Dear friends, Most of us, no matter how non-tech savvy we are, have gotten used to GPS. We type in a destination and a map of how to get where we want to go appears. To make things even easier, a voice issues from the speaker system telling us every turn we must make to reach our destination. Some of us wonder how we ever got anywhere without GPS. Try to imagine a kind of personal GPS to help us get through life. Imagine having a tool which would help us set our destination and also provide us the ability to get there. In a certain metaphorical way, our Torah and our Jewish way of life can do just that. It helps direct us towards that which is whole, life-affirming, productive and loving. When popular culture pushes us towards over-absorption with self or the idealization of wealth or social status -- things which often lead towards nihilism and viewing life as essentially meaningless -- the Jewish way of life pushes us back from these principals through its observances, rituals and literature. This push-back occurs because our traditions are the refraction of the life experience and wisdom of the hundreds of generations of Jews who went before us. They also connect us with the realm of that which is beyond human wisdom and understanding, the mystery of the divine. The road may be bumpy, and sometimes it even seems like the signal fades, leaving us stranded, or we make a wrong turn and find ourselves lost. But our GPS always comes through, and no matter how lost we seem to be, we can always find our way. L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu V’techatemu. May we be inscribed and sealed for a year of health, happiness blessing and peace.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
JUNE, july & august 2018
Summer vacations are fast approaching, and some of us will be traveling or visiting places both nearby and abroad. Even those who spend the summertime at home find that they have time to read a book or simply relax in the sun. Summertime is also a time to think about and evaluate the months that have gone by. At the start of summer, each one of us should appreciate the highlights of the past year, be proud of what we have achieved, and try to make ourselves aware of what we could do better on in the year to come. For the Jewish people, the 70th birthday of the State of Israel is not only the highlight of the year but perhaps the highlight of many centuries. Though it is still embattled, Israel has become a major player in world affairs as well as the source of some of the greatest advances in technology and medical research. Despite the increase in anti-Semitism, Israel at 70 shows that the days when the Jewish people were the powerless and unwanted pariahs of the world are gone. The 70th anniversary of Israel, despite the difficulties, testifies to the success of the Zionist dream. I know that Israel wants peace with its neighbors; perhaps these dreams will also come. Closer to home, our Temple Emanu-El community experienced many wonderful moments. Our High Holiday services with the beautiful singing of the Chazzan and the choir were the equal in beauty and aesthetics of any service anywhere. I think of all of the beautiful celebrations, both religious and personal. There were many interesting classes, events, and speakers from many places. I hope you noticed that the Congregation became a lot younger. For the first time in years, we have a group of new parents rather than new grandparents, and that is truly a joy. We must in the year to come widen our core group to include new families and individuals as well as bringing many of our present members more into the circle. Judaism brings us so much, so each one of us should try to spread the word For Boni and I, some of the bright spots of the year were being with our children and grandchildren and our Temple family at the Temple dinner where we were honored for 35 years of service. Our highlights also included our journeys to Nicaragua and Ivory Coast where we were involved in over 200 conversions. Sadly, some of the converts in Nicaragua are seeking refuge after being adversely affected by the civil strife that has erupted there. We were thrilled by the Bar Mitzvahs of two grandchildren and deeply saddened by the loss of Boni’s mother Evelyn Nathan who was also a proud member of our Temple. It is my hope that despite the many problems, we realize that we have much to be grateful for and have accomplished a lot and that our people, our country and our Temple be blessed with peace and success in every way.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
At long last, the winter is gone. Warm and sunny days have replaced the cold and clouds we lived with for so many months. This season of beauty and hope is the perfect time of the year for the celebration of the Shavuot holiday. Shavuot celebrates several different, but related ideas. The first is gratefulness. Shavuot is known as Chag Habikkurim, the festival of the first fruits, when our ancestors brought the first fruits to the Temple to thank God for the harvest. Today’s world is filled with pessimism. Many of us feel that we are on the brink of disaster, whether it’s from war or global warming or political chaos. Shavuot, however, tells us to focus on the good and on the many things, large and small, that should be occasions for gratitude. The second is the importance of religious belief. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. In our increasingly secular age, there are some who stigmatize religion as the refuge of the hateful benighted and the ignorant. The giving of the Torah reminds us that faith is a gift. Faith gives us the stability, hope and strength to get through the most difficult times. We also think of the countless good deeds that are motivated by religious belief that collectively make the world a much better place. Shavuot also teaches us the value of time. This is because in the counting of the Omer, we count each and every day between Shavuot and Passover. This teaches us that each day is an irreplaceable treasure, and that we should make each day count. Wishing you a happy Shavuot.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
march & april 2018
This is a joyful time of year. We just celebrated Purim, marking our triumph over those who would have destroyed us. In a mere few weeks, Passover will be upon us. On a personal level my wife and I just celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs of two grandsons. Despite the joy of the season, the airwaves and our social media are filled with anger, resentment and bad feeling. Today, instead of thanking G-d for being saved from Haman, we would more likely express our indignation for having been endangered. Instead of praising G-d for the Exodus, we would probably fill ourselves with bitter complaints blaming G-d for the injustice and suffering of slavery. Purim and Passover would be solemn and bitter memorials rather than days of celebration. Instead, we as Jews are asked to focus on gratitude. This is not to deny the pain we may experience. but to not let that obscure the good that we experienced as well. A rabbi suggested an exercise I would like to ask you to try for the upcoming month. Every day, write down something you are grateful for, and on the thirtieth day, read through the list and put them in order of importance. Emphasizing the positive will go a long way towards achieving happiness. Our tradition teaches the same, that happiness is best found not by focusing on our troubles, but by engaging with those around us, by being part of a community and by being thankful to G-d for all the good that that we have experienced. Passover is a time when no Jew should be alone. If you need hospitality for a Seder, let me know. Also, we are having the second Seder at the Shu, l which is a good way to share the Passover experience with the community that we are all part of. Chag Kasher V’sameach a zissen Pesach, Happy sweet and kosher Passover to all.
Many of us were introduced to the word “Crypto-Jew” when we welcomed the Brazilian artist known as Jonatas as a guest speaker to our Shul. He explained to us that a ”Crypto-Jew” was a descendent of families forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. He described his experience growing up, where he and his family very privately followed half remembered fragments of Jewish custom and practice. He also described the difficult process of returning to the full practice of Judaism and living openly as a Jew. I was moved by his recounting of how precious he and his family regarded their heritage, and by the great sacrifices they made to maintain whatever remnants of it that they could for 500 years. All of this was done without synagogues, schools, rabbis, or even as much as a Jewish book. They were able to do this because they treasured what Judaism gave them. We are blessed with so much. A rich Jewish life is available to us, with so many opportunities to learn, to experience and to enjoy the richness of the Jewish culture and faith. Do we take advantage of the opportunities we have? Or are we in a sense “Crypto-Jews” whose Jewishness consists of fragments of practices and memories? Our Jewishness is a strong part of our inner identities, but how does it translate into actions and activity beyond the recesses of our hearts and minds? At the very end of the month, we will celebrate Jewish survival with the joyful holiday of Purim. Today, our survival is endangered from without by anti-Semitism and within by apathy. It is my hope that all of those who realized the great value of our Jewish heritage and were willing to sacrifice for it will inspire us to action so that we can overcome both anti-Semitism and apathy and continue the miracle of our survival.
"It’s cold out there!” I write these words to you as the temperature dips into the mid-teens and lower. The phrase “its cold out there” can be understood in several ways. The most obvious way has to do with the temperature. When the number of degrees dips, many of us prefer to stay home and stay warm, and thus disengage from going out and participating in the life of the community. “Its cold out there ”can also be taken as a metaphor for the society we live in. Itisincreasingly aworld where each of us stands alone, unconnected and uncared for, our lives not shared, our personhood un-recognized,and whoweareexperienced byfewifanyatall. Itisthecoldnessoftheworldaround us that has, on a societal scale, led to the despair that feeds today’s epidemic of drugs and alcohol, that has led to the increase in the death rate and lowering of life expectancy that marks our country today. The answer to the cold is of course to get warm. Warmth is not only about putting on an additional sweater or raising the thermostat a few degrees. It is about sharing our story with those who want to listen. It is about shared values and shared heritage that joins us to people with whom we share beliefs and/or life stories. It is about finding others who care about us and our struggles. our pains and ourjoys.Itisalsoaboutfindingacauseorasetofbeliefsthatgiveourlivesmeaning,purposeand direction. Where do we find the warmth we seek, both physically and metaphorically? It is of course at our synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Some of those who attend regularly have said that they have found their “family” at Temple Emanu-El, that it provides that caring and nurturing plaice that they find lacking elsewhere. They have told me that it’s one of the few truly warm places they experience. During the winter, many of our people have departed for warmer climes. There are also others who just can’t get out because of the winter weather. It is all the more important that all of us make an effort to support Judaism and our Jewish identities by attending services and making sure that we have a minyan on Friday night and Shabbat morning. I invite you all, especially those who intend infrequently. to come and get outof the cold by making your way toTemple Emanu-El to experience the warmth of Jewish living.