Jonah Levy

Shabbat Shalom,

(I know that it is not time for the thank yous already, but I would like to thank all the people who did not understand a thing, waiting for the time where you can understand everything. Well, here it is. Now you finally get to understand what we say!  The best part! So, let's begin. )

In my Haftarah portion from the Book of Joshua, Shelach Lecha,  Joshua is preparing the Children of Israel to enter the Promised land. He knows it will be challenging, so he sends two spies to Jericho to find out how to capture it. These spies go to house of Rahab. She tells them of the fear her country has of the Jews supported by G-d. Rahab hides them in straw when suddenly guards come in and ask if she is housing the prisoners. She says no and misleads the guards to go outside the gates. When she returns, she asks the spies to save her family because she has treated them well. The men tell her what she has to do in order to save her family and she agrees. Then the spies go on their way. When they return to Joshua, they tell him all they have learned.

The character who really stood out to me was Rahab. She risked her life because she believed in G-d, even though there had been no miracles that had happened to her. She had faith that the Israelites would win because of this. So she hid them and in return asked the spies to save her family. This act of wisdom inspired me because she had to be both selfless and courageous. Because of this, she became very well respected in the Jewish community, accepted by the people that was now supporting her. According to the Midrash, Jewish commentaries on the Bible, Rahab caught the eye of Joshua, and they married. The Midrash also says that she became one of the first to convert to Judaism and that Rahab and Joshua were the ancestors of nine prophets.

Rahab's actions are very similar to other important people in my life. Their names were Vasalina and Alexander Yarmolyuk, and they were a Ukrainian couple who protected my grandmother when she was a baby from the Nazis.  When my grandmother was just a baby, my great grandparents decided they were going to go into the woods to hide from Hitler and the Nazis. Because she was just a baby and she would not survive in the wilderness, she was given to the Ukrainian family.

The Yarmolyuks took her as their daughter, went to church, and baptized her, keeping my grandmother’s Jewish identity a secret. Many times, officers would come to the door and ask for the baby. When the family heard this, they invited the officers in and made them drunk so they would forget about what they had come for.

Rahab risked her life to protect the spies. The Yarmolyuks risked their lives to protect my grandmother. What are the influences that might give a person strength to do something risky?

Reason 1: One reason that someone might do something risky is they have nothing to lose. Rahab was a prostitute and most likely disrespected among the community. In verse 15 we read. “‘Rahab lived in a house built into the city wall.” According to the commentator Donna Nolan Fewell in The Women’s Bible Commentary, this means that she was an outsider, because she lived far from other people, in the boundary “between the inside and the outside” of the city. Because she was an outcast, who only had her family, why would you not keep spies in you home, who might offer you a better life?

Rahab abandoned the Jericho people who might have cared even a little about Rahab. However, she decided to abandon them so she could be respected in the Jewish community.  Rahab wanted the Jews to take over her country because she wanted to belong to a better community and be more respected. When the people of Jericho did not respect her as a person, they dug their own grave. That is why she betrayed her own. Because no one can lose someone's disrespect when they never had it in the first place? She probably felt wronged and that is why she had nothing to lose.

However, this is not the case in all situations. Some people take risks who have a lot to lose. The Yarmolyuks were very respected farmers where they were living in Poland. They risked their lives to save my baby grandmother. They kept it secret from all the people who respected them, no matter the cost. So even when you are respected, why would you do something risky? After seeing these examples, this reason was not as strong as I thought. So what else makes you do something risky?

Reason 2:  Another reason someone might do something risky is because it involves someone or something they care about.

It is human nature to care for things and people. This is why when someone is in trouble, you help them out, even when the risk reward ratio is on risk’s side.  This also includes giving attention, a thing that everyone needs. They take risks that would save someone else. Some pieces in life are too good to let go, and people take risks to keep or get that thing. Vasalina and Alexander put their lives in danger to save my grandmother. They used their wits to outsmart officers trying to kill the infant.

One time, Vasalina was instructed to bring my grandmother to a field.  She came in late, made an excuse about why she was late, and then when the officer asked for the baby, Vasalina refused to give the baby up. She put her life in danger for someone else, even though she knew that she and the infant might both die.

Rahab took the risk of keeping the spies, almost getting herself killed, to save her own family. She hoped that she could save her family, the one thing she had left, by hiding these strangers. This turned out to be successful for her and for her family. She succeeded by saving her family and then got the respect of her new neighbors.

Reason 3: Faith is one reason someone might do something risky. It is the belief in someone or something that gives you the strength to do what you need to, whatever the cost. By Merriam Webster’s definition, faith is allegiance to a duty or person. When I read this definition, it reminds me of sports. No one would want to play unless you had a faith in winning the game. Rahab has faith that G-d can exist and will help Joshua and his people. This is one reason that she keeps the spies hidden. She knows that G-d will overtake her country, as she says in verse 11, “for the Eternal your G-d is G-d in heaven above and here on earth”. She has faith in G-d and that is why she later becomes one of the first converted Jews.

In the Yarmolyuk’s case, it is faith that saves my Grandmother. Because they believed my great grandparents were dead, they took her as her own daughter. They believed that she was going to be theirs forever so she was baptized. They also did this because, in their Russian Orthodox religion, they believed in doing the right thing.

After writing this, it struck me: how can anyone understand being risky by hearing a speech about it?  There needed to be something to connect it down to earth. It could be as simple as handing in a test without double checking it (which I have TOTALLY not done) or as big as jumping off a cliff. The decision could be as quick as playing a card or as long as choosing your job you love.

This also connects to our world today.  Right now, we are seeing protests pop up everywhere. Millions of people are standing up for what we believe in.They are marching to disagree with people more powerful than them. They want this world to be a better place. Why do some people take the risk of being disrespected among their neighbors to express their opinions about politics or world issues? The answer is because they know that if everyone joins and supports, the large number who protest can change the opinions of a small amount of very powerful people. Just by Picketing. Protesting, and boycotting, we can change the world.

In this country, no matter how strange it seems, the powerful people need less powerful people to do their work. If there was an army of just important people, there would be no wars won, if there were just important people providing us food, how long would we be full? Every person in this country could change the world as one. Risk would be a big part of that. If we all take the risk of standing up for immigrants, getting a healthcare bill that will guarantee everyone to be healthy, or taking a stand for global warming, a lot of things could get done. Despite everything, this is still a democracy and there is more work done by less important people. If we take these risks today, our voices can make the world a better place. It is definitely worth taking these risks, but, like Rahab and like the Yarmolyuks, you need to be to caring  and have faith to do them.

For my Mitzvah project, with the help of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, I visited a holocaust survivor. I came in wanting to know about this person's Holocaust experiences, but instead I got to learn about his triumphs, which were plentiful. This man gave me a lot more knowledge about perseverance. After coming to the US, he claimed 34 patents throughout his career, and some are still used today! Our visits were enjoyable and I really liked hearing all he had done in his lifetime. One thing that struck me, at the end of the first visit he said, “I don't want you  to feel bad for me, because if I stood in the mirror everyday thinking about how lucky I am to be alive, I would get nowhere.” He is now someone I look up to and admire for all the work he has done, as well as surviving the Holocaust.

I also went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum to help me understand more about the Holocaust. It was very touching to see the name of the people who helped my grandmother at the museum, and to light a candle in the hall of remembrance. I also was moved by Daniel's story, an exhibit to show what it was like for kids in WWII. These experiences meant a lot to me and taught me to be a Jewish adult and how to make an impact on the world. Preparing for this day taught me how to persevere through listening to the struggles of my people in the past, and having the faith that it will never happen again.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped me on my journey. I would like to thank Missy and Rabbi Penzner for helping me learn all I needed for today and giving me help whenever I needed it  I would like to thank Justin and Elijah and all my other Hebrew School teachers for helping me realize my Jewish identity. I would like to thank the HBT community for staying with me and always saying hi and how much I had grown, even if I did not know your name. I would like to thank my friends for making me happy when I needed it. I want to thank the Rolnick Lekach family for always finding time to be with me and the Levy Langner family for surrounding me with your liveliness. I would like to thank my grandpa Bernie, who taught me how to be kind to everyone, even the people that I did not like. I am also grateful for my brother, Ezra, for being the person that I could rely on when I was bored, even if that meant annoying you. I would also like to thank my mom for dealing with all my frustrations and for keeping me going, no matter what, even if I didn't want to, plus the things I did not even think about for this day. I would like to thank my dad for always keeping things light and always finding a time to joke around. I would finally like to thank all of you who could make it here today, whether from a couple blocks away or from California.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted on July 11, 2017 .

Zak Bashir

D’var Torah

By: Zak Bashir

            Shabbat Shalom!   This morning I am going to be talking about boils and skin rashes, I know it’s before lunch but bear with me.  For the past year I have been learning to chant my Torah portion Tazria –Metzora correctly, but knowing what it actually means gives me a whole new perspective on it. My Torah portion talks about what to do when faced with someone who has come down with an affliction, such as a leprous skin disease.

The one question I really wanted an answer to is how is any of this relevant to my life at all? Without looking deeper you might think this would be a pretty bland and gross topic to learn and write about. What I paid attention to though wasn’t what they said about what the diseases were like, but instead what they did to bring the person who was recovered from the disease back into the community. First the Kohen, a priest, would visit and judge a person’s illness and quarantine them for a certain amount of days, however the Kohen’s main goal was to return the person to the community. It says in the Torah that once the person has recovered they must clean their bodies and clothing and bring an offering to the sanctuary. They were required to bring a special offering of lambs or birds.  If they were poor and couldn’t bring that offering they were allowed to bring what they could afford to bring. After this they could go back and be part of the community as they were before.

The point here being that the Torah is teaching you to not be afraid of someone who had recently come down with a disease but instead to try and welcome them back into the community as best you can once they have gotten better.

Another issue related to my Torah portion is what to do when you want to visit someone who is sick. This portion meant a lot to me because I spent a lot of time visiting my grandmother when she was at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, MA.  I learned from the booklet, Give Me Your Hand about the traditional Jewish practices of visiting the sick and learned how to compare them to the modern ones. I realized that while there are many differences between the modern practices of visiting the sick and the traditional ones, there were a lot of similarities as well.

For example, I learned  that when visiting the sick talking is not necessary, and today it seems like that virtue has been retained.  I know from visiting my grandmother that often when I went to see her with my mother we might just sit and keep her company and she might sleep while we were there, but I still felt that she knew I was there and I felt good having spent that time with her. It didn’t matter if we talked or not, what was important was that I was there, and when she became sicker there were more visits like this, and I know that they were important to her and to me.

Another example has to do with the time of day that a person should visit someone who is sick.  Both the traditional and modern visiting times are very alike.  Traditionally you were not supposed to visit a sick person during the first 3 hours of the day and the last 3 hours of the day, because in the morning they usually feel the best and you might not understand how sick they are, and during the last 3 hours of the day they feel the sickest and it might make you believe they are not going to get better.  Now a days most of the time you are supposed to visit in the middle of the day not very early in the morning or late at night for reasons that are pretty much the same.  I would often go and visit with my grandmother when she was having her dinner or lunch and I would eat with her and we would bring her some of her favorite things she liked to eat.  This always seemed to be a good time to visit.

Maybe one of the most important guidance about visiting a sick person talks about touching the person.  I think there are people who might say they don’t think it is good to touch a sick person, and of course if there is a medical instruction not to than you must go by that, but both traditionally and in the modern view touching is one of the best things you can do.  I know how happy it made my grandma to hold my hand or have me give her a kiss. 

The things that I learned from spending time with my grandmother when she was sick, was how much she loved having me visit, eat with her, laugh with her.  Spending time with her motivated me to want to visit other people who are at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, but might not have someone to visit them. That is whey I have chosen that for my mitzvah project.

There are so many people who have helped me get to this day and become a bar mitzvah.  I want to thank my friends for supporting me.  I want to thank all my Hebrew school teachers throughout the years. I’d like to thank Tracy for making sure I learned all my Hebrew for today and the Rabbi for helping me with my d’var Torah.  And my mom and dad for being there my whole life and for helping through the process of becoming a bar mitzvah. 




Posted on May 24, 2017 .

Dvar Torah Rami Hayes - Messinger

Shabbat Shalom

My portion is Leviticus, Chapter 25, Behar Bechukotai. In my portion there is a lot of talk about the Jubilee and debt forgiveness. Every seventh year and in the fiftieth year you are not allowed to plant because it is the sabbatical year, a year of sabbath for the land to rest. You have to live off the stuff you made the last year and you let the land rest. Because of the sabbatical year, you are are supposed to be kind and fair in all land sales and dealings every single year, not just once every seven years. The chapter talks about not taking advantage of people especially if they are not doing well. In the jubilee year the land returns to the original owner.

As the Torah talks about jubilee and debt forgiveness and good dealings, it references how you should treat strangers. When discussing a kinsman giving themselves to you as a “slave”, “then you are to treat them well and free them if they have not yet freed themselves by the jubilee year. Resident aliens or strangers, on the other hand, are given many fewer rights. The Israelites were allowed to buy their children or a member of their family and treat them as a slave and they were to remain your property forever.

My big question for this portion is “Why do we often treat strangers badly and what can we do about it?”

            In my portion and other sections of the Torah, we are told that we were “strangers in the land of Egypt.”  So, actually no person is superior to any other and we are all strangers and must care for one another. Jews believe that when things repeat in the Torah, we know that it is because the point is really important.

The mitzvah of treating the stranger well comes up in the Torah 36 times. In Judaism 18 (which multiplied by 2 is 36) is a special number because it represents life. The mitzvah of treating the stranger well is also special because not only does it show up in the 248 mitzvot aseh --laws of things that you should do, or rather, have to do, but also in the 365 lo aseh--the laws of what not to do such as “do not oppress a stranger”

A problem is that we don’t always treat strangers well. Why is it so hard to treat strangers well? There are three well known commentators on the Torah who can help explain the problem.

One of the commentators name is Ramban, also known as Nachmanides. He lived in the 11th century in Spain and started commentating at a very young age. Ramban points to the verse in the Torah that says,”you should know that when you were strangers in Egypt, I saw the oppression… and I brought punishment upon them… “ Therefore, Ramban says this means, “do not afflict the stranger, thinking there is no one to save him. For he will be helped more than any other person”. Basically, he is saying treat the stranger well because the oppressed always win and because if you don’t God will punish you.

Another famous commentator, Rashi, was born in 1040 in France. Rashi pointed to the verse in the Torah that says,”you know the feelings of the stranger, you know how painful it is for him when you oppress him” Rashi says this that because the Israelites were oppressed in Egypt, so, now the Jews should not oppress others because they know how it feels.

The final commentator that I will be using to explain my portion is Nehama Leibowitz. She is one of the only famous female commentators. She was born in 1905 in Latvia and moved to Israel and lived until 1997. Leibowitz believes that neither Rashi’s nor Ramban’s explanations are correct by themselves but together they work. Following Rashi, she writes that oppression is a circle of abuse.

“the answer to these cycles of abuse, to appeal to the intellect and to teach people sensitivity by allowing them to learn the harmful effects of violence through a study of history.”

Leibowitz, however, also thought that some people needed another form of education which draws on Ramban’s teachings: “the only way to break the cycle of violence, by shocking such people with the realization that they will pay a high price for taking advantage of the stranger.”

So why do I think we should care for strangers and the poor? The teaching to care for the stranger is still true; it teaches us how to behave in the world.

I think that caring for the stranger is important because we all are strangers. The U.S. is built on Native American land and we came into as strangers and took it. And even before that, humans came into being and were strangers on Earth. Leo Baeck another Jewish commentator, reminds us that the Torah says,”the land is mine; for you are strangers and settlers with me.” (Leviticus 25:23) So all of us are strangers on the land.

I personally connect to Nehama Leibowitz’s teachings the most. When I enter a new place, even when everyone is new, not knowing anybody and being different can make me feel like a stranger. Sometimes being in somebody’s place actually increases the oppression because you want that person to feel how much pain you had to go through. But empathy and the consequences of your actions can make you see clearly. 

Because I believe in caring about strangers, for my mitzvah project I chose to learn and teach about caring for immigrants. I first thought about the idea of my mitzvah project when I went to a workshop with my mom about sanctuary and sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities that won’t comply with ICE which is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If a city is not a sanctuary city, then the local law enforcement help out ICE by reporting people who they think might be undocumented immigrants and detaining them for ICE to question. Sanctuary cities on the other hand do not help ICE with their job. Sanctuaries are places of worship, like synagogues and churches. Law enforcement has not been allowed to enter a sanctuary in the past, so they are good safe havens.

I also went to an Islamophobia workshop. One of the interesting things I learned there is about how to deal with confrontations and how to be an “upstander” instead of a “bystander”.

What I decided to do was to make a learning session about what sanctuary and sanctuary cities are and about how we can help the immigrant community by changing the narrative about immigrants. When I think about the immigrants I know, I think about somebody helping to take care of my grandfather, a friendly loving father, and a family friend. When you hear or think about immigrants, what or who do you think about?

For me, when you care about an issue, it is important to take action. I have written a petition to Governor Charlie Baker urging him to support passing the Safe Communities Act. There is information about my petition in your program. It would be very helpful if people would sign it, especially kids as I believe it will make an even greater impact. I hope to get 500 signatures and to deliver them to Governor Baker in June.

In conclusion, I would like to say some thank yous.

First off I would like to thank Tracy my Bar Mitzvah tutor, she helped me to believe that I could learn my whole portion.

I would like to thank Justin for being a great Hebrew School teacher and all of my past Hebrew School teachers.

I would like to thank my friends for always making me happy.

I’d like to thank my sister for being so full of ideas about everything and always giving my spirit a boost.

I would like to thank my parents, they are always so supportive and loving even though I can be difficult.

Lastly I would like to thank you all for coming.

Shabbat shalom!

Posted on May 24, 2017 .

Nathan Rosenlev D'Vr Torah -- Parshat Kedoshim

Shabbat Shalom.

Near my house there’s a pond where my brother and I always loved to go. We would catch all sorts of things there: crayfish, frogs, snails, salamanders, fish, etc. But we never took home any of the things we caught. At the end of our hunting spree, we would look at all the things in our bucket, pick up all the frogs we caught (we always remembered whose was whose), and release them back into the water. One time when we went down there, we met a kid who caught an obese frog. Not just any obese frog, this was obese, obese. Its sides went out to here, and it was really tall. He gave it to us. After we got it, we held it, and then we let it go back into the water.

My portion is Kedoshim.  This portion deals with laws, how to be holy, and all those things that grownups face. The law that I’m dealing with today is about the environment, specifically how we are supposed to treat the earth.  One law says:

“When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before the LORD and only in the fifth year may you use its fruit…” (Leviticus 19:23-25) 

Posted on July 5, 2016 .

Naomi Bethune D'var Torah--Parshat Bereishit: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8

Shabbat Shalom. Today is a very special day and I am so glad you are all here to share it with me. But I want to talk about something serious. Have you ever wondered why God sent the flood? Why did God not warn people that if they kept on being evil they would die? Why didn’t God give them a chance?    

My Torah Portion is Bereishit, from Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah. In this portion, God says that God will wipe out the whole world in a giant flood because of all the evil and badness God saw in people. But not all people were bad...”Noah found favor with the Lord.” He was very dedicated to God and responded to God by following God’s instructions to make an ark to save animals and his family from the flood.

Posted on November 2, 2015 .

Nathaniel Coben D'var Torah-- Parshat Shelach Lecha (June 13, 2015)

    Shabbat Shalom, everyone. Have you ever had a moment where you were ungrateful for something, not realizing how important it is?  I sure have, and I’m sure many of you have as well.  Picture this: your grandma gives you a sweater that she knit. It says, “I love my grandma,” in the center of a heart.  You roll your eyes. “Uh, thanks,” you might say, imagining how embarrassing it would be to wear it around. People might then only know you as “Grandma’s Boy,” or something.  Cool name, right?  You forget that in another situation, that sweater might be the only thing you have to wear in the cold weather.  It’s something to be grateful for not just because of the practicality, but also because of the care and work that went into crafting it.  (And no, my grandparents wouldn’t actually make me an embarrassing sweater.)   In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Sh’lach l’cha, the Israelites took for granted a gift given to them just as you and I might.

Posted on June 15, 2015 .

Zoe Kronberg D'var Torah -- Parshat Shemot (January 10, 2015)

Shabbat Shalom

I want us to think about what Shifrah and Puah, the characters in today’s Torah portion, teach us about Ferguson Missouri.

My Torah portion consists of the first chapters in Shemot, or Exodus as it’s known in English. 

In the beginning of my portion, the Hebrew people were in Egypt, enslaved. 

The pharaoh told all the midwives to kill Hebrew baby boys because the Egyptians were afraid that the Hebrews would become so numerous that they would take Egypt away from the Egyptians. 

There were two midwives who helped the Hebrew women give birth -  Shifrah and Puah  - and these midwives were smart, street smart.   Shifrah and Puah defied Pharaoh’s order.

Why did Shifrah and Puah defy the Pharaoh?  The Torah says they defied Pharaoh because they feared God.

Posted on January 15, 2015 .

Jonathan Stolow D'var Torah -- Parshat Vayera (November 8, 2014)

Shabbat shalom!

You know you’re grown up when jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as "dressed up."

The portion I read from today is Vayera. In the portion Abraham is visited by three strangers which I’ll explain in depth in a couple minutes. He invites them inside and serves them food and water. He then sees them on their way. A short time later G-d tells Abraham that he plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads with G-d not to destroy the city if there are 50 innocents in the city. He then bargains all the way down to the point where G-d promises not to destroy the city for the sake of 10 innocents.

Posted on November 18, 2014 .

Morgana Frost D'var Torah -- Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech (25 Elul 5774/September 20, 2014)

Shabbat shalom.

Every once in a while, something happens that really makes you wonder why. Why do Jews study Judaism? Why is there suffering, pain? Why do we become Bar and Bat Mitzvahs? Going through the whole process of preparing for my bat Mitzvah, those were some of the questions I asked. I think I learned what this ritual is about, even the suffering and pain part. It gives you a chance to achieve something. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it is worth it--if you can find an optimistic state of mind.

My portion is Nitzavim-Vayelech. In these two combined portions, Moses talks to the Israelites. They have yet to reach the Promised Land, but Moses knows he will die before they arrive. His main struggle is to find his optimistic state of mind. There’s no denying his upcoming death, so what can he do to accept it?

Posted on October 29, 2014 .

Ben Reinstein D'var Torah--Parshat Noah (Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan/October 25, 2014)

Shabbat shalom. I want talk about some of the questions about how righteous a person Noah really was. One of the questions that comes up is, did Noah do enough by building the ark and saving his family and the animals as God commanded? Should he have done more?

In one of the commentaries that I was reading, the eighteenth-century Chasidic master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk said that there are two different kinds of tzadikim. One of them is “genuinely righteous” and the other is a phony tzadik. Both of them are like people who are suffering a cold winter and need to keep warm.  Rabbi Elimelech taught, “One will go out and collect wood for a fire.” And the other one “will wrap himself in his fur coat.” The one who starts the fire “invites others to warm themselves in the fire. He not only warms himself but others too”  while the other “tzadik” in the fur coat is only warming himself, and the others around him will freeze.  

Posted on October 29, 2014 .

Matt Reinstein D'var Torah--Parshat Noah (Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan/October 25, 2014)

Shabbat shalom. Man. Nine months studying. I was NOT excited to begin. But now I realize that it’s not about what you do or sing for your preparation. My tutor who is also  my cousin, Rabbi Victor Reinstein, told me that it’s all about the experience and that you learn “man, that wasn’t that hard.” And he was right. I learned that if you just learn the strategy and the way to do things, it’s going to be easy.

Our portion was the story of Noah (If you couldn’t understand all the Hebrew I was singing, I’m going to give you a summary). If you don’t know the story of Noah, it’s about this guy named Noah who receives this message from God. God says because the world is so corrupt, he will destroy the earth by a flood. And Noah’s just standing there like, “Huh?” he doesn’t know what God’s talking about! So Noah, who’s completely baffled, has to create an ark to hold 2 of each animal in the world so there can be a world filled with animals after the flood.

Posted on October 29, 2014 .