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by Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, Director of Jewish Life
On Monday night, we joined together as a community in celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday. I’m sure those who were in attendance would agree that it was truly a beautiful and moving evening. One grade’s song was “Eretz Yisrael Sheli Yafah V’gam Porachat” which captures the many things that were built after the founding of our State including bridges, roads and houses. Another song “Kan Noladeti” describes the place where the composer was born. These nostalgic songs are uniquely Israeli.
And yet, as much as we should credit the pioneers with building the State of Israel from the ground up, we are reminded of the message given by God in Parashat Behar which states “The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, “Ki Li Ha’Aretz” --for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.”
Whoa! What a vastly different approach from the American way of thinking where we are taught about manifest destiny [hey, the AP US History exam was one week ago today and this is one phrase I still remember from my exam!]. Isn’t that what Woody Guthrie taught when he wrote the famous song “this land is your land, this land is my land.”
In the Torah, God is reminding us that Israel is not our land. It is God’s land. In essence, God is saying to the Israelites that Your destiny is what I manifest it to be.
What vastly different approaches to the land.
Last week, we recited Hallel three times (2 for Rosh Chodesh and Yom Ha’atzmaut) and said the well known verse from our Psalmist “ha’shamayim shamayim l’Adonai, v’ha’aretz natan livnei adam,” –the heavens are God’s but the earth, God has given to mankind.
The Hebrew word “natan” is often translated as “given.” However, in this case, it is clearly understood to mean “given temporarily,” in other words, entrusted. Therefore, we may use the land, but we must return it to God in good shape for God is telling us that the land is Mine. We are but strangers resident with God.
And our Sages have created a very unique and specific set of laws and rules based on their understanding of this verse-and based on their understanding of God’s will with regard to how we treat our earth. One such law is called “bal tashcheet” loosely translated as “not wasting.” We are permitted to use natural resources, but not to waste them.
Perhaps, we now understand why environmental movements of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s failed with most of their main goals. People turned these movements into a religion of their own. Nature became a god of sorts. For us Jews, environmentalism is not an end in and of itself. It is a way of serving God. Our tradition teaches; the only one who deserves our total allegiance, our full attention, our absolute commitment is God and the earth that God has loaned us.
This is summed up best by a beautiful story from the Midrash on Shir Ha-Shirim [based on Song of Songs, 7:28] which we just recited on Pesach.
“When the Holy One created the first person, God took the first person before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said “see how lovely and excellent My works are! All that I have created, I have created for you. Consider this carefully. Do not corrupt or desolate My world. For if you corrupt or desolate it, there is no one to set it right after you.”
So, this week, instead of singing Woody Guthrie’s famous song, I’m singing Parashat Behar’s version. I think it goes something like this:***
This Land is your land, this land is my land
God gave it to us, in great condition
If we pollute it, we’d better fix it
God gave it for use by you and me.
As I was walking, outside my office
I saw around me, stuff left by students
I picked it up and, walked it to the trash
The Old Gym was made for you and me.
As I went walking, I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said, "No Trespassing."
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
[This 3rd stanza is actually an original verse from the song. It is still true today, given the construction taking place in our Gym, so I’m leaving it in the song with a stern warning to students not to take this as permission to go past the sign!!!]
As I paid $3.99 for regular unleaded gasoline this week, the message of Parashat Behar could not have been any clearer. God says “ki li ha’aretz” –for the land is Mine.
May each of us be extra careful with our earth and its precious natural resources now and forever.
***I’m no musician but when I sang it, it seemed to fit.
May 16, 2008
11 Iyar 5768
Candle Lighting 7:44 pm
Havdalah 8: 58 pm
Dear Schechter Parents and Guardians,
On Monday, May 12th several hundred SSDS students and parents celebrated Israel at 60 at the Cradle of Aviation. With oral presentations, singing, and dancing, everyone participated in a very joyous occasion that marked Israel’s birthday. Community members from various synagogues, etc. came together to acknowledge this milestone. Needless to say, Solomon Schechter Day School students brought honor to our school with their performances. A special treat for the elementary school community was the inclusion of SSDS Choir in its inaugural year. Our students sang and danced beautifully. They sounded and looked as professional as the older students!
On Tuesday, May 13th first grade families gathered to enjoy a family program about the siddur (prayer book). Students and parents learned about the service structure of the siddur and made siddur covers. This memorable experience is but one experience that will hopefully remain with our Schechter students as they advance through their Schechter school years.
SMART Night on Thursday, May 15th, found students’ work resonating throughout the halls as well as being on visual display. Beginning with the band’s presentation under the guidance of Jennifer Baxter, continuing with science experiment presentations guided by classroom teachers and/or science teacher Greg Tobkes, and culminating with musical works sung by SSDS students under the guidance of Elana Stern, SSDS students displayed that hard work pays off, builds self confidence, and provides for growth. Moreover, the student art work which hung throughout the building and which was completed under the guidance of SSDS art teacher Teri Fields, proved that artistic growth is woven throughout the year.
Worthy of Mention
Mazel tov! Congratulations are extended to Greg Tobkes for being selected as a finalist for the Covanta Teacher Challenge. Mr. Tobkes’ submitted lesson plans that are now featured in a collection of lesson plans gathered by the Covanta Energy and the Center for Science Teaching and Learning located in Rockville Centre, New York
Remember these dates! The Fifth Grade Family Program and the Second Grade Family Program have been moved! The Fifth Grade Family Program will be on Monday, May 19th from 7:00-8:30 pm. It will involve storytelling, changes, memories and “moving on up” as in going on to middle school. The Second Grade Family Program will be on Tuesday, May 27th from 7:00-8:30 pm. The topic will be on Restoring the Environment and this program focuses on the second grade studies about taking care of our world.
Our first ever Volunteer Appreciation Celebration will take place at Midway Jewish Center on Wednesday, May 21st at 7:30 pm. Everyone who volunteered on behalf of Schechter this year is asked to RSVP to be properly honored. The evening includes dessert and coffee; everyone is invited. Please RSVP to Rachel Alexander, firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot.
Families your help is needed! The Fifth Grade Feed the Hungry Committee will be having a food drive from May 19th-June2nd. Please send in non-perishable food. The donations may be dropped in the barrels outside of the front office. The food will be given to Long Island Cares! Thank you so much for helping perform this mitzvah!
A “todah rabbah” is extended to all who attend the various and numerous evening presentations. This support demonstrates how strong our SSDS community is as members continuously show up for each other. What a wonderful accomplishment! More specifically, a special thank you goes to Elana Stern for her help with the SSDS ES Choir at the Israel at 60 Celebration.
Additionally, a thank you is extended to the PA. They continually supply our students with materials for the Family Programs. Once again Ms. Jessica Braginsky and Ms. Leslie Browne produced an outstanding evening program where first grade children had a "hands on" experience. Also, a thank you goes to Jennifer Baxter, Teri Fields, Elana Stern, Sandi Swerdloff, and Greg Tobkes for their extensive help with SMART Night. Thank you!
Shabbat Shalom and kol tuv,
Salute to Israel Parade
2008 Calendar Ads
Fifth GradeFood Drive
Come Meet Mr. Met, of the New York Mets, this Sunday at our School