Mid-January Edition 2017
WordsEtz Chaim from
A Warm Winter Welcome With Friends Awaits! ____________
Join Us At Etz Chaim For Minyan, Shabbos & Special Events In All Seasons!
See Our Schedules On Page 4
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 1
Words The Rabbi From
(NOTE—The item below was originally delivered as a sermon on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Berenson.) Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In Israel, Rosh Hashanah is only observed for one day. The Torah tells us that we should observe Rosh Hashanah for one day. So why do we have two days of Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. During biblical times, the court in Jerusalem determined when the new month would actually start, based upon testimony from witnesses or observers about the appearance of the new moon. It could be 29 days or 30 days since the previous new moon. The word would then spread outward from Jerusalem and observances of the holidays would begin accordingly. These days, when we can determine time down to a split second all over the world, why does this custom continue? I’ll tell you. The ancient courts ruled that once a custom was accepted and enacted by the people, the custom would then become the law. Therefore, according to traditional Judaism, we must observe two days of Yom Tov, not only for Rosh Hashanah, but for Succos, Pesach and Shavous as well. The second day is just as important to us as the first. Now you know another piece of trivia you never knew that you wanted to know! What is Rosh Hashanah? The Torah calls this day “Yom Teruah,” Day of Shofar Blowing. The shofar blast marks the beginning of a period of amnesty which is known as The Ten Days of Repentance. Repentance is based on the fact that since humanity has been given free-will, and our actions are not pre-determined, we must take responsiblity for our actions. The ability to repent teaches us that our future is not bound by our past. The future is, of course, only bound by our behavior in the future. The idea of repentance is to allow us to identify those behaviors from our past that we might want to modify. What does G-d want from us? I have said it many times in many ways, and it is simple. G-d wants us to Page 2
be good to our fellow man. There is nothing we can do that would please G-d more. How do I know? It begins with that most basic guideline which serves as the moral compass of our lives…the 10 Commandments. What is the first Commandment? I am the Lord your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Bondage. Here G-d asserts that it was He, G-d, who delivered us from Egypt…not an angel, nor Moses, but G-d. He could just as easily have said, I am the Lord your G-d who created you and who created the world in which you live. But it was more important for him to stress that he delivered us from slavery. Like all good parents, he loves when his children are good to others and abhors when we treat others poorly. What follows that first commandment is a set of nine other rules, or commandments, by which we should live. In the 10 Commandments G-d set up what became known as Ethical Monotheism. What does that mean? Monotheism, is the idea that there is one and only one G-d, and Ethical means that our G-d is the source of ethics and morality. That morality is an objective, not subjective, code of right and wrong. It emanates from G-d and is not subject to human opinion. In fact, it transcends human opinion. The result is an interpretation of the 10 commandments that what G-d most wants from us is that we treat each morally, according to his divine rules. In the other Commandments, G-d does not list things that we must do “for” him. They are all about how we treat other people in the world. Don’t most of us already lead good and moral lives? If we knew that we were doing something wrong, we probably would have already corrected it. But can we do better? I think that is the key to these 10 Days of Repentance and the real reason that we take this time to look back at our behavior over the last year to see if or how we might be able to improve. I want to tell you about a program that is used by the Israeli Defense Forces. My friend Andy Brenner is a director on the board of a group called American Friends of Beit Morasha. Beit Morasha is based in Jerusalem and is a center for advanced Judaic studies and leadership. Andy has invited me on several occasions to come to New York City to attend presentations hosted by Beit Morasha. I was there two weeks ago to hear General Moshe Ya’alon speak. General Ya’alon is the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and was the Israeli Defense Minister until his resignation this past May.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
His topic was “Ethics of modern warfare as adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces.” I personally have always thought the Israeli Army was the most ethical the world has ever known. It goes back to The Torah and Biblical times. The Children of Israel knew that they would have to do battle with certain nations in order to claim sovereignty over the land of Israel.
I mention this program because I am impressed with the measures that the Israeli Army will take to do what is right and to always try to do a better job at what they must do to protect the country. They have taken the idea of repentance to heart. They are always looking back, determining what they have done wrong and planning to make changes to do better the next time.
They were assured by G-d that they would be victorious. With that in mind, Moses instructed his army before going to war to always give the other people an opportunity to surrender first. If they didn’t surrender, he told the army to surround a city on only three sides, leaving the 4th open for an escape route. They were also specifically instructed on how to treat the captives after the battle.
How can we learn from what they are doing? First of all, I think we all can admit that there is always room for improvement. We can always do better.
The modern Israeli Army has followed that example here in modern times. They have made mistakes along the way. In looking back, they recognize that fact and endeavor to make improvements, even under the difficult auspices of war. That is where Beit Morasha comes in. Over the past decade, Beit Morasha of Jerusalem has spearheaded the development and implementation of IDF educational programs on issues of Jewish identity, values and ethics. It is called “Identity and Purpose.” Identity and Purpose has reached over 230,000 IDF officers and soldiers to date, deepening their knowledge of Jewish history, tradition and values; challenging their assumptions about war, peace, coexistence and identity; and revitalizing their identification with Jewish values and ethics. They have developed an Ethical Drills program. The premise of the Ethical Drills program is that soldiers need “ethical target practice” no less than they need “military target practice.” The Ethical Drills program focuses on ethical dilemmas that emerge during the course of IDF service and take place within IDF units. For example…the army tracks a wanted terrorist to a residential area and finds him in a home there. He begins to fire on them from inside the home. Do they fire back? What about innocent victims inside the home? What about collateral damage in the surrounding area? How can they achieve their goals without deadly force? The Ethical Drill has now become standard operating procedure for army companies that are charged with patrolling civilian areas as well as check points in sensitive areas in Judea and Samaria.
I myself am trying to give more thought to the unintended consequences of my decisions and actions. Sometimes I think we might do things to achieve a certain goal, and not give enough thought to the chain of results that may occur because of that. Congress last week for the first time overrode one of President Obama’s vetoes. He vetoed a bill that allows U.S. citizens to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts for damages in relation to the 9/11 attacks. His reasoning was that it might open up American servicemen and other American interests to similar lawsuits. After the veto override, Congress is now worried about that exact issue. Their goal was to allow American families to sue for damages. They didn’t give enough thought to what else might happen in relation to their action. The State of Maine has seriously cut back on services to the needy and those with mental health issues. They have achieved one goal of reducing spending on those programs, but at what cost? Homelessness and the corresponding problems are on the rise, those with mental health issues are having to deal with life on a level for which they are not equipped, and so much more. Examples of what I see others doing serves as inspiration for me. That type of introspection and soul searching intended for these 10 days is for me as an individual to undertake. How can I improve what I do so that I can better lead a life guided by traditional Jewish morals and ethics? That is what I will be thinking about between now and Yom Kippur. How about you?
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 3
Regular Services At Etz Chaim Everyone is welcome to join us for regular services held at Etz Chaim all year round: —Shabbat Morning — Saturdays at 9.30. Followed by Portland’s best Oneg. —Evening Minyan every Monday at 5. —Monthly Family Kabbalat Shabbat Service on the 2nd Friday of every month from 7 to 8 p.m. November thru May. A prominent topical speaker will be part of each service and is included within the hour.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
Etz Chaim, formerly an Orthodox congregation, is now an egalitarian, unaffiliated synagogue enjoying a resurgence in membership. All are welcome to attend weekly services on Monday Evenings and Saturday mornings, as well as once-a-month on Friday evenings, and for special holidays throughout the year. Lifecycle ceremonies such as bar/bas mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, baby naming, and vow renewals all take place here. Contact us if you would like us to host your special event. Etz Chaim is located in the Downtown Portland Historic District, on the peninsula at the foot of Munjoy Hill. The neighborhood housed so many Jewish families at the turn of the twentieth century, that it was commonly referred to as â€œJerusalem of the North.â€? Established in 1921, Etz Chaim is celebrating its 96th year of continuous service to Jews in Greater Portland and beyond.
Words Contributing about
Recent Donations In Memory of Ernest Sherry Susan Isenman In Honor of Yahrzeit of Morris Isenman Susan Isenman Helen Isenman In Honor of Yahrzeit of Sarah Leah Isenman Susan Isenman Helen Isenman In memory of Julie Goell Howard and Susan Pedlikin Rabbi Bill and Ki Leffler In Honor of Rabbi Berenson Temple Emanuel Chelsea, Massachusetts Shelley and Larry Parness, Providence, R.I. In memory of her grandmother Faye Gmeiner In honor of President Marshall Tinkle Kelley and Shari Brinkman-Youing For Etz Chaim Kiddush Fund Arthur Cope
Etz Chaim Synagogue 267 Congress St. Portland, Maine 04101 Phone (207) 773-2339 email@example.com Bulletin Edited By: Ted Fleischaker & Ivan Howard
In memory of Annabelle Mack Teri Berenson In honor of Kenny Nelson David and Liz Turesky In honor of engagement of Gary and Sindee Stephen and Lisa Schiffman To donate, contact Rabbi Berenson. Info at left.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 5
Words The Kitchen From
Ivan and I are known on Facebook for our Shabbos dinners, which we post without fail on Friday evenings to wish all of our friends Good Shabbos and hope that someday they will all join us for a meal. Some things change week to week while others remain traditionally constant. This time of year, the what we could refer to as the “dead of Winter” I often turn to comfort food as, Shabbos or not, we all need something to, as grandma Gertrude used to say, “stick to our bones.” In these hectic times, however, we do not have all day to cook as she did, so we have combined a traditional set of items, with a contemporary twist to get one of our favourite Winter Shabbos dinners: Leg of lamb, lemon potatoes, green bean casserole and, of course, a traditional challah. The challah is easiest: We leave a standing order for one at Commercial Street’s Standard Baking Company each Friday. If that’s not convenient, BJ’s, Hannaford, Trader Joes and Whole Foods, as well as Rosemont have challah on Fridays. It’s an easy way to bring tradition to your Shabbos table! Our leg of lamb (and yes we know some may find it too rare, so bear with me) is cooked in a single pan with the potatoies. The original recipe is as British as can be — courtesy of Waitrose, the gourmet UK supermarket chain. It’s easy to make. You will need an open (preferably metal) baking pan, olive oil, 1-2 cups bottled lemon juice, broth, white potatoes, whole peeled garlic toes, and a 2-5 pound boneless leg of lamb. We find ours usually at BJ’s, Sam’s Club or Market Basket if we have had time to run down to Biddeford, but there are many choices. The method is easy. Wash and slice the potatoes thickly, leaving the peel on. Spread the slices on an oiled pan and toss in a handfull of garlic toes. Be sure you get oil on all the slices or they will stick! Add salt and pepper (Montreal Steak Seasoning will work, too) and roast at 425 for 40-45 minutes, until the potatoes are starting to brown.
While they are cooking, prepare the lamb by cutting slits and inserting additional garlic toes, if desired (and if, like us, you can never get enough garlic!) At 45 minutes or when the pottaoes are getting nice colour, remove the potatoes from the oven, leaving them in the pan, and place the lamb roast on top. Pour broth and the lemon juice over all, add seasoning to the top (fatty side up) of the lamb and return to the oven until the lamb reaches your desired doneness. You can use a meat thermometer for this but remember you can always cook more, never less. I remove my lamb when the thermometer reaches 130 degrees as it will continute to cook once out and needs to “rest” anyway. You may wish to go for 140 or beyond. It’s strictly how well done you like your meat. At this point, remove the lamb to a platter, surround with the lemon potatoes (or place them in a bowl) and return the pan with the juices to the stovetop. Heat till the liquid boils. The sauce at this point is strictly to taste. We like a real lemony flavour so I add additional lemon juice. Water or broth can also substitute. You can also add a few bits of rosemary if you like that flavour in your sauce. Strictly optional in all respects! Finally, thicken the sauce to taste with flour and water whisked together (let’s avoid Grandma Gertrude’s lumps) and bring to the boil, adding any salt, pepper or spices you wish. Serve the lamb sliced thickly and with potatoes on the side, then pass the gravy. Finally, there’s the green bean casserole — it’s like grandma or your Aunt Lucille used to make and easy as it uses just one dish and shares oven space with the lamb. You will need two cans of French Cut green beans, a can of condensed (think Campbell’s) cream soup (I have used celery, mushroom and chicken — they all work fine) and a few hand fulls of those fried onions you get in a pouch or can at the store. This is insanely easy to make: open and drain the beans and place in the baking dish. Add the soup and stir together well. Cover with foil and cook alongside the lamb for 35-45 minutes. Just before seving, remove the cover, sprinkle the onions on top and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp and you are ready to go.
Add a nice derssert (a pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery on India Street just a couple blocks from the shul is our usual choice) and you’re set. Do not forget to say your candle, wine and challah blessings and you are guaranteed to have a succees for your Winter’s Shabbos meal! Oh, and leftovers are fun, too. Brown some onions, add the leftover lamb cut in cubes and brown 10-15 minutes, add some red wine and the remainder of the gravy you had left along with a few mushrooms (the canned kind work well for this) then simmer 10-15 minutes before serving. If you do not keep Kosher, you can add a half cup of sour cream to make the lamb stew more into a stroganoff, but that’s strictly choice and tradition. Serve over broad noodles and there’s a Sunday supper you can’t beat on a chilly Maine day.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 7
Everyone is invited to celebrate Shabbat with Chabad as a community with 75 of our family and friends, including of course a delicious four-course dinner, in a warm Shabbat atmosphere. From the Kiddush and Matzah balls, to the lecture with Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe and inspiring song, this is a Shabbat community experience you won't want to miss on January 20th at Chabad of Maine, 11 Pomeroy Street, Portland. Candle lighting: 4:19 p.m. Kabbalat Shabbat Shabbat Dinner: 5 p.m. Adult: $20 / Child (under 12): $10 Sponsorship available at the $100 & $180 level Friday Night Lecture: "From Outer Space to Inner Spaceâ€? The Lubavitcher Rebbeâ€™s surprising engagement with the frontiers of Science Insights to life on other planets, The place of Science in the larger framework of Judaism, and how these matters, far from being merely theoretical, relate on a personal level to our oft-unexplored Inner Space. Shabbat Day Lecture: "Can Orthodox Judaism be hijacked by Fanatics?" Fanatic, intolerant, and violent iterations of Islam have profoundly affected us recently. These phenomena cannot significantly exist in Classical, Halachic, and Judaism. Explore the nature and unique effectiveness of the safeguards built into the legal systems and communal institutions of Classic Judaism. Want To Attend? Contact Chabad Lubavitch of Maine Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 207-871-8947 On the web @ www.ChabadofMaine.com
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
Bâ€™nai Mitzvah at Etz Chaim Are you planning for an upcoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah for your son or daughter? What better location to hold it than the beautiful and historic Etz Chaim Synagogue? There are still several dates open and available for 2017 and 2018. Whether you are working with a tutor or would like to have Rabbi Berenson tutor your child, consider reserving a date for your big day. You can reach Rabbi Berenson by phone at 329-9854 or by e-mail at Portlandrabbi@gmail.com. WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 9
an increasingly important part of my life.
I hope you all enjoyed the high holidays. We had record turn-outs for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year. Hearty thanks to all who participated. If you happened to miss my remarks at Kol Nidrei (or if you nodded off), I humbly repeat them here as they are still appropriate: Good yontef! And shana tova! The story goes that a stranger came to town looking for Rubenstein, the president of the synagogue. “Which Rubenstein are you looking for?’ he was asked. “Oh, that Rubenstein, the one they say was cheating on his wife - he lives downtown.” So the stranger makes his way downtown and asks again. “Ah, yes, Rubenstein,” a storekeeper tells him. “Never pays his bills. Always in debt, that man. And I wouldn’t play cards with him, either. I’m pretty sure Rubenstein lives on Main Street.” When he got to Main Street, the stranger knocked on the door of the first house he came to. “Oh, Rubenstein,” said the woman who answered the door. “That mamzer. Worst president the shul has ever had. He lives at the end of the block. The house is easy to spot because it’s falling apart and badly needs a paint job.” So the stranger goes to the house and finds Rubenstein. “I’ve finally tracked you down,” he said. “Tell me, what made you become president of the synagogue? It can’t be much fun for you.” “It isn’t,” Rubenstein conceded. “But you know how it is. Who can resist all that honor?” When I was asked a few months ago to take on the presidency of Etz Chaim, I was indeed very honored. Also a bit daunted, but I’ll get to that part in a moment. I was honored because this shul has become a small but brilliant luminary in the Portland firmament. I was personally gratified because over the years this institution has become
I first became a member about 11 years ago. I first visited the shul about 30 years ago. At that time, and really for the next 20 years or so, as many of you will recall, the shul was pretty dingy and dilapidated, and the congregation was dying. But even then I found it appealing in many ways. The congregation was friendly. It was heimish. It was the only active synagogue in Portland that still retained the look and the feel, and the warmth, of European shuls the memory of which the first wave of Jewish immigrants to Maine carried from the Old Country. The trouble was that hardly anyone still came here to daven, even on the High Holidays, and it seemed doubtful that a synagogue like Etz Chaim could make it to the 21st century. A great deal has changed since then but all of the positive features from the old days have been preserved and enhanced. The Old World charm, the warmth, the friendliness have all been retained. But now the shul is bustling with activity. Now it houses a museum that has become the focal point of Jewish culture in Maine, that is one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, and that presents exhibits that continue to draw high praise all around. We now have a great full-time rabbi. The physical space has gone from decaying to resplendent, the membership from dwindling to thriving, the level of activity from sparse to robust. The renovations begun over seven years ago have nearly reached completion. Just in the last year we’ve installed a new sprinkler system and installed new and much-improved restrooms. Best of all, as I hope you’ve noticed, we now have a fully operational elevator. We’ve also continued to expand our programming and are very excited about our first-ever congregational trip to Israel, which is going to happen this February. So things are continuing to move in a very positive direction, but (and there’s always a “but”) I have to tell you that we’re not out of the woods yet. With every improvement, we’ve had to incur additional costs. The old Etz Chaim had minimal expenses. It had no rabbi, paid no salaries, didn’t purchase new religious articles, used prayer books that must have been published shortly after Gutenberg invented his printing press, and, as you could tell at a glance, spent no money on maintenance and repair. Its limited goals were corralling ten men for a minyan and making sure the pipes didn’t freeze. Now it’s a whole new ballgame. Now we have to pay for our rabbi, we have to pay for a parsonage, we have to pay for our holiday events, we have to pay for the upkeep of this beautiful, expanded building, and so forth. Each year our costs have increased, and each year we’ve been fortunate enough that our income from dues and donations has increased just enough to meet our expenses. We do have additional financial needs for the coming year.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
Among other things, we need to hire a part-time secretary. Most synagogues have a full-time office manager and a fulltime secretary, at the very least. Etz Chaim also has a fulltime office manager and a full-time secretary as well as a fulltime rabbi, but the trouble is it’s all the same person – who’s also the museum director, the custodian and the dishwasher. That’s not a sustainable situation. So that’s why I’m a bit daunted by the task ahead. I’d prefer not to be remembered as the president who was in charge when the shul started to lose its momentum. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But we can’t succeed without your increased support. I won’t belabor the point, but I’ll just close by noting that on this Day of Atonement, as we consider ways of making our lives more meaningful and more virtuous, please keep
in mind that the greatest mitzvah is tzdakah – charitable giving – and the greatest form of tzdakah is giving to a house of prayer, especially if it’s this house of prayer. Together, we can keep our dream alive - of preserving this monument to the traditions of our forefathers and foremothers, of revitalizing it to serve Maine Jews in the modern age, and of sustaining it as a shul where all will feel at home and all will feel welcome. Amy and I wish each of you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Thank you. B’shalom,
Don’t Miss The Shows! We have several shows now on display at Etz Chaim, so do not miss seeing any of them — from more intimate paintings to wonderful landscapes, Nancy Davidson and her crew make sure that it’s all happening in the halls and on the walls. Be sure to take time to have a look!
Maine Jewish Museum Presents
Neil Welliver | Painting Through Time: Animals, Figures & the Maine Landscape Opening Receptions January 12, 2017, 5pm-7pm January 15, 2017 2pm-4pm
January 12, 2017 - March 5, 2017
First Friday Art Walks February 3, 2017 5pm-8pm March 3, 5pm-8pm Nancy Davidson, Curator Neil Welliver is best known as a contemporary realist painter. His education in the 1950s was at the height of abstract expressionism. Accordingly, his paintings have elements of abstraction, although most strongly in his early works. During the 1960s and 1970s, Welliver’s paintings were dominated by the figure. This body of work, whether of men, women, cats, dogs, cows, children, musicians or skeletons…filled a busy world for Welliver and paved his way toward a final, deep and quiet absorption with the Maine landscape. By the 1980s, the Maine landscape became the dominant focus of his work for the rest of his life. Artwork courtesy of LBP Fine Art Consultants
Maine Jewish Museum
267 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101 (207) 773-2339
Monday - Friday 10am-2pm + Sundays 1pm - 5pm or by appointment
December UpPortlandadMJM.indd 1
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 11 12/15/2016 8:37:47 AM
Join Us (And Bring Your Friends & Family) To Celebrate Life’s Events!
From major holy days like Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, to the more minor occasions, like Chanukah, and everything in between, we are here at Etz Chaim to join with you and the Portland community. Plan to join us for a minyan, a Shabbos morning service or one of our monthly Kabbalat Shabbat evening services, co-sponsored with the Maine Jewish Museum. Winter & Summer, our doors are always open and we welcome you and to mark the occasions in the Jewish Calendar with special meaning. Photos here include Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Succos and Simchas Torah, as well as a Shabbos service that left us all in a “pickle”. Page 12
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 13
Words A Friend From
A YOM KIPPUR TALK AT CONGREGATION ETZ CHAIM By Judge Kermit Lipez United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit THE GRAND BET OF JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG PORTLAND, MAINE October 12, 2016 â€”Thank you Rabbi Berenson. It is a privilege to be speaking once again to this congregation on Yom Kippur. I am very grateful for the opportunity, which has enriched my experience of this holy day. Also, as I stand here on the bimah, I am struck once again by the beauty of this sanctuary, restored so lovingly and carefully in recent years. This transformation, wonderful though it is, is no miracle. It is the culmination of years of hard work by a group of individuals with the vision to see the physical and spiritual promise of this sanctuary. I congratulate them on their success, and their perseverance. Today, I want to talk about another example of perseverance. We are on the eve of a Presidential election that, among other things, will have a profound effect on the future of the Supreme Court of the United States. I would like to focus on one member of that Court -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This past Summer, as many of you no doubt recall, Justice Ginsburg made some controversial comments about Donald Trump, telling an interviewer that she did not want to think about the prospect of Trump defeating Hillary Clinton. She promptly apologized, calling her remarks "ill-advised" for a judge. This past weekend Justice Ginsburg made news again. During an interview about a new book of her writings that has just been published, she said that "I think it's dumb and disrespectful" for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and other professional Page 14
football players, to refuse to stand for the national anthem. I am sure that this comment will generate controversy as well. Intriguing as these comments are coming from a Supreme Court justice, they say nothing about the significance of Justice Ginsburg's career, and they are not the reason I have chosen her as my subject. Justice Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court and only the second woman. She is a seminal figure in American law. And some of the details of her life -- the family tragedies, her experience of Judaism, the obstacles she faced as a woman, the goal of her revolutionary legal work, the threats she perceives to her legacy, and her refusal to retire, as some had urged -- all of those details provide an inspirational story of particular relevance on Yom Kippur. Early Biography Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn in 1933. Her mother, Celia Amster, was, as Justice Ginsburg puts it, "conceived in the Old World and born in the New World" -- New York -- four months after her family fled the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father, Nathan Bader, came to the United States from a shtetl near Odessa at age 13. When Ruth was two, her older sister Marilyn died of meningitis.5 The day before her graduation from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, Ruth's mother died after a long battle with cervical cancer.6 When friends and family gathered at Ruth's house to pray, she was upset that only men could participate in the minyan.7 Earlier, she had been unhappy with her exclusion from the Bar Mitzvah studies of the boys. Ruth's mother had been critical to the survival of her father's fur business. Now the business failed, and, Justice Ginsburg recalls, her father "was no longer able to contribute to the temple. And so our tickets for the High Holy Days were now in the annex, not in the main temple. That whole episode was not pleasing to me at all." These early experiences in Judaism, with exclusions based on gender and wealth, "kept her from fully embracing Jewish observance." Ruth also knew that, as a Jew, she faced exclusions outside of Judaism. The best schools in the country had quotas for the Jews that they would admit. Hence, she says, "the Jewish children of her generation knew that they had to be
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
among the brightest." Ruth was a superb student. That success won her admission to Cornell, with its quota for Jews. Once there, she found that the Jewish women had all been assigned to rooms in one section of a dormitory.12 She chose government as her major, and, shocked by the excesses of Senator Joseph McCarthy's Subcommittee on Investigation, she decided to become a lawyer. Like many Jews who choose law as a profession, she saw it as "a bulwark against the kind of oppression Jews have encountered and survived throughout history." At Cornell, she met Marty Ginsburg, one year ahead of her. Their relationship began, Ruth recalls, one "long, cold week at Cornell." Then, says a friend, Marty "wooed and won her by convincing her how much he respected her." Ginsburg started at Harvard Law School while Ruth finished her senior year at Cornell. They were married in June 1954, days after Ruth graduated. She also had been admitted to Harvard Law School, but she had to defer her admission because Marty, who had been in the Reserve Officers Training Corps in college, had been assigned to the Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma. They had their first child, Jane, while living in Oklahoma. Still determined to join Marty at Harvard Law School, Ruth had to secure readmission. She did, starting at Harvard Law in the fall of 1956. In her second year of law school, Marty was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had radical surgery and daily radiation for six weeks. The prognosis was bleak. Sleeping about one or two hours a night, Ruth pursued her own studies while supporting Marty by typing up the notes of classmates for him and taking dictation from him for his papers. Although they had the help of a nanny, Ruth also was spending hours taking care of Jane each day. Marty survived, graduated, and got a job as a tax attorney at a firm in New York. To keep the family together, Ruth transferred to Columbia for her final year of law school. Obstacles During these formative years of study, and in the teaching career that followed, Justice Ginsburg faced daunting obstacles as a woman. At Harvard Law School she was one of nine women in a class of over 500. At a dinner hosted for these women early in their first year,
Dean Erwin Griswold provocatively asked each of them how they could justify taking the place of a man. Unsettled by the question, Ginsburg dissembled, saying to Griswold: "I wanted to know more about what my husband does. So that I can be a sympathetic and understanding wife." Justice Ginsburg did far more at Harvard than please her husband, becoming one of two women to make the Law Review. She repeated that success at Columbia, tying for first in her class. Even so, she saw sign-up sheets for interviews with New York law firms that explicitly said the interviews were for men only. Despite her stellar academic record, she did not receive a single job offer from a New York law firm. With the encouragement of professors and their strong letters of recommendation, she sought a clerkship with Justice Felix Frankfurter and Judge Learned Hand, two of the great judges of that period. They refused to hire her because they were not comfortable hiring a woman. She did eventually get a much less prestigious clerkship after her professor promised the judge that he would provide a male replacement if she did not work out. Interested in a teaching position, Justice Ginsburg discovered that Columbia had no place for her, even though there were no women on the faculty. When she did get a teaching job at Rutgers in 1963, along with another woman, the New York Star Ledger ran a headline: "Robes for Two Ladies." Describing the women as "slim, attractive," it noted that "from their youthful appearance, they could easily be taken for students." Litigation Strategy While she was at Rutgers, Justice Ginsburg became a volunteer lawyer with the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. There she read letters from women complaining about their experiences with gender discrimination that reflected, in different forms, her own experiences. For example, one wrote that she could not add her family to her health insurance because the company assumed only married men had dependents; another, a teacher, wrote that she was forced to leave her job when she showed her pregnancy. Urged by her female students, Justice Ginsburg developed the first course at Rutgers on women and the law. In preparation, she read every federal decision and ev-
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 15
ery law review article on women's status. The picture was disheartening. For years, the law of the Supreme Court had expressed a paternalistic view of women that emphasized the need to protect them from evil influences and preserve their central role in home and family life. To give one example, Michigan had a law that prohibited women from being barmaids unless they were the wives or daughters of the owners of the bar. Felix Frankfurter, the same Justice who had refused to offer Justice Ginsburg a clerkship because he did not hire women, had written in 1948 that Michigan's law did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution "since bartending by women may, in the allowable legislative judgment, give rise to moral and social problems against which it may devise preventive measures." This equal protection doctrine was a major impediment to changes in the second-class status of women in this country. So, through her association with the ACLU, Justice Ginsburg filed a brief with the Supreme Court in 1971 in a case challenging an Idaho law that stated explicitly that "males must be preferred to females" in the administration of estates. Idaho justified the law as an administrative convenience. If a man and a woman filed competing claims to be the administrator of an estate, the statutory preference allowed probate judges to avoid time- consuming hearings on the competing claims of relatives. In her brief, Justice Ginsburg challenged this flimsy justification for the dismissive treatment of women. As she wrote: The time is ripe for this Court to repudiate the premise that, with minimal justification, the legislature may draw "a sharp line between the sexes," just as this Court has repudiated once settled law that differential treatment of the races is constitutionally permissible . . . . To the delight of Justice Ginsburg and her colleagues, the Supreme Court agreed with this argument in an opinion written by Chief Justice Burger: To give a mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other, [Burger wrote], merely to accomplish the elimination of hearings on the merits, is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . This decision was a big deal. The Supreme Court had never applied the Equal Protection Clause in this way to a claim of gender discrimination. Buoyed by the decision, and seePage 16
ing the opportunity to challenge similar federal and state laws, Justice Ginsburg, now teaching at Columbia Law School, conceived and co-founded in 1972 the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which became the vehicle for her revolutionary work challenging gender discrimination. In six cases that she argued before the Supreme Court between 1972 and 1978, she challenged federal and state laws that had the same defect as the Michigan law dealing with bartending by women. In the guise of being more protective of women than men, they actually reflected a demeaning stereotype of women that harmed both men and women. Ironically, in the first case that she argued, as she discovered years later, Justice Harry Blackmun, who graded lawyers in his diary on their performance, indulged in a stereotype when he described Justice Ginsburg as "very precise female" and gave her a C+. This "very precise female" won five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court. Looking back on her successes in these cases, Justice Ginsburg summarized them this way: In the 1970's, the law books, state and federal, were just riddled with differentiations based on gender. There was this "separate spheres" notion. A woman's sphere was the children and the home, men's was the outside world. There were so many things that were just off limits to women. Our objective in the 1970's was to end the sex role stereotyping. The law should deal with a person, a spouse, a parent -- not a mother or wife. It took ten years, but almost all of the explicit gender base classifications are gone. Becoming a Judge Justice Ginsburg's success before the Supreme Court made her a candidate for a federal court of appeals judgeship when Jimmy Carter became President in 1977. At that time, remarkably, there was only one woman federal appeals court judge in the country. Knowing that the President wanted to improve that number, Justice Ginsburg applied for a position on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Her application stalled, in part because President Carter, to his great credit, promptly appointed ten other women to the courts of appeal. Then Barbara Babcock, an Assistant Attorney General, later a Stanford law professor, wrote a strongly worded
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
memo to Attorney General Griffin Bell: "I cannot exaggerate the feeling among women lawyers that all increases in numbers or victories are pyrrhic if Ruth is not appointed. It will be viewed as a slap in the face that a woman who is so well qualified, and, more than any woman applicant in the country, has paid her dues, is not chosen." Finally, she was chosen, and she began her work on the Court of Appeals in June 1980, at the age of 47. In June 1993, Justice Byron White resigned from the Supreme Court, giving President Clinton the opportunity to make his first appointment to the Court. Mario Cuomo, Clinton's favorite, declined the nomination minutes before the President was about to offer it to him. As a second choice, Justice Ginsburg appealed to the President because of her historic work on gender discrimination. In his remarks announcing her nomination at a Rose Garden ceremony, President Clinton said that "she is to the women's movement what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the movement for the rights of African-Americans." In her remarks at the Rose Garden ceremony, Justice Ginsburg thanked the women's movement for opening doors for her, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which had inspired the women's movement. As the second woman nominated to the Supreme Court (the first being Sandra Day O'Connor), she commented on the importance of her nomination: "The announcement the President just made is significant . . . because it contributes to the end of the days when women, at least half of the talent pool in our society, appear in high places only as one- at-a-time performers." She concluded with a tribute to her mother, "the strongest and bravest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon . . . . I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons." At the Senate confirmation hearing that followed the Rose Garden ceremony, Justice Ginsburg spoke openly of her Jewish heritage. In her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she noted that her "parents had the foresight to leave the old country, where Jewish
ancestry and faith meant exposure to pogroms and denigration of one's human worth." When Senator Kennedy asked her about experiences that would sensitize her to racial discrimination, she drew again on her Jewish heritage: Senator Kennedy, I am alert to discrimination. I grew up in World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child, even before the war, of being in a car with my parents and passing a place in [Pennsylvania], a resort with a sign out front that read: "No dogs or Jews allowed." . . . One couldn't help but be sensitive to discrimination living as a Jew in America at the time of World War II. After her confirmation by the Senate, with only three dissenting votes, Justice Ginsburg spoke to the American Jewish Committee of the relevance of her Judaism to her work on the Supreme Court: I am a judge born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain constant in the service of that demand. The Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg has shown that courage throughout her years on the Supreme Court. Although, as you might expect, she has been fiercely protective of women's rights, she has a philosophy of inclusiveness that is not limited to women. To explain that philosophy, she often quotes the opening words of the Constitution: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union." Then she notes that originally "We the people" left out a lot of people. "It would not include me," she says, "or enslaved people or Native Americans." She has made it her life's work to achieve that inclusiveness. To her consternation, however, a narrow majority of justices on the Supreme Court has adopted decisions in the past decade that, in her view, threaten the inclusiveness that has been won. In response, she wrote scathing dissents that became most notable in the 2012-2013 term of the Supreme Court, when she read several dissents from the bench, an unusual practice that reflects the anger of the dissenter. She was particularly vehement in her denunciation
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 17
of the majority for declaring invalid Congress's reauthorization of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - described by her as the nation's signal piece of civil rights legislation. "Hubris," she said, "is a fit word for today's demolition of the [Voting Rights Act]." Invoking Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, she said the majority's decision jeopardized what was "once the subject of a dream"-- "to secure to all in our polity equal citizenship stature, a voice in our democracy undiluted by race." Quoting Dr. King's words -- "[T]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," she then added a pointed qualifier: if there is "a steadfast national commitment to see the task through to completion." Seeing the Task Through to Completion That phrase -- "seeing the task through to completion" -captures the essence of Justice Ginsburg's approach to her life and work. In 1999 she was treated for colorectal cancer. In 2009 she had surgery for pancreatic cancer. Both cancers were diagnosed early and treated successfully. In 2014, after experiencing lightheadedness and shortness of breath during her daily physical workout - Justice Ginsburg is devoted to pushups - she received a stent implant. Given this history and her age, many who shared her judicial philosophy urged her to resign so that President Obama could appoint her successor before he left office. As precedents, they cited Justice David Souter, who resigned in 2009 when he was only 69 years old, and Justice Stevens, who resigned in 2010 at the age of 90. There is no doubt that Justice Souter and Justice Stevens cared about their successors. Indeed, Justice Stevens has said explicitly that it is appropriate for justices to think about their successor when deciding to retire. As he has put it: "If you're interested in the job and in the kind of work that's done, you have to have an interest in who's going to fill your shoes." Justice Ginsburg would agree. Even before the recent comments about Donald Trump, she expressed enthusiasm for the idea of the first female president. And she added: "There will be a president after this one, and I am hopeful that that president will be a fine president."Appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, she is surely hopeful that her successor will be appointed by another Democrat.
She understands the consequences of a different outcome. But she has been willing to make a grand bet that the achievements of a lifetime of work as a lawyer and judge will not be undone by a new president who, in addition to appointing Justice Scalia's successor, may have to replace Justice Kennedy, who is 80, Justice Breyer, who is 78, and, yes, Justice Ginsburg herself, age 83. So why did she make this grand bet if the consequences of losing are so great? I suggest that there are a number of reasons. Justice Ginsburg must enjoy being on a court with two other women Remarkably, despite the great achievements that brought her to the Supreme Court, she struggled to be taken seriously in the Court's conference room, where she sometimes experienced what happened to her so often in the 60's and 70's -- she would say something worthwhile that did not receive any attention until a man said exactly what she had said. As she put it: "When I would say something [in the Conference Room] - and I don't think I am a confused speaker, it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on that point." With three women now speaking in the conference room, the men have to listen. Also, Justice Ginsburg likes the image of three women sitting on the Court's bench. After Justice O'Connor left the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was the only woman on the court from 2006 to 2009. She felt lonely, and she said her position as the only woman on the court "projected altogether the wrong image because I am rather small. We come out on the bench and there were these eight wellfed men and this tiny little woman. It didn't look right." At the moment, there are only five well-fed men on the bench. The optics are much better. Depending on the outcome of the election, Justice Ginsburg could have more power on the Court than ever before. With an appointment by a President Clinton to replace Justice Scalia, a majority of the justices would be Democratic appointees for the first time in almost fifty years.
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
If, as a result, Chief Justice Roberts finds himself more often in the minority with his three conservative colleagues, Justice Ginsburg, as the senior associate justice on the Court, would have the power to assign the majority opinion to any member of the majority, including herself. She has never had the opportunity to do that in her twenty-three years on the Court. It is a power of considerable significance. As Professor Akhil Amar of Yale Law School has put it, "We may have, de facto, the first female chief justice." Then there is the familiar and, for Justice Ginsburg, disturbing suggestion of sexism in the calls for her to retire. There were not similar calls for Justice Breyer, now 78, to retire so that President Obama could nominate his successor. True, Justice Breyer has not had her health issues, but, by all accounts, Justice Ginsburg is fine now and works as hard as ever. She said she will know when it's time to go: "When I forget the names of cases that I could once recite at the drop of a hat, I will know." Yet, as a woman, she is more readily seen as weak and vulnerable. I suspect she has no patience with that view. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg has spent a lifetime proving that she is stronger and better than anyone else. In pursuit of a legal career, she says, "I had three strikes against me: . . . I was Jewish. I was a woman and I was a mother. ...[I]fado or would have been open a crack in either of the first two cases, the third one was too much." Ultimately, these strikes were not too much only because Justice Ginsburg resolutely overcame them. So, if you have spent a lifetime breaking down barriers, if you have achieved extraordinary success against great odds, if you have repeatedly overcome personal tragedies and institutional bias, if you love what you do and know that you do it well, if you see threats to the work of a lifetime, how can you be expected to just walk away when, despite the actuarial tables, you still feel at the height of your powers?
Justice Ginsburg's decision to remain on the Court. With all of the power that she still possesses, personally and institutionally, she wants to protect and advance her goals of inclusiveness. In that pursuit, she acknowledges that she draws on her Jewish heritage. In her chambers at the Supreme Court, she describes having on her walls three different artists' renditions of the Hebrew words from Deuteronomy -- "zedek, zedek, tirdof " -- "Justice, justice shall you pursue." "These words," she says, "are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they may thrive." We have these words from Deuteronomy in our prayer book at the beginning of a prayer entitled "The call to justice." In words that reflect Justice Ginsburg's vision of inclusiveness, the prayer tells us to love your neighbor as yourself; love the stranger as yourself; give of your bread to the hungry; bring the poor that are cast out into your house. Despite its title, this prayer is more than just a call to justice. Instead, we must have, in the words of the very next prayer in our prayer book, the strength, determination and will power, To do instead of only to pray, To become instead of merely to wish. I have always felt that there is a call to action in our High Holiday services. We take stock, acknowledge our shortcomings, seek forgiveness, and restore our souls. Then, in the words and example of Justice Ginsburg, we can "see through to completion" the tasks that matter to us. She is an inspiration for us on Yom Kippur because the tasks that mattered to her were so consequential for women and other groups excluded from opportunity and power in our society. With strength, determination and will power, she pursued and continues to pursue her vision of justice so that we may all thrive. Hopefully, guided by our own inclusive vision of justice, we will persevere as tirelessly and effectively in our tasks as Justice Ginsburg has in hers. I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Thank you.
I think that question answers itself. I understand WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org Page 19
Words Events About
Children’s Service To Debut Friday night, January 20 from 6 to 7, we will be hosting our very first Children’s Friday Night Service. We will be providing pizza and drinks along with some entertainment to go with our service. This event is intended for children from preschool up to middle school age. “Children” of all ages are also welcome!
Save The Date As Our annual Purim Party will be held on Purim, Saturday night, March 11th, from 7 to 10 pm. Exciting details will follow. Page 20
WORDS from Etz Chaim A On the Web @ www.etzchaim-portland.org
01 2017 etzchaim news letter