Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Beth Israel Hanukkah Party 2016

Join Beth Israel Congregation for a raucous Hanukkah Party this year!  We will be celebrating together on Tuesday, December 27, 2016 from 5-7 pm.  Want to help?  Here is how:
  • Bring a vegetarian/dairy dish to the potluck for dinner!  There will be plenty of latkas and sufganiot (doughnuts), so healthy, wholesome food is a plus!
  • Help us make latkas!  Come by the Beth Israel Congregation kitchen starting at 1:00 pm on December 27th to help us fry up a bunch of latkas!
  • Bring your friends! This is a great time to introduce our community to our synagogue and traditions.
  • Bring your own hanukkiah and candles so we can all light together!

Chag Urim Sameach חג אורים שמח!  Happy Hanukkah.  Cannot wait to see you there!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

White House Hanukkah Benediction

Thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Obama. It is such an honor to be here today to teach, bless, and represent Waterville, Maine in the White House. Adam HaRishon, the first human, stood, shivering in the dark, frigid expanse. The days were becoming shorter, dimmer, colder in a way he had never experienced before, and he wondered: Is this what the world will always be? Our rabbis teach us that Adam prayed for eight days, and when the winter solstice passed, the days became longer, lighter, and warmer once again. Hanukkah is a festival that teaches us that it is always darkest before the dawn, and it is not foolish or naive to hold onto hope.

 Of course, because Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, we do not agree on a singular reason for why we celebrate. Hanukkah also teaches us about the necessity of rebellion. The Maccabees refused to accept tyranny, and were willing to sacrifice everything in order to retain their integrity as faithful Jews. They knew the injustice of dictatorship, and the danger of one human sovereign undermining the primacy our laws. As Jews, our faith is rooted in a legal system based on the foundational belief that all human beings are created equal, and created equally in the Divine Image.

We know the values and example we inherited from the Maccabees are not so different from the legacy we inherited from the mothers and fathers of the American Revolution, who fought for religious freedom, and to achieve the promise of a democratic republic free from tyranny.

 In their honor, at this moment, let us engage in the work of hanukkat hamedinah, and hannukat haezrachut, rededicating ourselves to our nation and to the challenges and privileges of citizenship. The battle for the soul of our nation will not be won with swords, or muskets, or verbal daggers. Because as Jews we know the spiritual is political and the political is spiritual. We will illuminate our country by widening our hearts, and establishing richly Jewish homes in all parts of our great nation, sharing the sparks of Torah with all Americans.

 Chag Urim Sameach. Happy Hanukkah.
 




Friday, December 2, 2016

Feeding Souls and Nurturing Citizens: Parashat Toldot

This week's portion is parashat Toldot. We encounter two brothers, Jacob and Esau, who represent two different approaches to decision making. Jacob is the scholar and the schemer, the one who is willing to forgo short-term satisfaction in order to achieve long-term aims. On the hand you have Esau who is the hunter and the straight-shooter, who puts the fulfillment of basic needs in front of long-term, strategic aims. Jacob is clever (and often duplicitous) and Esau is candid (and often naive.) Jacob acquires great wealth and power but is never at peace, while Esau follows his heart and stomach, but does not live his life on the run.

The Jewish tradition, and in particular the rabbinic tradition, favors the priorities and character of Jacob over Esau. The rabbis excuse Jacob's misdeeds, and vilify Esau's ostensibly innocent actions.

However, we miss a great deal of wisdom when we overlook or demonize Esau's choices. Jacob had the ability to think in the long-term because his short-term needs were provided by his mother, Rebecca. Esau needed to think about immediate gratification because he did not receive the attention or coddling of his mother, but rather spent his time serving his sick father, Isaac. Esau also trusted his brother, and therefore, never believed that relying on him for basic care and hospitality would cost him his birthright.

It is easier to be generous and strategic when your basic needs are cared for by others. It is much more difficult to be a conduit of generosity, empathy, and critical thinking when your stomach is empty and your soul needs tending. If the most basic of someone's concerns are not addressed -- feeling respected and cared for -- then we are misguided to expect the kind of empathy and long-term thinking we would like to see in our fellow citizens.

Let us focus on feeding and nurturing (physically and spiritually) our fellow citizens at this moment. These acts of care have tremendous implications for our people and our body politic. As our rabbi's taught, "Ein Kemach, Ein Torah." Without food, there can be no study. This is a moment that demands learning -- let us feed one another so we are ready and able to address the demands of citizenship that this moment demands.

Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov!