A community of communities

December 2014

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 10:07am -- Rabbi


Candles"Vayigash elav Yehuda - And Yehuda approached Yosef." After years of estrangement, at last in our Torah, brothers are reunited. In the narrative of Joseph reconciling with his brothers, he weeps seven times. His heart breaks open and his tears flow, smoothing over rough edges like seawater on stones.

As the door closes on 2014, and as we look back over the past year, tears fall for those lives taken by violence and senseless hatred. We pray that in the year ahead, the heart of humanity can open wide to walk a path of empathy, compassion and peace.


This past week, we wept for New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, heartlessly murdered as they served and protected the community. We wept for their families and for their dreams. I want to share the words spoken by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale as he stood with the New York Police Department this past week to express support and to pray with them. 


"In this time of tragic loss for the NYPD and all New Yorkers, we stand here with you. You, the New York Police Department, are New York City's finest - a racially diverse force. Every day, you risk your lives for us. You protect our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our institutions, our businesses, our homes - for this and much more we are eternally grateful. We mourn with you and gather in prayer for Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. We can never understand the profound grief of the families and the larger family of the NYPD, but with great empathy we declare: your pain is our pain, your suffering is our suffering. . . We pray for peace for our entire city. We pray for the bereaved families. We pray that when issues arise, they be worked out peacefully and constructively, without hatred or incitement - always remembering that we must be careful with our words."


Here, too, in Philadelphia, we are profoundly grateful for the law enforcement officers and all those who risk their lives each day to protect us in our homes, our synagogue and throughout our city.


Looking back over the past year, our tears fall for all lives callously taken and disregarded. Looking forward, we pray for peace. We commit to the work it will take to build a world where all human lives are valued. A world where each person is seen and known as a reflection of God.

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Fri, 12/19/2014 - 2:10pm -- Rabbi


Israeli flag mosaicThis week, eighteen GJC community members of all ages will join Rabbi Zeff on a congregational study trip to Israel. They will explore the theme of "Social Challenges and Achievements in Israel." They will take in ancient sites, engage in the realities of Israel today and volunteer to help those in need. Among the many stops on their itinerary, they will examine the complicated geopolitics of Jerusalem and soak in the flavors of the Machaneh Yehuda market as the city readies itself for Shabbat. Rabbi Zeff will guide the group through his home city of Haifa and they will visit Kibbutz Hanaton in the Galilee, founded by the Israeli Masorti (Conservative) Movement. We wish the group many blessings, deep learning and meaningful connections to one another, to our history, to the land and to all of the people who call Israel home as they set off on this journey. May the Holy One protect their goings and comings as they fulfill the mitzvah of visiting Eretz Yisrael. May their curiosity and their presence increase peace and compassion as they travel on their way. We look forward to all they will have to share with us and teach us upon their return. Nesiyah Tovah!

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Fri, 12/12/2014 - 2:15pm -- Rabbi

This past week, I was inspired to read Rabbi Zeff's reflections about his participation in a gathering of Israeli Druze, Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders in the Arab village of Ibillin. He spoke about the power each one of us has to make a difference through small acts of hope and peace in the face of despair and violence. 


Meanwhile, in Philadelphia I had the blessing of offering a prayer alongside Christian clergy of color and other rabbis as part of a POWER action outside Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. We stood together along with members of the Philadelphia faith community, including members of GJC, to say that the lives of men and women of color matter and that all lives are holy. We stood together to bring awareness to ongoing work for racial justice, educational equity and economic dignity that our congregations have been involved with in recent months.


It seemed fitting that this week in Philadelphia, Susannah Heschel, the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z'l, met with the Board of Rabbis and shared an excerpt of her father's writing from a lecture he gave at Union Theological Seminary in 1965 entitled, "No Religion is an Island." As we move into Shabbat, I offer Heschel's words about the urgency of building relationships with those of other faith traditions and the potential for what we might accomplish together.


"What, then, is the purpose of interreligious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another; to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level and, what is even more important, to search in the wilderness for wellsprings of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one another in the terrible predicament of here and now by the courage to believe that the word of the Lord endures forever as well as here and now; to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and faithfulness to the Living God." 


In relationship with one another, may we know our power to bring peace and healing in the United States, in Israel and in our world.

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Fri, 12/05/2014 - 2:34pm -- Rabbi

Three generations back
my family had only
to light a candle
and the world parted.
Today, Friday afternoon,
I disconnect clocks and phones.
When night fills my house
with passages,
I begin saving
my life.
                      - Marcia Falk 

My soul is thirsty for Shabbat. My heart aches after a week of a number of losses in our GJC community. Watching protests around the country, my spirit cries out for racial justice. There is much work to be done and many prayers to be said with our feet in order to transform our society into one that reflects the truth that all lives are of infinite value. In the mean time, Shabbat is arriving. May she come as an angel of consolation, to hold our hands, to walk us into her sanctuary in time, where we can pause, breathe and take stock of where we are.  "Choose life," Shabbat calls to us, for your sake and for the sake of the world.  

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Mon, 12/01/2014 - 10:39am -- Rabbi


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

                                                                          - Langston Hughes

This past week in Ferguson, Missouri, in Philadelphia and across the country, individuals and communities responded to the decision of a grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager in August. It has been fifty-one years since the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the prophetic words, "I Have a Dream," and we are not there yet. Across our country, individuals and communities are calling out, "Black lives matter." We pray for the day when our society will operate on the belief that "All lives matter" regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, income, ability, gender or sexual orientation. We yearn for a country that recognizes the truth of the words of our Talmud:"Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9). May we hold onto these dreams of human dignity from our tradition and our nation and take action to make them a reality.

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