By Andrew Goldwasser
Shabbat Shalom Hagalil
I want each and every one of you to look at the people sitting to your left and right. Are they your friends? If I asked you to think of your favorite memory with them, would one jump into your head immediately? Do you know their parents and if so, do you like their parents better? Hagalil, we are constantly surrounded by our friends and Shabbat services certainly is no exception. We sit next to our best friends because, well, they are our friends! We don’t care how they act or look, we just feel comfortable being with them. Now, I want you all to look at the people sitting in the row in front and in back of you. Do you know their names? How about their grade and chapter? Would you feel comfortable taking a bite out of their perfectly crafted deli sandwich at lunch? Just because you may not know them, does not mean you cannot be friends. With time, you may grow to the relationship level that you have with your best friends. All you need is an open mind.
One needs to have an open mind to see the positive aspects in people and make new friends. If you don’t open your mind to the possibilities, you will not make new relationships and you may be able to relate to the stories from this week’s torah portion.
This upcoming week, we read from the portion Vayeshev where Joseph has his famous dreams about his brothers. In the opening lines of this parsha, we learn that Joseph’s father Jacob, or Israel at this point, loves him best of all his sons.
וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו, כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו–וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ
And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than any of his other brothers, they hated him. It was this one action which leads to Joseph being thrown into a pit and sold to the Egyptians, only to become a leader for them all. Did Jacob show favoritism, yes, but that does not mean that the actions of the brothers were justified. The other brothers were so quick to judge Joseph and instantly closed their minds to the outcomes of their decisions. Ultimately, the brothers realized that what they had done was wrong and reconciled with Joseph. We are able to learn two messages from this passage.
As teens , we tend to act rashly and make decisions quickly and all too often, regret them. Suppose you and a friend get into a small, trivial fight which enlarges and becomes a serious dispute where you both separate completely. As time passes, the emotional bruises may still hurt and may never be healed completely, but if Joseph could forgive his brothers for throwing him in a pit and selling him away to strangers, then you should be able to reconcile with your good friends. Any argument with the people sitting next to you or anywhere in this room can be absolved because they care about you and you care about them, but what about the people in front and in back of you?
As you look at these people sitting with their friends, you may feel like Joseph’s brothers. They already have good friends and therefore, they won’t accept me. YES THEY WILL. Here in Hagalil USY, we have something like that of no other community. We share the friendly attitude and ruach which cannot be found anywhere else. I know that if I step into a conversation with a group of strangers, I won’t feel left out. This community, this Kehila, is far more open minded and accepting than my school or any of our schools. Here, you’re not judged on the way you look, your religion, nor for the bond that you may share with your father. Meeting new people is not as tough as it sounds. It’s fall Kinnus and the year is just beginning! I encourage each of you to introduce yourself to someone new this weekend, and start a new friendship. If you don’t, you’ll never know where the places you’ll go!
Shabbat ShalomPosted on March 4, 2014
Joe Goldberg, EMTZA USY
Former United States President John Adams once said, “I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
Throughout history, the Jewish people have been persecuted relentlessly for thousands of years. But now as Mr. Adams eloquently proclaimed it’s almost as if we are being fully incorporated into the American culture in a way that not only surprises us but makes us feel accepted. Although there are still the occasional swastikas or bricks thrown at synagogues, but for the majority of the country, Judaism is accepted. However, it is more than just being accepted into American culture, we are assimilated within it. For example, if you open a 2012 Merriam-Webster dictionary and look up “Schlep” (S-C-H-L-E-P), we see the action of hauling or dragging something. I can promise you that the 1948 edition did not include this Yiddish word. However, it is more than just inclusions of our terminology; most public schools have guidelines on the material that can be taught on the High Holy days and an incredible amount of brand name foods are hechshered. As spectacular as this may sound, I start to wonder could the acceptance and inclusion of the Jewish race in American culture be a detriment to Judaism?
More and more often we find different excuses to skip Shabbos Services or various holidays. Sometimes we just want to sleep in or go to the baseball game with our friends. However, we do not think about the repercussions of these actions. In the book of Sh’mot Chapter 20 verse 12 Hashem gives Moses the most important commandment of all, כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ” or Honor your father and mother. Typically, we interpret this to mean our paternal mother and father. However, I discovered a deeper meaning. This is more than paternal parents; this is about our ancestral mothers and fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. In order to honor them we need to honor the religion that connects us. By participating in Judaic holidays, prayers, and traditions we honor our matriarchs and patriarchs. As well, we travel to Israel in their honor because they never had the opportunity to see the land that G-d promised to their ancestors, us. Although we may not be happy with them all of the time, because we miss an opportunity with our friends, it is essential to look past the negatives and reflect on the positives in the countless ways they have provided for us.
As Moses descends Mount Sinai he sees the Golden Calf that the Israelites have built. His rage gets the best of him and he destroys the tablets. However, G-d is forgiving, he understands that the people are in a strange place and he instructs Moses, in Sh’mot Chapter 25 Verse 8, to build a tabernacle as a traveling Temple in order for the people to feel connected to G-d, “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם” Hashem gives the Jewish people a chance for Course Correction, we always have the opportunity to change our behavior.
Just like G-d gave the Israelites the option to course correct, we all have this opportunity every day. This philosophy can be applied to all our lives, we all have the opportunity to stop and reroute ourselves. Whether this means that we start doing our homework and studying for tests or we stop abusing alcohol and drugs in order to fulfill ourselves. But most importantly, we have the opportunity to course correct ourselves in our Jewish involvement. It is never too late to start attending Shabbat services or observing and participating in Jewish Holidays. We just read the 10 Commandments last week; we still have the opportunity to take these guidelines to heart and try to live our lives by them.
The fact of the matter is unless our generation starts practicing Jewish holidays those traditions will not be remembered generation to generation and will die out in our lifetime. My Rabbi reiterated this point last week saying that the only way to make sure holidays such as Purim, Simchat Torah, or Sukkot are practiced year to year is to in fact observe them year to year.
Every person in this room has the utmost responsibility to hold Purim in the highest regard, especially women. Ester is the Jewish symbol for women’s rights; she was outgoing and had a destiny to save the Jewish people from Haman’s wrath. WE all have a moral obligation as Jews to not forget her heroism by continuing to celebrate Purim every year.
It is not alone our mission, but by becoming involved in Jewish traditions, we make a significant statement to the older Jewish Community. This course correction shows our elders that Judaism and all of her holidays and traditions are important to us and we will preserve that. It is essential that we make this course correction in order to preserve the faith and legacy of the six million people who gave their lives for these holidays and traditions only 80 years ago.
Throughout all the adversity we may face in our lives, it is essential to connect ourselves to Judaism as our anchor in our busy, hectic lives.
The book Sh’mot which we are currently reading is commonly translated into English as “Exodus”. Fun fact: the books of Torah in English are not translations rather central themes of the book. However, If I Google “Exodus” the first definition is: the mass departure of people and the second definition is: the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. Therefore, Sh’mot was named Exodus because of our departure from Egypt. EXCEPT, that in the 40 books of Sh’mot, only 19 of them concern the Exodus. Yes that is roughly 48% of the book but there is a more central theme occurring; the Mount Sinai experience. Books 20-23 reveal Moses descending from Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments and the laws of G-d that were commanded to him and then 24-40 talk about the Israelites searching for their next Mount Sinai experience. The Mount Sinai experience for the Israelites was this first moment of clarity where they saw a glimpse of G-d and the true meaning of their Exodus from Egypt. It is important to remember that not all the Jews left Egypt, the ones that left were the ones with faith and they were finally rewarded at Sinai.
The fact of the matter is we are all searching for our next Mount Sinai moment. We have all had that one absolutely unbelievable experience that we just want to live over and over again. For me, it is the Israel experience I had last summer with USY. Pilgrimage was the most incredible time of my life. New friends, new food, and a new country was all it took for me to fall in love with Israel, and I see myself searching for the next experience that will impact me like Israel did.
I believe USY has the ability to provide every single one of us with those unbelievable moments. For some people its chapter programming, others it’s regional or international conventions. Regardless, everyone can find their niche in USY and flourish into the person they want to be.
All of this being said and done, I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life. I am simply trying to encourage a flourishing Conservative Judaism Movement. It is up to our generation to reengage ourselves in the wonder and beauty of Jewish tradition. I believe that together, we can make a significant difference in our respective communities. However, I do ask you that if you have the choice to watch an NBA game or attend Purim Services, you go celebrate Purim. If you have the opportunity to watch the NHL playoffs or attend a Passover Seder, you go to your Seder. I ask you to remember your heritage and participate willingly with excitement in these traditions.
I hope you have had a fantastic convention and hope it continues to go from good to great! I would love to meet every one of you so don’t be afraid to come and introduce yourself!
Thank you for listening and please remember that we are more than Americans, we are Jewish Americans. It is important to retain our national identity, but it is essential to the future of the Jewish people that we remember who we are where we came from. I hope that each and every one of you takes the time to make a course correction in your own life and take the time to rediscover the magic of Jewish culture.Posted on February 27, 2014
Register for a USY Summer Program today
Registration for 2014 USY Summer Programs is now open – see the world as only USY can show it to you! Spaces available on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here to apply (using our online application tool) or go to www.usy.org/escape for more information.Posted on February 10, 2014