Thursday, December 9, 2021

In This Moment: Dec 10: Living Amphibiously, Growing from Tragedy, Accepting Uncertainty

In This Moment
TBE seventh graders at their mock brit milah last Sunday.
See more photos in our 7th Grade lifecycle album.
Screen Grab of students participating in last Friday's fabulous Hanukkah service.

Shabbat Shalom!

I hope you will be able to join me this evening, as I will be a panelist at the "Shared Roots, Divergent Paths" program with the AJC and Iona College. Tonight's interactive, online program will explore the intersection of faith and civil discourse and feature discussion on the following questions: In a time of extreme polarization in every facet of human life, do our faith traditions contribute to bridging partisan divides? Is there a role for interreligious dialogue in mending the breaches in our attitudes and action toward each other? How can interreligious dialogue contribute to your local community? Click here for Zoom link.

Tomorrow (Friday) night. we'll hear from Fran Ginsburg, who will discuss the sacred work of Stamford's Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), and on Shabbat morning, Rabbi Gerry Ginsburg will give the d'var Torah for the portion of Vayiggash.

Mark your calendars for next Friday night (Dec. 17), when we will have as our special guest speaker at services, Abdallah Salha. Abdallah is a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who is involved in multiple peacebuilding programs including the Jerusalem PeaceBuilders and Creating Friendships for Peace. He's now studying in the US after finishing high school in Norway and spending two gap years first in Senegal and then in Gaza. He is the Director of Communications of the Leonard Education Organization (LE-O), which provides scholarship assistance for under resourced Palestinian youth.

And for the next class in our "New Jewish Canon" series this Tuesday at 7, here are the assigned readings:

Here are some of this week's most intriguing stories:

  • Here's another gift: Hadar has assembled brief video lectures by the great rabbi, Yitz Greenberg. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg began thinking and teaching about the Jewish value of human dignity and the image of God in the late 1950s. These theological ideas transformed the landscape of Jewish thought, helping to pave the way for contemporary ideas of tikkun olam, egalitarianism, and social justice in the Jewish community.

Watch the trailer here, and then the brief talks follow.
Trailer: Conversations with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg
Living Amphibiously

As we prepare to turn the page to 2022, it has become clear to us that life has changed irrevocably. While there is no doubt that our lives improved during 2021 – the successful roll-out of the vaccines and preservation of our democracy after the failed coup of January 6 are two enormous reasons why – still, we feel a sense of unease, with uncertainties abounding. Covid, in all its varying forms, is not going away any time soon, and neither are the anti-democratic fires stoked by the insurrection and Big Lie. Add to that the very real fires (and floods) of climate chaos, which only escalated this past year.

Living with uncertainty becomes possible when we grow from our life experiences. We see that in this week's portion of Vayiggash. Joseph's brother Judah uses his personal tragedy to grow into a person able to risk his own life to save his brother's - at the beginning of the story he participated in nearly killing his brother. Rabbi Neil Loevinger writes:

This is the measure of Judah’s greatness: that he didn’t remain mired in his pain but grew spiritually out of it, taking tragedy and using it as the soil for empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. He was the one to step forward when the hour demanded it because he was the one who knew that to redeem himself out of his own past mistakes and accumulated grief, he had to extend himself for the redemption of others.

How, then, can we learn to live with Covid, accepting a degree of risk that appears permanent? So how do we do that? 

Not like those proverbial frogs in the pot slowly coming to a boil, closing their eyes to the intensifying dangers (although that boiling frog thing turns out to have been an urban legend). We need to be more like the Israelites in Egypt, who had to bear the impact of another plague involving frogs, and then grow from it.

Yes, our ancestors in Egypt had to survive the plague of frogs.

The Torah tells us that some of the Ten Plagues bypassed the Israelites (I believe the expression is “passed over”), but not the first three. The bloody Nile was no less bloody for our ancestors (Ex. 7:21). The frogs were no less froggy, covering the “whole land of Egypt” (8:2). Same holds for vermin (8:13). It says explicitly that the vermin affected “all of Egypt.”

We first hear that the Israelites were spared a given plague only when the fourth plague is announced: "And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land" (Ex 8: 22). Thank God, no flies. For subsequent plagues, the Israelites are often spared, most famously for the death of the first born. But for blood, frogs and vermin, the Israelites had to endure and adapt.

So how does one adapt to a plague. Here’s a hint:

Ribit. Ribit

We fight the frogs by becoming like frogs. By living amphibiously.

We have to learn how to live amphibiously. We need to get used to a hybrid existence, maintaining our social networks both online and in person, because if we have learned one thing over the past two years, it’s that we need social connections, even when physical ones are not possible.

As I write this, the Connecticut Covid infection rate has risen to its highest level in ten months (8.3 percent), this despite a vaccination rate that in Stamford approaches 95 percent (which is also true of TBE). But of course, now we need to look at the rate of booster shots too, along with the infection rate of the new variant, knowing that as long as the large pockets of the world remain unvaxxed and vulnerable, there will be still more new variants to come.

Covid here, Covid there, Covid jumping everywhere!
How do we deal with this? Neither by burying our heads in the sand nor our bodies in the basement. We need to find a sensible medium, which means that we need to be both in-person and online, and able to shift between the two effortlessly. We need to become hybrid creatures. In a word, amphibious.

Right now all our services and most educational events are available online, and Friday night services are also in-person. In the winter, the hybrid option gives us an additional advantage – we never have to cancel due to weather! So, it’s important for you to check our email announcements every week for last minute changes and links. Right now, we are on live stream rather than Zoom for Friday nights, but if we go all-virtual (say, during a blizzard), we’ll switch to Zoom, which means there will be a different link. But you’re used to adapting on the fly by now, right?

For Shabbat morning, we remain all-virtual, but I lead from the synagogue, so that we can use the Torah, which gives the service more authenticity. We use a Zoom format, which allows for more interactivity and participation. For b’nai mitzvah, the service is both in person and on live stream or Zoom, so check your local listings the week of the event. If you want to attend in person, you’ll need to contact our office to find out how.

We are looking to shift to a hybrid service for Shabbat morning in the near future. But that will require a more advanced Zoom set up than we currently have. We are working on it – let me know if you are interested in helping out. It will also depend on trends regarding the infection rate and variants.

Our daily 1 PM minyan will continue to be on Zoom. It has been one of the most successful and important programs since Covid began, bringing comfort and support to so many. But we are also looking to expand to a more hybrid format here. Beginning on January 23 at 10 AM, a hybrid morning minyan will be held weekly – on Sundays only for now – which will take place in our sanctuary and on Zoom.  People are welcome to join us (and bring tefillin if you’ve got ‘em) in person and online. The morning service takes a little longer than mincha, but it will be nice to get back to it. This will replace the 1 PM Zoom-only service on Sundays. The rest of the week will remain at 1 PM and on Zoom only. 

If anyone with a yahrzeit is looking to have an in-person or online morning minyan, especially if your work schedule does not allow you to come to a service at 1 PM, by all means let me know and we’ll try to work it out for that day (it would be helpful if you have 10 people committed to attend, but even if not, we’ll try to find them). We would still have our regularly scheduled 1 PM Zoom minyan that day, but there’s no reason we can’t have more than one service on a given day! 

For the time being, my Jewish Canon adult ed class will continue online – it’s just much more convenient on cold winter nights, and we have people participating from out of state; some other classes and discussions will be in-person. Hebrew School will continue to be both – and it’s so wonderful that most of the kids are now vaccinated. And finally, should you wish to set up an appointment with me, whether for a specific reason or just to shoot the breeze, we can do that either on Zoom or in-person. Email me and we’ll set it up!

Yes, the book of Exodus will have a special meaning for us this year. Life is complicated these days, but it was never easy being green. If we learn to live amphibiously, there will always be frogs here, frogs there, frogs everywhere – which reminds us that we’re the folks who turned a plague into a children’s song.

Plague of frogs? Been there, done that.

Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it!

We can be inspired by this, found in today's New York Times:
Answer to Last Week's Quiz Question:
Can You Identify These?
Our students, assisted by artist Jennifer Levine (and sponsored by TBE sisterhood) produced these graphic depictions of the prayer Hashkivenu and Matisyahu's "One Day." They will be displayed opposite the library in our upper lobby.

Finally, Friday is Human Rights Day. Our Jewish community used to mark this important anniversary with a public ceremony at Government Center each year. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on Dec. 10, 1948 and it may have been the U.N.'s proudest hour. During a week when we are profoundly concerned about maintaining democracy and human rights at home and abroad, we need to be reminded of what is most sacred. Download the poster below and take a few moments to reflect on it. It helps to put things into perspective. (Click here to see it more clearly, as a pdf)

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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