Monday, August 29, 2011

Noam and Aviva Shalit's Letter to their Son Gilad After 5 Years in Captivity

Noam and Aviva Shalit's letter to Gilad

Parents of captive soldier write letter to mark his 25th birthday: 'We know that every day that passes is another nightmarish day of impossible suffering, days and nights of suffocating endless loneliness. But we do not forget you'
Omri Efraim

On Sunday Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas over five years ago, will turn 25. In honor of his upcoming birthday, his parents Noam and Aviva wrote him a letter, which they chose to share with the world:

Our dearest Gilad,

With the burning sun beating on our heads, on the sidewalk adjacent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home, we are trying to digest the fact that 1,890 days have passed and you still are not with us.

We have been here on this sidewalk for over a year now, trying with all our power and using any means at our disposal to break the wall of imperviousness that lies between us and those who have yet to be convinced after so many days, months, years and after mistakes it is time to bring you home.

We're here. We haven't given up, we haven't surrendered, and we have not been broken. And we are not alone. Our dearest Gilad, many many people who are strangers to you, who you have never met, think as we do, that it is inconceivable to speak of social solidarity, of national fortitude and of having faith in the State while abandoning you to your fate. Day after day, lonely and abandoned in Hamas dungeons for over half a decade.

Another nightmarish day

Last summer tens of thousands marched for you, out of the belief that it would set your release in motion. This summer, tens of thousands marched on the streets in protest calling for social justice, the public's right to live and make a living with dignity, and we and many with us, added to that call the demand for your right to live, your oh so basic human right to freedom and liberty.

Our beloved Gilad, we know that every day that passes is another nightmarish day, a day of impossible suffering, days and nights of suffocating endless loneliness. But you must believe that we do not forget you, we do not forget the fact that next Sunday, you will be 25 years old, that this is your sixth birthday in captivity, that more than a fifth of your young life has been spent in a dungeon, a Hamas pit.

The Shalit family  - heavyhearted (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Shalit family - heavyhearted (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

We know that you have no idea why the nightmare has yet to end, and why our many efforts have yet to bear fruit. We are trying to hold on to life though our life has become unrecognizable.

Your brother Yoel has already graduated from university at the Technion, and Hadas your younger sister is set to finish her military service any day now. And while these are supposed to be joyful and happy occasions, we are heavyhearted because you are being prevented from experiencing them.

With every moment that passes we try to seek an answer, advice as to what else we might do? What remains to be tried? How can we convince people that you aren't just a poster, a cardboard image or even a picture that can be found wherever you turn, how do we remind everyone both here in Israel and abroad that you are still there?

Recycled, tattered statements

They constantly offer us shreds of hope, telling us they have made headway in the negotiations, but each time we see once again how hundreds and thousands of security prisoners are released from Israeli prisoners back to their homes.

We see money and goods continue to flow into the hands of those who have been imprisoning you brutally for years, that the conditions awarded to Hamas (yes, that same cynical organization that is holding you as a secret weapon) prisoners here in Israel are improved and no one really manages to change anything in spite of all the talk. And our hearts are heavy. For how long?

As more days go by our concern for your health, your very life, increases. Recycled and tattered statements will most likely once again make their way from the Prime Minister's Office in addition to the usual commentary and editorials published by experts on "terror" on behalf of the government and independently.

Statements that will say "we are doing everything in our power" (five years of doing everything in their power) and will continue to inspire fear in the Israeli public as if a deal for your release would bring terror back to Israel. As if leaving you to your fate in Gaza will prevent dozens and even hundreds of future casualties.

Sadly, even when you're there the deadly terror attacks and attempts to carry out terror attacks continue ceaselessly.

Your sacrifice changes nothing in the sensitive and unstable situation in our little state. Moreover, as time goes by, we see how our nation's sense of security, of the younger generation serving and enlisting in the military, and the parents who send them, is growing weaker in light of the breach of our unwritten pact (and not for the first time) between the state and its soldiers – the primary duty - to bring every soldier back home.

Yet we will not despair, and you must hold on because we must find a way to bring you back home to us, soon, tomorrow!

With much love and endless yearning,

Mom and Dad

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Our Brothers and Sisters in Israel -- Our Hearts are with You

This is a message from the Conservative rabbi in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel. Be'er Sheva is a city where I prayed, studied, and grew, it is a city under constant attack by terrorists:

War journal: Beer Sheva, Wednesday 24 August 2011, 10:50PM

A few days ago, I stopped writing this letter, because on Sunday a ceasefire was announced. Today, on Wednesday, we heard the sirens again. I am writing to share with you some of my experiences and feelings.

I did not think that I would be writing a war journal again, and despite the fact that the hope for peace still rings within me, reality demands attention.

Last Shabbat (August 20), I came as usual to our shul, Congregation Eshel Avraham in Beersheva. It was 9AM. One minute before the services began, the siren sounded. We all ran into the small shelter in our building. We took into account that we have less than 60 seconds, according to the Home Front Command, to find cover.

There was a tense quite as we looked at one another. We waited to hear the explosion. Our first hope is always directed towards Iron Dome, the new anti-rocket system that is capable of destroying the rocket in the air. Our second hope, in case Iron Dome fails, is that at least the rocket will explode in an open area. But we also know that hopes are not always actualized, and there is always a chance that a rocket will explode in a place filled with people, maybe even where we happen to be.

Tension. Fear. The silence is broken by the cries of one of the congregants. What to do?

Suddenly I remember that we also have tools in our arsenal for moments like these. I make a suggestion: Why don’t we start praying. We begin to sing together the “Ma tovu” prayer, “How wonderful are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel.” In the background we can hear the first explosion. After a few minutes in the shelter, we return to the synagogue sanctuary.

These moments, when you are in a building, are the hardest. But they will be even harder soon. The instructions are to take cover within seconds, and if there is nowhere to go, lie on the ground with hands on your heads. As the minutes pass, more congregants arrive. It’s clear that they experienced the sirens outside on the street.

The first to arrive was a new immigrant woman from the former Soviet Union. When I asked her what she did, she replied that she tried her best to remain far from places with glass. She was breathing heavily because she had to run in order to get to a safe place – the synagogue. Each congregant had a different story; one, a new immigrant from Canada (arrived only a few months ago), said she crouched down and put her tallit over her head. Faith, it turns out, is a powerful weapon.

That morning – on a weekend in the middle of the Israeli summer, in the middle of the school holiday, in which many people were looking for somewhere outside the city where they could spend time in light of the circumstances – we had approximately 30 people at services.

We are believers, but we are also worried. In our congregation, we have eight preschool classes, in which 230 children come to learn every day. Today they are on holidays. But on the first of September, when the schoolyear begins, the tension will be enormous.

In our congregation we have two buildings. The new building has a shelter than can house 120 children and our staff. The old building, however, which is home to classes with 110 children from ages three months to three years, does not have a shelter.

The entire community of Eshel Avraham and our friends around the world are doing our best to find the 180.000 dollars funding in order to urgently build the missing shelter . God willing we will have a real ceasefire so that we can come to synagogue to pray in peace, so that our children will not be in danger and the shelter will be just another play room.

May he who makes peace in high places, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, amen

"עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו, על כל ישראל ועל כול יושבי תבל, ואמרו אמן."

Rabbi Mauricio Balter - הרב מאוריסיו בלטר

Congregation Eshel Avraham - קהילת אשל אברהם

Beer Sheva - באר שבע

Israel - ישראל--

Better Nothing than Almost: A Song by Ivri Lider

In honor of Parashat Re'eh:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is the Middle Road Moderation or Mediocrity? Parashat Re'eh

Many Conservative Jews, including myself, take pride in being members of the "centrist" movement. Maintaining the best of the modern and ancient worlds, we live a life of creative tension and challenging synthesis. However, there is a verse in this week's portion that challenges the value we place on the middle path: (Deut 11:26-28)

כו רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם--הַיּוֹם: בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה.26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse:
כז אֶת-הַבְּרָכָה--אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם.27 the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day;
כח וְהַקְּלָלָה, אִם-לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וְסַרְתֶּם מִן-הַדֶּרֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם: לָלֶכֶת, אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתֶּם. {ס}28 and the curse, if you shall not hear the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known.

In this scenario, there are two choices: a blessing and a curse. There is no, "you take the good, you take the bad," rather, you have to choose one. The sixteenth century Italian commentator, Sforno, claims that the presentation of these extremes is very intentional:

ספורנו דברים פרק יא פסוק כו

ראה. הביטה וראה שלא יהיה ענינך על אופן בינוני כמו שהוא המנהג בשאר האומות. כי אמנם אנכי נותן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה והם שני הקצוות כי הברכה היא הצלחה יותר מן המספיק על צד היותר טוב. והקללה היא מארה מחסרת שלא יושג המספיק ושניהם לפניכם להשיג כפי מה שתבחרו:

"The Torah uses this language so that we will not see the world in an 'in between' or 'moderate' or 'mediocre' way like the other nations of the world. Rather, God has put before you today a blessing and a curse, and these two are extremes. For blessing is an abundance of success beyond subsistence, a excess of good. And the curse is less that what you need to live on. And both of them have been put before you, in your reach, according to your will."

According to Sforno's reading of the Torah, we do all possess choice, but not the ability to pick and choose among a plethora of options. Rather, you go all the way, or you don't go at all. This message is very un-American and flies in the face of much of Liberal Judaism.

While I do not agree with the "all or nothing" approach in all cases, sometimes there are moments and decisions which require complete commitment or complete abstinence. I often feel this way in regard to a child's Jewish education. Parents need to invest a significant portion of time to their child's Jewish learning in order to reap any meaningful dividends. Half measures usually don't lead to half success, but rather feel like missed opportunities for meaningful engagement. Being inconsistent with Shabbat observance, at least personally, doesn't provide me with 50% fulfillment, but rather leaves me feeling empty. I think that it is easy to confuse halfhearted measures with moderation, and it damages our spiritual lives and the integrity of Conservative Judaism.

There are times when we cannot or should not have an "all or nothing" attitude. For an individual in the process of conversion or becoming more observant, it is often damaging to take on all the mitzvot at once. In order for change to stick, we need to increase our observance in slow and steady stages. It took me 7 years to keep kosher completely, giving up different traif foods every year. At this point in my life, I could not imagine ever going back. Also, when increased observance leads to the breakdown of family ties, we often need to reconcile our idealized selves with the practices and needs of those we love.

To liberally paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there are times to go all out and times to go half way, which admittedly is a completely moderate approach. I think the lesson that we can learn from this portion as Conservative Jews is that splitting the difference is not always the right answer. Sometimes it lessens the best elements of Jewish distinctiveness, characterized by a radical commitment to The Good.

This week let us think critically about how far we can push ourselves for a complete and fulfilling Jewish life. Let us be honest with ourselves about whether our observance is defined by needless excuses or essential compromises -- and then let us work on bringing our Jewish lives, individually and communally, to the highest level possible.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sarah's Key at the Railroad Square Cinema

Sarah's Key, an acclaimed movie about the Holocaust, is showing at the Railroad Square Cinema. You can access the poster here. It will be showing:

Daily at 12:00, 2:20, 4:40 & 7:00
Also late shows Friday and Saturday at 9:15
Starts Friday Aug. 26th

Monday, August 22, 2011

Access Texts! The Commandments to Feel

This week, in Parashat Eikev, we are commanded to fear and love God. How can we be commanded to feel such intense and complicated emotions? Click here for this week's source sheet to access what commentators throughout the ages have said about this complex and challenging issue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Great Interfaith Art Event at Colby College

Art and Faith: Discussions about Religion and Poverty

In the 1930s, documentary photographers Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, and Margaret Bourke-White created images capturing American men, women, and children living in grinding poverty during the years of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. As the current economic recession continues, poverty is again a focus of national attention. Speaking from the point of view of their own various faith traditions, Maine clergy will consider religion’s role in combating poverty, both historically and today. Talks begin at 2:00 pm preceded at 1:30 pm by a gallery tour of the exhibition American Modern: Abbott, Evans, Bourke-White

Saturday, August 14
Rev. David Anderman, First Congregational Church, Waterville and Rev. Alice Anderman, Colby College Chaplain

Sunday, August 21
Rabbi Susan Bulba Carvutto, Temple Beth El, Augusta

Saturday, August 27
Richard Kelly, Vassalboro Friends Meeting

Saturday, September 10
Rev. Paul Nielsen, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Waterville

Saturday, September 17
Father Larry Jensen, St. Joseph Maronite Church, Waterville

Saturday, September 24
Sharon Jones, Winthrop United Methodist Church

Services this Week: Parashat Eikev

Services this week will be at Beth Israel Congregation on:

Friday, August 19th, at 7:00 pm [Sermon topic: Why is it Hard to Feel Grateful?]

Saturday, August 20th, at 9:15 am [Text Study: How can We Commanded to Feel Something?]

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Please be in touch if you need a ride to services!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Test God: Parashat V'etchanan

One of the most common phrases that parents often utter to their children is, "Don't test me!" Children, especially when little, are anxious to test boundaries in order to see how their actions will affect their parents. There is a basic human curiosity about what reactions our own actions evoke in others.

In this week's portion there is a surprising and oft overlooked verse (Deut 6:16):

טז לֹא תְנַסּוּ, אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר נִסִּיתֶם, בַּמַּסָּה.

16 You shall not test the LORD your God, as you tested HaShem in Massah.

Also interesting to note that the word for "test" in Hebrew is the same verb used when God tests Abraham when he is asked to sacrifice Isaac. God may test the faithfulness of God's servants, but we cannot do the same to the Divine.

What are we to take away from this verse? According to the work, Sefer HaHinuch "There is a warning here not to perform the commandments by way of a test, i.e., not to perform a commandment in order to try the Lord, seeing whether He repays in like measure. Rather, one is to observe the commandments out of one's love and fear of G-d." (Translation and reference from Dr. Alex Klein)

According to this text, we cannot pray for the sake of receiving an immediate reward or response. Prayer needs to be done for its own sake. Many in our movement are asking questions about the quality and importance of prayer. What does it mean to pray for its own sake? What do we expect from God in return for our faithfulness?

Praying for its own sake, in my opinion, means committing to showing up without expectation; to be there for the encounter despite knowing that what you receive cannot be predicted. The truth is, just as we don't know what we'll get when we converse with God, so too do we never know what we'll receive from another person when we open up a connection with her. Both God and people are not computers or machines -- you can never predict which output you will receive as the result of your input. However, you show up for the encounter out of obligation and love. This way of doing things is unpredictable, but serves as the requisite basis for both Jewish prayer and holy relationships.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Prayer Conversation Continued

A great discussion has emerged from the blog of the Jewish Theological Seminary's Chancellor, Dr. Arnold Eisen. You can see his latest response to the conversation here:

The quote that piqued by interest was this:

"Bob Braitman is absolutely right: in order to improve the quality of tefillah in our synagogues (and in our lives outside of synagogue), we should ask Jewish men and women what they hope for in prayer. What do they want? What do they need? What in the siddur speaks to them? What leaves them cold? What do they believe God—however they understand God—wants to hear from them? What are they prepared to reply?"

How would you feel about this question being asked at the beginning of our services? I'd be interested to know. I think that this would be a good conversation for our community, especially as we learn new prayers and tunes together!

See you all on the Shabbat of August 19th and 20th!

Monday, August 8, 2011

אלי ציון - a Haunting Piece performed by Rona Kenan

May this be a reflective Tisha B'av for all. Here is a piece performed by Rona Kenan that is truly beautiful:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tisha B'Av at Temple Beth El in Augusta

Beth Israel Congregation will be joining Temple Beth El (Augusta) and Temple Shalom (Auburn) in commemorating Tisha B'Av. It will be tomorrow, August 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm at Temple Beth El in Augusta. Please join us as we chant Lamentations together.

Learn more about Tisha B'av by clicking here!

Talkin' About a Revolution

Three hundred thousand Israelis, from every sector of society (Arab, Jewish, religious, secular, and everything in between) have come to protest against social injustices in Israel. In particular, our brothers and sisters in Israel are fighting for economic justice and affordable housing in the Jewish state. It is amazing and inspiring to see such unity and commitment in the struggle for tzedek! Read more from this article in YNET, Israel's largest newspaper.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Services this Week

This week, there will be a pot luck dinner on Friday night at 6:00 pm and services at 7:00 pm.

Saturday morning, services will be at 10:00 am.

See you there!