March is Mezzuzah Maddness!
15% off all Sport-related Mezzuzot
Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s president, Elliot Spoon, was elected to the board of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) at its recent biennial convention. The URJ is the body of Reform synagogues in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Reform Movement is the largest Jewish movement in North America. The URJ is comprised of over 900 congregations, representing 1.5 million people.
“I look forward to participating on the URJ Board,” Mr. Spoon notes. “The URJ is important not only to its member congregations like Shaarey Zedek, but also to American Jewish life generally.”
“I am proud that Elliot has joined the board of the URJ,” said Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s rabbi, Amy Bigman. “I was proud to vote for him at the recent biennial convention in San Diego. Elliot will bring a great deal of knowledge and talent to the board. At the same time, I hope that Elliot’s participation in the URJ will positively influence our congregation here in East Lansing.”
Mr. Spoon is the Assistant Dean for Career Development and Professor of Law in Residence at the Michigan State University College of Law.
Sunday, November 24th
From 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The Super Sale will feature new items from the Gift Shop,
as well as new vendors.
Get all of your Thanksgiving and Chanukah baked goods while at the Chanukah Super Sale.
Stop by for a tasty treat and support our students at the same time!
All proceeds will go to the Youth Scholarship Fund
for camps and youth group events
Sunday, October 13th from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ~ Book Reading
Published author, and Sisterhood member, Martha Bloomfield will introduce us to her new book, My Eyes Feel They Need to Cry: Stories from the Formerly Homeless
Yom Kippur Morning 5774
September 14, 2013
“Through thirty and more centuries, he has wandered about on earth,
He has seen far-flung empires crack and crumble,
and mighty peoples dwindle to naught…
With their kings and priests, their tyrants and princelings.
They have marched over him in vainglorious pride –
only to fall and die by the roadside.
But he, the Jew, still lives on…”
These words by Rabbi Lewis Browne, from his 1926 book, Stranger than Fiction: A Short History of the Jews, are the opening words on the website of Two Cats Productions, producers of the documentary, “The Jewish People: A Story of Survival.
I recently had the opportunity to watch this film on our local PBS station. Narrated by Martha Teichner, senior correspondent for CBS News, the one-hour documentary seeks to explain why, in Rabbi Browne’s words, “They have marched over him in vainglorious pride – only to fall and die by the roadside. But he, the Jew, still lives on…”
The film begins with the following narration:
The Jewish people, their journey is one of history’s most improbable survivals. Beginning as just a tribe of desert nomads in the near east some 40 centuries ago, they developed a new religion based on a relationship and covenant with one God. For millennia they have wandered the world almost never at home, temporary inhabitants of foreign lands. Their story has included enslavement in Egypt, captivity in Babylon, exile from their land, destruction of their capital city, and centuries of anti-Semitism. Indeed, they could be gone, but they’re still here.
The film traces back the origins of our religion to Abraham, citing how he developed a relationship with a single God. The first source we have is the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which was, as presented by the film, a book written as a document of faith. Dr. Christine Hayes, professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and chairperson of its Department of Religious Studies, focuses on Talmudic-Midrashic studies and Classical Judaica. She is also a specialist in the History and Literature of Judaism in Late Antiquity. She notes that
The Torah is one crystallization of oral traditions that had become sacred to the community… Law for the ancient Israelites included every imaginable aspect of life from the way you sowed your crops in the field to how you distributed charity to marriage relations, personal status laws, everything that we think of as civil and criminal and penal law, but in addition, moral law and religious law. There wasn’t an area of life that was outside of God’s interest and concern…
The Torah, because it is such an anthology of so many different kinds of materials, became a resource then for Jews in later times. When they needed to comprehend what was happening in their own experience, they could find any number of prior reflections on the meaning of suffering, the meaning of history…
The documentary explains that the Temple in Jerusalem became the center of life for the Israelites and survived for some 400 years until the early sixth century (B.C.E.) with the arrival of the armies of Babylon… The Babylonians destroyed the Temple.
Dr. William G. Dever, an archeologist and professor, specializing in the history of Israel and the Near East in Biblical times, notes in the documentary: “The Temple is destroyed, Jerusalem is destroyed, the Israelite and Judean peoples are exiled…. As an archeologist, as far as I’m concerned, that should have been the end of the story, but [instead] it was the beginning.”
Shortly following the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple was built. In 70 C.E. it too was destroyed, this time by the Romans. In other circumstances, the destruction of the main focal point of a religion would have killed the religion, too. But not with the Jews! Civilizations have come and gone, and yet here we are thousands of years after our religion was founded, still surviving, still moving forward!
With the destruction of the Temples, our practices, as dictated in the Torah, such as how to observe festivals and holy days, which included bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Temple, could no longer take place. For example, if we were observing this Yom Kippur day back in Temple times we would be bringing fire offerings to the Temple as it notes in Leviticus: “‘Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord; you shall do no work throughout that day.’” [Lev. 23:27-28]
Furthermore, with the destruction of the First Temple, the diaspora began. The Jews now lived outside of Jerusalem, making it difficult, if not impossible, to make the regular journeys to Jerusalem to make the offerings and sacrifices. So even before the Second Temple was destroyed, our ancestors had begun to change our mode of worship from a sacrifice-based one to a prayer-based one. So while we no longer bring fire offerings to the Temple on Yom Kippur, we still practice self-denial in the form of fasting and we still bring ourselves and our offerings – in our case, offerings to support the Tzedakah Committee’s food and toiletries drive – to our temple.
Jodi Magness, also an archeologist and professor, notes that:
The reason that Judaism was able to survive as a religion, survive the destruction of the Second Temple, and the fact that it’s not rebuilt soon after the destruction, what makes Judaism different from other ancient religions is that Judaism not only included the component of a sacrificial cult in a temple building, but also a set of laws…. So really it was the observance of the laws of the Torah, which enabled Judaism to survive the destruction of the Temple. [emphasis added]
So the end of the building, the end of the land (Eretz Yisraeil), didn’t have to be the end of the tradition. In fact, it could be argued that the diaspora gave birth to the concept of Am Yisraeil, the people of Israel, the community of Israel.
Becoming Am Yisraeil, a group of people following the same teachings and traditions, allowed us to survive the tragedies and calamities that befell our people, from the destructions of the Temples to the Crusades to the Holocaust. We should have disappeared and yet our ancestors adapted to new situations and new lands, developing new ways of observing our religion. We survived because we continued to learn from our sacred texts…we learned from our history…we learned from our stories.
Which brings us to today and to our community and our congregation. During these ten days, we have been brought together by Judaism – our own religion or that of our partner or of our children. We have come here these past ten days to be part of a larger group, to be part of a community.
We have survived as a people because of our history, because we study the stories of our people, stories we tell over and over, through lifetimes, through generations. We continue to do that today, to tell the stories, to live our lives guided by our traditions. We come together for life cycle events – whether they be celebrations or sadnesses. We come together for holy days and festivals. We come together to learn, to study the beauty that is Judaism. We face challenges together; we become stronger together. This is Judaism and this is Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Congregation Gates of Righteousness.
And that’s why we have gathered here over these past Ten Days of Repentance. As I noted on Rosh HaShanah evening, we have come home during these High Holy Days. We have come here to learn, to pray, and to join together as a loving family. This coming together is why we have survived these many years and this is why we will continue to not only survive, but flourish.
Welcome home! Let’s not wait another year to see each other again.
G’mar chatimah tovah!
May you be sealed for a good year!
Kol Nidrei 5774
September 13, 2013
This is the story of Peggy and Joe and their son, Andrew. Peggy and Joe live in Vienna, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. Years ago, they decided to adopt a child from Guatemala. They chose Guatemala because they liked the culture, it was relatively close to the United States so they could visit often, and, most importantly, Guatemala allowed prospective parents to start a relationship with the child while the adoption process was pending.
Peggy and Joe met the child they named Andrew in December 2007 when he was four months old. They fell in love with him immediately and visited him numerous times, but then the most unexpected thing happened: Guatemala shut down international adoptions on January 1, 2008 amid allegations of fraud, kidnapping, and other crimes! They shut down all adoptions at that point. Andrew’s case got caught in the red tape and he couldn’t come to this country, but Peggy and Joe kept fighting for the right to bring their son home. As Peggy noted, “Once we started [the adoption process], he was our son. So you do anything you can for your family.”
Peggy moved to Guatemala in August 2008, shortly before Andrew’s first birthday, to take custody of him during her maternity leave. They had been told that Andrew’s adoption would take place in a few months. Well, Peggy’s maternity leave ended without the adoption being finalized. In July 2009 Joe moved to Guatemala using a six-month leave from his job. His six-month leave came and went and still Peggy and Joe couldn’t bring their son home to Vienna. Joe left his job to live with Andrew in Guatemala, with Peggy visiting monthly and the family Skype-ing regularly to keep in touch. Andrew’s grandparents, aunts, and uncles visited him as well.
In August 2012 Andrew was taken away from his home with Joe, the only home he knew, and put in an orphanage. The rationale behind putting Andrew in the orphanage? Guatemalan law stated that the only way the adoption process could continue was if the child did not live with the adoptive parents. Now here’s the really fascinating part: The Guatemalan government did a psychological report on Andrew and noted that taking him away from Peggy and Joe would be harmful to him, and yet he was placed in the orphanage anyway! When Peggy and Joe tried to visit him at the orphanage, they were turned away, being told that Andrew needed to get used to not seeing them. The Guatemalan judge also threatened to put Peggy and Joe in jail, claiming that they had violated international adoption law.
Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the founding co-chair and Board President of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and co-chair of the Congressional Foster Care Caucus, became involved. With the help of her and others, Andrew was back home in six days. Six days may not seem like a lot of time, but for a young boy removed from his home, it was an eternity and Andrew was traumatized by his time away. For quite a while after his return from the orphanage, Andrew always had to be in the same room as Joe since he was afraid that he was going to be taken away again.
In April of this year – yes, 2013 — Peggy, Joe, and Andrew finally boarded a plane in Guatemala and arrived home safely in the United States. They were greeted at the airport by Senator Landrieu, Andrew’s grandparents, and other family members. All told, Peggy and Joe lived apart for 1,698 days – that’s over 4 ½ years! That’s half of their married life!
I’m pleased to tell you that Andrew has adapted quickly to his new home in Virginia and is leading a normal six-year-old life. A few weeks ago, just prior to Andrew’s sixth birthday, his mom posted the following on her Facebook page: “Everyday Andrew tells [Joe] and I that ‘this is the greatest day ever.’ Andrew is clearly wiser than his almost 6 years and I need to follow his philosophy on life.” [Monday, August 5, 2013]
Out of the mouths of babes, huh? This young boy, who lived apart from at least one of his parents for most of his life, who was taken away from the only family he knew and placed in an orphanage, who had so much happen in his young life, has a great attitude, that not only his mom should follow, as she noted in her Facebook post, but that we all should follow. Today is the greatest day ever! And not just because this particular day is Yom Ha-Kippurim — Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement –, but because every day is, or has the potential to be, the greatest day.
As we gather here tonight, on this Kol Nidrei evening, this holiest evening of the year, we would do well to remember Andrew’s teaching: “This is the greatest day ever.” And tomorrow is the greatest day ever. And the day after that and the day after that and the day after… Every day is the greatest day ever.
In our liturgy, we find prayers that, directly or indirectly, remind us of that. In the evening we pray the Hashkiveinu prayer which begins with the words: “Hashkiveinu, Adonai Eloheinu, l’shalom, v’ha’amideinu, Malkeinu, l’chayim – Grant, O God, that we lie down in peace, and raise us up, O Sovereign, to life renewed.” We ask God to allow us a good night’s sleep and to give us a new day tomorrow. In the morning we are to say: “Modeh ani l’fanekha, Melekh chai v’kayam, she’he’chezarta bi nishmati b’khemlah, rabbah emunatekha – I offer thanks to You, ever-living Sovereign, that You have restored my soul to me in mercy: how great is Your trust.”
These prayers say, in effect, “this is the greatest day ever – and thank You, God, for letting me have yet another day, and thank You, God, for helping me to know what a great gift this is.” Each of us has our share of difficulties, but we are blessed to wake up each day. Thank You, God, for this gift.
I don’t think Andrew is a Talmudic scholar yet, but his comment to his mom reminds me of what the Talmud teaches about living our lives to the fullest: “R. Chizkiyah said in the name of Rav: You will one day give reckoning for everything your eyes saw which, although permissible, you did not enjoy.” [Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12] In other words, be grateful for and take advantage of all of the wonderful gifts you have been given.
Rabbi David Wolpe, in his book Why Be Jewish?, writes about this idea to, as he translates the text, “indulge yourself in all things permitted to you.” He notes that pleasure or enjoyment is permitted, even promoted, but that “Judaism also asks that it be disciplined and sanctified… Our impulses cannot be indiscriminate. We have to channel their expression.” [p. 22] Whether we are talking about our sexual impulses, our eating habits, or other human impulses, “the calm, slow wisdom of moderation is the Jewish path,” Rabbi Wolpe writes. “The Jewish path means living richly and yet being one’s own master. Judaism allows us to rejoice in this world, to sample its pleasures, without losing our spiritual center.” [p. 23]
In other words, “today is the greatest day ever.” It has the potential to be so, if we just set our minds to it. We can – and must – rejoice in this world and sample the good in it. As this day of repentance, this day of prayer and fasting, comes to an end tomorrow evening, please remember Andrew’s lesson tomorrow — and the day after that and the day after that — to make this day, each day, the best we can, to enjoy the gifts that have been given to us.
I’m looking forward to meeting Andrew soon. I will give him a big hug and thank him for reminding me of this important lesson. I’ll also give his parents, Joe and my cousin Peggy, big hugs, too! May they be inscribed for a good year and may you and your loved ones also be inscribed for a good year.
G’mar chatimah tovah!
ROSH HA-SHANAH MORNINGS 5774
SEPTEMBER 5 & 6, 2013
Did you hear the news this summer? A baby boy was born! No, it wasn’t the messiah, but by the way the media covered his mother’s pregnancy and then his birth, you could be forgiven for thinking so. This baby boy was born on the other side of the pond, as they say, in England. At the end of July, His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born, third in line to the throne of England, behind his grandfather Prince Charles and his father Prince William.
I must admit that I don’t understand what the big deal was, at least outside of Great Britain. By the way the American media covered Kate’s pregnancy and George’s birth, you would have thought that George was the next King of the United States! I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure that we fought a war specifically to avoid being subject to the rule of England. Something about “taxation without representation” and all that.
Despite my not really caring about the royal birth, I have learned a lot about it just from watching the evening news or reading the newspaper and magazines. One thing that I found especially fascinating was that people were betting on what the baby’s name would be!
After the prince’s name was announced, two days after his birth, there was all sorts of commentary about the names that were chosen. “George,” of course, was the name of many British kings, including the current queen’s father, King George VI, and her grandfather, King George V.
I learned that “Alexander” and its feminine equivalent are also popular royal names. King George I’s daughter was named Alexandra and the current queen’s birth name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. The name “Louis” is thought to be after Lord Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Philip and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. This child sure does have a lot to live up to!
Earlier this year there was a great deal of speculation about another person, not just what his name would be, but who he would be. On March 13th we learned who he would be – Jorge Mario Bergoglio – better known by his new name and title: Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. This new pope is the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, and the first from the southern hemisphere. He is also the first to choose the name “Francis,” in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis is known as the patron saint of animals; he also cared a great deal about and devoted his life to the poor. The new pope clearly chose this name for a reason: to remind people of the important work of taking care of the poor, something which he has been doing his entire career. Now he has an even greater stage – world-wide – from which to teach this lesson.
Names. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That may be true in Romeo and Juliet’s world, but in Jewish tradition names are very important. Parents often spend months considering what the name of their unborn child will be. In Jewish tradition, Ashkenazic Jews name their children after deceased relatives, usually after loved ones who have lived long lives, lives filled with doing mitzvot. Parents tell their children about their namesake so that the children will learn of their ancestor’s good deeds and use that as an example as to how to live their lives. Sephardic Jews, in general, name their children after living relatives for the same reason — so that they can be examples to the child of how to live a good life.
Many scholars have pointed out that in the Bible a person’s name represents his or her personality, as well as the aspirations of his or her parents. For example, Avram and Sarai were re-named by God. By adding the Hebrew letter hay to their names, symbolizing God’s presence with them, their names became Avraham and Sarah (Abraham and Sarah). The name Jacob, Ya’akov in Hebrew, comes from the Hebrew root ayin-kuf-vet, which can mean both “heel,” as Jacob was born holding on to the heel of his twin brother Esau, and “protection,” symbolizing the desire for Jacob to receive God’s protection throughout his life. [Etz Hayim, p. 147] Pharaoh’s daughter names the baby boy she finds in The Nile River Moshe, because she “drew him out of the water.” [Exodus 2:10] However, our Etz Hayim Torah commentary notes that “She intended it as ‘the one who is drawn out (of the water).’ Moshe is active in form and means ‘one who draws out,’ a name that fits his future situation (of drawing the people out of Egypt)…” [p. 323]
According to the midrash, one of the main reasons that the Israelites were freed from Egypt was that they did not change their names: “Israel was redeemed from Egypt on account of four things: because they did not change their names; they did not change their language; they did not go about tale-bearing; and they did not engage in immorality.” [Vayikra Rabbah 32:5]
Similarly, Rabbi Pinchas Peli noted in his commentary Torah Today:
One of the main factors that kept the children of Israel together as one people and merited their being liberated, was…the fact that they did not change their original Hebrew names, trying to acculturate in Egyptian society. “They came to Egypt as Reuben, Shimon, and Levi – and stayed as such.” [pp. 55-56]
Their names connected them to the people from whom they came, reminding them of their history, reminding them of the lessons which their ancestors taught.
There is an oft-quoted midrash that teaches that “there are three names by which a person is called: one which their parents call them, one which people call them, and one which they earn for themselves. The last is the best one of all.” [Midrash Tanchuma, Vayakheil 1]
What does it mean to earn a name for ourselves? How do we do that? The midrash itself answers that question: “Every time a person increases their good deeds, they earn themselves a new name.”
My parents named me “Amy,” after my great-grandfather Abraham. (I would have been named “Adam” if I had been a boy.) “Amy” comes from the French and Latin meaning “beloved.” My Hebrew name is Avigayil (Abigail), meaning “my father’s joy.” In the Bible, Abigail is the wife of Nabal the Calebite from Carmel and later becomes the second wife of King David. According to 1 Samuel 25, Abigail is…described as beautiful and intelligent. “The rabbis depict Abigail as a wise and practical woman, capable of acting at the right moment and in the right way. She saves [King] David from committing unnecessary bloodshed…” [Jewish Women’s Archive, “Abigail: Midrash and Aggadah,” by Tamar Kadari] So, as you can see, Avigayil is definitely the appropriate name for me! (Ha ha!)
The name my parents gave me is “Amy,” and the name – or perhaps more accurately, the title– which others often call me is “Rabbi – my teacher,” a title I earned after many years of study. I hope that I fulfill the definition of teacher: “One who shows or helps a person to learn how to do something; to provide a person with knowledge or insight.” [paraphrased from Webster’s New World Dictionary] That’s what I try to do every day: provide some knowledge of our religion and its beautiful traditions. Webster’s Dictionary defines “rabbi” as “a scholar and teacher of the Jewish law; now, specifically, an ordained Jew, usually the spiritual head of a congregation, qualified to decide questions of law and ritual…” [emphasis added]
So I am “Amy” and “Rabbi,” but the name I want to earn for myself is, as the midrash teaches, “doer of good deeds.” In keeping with our tradition, I hope to do my part to make the world a better place. This is my daily challenge.
And so on this new year, I ask you: What are the names you want to earn for yourself? And how are you going to get there?
Shanah Tovah U’m’tukah!
A good and sweet year to all of you!
2013-2014 GLTY Board
President: Hadley Holman
Membership and Communications Vice President: Rachel Benington
Social Action Vice President: Maya Srkalovic
Religious and Cultural Vice President: Wren Gilbert
Programing Vice Presidents: Noah Isaak and Carly Cohen
Financial Vice President: Eliana Kaplowitz.
The GLTY Board meets at 1:20 p.m. the 1st Sunday of every month
at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
All GLTYites welcome.
GLTY (The Greater Lansing Temple Youth) is a youth organization that involves Jewish teens from the Greater Lansing area in grades 9-12.
GLTY is part of NFTY-MI (North American Federation of Temple Youth-Michigan region). NFTY-MI brings together Reform Jewish Teens from all over Michigan. Our members come together many times during the year for learning, fun, worship, community service, and fellowship to help young Jewish adults throughout the region build and strengthen lifetime ties with each other and Reform Judaism.
Congregation Shaarey Zedek
1924 Coolidge Road
East Lansing, MI 48823