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Bein Hameitzarim (Between the Straits)
From sources and other "otzar Israel"
We will have services on Tisha B'Av this year “quite early,’” after Shabbat at 9:00 pm on July 17 and at 9:00 am on Sunday morning July 18. A full day of fasting is observed from before sunset, Sunday evening at 8:50 pm (starlight). We will read from the Book of Lamentations and sit together on the sanctuary steps Saturday night after Shabbat and Sunday morning. PLEASE HELP US MAKE A MINYAN for this important commemoration (Zoomers also are welcome). Mincha will be by Zoom on Sunday beginning 8:00 pm sharp.
Five calamities happened on Tisha B'Av, says the Mishna:
• The spies convinced the Israelites not to invade Israel in the second year and as a result they died in the desert in the course of forty years.
• The first Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer the Babylonian in 586 BCE
• The Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 CE
• The Betar revolt of Bar Kochva was crushed after three years and 500,000 were slaughtered, to end the last ember of Jewish nationhood 135 CE
In that time, Jerusalem was ploughed under to enable Rome to establish the capital in its place 135 CE. Since then a number of other tragic events converge on or around Tisha B'Av (courtesy of Wikipedia):
• The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096 (Av 24, AM 4856), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
• The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9, AM 5050)
• The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10, AM 5066)
• The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7, AM 5252)
• Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9–10, AM 5674), which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust. • On August 2, 1941 (Av 9, AM 5701), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for "The Final Solution." As a result, the Holocaust began during which almost one third of the world's Jewish population perished.
Two events happen biblically in the Torah even before the destruction of the Temple. Moses comes down to give the two Tablets of Law and sees the Israelites dancing around a Golden Calf and smashes the tablets. God at that time had wanted to destroy the people but Moshe advocated and then spendt forty more days petitioning God to come among His people. The date: Tamuz 17, exactly forty days after Moses and the People stood at Sinai and told him then to go up the mountain. In the next year Moses sends out the spies to reconnoiter the land. Ten of them come back pessimistic in their assessment and they convince the people they cannot conquer the land. God again is furious, but Moses again counsels against Him destroying the people who are, after all, the descendants of the Patriarchs to whom God promised the land. So God requires the generation presently pessimistic to die in the desert in the course of forty years, and that the next generation would then be able to enter. One midrashist mentions that the very date the spies come back from their mission and in which the people suffer a failure of nerve is 9th of Av. “You are crying for nothing!” God tells them at the time. “I’ll give you something to cry about!” So this was determined to be the day on which the Temples would fall. Shattering, crying, and God being alienated from Israel become the salient features of these three weeks.
These two dates–17 Tammus to 9 Av–mark the three week period in which Nebuchadnezzer and his army seiged and penetrated the ramparts of Jerusalem and eventually razed the First Temple. The Prophet Daniel apparently is the one who establishes this three week commemoration. (Tur Orach Hayyim 551 Daniel 10:2) The Book of Ecclesiates mentions in a passage the “almond blossoms…” (Chap.12:5) Jeremiah, in the first chapter we read on Shabbat in the three weeks, mentions, “I see in my vision an almond staff”. The time it takes to see a new bud transform to a blossomed almond flower is twenty one days. This is the time that it took for the "bud of siege" to bloom into total destruction of Jerusalem. This rabbinic imagery is all the more jarring, because it borrows the use of an almond-blossoming staff. Such a staff is exactly what God uses to show favor and love to the tribe of Aaron, and establishes them as the line of Kohanim in the book of Numbers. (Nu 17:23) Because the eternal flame of the altar and the wine libation ceased from that moment of siege, so we refrain in the three weeks from drinking wine and eating meat (excepting on Shabbat). Some don’t buy new clothing or tools so as not to need to say a shehehiyanu at this semi-period of mourning. Weddings and music are prohibited. The length of time for these restrictions are somewhat fluid. The Ashkenazim are most restrictive. Rabbi Yaacov Ashrei tells us that the S'fardim observe these customs from the Month of Av, and Ashkenazim at 17 Tammuz on. Rashba (1300s Spain) notes in a Teshuva that though it’s customary to stop eating meat from the time of Av on, the Talmud doesn’t forbid it. Rambam’s formulation in his Mishna Torah forbids it on the week of Tisha Bav excepting Shabbat. The Selonker community from Greece had no restriction in regard to wine, only meat. Haircuts and shaving restrictions and bathing restriction likewise start for some on 17 Tammuz and for others as late as the week in which Tisha B'Av falls. Laundering is restricted on the week of Tisha V'Av. Even wearing a full suit the Shabbat prior to Tisha B'Av is discouraged. Bathing also has its increasing restrictions at this time. It is especially prohibited to take leisure showers and to enjoy swimming at the beach. However, in contemporary times, bathing briefly for hygiene is generally permitted.
This period of time is also seen as "a time of misfortune" in some of the codes. Selling homes and buying them are put off to later dates, and travel for some, especially on Tisha B'Av, is ill advised. Some speak of not walking outdoors between the hours of 10 am-3 pm due to the "evil force" (ketev Meriri) that may affect its force on young students. Although some communities allow weddings after Tammuz 17 but before Av, especially in cases of widowers who have yet to have children, it is wise not to undertake such a Huppah, since it is “chamira secanta,” a time of serious danger.
Liberal Jews these days don’t commonly abide by these guidelines, but they provide a spiritual and emotional latticework for those wishing to experience a deep communal sadness and sense of incompleteness due to our history of oppression and misfortune. Having an outlet for such sadness and expressing it can be an important act of ethno-historic identity as a Jew.
I wish all of wish all of you a meaningful three weeks and a manageable fast to mourn the loss of our Holy Temples and the grandeur that they bestowed upon us. Read More
Last night I sat with my seven year old, consoling her and wiping away her tears. Not an uncommon sight for a child who has a lot of “feelings.” And believe me, 2020 has given us all plenty of opportunity for tears. Between a global pandemic and its related economic downturn, it’s been a tough year. With continued racial injustice exploding into our consciousness again and refusing to be dimmed into the background noise of the chaos of life, we must confront pain. And pain again, as our political system was rocked by an impeachment and a fractious election that still echoes in the minds of many who refuse to accept its results. We have become socially distanced to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but as our alternate realities and facts show, we have become separated from each other by much more than six feet… There were the inevitable celebrity deaths, as well as those closer to our community, whether by the pandemic, or some other cruel twist. There was isolation, depression, and for weeks our synagogue building was completely closed. Yes, 2020 was not the best year—and that’s not even counting the Murder Hornets.
And yet…that’s not why my child was crying. As I rubbed her back, she explained: “But I LOVED 2020!” I almost paused my soothing efforts, so gobsmacked was I. How in the world could one possibly love what was so obviously a dumpster-fire of a year!? Had I sheltered her too much from the reality of what was going on–the pain and sorrow? Was she simply incapable of recognizing the magnitude of suffering which was 2020? Well, sure. That’s partially true. But underneath it, was a great truth, and that is, even within the curses of 2020, even within the depths of darkness, there exists some light. Now this is, in no way an attempt to minimize the pain many of us experienced last year and continue to experience. There is no simple comfort to ameliorate all the hurt. But we do ourselves a disservice to ignore the good that came into our lives in 2020. Homeschooling an energetic first and second grader was by no means a simple task. Often it was (and still is) a very frustrating endeavor, as I try to understand why every generation of teaching philosophers seem to think it’s good idea to teach math differently again. And beyond the number-bonds and units and tens, the diminishment of contemporary social interactions has obviously taken its toll on my little girl. But, she bounces on through it. She has accepted this new reality, and she has thrived. I am blessed. We have daily FaceTime and Zoom interactions with our far-flung family, and one of the benefits of being home together is many more hugs. This pandemic has given me a chance to interact with our congregation differently, and though I’ve seen very few of you in person, I’ve still gotten to connect to many of you in small 3”-by-5” rectangles on my screens, and have remained in touch with many of our non-local congregants, who in a normal year, I might not see until they return from Florida, like so many migratory birds.
But my blessings may not be your blessings, and your pain is definitely different than my pain. I can’t presume to tell you what will happen in 2021, but I can urge you to identify what WERE the blessings of 2020; and where can you find the blessings in 2021. I urge you to reach out to us here at East Northport Jewish Center. Outside of services, both live and virtual, or classes offered in both formats, we are here to help be the center of your Jewish community. Let us know what we can do to help you in these trying times. Find your Jewish family here, live or live-streamed. We are here for you, and may 2021 bring more blessing into your lives.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the East Northport Jewish Center, it is my pleasure to wish you and your family a happy and healthy New Year, 5782. I look forward to seeing each of you on the evening of Monday, September 6th to welcome in the new year together! I am overjoyed that our lives have begun to return to normal, but extend my sincere condolences to each congregation family that has experienced a loss since my last letter. May the soul of your loved one be bound up in the bond of eternal life.
We have worked diligently over the past year to offer services and safely celebrate simchas together. We are deeply appreciative of your continued participation and hope that it increases throughout the coming year. As the percentage of vaccinated New Yorkers continues to rise, the ENJC will continue to require the wearing of face masks while in our building to protect unvaccinated children and vaccinated immunocompromised adults. The Board feels strongly that we must act to protect the weakest among us. High Holiday services will again remain shorter than those of previous years, there will be a non-vaccinated seating section, and we will continue to monitor health recommendations and adjust accordingly.
My concerns about ENJC’s financial wellbeing persist for the upcoming year and revolve around our ability to maintain the level of spiritual and social services to which we have all grown accustomed. I ask those amongst you who are able, be as generous as possible with your High Holiday donations. In addition to the standard forms, you will again find your High Holiday Appeal card in this year’s package. I ask that you fully commit to supporting your congregation for the upcoming year.
I am honored and excited to continue my term as your Congregation President during these more hopeful times and look forward to personally greeting each of you and wishing you L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’teichateim.
B’Shalom Read More
I may be hated for saying this. But I’d rather be hated for telling the truth than loved for tolerating a lie. And the truth is that it is our responsibility to eradicate the cancerous extremist behavior within our own communities. African-American leaders should be at the forefront of shutting down anti-Jewish attacks by black youth in Brooklyn. Muslims should be the loudest to condemn Islamic radicalized terrorism. And I, a rabbi, must condemn racism within the verbal, mental and cultural shtetls of my people.
Therefore, I want to publicly condemn the use of the derogatory Yiddish word “schvartze” (“black”), those who make Jews of Color feel alienated from our brethren, and any who tolerate, defend and promulgate the racist Hamitic Hypothesis. I want to remind members of my tribe that it is not petty tribalism which defines us, rather the teachings of Torah herself which unite us. And, in the Torah, the very first Rebbetzin was black (Ibn Ezra; Radak, Jeremiah 13:23, Mo’ed Katan 16b, Shaloh, Shavuot 242 and 247), the entire Jewish tribe of Dan is Ethiopian (Eldad ha-Dani, Radbaz, Horav Maran Horav Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate) and all of us are created in the “image of G-d” (Genesis 1:27).
In the second century, Rabbi Meir taught, “Look not at the vessel but at what it contains” (Pirkei Avot 4:20) and in 1983 Rabbi Moshe Feinstein [uncharacteristically] signed a public letter demanding the [Jewish] world aid black Jews from Ethiopia. He told his son-in-law he “suffered great anguish” hearing they were treated differently because “their skin is black.” (Igrot Moshe Vol. 9) The message I see weaved through the glorious canopy of Torah teachings is one salient truth: Our value is determined not by external labels but by our intrinsic individuality. In other words, our soul.
Perhaps we - as a human collective - still struggle to see beyond the color of superficial skin to the content of character because we - as a spiritual collective - still struggle to see beyond the skin of the world to the character of our Maker contained within. Perhaps truly seeing and celebrating our G-d given diversity helps us transform a Darwinian jungle, where only the fittest survive, into a Garden of Eden where everyone can harmoniously thrive. And perhaps the Creator made the world not in black and white but with a rainbow of colors to teach us that one becomes G-dly when the personal plight of the “Me” becomes the moral mandate of the “We.”
Therefore, I - labeled as an “Ultra-Orthodox Jew” - will be “Ultra-Orthodox” in my fight against racism. I will push for reparations for African Americans (Exodus 11:12, Deuteronomy 15:13, Talmud Bavli Gittin 55a, Sanhedrin 91a). I will expose the ugly face of discrimination which hides in plain sight under the guise of benevolent stereotyping (The Insidious Effects of Positive Stereotypes, scholar.harvard.edu, 2012). And I will stand against all bias which perpetuate the enslavement of individuality using the shackles of oversimplified expectations (Psychology Today, “Where Bias Begins, The Truth About Stereotypes, 2016). As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, famed political activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, once said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides.”
There are those who argue that coexistence is impossible. That the tough reality is that rampant economic rivalry, family breakdown, and centuries of prejudicial societal constructs divide us from one another. But no one ever said that unity is easy to achieve. As the champion of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Almost six decades since he was murdered for speaking out, there are still political puppet masters planning for a race war. They’re not satisfied with slogans on T-shirts or messages on baseball caps. They want us to be at each other’s necks. But we mustn’t be afraid of their evil. For we only see evil in the world because the G-d within us knows that it is the force of good to stop it. As New York State Attorney General Letitia James said after an uptick in New York anti-Semitic attacks, ”We can’t shy away from obstacles and we can’t shy away from the facts. We have to face this challenge.” Or, as Akedah Fulcher- a black Jew from the Chassidic enclave of Crown Heights - taught me, “Silence is violence.”
There are those who try to silence me. “The arena of politics is unbefitting for a rabbi”, they say. “You’re a fool to believe in insidious racism,” they say. “You just don’t understand,” they say. Well, here’s what I say. I say that my religion makes it my responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless and the champion of the oppressed. I say that I'd rather be a fool fighting against injustice than an intellectual tolerating it. And I say that I may not understand a lot but I do understand that to stop “othering” the other, I must realize he’s my brother from another mother.
My father taught me that as long as ignorance, intolerance, and injustice exist, we can never rest lest we rest in peace. His ancestor died at the Battle of Gettysburg fighting for that truth, often not so self-evident, that all people are created equal. He used a sword and a bayonet. I pick up the proverbial pen to continue his legacy. For it is only through the heroes of our past
, upon whose mighty shoulders we now stand, that the evolution of democracy and liberty can continue to march forward. As Rabbi Tarfon taught in the Talmud, “It is not your obligation to finish the work nor are you free from engaging in it, etc” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
In these recent years of proliferated polarization, the victims of bigotry have eclipsed our nation’s attention. And it is what we do next, what we tell our youth
in the coming days, what ideas we normalize in our homes that will determine the future of our United States.
I believe what Dr. King wrote in 1967 that “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I believe what Elie Wiesel said in 1986, “Peace is our gift to each other.” And I believe what the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Mayor David Dinkins
after the 1991 riots, “We are not two sides; we are one side. We are one people living in one city under one administration and under one G-d.”
These leaders have all passed on but their light will never pass away. As the Talmud teaches, “When his children are alive, he is alive.” (Talmud, Taanit 5b). Dr. Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr., quotes Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression.” Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Elie Wiesel, channels his father as he asks
"How can so many among us deny that white privilege is real when our African-American brothers and sisters still suffer from the effects of a century of Jim Crow laws and voter suppression?" And I follow in the footsteps of my Rebbe who taught me that we treat G-d as our Father in Heaven in order that we might treat one another as G-d’s children here on Earth.”
In this way, we walk the dream. (Micah 4:2)