Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Historic Moment for Judaism in Israel

The Attorney General of the State of Israel has agreed for the first time to pay the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel, just as they pay Orthodox rabbis.  A female Reform rabbi, Miri Gold, will be the first to be paid by the State and included in the Jerusalem council.

You can read the Jerusalem Post article on this topic here.

A great day for Israel and for world Jewry! 

Joan Nathan to Speak in Rockport

Save the Date: 
Thursday, June 14 at 7 p.m. 
Adas Yoshuron Synagogue
50 Willow Street, Rockland

You may have
• used her cookbooks
• read her columns
• seen her PBS series

Now meet her in person!

Noted food writer and cookbook author Joan Nathan will be at Adas Yoshuron on Thursday, June 14 at 7 p.m. to talk about “The Food of the Jews of France: How Jewish Cooking has Influenced and Been Influenced by French Cuisine.”  

Did you know that cassoulet is thought by some to be an offshoot of the Jewish Sabbath stew, or that the Jews brought foie gras to France? Join us for a discussion, followed by French-Jewish goodies from Joan’s book.

Free and open to the public. Bring your foodie friends and family!

For more information call the synagogue, 594-4523, or email yoshuron@midcoast.com.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Social Justice Movement in Israel

This is a great documentary video from Colby students, Lauren Fisher and Gordon Fischer.  
If you want to learn more about the this inspiring moment in Israeli history, check out it out!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Education in the Desert: Parashat Bamidbar

The Book of Numbers gets a bad rap.  We are prejudiced by its name, which makes us think about arithmetic and long, dry genealogies. However, the Hebrew name of the book, BaMidbar (in the desert) evokes other associations.  The book tells the story of a very large, extended family trying to find their way to redemption against all odds.  We fight, we cry, we protest, we appreciate brief respites on the long, arduous journey to the Land of Israel.  It's filled with drama, sex, violence, family dysfunction, and yes, some wisdom too.

Rashi brings forth the unique insight of our tradition through his interpretation of Numbers 3:1:*

1. These are the descendants of Moses and Aaron on the day that the Lord spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai.א. וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי:
These are the descendants of Moses and Aaron: Yet only the sons of Aaron are mentioned. However, they are considered descendants of Moses because he taught them Torah. This teaches us that whoever teaches Torah to the son of his fellow man, Scripture regards it as if he had begotten him - [Sanh. 19b]ואלה תולדת אהרן ומשה: ואינו מזכיר אלא בני אהרן. ונקראו תולדות משה, לפי שלמדן תורה. מלמד שכל המלמד את בן חבירו תורה, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו ילדו:

The Jewish emphasis on the importance of education dates back thousands of years.  It is a value that trumps nearly all others because learning, in theory, serves as the inspiration for living a righteous life. We learn in Tractate Kiddushin, "Great is study for it leads to action." (40b)  Why do we invest so much of our resources into educating our children?  It is the first step to a more just, robust, and fulfilling world.

Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the Rabbis relished their relationships with their students to such a degree.  They considered their students to be as precious to them as their biological children.  While biological parents provide us with physical life, our teachers are the ones who make us human.  The inculcation of values, integrity, and faith are what make us "mensches."  For the rabbis of the past and the present, teaching is about more than the transmission of factual information.  When teachers bequeath ownership of the Torah to the next generation, they are passing on a road map that provides a path to decency, sensitivity, spiritual fortitude, honesty, and problem solving.  They shape not only the mind, but the heart as well.

I think that it is worth asking ourselves today whether this wisdom can apply to teachers of subjects other than Torah.  I believe that it can and that it should.  Through example, rebuke, and reinforcement of positive behavior, all teachers can ensure that our children will be mensches.  As Americans, however, we often feel uncomfortable with teachers playing the roles that are assumed to be parental.  There is an uneasiness with teachers playing a part in character development.  Some of us assert, I believe wrongly, that the instilling of virtue can be surgically detached from the transmission of other kinds of wisdom.

One of the many factors that has contributed to our financial and political crises is the failure of intelligent individuals to make ethical choices.  The leaders of both sectors were whiz-kids who dazzled with mathematical and legal fancywork, but who lacked the capacity to envision the wide ranging consequences of their choices.  Parents and educators both must recognize that one or two people cannot raise a child alone. Ethical thinking and behavior must be reinforced in the classroom, on the playground, on the court, and at the school dance.  We cannot and do not live bifurcated lives with clear delineations between the private and public, the ethical and the political.  These spheres have always been porous and intertwined.  The myth of their disjuncture serves no one in the long term, and robs the next generation of a future with the potential to be fair.

Let us all strive to serve as parents of all kinds.  Our tradition tells us how precious assuming this role can be, and our world needs your participation desperately.

* Text and translation provided by chabad.org. Todah Rabbah!

Colby Commencement Invocation

I had the great honor of delivering the invocation for Colby College Commencement:

You can watch the video by clicking here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Amazing Israeli Film at Railroad Square!

The Israeli film, Footnote, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards will be showing at Railroad Square Cinema.  Come support Israeli cinema and our local theater.  I've been dying to see this film and cannot wait to finally see it!

DatesFriday, May 18 -- Thursday, May 24
Showtimes: Daily at 2:55 and 7:00, Also Fri. and Sat. at 9:00

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Price of Belonging: Parashat Emor

One of the emotional hallmarks of the modern Jewish experience is feeling homeless.  So much of our history is shaped by occupying in-between spaces, living somewhere between citizenship and  isolation.  This history of existing betwixt and between has caused indescribable vulnerability, pain, anxiety,  confusion, and exhaustion for our people.  Even now when we possess a national homeland, we fight among ourselves about who deserves citizenship, full Jewish status, and the rights and benefits of membership.  We all endeavor for a tent large enough to house all of our souls, yet circumscribed enough to still be meaningful.  This is the conflict that shapes the contemporary landscape of Jewish life.  Sometimes these disputes serve as a source of fruitful creativity, and other times they have disastrous and counterproductive consequences.

In this week's portion, Parashat Emor, we encounter a Biblical claim of membership that, according to midrash, is ultimately rejected.  Leviticus 24:10-14, we encounter a story of a man who is not named, but whose genealogy is included in the text.  His mother was an Israelite and his father was an Egyptian.  His mother is named, "Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan," but his father remains anonymous.  Why do we know the name of his mother and not of his father?  There is no explicit reason stated: maybe he is not there, or maybe it is because as a non-Israelite, he is literally not recognized within the camp. Whatever the reason for his name's erasure, our ancestors drew a link between his son's mixed lineage and the crime his son commits: blaspheming God's name.

According to the Sifre, a halachic midrash, there is a context to this man's crime:

There came out … one whose mother was Israelite – whence did he come out?  From Moses’ court, for he had sought to pitch his tent in the camp of Dan.   He said to them, I am [the son] of a daughter of the tribe of Dan.  They said to him:  Scripture says: [The Israelites shall camp] each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral [lit. fathers’] house (Num. 2:2).  So he went to Moses’ court, and he came out having been found against, and he stood their and blasphemed among the Israelites – which teaches us that he had become a proselyte. (Sifra (Torat Kohanim), Emor, ch. 14, Weiss edition, Vienna 1862, 104c, cited by Rashi on Lev. 24:10.) -- Thanks to Rabbi Sharon Shalom for these texts.

Why did this nameless man blaspheme God's name?  According to the midrash, he did so in a moment of anguish.  Neither completely Jewish or non-Jewish, he was left with no yerusha, no inheritance, among the tents of Israel.  He had no place to pitch his tent, no place to rest, to sleep, to feel safe among a community of kin.  In this moment of extreme, existential loneliness, he curses a God whose Law has rendered him an eternal outcast.

This story is one with enduring resonance for the Jewish community.  Interfaith families struggle with fitting in, being recognized, and being named.  In the Conservative movement, we still hold to the standard of matrilineal descent -- one is only given full benefits and responsibilities if their mother is Jewish or if they convert.  I believe that this standard is what our tradition demands, and that it provides a coherence to Jewish identity.  Matrilineal descent maintains a 2,000 year old rabbinic standard and connects us to the rest of the global Jewish community.  For these reasons and others, I remain committed to this standard. (For further reading, I highly suggest Shaye Cohen's The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties and UncertaintiesAlso, the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement has provided these resources to understanding matrilineal descent.)

However, I am not blind to the cost that that our communities pay for this policy, and I know that the price is steep.  As a synagogue in Maine, we provide a home to many interfaith families.  For reasons that are principled and practical, we cannot afford to be anything less than enthusiastically welcoming to all who want to be involved.  As such, we must make sure that everyone has a place to pitch their tent inside the walls of our synagogue.  Everyone must have a name that is respected and acknowledged, regardless of where they are in their Jewish journey.  Also, everyone must be provided with a path to conversion, if it interests them.  One of the greatest tragedies of the midrash above is that this man was a proselyte -- he converted -- but because he did not have the right yichus (lineage) he was still left adrift.  Conversion always needs to be available, accessible, and celebrated.  And it is up to every one of us to exert ourselves always to find creative and authentic ways of welcoming and integrating non-Jewish participants into our communities.  The Keruv commission of the Conservative movement has released this guide to cultivating welcoming communities; it is a wonderful resource for us on our path to inclusion. 

The world we live in is often cold and chaotic.  We search for shelter in the structure of a mission-driven community and under the wings of an accepting God.  In our (often legitimate) desire to remain faithful custodians of our tradition, we too often exclude those on the fringes who need us the most.  I believe that there are ways to balance our commitments to halacha and inclusion. I sincerely feel that the ingenuity and thoughtfulness that this challenge requires can enrich our communities.  However, this tension is only productive if it is engaged with honesty, a desire to learn, and sensitivity.  Most importantly, for the sake of God and our spiritual survival, we must always acknowledge the full names of all who we encounter, and always leave enough space for them sit beside us on their journeys.

Access Texts!: Judaism and End of Life Issues

Missed our Talmud class on End of Life issues in Judaism? You can take a look at our source sheet here! Our class provided an extremely rudimentary introduction to this topic.

If you want to read more about all that the Conservative movement has written on this topic, visit the Committee for Jewish Law and Standards website. All of the documents on this topic, while long, are accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.

Looking forward to continuing the learning at our next Talmud class:

 May 24, 2012: Sanctifying God's Name: An Exploration of Martyrdom on the Talmud. 
Selah Tea Cafe, 6:30 pm.

Debra Spark speaking at Beth Israel on May 19th!

Renowned author and Colby professor, Debra Spark, will be doing a reading at Beth Israel on Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm. She will be reading from her book, Good for the Jews and leading a discussion about her work.

It will be a seudah shlisheet meal. Please bring pastries, fruit, and light snacks for the event.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Food Historian to Speak About Food, Memory, and Survival During WW II

Noted food historian, scholar, and award-winning journalist, Cara De Silva, will discuss, “In Memory’s Kitchen: War and the Food of Dreams” 

this Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, 50 Willow Street, Rockland. Her talk is free and open to the public.

Ms. De Silva edited and wrote the commentary for “In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy of the Women of Terezin.” Based on a manuscript of “dream” recipes set down in Terezin, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, by the women who cooked and died there during the Holocaust, the book was voted one of the most noteworthy of the year by the New York Times Book Review when it was first published in 1996, and has been in print ever since. According to Ms. De Silva, the recipes were surely written as a means of keeping sane, of hanging on to life, as well as a way for the authors to comfort themselves by recalling gentler times. But, she says, they were also a form of psychological resistance: “Because food is a powerful identity marker, to remember the dishes you once cooked and served your family—the traditional foods with which you celebrated—is to reinforce your sense of who you are when your culture and your people are in danger of being obliterated.”

In addition to New York Newsday, where she was a long-time columnist, Ms. De Silva has written for many newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Gourmet, Saveur, Food & Wine, Eating Well, Martha Stewart Living, and others. She also writes an online food-and-travel column, A Fork in the Road.

In her talk on May 10, Ms. De Silva will consider the role of food in culture, and particularly during the Holocaust. The talk will be followed by refreshments and an opportunity to meet informally with the author.

For more information, please contact the synagogue office, 594-4523, or emailyoshuron@midcoast.com.