Friday, September 27, 2013

Sukkot Family Day

Here are some photographs from this past Sunday's Family Day for the Adas Emuno Religious School, held in conjunction with the 8-day Festival of Sukkot.

There were art projects:

And visits to our decorated Sukkah:

And a very special gardening project, planting bulbs for the promise of a flower-filled springtime:

The flower beds between our Temple and Religious School that have longed lain fallow are now full of life thanks to our students and the adult volunteers who worked with them.

Our thanks to everyone who lent a hand or thumb, green or otherwise, to keeping Adas Emuno beautiful this Sukkot holiday!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Songfest in the Sukkah

Following Shabbat services at Adas Emuno yesterday evening, we were treated to a songfest in our congregational sukkah, courtesy of Joe Shapiro and Peter Hays. While they played guitar and sang, many others in attendance joined in the singing of familiar folk songs by Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and many others.

That's Joe Shapiro standing, and Peter Hays seated to his right.

Last month, Joe Shapiro treated us to a series of folk songs played during the Great March on Washington in 1963 during a Shabbat service dedicated to the 50th anniversary of that groundbreaking event which culminated in Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. 

The same theme of social justice was very much in evidence in our Sukkot celebration at Adas Emuno this past Wednesday evening, during last night's Shabbat service as the 8-day festival continues, culminating in Simchat Torah this coming Wednesday evening, services beginning at 7 PM.



It was quite a hootenanny, or sukkananny, or sukkaballo, sukkapalooza, take your choice. Whatever we call it, a great time was had by all in rocking out in the sukkah! 


We may have the makings of a new Sukkot tradition for Adas Emuno, and everyone agreed that we shouldn't wait a whole year before having another sing-along event again!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sukkot for Kids

Here's a lovely little video from Rebbetzin Tap in Israel called Tap Into... Sukkot! (for kids):

And here is wishing you a Chag Sameach and Good Yom Tov as we celebrate the Festival of Sukkot all week long!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lance Strate's Yom Kippur Appeal 5774

In the Reform temple in Queens that my family belonged to when I was growing up, the Yom Kippur Appeal was always given by some old guy, so I don't know why they asked me to do it.

Another difference was that it wasn't called the Yom Kippur Appeal. It was the Kol Nidre Appeal. As you may have guessed, that's because it was delivered during the Yom Kippur evening service. And maybe they did it that way because of the Kol Nidre prayer that gives the evening service its name, because of that beautiful melody that cannot help but touch the Jewish heart, and stir the Jewish soul. Kol Nidre captures so very perfectly the spirit of repentance that is central to the High Holy Days, these Days of Awe. 

But also, that music, so familiar, so haunting, speaks to us of return, that you can come home again, that you are always welcome here, that you are never a stranger here among family, friends, community, congregation. This is your house of worship, this is your house of meeting, this is your house of learning—this is your house. But more than that, this is your home.

Welcome home.

Back when I was a kid, I remember them saying every year that the Kol Nidre Appeal is a silent appeal. That always puzzled me, because the person doing the appeal wasn't at all silent, but in fact would go on talking for a long, long time. Now, as a kid, I realized that adults often don't say what they mean, or don't say everything they mean to say. And eventually I came to understand that this silent business meant that no one would come out and ask for donations. That was what the little white envelopes were for. Even in the years when my old Temple in Queens was facing severe financial hardships, that wasn't considered something appropriate to talk about during the appeal. 

And I am going to follow in that tradition by not mentioning how much our little shul on the hill depends on your donations, simply to break even from year to year. I'm not going to appeal for your financial support, because I know you understand that we have to pay our bills, that we cannot keep this congregation going on prayer alone, and that we will never, ever exclude anyone from membership in this synagogue due to financial hardship. I'm not going to talk about these things, because I know you understand.

Back when I was a kid, the Kol Nidre appeal often made some reference to the Holocaust. Almost all of the adults present had lived through the Second World War, had had personal experience with anti-Semitism, and felt the threat of the Nazis even from afar. Many of those present had escaped from Europe just before the war, and a number of congregants were Holocaust survivors, my parents among them. That was the milieu I grew up in, where all of the adults spoke Yiddish, and many spoke English with accents from a dozen or more European countries, from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Russia. Where everyone had family members who were victims of the Nazi genocide, and we all knew individuals who had numbers tattooed on their arms, survivors of the Auschwitz death camp. 

My mother, who is in her nineties now, has a locket on a necklace that she used to wear, and inside is a picture of a baby boy, her nephew, who was lost during the Holocaust, along with her sister and her sister's husband—the baby would be in his seventies now. And my mother, who was in her early 20s at the time, also witnessed her own mother die under terrible circumstances.

Living with the recent memory of such monstrous evil that had been directed specifically at our people, it was easy to summon up a sense of obligation, to agree that we must not let the light of living Judaism go out, that supporting our congregation is another way to fight back, another way to say, never again. And we were reminded that it didn't matter if you were a member of a congregation or not, if you practiced or not, if you believed or not, even if you converted to Christianity, it didn't matter. To the Nazis, a Jew was a Jew was a Jew, there was no escaping who you are, no escaping your identity, no free pass out of the concentration camps and firing squads. What alternative is there, then, but to embrace who we are, and join together for mutual protection and support?

But the generation of survivors is dwindling, and with them the living memory of the Holocaust. Time passes, new generations are born, wounds that may never heal can still grow less raw, less painful. Memory, which may not fade entirely, grows less vivid, more distant. We still live in a world marked by anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and threats to our very existence, but here in the United States we have grown very comfortable and secure, doors that once were closed to us are wide open now. Where we once huddled close together for mutual protection, we now walk confidently alone in search of the American dream.

When I was growing up, the horror of the Holocaust was eased by the enormous pride, and reverence, we all felt regarding the State of Israel. The Six-Day War of 1967 seemed nothing short of miraculous, but then came the Yom Kippur War in 1973. This Yom Kippur marks the fortieth anniversary of an attack that caught Israel by surprise, the beginning of a war that, in the early stages, Israel was in danger of losing. It was a war in which support from the United States was crucial. We knew that Israel was surrounded by enemies vowing to drive our people into the sea, and that most of the rest of the world was indifferent to their fate, if not overtly hostile to the Zionist cause. And our congregations became the focal points for rallying support for the Jewish state. We knew we had an important role to play as American Jews, in guaranteeing the future of the Jewish people, both here and abroad.

Today, we tend to be less idealistic, certainly less worshipful, about the State of Israel. And despite the fact that Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons, we tend to be less concerned about the existential threats to the Jewish state. And at the same time, we seem less aware of the extent to which the future of our people, our faith and our tradition, rests with us here, as well as with the Promised Land. 

Whether or not you believe that we have become too contented and complacent, it is clear that we don't feel the same sense of urgency that we felt back a few decades ago. That sense of urgency was always a part of the Kol Nidre Appeals of my youth. It was much easier to rally the troops when we felt threatened.

The challenge in making a Yom Kippur Appeal today is not only that we have it too good. It's that we're working too hard, many of us working hard to make ends meet in a difficult economic climate, working longer hours under difficult circumstances. And even when we're not working, we're too busy, with schedules to keep, especially for our children, whose lives are so much more structured than the generations that came before. And when we're not working or caring for others, we have a seemingly endless supply of amusements and entertainments to fill our every waking moment. Between all of our demands and all of our distractions, it's hard to make the time for something else, something outside of the everyday world of work and play, obligations and diversions. 

But I think that deep down we all know that there is something vital that's missing from all the sturm und drang, the storm and stress of everyday life. There's something important that we won't find in the workplace, no matter how many late hours we put in at the office, no matter how high up on the career ladder that we climb. There's something essential that you can't get on cable, no matter how many channels you zap through. You can't find it on a website, and Google doesn't have an algorithm to help you search for it. And there are no apps that you can download for your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or whatever smartphone you're using, it doesn't matter. There's something you can only find here, in your congregation, that you can only find here, in your house, in your home.

Where else do we turn for the single most important events of our lives? Where else do we turn when we want to celebrate a birth, to consecrate a new life? Where else do we turn to mark the coming of age of our children, their first great step into adulthood through their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and Confirmation ceremonies? Where else do we turn to bless and sanctify a marriage, to rejoice in a joining together to form a family, based on love and commitment? And where else do we turn after the loss of a loved one, to grieve and mourn, and to find comfort and consolation? We find all these things, and so much more, we find the things that really matter, here, in our house, in our home.

It's here that we find education for our children, a kind of education they won't get anywhere else, an education in our traditions, our history, our culture, our literature, our art and our music, and especially, our ethics and our spirituality. And it's here that we find education for adults as well, as well as wonderful musical programs, movie screenings, and many other interesting events. And it's here that we join together for social action, to help others who are in need, to take part in tikkun olam, the repair and healing of the world. It all begins here, in our spiritual home.

And it's easy to take your home for granted, and assume it will always be there waiting for you, no matter what. But the truth is, it won't be, not unless we make it happen. Adas Emuno is us, all of us. It's not a building, it's a congregation, a community, an assembly of the faithful. If we join together in support of Adas Emuno, it will continue. And if we don't, it will disappear. Those are the facts of life.

We just entered the year 5,774 on the Jewish calendar, and while we no longer believe that it dates back to the creation of the world, we do know that it dates back to the dawn of civilization, the beginnings of city life along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia. And we trace the history of our people back some 4,000 years. Ours is an amazing story of survival against all odds, and a story of a tradition that gave the world so very much, including monotheism, a sense of history and progress, a system of ethics and law, and with it the idea of equality, equality before the law, and also the letters of our aleph-bet, and with them literacy and learning, and so much more. 

Ours is a tradition that is not frozen in time, not fixed in the past, but one that is able to grow and adjust to changing circumstances, and that flexibility informs the Reform movement that we are a part of. We live in the modern world, but remain connected to our origins in antiquity, remain faithful to our tradition as one that is living and evolving. 

And our own little congregation will be 142 years old next month, and will turn 150 in just eight short years. But will Adas Emuno still be here to celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary? I think so. I hope so. But there are no guarantees. Our congregation will still be here only if we continue to support it, only if we keep it going, only if we keep the faith, with the future, and with ourselves.

You know, you can't be Jewish all by yourself. Not fully, it just doesn't work that way. We may pray as individuals, but we pray to Adonai Elohaynu, the Lord our God. We confess the sins that we have committed, and ask God to forgive us, to pardon us, and grant us atonement. We are not a crowd of isolated individuals competing with one another. We are a community, members of the tribe as we sometimes say. We are responsible for our own actions, but we are also responsible for each other. We take pride in each other's achievements. And we feel shame when one of our own goes astray. We are a family, and this, this is our home.

But only if we remember. And only if we want it to be. And only if we do something about it, only if we act to support our congregation, to give of ourselves in whatever manner is possible, to give back for all that we have been given, and to pay it forward for the generations growing up now, and the generations to come. So that someday in the future, it may be one of the young people sitting in this sanctuary today, who will be giving a Yom Kippur Appeal, and reminding that congregation-to-come that they would not be there if not for us here today, for our willingness to support our spiritual community, to maintain continuity with our ancient tradition in the modern world, to keep faith alive in times of darkness and in times of light, to make sure that there will always be a place that we can come back to, a house that we can call home.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Yom Kippur 5774






Dear Children,

This is not “The Last Lecture”, but it is “The Last Letter” I will write to you, at least for a while.

You patiently sat through my letter-sermons on education on Rosh Hashana evening, on identity on Rosh Hashana morning, and last night, on Yom Kippur evening, I spoke to you about community. My final subject this morning is: empathy.

Webster’s defines empathy as “the action of understanding…  and vicariously experiencing the feelings and thoughts of another.”

Empathy involves actively imagining yourself in another’s place. It goes beyond sympathy, which are expressions of understanding and support for another without necessarily understanding or experiencing what they have gone through.

The thesis of this letter-sermon is that empathy is a fundamental Jewish imperative; that empathy is key to understanding why Jews act as they do; that, in fact, there is a unique historical Jewish empathy that defines us.

But before I make this case, allow me make the even broader point that empathy defines us as human beings. Empathy is a fundamental human trait that we must strive to express in our lives in order to overcome our more undesirable but all too human characteristics. Empathy births compassion… and compassion must carry the day.

I love archeological stories, and I was struck by one a few months ago. A pair of archeologists from Australia National University was excavating an ancient burial site in Vietnam, south of Hanoi, called Man Bac. Lorna Tilley and Marc Oxenham uncovered the skeletal remains of a young man in grave 9. Man Bac Nine, as he is known, was gently laid to rest in a fetal position. No one else was laid to rest in this manner. When the archeologists studied the bones in detail the reason became clear. Man Bac Nine lies in death as he was in life, bent and crippled. The scientists identified a congenital disease, Klippel-Feil syndrome that paralyzed him from the waist down before adolescence. And with little if any use of his arms he could not have fed himself or kept himself clean.

Yet this young man lived at least another ten years. The people around him did not cast him out. To the contrary, they took care of his every need. Man Bac Nine lived four thousand years ago. His case echoes others. Windover Boy, from Florida, who lived 7,500 years ago, and suffered from spina bifada and was cared for by his community. Romito Two, from Italy, who lived 10,000 years ago, with severe dwarfism that meant that his nomadic clan had to carry him from site to site. And Shanidar One, from Iraq, who lived 45,000 years ago, and was largely blind and without the use of arms.

Some thirty cases like this testify that it is not only violence toward each other that is in our DNA, but compassion as well.  

Judaism takes this latent human quality to a whole new level. You might almost say that seeking justice and compassion on behalf of others is Judaism’s raison d'être.

Our Torah teaches that every human being is created in the image of God.

Our Torah teaches that we are to pursue holiness and that the highest expression of that holiness is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our Torah teaches, and this refrain repeats itself over and over again, 
love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

There it is—the classic statement of Jewish empathy. “For you were strangers.” You have been there. You know what it is like. You were oppressed. You were outcasts. You know the heart of shunned and the exploited. You can more than sympathize: you can empathize because you lived through it.

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying. I never lived in Egypt. I was never a slave. That was my ancestors, three thousand years ago.

Wrong. You were there. You were in Egypt. You were at Sinai. How so? It’s called “corporate memory.” You are part of a people that remembers everything. That never forgets. As one of the people, as a member of the tribe, you plug into that collective experience.

The whole point of the Passover Seder, arguably Judaism’s most important ritual, is to reenact the experience of liberation from slavery. And what is the single most important line of the Haggdah? “B’cal dor hayav adam lirot et atmo k’ilu hu yatza m’mitzrayim.” “In every generation each person must see himself as if he went out from Egypt.”

K’ilu. As if. Use your imagination, your moral imagination. Put yourself in your ancestor’s shoes. Don’t forget your roots, your origins, where you came from, what you went through. It explains what you are made of. It explains who you are.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses, speaking for God, says: “You shall not oppress a stranger—[and now listen to the exact words]—v’atem yadatem et nefesh hager
,” for you know the nefesh, the soul, the deepest feelings, of the stranger, “having been strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt” (23:9).

Again, in Leviticus: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (19:33).

Again, in Deuteronomy: “For the Lord your God… upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger… You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:17-19).

That trio, the orphan, the widow and the stranger, occurs together so often. Who are they? They are the powerless. They are the poor. They are the marginalized. And they are the precisely the people we are commanded to help.

Toward the end of the Torah, Moses and God go even one step further. We are commanded not only to aid the victims of exploitation, but to reconcile with the agents of our oppression. In Deuteronomy 23, Moses, when recalling the Exodus experience to the Israelites, says, “Do not hate an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land” (23:8).

Well, after what the Egyptians did to us, there would be every reason to hate them. If someone had enslaved your people for 400 years, wouldn’t you hate them?

As Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, 

So what is Moses saying? He is telling the Israelites: You have left the physical Egypt. Now you must leave the mental experience of Egypt. You have to let go of hate, because otherwise you will never be free.

Rabbi Saks adds, 

Had the Israelites continued to hate their enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites.

And he concludes, 

They would be slaves to their past, slaves to their feelings of pain, injustice and grievance. This is what we have to repeat, day after day, in this difficult, dangerous 21st century. You have to let go of hate if you want to be free.

To be truly empathetic human beings, we must identify with the oppressed, remembering our own collective misfortune. And to cultivate that selfless love, we must try to be as hate free as possible. Because an embittered soul is not an open soul and a resentful heart is not a willing heart.

Perhaps the most inspirational example of this incredibly difficult journey to true freedom is Nelson Mandela. I have told this story once before; allow me to tell it again.

President Bill Clinton writes in his memoirs that:
Early on the morning of February 11, 1990 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.”

The 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.”

And so I reach the end of this letter by posing a question: What does it mean to be an empathetic Jew in our world today?

Who is the stranger? Who are the needy? Who are the marginalized?

Who are the silent victims who have no voice?

What can I do in my little corner of the world?

What measure of justice (tzedek), of compassion (rachamim), of healing (tikkun olam) can I bring?

My dear children: I have spoken to you of education, of identity, of community, and now of empathy.

I want you to reclaim your love of learning, secular and Jewish.

I want you to reclaim your namesake, Yisrael, for we are all Jews by choice, who must wrestle with our faith.

I want you to reclaim your community for all Israel is responsible one for another.

And I want you to change the world, your corner of it, because you remember that you were once a stranger and even a slave.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it… was spoken more than two and half thousand years ago, by the prophet Isaiah. I close with his words:
To unlock the shackles of injustice… to loosen the yoke of the burdened… to let the oppressed go free… to share your bread with hungry… to give shelter to the homeless… to clothe the naked.
I, the Lord, have called you and given you power, to see that justice is done;
I created you, and appointed you, a covenant people; a light to the nations; to open the eyes of the blind; to set free those who sit in darkness.
A light to the nations; that all the world be saved.

My dear children: You are not children any more. It’s your turn.

With all my love, Abba.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Kol Nidre 5774






Dear Children,

Ten days have passed since I last wrote to you. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah- The Ten Days of Repentance. We’re supposed to begin the Jewish New Year in the kind of introspection and soul searching that moves us to change our ways. That’s a very different way of greeting the New Year than New Year’s Eve celebrations of the civil calendar.

On Rosh Hashanah my first letter to you was about education, and rekindling our reverence for learning, secular and religious. My second letter to you was about identity, and recognizing that today we are all Jews by choice who need to actively affirm our Jewish identity lest it slip away. I don’t know if you’d had an opportunity to reflect on these letters over the past ten days, but if not…you can find them on our website!

On this sacred evening when we gather together as a community, I would like to talk to you about… community. The community you belong to that we call Am Yisrael or K’lal Yisrael. You might consider this something of a “State of the Union” of the Jewish People.

A preliminary word on what constitutes community. A recent survey showed that the average 18- to 35-year-old has 237 Facebook friends. Does that sound about right? Would you consider those friends your community?

When this same survey asked how many of these Facebook friends you could rely on in a crisis, the average answer was two. A quarter said one. An eighth said none.

A true friend, rather than an acquaintance, even a good acquaintance, is precisely someone who “has your back” in a crisis. And a true community is made up of people you can count on to look after you in time of need.

That’s what Jews do. Our motto, you might say, has always been the Talmudic dictum, “kol yisrael aravin zeh b’zeh—all Israel is responsible one for another.” That’s why American Jews led the charge to free the Jews of the former Soviet Union. That’s why Israel has welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the globe, and airlifted penniless Jews from Yemen and Iraq and most recently, Ethiopia. That’s why in every community they settled Jews established a synagogue, then a cemetery, and then a Free Aid Society to help those in need.

In my last letter I talked about how Jews are both an ethnic group and religion at the same time. As Mordecai Kaplan put it, being a Jew is belonging as much as believing.

Now a few words about how your community is doing. In the spring I wrote a column called “Where We Live: The End of the Jewish Diaspora.” It received quite a bit of comment. I pointed out that the far reaching Jewish dispersion is dramatically shrinking. Today over 12 million of the 14 million Jews in the world live in just two countries, Israel and America. Not a single city outside of these two, except Paris, even has a Jewish population over 250,000.

Put that in perspective. Before the Holocaust Poland alone had 3 million Jews, the Former Soviet Union, 2 million, Romania, Germany and Hungary more than a half million each. There were more than 9.5 million Jews in Europe; today barely a million. And it is sobering to remember that the world Jewish population in 1933 was 15.3 million. Eighty years later we have still not replaced our pre-Holocaust numbers.

And now add to the mix the fact that the number of Jews in America is on the decline. We have barely the same number of Jews in our community today as we did in 1950, and since then the US population has increased by 65%. That means we’re now about 2% of the population, and getting smaller, and getting older.

So let’s stop and ask ourselves why. Why in the most prosperous nation on earth, with unprecedented religious freedom, and with a flowering of Jewish culture and a profusion of Jewish institutions? As nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthhammer rather bluntly put it some years ago: 

How does a community decimate itself in the benign conditions of the Unites States? Easy: low fertility and endemic intermarriage.”

I know this is a sensitive subject, so let me tread carefully. And I know that I am dealing with quite a few statistics in this letter, but they are important, and they are eye opening. Eye-opener #1: American Jews have the lowest fertility rate of any ethnic group in the country. We are not anywhere near close to replacing our numbers. That would require a rate of 2.1. The national average in our community is 1.8. Among non-orthodox Jews it is 1.4.

Eye Opener #2: Fifty years ago there were 540,000 Jewish children in after school synagogue religious schools. Today there are 240,000.

Eye-opener #3: Half of all marriages in the Jewish community today involve a spouse who is not Jewish at the time of the marriage. Less than a third (28%) of the children of intermarriage are being raised as Jews. Less than a quarter of the children of intermarriage will marry Jews themselves. Of the 5.5 million people who identify as Jews in this country, some 2 million live in a household that does not identify itself as Jewish. 60% of Jews under 40 live in such a household.

We have wonderful examples of interfaith families making the commitment to raise their children Jewish right here at Adas Emuno. We celebrate that, but we need to face the fact that it is the exception to the rule. Put another way, for every one interfaith family that makes that decision, two will not.

Now here is where it gets personal, and I’m going to try not to get emotional.

I know you are in a relationship, or may be in a relationship with someone from another faith.

I know you may be in love or may fall in love with this wonderful person.

I know you may get married.

If he/she is your soul-mate, you will have my blessing.

What will break my heart is not your falling in love with another human being, be they of a different faith; that is preposterous. Love is beautiful, and we need more of it.

What will break my heart is if, as a result, you abandon Judaism.

What will break my heart is if you turn your back on your family, and your faith, and your people.

I pray that you will have a Jewish wedding.

I pray you will be blessed with Jewish children. At least 2.1 of them! (We have plenty of space for them in our hearts, and in our religious school.)

I pray that the bonds of love are never broken.

Make no mistake about it, we are all profoundly grateful to be living in the greatest country in the world. The doors of assimilation are wide open to a place of dignity, equality and security. We are walking right through those doors. For us as individuals- who can say anything bad. But for us as a community, as Krauthhammer puts it, 

assimilation is a disaster for Jews as a collective [people] with a memory, a language, a tradition, a liturgy, a history, a faith, a patrimony that will all perish as a result.

Could it be that the only remaining significant Jewish community in the world outside Israel will quietly wither away in two or three more generations?

Will a small, orthodox and ultra-orthodox core be all that’s left?

Will the seduction of assimilation accomplish what the assault of anti-Semitism never could? Will we succumb to self-inflicted wounds?

The Ten Tribes really did disappear from history. As did the great Persian Jewish community. As did the great Spanish Jewish community. As did the great Polish Jewish history. They disappeared from annihilation, or expulsion. The American Jewish community would be the first to disappear from assimilation.

That would be deeply sad and deeply disconcerting.

Sad that in the place we could finally be free, as Jews, we opted not to be.

Sad, because this country has and can continue to greatly benefit from what American Jews have contributed, as Jews.

Disconcerting, because that would leave only Israel, and as wonderful as the Jewish State may be, to put all our Jewish eggs in one basket, so to speak, is probably not wise for many different reasons.

You are old enough to appreciate the harsh demographic realities facing our community. I have not hid them from you. So what message do I want to convey to you, the next generation, today?

To paraphrase President Kennedy: “Ask not what your community can do for you. Ask what you can do for your community.”

Yes, even if you are a tween, teen, or twenty-something…you are not too young to give to your community. What institution or initiative in the place you call home could benefit from your involvement? Is it your synagogue youth group or college Hillel? Is it a gap year in Israel, or a Birthright trip to Israel? Is it a Birthright Alumni program or a Jewish summer camp? Is it a young Jewish leadership circle or a young Jewish professionals’ network? Is it the JCC or ADL? Is it J-Date or J-Street?

One of these groups will be a better place because of you. You may not be able to change the world, but you might just be able to affect your corner of it.

Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The Talmud reminds us: “You are not required to finish the task; neither are you free to desist from it.”

And remember this too: despite the doom and gloom of our waning numbers, this is still, arguably, the greatest time in our history to be a Jew. Imagine that for 2000 years there was no Jewish homeland, and then, in the lifetime of many in this room, 65 years ago, modern Israel rose from the ashes of Jewish history.

And what a state it is: Jewish, democratic, vibrant, entrepreneurial. In a bad neighborhood; for sure. Problems internal and external; no doubt about it. But Israel is a miracle by the Mediterranean. Our miracle.

And the American Jewish community in which you live is still a great one. There is more Jewish learning, more Jewish activism, and more Jewish influence than in any diaspora Jewish community in history.

Israel. America. In the ashes of the Holocaust, two amazing Jewish centers… waiting for you!

President Kennedy said in his great Inaugural address “the torch has been passed to a new generation…”

You, dear children, are now the torch bearers. You are the precious link between a hundred Jewish generations past, and a hundred more to come.

Don’t let the light go out. Keep the flame burning as surely as the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light, above me.

Find your place. Find your community.

You are young. You are good looking (very). You are hard-working (most of the time). You are searching. You have a bright future. We need you. We love you.

Thank you for listening. Only one more letter to go… Shana tova…

Love, Abba

Friday, September 13, 2013

Yom Kippur and A Whale of a Song

Yom Kippur begins this evening, and tomorrow afternoon we read the Book of Jonah from the Tanakh. So, to get in the mood, here is a song by Ari Lesser special for the occasion:

You can also watch it over on YouTube, under the title of Ari Lesser - Jonah In The Whale - Yom Kippur - 5774

And with that we wish you a Shana Tova, and we look forward to seeing you tonight!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Scenes From Tashlich 2013

As we do every year, weather permitting, Congregation Adas Emuno held its Tashlich service on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, this year on the morning of Friday, September 6 at the Englewood Boat Basin. In preparation for Yom Kippur, the Tashlich prayers associated with casting off our sins are symbolized by the act of casting bread upon the waters, an act particularly appreciated by some avian onlookers:

Following the brief ceremony, participants also partook of a picnic lunch.  Special thanks to Linda Kowalski for providing these photographs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rabbi Schwartz's Rosh Hashanah Prayer 5774


Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

Eloheinu, velohei avotenu

Our God, God of all generations:

Help us to thoughtfully reflect on the year just past,

And to courageously embrace this year, 5774, just born.

We stand before You grateful for our own sustenance and prosperity, but painfully aware that too many of our fellow citizens languish in economic hardship.

Too many of them remain unemployed, underemployed, and uninsured.

Too many do not share in the promise of this country.

Too many are being left behind.

Remind us, O God, that we can and should do better.

Remind us that our wealth is but Your gift, and that the 1% are called upon to not forsake the 99%.

Remind us, in this jubilee year of the great March on Washington, that we all share in the American dream.

In a year after which we re-elected a president for these United States, guide our leaders to enlightened decision making, inspired vision, and basic cooperation for the public good.

May those who govern lay aside personal gain and partisan politics to engage in the unfinished work of justice in our society.

Foster a spirit of common sacrifice that the vast richness of this land be shared more equitably, and that, in the words of Torah, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger be not forgotten, “for you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

At this New Year we cannot help but remember our soldiers in harm’s way, still fighting and dying in America’s longest war…and we pray for their safety and speedy return.

At this New Year we cannot help but think about our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel, who also stand in harm’s way and are daily threatened by a burning Middle East.

Israel too has reaffirmed its vital democracy in the election of a new government, even as its neighbor to the south collapses, its neighbor to the north turns murderously on its very own, and its neighbor to the east, sworn to, “wipe the Zionist entity off the map,” is now on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

We pray for peace. Give us the wisdom to pursue the surest way to finding it.

And finally, at this New Year, we cannot help but think of the innocent victims of violence and of natural disaster that seared into our conscience this past year, near and far, from the children of Newtown, to the children of Damascus.

We pray for healing and the surest way to pursue it.

Our God, Source of all life and blessing:

At this New Year of hope and possibility,

May we find common purpose to do Your will, to rise to our greatest potential, to reflect our creation in Your image… and to walk with You forward to peace and purpose.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Morning 5774






Dear Children,

Good morning. Shana Tova. I hope you slept well. This is my second letter to you. Last night I spoke to you about education, and what the love of learning and the reverence for learning has meant to the Jewish people. This morning I want to speak to you about identity.

All four of my High Holy Day sermons this year, you will recall, are in the form of letters to you, my children. My three children… and to all our young people, “my children” in the collective sense.

I don’t mind if the adults listen in as well.

Let me begin with a story I recently came across, from your world, the high-tech realm of computers. Here’s a provocative question: Could you be fooled by a computer pretending to be human?

One of the key pioneers of the computer, British mathematician Alan Turing, posed that question in 1950. He proposed an experiment: If expert judges, in typed conversations with a person and a computer program, couldn’t tell them apart, then we would have to consider the machine as capable of “thinking.” We would have to say that the computer has a mind. Turing predicted that programs capable of fooling judges at least 30% of the time would exist by the year 2000.

In 2008 at a competition called the Loebner Prize the top chat-box (as a human-mimicking program is called) fooled 3 out of 12 expert judges. That’s 25%... but eerily close to Turing’s prediction. One day, in your lifetime, you may not be able know if you are typing, or even talking, to a human or a chat-box.

The lines of our human identity are becoming blurred. Today I want to talk to you about the lines of your Jewish identity, and whether they too are becoming blurred.

Let’s start with the question of how one becomes a Jew in the first place? A simple question… or maybe not so simple. There are two ways: You can be born a Jew, or convert to Judaism. That alone reveals a rather unique situation. Is one born a Christian or born a Muslim? Not really. If your parents are Christian or Muslim, you are presumed to have that identity, but you assume it only after agreeing to the faith propositions of those religions. The act of birth alone does not bestow your identity; a declaration of faith does.

For those born of Jewish parents, no declaration of faith, and no pledge of allegiance, is required. In this regard, Judaism is like a nationality or ethnic group. You are a member by simply being born into it. In halakhic Judaism, which follows traditional Jewish law, you simply need to be born to a Jewish mother. In Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism, a Jewish mother or father. Either way, nothing else is required.

If you are not born Jewish, you can convert to Judaism. In this sense, Judaism is not an ethnicity, but a religion. Besides circumcision and ritual immersion in a mikvah, converts are asked to study Judaism, appear before a rabbinic beit din, tribunal, and make a declaration of faith. Interestingly, if you were converted as a child and were too young to make that declaration, you have the right to repudiate that conversion once you reach age 13. Today we call converts “Jews by choice.” Individuals not born Jewish have to do something to be Jewish; they have to actively choose it.

My message to you is this: Today, we are all Jews by choice. The reality is that we have to choose to be Jewish, or it will slip away. We have to affirm our identity, or it will morph into something else. We live in a society that is 98.5 % not Jewish. We live in a society that is largely secular, except when it is Christian.

You were born Jewish. A hundred generations of your ancestors were too. Many of them suffered for being Jewish. Yet many of them fought to remain Jewish. Thankfully that hostility is largely gone. Thankfully you have probably never experienced serious anti-Semitism. Nobody tells you what faith to belong to. Nobody legislates your religious identity. There is no penalty for being an atheist, an agnostic, a mild believer, or a fervent believer.

And there is no internal penalty either. Should you decide to be a non-practicing Jew, or a marginally affiliated Jew, you may encounter some disappointment from your parents, but no punishment. If you marry a non-Jewish partner you will not be disowned like Tevyeh’s daughter in Fiddler on the Roof. If you actually embrace another faith, convert to another religion, the consternation will be greater, but you are unlikely to be excommunicated or ostracized.

People say that America is a religious country, at least compared to Europe. Yet religion is considered a matter of personal choice in America. We have enshrined the separation of church and state. Your practice of religious liberty is constitutionally guaranteed, and so is your non-practice of religion. So in a way you’ve got a free pass. You are Jewish by virtue of your birth. You don’t have to do anything to be considered Jewish. Nobody will restrict you in your pursuit of a Jewish identity; nobody will hassle you if you leave it.

A major sociological study was released this year by the highly regarded Pew Research Center. The headline it garnered was “The Rise of the “‘Nones’.” The “nones” being referred to are certainly not n-u-n-s, but n-o-n-e-s, religiously unaffiliated Americans, American’s who listed their religious denomination as “none.” An unprecedented 20% of Americans, that is 1 out of every 5, do not identify with any religion. In your age category, adults under 30, the figure is 32%, one out of every three. So if you want to disappear religiously in this country it’s easy to do so. There’s a big pool of like-minded people to jump into; a pool of fifty million or so.

So my question is: What are you going to do with that free pass? Are you going to opt in or opt out? If the tide is pulling you away from the shore, are you going to slowly drift away? Or are you going to swim against the tide and reach dry land?

Sometimes we hardly feel the current carrying us further and further away. Before we know it we are far out. The only way back is to swim. But we have to want to swim, rather than float. We have to choose it.

This question takes on added urgency because there are so many changes going on in your world. You generally leave home at 18. You complete a first degree at 22. Establishing yourself in your profession, and possibility pursuing an advanced degree is taking longer and longer. You do not necessarily feel the need to marry in your twenties any more. Doing so in your early thirties is not uncommon. Waiting a few more years after that to begin a family is normative. By the time those children are old enough to raise the question of religious education, more than twenty years have passed since you were likely involved in a synagogue. That’s a long time to drift. Can you still see the shore?

Don’t lose sight of it. Don’t drift so far away that you can’t find your way back.

I say that because you are the guardians of a beautiful heritage. A sacred trust that has indeed been a light to the nations. This heritage is yours: a hundred generations behind you, a hundred in front of you.

Nearly a century ago a young Jewish man in Paris named Edmond Fleg grew very estranged from his heritage. He almost left it completely before something pulled him back. He wrote a little book, an extended essay really, called Why I am a Jew. The concluding lines are as poetic a description of the spiritual legacy of Judaism as you will find. He wrote:

I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands no abdication of my mind. 
I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because every time that despair cries out, the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the word of Israel is the oldest and the newest.
I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not complete; we are completing it.

To be a Jew by choice today is to cast your lot with the Jewish people, and their noble mission.

The first Jew by choice made that very declaration. You read her story at your confirmation. Ruth the Moabite said, “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

To say that you are Jewish means taking an active and proud part in the destiny of your people and making the practice of Judaism central to your lives every day, week, month, year.

It means that the decisions you make as an individual are made as part of a community as well.

It means taking to heart the words right behind me, da lifnei mi atah omed—“know before whom you stand.”

It means understanding, as Elie Wiesel once put it, “that as a Jew my life begins before I was born and continues after I die.”

To be a Jew by choice means to see the world through Jewish eyes, to celebrate birth in a Jewish way, to sanctify time in a Jewish way, to mourn in a Jewish way.

I cannot help be reminded that when you were young we once found a rare and beautiful songbird in our front yard. It was an indigo bunting. But it was dead. When we went to bury it, you, Talia, insisted that we say kaddish for the bird. That is seeing the world though Jewish eyes. That is having a Jewish soul…

Well, my time is short, and in this brief letter I can only leave you with a concluding thought, a challenge: to live up to your namesake. As a people we get our name from the book of Genesis, Chapter 32. Before his fateful encounter with his long estranged brother, Jacob wrestles with an angel… or is it his conscience? The angel says to him, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel
 [Yis-ra-el, which means the one who wrestles with God], for you have wrestled with God and men and prevailed.” 

We are Israel, the God wrestlers. We are the strivers, the seekers. As Britian’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, “The definition of a Jew—Israel—is one who struggles, who wrestles with God and humanity and prevails.” And Rabbi Sacks adds, “Jacob says something very profound to the angel: “‘I will not let you go until you bless me’.”

Dear children: Do not let go of your heritage until it blesses you. Do not give up until you have wrestled and struggled and prevailed. You have the power to break that hundred-generation chain of tradition in one. You likewise have the power to extend it to your children and your children’s children.

Back to the chat-box: If you were part of that experiment, if the judges were having that conversation with you and with the machine, what would be the result?

I have no doubt that the experts would know right away that you are the human beings, because you are beautiful, passionate, caring young people. We are proud of who you are. As your parents we love you unconditionally. (That’s unconditionally, not uncritically!) No machine could ever mimic you… I think.

But would the judges be able to tell that you are Jewish? And how would you match up against a Jewish chat-box? Would they glimpse your Jewish soul?

Enough said. Shana tova.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Evening 5774






Maybe it’s because I turned 55 this summer. Maybe it’s because my youngest graduated from college, and I’m done paying tuitions (I think). Maybe it’s because—how shall I say thiswe are not always in full agreement with the choices our three young adult children are making…

Whatever the reason, this is “my year of letter writing.” This is what I’ve decided to do: Write all four of my High Holiday sermons in the form of a Letter to My Children. I’ve certainly never done that before. All four sermons, you say? Four letters? Well yes, I’ve got a lot to say! And I believe that the themes I will touch upon, education, identity, community, and empathy, are relevant to our community in general and these High Holydays in particular.

Point of clarification: when I say “my children” I don’t only mean my own. I really mean “our children” in the broadest collective sense. My sons and daughter… and yours. My message is to our Jewish youth today, for the sake of their future tomorrow. Over the years I’ve always thought of all the students I teach, b’nei mitzvah, confirmation, post-confirmation, as “my kids.” In fact sometimes I would refer to them as such and confuse Debby. This is for all my kids, even if addressed some of the time to my own.

My Dear Children,

If you talk to your grandfather, or anyone of his generation, who grew up the child of immigrants, who grew up during the Depression, who grew up walking to school so he could save the nickel it cost to ride the trolley… education was everything. Your grandfather was told by his father, “bury your head in the books.”  He was told “a degree is your passport to a better life.” He was told “without education you are nothing,” and “I want for you what I didn’t have for myself.”

This first letter to you is all about education.

Regretfully, you did not know your great grandparents, save for one. You did not hear firsthand their immigrant saga. You did not imbibe their epic journey to a new land, their monumental struggles, their Yiddish inflections, their fierce pride in their Judaism in the face of endemic anti-Semitism.

You know a bit more about your grandparents’ story, the so called “greatest generation” because they sacrificed so much in the defense of this country, during the Second World War and Korean War, and then returned home to build America into the greatest country in the world. Your grandfathers did this through sheer guts and determination, but also by being given one of the greatest and wisest gifts in American history
the GI Bill. Hundreds of thousands put themselves through school studying during the day and working at night, or studying at night and working during the day… and often while raising families. They cherished their education and venerated the schools that bestowed the skills they would need to succeed. 

And they excelled. Let me express a little bit of ethnic pride here. Jewish students were represented all out of proportion in select city high school like the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant. And the young Jewish graduates that poured out of schools of higher education like City College and Brooklyn College (both of which were attended by your grandfather) were the top engineers, the sharpest lawyers, the most astute accountants, the most gifted teachers, the most brilliant mathematicians, the most daring scientists. They were hungry to succeed, and nothing was handed to them on a silver platter. They wanted to get ahead, for sure, but they also wanted to give back to society by realizing their highest potential.

You are fourth generation Americans. Now, I have a thesis about that, which has preoccupied me for some time. The fourth generation of American Jews has no direct connection to the immigrant experience. You did not spend your childhood, like me, making the monthly trip into Brooklyn from Westchester County, every month and every holiday. You did not hear, over and over again, the stories of coming to America, surviving the Depression, fighting to build a better life. You did not see the tiny home crammed with graduation pictures, from high school, from college, and the copies of the diplomas: the bachelor’s degree, the masters degree, and the doctorate.

As fourth generation American Jews you were born and raised in the comfortable climes of middle to upper middle class suburbia. You were shuttled from one extra-curricular activity to another. You did not need a paying job during the school year. You did not have to leave school early to support your family. Your college tuition was covered. You graduated debt free.

Part of my thesis as it relates to education, is that when you don’t have to fight for something you value it less. You are likely unaware that the children of immigrant Jews like your grandparents were so high achieving that beginning in the 1920’s many of the elite universities in the country instituted quotas to limit the number of Jewish students. Sociologist Jerome Karabel documents that these Jewish quotas at Harvard, Yale and Princeton were not lifted until the 1960s.

Forgive me for saying so, but your generation of American Jews has lost its edge when it comes to education. Asian Americans now comprise the highest achieving ethnic group at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, the highest cohort of National Merit Scholars and valedictorians. Many are second or third generation Americans and thus have the direct connection to the immigrant generation, not to mention the zealous, demanding parenting as described in the bestselling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A generation ago that book would have been Battle Hymn of the Jewish Mother.

Jewish culture venerates learning and celebrates educational achievement. As American Jews have slipped away from their Judaism they have also slipped away from academic excellence. I read a fascinating book over the summer. Permit me a few minutes of historical digression. The book, by social economists Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, is entitled, The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History. Their thesis is simple and daring: The fate of the Jews is linked to their level of education. When the Temple and the Jewish homeland were destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, Judaism shifted from a small elite of priests offering sacrifices for the masses to a dispersed community of rabbis and lay leaders who demanded participation and accountability from the common man.

The authors write:

Rabbi and scholars transformed Judaism into a religion whose main norm required every Jewish man to read and to the study the Torah in Hebrew himself and, even more radically, to send his sons from the age of six or seven to primary school or synagogue to learn to do the same. In the world of universal illiteracy, as it was at the beginning of the first millennium, this was an absolutely revolutionary transformation. At that time, no other religion had a similar norm as a membership requirement for its followers, and no state or empire had anything like laws imposing compulsory education or universal literacy for its citizens.

The authors go on to explain an intriguing phenomenon. While the Jews remained primarily farmers in an agrarian society under Rome their numbers drastically declined. As they point out, in this rural economy educating the children as Judaism requires is a cost but brings no economic benefits because literacy does not make a farmer "more productive or wealthier." What we don’t like to talk about is that sizable numbers of Jews opted out of Judaism in the first centuries of the Common Era, when our population dropped from 5.5 million circa the year 65 to roughly 1.2 million circa 650.

Then the Jewish world radically changed again with the conquest of the Muslims. Their vast empire saw the rapid growth of urban centers, and the establishment of new industries and commerce. These changes vastly increased the demand for skilled and literate occupations. The Jews answered the call and filled the void. In the next two and half centuries 75% of the world’s Jews, in Mesopotamia and Persia, left agriculture and moved to cities and towns. The Chosen Few argues that the literacy and education skills of the Jews gave them such an advantage and incentive that as Jews spread throughout North Africa, Spain, and Christian Europe that they put a premium on advanced education and networking.

The authors conclude, 

The rabbis and scholars who transformed Judaism into a religion of literacy during the first centuries of the millennium could not have foreseen the profound impact of their decision to make every Jewish man capable of reading and studying….  an apparently odd choice of religious norm-the enforcement of literacy in a mostly illiterate, agrarian world… turned out to be the lever of Jewish economic success and intellectual prominence in the subsequent centuries up to today.

So much for the history lesson… My question to our children today is: Do you have the hunger for learning that distinguished your forbears? Do you have the passion for wisdom that defined your culture? Do you have the commitment to Jewish literacy? Do you have the commitment to general literacy? Is your thirst for knowledge or for some other drink? Is your appetite for understanding or for some other pursuit?

You’re into making money, so let’s talk about that for a second. Level of education still matters. There is a direct correlation between educational attainment and lifetime earnings. Today a high school dropout cannot expect to make a million dollars during their entire working career. A high school graduate can expect to earn $1.4 million. A college graduate: nearly double that, $2.4 million. A master’s degree holder, add another half million. A doctorate- it jumps to $3.5. And the highest of all, a professional degree… lifetime earnings of $4.2 million dollars.

Your secular education matters. And your religious education matters. In part because of the connection I just talked about. Studying Judaism instills a love of learning. And in part because religious learning does something secular learning cannot do, or at least cannot do fully—teach you how to be how to be a mensch.

This past May our youngest son Noam remembers that we sat in the rain as he graduated from Rutgers (magna cum laude I will add). He didn’t really pay attention to the commencement speaker, a recently retired NJ Supreme Court Justice, in part because she went on too long after saying she would not go on too long. But I reminded him of one thing that I found worthwhile. She recalls that when she got her first exam back from the Catholic school she attended (which she aced), her teacher, a nun, wrote on her test: "Good job. Be smart. Be good."

Love learning because it sharpens your mind, and your heart. Cherish your secular and religious education because it makes you a more informed citizen, and a more compassionate one. Strive for academic excellence not because of the awards it will bring but the insights it will bestow.

There’s a classic teaching in our tradition which lists some of the dearest ethical commandments of Judaism and then remarkably concludes with the expression v’talmud torah c’neged kulam, “but the study of Torah is the greatest of them all.”

Why does the Talmud say that study is the greatest? The sages reply: because it leads to all the rest of the commandments… to learning them and observing them.

So on this Rosh Hashanah I say to you, my children, and all the young people here: don’t stop learning. Don’t drop out after bar/bat mitzvah. Don’t stop after confirmation. Pledge yourself to lifelong learning as a Jew. Need a good book? Just ask me.

Don’t stop learning in your secular studies. Excel in high school, shine in college, pursue the advanced degree… and then keep learning in your profession and in general. Your education is not a burden; it is a privilege. And your great grandparents, the ones who did not have the opportunity you have, were right. It is a passport to a better life, in more ways than one.

Your great grandfather told your grandfather to bury his head in the books. He did so… and think about how we benefit from that to this day.

So I will conclude this first letter by wishing you on this Rosh Hashanah not only a shana tova u’metukah, a good and sweet new year, but a shana tova v’haskalah, a good and educational new year.

Love, Abba.