Candles, Hanukkiyah, Dreidels, Gelt – blog post Dec. 2014 by Rabbi Karen Soria

  • Candles
  • Hanukkiyah
  • Dreidels
  • Gelt

 

Yup ~ I must be all ready for Hanukkah! Oh wait ~ I didn’t include reading the story again.

But what story shall I read or tell? The truth is, we know that the beginnings of Hanukkah lie in internecine conflict, as the reigning Seleucids (the governing powers in the East, following the division of Alexander the Great’s empire after his death) found ready supporters among the Jews of the land of Israel. Political intrigue, brother against brother, murder – the real Hanukkah story has it all. Over the past number of years, historians have put the whole torrid story together from the Books of the Maccabees, Josephus’s writings, and historical documents from the time from other nations.

Yet that is not the story we tell. We tell the story of the cruse of oil, found in the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem, that wondrously burned for 8 days, until new oil could be prepared for the 7-branched menorah there – a story we first read about in the Talmud, some 400 years or so after the events in question.

What gives?

Certainly by a century after events, the powerful Roman Empire brooked no opening for rebellion – although the Jews (and some others) would try. By the time of the Talmud, we had transformed our national dreams and memories into prayers and hopes for the time of redemption. It simply made no sense to glorify a war with its limited success. And so, Hanukkah became about the miracle of the oil.

The truth is, both stories have important things to teach us. Perhaps in these times of fundamentalism, when we see in both religious and secular worlds the violence and brutality that are visited on those seen as different in any way, we should study the historical story again, as a cautionary tale of the destruction that happens when we forget we are all one human family ~ no matter our race, gender, religion, sex, politics, nationality, etc. One human family.

‘Hanukkah’ comes from the Hebrew root meaning ‘education’ and ‘dedication.’ Couldn’t those ideas combined bring some light into our world?

 

  • Remembering and telling the story
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Shabbat Toldot by Rabbi Karen Soria

My colleague, Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, wrote this poem in the turmoil of this week:

 

We Pray Anyway

When I want to rail at God

prayer is the last place I want to be.

I know I’ll find my way back to God one way or another

but right now I don’t have words of my own

and the words of tradition feel empty

given that men died with those words on their lips this week.

But the Voice of Jewish tradition says I don’t have a choice;

it says there are shiva minyans to go to and Shabbat services to attend.

The Voice of Tradition says that prayer isn’t just about what I have to say or not say;

that prayer isn’t just about me.

The Voice of Tradition says that life goes on

that the community needs to gather;

that prayer is going to take place with or without me.

And I remember that even empty words can be a refuge;

that the rituals can shelter me through familiarity alone.

If I don’t believe in prayer this week, that’s okay,

but somebody else might need to pray

and they need the community around them to do it.

And if I’m a part of the community then I’d better be there.

The Voice of Jewish tradition doesn’t promise that prayer works;

it doesn’t promise that Jews won’t be slaughtered –

not even if they’re righteous,

not even if they’re praying.

The Voice of Jewish tradition doesn’t promise that prayer works;

What it says is:

Pray anyway.

 

Even before Tuesday it was an emotional week; as people talked to me about not being safe in their own homes from yelling, threats, and physical attacks; as I read reports of a mentor and model to many who worked with him or watched his shows – namely, Bill Cosby – having destroyed that trust; and upon arriving in Winnipeg, I read yet another story of broken trust, of a hospital worker having abused a patient, for when people are mentally or physically ill, they – we – are at our most vulnerable.

 

It would not have occurred to me on Monday that the sacred space of a synagogue would be so violated the next day. But it was. I felt thrown back in time, to the Middle Ages, or Rwanda.

 

You who listen to my divrei-Torah and in turn teach me – you know I think in broad overviews and metaphors. You know I always work to see more than one side, or even two sides, in any situation. And I have worked with people who have been traumatized, so I get that when one is acting out of that pain and existential fear, we can do terrible things. And I believe the Jewish people and the Palestinian people both carry a great deal of trauma.

 

But this week I have not been able to be very understanding; I have been remembering a Jewish teaching I heard after the massacre at Ma’a lot in 1974:

 

One who is merciful to the cruel will end by being cruel to the merciful. (Midrash Tanhuma)

 

It is a very profound and difficult teaching. Does it mean to be cruel to the cruel? No.

 

I think it means to recognize and to name an action for what it is.

 

I think it means that it is possible to strive for understanding without using explanations as an excuse.

 

I think it means that we are to respond with integrity and a consistent valuation of the many sides of even complex issues.

 

So when CNN publishes headlines in its rush to report that a mosque has been attacked, instead of a synagogue, a mild apology is not sufficient.

 

When the government of Jordan holds minutes of silence to remember the two killed terrorists, that is cruel.

 

When President Mahmood of Abbas condemns the attack while in the same statement condemned ‘attacks on the Al Aksa mosque and incitement by Israeli ministers,’ that is no condemnation; rather it is vile.

 

When candies and distributed, comics published, and parties held to celebrate the deaths of four rabbis butchered in a synagogue at prayer – that is evil.

 

Even the Wall Street Journal got it this week; an editorial stated that the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not the settlements but “the culture of hatred against Jews that is nurtured by Palestinian leaders.”

 

So what do we do?

 

We name these acts for what they are: murder, cowardice, hate, evil.

 

We remember that evil is a human choice, completely different from the ‘bad’ of natural disasters. This evil was done by choice.

And we must choose a different response, a different path.

 

My colleague and fellow military chaplain, Rabbi Ben Romer, writes,

 

Let us all send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones and pray for a speedy recovery of body and soul for those wounded. And then we begin the hard work of bringing a more global healing. That of Making Peace, Making Shalom…

Shalom, Salaam, Peace must be made, created, crafted. It doesn’t just happen. True Shalom means wholeness, wellness, completeness, physical and spiritual flourishing. Only our reaching out and continuing the building of peace will be able to accomplish this. It isn’t some fuzzy sweet group-hug idea. Making peace is directly connected to the demand that we pursue righteousness. We must be the malachim – the messengers, the angels of God here in this world to help Shalom bloom.

“Pray for [the] peace of Jerusalem!” (Ps. 122:6) And now, our prayers must become animated through the choices and actions in which we make peace.

 

And we will still sing and pray – because that’s what we do here anyway. That’s what we must do because no one can take that away from us. And we sing to bring comfort and solace to our soul. And we will not let anyone extinguish the Voice of Tradition, our voices, our prayers and hope.

 

“Safe within these walls” we sing. Ken yehi ratzon – so may it be God’s, and our, will.

The Penn Torah

The Penn Torah Scroll

The Penn Torah – photos copyright 2012 by Erwin Huebner:  Click here for more

Not every young artist dreams of becoming a Torah scribe, but Irma Penn did.  After 40 years, Irma has fulfilled her lifelong ambition to become a Soferet and has created the first Torah scribed by a Canadian woman.  It will be dedicated at a special ceremony to be held at Temple Shalom in Winnipeg on Shavuot, 5772, (May 27th, 2012.)

Irma is a valued member of Temple Shalom.  Irma Penn, studied to be a soferet STaM, learning the practices of writing script for sacred texts in the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem in Israel.  She has written several Megillot Esther, (the story of Purim,) as well as the Holocaust Scroll in both Hebrew and English which was read for the first time last year at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.  She is currently working on writing the strips for a set of tefillen.

Irma was selected to participate with five other women, scribes from around the world, in writing the first Torah scroll every created by women, for a congregation in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.  She is an artist, a former archivist with the Jewish Heritage Centre in Winnipeg, a poet, calligrapher, teacher and genealogist.

The Winnipeg Jewish community has a unique opportunity this winter to participate in the completion of a Torah, by the mitzvah of helping Irma to write the letters on the final page of the scrolls which are now being woven together.  It is said that to help write one letter is as if you had written the whole Torah.  You can be part of this amazing project.

You can make donations celebrating members of your family, a simcha, the memory of loved ones, an anniversary, b’mitzvah or other life cycle event. You can make donations on your own or with a group.  Look for more information and our video, on our website: http://www.templeshalomwinnipeg.ca

For further information please email penntorah@gmail.com .

Click here to download Information Package for Members

Click here to Download Information Package for Non-Members

What do you think? Ma khosh’vim?

What right do we have to personal information about others? Where is the line between public and private? Who decides?

Let me tell you about the moment when I realized that the media had (nearly) sucked me into thinking I had an intimate relationship with someone. (To be honest, what I really realized was how I had always been sucked in before and why that was wrong.)

It was through a scene on a television show, whose star was a high school classmate of mine. You see, I graduated high school with David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff. We worked together on The Fantastiks. But we didn’t socialize; I couldn’t even say we were friends. Knowing what our relationship was and was not, when the television camera moved in for those close up shots of his character’s face, I was taken aback. And I thought, “I have no business seeing him this close. I’m not this close to him!”

Where is the line between public and private? The movie and television cameras tell us we have intimate relationships with people we have never met and will never know. The tabloids titillate us with details of celebrities’ and politicians’ lives and homes, where we are strangers and which we will never enter. Often we expect public figures to be ‘perfect’ (whatever that means), and when they don’t for whatever reason – divorce, badly behaved children, adultery, messy hair and unfashionable outfit, etc. – the media is quick to condemn them. If each of us were expected to maintain appearances constantly, most of us would fail miserably.

But what about being a “role-model”? Do those of us who may be (or are) seen as role-models have an obligation to tell details of our private life because of others who may be (or are) discriminated against?

That question has been seriously raised following the death of Debbie Friedman, singer, songwriter, feminist, and – apparently, per the 18th paragraph in her NY Times obituary – lesbian. Voices have been raised condemning her for her sexuality, and voices have been raised condemning her for being private about her sexuality. For the former, her music is now ‘different’ because written by a lesbian. For the latter, her life work is now diminished because she didn’t ‘come out’ as a lesbian.

Is Stephen Hawking’s understanding of the universe less brilliant because he divorced his first wife? Is Percy Grainger’s music less beautiful because of his pedophilic writings? Is Debbie Friedman’s music less spiritual and Jewish because she loved a woman? Or ~ on the other hand ~ is anyone whom we admire a less admirable whatever because we don’t know about part of his or her ** (fill in the blank). In short, does the worth of someone’s life work depend on the personal information we know about him or her?

Debbie Friedman said, “People are more uptight talking about God, more uptight about God language and God concepts, than they are about sex.” That was from a conversation with Jonathan Mark, as reported in The Jewish Week, Jan 13.

What right do we have to personal information about a person? What does it matter? Ma khosh’vim ~ what do you think?