Ian Silverman, Rabbi

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Why apples and why honey at Rosh Hashanah?

Why apples and why honey at Rosh Hashanah, and not bananas or pears, since they too are sweet? A myriad of reasons accompany the ancient tradition of eating apples and honey. One reason is that the apple ripens just at this time and is at its maximum sweetness. Honey is also coming into its own very strongly at this time of year. At the same time though, apples have a tartness to them, even while they are sweet; and honey, while at once sweet, brings with it the honey bee, which can sting. These dualities reflect the real notion that not every day will be sweet. Some days may be bitter and perhaps biting. We must, therefore, attribute both the good and the bad to God and seek to find some aspect of holiness in even those bitter moments. 

The apple tree is viewed by King Solomon as exemplary and unique. “Ke tapuch al Hazedeh ken rahayati–as an apple tree in the field is my lover, singular and noted,” he writes in Song of Songs, and so we hope that the Jewish people will achieve a similar status of singularity and noteworthiness. And in the Jewish tradition, an apple tree is connected to the love and intimacy of married partners. Even on Passover, we eat charoset, with apple as its main ingredient, to remember the commitment of a husband and wife to one another, and that they may seek to produce families, even in times of challenge and suffering. As an example, under Egyptian slavery, Jews would sneak away at night from their taskmasters, who sought to disrupt their married life, to find intimacy with their partners. 

Interestingly, the Greeks always painted their god of love, Eros, with an Apple in his hand! And the Apple tree was suggested by our sages as possibly the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve sinned. If it was the Apple tree that was the source of human failing In the Garden of Eden, then we perform a mitzvah at Rosh Hashanah by confronting temptation and eating an apple, performing a sacred act of commitment to G-d in place of a betrayal. What better way to commit to God than with the fruit that did us in, effecting a spiritual “repair.”

Dr. Gil Yosef Shachar, drawing upon the ideas of Hebrew University Renaissance professor Yael Evans, mentions some other reasons why we bring in the new year with an apple. The apple tree is an extremely efficient tree. It has relatively few leaves, given the abundance of its fruit. It provides little shade as a result, but still optimizes the production of fruit by generating energy through photosynthesis. In fact, apples begin to bud even before the leaves come out. This, too, is an excellent explanation of a good year–a year of productivity and yield with a minimum amount of time and energy expended.

A kindergarten teacher taught me that if you cut an apple in half, you will see a five-pointed star. This is to remember the Divine promise that Israel will be as numerous and vibrant as the stars if we enact the five points of the Teshuva of Repentence: realization, regret, admission of sin, formally asking for forgiveness from those we wrong, and resolving to never give in to temptation when it presents itself.

As we dip the apple in honey this year and say the Bracha, may we be mindful of these many avenues of goodness and sweetness, blessing and success, that relate to apples and honey in this coming year.

Wishing you and yours a Shana Tova u’Metukah–a sweet and healthy New Year!

Frank Brecher, ENJC President

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I am amazed that it is a month since my last article; nothing goes quicker than a summer in New York! I feel that my summer is over before it began. Although the temperature is warm between the high holidays and the start of the football season, Summer is over–GO GIANTS! As you are reading this article, I will be burning the midnight oil and working on my Yom Kippur Apeal speech.

There has been a whirlwind of meetings during the summer. The ENJC team has accomplished so much in a very short time, but September will be awesome. Our Ritual VP, Ed Isaac, is dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” to make sure that all the honors are in place for the High Holidays. Our Education VP, Brad Becker, has been working with our new Principal, Fran Pearlman, on readying the teachers, schedule and new Religious School program. We are all excited about the exciting new ideas, staff and year ahead.

We will be increasing our security for the Holidays. We are asking our congregants to help us help you. All of our ushers will be checking tickets at the front door, so we ask your cooperation by having your tickets in your hand every time you want to enter the building. We will be making no exceptions - all board members must show their tickets too. The only way we can be 100% compliant in making sure we have a safe and secure building is with everyone helping.

Last year we experimented with accepting credit cards, and the board has decided to continue to accept them this year. Please be advised that if you choose to use credit cards to pay your yearly dues, there will be a 2% fee charged. When you make a donation using charge cards, we waive the 2% fee.

Arnie Carter is heading up our Cantor search committee. Arnie and his committee has and will be interviewing many candidates so that they can make the best selection for the future of East Northport Jewish Center.

The Holidays will be different in the Brecher household this year, as both of my children will be home. The last time both were home was 2012. Wow - a lot has changed in 6 years. And it will be nice not having to pay for college this year!

On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all a L’Shannah Tovah! I want to wish all a healthy new year. As we know, nothing in this world can replace health. As my mom always said – “Have a happy and healthy New Year!” –with the emphasis on health.

Frank Brecher, ENJC President

Frank

Well, as Jack Nicholson said in the movie, The Shining,  "I’m Baaaaack!!!"

I am honored to be the ENJC President again. We are facing challenging times, but I am convinced that we have started the turn-around with a few positive steps. First we have hired Fran Pearlman as the principal of our Religious School. Fran comes to us with tremendous experience and some exciting ideas for the school year. She has already been busy working on programming. We have hired Lisa Maron as a tutor for our Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. The parents and children have been very happy with how their lessons are progressing.

ENJC has hired Larry Magarick as our cantor for the High Holidays. Chazzan Magarick lives in Brooklyn and is excited to be our fill-in cantor. Please join us on Selichot, Saturday night September 1 to meet Cantor Larry.

The High Holidays represent a special time to connect with the Jewish community. We share in observing the beginning of our new year with Jews worldwide. And, at the ENJC, as the seats fill in our sanctuary, we are thrilled to see fellow congregants at synagogue meetings and social events, members of our shul that perhaps we haven't seen since this time last year, extended family members, and we welcome our newest members as well.

While this is a time of anticipation and joy, it is a time of reflection as well. We look at our actions of the past year and formulate resolutions for the year to come. This is a time to connect with our Jewish identity, to celebrate changes and plan ahead. So why not resolve to become more involved with your Jewish community in the coming year?

I want to thank all of the board members in advance of the work that they will be doing for our shul in the next year. I appreciate the commitment that all the new and returning board members are making.

If you have pre-school or school-aged children, bring them to Tot Shabbats, Jr. Congregation and Youth Group events. While you’re at it, have a say in what they’re learning and doing in Religious School and come to our Education meetings or Youth Group Committee meetings.

If you’re interested in how our Jewish history, customs and beliefs affect our daily lives, participate in our Adult Education programs. You can also come to Ritual meetings and take part in the decisions that affect how we, at the ENJC, follow the traditions of our faith.

Do you follow Israeli politics, or are you interested in Israeli culture? Come hear speakers, do some Israeli dancing, enjoy Israeli foods, and while you’re at it, get involved with the Israeli Advocacy and Cultural Affairs Committee.

If you enjoy our programming – holiday celebrations, Chavurah Dinners, golf outings, fantasy sport leagues, Paid-Up Membership Dinners and Casino Nights – join Men’s Club or Sisterhood, where you are also welcomed to join their boards and committees. And of course you can be a part of the Community Relations and Fundraising committees of the ENJC as well.

If you are proficient with computer graphic software, our communications outlets would welcome your involvement with the Bulletin, Weekly Update and ENJC.org website.

And if you are concerned about the welfare of your fellow congregants, please consider joining the Chesed Committee.

These and many more opportunities await you at the ENJC. You can choose to simply participate, or you can be involved behind the scenes. But please resolve to be more involved in all that the ENJC has to offer in the year ahead.

Ian Silverman, Rabbi

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The Importance of Civility

It's always been a bit ironic that as we move into the more carefree summer months, in which we hope to relax and to live a life of leisure, that the Jewish calendar calls for us not to relax but to move into a three week period when we don't eat meat (except for Shabbat), and when we limit swimming, weddings and shaving. The three week period commences this year on July 1 and ends with Tisha B'Av July 21-22 (beginning after Shabbat). All this quasi-mourning-like behavior is due to the fact that we twice lost Jerusalem and the Holy Temples on this day. Our sages taught that we were exiled and destroyed, not because we were outmatched militarily, but also because we were weak inside. 

One of the people's flaws was that of sinat chinam, unwarranted hatred of our fellow man. The classic story is told of a host, Kamza, who was not ready to forget the dislike of his guest, Bar Kamza, even though the guest had come to Kamza's home thinking he was forgiven. The story's pathos is the missed opportunity of civility, forgiveness and friendship. In its place, the host humiliates the person who tried to build a relationship with him. Our sages compare the act of shaming another as the equivalent of shedding blood (murder), because humiliation drains the blood from the face or fills it with redness. Rabbi Shammai, a great rabbi, humiliated a potential convert by throwing him out of his Yeshiva when the convert challenged Rabbi Shammai to tell him about Judaism while standing on one foot. When the convert came to Rabbi Hillel with the same challenge, Rabbi Hillel responded, “That which is hateful to you, don't do to another, all the rest is commentary.” “Receive everyone with joyful countenance,” he says elsewhere. Anger and impatience get the best of even the greatest among us. Moses doesn't get into the Promised Land because of it and even God, at times, is held back and talked down by the righteous. Rabbi Meir once prayed for the death of sinners. “Pray instead,” says his wife, Bruria, “ for their repentance and change, and there will not be any sinners and wickedness will cease.” Rabbi Meir admits that his wife's solution is far better.

Another of the people's flaws was the way they spoke to and about one another. Lason Hara, or evil speech, is a grave sin, even if what we say is true. Motzi Shem Ra is badmouthing another. It's not even permitted to praise a person in front of someone who dislikes that person because it will often elicit words to the contrary! These laws are not easy to follow. All the more difficult is to hold one's tongue. Our sages tell us that we have one mouth and two ears, so that we can listen twice as much as we talk, and that we have teeth and lips to restrain our tongue from what we shouldn't say. There are even rules against rebuking another. It is an important mitzvah to call out another when they are doing something contrary the the Torah, but it should be done in private so as not to embarrass them. And if one knows that it will only entrench the bad behavior, it too, should be avoided.

Read more: Ian Silverman, Rabbi

Ian Silverman, Rabbi

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View current news articles, commentary, videos and more that have an impact on Jewish culture, politics and religion at Rabbi Silverman's Sites to See

(Portions of this article appeared 10 years ago in the Jerusalem Post)

Israeli and Polish children filled the air above Warsaw with kites in memory of famed and martyred educator Janusz Korczak, who fervently believed that every child should have a kite. Sixty-five years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and 60 years after the founding of the state of Israel, Education Minister Yuli Tamir led a singular educational event in Warsaw to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of Korczak, who was deported to Treblinka with his students 66 years ago and subsequently killed. Tamir, together with Israeli youth and Polish pupils who are studying Judaism and Israel, visited the original site of Korczak's orphanage, where he taught and cared for his Jewish charges. There, they learned about Korczak and his teaching philosophy, and heard, first hand, accounts from two orphans from Korczak's school who survived the Holocaust, Yitzhak Balfer and Yitzhak Sakalka.

Korczak was a devoted educator who developed an educational technique that placed the child at the center. He loved and respected his students and treated all of them equally, a philosophy that, at the time, was less obvious than it may seem today. He was a pediatrician, author, builder of orphanages, and even had a radio show devoted to education. When the Nazis offered Korczak the opportunity to leave the orphans and save himself, he refused. Instead, he proudly led the 200 orphans to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps) and boarded the train to Treblinka and his death. An eyewitness described the scene: "It was not a march to the death train. It was an organized mute protest against the killings! All of the children lined up in rows of four and Korczak walked at their head with eyes lifted to the heavens holding two children's hands." Korczak visited Israel, or Palestine as it was then called, twice. Upon his return from his second trip in 1937, he wrote, "Every single child in the valley must have a kite until there are a hundred different types of kites and at every holiday and festival one should fly the kites. The kite is a type of toy and just like children who live by the sea are wont to launch ships upon it, so too children of the valley must fly kites. [Kites] delight children and adults as one."

On that day, ten years ago, Tamir and the Polish pupils visited the site in the Warsaw Ghetto where the orphanage had stood after its forced relocation, upon which a monument to Korczak now stands. In keeping with his wishes, they made kites and then flew them next to the monument. They then retraced the route from the site of the relocated orphanage to the Umschlagplatz. At the Korczak memorial, Tamir said, "In the face of the Holocaust and the brutal mass murders, Korczak presented an opposing ideal of compassion and love for every child and left behind an educational legacy which is still relevant today… "The kite represented for Korczak the right of every child to freedom and happiness. The joint kite flying of Israeli and Polish children testifies to the victory of hope and love for one's fellow man over the regime of fear and evil."

How very sad that 10 years later the kite is a symbol of hate and aggression for Palestinian children. Gaza’s parents who are mobilized by Hamas, are bragging of how hundreds of their youngsters are building kites as incendiary devices to burn Israel fields in the south. This is part is the “peaceful protests” being organized at the border. A child’s toy weaponized to bring the desired result of arson. Some enterprising youth have designed tails that are Molotov cocktails and others designed swastikas. One has accounted for the burning of a flash fire of 25 acres of land needing to be put out by fire marshals in a five alarm fire. 

Naturally this activity doesn’t characterize how all parents and children in Gaza feel. But they are mute and fear being jailed for torture or retribution if they oppose their terrorist regime. Meantime, the media covering this ongoing rioting forgets these scores of incidents and emphasizes the death of militant Gazans seeking to penetrate the border. They highlight these deaths as an example of Israeli aggression in spite of clear warnings that trespassing a certain distance in the border crossing area can result in harm. Sadly there have been incidents where teens were acting to penetrate the border or stone Israeli IDF guards, most of them new trainees in their late teens and early 20s, whose mission it is to prevent a breaching of the borders. 

Make no mistake. Successful penetration of Israel’s southern border would lead to imminent danger of Israeli civilian areas close to the border, as Hamas’ avowed aim is the killing of Israelis. It would also accelerate a mass rush of thousands more Gazans, thus leading to more loss of Palestinian life. 

But back to the kites. No better way to frame this than to contrast Korschuk’s view of the kite as quintessential toy of children’s imagination creativity and commonality across cultures with the swastika kite / Molotov cocktail kite now a threat to Israeli life. No better way to portray a sick and sociopathic culture and ethos that rules and pervades Israel’s current adversary. 

So spare me the sanctimony Ms. Natalie Portman, Hollywood’s apologist graduate of LI’s Solomon Schechter, Mr. Bernie sanders so proud of his Jewish origins, and Ms. Elizabeth Warren, spokeswoman for Progressive values, who appeal to the State of Israel to show restraint. The State of Israel remains responsible for the safety of civilian life on the Israeli side. Speak rather to the adults on the Gazan side and exhort their needed restraint. Appeal to their better nature and their compassion, and ask that they consider using their monies for building the land up that they now occupy, rather than making it a garrison state directed at killing Israelis. And even if you three don’t want to make demands of Hamas to reach across the border in friendship and compromise, at least appeal to them to not weaponize their children and now their children’s toys. The kite, a symbol of the right of kids' hopes and dreams to fly and soar is sacred. The kite and what it represents is sacred. Scold the Hamas and the Gazan parents for cynically quashing of their childrens' childhood. Hold them accountable for making children and teens combatants, which is against the Geneva convention. Hold them accountable for crimes against children, and for crimes against humanity. 

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