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


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Social Action Roundup

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

A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson

My fellow congregants, you did it again! Our High Holy Days Food Drive was a total success! Our “drop-off” room in the back of the sanctuary was loaded to the brim and beyond! A very special thank you to all of those who donated, and to Norm Rosen, who arranged for the donation of grocery bags from ShopRite.

Mitzvah Day, Sunday, November 2nd—Religious School/Social Action Committee Book Drive. The boxes in the social hall, decorated by Molly Lawrence (with signs made by our students), have been filled and refilled a number of times. Thank you to all who brought in so many great childrens' books.

Clothing Drive: Nov. 9-23. Adult outerwear for men and women: coats, jackets, gloves, mittens, scarves, hats and boots (new and gently used) will be collected and donated to the Womens’ Rights Center in Englewood. Please bring to the social hall.

Hackensack Shelter—Sunday, December 7th. It's our turn to cook and serve dinner... we cook for well over 100 people, so even if you can't serve, we will need lots of food prepared! Please mark this date as this particular project takes a congregation!! Information will be forthcoming via email so keep an eye out. A shout out to Marilyn Katz for having set this up.

For the future: Please begin saving up toiletries, such as shampoo, soap, dental products, etc. Hotel-sized items as well as larger sizes will work. Please do not bring to the temple, yet. Information will come later.

Soda can tabs collected for Ronald McDonald House will continue through the end of December. Food collection for Center for Food Action—always on!!

Thank you for all that you do for our community and for the world, one day, one project at a time.


Annette, Social Action Committee Chairperson

acheryl21 at

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Religious School News

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

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director


As I’m writing this column, we just had our first Shabbat Family Service of the year, featuring the Seventh grade–they were great! They led prayers and songs throughout the service, and shared their thoughts about the mitzvah of caring for the environment. Thank you to Rabbi Schwartz and their teachers, Sabina Albirt and Michael Dworkis, for preparing them. Our next two Shabbat Family Services are coming up, led by the Fifth and Sixth grades; everyone is encouraged to attend these special services, and support our students ́ participation in religious worship.

Tot Mitzvah is our new program for pre-school age children, led by Doris White. With (free!) programs six times during the year, we welcome anyone who would like to join in the fun. Come spend an hour of music, arts and crafts and stories with your little one – this month Doris will be having an early Chanukah celebration with the tots on November 23rd.

Thank you to everyone who so generously brought in books for our October Book Drive, as we participated in the Jewish Federation of NJ’s Annual Mitzvah Day. These will help so many students in our area who are in need of books.

Here are some other important Religious-School-related dates to note during November and December:

  • Saturday Nov. 15-Bar Mitzvah of Justin Priblo
  • Friday Nov. 21-Shabbat Family Service featuring the Sixth Grade students
  • Sunday Nov. 23-Tot Mitzvah
  • Sunday Nov. 30-NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL Thanksgiving weekend
  • Saturday, Dec. 13-Bat Mitzvah of Katie Schuller
  • Friday Dec. 19-Shabbat Family Service featuring the Fifth Grade students
  • Sunday Dec. 28- NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL Winter Recess

Monday, November 24, 2014

What’s Your Motto?

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

What’s Your Motto?

This summer we cleaned out the small vestry room adjoining our sanctuary that houses our prayer books. In the process we discovered a Confirmation certificate. The name on the certificate: Esther Cohn. The date: May 27, 1917. The “minister” (as the rabbi was then called): Moses Eckstein. The president: Samuel Neuberger.

I was happy to find this artifact; we have so few from our long congregational history. The certificate itself was simple and unexceptional. But one line caught my eye. It read, “Motto” and then leaves a blank space to be filled in. In a different hand than the rest of the certificate, are the words, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” You may recognize the verse from the 23rd Psalm.

Intriguing... I haven’t seen something like this before. It got me to thinking: Did Esther herself choose this verse? Did she write it herself on the certificate? How and why did she make this choice? Did the rabbi give the Confirmation students a choice of sayings, and each student chose their favorite? Or were the students completely free to choose whatever they wanted?

I like this idea of a motto. I’m considering bringing it back to Confirmation class. Part of the challenge, I suppose, will be to design a teaching unit of great quotes to help our students make an educated choice. I’m also left wondering: why haven’t I heard of this being done before... and why didn’t I ever think of it?

My question to you: what is your motto? In Europe, aristocratic families used to have both a motto and coat of arms? Do you have a verse that is especially meaningful to you? Do you have a favorite quote that sums up your philosophy of life? (If you do, send it to me; I’d really like to know.)

When I was newly ordained (thirty years ago if you can believe it), a member of my first congregation wove me a beautiful tallit, that I still wear at every morning service. Roz asked me what I would like to be inscribed on the collar. I chose the famous words of the prophet Micah, “... to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” I guess you could call that my motto. Choosing a motto may not be so easy... but harder still is living up to it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reaching for the Heights


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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Reaching for the Heights

Looking off into the distance at the New York skyline, have you noticed that new building that's still under construction, towering over all of the others in midtown, even the Empire State Building? It has no name, as far as I know, it's just referred to as 432 Park Avenue, and it's a luxury condominium that'll be opening next year. While officially being listed as the second tallest building in the city, its roof will actually be 30 feet higher than One World Trade Center (remember when they called it the Freedom Tower?), and it will be the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere. And three more condos are going up that will be of similar height: 225 West 57th Street (also being called the Nordstrom Tower), 111 West 57th Street (which will hold the distinction of being the world's skinniest skyscraper), and 125 Greenwich Street (just a block away from One World Trade Center).

Clearly, things are changing in nearby Manhattan, and you might say that things are looking up. Or you might feel otherwise. But whatever your views on real estate development, urban renewal, gentrification, city planning, architectural style, and the like, I think we can all agree that this is quite a reversal, you might say a recovery, from the collective trauma of 9/11. Some of you may remember how we gathered together at Adas Emuno 13 years ago, finding some measure of solace and comfort in our congregation, following that terrible tragedy.

Even when faced with the depths of depravity, we human beings cannot be kept down for long. By our very nature, we reach for the heights, and we do so in so many ways. Through our buildings and monuments. By climbing mountains. By flying airplanes. By building rockets to take us into orbit, and all the way to the moon, and even, one day, maybe, to Mars.

Closer to home, we may be spending our time and energy climbing the career ladder, looking for ways to move on up in the world, and looking after our children as they grow up. As we endeavor to rise to every occasion, we ought to remember that there is a launching pad that we all can rely on. A place that can help us to elevate ourselves through communion, education, and social action. A construction site where we can raise our spirits, raise our souls, raise our consciousness, and as well, where we can raise our children in our unique and extraordinary tradition.

Adas Emuno is our launching pad, a place where we can take time off from the cares and concerns of the mundane world, and a place that we can take off from, to reach new heights in human potential that we may never even have dreamed of.

How high can you climb? The sky's the limit! All that's needed is your presence. Better yet, your participation. And, of course, your patronage, because to reach for the heights we need the support of a sturdy foundation, and to raise ourselves and our families, we also need to do some fundraising.

We won't be part of the skyline or set any records, but through our congregation, we certainly can stand tall in our own right. And we can see very far indeed, standing on the shoulders of the giants of Jewish tradition. And we can reach for the heights, both individually in our own personal development, and together as a community.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Our Cantor wrote the  D'Var Torah for the Academy for Jewish Religion this past week, and we're pleased to be able to share it with you here on our congregational blog:

Parashat Lekh-Lekha
Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Journeys are complicated. Fraught with the unexpected, they can bring out one's best and worst qualities. But the beginning—the moment of outset—can be a moment of perfection and purity. Consider the newborn, or a decision to embark on a new career, or those first steps of a backpacking trip.

Such a moment opens this week's Torah portion.

And God said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing."
Vayelekh Avramand Abram went forth (Genesis 12:1-2, 4).

If there was hesitation, we don't read about it. If Sarai gave him a hard time about leaving, that was kept between the two of them. Without regard to what came before or what will happen on the journey itself, the moment captured in these first verses is clear—God called, Abram went.

Debbie Friedman z''l composed a well-known interpretive setting based on these opening words:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you,
lech lecha to a place you do not know,
l'chi lach on your journey I will bless you,
and you shall be a blessing...

The paraphrasing of the biblical text is a derash on that pure moment of beginning. The song is intended to transform this moment into what a modern day person might feel when setting out on a significant personal journey. When sung at b'nei mitzvah ceremonies, the words are directed towards a child on the cusp of adulthood. Time stops, and for that moment no one is thinking about the frustrations and challenges that led to this day, or of the difficult and unpredictable teenage years that lie ahead.

So too with Abram at that vayelekh moment. His past is unknown and the future will quickly get messy, but these initial verses contain powerful certainty. The journey of his lifetime is about to begin, which is also the start of the journey of our people. While almost nothing is mentioned in the Torah regarding Abraham's past, there are the midrashim. In Genesis Rabbah 38:13 the young Abram, son of Terah the idol-maker, smashes his father's idols in order to make the point that they are not real gods, and then survives when Nimrod throws him into the fire. Since according to this midrash Abram is already aware of the presence of the One, it serves to explain his readiness when God says Lekh lekha. One might also consider, however, that this story suggests another aspect of Abraham's character. For the youth who willingly destroys the source of his father's income in order to prove a theological point, will become the husband who doesn't consider the feelings of his wife, when in Egypt he will tell Pharaoh she is his sister in order to save himself (Gen. 12:11-13).

Abraham's journey through this Torah portion, even after Egypt, is one of war, nightmare and pain. In Chapter 14 his nephew Lot is captured and then rescued by Abram. In Genesis 15:12-14 God speaks to Abram in a terrible dream, predicting his descendants' four hundred years of suffering as slaves before being freed by God. Hagar bears a child in the face of Sarai's barrenness. Finally though, there is the promise of Isaac and the covenant with God which culminates with Abram, now Abraham, circumcising himself and all his household.

How often are moments of hope and expectation followed by periods of slogging through the muck of reality. The newborn won't let you sleep and when he/she won't stop crying you feel helpless and ignorant. You discover that learning your new profession is tough and often tedious. The pack on your back chafes your shoulders, and your self-esteem is lost in the realization that you must have missed the trail when you took a wrong turn five miles back. But there is also the sublime redemptive moment of connection with your infant, of understanding a new skill, of finding the path once again.

Despite the inevitable muck, we take the journey. When we are called, we go. We may falter, there will be nightmares and fears and mistakes, and we will be changed. May we, like our ancestor Abraham, be blessed when we go forth.