eDvar Shabbat Parashat Bo 5778

False and True:  Lessons from Hawaii’s red alert “The alert said to stay close to the ground, so we sat with them on the floor and [I] thought this could be my last moments with the kids,” said Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, a University of Hawaii professor. “There’s the immediate shock ... and then hopelessness and [the realization] that there’s something that may be changing your life.” Last Saturday at 8:07 am, the Emergency Alert System was triggered indicating that a ballistic missile was heading for Hawaii.  Throughout the 38 minutes it took to clarify the mistake and reassure the public, helpless terror pulsated through homes and communities across the Islands. The false alarm was inexcusable.  It was a casualty of our communication revolution which features frenzies of falsehood.  Ungrounded claims proliferate daily.  We have come to expect imprecision in Breaking News.  Will we soon expect inaccurate Emergency Alerts? It is noteworthy that happenings are weightier than information.  Events are more crammed with marvel than are ideas.  Immediate experiences are also more reliable, honest, and telling.  Misinformation is worrisome.  Deeply so.  Yet misdeeds are a greater concern for our tradition. God’s Torah prioritizes happenings like the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Mt. Sinai revelation, over ideas.  We are not commanded to remember ideas, but rather transformative experiences.   This is why every household is actively engaged in a Pascal offering and Seder happening prior to Exodus in this week’s portion of Torah.  The Exodus is personal, immediate.  There is nothing vicarious about our founding story. Also, the intensity of the ninth plague of darkness is viscerally described. “Let there be darkness on the land of Egypt, and one will feel the darkness (v’Yameish choshech)” (Ex.

ג׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ח (January 19, 2018)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

eDvar Shabbat Parashat Vaera 5778

Courage can be contagious  “You are not going to be forcibly taken from this place” a Bulgarian Priest insisted when he spoke to several hundred young children who had been rounded up for deportation.  “And if they do try and take you from here, I shall be walking alongside you every step of the way.”  Four hours later the gates of the heavily guarded plaza where the children had been detained were opened.  An announcement was made.  “You are all liberated.  You may return to your homes.”  The religious and regional leadership had said “No” to the Nazis’ order to deport their Jews.  From that day in 1943 until the end of the war, there was never another demand for Bulgaria’s Jews. What Bulgaria’s leadership did took tremendous courage.  It was clearly situational.  Rejecting a Nazi order was not possible in the overwhelming majority of times and places. Yet the courage to say ‘no’ is one of the legacies of Bulgarian leadership during the Holocaust. Courage can be contagious.  When we witness it or hear stories about it, we can more readily act on it ourselves. This week’s portion of Torah details the drama that will lead to liberation of the Children of Israel from Egypt.  A curious detail amidst the back and forth between Moses and Pharaoh points to what makes empowering courage situational.  Pharaoh agrees at one point to permit the Hebrews to offer a sacrifice to their God within the land of Egypt (Ex. 8:21).  But Moses does not follow through on Pharaoh’s directive because Israel’s sacrificial rite would be considered offensive by the Egyptians. “It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to the Lord our God

כ״ה בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (January 12, 2018)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

eDvar Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5778

Expect more in 2018 Seventh graders were asked to draft an essay on a personal hero.  Teachers separated their papers into two piles.  Atop the papers in the first pile was a note, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.”  The second pile of essays included a different note, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.”  40% of those with papers in the first pile chose to revise and resubmit their work, while 80% of the students with papers in the second pile elected to do so.  Expecting more, particularly in encouraging ways, can stretch us to reach further. Expecting more from our neighbors and colleagues might require assuming less about them.  I find myself much more interested in learning from a presenter whose assumptions about me and the rest of the audience feel less conclusive.  If a speaker is to make assumptions, let them be more generous. Instead of saying, “We all know that such a naive approach leads nowhere”, express sentiments that esteem an audience for their rigor and discernment. It’s time for a counter-voice to help rebalance expectations and assumptions.  This is a specialty of the Torah.  For example, ancient heroes were raised among commoners in humble settings.  Only later in life do they discover that they are royalty.  By contrast, Moses is raised as a prince in a palace.  He matures to discover that he belongs to an enslaved people.  We find such counter-myth stories throughout Scripture.  The firstborn never becomes the leader.  Wilderness wanderings do not produce inspiring transformation.  And the land of promise remains unreachable for Moses.  Indeed, the Torah schools us

י״ח בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (January 5, 2018)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

President’s Letter January 2018: Hanukkah, Teens, and Gala

This is the 15th edition of my monthly president’s letter. Earlier editions are available on the President’s letters page. As always, please let me know what you think –and what you’d like me to write about—by emailing president@congki.org or calling (617) 731-3182.   Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays, bringing a message of light, hope and re-dedication during the darkest days of the year. This Hanukkah was joyous both in the homes of our congregants and at KI. Director of Congregational Learning, Shirah Rubin organized a project for families to share video clips of themselves lighting the hanukkiah and sharing their thoughts about what makes our community special. Click on the link to watch the video. At the MenorahFest and Artistic Hanukkah Festival, co-sponsored with Congregation Mishkan Tefila and Center Makor (the cultural center for Russian-speaking Jews), Center Makor presented Congregation Kehillath Israel with its Community Appreciation Award “for welcoming, supporting and helping Center Makor during the most difficult times for the Center.” After candle lighting and dinner, the crowd was treated to a concert by violinist virtuoso Yakov Kovinser and soprano Mariana Popzlateva. My son, Eli’s favorite part was when Yakov played the violin behind his back! Planning and execution for cohort-specific activities at KI and the broader campus have been ramping up, helping to build peer relationships within the broader community. Campus Teen Coordinator, Michal Adar (pictured right) held one-on-one meetings with teens in order to identify activities and programs that they are most interested in, and has published a teen calendar that is posted on the fridge in our kitchen. (You can subscribe to it here.) We have three teen fellows who are gaining leadership training through the Jewish Teen Initiative

ט״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (January 3, 2018)|Categories: archive, news, President's Letters|

More light – More love – More Shalom

Testimonials from KI families "KI has been special in so many ways since Harrison started KINS 6 years ago.  It has become our second home for Judaism, education, and friendships." Judy, Mike, Harrison, Juliet, and Amelie   "The education at KINS Mikaela is receiving as well as the warmth of the KI community infuses our lives with the light and love of Torah and the Jewish people. We feel so blessed to be part of this community every time our daughter walks by the shul." Dani & Jon   "We are so grateful to be a part of the KI community and are looking forward to watching Mira grow in the same love and support we have experienced since we joined!" Sari & Casey   "I appreciate how warm and inclusive the KI community is!  We feel so lucky to have a space to not only celebrate but also expand our understanding  of our religion with our son!" Rebecca & Ari   "What I like about KI is the Junior Congregation, because we get to lead it. Also, I like the Kiddush Club because it's the time in the middle of the prayers that we get to have a snack and talk about the parsha" Eli   "I've been a member of KI for many years, and what I like about it is all the friends I've made. They've really become a true community for me." Nyna   "Something I like about KI is the atmosphere there. Everyone's so involved in the prayers and very knowledgeable." Seth  

ט״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (January 3, 2018)|Categories: archive, news|

eDvar Shabbat Parashat Vayehi 5778

2018: A year for surprise Jacob dwells for 17 years with his sons in Egypt prior to his passing.  Is it conceivable that he never spoke with them about their deceptive presentation of Joseph’s bloody tunic to him so many years earlier?  Although the Torah doesn’t record any such conversation, it seems very unlikely that the painful memory of their flagrant falsehood never came up.   Yet there is no reference to it in the blessings Jacob bestows on his sons in this week’s portion of Torah.  Why?  One possible explanation: they had repented.  Jacob noted their repentance and appreciated it, so there was no reason to resurrect their wrong. Jacob’s willingness to turn a corner and begin afresh can help ready us for the arrival of 2018.  We’ve come through a challenging 2017.  From Charlottesville to alarming revelations of the harassment and defilement of women,from disjunctive leadership changes to the opioid epidemic, it has been a year that has normalized resentment and engendered fatigue. How then can we enter 2018 with fresh vigor, wakeful, and poised for goodness? “An individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose 45th yahrzeit is observed this Shabbat. “I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere; I’m still surprised.  That’s why I’m against it, why I can hope against it.  We must learn how to be surprised.  Not to adjust ourselves.”   The late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who along with Heschel, spoke at Kehillath Israel in 1966, also challenged our tendency to sleep through revolutionary times. “Too many people find themselves standing in a great period of social change, and yet they fail to

י״א בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (December 29, 2017)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

eDvar Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5778

Imitation is not always flattery “The culture in this part of the world is not Starbucks” suggested a presenter to our ADL Counterterrorism Seminar.  In the Mideast the role of rumor, the arc of time, and the function of honor, are very different than they are in the Midwest.  Our presenter concluded, “We don’t have to surrender our values for theirs, but it behooves us to understand what matters to others and why.”  So too self-understanding, knowing who we are and what we value, is no less important. This week’s portion of Torah brings everyone back together.  Joseph and his brothers reunite.  Their father Jacob experiences a reassuring promise from God that venturing down to Egypt is permissible.  “God spoke to Israel in a night vision, saying ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘I am here’ he replied” (Gen. 46:2).  Why does God revert to Jacob’s pre-Israel name here?  Yes, Jacob is often called ‘Jacob’ long after earning the name ‘Israel’, but rarely do we see both names used in the same verse and even more seldom is a biblical figure’s name repeated for emphasis. Throughout his early life Jacob wanted to be like Esau who possessed the opposite traits and skills.  Jacob was born grasping Esau’s ankle.  He later gained his birthright.  Then he acquired Esau’s blessing by way of imitation.  Jacob overcomes this mimetic desire only after wrestling through the night to earn his identity as Israel.  Yet Jacob still fears the unknown.  When God calls Israel ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ God is emphasizing that the Jacob who used to be uncomfortable in his own skin need not try to pretend to be someone else. Attachment to God, instead of grasping to become the person he is not, is how

ד׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ח (December 22, 2017)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

eDvar Shabbat Hanukkah Parashat Miketz 5778

Generous assumptions “Don’t ever hesitate to ask for help” said a stranger at a Tel Aviv ATM Machine to one of the participants on our ADL Counterterrorism mission.  “People in this country want to help in any way they can” he concluded after assisting a Massachusetts law enforcement officer with his transaction last Sunday.  This warm encounter was refreshingly non-transactional. Some of our mission’s most meaningful conversations occurred at meals.  Breaking bread with fellow law enforcement leaders of Israel’s Security Departments invited learning and bonding.  Meals often offer settings for connection and content sharing.  In this week’s portion of Torah a meal provided by an unrecognized Joseph with his estranged brothers provides an occasion for healing. Joseph is testing his brothers.  Will they still harbor jealousy when one sibling is singled out for preferential treatment?  He provides Benjamin, the only other brother born from their beloved mother Rachel, five times as much food as the rest of the brothers receive (Gen. 43:34).  When they don’t appear envious, Joseph knows that they have matured beyond the days when multi-colored coats would arouse their ire.  It is also noteworthy that Joseph stages this test over a meal.  Years earlier his brothers had cold-heartedly partaken of a meal after having stripped him of his coat and cast him into a pit (Gen. 37:25).  The resentment that animated their dining back then is repaired by their non-resentful meal provided in an Egyptian palace. One could argue that they were too terrified about the prospect of not being able to restore Benjamin back home to their father Jacob.  Yet as Rabbi Michelle Fisher pointed out in our learning this week, their lack of jealousy when they were overcome with fear

כ״ז בכסלו ה׳תשע״ח (December 15, 2017)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

eDvar Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev 5778

Prophets and politicians "You came at a poignant time in Israel’s history” a shopkeeper at Yad VaShem’s bookstore said yesterday.  She was warmly greeting one of the Police Chiefs participating in our ADL Counterterrorism Mission.  Headlines notwithstanding, it has been and remains a quiet week as Jerusalem prepares to greet Shabbat. To appreciate Jerusalem’s sanctity is to know that her identity is determined less by political figures than by prophets.  The prophetic passage that adorns the United Nations complex comes from Isaiah’s Jerusalem-rooted message.  ““God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out this week that too often the nations of the world forget the words that immediately precede these: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” No matter how remote this realization may at times feel, its transcendent worthiness abides.  Often what appears conspicuous in the present takes on new meaning in the future. A biblical Joseph makes his way down to Egypt in this week’s portion of Torah.  A series of events is set in motion that will culminate, hundreds of years later, with the Exodus and the birth of our Jewish People.  How does Joseph get from the pit into which he is thrown by his hostile brothers down to Egypt?  The Torah is ambiguous, telling us that both Ishmaelites and Midianites are responsible for conveying him there (Gen. 37:27-28).  Why both groups? Because both cohorts are descendants of Abraham’s two other unions with Hagar (Gen. 16:16) and Keturah

כ׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ח (December 8, 2017)|Categories: archive, edvar, news|

We want failures

We want failures Today’s visit with the Chief of Security at Ben Gurion Airport was enlightening.  It deepened our appreciation for what it takes to keep Israel’s airport the world’s safest.  Our host told us that those under his command undergo some ten thousand Drills in an average year.  This prompted one of the members of our New England ADL Counterterrorism Delegation to ask, “What is your success rate with these Drills?”  He responded, “90%.  But we want failures.” Success is a good congratulator.  But failure is a reliable educator.  Mistakes can be our most memorable teachers.  Two other features of Israel’s approach to airport security drive this home.  First, whenever a terrorist attack occurs at any airport in the world, an Israeli team arrives and invests considerable time into learning as much as possible from the incident.  Second, the average age of security personnel who interview us when we arrive at Ben Gurion is 23 or 24.  Each of them is highly skilled and highly motivated. More significantly, however, each is a student pursuing an advanced degree. Strong learners make the best security professionals.  There is an average of four hundred cyberattacks on Israel’s airport each month.  More than outsmarting the bad actors, those responsible for preventing harm need to outpace them as learners. In the 1960s, an executive at IBM made a decision that ended up losing the company $10 million dollars (over 120 million in 2017 dollars).  The CEO of IBM, Tom Watson, summoned the offending executive to his office.  As the executive cowered, Watson asked, “Do you know why I’ve asked you here?”  The man replied, “I assume I’m here so you can fire me.”  Watson looked surprised.  “Fire you?!  Of

י״ח בכסלו ה׳תשע״ח (December 6, 2017)|Categories: archive, news, tzion|