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, June 23, 2022
In This Moment, June 24: The Mincha Bunch; The Art of the Positive; Mazal tov to our graduates! TBE at the Maccabiah
In This Moment
🎵🎵 Here's the story....of a minyan daily... and we knew that we could daven after lunch...and we hugged from our cyber-boxes...and that's the way we became the Mincha Bunch!
Our afternoon online minyan celebrated the completion of yet another perfect season this week by wearing our new "Mincha Bunch" t-shirts, donated by Pamela Tinkham, who now lives in Florida. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020, we have never once missed having at least 10 worshippers at our online or hybrid minyans! While more of our services are hybrid these days, the online Mincha Bunch will continue. Why mess with a good thing? Join us at 1 PM any weekday afternoon this summer! It's the Mitzvah Heard Round the World!
Suddenly it's summer. This is the final Shabbat-O-Gram before my July hiatus, though circumstances may compel me to drop you a line from time to time. I'll be monitoring incoming emails but will be replying only to urgent matters. Meanwhile, our other clergy and executive director will ably hold the fort. For all those who will be traveling, see the traditional wayfarer’s prayer at the bottom of this email. Given the state of airlines and the price of gas and a pandemic that doesn't seem to want to quit, we’ll need all the prayers we can get!
Our final Bar Mitzvah of the season is behind us (and you can find Xavier Marks' Zoom video and dvar Torah here) and we are settling in for what will hopefully be a time for reflection, relaxation and relief from the omnipresence of both Omicron and inflationary spikes. Ukraine, gun violence and the threats to our democracy and to a woman's right to choose continue to weigh us down, as they should, and now Israel seems headed to yet another election cycle. To paraphrase Dickens, if he had been Jewish, "It's been the worst of times and the 'could-be-worse' of times." By the time I speak to you next, Roe v. Wade could be history (the ruling could come down as soon as today), illiberal forces could be emboldened by Russia's defiance of international norms and gun violence will continue to take lives at unthinkable rates (21,000 already this year).
But maybe this week's gun violence prevention deal in the Senate augurs a glimmer of possibility. Optimism and hope have been running themes of mine these past few months, in sermons and other writings. You'll see it throughout this newsletter as well. Let's hope that when we next communicate, things will really be looking up.
Services through the summer will continue to be available both online and in person. Please "check your local listings," as we'll be Zoom-only on Shabbat mornings July 2 and 16.
Join us for services on Friday night as we welcome back guest cantor Deborah Jacobson, and on Shabbat morning as we read the portion of Shelach and the story of the spies sent to scout out the land. This is also a week to celebrate all those who are transitioning, especially those graduating high school and college. To all those who are moving on to the next phase, I offer this blessing:
A special mazal tov to our High School grads, several of whom are seen in this photo from their B'nai Mitzvah year (see their class album). I sent them a separate email this week, letting them know how proud of all of them we are.
And as we send all our teens off for the summer, special b'hatzlacha (good luck) wishes to TBE's own Nathaniel Harrison, who will be representing the US in next month's 21st Maccabiah games in Israel, in ice hockey. Follow the games here, beginning July 12. This is a huge deal. The Maccabiah is the quadrennial Jewish Olympics, for all ages (10,000 athletes, 42 sports, 80 countries, held since 1932) - not to be confused with the JCC Maccabi games for kids. I'm told that Nathaniel's first match will be played in front of 11,000 fans and President Biden is scheduled to attend as part of his upcoming visit to Israel. It will also be televised. As a teen, I attended the opening ceremonies of the 9th Maccabiah, in 1973 and it was a truly formative experience. We learned about the term "New Jew,"an attempt by early Zionist thinkers to reinvent the Jewish "brand" as muscular, heroic and taking an active role in history. The "New Jew" is the opposite of the intellectual yeshiva-based or even enlightened Jew, said to be preoccupied with esoteric subjects while his body becomes weak. The return to Palestine / Israel was supposed to change all that. And that's how the Maccabiah began.
The Art of the Positive:
Winston Churchill said that the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, while the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.This week's portion of Shelach teaches us the power of positive thinking. Where the ten other spies see only gloom and doom, Joshua and Caleb see possibility. Gloom and doom win out, however, and the conquest of the Land is delayed for a generation.
Today's headlines illustrate how what passes for objective news is really only a matter of perspective. You can check out the front pages of over 800 newspapers around the world each day at the Freedom Forum website and it is fascinating to see how the news is framed. This Hebrew headline from this week, for instance, screams "Again!" "For the fifth time we are going to elections," as if to say, "Oy! We are on an eternal loop of hopelessness, a perpetual Groundhog Day that never allows us to move on." You can see Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid exiting stage right, and Lapid seems to be using the headline as a brace to hold himself upright.
But maybe the headline could say, "This time for sure! We're going to get it right!"
A few years ago, the Stamford Advocate had the infamous banner headline that straddled the line of being antisemitic: "Bat Mitzvah Goes Awry." It followed a party that happened to be celebrating someone's bat mitzvah, where a Norwalk mansion was trashed. The mansion was indeed trashed, but that had nothing to do with the religious ceremony it claimed to celebrate, whose values completely oppose the destruction of property. At that time I put together a packet of materials designed to give us practice in the art of the positive re-frame. Some suggestions emerged as to how the Advocate might have headlined that story without the antisemitic overtones associating a sacred Jewish rite with this profane act of vandalism, something other than "Jews Gone Wild."
I then put forward some other famous headlines, several taken from Chronicles: News of the Past (one of my all-time favorite Hanukkah gifts as a kid), recording great events of Jewish history as if they had been covered by modern journalists. See them here and test your ability to accentuate the positive. The packet also includes a number of suggestions you can use to re-frame negative events in your life, to give Debbie Downer a run for her money.
Instead of "Moses Smashes Tablets of Law," for instance, I might opt for "Second Set of Tablets Good as New," or "God to Moses: Take Two." For "Earth Opens, Swallows Korach and 250" maybe I'd put, "Thousands Survive Freak Quake" or "Korach's Sons Collect Huge Life Insurance Payout, Compose Several Psalms." For "Titanic Sinks" how about "Idea Born for Mega-hit Movie."
In the recommended reading below, I suggest this article from today's Religion News Service feed: Poll: Americans’ belief in God is dropping (RNS). Turns out that in the latest Gallup Poll, belief in God dipped to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017, and the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944.
Bu really, why does this headline have to be so negative? My reaction is, it's amazing that at this time when organized religion has taken such a hit, belief in God is so resilient. Since when do 81 percent of Americans agree about anything? I frankly have trouble believing that the number is so high. In Europe the number is down in the 30s. And, just exactly what does it mean to "believe in God" anyway? For a Jew, belief is not the core issue - deeds count much more than thoughts or intents.
And take a look at this Pew poll today, with the headline courtesy of Ha'aretz: "Survey: Most of the world prefers Biden to Trump. But not Israel". No doubt there is some truth to that, but the headline would lead us to believe that the relationship between America and Israel has become decidedly chilly since January 20, 2021. Nothing can be further from the truth. If you head over to the Pew website, this new survey has a very different headline("International public opinion of the U.S. remains positive"), and you'll find that in fact Israelis overwhelmingly support current American policies. If you look at the graphic from the same survey, you'll see that 83 percent of Israelis view America positively right now, with the Biden administration in power.
Monty Python teaches, You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.What have you lost? Nothing!
The Great Debate: Is the Golden Age of American Jewry Over? (AJC Global Forum)- Lively debate on the classic Jewish question, which basically comes down to "It can't get worse," vs "No, it can." AJC’s signature Global Forum session - the Great Debate featured Bret Stephens, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times; Editor-in-Chief, Sapir and Pamela Nadell, Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History; Director, Jewish Studies Program, American University. They tackled the question: Is the Golden Age of American Jewry Over? Moderated by Laura Shaw Frank, AJC Director, William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life. See also:
Meet Every Jewish Name on the Stanley Cup(Forward) Tampa Bay has the distinction of having the most Jewish names on the Stanley Cup and may add more in 2022 as they are currently in the finals, hoping for a third straight triumph.
Conservative Movement's New Website: Exploring Judaism- ExploringJudaism is a new home for the Torah of Conservative Judaism, embracing the beauty and complexity of Judaism, and our personal search for meaning and learning. There is always something to learn and explore. Our approach is rooted in the ideas that Judaism grows with us, that we’re guided by process, and that there is beauty in the balance.
The History of Your Favorite Israeli Foods -Each ethnic group that immigrated to Israel brought different styles of eating and cooking that have contributed to the modern cuisine of that country. See also: The restaurant of the summer is this new Brooklyn hot spot (NY Post): Shalom to the restaurant of summer 2022: Laser Wolf, an open-air, Israeli-style grill on Williamsburg’s Hoxton Hotel rooftop. Its pricey, protein-powered menu is worthy of its eye-popping view of the Williamsburg Bridge, the towers of Billionaires Row and all the bright lights in between. Named for the character of a butcher in “Fiddler on the Roof,” meat-centric Laser Wolf is run by highlyacclaimed Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonovand his business partner Steve Cook. The duo’s CookNSolo empire boasts 12 places in the US including the original, widely praised Laser Wolf in Philly.
Which European countries are best for Jews? A new study offers unexpected answers. - Jewish Telegraphic Agency -Antisemitic sentiment is especially prevalent in Italy and Hungary, according to multiple surveys. But a first-of-its-kind index combining different measures of Jewish experience found that they are also the best countries in Europe for Jews to live in. The index, unveiled Monday, is based on a study that combines polling data and policy information to create a single quality-of-life metric for Jews in the 12 European Union countries with sizable Jewish communities, according to Daniel Staetsky, a statistician with the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research who wrote the report for the European Jewish Association in Brussels. “The goal with this report is to take the excellent data we already have about how Jews feel, about how prevalent antisemitism is, and combine it with government policy measurables,” Staetsky said during a conference held by the European Jewish Association in Budapest.
Who Is Yair Lapid, Israel’s Likely Next Prime Minister? (Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl). Lapid will (apparently) finally get his chance to lead, if only for a few months. “The ideological descendants of Yigal Amir are sitting today in the Knesset,” Lapid declared as he was putting together the coalition last year. “They receive legitimacy; they are welcome guests in all the studios. If we had not performed this miracle, the government of change, they would now be ministers in the government.” Those words still are true. The future of Israel's democracy, as with America's, hangs in the balance this fall.