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Passover 5777
By Stan Schroeder

At the Passover seder we ask Ma Nishtanah … why is this night different from all others? Our hagaddah answers:

“This night is different from all other nights: because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Because we were brought forth from there by God with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Because we are thankful and because it is our duty to keep the commitment to freedom ever present in our memories and in our lives. So that we will always remember and never forget.”

We then go on to explain the matzah, the bitter herbs, and the other laws and customs of this holiday celebrated by Jews around the world. We tell the story of the exodus from Egypt (mitzrayim, the narrow place) as if we were there, because we are told that we were all liberated, we all experienced the wilderness and the journey to the Promised Land.

This year let us also ask why this year is different from all others. This year is different because we will soon celebrate the 69th birthday of the State of Israel. The State of Israel is the Promised Land of our day. Seventy four years ago, April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Mordecai Anielewicz and his small band of barely armed Jews fought over 2000 Nazi well armed troops until May 16. Anielewicz and most of his remaining fighters died in the final days. A kibbutz near the border with Gaza was renamed Yad Mordecai (hand of Mordecai) in his honor.

On May 14, 1948 David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State in accordance with the United Nations partition plan adopted November 1947. The date on the Hebrew calendar was the 5th of Iyar, and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day) is celebrated that date unless it falls on a Friday (advanced to the 3rd), Saturday (advanced to the 4th), or Monday (delayed to the 6th). This year it falls on Tuesday, May 2.

Over the next few days following the proclamation of the State over 20,000 troops from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt invaded the newly formed Jewish State. The War of Independence was fought in three phases, separated by periods of truce. The third phase ended July 20, 1949. During 1949 Israel signed separate armistice agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria (the four countries bordering Israel).

From the ashes of the ghettos and concentration and death camps of World War II, and the courage of the pioneers of the State, arose the modern thriving State of Israel today. The promises of the Biblical God of Israel and the British following the World War I League of Nations Mandate were kept in our time. While it is true Israel still has enemies bent upon her destruction, we pray this Passover for a resolution of the conflicts, L’shana ha’ba-ah b’Yerushalayim, next year in Jerusalem with Shalom l’kol, peace for all!

This Year we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem at the conclusion of the Six Day War June 10, 1967, the 28th of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar. That day the Old City of Jerusalem, ruled by the Jordanians since the War of Independence, was captured by the Israel Defense Force. The day is called Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and this year falls on Wednesday, May 24. Let us also pray that as we were liberated from slavery some 3500 years ago, that we enter an era of peace and prosperity for Israel and its neighbors.

This Year we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem at the conclusion of the Six Day War June 10, 1967, the 28th of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar. That day the Old City of Jerusalem, ruled by the Jordanians since the War of Independence, was captured by the Israel Defense Force. The day is called Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and this year falls on Wednesday, May 24. Let us also pray that as we were liberated from slavery some 3500 years ago, that we enter an era of peace and prosperity for Israel and its neighbors.

See my poem Exodus: My Journey from “Egypt” in the right hand column.


Board Meeting Dvar Torah Shemot (January 7, 2015)
by Stan Schroeder

This week we start the Book of Exodus, the core story of the Jewish people. In Hebrew, the books of the Torah and the weekly portions are named after the first significant word therein. So, both the book and the parsha are named Shemot, meaning “names”. The parsha starts by telling us, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob…” The names, starting with Reuben and ending with Asher, are then listed. We are then told that Joseph dies and eventually a new king (Pharaoh) arose who didn’t know about Joseph.

What he did know was that the Israelite people had become numerous and prospered.  He told the Egyptian people that they must deal shrewdly with the Israelites, so that they will not be able to fight with our enemies against us in the event of war. The Israelites were forced into hard labor overseen by taskmasters to oppress them. However, the Israelites continued to increase in number. The Pharaoh decided to instruct the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the boys born to Hebrew women and allow the girls to live.

We are then told the classic story of a birth of a boy to a Levite couple. The mother hides him for three months and then places the baby in a basket and puts the basket in the reeds near the Nile. She tells her daughter to watch and see what happens. Wouldn’t you know it, but none other than the daughter of the Pharaoh goes down to the river bank to bathe at that time. She spots the basket, has it fetched by her handmaidens, and arranges with the baby’s sister to have his mother be his wet nurse. And the rest, as they say, is his story. At this point, all the characters in the story are unnamed.

Some commentators say that the fact they are unnamed signifies how dehumanizing life had become for the Israelites. I think it teaches us that any Israelite family at the time could have had this experience. And, moreover, each of us could have a profound impact on what God, later in the parsha, calls “My people”.

The Pharaoh’s daughter names the boy Moses (Moshe), meaning to draw or pull out of water. Names and naming are an intrinsic part of the Torah. Going back to the Creation story in the Garden of Eden, Adam named all the animal species, and established dominion over them. Names have significance and are often symbolic of achievement, such as Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Israel. We name our children after loved ones, attempting to perpetuate their memory and the qualities they embodied.

Our congregation’s name is also significant, Shir Ami, Song of My People. As I mentioned, Exodus 5:1 relates that Moses issues the command in the name of the God of Israel to Pharaoh: Shalach et-ami v’yakogoo lee bamidbar – Let My people go that they may hold a festival to Me in the wilderness. God is declaring the people of Israel as His people according to His covenant. Each of us must have a covenantal relationship with the Jewish People, so that I, for instance, can say my People.

Shir means song. What is a song? Words set to music, meant to be sung. Later in Exodus we read the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam) sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Sea of Reeds. The Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim), attributed to King Solomon, extols the virtues of erotic love and/or a second interpretation of God’s love for Israel. Today we also have Hatikvah (The Hope) as the national anthem of Israel and symbolic of the relationship of the state of Israel to the Jewish people: in other words Zionism.

We can choose whatever song that gives meaning to our Jewish values. Many of us sing for the better part of two hours at our Contemporary Shabbat service. Our Social Action Committee, with song leader Claire Silverman, sings at the West Valley Healthcare Center. We had a delightful program of Jewish song by Cantor Mike Stein last October.

Congregation Shir Ami gives us the opportunity to live up to our name.


Ritual Committee Other Functions

Stan Schroeder is our Ritual Vice President and Editor/Publisher of our monthly Shir Notes newsletter. Besides coordinating our regular Shabbat services and High Holy Day services at de Toledo High School we coordinate Rabbi Vorspan’s Thursday night Around the Rabbi’s Tisch education/discussion program and Stan’s monthly Shabbat/Torah study. You can call Stan at (818) 718-7466 for more information on these functions.

Phyllis Schroeder is our Tribute Card chair.  She performs the important function of sending your cards for all occasions. You can call her at (818) 718-7466 to send your personal messages for simchas, get-well wishes, or condolences. Her creative cards are always appreciated. The minimal fee goes into our Shir Ami treasury.

The chair of our Lifeline Committee is Helga Unkeless. She is informed by Rabbi Vorspan when a death occurs in our Shir Ami family. She arranges to prepare the food table at the home of the bereaved family after the funeral. The Committee also helps serve the food and helps with the guests who return from the funeral service. Fran has a list of volunteers to call, usually on a one-day notice.

Naturally we are always in need of more volunteers for this special, kind mitzvah, and you can call Helga at (818) 340-5751 to let her know if she can call on you to help out, even on a one time basis.

Fran Friedman is our Sunshine Lady calling those in our community who are in need of a cheerful volunteer on the other end of the phone line due to illness or other issues. Call her at (818) 514-6994 if you or someone you know is in this situation.


Exodus: My Journey from “Egypt”
by Stan Schroeder

In Egypt the Pharaohs reigned supreme
Where earlier Joseph interpreted a Pharaoh’s dream.
A famine was avoided by storing grain
So food was available in years without rain.

But Joseph was forgotten, as is often the case,
In the years after a significant event takes place.
Israelites in Egypt were forced to be slaves,
Oppressed with hard labor until laid in their  graves.

Pharaoh then orders his kingdom’s midwives,
“Newborn Israelite boys, take their lives!”
Moses is saved and raised as though royal,
And to his ancestral people he is loyal.

In the wilderness he is tending his flock.
And sees this bush burning next to a rock.
The bush isn’t consumed and that seems odd;
But you never know what to expect from God.

God tells Moses He expects him to lead,
Relate to the Pharaoh God’s people must be freed.
Pharaoh consented on plague number ten;
The Israelites left in haste, 600,000 men.

Pharaoh sent soldiers soon to give chase;
It looked as if the Israelites would lose the race.
But God parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds,
Then drowned the Egyptians upon their steeds.

Forty years of wandering to accept God’s Laws;
The Israelites overcame their many flaws.
It took the birth of a new generation,
To enter the Promised Land and become a nation.

That journey to freedom included me too,
And each of you who is proud being a Jew.
We must shape this journey in our day and age,
And learn what God wrote on our unique page.

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