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  • 10 May 2024 8:30 PM | Solomon Moon (Administrator)

    Parsha Kedoshim denotes several prohibitions, but male homosexuality is one that is antiquated and historically extrapolated. Although some rabbis contend that Kedoshim was only to be applied to male homosexuality rather than general homosexuality, the parsha still implies that at least some form of homosexuality was prohibited in Judaism. The interpretation of this verse can influence how queer Jews are perceived and accepted in communities. The movie Disobedience offers a compassionate response to homosexuality from a Jewish lens.

    Disobedience opens with an Orthodox rabbi teaching about the first humans. Before he abruptly dies during his speech, he tells the congregants that people are "free to choose." The film goes on to follow Ronit, the rabbi's estranged daughter. She returns home to pay her respect, only to realize that her childhood friend, Esti, has married her father's rabbinic student. It's not long before it's revealed that the relationship between Esti and Ronit is more than platonic.

    Some Torah scholars have debated over the status of King David and Jonathan's relationship, or the gender and sexual identity of Joseph. These conversations are welcomed opportunities, however, to do more than debate the moral validity of queer Jewishness. It's a chance to honor the gender and sexual diversity of our ancestors. Esti and Ronit's affair leads Esti to muster the courage to demand her freedom from her husband by asking for a divorce from Dovid. Before Dovid gives Esti an answer, he must give his teacher's eulogy. 

    I was reminded of this rabbinic story as I watched Disobedience. There was a Jew praying in an untraditional manner. Another Jew scolds him and tells him to pray the traditional way. Later, the disciplining Jew hears G-d in a dream telling him that he robbed the Divine of a blessing when he scolded that Jew, because now he no longer prays. So he goes back to ask the Jew why did he stop praying. The untraditional Jew replied, “because I couldn’t be myself with the Divine. I couldn’t pray from my heart.” So, the other Jew told him to pray as he desires because it pleases Adonai. This was a story about keva and kavanah praying originally. But its implications about intentionality and G-d’s desire for a relationship with Jews regardless of how that takes shape, as long as it’s done with love, are paramount.

    Made to feel bad for who she chooses to love, Ronit left her stifling Orthodox community to live her cigarette smoke-filled life in New York as a photographer, a disagreeable lifestyle to her father. The disapproval and unacceptance of Ronit’s sexual identity and lifestyle pushed her away from her community. It is not uncommon for queer Jews with similar invalidating experiences to diminish their relationship with Adonai and Judaism as well. Regardless of the interpretation or application of the homosexual prohibition, the positive and negative commandments were given to the Israelites to bring them closer together to each other and to the Divine through love. The moment when Jewish law does not give effect to this purpose may be the time to reevaluate ourselves and our understanding to refine ourselves to be more compassionate. Allowing our tradition to evolve to be more inclusive, despite Jewish law, is when disobedience becomes an act of chesed.

    Dovid’s choice is not a matter of law but a matter of lovingkindness. He must decide what’s most important: respecting the divinity of Esti’s identity and her choices, or potentially endanger the relationship between Esti and the community the same way his teacher’s condemnation caused Ronit’s withdrawal. In the end, Dovid echoes his teacher’s words with a broader understanding and much more compassion. We are “free to choose,” free to choose how we express our gender identity, free to live how we want, free to love who we want to love and still be all the more Jewish. 

    This the the tiferet and gevurah of chesed, the discipline and beauty of unbounded compassion. When we can see the other, the queer Jew, and not only welcome them but also include them in our lives and communities with as much love, respect, and acceptance for who they are as we do with heterosexual Jews, then we embody Rabbi Zalman’s teaching on the greatest law. After being asked which commandment was greater, to love the Divine or your neighbor, he stated, to love your neighbor, because then you love what Adonai loves.

  • 29 Apr 2024 9:00 AM | Solomon Moon (Administrator)

    Shir Ha Shirim, or Song of Songs, is considered to be the “holy of holies” by some rabbis. Its explicit themes of love and longing have been posited to be a metaphor of the love betwixt Israel and the Divine. What’s most endearing is the longing, one lover in search of the other, to be reunited with their partner. Within this liminal space of love is a lesson on loss that is shared in the romantic comedy, Sleepless In Seattle.

    It is tradition to read Song of Songs during Pesach.  The reunion between the Divine and Israel is ripe with compassion leading to the liberation of the Hebrews from Mitzraim. As we retell the story of Exodus, we ponder the freedom from our own mitzraim, or narrow places. After losing his wife, single-father, Sam, moves to Seattle with his son as he navigates his mitzraim—the trials and triumphs of grief.

    Sam’s longing to once again feel the fireworks of love he experienced with his wife seemed both impossibly laughable and hopelessly romantic. His love and grief defined his emotional reality. Sam was a widow, one who would never again experience the deepest passions of romantic love, he believed. And to even try, let alone succeed, to love someone again would imply that his feelings for his wife were not quite the affair to remember.

    Understandably, it can be difficult to see the light in the darkness, difficult to forgive, or overcome grief and trauma. It can be difficult to acknowledge that there is divinity in the darkness, that it serves a meaningful purpose too. The only difference between feeling as though Life has buried you or planted you is whether you decide to grow. Growth in experience, perspective, emotional maturity, and more compassion are often fruits of loss that bring us closer together. These bittersweet triumphs are the sparks of divinity concealed in darkness, if only we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another about our struggles. To kindly wrestle with tragedy is to wildly search for every reason to love.

    More than a movie about love at first sight, or, from the Jewish lens, the reunion of soulmates, Sleepless In Seattle illustrates the importance of shared vulnerability and having difficult conversations compassionately. (A hopeful wish for all Pesach seder discussions.) The liminal space of love that Sam was experiencing due to grief was an opportunity to bond closer with his son, experience a new city, and become brave enough to find hope for new love.

    During Pesach, a common theme at some seders is “What mitzraim do you need liberation from?” However, like Sam, the lovers in Song of Songs, in their fervent search, leave us with another question: “How can your mitzraim be the fertile bed for love?”

  • 10 Apr 2024 6:16 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Henry Hollander

    The Passover Seder is the most widely celebrated Jewish home observance among the entirety of the Jewish people today. Where did the practice come from? The earliest version of the Seder is the meal that God commands the night before the Exodus: “The shall eat the flesh [of the lamb] that same night: they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” (Exodus 12:8) Sound familiar?

    The home ritual became part of Temple worship once the portable sanctuary was built in the desert and later in the first and second Temples. However, after the destruction of the Second Temple we begin to see a Passover Seder that looks more familiar. In the Mishnah an entire book devoted to the observance of the Passover holiday exists. In Pesachim, chapter ten, we find a festive meal that resembles a familiar Passover, complete with the four questions that the child asks (although the four questions nowadays have some differences), and the four cups of wine. 

    Many things have been added. The four types of children, Wise, Evil, Simple and Unable to Ask, is not in the Mishnah but is built up out of Mishnaic comments on Torah Verses. The retelling of the exodus story is built up on Torah sources by Rabbis of the Mishnaic era and embellished by the Rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud and the later Babylonian Geonim. Dayenu, which I imagined to be later was formed the same way. The Grace after meals and the Hallel that is included afterwards use older blessings, but are products of the Geonic and Medieval periods (700-1450).

    The tradition of illustrating the Haggadah began in Medieval times. Dozens of illuminated Haggadah manuscripts still exist. Many are available in Facsimile editions and make great holiday gifts. However, nowadays you would be hard pressed to find a Haggadah that lacks some kind of illustration, such is the gravitational field that the Passover story exerts over Jewish creativity. 

    The Haggadah has also become a form and forum for Jews to express their feelings about various other issues that were not explicitly a part of the Passover story. In the 1970s, the plight of Soviet Jewry entered into many Haggadot. The orange on the Seder plate, relate to the role of women in Judaism also entered into the Haggadah at the time. As early as the 1930s the Haggadot of the Workman’s Circle focused a the broad range of social justice issues and on the role of Yiddish culture. At the same time, in the future State of Israel, kibbutzim, most of who were either secularist or militantly secularist, began a tradition of making new Haggadot each year which expressed the values that they brought to the building up of the land of Israel. 

    If you are shopping for Haggadot ahead of your Seder there are now many many choices. If a Haggadah looks good to you, give it try. If you enjoy it, come back to it. If not, go head and try again. Variety with Haggadot is a good thing. But, if you feel like you have the time become a part of the tradition and try your hand at making your own. Here’s a helpful online resource: The story continues. 

    To learn more the following books are highly recommended:

    The Origins of the Seder The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism – Barukh Bokser

    Polychrome Historical Haggadah of Passover - Jacob Freedman

    Hagadat Shekhter. The Schechter Haggadah: art, history and commentary – Josh Kulp

    Haggadah and History: A Panorama in Facsimile of Five Centuries of the Printed Haggadah – Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi

    If you like historical fiction, try:  People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks

  • 1 Mar 2024 2:54 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Solomon Moon  


    The Holdovers is a slice of life film that follows the story of a teacher trying to mold the young,  impressionable mind of his troubled student, who has great intellectual potential. In Parshah Ki  Tisa, this teacher-student relationship is evident between G-d and Moses, as well as Moses and  the Israelites—the wilderness holdovers.  

    Forced to temporarily stay in an inhospitable environment, the student’s behavior tests the  teacher’s ethics and teachings on what it means to be a “Barton man.” For instance, Paul  Giamatti’s character, Professor Hunham, tells his student Angus: “Barton men don’t lie.” Then,  the story proceeds to reveal the teacher’s own lies and secrets. But the most intriguing part of this  story is how its ending reflects Moses’s decision in the parshah.  

    The Holdovers ends with Professor Hunham lying and taking responsibility for Angus’ actions in  order to keep him from being expelled. Though it cost Hunham his job, it was one of his few  selfless acts in the film for someone who gave him the most trouble. The Israelites in the desert  were anxious awaiting Moses’ return and told Aaron to make them a replacement—the golden  calf. This wasn’t the first instance of how the Israelites had transgressed against G-d. But like  Hunham, Moses saw the potential of the Israelites, the good in them, and took responsibility for  their misstep as his own.  

    This act of teshuvah is quite different from the typical approach to teshuvah. Instead of atoning  for one’s own actions, Moses pleads with G-d to atone for the actions of the Israelites. But is it  possible to atone for the actions of another? It certainly seems so in this parshah. However,  there’s a reason why Moses was able to do so.  

    The more Hunham spent time with the rebellious Angus, the more he realized how similar they  were. He began to see more of himself in Angus. Moses shared a similar experience with the  Israelites. Prophet status aside, Moses was capable of doing teshuvah for the Israelites because  he was one with his people. The Israelites were (as we often say as Jews) many bodies, one soul.  The sin of the Israelites was Moses’ sin too. Therefore, his act of teshuvah was to be accepted by  G-d and acknowledged as if they all sought atonement.  

    Such unity is noble and admirable. It evokes a higher sense of community and responsibility for  each other. To celebrate diversity, yet see beyond the differences is an opportunity to promote  inclusivity and strengthen communal bonds based on our shared Jewish identity. Hunham  sacrificed his prestigious job for Angus’ future. Moses was prepared to sacrifice the Torah and  his relationship with the Divine for the sake of the Israelites. This selfless act of lovingkindness  for the good of others is the kind of compassion that can light a path towards peace and Oneness,  if only we see the other reflected in ourselves.

  • 20 Feb 2024 7:43 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Henry Hollander

    In December the online magazine Tablet published an article by Elias Neibart [link] that cast the spiritual seriousness of Converts to Judaism as a lesson, and perhaps a rebuke, to many of those who were born Jewish. My initial response to Neibart was one of general agreement. In my experience, Jews by Choice have always made up an out-sized presence in the classes that I have taught. Their probing curiosity is a delight. But I have heard people say, “Every Jew is a Jew by Choice nowadays.”  My friend Itzak Khodak, z”l, immigrated from the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. The first thing that he did was find a synagogue and begin attending daily minyan twice a day, a practice that he held to past his hundredth year. Whenever we struggled or failed to make a minyan he would grumble, “I don’t understand. In America no one stops you. You are free to be a Jew…” Itzak suffered for being a Jew in Russia for most of his life. It was an identity that the Soviet rulers wouldn’t let him set aside and for which they never stopped punishing him. Here in America he had the freedom to walk away from the pain and the struggle of living life as a Jew and instead chose to live an active and joyful Jewish life – good to the last drop. 

    Itzak and those who are officially “Jews by Choice,” may not have similar experiences of what it is to live a Jewish life, but there is a sweetness that I felt in Itzak’s presence that is often indistinguishable from my time spent with Jews by Choice. 

    Neibart is among those who are alarmed by the rise in the number of Jews, particularly younger Jews, who don’t identify with with the Jewish religion, “instead viewing their Judaism as purely ethnic and cultural.” (He is looking at the Pew Study from 2020 found here) Viewing the Jewish people as an ethnicity is, to my mind, a sentimental nostalgia for a time when American Jews lived in “Jewish neighborhoods,” ate “Jewish foods,” and immigrated from older places of Jewish settlement. Nevertheless, that nostalgia, even in the absence of actual Jewish practice, shows that it is possible for a Jew to live an intensely Jewish life framed and experienced through culture. 

    The child of a convert from Catholicism, Neibart regrets that his experience of Judaism lacks the transformative quality that his mother had in her conversion. He writes, “In many ways, the children of converts outsource their theological journey to their converted parents.” In the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel [link]   he finds a calling for each Jew to respond to their own personal experience of wonder – of the encounter with the ineffable (one of Heschel’s preferred English words for the Divine), “with the awareness of reality that discredits our wisdom, that shatters our concepts.” If we look at Abraham and Sarah, two characters in Jewish sacred history not born Jews, as converts, we Jews, all of us, are either converts or the children of converts. Neibart cites Heschel, “the ultimate question, when bursting forth in our souls, is too startling, too heavily laden with unutterable wonder to be an academic question, to be equally suspended between yes and no.” Neibart fails to mention that to Heschel religion, all religions, not just Judaism, comes not in the moment of wonder, but in response to that moment when the intensity of it has passed. We might want to live in that moment, in that peak experience, but that is beyond out human limitations.

    In the 1950s and ‘60s Heschel’s office sat at one end of a hallway at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In the office at the far end of the hallway was the office of Mordecai Kaplan [link], the father of the Reconstructionist movement. Kaplan believed in a conception of God that opposed the spiritual approach of Heschel. Rather than God as a kind of supernatural being, he believed that “God is the Power that makes for salvation” He viewed Judaism as a religious civilization, a civilization like ancient Greece or like modern day America, founded but not limited to purely religious impulses and embedded in the flow of history. For Kaplan, culture, rather than “religion,” is the broadest category of what it is to be Jewish. 

    Both culture and religion are terms that did not exist in the Hebrew language until the modern era. They represent a slicing up of what Jewishness has meant to the Jewish people over time. The distress that some people feel when they hear that Jews choose not to define themselves by one of the terms that are external to a tradition Jewish self-understanding should be recognized as a problem of categories rather than of realities. 

    It can be difficult in the United States to properly understand what it is to be Jewish. Unlike in  Christianity and Islam, belief is not what makes one a Jew. Making oneself one of the Jewish people, in all their variety, is what makes one a Jew and this is what is asked of those who choose to be Jews. While a turn towards Jewish expression following intense religious experience is a sign of Jewishness for some, it is not the easiest way to be a Jew and is probably too much to expect of most Jews. It is a blessing that Jews by Choice have this intense experience more easily accessible to them than those who are born Jews. Neither Jews by birth nor choice should take it upon themselves to judge how other Jews live or believe. That is a task best left to the Merciful One. 

  • 14 Feb 2024 2:24 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Solomon Moon  

    And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” --Exodus 25:8  

    This week’s parshah has a verse that speaks to me in a loving way. That sanctuary Adonai instructed the  Israelites to build was lavish. But it was to be made so that the Divine could be in a more intimate  relationship with them. It reminds me of the film, The Money Pit, a story about a couple trying to repair a  home that keeps falling apart. Parshah Terumah leaves me with one question: What is your sanctuary?  

    In the film, Walter and Anna buy a house that is in dire need of repairs before it can become a livable  home. Unfortunately, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. It seems as though as the house falls  apart, so too does their relationship. Or perhaps, it’s the other way around.  

    This sanctuary that we have been asked to construct isn’t just the one that housed the physical stone  tablets. It can be our home, our way of life, our minds, our relationships. Wherever the Divine can dwell  among us, there can we build Them a sanctuary to have a deeper relationship with Them. Even when  those things seem to be falling apart, there’s a lesson to learn from the film.  

    The Money Pit has a wonderful teaching about life and love. After the house was restored, Walter and  Anna, who are now separated, were given some sage reassurance. “[The] foundation was good… and if  that's okay, then everything else can be fixed.” The contractor was speaking about the home. However, it  ironically applies to Walter and Anna’s relationship as well. But what is this “good foundation” in our  lives?  

    The sanctuary that the Israelites built was home to the Ten Commandments. The first two commandments  remind us to love G-d and to love your neighbor. Rebbe Hillel interpreted this to mean, “That which is  hateful to you, do not do unto others.” In other words, love is a verb. More than a feeling, it is a choice to  build a home, a life, or a relationship with another. Rabbi Zalman goes a step further. When asked which  of the first two commandments were greater, he responded: “Love your neighbor because then you love  what G-d loves.”  

    Love is a beautiful foundation, but it’s rarely an easy one to build on. In all of Life’s seasons, love will be  tested. There will be times of emotional separation or distance created between you and your loved ones. 

  • 25 Jan 2024 1:59 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Solomon Moon  

    In Parsha Beshalach, the Amalekites fought the Israelites after G-d liberated them from Ancient Egypt.  The Israelites were able to overcome Amalek when Moses’ hand was raised. When it fell, Amalek  prevailed. So Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ hand to keep it raised.  

    This week we also celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees. An interesting fun fact about trees is  that they have their own “Aaron and Hur” through the mycorrhizal network that connects the trees to each  other underground. In the wake of climate change, the Gaza war, and antisemitism, it is clear that Amalek  is yet to be truly defeated. But, the question that I am left with after reading Beshalach is “Who or what is  your personal Amalek?”  

    This question brought to mind the animated film, Inside Out. It’s about a young girl named Riley, who has  moved to a new city and isn’t adjusting well. She even attempts to go back to her old home by herself.  The Israelites wrestled with this same urge, as many questioned whether they were better off as slaves in  Egypt than to die free in the wilderness.  

    Grief is often associated with the death of a loved one. However, it can also come as the result of the loss  of a relationship, loss of a job, change in health status, or any significant change in life, such as moving  away from a place once called home. Riley and the Israelites were experiencing grief due to this new  change in their lives.  

    Thanks to Joy, Riley’s inner happiness regulator, Riley tried to deal with her grief initially by conjuring  good memories or doing the things she used to find satisfying. In a place far from where she called home,  these once happy moments transformed into sadness. Joy tried to keep Sadness from corrupting Riley’s  happy memories. Simcha is a mitzvah so, Rebbe Nachman may agree that this is the appropriate response  to Riley’s situation. However, what Riley really needed was to express her feelings with the comforting  support of her family, instead of trying to run away from the pain.  

    Grief is a painfully arduous, transformative process. Like any major change in life, grief can also be  accompanied by its friends: anger, depression, and denial. Processing grief is not easy and everyone  grieves differently. But how you cope is similar to how the Israelites prevailed against Amalek (or, how  the trees remain resilient through climate change). That is to say, sometimes no matter how valiantly we  fight against our personal Amalek, our inner-Moses needs Aaron and Hur to help raise his hand in order  for us to prevail.  

    As we turn grief inside out, we choose to grow into the unfamiliarity of life. This is a battle that, unlike  with the Egyptians, G-d cannot fight for us. Amalek blocks the path to Sinai—our destiny, our  relationship with the Divine. Amalek stands in the way of our true, higher selves. The battle with Amalek  is our choice to fight for G-d, for freedom, for our peaceful and loving future together. Yet sometimes  even when you do all the right things, Amalek seems to be prevailing.  

    Riley’s decision to return to the familiar life she had was not just out of grief and frustration. She was also  terribly afraid, and running away from this scary, unfamiliar world her parents forced upon her. Joy then  realized Riley needed Sadness to help her process these uncomfortable feelings. Together they created a  new memory orb that was yellow and blue, filled with joy and sadness.  

    It’s easy to go back to the familiar or the way things were. But in order to continue growing, we must face  the unfamiliar. Grief comes to aid us in that transition by revealing what has been lost and where you have  room to nurture new life. The liberation from Egypt and journey through the wilderness was the Israelites’  opportunity to become and experience something greater than the slavery they endured. To find gratitude  

    in the grief is to see the angel in the marble, and carve until he is free. 

    There are many things that can keep your inner-Moses’ hand raised: community, support groups, creating  new joyful memories and experiences. It can be expressing gratitude, doing a mitzvah, or going for a hike  to appreciate the miracle of nature. Whatever it is, remember what you’re fighting for. Remember what  our ancestors fought for. Remember what G-d fought for. Like the trees, may you find strength in your  roots to weather life’s challenges and the courage to grow through difficult storms. 

  • 12 Jan 2024 12:47 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Solomon Moon  

    There are two questions proposed in the movie When Harry Met Sally: 1) Can men and women just be  friends? And 2) When exactly did Harry meet Sally? Fans of the film may consider the latter question to  be obvious, but truly meeting someone in a relationship comes at a pivotal moment. These two questions  are not unlike the two questions that came to mind while studying Parsha Vaera.  

    This weeks Torah portion opens with G-d reintroducing Themself to Moses. This is particularly significant, if not peculiar, because it conveys two things about G-d and Their relationship with the  Israelites and patriarchs. First, the patriarchs and G-d were not on a first name basis, which could mean G-d  had a lower-level of trust in them. Second, the Divine desires not only to be loved, but to be chosen in the vicissitudes of life through our actions.  

    When Harry Met Sally also opens with an introduction of Harry meeting Sally before going on their rocky  road-trip together. Harry and Sally were anything but fast friends. This early moment is reminiscent of G-ds relationship with humans before Abraham and Sarah. This brings up the first question: Can G-d and humankind be friends?  

    The patriarchs before Moses seem to have endeavored to answer that question in the affirmative. Yet,  Vaera reveals that G-d withheld Their true name from the patriarchs, despite their good intentions to be faithful to Adonai. From a human perspective, its as if there is some relational trauma that needs to be healed before G-d can entrust the ancient Hebrews with Their ineffable name.  

    Harry has his own reservations about distrusting the opposite sex to remain platonic due to his past experiences with women. Perhaps G-ds past experiences with humanity prevented Them from being vulnerable enough to share something so precious with the Hebrews.  

    If so, that would make the journey of the Israelites up to this point a means for testing their faithfulness in  order to gain G-ds full trust as partners in Creation. It isnt until the Israelites become slaves in Ancient Egypt and prove to remain faithful to the teachings and covenants theyve inherited, long after the patriarchs of the tribes have passed, that one can see that the Israelites have made evident their  unconditional love for G-d. In the face of discrimination, slavery, violent oppression, and death, the  Israelites choose G-d and their tradition.  

    The Israelites journeyed from a relatively favorable life before the famine to an unfavorable life in  Ancient Egypt and still chose the G-d of their ancestors. This is like the end of When Harry Met Sally.  While Sally, being single, wrestled with feeling unloved and lonely on New Years Eve at a party, Harry, several blocks away, finally realizes hes not just in love with Sally. He wants to spend the rest of his life with her too, immediately. With a fiery love in his heart, Harry runs across town to confess to Sally in the  same way G-d chooses to confess to Moses from the burning bush. Harry and Sally finally meet one  another when they choose the love of their partner over everything else, including themselves.  

    The sages have often used marriage as a metaphor to describe the relationship between the Israelites and  the Divine. Following that tradition, the opening of Vaera is analogous to the ending of When Harry Met  Sally. If the receiving of the Torah is the matrimonial I do,” then the moment G-d reveals Their true name must be the holiest, bended-knee marriage proposal of all time. Here is where G-d chooses the  Israelites and fully realizes their love for each other to begin a more intimate relationship. Thus, G-d  reveals Their name to impress upon the Israelites how much They care about them and how far They are  willing to go to prove that. 

    The plagues, the liberation from Mitzraim, are G-ds way of saying, I choose you too, Israel.” Redemption of the Israelites is a theme associated with the Exodus that is merited to the Divine. But there  also appears to be a redemption of humanity and their fall from grace to warrant and renew G-ds trust in humanity. This redemption can be merited to the Israelites who chose their faith over their circumstances.  This kind of love and trust draws the Divine closer, bringing more Light into the world. This is how the  second question is answered.  

    When did the Divine truly meet Israel? When Israel’s love matched their faith in mitzvahs without any  sign of reward. The Israelites made space for the Divine in their hardships. So the Divine made space for  them to be liberated from it. To open your heart to care unconditionally is an invitation for the Divine to  kindly do the same for you. 

  • 3 Jan 2024 3:37 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Solomon Moon 

    Many people may not be aware of Peter Parker's Jewish origins. The web slinging superhero, Spider-Man has the power to climb walls, lift objects 100  times his size, and shoot spider webs from his wrists. That may sound  fantastical, but his greatest superpower is something we all possess. It's the  same power that G-d exercises daily on our behalf, and it's a power that can  change lives. Whether or not we choose to use that special power is always a  choice left to us. 

    This week's Torah portion, Shemot, commences the journey of the Israelites to  be led out of slavery by the Divine. G-d, being mindful of their suffering,  sought to liberate the Israelites from Egypt. This act of life-sustaining  lovingkindness to support and care for the ancient Israelites is demonstrative of  G-d's chesed. But there are a few others in this parsha who do chesed in a way  that embodies the same kindness exhibited by the Divine. They are the amazing  women in this story whose compassion essentially saves the life of Moses. 

    Fans of Spider-Man will know the famous words of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben:  "With great power comes great responsibility." This is a lesson that can also be  learned from Moses, the midwives, Batiya, Miriam, and Yocheved as well. For  instance, when Batiya, Pharaoh's daughter, finds Moses in the river and refuses  

    to commit infanticide simply because he was a Hebrew baby boy, her  compassion proved itself to not only be life-saving but also one of the catalysts  for liberation of the Hebrews. 

    It can be difficult to see the significance and impact of one small act of  kindness amid a great number of tragedies and grief. Yet, it is also important to  never forget people like Miriam, Yocheved, Batiya, Zipporah, Shifra, and Puah.  These heroines did not have super strength or the ability to wrangle evil-doers  with spiderwebs. They instead possessed a greater gift and power: the ability to  show compassion and empathy for the stranger, the other, the oppressed, and  the alleged enemy.

    These women looked beyond themselves and the consequences that could have  befallen them, such as for defying Pharaoh, to see their humanity reflected in  another human being regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. Then, they  extended to "the other" the same unconditional lovingkindness that G-d offers  to everyone. This teaches that out of the 7 billion people enduring their own  hardships, even if it's just one person who is the recipient of your kindness, you  have made the world a better place. While a single act of kindness may seem  small relative to the grand scheme of life, it can mean the world to that person. 

    Peter didn't get the slogan "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" just because  he saves lives and fights crime. Spider-Man took on the title after his act of  unkindness led to the death of his uncle. After a bookie refused to pay Peter in  the Spider-Man film, Peter chose to let a robber escape even though he had the  power to stop the criminal. That same criminal killed Peter’s Uncle Ben shortly  after. Since then, Peter made it a habit to use his powers for good and do acts of  kindness. He's a superhero who not only saves lives but also shows up for his  fans in the hospital and helps the elderly cross the street safely. 

    Kindness in whatever form it takes is an imperative because it can soften the  hardest hearts. It’s what can transform the stranger into a neighbor or friend.  Needless to say but all the more important to remember, communities and  relationships are forged and strengthened through compassion and empathy,  not hatred and violence. Psalms reminds us that the world was created from G-d's chesed. Likewise, Tikkun Olam and a better tomorrow can be achieved  through our chesed because kindness begets kindness.  

    Suffering becomes bearable and worth persevering through when compassion relieves the pain of others. Everyone struggles and is fighting their own battles, but no one need fight alone. Batiya’s kindness towards Moses is her way of standing with the Israelites and humanity in solidarity. To relieve the suffering of another is the greatest gift we can share, the greatest power we all possess. For it is our collective responsibility to acknowledge other people’s suffering as our own and to act compassionately towards them, as Batiya does for Moses.

  • 28 Dec 2023 3:50 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

    By Henry Hollander

    There are four Jewish New Years in the Torah. These include Rosh Hashanah, Tu Bishvat, the first of Elul (the New Year for tithing animals), and the first of Nissan, which starts the cycle of Jewish holidays. But as Americans we only have one.

    Why is our secular New Years on January 1st anyway? Europe went back and forth about whether to use the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, but the Gregorian calendar won out because it made Easter come at the right time. January 1st celebrates the Saints Day of St. Sylvester, one of the more anti-Jewish saints, and January first happens to be the day of Jesus’ circumcision. That makes January first the anniversary of Jesus’ first Mitzvah.

    In Israel, at least a third of the population celebrates Silvester (or the Feast of St. Sylvester) in many of the same ways Americans do New Year’s Eve. The Zionists in pre-state Israel didn’t like Silvester because it wasn’t Jewish from a secular or a religious point of view, but they couldn’t keep it down. Now about ten percent of Israelis celebrate Novy God, a tradition that they brought with them from the Soviet Union. Religion was suppressed in the Soviet Union, but Novy God was built up as a secular holiday that retained some of the non-religious customs of Christmas.

    But is there anything Jewish about American New Years? Well, there are the vows. On Yom Kippur we annul all the vows that we have made over the past Jewish year. In American New Years we make vows. However, we all chronicle how quickly we fail to keep those vows. Perhaps the most Jewish thing we can do on American New Year’s is to avoid making vows we can’t keep. We only have one day of American New Year’s. Let’s not overdo it.

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