Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Return of the Violin

The following film by Haim Hecht comes very highly recommended by Rabbi Schwartz. It's just over an hour long, so set aside a little time to stop, look, and above all, listen.  We think you'll find it moving and thought-provoking. As Rabbi Schwartz put it:

This is worth watching if you have any interest in music, history, Joshua Bell, Huberman, Mahler, Strauss, Brahms, Toscanini, Stradivarius, Mehta, Lloyds of London, the fall of Communism, origin of the Israeli Philharmonic, the Jews of Poland and Europe, Carnegie Hall, etc.

If you agree or disagree with Rabbi Schwartz's comments on the film, or if you have any further thoughts or opinions, let us know—we'd love to hear from you and share your responses here on our congregational blog.

And best wishes for a happy and safe civil new year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Questioning the Torah

We are pleased to share with you the following reflections provided by Adas Emuno congregant Ludwik Kowalski sent in on December 19th:

What a coincidence! Two events, our rabbi's play, in Temple Emanu-El, and publication of an article by Roger Price, Is This Really The Torah God Gave Moses At Sinai?, took place on the same day (December 18, 2014). The main hero of the play, the ancient Rabbi Elisha, struggled with questions that founders of Reform Judaism addressed in the 19th century. Elisha was excommunicated long before Spinoza was declared a heretic, and before modern science was created by Galileo and Newton.

Price's article is full of questions about the Torah, which "asserts a pre-history and a purpose of the ancient Judahite kingdom to which contemporary Jews trace their emotional and often actual genetic origin." Each of these intellectual contributions—the play and the article—addresses topics relevant to our weekly Torah study.

For more on Rabbi Schwartz's theatrical adaptation of As A Driven Leaf, see our previous post, Hanukkah and Heresy. Congregation Adas Emuno was well-represented at the reading at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, and the play itself was very well received, a genuine hit! Now all that's needed is an angel to sponsor it for Broadway!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Don't Let the Light Go Out!

As the eight days of Hanukkah come to a close this evening, let us keep the spirit alive with the words and music of Peter, Paul and Mary singing, Light One Candle from their 25th anniversary concert in 1986:

In this season of celebration and hope, we at Congregation Adas Emuno join together with all people of good will, conscience, and faith, to affirm our commitment to keeping the light and from going out, the light of justice, the light of mercy, the light of compassion, the light of humility, the light of learning, the light of reason, the light of truth, and the light of peace.  Shalom!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oil's Well That Ends Well

Hard to resist the Shakespearean pun when it comes to the matter of oil and the miracle of Hanukkah. That's the theme of this new music video by the Maccabeats, All About That Neis:

As you know, neis is the Hebrew word for miracle, and that's what the letter nun on the dreidel stands for, with gimel for gadol meaning great, hay for haya meaning happened, and shin for sham meaning there. Neis gadol haya sham means a great miracle happened there, but in Israel they say, a great miracle happened here, and instead of the shin, their dreidels have a pei for po, meaning here.

For more on the subject, let's consult the musical group, Six13, singing Chanukah (Shake It Off):

Let us celebrate the miracle of light, and life, tonight, and every night! Happy Hanukah!

Wishing for Warm Weather on this Festival of Lights

Here in Bergen County, New Jersey, Hanukkah means winter, and winter means that it's cold outside. So as much as we love our home, can you forgive us for a little wishful thinking, and California dreaming?

That was Tom Lehrer singing Hanukkah in Santa Monica (in case you were wondering).

But, as cold as it gets here, there are many other places on planet Earth where Jewish communities are celebrating Hanukkah in much colder temperatures. And colder still is the surface of the moon, which brings to mind this new video, Another Hanukkah Miracle from the Technion:

Of course, over in Israel it's nice and warm, just like Santa Monica. Ah, well, button up your overcoat, put on your hat and mittens, and let the lovely glow of the candles keep you warm inside. Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hanukkah A Cappella

For the fifth day of Hanukkah, how about this a cappella medley music video featuring Shir Soul:


And as we get ready to light the sixth candle tonight, we wish you a Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving

On December 5th, the Jewish Standard published another op-ed by Adas Emuno president Lance Strate, this one entitled, From Thanksgiving to Chanukah. You might note the different spelling of the Jewish holiday between the title of this post and the title of the article, and that's because there is no one correct way to spell Hanukkah, since it's a transliteration of a Hebrew word written in the Hebrew alphabet.

Also, by way of contextualization, Thanksgiving was on November 27th this year, which means that this article was published just over a week afterwards. And the first night of Hanukkah was December 16th, about a week and a half after the article appeared. So now that we're in the midst of our Festival of Lights, it seems like the perfect time to share the piece here on our congregational blog. Note that a few minor corrections have been made from the published version, and the fourth poem, which was cut for reasons of space, is restored here, as well as some images being added. So here goes:

With the celebration of Thanksgiving still fresh in our memories, and quite possibly our waistlines, and Chanukah a little more than a week away, we might recall last year’s rare, indeed almost impossible confluence of the two holidays.

Remember how the event was met with a bit of bemusement, resulting in the neologism Thanksgivukkah, in images of turkeys with tails that turned into Chanukah menorahs, and meals that combined stuffing and cranberry sauce with latkes and sufganiyot?

At first glance, it might be tempting to say that this year Chanukah has been restored to its rightful place in the secular calendar, ending as it does on Christmas Eve. But Christmas is one of the two most important holidays on the Christian calendar and, in all honesty, our minor holiday does not work all that well as the Jewish alternative to Christmas. As much as Chanukah is our Festival of Lights, it pales in comparison with the religious celebration of the birth of the Christian savior through divine incarnation. Neither can we offer an equivalent to the iconography of Christmas trees, sleighs, stockings, and jolly old Saint Nicholas, better known as Santa Claus.

And can we really take pride in the fact that Chanukah has been incorporated into the secular “Holiday Season,” which has become an enormous celebration of materialism and an orgy of consumption, beginning with Black Friday, now pushed back into Thanksgiving itself, followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday? Or that the one favorable comparison that we can make is that we get eight nights of presents instead of just one?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Chanukah, and I fully recognize and understand the challenges that we face in growing up Jewish and raising our children as Jews in America. I bring up the problematic nature of Chanukah’s association with Christmas simply to underline the fact that last year, more than a few people commented that Chanukah actually fits better with Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is a harvest holiday and Chanukah originated as a delayed celebration of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Thanksgiving incorporates a modest amount of nonsectarian spirituality and Chanukah is at best a minor religious holiday; both are occasions for families to gather at home, rather than in a house of worship.

Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday, a ritual of national unity, albeit muted in contrast to the Fourth of July. Chanukah is a celebration of a successful national revolt against the Seleucid Empire, a small celebration of freedom in contrast to the Passover commemoration of the Exodus. Indeed, insofar as it began as the celebration of a military victory, Chanukah might well be compared to the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Although many non-Mexicans mistake Cinco de Mayo for Mexico’s Independence Day, which actually falls on the September 15, the Fifth of May merely commemorates the Mexican victory over the invading French army of Napoleon III in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. (By 1864, however, the Mexicans had lost the war, and Emperor Maximilian I was installed as their monarch. He ruled until 1867, when the Mexicans, aided by the United States, ousted the French.)

Even more than Cinco de Mayo, Thanksgiving and Chanukah have been somewhat tainted by subsequent events. Thanksgiving presents us with the ideal of co-existence between the English colonists and the Native Americans they encountered, but that ideal has proved to be elusive in practice. Chanukah’s rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and independence in ancient Judea was associated with civil war among our people, and the theocratic rule of the Hasmonean dynasty.

What is most important, however, is that both Thanksgiving and Chanukah are celebrations of survival against overwhelming odds. Both represent a message of hope that is always welcome.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. That same Civil War inspired a 14-year-old Jewish girl to start writing poetry. That was Emma Lazarus, a native New Yorker and a true American. Her father was Sephardic, her mother Ashkenazic of German descent, with ancestry in New York on both sides of her family, dating back to the American Revolution. Lazarus grew up to become one of the great American poets of the 19th century, maintaining a literary friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. She died in 1887, at age 38.

She composed her best known work, “The New Colossus,” in 1883. It was not until well after her death that the poem was engraved in bronze and mounted on the State of Liberty’s pedestal. Most of us are familiar with the final fives lines of the poem, but the sonnet is worth repeating in its entirety:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Although she was particularly concerned with the treatment of Jewish immigrants flooding in from Russia and eastern Europe during the late 19th century, Lazarus was able to universalize that experience to cover immigration in general, and to emphasize the establishment of the United States as a refuge for freedom and a nation of immigrants, truly a cause for thanksgiving. We might note the subtle incorporation of Jewish motifs in this poem, notably the reference to immigrants as exiles, also the use of the torch and the lamp, perhaps the similarity between the “mighty woman” and the biblical judge, Deborah, and certainly the comparison with the Greek Colossus of Rhodes, an implied contrast between the Hellenic and the Hebraic (which also is a main source of conflict associated with Chanukah).

Around the same time that she wrote “The New Colossus,” Lazarus also wrote another poem, “1492,” that has a similar but more overtly Jewish theme. “1492” contrasts the tragedy of the expulsion from Spain with the hope spawned by the discovery of the New World as a home for the exiled:

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”
Without a doubt a major American poet, Lazarus dealt with many overtly Jewish subjects in her work. She translated works by the early 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine and the Hebrew poets of medieval Spain, Moses ben Ezra, Solomon ben Judah Gabirol, and Judah ben Ha-Levi, into English. Although she did not live to see the formal birth of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century, her writing expresses the longing for a Jewish homeland associated with Theodor Herzl. As much as the United States had opened its golden door to the Jewish people, Lazarus was well aware of the anti-Semitism that existed in American society, and the plight of the Jewish people elsewhere throughout the world.

In that context, her poem “The Feast of Lights” conveys to us a different, more militant meaning of Chanukah than we are accustomed to:

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light,
And, purified from every Syrian stain,

The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias’ stem,
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help of-God; o’er all his clan

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: “He received the perishing.”

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah’s heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie

Disfigured and polluted—who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o’ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.

Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Lazarus issued a similar call for renewal and rebirth inspired by the Chanukah commemoration in another poem, “The Banner of the Jew”:

Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day
  The glorious Maccabean rage,
The sire heroic, hoary-gray,
  His five-fold lion-lineage:
The Wise, the Elect, the Help-of-God,
  The Burst-of-Spring, the Avenging Rod.

From Mizpeh’s mountain-ridge they saw
  Jerusalem’s empty streets, her shrine
Laid waste where Greeks profaned the Law,
  With idol and with pagan sign.
Mourners in tattered black were there,
  With ashes sprinkled on their hair.

Then from the stony peak there rang
  A blast to ope the graves: down poured
The Maccabean clan, who sang
  Their battle-anthem to the Lord.
Five heroes lead, and, following, see
  Ten thousand rush to victory!

Oh for Jerusalem’s trumpet now,
  To blow a blast of shattering power,
To wake the sleepers high and low,
  And rouse them to the urgent hour!
No hand for vengeance—but to save,
  A million naked swords should wave.

Oh deem not dead that martial fire,
  Say not the mystic flame is spent!
With Moses’ law and David’s lyre,
  Your ancient strength remains unbent.
Let but an Ezra rise anew,
  To lift the Banner of the Jew!

A rag, a mock at first—erelong,
  When men have bled and women wept,
To guard its precious folds from wrong,
  Even they who shrunk, even they who slept,
Shall leap to bless it, and to save.
  Strike! for the brave revere the brave!

With the State of Israel now 66 years old, it is easy to forget the longing for a homeland that the Jewish people felt before Israel’s Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1948. Chanukah, then, might be an occasion to consider what Israel’s independence means to us, especially in this troubled moment in our history, and at the same time as we, as American Jews, give thanks for the safe harbor we have enjoyed here in the United States.

In doing so, we can recall the meaning of Chanukah as a Festival of Light, and a celebration of survival—and hope.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Time to Celebrate Hanukkah!

Join us this evening for our Leonia community candle lighting in front of the temple at 7 PM, followed by a Hanukkah party in our social hall!

And to get into the spirit of things, how about this Hanukkah Song Mashup featuring Elliot Dvorin and the Key Tov Orchestra:

So, come light the menorah, and maybe we'll even dance a little bit of the hora! The s'vivon and latkes are guaranteed! Hope to see you soon, and either way, Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Rules of the Game

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

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

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

And have a Happy Hanukkah, and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Light Up Them Latkes!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hanukkah and Heresy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Come Light the Menorah!

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

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

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