Tag Archive | Torah

Smashing the Idols of Today’s Jew-Hatred: Lessons learned from Lech Lecha

I had the privilege of giving the dvar Torah at my synagogue this weekend. 

For those who need explanation – Dvar Torah, literally translated as “words of Torah” is a weekly speech or sermon delivered in synagogues about the week’s Torah reading. It can be given by the rabbi, the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl, or synagogue members.

It allows us, through examination and introspection and study, to put our own take on the Torah reading.

Here’s mine from yesterday:

Has there ever come a time in your life where you had the rug pulled out from under you?

When suddenly there is a shift in the paradigm, and you are asked to get up and move to a distant land or situation?

This is the case with Abraham. In just the third parashah of the Torah cycle, seemingly out of nowhere, we are presented with #Abraham aveinu. Right here, in a sudden shift, the Torah moves from the universal: The Creation of the world and the beginnings of humanity, to the particular:

Abraham. And the history of the Jewish people.

And what do we read in the very first lines of our Parashah?

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing.

וַאֲבָֽרֲכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.”

Right here, from the get-go, God establishes the connection between the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Four times in this parashah, God instructs Abraham to possess the land.

God enters a covenantal relationship with one specific people. God commands Abraham to live by that moral law for his own good and the good of all humanity. In picking himself up and moving to an unknown land for him and his progeny, Abraham demonstrates he is the first to believe in the one, living God. And by willingly picking himself up to settle in Canaan, Abraham becomes the first Zionist.

This is the first passage of hundreds woven into the Torah about the mitzvah of Haaretz, a connection to the land of Israel.  Half of the 613 mitzvot contained in the Torah are specific to Haáretz. Settling and living in the land, according to the Torah, is essential for Jews to create their own, just and righteous society.

From this point on, the Torah establishes the fact that Judaism is more than a religion.

We are Am Yisrael.

The Nation of Israel.

Bnei Yisrael.

The Children of Israel.

Geographically speaking, it is an inconvenient fact that most of the places mentioned in Bereishit, from Abraham’s stop in Shechem, building an altar to God at Beit El,  dwelling in Mamre, attempting to sacrifice Yitzchak on Mount Moriah and finally, conducting history’s first real estate transaction in Hevron are located in Judea and Samaria, territories that most of the nations say are void of any Jewish connection.

There is a theory that is being peddled around:  that being Jewish has nothing to do with Israel, or anti-Zionism, meaning the belief that Jews do not have a collective right to sovereignty in their ancestral homeland, has nothing to do with today’s global rise of hatred towards Jews.

To those who hold these beliefs, I invite them to examine and study the many references about settling in the land and then tell us that Israel has nothing to do with Judaism.

IN 2017, American Zionist groups in timing with Parsha lech lecha, and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, proclaimed that Shabbat Lech Lecha will now be known as Zionist Shabbat, where American Jews should relearn the significance and importance of Zionism in our religion.

AZM President Richard Heideman wrote: “The first commandment given to a Jew relates to Israel and Zionism. Indeed, Zionism and Judaism are inseparable, and we need to ensure that all Jews who are celebrating Shabbat around the world incorporate our common love for Israel – the land, the people and the culture – in the spirit of the unity of the Jewish people,”

In a 2019 video essay explaining the mutations of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Johnathan Sacks explains how Jew-hatred shifts and mutates through the centuries.  That is why the current hater claims they are not a hater because their hatred differs from the Jew-hatred of the past.

For example, in the Middle Ages, Jews were hated for their religion. In the 19th century, Jews became secular and assimilated and were hated for their race, because they were capitalists, and because they were communists. Now, we are hated because we have a nation-state.

Perhaps, we are hated because we have survived as a distinct, unique people with our own traditions and customs. Perhaps, like Abraham, we are hated because it is in our DNA to go against convention.

Last week, at Detroit’s Jewish Book Fair, I had the chance to catch a panel discussion with Tablet editors last week. There, editor in chief Alana Newhouse said the reason why Jews have survived as a unique and distinct people is that we have operated not by going with the flow of general society, but perpendicularly from the rest of society.

Sometimes, as Rabbi Sacks explains, Lech lecha means “go by yourself.”

Often, it does seem like the children are of Israel are alone.

Sure, criticism of Israel’s politicians and policies are fine, just ask the Israelis who do this every day.

Yet Israel stands alone in an often-impossible situation, She faces existential challenges and must make difficult decisions that are not asked by most nations on earth.

But criticism of Israel loses all nuance when it is now more popular to call for the illegality of the existence of Israel in its entirety. That, is anti-Zionism.

Our pro-Israel students on campus must increasingly be feeling like Abraham, standing alone to the taunts and chants that Israel is a Zionist and therefore a racist state.

Little do these accusers know that they are peddling a conspiracy theory hatched in the 1970’s in the United Nations by the Soviet Union and spread through Arab countries by Yasser Arafat.

Don’t believe me? Check out Bari Weiss’s new book: How to Fight Anti-Semitism. 

It’s all in Chapter Four.

Like Abraham, 400 Jewish students this month got up and walked out of a student government meeting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). They were protesting the body’s overwhelming support for a motion titled  “Condemning Ignorance of Racism and Equating Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.”

uiuc1

Jewish students tabling at UIUC

This motion denied any link between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It was written by four student government members aligned with the UIUC chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). No Jewish student organizations or Jewish individuals, including the governing body’s only Jewish member, was asked for input on what defines anti-Semitism.

Student Lauren Nesher acted like Abraham when she led the exodus of Jews from the student government meeting. Nesher is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and Turkish and Iraqi Jews who were kicked out of those nations because they were Jewish. 

Before she and her Jewish supporters walked out, she addressed the packed room and said:  

Never again will anyone allow the Jews to feel unsafe on this campus, whether we be affected by swastika graffiti, neo-Nazi or university-sponsored presentations that uniquely seek to delegitimize the establishment of a Jewish state.

Nesher is not alone in affirming the Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism connection. The American Jewish Committee just this week released a study titled: American Jews on Anti Semitism in America.  In this survey, 82 percent agreed that the BDS movement and its supporters are antisemitic. 84 percent believe the statement Israel has no right to exist is anti-Semitic.

So, what do we do? How do we combat the rising wave of anti-Semitism that goes under the veil of anti-Zionism?

For one thing, know there are others around you who, like Abraham, do not go with the flow. There are those around you who will not check our pro-Israel and Zionist leanings at the door to fit in or be included or accepted into progressive or intersectional causes.

Finally, let’s take a cue from Bari Weiss who suggests, that yes, we should be like Abraham:

Among Weiss’s many suggestions at the end of the book (spoiler alert) she suggests that we be like Abraham. And I paraphrase:

Abraham’s story is deeply Jewish. He stood radically against the prevailing orthodoxy of his time…..

Today, the idols are more abstract than the ceramics Terah, Abraham’s father, prayed to. They come in the form of power and prestige. The temptation to keep your mouth shut in order to get ahead or get along or to be well liked are very seductive…

But we must face the loneliness to be like Abraham. To be brave enough to say, yes, we are different. We need to be courageous enough to stand apart, ot to bend to the crowd, not to give in to group think.

We should find strength and pride in being an idol-smashing people.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

Minding Those Manners on the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Circuit

candleceremony

Izzy Randel, 12, Scott Katz, 11, both of Farmington Hills; Matthew Brown, 12, of Franklin; Jacob Kroll, 12, of West Bloomfield; and Jessica Gordon, 11, of Farmington Hills play the family blowing out the candles at a bar mitzvah.

Minding  Your Manners  Young people learn the rules for sharing  in their friends’ big day

Stacy Gittleman | Special to the Jewish News

PHOTOS BY JERRY ZOLYNSKY 

On a typical Shabbat in any Jewish American house of worship, there  is a young man or woman seated on the bimah. Dressed in a brand new suit or dress, these kids try to calm the butterflies in their stomachs before being called to the Torah for the very    First       time. You may think  they are the only one in the building going through a rite-of-passage ritual. However, their peers sitting in  the sanctuary are also enduring  their own coming-of-age test as  they navigate the bar/bat mitzvah  ceremony and party circuit. It may  be their first exposure to a formal  occasion in an increasingly informal  society.  Bar and bat mitzvah etiquette  starts with getting that invite in  the mail (and responding in a  prompt manner) and ends with  knowing whom to thank at the  end of the evening (the parents), and how many favors you are  allowed to take at the end of the party (hint: one per guest). Fortunately, there are businesses like Joe Cornell Entertainment in Southfield, co-owned by sister and brother team Steve Jasgur and Rebecca Schlussel, to help these young adults learn the  unwritten rules they are  expected to follow.
On a Wednesday  evening Hebrew school  session back in February,  around 35 sixth- and  seventh-graders at Adat Shalom  Synagogue in Farmington Hills  were treated to an afternoon  off from their regular studies  to a 90-minute Joe Cornell  Entertainment workshop.  The workshop, complete with  a candlelighting ceremony, cake  and dancing, was a highly condensed  sampling of a 12-week  course offered by the company  that teaches adolescents the fine  points of attending a dance or  other social occasion.  Schlussel has been offering  b’nai mitzvah etiquette for  many years. Having just planned  a December 2013 bar mitzvah  for her own son, she now spoke  through the lens of her personal  experience.  “When you get that invitation  in the mail, find the family  calendar.

As soon as you know  that date is clear, you respond  ‘yes’ and put the response card  in the mail, or email your reply,”  she instructed the students, seated  around a dance floor where they  would soon show off their best  moves. “Your friend really wants  you to come to their bar mitzvah,  and the parents really have to  know how much food to get —  and how many napkins to order  from the caterer.”    I must offer you full disclosure  here: In addition to being a  writer, I am also the sixth-grade  Hebrew school teacher at Adat  Shalom. Throughout the year, I’ve  watched my students mature from  an energetic bunch of little kids  into inquisitive, emerging young  adults who demonstrate that they  are prepared to do the work and  studying required to become a bar  or bat mitzvah.

As their teacher, I get an inside  track on the mindset of the preb’nai  mitzvah scene. At the start  of class, a student will enthusiastically  share the news with  me that they received their bar/bat mitzvah date and Torah portion.  Others will tell me how they  recently attended a bar/bat mitzvah  and to avoid getting “bored,”  they actually made an effort to  follow along with the service and  the Torah reading. Or look up their  Torah reading. This is music to a  Hebrew school teacher’s ears.  Continuing to focus on the ritual  aspect of the b’nai mitzvah, Rabbi  Rachel Shere led the students  through a question-and-answer  session of how to conduct oneself  at Shabbat services.

She advised the students to tell  their friends that it is acceptable  to arrive to synagogue an hour  later than indicated on the invitation.  It is not acceptable to use  any electronics in the building on  Shabbat, so students accustomed  to being constantly wired may  have to arrange pick-up times  with parents earlier or, at least,  use their phones outside the  building or in a quiet corner.

Matthew Berg, 11, of Farmington talks with Re-becca Schlussel of West Bloomfield about the proper way to say thank you after a bar mitzvah.

Matthew Berg, 11, of Farmington talks with Re-becca Schlussel of West
Bloomfield about the proper way to say thank you after a bar mitzvah.

“We know that cell phones are  a fact of life. But on Shabbat we  try to avoid these distractions as  much as possible so we can pray  with our community. If you must  use a cell phone to contact your  parents for a ride home, please be  discrete about it,” Shere said.  Shere added that options for  “boredom” during services include  taking a short break outside the  sanctuary in the synagogue’s  youth lounge, where there will be  snacks to fend off mid-morning  hunger. It is also expected of them  to be gracious guests.

“Always remember to introduce  yourself to the parents of your  friend and thank them for inviting  you to this very happy family  occasion,” she said.  After the more serious lessons,  it was time to have some fun.  Students played roles of the  “bar mitzvah family,” in a mock  candle ceremony and were then  taught the hora and other dance  moves.

According to Jasgur, dancing  at a b’nai mitzvah party is not  optional.  “Dancing for your friend is a fun  obligation that shows your friend  how happy you are to celebrate  with them on their big day,”  Jasgur said.

At Temple Israel in West  Bloomfield, Rabbi Marla Hornsten  said that Joe Cornell Entertainment  offered similar workshops to adolescents,  and proper dress and  behavior in the sanctuary are discussed  in the classroom.  “Most of all, I hope this is a  conversation parents are having  with their children long before  they are dropped off for the morning  service,” Hornsten said.  Andre Douville, executive director  of Temple Shir Shalom in West  Bloomfield, said the congregation  prepares the entire bar mitzvah  family for the occasion with a few  meetings with the clergy that start  18 months prior to the big day.  At these meetings, families are  encouraged to come to services in  the months leading up to the bar or bat mitzvah to become familiar  with services and to understand  what will be expected of them.

During these meetings, a family  may want to share some information  on the kinds of kids who are  coming to the temple for services.  If there will be a large amount of  non-Jewish kids, the families have  the option of inserting a one or  two-lined “synagogue primer” in  their invitation envelope about  behavior and dress expectations.

The temple has also adjusted  the start time of services on  Friday nights from 8 to 7:30 p.m.  to accommodate sleepy middle  schoolers who have been  waking up early all week  for school. Also, Shir  Shalom will “ramp up”  the number of ushers  depending on the number  of young guests.

“We know times are  different now. We expect  a level of decorum in  temple, such as no cell  phones and limited conversations.  But kids are kids, and  we know they are going to be  antsy. Sometimes, you have to be  a little forgiving,” Douville said.

So, to my young friends in the  bar/bat mitzvah circuit, and you  know who you are: Do yourself a  favor. Learn how to sit in services. Take the time to follow along with  your friends’ Torah reading to give  them your support — after all  that’s what you are there for.  There will be a bagel with your  name on it waiting for you at the  Kiddush as your reward for good  behavior.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: