Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

85 Harrison Street, New Haven, CT 06515-1724 | P: 203.389.2108 |

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Bulletin June 1997

Selections from BEKI Bulletin: The Newsletter of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel

June 1997 Sivan 5757 — Vol 3 Issue 6

In this Issue:

  • Frederick L. Stutz Memorial Builds BEKI

  • Helen Ross: Woman of Valor, to be Honored at Sisterhood Book of Life Lunch

  • Milton Smirnoff to Receive Distinguished Service Award at Testimonial Dinner

  • A Message from Rabbi Tilsen: Israel in our Hearts

  • Dear Rabbi: Answers, Advice and Helpful Household Hints

  • Shavuot Festival Observances at BEKI
  • Men’s Club Miqva Experience

  • Tiqun Leil Shavuot Sweeter than Honey Night of Adult Study

  • Yizkor Memorial Service

  • Festival Morning Services Feature Hallel & Ruth

  • Ezra Academy Shabbat

  • Torah Pathways Adult Education Classes

  • Notice of Annual General Meeting

  • Letters

  • Sisterhood News

  • LifeCycle

  • Devar Torah by Drew Allison

  • Men’s Hevra Qadisha

  • UHS Graduation & Promotion

  • Ramah New England Alumni Sought

  • Seizing the Moment by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of JTSA

    Stutz Memorial Builds BEKI

    A major gift by Eleanor E. Stutz Lowell in memory of her father, Frederick L. Stutz, alav ha-shalom, will establish the Frederick L. Stutz Memorial for the purchase and installation of a modern, full-featured telecommunication system.

    Frederick Leonard Stutz, who died in March of this year, was born in Philadelphia in 1918. After serving in the Navy in World War II and in the Korean War, Fred joined IBM in Poughkeepsie where he was a member of the group that developed IBM’s first electronic computer. After retiring from IBM in 1977 he entered the field of real estate. He contributed greatly through his civic leadership, with Boy Scouts, local libraries, historical societies and the like. He is survived by his his wife Louise Elizabeth “Betty” Holden Stutz, brother Robert, daughter Eleanor, son-in-law Jeffrey Lowell and grandson Galen Frederick Lowell.

    In making this contribution, Eleanor explained that she wanted to express her gratitude for the blessings of life, love and wisdom that she received through her father, in recognition of God as the ultimate source of blessing. “I wanted to give something back,” she said.

    The acquisition of a new telephone system had been set as a priority need by the staff and leadership, necessary to provide a high level of service to the Congregation. Congregants will now have greater ease in reaching the offices and Rabbi during and after office hours, leaving messages that will be received in a timely fashion, and obtaining information such as service schedules over the phone. This gift is an especially appropriate memorial to Eleanor’s father since he worked many years to improve people’s lives through the development and application of new technology. A quality communications system is an important tool for building community. Through Eleanor’s generosity these need will now be met for years to come.

    Helen Ross: Woman of Valor

    To be Honored at Sisterhood Book of Life Lunch

    On Tuesday 3 June at 12:00 noon Helen Ross will be honored at the Sisterhood’s annual Book of Life Luncheon. See story in Sisterhood News.

    Milton Smirnoff
    to Receive Distinguished Service Award at Testimonial Dinner

    Sunday 8 June 1997 6:00p

    Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel

    To reserve your place call (203) 389-2108.

    A Message from Rabbi Tilsen

    Israel in our Hearts

    In his essay The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, identifies “The centrality of modern Israel” as the first core value on his list. “For Conservative Jews, as for their ancestors, Israel is not only the birthplace of the Jewish people, but also its final destiny…. Its welfare is never out of mind. Conservative Jews are the backbone of Federation leadership in North America and the major source of its annual campaign. They visit Israel, send their children over a summer or for a year and support financially every one if its worthy institutions.”

    As diaspora Jews our relationship with our beloved homeland has been sorely challenged by the actions and statements of the current temporary Government of the State. What are we to do, who love Israel but are mad as heck at the Government?

    One legitimate and appropriate way of working toward a solution is for us to be more directed in our Israel-bound tsedaqa (philanthropy). This means that we must directly fund our Conservative and other institutions that work to promote the ideals of the “Beautiful Judaism” that is growing steadily in Israel and that work for and according to the ideals of democracy.

    This also means that we must insist that our UJA dollars be earmarked to support the causes we really believe in. The recent UJA offer to “double” direct funding of Masorti-Conservative and Progressive-Reform institutions is not serious because that almost amounts to twice nothing. If the Israeli Government is able to spend $700 million on non-Conservative religious institutions that seek to disenfranchise us and in many cases promote explicitly anti-Zionist messages, then we have to question to what extent the Government needs our money to provide social services. Do our donations merely take the pressure off the Government so they can free up funds log-rolling unaccounted millions that go to institutions that deserve not a shekel? We need to continue our involvement as leaders of UJA and Federations and through that system make building a religiously and politically “Beautiful Israel” a priority.

    And at home it means we must make Conservative institutions such as BEKI, Camp Ramah, Ezra Academy, United Hebrew School and the Jewish Theological Seminary our top priorities. It is here where the “tire meets the road” and a new generation is trained in what “Judaism” was, is and will be. As we redouble our own efforts to build a strong Conservative community in Greater New Haven, let us be appreciative of the heritage created for us here by our elders and ancestors, and let us be proud and ever-growing Conservative Jews.

    Dear Rabbi: Answers, Advice and Helpful Household Hints

    Dear Rabbi,

    Can Hametz be sold by email?


    Dear yitsi@,

    The selling of Hametz before Pesah (or any other time you might want to sell it) can be done under the rules civil law, which for such commercial purposes is recognized by Halakha (Jewish law) as binding and enforcable before a Beit Din (Rabbinic Court) under the traditional doctrine of dina de-malkhuta dina, “the law of the government is the law” (see Talmud Gittin 10b, Nedarim 28a, Baba Qama 113a, et al.). Since apparently email and fax are valid vehicles for such transactions under civil law, they could be used for the selling of Hametz.

    Dear Rabbi,

    To the extent that a percentage of our tax money goes to medicaid, foodstamps, medicare, and other programs supporting the poor and disadvantaged, does this (indirect) contribution to the poor count as Tzedakah when calculating tithes [the obligatory contribution of 10% of one’s wealth and income annually to the Temple and other causes]?

    Signed, jgoldmd@she’

    Dear Jeremy,

    It would be hard to make a case for counting a portion of taxes as tzedaqa. The rights of the (non-Jewish) government to tax us is recognized for the most part under halakha, and what the goverment does with the money is their business. The idea of the government being “us” has not been part of the thinking of our sages, accurately reflecting the reality in their times. We can imagine, though, that there could be a time when a “righteous” government would be established that would collect money specifically for tzedaqa. When that time comes we should look at your question again. But at the moment it seems to me that the good the government does with our tax dollars (and much good is accomplished) probably does little more than balance the harm it creates. One could make a case, though, that one’s after-tax income could be used as the basis for calculating the tithe, and it is this approach that I would recommend for one who does not see a way to tithe on a full pre-tax basis. This question requires further study.

    Shavuot Festival at BEKI

    Men’s Club Miqve Experience

    Jewish men and boys are invited to join Men’s Club President Drew Allison and Rabbi Tilsen for individual private immersion in the miqve (“ritual bath”) at 86 Hubinger Street on the morning of erev Shavuot, Tuesday 10 June from 7:30a to 8:45a.

    On the morning before each of the Festivals (High Holy Days, Sukkot, Pesah and Shavuot) Jewish men and boys of the BEKI Men’s Club go together to the New Haven Mikvah for private individual immersion. (Fathers may enter with their sons.) The miqve (“ritual bath”) is a hygienic and warm setting for a “rebirth” experience. The miqve immersion is one way to help us enter a heightened state of purity and spiritual awareness as we prepare for the High Holy Days and the Festivals.

    The New Haven Mikvah was designed by BEKI Men’s Club member architect Arthur Ratner. The miqva has showers and dressing rooms. Those who would like to participate should bring a $5 user fee (cash or check payable to “New Haven Mikvah”), a towel and comb.

    Tiqun Leil Shavuot Sweeter than Honey:

    Night of Adult Study on “The Tradition of Respecting Diversity in Judaism”

    On Tuesday night 10 June following the 8:00p Festival Evening Service, there will be a late night of study featuring the teaching of leading scholars in our area. Among those teaching in the three study-hour evening will be Rabbinics History Professor Steven Fraade who will speak on “Mahloqet LeShem Shamayim: Argument in Rabbinic Tradition”; Rabbi Murray Levine, teaching on “Diversity in Judaism”; Elizabeth “Liz” Shanks, a recent doctoral graduate in Talmud, teaching “The Historical Development of the Ketuba (Wedding Contract)”; Rabbi Tilsen on “The Halakhic (Legal) Foundation for Women as Torah Readers”; and others. All of the presentations highlight the process of development of Jewish law and custom and demonstrate the deeply-rooted tradition of free inquiry and debate and the legitimacy of diversity.

    Yizkor Memorial Service

    A Yizkor Memorial Service will be held on Thursday morning 12 June, the second day of the Festival of Shavuot. The morning service begins at 9:15a and the Yizkor Memorial Service follows the Torah service, usually after 10:30a. The Yizkor service is an appropriate time to remember loved ones who are no longer in the land of the living. The Festival service concludes at about noon.

    Some households observe the custom of lighting a special memorial light the evening (this year, Wednesday night 11 June) before Yizkor day. This light should be lighted from an existing flame, such as a pilot light or a 24-hour candle lighted on Tuesday before sundown. It is also appropriate to offer tzedaqa (charity) to a worthy cause such as Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, and to make a commitment to perform an act of kindness and to study Torah. In these ways we insure that our loved ones’ memories will be honored and their ideals continued.

    Festival Morning Services Feature Hallel & Ruth

    Shavuot Festival morning services on Wednesday 11 June and Thursday 12 June include the recitation of Hallel, a collection of celebratory Psalms (Biblical poems). The singing of Hallel can be a most joyful segment of our worship services. On Thursday morning the Book of Ruth will be read according to its ancient and most beautiful melody. The Biblical Ruth, grandmother of King David, was a convert to Judaism and accepted the life of Torah upon herself enthusiastically and voluntarily. The reading of Ruth is thus appropriate to Shavuot which celebrates the giving of Torah on Sinai.

    Ezra Academy Shabbat

    Students, alumni, parents and faculty of Ezra Academy, Greater New Haven’s Conservative Jewish Day School, will join together on Shabbat morning 14 June 1997 for the Ezra Academy Shabbat at BEKI. Worship with the Congregation on that morning and take pride in the students of our Conservative school.

    Torah Pathways Adult Education

    Torah Pathways is a discussion and study group which serves as part of a basic Judaism course. Special attention is placed on issues of concern to those considering conversion or in interfaith relationships and to those studying for Adult Bar/Bat Mitzva. Torah Pathways examines fundamental ideas and practices of traditional Judaism in an open and non-judgmental setting. Torah Pathways is part of BEKI’s Torah for the Hungry Mind Adult Studies Program.

    The next meeting is Sunday Morning 29 June at 9:40a on “The 31 Flavors of Judaism: Conservative-Masorti, Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, Hasidic ….”

    Advance registration is not required and all meetings are free of charge. All are welcomed without respect to age, gender, personal status or synagogue affiliation. BEKI encourages all adult Jews to become part of the synagogue-based community of their choice.

    Notice of Annual General Meeting

    Find out what is happening at BEKI. Attend the annual General Membership Meeeting on Monday night 16 June at 7:45p.


    I wish to express my heartfelt and sincere thanks to the Beth El-Keser Israel congregation who were so helpful, kind, and considerate when I needed assistance. It gives me a great feeling of comfort seeing so many people care. Again my heartfelt and humble thanks.

    Wilbur Witten

    BEKI Sisterhood News

    Sisterhood president Adele Tyson advises that plans for the Book of Life luncheon on Tuesday 3 June l997 are going forward. She urges everyone to send in their inscriptions and reservations with payment as soon as possible. Don’t miss this event! It honors Helen Ross as this year’s “Woman of Valor.” The food will be great, the program terrific!

    Mary Ellen Mack, Sisterhood’s recording secretary was be our honoree at Spring Conference on May 14 in West Hartford.

    Sisterhood Shabbat will take place on Friday 13 June, 8 p.m. Several Sisterhood members will take part in the service. We are looking forward to a large attendance.


    Mazal Tov to Elisa Beller on graduating from MAKOM and on winning a National Merit Scholarship.

    HaMaqom Yinahem Etkhem: We Mourn the Passing of Nathan Cooper, brother of Rose Hodes; Lillian Bettigole, sister-in-law of Abraham Bettigole and sister-in-law of Ida Bettigole; Anna Rotman, grandmother of Darryl Kuperstock. May the memory of our departed be for a blessing.

    Devar Torah

    by Drew Allison

    Drew Allison is President of BEKI Men’s Club and graduate student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

    Presented at BEKI Men’s Club Shabbat, Shabbat HaHodesh 4 April 1997

    Shabbat shalom. Welcome to the Men’s Club Shabbat, Shabbat HaHodesh–welcome Men’s Club members and welcome all guests. This is the last Shabbat before we come to the month of Nisan; in fact Rosh Hodesh Nisan will be on Tuesday, this week.

    I would like to begin with a look at part of the haftarah for this special Shabbat, one of four special Shabbats which precede the holiday of Passover. Mostly this haftarah concerns commandments for special sacrifices and rituals relating to the new moon and Passover. But at the very end of the haftarah, which is from Ezekiel, it is written in 46:16, “Thus saith the Lord God: If the prince makes a gift to any of his sons it shall become the latter’s inheritance; it shall pass on to his sons; it is their holding by inheritance. But if he makes a gift from his inheritance to any of his subjects, it shall only belong to the latter until the year of release. Then it shall revert to the prince; his inheritance must by all means pass on to his sons.”

    It seems that the Torah is teaching about the importance of keeping the prince’s property within his line–no matter whom he left it to, when the Jubilee year arrived it would revert to his sons or to him if he were still alive. My generation, the sons, if you will, is poised to inherit the property of the princes, you gentlemen of the BEKI Men’s Club. But I, as one of the generation of the sons, have found it difficult to find “brothers” that is, others of my generation. Despite my urgings, they seem reluctant to step forward to claim their “inheritance”, the Men’s Club. I’m beginning to wonder whether there are any men who are of the same “line of thought” as the princes. They seem to be preoccupied with other concerns, heavy work loads, the difficulty of finding time to be with their families in these stress-filled ’90s. They put their time in at the shul, but it’s in mixed forums, which, after all, mirror their work-places. They may simply be from a different line, men of a different line of thought, a different world-view.

    And if there are no sons, to whom does the inheritance pass? I turn to Numbers Chapter 27, from parshat Pinchas. “The daughters of Zeloph’chad, of Manassite family…they stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, (v.3) “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korach’s faction, which banded together against the Lord, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen.” Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, (v.7) “The plea of Zeloph’chad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.”

    Am I suggesting that the Men’s Club should become a women’s organization? Not necessarily. But the Torah does seem to be teaching that in cases where the normal line of inheritance is blocked by unusual circumstances, bold solutions, even those which challenge the conventions of gender may be in order. How is the Men’s Club to respond to the radical changes in gender roles which we have seen in the last twenty-five years?

    This is not a question that I have the answer to–and yet it is a question that needs to be addressed–for the sake of the sons, the daughters and the princes. Shabbat shalom.

    Hevra Qadisha

    Jewish Men who may be interested in serving on a Hevra Qadisha which prepares the dead for burial are invited to call Rabbi Tilsen at 203.389-2108 or for information.

    UHS Graduation & Promotion

    The United Hebrew School is concluding another wonderfully successful year of study. The Graduation & Promotion will take place at the Westville Synagogue on Sunday 8 June. Breakfast will be served beginning at 9:30a followed by Graduation and Promotion at 10:30a. All are welcomed to share in this joy.

    Ramah New England Alumni Sought

    If you attended Camp Ramah in Palmer, Glen Spray or Connecticut we’d like to hear from you. Please send your name, address and email address to Camp Ramah in New England, 161 Highland Avenue, Needham MA 02194.

    Seizing the Moment

    The following statement by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch is reprinted by permission. Rabbi Schorsch is the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

    Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

    To visit the grave of Yitzhak Rabin is to stare at the abyss which engulfed him. The tombstone bears the shape of an unfinished semi-circle, two curved stones separated by empty space in the middle. As if to underscore their apartness, one stone is white and the other, black. The tombstone is a monument to a nation grievously divided. Many of Israel’s Orthodox citizens could not bring themselves to commemorate the first yahrzeit of their fallen prime minister.

    The recent statement by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in North America stigmatizing Reform and Conservative Jews as religious heretics seems to be an ominous replay of the events prior to the assassination of Mr. Rabin. Before Yigal Amir pulled the trigger, a number of Orthodox rabbis had stretched medieval Jewish law beyond all reasonable limits to classify Mr. Rabin as a “pursuer,” whose life could be taken in self-defense. The same body of medieval law explicitly sanctions the killing of Jewish heretics as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis surely knows. To publicly denounce Reform and Conservative Jew as apikorsim in the current highly charged atmosphere is to incite unwittingly some unbalanced young fundamentalist either in Israel or America to carry out the letter of the law. Have we not learned anything from the calamity of Mr. Rabin’s murder?

    It is, of course, transparently clear from the timing of this reckless statement that it was hatched in Israel, a diabolical attempt to discredit and delegitimize Reform and Conservative Judaism which represents 84% of synagogue affiliated Jews in America. But the conversion crisis wracking the Israeli government is not the result of a 1995 Supreme Court decision showing that the Chief Rabbinate enjoys no monopoly on conversion as it does on marriage and divorce. On the contrary, the crisis is rooted in the Law of Return passed by the Knesset in 1950.

    At the heart of that noble piece of legislation lay two distinct definitions of Judaism, one dictated by Jewish law and the other by the history of the Holocaust. The law gives voice to the Zionist ideal – that every Jew born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism has the inalienable right to settle in Israel. But this law also takes cognizance of those non-Jews who were swept up in the murderous dragnet of the Nazis by virtue of marriage or descent and suffered the fate of a Jew. Hence the law admits to Israel the spouse, children and grandchildren of a Jew, including their spouses, as long as they are not a member of another faith community.

    What kept these two definitions of Jewishness (by faith and fate) from flying apart was a Zionist Chief Rabbinate that made conversion easy. Today , unfortunately, the office and its rabbinic courts have fallen into the hands of the ultra-Orthodox, who ruthlessly conspire to do everything in their power to obstruct passage from one status of Jewishness to the other (witness fewer than 350 conversions in 1996). A few years ago, a number of Russian Jewish families approached the Conservative movement in Israel out of desperation to convert their adopted non-Jewish children, which was duly done. Despite the parents’ fervent wish to create a Jewish household, no official rabbinic court would lift a finger without extracting a promise that these families become strictly Orthodox.

    The supreme irony of Zionist history is that the founders of Israel who fled an intransigent Orthodoxy in eastern Europe ended up relinquishing all control of Judaism in the Jewish state to that self-same Orthodoxy. The only difference between the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is that the former dared to state overtly what the latter believes covertly. No Chief Rabbi visiting the U.S. would ever set foot in a Reform or Conservative synagogue. Yet Israel will never remain the center of world Jewry, as it should, if the state becomes exclusively identified with but one denomination in modern Judaism. To play that role responsibly, the state must be Jewish, not Orthodox.

    A total separation of synagogue and state in Israel is neither conceivable nor desirable. What the present unseemly strife calls for is a distancing of the two, a reversal of the denominalization of the state. Towards that end I propose the following four point action plan:

    First, Reform and Conservative Jews should stop funding all ultra-Orthodox organizations and institutions for whom religious pluralism is anathema. No more guilt money. No more support of ideologies that we would not want to see our own children live by. No more contributions to people who privately treat our religious beliefs with disdain and derision.

    Second, the promotion of religious pluralism in Israel for Jews must become a top funding priority for UJA-Federation. The concept is alien to Israel because the country was founded and settled by Jews from eastern Europe and the Middle East who had never gone through the emancipation experience. Religious movements are the inevitable consequence of political freedom and social integration. The communal structure of American Jewry is predicated on religious pluralism because the Jews who built it hailed from central Europe where emancipation had already begun to take root. The appropriate Jewish political model for Israel should be the pre-Holocaust Einheitsgemeinde (unified community) of central Europe in which the official community supported equitably the personnel and institutions of all three religious movements. In that spirit (perhaps a harbinger of things to come), the faculty of Tel Aviv University decided recently to build on campus a panoply of three synagogues (Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox) rather than a single, exclusively Orthodox synagogue.

    Third, the time has come to dismantle the Chief Rabbinate and its network of courts. Sustained by a political alliance between cynicism and fundamentalism, the system is today without a scintilla of moral worth. In 1994, 20% of the Israelis getting married went abroad to circumvent the monopoly of the Orthodox establishment, often to undergo only a civil ceremony. I am not calling for the abrogation of legislation for religious purposes (kosher food, Shabbat, autopsies, archaeology, the prohibition on raising pigs) or for religious privileges (the local religious councils and education), though in each instance fundamental changes are in order, but rather for decoupling the state from a dysfunctional ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. The first two types of legislation express the Jewish character of Israel, the third governing rabbinic jurisdiction makes it narrowly Orthodox.

    Finally, this campaign against the stranglehold of ultra-Orthodoxy must be carried out irrespective of the peace process. One thing is sure, the minions of Shas, Agudah, Degel ha-Torah and even the National Religious Party will not be deterred in advancing their cause openly and surreptitiously no matter how tortured and protracted the reconciliation with the Palestinians may be. At stake is the ultimate nature of the Jewish state. Israel will not long survive wholly secular or sectarian. Its welfare begs for a religious center for whom piety and sanity are not polar opposites.

    The unity of the Jewish people is an indispensable condition of our chosenness. Divided and fragmented, we bring no glory to God’s name. The world is cluttered with saving remnants that are no more than a curiosity. At this Passover season of national birth and renewal, let us recommit ourselves to the goal of achieving a religious unity beyond (and not instead of) our diversity that will be worthy of our monotheistic faith and universal mission.

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