Thursday, February 21, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 22


Mass nuptials signal a revival of Jewish life in Havana - see article below.  
25 have reserved already for our 2020 trip - get yours in before we fill up! 


Shabbat Shalom!

As Feb. comes to an end, we are looking forward to a very busy next several weeks, including Shabbat Across America programming next Friday night, followed on Shabbat morning by Men's Club Shabbat, our Purim celebration on March 20 and a week later, the launching of Mensch-Marks on March 28, our teach-in on immigration on March 31 and then the Women's Seder on April 2. Our interfaith series on Wisdom Literature concludes this coming Thursday at Grace Farms in New Canaan with a panel discussion. Click here for details. Plus, we have lots of great family programming throughout March.

Lifting the Veil on DV: A Crisis in Faith

On Friday night, at the conclusion of services, we'll be hearing from special guest, Kevin Shippy, local director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.  Shippy's topic is "Lifting the Veil on DV: a Crisis in Faith." He has delivered a similar talk to a number of churches in our area. The lecture's focus on the importance of respect is entirely compatible with a Shabbat service, but I want to make sure that people are aware that this will be the subject of the talk. Children are always welcome at our services, and those parents who wish to leave with their kids before the talk begins will have the option of doing so.

We have long believed that Shabbat is a time both to step back from the troubles of day-to-day life and to reengage with a supportive community in addressing areas of common need. This week's focus on Domestic Violence places the focus slightly more on the latter objective. Shabbat is an oasis from the world's craziness, but was never intended to be an escape from responsibility. In fact, it's a time to reaffirm the obligation to support those who are suffering.

The DVCC is the only domestic violence agency serving the municipalities of Stamford, Norwalk, Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Wilton and Weston and is part of an 18-member statewide coalition, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. More than 90% of their clients are women who have been hurt by men, and their domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse; in fact more are affected by financial and emotional abuse. In speaking with students, DVCC addresses conflict resolution with elementary schoolers, bullying with middle schools, and dives deeper into teen dating concerns such as inappropriate image exchange, social media protocols and an overall theme of control with senior high youth.
Zionism is Not Racism - Why We Should Care About the Israeli Elections

Today is the deadline for parties to file their slates for the April 9 Israeli election, and two last minute moves have changed the calculus. One is the merging of two large centrist parties led by Yair Lapid and former general Benny Gantz. They now have a legitimate shot at defeating Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party. But Netanyahu boosted his chances of forming the next government by forcing the merger of the right-wing Jewish Home party with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, consisting of disciples of the notorious racist Meir Kahane, who was banned from the Knesset back in the '80s. The Times of Israel's David Horovitz writes, "In 2015, Netanyahu sought to get out the Likud vote by claiming Israel's Arab citizens were streaming in droves to the polls. Now he's striving to bring into the mainstream racists who would deny Arab citizens the right to vote at all" (see Horovitz's column).

The situation is fluid, with an indictment of the Prime Minister anticipated before the election, Netanyahu hopes to garner a right-wing bloc strong enough to pass a law, similar to one in France, that would shield a sitting Prime Minister from prosecution. Many are concerned that this electoral formula of Corruption + Kahane will add up to an even larger breach between Israel's leaders and American Jews; but that almost seems trivial when compared to concerns that all Jews should have for Israel's democratic institutions themselves.  Israel's external enemies, including BDS and anti-Semitism on the right and the left, continue to be a great concern, as well as anti-Semitic attacks in France this week (and a spate of recent hate crimes against Jews in Brooklyn).  But an Israel whose democratic values have been corroded from within is an Israel that faces existential danger, one that will be much more vulnerable to those external threats. And as Jews, our destinies are intertwined with Israel's.

Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Ha'aretz: 

"Back in November 1990, when the far right extremist Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York, our yeshiva forbade its students from going to the funeral in Jerusalem. Other religious nationalist yeshivas did the same. This wasn't a small thing. Telling yeshiva students you couldn't go to the funeral of a Jew who had been murdered as a Jew. But there was a very self-conscious effort at the time to make it clear there was a difference between us and the Kahanists. Fast-forward 28 years, and no senior rabbi or politician has objected to Netanyahu's indecent proposal. At the most you can hear their muttering, "We'll have to see in the polls if it makes electoral sense." Not a peep about how unthinkable the idea of joining a blatantly racist party should, one not morally worth considering, even if it would jeopardize the right-wing's hold on power.... Treating Otzma L'Yisrael and its ilk as a legitimate party means that racism is an option. And when it's an option, even if we claim not to choose it, racism permeates everything."

So yes, we should care about the Israeli elections. Look at it this way. If a formerly banned, racist party is not merely welcomed into the Knesset, but is sitting in the cabinet, what will our students on college campuses say the next time a BDS supporter challenges them with the claim that Israel's government is racist? I recall how angry I was following the infamous '70s-era UN declaration that "Zionism is Racism." That libelous canard was finally rescinded, the stain removed in 1991. Yes, far worse human rights violations by Syrians, Turks, Iranians, Russians, Saudis, Egyptians, Poles, Hungarians, and yes, even occasionally Americans, are legion.  Why should Israel be judged by a double standard? But how horrible it would be for Israel to open itself up once again to such accusations - and to have them be indefensible - and true!

I follow Marc Schulman's detailed and comprehensive daily updates, which can be found here. You can also follow Ha'aretzThe Jerusalem Post or i24 online or on Cablevision. 

Follow them all.

We should care.
My Big Jewish Cuban Wedding

The article below from the JDC is timely, given our planned 2020 trip to Cuba. You can sign up for the trip at - and note that reservations have been coming in at a rapid pace - 25 are signed up thus far, just 15 from our capacity. Don't forget that the deadline for the $100 discount is March 31.  See also coverage in Tablet Magazine of this amazing revival of Cuban Jewry.
Though some young Jews share their bar or bat mitzvahs, it's rare to share a wedding - but that's exactly what 16 couples did last month at the historic Patronato synagogue in Havana, Cuba.

Just 30 years ago, when religious life was prohibited on the island, this act would have been impossible. Today, it's the latest celebration for a flourishing Jewish community that's experienced a profound and improbable revival.

With Castro's rise to power in January 1959, Cuban Jewish life retreated into the shadows. When Cuba's religions restrictions began to loosen in 1991, however, the Jewish community reached out to JDC for help. Today, we continue to partner with the community to aid its most vulnerable members and rebuild Jewish life with activities and programs like the wedding ceremony.

The big wedding day was filled with emotion and excitement. The couples were already married under civil law, but finally they could have a wedding according to Jewish tradition. One set of newlyweds had already been married for 50 years, and another was there with their newborn son.

The rabbi, visiting from Argentina, took the couples through the service: Each couple exchanged rings and the guests cheered and hugged as each groom broke the glass.
The celebration continued with a joyous reception. "As we all floated in our euphoria to the social hall, we began the singing, dancing, and toasting, white lace and tulle spinning," said Ruth Oratz, an amateur photographer and NYU Langone oncologist who attended the weddings as part of a JDC mission to Cuba. "The children of the community were enraptured, dreaming of their future wedding day. One bride sat off to the side, quietly breastfeeding her newborn in perfect bliss."
What is Our Golden Calf? Addiction

The history of idolatry is an interesting one, and there is no better time to reflect on it than this week, when we read the story of the Golden Calf in the portion of Ki Tisa. So the question naturally arises, what is our Golden Calf?  "The desire to worship idols has passed from this world - it has now been given to all transgressions," the rabbis said in Sanhedrin 75a.  We've replaced are yearning for golden calves with other failings. There are lots of nominees right now, but addiction is rising to the top of the list. The opioid epidemic takes 70,000 American lives each year. And Rabbi Richard Eisenberg, who has helped the Jewish community to come to grips with that epidemic, this week wrote a moving article about the dangers of being to addicted to our cell phones. Among kids and adults alike, video games - in particular Fortnite - have increasingly become an addiction. I've seen disturbing trends here among our students. This website offers suggestions as to how to get Fortnite addiction under control.

See also this article on "treating addiction with Jewish values." Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught that cravings and addictions destroy our awareness of God. They also enslave us - which explains why the Israelites, having so recently escaped slavery, were so susceptible to the temptation of the Golden Calf.

Addiction is far too complex a matter to be resolved with a few rabbinic bromides and a pat on the back. Those who are facing those formidable demons need to know that they have a supportive, loving community ready to embrace them and support them, right here in their synagogue.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, February 8, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 8 "Face-to-Face"


Last weekend brought us Temple Rock and the World Wide Wrap!
and see more WWW photos in our 7th Grade Lifecycle Album

Shabbat Shalom!

Fight off the midwinter blues with us at services this evening and tomorrow morning. 

Face to Face

Sadly, much attention has been given this week to the highly charged issues of mocking another person's looks - and in particular the abhorrent practice of "Blackface." As the Jewish Week points out in this week's issue, it's a complicated topic for Jews.

According to the article, the late author Michael Rogin, whose 1998 book "Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot" (University of California Press) investigated this phenomenon, wrote that many Jewish members of the entertainment industry "thought that depicting Jews [as themselves] would promote anti-Semitism, so they hid it. Blackface is a metaphor for that."  Think of entertainers like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor - even George Burns.  As Purim approaches, we can consider the impact of masking our identities and hiding our true faces - often at the expense of humiliating others.

There's no question that this practice is racist.  But the issue, I believe, goes beyond racism.  The issue is face-ism.  We are unable to come face to face, either with the Other, or with ourselves.  And the fact that this has suddenly become a disqualifying factor for leadership, just as sexual harassment has suddenly become disqualifying, may be disquieting to some, but it indicates that our society has advanced eons over a short period of time in setting ever higher standards for acceptable behavior.

Tomorrow morning's portion, Terumah, begins a lengthy, detailed description of the tent of meeting, the Mishkan, in the Wilderness.  One of the more curious features is the "cherubim," these constructed mysterious winged angelic creatures that faced each other in front of the ark of the covenant.  The text describes their face-to-face posture as "ish el achiv," "a man to his brother." Then in the following chapter, we learn about how the Mishkan structure itself is to be assembled, with planks of wood whose tenons and sockets fit together "isha el achotah," "a woman to her sister."   What does it mean for us to be "face-to-face with others?  Preview tomorrow morning's study packet here.

Nehama Liebowitz wrote, "Through the construction of the sanctuary we become imitators of God." If we imitate the work of God by physically creating a sacred space, so much more should we aspire to imitate God's goodness, love and mercy in creating a better and holier world." 

If that is the case, than the cherubim are placed right there, just in front of the holiest place, to remind us that at the root of all holiness is the ability to engage in relationship, to see others, eye-to-eye.  It's fitting that not only to cherubim fit into the secular calendar (Valentines Day), but also the Jewish one.  This coming Tuesday is Moses' yahrzeit, Adar 7, and Moses is described as the only human to have encountered God, face-to-face.  That is the day we also will be honoring our community's burial society - the Chevra Kadisha - since tradition has it that Moses was lovingly laid to rest by God.

In all that we do, we are imitating God.

Contemporary theologian Arthur Green writes, "Every human being is the image of God. Every creature and life-form is a garbing of divine presence. The way in which we treat them and relate to them is the only true testing-ground of our own religious consciousness. The One seeks to be known and loved in each of its endless manifestations. The purpose of our growing awareness is to reach out and appreciate all things for what they really are. This is especially true with regard to our fellow humans. We need to help all humans to discover the image of God within themselves; this is Judaism's most basic moral truth."

Also this coming week, Jews will engage in an annual effort to cultivate a culture of constructive conflict and healthy disagreement across personal, political, religious and other divides. Read about the Adar 9 project and its origins in a tragedy that took place in Talmudic times. Approximately 2,000 years ago, the initially peaceful and constructive disagreements between two dominant Jewish schools of thought, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, turned destructive over a vote on 18 ideologically charged legal matters, leading, according to some sources, to the death of 3,000 students.

You think things are bad now!

So that is why those winged creatures stand before the ark, face to face.  To remind us to face up to the holiness of every human being, no matter the pigmentation of their skin.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, February 1, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb 1: The Book of Daniel Picks the Super Bowl, Huge Happenings in Israeli Politics, Amos Oz and the Nature of Dreams, the Mulligan Month of Adar 1



Our annual World Wide Wrap takes place on Sunday morning from 9 - 10:30.  Our B'nai Mitzvah class families attend, along with any other congregants who wish to learn more about the core Jewish ritual of tallit and tefillin.  For me it's especially gratifying to see girls trying them on for the first time. Sadly, fully a half century after the advent of modern feminism, some are still convinced that such rituals are not appropriate for women. 

Shabbat Shalom!

...and Be Happy - our most joyous month, Adar begins this Tuesday and Wednesday - and this year, we have two Adars - it's a Jewish Leap Year.

In a leap year, Adar is our Mulligan Monthan entire month that we get to do over. Yahrzeits can get confusing (ask me if you have a question - they are usually in Adar 1, unless your loved one died in Adar 2 - but really. Ask.) and Purim is always in Adar 2, but otherwise, we’ll have two of all things Adar.  Since Adar is our most joyous month, we get a double dose of happiness, just what the doctor ordered in the midst of a polar vortex.  Adar will be doubly good, and Purim will be late.
As we look forward to Temple Rock on Saturday night (and pay close attention during the live auction for a surprise announcement), services on Friday night and Shabbat morning will be in the sanctuary.  Cantor Fishman and I would love to see our streak of excellent attendance and high spirits continue.  Here's a sneak preview of tomorrow's study packet.  At services we'll be discussing how we all can get along.

It's been a busy week here, and a very satisfying one. Last Shabbat Ben Kassel became Bar Mitzvah - read his speech on the Ten Commandments of Soccer. And despite the wintry weather, we've had three well-attended adult ed classes. Yesterday, about 25 came to the weekly class where I preview various chapters of Mensch·Marks. This week's topic was civility and gossip (based on Mensch·Mark 35Championing Civility: It's Impossible to Avoid Gossip but Essential to Try). Our lively conversation touched on lots of contemporary topics related to the destructive and healing power of words. You can download the supplementary study packet here.

Last night we hosted the Interfaith Council series on Wisdom Literature and I spoke about two of the most subversive books in the Bible, Esther and Ecclesiastes. Around 75 people came, a marvelous melange of Christians, Jews, and at least one Muslim. Before the lecture, I invited our guests up to the pulpit for a close look at the Torah scrolls - and they asked terrific, probing questions. It was a great week for loving our neighbors!  

Some of last night's guests surrounding the Torah (photo by Rosalea Fisher)

All you need to know before making your pick:
What the Daniel 8:7 has to say about Sunday's Super Bowl

ז  וּרְאִיתִיו מַגִּיעַ אֵצֶל הָאַיִל, וַיִּתְמַרְמַר אֵלָיו וַיַּךְ אֶת-הָאַיִל וַיְשַׁבֵּר אֶת-שְׁתֵּי קְרָנָיו, וְלֹא-הָיָה כֹחַ בָּאַיִל, לַעֲמֹד לְפָנָיו; וַיַּשְׁלִיכֵהוּ אַרְצָה וַיִּרְמְסֵהוּ, וְלֹא-הָיָה מַצִּיל לָאַיִל מִיָּדוֹ.
And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with anger against him, and smote the ram, and broke his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but he cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. 
Daniel 8:7
Sounds like this ram was sacked!  Looks like a Big Day for the Patriots' D.
And who is the coordinator of the Patriots' offense?  Who is the one conjuring up visions of ram-demolition? That's right, Josh McDANIELs.  As the Book of McDaniels states in chapter 5, the handwriting is on the wall.  So chapters 7 and 5 are the relevant sections here.  Therefore...
Final score:  Patriots 3 
- Rams 35.

Big Doings in Israel

Some really interesting things happening in Israel this week, and they may be getting lost in the shuffle.  A major challenger to Prime Minister Netanyahu's reelection has emerged. Things took a dramatic turn this week with the official injection of Benny Ganz into the race and literally overnight, his support doubled.   As you recall, Marc Schulman spoke here recently and gave us a real insider's view on what is going on.  You can read Marc's latest dispatch here.  An excerpt:

As rumors of tonight's opinion polls began to circulate, the feeling that something had changed began to grow. This evening Channel 13 published its polling results and Gantz has gone from 12 to 24 seats in one day. Moreover, when those surveyed were asked who would you prefer to be Prime Minister, Gantz was tied with Netanyahu. This is first time anyone other than Netanyahu has received such strong poll numbers, since Barak beat Netanyahu.
What accounts for Ganz's popularity and the degree of his threat to Netanyahu's decade-long reign?  First and foremost, he's solid on security. As a general he cannot be painted as a "lefty," as Bibi is trying to do, and on social and religious issues, he has come out strongly on the side of inclusion, even advocating for the reneged Western Wall deal that would have brought multiple prayer opportunities to our holiest site.  Oh yes, and he also supports two states and a rollback of the controversial (and unnecessary) Jewish Nation-State Law.  And finally, he's calling out corruption in government, affirming that he would never be part of a government run by a Prime Minister under indictment.

So if Ganz is not a flash-in-the-pan, and especially if indictments are forthcoming for the Prime Minister, this will get very interesting as the election season heats up.

Beyond the immediate moment, there are long term concerns about Israel that need to be addressed.  There is no question that many American Jews, particularly younger progressives, have become apathetic (or worse) toward the Jewish State.  Part of the reason for this is that Israel has appeared to be slipping away from some of the key values that so many Jews affirm.

This week in Ha'aretz, Rabbi Eric Yoffie spelled out the kind of speech he would love to see the Prime Minister give. Imagine if Bibi were to say:

* I believe Israel must be a Jewish and democratic state.

* I embrace Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and its commitment to the Jewishness of Israel, her democratic character, and human rights for all her citizens.

* I am a supporter of settlements, but my government will promote settlements in such a way that Israel’s Jewish and democratic essence will not be compromised.

* Jewish terror is an abomination and a profound affront to Jewish values, and Jews who engage in terror will be pursued and apprehended by our security forces and punished to the full extent of the law.

* I am deeply concerned by the troubled relations between Israel and world Jewry, and while I understand the concerns of the Orthodox parties and hope to see them in my coalition, I will make it a top priority to repair the bonds that connect us to the non-Orthodox movements and to the Jewish people everywhere.

* The current situation in Judea and Samaria imposes significant burdens on Palestinians, and Israel will do everything in her power to minimize those burdens.

* The horror of the Holocaust is forever imprinted in our memory, and the State of Israel will never cooperate, directly or indirectly, with European governments intent on distorting Holocaust history and minimizing their responsibility for the slaughter of Jews.  

* I strongly support the law affirming that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, but I have heard the concerns of the Druze community and others, and I will take steps to guarantee equality and human rights under law for every Israeli citizen.

* There may not be a partner for peace at this moment, and there can be legitimate disagreement about how peace can be obtained, but any government that I head will remain actively committed to making peace with the Palestinians and all our Arab neighbors, and to the task of building with them a future together.  

I hope Yoffie isn't holding his breath, because during an election campaign Bibi will be appealing primarily to his base and is unlikely to say any of this.  But it doesn't mean we need to remain silent.

As the Israeli elections approach, world Jewry has a chance to provide the next government of Israel a way toward realizing the goal of Israel being a truly Jewish and democratic state.

To demonstrate the breadth of concern for Israel's democratic and Jewish future among Jews worldwide, a campaign to garner 10,000+ signatures on "A Vision Statement: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State" is being launched by Ruach Hiddush, a trans-denominational coalition of Rabbis and Cantors.  The Statement, co-written by an Israeli Reform and an American Orthodox rabbi, presents a concrete plan that insures that the country's democratic and Jewish values remain the essence of all that Israel is.

Join with religious and community leaders, intellectuals and philanthropists in support of the Revivot Yisrael Campaign - and sign the statement, as I already haveand add your voice to the large and growing number of Jews in every corner of the world who share this vision of unity through diversity.  To sign, click on this link.

The campaign is the being sponsored by Hiddush, whose leader, Uri Regev, spoke here not long ago.

I truly believe that this is a time for American Jews to reengage with Israel, even where there is disagreement.   Change happens - but only when people care enough to act.

A month ago, Israel's most prophetic voice since Jeremiah, Amos Oz, passed away.  To commemorate the thirty day anniversary of his passing, Da'at, a travel company, put together a collection of quotes by Oz. 

As we contemplate Israel, or America, for that matter, keep in mind this Oz quote from an extensive interview he did in 2016:

Now, Israel is a fulfillment, and as a fulfillment, it is flawed. The fact that it is flawed is not so much a testimony about the failures of Israel. No, it is a testimony about the nature of dreams. The only way to keep a dream, any dream at all, to keep a dream perfect and rosy and intact and unsullied is never to live it out. The moment you carry out any of your dreams or your fantasies-travel around the world, climbing a high mountain, buying a new house, writing a novel, carrying out a sexual fantasy, traveling to an unknown country-the moment you carry out your dreams, it's always, by definition less perfect and rosy than it had been as a dream. This is the nature of dreams. And Israel-let's not forget it-Israel is a fulfilled dream. 

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman