Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus Update, March 18: The Jewish Serenity Prayer; Love - and Funerals - in the time of Coronavirus. TBE's 100th, virtually

From the Rabbi's Bunker


Here's a scene from a cantor's concert of the recent past.  While TBE's 100th anniversary celebration is taking a bit of a hiatus for the moment, now would be a great time to check out our voluminous photo, audio and written archives.  You can find it by clicking here.  I've also included links to individual items at the bottom of this email.  Take a stroll through the seasons of TBE.

Join me for our first virtual gathering via Zoom, today at noon.


Today's congregational chat will be held virtually at noon using the Zoom platform. You can use Zoom with any computer, tablet or mobile phone with a webcam, speaker and microphone. If you don't have a suitable device, you can join by phone using the number below and the meeting id.
To join the Zoom meeting from your device, click here: or open your browser and enter the link manually.
If you have not used Zoom before, you will be prompted to download and install Zoom when you click on the link above.
Please join a test meeting beforehand to check everything out by clicking here:
If you can only join by phone, please call (646) 558-8656 a few minutes before the meeting and enter the meeting ID: 934 772 252.
- Also, join us for a brief, musical Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday at 6, led by Beth Styles and myself.  Just go to (TBE Live - on our website), sit back and enjoy.  Click here for a pdf of Kabbalat Shabbat services 
A Jewish Serenity Prayer


As you can see from the photo above, there are lots of versions of Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer."  There's even a version in the Talmud that anticipated this one by nearly 2,000 years.
Here’s the full version of Niebuhr's masterstroke of spirituality and psychology, written as America went out of Depression and toward War.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference. 

(Here's the part most people don't know about)

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Here’s the Talmudic version:
Our Rabbis taught: Seven things are hidden from people:
the day of death,
and the day of comfort,*
the depth [extent] of judgment;**
and a man does not know what is in his neighbor's heart;
and a man does not know by what he will earn his living;
and when the Davidic dynasty will return;***
and when the wicked kingdom**** will come to an end.

Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 54b 
* No man knows precisely when he will be relieved of his anxieties.
** The great commentator, Rashi (1040-1104), explained that this refers to Divine Judgment.
*** This was probably said in order to discourage those who tried to calculate the advent of the Messiah on the basis of Scripture; see Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.
****Rashi sees this as a covert allusion to the Roman Empire.

During a time of considerable uncertainty, we can gain some comfort with the acceptance that there is so much that is beyond anyone's control. We can't know when a person's grief will end or when a source of income will dry up. We can't predict in advance when the stock market will turn around. We can't control the future; we can only live in the moment and be prepared for whatever the future will bring. What might seem like a setback today might in fact be tomorrow's hidden opportunity and ultimately, a blessing. 
But both the Serenity Prayer and this Talmudic passage implicitly remind us that if there are the things we can’t control, everything else is fair game. We need the wisdom to know what is under our control - and we need to act accordingly.

So no, we don’t know how long this thing will last. Read this history of pandemics and you’ll be comforted to know that the Black Death kept rearing its ugly head for 800 years. But if that’s depressing, think of the fact that they didn’t have vaccines back then, and we’ve pretty much wiped out smallpox. On the other hand, we never quite figured out a vaccine for malaria. 

Come to think of it, don’t read that history of pandemics.... It will just paralyze you.

There will be a vaccine for this Covid-19, and if Tom Friedman is right about Moore’s Law, it might come faster than we think. On the other hand, I think we’ve had enough of unrealistically rosy scenarios.  On the other hand... this thing is turning me into Tevye!  

But no, that's something I can control.  And I have the wisdom to know it. Paralysis, begone! 

Meanwhile, there are other things we can control - like the way we sprang into action last Sunday to donate dozens of bags of food for the Food Bank. We’ll do that again. As people inevitably lose employment, I’d like to dust off something we did back in 2008-9, when we acted as middlemen, trying to match congregants looking for work with employers looking for people with compatible skills. We’ll also provide opportunities to find community, even if it’s virtual (starting at noon today); we’ll pray together, mourn and meditate together and develop other strategies for hope. We did it in 2001, 2009, and after Hurricane Sandy. We can and will do it again.

Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer" had a second stanza, one that rarely is quoted. He speaks of "Living one day at a time," "Enjoying one moment at a time," and "Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace." He wrote it during times not so different from ours. That is what we must do right now. 
We need to live in the spirit of Proverbs 3:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge God,
and God will direct your paths.

Some suggested reading for today...

Love in the Time of Coronavirus - an interesting Christian perspective.  Here's an excerpt:

We should not say to fearful people, "You're overreacting."

It is absolutely true that people immersed in media of any kind react to news and rumors in unhelpful ways. But meeting anxiety with an accusation of overreacting is not likely to help. The biggest problem in most of the United States as I write is that many people, and many institutions, are not reacting quickly enough. What is almost certainly true, however, is that our reactions are misplaced - that we are reacting in ways that do not increase our trust in God and our love of neighbor. And that is why we need to deliver several messages with all the confidence we can.

We should say, "Love is the reason we are changing our behavior."

The reason to alter our practices, especially the way we gather, is not self-protection. For one thing, in the case of this particular virus, if individuals are young and healthy, infection may pose not much more threat than the ordinary seasonal flu. The change is needed because our vulnerable neighbors - those of any age with compromised immune systems, and those over 70 years old - are at grave risk. One of the basic axioms of the Christian life is that the "strong" must consider the "weak". We are making these choices not to minimize our own risk, but to protect others from risk.

Funerals in the Age of Covid-19, by Rabbi Gerry Ginsburg

Over the past few days I have officiated at two funerals. Neither of the deceased died because of Covid-19. One was elderly and died of pneumonia. The other was younger and died of metastatic breast cancer. But the experience of conducting those two funerals has profoundly changed me and my faith in community.
Understandably the number of mourners at both funerals was lower than could have normally been expected. Both funerals were at the graveside, which meant that we did not cluster beforehand in a building. We were outside which allowed for great spacing, aka social distancing.
But social distancing is not something we are used to at funerals. A loved one has died -- we need to reach out to everyone, including kissing, hugging, and touching. This is not a solitary experience. This is a deep communal experience where we act as one.
Instead of physical contact we were there in mind, body and soul. We wanted desperately to reach out, but had to let our words and thoughts become our physical touching. We were not at all ready for this, but we had to do it. We needed to keep our spacing due to this unwieldy disease that is in our midst, and now has taken over our entire being, even if we do not have, or have not tested positive for, the disease.
In Judaism, the central prayer of the funeral is El Maleh Rachamim, O God full of Compassion, in which we ask that the deceased find perfect peace in God's eternal embrace. God is with us in our moments of need, and God is the One who is embracing our departed even if we cannot. Just imagine that embrace, full of love, full of spirit, full of compassion, and leading to eternal peace.
It is upon us to let our beings shine forth so that our love is fully transmitted to the mourners. We must be there for them, imaging that we, too, are embracing them.
The current pandemic has changed our way of life, but let us not let it affect the way we honor, respect and mourn for those who die. Because of the CDC guidelines limiting the number of people in one space, most families will not have a public shivah, where the family sits and mourns for the deceased and the community helps by offering its hand of hope and support.
We have to be present. That could be through a text message, an email, a telephone call or group chat.   We can let technology help us to help them. We have to let the families know that they are not alone.
We need to be at the graveside funeral and also support the family after burial. That will not, for now, lead to hugging and kissing. It will mean letting people know by our language and deeds that they are not alone.
It is very difficult to be at a funeral where the mourners are not near each other. We are used to closeness, we are used to touching. Now we need to touch everyone through expressions of our hearts.
Just as God is compassionate, we need to be compassionate.
And keep this in mind.  We don't know how long this will last, but we do know that we are one day closer to the end!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman  

Below are links to photo, video and audio albums in our archives.  Click away and enjoy!


2013 Treetops, Solar Panels, BBQ and Barechu
2013 Cantors Concert Honoring Eileen Rosner
2013 K'tanim and Hebrew School Moving Up Ceremonies
2013 7th Grade Wedding
2013 Passover, Religious School and Interfaith Seder
2013 Purim
2013 Winter@TBE, including Hebrew School Tu B"Shevat Seder, Shelters and Roof 
2013 Temple Rock
2012 7th Grade Aliyah Service
2012 3rd and 4th Grade Candlestick Project
2012 Israel Adventure
2012 Religious School Passover
2012 Interfaith Seder
2012 Ellis Island Trip
2012 7th Grade Wedding
2012 Hanukkah
2012 Cantor's Concert
2012 Purim
2011 Sukkot at TBE! (Sukkah Decorating and Hop, Relig. School Mock Brit Milah, Bingo)
2011 7th Grade Class Wedding
2011 November 13, 7th Graders Plant in Mitzvah Garden
2011 9/11 A Community Gathering for Healing and Hope
2011 Cantor's and 90th Anniversary Concert
2011 Passover
2011 Purim
2011 Temple Rock Cafe
2011 World Wide Wrap
2001-2011 Assorted Photos
2008-2011 USY Kadima 
2010 Hoffman Lecture (Dershowitz - Ben Ami)
2010 Israel Adventure
2010 Israel Adventure #2
2010 Israel Adventure #3
TBE's YouTube Page
2017 Rabbi Hammerman 30 Year Tribute
TBE's Streamspot Page (services and other archived video events, from 1/2017)


Anat Hoffman speaks on "What we talk about when we aren't discussing Israel's security.
2015 Yom Kippur Sermon "Truth and Trust"
In a society devoid of trust, how to rebuild in our personal and public lives and how the Jewish people need to regain a basic trust in the universe following the Holocaust.
2015 Kol Nidre sermon "Back to the Future"
"Back to the Future"  Taking the long view in Jewish life
2015 Rosh Hashanah Day 2
The Amalek Within
2015 Rosh Hashanah Day 1
"Hugging Hitler"
sermon on happiness, Mah hasdenu
2014 Kol Nidre "Our Stories"
What is our life?  Judaism is the sum of our stories
Avinu Malkeinu
Where Are We (Ayeka)?
2014 Rosh Hashanah Day 1
Sermon: "What Are We?"
2013 Yom Kippur: Regret
Confronting regret - and embracing it
2013 Kol Nidre: The Better Story
We must never despair.  For we are the instruments of God’s kindness and love, even when God appears silent. It is ours to share, to accept, to include, and to be vigilant in the pursuit of peace with our neighbors. To believe, despite it all.   To be kind, despite it all. To be Jewish and gentle, to BE Judaism’s better story
Rosh Hashanah Day 2, 2013
Rosh Hashanah Day 2 sermon, 5774, by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman: "The Silence and the Lamb."
2013 Rosh Hashanah 2013
Sermon by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman for Rosh Hashanah 5774 Day 1"The New Normal" - on Sandy and Sustainability
1975 Junior Congregation Sermon KI
Sermon given as high school senior, for Kehillath Israel Junior Congregation at its annual service in the main sanctuary.  Brookline, Mass.
2012 Rosh Hashanah Day 2 - Many Paths, No Shortcuts
There are many ways to be Jewish - but no shortcuts - and one Jewish people
Topics: pluralism, Jews of Barbados, conversos, Matisyahu, Akeda
Concert in mid 1960s featuring Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Cantor Michal Hammerman, cantor Alex Zimmer and others, taking place in Brookline Mass. at Congregation Kehillath israel
2011 Kol Nidre 2011 “Engaging Pain"
2011 Yom Kippur
“Engaging the Other" Yom Kippur sermon
2011 Rosh Hashanah 2011 Day 1
"The Right Side of History" An exploration of the nature of evil as exemplified by Apartheid in South Africa and racism in America.
2011 Rosh Hashanah Second Day Sermon 2011
"The We of Me" How an African Safari can shed light on the question as to why we affiliate with a synagogue?
Dershowitz and Ben Ami: Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, Temple Beth El Stamford CT Oct. 7 2010
Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, Temple Beth El, Stamford  CT, Oct. 7 2010 Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street in conversation with Rabbi Mark Golub: "Making Israel's Case: Who Speaks for American Jews" Introduced by Stephen Hoffman and Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
2010 Yom Kippur
When Everything Changes
2010 Kol Nidre 
“Bearing Witness”
"The Broomstick, the Bush and the Sh'ma" The iconic image of the past year - the Gulf of Mexico oil spill - the most powerful country in the world couldn't turn off a faucet. How the Sh'ma can help us to confront a world spinning out of control
2010 Rosh Hashanah Day 1
"Why Do They Hate Us?" Jews and Israel face an increasingly hostile world, how is one to respond? With love.
2009 Rosh Hashanah Second Day
The Mitzvah of Obligation
 2009 Rosh Hashanah First Day,
"Bringing Mitzvah Back," an exploration into the deeper meaning of "mitzvah
2009 Yom Kippur Day
God's Tweet: Mitzvah and Mindfulness - delivered at Temple Beth El in Stamford 
2009 Kol Nidre
Mitzvah and Money - sermon delivered in Stamford Connecticut at Temple Beth El
2008 Kol Nidre  
Each of us has a self that has been lost, or simply has just been covered over by all the masks we wear. We now have a gift: 25 hours to get it back, to rediscover who we really are, to set new expectations for ourselves for the coming year, even if we know ahead of time that we won’t be able to keep those vows.
2008 Rosh Hashanah Day 2
"The Shadings of Dawn"
"Power to the Peoplehood" One could make the case that Jews invented identity. We certainly invented the secret identity. It is said that the root of all fear comes from denying who you really are. And we Jews have had lots of reason to be afraid. And as Jews, we have so much to offer the world - we should celebrate just how special we are. And then, we need to roll up our sleeves, reach out our hand, find that first rung, and begin to climb the ladder.
2008 Yom Kippur Day  "Leaping Souls, Intimate Numbness and Spiritual Audacity"
Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal speaks at Temple Beth El, Stamford, CT on September 24, 2009, at the 25th Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture.
Cantor Michal Hammerman Kol Nidre Live from Kehillath Israel, Brookline, Mass. 1971
Cantor Michal Hammerman RH Musaf
Live From Kehillath Israel, Brookline, Mass. 1971
"Rules for the Road"  Rites of Passage as we wander through the wilderness
2007 Rosh Hashanah 2nd Day
"Invasions of Privacy" The yarmulke is perfect in that way, it tells people a lot about us, but it also says, loud and clear, that there are places that no one should see. There is always a need for private space. When we are engaged in sacred activity, there is always some part of us that is covered up - and not just any part - but the head, the part that is closest to heaven. That is the beauty of the yarmulke - for men and for womenTopics: privacy,
1991 Yom Kippur sermon 
Yom Kippur sermon 1991, "From a Distance." Temple Beth El, Stamford CT A "Hands On" sermon, as an earth ball is passed around to nearly 2,000 in attendance. "The beautiful intricacy of the human organism is matched only by the equivalent beauty of the organism we inhabit: the system known as earth."
"Coming of Age" We're not dying, but the corner deli is. We're not, but the Jewishness of the bagel is. We're not, but the self-deprecating Jewish comedian is. We're not, but the negative stereotypes of Jewish women are. We're not, but checkbook Judaism is. We're not, but performance Judaism is. We're not, but our reticence to accept converts is. We're not, but our fear of what the gentiles will think about us is. We're not, but a Judaism based solely on vicarious experience 
"The Compassionate Life" We explore the steps we can take to better love our neighbor as ourselves
"In God's Image." My entire trip to Israel was framed, at the beginning and at its end, with the lingering mantra, at first playful and now haunting: “Titzalem oti.”
"Tears by the River" - a discussion of the meaning of home, post Katrina and the Gaza withdrawal, with Dorothy's glass slippers and letters from camp thrown in
15 step plan for Jewish Living
"The Jewish Stain" There is something indelible about Judaism, something eternal, something that goes far beyond these shores and far beyond our lifetimes. There is no more humbling thought than that, that we are part of it and it is part of us. All we have to do to tap into that inconceivable power is to follow the advice of the prophet Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you - but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God."
"Fear Itself" Over the years, we have developed interesting strategies to deal with what scares us. Tonight I’d like to talk about a few of them, and how we might develop our own authentically Jewish approach to confronting fear itself.
2003 Kol Nidre Sermon
"Smashing Idols" Why are we so reticent to challenge our faith? Are we afraid of exacerbating divisions among ourselves? Jews couldn’t be more divided than we are already. Perhaps the one thing that we all have in common is this heritage of chutzpah. Are we afraid of what others will think of us? You should know that one thing that many non Jews have told me they admire about Judaism is its intellectual honesty. We’re, at heart, skeptics. And that is how it should be.
2003 YK Day Sermon
"Finding Nineveh: The Band of Brothers."  It’s interesting that just as in English, the words “other” and “brother” are almost identical, so in Hebrew, the word “brother” is “ach,” and the word “other” is “acher.” There is so little that really separates an enemy from a friend.
2003 RH Sermon 2
Power and its Limitations" In light of Iraq War, a massive power blackout and a trip to Yellowstone
2003 RH sermon day 1
"The Invisible Fence" The ironic thing is that now that he has been restricted to the area within the fence, my dog Crosby has been liberated - and he’s happier than ever. He can run free all over the yard, while before he had to be on the leash. And while he might occasionally look forlornly at the green grass on the other side of that invisible barrier, he leaps and barks far, far away from the dangers of Roxbury Road.
2003 Sermon for Yom Kippur 2003
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Sermon for Yom Kippur 2003 "Finding Nineveh: The Band of Brothers" Temple Beth El, Stamford CT
2001 Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 2001, Day 1: "Getting to Yes" Temple Beth El, Stamford. Just a week after 9/11, a nation rises from "shiva." "For although we are tired and shaken, although we are fearful, we are unwavering. And in the end there will be no more fear, no more terror, and we shall dwell as nations at peace. And a new world will be born. Today that world IS born - Amen."
“Apocalypse Later"
"Forgiving and Forgetting" We need to rediscover the power of words within our families in order to expand this gift to the world - we live in a cliché-infested universe where the words have lost their meaning.  We must rediscover the creative and healing power of words, because without them, too many family members end up not speaking to one another.
2002 RH Day 1 sermon
"A New Light On Zion" We pray every morning, “O cause a new light to shine upon Zion.”  Never has that prayer carried more urgency than now.  During terror attacks of 2nd intifada
2002 YK Day Sermon
"First Times" The key is to make every encounter like the first. 

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