Thursday, December 30, 2021

In This Moment, Dec. 30: Is Covid finally nearing the end (and other messages of hope); Va-era and Voting


In This Moment
A special thank you to all helped in our annual Christmas Eve assistance at local homeless shelters, and a very special thanks to Amy Temple for once again coordinating the effort. Amy reports that TBE provided meals, drinks, gifts, desserts to over 200 people at three different shelters on Christmas Eve. Well over 60 TBE families were involved. Although our efforts were noted in local media, this is for us a pure mitzvah, done not to assist in marketing our brand, but in order to repair the world. That is the spirit behind the many community service and social justice projects that we are involved in, from feeding the hungry and homeless, to welcoming refugees, to combating hate. Why do we do this? As Amy noted, "It is to provide for people in our community that need a hand during difficult times. It is to perform tzedakah. It is to remind ourselves what is important in life and to make sure we keep perspective on things which is not always easy to do in Fairfield County." To all who helped, thank you for setting such a wonderful example and shining a light for us all. Next year, may we be Covid free and ready to resume all our Christmas Eve volunteer activities.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy 2022!
These past few weeks, Covid hasn't been the only thing that has been spiking. Readership of the Shabbat-O-Gram has been too, to record levels. This despite holiday travel and lots of end-of-year email solicitations filling our in-boxes. For me this means that people are hungry for hopeful and meaningful messages, and they're looking to connect. The work of a congregation like ours is more relevant than ever.

Once again, our Shabbat evening and morning services will both be on Zoom only. Find the link in our Shabbat Announcements. In honor of New Years Eve, come aboard with something festive - an outfit, balloons, or a background showing New Years Eve (or Day) somewhere in the world. Or how about bringing your New Year's prayers for the world, or sharing your resolutions. I know that many will have to forego their planned celebrations, so let's celebrate together at services. Rabbi Ginsburg will deliver the d'var Torah on Shabbat morning and Leo Mahler will join me as guest musician on Friday night.

As we head into January, we're going to constantly revisit Covid protocols, but for the next couple of weeks at least, services will continue to be exclusively online.

A reminder that due to the spread of the Omicron variant, community clergy will no longer be able to visit congregants at Stamford Hospital until this surge is under control. If you would like one of the chaplains to visit, please contact the main hospital phone number at 203-276-1000 and ask to speak to the on call chaplain.  Please also contact me at so that I might call patients and include them in our daily healing prayers. No one should be going through illness alone.

I think we need a new TBE Club, the "Wiped-out-by-Covid-club." Well, we have one - it's called services. We come together to kvetch and kvell every day at 1 (or at 7 PM and 10 AM on Shabbat), but I'm also more than happy to set up a one-on-one conversation (on Zoom or phone for now). Email me at to schedule.

Is Covid finally nearing the end?
I find the website Israel 21c to provide lots of feel-good news. So now experts are suggesting that Omicron may be Covid's last act before it finally flames out. “Usually, viruses that are very aggressive are not very infectious, and viruses that are very infectious are not very aggressive,” said Tzvika Granot, who heads a developmental biology and cancer research lab at Hebrew University. Signs are indeed pointing in that direction. Meanwhile, Israeli scientists are turning their attention to other things as well, like discovering the mechanism that causes nerve destruction in ALS and in their spare time, growing affordable cultivated steak.

Licorice Pizza's Homage to Jewish Beauty and The Forward's Homage to Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Here are some interesting reads to spice up your New Year's weekend.

  • The Jewish Way to Make New Year's Resolutions" (MyJewishLearning). Ancient Jewish wisdom offers some sage advice for helping us attain our goals. A Jewish life, anchored in the rhythms of the year, can help us set benchmarks and assess our progress. While the Gregorian calendar marks only one new year’s, the Jewish calendar marks four such occasions. The flow of the year is literally built on the tides of renewal.

  • CLJS Update on AbortionThe Commission on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement came out with an important statement this week, responding to the grave concerns over the future of abortion rights in America. They state that in Jewish law, "neither viability nor a woman's right to choose is the basis of Jewish law on abortion, although they play a role only indirectly; what matters in Jewish law is the woman's life and health, both physical and mental."

  • The global appeal of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" - The 50th anniversary of this classic song gave rise to a moving tribute on CBS's Sunday Morning. The composer (not John Denver) comes from from Massachusetts, not West Virginia, but the message about yearning for home is universal, and the song's impact has been global. West Virginia Univ. asst. professor Sarah Morris explains, "One of the things that I've been thinking about is a Welsh concept called hiraeth – this deep longing for someplace that you can't quite name, that's home but maybe more. It's maybe a place that you've never been, or the home that you've only dreamed of. It's this deep pull toward place." What Jew cannot relate to that? It's something to think about as we make a hasty (though partial) retreat back into our homes for safety or to quarantine or recover from Covid. But can we go home again? Thomas Wolfe didn't think so, when he wrote: You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

I don't know whether or not we can go home again, but either way, we can never stop yearning for it.

  • Check out "How Jewish is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah?’ A Forward investigation in 9 verses." According to the piece, Cohen had second thoughts about the song’s biblical references, But for all of his tinkering, he ended his live versions like this: “Even though it all went wrong/I’ll stand before the lord of song/with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” “It’s a rather joyous song,” Cohen said, and, he argued often, a secular one, the article asserts. He wanted to push the words of praise back to Earth, “to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.” But in his final interview, with David Remnick of the New Yorker in 2016, at age 81 and a few months from his death, his comments had everything to do with religion:

“One of the great themes of Kabbalistic thought is the thrust of Jewish activity, is the repair of God,” Cohen said. “God, in creating the world, dispersed itself. The creation is a catastrophe. There are pieces of him or her or it that are everywhere. And the specific task of the Jew is to repair the face of God. The prayers are to remind God that it was once a harmonious unity.” But now it is not. God is broken; Creation is broken; humanity is broken. There's so much to fix. And that's why this song resonates everywhere. The Forward article contains a number of versions. For Jews (Including this lovely Hebrew version sung by Israeli soldiers), Christians and green ogres, secular and religious alike.

This song is now recited at countless memorial services AND weddings - and bar mitzvahs too. Oh yes, and the occasional Lecha Dodi on Friday nights. It's everywhere, and that is itself a statement of the ultimate Unity that we we seek to forge. A world where weddings and funerals are two sides of the same experience, where broken appearances mask a deep rooted healing. The healing is happening; it just can't be seen.

This shattered song makes us all feel less broken.
This is what voter suppression looks like
Check out this little quiz on the left. It's based on this week's Torah portion of Va-era, which picks up the Exodus narrative from last week's portion. Now. imagine that TBE wants to be sure that you are up to the task of full TBE citizenship before granting you the right to vote. In order to pass - and vote - you have to get ALL of these questions correct. Tell you what - I'm going to give you a huge advantage by making this an open-book test. You can find the portion hereNow, click on the questions to the left to see them more clearly - or click here. Remember, you need to get them all correct. And you have ten minutes to do it. Once you've finished that, check the rest of the pdf to find actual literacy tests given during the Jim Crow era, and see if you would have been able to qualify to vote back then, depending, of course, on your pigmentation. These tests aren't just difficult, they are impossible.

With each question from these actual tests, it becomes clearer and clearer just how cynical and diabolical these voter suppression tactics were. They are no less diabolical now. Click here to find 61 current examples of voter suppression. And the enemies of democracy have gotten more bold since this list was compiled. Here is a recent summary, compiled by the ACLU; and here's the Brennan Center for Justice's roundup of new voter suppression laws that have been enacted or are in the works.

I mentioned last week that I proudly signed on to a letter endorsed by 800 faith leaders asking the political leadership to prioritize voting rights this coming year. "Faith has always powered civil rights movements, from the 1960s to today," Arndrea Waters King said in a statement from Deliver for Voting Rights about the letter. "Now — as always — the faith community is standing up and making it clear: We simply will not stop until voting rights become a reality,” she added. See the faith leaders' letter here (signatures are alphabetical by first name).

The fact that we have slid back to Jim Crow-like tactics is outrageous enough. That these repressive initiatives are being fueled by a Big Lie compounds the sin. Those who cherish our fragile democracy will need to roll up our sleeves as we enter 2022. There is much work ahead of us.

As for the Va-era literacy test, you can find the answers here. If you got them all correct, Mazal Tov! Get ready for BoBeshallach and Yitro, coming soon to a boarded up polling station near you.

Two Songs of Hope
Remember how much we looked forward to turning the page from 2020? As we end 2021, the year that was supposed to be better than 2020 - we're saying the same thing. "Good Riddance Day" was marked this week. But rather than harping on the negative, let's end on a note of hope. Here's David Broza's hit Yihye Tov ("It Will Be Good"), written during the hopeful days of Anwar Sadat and Camp David; it's one of the classic Hebrew songs of all time. And next to it is Amanda Gorman's brand new poem, New Day's Lyric, just released yesterday and uploaded to YouTube only a few hours ago - and just in the nick of time. Read the one while listening to the other; and then reverse them. You'll be doubly vaccinated, and boosted, with hope.
David Broza - YiHye Tov (Things will Get Better) live City Winery, NYC דייויד ברוזה - יהיה טוב
It will be better (יהיה טוב)

I look out of the window
and it makes me very sad,
spring has left
who knows when it will return.
the clown has become a king
the prophet has become a clown
and I have forgotten the way
but I am still here
And it will be better
it will be better, yes
though I break down sometimes
but tonight
oh, tonight,
I will stay with you.
Children wear wings
and fly off to the army
and after two years
they return without an answer.
People live under stress
looking for a reason to breathe
and between hatred and murder
they talk about peace.
And all will be better...
Up there in the sky
clouds are learning how to fly
and I look up
and see a hijacked airplane.
The government and the generals
divide the land,
into "theirs" and "ours"
when will we see the end?
Here comes the prince of Egypt
oh how I rejoiced for him
there are pyramids in (our) eyes
and peace in his pipe
and we said let's complete (it)
and we'll live as brothers
and he then said (let's) advance,
just go out from the territories.
And all will be better...
I look out of my window
to see if all this is real
I look out of my window and muttered my prayer
more advocacy for wolf and lamb
the leopard shall lay down with the goat
But in the meantime you keep
by the palm of your hand
And all will be better...
I look out of my window
maybe a new day will come

Amanda Gorman - New Day's Lyrics. A Spoken Word Poem
“New Day’s Lyric”

May this be the day
We come together.
Mourning, we come to mend,
Withered, we come to weather,
Torn, we come to tend,
Battered, we come to better.
Tethered by this year of yearning,
We are learning
That though we weren’t ready for this,
We have been readied by it.
We steadily vow that no matter
How we are weighed down,
We must always pave a way forward.

This hope is our door, our portal.
Even if we never get back to normal,
Someday we can venture beyond it,
To leave the known and take the first steps.
So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next.

What was cursed, we will cure.
What was plagued, we will prove pure.
Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,
Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,
Where we weren’t aware, we’re now awake;
Those moments we missed
Are now these moments we make,
The moments we meet,
And our hearts, once all together beaten,
Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,
For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.
We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,
But to take on tomorrow.

We heed this old spirit,
In a new day’s lyric,
In our hearts, we hear it:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
Be bold, sang Time this year,
Be bold, sang Time,
For when you honor yesterday,
Tomorrow ye will find.
Know what we’ve fought
Need not be forgot nor for none.
It defines us, binds us as one,
Come over, join this day just begun.
For wherever we come together,
We will forever overcome.
Have a Shabbat Shalom, and a Happy, Healthy and Hopeful New Year.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

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