A community of communities

August 2016

Fri, 08/26/2016 - 4:24pm -- Rabbi

Summer DayAs August draws to a close, and September approaches on the horizon, I want to offer as a kavannah (intention) a poem by Zelda, translated from the Hebrew by Marcia Falk.







We had a hidden treasure of leisure

gentle as the morning air,

leisure of stories, kisses, tears,

leisure of holidays,

leisure of mamma, grandma, and the aunts

gliding on a boat of light,

slowly floating

in the small boat of peace

with the moon and the heavenly bodies.


May we find in these last moments of summer precious gifts of leisure, joy, renewal and peace that we are able carry with us throughout this new year.

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Fri, 08/12/2016 - 7:51am -- Rabbi

If we look at the stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Torah, we see again and again that they face enormous challenges as they seek to follow a path toward God.  The ancient rabbis taught that this is no accident.  Facing difficult challenges is an important part of the journey of the Jewish people, shaping our character and destiny.  Without them, we would never be able to reach the highest parts of ourselves.  The Hasidic masters called this process "descent for the sake of ascent." To ascend to the heights, we must first go down to the depths and face what we find there.  Then we can turn and point ourselves upward.  This process of going down and then up is at the heart of the observance of Tish'ah b'Av that we will undertake on Saturday night.  On that day of all days we open ourselves up to the darkness and tragedy of Jewish history and the ways the horrors of that history are still around us in the present, as we and others face cruelty, discrimination, and violence.  We fast, we sit on the floor at night in the darkened sanctuary, and we try to come to grips with the agony of what has happened and what continues to happen in our world.  But that is not the end of the story.  As night turns into morning and then afternoon, we get up from the floor, we rise from the dust, and we raise our voices.  We acknowledge and assimilate all the darkness, and then we turn our faces toward the light, toward the hope, toward the mountain that stands above us, calling us to a higher vision of the world and our place in it.

May we all support each other as we descend to the depths, sitting with each other in the darkness.  And may we each lend the other a hand as we turn and ascend the mountain together.

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Fri, 08/05/2016 - 12:41pm -- Rabbi

In the coming week, on August 9th, we will mark the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that unleashed a firestorm of protest over the unequal treatment of black people by police in particular and racial inequality in the U.S. in general.  We are still hearing the echoes of Ferguson in the continuing discourse about racial justice taking place in our country today.  Jews know what it is like to be the targets of bigotry and hatred and to be treated unequally on that basis.  So Jewish communities have a special obligation to speak up in favor of racial justice and the need to address the persistent, systemic racism that shatters lives across America as well as right here at home in Philadelphia.

As we approach Tish'ah b'Av next Saturday night, we are reminded of the ancient rabbinic teaching that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam - "causeless hatred" (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9b).  What does "causeless hatred" mean when we can always come up with some justification for hating others?  Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker suggests that we reinterpret the word hinam as ha-hen shelahem - the quality of others that makes them unique.  What caused the Temple to fall was when we hated the uniqueness of others, the thing that makes them different from ourselves.  To combat this kind of hatred, we have to look deep inside ourselves and build up our ability to see the good in others, to value them for their difference, and to counter the impulse to reject those who are not like ourselves.  Then we can replace sinat hinam with ahavat hinam - love of others for no reason other than their uniqueness as human beings, created as we are in the image of God.

May this coming week of memory, mourning, and reflection strengthen our resolve to be sources of love and advocates for justice in our community and in our country.

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