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, March 30, 2023
In this Moment: A Week That Changed Everything
In This Moment
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 theGladstein Family Human Rights Institute, which 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.")
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.
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 for, people 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!
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.
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 alsoBasic Baseball Terms in Hebrew.
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, visitStand Up To Jewish Hate.org.
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 haggadot.com - 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.
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!