Sunday, May 10, 2015

YOUR Mother's Day

This time of the year is all about counting.  I know what you are thinking, I’m counting the omer, but actually, I’ve been counting the days until Mother’s Day trying to find the right gifts to make all the mothers in my life happy!  
I wonder if the mothers in the room know how hard it is to buy a mothers day gift.   Fathers will be happy with a tie or a gift card, but mothers…oy.  
Mother’s Day is a big holiday in our secular calendar, and I’m sure almost all of you have plans one way or the other, but some of you may not; I’ll get back to that.  
It is interesting to think, but why do we need a Mother’s Day?  Shouldn’t everyday be mother’s day?  
Perhaps it is because our mothers’ do not always get the credit that they truly deserve.  Did you know that if a stay at home mom were paid for her 94 hour work week, she would make $113,568 a year?  Working moms don’t have it any easier.  They spend more time multi-tasking than dads, working a 48 hour work week as opposed to a 39 hour work week for dads, and get paid less on average than men.  
Like Rodney Dangerfield, mothers get no respect!  
But there’s also another holiday that get’s no respect, or very little respect, from many Jews:  Shavuot.  The third pilgrimage holiday comes after people mothers have slaved over their kitchens for Passover, and when they are busy getting their kids ready for the end of school and summer. 
Actually, Mother’s Day and Shavuot have many similarities – one, the creator of both holidays were insistent that they were not holidays, but Holy Days, and two, both holidays try and make up for what seems to be neglected on all the other days of the year.  
Making the case for Shavuot as a holy day is an easy one, I mean, it’s in the Torah, but does anyone know the story of the Mother of Mother’s Day?  
As we know, grammatically, there are two ways to spell Mother’s Day, with the apostrophe after the s or before.  The mother of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day was quite insistent that it be spelled with the apostrophe before the s.  What is the difference?  If you put an apostrophe after the ‘s’, it means all mothers, but if you put it before the ‘s’, then it means, your mother.  Here is another interesting fact about the creator of Mother’s Day Anna Jarvis – she was never a mother, a write once wrote about Anna saying, “Anna saw motherhood through the eyes of a child — she celebrated the reigning force in the household, the one who gave life and was the center of your world as a kid.”  
Anna loved her mother deeply, and when she died in 1905, she started to push for this day working hard by lobbying politicians and writing letters to leaders across the country to establish a day devoted to YOUR mother celebrated by writing a heartfelt letter to our mother and giving them a single white carnation.  By 1908 she had succeeded in arranging two ceremonies for Mother’s Day and soon after, the idea became a movement, and the following year, Mother’s Day services were held in 45 American states and Canada and Mexico, the symbol of the white carnation already entrenched.  As we know, Mother’s Day grew to become much bigger into a whole industry!  For Flower shops and card stores, this week is their Black Friday!  But this is not what Anna wanted  - in fact, she tried to sue companies who tried to market the day.  There is one story where she ordered a Mother’s Day Salad from a restaurant, and once she received it, she dumped it on the floor and stormed out.  
Halevi this should happen to Shavuot!  Halevi Shavuot should be marketed – but there is a problem with Shavuot that her companions don’t have – ritual.  What is the ritual of Sukkot – you sit in booths, Pesach – the seder – the most widely observed holiday.  There’s no Sukkah kit to sell, no fruits to hang in your Sukkah, no decorations, and the food is just as cheap as it is the others days of the year unlike on Pesach!  Alas, Shavuot won’t ever be a moneymaker like her counterparts.  
Rabbi David Tzi Hoffman, a famous 19th century German Rabbi, had the following observation about Shavuot:  “No symbolic ritual was instituted for Shavuot to mark the Siniatic revelation, for the reason that it cannot be translated into the tangible symbol…”
What’s Shavuot holy ritual?  
Eating cheesecake? 
I feel bad for Shavuot – sure, it’s called a ‘holy day’ in the Torah, but if no one is there to make it holy, then how holy is it?
Shavuot and Mother’s Day also have another similarity – Torah and our mothers are constants in our lives.  Even those who have lost their mothers long ago are reminded of them everyday with every breath you take, because without them, you wouldn’t be here.  
It’s the same with Torah, without Torah, we Jews would not be here today.  
Shavuot is one of my favorite holidays, and I think our mother and father in heaven needs us to observe it.  Shavuot used to be primarily an agricultural holiday – where our ancestors would bring the wheat harvest to the Temple and their first fruits.  It was a day of extreme gratitude and thanksgiving, a truly beautiful holiday; but as we shifted from agriculture – we lost this meaning of the holiday.  
Our rabbis wisely connected the holiday to Matan Torah, the moment of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai.  It was during these days, 49 days after slavery, when our people were changed forever.  We were free, but freedom meant responsibility and a new destiny – to become God’s people and live by God’s Torah.
On Shavuot, our rabbis teach us that every Jewish soul, past, present and future was present at that moment – it was an everlasting covenant.  
God will always be our mother and father; God gave us life, so too did our mothers, and that will never change; but sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of this fact.  To all the mothers out there, yes, everyday should be Mother’s day, but, it isn’t.  We  should also celebrate the giving of the Torah everyday, but alas, we sometimes take the most important things in our lives for granted.  
Mother’s Day, and Shavuot, are times to remind ourselves of the most important gifts in our lives, but just going to shul for an hour of Yizkor, or buying a piece of jewelry for your mom, isn’t enough.  
On Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis wanted you to do something personal for your mother – to write her a note to tell her how much you mean to her.  It isn’t all mothers’ day, it’s YOUR mother’s day, it needs to be personal.  
When I was in rabbinical school, I remember writing a paper on rabbinical students who converted to Judaism.  I interviewed around five rabbinical students, asking them, when did you feel ‘Jewish’?  They all had the same answer, they turned to us the first time they had a great learning experience; and for many, it was after they learned their first page of Talmud.  In order to accept God, they had to have a personal experience.  
I think God wants the same thing from each one of us– for each of one of us recognize how special God and Torah are to you, personally.  
To show God that you love him/her, you can write your own Torah scroll, a mitzvah we learn about in the book of Deuteronomy; that’s a tough task, kind of like finding the perfect piece of jewelry for your mother – but you can learn Torah, make it a part of your daily or weekly life, or in the very least, come celebrate Shavuot – because learning Torah on this night might not be like living in a Sukkah or having a Seder, but God will be just as pleased; and you will be better person for it.  
On the 2nd day of Shavuot, you can come to remember the mother’s who are no longer with us during Yizkor, those who you cannot buy any gifts for, but being present is the most valuable thing you can do.  
And on the first day of Shavuot, when you hear the Torah read, and the famous words of the Ten Commandment – Kaved Et Avicha V’et Imecha – Honor your father and your mother, you will know that you have fulfilled your part of the relationship – because you are present, just as you were present thousands of years ago at Sinai.  
My blessing for us all is not to take the constants in our lives, our mothers and God, for granted.  But ultimately, we will, so at least once a year, let’s dedicate our time to them, and of course, to make it holy.  
Afterall, they both gave us life, and are with us everyday; it’s the least we can do.  
Shabbat Shalom.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finding Your Jewish Sweet Spot at the Levis JCC 2015-2016 Annual Meeting Dvar Torah by Rabbi David Baum

Finding Your Jewish Sweet Spot at the Levis JCC
2015-2016 Annual Meeting Dvar Torah by Rabbi David Baum



What is a Jewish sweet spot?  I did a little research into this phrase, and here’s what I found:  It’s getting to a place where your personal passions, Jewish passions, family and community, work and career, talents all come together in one central place.  Shouldn’t be too hard to find right? 

Another question I had is, what is the Torah’s sweet spot; the spot where everything converges, the very center of everything – maybe, if we can find it, it can help us find our own sweet spot.  It just so happens that we find it last week’s parashah, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim.  It’s in this parashah that we read a very famous:  V’ahavta Le’re’echa KaMocha – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Rabbi Akiva, one of the most famous rabbis in history, famously stated that this line is Klal Gadol BaTorah – the major principle in the Torah, and according to the rabbis, it is literally the center of the Torah – the Torah’s sweet spot. 

Loving your neighbor might sound easy, but it’s actually one of the hardest things we can do as humans.  

The text uses the word neighbor, not brother, and it does so on purpose.  Our neighbors live in different homes – we purposely separate ourselves from them – and who in here hasn’t had a problem with a noisy neighbor – note if you aren’t raising your hand, you are that neighbor; so why should I love them as much as I love myself?  Why is it the major principle of the Torah? 

The Torah here looks at this phrase as part of an overall major concept – how to be holy – kadosh.  Those of you who are not religious might want head for the hills at this point or check your phones, but stay with me here, because being kadosh is actually something that all of us must do, and it is a key element to the JCC.  When we read through the parashat Kedoshim, we see that many of the laws of holiness concern not just you, but your relationship to others.  For example, we read that to be holy, one must rise before the aged and show deference to the old.  To be holy, one must never wrong a stranger in your land, and you must accept him or her as one of your citizens, and to love him as you would yourself because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.  Being holy means lifting others up, especially those who might seem weaker than you, or oppressed, but it also means that we must look at each one of neighbors as if they have a divine spark within them, even if they look and act much differently than you do. 

When I look at the work of the JCC, I see a convergence, a sweet spot for our community.  It is here where everyone comes together, from the pre-school to seniors; it is here where those with special needs from all ages, from pre-schoolers, to our special Otzar program, to Camp Kavod, and more – can come and be a part of our community.  It is here where we clothe the naked through our thrift shop.  It is here where we open our arms, love them, and see them as having a divine spark within them, just like us. 

It’s here where we have an opportunity to interact with people who are different than us – they might practice Judaism much differently than we do; they might look different than we do or be at a totally other place in life; they might have special needs, but it’s here where we have the opportunity to treat our neighbors lovingingly, because they are human, just like us, and therefore you know that they search for love, for that sweet spot, just like you do. 

This is why we all love this place – because it’s where community begins, where neighbors start looking at each other differently, not just as neighbors, but as brothers and sisters. 


Thank you for all the work you all have done until now, and I wish you all good luck in the holy work you will do in the next year.