Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Torah Means... to Stacy Yerger

Today is day 2 of the counting of the omer.

One of the most surprisingly pleasant and meaningful moments of my life was my first Aliyah…

I was raised traditional, went to Hebrew school, could read and write basic Hebrew, and even had a Bat Mitzvah. My Bat Mitzvah, as was done those days, was on Sunday morning and along with some prayers, I chanted the haftarah. Being a woman, I wasn’t allowed up to the bima, wasn’t allowed to touch the Torah and wasn’t allowed an Aliyah. At the time I accepted it, and while I didn’t like it on purely feminist grounds, I honestly didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think I was missing anything; I just wanted to be able to do anything a ‘boy’ could do.

Now jump ahead 20 or so years. I was at a cousin’s bat mitzvah, on a Shabbat, when my family offered me an Aliyah. I had had honors in the past- responsive readings, open and closing the ark etc. However this was the first time I was offered an actual torah blessing Aliyah complete with being called up by my Hebrew name. I was pleased, but honestly didn’t think much of it other than making sure I wouldn’t trip on the way up the bima, for how different could this honor be….

However, standing there, in front of the crowded congregation and the open torah scrolls themselves, being able to recite the same blessings I knew since childhood – it was an amazing, almost intoxicating experience. While I understood the mechanics before – at that precise moment – being physically present at the torah, during a service, hearing the congregations’ murmured responses, touching the scroll with the tzitzit after the cantor finished chanting – I felt included and part of something so much larger and more powerful than me. I wasn’t just going through the motions, participating in this act wasn’t just another task or accomplishment to be checked off. I was truly awed and humbled – not just by my family’s offering me the opportunity – but with the power of the experience and the ability to have such a visceral connection to my heritage, my past and our future.

Tomorrow, Nava Herzog.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Torah Means... to Lynne Arnold

Today is Day 1 of counting the omer. We begin our count with Lynne Arnold.

The Torah means to me, God's creative spirit. He created our world and all in it; he created a law and a way of life. The light of this creation is in the Torah and in all mankind. I recognize and respect this light and creative spirit in all people and in my prayers.

Tomorrow, Stacey Yerger. Want to share your thoughts? Mail your thoughts to me directly at the synagogue.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tonight we begin the festival of Pesach. Tomorrow night, we begin counting the omer. Originally the omer was a measure of barley brought to the Temple for 50 days between Pesach and Shavuot. It also remembers the 49 days from leaving Pharaoh and slavery to our standing at Sinai, ready to receive the Torah on the 50th day.

To count our days and get ready to receive Torah again, I've asked 49 congregants to write something on this theme: What Torah means. To me.

Each day, at my blog, you can read what Torah means to your friends and neighbors. This week, we start off with:
Lynne Arnold
Stacy Yerger
Nava Herzog
Alan Siegel
Paul Mayer
Barbara Rubin
Rachelle Harmer

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting ready for Pesach: Avoid the Chametz

Pesach Message Shavuah Tov Shavuah Tov

Chag Sameach everyone. I hope you have a lovely Pesach (Passover, of course).

The kids in our school have been practicing the four questions and we’ve been talking about chametz, all those grain products Jews don’t eat during Pesach. I want to share with you some of their questions about chametz (chumetz is the Yiddish pronunciation) because while some of the kids pay attention to Pesach eating, some do not. I suspect this reflects the adult observance as well. The lessons behind Pesach eating are really good and meaningful and teach us so much about ourselves. It is a very worthwhile experience to be mindful of what we eat this coming week.

Let me answer some of the questions the kids ask in the hopes of empowering everyone to enjoy a lovely and special Pesach.

“It’s too hard.”
Well, yes, it is hard but that’s the point. Matzah is called the bread of our affliction, not the bread of our comfort. We spend a week restricting our diet so we can remember what it was like to be slaves in ancient days and we restrict our diet to remember that there are people around us this very day who don’t have enough to eat and whose choices are limited because they don’t have enough. It is a challenge, yes, but a challenge we accept upon ourselves because it is good to learn the lesson again. It is good to stand up and make our teachings tangible.

“You want me to bring matzah to school (or work)?”
Yes, of course. We don’t have to hide what we do. We should be proud. Let’s let everyone know that we are eating matzah because we are celebrating a holiday and remembering our values. They’ll respect us for that pride. And don’t forget, the full weight of American law is on our side to celebrate our religion in whatever lunch room we choose. We have no reason to fear or be ashamed. Suggestion: bring extra matzah to school or work. People usually want to try some.

“It’s too complicated.”
Okay, you’ve got me there. The rules of chametz can be excruciatingly complex. Thanks to our more fervent co-religionists, there seems to be no end to the strictness Pesach brings and while this strictness may make sense to them, some of it just seems silly to us. But we are not them. We don’t have to celebrate like they do. We can celebrate in an authentic yet progressive manner. Let me break it down for you in manner that is consistent with Reform Judaism and our religious yet sane and modern sensibility.

There are five grains we are not to eat during Pesach if they are leavened: wheat, oats, barley, spelt, rye. You can eat them if they haven’t risen, obviously (like matzah). Let’s stay away from them and anything made with them.

Kitniyot is another category of rice, beans, legumes and such. Half the Jewish world doesn’t eat them during Pesach. The other half of the Jewish world does eat them. I suggest that we join that half. If eating rice and beans will make Pesach easier, then let’s do it. That includes corn. If you will eat corn, corn syrup, beans, soybeans, and such, then really, it’s not that complicated. It’s different but different is what we’re aiming for. Why is this week different from all other weeks? Because we are living out our values. Stay away from those five grains in all their forms and you’ll be fine.

“Rice? My bubbie would plotz.”
Yeah, I know. It’s not what she did and Jews are welcome to be more strict but if the choice is my suggestion versus eating as usual, I’m suggesting my way with all due respect to your bubbie.

“And the pots? I heard I need new pots.”
We’re back to your choice. How strict do you wish to be? The idea in the Torah and then amplified in the Talmud is that we were not to possess even a speck of chametz. The concern was that some chametz might stick to a pan or be in a crevice or something. To avoid that concern, Jews had a separate set of dishes and pots. Many Jews still do. I do but remember I’m suggesting a way to make things easier.

“But why?”
Well, there is that lesson of understanding oppression. Then there is a more personal, reflective lesson.

The word chametz is related to the Hebrew word for sour or spoiled. It refers to leavened products (anything with yeast), any grains that have swollen from contact with liquid (like pasta), and any crumbs lying around (like what’s in the back of your pantry). There is a spiritual, personal message when we see chametz as a metaphor. Pesach becomes an inner spring cleaning. Think of this way:
Chametz is a collection of things once good but now needing to be cleaned out.
Chametz is spoiled.
Chametz is sour
Chametz is puffed up.
Chametz has been sitting around a long time.
Chametz is full of (hot) air.
And we don’t want any of that.

Chag Sameach, everyone. Happy Passover. A sweet Pesach to you all filled with learning and meaning and fun.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

First Blog

Hello everyone,

Reaching out in brand new ways, I'm starting a blog. I hope to use it primarily as a way to publish sermons for those who wish to read them. I hope this works out well.