The Tishrei Holiday Cycle: All Our Limbs
You've heard of the whole body workout... How about the whole spiritual body workout! There is a place in our prayer book each Shabbat when we pray that God help us maintain and thrive in the past and in the present, sustaining us in body from all manner of plague and threat, and therefore, Kol Atzmatai, all of my limbs and every fiber shall give blessing to God and say 'who is like unto you.' The Tishrei cycle of holidays seems to be focused on this whole spiritual body workout!
Rosh Hashanah is not so much the birth of the world. Our rabbis teach that it's the anniversary of the birth of creation. It celebrates, not the birth of the world per se, but the birth of humanity and of human consciousness. On the one hand it requires physical actions–cleaning and cooking for the holiday; eating a festive meal and tasting the sweetness of the apple and honey; gathering our families, sometimes from far away, to celebrate with us; and the mitzvah of actually listening to the shofar with a focus on its historical Biblical associations– but also, listening with a feeling of our own regrets, resolve and sense of potential for the coming year. This is the quintessential celebration of mind and heart.
If Rosh Hashanah focuses on spiritual mindfulness, Yom Kippur carries this forward in a physical way, but by suppression of the physical. We are not intimate in marriage, we do not eat or drink, wash or apply lotions (unless these things a medically called for) for the entire day. Temporarily, we are all mind/all spirit. Our sages liken it to, in a sense, mimicking an angelic existence... until Yom Kippur ends at the moment we eat and drink, and of course, first begin to build the sukkah.
So far, we have engaged primarily the mind, the heart and the hand. But soon the sukkah and the lulav and etrog will engage other limbs. We must inspect and eye the best etrog to buy, we bask in the colors of autumn by eating and being outdoors more. The lulav represents the eyes, lips, backbone nad heart. We make a blessing specifically for the act of sitting in the sukkah, highlighting, therein, the use of yet another important limb. Besides eating in the sukkah, the hearty practice yet another mitzvah–of sleeping in the sukkah. This is the only mitzvah, I think, that we do in a completely unconscious state of mind. Finally, at Simchat Torah, we celebrate the completion and beginning of Torah by dancing with our star–singing and dancing with our beloved Torah. So I ask you, what limb is not engaged as we bring in the first month of the New Year?
There are those who only practice the mindfulness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I encourage you not to forget the emphasis on other limbs. God and Torah, in their age-old wisdom, know what's good for us and require the full body/mind workout for yearly spiritual reactivation. Please consider yourselves warmly invited for the complete do-over, as we welcome in our new Jewish Year, 5777!
Beth and I wish all our members and their families a Shana Tova! May all be written and sealed for life, health, blessing and vitality this coming year!
Shalom, Chaverim! As I write this, I am celebrating my birthday, and as you read it, you are anticipating or in the midst of the High Holiday season. Both are occasions for joy and festivity, as well as solemnity and introspection. This year, we are face with an added level of uncertainty, tinged with sadness, as we contemplate saying farewell to our Cantor of nearly a quarter century, Ralph Nussbaum.
It is, however, also an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us as a community to carefully review our policies and procedures. There may very well be changes that could be made to better reflect our current environment and the needs of our ever-changing (and hopefully growing) congregation. Currently identified issues include Religious School scheduling, weak service attendance, and inclusive social programming. These are real challenges that get to the heart of what it means to be a community.
Luckily, we have a Board of Directors and various committees which serve as contact points between membership and leadership. I encourage you to attend committee meetings (most times are published in the Weekly Update) and engage with board members (a list of whom can be found in this publication) to make your needs and opinions known. It is my sincere hope that all members will be open-minded and respectful of differing points of view. If we are patient with each other and the process, I am confident that we will come to solutions that are best for the East Northport Jewish Center as a whole.
As we navigate this challenging time, please be assured that the shul leadership is working very hard to make it as smooth as possible. Now, in closing, allow me to be among the first to wish all of you a sweet New Year, an easy fast, and a joyful Sukkot, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah!
Shalom! This month, synagogue life at ENJC is waking up from its summer slumber. If you have been active this summer, I thank you for your help in making minyanim. Your support is truly appreciated by the shul leadership as well as the families who needed to say Kaddish. If you have been away, I look forward to reconnecting with you at one or more of our scheduled events.
Right after Labor Day, we have 2 B'nei Mitzvah on the schedule: Kevin Siegall on the 10th and Jack Maldavir on the 17th. We are extremely proud of these young men, and I am looking forward to celebrating with their families.
The week of the 11th, Religious School will be opening and our Youth Groups will be kicking off their programming. On the 16th, we will be having a Membership Open House. Come to Shabbat Evening Services and meet potential new members. On the 18th, the Men's Club will once again be sponsoring their anual Family Fun Day, including a cookout, games and opportunities to visit with fellow congregants. Finally, as we approach the end of the month, the High Holiday season commences with a Selichot program on the evening of the 24th. The following week, there will be several volunteer opportunities, as Men's Club and Sisterhood organize chair setup for High Holiday services and the Fundraising committee assembles Honey Baskets. (Don't forget to buy one for your friends!)
Look for details for all of these programs in the Bulletin and our Weekly Update. I'll see you in shul!
Recently, Nicholas Kristof wrote a moving Op Ed piece (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/opinion/anne-frank-today-is-a-syrian-girl.html?_r=0) comparing a wounded Syrian girl to Anne Frank. This sermon is a response to his essay.
Firstly, in Nicholas Kristof's defense, it is hard to argue against having compassion for little children, whether Syrian, Yemeni, Yezidi, Kurdish, Sudanese, Muslim or Christian, who suffer in war zones created by political and religious division. And, one also needs understand, the well-meaning effort of the child of a refugee from WWII, Kristoff, whose own Polish father was, himself, subjected to Labor Camp conditions during the occupation of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. Still, one would think that Kristof might also be able to ferret out the distinctions. One evil cannot always be compared and equated with another, dramatic effect notwithstanding.
Muslim Syrian children, in this case, are collateral damage of a war. They are not targeted for extermination. Jews, during Shoa, had only two possible destinations from which to obtain visas–Shanghai and the Dominican Republic–both of which had limited absorptive capacity and little ability to dispense these visas to Jews on the run. Syrian refugees should have 21 Arab Muslim nations in an Arab League willing to help absorb and financially support them in safe war zones, which could be establish by military means, if there was a willingness to do so. So far, only 3 have come forward even to help absorb refugees. (To their credit, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon). Where are the rich Gulf states in this equation? During the Holocaust, Jews did not have 21 nations to which to appeal. They had only one Jewish State in the making (the Yishuv in British Mandate Palestine) and the Brits were doing their darndest to restrict Jews from emigrating there! This is why the State of Israel's existence and its mission is so vital today.
One wonders why Kristof isn't calling these Arab States to task before appealing to the nations of the west. Many of these nations are not signatory to the Geneva convention, which obligates their responsibility toward their Arab brethren. Why is that tolerated rather than condemned by bodies like the UN Human Rights Commission or by such compassionate journalists like Kristof? Why is that not more objectionable than Western nations' reluctance, themselves reeling from Radical Islamic terror? More to the point, Kristoff seems unaware, as do many activist organizations of the anti-Semitic and anti-Western curriculum, that these children have been force fed. Don't Jewish communities in particular, and western societies in general, also need to be aware of the culture of hate against Israel, taught to Syrian children from kindergarten on? Isn't it potentially a serious problem that might arise if western nations absorb thousands of these young people?
Shalom, chaverim! I hope that all of you are enjoying the summer in your own personal ways. The weather has been hot, but I hear the beach is pleasant. Just remember the sunscreen!
From the outside, things at the East Northport Jewish Center appear very quiet. Clergy and staff are taking their vacations. Programming is limited. We have a regular service schedule, but attendance is lighter than the rest of the year. Do not be deceived. Your Board of Directors and the various standing committees are hard at work planning for the coming holiday season. I hope that you will do your part to help the process along.
As you receive this, the deadline for the High Holiday Ticket Request Form is approaching. Please get your paperwork and payments into the office by Friday, August 19th, in order to be eligible for the seating priority lottery. This lottery determines the order in which the ticket requests are filled.
If you are interested in helping out with the planning for the holidays and beyond, we have many committees, any of which would be glad for your support. The largest, most visible committees are Ritual, Education, Community Relations and Fundraising. Ritual is responsible for worship services, holiday observances and all religious activities of the synagogue. The Education committee helps run the Religious School. Community Relations organizes community meals, blood drives, Tot Shabbats, delivering meals to the sick or shut-in, as well as occasional social and entertainment programming. Fundraising raises moeny for the shul through large one-time campaigns and smaller, ongoing projects. Finally, while the Membership, Building Administration and House Administration Vice Presidents don't currently head active committees, from time to time, they also could use a little extra help. If you feel you have skills that could be useful, please contact the appropriate VP to inform them of your interest. If our interests or skill set do not seem to ally with an existing committee or department, let's talk! I'm sure we can find a place for you!