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DRIVING IN THE DARK

06/07/2024 09:25:00 AM

Jun7

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

As I write this, my no-longer-teenage son has taken off with the car to drive several hours to visit friends. There were reasons the drive had to take begin after 9 pm, but mostly the reason is that they are 20 years-old. We try not to be nervous about this (the drive, the night, the 20 year-olds), but we are. He doesn’t read this blog, so we will continue to play it cool and pretend we aren’t nervous even as we track him by phone. Shhh... don’t tell.

E.L. Doctorow once compared writing a novel to driving a car at night. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Anne Lamott took this one step further: “You don’t have to see where you’re going,” she wrote in Bird by Bird. “You don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard."

(Parenthetically, before I continue: last week, a congregant who is probably reading this right now came to visit me in my office. “Rabbi,” she said, “I like your weekly writing. But you always make it about something Jewish. I thought you were just going to talk about life.” I’ve been thinking about that. I think my value-add here is in my writing to you as a rabbi, which means opining on Jewish-related topics or values. But maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe my headlights are only shining three feet ahead, and the arc of this thing is taking us someplace else. If you want to weigh in on this, I’m all ears.)

My point is this: this week we begin reading the book of Numbers, book four out of five, or out of 24 if you count the whole Bible and not just the first five. The late Rabbi Sheryl Lewart, whose Torah was beautiful and deep, paraphrased the parsha like this: “The people will mature and grow wise and old as they escort the Ark of the Covenant through the desert wilderness.” I mean, talk about stripping something down to its barest essential. Yes, we will mature and grow wise and old, escorting something precious and holy through the desert wilderness. Looking ahead in three-foot increments, seeing only what the headlights enable us to see. Unsure of the destination and what we will pass along the way. But somehow we will make the journey and get to wherever we are going, or someplace else at any rate. Driving in the dark, late at night, with friends. With people worrying about us when we feel safe and not worrying when we need them to, getting it all wrong out of love and fear and trying.

Our ancestors wandering through the desert for 40 years is not so different from our driving in the dark. So for this week I offer Possibilities, the blessing-prayer-poem by Rabbi Lewart z”l (that stands for zichronah livrachah, זצרונו לברכה, may her memory be for a blessing):

When you journey through
The innermost terrain of your being,
Dare to confront your shadow self
As relentless winds of self-disclosure
Reveal your truth and scour you clean.
May you overcome mountains of resistance
And deserts of ambivalence
That try to wear you down.
Honor your hard won victories
And mourn your losses.
Know that you are safe
In the core of your being
Surrounded by holy guardians
Pledged to protect you
As the tribes in the desert protected the Ark.
Allow your defenses to fall
And abandon your disguises
Commit yourself to your soul’s wilderness journey
To understand and fulfill your purpose in the world.

 

Amen.

RAFAH, COMPASSION, AND HOLDING MULTIPLE TRUTHS

05/31/2024 11:57:34 AM

May31

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Maybe because of the images from Rafah all week, maybe out of a sense of being misunderstood, or maybe because of the opening lines of this week’s parasha*, I am going to take a risk, and share with you a few pages from my diary. The entry is dated October 29, 2023. I share it out of a sense of wanting to be in this with you all – setting aside the recent verdict for a minute to remember what the headlines were all week until then.

It feels... risky. Raw. Here goes.

I’m on the El Al flight to Israel. There is a beautiful woman two rows up by whom I’m captivated – haredi (ultra-orthodox), dressed expensively in black, fully made up. Clearly wealthy. Her wig is so good and so chic I thought it was her hair, which I can’t understand as she is only my age or younger, and has children with her. Now, though her hair is covered, completely, by a beautiful maroon chenille snood, only maybe her head is shaved, it does not seem to be holding much hair, or perhaps it's just pulled back tightly. I think she’s reciting tehillim (psalms), I could be wrong.

The man in front of her just stood up to daven (pray). I love that, so admire it, a man who gets up to pray because it’s time.

Dear God – if I do that, if I stand up to pray when it’s time, three times a day – if I shave my head out of modesty and devotion to you – will you stop this war?

I’m scared to go. Scared of what I will see and hear. Scared of sirens and bombs and rockets. Scared to see real destruction. But most of all, I’m scared of the stories. That’s why we’re going, after all: to collect stories and bring them back, like souvenirs. Instead of candy and rugelach from the shuk, we will bring home horror.

I'm scared, too, of not knowing how to help us hold multiple truths. We will see and hear stories, and experience real moments that are true and real – and as with everything, this will only be part of the story. There are terrorists. Yes. It is true. It is awful. But I too do not want – refuse – to teach some kind of jihad, some kind of battle cry, in the name of defense or loyalty to the miracle of a Jewish homeland. I understand there is no bargain, no deal to be made here with the world. I know that if we said, “Fine, world, you win, we give back all of the land, everything we’ve built over a century. Take it, and then we'll live wherever we want, just in peace” – that it would not happen. We still would not be given peace. We have been and always will be, it seems, an at-risk minority, on the edge and in danger. We – I – my children, my parents – are feeling it for the first time in our generation, and perhaps the first time in American history. We are scared. We feel we are outsiders after all. So the experiment in Israel cannot fail. We need Jews everywhere, including there, because no place is safe. Having our own country, it turns out, was not the solution to The Jewish Question.

But – to have an army, of Jews, killing other people? Destroying people’s homes and hospitals and cities? No, I cannot teach that that is good. We are at war. They have taken our children and grandparents and brothers and sisters hostage. We must go, as Abraham did – as every people in the history of time has done and would and should do – to get them back. And it is wrecking our souls and the soul of our nation, the souls of every soldier and family, which is everyone, all of us, because we feel we have no choice except to root for war, if we care at all.

I am a pacifist who loves the Jewish people. Not because we are better or more special, but because I am a Jew. Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) is my people. And humans were made to need tribes, to need one another. I am a Jew who loves Jews and Torah, which means I love the story of our Promised Land. But even more than that, I love. I want this war, this violence, to end. I want to love not only Palestinian people but also even Hamas, not the group but the boys who wake up and eat breakfast and think they are liberators. That, too, is truth, to hold their humanity too.

I don’t know that my ‘flock’ is ready to hear that. I suppose that is just for me, for now. The beginning of a vision that I pray to find a way to bring to the world.

The entry ends there. 

Seven months later, I still don’t know if the “flock” is ready to hear it. The part about wanting to love even our enemies, to cultivate compassion – for they too are somebody’s children – is hard. I’ve been saying all along that our spiritual work in this is to stretch our hearts as big as they will go. Our work is also to figure out how to hold love for Israel – the people and the country – during a very difficult war. Maybe not everyone is ready to hear both of those truths, to work on holding both. But I am ready to preach it, and to continue to pray for the softening of our hearts, the ability to hold multiple truths in a complex world, the goodwill of nations toward the State and People of Israel wherever we dwell, and most of all, for peace.

Today is day 237 of captivity. So much awfulness has ensued. Please God, help us know what to do to make peace in this world, and in our hearts. Amen.

*This week’s parasha, B’hukkotai, Leviticus 26: “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments…I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone…”

SERVICE, SERVICES, SERVING - for memorial day

05/24/2024 08:14:31 AM

May24

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Last week, we paused to remember those who gave their lives in service to Israel; this weekend we commemorate our compatriots who gave their lives in service to the United State of America. 

What does it mean to serve? We speak in our day of our rights. We speak of self-care, self-love, self-fulfillment. Rarely do we speak of service.

In today’s America, the idea that we are obligated to serve—that our lives are somehow to be “of service”—feels pretty counter-cultural. Unlike Israel, in this country, military service is—for several decades—optional and voluntary. So too in Jewish life many eschew the idea of chiyuv—our obligation as Jews to fulfill the mitzvot, living a life of service to God and the Jewish people. I see this most often when people translate the word mitzvah, “commandment,” as “good deed” instead. 

The Hebrew word for “service” is avodah. But avodah can also be translated as work, or worship. It is the Hebrew name for the Labor Party in Israel, and also what the kohanim (priests) did in the Temple. It has the same root as eved, servant or slave. It is also the romantically-tinged term for how we related to Divine Source as God’s worshippers/servants/service-people/workers. How wonderful that the Jewish word for service has such a rich array of colors and shades of meaning.

So here is my question, as we head into Memorial Day Weekend and offer tribute to those who have given their lives “in service” to our country: what does it mean to serve? 

Click above or here to watch a video I recorded on this topic as part of Greater MetroWest Federation’s Bit of Torah series, posted Thursday on social media.

To all who have served this country, thank you; and to all who have lost loved ones in this generation or in the past, we salute them. May their devoted service to a cause be a model to us all.

SPEED UP, SLOW DOWN

05/10/2024 10:14:48 AM

May10

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about speed. The Kentucky Derby last Saturday was so close, it required a photo finish to decide the winner between three horses. Mystik Dan was finally declared the winner (surprise! 18-1 odds), several minutes after the race’s completion. The next day, the Nascar Cup Series was won by 0.0001 seconds. That’s 1/10 of a millisecond. It was so close that the wrong winner was initially shown and further review was needed before Kyle Larson was announced as the official champion.

As the parent of a swimmer, I have watched my share of too-close-for-the-eyes-to-tell races (not to mention that once you put all the swimmers in matching suits and caps and place them at a distance, it’s often hard to tell which kid is yours, anyway). But there was something about this double-whammy that caught my attention.

Perhaps it was because of something else stuck in my head since I heard it on the Call Me Back podcast by Dan Senor. The factoid that many “young people” (in particular college student-aged young people) have shared that they feel the need to post on social media immediately as something happens in the news, even if they don’t really understand the issue. If they don’t, they are missing out of being part of a social moment, a conversation their friends and peers are having. If they don’t post immediately by resharing some virtue-signaling, it’s the modern equivalent of staying home by yourself on a Saturday night instead of joining the party. The speed of the reaction matters to being a part of the conversation at all.

OK, so speed. We’re in a fast-paced world, in which it's not only race car drivers and athletes that need to go ever faster – the rest of us are being pushed to go faster, too.

But then, here’s the reality of my week, the stuff that really matters. Spoiler alert: none of it is fast.

In no particular order, this week I’ve been privileged to share many cups of tea with many people I love. A wife and son mourning the sudden and unfathomable loss of their husband/father. Two mothers (separately) struggling over the heartbreak of being rejected and estranged by their adult children. Middle-aged children caring for an elderly parent in physical and emotional decline. A marriage falling apart, the sadness and also worry over the children. An uncle worrying about his nephew sent in to battle in Rafah. An interfaith couple trying to figure out what community looks like for them as they raise their toddlers. Four adolescents trying to slow down enough to write a Bar Mitzvah speech. There’s more, but you get the picture.

All of that takes time. I don’t mean for me – I mean for the humans going through it. And let’s be real – those examples might be particular but they are also not. It takes time to process grief, heartbreak, aging, caregiving. For all of us. Every day. They are versions of what we all go through, the ups and downs of being a person in relationship with other people.

Jewish wisdom kicks in: slow down. Most spiritual practices can be boiled down to that, and while we can get distracted and think Jewish life is about matzah balls and bagels and good deeds too, I invite us to think about the ways it is actually here to get us to slow down.

Like, by counting the omer. That weird, esoteric practice given to us by the Torah (instructed twice, in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16). Today is day 17, which is three weeks and three days of the omer. You can get an app if you want to help you (this year I’m playing with this one). The point is that you slow down just a bit, pause to realize a day is going by, and just… count. It’s a number, a listing of time gone by since Passover on our way to the next holiday (Shavuot). That’s it. The opposite of winning the race by 0.0001 seconds.

Or lighting Shabbat candles tonight. Because it’s beautiful, because we’ve been blessed to live a whole week, because we’re alive. And we stay alive by pausing and doing small beautiful things. And guess what? You can’t light candles if you’re running the race. You have to stand still for a moment. You stop altogether, actually, for as long as you let yourself stay in that one place looking at the light.

For me, the weekly practice of Shabbat is my grounding rod for slowing down. The phones, screens, technologies get turned off. So do the errands and to-do lists. And whomever is with me at the time, I get to experience stillness with that person IRL (that’s text-speak for “in real life”).

The parasha this week is called Kedoshim, “Holiness.” It lists a whole lot of ways our ancestors imagined we might experience life as sacred. I suggest that in our era, slowing down might be one that we add to the list.

pesach: what story are we in?

04/19/2024 11:53:20 AM

Apr19

rabbi abigail treu

“All... adults have only known Jews who were strong enough to help us,” he said, “and now the idea that you need our help is going to take a long time.”

I heard this yesterday from Van Jones, in a private Zoom for the clergy council of Zioness, a multiracial coalition of Jewish activitists and allies (I serve on the steering committee). He was speaking about Black-Jewish relations, helping shed light on the disconnect between our communities right now.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize: his insight is right on the mark. Not only about communities of color as they think about white Jewish people, but also about how we think about ourselves (and in that “we” I intend Jews of all skin colors).

"How is this night different from all other nights?" we ask each year at the seder table. This year the question feels different.

Because the story we have been blessed to tell for decades has shifted.

Quite suddenly, we aren’t so sure where we are in the arc of the storyline. We thought we knew where we were, in the storyline that stretches from oppression (past tense) to redemption (present tense). We thought we were the liberated ones able to turn outward to focus elsewhere. Now, it’s unclear.

There are more than 130 people being held hostage; how do we sit celebrating our freedom, drinking our four glasses of wine?

Since October 8, the world has been focused on Israel’s missteps and misdeeds; that focus has become bound up in front-page-news-worthy events centering around Jews living in all the places we live. Genocide has become the new blood libel; in our own little state of New Jersey, the ADL has recorded hundreds of Antisemitic incidents over the past six months. How do we recline and pass the matzah as if nothing had changed for us?

Not only is this night different, but this year is different. This year Passover is hard, because we aren’t sure what happened these past six months. What story are we telling? What story are we in?

Is it the one we’ve been blessed to tell for decades, the story of having been freed from oppression? The one in which, now that we have been blessed with privilege and abundance, our duty as Jews requires us to go out into the world as universalists caring for everyone else even as we care for our own? 

Or is it the old story, the one we thought we’d left behind in the DP camps, that in every generation there will be those who rise up against us and matzilaynu b’yadam, God saves us, God will save us, please God save us? The story, in other words, is not one of universalism but of particularism, in which we need the help, where we are still oppressed. Is that just our fear speaking, our anxiety, our epigenetic trauma? Or is that really where we are, on the verge of something horrible about to happen to the Jews, again, God forbid?

Because we aren’t sure where we are in the arc of the storyline, I hope everyone leans into telling the story differently this year. Ideally we do things a little differently every year – but even if that’s not usually your thing, I think this year we have no choice. To that end, I share below some resources to help “make it real” around the seder table.

Ultimately, we are the authors of this story. We are writing it now, as a people, with the unfolding of every day.  We do not yet know where we are in the arc of the story, but we do know this: that the story of the Jewish people always moves from slavery to freedom. “The key to Passover,” writes Rabbi Naomi Levy, “is a belief in rebirth, a belief that tomorrow can be better than today; a knowing that we each have a critical part to play in the unfolding of hope.” 

The next chapter is ours to tell and to live. Let us write it with all of our resolve, resilience, optimism, and hope. We may not know where we are in the storyline of our people this year, but we know it will be a mix of maror and charoset, the bitter mixed in with something we work hard to make sweet.

Wishing you all a chag pesach sameach (in Hebrew), a zissen pesach (in Yiddish), and a Passover filled with hope in any and all languages of our people.
 


1)  The Hartman Institute has created a supplement featuring a variety of readings for every step of the seder. The full supplement can be found here.

I especially appreciate Rachel Goldberg’s reflections on the Pour Out Your Wrath section, where she writes:

“And the hatred being showered on Israel now.... I keep being asked about that. First, in an article I read by Nicholas Kristof, it was so eloquently stated that if you only get outraged when one side's babies are killed, then your moral compass is broken. And your humanity is broken. And therefore, in your quiet moments alone, all of us, everywhere on planet earth need to really ask ourselves, “Do I aspire to be human, or am I swept up in the enticing and delicious world of hatred?” This is not a phenomenon unique to Israel or Gaza, this is everywhere on our planet. I understand that hatred of "the other," however we decide that "other" to be, is seductive, sensuous, and, most importantly, hatred is easy. But hatred is not actually helpful nor is it constructive. In a competition of pain, there is never a winner.”

2)  Rabbi Naomi Levy, author and leader of Nashuva congregation in California, has written seven poem-prayers as supplements to this year’s Haggadah. They can be found here. The quote above is from her introduction to the plagues:

God Does Not Bring Plagues
by Rabbi Naomi Levy

The key to Passover is a belief in rebirth, a belief that tomorrow can be better than today; a knowing that we each have a critical part to play in the unfolding of hope.
Freedom begins with open eyes and ears and hearts.
Seas will part, answers will come, cures will emerge,
New ways of believing will sprout up and take root,
A universal love that mirrors God’s love for every living creature
And for our world.

In the book of Exodus we are told that Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to replicate the
plague of frogs. The only difference between Moses and the sorcerers was: only Moses could remove the plague. When the sorcerers witnessed Moses reverse the plague they cried out: “This is the hand of God.”

The truth is, it doesn’t take any great supernatural powers to bring about a plague.
We all have the power to destroy life and to destroy the earth and our atmosphere.
But it does take great holy powers to reverse a plague, to heal the sick, to heal our planet, to heal hatred and war.
The Healing Hand of God acting through us is what will save us and leads us
from constriction to wide open spaces,
from fear to faith,
from darkness to light,
from worry to peace of mind,
from economic hardship to abundance,
from war to peace.

Let us raise a glass and drink a Cup of Praise to the Soul of Souls who fills us with the power to end all of the world’s plagues.
And let us say, Amen.

3)  Rabbi Dave Levy of Sutton Place Synagogue in NYC has created this way of counting the omer, to count the days of the omer along with the number of days the hostages spend in captivity. It begins with this kavanah (intention-setting):

Kavanah Hinneni Muchan U’mzuman – I am ready to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the Omer. However, with a heavy heart this year, we count so much more. We count the days since the terror of October 7, we count the days that our brothers and sisters, our children, have sat held hostage by Hamas. Each day we will count the Omer, but we will also count the days of shevi-captivity. We pray to get to stop this count tonight, but if we are disappointed, we will keep hope and keep counting. May it be your will Adonai, that our Jewish family be reunited NOW. May the Omer, always known as a period of Jewish anxiety, be turned into a joyous reunion bringing our hostages home safely. 

4)  Still doing your Pesach/spring cleaning and in need of a little inspiration? If you haven’t seen the videos that i made with professional organizer (and Oheb congregant) Leydi Rofman, check them out.

5)  Wondering where the forms are to sell your chametz, or when services are? The Oheb Shalom Passover Resources page is here.

IS THERE A BLESSING FOR AN ECLIPSE?

04/05/2024 09:22:40 AM

Apr5

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

Just as we were preparing to send this week's message, the Earth shook. All the more reason to click below and hear about blessings for natural phenomena!

The blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Oseh Ma'aseh Breisheet

Blessed are You God, Who Rules Time and Space, who forms the works of creation.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, עוֹשֹה מַעֲשֹה בְּרֵאשִׁית

BASEBALL, THE BACHELOR, AND BOREDOM

03/29/2024 09:20:57 AM

Mar29

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

I watched “The Bachelor” finale with my daughter this week. How emotionally intense it wanted to be! Daisy was brought to tears in one scene; after the commercial break, it was her rival Kelsey’s turn. We watched as Joey struggled with fierce emotion. How could he possibly decide between the two, knowing that he’d hurt one? Cue the violins. The clip of his tears on the beach was in every commercial and lead-up promo. I won’t spoil it beyond telling you that he chose one of them. And they all cried.

The other reality television phenomenon that happened this week was the opening of the Major League Baseball season. Which teams will shine, which players will rise to the top, who will win the pennant? (As I write, it’s Yankees 1, Astros 0, just saying.) The MLB changed the rules last year to give the game more action and a shorter run time; fandom was down in an era of ADD and penchant for speed. It worked; attendance rose by 10% last season and TV viewership was up, as well. Last weekend, though, as I was chatting with friends, they admitted they haven’t registered their kids for baseball because they don’t want to commit to a game that takes so long. “It’s so boring,” they said.

“This world is forever calling us to the surface of things with its drama, seduction, humor, and entertaining dilemmas,” Rabbi Shefa Gold has written. “Constantly bombarded with stimulation, we begin to rely on that stimulation to keep us from boredom and dreaded emptiness.” 

When I think about my own inner life – the life of the spirit – I wonder: is there a connection?

Is it possible that our aversion to boredom is somehow related to our yearning for more meaning in our daily lives? That our manic craving for emotional intensity (as in “The Bachelor”) keeps us “on the surface,” far from the hidden recesses of the soul?

Is avoiding boredom keeping us from achieving spiritual depth?

Speaking of things boring and emotionally flat, there’s this week’s parasha, Tzav (Leviticus chapters 6-8). For context: the concern of Leviticus is the sacrificial system of the Temple, the mainstay of Jewish worship for the 1,000 years in which the Temple cult operated in Jerusalem, as well as at other shrines for a thousand or so years prior. Within this system, there are lots of animals and foodstuffs offered on the altar at various times, for various reasons. But here’s the thing to notice, as we think about boredom and stimulation and all: the parasha opens with an all-night, every-night offering. This is the korban olah, or burnt offering. This means that the fire of the altar would be going all night. It would need tending. And in the morning, every morning, a mess of scorched ashes would need to be cleaned up. (Sort of like my kitchen. Didn’t we just clean up this mess??!!)

The daily clean-up, we read, was the job of the kohen (priest). First thing in the morning, every single day, the priest would move the ashes to the side of the altar. They were to stay there, next to the altar, where all the action of the sacrifices took place. Only once the pile became too large would the priest move it outside.

So wait. You mean to tell me that the priest, the one whose life is spent in devotion to God, is the one who does the boring drudge work?

Yes. Because our boring, daily acts of devotion are the key to our spiritual lives.

Brushing your teeth? Absolutely. Shlepping the kids to school? Yep. Laundry, errands, the dishes… What Tzav is telling us is this: don’t discount that stuff. Yes, it’s boring, but it, too, can be an offering.

Rabbi Dr. Erin Lieb Smokler writes:

“Every night, throughout the entire night, an animal would burn down to ashes on the altar, keeping the mishkan aglow continuously. Even during the depths of nighttime darkness, there was always a little devotional light flickering, ensuring that that hallowed space never ceased to be a place of active worship. "אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶּה"– a fire burned incessantly on the altar, never extinguishing.

“The pious act of terumat ha-deshen, of shoveling the detritus of fiery consumption from the center of the altar to its side… moves the light [excitement, stimulation, satisfaction] from center stage to a more peripheral place, and then honors it there. The altar juxtaposes fire and ashes... Not to ignore, throw away, or deny those parts of ourselves that threaten passion, but to give them their place. If we can cultivate an excitement that acknowledges boredom; a commitment that allows for alienation; an enthusiasm that makes space for malaise, we just might find a more sustainable, more integrated way to keep our fires burning tamid, continuously…”

How might we each cultivate our offerings of drudgery and boredom? Daily life cannot consist of constant emotional fixation. We can’t always shorten the game or make it more exciting. We have to go to work, mow the lawn, and stand in line. We have chores that are dreary and obligations we resent. What blessing is hidden in each of these activities? What offering of gratitude, patience, or aspiration might we offer as we begin each one? Can we stand at the kitchen sink and offer up thanks for the food eaten, the running water, the use of our hands? Can we suffer through the super long meeting by composing silent blessings for each person in the room? What if we whisper a little prayer for patience when we feel boredom creep in?

When I pray in the mornings, or meditate, or exercise, or choose foods that conform to my Jewish eating practice – all mainstays of my spiritual life – I assure you that much of the time, it is mundane, routine… in other words, boring. But the effort of keeping the fire of a steady practice is itself a spiritual practice. We miss that when we rely on things to keep moving, entertain, keep us from feeling that boredom.

The Maggid of Mezerich was once asked how a person can sustain a passionate spiritual practice or connection to God. He responded, “He who needs fire should look in the ashes.” It might not make for riveting entertainment, but that boredom might contain the very sparks we seek.

"LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL"

03/21/2024 06:04:05 PM

Mar21

Okay, people. Tomorrow night is Purim. Time to lighten things up.

For this week’s installment, I share some things that make me laugh.

After all, it was just this past Rosh Hashanah that I preached that we should all laugh more. Remember when I said laughter is contagious, and therefore communal, and also really beneficial to your health? Well, yeah. Feels like a million years ago. And also...so very relevant, still, always, perhaps especially now.

So let’s watch these, and let’s laugh, and then maybe you’ll send me some funny things back. In other words, happy Purim. Let’s all make merry and lift one another’s spirits this weekend with the mitzvah of the holiday – to laugh even when life doesn’t seem so funny, to make friends through sharing merriment, to make joy just by letting yourself see the light side of life.

Here's Gary Gulman’s classic (2016) standup routine "How the States Got Their Abbreviations":



 

 

 

 

 

 

 


And here's Modi on "Jewish Health Risks":

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chag Purim Sameach – Happy Purim everyone!

PS.  Title of this post ring a bell? If not, watch this (YouTube link).

ARE WE INTERNALIZING ANTISEMTISM?

03/15/2024 12:13:50 PM

Mar15

RABBI ABIGAIL TREU

My intention this week had been to keep it light. After all, we brought in the month of Adar this week, the month designated for mirth. How I wish that my phone had exploded with “Purim Torah” on Monday – jokes and silliness – instead of what crashed it: the news of an unfortunate antisemitic memo sent to the faculty of a local high school by an administrator. While Dr. Gilbert, the acting superintendent, quickly issued an appropriate response reiterating that there is no room for hate of any kind in this district or town, NBC covered the story and it is making the rounds in the broader community.

So much for telling a few jokes or wondering what’s up with Princess Kate.

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Gilbert for issuing his statement, and for taking the time to meet regularly these past months with me and a group of local Jewish parents and rabbis. So instead of focusing on the particulars of this school district or this incident, I’d like us to use it as an opportunity to go internal.

How does it feel to you right now to be Jewish, or part of the Jewish community? And how much of that response is shaped by what the non-Jewish world says about us?

Let me back up a bit. There are 15.9 million (with an m) Jews in the entire world. To contextualize, there are 2.3 billion (with a b) Christians, 1.9 billion (with a b) Muslims, and 1.2 billion (with a b) Hindus. Even the “unaffiliated” category listed in the World Population Review, from which I took these numbers, totals 1.2 billion (with a b).

My point: we are a teeny tiny minority. The entire Jewish community constitutes less than 0.2% of the world population. In the US, we are (at most) 2.4%.

This is confusing, because in the NYC metropolitan area it doesn’t feel that way.

And it is confusing, because when the majority culture has a story about a minority culture, the minority culture absorbs it as part of its own self-identity. The doll experiment is one classic example (YouTube video here if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It makes me cry every time.) So right now, with the war in Israel and Gaza bringing to the forefront classic antisemitic tropes in new clothing (genocide the new blood libel; oppressors the updated myth of Jewish power), in what ways have we internalized anti-semitism?

I want to be clear: we are a beautifully diverse community. Plenty of us are critical of Israel’s government and policies now and/or have been for years. That is not what I’m interested in here. Right now I’m curious about something else: how do the ways in which the majority culture speaks about the war affect how we feel about ourselves as a minority culture?

Ben M. Freeman has a few lenses for us to try on as we grapple with these questions. I heard him last week at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Never is Now Conference, and I’d like to share them with you now. I offer them as springboards for our inner work. He calls them the 3D Test of Internalized Anti-Semitism:

Diminishment: sometimes we make ourselves smaller, Jewishly. We change our names, or our noses. We say “I’m Jewish, but… I’m not religious” or “I’m Jewish, but not really Jewish.” In what ways do we distance ourselves from the stereotypes handed to us by the majority culture by diminishing our own Jewishness?

Denial: in past generations, this has meant conversion to other religions. In our day, you don’t need to convert out… you just opt out. “I’m Jewish, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me.” Or: “I love being Jewish, and I don’t need to join any organization to prove it. I do my own thing.” How do we hold our multiple commitments and identities, and in what ways does our independence stand at odds with proud belonging to a people?

Deployment: using our Jewish identities against the Jewish community. “I’m Jewish, and I stand against [insert here whatever part of the Jewish community makes you nuts].” Deployment is about using our Jewish identities as a weapon against other Jews, in order to make ourselves feel better, cooler, more accepted by the majority culture. In what ways do we subconsciously align with a majority culture which may have unwittingly abetted an internalized self-hate? 

These 3 lenses and the questions they raise are food for thought as we figure out how we hold our Jewish identities in this moment. I pose them in my continued insistence that our main job as humans on the planet right now is stretching our hearts as big as they will go. I pose them in my continued insistence that pluralism and diversity of opinions – including around Israel and how we hold the various aspects of our Jewish identities – is holy.

Part of our inner work as a minority community is to encourage in ourselves and our children a sense of pride in who we are. No matter what the government of Israel says or does, no matter how we relate to Zionism, and no matter what people here in the US convey to us about ourselves. Even as a tiny minority, the Jewish contribution to world civilization has been, and continues to be, tremendous. May we each be blessed with the courage to grapple with our own sense of self, our multiple identities and commitments, and emerge with a self-love and self-image that enables us to go into the world with our heads held high and our hearts ready to give, to love, and to shine.

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, I have found a million other things to do besides write to you.

But when I articulate for myself what this work is all about, I know: it is about being a conduit for God’s love. Which is unconditional, a form of grace, and has nothing to do with reluctance to commit, or being too busy, or the million ways in which we hide from one another and from Him. Her. It. Whichever 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?) "On My Mind," which has lived on the website as the Rabbi's Blog, and until now has been the landing spot for my sermons and teachings.

At first, it was a sense of priority: get to know several hundred families. That was the most important thing when I began two and a half years ago. I gave myself eighteen months. (If you’ve never taken me up on my open office hours, it’s still a thing. Click here to schedule time together.) As I prepared for the High Holidays last 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 was still that forum; I do hope that one day we will get to that place, 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 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 thought I  would start, when this idea germinated last summer. 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, 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 to a discomfort zone of anxiety, fear, sadness, uncertainty, worry, grief, despair. The writing I've 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 eighteen months getting to know each other. 

But now it's time to expand out. To go ahead and nourish us with Torah of all sorts. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like. Sometimes, it will be the weekly Torah reading; other times, it will be movies, or what’s on my mind with the kids or life in general. I don’t know yet. What I do know is that we need more Torah, more teaching, more wisdom, more spiritual succor. We crave it, now that the shock has taken root in our bones, the shock of this war and the resurgence of anti-Semitism; the shock of the culture of this country in this election cycle and culture-shift—but also the shocks and aftershocks to this congregation of a generational shift in leadership. 

Two and a half years into my tenure as your rabbi, there are still a million things that keep me from reaching out in this way. But if I push myself to articulate why I want to write to you at all, it is this:. 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 a new way of showing up. 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 something to talk about over our next cup of coffee, our next email exchange, the next time you push yourself to show up in this relationship with me, with Oheb, and with the Jewish people.

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.

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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

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784