My father’s three brothers never spoke to each other during the second half of their lives. Each of them spoke to my father, but not to each other. I think of them now, as we conclude the book of Genesis with the end of the variegated story of Joseph and his brothers. (The real story beyond “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”) Remember, as a young man, Joseph spied on his brothers for their father, Jacob. This and the lopsided favoritism that Jacob showed to Joseph caused the brothers to leave Joseph for dead, in a bloody pit. (Note that Jacob so favored Joseph because he so resembled Rachel, his mother, Jacob’s beloved wife who died young and for whom he mourned for the rest of his life.) In fact, the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah are filled with competition, jealousy, intrigue, joy, and heartbreak.
In his psychological study of our Biblical forbearers, Rabbi Professor Norman Cohen describes them as dysfunctional families. Dr. Cohen uses the insights of the Rabbis who held that we are meant to learn from their mistakes and shortcomings, and are meant to use these insights to uplift our own family life. These tales of conflict and resolution, envy and love, are based on the human condition and experience. Beyond family, the Rabbis suggested that these stories can help us mend fractious relations with friends and with business and professional contacts.
My three uncles were too welded and wedded to their version of trespasses that had occurred in the past to utilize these family teachings from the book of Genesis. They knew them. They were well schooled in Torah. More, they were all lovely men. (All three spoke to me as well, but not to each other.) After the “fallout,” all of those cousins never interacted with each other.
Sadly, the brothers attended my grandparents’ funerals, and the funeral of my father, without exchanging a word to each other. There is a sad family scene that I remember that is as Biblical in its intensity. Reform Shivah services were held at my parents’ home in the evening. In the morning, my uncles and I went to the traditional Minyan at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where my father had become Bar Mitzvah.
We stood in a line in the same pew, entrapped in tallesim, and with arms wound with the black leather straps with a black box attached, a black box on a strap between the eyes. Four Jewish men with prayer books in hand. My uncles came to support me. They came to honor my father’s memory. Yet between them was resolute silence, it seemed, of biblical proportion. Yet like the fraternal enemies Isaac and Esau who came together at the Cave of Machpelah, in silence, in the morning mist, to bury their father Abraham, so much potential was lost by these brothers who did not speak to each other.
Why do I tell you the story of my uncles? Because the story is sadder than it is embarrassing. And, it’s sad that some of us remain cut off from a family member or friends because of some slight, real or perceived. Or, because of old narratives.
My uncles were bright accomplished men who could not, would not, learn from the dysfunctional families described in the Book of Genesis. Both my father and I, in turn, tried to effect reconciliation, and could not. So, Rabbi Professor Cohen, and the Rabbis of our tradition, point to these stories from the Book of Genesis and ask what reconciliation we need to do in our own lives?
Reconciliation is not always easy to achieve. Words are often not enough. At times we must wait for the person who feels wronged to feel ready to be able to respond. Having made the gesture, at times we must have patience and understanding.
Even if we are the aggrieved party. Especially if we are the aggrieved. In this time of Covid-19, when life seems so fragile, there may not be time or luxury for what psychologists call family or friend “cut offs.” Forgiveness and reconciliation are blessings that we can give ourselves. Yes, some were hurt so much that the pain will not yet allow forgiveness. Yet, a commanding presence in Jewish teaching says, be a Rodef shalom, a pursuer of peace. In the twilight of Covid-19, perhaps each of us can become a Rodef shalom. At the end of Genesis, Joseph and his brothers, in tears, reconnect in blessing. He will provide for his brothers, and they promise to take his remains back to Canaan to be buried with the family. My uncles were frozen in their way.
It has taken me decades to reconnect most of the cousins; not all. But we need not be frozen. We can mend ties with family and friends.
If not now, when?
Rabbi Fred Pomerantz
Happy New Year! I am sure that we all share the same heartfelt wishes for 2021: good health, an end to the pandemic, and the joy of spending time with friends and family, in person, once again.
This is – we all hope – the last leg of this challenging era. When it’s over and we look in the rear view mirror, what will we see? Certainly, it has been difficult and there has been loss. But there have been remarkable developments as well. Society’s advances will be well documented but this is a good time to think about our own personal advances: those we have accomplished and those we want to accomplish. There is still time!
From the perspective of Agudas Achim, I am very proud of how we have grown. The monthly Zoom Shabbats have become a vehicle for a true community for many of us. Some of us gather at 7 pm for some chatting before services and then Rabbi Pomerantz and the Levins provide lively meaning to the service. For those of you that have not Zoomed in, I hope you do this month. From the comfort of your living room (or your bedroom or your basement!) you can put your feet up, relax and enjoy. The feeling of community that the virtual evening provides is surprising in how it gives a sense of belonging to a group that has a foundation of similar rituals and beliefs. I look forward to “seeing” you on the 8th.
Upcoming Zoom Shabbat Services * All begin at 7:30 p.m.
THANK YOU, DON SIMKIN
For more than 30 years Don Simkin and his late wife, Ellen Singer, have guided and led Agudas Achim through many transitions. Don steps up when needed and never says “no” when asked. He’s an integral part of the leadership team and the congregation has been enriched in so many ways by his contributions. In addition to his support of the educational program, he recently made a substantial donation to our endowment fund helping to secure the future of Agudas Achim.
Thank you, Don, for everything you do. You are a true Mensch.
Traditions & Tales #3
by Karen Blocker
And So, They Came
And so, they came! The immigrants of the Great Jewish Migration numbered well over two million. Between the 1820’s to the end of the mid 1920’s, mostly poor, small town “shtetl” (village) dwellers from Eastern Europe, my ancestors among them, arrived to the “Goldena Medina,” the Golden Land, America! Nearly all settled in the big cities, mainly on the Atlantic coast with a huge number in New York City. Because a Jewish community existed in the Lower East Side of New York City, Jews from other ports of entry gravitated there as well.
The Lower East Side, with much squalor and sickness, consisted of tall structures of brick and wood with narrow windows and doors, small courtyards, and tiny living quarters. This reality was in sharp contrast to the expectations of these victims of the chilling pogroms. My mother and grandmother often shared their fearful experiences in Europe- huddled in corners, terrified. Two young brothers were also lost in those conflicts. Yet the Jews of the Lower East Side did find a sense of relief and joy in their new locale. Katz’s Delicatessen, now on Houston Street, was often a meeting place for fellow Jews from the same geography of Europe, “Landsmen.”
Katz’s Deli, as it was termed, established in 1888 by the Iceland Brothers, brought the foods of the homeland to the new land: smoked meats, traditional soups and side dishes, and exceptional pickles. Through the years, Katz’s served up comfort with a side order of nostalgia. “Send a salami to your boy in the Army” and the memorable movie line, “I’ll have what she’s having!” from When Harry Met Sally (romantic comedy from 1989) continued to keep Katz’s in the hearts of Americans.
My husband’s grandmother lived ’round the corner on the first long floor of the building she and her husband managed as superintendents, responsible for feeding the coal furnace for the building among other maintenance tasks. As a young boy, my husband would visit very often and would sit in the large window seat and wait for his mother to complete her shift at a local fruit and vegetable market. Katz’s was “home” for us and three or more generations with huge pastrami sandwiches, incredible knishes, French fries from heaven and numerous regular treats. And that window seat melded with Grandma, Grandpa, and, of course, Katz’s!
And years passed. Leaving the East Side, our family moved to the “mountains,” our Catskills. Recently, my husband and I visited the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. Part of the The Tenement Museum is an actual tenement found as it was left when the last resident moved out and it is furnished as it was in those early days of Jewish immigration. After an incredible and memorable Katz’s lunch (a pastrami sandwich now still a delight, even at $23), we thoughtfully walked around the corner to Grandma Dora’s tenement building. My husband sought that familiar entry bell. He quickly recognized the doorway, but it was now heavily secured with iron gates. He then glanced upward to find that treasured window seat of long ago. It was then that I noticed a small tear rolling down his cheek, landing on a lifetime of memories of the window near Katz’s to the beauty of the Catskills we call home today. Such a journey.
If you have a family tradition or tale to share, please call Karen at 845-796-0892 or email her YOUR story to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to share your contributions in future newsletters or even in a special edition newsletter!
Thank you for your donations!
(see below for a special thank-you)
Remembering and Thanking Norman Bachrach
Norm Bachrach was a part of the Livingston Manor community for most of his life. He married Joan Schwartz and even after they divorced, he stayed in the area, remarried and worked with his son, Mark, in the accounting firm of Bachrach and Waschitz. Sadly, Mark passed away this past year as well. In his will, Norman left a generous donation to Agudas Achim. We are grateful that he committed a portion of his estate to the future of the congregation and will remember him for that generosity.
In case you missed our 11/30/2020 presentation
Eric Mendelsohn – Synagogue Architect with a Vision
A recording of Michael Palmer’s November 30 presentation: Eric Mendelsohn: Synagogue Architect with a Vision is available on our website. www.congregationagudasachim.org. Click on the Events tab on the Home Page and drop down and click on Past Events. The link to the recording is at the end of the article.
SPONSOR AN ONEG – No schlepping necessary!
In an era when we are not meeting in person, our zoom Shabbats have been a silver lining. Friends and family have joined us from all over the country for a relaxed Sabbath service. You can still do a mitzvah and sponsor one of the evenings in honor of a special event in your life; a birthday, an anniversary, the birth of a family member….anything that brings you joy.
Multiple families can share their special occasions for each Oneg since we have a limited number of Shabbat services. We will post each family’s name and the special event that evening and in the newsletter associated with that Shabbat.
Please consider choosing a Shabbat, email us the information (the occasion to be honored or remembered) by the first of that month, and send us a donation (See below for how to donate). email@example.com
Make a donation
There are many parts of our lives to remember with a donation. There are also certain funds into which you may choose to donate particularly: Hebrew School, Endowment Fund, Cemetery Fund, mailing costs, Mitzvah Fund, and Tzedakah fund. Consider donating $36 for either a chair, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur prayer book. Checks should be made payable to Congregation Agudas Achim and mailed to mail to PO Box 714 Livingston Manor, NY 12758. Or, donate by credit card by clicking on the green “Donate Now” button.
We do so much with so few people. We could use your help. Want to write a column for the newsletter? Want to develop a plan for outreach? Have other ideas? Join us!
And, of course, providing the monthly services requires funding. Any donation you can make would help. Please remember us so that we can continue to be a Jewish presence in the community.
Donations can be made in someone’s honor or memory via check or by going to our website (congregationagudasachim.org) and clicking where indicated in the purple section of the homepage. Or, see the green “Donate Here” button above.
The annual meeting of Congregation Agudas will be held at 2:00 pm, Sunday January 15. All members are encouraged and welcome to attend (virtually). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link. Officers will be elected, a treasurer’s report will be given and an overview of the status of the congregation will be provided.
Our own happiness is up to us!
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