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, November 18, 2021
In This Moment: Nov. 18
In This Moment
Watch the video of last weekend's B'nai Mitzvah
Last weekend's adult B'nai Mitzvah was a real highlight for the year, and well worth the three year wait. You can see some photos, screen grabs and congrats from the chat by clicking here. And see my charge to the class here. Since we always stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, here are the booklets from prior adult b'nai mitzvah classes from the past three decades. They were all very special (if booklets exist for prior ones, please send them to me).
This evening at 7:30, we'll be honored to host (on Zoom), Israel's new Consul General to New England, Ambassador Meron Reuben. Join us at 7:30 and send me any questions you might want asked. Click here to register and get Zoom access.
Call For Philip Morris....to go smokeless. In this article in the Stamford Advocate, the tobacco company pledges to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. So here's what I've been asking myself. What is it about Stamford that draws such edgy (or worse) businesses, from Purdue Pharma (whose settlement seems quite shady) to WWE (I know, it's entertainment) to Jerry Springer? I was once accused of being inhospitable to Springer for questioning whether I would give him an aliyah. Okay, most Stamford-based companies are just fine (I'm looking at you, NBC Sports), but you've got to admit to getting that queasy feeling when reading this company's full page NYT ad, where Marian Salzman, their VP of Global Communications has the chutzpah to compare skepticism directed toward Philip Morris to hate speech:
PMI is giving us all a little feel of PMS. The company's record is hardly spotlessand certainly not above criticism. Still, even companies can do teshuvah, and I'm not ruling out an aliyah for Marian Salzman just yet. I'd welcome her into a dialogue, as long as she promises not to bring up the hate speech thing again. I think what's bothering me even more is that we get so taken in by a Chamber of Commerce mentality when the rich and famous come a-calling that we lose our objectivity. Instead of blurting out, "They like us! They really like us!" let's hold companies to high moral standards, especially if they are responsible for, allegedly, seven million deaths a year. I kvetched about Stew Leonard back in the '90s, and they were just cheating on taxes, not killing millions and covering it up. Stew Junior responded by sending over a bushel of cornstalks for our sukkah. Okay, that was a little shady too, but we met and talked things through. Is Phil Morris going to respond to this by accusing a rabbi of hate speech - because, according to their definition, hate speech is anything critical of them.
So, while I'm happy that we've got lots of nice companies here too, still, what is it about Stamford???
Larry David spilled coffee on a Klansman's robe. We asked rabbis if he has to pay for the dry cleaning. (Forward) The fact that Judaism has its own vast corpus of legal arguments is of little interest to Larry David — he’s a law unto himself. But every so often his actions give way to a question of Talmudic precedent. When, for instance, Larry accidentally spilled coffee on a Klansman’s robe on Sunday’s episode and then promised to have it laundered in time for two upcoming “hate rallies” in Tucson and Santa Fe, he stumbled onto an area well-trod by commentators and scholars: property law. Throughout the episode, Larry explains how he feels obligated to pay for this white supremacist’s dry cleaning, even convincing a Jewish dry cleaner to do it, telling him, a la Jesus, that he’s deciding to “turn the other cheek.”
Taylor Swift and a Time Honored Jewish Tradition (Forward) The brouhaha surrounding the Swift-Gyllenhaal saga got us thinking of the great tradition of “kiss-off” songs — particularly those written and performed by Jewish songwriters. If Bob Dylan did not invent the genre, he certainly set the bar high with such early songs as “Positively 4th Street” (“You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend”), “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)” (“You say you love me and you’re thinkin’ of me but you know you could be wrong”), “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (“You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last”), “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (“You just kinda wasted my precious time”), and perhaps the greatest kiss-off song of all time, “Idiot Wind” (“You’re an idiot, babe / It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”). Ouch!
What Would Maimonides Say About Dennis Prager? (R.N.S). Once upon a time, Dennis Prager was one of my favorite authors. His book co-authored with Joseph Telushkin, "Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism," influenced me greatly during my formative years. I once brought him to Stamford to speak. Yes, Rabbi Hammerman brought Dennis Prager to Stamford. He spoke to teens about Jewish pride, but his first words, "Kids stink," didn't exactly endear him to his audience. Over the years, he's drifted far to the right, but it is has his stance on vaccinations that Doctor Maimonides would have found so offensive, according to this opinion piece.
Top European court says Hungary's 'stop Soros' migrant law violated EU law (Jerusalem Post) I've been fortunate to experience very little anti-Semitism first hand in my life, but one such time was when our 2017 Europe group crossed the bridge from Slovakia to Hungary and what greeted us was this sign. it did not say, "Welcome to Hungary, Jews." We had literally just come from Auschwitz and before our wheels even set down on Hungarian soil, we see a sign stating, "We can't let Soros get the last laugh." Well, we all need to dedicate our lives to getting the last laugh against those who traffic in anti-Semitic tropes and strike fear in the hearts of Jews and "others."
Last year I wrote this op-ed / d'var Torah, with the focus on this week's portion of Vayishlach and how at times the best way to keep a family together is to divide it up, as Jacob does when confronting his brother Esau for the first time in two decades. Though things are much better now, with vaccines and better, medically approved treatments, much of last year's message still resonates. I'm so happy to say that this year, both of my kids will be in town and we will be spending Thanksgiving together. But what I wrote last year still has resonance. As Jacob prepares for the worst, he prays:
The fear of Jacob is reflected in our own. The patriarch realizes how unworthy - in the Hebrew, how "small" - he is (katonti), how ill-equipped to defeat this foe. Ramban finds a prophetic quote to back up this feeling of futility: “How will Jacob survive, as he is so small” (Amos 7:2).
The greatest danger to us as we face this overwhelming third wave of Covid is a sense that we fool ourselves into thinking that we really understand this disease, that we’ve been here before. But we have not. While March and April were bad in the NY area, Americans have never seen the entire country afflicted with such overwhelming force at the same time.
Complacency and Covid fatigue are dangerous, but the gravest danger of all is a false sense of control. Masks and outdoor ventilation are helpful, we now know, but they are not foolproof. Today, in order to protect ourselves, many families will voluntarily stay apart. In the Torah, Jacob shows us that such a decision requires a selfless humility that can help us to confront enemies seen and unseen. Covid may be microscopic and microbial, but we are the ones who are small.
There will not be a full Shabbat-O-Gram next week (though I reserve the right to send you something), so my best wishes for a happy Thanksgivukkah for you and yours (from me and mine)! I close with some quotations on gratitude for your Thanksgiving table - or Zoom table, as the case may be. The word Jew actually means to give thanks. Today we proudly display our Jewish and American identities together by offering our appreciation to God for all of our bounty and blessing