Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
September 26, 2019

September 26th, 2019 | “New Year Blessings”

September 19, 2019

September 19th, 2019 | 19 Elul 5779

Giving Tzedakah
Then and Now

By Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg

 

When I was in 1st grade attending the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, the local Jewish day school in Virginia Beach, VA., we learned a song that has stuck in my head for many years.  The tune was a bit indiscernible, resembling any number of Jewish melodies, but first line of the song is what carried the greatest meaning focusing on the importance of giving tzedakah –  money, goods or services to the needy.

The song began with the words “tzedakah, tzedakah, tzedakah, that is what we give, to poor people to help them live.” As we sang these words, someone would walk around the room carrying a collection can (you remember those metal cans like the ones from JNF?) and each of us in the room would dutifully drop a coin or two in the can, waiting to hear that satisfying clink indicating that we had successful completed this important mitzvah.  Giving money is one way to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah but there are other ways to do this as well.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, we learn about another way of giving tzedakah as described in connection to the ancient rituals pertaining to the harvesting of first fruits.  One of the important responsibilities for famers in ancient Israel was to give a portion of the harvest to those who were less fortunate as it says in Deuteronomy  26:12 to “… set aside in full the tenth part of your yield … and [to give it] to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements…” At the moment when one might have been most inclined to begin eating and enjoying the literal fruits of hard labor, the Torah teaches that a farmer had to think about and give to others who might not have been as blessed with a bountiful harvest.

Nowadays, as most of us are not farmers and do not live in the land of Israel, the ritual of giving ma’aser oni – a tithe to the poor is practiced differently.  Instead of dedicating a portion of our harvest, our Jewish tradition requires us to give a small portion of our earnings for tzedakah.  At Temple Emanu-el, one way we help fulfill this mitzvah is by taking up a collection for a cause before the holiday of Rosh Hashana. As we a little over a week away from the High Holidays, I want to encourage all of us to contribute to this year’s tzedakah collection by donating items ­for Cold Weather Survival Kits For The Homeless.

To see a list of items we are collecting, please click here, purchase the items and drop them off at the front office or send items directly to the synagogue by using our Amazon Wish List.  Whatever you choose to do, let us all fulfill this important mitzvah and start our new Jewish year off right by being thankful for what we have and helping others in the process. May we continue to follow in the path of our ancestors who gave a portion of their harvest to the less fortunate, whether that be by giving money to a cause, donating items for a collection, or maybe just dropping coins in a can.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg
Rabbi for Lifelong Learning

September 11, 2019

September 11th, 2019 | 11 Elul 5779

September 11 – 18 Years Later

By Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

 

Anniversaries/Yahrtzeits evoke emotional responses for me. Part of that is shaped in my actual birth date. I was conceived to be a namesake for my maternal grandfather. I was born 3 weeks late and the exact date he died, one year later. To underline the significance of dates in my family, my great nephew was born three weeks early on the yahrtzeit (Jewish date) of my brother Gabriel’s death.

Sometimes, dates connected to death and life can be eerie and powerful. My birthday, and that of my great-nephew, will forever be the balm that soothes the sadness those dates are to our family.

Today marks 18 years (Chai-Life) since the September 11, attacks that will forever shape our generation as Americans. We can recall where we were, the blueness of the sky and the calls received marking us safe, and sadly the phones that never rang. In those 18 years, families have been created and love renewed, yet, we still come back to this time as mile marker and stark reminder of the fragility of life.

This year also marks painful anniversaries of challenge and resilience, despair and triumph. 80 years ago last week was the start of World War II, which led to the Holocaust and the extermination of 11 Million souls, 6 Million of whom were Jews. This marker in time reminds us both of our suffering and loss and our uncanny ability to rebuild and be strong.

60 years ago this May, will mark the heroic capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina by the Israeli Mossad, and his subsequent trial in Israel. When his trial started, chief prosecutor for the State of Israel, Gideon Hausner claimed to the court that his task was to represent 6 Million Jews who cannot rise to level the finger of accusation at the accused.

Eichmann’s capture, trial and guilty verdict was a moment that opened a wound that had just started to scab while at the same time, offering a sliver of justice in what felt like a broken world.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will recite the prayer of Unetaneh Toqef which highlights the fragility of life and appreciating each day as if it were our last. The value of each anniversary, whether a birthday, a date of death, an anniversary of war or of justice, is a reminder to live each day filled with memory while at the very same time, to live each day making meaningful memories.

May this September 11, be a day of memory that inspires us to remember the lives lost and may it stoke us to do good deeds as an appropriate token of loving memory.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

September 6, 2019

September 5th, 2019 | 5 Elul 5779

The Memory Erasing Road

By Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

 

I hope the summer was relaxing, rejuvenating and fulfilling for you. It was for me and my family. We spent time in Israel studying and enjoying life in the holy land.  It refueled my soul.

Though, something always happens on the Palisades Parkway when we come home from ANY vacation and especially from Israel. Perhaps it has happened to you too. We clear customs, have all of our luggage in tow and are in the car riding homeward. The trees lining the highway seem to make the most amazing vacation, regardless of how long it was, feel like it was only a dream. Almost like it never happened, though we know it did because we are tan, filled with memories and have souvenirs popping out of our bags.

What is it about those special times in life that seem to be fleeting and the challenging times that seem to linger?

Some of you packed up kids for college this week. Some of you are now empty nesters. Some of you prepared kids for the very first day of pre-Kindergarten and others are preparing to go back to work after welcoming a new child to your household. Regardless of where you are in the arc of this journey, we are all singing in our heads the words. ‘Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years.’ For you, this rite of passage went too quickly and all of the training wheels, parent teacher conferences, carpools, sports and dance after school activities buzzed by into the distant past, almost invisible in our rear view mirror.

Jonathan Safran Foer claims that Jewish people have a sixth-sense and it is memory. He says, when a Jew has her finger pricked by a pin, we ask, how did it remember?

Life is full of memories, hopefully more sweet than bitter. These memories pave the path we travel, whether home from a drop-off at college, from a vacation or from a first day of school. Our responsibility is to make meaningful memories and appreciate them in the moment and afterwards, since memory serves as the energy that keeps us moving forward each day.

We are excited to see you at the Temple this week and year and are ready to make meaningful memories for you and your family.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

August 29, 2019

August 29th, 2019 | 28 Av 5779

Blood, Water, and Desire

By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz,
Director, Matthew Wisenfeld and Sara Duker Beit Midrash, Assistant Professor, Talmud and Rabbinics

 

Only be sure that you do not eat the blood; for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the meat. (Deut. 12:23)

“And once I saw her menstrual blood . . . saw it shining darkly up at me from the worn linoleum in front of the kitchen sink . . . Also in this icon is an endless dripping of blood down through a drainboard into a dishpan. It is the blood she is draining from the meat so as to make it kosher and fit for consumption. Probably I am confusing things . . . but I see her standing at the sink salting the meat so as to rid it of its blood, when the attack of woman’s troubles sends her, with a most alarming moan, rushing off to her bedroom. I was no more than four or five, and yet those two drops of blood that I beheld on the floor of her kitchen are visible to me still.” (Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint, 42–43)

These days most observant Jewish women in North America do not soak and salt their own meat. What was once a common and familiar marker of Jewish kitchens, and a deeply gendered rite of passage for young Jewish women, has been professionalized and sequestered away from the eyes of most of those who cook and eat kosher meat. In the United States, the act itself is often performed by mostly non-Jewish workers under the supervision of Orthodox rabbis—a largely male caste. The sounds, sights, and smells of this “kashering” process as performed today would seem strange, unfamiliar, and perhaps even repulsive to most Jewish North American women. The remaining women whose mothers taught them this little ritual of water, blood, and salt, with its ramped wooden drainboard, are now mostly in their late sixties and early seventies. Within the next twenty or thirty years, for all practical purposes, its existence as a rite commonly performed by women in Jewish kitchens may pass from living memory.

This shift in location from home to commercial setting has happened in my own lifetime. As recently as the 1970s, Rabbi Isaac Klein, the Conservative Movement’s widely-accepted posek (adjudicator of Jewish law), wrote this piece of practical advice:

We would suggest that housewives who put meat into a deep freeze should, as a rule, kasher them first and then freeze them. In cases of emergency, however, and where the meat was accidentally not kashered, we permit the kashering of the meat after it was taken out of the deep freeze. (A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, 353)

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The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).