November 4, 2022
What a busy time we’ve come through!
As a community, as a synagogue, we’ve emerged from a meaningful and rewarding High Holy Day season, a little exhausted perhaps, but enriched and renewed. With barely time to catch our breaths, we (the synagogue) turned around and began programming a new year, shepherding in new members, celebrating baby-namings and b’nei mitzvah, and welcoming interested newcomers.
There is a great deal going on, both in my professional life and in the world at large, that feels dizzying much of the time, and I’d like to play catch-up for a few minutes.
To begin with, on a congregational level, I have had two meetings now with Rivka Nissel, the new director of Jewish community services at the Jewish Board. Rivka is our Midwood neighbor, and she works at the flagship office of the Jewish Board on Coney Island Avenue at Quentin. She and I have been discussing ways that we can interface with the Jewish Board on a range of issues, and I’d like to make our community aware of some of these:
The Jewish Board offers an extensive bereavement support program. If you are in need of bereavement support or counseling, please reach out to me and I can connect you with Rivka. Many who mourn the loss of a loved one suffer in silence and despair – a bereavement group can really bring people out of the darkness, helping them to process their grief in a small group of like-minded mourners experiencing similar kinds of loss. No matter your age of the nature of your loss, there is a group for you. I urge people to take advantage of this great resource. All meetings are held on Zoom, so it’s comfortable and easy to join. Right now, I and a small group of Brooklyn rabbinical colleagues are trying to form a cohort of congregants (8-12 people) who have suffered the loss of a parent within the last year – if you are interested, please reach out to me.
The Jewish Board also offers support around issues of addiction and recovery. There are currently several groups running, some online and some in person (in Brooklyn). Again, if you or someone you know would benefit from such a group, please reach out to me or contact Rivka (contact information below).
There are also programs for mental-health support; a “friendly phone-call” program which pairs people who are feeling isolated with a volunteer who makes a weekly call to check in; short-term financial support to people who are needing a little help with rent assistance or utility bills; and a host of other services to support the Jewish community. None of these programs are of any value if people don’t know about them, so please file them away in your mind, for yourselves and for your neighbors.
As for things worthy of comment on a broader scale, there is much to trouble our Jewish world right now. The Ye (Kanye West) brouhaha has, once again, cast antisemitism into the limelight. Ye is an extraordinarily influential figure, especially among the younger generation, and his string of comments, often using classic antisemitic tropes, has challenged a generation of Jewish and other sympathetic fans. I attended a teaching this week (from the Jewish Education Project) on how “Gen Z” (the generation coming of age now) might respond to this kind of bald-faced hatred. But the truth is, it’s getting more and more prevalent, from major media figures, and it often feels like the silence is deafening. News broke today about Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets guard, who refused to back down from his support of “an antisemitic documentary and a ‘New World Order’ conspiracy theory about secret societies” (NYT) narrated and promoted by Alex Jones, one of the most disgusting and toxic media figures of our generation. I will certainly be commenting more on this in the coming months.
On a similar note, I also attended a training this week called Bystander Intervention to Stop Antisemitic Harassment. What are we to do when we witness an antisemitic incident? The training took us through “the 5 D’s” – Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct – “that you can use to support someone who’s being harassed, emphasize that harassment is not okay, and demonstrate to people in your life that they have the power to make their community safer.” It was a very useful presentation, and if you’d like more information about the “5 D’s,” you can find it here, on the Right To Be website (The 5 D’s work for harassment in any situation, not just antisemitic incidents, so it’s a good thing to know about in general).
And across an ocean and a sea, in our beloved Israel, a frightening wave of right-wing fervor has infected the Israeli electorate. The hate-filled and anti-democratic rhetoric on the ascendant right, echoing that in our own country, portends a dark future. Some of you are aware that I’ve been invited on a trip to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Dubai in mid-November. The trip is sponsored by the Jewish Agency and is being programmed under the auspices of the Shalom Hartman Institute. I attended an eye-opening introductory session with my Israel/Dubai cohort earlier this week that was unexpectedly filled with optimism, but that was before the election. I hope to be able to report some good news when I get back, despite the dispiriting signs. I’ll share more about the trip next week. Audrey, Elad (our shaliach/emissary from the Jewish Agency) and I have already programmed a three-part NightShul follow up to the trip. Stay tuned.
On a happier note, our congregation celebrates the bat mitzvah of Ma’ayan Lantner this Shabbat, and we thank Ma’ayan for bringing some light into a dark time. Join us for services tomorrow!
In the meantime, let me wish you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach, a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine