This article originally appeared on ENJC.org in November, 2015
A QUICK TALMUDIC THOUGHT
I was recently teaching a class and asked the question: "What makes Shabbat holy, restful, peaceful and uplifting?"
My students mostly said that as part of creation, G-d instructs us that the seventh day of the week (Shabbat) should be holy. In the Kiddush prayer that we chant on Friday night, it ends with "Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies Shabbat....” As is my minhag and custom, trying to always teach in a positive and interactive manner, I complimented all of them and confirmed that all of their answers were "spot on" and beautiful.
I then offered them an explanation shared with me by one of my many teachers who offered the following insight. Shabbat, in of itself, is not really holy as it can be like any other day of the week. In actual fact, it is our actions and committment to G-d that elevates this seventh day of the week to a day of holiness and sanctity! What am I referring to exactly? All other days of the week, we may eat dinner in the kitchen with our cell phones ringing and beeping, everybody rushing to make the next appointment, music and TV blaring in the background, etc. On Friday/Shabbat evening, we can choose to have our dinner in the dining room with a beautifully arranged table, a special and sumptuous dinner, the chanting of the Kiddush, reciting the blessings over the candles, challah and the washing of our hands. Singing beautiful z'mirot and so much more. Consequently, it is our actions that elevate Shabbat to a level of holiness and sanctity.
I am quite sure that we are all enjoying the more relaxed pace of the summer months, time to spend more quality time with family and friends.
As our Religious School continues it's growth, I am more than pleased to report the we have been able to fill THREE new positions for the upcoming new school year. For the first time in many years, we will have multiple classes requiring two teachers per class! This is obviously quite exciting and in point of fact, if the numbers remain the same going forward, we will need to build/create a few new classrooms. l would like to extend our gratitude to Frank Brecher, Melissa Kurtz, Helaine Schwartz and Karen Schweitzer who were so helpful in the interviewing process of numerous candidates to fill the various teaching positions.
During the summer months, with regular attendees traveling, our Shabbat services need your participation. Friday nights and Shabbat mornings are so warm and friendly and take place in our Bet Midrash. I encourage you to come on down and experience these uplifting and enjoyable services. Services during the summer months are generally shorter as we obviously have no Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
We have decided this year to have THREE separate Junior Congregation services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which will undoubtedly enhance the quality and result in more meaningful services for all of our children. There will be separate services for Pre-Gan & Gan, Alef thru Gimmel and finally Daled & Hay. In addition, the leaders of these different services will be able to have a greater degree of control due to the reduced number of children in each service.
I wish you all an enjoyable and safe summer!
The terrible killings at the AME Church in Charleston captured national attention on a grand scale. All of us can relate to it because as Jews, we have experienced, through the centuries, what it feels like to be a target of hate. I would like to relate the Charleston tragedy to a big theme in our parashat: “Making space.” I am struck by how much space has been made by the Charleston community, church members and even victims' family–space of compassion, space for love and support, space even for forgiveness, which was stunning and even jarring to me, so close to the moment. But clearly they restricted space as well. They closed ranks and their doors to hatred and malice, and showed us a community that proudly built bridges of care and of love. I will suggest three concrete and symbolic ways that we can make more room for one another as well.
Before this though, in the parashat chukat, Moses is told to be “the rod” and told to assemble the people and talk, so that water will come out of the rock. Why, asks a commentator, does God tell Moses to bring THE STAFF when He might have understood that it would trip Moses up and he would use it to strike rather than to speak to the rock? Because, we learn, it was to used for the first miracle. The first miracle was to conjure space so that all might be included. Millions of people gathered before the rock. The staff expanded the spiritual space that allowed all to be included–millions of people fit and stood before the rock!
Space, says the old Star Trek prelude, is The Final Frontier! Our lives, on so many levels, are comprised of, and our tradition is about, the making of space. The Kabalists tell us that tzimzum, the contraction of God and His expansion of space, was how material reality came into being. Where would we be if God hadn’t expanded the space? When we marry, we join two souls together as one. We make room for our spouse so that our souls and our lives intersect. We cannot neglect the self and become the other, but we must let the other in. Those of us who send our kids off to camp sense how the house seems to expand, which allows us to throw away some of the debris of the year to make more room for them when they come back!
Charleston is not just a tragedy, but it is also an opportunity. How do we make more space in light of Charleston–as a nation, as a community, and as individuals? There are two concrete and symbolic acts that immediately come to mind. South Carolina has “made it right” with their minority community by lowering that confederate flag and confining it to a museum. The confederate flag was a part of their past, no doubt, but not a part of their future. Homage to ancestors should take the form of visiting the cemetery or observing the date of death in personal ways. Short of this, flying their flag is idolatry; it’s idolatry of ancestor worship. And it is greatly selfish. The honored and genteel history of the South cannot be remembered without the stain of evil of institutionalized slavery. That flag stands for the bartering and owning of human lives. To maintain otherwise is to attempt to put lipstick on a a pig. It is good to see that some politicians in the state move in that direction–in the direction of expanding space and reaching out to include.
I composed a reading to respond to the horrific church killings at AME Church in Charleston this last week. I have enclosed it for your reading and prayers as well.
The Talmud holds that the Holy Temple was destroyed by excessive gratis hatred.
Rabbi Kook deduced, therefore, that the Holy Temple and Redemption will come only with excessive love.
The Blessing for peace asks for the Maker of Peace to make peace upon all of Israel.
The Siddur of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon reminds us too to pray that God make peace “in the world.”
The truth is that God can only help those who help themselves.
Peace begins with one’s forgiving one's self and then being open to others. Loving others is a tall order when we don’t love ourselves.
Peace or love does not "break out." It must be tended and cultivated. It begins with an open heart. It begins with empathy for another’s distress. It begins with not holding grudges. It begins when one doesn’t prejudge. It begins when we begin to transcend the selfish and the blind within ourselves.
An act of terror and White Supremacy in Charleston was intended to divide us. It appears that is has united us. An act of terror near Modiin, Israel by Palestinian terrorists yesterday also will bring us together.
We extend out condolences to the families of the victims and their families. May the fallen be remembered for blessing.
We pray for the recovery of the injured. May they find healing from physical and emotional trauma.
May a time soon come when the words of Isaiah ring out in truth: "They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." May our love one day be excessive enough to build the heavenly temple and to bring redemption nearer, and let us say AMEN.
The regional Rabbinical Assembly–a group of rabbis along with the LI Board of Rabbis–has reached out to colleague black ministers with whom we have formed a group, and sent the following message, composed by our RA Region President, Rabbi Art Vernon:
Dear Bishop White,
My colleagues in the Rabbinical Assembly of Nassau, Suffolk and Queeens join me in expressing our sadness and our outrage at the attack on the Bible Study Group at the AME Churche in Charleston, South Carolina. It is inconceivable that a house of worship, a place of peace and prayer, devoted to faith in God, would be desecrated by such an act of violence. We are heartened by the coming together of both black and white people in Charleston to express support for the victims and their bereaved relatives, and to condemn this inexplicable act. We join with you and all good people of faith in offering our condolences to the bereaved and our hope that soon we shall all learn to live together as brothers and sisters in faith. Please share this note with your colleagues and let me know if there is anything else we cando to bring people of faith together in good will. May God bless the families of those who perished, bless the good people of Charleston, SC, and may God bless America.
Yours in solidarity, faith and prayer,
Rabbi Art Vernon, President
Rabbinical Assembly of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens
There are so many wonderful and exciting events that took place during the month of May, making it very difficult to single out the most outstanding ones during this period. I will highlight just a few:
LAG BAOMER CELEBRATION
On Thursday afternoon, May 7th we celebrated an amazing Lag Baomer event, which was simply fabulous! At approximately 5:45 pm, while everybody present was enjoying a sumptuous BBQ, I actually counted 156 children and parents in attendance. WOW! Due to the superb success of this event, we will obviously do it again with a few "tweaks" in the activities. There are so many individuals who were involved in the planning and orchestration of this event. As a result, I will thank EVERYBODY who assisted, as it was a team effort that guaranteed the success of this celebration. I would like to just mention a few people and arms of the ENJC.
This event was a partnering of our Ritual and Education Committees, Men's Club and Sisterhood (both of whom contributed financially) Joe and Alex Fingerman, who did most of the food shopping, Men's Club, Sisterhood members and parents, who so skillfully handled the BBQ, and a special todah rabah to some adults who have no children in our school and yet they were there to help–Nina & Steve Levine, Robin Kain & daughter Emily, Steve Hardy, Wendy Isaac and Lynn & Mark Slovin. I'd also like to thank Rabbi Silverman, who appeared as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Bruce Katz, an amazing professional guitarist, who entertained our children, Karyn Tyl & Evan Axelrod, who arranged all of the custodial help necessary to pull off this event, and our amazing Religious School secretary Jill Riemer, as well as 7 of our teen tutors/class assistants who were present.
A special todah rabah to Frank Brecher (ENJC President), Melisa Kurtz (our dedicated Education VP) and Robin Kain, who assisted with the logistics regarding the food etc. Kudos to Mark Infald, who partnered with me in the planning and orchestration of this event! Todah to Morah Evelyn, who was so helpful with the games and activities.
If I have omitted anybody, my apologies! The success of this event was absolutely based upon "team work" and thanks to all. Most importantly, thanks to all parents and children who were present, thus ensuring the absolute success of this unique celebration.
ADULT BAR & BAT MITZVAH CELEBRATIONS
On Shabbat Saturday, May 2nd, we celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of Bart Ayres and the Bat Mitzvah celebrations of Lisa Green, Rachel Friedman and Linda Hametz. What a wonderful, joyous and meaningful service it was. Mazal tov to all!
OUR APPRECIATION TO OUR TALENTED CONGREGANTS
During the past couple of months, we have had a number of our teenagers and adults chanting Torah portions or Haftarot. Todah rabah and thanks to the following:
Mikayala & Lara Berman, Shelby Maldavir, Kevin Stubing, Hayden Roth, Barri & Ethan Feuer, Evan Keiser, Eric & Jen Vladimir, Ralph Wertheimer, Marc Schweitzer, Howie Lewin and Eric Loring.