Thursday, May 23, 2019

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 24: A Congregation that Hugs First and Asks Questions Later, End of Year Montage, "Field of Dreams" at 30, The Riderless Horse, Lag B'Omer and Memorial Day, A Eurovision Moment


The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by 
Naomi and Marc Kinderman in honor of their son, Adam, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Scenes from end of year activities...
photos by Aviva Maller Photography, Dan Young, Kenneth Cohen and Jami Fener




For those 12th graders who weren't here last night for our sendoff and blessing, your gifts await you - please let us know if you are coming to pick them up.

Shabbat Shalom!


Another crazy week out there - I'm beginning to feel that we all have become Bodexpress, that horse who ran the entire length of last week's Preakness without being guided by a rider (whom he threw off at the starting gate).  No rider, no GPS, no whip, nothin' but green grass and dirt, a bunch of harnessed friends running in servitude alongside, and the simple love of running free.  With his freedom came the terrifying reality (for the viewer, presumably not for him) that a single misstep could result in catastrophe.  And when the race ended for all the other horses, their workday done, this equine Forrest Gump just kept running for the sheer joy of it.  Bodexpress was born to run, he was reared to run, and when his day arrived, he was going to run, whip or no whip, rider or no rider.  And run he did.

One can look at our country - our world - as a horse without a jockey, a rudderless ship, which is a very scary thought.  Or, like Bodexpress, we can simply enjoy the ride.  

That horse just kept running.

And so must we.

Mazal tov to Adam Kinderman, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.  You can find Yael Everett's d'var Torah from last Shabbat here.

There is still time to plan to join me and over 15 of your fellow TBE congregants at the AJC's Global Forum on June 2-4. Read more about it and register here.  

Last week's Eurovision spectacular went off without a hitch in Tel Aviv.  Two weeks ago I wrote about the band Shalva, consisting of people with disabilities, who would have been Israel's representatives at the contest except that they would not perform on Shabbat.  Well, evidently they stole the show during the intermission of Thursday's semi-final, with this rendition on "A Million Dreams."  

Excerpts from my Annual Meeting Remarks:
"A Congregation that Hugs First and Asks Questions Later"

When negative energy is allowed to dissipate, what's left is pure joy and spiritual release. What's left is the tightening of bonds that keeps people at the kiddush table long after the service has ended. What's left is dancing in the aisles, as we did at Mediterranean Shabbat. What's left is kids making food for homeless shelters or enjoying that first bialy on the Lower East Side. What's left is how we burst with pride at every single bar or bat mitzvah.

Last fall, the true nature of our congregation was on full display at the most crucial moment. It was the Friday night after the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh. For me personally and for all of the Jewish people, it was the close of a week of shiva. If there was ever a Shabbat when Jews would avoid being near a synagogue, this would have been it. But what overcame the fear was the desire to be together; and so our sanctuary was packed that night. People came who had not been to a synagogue in years - non-members as well as members. And when they got here they experienced genuine community. They experienced a congregation that hugs first and asks questions later. A congregation that smiles first and complains later. A congregation that listens, that laughs, that cries, that sings, that wants to share its stories and wipe the years from one another's eyes. A congregation that finds inspiration and joy in praying together, even if we aren't all sure about who we are praying to or what we are praying for.
This is the congregation that we are and strive to be.
Last Shabbat I talked about the bat mitzvah girl's favorite movie, "Field of Dreams," which premiered precisely thirty years ago. It's most memorable refrain: "If you build it, he will come" rang true on that Friday night.
We built it - and they came. We built a community of inclusiveness, mutual respect and love. And that's exactly what people were looking for.  All the numbers you will hear tonight, our fast-growing membership, our outstanding fundraising in the face of unforeseen expenses. our admirable budgeting: it all comes back to that one fact that can't be measured in numbers: We have built it and they are coming.
And that's why it is so imperative for us to keep on building a community of kindness, grounded in deep Jewish values. Nothing is more important than that we continue to be that port in a storm for all who are seeking us.

More on "Field of Dreams"

To expand on that thought, read below a memorable passage from "Field of Dreams," spoken by Terrance Mann, a reclusive writer played by James Earl Jones, to Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner.  All you need to do is replace the words "baseball" with "synagogue" "Jewish heritage" or "Passover Seder." Jewish celebrations are just like baseball - or at least what baseball used to be.
"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."
The film also asks this question: Is this heaven?  The famous response: No, it's Iowa.

Ray comes to understand that heaven isn't out there. Heaven is where you are, right now. Some religions sanctify space and build big cathedrals to the sky. Judaism sanctifies time. We take a couple of candles and say a blessing, utter some more sacred words and eat hallah and drink wine, and wherever you happen to be standing becomes heaven on earth - including Iowa.  This is another example of how "Field of Dreams" espouses deep Jewish values.

And then there is this other famous quote from the film:

We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days". I didn't realize that that was the only day.

These are the words of a baseball player who failed to take advantage of his one fleeting opportunity to make it to the major leagues.  Psalm 90 reminds us to count our days to gain a heart of wisdom.  At this time of year, we literally count our days from Passover to Shavuot.  And we count up rather than down, so as not to dwell on the opportunities missed and our lives slipping away, but rather to celebrate each new lesson learned as we scale the ladder of accumulated wisdom. With each passing day, we come a little bit closer to achieving our full potential.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll get one more shot at the majors, and one more chance to have that catch with Dad.

That catch with Dad, the (spoiler alert) final scene that provoked more tears than any film since "Love Story," is the ultimate tale of teshuvah, a return to days of old, to the person we once upon a time hoped to become.  For Jews, that return happens on the High Holidays, for sure, but also any time we are in a place where the spirit of our parents and grandparents lives on vividly - whether that place be the synagogue, the seder table or the sukkah.

Ah yes, the sukkah.  The Torah calls to us in James Earl Jones' godlike resonance:

..."If you build it, he will come."

Lag B'Omer
Thursday is Lag B'Omer.   Last Friday night I spoke about one of the most important yet least understood aspects of this minor festival - fire.   All over Israel bonfires are lit on this day, with a huge celebration of fire on Mt Meron, near Safed, where the sainted, mystical Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. I compiled some sources on that symbolism and on Bar Yochai into a packet. Click here to see it.  Also, see the website set up for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's website (yes, he has one).  See live coverage from Mt. Meron.  And see MyJewishLearning's Lag B'Omer page.

ל"ג בעומר | שידור חי מ'הר מירון תשע"ט | Watch Live: Lag Ba'omer in Meron 2019

Alabama vs Algeria
Ha'aretz compared to the restrictive anti-abortion laws just passed in some American states to anti-women laws in the Middle East.  The conclusion?  "Abortion will be more lawful in Saudi Arabia and Algeria than Alabama and Georgia if the near-total ban passed by their state legislatures last week makes its way through the courts."  That's also true, most certainly, regarding Israel, where the law is much more progressive.  You can check out the article here.  Statistics for the Republic of Gilead are not currently available - I have a call into Margaret Atwood.

Update on Israeli Democracy's Moment of Truth
If you think I'm simply crying wolf in expressing grave concerns about the proposed deal to override the Israeli Supreme Court in order to keep Bibi in office when he is most likely  indicted, see this article from today's Times of Israel:  Ex-Justice Minister Warns of Netanyahu Dictatorship." Today's news indicates that the "Override Bill" is going to be part of the coalition deal.  And see how 
David Horovitz raises the alarm.

Mitzvah Opportunity

I'm including this request from Lauren Kahn Medalie, a lifelong part of our TBE family.  We are amazed at Lauren's courage under the most extreme pressures imaginable.
Dear Family and Friends
On June 8th I will run a 10K in Central Park with Moms In Training to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). This will be my fourth race with LLS, but my first since being diagnosed with Lymphoma. I hope you will support me in reaching my goal of $25,000.
When I got involved with Moms In Training, I loved being part of a group of moms who got together for a great cause. I loved that I ran a race (go me!) and then a few more. I met all these inspiring moms, some who had young children going through cancer treatment.  I never thought the money I was raising would help fund the research that would save my life and Taylor's life a few years later.

Dan and I were so excited when we found out I was pregnant. We had one amazing daughter and now another baby girl on the way! I had bad morning sickness with Brynn so I wasn't surprised when I was very sick again with Taylor's pregnancy. But the sickness only got worse, and I started having trouble eating, breathing, and sleeping. I lost weight and became unable to commute to work. The doctors and specialists continued to assure me that all was fine and that this was just pregnancy.

At six months pregnant I ended up in the ER in White Plains where they realized something was seriously wrong and quickly transferred me to the Cardiac ICU at Cornell. Within hours, the doctors found a tennis ball sized mass in my chest. We were told it was likely cancer. I remember saying "I can't have cancer. I have a 4 year old and I'm pregnant." Clearly I was wrong. Cancer can affect anyone at any time.

I was diagnosed with primary mediastinal diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (PMBCL). A rare, highly aggressive, and dangerous blood cancer. Fortunately, it is also a cancer that researchers have made huge progress in treating over the last decade, thanks, in large part, to funding from LLS.  My doctors were able to confidently set forth a treatment plan that was not only safe for me, but amazingly also for Taylor (who was still only 23 weeks along at that point). Treatment was very rough, but through it all my doctors always remained positive.

My chemo started immediately. It has to be administered in the hospital for five consecutive days. I needed six rounds like that. I had four rounds while pregnant and two after Taylor was born. I was away from Brynn for 42 days. I was away from Taylor for five days during her first month of life.

Taylor was born on November 7, 2017 absolutely perfect (and with a full head of hair)! Her own immune system was temporarily suppressed because of one of the chemo drugs she received in utero. Luckily, she won't remember her own experiences with blood tests, IVs, oncologist visits, and a hospitalization. At 17 months, Taylor is now a typical toddler - running around, eating snacks, following her big sis, and dancing to Baby Shark. She is THE BEST!

The scary truth is that Taylor and I would not be here today without the research funded by LLS. In the past year, I've seen Taylor take her first steps, dropped Brynn off at her first day of kindergarten, gone on vacation to our happy place, Aruba, had date nights with Dan, and snuggled my girls A LOT. I am forever grateful to LLS for giving this to me.

However, for so many people with blood cancer and other cancers, the outcomes are not like mine. That is why I am asking you to support me by donating here: Together, we can help LLS fund new treatments that will allow others the same prognosis and ability to live full lives with their families.

Thank you!
Lauren Kahn Medalie

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Memorial Day (read A Rabbi's Sermon on Iwo Jima), and happy Lag B'Omer too.

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