Archive | April, 2013

Elevating our Community Conversation on Facebook

26 Apr

Normally, when the Torah states that God told Moses to convey a message to another party, the text uses the phrase “vaydaber Hashem el Moshe leimor, daber…” However, at the beginning of our parashah the Torah states “vayomer Hashem el Moshe emor…” Why does the Torah use the word the word emor, “say,” instead of daber, “speak”? In Yevamot 114a, the Talmud explains that the word emor was used not only to signify that the priests should maintain their level of ritual purity, but that they must also teach their children this law. How does the use of the word emor indicate this additional commandment? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that “whereas daber is the concise expression of a thought, emor is addressing the same to the mind and feeling of another person, the complete explanation of development of a thought.”

By utilizing the word emor, instead of daber, the Torah expresses the value of communicating with others in such a way that they do not simply hear us speaking to them, but that they fully understand what we are saying. I’ve commented in the past that email and the electronic social media are no substitutes for real conversations. When we have sensitive matters that need to be discussed that are emotional in nature, it’s best to do so face to face. However, used properly, the social media, such as Facebook, are great tools to serve as catalysts to conversation and community building. Facebook provides an easy and visually pleasing portal to share information and comments in an open and democratic forum and can serve as a framework for establishing more meaningful and substantive personal interaction.

Over the past year, the Temple Torah staff and I have engaged in training in social media and how best to use it with the goal of strengthening community. More than just a portal for sharing information, Facebook can serve as a tool for building relationships. We have been receiving consulting from an organization named Darim (http://www.darimonline.org). Their mission is to helping Jewish organizations align their work for success in the digital age. Our Temple Torah staff team was selected to participate in their social media Boot Camp where we learn best practices in this new and exciting medium.

Lately, we’ve posted some items on our Temple Torah Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/TempleTorah) with the goal of sparking community conversations across generations. I was very impressed with the responses last week in which I asked everyone to complete the following sentence: “I love Israel because…” If you haven’t seen the page, let me share some of the responses that are publicly posted. These represent an amazing cross-section of members of different ages all addressing something we all care about, Israel.

Valentin: I love Israel because after Centuries of galut the Jewish people returned to their G-d given promised land; because it personify everything what is good about Jews – hard work, ingenuity, love and respect to the science, bravery in defending our Motherland; and because I cried uncontrollably when I pressed myself against the Western Wall – the first one out of the endless line of my ancestors who could do it in Jerusalem, let’s this name to be a holy one.

Lynda: I love Israel because it is a testament to the will of our people who survive and thrive despite all odds and obstacles, a start up nation that is a haven for the persecuted, a place of return for those who yearn and a beacon of light to the world.

Lee:I love Israel because it is home for every Jew in the world.

Phillip: I love Israel because it provides an environment for the Jewish people that allows the ultimate fulfillment of the Jewish spirit.

Marlene: I love Israel because Israel is the homeland for all Jews throughout the earth.

Debbie: I love Israel because it is truly ours and it is home.

Varda: It brings our past to the present. A “present” to the Jewish People.

Marjorie: I love Israel because it is where I belong.

Lea: I love Israel because it is alive with the fulfillment of God’s promise of a land of milk and honey. Whenever I visit, I am home.

Jeffry: I Love Israel because it demonstrates how much people committed to a common goal can do. When you realize that it started as a desert and now look at how many things grow there!

With Israel setting the tone for community conversation, our next step that we have planned with our coach is to drill down and actually talk about ourselves as a community. Yesterday, I posted: Complete the following sentence: My first experience being welcomed at Temple Torah was…. Our hope is that by sharing these positive experiences publicly, we will together become more mindful of the culture of welcome that we cherish and make it even stronger. Here are some of the responses that were posted since Thursday night:

Susanne: Our first experience was being greeted after services on a Shabbat morning by three or four people, among them Madelyn Saul, who instantly took us under her wing, and the rest is history.

David: When we moved up here from Davie, and looked around for the best pre-K we could find and decided on Temple Torah’s, Alyssa was 2 and she has been in school their ever since 9 years later. It didn’t hurt that [my sister-in-law and brother-in-law] were already members.

Janet: I joined Temple Torah 3 1/2 years ago and was immediately welcomed into an adult b’not mitzvah class with the most incredible women ever. Since then, I have met so many wonderful people and love the sense of family that Temple Torah engenders.
In coming weeks, watch for more questions that will be posted by Temple Torah staff members that we hope will engender reflection and thoughtful conversation on how Temple Torah can be the best, most welcoming community it can be.

In conclusion, our tradition derives great wisdom in our Torah portion’s language of emor—speak with your whole self. Speak with empathy for the one to whom you’re speaking, and speak with the intent to listen. As Temple Torah grows in its adaptation of the most current technologies available, it is my hope that the spirt of emor will carry the day among all of us. Emor, rather than daber. Emor—speaking and empathic listening for the sake of building a community of relationships.

Visit Temple Torah’s Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/TempleTorah.

#TieBlog Emor Counting the Omer

24 Apr

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Parashat Emor describes the holidays on the Jewish calendar. While other sections of the Torah describe the holidays, it is in this Torah portion that we read the mitzvah of counting the Omer, the 49 days from the second night of Passover until Shavuot. Believe it or not, you can learn more from Homer Simpson about counting the Omer at http://homercalendar.net/Welcome.html. In the meantime, this tie represents our mitzvah of counting the days from Passover to Shavuot.

19 Apr

Mister Rogers Helpers

When national tragedy, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, strikes, what do we do? It might be understood if at least some people not immediately affected tried to drown out the news coverage by listening to music or watch TV. Indeed, in the aftermath of the bombing on Monday, hundreds of thousands did turn to a television personality for support. It wasn’t a news anchor, and it wasn’t a sports celebrity. It wasn’t an actor from a fictitious show, although the person people turned to for support is no longer alive. That person is Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. So much of his wisdom is preserved in multiple media, and it is so timeless. The quotation of Mister Rogers that went viral on the Internet this week is the following:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

I grew up watching Mister Rogers. Despite the fact that videos of his are widely available on YouTube, from time to time I feel a sense of great personal loss that he is not a presence in the lives of my children like he was for me when I was a youngster. This week actually was the second time in recent months that Mister Rogers’ wisdom on national tragedies went viral. The previous time was in the aftermath of Newtown. Unfortunately, senseless violence struck innocent Americans once again, this time in the heart of a great city during one of the great rites of spring in American culture, the Boston Marathon.

On the surface, there is an eerie contrast between the news of this week and our Torah portion of the week, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim. We are in the heart of Leviticus’ Holiness Code. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (19:1), we learn in the text. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart (16) and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” almost seem to mock us in the face of the terrorists’ hatred for civilization that has sewn so much pain. Indeed, it is horrifying to witness such utter hatred and blatant disregard for the “Golden Rule.” At the same time, the wisdom of Mister Rogers rings so true. It is inspiring to see how people in the face of tragedy respond to perform acts of kindness and healing. Exhausted runners having just run more than 26 miles ran a bit more to tend to the wounded. Bostonians opened up their homes to tourists or suburbanites who couldn’t leave the city. The Mayor of Boston left his own hospital bed to tend to his shocked city.

Michael Oren, Israel’s eloquent Ambassador to the United States, issued a touching statement of support that is borne out of Israel’s much too deep experience with terrorist attacks. Here is his his message:
“The purpose of terror is to terrorize. Though questions remain about those responsible for the attack, the horrendous bombing attack on the Boston Marathon sought to instill paralyzing fear, inflict debilitating trauma and force us to forfeit our freedom. We cannot let terror win.

“We — Americans and Israelis — live in open societies that enable us to celebrate our freedom. Whether in arts festivals, sporting events, craft fairs or merely playing with our kids in the park, we are upholding those liberties in the face of those seeking to deny them.

“At the same time, we know that our freedoms must be defended, sometimes by men and women in uniform but most poignantly by people refusing to succumb to fear. We beat terror by refusing to submit.

“The people of Boston, who on the day of the bombing were celebrating liberty’s birthday, will not submit. Our experience in Israel has taught us that communities and caregivers, police and security forces, elected leaders and volunteers can unite at such times and block the terrorists from achieving their objectives. While taking all possible measures to prevent further loss of life, we adamantly refuse to forfeit our way of life.

“Anyone who has suffered the agony of terror knows the pain of the victims and their families as well as the radius of the emotional damage inflicted on countless citizens. We know that at such times, communities can band together and help bind the psychological and physical wounds. When first responders rush through the smoke, risking their own lives to assist the fallen, the healing process begins.

“And the people of Boston will heal. Still, the democratic liberties that Americans and Israelis enjoy cannot be taken for granted. American security forces and policy-makers face complex challenges. We must appreciate their successes in thwarting many attacks. We will continue to embrace freedom, but we will remain vigilant and resolute.

“This attack in Boston reminds us of both the worst and best in humanity. In an act of terror, those responsible destroyed and forever altered the lives of hundreds of people. But, stories of the heroic first responders, the athletes who ran to the hospital to donate blood and the countless other acts of selflessness remind us of the American spirit and its capacity to overcome terror and emerge stronger.

“We comfort the bereaved, tend to the hurt and take all precautions. We remember the victims but, standing together, refuse to be victimized.”

In closing, we mourn the loss of life this week in Boston and express solidarity with the people of Boston who have endured (and continue to endure) great trauma. Moreover, let’s take Mister Rogers’ advice to heart. When the chips are down, keep an eye on the helpers. When the world seems chaotic and falling apart, let us join the helpers in bringing healing and loving kindness into the world.

#TieBlog Aharei Mot-Kedoshim “Love Your neighbor as yourself”

17 Apr

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In Leviticus 19 we learn the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v.18). The tie represents a neighborhood of people–some feeling loved and others not so. Our task in life is to create more smiles and loving kindness.

Aharei Mot-Kedoshim is read this year in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. It is horrifying to witness such utter hatred and blatant disregard for the “Golden Rule.” At the same time, it is inspiring to see how people in the face of tragedy respond to do good. Exhausted runners having just run more than 26 miles ran to tend to the wounded. Bostonians opened up their homes to tourists or suburbanites who couldn’t leave the city. The Mayor of Boston left his own hospital bed to tend to his shocked city. This Shabbat, let’s all think about what we can do to bring more loving kindness into the world.

#TieBlog Israel Independence Day

15 Apr

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As Israel turns 65, we recall those soldiers and civilians who died in the name of the State of Israel. We also celebrate everything this remarkable country has accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.

On this Patriot’s Day, let us also pray for the people of Boston and the victims of terrible violence at the Marathon. On this convergence of Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day together with America’s Patriot’s Day, let us not forget the blessings of liberty nor those who have sacrificed their lives in the name of liberty.

#TieBlog–Parashat Tazria-Metzora

10 Apr

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In Parashat Tazria-Metzora, the kohanim (priests) check the people for skin ailments and determine whether or not they are in a state of ritual purity to enter the Temple. The tie reflects the medical angle of the the Torah portion. For more insights, check out the G-dcast videos on Tazria and Metzora.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=h6bPAyPCYu4&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dh6bPAyPCYu4

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=gZbsQv77YtM&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DgZbsQv77YtM

Revisiting the Warsaw Ghetto 25 Years Later and Seventy Years Later

5 Apr

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A few weeks ago, I shared some reflections of formative experiences that I had as a teenager in United Synagogue Youth with last summer marking 25 years since I traveled on USY on Wheels and this coming summer marking 25 years since I traveled to Poland and Israel with USY Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar. With tomorrow marking Yom HaShoah, I want to reflect a bit on my trip to Poland not just from the perspective of my personal anniversary, but also from the perspective of another significant anniversary this year: the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In fact, Yom HaShoah’s official name is Yom HaShoah v’hagevurah, Day [of remembrance] of the Shoah and of heroism. The date of the 27 of Nisan was deliberately chosen by the government of the new State of Israel to connect national remembrance of the Shoah with the most notable case of armed resistance that the Jews were able to wage against the ruthless Nazi machine. The State of Israel sent a clear message in selecting the name and date of the holiday: Jews did not merely walk passively like sheep to the slaughter, but also stood up in self-defense against impossible odds.

 

For years, I had my pictures packed away in boxes. For the Poland portion of the trip, I shot all of my photos as slides. My thinking at the time was that I needed to come back to the States at the end of the summer and share my experience with others. At the time, a slide show was an efficient means to do that, and I did show them several times in groups. Then I went off to college and adult life, and the slides stayed in a box. Technology moved on, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve even seen a slide carrousel. All this vital documentation of my journey, and I couldn’t even look at it. With my recent reconnection with many of my travel mates, I decided that to mark the occasion of the 25th anniversary I would convert the slides to digital format.   I’ve started to do that and recently got back about four rolls worth of film on disks that I can view on my computer and easily share with others. It happens that most of the slides that I have converted so far were from Warsaw, including from a walking tour of the neighborhood that was built over the site of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Now I can revisit in full color the harrowing experience of visiting the Warsaw Ghetto 25 years ago.

 

There was a picture of a modest monument that read in Hebrew and Polish: “From April 19 to May 15, 1943, there took place a rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto, a war of heroism of Jewish fighters for the honor of mankind.” There was the much larger Nathan Rappaport memorial in the heart of the neighborhood courtyard. I took a picture of a street sign marking Mila Street, just a few doors down from Mila 18, the address made legendary by Leon Uris where the Bund plotted the fateful uprising. I found pictures of remnants of the brick wall that had once encircled the ghetto and imprisoned the Jews there in squalid conditions. There were monuments over manhole covers over the sewers, where thousands of Jews desperately tried to hide and cling to life, even while knowing the blood thirsty Nazis would hunt them down in the sewers. In one of my photos, there’s a manhole cover that wasn’t an official monument that a staff member lifted up. It was closed with a thicker cover underneath, but the photo makes the point that people crawled through these small holes. Then there was Umshlagplatz, the gathering place in the Warsaw Ghetto where thousands of Jews a day were gathered on trains and sent to Treblinka to certain death.

 

I reflect on my experience visiting the Warsaw Ghetto and consider that to be a vital stop on pilgrimage of bearing witness to the Shoah. The Jews faced hopeless deprivation and yet, in this squalid ghetto, Jews dared to hope for a better future.  This monument to Jewish suffering epitomizes the precipice between hope and despair.

 

This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, also describes a similar sort of precipice, the precipice between creation and destruction. Rabbi David Wolpe writes that the most important day of creation in Genesis is not the first day when God created the heaven and earth, nor the sixth day when God created human beings nor even the seventh day when God rested. Rabbi Wolpe writes that the most important day was the eighth day.  We began our lives in a real sense then, on the fateful eighth day –Yom Shemini. What happened then was not so great once God turned creation over to us. Adam and Eve get in trouble; Cain and Abel have their strife; humanity completely degrades.

 

When we turn to Leviticus, Parashat Shemini offers echoes of the fateful eighth day after creation. Only now what was created over the previous seven days was the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system. With a week’s worth of opening festivities over, it’s time to transition to regular function. It’s precisely at this time that we have the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu who perish on the altar when they bring eish zarah, strange fire.

 

Rabbi Wolpe writes: “We are blessed and cursed with the eighth day. For as we are given the start to creation, we are also mandated to carry it forward.” On Yom HaShoah, we recall the worst “eighth day” in human history, the twelve dark years of Nazi terror in Europe. The Nazis arrogated to themselves the powers of God that have roots in the initial eighth day of creation when God let go of the reins and said to humans, you run the world. At the same time, out of the ashes of the Shoah is a glimmer of hope that humanity can muster the courage to confront evil. That is the message of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The brave men and women who stood up to the Nazis refused to accept the reality of a God-less eighth day of creation.  They sought to restore justice to the world. They may have died in their efforts, but they gave the world the gift of their legacy that whatever curses the eighth day brings, our task is to turn them into blessings.