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 4, 2021
In This Moment: November 5, 2021 Festivals of Light and Darkness
In This Moment
The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored
by Alissa Wool and Peter Weisel in honor of their daughters,
Shelby and Eden, becoming B'not Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.
Above: An Amharic song for the Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd, which occurs today (Thursday).
See more on thecurrent complexities of observing Sigd in Israel: "The Beta Israel steadfastly kept a pure form of Biblical Judaism in Ethiopia for generations. In Israel, their unique Sigd fast is now a folklore festival starring politicians studiously avoiding any mention of racism and police violence"
Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov - Happy new month of Kislev.
According to the "At the Well Project," Kislev is a month with very special meaning. In Hebrew, kis means “pocket.” lev means “heart.” Put them together, and you get a little piece of poetry -- “Pocket of the heart.” Let's hope for a peaceful Rosh Hodesh, especially at the Western Wall, where, sadly, Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the call to disrupt the monthly prayer service of the Women of the Wallon Friday, a disturbing turn by the former Prime Minister. Stay tuned.
Special Mazal Tov to Shelby and Eden Weisel and their family as they become B'not Mitzvah this Shabbat. Please note that Friday night's service begins at 6 PM this week only. Next week we go back to 7:00 PM. And speaking of going back, don't forget to set your clocks back one hour this weekend. Shabbat morning's hybrid service will be at 10:00.
Festivals of Lights (and, who turned them out?)
Diwali lights and a Thanksgivukkah menorah
The new month of Kislev is arguably both our darkest and brightest of months. Darkest astronomically, but brightest because it culminates with Hanukkah (this year on Thanksgiving weekend), the festival of lights. And Happy Diwali, everyone! The Hindu festival of lights began today. (Read about Diwali here. It's just five days long, so we still get more presents! And the firecrackers present severe environmental and safety risks)
Last week on Friday night, I noticed during the service that the eternal light in the sanctuary was out. It's not a big deal, though for the more superstitious among us it can be a jarring experience. In fact, it can be jarring even for the less superstitious, for I can count on one hand the number of times I've looked up on during a Shabbat service only to see that the eternal bulb had blown. That light has always been our version of Motel 6, a sign that no matter when you come by, "we'll leave the light on for you." Well, we had 30 people here last Friday night and the eternal light was off.
Then, I came in on Shabbat morning to lead services from the chapel, as I do each week when we are on Zoom. It lends a feeling of authenticity for me to be there - to, in effect, keep the light on." Well, last week, again about midway through the service, I noticed that the eternal light in the chapel was off too!
What are the odds? I've never experienced that before. Has it ever happened anywhere? And much less, at the3 very place that led the way in going solar - which we did exactly ten years ago.
So God, where were You when the lights went out?
To add to the perplexity, both eternal lights were on as recently as Thursday of last week, so the two eternal lights at TBE must have burnt out at nearly the exact same time - and just as we are bring in the month of lights. The fact that it was Halloween weekend only adds to the spookiness.
What does this all portend? It's good to know that in the Torah, the light was intended to
be re-lit each day (not miraculously always on), so we are in synch with the original practice.
If you can come up with an explanation - your own personal midrash - that doesn't end with "...and therefore TBE is eternally cursed!" please send it my way.
Festival of Darkness
Kristallnacht: The Original “Break the Glass” Moment
A “break the glass moment” evokes the pulling of a fire alarm, and for Jews it also conjures up the final act of a wedding ceremony. Neither act – pulling an alarm or getting married – should be undertaken rashly. Once broken, that glass is shattered forever. Once the act is done, it cannot be undone. It is a step that must be taken with the utmost of gravity.
Eighty three years ago this coming Tuesday, on November 9, 1938, the world faced a similar break-the-glass moment, but the only ones breaking glass were the Nazis. Kristallnacht means literally, the Night of Broken Glass. Historian Alan E. Steinweis wrote:
The Kristallnacht was a monumental development in Nazi anti-Jewish policy for several reasons. It was the single instance of large-scale public and organized physical violence against Jews in Germany before the Second World War. It unfolded in the open, in hundreds of German communities, even those with very few Jewish residents, and took place partly in broad daylight. It inaugurated the definitive phase of so-called Aryanization: the coerced expropriation of German-Jewish property… [It was] the culmination of a brutal trajectory.
Despite this massive pogrom, the world stood by and the German people acquiesced. (Seethis site for more background). Paris, London and Washington DC condemned the riots, but took little action Some ordinary Germans backed the pogrom while others were indifferent. There were also some public condemnations of Kristallnacht (to the extent that such things were possible in Hitler’s Germany. But by that point, the people were powerless to mount significant resistance.
Ultimately, all that happened in response to this deadly pogrom was that America recalled its ambassador after hesitating for four days. That was the strongest international gesture, despite all the front-page headlines. As evil as the Nazis designs were – and as deadly as they would turn out to be – to this point there had not been massive physical violence directed toward the Jewish population.
The Charlottesville pogrom of 2017 was a break-the-glass moment, as was the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue the following year. A break-the-glass moment does not call for a measured response. There are times for equivocation. This is not one of them. There are two sides to almost everything, until the time comes when you either break the glass – or you don’t. Under the Huppah, you can’t be half hitched. When synagogues are burning, you can’t pull the alarm halfway.