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.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
In This Moment, June 24: Not One Person; What Would Sandy Do? Are Jewish Jokes Not Funny Anymore?
In This Moment
Celebrating Pride Month
This Friday, join us at our new start time of 7 PM
The Shabbat-O-Gram (and I) will be taking a hiatus over the coming weeks, but before I wish everyone a pleasant, safe and relaxing summer, I hope you will be able to join us this Shabbat. On Friday night - outdoors, once again :) - the last during Pride Month, our guest musician will be Leo Mahler, a local musician and friend of the congregation, who will lead the prayers and also talk about their spiritual journey. They love Jewish music and ritual, and are a passionate advocate for queer and trans inclusivity and leadership in synagogue communities. During the service, you'll have the chance to ask them about speaking ancient languages, about how to make our spaces more welcoming to non-binary people like them - and yes, that includes pronouns - or about crocheting!
Join me in welcoming Leo - in person or on live-stream - this Friday.
Also, Sunday is the Seventeenth of Tammuz, a minor fast leading into the Three Weeks, culminating in Tisha B'Av. (We'll be joining with our sister Conservative congregations in Norwalk and Westport for services on Tisha B'Av.)
Mah Tovu is all about the presentation of physical space as sacred space, a perfect topic for a time when we are transitioning back to our physical sanctuaries. Come pray with us, and then turn your prayers into action.
"Not One Person"
This week, our reopening committee set protocols for in-person events during the upcoming months, including the High Holidays. Our goal is to be able to assemble safely, and with hundreds of people expected, we've determined that we can do that only by requiring vaccination for those who will be indoors, while providing outdoor options for children and adults who are not vaccinated or who simply want a less formal, family-style service. We will also continue to provide a live-streaming or Zoom option for all services. We want everyone to feel both welcome and safe. Protecting lives is our sacred obligation. As the Talmud states, "Save one life and save the world."
In that regard, for the past year, I've been inspired by a nearby church that to this day is still doing services remotely, despite all the pressures to reopen. They adopted a "not one person" policy, meaning that to the degree that they can control matters, "not one" parishioner should suffer from Covid because of their actions. That's a high standard to keep, and now that the end is (we hope) in sight, we can look back at the wisdom of choices we've made, including the decision last year to do the High Holidays remotely. People forget, but at the time that choice was not a slam-dunk, and there was considerable pressure to accommodate those clamoring for an in-person High Holidays. We resisted, and for the High Holidays at least, that most sacred obligation of "not one person" was upheld.
We also resisted the temptation to open up life cycle events to greater attendance and relaxed boundaries. Only this week did we have our first in-person funeral in our sanctuary (our first in-person shiva service is tonight), and b'nai mitzvah attendance has been severely restricted all year. Meanwhile, we've discovered that Zoom and hybrid services present lots of opportunities for creativity. We had relatives joining in from as far as Australia, Israel and Amsterdam; we had game shows, shared screens and in one case, a dog from the Israel Guide Dog Center sending personal best barking wishes to the bar mitzvah boy. We could do all that and save lives too. "One mitzvah leads to another," to quote another famous rabbinic saying.
It's been a hard year, one that has reminded us of the primacy of preserving life and health in our tradition, as well as the helping us to appreciate anew the power of our physical spaces.
Sharing Sacred Spaces
For the past couple of years, we have been involved in a cohort of Sharing Sacred Spaces, an international interfaith alliance represented locally by TBE, along with these congregations:
Guru Tegh Bahadur Foundation
Rose of Sharon Fellowship
The First Congregational Church of Greenwich
Islamic Cultural Center of NY - Stamford
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Stamford, CT
Union Baptist Church
You can read learn more about our Sacred Spaces partners here. Here is the video presentation that showcased our congregation and our sacred architecture for the group.
And below you can see the flyer for our closing ceremony, the signing of a solidarity pledge, this Sunday at 3 PM. The ceremony will take place on Zoom and registration is required. Go tohttps://www.sharingsacredspaces.org/
This essay is from the Baseball Hall of Fame's website. It's ironic because this week, the H of F decided to schedule its annual induction ceremony for the second day of Rosh Hashanah! Not only that, but one of the inductees is Jewish (no, not Derek Jeter. It's Marvin Miller, whose family might not attend.
So WWSD? (What would Sandy do?) Here's what that essay says about Koufax:
"According to United Press International’s Milton Richman, Koufax made up his mind on choosing religion over the World Series in 1959 when the championship coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. He did not attend workouts at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and he did not pitch in Game 4.
Koufax summed up his thoughts with Richman, saying that a “man is entitled to his belief and I believe I should not work on Yom Kippur. It’s as simple as all that and I have never had any trouble on that account since I’ve been in baseball.”
The 1959 World Series was not the first time that Koufax missed a game in favor of a Jewish holiday. In April 1959, Koufax requested to skip his start on April 22 due to it being the first night of Passover. Similarly, in 1961 and 1963, Koufax skipped his turns in the rotation which conflicted with Rosh Hashanah. Teammate Larry Sherry, also Jewish, is believed to have sat out for the holiday in 1961. In 1963, Koufax more than made up for the trouble in rearranging the pitching staff’s schedule by striking out a record 15 Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series."
Koufax did not even attend a workout on Rosh Hashanah. As they say in the broadcast booth, this is an unforced error by Major League Baseball. it's a bad look which hopefully can be addressed before those Derek Jeter fans who happen to be Jewish - and I believe there are a few Jewish Yankee fans - sit up and take notice.
Or maybe they won't care - which is another sermon entirely!
Moment magazine devoted its current issue to Jewish humor. Click here to see some all time classics, many of which have found their way into my sermons over the years (What did you think? That I wrote all my material myself? No, I outsource!)
Here’s the problem - actually, there are two problems:
- most of them are not funny anymore.
- most are also offensive.
OK, see for yourself. Read them, and ask yourself how many you think would work, say, in the middle of a Yom Kippur sermon.
The one below is literally the only one I found that wouldn’t offend anyone (who didn’t come from Chelm) - and it's hardly laugh out loud funny.
Apparently, we've got a Jewish joke problem. Most Jewish humor comes at the expense of someone, often the high and mighty, which is OK, but sometimes the incompetent schlemiel or the down-on-his luck schlemazel. We make fun of stupid, awkward and unlucky people. What's that all about? And all too often, Jewish humor targets humans of the female variety: mothers, wives, mothers and, oh yes, mothers. We also make fun of ourselves, but not in a good way. Cheapness, superficiality, and how we "control" Hollywood, the banks and the media. It’s no laughing matter anymore - because we know we’re kidding, but these days, some other people don’t seem to get the joke.
"Hollywood seems to find an almost obsessive, near-pathological need to dilute female Jewish characters. Or erase.
The examples are vast, and they are also maddening. In “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Jewish heroine Midge is played by non-Jew Rachel Brosnahan. In “On the Basis of Sex,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the modern-day thinking Jewish woman’s pin-up for her groundbreaking contributions to constitutional law, is played by non-Jewish British actor Felicity Jones. And in Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” Jewish second-wave feminists Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem are played by Tracy Ullman, Margo Martindale and Rose Byrne — none of whom are Jewish. Julianne Moore (not Jewish), also played Steinem in Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias.” And in ABC’s long-running sitcom “The Goldbergs,” shopaholic balabusta Beverly Goldberg is played by non-Jewish comedian Wendi McLendon-Covey. Even Elsa, the adolescent “Jew in the Wall” in Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning “Jojo Rabbit,” is played by non-Jewish actor Thomasin McKenzie.
My current favorite: in Guy Nattiv’s upcoming Golda Meir biopic, Helen Mirren (and, yes, the Oscar-winner is an inarguably gifted actor), will play Israel’s lone female prime minister, an iron-fisted global leader who commandeered Israel to victory during the Yom Kippur War. Because nothing says Kiev-born, Milwaukee-raised kibbutznik-turned-“gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people” — a political figure who embraced her “ugliness” as a political asset and whom David Ben Gurion was fond of calling “the best man in the government”—than a regal British Dame with ancestral ties to Russian nobility.
As Sarah Silverman, who speaks freely of oft being considered “too Jewish” to play certain roles, noted on her podcast and on “The Howard Stern Show” last November: “Lately it’s been happening — if that role is a Jewish woman, but [if] she is courageous, or she deserves love, or has bravery, or is altruistic in any way, she’s played by a non-Jew.”"
Green addresses the age-old question of how a modern, empirically-minded Jew can swear allegiance to the Creation and Exodus stories, as we do when we say the Friday night Kiddush, and still accept science. We all need to ask that question - and he provides a very satisfying response.
"That moment (making Friday night Kiddush) is the highlight of my week. It is the most personally significant ritual act that I regularly perform as a Jew. But what is my relationship to that text I so fervently call out? It is one of love and commitment, a feeling that the text is as filled to the brim with meaning as my cup is with wine. It is a statement of my faith in divine Creation, of my gratitude for the gift of perceiving a sacred presence that underlies all that is. But surely it could not be called “belief” in the Torah’s creation story in any literal sense.
I understand that this planet is approximately thirteen billion years old, and that it came to be as a result of a great stellar explosion that took place several billion years earlier. I also understand that the seas and dry land, the trees, grasses, and plants, the birds, fish, animals, and creeping things all described as created on one or another of the six days preceding that first Sabbath of Genesis, in fact evolved over the course of a long and complex bio-evolutionary process, running across thousands of centuries, rather than being “declared” into existence all within a week, however that “week” is conceived. Yet the story of Creation, and the weekly repetition of it, is vital to my religious life.
My non-literalist faith that we live in a created world is part-and-parcel of my personal quest for meaning and my sense of responsibility to act in protection of this beautiful and fragile planet. Such a non-literalist theology of Creation builds not on the world of science, but the world of myth, especially that which grows of ancient Jewish stories about how this world came to be.
What I search for in these tales is not a factual description of the world’s history but the profound kernel of truth that helps us connect to the deeper meaning of the world we live in and our connection to it. And yet, to make the most of these truths as modern people, living in the scientific age, we must find a way to tell them together with the “reality” being daily articulated and refined by astrophysicists, geologists, evolutionary biologists, and lots of others. Such an approach can lend to the new story some of the mystery and depth of the old, while not forcing us to take a stance against scientific thinking and modern notions of truth and knowledge."
You can take these questions to the beach with you over the coming weeks, and prepare for an early High Holidays to recharge your spiritual batteries!