Friday, June 3, 2022

In This Moment, June 3: Pride Shabbat, The Voice of God, Shavuot

In This Moment

This week's Shabbat-O-Gram is being sponsored by Debby Goldberg in honor of Jack's milestone birthday.
The sign below from Thursday's Jerusalem's Pride Parade says "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Shabbat Shalom!

We celebrate Pride Shabbat on Friday evening, in the sanctuary and online, with music, song, poetry and some special words from Leo Mahler, whose d'var Torah for the portion of Bamidbar (which begins the book of Numbers) is entitled "Being Counted in a Way That Counts" Join us at 6 PM (note the time) in person or via livestream. Click here for our Pride Shabbat booklet, featuring the poetry of my cousin, Jeff Avick, who died of AIDS in Stamford in the late 1990's.

And click here for photos, video, and the dvar Torah of Benjamin Winarsky, last week's Bar Mitzvah.
Senator Blumenthal spoke with us in person last Friday night. We are so appreciative of his last-minute appearance at our service to share wisdom and comfort following the killings in Uvalde, Texas. You can listen to his moving comments herewhich expressed some hope that maybe this time, the Senate will make progress on common sense gun legislation. Below is the tally of gun violence for 2022 as of yesterday, according to, with at least 20 mass shootings just since Uvalde. The growing toll is heartbreaking and we need to work toward, at long last, finding a solution.
The upcoming weekend could not be more full. Following last night's installation concert and this evening's Pride Shabbat service, along with services tomorrow morning, we go right from Shabbat into Shavuot. Join us if you can on Saturday night at 8:30, for a brief Shavuot study session focusing on the Book of Ruth, traditionally read on Shavuot, in light of the expected overturning of abortion rights in America. We'll explore how the book can guide us on questions of choice, life, and the rights of women. Joining Rabbi Ginsburg and me in this conversation will be two representatives of Congregation Beth El of Norwalk, including my colleague, Rabbi, Ita Paskind. This week our board joined Norwalk's in voting to unite our Hebrew School programs, in a very exciting new communal venture. So Sat. night will be an opportunity to study together with our new partners in Jewish education. Meanwhile at our service on the first day (Sunday) we'll honor Jack Goldberg on his special birthday and on Monday, Rabbi Ginsburg will speak and we've got Yizkor. All services and events will be available online. So lots going on this weekend at TBE. (More more info, see the flyers on the bottom).

Installation of Cantor Katie Kaplan
What an amazing concert and installation last night, For those who were unable to be here or to watch online, a special Shavuot treat! You can watch the entire concert by clicking here and inserting the password 6911175; although sharing this concert is our gift to you, for those who wish to honor the cantor and her installation with a donation, of course that would be most welcome. I hope you'll enjoy the cantor's inspirational "Long and Winding Road" as much as I did.

Here are my comments delivered at the installation concert last night for Cantor Katie Kaplan:
In a few days we’ll usher in the festival of Shavuot, and once again relive that moment at Mount Sinai when the covenant was signed, sealed and delivered. The scene at the mountain is one of the most dramatic in all of history. And as it reaches the climax, in Exodus 19: verse 19 we read:
וַיְהִי֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר הוֹלֵ֖ךְ וְחָזֵ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃
"And the sound of the shofar was very strong; Moses spoke, and God answered him 'b’kol.' " What does that word "Kol" mean? It’s most often translated as “voice” or “sound” in Hebrew, but what kind of sound?
Some say it means the roar of thunder. God replies to Moses in thunder. Rashi suggests that it’s the crackling of a fire. Or perhaps that sound is the shofar’s cry itself. We often feel like we are hearing God’s voice in that sound.
Or perhaps the “Kol” is a “Bat Kol” – literally the "daughter of a voice," that still, small voice of God, that whisper in the wind heard by Elijah when he returns to the same mountain centuries later. (Click for a comprehensive exploration of the "Bat Kol" concept.)
Here’s another possibility – one that I first heard from my childhood rabbi, Manuel Saltzman, when he spoke at a testimonial honoring my father’s 20th anniversary as cantor at Kehillath Israel in Brookline. It always stayed with me. 
“Elohim Ya’anenu b’kol,” means God answers not with voice, but with instructions about voice. God’s reply to Moses raises the topic of voice. Why? “Metzaveyhu l’shorer,” the midrash answers. At that moment, God commands Moses to chant. God commands Moses not to speak the Commandments into existence, but to sing them into existenceL’shorer. Shir. A song. To sing a Shir hadash. A new song. 
מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃
“Moses speaks and God says, “No. Sing.”
That is why the role of the cantor is still so important to Judaism. That is why music has always been a top priority here at Beth El, why we’ve always placed a premium on musical excellence and had such remarkable cantors. "Good enough" was never good enough. Why? Because there are places where music can go that mere words can barely penetrate. There are heavens that music can pierce that words can only approach. 
Moses talked and God said: No – not enough. Don’t just lecture them. Aim for the emotional jugular. Aim for the soul. Aim for the song.
Cantor Kaplan does that. God blessed her with magnificent talent, as a musician with inordinate technical skills, as a teacher, with boundless love and infinite patience. (Well maybe not infinite.) And beyond those technical skills, as an artist, with a God given voice. A “KOL.” And while others take their talents and run with them, Cantor Kaplan knows that her voice is on loan, and she readily returns to its source, as an offering to God. 
A mitzvah is like a musical score and its performance is an artistic act. But the music in a score is only open to those who have music in their soul. Cantor Kaplan has that.
It’s not enough to play the notes. One must be what you play. It is not enough to do the mitzvah. One must live the mitzvah. From early childhood, Cantor Kaplan has had the music of the synagogue in her soul. She’s a quick study. And with each year she’s added a new generation of Jewish music to her repertoire. The music of the past and of the present are synthesized in her. The music of Sinai and the coffee house and the kibbutz. All of them are important to our eclectic vision. Not only does she make beautiful music, but she arouses song in the hearts of Jews of all ages – she brings out the music in us. We are very lucky to have her here. 
I feel fortunate to have known known her and Eric since they came here 20 years ago, at a time when Cantor Jacobson was bringing her wonderful voice and joyous heart to the service of our community. So it is fitting that Cantor Jacobson is here tonight and, along with Cantor Kaplan’s mentor Rabbi Hazzan Luis Cattan, they will now officially install her as our cantor.  He as president of the Cantor’s Assembly, a position both my father and uncle once held, is charged with strengthening a noble profession that has faced many challenges. But he did himself and the cantorate quite a favor by taking in Katie Kaplan and preparing her for this moment. I can report back to the C.A. that she has learned her lessons well and is now an exemplary shlichat tzibur, a custodian of sacred music. She is, in a true sense of the word, a Bat Kol – a daughter of the divine voice.
We’ve waited so long to do this because of the vicissitudes of Covid. Her tryout was our last major Shabbat service before everything closed down in March of 2020. But those challenges never got Cantor Kaplan down for the past two years. She only proved her mettle even more. And now, although the dangers are still real and at times we are overwhelmed with sadness, we can take a moment to breathe – something she loves to remind us to do with intentionality – and to utter a prayer of thanksgiving – a shehechianu, for this is a true shehechianu moment for our congregation. May her sweet voice be heard on this bima for many years to come. 
Recommended Reading

  • Pre-Holocaust home movie footage leads to an award-winning documentary (JPost); Three minutesThese three minutes of life were taken out of the flow of time by David Kurtz. an American tourist, in 1938. Located 30 miles northeast of Warsaw, Nasielsk is not an important town unless you lived there. It was just a town, but of all the Polish towns destroyed in the Holocaust Nasielsk among the very few that exist in moving pictures, and among just a handful preserved in color. Kurz's family happened to come from there, so he took a detour while traveling in Europe - and recorded the daily joys of this unassuming community, nearly all of whom would be dead within a few years. It's haunting, but in some way reassuring, to have these faces come back to life in full color today. Click here to see the full documentary (before June 5)
  • 20 Jewish Books For Every Age | My Jewish Learning - Shavuot is a festival celebrating Jewish learning. Now, for the People of the Book, here's a different book for every age, all the way up to 120! How many have you read? What are your favorites?

  • Getting Used to It | Commonweal Magazine - One measure of a sick society is how much suffering it can resign itself to. By this measure, the United States isn’t doing very well these days. Much of the country is now treating an ongoing global pandemic—one that has killed more than a million of our fellow citizens—as if it were already behind us, though thousands are still hospitalized every day. An opioid epidemic that took the lives of more than a hundred thousand Americans last year is often spoken of as if it were a natural disaster: lamentable, mysterious, out of our control. Meanwhile, as the rate of real natural disasters steadily increases, we carry on as if extreme weather events were acts of God rather than evidence of climate change, a problem we helped cause and could still correct if we chose to. Call this attitude exhaustion or call it callousness. Just don’t call it resilience: there are things one shouldn’t get over too quickly, and things one should never get used to. This—not the number of people leaving their jobs—is the Great Resignation we should be most worried about.

  • Beethoven and Freedom (Tablet)- Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote, “Beauty itself is in need of redemption. There is so much primitive, cold, cruel, scheming and treacherously false beauty that it is comical to speak about the high potential of remedial energy in beauty. Was not Delilah lovely? Does not the Book of Esther tell us about the developed sense of beauty of King Ahasuerus. ... Is beauty good, and art cathartic, by its very nature?” And that is why I am an observant Jew first and a musician second.... But that does not diminish my debt to Beethoven, my boyhood inspiration. On the contrary: As I deepen my Judaism, I love and understand him better.

  • The Book of Ruth: A story about famine offers a powerful lesson for a pandemic (Forward) - Throughout the four short chapters of Ruth we learn about the fates of vulnerable women who are hungry. Naomi and Ruth are reduced to the most public forms of poverty: to leaning on the kindness of others, to collecting fallen barley stalks from fields. Ruth’s actions in Boaz’s fields tells the story not only of hunger but of its intersection with foreignness. When Boaz asks the youth working his field for Ruth’s identity, he answers that she is a Moabite girl. Her identity as a stigmatized migrant is paramount. This is underscored by Boaz’s directive to Ruth. He tells her that he instructed his workers to not bother her and advises her to glean from his field, where she will be safe. His words imply that she might face abuse or exploitation elsewhere, perhaps because she is a Moabite. These narrative elements reaffirm the key famine motif. The natural disaster of famine is never solely to blame for hunger or suffering: It is human prejudice and avarice that can take advantage of a natural disaster to oppress the others.

  • The Modesty of Ruth (Shira Teluishkin, Tablet) There is a right time, and a wrong time, for naked legs

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot!

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

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