Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
April 19, 2018

Israel Turns 70! By: Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner / April 19, 2018 / 4 Iyyar 5778

The older I get, the more birthdays mean to me. While at the same time, presents have less meaning, at least the kind of presents that we wrap. What matters more to me as I mature, is being with people I care about and making a difference in the world. I know the same is true for many of you.

Israel is turning 70 this week! What is the best way to celebrate her and the many amazing achievements our nation’s state has accomplished in this short time? For me, it is finding a way that we all can applaud those achievements and ensure for more to come.

That is why I am asking all of you to consider supporting this amazing endeavor from our Temple to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday.

United Hatzalah is a fully volunteer organization in Israel that has trained and deputized more than 4,000 people as medics and paramedics to administer first aid and life saving measures in record time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Ambu-cycles have made rapid response even faster resulting in more saving of lives. United Hatzalah’s service is available to all people regardless of race, religion, or national origin. With the help of their unique GPS technology and their iconic ambu-cycles, their average response time is less than 3 minutes across the country and 90 seconds in metropolitan areas. Their mission is to arrive at the scene of medical emergencies as soon as possible and provide the patient with professional and appropriate medical aid until an ambulance arrives, resulting in many more lives saved.

Please click this link https://israelrescue.org/templeemanuel and celebrate Israel with the gift that keeps on giving. To date we are 30% there. We have done great but still have a long way to go.

Hag Sameach! Happy Independence Day for Israel. Thanks for partnering with me to make this gift one that keeps on giving.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

April 5, 2018

“Counting the Omer: Counting Down by Counting Up.” / April 5th, 2018

The Torah never specifies the date of the spring holiday Shavuot. Isn’t that strange? After all, we know with precision the month and date of every other festival. But there’s still no question when Shavuot begins, as the Torah tells us that the latter spring holiday arrives seven weeks after the second day of Passover. Furthermore, we’re instructed to count off the days between the two holidays; this period is called the Omer. Yet, oddly, we mark this count by actually counting up. At night time we say “today is the first day.” Then, “today is the second day.” And so on.

Shouldn’t we count down to the big moment of reliving the anniversary of receiving the Torah? We instinctively do this for other exciting moments, like on New Year’s Eve: “ten, nine, eight, etc.” Because counting down conveys excitement. Shouldn’t we be enthusiastic about the anniversary of Revelation?

When we count down to something, we communicate that the time in between doesn’t matter. All that’s important is getting to the finish line. The last few minutes of a given year are like that. For kids (and teachers!) the last few days of school are like that too. Counting down implies, “just get this wait over with.”

But the days between Passover and Shavuot matter a great deal because we must prepare ourselves emotionally to receive the Torah anew. We don’t just care about reaching the finish line but finishing strong. We seek to growing through the entire process. It’s not enough simply to receive the Torah; we have to prepare ourselves for it. And that’s an active process. As a friend told me, “Killing time is suicide.”

Perhaps Hillel’s rule of lighting Hanukah candles applies here too. In the Talmud, Hillel advocates lighting one candle the first night, two the second night, and so on. He says, “Maalin BKodesh VEin Moridin – we ascend in matters of holiness and don’t descend.” During Hanukah, the light should grow as the stature of the miracles grows too. Hillel’s position is one we all follow nowadays.

In the case of counting the Omer, we also “ascend” Mt. Sinai for a period of seven weeks. Every day we aim to take one step higher to the apex. Only counting up allows for this metaphor.

Seven weeks of seven is a beautiful number. So is the number 70, as in Israel’s birthday number this Yom HaAtzmaut, on April 19th. For each year of Israel’s existence, its light shines even brighter. Thank You, G-d, for allowing us to live during a time we have a free and secure State of Israel. Here’s to 70 years…and counting.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alex Freedman

April 2, 2018

Breaking the Matzah: A Lesson for Life – March 30, 2018 / 14 Nisan 5778

Every year at Passover time, I try to make a Matzah sandwich. Sometimes it is with turkey and mayonnaise, other times with whipped cream-cheese and lox. Often I put tuna and egg salad on matzah with a slice of cheese. The problem is that the Matzah square is too big to be eaten at once. So, I try to either cut the matzah in half or into quarters to make a more appropriate size sandwich.

Regardless of which brand of Matzah I purchase, the Matzah never breaks evenly. Those little lines that seem like perforations that would neatly give perfect 90 degree angles to the Matzah just never break right and always create some jagged edge and non-neat fit to my sandwich.

I started thinking that my culinary creative experience on Passover is emblematic of much of life. Both Matzah and life break in ways we cannot always anticipate and not always neatly and perfectly. We are then faced with simple choices: whine and complain about the unfairness of the uneven break, even out the edges on the Matzah, or bite into the imperfect sandwich.

Like the Exodus itself, the meal that is our Seder and the rough and tumble of everyday, our lives do not always tear neatly on the perforated lines of the Matzah. Embracing that line as it breaks is the key to our nourishment, both literally and figuratively. That is why one of the first acts we do in the Seder is to break the Middle Matzah, known as Yachatz. Whether you use Shmura Rounded Matzot or Manischewitz, I doubt it will crack evenly and down the middle. Perhaps that is a sign from God to us to bless the broken and the imperfect, just like the Mishna in Berachot teaches and we learned in The Blessings of a Skinned Knee. Perfection is found within the imperfect. That imperfection is most deserving of our blessings.

Dori, Eve and Elias and I wish all of you a delicious and meaningful Passover filled with the embrace of life’s imperfect breaks.

Hag Sameach!

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

March 22, 2018

Introducing the Seder Supplement: Your Seder Conversation Starter – March 22, 2018 / 6 Nisan 5778

What do you remember about the Passover Seders of years past?
We all recall the unique flavors of the Passover dishes. We know who was at the table. And if we’re lucky, we remember some pretty wonderful conversation about Passover and life itself.

In many ways, preparing for a satisfying conversation – for both young and old – is the hardest challenge. How do we take this ancient story and refresh it for 2018? How do we engage both kids and the adults? How do we interest and include both Seder veterans and rookies?

Enter the Seder Supplement.

I prepared this handout to start the conversation at your table. (A big thank you to Christiina Buchert for the graphic design). If you’re hosting, feel free to make copies for your guests and adapt to your needs. If you’re a guest at someone else’s table, feel free to bring to your hosts. The hardest part is starting a meaningful conversation. Once it begins, however, enjoy the ride.

The Seder Supplement has two parts. The first is a classic text study. A few verses from the Torah tell the story of Shifra and Pua, two Egyptian heroines who defied Pharaoh’s orders and saved the Jewish baby boys from death in the Nile. Many of us didn’t learn about them when we heard the Passover story taught in Religious School. That’s a shame, for they are courageous role models. Who today models these values of civil disobedience and solidarity with all of humanity?

The second page includes different quotes about slavery. Selected from a range of personalities and historical figures, these quotes nudge us to think about slavery in a more sophisticated way. While the themes of freedom and slavery remain from year to year, our understanding of them matures as we do. Our conversations should reflect this growth.

The words themselves of the Haggadah are also conversation starters, but sometimes they need to be unlocked. That’s what I’ve attempted to do here with the Seder Supplement. The word “Haggadah” itself means “Telling the story.” So does the Hebrew word “Maggid,” the longest section of the Seder. The Torah tells us “You shall tell your child on that day [of a future Passover holiday], ‘It is because of what G-d did for me when I left Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8). The challenge – and ultimate satisfaction – is to create an experience and conversation that makes it feel as if we ourselves escaped the Maror-like bitterness of slavery. So we’ve got to talk about it. The conversation isn’t secondary to the meal. The conversation itself is the experience of renewed liberation. After all, only free people can speak freely.

No Seder leader can control what the guests will say and who will participate. But every Seder leader can prepare for success by organizing in advance questions, stories, songs, games, and topics for discussion.

This Passover, let’s liberate the conversation too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alex Freedman

March 15, 2018

All Who Are Hungry – Passover 5778 March 15, 2018 / 28 Adar 5778 Parashat Vayikra

The three Torahs that we will read this Shabbat will remind us all that Passover is just barely over two weeks away. One Torah is for Shabbat. One is for Rosh Hodesh and one is for the special Shabbat of HaHodesh telling us the holiday is a coming!!

That means it is time for us to clean out our cupboards and prepare for this fun, festive and delicious holiday. It also means that there are a few things we all can do to make our Passover holiday more meaningful for ourselves, our community and for others. We read in the Haggadah – “All who are hungry – let them come and eat.” If we take that line seriously, as I do, it means we need to help others celebrate this holiday however we can. Here are four things you can do to make a difference:

• If you are cleaning out Hametz from your cabinets, bring unopened dry goods and unopened canned goods to the Temple where we are collecting for our local food pantries. For some in our community, these are continued days of not knowing where their next meal will come from. Helping all people is a shared Jewish value and a core lesson of Passover.
• You can donate to the Passover Ma’ot Hittim fund. As always, 110% of the proceeds will help hungry Jews in our greater community and those that cannot make Seder for themselves. No amount is too big or small.
• If you know someone who is in need of a place to attend Seder, please let me or Rabbi Freedman know. Along those lines, if you have room at your Seder, please let us know. We will discreetly connect souls so that no one is alone for Passover.
• Sell your Hametz. It is against traditional Jewish law to own leavened and/or leavening products during Passover. One cannot use it after Passover either, if it was in Jewish possession during the holiday. To work around this challenge, we create a loophole that allows us to “sell” our Hametz to me, as your agent, and I sell it on behalf of our congregation. This is called Mechirat Hametz. There is ZERO fee involved in Mechiratz Hametz. Some people choose to donate to the needy, but that is at your discretion. Click this link to download our form and send back to us so you can cover your bases and sell your Hametz.

Passover is a holiday all about freedom and feasts. We cannot be free and appreciate that freedom unless we pause and think of those that don’t have the same blessings we do this year, but through our help will enjoy a better tomorrow. To me, that is what freedom and the Seder and this holiday of Passover is really all about.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner