Posts Tagged 'uja federation of new york'

Climate Proof

In Bo, this week’s Torah portion, before the 10th plague and Israelite exodus from Egypt we read about the Korban Pesach. There we read:

3 Speak to the entire congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; 4 and if the household be too little for a lamb, then he and his next-door-neighbor shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to every man’s eating you shall make your count for the lamb. ( Exodus 12: 3-4)

Why did they do this ritual at this moment? The sacrifice has come to be understood as the yearly commemoration of our emergency exodus from Egypt, but this clearly happened before we left.

On one level it can be interpreted as an act of defiance and commitment. There are those who understood that the Egyptians saw the lamb as a deity. Killing the image of the Egyptian God would be a point of no return. This action spoke of the Israelite commitment to leave. On another level this helps us understand the power of ritual itself. The Korban Pesach is not a memory of our leaving, but rather what we did before we left.  Where the Matzah speaks of our not being ready to leave, this sacrifice speaks of our preparation for leaving. It forced them to organize themselves in eating units.

In a recent article in the New Yorker Eric Klinenberg wrote about how after Hurricane Sandy governments are working on ‘climate proofing’ cities are upgrading ‘lifeline systems’.  Some of the effort are high-tech (power, transit) and some lower intensity, such as organizing communities so that residents know which of their neighbors are vulnerable and how to assist them. In light of this article, it seems that this first Korban Pesach was low intensity means of organizing the community in preparation for their emergency exit from Egypt.

UJA Federation in partnership with many local synagogues has done amazing work in responding to Sandy, but this week I have to ask are we organized enough for the next emergency. Is our community ‘climate proof’?

Read more:

UJA Federation page about responses to Sandy @
Provide help for those in need by donating to UJA-Federation of NY’s Hurricane Relief Fund @
Learn about volunteer opportunities to help people devastated by Hurricane Sandy @

Restoring, Rebuilding,and Reconnecting

Recently I found myself thinking about the opening lines of Lamentations. There we read:
1 How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! 2 She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. ( Lamentations 1:1-2)
This is a vivid depiction of Jerusalem sitting in isolation with no one to comfort her. I know it is not Tisha B’Av. So, why am reading Lamentations?
Well I clearly have destruction on my mind. We have learned about the destruction of Hurricane Sandy from watching or reading the news media, talking to friends or relatives who have been effected, or from personal experience. In addition to all of this I have seen this unfold from the perspective of the synagogues.  My wife, Cantor Adina Frydman, is the head of  SYNERGY: UJA-Federation and Synagogues Together. She has been doing amazing work since the Hurricane working with synagogues. To ones that were not effected by the storm, synagogues like our own have served as amazing community centers giving relief and solace to community members. One exemplar of this has been Temple Beth Elohim in Park Slope which has been doing amazing relief work.In addition to this, there are around 50 synagogues which have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Last week Adina went to visit a bunch of these synagogues. She returned to share with me the horrible images. Here is a picture of one synagogue that was trying to dry out six Sifrei Torah  after a 14 foot wake went through their sanctuary.

The first thing she said to me when she got home was, “There really aught to be a blessing you can say for this.” And  there is one. It is the same blessing that you say when you hear that someone has died. We say, ” Baruch Dayan Emet -Blessed be the Judge of truth”.

And while Sandy has been a story laden with destruction, it has also been one of communities and the community as a whole coming together to rebuild. So what is the blessing we hope to say when we see a rebuilt synagogue? In the Talmud we read:

Our Rabbis taught: On seeing the houses of Israel, when inhabited one says: Blessed be God maziv gevul almana- who sets the boundary of the widow; when uninhabited, Blessed be the judge of truth. ( Berachot 58B)
What widow are we talking about? The widow from Lamentations is  the Temple and Jerusalem. And we are supposed to see our synagogue as a Mikdash Me’at– a small Temple. As Rashi explains it is written “as a widow”, not  a real widow, but as a woman whose husband’s has left her but intends to come back. When we see it restored we see that the long-lost husband has finally returned. We have a lot of urgent needs to meet. Eventually we will help these synagogues be rebuilt. We all need to do our part. One way is to contribute to UJA Federation of New York.
May we all be blessed to be restored, rebuilt, and reconnected with the ones we love.

Identity Marker

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah Portion, we read that God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to make for themselves fringes (in Hebrew, צִיצִת, tzitzit) on each of the corners of their garments. There we read:

 ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of Tekhelet. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go astray;that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God. (Numbers 15:38-41 )

From this we could learn that even today we are supposed to wear these garments,  look at the fringes, recall the commandments, and observe them.

I have had tzitzit on my mind since the UJA-Federation of New York recently presented the findings from the Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011. This was a comprehensive study of the world’s largest and most diverse Jewish community outside Israel. I have been thinking of two main issues. One is the diversity of identity markers of the  contemporary Jewish community and the second is the rise of Orthodox population. It is obvious how thinking about the tremendous growth of the Orthodox community would lead me to think about tzitzit ( that is some great branding). To relate to the second issue I will have to deal with another question from this week’s Torah portion. What is this Tekhelet? 

On this in  the Talmud  quotes Rabbi Meir as saying:

Why particularly Tekhelet [for the mitzvah of tzitzit] from among all other colored materials? Because Tekhelet is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the Holy Throne. As it says, “And they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity (Exodus 24:10),” and as it is written, “in appearance like sapphire stone was the semblance of a throne” (Ezekiel 1:26).(Sotah 17b)

So Tekhelet seems to be some shade of aqua sky blue. More important then it being a color  it is color code for a set of references that go from the mundane string adornment of cloth all the way to God on high. Over the years we lost the snail from which we harvested the dye to get this specific color. Recently there are those who believe that they rediscovered this snail, but for many more this pigment is still understood to be lost. So we are left with just the white strings to remind us of God and God’s commandments. But still for most Jews, this entire custom  is lost.  And beyond this custom, for many this costume is alienating. Yes, tzitzit  are identified as the garb of Orthodox Jews, but have the rest of us lost the thread of the idea? ( Sorry I just could not resist the pun.)

So we know that the Jewish population is growing. And while within that number the Orthodox population is on the rise, there are still many of us who are and will never be Orthodox Jews.  So while tzitzit will not work for most of ushow do we identify ourselves?  What are the visual cues in our lives that lead us to go from what we wear to a consciousness of big ideas to acting in service of  our highest ideals? First we need to identify these big ideas. When we know that we can work our way down from that throne to other ways those ideas are represented in the world to what we wear on a daily basis.

The lesson of tzitzit is that we need to tether our lived lives to the big ideas or they will get away from us. It might have been easier to talk about an idea called Jewish identity then wrestle with the fact that our larger Jewish family does not share any common practices. If we want to educate the next generation of Jews we need to get over this fear and go back to this lesson of tzitzit. Good education is not just theory and idea or just practice and dress codes. Like tzitzit it needs to connect these factors. We need to train the next generation in specific practices that are linked to big ideas. We need to stop  just talking about the nebulous concept of Jewish identity that is not manifest in behavior. And we cannot be content with practices for their own sake that are not in linked to big ideas. There is a tremendous opportunity for us to move past the old theoretical  identity markers toward new-old  real-life adornment that mark our highest ideals. What are going to be the next generation’s tzitzit?

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 245 other subscribers

Archive By Topic

%d bloggers like this: