Friday, November 20, 2020

In This Moment: In this Moment: November 20 - Truth and Consequences, "Here I Am," Israel Virtually with Peter Abelow


In This Moment
 Shabbat-O-Gram, November 20, 2020

Mazal tov to Owen Herz, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning. The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Nancy and Jeff Herz in honor of Owen.



Shabbat Shalom!

Join us this evening and tomorrow morning for Shabbat services.  And then on Sunday at 11, join us on Zoom for a special virtual tour of Jerusalem led by Peter Abelow, a guide who led several of our TBE tours over a decade ago.  Peter was co-founder of Keshet Educational Tours and revolutionized educational tourism in Israel. 
No charge for this virtual tour, but wear comfortable shoes! 
Peter has started a website that provides many virtual tours and activities about Israel with new content each month.  You can enjoy many new adventures and become connected to Israel from your home. Check out the website: See you there!

I was honored to deliver the invocation at the AJC Westchester / Fairfield Diversity Breakfast on Thursday morning.  You can watch it below.

Thanksgiving Diversity Breakfast 2020: Invocation by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Thanksgiving Diversity Breakfast 2020: Invocation by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

You can see the full program here. At a time that is so fraught, it was inspiring to share ideas with upwards of 400 people from our area, people of all faiths and ethnicities, people of immense accomplishment and courage, all of whom share a deep love of their fellow human beings.

Here I Am

א  וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בְּנִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הִנֵּנִי.Gen 27:1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him: 'My son'; and he said unto him: 'Here am I.'
ב  וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה-נָא זָקַנְתִּי; לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, יוֹם מוֹתִי.2 And he said: 'Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death.

At times like this we are called upon to be fully present and aware of each step that we take and its impact on others.  That is certainly true with COVID and the impact our actions have on others, both those whom we love and those whom we will never meet.  It's also true as we pursue justice in the world and care for those who are suffering - and protect the foundations of democracy.

The Hebrew term "Heneni," "I am here," never felt more relevant.  In the Torah the phrase is repeated often, particularly when someone notable is summoned by God - like Adam, Abraham and Moses.  But in this week's portion of Toldot, a simple parent summons his child - Isaac calls for Esau - and Esau responds with that same word, "Heneni."  Isaac replies by echoing and affirming Esau's response, saying "Henay na," "Behold now..."  Their conversation begins with a reciprocated affirmation of presence.  

Neither Isaac nor Esau have the reputations of being especially attentive people. Quite the contrary, in fact; Esau is a hunter and Isaac's blindness is seen as metaphoric as much as physical.  Neither are the top ten on the Torah's "Who's Who" list.  That doesn't matter.  Nor should it matter for any of us.  We don't need to be biblical superstars.  Attentiveness shouldn't be reserved for the holy and the haughty.  We all need to be saying "Heneni," to our parents, and other family members who may be vulnerable, to our community and to our country.

And to be fully present, you don't even need to be in the room.  If we've learned nothing else these past ten months, it's that one can be fully present, virtually.

These will be the Heneni Holidays.  


Truth and Consequences

A key turning point in the morning service is right at the conclusion of the Sh'ma, where we transition from prayers celebrating the loving gift of Torah and begin to apply it toward repair of the world (redemption).  That pivot revolves around the word "truth," "Emet."  In our Shabbat service, we mark that transition with a mesmerizing (yet at the same time calming) mantra-like meditation.  Here is how it is appears in our Shabbat-in-the-Round prayerbook:

If ever we needed to repeat a term again and again, it is "emet," and the time is now.  We have reached the apex of the post-truth era, the climax (some might say the death-throes) of a struggle that began many thousands of lies ago. Dangerous conspiracy theories are threatening to upend our democracy and the notion of truth itself has become perilously relativized in the hands of artful (and occasionally sleazy) peddlers of falsehood.

If you are seeking some perspective from our sources, I recommend this primer essay, "Truth and Lies in the Jewish Tradition."   And also look especially at this quote from Jeremiah 9:4:

Indeed, those who repeat lies incessantly lose the capacity to distinguish between falsehoods and truth.  That's how truth dies, and that is what conspiracists are hoping to accomplish.  But at the same time it is so exhausting to perpetuate a lie - as we are seeing happen right now - that the perpetrators "wear themselves out working iniquity."  The facts just refuse to go softly into the night.

Jeremiah knoweth what he is talking about.

One additional reminder is needed.  Every false and debunked global conspiracy theory ultimately comes back to you-know-who.

Even when Jews aren't specifically mentioned (and at least one distinguished individual of Jewish-Hungarian ancestry usually is), it all goes back to  one from column A (Blood Libel), column B (Protocols of Zion) or column C (everything else).   No wonder the The FBI says hate crime rose again in 2019, led by anti-Semitism. But the reality is even worse than their report.

For more on the conspiracies, see:

These are challenging times, but I'm confident that, in the words of Proverbs 12:19, "The language of truth will endure forever." 

One way to ensure that is to sharpen our own truth-muscles.  We can do that through prayer, and specifically the one after the Sh'ma, which we will chant at services, mantra-style, tomorrow morning.

A Happy Remote Thanksgiving

This is what the US really looks like when actual presidential vote percentages are taken into account.  Lots of shades of purple.  As you sit down with your family members next Thursday, maybe this map is a good thing to keep in mind.  There is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Given the coronavirus upsurge, many families will be conducting their Thanksgiving dinners online this year.  Here are some suggested items you can share that will help to bring people together:

2) Counting our Blessings on ThanksgivingTradition instructs us to recite 100 blessings every day, whether spontaneous or not. Some can be found in the grace after meals (see Birkat Ha-mazon explained in Wikipedia and in the Jewish Virtual Library) If you would like to add some or all of that beautiful prayer to your Thanksgiving meal, it can be downloaded at Birkat Hamazon [pdf]

3) Other discussion topics:

The real 'Queen's Gambit': Meet the first woman to qualify for the World Chess Championship - If you loved the Netflix series (which I did), you'll be interested in the true story that preceded it.


The tradition of MALACHIM began in a circle of friends in Jerusalem in the late 1980s. They sang the beloved song Shalom Aleichem to honor the beginning of Shabbat (the Sabbath), noting that the words of the song welcome the "messengers/angels of peace," which are said to frequent the homes of those who celebrate Shabbat (Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 119a).  Then each participant would pick up a card with a Jewish concept on it and reflect on how that concept, that message - that "angel" - has touched their life.

At services on Friday evening, we'll employ the MALACHIM cards when we sing Shalom Aleichem.  The "angels" are below.  Even without the randomness of the cards, you can have participants at your virtual table pick one of these (or maybe one that isn't there) and reflect on it.  The most obvious one for this holiday would be gratitude, so maybe we can let that be the assumed angel and pick one more.  After all, on Shabbat it is said that we gain an extra guardian angel to escort us, representing the "extra soul" (or measure of soulfulness) that we gain.

Finally, on Dec. 1, a reminder that the community will be holding its annual World AIDS Day Interfaith Service - this year on Zoom.  

Warm wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving, for you and yours.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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