Thursday, March 30, 2023

In this Moment: A Week That Changed Everything

In This Moment

Happy Passover!

There will be no scheduled "In This Moment" next week.

Urgent missives will be sent as events warrant.

Best of luck to the UConn Men's Basketball team in this weekend's Final Four - and speaking of UConn, mazal tov to TBE's Gary and Phyllis Gladstein on the dedication last night of the Gladstein Family Human Rights Institutewhich I had the distinct pleasure of attending. The Human Rights Institute is already one of the leading centers in the world in research, training and outreach in the crucial area of human rights.

Israel's front pages rang with the news of massive protests against the firing of Defense Minister Gallant (called on this front page, "one of the most dramatic events in the annals of Israel"), followed by the Prime Minister's decision to pull back the court legislation temporarily, "Netanyahu: Suspend the Legislation." See translation of the dramatic description of columnist Nadav Eyal below (BTW, there is one Google Translate glitch here - Netanya became the mythical town of "Nichanya.")

This Friday evening, we'll be joining many other communities who are dedicating this Shabbat Ha-Gadol ('The Great Shabbat," which always occurs just before Passover) as a Shabbat of Solidarity, where together we will raise our voices for Israeli peace and democracy. Here is a source sheet with FAQs about weakening democracy in Israel. We should see this week's historic events as no more than a temporary reprieve. An essential step, but only one step along a tortuous path that could either lead to a better future for all Israelis or descend into civil strife.

  • See also Things fall apart (TOI) - The firing of Defense Minister Gallant brings to a climax an astonishingly fast and wholly self-inflicted collapse of the Israeli right

  • To okay overhaul delay, Ben Gvir gets promise for ‘national guard’ under his control (TOI). See also: Ben-Gvir’s Militia: The Nightmare Keeping Israel’s Weary Protesters in the Streets (Haaretz) “I believe this whole pause in the legislation for negotiations is a delaying tactic in order to assemble Ben-Gvir’s militia in preparation for the coming civil war,” one particularly alarmist acquaintance told me. Similar doomsday visions are being batted around in the media regarding a militia that answers to a minister who made his name as a rabble-rousing extremist. The concern is that state budgets and resources will flow to extremist hilltop youth in the West Bank and the notorious La Familia thugs affiliated with Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, to be used as attack dogs against unruly Palestinians and leftist protesters.These nightmare scenarios run deep enough to bring tired protesters back onto the streets. Protests were planned for Wednesday night in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem under the banner “Say No to Ben-Gvir’s Private Army.” See also: SS POLICE STATE (Holocaust Encyclopedia) - An important tool of Nazi terror was the Protective Squad (Schutzstaffel), or SS, which began as a special guard for Adolf Hitler and other party leaders.

A Week That Changed Everything

The significance of this week for Israel, the Jewish people and for democracy around the world cannot be overstated. With the caveat that this thing is not over, and with the knowledge that this government will still do anything to enact its autocratic agenda - for instance, the creation of a private army of thugs with which Itamar Ben Gvir may plan to pummel protesters, Arabs and God knows who else. That the nation came together to defend democracy is unprecedented, a watershed moment. Polls show a large majority understood the dangers, including many Likud voters. New polls show a marked shift to the center, leaving the current extremist right-wing coalition far short of a parliamentary majority. Benny Gantz, the most recognized right-centrist leader, would take LIkud votes that Netanyahu has locked up for a generation.

And that, in the end, might be what moved Netanyahu to flinch - even more than the half million Israelis who spontaneously took to the streets on Sunday night after he canned the defense minister, his "Sunday Night Massacre." But how could anyone not be stirred by the shutdowns at the airport, on the roads, schools, businesses, military bases and just about everywhere else?

This victory is fragile, but it is real. It will be hard for Bibi to reverse it, because the nation is onto him. He jeopardized his country's security simply to stay out of jail.

As I was driving home from an event last night, my music feed played the classic Israeli song, "Al Kol Eleh." This prayer - it really is more prayer than song - calls on God to protect all that is important to most Israelis.

Guard what little I’ve been given

Guard the hill my child might climb

Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen

Not be plucked before its time.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,

Let your mercy be complete

Bless the sting and bless the honey

Bless the bitter and the sweet.

While the song is often associated with the uprooting of a settlement in northern Sinai after the peace treaty with Egypt, its sentiments are shared by Israelis across the political spectrum, people who are fearful that their carefully cultivated gardens will be uprooted. For some - Jews and Arabs alike - the song may be speaking about a village / settlement / town, or an orchard or olive grove - or the entire land. Especially in this month of spring, when the fields and forests look so breathtakingly beautiful that a blessing is called forpeople walk the length and breadth of a land that is worth dying for, a land they all love - a land that they fear could be taken away.

Passover is a festival both of springtime beauty and national liberation. This month of Nisan reminds us that freedom, like the land, is worth dying for. The ancient Israelites put their lives on the line by smearing the doorposts with lamb's blood in full view of their armed overseers. As the final plague struck, nothing could stop them from taking to the streets and declaring that they had had enough. Dayenu!

Israelis have fought so many times for their land and for their freedom. Some say its War of Independence is still being fought. But this was the first time they were called upon to fight for something else: a way of life, a particular system of governance that isn't even native to that land - it is a Greek import, of all things. But unlike statues of Zeus or plates of souvlaki, democracy is an import that has enabled the state to thrive for 75 years. And while the promise of democracy has yet to be fulfilled for many Israelis and Palestinians, it still offers the best hope of eventually getting there.

This week, Israelis took to the streets and put their lives on the line for democracy. Not for the land, not for Jewish independence, not for freedom in the abstract. But for this particular brand of freedom, a vision of equality, justice and a better life for all its citizens. That has never happened before.

Americans have fought for democracy many times, sometimes being duped by an inflated sense of manifest destiny (and the inflated egos of corrupt leaders) into foolish wars of choice.

But what happened this week was pure, spontaneous and desperate, like the American foray into World War Two after Pearl Harbor, the purest American defense of democracy yet, where failure was not an option. The current war in Ukraine has that same feel. This fight on the streets of Israel has clear, definable consequences. Losing it would be a catastrophe for human rights, minority rights, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights. Losing it means a kleptocracy and corruption will reign. Losing it means severing that sacred bond that unites Israel and the diaspora. Losing it means endangering that precious bond between Israel and America.

This week it was Israelis on the streets; they were fighting for their own future but they were also fighting for the rest of us. For Hungarians blindsided by Orban and Ukrainians genocided by Putin. For Poles and Brazilians and for Americans still traumatized by January 6. They were fighting for the Uighurs in China and for the memory of those who wept as the Reichstag burned in Berlin. This week the chances of an illiberal coup in Israel were reduced - a little. Someone stood up to the bully. That's enough for all of us to pull back and remind ourselves what they - and we - are fighting for.

Bless the sting and bless the honey

Bless the bitter and the sweet....

And Bless our precious checks and balances.

Bless the protections of our most vulnerable citizens.

Our courts and parliaments,

Our Jewish values and Basic Laws

Bless our orchards and our human rights too.

Bless our democracy.

For the first time, Israelis were willing to lay down in the middle of a highway and to die for democracy. And that may be the fight that finally unites them.

Have a bitter-and-sweet Pesach.

Gabriel Parker Bar Mitzvah

Read Gabe's dvar Torah, watch the service and see assorted screen grabs on his Bar Mitzvah page, by clicking here.

Tonight: Two Passover Programs for the Price of One!

7: 00 PM - "Introduction to Passover," part of our Intro to Judaism (ITJ) Course

7:45 (Approx) - Maxwell House Haggadah, with Michael Feldstein


And that price? FREE!

See below a video link for last week's ITJ session on the Talmud.

See also Source Packet for Talmud session and Talmud words and phrases.

A TBE Time Capsule: B;nai Mitzvah Class Yearbooks, 1988 & 1990

As I've been rummaging through old files, I came across something of particular interest: the B'nai Mitzvah yearbook put together by our 7th graders in 1988, my first year in Stamford. At the time, as assistant rabbi, I was teaching the 6th grade and was not directly involved in the B'nai Mitzvah preparations. So this project gave me a chance to get to know the 7th grade students individually and put together a meaningful keepsake. It also was an opportunity to pilot the B'nai Mitzvah Booklets that I would develop more fully when I became the senior rabbi in 1992. Thousands of those booklets have been produced in the years since. Three main features were introduced in these yearbooks: the d'var Torah, family tree and autobiographical sketch. Many of the students who appear here are still connected to the TBE community, some with grown children of their own. In so many ways, this yearbook, compiled 35 years ago, is a living time capsule that will bring tears and chuckles to anyone who knew - or still knows - these students.

Click here to see the yearbooks.

Recommended Reading

  • 10 reasons why the Earth’s future is better than you think (JPost Magazine, Avi Jorisch) - A series of charts that will make you feel a lot better about the direction of our planet (except for the storms, sea level, famines and refugees...) In the fields of economic progress, health, social services and technology – these graphs show that, perhaps for the first time in history, human beings can exert significant control over what happens to our species and our planet, and that our future is better than most of us think.

  • Shul shopping’ in New York: A Jewish millennial’s two years of wandering (RNS) A synagogue described to us as “simultaneously a nursing home and a fraternity house” completely lived up to its billing. One memorable service incorporated live rock with a concert-quality light show — great for Phish fans, but we didn’t want Shabbat to feel as if we’d dropped acid. At another community, we were left standing with our Shabbat dinner plates in our hands, nowhere to sit, after we were asked to make room at the table for a visiting rabbi and his wife.  are myriad options for Jewish community life in this city. Since our people wandered the desert for 40 years, perhaps we too are bound to wander the five boroughs looking for a place that feels like home.

  • All the Jewish MLB players to watch in 2023 (JTA) Last year, 17 Jewish players appeared in a game — a likely record. This season, the number could be even higher. The slate of Jewish players in the game this year features stars such as Max Fried and Alex Bregman, on-the-rise big league talent like Harrison Bader and Dean Kremer, and an impressive wave of minor league prospects on the cusp of the majors. See also Basic Baseball Terms in Hebrew.

(beysbol) בֵּיסבּוֹל 

Solomon Schechter, the first president of the

Jewish Theological Seminary of America,

said to a class of rabbinical students,

“Gentlemen, in order to be a success in the American rabbinate, you must be able to talk baseball.”  

Robert Kraft's Foundation to Combat Antisemitism launches 'Stand up to Jewish Hate' blue square campaign - Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced Monday that his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism is launching a new national campaign aimed at stopping hateful acts against Jewish people. The Foundation to Combat Antisemitism is establishing the blue square emoji, which is already on all smartphones, as a "simple, but powerful symbol of solidarity and support for the Jewish community." During the campaign, the blue square will take up 2.4% of television and digital screens, billboards, and social media feeds. That number symbolizes that Jews make up 2.4% of the American population, yet are the victims of 55% of religious-based hate crimes. For more information, including on how to buy a blue square pin, visit Stand Up To Jewish


Download your sale of Hametz form here

Passover Guide for the Perplexed (Rabbi Joshua Hammerman)

Thursday's Israeli Front Pages

Yediot (Hebrew)

Ha'aretz (English)

Ha'aretz (Hebrew)

  • The Hidden Meaning of Karpas (MJL) - Karpas not only represents the springtime. It represents Joseph’s coat of many colors. What lesson does this teach? Why would we need to consider Joseph’s coat at the Passover seder? Isn’t that story more of a warning against parental favoritism and sibling rivalry? What place does it have at the Passover celebration?

  • When Moses Went Through DeMille (Commentary) - When preparing his production of The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille asked his head of research for advice about how the voice of God speaking from the burning bush should sound. The researcher came back to him with an ancient rabbinic commentary stating that God spoke to Moses on that occasion with the voice of Moses’ own father, Amram.

  • Assorted Haggadot from - Mix and match from dozens of themed options, including Schitt's Creek Haggadah, Ukraine, Meditation, Golden Girls, Hunger, Heroes, Sephardic, Refugees, Justice, Secular, Feminist, Inclusion, Pardes, and good old traditional.

  • Looking for a Chat GPT Haggadah? Check out these two prompts and then ask, at your seder, whether Artificial Intelligence enhances or diminishes our freedom:

Prompt: Reimagine Dayenu in the style of a Peloton instructor giving an inspirational speech. 

Chat GPT:

Alright Peloton tribe, it's time to saddle up and get ready to ride! Today's class is all about gratitude and we're going to start by celebrating with the traditional Passover song, Dayenu!

Now, I know you may be thinking, what does this have to do with our workout? But let me tell you, gratitude is a powerful motivator. When we take a moment to reflect on how far we've come and all that we have, it gives us the energy and strength to keep pushing forward.

So as we ride to the beat, I want you to focus on each line of the Dayenu song and think about what you're grateful for. Maybe it's your health, your family, your friends, or your ability to ride this bike. Whatever it is, hold on to that feeling and let it fuel you through this workout.

And remember, just like the Israelites in the song, we've come a long way to get here. We've faced challenges and obstacles, but we've persevered and we're stronger because of it. So let's show our gratitude by giving it our all today.

Are you ready? Let's do this, Peloton tribe! Dayenu, dayenu, we're grateful for this ride!

Let's ride!

  • See another Chat GPT prompt below:
  • Other Passover Packets:

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A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

Monday, March 27, 2023

TBE B'nai Mitzvah Commentary: Gabriel Parker on Vayikra, March 25, 2023


Video of the service:


Gabriel’s Dvar Torah:

My portion, Vayikra, describes an ancient system of worship that seems very strange and is not at all like the way we worship today.  For one thing, the main feature was the killing of animals offered to the priests by the Israelites. This might seem merciless, but most of these animals were then cooked and eaten by the priests.  Jerusalem must have like seemed like the world’s biggest barbecue place – which all you meat eaters can appreciate. 

Still, killing animals doesn’t seem like the best way to run a religious service. I’m glad we don’t do it anymore. And so is my dog, Biscuit. 

This system ended when the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE.

When that happened, everything changed dramatically.  The old leaders, the Cohanim, no longer served a purpose, because the sacrifices could not continue.  So, a new form of worship was created – prayer.

And new places to pray, synagogues.  

And new leaders – rabbis. 

And the most important object was not the animal or the altar – but the Torah, which could be taken anywhere.  So, Jews could form communities everywhere.

At that moment, Judaism changed completely.

But here’s the point. We don’t do them, but we still remember the sacrifices, and we recall them in many ways in our rituals. Some people actually do want to bring them back – but we’re not going to go there.

Why don’t I love the idea of animal sacrifices? I must confess, I am an animal lover.  Biscuit, who unfortunately couldn’t be here today, would agree with me that sacrifices and shedding blood in a place of worship are not a good idea.  So I’m glad we moved on to different things, like prayer, a little bit of wine and delicious hallah.

I don’t understand why God would accept the gift of a sacrifice of one of God’s own children.  And yes, I think animals are also God’s children, just like we are.  I think we were all created in God’s image – we just happen to be in the form of God’s most evolved image.

And even more than that; since I think of a soul as a form of consciousness, I believe that animals have that too.  They are also sentient beings who can think and act.  It’s hard to believe that God would have wanted one of his creatures killed as a gift.  In fact, rather than sacrificing animals, my mitzvah is to help animals in need of help.  In honor of Biscuit, I am donating money to ROAR, the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue.

Fortunately, we’ve been able to adapt and change from the ancient system of worship.

The prayers and Torah and haftarah readings that I am leading, are just as powerful in their own way as the old sacrifices used to be.  And there’s a lot less to clean up.  But at the same time, I realize that new forms of Judaism may evolve over the coming years.  In a real sense, I am where the past and future come together.

As I am the connection between past and future, so is every other Jew.  Each of us can make meaningful choices and changes to Judaism and wider world.

While Judaism is nothing like it was back in temple times and nothing like it will be in another thousand years, there is something that links it all together – and right now that thing is me.

Even here at Beth El, my family forms a link that has lasted for five generations.  And who knows, maybe in a hundred years, someone from my family will be standing right here – another generation coming up to the Torah.

As I become a bar mitzvah today, I realize that Judaism is forever changing, dor l’dor, as they say in Hebrew, and today I take my place at the forefront of a new generation.

Assorted Screen Grabs:

Sunday, March 26, 2023

7th Grade TBE 1988 and 1990 Class Yearbooks

As I've been rummaging through old files, I came across something of particular interest.  This is the yearbook put together by our 7th graders  in 1988, my first year in Stamford.  I wanted to coordinate this project because at the time, as assistant rabbi, I was teaching the 6th grade and had very little to do with the B'nai Mitzvah class.  So this gave me a chance to work with the 7th grade students individually and put together a meaningful keepsake (which I doubt most of them actually kept).  It also was an opportunity to pilot a concept that I would develop more fully when I became the senior rabbi in 1992, the B'nai Mitzvah booklet.  Three main features are introduced here: the d'var Torah, family tree and autobiographical sketch.  It's a formula we follow to this day.  Many of the students who appear here are still connected to the TBE community, some with teens of their own.  Sadly, a few have passed on and are no longer with us.  In so many ways, this yearbook, compiled 35 years ago, is a true historical document, a living time capsule that will bring tears and chuckles to anyone who knew - or still knows - these students. 

Here's 1988's

And here is 1990's 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

In this Moment: Israel: Jewish AND Democratic; a unicorn and a classic movie; finish lines and picket lines; happiness, tyranny and water lentils


The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored

by Cynthia and Adam Parker in honor of their son, 

Gabriel, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

In This Moment

TBE in Israel: Finish Lines & Picket Lines

Above: TBE's Talia Raich completing last week's Jerusalem Marathon.

Below: Democracy protesters outside Tel Aviv Museum,

photographed by TBE's Carol Krim

Israel: Jewish AND Democratic

The recent passing of Topol brought many of us back to his landmark roles, particularly Tevye in the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof." He has been eulogized, deservedly, as Israel's greatest international star, its "most famous export since the Jaffa Orange."

But within Israel, he would have to climb very high to eclipse another actor and singer, who for over fifty years has been Israel's Frank Sinatra, an actor, TV personality and musician with a voice beyond compare, Yehoram Gaon. Gaon is not nearly as famous as Topol outside the country, but at home he is a treasured institution, and one with crossover appeal, generationally and, more important, ethnically.

On a Saturday night in the the summer of 1973, as part of my teen tour, I had a true Israeli experience - a trip to the movies, where we got to see whether Israelis really did roll empty soda bottles down the aisles (they did) and spit out the shells of sunflower seeds, howitzer-like (yes again). The theater was packed, in part because Israelis didn't yet have much to watch on TV, but also because of the featured film. And for this teenager on his first trip to Israel, the movie was life-altering.

"Kazablan," considered Israel's "best and most beloved musical," is part "West Side Story" and part "Fiddler on the Roof," with a touch of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and early '70s blaxploitation flicks - but with a much happier ending than either "Fiddler" or "West Side Story," (and, depending on who you are rooting for, "JC Superstar" as well). Gaon plays a Moroccan-born misfit, a Sephardic street gang member in Jaffa who falls in love with a wealthy fair-skinned Ashkenazi woman. Israel's ethnic divide plays itself out before us, as it does to this day.

The current constitutional crisis has its roots in longstanding grievances felt by North African and Middle Eastern Jews who experienced systemic discrimination dating from the earliest days of the state. These Israelis have long felt that the courts were stacked against them. The judiciary has always had an Ashkenazic imbalance. That said, it is equally clear that these imbalances can be corrected, with a little tinkering - okay, maybe a lot of tinkering - which would include a constitution, and most especially a bill of rights. The closest Israel came to enacting a constitution has been a series of Basic Laws, in particular one enacted in 1992 enshrining human dignity and liberty as a foundation of the state.

The draconian measures being cynically enacted right now are intended to do far worse than settle old scores. The goal is to intensify ethnic grievance and parlay it into the end of democracy through the elimination of the judiciary as the only check on the power of the intertwined executive and legislative branches, all centralized in the person of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some call that a dictatorship. But the plan is not working. The old grievance fault lines are not holding, and the country has united, shockingly but resoundingly, against the coup. Most of those in power realize that now. The question is whether any of them have the courage to jump ship and overturn this overturning.

In "Kazablan," this Ashkenazi - Sephardi battle take center stage alongside generational, religious and economic conflicts. This tension is alleviated by some of the greatest songs ever written for the Israeli stage and screen. Two of the songs form a perfect backdrop to our current quagmire, and they present the only way out.

Click below to see the full film with English subtitles, a real treat if you have a couple of hours to spare.

One of these songs is, "Kulanu Yehudim," ("We Are All Jews,") about 14 minutes in. It celebrates the common destiny that links all Jews together, despite our many differences, and it mocks those overblown superficialities that divide us. Sometimes it seems like Jews argue simply for the sake of arguing.

The second song is "Democratia," ("Democracy"), about 40 minutes in, another rousing showstopper, exposing the imbalances of Israeli politics amidst the cynicism of those who have never gotten their due. Despite the cynicism, you don't walk away wanting to junk the whole system. It's a flawed system, the song is saying, but it's OUR flawed system.

See the lyrics of "Democratia" below, translated by Seth Ward. This brilliant musical demonstrated, fifty years ago, that the only road to harmony is one where those two songs, and the principles they enshrine, can coexist in the same libretto.

This week it was revealed that Israel placed fourth on the world happiness scale, its highest placement ever. The survey was taken before this horrid new government took the reins and began trying to ruin the country . No doubt the happiness score would be lower if measured now, but if the country comes through the current crisis with its democracy intact, it will be that much stronger for having fought through all the grievances and cynicism that kept Kazablan from receiving the respect he so coveted (his signature song speaks to that - about ten minutes in. "Kol HaKavod" became the best-selling record up until that time in Israel's history).

When I came out of that movie theater in Jerusalem, my connection to Israel was cemented even more firmly than it had been already. Yehoram Gaon played the perfect antihero, one that could cure us of our addiction to the Americanized, sanitized and idealized Ari Ben Canaan of "Exodus." Kazablan gets into trouble, but he dreams of his mother's Sabbath table back in Morocco. He's Sephardi and proud, Jewish and proud, Israeli and proud.

I even went and got myself one of those Kazablan caps and wore it out.

The message here is that Israel, at its best, does not have to compromise between being Jewish and democratic. If "Kulanu Yehudim" and "Democratia" could coexist in one musical fifty years ago, Jewish peoplehood and democracy can now as well. It doesn't have to be a compromise. It's not a zero sum game. If Israel can figure out how to become a more perfect union, then the Jewish people as a whole will become more perfectly united. Israel's other minorities will benefit as well. And all the divides will begin to heal.

The alternative is an abyss too perilous to contemplate, an Israel where, in a circular firing squad death-dance of the macabre, the Supreme Court strikes down a Knesset ruling intended to strike down the Supreme Court, and the military and police are forced to decide which government to follow. Oh yes, and the defense minister has threatened to resign if the new laws go through.

The next few weeks will be fateful ones, in Israel and America too, where democracy will also continue to be tested by the expected indictment of a former president (multiple times).

So much is at stake right now, and the outcome remains very much in doubt. Tevye and Golda packed and left Anatevka. Tony and Maria met their tragic demise on the streets of New York. But Kaza did not run or die, and new possibilities sprouted from the Jaffa sand.

The film could not end more optimistically, despite all the damage done. Fittingly. "Kazanblan's" finale takes place at a bris (another great song).

We need to give our current drama a happy ending too.

Move over Topol, move over Yehoram Gaon....

...There's a new kid in town. Noa Kirel, 22, the perfect fusion Israeli, of Sefardi-Ashkenazi-Mizrahi descent, has burst onto the music scene and will be Israel's featured singer at this year's Eurovision contest. Here are 18 things to know about her. The 19th is that she is considered one of the favorites to win the contest. And her song, "Unicorn," has a fabulous message that can be understood on a number of levels, from building confidence and pride for young girls, to overcoming old prejudices, to being change agents. Anyway, here's the official video, and beneath that, a new video highlighting Israel's illustrious Eurovision history. A welcome break from current events.

Recommended Reading and Watching

Thursday's Israeli Front Pages

Jerusalem Post

Yediot (Hebrew)

Ha'aretz (English)

Ha'aretz (Hebrew)

The story below is from Thursday's front page of Ha'aretz, English and Hebrew.

  • News 12 coverage of Ronnie Fein's Passover cooking demonstration on Monday at TBE.

  • This Passover, Israel will recall ancient freedom under the threat of modern tyranny (David Horovitz, TOI) - As I write these lines, the so-called “Constitution, Law and Justice Committee” in our sovereign parliament is initializing legislation that if, or more probably when, enacted into law next week, will begin the process of providing our duly elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with many of the autocratic powers of a modern-day pharaoh. The legislation, with which Netanyahu’s minions were still tinkering this week even as they crushed opposition objections to its democracy-destroying terms, shatters the independence of our court system. It will enable Netanyahu’s majority coalition to fill the next two vacancies on the High Court when its president, Esther Hayut, and a colleague reach retirement age this fall, to then appoint one of those two new appointees as court president, and gradually but inexorably politicize the entire judiciary. As our overlords steamroll their laws through parliament, Israel’s Zionists, patriots and democrats will attempt to legally resist. The political opposition, and a range of activists, will petition those High Court justices to strike down the legislation before it can strike them down. But were the court to rule in favor of preserving its essential independence, this, in the skewed vision of our “justice” minister Yariv Levin, “would mark the crossing of every red line.” Directly threatening Israel’s top court, the self-styled champion of Israeli democracy declared on Monday: “We certainly won’t accept it.” If the Netanyahu coalition’s brutal insistence on unleashing its revolution just in time for Passover should highlight anything, however, it is that the revivedJewish sovereign nation cherishes its freedom and will not easily be denied it. Netanyahu won the election, but not a mandate to empty out the democracy that restored him to power.

  • Noa Tishby talks about judicial reform on 'Real Time with Bill Maher (JPost) - “What's happening in Israel right now, what we're seeing is literally democracy on full display. It's actually quite extraordinary. So, let's backtrack for a little bit. So, a few months ago Benjamin Netanyahu won the election and because of how the parliamentary system is built in Israel, he started this coalition, which is on the extreme side, it's right-wing, more religious. As it happens in the US, when new governments come in, they jump in to make sweeping changes quite quickly, and that's what this government decided to do,” Tishby continued. “They suggested a judiciary overhaul, which is going too far, and the Israeli people are basically rebelling against it.” See video here

  • Israeli Democracy Faces a Mortal Threat (David Grossman, The Atlantic) Tectonic plates are shifting beneath our feet. I imagine that the people who are trying to hijack the country, who have the audacity to rewrite the Israeli legal system, were not expecting such widespread and zealous resistance. Even the protesters, those who object to the so-called reform, seem surprised at their own founts of fervor, passion, and courage. Hundreds of corporations and organizations, individuals including current and former Shin Bet and Mossad officials, tech executives, El Al pilots, and many other public and private entities are joining the protesters’ ranks every day. Thousands of reservists, who constitute the army’s backbone, have announced that they will not report for duty. Even retirement-home residents in wheelchairs are out on the streets, protesting what they see as the destruction of the state they fought for.

  • Opinion: What if climate change meant not doom — but abundance? (Rebecca Solnit, WaPo) -Much of the reluctance to do what climate change requires comes from the assumption that it means trading abundance for austerity, and trading all our stuff and conveniences for less stuff, less convenience. But what if it meant giving up things we’re well rid of, from deadly emissions to nagging feelings of doom and complicity in destruction? What if the austerity is how we live now — and the abundance could be what is to come?

  • See also A day in the life of an oak tree, from mistle thrush in the morning to mice at midnight (Country Life) Our friends the trees have an unremarkable life, or so it seems to us. They come into leaf, their fruit drops, or is gorged on by birds and the winds of autumn strip them of their dressing to leave them as the cold, bare sentinels of winter. However, if we were to stand, tree-like ourselves, in a British copse and watch a single oak tree for an entire 24 hours — say when spring hatches out of winter — what would we see?

  • Are American Jews the most loved and hated religious group at the same time? (Forward) - Among all religious groups, Americans like Jews the most. That’s according to a Pew Research Center survey out this month. “You’d think in these dark times,” writes columnist Rob Eshman, “this bit of good news would be worth spreading. You’d be wrong.” Why don’t Jewish organizations tell this story? “It could be that it contradicts a dominant narrative of victimhood,” Rob argues. “A cynic might say no Jewish defense organization ever raised a dime telling donors that Jews are well-liked. But we may also take our good standing for granted, forgetting the past generations of American Jews that had to struggle against institutional discrimination in order for us to gain such widespread acceptance.” Jewish Americans are subject to the same problems as all Americans.“Hate crimes are up for everyone. Mass shootings are up for everyone,” Rob writes. “There is less tolerance and civility across the board.” An ADL report from last month had this headline: “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2022.” None of the victims were Jews.

  • Atificial Intelligence: The Newest Revolution in Torah Study? (Jewish Action) The app basically recreates a scientific edition of rabbinic texts. At the swipe of an icon you can [decipher] abbreviations and see footnotes identifying sources and subsequent quotations of the text. For example, there are later commentators who quote Moses Naḥmanides. If I’m studying a line in Naḥmanides’ commentaries and I want to know every single latter authority who quoted this particular line, I can now easily access that information. You can also see the different ways the Naḥmanides has been quoted. . . . You can actually compare all the different versions with the differences highlighted. Notes and paraphrases of later sources can be systematically identified, and digitized manuscripts can be compared.

  • Which Alcoholic Drinks Are Kosher For Passover? (MyJewishLearning). Yes, Vodka CAN be made Kosher for Passover - though most often it's not. But really, after four cups of Manischewitz, who needs anything else? For that matter, who needs Manischewitz

  • The Kveller Haggadah (co-authored by TBE's Gabrielle Birkner!) - The Kveller Haggadah is for curious kids — and their grown-ups. The Passover seder shouldn’t feel like a long to-do list — it’s an adventure! Designed to guide families through an epic journey from slavery to freedom, we go deep into Jewish traditions in a kid-friendly way, yet we don’t overlook the dramatic tensions of the Passover story. We created the Kveller Haggadah to promote curiosity, even when there are no easy answers.

  • Download Hadar's Pesach Reader -The first mishnah in Pesahim tells us to search for hametz by the light of a small, handheld candle. Why use a little flame and not a torch? It forces us to come closer, notice the finer details, and discover what might otherwise be overlooked. With insights from Hadar faculty and activities for children and families, this Pesah reader is your guide for noticing, wondering, and finding new meaning in the holiday. See also The Maggid Map - a colorful guide for understanding what the different parts of Maggid are doing and how they fit together.

  • HIAS Haggadah - With more displaced people around the world than at any time in recorded history, the words of the Haggadah are more poignant and relevant than ever before. As we read these words, we are commanded to put ourselves back into the narrative, to consider ourselves as though we, too, went out from Egypt, from the narrow place. We do this so that we may rise up renewed in our commitment to stand together as a thriving American Jewish movement supporting today’s refugees and asylum seekers.

  • See below, the most predictable new addition to the world of Haggadahs, Haggad.AI

Vayikra Parsha Packets

Loose Lips Sink RelationshipsKeeping Secrets - The Jewish View

Leviticus and Dayenu: Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

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