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.
Friday, March 19, 2021
In This Moment, March 19: Not Just Pickles: Celebrating the Jewish Immigrant Experience
Yesterday 7th and 8th graders and some adults took a virtual trip back in time, to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. We "visited" this apartment, which was occupied by the Rogarshvsky family on Orchard Street in the early 1900s. Read about the family here.
As we move into the final weekend before Passover, we've been recalling in fondness past TBE president Herb Kahan, who passed away this week. Another former leader of the congregation also died; Paul Josephson left our congregation a lasting memorial - this parsonage I wake up in every day, which was his pet project. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and among all the many families who have lost loved ones in recent weeks.
Not Just Pickles
A little while back, we decided that this weekend before Passover would be a perfect time to celebrate our roots by focusing our attention on the Jewish immigrant experience of the past century. We even arranged for drop-off deli dinners from Ben's (and dozens of you have taken advantage of that). Of course immigration has always been a hot topic in America, and with new legislation being passed just yesterday regarding Dreamers and other refugee concerns, now would be the time to sign the HIAS refugee welcome letterif you haven't already. When you go to the site, just pull down the tab and you'll find that TBE is one of the many participating congregations.
This evening at services I'll be speaking about how the immigration experience shaped who we are, both as Americans and as Jews, as reflected in the works of filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver, who sadly died several weeks ago. We'll be paying tribute to her by featuring her best known work, "Crossing Delancey," which will be discussed by our Movie Club tomorrow night as part of our theme-weekend. (Here's more about her life and legacy). The film involves a pickle guy courting an assimilated Jewish intellectual with a mischievous bubbe. It's a great movie, right down to the tip on how to get the smell of pickle brine of your hands (psst, it's vanilla).
But the Micklin-Silver film that encapsulates the Jewish immigrant experience most is "Hester Street,"a gem that I rewatched this week. You can order it (and "Crossing Delancey" too) on Amazon Prime. Tonight we'll look back at what it meant to be "a stranger in a strange land," a line recited by Moses in Exodus, Tevye in Anatevka (mistakenly attributing it Abraham) by every Jewish immigrant on the Lower East Side and every refugee headed from anywhere to anywhere, ever. According to the UN, there are 80 million refugees around the world right now.
A Sweet Passover to all who will be joining us at our second-ever TBE Zoom Seder a week from Sunday night, at 7 PM. Let me be the first to say that I hope it is the last ever as well, though for our purposes this year, the online format will suit perfectly. if you have not yet registered, do so now (see flyer below).
Here's what will be happening:
1) ARRIVE EARLY: We will start right on time at 7 PM. Please link up to the Zoom meeting at least 5 minutes beforehand to avoid an electronic bottleneck.
2) LENGTH: My best estimate as to the length is about 90 minutes, depending on how much people want to participate.
3) PARTICIPATION: Active participant involvement is a cornerstone of TBE's philosophy, as well as the Seder's. But with Zoom we have to be creative. For the most part, participants will be muted while the leader leads. If you are interested in leading a supplementary English reading, let me know. Also, I will throw out questions to the group where you will have the chance to share replies in the "chat" box. We'll also do some video sharing - so, if you have a favorite Pesach heir loom, like a kiddush cup, Seder plate, plagues toy, pillow - or a special food that you've prepared (say, a unique family recipe for charoset), bring all of it to the table. With that in mind, it is really important that everyone be all-in for this Seder. In other words, if your computer has a camera, turn it on so we'll all see one another and share in community as best we can.
4) WHAT ABOUT THE MEAL? This will not be a "soup to nuts" Seder, where we include every word of every page, the way Zayde used to do it. The format simply does not lend itself to that. And of course, neither soup nor nuts will be provided. We will go through the early parts of the Seder but skip past the meal, so that we can cover a few highlights from the latter parts of the Seder before wrapping up. There is no point in keeping a large Zoom meeting open while people are eating. One reason for the early start time is so that people won't get excessively hungry; however, I encourage you to have snacks available while we go through the first part. What do you think all that dipping is all about? Those are appetizers, and last I heard, a potato is a vegetable, so instead of parsley, grab a bowl of chips and you'll be fine. And as for the meal, you'll be able to privately Face-time or Zoom friends or family for that. Invite them to join us for the Seder too.
5)WILL THIS BE A CHILD-FRIENDLY SEDER? We try to make everything child-friendly at TBE, but given this format, it will be hard for us to do that. But I am looking for young volunteers to lead the Four Questions - please let me know ASAP!
6)WHAT HAGGADAH WILL WE BE USING? - As long as you can follow the basic order of the Seder, you can use whatever you have at home. But this is the one I'll be using:Here's the one I'll be using.Download it and have it on your screen, or you can print it out in advance. But if you happen to be using one of the 4,000 other versions of the Haggadah that have been published, it's always interesting to hear different perspectives.
7) Incidentally, I also will be using some of the supplementary readings below:
8) Finally, a request. Make this Seder your own. Share observations in the chat box. Smile and sing along, even if no one can hear you. Let's make this the best Zoom Seder ever!
This will be truly a night unlike all other nights. There will be plenty of opportunity to reflect on the uniqueness of these two Covid Pesachs, but at the same time, we should be careful not to ignore Passover's more enduring messages that have gotten us through times far tougher than this (without minimizing the real suffering people are enduring now). Still, the hallmark of this holiday has always been in how it constantly reinvents itself, and that will certainly be the case here.
Finally, if you have trouble getting through to the reservation link, simply email me to let me know who is coming from your family.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
See below a chart of Israel's Knesset race, from the Economist,
with the country's 4th election in two years set for this coming Tuesday.