Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
April 16, 2021

“The Playlist of Israel” | April 16th, 2021

It used to be mix-tapes, then it was burning CDs, and now there are playlists. We make them or have them made for us for all types of situations. Breakups, Proms, Weddings, Parties. A good playlist takes you on an emotional journey, helping you to express a wide range of feelings over a few tracks.

Few playlists are as moving as the national set-list of Israel over the course of Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day). In the short span of 2 days, Israeli society uses music to help it reach the depths of sadness as it mourns fallen soldiers and those murdered in terror attacks and then uses music to help escape mourning and break out into joy at the modern miracle of Independence and national sovereignty.

Hundreds of songs for those two days, each one telling a different story and helping Israeli society experience the widest range of emotions. Grief and Gratitude, Sadness and Joy, Loss and Hope.

I invite you to listen to two songs that exemplify the power of the music of these Israeli High Holidays. The first, לבכות לך- Livkot Lechaִ– To Cry for You by Arik Einstein highlights that those we’ve lost will always be remembered. The second, שבט אחים ואחיות-Shevet Achim v’Achayot- A tribe of Brothers and Sisters, celebrates Israel’s diversity and the joy and blessing of having a national home. I hope we can feel the longing and the beauty of this playlist, and connect to our Israeli siblings in commemoration and celebration of this week.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

 

April 9, 2021

“The Responsibility to Remember” | April 9th, 2021

I am hopeful that this summer I can fulfill a promise, albeit a year later than expected, to take my children to Poland. They are not too stoked for this trip. After all, it is not a getaway to say, Hawaii or Florida or visiting grandparents in Texas. Still, Dori and I find it a Jewish and moral responsibility to expose our children to Poland, its rich history for the Jewish people, the terrible tragedies that occurred on its soil by the Nazis, and sharing in the excitement and pride in the slow and steady steps of rebuilding a Jewish community in Warsaw and Krakow. This pilgrimage is even more potent since remembering survivors will be a distant and foggy memory for them and learning about while standing in the place where this history happened is even more potent.

The day that is chosen to commemorate Yom Hashoah VeHaGevurah, which we commemorated this week, is the day in the Hebrew Calendar of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The historians chose a day not about our demise, but about our courage, strength and resilience.  That is one of the most compelling reasons I want to be the escort for this trip for my children:  I find it equally important to focus on the vibrancy of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the rebuilding of life there today, as I do the terror and death that happened in Auschwitz and Treblinka. To appreciate the loss that happened, one must understand the level of life that existed, first. While Israel is our ancestral homeland, Eastern Europe gave birth to much of our Ashkenazic traditions, it was flooded with scholars that paved the way for us to pray, study and lead our Jewish lives and it hosted the soil which tells a long and thoughtful story of our impact in the greater society.  Jewish memory is much more complicated than the tragedies or hatred that were focused in our direction.  It is also about our contributions and value add to the society we were a part of.

In a world without Shoah survivors, I worry about the dwindling light being shined upon the history of the Jews in Europe from 1938-1945.  Ironically, the need for memory is even stronger in a world with less Holocaust survivors in it, making OUR role in memorializing and remembering it even more important.

If you have not been to Poland, when the skies and passageways of travel re-open, add it to your agenda. It is important, valuable and a critical section of our shared Jewish history and identity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Seth-Kirshner

April 2, 2021

Pesach VII | April 2nd, 2021

Truth be told, I don’t care much for the taste of matzah. This holds true from the first crunch of it at the seder and continues throughout the holiday. Once I’ve had the requisite amount during the seders, I avoid it like the plagues. I’d much rather spend my holiday eating the leftover brisket or chicken soup than have a board of matzah.

In spite of this rather logical dislike of matzah, I’ve always appreciated the way people make incredible use of our bread of affliction. Whether with cream cheese and jam, turkey and mayo, as lasagna, or covered in chocolate and caramel, the centuries have taught our people to make the most out of this most peculiar cracker.

The multipurpose capabilities of matzah are rooted in its multifaceted symbolism. Matzah is the bread of affliction and also the bread of freedom. Matzah is the bread of poverty that we eat while treating ourselves with decadence. We break the middle matzah so we experience having half of something, not having enough, while keeping the other two boards to ensure we have plenty.

Throughout the remainder of Passover, as we continue to transmute this peculiar bread into sweet or savory matzah brei, into KLP cakes or fluffy balls for soup, let us continue to play with the symbolism of the matzah. May we always find meaning in it, spreading the various meanings of the holiday over it like so many different toppings, and may we always have just the right amount.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

March 26, 2021

Passover 5781 | March 26th, 2021

I have long pondered over the identity crisis that is Passover. We know this is a happy holiday but, why do we remember and reenact so much that was sad?
We celebrate a feast called a Seder while eating poor people’s tasteless bread called Matzah. We are commanded to eat roasted meats and drink four cups of wine while reclining, all signs of festivity yet, we dip vegetables in saltwater and must eat bitter herbs.

In Judaism, we cannot appreciate freedom unless we remember what slavery was for our ancestors. We cannot partake in a feast without tasting the bitterness of the journey that led to our independence today. In Judaism, we cannot arrive without the sweat and tears of the journey.

This identity crisis perfectly symbolizes my feelings over this past year living through a pandemic. I am pained by the loss of life, the illness, the emotional and physical toll this pandemic has taken on businesses, industries along with families, and communities. Grandparents who cannot hold their children coupled with kids who cannot attend school and valued rites of passages, like prom, Israel trips, and B’nai Mitzvah denied have caused real loss and sadness. It hurts our collective heart. These are all saltwater and horse-radish for our soul.

Yet, at the same time, family units have bonded closer than ever before. We have a new appreciation for health, life, and those who tend to the care of the ill and elderly. This time has reminded us of what matters most in life. By staying home, wearing masks, and taking precautions we are reminded how seemingly small acts by each and every person help shape our world for the better. We have put consumerism and chasing materialism by the wayside and focused on relationships. We have replaced valuables with values.  Technology has tethered us to work, family and community and created new rituals that will continue long past Covid. This is the four-cups of wine and feast for our spirit.

Sometimes, I imagine in prayer form,  that God will grant me health and years and that I will be able to have grandchildren sit at my feet and ask me what it was like to live through a pandemic. I anticipate them asking me how terrible it was and I hope to be able to say, it was terrible and it was beautiful, all at the same time. Just like Passover and so much of our tradition. After all, if we cannot feel pain, we will never know what joy feels like. If we only eat the sweetness of the Haroset, we will have no appreciation for the Marror – bitter herbs. And if we only feast on roasted meats and wine, we cannot appreciate the challenges of our ancestors and our encounters that tried our bodies and resolve.

I pray this Passover, better than last year but not as sweet as year’s previous, will be filled with honey and appreciation for the stinger of the bee; an ability to taste and appreciate the sweetness of the  Haroset and the bitterness of the Marror which all enable us to find better balance and appreciate the arc that is our history and our shared future.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

March 19, 2021

“The Hug” Vayikra 5781 | March 19th, 2021

My colleague and friend, Rabbi Charlie Savenor gave a stirring sermon during his senior year of rabbinical school. It moved me so, that 24 years later, I still often think about it. Earlier that year, Charlie’s father succumbed to cancer. The sermon he shared in his memory was about a time he was distanced from his dad for more than 48 hours because of a wicked snowstorm. When he finally embraced his father along with his brothers and mother, it was a long moment to savor and remember. (read his sermon here) https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/moses-and-the-missing-hug/

For many who I have shared with or who have confided in me during this past year, you have expressed the most challenging part of COVID and the pandemic is not being able to touch, hold and hug your loved ones. Grandparents have had new grandchildren born that they could not see or hold. Children could not see their parents or kiss their cheeks, some of who were even ailing. Too many of our loved ones died without their family by their side or holding their hand. Personally, I have not seen my mother or siblings in a year and I desperately need that hug and personal touch. Don’t we all?

In the Haftorah for this week, from Isaiah, we are reminded of the dangers of idol worship that cannot see, hear or know. In Judaism, we are reminded that there is one God and human relationships are paramount. While Zoom has been a gift during this time, there is no replacement for the face-to-face encounters, a hug, or a touch that happens that proves our presence and love.

As many in our community begin the process of receiving vaccinations, I am seeing long-awaited pictures of reunifications and hugs. I kindly ask that if you have pictures of these sacred encounters,  email them to me at kirshner@templeemanu-el.com so we can enjoy the blessings of these important and sacred moments of human interaction and seeing God in one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner