Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Trophy for Dad!

This post originally appeared on the TBS Children's Center Blog on October 29, 2013
Adam was so excited to share with Kohavim, that his dad, Rabbi Todd, was getting a really big award! He wasn't sure if his dad would be getting a trophy when he accepted his prize, so he decided he would make one for him. He looked through the art closets and selected different materials. He chose blue foam shapes, a bag of marker caps, a green Jewish star, and gold plastic caps. Joshua and Josie asked to help him construct the trophy. Adam shared his plan with them and they got to work. They first glued the gold plastic caps together in a stack. Then Adam wrote, "I love you" on one side of the star and Joshua wrote, "Good Job" on the other side. They attached purple marker caps to the top of the trophy because Adam explained his dad really loves the color purple. They then secured the star at the top. Lastly, they glued the pieces of blue foam together to create a base. Adam and the children in kohavim were so proud to make a trophy to celebrate Adam's Dad!

Rabbi Todd was selected by the Covenant Foundation as one of four honorees from across the country to receive the prestigious Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes outstanding emerging Jewish educators. Click here to read more about this amazing accomplishment!  Mazel Tov Rabbi Todd!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Carol Bolton Kappel: Birthday Wishes - A Postscript

Carol Bolton Kappel
The following article was published in the Jewish Advocate on 10/24/13. Carol Bolton Kappel has a long history of involvement at Temple Beth Shalom including serving as Sisterhood President as teaching the 2nd grade for many years. Her husband Jonathan is a Past President of TBS.
While taking in a magnificent panoramic view of Boston while running a 10K race last week, it dawned on me that exactly 3 years ago; I was composing a piece for this same column. However, that is where the similarities end. In 2010, I was writing an open letter to my daughter on the occasion of her 19th birthday a very sick woman in the throes of aggressive chemotherapy, treating the breast cancer I had been diagnosed with the previous spring. Over 19 months, I navigated the terrifying world of breast cancer and in the time since, I have been able to precariously heal both physically and emotionally. Consequently, on that brilliantly sunny and crisp day, while running those 6.2 miles; I celebrated my health and reminded myself of the lessons learned from this life altering experience. And as I crossed that finish line which lends itself as a metaphor for that dark and uncertain time, I determined that it only seems fitting to write a postscript to my daughter because on the other side there is light and guarded optimism. 

So to my wonderful and brave daughter, as you approach your 22nd birthday and with the difficult time we experienced as a strong and loving family as a backdrop, I offer these wishes in the hope that all of yours come true.

My wish for you is that you understand not all of your friendships will last a lifetime. Some people will disappoint you and it is perfectly acceptable to move on. There are times when we believe our relationships are more intimate than they are. A crisis has its way of demonstrating who your real friends are. Your dad and I were abandoned by some and held tightly by others. Instead of dwelling on the hurt, we rejoiced in the beauty of those strong bonds and vowed to be good friends back.

Take good care of your physical and emotional health. You have one body, make sure you exercise, pursue healthy habits and craft strategies that help you manage stressful times. For obvious reasons, this is especially important.

Realize your passion and use it for good. There are people who need you. Your voice whether individual or collective, can make a difference. I have become vocal and dogged around breast cancer issues and am pouring my energy into supporting the hospital that saved my life. I want you to live in a world that is free of this wicked disease and I am doing everything in my power to ensure that.

I hope that when the time comes and you commit yourself to that someone, he is a kind, decent, loving and loyal human being. Your father never left my side from the moment I felt the lump in my breast, to the heart shattering news confirming the cancer, as well as throughout this ordeal. He loved me bald, sapped of my strength and scared. In spite of that, we managed to bring humor and hope into our lives.

Speaking of humor, make sure your don’t take yourself too seriously. Even in the midst of a life threatening disease, I laughed and allowed joy in. Perhaps to the outsider, the humor seemed a bit maudlin, but it sustained me.

Recognize and surround yourself with good people. My chemotherapy nurse embodies what a truly good human being is. She took extraordinary care of me during a perilous time. If not for this nefarious disease, our paths might have never crossed and now that they did, I am grateful that she was and remains in my life as a cherished friend.

Appreciate every single day. Welcome and make meaning out of the mundane and routine. Every morning, I am grateful to wake up to another healthy day.

Take those risks. I assure you it will feel better than the regret. I don’t question one single decision I made around the toxic and aggressive treatment that was dispensed. The stakes were too high. You and your dad are counting on me for a long time.

Take the time to simply be. Personally, there is nothing better than sitting on a beach gazing out at the ocean and breathing in the salt air. I take it as my time for me.

Try to remain an ardent Boston sports fan. There is nothing quite like calling this city home and even if you move on, our teams give us a sense of identity and are just plain fun to watch!

My sweet girl, life is a series of moments. You can allow those moments to define you or you can grasp those circumstances and define them. You are poised to make your mark in this world.  We are proud of your resilience during a crisis as well as daily resolve and gentle soul. Now, three years later, I have every reason to believe that I will continue to share birthday wishes for a long time. Happiest of Birthdays!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rabbi Sonsino: My Granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah

Rabbi Sonsino
Mid October, my granddaughter, Ariella, became a Bat Mitzvah in California, and made us very proud and happy.

There are moments in life which define us. There is a before and an after that particular event. In the present Jewish practice, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is one of those cutting moments. A thirteen year old boy (a Bar Mitzvah) or a girl (a Bat Mitzvah) marks a significant transitional period in life by celebrating it with family and friends during a religious ceremony and often with a big party afterwards.

In Hebrew the expression Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually translated as “son/daughter of the Mitzvah,” really means youngsters who are now “responsible for the performance of the Mitzvot (commandments/good deeds).” It takes about two years to get a date from the synagogue and six months to learn how to lead the service in Hebrew and English. In most Reform synagogues in the USA, during a Sabbath morning service, which often includes the celebration of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the high point is reached when the candidate chants a section of the Torah portion of the week taken from the Pentateuch and part of the prophetic portion (Haftarah) that follows it. Also, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah usually reads a short commentary of the biblical passages and a message of gratitude to parents, relatives and friends. Ariella did all that. She was nervous but went through the whole thing with poise and a great smile. We were delighted.

In my granddaughter’s temple, they have a lovely custom of invoking God’s blessings upon the Bar/Bat Mitzvah while standing under a prayer shawl (tallit) held by close friends. As a grandfather, it was my pleasure and honor to recite the priestly blessing there as I prayed for Ariella to have a good and long life, contentment and peace.

However, what moved me the most was a moment just before the Torah service when the Rabbi asked us to pass the Torah scroll from one generation to another, as a reminder that we, as Jews, are all connected by tradition, cultural as well as ethnic ties, from our ancestors in biblical times to the present generation and beyond. As I handed the scroll to my wife, and as she passed it on to my son and daughter-in-law, and they gave it to Ariella, I thought of my own Bar Mitzvah in Istanbul in 1951, of my deceased parents and grandparents, and forward to my son and his daughter, with a sense of gratitude and connectedness that can only be described as magical. I was overwhelmed by emotions, my eyes became teary and I had a hard time breathing. Yes, our Jewish tradition is being handed down to a new generation, and I hope they will be proud of it, keep it and enrich it with their own creativity. 

Ines and I still have the Bar/Bat Mitzvah of three more grandchildren to go, and I hope God will grant us the opportunity to witness their own celebration.

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, PhD
Oct. 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rabbi Sonsino: "Can You Trust Anyone?"

Rabbi Sonsino
Many people read consumer reports before buying an article, such as a car or a TV, and even about a restaurant. I often do. However, recently I was shocked to read that some individuals are getting paid to write favorable reviews for products in respectable periodicals. That is outrageous. Can you trust anyone today?

Our religious literature cautions us not to put our faith in someone else. The model is set by the patriarch Abraham: “Because he put his trust in the Eternal, He reckoned it to his merit” (Gen. 15: 6). The prophet Jeremiah says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in God and who makes God his refuge” (17: 7), and, conversely, “Cursed is he who trusts in man” (17: 5). Similarly, the psalmists states, “Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (40: 5), and “Do not put your trust…in mortal man who cannot save” (146:3). In the early rabbinic period, Hillel is reported to have warned people against overconfidence: “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death” (Pirke Avot, 2: 5; the Talmud gives a few examples in Ber.29a). In medieval times, the Jewish philosopher, Bahya ibn Pakuda (11th cent., Spain) spent an entire chapter on the idea of trust (see, his chapter 7, in The Duties of the Heart), and, even though he thought that it was possible to trust human beings who have compassion, empathy and love, he added that these qualities are often wanting in everyone except God. He then concluded by saying that “whoever trusts in what is other than God, God removes His providence from him and leaves him in the hands of whatever he trusted in.”

Non-Jewish literature on this subject is not more comforting either. The Roman philosopher Seneca (I cent CE) put forward a balanced viewpoint: “It is a vice to trust all, and equally a vice to trust none.” Most writers were more cautious. Thus, for instance, Shakespeare stated, “Love all, trust a few” (All’s Well That Ends Well). Ronald Reagan insisted, “Trust but verify.” Some thinkers even said that we need to put our faith only in ourselves, not on others. And Joseph Stalin went to the other extreme allegedly saying, “I do not trust anyone, not even myself.”

I maintain otherwise. I am not naïve but I do tend to be a trusting individual. I often take people at their word. Before a purchase, I do read one or two reviews and then proceed. How can you live in a society where no one relies on another? A student trusts his/her teacher. Children trust their parents, and vice-versa. We rely on a variety of experts. Personal friendship or a good marriage is possible only when there is mutual trust. When we read a book, a research paper, a magazine article etc., unless the claim is preposterous, we all tend to accept the facts cited in them as reliable and true.

Yes, some people do lie; some people cheat. And it is getting more difficult to trust others. One needs to be skeptical of unusual, strange and outrageous claims. But I don’t think the dishonest are in the majority. I will continue to rely on my guts and depend on others. That is what we need to work on, and make individuals responsible for what they say and do. Society cannot survive on falsehood and suspicion.

As for me, I will start to read many more reviews than before buying anything, and then decide. What a shame!

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, PhD
October, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rabbi Todd: Taking Responsibility Beyond Our Own

Rabbi Todd Markley
[The following is Rabbi Todd's drash from Friday, September 27, 2013]

I am standing in the kitchen of our home cleaning the dishes just following meal time when the yelling begins from the other room. They were playing together so nicely just five seconds ago…what on earth happened? Here come the 4 and 7-year old. They’re pointing at one another. Each is a prosecutor with case prepared about why it – whatever it was…I may never know – was entirely the other one’s fault.

And so it is at the outset of the Torah. As we begin our annual Torah reading cycle anew on this Shabbat we find two stories that bespeak the childlike state of humanity just following the stories of Creation. First, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and then ashamed, try to hide from God.

Side note: This was a rookie parenting move on God’s part…you can have anything you want in all of the Garden, just don’t touch the fruit on this tree? Come on! Any parent knows that this is the tree they’re running for first!

Seemingly not yet self-reflective enough to recognize this, God asks Adam from on high, “Ayeka…Where are you?” Of course, the Divine Being who just made Creation happen knows where these two are…the question is a spiritual and psychological one. One I might ask of my own children from my stance at the kitchen sink…Who are you? Is this really how you want to behave? What did you do?!? How do Adam and Eve respond? Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the snake. Their children are, fittingly perhaps, fruit that does not fall far from the proverbial tree.

Their sons Cain and Abel each offer up their own sacrifices to God, and in yet another highly questionable parenting moment in God’s earliest days at this, God very publicly favors one child’s gift over the other’s. The result? Cain kills Abel out of jealousy and when confronted asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that there is a commonality between these two narratives: an unwillingness to take personal responsibility for one’s own actions. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were wrapped up in the blame game…it wasn’t me! In the case of Cain, he couldn’t fathom the possibility that he was responsible for anyone’s wellbeing beyond his own. Humanity has come a long way, and yet, sadly perhaps, we still know these behaviors all too well…in our children, in our co-workers, in our friends and neighbors, and in ourselves.

We can sometimes fall prey to our earliest forebears’ lines of thinking, not just as individuals but as communities. We experience what psychologists call “In group, Out Group” effect. We assume that our own cultural, ethnic, religious, geographic, or communal group must be better than the others. Sometimes this moves us to do good. As our Sages taught, Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh b’Zeh…all the people of Israel areresponsible for one another, and this teaching has yielded countless examples of Jewstaking care of one another, insuring one another’s safety, well being, and peace.

On the other hand, whenever we begin dividing the world up into groups we run the risk of becoming Adam and Eve…blaming the other groups for our problems, or worse yet, of becoming Cain…not being able to imagine that we are actually responsible for the well being of others beyond our own group. Of course, throughout our history from Torah through the present day, great Jewish thinkers have sought to remind us that our people is no better than any other and that we have a unique responsibility to be a light to the entire world, not just to ourselves. Yet, we have not always been able to live up to this sacred task.

Recently, we were blessed to have a great model of such explicit and thoughtful reaching beyond faith boundaries in none other the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. I have been loving much of what this Pope has shared so far, and his stock only rose with me when, earlier this week, I attended a meeting of our Needham Clergy Association. Muslim representative to the group, Abdul Cader Asmal, shared aloud this letter which Pope Francis wrote to the Muslim communities of the world to mark the end of their festival of Ramadan.

He wrote, “This year, the theme on which I would like to reflect with you and with all who will read this message is one that concerns both Muslims and Christians: Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.

“Respect” means an attitude of kindness towards people for whom we have consideration and esteem. “Mutual” means that this is not a one-way process, but something shared by both sides.

What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation. Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal.

…We are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values.

…We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers, and to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.

We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way,” concludes Pope Francis, “sincere and lasting friendship can grow.”*

Wow! Until only fifty years ago, the Catholic church embraced a supercetionist philosophy, meaning that – according to official church doctrine – the covenant between Catholics with God was superior to, and even came to replace, those of any other people in the world. Now the leader of that faith tradition is actively seeking to bridge those divides, not only for our generations, but for the children who will grow to represent our faith communities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if his invitation was received by open hearts and open minds within the Muslim world? By his own followers in the Catholic church and their sister Christian denominations. Would it be incredible if we, as Jewish communities, could engage in this effort as well?

We are in the season of beginning our Torah anew with our stories of Creation…reminders that, according to our faith tradition, all of humanity is one large family which began with just a single person…the culmination of a Creation process which began with light. May this new year’s Torah cycle see us follow the Pope’s lead…recommitting ourselves not only to service of our own people but to knowledge of, understanding of, and service of the whole…reminding ourselves not only of our stories but those of our sister faith communities as well…taking responsibility not only for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well being of our own people but for all peoples. In so doing we can be more enlightened and can, individually and collectively, be a light to the world. Amen.