Saturday, August 29, 2009

Off to the Cape for Vacation

The family and I are jetting off to fabulous Centerville, MA to have a little family vacation, including my folks and sister. I'll try to get a post in this week, but no promises.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preparing to Open the Gates: Entering Elul

Tomorrow begins the month of Elul and with it, the countdown to the yammim noraim, the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of self-reflection marked in traditional circles by the sounding of the Shofar at the end of daily services and the recitation of Psalm 27 ("God is my light and my helper, whom shall I fear?").

In our tradition, the notion of preparation is an important one. We cannot just go diving into the experience; we require some kind of trigger, some ritual or modality that readies us and puts us in the proper frame of mind. We recite a blessing before we study Torah. We engage is p'sukei d'zimra (songs of praise) and birchot hashachar (morning blessings) before we get to the 'meat' of the morning service. And we anticipate the days of Judgment and Atonement with a month of spiritual 'calisthenics'. For many of us, the highlight of Elul is the observance of Selichot, the last motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) before Rosh Hashanah. The service is the High Holidays liturgy in miniature, with references to Al Cheyt, Avinu Malkeinu and other prayers recited by the penitent and contrite of spirit. These prayers are recited late in the evening (or even midnight) and many congregations then use the opportunity to switch their Torah mantles from their year-round, 'colored' mantles to High Holy Day white, signifying the congregation's anticipation of the New Year.

There's a great article from My Jewish Learning on ways to incorporate Elul into our own daily lives, but as we prepare for the summer to end, the school year to begin again, the changing of the seasons from summer warmth to autumn chill, I encourage you to start preparing your own "New Year's Resolutions". In fact, if you have any in mind, feel free to share them below!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Yep, this time an article about the Borders Torah Study program in the Wilmington News Journal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Are you ready for some football?

By now, Michael Vick signing with the Eagles is probably old news, though the announcement overshadowed the world of sport (and pretty much everything else), which I suppose is one way to steal the headlines away from Tom Brady's return to the game after a year on the DL, but I digress.

The debate is familiar one: does talent trump character? Here is a convicted felon who did something most of us find pretty repulsive, but does that mean he should be banned from the game for all time? Especially in light of the fact that other players in the NFL have gotten away with comparative wrist-slaps for more offensive behavior?

The debate is familiar, but it's the wrong debate. The real question (and it was posed weeks ago on NPR by the Barbershop Guys) is this: are we a people (they asked 'nation') who forgives a person (after appropriate punishment and recompense) or is there no possibility of redemption? In context of the High Holidays, the question is this: there ever the possibility of tshuvah , of real repentance, and of real kaparah, real atonement, or are there some things we cannot forgive or be forgiven for, no matter how contrite or penitent the offender?

Sounds like a sermon, doesn't it? Well, it will be--next week in fact. So I'm not going to preach it now (that would ruin the fun, after all), but I'm going to kick it back to you. Riddle me this (paraphrasing L. Spence): do we rehabilitate, do we forgive, do we allow for atonement and redemption or do we continue to incarcerate, literally or figuratively? Are there some crimes or sins that are unforgivable? Who makes that determination? What does a person have to do to prove real contrition or penance? Let's hear your comments (especially 'Iggles' fans out there)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Horn Tooting.

Yeah, okay, this is total self-aggrandizement. But why not? Isn't that what the internet is all about?

Anyway, as some of you know, Michelle Miller of the Jewish Voice of Wilmington did a Community Spotlight article on my coming to the community. It's here online now, and you're welcome to give it a look-see.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So what's next?

We've been having a fantastic time studying the Haftarot at Borders on Concord Pike (rt. 202) in Wilmington on Saturday mornings, but we're fast coming to a close. August 29th will be our last session in Borders, we'll take a break for Labor Day weekend and then we move back into Beth Emeth the following week when services start back up.

In some ways, this kind of experience is very specific to a place; having the setting for our study OUT of the building makes a difference, and while I hope we'll continue to have study opportunities at coffee shops, bookstores and bars (yep, you read that right) throughout the year, I also believe there is the possibility of bringing elements of that experience back into the building.

The question is, what shall this study opportunity look like?

So, if you've come to one (or more) of the Borders study sessions, or you wanted to but couldn't make it, here's your chance to provide some feedback. What would you like to study (assuming we're sticking to Scripture and Torah here), and when? Where in the building (remembering that we're somewhat constrained by the use of space, especially when there's a bar/bat mitzvah in the sanctuary)?

Some options:

  • Parashat Hashavua: that is, looking at the weekly portion, either as a whole or a specific section (borrowing from the Conservative Movement's triennial cycle, where they chop the portion into 3 sections). This is certainly my preference, but I'm open to ideas.
  • Continuing with the model we currently have, which is looking at the Pentateuch a couple of verses at a time and doing a long, deep study of the text, taking about 7-ish years to complete the cycle.
  • Either, but don't just use Plaut (the Reform Movement's Torah: A Commentary) but other texts as well (Eitz Hayyim, A Women's Commentary, etc.).
when :
  • at 9:30-10:30am, as we currently are doing it.
  • from 9:00-10:30am, to allow for an additional half-hour and give Cantor Stanton a chance to teach from time to time
  • Have it attached or anchored by the morning service somehow.
I could list other options, but I want to hear from you--email me (or reply to this blog or on my facebook) what you'd like to see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A shehechiyanu moment

"Do you like your new neighborhood?" Asked L., the 6-year old daughter of one of our neighbors.

She was holding my dog's leash, while her younger brother E. rode his trike in the driveway and my son was playing with his fire truck.

This week, in the Torah portion Eikev, we are commanded that, when we have settled into the land and have eaten our fill and are satisfied, we must then bless the Eternal. It is the prooftext the rabbis use for birkat hamazon, the grace after meals (more on that Friday night, if you come out to CBE). But it seems to me that this text was pretty appropriate for my afternoon experience.

"Yeah" I said, while thinking that if that wasn't a moment to say shehechiyanu, the blessing we say at moments of renewal and celebration, I don't know what is.

Do you have a shehechiyanu moment that sticks out in your mind? Take a minute and share it in the comments section below!