Friday, June 24, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram June 24 Looking Back, Looking Ahead


We honored adult and teen volunteers at our Annual Meeting on Tues.  
Mazal tov to Melanie Massell, Caroline Temlock Teichman and Roni Lang, winners of the Fred Weisman Award, and to Alexa Baer, winner of the Outstanding Teen Award.  Photos courtesy of Dan Young.  See more at the end of ouSpring 2016 photo album.

Shabbat Shalom

Join us if you can for Kabbalat Shabbat this evening, as Judy Aronin, a woman so cherished by our entire community, will be speaking about the trials and triumphs of her recent health challenges - and sponsoring the Oneg Shabbat as well.  Thank you, Judy!

It will also be the final Shabbat for a number of weeks where both Cantor Fishman and I will be leading the service together.  Next Friday, on July 1, I'll be going solo, and we'll bring back a summertime favorite: the service will be outdoors, weather permitting.

I've spent the last three days attending a special seminar at the invitation of Domus, a human services nonprofit here in Stamford.  This program, entitled "Undoing Racism," brought together people from many walks of life, including police and fire fighters, educators, social service officials, students, legal professionals and clergy, to learn together and engage in dialogue on the root causes of racism and how to address them in our community.  It was a profoundly moving and enlightening experience for me.  I believe I was the only Jew among the 35 in the room, and with one exception, the only clergy as well, so I had a lot to contribute, as well as plenty to learn from this very diverse group.

I'm sure I'll have much to say about this seminar over the coming months, but for now, I just need to digest it all.

Meanwhile, you might want to check out my latest featured op-ed for Times of Israel,Jewish Prayer: A Filibuster of the Soul.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Our video montage of 2015-16, produced by Dana Horowitz

As the programming year comes to a close, the Shabbat-O-Gram will be taking a hiatus, giving us all some time to breathe deeply, looking backward at what has been accomplished and forward to the challenges ahead. (Of course I reserve the right to send out the occasional e-mail, it just won't be an official Shabbat-O-Gram).

Here is part of what I reported at the Annual Meeting:

"Other synagogues tout their love of Judaism.  For TBE it is all about loving and caring for people. And through that love, we both communicate and embody that love of Judaism. Thanks to our unparalleled cantor who teaches me as much with her wisdom and soul as she inspires me with her music.  Our unparalleled education and youth director whose educational expertise is married to a unique artistic vision coupled with a felicity for fun and a genuine love of what she does and of children - a love that is reciprocated.  And our unparalleled executive director who is, thank God, returning to good health.  Steve doesn't just love balanced budgets, though he's damn good at it - he knows that it's all about people. He is in every respect a mensch and the glue that holds this thing together. 

Add to that our superb teachers, our wonderful office and maintenance staff - and I believe this is Alberto's' 43rd year here.  And of course, our volunteers, our lay leaders, led by Mia Weinstein, who has grown so much on the job that I think she is considering tossing her name in for a major party nomination. She is polling better than anyone.

To our incoming board members - that last meeting was an aberration.  They will get shorter.  But I think you got a small indication of the unity of vision that we share, thanks to our strategic plan and an atmosphere of menschlichkeit that imbues all that we do.  It's all about people. 

We've had a great year.  But as it always has been, it's more about looking forward than looking back. We will have a great year upcoming, with lots of special events planned, all topped off by that Jewish Heritage trip (see flyer below) a year from now - Sign up now for an early bird discount! We have some significant conversations going on regarding becoming more inclusive of interfaith families and our leadership has approved the acquisition of the new Conservative movement siddur, Lev Shalem. When you receive your Temple statement, you will have the chance to donate and dedicate volumes of this new book. Read about Lev Shalem and preview it here.

Beth El's work has never been important.  We've seen it day after day and week after week - most visibly on Friday nights - and last week was so, so important for us - I saw people who were in such pain find comfort here.  But we see it all the time.

There is no more important work that anyone of us could be doing, than furthering the sacred work of this congregation."

Looking back and looking ahead....
This summer I begin my 30th year here, the 25th as your senior rabbi, and that has caused me to do some reflecting.  As I've been sorting out my thoughts, I've also begun to organize the memories.  If you click here, you will find an archive with links to photo albums, videos and audio files from some of the key moments of the past three decades.   This is a work in progress - so if you have items to add, particularly old photos, please send everything to me.  I'll be adding to it as we move ahead into the future.

That ought to give you plenty to chew on over the summer, even without the weekly Shabbat-O-Gram.

Have a relaxing and rejuvenating summer, and remember that we are always open here, 24-7-365.  Stop by anytime!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


Monday, June 20, 2016

What We Lose as the Diaspora Shrinks (Jewish Week)

Wed, 03/30/2016 - 13:19

Joshua Hammerman
Joshua Hammerman
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, imported 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.
In late March, while the world was preoccupied with terrorism and all things Trump, my Jewish family became a little less exotic and a little less diverse, as the last of Yemen’s Jews arrived in Israel.  According to the Jewish Agency, 200 Yemenite Jews have made aliyah since civil war began ravaging their country, resulting in an increase in anti-Semitism. In a covert operation run by the Jewish Agency with State Department assistance, the last 17 who will be leaving that storied Diaspora community arrived in Israel just before Purim.  “Yemenite left,” indeed.  About 50 Jews, primarily the elderly, have chosen to remain behind, but for all intents and purposes, the Yemenite diaspora is over.
The Yemenite step was choreographed to be danced quickly on the hot sand, 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 in Berlin.  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 Jewish communities have been dancing their way back to Israel ever since.  But now, one wonders, if all that’s left of Yemeni Jewry is just a caricature of what once was, some liturgical music, a trove of recipes and a head-bobbing dance step, what have we lost?
As documented in the recent film “Racing Extinction,” the earth faces a biodiversity crisis of unprecedented proportions, with climate change and other factors threatening to destroy potentially half of all species. 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.  The list of Jewish communities lost in the Holocaust alone is staggering.  We focus correctly on the loss of six million individual lives; but estimates show that up to 37,000 irreplaceable shtetls and towns were also lost.
Now, given the upsurge of terrorism and anti-Semitism, 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 call for French Jewry to abandon their patrie and make aliyah en masse was as mistaken as it was ill timed.  The trade-off:  a majestic, age-old diaspora community is gone, home to Rashi, Camille Pissarro and Simone Weil, and yes, Marcel Marceau; but patisseries proliferate in Netanya. That’s not an even trade.  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.
Just as a healthy world needs biodiversity, a healthy Jewish world needs Judeo-diversity.
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 (Bet Hatfutzot) 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 can survive only on Israeli soil.  That has now changed.  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 the global Jewish story to remain “ongoing,” 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.
Even here, in America.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

TBE Archives: Photo Albums, Audio and Video Links, Writings

TTBE Archives

2014 Hanukkah and Homeless Shelter

2013 Treetops, Solar Panels, BBQ and Barechu

2013 Cantors Concert Honoring Eileen Rosner

2013 K'tanim and Hebrew School Moving Up Ceremonies

2013 7th Grade Wedding

2013 Passover, Religious School and Interfaith Seder

2013 Purim

2013 Winter@TBE, including Hebrew School Tu B"Shevat Seder, Shorashim, Homeless Shelters and Roof 

2013 Temple Rock

2012 7th Grade Aliyah Service

2012 3rd and 4th Grade Candlestick Project

2012 Israel Adventure

2012 Religious School Passover

2012 Interfaith Seder

2012 Ellis Island Trip

2012 7th Grade Wedding

2012 Hanukkah

2012 Cantor's Concert

2012 Purim

2011 Sukkot at TBE! (Sukkah Decorating and Hop, Relig. School Mock Brit Milah and Opening of Bingo)

2011 7th Grade Class Wedding

2011 November 13, 7th Graders Plant in Mitzvah Garden

2011 9/11 A Community Gathering for Healing and Hope

2011 Cantor's and 90th Anniversary Concert

2011 Passover

2011 Purim

2011 Temple Rock Cafe

2011 World Wide Wrap

2001-2011 Assorted Photos

2008-2011 USY Kadima 

2010 Hoffman Lecture (Dershowitz - Ben Ami)

2010 Israel Adventure

2010 Israel Adventure #2

2010 Israel Adventure #3

2010 March of the Living #1

2010 March of the Living #2

2010 March of the Living #3

2010 March of the Living #4

2010 Purim 

2009 Hanukkah

2009 Kulanu Graduation

2009 7th Grade Mock Wedding

2009 Temple Rock

2009 Purim

2008 World Wide Wrap

2008 Purim

2008 7th Grade Mock Wedding and Graduation

2007 Purim 

2006 Hanukkah

2006 World Wide Wrap

2004 Purim

2003 Shabbaton

2003,2004, 2005 Israel Experiences and Community Solidarity Trip

2003-2004 Purim, Dinner Dance, Sukkah

2002,2003, 2004 Hanukkah Concerts

2002 Purim

2002 Shabbaton

2002 TBE Dinner Dance

2001 TBE Dinner Dance

2001 Shabbaton

1990-2001 Assorted Photos


Vintage TBE Videos: 

Rabbi Hammerman Installation Sept. 11, 1992, Rabin Memorial,  Nov. 5, 1995,  and Mel Allen Funeral, June 1996

TBE's YouTube Page

2017 Rabbi Hammerman 30 Year Tribute

TBE's Streamspot Page (services and other archived video events, from 1/2017)

2016 Nava Tehila Service at TBE

2016 Hoffman Lecture: Jodi Rudorin

2016 TBE End of Year Slide Show

2016 HEBREW SCHOOL Promotional Video

2015 Yom Hashoah Seder

2014 Hoffman Lecture Ari Shavit

2014 YOM KIPPUR Cantor Magda Fishman "Anytime" at TBE Stamford

2014 TBE Lights Candles at Government Center

2014 David Harris AJC address

2013 Temple Beth El Goes Solar

2013 Hoffman Lecture Jeffrey Goldberg

2013 Purim

2011 Hoffman Lecture Robert Satloff

2011 Benefit Concert for Haiti

2010 Purim

2010 New England March of the Living Group Dancing at Tempel Synagogue in Kracow

2011 Hoffman Lecture Ben Ami and Dershowitz

2009 Temple Rock Hammerman Tribute

WRITINGSTimes of Israel Articles Jewish Week Articles    Shabbat-O-GramsTBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary (post 2007)TBE Bar/Bar Mitzvah Speeches (to 2006)    Rabbi's Blog  TBE Bulletin ArchivesCantor's Concert Tribute Journals and Temple Rock Auction Catalogues
Anat Hoffman speaks on "What we talk about when we aren't discussing Israel's security.

In a society devoid of trust, how to rebuild in our personal and public lives and how the Jewish people need to regain a basic trust in the universe following the Holocaust.

"Back to the Future"  Taking the long view in Jewish life

The Amalek Within

"Hugging Hitler"
sermon on happiness, Mah hasdenu

What is our life?  Judaism is the sum of our stories

Where Are We (Ayeka)?

Sermon: "What Are We?"

Confronting regret - and embracing it

We must never despair.  For we are the instruments of God’s kindness and love, even when God appears silent. It is ours to share, to accept, to include, and to be vigilant in the pursuit of peace with our neighbors. To believe, despite it all.   To be kind, despite it all. To be Jewish and gentle, to BE Judaism’s better story

Rosh Hashanah Day 2 sermon, 5774, by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman: "The Silence and the Lamb."

Sermon by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman for Rosh Hashanah 5774 Day 1"The New Normal" - on Sandy and Sustainability

Sermon given as high school senior, for Kehillath Israel Junior Congregation at its annual service in the main sanctuary.  Brookline, Mass.

There are many ways to be Jewish - but no shortcuts - and one Jewish people
Topics: pluralism, Jews of Barbados, conversos, Matisyahu, Akeda

Fighting despair on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012

Concert in mid 1960s featuring Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Cantor Michal Hammerman, cantor Alex Zimmer and others, taking place in Brookline Mass. at Congregation Kehillath israel
Topics: Shlomo Carlebach, Cantor Michal Hammerman, Congregation Kehillath Israel
"Engaging Pain"

“Engaging the Other" Yom Kippur sermon

"The Right Side of History" An exploration of the nature of evil as exemplified by Apartheid in South Africa and racism in America.

"The We of Me" How an African Safari can shed light on the question as to why we affiliate with a synagogue?

Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, Temple Beth El, Stamford  CT, Oct. 7 2010 Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street in conversation with Rabbi Mark Golub: "Making Israel's Case: Who Speaks for American Jews" Introduced by Stephen Hoffman and Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

When Everything Changes

“Bearing Witness”

"The Broomstick, the Bush and the Sh'ma" The iconic image of the past year - the Gulf of Mexico oil spill - the most powerful country in the world couldn't turn off a faucet. How the Sh'ma can help us to confront a world spinning out of control

"Why Do They Hate Us?" Jews and Israel face an increasingly hostile world, how is one to respond? With love.

The Mitzvah of Obligation

"Bringing Mitzvah Back," an exploration into the deeper meaning of "mitzvah

2009 Yom Kippur Day
God's Tweet: Mitzvah and Mindfulness - delivered at Temple Beth El in Stamford 

2009 Kol Nidre
Mitzvah and Money - sermon delivered in Stamford Connecticut at Temple Beth El

Each of us has a self that has been lost, or simply has just been covered over by all the masks we wear. We now have a gift: 25 hours to get it back, to rediscover who we really are, to set new expectations for ourselves for the coming year, even if we know ahead of time that we won’t be able to keep those vows.

"The Shadings of Dawn"

"Power to the Peoplehood" One could make the case that Jews invented identity. We certainly invented the secret identity. It is said that the root of all fear comes from denying who you really are. And we Jews have had lots of reason to be afraid. And as Jews, we have so much to offer the world – we should celebrate just how special we are. And then, we need to roll up our sleeves, reach out our hand, find that first rung, and begin to climb the ladder.

2008 Yom Kippur Day  "Leaping Souls, Intimate Numbness and Spiritual Audacity"

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal speaks at Temple Beth El, Stamford, CT on September 24, 2009, at the 25th Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture.

Cantor Michal Hammerman Kol Nidre Live from Kehillath Israel, Brookline, Mass. 1971

Live From Kehillath Israel, Brookline, Mass. 1971

"Rules for the Road"  Rites of Passage as we wander through the wilderness

"Invasions of Privacy" The yarmulke is perfect in that way, it tells people a lot about us, but it also says, loud and clear, that there are places that no one should see. There is always a need for private space. When we are engaged in sacred activity, there is always some part of us that is covered up – and not just any part – but the head, the part that is closest to heaven. That is the beauty of the yarmulke – for men and for womenTopics: privacy, 

Yom Kippur sermon 1991, "From a Distance." Temple Beth El, Stamford CT A "Hands On" sermon, as an earth ball is passed around to nearly 2,000 in attendance. "The beautiful intricacy of the human organism is matched only by the equivalent beauty of the organism we inhabit: the system known as earth."
"Coming of Age" We're not dying, but the corner deli is. We're not, but the Jewishness of the bagel is. We're not, but the self-deprecating Jewish comedian is. We're not, but the negative stereotypes of Jewish women are. We're not, but checkbook Judaism is. We're not, but performance Judaism is. We're not, but our reticence to accept converts is. We're not, but our fear of what the gentiles will think about us is. We're not, but a Judaism based solely on vicarious experience 
"The Compassionate Life" We explore the steps we can take to better love our neighbor as ourselves
"In God's Image." My entire trip to Israel was framed, at the beginning and at its end, with the lingering mantra, at first playful and now haunting: “Titzalem oti.”
"Tears by the River" - a discussion of the meaning of home, post Katrina and the Gaza withdrawal, with Dorothy's glass slippers and letters from camp thrown in
15 step plan for Jewish Living
"The Jewish Stain" There is something indelible about Judaism, something eternal, something that goes far beyond these shores and far beyond our lifetimes. There is no more humbling thought than that, that we are part of it and it is part of us. All we have to do to tap into that inconceivable power is to follow the advice of the prophet Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you – but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God."
"Fear Itself" Over the years, we have developed interesting strategies to deal with what scares us. Tonight I’d like to talk about a few of them, and how we might develop our own authentically Jewish approach to confronting fear itself.

"Smashing Idols" Why are we so reticent to challenge our faith? Are we afraid of exacerbating divisions among ourselves? Jews couldn’t be more divided than we are already. Perhaps the one thing that we all have in common is this heritage of chutzpah. Are we afraid of what others will think of us? You should know that one thing that many non Jews have told me they admire about Judaism is its intellectual honesty. We’re, at heart, skeptics. And that is how it should be.

"Finding Nineveh: The Band of Brothers."  It’s interesting that just as in English, the words “other” and “brother” are almost identical, so in Hebrew, the word “brother” is “ach,” and the word “other” is “acher.” There is so little that really separates an enemy from a friend.

Power and its Limitations" In light of Iraq War, a massive power blackout and a trip to Yellowstone

"The Invisible Fence" The ironic thing is that now that he has been restricted to the area within the fence, my dog Crosby has been liberated – and he’s happier than ever. He can run free all over the yard, while before he had to be on the leash. And while he might occasionally look forlornly at the green grass on the other side of that invisible barrier, he leaps and barks far, far away from the dangers of Roxbury Road.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Sermon for Yom Kippur 2003 "Finding Nineveh: The Band of Brothers" Temple Beth El, Stamford CT

2001 Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 2001, Day 1: "Getting to Yes" Temple Beth El, Stamford. Just a week after 9/11, a nation rises from "shiva." "For although we are tired and shaken, although we are fearful, we are unwavering. And in the end there will be no more fear, no more terror, and we shall dwell as nations at peace. And a new world will be born. Today that world IS born - Amen."

“Apocalypse Later"

"Forgiving and Forgetting" We need to rediscover the power of words within our families in order to expand this gift to the world – we live in a cliché-infested universe where the words have lost their meaning.  We must rediscover the creative and healing power of words, because without them, too many family members end up not speaking to one another.

"A New Light On Zion" We pray every morning, “O cause a new light to shine upon Zion.”  Never has that prayer carried more urgency than now.  During terror attacks of 2nd intifada

"First Times" The key is to make every encounter like the first.