Circus

Going to a circus has been always a great experience for me. First as a child and more recently as a parent, I’ve always had fun and lots of laughs when the circus is in town. All that a circus can offer can make long lasting memories.

I have been always impressed by two of the attractions that, until recently, you could find in almost every circus. The elephants and the trapeze artists.

I remember when I was a child, one particular time we went to the circus, we arrived before the show and we had a chance to see all the animals up close. I was especially impressed by the size of the elephant. I was even more impressed by the tricks the elephant was able to do. I wondered back then why the elephant would not try to escape. At the end of the day, when I saw the elephant, chained with a very simple and plain chain to a post, that the elephant could break it and easily escape.

Later in life I read a nice explanation about this very situation. Apparently, when circus elephants are born, they are chained and they typically try very hard to pull away and escape from this bondage. The young elephants cannot do it and after several attempts, they get tired and give up. The calf knows the chain is stronger and therefore learns not to try again – they remain chained. Of course, the chains do not prevent the elephants from performing nicely.

The trapeze artists are also always great attractions for me. They’re appealing not only because of theit amazing tricks but also because they have long, wide strong nets that they use for protection. As they finish their performance, they let themselves fall on the net; they rely on it and then come down to the main stage to receive their due applause. I was always fascinated by how much they relied on that net to end their show.

Why am I telling you all this? What does a circus have to do with a spiritual reflection? Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Thoughts and Prayers?

The Prayer for the State of Israel was instituted right from the beginning of it’s formation. Credit is given to Rabbis Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog for it’s institution.

According to the Times of Israel, it was only recently confirmed that Rabbi Herzog is the true author, while Shaya Agnon is credited as the editor of this sacred text.

We could certainly use this prayer more than ever, as long simmering tensions between Israel and Iran have bubbled over in the wake of President Trump’s declaration that we plan to void the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Those on the right think it’s long overdue, the withdrawal that is. Those on the left think it’s a broken promise and a slap in the face to our allies.

Either way, Iran is state sponsor of terror and conflict with them seems inevitable.

I’m wondering about our relationship to this prayer for Israel, or any prayer for peace really. I don’t think praying for peace is going to end a war. Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 2 comments

Lag B’Omer

Today (Thursday) is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Passover and Shavuot.  For almost two millennia, it has been a day of celebration attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who lived in the 2nd century CE.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai authored the Zohar which explored the mystical aspects of the Torah.  Legend says the Rabbi felt such devotion and gratitude for the blessings in his life, on his death bed he told his students to make this day a time of celebration rather than mourning.  He died on Lag B’Omer.  Since then, there have been celebrations and even bonfires and dancing to mark the day.  Many festivities are focused on the village of Meron in northern Israel where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Donating Life

This week is the fourth week of the month.  For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world.  These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

Organ donation saves lives and Jewish law allows us to donate.  Currently, 3 people in our community are waiting for kidney transplants and you might be able to help.  Evan Sultan, Jan Maxwell, and Dan Yastrov all suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease and require a transplant.  The special nature of kidney transplants is that ‘live donors’ are possible.  Since we are born with two kidneys, but only require one for healthy living, we have the opportunity to give a kidney to another.

It is a profound gift. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, 3 comments

Perspectives on Conversion

I want to share an old story with you. Samuel was a perfect son. He was loving, caring, respectful, and a successful lawyer. What else could his parents ask for?

One day Samuel arrives home and tells his parents he would like to introduce them to his girlfriend, Sandy. He said to them, “I am in love and I want you to know Sandy. We are going to get married soon. – I also want to warn you that Sandy is not Jewish.”

That news almost killed his parents. The reaction was very bad. –“A non-Jewish girlfriend will bring you a lot of problems”, they warned.

Those were the last words the parents spoke to Samuel for a long time. They did not attend the wedding; they were not part of the happiness of the birth of their grandchildren. The basically didn’t talk at all.

One day, a long time later, Samuel’s parents decided enough is enough. They decided to invite Samuel and his family over for a visit.

They called him on the phone: Samuel, it is time to reconnect. We would love to invite your family over. Why don’t you come over on Friday night?

Samuel was happy and replied, “Thank you parents, we would love to. But since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not ride on Shabbat. – Maybe Sunday?”

“Ok” said his mother. “I will cook your favorite food from your childhood, Lobster!!!”

“Sorry mom. Since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not eat shellfish.”

“Ok” said Samuel’s dad. “Maybe I can do a BBQ and then we can eat good ice cream.” Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 32 comments

Reflections on Yom HaShoa at the Capitol

It’s a mix of awe and awesome. The setting of the US Capitol emancipation hall; and eclectic range of statues from Frederick Douglas to the gold draped Hawaiian King Kamehameha, who is credited with uniting the islands in the late 18th century.

The centerpiece, the statue of freedom, rises 30 feet above the floor and in front of it has been placed a six branched Menorah. The violinist begins to play the theme from “Schindler’s List” as survivors and liberators enter the hall single file. It is like living through the end of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

All around me, people are weeping and as I peer at the faces of these resolute souls, I can’t help but meditate on the terrible events that have led to this moment. Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

Nurturing Love

“My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.  For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing bird has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

(Shir HaShirim 2:10-12)

Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, is a beautiful book about two lovers longing for one another.  It is the type of love which inspires poetry, dance, and song.  The custom is to read Shir HaShirim on the Shabbat during Passover which falls this week.  Chazal, a term referring to the collective rabbis of our tradition, understand this book as an allegory of love between the Jewish People and God.  It is read on Passover because the greatest act of love that God extended to the Jewish People was the freedom to develop into the People Israel – Am Yisrael. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

Unpacking Fault Lines in Israel

This week is the fourth week of the month.  For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world.  These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.  These outside pieces are brought because their ideas are worth struggling with even as they might challenge us.

Since we are about to say, “Next year in Jerusalem” and our congregational theme is Israel, I want to point our attention towards Israel.  I am proud Beth El is a community which is unwavering in its love and commitment to Israel as it also recognizes Israel’s complexities.  In that vein, I want to offer a thought-provoking podcast produced by The Forward called “Fault Lines.”  The series is an on-going conversation between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart.  Respectively, Gordis and Beinart have come to represent the Right and Left political streams of American Jewry regarding Israel.

Gordis and Beinart state in the podcast they want to model a relationship which may be energized by disagreement but grounded in respect for the other.  They are united in their mutual commitment to a strong and secure Jewish State though they disagree on how that is actualized.

Here is a link to their first Podcast: Fault Lines with Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart  (Click on this link or the graphic above.)

At Beth El, let us never shy from expressing our love of the Jewish State, voicing our opinions on policies as needed, and never forget or become indifferent towards Israel and Jerusalem.

Le’shanah ha’ba’a b’Yerushalayim — Next year in Jerusalem,
Rabbi Greg Harris

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Reflecting on Spring

Spring brings with it many interesting possibilities. We know that this week, spring brings snow! More traditionally, it brings hope for freedom and deliverance, nice flowers and flourishing trees, lots of Matzah and, for some, it also brings allergies.

Sneezing is something that happens to every human being and also some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze. Nobody can sneeze without closing their eyes. But even more interesting is that if someone hears us sneeze, he or she will very often say, “Bless you.”

Many people have become accustomed to saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health) and it is not surprising that in Spanish we say “salud” (health or good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago.

There was a custom among the Romans to say, “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve” after sneezing, meaning “good health to you.” The common belief is that the phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE), and began literally as a blessing. Sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the bubonic plague. Therefore, the blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

But of course the Jewish people can claim we did it first…

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

We Need Healing

Thoughts and Prayers aren’t enough, but we do need healing and we do need hope. We are extraordinarily proud to support the March For Our Lives that will come to D.C. on March 24th. These teenage leaders emerging from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are an inspiration to us all and have clearly caught the attention of their peers around this nation. Last Wednesday, hundreds of students at BCC and other High Schools in our area, walked out of class and down to the Capitol.

I’d call that belief in action! Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 5 comments