Tuesday, April 11, 2023

In This Moment: Praying for Quiet; From Passover to Shabbat to Yom Hashoah; Cross the Red Sea, Lee...50 Ways to Count the Omer

Praying for Quiet

Zissen Pesach and pre-Shabbat Shalom - and a reminder that our office is closed on Wed and Thurs for the final two days of the holiday, but we are very much open for services at 10 both mornings (in person and on Zoom), including Yizkor on Thursday.

Today's Yediot Achronot newspaper in Israel had an unusual greeting in their festival edition (see above, top left, circled in yellow, above the headline that states that Netanyahu reversed his decision to fire the defense minister). It says,"We wish our readers and all the House of Israel a Joyous and QUIET Holiday." Who wants a quiet holiday - that is unless obnoxious Uncle Joe is coming to dinner? That particular and unusual choice of words pretty much says it all, about how we are marking time these days. If we can't have peace, let us at least have quiet. We are praying for quiet.

This month is all about marking time. This week's Shabbat-O-Gram comes out on Tuesday, before the final two days of Pesach, as we will be shifting gears very quickly from the end of the holiday on Thursday night to Shabbat the next day and then to Yom Hashoah a few days later. Throw in Tax Day, Patriots Day (for Bostonians like me) and Earth Day.

We also are marking time with the counting of the Omer, which began on the second night of Passover and continues to Shavuot. All of this while the world continues to be a very dangerous place, and in our daily lives we are marking time in terror attacks and protest rallies in Israel - and here, mass gun killings,

The Hebrew headline below cries out "Terror Attack" and shows photos of two Israeli sisters, Maia and Rina Dee (15 and 20) who were killed in a roadside shooting (their mother also died), and an Italian tourist killed in a car ramming in Tel Aviv. Maia and Rina's father, a British rabbi, who spoke passionately about the need to avoid moral equivalence between terrorists and victims:

“Religions believe that we have the power to differentiate between good and bad… I am saddened that recently, maybe over the past 20 years of my life, this innate ability to differentiate between good and evil has gradually been lost from humanity,” he said. “That’s why I wish to designate the 10th of April as Dee’s Day. Today we differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong.”

Still, despite the attacks reaching into the heart of Tel Aviv, the weekly protests against the proposed judicial coup continue, as can be seen at the bottom of that front page. A quarter of a million people turned out, even though it was in the midst of a festival and a "pause" in the legislative process.

Below the Hebrew front page, the heartbreaking photo from Monday's English edition of Ha'aretz is of the Dee family at the funeral. Click on each front page for pdf.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., there have been 377 school shootings since Columbine and 470 children between 0 and 17 killed in shootings just this year.

What Will Next Year Bring, in Jerusalem?

As we prepare to bring Passover to an end, one more Haggadah to share with you, this one created by some of Israel's most notable writers, aiming to bring the mass protests of the past few months into the context of this Feast of Freedom. Click to see the English translation of The Freedom Haggadah.

Here are a few excerpts, the first from the great novelist David Grossman, which serves as an introduction to the Haggadah.

The second is from Etgar Keret, an interpretation of Psalms 114:4. Like him I always loved the childlike playfulness of that verse, but now what seemed like innocent gyrations of nature looks like a world come unhinged.

"The mountains danced like rams"

When I was a boy, this was my favorite part of the seder. More than asking the four questions, more than opening the door and waiting for Elijah who never showed up, more than stealing the afikoman. I don’t know if it was because of the upbeat, rhythmic tune, or because my big brother used to rattle the table and make the soup bowls dance, just like in the song. When you’re a kid, nothing makes you happier than a bit of chaos. And what could be more chaotic than hills dancing like sheep and goats?

Up until the current government was installed, maintaining the status quo was considered a central tenet of Israeli politics, particularly among the Haredi parties. Logic held that in a society as diverse and contradictory as ours, any drastic or ill-considered change could lead to disaster. But that was before. Now that the mountains around us are dancing and the ground beneath us is trembling, that joyous mayhem of the rattling seder table has been replaced by a yearning for mountains, for hills, and for a supreme court, to all stand steady and unshakable.


Since we're talking Keret, arguably Israel's greatest contemporary story teller, and since next week is Yom Hashoah, you must listen to or read some of his stories about his mother, who survived the Holocaust, although she didn't like to be defined by those years. They were featured on "This American Life" (audio and transcript). I particularly love story #8, "A Good Day." These stories were also featured at an exhibit called "Inside Out," in the Jewish Museum of Berlin.

Given the spasms of violence we have seen just since the beginning of Passover, with innocent children dying in schools, on the roads, here, there, everywhere, the last line of that story, the words of Etgar Keret's heroic mother, hit home all the more.

The last page of The Freedom Haggadah, by novelist Haim Be'er, brings a vision of promise. To these hopes I can only utter that untranslatable Hebrew exclamation, Halavai!

As we begin to gear up for Israel's 75th in a couple of weeks, we can celebrate the promise and the hope, if not the current realities.

And we can pray for quiet.

Cross the Red Sea, Lee, and Get Yourself Free!

50 Days (Minus 1) to count the Omer

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, (actually, in this parody of the Paul Simon song, 50 ways to leave Mitzrayim), but there are 49 days to count the Omer. Today is the fifth day of the 49 days of counting between Passover and Shavuot. This count takes us through the spring and has a number of explanations. Click here for the Omer blessing and some background from Siddur Lev Shalem.

You can count in a different Jewish language for each day (see the website here).

Speaking of languages, here is the Omer blessing page from a 19th century Ladino siddur.

Instead of the Omer, you can count the Homer - and discover the Jewish side of the Simpsons (click here for the website)

You can listen to the beautiful hasidic melody (niggun) for the Omer blessing that Cantor Kaplan has introduced to us.

You can count using a chart reflecting the sacred Kabbalistic Sefirot (divine emanations), which interact during these seven weeks. We are challenged to take a journey of internal spiritual growth even as we journey across time and across the wilderness toward Sinai. See the chart below:

Today, on the 5th day, go down the first column on the left and see on the fifth day we have the colors purple and orange; we see the interaction of the divine qualities of Kindness (Hesed) and Humility (Hod). See reflections from Siddur Lev Shalem below for this week of Hesed.

For a more traditional explanation of the Omer counting (what's all that stuff about weddings and haircuts?) clichere for the detailed explanationhere for even more traditional detail and here for the traditional counting chart. And below, for something completely different, you'll find an interfaith Omer calendar (albeit not aligned for this year). What a great idea!

And those 50 ways to leave your slaver?

Don’t move a brick, Rick,

Make sure to pray, Ray,

Bring on a plague, Gregg,

Listen to me.

Leave in the night, Dwight,

Don’t wait for the bread, Ned,

Cross the Red Sea, Lee,

And get yourself free.

Recommended Reading

  • This holy season in six faiths is a rebuke to Christian nationalism (RNS) If this nation does not provide full rights for my Jewish cousins, I don’t want any part of it. The same goes for my friends and neighbors from all different backgrounds and beliefs who will celebrate holidays this month — Ramadan, Vaisakhi and Holi, to name just the most prominent. The concurrent holy days form a portrait of the faith life of the United States as our founding fathers ordained it.

  • Yad Vashem Book of Names: A new 360° virtual tour for learning and teaching about the Holocaust is now available. Learners can embark on a chronological journey that tells the narrative of the Holocaust: the lives of Jews before the Holocaust, thriving communities and culture, the persecution of the Jews, anti-Jewish legislation and edicts, establishment of the camps, deportations, mass murder, uprisings, rescue stories, liberation and the return to life. All these are told and taught through a variety of vantage points and learning styles - historical videos, animated concepts, survivor testimony, historical figures and more. Begin your virtual tour here. Additional educational materials - lesson plans, testimonies, ceremonies and videos are available online.

  • Why "Parade," why Leo Frank and why now? (RNS) - Because the Leo Frank case is Antisemitism 101:
  • Medieval antisemitism? The Leo Frank case was a blood libel.
  • Early modern antisemitism? Leo Frank was the Jew, who symbolized industrialization and social change.
  • The Holocaust, even? As Chris Browning taught in his studies of the Holocaust, “ordinary men” are capable of perpetuating great horrors. So it was with the Leo Frank story. Men in suits — community leaders from prominent families — planned and perpetrated his murder. They posed proudly for the photographer’s camera before their demonic handiwork, as did Nazi soldiers.

Parsha Packets for Shemini

The Ideal Jewish Community Shmini is the first portion where the tent of meeting is up and running at full capacity. What in your mind is needed to create an ideal Jewish community in our day?

“The Hunger Games” and Jewish Values  For Passover, Shemini and Yom Hashoah. What does Katniss,"the girl who was on fire," have in common with Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu in our portion?  How do Aaron’s and Katniss’s responses to the sudden death of a loved one compare? Which one (or both) is more comparable to how the Jewish people responded to the Holocaust? What is the “right” response? Is Katniss more a victor or a survivor?

Can Pigs Fly - and be Kosher Too? - As we read this portion that contains the laws of Kashrut, we discuss whether lab-grown pork can be kosher - and can be eaten with milk (!) and other new frontier questions.

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