Chanukah comes at the time of the year when it gets dark early and the night lasts long. In the darkest time of the year, we light lights. There are two ways we can understand Chanukah. The first is about history. It represents the victory of the Maccabees against Hellenists who sought to quench the light of Torah and worship by bringing a kind of spiritual darkness to the Jewish people. The triumph of light against darkness can also be seen as a metaphor for the perpetual struggle that has taken place over and over again throughout history. It is the struggle against those who represent cruelty, injustice and oppression by those who stand for kindness, justice and peace. This is a drama that has repeated itself over and over through human history. Perhaps the lesson of all of Jewish history is summarized in the story of Chanukah. That lesson is that no matter what, the good eventually wins out. The proof of that is that despite all that has happened, the Jewish people remain and not only survive, but thrive. We fight the darkness by lighting lights. Synagogues are one of the points of light. We stand for all those values which keep the world going, such as love, forgiveness and kindness. When you support and participate in synagogue life you are bringing light into the world. The synagogue serves to remind us and our communities of those values and thus helps light up the world. Happy Chanukah to all,
At this month’s Annual Affair, we will celebrate the 110th anniversary of Congregation Temple Emanu-El as well as my 35th year as Rabbi. That means that for 110 years, our congregation has been a place for worship, study and community. The number of people influenced by the congregation is, I am sure, many thousands. That means that five thousand seven hundred and twenty Shabatot have been observed at the Temple since 1907. To my knowledge, on every Shabbat, except for rare occasions such as snowstorms, hurricanes or other unusual circumstances, there has been a minyan at Temple Emanu-El. Our shul has helped keep Judaism alive by making sure the Shabbat has been observed every single week. We have been able to do so because many of our members from the founding of the congregation until today have been dedicated to it. We may care deeply about Judaism and the Jewish people. We are concerned about anti-Semitism. One of the best ways, however, to show that Jewishness is truly important to us is regular attendance at services. The way to make sure that Judaism is a living faith is to live it. All of us at Temple Emanu-El, I believe, have a responsibility to make sure that this tradition continues. There are many reasons to come to Shul. Some come for prayer and encounter with G-d. Some come for intellectual reasons, wanting to learn more about Judaism, the world and themselves. Others come to be part of a caring, supportive, living, face to face community. You never know what can happen if you go to Shul. I know of people who found jobs, got good medical advice and found solutions to personal issues from those they talk to in Shul. Some people even come for the food. We usually have great lunches. Most of all, attending services is an important contribution to the continuation of the Jewish faith and people. Winter is coming, and our snowbirds are already getting ready to fly away. For those who are staying put, I urge you to come, to make Shul attendance part of your routine. Even - or perhaps especially - if you are not a shul-goer, try it; you will be accomplishing more than you know.
Dear friends, Most of you will, I’m sure, agree that Judaism is something important and worth saving. Most of us do our part. Some of us are involved with Israel, others with helping support this synagogue. Some of us care about the very Jewish message of making the world a better place for all. I would suggest to you something that I think we all know but perhaps do not think of. Of all the things we can do for Judaism, the most basic one is to live the Jewish lifestyle. We are soon to celebrate Sukkot and Simchat Torah. This gives us many opportunities to honor Judaism; we honor Judaism most by attending services, eating in the Sukkah, (and this year our Sisterhood has generously provided a Sukkot luncheon), shaking the Lulav and Etrog, and dancing with the Torah. Our denunciation of Anti-Semitism and our supporting Israel is important. Our living the Jewish lifestyle however, makes the teachings of our faith come alive in a personal way. Sukkot teaches us to be grateful for G-d’s bounty. The Lulav and Etrog teach us the lesson of inclusivity and the value of each and every person. The Sukkah teaches us about life’s transience. Dancing with the Torah teaches us to celebrate G-d’s word with joy. Yizkor connects us with past generations. In keeping our traditions, we are enriched. To paraphrase the words of JFK, “It is not only what you can do for Judaism but what Judaism can do for you.” As we begin the new year, let us do for Judaism, for the Jewish people and for G-d by living Judaism’s lessons and its lifestyle, and in turn let Judaism do for us by its wisdom and its inspiration.
Shanah Tova, Chag Sameach,
“Let thine awe be manifest in all thy works and reverence for thee fill all creation. May all thy children unite in one fellowship to do thy will with a perfect heart while iniquity shall close its mouth and all wickedness vanish like smoke when you remove the dominion of tyranny from the earth.” These words are part of the High Holiday Amidah and are said a total of eight times on Rosh Hashanah and five times on Yom Kippur. They depict a kind of Eden in which all is in harmony and all wickedness vanishes away harmlessly like smoke fading away into nothingness. Yet the world is far from this idyllic picture. In the last years especially our world has grown more and more troubled. All over there is the threat of war and strife. Even within our own country there is violence and the threat of violence. The real world seems to be quite opposite of the sentiments expressed in this prayer. Are these words we recite just an empty dream? All of us long for the world pictured in these words, and yearning and longing are powerful forces, whether or not what we hope for ever occurs. They give us hope and they keep us from despair. Longing for a better day gives us the strength to keep going until perhaps we see a better day. If the world does not match up to our expectations, that should only motivate us to work harder and believe more fervently. This message is both cosmic and personal. Rosh Hashanah tells us that no matter how deficient we sometimes feel, we should not give up striving for perfection. It tells us that no matter how many mistakes we may have made in life or in our relationships, we should never give up. It tells us that no matter how distant we feel from G-d, we can still work on our spirituality, and no matter how unjust or strife-torn the world is, working for peace and for justice is still important. Perhaps the message that we most need in these troubled times is best expressed in the words of the great Hassidic teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “Yidn zait zaoch nisnt meyaesh. Jews never despair.”
Lashanah tova tikatevu ve’techatemu.
june, july & august 2017
Dear Congregants, I want to begin by quoting our famous and illustrious past president Arthur Greenberg, who said at numerous occasions "Kvell from Temple Emanu-El." If you don't know what the word kvell means it is a Yiddish word meaning swell with pride and brag about it as well. Why should you "Kvell from Temple Emanu-El"? Because the Temple is an outpost of Judaism and the Jewish people. It stands for the preservation and continuation of the Jewish way of life. It’s a place where we do Judaism, not just think about or talk about our feeling proud to be Jews. This is especially important because our faith is one that must be practiced. It is based on action and observance more than on sentiment or even beliefs. At Temple Emanu-El we celebrate Shabbat and holidays, study Torah, educate our children and learn about what is going on in the Jewish world. We are there for each other in times of celebration and help each other in times of need. We are also a place where the arts are encouraged through the wonderful music of our Cantor and Choir. We are very traditional but at the same tine welcome to all wherever they are on their religious journey I think that is a lot to kvell about. So if any of these things are important to you, share the news of Temple Emanu-El with your friends, family and acquaintances. Encourage them to join and take part in our activities. The Temple upholds tradition while at the same time welcomes everyone wherever they are on their Jewish journey. They will most likely thank you for introducing them to life-enriching experiences. Also, I want to remind you that the Temple never is open for the full schedule of services over the summer. If you perhaps did not have time during the rest of the year, you might find time over the summer. Our Temple represents Judaism and its heritage. It is up to you for it to grow and prosper.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
I recently read that there are plans to revive NASA with the possible goal of sending a man to Mars. This brought back memories of the NASA space launches that put the first man on the Moon. Many of us remember watching the launchings along with millions around the globe. How exciting and how nerve‐wracking. The most exciting and even nerve‐wracking part of these launchings was the countdown. The head of the NASA launch team would announce in a serious and somewhat concerned tone of voice, “ten, nine, eight, seven...” ‐ going down to the number one, at which time the rocket was launched.The purpose of the countdown was to make sure all the systems necessary for a safe and successful launch were checked and found to be in working order. If not, the mission would be aborted to avoid the possibility of danger. This time of year, we count each day between Pesach and Shavuot. On Shavuot, we celebrate the launching, so to speak, of our Jewish way of life, with the giving of the Torah. For us it is not merely an historical reminiscence, because on that day each of us asked to accept the Torah in a personal way by renewing our commitment to Judaism.Just as the countdown served as an opportunity to check to see if all systems were working, so Shavuot and the counting of the Omer provides us with the opportunity to see if the systems that enable us to live Jewish life are in working condition. I think there are three systems that need to work for Judaism to continue. They are presence, knowledge and generosity. The first question we should ask ourselves in our countdown is, “Am I present? Do I show up at Jewish activities such as synagogue services, lectures and programs?” Remember, Woody Allen said that "showing up is nine tenths of what life is about." If you are not there, you lose the connection. You are missed ; don’t think that your absence is not felt or that your presence makes no difference. The second is knowledge. For too many of us, participating in Jewish life is like someone who knows nothing about football watching a football game.The more we know about Jewish life, the more we are part of it.The third is generosity. Our country could not have explored space without government support. Could the Jewish community thrive without our support? As we are about to celebrate the giving of the Torah, I hope that all systems are go.
Happy Shavuot! I hope to see you in Shul.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
Passover was always my favorite holiday. Even though it was a lot of work, the end of the process of cleaning out the Chametz and replacing the year‐round dishes with the Passover set made everything new and fresh. I loved the Seder. It was not only the food or the chance to show off what I had learned in Hebrew school that made Passover so special. It was the thought that I, a kid from Queens, was so somehow doing what my ancestors did in ancient Egypt when they gathered around their tables on that first Passover. We Jews have been conducting Passover Seders every year for approximately the last 3500 years. Not only is that a long time but it probably makes the Seder the oldest continuously performed ritual in the world. We should perhaps try to picture Passover Seders in ancient Israel, in the time of the Romans and Greeks, in the period of knights in armor or the shtetls of Europe. We carry on these same traditions. The Passover message has been understood through the centuries in ways which addressed the needs of the time. Our present epoch is one in which life is centered on our own desire to achieve happiness and self‐fulfillment, and in which finding it depends on our own choices. Making the making the right choices is often too confusing and difficult therefore, I see many people, especially young people living in a state of aimlessness and purposelessness. Passover in our period of history teaches us the truism that the best way to achieve happiness and fulfillment is to be involved with a cause larger and more profound than our own individual happiness. When we stop thinking about ourselves and engage with the world we have the best chance of achieving a fulfilled and happy life. The message of the liberation of from Egypt and the Passover Seder tells that that we are links in the chain of Jewish tradition and that our continuing this tradition one more generation is an important achievement and can give our life the sense of purpose and meaning that we seek.
A wonderful Passover to all,
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
There are many reasons to attend services; here is one you may never have thought of. Research conducted partly at the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that regular worshippers live longer than people who seldom or never attend services. In recent years there have been a number of studies trying to quantify the difference. One such study found that those who attend worship services once or more each week can look forward to about seven more years than those who never attend. Various explanations have been attempted. One shows that regular attendees smoke, drink, and engage in unhealthy behavior to a lesser degree than others. Some researchers have postulated that through regular social contact, the feeling of belonging and being part of a community that regular worshippers have contributed to their wellbeing. I would like to share with you some comments made by some of our own regular shul attendees: “When I go to Shul I forget about all the things that worry me.” “I feel at peace just being there.” “I like remembering the people who are no longer here who said the same prayers I say now.” “When I am there, I pray for healing for myself and others, and others also pray for me; maybe our prayers are heard”. I think that going to shul adds a lot of intangibles to our lives. We connect with our fellow congregants, to the Jewish people, past, present and future, and to the mysteries of life itself. Shul gives a sense of stability, focus and connectedness that is satisfying even to those who do not ostensibly believe. There are a number of factors that may make us reluctant to try. Some people feel that they don’t know the Hebrew and everyone else does. You’d be surprised. You are far from the only one, and those who know the Hebrew are so happy to see you that they do not look askance. Besides, come regularly and you’ll pick it up in no time at all. You may feel that you are too busy. Our services take place Friday night, Shabbat morning, and weekday mornings; at least one of them is probably doable. If you are not sure that you believe, Judaism, however, is a religion that asks us to wrestle with issues of belief and come up with our own answers. I want to conclude with an invitation. Do yourself a favor in many ways. See you in Shul!
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
This past month our country greeted a new president. Some greeted him with joy, others with dismay. Thousands upon thousands poured into Washington for the events. The events included his being sworn in and a whole host of demonstrations culminating in the “Woman’s March” in Washington and in many other places around the country. For the most part the scene was positive. People of varying political views had a chance to express their opinions about our nation and society and for the most part it was done with dignity and seriousness. The differences of opinion are not trivial. They are the culmination of debates that have gone on, in some cases for many years and in some cases for generations. For some the president is saving us from dangers and restoring our pride. Others may view the very same actions as betraying our deepest ideals and values. This polarization is in itself a delicate and important matter. The results of half of the country having the opposite view from the other half may if, we are not careful, have far more profound results than the issues on which we are divided. I am pained to hear of people breaking up long standing friendships because the former friend is now a Republican or Democrat. Many years ago I had had the occasion to visit Yugoslavia as part of a rabbinic group sent by the UJA. It was the time of fighting between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. We asked them how the civil war started. Most of those we asked said something like “we all got along pretty well but when things got heated relationships and even families were torn apart. I have never forgotten those conversations. If we don’t turn down the heat. If we allow ourselves to descend into violence and mutual contempt we will lose everything. Jewish tradition and history contains many examples of serious differences which for the most part did not tear apart the fabric of communal life. On the rare occasions they did all suffered. All of us as Americans have the duty to advocate for our vision of how our country should be. We must use our freedom of speech to raise strong voices but at the same time keep from hating or trying to silence those with whom we disagree.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
Many of us are shocked and dismayed about the UN resolution condemning Israel. Even if we are opposed to settlements, the resolution was extremely harsh; its formulation declared any Israeli presence beyond the 1967 borders to be illegal. Thus the Israeli presence in places like the Jewish quarter of the old city or the Western Wall itself is illegal, as is the presence of hundreds of thousands of Jerusalem residents in areas of the city built on territory that Israel acquired as a result of the 1967 war. The resolution is only the first step. Declaring the Israeli presence illegal is a significant step towards further undermining the legitimacy of the state of Israel as the Jewish homeland. The goal of all of this is quite simply to reduce the Jews to the all too familiar role of a pariah people despised and held in contempt by the world community. Many believe that this resolution may be followed by an attempt at imposing a solution by having the world community endorse a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders at a meeting of foreign ministers to take place on Jan 15 in Paris. The resolutions approved at that meeting could then be quickly approved by the Security Council before the inauguration of our new president on Jan 20. This would put the state of Israel in grave danger. On Friday night January 13, I would like to hold a special Middle East Conflict Basics meeting to familiarize ourselves with the issues involved. I would also like to declare Shabbat January 14 as a day of prayer for Israel. Let us pray that the storm will pass and Israel and the Jewish people emerge unscathed.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman