Category Archives: Events

Martyrology By Alan Savada

Each year the Rabbi comes to us asking what part of the service we are interested in pontificating on. At the start, I gracefully accepted my assignments, but as time wore on, I became brave enough to ask for specific ones. So after speaking on the Martyrology two years ago, I specifically begged to return to the same part of the service this Yom Kippur. There is a very good reason for this—this summer we spent a good deal of time in Greece visiting various places such as Corfu, Olympia, Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, and of course, Athens, not to mention the neighboring port of Kusadasi, in Turkey, where one finds the monumental archeological site of Ephesus.

While these places are all different, the one thing many of them have in common is a past Jewish community. Jews came to Asia Minor and Greece as early as the 5th century BCE, after the destruction  of the First Temple, and we have written records of a community in Ephesus which had apparently existed for hundreds of years  by the early Common Era. The most famous site at Ephesus is the Celsus Library, whose floor contains a faint etching of a menorah! In addition, there are many stones bearing Jewish symbols that have been recycled over the centuries, which lead scholars to believe the community had a synagogue here.

Heading about 75 miles south, just off the coast we come to the ruins of Priene near Miletus, where a large stone was found with a menorah relief. The stone, now in a nearby museum, led to the 19th-century discovery of a similar synagogue dating to the 4th to 7th century CE, hundreds of years after nearby Ephesus. The designs are clear as we saw the tumbled stones of a small building, in ruins,  where once Jews worshipped for centuries. Sadly, these are the only remains of a once-thriving Jewish community. We will probably never know what happened to them.

Few tourists in Greece hit the port of Gythio or Gythion, the ancient seaport for Sparta, located on the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. We stopped there in July and hired a brilliant guide to take us to the famous caves at Diros on the opposite side of the Mani Peninsula (the so called middle finger of the Peloponnese). Our guide Dmitris turned out to be an archeologist who knew much more than we could ever dream of, as he had worked on many excavations in the region over the years. There is a long tradition of a now long-gone “Romani” Jewish community in the Mani region, and nary any proof of their existence. Dmitris told us of an excavation he had worked on, under a new resort hotel that was going up several years earlier. On our return to DC, I received an email from him with yet-unpublished photos he had taken at this site, which is now closed to the public. The mosaics are clearly symbolic of a menorah and are faintly akin to many we see in similar sites in Israel today. Sadly the hotel is built, the mosaics are hidden to us, and we will probably never truly know the extent of this Jewish community, which has now been assimilated beyond recognition.

When we speak of the Jewish community in this ancient region, it is of millennia, as it is clearly the first place Jews ventured to the north and west of Israel. Of course, this does not include the Exodus trip to the south, nor the exile to Persia to the east after the destruction of the First Temple.

Our journeys also took us just to the east to Rhodes, a mere 400 miles from Israel, where Jews were inhabitants of the island for centuries. Today we find the remains of a Jewish quarter that flourished after the Inquisition due to the influx of Sephardi Jews from Spain and Italy. As late as the end of World War I, over 4000 Jews lived here, flourishing amongst the locals with four synagogues, a Jewish school, and a yeshiva. By the time of the Nazi occupation, one half the Jewish population was gone. The remaining 1,522 souls were deported to their deaths in what is called “the longest march,” a 9-day trip by cargo boat to Athens and then a 13-day cattle wagon train to Auschwitz. Our guide spoke about her grandmother who harbored a Jewish man during the war. He managed to survive, along with 150 other Jews. Today, one synagogue remains and still functions. Kahal Shalom was built in 1577 and is a true gem with mosaic floors and a history worthy of any museum. Before the war it housed an 800-year-old Torah, which was miraculously saved by a Turkish religious leader. Sadly, the people are gone now and the community members number only in the dozens. While there, we witnessed the end of a ceremony, overseen by local priests and the chief Rabbi from Athens, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust.

Corfu’s Jewish community is not as old (due to its location in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece) but still can trace back to the 12th century, when the community started to grow and always lived in peace with the locals. Many came from Italy, just across the sea, especially during the Inquisition. By the end of the 19th century over 7,000 Jews lived on the small island. Jews, sadly, can not seem to be free of hatred from others, and in 1891 a blood libel ravaged the community. It was actually a Jewish girl, who had been falsely recorded as being a Christian girl, who was murdered. This led to insecurity and an exile of nearly 5,000 souls, mostly to Alexandria and Italian cities. The community was further reduced to about 2,000 people, yet the four synagogues on the island still flourished. On June 9, 1944 all these Jews were rounded up and 91% of them were taken, along with the 67,000 other Greek Jews, to the camps in central Europe. 1,700 were executed 20 days later. Of the 300 forced into hard labor by the Nazis, only 150 survived—a mere 7.5% of the entire community. Half of them emigrated to the US, Israel, and elsewhere, while about 75 returned to their homes. Only one synagogue, La Scuola Greca, which dates to 1650, remains in Corfu. The island’s Jewish population today is about 55. In 2011 an arson attack on the shul destroyed many siddurim—even today this small island community struggles to subscribe.

The last place I will speak of today is Chania, on the largest Greek island of Crete, under 500 miles from the Israeli coastline. Here the Jewish community began approximately 2,300 years ago; little is known of this community that existed for so long. The roughly 300 Jews that remained on the island at the beginning of World War II were herded onto a cargo ship headed for Auschwitz. In a twist of fate, the British torpedoed the ship and nobody survived. No Jews ever returned to settle on Chania.

The synagogue here remained in ruins over the postwar decades. It was used as a dump, urinal, and kennel. In 1996, one benevolent and kind gentleman, Nikos Stavroulakis, half Greek Orthodox and half Turkish Jew, decided Chania needed a synagogue. He made it his mission to reconstruct the completely desecrated building and its mikva. After three years of painstaking work, the small Romaniote Greek synagogue reopened. Today, the mikva functions, fed by a spring, and an etrog tree stands in the front courtyard, bearing the largest etrogim I have ever seen in my life! The rear courtyard holds the tombs of the rabbis, some hundreds of years old, and a memorial to those who perished in 1944. Services were held here for some time, basically run by a few locals who had tourists to help out, but two arson attacks occurred in 2010. Now, it takes a special event or occasion to bring worshippers; the synagogue is mostly a museum for tourists.  All that is left is for us to pray for the safety of those who are trying to revive our faith. Mr. Stavroulakis passed away two years ago at the age of 85 after reviving this amazing 1645 shul in a community that had existed for over two millennia, but did not have a single Jewish resident anymore. The name of that synagogue is Etz Hayyim.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Yom Kippur Haftorah By Sue Hamm

Last year, when I was asked to do a speech-let for the High Holidays, for the first time, I demurred. In contrast to the previous three years, I felt I did not have anything to say. I was not overly proud of where I was: I wasn’t doing the kind of volunteer work that I wanted to be doing while watching my friends make the world a better place daily with their advocacy. I wasn’t challenging myself intellectually, I wasn’t helping my kids be better people, and, to be frank, I was eating too much chocolate. 

As I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, listening to Andy Lovinger read the Haftorah portion (as he will again this year), I read along in English. I was very struck by the language in the second part of this Haftorah; it spoke very clearly to me: 

Isiah asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen…is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?” Yes, in fact, last year, that was exactly the fast I had chosen. I went without food and drink, and I came to shul, and I bowed my head.

He goes on to say “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” He continues, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”

So I sat there last year at Yom Kippur, thinking about what I wanted to be able to say in 12 months, the changes I needed to make so that I could stand here proudly, and say “Hineni—Here I am!” And I came up with a plan, and over the last year, I’ve executed it.

In the last year, I started working with HIAS in Silver Spring, and have helped them develop some programming for their asylum-seeker clients. I still cheer on family and friends when they are taking on big issues like child separation and common-sense gun laws, and I am now doing my part, too, in ways that make sense for me and fit into my schedule and constraints. It hasn’t always been convenient, but it has been worth it.  

I have donated both time and money to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and I’ve brought my kids with me so they could learn what it means to “spend yourself in behalf of the hungry.” Far be it for me to nag other people, but…this is really easy, and really fun, and really worthwhile. So let me know if you want to join me and my family in the year to come. Or there are a million opportunities for similar activities through our Social Action Committee. 

The connection with my kids at home was important to me, and that had been lacking as well. It’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in making dinner, doing homework, diving into our devices. So I started making a conscious effort to get out more board games and pay attention to which ones caught my kids’ interest—now our go-to is to play a game when we’re just sitting around. Makes my board game geek heart go pitter-pat. Those are some of the best times with the family, especially when we find one my husband enjoys, too!

I also started learning to chant Torah. I feel like an infomercial, but in less than ten minutes a day over just a few months, I learned the trope and have become one of our regular Saturday morning readers. Each time I have a new parsha to learn, I have questions about the Hebrew or about the context or about the meaning; I ask questions of anyone I think will have answers (usually but not always Rabbi Bass), and I’m giving myself a mini-masters in Jewish education. In this way, I strengthen my bond with my religious community, meet a need we have in our kehillah (community), and I get to learn new things each time. Talk about win-win!

Isiah says that if you do these types of things, “You will be like a well-watered garden”. All in all, I’m glad to say I’m in a better place than I was at this time last year, and I have Isiah and his words to thank for it.

Before I conclude, the very attentive listener might ask: “But, Sue, what about the chocolate?” Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve made all that much progress on the chocolate front. Maybe next year.

G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Introduction to the Yom Kippur Torah Reading By Nathan Ainspan

My first exposure to the events in this parsha was through the great Jewish scholar, Rabbi Steven Spielberg —specifically the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the lead Nazi dressed in the robes, breast plate, and head covering of the High Priest in order to open the Ark of the Covenant. The scene captured my imagination and sparked an interest in the events as they were described in the Torah. I even drew a picture of the High Priest’s clothing that hung in my childhood shul for years.

But from early on, I had issues with the ceremony described in today’s Torah portion, of the priest passing the people’s sins on to an innocent goat, whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And as a child I wondered if crime does pay, since the Azazel goat—the goat carrying our sins—gets to run around outside enjoying the wilderness after the ceremony, while his cousin gets sacrificed.

But seriously, the idea of being absolved of sins through ritual sacrifice seems contrary to Judaism to me. I learned as a child, and I see that we continue to teach in our junior congregation and our Hebrew school, that if I sin against God, I ask God’s forgiveness, but if I sin against a person, I must seek forgiveness from that person. Apologizing to God for a sin against man is insufficient. I understand that the passage is symbolic and that ritual does have a cathartic element to it — but it still seems to get us off the hook for our sins with little effort on our part.

In a similar way, I have issues with the idea that our fate is sealed when the Book of Life is closed, and that life and death are predetermined at the start of the year. I remember sitting at High Holiday services in 1997, the year my sister was killed in a sky diving accident, enraged at the thought that her fate with sealed at Yom Kippur in 1996 for some sin she had committed earlier.

And what about today, when we just learned that yet another synagogue, this time in Germany, again runs crimson with Jewish blood? Were the victims in Germany also sealed on the wrong side of the book at Yom Kippur last year?

As with the Azazel goat, I know from listening to the Rabbi and others that the concept of the Book of Life is metaphorical, but I continue to struggle with that part of the services. But as I was preparing this dvar torah, I realized that the haftorah to this parsha and other sources might help me resolve this dilemma.

The rabbis knew what they were doing when they paired the parsha describing in detail the procedure of the Yom Kippur sacrifice with the haftorah from Isiah. Taken together, they show us that we cannot be so easily absolved of our sins—and that the book will not be permanently closed tonight.

In fact, the haftorah tells us that God is offended and does not accept our supplications if we do not take action to address our sins and injustices. Superficially, it points out that fasting and going to services alone is not the fast that God desires on Yom Kippur:

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin.

Then, when you call, God will answer;

When you cry, He will say: Here I am.

If you banish the yoke from your midst,

The menacing hand, and evil speech,

And you offer your compassion to the hungry

And satisfy the famished creature-

Then shall your light shine in darkness,

And your gloom shall be like noonday. 

Note that the word yoke appears three times—and brilliantly invokes the image of the goat wearing the yoke. And that the yoke is paired with the menacing hand, evil speech, and compassion to the hungry, suggesting that it will take actual action against our fellow humans to rid ourselves of the yoke.  

And note that the verbs are the present and future tense—share your bread, take the hungry into your home—suggesting that future actions will impact God’s view of the teshuvah, or repentance, being performed. Repentance is tied to tikkun olam – another concept I developed a more nuanced, adult understanding of as I prepared this dvar torah. For years I had believed that tikkun olam meant repairing a broken world, but I learned that it actually refers to the commandment to conduct ourselves properly, observe the mitzvot and the Commandments, and contribute to society and civilization, both by example and through practice and action.

I started this dvar torah with Rev Spielberg of Hollywood, so I will invoke him again. The end of Schindler’s List quotes the Talmud: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” This quote becomes a touchstone for me in my work with suicide prevention in the military and with veterans. I may not control my fate or the fate of those I love, but if my actions can help one person, I can save the whole world.

So, there are no goats, no high priest to absolve you or the community of sin. And I don’t believe that there is a literal book being sealed, or gates that are closing tonight that will preordain our lives for the next year. Our absolution will have to be in ourselves. It is upon all of us to be our own High Priest and our own Azazel goat, to redress our sins, both personal and communal, to fix what we broke. While it may be impossible to repair or save the whole world, we can comport ourselves in a way that just might save a few of those individual worlds.I wish you a safe fast but I won’t wish you “G’mar Chatima Tovah,” since it means, “may you be inscribed for good [in the Book of Life].” Instead, I will use the Sephardic greeting “Tizku Leshanim Rabot, Ne’imot veTovot”—may your actions merit many pleasant and good years.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

On Kol Nidrei By Cheryl Whitehead

I want to be on time

For this service, Kol Nidrei,

On this night of all nights,

On this Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Preparations for this night are intentional—

Dinner planned out ahead of time,

Leave work early, don’t rush,

Ease calmly into this night.

No daily uniform

Of suit and leather shoes.

No worldly luxuries

To comfort me tonight.

A white, linen kittel to wear,

Reminiscent of a burial shroud—

A reminder of my mortality

And need for teshuvah (repentence).

White cloth shoes, inexpensive and basic.

White—an emulation of angels.

Repentance shall make our sins

White as snow, Isaiah 1:18.

Ironically, I am more comfortable

Without worldly luxuries

To bind and constrain,

For that is the antithesis of Kol Nidrei.

With the sun near the horizon

We don our tallit

For this night of sincere repentance,

On this Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Tonight, is a night of paradoxes,

We arrive alone but we stand together,

Righteous and unrighteous

Before the Heavenly and earthly courts.

To annul our vows and oaths

Not YET made—

But those TO BE MADE

In this new year.

Why Kol Nidrei?

Why do we do this?

Exempt from vows and oaths? If so,

For what purpose does Yom Kippur serve?

The words of Kol Nidrei

Offer no absolution

Of vows, oaths, and commitments

To one another.

We are accountable

And need to seek forgiveness

From each other

For missing the mark.

The words of Kol Nidrei

Address the vows and oaths

Not YET made

To ourselves and to God.

Free will to plan and promise,

We can feel powerful.

No way to predict the future,

We can feel helpless.

Kol Nidrei foresees

What we cannot—

Like the riptide current

That will drown our earnest attempts to fulfill promises.

Kol Nidrei absolves

What we cannot—

That which the riptide has made

Unhealthy and unwise to pursue.

We cannot be enslaved

By these pursuits.

If Yom Kippur allows us to start anew

With forgiveness for confessed misdeeds of the past;

Then the ritual of Kol Nidrei assures us

That mercy and forgiveness will be ours in the future.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Kol Nidre Social Action By Rachel Waldstein

The Days of Awe are a time of internal reflection, when we look deep inside ourselves and commit to doing things differently in the coming year. They are also a time when we may renew our commitment to doing our part to repair the world, fulfilling the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. An easy way to do this is through the Social Action Committee, which I chair. Just look at the weekly email and see what we are doing next. For those who may not read the weekly email, I urge you to resolve in the coming year to do so, or to talk to me about other ways you might prefer to learn about our events.

We have some wonderful activities coming up in the next few months: In December, a book sale to benefit low-income children and joining members of Dar Al-Hijrah mosque for their monthly interfaith Solidarity Cup of Tea (which they will hold on a Sunday,  especially for us). In January, our blow-out participation in Arlington’s Martin Luther King Day of Service.

I particularly want to draw your attention to our November event, “The Jewish Response to the Refugee and Immigrant Crisis,” from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 3rd. This forum will feature representatives of several non-profit groups that work on immigrant and refugee issues. Representatives will tell us what is happening now and describe various ways we can take action—including volunteering with groups that help refugees and immigrants, donating household goods, providing pro bono legal assistance, and political advocacy. Whatever your comfort level, you can get involved to help make this terrible situation a little better. We are also inviting area synagogues to join us, so we expect a pretty big turnout.  

And yes, look for an announcement in the weekly email!

Thank you and Shanah Tovah.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Thoughts on the Unetaneh Tokef Prayer and Science By Irene Bleiweiss

G-d judges us on Rosh Hashanah. But the prayerbook says that we can still do three things before Yom Kippur to change the judgment: teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedekah.  Why these three? They aren’t even written in the Torah. 

I think there’s a scientific explanation that the rabbis couldn’t have known about when the prayer was written. But we know it today thanks to Sir Isaac Newton. Do you remember learning about him in middle school science class? According to legend, an apple fell on his head. What could be more appropriate for Rosh Hashanah? 

Newton developed three laws of motion. As I see it, teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedekah each corresponds to one of those laws:

Tzedakah would correspond to Newton’s first law – the Law of Inertia: “A body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force.” Some of us are “at rest”—we’ve stalled and aren’t doing anything to improve ourselves or the world around us. Others are in motion—but maybe moving in the wrong direction. So we need a little push.

And tzedekah can be that push. Tzedekah is often translated as charity or kindness. But it’s better understood as acting justly – doing good because that’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, if we see that something’s important, we need to be that external force, giving a little boost to others. It might mean making a donation, or volunteering, or doing social justice. Acting justly is a small force that can have a big impact. One recent example: a single schoolgirl spoke out about what she knew was right and it mobilized others around the world to act as well.

Newton’s next law: “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” I think this corresponds with teshuvah. Teshuvah is often translated as repentance, but it really means to return. A person is intrinsically good and wants to return to being good even if they’ve missed the mark. But as hard as we try, there always seem to be opposing forces, temptations, or excuses pushing back against us just as hard.

There’s a wise commentator named the Zera Shimshon who proposes a solution. He says: If you’ve done a bunch of sins, counteract them by doing a bunch of opposite mitzvahs. For example, if you’ve sinned with your tongue by gossiping, do mitzvahs that use the tongue positively such as teaching words of Torah to children. So to paraphrase Newton, “for every sin there’s an equal and opposite mitzvah.”

Newton’s final law is: “The force acting on an object is equal to its mass times its acceleration.” This is tefillah.  How, you ask? Tefillah is often translated as prayer. And that’s part of it. But it really means union—striving to become united with and attached to G-d. That sounds difficult. But Zera Shimshon teaches that it’s easier when we join together as part of a congregation. So, even though we can speak to

G-d as an individual at home, our connection with G-d can be stronger when we come together as a group. Force equals mass times acceleration. Today the size of our mass here in shul is pretty large. We’re a forceful group. But as a scientist friend recently reminded me, force is a vector —it has both magnitude and direction. So it isn’t only about how hard we pray today. It’s also about the direction in which our prayer leads—how we’ll apply it in our daily decisions tomorrow and the next day.

Teshuva, Tzedekah, and Tefillah. If you ask me, it’s fundamental physics. Shana Tovah.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Shofar By Debbie Ann Doyle Ainspan

As I thought about what to say to introduce the shofar service, I thought of the lines of the Unetanah Tokef from the Rosh Hashanah service – “The great shofar is sounded, a still small voice is heard.”

I always pause at that – at first, it seems like an odd order. If there is a still small voice inside of each of us, telling us what is right, what we need to do better in the coming year, what is the role of the sound of the shofar?

But think about how easy it is for that still, small voice to get drowned out.

Yoga and meditation teachers talk about the monkey chatter that can fill our heads even when we are actively trying to quiet our minds. Instead of focusing on our breath, we are thinking about that email we meant to send before we left work or what to cook for dinner.

On top of that, I suspect that for most if not all of us, the still, small voice of our conscience, and of the Eternal, can get drowned out by much louder, larger, and more insistent internal voices of self-doubt, recrimination, negativity, guilt, and insecurity.

How do we reach down through all that noise to find true teshuvah, true repentance, a better path for the year ahead?

Maybe that is why we need the shofar to be sounded—to focus our attention.  

The sound of the shofar always gives me chills. There is something about that ancient, timeless, sound that seems to echo not just around the world, but across time, reaching back all the way through all the years of Jewish history, calling out to something beyond ourselves.

That sound, if only for a moment, can drown out all the chatter that fills our heads. It is both a wake-up call and a call to battle. We really hear the sound of the shofar, echoing across the ages, wordlessly expressing our longing to bring our lives closer to the Eternal, to finally hear that still small voice.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Rosh Hashanah Haftorah By Harold Dorfman

In today’s haftorah, Hannah prays for a baby. Similarly, today’s Torah portion tells of Sarah praying for a baby. Our tradition tells us we read these stories today to reinforce the power of prayer. God heard the intensity of the pain in their prayers and gave them each a child.

This pain is something I can relate to because I saw it first hand in my own life. When I was married, we decided to go through a number of attempts to get pregnant using IVF.  Well, we went through those rounds and there was no pregnancy. We gave up. I will never forget the anguish and despair in my wife. We decided to look into other options.

We then stumbled onto a doctor who convinced us to keep trying, that it would happen.  In a tremendous leap of faith, Kimberly enrolled in a class for moms on “How to raise a Jewish child.” She was the only woman who wasn’t already the mother of a little baby or about to deliver. By the third or fourth class, she was pregnant with Fiona. I’ve always been inspired by this. Nine months later, at 47 years and 3 months old, Kimberly gave birth to Fiona, a perfect baby girl.

I wish I could tell you the rest of Fiona’s early childhood seemed like a fairy tale or parable, but I can’t. Some of you know my story here. The first time I came through the doors of this synagogue was a year later, and I was in agony. Fiona’s mom had run off with her making all kinds of allegations in an effort to steal the baby. It was unclear if or when I would get to see Fiona again. When you don’t know if or when you are going to see your child again, an hour is an eternity. I know some bad things happened to Fiona during that time, but I will never know the details because she was only one. I believe the separation still affects us today. The worst part by far is that today the story is not at all special. As a matter of policy, our country is separating kids from their parents.

It is not a new concept to discourage immigration by being cruel to newcomers.  As far back as our Torah, Sodom and Gemorrah abused refugees because they didn’t want to share what God gave to us all. I don’t mean to offend people’s political sensibilities, but for me this is not a political issue but a very, very personal one. These are my thoughts and I do not claim to represent anyone else’s feelings.

I also feel it is a religious imperative. The Torah, again and again, commands us to be kind to refugees because we were once strangers in a strange land. This wasn’t just true in Biblical times. Most of us don’t have to go back too many generations in our family tree to find relatives who had to leave their country in fear of hunger, persecution, or death. If we are to learn from history, it is probably naïve to think Jews won’t be on the run again.

These are dark times. A couple of months ago I received a text while on the way to Friday night services. It said, “Be safe at synagogue.” Two years ago, that text would have made no sense. Now we know what it meant.

I grew up in dark times. My earliest memory was seeing JFK’s flag-draped casket being pulled down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I saw fire hoses being fired on dark-skinned people. I saw them being clubbed senseless. They referred to them as “Negros,” as if they were a different species, and therefore it was somehow alright. 

When I was 7, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were shot and killed. When I was 8, George Wallace ran for president with the slogan “segregation now, segregation  forever.” He received 13.5% of the popular vote, won 5 states, and claimed 45 electoral votes.

When I was 9, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of student protestors.  Maybe seeing those beautiful young students sacrificed at the altar of hate and division brought us back from the brink. There is little doubt that if we continued on that arc, our country would not have survived until today. Whatever the reason, we came back from the brink for decades of relative peace and progress, however imperfect—and they were not perfect.

We live in dark times. Tuesday, there was a lockdown drill at Fiona’s school. If our kids catch sight of the news, they see reports of mass shootings, of kids with dark skin locked up in cages. They call them “Hispanic,” as if they are different somehow. As I stand here today, I’m not afraid of an invasion by their families.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the proper motivation to pray. Not today. Today I will pray with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength for us to find a way back from the brink before it’s too late. I will pray that all women and men who yearn for a child get to feel the squeeze of a child’s hand, feeling happy and safe because they are with them. I will pray for refugees, here and everywhere, to be reunited with their families and find a place to live in peace and safety. 

Please pray with me.

Shanah Tovah

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Rosh Hashanah Torah Reading By Sylvia Gordon

The Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah tells the story of Hagar and Sarah and the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael.

Here’s the back story—
First the bad and uncomfortable news—

Back in chapter 16, Lekh L’kha, Sarai shows concern that she has not borne Avram a son and is concerned about his and her legacy. Sarai has an Egyptian maid, a slave, Hagar, whom she gives to Avram as a concubine. The status here is noteworthy. Hagar was merely a maid to Sarai, and has now been elevated (?) to concubine status. Hagar conceives and now sees herself as better than her former mistress. Sarai, perhaps feeling jealous, entreats Avram to send Hagar away, but he wants no part of that. When Sarai berates Hagar, she runs away. An angel of God finds her by a spring and encourages her to return with God’s guidance, delivering the message that God will not desert her.

Moving on, in the next chapter God tells Avram to walk in God’s ways and establishes a covenant between them. God now changes Avram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah, as bond to this covenant. God will make him “exceedingly numerous.”
Hagar gives birth to a son, and, some time after, Sarah conceives. Abraham is 100 years old and she is 90. She too has a son whom she calls Yitzkhak—from the word laugh because Abraham was incredulous that he, at 100, and Sarah, at 90, would conceive.

Consider, now, that Ishmael is a teenager, 14 years old, and there’s a new baby in the family. Sarah sees Ishmael laughing, possibly mocking her and her son. She wants mother and child gone. Again, Abraham is troubled that Sarah wants to banish Hagar and his son. God reassures him that she and the boy will be cared for. He sends them off with bread and a skin of water, which soon run out. Hagar is in despair and believes she and her son will die. God sends an angel to comfort her by telling her not to despair; God will provide for her and her son, reminding her of God’s earlier promise that her son will be a founder of a great nation.

The angel, who calls her by her name, tells her to pick up her son and open her eyes to see the well in front of her. They are saved and continue in life, perhaps back in Egypt, and prosper as God promised.
Now the good news as I see it.

In the early part of their journey, Avram and Sarai went out of his father’s house to follow a path to be guided by God.
While there are promises and hints of the future bond between God and the not-yet-nation of Israel, there is no covenant.

Between the birth of Ishmael and conception and birth of Isaac, God has firmly established the covenant and changed the names of our first patriarch and matriarch as a sign of God’s favor. This sets in motion the ultimate journey to Israel. But God needs to also set up the instruments to accomplish this journey. Hagar was a slave from Egypt, and clearly known as such. God referred to her as “slave,” only the angel called her by name. So when Sarah insists that Abraham send Hagar away, she is God’s instrument in the beginning of this journey to its eventual destination.

Difficult as it is to see the harsh treatment of Hagar and Ishmael, she, too, has played a part in the establishment of the Israelite nation. Yet she is not forgotten or doomed forever. God sees that she is cared for and able to go on to a different life, being the progenitor of another great number of people.

Sarah, however unwittingly, has carried out her part of God’s ultimate plan.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Synagogue or Board of Directors.

Book Review – Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time

Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time
By Amos Elon

Excerpted from Amazon.com:
Meyer Amschel Rothschild was born in the Frankfurt ghetto in the mid-eighteenth century, in a city more restrictive in its treatment of Jews than any in Europe. Elon brilliantly depicts Meyer Amschel Rothschild’s position there, and life on the unimaginably cramped Judengasse (the single street of the ghetto), where he lived his whole life – even after becoming one of the richest men in Germany. We read how Rothschild established his small trading and banking business, and forged an uneasy relationship with the financially obsessed Crown Prince Wilhelm of Kassel; how he pushed at and eventually broke through the restrictions that bound him and his family to the ghetto until he found himself essentially paying for the English war effort in the Peninsula in 1810. On a richly delineated canvas the emergence and secularization of a family and Western European Jewry is depicted.

As a student of both history and Judaism, I found this book’s descriptions of life in Europe (particularly Germany) in the 1700’s fascinating. Although Emancipation already had affected other European cities, Frankfurt was slow to grant even basic rights to its Jewish residents. The Rothschild family was able to build a financial dynasty despite facing restrictions on where they could live and work and being required to pay disproportionate taxes based solely on their Jewish status. The book frequently mentions that Rothschild was an observant Jew, but doesn’t speak much about how that impacted his business dealings (e.g., Shabbat restrictions, kashrut, etc.). It was also new to me that there was a Judeo-German language other than Yiddish called Judendeutsch based on Hebrew and the Frankfurt dialect of German. I rate this book a 4 out of 5.

To learn more about Meyer Amschel Rothschild, join us on Sunday, March 15 from 10:15 AM – 11:45 AM for a book discussion with congregant Ken Ackerman. Copies of “Founder” are available for loan from the CEH Library.

Laura Naide

Director of Religious Education