Thursday, May 25, 2023

In This Moment: Darkness, Paul Simon's old friend; The idolatry of displaying the Ten Commandments; A Blintz Barbecue for Shavuot & Memorial Day; Israel's Greatest Song, Again;


In This Moment

Cantor Kaplan and TBE teens preparing for

the June 11 Cantor's Concert with the Zamir Chorale

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Shavuot and Memorial Day

The festival of Shavuot begins at sunset. We are a co-sponsor of the Conservative movement's online Tikkun Layl Shavuot on Thursday night. In addition, we have services (in person and remote) Friday morning and evening and on Shabbat morning. Our business office is closed through the holiday weekend.

Sometimes when Jewish holidays coincide with other secular or religious holidays, it's not easy to find common themes to link them. But it's always a fun exercise. We've seen Purim and Good Friday coincide, Tu B'Shevat and MLK Day, Rosh Hashanah and Labor Day, and that once-in-a-lifetime celebration we called Thanksgivukkah. I can't wait for Yom Kippur to fall on Halloween - but I'll be waiting a long time for that. In the Hebrew year 9995 (secular year 6234), the fast day will fall on Oct. 30. The rabbinic sages knew that the calendar is shifting ever so slightly but chose not to correct the problem, expecting the Messiah to correct it long before we need to have our seders in June and atone for our sins while dressed up as Spiderman.

But of all the possible holiday combos that can occur, Shavuot and Memorial Day fit most perfectly - despite the dilemma posed by having a blintz barbecue. For one thing, Shavuot always includes memorial prayers. Yizkor will be recited on the second day of the festival, which this year will fall on Shabbat morning -- a convenient time to join us in person or remotely for those at the beach. Both Memorial Day and Shavuot focus our thoughts on those who have sacrificed, on their commitment, selfless sacrifice, and love. Just before the Torah reading on the second day, we read the Book of Ruth, the tale of a kind Moabite woman who chose to cast her lot with the Jewish people; Ruth is among the most exemplary, compassionate and courageous people in all of ancient literature.

Every Memorial Day, I link to one of the great wartime speeches of all time, the eulogy given by Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn on Iwo Jima. It is hard not to get chills when listening to it. These holy words could just as easily have been uttered at Sinai. Iwo Jima is nearly as sacred a place as that mountain range on the journey to the Promised Land.

As for how to combine dairy (a Shavuot custom, see below for more info) and a traditional Memorial Day barbecue, here's an idea from Ha'aretz that keeps it all kosher.

This Shavuot / Memorial Day party can include grilled fish, whole or filleted, grilled veggies with crumbled goat cheese, and grilled halloumi cheese. And best of all, you can finish off this decadent meal with a cheesecake (preferably an Israeli cheesecake), or with ice-cream, or even both, and it will still be kosher.

The Ten Commandments: Fetishized Idol or Feast of Diversity

Ten Commandments and World Religions - A Texas bill to force classrooms to display the ten commandments failed to pass yesterday - for now. This blatant crossing of the church-state divide has long been opposed by Jewish groups. The fetishization of the image of the commandments is, ironically, a form of idolatry, which is explicitly prohibited in those very commandments. For Jews, the Big Ten are just the appetizers. Our tradition has many more that are of equal or even greater significance than the Big Ten. Would Texas like to display all 613 in their classrooms, including the one that allows for leniency on abortion? See the entire list of 613 here, and send it to your favorite Texas representative.

Or maybe the key is to use this legislation as a springboard for the promotion of religious pluralism. Instead of fetishizing those dusty tablets with the Roman numerals, why not display versions of the commandments found in different faiths?

No one ever claimed that "our" Ten Commandments are unique; if you search online you'll find lots of different versions. In the packet found here, I compare and contrast the "Big Ten" as they are presented by major world religions. Did you know that for Hindus, the "tenfold law" as they call it, includes self control, forgiveness, wisdom and abstention from anger? Buddhists include not merely killing, stealing and coveting wives, but also refraining from "divisive, harsh and senseless speech." Imagine planting two tablets containing that on a courtroom lawn!

For the Sikhs it is a sin to argue with your parent. An African proverb states, "If a parent takes care of you up to the time you cut your teeth, you need to take care of them when they lose theirs." Islam vociferously condemns the murder of innocents and Confucianism states, "No crime is greater than having too many desires."

Check out our Big Ten against all the others.

And then let's post them all, side by side.

Just not in public school classrooms.

See also: Hang Ten? Ten Commandments in the Public Square

"No other country - and no other #1 song"

Here's the list of Israel's 75 greatest songs, as chosen by readers and listeners of Yisrael HaYom newspaper and the radio station Kan Gimmel. You can hear most of them on this YouTube playlist. The number one song of all time is one that I spoke about in depth last High Holidays. "I Have No Other Country." (Ein Li Eretz Aheret), continues to stir the hearts of Israelis, more even than "Jerusalem of Gold "(#6). Number two on the list? The classic, "Ani V'Ata" ("You and me will change the world..." And only in Israel would the number four song of all time be a song that we associate with kichel, herring and black and white cookies - Adon Olam (the Uzi Hitman, Hasidic Song Festival version), which can be sung to just about any tune - but this one has stuck.

To hear the #1 song, click here and scroll down to my second day RH sermon.

In that sermon,.here's what I said about the song that was just voted Israel's #1 of all time.


When he died in 2005, the Israeli public voted this Ehud Manor's most popular song The guy wrote literally over a thousand songs, so many of them immortal standards and much more optimistic.


He wrote Chai, for God’s sake, which was a winner at Eurovision, and, Ba-Shanah ha-Ba'ah the most optimistic, hopeful song ever written! Od Tireh, Od Tireh, Kama Tov Yihye – you’ll see, you’ll see, how good it will be – next year, next year, next year. While “Ba’Shana Ha’Ba’a” has a hopeful and nostalgic note to it, “Ein Li Eretz Acheret” is all fire and flame.


And that is the one he is most loved for. And this song, with its bone rattling pain and even shame – combined with an unbreakable, almost mystical love for the culture, the language and the soul of his people and his country – that’s the one that Israelis call a patriotic standard. There is no issue about self-criticism. No problem with grappling with Lebanon War and it’s stained history – this song would be probably banned if it were sung in Florida. 


But this song gained power over time, and like so many of our prayers and great poems, gained meaning and resonance through shared national experience. In November of 1995, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin that same song was chanted on streetcorners where the Israeli youth lit candles. They called them the candle generation.  


While our Millennial generation of the ‘90s was busy asking their parents for Beanie Babies and Tickle Me Elmo, Israeli youth were lighting candles on street corners and singing Ehud Manor’s song. They agonized over how things could go so wrong, how their beloved country could generate such hate – and zealots like Yigal Amir, dark souls who killed with such impunity. 


And all we could do, as Israel buried its beloved leader and then endured a horrific string of bus bombings and other attacks, was say, from afar, “Shalom, chaver.” 


And THAT is the song brought out twice by Nancy Pelosi, first after January 6 and then again after the Dobbs decision this past June.  Her favorite Israeli song turned out to be about America too. And now, that song unites November 1995 and January 2021; it brings together the War of Attrition and the War on Abortion. These are the words that could capture the tears of Peres and Pelosi.


We have no other country. We will not stay silent when our country has gone astray. And we shall prevail. But we will always be proud, and it will always be our country.


Am I tempted to abandon America because it is increasingly slouching toward authoritarian rule? No way! Because there are people in this country who hate me simply because I’m a Jew? What else is new? 


And am I going to give up on Israel, the first homeland the Jews have had in 2,000 years, because Israel too is flirting with anti-democratic leanings and policies? No way! Ein li Eretz Aheret. Were I Hungarian I would be angry as hell at what Victor Orban has done to that country – and I would fight to change it. Same thing if I were Russian, or Turkish, or Nicaraguan.  

We Jews, and we Americans have it easy in comparison. We need to have that same courage – to be proud and to stand up for the ideals of our country.

Hello Darkness, His Old Friend

  • See also The Mysticism of Paul Simon (New Yorker)“Seven Psalms” is focussed on a more expansive, open-ended notion of God. Simon has described the piece as “an argument I’m having with myself about belief—or not.” Over and over, he imagines a divine presence, and then interrogates its borders. “The Lord is my engineer / The Lord is the earth I ride on, ” he sings on “The Lord.” He returns to the construction in a refrain, finding the sacred everywhere and nowhere:
The Lord is a puff of smoke
That disappears when the wind blows
The Lord is my personal joke
My reflection in the window
I've been thinking about our troubled nature
Our benediction and our curse
Are we all just trial and error

One of a billion in the universe?

Simon has always been a seeker. In 1968, Simon & Garfunkel released “America,” a haunting song about being young, bewildered, and hungry:

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping
“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”

Over time, his concerns became more existential. On “The Only Living Boy in New York,” from 1970, he admits, “Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where.” Pilgrimage, homecoming, and absolution became recurring themes. On “American Tune,” from “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” (1973), he sings about death as a glorious release:

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

The melody of “American Tune” was inspired by “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a seventeenth-century hymn built around a medieval Latin poem that describes Christ’s body on the Cross. It’s not the only explicitly Christian material tucked into Simon’s discography. On “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” a track from 2011, Simon lifts chunks of a sermon from the Reverend J. M. Gates, a Baptist preacher who released 78-r.p.m. records from the twenties to the forties. (In a 2011 interview, Simon tells a story about Paul McCartney showing up backstage after one of Simon’s shows and joking, “Aren’t you Jewish?”)


This is Paul Simon's spiritual last will and testament, though he claims in the lyrics to be in good health. It is a powerful album, and as always, Simon does not shy away from asking the hard questions. Sometimes mockingly and often awkwardly, he strains to find new metaphors for God where the old ones no longer work. It's an exercise I've engaged in often. Even with the mocking, often flippant tone, this is a serious piece of theological grappling, and as such is a nod to Simon's most Jewish of qualities. The grappling itself is a profound religious act. Even when he quotes from the Sermon on the Mount (in "Blessed") or juxtaposes "Silent Night" with the Vietnam-era 7 o'clock news, or cries about burning churches in the segregated south ("A Church is Burning") that for me is a summons to a very Jewish mission. And it's also a reference to Jewish martyrdom - the story of the Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon that is recalled on Yom Kippur. While being burned at the stake by the Romans, he clutches a Torah scroll and says, "The parchment is burning, but the letters are flying free."

A church is burning the flames rise higher

Like hands that are praying, aglow in the sky

Like hands that are praying

The fire is saying

"You can burn down my churches

But I shall be free."

Hear the whole album - and read the lyrics.

Recommended Reading

Today's Israel Front Pages

Haaretz (English)

Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot

  • After Passover, Shavuot comes along and shakes the foundations of existence (Shaul Magid - TOI) - What if Passover and Shavuot are actually opposites — not compatible but in tension with one another? Shavuot is not (only) the culmination of Passover, but (also) its subversion. The danger (or perhaps hazard) of Passover is remaining mired in the ethnos, in the familial comfort of the Exodus, without the event in which God enters the world and introduces that which is utterly new. This is the moment where everything changes irrevocably, where the tradition is both introduced and overcome: That is matan Torah — the giving of the Torah.

  • Lehrhaus Brings Flavors of the Jewish Diaspora to Somerville (Boston) - Not to mention an extraordinarily fun cocktail list—and community space for learning. The Lehrhaus food menu dances around the globe, featuring ingredients like chakla bakla, a mixed pickle from Baghdadi Jews that migrated to Western India; the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout; and herring, brought to Jewish markets by the Dutch way back in the 15th century. Closer to home, there’s plenty of Old Bay, that famous Maryland spice mix—it was created by a Jewish refugee from Germany. And the mac and cheese kugel is “an ode to the Jews of color in America,” says Clickstein, based on a recipe from Michael W. Twitty’s Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the fish and chips, an early favorite, ultra-crispy and served with amba vinegar, s’chug aioli, and Old Bay fries. (Amba is a pickled mango condiment with Jewish-Indian roots; s’chug is a spicy hot pepper and herb condiment from Yemen.) “It’s a Jewish dish, something I didn’t know until I joined this project,” says Clickstein. As the story goes, Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century landed in what is now the United Kingdom, bringing with them pescado frito, fish they’d fry on Fridays, thinly coated with flour, which helped preserve the fish so it could be eaten cold the next day. (There’s that Shabbat timing again.) “You can tell the old fish and chip shops are the real deal if they still have matzoh meal as an option for breading,” notes Clickstein. See the website at

  • There Are Lots of Jews in Hollywood. Let a Rabbi Explain Why (Rolling Stone, Jay Michaelson) - ...Chapelle was also right when he said, “I’ve been to Hollywood, and… it’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot.” That is true, and it’s true for specific, historical reasons. But it is, as he continued, a “delusion that the Jews run show business.” That delusion of control — whether of finance, politics, or media — is a classic antisemitic move. When did you last think about who “controls” farming or automobiles or rail companies? No one talks about white, Christian men controlling certain industries. It’s only when there are Jews around — again, due to specific historical causes — that this delusion becomes a conspiracy theory. 

  • Rabbis and Karaites | Dr. Miriam Goldstein (podcast) - From roughly the 9th through 12th centuries, Jews—or at least, those living under Islamic rule, who formed a majority of world Jewry—were sharply divided between Karaites, who rejected the authority of the Talmud, and Rabbanites, who accepted it. Miriam Goldstein, in conversation with J.J. Kimche, puts the flourishing of the now-obscure Karaite sect in its historical context, explains its lasting impact on mainstream rabbinic Judaism, and tells the story of Arabic’s rise and fall as a Jewish language. (Audio, 66 minutes.)

  • A God Just Like Us (Hartman) - Yehuda Kurtzer and SVARA’s Benay Lappe discuss Torah as the inheritance not of an elite and pious few, but of all Jews — especially those on the margins. SVARA scholar Rabbi Lauren Tuchman will be joining us for our Pride Shabbat service on June 2. What is SVARA? - Find out about this traditionally radical yeshiva. At SVARA, everyone—queer, straight, trans, alef-bet beginners, experienced talmudists, secular, religious, Jews, non-Jews—everyone learns together in a mixed-level bet midrash. And no matter where you dive in, you’ll gain a sense of empowerment to shape a tradition that has always been yours.

A Key Responsum by the Conservative Movement Law Committee: Calling non-binary people to the Torah

LinkedInShare This Email
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road

Saturday, May 20, 2023

TBE B’nai Mitzvah Commentary: Jackson Goichman on Bamidbar, plus Zoom video of the service and screen shots

Jackson’s Dvar Torah

When I found out that my torah portion opens the book of Numbers and contains a census of the Israelite people, I thought this was fitting.  For those who may not know, math is my best subject, and it would be my favorite one if it didn’t include geometry.  😊

Numbers are so clear and simple.  If you ask a math question, there’s either a right answer or a wrong answer.  But other questions in life are less clear, like if you ask about the usage of an Oxford comma or if you have to decide whether to shove a guy in Lacrosse for a penalty to prevent the other team from scoring….  As you see, life is complicated – except for math, where things are very precise.

But math can also be dangerous when we turn people into numbers.

My torah portion contains the only census in the entire Torah because Jewish tradition does not really like the idea of counting people, even though sometimes we have to.  My haftarah portion begins with a line that contradicts the message of the Torah reading, stating that the people of Israel shall be as uncountable as the sands of the sea.

But that haftarah isn’t the one I just read, because today is a special day – a day that actually involves counting. We are counting the days until the new Jewish month begins. Actually it’s just one day. Because that month, Sivan, begins tomorrow.  So, my haftarah is called “Machar Hodesh,” literally, “the month begins tomorrow.”

My reading also includes an uplifting story about the friendship between Jonathan and David, whose kindness toward each other could not be measured.

We’re constantly trying to find a balance between what should and shouldn’t be counted. According this haftorah, love and friendship cannot be measured.

We don’t want to assign numbers to people – that’s what happened in the Holocaust, when people had numbers tattooed on their arms.  But sometimes we do need to count people, for example when holding an election or, more importantly, knowing how much food to order for Bar Mitzvah receptions. 

Sometimes, numbers help you remember important lessons.  The great sage Maimonides came up with a list of eight levels of charity – tzedakah – which is reflected by my bar mitzvah project.  I put together bags with beauty products like lip balm and bath salts along with pink ribbons and laminated words of encouragement. I chose words like hope, strength, and perseverance and donated the bags to my mom’s breast cancer patients. I wanted to remind the women of their inner and outer strength and beauty. Because I never met the women who received the gifts, I also satisfied Maimonides’ second level of charity which was to give assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other.

So you can see that Numbers play a big role in my torah portion, just as they play a big role in my life.  However, my reading was a reminder that people are more than just numbers and we should never lose sight of the human element.

Screen grabs from the Zoom video

Thursday, May 18, 2023

In This Moment: Names and Numbers; Davening for Dummies; The Human Jerusalem; CSI Bamidbar

In This Moment

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Jackson Goichman, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning. Our TBE family is delighted for him and his family. We also wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Sylvan Pomerantz, who will be celebrating a special Bar Mitzvah anniversary this Shabbat. We also wish Mazal Tov to our Kesher Beth El 7th graders (some of whom are photographed above), who graduated this week, and to all those who are moving up and moving on in their studies, wherever they may be.

Names and Numbers

This week's portion of Bamidbar contains something very rare in the Bible: a census. Jackson will discuss why that is the case in his d'var Torah tomorrow, but suffice to say that Judaism looks down on reducing human beings to numbers. When David did an unauthorized (and Satan-inspired, no less) census in 1 Chronicles 21, it was displeasing to God and led to a great calamity. But it's not like we never quantify. Jews have been creating ranking lists for centuries. In chapter five of tractate Avot alone, there are nine top 10 lists. And, in an interesting twist to what is typically (and often distastefully) done, here the rabbis rank their congregants. (So what type of learner are you? A sieve, a funnel, a sponge or a strainer?).

The ancient sages didn't find metrics inherently abhorrent; they were just wary of falling under their sway, which is so tempting, because math is so clean and real life is so messy. But we are the people who personally experienced the dehumanization of having our individuality reduced to tattooed digits on the arm. And now, with artificial intelligence threatening to shatter the final barriers distinguishing the real from the artificial, the vast complexity of humanness from a pile of 1's and 0's, it is worth heeding the biblical lesson that we should quantify people only when absolutely necessary.

I've always been attracted to the notion expressed most prevalently in Martin Buber's I and Thou (see the complete pdf here) that human beings must never be relegated to the world of things. It has been a lodestar of my personal philosophy, ever since I studied Buber's writings in college. The moment you reduce a person to a number (e.g "She's an '8'!" "He's a million dollar donor!" "They're a 4.0 student!"), the one whose value is reduced by this objectifying transaction - is you.

Today is Jerusalem Day.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in today's Times of Israel, we need to get back to Jerusalem's human story in celebrating its unification in 1967, rather than provocative and incendiary demonstrations of domination, as the annual flag parade through the Muslim Quarter has become. He writes, "The first Jerusalem Day (in '67) meant different things to different people. But at its core, it was for most Jewish Israelis a celebration of a sudden lifting of the great burden of fear, a discovery of one’s own power not yet sullied by the use of that power."

Sarah Tuttle Singer elaborates in this Facebook post:

Davening for Dummies

A hallmark of my approach has always been to see each individual as being on their own spiritual journey, going at their own pace. So prayer needed to become a welcoming, intimate, and personal experience. At services, I always wanted prayer to be accessible but while never watered down, authentic but never automatic. It needed to invite us in rather than cast us aside. That's a neat trick to pull off, given the language gap for so many. But through the creation of supplements and the acquisition of increasingly user-friendly prayer books, along with experimental service formats, we were able to pull it off. We even had a section of our website dedicated to increasing comfort level at morning minyan, called Minyan Mastery. Below is an article I wrote for Moment Magazine in 1996, the keynote for a favorite adult ed series here, Davening for Dummies:

Ever notice how dumb we've all become -- and how proud we are of it? Maybe it began with that famous internal memo of President Clinton's '92 campaign staff, "It's the economy, stupid," or maybe it's just that we've hit the point of overload in absorption of new technologies. Just as we figured out the microwave, along came the VCR; then the computer invaded the household; then we discovered that the rest of the world was having a great time in a strange place known as "on line." With each innovation, we know that we must conquer our techno-phobias or risk becoming social dinosaurs.

But at least we have company. Bookstore shelves are now filled with titles like "DOS for Dummies," "Finances for Dummies," even "Sex for Dummies," (and I thought some things still came instinctively). In the same spirit, I'm holding a seminar in my synagogue entitled, "Davening for Dummies." We the utterly incompetent have come gliding out of the closet, now liberated to admit our inadequacies, and it is comforting to know that everyone feels the same way.

The rest of the world is just now catching up to the Jewish people, because we have declared our ineptitude for centuries. Moses felt entirely unworthy of his weighty responsibilities, as, it seems, has every Jewish leader since him, at least until Bibi Netanyahu. Anyone who has ever set foot in a synagogue on Shabbat morning has, at some point in his life, sat next to Joe the Super-Davener and felt like a complete idiot. We're very good at encouraging self-inflicted degradation, only we are taught to call it humility.

This attitude prevails in my profession. Even the greatest of my seminary professors used to shrink at the mere mention of a sage of the previous generation; my classmates and I were expected to abase ourselves in a similar manner, at least in public. But one does not have to proclaim unworthiness in order to honor one's teachers; the Torah instructs us to rise before our elders, not to lie prostrate in their presence.

Rabbis dutifully pass down this insecurity to our own students. The little secret that our congregants don't know is that, while they are standing in front of us terrified that we heard them mispronounce "Yitgadal," we're shaking in our boots at the prospect of blowing the Bar Mitzvah boy's middle name or misquoting a talmudic aphorism and having our professors yell at us in our dreams.

It's not just about people: even our greatest city has an inferiority complex. With all the fuss about Jerusalem this year, we still pray for the restoration of its former glory, as if all of Teddy Kollek's efforts were mere window dressing. Even the grand Jerusalem of Temple times, which our sages claimed possessed nine tenths of the world's beauty, wasn't good enough. In rabbinic literature the earthly Jerusalem has a celestial counterpart, and it is the heavenly Jerusalem that God will inhabit first.

For us, this problem stems in part from the pervasive feeling that our parents were "more Jewish" than us, simply for their having lived one generation closer to the cultural milieu of the idealized "old country." But it is also traceable to that messianic itch that has denied Jews the chance ever to be totally satisfied with things as they are. Some would call this in-bred perfectionism healthy, better for the world if not for our own mental well-being. That itch has propelled us to great accomplishments (often to spite our demanding parents and teachers, rather than to please them), but it is also at the root of our alienation and an impetus for assimilation.

"Avinu Malkenu, remember that we are but dust," is the mantra we'll repeat so often during the upcoming High Holidays, that most ego-deflating of seasons. But we forget that the Torah instructs us not merely to love our neighbor, but to love ourselves as well. We neglect the other side of the equation: we're lowly, but for our sake the world was created.

Ironically, although we come out of the High Holidays thinking that Judaism is all gloom and doom, most of us actually feel very good about ourselves at the services, because those prayers are so familiar to us. It's the one time each year when everyone can be Joe the Super-Davener, with added relish, since the original Shabbat-variety Joe, now vastly outnumbered and self-conscious, shuckles (sways) timidly in his corner. If only we could feel so at home at services the other days of the year.

Which brings me back to "Davening for Dummies." Inadequacy loves company, and the Microsoft age has presented us with a "window" of opportunity. Yes, we're dummies, but so is everyone else, so we don't have to feel so bad about it. The key to stemming the tide of assimilation is not to dilute Judaism or reduce the level of Hebrew at our services, but rather to pump up self-esteem by diminishing the stigma associated with Jewish illiteracy. People grapple with foreign subject matter all the time, at museums or at the opera, and they come out inspired, humbled perhaps, but hungry for more. We've got to make sure that they come out of shul feeling equally uplifted, in spite of the gaps in their knowledge, else they spend the next Shabbat searching for God back at Lincoln Center.

A practical suggestion: I recommend that every rabbi intentionally blow it at some very visible time -- how about Rosh Hashanah -- and then admit the mistake, proudly. Not only will the experience emancipate the leader from his own fear of failure, it will make the congregation feel a hundred times better about itself -- and probably lead to an increase in service attendance and a contract extension. People struggle with machines all day; it's refreshing when they see a real human being on the pulpit.

As for the rest of us, when we look at Joe the Super-Davener sitting next to us, measure him not by the intensity of his shuckling, but rather by a more sophisticated tool, the mensch-o-meter. Does he help us find the page and not make us feel dumb in the process? Does he even say hello? When we forget to stand for Kedusha and he gives us that stare, remember that there's a good reason why he's shaking so much.

Let's just feel good about being Jewish. Let's wake up each morning, look in the mirror and say, "I can pray the way I want. I love my neighbor and I love myself. Gosh darn it, I'm a good Jew."

Join us tonight at 7 as our ongoing Introduction to Judaism series focuses on, you guessed it, prayer. I guarantee that no one will be shaking in their boots.

As a sneak preview for tonight's session, you can check out our study materials here and here. And below, see my Davenology 101 guide to exploring prayers in four dimensions, and at the bottom, a thematic outline of the Friday evening service and a glossary of prayer and synagogue terms.

Recommended Reading

Sunday's front page with the headline, "Noa, You Are Phenomenal," a take on Noa Kirel's third-place winning song, "Unicorn," The headline on the bottom indicates that a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza was being tested (and thus far it has held).

Today's Israel Front Pages

Haaretz (English)

Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot

  • (So here are some numbers for you number crunchers!) No One Participates in Politics More than Atheists (Substack) The last forty years of politics and religion has been focused squarely on the ascendancy of the Religious Right. But I think that era of religion and politics is rapidly coming to a close. The Religious Right is no longer a primarily religious movement - it’s one about cultural conservativism and nearly blind support for the GOP with few trappings of any real religiosity behind it. Here’s what I believe to be the emerging narrative of the next several decades: the rise of atheism and their unbelievably high level of political engagement in recent electoral politics. Let me put it plainly: atheists are the most politically active group in American politics today and the Democrats (and some Republicans) ignore them at their own peril.

  • Recounting the Census: A Military Force of 5,500 (not 603,550) Men (TheTorah) - We have witnessed a resurgence in attempts to interpret the census data from Numbers in a way that reduces their numbers significantly. Professor Joshua Berman, for instance, offered a suggestion along these lines in his recent Mosaic essay “Was there an Exodus?” The following piece by Ben Katz is part of this trend.

  • Miracles and Madness: Israel at 75 (D Gordis - The Free Press) - How did the Jewish people manage to pull this off after two in every three European Jews had been slaughtered? What does he consider Israel’s greatest achievement? Its greatest failure? In light of ongoing political turmoil, what does Gordis expect a 100th year to look like?

  • When Canines Were in the Land (Jewish Review of Books) - “If a Jew has a dog, either the dog is no dog or the Jew is no Jew.” With the possible exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews, this old proverb no longer holds, but it’s worth remembering that the reconciliation between Jews and dogs is relatively recent. There is a story to be told here, and Rudolphina Menzel, who was a great “canine pioneer,” both as a scientist and as a Zionist, is a large part of it.

Parsha Packets for Bamidbar

a portion full of numbers, names and lists

A Collection of Famous Jewish Lists

Does Jewish Law Permit Taking a Census?

Stand Up and Be Counted - Public displays of Jewishness in an increasingly invasive world.

CSI Bamidbar: A Biblical Whodunit - Solve this murder mystery based on the opening of this week's portion. Tune in Shabbat morning to see who done it!

Numbers and Names - For Bamidbar and Jerusalem Day

  • Join us for our Intro to Judaism class on Prayer and Synagogue GeographyHere are the supplementary materials for this topic. "Feast on" these in advance.

Prayer Packet 1

Prayer Packet 2

A Thematic Outline of the Friday Evening Service

LinkedInShare This Email
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community