#BlogExodus – Chameitz as learning, art, and luck

I get it: get the chameitz, leavening out of the house before Passover. The Israelites had to leave Egypt in great haste that they had no time to let their bread rise before having to pack it all and leave.

For anyone who has ever tried to bake fresh bread, you know that there is chemistry, art, and luck all involved. The chemistry is having the water temperature just right so that the yeast will not die from being too hot or too cold – yes, think of the three little bears, that climate has to be just right for the yeast to do it’s thing…grow! Not to mention, mixing the yeast and water with some sugar to feed those little yeast creatures – what a great brood of bubbling goodness. The art; to get it all mixed together and holding tight, there is the art of kneading. Not to fast, not too slow. Don’t pull too hard and don’t be too gentle. Get the mass of ingredients mixed just right so that it can sit in a warm spot (chemistry again) allowing the dough to rest and rise. And then there’s luck; you’ve followed all the instructions passed on from generation to generation. You hope the yeast is still alive and the temperature seems just right for rising, but you still have to cross those fingers and hope that luck is on your side and the bread will rise to satisfy your hunger.

It takes time, it takes patience, it takes art to make a perfect loaf of bread, let alone the challah that will make our Shabbat table that much more special. But there is no time, there is only haste and the need to hurry. And when that happens, we are only left with a tight, heavy, mound of bread – too hard to eat, too touch to break, too challenging to enjoy.

Get the chameitz out of your house, hurry! And then during the week of remembering and celebrating our freedom, remember: when you return the chameitz into your home, do so with knowledge and learning (chemistry); art and the careful consideration of traditions passed down from one generation to the next – you can’t rush everything in life; and luck – we can always use a little faith that it will all turn out just right.

#BlogExodus Narrow Places of Mitzrayim

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, also known as Ima on the Bima, presented a great idea for anyone blogging, tweeting, facebooking, or instagramming (don’t know if that is really a word, but it’s a great app – thanks DovLev). This year, in preparation for Passover, we should Blog the Exodus. While I don’t blog daily, I’m hoping that maybe, this might inspire me to do more, or at least post something on Facebook and Twitter. So follow me there as well as we prepare for Pesach, celebrating our Freedom and life.  You can search, #BlogExodus or #exodusgram for more inspiration.

Mitzrayim, so easily thought of as that place thousands of years ago. It was there that Joseph was sent down into slavery; there that Jacob and his family joined Joseph to survive the famine; there that the Israelites were enslaved for over 400 years. It was in Mitzrayim where God heard the Israelites cry out in pain and suffering looking to be released. Mitzrayim was the narrow place, the tunnel in which there seems to be no easy exit and the walls continually creep in closer and closer as one passes through.

There are these caves in our own lives. The walls seem to be closing in around us at times and we can’t run fast enough toward the light to get out. The narrow places do not allow us to move so easily and eventually, turning around to go back is impossible. There is only one way to go, and that is forward.

How do we allow our feet to move us forward? How do we allow ourselves to not just crouch down and wait for something, anything, anyone?

Somehow, we do. Somehow our feet propel us forward and our ears listen for comforting sounds of others or that which will soothe our soul. We sing a song, we think in our heads, but really, its tune echoes on the walls. We are comforted by our own voice, our own thoughts, our own strength.

Mitzrayim is the perception that we feel we are stuck, we feel we cannot move, we feel we are enslaved. But if only we allow ourselves to stand, take one step at a time and have faith that we can move forward, we might see that the cave is not so narrow. We might see that we are not alone in this space. We feel the presence of others with us, singing our niggun and walking hand in hand. There is a light ahead in this narrow space, we only have to find our way toward it and remember, we are never alone.

Final AIPAC Day and Thoughts

Monday at AIPAC:
Another early start to the day. However, there is something to be said for not getting up at the crack of dawn because fate will give you gifts. Rather than heading to the local Starbucks for morning coffee, I went with the hotel room brew. OK, not Starbucks, but it was caffeine and gave me an extra 15 minutes. When I finally headed downstairs I debated if I should get the shuttle or walk. I stood outside for a moment assessing the weather, looked to my right then my left and suddenly saw someone I thought I recognized. Whenever I see someone I recognize, I call out their name and either they respond or think I’m talking to someone behind them. I called out “Marshall!” and sure enough, it was Marshall! Who is Marshall? Marshall and Carol are a couple I grew up with in Denver, Colorado! His daughter and I went to religious school together since consecration and our families have been friends ever since. Yes, one has to fly across the country to run in to people one has not seen in years! It’s a small Jewish world after all.

The morning plenary was another great pep rally for supporting Israel and preparing for lobbying meetings on Tuesday. Senator Joe Leiberman addressed the conference for his last time while in office. The morning was filled with speeches and building the excitement for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address coming up in the evening.

The afternoon was filled with opportunities for break out group discussions and clergy meetings. Specifically, the Reform movement. There are 90 rabbis and cantors from the Reform Movement in attendance. This is significant considering the Reform movement has not been so visually present before. However, this year, with the Synagogue Initiative movement, more rabbis were encouraged to attend and see that AIPAC is an organization for all Jews. True, the Reform movements beginnings lay more in the social action/justice department, but since the 1967, Israel has come more to the forefront. However, with the perception of AIPAC being more conservative leaning, many Reform Jews stayed away. AIPAC however, is bipartisan. As I said in my d’var Torah for this week, and as you’ll hear me say this Friday night, there were times that I sat while others stood and applauded and there were times that I stood and applauded while others sat. What all 13,000 in the halls agreed upon was that Israel must be allowed defend herself and that America needs to support her fully.

Again and again the statement participants made to me when I asked them, ‘why do you support AIPAC?’ was that they feel that they are doing something. That even just being present at the AIPAC conference makes a statement that Israel is important and our government needs to support Israel to the fullest.

The evening energy was so intense with Benjamin Netanyahu on the schedule. Security was tight once again with long lines getting through secret service and into the hall. While I joked about there being no clergy seating for the Sunday morning plenary with President Obama and President Peres, clergy was allowed into a closer section for Monday night’s event. We were entertained by Rick Recht, the Maccabeats and Idan Rachael. (OK, so what did the ultra Orthodox think of his amazing women vocalists?)

Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell were the warm up speakers and then it was time for Benjamin Netanyahu. We have all been wondering what happened in the meeting earlier that day with the President, but unlike last year, we were not going to hear. As Netanyahu said, you may be hearing that Israel is going to do this or that, please, I’m not going to tell you! Why would he? But he did express that something is going to happen, whether through the tougher sanctions created by the United States with containment off the table, or whether it was going to mean a direct strike. His statement was clear: Israel will defend herself no matter what.

The President and the Prime Minister cannot really come out and say that they are going to strike, that would be a declaration of war. And while we want to know what is going to happen and we live in a world of a constant barrage of information, sometimes, there are things that we are just not meant to know until it is happening.

Overall, it was an amazing evening event. That continuned even into Tuesday morning with the final plenary before delegates would go to the Hill for lobbying.

Tuesday was a campaign day! Romney, Santorum, and even Gingrich (hoping for a panel of four to ask him questions like they set up for Romney) spoke to the eager crowd. But the man who everyone was waiting to hear was Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. He was articulate and consistently clear wiht the President’s message. America has the back of Israel and a strong interest in making sure that Iran does not become nuclear capable. That containment is not on the table, and if needed, military action is not off the table. He gave a long list of all the work the Israeli and American military have accomplished together and the strength that both share with one another. It was informative and inspiring no matter what side of the aisle the delegates were on.

And then, just like that, the conference was over. It was time for everyone to head out to meet with Senators and House Representatives. To be counted in saying that we care about Israel and as your supporters, we expect that you will also.

I went into the conference not sure what to expect, and came out better informed and enlightened. I agree that if one is looking for a way to really “do” something for Israel along with making donations, participating in AIPAC and being a voice for Israel is truly a beautiful way to be counted. No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, AIPAC is a place where there are shared values and hopes for a strong and peaceful Israel and world. So what will be next….

Presidential Day at AIPAC

What a day! Two Presidents in one place at the same time!

The morning started off early. We were told to report to the security lines by 7:00 am for a 9:30 am program start. Everyone had to go through two security lines – one for the convention center, the other for the secret service. No food or drink allowed inside. Fortunately for a colleague who did not eat breakfast, I had a Cliff bar that had to be eaten or thrown out.

Once inside it was 1 1/2 hours of waiting. The hall is huge – it has to be to hold 13,000 people! I did ask if there was a Rabbi section – the security guard just smiled. 🙂 That’s ok, I met some great people and for the next 1 1/2 we bonded!

Finally, it was time! The program began with a panel discussion including anchor from Israel Channel 2 news and Liz Cheney. Let’s just say, she had some very strong opinions regarding President Obama.

Next, a beautiful video about President Shimon Peres. He is 88 years old, but the strength and endurance of a young determined man. When leaving Poland in 1934, his grandfather who was not well enough to travel with him said, “Shimon, stay Jewish.” Those three words shaped his life and career. It is in and through Israel that he keeps that promise to his grandfather. In a matter of weeks, Shimon Peres will receive the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

Then it was time for President Obama. He received a warm but cautious welcome. His speech was everything that we want to hear from our President. His support of Israel, commitment to not allowing Iran create nuclear weapons, and commitment to the Jewish community. You can read his remarks here.

The morning plenary came to a close and it was time for lunch and break out sessions. Lunch was great – dim sum in China Town. The break out session was a wonderful study session with clergy and scholars from the Shalom Hartman Institute.

The day ended with a final plenary including remarks by the new President of AIPAC and a discussion with renowned reporters from different agencies. Each of them were entertaining and informative in discussing the elections ahead.

It was a very full day and now, it’s time to get some rest to start it all over again tomorrow. Tomorrow brings Nancy Pelosi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just when you think you have a semblance of order of some information, they give you more to make it even more complex.

AIPAC first night

For the past few years, I have been asked to attend the AIPAC policy conference but the timing never seemed to work out. But this year, having spent the summer in Israel, I knew that this was the year!
I flew into Washington DC this evening and headed straight to the convention center, luggage and all, to check in and get my badge. We were advised to do this tonight since tomorrow, Sunday, will be very busy with Secret Service and President Obama and President Shimon Peres speaking at the opening plenary. As I got my badge I was told, make sure you are here tomorrow morning at 7:00 am so that you are in the hall on time. No one told him that I was from California and that’s 4:00 am my time! Oh well, sleep will happen on the plane ride home.
After walking almost a mile with my luggage to check in to the hotel, I headed back to the convention center for the opening reception for the Pacific Southwest Council. This may be the only time that I will see OC families: Silverstein, Brostoff, Vinikow, Taback, Matros, and Taleisnik. Because tomorrow, when the conference really starts, there will be 13,000 in attendance!!!!
Why am I here? Because I want to support Israel and I want to find new opportunities for my congregation to support Israel as well. One great comment came from a woman I sat on the bus with from Florida. She said, “I’m here because the world is watching.”
AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of Jews (and non-Jews) supporting Israel in the world. The world is watching. There are over 700 members of the press covering this event and sound bytes will start to make it around the world very soon, if they have not already.
I’m looking forward to taking it all in and bringing it back to all of you.
Stay in touch…there’s so much more to come.