Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Thanksgiving Gift from TBE

A special Thanksgiving gift, from our TBE family to yours.  Here's the complete video of last Friday night's special Latin Shabbat.  Stream it into your planes, trains and automobiles over the holiday weekend, and bring the fantastic music of Cantor Fishman and our musicians with you as you go. 

You may need to sign into Live Stream in order to see the video. Enjoy!  And from everyone here at TBE, wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 18

TBE's Discussion Group, a monthly learning and social havurah, went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side last Sunday.  See our entire fall photo album

Shabbat Shalom

There will be no O-Gram next week, but keep us in mind as you go over the river and through the woods.  Services will happen, naturally, through the holiday weekend, with morning minyan at the special holiday time of 9 AM on Thursday and Friday.  Mazal tov to Jason Yudell and family on his becoming Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.  And welcome back to our community to old friend Ilana DeLaney, who will be featured at the UJF’s annual learning extravaganza “Tapestry,” on Saturday night.  Tomorrow will also be our first Shabbat School day for the year, where Hebrew School gets shifted from Sunday to Shabbat - and this week’s will include Torah Cupcake Wars.

The Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut and the Mayor's Multicultural Council will hold an Interfaith Prayer Service on Tuesday, November 22, at 6:00 PM in the Stamford Government Center (888 Washington Boulevard). I will be attending. We stand together as citizens from a variety of religious backgrounds and non-religious backgrounds to support all those who, based on the rhetoric of the recent campaign, feel threatened, need support, or are unsure of what the future holds.  Meanwhile, as we continue to sort through the events of the past ten days, it is helpful to read the balanced perspective of AJC CEO David Harris as well as the just-released recommendations of the ADL task force to stem the hate that has been surging on social media.  The report (pdf here) was discussed at length at an ADL conference in New York this week.

This week the Boston Jewish community released results of a comprehensive new study (download it here), which, when compared to a decade ago, suggests that dramatic changes are occurring in how Jews connect to Judaism, Israel, and traditional institutions-synagogues, denominations, organizations and schools.  No two communities are exactly alike, but there is much that those of us living in other Jewish communities can learn from this.

For instance, the percentage of Boston Jews who identify as Reform or Conservative has significantly declined in ten years, from nearly three-quarters (74%) in 2005 to less than half (44%) today. The Orthodox population in Boston is steady at just 4%. By contrast, the number of Jews who do not identify with any denomination-those who are secular, culturally Jewish, or “just Jewish”-has increased dramatically, from 17% in 2005 to 45% of the population in 2015.

From the survey: “Corresponding to the decrease in denominational affiliation, synagogue membership is also in the midst of change. Overall, 37% of households reported belonging to a Jewish congregation or synagogue, as compared with 42% in the 2005 study. As in the 2005 study, these are “point in time” numbers and mask the affiliation rate over time.  In 2015, 70% of in-married Jewish households with children ages 9-13 were affiliated with a congregation showing the continued central role that congregations play in the life of our community. At the same time, this represents a drop from over 83% affiliation among similar households in 2005. In contrast to the drop among in-married households, when we look at the membership rates for interfaith families raising Jewish children, we see higher rates of membership as compared to 2005. We also know from observation that there is growth and strength in some synagogues, where membership is expanding and programming is engaging families and individuals of all ages and lifecycle stages, while other congregations are in decline.”

As I said, there is much to learn. 

Growing Large By Thinking Small

Without much fanfare, TBE has developed a number of thriving “havurot” (affinity groups), to add to the ones we have established over the years.  We’ve got a Young Couples Group, that meets often and is now discussing ways to increase their impact on the community, and Empty Nester’s Group that’s been meeting regularly, a vibrant Grandparents’ Group, (those with grandchildren who in dual-faith families) which began meeting this month as part of our Keruv program, and the spectacular start to our Sha-ba-bim-bam Families, families with kids of preschool age and younger - whose number keeps on growing (and they’ll get together again this Shabbat morning at 11!).  Add to that our longest running havurah, the Discussion Group, which meets monthly to learn and schmooze together.  They went to the Lower East Side last Sunday.  

Our Sisterhood and Men’s Club are social groupings as well, of course (along with sub-groups like our monthly Rosh Hodesh Group), as is our Adult Choir, Beth El Cares, Morning Minyan and Shabbat “regulars,” our B’nai Mitzvah Club, and now an adult education cohort that has expanded dramatically with the start of our JTS Ethics Class.  Then there’s Reyut, our helpful healers and friendly visitors and our C.S.A.,which has wrapped up another successful season.  Aside from promoting local farmers, sustainable agriculture and healthy eating, we donated over 400 lbs of food to the Food bank of Lower Fairfield County.  We should be very proud. The C.S.A is not a social group per se, but I can say that my family (two and four legged) have had some great opportunities to chat with folks each week as people have picked up their veggies at the shed. 

All of these groups, along with our board, and our hard working committees planning upcoming events like Temple Rock and the Women’s Seder.  Plus our weekly anchor, our Friday Night Kabbalat Shabbat attendees - and attendance has been significantly higher this fall.  My apologies for any group left out.  We are growing large by thinking small.  I hope everyone can find their niche in our expanding community of sub-communities.  Wherever you are on your life’s journey, there is a place for you at TBE.
Have Some Hungary with your Turkey

If you feel that sense of community here, help us take that spirit on the road next summer on our Jewish Heritage Tour of Central Europe.  Please discuss this with family and friends at your Thanksgiving tables.  At a time when the Holocaust has become even more central to our self awareness as Jews and how we confront the dangers of our world, we need to reaffirm our role as witnesses.  Please RSVP to me at rabbi@tbe.org if you can come to our informational and organizational meeting on Wed. Nov. 30 at the home of Sari and Alan Jaffe.  

Our Better Angels


We can now add to that list of thriving groups our Eighth Grade Youth Group, led by Lisa Gittelman Udi and Mara Hammerman. I am really grateful to both of them, as well as to the parents and kids, who have expressed a real desire to carry their very positive Hebrew School experience to the next level.  Last Sunday, I got to “come with” as the group collected food outside Stop and Shop for the JFS’s Thanksgiving Food Drive.  The kids handed out flyers asking shoppers to buy specific kosher-marked products, which were then used to prepare full meals for a significant number of families.  What moved me tremendously was the generous response they received from so many shoppers, and the way that in turn moved the teens.  Most of the shoppers weren’t Jewish, yet they went out of their way to look for kosher markings - some asked us what they mean.  

So all in one fell swoop, our TBE teens were able to 1) do a great mitzvah 2) teach strangers about Jewish values like tzedakkah and kashrut 3) be great ambassadors of the Jewish community to many who are not Jewish 4) come to appreciate the charitable nature of total strangers (many who were clearly coming from church) and, oh yes, have a great time, topped off by froyo at Sixteen Handles.

How to Survive Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Given all the pressures of the past few months, it is not unlikely that some of the stress will spill on over to your Thanksgiving dinner.  So here are my Ten Suggestions as to how to avoid Armageddon breaking out at your table.

1)     Stay away from all controversial subjects. These days that includes even the weather, which has become a hot topic, both figuratively and literally.  So if you avoid controversial topics like politics, religion, family, the weather and Aunt Sadie’s dry-as-the-Sahara sponge cake, that pretty much leaves us with meditating, chewing, whistling and various barnyard noises. 
2)     Stay away from any toxic words - in other words, anything that has been said on cable news over the past 24 months.  Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “One of the results of the rapid depersonalization of our age is a crisis of speech, profanation of language.... Language has been reduced to labels, talk has become double-talk. We are in the process of losing faith in the reality of words.”  
3)     Actually, silence is a good thing.  A few moments of silence couldn’t hurt.  Abraham Joshua Heschel again: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”   So for a few moments, contemplate what it means to be a blessing.  Don’t say anyth8ing, and ponder what it means to just be.
4)     While you are contemplating, now is the time to cultivate mindfulness.  Use this guide to bring a greater sense of mindfulness to all your Thanksgiving related activities.  When you are food shopping, allow the food to call out to you.  Turn off the radio while driving and be aware of your posture and your breathing.  Notice the foliage and the changes in landscape, how as you climb in elevation, fall slowly slips into winter.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, take deep breaths!
5)     Cast away labels.  Uncle Joe shouldn’t be pegged as “Socialist Uncle Joe who voted for Jill Stein, or “Uncle Archie, the lovable bigot.” Joe is just Joe and Archie is just Archie.
6)     Think of what everyone around the table has in common, not how they differ.  Somewhere in between the soup and the salad, slip into the conversation that you’ve recently had your DNA examined and it turns out the family is .1 percent Native American.  That should get you clear through to the pumpkin pie.  Remember to record for posterity the reaction of your Uncle Archie.
7)     When you do speak, speak from your heart.  The Hebrew word for family, Mishpacha, comes from the word “to pour.”  Originally the reference was to blood, and family blood runs deep, but this is a time not to shed blood, heaven forbid, but to strategically spill your guts. Try to aim for a deeper conversation than last year’s discussion on all things Kardashian.  Remember that everyone is fearful these days - for all kinds of reasons.  We are all looking for support and genuine caring.
8)     Focus on the food (except for Aunt Sadie’s sponge cake).  Noshing is sacred.  There are some nice stories about food, like this Kabbalistic tale about the twelve hallot, one of my personal favorites. Download Hazon’s “Food for Thought” supplement and use some its excellent material at your table.  You will thank me. 
9)     Have the new Hamilton Mixtape handy, or just pass around the lyrics.  If you are looking for a Jewish slant, play this mash up of the Schuyler sisters as Tevya’s daughters. If things start to get tense at the table, just increase the volume.  Much better than escaping to the Lions v. Vikings in the other room.
10) And of course, count your blessings by actually reciting blessings, including the Motzi to start the meal and Birkat Hamazon to end it.  Here’s a short form, and here’s the whole thing.  Read about the 100 blessings Jews traditionally recite each day or look at 100 new blessings composed by the TBE Confirmation Class back in 1993.  Or, best of all, just look around the table at all the people who, despite themselves sometimes, have loved you through the course of your life.  Before the Alzheimer’s kicked in, or the Jewish Guilt, or adolescence, or that one horrible, un-take-back-able thing that was said.  Look around and realize how lucky you are to be alive right now.  These are interesting times that have chosen us. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we are here.  To echo Eliza“The fact that we’re alive is a miracle - just stay alive, that would be enough.” Abraham Joshua Heschel begs to differ, opening a dialogue that we should pursue: He wrote the following in "No Religion is an Island," (to complete the quote I excerpted in #3):
Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. And yet being alive is no answer to the problems of living. To be or not to be is not the question. The vital question is: how to be and how not to be? The tendency to forget this vital question is the tragic disease of contemporary man, a disease that may prove fatal, that may end in disaster. To pray is to recollect passionately the perpetual urgency of this vital question.
Yes, with apologies to Eliza, to stay alive would not be enough. it’s not just about survival alone.  It’s about living an exalted life, a holy life, a moral life, a good life. Now more than ever, we are thankful for the ability that each of us possesses to nudge the world ever so slightly in that direction.  And we are thankful for the people who will join us on that quest. 
And I am thankful for all of you.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Which God do you believe in?

So it comes down to this: Which God do you believe in? The intoxicating, exclusionary, vengeful and ultimately inauthentic God-stereotype that I rejected in my Kol Nidre sermon, inspired by Donniel Hartman's new book, "Putting God Second?" Or MLK's Arc of the Moral Universe, which "is long but it bends toward justice?" I'll put my money on the arc. That's how those who truly believe that love trumps hate can move ahead with confidence and faith. The arc is long, and we never know what's just around the bend, but the macro picture tells us that our world is much more oriented toward justice, equality, compassion and reverence for innocence than ever before.
Let me put it in these terms. When I roll a Torah from one end to the other, as I did just a couple of weeks ago, every ten columns or so I need to pause and back up a few columns to tighten the scroll. Otherwise it becomes messy and unruly. That is what is happening here. The progress on social justice issues has been swift and remarkable. For the next few years we might be tightening the scroll. But the arc won't stop its bending. Let's keep our eyes on THAT prize.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Letter to My Congregants

To my congregants:
As I write this on the day after the election was decided, there is great concern for the future, among Democrats and Republicans alike.  I’ve already shared some of my initial thoughts in an article where I wrote of the need to roll up our sleeves and work together, now more than ever.
Let me begin by saying that I am deeply fearful.
I know that’s not what many of you want to hear.  Not since 9/11 have I been been so overwhelmed by people of all ages reaching out to me for some words of hope.  I’ve tried to summon them, to look for slivers of a silver lining, but in my quieter moments, I am sleepless and despairing, and I don’t have a rabbi to turn to.
I am fearful for the baby I’m going to name today.
I am fearful for all the groups and individuals Donald Trump has disparaged.
I am fearful, especially for Muslims, immigrants and little girls.
I’m fearful for our planet.
I’m fearful for our world, and all the forces that will become unmoored without stable American leadership at the helm.
I’m fearful for Israel too, although many Israelis are cheering this turn of events.  All I can say to them is what I say to Trump supporters: Be careful what you wish for.
I’m fearful that someday soon, they will be fearful too.
I’m so sad to have to share these fears.  You know how many parents feel they need to put on a strong front for their children?  In some ways, that’s my job.  You aren’t my children, but you are my family, and I’ve always tried to be strong – and yet always honest with you.
I’m fearful for honesty too.  Truthfully, truthfulness took the biggest hit in this election. That and privacy.
I’m fearful for those who cheered every Wikileaks revelation, and even, to a lesser extent, the Access Hollywood Video.  Our “Gotcha” culture has eliminated every vestige of privacy that we thought we had left. Those who cheer Julian Assange as a hero need to reflect, like the rest of us, on what we have done.
Now, for the road ahead…
I am aware that advocacy and engagement are things that some may not deem central to a synagogue’s mission.  Many people want their synagogue to be a sanctuary (pun intended) from the worries of the outside world.  The rabbi needs to set the tone for this “no worries” mode, and to an extent, I agree with that.  Unlike many of my rabbinic colleagues, I’ve refrained from personally endorsing candidates in political campaigns and I’ve not taken public positions on some of the hottest of hot button controversies (like the Iran deal), so that everyone can find here a safe space, a place where opposing views can be exchanged respectfully, where no one feels left out.  Even when positions are taken, opposing views should still be respected.  People should always be able to come to a service and find the embrace of a non-judgmental, loving community in common purpose and prayer.
Here’s the hope part:
There is reason to hope that the next four years will be more positive than the bleak scenarios that have been painted.  I am praying for our new president to succeed in bringing all Americans together.  The tone of the acceptance speech was gracious and the first face to face meeting at the White House was deemed “excellent” by President Obama. That’s a very good start.
But things could easily go in a decidedly different direction.  Sorry, the hope part is small.  Now begins the vigilance part:
When, on the night of the election, this swastika was painted on a building in Philadelphia, it was a sign that the next four years might realize our worst nightmares. How could a Jew look at the anti-Jewish vitriol we have seen online and elsewhere (including the candidate’s final ad) and not be concerned?
One of our college students wrote me yesterday, extremely troubled by this series of Tweets called “The First Day in Trump’s America,” a collection of bigoted acts perpetrated on vulnerable individuals in just one day.  He wondered whether Jews agree with this.  Nearly in tears, I assured him that Judaism condemns this kind of behavior, that advocacy, engagement and vigilance are at the core of Judaism’s message.   Sensing the true purpose of his email, I also assured him that if he ever feels afraid, he should know that I have his back.
One of our twenty somethings texted me, saying that none of her friends could sleep and that they are worried sick.
I met yesterday with our seventh grade class.  They are petrified, not knowing what has become of our country and our world.  They have seen their parents weeping openly these past two days.
The concerns about Trump’s America are bipartisan.  What’s keeping so many people awake at night this week has nothing to do with donkeys and elephants, and the concern is often focused less on Mr. Trump than on the advisers he selects.  After all, had King Ahashverosh just chosen a different chief of staff, he could well have made Persia great again. We need to be watching carefully whom he selects for which position in the Administration.
I’m fearful of the shadowy figure behind Trump, whom we heard of but rarely saw, whose name I will not mention lest it pop up on his Google alert.  I’ve seen the Breitbart headlines. As shadowy as he’s been, no one can say his is a hidden agenda.
I have always tried to be most sensitive to those who disagree with me, in order to make our big tent as “huge” as it can be, ideologically, demographically and in so many other ways.  That transparency and sensitivity will continue for as long as I’m here.
In that spirit, I hope everyone will understand that, if the rhetoric of the campaign is to be believed, the concerns that have arisen go far beyond the typical right-left banter and go right to the heart of our core democratic values and institutions.  For example, there is legitimate fear, based on the candidate’s own statements, that basic First Amendment rights will be challenged over the coming years.  That will put religious leaders and journalists in the cross-hairs, precisely at the time when their voices will be needed most in protecting the rights of individuals and in speaking truth to power.  I take those responsibilities seriously, as both a religious leader and a journalist.  When the need to speak out is there, at times I may err, but I try never to err on the side of inaction or apathy.  And I will try always to listen and to learn from those whose views differ.
As Aaron Sorkin wrote in his now viral letter to his daughter, this is not simply sour grapes over disliking the results of an election.  Like Sorkin, I’ve seen favored candidates go down to defeat many times, but never have seen the need to write a letter like this.
Given that only 25 percent of Jews voted for Trump, the vast majority presumably Orthodox, I still assume we have well over a minyan of Trump supporters here in our large congregation.  I implore those within the congregation who voted for Mr. Trump, to hear me out before tossing this aside as just another rant by the crazy progressive rabbi.
You like Trump?  So you must like deals, and I have a deal for you.  I’ll continue to do my best to keep our services as spiritually uplifting as possible, so that everyone can come here any Shabbat and find solace from the political storms that will be raging.   Yes, sermons and discussions will still probe how Jewish texts and values are relevant in our day, which is what you pay a rabbi to do, but, as I did on the High Holidays, I will always aim to “go high” and try to keep at least some of my legendary snark in check.
But in return I ask for your patience and understanding.  These will likely not be easy times for many; especially, I fear, the weakest among us. When I stand to defend them, I hope you will support those efforts.  If you choose not to, I hope you will at least understand why I need to speak.  I hope the rest of the congregation will too – and that everyone will know that there may be times when all our voices will need to be heard. We all need to seek out especially those who feel most threatened and offer them support.  Every day needs to be “Hug a Muslim” Day and “Hug an Immigrant” Day at TBE.  Those most vulnerable need to know that we are prepared to put our necks on the line to defend them.
And, Trump supporters, we need you to stay active in our TBE family. We need you to help us be a true model for the kind of society we want our America to be.  I will do my best to hear your concerns.  If there is to be a kind of salvation here, I suspect it will need to be faith based.  If there is to be peace on earth, let it begin with TBE.  A nation turns its lonely eyes to us.
As if on cue, literally just now I received an email from TBE congregants who are at Mt. Everest today.  I share below a photo taken literally at the top of the world.  We can’t help but set our sights high – and with that, maybe also our hopes. The road ahead will involve a steep climb, but the view from the top lets us know how magnificent is the gift that we have been given and how wonderful it is to be alive
At services this evening, we will pray for our country and yes, that means we will pray for our – yes, our – President-elect to succeed in unifying the nation.  Let’s hope the period ahead will be one of continued strength, security, inclusiveness, compassion, prosperity and peace for America, for Israel and for the world.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Present As Prologue: A Positive Approach To The Election

Wed, 11/09/2016 - 12:25
Special To The Jewish Week
image: http://www.thejewishweek.com/sites/default/files/images/2016/11/hammerman-josh-new2008.jpg
Rabbi Josh Hammerman.
Rabbi Josh Hammerman.
We woke up this morning to a Kristallnacht anniversary unlike any other.  Many historians believe that the pogrom of November 9, 1938, the night when Jewish businesses and houses of worship all over Germany were shattered by Nazi hooligans, paved the way for the Holocaust that followed.   Some say it gave license to the overt racism that fueled the Nazi machine, making the mass murder of Jews inevitable.
The irony of this timing is too juicy to miss, as hate groups today are celebrating across the globe.  And we wonder, what has become inevitable now? 
My answer: nothing.
There is no silver lining to be found in what has transpired; but, foolish idealist that I am, I grasp for some slivers of silver that someday might be sewn into a lining.  It’s what I do.  As a rabbi, in my dual role as one who afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted, today is a day to focus on the comforting.  So, while straining to avoid Panglossian banalities, I grope (which, like “trump,” is not a verb I’ll never comfortably use again) for some slivers to offer, without disregarding or downplaying the well-documented dangers that a Trump presidency offers.
And the best that I can say is that nothing is inevitable, that past is not prologue. Just as November 9, 1938 did not have to lead directly to Auschwitz, neither is that unique historical moment a prototype for what we are experiencing now.   Today is decidedly not “Kristallnacht: The Sequel.”
It’s of small comfort, I suppose, that the most positive message I can muster is that when I woke up this morning, no Brownshirts had ransacked my synagogue.  But if we begin with the premise that present is prologue, today is not Kristallnacht II, nor even November 9.  Today is Day One.  The best way to prevent the apocalyptic scenarios envisioned of a Trump presidency is not to assume that they are inevitable and fall into a fetal position, but to work steadfastly to prevent those scenarios from being realized, day by day, one foot in front of the other.   If we do that, things will be far from perfect, but we still stand a chance of leaving this world a little better than we found it.
When we shackle ourselves to historical precedent, we fail to be prepared for the surprises that the world presents to us every day.  Hence the foolish reliance of Democrats on their 2012 playbook and their supposedly unbreakable Maginot Line of Rust Belt states.  While we should study history to avoid repeating mistakes, we shouldn’t assume that any precedent will automatically be prescient, as every pollster learned last night.
Some more slivers of silver:
• Before we pack our bags for Canada and bemoan the racism and misogyny of America, recall that many of the same voters who elected Trump voted for Obama twice.   Sooner, we can hope, rather than later, these same Americans will be out to drain yet another swamp.
• Before we assume that the end is nigh for basic human rights, recall that when the Supreme Court passed marriage equality, Justice Scalia was alive and kicking.  It’s not hard to imagine the damage the new President will try to do, but it’s hard to see him successfully accomplishing it.
• Despite what we’ve seen, love still trumps hate. Before we assume that America is on its way to becoming a more brutish society, where bullies will routinely prey on the enfeebled, we can be grateful that a culture of kindness can still be promoted on the local level and by each of us individually.  The power of the states, so brazenly championed by conservatives, will now provide some solace for those living in places where such a culture of kindness is championed.  States can mitigate some of the damage to our planet too.
• Mexico notwithstanding (because that wall will never be built) the wall that will matter most over the next four years is that hallowed wall of separation between religion and state.  I believe it will continue to stand tall.  That wall is what prevented me from officially endorsing a candidate in this race, and there were moments when it was pure torture not to scream in rage at the horrors I was witnessing.  But it forced me to be more disciplined in my message and to focus on areas where I could be more constructive.  While   everyone in Blue State America was railing in the echo chambers of the Internet about Trump’s racism, the Trump voters were watching Fox.  Were I to have climbed aboard that train, my voice would have just been one more among the millions in an echo chamber that only one side was hearing. 
Instead, on Rosh Hashanah, rather than railing about one candidate’s racist statements, I spoke very personally about racism.  Yes, there were clear allusions to  the campaign but I focused more on what has been endemic to our society for a long time and how each of us can combat it.  As a result, my message resonated on both sides of the aisle and I maintained a credibility that comes from at least trying to be non-partisan.  At a time of such intense heat, someone needs to stand above the fray and shine some light.  My congregants had no doubt where I stood, but were appreciative of my efforts to “go high” when so many were “going low.”
Thanks to that wall of separation, my role – and that of my clergy colleagues – has never been more important.  In the short term we need to comfort the afflicted and continue to act as agents of healing.  But over the coming months and years, we’ll need to continue to be the clear voices of conscience.
So I have no instant feel-good panacea to offer on this Kristallnacht, except that it is not Kristallnacht.
It’s Day One, and together, one foot after another, we will need to summon our wits and compassion to face an unknown future that is still ours to determine.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, a frequent contributor, is rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Read more at http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/present-prologue-positive-approach-election#2hQjVyslsJjM1uTb.99

Friday, November 4, 2016

Shabbat-O-Gram for November 4

TBE's 8th grade youth group at a recent get-together at my home, led by Mara and Lisa Gittelman-Udi.  See our full fall album, with lots of photos from the past several weeks.

...and save the date for our Europe Trip Info Session - 
Wed. Nov. 30 at the home of Alan and Sari Jaffe.  RSVP to

Shabbat Shalom!
Feeling nervous about the upcoming week?  Can't imagine why.  Join us tonight and unwind. We'll take a deep breath and reconnect with our most human side, as we celebrate Shabbat together. Then, join us tomorrow morning, when Josh Sherman becomes bar mitzvah. The portion of Noah, when humanity consumed by violence, is a great time to focus on how we can combat meanness and bullying in our society.   Click here for the parsha packet and discussion guide.  next Thursday, join us at 7:30 for Larry Cohler-Esses presentation on his exclusive look inside Iran.  See the flyer at the bottom.

ALSO, Larry is assistant managing editor of the Forward, so he will have some hot-off-the-press insights in the wake of the election which, God willing, will be over by Thursday....

The Mitzvah of Voting and the Legacy of Gertrude Weil

It is of obvious urgency that everyone fulfills the mitzvah of voting.   Click here to see four reasons why voting is indeed a Jewish mitzvah.  As Jews, we understand how sacred is the opportunity to participate in the democratic selection of leaders, a right we did not have for so long and in so many places.  It is not only important that we vote, but that we get our neighbors to vote, and all our relatives (including - and some might say especially - our dear relatives living out their golden years in places like Florida, North Carolina and Arizona).

Curiously, among those Jews most active in securing the sacred right to vote was Gertrude Weil, who, despite coming from a wealthy, privileged family, became a lifelong advocate for voting rights. Her views were radical for the conservative south and were possibly influenced by the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1913 and the rise of the KKK.  She was a leader of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League beginning in 1915 and a crusader for election reform. Read about how Weil's passion for equality and justice was inspired by Jewish teachings.  Challenging the racism and sexism that was so pervasive in her state, she stated, "It is so obvious that to treat people equally is the right thing to do."

Jews have played an outsized role in the implementation and defense of the right to vote.  Over the summer, a number of rabbis spent time in Weil's home state working toward that end.  Sadly, we've discovered that voters suppression based on race is hardly a relic of the past, in North Carolina especially. To quote a new article in Esquire, "It is real and it is horrifying."

Let's hope that when the dust settles on Tuesday evening, everyone eligible to vote will have the chance to do just that, and without impediment.

Gertrude Weil died in her home in 1971.  She remains a hero and role model for us all - and an inspiration for us to continue her work, to protect the weak and defenseless, and eliminate the corruption and racism that still exists near her home. Because her home is our home.

Meanwhile, see below this prayer distributed by the Rabbinical Assembly:
A Communal Prayer in Anticipation of US Elections

אַתָּה חוֹנֵן לָאָדָם דַּעַת וּמְלַמֵּד לֶאֱנוֹשׁ בִּינָה

Adonai, You grant us knowledge, and teach us understanding

Help us to recognize the gift of our vibrant and open democracy and the responsibility to nurture it.

Strengthen us to take our duties as citizens seriously, to hold in our minds and our hearts all that is at stake in this election and to fulfill our obligations with integrity
May we discern Your Divine presence and amplify Your teachings through our actions and commitments.

Remind us of the goodness and diversity of the United States of America. May we strive to care about those with whom we disagree as dearly as we care about our own ideals.

Guide our hands to reach out to one another, certain in the truth that what unites us is greater than anything that divides us.

חָנֵּנוּ מֵאִתָּך דֵּעָה בִינָה וְהַשְכֵּל
May you grace us with knowledge, understanding and discernment.

Escalation of Tensions at the Kotel

Meanwhile, a serious incident occurred at the Western Wall this week, one that might mark a historical turning point in the decades-long struggle to achieve equal rights for women and the progressive Jewish streams at Judaism's holiest site.  See the Rabbinical Assembly letter below, and read press coverage of the incident: JPost / Times of Israel / Ha'aretz.
This morning, while marching with Torah scrolls from the Dung Gate in the Old City in Jerusalem to the Kotel, Conservative and Reform leaders were attacked by members of the ultra-Orthodox community.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly condemn all those who would use physical force to prevent us and other egalitarian Jews from praying at the Kotel according to our custom.  The behavior witnessed today by those who would use physical force has no place in a civil society, nor any context in Jewish values.
For years, we have worked diligently with the Israeli government to find a solution to make the Kotel a place of Jewish unity rather than Jewish discord. We rejoiced when an agreement to create a permanent space for pluralistic and egalitarian prayer at the Kotel was finally reached in January 2016.  Ten months later, there is still no movement toward implementation.
The issue of the Kotel and religious pluralism in Israel is of primary concern to Diaspora Jews from around the world.  Yesterday, at a special plenary session of the Knesset, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky cautioned, "We are saying to our people 'give us time, be quiet' - but while we are patient, time is running out." He added that "while Jews around the world are fighting day and night against the de-legitimization of Israel, they find that they are themselves delegitimized by some people in this house."  
Israel is our homeland and all Jews have the right to pray at the Kotel.  We will continue to exercise this right and demand that the Kotel agreement be implemented as promised.
Rabbi Robert Slosberg, Chair, The Masorti Foundation
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, CEO, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism