Sign In Forgot Password

ON writing, avoidance, and showing up for each other

02/20/2024 08:58:28 AM

Feb20

rabbi abigail treu

Somewhere in the space between reluctance to commit and the sense of being too busy already, I have found a million reasons not to write to you.

Or perhaps it is a way of hiding. Of the game we play from the first time we realize that perhaps someone will criticize, that perhaps we are not completely loved. Or that being loved is different than being liked. Or wanted. 

But aren’t I here to be a conduit for God’s love? Which is unconditional, a form of grace, and has nothing to do with reluctance to commit, our being too busy already, and the million ways we hide from one another and from Him. Her. It. Whatever pronouns suffice to point to that sense of Greater Than All Of This, Always. That’s what I mean when I say God. But theology is for another time. After all, this is my way of initiating (resurrecting?) the Oheb Rabbi Blog. We will have time for theology later.

At first, it was a sense of priority: to get to know several hundred families, that was the most important thing when I began two and a half years ago. I gave myself 18 months. (If you’ve never taken me up on those open office hours, it’s still a thing. Click here to schedule time together.) As I prepared for the High Holidays this summer, I had a plan: beginning with the new Torah cycle, I would share Torah weekly - maybe a video, maybe written, maybe both. (Would that the sermon still was that forum; I do hope that one day we will get to that place, the Oheb community, where coming together weekly on Shabbat mornings will feel compelling and holy to more of you. It does to some of us already, and those I get to see each week - and even each morning, some of us, at daily minyan online - get what I mean. But I’ve come to realize - not without sadness - that for the rest of you I’m going to have to reach out beyond that medium. ) So yes, I thought, I’ll do what many of my rabbinic colleagues do, and not only write a weekly d’var torah for services but also create something each week that goes out to everyone and anyone who wants to read and/or watch it.

So, B’reshit. In the beginning. Those opening words of Torah, the first parasha, that first weekly reading of the Torah cycle. That’s where I would start. Get through the High Holy Days, Sukkot, and then as we begin the Torah over again I’d be off and running. 

We read it on the morning of October 8.

War. At that point, just a terrorist attack and hostages taken and the Jewish people shattered to its core. Israel not yet striking back, not yet mobilized to retrieve those taken, still counting the missing and the dead and unsure who was which. Those first weeks-turned-into-months tipping us over the edge from the comfort zone we’d been in, into a discomfort zone of anxiety, fear, sadness, uncertainty, worry, grief, despair. The writing I have managed to send out since then has centered around all of this. Too much else to do, holding so many people with hurting hearts. Good thing we spent those 18 months getting to know each other. 

But now it is time to expand out. To go ahead and nourish us with Torah of all sorts. I’m not sure exactly yet what it will look like. The weekly Torah reading sometimes; movies or what’s on my mind with the kids are whatever other times. I don’t know yet. But I do know that we need it, more Torah, more teaching more wisdom, more spiritual succor. We crave it, now that the shock is over, the shock of this war and the resurgence of anti-Semitism but also - the shock and aftershocks to this congregation of a generational shift in leadership. 

Two and a half years in to my tenure as your rabbi, I still have a million ways to avoid reaching out like this. But if I push myself to articulate why I want to write to you at all, it is this: because I love you. Because I want to be in relationship with you. And in order to do that, we have to show up for one another.

So this is me trying on a new way of showing up with you. In return, I hope you’ll try new ways, too. Because I love you, and God loves, you, whatever that might mean to you. And if you don’t know, or are surprised to hear a rabbi saying those words which have come to sound Christian or just empty - well, good. That gives us what to talk about over our next cup of coffee, our next email exchange, our next time you push yourself to show up in this relationship with me, with Oheb, and with the Jewish people, too.

SERMON, SATURDAY MORNING, FEB 3, 2024

02/04/2024 06:36:49 PM

Feb4

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

SERMON, SAT MORNING, DECEMBER 30, 2023

01/04/2024 12:47:50 PM

Jan4

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

To view the full playlist of Rabbi Treu's sermons, visit our YouTube channel.

.

ON SIGNS, SLOGANS, AND HOW WE MAKE FOR NUANCE

12/19/2023 09:51:46 AM

Dec19

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

“Rabbi, the message is not getting through.” Sitting with one of the more deeply involved Oheb Shalom members, I was surprised and not surprised. With so much information (and misinformation) overload, it’s hard for most messages to get through. 

What message was he talking about? The message I’ve been hoping to share loud and wide and clearly, which is that in the turmoil of what it feels like and means to be part of the Jewish community since October 7, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That Oheb Shalom is a pluralistic, diverse community which holds Zionism as a core value and also wrestles with how to hold that value, what it looks like and means. This was true during peacetime, and it is all the more true during war.  

We seem, though, to have gotten stuck. We seem to be caught in a binary sense of our commitments. Not just at Oheb, but in the broader community and world. But the truth is: most of the congregation just doesn’t relate to that.  

In speaking with so many of you these past 72 days, the message is this: we are diverse. Some people feel totally sure of their convictions. Others are unsure, disoriented, wrestling with conflicting ideas and feelings. Many are mourning loved ones in Israel, or are worrying about loved ones serving in the IDF.  Many are also unsure what to do with the images and reports from Gaza. These categorizations are not mutually exclusive. It needs to be said: Most people who support Israel also care about Palestinian civilians. It is not binary. It is complex and nuanced. And so are we. 

Layered on top of all of that is the sense of total disorientation by many whose core identity as Jews is bound up with the fight for social justice. Suddenly, caring about Israel has cast us as outcasts in the progressive circles many proudly worked to build. Add to the mix as well that many of us have never lived through a time when anti-Semitism was front-page news for weeks on end, and we are reeling and anxious, unsure how to hold it all with any coherence.  

Even as I write this, I know: there will be some who will read this and think: wait, she got it all wrong, that doesn’t capture me at all. Yes, I suppose that is my point. We can’t all be characterized in any one way. It’s much too complex for that. We are much too complex for that. 

I’m writing this now because after much deliberation, we will be mounting new banners outside of the Oheb Shalom building. Some congregants advocated loudly for signs that read We Stand with Israel. Others advocated loudly that such signs would not capture the nuance of what they are feeling right now; that standing with Israel’s right to exist is perhaps different than standing behind every aspect of the Israeli government’s actions. What slogan could possibly capture that? Some argued for no signs at all; some took umbrage at the lack of a sign. Some congregants are committed more than anything to peace-making; others felt that signs calling for peace were premature until the hostages come home. I fantasized that we might find a way for every one of us to write our own sign and hang that up outside – to show the world our nuance, our pluralism, that there is no one way to feel or think right now at Oheb Shalom or in the broader Jewish world. To help everyone in the congregation have a voice. It turned out to be impractical. Too bad.  

In the end, we settled on the following: an Israeli flag and an American flag. Also, two signs. One that reads: Bring Them Home Now. And one that offers up nothing more or less than our name: Oheb Shalom. Love. Peace.* **

I love that we have four signs. I love that we don’t pretend that we can – collectively or individually – be reduced down to just one slogan or idea. The war in Israel and Gaza is so much more complex than that. Who we are as a Jewish community is so much more nuanced and diverse. Who we are at Oheb is, too. 

Rabbi Yosi bar Hanina taught:  God’s word comes to each person according to their uniqueness. Don’t be surprised about this! When the manna fell, it tasted differently to everyone. (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 12:25; 5th-6th century AD, Israel) 

The flags and the signs will mean something different to each of us, and to each person who drives or walks by. Collectively, I hope they tell the story of a congregation holding on to our ideals as Americans and as a Jewish community. We hang the flags not because our countries are perfect, but as a sign of loyal commitment to bringing them closer to the ideals on which they were founded. We post flags and banners because we want to contribute to the broader community conversation, and help us all get unstuck from feeling we have to be defined as being just “one thing.”  

The manna tasted differently to everyone because we are each unique, and to each and every one of you wondering “wait, is Oheb the place for me? I think they’re too [fill in the blank]…” The message I’m trying convey is this: you belong here. Whatever you hold in your heart and head about this war, about the intersection of what’s happening with Israel and anti-Semitism, about Jews and political ideology… if you are someone who believes in diversity, in pluralism, in nuance; in coming together with people who think and feel differently than you do; in coming together with open-hearted, kind people, who wrestle with ideas but also walk gently through the world so everyone involved feels less alone, and want to do all of that through the lens of Torah and Jewish culture: you belong here.  

My door is open to all who wish to be in conversation about this (or anything else). In January we will be sharing a lineup of programming around Israel; ideas are welcome and can be directed to our program chairs, Doug Magid and Leo Gordon. We will hold another Listening Circle, which – for those who weren't able to join the last one – is a heart-centered way of gathering and talking across difference. And we will continue to gather, pray, share meals and sacred space, having nothing to do with politics or Israel or any of this, but just because that’s we do as a Jewish community, week in and week out. 

Am Yisrael Chai – may the Jewish people live on in and through each and all of us. 

SERMON, SAT MORNING, DEC 2, 2023

12/06/2023 12:46:40 PM

Dec6

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

To see the full playlist of Rabbi Treu's sermons, visit our YouTube channel.

STRETCHING OUR HEARTS AS BIG AS THEY WILL GO

11/30/2023 03:20:58 PM

Nov30

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

As many of you know, I served at a congregation in Ohio as an interim rabbi the year prior to joining Oheb Shalom. There I met Diana and Romi and their 12-year-old daughter. This was during the height of COVID, and I only met them once in person. Not because they were COVID-cautious, but because they did not believe it was real. In their objection to their sense of government interference with personal liberty, they also therefore refused to attend zoom programming and had pulled their daughter from school. Romi hung out in QAnon circles. You get the picture. Despite their political differences from the rest of the congregation, they were beloved and had many close friendships in the generally blue-leaning, progressive community.

Halfway through my time there, Diana was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. They did not trust the medical establishment and so treated her at home with herbal remedies. In the days and weeks that followed, one thing became super clear: no matter what, Romi and their daughter needed a community and they needed a rabbi. They needed me to show up and not care about their politics or ideas about medicine. The only thing that mattered was that Diana was dying. Romi and I spoke daily after Diana passed. As he worked through his grief, much of our conversations involved QAnon and other political ideas I did not share. It didn’t matter; Romi needed to talk, and my role was not his political advisor but his rabbi. Just a few months later, Romi died of a sudden heart attack. Because I’d stuck around, this suddenly orphaned 12-year-old had a rabbi, too. Her first zoom was the congregational shiva visit we organized for her to dial into, from her uncle’s home in another state. Her new life began surrounded by the community that loved her no matter what her parents’ politics had been.

Over the past weeks, since war broke out on October 7, my job has completely shifted. The pastoral care that had been focused entirely on people’s personal needs has become infused with anguish over what is going on now at the peoplehood level. For some, the anguish is about the hostages, the terror attack by Hamas, the IDF soldiers risking their lives to defend Israel. For others, the anguish is about the suffering in Gaza, the war being waged there, and a sense of rage and betrayal that Israel would cause such suffering. The overlay of the 400% rise in antisemitic attacks here in the US over the past five weeks – including a friend being shoved last night in a nearby town and called “f-ing Jew” – has many on edge, or over the edge. Our hearts hurt, our heads spin, many are anxious and afraid, and many don’t know what to do or think.

My job is not to judge anyone as right or wrong in our ideas about Israel or anything else. My job is to hold all of us in community and love. My sense of responsibility as a leader of the Jewish community does mean I stand publicly with Israel, where half of the world’s Jewish population lives, and a spot on earth that has been part of the Jewish story since the first chapters of Genesis. It does not mean, though, that my heart is closed. The images of the suffering and destruction in Gaza touch the deepest parts of our humanity and it is hard to know how to hold both – caring for Israel and caring for Palestinian life – in a way that has intellectual cogency. I’ve sat with many of you who are confused how to hold it all, how to care for Jews and Palestinians, how to get through the day without this taking over, how to feel and function.

For me, the work feels like it is about learning to hold multiple truths. Truths that are complete opposites, truths that don’t work together and logically can’t all be true. That is a feature of deep truth, that something and its opposite can both be true. For me, the work right now feels like it is about stretching my heart as big as it will go. I leave the political solution-izing to others.

We are a diverse group with lots of different ideas and feelings about Israel, as with everything else in Jewish life (and life life). We seem to love our pluralism in other areas – some of us keep kosher, some don’t; some pray every day, some don’t. We treasure our diversity in gender expression and sexuality, in the colors of our skin, in our marital statuses and neurotypes and in so many other ways. I hope we can treasure our political differences, too. I hope we are able to hold pluralism here with as much love as we do in other areas of our communal life. I hope that our sense of commitment to Jewish life and community trumps our need to feel right and to be with only people who agree with us. I hope we can create safe space for all of us to show up and feel that we all belong here at Oheb and in Jewish community. Because we do.

On Sunday morning, December 3, at 9:30 am, I will host a Listening Circle. This program, which will take the place of my regularly scheduled Sunday morning class,  will be a highly structured, facilitated gathering, designed to support participants in sharing from the heart, and will be appropriate for teens and adults. The goal is not to work towards common ground or any particular outcome, but rather to share, honor and listen to the authentic multiplicity of views that make up our community.

With a big heart, prayers for peace, and much love for all of us whose hearts are hurting and heads are spinning,

SERMON, SAT MORNING, NOV 18, 2023

11/26/2023 09:22:53 AM

Nov26

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

To view the full playlist of Rabbi Treu's sermons, visit our YouTube channel.

SERMON, SAT MORNING, NOV 11, 2023

11/15/2023 10:26:55 AM

Nov15

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

To view the full playlist of Rabbi Treu's sermons, visit our YouTube channel.

SERMON, SAT MORNING, NOV 4, 2023

11/10/2023 02:55:44 PM

Nov10

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

sermon, fri eve, nov 3, 2023

11/05/2023 01:24:09 PM

Nov5

Rabbi Abigail Treu

 

On Heartbreak and Hope

Rabbi Treu joined a small group of clergy for a 36-hour Solidarity Mission to Israel organized by Greater MetroWest Federation on November 1-2, 2023. The following is her reflections upon her return, shared at Shabbat services (Friday night).

The first thing we noticed, upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport early Tuesday morning, was how empty it was. Our El Al flight was full, but as we walked down that long hallway, we realized we were the only arrival. The El Al planes the only ones lined up on the tarmac, rows of white and blue stripes.

The streets are quiet, almost empty. No tourists, no school, and anyway people are scared and hunkering down at home. There are flags everywhere, and banners: Am Yisrael Chai. And a new one, that has become a slogan of sorts for this war: ננצח ביחד. N’natzeach – we will win, we will succeed; b’yachad – together.

You don’t realize it at first but then you do: that there are very few men. There are not a lot of young adult women around, either. The only young adults around at all are the mothers of young children, especially in the hotels in Jerusalem, where entire border towns like Sederot are now housed, and in the Negev where we visited our sister communities Kibbutz Erez, Ofakim and Merchavim – three places where our Greater MetroWest Federation has for decades created partnerships.

Greater MetroWest Federation has an office at Ofakim, and many of us know Michal Zur who works there. Of course she didn’t meet us in her hometown, Kibbutz Erez – she met us miles away, in Mitzpeh Ramon. This town of 5,000 people has taken in 3,500 evacuees. We stood with Michal overlooking the beautiful Ramon Crater and she said to us: “Kibbutz Erez was our home. We were there because we believed that the Gazans, just over the border, wanted what we wanted. Now, we don’t know. We are full of questions. Can we go back home one day? Will we be too traumatized, having seen terrorists inside our homes? And we have questions of faith – where was God? And also questions of miracles, thank God, for saving me. Thank God they entered from the left not the right, they would have hit the Simchat Torah celebration at the school, thank God. Questions of compassion,” she said, “how to locate it again inside our hearts, and questions of values.” She described the past two weeks, 400 families in their circles sitting shiva.  You leave the kids with a friend, she said, you head to a hotel where in the lobby there are signs like for a bar mitzvah – this family in this ballroom, another family over here, every room taken. All sitting shiva. “It’s all we’ve been doing now for weeks.”

Over and over again we heard, about that Oct 7 which is now called Shabbat Shechorah, the Dark Shabbat: we just didn’t know what was happening. That was the first trauma, the not knowing. Hearing a siren and thinking – it will pass, something must be happening somewhere else, and then the second trauma, realizing there was a terrorist on your street, and then realizing there were dozens of terrorists on your street. Sagit, a woman about my age wearing jeans and a t-shirt, is in charge of emergency operations in Kibbutz Erez. From the situation room there she called the ambulance when one, then two, then three people with gunshot and then grenade wounds entered the kibbutz’s situation room – but then halfway through her request for the ambulance she said wait, how will the ambulance get here, they will get shot if they come on the road, and that’s when she realized she had to shut the gate, that’s when she realized there would be no ambulance, that they were alone. If she hadn’t decided to close the gates there would have been slaughter.

In Jerusalem, at Hadassah Hospital, we met Michal. Michal is a pediatric nurse by profession, the mother of 10 children. Wearing a jean skirt to her ankles, her hair wrapped in a yellow scarf wound high up on top of her head, her blue eyes are bright and watery. Her left arm is in a sling and she is teary as she shares her story with us. She and her husband like to volunteer with the children as a family, and sometimes they go to army bases to relieve the rabbi there, give the soldiers some love and the rabbi a shabbat off. This shabbat, she said, “Hashem brought us to Zikim” army base. Her daughter was nervous because it’s so close to Gaza, but Michal told her no, it’s quiet, the rockets go right over. They made a beautiful Simhat Torah with the soldiers, they made them treats and an oneg shabbat, it was very beautiful. At 6:20 in the morning she woke up from a big boom – and then a voice over the loudspeaker, tzeva adom, red alert, over and over again. She heard bombs all around and that voice non-stop, tzeva adom. It was shabbat but they picked up the phone;  they didn’t know if their room was secure. It was not; a few minutes later a soldier came and escorted them out to the safe-room. Michal grabbed a pacifier for the baby and they ran out and the soldier told them to stay there, it will be over in 2-3 hours but they never came back, just the bombs and that voice tzeva adom over and over and over. She heard a soldier injured outside, and her kids said – ima you’re a nurse, go help her, so she left them in the safe room and went outside. At this point in telling us the story Michal broke down, the memory so traumatic and fresh, and I will skip the description of what she saw, but she realized that this young woman, this soldier had taken a bullet through her face and it was now stuck in her head. Terrorists are shooting and this wounded soldier, this young woman is saying my head hurts, I need the bathroom. With another soldier Michal moved her, got her to a bathroom and then she was calmer and they lay her on a bed and then this soldier, her name is Noa, passed out which Michal said was a relief, that she was asleep. Michal watched as the soldier guarding the door staggered into the room, shot, the soldier next to Michal said – we have to do something, save him, but Michal knew, there were nothing to be done, they watched him die before them. She knew she should go and hide but she just couldn’t leave Noa there alone and then she saw another soldier coming, she made eye contact with him and she thought – he’s a little older, maybe he’s coming to help me and then he walked up to her and it clicked. He shot her, three times. Michal and Noa are now at Hadassah hospital recovering; they will both be fine, and Michal hopes that with rehab she will one day regain the use of her left hand. She said: my children and my husband weren’t hurt. I sit here crying but it’s just my hand. Am Yisrael will become stronger because of this.

At Hadassah hospital we met Oshry, 22 years old, dark curls and slender, smooth dark skin and enormous round brown eyes. Oshry led his unit into Ofakim and also Kissufim army base. When they arrived terrorists had already taken over the army base; they were forced to kill 15 terrorists in order to evacuate 32 female soldiers, 14 wounded Israeli soldiers, men and women, three civilian women and a baby. He described fighting for 40 minutes to save two of the women in a room directly next door to terrorists. Oshry was shot in the shoulder, because terrorists were up on the roofs, the bullet traveled through his stomach to lodge in his leg. At the end of the operation, his unit evacuated themselves – they found a car, drove it to an ambulance. He was first treated at a Hospital in Beer Sheva where more than 700 injured arrived; the hospital’s emergency plans for a mass event are for 100. We asked Oshry: how is your head, and your heart? He answered: I lost 3 soldiers. Even if we’d managed to save 3,000 people the price was too high.

Later in the day we met the family of Ron Sherman. Ron is 19, and was serving on the border of Gaza in a base set up to help with the economy there. He is asthmatic so he is not in a combat unit; his job is to check the goods going back and forth across the border. On October 7 he called home to say something was not normal. His mother, Ma’ayan, who sat stone-faced as she spoke with us, said he then texted her: there are terrorists at the base. He sounded worried. His mother told him: there’s nothing on the news, you’re in the safest place in Israel; don’t worry. He said – I can hear Arabic. I just hope they don’t kidnap me. At 7:12 he texted her: I love you, with a red heart emoji; it’s over. That’s the last they’ve heard from him.

Hamas posted the video of his capture, so she knows they took him in the shorts and t-shirt he slept in. He has a very good personality, she said, everyone loves him. She said: I hope that is helping him now.

How does she cope, we asked? By holding on to hope. That his personality is helping him through this. That he is alive. That he will come home.  

After they left, the room was silent. We’d been listening to stories like these for most of our 36 hours there. At first we just sat, not making eye contact, not speaking. And then I lay my head down on the table before me and cried. I cried from witnessing so much pain. I cried for the trauma of this nation. I cried because it is so unfair, the plight of the Jewish people, we thought we were different, this generation which has not known this, the anti-Semitism, the Jew-hating, the war. I cried because of what our friend Amit shared with us the night before, how his family goes back 11 generations in Tz’fat, how as a left-leaning person he could never understand why his grandmother could never forgive the Arabs. She said it was the Arab riots in 1936. The two boys that her mother had breastfed came after her family. She could never get over it. He said: “I am very left politically and I never understood it, and now I do. And I don’t know what to think, I don’t know how to forgive.”

And I cried because I want so badly to have something beautiful to hand you, some story of beauty and light to get us through.

A colleague came over and held me. I wasn’t the only one crying, we were in it together. And that’s, I’ve decided, where the beauty is. That op-ed I co-authored, about our sense of being alone after October 7? It’s not true. So many good people, friends of the Jews and friends of ours have reached out. So many leaders have spoken up for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. But more than all of that – we have each other.

N’natzeach b’yachad. The only good to come out of this, is the unity of the Jewish people. I have never witnessed a sense of peoplehood as fierce or as deep. Right, left, orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, religious, Israeli, Diaspora, the ones who have been protesting Israel these past weeks and the ones protesting for years – we are united now. There is beauty in that. There is beauty in comforting one another, in showing up because we are all now miluim, reservists, the on-call force waiting until we are needed to come serve. We are all called on to fight because the battle that was started by terrorists killing 1,400 and wounding thousands more and capturing hundreds is now being fought here, too. On social media, in all media, in the classroom, on college campuses and in our towns. We are all called on to take our commitment to tikkun olam, to building a better world, that tikkun olam we’ve been shining from ourselves out to help other communities, we need now to turn it to ourselves, too, to make this world safe for the Jewish people just as we want it to be safe for all people.

That is where I place my hope, and that is where I hope you will join me. The national anthem of Israel is called HaTikvah – The Hope. Od lo avdah tikvatenu – our hope will never be lost. Or rather: WE will never lose OUR hope. In the plural. Because that is how we cope, that is how we survive, as a Jewish people. By hoping, in the plural, all together. If Ron’s mom needs us to hope, we will hope. If Michal needs us to be strong, we will be strong. B’yachad n’natzeach. Together we will win, together we will prevail, together we will endure. Am Yisrael chai. Amen.

a few words from dov ben-shimon, ceo, JEWISH FEDERATION OF greater metrowest NJ

11/01/2023 02:31:35 PM

Nov1

Dov Ben-Shimon

TWO REQUESTS

10/31/2023 01:35:50 PM

Oct31

rabbi abigail treu

AN OP-ED WE DID NOT WANT TO WRITE

10/16/2023 03:31:16 PM

Oct16

When we first got word of the Hamas Simchat Torah massacre we were sad and brokenhearted. But we know the constant threat of terrorists with which Israelis live each day. We’ve seen our bus stops blown up, restaurants we frequented shuttered after an attack and spent time in bomb shelters due to missiles from Gaza. More than that, we carry in our bones the intergenerational trauma of the Holocaust, of pogroms, of a thousand years of anti-semitism turned violent.

When the horrific details and extent of the atrocities Hamas had committed began to emerge, we were shocked. But we know what Hamas is and we know what they are capable of. As their charter explicitly states, they exist in order to kill Jews.

When anti-Israel protests began across university campuses and in many countries we were disgusted and a bit stunned. We know that anti-Israel sentiment runs high on some college campuses but, since the Israeli response had not yet begun, those “protests” were little more than celebrations of the murder, mutilation, and brutalizing of Jewish people. Seeing people on American campuses and streets celebrating the death of Jewish children and Holocaust survivors -- literally dancing in joy at the murder of Jews, even as the lives of almost two hundred hostages remain in the balance -- was something we never imagined could happen in America.

What has truly surprised us however, what has gutted us, has been the silence. In the days that have followed the largest terrorist attack in the world since 9/11, one that happened to be targeted to a particular religious group, few fellow members of the clergy have reached out to us. Clergy we have stood side-by-side with at rallies in support of LGBTQ+ rights and protections, or raising our voices together to speak against racial injustice, have simply disappeared.

In some ways, this has been one of the most painful parts of this week. To feel, for the first time perhaps, that despite our activism and warm reception during times of peace, that perhaps Jewish lives don’t matter. We understand that many of our fellow clergy do not share the same commitment to Israel as we do. We understand that many have issues with Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. So do many within our congregations, many of whom are activists for human rights across the Middle East including in Israel. But, at the very least, we thought our fellow clergy colleagues would reach out to check in. Instead, we have heard almost nothing.

Sadly, in conversation after conversation with rabbis and cantors across the country we are hearing the same thing -- few, if any, calls or emails of support from the very people we have proudly worked with and lovingly considered  as allies in faith and community.

Over the years, we have gathered for numerous vigils at times of crisis to lift up impacted members of our community. In the absence of private expressions of support or the call from our fellow clergy to gather in public solidarity with us, however, we chose to hold joint Shabbat services last Friday night. More than 900 people in attendance, including our town mayors and other elected officials, and over 400 households participated remotely. 

Some of our neighbors have wondered why we have ceded the activist vigils and solitary marches to neighboring towns, and instead put our energies into a joint Shabbat service. We now feel ready to share why: there had been near total silence from our colleagues in the days after the attack. As a result, we worried that we alone would have to organize any community gathering to show us support, and that it might not be the best, emotionally safe space for a community that was, and continues to be, in deep pain and grief.

The national anthem of Israel is called The Hope. It is in that vein that we share our disappointment publicly, with tremendous hope that perhaps seeing the hurt and isolation the silence is causing will lead to repair. Which is our way of saying: it is not too late. It is not too late to reach out in friendship and support to your Jewish neighbors to understand that they -- that we -- are grieving, and mourning, and scared.

We hope you will stand by our side when we are hurting. We hope to build a better world together, and to see peace in Israel, in Gaza, and here in our own communities, too.

In the meantime, we urge you to pick up the phone and check in on a Jewish friend today. Odds are, when you ask, “How are you?” they will reply, “Not okay.” They aren’t okay. We aren’t okay. But the simple act of showing you care has immense power and is one of the things the Jewish community needs now more than ever.
 

 Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
Rabbi Abigail Treu, Oheb Shalom Congregation
Rabbi Jesse Olizky, Congregation Beth El 
 

STANDING WITH ISRAEL

10/08/2023 09:26:02 PM

Oct8

It has been hard, hearing the awful news reports coming in, to refrain from checking in on all of you with family in Israel and sending out a note. Now that the Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah holiday is over and I am back online with access to my phone, I am adding my voice to the chorus of Jewish communal leaders who are heartbroken, terrified, despairing, and also clinging to hope as this war in Israel unfolds.

Yesterday and today at services we recited psalms, prayers for the State of Israel, and sang the Hatikvah. It will take all of our energy to stand by Israel publicly and to hold all we are feeling in our hearts. I encourage everyone to join me in contributing to the Greater MetroWest Federation’s emergency campaign and annual campaign which supports communities in Israel, in particular the southern towns of Erez and Ofakim.  These are longtime sister cities of MetroWest, and their residents were among the first to be abducted, injured and killed this weekend.

We hold in our hearts and prayers all in our community with children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and cousins, called up to fight. We pray in particular for Aaron Cooper, Rabbi Cooper and Amy’s son, who was sent into Gaza yesterday. We pray for peace for the sake of peace-seeking Palestinians and Israelis, and for all of the factions that cannot see one another now in our shared humanity to find a way to end this violence and find a path to peace.

May God grant peace in Israel and among all nations.

Rabbi Abigail Treu
Cantor Eliana Kissner

SIXTY-SECOND SPIEL: SUKKOT

09/29/2023 01:32:45 PM

Sep29

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Rosh Hashanah 5784: Making the World Better through Laughter

09/18/2023 10:24:49 AM

Sep18

Rabbi Abigail Treu

Who remembers Norman Cousins?

Norman Cousins was a nice Jewish boy, who grew up not far from here in Union City, to become a famous journalist and author. In 1964 Norman was diagnosed with a rare and debilitating disease. His doctors gave him only a few weeks to live.

Norman did something extraordinary when he heard the news. He laughed. 

In fact, he made it a point to laugh every day.

For 30 minutes. 

Until the day he died. 

26 years after the diagnosis.

I share this story not because we are all granted miracles and extra time on this earth. I’m sharing this story because of Norman’s response. Who responds to bad news with a laugh? Who decides that laughter is going to be a part of their march into an uncertain future?

Maybe we all should. 


Weeks ago, I was all set with my sermon topic for today. I’d done my sleuthing around bookstores and blogs, and noticed just how much is being written about anger, rage, blame, our toxic culture and lack of civility. I’m collecting sources about how we all need to stop being so angry. How we need to change, to find love and forgiveness… Great. It’s writing itself. And by that, I mean that ChatGPT is writing it.  

And then, something happened. 

Actually, a lot of things happened. We packed up, moved, unpacked. We collected two kids from camp, unpacked, did 200 loads of laundry, and then packed again, this time to send our two older children to college. One year apart but both freshmen now. We packed, we drove to Boston, we unpacked, we drove home, crying a little on the way. We packed again. We drove to Saratoga. We unpacked. We drove home, crying a little on the way. We came home to an emptier house. We pulled ourselves together.  We launched our youngest at a new high school. And then my restful vacation was over.  

That I got a cold was not a surprise nor was it anything but funny when, driving the youngest to school on day two, we smelled something terrible in the car. Like, really, really awful. After some searching it turned out that – well, you know the piles of shopping bags we all keep hoarding now, and maybe some of us have bags inside of bags inside of bags shoved in the back of the car because maybe we’ll need all 400 of them the next time we go to Target? I’m saying hypothetically. Well after some searching we found the source of the odor: a wheel of brie cheese that had been sitting there for a week… in 90 degree heat… sort of a long story involving the college move-in and the bags being in the garage… but that’s not the point, the point is sometimes you have a lot going on and then you end up with a car that smells like rotten brie cheese and then because you’ve been driving in it and touching those bags your hands smell for days and you know what? It’s kind of funny. 

I wrote this sermon because I found myself doubled over laughing at the ShopRite, next to the garbage bins into which I finally did deposit the brie cheese, and 400 shopping bags. Doubled over, gasping for breath. A total release.

And suddenly I knew: I’m going to write about laughter. Because laughter is what the world needs right now. What we need. Laughter is the best medicine. Although whoever said that, as the comedian Greg Kettner said, obviously never had diarrhea. 


Laughter, it turns out, strengthens the immune system and brain. Laughter decreases one’s chances of developing dementia, decreases stress hormones, and increases endorphins and dopamine, the same hormones that produce the runners high. Laughing helps protect the heart and lungs, and if done consistently has similar results of a light cardio workout and actually burns calories even as it strengthens your abs. Move over, Peloton.

And, neurological studies show that those who laugh more live longer.

Laughter only works when everyone joins in; when one person in a group is laughing alone, it’s not so funny. But laughing together is an effective way of improving the positive mood of individuals and a group, a way to bond and boost optimism and hope.

So if I want to stand here and preach that we are going to change the world by changing ourselves… if I’m trying to inspire us to do teshuvah, make ourselves and this world a better place… well, why be so serious? 

What if the way to fixing the world – to getting over our anger problem, and our fear, our toxic culture and stress overdrive – is as simple as… a good laugh?


So now I’m writing a sermon on laughter. Except, I’m all serious. My first draft was a highbrow discourse on the proper modalities of laughter. The Shulchan Aruch on the halakha of laughter. I showed it to some friends and they actually fell asleep. Next idea:  I’m going to do a stand-up routine for my sermon! I’ll get us all rolling in the aisles!

But here’s the thing – I’m not very funny.

So I called my friend Ethan. Rabbi Ethan Linden did stand up comedy in college and he’s hilarious, and I said: teach me how to be funny. 

And he told me – well the key to being funny is to be yourself.

And I thought, that’s too bad.

And then he said: you have to be willing to laugh at yourself.

There’s so much to that. That sounds like teshuvah to me. That’s a comment about humility, and how we carry ourselves in our own hearts and also with one another. If I’m willing to laugh at myself - well, maybe it will help me take life a little less seriously. Maybe it will help me get along with other people better, and not take things so personally. So Rosh Hashanah Laughter Lesson #1: be willing to laugh at yourself a little more this coming year.

Rosh Hashanah Laughter Lesson #2: Laugh at the unexpected, and share that laugh with others. Laughter, it turns out is a theme of the Torah readings today.

The root “laugh” occurs seven times in the story, that magical number seven that signals to us to pay attention.

  • In the opening verses of today’s Torah reading, Abraham names his son Isaac, Yitzhak – it means “he will laugh.”
  • Sarah explains, when they name him: “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me” – kol hashomeah yitzhak li.  This is a completely unexpected turn of events, and they are laughing. 
  • They are laughing together, Sarah and Abraham, parents in their old age. They are laughing because they are joyful, and they want to share this feeling with others. This is exuberant laughter, the kind that is contagious, communal. Everyone who hears will laugh with us: isn’t this what the best kind of laughter is? When you get the giggles, and it infects the whole class
    • Laughter, it turns out, is communal. We are 30 times as likely to laugh with others as we are alone. In fact part of what’s making our culture so toxic is the watching from home phenomenon; Hollywood isn’t making big-budget comedies anymore because when we watch alone we don’t enjoy the joke as much.
    • So God finally gave them a child after telling Abraham his whole life that he’d be the father of a multitude of nations and Sarah’s menopausal? That’s pretty funny.
    • One midrash (Breishit Rabbah 53:8) captures this contagious laugh of joy: The rabbis imagined that when Sarah laughed this laugh, others who also hadn’t had been able to have children before gave birth; that when she laughed the deaf gained their hearing and the blind were able to see. The laugh itself caused this, caused joy and healing in other people’s lives. This is what a laugh can do.
  • You know who else laughs in today’s reading? Yishmael. Sarah sees Ishmael m’tzahek. Unclear what that is, actually, but we can assume that like most older brothers he found a few things to laugh it when it came to his younger sibling. This laugh is different, maybe. We don’t really know. But it feels different, because bad things happen afterwards, sad and hard things; Sarah sees Yishmael laughing and becomes jealous or angry or something, that’s what triggers her to call on Abraham to send Yishmael and Hagar away. A laugh. 
  • Which brings us to the other laugh of Genesis, one that happened before the curtain rose on our story today. A few chapters ago, messengers came to tell Abraham that Sarah will have a child and she hears this and says, I’m 90 years old, that’s absurd, and – she laughs. Like Yishmael, she is laughing alone – vatizhak, in the singular. Was she cynical? Nervous? Scornful? Snarky? God overhears – turns out she’s not really alone, as the ark behind me says, “know before whom you stand” – and God does not join in the laughter. God asks her a question: "Why are you laughing?" And instead of answering, she denies it.  "I didn’t laugh." "Yes, you did," God says. And then grants her a child whom she names Laughter. Sarah kept her reasons private.
  • I wonder if that’s why she kicked Yishmael out. As someone who laughed alone, perhaps she recognized something in him that she knew well and didn’t like.  Watching him laugh alone, m’tzahek in the singular, was the kind of laughter she didn’t want in her house. Maybe she read the study I did, about teenage boys at risk for psychopathy, ones with major behavior problems, how they tend not to laugh when other people around them laugh. Sociologists teach that we use laughter to show belonging to a group, and also to convey that we understand that someone else wants us to laugh and that we want what they want. 
  • Perhaps the Torah is suggesting: notice when you’re laughing alone too much. It’s a sign that something is off. God made us to laugh together. Not at one another, not by ourselves. But together, passing our giggles around the room like candy.

So lesson #1: laugh at yourself.

Lesson #2: laugh at the unexpected, and share that laugh with others. 

So Abraham laughs, Sarah laughs, Yishmael laughs.

And one child, named Laughter. 

Laughter, Yitzhak, is the answer to Abraham and Sarah’s prayers. Yitzhak, Laughter, is Redemption. Redemption is brought into this world by a child named Laughter. 

But – do we ever see him laugh?

In all of Torah and rabbinic literature – the answer is: no.

And this, my friends, is Rosh Hashanah Laughter Lesson #3 –no matter how tough it gets, no matter how bad the diagnosis, no matter how rotten the cheese, keep laughing.

Isaac has a tough life. He has a pretty traumatic childhood, born into a rather weird family dynamic with a step brother and his mother living with them, super elderly parents who probably needed the car keys taken away before they were ready; there’s the trauma of tomorrow’s Torah reading, the whole we’re-going-on-a-trip-son-actually-I-might-kill-you-wait-never mind episode; his mom dies, his dad remarries, starts a big new family. Isaac grows up, can’t have kids, then has twins but they are constantly bickering and finally he goes blind and his wife and one of the kids conspire to lie and cheat him and then one of the sons runs away…I mean this is not an easy life. For a kid named He will laugh. 

And yet – and here is where I need you all to lean in a little, listen up: Isaac is the one patriarch whose name does not change. Abraham started life as Avram; Jacob ends up being named Israel. Isaac stays Isaac. He will laugh. Even when his life is not so funny. He will laugh. 

And so must we.

Life is hard. For Isaac, and for all of us. Life is full of unexpected twists, traumas, loss. One natural response is anger and outrage, fear and stress; but another natural, God-given response is: to laugh. Yitzhak never changes his name - God never changes Isaac’s name - to teach us: no matter what comes our way, keep laughing. 

We don’t get to choose a whole lot about how this year unfolds. But God has given us the thing we need most to handle whatever comes our way: a sense of humor.

Let our Rosh Hashanah resolution be to laugh more this year. 

At ourselves, and with one another. 

May we learn from Abraham and Sarah and Yishmael and Yitzhak to laugh no matter what happens. To laugh at ourselves, to laugh with one another, to heal ourselves and this world by spreading smiles that turn to laughs that turn to joy.

Shana tova u’metuka. May this year be full of laughter for us all.

ON THE EVE OF TISHA B'AV: THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGES TO ISRAEL'S JUDICIARY

07/25/2023 09:17:15 AM

Jul25

In just a few days many Jews will fast in observance of Tisha b'Av, a day of mourning. While over the millennia the day has accrued layers of meaning -- not just the First Temple destroyed that day, but also the Second; the Crusades launched that day; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492...the original ones are the ones that cost the Jewish people our homeland and started the Diaspora. It took nearly 2,000 years until we came back with an attempt at sovereignty and self-government.

The rabbis taught that at its spiritual root, the expulsion of the Temple was caused by senseless hatred that Jews felt for one another. That in-fighting and factions destroyed us from within. Of course, the Babylonians and then the Romans played their part too. But the spiritual message of the ancient Sages is that when we are divided against ourselves, we are lost.

When I fast in a few days, I will be fasting in hopes that the divisions that are tearing apart Israeli society will soon be surmounted. That people -- all of whom value reason and reasonableness, even if they cannot agree on its place in the judicial system -- should apply their minds and hearts to building the state that has been the dream of the Jewish people these two thousand years. We have enough work to do to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors as well as the rest of the world. Let us not turn on one another, let us find peaceful resolution, let us find a way to make the modern state of Israel into the temple of our dreams.

Photo:  Amir Levy/Getty Images

Pride Shabbat

06/09/2023 06:00:51 PM

Jun9

Erev Shavuot Service

05/25/2023 07:30:16 PM

May25

Passover Day 3 Sermon

04/08/2023 12:00:21 PM

Apr8

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Passover day 1 sermon

04/06/2023 12:00:15 PM

Apr6

Guest Blogger: Cantor Eliana Kissner

Erev Pesach Sermon

04/05/2023 12:00:47 PM

Apr5

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

On the Mystery and Magic of Charoset

04/05/2023 09:42:37 AM

Apr5

Rabbi Abigail Treu

In our family, it is the matzah balls that win the nostalgia award. The brisket, too, but sometimes that is swapped out for turkey or chicken, the price of kosher meat being what it is; and anyway, there are the vegetarians to consider. The charoset? Well, yes, of course. In some years it has also been the star feature; in particular that final year of my uncle’s too-short life, when he decided to make six different recipes from Jewish communities around the world even though the chemotherapy made it hard for him to stand in the kitchen for very long. Every one of the six was deliciously bittersweet.

Charoset: nominated for best lead or supporting role? To look at the Haggadah, it would seem the latter. It doesn’t get its own named step in the seder, or even its own blessing. In fact, it is unclear if it is its own mitzvah (commandment) or just a part of the maror (bitter herbs) and korech (Hillel sandwich) ones. The charoset is just sort of slipped in there, in the instructions for how to eat the maror, right before the meal is served. Like, that spot where no one wants to take extra time to consider another question. It’s just there, part of the meal, something you do as part of the maror and korech steps but not actually part of the narrative arc of the Haggadah-script at all.

In fact, unlike matzah and maror, charoset is not found anywhere in the Torah.

It is, however, alluded to in the earliest rabbinic works of the Mishnah, a collection of early rabbinic teachings that was completed around 200 CE:

“They brought before [the seder leader] matzah and lettuce [hazeret] and charoset, and at least two cooked dishes, although eating charoset is not a commandment (mitzvah). Rabbi Eliezer ben Tzadok says: it is a commandment (mitzvah).” (Mishna, Pesachim 10:3)

Already nearly 2,000 years ago our ancestors were eating something they called charoset as part of the seder meal. It’s never defined, and there seems to be disagreement about whether it was a mitzvah or not.

The rabbis living in the following centuries took up the question, and some of their conversations are recorded in the Talmud. “And if it is not a mitzvah,” Rabbi Ami asks  (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 116a) “why does one serve it?” A few answers are offered:

Idea #1: “It is brought due to the poison in the bitter herbs, which is neutralized by the charoset.” Is this a culinary suggestion or a spiritual one?

Idea #2: “Rabbi Levi says: It is in remembrance of the apple.” Huh? What apple?

Idea #3: “Rabbi Yohanan says: It is in remembrance of the clay.” This sounds familiar. The charoset, we learn as children and most haggadot tell us, is to remember the mortar used with the bricks in the building of the pyramids. In fact, a Haggadah printed in Spanish in 17th century offers a recipe for charoset that includes the following: “Then mix in a bit of brick dust, in memory of the bricks which our fathers made in Egypt.” A haggadah printed in Salonika in 1740 reports that “in Salonika the elders testified that they used to put chopped calermini stone in the charoset.” I’ve read that during the American Civil War, soldiers at the front, unable to find the ingredients for charoset, put an actual brick on their makeshift seder plate. Rabbi Yohanan’s idea seems to have stuck and become mainstream. But as we see, his is not the only idea about this mysterious dish. In fact, the Talmud seems to want to compromise, which brings us to…

Idea #4: “Abaye said: Therefore, to fulfill both opinions [the idea of the apple and the idea of the clay], one must prepare the charoset tart and thick. Tart in remembrance of the apple, and thick in remembrance of the clay.” Again, what’s with the apple? Why not just go with the clay idea and move on?

That apple comment becomes important, as most – though not all – charoset recipes feature apples as a key ingredient. So what is the apple? Is it perhaps an allusion to the fruit of the Garden of Eden? Perhaps. And also, perhaps to a midrash (rabbinic story) about love, as Rashi suggests in his 11th century commentary to the Talmud. He reminds us of the story: Disheartened by their ongoing oppression and in particular by Pharoah’s decree that all Jewish boys should be killed at birth, the Israelite men gave up being intimate with their wives. The wives however refused to accept their husbands’ sense of defeat, and went out among the apple trees and seduced their husbands. Later on, they went out to those same apple trees and gave birth to their children nearby. This midrash (rabbinic tale) is included in the Haggadah, actually just a few pages before we eat the charoset.

So what is the apple of the charoset recipe? The apple is about Jewish continuity, resilience and most importantly and uniquely at the seder: love.

The ingredients of charoset are actually all mentioned in the Biblical love story-poem Song of Songs, which is read on the Shabbat of Passover at synagogue and also included in some haggadot:  “Come, my beloved, let us go in the open – under the apple tree I roused you… I went down to the nut grove…the pomegranites were in bloom…the figs…the almonds…the dates…all choice fruits” (Song of Songs, 7:12-14, 5:11).

Perhaps, then, eating charoset is ingesting this love song. The love song of the Jewish people and God, and also two human beings. Aryeh ben David has written:

“The face of someone who has fallen in love shines with hope. Often, with the passing of years, the early spark felt when first falling in love fades. But when we look at old pictures and read the letters written in early romance, we can often rekindle the flames of our passion. The Seder, with its four cups of wine, recling posture, charoset, and lengthy discussion of the Jewish People’s “first date” with God, evokes and rekindles this love. And as with all love stories, hope is renewed.”

Abaye’s Idea #4 is right. The charoset is a mixture that is full of the love of the apple, and also thick like the mud of slavery. Because isn’t that what life is? A thick mixture of hope and despair, of sweet moments of love and tenderness and also sticky-thick moments of pain and trauma that are hard to let go?

“From darkness to light, from slavery to freedom, from winter to spring, and now from bitterness to sweetness. But with the light, there is still darkness in the world. With our freedom, there are still those who are enslaved…Even within our own lives, we live within the tapestry of these contradictions. It is dark, and it is light; we are trapped, and we are liberated; we are cold, and we are warm; we experience pain and joy, just as we have eaten the maror with the charoset, taking the bitter with the sweet. Through this act, we acknowledge the fulness of life, shaded by the gradations of experience…a reflection of the full range of possibilities.” (Rabbi Joy Levitt)

As we head to the seder table tonight and tomorrow, may the charoset bring us all to the messy, sticky-tart-sweet taste of life in all its fulness, the taste of liberation and love.  

Rabbi Treu's Sermon

04/01/2023 12:00:17 PM

Apr1

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Tornados, School Shootings and Israeli Protests...

TWENTY MINUTES OF TORAH

03/16/2023 12:00:36 PM

Mar16

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

TWENTY MINUTES OF TORAH

03/09/2023 12:00:47 PM

Mar9

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

TWENTY MINUTES OF TORAH

03/02/2023 12:00:18 PM

Mar2

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Twenty Minutes of Torah

11/10/2022 08:45:07 AM

Nov10

Rabbi Abigail Treu

Twenty Minutes of Torah

11/03/2022 08:45:34 AM

Nov3

Rabbi Abigail Treu

Twenty Minutes of Torah 

10/27/2022 08:45:01 AM

Oct27

Rabbi Abigail Treu

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784