Toran Study Notes 9-24-16

September 24, 2016

Page 1353

RB: This is all leading up to the entry into the promised land. It is a statement of blessings and curses; essentially a list of “dos and don’ts.” See “Gleanings” on page 1364. “Jewish tradition has held that at one time or another all the curses of Deuteronomy 28 were fulfilled; still Israel survived because it never totally forgot its God.”

We as a community will be repenting on Yom Kippur in anticipation of the rain of sorrow and then the harvest of reward.

27:11 Thereupon Moses charged the people… curses and blessings. Sets forth who whall stand on the mountain when the blessings are spoken and on a separate mountain for the curses. Note that Reuben winds up with curses. There is also a distinction between children of the wives and the children of the handmaids. There is favoritism here. See Genesis 30 on page 199 – It is not entirely clear but none of the handmaid’s children appear to be on the blessing side. We have a diverse range of curses – but in general they are things that you do in secret. The stranger, the fatherless. The widow… they have no protector. Note that the curses are warnings of divine punishment. Note also that this is a ritualistic portion where there are responses of “say amen” whereas that required respnose does not appear in the blessings – which it is assumed are agreed to. Nor is it required for the more horrific curses. The “strangers” here are people who have already present and have been integrated into the society. They are permanent residents as distinguished from foreigners. There are no converts at the time of this writing. Recall that Ruth was told to go back to her people and “their god.” She adhered to her husband’s religion while she was with him.

28:1 Now if you obey the Eternal your God… blessing will flow from your obedience. The problem is how do you explain when bad things happen? The Hasidim would ascribe all problems to our collective failure to be faithful to the details of the commandments. The Holocaust was ascribed to Reform Judaism by the hyper-conservative. Note that all of the blessings appear to be outcomes. The result of the blessings are children and fruitful land, military security etc.

16 Curses that are the obverse of the blessings. But more graphic… the Egyptian inflammation…madness and dismay…constantly be abused and robbed…  But does one violation bring down all of the curses?  PC There is a fundamental problem with this entire discussion. Here the Eternal is responsible for everything – which to some degree appears to absolve the individual from personal responsibility. Punishment comes from God rather than the community. SF There was a shift in rabbinic Judaism from collective to individual responsibility – but we can contaminate the group. The thrust of the responsibility is individual. LL There is a good deal of philosophy here. See:

30: More curses. If you pay the bride price…another man shall enjoy her. …you shall be a consternation, a proverb… LL Very poetic curses. Who is “you” here? It moves between the individual and the group. Individual and collective punishments. “You” Israel as a nation perhaps? LL Although terrible things are described here they are nevertheless couched in poetry. Much of art is a contemplation of the horror of life. More recently see the work of Francis Bacon.

49 The Eternal shall bring a nation against you… a ruthless nation… that will bring you to ruin. RB This is when we stop being human. LL It is a descent into hell!  Again, a favorite subject of artist in the Middle Ages. This plays out in Lamentations when the Temple was destroyed.

58 If you fail to observe faithfully…the Eternal shall delight in throwing you out. The Eternal will scatter you with all the other people of the earth… but you shall find no peace… the life you face…return to Egypt but no one will buy you as a slave. LL This seems to be almost a premonition of the diaspora and the Holocaust. Some of this may already have occurred with the invasion of the Babylonians and the exile. SF I come away from this with a feeling of deep divine compassion as the underlying theme. God suffers with us. These are warnings but God wants the best for us.  LL this is a conversation that continues to this day. RB Why do bad things happen? This is very early in the development of the theology of Judaism. Here we have a description of the lowest possible state of humanity rendered with particularity for dramatic effect. AdrianF There will always be a remnant that survives.

Torah Study Notes 9-3-16

September 3, 2016
Page 1269
Deuteronomy 15:1 Rabbi Berkowitz – These passages are slightly internally contradictory but in an interesting way. Why do we help the poor? AF: To help the economics of the community at large. SF we are doing god’s work. They have less than they need and we have more than we need. Altruism sometimes seems to be based on self-seeking. LL: There seems to be a hive mentality here. Seeking a benefit – even to the community – is not true altruism. RB: In ancient times there was a cyclical nature to prosperity depending on the season and harvest. Charity is a form of justice but there is a distinction. Tzedakah is justice – correcting imbalances so that everyone has a fair shot.
15:1 Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts… You cannot charge your kinsman interest only the foreigners. See Brotherhood or Otherhood by Nelson: re the economics of giving. In this context a loan is a philanthropic act. There is a slight possibility of being paid back and no interest. This had a ritual rather than a commercial premise. If you take care to head this instruction… all these promises are contingent. Obviously, they were eventually dominated by other nations and there was poverty, ergo they did not obey the instructions. Or more properly these statements are aspirational – what could be.
15:7 If there is a needy person among you…RB: The suggestion here is that it is more empowering to lend money than to give it. As we move further to the right in the Jewish community there is less of a tendency to be charitable. Maimonides said that the highest level of giving is a loan. It is the “teach a man to fish” argument. LL: What about the Chasidic Rabbi who recently donated his kidney to a stranger? He who saves a life saves the world is his Talmudic reference. A rabbinic loophole was the creation of document that said the loan would not be remitted after seven years. See footnote on page 1270. “Give readily and have no regrets.” The rabbis have extensive discussion about what is “sufficient” for ones needs. Does it mean restoring you to the life style to which you have become accustomed? HF: There was a Hebrew Free Loan Society.
15:12 If a fellow Hebrew man is sold to you… kin gets freed after six years but the foreigner can be held in perpetuity. There are three phrases of note here: There shall be no needy, a goal, we shall give loans to the needy and you shall meet the need of the needy, There is a contradiction here with the injunction to free slaves on the Jubilee Year – tradition interprets “in perpetuity” as “until the Jubilee.”
See Essay Deuteronomy and Ancient Near Eastern Literature by Hallo on page 1148. See also the reference to the tithe to the poor on page 1280.

Torah Study Notes 8-20-16

August 20, 2016

Plaut page 1199

Rabbi Paul Golomb

This is the beginning of an Aliyah. Moses is addressing the Israelites; recalling the events of Sinai and repeating the Ten Commandments – with some differences.

5:19 Moses is relating what the previous generation has agreed to and he has stated forty years previously. For the most part the audience did not experience Sinai and may be ignorant of the details.  Note that the actual writing of this text takes place hundreds of years later. At the end of this verse we learn that the account of Exodus has been written down. But were the tablets accurately and completely transcribed?  The issue of what did they know and when did they know it has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. When was the source document for Exodus created? Ezra and his redactors who assembled the Torah in about 500 to 450 BC had sources and fragments. Here it is assumed that the Deuteronomist was aware of the work of the J writer who assembled Exodus. PG believes that the redactor didn’t just try to sew the documents together with minimum effort. Nor did the redactor rewrite everything. There were a great many decisions that had to be made as evidenced by the creation narrative and the flood narrative in Genesis. There are two radically different creation narratives placed side by side whereas the flood narrative weaves the two creation narratives together seamlessly. Here we have the redactor taking the Deuteronomist in the context of Exodus. This creates the narrative gaps that appear purposefully here. This is here a complex notion of translation. It is Moses telling what happened but changing the words of God in a careful manner. His purposes are worthy of discussion on another occasion. He is humanizing himself by admitting his frailties and asking that the focus be on the words. Note that even the same words can have different meanings depending on the vocalization – the inflection. LL: This oration seems to me to be ceremonial. It is a momentous occasion – they are about to enter the Promised Land.

25 Follow the rules and you will long endure in the land that you are to possess. Note the Jordan is being crossed from east to west. The Psalms suggest that the Jordan also parted. Today it empties into the Dead Sea. The force of the river has been abated due to irrigation and other uses.

6:1 And this is the instruction… This is the recipe for a long and happy life. Deuteronomy is overwhelmingly concerned about the social weal – how you create a commonwealth. The individual’s responsibility to community for social wellbeing. The individual “you” is intrinsically linked to the communal “you.”  Compare the lessons of  Sophicle’s Antigone in Greek culture.  In Antigone, Sophocles asks the question, which law is greater: the gods’ or man’s. Sophocles votes for the law of the gods. He does this in order to save Athens from the moral destruction which seems imminent. Sophocles wants to warn his countrymen about hubris, or arrogance, because he believes this will be their downfall.

And compare  the life and work of Aeschylus which virtually overlaps the time of the redactors:

There are scholarly discussions about the extent of communication between eastern thinkers and the Greeks..

4: Hear oh Israel etc. all language that appears in the Friday Service. See Reform prayer book The Gates of Prayer. Now it is gender neutral. The Reform prayer book says the Eternal is “one” whereas here the Eternal is “alone.” The emphasis on absolute oneness has been changed so as to exclude any other methods of faith. The context is different as well – liturgy is today taking place in a society that generally believe in one God. At the time Moses is speaking the other societies are polytheistic. Here a constitution is being established in order to organize the society.

8:10 When the Eternal your God brings you into the land… Note that the rules are to be applied once the land is taken – like moving into a furnished apartment. There are inherent advantages in taking an occupied land. See Martin Buber’s response to Gandhi who wanted everyone to use the Hindu principles of acceptance – even in the face of the Nazi’s. Buber differed and noted that historically all land had been seized from someone. With the possible exception of Australia’s aborigines.

In the context of the Babylonian exile and return this author is now saying that there had been a loss of faith. You – the people – assumed that you were the authors of the writings and therefore could alter them. The Deuteronomist is rejecting that notion and insisting that they return to basics. This is the word of God and cannot be altered (except by Moses.)

“Designed Just for Me”: The 6 Points URJ Sci-Tech Academy Experience

I spent last week at URJ Six Points Sci-Tech Academy, where every morning after Modeh Ani, we blow something up. It’s called Boker Big Bang. Check out Friday morning’s explosion here (after the first explosion, skip to 2:30 to find out why the experiment didn’t work the first time)!

As a rabbi, educator, and former camp counselor, I’ve been on a lot of field trips over the last 15+ years. I’ve taken groups to beaches and amusement parks (fun but terrifying in terms of keeping track of kids); gone hiking, camping, and rock climbing (not my favorite); visited museums, synagogues, and historical sites (not the kids’ favorite).

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Earth and Sky Workshop simulating volcanic rock formation.

I have never, EVER seen a group as well-behaved as the one I accompanied to Google’s Cambridge offices on this week’s Trip Day with URJ Six Points Sci Tech Academy. The dozen campers filed off the bus and across the street without seeming to notice that there were stores and restaurants lining their path, selling all types of items either forbidden or unavailable at camp. They listened carefully to instructions, showed kavod (respect) to our guide by dutifully following her everywhere, and asked thoughtful questions of a panel of Google employees.

It wasn’t until we were back on the bus that I realized what had happened. It’s not that Sci-Tech campers don’t sometimes struggle to pay attention to instructions. It’s not that they don’t want to binge on candy  (they did that later when we stopped at Boston’s Museum of Science). It’s not even that the Google offices are incredible to behold (they are!).

It’s that, for this particular group of kids, there was nothing more exciting to do on a sunny Tuesday morning in July than to learn about how a major technology company operates.

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Making s’mores with the Forensic Science Workshop, after a lesson on arson!

This realization filled me with joy. I felt so happy for these kids, that they had found a place tailored to their exact interests, with dozens of like-minded kids for them to connect to. Even within the camp, campers are able to split off into subgroups based on what excites and inspires them: Biology, Earth Science, Robotics, Video Game Design, Web and Graphic Design, Forensic Science, Digital Film, Programming and Coding. While we were touring Google, other workshop groups were scattered across the Boston area, learning about earthquakes, playing with DNA in a crime lab, and meeting video-game designers, among other things.

Though I was never a science kid, I’ve been a fan of Sci-Tech for awhile. I’ve promoted it to Jewish families as an alternative to traditional overnight camp. But Sci-Tech actually provides something that even my own, much appreciated, Jewish camp experience did not. Sci-Tech gives campers an opportunity to nurture their talents and interests in a Jewish context, and connects them with kids who are, in many ways, just like them.

In my camping experience, the only thing that all of us had in common was Judaism. We managed to figure out for ourselves who enjoyed sports and who preferred the arts, but we didn’t really put much energy into either while we were at camp. We just liked being together. The Jewish part of camp ended up becoming one of my major interests, but other passions of mine–writing, music, theater–were usually confined to a few periods a week, or relegated to my life outside of camp.

This is exactly what the Foundation for Jewish Camping was addressing when they began providing incubator grants to camps like Sci-Tech. Noticing that many Jewish families were not opting into Jewish overnight camp, they looked for ways to make the Jewish camp experience more appealing and accessible. Sci-Tech provides the option of two-week sessions (not available at traditional camps past a certain age) in which a camper can be completely immersed in a subject they are passionate about.

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In addition to leading Jewish activities, this time I also taught arts and crafts. Here’s the result of a “design challenge” to make a lanyard Torah.

(A side note: I didn’t know specialty camps were a thing until I was an adult. My brothers and I had unwittingly attended a sports-based day camp where my mom worked as a nurse, until we were old enough to go to URJ Camp Harlam. Years later, I worked at a JCC  camp that specialized in the visual and performing arts. I came home and said to my mother, accusingly, “Did you know there were camps where they do theater and music and pottery ALL DAY!?!?!”).*

I’m not the only one who realizes how amazing this is for kids who may not have been interested in Jewish camp for the sake of Jewish camp. The campers notice too. Walking with a first-time camper to make s’mores–after a forensic science lesson on arson, of course– I asked her how she liked camp.

“I love it!” She bubbled. “It’s as if they designed this place just for me.”

*By the way, URJ Six Points’ next project is an arts-focused camp. I can’t wait!

2016 Vassar Temple Founder’s Award Recipient: David Lampell

David Lampell
As most of you know it’s become a tradition for the Founders Award recipient of one year to have the responsibility, no the honor of telling you about the following year’s recipient. So the only thing that could have made me more proud than being the recipient into 2015 is that it now gives me the privilege to tell you about this year’s award winner.

And so it is with great delight that at this time I invite the 2016 Founders Award recipient, David Lampell, to join me here at the microphone.

As I spoke to people about David’s participation in the temple over the years the sense that I got from everyone is that David is just one of those people who is around all the time and especially manages to show up when something needs to get done. He is like a fixture which is there working for you, but perhaps because it is ubiquitous you might not really think about or appreciate its importance.

David got an early start at the temple as most of you know. The child of Temple presidents, in fact an individual with a long legacy of relatives who have worked tirelessly to make our temple thrive, David first got to Vassar Temple at the age of three. He was a frequent participant services with his beloved parents Matt and Muriel; when he came of age in 1964 he had his bar mitzvah on the bimah in the sanctuary above us.

From a young age he was apparently very much his own person and told his parents that there was no way he was getting confirmed; it just wasn’t his thing apparently. But his mom, astute as ever, basically gave him an ultimatum she told me: either you get confirmed or you join the Temple youth group. I can hear her saying this; can’t you? Perhaps it was to the Temple’s advantage that David took the road less traveled, because his involvement in youth group led him ultimately to be an outstanding president of that organization and then to also become NIFTY president as well as a Youth Group advisor.

As most of our teens do, he left for college, but unlike most of our teens he came back and we’re lucky he did!

Once David started to become intimately involved with the temple his energy, enthusiasm and participation knew no bounds.
As certain as I am that I’ll be able to share some amazing things that David has done, I am just as certain that his participation in certain projects or activities or committees will be left unsaid as he did so quietly and perhaps without notice. So I apologize to him if I leave out other ways in which he has contributed.

However the list of his contributions that did reveal themselves clearly are enough to speak to who David is and how essential he has been to Vassar Temple. At a leadership level David has served as an amazing Temple President , as Vice President and as second vice president on more than one occasion. Behind the scenes, as many past presidents do, he has served as advisor to sitting leaders of the Temple. I know that I was able to confer with him on occasion when I was Temple President, tapping into his wisdom.

David has served in the capacity as Chair of the House committee; he has been a constant presence during our High Holy day services, serving as head usher and basic go to guy. He is called upon on a regular basis to be our electronic consultant when this machine or that gadget ceases to function, while also offering central support with our A/V and lighting systems during innumerable Temple events. Speaking with first-hand experience, I can tell you that David was instrumental in assisting me not only as a member of the Rabbi Search Committee but as the AV consultant allowing us to connect with all of our rabbi candidates via the internet – by Skype or Google chat – and offering a set up which made it possible for the whole committee to participate.

He was behind the decision to move our temple offices to the main floor [ they had been in the basement where classrooms are now] and he was heavily involved in getting the phone system installed. David has been a participant in social actions programs over the years; not only has he supported the local mitzvah day activities, but he helped to build a black church. David has been involved as well with maintaining our memorial boards.

Perhaps one of the more philosophical tasks to which David was assigned was that of Chairing the Committee to determine what is a “family” : a deep question of a bygone era when there was doubt about the definition at least among adults; I understand that a child’s innocence led one of our young people -upon hearing of the existence of such a committee – to utter what seemed obvious, “ everyone know what a family is…”!

As a member of the Men’s Club David has taken on many tasks including helping with Sukkah building, assessing the need for roof repairs, fixing the classrooms and guiding emergency work required by one or another weather related disaster.

But perhaps there is no responsibility that David managed more confidently than any other, with his typical sense of calm, resolve, purpose and great competence then when he applied these leadership qualities to his position – over decades mind you – as the Vassar Temple Bat Meister! Yes, I have it on good authority from his delightful and ever supportive wife, Marilyn, that David has responded on an emergency basis to the temple when the alarm was set off by wayward bats triggering the motion sensors. Given the natural behavior of these little critters, of course this would happen mostly in the middle of the night. She shared with me that time and again, for more times than she can count, David, learning that the alarm had gone off, would be able in less than 10 minutes to get dressed, get to the temple, deal with the situation, reset the alarm and be back in bed! He truly is a phenomenon!

It is surely obvious to all of us how lucky we are that David is a member of Vassar Temple. He has done his parents proud and as the saying suggests the apple clearly has not fallen far from the tree.

David it is truly a privilege to be able to present you with the 2016 Founders Award. Like those who’ve come before, you serve the temple not because of the award that you might receive on an evening like this, but because your heart is in the right place and that place is Vassar Temple.

As we applaud David for his many achievements on our behalf, let us not forget the person who loans you to us, who supports all of your work , who jumps in with both feet on so many temple projects – a force of mitzvot in her own right, your wonderful wife Marilyn.

Sweet blessings to you both.

Submitted by Sandra Mamis, 2015 Founder’s Award Recipient

The Perfect Crime: “Breaking in” to Jewish Summer Camp

Cross-posted to the This is What a Rabbi Looks Like.

Last Shabbat, my parents sneaked onto URJ Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA. They were caught, red-handed, by the director himself, who sent them on a “tour” so that they wouldn’t be wandering around unsupervised.

My mother pulled the same move 14 years ago, when I was a counselor. That time she made it all the way to my cabin and tapped me on the shoulder while I was sleeping. How times have changed!

As an Eisner alumna–she attended camp in the late sixties–my mother has a hard time wrapping her head around the ever-increasing safety measures at camp. For her, as for many of us, camp is home, sometimes more than home is home. Nothing–not even the passage of nearly 50 years–could change that for her. How could it be that she has to sneak into–and be politely escorted out of–her own home?

Fortunately, I don’t have to pull any covert maneuvers to come home. Returning to camp year after year was one of my original motivations for becoming a rabbi, and I have been blessed to spend time as faculty at URJ Camps during many of my summers.

It isn’t exactly a “perfect crime” though, as they really put us to work! We engage the younger units in fun learning activities around themes of Mitzvot (Sacred Behaviors), Middot (Jewish Values), and Tikkun Olam (Healing the World). For the older campers (entering 8th-10th grade), we teach electives: this year mine was a social justice module called “Game of Loans.” We tutor b’nai mitzvah students, help with daily and Shabbat tefillah, and offer support to staff as they continue their own Jewish journeys.

It’s a big change to go from attending camp to teaching at camp. But even as a working adult, we still get to see some of the magic that makes camp camp: both the things that have changed and those that have stayed the same. For instance, projection screens have replaced songbooks and prayer sheets, but campers still bang on the tables in (mostly) the same spots. There are new songs (Don’t Waste the Milk and this version of L’chu Neranena were my favorite musical acquisitions), but there is also the same sense of loud, chaotic abandon that campers and staff exhibit as they sing and dance.

Young people are coming to camp from an entirely different culture than when I was a camper, but that makes it all the more wonderful to see them surrender their devices and engage with their low-tech selves: making friendship bracelets, playing make-believe (one cabin I visited was involved in a pretty intense game of “lice clinic/hair salon”), and talking to one another face-to-face.

This year was my first year as faculty at URJ Crane Lake Camp, Eisner’s neighbor, and it was incredible to see how much the camp has grown and changed in the 19 years since it became a URJ Camp. They’ve worked hard to develop their own unique identity, and, even though I grew up at URJ Camp Harlam, Crane Lake is absolutely a place I’d be proud to call home.

One thing that I loved about Crane Lake was its community culture. Some of the camps I’ve worked with are so large in population that they rarely bring the entire camp together. Crane Lake, on the other hand, has opportunities throughout the day for everyone to be assembled. Every meal is an all-camp meal, where birthdays are celebrated, lost teeth are commemorated, and clearing the table is accompanied by music and dancing. One morning, the youngest campers even treated us to a Modeh Ani flashmob.

Each morning after breakfast, the entire camp joins in a short, lively, musical tefillah that feels much like a giant song session. On Shabbat, campers can sit wherever they want at dinner, giving siblings–and synagogues–a chance to bond across their age differences. Afterwards, while the community is at Shabbat services, the entire dining hall is cleared to make room for a massive song and dance session!


Ending Shabbat with Havdalah at URJ Crane Lake Camp

Coming together as a community reminds us that we are all a part of something larger. We aren’t a cabin, a unit, a specific camp, or even a generation of campers. We are part of something that stretches beyond age, geography, and time. Camp connects us to an endless chain of people who have called camp home. And I’m grateful that, at least for two weeks out of every summer, I get to come home again, too.

Join me next summer! Visit to find the summer experience that’s right for you. And stay tuned for my report from URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy!

Vital Chapter of Holocaust History Revisited at Vassar Temple

Complicit Audience

On June 15, 2016, approximately 150 individuals, including a group of 30 educators from Long Island, gathered at Vassar Temple to examine one of the most significant refugee events in world history. COMPLICIT, the documentary film featuring the story of the SS Saint Louis, was shown.
This film, COMPLICIT, chronicles the story of the SS Saint Louis, the ship that sailed from Hamburg, Germany in 1939 with 937 Jews aboard trying to escape Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The film explores the Roosevelt administration’s role in a series of events that transpired as the ship sought entry to Cuba, the US and Canada, and was ultimately denied access and returned to Europe.

Approximately one-third of the ship’s passengers who had to return to Europe did not survive the Holocaust. A discussion with the film’s director, Robert Krakow, who traveled to Poughkeepsie from his home in Florida for this event, as well as Sonja Geismar, a survivor of the SS St. Louis, and local resident Debbie Sylvester, the daughter of another survivor, followed the screening.
Complicit group
In 1939 the SS St. Louis departed Germany for North America. Among her passengers were 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and seeking entry into the United States through Cuba. But upon arrival, the ship’s passengers’ visas were rendered invalid and they were denied entry. After several weeks at sea pleading with the US, Canadian and Cuban governments, the SS St. Louis was forced to return to Europe where it is estimated that nearly one-third of the passengers perished in German concentration camps.

Through historical film footage, survivor interviews and dramatic interludes, COMPLICIT recounts the story of this ill-fated voyage. Included in the film is a mock trial that confronts the Roosevelt Administration’s flawed WWII refugee policy, based on a play written by Krakow. In addition, COMPLICIT documents the US State Department’s formal apologies to the surviving passengers of SS St. Louis.

Robert Krakow is the Executive Director of the SS St. Louis Legacy Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses education through drama to enlighten audiences on events in world history, including the story of the voyage of the SS St Louis.

This was an extraordinarily rare and moving event in our community as it included the film’s director, Robert Krakow, participating in a discussion with a survivor and family members of survivors after the film. The event was organized in partnership with the Long Island Temple Educators (LITE) with support from the Irving and Gloria Schlossberg Family Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley and the Poughkeepsie Library District. Vassar Temple organizers were Bob Ritter, Jennifer Sachs Dahnert, and Cathy Bokor.

2016 Vassar Temple Committee Reports (Combined)

Star Logo Only
Combined Committee Report – 2016

Vassar Temple Sisterhood Annual Report

We continue to open all events to women of the Temple. This has proven successful in seeing new faces as we strive to create a welcoming environment. Moving forward we will focus on tracking and enhancing the membership listing.

2015-16 Events:
Simchat Torah Dinner – Oct. 4
Shabbat Noah Dinner – Oct. 16
Paintbrush Opening Party – October 29
Rummage Sale – Nov. 8
Doris and Fannie Berlin Lecture – Rabbi Cowan and Wise Aging – Nov. 15
Hanukkah Dinner – Dec. 11
Sisterhood LunchBox – Feb. 7
Regina Jones Film Screening (with other Temple and community groups) – Feb. 21
Hamentaschen Baking – Feb. 28
Shabbat Across America Dinner – March 4
Donor Dinner – April 12
Sisterhood Shabbat Dinner and Service – May 6
Mitzvah Day – May 15
Teacher Recognition Picnic Dinner – June 10
Chai Tea – on the 18th of most months
Tiny Temple – every other month
Closing Dinner – coming soon
Cooking/Baking classes – coming this Fall
Sisterhood Contributions:
Friday Night Shabbat Onegs
Judaica Shoppe
Family Shabbat Dinners
Sisterhood Calendar
Bimah Flowers
College student holiday gift packages
Kitchen maintenance, including provision of paper goods and table cloths

Leadership: Laura Brundage and Danah Moore have completed their 2-year term as co-presidents. The new president will be announced soon.

Men’s Club:

Significant events of Men’s Club during the past year include:

• Assembly and disassembly of the sukka for Sukkot
• The annual Men’s Club Service last November
• Preparing the temple office for painting
• Sponsorship of Lunch Box during January
• Preparing and serving the pasta dinner for the temple’s Purim celebration
• Sponsoring the oneg for the recent Sisterhood Shabbat (thanks primarily to Dave S.)
• Joining forces with Shir Chadash to perform painting and landscaping tasks at Grace Smith House on Mitzvah Day. (Also, thanks to a very special MC member, giving Aaron Kaflowitz a ride in a very cool convertible that he won’t soon forget!)

Leadership: David Wolf and David Samson

Music Committee:
Committee: Bob Abrams (co-chair), Joel Kelson (co-chair), David Hecht, Jim Robinowitz, Bonnie Scheer, Marge Groten, Howard Susser, Martin Charwat, Rabbi Berkowitz
This committee started as an “interest group” in 2014, defining goals and a vision for ritual music at Vassar Temple. Our initial focus was on helping Rabbi Berkowitz’s transition as temple Rabbi from a music perspective. The group also set a vision for future activity, and later formalized as a committee to review current progress and move toward implementing that vision.
2015 Accomplishments include:
• Assessed and influenced Olivia’s role in ritual music
• Establish goals on use of, and evolving the temple Music Fund
• Arranged for purchase of an electric piano with a generous grant from the Lipshutz Fund. The piano is portable enough to use in different parts of the temple building. The KORG keyboard, and accompanying amplifier/speaker, are a wonderful addition to the temple’s music component. The piano can play a variety of sounds ranging from piano sound to strings (as in part of an orchestra), bass and other tones.
o Joe Bertolozzi introduced some new melodious sounds to our services, alternating the organ and piano, and even using the two together, producing some very exciting variations on our Shabbat melodies!
o As with anything new, the music prompted some concerns about volume, which were addressed with Joe.
• Supported purchase of accompanying percussion instruments, including a cymbal, tambourines, shakers, a djembe (African drum) and associated stands, again thanks to the Lipshutz Fund
• The committee provided feedback to Joe on appropriate volume when using the instruments. This will be ongoing.
Near-in plans include:
• Ways to improve further on ritual music, along with proposing that Joe give a talk about the various instruments, the significance and tones delivered by each.
• Proposed plans related to whether the curtains surrounding the “music pit” should stay up or be taken down. It was decided to try removing the curtains during the evening when Joe gives his talk and test congregation reaction
• Bring in a cantorial student for occasional Friday night Shabbat music, which was one of the group’s key goals in the vision for future temple music, defined earlier.

Ritual Committee:

This report contains information regarding:
• Committee Responsibilities
• New Ideas and Initiatives
• Worship Services
• Recommendations for the future.

Committee Responsibilities:
The Vassar Temple Ritual Committee has met monthly this program year except for February when the Rabbi Installation event took precedent.
There are 13 members, the majority of whom regularly attend the Tuesday night meetings.
The Chair of the Music Committee normally attends Ritual Committee meetings insuring close coordination.
The High Holy Day responsibilities are being incorporated into the Ritual Committee responsibilities and will be shared amongst many individuals. The Ritual Committee Chair is overseeing this initiative and, therefore this year, is HHD chair as well.
In general the task of the RC is to make decisions, in consultation with the rabbi, about matters related to worship services and religious practices;
The committee has been tasked:
To develop programs encouraging expanded participation in worship services by all segments of the congregation.
To nominate and choose the recipient of the Arnold Award each year (for contributions to the religious life of the congregation), and to arrange for its presentation at the Selichot observation prior to the High Holy Days.
To arrange for the setup and leadership of lay-led summer services.
To coordinate with other committees involved in the religious life of the congregation, especially the Music and High Holy Day Committees, but (as appropriate) including other committees including Religious School, Publicity, and Adult Education.
To arrange for summer service leaders in Rabbi’s absence..
New initiatives developed in the 2015-2016 calendar year:
• Introduced an opening meditation at RC meetings encouraging each member to participate.
• Developed a chanukah video designed to encourage a more an approach to the celebration that conveyed the deeper meaning of the holiday.
• Plan to offer a “proneg” before the winter services [beginning November 2016] rather than the “oneg”. In cooperation with the VTS, an appetizer type fare [cheese, fruit crackers, hummus, nuts and so one rather than sweets] would be provided between 6pm and 6:15pm, with services following immediately. This change has the advantage of allowing people to leave right after services to have dinner and allow late comers the opportunity to be present for the whole service [maybe missing the proneg, unfortunately].
• Ron Rosen offered to spearhead an initiative to take our spiritual services outdoors on occasion, offering a prayer opportunity in a natural setting.
• Added a meditation service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
• Reached out to families with an activity based HHD packet that could engage children and educate families about the HHDs
• Switched to Mishkan Tefilah from the Chumash as gifts for the B/M students at Simchat Torah.
• Discussed the evolution of incorporating Mishkan HaNefesh as our HHD prayer book.
• Family shabbat There was an attempt to have a monthly family type service and dinner to attract families with children. Though well received by those who have come, attendance has been low. Some suggestions might be to evaluate whether we want a 7 or 7:30 start time and to coordinate with Beth El so our family services are on different weeks (likely we will be the 2nd week of the month). Rabbi feels this is something that we can change with help from our new RS Director, who “can help us create opportunities for the kids to participate and incentives for them to show up. The services have been visual tefillah with guitar and piano (no organ) and a story instead of a sermon, as well as a birthday blessing. It is a complete service for anyone who is concerned that it wouldn’t be enough for an adult without children or someone coming to say kaddish.”
• At rabbi’s request, appeal speeches were moved to the erev HHD service
• Torah to Go Program at the Adriance Library
• Torah Passover Yoga
High Holy Day 2015/5776 changes:
In 2015 the High Holy Days were orchestrated by a sub committee chaired by Perla Kaufman. Going forward, the RC with support foremothers int he congregation will be responsible for HHD related tasks, including scheduling services and all activities related to Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Tashlich , Cemetery Service Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah and Sukkoth.
Modified schedule for the HHDs: combined the two erev services into one. A survey was done to insure that input from a broad section of the temple community was considered before making change.
Added a meditation service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
Added a dance component to the Simchat Torah service
Out door hike on Sukkoth [September 27th]: Locust Grove . Nine human participants; one canine.
Reached out to families with an activity based HHD packet that could engage children and educate families about the HHDs
At the request of the President, a Sukkoth Open House was held [ October 3rd]. There was limited attendance, but those who stopped by, including one of the city’s mayoral candidates, expressed positive comments.
Discussed the involvement of additional voices during the HHD services, reimbursement policy as well as varying the musical accompaniment with different instruments.
Switch to Mishkan Tefilah from the chumash as gifts for the B/M students at Simchat Torah.
Discussed the evolution of incorporating Mishkan HaNefesh as our HHD prayer book.
At rabbi’s request, appeal speeches were moved to the erev services.
Pizza Dinner on October 4th: Israeli dancing. 40 attended. Well received.
Special Friday evening services:
October 9th: Black Lives Matter [Adam Ciminello]
October 16th: Shabbat Noach
November 6th: Ben Krevolin service leader in Rabbi’s absence
November 13th: Men’s Club Shabbat
November 20th: URJ Camp Shabbat
November 27th: Ron Rosen service leader in Rabbi’s absence
December 11th: Chanukah program
December 25th: Sandra Mamis service leader in Rabbi’s absence
February 5th: Rabbi’s Installation dinner and service: huge event with 160+ people . Guests included President of the HUC- JIR; Mayor Rob Rolison; and Cantor Kaplan. Proclamations from government officials were delivered.
March 3rd: Shabbat Across America: not attended by non members; need more RS involvement
March 11th/12th: Joint Shabbaton with Temple Beth El. Speaker was Rabbi James Michelson. Well received. A program for youth proceeded the traditional service.
April 22nd: 5th Annual First Night Temple seder
May 6th: VTS / Generations Shabbat
May13th: Jr VATY Led Service: organized by S. Teich & Rabbi
June 10th: Picnic Service
June 24th: One Year Rabbi Anniversary Shabbat and Dinner
Saturday morning shabbat services:
New Paths Services continued on a regular basis, under the competent leadership of Marian Schwartz
Arranged for Saturday morning Shabbat programs in November. January and February with a Torah Service followed by a Kiddush Luncheon at each.
November 14th: A discussion with Imam Antepli took place in conjunction with Shir Chadash; attended by over 50 people.
January 23rd: Environmental Panel with Paul Ciminello, Peter Grofman and Marge Groten, in combination of the celebration of Tu B’Shevat.
February 27th: Director, Arlene Stein, of Reform Jewish Voices of NY was the guest speaker.
Most of the programs had good attendance, with about twenty to 30 people attending each morning.
Shabbat Noach: A Greyhound Rehab and Rescue representative was scheduled as the speaker for Shabbat Noach on October 16th ; during the oneg 6 greyhounds were available to interact with service attendees . This was well attended and well received.
Scheduled Joint Tikkun Leil service on June 11th at 7:30pm [ Temple Beth El]:
Torah To Go: Adriance Library – a program to introduce the community to the Torah scroll took place in March. Well received.
Torah Yoga Program was offered by member Rebecca Acker-Kryswiski and was well received.
Scheduled Shavuot [June 12th]: Dedication of the Windows and Patio
Chanukah initiative: “The Eight Nights of Chanukah” – a video experience put together by the committee and made available on line. The content purpose was to offer members a meaningful and tangible way to be involved in a celebration of thanks, beyond gift giving.
Changed the format for the Purim spiel so that the Megillah reading and the spiel occurred on the holiday : March 23rd.
Requested the finance committee to allocate funds to the RC to be used at the discretion of the chair for the purpose of promoting RC goals; $500 have been set aside.
At the request of the chair, the committee spent several months discussing and then formalizing a Mission statement; see attached. The process helped to galvanize the committee as a working group and establish the guideline serving as a platform for future programming and policy decisions. It was very important that, if created, this be a “living document”.
Coordinated and arranged (thanks to Polly Lewis and Rosen with support from Sandra Mamis ) the first night Seder on April 22nd which was attended by about 70 people and continues to fill a need in the community.
Handled nominations for the 2015 Arnold Award, with the selection of Melissa Erlebacher as the awardee presented at Selichot in September. Preparing to select the 2016 Award winner.
Arranged for Outdoor Hike: May 7 Weather didn’t cooperate unfortunately/
Expand the committee inviting a broad range of individuals including relatively new and uninvolved to “old timers’ in an attempt to offer diversity.
Recommendations from the members and chair:
Continue to seek new committee members
Improve communication between all committees with an emphasis of making sure we provide each other support and strive toward some common goals.
Expand outdoor worship experience to events accommodating the elderly and infirm.
Add variety to shabbat worship experience through music, sermons, service types and locations.
Attempt to focus the needs of parents and children whenever possible during planning or ritual experiences.
Find creative ways to make Judaism meaningful.

Submitted by Sandra Mamis, Ritual Chair, June 15, 2016

Torah Study Notes 6-4-16

June 4, 2016

Page 869

This portion deals with contributions – that are voluntarily given. The expected contribution is itemized according to age and status. One gets the sense that this was not the favorite thing of the writers – although it subsidized the life style of the priests. Jacob makes a sacrifice after seeing a ladder in his dream .He pledges to devote a tenth of his income to God. Similarly, Hanna makes a promise of a donation if she has a man child.

27:1 The Eternal One spoke to Moses… and sets forth the amount to be pledged in Shekels. Or the priest shall make an assessment. The males are more valuable and a greater contribution is expected.  Obviously it is problematic to assign a monetary value to a human being.  In the Orthodox tradition when a baby dies before it is one month old – the family does not sit Shiva. This notion of “voluntary” giving is akin to an assessment of dues in a modern temple. Generally, in society one did not make the payment until the quid pro quo for the promise was received.

27:9 The purity of the offerings is set forth – ultimately a question for the priest. Three ways to make a sacrifice; give the animal to the priest for sale; redeem the animal and pay the money or have the animal sacrificed   Note that this role of priest is passed from father to son –  so the son serves an apprenticeship and learns the necessary skills. See Francis Fukuyama re the origins of political structure. The three components of modern political success are state building, the rule of law and accountability. Religion is a precursor to modern legal systems and the notion of accountability pervades the Torah.

RB There are governmental aspects here in the communal support of the priest and the Levites. This structure, if adhered to would suggest that no one would become too rich or to poor.

27: 14 The consecration and assessment of land and a house. Once sold the land is no longer “redeemable.”  It reverts to the priests on the jubilee year. There are elements of modern real estate law here = particularly in the notion of reversions.

27:22 Reversion of property consecrated to the Temple and then sold.The purchaser is only getting title for a period of years.

The donors redemption of tithes by substitution. A non  Israelite cannot be redeemed or sold. Note that a biblical shekel is a weight of metal – not a stamped coin.

See Essay page 873 re parallels here on the subject of reward and punishment with ancient Assyrian and Hittite treaties.

Torah Study Notes 5-21-16

May 21, 2016

Page 826 Leviticus, Emor

23:23 The first day of the seventh month… you shall observe complete rest….In the period leading up to the Day of Atonement you shall not work. What does “cut off” mean? Spiritually isolated but also separated from the community. It could also be divine punishment in which your life is shortened. The self denial is understood to be fasting. This is expanded upon in the Mishnah to cover anointing, wearing leather and “using the bed.”  The tradition of wearing white is a sign of humility and modesty. Also a rehearsal for death – a recognition of one’s mortality. Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in the Reform movement was an occasion to get dressed up. RB When I was growing up at Camp Harlem the kids would wear white but not get dressed up – like a white tea shirt. A Sabbath of complete rest and self denial. LL These rules border on the ridiculous and for some people create a credibility gap for religious faith. RB Many of these things are ridiculous in the modern world but they prepare one mentally for a more spiritual state. SFin:  For the modern Jew the underlying intent is to become holier and we need steps and processes to do that. RB If the goal is to separate rules are helpful. They create a community that adheres to the same standard. LL What is the value of being separate from the rest of society? These are arguments for wearing the hajib and burkah. RB Multiculturism is now much more acceptable – as of the 1960s. SFink We can be part of a distinct group and still be part of the larger American society. AF Why didn’t the failure to enforce these draconian punishments create a lack of trust in the veracity of the text? RB: The rabbi’s responded in two ways: A shortening of one’s life was a signal and punishment in the afterlife  They also argued that the situation would resolve itself – the cows would come back if you couldn’t mend your fence on Shabbat.  Inevitably traditions have to be adapted to modern life or be rejected altogether.

33: The Eternal one spoke to Moses… This text is the origin of Sukkoth. The components are no work and making offerings. No sukkah is described here. This is all Priestly text. But starting with Parsha 39 is essentially an “editors note” by the Redactor. It goes into detail as to what is done to celebrate Sukkoth and when – the 7th month. Instruction as to how the booth is to be constructed is in the Talmud. AF: Where did all this come from? Were the similar practices in adjoining communities. LL Is this part of the Jungian impulse to create myths ala Joseph Campbell? See:

Is this a production designed by an early Seven Spielberg?  RB There was no other entertainment at the time. Our technology to some extent has robbed us of public events in which there is story telling. Our entertainments today are largely passive – watching instead of doing. It also an effort to affirm public values – the commemoration of the Exodus.

24:1  …Command the Israelite people to bring you oil… The so-called Eternal Light actually only burns from morning to evening. Here the word for “pact” is the translation of “bearing witness.” Prepare twelve  loaves of bread for the Eternal – to be eaten by Aaron and his sons. A fight broke out in the camp. The half Egyptian Israelite man blasphemed. Moses directed that he be stoned – to death – by the community. One who kills a beast, an eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth, etc  Why is it significant that his father was Egyptian? Referencing Pharaoh who was a God? RB Even if you are half Israelite you are still responsible for following the rules. Also, per the documentary hypothesis this was written by priests in Jerusalem and the blasphemer notably comes from the tribe of Dan in the north – where they had their own temple. See: