Category Archives: Religious Services

2019 Purim Carnival & Partial Megillah Reading and Spiel Recap

Every year our congregation looks forward to a joyous tradition – our annual Purim Celebration. According to the Megillah (scroll of Esther), we observe Purim as a time of “feasting and gladness.” For example, we dress in costumes, feast on hamentashen (cookies shaped like Haman’s hat), perform spiels (silly plays) and enjoy a carnival with games and prizes.

We held our annual Purim carnival on Sunday, March 17. For many years, our CEH carnival has been organized by Jill and Lyn Shenk. Not only is Jill a master organizer, but Lyn has built many of the games! Some of the games included: Sail to Shushan (boat races), Shekel Drop, Gefilte Fish Toss, and Haman’s Hole in One (golf). There was also a moon bounce on our front lawn.

Children and their parents enjoyed playing games, eating hamentashen and other delicious food, collecting tickets and redeeming them for prizes. There was an atmosphere of merriment and celebration. This is an event that brings together many different members of our CEH community as well as their friends and family.

On Wednesday, March 20 our congregation, including our Wednesday Religious School students, participated in a partial Megillah reading and spiel. The spiel was a retelling of the Purim story as a parody of the musical Hamilton. Students in Kitot Gimmel – Zayin (3rd – 7th Grades) presented the spiel to the congregation with accompaniment by Elisa & Hannah Rosman. The spiel itself was written by Mike Stein. Everyone had a great time laughing at the spiel and shaking their graggers (noise makers) to drown out Haman’s name during the Megillah reading.

We’re looking forward to Purim 5781 (2020)!

Thank you to Jill and Lyn Shenk and a large group of volunteers including congregants, RS teachers, and RS students. Partial Megillah Reading & Spiel: Alan Savada (reader), Mike Stein and Elisa & Hannah Rosman (spiel), and congregants and teachers (readers & oneg set up and clean up).

Jewish Comedy: Why Are We So Funny? Recap

On Saturday, March 2, a large group of comedy-lovers, approximately 75 people, including congregants, neighbors, guests from a nearby senior residence, and friends from the Arlington Moishe House, went on a virtual two-hour journey across the map of Jewish comedy in the US, including discussions of Groucho Marx, Gertrude Berg, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, and more. Our hosts, Adam and Ron, provided historical context, showed film clips, and engaged the audience in an interactive quiz (complete with Groucho Marx glasses as prizes).

From vaudeville to the Catskills to radio shows to movies to television shows, we discussed what makes Jewish comedy unique and different. Audience members shared their memories (including a story about how the Marx brothers used to climb back into their apartment late at night) and were transported back to shows and places in their memories. Many of the comedy moments including a healthy dose of Yiddish which added to the general meshugas (craziness)!

We also had a rich discussion about what comedy offers society and whether or not there are limits to humor. Can Jews make jokes about Jews? Can non-Jews make the same jokes? And how have jokes evolved over time?

I’ll end this review with the joke that started this fabulous evening:

“A shul had a problem with squirrels in the attic. The exterminator couldn’t get them out. The rabbi said, I know how to take care of this. I’ll make them bar mitzvahs and they’ll never return to the building!” Oy vey!

Todah Raba to Adam Cohen and Ron Rosenberg who prepared and presented the evening’s content, to Jerry Jacobs who sponsored the refreshments and to Rabbi Bass who helped with shopping.

Teen trip to Philadelphia Recap

This year’s teen field trip was to historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We kept busy with a tour of the Museum of American Jewish History where we learned about different waves of Jewish immigration to the United States, starting in the 17th Century up to the present day. Some highlights were an original pair of Levi Strauss jeans and a letter from George Washington to the Jewish community with the famous quote, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”
We also toured the Eastern State Penitentiary where we saw the restored synagogue that Jewish inmates used to pray and hold religious events such as seders.

In between “educational” stops we sampled delicious Philadephia food at Reading Terminal Market, the Bourse, Su Xing kosher Chinese restaurant, and Federal Donuts. We also had some time for shopping and touring the historic area that houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Finally, we “escaped” from Alcatraz in under one hour at an escape room adventure.

Next year we go back to New York to learn more about Judaism and to eat more delicious food!

Thank you to Dan & Hannah Rosman who chaperoned.

All-Shul Learning: Shabbat Recap

On Sunday, February 3, 2019, all ages learned together at our All-Shul Learning: Shabbat event. We started the day with a minyan service and then discussed the 39 Melachot, or categories of work that are prohibited on Shabbat. Rabbi Bass explained that these categories relate to the building of the Mishkan, the portable, temporary version of the Holy Temple that the Jews carried throughout their forty years in the desert. For example, we cannot sew on Shabbat because our ancestors sewed curtains for the Mishkan.

Next, we broke into groups and travelled through four stations. At one station, Will Rivlin and Abby Cohen led the group in a spirited Shabbat song session. At another station, Lital Burr and Jeannie Sklar helped the group make wooden plaques to display the words of the Hamotzi prayer. At our third station, Maddy Naide and Jeana Kimelheim showed the group how to create fabric hallah covers to use on Shabbat. At our fourth station, Rabbi Bass, Leah Edgar and Jennifer Bachus taught the group how to braid and decorate party hallah.

At the hallah station, Rabbi Bass explained the mitzvah of “taking hallah.” This phrase refers to separating a portion of the dough before braiding. In the days of the Temple, this portion of dough was set aside as a tithe for the priests, or kohanim. In modern times, we separate a small piece of dough — about the size of an olive — and either burn it or dispose of it respectfully, rendering inedible the portion that God commanded be set aside.

As the day drew to a close, we held a Kahoot (online) quiz in the sanctuary to test participants’ knowledge of the Saturday morning service. Questions such as “What is a Gabbai” (someone who assists with the Torah reading and the service) and “What is the Hagbaha” (lifting the Torah after the reading) did not stump the crowd. We know our Shabbat stuff!

We hope that congregants will join us on March 10, 2019, for our next All-Shul Learning event, which will cover the aspects of kashrut.

Thank you to everyone who helped prepare for the event and run the stations: Rabbi Bass, Lital Burr, Will Rivlin, Jeannie Sklar, Jennifer Bachus, Leah Edgar, Jeana Kimelheim, Abby Cohen & Maddy Naide.

Roller Skate Havdalah Recap

On Saturday, January 26 approximately 15 people from Etz Hayim including parents and students gathered at Arlington’s Thomas Jefferson Community Center to participate in a Havdalah ceremony and enjoy an evening of roller skating. Havdalah (Hebrew: הַבְדָּלָה ‬, “separation”) is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Sabbath and ushers in the new week. The ritual involves lighting a special havdalah candle with several wicks, blessing a cup of wine and smelling sweet spices. Moreh Will led us in a musical version of the Havdalah ceremony and the students helped us with the ritual objects.

Havdalah is a short and sweet ceremony that is easy to incorporate into your family’s traditions. You can learn the music from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gebsb-po8jY

When you follow Havdalah with roller skating, it makes for a fantastic Saturday evening.

Thank you to Alexis Joyce & Laura Naide for planning the event and to Moreh Will for leading Havdalah

Donut Wars Recap

On Wednesday, December 5, we celebrated Hanukkah with a donut decorating challenge called “Donut Wars”. We had a total of 45 people!

Students were randomly divided into teams of 4. Each team participated in 3 rounds of donut decorating, ala the cooking show “Chopped”. Each round had a theme (“Lights”, “Maccabees” and “Miracles”) and a mystery ingredient. In addition to the donuts and the mystery ingredient, students could use items from a central pantry. The pantry held treats such as chocolate chips, frosting, candy sprinkles, and colorful cereals.

Students had 8 minutes for each round to decorate their donuts. The donuts were judged by an esteemed panel of CEH Religious School teachers. Teams were judged on presentation, taste, and creative use of the mystery ingredients. Prizes went to the 3 top teams, plus a special prize to the team that kept their workplace the cleanest.

Our students worked together beautifully and created surprising interpretations of our Hanukkah themes. During the second round (“Maccabees”), several teams decorated their donuts with a hammer motif. In all three rounds, there was an abundance of creativity, enthusiasm, and sugar. Food Network watch out – we have some stars on the rise!

Thank you to RS Teachers: Adam Wassell, Robyn Norrbom, Lital Burr, Amanda Sky, Emma Rosman, Hannah Rosman, Jeana Kimelheim, Rabbi Bass, and Edgar Rendon.

–Laura Naide                                                                                                                Director of Religious Education

 

What’s Jewish About Bubbies? Recap

On Sunday, November 18, 2018, grandparents, parents, and children gathered at CEH to learn “What’s Jewish About Bubbies?”

Bubby (plural: bubbies or bubbes) is a Yiddish term for grandmother. The Yiddish term for grandfather is Zayde. We call our grandparents many other terms of endearment (e.g., granny, pop-pop, savta, saba, mimi, grandpa), but bubbe and zayde are very well-known terms among many Jewish families.

Jewish law and tradition emphasize the responsibility to honor our parents and grandparents. From the Ten Commandments (“Honor Your Mother and Father”) to the recitation of our ancestors at every prayer service, we are reminded to show respect and reverence to the generations before us. Grandparents play an especially important role in teaching Jewish traditions to their families.

To celebrate grandparents, we ate cookies and milk, sang songs, read stories about Jewish values, created grandparent awards, and played grandparent bingo. We learned that the group strongly preferred chocolate chip cookies although gingerbread/ginger snaps were a strong runner up. Moreh Will taught us the Hebrew words for family members such as father (Abba) and mother (Ima). We also played several exciting games of dreidel in our new “spinagogue.” We had around 30 people ranging in age from newborn to grandparents.

The most important lesson of the day was how special it is to spend time with our families. Based on the success of this event, we are now planning another grandparent-focused celebration for Spring 2019.

Next Event: What’s Jewish About Libraries?

When: 02/10/2019

–Alexis Joyce, Laura Naide, Will Rivlin

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 2

Today in the Torah we read the story of the binding of Isaac. I have spoken about this story many times, since it is a story that tugs at my heart strings. This year, I realized that this is a story that happens among Hinenis.

There are 3 times in Chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis that our ancestor, Abraham, says the word Hineni, which means “Here I am”.  In the first verse of the chapter, we read (Translation by Robert Alter):

“And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham. And God said to him “Abraham!” and he said, “here I am – hineni!”

When God calls Abraham, he responds immediately with Hineni!– Here I am! I can almost hear Abraham saying: God, so good to hear from you! I am excited to hear your voice, and to know what you have in store for me.

Abraham and Isaac travel with attendants for 3 days, and leave the attendants behind, walking up the rest of the way, just the 2 of them alone. In verse 7, we read:

And Isaac said to Avraham his father, “Father!”, and he said, “Here I am, Hineni, my son.” And he said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the offering?”

There is kindness in this Hineni, as Abraham shows tenderness to his child, trying to respond to him, to be present, even though he knows fully well what lies in the future. After the altar is built, and Abraham binds his child to the altar, Abraham takes the knife, ready to do what he believes God commanded him, which is to slaughter his son. In verse 11, we read the word Hineni for the 3rd time:

“And the Eternal’s messenger called out to him from the heavens and said, “Abraham, Abraham”, and he said “Here I am”, Hineni.”

The messenger of God showed up just in time, and before he did the unthinkable, Abraham listened to him.

Abraham had 3 meanings for his Hineni: to be present and excited, to show kindness, and to listen.

What is your Hineni?

The word Hineni, Here I am! is a term that conveys readiness, presence, concentration, attention, and listening. It gives a sense of excitement, an exclamation point following the words. Hineni, Here I am, ready to participate, work, do things, be present! Hineni is about being “All in”. Being all in is to be passionate about life, to grab the opportunities that life presents us, to fully accept the challenge of living an examined life. To be all in is to act with the belief that there is potential in our deeds, openness for wonder, a commitment to participate and perform to the best of our abilities, a willingness to listen, and a desire to show kindness. Every day we pray the Amidah 3 times, and at every Amidah we recall our ancestors, Abraham Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. I take this to mean that just as my ancestors had their unique relationship with God, I must find my own relationship with God, my own Hineni, following in the footsteps of my ancestors. In our tradition, we are supposed to learn from the example of our ancestors – but not follow them blindly. We don’t follow Abraham’s example as a husband or a parent. We follow Abraham’s Hineni moments as a brave, spiritual, loyal, and gifted statesman. A few examples are:

  • Abraham doesn’t hesitate to change as he listened to God’s voice, to leave his place and go to the place that God showed him.
  • Abraham showed kindness as 3 angels (disguised as 3 men) approached his tent in the middle of the day.

He made sure to feed them and make them comfortable.

  • Abraham fought for his family, showing loyalty during the war between the Kings.
  • Abraham did not shy away from bargaining with God for the fate of the two doomed towns, Sodomah and Gomorrah.
  • And he trusted in God and God’s promise, again and again, even as he aged, and the promise of offspring seemed to be more and more difficult to come true.

We learn many lessons from Abraham’s journey.

As Abraham trusted in God’s promise, we can together trust in God’s message of love and understanding between all, and usher a time of peace, creativity, and joint abundance, even when that promise seems to be so elusive and far-fetched.

As Abraham bargained with God for the fate of the cities, we can speak truth to people in power and stand for the rights of all people.

We can also continue our long tradition of speaking to God and being in relationship with God as we pray together in our Sanctuary.

As Abraham fought for his family, so we together can fight for our human family, for ensuring that we do not demean, dehumanize, and humiliate others, instead propping the downtrodden, raising the fallen, providing a helping hand to the oppressed.

In the same way that Abraham opened his tent for the visitors, as a community of faith, we can remain loyal to his example and open our community to other people of faith. We can open our community to the poor, the needy, and the immigrant.

Most of all, as Abraham had the courage to change, we have to be able to change, too.

Rosh Hashanah, in the Jewish tradition, is a time where we examine our actions in the year that passed, take a hard look at the parts of ourselves that need to change, ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt, and when faced with a similar situation, don’t fall prey to the same bad choices. Our traditions praises our ability to grow and change.

These are a few of the ways we can be inspired by Abraham’s Hineni moments to create our own Hineni moments.

Let me share a Hineni moment with you.

I have been here for 17 years. I came here on August, 2001. A few weeks after I arrived, September 11 happened. Today, September 11, we remember the devastating blow to our sense of security, and all the people who lost friends and family members in that cowardly attack. Yet, this Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of my 18th year with our congregation. My Hay year!

As most of you know, the Hebrew letters of the word Hay, which means being alive, have the numerical value of 18. The 18th year is a time to take stock, and also the beginning of a new cycle of life. We all have had plenty of Hineni moments together in the last 17 years, and I believe that as we go forth and move into this new hay, this new life, we can have plenty of new Hineni moments together.

The Talmud, in Massechet Bava Metziah (28b), tells us that in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, there was a stone, called Even To’an, the Lost and Found Stone. Whoever found an object went there. Whoever lost an object did the same. The finder stood and proclaimed that s/he found something, and the other would call out the identifying marks of the object, and then receive it back.

In our lives, we all experience losses, from the banal –our keys – to the loss of our loved ones.

Sometimes we lose our hope in the future, and sometimes we lose our innocence when historical events of the proportion of 9/11 happen. A lot of times we have reserves of happiness and optimism that can be shared. Having a Lost and Found Stone– a place of meeting, a place of sharing what we find and what we lose – is an amazing gift. Our congregation can be our modern Lost and Found Stone, a cornerstone of gathering, of restoring relationships and our faith in each other, in the power of community, a place of being all in, in a world so unpredictable.

A solid rock that is a place for giving and receiving, for saying Hineni to each other.

As we starts our 18th year together, our hay year together, what is our Hineni, our all in? Can we be that Lost and Found  Stone, in this complicated world? Can we believe in a culture of possibilities for our congregation? Can we dream up a culture of love, creativity, growth? Can we create a true place of meeting, full of motivation, of beautiful tefillah, belief in the future, openness to change and growth?

I believe in us, and I believe that we are that Even To’an, that wonderful place of meeting where we share our best, worship together,where we prop each other up, where we follow in Abraham’s footsteps and say Hineni to creating a better world.

May we learn from all the positive examples of our ancestor, stressing all that we share.

May we create our own Even To’an, dreaming about the possibilities of all the things we can do together, committing to each other, being all in, opening our hearts, ears and capabilities to each other.  May this be a time of Hineni, of being all in, for our community, our people, our country, and our world.

Rabbi Lia Bass Speech from Rosh Hashanah – Day 1

Take another look to the beautiful words she said during our Rosh Hashanah Celebration!

The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story”, about how stereotypes limit and shape our thinking. At the age of 9, she had read only classic British books, about princesses and castles, long flowing blond hair and valiant princes. As she started writing her own stories, they all involved white, blonde, blue eyed people that talked about the weather – a very far stretch from her middle class, Nigerian reality, where you never needed to talk about the weather, since it was always the same.

She tells a story of speaking at a US University where, during the question and answer session, a student said that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers, like the father character in one of her novels. With a hint of irritation, she responded that she had just read a novel called American Psycho – and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial killers.

The student had a single story about Nigeria – in his mind, based on his reading of a book, Nigeria was a whole country of people who abused and were abused. Ms. Adichie wanted him to see that her reality was as varied as his, and that one cannot create an image of a whole country based on a single story.

Our tradition is quite conscious of the dangers of a single story.

Let me give you an example. For Benjamin’s Bar Mitzvah, I made his tallit. In the Atarah, the neck piece, I quoted a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy: “And to Benjamin (Moses) said, you are a friend of God.”

In the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses blesses all the tribes, and since Jerusalem, and therefore the Temple, was in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin, the tribe is depicted as a friend of God, and guardian of the Temple, our people’s main source of relationship with God during many centuries.

Yet, the Torah doesn’t want us to see a single-sided story. No one is one-dimensional.

In Chapter 49 of the Book of Genesis, Jacob calls his sons together before dying and gives each of them a “blessing.” I put quotation marks around the word blessing because while the Torah text defines it as both prophecy and a blessing, it is really more a curse. Here are the words to the Tribe of Benjamin: 27. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the booty.”

What happened to the Tribe of Benjamin being God’s friend?

This description only makes sense when we know the gruesome story found about the tribe of Benjamin in the end of the Book of Judges, Chapters 19-21. In that part of the narrative, men from one city in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin are responsible for a savage attack on a young woman from the Tribe of Judah. That attack motivates a counter act from the other Israelites, escalating into a civil war. In the end, the tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out from the people of Israel. Even in the Torah, there is no single story. The tribe of Benjamin has elements of both; a friend of God and a ravenous wolf. Had we only the Deuteronomy description, we would have a peaceful image of the Tribe of Benjamin. It wouldn’t be a full image. It would be a stereotype.

If we had only the story that uses the image of a ravenous wolf, we would be stereotyping, also, and we would be opening the possibility for a dangerous situation. The act was committed by some men, in one city, in the territory of one tribe. By depicting the whole tribe as animals that can be hunted, the Torah ends up creating fertile ground for a bloodbath. In the book Less than Human, Dr. David Livingstone Smith explains that when we equate people with animals, we limit our vision, and shape our perception in a way that has difficult consequences.

We dehumanize them, believing that while people may look like humans, where it really counts, they are animals, either vermin or beasts of prey that must be eliminated, one way or another. While we might be tempted to see comparisons of people to animals as mere talk, as nothing more than degrading metaphor, we must understand that dehumanization is not a way of talking. It’s a way of thinking that, sadly, comes all too easily to us. Dehumanization acts as a psychological lubricant, empowering us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.

We lose the perspective of what other people are: a collective of individuals that have an identity and community, people who can make choices, entitled to live according to their own goals. The danger of a single story, the danger of seeing people as less than human, is that it allows us the moral justification to commit atrocities and destruction. The psychologist and Harvard professor Herbert Kerman knew from bitter experience what happens when inhibitions against violence are lifted, since he survived the Nazi Holocaust. He concluded that there are psychological and social mechanisms that caused this to happen. The first is authorization: When people in positions of authority use demeaning language, and then verbally endorse acts of violence, the individual that carries out the savage act is less inclined to feel personally responsible, and therefore, less guilty in performing them. What follows is routinization. Following a rigid routine eliminates any need for making decisions, and with that no need to ask awkward moral questions. In other words, what we hear conditions our thinking, creates the single story that allows us to see others as non-humans, which then gives us the moral justification for their elimination. Before we say to ourselves that we don’t demean, dehumanize, and exterminate other people, we have to acknowledge the role of violence in our culture.

Professors Alan Page Fiske, from the University of California, LA, and Tage Shakti Rai, from Northwestern University, in their book entitled Virtuous Violence, explain that most violence is motivated by moral sentiments.

They write:

“Most people do not simply justify or excuse their violent actions after the fact; at the moment they act, people intend to cause harm or death to someone they feel should suffer or die.”

Most violence is intended to regulate relationships, and the one that does the violence, as well as the community around the perpetrator and the victim, perceive the action as correct, consistent with their cultural rules.

An example:

Many years ago, when my son, Benjamin, was 3 years old, I was in line at a children’s store to buy something for him. In the line right next to me, there was a mother, speaking to her children in a language I did not recognize. She had a sleeping baby in a carriage, a boy that seemed to be the same age as Benjamin, and 3 other older children. She was obviously not paying much attention to the 3-year-old, so he did what children his age do – jumped on the baby carriage, and woke up the baby, who started wailing. The mother immediately screamed at the boy, and slapped him hard across the face, sending him flying a few feet away. I was horrified. My first instinct was to scream at her, in moral outrage. After all, her hurt and broken child will be sharing this world with my child! Yet, not too long ago, parents and teachers had no hesitation to spank a child. Spare the rod and spoil the child, was the saying. After some reflection, I understood that I did not know the cultural norms for this other mother. I believe we were both acting according to our definitions of what is moral and what is not.

Today, all around the world, we are locked in a battle of moral claims, in points of view that accommodate only a single story.

And that is dangerous.

A single story is dangerous because it allows us to use language that dehumanizes the other, seeing them as not fully human. A single story does not give us the room to question the moral ground that regulates social relationships according to cultural norms. We forget that every group is created by human beings, that every human being is created in the image of God, and that we are not defined by one single story. We don’t celebrate the world for what it is – a mishmash of people, who live, learn, love, and breathe the same air we breathe, drink the same water we drink, eat the produce of the same earth we eat.

It is dangerous when people in positions of authority revert to a single story to define other people. It is dangerous to generalize and assign blame to whole groups, and not see people as individuals who are part of a group. It is dangerous to incite morally righteous violence. Today, in the world we live in, we must truly listen, and decide if we are listening to a single story, or a story that represents the full gamut of reality. Do we have a balanced point of view, or are we just listening to one version of reality? In our version, do we see others as just one monolithic group, defined in ways that can lead to their extermination, or are we seeing them as people like us? We can get stuck in the single story of hatred, name calling, and anger. We can get stuck in the single story of us versus them. In the vast majority of cases, no human being is purely good, and no human being is purely evil. No human being has the monopoly on acting perfectly, correctly, at all times. We are all motivated by our culturally-determined morals. We all have multiple stories.

In the Talmud, (Massechet Sanhedrin 37a) we read that witnesses in Capital offense cases were lectured sternly before they would give their testimony. The speech of the Judges centered around the idea that every human being was important. One of the examples they would give was that when people create coins from a mold, they are all the same. But when God created us, even though modern science tells us that 99.9% of our DNA is the same, we are still individuals, with different tastes, likes and dislikes, opinions, abilities, and dispositions.

Even though we are all created from the same mold, none of us has a single story. May we, in this coming year, use our mental capacities to listen to multiple stories. May we reject the stories that limit our understanding of the variety and potential of people, that incite violence, that generalize and erase the humanity of others.

May we take an active role in pointing out when and where the story restrains our capacity to love and understand our fellow human beings. And may we rejoice in the multiplicity of stories that makes our world more interesting, richer, and peaceful.

Torah Dedication Remarks from Shavuot 5778 by Jerry Jacobs

The following remarks were presented by Jerry Jacobs at the Shavuot Torah Dedication on Sunday, May 20, 2018. 

Dear Friends:  On behalf of the entire Jacobs family, greetings on this first day of Shavuot. We are thankful to all of you for sharing this very special occasion with us. This year, Laura and I are celebrating 50 years of membership in this congregation. In that time, there have been only two Torah dedications at our shul, and the last one occurred some 40 years ago. We felt it was “chai” time to fulfill one of the shul’s longstanding needs by commissioning a newly scribed Torah to add to the Aron.

We honor today my mother’s father, Mayer Quain, Meir ben Simantov HaCohen, who died in 1944 when I was one year old. I never really knew my grandfather, but my mother told me many stories about him, and I will relate some of them today. He was “true” Sephardic—that is, of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry (my mother called that “true” Sephardic)—and was born in Bulgaria in 1883, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Mayer’s father was a Ko-hen, pronounced Quain in Ladino, hence his English name, Quain.

Mayer sailed to New York as an unaccompanied teenager around 1900 and became a successful business entrepreneur, culminating in his 1935 purchase of an exclusive boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan called the Hotel Elysee. The Hotel, still in business today, also had a well-known nightclub called The Monkey Bar, and remained in our family for 80 years.

Over the years, many celebrities stayed at or lived in the Hotel, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harold Robbins, and perhaps most famously, Tennessee Williams, only because he lived and died there.

My grandfather took the Kahuna priesthood seriously, and he was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Shriner, as were his two sons. Indeed, Mayer was a kind of Sephardic “godfather,” dispensing advice, loans, gifts, and even some jobs to his Sephardic friends, acquaintances, and relatives Monday mornings when they visited him at home — which he believed to be part of his priestly and Masonic responsibilities. Please do not stop by my house tomorrow: I am not a Cohen or a Mason, and it’s yom tov.  🙂

Mayer did not live to see his six grandchildren grow up or his great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend Jewish day schools.  But I know that he would be very proud to see the way they are continuing their Jewish heritage, as we have seen this morning. The donation of a Sefer Torah in his memory is part of our pay-back to him and pay-forward to future generations. The tribute to Mayer Quain, our patriarch, is richly deserved. When one passes, we traditionally say, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” With this new Torah, we pass this blessing on to the shul.

After services, you are invited to a Kiddush lunch in our downstairs Social Hall. It will feature several Sephardic food delicacies in honor of my grandfather. A very special thank-you to my dear wife Laura and to Sonya Okin who were the chief caterers for this event, and to all those who helped in the kitchen. Also, much appreciation to Edgar Rendon, Marni Corsaro, and Marcy Burka who worked so hard on the arrangements for this larger than usual gathering. Very special thanks too to Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce and their staffs for preparing the children who added so much to this event. Last, and most, we thank Rabbi Bass for helping to organize all that occurred today, for the beautiful Torah mantle and yad which adorn our new addition, and for her unending friendship and spiritual leadership.

I close with my grandfather’s farewell blessing:  “Saludozo y hechos buenos” — “May you have good health, good business, and successful good deeds.”