Bat Mitzvahpalooza: The Most Lavish Bat Mitzvah Party

From the NY Daily News

History will forever record Elizabeth Brooks’ bat mitzvah as “Mitzvahpalooza.”

For his daughter’s coming-of-age celebration last weekend, multimillionaire Long Island defense contractor David H. Brooks booked two floors of the Rainbow Room, hauled in concert-ready equipment, built a stage, installed special carpeting, outfitted the space with Jumbotrons and arranged command performances by everyone from 50 Cent to Tom Petty to Aerosmith.

I hear it was garish display of rock ‘n’ roll idol worship for which the famously irascible CEO of DHB Industries, a Westbury-based manufacturer of bulletproof vests, sent his company jet to retrieve Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from their Saturday gig in Pittsburgh.

I’m also told that in honor of Aerosmith (and the $2 million fee I hear he paid for their appearance), the 50-year-old Brooks changed from a black-leather, metal-studded suit – accessorized with biker-chic necklace chains and diamonds from Chrome Hearts jewelers – into a hot-pink suede version of the same lovely outfit.

The party cost an estimated $10 million, including the price of corporate jets to ferry the performers to and from. Also on the bill were The Eagles’ Don Henley and Joe Walsh performing with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks; DJ AM (Nicole Richie’s fiance); rap diva Ciara and, sadly perhaps (except that he received an estimated $250,000 for the job), Kenny G blowing on his soprano sax as more than 300 guests strolled and chatted into their pre-dinner cocktails.

“Hey, that guy looks like Kenny G,” a disbelieving grownup was overheard remarking – though the 150 kids in attendance seemed more impressed by their $1,000 gift bags, complete with digital cameras and the latest video iPod.

For his estimated $500,000, I hear that 50 Cent performed only four or five songs – and badly – though he did manage to work in the lyric, “Go shorty, it’s your bat miztvah, we gonna party like it’s your bat mitzvah.”

At one point, I’m told, one of Fitty’s beefy bodyguards blocked shots of his boss performing and batted down the kids’ cameras, shouting “No pictures! No pictures!” – even preventing Brooks’ personal videographers and photographers from capturing 50 Cent’s bat-miztvah moment.

“Fitty and his posse smelled like an open bottle of Hennessy,” a witness told told me, adding that when the departing rapper prepared to enter his limo in the loading dock, a naked woman was spotted inside.

I’m told that Petty’s performance – on acoustic guitar – was fabulous, as was the 45-minute set by Perry and Tyler, who was virtuosic on drums when they took the stage at 2:45 a.m. Sunday.

Henley, I hear, was grumpy at the realization that he’d agreed to play a kids’ party.

I’m told that at one point Brooks leapt on the stage with Tyler and Perry, who responded with good grace when their paymaster demanded that his teenage nephew be permitted to sit in on drums. At another point, I’m told, Tyler theatrically wiped sweat off Brooks’ forehead – and then dried his hand with a flourish.

Yesterday, Brooks disputed many details provided to me by Lowdown spies at the affair and by other informed sources, scrawling on a fax to me: “All dollar figures vastly exaggerated.”

He added: “This was a private event and we do not wish to comment on details of the party.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi David Wolpe

A Manifesto for the Future
Drop ‘Conservative’ Label to Tap True Meaning and Reach the Faithful
by Rabbi David Wolpe

In early November, I spoke at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The topic was “The Future of Conservative Judaism.” I prepared for the talk by asking colleagues, friends and congregants to define Conservative Judaism in one sentence. It was a dispiriting experience.

Some had no answer at all. Others found themselves entangled in paragraphs, subclauses and a forest of semicolons. Sensible people began to sound like textbooks.

Many of us have learned that Conservative Judaism is either a complex ideology (at least we never get a straightforward explanation) or simply a movement that stands in the center between Reform and Orthodoxy. An early classic of Conservative Judaism was titled, “Tradition and Change,” but tradition and change is a paradox, not a banner of belief.

Conservative Judaism is crying out for renewal and revitalization. Some of the most spiritually charged, socially sensitive prayer groups and institutions in the country choose to not affiliate themselves with the Conservative movement. Yet they are led by rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement and attended by congregants who grew up in that movement.

In synagogues that do define themselves as Conservative, the congregants often expect halachic observance from their rabbis, yet they are not moved to emulate them. Conservative Jews are increasingly confused and uncertain about their spiritual direction.

As I posed these problems and questions, some turned the question back to me.

“Who are you, and what do you believe?”

When I reflect upon the beliefs with which I was raised and how I have grown in my faith, I realize that the word “Conservative” does not best fit who I am and what I believe.

I am a Covenantal Jew.

Covenantal Judaism is the Judaism of relationship. Three covenants guide my way — our way: The covenant at Sinai brings us to our relationship to God, the covenant with Abraham to our relationship with other Jews and the covenant with Noah to our relationship with all humanity.

First Covenant: Relationship to God

The Jewish relationship to God may be seen as a friendship, a partnership, though of obviously unequal partners. In the Midrash, God swears friendship to Abraham, is called the “friend of the world” (Hag. 16a) and even creates friendships between people (Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer). Friendship is one aspect of the Divine-human connection.

The Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts. When we speak of friendship or partnership, all of these relationships and more must be understood.

The terms of all friendships are fixed by history — we define our partnerships by our memories. One friend can speak a single word, “Colorado,” and the other knows that the word refers to a trip taken together 15 years before. However, vital friendships do not dwell solely in the past. They are always creating new memories, entering new phases and enriching what has gone before.

Some Jews believe that everything important in the friendship between God and Israel has already been said. The Torah, the Talmud, the classical commentators and codes have said all the vital, foundational words. Our task now is simply to fill in a few blanks, but otherwise the work is done. We are the accountants of a treasure already laid up in the past.

This is not a covenantal understanding. It is a Judaism frozen in time, as though all the clocks stopped in the 18th century.

Conversely, there are those who think the past weightless, because times have so radically changed. This is a friendship that tries to recreate itself each day, dictated by the demands of the moment. While the past is acknowledged, it is seen largely as something to be overcome, not to be cherished and integrated into the present. This creates a relationship with predictably thin and wan results.

Covenantal Judaism believes in the continuous partnership between God and Israel. When we light Shabbat candles, God “knows” what we mean — we have been doing it for thousands of years. It is part of the grammar of relationship. Our past is the platform from which we ascend. The covenant at Sinai is the first, reverberating word.

Yet there is so much more to say. There is no reason why someone as wise and important as the Rambam (who lived in the 12th century) could not be born tomorrow. This person could both incorporate Rambam’s teachings and move beyond them. There is no reason why something as epochal as the Exodus could not happen next year — witness the creation of the modern State of Israel.

Each day, we tremble with the anticipation of something new and powerful on the horizon. Each night, we pray with the awareness that the yearning of the generations sanctifies our words. We create new rituals because today must not only stand upon yesterday but must reach toward tomorrow.

The classical Jewish view teaches “the decline of the generations” — since Sinai we have grown further from revelation and stand, as a result, on a lower level of holiness. This is not a true covenantal understanding. The covenant does not fade or weaken with time. Our future is as promising as our past is powerful.

For the Covenantal Jew, dialogue between the Jewish people and God began in the Bible and continues today. The Bible is, as Rabbi A.J. Heschel put it, the record of the search of human beings for God and of God for human beings.

Second Covenant: Relationship Between Jews

All Jews are involved in the Abrahamic covenant — not only those Jews whom we like or those of whom we approve but all Jews.

Jews have always fought within our own community, and undoubtedly, we always will. Devotion to Torah does not free us from the constraints of human nature.

Still, a Covenantal Jew seeks active dialogue with Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist, as well as secular Jews. The covenant does not depend upon movements or ideologies; it is a covenant of shared history and shared destiny.

The emphasis on the responsibility of Jews to other Jews is uncomfortable for some. It seems parochial and ungenerous.

However, we are built to care in concentric circles: first one’s own family, then one’s community and then larger groups — rippling out to the world, always modified by the degree of need. Aniyei ircha kodmim teaches the Talmud: Care first for the poor of one’s own city.

Pallid universalism is not an ideal but a disaster. Too many Jews remind me of Charles Dickens’ Mrs. Jellyby in “Bleak House,” who is always charging off to do good works, while neglecting her own wretched children at home.

I remember when I was teaching at Hunter College in New York, a student approached me and asked: “Today there is an anti-apartheid rally and a rally for Soviet Jewry. I’m planning to attend the anti-apartheid rally. Can you give me a good reason to go to the Soviet Jewry rally?”

“Yes,” I answered. “If you attend the anti-apartheid rally, who will go to the Soviet Jewry rally?”

There are Jews who simply shun large parts of the Jewish world that do not meet their expectations. On both the right and the left, many simply ignore or discount the other side of the religious or political spectrum. But Republican or Democrat, Satmar or secular, affiliations invalidate neither God’s covenant nor our ties to one another.

This sense of Jewish responsibility explains why Solomon Schechter, the first major figure of American Conservative Judaism, was an outspoken Zionist. Ahavat Yisrael, love of Israel, is not an emotional impulse but a covenantal responsibility. That is why Covenantal Judaism is passionate about the land of Israel and the people Israel.

Covenantal Jews give priority in caring to our own, but we do not care exclusively for our own.

Third Covenant: Relationship With the Non-Jewish World

The first covenant was not made with the Jewish people. God sent a rainbow in the time of Noah as a sign to the world, to all of humanity. Noah lived 10 generations before the first Jew.

The meaning is clear: We have a responsibility toward others of whatever faith; we have a covenantal relationship to the non-Jewish world.

The very first question in the Bible is a question God asks of Adam — “Ayecha” — Where are you? This is not a literal question but a spiritual one, a question God asks us at each moment in our lives.

The second question in the Bible is in a way an answer to the first. The second question is one that human beings ask of God. Cain turns to God and asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

If you answer that question, you will know where you are. Do you care for those who are in need, those who are anguished and alone?

Jewish World Watch has organized our response to the calamity of Darfur. Jewish leaders have shouted to the world, bringing attention to genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda, and championed the recognition of the Armenian genocide. These and countless similar causes and efforts are not strategic or to reflect credit on ourselves. They are sacred Jewish obligations. Jews who care for the Jewish community alone are neglecting the first, most comprehensive covenant.

Sadly, many traditional Jewish communities seem to have little concern for the non-Jewish world.

The rabbis of the Talmud insist that compassion is a characteristic of the people of Israel. The first statement about human beings is that each is made in God’s image. Invidious comparisons between the worth of Jews and others are not only malignant but fundamentally at odds with the Covenantal tradition.

Jews receive as well as give to those outside the Jewish community. Covenantal Judaism is eager to learn wisdom — not only practical but spiritual — from the non-Jewish world.

Judaism has many precedents for religious learning from non-Jews, beginning in the Bible. The world begins with Adam, not with Abraham. Noah, the first man called righteous, is not a Jew.

The chapter of Torah containing the Ten Commandments is named “Yitro” (Jethro) — this central chapter containing the revelation from Sinai is named after a non-Jew. The traditional response when someone asks after our welfare, “baruch Hashem” (praise God) is mentioned three times in the Bible. All three times it is said by a non-Jew: Noah (Genesis 9:26), Eliezer (Genesis 24:27) and Jethro (Exodus 18:10). Thus, even when we praise God, we do it in words that were first spoken by those in our community who were not raised as Jews.

The list could be easily multiplied throughout Jewish history: Maimonides learned from the Islamic scholar Averroes, Kabbalah learned from Sufi mysticism, Heschel learned from Reinhold Neibuhr. Covenantal Jews glory in this interchange, which is not threatened by the insights of others but enriched by them.

The Covenant and Jewish Law

The overriding commandment of Covenantal Judaism is to be in relationship with each other and with God. The more halacha (Jewish law) we “speak,” the more full and rich the relationship. Our faith is neither a checklist nor a simple formula. It is a proclamation and a path.

Changes in Jewish law to include women, from bat mitzvah celebrations to rituals for miscarriage, as well as changes that enable people to drive to synagogue or use instruments in the service as our ancestors did, are elements in a covenantal understanding of the tradition. This is a tradition not rigid but responsive and alive, not repetitious but committed to dialogue with the past, each other and God.

Dialogue with God is not an act of chutzpa, not a conviction of equality. Rather God ennobles us by choosing us as partners for dialogue.

Abraham argues with God; Moses opposes God’s decree, and throughout Jewish history, in medieval poetry and modern literature, Jews insist that God wants not puppets nor robots but human beings who bring their passion, confusion and love to the task of Israel, which in Hebrew means wrestling with God.

Jewish authenticity is not measured by the number of specific actions one performs but the quality of the relationships expressed through those actions. Recall what the Torah says of Moses: In praising our greatest leader, The Torah does not recount that he performed the most mitzvot of anyone who ever lived, or even that his ethics exceeded all others. We are told that Moses saw God “panim el panim” face to face. The merit of Moses is in the unparalleled relationship he had with Israel and with God.

The Covenant and the Future

When the covenant is first presented to Noah, God promises not to destroy the world. In that promise is a chilling omission: God does not promise that we will not destroy the world.

As Rabbi Joshua of Kutna points out, the rainbow is a half circle. That is God’s promise to us. God’s half must be completed by our own intertwining colors.

The relationships we build through sanctity, compassion and love are our reciprocal rainbow. Involving all colors, embracing our community and beyond, it teaches us that in covenant is the secret of salvation.

Covenant is the spine of Judaism. No idea is more important to the development of the tradition. Conservative Judaism, as it has grown, has taken the covenantal idea seriously, sometimes without even realizing it. The time has come to claim it, to develop it in powerful and new ways and to fashion a movement of Judaism that can change Jewish life in America and beyond.

Conservative Judaism remains a large and important international Jewish organization of synagogues, schools, camps, youth groups, adult organizations and centers of training for scholars and clergy. By placing covenant at the center of this worldwide Jewish initiative, we will be reframing the enterprise of creating a Judaism that closes the door neither to the past nor to the future. Such openness and conviction are vital for the future of the Jewish people, a covenanted nation born of passion for improving this world under the sovereignty of God.

This is the time for Covenantal Judaism.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

New Fed Chair is so Jewish, his middle name is "Shalom"

From Haaretz

For new Fed chief, dad was one of the few Jews in town

When Ben Shalom Bernanke, U.S. President George Bush’s nominee to be the new Federal Reserve chairman, was a teenager in the small town of Dillon, South Carolina, in the 1960s, he helped lead services and roll the Torah scrolls in the town’s synagogue.

Judaism remains a part of Bernanke’s life, but the Princeton University economist does not wear his religion on his sleeve, associates say. According to friend and collaborator Mark Gertler, chairman of New York University’s economics department, Bernanke, 51, “keeps his feelings and beliefs private,” but they are really “embedded in who he is.”

Bernanke’s policy views, however, were on full display this week as he faced questions yesterday from the Senate Banking Committee, which probed him on his convictions about targeting inflation and the government’s budget deficit. Democratic senators, in particular, sought assurances that Bernanke, presently chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, would be independent of the White House.

“I assure this committee that, if I am confirmed, I will be strictly independent of all political influences and will be guided solely by the Federal Reserve’s mandate from Congress and by the public interest,” Bernanke told the lawmakers.

Nominated by Bush on October 4 to succeed Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, Bernanke is expected to be confirmed soon by both the committee and the full Senate. He would take his seat on the Fed early next year, marking the end of Greenspan’s 18-year tenure.

Gertler said that Bernanke, as an academic who has done significant research on monetary policy, would institutionalize his approach at the Fed, unlike the oracular Greenspan, who came out of the private sector with a background in economic forecasting.

“When Ben steps down, we won’t worry as much about the replacement,” Gertler said. “Greenspan never really left a playbook.”

A disciple of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, Bernanke has written influential works on price stability, deflation and the Great Depression. “Ben is the Milton Friedman of his generation,” Gertler said. However, unlike Friedman, known as an apostle of free markets, Bernanke is “more of a technocrat than an ideologue.”

Bernanke has received words of support from several prominent liberals and critics of the Bush administration, including a former colleague at Princeton, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard economics professor who served on President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in an e-mail to the Forward that Bernanke’s appointment “probably implies a slightly lower target for inflation, and thus slightly fewer jobs, over the next couple of years, than otherwise because every new central banker is aware that he has to establish inflation-fighting credibility at the beginning of this term, in order to take a more relaxed approach later on.”

Frankel called Bernanke “temperamentally well-suited to the Fed chairman job” and “off the charts in quality by comparison with most” other Bush nominees. “In fact,” Frankel added, “he would even be good by the standards of a Clinton administration.”

Born in Augusta, Georgia, one of three children, Bernanke grew up among only a handful of Jewish families in Dillon, where his parents ran a pharmacy. While Bernanke’s family was a relatively recent arrival, South Carolina has a history of being hospitable to Jews. At the turn of the 19th century, South Carolina had the most Jews of any state – fully a quarter of the Jews then living in America, by some estimates. Before the Civil War, Georgetown, the state’s third-oldest city, and Charleston, one of the nation’s most important cities in the colonial period, both elected several Jewish mayors.

Residents of Dillon, a town of about 6,500 habitants in the eastern part of the state near the North Carolina line, remember Bernanke fondly as a brainy boy who obsessed over baseball statistics, played the saxophone, taught himself calculus and scored 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs, the highest in the state that year.

“He’s 13 years old, and we’re discussing cosmology and the size of the universe,” Bernanke’s childhood friend, Nathan Goldman, recalled in an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Bernanke went as an undergraduate to Harvard, received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was named a full professor at Princeton in 1985, in his early 30s. He was chairman of the economics department at Princeton University before being tapped by Bush in 2002 to be a member of the Federal Reserve Board and then last year to be chairman of the economic council. Bernanke is married to Spanish instructor Anna Bernanke, reportedly the daughter of refugees from Europe. They have two children.

Academic achievement characterized Bernanke’s family even in Europe. His paternal grandparents came from Austria. According to his uncle, Mortimer Bernanke, his grandmother graduated from medical school in Austria in 1919 – unusual for a woman of the time. The family immigrated to America in the early 1920s.

Bernanke’s parents, Phillip and Edna, kept a strictly kosher home. Their meat was bused in from Charlotte, North Carolina, where Edna’s father owned a kosher market for about 10 years after World War II and taught Hebrew school and tutored bar mitzvah students. The grandfather, who moved in with Bernanke’s family after his wife died, was called “reverend” for his great religious learning, family members said.

“He lived with us for 24 years,” Edna Bernanke said in a telephone interview with the Forward. “He studied with us.”

All the Bernanke children married Jews, Mortimer Bernanke said (also in a telephone interview). He still lives in Dillon. Edna and Phillip Bernanke now live in Charlotte.

When Ben Bernanke was growing up, Ohav Shalom, the synagogue in Dillon, could not support a full-time rabbi. His mother estimated that it served 12 families from the area, with about 35 people attending during holidays. It imported rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary to officiate each year during the High Holy Days. The students would stay at the Bernanke home, the only fully kosher one in the area. Rabbi Arnold Stiebel remembered the young Ben as a big help in the synagogue. “Just think, the youngster who helped me prepare the Torah scrolls and gave me numerous insider pointers is now the nominee to be chairman of the Federal Reserve,” marveled Stiebel, who now lives in Jerusalem, in a note that circulated widely via e-mail. “Well, it’s a small Jewish world.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Reform Judaism says "Convert!" and "No!"

From the Forward

Rabbi Urges Conversion, Sexual Limits
By Jennifer Siegel
November 25, 2005

HOUSTON — For more than a quarter-century, the Reform movement has made it a priority to reach out to interfaith couples. Now, its leader, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, said it’s time to start doing more to encourage non-Jewish spouses to convert to Judaism.

Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the call to action during his Sabbath-morning sermon at the group’s biennial convention in Houston.

“By making non-Jews feel comfortable and accepted in our congregations, [perhaps] we have sent the message that we do not care if they convert,” Yoffie told a crowd of thousands. He added, “The time has come to reverse direction by returning to public conversions and doing all the other things that encourage conversion in our synagogues.”

Many proponents of conversion, particularly in the Conservative and Orthodox movements, have been critical of the 1983 decision by Reform Judaism to consider a child Jewish even if he or she only has a Jewish father. Critics argue that the decision removed a major incentive for non-Jewish women to convert to Judaism.

Yoffie praised non-Jewish spouses who raise their children as Jews, calling them “heroes” who deserve recognition and praise. He cautioned against addressing issues of conversion in an insensitive or heavy-handed manner. But he said that synagogues are not “neutral” institutions, and they also should promote the advantages enjoyed by families in which there are two Jewish spouses.

Yoffie’s remarks come during a time of renewed public debate on the issue of how far to go in welcoming interfaith couples. In recent months, traditionalists in the non-Orthodox community have criticized what they see as the lavishing of attention and resources on interfaith families at the expense of the committed Jewish households in which the vast majority of Jews were raised.

The debate has entered the Reform movement via a paper by sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who recently joined the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform rabbinical seminary. In the paper, which was distributed to college alumni, Cohen argued that the emphasis liberal outreach groups have placed on “welcoming” non-Jews into congregational life has done little to increase the likelihood that their children will embrace Judaism as adults.

Yoffie’s remarks raised concerns among some proponents of a more welcoming approach to interfaith couples, who worried that his effort to encourage conversion might overshadow his praise for non-Jews who are committed to raising Jewish children.

“The question is less ‘How do you get people to convert?’ than ‘How do you get people to raise their children as Jews?'” said Ed Case, the executive director of InterfaithFamily.com. ” I just think it needs to be done really, really carefully, and the message that you’re welcome as you are needs to come through.”

During his sermon, Yoffie urged Reform Jews to step up efforts to talk frankly with teenagers about how Judaism’s teachings apply to relationships and sex.

“We are not very good at saying No in Reform Judaism,” said Yoffie, who has pressed congregations to place a greater emphasis on ritual and text study. “We are the most creative and forward-looking movement in Jewish life, but in the realm of personal behavior we are reluctant to ever use the word ‘forbidden.’ Yet in dealing with kids engaged in destructive behavior, the concept of autonomy leaves us unable to set limits and make sound judgments.”

In particular, Yoffie raised concerns about the prevalence of so-called hookups or casual sexual encounters among teenagers.

“We [need to] tell boys and girls that sex is not about controlling or servicing the other,” Yoffie said. “And we need to tell girls in particular that their worth is not defined by what they do for boys.”

The Union for Reform Judaism is creating a six-session course about Judaism and sexuality for 12- and 13-year-old students, and plans to unveil a course for high school freshman in 2007. The courses will not take a “Just say no” approach to sex, nor trade in generalities, Yoffie said, but will address the issues that teens confront.

Tal Grunspan, 24, an Israeli attending the convention who spent last summer working at the Reform union’s Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas, said he agreed with Yoffie that today’s teenagers too often see sex as a free-for-all devoid of genuine emotional connections.

“I would tell [the campers] that just because everyone is Jewish, that doesn’t mean you have to be with everybody,” Grunspan said.

Several teenagers who attended the convention as part of a delegation from the National Federation of Temple Youth also agreed with Yoffie that casual sexual encounters are common among teenagers, but expressed skepticism that more dialogue will offer anything new.

“I give him points just for saying the words ‘hooking up,'” said David Wilensky, a high school junior who is president of a youth group in Austin, Texas. “I’m just afraid they’re just not going to say anything new. The solutions are always the same ones being talked about over and over again, and I’m getting sick of it.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Getting a Human

Ever just want to talk to a human on a customer service hotline? Check out this website to find out the quickest way to get to a human voice.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Polarities in Balance – Chancellor Ismar Schorsch

ChancellorIsmar SchorschDear Elissa and Jason,

A hearty mazal tov on the birth of your twins. With one a little boy and the other a little girl, you are a picture of polarities in balance. I would expect nothing less from a Conservative rabbi. May they both be a source of unending joy for you.

Ismar Schorsch

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Miller Lite #2 and Miller Lite #3

With gratitude to God, we are happy to announce the birth of our son and daughter. Baby Boy came first at 12:09 p.m. and weighed in at 5 pounds. Baby Girl came next at 12:27 p.m. and weighed in at 5 pounds, 5 ounces.

Mother and babies are all healthy and happy. Josh is looking forward to welcoming his new brother and sister home.

Baby Boy will be named at his brit milah ceremony and Baby Girl at her simchat bat ceremony.

Rabbi Jason, Elissa & Joshua Miller

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Parshat Va’yera – by Rabbi Jason Miller

Be Our Guest

In this week’s parsha, we learn that on the third day after Abraham had circumcised himself, he hosted three angels who appeared in human form. Recovering from this procedure in the excruciating heat of the midday sun, our patriarch still urged them to receive his hospitality. Not only that, but as soon as Abraham saw these three men standing near him, he ran to greet them (vayaratz likratam). Not realizing these men were angels, Abraham took these strangers into his home and offered them water to wash their feet and shade to rest. With his wife Sarah’s help, the guests were treated to a feast of bread and meat, curds and milk. He personally served these strangers the delicacies and attended to their needs.

In tractate Bava Metzia of the Babylonian Talmud, we find a Midrash explaining that the Israelites benefit later on as a result of Abraham’s kindness to these strangers:

Rab Judah teaches in Rab’s name: Everything which Abraham personally did for the Ministering Angels, the Holy One Blessed be God did for God’s children [the Israelites]; and whatever Abraham did through a messenger, the Holy One Blessed be God did for God’s children through a messenger [Moses].

Abraham’s hospitality serves as a wonderful example for us all. The parsha begins with God visiting Abraham at the entrance of his tent, but as soon as the three men appear, Abraham turned away from God to attend to these guests. In so doing, he teaches us that hospitality (hachnasat orchim) is a significant mitzvah and value for us.

There are three fall holidays on which hachnasat orchim is emphasized. They are not all religious holidays, but we learn from their message nevertheless. The first of these is the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot. On these eight holy days (seven in Israel), we invite ushpizin (Aramaic for “guests”), or distinguished individuals from our people’s history, into our sukkot. Traditionally, we invite Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David to join our families each night of the holiday. The more progressive and egalitarian among us include some illustrious women who made their mark on the Jewish people as well, including Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther.

In addition to these biblical guests, it is important for us to open our sukkot to others as well, and especially to those who do not have sukkot in their own backyards and those unfamiliar with the tradition. This year, my family invited any student who wanted to join us for a barbeque on the Sunday night of Sukkot. More than 70 undergraduates and graduate students, religious and secular, Jewish and non-Jewish, visited our sukkah and had the opportunity to recite the blessing of dwelling in the sukkah. I was proud to demonstrate this message of hospitality to my 2-year-old son.

While the Halloween tradition is certainly a controversial one among North American Jews because of its pagan roots, there is a positive side to its celebration as well. In today’s hectic times, neighbors so infrequently visit one another. The days of neighborhood kids, let alone their parents, dropping in on one another to say hello and shmooze is long gone. Yet on Halloween, millions of children and their parents trek around the neighborhood ringing doorbells, offering greetings and sharing candy. Ideally, this ritual would encourage some to invite their neighbors inside their homes to visit and become acquainted. For many, the Halloween experience is quite likely the first time they see the inside of their next-door neighbors’ homes. Therefore, for those who find Halloween a problematic enterprise, the opportunity for hachnasat orchim will hopefully serve as a positive.

Finally, the Thanksgiving holiday is inching upon us. This festive affair is an opportunity for us to gather with friends and family, consider all the good in our lives and give thanks to God for our good fortune. It is also a time for us to consider making room at our table for strangers to join us. Opening our homes to guests on Thanksgiving is a way to share the experience with others and demonstrate our value of hachnasat orchim. With a mother who works in residential real-estate, our family always had strangers at our Thanksgiving dinner table. Each year, my mother would invite those clients who had recently bought new homes and relocated to Michigan and did not have family nearby. This quickly become an annual minhag (custom) and encouraged us to be even more grateful on Thanksgiving that we were able to celebrate together with family.

The Jewish people place much emphasis on hospitality. We marry under a chuppah that is open on all sides to remind us of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim. As we study the example demonstrated by our patriarch Abraham and our matriarch Sarah to welcome the stranger and make them feel at home, let us strive to be better hosts. Let us always be mindful to keep our tent doors open whether those doors are the doors of our home or the doors of our Hillel. Just as our people were rewarded because of Abraham and Sarah’s genuine hospitality, may we all be rewarded with abundant blessings for making the stranger feel at home among us.

Prepared by Rabbi Jason Miller, Assistant director, University of Michigan Hillel

Learn More
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Va’yera at MyJewishLearning.com.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Bible Quiz – Test your knowledge!

The, free, online Bible Quiz, created by Jacob Richman, contains more than 3,000 multiple choice questions about the 5 books of Moses. Choose a chapter and timer seting, then the fun begins. The quiz, randomly, selects questions from its database, thus no two quizes are alike. There is, also, a database browser for reviewing and printing the Questions with the
correct Answers. Adults, as well as children will find the quiz entertaining and very educational.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A very expensive yarmulke!

Brett Gurewitz, the guitarist from punk rock band “Bad Religion” is selling his bar mitzvah yarmulke on eBay. The kippah has the inscription on the inside:
“Bar Mitzvah of Brett Gurewitz | May 24, 1975”

I wonder if anyone would be interested in a signed copy of my Bar Mitzvah haftorah?Brett Gurewitz

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller