Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were victimized in Kansas City yesterday. In the midst of this senseless tragedy, we hope that perhaps Elijah will usher in a time when these actions will no longer occur.
As we prepare for Passover, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts which might inspire discussions at your Seder. I also hope that they might help us to grow as human beings as we address the following issues.
Rabbi PJ Schwartz, in an article posted on ReformJudaism.org, suggested that we ask four questions of ourselves. They are:
- What ultimate freedoms do we have?
- What sources of support and guidance do we have to help overcome whatever enslaves us?
- What gives you hope?
- What do you do to take care of yourself?
As I briefly discussed these over Shabbat, I realized that all of us need people to support us and help us throughout our journeys through life. I hope that we can have honest conversations with our friends and loved ones about these issues and that ultimately we will take care of ourselves. Please remember that Rabbi Hillel taught us that if we are not for ourselves who will be for us, if we are only for ourselves, what are we, and if not now, when? What a wonderful time for us to emerge from our reenactment of identifying ourselves as slaves and be able to emerge without the chametz of hopelessness. You may have read the article in Saturday’s Washington Post about the recent suicides at a local high school and I hope that each of us will realize that we need to support each other through challenging times and help each other manage realistic expectations of success.
I also hope that you might consider the Sukkot custom of Ushpizin, inviting guests to a Sukkah, only at this time, placing an empty chair at your Seder for someone who you wish could attend. I hope that you might discuss how this person might have responded to the questions above. Sometimes as we contemplate how our relatives or famous people may have grappled with these questions, we are inspired with new insights about how we might face life’s ups and downs.
Most importantly, I hope you will treasure the time with those you love and IF YOU NEED A PLACE TO GO FOR THE SEDER, please call my cell phone today at 703-407-7690.
Hag Pesach Sameach! Please enjoy a joyous Passover!!!
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
It is often a favorite for many people who celebrate a Passover Seder. It is a song filled with spirit and joy. It is an opportunity to give thanks. It is a reminder that we can always do more. So by now, you probably are saying “Dayenu!” or enough already!
When we sing Dayenu, we give thanks to G-d for taking us out of Egypt, for giving us the Torah, for giving us Shabbat, and for being involved in our lives. However I often hear the words differently. Although we are grateful to G-d for all G-d does for us, we sometimes expect more. Sure, we are grateful for our freedom from Egypt, but what have You done for us lately? This way of looking at things can permeate our lives and we sometimes expect more.
I hope that we will think about this differently and when we sing this song, we will realize that we should show our gratitude for all G-d does for us by recognizing that WE can never do enough to help people who are in need. As some of you know, my wife tutors unaccompanied youth and recently had a meeting where it was incredible to find out what kinds of things these teenagers face; some of them do not live with parents because their parents have kicked them out, or are from foreign countries, or are very poor, or have been unfortunate in ways that are almost inconceivable in our world. These students remind us that there is always something more we can do to help others.
If any of you are interested in helping provide resources for these needy teenagers and young adults, please call Sue or e-mail her at email@example.com and let her know. As we celebrate Passover this week, may we be inspired to help someone who is in need be able to be thankful for our kindness.
Please remember that if you are going to be alone for Passover, that we have people who would like to host you for a Seder. Please CALL me at 703-866-5531 if you need or want a place to go.
Finally, if you are a first born child or just want to put on tefillin and join us for a morning service and a brief word of Torah from Dan Ebert, we will be gathering for our Siyuum for the first born on Sunday morning from 9:00 am to 10:15 am, followed by a light breakfast.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Pesach Sameach!
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
As we continue our preparation for Pesach, one of the ways in which we may clean out the chametz from our homes is by taking a look at our own lives and trying to clean our some of the chametz from our hearts and actions.
One of the things that I know I often reflect on at this time of year and before Yom Kippur are the mistakes I have made. Many years ago I shared a phrase that my mother used to say to my father and me before we would go play handball. She would say, “don’t overdo!” In the comment I made about this, I reversed the words and said that perhaps she also was saying “don’t do over!” which I used to do frequently. I would replay events in my life and say that maybe I could have, should have or would have second thoughts about what I did. By the way, I continue to do this more often than I should.
So… when I think about cleaning up my act, I was very touched by words that Dan Ebert shared at Minyan last Wednesday night from aish.com about the weekly portion that I hope inspire you as much as they inspired me. Please also note that one of the things that I have heard that inspired Michael Jordan (see below) was that he was cut from his high school junior varsity team, which motivated him to want to succeed!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Metzora (Leviticus 14-15) Rabbi Eli Sheller
The person being purified shall immerse his clothing, shave off all his hair, and immerse himself in the water and become pure. (Lev. 14:8)
One of the stages in the purification process of the metzora is tevilah (immersion) in a mikveh. The Chinuch explains that in the beginning the world was submerged in water. Thus when the metzora immerses in the mikveh he feels like he has been created anew. He feels like a new person with a clean slate, leaving all his sins behind and starting over.
Failure is part of the growth process. The key to success is to put the past behind you and start again while using your failures as tools to achieve your goals.
Many accomplished people have had a hard road up the mountain of success, but all you see in the press are their victories. Michael Jordan, possibly the greatest basketball player of all time, is described as “single-handedly redefining the NBA superstar,” and yet to get there he admits to failing more than most. He is quoted as saying: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over in my life.”
He goes on to say the reason he has succeeded boils down to his constant failure and using failure as his motivation to shoot for success. In other words, Jordan viewed failures as stepping stones towards success; his shooting average was just below 50% so to score he would have to take two shots, one to miss and the other to score.
Do you despair from your failures or view them as a chance for a rebound?
At a recent Lunch and Learn, we discussed what we could do in order to teach our children the joys of being Jewish and to invigorate them with excitement about our heritage.
We discussed aspects of the following article which I hope you will read. Please feel free to share your thoughts with Andrea Cate, Dana Evans, Carolyn Kaplan, or me about new and creative ideas that will help us reach out to members of our community. We have had almost 20 new family units join the congregation since the summer and are on the cusp of really exciting times. We WANT to meet your varied needs and look forward to hearing from you.
Sue and I have been visiting our children and her mom this week and I am grateful to all those who will lead and support services while I am away this Shabbat.
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about some of the rules of kashrut. I would guess that a number of our congregants keep kosher in some fashion. Some of us separate milk and meat, some of us are vegetarians, some of us have two sets of dishes, some have three sets of dishes (one for meat, one for milk and one for treif (not kosher!)), some of us have special Passover dishes, some of us keep kosher at home but not out, and I am sure there are other combinations.
My colleague, Rabbi Jack Riemer, who I often quote, posted the following this week about ethical kashrut. I am including an excerpt from his sermon. Last week we celebrated Purim. We put on costumes and I spoke about Purim and Yom Kippur as “Yom Kippurim”. As Yom Kippur is a day like Purim when we put on a mask that makes people think we are pious, Purim reminds us that sometimes we wear costumes that hide the “real” us. Perhaps as we move from Purim to Passover and begin cleaning our homes, it is time to remove the masks we wear and the chometz (leaven) from our lives. Many people practice rituals but for how many of them does that ritual lead to more ethical behavior? We celebrate our exodus from slavery to freedom during Passover and are taught to remember that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and that we should treat others fairly based upon our experiences as slaves. I believe that the segment below describes a movement in which we will want to participate and hopefully we will be cognizant of how people are treated in the places where we eat and shop.
Finally, please note the information below that we are hosting a very important lecture on Sunday afternoon. There is much information about what happens in the Middle East and this lecture will give us a chance to hear an interesting perspective about events that occurred in 1948. I hope you will join us.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
The ….. good news that I have for those of you who keep kosher today comes from Israel. There is an organization that has taken hold there called ‘Ma’agley Tsedek’. The name itself is wonderful. In Psalm 23, it says that God leads His flock b’maagley tsedek in paths of righteousness, and the people who formed this organization believe that we should follow the example of God. And so they formed this organization, which gives what they call a ‘Tav Chevrati’, a certificate of merit, to those restaurants that, in addition to being kosher, practice what they call ‘ethical kashrut’.
Ethical kashrut means that they treat their employees properly, and that they are handicapped accessible, and that they do what is morally right. The idea has caught on, and there are now over 350 establishments throughout Israel in Tel Aviv, in Kfar Saba, in Beer Sheva, in Maale Adumim, in Givat Shaul, in Efrat, in Emek Yisrael, and in Jerusalem that proudly exhibit this certificate, as well as the certificate from the rabbinate that shows that they are kosher.
Dyonna Ginsburg wrote an essay recently in Sh’ma in which she talked about how belonging to this group has changed her life. When Ma’agley Tsedek got started about five years ago, she made a decision that she would only eat in places that had a Tav Chevrati. This meant that every time she met a friend or colleague for coffee, she had to think about workers’ rights, accessibility for the handicapped, and what it means to be a Jewish ethical consumer of food. Her whole outlook changed as a result. All of a sudden, she says that she became sensitive to the suffering of people that she had never even thought about before. Her decision, not only affected her, but everyone she ate with, including her family, her friends, and her associates. She says that there is not a single person in her address book who does not know that she not only eats in places that are kosher, but that she only eats in places that are accessible for everyone, and that comply with Israeli labor laws-places that pay minimum wage, social security, and overtime.
Dyonna Ginsburg says that she measures the success of the Tav, not only by the number of restaurants that exhibit it. She measures it by cases like the renowned Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem who proudly tells his students that when he goes into a restaurant, he looks for the Tav Chevrati first, and then for the kashrut certificate. She measures the success of the Tav by the mother she met who said to her that her ninth-grader will only eat in places that have the certificate. She measures the success of the Tav by the thousands of restaurant workers who now receive fair wages and benefits, and by the thousands of disabled people who can now enjoy a night out, just like anyone else. And she measures the success of the Tav by the knowledge that it is educating the next generation of young Israelis to understand that kashrut is an inseparable combination of ritual and righteousness, and that, when you eat a meal, you must be conscious of the need to show reverence for life, and compassion for all creatures.
To be an observant Jew is to understand that ritual and righteousness are two, inseparable, parts of the Jewish religion, and that you cannot have one without the other…
We do have some new groups that stand for ethical kashrut here in America. The Orthodox have something called ‘Kav Yayosher” – the seal of justice – which was started by one of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduates a few years ago, which seems to be catching on. And the Conservatives are at work on something similar called the Magen Tsedek, which intends to give certification to restaurants and slaughterhouses that not only observe the laws of kashrut but that also observe the laws of righteousness. . .
The following message is comprised of two messages. The first part is from a post on ReformJudaism.org and underscores the importance of authenticity in our lives. I will speak more about the masks we wear and getting in touch with our real selves at services tonight.
The second part of the message is in keeping with the spirit of the Purim spiel where we poke fun at sacred institutions, people, and well, just plain have fun! Please don’t take it too seriously!!!!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
“One of the often overlooked aspects of Purim is mishloach manot, the “giving of gifts” to others. These gifts of food, drink, and assorted knickknacks, were commanded to us in the Book of Esther so that everyone – rich and poor – would have the opportunity to celebrate the occasion of Purim. Furthermore, I have heard it said that this tradition emerged as a response to the notion that Haman believed the Jewish people were separate, distant, and detached from each other. By giving gifts, the Jewish people could ensure that everyone is accounted for and told they are valued. In some sense, the gift that I have given to my congregation today is quite simple: I’m me. I’m their rabbi. I’m going to do well at being me. Perhaps being me is the greatest gift I could ever give myself as well.
May we all embrace authenticity, have loved ones who cheer us on to success, and give each other the gift of not wearing masks that can hide our faces. When we look at each other face-to-face – panim el panim – we truly become unified with each other and accept each other for who we are best: ourselves.
Chag Purim Sameach!”
Rabbi P.J. Schwartz is assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut.
Part Two: And now ENJOY!!
It has come to my attention that there is going to be a special dunking booth at your Purim Carnival on Sunday. I also understand that your intent is to try and get my loyal company representative in Springfield quite wet from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. Please let me assure you that Rabbi Bruce Aft is already all wet and I have sincere concerns that he is so sweet that dunking him in water might cause him to melt. Now there are advantages to this: if he melts away, then services on Shabbat will not need to be experimental in order to shorten them. Without a d’var Torah or sermon, services will end in time for the board members to be able to go home from services and pursue other holy activities. Wait.. that would mean that board members would be at services and, well HMMMM… I have noticed that this doesn’t seem to be the Adat Reyim custom!!
Enough about dunking the rabbi, let’s talk about Adat Reyim’s Music Man, Mitch Bassman! I wonder if his musical pitch pipe can play under water and therefore, if he is dunked enough, the choir will be able to find the right key by listening to the rabbi sing instead of enduring still another musical instrument that disrupts your worship experience…
And I understand you will be dunking Steve Schwartz. I would love to do this personally except that I will be busy going to a soccer game with your Executive Director who prays at these games. By the way, I do hear her son is pretty good, although DC United is another story… Seriously, if you do dunk Steve, please make sure that he is not carrying a baby around the pool since this would not be safe. I hear he does this regularly while the rest of my loyal servants are trying to pray…
Finally, I do hope that your board will pass the recommendation of the Religious Practices and Policies Committee at your shul that you have pot luck dinners even on Shabbat and Festivals. My favorite meal is pot roast and lots of luck getting that in the home of your rabbi with his wife being a vegetarian. I might have to have dinner with an active member of yours named David Berkowitz, who I understand likes to make ham sandwiches in temple. He claims his rabbi told him to do this which proves that I guess anyone can be a rabbi these days…
And now for real, finally, if these statements don’t make sense to you, please check with the people mentioned so that they can explain the inside messages. And please don’t hold your rabbi accountable for this column. I made him write it so please forgive him. If you forgive him, I will forgive you next Yom Kippur, but only if you ATTEND services occasionally!!
The Power that Leads to Salvation, a.k.a. The Chief Honcho in Heaven
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