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Mid Summer Post

Dear Friends,

After the disasters of the past week I am reminded of one of the maxims of life I learned when the Israeli athletes were gunned down at the 1972 Olympics. My Rabbi suggested that the best antidote for chaos in the world was to plant seeds to promote new growth.

Yesterday I was honored to be the officiant for a funeral of Dr. Zelda Rose, a pioneering microbiologist who rose to prominence in the field of science at a time women were not accepted in that world. After a lifetime of research she told her children that the world was in such a mess and asked," what are we going to do about it?

Not an idle question. In 1987 she changed her career from academia to peace activist and anti-nuclear advocate. The question Zelda posted, "what are we going to do about it?"resonates in many of us.In Pirkei Avot, the Sayings of Our Ancestors. we are reminded that it is not our job to fix it all by ourselves. Nor are we permitted to not lend a hand and make some difference. May we be blessed to work together and find solutions that make the world a better place.

Zelda was one of several people who I have ministered to months before their death. . Getting to know someone as they prepare to leave this world can be very soothing and peaceful and aid in their transition. Not only have I been helping people die, I have been preparing children and adults for their rites of passage ceremonies Recently I have officiated at the Bnai Mitzvot of Elsa Baxter, Amelia Beigel, Asher Ginsberg Pelz, Noah Burstein and the upcoming Bat Mitzvot of Maya and Julia Lieberman, Maya Weilerstein, Nora Harris and Janna Parrot. I am blessed to study with another 12 students from young children to esteemed elders, some of whom I study with via skype. . There are also several weddings in the wings and a conversion ceremony in August.

I am beginning to prepare for the High Holidays which again I will be leading in Westfield, where I am the community Rabbi and Jewish Chaplain at Westfield State. Services will be held at the Interfaith Center on the campus. I invite you to join us. Rosh Hashana eve- Oct. 2, 7:30 pm; Day One Monday, October 3 at 10 AM with Tashlich to take place at Springfield College at 4:00 pm on Day One.where I am also the Jewish Chaplain.

Yom Kippur will start with Kol Nidre on Tuesday evening October 11th at 7:30 to continue on Wednesday the 12th at 10 Am. Looking forward to seeing you this summer.

Blessings, Rabbi Efraim

updated: 2 years ago

Thoughts on Passover

Dear Friends,                                                          

With the temperature creeping into the high 30’s and even into the low 40’s and 50’s we can hear the  songs of birds and we know that Spring is with us.

Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan which corresponds with the full moon of Nisan. This is the third full moon holiday in a row starting with Tubshvat, Purim and on April 22, 2016, the first seder is held. Passover is a spring holiday, so to ensure that Passover  starts with the beginning of spring,  careful mathematical calendar formulations  needed to be instituted. This is part of the reason that the Hebrew calendar is adjusted 7 out of 19 years to keep Passover at the outset of spring.

Each of us is commanded to tell the story as if we are experiencing this liberation today. We begin by preparing our homes by doing an extensive spring cleaning. We move the stove, clean behind the refrigerator, straighten up drawers that have been stuffed full of stuff. Prior to the holiday we remove chametz from the house. We either give it away or sell it to the Rabbi who will legally take care of it and sell it back to you at the end of the holiday. We can also take chametz and put in a drawer which is taped shut until the end of the festival.  My practice when I am cleaning out the house is to think about all the spots within that need righteous cleaning. In that way I clean the inner and the outer house.

On the last night before the holiday a ceremony called bedikat chametz (searching for the chametz) takes place. Using a lighted candle or flashlight, a feather, and a paper bag,  strategically placed crumbs of bread are swept into the bags which are then burned in the morning.

I would like to suggest another chametz exercise that we do every year in our home. Chametz is not only the puffy bread products that we sweep out of our house. Chametz is the crumbs in our lives that keep us stuck in the narrow places (mitzrayim). To rid oneself of chametz one must first acknowledge that the crumbs are there. This requires introspection and often takes time.

After the chametz is identified we write down the particular qualities that keep us stuck, put them on small pieces of paper and burn them at the same time we burn our physical crumbs. This symbolic act of burning the internal and external chametz helps us experience the depth of Passover.

As we begin the Passover celebration at our house we announce that the Passover table is the Table that we have prepared for God at a time when we re-tell our sacred story. If you have a kittel, a white flowing gown, we put it on. Four times we put the kittel on. At our wedding, at our death to be buried in, on Yom Kippur and at our sacred seder.

May we all be blessed to experience liberation and may all who are hungry come and share our feast.

Blessings for a meaningful, joyous and kosher Passover.

Rabbi Efraim

updated: 3 years ago

Purim Thoughts

A few years ago I attended a gathering where we were in the middle of a large college gym. We were given these instructions. “Go to a corner of the room to talk about your favorite Jewish holiday, or go to that same corner and talk about why it is the holiday you like the least.”

I arrived in the Purim corner and was delighted to see so many people who loved Purim, or so I thought. After going through all the reasons I love Purim that included: hamantaschen, getting dressed up in costumes, giving and receiving baskets of food from my friends, increasing tzedaka, those funny noisemakers (groggers), and of course the Talmudic dictum where Rava instructs us “to get drunk on Purim until one cannot distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai .”

I confess that I love getting a little tipsy on Purim but stop when I start dropping my juggling clubs. I always keep myself mindful to make the drive home safely. At the end of winter and the advent of Spring it is a great time for frivolity. I think there might be some connection between Purim and Mardi Gras.

I was shocked when the majority of the people in my Purim group disliked Purim for many of the same reasons that I loved it. They didn’t like the noisemakers, the costumes, the public displays of drunkenness, and especially Chapter 9 of the Megillah Esther where “they disposed of their enemies, killing 75,000 of their foes; but they did not lay hands on the spoil.”

In the eyes of the Purim detractors Purim is a holiday of drunkenness, celebrating a blood thirsty victory over a whole lot of people. I have always wondered how the Jews quickly changed from victims to the aggressive defenders that were able to exact such damage. A close reading of the Megillah explains that Mordechai had been promoted to the #2 spot in the kingdom and not only gave the Jews permission to defend themselves, but also gave them needed assistance to push back against the murderous thugs.

It gave me pause this year as I entered the traditional megillah reading to find not a whisp of alcohol. Those in the know told me that tomorrow morning would be the real wild Purim. So I dressed up in my costume and waited for the schnapps to come around. It never came.

The next night at the shul in Westfield the alcohol was on the bima.

I invited everyone up to make a lchayim and we proceeded to have a little schnapps.

Ps The Vodka that I used had been sitting in my basement for the past 3 years, unopened.

Good Purim,

Rabbi Efraim

updated: 3 years ago