Words From The Rabbi

For your pleasure and edification we will be using this space to provide convenient access to Rabbi Dan’s High Holiday sermons, articles and weekly messages to the congregation.

An assortment of Rabbi Dan’s writings, lessons and other materials can be found at Rabbi Dan’s Publications and Projects.

Read Rabbi Dan’s weekly divrei Torah at Rabbi Dan’s Parashah Ponderings.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was planning my schedule for the next month or so, I noticed something unusual on my Google calendar. Because I synchronize my calendar with Hebcal.com, an online Hebrew calendar, every Jewish holiday and observance, no matter how minor or obscure, shows up on my calendar with the name of the special day and an icon. Showing on my calendar for this Sunday, August 28, are the words “Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot” and an icon of a cute little lamb, reminders that the 1st of the Hebrew month of Elul is the New Year for Animals in the Hebrew calendar!

lamb icon

It is commonly known that Elul is the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we begin a new calendar year. Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year” and is celebrated as the Jewish New Year. What is less known is that the ancient rabbis actually counted four new years in the Jewish calendar (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1): Rosh Hashanah on the 1st of Tishrei, which once functioned as the Jewish fiscal year with which the ancients calculated the cycle of Sabbatical years and the Jubilee, times when land lay fallow and certain kinds of debt were forgiven; Tu B’Shevat on the 15th of Shevat, the New Year for Trees, used to determine when one could tithe the fruits of a three year-old; the 1st of Nisan, the New Year for marking the reigns of Jewish kings and the counting of the months, as well as the time of our redemption from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation; and, finally, the 1st of Elul, Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot, the New Year for Animals or, alternatively, Rosh Hashanah L’Ma’sar Behemah, the New Year for tithing animals. Imagine the expense involved if the priests dropped a crystal ball from the top of the Temple gate – the Biblical equivalent of Times Square – four times a year!

Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot is similar to Tu B’Shevat in that both holidays are essential to the system of tithing in the periods of the First and Second Temples. In addition to tithing “first fruits,” our ancestors also tithed and sacrificed animals. Since the rules for tithing and sacrificing animals required that animals be of a certain age – a yearling or a two-year old, for example – the priests set a specific, uniform day to help the Jewish people know when their animals could be tithed or sacrificed. Think of the day as a kind of school cut-off date: any animals born before the date are automatically in first grade and can be tithed or sacrificed; any animals born after the date are still in kindergarten and aren’t ready to leave home quite yet.

There are two ways I like to think of the New Year for Animals. The first is as a day to celebrate our relationship with the animal world. We have pets. We eat animals. Sometimes animals annoy us. Sometimes they amuse us. Sometimes they cause us to stand in awe. The 1st of Elul would be the day to give special thanks or to engage in volunteer work in honor of our non-human companions and neighbors. If you’re looking for ideas, check out this website: https://hazon.org/commit-to-change/holidays/new-year-animals/.

Another way to think of the New Year for Animals relates to the significance of Elul as a time when we search our souls and begin to prepare for the High Holy Days. One of the themes of the High Holy Days is that of judgment, of passing before the Divine Judge who determines if we are worthy to be inscribed in the Book of Life. This passing before God’s gaze mirrors the Talmud’s description of how people determined which of their animals would be tithed. According to the Talmud (Bekhorot 58b), “in the Temple era, the tithing of the animals on Rosh Hashanah L’Ma’sar Behemah occurred by means of passing animals through a narrow opening in a pen where every tenth animal was marked with red paint.” In that scenario, if you were an animal marked with red paint, you were part of the 10% of your herd that would be sacrificed in the Temple. For us humans, sometimes it feels that our fate is as random as that of the tithed animals. More to the point, though, like the shepherd is always taking stock of the flock, God is always taking stock of us. It is with this consciousness that we move through Elul and into the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Whatever meaning Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot holds for you, I hope the 1st of Elul will be a day of joy and of heightened appreciation for our relationship with both animals and with God. Just don’t forget to mark the day on your calendar with an icon of a little lamb.

Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, is the major day of communal mourning in the Jewish calendar. Although a large number of disasters are said to have befallen the Jews on this day, the major commemoration is of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively. Central to the observance of this day is fasting and the reading of Eicha, or the Book of Lamentations, at synagogue while seated on the floor. This year, since Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, Tisha B’Av is observed from sundown Saturday through sundown Sunday.

In a departure from our traditional practice, we will be gathering as a community at Ashuelot River Park (behind Starbucks on West Street in Keene.) on Sunday morning at 10 am to read the Book of Lamentations. Everyone will be invited to take turns reading a portion of the five chapters of Lamentations in English, and Lainee and I will chant some portions in Hebrew. In addition, we will all sing the familiar “By the Waters of Babylon” based on the words of Psalm 137: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion. If we are brave, we may even sing the reggae song, “By the Rivers of Babylon,” also based on Psalm 137.

Please join us! Arrive at Ashuelot River Park shortly before 10 am with a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. We will try to gather in the semi-shaded pavilion, but since the public is unable to reserve the park’s facilities, we may have to find an alternative space to meet.

Following the reading of Lamentations in the park, join us back at CAA at 11 am to view the documentary Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. More than a reminder of our people’s tragic history, this documentary vividly presents the startling ability of the Jewish people to endure hardship and survive with resilience.

You may join us for one or both activities on Sunday morning.

To learn more about Tisha B’Av, click HERE. To read about Into the Arms of Strangers, click HERE. You can find Lamentations and other sacred texts HERE.

CAA’s famed Kosher-Q debuted August 6, 1967 and ran without interruption until Covid struck in 2020. The tradition returns with the 53rd annual Kosher-Q on Sunday, August 14, 2022. (We need volunteers and donations, so keep reading until the end!)

Did you know that the first Kosher-Q took place before the construction of our beautiful synagogue at 84 Hastings was completed? The synagogue had to use the property in some manner to preserve its tax-exempt status, and the congregation needed more money to finish the building. And so, the Kosher-Q – CAA’s annual kosher chicken dinner – was born, the brainchild of Julius Chomey and Jerry Weinrieb.

Our website includes the following description of the first Kosher-Q: (Mind you, not even the first Thanksgiving is so well chronicled!)

On the menu at the premier feast were chicken, chopped liver, sliced vegetables, pastries, com and coffee. Tickets were $2.50 per adult and $ 1.25 per child. In addition, hot dogs were sold from a cart for 25 cents each. The debut Q began at 10 a.m. and ran well into the afternoon.

For nearly five decades, the image of Eddie Kapiloff donning an apron and engrossed in grilling rows of chickens and corn became emblematic of the event. Mercifully, rain-soaked days have been few; someone up there must like us.

Things have changed only a little since 1967. Tickets this year are $18 per adult, $9 per student and $5 for children under 12. True, the prices have gone up, but at least now we accept credit cards! The Kosher-Q starts a bit later, too — at 11:30am — and runs until 1:30pm. And, of course, there’s a whole new cast of characters wearing the aprons, recruiting volunteers, and doing the schlepping.

This will be my first-ever Kosher-Q at CAA! I am so excited! I can already imagine the sound of BBQ chicken sizzling on the grill as its mouth-watering scent fills the air. I can picture all the people lined up for kosher BBQ’d chicken (or veggie burgers), fresh picked local corn steamed in the husk, rolls, cold drinks, and juicy watermelon. Such a celebration of community, tradition, and summertime!

I hope you will join us and enjoy your meal under the trees with friends and family, but if you’ve got other plans for the day, don’t worry. You can order your meal “to go!”

But here’s the thing… Does the Kosher-Q happen by magic? Do we have a fairy god-zayde that waves his magic schmata and – poof – it just appears? Does a fairy god-bubbie simply kvell the Kosher-Q into existence? NO!!! It takes a village to make the Kosher-Q work! We need volunteers. We need YOU!

Therefore, PLEASE contact Robin Kost, at rokenda@hotmail.com to introduce yourself and to ask her how you can help out. Note that there is a special need for volunteers at mid-day, around 2:30, to clean up and help move tables and chairs into the shed.

Also, we need donations for our raffle! Look around your house for treasures or ask a local business for a donation. Then call Paul Bieber at 603-242-3521 or email him at paulbaseball@msn.com to make a donation!

I’ll be there on August 14th working alongside all the volunteers and enjoying the return of the Kosher-Q after its two-year hiatus. Let’s be there together!

Rabbi Dan

There have been some troubling incidents of anti-Semitism in different parts of the Granite State over the past two weeks. Starting on Saturday, July 2nd, property owners in Portsmouth, Manchester, Kittery, ME, and elsewhere began to receive flyers on their lawns from a couple of hate groups, one called “The Nationalist Social Club” and the other the “Goyim Defense League.” These incidents should be of deep concern to all of us, not only so we can extend our love to those who have been terrorized by these flyers but also so we can take quick action if similar flyers begin to appear in our neighborhoods.

According to the Union Leader (7/12/22), “The flyers contain messaging such as, ‘every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish,’ and ‘every single aspect of the Biden administration is Jewish.’ The pro-Trump catch phrase ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ was also included on the flyers.” A photo of one of the flyers, which was shared with NH rabbis by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman at Temple Israel in Portsmouth, suggests the groups are trying to recruit new members. The flyers were sealed in clear plastic bags along with grains of rice or popcorn kernels to prevent them from flying away in the wind, and they were designed with black and red highlights, a clear nod to Hitler’s Nazis.

I have been in touch with Rabba Stern-Kaufman as well as with Rabbi Beth Davidson at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester to express our communal concern and support. In her reply to me, Rabba Stern-Kaufman wrote, “We will all be dealing with all of this plenty more, I am sure. This is our major work for this century. Hazak V’ematz (strength and courage) to us all.” Sadly, the work of combating anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds has been “our major work” for millenia; we have always needed strength and courage. Still, our nation has experienced an alarming spike in hate speech and hate crimes over the past several years, requiring an acute need for vigilance now and for the foreseeable future.

Local leaders in the communities where the flyers were distributed were quick to inform both law enforcement and the Anti-Defamation League of New England. Law enforcement agencies from local police departments to the FBI and Homeland Security are aware of these incidents and are taking them very seriously. The ADL continues to monitor acts of anti-Semitism and does its part to educate the world about the dangers of hate. Local churches and elected officials have also responded with concern, support, and resolve in response to these recent incidents.

Though we rarely experience acts of overt anti-Semitism in the Monadnock Region, we should not believe that we are immune from attacks of any kind. Should you witness anything of concern in this regard, including the appearance of the flyers from the aforementioned hate groups, please be sure to inform CAA’s president, Roye Ginsberg, and me right away so we can inform the appropriate authorities and keep our community informed. Roye can be reached at royeginsberg@hotmail.com or (413) 537-7364. You can contact me at rabbida@keenesynagogue.org or (603) 460-5410.

You can read more about the flyers and the communities’ responses in these articles:
Portsmouth Herald, 7/12/22
Union Leader, 7/11/22
Portsmouth Herald, 7/2/22.

With strength and courage,
Rabbi Dan

Our nation’s founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Events in recent years, including in recent days, have shown that 246 years after those words were written, the United States is still struggling to protect those divinely-given, unalienable  rights for all Americans. Without a doubt, this struggle continues partly because people of good will hold different understandings of those rights and how to protect them. Without a doubt, too, there are people who lack good will, who insist on defining those rights in terms of their own self interest in order to marginalize and subjugate others. I would like to believe that everyone in the CAA family, regardless of their political leanings, is a person of good will and that we are all determined to resist those who would, as a matter of principle, deprive whole groups of people from enjoying their rights. I would also like to think that we share the belief that, indeed, all people are created equal and are endowed with “certain unalienable rights.”

Working to secure the basic human rights upon which our nation was founded is deeply rooted in Jewish values. All human beings are created in the image of God, and, therefore, deserve to be respected and dignified just as we respect and dignify God. The Prophets gave voice to the Torah’s teachings in their full-throated exhortations to care for the poor, hungry, widowed, and homeless. In modern times, brave men and women have risked and, sometimes, lost their lives as Jews fighting for civil and human rights here and abroad. In America, whole congregations have mobilized for social justice even when not all their members agree with the “political” positions being represented by their co-congregants. Those congregations have learned from rabbis and teachers such as Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordechai Kaplan, Arnold Jacob Wolf, Avi Weiss and others that fighting for social justice is as central to the spiritual life of the congregational community as is prayer, study, and socializing, that social justice is the purview of the synagogue every bit as much as the individual or agencies designed expressly for that purpose.

In support of this bold idea, in 1951 three early proponents of Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordechai Kaplan, J. Paul Williams, and Eugene Kohn, published The Faith of America: Readings, songs, and prayers for the celebration of American holidays (Reconstructionist Press). Their anthology seeks to summon American Jews to engage in the struggle for social justice, a struggle that intertwines the highest values of both America and the Jewish People. In the following prayer, that I’ve adapted for our contemporary sensibilities, Kaplan, Williams, and Kohn use the occasion of America’s Independence Day to awaken all of us to our responsibilities as Jews and as Americans (p. 139):

The Significance of the Day

Our Ancestor’s God, Author of Liberty, who desires that all people be free to serve You and that none be constrained to serve other masters, we thank You for the liberty that our nation achieved in the war for independence. You have endowed all people equally with the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. Teach us to respect the rights of others and to assert our own rights in accordance with your will. May we never abuse our liberties by employing them to our own advantage while depriving others of the opportunity to realize their just desires and hopes.

May we never forfeit our liberties by permitting our minds to be enslaved to error, superstition, or prejudice, or our wills to yield to the promptings of cowardice or self-indulgence. May we ever expand the area of human freedom by developing to the utmost and using for the good of all whatever powers You have bestowed upon us. Let us ever cherish our nation’s independence and the freedom of its institutions, so that our nation may serve You and Your law of love and justice. AMEN.

I hope you will embrace the message in this prayer and that you will join me this Shabbat in reading it aloud with me.

Bivrachot/With blessings,
Rabbi Dan

Going with the theme of scouting the Promised Land from this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13:1-15:41), I urge you to come scout out all that is happening at CAA this Shabbat! When you do, you’ll see for yourself that it’s all “tov me’od me’od – very, very good!” (It’ll be very, very good if you’re here in person, but still very good if you need to join by Zoom.)

On Friday night, we will joyfully welcome back Lainee, aka Dr. Elaine Ginsberg, our magnificent musical director. Only six weeks after surgery to relieve chronic back pain, Lainee returns to the piano to lead us in prayerful singing! She’s been healing so well that she’s already to pick up where she left off in May – just without the back pain! Be sure to join us at 7pm as we share with Lainee our gratitude for her rapid progress toward full health!

And on Shabbat morning, we are excited to introduce Mindfulness Shabbat! Harry Reisig, a certified yoga and mindfulness instructor, will lead us through a restful guided meditation from 10:30 to 11. From 11 to 11:30, he will be joined by Kavya Reisig as they reflect on a section from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Ancestors, a compendium of rabbinic wisdom from the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Then, all are welcome to stay for a light lunch and linger throughout the day for shmoozing, games, and jigsaw puzzles.

Mindfulness Shabbat will take place on the fourth Saturday of each month and will follow our weekly Torah Study from 9:30 to 10:30, which returns to hybrid mode this week, i.e. in person and online! So mark your calendar and plan to come for all or just part of our Mindfulness Shabbat program.

Only two of the twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land in this week’s Torah portion, Joshua and Caleb, saw the true potential for the land and people of Israel. The other ten came back with a report of giants that would certainly devour Israel’s soldiers when they tried to conquer the land. Because of their lack of faith, all of Israel was destined to wander the wilderness for 40 years. I promise that CAA is not full of giants waiting to devour you! In fact, when you come to scout us out, you’ll find everything to be very, very good and you’ll want to come back for more!

Again, it would be really great if you joined us in person, but if you need to connect by Zoom for any of these activities, just click HERE.

Bivrachot/With blessings,
Rabbi Dan

I was first introduced to the mitzvah of kavod hamet – honoring the dead – as a rabbinical student when I volunteered for the Reconstructionist Chevra Kadisha of Philadelphia, the Jewish burial society. The Chevra Kadisha provided a workshop on taharah to a small group of new volunteers, and within weeks, I found myself huddled in prayer with a group of six men in the lobby of a funeral home in preparation for my first taharah. I’ve done many taharot since then, each as meaningful and humbling as the first.

Upon arriving at CAA, I was thrilled to learn that our congregation has its own Chevra Kadisha, which is ably led by Daniella Yitzchak and Gary Shapiro. Our Chevra has a core of volunteers who are always ready to help with a taharah and to do shmirah, two beautiful rituals that are done mostly in silence and for which the beneficiary, i.e. the person who died, can not reciprocate or express their gratitude. It sounds weird to say that I “enjoy” being part of this caring group, but there is a bond that forms among people when they come together to perform the mitzvah of kavod hamet. (Historically, the Chevra Kadisha also included a social component so participants could deepen their relationships outside of the work of caring for the deceased.)

Our Chevra Kadisha can always use more volunteers. If you’d like more information, please be in touch with Daniella at office@keenesynagogue.org. I anticipate teaching a course on Jewish views of death and dying that would include a lesson on funerary practices, but our Chevra Kadisha will also be planning a workshop in the months ahead to train new volunteers for taharah. It would be good for us to know how many people are interested in attending that training when it happens.

In the meantime, next Sunday through Tuesday Daniella and I will be attending (by Zoom) the annual conference of Kavod v’Nichum (Honor and Comfort), a non-profit that provides information, education, training, and technical assistance to Chevrah Kadisha groups throughout North America. We look forward to sharing our learning with you as we seek as a community to continue the ancient tradition of returning vessels of life to the earth as the souls they once contained make their way into eternity.

To learn more about mourning and rituals around death in the Jewish tradition, visit: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/category/mourn/mourning-rituals/.

Meet Shavuot, the “middle child” of Judaism’s major festivals. The second of three holidays that celebrate Israel’s harvests and the early history of our people, Shavuot is a short, two-day observance celebrated without the special seder, foods, and family time of Passover earlier in the spring nor the special ritual objects and beautiful outdoor structure of Sukkot in the fall. Because it falls near the end of the academic year and its observance is much simpler than its “sibling” pilgrimage festivals,  Shavuot is typically the least recognized and appreciated of all our holidays. Poor Shavuot!

Shavuot celebrates Israel’s wheat harvest as well as the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai about seven weeks after Israel departed Egypt. Thus, it comes after Passover, which celebrates our exodus from Egypt, and before Sukkot, which commemorates our long journey toward Eretz Yisrael. 

But you won’t find a word in the Torah about God giving the Ten Commandments on Shavuot. With regard to Passover and Sukkot, the Torah refers to both their agricultural roots and the historical events they celebrate. But when it comes to Shavuot, the Torah only commands all the men to bring the first fruits of their wheat harvest to the Temple. It says nothing about the revelation at Sinai.

It was the rabbis who first associated Shavuot with the revelation at Sinai long after the canonization of the Torah. The rabbis read the Torah closely and calculated that God revealed the Torah 50 days after Israel left Egypt. The Torah also instructs us to count an omer of wheat each day for 49 days starting on the second day of Passover, i.e. the day we left Egypt, and then to bring an offering to the Temple on the 50th day. Voila! The rabbi’s determined that the Torah was given on the same day that the harvest festival was to be celebrated, so they decided to add the big event of revelation onto the pre-existing “Chag Hakatzir/Festival of the Harvest.”

The three highlights of Shavuot are the reading of the Ten Commandments, studying Torah “all night,” and eating dairy foods. We read the Ten Commandments because we’re celebrating the time when God gave them to us. All-night Torah study allows us to keep Torah fresh and new, and it also reminds us that our ancestors stayed awake all night in anticipation of receiving the Torah the next day. The idea of eating dairy comes from likening God to a nursing mother: God nurtures Israel with Torah. Thus, it is a custom to eat things like cheesecake and blintzes on Shavuot. Yum!

We will do all these things together this weekend, and I hope you will join us!

On Saturday night, come to CAA at 7:30 pm for cheesecake and other delights and then stay for our hybrid study/meditation/celebration from 8 to 10 pm with other Granite State congregations. I will be offering a teaching from the comfort of CAA, and I hope you will participate with me in-person. When I’m not teaching, we will be interacting with teachers and other congregants by Zoom. (We will have a monitor and webcam set up in the foyer at CAA so the CAA community can all sit around a table and celebrate together.)

If you are unable to make it to CAA on Saturday night, you can still register for Saturday night’s Shavuot across New Hampshire here: https://templeisraelnh.shulcloud.com/event/tikkun-leil-shavuot.html. Once at the site, scroll down and use the form on the right under “Enter your details.” Before clicking on “continue,” be sure to change the “0” to a “1” in the tiny box next to the words “attending free.”

On Sunday morning, come at 9:30 am for Yizkor and then a Torah service for the whole congregation. Please help ensure we have a minyan of ten Jewish adults either online or in-person by 9:30 so we can begin Yizkor promptly!. The religious school students will join us at 10:15 for the reading of the Ten Commandments. Following the service, we will all enjoy an ice cream social outside.

Shavuot might me the “middle child” of the major Jewish holidays, but it is no less loved. Join us this Saturday night and Sunday morning to share in the celebration!

We can not measure the worth of a single life, despite what the Torah seems to say in this week’s parashah. In Parashat Behukkotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34), each Israelite family was to make a donation to the Tabernacle to support the upkeep of the priests and the sacred space they administered. The Torah sets a fixed amount per man, woman, and child based on the person’s age without regard to any of the person’s individual qualities or characteristics. While this system was essential to maintaining the central cult of Biblical Israel, it was never intended to make a statement about the inherent worth of human life.

That each human life is precious is a lesson we’ve been taught repeatedly in recent weeks with one mass shooting after another, but never more painfully than with the loss of young life in Uvalde, Texas, this week. There is something about the smiles and innocence of each of the nineteen 4th graders who were killed on Tuesday along with 2 teachers that captures the true pricelessness of life itself.

One person who treasures the smiles and innocence of young people more than most is Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, the executive director of Reconstructing Judaism’s summer camp, Camp Havaya. Isaac is a personal friend and a valued colleague who has dedicated his life to bringing joy, Torah, and discovery to young people.

I was touched by the words Rabbi Saposnik shared this week in an email to the his colleagues, camp families, and the entire Reconstructing Judaism community. I share them now to provide consolation and guidance and to let you know that I and our entire movement is here to support you as we all come to terms with the terror in Uvalde, Buffalo, and other places that are suffering from the effects of gun violence in our nation.

With blessings,
Rabbi Dan

Dear Friend,

The horror of what happened yesterday in Uvalde is almost too much to comprehend. They were children. And they were killed by a child. How is that possible? This is not how it’s supposed to be.

When we send our kids to school, we should expect them to learn, to grow, to run around, to make friends, to thrive. We should expect them to come home and tell us all about their day … or, more likely, not tell us all about their day. We should expect them to clear the table, to take too long putting on their pajamas, to forget to brush their teeth. We should expect them to be loud and funny and beautiful and full of energy. And we should expect them, as they always are, to be even more beautiful as they sleep peacefully in their beds.

We shouldn’t expect them to be killed. And yet, we see this happening more and more. I was nearly ten-years-old the first time I heard about a school shooting. Many of the kids in Uvalde were even younger — and they didn’t just hear about it, they experienced it. I’ll say it again: this is not how it’s supposed to be.

If you’re struggling with how to talk with your kids about such unspeakable moments, this Los Angeles Times article may be helpful. And if you’re looking for words of prayer in a moment such as this, Alden Solovy has a beautiful piece on Ritualwell.

Ezekiel 16:6 says: “When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you: ‘Live in spite of your blood.’ Yea, I said to you: ‘Live in spite of your blood.'” May the blood senselessly spilled in Texas — and in Buffalo, and in far too many other places over these past weeks, months, years — call us to lives of meaning, impact, justice, peace, and love.  

With hope for a better tomorrow,
Rabbi Isaac Saposnik | Executive Director
Havaya Summer Programs
CampHavaya.org | HavayaIsrael.org   

If any of us ever wondered if there’s truth to the adage “None of us are free until all of us are free,” now we know. An 18-year old white supremacist opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, last Saturday, killing 10 and wounding 3. Of the 13 victims, 11 were Black. The man drove 200 miles from his home to reach his target. He arrived heavily armed and wearing tactical gear, including a helmet outfitted with a camera to livestream his barbaric attack. This hate crime has rocked the community in which it took place, but its reverberations are felt everywhere, including in America’s Jewish community. Not only do our hearts go out to the families of the victims and their community, but more than that, we Jews share in their grief. We are no less free to ignore the hate that revealed itself in Buffalo than the people there who are suffering the most.

In “What you need to know about the antisemitic ideology behind the Buffalo shooting,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes:

An online manifesto attributed to (the perpetrator) explains that the attack was spurred by the theory that a tide of immigrants is crowding out white populations in western countries. The manifesto also says that Jews are the real problem but that “they can be dealt with in time….” 

“Are you an anti-semite? YES!!” the manifesto reads in one place. Later, the author answers the question, “Why attack immigrants when the Jews are the issue?” The answer reads, in part: “They can be dealt with in time.”

How can we read the words of this proud anti-Semite, who just shot eleven Black people, and not recall Martin Niemoller’s lament, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist….” We know how it ends. Niemoller could distance himself from Hitler’s hate for only so long before he, too, was incarcerated in a concentration camp. He discovered just how intertwined his own fate was with the Jews and others whom Hitler sought to exterminate. In our own day, white supremacists and believers in the bogus “replacement theory” will target anyone they deem as “other” and they’ll do it “in time.”

There is no “us” or “them” when it comes to hate. The biggest mistake we can make is to only join forces with other minority communities in response to tragedies like the one in Buffalo or the one in Pittsburgh or the one in Christchurch, New Zealand or the one in…. We must always strive to be in relation with other minority communities, with other faith communities, and with all who are committed to working toward a more just and peaceful world. We won’t always agree with people’s politics or worldviews, but unless people of good will are prepared to work with those with whom they have serious differences, we’ll never create the just, peaceful world that all people of good agree we want to live in.

While the adage with which I opened my remarks has been attributed to Maya Angelou, among others, it was the great Jewish poet Emma Lazarus who wrote in 1883, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” At the time, Lazarus was addressing the assimilated, comfortable Jews of America who were turning their backs on Jews who were being beaten, raped, and murdered in the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Let us close our eyes, though, and imagine Emma Lazarus standing before us today addressing the current scourge of hate plaguing our nation. Let us hear her talking about the interconnectedness of all peoples when she says, “We ignore and repudiate our unhappy brethren as having no part or share in their misfortunes — until the cup of anguish is held also to our own lips.”

This week, we read in the Torah about God’s call for a jubilee (yovel, in Hebrew) – a reboot of the social order and a release from indebtedness and servitude. The yovel reminded our ancestors that the lives of all Israelites were intertwined, that all of Israel was responsible for one another. The same must be said of all humankind: all lives are intertwined, we are all responsible for one another. In this spirit, I ask each of us to explore ways in which we can build relationships with people who are different from ourselves – whether that’s joining them in their social justice efforts or inviting them to support our work for social justice. There’s more than one right way to increase love in the world. Find one that works for you.

May we live to see the day when hatred ceases, guns go quiet, and all of us are truly free.

Bivrachot/With blessings,
Rabbi Dan

Every Shabbat during our services we recite a prayer asking God to bestow healing and comfort upon individuals who are sick, chronically ill, or recovering from a medical procedure. When we recite this prayer, known as MiSheberach (The One Who Blesses), we also call out names of friends, family members, co-workers, and even complete strangers who are in need of healing. 

The communal list I read during MiSheberach each Shabbat is nearly two pages long; it takes a couple of minutes to read the whole list. Once I am done reading the list, people in the sanctuary or on Zoom will then call out or write in the chat box additional names of people in need of healing. The whole ritual – between offering the prayer and saying the names – takes about five minutes. 

Though those five minutes can sometimes feel like an eternity, they are often the most intentional five minutes of our service. When we pray for the well-being of those we care about, after all, our prayers become more than words on a page, more than rote recitation; our prayers for healing represent our most intensely felt, intensely offered efforts to reach out to the Divine Healer.

What is most curious about the MiSheberach blessing, though, is not its length or its intensity or even the wide range of theological beliefs present in the room that make it meaningful to each of us. What is most curious is that a) most of the people for whom we are praying are not physically present with us, and b) we often hear the names of people we don’t know, many of whom are not members of congregational family. So why bother?

I’d like to offer you one response to this question, though there are many. The prayers we offer for healing are akin to the ner tamid, the “eternal light” that hovers over the bimah, the raised platform in the front of the sanctuary, shedding a dim light over the aron kodesh, the holy ark containing our Torah scrolls – even when nobody is around to see it. The ner tamid represents God’s never ending presence in the world. Our prayers for healing represent our never ending hope that all who are ill will find perfect healing, refuah shelayma. Our concern, our hope, is as real as the light of the ner tamid. Just as we find comfort in knowing that God is always present to us even when we aren’t in the sanctuary to see the light of the ner tamid, so too, do those in need of healing find comfort in our prayers even when they are not present to hear them.

Unlike in our ner tamid, the lights of the original ner tamid, i.e. the menorah that stood outside the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temples, the light would die out each day as the olive oil used to fuel the flames would be consumed. Our biblical forebears did not have the benefit of electricity to keep the flame lit at all hours. In essence, it took regular effort to make God’s presence known by lighting the ner tamid in the same way that it takes regular effort to keep the light of hope alive for those in need of healing.

The comparison between the ner tamid and our prayers for healing goes even deeper, though. Notice what we read in Leviticus 24:3: 

Aaron shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting outside the curtain of the Pact to burn from evening to morning 

Think about it. The light of the ancient ner tamid would glow before the Holy of Holies precisely when there would be the fewest people to see it, from evening to morning! The light would be at its brightest when the kohanim and levi’im were going home from work at night; by the time they returned to work in the morning, the flames would be alive but not as bright, perhaps nearly extinguished. Yet the glow of the ner tamid was still real even when no one was around to see it.

The Torah recognizes that we need to know that God is present when we feel most alone, when we feel most disconnected from what my teacher Rabbi David Teutsch refers to as “the radiant center” of community. After all, it’s easy to feel connected to God and community when one is surrounded by people who are doing holy work, whether that is offering sacrifices in the Temple, serving food in the Community Kitchen, or praying together on Shabbat. Away from those sources of light and love, though, life can feel lonely. It’s at those times when our prayers matter most.

If you are in need of healing, please submit your name for our communal MiSheberach list HERE or by emailing Daniella Yitzchak, our office manager, or me. You may also use that same link to add the name of another person who is in need of healing. 

As long as people are suffering, we will say their names and pray for them, no matter how long it takes. You might not hear our prayers. Inevitably, many of those assembled in the sanctuary reciting the prayers won’t know who you are. But think of the words of our prayers like the ner tamid that glows brightest when no one is around. The presence of the Divine is still very real even when it is not seen. Our prayers, too, are still very real even when not heard. 

May you find as much comfort and strength in the words of our mouths as in the light of the eternal flame.

Bivrachot/With blessings,
Rabbi Dan

“You shall be kedoshim – holy – for I, Adonai, you God, am kadosh – holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Sounds simple, right? Not! What does the word “holy” – kodesh or its plural form, kedoshim – mean? If we can figure that out, then how do we apply that idea to God? How do we apply that idea to human beings? Are we to be holy in the same way that God is holy? Is our holiness different from but complementary to God’s holiness? These are big and important questions. I couldn’t begin to answer them in the space of just a few paragraphs. In fact, finding the answers involves a lifelong quest. 

Perhaps the best way to start understanding holiness is by looking for examples of things we might identify as holy. This seems to be the approach of the Torah. In this week’s Torah portion,