‘Guard’ and ‘Remember’ — At the Exact Same Time

Tomorrow at sundown, Jews around the world will welcome in the festival of Shavuot.  In addition to its being the Summer Harvest Festival, our tradition has always understood it to be the day upon which Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  As a result, we will read the Ten Commandments on Monday morning.

Those of you know something about the Bible may know that the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah – first in the Book of Exodus and then a second time in Moshe’s reminiscences in the Book of Deuteronomy.  Although the two versions of the Ten Commandments are very close to identical, there’s one significant difference that has caught the attention of more than one reader over the years.

In the 4th Commandment, the Exodus version says, “Zachor” – remember the Shabbat.  In the 4th Commandment, the Deuteronomy version says, “Shamor” – guard the Shabbat.

So, which is it?

In an ancient Midrash – a rabbinic legend – that we actually sing on Friday nights – but first appeared in the Talmud nearly 2,000 years ago, the rabbis tell us “Shamor v’Zachor b’dibbur echad – Guard and remember in a single utterance. ”

In the Tractate of Shevu’ot, page 20b we find the full text of this Midrash:

“’Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8),’ and: ‘Guard the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Deuteronomy 5:12),’ were spoken in one utterance, in a manner that the human mouth cannot say and that the human ear cannot hear.”

In other words, God miraculously said both words at the exact same time.  Some heard one and others heard the other.  It’s like that picture of a dress that went around the internet a few years ago.  Some people swore it was white and gold while others were certain it was black and blue.  There was no middle ground.

But, back to the Torah, is it possible that we can hear both things at the same time? 

Even though the Talmud seems to think that we can’t hear both things at the same time, according to the Midrash, God SAYS both things at the same time.  It seems to me that this Midrash is predicated on the idea that God had faith in us that we could, in fact, hear these two things at the same time.  And it’s this ability to hear two things at the same, to understand two things at the same time, to believe two separate things at the same that we need at this very moment as we think about the situation in Israel.

When it comes to a challenging situation like the Israeli Palestinian conflict, this ability to consider and hold two seemingly contradictory truths at the same time is called nuance.  The Webster dictionary defines nuance as: “sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings… of meaning, feeling, or value.”

So, for example, I can support Israel 1000% in her right to defend the citizens of Israel from rocket fire at the same that I believe that the Palestinians should have a free and economically viable state for themselves.

I can label Hamas as the terrorist organization that it is at the same time that I acknowledge that Israel has made some terrible mistakes over the years in its interactions with the Palestinians.

I can feel pain and sorrow for the Israeli parents huddled in bomb shelters with their children at the same time that I feel pain and sorrow for Palestinian parents trying to protect their children.

I can criticize the lawlessness of Hamas hiding military assets among civilians and firing rockets indiscriminately into Israeli population centers at the same time I criticize the lawless bands of Jewish thugs trying to beat up Israeli Arabs in Lod and Bat Yam and Jerusalem.

I can understand that Israel looks like a big bully compared to the Palestinians of the Gaza strip at the same that I see Hamas as a proxy for Iran and that there are 330 million people in the Islamic countries surrounding Israel with her 6 million Jews.

And I could go on.

There are many people on both sides of this dispute who will try to tell you how everything bad going on between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is the other side’s fault.  People who do that are only telling you one version on the assumption that you can only hear and comprehend that one version.  But, we human beings are better than that.  We can hear and understand both versions at the same time.

As horrible as I think Hamas and Islamic Jihad are, I can’t say it’s all their fault.  There are always two versions of the story.  Sadly, the version of the story that is being shared and heard more effectively right now is the Palestinian version of events.

For example, in a video that has been viewed millions of times around the world in a matter of a few days, Jews are seen dancing at the Western Wall on Monday.  In the background, you can see flames coming from the Dome of the Rock compound.  Of course, critics of Israel used this video to prove the callousness of the Jews at the Wall – who were apparently celebrating the Dome of the Rock being on fire.  That’s one version – and it’s a completely false narrative.

In truth, those Jews were dancing at the Wall because it was Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – the day upon which the IDF reunified Jerusalem in 1967.  From 1948 to 1967, Jews were not permitted to visit the Wall or pray there.  Perhaps, you’ve seen the famous photo of three Israeli soldiers gazing at the Wall that day – not sure if they had even liberated the correct wall – since they had never seen it before. Ever since, it has been a joyous celebratory day at the Wall. 

Those who were dancing close to the Wall would not have been able to see the flames on the other side of the Wall.  And as for those flames – some trees surrounding the Dome of the Rock caught on fire from fireworks set off inside the compound by Arab Muslims ostensibly there to worship.  Their intention was to disrupt the Yom Yerushalayim festivities at the Wall.  After all, they don’t view the outcome of the 1967 war in quite the same way that Israelis and Jews do.

So, there’s a complicated story in that video.  Yes, Yom Yerushalayim is a difficult day for the Arab residents of Jerusalem.  Yes, some Israelis have behaved badly on Yom Yerushalayim – trying to rub the noses of their Arab neighbors in that military victory.  But the Arabs in the Dome of the Rock compound were trying to disrupt a legitimate celebration at the Wall and when they started a fire on their own turf they tried to blame Israelis for it.

That video did a lot of damage to Israel’s reputation around the world.  And it’s up to people like us to call out those false narratives when we hear them and see them.  In part because we should call out lies and in part because when Israel feels cornered, her leaders inevitably turn to military solutions which can make the situation even worse.

We can help the world understand who and what Hamas is at the same time that we call on Israel to do better and to be better.  To be clear, I don’t think that Israel’s faults rise to the level of Hamas’s egregious crimes.  However, in the Jewish tradition, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.  The Torah calls upon us to be a “light unto the nations – ohr lagoyim.” 

As we read in our Prayer for Israel – on the one hand Israel is a nation like any other. On the other hand, though, Israelis – and Jews of the Diaspora – take great pride in Israel being the “start-up nation”, in Israel finding solutions to the water shortage of the Middle East, in Israel developing a world-class military, in Israel leading the world in COVID vaccination and in Israel being an island of liberal democracy in a sea of oppressive authoritarianism.

With that pride and with those accomplishments comes a responsibility to be better. 

I would never want to see Israel stop defending herself and her citizens.  But she can defend herself AND be a light unto the nations at the same time – just as our ancestors heard two things at the same time on Mt. Sinai – Shamor v’zachor be’dibbur echad – Guard our people and remember our responsibility, all in a single utterance.

Shabbat Shalom, RAF.

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A Whole New Calendar

Yesterday morning, my family and I were aroused from our sleep early when the home phone rang and our cell phones buzzed.  We received a recorded message from the school district that there was a water main break and the high school had no water. 

Under ordinary circumstances, the next sentence would have told us that classes were cancelled at the high school and a celebration would have ensued. After all, about ten years ago, here in Summit, a squirrel made its way into a transformer causing sparks and a total power outage at the high school.  All high school students were dismissed for the rest of the day.  Squirrel Day – as it came to be known – was a happy memory for the students who got a bonus day off.

However, these are not ordinary times.  So, yesterday’s message continued by telling us that classes would be held virtually rather than in-person.  There was no joy in Summit – students and teachers all logged in.

It’s amazing how our approach to the calendar has changed in such a short period of time.  In previous years, it would have been a lost day of instruction.  Depending on how many snow days there had been previously, we might have had to extend the school year by a day.  Thanks to COVID, though, our students were ready and able to “attend” class from their homes – most likely in their pajamas.  It’s a whole new way of doing things.

The Jewish calendar has also undergone changes as a result of historical events.  We are currently in the midst of a seven-week countdown between Passover and Shavuot.  These are both joyous occasions on the calendar.  On Passover, we commemorate our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt and on Shavuot, we remember their receiving the Torah.  In addition to the Biblical significance, this period represents the seven weeks during which all the grains are harvested in the Land of Israel – the land of milk and honey.  These are good things, deserving of joyous celebration.  One would expect that the seven weeks in between these two festivals would be celebratory in nature.  However, these seven weeks – known as the Omer period – are associated with customs of mourning. 

How did this happen?

In the 2nd Century of the Common Era, when Bar Kochba’s revolt was being quashed by the Roman legions, everything changed.   According to the Talmud, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples were killed during these seven weeks.  The Talmud actually records that they died of a plague, but modern scholars believe that it was part of the final battle against the Roman Empire.  The thirty-third day of the Omer, though, was different than all the others.  The killing and persecutions stopped for one day, which became a semi-holiday – Lag B’Omer (which starts tonight at sundown). 

Historical events transformed seven weeks of joy into seven weeks of mourning.  That’s approximately 15% of the entire year.  I guess losing a day off from school – whether due to a water main break or a squirrel – doesn’t seem so terrible in comparison.

Shalom, RAF.

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Come Back!

This past week, our local school district returned to in-person classes five days a week for half the day.  Afternoons are still virtual.  However, all students who wish to attend classes in their school buildings may do so.

Both of my daughters who were impacted by the decision said roughly the same thing.  They had lost their ability to focus on virtual classes (if they ever had it!) and they were happy to be spending less time trying to learn from a screen.

In other words, they both recognized an age-old truth.  There’s no replacement for simply being there. 

One of the major themes of the Book of Leviticus is the centralization of worship in the Tabernacle.  All offerings were to be brought to the Priests.  And yet, we see that there were still individuals who wanted to make their own offerings outside the Tabernacle.  This is not so different from our conversations today about organized religion versus individual spirituality.  

We know that, historically speaking, those in favor of centralization won out.  The Tabernacle was ultimately superseded by the Temple and all offerings were then brought to Jerusalem. 

Although the pull of individual spirituality remains strong, this past year has reminded us that there is no replacement for communal gathering, celebrating and – yes – worshiping.  We have found ways to creatively keep our community together through the use of technology or inviting members to drive through the parking lot to pick up a pre-holiday gift.  Yet, we know that something has been missing.

In the coming weeks, we are going to start returning to some in-person experiences at the synagogue (or on the synagogue grounds) just as the public schools have done.  It will take us some time to get everything right.  There will be some who will not be ready to return.  We will continue to include members of our community through technology.

Just like our ancestors in the Book of Leviticus, though, we will start regularly making the journey to our central place of worship – in this case, the synagogue.

Shalom, RAF.

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When the Plague Has Passed

So… what is our community going to look like when all this is over?  Will we simply go back to the way things were?  Or will we have to make changes as a result of this experience? 

No one knows for sure, but in this week’s Torah portion, we are given a way in which we can imagine how to go forward after a devastating plague.

Our Torah portion describes how our ancestors dealt with a house that had been struck by a disease called tzara’at.  For many years, this word was mistranslated as ‘leprosy.’  When a person got tzara’at, our ancestors were most likely talking about psoriasis.  In this case, when a house got tzara’at, it was most likely some kind of mold.

In Leviticus 14, the Torah describes how a Priest would come to the affected house, have it completely cleared out and have it stand empty for seven days.  At the conclusion of that week, the Priest would have all the walls scraped down – inside and out.  Then, the stones with signs of tzara’at would be removed and replaced. 

If the tzara’at did not return, then the house was “cured.”  If the tzara’at did return, then the house was condemned and knocked down. 

It seems to me as we begin the process of re-opening our community for in-person experiences after this horrible plague passes over, we will have to engage in an assessment like the Priest’s all those years ago.  We will have to assess what will stay and what has to go.  We will have to determine what new elements we will need to add in order to keep our community standing.

For example, when we went on lockdown over a year ago, we quickly turned to this program called “Zoom” that very few of us had ever heard of before COVID.  Who could have imagined that it would allow us to continue worshipping together the way that it has?  When we are able to be together again, it will be a new “stone” that will enable our community to stand strong.  We will continue to use technology to include people who cannot join us physically. 

Similarly, we will have to ask if there are things that we used to do that we don’t miss.  Since we went to Zoom services, we moved our start time from 9:30am to 10:00am on Saturday mornings while still finishing at about the same time.  I suspect that most people will NOT be interested in a return to 9:30am.  As a result, there might be some elements of the service that we change or shorten.

It’s going to be an interesting process.  However, I’m confident that after this period of standing empty, our synagogue is going to come back to life stronger than ever after this plague has passed.

Shalom, RAF.

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Opening Day!

It’s Opening Day!  And while the first day of a baseball season is ostensibly about the game, it’s about so much more. 

It’s about the sounds of the stadium – fans yelling, concessionaires hawking, bats smacking and gloves thumping.  It’s about the smells of the stadium – some of them delicious and some less so.  More than anything else, it’s about being with others who love the game and love the experience.

After playing in empty stadiums last season, Major League Baseball is allowing a limited number of fans to attend games this year.  It’s a return to some semblance of normal life.

As we begin to contemplate a return to in-person services in the coming months, it’s not really the service that I miss.  After all, we have done a reasonable job of replicating our service on-line.  We share the music and the words.  We learn together as we would if we were in the same physical space.

It’s those other parts of the experience that I miss the most.

While a Shabbat morning service is ostensibly about the worship, it’s about so much more.  It’s about the hum of people praying at the same time but not exactly in unison.  It’s about the smell of coffee brewing that will be ready just in time for Kiddush.  More than anything else, it’s about being with others who value our tradition and seek to preserve it.  In other words, it’s about community.

This Shabbat morning – which coincides with the seventh day of Passover – we will recite Moses’ Song of the Sea and Miriam’s Song as well.  After the Israelites were pinned between the Red Sea and the approaching Egyptian army, they were shown an unexpected escape route.  Both songs express joy after being delivered from great danger to safety.  I look forward to singing our song of joy as well.  It will be a song celebrating our transition from lockdown and isolation to gathering and community.  And it will be sung in person – with the sights and sounds and smells that go along with our tradition.

We have not crossed our Red Sea yet, but it sure feels like we’re getting closer.

Enjoy the last few days of Passover AND Opening Day!

Shalom, RAF.

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Little By Little

Crossing the Red Sea just isn’t as easy as it used to be in the good ol’ days! 

I imagine that I am not the only one who noticed the strange coincidence of a huge cargo ship called the Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal in the days leading up to Passover.  The Suez Canal handles over 10% of the world’s shipping traffic.  Avoiding the Suez Canal while it’s closed will add approximately two weeks to a ship’s journey.  In addition, approximately 150 ships are stuck in line behind the Ever Given.  What a mess!

In the Book of Exodus, it took a miracle to get the Israelites across the Red Sea.  Today, it will take a fleet of tugboats, dredgers and diggers – and possibly a miracle too! – to free the Ever Given from its current location and re-open the canal.

In truth, the Biblical narrative tells us that we shouldn’t rely on miracles – neither in Moses’ time nor in ours.

When the Israelites seemed to be stuck on the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army approaching, the newly-freed ex-slaves complained to Moses.  Moses, in turn, appealed to God.  God’s response was, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward (Exodus 14:15).”

In his commentary on this verse, Avraham ibn Ezra – a 12th century rabbi and biblical scholar – said that God was telling the Israelites to move forward “little by little” toward the sea and then God would help them across.  If the people did not do their part, however, God would not act either.  It would take a combination of human and divine effort to deliver the Israelites to the other side of the sea.

As we prepare to celebrate our second consecutive Passover under pandemic-related restrictions, I think we appreciate the Israelites’ situation more than we might have a few years ago.  We all thought that we’d be free by now.  We did not expect the chariots or the virus to still be chasing us after all this time.  However, if we want to get to the other side, we’re going to have to continue to take small steps and be patient. 

We can’t go back.  We can’t be complacent.  We must go forward little by little.

The Passover Seder ends with the prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  These words reflect the eternal optimism of our people.  No matter what the previous year brought and no matter what the current condition may be, we look forward to a better day.  This year is no different.  We, too, can cross the Red Sea of our generation and find freedom on the other side.  We have reason to hope that this coming year will be better than the last.  We just have to stay vigilant in our efforts to slow the spread of the disease while we wait for the modern medical miracle of vaccination to do the rest.

Jodi and the kids join me in wishing you a Happy Passover.  Next year in…… person!



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Leading a Seder for the First Time??

Cantor Janet Roth and I prepared these videos for anyone who might need a little help preparing to lead a Seder or to use these during your Seder. Parts 1-3 go before the meal and Part 4 goes after the meal. Good luck!!

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

Click here for Part 4a – 

Click here for Part 4b (Don’t ask!)

Happy Passover!!

Shalom, RAF.

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COVID-19, Jews & Asians

My sermon from this past Shabbat….

Almost exactly one year ago to the day on March 28, 2020, our congregation had its first ever Zoom Bat Mitzvah.  We read the very same Torah portion – Vayikra – that we have read this morning.  I don’t think anyone could have predicted then that we’d still be doing Bar & Bat Mitzvahs on Zoom one year later.  But here we are.

Almost immediately after we all went on lockdown a year ago, we began to see a rise in antisemitic conspiracy theories connected to COVID-19: “It was a Jewish hoax created to increase Jewish influence.”  “It was a biological weapon developed by the Israeli military.”  “Jews were going to profit from treatments and vaccines.”  And so on.

On the one hand, it was a new form of antisemitism.  On the other hand, it was an extremely old form of antisemitism.  We had seen this one before. Back in the 14th century as Bubonic Plague spread across Europe, killing 10’s of millions of people, guess who got the blame?  If you guessed the Jews, you get credit for a correct answer.  Hundreds of Jewish communities were simply wiped out, destroyed in a warped attempt to eradicate the disease.

It got so bad that Pope Clement VI had to issue a Papal Bull (Decree) in 1348 to try to stop the violence against Jews.  He wrote:  “It cannot be true that the Jews, by such a heinous crime, are the cause or occasion of the plague, because through many parts of the world the same plague, by the hidden judgment of God, has afflicted and afflicts the Jews themselves and many other races who have never lived alongside them.”

But, of course, facts don’t always work as an antidote to hate.

So, here we are, starting our second year of this global pandemic.  And while the conspiracy theories about Jews and COVID seemed to have subsided (now we only have to worry about space lasers!), we can’t exactly relax.  We can’t relax because that hate has simply been redirected and another group seems to have taken our place – namely Asian Americans.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has been referred to as the China Virus, the Chinese Virus or the Kung Flu.  It is no small coincidence, therefore, that hate incidents against Asian Americans have skyrocketed.  And, of course, this past week, a shooter targeted three Asian-owned businesses, murdering six Asian American women and two other individuals in a horrific crime spree.

While all good, kind and moral people should share in the grief and anger over this shooting, it seems to me that the lived experience of the Jewish community gives us a unique perspective.  After all, it was only a little over two years ago that a synagogue was targeted by a shooter in Pittsburgh.  And it was just over a year since a shooter targeted a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City.

More than that, though, we’ll surely hear people say that the Asian-American community has experienced great academic success and great economic success.  So, they can’t truly be the victims of racism.  And this echoes the argument that Jews have had too much success in this country to be considered victims of antisemitism.  In both instances, the argument holds no water.

There’s an old truism in the relationship between Jewish Americans and African Americans.  A rise in racism is bad news for the Jews.  And a rise in antisemitism is bad news for African Americans.  The two types of hate are inextricably linked.  People who hate others  because of how they look are likely to also hate others because of how they pray.  And vice-versa.

It’s now past time that we include our Asian-American brothers and sisters into that calculation.  This rise in hate incidents against one minority group is an expression of hate against all minority groups.

That is why Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL tweeted:  “We grieve with and support the millions in the AAPI community across the US who feel targeted.”  That’s why David Harris, CEO of the AJC tweeted: “As hate crimes targeting Asian Americans continue to rise, this Jew won’t be silent.  Silence is never the answer.”  It all goes back to arguably the best known verse in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 19:16)– “Lo Ta’amod al Dam Reyacha – Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

Perhaps inspired by those five words in the Torah, Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before MLK delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and he said:  “The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence…. America must not become a nation of onlookers.  America must not remain silent.”

The failure to speak out and the failure to act are tacit support for the status quo.  Jews cannot be silent when other minorities are targeted for hate.

And in this case, we have must also acknowledge our special relationship with the  Asian American community.  According to the Chinese calendar, it is the year 4719.  According to the Jewish calendar, it is the year 5781.  According to an old joke, it’s a miracle that the Jewish people didn’t starve during those 1,000+ years without Chinese food!

The flip side of that joke is the photo that makes its way across the internet every December.  It’s the photograph of a sign that allegedly was hung outside a Chinese restaurant saying that the Chinese Restaurant Association of America (an organization that does not exist) thanks the Jewish people for dining with them on Christmas.  And then it says, “We do not completely understand your dietary customs but we are proud and grateful that your God insists you eat our food on Christmas.” (See image below)

Hidden in these jokes and urban legends is the fact that our two communities know and appreciate one another.  It’s not a coincidence that most American Jews consider Chinese food another form of Jewish cuisine.

A number of historians including Jonathan Sarna have noted that Chinese restaurants were the first non-Jewish establishments frequented by Jewish immigrants to this country.  It was likely because Chinese Americans were also subject to prejudice and bias in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  So, Jews felt safe and welcome in their restaurants. And the sense of comfort eventually extended to other Asian cuisines as well.  Now, over 100 years later, Jewish children are much more likely to be familiar with wontons and sushi than they are with kreplach and gefilte fish.

We Jews know how tiring it is to fight antisemitism on our own.  We know how much we appreciate it when other groups speak up on our behalf in the face of hatred.  Now we must do the same for the Asian American community.  We cannot remain silent.

Shalom, RAF

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Sharing Some Peace

So, I must confess that I spend too much time on social media.  As such, if I still adhered to the system of sacrifices to which we are introduced in this week’s Torah portion, I would have to bring a Chattat or Sin Offering to the Tabernacle to seek God’s forgiveness.  It was pretty straightforward.  Of the five types of sacrifices listed in Leviticus, four of them are pretty easy to understand.

Two of them – the Olah and the Minchah – were daily offerings of thanksgiving.  Two of them – the Chattat and the Asham – had to do with asking for forgiveness.  The fifth one – called Sh’lamim – was different.  Those who know a little Hebrew might recognize the word Shalom and hear the same consonantal sounds in Sh’lamimShalom means peace and the Sh’lamim is often translated as the Peace Offering or the Goodwill Offering.

Here’s how it worked: an individual could invite some friends to join him for a meal.  An animal would be slaughtered.  A portion would go to God, a portion would go to the Priests and the rest would be shared by all those invited.  It was a meal of companionship and peace.  One person was sharing his blessings with others.

After the age of sacrifices came to a close, we developed the practice of exchanging peace through words.  The traditional Jewish greeting upon meeting someone or seeing someone for the first time in a while is: “Shalom aleichem – Peace unto you.”  Our Christian neighbors have preserved this concept in their liturgy with the Exchange of Peace or Sharing of Peace.

But why did the Torah include this Peace Offering along with the offerings of thanksgiving and repentance?  I suspect it has something to do with our human nature.  If we just go about the business of taking care of our families and worrying about our own actions, we might forget to reach out to our fellow human beings in peace and companionship.  We might forget that we are inextricably linked to one another in God’s eyes.  So, the Bible reminds us that part of the responsibility of living on God’s earth is to reach out to our neighbors in peace.

And as I’ve spent too much time on social media recently, I must confess that I’ve witnessed a disturbing online “discussion” in my community, ostensibly about gas-powered leaf blowers.  Our city council is considering a trial period during which gas-powered leaf blowers will be banned.  After that trial period, there will be an evaluation as to whether there were improvements in noise and air pollution as a result of the ban.  It will also give members of the community the opportunity to assess any financial impact on residents or businesses that currently use gas-powered leaf blowers.

Maybe it’s a great idea.  Maybe it’s a terrible idea.  Maybe there’s tremendous support for the proposal.  Maybe there’s incredible opposition to it.  Just maybe, ALL of those things are true at the same time.  After all, any proposal has upsides and downsides.  Any idea will have proponents and opponents.

It’s certainly an idea that deserves to be considered and debated on its merits and faults.  Unfortunately, that is NOT what is happening on social media (Surprise!!).  Instead, I see my neighbors insulting one another as well as demeaning the volunteers who serve our community in leadership roles.  Just last week, in the same online group, a young man with some challenges posted about wanting to see school buses and a clock tower in our town. Someone suggested that he move to another town.

People seem to think that offering snarkiest comeback or posting the most total comments will somehow win the argument.  And while I can, at times, be a big fan of both sarcasm and words, that’s not the way to make a decision in a community.  It seems as though a year of living apart, a year of interacting from our little boxes on a screen, a year of missing out on communal life has greatly impacted our ability to share the peace with one another. 

While I have no desire to return to the sacrificial system of Leviticus, I sure wish it were easier for us to sit together – perhaps over a meal – to reach out to one another in peace and companionship.  And then, we could have a civil conversation on any topic – even one as contentious as gas-powered leaf blowers!

Shalom, RAF.

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Be Strong!

We’re coming to the end of Exodus, but for some reason, my mind jumped back to the middle of Genesis.  Maybe, it’s because every day has seemed the same for the past year.  Yes, it’s really been a year since we went on lockdown. 

Anyway, my mind jumped to the story of the three angels visiting Abraham and Sarah.  They made a promise to Sarah on God’s behalf.  Through one of the angels, God said, “I will return to you ka’et chayah – כָּעֵת חַיָּה,” which is typically translated as “next year” or “in a year’s time.”  But, it literally means “the time of life,” or the “the time of living.”  Sarah would have to wait a year to realize her dream of becoming a mother.  I’m sure it felt like a lifetime to her.  I think we can all relate to the idea of a year that felt longer than 12 months or 365 days.  We’ve all just lived through one.

I further suspect that I’m not the only one who has revisited Jonathan Larson’s song “Seasons of Love,” in which he taught us all that there are actually 525,600 minutes in a year.  That song reminds us that even in difficult times – he wrote his masterpiece “Rent” during the AIDS epidemic – there are special moments if we are able to pause and appreciate them. 

Needless to say, this lockdown life has been challenging for individuals and families.  It has certainly turned the synagogue world upside down.  And yet, there have also been some special and memorable moments.  Perhaps, we’ve learned some new board games, watched some TV shows that we missed the first time around, taken up a new hobby or just spent some time with those few important people in our bubbles.  But, as we like to say on Passover, “Dayeinu – דיינו, it’s enough!”

Now that vaccine manufacturing is ramping up and better weather is arriving, it’s hard not to be optimistic.  It’s actually possible to see that better days are approaching.

As I mentioned earlier, Jews around the world are completing the Book of Exodus this week.  When we get to the end of a Book of the Torah, we add three words to the text – “chazak chazak v’nitchazek – חזק חזק ונתחזק,” which mean “be strong, be strong and let us strengthen one another.”  Then  – hopefully! – we get to start the very next book instead of reliving the last one.  Well, we’ve all grown stronger over the last 525,600 minutes, the time of life.  I think it’s time to turn the page and start the next book.  We’re almost there!

Shalom, RAF.

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