Yitro 5774

Yitro

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.

Shoftim 5774

Shoftim

By Joe Goldberg, EMTZA USY

Martin Niemoller, a German and Lutheran pastor, famously said:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

This poem reflects the principle of standing up for others as we would want others to stand for us. Throughout history, many groups have been persecuted and denied basic rights.

During the Holocaust, very few people stood up for us Jews, we were a largely unpopular group. As a result, we were allowed to be almost wiped out. It is horrific to think that this could have occurred less than 100 years ago.

It’s easy to persecute a group that is labeled “other.” Not so long ago, we were the “other,” but we weren’t the only ones on the outside.

Up until 1920, women in the United States were not allowed to vote. It took 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence for woman to attain suffrage.

In the 1960s African American’s finally obtained civil rights and it took many more years after for the rights to actually be implemented and accepted.

Today, yet another social injustice is sweeping throughout the country; gays and lesbians across the country are still discriminated against and not given the proper respect they deserve. Teenagers across the country are harassed and made fun of for their orientation.

Taken from Exodus is the phrase: תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה לָאֶזְרָח וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר םבְּתוֹכְכֶ, this directly translates to: There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you. The Torah blatantly states that there shall be one law for both the citizen and the “other”. One may interpret this to also include social status as well as civil rights. Based upon this line from the Torah, gays and lesbians should be treated equally as human beings as well as before the law. Therefore, as Jews, we should be advocates for the legalization of gay marriage.

Regardless of your personal views, love is love. The love a man may feel for a woman and vice versa is no different than the love felt between two men or two women. They want the right to marry the partner of their choice and create a family. In reality, their decision has no effect on heterosexual people. By giving homosexual people the right to peacefully exist– a social justice that is already provided to the rest of the United States will now extend to a greater number of people.

A principle that we as Jews hold dear to our heart is: Tzedek tzedek tear dof. This phrase comes from Parshat Shoftim in Deuteronomy and translates directly to: Justice, justice you shall pursue. In theme with the weekend, the Justice League seeked out justice; the superheroes stood up for what they believe in and helped to ensure safety and justice for all. We have the opportunity to be superheroes in modern day society. By advocating for respect and dignity to be brought to the gay and lesbian community we help extend civil rights to all people in our community.

Throughout the Holocaust, no one stood up for the Jews and our persecution and mass murder has reshaped the recent development of our religion and culture. Because we stood alone, as Jews, it is our moral obligation and responsibility to stand up for those that now stand alone, while their rights are being infringed upon. Not too long ago, throughout most of the world, Jewish people lost many civil rights such as the right inter-marry, the right to own a business, and even the right walk on a sidewalk. Our people have suffered through worst of the worst and because of this we must stand up for those being denied rights we once lost ourselves. In our custom, when remembering the Holocaust, we say: Zachor v’yizkor or Remember and Remembrance. We say this in order to remind ourselves not to forget the tragedy that happened to our people. Therefore, it is our duty to not forget the morals and values our ancestors died for and to help implement them in our society. We can help stop the persecution of gays and lesbians by one offering them a hand in our community as well as advocate for them on the national level. Our ancestors died because they were proud of who they were, lets not let their dignity and honor go to shame.

As Social Action/Tikun Olam Vice President my challenge for all of us is to create a community within EMTZA USY that allows everyone to have a home. I want people to find acceptance and comfort in their lives through USY. Together, we all have an incredible opportunity to make USY a safe zone for all people and encourage the diversity that makes our group so special. Already, EMTZA has done an incredible job of creating an accepting community that allows everyone to be themselves.

While we, as American citizens, enjoy more rights than most, there may come a time in your life when you feel deprived of a civil liberty. If that happens you will be looking for support. People will remember when you stood with them and now they will stand with you.

No one stood with the Jews and we were allowed to suffer. However, now we have the opportunity to stand with another group of people. We can’t change the past, but by providing social acceptance for other groups of people we are changing our future and reshaping the world that allowed our ancestors to suffer.

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 together, we can change the social norm, making our world accepting to all. It is our job to make everyone feel welcome, and make sure that everyone has a place that they can call home.

 

 

 

Chayei Sarah 5774

Chayei Sarah

By Josh Pilchik

Hagesher USY

In last week’s torah portion, Vayeira, Abraham and Sarah have a son after decades of failed attempts. They name him Isaac, and Abraham is later is asked to sacrifice his son by G-d, without an explanation. Abraham follows G-ds instructions and it ends up being a test to see if Abraham would actually follow G-ds commands without question.

It’s amazing how a man can be so devoted to a voice that he hears in his head, but hey he lives to be 175 years old so if you hear voices in your head speaking to you, one, go to a psychologist, but two, maybe G-d is speaking to you!

Anyways, in this week’s Parsha, Chayei Sarah dies at the youthful age of 127 and is buried in the ancient city of Hebron. After her death, Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Isaac in the land of Charan. As Eliezer searches for Isaac’s future wife, he prays to G-d that the woman that is destined to marry Isaac will come to Eliezer and offer him and all of his camels a refreshing drink of water. Soon enough Rebecca comes along and does the prophesized task. After Eliezer explains to Rebecca her future affiliations with Isaac, she agrees to come with him back to meet Isaac. Lo and behold, she and Isaac are married, fall in love, live happily ever after, and Abraham dies at the age of 175, and had a few more kids with Hagar.

Now isn’t that a nice living style? I mean think about it… in these times you live way passed Moses, you have a spouse picked out for you, and you live happily ever after!

This week’s Parsha I think teaches us two things.

First, I believe this texts wants to show us how good Rebecca was, and to look at her as a role model for we should all offer water to those in need, and all of their camels. Or in modern times, if someone is in need… help them!

The second thing I think the torah is trying to tell us is that if you have faith in G-d, things will work out in the end. Sarah had faith in G-d, and around 100 years old still had a son. Abraham had faith in G-d and he lived to be 175!

And, for those who don’t believe in G-d, whenever I look at biblical text I often like taking G-d out of the picture to see what the Torah is trying to teach us morally, so for those who are looking at this week’s parsha without G-d, I think the text is just trying to tell us to believe in our hopes and dreams. If we believe that we will have a child 80 years from now, go for it. If we believe we will find true love in the next 10 years, go for it. If we believe we will get into Harvard and study with Michael Sacks, go for it!

The Torah can be very inspirational at times, even if you have to dig a little to find it.

So I now ask to all of you, what does this week’s parsha mean to you?

Mishpatim 5774

Mishpatim

By Gila Fridkis

Every child, teenager and adult has a prized possession, something they wouldn’t trade for the world, something MasterCard would call “priceless”. In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, the Israelites are given 53 of 613 mitzvot. The portion begins with the instructions for slaves, then deeds with what we would call capitol punishment consequences, and continues on with detailed rules for livestock. We are told in this portion “When a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep.” But what if the oxen that was stolen was a prized possession or even an owner’s only friend. Now, we have a friendless and oxenless person roaming the world, and what is commanded that he gets in return is five more oxen that he doesn’t know… Stranger danger! Although this is a generous gesture that the Torah requires to be equivalent with what the owner lost, it is not. These extra animals amount to more responsibility, take up more room in the pasture and produce more brown circles. In addition, these five together will never equivelate to the owner’s first oxen, for he was priceless. In this parasha, we also hear “life for a life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for a hand, foot for a foot…” etc. Although this fits into other laws about equivalence, is this spiritually equal? Is one hand the same as another? Maybe one is softer, or has weird nails. The point is, that although physical appearances may be the same, an internal connection between the owner and the object is not.

The same can be said for USYers. Each person’s individual experiences in this organization are unique and specific to that individual. Each convention, each program, each conversation one USYer has with another has the potential to mean the world to all those involved, to become priceless.

Vayishlach 5769

Vayishlach 5769

By Emily Mostow

Shabbat Shalom, CRUSY! In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with the angel. Jacob refuses to let the angel go until the angel blesses him. The angel responds by saying, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed” (Bereshit 32:29). It says that Jacob has power both with G-d and with men. An angel is in between the two. Wrestling with an angel symbolizes Jacob’s struggle with both humans and G-d. Jacob prevailed, thus earning the name Israel which means “He who prevails over the divine”. He wins the struggle by appeasing G-d and humans at the same time, as he shows when reacting to his brother’s arrival. When Jacob receives the reports that Esau is on the way with 400 soldiers, he prays, prepares for war, and sends Esau a gift. Just like Jacob, it is our job as the nation of Israel to live up to our responsibility to both humans and G-d. By applying Jewish values to our behavior, we can earn the name Israel. Shabbat Shalom!

 

MELACHA MADNESS: Try to go the whole shabbos without using a slotted spoon (comes from the law against selecting).

 

Tetzaveh 5774

Written by Rachel Provance

Far West USY

In this week’s Parsha, Tetzaveh, the basic garments of a Kohane are discussed. The basic garments consisted of a turban, shirt, pants, and belt. The Kohane Gadol wore four additional garments: the Me’ill – a long outer robe; the Ayphod – a quilted vest or bibbed apron; the Choshen – jeweled breastplate; and the Tzitz – an engraved, golden, forehead plate. The long outer robe is described. The hem of this garment was edged with small bells intended to announce the presence of the Kohane Gadol as he walked through the Bait Hamikdash. All the garments were handmade of the finest white linen. The special vestments of the Kohane Gadol were woven from a special thread spun from five different colored threads, including a thread made of pure gold. The last vessel to be described is the inner, golden Altar, used to burn the daily incense offering. This offering could only be performed by the Kohane Gadol. As we see in this parsha, the Kohain Gadol wore holy pieces, pieces that announced his presence and displayed his importance.

 

When I read of the importance and sheer wonder of the Kohane Gadol’s elaborate wardrobe, I thought about what Jews today are wearing. While it’s safe to say none of us are dressed as elaborately as the Kohane, the way we look is a reflection of who we are, on the inside.  I’m sure many of you have heard a speech similar to this one before; it is important that we dress to reflect our values, ourselves, and often, are faith. Tzniut, modesty, is an extremely important concept, one the Jewish faith clings close to. How, however, do we apply this Tzniut to our daily lives?

 

As a high school teen, I have searching eyes on me all day, and unfortunately, most are searching for something they can make fun of. In an ideal world, no one would be judged by what they wore. It’s inevitable, however, that often you are seen for your attire rather than your true self. This itself is the reason why we must dress in a way that is not only modest, but is a true reflection of ourselves. You are not only representing yourself, you are representing the Jewish people as a whole.

 

As a Jewish teen, it is difficult not to assimilate in the American idea of baring an insane amount of skin. In the parsha, the Kohane Gadol was known and respected for what he was wearing, not for what he wasn’t wearing. He was respected for what he was, and what he stood for, rather than what he wore. His tzniut was there, but no one saw that-rather, they simply saw him, in all his holiness.

 

I must selfishly ask you to emulate the Kohane Gadol- not in necessarily what he wore but what he represented, and what he stood for. So before you leave the house, look in the mirror, and ask yourself if you are representing yourself, and the Jewish people in a way that even the Kohane Gadol would be proud of.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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