Let’s fly away…but not on Shabbes?by Rabbi Jeffrey Clopper
I am fascinated about flying on Shabbes. Perhaps very few of us in our Progressive Reform Community are; however, it is a debate raging through the Jewish world. Recently, Jewish newspapers still have been asking which rabbi gave his blessing allowing Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared to travel on the Sabbath months ago. Many scholars and rabbis are incensed that someone knowledgeable in Torah would allow for such a clear breach of Halachah (Jewish Law).
As one who tries to see and understand both sides of an argument, I appreciated the points made from both sides of this halachic divide. Those opposed mostly based their opinion on the Torah verse which says, “You shall kindle no fire in your settlements on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3). Since a plane relies on the fuel combustion, observant rulings would consider flying a direct violation of what God intended.
Yet, others counter that it is the plane that creates the fire, or perhaps it is the pilot who should be considered the responsible party. Since passengers are along for the ride, they would not be in violation. Others point to certain rabbinic rules such as Piku-ach nefesh (“saving a life”) or Karov l’malchut (“confidant of the king” which allows flexibility to those who advise the ruler of the land) as the reason for allowing them to fly. Given the Kushner’s relationship with the President, either idea could be feasible as it is possible the two could encourage favorable outcomes for the Jewish community, thereby “saving” us.
I would not claim to have the last word on this debate, nor do I think the Orthodox would be inclined to consider my views. I will admit that Carol and I have flown a number of times on Shabbat. Often by necessity (and partly due to lower fares), we would fly, usually to visit family. Plus, for me, the time relaxing on the plane felt very much like Shabbat. I could sit back, relax, and enjoy a good book or a short nap – a wonderful way to spend Shabbat.
To me, this is the compelling piece of this whole debate – people are talking about what to do on Shabbat. Rarely these days, or so it seems, life offers the opportunity for us to think about a Sabbath day. Unless we find ourselves in synagogue for services, the whole twenty-four hours can go by without even a whisper of acknowledgement.
Though it has less of an impact on our lives, I love that the Kushners are the instigation for discussion about what we should and should not do on Shabbat. In our busy lives, we may find that Shabbat can be more than just an obligation. It can be a meaningful period of time, moments to set aside the craziness that usually happens. So whether you read, eat, sleep, fly, or whatever you do, let’s all give some thought to Shabbat.
Pregnancy as Exodusby Cantor Alison Levine
As you might expect, pregnancy is definitely something that is on my mind right now. I am swiftly heading towards my third trimester. The shortest trimester, but from what I have heard feels by far the longest. As I mentioned at the Sisterhood Seder, I feel especially drawn to the story of the Exodus as I am beginning my own birth journey. The story of the Exodus is very much dependent on women. To begin with, the Israelite women’s fertility is the impetus for Pharaoh to enslave the Israelite people. He feared that they were becoming too numerous and might become a threat to him. This led to the decree that all Hebrew male babies were to be slain. Enter in Shifrah and Puah. These courageous midwives stood up to Pharaoh’s ruling. They spoke truth to power and the Torah says they were God-fearing. They saved the baby boys and told Pharaoh that Hebrew women were not like the Egyptian women. The Hebrew women were very hearty and delivered before the midwives could arrive. God rewarded Shifrah and Puah with their own abundant fertility.
Yocheved, the mother of one of our greatest prophets, Moses, also defied Pharaoh’s decree. She saved Moses and placed him in a basket where he would be found. Miriam, Moses’ sister, then followed at once to watch over baby Moses and to ensure that he would be saved. Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses on the riverbank and immediately declared that he must be a Hebrew child. She takes pity on him and raises him as her own, flaunting her father’s orders. In rescuing Moses, she is bravely defying the Pharaoh’s decree. Miriam then steps right up to Pharaoh’s daughter and offers her mother as a wet nurse. Her initiative cements the safety of her brother, lets her bring Moses back to his mother, and foreshadows her role as prophet for the Israelite people.
In addition to the story of Exodus being so dependent on fertility, the narrative can also be seen as a reenactment of childbirth itself. The Israelites leave Egypt, which in Hebrew is called Mitzrayim, which translates to the narrow place. It is named that because the conditions of the Israelites living there as slaves were very challenging. During birth, the baby also has to pass through a very narrow place and part the Sea of Reeds to come out safely on the other side. As the Israelites sang to celebrate their freedom, babies cry, lifting up their voices for the first time. The ensuing forty years of wandering in the desert could also be compared to the forty weeks of pregnancy in which babies gestate waiting for the Promised Land. Once they are free, they will survive on a single food source from their mother, breastmilk, in much the same way as the Israelites survived on manna in the wilderness (P’sikta Zutarta Bamidbar Behalot’kha).
As I am approaching my own due date in September, I take courage from all these strong women. May they also guide me as I become a Mother.
A Presidential Introductionby Peter Chiacchiaro, President
To say that it is an honor to assume the role of President of Temple Beth El is an understatement. Very seldom can one say that an organization has actually changed one’s life, but that is exactly what Temple did for me. My wife Suanne and I first visited TBE twenty nine years ago. An interfaith couple recently transplanted from Brooklyn, we were looking for a congregation where we could both feel comfortable as we began to raise a family. It took just one visit to know that we had found our home.
Much has happened during those twenty nine years, for me personally, for my family, and, of course, for the Temple. Temple Beth El has not been immune to the changes that have taken place around us, changes that have adversely affected religious institutions of virtually all faiths. Our membership list is not as long as it was when Suanne and I first joined; the religious school is not as full.
While the numbers are down, however, the core of Temple Beth El remains strong. Indeed, one can argue that we can be viewed as a model for religious institutions trying to survive in the early twenty-first century. Why have we fared so well? I can only attribute it to the foresight of the leaders who have preceded me; leaders who imagined an endowment, and built a Fiftieth Anniversary Fund; who rejected cutting corners, and continuously assured the excellence of our religious school; who attracted vibrant clergy members who could connect with the youngest amongst us, and the oldest. And now they have strengthened the nature of the relationship between the institution and its members, introducing a new paradigm that discards the notion of “member”, and recognizes us all as “partners” instead.
Change is never easy. The alternative, however, is always worse. Maintaining the status quo may appear to be the safe choice, but in the long run invariably proves otherwise. I invite you to embrace this change, and to work with me over the coming year to build a new foundation for Temple Beth El, one that will support us at least until it is time to establish a Hundredth Anniversary Fund.
The Six C’sby Diane E. Berg, RJE
In writing curriculum we educators start with what we hope will be the end results and then create the lessons to get there. This is true with our hopes for our students. We imagine what skills, abilities and knowledge our graduates will have. This year, Alivia Barton, Alex Clopper, Haley Davis, Alex Kaish, Jack Klayman, Jack Rosner, Jordan Schneider and Gilbert Spencer became our Hebrew High School graduates.
It is ironic that the seniors’ speeches always include what I call “the five C’s.” They are comfort, caring, connection, commitment, community and of course, conclave.
On Community: Alex Kaish spoke about “the thing I like most about our Hebrew High community, how it is completely free of judgment. While in basically every other organized group, we are constantly in fear of judgment from others for our actions, at Hebrew High we can truly let loose and be ourselves. Whether you’re popular or not, whether you’re sporty or nerdy, whether you love going out or staying home, at Hebrew High we all get along. I know that many of us would never have met each other, or at least become such close friends, if it hadn’t been for hanging out on every Monday night.”
On Curriculum: Jack Rosner, in his graduation speech spoke about what he got out of one of his electives: “I loved right away how our class could have thought-provoking and interesting conversations about Jewish concepts and values, all the while making it entertaining. I learned how I viewed many ideas of life, how other classmates viewed them, how our teacher viewed them, and how the ideas are seen in the eyes of Judaism. It was proven to me right then and there that a class can be really fun and teach me a lot of meaningful things at the same time.” The name of that course was “Modern Family,” based on the show.
On Connection: Jordan Schneider wrote in his speech, “To put senior year in perspective, we go from having to ask to use the bathroom to figuring out what we are going to do for the rest of our lives. Being an eighth grader and seeing how close the seniors were, I knew I could do the same thing. And so, standing before you today I can honestly say we have.”
On Conclave: Alex Clopper, in his graduation speech spoke about Hebrew High conclave weekend being “an extra special occasion that helps us form close bonds with fellow Community Hebrew High Schoolers. Conclave is all about making connections with others. I made some of my best friends there.”
Parents, think about what you want your child to come away with at the end of their Hebrew School experience. We will do our part and as our graduates clearly state, your child will graduate feeling a strong sense of Jewish community, a connection to each other and a commitment to our history and future.
A Sustaining Partnership Update
At the time of this writing, it has been just a few weeks since Temple Beth El’s Sustaining Partnership program has been instituted. After three years of study and nearly a year of educational mailings, town meetings and frank exchange of ideas with congregants, pledge cards were recently sent to all congregant households. The accompanying information explained the sustaining amount and requested that congregants respond at the highest level that their hearts and their financial circumstances allow. At this time, pledges are being received and congregants seem comfortable with the process. The Temple Board will be continually evaluating this new method of financing temple operations and is committed to it for at least a three-year period.
We have seen our membership grow this year by over fifty new households as a direct result of our Gift Membership Program, which continues into our new fiscal year and allows those who have not belonged in the past, to try us out for one year without any financial obligation. It is expected that the Sustaining Partnership will make it feasible for many, if not all, of these households to continue being partners. Thank you to everyone who has returned their pledge card. If you have not done so yet, please respond as soon as possible.
Joanne Fried, our new Partnership Liaison staff person would be pleased to speak with you if you have any questions or concerns. Her direct phone number is 631-421-5835, Ext. 206. You can also reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sisters of TBE Are Strongby Jennifer Freed, Sisterhood President
We are beautiful, friendly, knowledgeable women. We are motivated to make an impact in the world in which we live. Many of us help with Sisterhood programs like the Caring Committee, Project Hope and HIHI, and we keep an “eye out” and a “friendly ear” open for members of our congregation. Through fundraising efforts we were able to budget ten thousand dollars for the 2017-2018 fiscal years. This money was given to help offset temple and Religious School expenses as well as giving a significant donation to the fundraiser, “We are all Immigrants”.
How can you help Sisterhood? Think about purchasing Uniongram cards to commemorate life cycle events! All you need to do is fill out a form, which can be found in the main office and pay the small fee. Sisterhood writes the card and mails it to the intended person or family. Thank you to Joy Moss for her support in this process.
Do you have an event in your family coming up? Do you need a hostess gift? We have many different items to choose from in the Judaica cabinets as well as our stock, which is currently not on display. If you would like to make an appointment for a showing of our merchandise please contact email@example.com.
I would also like to thank the Sisterhood Board and its members, because without them we would not have been able to accomplish this year’s deeds, as well as plan for next year. Janet Singer and Stacey Aber may be leaving the Sisterhood Board, but have left their mark. Amy Podhurst, Debbie Rich, Janet Widawsky, Elaine Eig and Nanci Weber; thank you for your wisdom, support and guidance. I’m very excited to announce that Louise Spangle and I will be co-presidents of Sisterhood next year. In addition, our new Sisterhood Board Members are Linda Mont and Susan Goldman. Together with Mimi Rosen, Debi Fallenberg, Robin Zucker and Audrey Dinstell, they complete our board for the coming year. I would also like to thank Rabbi Clopper, Cantor Alison Levine and Diane Berg for their infinite wisdom of all things Jewish and their unwavering enthusiasm and support of Sisterhood. I encourage you to take some time to slow down and reflect this summer. More information about the WRJ and it global impact can be found at WRJ.org. TBE Sisterhood is a member congregation of this organization.
As we were reminded at The Women’s Seder, there have been many Jewish women who have made a substantial impact during the past two hundred years. Within our Sisterhood, we have many women who have participated in Sisterhood programs, taught a class, led a discussion, and have made an impact in someone else’s life. Let’s keep the momentum going! If you have ideas for programming, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you. Remember, each one of us has something to offer and together we can have fun and make a difference!
Social Action ends another year of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olamby Carol Werblin, Social Action Chairperson
As we approach the end of another year, I look back proudly at all that we have accomplished as a congregation and community. We held clothing, food, toiletries, and baby clothing drives. We provided furniture and housewares to those moving into emergency housing, and offered emergency housing to those living out in the cold. We delivered food to local shelters, and invited shelter residents to enjoy meals at temple. Thanks to the talents of Jenny Shore, we also distributed twenty three beautiful Mother’s Day baskets to women in local shelters.
In July, we will be hosting our last TBE dinner of the year – the Annual Community Barbecue and Boutique. We will need volunteers to cook, bake cookies, serve, and drive guests to and from the dinner. Please look for upcoming fliers and contact Carol Werblin at email@example.com or Peter Shore at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can help.
As we look forward to relaxing this summer, remember that Social Action is still very active. For instance, the Social Action Committee’s Give and Receive program continues to play a vital role in our community as a liaison between social service agencies, local shelters, school districts, and their families. Your donations directly help those in need. Over the last year, I have seen the need for assistance grow due to fires, bed bugs, and a decrease in the county’s SNAP payments (food stamps). Increasingly, more community members are sharing beds and small living spaces and requesting food earlier and earlier in the month. Thanks to your donations, however, we are able to provide furniture, clothing and food to many of these families. Additionally, we are working with Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, which sets food aside each week for the “Give and Receive” program. We deliver these perishable foods (meats, fruits, and vegetables) directly to those who need it and we supplement these meals with canned and boxed goods from our food pantry.
Please continue to donate clothing, furniture and housewares when you are downsizing, and when you go food shopping. Please don’t forget to bring something for our “food basket”. Also, if you are noting a special life event and thinking of making a donation in honor or in memory of someone, consider making it to the Social Action Committee. With your generous donations this past year we will be able to send two Huntington youths to camp this summer; an opportunity that we take for granted, but which means the world to these children and their families.
Additionally, if you have just hosted an event and have food or pastries left over, please consider donating what you would otherwise dispose of to Social Action. There are families, shelters, and agencies in the community that really appreciate these donations. Please patronize the local businesses that continually offer us support: Appliance World, Red, Trader Joe’s, IGA in Fort Salonga and East Northport, Copenhagen, Reinwald’s and “A Rise Above” bakeries.
Remember: Only because of the support of our community businesses, friends and you, can we take action and make a difference!
A Story of Hopeby Rabbi Jeffrey Clopper
I have a story of hope and unexpected kindness to share and it begins with the good will of some regular everyday teens. Back in February of this year, you may recall when one hundred headstones were toppled over in an old Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri. At a time when Jewish Community Centers and synagogues were tormented by threatening phone calls, the act stood as a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States. While our community was reeling, a national effort was undertaken. Several communities worked to raise funds to help repair the damage. In a short period of time, more than one hundred and seventy thousand dollars was collected. What made this particular campaign so remarkable is that it was initiated by the Muslim Community!
Around this time, a group of teens were inspired by the national fundraising effort. They decided they wanted to be a part of it, not so much to give to the national campaign, but to create their own opportunity. So, this group of high-schoolers organized a simple pizza sale and collected five hundred dollars all of which they decided to donate to help combat anti-Semitism.
I did say, though, this is a story involving Temple Beth El. The incredible part of this story is that these teens are all part of the Muslim Community belonging to Masjid Noor, the mosque located down the road on Park Avenue. I recently met one of the youth leaders from the mosque and it is most likely that connection that made this donation possible. Knowing the teens wanted it to help educate others about anti-Semitism, their leadership reached out to me. I suggested a number of wonderful options.
Ultimately, though, they decided to give it to Temple Beth El as part of our OneCommunity Initiative which has been impetus for the recent programs including Joseph Levin from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Reverend David Billings who spoke about the influence and challenges of White Supremacy in this country. A small group of leaders and I met with the teens recently when they brought the funds to us. I was so taken by the warmth, their kindness and their desire to want to help us. With all that has happened in our nation recently, there have been concerted efforts to bring together the many different faiths here on Long Island. Only recently have we created connections and friendships, most notably with Majid Noor and their community. Already in the past few months, I have met with their Imams on several occasions and visited their mosque a couple of times.
As I tell the story of the teen’s donation again and again, I find comfort and inspiration. Such a small gesture, but coming from their youth, it is as large as the universe. There is reason to hope, proof that we are surrounded by good and caring people. I have met them, shaken their hands, and seen us take our first steps to forging a deep meaningful connection with our Muslim brothers and sisters’ right here in Huntington. I forever will be grateful to these teenagers who have shown what hope looks like.
Esther: A Novel by Rebecca Kannerby Cantor Alison Levine
Many of us are familiar with the story of Purim. How Esther became the Queen of Persia and saved the Jews from Haman’s evil plan. But what was it really like?
Rebecca Kanner answers this question as she tells the story of Esther in this work of historical fiction. Set in Persia in 480 BCE, it begins with Esther being kidnapped from her hut in the middle of the night by the King’s brutish warriors. Then she is forced to march across the scorched landscape to the Capitol City of Shushan as part of the virgin’s march. Once she is enslaved in the palace harem, she grows from a humble peasant girl to the confident Queen Esther. On her way, she has to deal with the endless intrigues of the harem. The current concubines see the new girls as a threat to their power and position. The most beautiful girls are targeted, including Esther. She eventually makes an ally of the eunuch in charge of the Harem.
But is he really an ally? Will that be enough? Once she is made Queen, her trials are not over. How does she remain Queen? How does she have the strength to defy the king’s orders, risk her life, and save the Jews? Esther is not only beautiful but wise, resourceful, spirited, morally courageous and kind-hearted. It is these traits that help her navigate the treacherous world of the court of the mighty King Xerxes.
This story has vivid, historical detail, interesting characters, and good plotting. It has razor sharp dialogue and lots of political intrigue. These made the book a page turner. Despite knowing the story, Kanner fleshes out all the details and keeps up the suspense. I found that the descriptions of the court, the food, the palace, the King, the soldiers and the harem all brought this world to life and made the story of Purim much more three-dimensional. There are also a few additional characters to the story that do not appear in the biblical version. These include Ruti, a Jewish servant who is almost a mother figure to Esther; Halannah, Haman’s sister who is Esther’s most venomous rival in the harem; and Erez, a soldier who protects Esther during the march and is a source of comfort and conflict.
The author, Rebecca Kanner, is a Jewish freelance writer. She teaches writing at The Loft in Minneapolis. She has won an Associated Writing Programs Award and a Loft Mentor Series Award. Her stories have been published in numerous journals, including the Kenyon Review and The Cincinatti Review. In addition to Esther: A Novel, she has also published another biblical book, Sinners and the Sea, a novel about Noah’s wife.
The Eternal Wowby Diane E. Berg, RJE, Educational Imagineer
At our first faculty meeting, I introduced the theme for the year: WOW. I wanted the teachers to work even harder to “wow” their students with engaging and innovative lessons. I wanted each classroom to elicit a “wow” response as the students entered. And I wanted every communal program to “wow” our kids with interest, laughter and relevance. I don’t do ordinary. Neither do my teachers. We do extraordinary! That is what makes our school such a great place to learn and experience the joy of being Jewish. After all, as Dr. Seuss said, “Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, entertained, and delighted.”
There are no second chances in Jewish education. If a student walks away and feels that their religious school years were ordinary, or God forbid, a waste of time, then we have failed that child. And this is why we work so hard. Looking back, we provided many exciting and positive events this past year. In December, we held a Maccabean Olympics where each grade’s team picked a name, designed a banner and performed a cheer. Teams then chose a champion to represent them for certain competitive Chanukah activities. From creating a Chanukiyah out of dominos to a Chanukah trivia competition, there was a great celebration for all.
I am sometimes asked, “why do I need to know Hebrew?’ So I created “Hebrew Letter Day” in January. Students cycled through interactive stations that showed many ways that Hebrew is used, including reading an Israeli menu, creating pins with their Hebrew initial, writing in calligraphy, and even “meeting” the creator of the modern Hebrew dictionary, Eliezer ben Yehuda.
In February, Rabbi Clopper turned the school upside down by creating a camp experience where the students followed a camp schedule that included an arts and crafts period where “campers” decorated rocks with Jewish values, competed in crossing a “lake”, learned summer and camp words in Hebrew, and even had snacks at canteen. None of the “campers” knew they were learning, but they were! That is the secret!
In March, families baked rainbow Hamentashen to create a more colorful Purim. In April, students competed in a Passover Board Game. Teams answered questions and gained points with bonus questions. They were really reviewing the parts of the Seder but they didn’t know that was the purpose because it was so engaging. These special events show that learning can be, should be, and certainly is fun!
As we sang at our Seders, “Dayenu”, it would have been enough. It is never enough excitement, so in between our special events, we had school spirit days. This year, we had tie-dye / neon day, inside out day, and blue and white day. The students have to have fun and so do I.
I could not create this magical environment alone. I am ever so grateful to our teachers, to Maddy Schwartz, my brilliant, creative and supportive administrative assistant, our dedicated school chairs, Lisi Viesta and Andy Karpf, and our encouraging V.P. of Education, Linda Braun, our Religious School Committee volunteers, and our remarkably gifted and creative Rabbi Jeff Clopper. Thank you.
I want to end by expressing my gratitude to our school parents, especially the ones who accepted the gift membership and entrusted their forty four children to our school family. I hope we wowed all of you!