Monday, December 30, 2019
We come into this final night of Hanukkah with a heavy heart. At a time when our joyous celebration of light is supposed to reach its peak, instead we are afflicted with fear as result of an intensifying cascade of hate directed so close to home, against Jews simply because they are Jews. Below is a statement issued today by all the arms of the Conservative Movement, expressing how so many of us are feeling.
In reflections shared today, Rabbi David Markus points to this photo taken in the 1930s by a Jewish family wishing to demonstrate their Jewish pride in full view of a Nazi flag. In 2017, Newsweek ran an article about it.
The message: "Our light will outlast their flag."
Markus adds that Hanukkah reminds us that antisemitic hate bubbles up from era to era, and that every era requires its own fight against humanity's most senseless and enduring hatred. "These days call forth our light, our resilience, our pride, our faith, our abundant caring, and our mitzvot in the world," he adds.
Scholar Dr. Deborah Lipstadt wrote in her recent book on anti-Semitism, the best defense against such hatred is Jewish joy to transform the world. Where there is darkness, we ourselves must be the light. And our light has indeed outlasted that flag - and so many other hateful ideologies.
We will outlast all those who direct their hatred against us - all who spew causeless hatred against any group - in our day as well.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
PS - IF YOU ARE FEELING A NEED TO SHARE PRAYERS, CONCERNS AND FEARS - AND PERFORM A MITZVAH TOO - HANG OUT WITH ME IN THE LIBRARY AFTER OUR 7:30 MINYAN THIS TUESDAY MORNING, (WHICH IS ALSO MY FATHER'S YAHRZEIT). WE'LL PUT UP SOME COFFEE.
Conservative/Masorti Movement on Hanukkah Stabbings, Deadly Attacks in New York Area
The Conservative/Masorti Movement is outraged by the rash of antisemitic assaults against identifiably Orthodox Jews this past week in the New York City area, most recently the attack last night on the Monsey home of Rabbi Chaim Leibish Rottenberg celebrating the seventh night of Hanukkah. That this particular series of attacks comes just a few days after the December 10 shooting of six at a kosher market in nearby Jersey City, NJ, killing three, is especially concerning.
We thank law enforcement for their hard work and call on them to redouble their efforts to provide protection. We urge political and civic leaders to speak louder still and to work together even more closely to stem this tide of hatred and to address any repetitive pattern emerging from these attacks and those of the past year in the New York area. We must not allow acts of anti-Semitism to become the new normal.
As we move into the last day of Hanukkah and enter the secular new year, we pray that the lights of kindness, caring, dignity and peace will displace the dark forces of hatred and bigotry. We are just now entering the new Jewish month of Tevet and in only a very few days the secular new year of 2020. May these new beginnings also mark a new time for the wellbeing and safety of Jews from every part of the Jewish community and other minorities in the U.S. and around the world.
Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano
The North American Association of Synagogue Executives
The Schechter Institutes Inc.
Women's League for Conservative Judaism
Zacharias Frankel College
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Friday, December 27, 2019
TBE volunteers were all over town helping our neighbors to celebrate Christmas last week (with a little Hanukkah thrown in) - at Building One Community we celebrated with new immigrants and at Pacific House, New Covenant House and Inspirica, we joined with those in greatest need. And here at home, volunteers like Naomi Marks (pictured here reading Torah this morning) help to keep our morning minyan humming each day. Please consider joining us - 7:30 AM on weekdays, 9 AM Sundays (and New Years Day).
Thank you to all our volunteers!
See more photos in our new Hanukkah - winter photo album.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy 2020!
I know I said that there would be no Shabbat-O-Gram this week - but this is actually a Shabbat Hanukkah-O-Gram, with Rosh Hodesh thrown in for good measure. Join us this evening at 7:30 for Kabbalat Shabbat, co-led by myself and brand new Stamford resident, Judy Aronin (OK, she just moved back here from Norwalk). Tomorrow morning, Hank Silverstein will be providing the d'var Torah.
Lots of interesting reading material to share this week....
... like this article explaining how in Israel, Hanukkah sufganiot have gotten so over-the-top (filled and topped with everything from tiramisu to pb&j). I picked up some Israeli sufganiot in Boston this week (at the Butcherie, which brings in Israeli baked goods from Jerusalem's famous Angel Bakery) and they were superb.
...or read why the story of Hanukkah is not in the Bible - and where it can be found.
... or why we should remember our partnership in God's miracles - and see my article from last week's O-Gram, syndicated and featured by the Religion News Service, on the miracle of Hanukkah's first night.
... or highlight a different Jewish value each night of the festival with this study guide from AJWS and author Sarah Hurwitz.
... or read Marc Shulman's latest analysis of the third election campaign for Israel in less than a year, in light of Netanyahu's Likud primary win yesterday. Find out why next Tuesday will be a very important day in determining whether Netanyahu can form the next government, even if he wins.
They Like Us - But Do They Know Us?
For all those who have been worried sick over the increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the US, fear not! Evidently to know us is to love us - but even to NOT know us is not necessarily to hate us. So says a recent Pew survey, which indicates that US Jews know a lot about religion - but other Americans know little about Judaism.
Pew Research Center's new religious knowledge survey asked Americans 32 fact-based multiple-choice questions about religion, each of which had a single correct answer. The survey included questions that gauged knowledge about a range of different religious groups and varied widely in difficulty. (You can test your own knowledge by answering some of these questions in the new quiz.)
According to Pew, overall, Americans feel warmly toward Jews. Indeed, the average rating given to Jews on a "feeling thermometer" from 0 (coldest) to 100 (warmest) is 63, higher than for any other religious group, according to the new survey. Furthermore, non-Jews who know the most about Judaism have even warmer feelings toward Jews than those who know just a little. Among non-Jewish adults in the U.S. who answer at least three of the four questions about Judaism correctly, the average thermometer rating is 69, compared with 62 for non-Jews who get no more than one question correct. There are similar patterns linking religious knowledge with warmer feelings toward Buddhists, Hindus and atheists.
So things aren't as bad as they seem, though it's hard to say that when, according to a March 2019 survey, a majority of U.S. adults (64%) say Jews face at least "some" discrimination in American society today, - up 20 percentage points from three years prior. And this week say several more incidents just in New York City.
The Terrible Teens
This past decade was the best of times and worst of times. See the Jewish Week's Decade in Review section for a number of interesting essays. The Week calls it "The Divisive Decade: When the Center Could Not Hold." The newspaper provides a chronology of the most significant events. An interesting thought exercise as you loll around in your pj's or lie out on some beach somewhere this week (Do I sound envious? Of course not! Enjoy! You deserve it!) - See if you can choose your top five events of the decade and then list them in order of long-term significance. Send me your results and I'll tally and share them (and suggest my own top five) next week Shabbat at services.
Then, if you want to be really bold, make a prediction or two about the coming ten years.
♦ Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin is sentenced to 27 years in prison in connection with multiple charges at the now-defunct Agriprocessors kosher slaughtering plant.
♦ The expanded National Museum of American Jewish History opens in Philadelphia.
♦ Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz completes his massive translation of the Babylonian Talmud into modern Hebrew.
♦ Elana Kagan becomes the third Jewish justice on the current Supreme Court.
♦ Gilad Shalit, is released after being held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years in exchange for releasing 1,027 prisoners in what is the largest prisoner exchange agreement Israel ever made.
♦ Lieby Kletzky, an 8-year-old chasidic boy, is murdered by an emotionally disturbed Orthodox man in Borough Park.
♦ Debbie Friedman, Jewish singing superstar, dies at 59.
♦ A fire destroys the building of Kehilath Jeshurun, a landmark Orthodox congregation on the Upper East Side.
♦ Matisyahu, one-time Chasidic reggae singer and rapper, posts a beardless picture of himself, igniting discussions about his religious metamorphosis.
♦ Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav begins a prison sentence for rape.
♦ Gymnast Aly Raisman wins two gold medals at the Summer Olympics in London.
♦ Superstorm Sandy floods Greater New York, inflicting countless damage on institutions in the Jewish community.
♦ Major fighting breaks out in Gaza between Israel and Hamas forces.
♦ The 12th Siyum HaShas completion of the Talmud-reading cycle takes place throughout the world.
♦ Gal Mekel becomes the second Israeli basketball player signed by an NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, but his pro career in the States is short.
♦ Production starts at the massive Tamar natural gas field off of Israel's Mediterranean coast.
♦ A Pew Research Center study finds that a growing number of Jews in this country define themselves as "nones," without a religious belief or affiliation.
♦ U.S. and other world powers reach an interim deal to curb Iran's nuclear program.
♦ Pope Francis declares that a true Christian "cannot be anti-Semitic."
♦ Following the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers, serious fighting flares up between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza.
♦ Six men - including five Jewish worshippers and a Druze officer - are killed during a terrorist attack at a synagogue in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem.
♦ David Blatt, a veteran of pro basketball in Israel, is named head coach of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.
♦ Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded first Genesis Prize.
♦ Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is sentenced to prison on bribery charges.
♦ Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is released from federal prison.
♦ Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected prime minister of Israel.
♦ Power broker Sheldon Silver, a longtime member of the New York State Assembly, is arrested on federal corruption charges.
♦ A revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway, stars Danny Burstein as Tevye.
♦ A biography of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cements her reputation as "The Notorious R.B.G."
♦ The controversial Iran nuclear deal goes into effect, widening the divide between the Obama administration and parts of the US Jewish community.
♦ Abe Foxman ends a 50-year run at the Anti-Defamation League, 27 of which were as national director.
♦ Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel dies at 87.
♦ Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres dies at 93.
♦ The political chasm among Jews in the U.S. widens when Donald Trump is elected president. Seven in 10 Jews vote for Hillary Clinton.
♦ Vermont Sen. (and native Brooklynite) Bernie Sanders becomes the first Jewish candidate in history to win a major party presidential primary when he wins in New Hampshire.
♦ Film producer Harvey Weinstein becomes the public face of the #MeToo sex abuse movement.
♦ Israeli actress Gal Gadot achieves superstardom as "Wonder Woman."
♦ Yona Metzger, former chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel, enters prison on a corruption charge.
♦ Bowing to Orthodox pressure, Netanyahu freezes an agreement to allow non-Orthodox worship at the Western Wall.
♦ Shouting "Jews will not replace us," white nationalists rally in Charlottesville, Va.
♦ Marking a return to the Manhattan neighborhood, the JCC Harlem opens.
♦ The Orthodox Union announces that it will enforce its ban against woman rabbis in member congregations.
♦ Eleven people are killed during a terrorist shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
♦ The Mossad steals a half-ton of nuclear files from an Iran nuclear facility.
♦ Keeping a campaign promise, President Trump moves the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
♦ Actress Natalie Portman declines to attend the Genesis Prize award ceremony in Jerusalem, as a protest against Israeli political actions.
♦ Serious fighting between Israel and Hamas forces flares up in Gaza.
♦ Israeli singer Netta Barzilai wins the Eurovision Song Contest.
♦ "Shtisel," the Netflix series about a charedi family in Israel, becomes a hit in the United States.
♦ A Yiddish revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" opens Off Broadway.
♦ National elections in Israel twice fail to elect a party that can form a government coalition. Another vote is set for March 2020.
♦ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted on corruption charges.
♦ J. Levine Books and Judaica, the century-old firm with Lower East Side roots, closes its midtown location.
♦ After a decade in the National Basketball Association, Omri Casspi, the NBA's first Israeli player, returns to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Shabbat Shalom! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Rosh Hodesh Tevet! Happy 2020 - and beyond!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Friday, December 20, 2019
Thursday, December 19, 2019
It was a busy Sunday for our Hebrew School students: Younger students brought Hanukkah cheer to Brighton Gardens while older grades created light, scientifically reenacting the miracle of Hanukkah, as part of our Jewish STEAM program, and our 7th grade celebrated its mock Brit Milah. Additionally, our students prepared gifts to deliver to less fortunate families with Schoke JFS. Meanwhile, a Hallah baking class took place in the kitchen.
See more photos in our new Hanukkah - winter photo album.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
As some head away for warmer or colder climes, TBE continues to be an oasis of calm in turbulent times. Join me and Beth Styles on Friday night at 7:30, and on Shabbat morning, another Shabbat-in-the-Round, featuring Cantor Debbie Katcho-Gray. We begin with breakfast at 9:30, followed a mellow and meditative service at 9:45. Join us at services throughout the holiday weeks, clear through to 2020 (there will be no Shabbat-O-Gram next week).
If you are gathering with family over the holidays, now's the time to check out our 2020 tour of Eastern and Central Europe!
Hanukkah begins on Sunday night. Here are some helpful videos.
You can find more about Hanukkah at My Jewish Learning's website. At the bottom of this email, see a Kabbalistic approach to Draydle Consciousness - click here for a pdf version.
The Miracle of the First Night
From earliest childhood, Jews are taught that the great miracle of Hanukkah involves the discovery of a tiny cruise of oil, just enough to illumine the grand candelabrum at the Temple in Jerusalem for one solitary night. This followed the Maccabees' shocking victory over the mighty Syrian-Greek armies of Antiochus in 164 BC.
A natural question arises: What was miraculous about the first night? On that night, there was plenty of oil to keep the flames burning. It was expected to remain lit through the night, so was there anything miraculous going on?
Was the miracle of the first night...
- That the Maccabees were able to discover even a single drop of ritually-pure oil, given the lengthy Greek occupation and resulting desecration of the sanctuary? The place was a mess, and with a statue of Zeus put there for good measure.
- Or maybe it's that Judah and his band had the chutzpah to light the menorah at all, believing that somehow, despite the lack of resources, the light would be sustainable for an additional week.
- Or maybe the miracle of the first night is something else entirely. Maybe it's that, two thousand years after the great victory, Jews are still around to celebrate it.
From time to time, I'm asked to perform funerals for people who have with no connection to a synagogue or a rabbi. I consider this an important part of my work. Recently I agreed to perform a graveside funeral for a 93-year-old man whom I had never met.
Gil grew up in an observant household in Brooklyn and became Bar Mitzvah there. He married, moved to Connecticut, had five children and belonged to a local reform synagogue for a time. He remained a proud Jew and fierce defender of Israel, but over the years, he and most of his family drifted away from organized Jewish life. They left their synagogue and stopped celebrating Jewish holidays, and in turn the Jewish community lost interest in them.
Gil lived in here for over half a century - yet our paths never crossed.
When people talk about "flyover states," it's usually in reference to those places that we ignore and bypass on the way from one coast to the other. For me, and most of the established Jewish community, there are lots of "flyover Jews," people whom we barely notice although they are living in our own cities, and too often we write them off from Jewish life. Gil's family is fascinating and quite accomplished. But from a Jewish perspective, they were mostly off the community's radar.
Except for Tad - one of Gil's children, and my prime contact before the funeral. Tad mentioned that he, unlike most of the family - including Gil himself - had returned to Jewish life. As he put it, his "Jewish rebirth" happened about two decades ago, when his family joined a new local start-up Reform congregation in Northampton Mass., following the birth of his children, Hannah and Ida.
Both daughters continued nurturing their Jewish roots when they went off to college. Hannah traveled to Israel on Birthright. Ida visited historic Jewish temples while studying abroad in Chile and Spain.
"I am very proud and honored that they will continue Jewish traditions because they want to," Tad told me.
As we stood at the grave on a cold Friday, most of the children and grandchildren stepped forward to pay tribute to Gil, each sharing lovely reminiscences of a caring and doting dad and grandpa. They spoke, as so many do, about the guy who always was there for them with the needed advice or timely quip.
Then, the last grandchild stepped forward to speak, visibly distraught. It was Tad's daughter Hannah.
In an almost confessional tone, her eulogy began with the revelation of her own Jewish reawakening at school, which led her to attending services frequently on Friday nights. During those services, she explained, one prayer in particular had become a real source of inspiration for her - the Sh'ma, a proclamation of God's Oneness.
On the weekend of Thanksgiving, she visited Gil at his nursing home for what would be her final visit, and she began to feed him his dinner, slowly and meticulously, while looking him directly, face to face the whole time (his eyesight had mostly failed). Mealtime had become the focal point of her visits and it was the only time Gil was lucid enough for even basic communications.
After the brief meal, Hannah decided she was going to try to sing to him; she thought the Sh'ma would be the perfect choice, because of its simple rhythm and a melody he just might recognize.
He did more than recognize it.
"It was astounding and surreal when Dad started mouthing and even singing along with Hannah - in his own troubled, quiet voice," Tad later told me.
Hannah repeated the prayer again, and Gil responded again. Tad and Hannah looked at each other in amazement - through smiles and tears. Tad figures that Gil had not recited that prayer twice in fifty years, but through the fog of Parkinson's, somehow it came back to him. These sacred words somehow sifted their way through the dusty archives of his memory, from his brain straight to his lips, and they sang it together.
Hannah sang the Sh'ma for the assembled group at her grandfather's graveside. She shared with them these secret, holy words, but no one joined in. It seemed to me that few had any idea about the compelling role that prayer has assumed throughout Jewish history, that millions of martyrs have died with the Sh'ma on their lips - and that this prayer, which heralds the end of Yom Kippur, is also our traditional deathbed confessional.
As Hannah concluded her tale at that wind-swept cemetery on Long Island, I told her and her family that she, unknowingly, had coached her grandfather into reciting the classic deathbed confessional as his final words.
Afterwards, while driving home from the cemetery, I wondered whether I should be depressed that, for this large family, with 35 of them at the cemetery, only a few retain even the most rudimentary familiarity with Jewish traditions. Or should I be inspired at having seen that no Jewish soul is ever really lost, not even a man on his deathbed, or a granddaughter reaching out to hold his hand?
Judaism has never been about the percentages. We'll always be the tiniest of minorities. It's been about a tiny candle that defiantly refuses to go out.If the miracle of Hanukkah's final seven nights revolves around those resilient few ounces of oil, the miracle of the night #1 is that, after 2,000 years, Jews, a miraculously inextinguishable and inexhaustible people, still joyously light their menorahs and spin their dreidels as the sun sets.
For those looking for words to help get us through what has been a stressful time, let me suggest this version of the Sh'ma, by Marcia Falk. We read it often at services. Over the past few years it has become for me an anchor, a guiding light, and a constant reminder of the eternal ideals that have sustained our people for so many centuries. Take these words with you as my Hanukkah gift. Recite them every morning and every night, wherever you might happen to be. And be strengthened through them. These words remind of us of who we are.
Shabbat Shalom! Happy Hanukkah!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman