A community of communities

October 2015

Fri, 10/30/2015 - 1:53pm -- Rabbi

I had the privilege these last two days of meeting and talking to teens May Ayoub and Ella Chernyak from Haifa.  One Arab, one Jewish, these teens are trying every day to build ties between their communities in Israel, one-to-one and person-to-person.  They have come to the U.S. for the first time, far from their homes and families, to spread their message of tolerance and understanding to us who do not hear this message often enough with regard to Israel.  They are amazing.  Watching their interactions with people here, especially with teens, fills me with hope.  Talking with and getting to know people who are different from us and who may disagree with us on many things will not magically solve all the difficult issues that face us, neither here nor in Israel.  But seeing what people like May and Ella can do with words and smiles and goodwill can give us hope that solutions are possible.  I urge you not to miss meeting them this Shabbat or on Sunday morning, when they will be speaking to our Tough Social Issues in Israel class and meeting with teens in our Religious School.  Their presence in our community is a gift to us.  The hope is alive.

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Fri, 10/23/2015 - 11:30am -- Rabbi

In my Kol Nidrei sermon this year, I said that what it means to be a Jew or to be a member of a Jewish community is to use the Jewish "toolbox" of mitzvot and practices to perfect ourselves and to perfect the world.  To help us realize the second part of that vision, we are starting a series called "Mitzvah of the Month."  Each month we will highlight a mitzvah that moves us along the road toward making the world a more perfect place, and we will provide an easy opportunity for each member of our community - from youngest to oldest - to fulfill that mitzvah.  Together, we will both learn about the mitzvot and realize our capacity to use them to change the world.

We will begin in November with the mitzvah of ma'achil r'evim - feeding the hungry, and we will have a food drive (delayed from Yom Kippur) in cooperation with Philabundance.  Please watch for details about how you can participate, and join me in putting our good intentions and study into practice this year.

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Fri, 10/16/2015 - 4:31pm -- Rabbi

Israeli flag mosaicThe awful, horrific attacks in Israel have been on my mind every hour of every day of these last few difficult weeks.  My heart is broken again and again by the suffering of the victims and their families, and I am astonished and horrified at the savagery of the attackers.  I feel anger, fear, disbelief, and despair, and from the conversations I have had with many of you in these weeks, I know that I am not alone.  So what is there for us to do?  How do we channel our emotion into action and find some way to help?  Here are some suggestions:


Reach out to those you know in Israel

Many in Israel are feeling alone, both because fear can keep them isolated in their homes and because they can sometimes feel that the world is blind to their suffering.  Making sure that we contact those we know, by email or Facebook or phone, can help them to know that they are in our hearts, that we who live a world away care about them and their situation.  I have received touching replies to my expressions of concern.  These points of connection really matter.


Keep our moral vision clear

In this eruption of violence in particular, we have seen how quickly inappropriate moral equivalencies can be drawn and ethical decision-making discarded in the heat of the moment.  Now more than ever, we have to hold on to the moral teachings of Jewish tradition.  Political frustration is never an excuse for acts of violence.  There is no moral equivalence between the aggressive actions of an attacker and the defensive responses of a victim or of the police.  The Torah teaches us that not all violence is morally equal, and attempts to erase the distinctions between attacker and victim, to erode the legitimacy of self-defense, and to condemn all police or state action are as unacceptable in the Israeli context as they are anywhere else in the world.  At the same time, the Torah requires careful ethical decision-making to ensure that only necessary force is used in self-defense or to ensure public safety.  Revenge attacks on innocents or the use of force when the threat posed by an attacker has already been defused are repugnant to Jewish tradition and must be condemned.  The chaos of these days does not relieve anyone of the obligation to live and act morally; instead, it sharpens that obligation for all of us.


Pray for peace

It is no coincidence that each and every Jewish prayer service ends with a prayer for peace.  Traditionally, we pray for peace three times a day.  Do we expect that our prayers will suddenly turn enemies into friends?  Will our prayers magically transform rocks into flowers and guns into olive branches?  No.  But praying for peace, praying with all our hearts, aligns our souls with that ultimate objective of human life.  It reminds us again and again that peace is the goal, that despite everything, it is possible for human beings to live without violence and bloodshed.  Our prayers matter to us and push us in the right direction.  But I believe that they do more.  In a world in which so many espouse violence and call for destruction, I believe that expressing the yearning for peace - even privately, but all the more so publicly - has a power beyond what we can see or measure.  Praying for peace matters to the world.


May the One who makes peace in the heavens above

make peace among us, among all who dwell in Israel, 

and among all who dwell on earth.

Please God, may it come quickly. 

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Fri, 10/09/2015 - 2:37pm -- Rabbi

When we read the beginning of the Torah, we often think about Creation - with a capital C - as a singular, unique event.  There was nothing, and then the world became.  God spoke, and from darkness there was light.  But the ancient rabbis do not see it this way at all.  For them, the story of Creation is one point in a cycle that repeats itself endlessly.  They praise God in the morning prayers as "the One who continuously, each day, renews the acts of Creation."  For them, Creation - with a capital C and a lower-case C - happens every day.  The morning breaks just like the first morning.  The sun rises as it did on the first day.  The earth is renewed each day, and we are renewed with it.  Each day gives us the opportunity to remake ourselves and to remake this world.  The power in our hands can and should make us giddy, while the responsibility on our shoulders can and should make us deliberate in our actions.  Just as we have tried throughout the High Holiday season to break from our habits of the past year and to instill in ourselves a new heart and a new soul, we should never feel that we are trapped by what happened yesterday.  Each day is a new Creation, filled with endless possibility.  Our privilege and our burden is to hold our power and to use it for good in this day, the day that lies ahead of us like the first day lay ahead of the first humans.  As we read about the beginning of beginnings, may we feel empowered to begin again, again and again, and to create something new and worthy of the promise of being human.

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Fri, 10/02/2015 - 3:19pm -- Rabbi

While I was singing the prayers of the Hoshanot with our Religious School children, the supplications we recite on Sukkot asking God to save our souls and our bodies, the question came up of why we do this.  Why do we ask God for renewal and, on Shemini Atzeret, for rain?  Are we going to force God's hand with our processions and our chanting?  Is God really only going to inscribe us for good if we ask again and again?  Is rain really only going to come if we perform what Koby Fallon called this "Jewish rain dance?"

The kids had a lot of answers, but I wanted to share mine.  We know that redemption may come to us with, without, or regardless of our prayers.  And we know that rain may come - as it certainly has this week - before, during, and after we ask for it.  We can never force God's hand.  But when we gather together and chant and process and supplicate, we are acknowledging that some of the most important things in life, things we need to exist at all, are beyond our own power to get for ourselves.  We need to turn to others, and we need to turn to a force outside of ourselves, in order to find renewal and for the earth to find the water that it and we need.  It is that turning, the acknowledgment of both our powerlessness and, perhaps, our power to give others what they lack, that is precious to us and, we hope, to God.

We will be celebrating Hoshanah Rabah with a special service on Sunday morning at 8:00 AM as well with a program on combating climate change at 1:00 PM, and I encourage you to come to both of these programs.  May we and the earth find the renewal that we seek and that we need during these holy days.

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