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					                                                                       A publication of
                                                                    Congregation B’nai Avraham

                                                   October 2009 / Tishrei 5770       Vol. 4:3

    Steven Cohn and the Rabbi's father, Rav Benzion Raskin, march with the new torah scroll. Photo
                                        courtesy of Saul Sudin.

In this Issue:
•    Shul’s New Torah Scroll
•    Summons in the Mail
•    Blue Tzitzit
•    Campers and Townies
•    Comings & Goings

                            Shul’s New Torah Scroll
                                  by Levana Madani

On the 24th of Elul (September 13, 2009),
Congregation B’nai Avraham witnessed an
afternoon of joyous celebration as the
Congregation welcomed its new Sefer
Torah with a parade, dancing, and a
delicious meal.
    The Torah scroll was donated by Joyce
David. The scroll had been owned by her
father, who gave it to Ms. David’s
daughter, who had planned to open a
synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia. However,
the plans fell through, and Joyce mentioned
the Torah to Rabbi Raskin, offering to        as well as all types of Judaica and Jewish
donate it to the shul. He jumped at the       music. The torah might have been
opportunity.                                  purchased by him for his collection, or it
    The origins of this Sefer Torah are       might have first belonged to Joyce’s
unknown. Joyce comes from a long line of      grandfather, himself a rabbi. Joyce had
rabbis. Her father was a rabbi and a cantor   heard both stories from her family.
who collected Hebrew and Yiddish books,           Rabbi Daniel Dahan our official shul
                                              sofer (scribe) checked the Sefer Torah,
                                              made the necessary repairs, and registered
                                              it with the Torah
                                                  Readers will
                                              recall that earlier
                                              this year, one of
                                              the shul’s
                                              original Sefer
                                              Torahs was
                                              stolen and never
                                              recoverd.. The
                                              new scroll was
                                              donated just
                                              before the theft,
                                              so its arrival was
                                              timely. Although the loss of one torah
                                              made the year 5769 sad, the arrival and
                                              dedication of the new torah scroll has
                                              already made the year 5770 joyful.

                On the Fringes- Why the Kauf-men Wear Blue
                               By Charlotte Kaufman

It was impossibly hot the August day       with sand flies – we witnessed the re-
we drove into Kfar Adumim on our           creation of the lost art of P'til Tekhelet.
way back to Jerusalem from Masada             P'til Tekhelet means blue fringe,
and Ein Gedi. Exhausted and sweaty,        and refers to the thread of blue that is
we were not thrilled to find                           supposed to be
ourselves ambling down                                 incorporated into tzitzit, the
the dirt road of a West                                tassels which orthodox
Bank settlement. Stepping                              men wear on a four
off the bus, our senses were                           cornered garment. (See
assaulted by the oppressive                            Bamidbar 15:37-41).
heat, rampant poverty and a                            Today, when most men
bizarre stench. We had                                 wear tzitzit on their talis or
arrived at a farm of sorts,                            talis katan, the fringes are
complete with mangy dogs                               entirely white,
skulking in rickety sheds                              notwithstanding the
and ubiquitous cats                                    bibilical injunction to
ignoring the hens and                                  include a thread of blue.
chicks that wandered                                   This is because for
freely.                                                centuries, the knowledge of
    Why, oh why, had our                               how to make the dye for
guide brought us here? And                             the blue thread was lost.
what in the world was that                             But now, after nearly a
smell?                                                 century of research and
    The answer to both of                              analysis, there is a
these questions turned out                             groundswell of rabbinic
to be the same. The smell                              and scientific opinion that
was from the production of                             believes the true and
a special blue dye, and the                            ancient source of the dye
history of its development                             (called hilazon in the
proved to be one of the                                Talmud) has been found.
most interesting stories in a                          That source is the gland of
country full of them.                                  a snail known as Murex
Because there in Kfar                                  trunculus.
Adumim – a controversial                               The Murex is rare in its
settlement of some 2500 souls known        native habitat in the Mediterranean
for having a particularly nasty problem    Sea and thus very hard to find. The

                                                                            Continued p. 4

                                                                 Cont’d from p. 3 ~ On the Fringes

opinion that it is the true source of the hilazon dye is based on Talmudic
references, archeological finds, scientific research (including the disciplines of
chemistry and marine biology) and some plain old serendipity. And now, in
this small Israeli village, they farm the snails, harvest the glands, dye the yarn,
spin the thread, and ultimately incorporate it into sets of tzitzit tied according
to various popular traditions, which they then ship to Jews world wide.

    Of course, there are some rabbinic authorities who are unwilling to support
the idea that the Murex is the source for tekhelet. More significant is the
question of whether it would be against halachah if the Murex ultimately
proves not to be the hilazon. Is there a penalty for being wrong?
    The modern Talmudic rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, in his Daf Yomi of June 25,
2009 (Bava Metzia 61a-b), addressed this very question. In it, he quotes Rava
as saying that Hashem is able to "recognize the difference between dye from
the true-blue hilazon and kela ilan." He interprets this to mean the sin, if there
is one, is in knowingly selling a counterfeit blue dye, but not in wearing the
counterfeit. Because even in the days when the technology was known, some
dishonest merchants would knowingly sell counterfeit tekhelet made of a plant
rather than a snail. R’ Steinsaltz explains:

   "Kela ilan is apparently a plant - Indigofera tinctora - a legume with
   red, purple or white flowers. . . . It would appear that this plant dye was
   very similar in its appearance to the tekhelet of the hilazon, but was a
   much cheaper alternative. Only through complicated examinations could
   the two dyes be told apart. The rishonim explain that Rava in the
   Gemara is not talking about someone who mistakenly wore tzitzit with
   kela ilan, but someone who offers the dye for sale, claiming that it is the
   real tekhelet."

   After our visit, I was convinced the Murex was the true source of the
hilazon dye. And so a few months ago, I went to the P'til Tekhelet web site and
ordered a set of tzitzit for Matthew and Seth, both wrapped in the Rambam
style. Now when we recite the Shema, it has an extra dimension of meaning.
   Post-script: Rabbi Raskin was asked why he does not wear the thread of
blue on his tzitzit. He paused and thought for awhile before answering: “when
everyone else is wearing it, I will too.”

                               The Grey Zone
                                By Michael M. Bast

A couple of weeks back I received a summons in the mail from the City of New
York. I scrutinized it carefully, reading every word of the fine print. After
reading the words, I looked at the pictures, and boy, did they tell the story. There
were three photographs which I examined carefully: my car approaching a red
light, my car going through the red light, and finally, a super close-up of my
license plate.
    Underneath this was a numeric graph like that shown at the finish line of the
New York City Marathon, with the date of the offense, the time of the offense, and
the number of seconds, to the hundredth place, showing how much time elapsed
between the time the light turned red, and the time I allegedly drove through the
red light. (00.33 seconds after.)
    Okay, who am I kidding here? Even the best darn lawyer on Court Street
could not say “allegedly” here with a straight face. I am guilty. Incredibly,
manifestly, guilty. The picture showed the light being red, and the narrative in the
summons described the diabolical process of the trap, whereby the secret camera
was only activated when the light was red. I searched for a way out. If only there
were a skateboarder or a presidential motorcade or a hailstorm depicted in the
photo, I could put forth a defense explaining why it was necessary for me to run
that light. But there was none.
    I stared at the summons in wonder and sheer admiration for twenty minutes.
In times of crisis, I tend to get profound. This, I realized, is what it must be like in
Olam Haba, the World to Come.
    I have been told that when your time is up and you go before the Heavenly
Court, the Prosecuting Angel shows a video of all of your sins. Then HaKodesh
Borchu, the Holy One, decides if you need any time in the Washing Machine, or if
you can proceed directly to Yankee Stadium. (In Heaven, you also get parking
    Before now, I was never worried about this little trial. There would be some
good things, some bad things, and I could explain, yada yada yada. But now I see
that the bad things can look really bad, the proof overwhelming, and the
explanations, not readily apparent. The City will not be impressed if I bring in
even 25 pictures of me nicely stopping at red lights.
    I’m going to pay the $50 fine and pray hard this Yom Kippur.

                          Comings & Goings

Mazel tov to Ori and                                  Condolences to the family
Rebecca Anavim on the                                 of Penny Rosen, on the
birth of a new baby,                                  passing of her mother.
Maya Naomi, on                                        Condolences to the family
September 21. Mazel                                   of Warren Forman on the
tov to Evan Nass,                                     passing of his mother.
engaged to be married                                 Condolences to the family
to Adina Falda,                                       of Jana Cohn on the
scheduled for a                                       passing of her father.
December wedding.                                     Welcome to the new
Mazel tov to Chaya                                    members who have joined
                              Maya Naomi Anavim
Raskin on her bas                                    in the past year: Joey Cohen
                                          and Rachel Lerner, Fradel Barber, Ori
                                          and Rebecca Anavim, Roni and Alissa
                                          Gross, Dr. Helen Ketzner, Edna
                                          Bullard, Alexandra Pluscarr, Reuben

    Becky Guthart & Howard Lewis

mitzvah September 6th. Mazel tov to
Howard Lewis on his marriage
September 6th, but farewell as he
leaves the neighborhood and moves
to the Upper West Side.
                                                  Chaya Raskin with her parents
                                                     and brother Yehoshua

                                                                          Continued p. 9

                           Camp and the Town Around It
                                   by Morton Elizabeth Bast
I have spent some time in Palmer,                  beyond our gates. It was mysterious and
Massachusetts, located somewhere in the            different, and in our older years we realized
good, green heart of the state. It is home to      that simply walking out of Camp, down
Camp Ramah in New England and my                   Bennett Street, and across the railroad
many happy summers. Within the invisible           tracks did not put us in town.
barrier running around the grounds of                  Our total un-belonging in the town was
Camp, nothing is remotely foreign.                 written all over us. It was partially that we
Everything feels as worn in as a love-them/        traveled in packs; partially that we ordered
hate-them old pair                                                            club sandwiches,
of jeans, and the                                                             hold the bacon;
sights are almost                                                             and partially that
too familiar to                                                               we were so out of
truly see anymore.                                                            touch with
Camp is, more                                                                 civilization after a
than anything, a                                                              few weeks that we
bubble. It is a                                                               no longer had
Self-Contained                                                                indoor voices. But
Over-summer                                                                   also, we were
Jewish-baby-                                                                  from Waltham and
breeding                                                                      Potomac and
Apparatus                                                                     Schenectady, and
(Countless                                                                    had just never
marriages are                                                                 been anywhere
made between                                                                  like Palmer,
Ramah alumni.). It                                                             Massachusetts
is asylum from the                            Morton                           before. I, in
troubles of the                                                                particular, as a
outside world, where children can grow             New York City child, was baffled by a
and love and play and learn.                       town without sidewalks, with more trees
    But they had to put it somewhere. The          than residents. Because Palmer has trees. If
fact that Palmer is anything but a word in         I only succeed in conveying one thing
the return address on those obligatory             about Palmer, let it be the sheer number of
letters home is largely ignored by the             trees, and how unbelievably black and
campers. We come to camp for the very              haunted they appear when it is 12:52 a.m.,
purpose of its seclusion, and were, quite          and there are no other cars on the road. The
sensibly, not allowed to go running around         only sounds are the engine and the crickets,
town on our own. Given the circumstances,          and there is a whole new level of darkness
our contact with Palmer was limited. But           attained in the absence of anything lit by
there were legends, and the occasional field       neon. That was later. When there were
trips, and eventually we grew up and               haunted trees, engines, and 12:52s. But
returned to camp as Counselors with two or         already years earlier, we were soaking up
three hours to kill in the evenings. In these      the lore.
ways, we caught glimpses of the town                   As young campers, our indoctrination

                                                                                     Continued p. 8

                                                                 Cont’d from p. 7 ~ Camp and Town

started young. People from Palmer were            you have a hechsher you can show me?” “A
called Townies, and their “other” status          what?” “A piece of paper, signed by a rabbi,
was firmly established. To scare us, our          that proves to me that your ice cream is
counselors told a few stories about the           kosher!” This is when the girl turns to ask if
Undead, but Palmer Tales always were              anyone knows what he is talking about, and
more popular. “Would you like to know             eventually returns with Alvin Rondeau’s
what kids from Palmer do for fun on a             Dairy Bar’s pedigree in hand, amid the heady
Saturday night?” they asked. Yes! Yes! Of         aroma of the cheeseburgers sizzling in the
course we did! Our eyes shone in                  other half of the kitchen.
anticipation. “They all get                           As campers, that was the extent of our
together,” (storytelling voice, gestures          experience with Palmer -- cup or cone? But
wild) “and drink so much chocolate milk           when we became staff members, with
that they throw up… and then they do it           unsupervised freedom from lights out until
again!” We squealed in disgust; we roared         1am curfew, we wanted more. We’d heard
with laughter. Looking back, it seems fairly      the stories from our counselors: Thursday
obvious that my counselors were prudently         night karaoke at Lakeview Lounge, later
substituting chocolate milk for alcohol, and      called Doyle’s, and hours strolling the aisles
describing an activity that many of us            at Wal-Mart Supercenter because there was
giggling, pajamatized girls would grow up         nothing better to do.
to partake in ourselves. I will forever have          Finally, it was my turn. I remember
a mental image of Townies bent double             driving around Palmer those first few weeks
over trashcans, proudly emptying their            of my Junior Counselor summer, both in
second stomachfuls of Nesquik.                    daylight and at nighttime. It was sweltering
    When we did get permission to leave           and raining persistently, and I remember
Camp, it was usually to go to Alvin               taking a good, clear look at the nail salons,
Rondeau’s Dairy Bar. Known simply as              furniture shops, and Banks of America.
Rondeau’s, it is a little, white, wooden ice      There was that beautifully, romantically
cream stand where they sell floats and            crumbling graveyard that I had always
sundaes and calamari, but not for the nice        managed to notice even in the charged
kosher campers. They sell fifty flavors (I        emotional states of arriving at or leaving
have a t-shirt to prove it), and because so       camp. I had seen it, and even appreciated it,
much of their business comes from Camp            but only when viewing it as an integrated
Ramah, the ice cream half of the stand            piece of the landscape did I realize its
boasts the only certificate of kashrut in         implications. People were born, lived,
south-central Massachusetts. It lives in the      worked, prayed, ate, slept, and finally died in
back of the kitchen, but do not fear that it is   Palmer. It was not just a dollhouse town for
there in vain, because my father has asked        everyone associated with Camp Ramah.
to see it about six times. “Good morning,”            I recall the night that I finally realized
he will say. “Do you sell kosher ice cream        that the townies of Palmer were real people.
here?” This invariably provokes a                 It was a Thursday night at Doyle’s, neither
suspicious look from the poor ice cream           my first nor my last. Terrible, professional
scooper girl, who assumes it must be some         instrumentals accompanied by even worse
sort of a trick question. “Uh,” she says.         amateur vocals sounded through the
“Yes?” “Wonderful!” my father says. “Do           charmingly run-down bar. Beneath the

                                                                                     Continued p. 9

                                                                      Cont’d from p. 8 ~ Camp and Town

spinning light of the miniature disco ball, the dance floor was crowded with Ramah staff. Some girls
were dancing, but most of us were goofing off with the friends we had known forever, establishing
that little rectangle of floor space as an extension of our territory. The barstools and the surrounding
tables were abuzz with Townies, half-watching our strange antics. Business was good, with drinks
going out to the locals, the Israelis, and the few underage camp counselors willing to risk being caught
with something more than Coke in their glasses.
    The apartheid was obvious. The people in the bar occupied two parallel universes, but there were
no hostilities. All the patrons were relaxing after a hard day of work, no matter how different those
days had been. As far as I saw it, the division existed only because we were comfortable how we were;
we felt no need to break the status quo. That was how I saw it until the man next to me asked if he
could buy me a drink.
    “What?” My first instinct was that I had hallucinated the previous two and a half seconds. I turned
to face the source of the unfathomable words. He was sitting on a barstool, making him tower above
me even more than if we had both been planted on solid ground. This man was the very essence of
Townie: his facial hair ran all over his cheeks and chin like a beheaded chicken, and the flannel of his
shirt was almost ready to quit. He was twice the size, in his east-west orientation, of any boy
employed by Camp Ramah that summer. I couldn’t guess an age, beyond “too old for me,” but that
was hardly what mattered.
    “Can I buy you a drink?” he repeated, even though the question had been simple enough the first
time, so simple that it ought to have transcended even the great language barrier between us. Now sure
of the words I thought I’d heard, I stared back at him in alarm. There are moments in life you will
always wish you had been able to see your own face, and this was one of mine, because I am so deeply
sorry for the look I must have given him.
    “No thank you,” I managed to emit, and fled from the bar. After several desperate seconds, I found
someone I could drag out of the building with me. “We need to leave,” I said, as I practically pushed
her out the door. “A Townie just asked if he could buy me a drink.” She laughed, and linked my arm
through hers as we walked away, leaving the music and the lights and the cloud of cigarette smoke
    Within a few yards, I realized how rude I had been. More importantly, it was proof that the
division between Camp and the rest of Palmer was not just incidental, it was instinctive. I had wanted
for years to know what lay beyond, and now I knew.
    There are a lot of towns in America, with experiences to be had, people to meet, and local culture
to absorb. Palmer, Massachusetts is not one of those towns for me, or for anyone else at Camp. For
those of us who go to Camp Ramah in New England, as camper or counselor, Palmer is just the place
they happened to put it.

                                                                       Cont’d from p. 6 ~ Comings & Goings

Sutin, Iris Berman, Steven Gradman, Stephen and Iris Katzner, Adam Trilling and
Stefanie Shaffer.
   Yasher Koach to Ed and Eileen Perl for donating the beautiful white holiday bima
cover in memory of their parents.
   Many thanks to the families who sponsored kiddushes over the last quarter
including: Cohns, Rosens, Formans, Perls, Raskins, Lewises, Anavims, Henochs,
Weinbergers, Senkers, P. Roths, Basts, Anonymouses.
   Mazel tov to Kiddie Korner on its grand opening on Montague Street.
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                                                   117 Remsen St.● Brooklyn NY 11201
                                                                       (718) 596 4840
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                 Editorial Staff
Michael Bast                                  Levana Madani
   Editor                                      Managing Editor

                 Contributing Writers
                   Charlotte Kaufman
                      Morton Bast

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