Thursday, August 6, 2020

This Moment, by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman: Now, A Power Outage Too? A Stiff-Necked Perseverance

In This Moment

A July front page of NY Daily News rings even truer now

Now, a Power Outage Too?

What hasn't yet gone wrong in 2020?  All that was missing was a massive power outage?  Of course!  What a perfect time to have a tropical storm, just the trick to smoke us out of our sultry shelters and force us to gather in precisely those public places that we have been trying to avoid. But at least the temple has never lost power in these situations.  Until this week.

To quote the old Yiddish saying, "Man plans and God laughs."

On Tuesday, we were among the thousands to lose power in Stamford and it just came back at TBE this morning. Yet, because of the strangeness of this Zoom era, we not only have had online services each day since the storm hit, we've always had at least ten present!  That never could have been the case were we doing services exclusively "live" on site.  It looks like cancellations due to weather may be a thing of the past.  Nothing can shut us down - we're not so powerless as it may seem.  Maybe we can get the last laugh on God.

I understand that this thing is not yet over for many of you and I feel your pain.  I hope that you have the strength to endure and enough charge in your phone to be reading this.  Special thanks to the people at the Ferguson Library for being so hospitable to me yesterday, providing a needed service for the community while maintaining safe distancing practices - and I recommend the library for those looking to charge up and use the internet.  Unfortunately, TBE is not able to serve in that capacity this time, as we have so often in the past.

We will get word to you regarding the barbecue and meals-to-go scheduled for tomorrow.  Meanwhile, all services will take place on line as scheduled.

As I circumnavigated my way through the long line for coffee at Donuts Delight yesterday, and then headed for the library, I was grateful that the rate of Covid-19 spread in our area has been reduced significantly.  It is precisely to survive emergencies like this blackout that we all worked so hard to reduce the virus's spread in the first place.  We can't waste that effort on frivolous things, as many have done in other states and in other countries (including in Israel). It only takes a few careless people to reignite community spread.  So let's do our best to continue to be careful.

A Stiff Necked Perseverance

ו  וְיָדַעְתָּ, כִּי לֹא בְצִדְקָתְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה הַזֹּאת--לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:  כִּי עַם-קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף, אָתָּה.Deut 9:6 Know therefore that it is not for thy righteousness that the LORD thy God giveth thee this good land to possess it; for thou art a stiff-necked people.

In this week's portion, "Ekev," Israel is called a "stiff necked people."  It's not a compliment, but given the sharpened awareness of the vulnerability of the neck, a symbolism brought home most recently by the murder of George Floyd, this peculiar metaphor has gained resonance.  If the challenges of life are to be met by a stubborn resolve, that gumption originates in the part of the body where we swallow hard, that unguarded spot most vulnerable to the spear's thrust, the batter's foul tip - and the knee's plunge.  We all need to develop a thick skin - but more than that, a stiff neck.

I found this journal entry by the musician Stevie Nicks to be inspiring, at a time when so many of us our feeling such deep frustration and impatience. To be a "spiritual warrior" is not to take undue risks.  True courage is marked by perseverance and stiff-neckedness.  To be a hero, then, to beat this virus, is not to climb a mountain and turn around, as Stevie Nicks might have done one upon a time.  It is, in fact, to stay home.


I read this important letter in the Jewish Journal, written by a rabbi from L.A. and speaking to the predicament so many Jews are facing these days: the decision to sustain (or better yet, intensify) their affiliations within the Jewish community.  Here's an excerpt:

The COVID-19 era has devastated the world. It has taken away lives. It has left others stricken financially, mentally and emotionally and impaired people's health. Many cannot afford to rejoin our communities, and these are the members who  must hear our support and feel our love. Fellow Jews who need our emotional and financial help.  But for those who question the spiritual nourishment of online services, feel disconnected without in-person gathering and have the means to continue to join sacred communities, my plea is to you. Parents who show their children that the value of the Jewish community relies on whether or not religious school will be in-person or online don't teach their children the value of being a link in the chain of thousands of years of Jewish history. Will you place your child before a screen every single day? Perhaps. But choosing to remain active in your synagogue, day school, religious school or camp community models for our children that when a family experiences a difficult time, we choose to hold one  another's hands instead of fade away into the silence of resignation. A real community is one that upholds those who have fallen. A true community exists even when times are difficult and scary. A sincere community chooses to remain active when the world falls apart.
This is a beautiful opportunity to teach our children why being Jewish is so important. We learn, "All of Israel is responsible for each other." The midrash reminds us of the story of a group of people sitting in a boat. One man drills a hole under his seat. Everyone screams. The man simply replies, "Why are you worried? I am only drilling under my own seat." To which the passengers reply, "But you will flood the boat for us all." When we choose to drill a hole only under our seat, thinking that we are merely separating just ourselves, we begin to puncture the ark of Judaism. Even just one hole in the ark has the potential to drown us all.
Phrases like "opting out" or "taking a break" don't exist when you see yourself as a spark of a greater light that penetrates the darkest corners of this world. Staying a member of a community is a covenant; a promise that God can count on you to step up when your unique voice is needed. And if you find yourself not currently in a community, we welcome you to join one, strengthening all of our souls during these moments of great uncertainly and fear.
Read the whole letter here.
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

In This Moment: July 30: Tisha B'Av

In This Moment

I return today from a few weeks "away" - and just in time for Tisha B'Av, the fast day that begins this evening.  I hope this finds you in good health.  A special thank you to all who held the fort in my absence.  I heard great things! 

We continue to plod along as the pandemic rages around us, though thankfully, for the moment, less so in our state.  Our minyans and Shabbat services will continue to be on Zoom, as we fight off the ennui of cabin fever, which too often leads to letting down our guard, and we cherish our moments together - moments of real connection, even if they are primarily virtual.

See below a flyer about tonight's unprecedented partnership among Conservative synagogues near and far in the chanting of Lamentations.  We'll be joined by Congregation Beth El of Norwalk, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL, Ohr Kodesh Congregation, Chevy Chase, MD and The Conservative Synagogue of Westport.  Click here to register for the service on Zoom.  And click here to watch the service on YouTube.  It begins at 8:15.

Also, see the other flyer regarding tomorrow's Tisha B'Av learning sessions sponsored by the UJF, featuring our community's Board of Rabbis.

Tisha B'Av is a time to recognize the dangers of causeless hatred (see these sources as to why the temples were destroyed) and to promote "causeless love," by listening to our neighbors with compassion.  Let's redouble our efforts to do that, as we summon the patience to endure our own trials.

May we all be comforted.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

 Contact Diane Sloyer at to register