Temple Beth El News

Rabbi Naomi’s Passover Message 2022

In the Book of Exodus we read the riveting story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, complete with the ten deadly plagues that afflicted the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea. The people cross over to safety, Miriam leads them in celebratory dancing, and Moses leads them in singing, praising the Divine as a “man of war “ (ish ha-milchamah), a fierce Cosmic Protector. Then forty years go by, full of adventures. As the Israelites are about to enter the Land of Canaan and end their wandering, Moses gives lengthy orations reviewing communal history, ritual and ethical laws. We read:

Observe the month of Aviv [Spring] and offer a passover sacrifice to HaShem your God, for it was in the month of Aviv, at night, that HaShem your God freed you from Egypt. You shall slaughter the passover offering for HaShem your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where HaShem will choose to establish the divine name. You shall not eat anything leavened with it. For seven days following you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of poverty—for you departed from the land of Egypt in haste—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live. (Devarim 16:1-3)
כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם

After hundreds of years in Egypt, the swift departure was to be etched in collective memory. During the Pesach Seder we read from the Haggadah, “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what HaShem did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) And we recite: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see him or herself as though s/he came forth from Egypt.” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5) Part of the genius of the Torah text is that it sets the stage for thousands of years of ritualized participatory story-telling. 

A Passover Message from Rabbi Bob

Dear Friends –

We have entered the month of Nisan which will bring us, in a little more than one week, to our first seders.

I'd like to suggest a parallel here with the time leading from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur.

That time also aligns with a new moon, Tishri, which begins the ten “Days of Awe,” during which we are encouraged to search ourselves for any and all evidence of ways in which we have wronged other people. When we do this search with deep intention, and when we approach those folks and ask their forgiveness and express our readiness to make amends, then we will be all the more ready to stand before HaShem on Yom Kippur itself, asking for another year of life.

That's six months from now – a full half revolution of the planet.

Here's the parallel:

My Word | Leave the Holocaust out of it

From the Times-Standard:

My Word | Leave the Holocaust out of it

By Rabbi Naomi Steinberg and Rabbi Bob Rottenberg |
March 9, 2022

We’ve been shocked by Holocaust imagery used to criticize pandemic public health measures: disgruntled Americans calling medical officials Nazis and wearing yellow stars like those forced on Holocaust victims by their killers. Recently a local Jewish business person was horrified by a blogger displaying a swastika made of hypodermic needles next to their company logo. Robert Kennedy Jr. brought his family shame suggesting that Anne Frank had more freedom than Americans today.  He didn’t mention Anne was among 6 million murdered Jews and millions of others the Nazis deemed sub-human. After an outpouring of criticism, Kennedy issued a terse apology. Similar blunders and apologies are made by numerous Republican politicians and right-wing newscasters. (Remember when the GOP stood for fiscal conservatism, not voter suppression and violence?)

Appropriating Holocaust images and names is an insidious form of Holocaust denial, implying the Nazis practiced governmental overreach, not genocide. Diminishment of the Holocaust horrors, or any persecuted people’s suffering, is an affront to human dignity.  In 2020, the Time-Standard printed a rant comparing lack of haircuts to the terrors inflicted on the Jews in Nazi Germany.

From the Rabbi - Praying for Ukraine - 2/25/22

Long ago when I was in high school in Concord, Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to learn some Russian and practice with my grandfather Sam who lived with us for part of the year. I followed that up with an intensive summer course and could speak well enough to enjoy long conversations in Russian with my great-uncle Alexander. I never traveled to Russia and I've forgotten most of what I knew, but a few years ago I got out my old books and brushed up my Russian so I could conduct two weddings in English, Hebrew and Russian. With my limited skills I was able to keep up conversation with the grandmothers. 
Watching the heartbreaking news this week, I was deeply moved to hear Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a remarkable speech directed to the people of Russia. Raised in a Russian-speaking region of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Zelensky is fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian. With some help from the English captioning, I could understand every passionate word he uttered. The tone and bearing of this brave young leader, and hearing his speech in the language of my grandfather's generation, touched me to the core. I only recently learned that Zelensky is Jewish.
In striking contrast, in another news segment I heard Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing his "special military operation" for the purpose of the "demilitarization and de-nazification of Ukraine." I couldn't believe my ears. It sounds bad enough in English, and even worse in Russian. I had been unaware of Russia's ongoing propaganda campaign claiming that Ukraine is controlled by neo-Nazis. This would be outrageous in any circumstances, but all the more so because President Zelensky's great-grandfather and grand-uncles were murdered in the Holocaust.

From the Rabbi - On Religious Freedom

Responding to a Declaration of War on Religious Freedom

Before Hanukkah I wrote my annual critique of the Maccabees and the modern myth that has grown up around them, presenting them as fighting for religious freedom. Fighters they were, and religious, but religious freedom as we understand it -- the right of the individual to practice their religion as they see fit, or not to practice any religion -- that kind of liberty was not something they could have understood, the concept being entirely outside their historical context.

Part of the myth says that the Maccabees were rebelling against Hellenism. In his fascinating book, Heritage and Hellenism (1998) esteemed scholar Erich Gruen gives us essential background:

From Rabbi Naomi - Crisis in Israel and Palestinian Territories

Our hearts are heavy with sorrow for the loss of life in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.  As we are enjoying a beautiful spring, with our gardens, forests and hillsides springing to life, our friends and relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories are suffering a rain of death and terror.  It didn’t have to be this way.  Over and over studies show that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians are thirsting not for blood, but for peace and security.