Thursday, March 12, 2020

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 13: Social Distancing and Prayers for the Pandemic, The Voice of Eden


Let's start with a smile and a song!

It was a great Purim, last Monday, though it seems so long ago!  
To see more photos - click here and scroll down.


Now the song: Eden Alene has burst on the Israeli music scene and will be its representative at Eurovision in May (assuming it is held).  Here is the multi-lingual song (including Amharic, Arabic, Hebrew and English) from this Jerusalem-born singer with parents born in Ethiopia.  A remarkable singer and a true Israeli success story. Read more about her.

Eden Alene - Feker Libi - Israel ���� - Official Video - Eurovision 2020
Eden Alene - Feker Libi - Israel -
Official Video - Eurovision 2020

And listen to her stunning rendition of "Mi Ohev Otach Yoter Mimeni" (Who loves you more than I do) sung at Israel's 70th ceremony in 2018, complete with 300 drones overhead.

עדן אלנה המדהימה בשיר מי אוהב אותך יותר ממני בטקס יום העצמאות 2018 כולל מופע אורות של 300 רחפנים
עדן אלנה המדהימה בשיר מי אוהב אותך יותר ממני בטקס יום העצמאות 2018 כולל מופע אורות של 300 רחפנים
Shabbat Shalom! 

This weekend we welcome Cantor Arielle Green, our third finalist.  The full schedule has been sent out in another email. Services on Friday night and Shabbat morning will be live-streamed from our sanctuary. 

The clear message that we wish to send - and that all responsible organizations are now sending - is that the public good is best served right now by not gathering in large crowds and by what public health experts are calling social distancing.  While the pandemic cannot be stopped at this point, its impact can be mitigated if we decelerate the rate of transmission of the virus.  That way we won't overwhelm hospitals as the number of patients begins to rise exponentially.  What's right for the NBA and NCAA is right for Temple Beth El -  so especially since we live a stone's throw away from one of the hottest of hot spots, New Rochelle.

We are having services this Shabbat in part because because there will not be another opportunity to meet Cantor Green.  But while we are not discouraging people from attending, by providing the livestream option, we are not discouraging you from praying-in-place.  You can even say Kaddish remotely.

The HIAS Refugee Shabbat scheduled to be featured this Friday night has been postponed and will be rescheduled.  

Another important announcement. During this crisis, clergy visits to the hospital will not be held on a routine basis.  It becomes even more important, then, for friends and loved ones to let me know personally when someone is ill, either in or out of the hospital. Please email me the person's contact info.  No one should go through this illness - or any illness - alone.

This week is Shabbat Parah, the third of the four special Torah readings read before Passover. Parah means cow, and the section describes the red heifer that was killed as part of an ancient purification ritual . We are reminded to purify our homes - and ourselves - with the festival fast approaching. What better time to remind us to be specially mindful of healthful cleanliness.  Our homes will never be better cleaned for Passover than this year.

Keeping with the bovine theme, the portion of the week, Ki Tisa, includes the story of the Golden Calf.  Here's a summary from Bim Bam.

Parshat Ki Tisa: Seeing the Golden Calf
Parshat Ki Tisa: Seeing the Golden Calf
Prayers and the Pandemic

Few of us have ever experienced anything like what we are going through now. Social distancing goes against the very fiber of what religion is meant to be (the word religion means to connect), yet disconnecting is precisely what we need to do right now.  So while we usually focus on having lots of great food following our services, now we are giving everyone doggy bags to take home.  So while we typically create prayer environments that emphasize intimacy, this week I'll ask everyone to spread out in the sanctuary, leaving ample space between people.  While we usually do lots of hugging, handshaking and high fives, we've moved to less direct forms of human physical connection - like namaste greetings, elbow bumps and siddur taps.  We're also throwing away our environmental concerns for recycling - this week, we'll be using disposable chop sticks as Torah pointers. 

The disruption has been so jarring and so total.  Economic, health and political jitters have brought about a panic that yearns for community and connection, yet we are supposed to stay away from the very sources of strength that have sustained us through so many crises.

As Nicholas Christakis wrote in the Washington Post today: 

But just as the coronavirus's spread has forced us to consider suppressing our democratic impulses, it also calls on us to suppress our profoundly human and evolutionarily hard-wired impulses for connection: seeing our friends, getting together in groups or touching each other. Even spouses in the same household are implausibly advised to stay physically distant if one of them is sick. None of this comes naturally to us, nor is it easy. In my own case, since I have spent much of my professional career studying marriage, friendship and social networks, and the health benefits they offer, I am finding it ironic to be strongly advising against human contact - but that's what I'm doing.

And Bill McKibben, in the current issue of the New Yorker asserts that "Hell is No Other People."

...when Hurricane Irene devastated my state, Vermont, in 2011, people turned out within hours, bringing tools from backhoes to brooms. They mucked out basements and rebuilt driveways, and they kept coming back for weeks, until the job was done. They did it for strangers, mostly-although they didn't remain strangers for long.  But, with coronavirus, none of that is possible. There's little way to be of use except to disappear inside your home, so that you can't infect anyone. 
Indeed, even the places we gather for solace are increasingly off limits. Churches are closed in Italy and in South Korea (where one particular sect was the epicenter of the growing epidemic). Schools, where people find community during the first two decades of their lives, are increasingly shutting their doors or moving to "remote instruction." Even the things that take our minds off crises are going to be closed off: with every disaster that I can recall, including unnatural horrors such as 9/11, the resumption of pro sports some days later was a way to ease the feelings of pain and fear and anger. But now ski races in Norway are being held in empty arenas, Italy has cancelled league soccer matches, and there's talk that the Summer Olympics, scheduled to be held in Tokyo, may need to be postponed....
If we pay attention, we may value more fully the moment we're released from our detention, and we may even make some changes in our lives as a result. It will be a relief, above all, when we're allowed to get back to caring for one another, which is what socially evolved primates do best.
Fortunately, there are ways to stay connected even from home, even without services and classes.  The Shabbat-O-Gram, for example, is virus proof (I hope), so I'll do my best to stay in touch a little more often, to help keep you informed, entertained and connected.
And here are some other suggestions.....

- A prayer that's been making the rounds:

Last week, Ruth Messinger spoke - and the large crowd of 125 people now suddenly seems the relic of a bygone era - and she inspired us to bring change to the world.  See her packet of quotes and insights hereShe directed our gaze "upstream," to look for the source of our global and local challenges and not just focus on cleaning up the mess that washes up on our downstream shores.

I thought about that when I saw this Twitter thread by Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, the founder of "Sinai and Synapses," who spoke here last year. Rabbi Mitelman works at bridging the gap between science and religion.

Rabbi Mitelman makes an important point.   We will never know empirically how many lives have been saved by our social distancing.  We will never know if our own lives were saved by our not attending that large group gathering, or whether we unknowingly saved the life of our best friend.  We won't know how many lives - perhaps millions - will have been saved by our cancelling events at TBE - large and small.  

Each life that is saved is worthy of celebration.  In the special reading for Shabbat Parah, we read about the strange ritual performed to purify the people when they came into contact with death.  What is important here is less about the weird ritual and more about the need to take responsibility for the lives of all human beings, even those we don't know.  

Social distancing is most likely going to save lives of people we will never meet, and thereby absolve us from the sin of indifference and inaction.  Our very inaction - not leaving our homes and staying away from others - becomes the very action that can arrest this disease upstream, before the corpses start piling up on the river bank.

But when this plague has passed, if it passes with relatively little damage, we should celebrate. 

And then.  And then.  We should look upstream again and work toward eliminating the problem at its source.  How do we do that?  With a vaccine, for one thing.  With better coordination among world leaders.  And with a little humility and a reaffirmation of our faith - our faith in science.

In the words of the greatest Jewish physician of all time, Maimonides, "Teach your tongue to say 'I don't know' and you will progress."

I'll close with this "Prayer in Response to the Coronavirus," by Rabbi Shmuley Yanklowitz.  See it at here, at the Open Siddur Project - and check out that site.  We're going to be doing lots of praying on our own over the coming weeks.  It's an excellent resource.

Master of the Universe,
Our Creator and Liberator of diseases
We are afraid and unprepared.
We beseech you for guidance and support.
Grant victims the strength to persevere.
Grant caregivers the courage to heal.
Grant researchers and experts the insights to detect, to treat, and to vaccinate.
Grant medical providers the abilities to heal all who suffer.
Grant officials the courage to speak the truth and not to violate public

May You bless us with the strength to remain calm. Allow us to not use fear and suspicion as paths to xenophobia, selfishness, or isolation. May You grant us empathy for those affected. May you refine our empathy for those who suffer all over the world. May we look past cultural differences and disagreements to strengthen global collaboration to preserve life.

Oh, Giver of Life, grant us serenity in moments of uncertainty, give us the ability to help the vulnerable in the most effective ways possible. May those who are needed be prepared to take on the necessary risks in our pursuit for sustaining lives, helping those around us deal with this new reality.

May we work together to prevent the spread of this virus among our fellow human beings.

May we support those working on a solution for this disease. May we all use this time as an opportunity to realize the fragility of life and strive to make the most of our short time here, to form and (re)establish meaningful relationships, to bolster our fervent commitment to our moral mission. 

May it be your will O Lord, our God, Master of the Universe, that we will continue to (physically & spiritually) strive to overcome this new challenge. Like many problems in the past that we thought were impossible, help us overcome this new trial and give us the opportunity to work for the welfare of all humanity, for the sanctity of all life.

May You be here with us in this trying time.

Cuba 2021!

Our TBE Cuba trip was set to go this coming Sunday.  But with travel being actively discouraged, and a considerable risk of running into potential quarantine upon our return - we have postponed the trip.  Fortunately, we were able to arrange to have land and flight costs transferred to the new trip.  It will now take place, most likely, in January of 2021. I  expect that most of our current group will choose to go on that trip, but there will undoubtedly be some openings.  We'll address that once this crisis is behind us. 

Have a Shabbat of peace, good health and hope.  And don't be a stranger to my in-box.  Let's stay in touch, remotely.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman 

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