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Rabbi's Blog

Shabbat HaGadol: Changing the Big Picture

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On Shabbat HaGadol, there was a custom among some Jewish communities of baking an extra large challah called the "challah of the poor." Everyone would contribute a bit of flour to prepare the bread. The community would then share the gigantic loaf with those who were living in poverty to enhance their pre-Pesach Shabbat celebration.  Around our seder tables this coming week, as we break the middle matzah, we will remember how our ancestors struggled in Egypt and we will invite all who are hungry to celebrate the holiday with us. We will envision ourselves coming out of Mitzrayyim and reflect on what that means in our day. 

  

This Passover, our city is on my mind. In Philadelphia, 25% of people currently live below the poverty line. Our public schools are in dire need of resources. Many Philadelphians are stuck in a narrow place of working full-time for wages with which they can't make ends meet. As we share our bread, I encourage us to also do what we can to change the big picture. 

  

On May 20th there will be a ballot referendum to support a living wage and increased benefits for all workers employed by the city of Philadelphia, including those employed by companies that subcontract within the city. Our GJC Social Action Committee has been working to engage voters for the May 20th election in conjunction with faith communities across the city that are connected to POWER.  One way to get involved is to come out and canvass with fellow GJC members on April 27th and 30th, to talk to neighbors and city residents about fair wages and the education funding struggles in Pennsylvania. I look forward to participating on April 30th. Click here for more information and to sign up. 

  

May Pesach inspire us to come together to expand opportunity in our city and and to pursue the freedom for all to work, to learn and to live with dignity.

Passover: Women to the fore!

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/uploadedImages/site/Home_Home_Images/blog.jpgMiriam tambourine (Teutsch)"By the merit of the righteous women of that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt" (Talmud Sotah 11b). 

  

The Talmud teaches that throughout the story of Passover there are crucial moments when strong, righteous women step forward to enable liberation to take place.  Yocheved makes the courageous decision to give up her baby boy, Moses, in order to save him.  Miriam stands on the shores of the Nile, making sure her baby brother is safe.  Pharaoh's daughter rescues Moses from the river, protects him from Pharaoh, and raises him as a prince of Egypt.  Tziporah saves her husband Moses's life on the trip from Midian back to Egypt.  And as the Israelites celebrate on the far shore of the Sea of Reeds, Miriam leads all the women in song and dance in praise of the miracle of deliverance, a scene imagined in art by our own Betsy Teutsch. 

  

As we prepare for Passover, we need to consider:  who are the righteous women in our lives who have enabled our liberation and our freedom?  And who are the righteous women of our generation who will lead the way to liberation and freedom, not only for the Jewish people, but also for all who dwell on earth?  By the merit of the righteous women of our generation may we all be delivered from the constriction of Egypt to the expansive freedom yet to come.

Searching for hametz

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Tosefta Pesachim 1:1 

Before daybreak on the 14th of Nisan, one searches for hametz by the light of the candle.  One does not search by the light of the sun and not by the light of the moon, rather by the light of the candle, because searching by candlelight is more than enough, even though it does not allow one to see everything.  It is a reminder of the verse (Zephaniah 1:12), "At that time, I will search Jerusalem by candlelight."  And it is said (Proverbs 20:27), "The soul of a person is the candle of the Lord, revealing all of his or her inmost parts." 

   

The ancient rabbis specify that the search for leaven in our households be conducted by candlelight, knowing that by using such a poor source of light, the search will be less effective.  Why do they do this?  In part, they want to make the observance of Pesach easier on us.  And in part, they want us to focus on the spiritual meaning of the search, not the practical.  They equate our searching of our houses for leaven with God's searching of our souls to see what is hidden there.  Before we can experience the Festival of Freedom, we need to search inside of us to see what is preventing us from being free.  Are we stuck in the past?  Are we consumed by disappointment at a world that does not conform to our expectations?  Are we held back by cynicism and hopelessness?  Are we finding ourselves complicit in causing others to be enslaved or oppressed?  Before Pesach, we have the opportunity to search out the corners of our souls and fill them with divine light.  When we can see what is hidden there, we can put ourselves on the path to true freedom this year.

Passover: Time to start getting ready!

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 /uploadedImages/site/Home_Home_Images/blog.jpgCleaningThis week is Shabbat Parah, when we read a special maftir reading about purity to remind us that Pesah is coming soon!  It is easy to equate "Pesah" with "Panic!" but it's probably more constructive to think "Prepare!"  For some it might be time to start cleaning, but for all of us it's definitely time to start planning how we are going to celebrate this most central of Jewish holidays, not only the food and the seders but, most importantly, the joy! Here are some links that could be useful: 

 Rabbi Lewis and I are happy to consult on foods, rituals, and strategies to make Pesah come alive for you and your family this year.  Please be in touch! 

More ancient Purim Torah (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 23b)

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Purim SameachThe Mishna states:  If a fledgling bird is found within fity cubits of a dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote.  If it is found outside the limit of fifty cubits, it belongs to the person who finds it. Rabbi Jeremiah asked:  If one foot of the fledgling bird is within the limit of fifty cubits, and one foot is outside it, what is the law?  It was for this question that Rabbi Jeremiah was thrown out of the House of Study.

Fighting discrimination

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/uploadedImages/site/Home_Home_Images/blog.jpgLGBT US flagThis has been a week of dramatic events in our country in the battle to end discrimination against Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  The governor's 
veto in Arizona and the action of the courts in Texas advanced the cause of freedom and equity for all people, a cause enshrined in Torah in the recognition that all human beings are created in the image of God. However, it is important to remember that the only reason that discriminatory laws could be proposed and passed in the first place is that in most states, including Pennsylvania, LGBT people are not legally protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, or in other areas of public life.  This must change.  Equality Pennsylvania is partnering with many other groups to push for an anti-discrimination bill in the Pennsylvania legislature, and they already have 100 co-sponsors.  You can find out more here.  Because of the sacred texts that guide us and because of our own history of being the targets of discrimination, we have a special obligation to fight for equal treatment for all. 

Supporting weekday minyan: We need you!

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/uploadedImages/site/Home_Home_Images/blog.jpgPraying with tefillin 


We are blessed in our community to have a weekday minyan that meets on Sunday, Monday and Thursday mornings. It is great to have a way to start our day together with 45 minutes of prayer and Torah study. Our minyan also fulfills the important purpose of providing a space for community members in mourning or those marking a yahrtzeit to say the Mourner's Kaddish. Those who are present for minyan fill a vital role in answering "Amen," to mourners, letting them know they are seen and supported as they grieve and remember their loved ones.  This winter has been a difficult one, and we have been struggling to make a minyan, particularly on Monday and Thursday mornings for our 7:15 AM service.  We'd like to encourage anyone whose schedule allows to come to one of these services.  Even occasional attendance or coming only for the later parts of the service can help us make a minyan (there's a reason that the Mourner's Kaddish is traditionally recited at the end!).  Please consider making a commitment to attend a service in the next few weeks.  We look forward to seeing you!

Pulling together in the storm

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 Storms can be isolating.  Cold temperatures and treacherous roads and sidewalks can keep us inside and limit our chances to interact with each other.  Yet this week I have learned of many ways that people in our community have come together, overcoming those obstacles to help and comfort each other.  People have invited those without power to stay in their homes. Neighbors have shoveled each other's sidewalks and driveways. And last night, despite the weather, 30 members of our community came out to a shiva minyan to provide comfort in the face of loss.  Each of these acts of connection is holy.  Collectively, they are what make us a kehilah k'doshah, a holy community.  As we move out of this storm and move on through this very snowy winter, I want to encourage all of us to keep reaching out.  Check on neighbors who may be in need of help.  Call people you haven't seen in a while to make sure they're all right.  Pray for the safety of those who keep our roads clear and our lights on.  Together, we can create an invisible web of connection that will bring us all safely through the storms. 

For Times of Mourning . . .

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"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." 

                                  - Ecclesiastes 3:1 

  

  

We are blessed to be part of a sacred community, in which we are called to witness and support one another as we move through different seasons of our lives. This past weekend, Rabbi Zeff and I began teaching a course on "Jewish Practices in Death & Mourning." The course will continue to meet on Sundays during the month of February including 2/9, 2/16 and 2/23 from 10:00 -11:30 AM. We encourage you to join us for important conversations about the end of life, the path of mourning, and the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, of being present for those who are in mourning. The final session of the class, on Sunday, February, 23rd, will be open to the whole community as Simcha Raphael presents "Jewish Views of the Afterlife: Implications for Walking the Grief Journey." Simcha will explore Judaism's teachings on the afterlife journey of the soul, including contemporary applications to help deal with end-of-life issues and concerns. As we come together to talk about the end of life and beyond, we pray that our synagogue community will always hold one another with compassion in times of mourning, times of dancing and in all                                               life brings.

Melaveh Malkah Concert Saturday night at 7:00 PM: Music for music!

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Melaveh Malkah On Saturday night we bid farewell to the "Shabbat Queen," the same presence that we welcome on Friday night when we sing L'cha Dodi.  There is a tradition of accompanying the Shabbat Queen as she leaves us with song and music, bringing the joy of Shabbat with us as we look toward the new week. This Saturday night, Rabbi Lewis, Nina Peskin and I will be joined by Mikael Elsila (piano), Jonathan Singer (drums), Cheryl Bettigole (clarinet), Elliott Seif (accordion), and Justin Fink (bass) in a Melaveh Malkah concert to joyously usher Shabbat on its way. We will be playing and singing Jewish music from around the world as well as some new music of our own, and there will be opportunities for dancing, too!  This concert is a fundraiser for our Religious School's music program, so we're making music for the sake of music.  I invite everyone to join us and accompany the Shabbat Queen on her way together. 
See you there!