freeman on Tzav

Shabbat Shalom! My name is Elena Singer-Freeman, and Torah portion is about the offerings that Aaron and the high priests brought. The rules about offerings are described with every step explained in great detail. To many, this portion may just seem like a boring rule book, however there are some deeper meanings that I would like to discuss. First of all, by doing things in a certain way you become connected with the community that does these things in the same way. This means that learning and following rules can be a route to feeling that you are a part of a group. Secondly, sometimes it’s not enough to just do something, it needs to be done the right way. In these cases, rules ensure success and show respect. And finally, the journey can be as important as the destination. Sometimes, the method is more important than the result.

Let me try to explain these ideas in a way that I can relate to. I don’t know much about offerings, but I do know a decent amount about academics. So, I’m guessing most of you know what scientific notation is. Even if you don’t, it’s basically a bunch of rules telling you what to do and what not to do while writing your wickedly complicated answer to a math or science problem. These rules sound dumb. But really, they’re not. Scientific notation helps scientists and mathematicians communicate and connect, almost like their own language. Following the rules of offering (back then, we don’t do it now) connected the high priests to each other over generations. When priests sacrificed a goat, they knew that they were following in the honored goat hoof steps of the many priests who had come before them. 

Here’s a another example; grammar. Why put a comma here instead of there? It seems like just another rule that makes no sense! Well, take this example; If I said, “I like cooking my family and my pets” you should call the police. BUT if I said “I like cooking, my family, and my pets” you would tell your friends that I am a well rounded person!  Grammar helps everyone speaking the same language communicate more clearly. Similarly, always following the same steps when making offerings, might allow the Israelites to better understand the priests’ rituals. Improving our understanding of rituals will give them more power.

A second reason that rules are valuable is that sometimes things need to be done well, not just “done”. For example, in gymnastics, judges care about the skills and difficulty level in your routine, however they care just as much, if not more, about how well the skills are performed. To achieve “well done” skills, you need to take the hard route- no shortcuts. This means performing many drills and strength training to deliver the skill perfectly in competition; no bent legs!  When I do a skill well I have a sense of pride. Similarly, making offerings the right way, would give the priests a feeling of the importance of what they were doing. Also, perhaps offerings done the right way gets you extra credit points with G-d.

Finally, in my portion, what’s more important than the offerings themselves, is the process that gets you to the end result. This is the difference between the journey and the destination. Returning to academics, math teachers love correct answers, but they won’t give you full credit unless you show your work. For all they know, you could have guessed that x≥y^37. They need to see your work so they know that you understand the journey that brought you to this answer. Offerings are all about the journey. You can end up with the same dead bull in many different ways, but it’s all about how you killed it. A sacrifice that is the end of carefully enacted ritual steps demonstrates respect and love for G-d. All other routes to a big mac lack meaning. In Judaism, some of the laws might seem as obscure as the rules regarding commas. For instance, the fact that a matzah can’t rest for more than 18 minutes before it is put into the oven might seem pointless; what difference would another minute make? It would be the difference between a kosher and non-kosher matzah. The end result; the matzah coming out of the oven may look exactly the same, however it’s the journey that counts.

Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not just about standing up here and reading some Hebrew, it’s about the many months, even years that I have spent preparing for this special occasion. Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” This year I had to balance the demands of my gymnastics training with my commitment to my Jewish education. I arranged to read books about the Holocaust on my own and miss one of my weekly gymnastics practices in order to continue my progress in both areas. I am currently working to find a way to maintain my athletic training when I attend overnight camp. Difficult choices and personal sacrifices are all part of the journey, which is more significant than the end result.  The end result of standing here today is pretty cool, though. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 26

The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Karen and Jose Singer-Freeman in honor of their daughter, Elena's becoming a Bat Mitzvah.  Mazal tov!!!

We had a merry old time on Purim night, for kids and adults!  See our Purim photo album!
Special thanks to Cantor Fishman, Lisa Udi, Steve Lander and all our adult and teen volunteers.

We pray for the victims
in Brussels, Istanbul and the Ivory Coast, following this week's terror attacks. 

Gentler Times and Honest Conversations 


From a kinder and gentler era:  A 1930 poster from the municipality of Tel Aviv, asking Jewish residents not to wear Purim costumes copying the dress of the Muslim or Christian residents out of respect for their feelings.  Some would call that P.C.  So would I, as in "Pretty Civilized!"  

Along those lines, next Thursday our interfaith community will join in a statewide effort known as "Honest Conversations with our Muslim Neighbors." 
See the flyerArea Muslims will share stories and address issues such as 
- Communicating moderate Islam in the face of extremism;
- Why some girls and women wear Muslim dress, and others do not;
- What core beliefs in Qur'an are shared with other world religions;
- Cultural differences among Muslims from diverse parts of the world

People who have been asking me about these matters now have a chance to hear from those far more conversant in Islam than I am.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of a much more substantial conversation.

Praying for Peace in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem today it is both Good Friday and Shushan Purim (Purim is celebrated one day later in walled cities like the ancient Persian capital of Shushan).  I've discussed what the two holidays share, a fervent hope wins.  In Jerusalem today, that hope for peace endures, even as it appears to hang by the thinnest of threads.  Click on the video below to see that hope made manifest in the prayer "Oseh Shalom," as sung recently by the group Nava Tehila at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem, which has been reconstituted as a new mecca for eating, shopping  and gathering.  You've GOT to see this just-released video!

Nava Tehila is coming here on May 20!!!  Mark your calendars now!

Oh, and Nava Tehila is coming here for Kabbalat Shabbat on May 20!!! Mark your calendars now - and share this video!

Being Thankful

On Shabbat morning we will celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of Elena Singer-Freeman. Mazal tov to Elena and her family! Our theme this Shabbat, which ties into the portion of Tzav, is "Being thankful.Click here for the parsha packet.  And for a terrific preview of the topic, click on the superb educational video below, from the highly acclaimed Jewish Food for Thought series.  Watch the video, then download the study guide.

Passover Prep Time is Here

With Purim behind us (unless you are in a walled city), now is the time to download the Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide for all your Passover hows, whys, whats, do's and don'ts.  Also, if you are confused about the question of legumes (kitniyot), eaten by Sephardic Jews but traditionally not in Ashkenazi homes, the Rabbinical Assembly has recently ruled on this topic - see the whole responsum here.  We will be discussing it at a future service as the festival approaches.

ADL Presents "Escape From a Family of Hate"

"Escape From a Family Of Hate" -Conversion via Social Media, with Grace and Megan Phelps  (at Temple Sholom in Greenwich, on Tuesday at 7 PM) is a rare behind-the-scenes look at two young women's journey from being on the front lines of the Westboro Baptist Church's hate-filled protests against Jews, the LGBT community, members of the military and others, to becoming allies against hate.  

They will explain why they felt compelled to leave their church and their family and how they are now acting as allies in the fight against hate. Fresh off a profile in the New Yorker, the sisters are currently working on a book that will be turned into a major motion picture.  Click here for tickets.

Power of Peers

Mazal tov to TBE's Leon Shapiro on the publication of his new book, "The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth and Success."  The book features stories of business leaders from a range of industries to explain how peer advisory groups can be beneficial to CEOs who suffer from a "lonely at the top" mentality. By harnessing the power of peers, CEOs and senior leaders of small to midsize organizations come together to gain fresh perspectives, solve problems, focus on opportunities and possibilities, and make decisions that accelerate the growth of their businesses

The Yemenite Step

Back in my lithe teenage years, I used to Israeli dance with the best of them - that is, whenever I wasn’t nursing a sprained ankle caused by my congenital flat-footedness. 

OK, I admit it; while I thought I was pretty good, I reminded people less of Rudolph Nureyev than those dancing hippopotami in “Fantasia.”  In fact, it was my stirring rendition of a gushing water sprinkler in Hora Mamtera that convinced the Israeli government to go all-in for drip irrigation.  But I loved Israeli dance nonetheless.

One of my favorite moves was the Yemenite step, brought to Israel by those immigrants of the fabled Operation Magic Carpet, which in 1949 brought 45,000 of 46,000 Yemenite Jews to a place that they had only dared to dream about before, a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel.  Whenever I heard the dance leader shout, “Yemenite left,” I know it was time to shuffle my feet leftward in three short, zigzagging steps, preferably with my head bobbing and a no-care-in-the-world Sallah Shabbati smile. I loved that step because it reinforced the exotic diversity of my Jewish family - even as it may also have reinforced dangerous stereotypes, much as the shuffling dances of African Americans were used to reinforce negative stereotypes in the U.S.

This week, while the world was preoccupied with terrorism and all things Trump, the last of Yemen’s Jews arrived in Israel and my Jewish family became a little less exotic and a little less diverse.   According to the Jewish Agency, 200 Yemenite Jews have made aliyah since civil war begin to ravage their country, resulting in an increase in antisemitism. And in a covert operation run by the Jewish Agency with State Department assistance, the last 17 arrived in Israel just before Purim.  “Yemenite left,” indeed.  Only about 50 Jews have chosen to remain behind.

The Yemenite step was choreographed to be danced quickly on hot stones, a perfect metaphor for Jews and the Diaspora.  While Hindus, who have never faced exile from their homeland, have mastered the art of walking serenely on a bed of scalding coals, Jews, who have continent-hopped for millennia, recoil erratically in our dance steps, like Woody Allen eluding a lobster or Natan Sharansky zigzagging to freedom across the bridge.  Wherever we’ve been, we’ve developed new moves, new survival strategies to help us sidestep disaster. 

Theodore Herzl saw the inherent flaws of the exilic two-step and Jews have been dancing their way back home to Israel ever since.  But now, one wonders, if all that’s left of Yemen’s Jews is just a caricature of what once was, that shaky dance step and the carefree head bob, what have we lost?

The earth faces a biodiversity crisis of unprecedented proportions, with climate change threatening one quarter or more of all land species with extinction by 2100.  Diaspora Jewish communities are also facing a rapid rate of extinction. Jewish communities across the globe are rapidly vanishing, from Ethiopia to India, from South America to parts of the American South.  Now, given the upsurge of terrorism and antisemitism, European aliyah is sure to intensify and more Jewish communities will subsequently vanish.  This is not a phenomenon to be cheered. 

Doubtless there are demographic advantages for Israel to be absorbing more Jews, though no one should consider aliyah to be a panacea that can preserve Israel as a Jewish democracy.  Remember when a million Jews from the former Soviet Union were supposed to ensure demographic domination?   Didn’t happen.

Last year in Paris, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Bark de Triumph that French Jewry should abandon their patrie and make aliyah en masse was as mistaken as it was ill-timed.  The tradeoff - a majestic, ages-old Diaspora community ends... and real estate costs in Netanya soar - is not worth it.  Israel could always use more Jews, but what the Jewish world needs is more Jewrys: more diversity, more richness, more cultural connections, more interaction with other cultures and yes, more assimilation, not less.  

We need to develop more Yemenite steps to navigate the scalding stone paths of an increasingly dangerous and integrated world, so that we can teach others how to stay in step with us: how to remain hopeful amidst the hurt, how to love among the haters and how to smile, sway and keep head-bobbing no matter what. 
And for that, we need a thriving Diaspora.

The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv has recently been redefining its mission.  Previously, the indelible message of the permanent exhibit was that the Diaspora was a failed though once glorious enterprise and that Jewish identity could survive only on Israeli soil.  According to the museum’s website, the new core exhibit, set to open in 2018, “will celebrate the multiculturalism of Jewish diversity and adopt an inclusive, pluralistic approach,” with the goal of telling “the ongoing and extraordinary story of the Jewish people.”  The key word there is “ongoing.”

For that to happen, the Diaspora can’t become a dinosaur.  This week, a Jewish community that has existed since Solomon met Sheba, is no more.  Though we are happy that our Yemenite brothers and sisters were rescued and are safe, there should be little joy at this turn of events.

Rather than celebrating the end of Jewish Yemen, we should be looking for ways to strengthen other Jewish communities, in France, in Belgium and beyond.

An Israeli Wonder Woman

In the long awaited blockbuster "Batman vs. Superman," released this week, critics are saying that it's Wonder Woman, played by the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who steals the show.  Read about her here,

Reservations are coming in for our April 5 "Sharing Passover" program. All are welcome, but we especially are looking for interfaith couples, as well as parents of interfaith couples.  Along with Scott and Rae-ann Allen, we will be assisted by two representatives of the younger generation, Ariel (Schindler) and Antony Wilshaw.  Please extend an invitation to interfaith couples you know to join us on April 5!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 5


I had a fantastic time at BiCultural Day School this week, teaching the 7th and 8th grades about the Jewish Leap Year.  Thank you, BCDS!

Why name a Shabbat after Israeli Currency?


Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes in, "The Jewish Way," "More than any other holiday, Shabbat reflects the changing moods and concerns of Clal Yisrael (the collectivity of Israel).... 
In the weeks before Passover, four special Shabbat days prepare the community agenda: 
Shabbat Shekalim (this week), the occasion to to give the annual gift to the national treasury for Temple sacrifices (see actual ancient half shekel coins in the photo above);
Shabbat Zachor (Remember), a reminder of the Amalekite genocidal assault on Israel and the ongoing dangers of anti-Semitism; 
Shabbat Parah (Red Heifer), the declaration of the need to purify in preparation for the Paschal lamb sacrifice and the central national feast; and 
Shabbat  Hachodesh (the Month), an announcement of the arrival of the month of Passover, the new year of liberation."

The fact that Shabbat Shekalim always comes at the time when we need to be reminded to get our own taxes in order is one way that I have tried to imbue even the secular calendar with the rhythms of Jewish sacred time. It also reminds me that the giving of taxes is in itself a sacred activity. Corny as it seems, I actually improvise a b'racha when I put my completed tax forms in the mail, realizing that this money is going to help people who are in need, and help this nation maintain its position moral leadership, not to mention the fact that some of this money also helps to preserve Israel's security.
Another Shabbat Across the Bow

Shabbat Across Stamford is tonight - its 20th anniversary edition. Around 350 are expected from all over the community to eat, pray and love - and hear Ruth Messinger, our guest speaker.  I thank the UJF and Board of Rabbis for their leadership, and in particular Cantor Marcia Lane, who has brought it all together. Once again, like last year, we will be among the only communities in the country where everyone across the denominational spectrum will be coming together to celebrate Shabbat.  That's a big deal, as I wrote last year.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, in writing to all the Shabbat Across America participating communities, said:
On behalf of NJOP, I would like to thank you and your synagogue/organization for joining with NJOP in celebrating the 20th annual Shabbat Across America and Canada. By partnering with NJOP, you will be joining tens of thousands of Jews in 590 locations - synagogues, Jewish centers, campus organizations, military bases, federations and JCCs - in 45 US states, 6 Canadian provinces, as well as in Israel and New Zealand. Additionally, many individuals will be celebrating at the "At Home" version of Shabbat Across America and Canada.  We would especially like to commend the leaders of two communities - Stamford, CT and Portland, ME - who have taken Shabbat Across America and Canada to the next level by organizing citywide CommUNITY Shabbat Across America and Canada events, bringing multiple local organizations together to celebrate Shabbat. 
Yes we'll have separate Progressive and Orthodox services, modeling the kind of deal just made regarding the Western Wall, but that's OK.  It would be impossible at this stage to pray all together while respecting the integrity of each stream of Judaism. I encourage people to leave their comfort zone in trying out the services.  But regardless of where we pray, we can eat together!  And learn together. Our prime goal is to emphasize unity and mutual respect. That goal supersedes everything else, including even teaching how to "do" Shabbat. For this experiment to succeed, everyone needs to be equally comfortable -- which means, in fact, that everyone will be at least slightly uncomfortable. 
But given the splits that have made Jewish unity a remote pipe dream, we feel it's important to remind ourselves that we remain, on some level, family. For us, Shabbat Across America will be a Shabbat Across the Bow, a heartfelt attempt to forge Jewish unity.  It's too late to sign up for dinner, but anyone can join us for services at 5:30 at the Crowne Plaza on Summer St.  
Houston, We Have a Minyan!
A nice byproduct of today's technological revolution is that people from all over the world can share good ideas.  One of those good ideas is our explanatory service guides, which has been picked up by a congregation in Houston and has now been republished, with our permission, for their morning minyan. See it here.

Downton's Dying Day
For Downton Abbey fans like me, this weekend will be bittersweet, with the American broadcast of the series' final episode.  As I wrote following season three,
the entitled world of the British aristocracy relied on the presupposition that the world was orderly and everything made sense.  But it was not able to withstand the tumultuous and rapid pace of change that the 20th century brought, along with the mass slaughter of a world war and other unforeseen challenges.
Judaism too posits a world borne of eternal logic, one that should make sense, even when it seems like the opposite is true.  But Judaism has built in safeguards that have enabled us to "go with the flow" for many centuries, even when things have seemed darkest.  

Now, in contrast to the dignified orderliness of Downton, this weekend also brings the unmitigated chaos of a new season of "House of Cards."  And nothing fictional can compare to the grotesque reality of the current climate of American politics.  It all makes us long for quaintness of Downton, even at its most tragic.  Even for those of us who could never imagine being tied to such an estate, whether upstairs or downstairs, watching this show was in some ways a way of going home again.

For, as the Crawleys leave their ancestral home for the last time (as I assume they will do), their journey will be no different from Tevya's flight from Anatevka, minus the Cossacks and the Czarist decree.  Or Charles' departure recorded in Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited," when he says:

As I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghosts are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.

"I shall never go back," I said to myself.

Every departure, every ending, means leaving part of oneself behind.  Tevya can now revisit the place where Anatevka stood (he can join our trip this summer if he wants), but he will never find that home again, at least as it was.  Neither will Lady Mary.

But Jews are used to that.  We are habitual home-leavers.  We never settle. Therefore we can always go home again.  Because home is...wherever we happen to be at this moment. 

Home is here.
Go tell, Rwanda
Jamie Maxner, who grew up here (and sister of Jodi Maxner), has been traveling in Africa this year.  She and her fiance Andrew have documented their experiences working with teens in Rwanda in their travel blog.  Andrew writes: 
The last two weeks have been transformative. The love that this place radiates can melt away the cynicism off of the most hardened New Yorker's heart. The teens are hungry for knowledge and love, and the village supplies both. Every day Jamie and I witness what a community of teens look like when being sincere, not aloof, is the default cool. Every day we are blown away by something one or more of the kids says or does. 

Many people wonder why it is that so many Jews take their idealism to the four corners of the world, to help total strangers.  Because loving the stranger is what Jews do.  The great accomplishment of Ruth Messinger, our Shabbat-Across-America guest tonight, and of the American Jewish World Service has been to provide an outlet for Jews to do what should come so naturally to all of us.


Young Couples Group
The TBE Young Couples group (with or without kids) is alive and well.  For now they are having once a month Shabbat Dinners the 3rd Friday of every month at 7:00 p.m.  The location is either in Norwalk or Stamford depending on who offers to host that month.  This month it will be on March 18th. Details to follow in an email (if you are on the email list).  Get to meet some new people, eat some good food (we can accommodate if any food restrictions/vegetarian, etc.), and have some fun.  The group hopes to have some other events in the Spring and Summer as well.  Contact Jamie Morvitz and Matt Miller to RSVP at jamiemorvitz87@gmail.com or if you would like to be on the email list for event and/or if you have any ideas for events.   
A Journey of Renewal to the Land of Sparks and Ashes
Finally join us at 7:30 on Tuesday, March 8th, when we will have our 30thanniversary showing of "Spark Among the Ashes," recalling the Bar Mitzvah of Eric Strom in Poland, the first by a Jew since the Holocaust.  The program is open to everyone.
Next week is the deadline for deposits for our Central Europe trip!!!  CLICK HERE FOR THE ITINERARY AND DETAILS!!!

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 12


Shabbat Shalom

As we Spring Forward this weekend, we can even look beyond this Spring, even as we look back to a fabulous Shabbat-Across-Stamford last weekend, where we shared the Sabbath with over 400 from our community.   Our summer trip to Central Europe is a "go," and we are extending the deadline for those who still wish to sign on.  Please go to the trip's website for more information and to sign up.

Syrians, Stamford, Israel and Islam: A Response to Hate

How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.  

This week saw more terror attacks in Israel, including one that took the life of American tourist, Taylor Force in Jaffa, a short distance from where Vice President Biden was eating dinner.  This low-grade intifada seems destined to continue for some time.  It is outrageous that acts of violence are not sufficiently condemned by Palestinian leaders.  It is also unfortunate that neither the Arab nor Israeli leadership offers the slightest glimmer of home for a path out of this quagmire. (For a more humorous look on how Israelis don't let the terrorists win, see this popular video).

Despite the continued terror and other provocations, the accusations, heard again this week, that "Islam hates America" are unfounded and incendiary.  To paraphrase the NRA (which I don't often do), religions don't kill people, people do.  If books could kill, our Bible would be on mayhem's best seller list. There are many objectionable verses in the Tanakh (you can start with these). But hundreds of years after the Good Book was completed, the rabbis in the Talmud took bold and revolutionary steps to offset its most troubling ideas, just as the New Testament reinterpreted the Hebrew Bible for Christianity.

Just as Judaism is much more than a few problematic verses from the Torah, Islam is much more than the sum of the Quran's most troubling parts.  While there is no doubt that a virulent strain of Islam has caused tremendous destruction in the Muslim world - and constitutes a great danger for everyone else - Islam remains an honored world religion that teaches love and tolerance.  For those who believe that the Muslim world could never accept the state of Israel, for example, it is hard to explain Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, two Muslim world leaders who explicitly did. Read of the Albanian Muslims during the Holocaust, along with many Turks and the Grand Mufti of Rhodes - that's the part of the Muslim-Jewish story people don't talk about.

So what can we do?  How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.

A Syrian refugee family is coming to Stamford.  That's right.  Stamford. It's all paid for.  We are working on bringing a second.  I have made a meaningful contribution from my Mitzvah Fund so that our congregation could be counted among those who are demonstrating the same kind of warmth and hospitality Jews received from the Albanians and Danes during the Holocaust.

The First Congregational Church on Bedford St. is leading the way in providing an affordable two bedroom apartment.  Much as we did for Russian Jews when they came here, the community will provide furnishings for these refugees and will help them settle into their new surroundings.  Translators are being sought, and I'm sure there will be other needs to fill.  I'm very proud of how our interfaith community has stepped up, in the face of the human tragedy that we have been witnessing.  Stay tuned!
Welcoming the stranger is a mitzvah repeated 36 times in the Torah.  Once you get beyond the objectionable verses, there's lots of love there. 


It's along those lines that we are reaching out to interfaith families - and to their parents - as never before - so that no one will feel like a stranger here.  See at the bottom of this email a flyer for our upcoming inaugural program, "Sharing Passover with your Interfaith Family."  And spread the word!

The Pewish State

Those people at Pew have done it again.  Just as they surveyed American Jews in 2013, now they've surveyed Israel's Jews, and the results are both obvious (most Jews say Israel is necessary for long term Jewish survival) and stunning (48% of Israeli Jews think Arabs should be expelled).  You can read everything at the survey's website.  There's a lot to digest (here's the full 247 page report; download for your Shabbat reading pleasure)but I've already taken a heaping helping and plan to discuss the results during our weekly Torah study session at services this Shabbat morning (which, incidentally, is also a Hebrew School Shabbat-School day, so I encourage parents to stop by in between their sessions). Here are some of the survey's charts and graphs, which will form the basis for our discussion.

I tend to be an optimist, but it's hard to downplay that daunting number of Jewish Israelis who favor some sort of population transfer of Arabs - 48 percent.  Even during times of great fear and unceasing terror, such a number is both perplexing and tragic.  

Again I ask, as I did above: How does one respond to fear and hate?  With love and understanding.  Maybe this survey will help Jewish Israelis to understand that their Israeli Muslim neighbors are feeling a tremendous amount of pressure as well. Maybe it will inspire some more efforts at building trust between groups.  And looking at this survey, Arab-Jewish relations are not the only concern. 

It's also not encouraging that Reform and Conservative Judaism have made such minuscule inroads over the decades, claiming an affiliation of around 5 percent.  But a look at the larger picture says something quite different.  Most Israelis who call themselves secular or "traditional" are actually closer to American style Conservative Jews, in practice and ideology, than they might realize.

You can read my comments on the 2013 survey of American Jews, along with an interesting perspective from Rabbi Art Green, "From Pew Will Go Forth Torah."  Here is the original 2013 survey. One question it raises: What does it really mean to define oneself as "religious" or "secular" in this day and age?  The lines are not so clearly drawn.  The same is true  among Israeli Jews.  

Judaism's Next Big Things

In this week's portion of Pekuday, we read in Exodus, chapter 40:

יג  וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן, אֵת, בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתוֹ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתוֹ, וְכִהֵן לִי.13 And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments; and thou shalt anoint him, and sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest's office.
יד  וְאֶת-בָּנָיו, תַּקְרִיב; וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ אֹתָם, כֻּתֳּנֹת.14 And thou shalt bring his sons, and put tunics upon them.
טו  וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר מָשַׁחְתָּ אֶת-אֲבִיהֶם, וְכִהֲנוּ, לִי; וְהָיְתָה לִהְיֹת לָהֶם מָשְׁחָתָם, לִכְהֻנַּת עוֹלָם--לְדֹרֹתָם.15 And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto Me in the priest's office; and their anointing shall be to them for an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.'
Just as Aaron was told to anoint his successors, so in the Jewish world do we need to look to a new generation of ideas and role models.

This past week, the Slingshot Guide was released.  Slingshot's work is to help Jews find, fund and connect to meaningful, exciting experiences in Jewish life.

The organizations included in the Slingshot Guide are driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities - both within and beyond the Jewish community - as never before.

TBE has been involved with and inspired by more of these groups than you can imagine.  Most recently, for example, we heard from Footsteps, which assists those leaving the ultra-Orthodox world to transition to the mainstream community.  My Shabbat morning Torah lessons are often inspired by educational websites like Sefaria or G-dcast.  Our kids have found the magic of Jewish books in the PJ Libraryand KESHET has helped us to become more LGBT-inclusive.

I've linked this year's list of Slingshot organizations here. Take some time to immerse yourself in them.  Maybe it will inspire you to come up with the Next Big Idea to enhance Jewish life!  And maybe some of the ideas you discover can enhance the life of this congregation more specifically.