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Lobby Pressure (Pre-Purim Parody of Surface Pressure, Encanto)

Front Lobby Pressure (parody of Surface Pressure, Encanto)

 

We’re the strong ones, we’re not nervous

We’re as tough as the crust of the cha-llah is

 

We move ha-arts, we move shu-uls

And we kvell ’cause we know what our worth is

 

We don’t ask how hard the work is

Got volunteers for every purpose

Zoomdalah, and youth groups, classes, and kiddush

Our member-ship’s growing, Ner Tamid is glowing

But

Under the surface

I feel meshugah-as

a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus

Under the surface

Was David ever like “Yo, I don’t want to fight Golias?”

Under the surface

I’m pretty sure we’re worthless; toilets’ out of service

A flaw and a crack

The straw in the stack

That breaks the lobby’s back

What breaks the lobby’s back it’s –

 

Leaking like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa

Carpet’s tearing like a rip, rip, rip ’till it just goes pop, whoa

If you think you’re old, our lobby’s older

Decades of wear and tear it can’t shoulder

Who are we if we don’t have a front hall?

 

If we stick with –

Styles that were hip, hip, hip, 60 years ago, whoa

Bathrooms like a jail, jail, jail, how would I know, whoa

If you think you’re old, our lobby’s older

Decades of wear and tear it can’t shoulder

Who are we if we don’t have a front hall?

If we falter

 

Under the surface, I hide my nerves, fallen plaques gonna hurt us

Under the surface, The shul doesn’t swerve, despite the big bu-dget

Under the surface, I think about our purpose, can we somehow preserve this?

Our building’s dominoes

A light wind blows

You try to stop it tumbling

But on and on it goes

 

But wait –

If we could raise some big donations for renovations

Would that free some room up for G-d

Torah, and prayer, or time together,

Instead we measure this growing pressure

Keeps growing, keep going

‘Cause our whole roof is

Leaking like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa

Glass is cracking like a crack, crack, crack ’till it just goes

pop, whoa

If you think you’re old, our lobby’s older

Decades of wear and tear it can’t shoulder

Who are we if we can’t raise the cash?

 

If we stick with –

Styles that were hip, hip, hip, 60 years ago, whoa

Bathrooms like a jail, jail, jail, how would I know, whoa

If you think you’re old, our lobby’s older

Decades of wear and tear it can’t shoulder

Who are we if we can’t raise the cash?

All it takes

Please help us raise,

No pressure!

Sign up today to help! https://web.causematch.com/sign-up/ner-tamid

Encanto, Amaleik, and Intergenerational Trauma Parshas Zachor

A couple of weeks ago, my children were off from school, and they decided to have a family movie night. I usually skip these and get some work done, but my children persuaded me to join them on the couch. I gave in, but of course, I decided that whatever it was we were going to watch was going to be made into a sermon.

They decided to watch Encanto, which I thought was perfect. I was especially excited to learn that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music – for those of you with a good memory, you may recall that a few years ago, on the Shabbos before Purim, I wrote some Purim-themed lyrics to his music, utterly embarrassing myself in front of you all.

I was excited to do so again.

But there was a problem, two problems actually. The first problem is that it’s kind of a serious movie. I finished the movie and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Wow, that’s a perfect analogy to the Holocaust.” I’m a real killjoy sometimes. My whole family just looked at me like I was crazy, but really, I cannot think of a better analogy to Holocaust survival. We’ll come back to that.

The other problem is that apparently half of you haven’t seen the movie.

Which is kind of awkward. Your rabbi is not supposed to consistently know more pop culture than all of you. You’re making me look bad. You know, maybe you should have gotten a rabbi from YU after all…

Since half of you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick summary. Encanto is a story about a family with superpowers. There is Camilo, he shapeshifts. Then there’s Bruno, he’s like a prophet. But he has problems. Sort of. We won’t be talking about him today… ? There’s Isabela – she’s perfect. Also, sort of. Luisa is super strong, and we’ll be getting back to her later.

The matriarch of this family is a woman by the name of Abuela who holds it all together. Also, sort of. She’s kind of like a Yaakov Avinu type. She’s been through a lot, and she holds – or tries to hold her family together.

Using their superpowers, the family builds up a community around them. Everyone loves them, and they seem to love themselves. But beneath the surface, there are cracks. The house that they live in, which is the center of the town, starts to break. And what that symbolizes is a sense that they’re all buckling under the intense pressure of their superpowers and their overbearing matriarch who is trying desperately to hold it all together.

Like all good movies, there’s a backstory: What brought them to this city and gave them the superpowers was a terribly traumatic event. Abuela, her husband Pedro, and their three infants were on the run from Colombian soldiers who were killing innocent civilians. They were ambushed by these soldiers and Pedro bravely distracted the soldiers to save his family. Tragically, Pedro was murdered by those soldiers in front of his wife’s eyes.

Throughout the movie, Abuela has flashbacks of her husband getting killed. Meanwhile, she tries so hard to hold her family together, to make sure they don’t make any mistakes, to keep them as perfect as possible and never talks about what they went through. Why? Because she’s protecting them.

But her approach causes a lot of dysfunction.

To quote Dr. Dara Greenwood (Four Powerful Lessons from Encanto, Psychology Today): “…Psychologists have studied “legacies of silence” that follow traumatic experiences, such as the many devastating losses Jewish families experienced at the hands of the Nazis in World War II. My own Polish grandmother,” she writes, “escaped from Europe to New York, after the Nazis took Poland and killed her father in the street. In her attempt to escape the pain of her own unimaginable losses, she then failed to truly acknowledge the sudden death of her husband from a heart attack and in doing so, prevented my mother from grieving his loss.”  

She continues, “Children are exquisitely attuned to the emotional “rules” of the household and are quick to learn what they are not supposed to know or talk about (Bruno included). They are also motivated to bear up under difficult conditions to protect their parents’ emotional vulnerabilities, just as the family members in Encanto felt pressure to be perfect for their Abuela, who herself was trying to bear up under her own traumatic loss.”

In other words, the impact of trauma is ongoing and expressed in many ways: Children of those who experienced trauma, and even the grandchildren, can inherit certain learned behaviors and sometimes even genetically-influenced characteristics that can cause them to not trust others, to be more susceptible to anger, to be unable to connect to others deeply, and more. (https://www.choosingtherapy.com/intergenerational-trauma/)

There’s a book called, ‘“I love you” They Didn’t Say,’ written by a child of survivors. The title says it all. Many survivors could not bring themselves to say those words, and even more importantly, could not feel those emotions as they were weighed down and held back by guilt. And that gets passed on.  

We just read Parshas Zachor – a reminder to destroy this nation called Amaleik. Why? Because they attacked us as we were leaving Egypt four thousand years ago. It’s puzzling. We make such a big deal about it; it’s the only Biblically-mandated Torah reading of the year. And yet, who is Amaleik? They’re gone. It’s ancient history. This nation does not exist anymore.

There are endless apologetic approaches attempting to explain how really, the evil characteristics of Amaleik are still here, and it’s an internal battle within ourselves. Or, there are those who suggest that any nation that is set against the Jewish People assumes the title Amaleik. Otherwise, why else would we still be talking about them?

But the fact that we ask the question betrays a lack of understanding of how human beings work. You know why we still talk about Amaleik? Because we’re still feeling the brunt of their actions. When a group of people, after being enslaved for centuries finally gets freed. And they feel at that moment the warm embrace of a G-d who cares about them, who does everything for them. And then, without warning, for that loving protection to be viciously punctured. For that sense of security to be ripped away by some tribe who randomly, with no reason, comes along and attacks them, that goes deep.

You know why Jews are obsessed with having passports ready at all times? Yes, the Holocaust. But also, progroms. And also, inquisitions. And also, the Romans. All the way back to Amaleik. They’re the ones who first made us so uneasy. So nervous. So neurotic.

When I see a schoolbag on the floor of our shul, you know what the first thing that goes through my mind is – bomb. It’s not just me. Yes, it’s because of Arab terrorists, but it’s also because of Amaleik.

מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַהֹ בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר – A war between G-d and Amaleik, midor dor, from generation to generation. That battle is called intergenerational trauma and we are still picking up the pieces. 

In Encanto the children and grandchildren of Abuela push themselves to be perfect; there’s an overcompensation, a need for perfection to ensure that the tragedy doesn’t happen again.

We Jews take pride in the success of those who rebuilt after the Holocaust, and we should take pride. But we have to realize that the success came with a price. It was driven by guilt, it was driven by fear, it was driven by a sense of holding it all together to protect the children. It’s a powerful force, but it could also be destructive.

When we are told to eradicate Amaleik, perhaps what we are meant to do is think deeply about all the “stuff” that we have inherited, the impact of generations of trauma on this nation. We are being asked to acknowledge it, to work through it, and to change it.

We are being asked to learn how to not hold on to all of our emotions, to let our guard down, just a little.

We are being asked to learn how to trust people; to let them into our lives, into our being.    

We are being asked to not be driven by so much guilt, but to be driven by love.

And maybe even to say, or whisper, I love you.

***

One of the characters in the movie is a man by the name, Bruno. As the now-famous song goes, “We don’t talk about Bruno.” The family in Encanto never discusses him. But Bruno’s not just a person. He represents all the flaws, the cracks, the things the family is ashamed of.

It turns out – spoiler alert – that even though they don’t talk about him, and even though they thought he left them decades ago, he’s actually living in the walls of the house. Just like all trauma. Just like all the other things we try to ignore. Not talking about something does not make it go away.

When they finally invite him in, when they finally acknowledge him, the family begins to heal. When we are asked to erase Amaleik by remembering Amaleik, we are doing exactly that. The only way to get past the trauma, the pain, the shame, the guilt, is by acknowledging it. When we do, when we make ourselves vulnerable to our loved ones, acknowledging our fears, our shame, our real self, then we can properly move past Amaleik.

It’s not a coincidence that we remember Amaleik immediately before the most joyous day of the year. When the family acknowledges their flaws and fears, when they acknowledge how they need other people to help them, they are able to rebuild their home. And not surprisingly, it’s far more beautiful than it was before.

As the Kotzker Rebbe once said, there is nothing as whole as a broken heart, or the modern Leonard Cohen version, the cracks are where the light gets in. When we’re brave enough to acknowledge Bruno, to remember Amaleik, to be vulnerable, to recognize our imperfections, that is the pathway to the greatest joy.

Ukraine – Awakening our Sleeping Hearts Parshas Pekudei

I will not draw any lessons from the crisis in Ukraine. I refuse. 

Imagine watching a house go up in flames with men, women, and children trapped inside, all screaming for help. And since I’m not a fireman, there’s nothing I could do, so I turn to the crowd of people gathered outside, and start lecturing them on the lessons learned from a house fire…

It would be wrong, it would be immoral, and it would betray utter insensitivity to the pain of others. Ukraine is not a TV show, it’s real life.

And yet, over the past week, we’ve all heard people say things like, “The Ukrainians are really bad people. They were the guards at the concentration camps.” It’s true, they were.

Or, “Who is worse? The Russians or the Ukrainians?” And then we have a historic debate.

Or, “Why should I care about this conflict more than any other conflict across the world? Do you know what’s happening in Afghanistan? Do you know what’s happening in Sudan? Do you know what’s happening in Tanzania?”

These are all good and fair questions, and they all stem from one mindset – that this is a video game, a movie, it’s something to debate. Yesterday, it was Major League Baseball lockout and today it’s Ukraine. But it’s not. There is a house on fire. And there are men, women, and children burning inside.

The fact that I do not care deeply about the fires raging in Syria, Sudan, and Tanzania, does not mean I should not care about this one for two reasons. One, this house on fire, the conflict in Ukraine, that’s your next-door neighbor’s house that’s on fire, and there are sparks flying everywhere. Sparks like possible war with countries that we are allies with, sparks like the prospect of nuclear war, and sparks like an unprecedented refugee crisis in Europe. And second, the fact that I do not care about other conflicts should not push me to not care about this one. The opposite is true. I should care about them as well.

The question, to me, is what we do when we don’t care they way we should? What do we do when this is all an academic discussion? Something to talk about with friends or a source of silly memes, punctuated by a sigh here and there. How do we get past that?

Rebecca, Rivkah, Yitzchak’s wife was barren, she was unable to have children. The Torah tells us that Yitzchak prayed for children “opposite his wife.” The explanation that many of us are familiar with is Rashi’s, who explains that Yitzchak went to one corner to pray and she Rivkah to the other – opposite, in that they stood opposite one another.

But Rav Dovid Kimche, a 13th-century French scholar, suggests that we should interpret “opposite” literally. In the ancient world, if you were a woman who could not have children, your husband said, “Farewell,” and found a new wife. Certainly, if you were an aristocrat like Yitzchak was and had endless options available to you. But that’s not what Yitzchak did. He recognized that his wife was in pain. And so he turned his attention to her. He turned his attention to her pain. He stood “opposite her” in that he concentrated on what she was going through; to taste and feel that fear that she was experiencing, the shame that she was hiding, the loneliness that even her loving husband could not break through. “Vayetar Yitzchak laShem nochach ishto, and Yitzchak implored Hashem, opposite his wife.”

Yitzchak focused all his attention on her pain, allowing her pain to become his pain, and then he turned to G-d.

What’s unique about this conflict is that we are able to place the pain of those caught in this insanity before us, opposite us. Yes, there are headlines and news reports. But there are also individual stories. People. Real people crying for help, and we could hear them. They’re posting their videos on social media or sending direct messages to friends. The house on fire is not in the next city, it’s next door. And you don’t need to strain your ears to hear the cries of those stuck inside. It behooves us to listen to their stories, to place them before us, opposite us, so we could feel the pain that we know we’re supposed to feel. Because when we feel the pain, it’s no longer an academic debate, it’s no longer something to schmooze about. It’s real. And it’s personal.

Don’t get distracted by headlines; listen to people’s stories. Place their pain opposite your heart.

Sometimes, though, even that’s not enough. Sometimes, and this is not limited to this particular situation, but sometimes we know we should feel something, but we just don’t. Maybe it’s love for a spouse, maybe it’s love for G-d. Maybe we don’t feel enough joy for someone’s celebration or not enough sadness for their misfortune. How do we feel what we know we’re supposed to feel but cannot?

One of the great ideas of Judaism, something that was discovered only recently in the world of psychology is that our emotions flow from our deeds, more than our deeds flow from our emotions. In the words of the 13th century work, Sefer HaChinuch: “Acharei hape’ulot nimshachot halevavot, the heart is drawn after our actions.” This, explains Sefer HaChinuch, is the purpose of Mitzvos. It is hard to feel compassion sometimes, so we are commanded to give regularly to the poor. It is hard to love G-d, so we are commanded to serve Him daily. Judaism demands action so that we will feel.

You want to love your children more? Do more for them until you love more. You want to love your spouse more? Don’t wait until you feel loving, spend time together so that you’ll feel what you’re looking for. You want to feel connected to Judaism, to Hashem? Don’t wait until you get hit by an inspiring bolt of lightning. Show up, daven, do, and the love will follow.

The same is true here. You’re struggling to feel connected to those in Ukraine? Give charity, or anything else you can do, and allow the feelings to follow. 

The Torah’s recipe for feeling what we know we should feel is by placing the pain before us – opposite us, and acting, doing, and allowing the emotions to follow.

What I would like to do is exactly that. I want to tell you a story of one individual, and I’d like to invite you to place his story before us. And I’d like to suggest something we can all do, right now.

This past Tuesday, the Orthodox Union put together a call with communal leaders who are currently in Ukraine. One of the presenters was Rabbi Mendel Moskovitz, a Chabad shliach, situated in Kharkiv, Ukraine. R’Mendel was born in Brooklyn, but in 1990, when he was just seven months old, his family was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to help support the Jewish community in this city of Kharkiv.

His father described how when they arrived, the Jews in the region had no idea what a shofar was; they knew nothing. Little by little, in this G-d-less wasteland, the Moskovitz family built a spiritual sanctuary. Jews started attending services and they eventually opened a school in 1992. Last Wednesday, the day before the war began, they had an event celebrating the 30th year anniversary of the school which now boasts 400 Jewish students. The next morning, they were rudely awakened by bombs dropping.

R’Mendel described coming to shul Thursday morning to daven by himself – there was indiscriminate shelling taking place outside. And when he came in, he found 30 men waiting to daven together.

The most famous and moving statement from this entire saga was when the American government offered to fly the Ukrainian President, Vladimir Zelenskyy out of the country, and he responded, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.” Inspiring. But when that same offer was made to the Moskovitz family, their answer was a little different, but no less inspiring. This Brooklyn family, who could so easily have slipped out of the country, responded: “This is our family, we’re not going anywhere.” And they stayed. Not only did they stay but they turned their shul into a bomb shelter and are housing and caring for over 100 people.

I’d like to read to you a text message Mendel’s mother sent out after last Shabbos. She wrote: “It says that you’re not supposed to cry on Shabbat, I failed that … this Shabbat.

The first time, was on Friday night when we managed to get to the synagogue. After the prayers we went downstairs for a Kiddush, filled with people who were brave enough to come, and the many people who have been living in the synagogue since the war started. After Kiddush we started singing “Nyet nyet nikovo”, a Russian melody that there is no one that we should fear besides Hashem alone.

The second time, I wasn’t able to hold it in, was Shabbat morning, when we blessed the new month of Adar, saying “Mi sheasa nisim l’avoseynu – Who did miracles for our Fathers”, I again felt the tears in my eyes. We also need miracles…”

So that’s the story, or that’s the person I want you to think of. Not the headlines. Just Mendel Moskovitz, a young 32 year old, whose family moved from comfortable Brooklyn to go help other Jews, who chose to stay in Ukraine and bring up his own family, who opened his doors to house a hundred refugees. And is there right now selflessly doing G-d’s work.

Here’s the action:

As I mentioned, the iconic line by the Ukrainian president who declined the ride and asked for bullets. Instead of asking for more bullets, the Moskovitz family asked for tefillin so they could put them on the people who want to pray. Instead of asking for more ammunition, they asked for food so they could continue to feed those who they are housing. Instead of asking for us to fight Russia, they asked us to keep on praying, to pray and to do more Mitzvos, so that this war could end immediately.

Maybe we feel it, maybe we don’t, but we must feel it. For two years, we here were held back or limited in our ability to be in our beloved shul, and today, we have been granted the ability to be here, to smile at one another, to pray unencumbered. We left shul, we missed shul desperately, and now we’re back, as if nothing happened. That cannot be. Granted, to change our lives around entirely is unrealistic, but to not change our relationship with shul just a little?!

We just read how the Mishkan, when it was finally complete, was filled with the glory of Hashem to the point that Moshe was unable to enter inside. Can we experience that? Can we make just a little bit more space for Hashem, and a little less space for us?

Maybe we talk the whole davening, can we talk only at certain times? Maybe instead of talking, we can whisper? Maybe we can commit to praying with a little bit more emotion, meaning, understanding?  

Whether we feel it or not, we must take concrete steps, tangible actions, at a time like this. There are endless ways to do so and we should find ways that speak to who we are as individuals. But as a shul, can we be inspired by the self-sacrifice of Mendel Markovitz, by the 30 people who came to pray at a time of war, by the hundred men, women, and children who sang “Nyet nyet nikovo” and commit to doing the same?

In the merit of our congregation stepping up our davening just a little bit, may our actions translate not only into feelings, but may there be peace and tranquility in the region, may the refuges come back home, and may our brothers and sisters and all those in the line of fire be safe and sound.

***

As R’Mendel was finishing his message to us, his wife came running behind him, “Quick, air siren!” And his screen went blank.

Kharkiv has been bombarded since that day; we have no idea how many killed or injured.

***

Let’s pray. Let’s pray for Mendel. Let’s put those feelings into action, let’s allow our actions to engender the appropriate feelings. May Hashem hear our cries and may there be peace.

 

https://www.ou.org/watch-rabbonim-from-ukraine-discuss-the-crisis/

Dispatch from Ukraine