Reflection on my recent trip to Israel

03/24/2017 10:42:32 AM

Mar24

Reflections on my trip to Israel

As most of you know, I returned earlier this week from a whirlwind trip to Israel. I want to share with you a few reflections on my experience running the Jerusalem Marathon and joining Ruth for the sentencing of the terrorist that killed our dear Ezra h”yd.

I arrived in Israel on Thursday night and immediately joined the pre-race pasta party for the 175 runners who were raising funds to support the Hope Time Cure Epilepsy Foundation. The Galler family was running the show; almost every member of their family spoke passionately about the cause and provided us with motivation for running. It was inspiring to learn about the nature of epilepsy and the cutting edge treatments that the foundation is supporting. There was so much Sharon pride in the room and I felt so privileged to be part of it.

Pumped with inspiration, I woke up early the next morning to run along with my little brother Doron, who recently became a commander in the IDF. As you can imagine, he is in great shape and he pushed me to run faster and harder than I usually do. Let’s just say that I was sore for a few days afterwards.

Through the amazing leadership of Elisha Galler, team Hope Time Cure was dedicated in memory of Ezra Schwartz z”tkl. Ruth spoke movingly about Ezra and how we should feel his spirit pushing us up the hills of Yerushalayim. The team jerseys had on their backs the words: “In loving memory of Ezra Schwartz.” It was emotional and moving for me to see hundreds of these purple shirts during the race, as we moved through the crowds of runners.

Here are a few pictures. The first is a picture of my brother and me as we left the old city through Sha’ar Tzion during the race, and the second is a post-race picture of many of the Sharonites who joined for the run.

While the Marathon was fun and meaningful, the main reason for my last minute trip to Israel was to stand with Ruth as she testified in the sentencing on Sunday morning. There were many unpleasant sights and emotions during the day that are too painful to put into words, but I will for now share two extraordinary moments that left me feeling proud and honored. 

The first happened as the Israeli prosecutor was reading the charges against the terrorist. Included in the charges was the murder of a 24-year-old Palestinian named Shadi Arafeh. His family did not come to the trial because, as we were told, they did not want to press charges. They were made to believe that the IDF was responsible for their son’s death, not the terrorist. Nevertheless, the Israeli prosecutor, based on clear evidence, chose to represent the family and to seek justice on their behalf. As the charges were being read, I noticed that every time the name “Shadi Arafeh” was mentioned, the prosecutor made sure to say “zichrono livraha- may his memory be a blessing.”

This gesture of humanity was stunning. It reflected the dignity of the Jewish state and its moral core.  It reflected the paramount Jewish value placed on human life, regardless of race, religion and ethnicity. This deeply Jewish moral sensibility was also present in the actual verdict which quoted from several Jewish sources, including the Mishna in Sanhedrin 4:5 about the absolute uniqueness and sanctity of every human life. The prosecutor gave me a copy (in Hebrew) of the verdict (which is public record) and I can share it with anyone who would like to read it.

The second moment happened just as we were leaving the Ofer Prison, where the trial took place. The Israeli prosecutor who had just successfully argued and achieved the most severe punishment possible under the law, 4 consecutive life sentences, pulled Ruth aside. I saw him remove something from the lapel of his IDF uniform and hand it to Ruth. When we got in the car, I learned that this was a pin that the prosecutor had earned for his personal bravery during combat in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. He wanted Ruth to have it because he was so inspired by her bravery that morning.

Indeed, he was correct. Here is my testimony, what I witnessed that morning: With power and poise, Ruth stood 20 feet from the terrorist and poignantly described her little boy. Her words (which were posted on Facebook for everyone to read) were truly beautiful and impacted the judges and everyone else sitting in that small military courtroom. The scene was objectively hideous with the terrorist and his family present, but Ruth was able to comport herself with exquisite nobility. While I was grasping onto my chair to prevent myself from verbally or physically acting upon the rage I felt inside, I witnessed bravery in the face savagery, dignity in the face of dehumanization, goodness in the face of evil, hope in the face of darkness, honor in the face degradation, humanity in the face of inhumanity.

The experience changed me. It was heartbreaking, humbling and holy. It made me inexplicably proud to a be Jew, a member of Am Yisrael and a believer in Medinat Yisrael.

On the ride back from the prison to our hotel in Yerushalayim, we learned that over Shabbat in our shul, Libi and Matt Rides had named their son Ezra, in memory of Ezra Schwartz z’tkl. The timing could not have been more meaningful. This is the power of community and the power of the Jewish people. Together, we cry and we mourn, we smile and we celebrate. May we do more of the latter than the former.

Yours,

Rabbi Noah Cheses

Update this content.

In honor the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Tournament and Yom Yerushalayim

03/24/2017 10:42:32 AM

Mar24

One of the greatest films of all time, in my view at least, is field of dreams. As a young boy growing up in Boston, with baseball in the air and in my blood, I watched this film several times and could watch it again and again.

 

The film is about so many important things. Its about our connection to the past and our connection to the future. Its about the game of baseball as a something that connects generations, as something that connects fathers and sons. Its about following your dreams, even if others think you are a little crazy.

 

For those unfamiliar with the plot, I am giving you homework for after Shabbat to become more familiar with it. For now, here is what you need to know: Ray Kinsella is a novice farmer in Iowa who had a troubled relationship with his dad who was a big baseball fan. Ray missed his dad who had passed away recently.  Walking in his cornfield one evening, he hears a voice whispering: “if you build it he will come.” He cuts down the corn down and builds a beautiful baseball diamond. 

 

The last scene of the film is powerful. The scene is called “a catch with dad.” Ray sees on the field that he built, his father Jon, when Jon was a young strong man brimming with confidence and a smirk on his face.

In his fantasy, imaginary world (which seems so real): Ray approaches Jon and says: “Hey dad: want to have a catch?”

“I’d like that.” Jon says.

 

They pick up their gloves and begin to throw the ball around. Back and forth. That is how the film ends.

 

Ray reconnects with his past and touches his dreams.

 

This is the power of baseball. This is the power of the baseball tournament that we are hosting this Shabbat. And this is the power of Yerushalayim which we will be celebrating this upcoming week.

 

Before coming back to talk about the tournament, I need to speak about Yerushalayim. I need to speak about Yerushalayim because we are on the cusp of a celebrating a miraculous milestone in Jewish history—with Yom Yerushalayim this week.

 

Yerushalayim is not just a geographical place; it is a religious concept that transcends time. Yerushalayim reconnects us with our past and enables us to fantasize and to touch our dreams.

 

Rav Yochanan, in Masechet Ta’anit 5a, wonders about the Pasuk that we are familiar with from Tehillim 122:3:Yerushalayim Ha-Benuya k’ir Sh’chubra La Yachdav, that a built up Jerusalem is like a city that is connected together.

 

What does it mean that Jerusalem is connected together to something else? Rav Yochanan explains that this verse implies the existence of another city, another Jerusalem which is connected to and is the counterpart of the earthy Jerusalem.

 

There must be, says Rav Yochanan: a Yerushalayim shel mata and a Yerushalayim shel mala. A Jerusalem of below and a Jerusalem of above.

What is Rav Yochanan talking about in naming this duality? What does it mean that there these two Jerusalems and that they are connected?

 

I believe that he is pointing to the reality of Jerusalem as we see it today, and as he saw it in his time, soon after the destruction, where there are ruins, there is confusion, chaos and conflict and he is also pointing to the potential of Jerusalem of what it can be and were we want it to be in our dreams.

 

This is what is meant by Yerushalayim shel mata and Yerushalayim shel mala. The two are connected such that there are moments in which even today, within the mundane reality of current day Jerusalem we get a taste of the latter, of Yerushalayim shel mala of the future, divine-like, dream-like, utopic, spiritual and peaceful Yerushalayim.  

 

50 years ago, this Wednesday, Yerushalayim shel mata and Yerushalayim shel mala became much closer together. 50 years ago, the Jewish world held it's collective breath as war in the Middle East loomed, and Nasser threatened to drive Israel into the sea.

 

One of the most momentous wars in modern history was fought in 6 days, and with Hashem's help the valiant Israeli Defence Forces emerged victorious beyond their wildest dreams. Jews were allowed to walk the stone streets of the ir ha-atika, the old city and to open up their hearts and daven at the kotel ha’maravi, the western wall of King Shlomo’s temple.  After 2,000 years “har ha’bayit b’yadenu.” Temple Mount had been returned to Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years.

 

This was a moment in which we as a people, were able to taste yerushalayim shel mala this was a moment in which we as a people were able to reconnect to our past and touch our dreams.

 

This week on Tuesday night, we will be celebrating this event with joy, uplifting prayer, music and inspiration together with the greater Boston Jewish community. We will gather at Beth El in Newton together with 6 other shuls in the area to celebrate as a strong religious Zionist community. I invite and encourage everyone to make the drive to newton.  

 

As we all know, and have been told by our friends the drive from Sharon to Newton is a short one; It is the drive from Newton to Sharon that is a long one. Kidding aside, I hope you will join me in celebrating one of the greatest Miracles of recent Jewish history.

 

Yerushalayim teaches us to hold onto past memories and to fantasize about dreams. And now I return to the tournament, the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Tournament.

 

The past two days have been very full of baseball. I have been able to go to most of the games and watch our boys push themselves, compete and have fun. Somehow the Maimo boys lost their first two game and are still going to play in the Championship game tomorrow!

 

For me personally and for us a community, it has been a time to connect to our past and touch our dreams.

 

On Thursday morning, Ari Schwartz invited me to join him on the Sharon high field, to paint the foul lines and prepare the pitchers mound and the batting box. I had not done this since 2002 when I worked at fenway park.  But it came right back to me. Picking up a rake, putting down the lining chalk, getting my hands full of white power and dirt under my fingernails, made me feel like a high school kid again. Watching the M-Cats play with the logo on their caps also made me feel nostalgic and connected to a glorious past, to childhood memories, when things seemed whole and good.

 

On the website that Ruth put together for the tournament, there is a clip of Ari pitching to Ezra as a little kid. Strike one, strike two, foul tip…and then Ezra makes contact and surrounds the bases. My eyes started dripping the first time I watched it. A time when things seemed whole and good.

 

And I can’t help but think of field of dreams, of that whisper, if you build it he will come. And of that last scene: a catch with dad. “Hey dad: want to have a catch? ”I’d like that."

 

Throughout this tournament, I have felt Ezra to be so present and so absent—all at the same time. Its confusing! It confusing to fantasize and to hold onto dreams.

 

Because after all we live in Yerushalayim shel Mata, in the broken and painful realities of our lives. A world without Ezra ztkl. But sometimes we can have moments in which we taste Yerushalayim she Mala. And this tournament has given me and given us some of those moments.

 

May we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim in the coming days with awareness of the Yerushalayim shel mata and with desperate tephillot for Yerushalayim shel mala. 

Refugee Support Initiative 

01/13/2017 09:03:57 AM

Jan13

Dear Young Israel of Sharon Community, 

 

Our world is facing a serious refugee crisis, the likes of which has not been seen since World War II. Tens of millions of people have been displaced by global conflict, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are fleeing from their country's brutal civil war. America's oldest Jewish refugee aid agency, HIAS, aptly sums up our responsibility at this moment in history: "We used to help refugees because they were Jewish. Now we help refugees because we are Jewish."

 

Many in our community are wondering how we can possibly help refugees, from those who are in camps overseas to those settling into new lives in the US. A small group of us here at shul, in coordination with Rabbi Cheses and the Chessed Committee, are figuring out how to get involved. We're talking to our friends at other shuls and religious institutions. We've been in touch with JF&CS Metrowest, which works with HIAS to resettle refugees in Massachusetts. We've learned that at this time, very few refugees are being resettled in our state -- probably seven families this year.

 

Our research has led us to believe that the best way for us to provide direct help is partner with NGOs who are doing this work and to assist them by collecting winter clothes and food supplies for Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan and Turkey.  Towards that end, we have established a connection with BFRS (Boston Friends of Refugee Support), which works with an organization called NuDay Syria to send monthly shipping containers of donations overseas, and sends regular updates on what is needed.

 

We are organizing our own Young Israel of Sharon monthly collections. The Rapalino family has generously agreed to store donated supplies in their basement at 229 East St. Items can be dropped off Mon-Thurs. Please call or text Florenza at (603) 326-8556 to arrange for a specific time. Once a month the collected goods will be sorted and transported to NuDay’s warehouse in Nashua, NH, where they will be packed for shipping. 

 

NuDay is currently seeking: Gently used winter coats and shoes/boots, as well as the following food items: beans, rice, protein bars, infant formula, tuna, flour, and lentils. 

 

So, ways to help include: 

  • Donating clothing and food items

  • Requesting donations from your friends and neighbors

  • Sorting items once a month

  • Driving collected goods to Nashua, NH

 

Want to know more? A leading member of BFRS (Boston Friends for Refugee Support) will be at the home of Debbie and Josh Buchman at 64 Ashcroft Road on Thursday, January 19th at 2 pm to talk about her experiences in supporting refugees abroad and giving an introduction how to get involved. Feel free to bring your kids. We'll send out notes from the meeting for those who are interested but can't make it. 

 

If you want to get involved with this effort please be in touch with Devorah Kosowsky at dkosowsky@gmail.com  or DeDe Jacobs-Komisar at djkomisar@gmail.com

 

We look forward to working on this together.

 

Thank you and tizku l'mitzvot,

 

Devorah Kosowsky, Rina Hoffman, DeDe Jacobs-Komisar, Debbie Buchman, Rebecca Raub, Jodi Ephraim, Emily Rapalino and Rabbi Cheses

Two ways of dealing with the darkness in our lives

01/13/2017 09:01:37 AM

Jan13

We are all afraid of the dark. We might not admit it so openly, but when darkness creeps up on us, we naturally become frightened. Anxieties tend to swim to the surface when it is dark. We realize that we have less control over our environment and that our senses are tempered. Our mood shifts and our emotions become more intense. Maybe we feel a little bit more vulnerable.

 

I would like this morning to talk about how to confront and overcome darkness and I am going to present two models, both of which come from the first human being—adam harishon--and the first two times that he experienced physical darkness. What was the first time that Adam experienced darkness?

 

Midrash in BR reads as follows:

 כיון ששקעה החמה במ"ש התחיל החושך ממשמש ובא ונתירא אדם הראשון

When the sun sank at the termination of the Sabbath, darkness began to set in. Adam was terrified [thinking] “surely the darkness shall envelop me” (Psalms 89:11)…Not on Friday night, because Hashem did not let the sun set on the first night because it was shabbas and he gave a special honor to the first Shabbat, says the midrash. The first time that the sun began to set was on Shabbat afternoon. Imagine the scene, the sun setting without knowing that it would rise again. No wonder Adam was frightened and scared!

מה עשההקב"ה זימן לו שני רעפים, והקישן זה לזה ויצא מהן אור ובירך עליה

What did the Lord do for him? He made him find two flints, which he struck against each other. Light came forth and he said a blessing over it…

מה בירך עליה בורא מאורי האש

What did he bless upon it? "[Blessed are You...] the creator of the light of the fire".

אתיא כשמואל דאמר שמואל

מפני מה מברכין על האור במוצאי שבת מפני שהיא תחלת ברייתה

This [story] comes in accord with Shmuel, for Shmuel said "Why do we make a blessing upon fire at the end of Shabbat? Because that was the beginning of its creation."

 

This midrash explains the origins of the Havdalah candle  and also details Adam Ha-Rishon’s first encounter with darkness.

 

The second encounter with darkness happened months later, sometime after the summer solstice but before the winter solstice. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah 8b explains as follows:

ת"ר: לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך, אמר: אוי לי,

שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו,

וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים,

עמד וישב ח' ימים בתענית ובתפלה

כיון שראה תקופת טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך, אמר: מנהגו של עולם הוא

Our Rabbis taught: When Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, ‘Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!’ So he began keeping an eight days’ fast and praying. But as he observed the winter solstice and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, ‘This is the world's natural course’,

 

In comparing these two fascinating narratives, there is one critical difference that I want to draw your attention to: How did Adam confront and overcome his fear of darkness? In the second experience--, Adam is relatively passive; he fasts and waits for the situation to change. He waits for Hashem to bring the light and indeed that’s what happened. The way of the world is that darkness and light are part of natural cycle.

 

In the first story, the opposite is the case. Hashem invites Adam to take matters into his own hand by commanding him to gather supplies—two flint stones—to  make sparks and fire in order to eliminate the darkness in his midst.

 

I believe that these two experiences are archetypal. They represent the two ways in which we can confront and overcome darkness. Either we wait with hope and confidence until the darkness passes and the light comes. Sometimes this is the best we can do—to live with deep Emunah in Hashem and the goodness of the world--especially in tragic situations when so much is beyond our control.

 

The other option, is to grab the bull by the horns, as they say, and figure out somehow, someway to kindle a flame in order to proactively push away the darkness. These two midrashim—give us two directions to deal with darkness—sometimes we need to let it pass and sometimes we need to take it head on.

 

Tonight we will make havdalah and then we will light the first candle on our menorahs (which is the proper order at home, but the opposite at shul). Both of these acts of kindling fit into the second category. Both are proactive rituals that push away darkness. This evening, as motzei Shabbat and the first night of Chanukah converge, this midrash gives us something to think about. Namely, that we are meant to take the initiative and to produce light with our own hands.

 

And we could even go a level deeper into the symbolism of the incremental lighting of the menorah and suggest that we start with one small flame every night and cap it at 8, the message being that we don’t get rid of darkness in a flash but we slowly and incrementally add small amounts of light in order to contend with the darkness in our lives. We cannot bring an end to darkness but we can soften its affects. We can make it livable, tolerable and bearable, one small candle at a time.

 

As we sing the sweet melody with our families tonight—Baruch ata Hashem--and we get to the word L’hallik ner shel Chanukah, this should be our kavana, to soften the darkness in our midst.

 

There is lots of darkness surrounding us

·      Turmoil in our national political discourse

·      Recent fires which engulfed our brothers and sisters in Israel

·      The genocide happening in Syria

·      The darkness which on occasion touches all of us all of us—who are just overwhelmed by ordinary life and struggling to make everything work.

There is a lot of darkness around us and we need to soften it through small acts of courage and kindness to friends and strangers alike.  

 

I will offer one very concrete way to do this with regard to strangers in our midst. As many of you know, we have a committee that has formed in the shul led by Devorah Kosowsky and Dede Komisar to try and figure out how our shul can leverage our talents to help Syrian refugees in our geographical area. The committee has been in conversation with Jewish Family Services of metrowest who are taking responsibility for settling 7 Syrian families and maybe more—depending on what happens after January 20th—in the metrowest area. On Thursday we got an email from the director of the project. I will read it to you:

Dear Rabbi Cheses and team:

Technology support for the refugees is essential to our goals.

As example, a current refugee Dad has been having good success using an app called Duolingo for learning English, and using Google Translate in a pinch for translating and communication at stores, medical appointments, etc.  He's also been using Viber, WhatsApp and Skype for communicating with family and friends overseas.

He is using a smartphone that was unlocked and donated to JFS. JFS will benefit from additional gently used unlocked smart phones that we can reactivate for upcoming families. If you get the phone to us, we can return it to factory settings and make sure all personal data is erased before passing along. The former owner must call the cell provider to "unlock" the phone, though.

If there was a community wide goal of chai, of 18 smart phones from Young Israel of Sharon,  that would be spectacular!

Regards, Marc

 

There is very little we can do to confront the darkness in Syria right now, but this is something small that we can do to confront the darkness in our midst and to spread a little light. Please join me in this effort by dropping off phones at my office sometime tonight or over the weekend. Sarah and I have few extra around the house that we will contribute.

 

Lets all pick up our flint stones and make some sparks. I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach. 

 

Syrian Refugee Crisis

10/28/2016 09:16:07 AM

Oct28

Chol Ha-Moed Sukkot 5777

One year ago September, the voyage started in the middle of the night, around 3 a.m. The smugglers had promised a motorboat for the trip from Turkey to Greece. Instead they showed up with a  15 foot rubber raft. It was the season when the waves in this part of the Mediterranean can be 15 feet high. The raft eventually flipped in high waves dumping Abdullah Kurdi, his wife and two small sons into the sea.

Mr. Kurdi survived and painfully described how he had flailed about while trying to find his children as his wife held on to the capsized boat. It was the image of Mr. Kurdi’s three-year old son Alan in his red t-shirt and shorts lying lifeless on a Turkish beach that has stirred the world’s compassion for those fleeing the Syrian civil war. This photograph prompted international responses from humanitarian and social justice groups.

The members of my shul in Toronto (Shaarei Shomayim) read this story last September with special sensitivity. The Toronto Jewish community as a whole is comprised of a many holocaust survivors and their descendants. Who remember that the world shut its doors to the Jews during world war II.

They remembered when politicians in America and Canada said that no country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jews who wanted to flee from Europe. So they shut their doors to the Jews. And so as community of second generation survivors we asked ourselves can we say because the refugee problem in Syria is so great, that we will do nothing? Can we say that Syrian refugees are not a “Jewish problem?” We know what it was like to be refugees. How do we react when we see others forced to flee? We came to the conclusion that if we are still asking how others could have abandoned us 75 years ago, then we cannot abandon others now.

And so under the leadership of my mentor, the senior Rabbi at Shaarei Shomayim, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, we raised 30k in one week to sponsor a Christian family living in Aleppo, to immigrate to Toronto, where they had some cousins who would help them settle in and adjust to the new culture and climate.

We had internal arguments about the ethics of raising funds for causes outside the Jewish community when the needs of the Jewish community were so grave but the overwhelming majority of the shul agreed that this was their moral duty as Jews and as human beings.

Our social action committee which took the lead on this project worked with JIAS (Jewish Immigration Aid services) to choose a family to sponsor. A few months later we began to learn more about the family we were bringing over to North America. The parents’ names are Sarkiss and Caroline. They have two children Alina, age 5, and Christina, age 8 months.

The family is scheduled to arrive in Toronto in the next few weeks and the community is very excited to see their efforts come to fruition.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhcak Yosef said this week: Every day not far from here, as we sit here, men, women and children are murdered in Syria, and particularly in Aleppo, 250,000 people have been killed, 12 million people are homeless, hundreds of thousands of others are being starved, under siege. The Syrian people are not our friends, but they are human beings who are suffering a small holocaust. As Jews we must not stay silent. The call must be heard from here: A genocide will not be allowed to go by quietly — not in Syria and not anywhere else, and not against any people.

This is a powerful statement, on many levels, from a sephardic chief rabbi. He called what is happening in Syria a mini holocaust. He acknowledged that Syria and its government has never been a close friend of Israel or its citizens. Far from it. But there is a need to distinguish between enemies and innocent civilians who are suffering. We can and should still feel pain and take some responsibility for these people because of our shared humanity. Indeed this is part of our moral obligation, living just two generations after WW II. The chief rabbi is saying that all of us need to be concerned. We need to be deeply deeply disturbed. Outraged at what is happening in Allepo. It is a humanitarian disaster.

It is a very messy web of fighting between the Asad regime and the rebels and all of the various backers and colluders, and I am certainly no expert on understanding or diagnosing a political or military solution to this situation. But I can reconfirm, and reemphasize, as did Rav Yitzchak Yosef, that from a religious and humanitarian standpoint, we need to be thinking about this and that we need to be feeling disturbed about this. This needs to be on a radar in a serious way.

I am sharing this story, this information and this sentiment with you, specifically on chol hamoed sukkot because, I believe that sukkot offers us a constructive paradigm for relating to the conflict in Syria. Sukkot sends the message that we might not know what the right political action is at this moment. We don’t know how to untangle the messy alliances in the region right now but we can still think and do something about the humanitarian crisis which is worsening by the day.

Sukkot is a holiday that directs us to think not just about ourselves but about the world. It is a holiday that belongs not only to the particularistic series of the shalosh regalim—pesach, shavout and sukkot which commemorate and celebrate specific historical events that took place for the Jewish people alone—from the liberation from Egypt, to receiving the Torah and being protected in the dessert. It is also part of a more universalistic cycle of holidays. Sukkot belongs to a series of holidays that proceed it namely, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur which are days that are relevant not just to Jews and Judaism but to humanity as a whole.

The language of the prayers is different. We say: v’ematcha al kol mah shebarata ‘Instill your awe upon all Your works, and fear of You on all that You have created.’ The entire liturgy is strikingly universalist. The ‘Yamim Noraim’ are about the sovereignty of Hashem over all humankind. We reflect on the human, not just the Jewish, condition. On these days, not only are the Jews judged. The entire universe is judged. And sukkot is part of this universal series of holidays.

How so?

Chazal say:

משנה מסכת ראש השנה פרק א

ובחג נידונין על המים

On sukkot the entire world is judged, specifically for water. The Navi zecharia warns

זכריה פרק יד

יז) וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא יַעֲלֶה מֵאֵת מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאָרֶץ אֶל יְרוּשָׁלִַם לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְמֶלֶךְ יְקֹוָק צְבָאוֹת וְלֹא עֲלֵיהֶם יִהְיֶה הַגָּשֶׁם:

That if any of the nations of the world refuse to celebrate Sukkot in the times of the Mashiach. Then they will have no rain. The Navi emphasized that Sukkot is not just about the need for rain in Israel. It is also about the universal need for rain and for water.

This need could not be more dire than it is in Syria right now. Regime airstrikes this month left 1.75 million people without water. Hydrologists and humanitarian groups on the ground have been sending warning signals that lack of access to safe drinking water is pushing more people to flee from their homes to find water. Polluted water and lack of water has led to thousands of children catching and spreading diseases like typhoid and diarrhea which can be deadly due to lack of medical care. Water supplies are deteriorating fast making the humanitarian crises exponentially worse.

When we daven on Sukkot and specifically during tephillat geshem on Shmini atzeret, it would be appropriate to be thinking about Syrians, who are dying from lack of drinking water. It would be appropriate to be thinking about the refugees who are starving to death. As sensitive people and sensitive jews, our prayers need to be expansive and have a universal reach, specifically on sukkot and specifically with regard to water in the year ahead.

This is an important start to social activism. Next steps, I believe should follow only after we can cultivate the appropriate religious consciousness. If you have ideas for next steps and potential projects please share them. I am not sure what the right direction is for our community to get involved. I am not sure that sponsoring a Christian family suits our strengths as a community. But we should be able to do something else. Please be in touch with myself or Dede Jacobs Komisar (djkomisar@gmail.com) who has expressed interest in this project.

The work is great but we cannot turn our heads at this time. May Hashem help us to add a little bit of light to this dark and messy situation.

 

09/13/2016 02:39:22 PM

Sep13

How synagogues can prioritize disability inclusion this High Holiday season

By Jay Ruderman  (JTA) — With the high holidays just around the corner, Jews all over the world will be asking themselves how they can lead more meaningful and moral lives. Synagogue communities, too, will be asking themselves how they can become more holy and inclusive communities. In my years of involvement with disability inclusion, I’ve observed that change often occurs because a rabbi, a professional or a lay leader understands the value of inclusion of all people and makes it a priority.

If there ever was a time for leaders to step up to the plate and help their synagogues become more inclusive — to welcome diverse people with varying abilities and find a place for them in the community — it’s during the Days of Awe.

Liz Offen, director of New England Yachad, an Orthodox Union-affiliated organization that works toward the inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life, said that the High Holidays seem almost designed to raise awareness of people with disabilities. “Every aspect of the high holiday experience is infused with rituals that draw on the senses,” she said. “From the food we eat, to the sound and vibrations of the shofar, we are reminded of the varied ways people experience life.” So how can congregations take advantage of this calling to become more inclusive communities? The obvious answer is that they can implement best practices in making their physical spaces more inclusive for people with disabilities. They can print books with larger text, embrace hearing loop technologies to assist people who are hard of hearing, train ushers to recognize and assist people with disabilities, make every part of the building wheelchair accessible, and establish an inclusion committee to continually expand inclusive practices. The broader answer is that they can demonstrate leadership and work to create a powerful culture of inclusion among congregants so that inclusion pervades all aspects of congregational life, and thereby change basic attitudes toward people with disabilities.

Ed Frim, an inclusion specialist at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that true inclusion goes much deeper than making synagogue life accessible. “Inclusive congregations are mindful of everyone who is part of the community,” he said. “They establish a culture that takes for granted that all, including those with disabilities, have the right to fully participate as part of the congregation.” “It’s not just about training ushers to be welcoming to people with disabilities and helping them find their way, it’s about turning the entire congregation into ushers, who seek to create a welcoming environment,” he said.

Just as important as building a culture of inclusion is affecting a shift in attitude about how we think of disabilities. Rabbi Noah Cheses of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto recalls an aha moment when his perspective on disabilities changed from seeing just the disability to seeing the whole person. A senior in high school had come to speak at a retreat Cheses was attending. The student had a muscular disorder that required him to be in a wheelchair. It was clear from the moment he began speaking that this charismatic young man was not defined by his disability. “He asked us to take out a piece of paper and make a list of [perceived] personal shortcomings …,” recounted Rabbi Cheses. “We were then instructed to introduce ourselves to the person next to us in the following way: “Hi, my name is X, and I have such and such ….” “For a moment, I felt what it was like to be identified by my personal limitations…as if my passions and talents were being overshadowed and pushed aside by something beyond my control.” It was that realization, among others, that motivated Rabbi Cheses to seek change in his congregation. The congregation made physical changes — among other things, it built an accessible ark — but the rabbi also sought to make spiritual changes and help his congregants experience the same aha moment that he had at the retreat.

Indeed, it is these spiritual changes — viewing all of God’s people as bringing unique contributions to the world — that can turn a congregation from a collection of people to a holy community. This time of reflection and renewal provides the perfect moment for such a shift to take place.

(Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. Rabbi Noah Cheses is now the Rabbi at Young Israel of Sharon.)

08/29/2016 08:11:39 AM

Aug29

The Spiritual Benefits The Good Marriage

Young Israel of Sharon- Parshat Eikev 5776

Rabbi Noah Cheses

This morning I want to talk about the good marriage, about using endearing nick names for our spouses, while still remembering their actual names.

I am choosing this topic because of my brother, Ashie’s uf ruf and upcoming marriage to Riva Bergel which we are celebrating this Shabbat. MAZA TOV! (My personal and professional lives are really converging here, just imagine how awkward this Shabbat would have been if I didn’t get the job.)

In our parsha this morning, we read Moshe’s second pump-up speech to the Jewish people as they prepare to enter the Holy Land. Moshe herein describes the ideal relationship between the people and Hashem and encapsulates the core of his message towards the end of the parsha with the following pasuk:

22For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him,

כבכִּי אִם שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן אֶת כָּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂתָהּ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ:

I want to dig into the phrase U’L’DABKAH BO. The verb—davak—which means to cling to or merge with--plays a pivotal role in Sefer Devarim. This verb appears 14 times in the Torah, 10 of which are in Sefer Devarim. It is a Milah Mancha, a guiding word in Moshe’s speeches to the people that establishes a series of ideas or theme within the text. It points to the ideal way in which we are meant to relate to Hashem.

In order to understand the depths of this term, some would argue that we have to go back to 18th century Chasidut, where the notion of deveykut was elevated and brought to the masses, but I would argue that we should go back much further to the first time the term is used in the Torah, which is in the context of a relationship between a husband and wife (2:24):

24Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

כד עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד:

Why is this verb Davak used for both the spousal relationship and the divine relationship? How are these two relationships parallel or reinforcing?

Lets turn to Martin Buber for some helpful terminology and concepts. Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Israeli Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, which contends that we find meaning in life through relationships.

In Buber’s view all relationships bring us into relationship with our source of existence, G-d, but some relationships—like the spousal one—do this more effectively than others.

The two categories of relationships that he describes are the I-It relationship and the I-thou or I-You relationship. These are two distinct ways in which we engage with the world.

The I-It relationship is one in which the two parties remain distant and distinct; they experience one another in pragmatic, matter of fact terms, like two business partners who seek to gain for themselves and relate on a functional, transactional basis to make money.

The I-thou relationship on the other hand blends together to the two parties in such a way that the two meld into one. There is a coming together of separate entities, through thought, spirit or emotion, like two good friends who converse for hours, share deep thoughts and feelings with the other. The “I” begins to become part of the “thou” and vise versa.

Buber writes that marriage is a structure that balances these two types of relations.

There is an aspect of the good marriage that is i-it, from going grocery shopping and washing dishes to raising children and taking carpool. Marriage is a partially utilitarian relationship in which two people commit to help each other out and this commitment leads to enhanced functionality and productivity on a mundane and material level.

On the other hand, marriage also invites regular I-Thou moments in which two become one. This could happen through an extended smile or hug, a shared experience of beauty, a shared moment of uncontrollable laughter, a shared connection to something bigger then ourselves.

Bad or marriages tend to have many more I-It moments than I-thou moments. Good marriages move in and out of the I-it mode and I-thou mode almost effortlessly.

I say almost effortlessly, because in reality, the good marriage takes a lot of work to maintain. The I-Thou moments, in particular, often require a significant amount of planning and effort to create. Sometimes they just happen spontaneously but more of the time, they need to be facilitated intentionally and thoughtfully.

Let me be more specific about how we can better engineer I-thou moments in our marriage.

When I meet with a young couple planning to get married I try and study with them some of the Torah’s wisdom on various subjects like good communication habits, spending money responsibly, making the wedding day more spiritual and how to give and receive love.

The session devoted to this last topic—how to give and receive love-- is based on the work of Rav Eliahu Dessler in his essay on Chessed and based on Gary Chapman’s book: “The Five Love Languages.” Chapman argues that there are different ways that each of us prefer to receive love and that we should not assume that just because we like to receive love in one way means that our spouse does as well.

The five love languages are:

       Acts of service

       Quality time

       Words of affirmation

       Gifts

       Affection

Chapman suggest that we should become familiar with how our spouse likes to receive love so that we can give it in a way that it will be well received. This is the key to creating more I-Thou moments in our marriage.

Sarah and I both appreciate quality time and so we make an effort to go out without the kids. This past week, for instance, we went on our first date since arriving in Sharon. We borrowed the Weinberg’s Kayak’s and went across the lake on a beautiful summer afternoon.

I often encourage young couples to keep dating, Even after they get married.

I should clarify--not dating other people, but dating each other, by investing time into planning quality time with each other. This is what it means to be more intentional and more thoughtful about creating more I-Thou moments

In order to maintain “The Good Marriage.”

At the conclusion of his work, Buber connects the dots from the good marriage

to the good relationship with Hashem:  He writes:When a man loves a women so that her life is present in his own the Thou of her eyes allow him to gaze into a ray of the eternal Thou.

I understand this to mean that when we look deeply into the eyes of our spouse, there is a trace of the divine that we come into close contact with. We approach Hashem through the face of our beloved. In other words, the devaykut that we have with our husband or wife is an experience that builds toward deveykut with Hashem.

This, in conclusion, is why, I believe, the term Davak is used in the Torah to refer to two primary relationships: our relationship with our spouse and our relationship with Hashem. The relationships are parallel are reinforcing! The more I-Thou moments we have with our spouse, the more I-thou moments we will have with our creator.

This is the time of year that we are meant to start working on our intimate relationship with Hashem, almost as if our relationship was a marital one.

Just a few moments ago we said Birchat ha-Chodesh for the month of Elul, which will begin next Shabbat. Elul, we know, is an acronym for the verse “Ani Ledodi vedodi Li”; “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me”.  These endearing terms signify the very essence of the month of Elul. Hashem, our King, has come out into the fields where he awaits his bride, the Jewish people.  Elul is a month long love affair where we reunite with our creator in a way that doesn’t seem possible during the rest of the year. We relate to Hashem with deep sensitivity, with delicate appreciation for what he wants from us in this world.

My hope for Ashie and Riva, and really all of us, is that we are able to experience the spiritual benefits of the good marriage, that we are able to experience more I-thou moments with our spouses and this facilitate a new and improved relationship with Hashem. V’Chen Yehi ratzon…And so may it be his will.

My words at Ezra's HaKamat Ha-Matzeva This Morning

08/19/2016 02:50:51 PM

Aug19

Hakamat Ha-Matzeva for Ezra Schwartz Z”TL

R. Noah Cheses

15th Av 5776

Family and friends, we gather this morning to remember and honor Ezra’s life. We are here to cry and to laugh a little. We are here, just nine months later, to recapture the connections.

The Hebrew term for an unveiling is Hakamat HaMatzeva, which literally means establishing a monument. The purpose of us being here right now is to establish the permanence of Ezra in our hearts. We are here to acknowledge that Ezra is still with us as his echo remains in our thoughts and feelings. Although Ezra is no longer physically here, his spirit, his goodness his contagious smile, remain part of who we are and what we will become.

We are here because we know that our memories of Ezra, are not dimmed by the weeks and months that have passed. The passage of time enshrines those memories made with Ezra all the deeper in our hearts.

(After the words of memory were shared)

We have heard from so many people, this morning, who love Ezra. We have heard about a boy, a young man who was full and even overflowing with a simchat ha-chayim with a joy for living life together with his friends. We have heard about a boy, a young man who had a special smirk that spoke volumes. We have heard about a boy, a young man who like a delicate flower was plucked before coming to full bloom. We have heard about a boy, a young man who wanted so badly to give back and leave the world a better place, than it was when he arrived. As we stand here this morning, we know that Ezra succeeded in this goal. He did indeed leave this world a better place that it was when he arrived just two decades ago.

There could not be a more befitting time on the Jewish calander for us to come together for Ezra’s Hakamat HaMatzeva. Today is erev Shabbat nachamu, a Shabbat that is meant to give us comfort. As we enter the sheva d’nechemta the seven weeks of Haftorah readings from our prophets-- intended to provide comfort and hope --after the devastation of Tisha b’Av and destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, we throw our hands up to you Hashem and we beg—we need your nechama! We need your comfort!

We need to hear the sweet words of your prophet Yeshayahu Nachamu Nachamu Ami Yomar Elokechem over and over again. We need your comfort! We need to feel your warm hand on our frail shoulders. We need you to help us turn sorrow into song. We need you to help us turn memories into deeds of caring and love. 

Rabbi's Blog

08/09/2016 08:58:03 AM

Aug9

Drasha Parshat Matot-Masei

 August 6th 2016

Friends,members and fellow Americans, it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in this community, that I formally accept your nomination for Rabbi of the Young Israel of Sharon.  I survived the primaries, the Sharon National Convention and even the big vote. And now I stand before for you, for the first time, serving as your Rabbi.

This is a special moment for our shul and a special moment in my life. As I stand here, I am overcome by two primary emotions—gratitude and excitement. Gratitude to Rabbi Sendor for his extraordinary spiritual leadership of this kehilla. Gratitude to each and every one of you—because everyone contributed, in one way or another, to positioning the shul for a strong transition. And gratitude to Hashem for signaling to me that it was time to return home to Boston to serve this special community.

And I also feel excitement. I see in you and feel it myself. A sense of newness. Like the air is brimming with possibilities for what we can do together. There is a future, a bright future for this community and this shul. It is in our hands to mold, one minyan at a time, one meeting a time, one email at a time.  So many of the raw ingredients for a flourishing Modern Orthodox community are already here and it is on us to take responsibility for the blessings in our lives, and to move ourselves, our families and our community closer to our ideals.

Last week I made the long drive from Toronto to Newton, I was listening to some music and catching up with my thoughts.  There was a point on the highway—after about 200 miles of driving, when I looked up and noticed two signs, one that said New York City with an arrow pointing to the right  and another sign that said Boston with an arrow pointing to the left. As a moved my hand to put on my turn signal to shift over to the left a slight tingle went through my body. I realized that I was coming home. 14 years after leaving Boston. I am returning to a place that gave me so much joy and provided for so many memories. I am returning to a place that helped fashion my Jewish identity and my desire to serve as a Rabbi.

This feelingof coming home is a universal, primal feeling that that animates all people inone way or another. It is a feeling or desire for the familiar, for a placethat is accepting, loving and safe. But the movement of coming home is notalways so simple, so pure and so romanticized. For the Jewish people in ourparsha this morning, coming home to the promised land is anything butstraightforward. It is fraught with complexities, uncertainties and anxieties

With the promised land is in sight, the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe with the request to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan River. (Read pasuk 32:5) Moshe is devastated.The traumatic memories of the spies flood his mind.  He does not want to repeat the same ordeal again. He does not want another generation to throw away their opportunity to come home. So he tries to convince them to change their minds (read pasuk 32:6-7). But they insist. And so Moshe changes tactics. He demands that they ante up, and take a pledge to contribute to the military effort before settling the other side of the Jordan. The conditions of this pledge are repeated no less than 5 times. There are several disparities between these numerous repetitions. 

Rashi points us to a critical difference (read inside). When the leaders of Reuven and Gad make their request, they ask for space for their flock and cities for their children, in that order. When Moshe responds, he deliberately changes the order. You shall build cities for your children and pens for your livestock. They placed their material possessions ahead of their sons and daughters. And Moshe corrected them: Keep the primary primary and the secondary secondary. Build strong homes and solid institutions for your children and then tend to your investment portfolios.

Moshe is attempting to reshape their worldview, to reeducate them and shift their priorities.He grants them permission to live outside of Israel. He gives into that request,but he does so conditionally, only if they put the kids first.

It should be a truism in every shul , that the youth are one of the most important parts, but sometimes people assign higher priority to other matters. One of my priorities as your new Rabbi is to think concretely and creatively about chinuch yeladim,educating our children.

In a shiurthat I heard from my teacher, Rabbi Ahron Lichtenstein Z”TL, he explained that the mitzvah of chinuch can be understood in two distinct ways. In a narrower sense, it is preparing a child for a lifetime of religious observance. As the gemara in Masechet Sukkah 42a relates: When a child is old enough to hold a lulav, a parent must buy one for their child. Whena child learns to speak, a parent must teacher their son or daughter to say the shema. This is the first aspect of our obligation of chinuch yeladim.

In a broader sense, chinuch also has to do with shaping  the identity and personality of a child. This includes teaching a child how to relate to the world, how to be sensitive to people, how to respond to certain events, what to tolerate and what to refuse to tolerate. This second dimension of chinuch, we could call character or derecho eretz. It does not have as sharply defined lines or contours, as does the aspect of Chinuch l’mitzvot. It is the tool box that a child develops  in order to live in in a social, communal setting. It is the skill set for living life together with other people.

I believe firmly that making progress on both aspects of chinuch with our children and especially the second one requires a robust school-shul-home partnership, very much like the one shared by our warm shul, the young Israel, our unified school, the Strier Hebrew Academy and our spiritual homes environments. Don’t misunderstand me—There are other schools that complete this triad, but I am giving a primary example.

A shul is such a critical component of chinuch because it is a living, breathing community in which Torah is lived and practiced day in and day out. It is ashared space where are values come alive, it is a magical forum for ongoing inter-generational activities. It is place where children develop character, a place where they learn how to relate to other types of children of similar and different ages, backgrounds and beliefs.

I am choosing to talk about this issue on my very first Shabbat because I feel very strongly about the need for the Young Israel of Sharon to be a youth conscious shul.I feel that we need to internalize the subtle but significant message that Moshe conveys to Gad and Reuven in our Parsha this morning by switching the order of Mikneh/flock and Tapchem/children. Namely, that a precondition for living outside of Israel is putting our kids first, before everything else.

And when I say our kids—I do not just mean our biological children. Some of us have older children who don’t live in Sharon,  Someof us don’t have children of our own. But we all share in the responsibility for the chinuch yeladim of our shul’s children.

As I assume the mantel of leadership of this Kehilla HaKedosha, I am planning to place a great emphasis on our youth. I am planning, together with your partnership, to answer Moshe’s calling in this week’s parsha.

I have several ideas, from forming a bnei mitzvah club that goes beyond writing speeches, working with our new bnot sherut to reinvigorate bnei akiva and bringing  back mishmash/parent child learning—we need to learn Torah with our children. I also plan to visit the youth groups and teen minyan on a regular basis on Shabbat mornings to share a story or piece of Torah related to the Parsha.

These are just a few of my ideas, but I need your help. Please come over at Kiddush and share your ideas. Please brainstorm at your Shabbat tables and report back by sending an email on Motzei Shabbat. We will need your creativity and resourcefulness to make this vision a reality.

I know that there are other important priorities and many other project that I will be devoting my to but as C.S. Lewis once wrote-- You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get first things and second things only by putting first things first and second things second.

Please be part of this vision.

Be part of making our shul a place where youth matter.

Be part of making our shul a second home for our youth.

Fri, August 18 2017 26 Av 5777