There are some things that most of us never have and never will experience. We can imagine what it would feel like, but we never will really know.
One of those things has to be entering a huge arena and jumping, dancing, twirling, flying, seemingly beyond gravity’s pull. For about a minute and a half. To music. In front of thousands of people, clapping for you, and tens of millions more sitting in their living rooms all across the world watching you. Judging you. At the Olympics.
You’re very young when you do this — just 18. It’s the Summer Games in London last summer. You do very well in all your competitions — and you get the gold in your last one, the floor program. You are the first American woman to do this. You also win a bronze medal for your work on the balance beam. You are also the team captain, and the whole team wins the overall gold, as well.
How can you be a stranger and a permanent presence at the same time?
How do you balance the eternal truths of the Torah and the specific time-bound, culture-bound lens through which each of us must peer at it?
To Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who heads Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and is the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, that is the essential conundrum of an authentic Jewish life.
Goldin has just published “Unlocking the Torah Text: Bamidbar,” the fourth and penultimate book in his series on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. In each book, “what I have done is provide, both for those who have studied Torah before and those who have not, and in-depth yet accessible analysis of the parsha” — the Torah portion read each week on Shabbat.
Professor Stephen M. Berk, who teaches history at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., can shift easily between different emotional tones.
Ask him about his grandchildren’s school, the Gerrard Berman Day School, and he rhapsodizes.
Ask him about the existential dilemma facing Israel, and the mood darkens. And then, despite all that follows, it ends with hope.
First, the logistics. Berk, the Henry and Sally Schaffer Professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies at the small, well-regarded liberal arts college near Albany, spoke at a fundraising party for the school in a home in Saddle River.
First, it’s spring. The flowering trees have just peaked, tulips are gloriously unfurled, and the whole world is bright flowers and blue sky and translucently green grass and fluffy white clouds. (Unless, of course, it rains, but it can’t. It mustn’t. And the colors shine even through the rain, when the sky glows with steel and everything is reflected in the road.)
It’s a day for community, for families to gather, for fitness exercises led by professionals, for a carnival in the morning for kids, for music and food.
It is not clear that there is such a thing as a typical synagogue, but it is clear that if there were one, it would not be Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck.
For one thing, the Conservative shul has about 40 rabbis among its members, along with a similarly high number of other Jewish professionals.
For another, 12 of those rabbis are women. And two of those 12 rabbis — Lori Forman-Jacobi and Shelley Kniaz — graduated among the first cohort of women to be ordained by the movement’s flagship seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. That ordination — which changed the face of American Judaism — happened 25 years ago. On the first day of Shavuot this year, Forman-Jacobi will give the d’var Torah in Beth Sholom; all 12 of the rabbis will teach on the second day.
When Bernice Silberman Greenberg was 20 years old, in 1942, back at home on Long Island after two years in heaven — actually, two years at the Tyler School of Fine Art in Philadelphia, but she thought of the two places, school and heaven, as synonymous — her grandmother had just the guy for her.
“My grandmother went to his brother’s wedding, and she told me that she’d met an artist whose name was Michel,” Greenberg said.
“I was so intrigued! I thought that he would wear a beret and hold a palette,” she said.
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn of Bergenfield is an Orthodox Jew. He believes in “the revelation of Torah mi-Sinai” — that the Torah was given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai — and “that the idea of mitzvah,” commandedness, “has a claim on me.
“I also believe that the Jews are the chosen people,” he continued.
In some sense, it is not despite but because of these beliefs that he has devoted his career to interfaith relations.
“Once I leave my synagogue, literally the only people with whom I can share these beliefs are pious Christians,” he said.
“There is a good reason for pious Christians and Jews to talk together.”
The Kotel, the western retaining wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, has symbolized the symbolic heart of the Jewish people for two thousand years. It has been a unifying vision, the magnet that drew the iron in each one of us.
When it was retaken by Israeli soldiers in June 1967, and Jews once again were able to draw near to it, it represented both victory and hope, although some people, here and in Israel, complained about the “bicycle racks” that separated men from women almost as soon as the area was cleared and the Western Wall was opened to the public. Still, the Wall was a symbol of Jewish unity and pride.
Two realities intersected at a basketball game in Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers on Sunday, creating its own third reality.
Reality 1 — Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, the Conservative movement’s local summer camp, creates a feeling of intense loyalty to each other, as well as to Jewish life, in many of its alumni. Those bonds connect various former campers in different ways. One of those ways is basketball. Some Ramah alums meet in far western Manhattan every Sunday from October through April to play basketball through the Ramah Basketball Association.
Reality 2 — Eric Steinthal, who grew up in Haworth, where his parents, Marilyn and Bruce, still live, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on March 17, 2012. He was a Ramah alum and a former RBA commissioner. He was 31 years old when he died.