A community of communities
Fri, 08/03/2018 - 3:07pm -- Rabbi

Shabbat is the "day of rest," the day of ceasing our labors and having time to relax, to refresh ourselves, and to reflect on what we've done during the week and, in a larger perspective, where we are in our lives.  The rabbis teach that labor and rest are both commandments and that they complement each other.  The week of labor allows us to put into action the high ideals and lofty sentiments that we contemplate on Shabbat, while the day of rest allows us to check in about how that went and to think deeply about challenges we faced or successes we enjoyed.  Many of us may have the opportunity to take longer times for rest during vacations this month, and if we approach them in the pattern of Shabbat, they can serve as extended periods of relaxation and reflection that re-energize us for the work ahead.  May we enjoy the blessings of both work and rest as we move through these summer months.

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Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:59pm -- Rabbi

Sadly, it doesn't take much effort to see the same destructive forces that the ancients condemned in their society--forces of hate and intolerance--all around us today.  In the U.S., we continue to see shameful and intolerable treatment of those seeking to enter this country, as well as hate directed at immigrants already here, with attempts to cut them off from resources or even to deport them for minor infractions from long ago.  In Israel, we have also seen these forces at work this week in the "nation-state" bill passed by the Knesset, which downgraded the status and rights of minorities, particularly Arabs, in Israel.  Also this week in Israel, my friend and colleague Rabbi Dubi Haiyun was arrested in Haifa for the "crime" of officiating at a non-orthodox wedding, leading to many statements of condemnation, including from the Rabbinical Assembly.  These shocking examples prove to us once again how important it is to learn the lessons of Tish'ah b'Av, lessons which apparently have not been learned over the thousands of years of its observance:  that hate and intolerance lead only to destruction, and that the path of love and acceptance of difference is the only way to a positive future for us all.
So this year, please, let's use Tish'ah b'Av to impress those lessons upon ourselves and those around us.  Come to GJC's Tish'ah b'Av program on Saturday night at 8:00, focusing on the parallels between the Jewish experience of being exiles seeking refuge and the experience of refugees today.  Join me at a Tish'ah b'Av "Call to Conscience" about the treatment of refugees, organized by Or Hadash, HIAS, and others.  Open your heart and raise your voice.  And may we together turn away from the path of destruction and embark upon the path of re-connection and redemption. 

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Fri, 06/01/2018 - 9:20am -- Rabbi

The haftarah this week is the same as that for Shabbat Hanukah:  the prophecy of Zechariah about that symbol of God's light, the menorah.  It is no coincidence that this prophecy is read around both the winter and summer solstices, the times of least and greatest physical light shining on the world.  There is an explicit attempt here to draw an analogy between physical and spiritual light.  In the winter, we can see light's absence and focus on building up our spiritual light to counteract the physical darkness of the world.  As we approach summer, we can see the flood of physical light that greets us each day as a reminder of the potential of God's light to illuminate the world.  But unlike the light of the sun, which comes regardless of what we do or don't do, the light of the spirit does not shine without us.  We must be the lenses that focus the divine light and refract it into the world through how we act and how we speak.  As we appreciate the growing light of summer, let us each be mindful of how we can spread spiritual light each day and each hour that we walk through the beauty of the season.

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Fri, 05/18/2018 - 4:44pm -- Rabbi

 This week we have witnessed so many of the conflicting and complex emotions that swirl around Israel.  The fear of Israelis who live on the border with Gaza, and the pain of the deaths and injuries of Palestinians who live on the other side of that border.  The pride of those celebrating the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the despair of those convinced that this moves us ever further from the possibility of peace.  Regret and panic, anger and mourning--the list goes on and on.  We have seen all of these expressed, sometimes eloquently, sometimes haltingly, in interviews, in op-eds, and in a flood of postings on social media.  And we have seen, painfully, the harsh reactions that these expressions of strong emotion provoke, with both "friends" and strangers attacking each other's motives, intelligence, decency, and even their very humanity.  How far this is from the model of respectful listening, even across stark differences, that I saw and participated in on my recent trip to Israel with Interfaith Partners for Peace.  And how very far it is from the model of intensely engaging with each other around difficult conversations that we are striving to develop and maintain at Germantown Jewish Centre, including in our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot program this Saturday night.  We will never move the cause of peace forward if we continue to shout past each other, to dismiss each other's humanity, to refuse to hear what we do not agree with; these only reproduce conflict.  We will truly become peacemakers when we are able to sit together peacefully, to listen to each other respectfully, and to begin to understand where and how we differ, where the edges of agreement and common values might lie, and how we might move closer to them.  It starts with our community and it starts with each of us.  At this time when we celebrate engaging in Torah--with all of the disagreements and disputes that surround it--may we rededicate ourselves to engaging with each other in the same spirit of holiness that surrounded us at Mt. Sinai.  Ken y'hi ratzon - so may this be God's will. 

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Fri, 05/11/2018 - 10:41am -- Rabbi

 We often note that the Jewish path relies heavily on community.  So many of the mitzvot are impossible to do alone.  If we really want to help the poor, clothe the naked, house the homeless, heal the sick, and pursue justice, we need to join with others, to pool our resources, and to act in a coordinated way to bring the divine values embedded in Torah down to earth.  In medieval times, this was accomplished primarily through communal funds to which those in need could turn for help, and we still act in this way when we support institutions like the Jewish Family and Children's Service or the Mitzvah Food Pantry, or when we join together in advocacy or protest.  But one of the primary ways that we now fulfill the mitzvot that are focused on helping our fellow human beings is through the actions of our city, state, and national government.  By choosing representatives who act on our behalf, we can harness our shared power and resources to make a huge difference in the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.  Each of our individual votes, like each of our individual actions, may not seem significant.  But in truth they are one of the most powerful ways we can fulfill the divine purpose in the world.  So please, whatever your political preferences, please take the opportunity to express them this coming Tuesday at the ballot box, and may we all see the fruits of our joint action in a fairer, more compassionate, and more just world.

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Fri, 04/20/2018 - 9:17am -- Rabbi

 Jerusalem on my trip with Interfaith Partners for Peace with Rabbi Gordon.  This picture shows me with my partners on this journey (from left):  Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Rabbi David Strauss of Main Line Reform Temple, and Rev. Joyce Shin of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church.  Together we are exploring the prospects for peace in this land, learning from ancient sites and their history and from speaking to those engaged in their own struggles in the present day.  You can see more pictures and thoughts about our trip on my Facebook page.  Today we met with two Palestinians, one a citizen of Israel and one a resident of Jerusalem, and heard their very different perspectives on the situation of the Palestinian people and what can be done to advance change.  As we enter Shabbat here, I am inspired by the openness and curiosity of the rabbis and ministers on this trip with me, their concern for understanding, and their conviction that this process of hearing multiple, sometimes conflicting narratives can help us all work toward peace.  May we all find ways to become peacemakers, and may all the people in this holy city, this holy land, and this holy world be blessed with peace. 

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Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:04pm -- Rabbi

Passover is the holiday of spring and renewal, both here and in the land of Israel.  While in recent weeks we have seen much news of turmoil in the Israeli government, difficulties in the Palestinian Authority, and violence between Palestinians and Israelis, the coming of spring reminds us of the imperative to hope for better days and to search for ways toward peace.  From April 16-25 I will be traveling to Israel with a group of paired rabbis and Christian clergy under the auspices of Interfaith Partners for Peace, whose co-director is our own Rabbi Emeritus Leonard Gordon.  We will be meeting with leaders and ordinary people on many different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, listening for the different narratives they articulate, the hopes and fears they carry, and the ways they are finding to work toward peace even in these difficult times.  I will be posting about my travels on my Facebook page as well as on my blog so you can follow along, and I will be bringing these experiences back to share with the GJC community when I return.  May we all learn much together! 

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Fri, 03/09/2018 - 2:32pm -- Rabbi

Two strand weave through Jewish traditions about holiness.  In one strand, holiness is primarily about space:  the Mishkan, the Temple, and the synagogue are sacred spaces where people could and can touch the divine, and we go to them to have these experiences, which can happen at any time.  In the other strand, holiness is primarily about time:  Shabbat, holidays, and life events from birth to death provide sacred moments in which we can experience the divine in our lives, which can happen in any space.  As these strands are woven together, sometimes one seems completely dominant - as in the focus on Jerusalem as a "holy city" - and sometimes the other - as in the conception of Shabbat as, in Rabbi Heschel's words, a "palace in time."  Our challenge is to figure out for ourselves both how to balance the importance of place and time and how to open ourselves to multiple different experiences of the divine within each.  Wherever and whenever we do so, we fulfill the Torah's mandate to bring holiness in to all aspects of our lives. 

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Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:33am -- Rabbi

This is Shabbat Zachor, the "Shabbat of Memory," on which we remember Amalek, the ancestor of the wicked Haman, villain of the Purim story - which we will read on Wednesday night at our joint Purim celebration.  The Torah commands that we "wipe out" the name of Amalek, a commandment that we fulfill on Purim by making lots of noise whenever Haman's name is mentioned.  But why is it so important that we retain such bad memories, the times in which the Jewish people were attacked or threatened?  We remember the bad times in our past not only to rejoice that we overcame them but also to inspire us with hope and resolve in the present.  The challenges facing us may be grave, but we know from our history that we have the strength and the courage to face them, to do the hard work of driving change, and even to rejoice at our successes.  So while we whirl our groggers and eat our hamantaschen, let us also fill up our stores of resilience and joy for the road ahead.  Hag Purim Sameah! 

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Fri, 02/16/2018 - 9:05am -- Rabbi

What if the opposite happened, not just in the Purim story, but also in our lives?  What if the state of the world brought us not to despair but to resolve?  What if horrific gun violence did not dissolve us in a sea of tears and "thoughts and prayers" but strengthened our courage to stand up and end it?  What if awareness of our vulnerability prompted us not to withdraw from the world but to engage more deeply?  What if the opposite happened?  The teaching of the Book of Esther is that this is possible, that the horror and pain we see in the world can propel us to reach out in love and to work with hope.  Ken y'hi ratzon - may this be God's will for us.

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