What defines Jewish art and music? Is it a creative act fashioned by a Jew? Is it a style, a sense, a shape, a quality that feels Jewish? Is there is a certain sound – whether it is the high-pitched shrill of a clarinet or the delicate dance of a violin – that when you hear it you know it is Jewish?
We’ve all seen the latest advertisements for phone gadgets allowing us to create avatars which mimic our speaking and facial expressions. They are so great! This fantastic feature is simply the next step in an ongoing evolution of artificial intelligence that in some way helps us connect and relate better with each other.
Fires this week are causing great damage to land and homes in the Southern California area. Several members of our Valley Beth Shalom community are displaced as the fire rages just a few miles from our synagogue home. Where there has been heartbreak, there is inspired heroism. Where there has been concern for the safety of the vulnerable among us, there is unflagging commitment to provide shelter, protection, and confidence that in moments of crisis we are here for each other.
Once there was a young man strolling on the coastline on a late morning in the autumn. As he approached a stretch of shoreline he noticed hundreds of thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. Apparently changes in tidal patterns had forced this massive deposit of starfish the previous night. As he continued to walk closer to the starfish, he noticed in the distance the figure of an older gentleman gently lifting the creatures and tossing them back, one by one, into the ocean, pausing for a moment between each throw. The younger man approached the older man and struck up a conversation with him.
Benjamin Franklin is one of America’s great heroes. He’s the one to make popular the idea “From Rags to Riches.” A child of extreme poverty, he quickly became a success by literally turning the rags he once used for newspapers into paper currency - riches. The self-made man, the hero with humble beginnings, achieved the impossible. Benjamin Franklin, the shining face of a currency that implies wealth and success is the model of American achievement. He embodies what we strive toward - fulfilling the American dream.
This year we will celebrate 70 years of statehood and national independence in the Land of Israel. It is a time to rejoice in the thousands of years old dream, “To be a free people, in our Land - Lihyot Am Chofshee B’Artzeinu,” as the words of Hatikvah proclaim. The unfolding drama of the State of Israel is focus of daily study and concern for us as it has been for millennia.
How many times have we cringed after a quick response to a troubling comment or after an impulsive reaction to a difficult situation? What does it mean for us to wish for just one more moment to think about what we should have said or done?
I wasn’t alive to read the news of crematoria constructed to burn Jewish bodies in Europe during the Shoah. I wasn’t alive to witness the palpable dread and concern the world must have felt as news washed upon the shores of this land of freedom and security. I wasn’t alive to urge our leaders to act swiftly or to pray for the safety of those whose lives were in mortal danger.
Raising a child today is exciting, daunting, and certainly all-consuming. As a young parent myself, some days the goal is just to make sure the kids are dressed with matching clothes, let alone making sure my suit doesn’t have any stains on it! Loftier goals like providing your child with a strong sense of self and a deep connection to the Jewish people seem far off, but dreaming and acting for them begins even at the earliest stages of development.
This Saturday evening and Sunday we will gather, dress in costumes, revel with music and food, and hear the story of Esther and Mordechai, Achashverosh and Haman. In the center of the story, Mordechai speaks to Esther, now the queen of Persia, and appeals to her so she may help save the Jews who have been threatened with annihilation of genocidal proportion.