Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky 's Vayeitze 5783 d'var Torah & song is here

I'm delighted to report that Rabbi Josh Warshawsky is now posting his 5783 Musical Torah Journey on his own website, where it's available to all.  See here.

[For search purposes, see Vayetze.]

Monday, November 28, 2022

Online (and/or televised) religious services: Pros and Cons

This isn’t a discussion about halachah (Jewish religious law), it’s a discussion about practicality.


Online (and/or televised) religious services make these services available to almost all elderly, ill, and/or disabled people.  The unfortunate exception is people with significant hearing loss—it’s almost impossible to caption a Jewish service (or other event) that’s constantly switching from Hebrew to English and back, and American Sign Language interpreters who can interpret from both English and Hebrew are relatively rare.  (EJ Cohen, where we find your colleagues?)

Online (and/or televised) religious services also provide access for folks who don’t live near a Jewish community.  People don’t always have the option of living near a synagogue, or, perhaps, the neighborhood in which they live no longer has the same demographics that it had when they moved there.  Some years ago, Lenny Solomon wrote a song about the passing of a synagogue for which he was the last High Holiday chazzan (cantor).


It’s so much easier to watch services from one’s living-room than to throw on some presentable clothing and get to synagogue in person that many people simply haven’t returned to in-person services.  My husband and I have participated in many Shabbat (Sabbath) and holiday services via Zoom or livestream, as well as in person again (since Pesach/Passover 2022), and honestly, I don’t know which is sadder:  a synagogue so small that congregants have to hold their breaths at every service, wondering whether they’ll get a minyan, or a congregation of over 500 members that can’t get an in-person minyan on a Friday night. 

Bottom line:

I don’t think it’s possible, or desirable, to put this genie back into the bottle.  Online (and/or televised) religious services are here to stay, whether or not everyone approves.  Clergy and congregants alike, let’s make this multi-access world the best it can be!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

❤️ Here's one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic.

Duets: Daniel Cainer & Chava Mirel

Locked down in London, England and sheltering in Seattle, US, two award-winning artists, collaborate across cyber-space to perform four beautiful songs.

Here's the link to the Vimeo videos.

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky's Parashat Toldot entry to his playlist 5783 Musical Journey

The text is only on Facebook, so I'm copying it (with Vimeo video link to follow):

"What is Tefillah supposed to “do”? For me, prayer is all about figuring out how to be the best version of myself every single day. What do I need? How can I be prepared? Can I set an intention for myself every day to strive to be the best Josh Warshawsky I can be today? What is daily prayer if not an exercise in self-discipline and self-reflection? If it is doing its job, prayer awakens us to walk a life of honor, honesty, goodness, and truth.

This idea is expressed most clearly through the prayer that Mar son of Ravina would use to conclude his Amidah prayer according to the Talmud. The prayer itself was so meaningful that it was placed in almost all siddurim after the Amidah for every pray-er to say three times a day:
אֱלֹהַי, נְצוֹר לְשׁוֹנִי מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה, וְלִמְקַלְּלַי נַפְשִׁי תִדּוֹם, וְנַפְשִׁי כֶּעָפָר לַכֹּל תִּהְיֶה. פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ, וּבְמִצְוֹתֶיךָ תִּרְדּוֹף נַפְשִׁי.
My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. To those who curse me let my soul be silent, and may my soul be like dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah, and may my soul pursue your mitzvot. (BT Brachot 17a)
In reading through this week’s parsha, Toldot, it almost seems as if Jacob is aware of this particular prayer as well. He struggles with his mother’s instruction to lie to his father. Jacob, the simple Torah scholar, knows this is wrong. In response to his father’s question, “Who are you, my son?” The Torah says,
וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל־אָבִיו אָנֹכִי עֵשָׂו בְּכֹרֶךָ
Said Jacob to his father, “I am Esau, your first-born” (Bereishit 27:19)
But Rashi and other commentators throughout history notice the seemingly unnecessary words, “to his father” and read the verse differently. Instead, they say that the verse should be punctuated like this:
וַיֹּאמֶר: "יַעֲקֹב", אֶל־אָבִיו: "אָנֹכִי. עֵשָׂו בְּכֹרֶךָ".
And he said (in a whisper so his father could not hear) “Jacob” and to his father, “I am. And Esau is your eldest”.
In this reading, Jacob’s words remain truthful though they still yield a deceitful outcome. Does this change how we should view Jacob? The rabbis do their best to make us think so, but I’m not so sure. Though Jacob’s tongue has not spoken “evil”, his lips are still creating deceit.
A lie of omission is still a lie. What must we learn from Jacob? Each day provides a new opportunity for us to walk through the world as a decent human being. In the end, the choices we make are ours alone to make. Though we may be pressured by outside forces (be they family, coworkers, or celebrities), though we may stumble and fall, the choices we make are ours alone to make.
Let us keep the words of this prayer close to heart and strive each day to be a better version of ourselves than the day before."
Here's the link to the video on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Questions (very belated) re Parashat Chayei Sarai

Here's the text in question (or the text that's raising questions):  Genesis, chapter 25.

The text says that Avraham (Abraham) took a wife, bore six sons with her, gave all that he owned to Yitzchak (Isaac), then gave gifts to the sons of the concubines and sent them away to the east.

First of all, why would any man in his right mind father six children when he's over the age of 100 (or however old that is in contemporary terms)?  How and/or who does he expect to take care of them?

Second, how many concubines did Avraham have?!  Hagar was a concubine, but Keturah is clearly called a wife.  

Third, does this mean that Avraham *finally* got around to giving a decent gift to Yishmael (Ishmael), whom he had sent out to the wilderness as a teenager with nothing but a container of water and some bread (a death sentence)?  "Gee, thanks, Dad.  Now that I've spent decades paying off my medical-school loans and putting my kids through college, *now* you decide that I could use some financial support?"

Who wrote this chapter?  What the heck was/were they thinking, or weren't they thinking at all?  It makes no sense.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Trying to keep up with Rabbi Josh Warshawski's 5783 Musical Journey

 Hear here!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

I'm a kid again :)

Yesterday, I was sitting in my optometrist's optical department trying to pick a frame for my new glasses and having no luck.  Some frames were too big from top edge to bottom.  Others were so wide that they looked like they were going to take off and fly away. 😀  And everything that fit came in the wrong color.  😢

Finally, the person assisting me in the hunt made a suggestion that no one has ever made before:  "You have a thin face.  [Thanks, Mom!]  Would you like to try on some Children's frames?"

Bingo!  In five minutes, I had chosen my frame.  Welcome me back to pre-school!  😀

Political satire at its best

Thanks to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for last night's tip about this Trump article published in the New York Post--I had to go to Newsweek to find it:
"On Wednesday, page 26 of the New York Post read "Been there, Don that."
"With just 720 days to go before the next election, a Florida retiree made the surprise announcement Tuesday night that he was running for president," the article read. "In a move no political pundit saw coming, avid golfer Donald J. Trump kicked things off at Mar-a-Lago, his resort and classified-documents library."
"He has stated that his qualifications for office include being a 'stable genius,'" it said. "Trump also served as the 45th president."
See Newsweek article here.

Highlights of the Hadar Shabbaton 2022

We had a wonderful time last weekend at the Hadar National Shabbaton.  I'm just posting about it now because I wasn't awake enough until now--who sleeps at a Shabbaton?  😀  Shabbos nap?  What Shabbos nap?  😀

These were the highlights for me:


Our tiny synagogue gets only about 9-16 people on the average Shabbat (Sabbath) morning.  It was a pleasure to pray and sing with literally hundreds of people.  


Our congregation consists almost exclusively of people over 50, so we rarely see any children in synagogue.  According to Rabbi Ethan Tucker, there were 600 people (from 26 states, plus Canada and Israel) at the Shabbaton, and 150 of them were children.  The kids ranged in age from tall teenagers to tiny tots.  "How old is your baby?"  "Three months."  "What a cutie!"  What a joy, to be surrounded by the next generation!


There was singing at Friday night services, at the Tisch, at Shabbat morning services, after Seudah Shlishit, and on Saturday night after Shabbat.  I had the most fun at the Tisch.  Officially, it was led by niggun (wordless song) enthusiast Rabbi Aviva Richman.  But the real stars were the young people.  Ranging in age from roughly 10 to twenty-something, they supplied the enthusiasm, the volume, and plenty of table-pounding.  😀  When we arrived, there were about 20 people in the room.  By the time we dragged ourselves away to try to get some sleep, the population had roughly tripled, with more and more chairs dragged in from the hall and the folding door to the adjoining room opened up to accommodate the growing crowd.  That was the most fun I had all weekend!

I'm looking forward to the next Hadar National Shabbaton.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Check out Rabbi Josh Warshawsky's 5783 Musical Journey

 Hear here.

Death of a sales pitch (synagogue-style)

Jan. 3, 2023 update:  I hadn't thought of this as a four-part series going all the way back to June 2022, but here it is:

~ Tuesday, June 07, 2022's A weird Shavuot
~ Sunday, November 06, 2022's A gentle warning re synagogue viability 
~ Monday, November 07, 2022's Scenes from a synagogue 
~ Part four is below.

Once upon a time, my husband served as acting rabbi of our synagogue, delivering “sermons” almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) and Pilgrimage Festival.  For 12 years, he read every d’var Torah he could find online, referred to a few books (special thanks to Richard Elliott Friedman), and developed some well-prepared divrei Torah (“sermons”), then encouraged congregational discussion. 

In more recent years, as my husband and I began to discover new Jewish “spiritual” music (see my Wednesday, November 27, 2019 post, Our goal: To help our synagogue become a singing community), he and I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some new Jewish music into the service, so we did.

But age and stress, from not only giving divrei Torah but also leading P’sukei D’Zimrah, serving as a gabbai, and chanting roughly 60% of all haftarot, finally caught up with my husband, so he retired at the end of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  We took a one-month shul-hopping “vacation” after his retirement.  This past Shabbat was the first time since Yom Kippur that we attended services at our local synagogue. 

It was . . . interesting.

My husband’s carefully-prepared d’vrei Torah and the congregation’s discussion have disappeared, replaced by a five-minute (or less) sermon.  The connection between a World-Series baseball player and Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Patriarch), anyone?

As for new music, only one of the half-dozen-or-so songs that the two of us introduced to the congregation is still included in the service.  Much to my surprise, it isn’t Debbie Friedman’s Mishebeirach, which I had thought was the congregants’ favorite.

I guess we were not very good at “selling the program.”  :(


Added later, to enable readers to follow the whole story:  See my previous post.


Here's a later note, added Jan. 3, 2023, as a reminder to me and as an explanation for my readers: This was the last straw that cause my husband to start thinking about retiring as acting rabbi.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Scenes from a synagogue

It’s Erev Purim, and a sizable crowd of adults and children have gathered for the chanting of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther.  But this year will be a bit different—a few congregants have been recruited by the cantor and taught to chant portions of the Megillah.  Some read only a few p’sukim (verses), while others read an entire chapter each.  One congregant, quite irked, chides one of the readers:  “Why are you doing this?  We *pay* people for this!” 

Fast-forward about 30 years.

Congregant A:  “Maybe you should try leading P’sukei D’Zimrah.”

Congregant B, genuinely shocked:  *I* can’t do that!


Story #1 is what led to Story #2.


Added later, to enable readers to follow the whole story:  See my previous post and my next post.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

A gentle warning re synagogue viability

A synagogue that is totally dependent on clergy is sowing the seeds of its own demise—when the synagogue can no longer afford to pay for clergy, there’s no one to lead services and/or lein Torah and/or chant a haftarah, and the synagogue is forced to close.  Having a minyan won’t help if there’s no one to lead it.  


Added later, to enable readers to follow the whole story:  See my next post.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Lo Yisa Goy - Nava Tehila (World Premiere Performance)

 We were there!  What a privilege!  Here's a link to the video.

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