Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In their own words

[Ed. note: Of course, after I posted these, our President spoke last night as well. Rather than give his words their own place -- as richly as I personally believe that they deserve such honor -- I choose to add them here, as part of the larger discussion. ]

It has been a VERY busy weekend and start to the week, and sadly, little of the news was good. Having felt the need not only to post my sermon early, but to add 2 additional posts on the shootings in Arizona, and the death of Debbie Friedman, I am truly tapped out at this moment.

So allow me to do one of the other thinks this blog was created to do -- expose other opinions and words that I find particularly well written, insightful, or merely significant enough to share to those whose opinions matter to me.

Those who are friends with me on facebook have already gotten access to all four of these. I recommend each highly, in its own way:

1. USA Today's Mike LoPresti compares apples to oranges in Arizona, and scores a huge success that should make us ll stop and think -- a Pulitzer worthy column if I have ever read one...

2. Jon Stewart's opening monologue from Monday evening, in full context, in his own voice. Regardless of your politics, this is a must listen. Remember when the movie Network first came out, and we all cringed at the idea of news becoming entertainment? Here is a guy who has turned entertainment into news, and does it darned well...

3. Again, irrespective of your politics, both the video itself, allowing us all to hear her words in her own voice, and the analysis that accompanies it, are de rigeur:

and, btw, when you are finished, listen to it again, and start to deconstruct what you are seeing and hearing, because:

4. Palin's clearly deliberate use of the phrase "blood libel" in her response to the Arizona shootings and their aftermath is one that should make those of us who are Jewish, and all people, a little uncomfortable. Here is a VERY restrained but on the money, response to that usage and more:

If these 4 don't get people thinking and talking and acting for the better, I don't know what might.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"By Spirit Alone..."

Debbie Friedman, zichronah livrachah
An appreciation and reminiscence
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD – January 9, 2011

I should be watching a football game right now. Or getting information out to my congregation, or finishing those recommendations that have to get into the mail tomorrow. But at this moment I can do none of those things. Instead, I am remembering one of the towering Jewish personalities of my own lifetime, Debbie Friedman.

If you are reading this, you know me well enough to know the powerful place that Jewish summer camping had in my youth, and continues to have in my life still today as a 50 year old Rabbi. I think it is very safe to say that Debbie was among the most, if not THE most, significant influences on me in that environment.

It was my very first summer at Camp Harlam. Late June and July of 1971. I was a little shy of my 11th birthday, having just completed 5th grade, still an only child, in a new place. My family had joined the white flight from Queens, NY to Long Island. My Jewish education from my very secularized parents at the time of our move consisted of a year of Workman’s Circle Sunday school at the local YM-YWHA learning Yiddish and Jewish culture, and whatever little bit I had picked up from my great-grandfather, mostly at Passover seders that were a mystery to me. Despite this, I was thrust into the religious school of the Conservative congregation in our new home town, because membership in the Reform congregation had been capped. I had learned a lot, even enjoyed that learning, but, honestly, it was all theoretical. There was little grounding in the reality of my parents’ home. We attended services only on the High Holy Days, and there was ambivalence about my participation with them on those days.

It was from that environment and experience that I drew as I tried to adjust to this amazing new world of Jewish summer camp. In the dining hall the very first evening, we were all introduced to the diminutive young woman with the guitar who would be our songleader. She may have been short in stature -- but we quickly learned that what she lacked in altitude, she more than made up for with ru'ach -- with spirit! She led us that first night in a few songs, mostly from the Zionist classics (I know now!), so a couple were actually familiar.

But it was at Shabbat evening services, themselves a new phenomenon for me, that I was to get my first taste of what the rest of my life would be. For it was there and then that Debbie Friedman was free to be her real self. We sang several of her melodies to the prayers, which themselves were only mildly familiar. But there was English! So I could understand what was being said, unlike at home. And guitar! And melodies that were upbeat, and welcoming. Little did I realize that I was far from the only one experiencing this phenomenon for the first time. But it mattered not – even though it was foreign, and new, I was hooked!

I, and we, soon came to learn that Debbie herself had written several of these melodies. She had even recorded an album. This knowledge made her a rock star – literally – in our young eyes. But, far from separating herself from us, Debbie was an integral part of our camp experience. When, during the second week of camp, she came into our bunk at bedtime to sing some songs with us and help put us to bed, we saw the person up close. She was real, and even though not much older than us, clearly someone to be admired and looked up to.

When I returned home, it was as much Debbie and the music that came with me, energizing my stories, as anything else I experienced. That was also the year that we switched over, finally, to the Reform congregation, and I began to be prepared for my Bar Mitzvah celebration. It was a perfect storm. And at the eye of that storm, the heart of our youth programs through the following years, the center of my own Jewish soul as it developed, was the music, nurtured literally by EVERY major name of that amazing first generation, between my involvements at Harlam and then Eisner, as well as NFTY in the New York of the 70’s. But it all began for me, as it did for so many others, with Debbie Friedman – her music, her spirit, her example.

As I look back, I marvel to remember that our Cantor, like so many others in the 70s, would not allow Debbie’s music into the sanctuary for far too many years. It seems inconceivable now, but it was true. We had to fight to be allowed to use our own guitars and choose on own music, even for youth group services! Thankfully, that turf-driven myopia passed long ago, if far after it should have!

I remember my daughter Emily’s first experience of Debbie – in a concert at Carnegie Hall. By then I was a guitar-playing Rabbi, Debbie’s music was already familiar to my young daughter. I remember seeing Peter Yarrow – Peter Yarrow! – sitting in the third row, center aisle, through most of the concert, until he got up and walked through a side door, only to reappear onstage with Debbie. And I remember how her music even influenced my parents, and was one of the avenues that they followed to comfortable involvement in congregational life themselves!

Despite the slights of the professional Cantorate early on, despite the incredible delay in welcoming her to the faculty of the Cantorial school at HUC-JIR only in relatively recent years, I will remember what a role model Debbie was to an entire generation of woman Cantors, and how she supported their efforts and encouraged them as both performers and spiritual leaders. Those who have enjoyed and been spiritually moved by a female Cantor in the last 20 years, probably owe a similar debt of gratitude directly to Debbie Friedman.

She gave Miriam the voice at the moment of our salvation at the Sea that the text tradition seems to have limited. She taught us at Chanukkah to respect the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Not by might, and not by power, but by (God’s) spirit – shall we all live in peace.” She even taught us to think of the batter of the latkes sitting in a blender, and learn from it to care more about those in need around us!

She taught us how to pray, and how to work, to bring healing to ourselves and to others. Sadly, now, we must come to grips with the fact that our singing her words and her melodies in her hour of need were not enough to bring her back to us in health. Apparently, God has need for a singer and songwriter and mentor and teacher and role model in the afterlife – and God has made the best choice possible.

I end, with thanks to my colleague and friend, Don Rossoff – she DID teach us all to “Sing a new song, sing a new song unto God.” And to Rabbi Rob Nosanchuk, whose use of these words got up on facebook before I could post, the words Debbie adapted from the tradition and set to music as The Travelers’ Prayer (adapted only slightly to fit this moment):

May you be blessed as you go on your way.
May you be guided in peace.
May (your) strength and compassion find their way to every soul.
This (is) your blessing (-- and your legacy). Amen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Nation in Shock

A Call for Calm Words and Action in an Hour of Crisis
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD
January 8, 2011 6:30 PM EST

The shocking and senseless shooting attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona earlier today leaves all people of conscience stunned and outraged. That this event occurred during a public event in which she was doing her job of meeting with her constituents, so that she might better represent them in Congress, in this era of widespread discontent with our elected leadership for being out-of-touch, adds a touch of painful irony to an already horrendous event. That at least 5 innocent bystanders, among them a federal judge and a 9 year old girl, died in this assault, and as many as a dozen others were wounded, adds further pain to this inconceivable occurrence.

At this relatively early hour, so close to the event, we already have a suspect in custody and publicly identified – a 22 year old, described in some reports as a military veteran. Such an identification would be even more troubling, but it is important to remember that his arrest does NOT mean he is guilty, or even involved. Only time and further investigation will be able to prove – or disprove – that assertion, or any of the many of the “details” currently being aired.

There are many – from all positions on the political spectrum, who have already rushed to judgment in making connections or proposing motivations, and causes. NONE of these have yet been proven either, and in this moment of our shocked response to tragedy, they do little to help bring calm or understanding. Indeed, initial reports had the Congresswoman dying in the attack, a report which has thankfully proven erroneous. And many of us remember the hours following the attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City, in which most media outlets assumed, erroneously, a connection to foreign terror groups.

What is needed right now is national calm, prayer and caring concern for all of the victims and their families – those who have suffered losses that thankfully, few if any of us can imagine. That, and a unanimous condemnation of the actions of those responsible. Nothing else would be an appropriate reaction.

However, as the hours and days will pass, we will likely learn a great deal more about those involved – whether we wish to or not. What we have learned already has led to wild speculation in numerous areas of national policy debate and disagreement, and irresponsible calls from both sides that are neither supported by facts nor an adequate expression of responsibility on the part of our political system.

The best result we can demand as a nation for an outcome from such a tragedy is a full and transparent investigation which leads to a clear and unquestionably accurate conviction of those responsible, with appropriate sentencing to follow. Those whose sense of outrage has led them to make intemperate statements about those accused of such a crime being unworthy of Constitutional protections fail to grasp the true significance of those rights guaranteed to all citizens of our country.

But similarly, those who have called for a deliberate attempt NOT to politicize the shooting of a politician in broad daylight seem more motivated by fear of what a full investigation might disclose than a sincere desire to protect our nation from additional pain.

Whatever motives and connection may yet be proven, it is clear that this tragedy obligates our nation, in its aftermath, to seriously, and honestly, without politics or rhetoric, explore deeply a number of issues which may have entered into this shooting. These include, but are not limited to:

Gun control
Protection of our elected leaders
Immigration and border policies
Care of military veterans
The tone and tenor of political campaign materials
The tone and tenor of political discourse, and our continuing rush to the extremes as a nation
The level of violence in our society in general.

Only then can the victims of this attack, which tonight includes every American, hope to achieve closure, and gain some sense of normalcy in the aftermath of this tragedy. Let us all pray and work for our country, now even more than ever.

An Ethical Challenge of Biblical proportions

Ed. Note: That this sermon was delivered in the shadow of a series of terror-inducing mail bombs in our immediate area, and on the eve of the cowardly shooting of an elected United States Congressperson, and murder and injury to multiple innocent bystanders, the questions raised seem only MORE significant as I post it, less that 24 hours later, and earlier than usual.

Be Careful What You Think You Know –
Sermon for Parshat Bo January 7, 2011
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

Friends, my words tonight will be an incredible challenge to many of us. They were an incredible challenge to write, and an even greater challenge to decide to share. But, in a week in which we learned that a jury found innocent the man whose car struck and killed our friend, Dick Greenstein, we are already troubled and challenged, as we seek to make sense of an unthinkable tragedy, to reach out to our friends whose grief and mourning for a beloved parent and grandparent has been denied the full closure they sought and needed, even as we need to adjust our assumptions about what happened and why, yet still maintain our faith! In a week in which I have shared with our congregation, online, an incredible article by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach on the proper role of the Rabbi, I, and we, SHOULD be moved to embrace our roles, even in the most challenging moments.

I warn us of the impending potential discomfort that I am going to create, not from a desire to remain well-liked in the face of diasagreement, nor from a desire to lessen the challenge of our text tonight, but rather from a sense of fairness and concern. Not all of us who came to services tonight came in a mood to be challenged. Those of you who did not, I extend my apologies to you in advance. But I cannot, and will not, refuse to share these thoughts on our portion this week merely out of fear that some might be made uncomfortable by them. For if I did, I would be guilty of what Rabbi Boteach accuses the Rabbinate of in his article. I would be guilty of perpetuating a silence that, to my mind, has gone on for far too long in our tradition. And, worst of all, I would deny us the opportunity to possibly resolve what appears to be a huge disconnect between our faith and our ethics, that stems from the content of our portion for this Shabbat!

You see, we come back to our Torah text for another Shabbat, and we find ourselves with a very familiar and expected story on the one hand, yet, if we are careful readers, a couple of daunting challenges to what we think we know and believe. And that is outside of the usual difficulty we have simply in dealing with a text that appears to have God limiting Pharaoh’s free-will as an excuse to kill many Egyptians!

In parshat Bo, our story picks up with the lead-up to the 8th plague – locusts. Before the plague is sent, however, there is some significant by-play. The portion actually begins with a conversation between God and Moses that leaves little doubt but that we are supposed to understand that God is pulling the strings on Pharaoh like a master puppeteer. God is doing this, according to the text “that you may recount in the hearing of your children and of your children’s children how I made a mockery of the Egyptians…” This idea should give us pause, as I hope it is contrary to the theologies that most of us are comfortable with in our own lives. I am sure there must be times that believing that your God will abuse your enemies might be a valuable psychological construct, but it sure is a poor basis for an ethical system by which to live our lives!

Fortunately, the same explanation concludes, “in order that YOU may know that I am the Eternal.” The REAL reason for this elaborate puppet show, we are told, is because WE need to be reminded what our God is capable of doing to others, for us. A powerful statement of why we should worship God – and one that works as both positive and negative reinforcement. For those who are motivated by the carrot, we are thankful for all that God has done, and for God’s protection. For those who need the stick, look at what God did to the Egyptians, and imagine what God is capable of doing to us if we ever deserve punishment!

This last bit turns the heat off of God’s behavior, and focuses it on ours. What does it say about US that we need our God to go to such extremes in order for us to recognize the power of our God?! So, from the opening paragraph, we are already being forced to confront ugly truths about our ancestors, if not ourselves, and to deal with theologically challenging events. And it is only going to get worse as we go!

Pharaoh’s courtiers question the wisdom in continuing to prevent the Israelites from going out to worship, as Moses has requested. Even those advisors closest to Pharaoh have already read the handwriting on the wall far more accurately than Pharaoh is being allowed to do. And this change of heart from his most trusted advisors leads Pharaoh, still BEFORE the onset of the locust hordes, to summon Moses and Aaron, and accede to their last request to go to worship their God. Once again, Moses, instead of accepting the change of heart, ups the ante on what Pharaoh needs to allow, leading to further stalemate, and leading to the onset of the plague.

With the arrival of the plague, it appears Pharaoh is ready to cave in completely. He immediately admits his guilt before Moses and Aaron, and begs for an end to the plague. Moses must have been impressed by Pharaoh’s sincerity, as he immediately asked God to relent. And God did, but then immediately pulled the strings again on Pharaoh’s heart, to justify the 9th plague – darkness. The impact is clear – Pharaoh again accedes to the last set of demands, only to have Moses AGAIN up the ante, and again we end up in stalemate and confrontation when it appears that resolution is at hand.

All of this, even before we get to the killing of the first born, HAS TO make us wonder what is really going on here. Scholars have, for years, viewed the plagues in mythological terms – as a confrontation between godheads. Our One God on one side, and the pantheon of Egypt on the other. Starting with the Nile River God, and working in crescendo up to these last three plagues – in which first holy scarabs are turned against Egypt, then the Sun God Aton-Ra is literally eclipsed. Only the Pharaoh himself – seen in ancient Egypt as divine – remains of the Gods of Egypt. And the 10th plague will surely take care of that last item as well!

For the ancient world, such a story was clear – it worked. AND, because it worked, because OUR God emerged supreme, whatever ethical issues might have been raised would have been dismissed as minor quibbles. But for us modern readers, too many of whom already have God issues, we find the ethics troubling, and are not as easily assuaged to dismiss those concerns in acknowledging the victory of our God. This, too, is not our theology. But the REAL problems are about to begin!

At the start of the SECOND chapter of Bo, God is about to prepare us for the 10th and last plague. But first, God gives Moses THIS astounding command: I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go… Tell the people to BORROW, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” Borrow? After telling Moses that we are about to leave for good? How is this BORROWING? There can be no intent to return these items!

We moderns hear this story, and are troubled greatly – or should be -- even though the text tells us that the Eternal disposed the Egyptians favorably toward us and our request. So, we do what, surprisingly, our ancestors do not seem to have been willing or able to do. We ask the tough question, and make the challenging comparison.
We remember the midrash on Noah, that asked whether he was absolutely a blameless man, despite living in an age of violence and lawlessness, deserving to be wiped out. Or was he merely apparently a righteous man – nothing more than the best of a bad lot?

We remember the similar midrashic debate about Moses at the Burning Bush – did the Bush confirm Moses’ status as the one to lead us out of Egypt, because only Moses saw something worth turning aside and investigating that everyone before him had missed? Or did God place the bush there FOR Moses to see, to justify a decision already made?

But then WE compare Moses to Abraham – just as the Midrash tried to compare Noah to Abraham. The Abraham who seemed to blindly follow God’s commands, and attempted to sacrifice Isaac, seems VERY similar to the Moses we see here. BUT, the Abraham who argued and negotiated with God over the fate of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah, and didn’t rest until he would only have been negotiating for those who were his own family, clearly seems morally superior to the Moses we see here. Where, after all, is Moses, questioning the idea of BORROWING that is not borrowing, but is clearly meant to serve as a way to give reparations to God’s people for their years of servitude? Where is Moses, after the stunning reversals of Pharaoh; the words of God, almost bragging about being the puppet-master; and the suffering he has seen inflicted on the PEOPLE of Egypt through 9 plagues, showing even a shred of the caring and concern towards others which led him to slay the task-master in his youth?

Moses, our great LEADER, appears at this critical juncture to have been reduced, himself, to being just another pawn in God’s chess game with the gods of Egypt. While THAT, in itself, may NOT be so troubling to us – would that more leaders today, in all walks of life, had the hubris to acknowledge THAT truth – it raises other issues for us as modern readers. Are we ALL just God’s pawns? If so, where then is free will?

The Rabbis of old were troubled by this as well. They phrased their question far differently, however. They PRESUMED that we DO have free will, and therefore needed to find what it was that distinguished THIS generation as the one worthy of being redeemed! And they found answers that worked for them. However, taken together, those answers, at least to me, do not outweigh the negative of, effectively, wholesale THEFT from the Egyptians! Even as some kind of reparation.

And, I believe, even the Biblical author(s) and editor(s), were troubled here as well, because the last huge problem of the text tonight appears to be an attempt to ANSWER this question of worthiness – an answer, interestingly, that the Midrash itself does not choose to use!

Chapter 12, the third and final chapter of Bo, begins with God giving Moses further instructions for the people to follow. God tells Moses: “Speak to the whole community of Israel, and say that on the 10th of this month, each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household.” After some discussion of what to do when a family can’t consume a whole lamb themselves, and what qualities the lamb should have, God continues: “You shall keep watch over it until the 14th day of this month; and all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight.” The instructions continue by telling us to use the blood of this sacrificial lamb to mark our homes so the Angel of Death will know to Pass Over us, and telling us to eat the lamb afterwards, dressed and ready for flight, because the 10th plague is coming, and all the first born of Egypt shall die.

The last words of the text before the onset of this 10th plague tell us: “The people then bowed low in homage. And the Israelites went and did so; just as the Eternal had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” It is clear that the people obeyed what they were told to do by God through Moses and Aaron! One might think that by protecting themselves from the Angel of Death, our ancestors proved worthy of being saved, by following God’s commanded word!

However, looked at another way, this actually becomes the greatest indictment of the people and Moses -- for allowing unnecessary pain and suffering and wholesale death! Assuming that these words were delivered by Moses no later than the 9th day of the month, to allow the people to prepare to take the lamb the following day, our people had at least FIVE DAYS WARNING of what was to come! Where was the effort to save their neighbors from the horrible fate that awaited them? Why (and how) was there not even a leak of information to the Egyptians? Were Moses and our ancestors SO consumed that, after so long, the freedom that they had waited for was finally at hand, that they allowed a sense of entitlement or a desire for revenge to silence them to the ethical challenge of knowing that a holocaust was about to occur? If so, HOW could this generation been deemed worthy of salvation?
How has a text that leaves open such damning questions become canonized, and gone unchallenged by our tradition? And what does it say about those who came before us, and about us, that there has been virtual silence in the face of such an accusation? Has generation after generation been so blind to this reading? Is that whither the silence? Or is something more conspiratorial or fear-induced at work here? Is the silence caused by the unease of generations of learned Jews at the thought that opening the question might force many to question the origins of the Biblical text, or worse, the text’s ethical imperative for us? Even if that IS the explanation, it has been a couple of centuries since scholars have let the genie of the text’s origins out of the lamp. And since the genie isn’t going back into the lamp anytime soon, why haven’t WE moderns done what those before us were unable or unwilling to do? Especially we post-moderns, who experienced the Holocaust of World War II, and its aftermath, ourselves? I do not know! But I am INCREDIBLY troubled to recognize that this still appears to be the case!

Sure, there are answers given in every era of our tradition to justify God’s behavior during the Egyptian plagues. But suddenly, they seem far emptier than before, far more rationalization than acceptable answer. But then again, isn’t that true of most efforts to make theological sense of what the Nazis did to us and to so many others? Why shouldn’t that same sense of emptiness apply here for us?

And honestly, compared to this indictment, the inconvenient truth that is usually raised about this early warning to the people of what is about to come in the 10th plague, and how to prepare themselves for it – that it completely puts the lie to the traditional reason why we eat unleavened bread at Passover (namely, that we didn’t have enough time to let the dough properly rise) seems trivial at best!

Friends, tonight we begin a textual celebration of our ancestors’ freedom from physical servitude in Egypt, one that concludes next Shabbat, when our Bat Mitzvah will read of our escape at the Sea. It so happens that she will do so this year on the weekend on which we celebrate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and death were themselves a text of speaking truth to power – exactly what appears to be missing in our text for this Shabbat! That celebration in our text is capped off on the following Shabbat when we and our ancestors directly experience God at Sinai. Heady stuff, indeed!

At this season of a new secular year, I pray that we might find the strength, and the integrity, to confront these brutally challenging issues for us as Jews, raised by our own text; to regain a sense of consistency and meaning in our sacred text that helps us to make sense of our lives and brings an order to our world. I pray this not merely for its own sake, and ours, but so that we might once again be elevated by our Jewish tradition, moved to work for what is right for all people, empowered to question what needs to be questioned, and willing and able to sit together with others to seek real and lasting solutions. Until we can come to that table relatively untroubled by our own experiences and understandings, we can hardly be expected to give our best efforts to finding the common ground that unites us all as God’s creation, nor to recognize and value the differences in others that make us all unique.

I warned you this wasn’t going to be easy! It still isn’t. I pray that we are willing and able to rise to the challenge, and in the process, help to make it easier in the future! KYR

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Year's Resolution -- And a Link to Challenge us All

I begin by wishing everyone a Happy 2011! As I pointed out in my remarks to my congregation on New Year's Eve -- a sermon given with no notes, hence its absence from these pages -- there is assuredly no more arbitrary celebration in the human history of time than making Midnight on January 1st into New Years! Nonetheless, it IS a new year, and with that observance goes a strong tradition of making resolutions -- even if this was likely transferred from the self-inventorying that our Jewish New Year -- Rosh Hashanah -- obligates us to undertake.

My own resolution, acted on here today, is to catch up and keep current in the Weis Man corner of the blog-o-sphere. Between my injury, our anniversary celebration, the Bar Mitzvah, and the follow-up to those events, it was not easy -- but I make excuses. I invite you to catch up, and to stay tuned. There is much more to come in 2011!

And I start, besides by filling in all that was missing, as I have now done, with this link to an incredibly challenging and powerful blog by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. One that challenged me when I read it, and one which I hope will challenge ALL of us. And, in this case, one which I believe deserves an honest and open discussion.

And so, even as I list the link below, I hope that my readers (do I still have any readers) will take the couple of minutes to read Rabbi Boteach's column, and then respond to it here. For me personally, this will be a far more valuable discussion, as it will allow me to see how those who have already allowed me to be an influence in their lives feel on the issue of the role of the Rabbi today.

So, here is the link -- enjoy:

As always, I am never sure whether this is being read as a link or not. If you cannot click on the address above and get directly to the article, please cut it and paste it into your browser.

On Being Prepared

Be Prepared! – A Sermon for Parshat Mikeitz –
December 3, 2010 – 3rd Candle of Chanukkah
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

Tonight, we celebrate the Shabbat that falls during Chanukkah. These 2 celebrations jammed together actually create a couple of conflicts for us, as we celebrate as the Solel mishpachah this evening. Shabbat, in our congregational practice, is a Friday night thing. We come together, recreate our extended communal family, and pray together, supporting each other in good times and bad. As part of that, we have included the traditional rituals of the Shabbat table in our communal celebration – the lighting of Shabbat candles, the qiddish over the wine, the offering of blessings, and the breaking of the challah bread together. According to the historians, Reform congregations started to add these home rituals when it became clear that the vast majority of homes no longer regularly practiced them.

But then, there is Chanukkah. One of the two most celebrated Jewish holidays in modern practice (the other is Passover). A much bigger deal in our era than it ever was before in Jewish history. The reasons for both of these phenomena seem clear. The celebration of Passover and Chanukkah are both centered in the home, not the sanctuary, and both revolve primarily around the children, making them both very attractive for celebration. The timing of Chanukkah, even this year, when it is about as far away from that other holiday as possible, is assuredly the reason for its growth in significance – it allows us to have our own celebration during the “Christmas season.” This, even though the truth is that there are only 3 elements that the two seasonal holidays share – the season, the giving of gifts, and the focus on celebration in the home with the kids and family. And, by the way, a good case can be made that there is a hugely artificial basis for all THREE commonalities!

But I do NOT want to preach about the December dilemma, or even about the Chanukkah story tonight. My message for this evening CAN be found in the Chanukkah story, if one looks closely enough. But it comes from the Torah portion, Mikeitz, which is ALMOST always the portion read during Chanukkah. However, to fully get the message, a quick synopsis of Chanukkah is necessary.

Many of you know that when it comes to Chanukkah, I take what can only be described as a “conspiracy theorist” point of view. Chanukkah was a holiday celebrating the Maccabees great victory – surviving against ridiculous odds against the Syrian-Greeks, who were hell-bent on wiping out Judaism, if not Jews. It was assuredly instituted by the Hasmoneans, the descendants and close followers of the Maccabees, who prevailed in the long drawn out civil war for the soul of the Jewish community that began BEFORE Antiochus, and did not end until almost 20 years AFTER the Temple was rededicated.

The Hasmoneans turned out, over the course of their almost 80 years in power, to be something other than the religious zealots we were mostly taught to view them as in our own youth. “Let all who are zealous for God follow me,” the rallying cry of Judah Maccabee during the fighting against Antiochus, was replaced with a clear willingness to assimilate both Greek and Roman trappings in subsequent generations. Indeed, so successful were the Hasmoneans, that MANY non-Jews were drawn to Judea and Judaism in their time. So much so, that the Chasidim, the most pious followers of the Hasmoneans, felt compelled to remove their support from their ruling party, for fear that the Jewishness of Judea was being compromised by this influx of outsiders.

That departure had two simultaneous effects. It weakened the Hasmonean rule enough to justify direct intervention by the Romans, a reality which eventually led to the destruction of the Temple. And when the Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees (the word means “Outsiders” in Hebrew) were there to take charge and keep things Jewish, albeit in a VERY different form. The Pharisees, no longer the outsiders, changed their name to the Rabbis, and re-formed Judaism for the next 2000 years. They were also, largely or wholely, quite likely the same group that used to be known as Chasidim when they supported the Hasmoneans!

Once in control, the Rabbis went about establishing their new vision of Judaism – where prayer from the heart offered in public, but locally, replaced physical sacrificial offerings at the central shrine in Jerusalem; where Torah was read publicly as part of the worship; and where the kitchen table became the miqdash m’at – the small sanctuary at which the ritual purity connected to the sacrifices was maintained through kashrut and the other traditions that evolved. They redid the festival calendar, adding some items, strengthening others, and removing still others. And, having been almost wiped out twice in 65 years by the Romans, they adopted a strong pacifist approach, in an effort to survive.

Chief among the changes to the calendar made by the Rabbis was the removal of almost all the Hasmonean created holidays and observances, since almost all were based on military victories or defeats. But, it wasn’t JUST their pacifist needs that motivated THESE changes – it was also their origins in, and eventual rejection of, the Hasmonean dynasty! And yet, for all their efforts, one holiday remained so popular that it could not be removed – Chanukkah. It struck a chord, AND, it fell at the darkest and slowest time of the year, one already being celebrated by the Romans around them. Try as they might, the Rabbis could not rid themselves of this last reminder – and trust me, they tried EVERYTHING. The Books of Maccabees kept out of the final canon of TaNaKH. No scroll assigned to be read on the holiday. No mention in the Mishnah, the 2nd century retooling of Jewish law for this new reality. Nothing!

Only when they realized they could not make this holiday go away, some 500 – 700 years AFTER the events it celebrated, did the Rabbis attach the story of the miracle of the oil to the celebration! If they couldn’t wipe Chanukkah out, they would at least tie it to their world view, however artificially. Don’t believe their embrace was late and artificial? According to the Rabbis themselves, the rule for saying the longest blessing formula limits its use to actions that are mitzvot – commanded in Torah. Yet, think about the first blessing we say for Chanukkah – the holiday surgically removed and excluded from ALL of TaNaKH! It still starts with those ten words of the long blessing formula, as if the basis for lighting the Chanukkiyah is Biblical!!

The LAST trick of the Rabbis was to jigger the annual cycle for reading Torah. They left us no smoking gun statement that THIS is WHY the cycle runs as it does, but I have always found it far more than a coincidence that Mikeitz is almost always read during Chanukkah. Could the story of Joseph’s survival and re-elevation from the depths of the jail to rise to second in command of Egypt, all while maintaining his Jewish identity be any MORE of an indictment, from the Rabbinic perspective, of why they split with the Hasmoneans in the first place?! The Haftarah they assigned to this portion is the story of Solomon, the two prostitutes, and the baby, as depicted on our windows – one which features cunning logic over brute force, and in which, like Joseph’s interpretative skills, Solomon’s wisdom is ascribed to God! And then, the kicker. The special haftarah for Chanukkah, from the prophet Zechariah, where he teaches “Not by might, and not by power, but by wisdom…”

Yes friends, this Shabbat’s message IS all about… PREPAREDNESS! And it begins in the Torah, which I believe was deliberately chosen for this Shabbat! Joseph was ready when called upon. His response to Pharaoh allowed Egypt to be prepared for a killer famine, and kept his own family alive when they sought food with him. The Rabbis were prepared to take control in the chaos that followed the destruction of the second Temple, and able to make their changes into the norm for years to come. Even when, as with the celebration of Chanukkah, the Rabbis couldn’t completely get their way, they had a Plan B prepared to fall back on!

Just imagine, for a second, where our country could be today if our elected leaders, over the last several decades, had been more interested in getting us prepared for the seismic changes in reality that we have experienced. Virtually EVERY major problem facing our country today could have been avoided, if we had been prepared, and able to be pro-active, rather than reactive. Now, on issues like our own economy in the global world, immigration, security, global warming, we are far behind the 8-ball, unable to find meaningful compromise between competing political ideologies to solve these real life problems! Tell the worker who has been unemployed since January why he still can’t find a job – because we were unprepared for the shift that globalization and technology would create! Tell them why they are in danger of getting a double whammy tacked on – an end to their long term unemployment benefits AND a loss of their tax cuts – because our elected leaders cannot compromise their antiquated ideologies, even to help those so obviously in need of assistance. No WONDER the Tea Party movement, and Obama before that, struck a chord with their calls for change!

But how can we change when no one has laid the proper ground work for it, when we weren’t prepared for the changes thrust upon us? This goes beyond the politicians – we have a system that has grown too large too fast, and now threatens our long term survival. Pollution is what we create best today, still; the natural resources with which we stoke the fires of progress are finite, yet we still have not accepted that truth. We have allowed technology to rule us, because we had no Joseph, prepared to tell us a bitter truth in advance, able to prepare us and guide us through a tough and challenging time.

Even in our own lives, how prepared are we for realities we could face? Coming up on 10 years after 9/11, not even a full year removed from the worst winter in a century, how many of us have taken the recommended precautions and routinely keep our home stocked with what we would need to remain indoors completely for 7 – 14 days? How many of us have the battery powered radio, the rotary powered phone, the back-up generator, to allow us to continue to live if and when the power goes out and stays out for a while, and we are unable to move? Sadly, I think we know the answer is that few of us are! And if we choose to remain unprepared on an individual level, it assuredly makes it that much harder for us to be a part of the solutions to the more global challenges we face.

So, on this third night of Chanukkah, as we come together as a congregational mishpachah, chanukkiyot in hand, to sing songs and light lights and exchange gifts, we owe it to ourselves and to our world to dig a little deeper into our Torah portion for this Shabbat and into the story we celebrate on this Chanukkah eve. We owe it to ourselves and our children to give the gift of being prepared – able and willing to respond to the challenges we face today, and preparing to face the challenges that assuredly await us tomorrow. Anything less would be to sit, cowering in the dark, when all we really needed to do was to light a light! KYR

Immigration Reform -- A Thanksgiving Weekend View

Vayeishev – On Welcoming Home and the Challenge of Immigration Reform
Sermon for Shabbat Thanksgiving – November 26, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

With Rabbi Bob Alper joining us last Sunday evening for an incredibly successful and entertaining evening of comedy, it was inevitable. Many of us were trotting out our own favorite jokes, some of them even presentable in public. In the process, I was reminded of this gem:

The first generation Jewish son of immigrant parents had made good. He was heading off to college – the dream of every Jewish parent. He was going to make something of himself in this new country. He came home after his first semester – dean’s list. His parents were so proud. His mother worried, however, that he was lonely, on his own, so far away. The son reassured her that he had made many wonderful friends. The father looked at him and asked – “Are they Jewish?” “Some,” replied the son. The mom stopped worrying, but the dad began to.

Late in the spring, right before he came home for Passover, the son called all excited, to ask if he could bring a friend home for seder. His parents were delighted, and said that he could. And before they could ask any more, the son hung up.

And so it was a few days later, that he arrived home and introduced his parents to his friend – a beautiful Native American girl. His mother welcomed her in and started peppering her with questions about her background and her family’s history. His dad took him aside, to ask similar questions. “She’s not Jewish, is she?” “No dad.” “You are just friends?” “Actually, I am glad you asked. I think she may be the one.”

The older man’s eyes dimmed, and the son could see that there were issues for his father. He tried to put his dad’s mind at ease. “I know, Dad. You and mom came here so we could be free to live as Jews. And you are concerned that Lakota is not Jewish. But I swear to you dad. We have discussed this. And she is totally cool with raising our children as Jews.” Being from the old country, however, his father would settle for nothing less than full conversion.

And so it was, when the son called a few weeks after seder to announce that he and Lakota were getting married, that like many of his generation, the father hung up the phone, tore his clothes in pain and loss, and started to say kaddish for the son who was now dead to him. A few months later, the son called when they returned from their honeymoon in Israel, to share with his mother. But his father still wouldn’t speak to him. A few months later, he called again, to share the good news that Lakota was pregnant. Still nothing from his father. When he called to say that the baby, a boy, had been born, and was healthy, and had been circumcised, his mom was ecstatic. His father still said nothing. Not even his wife’s pleading with him could change things. “But Leo,” she chided him, “David tells me they even agreed on a Jewish name!” Still nothing.

It wasn’t until Lakota called a few months later, and told her mother-in-law that her conversion had just been completed, that the old man finally relented and agreed to travel to see his only grandson. When his parents arrived, the son could hardly wait, he was so proud and happy. “Mom, Dad,” he began, “I’d like you to meet your grandson – Whitefish!”

A silly story, to be sure, but one which speaks volumes to us on this night. We welcome back our young adults, on this Reunion Shabbat, as we do every year. As a community, like their parents, we are always glad to see our young people maintain a connection with us, and with the organized Jewish community. We may not live in the world of my opening joke anymore – parents do not say kaddish when their children intermarry – we don’t even refer to it as “marrying out” anymore. But the truth is, we are all still partners in this business of Jewish continuity and survival. Even as we have grown to recognize that intermarriage is NOT the opposite of Jewish survival, in fact, in many cases it can make the Jewish identity stronger by making it more of a constant issue, we continue to work with our own children, and with all of the young adults of our community, to do all that we can to maintain the strength of THEIR Jewish identity, so, regardless of who, or even IF, they marry, they will still raise up children who are as strong, or even stronger, in THEIR Jewish identity in the next generation.

Gone are the days when all of our children and grandchildren had easily recognized Jewish first names – like Sarah or David – or even last names for that matter! Gone are the days when a walk through our religious school, or a scan of our sanctuary at worship, revealed a monolithic, Caucasian skinned community. And I honestly believe that diversity and variety make us stronger – because they force us to dig deeper to recognize what unites us as Jews, rather than settling for mere surface similarities.

It is the history we share, the values we share, a world view that truly DOES still distinguish us in many ways from our neighbors. It is celebrating this coming week, and not a month from now; praying tonight and not on Sunday. It is caring about our brothers and sisters in lands near and far, and the fate of the modern state of Israel. But it is also the foods we eat, and how we eat them; the stories we tell, and how we tell them. In short, it is the way we look at the world, and how we see our place in it.

As we celebrated Thanksgiving last night, with families and friends, I hope THAT is one of the things that we all, at least in our hearts, gave thanks for. I know I did!

For those of us who started our Thanksgiving celebration on Wednesday evening as part of the larger Bowie community, at the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service, we were reminded again of what an amazing time and place we live in – with all its blessings and challenges. To be free and welcomed to participate at CCPC with the rest of the community. To have so many non-Jews comment on how they missed the sound of the shofar, because some dumb Rabbi never looked at the last page of the service and arranged to have Leon bring his! To be reminded that, for all that makes us different from the majority of those around us, there is still so much more that we share in common with them, for which we must also give thanks.

But most of all, we, especially, were challenged by the words of our speaker. Gustavo Torres, an immigrant from Guatemala, and the executive director of a group called CASA de Maryland, a leading Latino and immigrant advocacy group, spoke passionately about the challenges of working for immigrant rights in our ever fracturing society. His stories about violence directed at immigrants – both naturalized citizens AND those who are here without proper authorizing documents – were eerily reminiscent of the stories of those who worked for equal rights in the South in the 1960s.

His words reminded all of us gathered together that the issue of immigrant rights is a significant one for millions of people living in this country today. And, because of a failed, and at times non-existent, policy over the last 20 years or more in policing our borders effectively, and documenting new arrivals, we as Americans have failed our most recently arrived neighbors.

The issue of illegal immigration is a toxic time bomb that is lit in our country, waiting to explode. It is, in many significant ways, every bit as divisive in our time as the issue of slavery was in its day. We have already seen one state, Arizona, take action on its own because of its perception that our national effort is not working, and harming the citizen of that border state in particular. And they are not wrong in that assessment! We have seen local jurisdictions, even in our own area, move to allow action without cause to check a suspected illegal immigrant’s status. This is no different than the “states’ right” argument that Southerners claimed was the real reason for the Civil War.

And more and more, as we have seen our country divide politically into “red” and “blue” states, rhetoric has replaced ideology, sound byte pandering to the masses has replaced public policy debate based in realistic understanding of the enormity and complexity of the issues that need to be fixed. Those who feel that they “have” in this country are being joined by those who feel that they are being deprived of having by nebulously defined “others” in a partnership that threatens to make the economic class divide every bit the seismic disaster that race was in the mid-19th century, when it led us to war with each other.

All of which leaves those who are new to this country as the pawns in a horrendous game of human chess. Their real stories and struggles forgotten, they are turned into symbols. We, many of whom are still fortunate enough to remember hearing the stories of OUR immigrant ancestors, first-hand, in our youth, have a debt to pay forward by making sure that this country -- in which we may not always have been welcomed with open arms, but were tolerated, and allowed to thrive as rarely before in our people’s long history -- remembers that the ONLY ones among us who were not once immigrants in our collective national past were those like Lakota whom we now call “Native Americans.” And we have forced most of THEM onto reservations, paying them off by allowing them to run casinos!

The haves among us, and those who fear “others” for being different, and blame their not having on those different others, were once, themselves, just as we were, just as these new immigrants are today, the new and different Americans. They would not be where they are today, and neither would we, if others had done what is too often proposed in the current debate – returning the undocumented to their countries of origin, and forcing everyone who wants to come to do so “legally.”

Was it “legal” when ship companies crammed our ancestors beyond what was safe into the holds of ships, extorting what they could get for tickets of passage? Was it “legal” for our ancestors to be turned away because Uncle Hymie had promised them a job in the family shirt factory before they arrived? Was it “legal” to lock underaged workers, desperate to support their families in their new homes, where they sometimes lived 10 and 11 in a 2 room apartment, in sweatshops for 12 – 16 hour shifts without breaks for food, water, or bathroom usage? At times, those behaviors were both legal, and the norm. But were they ethical? I think we would all agree that clearly they are not. And eventually, all of those behaviors were forced to change because people spoke out in defense of those who were disenfranchised and adversely impacted by such laws and behaviors.

We often hear the argument “Yes, my ancestors were all immigrants. But, they all came legally. Why can’t these people just follow the law?” Historical note – for those of us whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1917, at the height of that wave of immigration, most of them had to break at least one law, in some country, to get here. Many left their countries of origin without permission, and carried no identity papers whatsoever! Because they were coming across the ocean, on ships run by companies that abided by US government regulations, to a limited number of viable entry ports, each of which had government employees waiting to process them, our ancestors were “legal” when they entered. They were properly recognized by our government.

The vast majority of those who have come to our country and are currently classified as “illegal immigrants” are so because, seeking to escape circumstances as bad or worse than those faced by our ancestors, they have taken equally or more desperate measures. Those coming from Mexico and Central America walk across the borders, or allow themselves to be brought in by those who promise them entry and protection. In large part because of OUR failures of policy today, those offering what our ancestors received on arrival to the New World to today’s immigrants are private agents, racketeers, smugglers, and traffickers. Those who come from Africa and Asia are more often than not trafficked as slaves every bit as much as 200 years ago.

In other words, the first step to solving the so-called “immigrant problem” in this country must be to find a way to stop victimizing further those who are already victims! To find ways to allow those who have done nothing to lose the right to be here worse than staying too long or trusting the wrong person to bring them here, those who have taken nothing away from our society but added to it by their presence, to stay here and become “legalized.” Then we need to develop a cogent and workable immigration policy, and an effective way of policing our borders, to stop the illegal importation of human beings! A policy that is a realistic, caring, and appropriate response to the needs of those who are already here legally, those who wish to be legal, but are not yet, and those who wish to come here legally and be welcomed.

Only then will the immigrant experience again become the stuff of the stories our families tell l’dor vador – from generation to generation. And, if you think this is a new phenomenon, let me share this story of my great-grandfather, Abraham Weisman. He came to this country, technically legally, by himself, as a teenager. He came alone, with another family shepherding him, and providing him a home when he arrived to New York. Sounds to me like today, many might see him as an illegal immigrant, for tagging along with a family not his own, and effectively claiming to be one of them!

But it gets better! When he chafed at the oppressive rules in his new “family’s” home, he bolted. Ran to the border – on foot and by train, and headed into Canada. To my knowledge, he never bothered to seek Canadian citizenship until perhaps MUCH later. In other words, he went north, illegally, across the wide land border, with no intention of coming back! A century before it became a common usage, my great grandfather was an illegal alien!

Friends – I share this with you tonight because it is fresh in my mind, and in the minds of those who participated in the Thanksgiving service on Wednesday night. I share it with you, because it is an issue that we, as Americans, can no longer afford to ignore; and as Jews, cannot allow to continue to play out as it has. I share it with you, because, as we gave thanks with our immigrant families just yesterday, we have a responsibility to help these new immigrants gain the chance that we were given as newcomers tonight.

I share it with you tonight, as we read the beginnings of the story of Joseph – as he himself got trafficked into Egypt, and became an illegal immigrant himself. We know the outcome of HIS sojourn was the beginning of our people’s 400 years in exile, as immigrants, in Egypt. We know that their departure is the centerpiece of the story of Passover, whose ethical message to us down through the generations, is that we must always take care to acknowledge the needs of those who are not native to our people, but leaving with us, BECAUSE we are sojourners in Egypt.

I don’t have all the answers, nor do I have the political savvy to figure out what is possible in our current climate. I only pray that we are not too late in pushing the debate and discussion to the front burner it needs to occupy, and that the needs of political expediency do not sink the very necessary act of fixing a system that is desperately broken and failing us all. We may not be Reuben or Judah, who acted to enslave Joseph in Egypt – but we are certainly as guilty as the other 8 brothers who stood by and let their emotions and their own needs blind them to the wrong they were witnessing, and by their silence covering up. And I, for one, cannot live with that responsibility any longer! KYR

Isaac's Legacy

Isaac’s Legacy – A Multi-Dimensional Puzzle
Sermon for Parshat Toldot – November 5, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie, MD

I love the Book of Genesis. It can be read and understood on so many different levels. It is the closest thing that the Jewish tradition has to mythology. But it also contains clear tidbits of actual historicity – details that allow the historians and archaeologists to connect these stories to actual places and eras.

It is a series of epic sagas – each one with a hero and a message, each one progressively written in more modern style. But they are also stories of our ancestors, who are all too real and all too archetypical – even for us post-modern folks – faults and all.

It is a moral text, teaching us powerful lessons. It is a quasi-historical text – creating the linkages that connect us still as a people. It is a religious text – teaching us how to relate to our God. It is all these things and more.

Tonight, as we read Toldot, we need to bear ALL these things in mind in order to get the full value and message out of a text that at time amuses us, at times troubles us greatly. We need to approach the text without bias – for our preconceived notions may very well overwhelm the evidence of the text, coloring events and characters in differing ways. Because, more than anything else, our text on this Shabbat presents us with a mystery to resolve.

Look at the VERY well known story with which our portion ends. An aged Isaac, his eyes dimmed by age, recognizes his mortality, and wishes to pass on the family blessing to his son. The text has told us that he favors Esau over Isaac, and now he sends out Esau to prepare a meal to give him strength so he can bestow his blessing upon his beloved son. From all indications, Isaac plans to pass THE family blessing to Esau.

But is this really true? Maybe – but maybe not! And to fully understand the depths of the difficulty of what seemed, just a moment ago, to be a clear-cut answer, we need to look at the BEGINNING of the story. Rebekah is pregnant, and the pregnancy is NOT easy. She, herself, goes to inquire of God as to what is going on inside of her. This act of going to God is not uncommon – but Rebekah is the first woman to seek out God herself! And, even more remarkable, God answers her directly!
And the answer is clear – Not only does Rebekah learn that she is having twins, but she learns from God that their fate is for the older to serve the younger. She, their mother, and we, the reader/listener, are now privy to the secret of how the story must end – Jacob, it seems, is the one who should end up receiving the unique blessing that marks this family’s relationship with God.

And all we need to do is connect the dots from the beginning of the story to the end. However, this is the part that is NOT so clear-cut. For example – WE know what God has foretold about the boys. We know that Rebekah knows. However, can we be 100% sure that Isaac knew? On the one hand, how could he NOT know? But, on the other hand, it is never made explicitly clear that he does!

Whether he knows what has to be IS significant, especially when it appears to contradict what his natural personal preference would be. The text CLEARLY tells us that Isaac favored Esau, while Rebekah favored Jacob. In the latter case, the rationale seems clear – Rebekah favors the one who she KNOWS is due to carry on the family legacy. Furthermore, the text clearly tells us that Jacob spent his days hanging around the tents, where he would have become the more familiar of the twins to his mother.

More subject to interpretation, and difficult to nail down, is the question of WHY Isaac favored Jacob. If Isaac KNEW the truth from Rebekah, such a decision would only make sense if Isaac was going deliberately out of his way to favor the son who would NOT get the legacy. While that seems possible, given his own history of almost being killed by his father, and how it could lead him to draw closer to the “forgotten” son, it means that he would be deliberately choosing to ignore God’s prophecy AND going against his beloved Rebekah, who appears at almost all points in the story to be the stronger partner.

Only if he DIDN’T know the truth from Rebekah does it appear that we could reach this set-up. In that case, being free to favor the son of his choice, we find Isaac, usually the weak one, the victim, asserting himself. He stands up to Rebekah, by favoring Esau while she favors Jacob. But furthermore, he favors the son who is EVERYTHING that he is not -- a he-man, a man of the field, someone who can take care of himself. Freud would have a field day!

So, if Isaac really DOESN’T know what God has foretold, if Rebekah really HASN’T shared this with him, then it is entirely possible that, left to his own devices at this critical moment near the end of our portion, Isaac really is about to pass the legacy of the family blessing on to Esau. And THIS, I believe, allows most of the rest of the story to fall neatly into place.

Rebekah overhears the conversation between her husband and older son, and feels the need not merely to spring into action, but to try to deceive Isaac. CLEARLY, she is afraid of what Isaac is about to do. CLEARLY, Rebekah has not prepared Jacob in advance for what might be necessary. So clearly, whatever follows has NOT been premeditated between the parents to bring about the necessary ending.

Unless, of course, the whole scene of the dinners is a charade to let Isaac off the hook with Esau! While that seems plausible – after all, Isaac does enjoy the taste of flesh between his teeth, provided by his hunter-son, and would be expected to seek to reward him in the long term – who more than Isaac would be aware of the danger of sacrificing his son or sons for the sake of what God wants? Who should be least comfortable setting Jacob up as the fall guy for Esau’s anger, to avoid facing it himself, if not Isaac?

Unless Isaac was too weak for any other alternative to be viable! In which case, what goes around has come around, and Isaac now finds himself as helpless as his father was on the night that God called upon him to sacrifice Isaac! Abraham KNEW that Isaac could not be sacrificed, for then God’s promise to him could not come true. But here was God asking for Isaac! Now, Isaac KNEW that he was potentially sacrificing Jacob to Esau’s anger and disappointment, even as he accepted that his favorite was NOT the one chosen to receive the legacy. He was risking losing the one destined to carry on the family Covenant with God.

In other words, this moment, in which we start out seeing Isaac as feeble and weakened, and ends with him apparently deceived and indecisive, turns out to actually be the moment when he gets to demonstrate his FAITH that God will make happen what must happen and make it good! In the face of a difficult situation! From apparent weakness comes unimagined strength!

From this far-more-complicated scenario than we first recognized, we learn a couple of powerful lessons. First, not to rush to accept the obvious as the truth. But second, and even more important, that it does NOT take strength or position to demonstrate faith. Isaac, the closest thing we have to an every-person in Genesis, rises out of the shadow of the characters around him, rises out of his apparently weakened state, and matches Abraham’s example of faith in God in time of turmoil! It doesn’t take an Abraham! Isaac did it too!

And so, what is Isaac’s legacy? Is it, as the text implies, that in 8 verses, he moves from being Abraham’s son and legacy, to Rebekah’s husband, to Jacob and Esau’s father? And that in the rest of the story, he is either repeating the actions of his father, or being deceived by his wife and son, or otherwise being a non-factor in his own family story?

Or is it that, in spite of all that, in the end, he manages to pass the tradition on to the proper son, not his favorite, and in the process finds a way to affirm that he himself is every bit as strong in his faith and partnership in the covenant that is the family legacy as his father was?

I believe the coda of our portion confirms the answer to this question. When the confusion and deception have cleared, and everyone is seeing clearly again, after Isaac has given 2 very similar, rather neutral, blessings to his 2 sons, not 100% sure as to which is who, he calls Jacob back to see him. Now, CERTAIN as to whom he is addressing, he gives Jacob a very different blessing, one that sounds much more like the one HE received in his own youth, one that sounds a lot like the blessing God will give directly to Jacob in next Shabbat’s portion (it pays sometimes to be the father of the next Bar Mitzvah – you know what happens next!).

There is no confusion at this moment, no possibility of mistaken identity. At the ONLY moment in the entire portion when Isaac is pro-active, he passes on the blessing to Jacob clearly. And then, he acknowledges the rest of the reality. He acknowledges Esau’s disappointment and anger at being passed over, and encourages Jacob to head out on his own. He sends him back to his mother’s family in Haran – the same journey Abraham had NOT trusted Isaac to make for himself, preferring to send the servant to find Rebekah for him.

Isaac acknowledges both the reality of the family dynamic that this whole unfortunate circumstance has created – perhaps even better than his father acknowledged the impact of his actions and near action in trying to sacrifice Isaac! Isaac acknowledges that Jacob is stronger than he was himself, and able to take care of himself. And, he sends away the only son who he could count on to take care of him in his old age – hardly the action of a needy victim!

And, it turns out, Isaac isn’t even really on his deathbed, either! He will live long enough for Jacob to return from his self-imposed exile, live to see his sons reconcile after years apart, so that they can come together and bury him when he finally DOES die.

In other words, not only does he pass on the family legacy to the right son, Jacob, but he also passes on a powerful lesson from his own experience and model to all of us. A pretty good legacy, indeed!

A VERY Proud Father's Words to his Son, the Bar Mitzvah

Ed. Note : I thought for a while before deciding to include these words in my blog. I hope you will ratify my decision.


Hey buddy! You made it! I bet there were times, although you never expressed it, that you might not have been sure you were going to make it. If there were, that would have been perfectly normal – most of the kids I have prepared for Bar or Bat Mitzvah over the years have had that moment.

But, as you so eloquently put it in your own unique way in your speech -- you are NOT most kids that I have worked with! You ARE the Rabbi’s kid! You ARE MY kid!! A blessing – and a curse ☺ For each of us!

But, even more than that – you are DAVID. From your arrival, you have been unique, and you have been influential. I think it is safe to say that YOU are a significant reason we are here in Bowie (okay, we are NOT IN Bowie at this very moment, but you know what I mean!)

If your mother hadn’t been pregnant with you when we were looking to leave Fredericksburg, I am pretty sure we would have ended up in Massachusetts and not in Connecticut. Things would have been different, and we probably wouldn’t have been looking to move when the chance came to come to Bowie.

And, even when we got here, there were many who advised us to follow the prevailing trend and buy a house in Crofton, not in Bowie. But, in large part because of the services that Bowie offered more easily that have been so helpful to you, we landed in the city itself.

I often say that every kid who reaches this moment is unique – I think it is safe to say that you are a little MORE unique than most! And that has nothing to do with me, or mommy or Emily – but EVERYTHING to do with you! We don’t often talk publicly about the challenges you have to overcome every day, both physical and behavioral, challenges that impact how you walk, how you write, how you think, and how you behave.

We don’t talk about them publicly for a couple of reasons. First, in general, they are not really anyone’s business except the people who have to work with you to help you learn and grow like “normal kids” do. Second, we want you to be as “normal” as you can be, whatever that means, and really do not want to inspire sympathy from others. Third, we realize that despite these challenges, you, and we, are actually pretty darn lucky – for what you deal with, it could be a whole lot worse!

But most of all, we don’t talk about them because, to most people, you really ARE remarkably normal. You can be totally out of control at times – what almost 13 year old boy can’t be! You have your likes and dislikes, the things you love to spend time with, and the things you have to be forced to do. When we tell you to do one of those things you don’t want to, you ignore us, or negotiate, or argue, or stall – anything to avoid doing it. I ask your friends and relatives gathered here – doesn’t THAT sound normal?

But, you are so much more than that! In part because of the physical issues, you were slow to walk and move around on your own. Many people never knew – because in public, you were never allowed to be in a position to have to move around on your own. EVERYONE wanted to hold you and carry you. So much so, that we threatened to have a shirt made for you that said “Please, let me walk” – AFTER we were already here!

You have learned to adjust, with help from lots of people, and many of them are here today celebrating with you. The reason they wanted to spend this day celebrating what you have achieved is because THEY know that you have busted your butt to EARN it, because they have given so much of themselves in woring with you. There are friends here from MTR, who have taught you to ride horses, and helped us to realize how fortunate we are compared to others, who have improved your physical skills and given you pride in your achievements. But, they are here because they like YOU – the sweet, lovable, fun-loving kid who works to improve himself every day.

There are educators, counselors and specialists from your school, who have worked tirelessly with you and with us to try to create the best environment for your educational growth, often overcoming absurd obstacles that are placed in your way and our way by others. They, too, are here because of their genuine affection for you – the person you already are, and the young man you are becoming every day.

When I was in 8th grade, I had an amazing English teacher named Elaine Re. Much of what I still use almost 40 years later about communicating well with people I learned from her. But more than what she taught me in the classroom, she was one of those remarkable people who are influential far beyond their words. I still remember what she wrote in my Junior High School yearbook (and I went and looked up the exact quote for today!):

“I know you will be successful in whatever you do. There are many opportunities [ahead]. Take advantage of all of them, and don’t forget the values your parents have given you. Stay as sensitive and sincere as you are now.”

As your Rabbi, AND as your dad, I cannot think of a better hope and prayer from me to you on this amazing day. Today, there will be those who will say “Of course he was amazing – he is the Rabbi’s kid!” And, don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly proud of you today – even more than every day. But I know that the source of my pride is as much in seeing, I flatter myself to believe, so much of me in you. I finally understand what Miss Re was saying that day. If I am responsible in any way for who you are, and as your dad, I would like to think that I had better be!, what you have achieved in reaching this day and what you have shown today makes me proud. Of YOU! Not because I am the Rabbi, but because you are David! And it is DAVID who is amazing today -- NOT the Rabbi's kid!

And, because I have learned from past experience, and want to end on a lighter note. Today, we share, you and I, along with both your grandfathers who are here celebrating, and generations who came before them, the experience of becoming a young Jewish man. People look at pictures of me at your age, and at you, and know that we are father and son, without a doubt, which is also a source of pride.

But, as we celebrate on this day, without even realizing it, we share one more bond. In first grade, the doctors took a fairly extreme step of severing your gastrokinemeous muscle (what we used to more simply call your calf muscle) to release pressure on your ankle and allow more freedom of growth. It is a procedure that you may yet again face when you begin that late Weisman family growth spurt in upcoming months.

Little did we know, when I injured myself last month, because first we focused on the huge raspberry, and then the swelling and the knee pain, that the lasting injury would be to my – wait for it – gastrokinemeous muscle! So today, I join you in the gastrok club, even as you join grampy and grandpa, and my two grandfathers for whom you are named, and me as an adult Jewish man. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love ya, Doo!

Divrei Harav -- January 2011

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

Some columns write themselves. Others develop over time. This month’s appears to be both. And I apologize up front for its length – please stick with it, because it deals with topics that are central to our congregational life.

As promised last month, I begin with my profound appreciation of and thanks for the participation in and overwhelming good wishes and generosity before, during, and after David’s Bar Mitzvah. When I looked out from the bimah at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue that morning, at the gathering of nearly 300 family members and friends, what could have been a very unfamiliar moment because the different surroundings, became a truly awesome and overwhelming moment of love and support. From start to finish -- the service, the qiddish, the lunch for our out-of-town family and friends, and the havdalah and party that evening – it was an amazing day that truly moved me, and my entire family. And there are not words to fully express our thanks to EVERYONE who made it so by your involvement!

In addition, since last month, we have celebrated a Chanukkah that, at least on the surface, beforehand, seemed likely to be somewhat disjointed, for its secular calendar earliness and disconnection from both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, it became a celebration of EXACTLY what Chanukkah has become at its best – an acknowledgement of both our Jewish uniqueness and our connection to the world around us, based in Jewish history and values, stressing understanding and peace. We lit the first candle as a religious school, on the same day that the world around us remembered the bravery and sacrifice of Rosa Parks and the suffering and courage embodied in World AIDS Day. We lit the 3rd candle on Shabbat with our congregational family – both at our main service, and at a better attended, more lively Tot Shabbat than we celebrate most months. JOSTY was reborn with the 4th candle, as our middle schoolers ate homemade latkes, competed with dreidels, and exchanged gifts, and also wrapped gifts for the children we will work with as a congregation on Christmas Day in the Warm Nights program. The next day, our religious school family celebrated with music, dancing, magic, and joy – not to mention latkes, sufganiyot and dreidels, thanks to our Education Committee and their corps of volunteers. The 7th candle was lit in memory, as the anniversary of Pearl Harbor was observed. And on the 8th night, our oldest students and their parents lit the last candle while learning from our own Jonathan Tucker and his colleagues from Operation Understanding DC, a remarkable program that fosters understanding through shared experience between Jewish and African-American teens, who helped us break down our own biases and stereotypes, and see the world around us more clearly! By the time it was over, there was a strong sentiment to change the Jewish calendar so that Chanukkah will start on December 1st EVERY year – tempting, but easy to reject – because of all the added value these other commemorations and experiences brought to our holiday celebration!

I had been planning for several months to use this column to start a formal discussion, long overdue, of our worship services and specifically, our now not-so-new prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah. The added spirituality of our Chanukkah celebrations, and the incredible experience of David’s Bar Mitzvah celebration, only serve as a more powerful introduction to that discussion.

More than a few people went out of their way to comment to me on several items of our family’s celebration and our congregational family’s worship, that I found fascinating. There was universal appreciation for the awesomeness of our physical surroundings in the Sixth and I sanctuary – a remarkable worship space – that played a large role in the spirituality of that service. The amazing acoustics, and DAVID’s musical choices for the service, created a spirit for the worship that was both appropriate and energetic, which carried over to our spoken prayers as well. Many commented on the beauty and profundity of the service liturgy itself – over 90% of which was directly out of Mishkan T’filah, albeit reprinted in a separate prayer booklet, one which lacked what has become our Congregation's normal glossy splash of photographs.

But, ironically, the single most frequent comment I got, after respect and appreciation for David’s role in leading our worship, was how many people were so engaged in their participation in the service, that they never looked at their watches to realize that the service ran a couple of minutes beyond 2 and a half hours. Compare that to our normal Shabbat evening worship, when the 1½ hour mark is a Rubicon not to be crossed, for its diminishing returns! Or family services that begin to lose focus shortly after an hour.

I have always claimed that elapsed time is more perceptual than measurable, and more often a factor of engagement than the actual passage of minutes. The shortest sermon I ever heard in person was given by Rabbi Alex Schindler at the 1995 Biennial. When I checked my watch to see if he had been talking for 5 minutes or ten, I was amazed to see that he had been going for a full hour! And still had 32 minutes left before he finished. That is how engaging his message and delivery were! The longest I ever heard was a 7 minute wedding homily that engaged no one.

I share these insights to start our discussion. As a congregation, we are blessed with a number of strengths in this area – musical resources beyond our size, a primary prayerbook and other resources that should allow us to create meaningfully spiritual liturgies, a sanctuary that is both warm and physically flexible, and a schedule that already features multiple prayer modalities and styles. Despite that, the appearance is that participation in worship has decreased, and we need to both be honest in understanding why, and work to reverse that trend.

Included in those assets we have is also a Rabbi who received a prize in classical liturgy while at HUC-JIR, but who is also fluent in the modalities of worship in the less formal settings of our camps and youth programs. I have taken the liberty of making decisions about HOW we use Mishkan T'filah -- some in keeping with the guidance of the editorial committee that created the text, some in keeping with our own established congregational worship patterns. Just because I supposedly know what I am doing does NOT guarantee that I have made the BEST decisions for us, and as a result, we have started to experiment in recent days with other ways of using the book. I want these issues to be part of our discussion as well.

So I ask the following specific questions:

1. For those who attend services regularly (once a month or more) – please share with me what is working for you in our services and what is not, your reaction both to Mishkan T’filah AND the way we use it in worship, and what you would do differently (and what you would not change under any circumstances);

2. For those who find themselves attending less frequently today than in the past – please evaluate and share honestly why you believe that is the case, and what you find missing in our worship that keeps you from participating more often;

3. For those who do not attend except on special occasions, because participation in services has NEVER been a high priority – please share what it would take to get you to make the effort to TRY coming more often;

4. And for those of you who were part of the Prayerbook Evaluation Committee that recommended our embrace of Mishkan T’filah – I would love to hear from you what your experience has been since we switched over; are you attending more or less frequently and favorably; is it meeting your expectations; are there elements of how we use the book that you would look to change?

And for all of us – let this be the BEGINNING of an honest and meaningful discussion and sharing that leads us all to a better understanding of ourselves and Jewish worship and to developing worship that attracts our increased participation.

To that end, be looking next month for more discussion of Jewish worship and our services and liturgy in this space, and information on a new Continuing Jewish Education class on Mishkan T’filah and Jewish prayer.

Chanukkah -- Another Viewpoint

This piece also appeared in the December edition of Temple Topics, continuing my message of past present and future being interconnected, in this case through the history of the development of the holiday itself...

Chanukkah – 1 Spelling, On Time, Same as Ever (?)
First Candle – Wednesday evening, December 1

As I noted in my column, Chanukkah is a rather unique holiday on our calendar for many reasons. It is likely true that no other holiday has been as intentionally manipulated throughout Jewish history, to reflect the times in which it has been celebrated. No Hebrew word that has passed into English is more routinely spelled with variant spellings, despite a clearly correct choice which apparently no style book prefers. No holiday has grown so much in significance in our modern times, nor is more connected to the celebrations of other religions and cultures, usually to the detriment of understanding its own intrinsic messages.

In other words, there may not be a Jewish holiday in which past, present, and future are all “in play” at the same time as is usually true in our Chanukkah celebration.

In its origins, Chanukkah seems clearly to have been one of many military/political holidays declared by the Maccabees during their battles with the Syrian/Greek hellenizers of Antiochus IV, and afterwards, during and after the continuing skirmishes for political and spiritual control of the Jewish community, that ended in the establishment of the Hasmonean Dynasty by the last of Judah’s brothers. For whatever reasons, all of the other of these Maccabean/ Hasmonean holidays eventually disappeared from the calendar; Chanukkah alone survived.

In that survival are the seeds of the holiday’s chameleon –like ability to change to blend into the times. The Rabbis of early times, finding it impossible to completely wipe out any trace of a popular holiday that fell at a time of year when there was nothing else to celebrate, and when a celebratory distraction was a welcome break from the psychological disorder we now call SADD (seasonal affective dysfunctional disorder) in the darkness of the depths of winter, found a way to co-opt the celebration and turn it into a religious celebration of God’s miraculous and salvational powers.

And now, in our modern world, Chanukkah, once deliberately underplayed to avoid angering the Romans because of its overtones of military victory, has become deliberately OVERPLAYED as our alternative and response to being otherwise left out of the orgy of commercialization that the Christmas season has been allowed to become. I am still not sure why we, as Jews, couldn’t “just say no” to that over-commercialization, which I believe has needlessly watered down our neighbors’ holiday. But I do not mind this added attention to and value in Chanukkah otherwise. It is long overdue.

And, at its heart, the holiday really has not changed. It is still about miraculous salvation – whether of our people through the leadership of the Maccabees against all odds in fighting the Greek armies, or through the oil that lasted for 8 days instead of one which kept our faith alive in a dark moment. It is about how we identify ourselves as Jews in the face of the larger world, and how we walk the tightrope between separation to maintain our distinctiveness and blending into the surrounding world.

It is about FAMILY celebration – with foods fried to remind of the Rabbi’s miracle of the oil, with songs and games (like dreidel – itself a late addition to the long history) designed to keep the entire story well rehearsed in the hearts and minds of the next generation, with generous sharing of gifts, and thoughts turned to helping others.

It is a mirror – of who we are today, in light of who we have been, who we might yet become, who we are to ourselves and to others.

Divrei Harav -- December 2010

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

The writing of my column this month demonstrates how we Jews live in time, perhaps better than we even realize. Even as we live in the present, we are constantly looking back to our past for guidance and inspiration, and ahead to the future with hope and faith. The three items I MUST mention this month all show that clearly.

I begin with a look back, that ends as a look forward. As I noted in November’s column, I was writing BEFORE the dinner celebrating our 10 years together as Rabbi and congregation – even though you read those words after the dinner occurred. So I deliberately left my response and thanks until now.

I cannot remember too many other times in my life when I have found myself as moved by words directed at and about me – truly humbled, and for a few moments, genuinely speechless. I was moved by the volume of us who celebrated together – and the many others who could not make it who took the time to send well wishes and regrets – your mere presence and effort is, in fact, what we were truly celebrating.

I want to thank those who spoke – Rev. James Brassard of CCPC, Rev. Dick Stetler (ret.) of St. Matthew’s UMC, and my dear friend – and ours – Khalil Shadeed of the Islamic Society of Southern Prince George’s County, who all started us off with a combination of well-deserved roasting and serious commentary. I hope those of us who gathered recognize how fortunate we are to have these three leaders in our community, and how fortunate I am to have them as colleagues, friends, and co-conspirators. Lisa Gottman, our newest member, our URJ congregational representative, and a family member since her sister and I memorably traded our siblings for each other one evening during an alleged study session while in Rabbinical school, brought congratulations and comments from some of my Rabbinic and other colleagues who could not be in attendance – each of whom has personally enhanced our life here at Solel during these past 10 years, for which I thank her as well. In Mary Nusser’s remarks, we all got a sense of the caliber of partners that I and we have in the community when it comes to doing what is good and right, and I thank her as well. And how do I thank my father – not just for his incredible comments, but for 50 years of teaching and love and support -- and modeling what I hope I have become!

And, of course, a HUGE thank you to the committee, led by Bob Michelson, who, along with Sharon, created that wonderful montage of the last 10 years. They were greatly enabled by my family, working hard behind the scenes, who I so rarely get to thank in public!

The truth that I learned during the dinner, and immediately shared in my remarks, is simple and two-fold. First, no one celebrates the anniversary of an individual. Anniversaries are the celebration of a partnership, a marriage, that works well. We, as Rabbi and congregation, are that. And second, no matter how much time and energy is spent looking backward at such events, the true celebration at such times is in the incredible hope and potential that is so easily seen and recognized at such moments as we look ahead and dream of what we might accomplish together in the NEXT ten years.

Second, as you read this, Chanukkah comes early to our secular calendars this year. Under separate title in this month’s Topics, you will find a Chanukkah article. Suffice it to say here that, perhaps more than any other Jewish holiday, Chanukkah is a reminder of our past that has become a measuring stick of our present, and harbinger of our future.

And third, as I write this, I am up to my eyeballs in the final planning for David’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. As a result, as I did last month, I will, of necessity, hold off for next month my full remarks and thank yous.

In all three of these elements, there are links to past and future as we celebrate in the present. In my writing about them at this moment, we look back to last month, at what is happening at the moment of writing in the very present, and ahead to the near future that will be our present by the time you read it. As Jews, our past and our future, however near or far term, are never easily separated from the reality of our present – if only we allow ourselves to make the connections. May our holiday season this month be a constant reminder of that truth, guiding us in our actions.

Divrei Harav -- November, 2010

[Blog Ed. note: This column deals with relatively esoteric material that really is most significant ONLY to members of my congregation. However, it does demonstrate some philosophical approaches to the general challenges of how we live our lives as Jews in an "open" community that may make it worth reading for non-members as well....]

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

With the Holy Days over, and a little time as I write before the crush leading up to David’s special day (and I am also writing BEFORE the dinner in my honor, for which I will properly thank you all NEXT month!), I want to talk this month about the new Memorial Boards, and use their arrival as an opportunity to remind everyone of some of our standing procedures in regards to observances at worship.

My part in working to make these boards a reality was to clarify our yahrzeit observance policy, so that the folks at Baum could properly program our boards. And let me thank them up front – they appear to have gotten it EXACTLY right, and done so in a manner that actually ADDS to our opportunity for appropriate remembrance as individuals and as a community.

You see, our pattern is based on two overarching principles – utility and inclusion. Utility, in that we made a decision a number of years back, to read all yahrzeit names (whether or not there is a plaque for the person) on the day of (for Friday yahrzeits) or the Shabbat before the yahrzeit is observed. In this way, the reading of the name in public serves as a reminder (along with the reminder letter everyone should be receiving in advance, and the list printed each month in Temple Topics) of the upcoming yahrzeit, allowing those who wish to light candles in their homes or make contributions in memory of loved ones to do so in timely and appropriate fashion.

Inclusion takes on two specific forms. First, our policy is to read and remind for all yahrzeits of current members, as well as all those for whom a plaque has been purchased in our congregation. We view your plaque purchases as creating a perpetual memorial, and we will uphold that request and honor that responsibility.

We also seek to be maximally inclusive by allowing our members to observe yahrzeits according to either the English or Hebrew calendar. This DOES make our efforts a little more complicated, and made programming the boards significantly so. We assume English calendar as the default – as long as that is your date of preference, you need do nothing except make sure we have accurate records of your loved ones. If you ask us to notify you and observe your yahrzeits according to the Hebrew calendar, we will gladly do that as well.

This creates one small wrinkle in our observance pattern – since Hebrew calendar dates start at sundown the evening before and end at sundown, if a Hebrew yahrzeit falls on “Friday,” it will be concluded before Friday night services begin, and therefore will be read on the preceding Friday evening.

To accommodate this choice and wrinkle in the lighting of our new yahrzeit boards, the folks at Baum have programmed the yahrzeit “week” that the light is lit to begin at 4PM on the Friday prior to (or of) the yahrzeit, and run until MIDNIGHT of the following Friday. This allows all of our cases to be properly lit.

It also provides an additional opportunity for those of us who may not be able to make it to services on the Friday before a loved one’s yahrzeit – because the light will still be lit on the FOLLOWING Friday night as well (but not Shabbat morning!). And therefore, we get an “extra chance” to make our yahrzeit observances appropriate and active. I will even read the name that following Friday night if I get the request before services begin, so that I can add the name to the pulpit list for that night!

As long as we are clarifying and reminding, a few quick notes about names of those who are ill for the Mi Shebeirach list. Anyone can add a name any time before services begin. If the person being added is either a Temple member, or an immediate family member of a congregant (parent, spouse, sibling, or child), or a former Rabbi or someone similarly connected to our congregational family, as long as the name is received in time for inclusion, it will be listed in the announcement sheet, and will remain on the list until you ask the Rabbi or Elizabeth to remove it.

With a very few exceptions for those members who have made their general or specific preference NOT to be listed clearly known in advance, we will not check before adding, preferring to err on the side of inclusion. If you hear your own or a loved one's name read and would prefer it not be, please talk with the Rabbi.

All other relatives, friends and neighbors of our Temple family are listed on the bimah. These names are not included in the announcement sheet, and are read out loud only when the person who placed them on the list is present at services. This decision was taken to keep the list reading to a manageable length. I always include a line before we recite the prayer that includes those whose names have not been read in our prayers as well.

In the case of both yahrzeit and Mi Shebeirach lists, when there is a Shabbat morning service, the same names read on Friday night are read on Saturday morning, except for Friday English calendar yahrzeit observances, and “secondary” Mi Shebeirach names.

I hope this column helps us all to understand the ritual workings of our observances in and out of the sanctuary for the sick and the deceased. As always, if there are any questions about Jewish practices or our unique Solel practices, I hope you will ask me.