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Reflections on Confirmation

By Alison Miller and Bill Kinsey

We were moved to our very core by seeing nine young adults at their confirmation yesterday. These students went through their b’nai mitzvah process three years ago and have now taken individual responsibility for this next level of expressing their Judaism. It was a beautiful and stirring service and we are excited to share our feelings about it with you.

These students worked together to create a Saturday morning Shabbat service. They each personally wrote a part of the service and expressed it in their own words. Confirmation falls on Shavuot, when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. With vigor and energy each student read Torah and as a collective group recited the 10 commandments in both English and Hebrew. We were amazed to see the extent by which they exerted their growing involvement in this Shabbat morning service. Their smiles radiated across the congregation. They were laughing together, supporting one another through hugs and fist bumps and connected as they progressed through the service.

Another special aspect of yesterday’s service was how the students chose to double this Confirmation service with a Bar Mitzvah for one of the other students who never celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah when he turned 13. It was beautiful for the student who was celebrating his bar mitzvah individually, but it was also a great example of the group caring for one another as a Jewish community. This confirmation class learned the importance of doing a mitzvah for someone else.

As a parent I particularly identified with Rabbi Biatch’s message to the students that their choice on this Saturday morning was to confirm their commitment to Judaism rather than conforming to the pressures of their teen years. Witnessing to choose Jewish study at age 16 was inspirational as a parent. These nine amazing teenagers choose to invest their time, their creativity and their passion and confirmed their commitment to taking these ideals into adulthood.

When I think of the Jewish people on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God they must have been totally present in the moment. You can see radical commitment in the faces of these nine teens that will live forever on the wall at Temple Beth El.

Offering Insight into Infamous Mothers

Bobbie Malone

Those fortunate enough to have attended the Social Action Shabbat last month were amply rewarded with the compelling and impassioned presentation of the guest speaker, Sagashus Levingston, author of Infamous Mothers: Women Who’ve Gone through the Belly of Hell . . . and Brought Something Good Back. The book became an affecting play at the Bartell Theatre that delivered sellout performances. Many of us were intrigued, so I interviewed Sagashus to learn more of her story. She moved to Madison from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago about 13 years ago to pursue an MA in African American studies and a PhD in American literature. But she was not a typical graduate student. She was a single mother whose sixth child was born shortly after she became a dissertator. The circumstances of wrestling with mothering and studying were simultaneously challenging and motivating.

With research that focused on feminism and activism, Sagashus found that the academic literature lacked the voices of women like herself—mothers who were both seen as “reprehensible” while also making a positive impact on society. While a grad student, she worked on curriculum development for UW–Madison’s Odyssey Junior project to help children of color and poverty improve their reading and writing ability and encourage their higher educational goals. In so doing, she encountered women in the adult Odyssey program whose voices and stories were perfectly aligned with stories she was already collecting from mothers: those who had been seen as “setting feminism back” by making the choices they had made. Sagashus wanted to make sure that their stories made it into the archives of academia.

Realizing that such stories “could be used to invite conversation,” she worked with a photographer and designer to create a conscious juxtaposition between the handsome crafting of Infamous Mothers as a coffee-table book and the very raw stories of the women depicted within it, told in their own words. Sagashus collected these accounts from mothers she encountered in Madison and those with whom she grew up in Bronzeville, including her own mother and her aunts. She sought to emphasize the contrast between the rawness of the stories and the beauty of the storytellers in order to “interrupt the preexisting rhetoric.” The faces of these women more often are seen in mug shots and on the news with their hair sticking up, caught at their most vulnerable moments. Sagashus wanted photographs that represented how these women would like to be seen, to confront preconceived perceptions quickly and unexpectedly.

Sagashus crowd-funded the self-publishing of the book even before completing her dissertation, in which the stories figured prominently. Meant to be more “informative” than “a good read,” the book itself has a pedagogical component: to build community around issues and topics. Social justice is important to her; she grew up with a mother who was a community organizer and activist. Sagashus ingested her mother’s approach and similarly responds to what needs to be done.

Once the Infamous Mothers project ended, the women with whom Sagashus worked wanted to keep going, and although she could see “that they wanted me to be some sort of bridge,” she wasn’t sure how to play that role. Her determination to build that bridge led her to become an entrepreneur in the for-profit venture known as Infamous Mothers University (IMU). Sagashus chose the for-profit route because she did not want to compete with nonprofits in the community that she provided programming for, but ultimately, she wanted to have the financial means to extend their capacity. She has found great support working with the Doyenne Group, a Madison- and Milwaukee-based organization that supports women from all backgrounds as entrepreneurs in both launching and further developing their businesses.

Similarly, IMU works to help women build mothering practices that honor who they are both privately and publicly, whether they are entering the workplace or moving up the career ladder. That support helps them balance the challenges of managing both family and career. IMU simultaneously provides diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops to corporations aware of the needs of the working mothers they employ. Sagashus hopes that IMU will become the link between what the nonprofits do for the women and the wider world into which they are moving without that support system.

Currently, Sagashus is engaged in producing a documentary that, in part, focuses on the incarceration of women. She’s interested not only in their experiences in jail or in prison but also in the ripple effect of those experiences on parenting, housing, and employment. The documentary will also deal with women associated with incarcerated partners, and the responsibilities that these mothers have to handle as temporarily single parents.

Because she successfully crowd-funded the publication of Infamous Mothers, she plans to crowd-fund the documentary as well, with the launch planned for June 20. Sagashus likes the community created by crowd-funding and believes that such wide-based support and buy-in is crucial to her effort to build a company that intentionally works to address such social issues as these: the maternal wall, the achievement and opportunity gaps, and the pay gap.

As the mission of IMU is to own its place as an education and media company that produces products and services “for women who mother from the edge,” Sagashus hopes to fulfill the very rigorous certification process that allows the company to be listed as a Certified B Corporation. This new business model balances “purpose and profit” by considering the way business decision-making affects “workers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” Her determination to build IMU in such a fashion reflects Sagashus’s determination to better the lives of mothers.

Help Needed with Meals at Healing House

Social Justice Spotlight

Imagine you are homeless, being treated for cancer, are a mother with small children, and have just been released from the hospital after surgery. You may be given hotel vouchers for three to five days, so you have a place to recuperate, but you have no meals, no childcare, no way to get medication follow-up or medical attention, and no way to get to follow-up appointments.

The Healing House, a program of Madison-Area Urban Ministry (MUM), is the response to this problem. This eight-bed facility, which recently opened at 303 Lathrop Street in Madison, provides 24/7 recuperative care by medically trained staff and volunteers for up to 28 days. It is the first medical respite program of its kind in Wisconsin and provides care to families who are homeless and have an immediate family member in need of ongoing medical care during recovery. The Healing House will provide clients with three meals a day, childcare assistance, and case management to end the cycle of homelessness. It is a cost-effective alternative for hospitals and the community, promoting wellness for homeless families in Dane County. Nationwide, there are 63 medical respite programs, a proven model of care.

As an interfaith organization, MUM is responding to the call across faith traditions to care for the sick. In Judaism, bikur cholim (Hebrew for “visiting the sick”) includes a wide range of activities that include providing comfort and support for people who are ill. Bikur cholim is a mitzvah, a moral and spiritual obligation.

The Healing House is partnering with The Road Home for case management and volunteer assistance. Temple Beth El has partnered with both MUM and The Road Home in the past, and therefore it seemed natural for us to continue that partnership by volunteering with the Healing House. Volunteers are being asked to assist with dinner by cooking and dropping off meals and by serving and cleaning up after dinner at the house. Volunteers will also shop for grocery items for breakfast and lunch. Sign up to help with this mitzvah at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0E48A8AC22A4FF2-healing.

TBE Sisterhood and Social Justice

Linda Reivitz

The Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) mission statement says, in part, that Temple Sisterhoods will advocate for and promote progressive Jewish values.

TBE Sisterhood tries to achieve that goal in a variety of ways. For many years, we have provided assistance to women and children in temporary residence at the YWCA. We have supported those receiving services because of domestic abuse. This year we collected donations of feminine products to help those in need at the Grace Episcopal Shelter. We provided new socks for men, women, and children who are served by Madison’s homeless shelters. We donated graham crackers, juice boxes, and other snacks for the kids at Emerson School. Members of the Sisterhood also tutored some of those students. We collected cleaning supplies for homeless families who recently moved into their own homes. And we joined with others from TBE to make lunches for the kids so they would have food during the Madison schools' spring break.

It is a mitzvah for our Sisterhood members to help those who are less fortunate than we are, and we continue to take this task seriously.

Social Action Volunteer Opportunities

Social Justice Spotlight

Do you have some free time? We have lots of great opportunities to help out in our community.

  • Wednesday, May 30: Shop, bake, cook, or serve dinner for the Porchlight Shelter Program. Sign up at https://signup.com/go/CoxuSvR.

  • Sunday, June 30: Attend the Dane Sanctuary Coalition’s Know Your Rights training, hosted by TBE. This training is one of the steps required to be able to help out anyone in sanctuary through the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, of which TBE is a proud member. Learn more at https://www.tbemadison.org/event/uon-know-your-rights-training.html.

  • June 16–22: Help provide meals and friendship at the Healing House. Sign up at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0E48A8AC22A4FF2-healing.

  • This summer, join our group of dedicated tutors helping children from the refugee family supported by TBE volunteers and Jewish Social Services. Contact Sherie Sondel for more information at sherie.sondel@gmail.com.

  • Any time, at your convenience: Scrapbookers wanted! Are you good with design and decoration? Able to post the occasional poster or photo? The Social Action Committee bulletin board by the office is sadly neglected and needs some love. Contact Marcia Vandercook at marcia.vandercook@gmail.com—you will be surprised at the level of heartfelt appreciation you receive!

 

Temple Beth El Confirmation Class: Working to Make a Difference

Michelle Gustafson

As a teacher in the Temple Beth El Jewish education program, I have had the privilege of knowing a great many thoughtful, smart, and caring young people. This year’s Confirmation Class is no exception. As they prepare for their ceremony in June, it has become clear that these students care about extending their own personal Jewish experiences, but the focus goes beyond solely their own interests.

Like many confirmation classes, this is a group who has known each other for years, studying together in religious school, experiencing each others’ b’nai mitzvah, and supporting each other throughout. I’m proud to say that I have known all these students for many years, and they are truly remarkable.

The confirmation ceremony is very special to the Beth El community. Its intention is to commemorate the Jewish life these students have chosen to live, a life that extends beyond b’nai mitzvah, typically at age 13. These young people are currently students at Midrasha, or they work at Beth El in the religious school program as madrichim. Still others are completing independent study into Jewish life, or they hold leadership positions within our Temple Youth Group.

Regardless of the many ways that qualify them, what is common about all of these students is their incredible empathy. During a day-long retreat, as a group this class decided that their confirmation ceremony would include the bar mitzvah of one of their classmates who had yet to celebrate this simcha. In addition, their class gift to Beth El, a bowl & pitcher for washing, speaks to the students’ sympathy for mourners who enter Temple and interest in caring for them with this meaningful gesture.

Temple Beth El’s Confirmation ceremony is a choice we give our teenagers to make. When asked to explain why they chose to participate in this ceremony that celebrates the continuation of their Jewish lives, this is how some of the students responded:

”It shows everyone how awesome we are.”--Ben Gustafson

“Confirmation allows me to feel connected to my faith and my peers in a meaningful way.”--Zoe Byer-Wein

“It [preparation for Confirmation, to include a day-long retreat] has been a great experience for all of us, because we have all known each other for a very long time, and we all want to continue our Jewish path together.”--Ian Staresinic

I believe Ian’s comment states it best: our community’s future must care for each other in order to take care of themselves. Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah are being lived through the example of this confirmation class.

TBE Confirmation Class of 5779

Zoe Byer-Wein
Ben Daly
Ari Greenlee
Benny Gustafson
Jessie Kahn
Aviva Kinsey
Ben Magenheim
Nikko Schneiderman
Ian Staresinic

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 6 - Auschwitz

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Our Visit to Auschwitz

The gloominess of this day matched our mood and our feelings about being in Auschwitz, near to the city of Krakow, Poland. Together, Auschwitz and Birkeneau concentration camps make up approximately one and a half to two square miles of area, and we saw the museum and some of the hundreds of old, dilapidated, and non-existent barracks for the prisoners.

These camps exterminated approximately 1.1 million people, and they have served as an icon of the Holocaust. We spent approximately 3 and 1/2 hours touring the museum, 2 and 1/2 hours seeing only parts of the massive prisoner camp, also with its decaying gas Chambers and crematoria.

One question to be debated is whether one should maintain and restore, perhaps, this camp, or whether it should be let to deteriorate further and have the Earth reclaim it. We guess that the answer has to do with the purpose of what we call memory. Does memory serve to bring us emotions and feelings only, or does it also serve to teach humanity lessons about the future?

These questions and others will be debated for many years, and your Rabbi challenges you to wonder about it as well.

.

Update from Eastern Europe - Days 4 & 5

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Shavuah tov from Eastern Europe.

Our itinerary this past Friday included major religious sites in the city of Budapest. We visited the cathedral of Saint Stephens, located on the western side of the city, and then we visited to synagogues on the eastern side, one being the very famous Donany orthodox synagogue, the other being Beit Orim (house of lights) synagogue, liberal congregation, where we worshipped on Friday evening.

The Dohany synagogue is more of a museum than a synagogue, though there is a worship group that meets regularly for prayer. The building is beautiful, located in a fashionable part of town, and attracts visitors from around the world.

The Beit Orim congregation is an active thought dying congregation connected to the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The congregation meets on Friday evenings and most Saturday mornings for worship and Torah study, and uses the building of the local Jewish community center. Our group was warmly welcomed into this congregation on Friday evening, and Rabbi Raj (pronounced ‘roy’) invited me to offer a few impromptu words to his congregation. The service lasted about one hour and 15 minutes long, and we enjoyed a beautiful and festive Oneg Shabbat afterwards.

Because of the political squabbles between the different parts of the local Jewish community, this congregation is dying and may not survive another year. The Orthodox community receives most if not all government funding for religious institutions, and, as the way things go, does not share much with the progressive community. At some point I will speak about this issue. But suffice to say that this is a fractured Jewish community.

Saturday, We drove to the city of Kraków, Poland, to prepare ourselves to meet members of the Jewish community there, tour the concentration camp complex of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and continued to learn more about the Jewish experience in Poland and eastern Europe.

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 3 - Budapest

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Shoes. Seventy-two pairs of bronzed shoes on the shore of the Danube River in Budapest.

And this is how many of the Jews, numbering between 2500 and 10000, were murdered by the Nazis in 1944 and 1945 before the end of the war. They were brought to the river, told to remove their shoes, and then were summarily shot and their bodies pushed into the flowing water.

This stunning memorial, dedicated in 2005, is one way that the Hungarian government is trying to properly remember and venerate the victims of the Holocaust who were killed at this spot. Primarily but not entirely Jews, the victims had no opportunity for defense, no opportunity for trials for evaluation. They simply died because they were Jews.

Thus began our stay in Budapest, Hungary. Today, in a constant drizzle, we toured the city seeing many of the sites that distinguishes this place following the fall of communism: a former secret police building turned into a hotel, former Soviet offices turned into apartments and museum spaces, and a burgeoning recognition of the role of Hungary in the Holocaust.

Such recognition spreads among the people. In fact, this evening, during dinner, a pianist in the restaurant where we dined played a selection of Jewish tunes. Now, it is likely that such a concert was offered because they knew that there were 19 Jews dining there. Be that as it may, there are many recognitions of the Jewish presence in this city around, and on Friday, we hope to visit the famous Dohany Synagogue, the largest synagogue building in the European continent. it is quite the tourist spot and destination. We will also learn more about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved an estimated 120,000 Hungarian Jews.

We will also visit a liberal Jewish synagogue for Shabbat evening services, followed by a meal with one or more of its members. We will be fortunate to learn about the various controversies regarding both hungary's president orban and the internal disputes among members of the Jewish community of Hungary.

Stay tuned for more. We are thinking of you as we travel through Eastern Europe.

Update from Eastern Europe - Day 2 - Terezin

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Wednesday May 8, Our Day in Terezin

Our bus traveled an hour north of Prague to the concentration camp named Terezin. This place is a former military fortress that served as a “model” concentration camp the Nazis used to conceal the horrors of the Final Solution.

The springtime scenery is patterned with fields of canola plants, the bright yellow petals that you see in the photo. The beauty and calm of that country ride was shadowed by the infamy of Terezin as a place where hundreds of thousands of people died during the Holocaust.

Formerly a walled army garrison built in the late 1700’s and then called Theresienstadt, it was intended to protect bridges over the nearby Ohre and Elbe Rivers from military attack, and its citadel and castle structure once housed more than 5,000 soldiers in preparation for war. Oddly enough, the fortress never came under military attack.

In the mid-1800’s, it became a prison, and then specifically a military prison during WW I. It was not until the Nazi invasion of this region, known as the Sudetenland (because many ethnic Germans lived there), that the area came under the interest of the Gestapo to create a concentration camp on that site. From 1939-1941, there was much construction work to accommodate the thousands of inmates that they anticipated coming there.

The most shocking facet of Terezin is its history as a “model” concentration camp. The Nazis shielded from the world their Final Solution by enabling the International Red Cross (ICRC) to inspect the camp and see how ‘pleasant’ life was for those interned there. The Jewish inmates were forced to create counterfeit social and intellectual lives consisting of concerts and orchestras, soccer leagues and matches, lectures and other aspects of a ‘normal’ life only for the benefit of the ICRC’s visit. The reality is that more than 33,000 people died in the town from population density, disease, and malnutrition. Terezin is preserved today as a museum and living reminder of the terrors of the Holocaust, and a memorial to those who lived and died there.

Full capacity of the town of Terezin is around 6,000, yet at times there were more than 60,000 Jews of  various ages living there. That is the reason that so many people died from malnutrition and disease.

At the site there are two large cemeteries, each honoring both the Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Nazi war machines. There is also a crematorium where the Nazis destroyed the sacred vessels/bodies of Jews and others who had died.

This was a somber day for us who visited this place today. Oddly enough, our visit today took place on the anniversary of the victory over the Nazis in Europe, which was May 8, 1945

An Update from the Eastern Europe Trip - Day 1 - Prague

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

I am writing to you from Prague where out journey to discover Jewish heritage and history, as well as future configurations of the Jewish communal life here.

The flights were smooth and easy, with very little turbulence.

After meeting our tour operator Jerry at the Prague airport, we immediately began our touring of the general sites of this medieval and modern city. The horizon consists of old and new construction, and the local economy continues to be strong.

We toured the 12th century cathedral in the middle of the town, the current presidential mansion, the gigantic town square filled with tourists - it must be Spring break - and then to dinner at a local restaurant, we all went to bed exhausted and ready to visit Terezin, the so-called “model” concentration camp which the Nazis used to hide the camps true purpose. Among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in 1943 was famously fooled by the Nazi propaganda about a place where thousands of children died or were killed.

The medieval character of Prague mixes in nicely with modern day except when it comes to crowded traffic conditions and lack of parking spaces. It is simply hard to maneuver in the old city.

The weather was cool and mostly dry today, and we’ll have good weather also tomorrow. The group is getting to know one another, and it’s a very good group of people. More to come tomorrow.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Social Action Volunteer Opportunities

Social Justice Spotlight

Do you have some free time? We have lots of great opportunities to help out in our community.

  • On Tuesday, April 30, you can help serve families at the Multicultural Dinner at Emerson School (then have some delicious international food yourself!) Sign up at http://signup.com/go/qbbNsTD.
  • On Wednesday, May 29, you can shop, bake, cook, or serve dinner for the Porchlight Shelter program. Sign up at https://signup.com/go/CoxuSvR.
  • This summer, join our group of dedicated tutors helping children from the refugee family supported by TBE volunteers and Jewish Social Services. Contact Sherie Sondel at sherie.sondel@gmail.com for more information.
  • Any time, at your convenience: Scrapbookers wanted! Are you good with design and decoration? Able to post the occasional poster or photo? The Social Action Committee bulletin board by the office is sadly neglected and needs some love. Contact Marcia Vandercook at marcia.vandercook@gmail.com—you will be surprised at the level of heartfelt appreciation you receive!

Standing Room Only for “Faith Communities Addressing White Supremacy”

Social Justice Spotlight

On March 24, over 200 concerned and compassionate individuals piled into the Madison Public Library to hear from faith leaders and community organizers about the attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The audience heard from seven speakers from various faith communities about the need to respond to white supremacy movements around the world and in our own community. Audience members then broke up into small groups to introduce themselves to one another and discuss ways to meet this challenge. The organizers plan to use the results of these small-group circles to create future events and programs. You can follow the progress of this effort here: https://www.facebook.com/events/331524700829655/permalink/337725216876270/.

Lively Conversation about “Infamous Mothers” at Social Action Shabbat

Social Justice Spotlight

On April 12, the Social Action Committee welcomed Madison author Sagashus Levingston, author of the book Infamous Mothers, to speak at our Social Action Shabbat. Ms. Levingston shared stories from her book about marginalized mothers, reflecting the humanity and value of women who have overcome incredible challenges, including poverty, addiction, and imprisonment. She also talked about her current work supporting women on a long-term basis once they begin to turn their lives around. She offers online support and other services at https://www.infamousmothers.com. More than 70 Temple Beth El members attended the dinner and talk, and stayed to ask questions afterward.

Support the Initiative to Offer Driver’s Licenses for All

Social Justice Spotlight

As a member of the Dane Sanctuary Coalition and a signatory to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Urgency of Now campaign, Temple Beth El is committed to work for justice for our immigrant brothers and sisters. One important way we can advocate for immigrant rights is to be involved right now in the fight for legal driver’s licenses and state IDs for all Wisconsin residents, regardless of immigration status.

This is not just an issue of justice; it is also an issue of safety and economic sustainability in our state.

Fundamental to living a life of dignity is the ability to take care of yourself and your family. Access to educational opportunities and to employment are necessary in order to achieve that goal. But undocumented immigrants who are barred from obtaining a driver’s license face untenable choices—either forgo education and employment, try to deal with our wholly inadequate public transportation system, or take the risk and drive illegally.

These choices rob people of their dignity, as they rob them of their pathway to a better life.

The Bible teaches us: “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 24:22). Wisconsin needs to have one such standard for the ability to drive for all our residents, regardless of immigration status. Governor Evers’s budget calls for restoration of legal driver’s licenses and state IDs for all, as was the law prior to 2007.

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is taking public comments right now on the governor’s budget proposal. You can take action now: Contact them at BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov, and also contact your own senator and assembly member at http://legis.wisconsin.gov/.

Please urge your legislators not to take this right away from Wisconsin residents who simply want to drive safely and within the law, to get to school and to work, and to live lives of worth and dignity.

When you send your comments and talk to your legislators, use these talking points (please put them into your own words).

  1. If everyone who wants to drive has access to a legal driver’s license, they will be able to get to school and to work, which helps people succeed in life and adds to our economy.
  2. The ability to get a legal driver’s license means drivers will be more likely to know the rules of the road, which makes us all safer.
  3. Those with legal drivers licenses are more likely to have insurance.
  4. Wisconsin needs to have one standard for the ability to drive for all our residents, regardless of immigration status. It is a matter of justice.

Finally, please come to the Capitol on Wednesday, May 1 at 11:00 am, and join Voces de la Frontera for “A Day Without Latinx and Immigrants.” Learn more at http://vdlf.org/mayday2019 and https://www.facebook.com/events/1076917719146461/?active_tab=about.

Join an Interfaith Iftar (Break the Fast) to Celebrate the Conclusion of Ramadan

Social Justice Spotlight

On May 11 at 7:45 pm, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice will co-sponsor the third annual interfaith iftar, with Edgewood College and Muslim Women United for Peace. This potluck event takes place at Edgewood College’s Edgedome, 1000 Edgewood College Avenue. Please bring a dish to share (please no pork, shellfish, or alcohol), and be prepared for an evening of fun, learning, and fellowship!

To RSVP, sign up to bring a dish, and/or volunteer to help out, please go to http://evite.me/jtRZxfn6XV. This event is free and open to the public.

 

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice Celebrates Faithful Support for Dignity at Work

Social Justice Spotlight

On April 30, 7:00 to 9:00 pm at Lake Edge United Church of Christ, 4200 Buckeye Road, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice will host its annual celebration of a year of faithful work for social justice and interfaith understanding. This year, the organization celebrates its work with the Dignity at Work Coalition (http://www.dignityatworkcoalition.org/) and presents its Voice for Justice Award to Wisconsin State Assembly Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa.

Nationally recognized country and folk singers and TBE members Bobbie and Bill Malone will provide entertainment. Bill is a renowned historian of country music who will be featured this fall on Ken Burns’s new documentary on PBS.

Temple Beth El members are invited to attend, and to bring a friend! Light refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to wifaithvoices4justice@gmail.com by April 25.

Prisoner Re-entry Simulation Scheduled for June 2

Social Justice Spotlight

Have you ever wondered why many people released from prison find it difficult to succeed? The acclaimed Returning Prisoner Simulation developed by Madison Urban Ministry offers a close-up view of what it’s like to come home from prison, inserting participants into realistic scenarios and lifelike struggles that formerly incarcerated persons are likely to encounter.

This workshop begins with an introduction to the principles of Restorative Justice and explains the basic needs of people returning from prison. Each participant receives a mock profile that describes the life of a particular person, and takes on the role of that character during a brief role-play. Participants must complete fundamental life tasks, such as finding housing and a job, or simply cashing a check, opening a glimpse into the sense of overwhelming frustration that newly-released prisoners often feel.

Participants have the opportunity to debrief and share their immediate reactions. The simulation concludes with a panel of formerly incarcerated people who share their own re-entry journeys and answer questions from participants.

To join in a journey of understanding and reconciliation, sign up for this eye-opening program here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/returning-prisoner-simulation-tickets-59333971506.

As a special benefit, Madison Urban Ministry is making this valuable program available to us on the basis of voluntary donations. Donations of $5 to $50 are appreciated, or you can attend for free by serving as a volunteer. Volunteers can sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c054ca4aa2da1f85-returning1.

“It was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve heard that it’s difficult for former prisoners to re-establish themselves in the community, but I had no idea until I tried.”

—Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge

This program is sponsored by the TBE Urgency of Now Action Team on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System.

The Omer: What is it? And why do you count it?

Carole Kantor

Between Passover and Shavuot we can latch onto an ancient custom and use it as a discipline to become kinder, smarter, stronger, more mindful of ourselves and those around us. Set your own goals and remind yourself of them every day as you count the Omer. This is obviously a modern slant on a Biblical custom, but it can make it more relevant for us today.

The counting of the Omer, on the 49 days from Passover’s second night until Shavuot seven weeks later, has its roots in the agrarian society of Biblical Judaism. In that time Jews would bring a sheaf of barley to the Temple on the second day of Passover and then count for seven weeks to mark the period between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah. There, in Leviticus 23:15-16, is the commandment to observe this seven-week period.

As for so many aspects of our tradition we can find varied interpretations of the meaning and the obligations of this ritual. A Rabbinic Midrash relates that Moses told the Israelites after their miraculous escape from Egypt that they would be given the Torah, and in their excitement, they counted the days until it would happen as they travelled to Mount Sinai. The Rabbis proposed that the Israelities underwent spiritual and character development during these weeks.

In the strictest observance, the Omer period is a time of partial mourning when Jews refrain from haircuts, shaving, listening to instrumental music, or conducting weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing. This practice is attributed to historic events in the first and second centuries when Torah scholars died in conflicts with Romans during the Omer. Within the seven weeks, the rules of mourning are lifted only on the thirty-third day, called Lag BaOmer. Many Jews celebrate on Lag BaOmer, many weddings take place, and outdoor activities of all kinds mark the new season. 

To help with the discipline of the Omer period people have devised calendars over the years.  From decks of cards, to devices resembling an abacus, to a look-alike of the periodic table of the elements, human ingenuity abounds. And of course, today you can find numerous cellphone apps that keep track of the days of the Omer and offer both the traditional prayers for daily counting and extras to extend spiritual practice.

At the Kotel with Women of the Wall: A Firsthand Account

Jane Taves


Photo by Hila Shiloni

It was pre-dawn in Jerusalem on Friday, March 8.

I was in Israel with a small group of leaders from Women of Reform Judaism. We had timed our trip to participate in the Women of the Wall (WOW) 30th anniversary celebration. And now we were on our way to the WOW monthly Rosh Chodesh service at the Kotel—the Western Wall.

We had been warned that this would not be a typical Rosh Chodesh service. Knowing that the 30th anniversary would bring women from around the country and around the world, the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) leadership had mounted a campaign to undermine and ultimately disrupt this celebration. We knew that Haredi students were being transported to the Kotel, to arrive ahead of our 7:00 am service, to fill the women’s section and prevent us from praying.

But nothing could have prepared us for the reality.

That early morning, four of us arrived together at the Kotel and found the women’s section packed with Haredi high school girls. As we approached, a WOW supporter on the periphery told us there was no room—it was impossible to reach the service in the middle of the crowd. But we joined hands, made a human chain, and began pushing through the crowd. Haredi girls blocked our way, tried to pull us apart, and did all they could to prevent us from joining our group.

It was one of most frightening short walks I have ever made.

We reached the service location, but it became immediately clear that there would be no joyful praying that morning. I never even took my WOW siddur from my backpack.

Our women had formed a circle around our prayer leaders to try to protect them from hands reaching for their tallitot, their kippot, and their siddurim. The Haredi girls around us were shoving, kicking, shouting. It seemed very possible that someone would be pushed to the ground and trampled.

During all of this, the police were absent.

As we had approached the Torah service, we learned that it was too dangerous to bring out the Torah that had been smuggled in for this purpose. The violence was escalating, and the WOW leaders decided that we would relocate to the rudimentary egalitarian worship space at Robinson’s Arch. As soon as this decision was made, dozens of police appeared and made a path to escort us out of the mob. At Robinson’s Arch, our heartbeats finally began to return to normal. We were able to draw the first deep breath in over an hour.

We finished our service with joy, singing, and dancing. Unbelievably.

What might be the impact of our experience? Might this level of violence finally goad the Israeli government into honoring their agreement to create an appropriate egalitarian worship space, one that is not under the jurisdiction of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate?

Traumatic as it was, some feel that this could be a turning point in the struggle.

To be clear: the struggle is not just about the Western Wall. The struggle is about who controls marriages, divorces, conversions. It is about who is considered to be a rabbi in Israel, who is to be considered a Jew. It is about being able to live an authentic, non-Orthodox life in the Holy Land, something we take for granted in North America. And someday—yes—we may be able to pray as a women’s community at the Western Wall.

Ken Y’hi ratzon.

Update from the Urgency of Now Immigrant Action Team

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Along with the Words of Worth and letter-writing campaign, we hope to pursue several initiatives in the near future. Potential actions include an educational presentation for Religious School students regarding the Green Card Youth Voices: Immigrant Stories project as well as supporting our new governor’s agenda to legalize drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants and provide in-state tuition for college students who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Urgency of Now Immigrant Action Team, please contact one of our co-chairs, Erica Serlin at ericar.serl@gmail.com, Lynn Silverman at lynns3869@gmail.com, or Marta Karlov at mokarlov2@gmail.com.

Refugee Resettlement

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Our Temple Beth El community has continued to support the family from the Congo that we helped Jewish Social Services resettle in May 2018. It is inspiring to see what this amazing, hardworking, appreciative family has accomplished in less than a year, and we are honored to assist them. TBE members Linda Reivitz, Deb Giesfeldt, Nancy Brower, Suzanne Wolf, Lynn Silverman, and Erica Serlin have been tutoring the three older girls in reading, writing, and English at their school. This would not have been possible without the incredibly helpful books donated by the Field family business, Books 4 School. Cathy Rotter and Mary Fulton have been delivering household goods that the family cannot purchase with FoodShare vouchers. If you are interested in participating or helping with any of these efforts, please contact Sherie Sondel.

Prisoner Re-entry Simulation Scheduled for June 2

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Have you ever wondered why so many people released from prison are unable to succeed and end up back in the criminal justice system? If so, you will want to save the afternoon of June 2 for the acclaimed “Returning Prisoner Simulation” developed by Madison Urban Ministry. This simulation offers a close-up view of what it’s like to come home from prison, inserting participants into realistic scenarios and lifelike struggles that released prisoners are likely to encounter.

This workshop begins with an introduction to the principles of restorative justice and explains the basic needs of returning prisoners. Each participant receives a mock profile that describes the life of a former prisoner and they take on the role of that character during a brief role-play. They must complete fundamental life tasks, such as finding housing and a job or simply cashing a check. This experience offers a glimpse into the sense of overwhelming frustration that a newly released prisoner may feel. The simulation concludes with a panel of formerly incarcerated people who each share their own re-entry journey and then answer questions from participants.


Please mark your calendars for this eye-opening program, and watch for more information later this spring. This program is sponsored by the Urgency of Now action team on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System.

Sisterhood Support for Emerson School Health Office

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As part of the Sisterhood Shabbat on January 25, a call went out for donation of graham crackers and juice boxes to stock the health office at Emerson School. The Emerson School nurses say that when children feel unwell and come to the nurse’s office, their discomfort is often magnified by the fact that they’re hungry.

Sisterhood responded with its usual generosity, collecting an entire carload of snacks! These supplies are enough to provide comfort for children through the end of the school year.

Support for Emerson School is part of an ongoing collaboration of the three Madison Jewish congregations, Temple Beth El, Beth Israel Center, and Congregation Shaarei Shamayim. The three congregations also provide academic support through reading and math tutors. If you are interested in helping, please contact Marcia Vandercook at marcia.vandercook@gmail.com.

Blockstein Lecture Focused on Racism in the Criminal Justice System

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At the Liesl M. Blockstein Memorial Lecture on February 10, attorney Carousel Bayrd got right to the point with her first slide: “Our criminal justice system is racist.” She then showed through examples and statistics how the criminal justice system is structured in a way that produces racially disparate results in incarceration, even when there is no difference in the rates at which crimes are committed.

Bayrd has been on the Dane County Board of Supervisors since 2006 and has worked on issues affecting the jail, the mental health system, and housing policy. Although she spoke highly of the many judges and law enforcement officers that she has worked with, she maintained that racism is baked into the assumptions underlying the criminal justice system. Because of that, the system will produce the same results regardless of how well-meaning the participants might be or how facially neutral the policies might appear.

She pointed out how criminalization of addiction, bail criteria, public defender underfunding, and revocation policies all contribute to the problem. She noted that the City of Madison, Dane County, and Wisconsin all have some of the worst disparities in the country, despite years of concern about the issue. At the same time, she gave examples of the progress that has been made in recognizing these structural impediments and the promise of new initiatives under discussion. The program ended with a lively question-and-answer session.

This year’s Blockstein lecture topic dovetails with the work being done by the Urgency of Now action team on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, co-chaired by Mary Fulton and Jim Mackman. If you are interested in helping to address these issues, please contact Aleeza Hoffert at engage@tbemadison.org for more information.

Rescheduled “Words of Worth” Will Offer Support to Detainees at the Border

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The Urgency of Now Immigrant Action Team invites you to join us on Tuesday, April 3, for an engaging and inspiring evening called “Words of Worth: Letters to the Border.”

We will begin with an introduction to the crisis on our southern border by staff and volunteers from the Community Immigration Law Clinic, including staff immigration attorney Aissa Olivarez, volunteer attorney Kris Rasmussen, volunteer coordinator Leah Durst-Lee, student volunteer Karen Perez-Wilson, and Marin Smith, fundraising and development intern. They will share their experiences witnessing the terrible conditions in which men, women, and children are being detained, and why outside support is so important to the well-being of detainees and immigrants.

The talk will be followed by the opportunity to respond in a helpful and immediate way. We will provide participants with letter-writing supplies, including sample English and Spanish letters and phrases to incorporate. Letters can be written in English, Spanish, or some combination with the help of the samples provided. The cards and letters will be sent to current detainees, immigrants awaiting court hearings, and staff and volunteers at the border. From similar programs around the country, we understand that reading these encouraging words and knowing that we care about their plight will instill hope in the recipients.

Light refreshments and letter-writing supplies will be provided. The program will run from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in the Frank Adult Lounge at Temple Beth El. If you can join us, please

RSVP here.

If you are interested in getting involved with the UON Immigrant Action Team, please contact one of our co-chairs, Erica Serlin at ericar.serl@gmail.com, Lynn Silverman at lynns3869@gmail.com, or Marta Karlov at mokarlov2@gmail.com.

Porchlight Volunteers Provide Warm Meal During Polar Vortex

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January 30 was the coldest night of the polar vortex, when Madison temperatures reached −48° with windchill. Our wonderful Porchlight volunteers served a hot meal for about 100 men that night at Grace Episcopal Church.

Thanks to our grocery shopper, Staci Rieder, and our cookie bakers, Art and Jeannie Waldman and Lynn Silverman. Thanks to our cooks, Lori Edelstein, Wonah Ross, Julie Swedarsky, and Liz Whitesel. And thanks to our servers, Debbie and Scott Kennedy, Julie Swedarsky, and Josh, Sammy, and Jayden Ross. We thank all of our volunteers who braved the cold to provide this essential meal!

Our next Porchlight meal will be Wednesday, May 29. Sign up here. If you have questions, please call Pam Robbins at 608-334-1883 or email pamrobbins3@gmail.com.

Social Action Shabbat Will Welcome Sagashus Levingston, Author of "Infamous Mothers"

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On Friday, April 12, 2019, the Social Action Committee is honored to host a special Shabbat featuring Madison author Sagashus Levingston, author of the book Infamous Mothers. In the program, she will share stories of marginalized mothers, reflecting the humanity and value of women who have overcome incredible challenges, “women who’ve gone through the belly of hell and brought something good back.” Join us as we learn more these mothers and the context around their narratives, with the goal of building community and new alliances.

This program is part of TBE’s yearlong collective focus on principles of derech eretz, where we consider the way we conduct ourselves in this world and the need for mutual respect with other people. This Shabbat program focuses on the humanity of people often marginalized by our society and highlights the strength and dignity they bring to raising their children.

The evening will begin with a 6:00 pm service including the Temple Beth El choir. At 7:00 pm there will be a delicious dinner catered by Banzo, followed by the program and Oneg Shabbat at 7:40 pm. You are welcome to join us for any part of the evening.

Please RSVP by April 3.

A Wealth of Opportunities for Lifelong Learners

Carole Kantor, TBE Adult Education Committee Chair

TBE’s Adult Education Committee meetings overflow with ideas – some suggested by groups outside our congregation and some suggested by our own members. The committee, in addition to its role in planning the Swarsensky Weekend, discusses all these ideas and often we are excited at the possibilities for new events. But we take action only when we see something that is both feasible and of interest to enough people in our congregation to make it worthwhile as a TBE program. That leaves many learning opportunities for us to participate in as individuals, not as TBE members. We would like to share information about the outstanding educational resources that we learn about with you. Below is a list that we will update as we hear of new resources.

LECTURE: “Israel through a Colored Lens: African-American Perspectives on Mizrahi Israelis by Dr. Bryan Roby.Tuesday, March 5, 2019 (4:00 pm), Pyle Center, AT&T Lounge, UW Madison.  https://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/events/

LECTURE: “The Jews of Shanghai” by Susan Stamberg. Thursday, April 11, 2019 (4:00 pm), Pyle Center, Room 325/326, UW Madison.  https://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/events/

GREENFIELD SUMMER INSTITUTE: “Business, Labor, and Social Justice: Jewish Perspective, Jewish Traditions” July 14-18, 2019, UW Madison.  https://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/greenfield/

LEVY LECTURE SERIES: Six summer lunchtime programs with outstanding speakers on topics of Jewish interest.  2019 dates and speakers to be announced. Nakoma Country Club http://jssmadison.org/programs/levy-summer-series/

ONLINE COURSE: Daniel Matt is a teacher of Jewish spirituality and one of the world’s leading authorities on Kabbalah and the Zohar. He is offering an online course on the Zohar for people seeking an in-depth exploration of this classic work of Jewish mysticism. There is no requirement for fluency in Hebrew or Aramaic or any extensive background in Jewish sources.

https://www.wexnerfoundation.org/blog/online-zohar-course

ONLINE VIDEO LIBRARY: From a literary panel about Philip Roth’s writing to The Song of Songs in Concert to Jews in Space the YIVO institute for Jewish research produces a wide-ranging array of programs about Jewish individuals and the Jewish people.  A video archive covering the years 2011 to the present, is available at yivo.org/video

. . . To be updated and expanded . . .

If you have any comments about this list, please write to cjkkantor@gmail.com.

Sober Assessments of Life as the Year Comes to a Close

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Many authors and philosophers across time have offered a version of “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” A partial list would include George Santayana[1]; Edmund Burke[2]; young adult author Sara Shepard[3]; and even Kurt Vonnegut[4], who said it in his backhand, cynical fashion: “We're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.”

I believe that the original source is our own Israelite patriarch Jacob.

We find this thought in the Torah portion Vayechi, that closes the book of Genesis, as Jacob confers blessings upon his sons. Jacob can’t help but point out the flaws in his children’s characters and implies that they can set a better course for their descendants only when they recognize their faults and make changes in their lives. It is his last act before he dies.

The Torah narrative in the last two portions of Vayigash and Vayechi (which we read over the last two weeks) presents us with a number of resolutions of the issues surrounding Jacob’s family:

his children are now reunited;

their sibling animosities are on the way toward some kind of peaceful solution;

Jacob’s younger son Joseph has solidified his role as vizier of Egypt;

and Jacob’s family is well on their way toward becoming a comfortable, prosperous even, minority amid the teeming masses of the Egyptian populace.

Such a conclusion could itself have been the dream fulfillment of any immigrant family in their new homes. Jacob undoubtedly was a proud patriarch seeing his children and descendants grow in size and influence.

Why, then, is Jacob so sad? Let me tell you what I mean.

* * * *

In the parashah of Vayigash, Joseph brings his father Jacob to an audience with the Pharaoh, certainly a moment of special honor. Yet when the supreme ruler of Egypt asks Jacob his age, Jacob turns negative. He is not offended by the question, but what comes out of his mouth indicates curmudgeonly sorrow.

“Well, if you must know,” says Jacob, “I am 130 years old, but my life has been miserable and of little significance. I have attained nothing like my fathers before me.” The Pharaoh likely didn’t like having a naysayer in the court, so he accepts a perfunctory blessing from Jacob, then moves on to other court business, never to see the Israelite patriarch again.

Jacob’s response to the Pharaoh represents, perhaps, the bluntest of post-mortems that we might imagine. And Jacob is also cynical in Vayechi, the next week’s portion, where he offers to his sons his deathbed blessings, compounding his negative feelings about his own life, with his candid appraisal of his children’s achievements.

Jacob says to Reuben, ‘O my first born, you made me feel strong and vigorous. I had such hopes for you. But you slept with my wife’s concubine while I was away—you thought I’d never find out—and so you will amount to nothing.’[5]

Then Jacob turns to Shimon and Levi, and berates them for their massacre of the people of Sh’chem after the rape of their sister Dinah. ‘Taking justice into your own hands is not the way of the world. I don’t even want to know you.’

Jacob’s blessings to the other sons are not so negative, but he does not mince words: he identifies their character flaws in the hope of staving off further questionable behavior. Based on their demonstrated bad behavior, he implies that past is prologue, and that his sons are doomed to repeat the past mistakes unless they straighten out their crooked lives.

* * * *

Hearing Jacob’s cynical expressions in these two Torah portions might encourage us to wonder about the legacy that we will leave behind when we depart this world. In the moments of clarity before we die, will we offer a negative assessment like Jacob, that our lives ‘have been miserable and of little consequence’, and that we ‘have attained nothing like our ancestors before us’; or will we find reason to say, ‘it was a good run all-in-all, and – all things considered – we are satisfied.’

As the calendar year of 2018 concludes, our thoughts might turn to this question. Indeed, every day—with every word we utter and every action that we perform—we should bear in mind not only the immediate consequences but also the possible long-term ramifications of our words and deeds.

What, indeed, will be the examples that we set for others? What will be the legacy that we leave behind?

* * * *

I am reading, perhaps for the second time, Ray Bradbury’s novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Originally published in 1962, it is a brilliant mixture of horror and science fiction in a classic battle of Good vs Evil, and it has recently been republished with notes and essays by contemporary sci-fi and horror authors. I would like to share with you a small segment of his book, because it presents us with a suggestion of how one contemplates the legacy to be passed down to future descendants.

A father and son, engrossed in solving their immediate problem, engage in this brief exchange trying to understand how we should evaluate our lives.

In the book, Will, the twelve-year-old protagonist, asks:

“Dad…are you a good person?”

“To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man’s a hero to himself. I've lived with me a lifetime. I know everything worth knowing about myself…and adding it all up, yes, I'm all right.”

“Then dad”, asked Will, “why aren't you happy?”

And here is the father’s sagacious answer:

“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he's covering up. He's had his fun, and he's guilty. And men do love sin, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells. Times come when troughs, not tables, suit our appetites. Hear a man too loudly praising others and look to wonder if he didn't just get up from the sty.

“On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt and sin, why, often that's your good man with a capital ‘G.’ For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it and sometimes break in two. I've known a few. You work twice as hard to be a farmer as to be his hog. I suppose it's thinking about trying to be good makes the crack run up the wall one night. A man with high standards, too, the least hair falls on him sometimes wilts his spine. He can't let himself alone, won't lift himself off the hook if he falls just a breath from grace.”[6]

In the past year, have we been good people? Have we worked hard at it? Have we been mindful of the ways we have affected other people?

Have we always chosen the right word for the right occasion, or have we let our emotions rule our tongues? Have we exhibited too much braggadocio; have our demeanors been humble and unassuming; or have we found a healthy compromise between the two, in a place where we have, like Rabbi Salanter of our Mussar tradition, asked for ‘no more than our space, and no less than our place’?

We know that the legacy we ultimately leave behind in the world does not necessarily consist of possessions or wealth, but rather in the way we approach the world and its complex set of personalities and situations, and in the way we treat other people. Rabbi Salanter commends to us an unpretentious and self-effacing life. But he reminds us, too, that we also have a place which belongs to us and of which no one should deprive us. Finding a life which leads to both, or a balance of the two, should be our goal. We must live with mindfulness and sensitivity, so that we don’t take up more room on the planet than we’re due, but that we also don’t lose our individual human dignity.

Returning to our pair of Torah portions that conclude the book of Genesis, we observe the way in which Jacob establishes his legacy: He offers it in the blessings he gives to others. In this way, he teaches us something about what we need to possess, and what we can give away.

In the Torah, Jacob has become ill; he lies on his deathbed, and his son Joseph and his grandchildren Ephraim and Menasheh come to visit. And Jacob takes this opportunity to offer his fatherly blessings to Joseph and his sons; they are the first to receive these blessings.

The Torah tells us that “this is the way Jacob blessed Joseph” … and Jacob proceeds to bless his grandchildren, not Joseph. He does bless Joseph, but not directly.

He says, “May the god in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; the god who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day; the messenger who has redeemed me from all harm: bless these youths (referring to Ephraim and Menasheh). In them may my name be recalled. And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.”

Jacob demonstrates that through his grandchildren—in all that their father has accomplished, and in every act that they will achieve in their lives to come—through his grandchildren will Joseph also come to be a blessing.

Perhaps this is a clue about why we, in the Jewish community, focus so intently upon our children. It is through them that we might better see our values lived out, that is, what we have taught them, and the priorities they have toward the world.

In the imagery of Ray Bradbury, a person who has striven with the world; someone who has, perhaps, been broken by their experiences yet is still walking and present in the world: it is through these people that goodness is perceived and properly evaluated.

Perhaps Jacob’s cynical words to Pharaoh, then, were not a skeptical commentary on his misfortunes. They were honest feelings, to be sure, but perhaps they represented the scars that Joseph acquired in his lifetime quest to instill decent values in his children.

In this quest, Jacob likely succeeded, for the Torah relates that his family carried on their traditions by burying their patriarch using the customs of the land of Israel, alongside Egyptian burial traditions. Both the native traditions, and the assimilated practices of their foreign home, were used. Overall, the descendants of Jacob, living in a foreign land and waiting to be brought back to the land that God promised to them, maintained their family practices and institutions, while assimilating some parts of their new culture.

A challenge for us to ponder as the year closes and a new one begins is this: Will we learn to mindfully discover how best to bequeath blessings to our physical and spiritual descendants, and remain upbeat and hopeful about the future?

I wish us all success.

 

[1] George Santayana (1863-1952) “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

[2] Edmund Burke (1729-1797) “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.”

[3] Sara Shepard (b. 1977) “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”

[4] Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) “We're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive. It's pretty dense kids who haven't figured that out by the time they're ten....

[5] Genesis 35:22

[6] Bradbury, Ray. “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. Copyright 1962, 1980, 1997, by Ray Bradbury, page 124-125.

June 18, 2019 15 Sivan 5779