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  • October 26, 2021 4:47 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    Remarks on the Adas Emuno Sesquicentennial

    October 22nd, 2021

    Lance Strate

    One hundred and fifty years! My, how time flies! Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that we were celebrating our centennial?

    Well, maybe not just yesterday. But it was almost a decade ago, as some of you may remember, back when I started on my first term as president of our congregation, that I pointed out that our 150th anniversary would be upon us before we know it. And some of you learned a new word: Sesquicentennial! Can you say that? Repeat after me: SES! QUI! CENTENNIAL! SESQUICENTENNIAL! See, it’s easy.

    So, for the better part of a decade, we’ve been thinking about our sesquicentennial, talking about our sesquicentennial, and planning for our sesquicentennial. And that brings to mind that old Yiddish saying about how we plan, and God laughs.

    This certainly isn’t the sesquicentennial that we had planned for before the pandemic. No one expected that we would usher in our anniversary after a year of lockdowns and quarantines, zooming and streaming, masking and vaxxing. But our congregation survived the last great pandemic over a century ago, and we are still going strong to this day. And we have learned a lot! We have learned to be flexible. We have learned to be adaptable. And most of all, we have learned about ourselves, and the true value of family and friends and our spiritual home, our sacred community, our Congregaton Adas Emuno.

    So, God may have had a real good laugh this time, but our best laid plans were simply to commemorate our sesquicentennial, and that is what we are doing tonight, right now, and for the coming anniversary year. And I think that the fact that our birthday, October 22nd, has fallen on a Friday this year is more than mere synchronicity. It is altogether auspicious that this occasion coincides with the most sacred time of Shabbat, and that, as we commemorate our anniversary we can join together in worship, which is exactly what has sustained us for these past 150 years, not to mention the past 3,000 years or so. We didn’t plan, we couldn’t plan, to have our congregation’s birthday fall on a Friday this year, but maybe someone else did? We may need to consult the Kabbalah, or Gematria, for the answer. Rabbi, I leave it to you.

    I do think it’s important to be clear on what it is that we’re celebrating. What does 150 years of Adas Emuno mean? It’s not about this sanctuary, or the social hall downstairs, or the school building, or our garden. It’s not about Hoboken and it’s not about Leonia. Our membership comes from all over Northern New Jersey, and beyond. We are not circumscribed by our properties, not limited to one town, not defined by geography.

    What does 150 years of Adas Emuno mean? It’s not about a place. It’s about a congregation. It’s about a sacred community. It’s about an assembly of the faithful. It’s about people. Adas Emuno is us. All of us gathered here today, and all of us watching the livestream. We are Congregation Adas Emuno.

    But it’s not just about us. It’s about the pioneers who founded this synagogue 150 years ago. It’s about everyone who was a part of our community over the past century and a half. And it’s about everyone who will join our faithful assembly in the future. Just as we are not defined by geography, neither are we limited to any one point in time.

    And, let’s also think about, and remember the members of this congregation who are no longer with us, many that I have known, many that you have known. We should understand that they are more than names on memorial plaques. And they are more than names that are said each year on their yahrzeit. They will always be a part of our congregation. And they are a part of this moment, they are with us in our celebration, here tonight.

    One hundred and fifty years ago Congregation Adas Emuno was founded by a group of immigrants. We should consider the courage they had, to leave their homes and journey across the ocean to a strange new country with a different language and a different culture, to start all over again. They were not defined by geography, and they were supported by our time-honored tradition and a commitment to community. Let’s take a moment to recognize their courage, and how today we stand on their shoulders, and enjoy the benefits that their courage bestowed upon us.

    And let us also acknowledge that it takes some courage to be here now, today, to be true to our tradition, and to be a part of a congregation. It takes courage to stand up for ourselves in the face of growing anti-Semitism. It takes courage to carve out time to devote to our temple, especially when there are so many other demands that are made on us. It takes courage simply to set aside the pursuit of pleasure, the endless distractions that are constantly vying for our attention. It takes courage to set aside the pursuit of power, status, wealth, even just for a little while, to resist the seductive call of personal ambition, and make room for something more in our lives. It takes courage to make the choice to be Jewish, make the choice to be a member of the Jewish community, to make the choice to live and worship as Jews. Today we are all Jews by choice.

    And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that what really matters are family, friends, and community. What really matters are our relationships. What really matters are the things that give life meaning, that transcend space and time, that link us together to something greater than ourselves.

    So tonight, and for the coming year, we celebrate our sesquicentennial. One hundred and fifty years of Congregation Adas Emuno. We celebrate our past and our present. And we celebrate our future. And when it comes to all of our planning, well that Yiddish saying doesn’t indicate that there’s anything wrong with making God laugh. Why wouldn’t it be a good thing? After all, with all that’s going on in the world, God could probably use a good laugh.

    So, in that spirit, at this time next year, after we are finished honoring the founding of our shining shul on a hill, after we are finished commemorating the survival of our sacred community, after we are finished sharing in the joy of the sesquicentennial of our little shul-that-could, we should start planning for Congregation Adas Emuno’s bicentennial celebration. It’s only 50 years away! It’ll be here before you know it!

    Until then, happy birthday Adas Emuno! And Shabbat shalom!


  • October 21, 2021 12:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Oct. 21, 2021

    Dear Friends,
      And so we have arrived at our 150th Anniversary!

      Join us in-person (or livestream) for our Shabbat Evening Adas Emuno 150th Anniversary Service (7:30 PM). The service will feature festive music, remarks by past presidents Beth Ziff and Lance Strate, a proclamation from Leonia mayor Judah Ziegler, and the dedication of a new hand-embroidered Torah cover made for this milestone occasion.

      Arrive early for an outdoor wine and cheese reception (6:45 PM). View a collection of memorabilia in the social hall. And if you haven't already, pick up a beautiful t-shirt with our congregational and anniversary logos.

      Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) continues via Zoom as we celebrate another founding- that of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, as recorded in the Torah.

      If you missed the enjoyable feature on our milestone anniversary in The Jewish Standard you can view it here:
    https://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/adas-emuno-at-150/.

    Shabbat shalom,
    Rabbi Schwartz

    For Livestream Services:
    Go to YouTube.com and enter Adas Emuno Streaming in the search box. About 5 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin, find the service that is "live" and wait for it to begin.
  • October 18, 2021 12:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hello Everyone,


    This has been a very difficult time for many families, including those in New Jersey impacted by Hurricane Ida, people in Haiti devastated by natural disasters and the Afghan refugees. Can we help?  Absolutely!  The N.J. Small Business Development Centers, along with the N.J. State Veterans Chamber of Commerce and the Red Cross, plus the Haitian Association of Students at Rutgers-Newark, are all working together to collect items most urgently needed by these people.  Those items are listed at the end of this email.

    Adas Emuno will be accepting donations from Sunday, October 24th through Sunday, November 7th.  Please leave covered donations at the entrance of the social hall or, if possible, in the social hall. In case of "iffy" weather, please leave on the school porch.

    If you have questions, can volunteer to deliver our donations [ Rutgers Business School or Center for Law, both in Newark] or cannot get your donation to the temple [I'll try to have it picked up] please email Annette [acheryl21@gmail.com]. 
     

    Items Needed

    Kids

    Families

    Diapers

    Drinking Water/ Bottles

    Clothes (male/ female)

    Female Clothing (Conservative/ nothing tight-fitting)

    Baby Bottles

    Male Clothing

    Baby Formula

    Winter Jackets/ Coats

    Pacifiers

    Gloves

    Soccer Balls

    Feminine Hygiene Items (no tampons)

    Toys that don't need instructions

    Wheelchairs

    New Shoes

    Walkers/ Canes

    Pencils/ Crayons

    Smart Phones

    Notebooks

    Female Scarves

    School Supplies

     


    Thank you so very much!  
    Annette & the Social Action Committee

  • October 14, 2021 9:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Oct. 14, 2021

    Dear Friends,
       We're looking forward to our Zoom Shabbat Evening Family Service (7:30 PM), which will be led by our 7th Graders.

        Our Zoom Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) will take a close look at how the gathering of our ancestors at Mount Sinai gave birth to the Jewish people.

       *Note that our monthly family services will continue via Zoom until such time as our children 5-12 are vaccinated.
         Our weekly Torah study will also continue via Zoom until such time as the majority of the class has received a booster.

         Mark your calendar now for our Adas Emuno 150th Anniversary Service next Shabbat evening (Oct. 22)! An outdoor wine and cheese reception will take place prior (6:45 PM) to the service.
         The service will feature the dedication of a new hand-embroidered Torah cover made for this milestone occasion.


    Shabbat shalom,
    Rabbi Schwartz
  • October 11, 2021 2:12 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    Parsha Noach

    This week’s Torah portion is Parsha Noach, and as the name implies, it contains one of the most beloved of all bible stories, the story of Noah’s ark. The story is especially appealing for children because the animals are such an important part of it, and saving the animals is such a fundamental ethical imperative. It’s one that resonates with the present-day environmentalist movement, the need to save all of the species that are threatened with extinction, to preserve their habitats, protect their ecosystems, and save our biosphere.

    The story of the flood also brings to mind the flooding that occurs in our own time, from Hurricane Ida just recently, or Sandy a decade ago, or Katrina down in New Orleans. We know the sea levels are rising, and wildfires have been out of control out west, and down under.

    But we also know that natural disasters have always been with us, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornados, tidal waves and tsunamis. We have the illusion that we are safe and secure, and in absolute control of our environment. But mother nature has a way of reminding us who is really in charge. Or in the story of Noah, the reminder comes not from a maternal source, but from the ultimate father figure, which has been, after all, the traditional way that we have thought about God.

    Just a few short weeks ago, we observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the High Holy Day liturgy describes God as sitting in judgement of all of creation, even the hosts of heaven, the angels, are judged, and the final verdict is written and then sealed in the Book of Life.

    And, when learning of the death of a member of the immediate family, the tradition in Judaism is to say, baruch dayan ha-emet, which means, blessed is the true judge. The prayer recited at the time of burial, the Tziduk Hadin, repeatedly refers to God as the true judge, and emphasizes that God is righteous and just.

    This is the role that God plays in the story of Noah. God has judged humanity and found us guilty of violence, corruption and sin. And the true judge delivers the harshest of decrees, sentencing humanity, collectively, to death.

    But it is not just us that God condemns, but all life on earth. This is the counterpart of the act of Creation, when at each stage God saw that what was created was good. Now God sees that what was created is evil, and decides that the answer is an act of Destruction.

    In the traditional English rendering of Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.” God’s Creation belongs to God, and God has every right to decide what to do with it, even to destroy what God created.

    And yet, something does not quite sit right with God’s judgment, does it? Is all of humanity, with the exception of Noah, guilty? Surely there are babies, children, and other innocents who could not possibly be evil.

    And even if we assign collective guilt to the human race, what about all of the animals that are drowned in the flood. Sure, Noah saves representatives of each species so that they can be restored afterwards, but what about all of the other ones that didn’t get to go on the ark? Is this really what we would expect of a true judge? Is this what we would call righteousness? Is this justice?

    While we could take a page from the Book of Job and answer that God’s reasons are beyond our understanding, in the Reform tradition, we can better understand that these are stories composed by human beings for human beings. Stories about a great flood can be found across many different cultures and times, and they are based on the reality of natural disasters, and the fact that the death and destruction they bring about is indiscriminate, affecting all life, not just human populations.

    And for most of human history, these events have been attributed to supernatural sources. You might say that it is human hubris to think that a flood, or earthquake, or volcanic eruption, occurs specifically as a punishment for human wrongdoing. And with the advent of modern science, we now understand that this is not the case.

    And yet, along with our collective ego-centrism, our anthropocentrism, there is a sense that we are, in fact, responsible for our environment. In recent times, there is ample evidence that human activity has been drastically altering our planet’s climate, and is the cause of severe weather, hurricanes and heat waves, earthquakes and tornados, floods of biblical proportions due to rising sea levels.

    We live in a new geological epoch dubbed the Anthropocene, in which the human race represents the dominant influence on climate, the environment, the planet. We are the cause of the greatest extinction event since the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. And stated in moral rather than scientific terms, you might say that it is the result of human sin, human corruption, human evil.

    While what is happening at present is unprecedented, there is nothing new about the effects our actions have had on our world. For the past 10,000 years we have been clearing away land for farming and grazing, and thereby destroying habitats. Even in prehistoric times we hunted animals to extinction. That is why there are no wooly mammoths today, not even in Alaska, or Siberia—it’s not because they didn’t make it onto the ark in time.

    The story of Noah is a story that highlights human responsibility for the environment, and for protecting and preserving all forms of life.

    Noah is described as righteous and blameless in the context of his time. Context is everything, though, especially considering that in Noah’s time everyone else was so very evil. In other words, at that time the bar was set very low.

    And while Noah was obedient when God gave him his marching orders, he pales in comparison to Abraham, who tried to talk God out of destroying Sodom and Gommorah. Noah didn’t argue with God, didn’t debate God’s decision, didn’t try to convince God to change his mind. Noah was in a privileged position, chosen to survive the flood, along with his wife, his three sons, and their wives, and he didn’t use his privileged position to try to speak out on behalf of others. He was righteous and blameless for his time, but not for all time.

    And even if he was the best of the people of his time, what about his wife? Was she blameless? What about his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives? Were they all so much better than everyone else? Or were they just riding Noah’s coattails?

    These questions make sense to us, because we think in terms of individuals, and individual responsibility. But in this story, and for most of human history, it is the family that counts, not the individual. Together as a family, and by extension a clan, a tribe, and a nation, we either sink or swim. In this case literally.

    Noah is the father, and not just of his immediate family, but of the entire human family. In biblical terms, we commonly understand that everyone is descended from Adam and Eve, but we tend to forget that everyone is also a descendent of Noah and his wife.

    Our tradition emphasizes the idea that all people and all peoples are part of the same family, all of us created in God’s image. Our God is a universal God, the God of all people, not just one family or tribe, not just one country or land. This universal understanding was altogether revolutionary for its time.

    Noah’s story is about the end of the world, nearly, but it also represents a second genesis. Water, according to the psychoanalytic interpretation of Sigmund Freud, is symbolic of the womb, and reproduction is very a part of the story, insofar as the animals taken on the ark are in pairs, for mating.

    The receding waters and the exit from the ark symbolizes birth. And with this new birth comes change.

    For one, God gives us permission to eat animals. Previously we were vegetarians, but now animals are fair game, pun intended. God goes so far as to say that all the animals will live in fear and dread of us, which sounds about right.

    The other big change is that Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, and gets drunk. This is new. In effect, Noah invents alcohol. Opinions vary on whether this has been a good thing or not. It certainly has its costs as well as its benefits. But drinking wine on Shabbat and other holidays is a sacrament. And Benjamin Franklin once wrote that wine is “a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

    But the biggest change of all is that God sets up a covenant with Noah and his descendants, and the rainbow is the sign of that covenant. This precedes the covenant that God makes with Abraham and his descendants, and with Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

    God’s promise to Noah is to never again send a flood to destroy the earth. But God also tells him, “flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat,” and, “whoever sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”

    Based on these and other passages, the Talmud lists the Seven Laws of Noah, which apply to all of humanity. The Seven Laws are, do not worship idols, do not curse God, do not murder, do not commit adultery or sexual immorality, do not steal, do not eat flesh from a living animal, and establish courts of justice.

    During the 1990s, Orthodox rabbis in Israel started the modern Noahide movement based on these seven laws. Non-Jews who observe the Laws of Noah are referred to as “righteous gentiles,” and Noahide communities can be found here in the US, in Great Britain, in Latin America, the Philippines, Russia, and Nigeria. This movement is the subject of some controversy, in particular when the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel declared, just a few years ago, that non-Jews should not be allowed to live in Israel unless they accept the seven Noahide laws.

    Holding aside such questionable views, we return to the universalism of the Torah, and the Jewish religion, that God is the God of all people, that we are all part of the same extended family, and that God entered into a covenant with all of humanity.

    At the same time, we recognize that we are divided into different families, tribes, and nations. God sets up a separate covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and with Moses and the Israelites at Sinai, and that covenant applies only to the Jewish people.

    The Seven Noahide Laws apply to all of humanity, but the 613 laws and commandments of the Torah only apply to the Jewish people. Non-Jews are not required to follow them, and neither are they excluded from olam ha-ba, the world to come, the final reward of the righteous, in our tradition. In other words, paradise is not a restricted neighborhood.

    Our particular covenant requires us to be a nation of priests, with special obligations and constraints that don’t apply to others. But we do not have a monopoly on covenants with God. Different peoples can enter into their own relationship with the divine. Note here that the unit is not the individual, but rather the extended family, which is to say, the tribe or nation or people.

    The tension between the universal and the particular is personified by the sons of Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth, who become the ancestors of different groups of people, with their descendants spreading out across the world to become different tribes and nations. So, for example, one of the sons of Ham is Canaan, while Shem is the ancestor of the Semitics peoples. Through a long series of begats, generations later, we get from Shem to Terah, the father of Abraham, father-in-law of Sarah, grandfather of Lot. And in this parsha, it is Terah who takes his family from the city of Ur to the land of Canaan.

    But before this happens, the parsha tells us the story of the Tower of Babel. It is a brief story with many powerful resonances.

    Just as the biblical genealogies take us from Noah, representing all of the human race, to his descendants, who represent the diversity and multiplicity of all the peoples of the earth, so we move from a time when “the entire earth was of one language and uniform words,” to a time when God “confused the language of the entire earth,” “so that one will not understand the language of his companion,” resulting in people being “scattered… upon the face of the entire earth.”

    In reality, we don’t know how language evolved, but we do recognize that language is unique to our species, and we do know that the more that people separate and live apart from one another, the more that their speech grows apart, and eventually becomes unintelligible to one another. Once again, this is a story about the tension between the universal and the particular.

    In this story, the people say, “come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower, with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth.” In effect, the tower is intended to be a stairway to heaven, an act of human hubris.

    In response, God says, “Lo! They are one people and have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do?”

    This parallels the story of the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit, and God says that they have become “like one of us,” meaning God and the angels, knowing good and evil, and God says they must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life, because then we would live forever and no longer be mortal. In these stories, we have the potential to become godlike, and God does not want that to happen.

    Is that because, according to the Ten Commandments, “Adonai your God is a jealous God?” Or is it that we cannot be trusted, that we are too often tempted by the evil inclination, or that we simply are sorely lacking in wisdom.

    In this parsha, it is through the building of a city and a tower that we seek to extend ourselves all the way up to heaven. According to Midrash, the sin that resulted in God’s punishment was a disregard for human life, that people were essentially enslaved to build the tower, and that the bricks used to build the tower came to be valued more than the lives of the workers. This parallels the Book of Exodus, when the Israelites were enslaved and forced to build cities and monuments for pharaoh.

    Forced labor, slave labor, organized human labor to build, or to fight wars, represents the birth of the machine, according to the great 20th century intellectual, Lewis Mumford. The first machines were made up of human parts, only later replaced by more reliable artificial ones. And the mechanical ideology they represent, has been at odds with human freedom and humane values since the dawn of history. To this day, it threatens to erase all traces of the organic ideology that we once adhered to, one that emphasizes humility over hubris, and living in harmony with Creation.

    Sigmund Freud declared that our technologies have made us into prosthetic gods, humans combined with machines to wield godlike power. This is our own Tower of Babel, and now it not only our language, but our thinking that is confused, our moral and ethical sense that has become clouded. Our disregard for human life, and all life, is painfully apparent. And the flood is not an act of God, but our own doing.

    In the words of the cartoonist Walt Kelly, from the comic strip Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.

    Noah was righteous in his time, and heeded God’s call. What does it mean to be righteous in our time? What are we called to do? And can we, will we, answer that call? Will we remain scattered and confused, or can we remember that we are all a part of one family, one planet, and one Creation?

    The story of Noah’s ark ends with him sending out a raven and a dove. The raven is a symbol of doom, and death. The dove is a symbol of peace, and hope. Which one will prevail this time?

    The answer lies with us.

    Shabbat shalom.



  • October 07, 2021 8:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Oct. 7, 2021

    Dear Friends.
      I will be away this weekend for a very good reason- the wedding of our son Noam!

      But you will be in good hands with Lance Strate and Student Cantor Karlin leading our Shabbat Evening Service (7:30 PM).

      Please note that Torah study will not meet this week.

      I also wanted to make you aware of a special Leonia on-line program tonight:
      The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Race and Racial Equity (MACORE) and the Leonia Public Library, is hosting an online presentation on Thursday, October 7th @ 7pm featuring Lily Wolf, Holocaust Survivor
       When: October 7th, 2021 7:00 PM Eastern Time
       Topic: Lily Wolf, Holocaust Survivor
        Register in advance for with the following link:
        https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_oyMyxJD2Sni9wa4kFeim2A

        Lilly Baruch Wolf
     is a 94-year-old Jewish Holocaust survivor who lives in Sydney, Australia. She is an active volunteer with the Sydney Jewish Museum and with Courage to Care, an organization which educates against the dangers of prejudice, racism and discrimination.  

    Shabbat shalom,
    Rabbi Schwartz

    For Livestream Services:
    Go to YouTube.com and enter Adas Emuno Streaming in the search box. About 5 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin find the service that is "live" and wait for the service to begin.
  • September 30, 2021 10:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sept. 30, 2021

    Dear Friends,
      The holidays now joyfully celebrated and complete, we settle in to the regular rhythms of Shabbat.

       At our Shabbat Evening Service (7:30 PM) we celebrate the beginning of the Torah reading cycle and the Creation in music and some ecological reflections on the state of creation here and now.

       At our Zoom Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) we discuss another creation- that of the birth of the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt.

    Shabbat shalom,
    Rabbi Schwartz

    For Livestream Services:
    Go to YouTube.com and enter Adas Emuno Streaming in the search box. About 5 minutes before, find the service that is "live" and wait for the service to begin.
  • September 23, 2021 11:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sept. 23, 2021

    Dear Friends,
      The holiday celebrations continue!
      Our Shabbat-Sukkot Evening Service (7:30 PM) features a lively blend of festival and sabbath music.
     
       Then our Sukkot-Simchat Torah Celebration: This Sunday we begin with a free outdoor Subs-for -Sukkot Meal (5:00 PM) by reservation no later than tomorrow (email doriskampwhite@verizon.net), followed by an abbreviated Simchat Torah Celebration(6:00 PM), and capped off by a Sukkot Folk Concert (6:30 PM), featuring Iris Karlin, Peter Hayes, Elka Oliver, Michael Scowden and Scott Dennis!  The sanctuary events are in-person but will also be livestreamed.

       Zoom Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) is off and runningThis year we delve into the epic history that birthed our people- The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel- and you are welcome to join anytime. Contact me if you need the Zoom link.

       Sunday morning religious school (9:00 AM) includes the start of Confirmation class (11:00 AM).

       My sermons of the High Holidays are once again available at our website thanks to Lance Strate.

        Mark your calendar now for the next Adas Emuno Book Club on Nov. 8 and order Moshkeleh the Thief- A Rediscovered Novel by Sholom Aleichem at 40% off by contacting me. The same applies if you would like a copy of my new children's book Jonah's Tale of a Whale
         Speaking of books, you can return your High Holiday prayer book at any time by placing it in the blue bin on the school porch.

    Shabbat shalom and Hag Sameach,
    Rabbi Schwartz.
  • September 22, 2021 3:22 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    AMERICA

    Yom Kippur, 5782

    Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz


    What a year it has been!

    On the bright side, we are thankfully over the worst of the pandemic. A year ago at the High Holidays we were still in near complete lockdown. We livestreamed the service from an empty sanctuary. Now we are mostly vaccinated. We have reopened, albeit with capacity limits and other restrictions. Children are returning to school. We are not back to normal as we knew it, but we have turned the corner and are heading in that direction.

    So too most of us would say that politically. The presidency, at least, is back to normal. The administration in Washington is functioning more or less as we expect. Though Democrats and Republicans remain at loggerheads, key legislation is squeaking by Congress. The economy is improving; employment is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels. Again, we are not back to normal as we knew it, but here too we have turned the corner and are heading in the right direction.

    That’s on the bright side. Now for the dark side.

    The pandemic is not over. The virus is still wreaking havoc here and in far corners of the world. Variants and the unvaccinated still pose a threat. Re-openings are still fraught with challenges. The economic recovery is highly unequal, with the already well-off benefitting the most. Congress is hopelessly dead-locked. One of the two major political parties appears to have gone off the rails. The threat to our democracy has not gone away. If the Jan. 6 insurrection was overt, the attempts to undermine our country are now covert. But they are happening.

    Racism in all its manifestations, is alive and well. Anti-Semitism has seen another spike. Anti-Asianism has skyrocketed.

    Israel experienced another war with Hamas, which this time included anti-Jewish rioting within Israel by Israeli Arab citizens. Israel experienced four elections in two years and none has resulted in a viable governing coalition. The Jewish State is as divided as never before and the Jewish people are as divided as never before.

    Then there is the present debacle and tragedy in Afghanistan.

    Not to mention, hurricanes, wildfires, and a climate crisis that is growing exponentially and existentially.

    Wait a minute, you’re saying. Having devoted about a minute to the bright side, is the rabbi going over to the dark side? Is this going to be all doom and gloom?

    Well, mostly yes. What better time to commiserate than on Yom Kippur? We’re supposed to get down and dirty⏤about our sins that is. We’re supposed to ruminate on the dark side… in order to repent on our way back to the bright side.

    I think I am not different than most of you as a proud, and as a deeply concerned, American citizen. I’ve always felt the need to be politically aware, to be reasonably well read and reflective. But since the election of 2016 I have been consumed by what is happening to our country. Politically speaking, I have not had a good night’s sleep since that November earthquake five years ago. And my sleep is still disturbed.

    And I think I am not different than most of you as a proud, and as a deeply concerned American Jew. That means worrying about all things Jewish and all things Israel. Here too I lost much sleep.

    In my line of work, I suppose I am fortunate that I get to voice my concerns out loud more than most people. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have opined about what is happening to America, to Israel and to the Jewish people.

    And here I go again. Why? Because things are not getting better and it is Yom Kippur and because my friend, the prophet Isaiah, says in the Haftarah portion of this holy Day of Atonement that we should, raise our voice like a shofar.

    I’m still haunted by the last words of Heather Heyer, the young women killed in Charlottesville in 2017, who was not Jewish, but said something in the spirit of Isaiah. She posted on Facebook that fateful morning: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. So what should we be outraged about? What is lacking our attention?

    This morning I can only focus on one issue. As much as I would like to talk about the Jewish people, I’m not going to do that now, because of the urgency I feel about talking about the American people.

    Here is what keeps me up: I think democracy is dying in America in plain sight. I think it is dying and we are letting it happen. There are two paths forward in this crucial post-election period. The first path is labelled diversity. The second path is called disunity.

    The path of diversity will save our democracy. The path of disunity will kill our democracy.

    The path of diversity teaches us to respect our differences. The path of disunity teaches us to exacerbate our differences.

    The path of diversity strengthens community as we realize we are all on the same team. The path of disunity threatens community, since we no longer believe we are on the same team.

    Respected columnist Thomas Edsall minces no words when he wrote this past May:

    [We] confront an adversary willing to lie about past election outcomes, setting the stage for [Republican] legislatures to overturn future election returns; an opponent willing to nurture an insurrection if the wrong people win; a political party moving steadily from democracy to authoritarianism; a party that despite its liabilities is more likely than not to regain control of the House and possibly even the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. (NYT 5-19-21)


    What is at stake is civil society as we know it. Here’s the thing: in any relationship, if we can’t talk reasonably to one another, the relationship breaks down. In a marriage, the relationship breaks down and divorce ensues. In a congregation, the relationship breaks down, and the congregation splinters and dissolves. In a country… well, what happens? At the most extreme, there is civil war. On the way, there is civil strife. Unrest. Insubordination. Insurrection. Micah Goodman is a leading Israeli intellectual. I know him personally, having published his first book in English. Here is how he describes our toxic political discourse:

    Across much of Europe and the United States, political debate has stopped functioning. What is meant by a “functional” political debate? A disagreement between people each of whom believes the other is wrong: I think you are wrong, and you think I am wrong. That’s how a good political debate ought to work. But what if I think you are not only wrong but evil? Reasonable disagreement collapses. Social media tend to amplify this dynamic. People are increasingly concerned with labeling others, instead of thinking about their arguments… When each side thinks that the other’s beliefs are not only wrong but illegitimate, the capacity to listen vanishes, and reasonable disagreement collapses.


    Goodman goes on the conclude that the basic purpose of politics has metastasized:

    Politics is no longer the field in which [citizens] express their positions. Politics has turned into the field in which they [proclaim] their identities. Political discourse no longer pits idea against idea, but tribe against tribe. When politics ceases to rely on arguments and stops offering ideas, all it can do is channel identities. So it was that the disintegration of ideas of the left and right… did not abolish the rift between the two camps⏤they aggravated it.


    It’s sad and it’s scary that so many Americans now view politics as a zero-sum game. A recent national opinion poll posed this question: Do you think the goal of politics is more about enacting good public policy or ensuring the survival of the country as we know? Almost half of Democrats (47%) said policy, yet a significant number (38%) said survival. But among Republicans it was the reverse, with 46% saying survival and only 25% saying policy.

    And it’s sad and scary that if I’m honest with myself I’m not even sure how to answer. Let me put it this way: I’m a liberal. But I respect conservatives, who act out of principle. I don’t agree with them. They are my opponents but not my adversaries. I have this respect because we agree to abide by the same set of rules. Not only do we love our country, but we are sworn to uphold our Constitution and protect our democracy. We are not in it to win in any way, but to win the right way. But if you are not going to play by the rules, if you are willing to trample democracy and trash civility, how can I deal with you?

    That is our dilemma. How can we deal with our fellow Americans who are forsaking democracy by perpetuating a big lie, refusing to prosecute an insurrection, restricting voting access, and setting the stage for overturning the next election, if it is not in their favor? Yet how can we not deal with our fellow Americans, who comprise wide swaths of a major political party? How can we give up the search for common ground and the quest for the common good?

    Here is how I respond in the brief few minutes I have remaining. While I will resist every action that is anti-democracy, I will engage in every effort that is pro-democracy. I will call out every action that is racist and unjust, but I will listen to every critique of my own views. I will defend those who are powerless, but I will hold my nose to compromise so we can live together.

    I will do this in the spirit of tolerance and diversity that is the best of America. And I will do so in the spirit of worthy debate that is central to my Jewish heritage.

    The great debate of the Talmud was between the school of Shammai, which would equate to modern day conservatism, and the school of Hillel, which would equate to modern day liberalism. The debate went on for centuries. Shammai and Hillel and their disciples disagreed on just about everything. Yet time and again the view of Hillel prevailed in Jewish law. Beit Hillel was able to convince the majority to side with them over and over. The Talmud itself poses the question: how could this be? And the Talmud itself answers its own question in a now famous passage:

    Elu v’elu divrei Elohim hayimm, begins the passage. These and these are the word of the living God. Both schools of thought have their place. Both are precious; each is to be valued. How about if we could start there in our modern political discourse?

    But the reason Beit Hillel prevailed, the passage goes on, is because they were agreeable and forbearing, showing restraint when affronted. “And when Beit Hillel taught the law,” says the Talmud, “they would teach both their own statement of position and the statement of Beit Shammai. Moreover, when they formulated their teachings and cited a dispute, they prioritized the statements of Beit Shammai to their own, in deference to Beit Shammai.”

    How about that! The House of Hillel cited their opponents before themselves. They showed honor and respect to those they disagreed with. They refused to engage in negative campaigning. They actively listed to the other side, and in some cases, were ready to compromise or amend their position.

    Is political civility like this dead? Is decency dead? Is compromise dead? Not if we are determined to affirm that eilu veilu divrei elohim hayim; that a spark of divinity resides even in our cantankerous and contentious neighbor, that I might not like my neighbor but I most learn to love my neighbor as myself.

    That same fundamental teaching of the Torah, from Leviticus 19, the holiness code, also says to rebuke your neighbor when the need arises. “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Love your neighbor. Rebuke your neighbor. Love your neighbor again.

    Let it be said that we chose love and that we chose diversity over disunity.

    Let it be said that in the famous words of President George Washington to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1791, that we gave to bigotry no sanction; to persecution no assistance.

    Let it be said that we sought the common good; and that in the words of the prophet we did not rest until, every person shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.

    Let it be said in the midst of darkness we brought light; that in adding our light to the sum of light, a new day dawned in the America we love.


  • September 22, 2021 3:04 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    JONAH

    Kol Nidre, 5782

    Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz


    Twenty-five hundred years ago a brief, but radical folktale was written down in ancient Israel. A mere four chapters and 1082 words long, the tale would be canonized a few centuries later as one the shortest but most remarkable books of the Hebrew Bible. The story would be especially beloved by children down through the centuries. Yet the sages saw something profound in the tale for people of all ages, and assigned it as the Haftarah reading for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. In every synagogue in the world, including our own, we will read The Book of Jonah tomorrow afternoon.

    Although I will give a brief introduction to Jonah tomorrow as I always do, I’ve never devoted an actual sermon to the Book, as I am doing now. I have a good reason for doing so⏤two actually.

    The first is because the message of this little book has never felt more provocative, and timely, then now. The balance of this sermon will explain why.

    The second is that Jonah is the subject of my newest book. It’s a creative retelling of the biblical tale for little kids, with dynamite illustrations. As with my first picture book, Adam’s Animals, I take the credit for the text but none for the illustrations. So a shout-out to James Ray Sanchez, and to my editors for finding such a talented artist. Families at our children’s service tomorrow will be receiving a copy as a gift. All others desiring a copylet me know and you will receive one with a maximum discount. It’s a great children’s book, but enough self-promotion for the moment!

    As I will mention tomorrow: Don’t be deceived by this deceptively simple folktale. The Book of Jonah reads like a fable. People do not normally get swallowed up by a whale and live to tell the story. But, by the way, as I was thinking about this sermon over the summer, it actually happened off the coast of Massachusetts. You might have missed it, but on June 11 veteran lobsterman Michael Packard was swallowed whole by a humpback whale who was feeding nearby. He estimates he was in the mouth of the whale 30-40 seconds, when it surfaced and spit him out, which was witnessed by his crewmate Josiah Mayo. “I was completely inside; it was completely black,” Packard said. “I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys—they’re 12 and 15 years old.” Packard suffered soft tissue damage but no broken bones. The last reported account of a whale swallowing a human was 150 years ago.

    People do not normally get swallowed up by whales… and bad people do not normally repent overnight and are forgiven. So what motivated the sages to read this somewhat fantastical fable on the Day of Atonement?

    What they saw, I suggest, wrapped in a folktale, is a profound statement on the possibility of both individual transformation and communal transformation. Jonah changed, and the people of Nineveh changed. We, too, have it in our power to choose and to change.

    Jonah is the reluctant prophet. He hears God call, “Go to Nineveh,” and takes a boat in the opposite direction. He is the classic denier, evader, shirker. He does not want to face himself, never mind the enemy. When the storm arises, he just wants to head below deck and sleep it out. But eventually, Jonah sees the light, answers the call, faces himself, and faces his responsibility. Not all at once, but slowly and painfully he learns his lessons. Why does Jonah hit me so hard this year?

    Understand that Nineveh is indeed the enemy. It was the capital of the Assyrian empire, they who viciously attacked Israel and banished the Ten Lost Tribes of the north. No wonder Jonah does not want to go there, to the heart of darkness. But the first message of the Book of Jonah is that even the enemy may change. Even our adversaries may repent. It may not be likely, but it is possible.

    Jonah wanted to give up on the people of Nineveh, but God didn’t. The universe of our forgiveness is often narrow and shallow. But the universe of God’s forgiveness is deep and wide. That’s the second message of the Book of Jonah.

    We and Jonahwe’re the same. Forgiveness does not come easily to us. Jonah wanted to see Nineveh punished. They had done wrong, a lot of wrong, and they deserved to be punished. They had to learn their lesson. Jonah had no problem prophesying their doom. He did have a problem accepting their penitence.

    We’re reluctant to let go of grudges, to shed resentments, to step down from “holier than thou” high horses. We often posit, without admitting it, that our forgiveness is conditional. You want me to forgive you… you owe me an apology. You want me to forgive you… you need to make a reparation. You want me to forgive you… promise you will never do that bad thing again.
    Make no mistake about it, there is nothing wrong about asking for an apology, for a promise, for an act of amends. In fact, our tradition teaches the three Rs of true repentance: remorse, restitution, resolve. That is the obligation of the wrongdoer.

    But if we are always going to wait for the sinner to repent; if we are always going to withhold repentance until the wrong has been righted… the world is not going to change as we would like. If we are always going to stand on ceremony, we are going to miss precious moments with family and community. If we are always going to wait until someone says: “You know, I was wrong and you were right,” “You know, I have made amends,” “You know, I promise never to do it again,” the world is going to pass us by.

    If you are like me, you may still be waiting for some apologies from family members. You might still be waiting for some amends from friends who hurt you, colleagues at work who embarrassed you, or acquaintances who insulted you (or who voted for the wrong candidate!)

    A long time ago, when I was a rabbinical student, I remember a marriage counselor telling the class that there comes a time in every marriage when you have to say to yourself: do I want to be right or be married? In a similar fashion we need to ask ourselves: do I want to insist that I am right or stay connected to my child, or sibling or colleague or countryman?

    How about if we try a radically different tack? Instead of waiting for an apology, find something to apologize for ourselves? Instead of waiting for amends, take the initiative to offer our own. Instead of waiting for a promise, make a resolution we can keep.

    I’m not saying this is easy. Jonah wanted to see the guilty punished. He wanted to see them sweat then repent. He had trouble with God’s compassion. We’re the same way. For especially heinous crimes there does need to be process of redemption that takes time. But for the majority of slights, affronts, insensitivities and generally boorish behavior…

    Can we seize the initiative and err on the side of forgiveness?

    Can we let it be and let it go?

    Can we agree that a leap of compassion is greater than remaining stuck in endless stalemates and standoffs?

    The Book of Jonah is also about our propensity to procrastinate. We’re on that boat with Jonah in the opposite direction. We’re fleeing the calling to be our highest selves. The bigger the challenge the more we evade it.

    We descend down, down, down and bury ourselves in the deepest hold of the ship. We sleep, or feign sleep, when it should be all-hands-on-deck. We hide behind the claim of being non-confrontational. To the other person it sure feels like we are being non-communicative. When the sailors cast lots to learn who has caused such a storm, and the lot falls on Jonah, they ask him: Where have you come from? (1:8)

    Its an echo of the very first question of God to Adam when he was also running away: Where are you? (Gen.3:9)

    It’s the question we need to ask ourselves, when we take stock of where we are on the Atonement Day.

    What are we ignoring and evading? What are we running away from; hiding from?

    Even when Jonah faced up to his calling; even when he accepted his mission and went to Nineveh, he still had to learn that lesson of compassion. The Book of Jonah ends in a strange way. Jonah goes off to a hilltop overlooking Nineveh to basically sulk. He sits under a tree for some shade from the burning sun. God makes the leaves wither.

    Jonah is already emotionally distraught and had gone so far as to pray to God, “Take my life, for I would rather die than live.” To which God has replied, “Are you that deeply grieved?” In other words: are you that upset that I have forgiven the Ninevites, after they repented? You are saying that I was wrong to do the right?

    Now Jonah is both emotionally and physically strung out. He becomes faint, and again he begs for death, saying, “I would rather die than live.” And again God asks Jonah: Are you so deeply grieved…about the plant over your head? “Yes,” Jonah repeats, “so deeply that I want to die”.

    And then comes the final words of the book and the final lesson to Jonah. God says, “You care so much about a tree… and I should not care about a whole city? Nineveh, this great city of more than a hundred and twenty thousand souls?

    The question is left dangling in the air as the book ends.

    And we are left dangling in the air as one year ends and the next one begins.
    To forgive, or not to forgive, that is the question.


Student Cantor

Joseph Flaxman

Religious School Director

Shira Friedman

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