Shabbat Shalom ~ Vayeishev

In my message this week you will find: my take on the Yiddish Fiddler and how it relates to the Warsaw Ghetto Archives of Emanuel Ringelblum; some thoughts for lighting the Hanukkah menorah Sunday night; what to expect this Shabbat; and minyan times for the Winter holidays.


Dear WJC Family,

I’m not saying that I became a rabbi because of Fiddler on the Roof, but it definitely figured into the mix. Even as a little kid I was drawn to the music, the story, the culture – I am just that kind of Yid, the kind who gets sentimental at the sound of a Yiddisher accent, whether it’s speaking the Mamma Lushen in earnest or just complaining that the pickles at the deli aren’t sour enough (vus iz dis a cucumber?). So, I always get emotional at a production of Fiddler on the Roof, but the production in Yiddish with subtitles that is closing shortly was a different kind of emotional. There is the emotion of the story itself, the story of the Jews of Eastern Europe in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – that emotion is the emotion of seeing our story on stage, a story of Antisemitism and enlightenment, of home and homelessness.

But as I watched I experienced an emotional reaction I’d never had before. This resonated at another level. It was a reaction to the language itself. There was something about the familiarity and strangeness of the language, the way it was mine and not mine at the same time. It reminded me of the film “Who Will Write our History,” which will be the centerpiece of our Yom HaShoah commemoration this April 19, and is a project of the Holocaust Learning Center, co-sponsored by the Adult Education Committee. (mark your calendars now). I was privileged to see the film in Norfolk earlier this year. It is the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and his Oneg Shabbat Project, a secret group of Jews operating in the Warsaw Ghetto collecting and archiving the Yiddish culture, history and thought that was being consumed by the fires of the Shoah. While two of the three caches have been located and continue to be studied, the project, like the Yiddisher Fiddler, is a reminder of just how much Antisemitism and persecution have cost the Jewish people over time, not only in blood, but also in art, ideas, language, and culture. We are resilient, yes, but it is also important to remember that parts of us are left behind all over the world, and may never be recovered – it is a different sort of pathos, and a good reminder that we are and have been more than we even know.

Those are the sad reminders, but then there are the victories, the simple victory of survival and the profound victories like the one we will commemorate and celebrate starting Sunday night at sundown. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is not only a reminder of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, but also reminds us that we have the ability to light the gathering darkness, a message as relevant today as ever. The lesson of a candle is particularly poignant – if we light one great light in the middle of a room, the shadows will still linger in the corners, but if each of us holds a candle and spreads out around the room, into every corner, the shadows have no place to lurk. So too, as we light the menorah, we are reminded that the responsibility for lighting the darkness falls on each one of us, holding our unique candle and bringing our special light to the world.

I hope you will join us this Shabbat at the Center. I will be speaking Friday evening at Kabbalat Shabbat, which starts at 4:15. On Saturday morning Rabbi Segelman will deliver the sermon, “Some Thoughts to Take into Hanukkah.” Shabbat afternoon I will give the shiur at mincha/maariv, “How Many Candles and Why,” a look at the hanukkiah in the Talmud and today.

One last thought – we are heading into the winter holidays and lots of people are traveling. If you are around, please come and help us make a minyan (ten people) at the daily morning and evening service. It means a lot to those who need to say Kaddish and those of us who pray regularly. Also, special service times are as follows:

December 25th morning: 8:30

December 31st afternoon/evening: 4:30

January 1st morning: 8:30

All other weekday minyan times are as usual (7am regular weekdays, 8:30am Sunday and Holidays, 7:30pm weekdays).

Please click the video link below for a short warm-up on this week’s Torah portion, “VaYeshev,” when we begin the story of Joseph.

See you in shul,





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