Thursday, February 8, 2018

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb 9


Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Daniel Goldberg and family; Daniel becomes Bar Mitzvah here this Shabbat morning!

This evening (Thursday) we are hosting the last of the four session interfaith seminar on the Prophets, a joint effort of half a dozen local churches and synagogues.  Each session is self contained, so it's fine if you missed the others, and since we will be hosting up to 100 of our non Jewish and Jewish neighbors, I'm hoping enough of our folks will be here to demonstrate our special brand of TBE hospitality.  The class begins at 7:30; I'll be conducting a tour of the sanctuary at 7 for those guests who are interested.  I'll be leading tonight's session with Rev. David Van Dyke of the First Presbyterian Church.  The topic, "Turning a Prophet," will focus on the prophet as a moral voice and an agent of social change - we'll be discussing how the ancient prophets inspired visionaries like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King.

Join me also on Sunday for a slide presentation on my recent journey to India and Nepal.  Mara will share some reflections as well.  It's at 7:30 in the social hall.  Please RSVP to if you can make it.

Our "Jewish and Joyish" adult ed series begins on Feb 21.  See the flyer at the bottom of this email.  

Our iEngage series on Israel @ 70 continues next Tuesday evening and Wed. at noon, on the hottest of hot topics: "Judea and Samaria: Occupation or Liberation"  You can join this class midstream.

Our TBE Israel trip is now confirmed for this coming June 24 - July 8.   Click here for updated pricing and itinerary.

Make plans to come to all our pre-Passover experiences (Women's, Interfaith and Chocolate Seders), and PLEASE let us know if you are interested in our actual Second Night Congregational Seder.  See the flyer.

And make plans to join us for our Purim Family Celebration on Feb. 28 and Shabbat Across Stamford on March 9.

A special welcome to Jami Shapiro Fener, who joins our staff this coming week.  Jami, who grew up here (and was an excellent babysitter for my kids), will be focusing her efforts on engagement, particularly with young families, building on the extraordinary success of Shabbabimbam and other young family programming.

And Happy Birthday today to Cantor Fishman!

Rabbi Barb Moskow, z'l

Earlier this week, I sent out the sad notification of the passing of Rabbi Barb Moskow.  She was known as Barb during her half dozen years here beginning in the late '90s, as the rabbinic ordination didn't come until she was about to depart.  But her role and personality were in many ways rabbinic long before she took that title.  In fact, she did one of the best "Ask the Rabbi" Q and A series I've ever seen, only she called it "Ask Bubbe and Zayde," addressing sensitive issues with humor every week in her emails to the parents. 
When we were interviewing Barb to become our educational director, the president of the congregation in Westport told our president, Fred Golove, "In 18 months, she'll take your Hebrew School and turn it into Jerusalem. I don't think it took her that long.  She turned our school around completely, with a focus on informal education, great family programming (she loved her "round robins") and retreats.  She organized four congregational retreats that were landmarks in TBE's history, and in addition to that, each year she took each grade individually on a Shabbaton.  She and I agreed that a single immersive experience like a Shabbaton has as much educational value as a hundred hours in the classroom.  Our philosophy has not changed one iota in that respect, even as we have traded off-site Shabbatons for less expensive and more practical options (like my house, every year for the seventh grade).  It's been great to see in our current educator, Lisa Gittelman-Udi, the same kind of creativity and focus on experiential learning that we saw here with Barb.
Here are some album links to jog our memories:
You won't find Barb in too many of those photos. She preferred to be behind the scenes.

One of her round-robins, entitled, "Celebrating the Arts, Jewishly," featured stations on music (led by Cantor Jacobson), Israeli dance (led by Nurit Avigdor), folklore (Chelm stories) and Kabbalah.  Below is an excerpt from the handout at the "Amulets and Superstitions" station, written in that wry Barb style, and in her signature comic sans font.

She had deep convictions, superb background and most of all, a deep love for Judaism and for the people she worked with.  She was able to influence people without their even realizing how much they were changing!  Teachers, parents and other staff loved her as much as the students did.  She was flexible - like the time she was on a Shabbaton with one of our grades up at good ol' Camp Sloane in Lakeview, CT and lo and behold, they had forgotten to bring up the food that had been prepared for dinner.  With Shabbat about to begin and no kosher facility within 75 miles, Barb improvised and within few minutes the problem was solved.  The pizza delivery guy came just in time for Shabbat dinner!
One of Barb's first projects here was the creation of the patchwork-quilt 9 X 15 foot tallit.  Each child in the school was given a six-inch square of fabric with a Hebrew letter stenciled in the center, and all those individual masterpieces were stitched together to create a beautiful tapestry that symbolized our unity and our love for the Hebrew language.  To this day, the tallit is used at our 7th grade Aliyah ceremony, on Simchat Torah and on other special occasions.
Share your own memories of Barb and I'll put them in next week's O'Gram - and share them with her family.  While she went on to accomplish great things after leaving here, she often intimated that her time here was quite possibly her happiest and most fulfilling professional period - and it was a Golden Age for us too.
May her memory be for a blessing.

"Do Not Oppress the Stranger"

This week's portion of Mishpatim states:

כ  וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
20 And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Here is the commentary on verse 20 from our Humash Etz Hayyim:

While Americans continue to debate the fate of immigrants and refugees, Israel's current deportation of asylum seekers has brought this issue to the forefront there and drawn concern from many American Jews, including over 900 rabbis and cantors who have signed a letter, stating, "Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees, compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us. Please affirm these Jewish values, as well as Israel's international commitments, by stopping the deportations."
I'll save you some time if you are checking out the signatures - I'm number 816. 

For Jews, this issue evokes memories of times we were sent back to dangerous places, as exemplified by the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, in which 937 Jews begging for sanctuary off the coast of Florida were turned back to Europe by the US.  254 eventually died in the Holocaust.  If we won't care about refugees, who will?
The plight of refugees ties into the Passover story, of course, and it will be highlighted at our Interfaith Seder at Grace Farms on March 22.  Once again I'll be leading this Seder, along with Reverend Mark Lingle of St. Francis' Episcopal Church, and Dr. Kareem Adeeb of the American Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies. The evening will celebrate the journey of immigrants and the important role that a welcoming community plays in all of our lives, with contributions from Building One Community, a local not-for-profit organization that serves as a welcoming point of entry for newcomers from all parts of the world.  We will be hearing some breathtaking, inspirational stories.  I'll let you know as soon as the reservation link is set up.  Last year it sold out very quickly.
Rabbi Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy of the Pardes Institute has put together
an information packet for rabbis on this issue, including rabbinic sources on caring for refugees.  Here are her comments regarding the current situation:
"At one level, the debate in Israel is about facts. Are the Africans illegal infiltrators in search of work, or are they refugees (based on the UNHRC definition) facing a "well-founded risk of persecution or death" if returned to Eritrea and Sudan? On closer look, however, ideology seems to underlie which set of "facts" Israelis choose to believe.
Below are some facts everyone agrees on: 
  • For obvious historical reasons, Israel helped to compose and was among the first to sign the UN Convention on Refugees in 1951, committing to make the asylum application process accessible and humane. 
  • Down from a peak of 55,000 in 2013, there are now approximately 38,000 Africans from Eritrea and Sudan, of whom 5,000 are children and 7,000 are women.
  • Most of the refugees live under crowded conditions in South Tel Aviv. The already vulnerable local Israeli population has suffered from higher rents, competition for jobs, and an eroded sense of security on their streets. 
  • Since building a wall on the Egyptian border at the end of 2012, fewer than 300 refugees have crossed into Israel. 
  • Until now, Israel has allowed Eritrean and Sudanese citizens to stay, because it recognizes that returning them to their countries of origin would endanger them. 
  • The Supreme Court has agreed that Israel can deport these refugees to a safe third country, if that country agrees. The Israeli government claims that an unnamed third country (widely believed to be Rwanda/Uganda) is willing to take them, if they consent. The countries themselves deny the agreement. The agreement has not been made public. 
  • To pressure the refugees to relocate, they are being offered a $3,500 incentive through March, and a threat of indefinite jail if they refuse. 
  • Of the 14,000 asylum applications that have been filed, 8,000 have not been answered at all and 6,000 have been rejected. 
  • Only eleven Sudanese and Eritrean citizens have been granted refugee status. Filing an application was impossible before 2013, and has remained extremely difficult since. Facts under debate: 
  • Noting that globally 67% of Sudanese and 87% of Eritrean asylum requests are granted, advocates for the refugees claim that applications were rejected without serious consideration. The government claims that the fact that so many were rejected is proof that there are few, if any, real refugees among them. 
  • Refugees claim that the government actively discourages them from applying for asylum with its notoriously low approval rate and by making the filing process so difficult. The government maintains that the fact that many of them have not applied is further proof that they are undeserving. 
  • Refugee advocacy groups argue that Uganda and Rwanda cannot provide durable protection for the deportees. Refugees who have already departed have been deprived of travel documents and have almost all been forced to continue their flight. Many have fallen prey to human trafficking and/or died in transit to Europe. The Supreme Court has upheld the government position to date, countering that the refugees never intended to make a serious go of Uganda. The dangers they encountered fleeing Uganda were their choice. 
  • While the government's neglect of South Tel Aviv clearly pre-dates the arrival of African refugees, the government argues that the only way to improve their lot is first to deport the refugees. Refugee advocates argue that the forced deportation of these refugees is a convenient and disingenuous way for the government to pretend to address the residents' many woes. With government support, refugees could easily be scattered across the country and fill jobs of migrant workers imported by the government to work in agriculture, building and home healthcare." 
I highly recommend your looking at the rabbinic sources, as well as the full page in our Humash from this week's portion of Mishpatim.

And be happy!  It's almost Adar!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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