From Rabbi Lieberman

  • “Who opens the eyes of the blind…”

    Posted ‍‍ח אייר ה תשעח - April 23, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off


    Not a day goes by that any or all of these tech giants are not in the news, often in connection with troubling allegations about their abuse of the trust we place in them when we opt to make use of their sophisticated technologies that, in so many ways, make our lives easier. With new and massive data-breaches being revealed all the time, with incalculable damage being done to our society through hacks and “bots”, we have good reason to think about our relationships with cyber-technology. Many people, either because they are fearful of the misuse of their personal data or because they are increasingly aware of how much time they lose to their “screens”, are severing their links with social media platforms.

    As someone who reluctantly admits that I have seen too many hours disappear as I follow Facebook threads, I can sympathize with those whose mistrust of communication technology is growing. But I am also cognizant of the ways in which this technology helps us achieve significant and praiseworthy things. Let me share one example that I must introduce by citing a snippet of liturgy from Judaism’s daily prayers. In that section of the morning service called Nisim b’chol yom (literally “daily miracles”), we pray this blessing:

    Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, po-kayach ivreem.
    Praised are You, Adonai, Soverign of Existence, who opens the eyes of the blind.

    That blessing is part of sequence that reflects our first actions each day. Opening our eyes in the morning is likened to God’s giving sight to the blind. Many is the time that I have wondered how that particular blessing feels to a person who is blind or visually impaired.

    Now let me tell you about an extraordinary piece of software, a smartphone “app”, that I discovered two years ago. It is called Be My Eyes and was developed in Sweden by a software designer who realized that the ubiquity of smart-phones with decent video camera functions could be an enormous boon to people who are blind or visually impaired.

    Here’s how it works: Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers and Be My Eyes representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. Every day, sighted volunteers around the world lend their eyes to solve tasks big and small to help blind and low vision people lead more independent lives.

    The process begins when a blind or low vision person requests assistance by opening the app on a smart-phone. Through a live video call, that person and a volunteer can communicate directly and solve a problem. The volunteer will help guide which direction to point the camera, what to focus on or when to turn on the phone’s flashlight.

    When a sighted volunteer receives a video call, he or she assists that blind or a low vision user who may need help with anything from checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions or navigating new surroundings.

    This app is brilliantly simple, easy to use and effective. To date, it has been installed globally by 949,363 volunteers and by 67,647 blind people.

    In the two years since I installed the app on my phone, I have successfully responded to four or five requests for assistance. Because there are so many volunteers, if I am unable to respond to the app’s distinctive ring-tone, or do not do so quickly enough, I can rest assured that the call will be answered by someone else. In one call I helped someone identify what kind of frozen meat was in her freezer. Another time I assisted someone by telling her the color of a sweater that she wanted to match with other clothing. In another call I helped someone find expiration dates on packages of food. In another call I helped someone identify different gift cards in her possession. While the reach of the app is global, English speakers are always matched with English speakers.

    Such a simple act that engenders such a feeling of gratitude for being able to offer my eyes in the service of another’s need. I will never read that blessing–“…who opens the eyes of the blind”…the same way again.

    [ To learn more: ]

    Reb Elias

  • Door #1 or Door #2?

    Posted ‍‍יג אדר ב' ה תשעח - February 28, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This year the month of March is book-ended by two Jewish holy days: Purim (Feb. 28/March 1) and Passover (Mar. 30 – April 7). The biblical books which explain the origins of both holidays present radically different understanding of the role of human agency in contending with existential threats to the well-being of the Jewish people.

    Purim, via the Book of Esther, brings us the story of a highly-assimilated Jewish community that, virtually overnight and as a consequence of forces beyond their control, finds itself facing possible genocide. Salvation does not come about through divine fiat; God is nowhere mentioned in The Book of Esther. The Jews of Persia avoid persecution and potential extermination because Mordechai and Esther summon the will and the chutzpah to confront the power of Haman, in whose thrall the King of Persia is held. Regardless of whether the story of Purim is true–as in “it actually happened”–it rings true because we understand that, historically, Jews have found themselves in similar situations throughout Jewish history. Think “Germany” in the 1930s.

    Passover is a Torah-mandated festival which has its roots in agricultural celebrations surrounding the spring wheat harvest and the celebrations attached to the birthing of lambs each spring. But rabbinic authorities subsumed those explanations and overlaid a far more powerful explanation: we celebrate Passover to remind us of God’s miraculous intervention in human affairs when God chose to step into history and, utilizing miracles, brought our ancestors out of “the house of bondage” in order to have them enter into a sacred covenant with the God of Israel at Mount Sinai.

    Theologically speaking, Purim and Passover are worlds apart.

    In my experience, the Jewish community tends to cluster around the two theological polarities rooted in these two Jewish observances:

    1) We live in a world in which we are the agents of our own survival.

    2) There is a God who is every bit as prepared to effect our salvation as when our ancestors cried out to God in ancient Egypt.

    Where do you fall within that continuum and how does it affect what you do on a daily basis?

    A zen koan-like passage in our prayer-book reads:

    Pray as if everything depended on God.
    Act as if everything depended on you.

    There is much in this world that I cannot explain, much that I can never hope to understand. At times, some of it feels “miraculous”. But were I a contestant in some cosmic game-show where Door #1 is marked “PRAY” and Door #2 is marked “ACT”, I would opt for Door #2 every time.

    Even in the midst of its revelry, Purim serves to remind me that minority communities are often vulnerable and must, ultimately, rely on their own wits and the support of allies to overcome adversity. In 2018 that message is more significant than ever. Passover arrives a month later to remind me that our world remains filled with “pharaohs” of an astonishing variety who will be toppled not with prayer, but only through tireless and concerted collective action.

    I am grateful that the rhythm of the Jewish year compels me to encounter sacred occasions that inspire and evoke contemplative responses. I wish you a joyous Purim and liberating Passover and the benefits that flow from grappling with the ramifications of each!

    Reb Elias

  • “Take me out to the ballgame…”

    Posted ‍‍ו שבט ה תשעח - January 22, 2018 By in Rabbi's Thoughts With | Comments Off

    boston_getty_ezra_shaw_staffHow do we know that God is a fan of baseball? Because the Torah clearly states that the world was created “In the Big Inning!”

    If you, too, are a fan of baseball, especially of the variety practiced by the Boston Red Sox, have we got news for you!! Thanks to the generosity of our members Lawrence Silverman & Stella Citrano, we will be raffling off two pairs of Red Sox tickets: one pair for Opening Day (Thursday, April 5, 2:00 PM, against Tampa) and one pair for Patriots Day (Monday April 15, 11:00 AM, against Baltimore.)

    Stella has had these seats since 1978 (even before she knew Larry.) They are located in Section 23 of the Grandstand, Row 2, Seats 7 & 8, under cover and under netting. (You can go on the Fenway Park website to see exactly where they are situated.)

    Here’s how our raffle will work. (All proceeds will benefit FJC’s General Fund.)

    • Raffle tickets are $10.00 apiece / 3 for $25.00 Checks should be made payable to “Falmouth Jewish Congregation” with the notation “Red Sox ticket raffle”. Two winning tickets will be drawn; each winner will receive two tickets for either the 4/5 or the 4/15 game.

    • You will not receive a physical lottery ticket, but you will be assigned a ticket number (or numbers if you purchase multiple tickets.) We will retain the physical ticket for your number(s). We will keep accurate and meticulous records, matching raffle tickets with purchasers so please be sure to supply us with contact information (e-mail and/or phone number.)

    • On March 1st (Purim, which means “lots”, as in “lottery”!) we will place all raffle tickets in a vessel and have a public and recorded drawing of the winning tickets for each pair of Red Sox tickets. Winners will be notified by e-mail or phone.

    PLEASE NOTE:  There is a condition attached to these tickets.  People must use them themselves or give them to someone they know that they trust.  They may not be sold (on eBay, Craigslist, etc.)

    We extremely grateful to Stella and Larry for their thoughtfulness and generosity! So don’t delay, purchase your raffle tickets now, tell your friends and start day-dreaming about Fenway in April…..Play (raffle) ball!

    Reb Elias

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