Saturday, September 9, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for Sept. 8


The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by Elisa Rosner in honor of her son, Jacob, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat shalom!

Mazal tov to Jake Rosner on his becoming Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.  Our Parsha Packet for the portion Ki Tavo discusses Simon Wiesenthal's classic symposium "The Sunflower," a perfect topic for this season of introspection and forgiveness.  Preview it here. 

Along those same lines, click here to see our prior packet, "Can We Judge Ourselves?"  
Something else that came across my desktop this week, a gift from the Hartman Institute and the State of Israel: In the Gates of Jerusalem: Reflections on the Eternal City for High Holidays.

Comings and Goings

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, בְּבֹאֶךָ; וּבָרוּךְ אַתָּה, בְּצֵאתֶךָ
"Blessed are you in your coming in and in your going out"


Goodbye, Antonio; Hello David and Beth!

The above quote from this week's Torah portion (Deut. 28:6) is perfect for this weekend of comings and goings, After nine years of diligent service, Sunday will make the final day here for Antonio Avilos, who has been part of our maintenance team and TBE family since 2008.  He'll be returning to Colombia to open a restaurant.  

In a religious institution like ours, anyone on the staff is a a de facto educator, modeling, especially for our children, the values that we all cherish.  Antonio has done that to perfection.  He, along with Alberto Eyzaguirre (who has been here longer than I have), often faces inordinate pressure to accomplish so much in so little time.  Yet Antonio and Alberto pull it off so magnificently, and always with a smile.  Their work, so indispensable, is also often underappreciated.  It was a pleasure to bring them front-and-center to the bima during this year's cantor's concert honoring the Landers.  We had a staff lunch to thank Antonio last week; if you see him this weekend, let him know how grateful you are!

Antonio's successor just began working here this week.  His name is David (pronounced the Hebrew way, Da-VEED) Jimenez.  Please make sure to give him a warm TBE welcome when you see him in the building.  And also make sure to welcome Beth Silver, who is providing administrative support in several areas, including our education department.  Of course Beth has been a valued part of the TBE family for many years.

Best of luck to Antonio in his new venture - can't wait to book a table on Yelp!

Hello, 25 Years....


Speaking of comings and goings, it seems like just yesterday that I arrived here.  In fact, it was 30 years ago last month.  But since I was assistant rabbi for the first five years, my installation as senior rabbi of Temple Beth El occurred only 25 years ago - and the anniversary of that event is this Monday (Sept 11, 1992 - little did we know at that time how significant that date would be).  

Here is the program that was handed out that night.  Past President Alan Kalter chaired what was a most memorable evening.  A feature of the program was when representatives of many different groups within the congregation came up to the bima to present "offerings" of new siddurim that had just been acquired. Part of my "first hundred days" strategy was to finally move on from the old Silverman siddur; that along with not standing for the Sh'ma and ending the practice of having  the Men's Club having chicken dinners at Pelliccis.  I was very ambitious! In the photo above you can see Jill Rothkopf and Josh Donner, who were to become my "first" b'nai mitzvah as senior rabbi the following day.   So yes, Jill and Josh have a 25th anniversary to celebrate this weekend too!

The event was also videotaped, and you can see videos from that evening by clicking here.  Some other significant videos from my early years here are also found on that page.  Below are some more screen grabs from that evening.  See who you can recognize.


"Blessed be you in your coming and in your 
About DACA...

At the rally supporting Dreamers 

And while we celebrate this week the comings and goings of those who are making choices as to where they will live, many are very concerned about the fate of the Dreamers, those who have lived in America for most of their lives, pay taxes and contribute to this country in so many ways, who are now being callously threatened with deportation to places they have never known.  I am proud to have been at Mill River Park on Tuesday to show my support, along with other religious and civic leaders. I will continue to stand up for the defenseless and innocent, as our sources compel us to do, not simply because we are commanded to "love the stranger,' - although the Torah does say that 36 times.  But in fact, DACA recipients are, culturally speaking, every bit as American as you and me.  They are not strangers.  They do not deserve to feel so threatened in their own homes.  We should embrace them because, in so many ways, their story is our story too.

Read "Top Ten Facts about DACA and Dreamers" (from the Bipartisan Policy Center)

Read about the Atlit camp in Israel, where Jews, desperate and homeless following the Holocaust, were rounded up and detained by the British after being caught trying to immigrate illegally to Palestine in the '40s.  Many of them were deported to Cyprus (think Ari Ben Canaan) while others were forced to go back to the very places in Europe that had devoured their families.

Read how, back in the '40s, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin said sarcastically that the United States wanted displaced Jews to immigrate to Palestine "because they did not want too many of them in New York."  (It's been rumored that Bevin wanted to build a wall around Palestine and have the Haganah pay for it).

Read how Israel today is facing a migrant / asylum crisis that the government is handling in a controversial manner.

If any group should have compassion for the Dreamers, it is the Jewish people, we who know all about that knock on the door.

Our First Shabbat-in-the-Round
By Irma Ross

At the end of August, we experienced our first Shabbat-in-the-Round, a milestone event described below in this report compiled by Irma Ross, who has been instrumental in spearheading this project.  We are so grateful for Irma's positive energy and drive.  As we await with deep concern the predicted arrival of Hurricane Irma on the American mainland, be assured that this Irma and that Irma have nothing in common!

TBE's first Shabbat In the Round for 2017 was a wonderful spiritual, uplifting service and experience thanks to the beautiful music of Cantor Fishman with her gentle guitar playing and spiritual insights, the thought provoking teachings of Rabbi Hammerman, and the participation of the 45 people who came to pray together.

The schmooze portion (with coffee and) before services eased us into a warm and inviting space.

The informal setting, including pillows on the floor, allowed everyone an opportunity to be comfortable, and feel "at home."    It also allowed for some organic questions and discussion, and probing of the Torah portion.

Even the folks who are 'traditionalists" found the experience to be meaningful and loved the music added to the service.

Some feedback from the participants:

"What a wondrous idea to change things up and keep the Shabbat experience fresh.  The more informal setting provided connection and a spirit of community--a sense and a feeling we sometimes take for granted."

"I appreciated the special added prayers--they were refreshing and soul stirring."

"It was very spiritual and meaningful.  The readings and music were beautiful and appropriate.  I look forward to next time, and plan to tell others and encourage them to come."

"I loved the participatory nature and the communal feeling engendered by the service."

"I enjoyed the informal sitting in the round.  It enabled us to see each other and encouraged more participation. I liked the new prayer pamphlet--it was easier to follow. 
 I also like the group aliyot--it made it easier for people to come up to the bimah.  I'd like to see more of this format even with possibly having our traditional service in the round."

"I so appreciate all the work that went into making this service happen.  Can't wait for the next one!"

Please join us for our next Shabbat in the Round on Dec. 9th!

As we approach the High Holidays, some guidance on soul searching
From "Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice"
by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

For someone to write a sefer, is more than to say they've written a "book." A sefer is an enduring gem of Jewish significance and one such was written in 1812 by Rabbi Mendel of Satanov. He created a new approach to the practice called Heshbon HaNefesh, "Accounting of the Soul." Reb Mendel teaches a 13-step program of journaling, self reflection, and planned personal change. Heshbon HaNefesh is a helpful method for those who choose to take on the Yom Kippur practice of feeling yourself participating in a Divine review of your ethical actions. Being only human, you will have errors on your record, and so it helps to have a sense that you will earn "extra credit" in your examination by showing a record of sincere efforts at introspection and personal change.

In order to be truly free, honest looking is needed into sensitive areas of self. This approach is not one of self-excoriation. Alan Morinis, author of Musar, explains: "We're seeking insight, so in a recording [journaling] practice you are to make note of what ever you see, positive, negative or neutral. That shifts this practice quite a bit towards a healthy pursuit of self-understanding as opposed to bare self reproach."

Dr. Gene Gendlin, author of Focusing, observes that to be able to undertake such a soul journey it is important to have something comforting to hold onto. Most likely, you can be even harder on yourself than others will be and you might want to find something real or conceptual to bring along that helps you be both tender and honest with yourself. What would be comforting for you? Bring it to your heart and let's continue.

Accounting of the Soul
While Reb Mendel and Alan Morinis are teaching the art of spiritual journaling, rather than replicate their work, here is another approach I've developed to Heshbon HaNefesh.

Equanimity. Ability to live in balance.
Tolerance. Growing pains lead to knowing gains.
Orderliness. Allocating time for living life fully with integrity.
Decisiveness. Acting promptly when your reasoning is sure.
Cleanliness. Modeling dignity in your ways and space.
Humility. Know you will always have much to learn and more opinions than answers.
Righteousness. Conducting your life such that you are trusted and respected.
Economic Stability. Safe guarding enough resources for yourself to live without debt.
Zeal. Living with gusto focused on purpose and care.
Silence. Listening and reflecting before speaking.
Calmness. Giving your needs and thoughts gently while being respectful and clear.
Truth. Speaking only what is fully confirmed in fact.
Separation. Focus on each strand in its own time, avoid multi-tasking.
Temperance. Eating and drinking for good health, not dangerous excess.
Deliberation. Pausing before acting, consider consequences, integrate heart and mind wisely.
Modest Ways. Eschewing crude, lewd and boastful mannerisms and practices.
Trust. Living in the spirit of knowing there is abundance in the universe and you are in the flow.
Generosity. Finding satisfaction in making much possible for others.

(Bold type, concepts of Reb Mendel, z"l; Regular type=interpretations of Reb Goldie)

First take any one of these qualities and reflect on its degree of presence and activity in your life.

(Next, you might sit with a friend, partner, class or child and discuss the quality. What are examples for it? Flesh out its meaning to you, find as many nuances of the quality as you can.

(Now, go into yourself and notice where in your body this quality resonates. The mind/body connection creates a short-cut to knowing. Is it lodged somewhere? Rather than thinking about the quality, listen to it, discover what your body knows about it. Then, take the information and gently set it before you and return to see if there is more, something new about this quality you can learn inside yourself.

(What is your desire with regard to this quality? Sit quietly with this question until a clear image forms, til you imagine a real probability. Invite strength and support for this intention from the great dynamic flow of all possibilities in creation.

The Path of Yom Kippur Preparation

Many think of Yom Kippur, known as the "day of atonement," as the annual day of repentance. Actually, each Yom Kippur is the apex of one year's cycle of serious self reflection. Judaism is bullish on humanity, passionate about our in-born ability to change for the better. And, it only makes sense that it would require far more than one day to fine tune your life for rebirth at a more expanded level for the next year. 

Accordingly, there are many days in the calendar where incremental Heshbon HaNefeshwork is traditionally practiced: Thursday evenings as part of lifting soul shmutz in preparation for Shabbat; every day (except Shabbat) of Elul, the month which precedes the High Holy Days. Some also observe Yom Kippur Kattan, "Little Yom Kippur," on the day before each new moon, and as Reb Mendel suggests, it is most effective when engaged in nightly.

The high holy day experience is often reported to be intensified in value and meaning for those with a regular Heshbon HaNefesh practice. Why? Because instead of leaping out of daily life and into the holidays, you will arrive prepared.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman  

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