Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life


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June, 2023

Dear Coalition Community,

Given that during the month of June we celebrate Shavuot, the holiday
commemorating the receiving of Torah at Sinai, I thought I might share with you
one of my favorite stories about the creation of the world through the letters of the
Torah. It is a famous story in the Zohar (a medieval book of Jewish mysticism) that
explains how the world is created through the power of God’s words. This version is
adapted from the book “Garments of Light.”

One by one, in reverse order, the letters of the Torah approach God making their
case to be the first letter in the creation of the world. “…when the Holy One desired
to create the world, the letters of the alphabet appeared before Him (in reverse
order). First came Tav and said: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will that You
create the universe with me, for I am Your seal of Truth [emet], and You are called
Truth. It would therefore be fitting for the King to start His Creation with the letter
of Truth.” God replies, “You are right and worthy, but I shall not create the universe
with you, for you will be the mark upon the foreheads of the faithful, who fulfil the
Torah from Aleph to Tav…

The Shin arose next and said: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will to create
the universe with me, for with me begins Your name Shaddai, and it would be
appropriate to begin Creation with a holy name.” God replied: “You are right and
worthy and true. However, you are also the beginning of falsehood [sheker],
therefore I will not create the universe with you…”
Then came Mem, Lamed, and Kaf. They argued that they make up the letters
of melekh, “king”, so it is fitting that the universe be created with them. God replied
that the universe has a King! Nonetheless, Kaf persisted with another argument,
saying that it stands for kavod, the glory of God. It is also the kise, God’s Throne.
Nonetheless, God said that Kaf is also klayah, “destruction”, so He refused to create
with Kaf.

Each letter comes with their own reasoning why it should be the first. Then came
the second letter of the Alef Bet – Bet: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will to
create the universe with me, because through me you are blessed [berakhah] Above
and below. The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “Of course, it is with you that I
shall create the universe, and you shall stand at the beginning of the universe’s
creation.” But what about Aleph?

We are told that the letter Alef does not approach God with any request, because it
knows that each letter tried and failed to convince God that it was worthy of being
the first letter that creates the world. In recognition of this silence, Alef is left as a
silent letter, and is given a place of honor as the first letter of the Alef-Bet and the
first letter of the Ten Commandments.

My own personal learning from this story is that words matter and in fact have the
power to create and destroy. It is an invitation for us to reflect on our own use of
speech. As we approach Shavuot, I hope that you will take a moment to reflect on
this story and think about how you want your words to matter this year. How do
you want to show up, speak your truth, and be the blessing that makes creative

Kol Tuv (Be Well),


Rabbi James



During this desperate time for many, we think of and reach out to the many who are struggling.

HIAS : “Welcome the Stranger. Protect the Refugee” The oldest refugee agency in the world, established in 1902 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

American Jewish Committee: addressing challenges Jews are facing worldwide, defending Democratic values for all.



The New Milford Historical Society & Museum  is beginning work on a new exhibit entitled The Jewish Experience in New Milford.  David Cohen, a trustee of the Museum and Coalition member, is spearheading this initiative. The team is also reaching out to those in surrounding towns as well.

If anyone would like to be interviewed or has any historical information, photos or other artifacts relevant to this project, please contact David on behalf of the team at: or 917.902.0864


JEWISH News and Culture:



Go to“Learn” tab, scroll down to “Jewish Resources” and click  “MY JEWISH LEARNING” (or go directly to

Here you’ll find an aggregator that is regularly updated with a huge breadth of content and all sorts of goodies and surprises!

For example, the“Daily Guide to Zoom Events, Livestream and Other Online Resources.” Among the wide range of subjects, programs and activities you’ll see here are: “The Only Jewish Miss America” (Museum of Jewish Heritage), “Mindfulness Melodies” (Jewish Life in Maine), “Art as a Spiritual Practice,” A Midwives, Musicians, Soldiers and Rabbis: Whose Stories will Become History?,” “Bioethics During a Pandemic,” etc., etc.

And other treats too! Recipes for the holidays and everyday: “Potato Chip Schnitzel, Shwarma Chicken Kabobs, Roasted Butternut Squash with Orange Tahini, Briskett Tacos, Ethiopian Red Lentil Soup,” etc., etc…

Come visit and linger, you’ll be glad you did!





“The Swimmers,” on NETFLIX.




A Pigeon and a Boy,” by Meir Shalev

Review: “A powerful novel of two love stories, separated by half a century but connected by one enchanting act of devotion — of how deeply we love, of what home is, and why we, like pigeons trained to fly in one direction only, must eventually return to it…”


My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner,” also by Meir Shalev

Review: “A charming tale of family ties, over-the-top housekeeping, and the sport of storytelling in the small village of Nahalal…”


“The Baron, TYCOON Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831-1896) by Matthias b. Lehmann

Review: “Philanthropy combines genuine compassion with the display of power”

In his lifetime, Hirsch was a giant of the “gilded age of Jewish philanthropy.” He was a German-born Jew who lived in a palace in Paris and kept his office in Vienna. He cut his biggest deal, a railway, with the Ottoman sultan.  (When Hercule Poirot took the Orient Express, his train ran on Hirsch’s tracks!)

Hirsch funded schools and vocational training for Jewish communities not only in the Ottoman cities, but the Russian Pale, the French colonies of North Africa and in large areas of Argentina. The Jewish Colonization Association, the vehicle for his Argentine settlements, was the largest charitable organization in the world at a time when philanthropy was the principal form of Jewish political action…”


Visit LINKS OF INTEREST (on this site under “For Members” tab) to read an excerpt of an essay on Baron de Hirsch, his vision and involvement with Jewish farming in Connecticut.



The Great Courses,  learn a language, instrument or subject; create something new or master a skill… and more. — Jigsaw puzzles. Be forewarned, (mildly) addictive!