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Jacob, Esau, Rachel, Leah and Days of Our Lives: D’var Torah for Parashat Toledot, 11/2/13

November 2, 2013 Leave a comment
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Will Samuels with Bryan Datillo (Lucas Roberts), from the early 90s.

2014 will mark a significant milestone in my life. Sure, my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law all have milestone birthdays, but my milestone would be probably considered as having slightly less significance than those. But on some day in late May of next year, I will commemorate thirty years of watching “Days of Our Lives.” Thank you. Mazel Tov to me. We’ll be sponsoring the Kiddush and ordering a Happy Events plaque in honor of the occasion. In May, 1984, just after my freshman year of High School, I started watching the soap opera as they were planning to tape a few episodes in New Orleans during the World’s Fair that summer (and on one of those episodes I was visible in a crowd scene for 5 frames, which translates to 1/6 of a second of television greatness). My mom started watching the show with me, jumping ship from previously long-established devotion to her CBS afternoon television line-up, and after school we would watch the show on tape thanks to our relatively new acquisition of a VCR. My father, of course, was thrilled by this latest addition to my daily schedule. “C’mon son, let’s go outside and practice boxing.” “No, Dad, it’s time for ‘Days of our Liiiiiiiiiiives.’”

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Stanley Brock (Howie Hoffstedter), Andrew Massett (Larry Welch), and Kristian Alfonso (Hope Williams Brady), Days of our Lives

One of the storylines that I remember from those first few days of watching the show in 1984 was the wedding of Hope Brady and Larry Welch. Even though Hope was involved with bad-boy Bo Brady, Larry, Salem’s District Attorney, set his sights on Hope and blackmailed her into marrying him. But, at the moment of truth at the church, Larry lifted the veil on his bride and gasped as he gazed into the face of cigar-chomping Howie Hoffstedder who had switched places with Hope while Bo scurried her away on a motorcycle. Ah, daytime television. “C’mon, son, let’s go outside and have a chin-up contest.” “No thanks, Dad, I’m good.”

In fact, most weddings on soap operas don’t turn out exactly as planned. There’s always a startling revelation, a character coming back from the dead, a shark tornado, or some other sort of calamity that interrupts the intended festivities. In fact, Days of our Lives’ Sami Brady has had 9 weddings, five of which were interrupted due to some sort of mishegoss.

Which of course brings us to the storyline which starts in this week’s torah portion and continues with a cliffhanger moment that ties us over into the next parsha and the sweeps week dramatic reveal of what we all think is the long-awaited wedding of Jacob and Rachel.  Conveniently, the title of this week’s parsha “Toledot” means “Generations” which was a soap opera on NBC from 1989 to 1991. Next week’s parsha “Vayetze” means “Guiding Light,” and the parsha in 2 weeks, “Vayishlach” means “Judge Judy.”

Rensig, Everhard - Esau Gives up his Birthright; Jacob and Esau with the Bowl of Pottage - Google Art Project

“Esau Gives up his Birthright” By Rensig, Everhard (maker, Details of artist on Google Art Project) (Google Art Project: Home – pic) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And so over the next few weeks we read about Jacob, Esau, Rachel and Leah, troubled souls in their own right, egged on by their loved ones to commit acts of deception enveloping them all in a web of deceit and intrigue until a final act of reconciliation occurs a couple of parshiot down the road. Every character has a flaw and finds a way to exploit the flaws of others to get what they want. Jacob is the troubled child- even in the womb, he and Esau fought. Rebekah, who learned early on that she couldn’t have children, has the soap-opera-like miracle pregnancy, giving birth to the red and hairy Esau with young and frail Jacob coming out of the womb holding onto his brother’s heel. Isaac favors Esau, Rebekah favors Jacob. So what makes Jacob be so cunning in the incident with the red porridge? One day, Esau is in the field hunting, he comes back and Jacob’s cooking up what we used to say in Junior Congregation was a big pot of red beans and rice. Esau demands some, and Jacob says “not until you give me your birthright.” Why wouldn’t Esau then have said, “How about you give me some porridge and then I won’t put my foot in your head?”

“Daaaaaaaaaaaad! Esau said he was going to put his foot in my head.”

“I told you not to be stupid, you moron. Now SHUT UP and sit down.”

No, Esau said “Okay, I don’t need this stupid birthright anyway, I’m so hungry I’m about to die. You can have the birthright.” He swore onto Jacob and Jacob shared his lunch with his brother.

Would it have killed Jacob to give his brother a bowl of soup? Had he been plotting all along how to capture the birthright and seized this opportunity to get what he had been craving? Had Rebecca been the instigator all along guiding Jacob to way find ways to ensure a proper lineage?  Of course, Esau was no saint. One midrash says that Esau had committed five sins that day- when we read Esau “came in from the field,” the midrash says he had been busy raping, murdering, denying belief in G-d, denying the resurrection of the dead, and despising his birthright thus dishonoring his heritage. Plus, although the Torah doesn’t specify, he probably was also committing the sin of wan-ton glances.

Nevertheless, this act opened up Jacob to be susceptible to performing the true act of deception. Egged on by his mother, Jacob dressed as Esau, came to Isaac on his deathbed and received the blessing met for his brother. Of course, Jacob didn’t have sense enough to disguise his voice, as Isaac points out “The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau,” to which Jacob responds, “Oh yeah- I just finished hunting. Here’s some freshly-killed venison. Yum Yum Yum.” The commentator Rabbi Gunther Plaut argues that Isaac knew all along that it was really Jacob, but used Rebekah’s deception as a convenient excuse to pull a switcheroo and reaffirm the rightful development of the patriarchy by favoring Jacob over Esau because he knew that his elder son couldn’t carry on the traditions of Abraham. So there were lots of twists and turns to this particular soap opera storyline in this week’s parsha.

But Jacob, prone to being influenced to deceive, gets his comeuppance in parashat Vayetze which we read next week. Exiled to his Uncle Laban’s house after Esau vows to kill him, he’s instructed to find a wife from his Uncle’s daughters. “They’re your first cousins- I’m sure they’re lovely.” Jacob falls in love with the beautiful Rachel, tells Laban I’ll work for you for seven years if I can marry her,” Laban says ok. The wedding day finally arrives, the beautiful ceremony, and Jacob lifts the veil on his new bride only to find cigar-chomping older sister Leah who says, “talk about gorgeous, Dollface.” The crowd gasps, the music crescendos, Grandma faints, and we fade to black.

Well, that’s the soap opera version, of course. In the Torah, Laban makes a big feast for Jacob, inviting all the men of the place, and there was much carousing; probably a little too much carousing. Jacob goes to bed, Laban brings Leah in to him. Jacob drunkenly does his thing, maybe twice but probably not, and lo and behold, he wakes up in the morning and finds he’s married to Leah. There is one midrash in the Gemara that says Rachel told Jacob “My father is a trickster and will try to outwit you” but Jacob says “a ha, but I am his brother in trickery.” She warns him about a switcheroo but Jacob gives her special tokens so he could identify her. When the night came, Rachel realized that she was doing the wrong thing by shaming her sister, so she gave Leah the tokens. Rachel, trying to remain pure and righteous, tries to maintain the sisterly bond.

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah

“Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah,” Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Which gets tested, of course, over the next several years. Jacob complains to Laban who tells him, “Okay, serve your bridal week with Leah, and then you can have Rachel for a wife as well, provided you work for me for another seven years.” So he did so, Jacob gets his true love for a wife, and the couple has a nice happy ending. Not so, as we often see in the world of soap operas. The couple has a rather rocky life as Rachel stays barren and unable to have children, leaving Leah to fill the void by bearing the children. Which had to have caused a little household strife. Rachel was who Jacob loved, but Leah was there serving her purpose, but desperately trying to gain the affections of her husband. With her first son, she named Reuben “because G-d has looked upon my affliction, and now my husband will love me.” Leah names her second Simeon, “because G-d heard that I am hated.” With Levi, she says “Now my husband will be with me because I have borne him three sons.” With her fourth son, Judah, Leah says “This time, I will praise G-d” which Rabbi Jochanan points out that this was the first time since the creation of the world that someone praised G-d.

So, the score stands at Leah-4, Rachel-0, about which Rachel was none-too-happy. She was jealous of Leah, and, of course, her frustrations were directed towards Jacob, because it obviously was his fault. And, of course, this probably causes an issue with the amount of time that Jacob was spending with Leah, even though Rachel was the one he loved.  “I’m sorry, Rachel, I have 4 children that I need to spend a little time with. Maybe we can walk to the well tomorrow.”

Rachel comes into Jacob and says “Give me children, or I will die.” Jacob, exasperatingly, says “why is this my fault?” Rachel says, “Go take my handmaid Bilhah as a wife so maybe she can be my proxy.” He does, and of course Bilhah gets pregnant, which I imagine leads to a rather awkward conversation between Jacob and Leah:

“What, my sister and I weren’t good enough for you? Now you had to go schtup the maid? Just who do you think you are, Arnold Schwarzenegger?”

“Well, it’s just that, you know, she couldn’t have, um, it’s just…”

“Oh, forget it. Well that will explain why this house is so dirty. Look at these floors- they’re filthy.”

“Leah, I’ve told you before- the reason the floors are dirty is because they’re dirt floors.”

“And you would know, wouldn’t you, you’re the one rolling around on them WITH THE MAID!”

So you have poor Jacob, torn between a woman he doesn’t love but is the mother of his children and who desperately wants him to love her, the woman he does love but who can’t have children and who is desperately trying to do so, their handmaiden who no doubt were wondering where childbearing fell within their job descriptions, a brother who he thinks wants to kill him, and his house, which apparently can never get cleaned.

And so the contest of bearing children continues back and forth between Rachel and Leah, and their maids, until finally Rachel is able to conceive and bears Jacob a son, Joseph.

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Will Samuels with “Days of our Lives” cast members Casey Jon Deidrick (Chad DiMera), James Reynolds (Abe Carver), and Shawn Christian (Dr. Daniel Jonas)

Then, in two weeks, when we read about the reunion of Jacob and Esau, we learn that as Jacob and his family were travelling, they see Esau coming with 400 men. So they divide the family, putting the handmaids and their children first, much like the ones wearing the red shirts in Star Trek, the expendable unnamed ones who were always the first ones to reach the new planet, only to be immediately killed upon arrival. “Hmmm. Well, guess we shouldn’t go down there…” So I imagine, Leah had a little bit to say during that discussion…

“That’s a lot of people coming toward us. Okay, Lupe, you and your children go first.”

“It’s Bilhah.”

“What?”

“It’s Bilhah, not Lupe. I’ve worked in this house cleaning up your filth for 13 years. I have two sons with your husband. Zeh Lo Tov. HaShem Sheli ‘Bilhah!’”

“Oh. Strong words coming from the maid. Okay, Lupe, you and the other one go first and see if Esau is still angry…”

Finally, we have a happy reunion between Jacob and Esau, nobody gets killed, and everybody lives happily, except Rachel who dies in childbirth, Jacob who thinks a son of his gets eaten by wolves, Joseph who is dumped in a pit and sold into slavery and his brothers and sister who have some various and sundry issues and challenges of their own as they go through life.

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Will Samuels with Joe Mascolo (Stefano DiMera, Days of our Lives)

But the story continues, and just as I’ve watched characters on TV grow over the last 30 years, and I probably shouldn’t figure out the number of hours that translates to (even though it is just shy of 8000), the characters on your favorite soap opera and the characters in your favorite Torah share a number of qualities. None of them are perfect. Jacob, Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, Rachel and Leah, Bo, Hope, Sami and Marlena all have character flaws which help us identify and get through the trials and tribulations of our own lives. The stories we read about in the parshiot of the next several weeks get us to slavery in Egypt and then redemption, Torah, and the Promised Land. If there was no strife and no obstacles in the Jacob story. If our ancestors were without flaw or challenges, then how can we learn how to better adapt and be better people, better spouses, better siblings, better parents and better Jews? If the road has no bumps on it, then how do we know we’re supposed to slow down and enjoy the journey?

And so as we continue the soap opera that is the book of Bereshit, I offer this blessing. It is Ryan’s Hope and my hope for All My Children and their children. May G-d show his Guiding Light to help us Search for Tomorrow- in Another World of Passions, peace, Loving, and prosperity. So that every one of us in all of our Generations from Port Charles to Texas to Sunset Beach, Santa Barbara, the Capitol and beyond. The Young and The Restless among us, The Bold and The Beautiful, can all come together to celebrate avoiding the Dark Shadows and the Doctors in General Hospital. And so As The World Turns each day to start a new morning and as the sun sets at The Edge of Night we pray for guidance and support on our individual and collective journeys. We only have One Life to Live, so let’s live with a Love of Life by being thankful and celebrating G-d’s blessings in helping us travel the right path all the Days of our Lives.

Will Samuels

November 2, 2013

Presented at Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation, Metairie, LA

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My Video celebrating 50 Years of Conservative Judaism in New Orleans

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

On Friday and Saturday, October 15-16, 2010, Shir Chadash synagogue had a special Shabbat and gala celebrating “Fifty Years of Conservative Judaism in New Orleans.”  I wrote, produced, and edited a video retrospective pulling together slides, videos, pictures, clippings, and 35-mm films into a 45-minute documentary (during which we also paid tribute to the gala’s honorees). I was rather pleased with how it turned out. If it’s not embedded below, you can see it at http://vimeo.com/79012275.

50 Years of Conservative Judaism in New Orleans from Shir Chadash on Vimeo.

Updated 11/9/13 with new link.

Categories: Uncategorized

My Katrina Anniversary/Pre-Rosh Hashanah D’var Torah

September 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Katrina Anniversary, High Holidays, and my Daughter’s Artwork

One of our daughter's first pre-school drawings. Ebay bidding starts at $500.

(Rabbi Linden was out of town, so I stepped in and gave the d’var torah on 9/4/10.)

Our daughter started school this week.  Very, very scary.  Well, it’s pre-school, so I’m not too concerned about her grades quite yet. But too be honest, I need a little bit of advice from more experienced parents as to how handle a certain situation. Apparently, she spends a lot of time drawing during school—art is evidently a very strong element of the curriculum, so she has been experimenting in different media- crayon, chalk, and paint which the teachers assured us was washable; however, their definition of “washable” apparently does not mean being able to come out of clothes despite being laundered and treated multiple times with Shout and Oxyclean. Nevertheless, she has become quite prolific with her pictures which are thoughtfully returned to us in her school bag at the end of each day. Thus far in one week, I believe we now have approximately 490 of our child’s drawings. I’m not quite sure what do with all of them—are we supposed to save all of them, put them on the wall, how long are we supposed to keep them? Can I give them to Nearly New? I’m trying to be a good parent- I just don’t know. And quite honestly, the pictures aren’t that good. She has a little trouble staying within the lines. When I was growing up, my dad would say, “You call that a duck? You sit back down, boychick, and you keep drawing until you get it right.” “But, Dad, I’m not even two…”

Some of the post-Katrina emails on the Shir Chadash listserve

I’m not sure how long we’re supposed to keep all of these drawings- I’m trying to get a little bit more organized- as we approach the New Year, over the last week I’ve undertaken the daunting task of cleaning out my email inbox and organizing messages. I’ve done pretty well- I’ve gone from over 9000 emails to under 50. In so doing, I have had a rather nostalgic journey through email of all that has happened during the last five years.  I’ve gone through an electronic documentation of events, issues, challenges, triumphs, news, and commentaries over what was transpiring personally and professionally, in our city and in our world, in our families and in our synagogue.  It has been a fascinating journey. Looking back on those first emails after the storm- when we were all scattered about. The first one came from Rabbi Lichtenfeld- written the Tuesday night after the storm at 12:47am, with a message of comfort and a message of hope.  At that point, the emails on the Shir Chadash listserve started pouring in-it actually overloaded it for a day- emails where everybody had evacuated to, who was safe and accounted for, and who needed help finding friends and loved ones. Then came the email with the horrifying news- the story of our members at the time, Lainie and Tad Breaux, who were forced to evacuate to Houston, leaving behind their two-day old son Zachary at Methodist Hospital. Zachary was in the Neonatal ICU on a monitor and a breathing machine.  After the storm, the unit was evacuated and Tad and Lainie didn’t know the whereabouts or the condition of their infant son. For four days. On Thursday morning, September 1, 1:25am, Natalie Barrocas Cohen posted word that her family was safe in Atlanta, but that her parents, Al and Maxine Barrocas, were still at Methodist Hospital, waiting to be evacuated. Four hours later, at 5:28 am, Gary and Kim Weiner posted a message on the Listserve to Natalie, asking for her help in trying to track down the baby. Natalie spent that morning in contact with Tad and Lainie in Houston, and trying to get in contact with Al and Maxine.  In the meantime, Natalie’s brother Isaac Barrocas was in Houston and Isaac’s wife Stephanie worked in the hospital associated with the hotel where Tad and Lainie were staying and she was able to be there for the couple offering help and support. At 10:53 that morning, Natalie posted on the Listserve that Zachary was okay and he had been transferred out the previous night on a National Guard helicopter with a private nurse. They just didn’t know where the helicopter ended up. It was a long day of waiting, but that evening at around 6:30pm, George Haas posted to us all the joyous news that the baby was found alive and well. That night, scattered all across the country, our congregation was unified as we all watched live on CNN as Lainie and Tad were reunited with their son. I remember watching it, alone in my New York hotel room, and tears were streaming down my face.  It was the first time I had cried since the storm.

The Listserve remained a chronicle of events and information and a way for us all to reach out. We were concerned for Al and Maxine who were still stuck at Methodist Hospital, for Leron Finger who was waiting to be evacuated from Tulane Hospital, and for everyone who was still unaccounted for during that first week after the storm. On September 4, Pat Klein posted the good news that synagogue contractor Doug Daigle was able to check out the building, and while there had been water inside, it had drained by that point, and that structurally the synagogue appeared to be okay.

We were scattered across the country and slowly we made our way back home. The Liebermans were first- they were home by September 4. Neil and Terri Levith and the Hendlers came back that week. I was lucky enough to get home on September 12. Sandy Lassen, the Fishers, Leon & Debbie Pesses, and Karen Lew were some of the early returnees. For the synagogue, we were faced with the awesome question of “what comes next?”  There were no easy answers, as there weren’t for many of the questions that faced us in September of 2005. We could only do what seemed right and hope that things would fall into place. As it turned out (in my opinion, which does not necessarily represent that of the synagogue or its leadership…), we made two major mistakes. The first one I realized pretty quickly. The second one- I didn’t appreciate until a couple of weeks ago.

The first mistake was made in mid-September. We were finally able to assess the condition of the building. Harvey Bordowitz was waiting to buy a plane ticket from Israel to come in for the High Holidays, despite the fact that the airport was barely open.  Bob Kutcher, who was President at the time, Mike Kancher who was Executive Director, Rabbi Lichtenfeld, and I, along with a few others were trying to figure out whether the synagogue building would be usable for Rosh Hashanah, which was just over two weeks away. We felt at the time that we just couldn’t vouch for the health and safety of the building and we didn’t think that it would be in a condition to be ready in time for the High Holidays. So, we had our “official” Rosh Hashanah service in Houston. In the meantime, there was a growing crowd of folks who had come back home who felt that there still needed to be some sort of a service here, even though the building was not fit for use. So, Karen Lew, Neil Levith, and a few others organized an “informal” service here in the gutted chapel. That service attracted a spillover crowd, a whole lot of media coverage, and the recognition of being the first Jewish service to be held in New Orleans after Katrina. We were back in our sanctuary for Yom Kippur, thanks to five brigades of the National Guard under the command of Ralph Lupin who cleaned and scrubbed the synagogue for us to get it ready. Weekly Shabbat services resumed on Shabbat Shuvah, and Shir Chadash was back in business.  In retrospect, of course, our efforts should have been on having Rosh Hashanah services here for the benefit of those who had returned to the community, but by the time we realized how many people had come back, it was too late to change the Houston plans.  Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of some dedicated people, we were able to accommodate all who needed a place to pray.

The second mistake, in my opinion, was the rush to get the sanctuary restored to its former glory. We had it scrubbed down for Yom Kippur, we got donations for new pews, and Sande Burstein and Pat Klein spearheaded the efforts in getting new carpet and furnishings. But it didn’t occur to us at the time to say, how can we make the room more spiritual? Should we be in a rush to put it back together as it was, or should we take this opportunity to make it a more comfortable environment?  I was part of the sanctuary camp for a long time but over the last year, I’ve come to appreciate the atmosphere that we’ve been able to create in the chapel and once we outgrow this room, which looks like will be sooner rather than later, we’ll have some difficult discussions about how to maintain and enhance the atmosphere that we create when we come together as a congregation. Again, we were short-sighted five years ago in our efforts to restore the way it was rather than think about what it could be, but who could ever have imagined on September 4, 2005, what this synagogue would be like on September 4, 2010? So in the wake of all of the anniversary commemorations last week, instead I choose to observe the fifth anniversary of September 4, 2005, for that was the day, we received the first indication that we would be able to return to our building.  The next day, residents were allowed back into Jefferson Parish to assess and to begin the recovery.  What came next is an incredible story of rebuilding and rebirth and I look back at the last five years and think about everything that we have been able to do as a congregation. Cleaning and renovating the building, making sure services continue, hiring a new educational director, conducting a two-year rabbinical search, reaching out to the disgruntled, occasionally becoming one of the disgruntled, doing a little disgruntling, but doing so with the shared goal of helping the synagogue survive.

Our parsha this morning is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah- as Moses continues his narrative to the people on the brink of entering the Land of Israel, Moses says that “You Stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d.” The community stands as a whole ready to enter the covenant with G-d. The community- where individuals may be imperfect and flawed, as the commentary in our Chumash indicates, when we stand together we reinforce and magnify all that is good and all that is strong within us. And over the next two weeks, we will repeat the words of the Covenant “Adonai Adonai, El Rahum Vehanun” and on Kol Nidre pray the words of “Ki hinei Cahomer” where we pray for G-d to remember the covenant and not that we are imperfect.  We pray as a whole, and we pray as a congregation. And we pray as a people unified and strengthened by all that we have accomplished together over the last five years, and there is no way that we could be a congregation as strong as as we are today if not for everything that we have done in the last five years. On September 4, 2005, or even on August 4, 2005, who would think to say that in the summer of 2010, we would welcome 14 new families with 5 children into our congregation, that we would regularly have 50 people for Friday night services and a packed sanctuary on Saturday morning under the leadership of a dynamic, energetic young rabbi who along with his wife and children have re-energized us all and have sparked a true new spirit and new song? Who would have thought that on September 4, 2005, that on September 4, 2010, the Jewish community of New Orleans would have welcomed over 1200 newcomers and be in a striking position to exceed its pre-Katrina numbers? Who would have thought on September 4, 2005, that on September 4, 2010, we would be waiting the start of the NFL season with the Saints as Super Bowl champions? Who would have thought that we could have rebounded so beautifully as a community and as a congregation? And together as a congregation, we have the strength to get through loss and the ability for collective comfort when we mourn. As a congregation, we laugh together, we cry together, we have someone to hug when we’re happy and a shoulder to lean on when we’re scared or sad.  Five years ago, when Katrina hit, we were still mourning the loss of Dr. Will Leon, a Past-President, and founder of our congregation. This morning, we’re numbed by the loss of Nat Leon, who was one of the matriarchs of this synagogue and of Sisterhood, and whose loss will leave a hole in our hearts and in the heart of this congregation. If you haven’t read Rabbi Linden’s tribute to her in this week’s Shir Chadash email, you need to read it, after Shabbat. It is a beautiful tribute to her and it shows how once again, a simple email can unite us, and bring us strength and comfort. Tomorrow, we’ll gather in our sanctuary and join together in our cemetery to say goodbye to Nat, and we’ll look around the cemetery and remember other friends and loved ones who have helped build this synagogue, and we’ll pray to G-d for the souls of the departed and for help in honoring the deeds of those who have come before us so that we can live responsibly in paving the way for those who come after. We reflect on all that we have done and all who have helped us along the way, and in their memory we approach Rosh Hashanah and the next 50 years as a Congregation with our individual flaws and imperfections which are fortunately eclipsed by our collective strength together as a people. As the New Year begins, we’re provided a blank canvas and hopefully an empty inbox to begin anew. In this New Year, let us draw the best picture we can, even if sometimes we color outside of the lines.

Will Samuels

Shir Chadash, Metairie, LA

September 4, 2010

Categories: D'vrei Torah

I Made a Video

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m kind of proud of this:

It’s a promotional video that I made for Shir Chadash synagogue in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans). The synagogue’s Facebook page has tripled the number of fans in the last three months. I’m proud of that, too.

Categories: Uncategorized

“The Rebuilding Starts Now”- d’var torah from 10-8-05 (1st Shabbat service held after Katrina)

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

This was my d’var torah from Shabbat Shuvah, October 8, 2005, the first Shabbat service that we held after Katrina. It had been six weeks since the storm. A few days prior, several congregants put together an impromptu service for Rosh Hashanah, which was the only Rosh Hashanah service held in New Orleans.  I was determined that we needed to start holding Shabbat services again, even if there were only a few people back in town. I spray painted a piece of cardboard and put a sign outside saying that we were holding Shabbat services. 12 people showed up that morning. The next day, representatives from several National Guard units showed up to help clean our sanctuary and social hall to get it ready for Yom Kippur. It was so important that we start holding services again to help restore a sense of normalcy and to give people an outlet– to have a break from what they were having to undergo as they rebuilt their homes and their lives following the storm.

The Rebuilding Starts Now

Synagogue Playground, 9-12-05

Damage on the synagogue playground

Can you believe it’s been six weeks? I had to come to services that Friday night, and I didn’t know until then that Katrina had shifted tracks. George Fuhrman and Jake Schwartz were talking about what they were going to do. I said, “What’s going on?” and they told me Katrina was on its way and they were figuring out whether to stay or go. They said, “Ah, we’ll figure it out in the morning.”  So, the next morning, in shul, I went up to George and said, “What’s the call?” He said, “We’re leaving.” Six weeks ago. It’s almost a cliché to say life as we know it has changed so much since then.

Obviously, there’s been a lot on our minds over the last couple of months, so you probably don’t remember a whole lot about the torah portion when we last got together for Shabbat. It was parashat Ekev. Moses was giving his farewell address to the people of Israel. He had recapped the ten commandments in the parsha the week prior, and he was going over the journey and the laws along the way. Moses said, “Remember the long way that the Lord your G-d has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that he might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep his commandments or not.” He continues, “For the Lord is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill: a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper.”

The sanctuary pews following Katrina

The sanctuary pews following Katrina

For the people of Israel, they were coming to the end of a long journey through the wilderness.  At that point, an entire generation of people had died out, so those that were ready to make the journey had been born and raised in the desert. The only way of life they knew was wandering in the desert going from place to place. Eating manna. Following a pillar of fire. Now, their entire way of life was going to change, and Moses had been giving them instructions as to how to make their new lives better. Ahead of them lay a new life in a land of milk and honey. It was up to each individual person to determine how he or she was going to make life better.

During the High Holidays, we are offered a clean slate with which to begin anew. Never has that been truer than now. The lives that we had known six weeks ago are completely different. I was taking a look at my appointment book from a couple of weeks ago. Monday night- synagogue board meeting. Tuesday night- Hillel board meeting. Wednesday- Meeting at the Ogden. Thursday- Ogden After Hours followed by a weekly dinner with my group of friends. Saturday night- Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile. Scattered among the meetings was working on other projects, helping to arrange High Holiday Honors, calling up potential daveners, and every so often actually going to work in my office.  And, if I was really lucky, planning a social life.  How things have changed in a little over a month. I spent the first week after the storm in New York mostly laying in my hotel room with one hand on the tv remote and the other on my computer. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. “Well, I can’t go back to the city… Maybe I’ll go cross country for a couple of months. Maybe I’ll go to Israel. Maybe I’ll volunteer somewhere for the Red Cross. Maybe I’ll go on a drunken bender.”

Talisim

All of the Talisim needed to be replaced

For the first two weeks, I had an entirely clean slate. I was in New York, St Louis, and Austin. I put together the revised synagogue database because it kept me busy and kept me sane—it was something to do, and it had to be done. From Austin I went to Houston, and I was amazed at what the Houston Jewish community had done for New Orleans. And what the New Orleans Federation was doing to make sure that our community was safe and accounted for. Their war room (a conference room at the Houston Federation) was an incredible site with tons of people, mostly volunteers, making phone calls, arranging housing, money, supplies, meals, resources, information. Anything to be a link to the members of the New Orleans community. I had planned to be a part of all of that—to do what I could to help with Federation. I figured I would go between Houston and Austin and help out where I could. First I had to pick up my car, which had been brought from the New Orleans airport to Baton Rouge. I flew in to Baton Rouge, got my car, and I figured okay, let me just drive into Metairie to check on my house then go back to Texas. If there’s too much traffic or if it gets too late, I’ll just head back to Houston.

Work Beginning in the Sanctuary

Work beginning in the sanctuary, 9-15-05

I got back to Metairie on September 12, and shockingly my house was okay. I stayed there that night—I was the only person on the block. It was eerily quiet. Over the next few days, I saw the city come to life with more and more things opening up. Loews and a Bud’s Broiler on Tuesday. The first grocery store on Wednesday. A gas station on Thursday. Things were beginning to spring to life. For me, it was the start of the hardest work that I’ve ever done. Physical, exhausting labor—dealing with my parents’ house, my brother’s house, my office, restaurant, and of course, the synagogue. I was blessed that my house was okay, so I had to do what I could to help others in need. My parents asked me, “Why are you doing so much for the synagogue?” My answer: “Because I can. And it has to be done.”

Serving Meals 2

Working the food line

I took a lot of video that first week back. Unbelievable images. Photos that still seem unreal. I had been a complete news glutton for two weeks, but nothing prepared me for actually being back in town and seeing things with my own eyes. Talking to people, hearing stories. I was talking with this one lady in the Marigny. She’s in her 60s, and she stayed through the storm and she was telling me absolutely incredible stories about the days afterward. But those residents who stayed in the Marigny took care of each other. They developed a great community. They made sure that everybody had food and water. There was one person who had a pick up truck and every day drove around and hauled off people’s trash. There was a person who created Radio Marigny and played New Orleans favorites through a generator-powered loudspeaker giving a musical rebirth to an otherwise eerily quiet town. The lady I was speaking with in the Marigny told me she got at least one hot meal every day—over by Harrahs. There was a Christian charity that came in and was cooking thousands of hot meals 3 times a day to rescue workers, military, police, medical personnel, first responders, residents—whoever wanted or needed to eat could come and get a hot meal. I went over there, and there were a number of tents set up and a huge line of people waiting to go through the buffet. There were about 10 huge propane-powered grills on which members of the military and civilian volunteers were cooking up steaks, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, shrimp, ribs, all of which had been donated. Dr. Phil donated a bunch of burgers and buns. Truck after truck came in with food and supplies.

At the grill

Military workers at the grill

I knew I had to help there. I went to the kitchen area and asked the first person I saw who looked semi-official, “How can I help?”  He responded, “Offer bottled water to the people cooking and see if they need anything.”  I looked around, found supplies, and went to work.  I commandeered some trash bags (commandeer is the new buzz word), and went around the tables and picked up trash. I lugged cases of drinks and refilled coolers. I restocked condiments. I cleaned tables. I had no instructions. It needed to be done. Later, I asked the same official-looking guy if there was anything specific I could do. He said, “You’re doing fine. If you see something that you think needs to be done, go ahead and do it.” It was an incredible experience, and it was my way to thank the thousands upon thousands of people who have been working to rebuild this city.

My Parents' House after the storm

My parents' house after the storm

And we will rebuild. Over the four weeks that I’ve been back, I’ve seen tremendous growth in Metairie. People are returning home. They’re cleaning out debris, they’re rebuilding their lives, and they’re determined to be here. The same thing will happen in New Orleans. It will take much longer, but the city will grow. We all must do our part to rebuild the city, the Jewish community, and this synagogue. We all have suffered loss—whether it’s property, loved ones, a way of life, your favorite restaurant, or a weekly mah-jongg game, our ways of life are dramatically different from how they were six weeks ago. G-d has tested us with hardships, but during these High Holidays we stand with the ability to forge for us a good land—a land with Milk and Honey. This community can be stronger than ever if each of us plays a part. We will all have to do things that we would never have considered doing six weeks ago. Doing what needs to be done because it needs to be done. I was at my parents’ house coordinating the sheet rock removal and mold remediation. There was a crew of people taking out everything that had been 5 feet under water. The furniture, carpet, mementos, etc. They brought in someone to do the kitchen. A young woman who went through each cabinet pulling out food, dish towels, cookware, nasty aprons, cleaning supplies that had been covered in the toxic gumbo, to use another new buzzword. I was talking with her as we were figuring out what could be salvaged, and I asked her what she had done before Katrina. She told me she was a nurse at Baptist Hospital. And here she was going from kitchen to kitchen cleaning out the nastiest stuff that I had ever encountered. She was doing what needed to be done because it needed to be done.

Neil Levith, Esther Hendler, Debbie Pesses, Danielle Spadoni and I went through a ton of moldy books from the library figuring out what could be salvaged or what needed to be buried. None of us wanted to do that. These books were covered with the nastiest goop that I’ve ever seen. But it was smelling up the social hall, and it needed to be clean. So, we did what needed to be done because it needed to be done.

Cleaning the synagogue's exterior

National Guardsmen help clean the synagogue grounds (see our sign in the background)

Things are going to be different. You’ll go to a restaurant and there will be a long line and there will be crappy service but they have only one or two people working, but don’t you dare complain. They worked hard to re-open and they’re working hard to be open to accommodate those people who want to go out to eat. If you go to a restaurant, find the manager, and thank him or her for being open.

We’re going to have to adapt to a different way of life. We’re lucky to have Challahs today following services. Dorignacs lost their bread baker so it was by a fluke that we were able to snag Challahs. It’s going to be a while before we have a Kiddush lunch. It’s going to be a while before we have a clean building. It’s going to be a while before the debris is picked up. If you feel the urge to complain, tell us what you’re going to do to help make things right. We’re so lucky that we were able to have Rosh Hashanah services in our building and it was through the persistence of Karen Lew and Neil Levith to step up and say “we will work to make it happen. What can we do.” Rather than complain about what was or wasn’t being done, they stepped up and recruited people and pulled together an incredible service. They did what needed to be done because it needed to be done. We did a similar thing in Houston and the JCC was tremendous and Rabbi Lichtenfeld is truly a mensch. There was a much smaller crowd than we thought, but we pulled it off, because it needed to be done. And there was one person there who shall remain nameless and I can tell you this story because there’s only one other person in this room right now who has a clue as to whom I’m referring, but this person said to me following the services for which I spent days and nights learning, practicing, and helping to organize, “Oh, it’s a shame there aren’t any bimah flowers,” and it took every fiber of my being not to say or do something that I may have later regretted, but probably would not have regretted in the slightest.

National Guardsmen help clean the sanctuary

National Guardsmen help clean the sanctuary the day after this dvar torah was given

We are all going to have to work harder than ever before so that we can rebuild this congregation and this community. It’s going to be tough. But it can be done and it will be done because it needs to be done. We’re all going to step up. We need to clean this building before Yom Kippur. We’re going to need people to give divrei torah each Shabbat for the next couple of months before Rabbi Lichtenfeld gets back. We need people to volunteer to lead services or read torah or chant a haftorah.  There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but it has to be done.

This morning in parashat Vayelekh, we read the final commandment of the 613 mitzvot listed in the torah. “Veh-eetah ceetvu lachem et ha shirah hazot.”  “And now, write for you this song.” From this, we derive the mitzvah of each of us taking part in writing our own torah scroll. Just as the ways of life of the people of Israel were about to change dramatically, they took the words of torah to enter a land and to make the best of a new situation in a land flowing with milk and honey. Our ways of life have changed. But we have the ability to write a new song, a Shir Chadash, and we have the ability to create a new community—one that is better and stronger, and one that can flow with milk and honey. As we enter this New Year, may G-d give us the blessings of chazak ve-ematz, to “be strong and to be brave.” And let each of us make the commitment to write our own song, to do what needs to be done because it needs to be done. And together let us be strong, and let us rebuild. Amen.

Will Samuels

Shir Chadash, October 8, 2005

Categories: D'vrei Torah

The Story of Noah as Hypothetically Presented by Fox News

October 28, 2009 Leave a comment
Noah's Ark as Represented by my Daughter's Toys

Noah's Ark as Represented by my Daughter's Toys

This is one of my favorite pieces that I’ve written. It’s a D’var Torah that I presented four years ago, a couple of months after Hurricane Katrina. It is a satirical look at how Fox News might have covered the story of Noah. Enjoy!

D’var Torah: The Story of Noah as Hypothetically Presented by Fox News

By Will Samuels, Presented at Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation, Metairie, LA 11/05/2005

Today marks a very important milestone in the post-Katrina chapter of New Orleans. The United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans is no more. The unprecedented partnership of two media giants—Entercom Communications which owns WWL, WSMB, B-97, and a number of other stations and Clear Channel Communications, which owns everything in the world, is now complete. Since September 1, a large majority of the radio stations in the city have been airing the same signal, all news and information utilizing air talent from all of the different stations. Within the last few weeks, several of the radio stations returned to their regular programming, but the collaboration remained and you could get the same news on a number of stations all around the state, and even worldwide on the internet. As of today, the partnership is no more. The Clear Channel radio stations are returning to their format, and the news will be found on the stations that you’ve been used to—WWL, WSMB, etc.

It’s been a remarkable couple of months that this radio partnership has been able to operate, and it’s pretty much the only thing that I’ve listened to on the radio. But lately, it seems like they’ve been running the same newscasts—how many times do you want to hear a caller complaining about FEMA? So things are finally getting back to normal in New Orleans radio. But this unprecedented partnership arrangement among media rivals has shown just how vital the media have been in covering the storm. The first week after, I was lying in a hotel bed in New York—the tv was on Fox News, the computer was on NOLA.com all the while streaming WWL over the internet. We were news junkies. But not everything was completely accurate coming from the media who were so desperate to find something new and exclusive to them. Yes it’s about informing the people, but it’s also about ratings. And so it seemed that many times accuracy took a back seat to efficiency when it came down to breaking news.

But during these last couple of months, we’re relied on the media like never before, so in that regard this morning I pay tribute to the self-proclaimed bastion of Fair and Balanced reporting Fox News. And I present to you this hypothetical newscast from almost 4000 years ago. Yes, it involves a suspension of disbelief, but I invite you now to tune in to this historical reenactment of Fox News covering the aftermath of the flood of Noah.

SHEPARD

Fair and Balanced. News from the speed of Fox. I’m Shepard Smith, and this is the Fox Report for this 27th day of the 2nd month, in the year 2198 BCE. Tonight, we’re once again live from Mount Ararat, but for the eight souls and thousands of animals who have been living in the large, seven-story ark that you see behind me, this is the day they’ve all been waiting for. For on this day, the door to the ark will finally open. And the passengers on the ark will get their first look at a new world, sprung to life after the devastating flood—the disaster of biblical proportion.

Tonight, our Team Fox coverage will take you inside the ark, examine some new legal issues, and provide first-hand coverage of life after the storm. We begin our team Fox coverage by going to our own Geraldo Rivera who has been in the ark as an embedded reporter for these many months. Geraldo, what’s the mood on the ship?

GERALDO

Well Shep, I can tell you that at this point, everybody’s just a little bit antsy. 8 people cooped up on a boat 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high along with either 2 or 7 pairs of every animal on the face of the earth can make everyone just a little bit tense. But I’m still here reporting as I have been every day since this storm began embedded among the fine people and animals of the SS Noah’s Ark, but Shep, it looks like today’s the day. After almost a year of being on this ark, it looks like today’s the day we can finally lower the gangplank.

SHEPARD

Geraldo, it’s been almost two months since you gave the exclusive report on Fox News about Noah’s dove coming back with an olive branch in its mouth. Why has it taken so long for the doors to be open on the ark?

GERALDO

Well Shep, allow me to recap some of the chronology of the last few months. As you recall, it was the ninth day of the second month of Noah’s 600th year when he got the call from G-d to go into the ark and that it would start raining in seven days. Once his building the ark was complete, it took him a while to load up all of the animals, his family, food, and entertainment, so he and only just made it into the ark before the waters started rising. As you may recall, I reported live that Noah didn’t even go into the ark once the rain started on that 17th day of the second month. Perhaps he was trying to hold out as long as he could hoping that G-d would renege on the punishment and that the rains would stop. Perhaps he just didn’t want to leave his home. You tend to get a bit set in your ways after 600 years, and Noah may have felt that he just wanted to hunker down and ride it out. He’s been through many storms in his lifetime, so maybe he thought it wasn’t going to be that bad. But, when the waters started rising and once they got up around his ankles, he realized that this wasn’t a test. This was the real thing, and he had to pack up his family and all of the animals and ship out.

Shep, it rained and rained for 40 daysies daysies—nearly drove the animals crazy, crazy, and remember there was an incredible storm surge of 23 feet above the highest mountain peaks. The waters had nowhere to go. Any attempt to drain them would cause them to drain upon themselves since the entire world was flooded. So, the ark floated for 150 days before settling here on Ararat on the 17th day of the 7th month. Then, it took until the 1st day of the 11th month to even see the tops of mountains. Then, Moses sent the raven and the doves out during the 12th month, and it wasn’t until New Year’s Day—the 1st day of the 1st month of Noah’s 601st year that the ground even began to start drying. So here we are, a full one year and 10 days after the rains started to fall that the ground is finally dry for us to open the doors and see what’s left of our homes.

SHEPARD

Thanks, Geraldo, for that report. For Noah, this marks the end of a chapter that began so long ago. An incredible 120 year building project from the time Noah first got the call from G-d to build his ark. A consummate gardener, Noah had to plant the trees to yield the go

her wood, watch them grow, then cut them down many years later. In fact, as an aside, Noah told me earlier that one of his first projects after he settles on dry land is to build a vineyard. The ark is Titanic in scale- seven stories high and longer than four football fields, and it took Noah a normal person’s lifetime to get the permits, and to deal with fire codes, handicapped accessibility, occupancy requirements, and even zoning before building the ark. Plus, not to mention during the entire building process there was a constant parade of onlookers calling “Wa’cha doin’, Noah?” For Noah, he was steadfast and calm—he would tell them he was building an ark because G-d was planning to flood the world because humanity had sinned. He told his neighbors, you better get out there and repent or at least stock up on some canned goods and an ax. But everyone just scoffed and laughed at Noah. Now, nobody is laughing.

Once the door to the ark opens, what comes next. So much rebuilding. 8 people—Noah, his sons Shem, Ham, Japeth, and their wives whose names we still don’t know after all of these months of reporting, charged with the responsibility of being fertile and increasing, and repopulating the earth. Who will help them rebuild? How will they cope with the debris and the bodies of those left behind in the storm’s wake? How will they make the earth a better place than it was before the flood when the earth was corrupt before G-d and was filled with lawlessness. For this, let’s check in with our legal correspondent Greta Van Susteren to see how proposed legislation in the aftermath of this disaster could change the very ways of life in this world and the ways in which we treat others. Greta?

GRETA

Thanks, Shep. In the wake of this disaster, proposed legislation has been brought before Congress concerning new prohibitions against certain things in our way of life. Certainly, this will shake up the lawless nature of citizens in the world before the flood. At stake are seven commandments referred to as the Noahide Laws which, if passed, will be universal laws for all humanity. Shep, this is huge. As proposed, those people who follow these laws will be determined to be Righteous and will be guaranteed a spot in the world to come. And this, now more than ever, after the flood which has wiped out this entire world, property values on a share in the world to come have skyrocketed, so it will be interesting to see how these proposed Noahide Laws will be accepted if they clear Congress.

SHEPARD

Greta, can you tell us what in the text of the laws?

GRETA

Well, Shep, the legislation is still in committee, but it comes down to seven key principles:

No Idolatry- believing and worshipping one G-d.

No forbidden sexual acts—incest, adultery, bestiality—as proposed, these will all be forbidden. Sex would only be to fulfill “pru urvu, be fruitful and multiply,” which as you recall was the topic on my very first show.

No murder—every life is sacred—we saw how important that was during my coverage of the Cain and Abel trial.

Not to curse, or to blaspheme G-d. Speech is important because that’s what separates us from animals.

Not to steal—including cheating workers, using false weights and measures, looting, (and we saw in the early days of this flood so many people going into places and wantonly taking animals, earthenware, garments, and coins). This will all be forbidden.

Other laws forbid eating the flesh of a live animal—to avoid cruelty to animals. And finally, my favorite as the Fox News legal correspondent, we’re commanded to establish courts of justice and other laws or customs that will help enforce the other Noahide laws. So you see, Shep, in the wake of this flood, this is some really ground-breaking stuff here.

SHEPARD

Wow, Greta, it does seem that there’s enough there to keep you pretty busy sorting through the legal matters of the Noahide Laws. Thanks for that report.

Throughout the storm and the flood, our very own Steve Harrigan has been in the middle of it all. Reporting throughout the most dangerous of conditions. Now, he’s finally able to report from the sunshine. Let’s check in with him and see if he’s dry.

STEVE

Well, Shep. After almost a year of being in these same wet clothes, it looks like things are finally beginning to dry out. You may recall my reporting live from the storm, bearing the brunt of just torrential rains that wouldn’t stop, but I was out there reporting from the thick of it, because that’s news. Then the flooding—I rode up the waters bringing you constant updates here on Fox News. My own safety was irrelevant. What was important was bringing you the story.

But now the rains have stopped, and the waters have receded, and our forecast has finally changed from isolated showers with a chance of street flooding to warm and sunny with temperatures in the 70s. And Shep, now that the land is drying, I see signs everywhere. There are signs for contractors, sheet rock removal, restaurants, lawyers, even signs for people who make signs. But there’s one sign in the sky today that gives us all hope for the future. A sign from G-d that says never again will there be a flood that will destroy all humanity (well, except for between the months of June and November), but for the most part this rainbow is a sign of peace—a symbol of our covenant with G-d, and I can tell you it gives great hope for the future of these people.

SHEPARD

Thanks, Steve. Indeed, a rainbow. A symbol in the sky that’s a fitting end to a great calamity. A sign that no matter how dark things get, the sun will indeed shine again.

Now let’s check in with Bill O’Reilly to see what’s coming up next on The O’Reilly Factor. Bill?

BILL

Shep, now that the ark is open, why has it taken so long for the waters to recede? It’s been seven months since the ark first landed on Ararat. How long does it take to dry out the world? And who’s to blame for this mess anyway? A lawless people? A vengeful G-d? Kathleen Blanco? We’ll sort through the debris and find out the true cause. Plus, we’ll take a look at who didn’t get on the ark. Why was it only Noah and his family? Were all of them really righteous enough? New reports suggests that one of Noah’s sons may not be as clean-cut as the media would have you believe. And why was Noah chosen anyway? He’s 600 years old for Pete’s sake. We expect him to be able to help repopulate the earth? Come on. And what about the thousands of people below the poverty level who didn’t get out before the flood, all of them crying out “where is our ark?” What’s going to happen to their legacy? Finally, we’ll talk to Jesse Jackson—you won’t believe his plan for bringing people back to earth after the flood.

SHEPARD

Thanks, Bill. It’s bound to be an explosive O’Reilly Factor coming up next on Fox News. From Mount Ararat tonight—this is a day that will go down in our world’s short history. After so many long days and nights of rain, flood, and waiting for signs of life. tonight, there is new hope that the world will survive. But there are great challenges ahead for Noah and his family to determine what’s the best way to fill this clean slate. How will the people live? Where is it safe to build? How can you build above a new established flood elevation if the entire world was under water? Perhaps one solution is to build a giant tower that reaches the heavens. But that is a report for another time, we’re out of time for this edition of the Fox Report. Join us next time, when I’ll be making the journey to and reporting from Canaan where a group of religious leaders is poised to announce the creation of the world’s first religion—it’s called Judaism. That’s next time on the Fox Report, for now I’m Shepard Smith. Fair and balanced—this is Fox News.

Conclusion

Yes, I watch too much television, and as we attempt to break away from our news obsessions, my hope this morning is that people follow the media and use them for all of the good they do in providing information and resources. But that they realize, especially those people who are out of town and are basing their opinions of New Orleans, or of Israel, solely by what they see on television, that the picture presented is often incomplete or inaccurate and it is only by seeing things for themselves with their own eyes can they truly learn The Big Story. Which, coincidentally, is another show on Fox News.

Categories: D'vrei Torah

We Interrupt Kol Nidre for this Important Commercial Message…

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I was honored to present the Israel Bond appeal during this year’s Kol Nidre service.  It’s a commercial, but an important one.

Israel BondsThis part of Shir Chadash’s Yom Kippur 5770 Spectacular is brought to you by the State of Israel, makers of the State of Israel Bonds.  Now I only have five minutes and Sandy {Lassen, the synagogue’s Executive Director} said I had to speak slowly, so within this brief infomercial I shall do my best to tell you about my family’s amazing experience in Israel this summer and to convince you of the need to show your support. Jennifer and I, along with our 10-month-old daughter, spent most of the month of July in Jerusalem where we rented an apartment- and I can tell you that no matter how many organized trips you take to Israel, nothing compares to the experience of actually spending time living like Israelis. Or more accurately, living like Americans pretending to live like Israelis. Because in Israel, every minute of every day, there is something to inspire all of your senses.

The touch of the 2000-year-old stones of the Western Wall- bonding with the touch of those who have come before. Feeling the hopes and dreams of young and old, of religious and secular, and of Madonna who was there last month.

The view from the mountain cemetery in Tzfat- in the background- the majestic Galilee.  In the foreground- the graves of legendary rabbis, teachers, and prophets- so much prayer, learning, and spirituality sprung from underneath the very steps that you’re walking.

The taste of the Shabbat Buffet at the Inbal Hotel- {our daughter} said it was the best Chopped Liver and Gefilte Fish that she has ever had.

The sounds of silence of a Jerusalem Street on Shabbat. The horns, the tire screechings, and the drivers yelling take a backseat to the holiness of our Day of Rest.

The sights in the windows of the apartment building across the street during Shabbat dinner. Their candles are lit- their flowers are fresh- they’re saying Kiddush- their families are having Shabbat dinner too.

The noise of the plethora of voices on a Ben Yehuda Street Saturday night- young and old, American and Israeli, tourist and locals- the many different languages of people committed to being in Israel

The sights, sounds, and spirit of thousands of Jewish athletes and fans converging in Israel’s national stadium for the Opening Ceremonies of the Maccabiah—the third biggest sporting event in the world—and the only one with all Jewish athletes.

The feel of the heat of the Judaean desert as it beats upon your skin during the warm summer day only to replaced by the cool breeze of the Jerusalem summer night.

The smell of the market offerings in Machaneh Yehudah- the fresh fish, the kosher meat, the different spices, the fresh produce, the Marzipan bakery’s chocolate ruguelach that’s hot out of the oven and when you bite into it the chocolate quite literally melts in your mouth.

The feeling of the salt crystals underneath your feet as you wander in the Dead Sea giving you an instant pedicure while the medicinal waters heal your body and soul.

Mamilla Mall

The new Mamilla Mall, Jerusalem

The tastes of the café in Jerusalem’s brand-new Mamilla Mall, while you look out on the vision of a beautiful Israeli sunset, as the colors change on the walls of the Old City. Around you, the sights of progress and development as new residential communities spring up. The sounds of cranes- 9 of them within eyesight whirring away building for the future of Jerusalem. Luxury apartment buildings that are selling for the ask price. A new Waldorf-Astoria hotel and condos. The vision of a country on the cutting-edge of technology that builds with the idea that the future is now. A light rail system connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Roads, tunnels, and highways that dramatically improve the country’s infrastructure.  Improvements in the ports, development in the Dead Sea, research in alternative energy resources. Progress in both physical development and in advances in science and technology from which the entire world will benefit. On every trip of mine, I say “wow”- this building wasn’t here before. This bridge is new. Look at how far Israel has come.

But Israel cannot do it alone. Israel needs our help now more than ever before. With constant threats from Hizballah, Hamas, and Iran, and support from the U.S. administration that’s becoming questionable at best, it is time for us to show our support.  It’s time to send a message to Jerusalem and to Washington; to Tehran, to Ramallah, to Gaza City, to Damascus, to Beirut, to the United Nations and to the world that we support Israel’s right to defend her land and her people; that terrorism will not be tolerated and that as American Jews we believe 100% in the right of Israelis to live free of rocket attacks, car bombs, and homicide bombers. We must commit ourselves to supporting Israel’s future, and in the wake of a worldwide economic recession that has affected us all, we can show our support by making the best and safest financial investment we can make. We are not asking for your tzedaka- we are asking you to do what is right and what is smart. Israel Bonds has a variety of offerings with an interest as high as 3.2%- from large scale offerings to Mazel Tov bonds that you can give as a gift to honor someone or yourself for as little as $100. As I’m writing this speech on Thursday afternoon, I’m watching the popular active stock Research in Motion (makers of the Blackberry device) drop from $84 a share to under $73 a share.  Down 11% in an hour.  Friday- down over another 5%. Isn’t your future worth a little more stability? Shouldn’t your investments be in a plan that has never defaulted or missed a single payment of principle or interest?  Doesn’t it make sense to have a safe plan-a smart investment that’s financial security for you and necessary security for the State of Israel? The State of Louisiana knows it. Several years ago, largely due to the efforts of my father, the State purchased 5 million dollars in Israel Bonds. They just came for renewal, and the State renewed them. If Louisiana has enough fiscal sense to make the right decision, then that investment should speak for itself. As we begin our Selichot prayers on this holy night, and as we reflect on the year that has passed and prepare ourselves for the year that is to come, we hope and pray for a year of strength, a year of peace, and a year of blessing. The purchase of a State of Israel bond is an investment that brings us and our homeland one step closer to these goals. Shana Tovah.

Will Samuels

Presented at Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation, September 27, 2009

Categories: D'vrei Torah