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  • Shemini Atzeret: Make the Most out of Today by Anna Jacoby

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    Shemini Atzeret: Make the Most out of Today By Anna Jacoby

    Honored Rabbi, Madame President,

    Today, of course, is Simchat Torah, the second day of Shemini Atzeret. Simchat Torah is the Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot, and the last day of the “holidays.”And at this point, many of us are getting tired of the holidays --the cooking, missed work, and time off from school.So, today, it’s easy to think “Shemini Atzeret?Great, one more day and I’m done!”

    This morning I would like to share with you an idea that will hopefully change how you think about Shemini Atzeret.Shemini Atzeret literally means “the assembly of the eighth day.”Atzeret comes from the same shoresh as Atzar, which means “stop.”Some have thought this means refraining from work. Our sages, however, have interpreted this as “detaining” or a deliberate extension of the prior seven days.

    This idea of extending the holiday makes sense when you also consider the number of sacrifices on Shemini Atzeret. During the time of the Temple, 70 bulls were sacrificed during Sukkot. 13 bulls on the first day, 12 bulls on the second day, 11 bulls on the third day, and so on. Believe me, it adds up to 70.However, on Shemini Atzeret, only one bull is sacrificed.

    Our sages explain why Shemini Atzeret is on the eight day, and why only one bull is sacrificed with the following beautiful parable:Hashem is like a host who has invited his whole kingdom to a huge party lasting seven days. After the party was over, and everyone left, the king felt lonely. So, he invited his closest friend to stay an extra day and eat together. This is a small private party, just the king, and his best friend, the Jewish people.

    This is why only one bull is sacrificed. Shemini Atzeret is a small party of close friends. In this case, more is not merrier.

    This Midrash shows the special relationship between G-D and Israel. The story tells us that G-d loves Beni Yisrael as the king loves his best friend.

    I know that many of you are tired and are looking forward to the holidays ending. But I ask you to take advantage of these remaining few hours of Shemini Atzeret, and think about our special relationship with Hashem and what that means to you.

    Mo’adim L’Simcha!

    Oct 24 Tags: Untagged
  • Simhat Torah Devar Torah by Shoshana Menashe

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    Simchat Torah Dvar Torah

    By Shoshana Menashe

    Moadim L’Simcha – Chag Sameach!

    Be’reshut Rabbi Meyers, Greetings to our Madam President, and thank you to the entire congregation for giving me the opportunity to share a few words of Torah this morning that are based on an article by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks.

    We are finishing up the Chagim – an amazing month of holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabah, Shemni Hatzeret, and Simchat Torah.

    As we get ready to leave the Chagim and go back to our regular schedules, I want to share some thoughts about my personal favorite, Sukkot.

    We were lucky this year that the Sunday before Sukkot it did not rain and I spent pretty much the whole day helping my dad put up the Sukkah. I held up walls and took doors using the power drill. Once we had the walls up, I climbed up on the roof of our house to make sure the Schach was placed correctly across the top of the Sukkah. (My mother does not like to watch that part of the Sukkah building!). Then after I helped put up all the beautiful Sukkah decorations I even finally convinced my father to put up the Mariners lights. He wasn’t eager to do that because he said the Mariners sometimes don’t bring him happiness but in the end he agreed!

    My father and I were especially happy that during the windstorm in the first days of the Chag our Sukkah stood strong and nothing really moved or flew away so we were able to have all our meals in our Sukkah.

    Since we put all this effort into our Sukkah it made me wonder why do we have to put up our Sukkah every year? With all this effort shouldn’t our Sukkah be permanent so we do not have to rebuild every year or shouldn’t we build with materials that are a little sturdier?

    I guess my question is what exactly is a Sukkah? What is it supposed to represent?

    I learned with my parents that the question is important to the Mitzvah itself. The Torah says in Vayikra :

    בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃

    You shall live in sukkot seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live sukkot,

    לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

    in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in Sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.

    In other words, understanding and being aware that we are in a Sukkah and the reasons for the Sukkah are very important. For that reason, it says in the Talmud that a Sukkah that is taller than twenty cubits, which is about 30 feet, is not kosher because when the schach, the “roof,” is that far above your head, you might not even be aware that you are sitting in a Sukkah!

    So if you have to be aware you are sitting in a Sukkah, what is the meaning of the Sukkah itself?

    Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, says the Sukkah was there to remind the Israelites of their past so that, at the very moment they were feeling the greatest satisfaction at living in Israel, when they were able to bring their beautiful crops up to the Beit Hamikdash, they should remember that they were once a poor group of ex-slaves traveling in the desert. Sukkot, says Rashbam, is very connected to the warning Moses gave the Israelites at the end of his life about the danger of feeling too secure in your home and your resources. Everything that we have, including our money, comes from Hashem’s blessings and protection.

    So perhaps our Sukkah has to not be permanent to remind us that everything we have in life, all our possessions and material wealth, are because of Hashem’s blessings and that what we have can be taken away in an instant. While hard work is important, we cannot accomplish anything without Hashem’s Beracha, His blessing. Just like the Jews wandering in the desert and living in Sukkot could not have survived without Hashem’s protection, and our Sukkot in Seattle (no matter how hard we work on them!) are subject to the winds of October, all we can ever really count on is the commitment to Torah and Mitzvot, not material things or structures.

    In addition to understanding the message of the temporary nature of the Sukkah – I think there is another important aspect of Sukkot – the Mitzvah of v’samachta b’hagecha – to be with “Simcha” on the Chag. What does that mean?

    The Rambam says in Hilchot Yom Tov that the ways that Jews rejoice is by inviting guests to our house for a meal on the Chag, including the widows, the orphans, and people who don’t have a place to go or cannot provide for themselves. That’s what real “simcha” on the holiday means – to share what we have with others.

    The Rambam says this very clearly, and I quote:

    A person who spends time on the Chag with only his own family, eating good food, enjoying a fine meal but does not invite people who have no other place to go or do not have the ability to provide for themselves good food, then such an individual who isolates himself from the unfortunate does not having the “Simcha”/joy of the holiday; he’s only having the “Simcha”/joy of his own stomach.”

    Sadly there are so many in our community who do not have shelter and food. In honor of the Mitzvah of “ v’samachta b’hagecha “ my school, the Seattle Hebrew Academy, purchased over 600 pounds of food for the JFS food bank and I went with the SHA middle school to help package the food and get it ready to distribute to those who do not have enough to eat. Our very own Mrs. Lea Hanan makes it her own personal year round Mitzvah of collecting food from the entire school for the JFS food bank.

    To conclude, Sukkot is an amazing holiday because it teaches us both to appreciate all the material blessing we have in our lives and to share what we have with others who are not as fortunate. I hope this lesson and all the other amazing things we learned over the Chagim continue to inspire us to higher levels of Torah and Mitzvot in the year to come.

    CHAG SAMEACH!

    Oct 24 Tags: Untagged
  • RCA Proclamation on Racism

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    For the record, the Rabbinical Council of America formally adopted a "Torah Proclamation on Racism" back in Oct. 30, 2015.I am reprinting the main points of the proclamation given recent events in our country:

    • Whereas the Bible teaches that all humans share one heavenly Father who created us in His Image (cf. Genesis 1:27, 5:1, and Malachi 2:10); and
    • Whereas the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) teaches that God created Man as one individual human being to promote harmony among people, so that no one can claim that his origins are superior to those of another person; and, that God's Greatness is manifest in the diverse and unique appearances of His creatures; and
    • Whereas the Jewish people began its history as a persecuted, enslaved people, and is repeatedly adjured by God to remember its lowly origins and to be kind to others in similar circumstances; and
    • Whereas the Jewish people has experienced both great acceptance as well as significant discrimination in the United States and, more broadly, has a continuous history as a persecuted minority; and
    • Whereas the centuries-old American problem of white racism against African Americans continues to be a disgraceful, explosive contemporary reality, with both overt and insidious manifestations

    Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirms its absolute condemnation of racist speech and deeds.

    The statement goes on to say that we should voice our objection to racism in the name of Torah ideals, embrace Jews of all racial backgrounds, and work towards fostering warm relationships with our fellow Americans of races different than our own.

    Aug 14 Tags: Untagged
  • Donations to Michal Salomon and Children

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    http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1103480764942&ca=0d7980ac-17cc-46ff-9952-5ca24498e5e9

    You can also call the EB office at 722 5500 and donate using your credit card or existing account at EB

    Thanks

    Jul 25 Tags: Untagged
  • Introducing Sephardi Fest!

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    May 26 Tags: Untagged
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  • A View from Israel

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    This summer, I've had the unique opportunity of spending a little over three weeks in Eretz Yisrael. As I approach my final Shabbat here (the family returns to Seattle a week later), I wanted to share with you some of my observations.

    The trip began with an intensive 10 day rabbinic "Metivta" seminar at the home of the Sephardic Educational Center in the Old City. We were privileged to learn with (amongst others) one of the brightest young minds in the Sephardic rabbinic world, Rav Yitzhak Chouraqui. Rav Chouraqui, originally from France, serves as a community Rabbi, Rosh Beit Midrash of Mimizrach Shemesh in downtown Jerusalem, and will be leading the new Sha'arei Uziel Beit Midrash program at the SEC. His classes were both challenging and inspiring. The gathering of Sephardic rabbis from around the Jewish world proved to be a most fruitful context within which to discuss both halachic and philosophical issues as presented by classical Sephardic sources.

    Most mornings, Shahrit was at the Kotel; at the Wall, one finds a cross-section of Jewish society. It's really heartwarming seeing Jews, men and women respectively, from the various streams of Jewish society, pray together in the same minyanim. Israelis and tourists, often only loosely connected to Jewish tradition, approach the Wall to pour out their hearts to their Father in Heaven. Non-Jewish visitors from all over the world standing in awe of this landmark, are living proof of the verse כי ביתי בית תפילה יקרא לכל העמים - "because My House is a House of Tefilah for all of the nations..." (Yeshaya Ch. 56) Tisha Be'av was truly something to behold, and gave me confidence that Jewish unity, crucial for the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash, may not be so unattainable after all...

    One of the most astounding aspects of my trip directly connects to this week's Torah portion, Perashat Ekev. Birkat Hamazon, the mitzvah of Grace after Meals, is derived from the verse, "...and when you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem your G-d for the good land that He has given you." In the text of Birkat Hamazon, we attribute the following qualities to the Land of Israel: "Eretz Hemda Tova U'rehava" - "a beautiful, good and wide land.."

    Now, Eretz Yisrael is certainly beautiful. This past week we drove north to Haifa and then eastward to Karmiel. The weather was truly delightful, the Carmel mountains and Galil foliage a sight to behold. It's a good land; many natural resources previously unknown are being discovered and harnassed. But a "wide land"? Security experts often stress the narrowness of the Land of Israel and the security implications that flow from this issue!

    Being here for several weeks offered me new insights into the concept of Israel as a "wide land."

    When I first studied here back in 1983, driving to the north took 3 1/4 hours by car and close to four hours by bus. With the advent of Route 6, traveling from the Jerusalem area to Haifa takes about an hour and 50 minutes. The new multi-lane divided highway has revolutionized intercity travel. All through the ingenuity of the Israel Department of Infrastructures which has found space where none seemed to exist. Nowhere is this more evident than between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and within Jerusalem proper. The narrow highway that used to link the two cities has been expanded to a divided six-lane expressway! For the determined Israeli mind, the rocky hills of Jerusalem, once a formidable impediment to travel, CAN and WILL be overcome! The amazing Menachem Begin Expressway, searing through the hills of Jerusalem with overpasses and tunnels, has turned the once congested capital into a fast-moving, bustling tourist, commercial and religious center. These developments have not only made life far more convenient, but have fostered a unity between the disparate neighborhoods of Yerushalayim.

    This, I think, is what our sages may have foreseen when they classified Eretz Yisrael as "a beautiful, good and WIDE land." It's the broad perspective of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael that's the hidden potential of Eretz Hakodesh, Eretz Yisrael.

    Shabbat Shalom!

    Aug 07 Tags: Untagged
  • Guest Devar Torah by Dr. Michael Varon

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    B’’H
    I would like to dedicate this devar Torah in memory of my mother, Simcha bat Victoria Varon
    I would like to thank Chabad.org, Torah.org, and 70 Faces .com
    Today is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, not only the first day of the month, but also the first month of the year. As Jews we take the concept of time very seriously, our Torah begins with the words “In the beginning…” and while studying the Talmud one traditionally starts with the question: “From what time may one recite the evening Shema?” So it perhaps should not be surprising that the first commandment given to the Nation of Israel was to create a calendar based on the cycles of the moon, and to sanctify the moon “And G-d said to Moses… in the land of Egypt… this month is for you, the head of the months. First it is for you among the months of the year (Shemot 12:1-2)
    The process of sanctifying the new moon was a complicated one. Only a Beit Din composed of judges who are linked, student to teacher, directly to Moshe are permitted to sanctify the month. Those who have witnessed the new moon and come to the court to share their knowledge have to endure a thorough examination by the judges. The laws are complex and detailed, so why is this so important?
    Sefer HaChinuch states that if it were not for the fact that we are assured that the months of the year occur at their proper time, the calendar would be in a constant state of flux. This would create many problems. For example we know that Passover is supposed to be in the spring and Sukkot is to be in the fall. If the months were not carefully calculated and an extra month not added when needed, the holidays would not occur in their proper time, and therein lies the importance of this commandment.
    The Rambam echoes this reasoning. He explains that the sanctification of the new month is the foundation for all the holy days of the year. As I mentioned, if not for the proper reckoning of the months, all of the holidays would fall out in the improper seasons. We would then not have the holidays, their holiness, and their accompanying commandments, which would be a huge loss for Beni Israel. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the calendar, and in some respects, our “religion”, we were given this commandment, the sanctifying of the new month, before any other commandment.
    The Medrash, when speaking about this commandment, tells us that all who bless the new month in its proper time, it is as if they have seen the Holy Countenance of G-d. The Medrash learns this from a connection between the distinctive use of the word “this” in two places: the commandment about the sanctification of the new moon “THIS is to you…” and the praise of Hashem by the nation of Israel after the splitting of the Red Sea- “THIS is my G-d and I will glorify Him”. The Ksav Sofer explains why the blessing of the new moon is analogous to “seeing” Hashem. He explains that there are those who deny the divine providence of G-d by saying that the only time that G-d had input into the world was when he created the world, and that since then, it has been running on “cruise control” and continues to exist only according to “nature” without any divine direction. We believe that Hashem’s providence is with us daily and see Hashem’s hand in all we do and see around us. And what event in history is the most striking proof, and made it clear to all who witnessed it that indeed Hashem controls all aspects of the physical world, but the splitting of the Red Sea. By blessing the new month, we are acknowledging that it is because He is the one who causes the renewal of the new month and that all is under Hashem’s control. The meaning of the Medrash is now clearer. All who bless the new moon, and therefore indicate that they believe in the providence of G-d, and stand before Him always as if they were pointing and saying “This is my G-d!,” because of the closeness of the relationship that exist between G-d and man, it is as if they have seen the holy countenance of G-d.

    Mar 22 Tags: Untagged
  • "Each According to His Blessing"

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    כח כָּל-אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר; וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם, וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם--אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם
    49:28 All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each one his own blessing.

    Sefer Bereishit concludes with Ya’akov’s blessings to his sons. The expression אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם, loosely translated as “He gave each one his own blessing” seems redundant; after all, the Torah had just exhaustively recorded the details of each of the blessings. What new information are we to garner by the additional words?

    The Ohr HaHayim HaKadosh explains:

    אשר כברכתו. פי' הראוי לו כפי בחינת נשמתו וכפי מעשיו, כי יש לך לדעת כי הנפשות כל אחת יש לה בחינת המעלה יש שמעלתה כהונה ויש מלכות ויש כתר תורה ויש גבורה ויש עושר ויש הצלחה, ונתכוין יעקב בנבואה לברך כל אחד כפי ברכתו הראוי לה המלך במלכות והכהן בכהונה וכן על זה הדרך ולא הפך המסילות

    Each according to his blessing: That is, the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up and his actions. You should know that souls each have their own special quality: there are some whose level is Kehuna/priesthood, others who are characterized by Malchut/kingship; those with Keter Torah/Torah knowledge…those oriented towards courage, wealth…Ya’akov had in mind in his prophetic state to bless each one according to the blessing fit for him…and not according to an opposite path…All too often, we commit ourselves to a sweeping vision of what our children must achieve. Though it comes from a good place – there are certain behaviors, academic and religious standards which, as parents and grandparents, we feel it’s our obligation to transmit to our kids….. In our zeal to be role models and educate those entrusted to us, we sometimes overlook the unique qualities of each child. We end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and thereby unwittingly deny the child the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. In the words of the Ohr HaHayim, we should make it possible for a child to tap into the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up.

    The same is true of community. The verse in Tehilm 136 says, “He sliced Yam Suf into segments, His kindness endures forever.”The midrash explains that Hashem carved out twelve unique paths in the sea through which the Jewish people were to travel on their way to their redemption from Egyptian slavery. The message is clear: to be redeemed as a collective, it would have been sufficient to forge one path in the midst of the sea; after all, isn’t this narrative all about being saved from the clutches of Pharoah and his army- from being killed or relegated to continued slavery? Apparently, though, such a plan would not have engendered a complete liberation from Mizraim. The root word for Egypt in Hebrew is the word מצר, connoting restriction and limitation. Geula, redemption, to be ultimately meaningful and sustainable, had to address both the needs of the collective and the needs of the specific tribes that together form our people. Traversing Yam Suf had to both be physically and spiritually redemptive.


    The same midrash continues: though “sea-walls” separated the respective paths, those walls were transparent; each tribe saw that his fellow tribe, too, had a legitimate path through the sea on the road to redemption.
    Over the last several years, it’s clear that our community is moving in a similar direction. Within the larger framework of a Torah-based life, various initiatives have begun that give expression to the orientation of respective members of our community. It’s our duty to respect these differences and not, G-d forbid, feel threatened by them. Lest anyone think that encouraging others to follow their own spiritual path within Torah is a threat to the כלל, to the community, the Ohr HaHayim’s closing words provide guidance:ברך אותם וגו'. אמר "אותם" לשון רבים להיות כי ברכת כל אחד ואחד תועיל לעצמו ולכל אחיו - He blessed THEM…it says “them” in the plural, because the blessing to each one will benefit not only himself, but also his brothers….

     

    Jan 02 Tags: Untagged
  • Erev Shabbat Toledot 5775

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    (Published in this week's Vaad newsletter)

    This has been a very tough week for the Jewish people. With the images and reports that came to us almost instantaneously from across the world, we experienced the horrific events in Har Nof in "real time." Many of us here in Seattle even have close personal connections with the victims and their families....Unfathomable, the barbarism - the cruelty!

    No doubt, serious questions arise in the minds of many of us. Yitzhak, unable to see, is confused:
    הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב וְהַיָּדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו

    The voice is the voice of Ya'akov and the hands are the hands of Esav.
    Our sages declare: "When the voice (of the Jewish people) is the voice of Ya'akov in the synagogues and Batei Midrash, then the hands are not the hands of Esav."Seemingly, a promise that the more we Jews commit ourselves to Torah and Tefilah, we will not fall victim to the violent actions of our enemies…..

    And yet Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg -- devout Jews, true Torah scholars -- engaged in those very activities of Torah study and fervent prayer, enwrapped in their tefilin and talitot, the sweet song of Jacob on their lips – are butchered by loathsome terrorists!No words can do justice to the deep sadness we feel for the families left behind , and the victims, who died al Kiddush Hashem.

    At a time when it would be natural and fully understandable to become self-absorbed, the widows and their families sent the following message to Jews around the world. It reads, in part:

    "Our hearts are broken and melting amidst tears over the spilling of the blood of the martyred heads of our families…..
    "We turn to you, our fellow Jewish brethren wherever you may be! Let us all unite in order that we receive Hashem's mercy. Let us take upon ourselves to increase love and brotherhood between people, communities, and diverse groups.
    "We implore each person to take upon himself at the onset of Shabbat, to sanctify this Holy Shabbat, Parshat Toldot (the eve of the Rosh Chodesh Kislev), to make this Shabbat a day of unconditional love - a day of refraining from divisiveness and arguments, gossip and tale-bearing. This act will bring about a great elevation of our husbands' souls, slaughtered in sanctification of God's Name, may He be blessed.
    Signed with a broken and crushed heart:
    Chayah Levine and family
    Breina Goldberg and family
    Yaakovah Kupinsky and family
    Bashi Twersky and family

    Disbelief, denial, fury, calls for unbridled revenge?
    Just the opposite: these families radiate deep faith, acceptance of their harsh personal reality...and immediately issue a call for Jewish unity!

    Their piety recalls the words of Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali, who declared before Rosh Hashanah, "We went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves…We had days and days of lightning. . . . [W]e saw about ourselves that we are part of something huge, a people, a true family. That’s for real.”

    As Jews living outside of Israel, we continue to unconditionally support the Israeli government's efforts to tighten security, foil terrorist plots, and prevent atrocities.

    But equally important as our show of political support is that we derive lessons from the faith and inner strength of the victims' families. We owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves - to heed their call for a recommitment to Jewish unity and all that entails, here in Seattle and beyond.

    Shabbat Shalom!

    Nov 21 Tags: Untagged
  • Meriting Many Years....with Sukkot as the model

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    Members of the Sephardic community greet one another with the expression תזכו לשנים רבות - "may you merit many years" from Rosh Hashana to Yom Hakippurim.


    Rav Hayim David HaLevy, late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was asked to identify the original source of this greeting. In the course of his response in his book, "Aseh Leha Rav", Rav HaLevy cites Rav Hayim Palagi, who identifies the source as the verse in Devarim 16:13
    ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
    When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days.


    The verse uses the future tense, "you shall celebrate"; and so we wish our fellow Jews, "If you celebrated Sukkot this year, may you merit doing so for many years to come…."


    This source is perplexing: Even if we see the hint in the language, what is there about Sukkot that makes it fit to be the basis of this greeting? And why did Sephardic custom develop along different lines, namely, to greet others with תזכו לשנים רבות until the end of Yom Kippur, but "Moadim Lesimcha" –on Sukkot?


    I would like to propose an answer based on an excerpt from Rav Shlomo Aviner's book, עם כלביא. Rav Aviner notes the odd phenomenon of two opposite themes during the month of Tishri: both the High Holydays, the "Days of Awe", and Sukkot, "Zeman Simhatenu - the time of our joy"! The Rishonim also note that there seems to be no intrinsic connection between Sukkot and the month of Tishri; after all, Sukkot recalls the divine protection afforded the Children of Israel the entire stretch of 40 years in the desert!


    Rav Aviner quotes Peleh Yo'etz, who explains: "[Sukkot is right after the Days of Awe] to cause us to rejoice from our anguish and sadness of the days of repentance." Sefat Emet notes: "…After the Days of Awe, there is a special need for joy, because a person is not complete if he is only exposed to awe and fear."


    In other words, we need to be emotionally "healed" from the impact of the High Holydays. During Elul, we gradually detach more and more from this world, and turn our attention to spiritual pursuits – with the climax – Yom Kippur. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook says that, of necessity, this process triggers a "disconnect" with the sanctity of this world. "But, in truth, this world and the next hug each other; they are intertwined, and the cultivation of one serves as the basis for elevation in the next. True, during the days of repentance, we need to intensify our spiritual pursuits; that is why the days of joy arrive – to return ourselves to (normative) life."


    Unfortunately, many American Jews, including our own congregations, make the most concerted effort to attend services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Often, their last Jewish religious experience for the year is the exhausting 25-hour Yom Kippur fast.


    With this in mind, let us return to the source of תזכו לשנים רבות – may you merit many years, the verse in Devarim Ch. 16 mandating the observance of Sukkot:
    ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
    When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days


    When we wish someone תזכו לשנים רבות, we are not just wishing him a long life; quality of life is also important! We want our fellow Jews to live long, happy, fulfilled lives. As Sefat Emet notes, one whose relationship with G-d is built only on awe and fear, does not become spiritually whole. With the verse in Devarim as the backdrop, we can be understood as wishing another a long, quality life of joy and closeness to the Creator!
    True, the custom is to issue תזכו לשנים רבות as a greeting between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because that is when our lives are literally hanging in the balance; embedded in our good wishes is a beracha for a joyous fulfilling life, the kind of life we begin to taste from with the arrival of Sukkot, זמן שמחתינו.

    Oct 13 Tags: Untagged
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  • Will Wonders Never Cease?

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  • Spanish Citizenship for Sephardim: Recent Reflections

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    Earlier today, I received a private message from a good friend of mine regarding my posting of Ezra Bessaroth's role in facilitating the first step in helping those descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain obtain Spanish citizenship under the new law.

    First, I want to praise my friend on his choice to message me privately and not engage in a back-and-forth debate on Facebook over this issue; he felt that this would unnecessarily expose me to public criticism. Here’s what he wrote:

    Hi Rabbi. I didn't want to write this on your wall because I didn't want to even imply a public criticism of you, but I have to say I'm surprised given what I know about your attitude toward Eretz Yisrael to see you encouraging Jews to become citizens of Spain. Do you need see nothing problematic about that? Isn't Spain the wrong country for Jews who want to add a second citizenship? Has Ezzy Bezzy made a similar promotional push (maybe you have) for its members becoming citizens of Israel (i.e. aliyah)?”

    The point is well-taken.

    Some background: When my good friends, Joe and Doreen Alhadeff, approached me with news of their involvement in promoting the new law – and having Ezra Bessaroth approved to attest to a person’s Sephardic ancestry – I asked myself whether I wanted at all to be party to encouraging Jews to become citizens of Spain.

    Over and above the issue of promoting this path (instead of encouraging Aliyah to Israel) there’s the question of whether we should align ourselves with a campaign that tries to redress the wrongs of the past – specifically, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and all that this tragedy entailed. In June of 2014, Rabbi Marc Angel, himself a native of Seattle and a student of Sephardic history posted a critical piece on his blog. In part, it read,

    How can giving a few passports to descendants of Spanish Jews undo the untold sufferings of Sephardic ancestors? How can even giving every living Sephardic Jew today a Spanish passport serve as atonement for the humiliations, persecutions and expulsion of our ancestors? Yet, how can we shut the door to genuine contrition and reconciliation? How can we allow past injustices to fester eternally, without finding ways to overcome those horrors?....It is fine for Spain to offer Spanish passports to Sephardim; but this does not in any way address the root problem or atone for the injustices committed against Spanish Jews of the middle ages. Spain needs to be at the forefront of civilization’s struggle against anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism. Spain needs to be outspoken in its opposition to religious fanaticism where ever it manifests itself. Spain must become a moral voice for strengthening the lives of contemporary Sephardic Jews, most of whom live in the State of Israel or strongly identify with the Jewish State.

    Why promote Spain at all without full teshuva?
    Shouldn’t we first prioritize assisting Jews to become citizens of Israel?

    My personal response to both questions: I, too, am troubled by the failure of nations – many of them European – to learn the lessons of the past. I too, feel that Spain should show its concern for Sephardim by supporting the State of Israel. For whatever it’s worth, though, I do feel that the public declaration of responsibility for the expulsion from Spain is of significance. Though it falls short of what we would like to see – in my view, it does have some incremental value. It may at least qualify as “Hirhurei Teshuva”….if not complete teshuva!

    To my friend’s point: Last time I checked, there is strong basis for saying that we fulfill a Torah mitzvah by living in Eretz Yisrael…and not in Spain. As someone whose offspring and offspring’s offspring presently live in the Land of Israel, and who himself hopes one day to return even if the Mashiach has not yet arrived by that time….I personally spare no efforts in making it a priority to financially support pro-Israel causes as well as assist those who have been victims of Arab terror. I am also a proud trustee of the Samis Foundation, whose meaningful philanthropy works to address some of the core social issues in Israeli society. Our congregation stands at the forefront of the Seattle community in its Israel programming, even in the face of expressed disdain by so-called “progressive” elements in our community who would prefer to see us make room for organizations which overtly and covertly undermine the IDF and the Jewish state……

    Our involvement in helping establish Sephardic identity for those interested in pursuing Spanish citizenship should not be seen in a vacuum, but against the backdrop of what I’ve written above. The messages delivered in our local Orthodox Jewish day schools, in synagogue shiurim, from the pulpit, in yearly programming - including scholars-in-residence throughout our community – are unequivocal. Anyone wishing to make Aliyah knows exactly where to go and would not only be fully supported - but publicly applauded for making the commitment! (One of my mechutanim is even a Nefesh B’Nefesh counsellor….I have her phone number and email!)

    But alas, we live in a very complex age. With all the good work of our Jewish schools, only 5% of Seattle’s Jewish children are enrolled in day-school Jewish education. Intermarriage rates across the country are soaring, and the Sephardim of Seattle and elsewhere are not immune.

    I reflect on my own decision, 35 years ago, to become more Jewishly connected. It started with a bowl of chicken soup at the Shabbat table of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Pritzker in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It continued with Herman Wouk’s “This is My G-d” and Prager and Telushkin’s “Nine Questions.” It could have stopped there, with the soup and the interesting reading…..

    For the Sephardim of Seattle and around the world, Sephardic culture plays a huge role in the formation and maintenance of identity. Do I believe that bourekas and bulemas are the essence of Sephardic Jewish identity? Of course not! But do these foods play some role in maintaining even a tenuous link to tradition …. that could eventually blossom into a deeper connection?

    Absolutely!

    Faced with the reality of the Spanish citizenship option for Sephardim, I think that the question for a community rabbi becomes: Is facilitating the Spanish citizenship process a potential portal of entry for less affiliated Jews to open their eyes to the past, to look at themselves anew as a link in the chain of Jewish history? Perhaps the applicants had not grappled with the devotion of those ancestors who resisted the Inquisitor’s threat of death and the commitment to living a Jewish life implicit in this sacrifice. How many unaffiliated Jews have truly meditated upon the evidence of a Divine hand guiding Jewish history both before and after the expulsion?

    And so, I feel that the necessary research involved in uncovering the details of one’s Sephardic Jewish roots may well be an eye-opening experience that paves the way for some more profound introspection.

    I'm comfortable being a partner in this process.

    Jul 11 Tags: Untagged
  • What a touching story

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  • The Situation in Israel - What's Our Role?

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    The situation in Eretz Yisrael over the past several weeks has become nothing short of intolerable. Anyone up-to-date on the news, and certainly those with friends and loved ones in Israel, understands how serious things are. The dilemma of what we, as Jews living in the Diaspora can and should do, seems to resurface on a yearly basis.

    A friend of mine emailed me a couple of days ago with a very out-of-the box plan of action. In the course of a few exchanges, I hope I made it clear to him that, though his heart is in the right place, his ideas were unwise at best and counterproductive, even damaging, at worst.

    Back in 2005, hundreds of individuals situated themselves at major intersections throughout Israel, handing out orange wrist bands. Why? An effort to prevent the disengagement from Gush Katif. Now, I too, was of the opinion that the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif would lead to Gaza becoming an even more entrenched terror base, but I did not hand out wrist bands in support of the Jewish Gaza residents.

    Unable to articulate why I did not demonstrate, I sought the counsel of a good friend of mine. He made the following observation: The Knesset had already much earlier decided to dismantle the Jewish communities; it was a done deal - and all the demonstrators were doing was participating in something that made them feel significant. In fact, he maintained, such demonstrations actually served the interests of the Sharon government at the time, helping distract citizens from potentially meaningful responses to the disengagement, once it happened: planning for the lack of housing for the displaced people, setting up the psychological and social service framework that the residents would have to draw on after the trauma of losing their homes and communities....

    I am concerned that with the recent vicious, murderous stabbing war launched by the Palestinians over the past two weeks, we Diaspora Jews are, so to speak, putting ourselves at the proverbial intersections, handing out orange wrist bands.

    What do I mean?

    I have overheard many a conversation of "armchair' security experts who believe that they know how, once and for all, to solve Israel's security woes. If only Netanyahu would give each of us a seat on his security cabinet.....(!)

    Friends, none of us have any real sense of the intricacy and scope of the security issues Israel faces! As in matters of medicine, Halacha mandates us to defer to the experts in the area, and to their evaluation of appropriate strategies given their indepth knowledge of both their professions and the context within which they find themselves.

    If we take a "know-it-all" approach, we also risk mimicking (with the best interests of Israel in mind!) the strategy of groups like J-Street and the New Israel Fund, which work tirelessly - from the Diaspora - alongside radical left wing U.S. power brokers to force Israel's hand to make wildly irresponsible concessions in a region gone mad.

    So it cuts both ways: Let's let Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team handle the security of the country that they lead!

    Instead, let us focus on unequivocal support of Israel in the local and national media. Let us invest our efforts in garnering the unconditional support of Israel by our American political leaders, be they Democrat or Repubican. This part of the war against terrorism and hatred IS our responsibility! One example of a worthwhile cause is to call out the New York Times on its insidious piece this past week questioning the historicity of the two Batei Mikdash (Temples) on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The article was clearly timed to support the falsehoods uttered by the Palestinian establishment; these falsehoods in turn provide the moral basis for stabbing 70 year-old Jewish women at Jerusalem's Central Bus Station! As a result of the pressure by historians and readers throughout the Jewish world, the Times was forced to amend its article so that it could somewhat resemble an objective piece of journalism.

    Secondly, as I suggested in a sermon two weeks ago, the way to combat Midat Hadin/strict judgment on a spiritual level - is to increase the presence of Hesed - kindness - in our personal lives. As Jews, we firmly believe that "Hashem Tzilcha Al Yad Yeminecha" - "Hashem is your shadow at your right hand." God relates to us as we relate to others. Since all Jews' fate is intertwined from a spiritual and historical perspective, when Jews in Seattle increase their level and intensity of Gemilut Hasadim, God responds by relating to us in a more compassionate way. This is the secret of stirring up the thirteen attributes of Mercy that are repeated over and over again during the High Holidays: Our sages tell us that God enwrapped Himself like a Shaliach Tzibbur - like a Hazzan - and demonstrated to Moshe Rabeinu how to recite these thirteen attributes of Mercy. Rabbi Nebenzhal explains that it is not the mere recital of these attributes, but the incorporation of them into our daily lives, that ultimately matters.

    May the coming days, weeks and months see the eradication of evil, and may we merit to play even a small role in the transformation of our broken world.

    Oct 14 Tags: Untagged
  • Rabbi Marc Angel: Spanish Passports for Sephardic Jews?

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    The discussion around Spanish passports for Sephardic Jews is heating up. For Rabbi Marc Angel's blogpost on the topic click here:

    http://www.jewishideas.org/blog/spanish-passports-sephardic-jews-blog-rabbi-marc-d-ange

    Jun 12 Tags: Untagged
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  • In Memory of Jewel Capeluto

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    Mrs. Jewel Jacquline Capeluto was born on February 24, 1932.  She leaves behind her beloved sister Ina Willner, husband Morrie Capeluto, son Ralph, daughter Linda and her husband Leon, daughter Wendy and her husband Stan, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Jewel was predeceased by her sister Geraldine and by her parents, Fanny and Abe Danz.

    Needless to say, the immediate and extended Capeluto family and our entire community is trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of Jewel. Today, the fifth day of Hanukah, we are in a unique situation: At one and the same time, we are pulled in two opposite directions: We want to show our utmost respect to Jewel and eulogize her on her passing. At the same time, Hanukah is a joyous holiday, and as Jews, we are bidden not to engage in the same level of public mourning as we would during the rest of the year. So if you detect a difference in the nature and the length of our words today, we do not mean, G-d forbid, to detract from the honor we wish to show to Jewel’s memory; we are all just trying to carefully balance the Jews’ national celebration of our miraculous history, with the intense mournful feelings of Jewel’s grieving family and community.

    Before I offer various members of the family and a friend an opportunity to speak, I would like to offer a few words of reflection:

    Early on in the book of Bereishit, the Book of Genesis, G-d observes that Noah is a wholly righteous person; of all mankind, only Noah and his family are therefore be spared from the desolation of the impending flood.  Essential to the atmosphere in the ark is the “Tzohar”.

    G-d commands Noah: צהר תעשה לתיבה  - “Make a Tzohar for the ark”

    Rashi cites two approaches as to what this “Tzohar” is:

    יש אומרים חלון – there are those that say it was a window

     ויש אומרים אבן טובה המאירה להם – and there are those who say it was a precious gem that lit up the ark for them.

    The approach that says that it was  a precious gem suggests that even if there was little or no light coming in from the outside – which was being pelted by the storm – internally…inside the Teva, the ark, there was a self-generating light.  A Tzohar, a precious gem, a sparkling Jewel that lit up the ark.

    Some commentators ask: How could one gem, one Jewel, light up this vast area?

    There are those that respond: The Torah uses concise language.  In fact, they say, there were many such stones around the interior of the ark and they jointly illuminated the area.

    The plain meaning of the text seems, though, to indicate otherwise.  There seems to have been just one Tzohar.  Sometimes a single light source can give off a disproportionate amount of light.

    In keeping with the spirit of Hanukah, I would like to suggest that Jewel Capeluto had just this kind of impact. Walking into Jewel and Morrie’s home, you instantly feel a warm glow, the warmth of a self-generating light; a shiny countenance that both came naturally – but make no mistake about it – was also consciously cultivated by Jewel throughout her lifetime. The warmth and the light were contagious, with Jewel’s family and community the beneficiaries of this light. It was a light of confidence. It was a light of clarity of purpose. It was a light of pure kindness.

    There is a debate in the Talmud on the manner in which we are to kindle the Hanukah Menorah. One view, that of Bet Hillel, says   מוסיף והולך…we add candles each successive night of the holiday; another approach, that of Bet Shammai, says פוחת והולך…we subtract candles each night.  In the broader Jewish world, this week of Hanukah is joyous – it’s one of מוסיף והולך, of adding light.  For us here today, for her loving family and community, there is one less gem, one less precious light; together, this Hanukah, we are   פוחת והולך: we are jointly experiencing a loss of that light.

    Dec 05 Tags: Untagged
  • Eulogy for Judy Menashe z"l

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    Today, we pay our respects to Mrs. Judy Menashe. Judy is survived by her husband Victor, children Phillip, Shelly and husband Paul, David and wife Shannon, grandchildren Sarah and husband Tygh, Jamie and husband Chris, Jeff, Jacob, Josh Jesse, Kelly, Jamie Marie and great grandchildren Ashton and June.

    On the Jewish calendar, we find ourselves in the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the tens days of repentance.  It is an intensely reflective time of the Jewish year. Just a few days before Yom Kippur, our holiest day - we've come together to share our reflections on the life of Judy of blessed memory. Judy’s children Phillip, Shelly, and David helped me put together these thoughts:

    Judy was an outgoing person.  From a very young age, Judy was undoubtedly THE most popular girl in her social circle.  She was also a superior athlete: In fact, many of her contemporaries remarked that when it came to sports, there was no real point in attempting to compete with Judy...Her love of sports continued into her adulthood and married life - she was an avid golfer and tennis player...the list goes on.   Judy successfully passed on her enthusiasm for sports and athletics to her children and grandchildren, it was from Judy that her kids learned the ropes of football, baseball and basketball... A devoted mother and grandmother, she could always be counted on to attend various sporting events, gymnastics competitions and the like...

    Judy was also a very talented singer, channeling her love of singing primarily to her grandchildren, whom she treated to a regular medley of folk songs.

    These are just some of the reasons those that knew Judy used to say that if they had to live life again, they would love to "come back as Judy"...

    Her children recall that the kids playing on the back porch would wait for the honk of Judy's horn so they could help her take in the groceries – their help was not totally altruistice; it was in exchange, of course, for Judy’s generous allotments of popsicles and fudgicles. 

    Family was Judy's top priority, and life had taught Judy that  her kids' well-being would be enhanced by a rich circle of friends and social connections. 

    The most fascinating aspect of Judy's vivacious personality seems to have been her unique ability to straddle two worlds.  Rooted in the values and customs of her Rhodesli Sephardic heritage, she simultaneously reminded people of an elegant, cosmopolitan Jewish Jackie Kennedy.  While comfortable with the traditional role as wife, mother and homemaker who consistently deferred to her dear husband of 60 years, Dr. Victor Menashe, Judy developed a keen sense of her own place in an ever-evolving American society; she independently acquired the skills to navigate that culture, directing her family accordingly.   In a nutshell, Judy was a paradox: as comfortable on the golf course as she was in formal attire, with meticulous attention to the way she presented itself....At ease as a supportive wife, mother and grandmother, but with a dynamic and inquisitive eye to the broader culture..

    I think it's safe to say that those who have come together today to honor Judy understand those who, if they could have a second go-round, would love to "come back as Judy."  Judy Menashe was  truly a complex woman who lived life to the fullest, with no regrets.  And during this time of the Jewish year, we Jews place great value on living a life of no regrets.

    Menuchata B'Gan Eden

    Sep 21 Tags: Untagged
  • Eulogy for Dave Agoado z"l

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    As we prepare ourselves to usher in Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, one theme that appears in the Musaf Prayer on Rosh Hashana day is Zichronot: Memories.  In that section of the Musaf, we concentrate on how G-d remembers all that we did, said, and even thought.  Before G-d, nothing is hidden  - everything is revealed. The slightest nuances of both thought and deed go into His calculation, His final Judgment of each and every one of us.

    Two short days ago, none of us imagined that we would getting together to compose our own Zichronot our own memories of a man who was a real legend in the Seattle community, Dave Agoado.  I had the privilege of spending some time last  night, after Shabbat, with Dave’s family – and they helped me compose their Zichronot, their memories of their beloved father, grandfather and great grandfather.

    The great Ribi Akiva declared that “Va’ahavta Lere’acha Komach” – love your fellow as yourself – is the most all-encompassing mitzvah of the entire Torah.  Dave Agoado excelled at this mitzvah.  He literally loved all people.  This love expressed itself in many ways – from social interactions with visitors to the Summit, where he was the keeper of the keys in the foyer, to his 17 years of volunteer work at the Kline Galland, where his concern for others triggered the famous Shmoozers program. His dedication to Kline Galland  complimented the hard work of the Home’s leadership, as it became increasingly known over the years as a first class, premiere organization, a home for elderly people that cares for and ensures the integrity of its residents.  

    If you were fortunate enough to be a recipient of one of Dave’s Keshes – his love barbs – it just meant that he had a special fondness for you.

    Dave’s love for people expressed itself in a more concentrated form in the case of his family. 

    As the only grandparent Amy and Jennifer came to know, Dave was the quintessential Grand Papoo. He took on this role with great enthusiasm. Oblivious to the aging process, Dave – at the time I think in his 80’s -  was on time for a party for Amy and Jennifer’s friends – who were 60+ years his junior – donning a the garb of a youngster – including wrap-around sunglasses and a tacky purple shirt.   His joy with his great grandson Solomon knew no bounds, peppering the unsuspecting tike with kisses at every opportunity.  

    Dave was a proud, supportive and loving father to Joe.  Dave was a very active father, always looking out for Joe’s best interests.  When it came to his son’s welfare, Dave was an out of the box thinker – he founded a Jewish Cub Scouts pack Ezra Bessaroth back in the early 1960’s.  In the 90’s, when Joe sought his Dad’s advice on whether to take on the position as President of EB, Dave told him he was crazy for considering it.  Once Joe took the position, Dave would walk into the sanctuary on Shabbat mornings, gaze proudly at his son, and give him two thumbs up.  Dave had an unshakable connection to EB – helping youngsters, including three year old Stanley (donning an oversized Tallet up the many steps into the old EB synagogue building some 70 years ago) to serving as a chauffeur, ensuring the continuity of the Kehilla’s daily minyan.  Joe’s love for Ezra Bessaroth to this day flows from his father Dave’s lifelong devotion.

    These are the Zichronot, the memories of Dave as an engaged father and grandfather and member of the community.

    The strongest theme running through many of the anecdotes, the zichronot of Dave, is that he was a nurturer.

    There is a Talmudic principle that asserts Mitzvah Bo Yoter M’beshlucho – it is preferable to perform a mitzvah yourself than to do so by way of someone else.  Dave’s character as a nurturer meant that when he had the opportunity to give to someone else, to care for someone else – he would do everything within his power to give himself, instead of assigning another person to do so on his behalf.

    This came out most clearly when his wife, Joe’s mother Anita, became quite ill. For over six years, Dave steadfastly took care of Anita himself.  Only when it became very clear that Anita needed assistance that he could not provide, did Dave agree to have his wife move to the Kline Galland home. But even after Anita entered the Kline Galland, Dave continued his nurturing by visiting with her all the time, every day; he would not leave at night until he gave his wife a kiss.

    A similar pattern – of engaging personally in the care of others – characterized Dave’s care for his daughter Joanne; A devoted father, Dave insisted on taking care of Joanne’s every need until the law changed, and her needs could be provided for by Kline Galland, even though she was under the age of 65. Dave’s sensitivity to Joanne’s emotional well-being prompted him to set up regular social outings with Joyce, Amy and Jennifer.  Mitzvah Bo Yoter M’beshlucho – at every turn, perform a mitzvah yourself if at all possible. That was Dave’s guiding principle.

    On the eve of Rosh Hashana, as we pray that G-d remember, attend to our mitzvot, our positive thoughts and actions, we ask that G-d take note of our Zichronot of Dave Agoado.

    For sister Francis Salzberg,

    Children, Joe and Joyce Agoado

    Grandchildren, Amy Agoado, Jennifer and Max Strassberg  and Dave’s great Grandson Solomon Strassberg, and for all Dave’s extended family and friends, this is a painful loss.  Dave Agoado will be sorely missed by us all.

    Menuchato B’Gan Eden

    Sep 19 Tags: Untagged
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