A community of communities
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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Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:55am -- Rabbi

On Wednesday night we will enter the month of Adar, the month of the holiday of Purim.  On Purim we will read the crazy, upside-down story of Queen Esther, where despite evil counselors and foolish kings, all turns out well, and we are commanded to shout and sing and drink and eat in celebration.  But what if we don't feel like celebrating?  What if we're not feeling the joy?  In the world around us, injustice and threats to liberty and well-being abound; it would not be surprising if our hearts were full of grief more than happiness at this moment.  So what are we to do with the Talmud's declaration that the month of Adar must herald joy, that we are required to celebrate and be happy at this time of year?  Perhaps the answer comes from the megilah itself, the Book of Esther that we read with such ceremony on Purim.  "That month" - this very month of Adar we are about to enter - "was reversed for them from grief to joy" (Esther 9:22).  In other words, the month of Adar was declared a month of happiness, not because the people were already joyful but because they were full of grief.  The month of Adar asks us to reach down into ourselves, despite the bad feeling and sadness that might surround us, and to pull joy out of ourselves, to reverse our grief, even if only for a short time.  Despite all the signs that the world is dark, we have to reaffirm for ourselves the possibility of light, the potential for joy that always lies just below the surface.  So even as we struggle for justice in this world, let the month of Adar open us to joy.  Hodesh tov - a good and happy month to us all!

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Fri, 01/12/2018 - 2:46pm -- Rabbi

On Monday we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fight for racial and economic justice in the U.S., and it is amazing and wonderful that we have such a day built into the calendar of this country.  However, it would be a mistake to surround Dr. King's story with a golden glow, seeing a universally-acclaimed hero who succeeded in ridding the U.S. of its racist heritage.  In remembering Dr. King, we must remember two hard truths.  First, like many prophetic voices, what Dr. King had to say was widely unpopular in his time; calling out racial injustice in this country and holding out a radically different vision of what America could and should be was not what the government or leaders of this country wanted to hear.  Second, as we know too well, Dr. King achieved much, but despite his work and his sacrifice, racism and its attendant injustices are alive and well in America today.  So we should not be discouraged if it sometimes seems that we are working against the tide in trying to attack racism, and we should not be surprised that it is not easily abolished.  Dr. King, in his preaching, drew on the very texts that we are reading in the Torah right now, the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt.  He saw how the ancient struggle for freedom from oppression must be re-enacted in every generation, and he believed, as we do, in the promise that with God's help we can, each time, move from slavery to freedom.  As we remember and work and reflect on this MLK Day, may we gather our courage to rededicate ourselves to this sacred task in our time. 

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