Archive | March, 2019

Pain medications for terminal patients

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently came across an interesting moral dilemma. A terminal cancer patient in severe pain was on a very high dosage of opioids. He requested more of the medication for pain control. The physician knew that increasing the dose of the medication would mean the patient would stop breathing, and die. Yet, not increasing the medication would result in the continuation of severe pain, with the patient’s death in a few weeks, anyway. Essentially, administering the higher dose of pain medication would kill the patient; is this allowed?
Thanks,
Yuri, M.D.
Dear Dr. Yuri,
Your question is a very difficult one to decide on a purely moral, or philosophical basis, but one for which we have clear guidelines from our rabbinical leadership, based upon principles taught in the Talmud.
We’ll start with a different situation: A patient has a condition that will only allow him to live temporarily. Jewish law defines this as dying within a year. A treatment is available that, if successful, will enable him to live for many more years; if not successful, it could kill him immediately. Jewish law teaches that the doctor may ethically and morally administer that treatment, and even should do so, although it runs the risk of killing the patient. One can and should run a lethal risk to potentially save a patient’s life.
The authorities apply this reasoning, albeit with a caveat, to a question similar to yours: A patient is terminally ill, has no hope for recovery and is suffering great pain. To administer more pain killer will certainly relieve his pain, but could stop his breathing, causing him to die. In this case, the risk we are taking is not to potentially cure the patient, but to relieve his pain and suffering. Would the above reasoning apply even in this situation?
Rabbi M. Feinstein ob’m ruled that not only can the doctor administer the medicine but is obliged to administer the pain medication despite the risk (Igros Moshe Ch. M. 2:73). Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling is predicated upon the understanding that pain is not innocuous; it is not only a symptom of another condition. Pain is a condition in its own right. The suffering and despair it can cause could render the pain, itself, as a lethal condition. Every doctor knows how profoundly the mental state and emotional well-being of a patient can affect the overall medical condition and the mortality of his sickness, especially as it pertains to intense pain.
We also find a precedent for this in the laws of Shabbos, which require us to desecrate the holiness of Shabbos to save Jewish life. When a patient is deathly ill, one is allowed to desecrate Shabbos to perform actions that will calm the patient or make him/her more comfortable. This is true if they improve the patient’s mental state, even when those actions do not directly affect his/her condition. The Talmud considers the mental state to be directly related to the mortality of the condition.
Rabbi Feinstein concludes that a patient should never be allowed to suffer uncontrollably, even when treating that suffering means a risk of mortality. This ruling, however, carries two important stipulations:
• The medication is given to control the pain, not to kill the patient. We are only allowed to take a risk to take the patient out of his or her suffering, not to administer a medication that would clearly kill the patient or with the intention of hastening his or her death.
• The medication must be administered by an expert, who will know how to manage the therapy in a way that will minimize the risk of the suppression of breathing; this is not an area to be trusted to a student or amateur.
Your situation would, then, not be permitted, as we never have the license to take the life of a patient, and you said that the physician knows the dose requested by the patient will take his life.
Although watching the suffering of another is a profoundly difficult thing to endure, it is an area where we need to entrust the suffering of the patient to the just judgment of God, whose ways we do not always understand. We well know we cannot switch roles with Him.

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Keeping the ‘community’ in Judaism

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Last Shabbat morning, I deserted my Conservative home synagogue to attend a special event at Kehillat Chaverim, a group/place I knew nothing about before I was lucky enough to be invited.
I consider that my background gives me the ability to participate with comfort in any Jewish setting. As a child, I went to Sunday school in a Conservative-bordering-on-Orthodox shul, attended holiday celebrations at a fully Orthodox one, and later taught at both. Later still, I taught in several Reform temples, but my home synagogue was one that served a small community where all its Jews were members, regardless of observance levels. However, this latest was my first experience with a group of worshippers who were not formally movement-affiliated.
I learned that this group — somewhere around 35 family units, which counts singles as well as couples with or without children — grew from people who used to worship together on Shabbat on the Levine Academy campus. But, one family offered its home as the group’s headquarters. The home has a large room, fully detached from the house’s main entrance, and it has become a true shul.
It contains an ark, which houses two Torahs, along with books and shelves for the knowledgeable lay leadership; a bimah table and lectern; chairs that can be moved and set in various ways; and tables that come out of a closet when the room is reconfigured for the community lunch that follows every service.
Interestingly, the minhag somehow manages to be both fully traditional and fully egalitarian at the same time. Women as well as men bless and read Torah, a basket of kippot sits on a shelf near the entryway, and meals are completely kosher. I was told that, if a family’s kitchen is not kosher, it can purchase the necessary food and prepare it in the kosher kitchen of another member.
I suspect many large congregations began this way, but with growth came the inability to continue without professionalization and all that means: rabbinic rather than lay leadership, dues and/or other fixed contributions, permanent rather than flexible physical accoutrements, etc. The feel of a large family can too easily be lost with largeness. But here, that feeling is exactly what exists.
But I want you to know why I was invited. Certain people thought I would enjoy a special program: the usual d’var Torah was shortened to allow time for a very creative presentation: A Latke-Hamantaschen debate.
The two presentations were clever, fun. But far more than that, in true Jewish tradition, the single representative for each side managed to bring to bear real wisdom from our Jewish past. Each woman had researched, discovered that scholars and sages offered many opinions on these subject matters, and put forth solid knowledge, as well as humor. And, of course, when tables came out of the closet and the room was reconfigured for lunch, both latkes and hamantaschen were on the menu. The first, with the usual choices of applesauce and sour cream, and the second in a multitude of variations, including chocolate dough and mint and lemon curd fillings, as well as what is more usually expected.
This is not a comparison, but a realization My son married into a very traditional family whose little shul had the same “feel,” even though it was Orthodox and non-egalitarian. So I returned to a long-ago memory, when I sat with all the women, our heads covered, to watch all the priestly descendants among the men rise and come forward to bless the congregation. Large tallitot covered their bodies and heads, hiding their faces, but we could see their hands extended, their fingers forming the biblical sign only they could give in conveyance of its true power. Their feet were bare, in the humility of worship.
I felt that same power and humility at Kehillat Chaverim.

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‘Hans & Sophie’ to debut in Fort Worth

‘Hans & Sophie’ to debut in Fort Worth

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Photo: Courtesy of Illana Stein
At the Alliance Jewish Theatre conference in Philadelphia last fall are, from left, Yoni Ven, Deborah Yarchun, Illana Stein, Jeremy Aluma, Arianne Barrie-Stern. Yarchuan and Stein, who were selected to be participants at the conference, collaborated with Sean Hudock on the script of “Hans & Sophie.” The play, which Stein is directing, will debut in Fort Worth March 30.

By Nicole Hawkins
Special to the TJP

The true story of two young students who sacrificed their lives leading an underground resistance against the Nazi regime has been told for decades, but now it’s being re-imagined into a production set to run in Fort Worth the last weekend of March.
“Hans & Sophie” tells the story of German siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, initially part of the Hitler youth, who had a change of heart and went on to lead a nonviolent grassroots movement against Hitler’s regime called The White Rose. They were executed as a result. The play is inspired by the siblings’ personal letters, coded correspondences and diaries.
The play was co-created by director and Fort Worth native Illana Stein, playwright, and Austin native Deborah Yarchun and actor Sean Hudock. The trio wrote the play together, with Yarchun leading the writing process.
“Hopefully this true story and the work we’ve done to bring it to life onstage will touch audiences in a way that inspires action and resistance toward present-day leaders whose abuse of power has led to systematic oppression of others,” Hudock said.
“Hans & Sophie” received a residency with the Drama League in New York City, which is when Stein said she, Hudock and Yarchun transformed “Hans & Sophie” from a sketch into a play.
The shows in Fort Worth will be the first time the play is performed in front of an invited audience, and Stein said she and her fellow playwrights look forward to receiving feedback from Fort Worth audiences in order to adapt the production for its run in New York.
“There’s a vibrant Jewish community in Fort Worth along with a great artistic community,” Stein said. “So it’s a great place to bring this kind of story to.”
Yarchun said it’s important to show audiences characters who stood up against hate crimes and hateful rhetoric like Hans and Sophie, especially with its rise in society today.
“They understood [hateful rhetoric] on a deep level and chose to speak against it,” Yarchun said.
Stein said she finds it inspiring that horrible tragedies like the one portrayed in “Hans & Sophie” can lead to young people standing up and fighting for what they believe. Stein’s cousins were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when 17 students and faculty members were killed in a mass shooting last year. The activism seen from students in Parkland after the tragic loss of their peers and teachers reminded Stein of the bravery shown by Hans and Sophie as they resisted Hitler’s regime.
“They chose to fight against something that they thought was atrocious,” Stein said. “I find it very inspiring that it’s the youth that spoke up.”

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Temple Shalom teaches kids all about weddings

Temple Shalom teaches kids all about weddings

Posted on 22 March 2019 by admin

Photo: Lisa Rothberg
Gabe Strauss, Jori Kohleriter, Drew Galardi, Layla Lazurus enjoy the chair dance with their Teddy Bear bride and groom.

 

Temple Shalom has been throwing Teddy Bear weddings for years, but this year’s wedding ceremony Feb. 24 took things to a new educational level. Second-graders, under the leadership of teacher Tamara Farris, learned about Jewish weddings and passionately planned a dream wedding for “Bear Baruch” (Hebrew for blessed) and “Bear Nireet” (Hebrew for flower). Each student played a role: bride, groom, rabbi, bridesmaid, glass holder and of course, chuppah holders. The children and their bears dressed in their finest clothes and decorated the reception hall. They wrote and decorated their own ketubah, which including important rules of marriage such as, “Be nice to each other, always have a pet, never fight.”
The wedding party and Rabbi Ariel Boxman were joined in the sanctuary by religious-school students, friends and family. The bridesmaid and bride walked down the aisle to music played by the Temple Shalom Kazoo Band, The Relative Minors. The wedding party chose seven original blessings for the wedding bears, and after a symbolic exchange of rings, apple juice, vows and the breaking of the glass, the bears were officially married.
At the reception, the bride and groom entered into a room filled with bubbles. Festivities included the traditional chair dance, hora and bottle dance. The Relative Minors performed their favorite melodies including, of course, the top of the song chart, “Baby Shark” (with original verses of Rabbi Shark, Bride Shark and Groom Shark). The highlight of the reception was when students and parents decorated their own cupcakes.

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In the US, Izakil Goldin’s artistic talent blossoms

In the US, Izakil Goldin’s artistic talent blossoms

Posted on 22 March 2019 by admin

Photo: Goldin Family
Izakil and Lora stand at Izakil’s latest exhibition at Cleo’s Creations in Hulen Mall in December.

By Nicole Hawkins
Special to the TJP

Paintings of flowers, still lifes and portraits fill the walls of Izakil and Lora Goldin’s Fort Worth home. But the paintings aren’t simply decor — they’re the fruits of Izakil’s labor.
As he sits at his dining room table with his framed works of art hanging behind him and Lora by his side, he speaks of a place so different from his current home he compares it to the moon.
Izakil was born in Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1936, where he says poverty, starvation and war were the norm for his family. He was always drawn to art, but supplies were beyond his family’s means. His teachers encouraged him to instead pursue science, and Izakil eventually worked as a lab technician testing cement.
Lacking paint supplies, Izakil indulged in his love for the fine arts by playing the mandolin and writing Russian poetry.
Izakil, Lora and their son Jay immigrated to Richmond, Virginia in 1979, where they lived until moving to Fort Worth in 2011. Izakil began painting while in Richmond, his work exhibited at many places throughout the city. Since moving to Fort Worth, his work has been exhibited at Beth-El Congregation, of which he and his wife are members, and most recently, at Cleos-Creations Art Gallery in Hulen Mall in Fort Worth.
In addition to painting, Izakil continues to write Russian poetry as he did in his childhood. He has written two books of poems, many of which are filled with jokes and satire ranging in topics from his life in the Soviet Union to politics.
“Painting, believe it or not, is sometimes physical work,” Izakil said. “I still enjoy it, but sometimes it makes you angry or upset. But [poetry], I always love.”
Izakil says he paints whenever he feels inspired. Sometimes he will go a year without painting and other times he will paint every day. He describes painting as a distraction of sorts, a way to make life better.
“In Russia we have a saying — in English it’s ‘Old age is no fun,’” Izakil said. “This art helps me to forget about age, at least for a short time.”
“He said in Minsk [Belarus] we had better mirrors,” Lora added with a laugh.
Over a dozen of Izakil’s paintings ranging from landscapes to portraits will be on display at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth beginning May 1, with 30 percent of profits donated to Beth-El. The artist can be contacted by email at lora5020@att.net.

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Before, after NYC Half, Ruttenberg a winner

Before, after NYC Half, Ruttenberg a winner

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Photo: Ruttenberg family
“She took the plunge to participate alone and represent our chapter and we really appreciate her,” Leah Dubrawsky, director of Friendship Circle of Dallas, said of Shira Ruttenberg.

By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP

There were 30,678 runners registered to participate in the 2019 United Airlines half-marathon Sunday morning, and the lone ranger representing Friendship Circle of Dallas was 16-year-old Shira Ruttenberg.
Starting at 7:30 a.m. in Brooklyn, Shira, who trained four times a week, traversed the city in the NYC Half. Across the FDR Memorial Bridge, to 42nd Street, she crossed the finish line in Central Park 13.1 miles later, her heart even more full.
“This is my first real race and I’m really excited,” said Shira before the competition. She had family and friends cheering her on.
“I loved all of the energy at the start of the race. Seeing the people cheering us on along the route was amazing. It was so fun seeing my mom, sister, cousin and Mendy (Leah Dubrawsky’s brother) along the route.”
Surpassing her goal, she hopes to raise more, At presstime, with $2,287 Shira is in fifth place of all Friendship Circle, International participants. The majority of the money she raised will support Friendship Circle of Dallas.
“I love what Friendship Circle stands for and I’ve absolutely made a lot of friends, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun in the program,” said Shira, who serves on the Friendship Circle of Dallas board. “For the past two years, I have enjoyed music classes, baking, arcades and so much more with my friends in the ‘Circle.’”
Team Friendship, of the Friendship Circle, International, affiliated worldwide with Chabad Lubavitch, runs the miles every day of the year, spreading their mission that every individual is deserving of love, respect, and most importantly, friendship. Around the world, the Friendship Circle brings happiness and companionship to children and adults with special needs by celebrating their individuality, as well as bringing energy, support, and peace of mind to their families.
The Friendship Circle of Dallas hosts programs and activities throughout the year. On May 19, the Dallas chapter will host its first Walk 4 Friendship, and Shira has raised more than $2,000 to participate in that event.
“Shira is awesome and she comes from a cool family who all care,” said Leah Dubrawsky, director of the Dallas Friendship Circle. “She took the plunge to participate alone and represent our chapter, and we really appreciate her support and all we’ll be able to share with our teens because of her fundraising. She’s really a very special person.”
The Columbus, Ohio native is the daughter of Abigail and Yoni, and sister of Aliza. The family are members of Chabad of Dallas and Shira is a camper of Camp Stone in Pennsylvania. A sophomore and Student Ambassador at Fusion Academy, Shira participates with Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities and the Dallas Chapter of the National Council of Synagogue Youth.
In her free time — rare for this busy teen — she enjoys baking, reading, traveling, ice skating and swimming. In the summer, she will travel to Israel as a part of Yad b’Yad, Yachad’s inclusive leadership experience.
Shira began making mitzvahs as a second-grader at Akiba. She helped spearhead collections, which Judy and son Jacob Wisch delivered to the community of Joplin, Missouri, after its devastating tornado. She’s has shared in many food drives for the homeless, for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and she regularly delivers homebaked goods to the police and fire departments near her home.
“Her father and I have always taught the girls from when they were little that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,” said Abigail. “Shira is the first one to bake cookies or a challah and bag it up with a pretty ribbon for her teachers ‘just because.’ Her heart is always in the place of giving.”
Shira, who began fundraising and training for the half-marathon last summer, sent a letter to friends and family, used social media, and turned to her school for support.
“Shira has shared her passion for Friendship Circle and we are so excited and thrilled to have been able to help her reach, and surpass, her goal,” said Tanya Goforth, head of school at Fusion Academy. “Supporting her through this absolutely meets the compassion and tolerance education that Fusion Academy provides. Beyond the academics, we absolutely believe and want to support our students to be better and more caring human beings.”
Shira loves what Friendship Circle stands for.
“Everyone needs a friend, and Friendship Circle reminds us that we are like a circle with no beginning or end; everyone is welcome and accepted,” she said. “I just want to share that message.”

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Laura Miller aims for Dallas District 13 seat

Laura Miller aims for Dallas District 13 seat

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Laura Miller
Laura Miller with her husband Steve Wolens and children, from left, Lily, Max and Alex.

 

By James Russell
Special to the TJP

Whether as mayor, councilwoman or investigative reporter, Laura Miller has never shied away from taking on Dallas City Hall. Now, the two-time breast cancer survivor and Dallas’ third female Jewish mayor is the first former mayor to run for Dallas City Council.
That’s at least according to the city employee who accepted her paperwork for City Council District 13 two hours before last month’s filing deadline. At the least, she’s running for office again after 12 years in private life, spending time with her husband, former State Rep. Steve Wolens, a Democrat, and watching her three children grow up.
She enjoyed private life so much she first asked potential challengers.
But they declined.
“The last thing I thought I’d do is run,” she said.
Miller was elected to city council in 1998 from Oak Cliff before running a successful campaign for mayor in 2002. But she’s now running for the zig zagging north Dallas district currently represented by Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, who declined to run for mayor. (Mayor Mike Rawlings is term-limited.) She may be running for a different district, in a different role, and in a Dallas different from a decade ago, but she is running on the same platform as her previous pro-neighborhood, pro-infrastructure campaigns. (“Police, parks, pools and potholes,” as she said when she was mayor.)
She really wishes she had more time.
“Ideally you would get five to six months to run a campaign. But instead we get nine weeks,” she said.
The district stretches from Central and Hillcrest, dips into Lemmon and includes Vickery Meadows.
“It’s a varied district,” she said.
“Unlike running for mayor,” which includes campaigning on major issues such as pension reform to bread and butter issues like potholes, “running for council gives you a different perspective,” she said.
She bought a house in the district after she was elected to the city’s top post in 2002. She then moved to the district in 2004, citing a long commute for her children to get to school, much less from Oak Cliff to City Hall.
Even after she left office, her council members shared her cautious approach to encroaching development.
“The council members were homeowner-centric,” she said. Many of those predecessors have endorsed her, including three of Gates’ predecessors Mitchell Rasansky, Donna Blumer and Sid Stahl.
“But the last six years, Councilwoman Gates has taken the opposite approach,” she said. “She lets developers file zoning cases for anything they want to build, no matter how inappropriate or how much a neighborhood opposes it. We’ve had six years of nonstop fighting between homeowners and City Hall,” Miller said. “Gates will continually tell people she hasn’t made up her mind on a project, so homeowners and developers battle — sometimes for years — right up until projects get a city council vote. It’s exhausting and disrespectful to homeowners. That is the reason I’m running.”
One case in particular involves dense development just south of Preston Center. Single-family homeowners are pushing back since St. Michael & All Angel Church on Douglas Avenue entered a joint venture agreement with Lincoln Property Company to build hi-rise apartments and an office tower on vacant land next to the church. Opponents drafted a petition and made yard signs demanding “No More Towers in Preston Center.” They are calling instead for focus on easing traffic congestion.
Miller points out those recommendations — fixing traffic and infrastructure needs before any new development is approved — were first outlined in a series of recommendations made in the Northwest Highway and Preston Road Area Plan. The plan was developed by a panel of homeowners and developers selected by Councilmember Gates and unanimously adopted by the Dallas City Council in January 2017. Miller served on that panel
Miller’s opposition is not to density or development alone but irresponsible development — that is, new development without regard to infrastructure needs, walkability, design, green space, street and side yard setbacks and landscaping.
“How do we sustain our most stable neighborhoods without common-sense development guidelines?” she asked. “The community deserves a choice in who represents them now and a healthy debate about the future of the district.”
Her campaign treasurer Doug Deason, president of Deason Capital Services, agreed.
“The developers have had the upper hand in District 13 for the past six years, and homeowners and small businesses are tired of City Hall ignoring their pleas for help,” he said.
Gates defended her record when asked about Miller’s issues.
“I’ve got a solid record of leading for basics like streets, infrastructure and police, and that’s where I’m focused going forward,” Gates told The Dallas Morning News. “That’s why I chose to run for re-election — to keep leading for these basics and to keep our neighborhoods strong. We’re on the right path, and we need to stay the course.”
But Miller said the potential multistory buildings around Preston Center were not her only issue.
“I noticed west of Midway, we have nice neighborhoods but no good retail,” she said. Many residents have to go east of the Dallas North Tollway to shop for the basics. Streets are crowded with fast-moving traffic, sidewalk crossings are nonexistent or unsafe for pedestrians, and up-zoning on the edges of single-family neighborhoods threatens their character and tranquility.”
“A lot of these neighborhoods haven’t fought these cases,” she said, “because when homeowners want to fight, they don’t know who to call.”
Her other issues for running call to mind her other mayoral priorities: addressing crime, homelessness and the morale of police and fire.
Homelessness is a personal issue. She participates in The Ladder Project through her synagogue Shearith Israel.
The concept is simple: 1,000 families help a homeless person achieve self-sufficiency financially and socially. Working with The Bridge, a homeless center in downtown Dallas, they successfully helped a 58-year-old man move into his own apartment. They are now preparing to work with a second, yet-to-be-identified individual.
For Miller, the project may just help one person at a time. “But we can’t do nothing,” she said. “My heart is with this project,” as much as her eyes are back on City Hall.

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Simple song to guide your family’s choices

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
When we talk with our children about faith in God, they ask us so many questions that we often cannot answer. Purim, Passover — all the holidays with so many lessons for life. We are always looking for the answer. Judaism is a great religion with so many guidelines and things that we are supposed to do.
There are 613 Commandments — that’s a lot of things to do. Throughout our history, prophets, judges and rabbis have tried to sum up what we should do to lead a good life and do good for others. The prophet Micah summed everything up in three simple things to do, but these things include everything. Here is a wonderful and simple song that will help us remember.
Only This (Micah 6:8)
By Josh Zweiback and Steve Brodsky
What does God demand of you? Only this, only this. (2)
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God (2)
U-mah A-do-nai do-resh mim-cha
Ki im a-sot mish-pat v’a-ha-vat che-sed
V’hatz-nei-ah le-chet im E-lo-he-cha
Whenever we want to understand words from the Bible, we begin by asking questions. Micah asked the first question, “What does God demand of you?” What is Micah trying to learn? What does he ask about demands — does that mean that God expects us to do these things whether we want to or not? Do we have a choice to behave the right way?
After we question Micah’s question, more questions come to mind. Think and talk about these questions with your family:
Why does Micah respond to the question, “Only this”? Is it simple?
What does it mean to “do justly”? How do we act in a just manner? What does it mean to be fair to others?
What is mercy? How do we act with mercy? Why does Micah say to “love mercy”? Is that different than treating people with mercy?
Being humble, showing humility, is a very important Jewish value. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why does Micah say to “walk humbly”? How do we walk with God?
Why just these three things? How do they relate to everything else we should be doing? Is this really enough?
How can we use this song in our lives? Sometimes when we wonder how we should be acting, this song may come to mind. There are so many things we need to remember — this makes it easy to sum up the really important things to do.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The flame of Judaism is ours to keep alive forever

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

This week’s Torah Portion is Tzav, the second portion in the Book of Leviticus. The portion starts out with a description of the olah, the burnt offering. What I find interesting in the description of the burnt offering is the commandment from Verse 6 that “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.” There are many ways that we can metaphorically understand this commandment. Orot Ha-Kodesh as quoted in Itturei Torah suggests one way of interpreting this commandment:
One is forbidden to extinguish the thirst for God which burns in every heart. We are told that a person who extinguishes an ember on the altar has violated the prohibition of “it will never be put out.” This is all the more true for one who extinguishes an ember of the spiritual fire in the spiritual altar — the Jewish heart.
The perpetual fire represents our perpetual yearning for God and our constant devotion to the service of God. The way that I look at the perpetual fire is more as a metaphor for Judaism itself. A fire, even a perpetual one, is constantly changing — flickering, flaring, dying down. Further, a perpetual fire requires perpetual feeding; we must constantly add more fuel to the fire or it burns out.
So too does Judaism perpetually change throughout the ages and so too does Judaism require perpetual feeding by our engaging with Torah and our tradition. In this new light of the metaphorical perpetual fire, we can see the offerings described in Tzav as relevant again to our lives, even though the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed and there have been no sacrifices offered in almost 2,000 years.
The next offering described is the Mincha or grain offering. Part of this daily offering was meant to be burned completely for God, but the remainder was given to the priests to eat. I imagine that the Mincha offering was a staple in the priestly diet since it was offered daily, and was probably a large portion of the priests’ salary, so to speak. Now I’m not implying that in today’s world, I as a rabbi want to be paid in 5-pound bags of flour. But rather, I would suggest that for those who cannot otherwise feed themselves, we must provide for them daily that they have sufficient food to eat. We provide food for the hungry not just for their sake, but so that we may feed the perpetual fires that keep us close to God.
After the Mincha offering, the Chattat, sin offering, and the Asham, guilt offering, are described. These offerings are described as “most holy” such that they may only be eaten by the “males in the priestly line” (Leviticus 6:22, 7:6) or burned completely to ash and not eaten at all. Clearly, doing teshuvah, repentance, then or now is one of the most holy acts we can engage in. We do teshuvah when we cease our wrong actions, make amends as best we can, and resolve never to act that way again. And with every act of teshuvah, we make the world a better place and draw God closer.
Next comes the sacrifice of well-being, offered for thanksgiving to God or as a free-will offering to God. These offerings are interesting in that a portion goes to God, being completely burned up; a portion goes to the priest making the actual sacrifice; and a portion goes to the donor of the sacrifice. Everyone partakes in this sacrifice, just as we all gather together today to create a holy community. Everyone in our community has a part to play in creating a holy community that gathers together to thank God freely for the gifts God gives us.
God commanded us to keep a perpetual fire burning upon the altar. Today, the flame of Judaism is ours to keep alive. When we engage with our texts and our traditions, we add fuel to the ever-changing flame that is Judaism. When we reinterpret our texts and traditions to fit our modern lives, we add fuel, keeping the fire alive. When we give of ourselves, offering the best of our abilities and resources, we strengthen the community of the Jewish people, we make the world a better place, and we draw nearer to God. May God give us the will to see that the flame burns forever.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Heroic figures of our past are worth imitating

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

We got the Torah on Shavuot, but you won’t find any 9-year-olds dressed up as Moses, holding up cut-out-cardboard Ten Commandments, anywhere in synagogue over that holiday. Not many Maccabee look-alike contests over Hanukkah either.
But on Purim, we’ve got Queen Esthers and Mordechais to spare! These royal Jewish personages seem to be everywhere and anywhere over the holiday! I would venture to say that the No. 1 choice of Purim dress-up for 5-year-old girls is Queen Esther, and similarly it’s Mordechai for the boys. Sure, you’ve got one or two wise-guy Hamans in the crowd, but that shtick doesn’t usually start up until the teenage years, when that’s the least of parents’ concerns concerning teenage rebellion.
And so, it’s only appropriate on the holiday that recognizes and celebrates its ancient Jewish heroes like no other, to focus on the miracle that is great Jewish personages throughout our history.
I happened to be in the Holy Land just months after the venerated giant of mussar (the study of Jewish ethics and character development), Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’’l, passed away. The year was 2005 and I was engaged in one of my favorite practices of Jerusalem life, book hunting. Meah Shearim in particular is lined with tens of large and small sefarim (Jewish books) shops, and I always spend as many hours as I can find perusing up and down the aisles for new and ancient treasures.
It just so happened that I passed by a certain store that had a table outside on the sidewalk, showcasing its newest additions, and a small, paperback book caught my eye. In honor of the shloshim (the 30-day period of mourning after death), the students of Rabbi Wolbe zt’’l had collected and published a small book of letters that their rebbe had written to individuals, addressing all sorts of questions and concerns that people presented him. I had to buy it!
Unfortunately, the book sat on my shelves for years, largely untouched, until just last year when I decided to go through the letters one by one. It turned out to be a real treasure. There were Torah insights on just about every page, with one pearl of wisdom in particular resonating with me above them all — an insight that highlights the uniqueness of man, and more particularly the singular majesty of the spiritually elevated man.
Rabbi Wolbe was perplexed as to why the Shemoneh Esrei (otherwise known as the Amidah — literally, “the Standing Prayer”), the holiest and most often recited of Jewish prayers, begins its praise of God with the reductive words, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob,” when it could have used broader, seemingly more glorifying terminology like, “Creator of Heaven and Earth,” “Redeemer From Egypt” or “Giver of the Torah.”
The answer, according to Rabbi Wolbe zt’’l, is that the greatest praise that we can offer the Almighty is that He created physical creatures of flesh and blood who nonetheless might achieve Godly natures. People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who educated the world about the nature of the divine and were elevated themselves to such a lofty degree that the King of kings Himself felt it appropriate to attach His holy name to theirs (“God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob”). Who would think that you and I have the potential within us to become the greatest miracles of all! (See Igrot U’Ketavim Mimaran Rabeinu Ha’Mashgiach, Letter 5: Bircat Avot, for greater detail.)
Besides the fun and games associated with dressing up on Purim, it’s worth considering how special, and indeed unique, it is, that we as a people educate our children that the people they ought most to imitate and emulate aren’t today’s top athletes or most famous movie stars, but the holy and heroic figures of our Jewish past. People like the saintly Mordechai and the righteous Esther. Within the merriment of the day, and in the childlike endeavor of dress-up, we are indeed imparting a most lofty lesson to the next generation: that human beings can become greater than our biological limitations might imply — that we have the potential to become vessels of the divine, the greatest miracle in all of Creation!

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