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.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
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.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
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)
August 23rd, 2019 | 22 Av 5779
A Land That’s Too Good?
By Nicole Wilson-Spiro,
Ph.D, Candidate in Rabbinic Literature
I received a call one evening this summer from the doctor at Ramah Palmer. My son had tripped, and she wanted permission to bring him off camp the next day to have his swollen wrist x-rayed. Of course! But by the next morning I had convinced myself that I should pick him up from camp and bring him to our local orthopedist. I even convinced my husband that this would be best for insurance, since our orthopedist is in our insurance network. Unfortunately for me, the camp’s local hospital also turned out to be in our network. Truthfully, I wanted him to come home because I wanted to see him with my own eyes to make sure he was OK. My son is eleven, and he was hurt badly enough that he needed x-rays.
My son, however, wasn’t having it. He made clear that he wasn’t coming home, even if we promised we would bring him back to camp right after the appointment. And he was right. The camp brought him for x-rays, and the bone wasn’t broken. Within a couple of days, we saw pictures of him playing hockey without even a splint. I was a little hurt at first that he didn’t need me, but then my hurt turned to pride: he didn’t need me.
This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, is part of Moses’s final speech to the Israelites before they will pass into the Land of Israel. In it, God (via Moses) expresses God’s desire to provide an idyllic existence for God’s children, the “Children of Israel,” in the Land of Israel. Like most parents, God not only feels an obligation to feed and protect God’s children, but God wants to facilitate their happiness as well.
August 15th, 2019 | 14 Av 5779
A Leader’s Limits
By Hillel Gruenberg,
Director of Israel Engagement
The very title of this week’s parashah, Va’et-hannan (“and I pleaded”), presents the larger-than-life figure of Moses in a humbling place. Before sharing with the people fundamental elements of the faith that they have taken on and the civilization that they aspire to become, Moses confessed to them that his exclusion from the destined land of promise was against his will, and in spite of emotional pleas to God (Deut. 3:23–26). The man who chose to forgo the trappings of a life among the royal Egyptian elite to lead an at-times ungrateful band of liberated slaves through the desert would ultimately be barred from tasting the final fruit of his sacrifice.
Commentators suggest a variety of reasons for God’s refusal to let Moses enter the Land, including his striking of the rock at the waters of Meribah (Num. 20:9–12, Rashi); his impetuous rebuke of his people in this episode (ibid., Rambam); and his behavior in the dispatch of spies to the Land of Israel (Num. 13, Abarbanel). However, we might take a step back to explore the question of why Moses should not have entered the Land despite everything he did in the service of God and his people.
Let us consider for a moment Moses’s own biography: he went from being a member of the Egyptian royal house, unaware of his true origins yet not entirely comfortable with his supposed family’s oppression of another people, to an exiled prince resigned to a simpler life in the desert, and then on to become a liberator, teacher, and preacher to his people. Moreover, Moses came to his leadership role somewhat begrudgingly, humbly expressing at the outset of the Exodus saga that he was aral sefatayim, “deficient of speech,” (Exod. 6:12) and might not be suited to the monumental task of speaking to the ruler of a great civilization or navigating an unwieldy group of recently freed slaves through an unforgiving desert.