Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Notes on "The Modern Jewish Canon: Jewish Politics and the Public Square"

Here's the link for the video of our class on Jewish Politics and the Public Square. I enjoyed our spirited conversation. For those who want to read the freshman class term paper that i wrote on the topic, you can find it here.

And here are the links to some of the readings discussed, by Walzer, Beinart and Gordis / Brous. if you are looking for the photos from the 1987 Soviet Jewry Rally in Washington, you can find them here.

Links to my Rosh Hashanah first day sermon, which echoes Walzer's focus on utopian vs gradual societal transformation.

Some key quotes from our readings:

“Messianism is the great temptation of Western politics. Its source and spur is the apparent endlessness of the Exodus march.”  - Walzer.

"History is a burden from which we long to escape, and messianism guarantees that escape; a deliverance not only from Egypt but from Sinai and Canaan too."

Cites Maimonides on the need for a gradualistic messainism:
And finally, read more about Beinart - Gordis at TBE in 2017. Or better yet, watch it.

Friday, October 15, 2021

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Lolly Socaransky on Noah

In This Moment: The Lie-Star State, First Kohen in Space, Not-So Bitter Heshvan, Children of Abraham Discuss Abraham

In This Moment

Some satisfied sushi eaters!
Photo by Aviva Maller Photography, from our Sushi in the Sukkah event.
Shabbat Shalom

We are now a week into the month of Marheshvan (or Heshvan). The "Mar" supposedly stands for "bitter," because there are no holidays this month (as if we need more holidays, after last month's bounty). But in fact there are important commemorations, like Sigd, a major festival for Ethiopian Jews, held 50 days after Yom Kippur. It's a half day of fasting and a half day of feasting and dancing. Granted, the Beta Yisrael community was lost to the Jewish world for many centuries, but we were lost to them too, so it is highly biased to say that Heshvan is a "bitter" month and ignore this ancient feast. Maybe we can use it as a way of honoring Jews of Color, much as Columbus Day has become a time to honor indigenous peoples.

And speaking of which, this week 235 new Olim from the Bnei Menashe community landed in Israel. Hailing from Manipur in northeast India, they have preserved the Jewish tradition across generations. The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. They continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. So let's honor Jews of color in not-so Mar Heshvan.
Meanwhile, let's honor the geezers too. I am informed by Mindy Rogoff that William Shatner became not only the first nonagenarian in space this week, he also became the first Kohen. Leonard Nimoy was also a Kohen, so the Enterprise had quite a priestly crew.

And the Shatner journey is perfect for this week when we read the portion of Lech Lecha, which describes the command to Abraham and Sarah to go forth from their homeland to a distant and unknown place, to their destiny - in other words, "to boldly go where no one has gone before."

As Mel Brooks would say, "May the Schwartz be with you!" (See the pdf of the portion here).

This month is bitter in some ways. My mother's yahrzeit is this coming week, and on a much grander scale, so are the yahrzeits of the Tree of Life victims in Pittsburgh (read about a new book on the impact of the massacre on the Pittsburgh Jewish community) and of Prime Minister Rabin, on the 12th of Heshvan, which falls this Monday. Listen below to Rabin's final speech (with subtitles), delivered at the rally where he was shot in 1995. Rabin was a victim of domestic terrorism, and as this article, written just a day after it happened, shows, "The shots targeted the very essence of the sovereign Jewish state; the blood on the pavement was the blood of democracy itself." Following the events of January 6 and after, and with the Charlottesville neo-Nazi trial finally set to begin in just days, this is a stark reminder to us of the fragility of democracy in the face of domestic terror.

Heshvan is indeed a month filled with meaning, celebration and resolve.
Yitzhak Rabin - The Last Speech (English Subtitles)

Children of Abraham Discuss Abraham
The Children of Abraham: Sharing Stories, Sharing Lives
A number of people had trouble accessing last night's statewide interfaith discussion, "Children of Abraham," featuring Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. You can watch the archived video by clicking on the photo above. The theme of the program was on how we can build bridges to help open up eyes to the needs of the Other. It is something we do here in our community routinely, but we should never take it for granted. That's why I'm so delighted at the current work of our TBE Immigration Committee, featured in an email to the congregation yesterday.

For me there were two moments that were most special last night: One, when a Palestinian named Muhammad talked about learning to bake hallah - and taking one home to Gaza to show the folks (who smiled).

And the other was at the very end when the host asked each of us to talk about what we admire most in Abraham (who, as mentioned above, is the central figure of this week's portion). A Muslim colleague talked about his absolute faith in God, even when asked to sacrifice his son. I retorted that I preferred Abraham's demonstration of chutzpah in calling on the judge of the world to do justice by sparing the people of Sodom and Gomorrah if there are only a few righteous among them.

But i found my Christian colleague's perspective most interesting. He talked about Abraham's patience. I've never thought about Abraham as a particularly patient guy, but I hadn't noticed before what must be a fairly popular theme in Christian commentaries. Abraham has, in the current email vernacular, "constant contact" with God at the beginning of the portion. But at one point that contact stops for a long period of time. Imagine what it must have been like to be told to leave your home, uproot the family, discover the new place to be filled with famine and strife - hardly the paradise it was built up to be - and then God disables the "send" button. Abraham and Sarah are left to their own devices, so to speak, with no IT help coming from on high. Not even Apple Care can offer assistance when God is silent.

This important lesson found expression in the poetry and music of the Holocaust. And it is a reminder that our neighbors have so much to teach us - about ourselves.
The Lie-Star State: Holocaust and Critical Race Theory
I'm embarrassed and almost too disgusted to even mention this, but when news broke that a Texas school board was considering introducing Holocaust denial into their curriculum as a means of presenting "opposing views" to the classic children's book, "Number the Stars," about the rescue of Danish Jewry, it was impossible to ignore. Fortunately, I've heard that some saner minds in Texas have tried to walk this back. But it's not easy to walk this one back, especially if the letter of the law still seems to embrace Holocaust denial - or at the very least, moral relativism with regard to the worst and most proven crime ever committed. There are no "two sides" here. The issue is not "complex."

There are no legitimate opposing views on the historicity of the Holocaust. Period.

But neither should there be about slavery in the US. It happened and it was bad. Period.

As I wrote in my recent book "Embracing Auschwitz" and prior to that on these pages:
If lies can make it here, lies can make it anywhere. And Texas has become the Lie-Star State.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

Friday, October 8, 2021

In This Moment: Top Ten Reasons Jews Love Pizza; Mazal tov to Cantor Kaplan; The Deep Structure of Jewish Prayer


In This Moment
The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored this week by Carlie and Jordan Socaransky, in honor of Lolly's becoming Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat
Great article in the Stamford Jewish Voice celebrating Cantor Kaplan’s
completion of the program which grants her the official title of cantor. Mazal tov!
Shabbat Shalom

Mazal tov to Lolly Socaransky and family, as Lolly becomes Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat morning. The service will be in our sanctuary and broadcast over livestream. Friday night's will as well (we begin at 6).

Also, the archived video of Alan Kalter's funeral can be found on our website's TBE-Live portal. And join us and Alan's family at 1 today when we will share stories and reflections in a Zoom shiva at the conclusion of our regularly scheduled daily afternoon service.

Meeting ID: 822 4363 9528
Passcode: 583431

Over 40 people attended our first conversation about "The New Jewish Canon" this week. You can watch that first session by clicking here. The class discussed some of the most significant trends that have shaped the past half century, both in Jewish life and more generally speaking. We talked about the impact of social media, feminism, LGBTQ rights, political polarization, distrust of government and many other issues. One overriding question was whether we've become a less - or more - violent society. Another was whether these past four decades have been a time of stabilizing (or as the authors put it, "settling") of Jewish life after the tumult of the mid 20th century, or have we been living through times are themselves revolutionary. The next session will take place on Tuesday the 19th (this Tuesday is Cantor Kaplan's meditation class), and we'll discuss, among other questions, where power truly resides in Jewish communities and the Jewish world, and how that has shifted. Click here to see the syllabus and reading links. Click here to register. Click here to order the book (or order from Amazon).

Chai Chi: The Deep Structure of Tefila
One of the first scholars in residence that I invited here, back in the early '90s, was the great Jewish humorist (who literally wrote the book on Jewish Humor), Rabbi Moshe Waldoks. On the Shabbat morning of his visit, he took us on a guided tour of the Sabbath service, guided by the wisdom of eastern religions. Find a quiet place to sit, and listen to the lecture, "Chai Chi: The Deep Structure of Tefila." It will help you to understand the approach to prayer that we have long embraced and advocated here at TBE.

Click below to hear the lecture and here to follow our siddur's Shabbat morning service
(page numbers are different)Below that you will find a visual aid that takes a very similar approach, a flow-chart created by Marcia Prager for the innovative Pnai Or Siddur.
Top Ten Reasons Jews Love Pizza
With the long-awaited opening of Sally's Apizza in Stamford - and this Stamford Advocate front page story featuring TBE's own Jeremy Young, who reviews pizza for the Stamford High newspaper (and only cheese pizza, I must happily add), it's time to get down to the matter at hand. Why is pizza the quintessential Jewish food? True, there are no holidays that call on us to eat pizza, it didn't exist in the Bible and, really there is nothing Jewish about pizza - but we can't let mere facts stop us. So, with David Letterman's show so much on our minds this week, I give you the Top Ten Reasons Jews Love Pizza. Please send me your own!

1) It unites the major Jewish festivals: Passover (flat bread), Shavuot (dairy) and Sukkot (veggie toppings.) But no fruit, please. Especially pineapple (yechh).

2) Throw in Hanukkah, which also is a time to eat cheese and oil. And even Judah Maccabee likes Greek pizza!
3) Speaking of Passover, Piz-za and Mat-za have the same last name. Both are from the Tza family.

4) And it's made with Matza-rella.

5) Here are the most Jewish pizzas across the US, like Pizza With House Smoked Salmon" from Spago.

6) In Hebrew the words "Pi" and "Tza" can be translated as "out of the mouth." So as we put the pizza in the mouth, it reminds us to focus on the words that come out of it.

7) I grew up on Macabee (with one "c") kosher pizza bagels. Loved 'em.

8) A famous Talmudic rabbi was named Rav Pepe (actually Papa)who made beer! (really!). And the first female rabbi ordained at an American seminary was Rabbi Sally (Priesand)New Haven pre-ordained.

9) Restaurants in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv elevate pizza to the next level with toppings like tangy goat cheese and roasted eggplant. Israel is also where vegans can go to find plenty of pizza options, from the soy cheese option at Domino's to the veggie-licious creations at Tel Aviv's Gusto. But my all time favorite Israeli pizza is still good old Big Apple Pizza in Jerusalem.

And the final reason...

10) Pizza is the most popular food in the world. And since we Jews wrote the best selling book in the world, what better way to enjoy an evening at home than by checking out this week's biblical portion while slurping down a hot slice of pizza and then chugging some Rav Papa Beer.

And speaking of this week's portion, can you imagine how it must have been when Noah called Sally's from the Ark and ordered 50 million large cheese pies to go?
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, October 1, 2021

In This Moment: Post Shabbat Special - The Survival of the UnFittest and Extinction of the Fittest. A Most Unusual Simhat Torah