Friday, December 19, 2014

The Rules of the Game

On Hanukkah, we play the dreidel game, and just in case you need a refresher course on how to play and what it all means, this charming video from the teens of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, up in the northern reaches of Bergen County, will fill you in. 

And even if you're a dreidel master, we think this video will make you grin.

Either way, why not take a dreidel out for a spin? 

And have a Happy Hanukkah, and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Light Up Them Latkes!

There are lots of ways to make latkes, and maybe you have a family recipe that's been handed down to you, or maybe you found one in a cookbook, or on the back of a box, or cooked one up yourself. But just in case you are in need of some assistance in preparing this distinctive Hanukkah dish, or maybe if you just want to check out an alternative approach, or even if you just want to watch a cooking video for the fun of it, here's a two-parter courtesy of the Union for Reform Judaism:

So, what do you think? Can that Tina Wasserman cook, or can she cook? And if you're interested in learning more, she's the author of her very own cookbook:

There's also a kid-friendly, family-oriented version:

So, be'te-avon (or bon appetit), and Happy Hanukkah!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hanukkah and Heresy

Not only is Barry Schwartz the spiritual leader of Congregation Adas Emuno, the Director of the Jewish Publication Society, and the author of several books (see our previous posts, Adas Emuno: We Need More Jewish Debate, Not Less and Adas Emuno: Judaism's Great Debates Now in Print!), but our multitalented rabbi is also a playwright, with a reading of his new drama set for this Thursday, December 18th, 7 PM, at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

We are pleased to share with you an article from The Jewish Week by their theater columnist, Ted Merwin, entitled Chanukah and Heresy:

While Chanukah marks the military victory of Mattathias and his five sons over the Seleucid (Syrian Greek) monarchy, it also represents the ascendancy of the Maccabees over their fellow Jews who had become infatuated with Hellenistic culture.

The most famous literary exploration of this underlying theme is Rabbi Milton Steinberg’s 1939 historical novel, “As a Driven Leaf,” which centers on Elisha ben Abuyah, an iconoclastic rabbi from Talmudic times who was excommunicated for his embrace of Greek philosophy and who was then accused of betraying the Jews to the Romans during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Barry Schwartz’s new dramatic version of the novel will be performed Dec. 18 in a free reading by the Instant Shakespeare Company at Temple Emanu-El.

The playwright, a Reform rabbi, is now the director of the 126-year-old Jewish Publication Society. He views “As a Driven Leaf” as exemplifying the struggle that many Jews still face. The protagonist, he told The Jewish Week, is “caught between Athens and Jerusalem, or between reason and revelation.”

Like that of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch Jewish philosopher who was also excommunicated for his atheism, the tale of Elisha, Schwartz reflected, “disturbs and haunts us to this day.” Indeed, in 1991, a Baghdad-born Israeli author, Shimon Ballas, published a controversial novel, “Outcast,” about an Elisha-like Iraqi Jew who converts to Islam; it was translated into English in 2005.

Steinberg, who was the rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue until his untimely death at the age of 46, was a disciple of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement. In 1945, Rabbi Kaplan was excommunicated by Orthodox rabbis; they burned his Sabbath prayer book, which eliminated references to a supernatural God, to belief in a messiah, and to the Jews as the chosen people. The episode, Schwartz said, was extremely sobering for Steinberg.

Paul Sugarman, who plays Elisha, is the founder of the Instant Shakespeare Company, which performs readings of the Bard’s work in public libraries across the city, Sugarman remarked that his character is “tragically caught between his community and his loyalty to his rational ideas.”

Vacillating between the Jews and Romans, Sugarman said, Elisha betrays both. “He is overwhelmed by circumstances,” the actor observed, and “thus fails to bridge the gap between not just different ideas, but between different parts of himself.”

“As a Driven Leaf: The Heresy of Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuyah” will be read this Thursday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. at The Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center, One E. 65th Street. For information, call the Skirball at (212) 507-9580 or visit

This looks to be a real Hanukkah treat for all of us! You can count on the fact that Adas Emuno will be well represented at this event. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Come Light the Menorah!

On behalf of Congregation Adas Emuno, we wish you a very happy first night of Hanukkah! 

Time to come light the Hanukkah menorah, and in case you were a little unsure about how that works, here's a video that can fill you in:

On this, our Festival of Lights, may you shine on, tonight and all year round! Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Moses Motif

The Jewish Standard published another op-ed piece by Adas Emuno President Lance Strate on October 30th, entitled The Moses Motif, with the subtitle, "The savior theme in modern TV series," and we are pleased to be able to share it with you here on our congregational blog:

Ridley Scott’s latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, won’t be in theaters until December, but it already has generated a bit of controversy.


According to Christianity Today, the actor who portrays Moses in the film, Christian Bale, had this to say about the dominant figure in Jewish religious tradition: “I think the man was likely schizophrenic, and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”

Living in a free and open society, Mr. Bale is free to express his opinion, and to do so safe from the fear of any punishment or persecution. The biggest fear that his remarks have generated is the potential effect they may have on the movie’s box office returns, especially among the large Christian market in the United States. Of course, we in turn are free to characterize his statements as ignorant and erroneous. We also are free to express our doubts about whether he has any chance of displacing Charlton Heston as the personification of Moses, especially since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments” has been broadcast on ABC every year around Easter for the last four decades. And we are also free to say that Mr. Bale should go back to playing Batman, a character better suited to his temperament.

And speaking of comic book superheroes, we might recall that the first of this genre, Superman, was the creation of two Jewish teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, back in 1938. As an answer to the idea of the Aryan “superman” trumpeted by Nazi ideology, their Superman was the ultimate immigrant, born on another planet but raised as an American. He was the ultimate orphan, too; his home world, Krypton, was destroyed, mirroring the Jewish immigrants who came to the United States to escape the destructive forces of discrimination and anti-Semitism, the arrests and expulsions, not to mention the pogroms, putsches, and purges. This was not an exclusively Jewish story, but one shared by many immigrant groups during the 19th and 20th centuries. This no doubt had much to do with the character’s popularity in the United States.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

The immigrant experience is reflected in the depiction of the character’s double life, as well. Unlike Batman, whose real identity is Bruce Wayne, Superman doesn’t wear a mask, but instead puts on glasses to masquerade as Clark Kent, the Anglo-Saxon name he uses as he tries to blend in with humanity. And although he is never entirely outed, he often comes across as awkward, shy, and clumsy in his attempt to pass as an ordinary man. As Superman, however, his Kryptonian ethnicity is openly on display. He is in his own element, set apart from the mainstream, which is the way that immigrants and their children might feel in the privacy of their own homes, or at shul, or safely tucked away in their own community or ethnic enclave.

Ellis Island was notorious for changing immigrant’s names, and immigrants themselves commonly changed their names to Americanize them. They often gave their children Anglo-Saxon names like Clark Kent. And just as Jews often have Hebrew names that differ from their official given names, Superman has a Kryptonian name: he is Kal-El, son of Jor-El. The last name, El, is a common element of Hebrew names, translated as God, while Kal might be taken for the Hebrew word for all, or for voice. Perhaps there is also a connection to the name of the biblical hero Caleb, which also can be transliterated as Kaleb, one of the 12 spies sent by Moses, and the only one, aside from Joshua, to act with courage, loyalty, and integrity. The important point, however, is not the specific translation, but rather the way in which the idea of Superman’s Kryptonian name is drawn from Jewish experience.

But Superman’s origin also was clearly inspired by the story of how Moses was saved from the Egyptian edict that all male children born to the Israelites should be killed, how he was put into a basket to float on the Nile River, where he was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. The story of Superman begins when he is an infant. His parents place him in a small rocket, just the size of a cradle, and send him to the planet earth just before his planet is destroyed. Although Siegel and Shuster drew on science fiction themes rather than myth, fantasy, or allegory in telling this story, there is no denying the seemingly supernatural quality of the hero, or his role as a hero and a savior.

The same Moses motif is apparent in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time, created by two Jewish writers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and now into its fourth season. The ABC network is owned by Disney, and Once Upon a Time draws on Disney’s long history of fantasy and fairy tale films, reworking and merging the characters and plots, and giving it all a twist. This is along the lines of the popular TV series Lost, for which both Kitsis and Horowitz wrote.

As the series opens, all the fairytale characters are under a spell cast by the Evil Queen (the one from Snow White), living ordinary, unchanging lives in the real world in a small town called Storybrooke. They have forgotten their true identities and earlier existence in another realm called the Enchanted Forest. Just before the curse took hold, however, Snow White and Prince Charming placed their infant daughter in a magic wardrobe, which transported her to our world, free of the Evil Queen’s curse. She grows up as an orphan, ignorant of her origins. The series opens with the daughter, now an adult named Emma Swan, arriving at Storybrooke, where she eventually is identified as the Savior. This makes it possible to reverse the spell and rouse the inhabitants from their fantasy of assimilation.

A darker version of the Moses motif appears in the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels by two Jewish writers, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Here too the motif is applied to a female character, Daenerys Targaryen. As the young daughter of a deposed king, she is saved from being slaughtered, exiled to a part of the world that resembles the middle east, and forced into an arranged marriage with the leader of a nomadic tribe. Rescued and adopted into royalty, she loses everything when her husband is wounded and dies. But, like Moses, she has a supernatural encounter with fire (becoming “mother” to three newly hatched dragons) that sets her on the path to becoming a leader in her own right, and a redeemer. During the series’ fourth season this spring, her liberation of slaves was shown to great dramatic effect. It is also clear, however, that she is a flawed savior, and her dragons are a dangerous weapon that can cause harm to the innocent.

Superman, Emma Swan, and Daenerys Targaryen all draw upon the powerful story of Moses in different ways. But they all convey the same profound theme of the Moses motif. That’s unconditional love, as parents sacrifice everything to save their children. (How many times has that story been enacted in real life?) As Neil Postman so eloquently put it, “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” And what the Moses motif reminds us of is that children are the saviors who will liberate us from the tyranny of the past, and lead us into the freedom of the future.

Friday, November 28, 2014

November Notes From the Cantor

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

Notes From the Cantor

Last year the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving happened at the same time–a rare meeting of our secular and Jewish calendars. This year Chanukah happens in its more normal time in mid-December, but it’s still a nice reminder to carry our feelings of thanks-giving and gratitude into the festival of lights. At the darkest time of the year, we shed light on our past by re-telling the story of Chanukah, and on our future by having our children share in the traditions of candles, songs, latkes, and presents.

What are your favorite Chanukah memories? What memories to you want to create this year for those around you?

One of my strongest associations of Chanukah is the song “Maoz Tzur”, sometimes also sung in English as “Rock of Ages”. I was not brought up in a religious home, but I do remember learning “Maoz Tzur” from my father. The song is quite old. The lyrics originate from a 12th century piyyut, or liturgical poem; and although we tend to only sing the first verse, there are actually five stanzas, and the first letter of each stanza spells out the name of its author, Mordechai (in Hebrew, the letters are mem, reish, dalet, chaf and yud). The tune we usually sing comes from a 15th century German hymn, although there is another somewhat less well-known melody composed by the 18th century Venetian composer, Benedetto Marcello.

As the days grow shorter, may the lights of Chanukah, of music, and of our wonderful Adas Emuno community, shine on!

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Congregation Adas Emuno 
Wishes You a Happy and Safe 

We Join Together to Give Thanks
For All of the Blessings
That Together We Share