From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. From left to right are Death, Famine, War, & Conquest; the Lamb is at the top.
Spoiler Alert! While I am a fan of M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village etc.) I cannot in good religious conscience recommend his latest offering Knock on the Cabin. Not for the weak of heart, its violence is over the top! But what really puts me off is its theology. Yes, theology! A brief summation. Two married men have adopted an Asian baby. Four strangers arrive, break into the cabin bearing weaponry out of the dark ages. This is the least violent of the violent scenes to follow. They claim to have a common vision of the apocalypse and inform the captured and bound family that one of them needs to choose to die as a sacrifice to avoid world wide annihilation of humanity. One by one the four invaders take their own lives and as each self-sacrifice occurs a series of predicted plagues accost the planet and its humanity.
The sympathetic viewers are inclined to accept the captured family’s view that their captors are deranged. Spoiler Alert! They are not! They present the Christian four horseman so described by John in his book of revelations. Ripe for interpretation, some thought they represented Christ while others saw them as harbingers of the last judgement and the coming of the Anti-Christ. Are you put off yet? You should be!
There is a thread of Christian theology that has run rampant in the media. It is one of sacrifice, the view that for some good to occur someone must die. One can readily understand that their paradigm is based on the central drama of Christianity’s passion narrative in which Jesus’s death is a necessary key to individual redemption from sin. While our ancient history did provide for animal sacrifice as a means for atonement, human sacrifice was verboten.
Another annoying aspect of the film which Judaism ever so slightly embraced in the past is this predestination view of an apocalypse. We have more positively imagined a golden messianic age and jettisoned whatever apocalyptic anticipations were once entertained. The atavistic view of God as a puppeteer does not prevent some of our more traditional brethren from embracing such intolerable views. One Haredi rabbi in Israel commented that the recent earthquake that afflicted the Syrians in the North and the citizens of Turkey in the south was God’s way of punishing Israel’s foes. Such pernicious thinking is not only bothersome and antiquated, but cruel when I consider such theology justifies little children being buried alive for days. The hell with that! Our Jewish community can claim no full immunity to such thinking. One Jewish historian of great merit once commented in a lecture “We thank the six million for their sacrifice, so that Israel could come into being!” We must clearly assert that those six million were not offering their lives as sacrifice, their lives were snuffed out. Nor should any such horrors of the Holocaust be used to support any justification! Such a view is deeply repugnant to Judaism’s regard for every human life.
Christian theology tends to influence so much of our culture. And I am most concerned that so many of us are unable or disinterested in articulating better and more sensible theologies. We have a Spinoza and his naturalistic views. Buber and his profound philosophical offerings. Richard Rubenstein author of After Auschwitz and his evolving Jewish theologies. So many of us do not know how to fend off such thinking such as when a former president had the audacity to appeal to evangelicals by boasting he was the “Chosen
One!” Really? Jews could and should draw deeply from their heritage which contends with demagoguery and false messianic claims. God bless America! It is a land wherein we have the freedom of religion that tolerates various forms of religion some bordering on the cultic. But there is no shame, nay there should be pride in articulating our own faith’s views, even if they differ from that of the majority. Hanukkah was a rebellion against embracing the Greek obsession with externals and opulence. We Jews looked for the eternals not the externals. We built synagogues places of study, worship and charity and not museums that would only worship the past. “look not at the container but what is contained therein!” so we read in Pirke Avot the Ethics of our an- cestors. In our hope for acceptance we often go overboard in diminishing those aspects of our heritage that do not concur with other faiths, for fear of non-acceptance. Years ago, one rabbi bravely wrote a book which was widely celebrated Where Judaism differed! I wonder if it would be so embraced today!
Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.
A Message from our President
Dear Congregation B’nai Israel Family,
The wonderful spring weather during the end of February made me yearn for spring much earlier than usual. I am excited for the arrival of March because spring officially begins this month. I love the renewal of spring, the budding of trees and blooming of beautiful flowers.
March at our Temple brings Purim the 6th and the 7th. Please see the Temple Topics calendar for events throughout the month.
Daylight Saving Time begins on March 12, so remember to spring your clocks forward! I enjoy the days becoming longer as we approach the summer solstice.
the main building has been completed. The cost was approximately $83,000.00. A few generous donations from Temple members, our Temple’s Endowment and our Temple’s Sisterhood provided the money to pay for the project in full. Thank you to all who helped make Phase One of the roof replacement possible.
Phase Two of our roof replacement project will need to begin in the next couple of years. This phase of the roof project is much needed and will replace the roof on the Sunday School building. The cost of this phase is estimated to be approximately $60,000.00.
We need to raise the remaining balance of the money for Phase Two of the roof project before we begin. If you have not already donated towards the roof project, please consider donating today towards this very important maintenance project. Any amount is greatly appreciated.
If you would like to donate to the roof project, please indicate on the memo line of your check to our Temple “Roof Project”.
Wishing you a wonderful March and an early spring!
Tina Lyon President
Our Mi sheiberach List
Wishing you well, those of you are under the weather or in need of healing. We have on our list at the time of this printing:
Nancy Rosenberg Mindy Slotin
We endeavor to update the list prior to Friday services. If you would like to add someone to the list, please call prior to Friday on the week you would like for them to be listed.
Generally, we leave everyone on the list for 30 days unless otherwise notified.
“May the One who blessed our ancestors —
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah —
bless and heal the one who is ill.
May the Holy Blessed One
overflow with compassion upon him/her,
to restore him/her,
to heal him/her,
to strengthen him/her,
to enliven him/her.
The One will send him/her, speedily,
a complete healing —
healing of the soul and healing of the body —
along with all the ill,
among the people of Israel and all humankind,
soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say: Amen!
3/3 Sarah Halley
3/7 Stanley Friedman
3/10 Ruth Friedberg
3/13 Keith Bell
3/14 David Lyon
3/25 Karen Fuller
3/26 Arielle Wilson
3/28 Forest Graff
3/28 Anne Poliakoff
3/29 Margaret Freedman
3/29 Lexi Lyon
3/30 Debbie Gordin
3/3 Ray Fishbein
3/5 Iman H, Bornstein
3/6 Ruth Crosby
3/6 Anne P. Gray
3/8 Lillian Berstein
3/8 Esther Garrell
3/8 Bernard A. Katz
3/10 Abraham Koshak
3/12 Sidney August
3/13 Molly Black
3/13 Rose L. Katz
3/13 Margaret Wachter
3/14 Mary Cooper
3/15 Earl B. Yoffe
3/16 Samuel Davidson
3/16 Irwin Leader
3/16 Pearl Liebowitz
3/18 Meyer Bernstein
3/18 David Gordin
3/18 Eleanor B. Oppenheimer
3/20 Esther Bromley
3/22 Jennie Abelkop
3/25 Dorothy Singer
3/25 Samuel Smiley
3/27 Herman Price
3/28 Aaron T. Kaplan
3/29 Sam Reichal
3/30 Etta Goldman
3/31 Harry Liebowitz
3/31 Sharon L. Massey
Gratitude for an Incredible Shabbat Service
It takes a village to create a magical Shabbat service. Heartfelt gratitude to Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, Courtney LeBauer, Jeannette Sorrell and Jeffrey Strauss for the inspirational words, music and song. Thank you to Susan Ablekop for providing a splendid Oneg. We look forward to following the successes of the amazing Apollo’s Fire!
Apollo’s Fire is Visiting our Temple!
From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz
With great anticipation on the minds of some but not all, a sequel to the film Avatar “The Way of Water!” has appeared. A phantasmagoric presentation that overwhelms the senses and strains credulity at the same time. American culture does love to co-op or appropriate lots of things, from religious concepts (an Avatar is a Hindu concept of representing one aspect of the divine through an image) to unhappy stereotypic images of Mexicans (think of the Frito Bandito!). Jews have not been able to escape from such mistreatment. Talking of sequels, Mel Brooks is at it again in his History of the World Part II, as if the first offering wasn’t sufficiently annoying. To wit in a class I have taught on humor (which goes too far) I reviewed his Inquisition scene which was replete with a Busby Berkeley, Esther Williams extravaganza (swimming nuns) to Hassidic Jews speaking with Yiddish accents (talk about your anachronisms and false depictions of Spanish Jews). One psychologist commented that “Time and tragedy can equal humor.” I guess so! But I could not have imagined a funny Holocaust film like Jo Jo Rabbit or Life is Beautiful as finding acceptance in the public sphere.
But back to Avatar and in this context trees. The worship of trees or at least as a way of apprehending the divine is nothing new. Long before Julie Andrews sang “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” (including trees as well I would imagine.) trees were the major source of focus for many
faiths. Long ago, we Jews did our share of co-opting that custom. Abraham at the “terebinths of Moreh! communed with God and the angels, Moses had great conversations with a bush from time to time and Ezekiel had no shortage of visions with oily producing trees. The Jewish people’s most enduring symbol is not the Magen David, the Shield or Star of David (not widely used till 1400 in S.E. Europe) but the Menorah, the seven branched candelabrum still on exhibit in Synagogues as it had been for centuries in the Jerusalem Temple of old. It does not take too much analysis to realize the connection between our usage and prior pagan observances. That we elevate it to sustain the idea of the one God does makes it somewhat forgivable.
Coming to the end of my four decade involvement with congregational life, I do review some of the things that I have relaxed about and others not so much. Never did memorial services for cremations once upon a time. Didn’t officiate at intermarriages nor did I offer prayers at interfaith services. Of late I think of Jordana, a lovely American Israeli teacher I knew three decades ago in California. Taken young, not yet 43, her Hungarian Israeli family preferred cremation over traditional burial. They loved the beaches and tossing Jordana’s cremains into the ocean worked for them in ways I could not fathom (no pun intended). Thinking that Jordana deserved if not better than a sandy and watery goodbye and that the kids in our religious school needed to say “farewell!” I organized on the Temple ground a tree planting to memorialize her. Much to my surprise dozens of members of the community showed up (word does get out!) along with her family including her mournful mother. It went from being a simple planting to a funeral immediately. Weeks later Jordana’s mom showed up to my study to talk and in her conversation with me she mentioned that she had been talking to her daughter. At first, I thought, “was she attending a séance?” Noticing my puzzlement, she said, “the tree, the tree, that’s where my daughter is, the tree!” Jordana’s mom had found a place to pray far from the ocean. Not in a forest, not along the shore! But along the side of the Temple’s building where a little tree was planting and growing each day.
There is something about having a place to focus and pray that is so essential to Jewish life. This is why I chose serving congregations for all these years. This is why I hope you too can so serve.
Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.