Wednesday, April 27, 2022

In this Moment, April 28: What to Do When Lighting Your Yellow Yom Hashoah Candle; Antisemitism at an all-time high; Our Hybrid Year

In This Moment

This Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored
by Jill Swartz Nadel and Mitch Nadel
in honor of Anya's becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

Some of our 7th Graders had a chance to put on tefillin for the first time last Sunday as part of our World Wide Wrap, Thank you to Men's Club for the breakfast and to Stephanie Zelazny for the photo
Shabbat Shalom

With Passover in our rear view mirror, we enter spring with hope for better times to come, despite it all. This week, especially, we look forward to Anya Nadel becoming Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat morning. I'm sending this out a day early in advance of tonight's commemoration of Yom Hashoah.

Yom Hashoah arrives in the wake truly alarming news this week from the ADL2021 was the worst year on record for antisemitism in America. It is deeply sobering to speak in terms of an "all-time high," regarding antisemitism, but to say these words on Yom Hashoah is downright shocking. We know that 2021 in America cannot be compared to the years 1933-1945 in Europe, or 1648 in Ukraine or 1492 in Spain, or 132-135 CE in Eretz Yisrael. That's hefty competition. But the mere fact that things have gotten so much worse here over the last five years (you can see the dramatic jump on the chart below beginning in late 2016 - hmm, what happened then?) just boggles the mind. The audit divides incidents in to three areas, assaults, harassment. and vandalism. According to the report, In 2021, there were 525 reported incidents at Jewish institutions such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish schools, an increase of 61 percent from 327 in 2020. Of the total, 413 were incidents of harassment, 101 were incidents of vandalism and 11 were assaults. About one-quarter of the harassment incidents (111) were linked to anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiments.

So we are in uncharted territory. I grew up swearing never to cloud Judaism in negativity and fear, to get us out from under the smoke and ash polluted skies. But these grey skies have followed us here. We're now doing active shooter drills. But still we live on, as the resilient survivors of the Holocaust have taught us, and as some of them, here and in Ukraine, are indeed teaching us again. And some of those survivors have finally fallen victim to the hatred that has relentlessly pursued them, even to a basement in Mariupol, where a survivor succumbed recently to a Russian attack.
Tonight is Yom Hashoah

A suggestion: As you light your yellow Holocaust memorial candle this evening, (thank you, Men's Club) recite the poem below written by the great Israeli poet Zelda. It is referenced indirectly in today's edition of the Israeli newspaper "Yediot Achronot." The headline reads "For every man and woman there is a name," and the article proceeds to tell stories of victims and survivors, making sure to mention them by name. (The headllne on the bottom is unrelated, referencing a death threat mailed to the Prime Minister. Welcome to Israel!). At 1 PM today (8 PM in Israel) you can watch the ceremony with English translation live on the Yad Vashem website. Or watch it later on tape. Then, this evening, with the lit candle by your side, go to the names database and download names and testimonies. You can find many lists here. Pick them randomly or choose a country or town. This year, many have been focusing on the impact of the Holocaust on Ukrainian Jewry, for obvious reasons. You can find related photos and articles at the Holocaust Encyclopedia's Ukraine page. And then, to top off your personal experience of remembrance, read Zelda's famous poem, along with the poem "Nizkor" ("Let Us Remember") by Abba Kovner. Zelda, born in Chernigov, Ukraine in 1914, immigrated to Jerusalem in 1926 and died in 1984. Her full name was Zelda Schneurson Mishkowsky. She went only by her first name, which was not an uncommon practice from female poets in Israel at the time. Kovner, in 1941, galvanized the divided factions of the Vilna ghetto resistance to join together and fight back against their would-be murderers. Three weeks later, the FPO (United Partisan Organization) was born.

While there is nothing to compare with the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah does not exist in a vacuum. In light of the Putin atrocities in Ukraine and the rise of antisemitism right here at home, the words of Zelda and Kovner gain added resonance, and our lighting of the candle gains added significance. In addition to all of the above, you can also join me at Temple Shalom in Greenwich this evening at 7 for a communal commemoration.
Our "Hybrid" Year

A look back at the programming year as we approach its final two months
It’s been a strange year. One might classify it as “hybrid” year, not only because of the bifurcated nature of our experiences – in person and online – but because we have had to shift focus so often, whether to adjust to new challenges from Covid, or challenges to conscience, such as the invasion of Ukraine. Or the resultant challenges to our unity, stability, and even, to a degree, our sanity, posed by all these other challenges. 

The sweeping social changes that we are experiencing – including more people working from home or quitting their jobs altogether, rapidly rising costs and the increased risks from illness, loneliness and rage – these are bad enough. But add to all of them the unique trials synagogues confront these days. Imagine. We finally return to some semblance of in-person normalcy, only to have to undergo special security drills because of the growing threats of violence directed against Jews. So our “reward” for coming back to the building is the increased possibility of being physically attacked, rather than simply being Zoom-bombed. The ADL declared that 2021 was “an all-time high” for antisemitic incidents in the US, and 2022 looks like it might give 2021 a run for its money.

In the midst of all this confusion and craziness, The Atlantic came out with a notable essay entitled, WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID,” which lays out an impressive case for the stupefying consequences of social media. But for me, the blunt rudeness of the title, implying that we are now, officially, a dumb-as-a-doornail nation, is itself a consequence of the past two years of crazy that we have not yet emerged from. For the sake of clickbait, we’ve forgotten how to be tactful even in the titles of otherwise thought provoking articles.

I look at this and it is no wonder that so many of my clergy colleagues have thrown up their hands and are leaving pulpits in unprecedented numbers, and that prestigious seminaries like Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati have shuttered their doors amidst rapidly declining enrollment.

But despite these trends, and all the craziness, synagogues are needed more than ever. Clergy and laity alike shouldn’t be running away from them. We should be running toward them. You need us. We need us. And we need you.

Whether in person or online, we at TBE have been an oasis amidst the gathering storms (and they’re not really gathering; they’re already here. The UN says we’ll have 30 percent more catastrophic storms – 560 every year – by 2030). Our Zoom Seder was a perfect example. We were not expecting large numbers, given the low rates of transmission at the time. But the transmission rate must have been higher than advertised, because we got a number of last-minute requests from people whose in-person plans had been scuttled by this merciless disease. We shared a sacred moment together, and it was very special. And I came away feeling like we had done a big-time mitzvah. That’s why we’re here. 

These things happen again and again. There is so much to be proud of.

This May and June, we’ll take a few moments to explore what we’ve accomplished and where we are heading, in particular at two events: our annual meeting, and more significantly a few days later with the official, Covid-delayed installation of our "new" cantor. I have such fond memories of my installation as senior rabbi here, back on September 11 (of all days), 1992, which at that time was just any old day.  But we filled that with pomp and emotion, and that is precisely what will happen when we install Cantor Kaplan.  She has already accomplished so much, inspiring us, cheering us and calming us during these most stormy hours. I hope you’ll be able to join us at these events, as we partake in the magic of sustaining a thriving community in the most challenging of times. 

It’s been a hybrid type of year, but we’ll be all-in to celebrate!

Recommended Reading
  • American Jewish Committee Surveys of U.S. and Israeli Jewish Millennials - Significant majorities of American (72%) and Israeli (89%) Jewish millennials say it is important that the American Jewish community and Israel maintain close ties, with 48% of Americans and 46% of Israelis saying it is very important. 80% of millennial Israelis and 70% of millennial American Jews think a strong State of Israel is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people, and 81% of Americans and 70% of Israelis think a strong Jewish community outside of Israel is necessary. 55% of American and 22% of Israeli Jews, ages 25-40, say it is appropriate for American Jews to try to influence Israeli policy, while 36% of Americans and 69% of Israelis say it is not appropriate. the AJC surveys show two communities sharing much in common, also revealed are disturbing trends within the U.S. Jewish community’s younger cohort, including:
  • 28% of American Jewish millennials say that anti-Israel climate on campuses or elsewhere has damaged their relationships with friends, while 44% say it has not.
  • 26% say it is okay, and 66% say it is not okay, to distance themselves from Israel to better fit in among friends.
  • 23% reported that the anti-Israel climate on campus or elsewhere has forced them to hide their Jewish identity. 46% say it has not, and 11% say there is no anti-Israel climate in the U.S.
  • 28% say the anti-Israel climate on campus and elsewhere has made them rethink their own commitment to Israel and 54% say it has not.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |

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