Thursday, June 28, 2012

In Case You Missed It...

Hello, readers. Some of you might be finding us for the first time. If you're new to this blog, or you've only read here and there, take a minute to review this recap, and check out what you might have missed:

Ancient Synagogue in Calabria Comes to Light
Read about the ancient synagogue discovered in Southern Italy. Led by Professor Enrico Tromba, an archeological team revealed this buried treasure unknown to the region's modern day community.

Seniors Make Their Own Western Wall
Residents of Kobernick House in Sarasota, Florida constructed their very own "Western Wall" by hand. Far beyond an arts and crafts project, this homemade replica brought something so special a little closer to home. 

Learn about this Sephardi Pesach celebration! With good food, family, and friends, you may just decide to make Mimouna part of your traditions.

Jewish Seniors Reach Out to Jewish Soliders
Senior citizens of western Florida connected with Jewish soldiers in Afghanistan. Read about the fine work of Project M.O.T., and the difference these Seniors made for Jewish soldiers overseas.

"I'm Italian, Could I Be Jewish?"
If you've ever asked this question, then this is the post for you. The Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria offers a wealth of information and resources on this very subject.

Torah Comes to Sicily
Read more about this milestone for Sicilian Anouism. The dedication of this Torah is particularly noteworthy because it marks a rebirth for Jewish practice for this Palermo community.

The Mezuzah on Your Mezuzah
Have you always wondered about the history of that little marker on your door frame? Some of what you read may surprise you and make you take a second, loving look at a ubiquitous tradition.

Keeping up with Kippot
The kippah is more than a round piece of cloth or leather; like so many Jewish traditions, it carries with it great history and significance.

Dalida`: The Extraordinary Singer’s Calabrian Jewish Roots
Recognized around this world for her talent and beauty, this singer brought her Jewish heritage to the stage. For these reasons and more, we in Calabria are proud to claim her as "one of us."

Pluralistic Judaism
A new approach to Judaism for the modern individual and today's family. With openness and acceptance, Pluralistic Judaism embraces all who wish to connect with their Jewish heritage and feel at home within a vibrant Jewish practice.

Tiny Travelling Torah
A small-but-remarkable Torah makes its journey to Jamaica for a June Bat Mitzvah. This sacred text may be miniature, but don't judge it by its size.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tiny Travelling Torah

Bat Mitzvah of Chloe A.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
June 9, 2010

The small Torah from which Chloe read (pictured here in Chloe's arms) was inscribed in south central Europe, possibly in Slovenia or Romania in the years prior to 1880. We know this because after 1880, Rabbis defined the exact dimensions of a scroll and no longer accepted the smaller Torah scrolls as kosher.

These smaller scrolls were made for a particular family and for a specific reason. They were used for travel so that wealthy or very observant Jews could carry a Torah with them for study or teaching.

During times of persecution these scrolls became even more important. In times of great oppression advancing armies would persecute Jews, taking their treasures and destroying ritual items. Historians credit the women of this period as the real Torah heroes, because they were the ones given the responsibility of hiding a Torah scroll--perhaps this very scroll--under their coats or beneath their clothing.

The mantle on our traveling Torah tells another story. It is made from a fiber found in the mountains of Calabria, on a hillside near our synagogue, where Alex, Chloe’s older brother, became Bar Mitzvah last year. The mantle was designed and made by local seamstress, Rossella.

The fiber comes from a beautiful yellow-flowering plant called ginestra. The Jews of our area were the ones to discover the special uses for ginestra, and they encouraged the entire community to gather the ginestra branches. Once gathered, the branches were tied with string and placed in a copper pot of boiling water. After an hour or so, the branches were submerged in the river and held down in the flowing water by a little mountain of rocks. Then, the ginestra branches were left to soften in the river for one whole week.

After the soft fibers were stripped out of the branches and dried, the ladies would comb them between a nail-studded board. These fibers were then fed through a spindle and finally woven into a very coarse fabric, which would be used to to make mats, blankets, bags, sacks and coverings of all kinds. 

This is a piece of ginestra from which the fringe on the Torah mantle was made. These very pieces were woven 130 years ago.

Later on, the Jews introduced the locals to the art of cultivating silk worms and spinning a softer, more pliable cloth, but the art of making ginestra fabric continues in the Calabrian hills to this day. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pluralistic Judaism

When our sages taught about the destruction of the first and second Temples, they made it clear that these tragedies occurred for vastly different reasons (Talmud, Yoma 9B).  Sexual immorality, wanton murder and idol worship brought about the demise of the first Temple.

The second Temple, however, was destroyed for one reason alone. In Hebrew it is called “sinat chinam,” a phrase that means hatred without cause. No matter that the Jews of the day studied Torah, observed the mitzvot and donated to charitable causes. None of those activities could ameliorate their despicable personal behavior one to another.

Synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud.
The more traditionally observant Jews would slander their fellow Jews for holding differing beliefs, and more “modern” Jews would point the finger at those whose halachic observance was not the same as their own. Jews from other sects were gossiped about and their beliefs and customs ridiculed. Jews embarrassed one another in public. For this the second Temple was destroyed. Yet, because we Jews seem to continue to engage in “sinat chinam,” baseless hatred of one another, the second Temple has yet to be rebuilt.

The number of Jews worldwide is declining, synagogue membership is at a new low and denominational differences that often result in synagogue snobbery has driven many Jews away from traditional observance an belief. 

Yet, in the face of all of these difficulties, it would seem that a new openness might emerge. One might expect that we Jews would set our specific denominational differences aside and widen our embrace of Jews of all stripes and colors. It would seem that the timing couldn’t be better for a Pluralistic approach.

Italian children with Jewish roots celebrate Shavuot in Timpone.
Pluralistic Judaism is based on the Jewish concept of Tarbut HaMachloket, which, in Hebrew means “freedom of thinking and speech,” and includes behaviors which help Jews of all backgrounds live successfully alongside those Jews with whom one might not agree.

Tarbut HaMachloket has roots in ancient times when conflicting views of Judaism were represented by polar opposites, the houses of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.  Hillel’s more liberal views often took precedence over Shammai’s more strict interpretations, however the sages emphasized that both views, although sometimes contrary, were valid.

The Seven Fundamentals of Pluralistic Judaism

Pluralistic Judaism offers a practical application of Tarbut HaMalchloket in the following ways: 

Pluralistic Judaism is open and welcoming to Jews of all backgrounds. This means that all Jews who attend a pluralistic synagogue can expect the full participation of women and the hand of Jewish welcome extended to interfaith families, gay and lesbian partners and their children. A pluralistic synagogue respects traditionally observant Jews who are made to feel at home alongside Jews who are new to or returning to synagogue observance. The pluralistic synagogue welcomes B’nei Anusim, Jews from lost or hidden communities, marranos and conversos, who are beginning to discover and embrace their Jewish roots.

Pluralistic Judaism is non-denominational. This means that the Pluralistic synagogue does not subscribe to any particular stream of Judaism, but is open to the thoughts and ideas of each denomination.  Pluralistic Judaism respects each person’s background and ascribes to the philosophy that “labels are for the jelly-jars, not the Jews.”

Interfaith wedding, Cristina and Aaron.
Pluralistic Judaism does not distinguish between those who are born Jewish and those who are Jews-by-Choice.  Those who are born Jewish and those who have chosen Judaism are equal and are treated as such by the pluralistic rabbi and congregation.

Pluralistic Judaism is organizationally independent and is not affiliated with any Jewish organization or umbrella establishment. There is no bureaucracy or hierarchy. This means that each individual pluralistic synagogue organizes services, festivals and life cycle events to meet the needs of the group.

Pluralistic Judaism asks that each synagogue be self-supporting. There are no set dues or fees. Instead the pluralistic synagogue follows in the tradition of Moses when he asked for donations to support the building of the mishkan; “give when your heart is moved.” The rabbi often holds employment outside the synagogue, and serves her/his pluralistic community on an ad hoc basis. The pluralistic synagogue often shares space with an existing community organization or meets in private homes, always paying its own way as it goes.  

Samantha G. carries the Torah on her Bat Mitzvah.
Pluralistic Judaism respects the Jewish traditions surrounding the Hebrew language. This means that services will include common local language of the congregants as well as some Hebrew but no one need be a Hebrew speaker or Hebrew language expert in order to participate. Hebrew transliteration is accepted as a legitimate first step on the road to Hebrew understanding.

Pluralistic Judaism respects Halakah (Jewish law). In the pluralistic synagogue Jewish law is explained and each person makes her/his own choice as to level of observance. Pluralistic Judaism acknowledges that the word “halakah” is based in the Hebrew root, “holech,” which means “to walk.” Thus halakah is a changing phenomenon, implying that Jewish law moves forward and embraces new knowledge.

Pluralistic Judaism – One Synagogue’s Mission

Pluralistic Judaism is dedicated to achieving a balance between Jewish tradition and new ideas so that Judaism becomes and remains relevant to modern life. We subscribe to the joyful aspects of Jewish observance and we dedicate ourselves to maintaining warm relationships with each other and with the larger community. We extend the hand of Jewish welcome to everyone. We support Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place, and we leave individual political beliefs, parties and persuasions at the door. We respect the land of Israel and honor those Jews who live there as well as those who choose to live in the Diaspora. Our pluralistic synagogue, Ner Tamid del Sud in the south of Italy, offers a home to every Jew.