In speaking of Chanukah, the Talmud directs us to “advertise the miracle.” What generations of Jews have taken from that is, not to emphasize the military victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, but the miracle of the lights that followed. When the Jews re-entered their temple and destroyed the statues of Greek gods, they needed to reconsecrate the temple by lighting the holy lamp. This had to be done with pure olive oil, and there was only enough oil for one night. They lit the lamp and began to prepare more oil for the lamp – a process which would take eight days. Then a great miracle happened. The tiny amount of oil continued to burn for eight days, until the new oil was ready to be added to the lamp. So now we gather to light eight candles, one each day for eight days.
And this year there was another miracle for the Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit. We are in the midst of providing assistance to a Syrian refugee family of eight: two grandparents, the mother and father and aunt, and three children, aging from 14 to 6. We are partners with Christ Church Detroit, through Samaritas (formerly Lutheran Social Services). We provide financial assistance, used clothing and furnishings, and rides to the grocery store. And we help in unexpected ways. In early December, the women in the family asked us if anyone might have a meatgrinder to give them, so that they could make their traditional meat dishes. I knew I had one in my kitchen storage, one that my mother used to make stuffed grape leaves and meat pies (which my mother-in-law would call kreplach). I found it and marveled at how old and lovely it is, with its worn wooden handle. See the picture. I wondered if I should give it up. My mother, who is long deceased, would be delighted to have her meatgrinder find its way to a needy family. But would my two sisters feel all right about giving up this link to Mom? I emailed them both, saying, “Would it be okay with you if I give Mom’s meatgrinder to our Syrian refugee family?” My sister Marian responded quickly: “Wait. I thought that I had Mom’s meatgrinder. I have one here in my kitchen. I’m looking at it now.” Then our sister Peggy responded: “Wait. I thought that I had Mom’s meatgrinder and Grandma’s as well. I have two here in my kitchen. I’ll send one to you.” In all, there were four of them, all lovely antiques and all having found their way from older relatives into our kitchens. So we could gladly give one meatgrinder to our Syrian family and still each sister would have one from, perhaps Mom, perhaps an aunt or grandmother. It didn’t matter. It was a miracle. They were all lovely and all useful. They were all links to older generations of Americans, reaching out to new Americans.
Much of today’s world violence is due to religious differences, the claim that “my God wishes me to destroy all those who do not believe as I do”. Much of this belief is supposedly based upon Biblical and fundamental religious writings. Certainly, the Hebrew Bible is full of stories of death and destruction delivered to the “other”, and disastrous conflict between siblings, families, tribes, communities as well as countries. However, in his 2015 thought provoking book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, offers a convincing case that the supposed biblical underpinnings of this violence is invalid, and that conversely, the call is for brotherhood even among different belief groups. This week's Torah portion about the early conflicts between Jacob and Esau can be interpreted as a story illustrating the inevitability of long-term hostile relations between different individuals and then their groups, but is used by Rabbi Sacks to illustrate just the opposite. We will discuss Rabbi Sacks’ book, and how it is relevant to the Torah Portion, and to today’s world.
“The struggle which had begun inside the womb, was carried outside as Jacob and Esau were born. This would foreshadow the struggle which would consume much of their lives. This struggle would also manifest itself in the respective countries of Jacob and Esau; Israel and Edom.”
RCD member Barbara Levin is the official sponsor of the new Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit! The ship was commissioned on October 22, 2016 in the Detroit River. (More below.)
A number of RCD members attended the inspiring event, highlighted by the ship being “brought to life” as the crew ceremonially ran to take their positions. Several dignitaries spoke, Commanding Officer Michael P. Desmond, other naval officers, Senator Debbie Stabenow, and Barbara. Thousands of civilians attended, including a contingent of Canadian Mounties. The anthems of the U.S. and Canada were played. The ship was built in Marinette, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior. Barbara christened the ship there on October 18, 2014. She had been present at the keel laying on November 8, 2012 as well. The technically advanced ship has a shallow draft, 4.3 m, allowing it to patrol rivers and lakes as well as the sea. Speed is in excess of 40 knots. The ship can fire surface-to-air missiles and carries two Seahawk aircraft. It weighs 3,480 tons.
Several other US Navy ships have carried the Detroit appellation, starting with a 20-gun sloop serving the Royal Navy during the War of 1812. The U.S. Navy captured the HMS Detroit in the Battle of Lake Erie, and she was renamed the USS Detroit. Another ship carrying that name was the former USS Canadaigua. Bearing that name, she took part in the blockade of Charleston harbor in the Civil War. She was briefly renamed the USS Detroit in 1869. The next USS Detroit called at ports in Central America and Asia. She saw service in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The next ship with the name served in World War II in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Another vessel bearing the name was a supply ship serving in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was decommissioned in 2005.
Here is the text of Barbara’s remarks to the crew:
It is with great pride and pleasure that I congratulate you on the commissioning of the USS Detroit (LCS7). To be the sponsor of a state-of-the-art ship that bears the name of my hometown is a great honor. To be associated with those who serve our nation on her and the families who support them is an even greater one.
The outstanding work of the Commissioning Committee and the warm welcome you are receiving this week are just one sign of how important you and your ship are to the people of Detroit, our state, and our neighbors in Canada. We are all grateful for your hard work and that of the men and women who built the USS Detroit (LCS7).
As the Arsenal of Democracy that helped save the world from tyranny during World War II, Detroit used its manufacturing expertise to provide our military with the arms needed to defeat the enemy, just as the Navy used its training expertise to develop the strongest naval force of the war. The USS Detroit and its crews have benefitted greatly from many historic naval strengths, but, like the City of Detroit, are also employing advanced technology and innovation to meet new missions and challenges in the 21st century.
As Captain Desmond and crew initiate the USS Detroit, (LCS7) service in our great Navy, we hope our proud history and our pride in you and your ship strengthen and inspire you as you defend our nation and represent its values around the globe. We wish you fair winds and following seas wherever your missions may take you and a safe return to your loved ones.Barbara received her BA in mathematics at the University of Michigan, an MA in mathematics from Columbia University, and a JD degree from Wayne State’s law school. She worked in computer programming and other fields at Bell Laboratories and the General Motors Research Center. After receiving her law degree, she was employed by Dykema Gossett Spencer Goodnow and Trigg in Detroit, and at the U.S. Department of the Interior.She then served as Director of the Women’s Agenda at the Center for Defense Information, and worked on renewable energy projects at Energy Conversion Devices, a Michigan company. She has served on the board of Mazon, a Jewish organization fighting hunger, and other charitable organizations. She serves on the board of officers of RCD. Upon her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Senate, she and Carl have moved back to downtown Detroit. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.
RCD's new Torah was officially dedicated in a ceremony held in September. We gathered to see the Torah presented in honor of Matthew Schenk, RCD's first president, for all the work he has done on behalf of RCD. We expressed our gratitude to Judge Avern Cohn for his support of this project, as well as all the donors who made the purhase of the Torah possible. The Sofer, Rabbi Levi Kagan, blessed the Torah and provided a brief history of its origins. As a group we re-dedicated ourselves to basic Torah values: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. We then carried the Torah to our synagogue and installed in the Ark. Members of Christ Church (where our synagogue has space) were on hand to observe this portion of our ceremony. We then gathered with members of Christ Church for a dicussion of religious tolerance and acceptance, particularly in the context of the tragic events of 9/11. It was a milestone day for our small group, and we are looking forward to using our new Torah for our Rosh Hashanah services on Sept. 29th and 30th. We also look forward to our continued fellowship with members of Christ Church, where we have been made to feel most welcome.