Shabbat: Last Reminder

Chevre, a last reminder:

Randi Simon will lead our tefilot this coming Shabbat, the 26th. Pam DeMar and Gary Riskin will host: 757 Horatio Blvd, Buffalo Grove.

Please contact Pam by Thursday so that she can plan the potluck luncheon, utilizing this link, copying and pasting it into your browser:

If that doesn’t work, you can email Pam:


B’Chavana/UPAJ Program on Mental Health

Chevre, this note is from Pam DeMar, one of our representatives to UPAJ:

B’Chavana members are invited to attend a seminar with:

Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, Medical Director, New York State Office of Mental Health
Thursday, July 24, 2014 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
(for more detailed info: Sederer Flyer 7-24-14)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
306 S Prospect Ave
Park Ridge, IL 60068

Please contact Pam DeMar if you would like to attend:; 224-619-5643

Shabbat Reminder: Updated Link

Chevre, the link did not copy properly in the last posting; please try this one:

You’ll need to copy and paste the entire link in order for it to work.


Shabbat Reminder

Chevre, a quick reminder:

Randi Simon will lead our tefilot this coming Shabbat, the 26th. Pam DeMar and Gary Riskin will host: 757 Horatio Blvd, Buffalo Grove.

Please contact Pam by Thursday so that she can plan the potluck luncheon, utilizing this link:

The timing is as usual:
9:45 Gather & schmooze
10:00 Tefilot
12:15 Potluck luncheon

Shavua tov – have a good week.




More Notes From Israel

Chevre, as promised I continue with my series of thoughts from our trip in Israel:

27 June, 2014 / 10:00
The Herzl Museum on Har Herzl, Jerusalem

The day before we went to the museum at Har Herzl, the museum hosted an event honoring distinguished female Zionists, including Julie Naschauer, Herzl’s wife.

I knew the story from an earlier visit. The museum presentation of Herzl’s work notes her contribution to his success. But it was only in reading the Jerusalem Post that one dimension of her actions struck home in a new way.

Hearing her story once again raised for me the perennial, spiritual question of individual sacrifice vs. communal welfare.

Ms. Naschauer did not believe in Zionism. Nevertheless, she financed Herzl’s work and the nascent Zionist movement – at ruinous cost.   After Herzl himself died at the age of 44, she died a brief three years later, bankrupt, having spent her entire family fortune.

Between them, they left three orphans. His eldest daughter Pauline died a drug addict. His son, Hans, killed himself when he heard the news of his sister’s death; in the meantime, he had left Judaism for a series of Christian churches. Trude, the youngest, died in Theresienstadt during the war; her son, Stephen, who had been sent to safety, committed suicide when he learned of the death of his parents.

Eventually – and in only 44 years – Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state was realized. Yet his own family did not live to see it.

It is impossible to discern the whys and wherefores of his family’s demise and the relationship of that tragedy to the crusading work that virtually absented him from his family for the better part of ten years.

What do we give up when we commit ourselves to a larger good? Where is the tipping point between fulfilling a commitment to our fellow human beings and caring for our own family?

My friend, Arik has labored to ensure that civil rights flourish in Israel – and in the territories that Israel maintains under military occupation. Many is the time that Arik has put himself in danger in standing up for his principles; he has been beaten and put in jail. As members of our group quickly learned, he fights a battle that he cannot win – and has for many years. He must steel his resolve and draw sustenance from small victories because the large battles have not – cannot? – be won.

We met with Arik the day before the Herzl Museum to learn more about the dilemma facing Israel and the Palestinians. I wish that I had thought to ask him these questions. I am sure that he struggles with them continually.

Most of us, I am sure, come to the question from the other side of the issue. We commit most, or all, of our time to nurturing our families. But what about our obligation to the larger community? In loving our spouses, raising our children, strengthening our homes – have we left the rest of the world to “fend for itself”?

It is a tricky thing, this balance between altruism and taking care of ourselves. The story of Julie Naschauer – as do so many stories of the building of the state – serves to remind us of the difficult calculus with which we engage in trying to live a life both human and humane.


27 June, 2014 / 11:30
Yad Va-Shem, Jerusalem

As do most groups, we came to Yad Va-Shem this morning – to the museum that commemorates and teaches about the destruction of much of European Jewry during WWII.

The feelings created by the exhibits are complex and manifold. Outrage. Fear. Anger. Astonishment.

Beyond those there is always the sorrow.

I ask myself the question: what do we, can we, should we make of this crucial reality of our recent past? How do we respond – beyond “just” feeling the feelings?

Most surprising is that some have responded with humor. Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” ridiculed Hitler and Nazi Germany and somewhere, sometime, I remember Brooks commenting that humor was a kind of revenge for him. More sophisticated was the novel The Last Dance of Genghis Cohn, in which the dybbuk/soul of a murdered Jewish comedian takes up residence in the body of a German officer. The humor is very dark, presaging the suicide of its author, Romain Gary.

Others respond through art: painting, sculpture, literature. My cousin, Chuckie – as an artist, he goes by Yonatan – has created art that grows from his awareness of the Shoah; one of his paintings used to hang at Yad Va-Shem. The most haunting and painful poem I’ve ever read is “Deathfugue” by Paul Celan. At the same time, the German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” It may mean other things within its original context, but people have used it to raise the question: can art in any way “address” the horrific elements of that time without being dishonest, disrespectful, incomplete, blasphemous?

Differently, Emil Fackenheim wrote that to abandon Jewish life would be to capitulate to the evil. He formulated what he called the 614th commandment: not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. His Zionism – eventually he moved to Israel to live – was an expression of that commitment.

Fackenheim hints at another kind of artwork: the construction of the self. Each of us is an artist, utilizing the elements of ourselves, our families, our communities and our histories to create the person that we want to be. That applies to the Jewish self as well as to any other aspect: having been born into a time and place in which Jewish identity is barely a “given”, in which we are free to come and go from Jewish life as we please, in which the old certainties are shaky and rarely lay claim to our souls – to live as a Jew in the modern period, for many of us, is to create one’s Jewish identity almost from scratch.

If that is so, then, the question is: what place does “the Shoah” have in the construction of my Jewish identity, my Jewish life?

Personally speaking, my Jewish identity at its core is separate from what I know and think and feel about the Holocaust. Put differently, the way in which I live my life as a Jew is almost entirely without regard for those thoughts and feelings. My sense of being a Jew in the world is not conditioned by them; my behavioral choices are not directed by them; my faith and commitments are not impinged upon by them.

Where I part with Fackenheim is here: if I were to live out my Jewish commitments despite – or to spite – Hitler, I would still be granting him a posthumous victory. I would still have given him a place of power in my life.

What do I make of the Holocaust in the construction of my Jewish life? Meant in a very specific way: very little. It is not that it is unimportant to me. It is. But it does not provide a starting point for the Jewish life that I have chosen to build. It is an important element in the story of my people’s life: no more, no less.

For me, to create a Jewish life that is rooted in any way in Hitler and the Nazi abomination would be to try to create something beautiful and positive and affirming out of something that is ugly and negative and destructive. Perhaps others can do that. I cannot. And I won’t grant the Nazi horror that kind of power over me.

Instead, I build my Jewish life on a rock instead of hell hole. I have found a faith and trust that, while not oblivious to the evil, is not built upon it, instead affirming the goodness and spirit that must counter the terror in each and every age.


Clarification on Upcoming Shabbat


With everything going on, I’m a little “farblundget”.  That’s a technical, philosophical term for “confused”.

The Shabbat gathering that I announced earlier today is for Saturday morning, July 26, and not for this coming Shabbat. 

Please make sure that you have that clearly in your calendar.


More From Israel

Chevre, as I promised, I am going back to notes that I sketched out while still in Israel in order to share them with you.  I have several more and hope to finish them over the next several days.

26 June, 2014 / 13:00
The Old City, Jerusalem

This morning, Mark Swimmer and I went to the Kotel – the Western Wall – so that he could be called to the Torah for the first time – his bar mitzvah. We connected with an organization that arranges such things, joined a family (from Vernon Hills, of all places) whose son was being called as a bar mitzvah.

Ritual life at the Wall is controlled by the Orthodox rabbinate. All around us there were different minyanim davvening and reading Torah in accordance with the Orthodox understanding of halacha (Jewish law). At the same time, people were wandering about and conversations were boisterous both within the minyanim and around them; for those minyanim close to the mechitzah (the barrier separating men from women) there were women leaning over the wall in order to hear the bar mitzvah boy, converse with the men and take pictures with their cameras.

To my eyes – and only to my eyes, because who can look into the hearts and minds of others? – the attention to traditional ritual detail was surpassed by the inattention to, or lack of focus on, the internal spiritual state of the participants.

I don’t mean this as a criticism, only as an observation.

My commitments to – and understanding of – ritual practice are much different. The Reform Movement in which I was raised has been willing to change ritual in order to serve the spiritual needs of the pray-ers. Central to ritual decision-making is the spiritual experience of the participant, while the traditions are understood as tools by which to create an experience of connection and meaning.

We call these principles keva and kavvana. The debate about them is as old as is the prayer service itself.

Keva means “fixed” – the externally set order and themes of prayers, the precise way of reciting them, the exact rituals by which to enact them.

Kavvana means “intent” – the internal states that one experiences while engaged in the rituals of prayer.

You might recognize the word “kavvana” – it is part of our name “B’Chavana.” This is one of the reasons for that name: because we prize kavvana, spiritual intent, over keva, the fixed requirements of tradition, when the two are not in synch with one another. While we retain much that is keva – the order and themes of our worship, for example – we enlarge upon them with music and poetry that come, perhaps, from elsewhere. Rather than being certain that we always include all of the texts as they exist in a traditional siddur, we include only as much as people can use before they are no longer able to focus.

What is important to us, primarily, is the interior religious/spiritual experience that we have; what we think, what we feel; the connections we make. To do otherwise, for us, would be no more than going through the motions. For us, the rote and repetitious are, at their extremes, the enemy of spiritual engagement. Not entirely; when it comes to ritual, the comfort of possessing a knowledge that extends beyond familiarity can create the kind of connections we seek in prayer. However, to see traditional practices as ends in and of themselves would be to mistake the train for the destination.

So: which approach is the right one? Which is “more Jewish”?

And who maintains the “higher” standard? Who is “better” when it comes to Jewish practice?

Neither. Each is a different approach utilized for a different reason – both with the aim of connecting to and/or serving the Ultimate One.

I suspect that “the best” would be the best of both worlds – when one can fill the traditional keva with one’s own kavvanah and, through them both, find the One who is the source and goal of our lives.