How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?

Dear Friends,

The past few weeks have been difficult here in South Africa, as they have been for almost everyone. We said goodbye to cherished friends, family members and congregants who were laid to eternal rest due to the pandemic. As we continue to make sense of the turmoil and disruption this crisis has caused, both close to home and to  society as a whole, I find myself – as I often do – turning to Jewish heritage and tradition to help find meaning in the world around me.

Last week, we marked the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, the beginning of three weeks of ritual mourning. These weeks follow a path that begins with this anniversary of the Babylonian breach of the gates of ancient Jerusalem and carries us until the anniversary of the burning of Solomon’s Temple and the start of the first exile. That date is marked, along with a great many other Jewish tragedies, including the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492,  by a fast on the 9th of Av, observed this year on July 30th.

I’m always struck by the liturgy of this period. The words of Psalm 137, By the Rivers of Babylon are exemplary for the profound mourning of our people’s loss:

There we sat,
Sat and wept,
As we thought of Zion…

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right-hand wither…

Still, as we read  Lamentations on Tisha B’Av, we find, even in the words of  sorrow, messages of hope and of the possibility of renewal. Even the fast itself is considered a Mo’ed, a  festival. For though it is a day of profound sadness, it is also a day of promise for a joyful future, as the prophet Zechariah assures the people it “shall become occasion for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah.” (Zech. 8:19)

These texts and our tradition hold all our emotions that feel so right for this  moment in our world.  We hold the sorrow of profound loss, we sit with  anxieties and fears in this time of transition, and still we find a way to  express our hope for the future.

We need to grieve. We need to name the anxiety and fear that comes with this crisis and we need to lift up hope – hope for what is possible, hope for a brighter future, hope for what we will build together in the years to come. And we need to do all these things at the same time.

I invite you to share your losses, your fears, and your hopes as we continue to walk through this crisis.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell

By the Waters of Babylon, painting by Arthur Hacker, c. 1888
By the Waters of Babylon, painting by Arthur Hacker, c. 1888
(c) Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A glimpse of the messianic time

Dear Congregants and Friends,

      One of the most important teaching of the torah is v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, love your neighbour as yourself.  There are no ifs, ands or buts.  We are commanded to love all members of the fabulous human family. In the creation account of the Book of Genesis, God creates us betzelem elohim, in God’s image.  That means that all of us, no matter our race, religion, gender, gender identity, nationality, economic status, disability, or sexual orientation are reflections of the Divine Being who created us all. Therefore, when we act with love and compassion towards one another, we become holy. However, holiness is not enough. Being holy means we become aware of our task, to fix this broken world. The biblical prophets urge us on with their words, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

    The past weeks have shown that we are far from reaching a just world and that each  and every one of us is asked to not remain silent when violence against women is crippling our country, when people are still being judged and treated differently just because of their skin colour, and when members of the LGBT* community are discriminated because of their sexual orientation and/or identity.

Our rabbis teach that we can see a glimpse of the messianic time, a world in balance, each Shabbat. Why? Perhaps, then is when we know that it is worth fighting for.

Let us do that

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Created in the image of God

Today, Friday (22 May/28 Iyyar) we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, one of several Jewish holidays commemorating events of war in the modern State of Israel. This one recalls Israel’s regaining of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. Despite these modern memorial days, it seems safe to say that we Jews generally don’t think of ourselves as military people. Yet the coming together with our annual reading of the opening portion of the Book of Numbers, beginning with a census of all Israelite men, might give us pause to question our assumption.

Our parasha begins with God’s instruction to Moses to count the people: 
s’u et-rosh kol-adat B’nai Yisrael,”-“take a census of the whole Israelite company”. The commentators notice the way God describes the head count: s’u et rosh, “lift the head.” Nachmanides (a rabbi from the thirteenth century) points out that the phrase can be positive or negative. Joseph uses the same phrase positively back in Genesis when interpreting the dream of the imprisoned cupbearer: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your post.” But Joseph also uses the phrase negatively a few verses later while interpreting the baker’s dream: “in three days’ time, Pharaoh will lift your head from your body and hang you on a pole

Imagine the scene, though, Moses and Aaron lifting each young man’s head, gently touching the chin of each soldier-to-be, looking them in the eye, thus acknowledging the humanity of each one, and recognising the real “risks” of war. Will this young man’s head be lifted up to greatness or fall in battle?

S’u et-rosh, “Lift up the head” of each one, says God to Moses, as if to say, touch them, look them in the eyes, write down their family names, because even though you are counting them, these men are not just numbers.

A wise man once taught that if you look deeply into the eyes of another, you will find there the Presence of God. Would we really be able to send people into battle if we spent the moments before looking deep into the eyes of our soldiers?

As we shall see in the weeks to come, despite its stories of fighting, rebellion and violence, the Book of Numbers also delivers the message that God would rather encourage the people Israel toward a gentler way of being, and to realise that the price we have paid in any war was more than just a soldier. She or he was a human being, created in the image of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

(Source: Rabbi Lisa Edwards)

Kfir Brigade Swearing-In Ceremony - (c) IDF 2015
Kfir Brigade Swearing-In Ceremony – (c) IDF 2015

Shavuot 2020 @ Bet David

Together with the learners of our Cheder, we will open the Shavuot Festival with a joyful Service Thursday evening at 18h30. Please join in and support our cheder learners.

Prof. Steven Friedman opens our night of learning with a Shiur about the intention of the Torah: “What the Torah Was Really Meant to Do”. The Shiur will follow the service at 19h30.

At 20h30 we will join the
national night of learning (Tikkun Leil Shavuot) of the SAUPJ (programme see below).

Please note that we use two Zoom sessions on Shavuot evening, the first is for the service and the shiur with Prof. Friedman (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-1) and the second for the SAUPJ learning night (http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-3). We will also stream all sessions and the service on Facebook and YouTube.

Thursday  28 May
* Erev Shavuot Service (18h30)
and Shiur with Prof Friedman (19h30)

ZOOM http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-1 (M 857 1878 1073 P 478751) 
to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

* SAUPJ Tikkun Leil Shavuot—proudly progressive (20h30)

When WhoWhat
20:40SAUPJ Young AdultsOpening Ma’amad
20:45Brett Kopin, Rabbinic student, Ziegler School, Los Angeles.“Tattooed Torah Movie”: the story of an Animated movie made recently, following a legendary book by Marvell Ginsburg, which is a powerful resource for Holocaust education for children.
21:30Panel:
Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Julia Margolis, Beit Luria, JHB.Andrea Kuti, Rabbinic Student, Aleph.
“Kol BaTorah – Isha” – The feminist voice of Torah:Following the prominent Feminist Jewish thinker Judith Plaskow who defines the Feminist revolution in Judaism as Standing again at Sinai, we will hear from panelist their views, in this festival of receiving the Torah, how do they view its feminine aspects and how they bring it about in their professional life.  
22:30Panel: Rabbi Greg Alexander, Temple Israel, CPT.Rabbi Adrian M. Schell, Bet David, JHB, Sofia Zway, Rabbinic student H.U.C, Los Angeles.“Days are coming” – Gaze into the near future for Jewish communities. The panelist will reflect on the transformation we’ve been experiencing, trying to extract lessons we can apply and insights for our conduct. 
23:30 Sofia Zway, Rabbinic Student, H.U.C. Los Angeles.The Book of Ruth – How it is the simple acts of Human grace which make the most difference. Sofi Zwai is a South African, graduate of our movement, studying toward a Rabbinic ordination at the HUC.
23:50Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked, Beit Emanuel, JHB.Concluding Ma’amad

ZOOM http://tiny.cc/BD-Shavuot-3 
to follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

Friday 29 May
* Shavuot Morning Service and Yizkor (09h30)

For YouTube click here: http://tiny.cc/BD-YouTube
and To follow on Facebook here: http://tiny.cc/BD-Facebook

For how to use Zoom and our Siddur online, please visit our website: www.betdavid.org.za/online