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Shama Llama: Yadid’s Poem for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Yadid’s Poem that he delivered on the occasion of Yishama’s Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Shama Llama
First the OG, then the Remix
You were born in 2006
Next to the arch, Saint Louis
Suddenly, New York, a city of bricks

once you were a fetus
Now you are a genius
Sleepless that’s your weakness
Allergic to tree nuts

Sudden, you grew up
Sprouting like a tulip
Your hair blew up
Tying your shoe up
Sure not to screw up
Shots you threw up
Next one queued up
Fancy moves brewed up
Opponents you chewed up
Rising, bro you up
Being a proud Jew, yup
Deaf to hate spewed up
Never feeling used up
Cause when you shoot up
Haters know they screwed up
Bro you still goof up
But when you cued up
You ready to swoop up
Never a crude shlump
Never stop, bro speed up

Not a preteen
now thirteen
A living meme
To fast, unseen
You use gasoline?
Handles supreme

I aspire to be you, Shama
Never causing drama
A leader, like Obama
Handles a diorama
A creator, like Brahma
Wild hair, like a llama
Acting like your in nirvana
I’m a panda, your an iguana

I am so proud of my children.

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Yadid’s Speech for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Yadid’s Speech to his brother on the occasion of Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah:

Hi everyone, thanks for joining my family in the celebration of my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. Many, if not most of the people in this room are aware that my brother is a baller, but he wasn’t always that way. In fact, he used to be trash at ball. But, as time progressed, he realized that basketball was his passion. This realization hit him over the Winter, so he was unable to work on his shooting outside. Though he hit this roadblock, he wouldn’t let it get in his way. So every day for around half a year he took take a basketball to the basement and practiced and expanded his dribbling skills. After this phase he proceeded to go to Highlands, the public basketball courts near our house in order to play basketball with other people, working on his skills. He still goes to those court to this day, from when he gets home to sundown in order to get better.

The great sage of Ancient China, Master Shifu once said  “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are.” This seemed to be the concept my brother was following. Shama, I know that as the older brother I’m supposed to set an example for you, but for me the tables are turned. I strive to have the same persistence and passion that you have, to be as dedicated as you have been. Because of your passion, our squad now goes to play basketball almost every week, abba fixed his shoulder up and exercises almost every day now,  you put your mind to something, and it changed everyone around you.

I am so proud of my children.

Merry Shavuot?

Recently a non Jewish colleague wished me a happy holiday and than surprised me with an apology. She was worried that it might not be appropriate to wish someone a happy Shavuot. Is Shavuot a joyous or sad holiday? Be it a harvest festival or the celebration of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, Shavuot is clearly a happy holiday. But her apology did leave me thinking. Most of calendar a is filled with they-tried-to-kill-us-and-failed-so-lets-eat holidays.  Maybe for Jews our surviving the never ending cycle of violence is the  definition of a happy holiday. So is Shavuot a merry holiday? 

This question gets spelled out graphically in the Gemara in Shabbat. There we learn:

“And they stood under the mount” ( Exodus 19:17)  Rabbi Avdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: This [literal reading ‘under’] teaches that the Holy One, blessed be God, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,’If you accept the Torah, all is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ Rabbi Aha ben Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah [It provides a legitimate excuse for non-observance, since it was forcibly imposed in the first place.] Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahashverosh [the King from the Purim story in the book of Esther] , for it is written, “[the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.]”( Esther 9:27) [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had accepted long before. ( Shabbat 88a)

While the Gemara reframes the acceptance of the additional commandments instituted around the holiday of Purim to be an acceptance of the entirety of the Torah, it starts by framing Shavuot as another violent holiday. In this context Shavuot is not unique in terms of it being a celebration of our near brush with extinction, it is unique that the the assailant here is God God’s self. Is why we get rewarded by eating cheesecake?

Image result for cheesecake MERRY SHAVUOT. Stay safe and have a joyous holiday.

The End of Purity

In BeChukotai, this week’s Torah portion, we read about reward and punishment. If we follow the laws we get rain and if not no rain. This week also marks the end of the book of Leviticus. 

As we come to the end of the book I think back to the start of it. On the start of Leviticus there is a fascinating midrash that says, “Rav Assi said that young children began their Torah studies with Leviticus and not with Genesis because young children are pure, and the sacrifices explained in Leviticus are pure, so the pure studied the pure.”(Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

I understand why people might think that the story of Genesis is too nuanced to be a young child’s initiation to learning. But, just because we are not starting off with the Garden of Eden does not mean that we should start off with all of the blood and gore and guts of the sacrifices of Leviticus.

The word “korban” (sacrifice) derives from the word that means “that which is brought close.” Bringing a korban was not just the process of giving something up to the Tabernacle or Temple, but the process of becoming closer. Maybe this is what we need to be teaching our children.

What is the implications of coming to the end of Leviticus? There is a certain purity in the belief that everything should be fair. I would suggest that belief in reward and punishment is itself part of, but also maybe the end childhood. As we mature we realize that the world is not so simple. 

Hazak Hazak V’Nithazek– From strength to strength we move on to the book of Numbers and the next phase of education. 

Love Your Brother: Interdependence on Independence Day

This is a very busy time of year. Last week we had Yom HaShoah and today we commemorated Yom HaZikaron and tonight we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. To end off this cycle of anguish and exhilaration, this Shabbat we read Kedoshim. There we read:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your brother. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

While the Golden Rule is supposed to be a guideline for all of society, amidst this week we cannot help but understand it in the unique national context of brethren. This week I saw a tear-jerking video on the tension between brothers that you should watch:

This gets to the foundation of our being brethren, but did we need to learn it from Adolf Hitler? And what will our understanding of who we are as a nation be when there are no more survivors in our midst to remind us?

If we did not learn this lesson from our Torah portion, we could also have learned it from any number of other places  in our tradition. I just found an interesting take on this Golden Rules by the Kav HaYashar,  Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover  a 18th Century teacher of Mussar. He wrote:

It is written, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The Sages have remarked that this verse is a fundamental principle of the Torah (Toras Kohanim, Parashas Kedoshim 4). And there is no greater display of love than the mandatory rebuking of one’s Jewish brother if he sees in him some unseemly matter, that is, a sin or transgression. For the souls of all Israel are intimately connected to one another. (Kav HaYashar 5:1)

How can we be in a deep relationship with people who act differently without being so “judge-itive”? The nature of caring about people is caring about how they act. In a profound way our actions reflect on each other. This intimate connection should also be measured by how much we respect each other’s choices. This is the challenge for every family, nation, and our world today. This starts with how we model the bounds of respect with our siblings and children. We should be blessed to not need Hitler for this.

Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel’s Independence Day and a day for us  to celebrate our interdependence as a Jewish People. Chag Sameakh

Sweet Sweet Candy: A Thought for Yom HaShoah

Recently I was talking with my dear friend Rabbi Seth Braunstein about our synagogue’s Women’s Prayer group. They were having an issue in that the children were demanding to have a Candy Lady there, just as we have Chaim,our beloved Candy Man, in the regular service. The question was if the new Candy Lady should get the candy from Chaim Ezra. Why would Chaim Ezra pay for their candy?

Image result for dum dum lollipops

In thinking about this question I reflected back to a blog I posted back in 2011. There I wrote:

Our 7-year-old son, Yadid, recently went to the dentist who informed us that he has three cavities. My first response to the news was to cut the volume of candy in his diet. But how can I deprive him the experience of getting that lollipop from the “candy man” in our synagogue on Shabbat? The “candy man” is Chaim Ezra.  He is a saintly elderly man who survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forest.

My wife and I have chosen to not tell our children about the Holocaust until they are older. Too often our community has chosen to teach the Holocaust as an expedient educational route.  It takes a lot less time to teach someone how Jews died then how to live Jewishly.  My wife and I choose not to teach the latter partly because we don’t see the added value of educating our young children about anti-Semitism.  Why would I want my children to know anything accept for the sweetness of Jewish life?

For someone like Chaim Ezra who has tasted the bitterness of true hatred in his life, I cannot imagine denying him the joy of bringing joy to the next generation. We live in a time of tremendous freedom. While the Holocaust will always be in our memory, as the years pass there will fewer and fewer survivors. I often worry that our youngest, Emunah, might not have memories of knowing a survivor.

In commemoration of Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance day, I encourage everyone to introduce their children to a survivor and find a new way to make Jewish life sweet. And it can never hurt to brush. ( Saidtomyself.com April 29, 2011)

Eight years later we all feel blessed to have Chaim Ezra in our lives. It seems like just yesterday, but that 7 year old is now 15. And instead of my insecurity about Emunah having a relationship with him, Libi has taken her place as our youngest. I do get special joy of bringing her to synagogue to get a lollipop from the Candy Man. And as I reflect on today being Yom HaShoah, I look back at this post and ask myself, “How naïve was I?” From Pittsburgh to Poway and from Christchurch to Sri Lanka, we are regularly discussing Antisemitism and other acts of terrorism that have become the new normal. As sad as I am for our society and my children to witness the reemergence of this hatred and heightened levels of terrorism in our world, I have a different level of sadness for Chaim Ezra. While no one should experience such hatred in their lives, knowing what Chaim Ezra has gone through it is excruciating that he has to do it again. Were all of those times we said, “Never Again”, just platitudes?

We commemorate Yom HaShoah on the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We choose to create memory around our fighting back. At this moment I feel particularly moved by the words of Rabbi Yisroel  Goldstein the Rabbi of Chabad of Poway. He said, “I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by terror. Terror will not win.” We need to dig in deep and do the real work of making sure that hate and terror never beat out our love and devotion. While we need to teach about the Holocaust and Antisemitism, we cannot allow terror to fool us into taking the expedient educational route.  In his eulogy for Lori Gilbert-Kaye Rabbi Goldstein quoted the Rebbe and said, “Victims live in the past, but survivors live in the future.”  While we need to reinvest in safety and security in our community, we cannot cower in fear or let that investment replace investing in the joy of living Jewishly.

With that I return to the question that Rav Seth shared with me. Why would this Holocaust survivor want to pay for all of the candy? As it turns out, Chaim Ezra pays for the candy with money he gets from German reparations.

A month and a half ago on Purim we read about our salvation from another genocide in the Persian Empire. There we we read on Purim: 
As the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month that was reversed for them Mi’Yagon l’Simcha – from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day-to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. (Esther 9:22)
There is a special profound feeling that comes from a reversal of sadness into happiness. Chaim Ezra and all of our survivors deserve this kind of sweetness in their lives. We all have a lot of work to do to ensure that we can reverse all of the grief of this last year into joy. We need this for ourselves and our children. And I still think it could not hurt to brush.

Let My People… Wait, What?

Of all of the thousands of things Moshe says in the Torah, his most line famous by far is, “Let my people go.” But when we look at the actual text of Exodus and read what Moshe says to Pharaoh, it surprising and complex:
Afterward Moshe and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:

‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness’… The God of the Hebrews has manifested Himself to us. Let us go, we pray, a distance of three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God…” (Exodus 5:1-3 )

Three days?! Why would Moshe ask for a three day holiday instead of liberation from slavery? Besides being an easier pill for Pharaoh to swallow, what could he have been thinking?

Have you ever tried something new, only to discover that you didn’t realize the full potential of what you were missing? Though I doubt the Israelites were enjoying their lives as slaves, it’s the only life they had ever known. No one but Moshe knew anything about a life of freedom. Before the Israelites had their first taste of actual freedom, Moshe understood the importance of helping them imagine what their new life would be like. Experiencing the juxtaposition of slavery and freedom would make it perfectly clear – their new life would be a utopia.

Anyone who has ever spent time at Jewish camp knows this to be true. Camp is truly a utopia – a place of ideal perfection. Camp is where many of us experience freedom on our own for the first time. After each summer, we return back to reality and wonder what life would be if we could spend every day of the year at camp with our friends laughing, singing, and dancing. But in reality, camp would not feel like the utopia it is if it were not for the ten other regular months of the year.

Jewish camp gave me that first taste of the way my life could be. This Passover, when I ask myself how am I doing at being the Moshe in my life, I think of how I can grant the gifts of camp – of freedom and discovery. This Passover, let’s all be grateful for the utopias we have in our lives.

-rereposted in FJC blog 


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