April 17, 2014   17 Nisan 5774
Union Temple of Brooklyn, NY
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Twelve Years a Slave  

Rabbi Goodman

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE. . . . This year's Oscar for Best Picture went to TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE. The movie is based on the autobiographical account of Solomon Northup, a free black man from Saratoga, NY. A loving husband and father, Solomon played the violin for a living, and was well liked and respected by his employers, neighbors and friends, and deeply loved by his wife and children. In the year 1841, he was lured to dinner on the pre-text of a musical opportunity. Instead, he was drugged and kidnapped by mercenaries, who sold him to southern slave masters. One day he had a nice life; the next day he awoke in chains. During the twelve years that followed, Solomon was subjected to uni-maginable cruelty and abuse. Yet he was determined not only to survive, but to retain his dignity as a human being. And then, by quirk of fate, he met a Canadian abolitionist do-ing some carpentry work on the plantation. The man believed Solomon's story, and contacted Solomon's for-mer employer in Saratoga, NY. After twelve horrific years, Solomon was freed. He returned to his home, and reunited with his wife and children, now parents themselves.

A must-see. . . . Every single one of us should see this movie. It is powerfully produced and acted. But even more, it is a sobering reminder to us as Americans of this profoundly shameful chapter in our history, which lasted for some three centuries. It is mind-boggling now to contemplate the fact that the very nation that was founded upon the principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was the same nation that perpetrated these brutal crimes against humanity, and for so long. And the legacy of racism still lingers. . . .

Our own story. . . . We Jews, as a people, have been subjected to cruelty, brutality, exclusion and persecution, often by societies that purported to be enlightened and sophisticated. The formative experience for us, of course, was our people's enslavement in Egypt, and miraculous redemption, as it is recounted in the Torah. Each year on the night of Passover we are commanded to rehearse our story of bondage and redemption as though we ourselves had been slaves in Egypt. It is meant as an instructional story for us. We all know that the "Four Questions" are meant to stimulate interest for our children. But we too are encouraged to ask ques-tions of each other on that night, in order to stimulate our thinking and collective introspection as a people. Yes, we also have had our problems in America, and have had to fight against anti-Semitism and bigotry. Nevertheless, by and large we have enjoyed a level of success here in the United States, intellectually, eco-nomically, culturally and politically, that is unprecedented in history. Jews without America, and America without Jews, are both unthinkable equations. American Jews have been in the forefront of every major move-ment of social and political change. In no small measure, this is due to our having so thoroughly internalized and embraced the message of Passover. Whether or not we interpret the miracles as literal occurrences is im-material. The point is the instructional value of the story for us as our sacred history. The texts of the Torah and Haggadah are meant to remind us that because we as a people have known brutality and abuse, deprivation and oppression, we above all should stand up in the world to help other human beings who are now oppressed, whatever their religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, or age. In our own time we have inherited an addi-tional mission - the mission of "never again." But "never again" cannot mean "for Jews only." To mean any-thing at all it must mean "never again" for any child of God.

Bound together. . . . The close ties between the Jewish and African American communities have been fos-tered by the commonalities of our historic experiences, and our religious beliefs and sensibilities. Our com-munities built a strong relationship in this country. No doubt that relationship has been tested from time to time. But it is our responsibility to keep it alive, not only because of our past, but because of the task that yet lies before us. The ultimate message of Passover is our messianic vision of a world of justice, compassion, and peace. When we pose questions to each other and generate our conversations at our Sedarim this coming Passover, let's remember to direct at least a portion of our thoughts to that message.

From house to house, A Ziessen Pesach.

-Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman

Please Remember the Passover Appeal

I hope you will contribute to the New York Board of Rabbis’ Annual Passover Appeal on behalf of tens of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers who are in need. Please make out a check to "Union Temple" and ear-mark it "Passover Appeal" and send it or bring it to the Temple Office. Or, you may contribute online:

(1) www.uniontemple-donate.org

(2) Scroll down to "Additional Options"

(3) "Designate your donation to a specific program or fund"

(4) Type in "Passover Appeal."

This is a great mitzvah, and will sweeten Passover this year for so many of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Many kind thanks. . . . LHG

Mi Shebeirach for an Aliyah  

The Mi Shebeirach blessing has become a regular feature of our services. Mi Shebeirach means “The One who blessed.” It begins: Mi Shebeirach avoteinu, Avraham, Yitzhak, v’Ya’akov, v’imoteinu, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel, v’Leah... Hu y’vareich et… “May the One who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bestow Your blessing upon ... and so on.”

Though most often we have recited Mi Shebeirach for those who are ill, our liturgy actually provides different Mi Shebeirach texts for various occasions. There are blessings at an aufruf for a bride and groom; blessings for new parents and blessings for their babies; and indeed, blessings for each person who is given the honor of being called the Torah to recite the Torah blessing - the honor that we call an Aliyah (going up to the Torah). The Torah blessings are completed, and then the Mi Shebeirach is recited by the Rabbi or Cantor.

While earlier generations of Reform Jews preferred to excise all these “Mi Shebeirachs” from the service, often out of a general anxiety about needlessly elongating the liturgy, our own generation has shown a marked preference for putting them back in. There is a general sense that it is important to acknowledge and bless people in their lives: whether as a prayer for a restoration to health, or in the joy of a new baby, an impending marriage, or for the honor of being called to the Torah.

Our new siddur, MISHKAN T’FILAH, has inserted a Mi Shebeirach for an Aliyah, which essentially is the traditional text. Some of the members of our Religious Practices Committee found the traditional wording objectionable from a theological standpoint, so I took the liberty of rewriting the blessing. The translation of the text now reads:

May the One Who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless ________ (son)(daughter) of _________ who has ascended to the Torah, with good health, happiness, prosperity and peace; with wisdom and understanding, with the love of Torah and reverence for the Divine. And let us say Amen.

We have used this already at Shabbat Morning services, and it seems to be well received by those in attendance, and appreciated by those who have been called for an aliyah. Thus, the next time you happen to be at a morning service, you’ll hear this Mi Shebeirach in addition to the one for healing. We hope you will enjoy the addition of this blessing. Though it adds little more than a few seconds to the service, it holds considerable significance for those being blessed, and their families.

Blessings to all –

-Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman

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