Sunday, October 30, 2011
Here now is the text of this year's Yom Kippur Appeal, delivered by Congregation Adas Emuno Financial Secretary Mark Rosenberg:
As we celebrate 140 years as a congregation, let us reflect on how Adas Emuno has managed to exist for this period of time.
In his Rosh Hashanah sermon, Rabbi Schwartz recalled his memories of going to Brooklyn to visit the home of his grandparents and spoke about the need for all of us to pass on our own Jewish “memories”: our beliefs and Jewish values that will carry from generation to generation. This is what has kept Adas Emuno going. It is the selfless commitment of our members, the dedication of our congregation past, present, and future which will enable us to continue to have a vibrant synagogue community built upon our faith, community, education, and worship.
But to do this, it costs money! And I appeal to all of you to look into your hearts and give what you can in this new year of such great promise for our Congregation.
The Yom Kippur Appeal helps to bridge the significant gap between the membership dues we pay and all of the synagogue’s expenses. I ask you to donate and help to provide:
For our new and outstanding clergy who will teach and inspire us.
For our religious school whose programs will guide our children to fulfilling Jewish lives and prepare them with a lifelong commitment to the Jewish Community.
For the preservation and maintenance of our buildings.
Help us keep the Adas Emuno memory alive for our children and our children’s children.
As you leave the sanctuary this morning, I ask you to return your pledge card and fold down the tab that you are most comfortable with, to donate what you can, so that we may be here for the next 140 years.
Friday, October 14, 2011
An interesting news item from JTA, the "Global News Service of the Jewish People":
McCartney attends Yom Kippur services, marries next day
October 9, 2011
(JTA) -- Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney reportedly spent the night before his wedding at Yom Kippur services.
McCartney married Jewish-American heiress Nancy Shevell, 51, in London on Sunday. They reportedly attended Yom Kippur services and a break fast at a local London synagogue.
The couple married Sunday in a civil ceremony at London's Marylebone Register Office, followed by a small reception at McCartney's north London home.
McCartney's first wife, Linda Eastman, also was Jewish. She died in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer.
We wish the former Beatle and the new Mrs. McCartney a hearty mazel tov, and we don't think that they'll need to be reminded that... all you need is love!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Sukkot Festival starts this Wednesday evening, October 12th, and at Congregation Adas Emuno, we will celebrate with a pot luck dinner at 6:30 PM in the social hall, followed by our Sukkot service in the sanctuary at 7:30 PM.
We will also join in on a collaborative Sukkot Morning service with our sister shuls in Bergen Country, Temple Sinai and Temple Emeth, on October 13th. This service will be hosted by Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck, at 10:30 AM, with Rabbi Schwartz and Student Cantor Hawley participating.
And don't forget about our Super Sukkot Sunday coming up on October 16th at 12 noon!
And now, to get in the mood, here is a video called, Sukkot Fun - Strange Sukkahs!
The video is courtesy of Rebbetzin Tap, and here is her write up from YouTube:
A 32ft tall Sukkah? Sukkah on a boat? On a camel? See them for real in this video clip! Filmed at the Sukkah exhibit at Neot Kedumim, the Biblical nature reserve in Israel, which features the many unusual Sukkahs described in the Mishna - some of which are "kosher" and some not.
This clip is from our "Jewish Holiday Celebration!" DVD. In the DVD, Rebbetzin Tap (Kerry Bar-Cohn) discovers a holiday apartment - with a different Jewish holiday behind every door! The shots of singing and dancing toward the beginning of this clip are a preview of the song "Shake The Lulav", which you can see in full on the DVD, available in Judaica stores or by visiting http://www.rebbetzintap.com.
Also, visit Neot Kedumim (located between Jerusalem & Tel Aviv) and see these Sukkahs and more for yourself! It's a great exhibit. Go to http://www.neot-kedumim.org.il for more info.
Thank you very much, Rebbetzin, and we'll be sure to shake our lulav on Wednesday night!
Monday, October 10, 2011
“LET IT GO”
YOM KIPPUR MORNING 5772
RABBI BARRY L. SCHWARTZ
“Who is great?” ask the sages of the Talmud.
“The man who turns his enemy into a friend,” is the reply.
For this reason, I have always considered Nelson Mandela to be a great man. This past year we quietly celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his long walk to freedom. A friend shared with me a recollection of that historic moment written by Bill Clinton. I knew as soon as I read it that these words would commence my next Yom Kippur sermon. And so they do.
“Early on the morning of February 11, 1990,” writes Clinton, “I woke my daughter, Chelsea, and took her down into the kitchen of the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas.”
“I wanted Chelsea, who was then ten years old… to watch his release. I felt it would be one of the most important political events in her lifetime, just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was one of the most important in mine. ”
“So I sat her up on the kitchen counter and turned on the television. I still remember it like it was yesterday—Mandela walking slowly toward that gate and then waiting; Chelsea, like so many millions of others, moved by the power of his unbreakable dignity and strength. As I watched him walking down that dusty road, I wondered what he was thinking about the last twenty-seven years and whether he was angry all over again.”
“Many years later, when we were both Presidents of our nations, I had the chance to ask him. I said, “I know you are a great man. You invited your jailors to your inauguration. You put your persecutors in the government. But tell me the truth. Weren’t you really angry all over again?”
“And he said, “‘Yes, I was angry. And I was a little afraid. After all, I had not been free in so long. “But,” he said, “when I felt the anger well up inside of me, I realized that if I hated them after I got outside the gate they would still have me.’”
“Then he smiled and said, ‘But I wanted to be free, and so I let it go.’”
“I wanted to be free, so I let it go. ”
Clinton said that hearing these words was “an astonishing moment in my life.”
He goes on to say that these words helped him during a time of trial in his own life.
I know these words have helped me during a period of intense challenge in my life.
Mandela’s circumstances were exceptional. For a man to let go of his anger and bitterness and resentment after twenty-seven years in prison is astonishing. To leave behind a quarter century of captivity and emerge free of recrimination is inspirational. If he could do it, can’t we?
Mandela did not forget the past, but forgave the past, so as to embrace the future. He did not deny the anger, but conquered it. He walked out of the prison of concrete, but likewise the prison of the mind. Only then could he fulfill the destiny that awaited him.
I believe that the liberating power of forgiveness is the central theme of Yom Kippur, our most holy day, and our most difficult day.
What is so hard about Yom Kippur?
Is it the fasting? Not easy, but no.
Is it asking God for forgiveness for our mistakes? Not easy, but no.
Is it asking other people for forgiveness for our mistakes? Even harder, but no.
What is hardest about Yom Kippur is forgiving others when they don’t deserve it.
What is hardest is letting go of anger; letting go of entitlement; letting go of vindication.
As a marriage counselor told me many years ago: “Sometimes I have to look a husband or wife in the eye as ask them: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?”
“If you insist you are right, and you may be, you will probably divorce. If you demand justice, you will get it, with a broken heart and broken home. If you are willing to compromise, you may begin to reconcile. If you are willing to show compassion, you may begin to heal.”
Rashi, the greatest of the classic commentators, writes concerning the very first verse of the Torah:
God first thought to create the world with justice alone. But God saw the world could not endure. So first God created with compassion, and then added justice. So the world could endure.
The sages of the Talmud ask a daring question: If God was to pray, what would God say?
Their answer: “May it be My will, that My compassion suppress My anger.”
The remarkable passage goes on to express that of God’s many attributes, it is mercy that God wishes to see prevail when dealing with “My children.”
Our tradition urges us to be imitation dei; god-like in our aspirations.
We began this service, just after the Kol Nidrei, with words from the Torah:
Vayomer adonai salachti kidvarecha. And God said: I have forgiven according to your word.
Numbers, Chapter 14: Upon hearing a pessimistic report from ten of the twelve spies just returning from Canaan, the Israelites turn against Moses and Aaron. They lose faith. They are ready to give up. They even say that it would be better to go back to Egypt than die in the wilderness.
God is portrayed as overcome with anger. “And the Lord said to Moses: How long will this people spurn me? How long will they have no faith in me? I will strike them with pestilence and disown them?”
Moses pleads with God to let go of His anger.
Have you yourself not said: The Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and pardoning transgression…?
Selach na la’avon ha’am hazeh. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your mercy, even as you have forgiven this people from Egypt until now.
And then God’s crucial reply:
Salachti: I have forgiven.
God saying, as it were:
I have let go of my anger.
I have pardoned this sinful and rebellious lot.
I have forgiven the past for the sake of the future.
Now, the stories of Mandela and Moses teach us something more. Letting go of anger to liberate ourselves and our loved ones is primary. Yes, that is our greatest challenge… and most rewarding endeavor.
But remember that although Nelson Mandela forgave, he did not forget. Mandela wanted South Africa and the world to know what had happened. A “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission was established. Hearings were held, in some cases trials. Pardons were indeed bestowed upon all but the most egregious offenders. Justice was tempered, not denied.
In the biblical story, there is a long history of understanding the term “salachti” as “pardon” more than “forgiveness.” Nachmanides, in the Middle Ages, interprets the key phrase to mean “remittance of punishment” rather than full forgiveness. The great modern scholar Nachum Sarna comes to the same conclusion in the JPS Torah Commentary:
The Hebrew salach implies not the absolution of sin but the suspension of anger; that [the Israelites] not die immediately and their children may survive; that they live out their lives and their children inherit; that they not be destroyed and the covenant maintained.
“Moses asks for reconciliation,” he continues, “for assurance that Israel will be brought to its land, and not that the sin of the Exodus generation will be exonerated.”
The second lesson from Mandela and Moses is that forgiveness is a journey, and it takes time.
Forgiveness is not an all or nothing proposition.
It unfolds in stages.
It is not forgetting the truth, but facing the truth so that the process of reconciliation can begin.
Forgiveness begins by stepping away from the kingdom of anger and proclaiming that mercy will have the last say.
Forgiveness begins with a declaration that if we must err, we shall err on the side of compassion.
Forgiveness is not black or white, but shades of gray.
It is not “happy ever after” but “let’s begin again.”
It is not the end of hurt, but the beginning of hope.
It is not the hug of “all is fine, ” but the embrace that the worst is past.
The road of reconciliation is rocky but the journey begins with a letting go.
Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was once reminded of an especially cruel thing that had been said to her years before. Clara seemed not to recall it. “Don’t you remember?” a friend asked. “No,” came the reply, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
Nagib and Moussa were two dear friends, according to a classic Persian folk tale. One day Nagib rescued his friend from near drowning in a mountain stream. Moussa inscribed on a nearby rock: “Wanderer! In this place Nagib saved the life of his friend Moussa.
Several years later they returned to that very spot, and during a very heated argument Nagib struck his friend in the face. Moussa inscribed in nearby sand: “Wanderer! In this place Nagib broke the heart of his friend Moussa.”
Coming upon the scene, one of Moussa’s men inquired: “Why did you record your friend’s heroism in stone but his cruelty in sand?”
“I shall recall his cruelty temporarily,” came the reply, “but cherish his goodness forever.”
And so on the Yom Kippur let us affirm the liberating power of forgiveness.
Like Mandela we yearn to be free of body, but also of spirit.
“So I let it go.”
Like Moses we must plea for pardon, and like God, we must grant it, if there is to be a future toward the Promised Land.
On this Yom Kippur we turn to those we have hurt, but as importantly, to those who have hurt us, and say:
I have let go of anger.
I offer the hand of reconciliation.
Let us go on living.
Let us take the first steps together.
Let us reclaim a relationship.
Let us restore hope for the future.
To you, my husband, my wife, my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my son, my daughter, my friend, my colleague, my acquaintance, my neighbor, my fellow:
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Once again this year, we were treated to a stirring rendition of the Kol Nidre instrumental composed by Max Bruch, through the virtuoso talent of cellist Fran Rowell, accompanied on piano by Beth Robin.
The haunting melody lingers in the memory for a very long time. To help savor the echoes of those beautiful sounds, here is a performance found on YouTube, from a Papal Concert to commemorate the Holocaust held at The Vatican in Rome on April 7. 1994. Lynn Harrell performs on the cello.
Want to hear more? Listen to another version of the piece over on last year's blog post, Echoes of Kol Nidre.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
TODAY IS NOT TOMORROW
KOL NIDRE 5772
RABBI BARRY L. SCHWARTZ
I do not read Men’s Fitness magazine. Maybe I should. But I leave it to my sons, who lift weights and have the buff physiques like the models on the cover. So I was curious when my older son said to me one day, “Abba, I think you should read this.” It was the editor’s column from the February 2010 issue. The editor was Roy S. Johnson. The column was entitled “Today is Not Tomorrow.”
Several weeks earlier, Roy’s young wife had suffered a debilitating stroke. His wife was in rehab, paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak. Roy was trying to persevere with his school age children. Roy wrote:
So every day, and usually many times a day, I say quietly to myself: Today is not tomorrow.
Our current circumstances—no matter how grim or painful—is not a life sentence.
It’s not even a “day” sentence, unless we allow it to be.
Each dawn announces an opportunity for new progress, for new moments, new strength.
Roy went on to acknowledge a painful truth of life:
Setbacks do not discriminate. They happen to the nicest people. To the strongest guy in the gym. To the seemingly happiest couple. To you.
But they are [often] only temporary. Bodies heal. Hearts mend. Careers turn around. Though not by themselves. And not if you believe today will be tomorrow, if you let today prevent you from taking the steps—baby steps, if that’s all you can take—toward a renewed tomorrow.
Roy concludes with these words:
I heard someone say today that a setback is just an opportunity for a comeback. Now that’s a tomorrow to believe in.
Yom Kippur is the day of the year when we reflect on the shortcomings and the setbacks of our lives. We may think about these things on many of the other 364 days of the years as well, but on the Day of Atonement we give it unique attention. We reflect on our role in these painful occurrences. We ask for forgiveness. We seek strength. We try to make sense of that which can be understood, and make peace with that which cannot.
We have suffered setbacks, big or small, in body or soul. We have suffered disappointments, major or minor, at work, at school, at home. The hardest questions concern our relationships. The ones we love—family. The ones we trust—friends. Setbacks do not discriminate.
I do not know Roy S. Johnson, and I have no reason to believe he is Jewish. But amidst his own tragedy Roy has hit on a central theme of this most holy of days: the power of the second chance; the ever present possibility of healing and transformation; the belief that today is not tomorrow; the hope of renewal.
Speaking of his wife’s rehab, Roy wrote that, “she is now taking baby steps in a marathon in which no one knows the ultimate length of the race.” And then later urges us to take those same tiny and uncertain steps, one at a time, toward a renewed tomorrow. The notion of self-choice and self-empowerment; that every step and every action helps shape our destiny… this too is part of the remarkable Jewish sensibility of his words.
Just look at the key verse of the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning that we proclaimed earlier:
See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity… choose life.
Someone once said: Look at the middle two letters of life: “i-f”. Life is full of “ifs”. In fact quite a number of verses in the Torah begin with the conditional clause, “if you observe this commandment, then…[such and such will happen].” Every choice carries its consequences toward life and blessing, or the opposite direction.
These teachings prompted Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan to observe that “Judaism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic; it is iffistic.
Two thousand years ago Rabbi Akiba taught that, “all is foreseen but free will is given.” We know that certain elements of our life and fate are out of our control. Yet at the same time we have tremendous power to shape our destiny. Such is the paradox we call life. Such is the iffistic nature of things.
By the way, you know the Hebrew word for life, also four letters. Hayim. Chet, yod, yod, mem. What are the middle two letters in Hebrew?” “Yod, Yod. ” The shorthand for Adonai, God.
Life is full of “ifs.” But if we choose well, life is full of God.
We all know the story of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. And we all know what happened to that first set of tablets that Moses was carrying down the mountain. Moses hurls them to the ground in a fit of anger. While he has been away the people have betrayed him. They have turned to the idolatry of the golden calf. They have lost faith, and in his moment of anger and despair, Moses in turn loses faith in them. Instead of an inspirational moment of revelation, all we are left with is a despondent leader and a smashed set of tablets.
The broken stone reflects Moses’ broken heart. To call the golden calf a setback for Moses is an understatement. Betrayal, from those we cherish no less, is devastating. We explode in anger. The fury rages, subsides then often flares back. In the meantime, the realization of what we have lost begins to sink in. Grieving takes place. We are the walking wounded, staggering between anger and sadness.
Moses is unsure how he can go on. He is physically and emotionally exhausted. His own brother caved in to the people’s wanton demands. The revelation at Sinai was not supposed to turn out like this. Life was not supposed to happen this way.
He says to God, “unless you go in the lead, do not make us leave this place” (ex. 33:15). He says to God, “show me your presence!” (33:18).
God does respond. According to the Torah, God reveals his presence. God speaks with Moses. God reassures that He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.”
And with that Moses finds it within himself to take a new step forward.
The Torah says: “So Moses carved two tablets of stones like the first, and early in the morning he went up [again] on Mount Sinai” (34:4).
According to Rabbinic tradition, Moses’ second ascent of Mount Sinai began on the first day of Elul. The Torah records that Moses was up there forty days and forty nights.
If you do the math, that means that Moses descended from the mountain a second time on the tenth of Tishrei.
Today is the tenth of Tishrei. An often overlooked aspect of the holiday is the connection to Moses and the second tablets. Yom Kippur is a day of second chances.
Even a Moses made a big mistake. But God is saying, “today is not tomorrow.” Get up and go up, again. The mountain of revelation is still there to climb. The promised land is still there to ascend.
And God says: I will help you. You are not alone. You have suffered betrayal and you have reacted in anger. I understand. I’ve had anger management issues myself. Well, now you are older and wiser. So I will be your partner. This time, instead of just giving you an inscribed set of tablets, you carve the stone, you do the writing, and I’ll work with you on the content.
I want you to own those tablets. Even when things get rough; especially when things get rough, I want you to affirm the ideals of Torah, not destroy them. Especially when things are stormy I want you to remember the vision of your highest self. Especially when it is dark, I want you to remember the light.
Here’s another illuminating teaching about Moses’ second ascent of Sinai. According to ancient Rabbinic legend, Moses is told to keep the shattered remnants of the first tablets with the second set. Both the broken, and the whole, together, in the Ark.
Now that’s odd. Why would God want people to see the broken with the whole. Aren’t they a reminder of Israel’s darkest hour of idolatry and Moses’ deepest display of frailty?
Maybe that’s the point. To be reminded of the messy reality of life… and at the same time, its infinite potential.
As Rabbi Laura Geller writes: “We are still carrying both sets of those stone tablets with us on our journey. The hope for wholeness and the truth of brokenness exist together in each of us. None of us is perfect. Each of us struggles with limitations and weakness; each of us has broken promises and betrayed what we have loved. ”
“But in spite of this,” Rabbi Geller concludes, “forgiveness is built into the deep structure of the universe. God’s essence reveals itself, and it is compassion.”
Before concluding, let me acknowledge, from personal experience, and professional, how challenging it can be to take even the baby steps from the grip of today to the potential of tomorrow. Truth be told, the open road holds both promise and peril. We leave behind a past that may be problematic, but is at least known. We face a future that is hopeful, but uncertain.
As the writer Anatole France has observed, “all changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
When we leave a job, or exit a relationship, we are likely to experience the twin emotions of both liberation and loss.
At times we will be greatly optimistic; at other times deeply pessimistic.
At times we will say: this had to happen; at other times we will ask: Why did this happen?
At times we will be elated with hope, at other times we will be depressed to the point of despair.
The past represents the familiar, the routine, the proven. The past represents your expertise, your station, your status.
Conversely, the future, though a blank slate, represents the new, the unfamiliar, the unproven. We must establish ourselves all over again.
At times, the Israelites pined for the fleshpots of Egypt, despite its slavery. It is hard to let go. The clenched fist is more normal than the open palm.
On this Yom Kippur we look for the strength to face the future. We are inspired by the faith of our forebears and all who affirm in word and deed that today is not tomorrow.
We carry the broken and the whole together, aspiring to compassion and forgiveness, and on to holiness.
Yes, a setback is an opportunity for a comeback. I think it was the Talmudic sage Wayne Gretsky who once said that you will miss 100% of the shots you never take. So it is time to take the next shot. With faith, fortitude, and maybe a little luck, we will hear the announcer say again: He shoots… He scores!
How sweet it is. Shanah tovah.
Friday, October 7, 2011
As we ready ourselves spiritually for Yom Kippur and the closing of the High Holy Days, here is a thoughtful music video about Jonah.
As you may recall, we read from the Book of Jonah during the afternoon service, and the theme of repentance is very much in keeping with the Day of Atonement. The video is called Yom Kippur: Overboard (Jonah's Song) and the link will take you to its page over on YouTube:
And from the write-up on YouTube:
Lots of us think about Yom Kippur like an annual big dark cloud of guilt, sin and hours in synagogue.
But ahoy there matey! It doesn't have to be that way. Throw your old ideas overboard.
Yom Kippur is an amazing opportunity to change, grow and connect. Just ask Jonah, the hero of the Yom Kippur afternoon haftarah.
Check in with Jonah and the whale (okay, fish) and learn how Yom Kippur connects us to God, to our communities, and to our true selves.
And with that, we wish you an easy fast, and may you be sealed within the Book of Life for blessing in the coming year!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
As Vice-President of Congregation Adas Emuno, I was asked to make the announcements on behalf of the Board of Trustees at the conclusion of last Wednesday's Rosh Hashanah evening service. As I sat on the pulpit, thinking about what I was going to say, apart from listing the upcoming events for our shul, a couple of things came to mind, and I thought I'd set them down here as well:
Shana Tovah! 5722... Where does the time go?
Some people think that, in coming to services to celebrate the Jewish New Year and honor our tradition, we are living in the past. But, quite to the contrary, we are actually living in the future. While everyone else out there is only living back in 2011, we're living in 5722.
We live in the future!
At this time of year, we say, may you be inscribed in the Book of Live for the coming year, inscribed for blessing, for health and happiness. And we understand that it is not for us to write these things in the Book of Life. It is up to a Higher Power.
But there is something that we can and will write. Right now, we are writing the next chapter in the history of Adas Emuno, it is a collaborative work, exciting and joyful, and I invite you all to join in as co-authors of this great story of ours.
Our congregation is 140 years old, and still going strong. And do you know what our secret is?
We live in the future!
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Here's another one from YouTube, called, "Shofar Callin': The Rosh Hashanah Song," about Abraham, Isaac, and of course, the Shofar:
And with that, we once again wish you a Shana Tova for this 5772!
And here's the write-up from the video's YouTube page:
Shofar Callin' connects the story Jews read on the New Year -- when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac -- with the ritual blowing of the Shofar, or ram's horn. What's the connection?
Find out how the Jewish New Year is WAY more than just a day to spend in synagogue, and how the call of the Shofar can be spiritually meaningful in your daily life.
Prodezra Beats, an independent artist, broke out big on the scene when he produced the track for "Change" with Y-Love & DeScribe, released on Shemspeed. Now with the "Shofar Callin'" track for Rosh Hashanah, he is back with another viral hit!
This G-dcast will have you bumping into the new year in no time! Shana tova.
NEW: HEBREW AND SPANISH SUBTITLES!!! Click the "CC" on the bottom right of the video.
And with that, we once again wish you a Shana Tova for this 5772!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
ROSH HASHANAH MORNING 5772
RABBI BARRY L. SCHWARTZ
When I was growing up, my family made the two hour trip from Peekskill, New York to Brooklyn, New York once a month. It was not an especially pleasant drive from suburb to city. Each trip had its share of potholes, crazy New Yorkers, and traffic jams. Yet we made the trip every month, every season, every year. The reason, quite simply: Grandma and Grandpa.
One of the things I remember about my grandparent’s home was this: It was small, but it was full of pictures. There were photographs everywhere. In fact, I still marvel at how many photos could be displayed in such a small space. My grandparents had one picture each of their own parents, a handful of themselves, and several of their two sons. The lion’s share of photos, however, were of us, the grandchildren.
In one sweep of the eye I could see my great grandparents, grandparents, and parents all on their wedding days. I could see my father in knickers, at his high school graduation, in his Navy uniform. I could see myself as a baby, as a Bar Mitzvah.
The visits were timed to include major Jewish holidays. So there were also pictures of us lighting Hannukah candles, and celebrating Pesach.
The memories of those visits are still vivid, some forty years later. I can still see my grandparent’s home like it was yesterday. Their faces and their embrace. I can still smell the food, still hear the stories, still sing the songs, still speak the Yiddish (a bissel), still picture the neighborhood.
On the way home, we always stopped for fresh bagels. I mean real Brooklyn bagels. Are there good bagels on this side of the river?
Zicharon. Memory. This sermon is about memory. And here is my thesis: The secret of Jewish continuity is family, and the secret of family continuity is memory. Put another way: what keeps Judaism alive is the bequeathing of our heritage from generation to generation, and what motivates one generation to pass on its values and traditions to the next, is memory.
Without memory, we become orphans in history. Without nostalgia, we lose touch with our past. Nostalgia, from the Greek nostos, a return to home, and algia, pain. A desire to return home so strong, it hurts.
In a positive sense, nostalgia is a yearning for feelings so dear that we are moved to perpetuate them. If our Jewish memory is joyful, we receive it as a gift and want to share it with those who come after us. If our Jewish memory is hostile, or simply indifferent, then it will come to an end, with us.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artzon recalls that when he was a child, he and his sister loved to look through their parent’s photo albums. He writes, “we loved the pictures of their ski trip to Tahoe, of their wedding, of their first apartment, or moving into their first house. We would gather time after time to see the albums. Somehow, we never tired of looking at those pictures, reveling in memories and the love.”
Then Rabbi Artzon continues: “Those albums brought us great joy until the day our parents got a divorce. Once my parents separated, my sister and I stopped looking at those pictures. They had become too painful for us to see.”
Rabbi Artzon concludes with a larger point: “Divorced from the Jewish heritage, memory albums no longer inspire; they accuse.”
And so, permit me to ask you a personal question. Regarding your own Jewish memories: Do they inspire, or accuse? Are they nostalgic, or alienating? Do you summon them with enthusiasm or trepidation or indifference?
I began by sharing my visits as a youth with my grandparents. My paternal grandmother and grandfather were both immigrants. My maternal grandmother (I never knew my paternal grandfather) was native born, but in the totally Yiddish world of the turn of the century lower east side. They were joyfully and proudly Jewish and to this day it brings a smile to my face.
Take a moment, if you will, and summon a Jewish memory that brings a smile to your face…
Now, a follow up question, inspired by an old adage that I cherish so much that I use it at every baby naming I do.
“Let us consider our world not so much as inherited from our ancestors but as borrowed from our children.”
What memories do we want to create for our families?
What legacy do we want to leave for the next generation?
What shall we do today that will bring a smile to our children tomorrow?
Judaism sanctifies time.
Are we celebrating Shabbat in ways that summon a smile?
Do we make time for a special Shabbat evening meal, complete with white tablecloth, candles, Kiddush, challah, blessing of the children, good food, good conversation, and everyone home?
Is our Seder a joyful and meaningful affirmation of peoplehood and history, or a rush to the food?
Judaism sanctifies space.
Are we celebrating our holy places in ways that summon a smile?
Do we make time for the joyful experience of synagogue, camp, retreats, heritage tours, israel?
Judaism sanctifies people and relationships.
Are we celebrating the milestones of life, and extending a helping hand to those in need, in ways that summon a smile?
If we seek greater rootedness in our dizzying world, have we deepened our ties to community and tradition?
If we seek greater family unity in a fractured society, have we taken a second look at venerable rituals that bind the generations ?
If we seek indelible memories in a disposable culture, have we done anything out of the ordinary?
What might we do, as a congregation, out of the ordinary? Innovative and compelling enough that in the end we will say: that was special? That was transformational? I will always remember that?
I welcome your ideas and your passion.
A Shabbaton at the synagogue?
A multi-generational weekend retreat in the Poconos?
A heritage tour to Eastern Europe?
A family trip to Israel?
At this New Year, let us challenge ourselves:
Am I living a Jewish life worthy of memory?
Is there joy in my Judaism, or only obligation?
Am I secure enough in my identity that my children will be in theirs?
Am I willing to think big?
Experiences of Shabbat, holidays, social justice work, Israel are “mishpacha memories,” Jewish family experiences that lodge in the mind and are not forgotten. Memories that will bring that smile and sense of connection… ten, twenty, thirty years from now.
The memory albums of our lives will inspire or accuse. For sure, they take years to assemble, and years more to penetrate to the very core of who we are. Only now, for example, do I fully appreciate the impact of those monthly shleps to Brooklyn, and of course, in the broader sense, the legacy of my immigrant grandparents. So, having begun this sermon in terms of personal memory, let me then conclude the same way.
As I was mulling over this theme some years ago, I experienced a powerful moment of family continuity, right in front of my computer. I had read about a then new website: ellisislandrecords.org. I learned that from 1890 to 1922, more than 20 million immigrants came to America via Ellis Island. Meticulously recorded ship manifests chronicle each and every arrival. An army of volunteers, largely from the Mormon Church, put all these manifests on disk. When the Ellis Island website went online, the response was overwhelming. Millions of Americans began searching for their roots.
I was one of them. I began my search with my maternal great grandfather, because I knew the specifics of his arrival. He had saved the ticket that brought him to America, and he so treasured it that he passed it on to his daughter, my grandmother, who framed it. My grandmother gave it to me shortly before her passing at 100 years of age. It is on my wall, next to the certificate proclaiming my great grandfather a United States citizen. He saved that paper too.
Logging on to the website when it was not overloaded proved formidable, but then I was in, and several clicks later—there it was. Just one entry: One of twenty million. Line 21. Leo Lorber. Age 20. Ship: The Pennsylvania. Port: Hamburg, Germany. Date of arrival: Nov.18, 1899. Funds upon arrival: $15. The handwriting on the manifest was identical to that on the ticket. The same clerk had issued my great grandfather’s ticket and recorded his journey. A century later his great grandson, who bears his name, would rediscover the entry.
Zicharon. Memory. The secret of Jewish continuity is family, and the secret of family continuity is memory.
At this New Year, we dedicate ourselves anew to securing the link that binds the generations.
At this New Year, we dedicate ourselves to singing the song of our people, the song that will never be lost.
At this New Year, we raise the cup of thanksgiving: