Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Questions for the New Year

 

From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:



A Message From Our President


Dr. Lance Strate








Questions for the New Year



For students, teachers, and parents, September signals the start of a new school year. And for Jews all around the world, it is a reminder that our New Year is right around the corner (although this year a bit further down the bend than usual).

It's a busy time of year, the end of summer, the beginning of autumn, but then again, maybe it seems like we're busy all year around? That every day of the week is filled with activities? That we fill every moment of every day with some obligation or entertainment or distraction?

Do you feel saturated? Do you think you may be over-stimulated? And importantly, are you satisfied?

Do you allow yourself much time to let your mind wander? To daydream? To get lost in your thoughts? To just be alone with yourself? To meditate? And yes, to pray?

Do you find time to spend with others, with family, friends, community, without an agenda, without pressure to get something done or get somewhere on time, open-ended time just to relate to one another, engage in real conversation, heart to heart, or join together with others in ways that take you out of your routines and expectations?

What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is it that you really would like to accomplish? In the short term and the long term? Are you doing what you need to do to reach those goals? Or have you maybe attained them already, and just keep going anyway? What are your priorities? What should they be? What is it that really matters, in the end?

What is the legacy that you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered, by family, friends, and your community?

What does being Jewish mean to you? What did it mean to the generations that came before you? What will it mean to your children, and the generations to come? What would you want them to know and learn about our tradition? What kind of example are you setting for them?

What does Congregation Adas Emuno mean to you? What role does it play in your life? What role should it play in your life? What can you do to make more room in your life for all that our congregation has to offer, for spiritual communion, education, and social action?

How can we join together to make things better, for our congregation, our community, our world?

The answers to these questions will undoubtedly vary from one person to another. And they will also change over time. But what is most important is to ask the questions in the first place. Asking questions, what could be more Jewish than that?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“Don’t Know Much About History”

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:





From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz
    






"DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY"





Those are the opening words, of course, of the classic Sam Cooke song “Wonderful World”.





Cooke was writing a love song, and it’s a great one at that. In a love song, history is not so important. In a love song, one can crow about not knowing much else. Ignorance of the past is almost a badge of honor.

But in real life, history matters. Ignorance is not bliss. As George Santayana said famously, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Torah is preoccupied with remembering history. Judaism certainly subscribes to the notion that to know where you are going you need to know where you have been. And not only are we commanded to know our history, but we are likewise directed to teach it to our children.

This year we will be devoting our Shabbat morning Torah study to history. Not ancient history, but the modern Jewish experience that has shaped who we are. Our year­long subject is entitled The History of Reform Judaism. We’ll begin with an introduction that looks at the profound impact of Spinoza,
Baruch Spinoza
Mendelssohn, and the French Revolution
Moses Mendelssohn
on the Jewish community. From there we will look at the fascinating rise of Reform Judaism in 19th century Germany. The second half of the year will chart the growth of Reform Judaism here in the United States.


What do we believe, and why? What events have shaped our community? What does it really mean to say we are American Reform Jews? I invite you to learn with me and with your fellow congregants and wrestle with these questions each Shabbat morning (10:00­-11:30 AM) beginning on Sept.10.

A number of special sessions (including a four session history of the Holocaust by a guest scholar) will take place, so a full schedule will be posted on our website.


Don’t know much about history? Here’s your chance to do something about it!

With warm wishes for a wonderful and knowledgeable New Year,

    Rabbi Barry Schwartz

 

Friday, September 9, 2016

September Social Action Update

From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:


 

A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson




 



Hello to All!

I would like to begin this "end of summer" column by sincerely thanking everyone who donated food for our "children friendly" food drive this summer. Two deliveries were made to the Center for Food Action in Englewood and judging by the many empty spaces on the shelves, donations were quickly put to good use! As in the past, we will be handing out grocery bags after Rosh Hashanah services with a list of items needed most by CFNA, to be delivered through the end of October.

And again from the Center for Food Action... they are sponsoring a program on September 11 (National Day of Service and Remembrance) where volunteers will pack weekend snack bags for children of low income families. This project is open to everyone; no age limitations. Please check the email you received from this congregation on July 31st. Or visit www.cfanj.org to register, and please indicate that you are with Congregation Adas Emuno!

Thinking ahead, acting now... Adas Emuno will once again cook/serve dinner at the shelter in Hackensack on Sunday, October 30th. Since this date comes just days after the Jewish holidays, preparations have already begun. The menu will be made up of meat loaf, mixed vegetables and potatoes. We begin setting up at 4:00 PM, then serve and clean up by 6:30. We can use lots of cooks, as we have been told to expect 150 people. If at all possible, please let me know if you will serve &/or cook by Monday, SEPTEMBER 26TH. Anyone 14 and over can serve. Please use the email at the end of this column. Many thanks!

A grape juice/challah delivery program will soon begin. Members who are home­bound will receive juice and challah for Shabbat, once a month.

In conjunction with the Religious School, we will be collecting school supplies from September 25th through October 25th for Mitzvah Day. Donations can be brought to the school or placed in the box at the back of the Social Hall. We will deliver them in time for Mitzvah Day, which is November 6th.

Stay tuned for some new, as well as some not so new, social action programs which have been planned for the coming months! And feel free to join us at our next meeting on Thursday, September 22nd at 7:30 PM.

Shalom,


Annette
Social Action Committee Chairperson

acheryl21 at gmail.com


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Beginning of School Year Notes

From the pages of Kadima, the Newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

Religious School News 

     from

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director


At family services and bnei mitzvah ceremonies we sing, “Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omed: al haTorah, v’al ha’Avodah, v’al Gemilut Hasadim”–“The world stands on three things: Torah (learning), service (prayer), and acts of kindness.”

These three pillars of Jewish tradition represent our themes for the school year.

Learning: We strive to cultivate the mind through interactive learning, artistic expression, questioning, and discussion as students engage with learning about bible, history, holidays, traditions and more.

Prayer: Students learn to read, recite, chant and sing prayers in English and Hebrew, as they explore the ways in which prayer expresses our ancestors’ and our own deepest feelings and heartfelt gratitude.

Acts of Kindness: Along with learning to think and feel Jewishly, we also strive to “do Jewish” by cultivating a commitment to tikun olam–repairing the world
as students are encouraged to become more aware of how they can incorporate the values of kindness, fairness and compassion into their daily lives.

As we begin a new religious school year, I hope that we can inspire in our students an ever-growing spark of connection with Jewish tradition, which can continue throughout their lives.

Shana Tova! May we be blessed for a sweet new school year!

 

DATES TO REMEMBER:

Thursday, September 8
7:30 PM School Committee Meeting

Sunday, September 11
9:00 AM First Day for Kindergarten through Grade 7
Parent program from 9-10:30


Sunday, September 18
First day of Confirmation Class

 
Friday, September 23
7:30PM Shabbat Family “Back-to- School” Service with make-your-own ice cream sundae oneg!

Sunday, October 2
No School in Session

Monday, October 3
2:00 PM Family/Children’s Service for Rosh Hashanah

Wednesday, October 12
2:00 PM Family/Children’s Service for Yom Kippur


Thursday, October 13 
7:30 PM School Committee Meeting

Friday, October 14
7:30 PM Shabbat Family service with 7th Grade Class participation–all school students & families welcome!

Saturday, October 15
10:00 AM Bar Mitzvah of Hudson Borelli

Celebrate Sukkot & Simchat Torah!

Friday, October 21
7:30 PM Shabbat Service & Sing-Along in the Sukkah

Sunday, October 23
*Pre-K Sukkot program with the “big kids” (K-1)!
*School wide Sukkot program
*6:00 PM “Subs in the Sukkah”
*7:00 PM Erev Simchat Torah Service & Consecration of new Religious School students



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Parsha Balak: What Matters

At the request of our congregants, we are reposting Adas Emuno President Lance Strate's D'Var Torah from this past Friday night, July 22nd, on Parsha Balak:

A little over four years ago, on July 4th, 2012, physicists working at the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Switzerland announced that they discovered the subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. This particle is also known by its nickname, the God particle. You may recall that atoms are composed of particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons, and you my also know that there are a number of other subatomic particles apart from those three. Most of these particles have mass, and mass is what distinguishes matter from energy. Protons and neutrons have mass, for example, electrons have just a little bit of mass, but photons have no mass whatsoever. Photons, as you may know, are the particles that form the basis of light, along with every other form of electromagnetic radiation. They are pure energy. 

So, some particles have mass, and some do not, and the question is, how do particles such as protons and neutrons gain their mass? Which is to say, how is it that matter comes into existence? The theoretical answer, put forth by the British physicist Peter Higgs in 1964, is "that particles gain mass by interacting with a medium, or Higgs field, that exists everywhere in space and is made up of unseen particles called bosons." The Higgs boson is called the "God particle" "because it is believed to have originated during the Big Bang and helped shape the subatomic particles that make up all matter in the universe."

And what does this mean for us, as we join together to observe Shabbat? The Fourth Commandment tells us to remember and keep the Sabbath because God labored for six days to create the world, and on the seventh day God rested, and blessed and hallowed the Sabbath day. Shabbat is a celebration of Creation.  As Reform Jews, we are not asked to be creationists, and accept the story of Genesis literally. But Shabbat gives us the opportunity to stop for a moment, and reflect on the grandeur and enormity of our universe, to regard with awe the marvelous and miraculous nature of existence, and to be grateful for our beautiful blue planet earth, the precious and sacred quality of our lives, however fleeting they may be, and the great gift that, just as the universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang, so too has our knowledge and understanding been expanding over the course of human history.

The discovery of the God particle was announced on our American Independence Day. The founders of the United States were products of what we sometimes call the Age of Reason, or the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual movement that began in the mid-17th century, and originated with the writings of the English philosopher, John Locke, and the Jewish philosopher from Holland, Baruch Spinoza. 

The English physicist Isaac Newton was also an important influence on the Enlightenment early on, and later on, one of the founders of the American republic, Benjamin Franklin, was himself a scientist, and made major discoveries concerning electricity. He didn't know that electricity was created by a flow of subatomic particles when he flew his kite in a thunderstorm and caught lightning in a bottle. But that glowing key in a bottle was an important step on the way to understanding the relationship between electrons and photons.

The founders of our nation believed in the power of reason, and the United States of America was the first country ever to be argued into existence. The basis of the rational argument that underlies our separation from England is made abundantly clear in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

In the story of Genesis, the Creator begins the labor of Creation by saying, Let there be light! God calls the world into being, and the world is created by God's word. On July 4th, 1776, our founders created a new nation through words, through a Declaration of Independence. They declared that we all have the freedom to choose our own government, and the freedom to pursue our own dreams. They declared that all people have a right to be free from oppression and persecution, and also to be free to engage in our own acts of creation. In the same way, on the Sabbath, we are given the freedom from labor, but also the freedom to reflect, meditate, contemplate, to pray, commune, and communicate.

The founders of the United States took inspiration from a variety of ancient sources, including our own Holy Scriptures. The story of Exodus is the story of how a diverse population of former slaves, divided among 12 tribes, became one nation, under God. If Moses telling Pharaoh to let my people go was our declaration of independence, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai was our constitution, the laws and commandments that bound us together as one. The rule of Law, of Torah, would apply to everyone, even prophets, priests, and kings, establishing the principles of equality and justice, as unalienable rights. The Haftarah reading for this week, from the prophet Micah, concludes with one of the most memorable statements in the Bible, one that inspired the founders of this nation, and serves as the foundation of our faith: "What does the LORD require of you, only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

This week's Torah portion includes the story of Balaam, who is a prophet of God, but not Jewish, not one of the children of Israel. He's not even a friend to our people.  And this is important because in our religion, we do not believe that ours is the only pathway to God.  Each individual can relate to God in his or her own way, but mostly God deals with groups of peoples, with families, with communities, with peoples.  In this way, we take responsibility for each other, for creating a just and merciful way of life.

The story relates how the king of Moab does not want to give the Israelites safe passage through his kingdom as they make their way to the promised land, and summons the prophet Balaam to come and put a curse upon the Israelites.  This leads to a comic episode in the Book of Numbers where God causes a donkey to talk.  

Balaam was riding on his donkey to Moab, responding to the king's summons, even though God told him not to, so God sends an angel to block their way. The angel is invisible to the Balaam, but visible to the donkey, so the donkey keeps stopping, and Balaam beats the donkey repeatedly in an effort to make the donkey continue on their way.  Finally, the donkey says to Balaam, "What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?" And Balaam responds, "For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."
 And the donkey then says, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?" Balaam concedes the point, and at this moment the angel is made visible to him, and Balaam begs God's forgiveness and offers to turn back. The angel tells him to continue on to Moab, saying, "but the word I will speak to you, that you shall speak."

Certainly, there is an important message here about cruelty to animals, and the Torah does include some significant passages that serve as a foundation for animal rights.

After he arrives in Moab, there are three episodes where Balaam is ordered to curse the Israelites, but instead is directed by God to bless them instead. The first time around, he says, "How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered? For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations." Israel has a unique destiny, and it stands alone, independent, but also isolated.

The second time when Balaam blesses the Israelites, he says, "God has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness. For there is no divination in Jacob and no soothsaying in Israel. In time it will be said to Jacob and Israel, 'What hath God wrought?'" Balaam himself was said to be a sorcerer in addition to being a prophet, which goes along with his unique power to curse and to bless, but what he is saying here is that the Exodus was brought about not by magic or sorcery on the part of Moses and his people, but by the power of God; by the will of God, not that human beings.  

The question, What hath God wrought? became an important part of American history in 1844, when the quotation was used as the first message sent from Washington DC to Baltimore by Samuel Morse, officially inaugurating the first commercial telegraph line. The telegraph used electricity to send signals from one point to another instantaneously, allowing us to transcend time and space for the first time. This invention represents an important stepping stone between Benjamin Franklin's kite line, and the particle accelerator that led to the discovery of the God particle.

The third time Balaam is called upon to curse the Israelites and blesses them instead, he begins with a declaration that became a part of Jewish Sabbath morning liturgy: "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!"

The story of Balaam serves as reminder of the power of words, and especially of the power of voice. Balaam has the power to bless and the curse, but both are speech acts, both blessings and curses only have power when they are spoken out loud. The same is true of the concept of prayer. The prayers printed in our prayer books are not actually prayers until we say them out loud (or in some instances, say them silently to ourselves), just as in stories of magic, the magic spell does not take effect until someone actually utters the words.  

Along the same lines, our worship service officially begins with the call to worship, a vocal summoning to praise God. And when we say the watchword of our faith, the Shema, we say, Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one. We have to hear it, not see it, so much so that many follow the tradition of covering their eyes when saying this prayer.

Sound is the source of the sacred, while sight reveals the profane world. Sound gives us depth, we can hear the interior of things. And sound emanates from within, as the prayer says, out of the depths I call to you, from deep inside us sound is uttered, and outered. Sight only gives us surfaces.  In the story of Genesis, Creation begins with sound, with God saying the words, Let there be light. God's voice is heard before anything can be made visible, before the creation of light, the first particles created being the ones without mass.

Hellen Keller, who as you know lost both sight and hearing, was once asked which of the two senses she would rather have, if she could only have one. And she answered that she would rather be blind. The reason she gave is that hearing is so much more important for communicating and relating to other people. Sight gives us a world of objects, it leads us to objectify the world, to engage in what Martin Buber referred to as I-It relationships. Sound gives us a world of relationships, of voice and conversation and communication, and makes it easier to form what Buber called I-Thou or I-You relationships.

Albert Einstein's theory of relativity replaced Newton's physics by saying that space does not exist apart from the relationship between objects. The universe does not sit inside a box, or what Newton called absolute space; the particles, the matter of the universe is all that there is, and there is nothing outside of that. Space is the field that exists between the particles of the universe. As the matter in the universe expands, so does space.  

In the same way, our Congregation Adas Emuno does not exist outside of the relationships among us, it is created by our relationships with each other, and with those who came before us. Judaism does not exist, except for the relationships among us as they extend among our people everywhere, and the same is true of any religion, and any nation.  

The relationships created by Higgs bosons, by God particles, is what grants mass to matter. Our relationships with each other, joining together as we do on Shabbat, is what grants meaning to life, and that is what makes life truly matter.