2019 Artist Expo & Bake Sale Recap

The CEH building came to life on Sun, Nov 10, with artists, shoppers, face painting and a bake sale piled high with goodies.

A huge thank-you goes to the many, many volunteers who made this event possible. Whether they baked, helped with set-up or advertising, made vendor lunches, welcomed and directed customers, staffed the bake sale, ran errands for the vendors on Sunday, took photos for our website or worked on clean-up crew, these people brought the event to life, in alphabetical order.

Chris Kagy
CJ Burka
Courtney Schwartz
Danielle Tannenbaum-Pasch
Debbie Ainspan
Edgar Rendon
Elisa Rosman
Eva Kleederman
Harris Lechtman
Jacob Coleman
Jane Baldinger
Jeanne Briskin
Jill Clark
Jonathan Golner
Jordan Fried
Laura Hill
Laura Naide
Leslie Sorkowitz
Linda Sparke
Marcy Burka
Marina Grayson
Mike Stein
Mimi Youkeles
Nancy Bondy
Patricia Citro
Rabbi Lia Bass
Rachel Waldstein Kagy
Roberta Wasserman
Scott Burka

Come join us for the next Adult Education session: What the Hell? Jewish Belief in the Afterlife on Sunday, November 24 at 10:15am.

“Justice for All? Ethics from Our Bible,” presented by the Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies Recap

On Tuesday, November 5, the Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies presented a lecture entitled “Justice for All? Ethics From Our Bible,” at Congregation Etz Hayim. The speaker was Professor Jeremiah Unterman who is a Resident Scholar at the Herzl Institute – Machon Herzl. Approximately 35 people attended.

Professor Unterman discussed how the ethics of the Jewish Bible represent a significant moral advance over other Ancient Near East cultures. He spoke about how the Bible’s unique conception of ethical monotheism and innovative understanding of covenantal law form the foundation of many Western civilization ideals. He compared secular legal codes (e.g., the Code of Hammurabi) with the ethical underpinnings of Jewish jurisprudence. He summarized his presentation by connecting the biblical texts to the persistent themes of our times: immigration policy, care for the less privileged, and attaining hope for the future despite destruction and exile. A recording of Professor Unterman’s presentation will be available at http://podcast.habermaninstitute.org/

The Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies provides adults with high quality in-depth encounters with Jewish thought, history, and culture. Congregation Etz Hayim is proud to partner with the Institute to bring this learning to our community and hopes to continue the partnership in coming years.

If you enjoyed this event, please attend an upcoming CEH Adult Education class. The next class is Sunday, November 24 from 10:15 AM – 11:45 AM. Rabbi Bass will teach a class entitled: “What the Hell? Jewish Belief in the Afterlife.”

CEH Social Action Event – Refugee and Immigrant Crisis: The Jewish Response

On Sunday, November 3, Congregation Etz Hayim’s Social Action Committee hosted a panel of representatives from local chapters of four non-profit organizations working to mitigate the practical and legal hardships that refugees, asylees and other immigrants face in our community. The representatives provided an historical perspective on U.S. immigration policy, an alert about recent executive action allowing states to ban refugees, and an explanation of the particular issues presented by unaccompanied youth and alien (“honorary”) veterans of the U.S. armed services. Importantly, they outlined the mission and activities of their individual organizations, including the many ways that volunteers can serve as force multipliers in rendering assistance to immigrants (e.g., accompanying subjects to ICE check-ins, providing information on legal rights, political advocacy, material support). After the formal remarks, there was a lively Q&A, which elicited additional substantive information from the expert presenters.

Participant organizations included:

Congregation Action Network/Faith in Action, whose member congregations in the DC/MD/VA region provide support and practical assistance to neighbors, friends, and family who fear being detained, deported or profiled. (Mary Lareau, Northern Virginia Cluster Leader, https://www.congregationactionnetwork.org/).

CASA In Action, the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights. (Miguel Carpizo-Ituarte, Virginia Lead Organizer, https://www.casainaction.org/).

Just Neighbors, which provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia (Erin McKenney, Executive Director, https://www.justneighbors.org/).

Lutheran Social Services, which resettles displaced refugees and provides them wellness and health education and other practical services. (Dana Lea, Director of Community Outreach, https://www.lssnca.org/).

In addition to hosting the formal panel, CEH opened the event to representatives from other immigration advocacy groups to bring their organizations’ materials and speak individually with audience members after the formal portion of the program. Staff from The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Sanctuary DMV set up information tables and fielded questions from attendees, many of whom added themselves to mailing and volunteer lists. This CEH event provided a forum for engaged and compassionate congregants of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community and other faith groups to learn about and take action on behalf of immigrants in crisis, honoring the religious and ethical dictate to “welcome the stranger.”

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Ian Alcorn

What is your full name?
Ian Robert Alcorn

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
November 23, 2018

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Preschool to present. Favorite subject: Jewish History

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Hayeii Sarah

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
My sisters: Jenna and Dalia

What school do you attend? What is your favorite subject?
Kenmore Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Drawing, soccer, martial arts (I am a black belt in mixed martial arts), dance.

What accomplishments are you proud of?
Black belt in mixed martial arts!

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is an important coming of age event and is a way of maturing as a person.

B’nai Mitzvah Profile: Matthew Herzfeld

What is your full name?
Matthew Fogarty Herzfeld

Where were you born?
Arlington, VA

What is the date of your Bar Mitzvah?
October 26, 2019

How long have you been in our Religious School? What is your favorite subject?
Etz Hayim preschool & religious school since Kindergarten. Favorite subject – history

What Haftarah will you be chanting?
Isaiah – Haftorah B’reisheet

Has anyone else in your family become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here?
No

What school do you attend?
Williamsburg Middle School

What are your hobbies or extra-curricular activities?
Baseball, hockey, basketball, piano, ultimate frisbee

What accomplishments are you proud of? Preparing and getting through Bar Mitzvah. Making the Arlington Senators travel baseball team. Piano spring festivals.

Please write a thoughtful statement about what becoming a Bar Mitzvah means to you.
It means I will feel more like an adult. I will be viewed as an adult in the Jewish community and expect myself to act more like an adult.

The Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival (NVJFF) is coming to Arlington!

The JCC’s Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival will take place from Thursday, November 7 to Sunday, November 17. CEH will be sponsoring a screening of The Keeper at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse on Wednesday, November 13 at 7:30 p.m.. Members can purchase tickets with the discount code below.

The Keeper
Wednesday, November 13, 7:30pm · Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
Marcus H. Rosenmüller | Drama | U.K. | English, German | 113 min
The fascinating true story of forgiveness about Bert Trautmann, a WWII German soldier and prisoner-of-war, who, against a backdrop of British post-war protest and prejudice, becomes a footballing icon by securing the position of Goalkeeper for Manchester City. His signing causes outrage but Bert receives support from an unexpected direction: Rabbi Alexander Altmann, who fled the Nazis. Bert’s love for Margaret, an Englishwoman, carries him through. His winning career includes years of devoted performance on the field including playing with a broken neck in the 1956 FA Cup Final. Fate soon twists the knife for Bert and Margaret, when their love and loyalty to each other are put to the ultimate test. The film features Downton Abbey’s John Henshaw and Harry Melling, who played Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series. Can you spot them?

To purchase discounted tickets, go to the Jewish Film Festival website and click “buy tickets” for The Keeper.
Click “Enter a Password or Discount Code” in the “Get Tickets” section
· A space to type your code will appear; Type Etz Hayim there. This is a case-sensitive code.
· Click “Show Available Tickets.” The group rate will appear in yellow above the general ticket price.
· Select the number of tickets
· Click “Add to Cart” and follow the prompts to check out

It takes a village by Scott Burka

Usually when we hear this, we think of child rearing, but this phrase hit home with me this past week of October 14th. There was too much sadness.

First, the owner of the storefront where CEH began passed away. Then we lost the only male congregant to ever be awarded honorary membership in the Sisterhood for being such a mensch, and then the mother of a board member.

Yes, it’s all part of life and we will all face sadness at some point in our lives. But this article is not about sadness. It’s about all the positive I saw around that sadness.

I saw the Rabbi, exhausted from Yom Kippur, console a family and conduct a funeral the day after Yom Kippur.

I saw a large group of congregants come together to honor and remember our congregant even when the family did not feel connected to CEH. We remembered how he always had a smart-aleck or snarky response, we joked about his always talking during services, and I cried when I looked down at the tie I was wearing that day and recalled him always giving me a hard time if I even put a tie on.

I saw a Board member leave one funeral to make arrangements for another and still take time to acknowledge an email from me and send regrets for not making the board meeting. I saw several of her friends drive all the way to Newport News to stand in solidarity.

Etz Hayim is its own village and, as villagers, I am awed at how we always come together in both good times and bad.

L’chaim.

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.