Miriam Chava Berman Stidd dvar on Bereshit

Shabbat Shalom!

My parsha is Bereshit, which as most of you know, tells the story of the creation of the world. We read today the first chapter of Genesis, verses 1 through 23, which takes us from Day 1 through Day 5, from the creation of light and darkness all the way through the creation of birds and fish.

I wanted to read this last Aliyah because it reminded me of the Marc Chagall stained glass windows in Nice, France, at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum, which feature birds and fish. These stained-glass windows mean so much to me because they are by one of my favorite artists. His art pieces about creation almost make me think they are not just about the creation of the world, but about Marc Chagall creating himself through his art, because his visual interpretation of the creation story tells you so much about who he was as a person. It wasn’t just that Chagall was expressing himself, he was creating who he was right then and there, in that moment.

So, who was Chagall? Born into a very religious Jewish household on July 6, 1887, there weren’t any pictures of anything, because according to his family and tradition, any representations were idolatry. Despite his parents not wanting him to, he still left his home in Belarus and went to art school in France and eventually became a great artist. (This clearly shows the importance of listening to your parents). He is well known for his paintings and stained-glass windows that depict biblical stories and other things. This was a way he displayed his spirituality.

Out of respect for his parents, he didn’t want to display them in his art, so the fish represented his father (he sold fish at a local market). His mother’s name in Yiddish sounded like the Yiddish word for chicken or rooster, and if you look closely, there is a rooster in almost every one of his paintings. Chagall is creating himself through including these elements by letting you see a piece of his parents’ and his childhood, which are still a part of him at the time he creates the art. [Read more…]

Isabel Ahbel-Rappe’s bat mitzvah d’var on D’varim

Shabbat shalom.

In my portion, D’varim, the Israelites have arrived on the other side of the Jordan River, near the Promised Land, after spending 40 years wandering around in the desert. Moses is talking to the people, telling them the story of their whole journey, from Horeb to their current location on the other side of the Jordan. First Moses told how God had said to them: Go to the Promised Land and claim it, take it away from the Amorites. God promised this land to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their heirs.

Moses then reminded the people of how the time came when he couldn’t handle all of their complaining. As their leader, he had been in charge of judging all their disagreements. Moses suggested each of the 12 tribes pick a representative or chief to be the judge for their tribe. The people said that was a good plan and the representatives were appointed.

Moses gave each chief important instructions—to be kind and fair to each other and to strangers, and to treat everyone equally. Moses told them if they had any problems in the tribe and the chiefs couldn’t handle it, they should bring that problem to him. Next Moses reminded the people of how they left from Horeb and traveled through the terrible but great wilderness to the hill country of the Amorites. They went there because Moses was following God’s command to go to this land that had been promised.

When they neared the Promised Land, the people wanted to send scouts ahead to check things out. Again they picked a representative from each tribe, and sent them to the hill country to spy on the Amorites. When the spies returned, some of them said it was a really wonderful country that God was giving them. But the people refused to go into the Promised Land because other scouts said that the people there were stronger and taller, with large cities with sky high walls.

Moses said, You guys aren’t listening to the Eternal our God. God will go first to help you with everything you do. God’s the one who got you out of Egypt. Moses compared God watching over them to how a parent watches over their child. But the people didn’t have faith in God or what Moses was telling them.

God was listening to the people complaining and refusing to go into the land, and God got angry and vowed that none of that generation would see the Promised Land. Not even Moses. The only exceptions were Caleb, because he remained loyal, and Joshua, who took over for Moses as leader.

The people were sorry and some now wanted to fight. But it was too late. God didn’t protect them because they hadn’t trusted God. The Amorites crushed them like bees.

The people wept for God to help them, but God did not help them because they weren’t loyal. Instead, God ordered them back into the wilderness, where they were to stay for 40 years. Moses himself complained that, although he hadn’t done anything wrong while they were deciding whether to go in the Promised Land, God was still furious with him. Moses would be banished to the wilderness along with all the other adults.

One thing that got my attention in my portion is the idea of God speaking and acting. The whole time I was reading it, I imagined God as a little cloud over Moses’ ear. How can you show that God would protect the people against the Amorites if they were loyal, since there is literally nothing to represent God? Or what does it mean to say that God was speaking to Moses?  How God was telling Moses where to go and what to do?

I think God is sort of like your mind, because you can choose where to go and what to do. God being like your mind is not when you decide to do something you shouldn’t do, and it is not like your parents telling you what to do. God doesn’t tell you what to do, but God helps you through problems, especially when you are making a major change or getting ready for a new life. God always believes in doing the right thing.

I also thought about what the “Promised Land” means. I think it’s a place in your mind where everyone can be safe no matter what. In God’s Promised Land in my portion, only good people made it to the Promised Land. In my Promised Land it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, you can still live there.

The idea of treating everyone fairly reminded me of my work at High Point School. I attend Honey Creek Community School. Our school shares a building with High Point, a school for children and young adults with disabilities. Almost every Thursday during the school year, I work in a High Point classroom. High Point students communicate in different ways, like with movements and facial expressions. If one student pulls on her jacket, that means she wants her jacket off. If she’s smiling, that means she’s happy. We learn a hand-over-hand method. For example, for baking, you put your hand on top of their hand to use a spoon.

I really like working in the High Point classroom. Some of my friends can only say hi to High Point students in the halls between classes, but I get to spend a good amount of time with them and make friends with them. In our school, High Point students are treated the same as other students–they just learn differently. I learn differently, too. I am a visual learner.

For my service project, I did extra work at High Point, and I am going to make a donation to them from my Bat Mitzvah gifts.

I would like to thank: Deb, for helping me learn Torah. Reb Aura, for helping me prepare for the service and for leading the service. Members of our Havurah, my family, and my friends for being here to support me. My parents, for always being there for me and supporting me on my Bat Mitzvah journey.

Shabbat shalom.

 

D’var on Ki Tavo by bat mitzvah Jasmine Lowenstein

jasmine-lowensteinShabbat Shalom!

My parsha is Ki Tavo in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the people that once they cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, there will be rules and laws that they will have to follow. If they follow them, God will reward the people with blessings, but if they disobey, curses will fall upon them.

In my portion I found that there were far more curses than blessings. The blessings are only in verse 28, but the curses take up most of my portion including a 55 line aliyah and then, finally, it ends with another blessing. Maybe when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land they needed structure because the previous generation had come out of slavery in Egypt where they could not make their own decisions (because they weren’t free). Now they are free, but do they know how to make their own decisions?

On the journey from Egypt, they had G-d guiding them and they still made mistakes, as all human beings do. One of the times they were foolish was the incident with the Golden Calf. As you may know, Moses traveled up Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments. It took Moses a long time to come down from the mountain and the Israelites became scared. They thought he had died and they had lost their connection to G-d so they made a new deity, a golden calf. When Moses reached the bottom and saw the calf he was furious, so furious that he smashed the tablets on the ground!

In this example, the Israelites weren’t necessarily being foolish, they were just doing what they assumed was right based on what they saw, heard, and thought. Or didn’t think: The Israelites had always had someone leading them whether it was Moses or Pharaoh. So they had not learned how to critically think on their own.

As you can see in my parsha there are a lot of blessings and curses, but why should there be blessings and curses? I think there should be some rules, but I don’t think anyone should be cursed or die if they do something wrong. I think that everyone should get a second chance. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s just part of life. There is a difference between making a mistake and intentionally doing the wrong thing. Sometimes there are consequences for people’s actions and that is also a part of life. Even though there are consequences I don’t think that there should ever be consequences without thought to the surrounding circumstances. It’s not right or fair to that person, if someone does something by mistake and then gets punished just because there are set consequences. The world we currently live in is not fair. Punishments affect some people in worse ways than others. Different people, making the same mistake, can face different consequences because of the color of their skin, their economic class or sexual orientation, among other things. I think this is wrong.

People tend to like people just like them. In order to be fair to others, people have to be in environments where they can interact with each other and even make mistakes. The more people have an opportunity to interact with people different than them, the less they will discriminate against each other.

The LGBTQ community is an example of a community that has been discriminated against and still is. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, some people who didn’t know better and hadn’t been in contact with gay men thought that AIDS was a curse, inflicted on gay men, because people thought it was “bad,” “wrong,” or “disobeying to G-d” to be gay. Then when Ryan White, a boy with hemophilia, got HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion it really showed everyone that HIV wasn’t a curse or a punishment for something that people thought was “bad;” it was a disease that anyone could get. Babies were even born with it. People were wrong when they thought AIDS was a curse. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people. Long ago, the Israelites needed (or G-d thought that they needed) these blessings and curses that are in my Torah portion. Maybe in the 1980’s some people needed to think that HIV/AIDS was a curse; it might have been a coping mechanism to explain something scary.

Once people knew there was a scientific explanation, in other words, that you could get HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions, everyone realized it could happen to anyone: it doesn’t matter who you love, and it isn’t a curse. That is why for my mitzvah project I chose to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, an organization that raises money through the theater community to help support people who have HIV and AIDS. I’ll be having a Broadway sing-a-long as a fundraiser–I’ll let you all know the details when they’re set. It will be a lot of fun!!

In my parsha something else really struck me. G-d says that G-d the Eternal has not given us eyes that can see, ears that can hear, or mind to understand. The first time I read this, I thought: if the Eternal hasn’t given us eyes, ears, or a mind than how come we go to school and take tests and quizzes and manage to get some–if not all–of the questions right? If we do not have eyes that can see, then how do we read the Torah? If we did not have ears to hear, G-d would not have been able to communicate with Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, Leah, Rachel and all of the prophets. If Moses couldn’t hear G-d Moses probably wouldn’t have lead the Israelites to the land of milk and honey. Instead they probably would have ended up in the land of milk and cookies!

But later when I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t what G-d was trying to tell us. What G-d is saying is that G-d gave us sight, but didn’t give us insight; hearing but not the power to comprehend everything to its fullest potential; G-d gave us a mind but no one knows everything inside and out. I think the true message in this is that no one is perfect and people make mistakes. I am a perfectionist and learning that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect has been a big part of my growth as a human being. Making mistakes, reflecting on the consequences, and being more patient with the mistakes of myself and others has helped me to become a better person and less hard on myself. In this I am learning to be a critical thinker, just like the Israelites.

In my haftarah, God is saying there is always hope and your nation Israel is going to be the center of everything. It’s kind of the opposite of my torah portion in that it’s looking at the bright side of life. My torah portion looks at the reality of life and focuses on the bad things that might happen. My feeling is that it creates a mindset that could really affect your outlook on life. We can choose to be an optimist, like Isaiah is saying, or a pessimist, like Moses is saying. Interestingly, both are channeling G-d.

My haftorah is one of the 7 leading up to the high holidays. These haftarot are known as the haftarot of consolation, and are based on balance. I think that maybe G-d was trying to balance the optimistic views to the pessimistic. I have so many people in my life who have helped me to find this balance. I would like to thank everyone who’s here for making the effort to show up and being supportive here today.

I would like to thank all of my friends, whether from school, Young Peoples Theater, or dance–you give me a place to belong. I would also like to thank all of my teachers for teaching me amazing things and making learning fun in the process. I would like to especially thank my teacher since first grade, Ms. Tucker. You are the perfect teacher for me. Thank you for helping me to become less of a perfectionist! I would like to thank Sari Mills for preparing me to start preparing for my Bat Mitzvah by teaching me Hebrew–and for being so nice in the process. Rabbi Alana–Thank you so much for doing my Bat Mitzvah even though you have another congregation and are so busy. You’re so nice and always have a smile on your face and it makes me feel confident, which is important when you are preparing for your Bat Mitzvah! Deb, thank you for always keeping your cool and being so encouraging no matter what was happening. (I think it is good that my Bat Mitzvah tutor also happens to be a therapist.) I would like to thank all of the out-of-towners who travelled from near and far to be here.

I would like to thank my human cousins and my canine one for making all of the family vacations and get-togethers all the more fun. Even though none of you are my age you still make me feel included. Thank you Alex, Eli, Lily and Joey for coming from college to my Bat Mitzvah. Thank you to all of my aunts and uncles for always being so much fun and being like my parents except with no rules!! I would like to thank my grandparents for being some of the most–if not the most-caring people I know. You guys are my role models. Pops and Grandpa–you gave me my love of math and science. And Bubbe and Nana–you gave me my love of music and art. I love you guys.

I would like to thank my Dad for always being soooo great and staying calm even when my sister, mom and I are having breakdowns. And most importantly, feeding us!! You work so hard and are the best Dad in the world. I would also like to thank my mom for helping me relax and feel so much better about myself whenever I’m stressed. And through this process of preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, especially, you have helped me remember that I’m doing great and have nothing to worry about. You’re the best mom in the world. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wonderful, amazing sister Ruby for always being wonderful and amazing and all of the other adjectives that mean that–and for being patient with me even when I can be difficult or sensitive–and still finding time to hang out with me. It’s a great thing for my best friend to be my sister. You’re the best sister in the world. I have the best family in the world. I love you guys. Thanks!!!