The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Lisa and Todd Everett, honoring Yael as she becomes a Bat Mitzvah, and Loralee and Philip Granowitz in honor of the upcoming marriage of Eliza Scheffler and Andy Granowitz.
Our 7th Graders burying books at Beth El Cemetery last week, as they concluded their life cycle curriculum with a visit to the consecrated ground next door. The class was honored at our annual Aliyah Ceremony on Thursday night. See photos from the Aliyah Ceremony in our Spring photo album
Mazal tov to Yael Everett, who becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning, and to Andy Granowitz and Eliza Scheffler, whose ufruf will also be celebrated at this Shabbat morning's service. You can find Zachary Lew'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. Come to our Annual Meeting this Wed. We'll be honoring some very special people and sending off our graduating 12th graders.
It's Eurovosion week in Tel Aviv: Here's what you need to know about why Israel is so crazy about Eurovision.
Statement on Reproductive Freedom
Below is a statement from the Rabbinical Assembly responding to Alabama's new law. It reflects my own position on the topic. See a more detailed explanation of the topic here.
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, issued the following statement tonight on Alabama's new abortion law:
The Rabbinical Assembly is deeply troubled by the enacting of today's abortion law in Alabama and believes it should and will be struck down by federal courts.
Reproductive freedom is again under assault in our nation, beginning today in Alabama, where the state has effectively banned abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalized the procedure for doctors.
It is further under attack in other states' so-called Personhood Acts and Life at Conception Acts, including in Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio.
This position is based on our members' understanding of relevant biblical and rabbinic sources as well as teshuvot - modern rabbinic responsas. Jewish tradition cherishes the sanctity of life, including the potential of life which a pregnant woman carries within her, but does not believe that personhood and human rights begin with conception, but rather with birth as indicated by Exodus 21:22-23.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has affirmed the right of a woman to choose an abortion in cases where "continuation of a pregnancy might cause the mother severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective."
Denying a woman and her family full access to the complete spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including contraception, abortion-inducing devices, and abortions, among others, on religious grounds, deprives women of their Constitutional right to religious freedom.
The Rabbinical Assembly supports full access for all women to the entire spectrum of reproductive healthcare and opposes all efforts by government, private entities, or individuals to limit such access or to require unnecessary procedures. We also oppose so-called "personhood" legislation on the federal and state levels that would confer legal rights under the law to a fetus or an embryo.
The RA has consistently supported these reproductive freedoms for nearly 50 years.
However, recent legislative efforts in the United States on both the federal and state levels pose new threats to reproductive freedom, beginning today in Alabama. Other threats include so-called "heartbeat" bills in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Ohio.
The Rabbinical Assembly emphatically opposes all such laws and legislative or executive moves.
From Maisel to Shtisel
The Mrs. Maisel Carnegie Deli Food Truck has been making appearances in Manhattan
The proliferation of streaming content providers like Netflix has brought about an unexpected boon in niche viewing. Suddenly there is an abundance of programs of rich Jewish content that everyone is talking about.
True, series like "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Srugrim" on Amazon Prime and "Fauda" and "Shtisel" on Netflix are not as popular as "Game of Thrones," but they aren't nearly as bloody...(except maybe for "Fauda.)" But each of these series provides rich opportunities for exploration of Jewish themes and values; they provide what we rabbi's like to call "teachable moments." Incidentally, here are seven Jewish facts about "Game of Thrones" for those who are interested. And in Ha'aretz this week, Don Futterman wrote this regarding "Thrones" and "Avengers: Endgame," that other cultural mass-phenomenon of the month:
Both Avengers: Endgame and The Battle of Winterfell are about good vs. evil, the forces of light vs. the forces of darkness, the stuff of adventure stories and romance since time immemorial. But the adversary in both of these epics is actually death; pitting life vs. death, the living vs. the dead, those who worship life vs. those who glorify death.
This is a quintessential Jewish dichotomy. Judaism celebrates life, not death: Jews don't believe that dying or suffering are forms of imitating God. Although Jews honor those who sacrificed themselves to save others, and martyrs who refused to renounce their beliefs, Jews don't make them the subject of devotion, nor aspire to become one of them. Being about the here and now, even our fantasies of the afterlife are sketchy, contested and underdeveloped.
So there are lots of Jewish themes to ponder. But for American Jews, the response to Maisel and Shtisel in particular has been earthshaking. So many have come up to me especially regarding Shtisel, asking questions about the little things, like what blessings they say before eating, or the big things, like whether you can marry your cousin. Here's a good recent article about what the show teaches us.
I'm thinking about doing a course exploring the Jewish themes of these programs. Meanwhile, send me your questions about Shtisel, Maisel, Srugim and Fauda
The Struggle for the Soul of Israel's Democracy
16 May 2019 - by Daniel Sokatch
Read below this chilling summary, by the head of the New Israel Fund. of what is going right now as negotiations are underway to form the new Israeli government. With democratic institutions like independent courts, separation of powers and a free press, being challenged in numerous countries throughout the world - including in the US and Israel - it's important that we understand the implications of what is going on. Those of us who love Israel can't sit by and allow its democratic foundations to crumble. And yes, I fully support the NIF, which has been demonized unfairly by the Prime Minister and others.
This week, we learned more about the meaning of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in last month's election. As so many of us feared and suspected, it is now clear that Netanyahu called these elections in large part to protect himself from the criminal indictments the attorney general has recommended be leveled against him. And now the prime minister appears willing to undermine the very institutions of Israeli democracy to avoid justice. Target number one is Israel's independent judiciary.
The basic deal that will form the basis of this next government appears to be the passage of an immunity law tailored to the prime minister himself, as he faces charges of corruption, fraud and breach of public trust. Such a law, which would face an inevitable challenge at Israel's High Court of Justice, comes with an insurance policy: the infamous 'override clause,' designed to take away the Court's powers of judicial review over the decisions of the government and legislation passed by Knesset. This far-reaching change would render the Court's rulings merely suggestions, rather than as carrying the force of law.
As is the case here in the US, the High Court's power of judicial review serves as a check against the most unreasonable overreaches of the other branches. The Court acts to restrain government overreach and safeguard - and indeed expand - human rights and personal liberty. Unsurprisingly, the far-right has long railed against the Court's independence, which has served to undergird and safeguard individual rights in Israel.
It appears that the bargain underpinning the next coalition government between Netanyahu's Likud and the other right wing parties is immunity for Netanyahu in exchange for annexation of (at least some) West Bank settlements and an effort to circumscribe the independence of the High Court of Justice. The deal being cooked behind closed doors would apparently achieve this by neutralizing the Court's power: by taking away its powers of judicial review; by changing the rules by which future justices to the Court are appointed; by packing the court by increasing the seats on the bench by four additional justices; limiting the terms of justices to twelve years; by removing the right of the public to petition the Court directly; and by transforming the role of the attorney general, limiting her or his ability to restrict government decisions in any way, and only provide non-binding legal advice.
It takes a minute to really appreciate the gravity of this.
Let it sink in.
Any one of these changes would represent a major change to Israel's democratic structure. Taken together, they represent an effort to deconstruct the independence of Israel's judiciary.
This week, Israel's Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, speaking from Nuremberg, Germany, warned that democracies are not invincible to the designs of those who seek to dismantle them. "One of the universal lessons we should learn from the historical events I noted is that judicial independence...is one of the most important guarantees that the individual will have an address to turn to in order to protect their rights." As European history reminds us, Constitutions, the rule of law, checks and balances, separation of powers - these defining features of democratic government are only as powerful as citizens make them.
That is why legal scholar and public intellectual Mordechai Kremitzer warned in Haaretz that if a majority in Knesset "can defang the court and set its rulings at naught, Israel's government will be able to do whatever it pleases." That is why he called these proposed new restrictions on judicial independence "a tangible and immediate risk." And that is why he called for "the public to rise up to defend their liberty and rights against those who seek to revoke them."
Well, Israelis are doing just that.
And New Israel Fund can be counted on to rise to this challenge. We will be here for this fight, to support the wide coalition of Israeli civil society organizations leading the public protest and push-back against these threats to Israeli democracy.
Israelis are leading this struggle for the soul of their democracy. It is the assembled voices of Israel's citizenry-the leadership of the opposition, the shapers of public opinion in the media and academia, the organizations of civil society, and the ordinary Israelis whose liberties and lives depend on the democratic protections afforded to them-who will determine the course of Israel's future.
But these Israelis must know that they do not stand alone.
In this moment, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the defenders of democracy here in America and around the world. And they stand shoulder to shoulder with you and me.
Ask the Rabbi (3rd and 4th Grade Edition)
Last week our 3rd and 4th grade classes paid a visit to my office to schmooze about whatever was on their minds. Here are some of the questions they brought for me:
1. Were you religious growing up?
2. Do you keep kosher? Why are Jews commanded to be kosher?
3. How do you become a Rabbi?
4. What is your favorite Jewish food?
5. What is your favorite Hebrew song or prayer?
6. Who is your favorite person on the Torah?
7. Why is God not mentioned in the Megillah?
8. Why are there people who do not like the Jews?
This is just a sampling. It was a great conversation - and lots of fun - and a real tribute to our teachers and parents - and the kids themselves - that they brought so much depth to the table. As our Hebrew School year comes to an end this Sunday, this is a perfect time to thank all those who make Jewish learning happen here. Special thanks to Lisa Gittelman-Udi and our Board of Education as well as the teachers and specialists, for another super year.
So do you want to know how I answered the questions?
You'll have to ask one of our 3rd and 4th graders! OK, I'll give you one answer - for #4.
"Who Will Write Our History" -
Reflections on the Film
and Dr Sam Kassow's Visit
by Dan Romanowitz
Last week at TBE, historian and author Dr. Samuel Kassow introduced the documentary film "Who Will Write Our History," which is based on his book about the heroic work undertaken by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbos Archive. Over 200 attended.
In the course of his scholarship, Dr. Kassow explained, he became fascinated with Dr. Ringelblum's life and work, and felt that - even amid a seemingly endless sea of powerful stories from the darkest chapter in Jewish history - this was a story that needed to be told. He was right.
The thesis behind Dr. Kassow's book and the incredible documentary - written, produced and directed by acclaimed documentarian Roberta Grossman - is that history is written by the victors, and the way the conquered group is portrayed is always through the eye of the conquerors.
A historian, the culmination of Dr. Ringelblum's work was borne out of his understanding that the victors write the story, juxtaposed against the daily decline of Jewish life in Poland under Nazi occupation.
Dr. Ringelblum confronted a scenario in which all Polish Jews, and possibly all Jews worldwide, could be eradicated. He also feared that the Nazi agenda was to not only destroy the Jewish people, but also any and all evidence that Jews ever existed. He saw the Nazis attempting to re-write history.
Dr. Ringelblum dedicated his life to the collection of photographs, documents, and writings, in the hope that eventually they would be discovered, and the history of Jewish life would be told not through the lens of Nazi videographers and racist propaganda, but through eyewitness accounts of what really happened.
Dr. Ringelblum, along with a group of 60 who represented all walks of life, encouraged everyone in the Warsaw Ghetto to write, save and collect, ultimately building an archive of thousands of documents. The cache of documents was buried, and Dr. Ringelblum went into hiding outside the Ghetto walls.
In March of 1944, Dr. Ringelblum was found, and became one of the six million Jews murdered during the Shoah.
In 1946, after the liberation of Warsaw, the first two canisters were found, and ten more were discovered in 1950. Today, the Oyneg Shabbos Archive of 6,000 documents is housed at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
Dr. Kassow's book has now been printed in eight languages, and Roberta Grossman's film is available in twelve.
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