Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
From the Rabbi's Bunker: April 1: Save a Life; Everything New is Old Again
From the Rabbi's Bunker
Grades K and 8 at their recent virtual meet-ups
One day bleeds into another. It's hard to avoid the devastating realities that our nation and world are facing. The numbers are simply staggering - but this can never be just about numbers, as each human life is of infinite value. If we lose sight of that, we lose part of our humanity. While it's fine (and even recommended) to turn off the news for much of the day, we can never allow ourselves to be desensitized to the magnitude of this tragedy.
We'll have Kabbalat Shabbat at 6 on Friday again, and this week I'll be joined by Katie Kaplan. I'll be leading Torah study on Shabbat morning at 11. If you want a sneak preview (or just to study on your own), you can download the Tzav study sheet as well as the Parsha Packet for Tzav on Happiness and Gratitude. It's really hard to think in terms of gratitude, much less happiness, these days. So one of the questions we need to ask, is where do we go with our sadness, our loss - our loneliness? I just took part in a study session for rabbis on the topic and will share some reflections at Friday night's service. I am acutely aware that many who will be "attending" our Zoom Seder next week will be alone on Pesach for the first time. And just about all of us will have an empty place at the table, set for someone who is either too sick to attend or unable to get there because of the realities of distancing.
Our virtual Seder registration is "zooming," which is not surprising. Please register here, as I'll be sending out emails to the group to prepare everyone and assign a few parts. If you are planning to join us, please bring to the table any family Passover heirlooms that you might want to show the group - a wine cup, for instance, or an old Haggadah with key family dates in it. You could also show us any exotic family customs or foods - like a unique haroset recipe.
Save a life...
Remember, as we sit at home in our protective cocoons, we are saving lives; and of you save a single life, you save an entire world...
Debbie Friedman sings "Save A Life" in 1997
וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעל העליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא
"It was for this reason that man was first created as one person [Adam], to teach you that anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."
And while we are looking to Debbie Friedman for healing, listen to this classic version of her Misheberach, sung only weeks after 9/11. As the death toll from Covid-19 has now passed that of September 11, all the more do we need her soothing prayers now.
Debbie Friedman - Mi Shebeirach (2001)
Everything New is Old Again
In preparing for the upcoming holiday, I've been paying particular attention to how Passover has lifted Jews through dark times, ever since the first one in Egypt. I pulled out some pages of historical Haggadahs during times of distress, culled from the classic collection, "Haggadahs and History," by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. Take a look at them, especially the ones printed during the Holocaust era, like the one below from France. The Haggadah has over 4,000 different versions, and each one is testament to the uncanny ability of Jews - and others - to overcome the darkness and find the light.
See below a lost of loca
l organizations who are assisting many people during this crisis. This list will be shared at Thursday evening's Interfaith Healing Service at 7 PM (link for Zoom is HTTPS://ZOOM.US/J/161406713)
So there are ways we can make a tangible difference. Volunteers downtown have been calling thousands of local seniors and shut-ins, offering to assist with food shopping and other needs. That's going on within the congregation as well.
But the way we can make the greatest difference is simply to stay at home. This full-page ad/poem appeared in the Washington Post yesterday
That Discomfort You're Feeling Is Grief (Harvard Business Review) We're feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn't feel that way, and we realize things will be different.
2020 Seder according to Dr. Seuss (thank you Barbara Lieberfarb-Rothstein):
I do not want you in my house
I do not want you or your spouse
I do not want to eat with you
At Sedar One or Sedar Two
Don't get me wrong I think you're nice
Bu the CDC gave me this advice
You must avoid one plague more
And shoo Eijah from your door
At next year's Sedar we will tell
How we were all saved by Purell
The 11th Plague: Passover During Coronavirus (Forward) - This year, Passover will be like no Passover before. Self-quarantined in our homes to avoid doing harm to ourselves, our loved ones, and society, Passover will be smaller than ever before. But it will also be powerful. We are, after all, living through a plague of our own, one deserving of inclusion in the list of the Ten Plagues that God meted out against the Egyptians as he rescued the Israelites from slavery and brought them out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. The plague of the coronavirus will leave no community untouched, no family unscathed, whether in terms of health or finances. What can we learn about this modern day plague from the Ten Plagues in the Book of Exodus? What can coronavirus teach us about the Ten Plagues? We asked 20 influencers to write about the 11th Plague: Passover in the Age of Coronavirus. Here's what they had to say.
The Haggadah: A New Telling of the Exodus Story - (The Torah.com) Tracing the celebration of Passover during the Second Temple period, and highlighting the new dimension the haggadah /seder brought to the holiday. Fascinating historical survey.
Integrity First for America Haggadah Supplement (by Amy Spitalnik) It's almost impossible to believe that in our generation-in our beloved America-Nazis march in our streets and attack our synagogues, spreading violence, hate, and terror. Racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy are very much present in our generation too. Mah nishtanah? Does nothing change?
How to Set the Seder Plate for Passover (My Jewish Learning)