Interfaith Holocaust Service This Sunday

holocaust_serviceFor Jews, remembering is a sacred task both as individuals and as a community.  For us, memory serves the purpose of connecting us with our past and strengthening us on our journey into the future.

Remembering the darkness of the Holocaust is perhaps the most important act of remembrance of our time. We should consider ourselves obligated to remember the Six Million victims of Hitler’s war against our people in the same way that we consider ourselves obligated to fast on Yom Kippur or take part in a Passover Seder.

I am asking you to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering at our community’s annual Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance service. This year’s service will take place on Sunday, May 1 at 4:00 PM at Oheb Shalom. The service is attended by hundreds of people of all faiths. Because we are the hosts of this year’s event, it is especially important that members of our congregation are present in significant numbers.

I also ask you to take part in the March of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 PM at Spiotta Park (located at the corner of South Orange Avenue and Village Plaza near the Chase Bank). The march will be led by members of the South Orange-Maplewood Clergy, who will offer prayers and readings on the theme of support for refugees.

Please park on side streets surrounding the synagogue, as our parking lot will be reserved for those for whom walking is difficult.  If you wish, you may drop off passengers at the main entrance to our building and then park off premises.  You will be able to enter the building through the glass doors on the street level entrance until the start of the service at 4:00 PM.

I look forward to seeing you at this year’s Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service.



P.S. I hope you will join in the celebration of the final days of Passover. We usher in the seventh day with an evening service tonight (Thursday, April 28) at 6:15 PM. Morning services for the seventh day will take place on Friday, April 29 beginning at 9:45 AM. Evening services for Shabbat and the eighth and final day of Passover will take place on Friday at 6:15 PM. And services for the final day of Passover will take place on Saturday, April 30 beginning at 9:45 AM, during which the Yizkor prayers will be recited. After Shabbat ends eat as much Chametz as you want! Chag Sameach!


What Passover is Really About?

In a little more than 24 hours, the celebration of Passover 5776 will begin with the Pesach Sedarim on Friday and Saturday night. Before I say anything else, I want to wish each of you a meaningful and fulfilling Passover experience. I hope that you are surrounded by family and friends with whom new memories of this beautiful holiday are created.

While we seek the best recipes for charoset and the foods that will be served at the Seder, we should stop to ask what the recipe is for a meaningful Seder? Of course, picking a good Haggadah is a place to start, and there are quite a few good ones available today with commentaries and artwork that are meant to inspire discussion. But a meaningful Seder is more than enacting the prescribed rituals in the proper order (that’s what the word “Seder” means) and in the proper way. If all we do is to dip the correct number of times and split the matzah at the correct moment, if all we do is read the text of the Haggadah and sing the songs that close out the evening, then will we have celebrated a meaningful Seder?

If you’re like me, the answer is no. The Talmudic Rabbis who created this experience meant for it to be an open ended conversation about Jewish life, Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish values. The questions may be fixed but the answers are not. There is no prescribed trajectory for the dialogue shared at a Seder.   The only limit on what happens at a Passover Seder is our stamina and how long we can stay awake sitting around the table talking.

This past Shabbat my son Josh, in his Dvar Torah on Shabbat HaGadol, said that Passover is more about the future than it is about the past. It’s about how we are changed as people moving forward and what commitments we are willing to make because of what we said and heard at our Seder. So let me propose that we choose to make our Seder about something transformational. Let our Seder be about actually doing something to support refugees. Let our Seder be about actually doing something to bring an end to modern day slavery. Let our Seder be about doing something to feed the hungry. Let our Seder be about doing something to help the homeless. None of us can solve these mammoth sized problems by ourselves. But we can connect with national and international organizations that are trying to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed and the destitute. If we emerge from this year’s Seder experience energized and inspired to do something to help those in need, then Passover will have worked its magic on us. It will have been about transforming us into doers. Rather than a recounting of the slavery and oppression of the past, our Passover Seder will have pointed us toward a better future for the people of the world.

I encourage you to use these resources on the plagues of modern day slavery and refugees at your Seder to begin the conversation about how you can begin to help to make the world a better place. I’m also including a page with the prayers to be recited as we search for and remove the final remnants of leaven from our homes this evening after dark. And I hope you will join me tomorrow morning for the study session that is traditionally held right after the morning minyan on Erev Pesach.

I wish you a meaningful, fulfilling and enriching Passover celebration!

Do Something!

In his book Teacher and Child, Haim Ginott tells a story about two boys who get into a verbal fight in school. The boys are yelling at each other and the argument is on the verge of becoming physical. Trying to be helpful, the teacher starts to lecture the boys about the importance of respect and tolerance. Suddenly, they turn to the teacher and say “Don’t just stand there…do something!” Ginott offers the story to demonstrate why it’s important for teachers to show that while words matter, action is sometimes necessary to make a difference.   That message is not only relevant to teachers and parents, it’s very much part of the Passover story.

In the Book of Exodus, we read the familiar story of the Ten Plagues, the last of which was the killing of the firstborn of Egypt. In order to prevent the death of their own firstborn, the Israelites are instructed to paint blood on the doorposts of their homes. 

And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

That the Israelites had to paint the blood of the Passover sacrifice on the doorposts of their homes has always been a bit of a puzzle. Since God is omniscient, why was it necessary to place a sign on the doors of the Israelites’ homes? Didn’t God, or God’s angelic representative in Egypt, know which homes were occupied by Israelite families? There must be some reason that they were asked to paint blood on their homes. A 19th century German rabbi offers one possible explanation:

The Israelites had to procure the lamb, lead it through the streets without fear of Egyptian reaction, slaughter it family by family in groups, and finally they had to sprinkle its blood on the doorposts for every Egyptian passerby to see, braving the vengeance of their former persecutors. Their fulfillment of every detail of this rite would be a proof of their complete faith in God. (Rabbi Jacob Zvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865, Germany)

In other words, the Israelites were told to paint the blood of the Passover sacrifice as an act of defiance of their Egyptian masters. Lambs were worshipped by the Egyptians. Killing a lamb was a sacrilegious act in the eyes of the Egyptians, and would take courage. Rabbi Mecklenburg implies that defying their tormentors would not only be a courageous act, it also be a demonstration of the Israelites’ faith in God. If the people truly believed that God was behind them, then they would have no fear of killing a lamb in public and putting its blood on display for all to see.

It could also be said that requiring the Israelites to paint the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doorposts was a way of involving the people in the drama of their own redemption. Rather than make them passive participants, essentially observers, in the release from bondage, the Israelites were told to do something. Freedom must be earned, not bestowed. Painting blood may have been only a symbolic act, but it spoke volumes to the Israelites about being partners in securing their own freedom.

That’s a Passover message worth noting. Soon, we’ll gather around the Seder table to tell our people’s story. We’ll fulfill the customary rituals and sing the traditional songs. What does it all say to us? In two words, the Seder summons us to “do something.” It’s not enough to observe the plight of the world, to take note that there are people still enslaved, still oppressed, still suffering, even in our day. After all the rituals, songs and foods, the Seder must serve the purpose of motivating us to do something to make a difference.

I hope that your Seder will inspire you to find a way to be involved in the redemption of the world, for there is much about our world that needs to be redeemed.

Note: This Shabbat is both Rosh Chodesh Nisan (the beginning of the Jewish month of Nisan, the month in which Passover occurs) and also “Shabbat Ha-Chodesh.” Shabbat Ha-Chodesh (the Sabbat of THE month) inaugurates Nisan with a special reading from the Book of Exodus (12:1-20), a passage that begins to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. With the beginning of the month of Nisan, we begin the spiritual build up toward the celebration of Passover. This year, Rosh Chodesh Nisan and Shabbat Ha-Chodesh occur on the same day, and we’ll read passages from three separate Torah scrolls. We’ll read the first six aliyot of Parashat Tazria from the first scroll; we’ll read the verses for Rosh Chodesh (Numbers 29:9-15) from the second scroll; and we’ll read the verses for Shabbat Ha-Chodesh as the Maftir from the third scroll.