קישור שלום ~ Kishur Sholom

Staying Connected with the Temple Sholom Community

8 January 2024 ~ 27 Tevet 5784

Parashat Vaera

Shalom, chaveirim - hello, friends -

It's all around us: This business with antisemitism. We heard last week from Talia Khan, a graduate student at MIT, who has experienced antisemitism, Jew-hatred, and anti-Israel sentiment first-hand, about which she testified before Congress. Talia was a wonderful speaker and I was so pleased that we could partner with Congregation B'nai Israel in Southbury and the Jewish Federation of Western CT for this event.

As the voices of Jew-hatred have been amplifying for several years now but over the last three months have skyrocketed nationwide, the question for all of us is: How best to respond?  

In many ways, my personal response is to live all the more into my Jewish life. While that is natural for me - and I have a job that literally asks me to do so - it is my nature to live Jewishly because that is who I am and I also have the comfort of living in an environment that is largely safe from blatant antisemitism.

As your rabbi, I will encourage you to do the same, even though it is not always easy. Live into your Judaism — publicly and privately. Light Shabbat candles, stand in solidarity with your fellow Jews, wear a Jewish star, read a Jewish book! Living into our Judaism is an act of defiance when those around us spew hatred. Our upcoming Tuesday discussions are looking into how we live Jewishly - and the discussions around themes of practice, Zionism, Talmud and more!

When a Girl’s Varsity Basketball Game became more than 'just' a game.

Not too far south from here, a recent incident occurred which can provide some insight. 

Last Thursday a high school girls’ basketball game in Yonkers was canceled when players on the home team shouted antisemitic slurs at their Jewish opponents. The game was between the girls' varsity teams from The Leffell School, a private Jewish school in Hartsdale, and Roosevelt High School, a public school in Yonkers.  

Early in the game a Roosevelt player shouted “I support Hamas, you f—king Jew.” According to the Leffell team coach, for the entire game there was hostility and aggression with substantially more jabs and comments thrown at the Leffell players. Towards the end of the third quarter, the game just got too rough. The editor-in-chief of the Leffell paper quoted the players who explained that “instead of responding to hatred with more of the same, we chose to separate ourselves from the situation and leave with dignity and pride in who we are and what we believe." 

In this time of heightened anxiety for Jewish communities around the world, the Head of the Leffell School, Dr. Michael A. Kay, wrote to the parents of the school and explained that the school must take seriously a number of important responsibilities: (1) to ensure that our students/children feel safe and protected; (2) to prepare our students/children for the possibility that they might one day face challenging and uncomfortable situations; (3) to inculcate our students/children with values that will guide their responses to such circumstances.  

We are not alone.

According to the reports I read about the basketball game the head coach of the Leffell School consulted with the players, the opposing coaches and the game officials. At first he monitored the situation. It was towards the end of the third quarter that he decided the conditions were unbearable for high school girls. The game was ended to ensure there would not be any escalation.  

The next day in school, the team debriefed and processed their experience at the game and the girls were given ample opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings. The goal was to ensure that the students conduct themselves with midot (ethical values) and grace.  

I learned that the administration of Yonkers High School also understood that this was a great learning moment. Soon after the game’s conclusion, the school’s athletic director contacted the coach of The Leffell School to issue an apology and to assure the Jewish community both that the words that were spoken on the court are not representative of their community’s values and that the follow-up would be swift and appropriate. 

Dr. Kay, has said that there is a possibility of an in-person encounter, either between the leadership teams of the schools or among the players themselves.  

Just this morning it has been reported, the Yonkers Mayor and Public Schools issued an apology and fired the coach. While there is much to worry about (see the recording above about MIT) there is much to give thanks for: the school leadership that called out the wrong-doing of the basketball players and the Jewish students who stood up, showed pride with humility and did not lose sight of our values, and remain devoted to the Jewish people.  

To Ensure that our Students/Children Feel Safe and Protected

My teacher Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, offers an important distinction. Kurtzer wrote “I think it’s urgently important that we figure out how to differentiate between two very different phenomena. Those that make us unsafe and those that make us uncomfortable.” Kurtzer advances not a technical distinction but rather an idea that can guide our response. Sometimes, we will be uncomfortable - but that is not the same as being unsafe. The girls' basketball game was uncomfortable at first but became unsafe by the end of the third quarter and it was time to call the game off. Not all acts of antisemitism are the same though the overall trend is upsetting and discouraging. And yet.

To Prepare Our Students/Children for When they Encounter Hostility

Antisemitism is a reality and dates, in many ways, to last week’s Torah portion (Exodus 1:10) when we encounter the Pharaoh who said to his people “Behold, the people of the Children of Israel are more and mightier than we; Come on let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it may come to pass, that, when there would be any war, they should join our enemies, and fight against us; and so get them out of the land.”  

These remain such difficult days as our world shifts and adjusts to realities which our people have known for centuries - even millennia! We are, as has been noted in our Torah, a nation that dwells apart. At times, we do so out of desire for our own introspection and communal development and at other times because people want to isolate, torment, and even murder us. One girls' basketball game or the events at MIT (and elsewhere) are not the same as paragliders using machine guns to murder innocent concert goers or death-seeking terrorists invading peoples homes. But those who excuse - or support - the latter remind us of how evil grows and needs to be highlighted in order to prevent its spread.

And so it is upon us: To educate ourselves and others; to work within our own ranks and with partners outside to marginalize hate; and to live into and uphold our customs, commandments, and rites.

Shavua tov, 

Rabbi Mark Cohn

Recommended Resources from the Rabbi's Desk

Constant and important updates, podcasts, blogs, and articles from The Free Press, Times of Israel and Tablet Magazine.


"White People are Going to Colonize Mars, and Other Fears from Today's Campuses," by Emily Benedek in Tablet Magazine.

"Can a Unified Israel Rise from the Ashes of War" by Yohanan Plesner in The Jerusalem Post.

Hannah Wacholder Katsman writes about how the death of her son has brought healing to others who have suffered tragedy in: "Comfort among the Mourners," which appeared in The Times of Israel Blogs.



"Israel at War: Back to October 6th," with Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi on For Heaven's Sake from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

"The politics of antisemitism" a conversation between Rabbi David Wolpe and Sam Harris on Making Sense.


Jewish activists fight antisemitism on the streets and online Journalist, Feminist and Jewish activist Eve Barlow and Israeli-American rapper and activist Kosha DIllz joins i24NEWS to discuss how to combat antisemitism, on the streets and online.

"Lunch & Learn" with Rabbi Mark Cohn

NOON - 1:00 PM

Bring a friend! Bring lunch if you want (dairy only - no meat)!

Tuesdays, January 9 & 16

January 9th, Mijal Bitton's essay: The Tyranny of 'Identity': Why DIY Judaism is no Substitute for Tradition." For Bitton, Jewish identity cannot be all about the individual. In fact, Judaism has survived because we are NOT a "do-it-yourself" religion/people. We work together based on what came before us. Her essay is a very good challenge to Reform Judaism which has emphasized personal autonomy.

January 16th, Einat Wilf's essay: "Zionism as Therapy: How the Movement's Founding Texts Offer an Answer to Today's Bullies." Wilf effectively forecasted the December Congressional hearing with three major university presidents and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of anti-Zionism - let alone the illiberalism facing many campuses. In teaching college students, Wilf found Zionism as a balm to broken hearts.



Services & Study

Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday Evenings 6:30PM

VIA ZOOM - this week!!

January 12, 26


Meeting ID: 876 2982 2282

Passcode: shabbat


January 19


Shabbat Morning Torah Study - 9:30am


January 13, 20, 27

Temple Sholom

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New Milford, CT 06776

(860) 354-0273

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