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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

by Stan Schroeder

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday. Certainly, living in the United States we have much for which to be thankful. Judaism has a tradition of giving thanks for our many blessings. Perhaps the most familiar is occasion is after meals, particularly meals in which bread is eaten. The blessings are called Birkat Hamazon in Hebrew, literally "Blessing on Nourishment". In English they are called “Grace After Meals.”

There are four blessings:

The first blessing, which is a blessing of thanks for the food was, according to tradition, composed by Moses in gratitude for the manna which the Jews ate in the wilderness during the Exodus from Egypt.

The second blessing, which is a blessing of thanks for the Land of Israel, is attributed to Joshua after he led the Jewish people into Israel.

The third blessing, which concerns Jerusalem, is ascribed to David (who established the capital in Jerusalem) and Solomon (who built the Temple in Jerusalem).

The fourth blessing, a blessing of thanks for God's goodness, was written by Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh.

Perhaps these four blessings can be a guide for our Thanksgiving thanks. Giving thanks for food can be extended to being thankful for all the things in our lives that nourish us physically and spiritually. Giving thanks for the Land of Israel leads to our appreciation that the State of Israel was created as a Jewish state in our lifetime. Now there is a country where Jews throughout the world are welcome in times of trouble. Giving thanks for Jerusalem reminds us that since the Six Day War of 1967, Jerusalem, with our holy sites, has been under Israeli control. Our holy places in the Old City, destroyed by the Jordanians, have been restored. This year May 24 on Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) we celebrated the 50th anniversary of this momentous victory.

And, finally, giving thanks for God's goodness is a form of saying to ourselves that we must be the ones to extend goodness to people throughout the world.  We must set an example of living by Jewish values. Participating in Congregation Shir Ami services, events, and mitzvah projects is a significant step in the right direction.

See my poem A Thanksgiving Prayer in the right hand column.


Board Meeting Dvar Torah Vayera (November 1, 2017)

By Karen Benson

As you know I am the rookie on the Board of Directors and it seems like I drew the short straw with this week's Torah portion.

Let me just say that this is one of the busiest portions of the year - I will be honest with you that I have only been a Jew for just over half my life since my birth father was Jewish and I converted to Judaism with Rabbi Solomon Rothstein at Temple Ramat Zion in 1986. 

I have gone to several sources for guidance and inspiration with this week's portion.

The best guidance was given to me by one my eldest son's childhood friends who knows my family very well. He said "the problem with this portion is that it has a massive storyline. Perhaps the binding of Isaac is the way to go. Karen you could compare Abraham's struggle to follow God's instruction to kill his son to what you would do if God asked you to sacrifice David or Stephen ... and then he jokingly said well not Stephen".

My eldest son, Stephen has been both a blessing and a curse in my life for his entire 30 years on earth and at the present time I can only say that he is my son and I love him but I don't recommend him to anyone as a good person.

My younger son, David happens to have a second Hebrew name, Yitzchak and I find this connection to the story to be very interesting. My rationale for David's name was first from David and Goliath and secondly from Yitzchak Rabin because he brought peace to the Middle East and I wanted to honor that.

Finally, one of the articles I read while researching the torah portion was titled Questions? or Answers! and it gave a very clear answer and I believe great insight into the Torah portion.

We all have questions. Those who are uninitiated to traditional Judaism have many valid questions. However, those who are knowledgeable are equally if not more puzzled by contradictions. The more one studies, the more answers one finds. Inevitably, with the new answers and growth in understanding, come new questions. There is another expression as well. "You live from a question." The questions are our source of growth and elevation.

Abraham had questions; compelling questions.  At the same time he saw things in perspective. His job was to do what he knew God had told him to do. The answers to his questions would eventually be resolved. Where would we be today if Abraham had not taken that approach?

So that is my personal take on this week's Torah portion and I have also taken this opportunity to share with you a bit of my personal back story so you can understand why I am so happy to be part of the Congregation Shir Ami family.


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.


A Thanksgiving Prayer

by Stan Schroeder


Thanksgiving, as the name implies,

Is a day when thanks we give.

For all the blessings which we prize

And the beautiful life we live.


More than thanks and words of praise,

We must turn to giving deeds.

On this most noble of America’s days

We must look for our neighbor’s needs.


We must find the ones who need the most,

For we could be in their place.

Behind our prosperity lingers the ghost

Of a lesser life if not for God’s grace.


Let our thanks be felt from the morn

When we vow at the rising sun

To express our thanks for being born

Until our days work is done.


Let the strength with which we’re blessed

And the wealth which we have earned

Be used toward the Eternal quest,

A world based on Truths we have learned.

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