Friday, October 20, 2017
TBE's Jeremy Young at the conclusion of Yom Kippur
(photo from SHS school newspaper - see link below)
Shabbat Shalom and happy new month of Marheshvan.
We complete our first full, holiday-free week. Some of my rabbinic colleagues are debating whether we should feel relieved, exultant or deflated as a time of such frenetic craziness suddenly transitions into something more "normal." As for me, someone let me know when "normal" begins. The pace is a little less frenetic, but with all we have coming up this fall, not by much. So let's begin with a few notes:
- On Friday night at 7:30, with Cantor Fishman away, we welcome Beth Styles as our musical guest. We look forward to hearing from the cantor when she returns from a memorable concert given this week in her ancestral homeland of Romania.
- On Shabbat morning, we'll have our first "B'nai Mitzvah Club Shabbat" of the year, giving Hebrew School and Day School students in grades 5-7 a chance to get more involved in the adult service. Hank Silverstein will give the d'var Torah on the portion of Noah.
- Shabbat morning is also a Shabbabimbam morning for our families with young children, which will be preceded by a drum circle at 10:45.
- Reyut has its first program of the year next next Tuesday (see flyer), What can we learn from those who have been through serious illness?
- Check out the newly revised itinerary for next summer's Israel @ 70 Tour - and reserve your place online.
- The Conservative Movement today released a pastoral letter clarifying the movement's stance on intermarriage. Read it here. While primarily affirming prior stances, it emphasizes the need for outreach. It will provoke lots of conversation, and I'll be interested in hearing your reactions.
- See last week's Parsha Packet on Creation and Evolution, providing background on the Creation / Evolution debate/. See also Celia Baer's d'var Torah from that service.
- Budding journalists Jessica Infante and Alisson Meza from Stamford High's school newspaper visited us on Yom Kippur Day and wrote an article summing up their experience. It was reprinted in part in the Advocate. Read the original article here
Here's a brief excerpt:
Our experience was as interesting as we expected. We went into Temple curious and unsure of what we were going to see, and ended up learning a lot and having a good time. We're not saying we were ecstatic to be fasting since it was difficult (especially since it was our first time experiencing this holiday), but the services had some upbeat songs that made us forget about our stomachs. The community at Temple Beth El was also very welcoming, and seeing that we were outsiders, they made sure we didn't feel too out of place.
- And finally, TBE's Gabi Birkner is co-author of an upcoming book called "Modern Loss." Publication date is January 23, 2018, but you can pre-order on Amazon now - and pre-ordering can be really helpful. Early buzz has been incredible, with advance praise (a.k.a., blurbs) from Mindy Kaling, Stephen Colbert, Meghan O'Rourke, Anna Sale, Dave Isay and Lisa Ling, among others. Modern Loss - the website, the community, and now the book - came out of the editors' experiences with sudden, profound losses when they were young adults. The book features over 40 contributors, including Lucy Kalanithi (widow of "When Breath Becomes Air" author Paul Kalanithi), stylist Stacy London, rocker Amanda Palmer, "Girls" writer Yassir Lester, CNN's Brian Stelter, WNBA All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw and Kim Goldman (sister of Ron Goldman). The essays, on topics ranging from sex and intimacy after loss to technology to the secrets we harbor and uncover, are accompanied by color illustrations by artist Peter Arkle and cartoons on topics such as navigating your work life while grieving and repurposing your loved one's belongings. There's also a glossary of terms that therapists probably don't use but the rest of us should. So pre-order the book now.
The Fall of the Serial Predator
The dramatic downfall of Harvey Weinstein is not a specifically Jewish story, and those who have tried to draw broad cultural connections, comparing this moment to, say, the publication of "Portnoy's Complaint," have failed miserably. Nonetheless, this is a teachable moment, albeit a disturbing one, for we've reached a true cultural watershed. So it is worth looking at some key messages emerging from those creepy massages.
We have reached the point of zero tolerance for SSPs (Serial Sexual Predators) in our society, which is a major evolutionary leap that needs to be recognized and applauded. This is an enormous social moment, one that would, once upon a time, have been made into a stellar Miramax film. But when this film is made, despite his starring role, someone other than Harvey will take home the Oscar.
The degree of shame has become so absolute and the outcry so universal that this crime now transcends political, social, and economic boundaries. What's true for the Catholic church is also true for the rabbinate (and regrettably, there is no shortage of rabbinic S.S.Ps who have betrayed the trust of their communities). What's true for a Jewish producer (Weinstein) is also true for an African American icon (Bill Cosby), an Amazon exec (Roy Price) and a media mogul (Roger Ailes), and what's true for Democratic leaders like Bill Clinton is also true for the current Republican SSP inhabiting the oval office. Israel also has its share of powerful predators, like former president Moshe Katzav, who was imprisoned for five years for rape. And just as the perpetrators cut across all lines, so do the victims - they are women, men (and everything in between) and, most especially, children.
What might have been acceptable a decade ago simply no longer is. You might escape conviction, and you might even get elected, but the marketplace will decimate you, your accusers, newly emboldened by this cultural shift, will never give you a moment's rest and you will be universally reviled.
Civilization as we know it has been around for about 6,000 years (the Jewish calendar is spot on, this being the year 5778), and my best guess is that SSPs have been around for about, oh, 6,000 years. But the point of zero tolerance was just reached last week. Equality for women is still a very new concept, and according to a new Pew survey, a majority of Americans feel that we have yet to have fully achieved it.
As Nechama Goldman Barash of the Pardes Institute noted this week, the Bible is not immune to stories of sexual violence and objectification. She cites examples, including:
- Sarah who is forcefully taken without permission into the harems of Pharaoh and Avimelech without protest from Abraham (God is the protestor in both cases)
- Dina who is taken without consent by Shechem
- The beautiful captive woman who is taken into the home of the Israelite
- The concubine of the Givah who is gang-raped as her indifferent husband is nearby, within the safety of a house
- Bathsheba who is sent for by David, taken into his bed and returned by his messengers afterwards
- Tamar who is brutally raped by Amnon
- Vashti who is the first objectified woman to say no
Using rabbinic source material, Goldman Barash then demonstrates how the (male) scholars of the Talmud struggle to control their own sexual desires. Occasionally they succumb to blaming the victim, but more often they speak of a man's responsibility to control his "male gaze."
"Women are not expected to stop their normative behavior," she writes citing a source where doing laundry exposes a woman's arms and legs to capitulate to the male gaze. Rather, she adds, the male gaze is expected to restrict itself.
There are Talmudic stories of rabbis like Elazar ben Dordia, who couldn't pass a single brothel without stopping in. He learns a hard lesson and is treated somewhat sympathetically in the end, for while he objectifies women and is a sex addict, the transactions are consensual and he is not considered a predator.
It is one thing to struggle with sexual desire - most people do. It is quite another to be an SSP. I emphasize "serial," because, while every single incident is horrible and it only takes one abuse of a power relationship to ruin a victim's life completely, Judaism does offer the possibility of teshuvah for the person who slips up once and then sincerely makes amends. We need to take true remorse and corrective action seriously, especially in a world where one single slip up from decades ago can be looped eternally on social media and worn by the perpetrator like a scarlet letter/emoji.
And let's not forget the third party to each incident. There's the predator, there's the victim... and there's the enabler. What is interesting about the Weinstein case is that more attention is now being given to the enablers, those "yes" men who, more than the predator himself, create a climate of acceptance and acquiescence. Those who did nothing to stop Weinstein's abuses are no better than the host who offers a drink to an alcoholic or the bartender who allows a drunk to drive away from the bar. Anyone who truly cared about Weinstein had to know that this day of reckoning could come.
This week's portion of Noah contains an obscure anecdote in chapter nine of Genesis. After the family leaves the ark and the earth is dry, Noah plants a vineyard, and wine becomes the balm that soothes his post-flood PTSD. In this incident, Noah becomes so drunk that he is lying around naked - undoubtedly wearing Weinstein's bathrobe. His sons respond not by encouraging him to drink more or allowing him to become a laughingstock. They "cover the nakedness of their father," and, in the most dignified manner imaginable, they back away from Noah without staring at him in his shame. No posting selfies with drunk old Dad.
If only a few people had cared about Weinstein as much as Noah's sons cared about their father, it might have made a difference in the lives of so many, including Weinstein himself.
We may be witnessing the fall of the serial predator, but as with ISIS, the fall does not mean the end. Abusive power relationships will metastasize into other, less grotesque but equally malignant forms, subtler than "Mad Men" but every bit as manipulative.
As long as I have something you want - e.g., a career-defining role - and you have something I want - e.g, a body - and I have the power to make or break you, there will be ways to make it all look quite consensual and transactional, even when it isn't. As David said to Bathsheba - or was it Harvey Weinstein who said it, to, among others, Ambra, Angelina, Ashley, Cara, Emily, Kate, Mira, Rose, Rosanna and Gwyneth - "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine."
To share, see this article online at the Times of Israel site by clicking here
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Monday, October 16, 2017
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah means a lot of things – but most of all, it means that on some level you’ve grown up.
I must say, I do feel older. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot this year. For one thing, we got Bazzle, our white and fluffy Bichon, a little more than a year ago. For those who have never met him, I’ll just say, he’s really cute!
Over the course of this year, I’ve became a real caregiver for him. I love to walk him and he loves to play with me – he runs around the family room table and I try to catch him. We’re teaching him how to fetch. Right now, he’s still at the “grab it and run” phase.
Bazzle’s also gotten sick at times and we’ve had to care for him. I have lots of stuffed animals – but Bazzle was a real step up from Winnie the Pooh, and he’s taught me a lot about responsibility. And when mom asks one of us to walk him, I’m usually the first one to say yes.
I must admit, from early childhood, I’ve grown up pretty fast. My parents tell me that I walked really early – at nine months, which meant I was quite a handful. And before that, I figured out how to crawl out of my crib. I cut my first tooth at three months and had a mouthful of teeth before one.
So now I’m becoming a Bat Mitzvah at 12, which is younger than some girls and all boys - and from looking at my portion, it led me to wonder if kids are growing up too fast these days.
In my portion of Beraysheet, Adam and Eve really grow up fast. They were born as adults, after all – but even so they really did some childish things. They were fooled into eating the forbidden fruit – and by the way, the way to get kids to do something is tell them NOT to do it. That topic came up a few weeks ago in a class when we were talking about how we shouldn’t look directly at the eclipse. Fortunately, everyone in my class is mature enough not to have ignored that advice.
The mistake that Adam and Eve made was not just that they disobeyed God’s command, but that they did not take responsibility for their actions. And because of that, they were sent out of the garden. Then they really did have to grow up fast.
But I don’t think they had to grow as quickly as kids to today. I asked my mom about it and she said, having cell phones has made it much easier for kids to get information very quickly. I agree, and also, being able to text friends all the time increases the chances of miscommunication. For instance, it’s hard to convey in a text that you are being sarcastic or just trying to be funny. Someone might say in a text, “Oh I hate you so much” as a joke but the other person might take it seriously. This can cause problems – and it’s problems like these that force you to grow up really fast. It’s happened to me a few times. But fortunately, things have worked out in the end.
For my bat mitzvah project, I have chosen to work with ABILIS. Abilis is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to adults and children with developmental disabilities. I am collecting puzzles, toys, books and other items for their birth to 3 program for disadvantaged families. As part of my hands on experience, I am volunteering in a music class for young adults. In class I help the teacher keep the class motivated and happy. We play instruments, sing songs and dance. This experience has taught me that even though we are different, we can still be friends and learn from one another.
So now that I am a Bat Mitzvah, I know that growing up is nothing to be afraid of, even if it happens very quickly. But the key to it all is to take responsibility for what we do. That’s what Bar or Bat Mitzvah means. While the word bar or bat literally means son or daughter, it really means “responsible for.” Traditionally over the centuries, at this occasion parents would say a special blessing, thanking God for releasing them from responsibility for their child. Back in those days, kids really had to grow up fast. In the end, I don’t think it’s too fast or too slow. I think the pace of growing up for me… is just right!