Friday, May 29, 2015

Much Obliged


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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Much Obliged

Edward Sapir was a Jewish anthropologist and a pioneer in the field of linguistics. He was particularly concerned with the ways in which different languages give us different ways of looking at, thinking about, and understanding the world. Ever hear about how Eskimos have a dozen different words for snow? The point is that they notice differences between different types of snow, because their vocabulary leads them to pay attention to those differences. For us, with only one word for snow, we tend to ignore the differences most of the time.

In a class discussion on this topic some time ago, a Japanese student explained that it is impossible to say in the Japanese language that my boyfriend drove me home. She explained that you either have to say that my boyfriend did me the favor of driving me home, or that my boyfriend was obligated to drive me home. In their language, action cannot be described in a neutral manner, divorced from social relationships. In this way, according to Sapir, the language that people speak influences the kind of culture that they have.

The Italians have a saying, traduttore, tradittore, a play on words which roughly translates to translator, traitor, or, the translator is a traitor. The idea is that something is always lost in the translation, and that's why, to be truly fluent in another language, you have to think in that other language, you have to see the world through the lens of that other language.

This comes up in reference to the Hebrew word tzedakah, which we translate to mean charity. And maybe that's not an act of treason, but it does betray a different meaning attached to similar types of action. The word charity can be traced back to the Latin caritas, which means dear, and is associated with love and caring. Tzedakah, on the other hand, has the root meaning of justice and righteousness. Simply put, charity means doing a favor. Tzedakah means keeping a moral obligation. These are differences, and they are differences that make a difference.

Nowadays, the language of love and caring comes easy to us. Some of what we love and care about may be for our own gratification, as foodies, fashionistas, or fans. Some of it may be for the sake of others, for various causes we have embraced and chosen to support. And, after all, as Americans, and as Jews, we are a giving and generous people, a caring people. We are fluent in that language.

But are we also fluent in the language of obligation? Or is it, like Yiddish, a language that was native to older generations, but one that we don't really speak anymore, one in which we only know a few words and phrases? We may hear about legal and financial obligations, but are they actions we take out of a positive sense of justice, of doing the right thing, or are they something that must be fulfilled to avoid negative consequences? Of course, there are family obligations as well, but do we see them as a blessing or a burden? Do we perform them as acts of righteousness, or out of a sense of guilt?

And how do we think about our obligations as citizens of the United States, and members of our local communities?

And even more so, how do we think about our obligations to our synagogue? Our congregation? Our Jewish community? To the Jewish people? To our religion and our tradition? Is it enough that whatever support we give is given as an act of charity? There certainly ought to be a sense of love and caring that we feel. I know I feel it. I hope you do too.

But is it enough that whatever support we give is given as a favor? Admittedly, everything we do now, we do out of choice, not out of necessity, in order to protect ourselves as a people in exile, and survive as strangers in a strange land. Everything we do now, in a sense, we do as a favor. And that means that it is easy enough for us not to do anything, not to attend services and events, not to get involved in our social action and educational activities, not to donate time, money, or resources. It is easy enough for us not to send our children to religious school, not to have them become b'nai mitzvah and confirmands, not to maintain membership in a synagogue, not hold onto our Jewish identity, not to pass on our traditions.

For most of us, the language of obligation is at best a second language, not our mother tongue. And the challenge is to learn to be fluent in that second language, to go beyond thinking of our obligations as just doing others a favor, as acts of charity. The challenge is to understand our obligations as actions we perform because we want and need to fulfill fulfilling our responsibilities, as members of Adas Emuno, as members of the Jewish community, as members of a people and part of a four thousand year old history.

Can we speak the language of obligation, more so can we think in the language of obligation, so that we understand it not as a matter of putting ourselves out, or even extending ourselves on behalf of others, but as a matter of being true to ourselves, being true to who we truly are?

In the English language, the old fashioned, colloquial expression, much obliged, is generally translated as thank you, but in addition to gratitude it also carries the subtle connotation of saying, I am in your debt. It is a great example of the language of obligation. It represents a way of looking at the world that includes accepting responsibility for each other. We owe it to each other, as members of our congregation and community, to support and maintain our congregation and community.

We owe a debt to the generations who came before us, a debt to keep faith in the face of all that they sacrificed for us. How much of the life and lifestyle that we enjoy today, in which we have the privilege to make choices and grant favors whenever we care to, how much of that is built on all that they accomplished, all that they sacrificed? How much did we earn ourselves, without any assistance from those who came before us?

We are much obliged for the blessings and benefits and beauty of our tradition, our heritage, our culture and our covenant. It is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, except by keeping faith with the future, by preserving and sustaining what we have inherited, and not depriving the generations that follow us of their own responsibilities to the past and to the future.

We need to teach the language of obligation, and to do that we need to speak it ourselves. And speaking that language includes giving Adas Emuno your support, involvement, and commitment. Without it, we won't survive. And with it, we are, without a doubt, much obliged.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What is Confirmation?

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

What is Confirmation?

When I work with each bar and bat mitzvah student here at the congregation, I urge them to continue through Confirmation.

Some students and parents know exactly what I am talking about, others have a vague idea, and some are mystified. So a few words of explanation are in order; after all, as I ask our students: if you dropped out of regular school at age 13, would you consider yourself to be an educated citizen? The same applies to your Jewish education, I emphasize. At 13 you are only beginning to gain a mature grasp of your heritage.

Confirmation has its origins in the mid-19th century when the early Reformers in Germany and later America actually tried to do away with bar mitzvah altogether. They claimed that at age 13 a child was too young to meaningfully take on real responsibility. Instead they advocated for a ceremony at age 16 as more appropriate for a teen to “confirm” their faith. It became apparent that bar mitzvah held too much popular appeal to be abolished, so Confirmation was added as a communal, rather than individual ritual. The holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah, was chosen as the most appropriate time for this ceremony. Confirmation students were asked to read the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth, both traditionally recited on the holiday, to offer a commentary on their portion, and to publicly affirm their commitment to Judaism.

Confirmation remains a three year course of study (grades 8-9-10) that culminates in a beautiful service that takes place at our synagogue on the Shabbat closest to Shavuot. Students study with me on a bi-weekly basis on Sunday mornings. Bible, history, ethics, theology, current events… all these topics are discussed and debated. All three grades participate in the year-end service; the chanting, speeches, and class song always make us truly proud of our committed teens.

This year Confirmation takes place on Shabbat evening, May 22 (7:30 pm). I invite you to support our youth and see for yourself why we take such pride in them. The involvement of some of our youth as teaching assistants in our school is another positive thing we do. That being said, I will not hide my regret that too many of our b’nai mitzvah choose not to continue with Confirmation, and that we do not have a youth group. We share a common goal of keeping our youth connected through the end of high school. Let’s challenge ourselves to be more creative and committed so that all our graduates can affirm their connection to community and continuity.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Once In a Blue Moon

Tonight it's a feast for the ears, with Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble in concert, as detailed in our previous post, Saturday Night Judaic Jazz.

And tomorrow it's a feast for the taste buds, as the Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Englewood (Leonia's next door neighbor in Bergen County), will be donating 20% of customers' bills to Congregation Adas Emuno, as long as they present this card:

In case you didn't get a card in the mail, you can just print this one out and use it. A tasty meal, lunch, dinner, or nighttime snack, and a nice and easy way to support our shul!

Friday, May 15, 2015

As the Religious School Year Comes to a Close

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

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director


As you read this, the Religious School year is drawing to a close—our last day is May 17th. What a year it’s been! Although our numbers are small, our school is thriving, thanks to our wonderful team of teachers, our high school madrichim, all the parents who contributed in so many ways, and the Education Committee, who provide ongoing leadership and assistance. Most of all, of course, it is our students who have brought their curiosity and enthusiasm week after week, and who inspire us all. It does indeed take a village.

To keep our village growing, we need your help. Do you know families who might be interested in a dynamic and inclusive Jewish learning experience for their pre-school and school-age children? Tell them about our school, including our Tot Mitzvah program! Or, feel free to speak to me or to one of the members of our Education Committee and we will be glad to reach out to them.

In the meantime, our final school-related service of this year will be the Confirmation service on Friday evening May 24 at 7:30. Come support our oldest students as they help lead services and read from the Torah. We look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Saturday Night Judaic Jazz

Join us this Saturday night 
for another festive evening of 
Judaic Jazz! 

You can pay at the door, or online via PayPal.

Be there or be square!