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Last day of Passover Message – Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

Today is the last day of Passover and it is customary to light a Yahrzeit candle in memory of our loved ones. If you forgot last night or didn’t know it was customary to do so, it is not too late to light one. I believe that the reason we light a candle and have a Yizkor service is that this gives us a ritual through which we make time to remember our loved ones. In our busy world, sometimes we get so caught up in our routines that we don’t make time to think about those whose love and guidance have helped fashion who we are. I hope you will make some time today to remember the people whom you care about. During services today, I talked about how when we remember our loved ones, we don’t mourn their deaths, but rather we welcome them back into our lives, remembering the good times and thinking about how what they taught us might serve as a guide as we face the challenges of life.

I remember how my dad would make comments about my pitching and tell me to lengthen or shorten my stride and to watch how I gripped the baseball when I would throw it. I realize now he was talking about more than pitching and whether he realized it or not, these teachings could inspire how to live our lives. How do we stride toward our goals? What do we do to pursue our dreams and do we sometimes lose our grip on things and need to change the way we are looking at something? Some of you will remember that my mother used to tell me not to overdo it when I would pursue activities and one Yom Kippur I switched the order of the words and realized that I sometimes try to do over. How many of us live with regrets about things which we wish we could do over and now we just need to move on or as some like to say “roll with it”? May today bring us good memories to treasure in the days ahead.

On a separate note it is also customary to begin counting the omer on the second night of Passover. As we count the omer for the next several weeks, I hope this site will provide inspiration for your personal counting of the omer. Although I do not always subscribe to the beliefs of Aish, these meditations raise important topics to discuss and provide meaningful questions to address. Daily Omer Meditation - Aish.com

Hag Sameach,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, April 18, 2014

April 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

At our Seder, we say that in every generation we should see ourselves as if we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, yet many of us sometimes think that the days of Pharaoh are over and that all are living together in peace.

And then an event happens in Kansas that reminds us that hatred and bigotry are still present in our lives. I will be speaking about the events in Kansas tonight and what I believe we can learn from this event.

I am sure you also heard about the following event in the Ukraine. Thank you to Susan Zuckerman Attas for sharing this article with me and to one of our sons for his urgent text.

In a world where we want to believe that we are accepted as Jews and do not need to fear Antisemitism, I struggle with not being overwhelmed by the ongoing possibility that we need to be concerned about our safety.

It is customary at a Seder to read a section that talks about G-d pouring out wrath upon those who would harm us. Many people don’t say this anymore because they believe that the world is no longer a place where there is hatred toward the Jews. Perhaps we do need to say this section to remind ourselves that there are those who still would rise up to destroy us.

My colleague, Rabbi Jack Riemer, wrote an article where he points out that in a Haggadah he uses, by Noam and Mishael Zion, they have added a prayer which says, “Shfoch ahavatcha – pour out your love upon those nations that do know You, and upon those kingdoms that do call upon your Name, For they have shown loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob And they have defended Your people Israel from those that would devour them. May they live to see the Sukkah of peace spread over your chosen ones, and may they participate in the joy of your nation.”

May we find ourselves in a world where peace and love can win out over hatred and bigotry. BUT let us be zealous in our realization that we need to support each other from Kansas to the Ukraine.

Shabbat Shalom and moadim l’simcha, may the festival lead us to joy,

Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Passover Message – Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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:

  1. What ultimate freedoms do we have?
  2. What sources of support and guidance do we have to help overcome whatever enslaves us?
  3. What gives you hope?
  4. 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

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Shabbat Message – Friday, April 11, 2014

April 14th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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 sueaft@gmail.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

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Shabbat Message – Friday, April 4, 2014

April 14th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Bruce Aft

 

Line Divider

 

Metzora (Leviticus 14-15) Rabbi Eli Sheller

 

We Repent

 

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?

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Shabbat Message – Friday, March 28, 2014

March 31st, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, March 21, 2014

March 31st, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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.

Shabbat Shalom,
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. . .

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Shabbat Message – Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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!!!!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft

===================================

Part One:

“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!!

Dear Friends,

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!!

Happy Purim!!

The Power that Leads to Salvation, a.k.a. The Chief Honcho in Heaven

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Shabbat Message – Friday, February 28, 2014

March 9th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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Shabbat Message – Friday, March 7, 2014

March 9th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear Friends,

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.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce D. Aft

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