Spring 2004

     From the Rabbi's desk
     
      It's hard to believe it's March already! Sometimes the days and weeks just seem to fly by (I know, time sure flies when you're having fun!). I guess that's why we Jews have always tried to make time special - holy - by sanctifying it. It's not just the life cycle events that we make holy with prayer and observance, but time itself.
      That's what Rosh Hashanah and Succoth and other holidays and festivals are all about. That's what SHABBAT is all about. Each week, as we begin our service, I ask everyone to stop thinking abut all the things we have to do, all the problems that plagued us all week long, everything that occupies our minds; let us concentrate, instead, on who we are and what we are doing in this world and how can we make our lives and the world better, reaching ever higher toward our potential.
      We do this through reflection and prayer, by sharing with family and community, by study. The synagogue is a vehicle to accomplish this, but each individual has to supply the effort to make it happen. So many people have said to me how moving and inspiring a particular service has been. Those are the ones who let the Shabbat enter their lives - even if only for the hour of the service! Imagine if we tried it all day long!
      Shabbat morning is an extension of the SHABBAT idea. We sleep a little later, perhaps, than we do on days when we work or run errands. After prayer and reflection we study Torah together. We are becoming a community of seekers - trying to know what our real place is in this world and how do we get there. The Torah text is the launching pad for discussions. How did our rabbis relate to this text; what does it mean to us and why?
      Perhaps a little lunch - together as friends and fellow-seekers, an afternoon rest and then we are strengthened to end the Shabbat and enter a new week: refreshed, better armed to deal with the world, strengthened to face the storm that may confront us - and knowing that we are also part of a community, wherever we live, but especially here in St. Thomas.
      "Shabbat Shalom" may be a greeting, but it is also a state - or a potential state - of being!
     L'shalom,
     Rabbi Arthur F. Starr
     
     Jews, Christians, Moslems dialogue together
     
      Sponsored by the World of Difference Fund, the Hebrew Congregation brought Professor Yehezkel Landau to St Thomas for a wonderful program of dialogue. Professor Landau teaches at the Hartford (Connecticut) Seminary in Interfaith Relations with an extensive 25 years of experience in Israel.
      Basing the evening on Bruce Feiler's book, "Abraham," Professor Landau spoke of Abraham as the father of the three monotheistic faiths and a role model for building peaceful relations among our groups, especially in Israel. His presentation was followed by remarks by Dean Ashton Brooks of All Saints Episcopal Cathedral, Imam Abdul-Hakeem of the St. Thomas Islamic Center, Bishop George Murry of the Roman Catholic Diocese and Rabbi Starr of the Hebrew Congregation. The forum was then opened to the audience for comments and questions. The program was held at the Antilles School and was moderated by the school's headmaster, Art Scott.
      There was some deep - even painful - sharing, particularly on the subject of the binding of Isaac. The Imam and others in the group shared the Quran's teaching that it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who was brought to Moriah, and the reasoning behind that belief. It was an eye-opening moment for most of the Christians and Jews who were present and, in acknowledging and validating that belief, we opened the doors to greater opportunities to dialogue with each other. We understood that we must recognize that this belief is as valid to Moslems as is the belief that it was Isaac who was brought to Moriah is to Christians and Jews.
      Many who left the evening's program were uplifted and committed to continue the process begun that evening.
     
     Short Takes - News from ARZA
     
     May mission provides an insider's look at Israel
     Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of ARZA/WORLD UNION, N.A. will lead a North American delegation to Israel May 30-June 7, 2004. This is an opportunity to experience an insider's view of Israel and Reform life, and learn about issues from political, academic, and military experts, while visiting places where the average tourist never goes.
     This mission features: a special VIP tour of the Knesset and a private conversation with President Moshe Katzav; meetings with high-level officials; and a seminar on terrorism with top experts.
     You will have a unique opportunity to visit Tel Aviv, learn about the diplomatic and political complexities of Jerusalem, and travel by jeep to the Golan. You will also learn about demographics, view the security fence between Israel and the Palestinians, and tour one of Israel's leading industries. Enjoy some fun events: a tour of the Golan Winery and lunch with a celebrity chef!
     For more information and to register, contact sshaldag@uahc.org or go to the website www.arzaworld.com
     "No feeling heart can be unmoved by the power of Israel. The very fact of Israel's existence is a miracle of biblical proportions. See for yourself. Be with your people."
      Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch
     
     Rabbi Hirsch praises ONAD decision
     "I am very pleased that United Jewish Communities' Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee (ONAD) has voted to maintain the current formula for funding overseas allocations," said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Executive Director of ARZA/WORLD UNION, North America.
     ONAD voted to allocate $144 million, or 75%, of an expected $187 million for overseas distribution to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and 25% to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
     "This is a firm affirmation of the centrality of Israel and our continuing responsibility to strengthen the financial, religious and organizational ties connecting American Jews and Israel in this, her greatest hour of need," he said.
     
     From URJ (Formerly UAHC)
     Words of Healing: New from the UAHC Press and the Women of Reform Judaism, "The Mitzvah of Healing" is a collection of essays, traditional texts, personal stories, and meditations that look at healing from a Jewish perspective. Addressing difficult questions such as how to nourish the soul while the body is aching and how to help heal those who are suffering, the book exposes you to the breadth of Jewish healing.
     To order, see www.uahcpress.com, or contact the Press toll-free at 888.489.8242, Press@urj.org.
     Outreach at 25: Outreach was born December 2, 1978, when Rabbi Alexander Schindler revolutionized American Judaism with his controversial Outreach Initiative. Calling for synagogues to welcome non-Jewish spouses of interfaith marriages and encourage them to choose Judaism for their families, the initiative reversed a 500-year-old tradition of discouraging converts and helped welcome thousands of interfaith and non-practicing families into Judaism.
     This initiative dramatically changed the face of North American Judaism and congregations everywhere, bringing new strength and vitality to our Movement. Congratulations, everyone!
      For more information see www.urj.org/outreach/25/faceofrj.shtml
     Hineini: During his sermon at the Minnesota Biennial, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called on Reform congregations to help support Reform Jewish life in Israel and the former Soviet Union.
     "Reform Jews are ready: ready for a single vision and a shared future; ready to advance the cause of Israel and our people; ready to affirm the unity of the Jewish people across time and space," he said. With these words, the Hineini Initiative was launched, and congregations are now signing up to "adopt" a Reform/Progressive congregation in Israel or Eastern Europe, sponsor Reform rabbis at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, or help build Israeli Progressive synagogues. The goal is for every household to contribute $18 a year to support Jewish life elsewhere. Details are online at www.urj.org/hineini.
     Talking about "The Passion": "The Passion," Mel Gibson's movie about the last hours in the life of Jesus, has generated a great deal of controversy. In response, the Reform Movement's Commission on Interreligious Affairs has put up a Web site that compiles Jewish leaders' responses to the film, news and opinion articles about it, and historical information about passion plays. For further information, point your browser to http://rj.org/interreligious/pub/passions.html.
     Passover Resources: With Passover just around the corner, why not take a look at some of the Pesach resources offered by the UAHC Press?
     For adults, there's "Passage to Pesach," a guide that encourages an enriched, text-based understanding of the traditions surrounding Passover, focusing on both Biblical texts as well as the memories and minhags that surround the holiday.
     For children in grades K through 3, there's "The Seder Activity Book," which contains quiet games and activities that seek to actively involve children in the traditional Passover meal. Kids can design their own seder invitations, complete puzzles and mazes, and discover how and why we celebrate Pesach.
     And for the youngest members of the family, there's "A Tree Trunk Seder," part of a series of holiday board books by author and illustrator Camille Kress. With vivid watercolors and simple rhymes, the book introduces preschoolers to a friendly family of squirrels who are busy preparing for their own woodland seder.
     To order, contact the UAHC Press toll-free at 888.489.8242, press@urj.org, or order online at www.uahcpress.com.
     Summer Learning: This summer, why not take some time out to study Jewish texts and ideas with outstanding teachers, experiment with dynamic, innovative worship, and join a vibrant community of dedicated learners? By participating in the URJ Summer Kallah you can gain a unique sense of spiritual renewal. This year's kallah will be held in two locations - the University of California at Santa Cruz, July 7-11, and Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, NH, July 21-25.
     For further information, log onto the Web site at www.urj.org/educate/kallah, or contact the Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning at 212.650.4110, educate@urj.org.
     
     Hebrew Congregation UJC fund-raising
     It is with great pleasure that I announce to all of our community the success of last year's United Jewish Community (UJC) drive. In a few short years our community has gone from no contributions to a record of over $50,000 for the year 2003. We are hoping to equal or do better this year.
      Our drive will be March 24, 25, and 26. We will kick off the drive with a meeting at the home of Dick and Teri Golden. Our guest speaker is Jane Stein who we tried to have last year but due to a family emergency she was unable to attend. From all reports Jane is a gifted speaker and advocate for the needs of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. She will speak again at the synagogue for Shabbat services.
     Many of our Chai members have chosen to make the St. Thomas community their UJC source.
     You are welcome to join us.
     L'shalom,
     Donald Pomeranz
     
     2004 Antiques Auction is a hit;
      now it's on to the 2005 auction

      The 2004 Antiques, Art and Collectibles Auction on Feb. 1, 2004, was another big success, and may have set a record price for a West Indian four-poster bed at a public auction -- $31,000.
      The beautiful Anduze family bed went to an anonymous buyer, represented by Philip Sturm, an auction committee member and expert on West Indian antique furniture.
     All four pieces of art by Camille Pissarro - made available to the auction through the Stern-Pissarro Gallery in London - also sold, as did the Baccarat crystal coffee table.
     All in all, the auction was an enormous success, both financially and socially. More than 400 people attended the previews and auction - another record for us. We didn't make quite as much money as we did in 2003 - our expenses were higher this year and we had fewer donated items - but we did just fine. Our bottom line from the auction itself was $45,000, which goes a long way toward maintaining our 171-year-old synagogue building and keeping it open to the public.
     This auction wouldn't happen without help from scores of people in our congregation and our community who contribute time, energy, expertise, items and services. We are grateful to the many volunteers who rolled up their sleeves throughout the auction weekend (and often before that) to unpack, clean, polish, shlep, arrange, hang art, sell, greet, work computers, handle our finances and assist in a thousand small ways.
     Special kudos to the wonderful members of the Auction Committee - Julie Cassinelli, Katina Coulianos, Teri Golden, Allison Krivatch, Sean Krivatch, Lee Monaco, Judi Nagelberg, Claire Ochoa, Archie Ogden, Ella Ogden, Donald Pomeranz, Doris Pomeranz, Trudie Prior, Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbi Arthur Starr, Linda Starr, Sydney Stern, Philip Sturm and Glenda Werbel. They put in countless hours throughout the year making this event a reality.
     In fact, we've already started working on the sixth annual Antiques, Art and Collectibles Auction, which will be held the first Sunday in February, Feb. 5, 2005, at the UVI Sports Center. We have about 20 items in hand already - some donated, some on consignment - and will happily accept other donations or consignment pieces. Thanks to the continued generosity of Les Cooper, we have warehouse space to store plenty of items until the next auction.
     If you have anything to donate - particularly furniture, art or collectibles for the auction or smaller items for the sale tables - please call Ella at 340-774-4312. To our off-island friends, please set aside appropriate items for the auction and bring them when you visit. If you want to mail a box of items, that would be wonderful; we'll happily pay the mailing costs.
     And if anyone wants to volunteer to help with the 2005 auction, just let us know. We welcome new energy and ideas.
      Penny Feuerzeig
      Auction Coordinator
     
     From Cantor Helen Leneman
     To all my friends at the Hebrew Congregation, I first of all want to extend my most heartfelt gratitude to everyone who made my recent visit possible. This was a beautiful gift to offer me, and certainly a wonderful way to express your appreciation for my service to you over the years. I feel duly appreciated!
     I was asked to write a few words about my experience as cantor and rabbi for the Milan Progressive community, called Lev Chadash. There is a community of about 10,000 Jews in Milan, most of them indifferent and not big shul-goers. Milan has one large and several tiny Orthodox congregations, among others. There are now also two Progressive groups, affiliates of the European Region of what is known as the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
     The major impetus to start a Progressive community was a need for gender equality and acceptance of interfaith marriages and converts. But one specific prayer was symbolic for the Jews of Milan, it was explained to me.
     On Rosh Hashanna morning, but more significantly on Yom Kippur afternoon, a special Birkat Cohanim (Priestly Benediction) is chanted by the cantor. It is a very old, traditional and much-loved melody. The Italian tradition during this prayer is for every family to gather together under a tallit. Even in Orthodox synaogues, Italians were relaxed enough to allow women to descend from the balcony for this special moment.
     This changed a few years ago, when a new Chief Rabbi in Italy decreed that mixed genders for this ritual was no longer to be permitted. And a few Milanese Jews rebelled. Family is everything to Italians, not to mention what many of them went through in the Holocaust. They were not about to have this much-loved ritual destroyed by the decree of one man. A few of them banded together, and thus was Lev Chadash born. It started with about 5 families, 3 years ago, and now they have about 100.
     You can imagine what an incredibly moving moment that was during Neilah, as the hall had gradually filled to capacity during the afternoon and then at that moment, families huddled together under their own tallit. Knowing the symbolism behind this moment greatly intensified the experience for me.
     So, this was a highlight.
      Some of you asked, how did I find this community? Through the magic of the web, I had reached out to WUPJ communities all over Europe, and finally got a "hit" from Milan. The fact that I am fluent in Italian and could serve as both their cantor and rabbi was a definite bonus for them.
     I am a great Italophile, starting with my first college degree in Italian, continuing with two years spent living in Italy, my later Master's thesis on the Venetian Ghetto in the Renaissance, up to now, when Sima and I travel to Italy several times a year for fun. In fact Sima joined me for Yom Kippur. Breaking the fast together at a pizzeria was a first. We asked our daughter Maya to join us, to which she responded, "Come to Italy and fast? Are you kidding?"
     The leader of this community had told me I would meet with the "choir" my first evening there. This turned out to be a casual potluck (all vegetarian in my honor) at someone's house, attended by about 8 charming men and women. Between mouthfuls of delicious pasta dishes, I would sing my version of a prayer, they would nod in appreciation or else suggest I hear their version. Then we decided which to use, and moved on. This went on till about midnight, as I learned members' stories about what had brought them to this community over cups of espresso. Many members are converts or preparing to become converts.
     The people I met at Lev Chadash are deeply committed to their Judaism and to this group. Their singing is loud and passionate - as is most everything Italians do. They are open, talkative, warm, intense people. Since those adjectives pretty much sum up who I am, this match was made in heaven.
     I will be back for Pesach and probably for the Holidays again this year. If any of you ever find yourselves on this side of the pond, I hope you'll look me up, if not in Italy, then in England!
     My email is CantorL2@aol.com. I'd love to hear from any and all of you. St. Thomas and the Hebrew Congregation will always hold a very special place in my heart.
     Cantor Helen Leneman
     
     Warm welcome to our new members: Bonnie and Herb Hirsch, John Klein and Sherry Levin and their little boy Sasha, George S. Eltman, and Kathy Tromp.
     Bruchim HaBaim!!!
     
     Thank you very much to: all who made the auction possible and successful, and in particular to Penny Feuerzeig and Archie Ogden; as always to Iris Horwitz for keeping us in cookies and cakes for the Onegs; Linda Starr for her sage advice about the Gift Shop; Herb Horwitz for his continuous dedication to teaching and serving as Gabai every Shabbat; Nathan Sell for his dedicated help with the Religious School; Eileene and Steve Berlin, Kelly and Eric Tillett, and Ella and Archie Ogden for providing accommodations for our student cantor, Marla Goldberg.
     
     Mazel Tov to:
     -- Rachel Rampino and the Rampino Family on Rachel's Bat Mitzvah on December 6, 2003
     -- Samantha Pomeranz and the Pomeranz Family on Samantha's Bat Mitzvah on February 20, 2004