Love The Stranger: Parashat Eqev (5779 – 2019)

children_2_0Parashat Eqev (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Our Torah portion contains, among so many others, these amazing verses:

“For  the Eternal your Almighty God is the All Powerful of all powerful forces and the Master of all masters – the God Who is great, mighty and awesome, Who will never show favoritism nor take a bribe. Who makes sure of the fair judgment of the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing. So shall you love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Have reverence for the Eternal you Almighty God, to serve Him, cleave to Him and swear in His Name.” (Deut. 10:17 – 20)

The first two verses describe God is a striking combination of seeming disparate terms. On the one hand, God is super mighty. This is a God, we are told, Who cannot be bought. But then God is described as very partial to the weak and marginal people of society. God cares so much about them that God will look out for them to make sure that justice is done on their behalf.
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Immigrant Action Update: A Call to Action

MSA leaders with Mikie Sherrill

On a recent Wednesday morning, Rabbi Greenstein, Audrey Levitin and I joined the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance (MSA) in a meeting with Representative Mikie Sherrill, who represents the 11th Congressional District including part of Montclair. The overall message was that people in her state are eager to welcome immigrants as we have been doing for decades. MSA members discussed several issues with Representative Sherrill about refugee resettlement, asylum seekers, and conditions in the detention centers.

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nytimesSearching around for a topic for this week’s library column, I rejected books about Elul, the Hebrew month when we start the process of introspection leading up to the High Holidays. Even though the month is almost here, there is still time to consider appropriate books.

I thought about Tu B’Av, the special day-like a Jewish Valentine’s Day- that probably slipped by most of you. But it’s past. Maybe next year.

So I thought about current events and what I could rip from the front page of the newspaper or the lead story on the news.

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Face to Face: Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu (5779 – 2019)


Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

When Moses retells the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai he introduces the second version of the Ten Commandments with a few dramatic verses: “Face to face did the Eternal speak with you on the mountain, from out of the fire. I was standing between the Eternal and you at that moment to tell you the Word of the Eternal, for you were afraid in the face of the fire and did not ascend up the mountain, saying: ‘I am the Eternal… etc.” (Deut. 5:4-6)
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Two Ways to Help Local Refugees


From Andy Silver:

We are organizing a Back-to-School Supplies Drive for the children in the refugee families whom we have been assisting. We need your help!

There are currently 18 school-age children, ranging in age from 4 to 16, in six of “our” families. The families have very little discretionary income to spend on school supplies; our goal is to help enable the children to have what they need to start the school year successfully.

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Filled Heart: Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon (5779 – 2019)


Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Our Torah reading, the opening of the last book of the Five Books of Moses, is always read right before Tisha B’Av (- the Ninth day of the month of Av). As I have mentioned elsewhere (- see last year’s Sparks), the Biblical moment is synchronized to be retold precisely at a moment of remembrance for events that happened long after the Torah’s time. Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of the First and the Second Temples, catastrophes that postdate Moses by many centuries. It is we who hold all these moments together in our consciousness as a Jewish people.

But it turns out that Moses also had a catastrophe to recall, one that also, according to traditional reckoning, fell on the Ninth of Av. That disaster was the mass refusal of the Jewish people to proceed into the Promised Land, a refusal triggered by the report of ten scouts who had seen the land up close. It is this tragedy that weighs on Moses as he begins speaking his “words” (- d’varim), the words that will fill this last book of the Torah. Moses recalls that crisis as he explains how Israel has found itself in its present situation, poised to enter the Land, but a full generation or more after the original date of arrival.

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Jewish or Not – You decide

Jewish booksSo. ..what makes a book Jewish? Is it the author, the subject, the sensibilities of the book? Could it be the reader’s perception or something else entirely?

Frequently I ponder this question after I’ve been to the Association of Jewish Libraries conference where, among other topics, the issue of what makes a book Jewish almost always comes up.

Other times, as I choose books for the library, a new book will make me ask that question.

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Sister Spaces for Jewish Living: Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei (5779 – 2019)


Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei (5779 – 2019)
Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

The traditional annual cycle of Torah readings is paced so that certain Torah readings will fall at particular moments in the Jewish calendar.  We read two Torah portions this week in order to make sure we will read the next portion – the beginning of D’varim (Deuteronomy) on the Shabbat right before Tisha B’Av, the day of remembrance for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. Thus this Torah reading system establishes an exquisite synchronicity between Biblical history, post-Biblical Jewish history and the seasons of the year as presently experienced.

But the system also allows for some leeway in how these synchronizations may be achieved. This year, for instance, as we read these two portions together, our brothers and sisters in Israel will read only one of them – Mas`ei – because they already chanted Mattot last week. How did that happen? Because, in Israel, festivals last only 7 days or one day rather than eight or two days, as they do in the Diaspora, the holiday of Passover ended a day earlier in Israel. Thus, on April 27, when we were celebrating the last day of Passover, and reading a Torah portion appropriate for that holiday, in Israel they recommenced reading from the regular Torah reading cycle. They stayed one week ahead of us until this Shabbat, when, after three whole months, we will finally catch up! Continue reading

Cool as a …

imagesMaybe you are some of the lucky ones who live in old houses but have air-conditioning. I’m not.

The last thing I want to do none of these beastly hot, humid days we’ve been having is to do REAL cooking.

Cucumbers seem to be the perfect main dish, accompaniment or ingredient for summer meals.

By definition, gazpacho is a cold tomato based Spanish-style soup made with vegetables and spices. But there’s no reason other vegetables can’t be adapted to the same type of soup. This cucumber gazpacho is refreshing and incredibly easy to make as are most recipes from Jamie Oliver. No cooking involved. Continue reading