Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Shared Legacies" Panel Discussion, Feb. 21, 2021

Shared Legacies - SPECIAL INTERFAITH PROGRAM

Black-Jewish Relations and the Civil Rights Movement Featuring: Rev. Dr. Michael Christie, Union Baptist Church. Stamford Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Temple Beth El, Stamford Shari Rogers, Director & Producer, “Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance” Rev. Michael Hyman, Advisor, The Equity Institute@Domus, and Co-Chair, Stamford Stands Against Racism Moderated by Rev. Dr. Stephen Pogue, Vice Chair, Westchester Human Rights Commission, and Pastor, Greater Centennial Church, Mt. Verno

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Gloria Aisenberg, 1931-2021


Baruch Dayan Emet (Praised be the Judge of Truth)
So sad to inform everyone of the passing of my mother-in-law, Gloria Aisenberg, a truly one-of-a-kind person, passionate about her family, her work as an educator, the Jewish people and life itself.  She used to warn her daughter to "never marry a rabbi," but she welcomed this one into the family with open arms.  

While others talked the talk, she walked the walk.  At an age when others might have been retiring to the golf course, she escorted Jewish teens on annual trips to Lithuania.  When others might have become complacent with what they had learned, she was constantly going to Jewish educator's conferences like CAJE to learn more, and she was always, always reading.  She was so proud of being part of Brandeis' pioneer second graduating class and she embodied the iconoclastic culture that the school embodied - and in doing so aligned herself with Judaism's rebellious sprit (which is why we got along so well).  To the very last days of her life, she never lost that feistiness.

At times it seemed that everyone, literally everyone in Worcester knew her (lunch at Friendly's often took hours) and that all of them - and their children - had been tutored by her for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. If you want to know why Mara is the best teacher on the planet, well, she learned from the best.

She is so utterly Worcester that she claimed to have dated Bob Cousy.  We'll see if we hear from the Cooz now.  But it is undeniable that her grandfather Zorach Halevi Hurwitz was a leading Hasidic rebbe of his time.  She took great pride in her family heritage.

She took great pleasure in the time she spent with us in Stamford at TBE, often with my mother in tow (they were the Thelma and Louise of the Massachusetts Turnpike and I often said a silent prayer when they arrived).  She could not wait to give huge hugs to Ethan and Dan, who were, as she put it "the light and sunshine of her life."

Here are excerpts from her obituary





A private graveside funeral will be held on Tuesday.  Public Zoom shivas will be held on Wednesday at 8 PM and next Sunday at 4.  For Zoom shiva links, please contact Beth Silver at adminassist@tbe.org 

Below this announcement is Mara's Facebook posting in loving tribute to her mom.

May the mourners be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

--------------------
It is with great sadness that I share the news that my mom Gloria Aisenberg passed away this weekend.
 
My mom was a feisty, brash, outspoken, opinionated woman. She considered herself a bit of a rebel. She was outgoing, extroverted, and gregarious. She was born and lived in Worcester, Massachusetts her entire life. At the time of her passing, she had lived in the same house for 60 years. She had deep roots in the community and was a well-known and popular figure. She was a teacher and tutor who was loved and cherished by multiple generations of children and their parents. It was impossible to go anywhere in Worcester without meeting someone who knew her, and she was never too rushed or busy to stop and chat with old acquaintances for awhile.
 
Mom was an intelligent, educated, cultured person. She was proud to be a member of the historic second graduating class of Brandeis University. She told many stories of well-known public figures and professors that she encountered there, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and the sociologist Max Lerner. She was a voracious reader, and went through one book after another. She was passionate about word puzzles. She loved classical music and opera, and music was always playing in the background in our home. She was an avid walker, and kept herself fit and youthful. She was also a world traveler. Her destinations included Israel, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Lithuania, Russia, Italy, France, England, and the Netherlands, in addition to the Western US states and several trips to California. She was widowed at a young age, but was fiercely independent. She continued to work and started an active new life after my dad's passing.
 
Mom was a devoted, adoring, and doting grandmother. She loved her grandchildren above everything else. She drove to Stamford for every birthday party and school event, and was always available to take care of my kids when I traveled or needed child care help. My boys could always count on their Grammy to take them to Friendly's, to a movie, for pizza, or to Chuck E. Cheese, which was never my favorite activity!
 
Mom was a strong person and a fighter. She overcame many health issues over the years. I always joked that she had nine lives. But she was not able to prevail this time. Seeing her struggles and her slow decline over the past couple of months has been heartbreaking. Giving up was not in my mom's personality or nature. But in the end she was too frail to fight anymore. I hope that she is now at peace. I take solace in the knowledge that she lived a very full life and will be remembered fondly by so many people whose lives she touched. I will miss our long daily FaceTime sessions, when she would ask about her grandchildren, play remotely with my dogs, and do her exercise regimen with me. We had started planning how she wanted to celebrate her upcoming 90th birthday in August. She had described the cake that she wanted.
 
I know that this has been a very difficult year for so many people, and that I am joining many others who have lost loved ones and are grieving and experiencing the same profound loss that I feel.

Friday, February 19, 2021

In This Moment Shabbat-O-Gram, February 12, 2021 - Making History During Black History Month; Purim's Coming, Doggone it! Vaccine Blessings; Snow in Jerusalem

In This Moment
Shabbat-O-Gram, February 12, 2021

Israel woke up to it's largest snowstorm in years


"The Joy of Snow" headline in Yediot Ahronot, above, 
with views of Jerusalem below - and click here for more beautiful photos.




This coin below from 2,000 years ago was discovered accidentally by an Israeli soldier.


Shabbat Shalom

There is so much to talk about today.  Let's start with a reminder that this is Shabbat Zachor, which is the Shabbat preceding Purim, when we are reminded of the evil done to our ancestors by Amalek. There is a tradition from the Talmud that Haman, the antagonist of the Purim story, was descended from Amalek. Zachor means "remember."  Read why Jewish memory matters.

And for a sneak preview of my remarks tonight on Jewish memory, read this fascinating article about the "Ant-Nazi Jam" that took Twitter by storm this week.

Speaking of Jewish memory, last night I had the thoroughly enjoyable opportunity to deliver a Zoom talk for a Jewish book group in New Brunswick, N.J. on my book, "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously."  You can watch it here.




Purim's Coming, Doggone it!



Yes, that's me, hidden behind a virtual poodle mask.  This is the year to bring your Snapchat and Zoom filters to our grand masked spectacular - or just come as you are!  We'll read the Megillah, check out vintage Purim photos, announce the winners of our Purim Scavenger Hunt, sing and parade - all virtually - this Thursday evening.  And when I get tired of all the Haman noisemaking, I'll just mute you! Gotta love a virtual Purim!


BTW, apropos to my poodle mask, dogs are often regarded warily in Jewish sources. Read here why dogs were actually big heroes of the night of the Exodus (for not yapping).  And see Emmanuel Levinas' reflections on a dog who made his home for a short time in the Nazi labor camp where he was imprisoned, and who joyfully greeted the inmates when they returned from forced labor.  It's time to give dogs their due (so to speak)!


News from our TBE Family
 
This past week, composer Shanan Estreicher premiered a piece called "All You Shining Stars" for improvised trumpet and strings. This work features the Israeli trumpet player Itamar Borochov and members of the Chamber Orchestra of New York. Each of the three movements is a meditation based on Psalms. Shanan's mom, Lori Frank and his brother Adam were inspirational to many of us before they died, and, as you will hear, Shanan has taken the creative torch from them. 

All You Shining Stars
All You Shining Stars

 
I also want to celebrate the pending publication of Elon Green's highly acclaimed book, "Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York," which has been selected by Goodreads and Literary Hub as one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2021.   It's due out March 9.  Mazal tov also to Elon's parents, Hank and Diane, and sister Rachel (and her extended TBE family too!). See more about the book and Elon at his website.
 
Elon and Shanan were teens here many years ago.  I had a chance this week to Zoom chat with our current TBE teens just to check in to see how they are doing.  I was reassured by their resilience and their ability to make the most of a horrible year.  When I asked them whether the teen years are the worst time to be dealing with Covid and quarantine, surprisingly, and refreshingly, they said no, understanding that other demographic groups, like young professionals denied a chance to have a normal social life, or their grandparents, fearful for their lives, all have it worse.

Also, keeping it in the family, Wil and Carol Brewer have been telling me about their cousin in Australia, whose life has been disrupted tremendously by Covid. Ryan Abramowitz works on Jewish calligraphy and art, and Ryan's creations are exquisite. Ryan writes:
My Ketubah business is named Today Tomorrow Forever, inspired by a philosophy of creating Ketubot and art for all of life's simchas, which is cherished across time. The website and Ketubah gallery can be previewed at http://todaytomorrowforever.com.au/ 
Take a look for yourself.  I've featured one of the ketubot below:




 
Making History during Black History Month
 
As we commemorate Black History Month with this weekend's showing of "Shared Legacies" and our panel discussion on Sunday (see flyer at the bottom of this email), it's important to understand just how complicated the relationship has been.  As this article indicates, American Jews need to come to grips with the racism in our midst.  We have both been targets of White Supremacy and at times its accomplices.  Similarly, Black Americans have both joined hands with us to combat all forms of hate and have, at times, abetted anti-Semitism.  It's not an easy conversation to have, but we can't avoid it.  At the same time, we need to build up a foundation of trust, and that is what we have been doing this year.  Nurturing and re-establishing those historic ties between the Black and Jewish communities is the most important things we can be doing now, for there is strength in numbers, and that is precisely what is needed now, post January 6, as the task at hand has been so clearly defined.  Racism must be undone, and white supremacism must be ended.
 
Plan to stream the film this weekend and join us on Sunday.  Register now at this link, as the film stream link is now live and will be sent to you upon registration.  After Sunday, we are planning more opportunities to focus on this topic, including the book discussion on "Caste" this Monday, the Freedom Seder on March 21, and more.  We are making history during Black History Month, and well beyond.

The Season of our Liberation...
But When Will the Miracle Happen?


With Purim taking place this coming week, Passover is just a month behind.  Rarely before in our lives has the festival of Passover been so well-timed.  If all goes well - and that's a big "if - as we mark the liberation of our people from Egyptian slavery, we'll begin to liberate ourselves from the quarantine of Covid, not to mention the wicked winter we've endured.  At long last we will begin to inch toward normalcy, or at least what now passes for it.  Here at TBE, we'll hopefully be able to begin taking baby steps back into our indoor and outdoor prayer venues, while still Zoom-casting most events for those who remain home-bound. 

While the precise timing of this modern-day exodus is far from certain, what is certain is this: None of this would be possible without the vaccines, which are a modern miracle biblical in scope.  The partnership of science, faith and pure doggedness, made possible by the unlikely partnership of national and corporate rivals, enabled this miracle to occur in record time. 

I had my second shot a few weeks ago.  It seemed almost anti-climactic.  That week at services I reflected on what blessing would be most appropriate to say at the big moment, because there is a blessing for everything - if there is a blessing for the Czar than there has to be a blessing for SARS. 

It seemed to me that Shehechianu was the way to go - it reflected the once in a lifetime aspect of this moment, the triumph of life over death and the resuscitation of our entire society. Plus it was short and hey, there people behind me and I could just see them starting to kvetch as I pulled out a page from my pocket and started to recite something longer. 

There are lots of options.  For those who will be taking the vaccine this month, and I assume that will be many of you, here are a number of blessing options that I shared in last week's Shabbat-O-GramHere is a suggested blessingHere is another  and another, and here's a nice selection, and some from the Rabbinical Assembly and here's a full halachic discussion of the matter from Orthodox sources. 

Then, once you've chosen the blessing, there is the question as to when is the right time to recite this blessing.  Here are some options:

(1) When the vaccine begins being distributed in our area (already happened)
(2) When people have been using it for a few months, and its efficacy has been clearly demonstrated
(3) When you, personally, receive it
(4) when you receive the second shot
Or (5) when the scientists say that we have achieved herd immunity.

When does the miracle take place? At the beginning or the end?  Was the miracle of the Exodus the execution of the first plague, the blood in the Nile?  Or was it the crossing of the Red Sea, the final plague?  Was it consummated when each individual Israelite emerged from the Red Sea - for that individual - or was the miracle complete only when the entire nation had emerged from bondage?

When should a blessing be said?

Is a personal healing the same as a national one?  We learn from Exodus 21:19 that we are obligated to heal a person who has been injured due to our negligence.  The Hebrew root word "R-P-H" is repeated, "Rapo - yerapeh," which teaches us two things.  First that the healing is both personal and national.  When we heal a single person in a society, we are also healing that society.  And second, the double injunction here has been taken as emphasizing the Torah's endorsement of the science of medicine

So healing is both personal and collective, and Judaism and science are partners.

This tells us that perhaps we should recite blessings both when we have received the vaccine individually and again when it is declared that we have achieved herd immunity, both here in the US and around the world.

May that happen speedily - or at least by Rosh Hashanah!

An additional question is whether we recite the blessing before or immediately the shot is administered, or perhaps the next day, after side effects have worn off.  Blessings are typically recited before an act takes place (think of ha-motzi or the kiddush).  But in this case, maybe it more proper to wait, so that we might literally soak in the moment, and its impact on our bodies and our world.  I'll leave it up to you to decide when to say a blessing  and what blessing to say.  But at the very least, just utter a "Thank God!" before you get into your car and head home (or for those at drive-through vaccine stations, before you simply drive away, liberated).

As for Passover, let's take those baby steps out the door and back into our sanctuary as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, as we pray that this holiday, which will still be different from all other nights, will also be the Season of our Liberation.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman


Friday, February 12, 2021

In this Moment: Ribeye Hammerman? Vaccine Blessings; A Venomous Pinprick; A Hand-y Yarmulka?

In This Moment
Shabbat-O-Gram, February 12, 2021



Photos of the week...


7th Graders trying on their home-made tefillin at our World Wide Wrap




Scenes from Temple Rock 
(the full album of Aviva Maller's photos is still being compiled)

---------------------



The Hebrew letter Aleph traces its ancient origins to a pictograph of an ox. Well, it looks like an Israeli company named for that letter might just be headed toward putting cattle out of business! Read more about what's at stake - er, steak - here.  For one thing, if Israel is to revolutionize the laws of Kashrut, the meat industry and animal husbandry, is my title now going to become Rib-eye Hammerman?




Shabbat Shalom

Evidently someone has been sending out SPAM in my name today. Just another annoyance of the Cyber Era.  We've had to become pretty savvy about such intrusions lately.  Rule of thumb.  If it looks suspicious, check the return email address.
 
Let me begin with a few quick announcements (and thanks to Sheila Romanowitz for sending that hopeful, uplifting and timely Shabbat art at the top of this email).

- If you know someone who is looking for work, TBE's Suzanne Fruithandler mentioned to me that Garden Homes is looking for Property Management / Customer service office support.  For more information, contact Suzanne directly, at suzanne@gardenhomesmanagement.com.

- This is Black History Month.  See flyer below for our "Shared Legacies" film and program.  In the meantime, take a look at these two backgrounders: 
 
- Today we enter the happiest month of the Jewish year, Adar.  The Women of the Wall celebrated at the Kotel.. by being doused by coffee.  See the video:

Coffee Thrown on Anat Hoffman- Rosh Hodesh Adar
Coffee Thrown on Anat Hoffman- Rosh Hodesh Adar

- A question arose this week following the presentation of the former president's  Orthodox defense lawyer David Schoen, who kept covering his head while drinking waterCan a hand be a yarmulkeI was always led to believe that a part of your body can't serve to cover the head.  But I was willing to give him an A for effort, especially given that wearing a yarmulke is more a matter of custom than law - and that I appreciated his decision not to wear one that day.  Read more about the custom of wearing a kippah here, and in particular this note, explaining that one's own hand can not be used. He may have had the tiny plastic bottle cap in his hand (which also may have been to small).  He also could have asked someone else to cover his head with his hand.  Imagine the conversation between David Schoen and, say, Chuck Schumer sitting in the front row.  "Hey Chuck, do you mind putting your hand on top of my head while I take a swig of this water?"  Halacha makes strange bedfellows!

- Many have been receiving Covid vaccinations this week (I had my second on Monday and will speak about it tonight in relation to this week's portion of Mishpatim).  Others have theirs scheduled for upcoming weeks. People have been wondering how to mark this awe-inspiring moment.  Here is a suggested blessingHere is another  and another, and here's a nice selection, and some from the Rabbinical Assembly and here's a full halachic discussion of the matter from Orthodox sources.  This is undoubtedly the most blessed event since the birth of Moses.  But if you want to pick just one to clip and save, this one below (actually two, including the Shehechianu, which is what I said) is clean and simple - short enough so you won't hold up the line!



Purim is on the evening of Feb. 25.  Here are two assignments for you to make our virtual services the best virtual Megilla reading ever!  

1) SEND US YOUR VINTAGE PURIM PICS!!!  (I've also got lots). Show yourselves and your kids in their favorite all-time Purim costumes - send directly to me (rib-eye@tbe.org). I mean rabbi@tbe.org.

2) Come in virtual (or real) costumes yourselves, using Zoom filters, like the Texas cat lawyer filter video that went viral this week (and gave me the best laugh I've had in a year).  

Texas attorney accidentally leaves cat filter on during Zoom call | ABC7
Texas attorney accidentally leaves cat filter on during Zoom call | ABC7

- Stamford Interfaith Refugee Resettlement (SIRS) sends along this important announcement:

At this time, SIRS is pleased to let you know that we are beginning the process of applying to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) for a third family to resettle in Stamford in 2021.  Many volunteers are needed for the various teams involved both before and/or after their arrival.  
 
Assisting in the resettlement of refugees is rewarding and interesting, and we hope you will find this is the right time to be part of this process.     
 
On February 17, at 6:30 PM, we will have a virtual Community meeting as we begin this new journey.  
 
At this meeting we will also share with you what SIRS has done over these last four years; the status of refugees in the world today; and the changes this year which should bring a significant increase in refugees admitted to Connecticut through IRIS. 
 
We invite you to attend this virtual meeting.  Please email one of us if you can attend, so we can send you the Zoom link for the February 17th meeting'.   
 
We hope you will join in this journey. 
 
Peace, 
Jean Meyer  (jcc.meyer@hotmail.com
Amy Ewing  (amyofct@aol.com
Co-Chairs of Stamford Interfaith Refugee Settlement (SIRS) 



Last Week's Venomous Pinprick 
 
By now most of you are aware that our services were Zoom bombed last weekend.  The intruders were "kind" enough to wait until the end of our service to desecrate our sacred space.  The fact that the space was virtual did nothing to diminish the sense of violation that we felt, combined with anger and despair.  It was, on a smaller scale, what the whole nation experienced with the desecration of the Capitol last month, and re-experienced so vividly in the trial this week.  It is what Jews have felt whenever sacred spaces have been violated, from ancient times until today...with one big difference: We were never in any real danger.

Looking back - and we did a lot of postmortems this week - I'm proud of so many aspects of our response, including the fact that people turned up at services in large numbers every day this week, and hopefully will in even greater numbers this Shabbat.  

The fact that we did not succumb to fear showed that we recognized the low level of the threat and did not overreact.

It is true that even when the threat was far greater, like after the massacre in Pittsburgh, 400 people gathered in our sanctuary the following Friday night.  In that case we overcame the fear of real danger. In this case, we were stung for a moment, then turned around and realized that this act of intended intimidation was was in fact not an existential punch to our gut, but rather a pathetic pinprick by a couple of weak, gutless juveniles (and in saying this I must apologize to the many courageous juveniles I know - and I am not necessarily referring to chronological age).

As annoying and reprehensible as this act of hate was, it was also cowardly, because the perpetrators could fall back their on online anonymity.  But we recognized their weakness.  They thought they were intimidating us, but it was clear that night and over subsequent days that they did not. We had every right to be shocked and upset, but ultimately, we saw it for the fraud that it was.  I do not minimize the impact on those who are still shaking over what happened.  I'm just reminding you that the only thing we have to fear is the shadow of fear itself, our own muscle memory fear from our tragic history.  Last weekend we traversed through the valley of the shadow of death.  Psalm 23 teaches us that we have to overcome our fear of shadows, and we can do that with faith.

We were angry - I know I was, and part of me wishes I had threatened the intruders with my newly installed "Jewish Space Laser" as a way of mocking their Q-clouded ignorance.  But as I did say last week in an instant response to their stupid, hateful intrusion, this was the act of a desperate group that has found themselves on the losing side of a long-term battle against hate. The battle is far from over; anti-Semitism and racism were emboldened by January 6 and what led to it, but while we have much reason for engagement, we have no reason to fear.  

They can't hurt us. And we have our knee on racism's neck.

Compare the hateful words uttered by a couple of pathetic pranksters posted on our Zoom windows last week to what this family saw from their real window in Germany on Hanukkah, 1932.


 
Or to this anti-Semitic flyer posted on a German train this week, blaming Jews for the plague. Gee, couldn't they at least be a little more original? We've been blamed for plagues since the Middle Ages.



The response on that Hanukkah in 1932 was to shine the light of their menorah, right back at ya.  And they were not afraid, even though the enemy literally knew where they lived.  If they were not afraid, neither should we be.

It is noteworthy that that assertive, courageous response occurred before Hitler manipulated an election to ascend to power, burning down the Reichstag and gutting German democracy along the way.  By the mid '30s, such courageous responses to hate were few and far between.  But on my personal fascist-ometer, I reckon that we are closer to 1932 than 1935 right now, and pointing in the right direction.

We should never underestimate the pure venom in the ideology of White Supremacy that was conveyed in last week's Zoom intrusion. It has not been this empowered and enabled since the Klan marched down those same DC streets a century ago.  But let us not wear the cloak of victimhood, as if to compare our suffering to the victims of Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, Selma and yes, now we can add the Capitol that list.  What for us was an annoying reminder was for them life-threatening.  It is that ideology whose life must be ended.

Last week's attack only highlights the importance of what we are doing as a congregation. Our efforts to combat hate with love throughout the community has intensified  - our spectacular paddle raise last weekend to help alleviate food insecurity is only the latest example.  And next week, on Feb 21 (see flyer on the bottom), we are partnering with local Jewish and Black organizations to watch and discuss the film "Shared Legacies," which if you haven't seen it yet, you must - follow the instructions on the flyer to access it and then join us for the panel discussion.

This program grew out of the fruitful, prolific and intensifying partnership we've developed with the Union Baptist Church.  Having joined together in events ranging from deep discussions of the roots of racism to cooking classes, we now are completing each other's sentences.  Next month, on March 21, we will partner on an interfaith Freedom Seder.  Mark your calendars for that one!

Ultimately that's the best response to last week's futile attempt to violate our sacred virtual space.  We respond to hate with intensified love.  We seek unity where unity is possible, and we never accommodate those whose ultimate goal is the perpetuation of racism, autocracy and alternative facts.

We've put in safeguards, but future attacks are inevitable, at least as long as Big Lies are repeated by those who know better and conspiracy theories like the Jewish Space Laser are allowed to spread.  But I encourage you not to succumb to fear or despair.  If we are intruded upon again, we will eject the intruder and move on, feeling momentarily pained for our lost innocence, but much sadder for our country's.
 

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman