Thursday, April 18, 2024

In This Moment: The Final Shabbat-O-Gram; A Night of Watching


In This Moment

"A Night that Changed the Middle East" (Yediot Headline)

This is the Last Shabbat-O-Gram

This is final issue of "In This Moment" (originally the Shabbat-O-Gram) delivered to the TBE email list. From here on it will appear on my Substack page.


Although this newsletter will continue on Substack, it does feel like a real crossroads for what has become a TBE institution. My first email to the congregation was sent on November 26, 1996, so long ago that Al Gore had just invented the internet :) - click here to see it. And click to see my first message on our brand new first-ever TBE Website. When it came to the Web, we were way ahead of the curve, thanks in large part to the vision of Fred Golove and the skills of Andy Lehrfeld. Fred acquired for us the coveted url "TBE.ORG," which every Temple Beth El in the universe has tried to get.

Once people came online and caught on, the Shabbat-O-Gram became the most effective tool of adult education we ever had. Here's how I explained it in a bulletin article in 2003:

Over the years, the impact of the O-Gram has only grown. It was a lifeline during times of crisis, most recently during Covid and after October 7. It provided a window into the Jewish world that, while reflecting my own evolving point of view, also attempted to provide a wide range of perspectives. As social media has grown more influential, it has also become more untrustworthy and it's become vital to rely on trusted curators who can help make sense of the all the conflicting messages being sent our way.

The Shabbat-O-Gram has never been more important than it is now, given the collapse of local news and the sorry state of X and Meta (or, for those who refuse to give in, Twitter and Facebook), all the other offerings online and on cable news.

One of my Substack subscribers left this heartfelt endorsement, along with a pledge to move to a paid subscription when I present that as an option. I am so grateful to all my readers and hope to continue to hear from you in the years to come.

And here's another, from a recently pledged subscriber...

And hey, why not one more?

I hope you feel the same way. Thirty years ago there was such optimism regarding how the internet could bring humanity together. That was the premise of my book, " Seeking God in Cyberspace," and the new genre of spiritual web journeys that I pioneered (see examples herehere and here). I also explored the interesection of Jewish ethics and the internet in my Masechet Cyberspace series. That promise has not been realized. Unfortunately, what in 2000 seemed destined to unite us has instead divided us.

But cyberspace can bring us together yet. And that's why I'm going to continue sending out "In This Moment" to those who subscribe.

Please take a moment to get onto my list!

And now, on with the show...

Exodus 12:42

"A Night of Watching"

Israelis Stand Vigil in Safe Rooms

as Iran's 300 Angels of Death Pass Overhead

CNN screen grab

Last Saturday night, Israelis, diaspora Jews and indeed, the entire world, came as close as one could come to duplicating that scene described in Exodus 12:42, a "night of watching for all the generations," when the destroyer passed over the houses of Israelites and inflicted the tenth plague on the families of Egypt.

In Exodus 12, the night of the tenth plague is also called "Layl Shimurim hu l'Adonai" "A night of watching for God." The commentator Rashi sees "Shimurim" as connoting "anticipation," implying that God had been looking forward to this night for centuries, the chance finally to fulfill the Covenant of Redemption made with Abraham. Or it can mean "protection," for on this night God protected Israel from the most terrible of plagues.

This "Night of Watching" was God's most anxious moment since that Night of Resting following the sixth day of creation, when God looked around and saw that it was very good. Only then could God rest from Creation.

God rested from Creation, but God has yet to rest from the Exodus.

On this original Night of Watching, the sacred mix of slaves and newfound freedom, propelled by a dash lamb's blood on the door and matzah in the oven, was either going to turn out to be the most delicious concoction imaginable or a rancid, unkosher, unholy mess.

Was Israel ready for freedom? Would they make it through the Wilderness? Could they ever get beyond their petty complaints or would their fear ultimately engulf them? Which enemy would pose the greatest threat, Amalek or self-doubt? That's what was keeping God awake on that long Night of Watching.

And at each Seder we ask similar questions: Is this family ready to go out and bring Torah into the world? Have they internalized the lessons we've been feeding them since infancy? Do they love Israel? Are they willing to stand up for themselves as Jews? Has our people risen to this generation's unprecedented opportunities to bring holiness to the world? These are questions that not even the wise child could answer.

Last Saturday night was also a Night of Watching...watching and waiting for the Iranian Destroyer to arrive. Would the missiles and drones pass-over the homes of Israelis, or would they kill all the first born - and second born too? Would the forces of peace and order from the US, Europe, Jordan, and the Gulf coalesce to save the innocent lives of millions and the fragile strands of hope, that a regional peace might possibly happen? Would israel's friendly neighbors prove themselves worthy of sharing a future together? Would there even be a future?

Without being overly dramatic, Israel could have been devastated last weekend. Instead, it emerged strategically strengthened. I can't restate it emphatically enough. If even one of those Arrows of Death had made it through in a place like Jerusalem - and several were shot down over Jerusalem - the devastation would have been incalculable, for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.

Three hundred missiles. And somehow, 99 percent were intercepted. Even the blood on the doorpost could not have been more effective as Iron Dome, David's Sling and the Arrow anti-missile system.

The tenth plague was defeated resoundingly.

Many have speculated over the centuries as to how it must have felt for our ancestors to be sitting in their bloody-doorpost smeared "safe rooms" while the screams could be heard nearby. There's a midrash describing how some Egyptians begged the Israelites for sanctuary in their protected homes, and the kindhearted Israelites granted sanctuary to those who had enslaved them for 400 years, but their firstborn died anyway (see it at the bottom of this missive).

It brings up all kinds of difficult questions for us, such as why did Bedouin child - a seven year old, who was the only one to be injured in the attack - not have a shelter to run to?

For those of us here in America, it is really impossible to understand what Israelis went through over the past week and past six months, even if the Iranian attack was not nearly as destructive as it could have bee. It was still emotionally devastating. What was most devastating, just as in the Exodus, was the waiting. The watching and waiting. While the attack was going on, no one knew how things would turn out, only that hundreds of drones and missiles were due to arrive. All people could do was brace for impact - and draw from the unlimited Jewish capacity for gallows humor.

The first meme below was shared by Daniel Gordis, followed by another culled from Facebook by Times of Israel.

The whole situation was so absurd, waiting for the missiles to arrive and not wondering what surprises the drones would be bringing. This meme, below, which I saw on Twitter, speculated that the drones would be bringing not death and destruction, but a light show bearing the message, "Rak Bibi," "Only Bibi," an old campaign refrain now turned into a finger of blame by protesters,

It reminds me of a similar ironic twist applied by cartoonist Paul Szep after John Dean's Watergate testimony in 1974:

Some of the differences felt among Jews right now are deep, but most are superficial and reactive. Everyone is acting out of a unique form of PTSD catalyzed from last Saturday's Night of Vigil previously synthesized from October 7, the Holocaust, centuries of antisemitism and three years of Covid - a mixture far more combustible than anything Iran could stuff into their warheads.

What Jews share is far more significant: Everyone wants peace, everyone wants a secure Jewish state, most (except for the extremists) want a dignified, peaceful life for the Palestinians and a high degree of coexistence.

Oh and we share one more thing.

Everyone understands that Bibi must go. He may not be totally to blame for October 7 and the attack by Iran, but he is a big part of it, and the only one who refuses to take responsibility. His departure wouldn't solve all the problems overnight - far from it - but it would go a long way toward rebuilding trust: between Israel and the US, Israeli Jews and the diaspora, Israel and her neighbors (who proved their loyalty last Saturday night; who would have imagined Jordan shooting down missiles headed for Israel?!) and among Israelis themselves.

Rak Bibi is the answer to so many questions that we might want to insert it into the Seder right after "Mah Nishtanah."

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Because the entire Jewish people, minus a few extremists, are united behind their disdain for the guy who drove Israel off a cliff, then blamed the people sitting in the passenger seat.

JFK said famously after the Bay of Pigs, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." Bibi says simply of October 7, "No one woke me up."

Still, Rak Bibi is not the quick fix answer that it's cracked up to be. if you want to forge some unity at your Seder next week "Rak Bibi" is too facile, too glib, a sugar high. It's become too easy for Israel's critics to say, "It's not the Israeli people I hate, it's Bibi." For in fact, while the Israeli people also despise their leader, by and large, they still approve policies that many here oppose.

No doubt, Israel will be much better off when elections are planned and presumably a new P.M. emerges with a more moderate government.

Meanwhile, we prepare for another night of watching. And another. And another after that. We prepare to leave Egypt once again, but we have no idea what awaits us in the Promised Land.

Next Year in a Rejuvenated Jerusalem,

a Renewed Region and a Reborn Jewish State

A Zissen Pesach to All!

Recommended Reading

Click to download pdf of "Hostages to your Seder" supplement

Click for "In Every Generation" Haggadah Supplement for 5784

Click here to read more about this haggadah and to download

Click to download Empty Chair Seder ritual

Click for a Prayer for the Hostages

Hadar Pesach Supplement 2024 (full color)

Hadar Pesach Supplement 2024 (Printer Friendly)

Nashuva Passover Supplement 2024 (Rabbi Naomi Levy)

Sefaria: Assortment of Haggadahs and Commentaries

  • Molly Forrester's Conversion Essay - Molly, a recent college grad who moved up to Stamford, has become a regular Friday night attendee and studied with me for conversion. Her big moment came on Thursday as she stepped into the mikva to become a Jew by Choice. To read about her journey is to be inspired by her dedication and passion for her faith - one that was part of her all along.

The word that has really been guiding this journey for me is “connection,” connection to G-d, connection to current events, connection to my family and friends. Being so young and living away from home, just graduated from college, it is so important to me to establish a community and a place to continue learning about Judaism, which I am so passionate about. I view conversion as the beginning of my Jewish life, and certainly not the end. I am so excited to be able to participate in the rituals I have learned so much about by attending services, reading the Siddur, and in my Introduction to Judaism Course. My conversations with Rabbi Hammerman about the Jewish notion(s) of Heaven, Zionism, Messianism, and so many other topics, have inspired me to read more and learn more. I now know that there is so much I can do in my life to better the world. The Jewish emphasis on practice and action really speak to meRead the rest here.

See photo from today's conversion below

  • A top ex-general's radical strategy for tackling Iran, saving the hostages, calming the north (Times of Israel) - What we should have said was: No Hamas on the one hand, and no Israeli occupation on the other. Anything else is negotiable, and we are ready to discuss this with all global and Arab potential players, including the Palestinian Authority. And to work with them on an interim administration. Five months ago, we could also have discussed the idea of the PA, perhaps with Egyptian forces, overseeing food and humanitarian aid distribution in northern Gaza. All of that would have created real pressure on [Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar.

  • Passover’s Rupture and Reconstruction (The Lehrhaus) - When the Temple was destroyed and the Passover sacrifice was no more, the holiday lost its central element. How could the Jewish people celebrate their redemption from Egypt when they were again in exile? This was in fact one of the questions that animated rabbinic Judaism: what was to be done with a religion centered around a place—the Temple—when that place was gone? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the shift that transpired “one of the great, if quiet, dramas of history,” in which “a succession of scribes, scholars, and sages began to reshape Israel from the people of the land to the people of the book.” “Prayer took the place of sacrifice,” he writes. “Repentance became a substitute for the great ritual of atonement performed by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.” Sans a Temple, Yom Kippur and Passover shared the same problem.

  • Is the Mitzvah to Burn or Nullify Chametz? ( See also Earth Day Biur Hametz (Seidenberg) - May we remember on this day that just as we do not own this chametz, we do not own this Earth. May we recall that Adam, the human, is made of afar min ha’adamah, soil, dirt, and that we belong to the soil. May we cherish the soil that comes from centuries of rocks breaking and life growing and decomposing. We too are "hewn from the rock and dug from the mine" of Abraham and Sarah. And so, may it be Your will, Adonai Eloheinu, that we bring truth to Your promise to Abraham, that his progeny would become “like the dirt of the earth, ka`afar ha’aretz” – k`afra d’ar’a – and that, like the soil, we may live to nourish all Life. (based on Gen 13:16 and Isaiah 15:1-2)

For Earth Day

One of my all-time favorites...

Perfect for my final Shabbat-O-Gram

Here's a classic from a Shabbat-O-Gram sent out in April, 2000 and a great way to wrap up this last TBE edition. Just another reminder of how important communication can be - and humor too. As they say, always leave 'em laughing! So let me leave you with these classic bulletin bloopers.


These announcements were found in shul newsletters and bulletins.  Even spell check wouldn't have helped!...

Don't let worry kill you.  Let your synagogue help.

Join us for our Oneg after services.  Prayer and medication to follow.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our congregation.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

We are pleased to announce the birth of David Weiss, the sin of Rabbi and Mrs. Abe Weiss.

Thursday at 5:00PM, there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club.  All women wishing to become Little Mothers, please see the rabbi in his private


The ladies of Hadassah have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the basement on Tuesdays.

A bean supper will be held Wed. even. in the community center.  Music will follow.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the JCC.  Please use the large double door at the side entrance.

Rabbi is on vacation.  Massages can be given to his secretary.

Mrs. Goldblum will be entering the hospital this week for testes.

The Men's Club is warmly invited to the Oneg hosted by Hadassah.  Refreshments will be served for a nominal feel.

Please join us as we show our support for Amy and Rob, who are preparing for the girth of their first child.

If you enjoy sinning, the choir is looking for you!

The Associate Rabbi unveiled the synagogue's new fundraising campaign slogan this week:  "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours."

Friday's Headlines Today


The Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot


Here are some historic Haggadahs

(click here to enlarge and see more historic Haggadahs)

Midrash on the tenth plague in the homes of Israelites

Wishing You a Sweet Pesach, from all the Hammermans!

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

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