As some of you know I serve on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which is quite an honor. Yesterday I attended a meeting where part of the agenda dealt with trends in the Jewish community and how to build successful institutions.
One of the points which was raised was how important participating in acts of social justice are for our younger people. As we continue growing Adat Reyim and finding ways to reach our diverse membership, I hope that all of us will come together on Sunday, April 6 for Good Deeds Day, an opportunity for all of us to help our community. I know that our Social Action Committee under Jeanne Kadet and now Randi Adleberg have developed a comprehensive list of various ways in which we can improve the lives of people in our greater community. I hope that you will let Randi know of your interest in serving on her committee and suggesting ways in which you would like to make a difference.
On this Shabbat, which is called Shabbat Shekalim, we are each reminded that in order to be part of the community, everyone contributed a half shekel, an affordable amount which helped each member of the community to feel that they were part of our people and could make a difference. We read this tomorrow as we conclude the book of Exodus with the final details for constructing the portable Tabernacle which our ancestors carried through the desert. What can we give to our community of friends that will help construct a special place where we feel connected? I hope that if you have ideas about ways in which you would like to contribute your time and/ or resources, you will let Executive Director Liz Bayer, President Andrea Cate, or me know.
Finally, at our recent board meeting I talked about Megillat Esther, which we read during Purim. I talked about Chapter 4, verse 14 where Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn’t try to save the Jewish people, that help will come from some other place. This is a veiled reference to G-d who otherwise is not mentioned in the Megillah. However, it also serves as a reminder that when we try to build our community, we need you to help volunteer and participate. The current volunteers do a wonderful job but sometimes feel overwhelmed. They would like help to come from some other place. Perhaps this is the time when we will step forward and volunteer to help with and participate in the myriad of activities which are planned for March and which you will read about in various publicity. I hope that our Purim resolution will be to be the “other place” from which help will come and that we can increase the number of those who make Adat Reyim a vibrant community of friends.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
As we begin the Biblical book of Leviticus, we are reminded that this is the Biblical book with which children use to begin their religious education. You may remember that students would have a slate (anyone remember those days?) and cover it with honey, tasting the honey as they began their learning so that it would be a sweet experience. The excitement of children learning must have been a joy to watch and experience. Leviticus begins with a discussion of animal sacrifice (the Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban, which means to become close) which was the way in which our ancestors drew closer to G-d. As children began to fill their personal slate, it was a hope that this learning would bring them closer to the divine in their lives. As we continue to tweak our worship experiences and renovate our educational programming at Adat Reyim and throughout the Jewish community, we are seeking ways to try to make spirituality and Jewish education sweeter and more of a part of our lives.
Tomorrow morning there will be another experimental service where we will abbreviate our Musaf (additional) service, not do the entire morning Amidah silently, and not repeat the Amidah in the Shacharit (morning service). We hope that you will join us for either this service, our usual Friday night service with the choir tonight, and/or our Learners’ Minyan tomorrow morning at 10:00 am. We have many choices and hopefully we are reaching our varied spiritual needs.
Tomorrow night we will be showing the movie The Jewish Cardinal, which will challenge us to think about our connection to the memory of the Holocaust as symbolized by Auschwitz, our personal connection to our faith, and Jewish-Catholic relationships. I hope you will make the time to join us for this movie and the subsequent discussions. It promises to be a very special evening and many thanks to Ronnie Oppenheim for helping us organize our annual movie night.
Finally, as many of us watched the Academy Awards, we see the glamour and beauty of Hollywood’s evening to show off the creativity of the movie industry. I hope that as we reflect upon our own lives, we will realize that in our daily routines we may not feel that our lives are glamorous, but every time I hear someone talk about a relative after they have departed, I am amazed by the ways in which our simple actions provide loved ones with priceless memories. What could be more glamorous that the simple words and actions which our loved ones will remember for ever? I hope we will be inspired to realize that true glamour and beauty can be found in the ways in which we interact with our loved ones and those we hold close. As the book of Leviticus begins, we see the small aleph which concludes the first word. Although there are Biblical grammatical reasons for this, I have often stated that the reason for the smaller letter which concludes the first word is to remind us that our little actions can make a big difference in the lives of people about whom we care. May our little actions be a source of inspiration to those whose lives we touch.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
As the Olympics reach their conclusion, I wanted to share some thoughts about winning and losing and not giving up. Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch some of the U.S. vs. Canada hockey game and was captivated by one of the best hockey games I have ever watched. As the third period reached its conclusion, it looked like the U.S. would win the game and the gold medal. But in the last three and a half minutes, as you know by now, the Canadians came back to tie the game and then win it in overtime.
What did I learn from watching this game and the subsequent comments? I learned that for many, the Americans did not win the silver medal, but they lost the gold medal. I learned that some thought the Americans “gave the game away” or “choked.” After having played baseball for over 45 years, I understand the importance of winning, but also understand that as Grantland Rice, the famous writer once wrote, “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” It was a heartbreaking defeat, but what a wonderful effort. What if a hockey puck bounces into the open net instead of hitting the post? What if…? The Americans won the silver medal and I think that is a great achievement
I hope that we will realize that sometimes we do the same thing to our children. We appreciate their efforts but I have yet to hear a parent announce during our simcha moment that their child tried very hard and ended up second or third in their competition. It is usually all about winning and although I respect the importance of winning, sometimes I believe that winning isn’t everything.
As Yogi Berra, the famous baseball player once said, “it ain’t over until it’s over.” Sometimes we forget that we need to see things through to their conclusion. I hope we can appreciate that we need to stay with things and not give up whatever our field of endeavor is and whatever challenges come our way. Just ask the Canadian hockey team that never gave up.
When I coach youth leagues I often give the players the following, which I hope they share with their parents. I hope it inspires us to realize that we should applaud the wonderful efforts that sometimes don’t lead to victory.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
What does a father say to his son before his first game????
This is your first game, son.
I hope you win.
I hope you win for your sake not mine.
Because winning’s nice.
It’s a good feeling.
Like the whole world is yours.
But It passes, this feeling.
And what lasts is what you’ve learned.
And what you learn about is life.
That’s what sports is all about. Life.
The miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks.
There’s no telling what’ll turn up.
There’s no telling whether they’ll toss you out in the first five minutes or
whether you’ll stay for the long haul.
There’s no telling how you’ll do.
You might be a hero or you might be absolutely nothing.
There’s just no telling.
Too much depends on chance. On how the ball bounces.
I’m not talking about the game, son. I’m talking about life.
But it’s life that the game is all about.
Just as I said. Because every game is life. and life is a game.
A serious one. Dead serious.
But that’s what you do with serious things.
You do your best. You take what comes. You take what comes and you run with it.
Winning is fun. Sure. But winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
Never letting up is the point. Never letting anyone down is the point.
Play to win. Sure. But lose like a champion.
Because it’s not winning that counts. What counts is trying.
I hope that all of you are safe and warm in the snow. If you are reading this and need anything, please let me know since sometime power goes off and there are people who are willing to host and help through these challenges. There may be some of you who are reading this who can’t get out and perhaps we can help you. Please call my study line at (703) 866-5531 if there is a need!
Also, please drive slowly and carefully. Last night when I was coming home from Adat Reyim, someone was coming up quickly behind me so I sped up, tried to make a turn and ended up in a snow bank. I rocked the car back and forth (my old Chicago days!) and was fine, but please BE CAREFUL and don’t let the other drivers influence you to drive too quickly or do things that are reckless on the ice and snow.
I hope that folks will join us tonight at 6:30 pm for an Ice Cream Social at 6:30 pm followed by our Erev Shabbat Family Service at 7:00 pm, and/or our regular Erev Shabbat Service at 8:00 pm. We also have our regularly scheduled Torah study tomorrow morning at 8:45 am and our Shabbat Morning Service at 9:30 am. We have received good feedback on our shorter Shabbat Morning Service last week so watch for future notices about changes in/additions to our regularly scheduled services! Tomorrow night there will be an opportunity for parents to bring their children to Adat Reyim for awhile so that parents can go out and renew their love on this weekend where we celebrate our love for those with whom we are close. In the Chicago Sun Times there are “love is” cartoons, and you might want to write one for a loved one of yours. Sue and I exchange these regularly and my mother used to love to cut them out of the paper. The cartoons have two cartoon figures who are love birds standing next to each other and one of our favorites in “Love is…sharing and caring….”
This Monday is Presidents’ Day, where we celebrate the presidencies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Growing up in Illinois, we were big fans of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. Later it was combined with George Washington’s birthday on February 22 and a special day was set aside to celebrate their birthdays together. I often think about what made these two individuals among the greatest leaders of our country. I found these quotes attributed to Abraham Lincoln online and hope you find them to be as inspirational as I do. Perhaps if we aspire to live by these thoughts, we will be leaders in our communities and make a difference in our world.
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
“Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”
“Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.”
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”
“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
“I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
We have a big weekend here at Congregation Adat Reyim. Tonight at our Erev Shabbat Service, I will be discussing a dilemma which I faced while we were in Israel. It will raise important questions about the Middle East peace process and how we get our information and what we do with that information. The choir will also be present so please join us!
Saturday morning we will experiment with a shorter Shabbat Morning Service which will not include the repetition of the Amidah during the morning service and we will have a very abbreviated Musaf service. When we were in Israel at a couple of liberal services, this was a format which they used and we will see how people respond to these changes. I have attended servi ces at Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis and Niles Township Jewish Congregation in Skokie, IL, and both congregations have a similar format to what we will be doing tomorrow. So please join us and let us know what you think!
Tomorrow evening at 5:30 pm, we will be having a havdalah program with our folk group, which will provide a neat opportunity for us to reach out to our new members.
Finally, please note the following article, which appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy.com on February 2, 2014 and was subsequently syndicated by JTA. People all over the Jewish world are seeking ways to invigorate worship. We will be experimenting with new ideas in order to reach varied spiritual needs.
Hope to see you this weekend!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Sue and I will be leaving for Israel on Sunday and we’ll be away until January 30. In the event of an emergency, Liz Bayer, our Interim Executive Director, and Andrea Cate, our President, have my contact information in Israel.
We are excited to be there with members of our congregation and our community. The last time I led an Israel tour for members of Adat Reyim was when we had 12 people go on the March of the Living in 2008, the trip for teenagers which goes to Poland to visit concentration camps and commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, and then go to Israel to celebrate Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. This trip will be different as 19 of us will be celebrating the miracle of Israel and traveling to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Some of us will go on to Masada and a few of us will go to Petra in Jordan. I hope to send periodic updates about our trip and look forward to sharing details with you when we return. Special thanks to Russell Rayman for making this happen and for handling all the logistics.
Next week we will celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the Trees. Many of us plant trees in honor of loved ones and/or remember bringing their Tzedakah and placing it in containers (puskas) that were provided by the Jewish National Fund. I have never been in Israel for Tu B’shvat and look forward to seeing if there are special celebrations. We will be visiting a close friend and her husband who are farmers and I hope to be able to feel the attachment to the land which is sacred in and of itself. Most of us remember the story about the individual who is seen planting a tree and someone passing by asks the individual why (s)he is planting the tree when (s)he will not see the tree blossom. The individual responds that even though (s)he will not see the tree blossom, “As my parents planted for me, so I plant for my children.” Each of us had the potential to plant seeds that will blossom for the next generation and at our congregation we take this seriously. Tonight at services, which will begin at 7:00 pm, we will extol the outgoing board of the synagogue and install the new board. Each board member plants seeds for the future and as we go from generation to generation on the board, we grow and evolve as a congregation. I am personally grateful to each person who makes Congregation Adat Reyim a place where you volunteer. We are only as strong as those who gather and plant seeds with their new ideas and energy. Yashir koach to all our outgoing and incoming board members and I must single out Liz Bayer for her devotion in helping us through her willingness to be our Interim Executive Director and Andrea Cate for moving into the presidency on an interim basis and now as our “official” president. All or your devotion and enthusiasm is inspirational.
Finally, this Shabbat’s Torah portion is about the crossing of the Red Sea and recalls the miracle which we celebrate when we sing Michamocha. On this Shabbat, I am always reminded that every day is filled with miracles if we open our eyes to the beauty of life and when we look for ways to help make the world a brighter place for others.
This column will reappear on Friday, January 31, although I hope to provide updates from Israel along the way.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
I hope that you all enjoyed a safe, happy new year and that the year ahead will be filled with blessings for you and your loved ones.
As we traveled to see my mother-in-law, we enjoyed a wonderfully inspirational conversation with the desk clerk in our motel in Dayton, Ohio. I told her that I hoped she enjoyed a Happy, Healthy New Year and that we have a friend who when people celebrate a birthday tells them that she hopes they will do one more mitzvah that they didn’t do the previous year (it happens to be Hazel Solomon, but obviously she didn’t need to know that). I actually used the words “good deed” in our conversation and said I hope she can perform an extra good deed in the coming year. She told me that she had gone through the lost and found at the motel and was going to donate much of the stuff to a local homeless shelter. I was so moved by her kindness that we made a donation to her to give to the homeless shelter and to take her own daughter out for hot chocolate. (It was cold in Dayton!)
This brief anecdote is just another example of the kindness that is in our world. So many times we are overwhelmed by sad news and we need to remember that there are lots of good people in our world. I hope that each of us will find meaningful ways to help others throughout 2014 and not just during the Holiday period!
On a separate note, is it a surprise to any of you that I am beginning the year with an example from the world of sports? As a parent of a Michigan State University alumnus, I was excited that MSU won the Rose Bowl! What made the victory extra special was that the star defensive player (whom had broken a rule) was suspended, even though this was one of the biggest games for MSU in the past quarter century. When someone breaks a rule, it seems like the right thing to do is for there to be consequences for the action. However, often in professional and college athletics, players receive preferential treatment and/or people look the other way. Yashir koach to Michigan State for remembering that first and foremost, universities are places where students should learn. Hopefully this athlete will learn that his actions do matter and that one should pay a price when one does something wrong.
Also, and not to overdo it, (although it may be too late for that), the starting quarterback for the Spartans (a sophomore) earned the position that had previously been held by a fifth year senior. Instead of sulking, the fifth year senior understood that the coach’s decision to use the other player was in the best interest of the team and supported the decision. If you look at the MSU Football website, you will see that the player indicates that he does not define himself by being a football player but that he defines himself by other things that are not influenced by football. One of the sources for his commitment to his team is his faith which provides him with strength and support.
As we think about our own personal lives, what wonderful messages for the new year; first, that we try to do what is best for all of us and not just one of us, second, that we not define ourselves by just one thing, and third, that faith can make a difference in our lives.
Please join us tonight at 8:00 pm for a special ongoing d’var Torah throughout services, which will teach us about the meaning of some of our prayers and why we do what we do.
Happy New Year and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
I hope that everyone is enjoying a safe and happy holiday season. This is always a special time of year as the traffic is less hectic, people seem friendlier, and there are so many mitzvot being performed that inspire us to remember the power of kindness to make a difference. When I paid off someone’s layaway bill at K-Mart this year, the store manager showed me that I had helped someone purchase gloves and a coat for a member of a family in need. The staff person who helped make this happen was going to tell members of her church that they too could pay off layaway bills, helping to pass this mitzvah forward. There are so many opportunities to help others and I hope we will continue to do so.
I enjoy this time of year because I have a chance to catch up with many of you over coffee dates and encourage you to be in touch with me if you wish to get together in early 2014. Lots of us are going through challenging times or are experiencing joyful times and wish to share these experiences. I am always more than willing to listen and to provide any insights that I can. (If I don’t get together with you right away, please forgive me since many of you take me up on this offer.) I particularly enjoy meeting our college students who are home on Winter Break and hope that those of you who have college students will send Michelle Brener their mailing and e-mail addresses. I also occasionally call or text our students so please send their cell phone numbers!
On a personal level, many of us are looking forward to the first congregational mission to Israel in January. Many thanks to Russell Rayman for putting this important pilgrimage together. Sue and I will be away from January 12 through January 30 as we return to Israel for the first time in many years. I look forward to sharing many of our experiences with you when we return.
If you are in town, I hope you will join us tonight for an early Friday night service which will begin at 5:00 pm and will be our only Friday night service this evening. We hope that with an earlier service, people will be able to celebrate a relaxing Shabbat dinner. We also hope that those of you who have young children will be able to join us since the service will be child friendly and will be early enough to allow your children to not be out too late . We also hope you will join us for our regular Torah study tomorrow morning at 8:4 5am and services at 9:30 am. There will be a Tot Shabbat led by Andrea Cate tomorrow morning at 10:00 am and we hope that you will join many of our younger families and experience the energy and enthusiasm which Andrea brings to this worship experience.
This week’s Torah portion reminds us of our Passover seder. In Exodus 6:6-8, the Torah states, “I will free you… and deliver you… I will redeem you… I will take you to be My people…” These are the verses that provide the basis for our four cups of wine because they deal with redemption. A fifth verse, “I will bring you into the land,” is the source for the fifth cup of wine which we put aside for Elijah who symbolizes our hope for the future. (see Etz Chaim commentary on this section of Exodus).
As we approach our secular new year, I hope our resolutions will liberate us from the habits which we wish to change and that we will free ourselves from some of the burdens we are carrying. I also hope we will continue to practice the acts of kindness that highlight this special time of year.
May you enjoy a healthy and secure new year.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
As we begin reading the Book of Shemot (Exodus) in our Torah reading, we are reminded of the names of those who came to Egypt with Jacob. I believe that the Torah is teaching us how important it is to remember from where we came. This week we are reminded of our roots and the people who started us on our adventure in Egypt back in Biblical times. I believe that this is an opportunity to get back in touch with people that have influenced us in our lives.
One of our members, Abby Sternberg, has offered to work with members of our congregation in order to do a video of our genealogical histories. Those of you who have watched the segment of the video which plays in our lobby from our original Holocaust Torah dedication are appreciative of Abby’s devotion to our synagogue. I encourage you to contact her to learn more about ways to learn about your personal background and make a lasting record of your roots. How many of us know after whom we were named? How many of those we love know who we or they were named after? What were the values that were important to our ancestors that we wanted to perpetuate the memories of certain loved ones by naming someone after them?
We know that in the Ashkenazic tradition it is customary to name someone after a loved one who has recently passed away or use the first letter of that name to choose a name. In the Sephardic tradition it is customary to name someone after a living grandparent in order to honor them. There are also traditions/superstitions that many of us hold sacrosanct that we not name a loved one after someone who is living because we might be jeopardizing the life of that loved one. (Please contact me if you want more information about this.)
This past summer as Sue and I were traveling in the Midwest, we met with over 20 people from our past in order to remind ourselves of our own roots and to connect with those who have been an important part of our personal adventure. We travel back and forth to the Midwest often in order to continue to connect with Sue’s mom and our kids and grandkids so that they and we can remain aware of each other who make such an important difference in our lives.
At this time of year many of us travel to see family and friends and I hope that these journeys help us remember those who have traveled through life with us and who have influenced our lives, may continue to impact our lives, or who may make a difference in our future. If you cannot travel to meet some of these people, e-mail them, call them, text them, message them, chat with them, skype with them, but most importantly, keep in touch with them or get back in contact with them!
Tonight at services I will be asking those who attend to share stories of important people in their lives who have influenced them. I hope you will join us for this opportunity to getting to know each other and ourselves better!
Enjoy safe travels over this Holiday season and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
This week when we read from the Torah portion, we conclude the book of Genesis and as you know by now, we recite chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek! (May we be strong and strengthen each other.) Last weekend we certainly were strong when we rededicated our Torah from Sedl?any and I am personally grateful to the hundreds of you who came out to celebrate this very special event, even in the midst of the snow and ice!
This week’s Torah portion begins with V’yechi, which means “and Jacob lived…” Even though the portion deals with the topic of Jacob’s death, we talk about life. When we think of our Holocaust Torah, I believe that our reading from it at B’nai Mitzvah, the High Holidays, and Festivals, reminds us that we are celebrating life and not dwelling upon the death and horrors of the Shoah(Holocaust). I can’t tell you how good I feel each time I hear students reading from our Torah and the power of those sounds to overcome the pain which was endured during that horrific period. Obviously, one can never undo the suffering of millions, but in our own small way, we can strengthen each other by our devotion to the teachings of our Torah and the realization that these ancient words inspire good deeds in our world.
When we think about the recent Pew study and how many people talk about the mere survival of the Jewish community, I hope we realize that we have the opportunity at Adat Reyim to make Judaism thrive not only at the shul, but in our homes and in our family lives. I hope that our rededication of our Torah during the Chanukah season will cause us to rededicate ourselves to building a vibrant place for our Torah to belong. I hope that we will let the words of our Torah touch our hearts and souls and that in 2014 we will make special efforts to participate in the myriad of activities which will be announced shortly. We are going to be providing alternative worship opportunities, many exciting adult education programs, a great Purim celebration, and much, much more! Please come to our Annual Meeting this Sunday, December 15 at 9:30 am to learn more about the exciting ways in which our congregation will strengthen us!
Finally, when Donna Schutz and I were talking about the Torah celebration, she talked about how it reminded her of the heart and soul of our congregation and that this is what Adat Reyim is all about… a place that touches our hearts and souls. So whether you are a veteran of the congregation or a newcomer, I hope you will be inspired by Adat Reyim as you have known it, or as Liz Bayer, our Interim Executive Director has suggested, you will be inspired by Adat Reyim Next… as we continue to build a dynamic community.
V’yechi… and he lived… May we continue to live vibrant Jewish lives and give life to our community of friends.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft