Monthly Archives: June 2019


 It’s a momentous day today at TBA. Bryan Baumer has the final Bar Mitzvah of the 2018/19 this weekend. The sun is out and beautiful. Vacation and summer camp is around the corner. It’s that time of year when we share our intended destinations with each other.

I’m going to be traveling to Orleans this summer, as I have every summer for 40 years. I delight in returning to the same town every year, the same beaches, the same Main Street shopping, the same trip to P-Town, and so forth. As we cross the Sagamore Bridge, I know just what I’m getting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Because going to the Cape every summer has become a mythic ritual, a rite of passage that marks the passage of time. I feel like those Europeans who, without fail, withdrew from life (if even for a week), to the famed sanatoriums. Spa culture – defined by its intentional architecture, geographical remove and somnambulistic ambiance – was experienced in direct opposition to the rapid-paced, sick-making atmosphere of industrialized Europe. …[t]he bosky outreaches of central Europe served as a sort of mystical destination where people from kingdoms near and far could live temporarily apart from reality – intermingling, arguing – even as the security and sovereignty of the world around them remained imperiled. It’s unsurprising that a microcosm containing different types of people with little to do but reflect and cathect provided fiction writers with a generative setting, one which everyone from George Eliot to Henry James to Guy de Maupassant took advantage of.

When I get to the Cape, I have my best beach chair, my books, and music. I don’t want to go anywhere other than the Shaw’s Market, the fresh fish place on Rte 6, Chocolate Sparrow, Nauset Beach, or Pilgrim Lake. That’s it. It’s true that when I actually leave Orleans city limits, ending up with friends in Brewster or Wellfleet, I love it. But entropy is a tough habit to break.

I sit on the beach, soaking up the sun and fresh air. I look at the water and can’t believe my food fortune to be in such a beautiful place. I look at my adult children who were raised on these beaches, who never once kvetched, never saying, “Do we have to go to Cape Cod?” I watch my grandchildren splashing around, building sand castles, collecting abandoned beach toys, loving the ambiance, appreciating having around them their favorite adults who are not in a rush to get to work, or anyplace else. The Cape is absolutely a be here now place.

I had a friend who used to hate going on vacation. She thought it was a sign of weakness. She would stoically wave as others left for their summer destinations, all the while thinking, “I am more loyal then they are.” She did work very hard. Not surprisingly, she was not happy. She had so many complaints and concerns about her place of work and her co-workers.One day, her boss called, demanding she take a vacation. “You will be better in your work and your attitude by not doing it for a week or two. Think of it as imposed medical leave.” She did go away to Nantucket for 2 weeks. When she returned, she looked so – different. “I can’t believe I waited so long to do nothing. What was I thinking?”

I will be thinking about the new construction zooming forward in my absence. I will be thinking about my High Holy Day sermons. I will be catching rays. And I will be luxuriating in what it means to be free, loving what I do with my life and loving the people who are in my large extended temple family. I will be practicing the Zen notion of, “Don’t just do something, stand there,” or, in my case, sit there.

I hope all of you will find time to get away from the day-to-day, and just be. That’s hard work – at first. But once you relax into it, the idea and the practice of rest can be joyful. Don’t forget: even God rests from time to time. I hope your Shabbat is restful, good and long. See you in September.

Remembering D-Day

D-Day, the invasion of northern France in 1944, was the most significant victory of the Western Allies in the Second World War. American, British and Canadian forces established a foothold on the shores of Normandy, and, after a protracted and costly campaign to reinforce their gains, broke out into the French interior and began a headlong advance. This battle campaign effectively broke the back of the German army. The Nazi war machine could not recover. 

As a kid, I was fascinated by D-Day. I’d watch documentaries about it on tv. I’d take out my toy soldiers and my various vehicles – tanks, half-tracks, jeeps – and engage the Nazis on the beaches of Normandy. I didn’t know much about the war or the Holocaust, but I did know the Nazis were the bad guys and I dutifully hated them. I went to the movies and, at 9 years of age, saw The Longest Day, a dramatic retelling of the D-Day story with a star-studded cast, including Richard Burton and John Wayne. Afterwards I went to Brentanos in Hartford and bought the book.

 A few decades later, in 1998, I went to see Saving Private Ryan, the Spielberg movie that begins with the D-Day invasion. I have to say that I’ve never been in combat and pray I never will. The first minutes of Private Ryan is as close as I ever want to be. It is a staggering statement on the madness and the terror of war. The surviving men who fought on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago are now in their 90s. They were no more than boys then, adolescents with everything to lose. Some have never, and will never talk about their experiences. Others have made it a mission in life to speak of often and everywhere, a la Coleridge and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 

The story of D-Day has a special resonance for Jews. After all, the success of that Allied invasion led to the downfall of Hitler and the eventual liberation of the camps. Yet it is worth noting that saving Jews was never on the to do list of the US Armed Forces. Anti-Semitism would remain central to American foreign policy even as the nation stared down Nazi Germany. The United States entered the war in Europe, of course, but Roosevelt was shrewd enough to cast the move as fighting fascism on behalf of democracy. The war was about preserving American values, not saving European Jews. 

The truth of deep anti-Semitism in America and its consequences is not something I was taught as a child. My devotion to WWII movies and toy soldiers was not sullied by the deeper truth. Not true anymore. I see around the edges of simplistic patriotism and nationalism. I recognize that we can never be seduced into forgetting our past and our struggles. 

When the war ended, the world did not line up to profess mea culpa. But Americans came to understand the suffering of the Jewish people in a new context. In the decades that followed, we broke through walls and crashed through glass ceilings. We’ve worked hard to achieve our particular status in the USA. But we can’t take it for granted. We don’t need to search under every rock for hidden antisemites. We do need to be grateful and alert. 

And so today I want to express my gratitude for the 156,000 Allied troops who fought on D-Day. Without their sacrifices, even more Jewish people would have been viciously beaten, starved, and gassed. As the last veterans die over the next decade, we cannot forget that Holocaust survivors are decreasing in number every day. As we praise the efforts of the Allies and hear their stories, we cannot ever forget that we inherit the obligation to tell the stories of our ancestors, those men, women and children, ignored by the world and left to die. Not only must we say never again regarding our vulnerability, so too must we sign on for a world where no humans are devalued and left to fend for themselves against the vicious storm of hatred.