Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah!

Yesterday was an historic Shabbos!  It was the first ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah!

Yesterday Eleanor Dunning became a Bat Mitzvah.  The two of us have been studying parshat Mishpatim together for almost a year.  We met once a week in the Kripke Library at the JCC and studied the parshah with commentary.  

The culmination was a special episode of Good Shabbos Nebraska with Eleanor as the SPECIAL GUEST HOST!

She was truly amazing.  

She began the show with her opening monologue that we wrote together.  She gave a short summary of parshat Mishpatim, which is basically a list of 53 seemingly unrelated mitzvot.  She asked the global question, "is there a method to this mitzvah madness?"  Eleanor and I found an answer we like in the commentary of the Abravanel.  She gave a brief bio of the Abravanel and then explained his answer.  Last week was the ten commandments.  The Abravanel explains that the mitzvot of mishpatim are Moshe's commentary to how to observe the ten commandments in detail.  

After the monologue she did a segment about the ten commandments.  When we studied together we developed a mnemonic to remember the ten commandments.  With the help of her little brother, her cousin, and her father they taught the mnemonic so that every one of the hundreds of people there yesterday will easily be able to recite the Big Ten in order forever.

Eleanor has a very close special family friend Wendy, who came in from New York.  Wendy has Usher Syndrome - a genetic illness that causes loss of sight and hearing.  Eleanor interviewed her for the show.  Wendy is an impressive lady.  She is a divorce attorney in New York city, and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.  She spoke about some of the challenges that she faces being blind and deaf. Eleanor taught us a Rashi form this week's parshah that relates to the extra sensitivity that we are supposed to have towards deaf people.  

Wendy explained that she has a cochlear implant that allows her to hear.  It changed her life.  She was scared to get it at first, but Dr. Edward Cohn, a leading scientist at BoysTown Research hospital in Omaha, convinced her to go through with it.  Eleanor surprised Wendy by inviting Dr. Cohn to join them on the show.

Wendy got to thank Dr. Cohn for changing her life and he told us a bit about the remarkable advances that they are making at BoysTown and at UNMC to reverse sight and hearing loss caused by Usher's syndrome.

As we always do on Good Shabbos Nebraska, Eleanor invited the guests to learn some Torah with her. She chose to focus on a mitzvah from this week's parshah that was particularly meaningful to her.  One of the mitzvot in Mishpatim is the commandment to prevent animals from suffering.  Eleanor loves animals, but she also saw on a tour of a research lab that animals are experimented on.  She and Dr. Cohn had a fascinating discussion on the show about the tension between kindness to animals and the use of animals for research.  

For a few months leading up to her bat mitzvah Eleanor and I had learned some Torah perspectives on the ethics of animal research and we compared them with the works of Peter Singer who is opposed to many types of animal experimentation that are used in research of diseases like Usher Syndrome.  

Eleanor briefly explained the Torah positions on our relationship to animals and how it differs from Dr. Singer's.

Dr. Cohn said that he subscribes to the Torah's view, and we owe many of the most important developments in science to animal research.

In addition to the Torah segments, Eleanor also introduced musical guests AKA Pella - the greatest Jewish a cappella group in the world.  They performed two songs, including a special song that they wrote just for Eleanor.

It may have been the best bat mitzvah in the history of the world!  The show was all about Torah.  Not only did Eleanor learn, everyone who came walked away from that bat mitzvah knowing more Torah then they did before.

At lunch after davening Eleanor's father came over to me and gave me the biggest compliment a Rabbi can receive.  He said, "Thank you Rabbi.  Our whole family learned from this bat mitzvah.  But most of all, Eleanor sees that Judaism is not something outside of her life.  She knows that the Torah can be applied to everything that she does.  That is exactly what we wanted her to take with her.  Thank you."

Good Shabbos Nebraska has created a cultural change in Omaha.  TO many Omaha Jews, it has brought Shabbos into their lives.  GSN makes Torah relevant and exciting and makes people love learning.

But if it did nothing else, the format that it gives kids for their bar and bat mitzvahs would have made the whole program worth it.

So be a part of the Shabbos morning program that is taking Omaha by storm!  Catch Good Shabbos Nebraska every Shabbos at 10 am ONLY at Beth Israel Synagogue - Where Every Shabbos is a Shabbaton!


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