Category Archives: Rav

Items of interest to those who follow the ‘Rav’ side

Are We Jonah – Nevi or Prophet? Kol Nidrei 5772

One of my favorite readings on Yom Kippur is the story of Jonah.  I think I like it because it is written like a story, and well, I love to be a story teller.

Once upon a time there was a man named Jonah. And God spoke to Jonah, son of Amittai, telling him to go to Nineveh, that great city, and tell them how awful they have been and that God is demanding that they turn from their evil ways or God will destroy them.

And what does Jonah do? He runs! We know he is in Israel, in Jaffa, he finds a ship going to the farthest place he could possibly think to go, Tarshish. We know that while he is on the ship, God causes a great storm that tosses the ship around and Jonah just sleeps through it all. The sailors, all of them having their own faith, pray to their gods, beg that they are saved to no avail. And finally, when they see that Jonah is asleep in the middle of this great storm, they demand to know who he is and that he should cry out to his god. After the casting of a few lots, they discover that it is Jonah’s fault, which he does not deny, that the storm is before them, about to destroy them. Jonah openly admits that he is a Hebrew, that he knows and fears God, maker of heaven and earth. Jonah takes responsibility for the storm because he is running from God and the mission God gave to him to go to Ninevah and tells them to cast him into the sea. With some hesitation, the men on the ship do this and the sea stops turning.

A great fish appears and swallows Jonah. For three days and nights, Jonah is in the fish and he says to God, “For you cast me into the deep, in the heart of the seas; and the floods surrounded me; all your billows and your waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out from Your presence; yet I will look again to Your Holy Temple.” And after three days, the fish spews Jonah out on the land and once again called out that he should go to Ninevah and deliver God’s message to the people of the city. After only traveling a single day into Ninevah, Jonah warns the people that in forty days the city will be overthrown if they do not repent soon.

The people put on sackcloth and ashes and they pray that God will turn over the decree of destroying the city and save every soul. And God does in fact spare the city.

However, we see in the final chapter that Jonah is upset by this outcome! Jonah knew that God was gracious, merciful and slow to anger and of great kindness and would not destroy the city if the people simply repented.  He is so upset by God’s compassion that he prays that God will just take his own life! But God does not answer this call and Jonah places himself in a small booth on a hill so that he could see what would become of the city. And God provides a great plant to provide him with shade and he is comfortable. But then, just as quickly as the great plant appeared it was gone the next day, and again, Jonah was left to burn in the hot sand. Again, he calls out for God to take his life. And when God says to Jonah, ‘why are you so distraught by the loss of this plant? It was only with you for one day, how could you have become so attached to a plant that you neither planted nor tended to?’ And God says to Jonah in the final verse, “And should I not spare Ninevah, that great city, where there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

That’s it! That’s the end of the story? We are left with a question! Typical Jewish text, leave us with a question and no answer!

What is the purpose of our reading this book of Jonah, four chapters in length, on Yom Kippur? What does it have to teach us on this day of repentance?  There is a top layer from which we learn – everyone has the opportunity and ability to turn from their wrong ways and start again. Everyone has the ability to change how he or she behaves and become better people in order to temper God’s severe decree. That God is a loving and passionate God who, if we turn our ways to the right path, we will be forgiven. Is not this what it says in the Unatantokef? “But repentance, prayer and charity temper judgments severe decree. It is not the death of sinners that you seek O God, but rather that we should turn our ways and return to you.”  Jonah is the story that there is hope, even when we think that there is none. We are never so far gone as to not be able to turn back and find a new path.

It’s a beautiful story, however, there are other pieces to this story that can bring enlightenment to us on this Kol Nidrei evening and inspire us and even allow us to question and wrestle with during this sacred time.

Let us begin with where Jonah is supposed to go and where he tries to go. God calls out to Jonah and tells him to go to the great city of Ninevah and tell the people to turn from their evil ways. But where is Ninevah? It is in Mesopotamia and is the great city known to be the home of the Assyrians who would later succumb to the Babylonians. It would be this great nation that would later come to destroy the people of Israel and carry them off into Diaspora. What is it that Jonah knew? Why would he be so concerned about this when he might not even have known that the Assyrians would be the ones to later destroy Israel?

Jonah is considered to be one of our Prophets. However, we have to be careful when we use the term “prophet.” What does this mean? On the surface, we may say that these were the individuals who would cry out to the people and tell them what they are doing wrong! But really, there are two types of prophets – there are those who we call “Prophet” and those who we call “Nevi.” While we might think they are one and the same, for Nevi literally means Prophet, they are quite different. For a Prophet can see the future but cannot change what will happen. A Nevi does not see the future but by crying out to the people, HOPES that he will be able to make a change for the future.

Jonah was in fact a Prophet, for why he fled is because of that which he saw. Jonah knew from the moment God told him to go to Ninevah and tell the people to repent, that they would, and God would not destroy them but that this people would later destroy Israel. So he fled, to the furthest place he could go, to Tarshish, a place near Spain. But one cannot flee from God’s calling.

And when Jonah learns that he cannot flee, and as he never denies his identity as a Hebrew, Jonah is cast out into the sea and into the belly of the great fish. These words of his going down in to the deep and being able to look again at God’s Holy Temple seem to be dismissed as we are so intrigued by the fish. But it is not the fish that we should focus on; rather, it is the surrounding pieces of this story. Jonah challenges the quick turn of faith by the sailors when in great trouble they suddenly pray to God, Jonah’s God, that they should be spared any harm because they throw this man into the sea. That the people of Ninevah should all of a sudden turn from their idol worship and pray to God because of the looming threat of their destruction.  Jonah is upset that through his actions and his words to the sailors and people of Ninevah, that they might turn toward God, but he knows that all of this is only temporary and superficial. They will get bored of God and go back to the excitement they found in their temples and idol worship. That the words they share in praising God on high have very little meaning or teeth. Their conversion is only temporary.

For Jonah, if something does not last forever, then it is not truth, it has no meaning. For Jonah, he believes in the existential assumption that in order for something to have meaning it must have no end. However, God challenges this idea with Jonah, knowing full well what the descendants of the people of Nineveh will do to the Israelites in a future generation. God gives him the gourd to provide shade, yet Jonah does not care for it and then when it is gone, he mourns the loss. God tells Jonah, the gourd was very real, yet, it did not last. Yes, in life, things or times that have limits, that are not infinite, do have meaning and are real. Just as in death – life has more meaning because we know that our lifetimes are limited.

Jonah is a part of something greater than himself, and this is a difficult lesson that he, the Prophet, is not able to fully understand or accept. Yet it is our challenge, tonight, for us to learn from and grow with. We are a part of something that is greater than ourselves and while our time is limited, there is much we have the opportunity to do and even change, no matter where we are in our lives.

No one has a crystal ball that can tell our future. But we are in control of our lives in this moment that shapes the next. It is our responsibility to not sit in silence when injustice or frustration crowds our world. When we are challenged because someone speaks against that which we believe or know to be true, do sit in silence? Or do we seek justice? Do we turn our backs and say, I will just not cast my lot and allow the chips to fall where they may? Or do we stand up and demand to be heard not allowing someone else to speak for us?

These hours of Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur call upon us to examine our world and ourselves. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik teaches that the goal of teshuva and this time of Yom Kippur is not to become burdened by all that we have not achieved, but instead to become challenged to achieve our potential. He writes, “The power stored up within each of us is exceedingly great, but all too often it slumbers within and does not bestir itself from deep sleep.”

These past few years we have felt helpless in a world in which our financial dreams slip through our fingers. Savings depleted, jobs lost, homes downsized, it is a part of a new reality. We have felt lost in the belly of the fish with no light and no idea which direction we were going. But we have emerged in to a new reality, one that has made us stronger. I have watched over these past few years how we have come together to care for one another, share resources, and support our community in times of need. And that has made us richer. It has left us with the feeling that we can accomplish anything when we do so together. Yet, there is still more work to be done and there are still those who are looking for a way out of the depths. And we call out and remind ourselves to not stop caring, not stop building and not stop reinvisioning our world together.

We take on the part of the role of the Nevi in which we cannot see the future but we can hope and we can act in a way in which we want to make a difference. We do not have to sit like Jonah and watch from the hill and wonder what will the world do? How will others act? What will be the outcome? Tonight, we look out from the hill, we lift ourselves up and we ask, where is it that I can go to make a difference, because I know that I can.

We know that our lives are limited. We know that all life comes to an end, but unlike Jonah, we do not wait for death to approach us. Rather, we live each moment to its fullest knowing that even our days are limited, our actions can create an infinite effect on our world, our community and our families.  We can choose hope over despair: even when we feel that we are at the bottom of the great sea, we can choose to swim toward hope and the surface of a new reality. Is this not the message of our Yom Kippur? As we examine our lives, God asks that we not just accept our fate as being complete, but rather, God invites us to turn, return, and turn again to a new path of righteousness, compassion, and respect. We do not know the future, but we are in control of today, this moment. And so, as a people of neviim, what message do you cry out and what actions do you take to claim control of your life toward hope and what actions do you take to not just watch to see what the rest of the world will do, but what you will do to ensure that our world is complete because you are here?

Shofar Memories of Alan Friedman, z’l 5772

And from the top of the mountains the shofar sounded, heralding a new year, a new month, a message for the people to wake up and pay attention. The words of our Shofar service, Areshet s’fateinu ye∙erav l’fanekha, el ram v’nissa, mevin u‐ma∙azin, mabbit u‐makshiv l’kol t’ki∙atenu. U‐t’kabbel b’rah.amim u‐v’ratzon seder malkhuyyotenu, May the words of our lips be pleasing to You, exalted God, who listens, discerns, considers, and attends to the sound of our shofar blast. Lovingly accept our offering of verses proclaiming Your Sovereignty.

For almost fifty years, Alan Friedman, z’l, stood in this place, first with Sam Weiner, and then after he passed, as our ba’al tki’ah, sharing with us the sounds of the shofar. For almost fifty years, as Alan would breathe into the shofar, he opened our ears, our minds and our hearts with each note that we may listen, discern and consider our actions and our lives. He fulfilled the mitzvah of sounding the shofar for all to hear that we should be called together on this Rosh Hashanah day to examine our lives, placing each moment of the past year, each action of each day, before ourselves and before God. That we should embrace our accomplishments and challenge ourselves to reach higher with each breath. His sounding of the shofar asked us to consider our place in the world remembering that each of us have the responsibility to be co-creators with God in building a world of peace, respect, and compassion for all.

These past few years were challenging for Alan as his breath began to diminish. It would take as much effort as possible for him to walk from one place to another and with his oxygen tank close by, he would spend more time listening and sharing in the breath of others. However, when it came to Rosh Hashanah, the oxygen tank was set to the side and his breath filled his lungs like no other time during the year. The desire to stand in this place and sound the shofar and ask God to lovingly accept our prayers, filled his lungs, his soul, and ours.

This year, we miss his presence in this space. But his breath is still a part of ours. And while Chelle asked Matthew Griffin to stand as our ba’al t’kiah as Alan truly respected the compassion with which Matthew sounds the shofar, we hold this space for him at this moment.

And with Alan’s shofar before us, we still hear his call, and we are moved to listen and breathe.

We call upon Matthew Griffin, Joel Ross, and Michael Gropper to sound the shofar, from mountain top to mountain top. Bring us to the heights where we find God and where we are moved to listen and hear.

May the words of our lips be pleasing to You, exalted God, who listens, discerns, considers, and attends to the sound of our shofar blast. Lovingly accept our offering of verses proclaiming Your Sovereignty.

Amen.

 

And now, as we begin our calls, join with me, in one voice as we recite each call. But for this first section, we shall pause after each call, silently recalling Alan’s call to us.

Peoplehood and “DOing” Jewish – Rosh Hashanah 5772

What is truly essential in your Jewish life? What is it that you need to be and to feel Jewish? What is the core of Judaism as you understand it and as you need it in your life? What does it mean for you to be a part of the Jewish Community and of the TBS Family?

These are questions we ask ourselves more often than we realize. They may not be worded exactly like this, but we ask ourselves these questions every Friday night when we consider what time it is as we pull in the driveway and consider how or even if we are going to celebrate Shabbat. We ask ourselves these questions when we consider when to send our children to religious school and why we are sending them. We ask ourselves these questions each year as ponder our temple membership when our dues statements arrive in the mail.

Look around you. Notice how many people are here this morning! Look at the familiar faces and take notice of new ones. Feel the energy in this sacred space of all of us here this morning. When we join in more of our blessings this morning, especially congregational readings and singing, close your eyes and listen to the voices of all of us together, praying together, being together as one people. It is awesome and inspirational.

You had a choice this morning. You could have said, ‘it’s Thursday, I still have so much to do at work before the weekend, I think I’ll just skip Rosh Hashanah this year so I can get it all done.’ But you didn’t. You put aside the every day tasks and you’re here! You are a part of this family and this moment.

But still, we ask, why? Why do you commit yourself to a congregation, this congregational family? What is in it for you?

Belonging to a congregation is not so automatic as it once was. Only a few generations ago, it was unthinkable for Jews to not belong to a congregation. However, today, here in Orange County alone, there are 100, 000 Jews and 70,000 of them are not members of any synagogue. Imagine that number multiplied throughout the country! Only three out of ten Jews are members of a congregation! This number was unheard of years ago, yet today, this is the reality.

Two generations ago, the only place someone could be a part of making Jewish connections was through the synagogue. But today, people can log on to the internet and be a part of a virtual community. Yes, we stream our services here at TBS for those who are not able to physically leave their home so they can feel a connection to our community. But there are actually some internet congregations where the rabbi and cantor lead a service in front of a camera and invite participants to “chat” using their keyboards during the d’var Torah. But it is only your voice you hear. There is no touch of another sitting next to you as you sing a closing song. Yet, for those in rural areas or who are secluded because of health or lack of community, it works.

Today, we can also open the local Jewish publications and see advertisements for life cycle services by community rabbis. They are happy to train your child for Bar or Bat Mitzvah, bring a Torah to a ballroom in a local hotel and hold a private service for you and your family. Yes, a cheaper way to provide the learning a child may need to read some words of Torah and maybe it’s just enough Judaism without a longer term commitment. But it’s missing the opportunity for the child and the family to share in this momentous moment in their lives with their Jewish community. After all, becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the opportunity for a child to stand up and say, I am now a young adult in this community and I count!

With all of the changes in our world, with all of the ways we connect via internet, with our schedules and schedules of our family, it seems less and less of a need to belong to one more community and have one more commitment.

Yet, Donniel Hartman states that “Judaism is viewed as a malleable system, almost infinitely adjustable to the commitments, desires and needs of contemporary Jewish life.” However, there is a fear that if obligations are set before us as to what it means to be a part of a community, we might lose a sense of tolerance and inclusiveness and hence push those outside of the community.

This brings to mind the concept of ikkarim, the basic core of our Jewish obligations . Ikkarim are important in establishing the obligations to our Jewish self and our community, for without them, the Jewish community cannot stand on it’s own. And, we as Liberal Jews are all Jews by Choice, whether born Jewish or have become Jewish later in life, “we all choose a path, a way of life, identity, culture, and peoplehood as the primary prism through which one lives one’s life, sets one’s priorities, makes one’s choices, and educates one’s children.” (Donniel Hartman)

And for all of us, that path leads us to this place today, and for that I…we are grateful. For our Rosh Hashanah would seem empty without each and every one of you.

So what do we get for being a part of the TBS Congregational Family?

Let’s start with our congregational brit.  Did you know we have a congregational brit? Some of our newer members might as it was included in your membership packets and we use it during our New Member Shabbat each year. But the rest of our congregational family may not remember that we have this. So let’s try this – you have it there in your bulletins you received this morning. I’d like to invite us to do this as a responsive reading – this side of the congregation, you’ll read the Members’ Covenant to the Congregation with me; this side, you’ll read the TBS Family’s Covenant to the Members with Cantor Reinwald.

Being a part of our congregational family encompasses each of these areas and is reciprocal between each of you and the entire congregation and staff. Providing and participating in educational opportunities not just for our children but all of us. Providing and participating in Shabbat and Holiday worship. Providing and participating in life cycle celebrations and comforting one another in times of need and bereavement. Providing and participating in tikkun olam, social action and social justice, for not only our congregation but our community and world. And finally, providing and participating in social opportunities, making new friends and continuing to connect with old.

No one can “Do Jewish” for another. Yet, no one can “Be Jewish” without the other. Hence, why each of these areas, Education, Worship, Life Cycle, Tikkun Olam and absolutely, Social connections are so critical to our congregational family’s existence.

Around the synagogue, in your mailbox and on the TBS website are copies of our TBS Programs Catalogue. Right here is a menu of opportunities for everyone and all ages. From educational classes for youth and adults to fitness classes, such as Zumba – an energetic workout with awesome music and fun moves that anyone can do – not to mention a fun word to say, “ZUMBA!” Learning and socializing takes place not only in the classroom, but also on the trail with our Shabbat hikes. There are book groups, field trips and movies to watch. While we might feel that learning opportunities are only for our children, we too should take advantage of these opportunities for ourselves. I cannot tell you how energized and inspired I was to have taken the opportunity for myself to participate in an intensive learning experience this summer, for two weeks, twelve hours a day. While this might seem a bit much for most, it reminded me that I too must make the time for my own educational growth and be a role model for my children in that studying does not end when you graduate. OK, and they both loved the fact that Ima had homework!

We have plenty of one session classes to choose from and classes that with very little time commitment. But that one, two or three hours may just inspire you to reach for a new understanding or new knowledge about something you never considered learning or experiencing before. Please, explore this book. It’s full of so many incredible opportunities.

Our congregational family is committed to being here to care for one another during life celebrations and moments of bereavement or need for consolation. By being a member of TBS, you have invested in Clergy Insurance! By being a member of the TBS family, your clergy insurance provides you with a rabbi or cantor for baby namings, brit milot (ok, we just do the blessings, but we can help you find the actual mohel!), b’nei mitzvah for children and adults, weddings, conversions, anniversary blessings, birthday blessings, hospital visits, funerals and counseling, just to name a few. Cantor Reinwald and I are here for our congregation 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Our phone numbers are available for life cycle emergencies day and night, and some of you have called in the middle of the night when you needed us. And we’ve been in the hospital room with you or in your home in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. This isn’t an inconvenience for us, this is what we do. It’s a privilege for us to be a part of some of these most intense moments in your lives. And when we say, ‘really, just call us if you need us,’ we mean it.

How often do we reach out to the synagogue when we are in an accident, have received some difficult medical news for a loved one or ourselves, or struggle with an ethical dilemma regarding our career or work life? How often do we turn to our Jewish community to share a moment of life celebration? A new job, a new relationship, the fulfillment of a personal goal? When do we share life’s little moments with our Jewish family? These are reasons that the congregation exists, so we can be here to support and celebrate with throughout all of life’s moments.

Being a part of Jewish community and the TBS family also means building lasting friendships. There are many of you who have been part of social groups, or chavurot since you were first married. Some of these chavurot have shared in the birth of their own children and now celebrate in their weddings and birth of their grandchildren.

Many of you have participated or will participate in our Reservations Only events. While these are fundraiser opportunities, they are also opportunities to meet and get to know more people in our congregation. These social events have introduced so many of you to new friends who you might not have ever connected with outside of the congregation. I recently heard someone liken the congregation to a country club. TBS is their country club, it’s the place to belong to get together with friends, enjoy good meals, and be a part of a group of like-minded individuals.

It is our hope to create social events for all ages and demographics. We have travel opportunities such as our Tour of Jewish LA, which of course will involve eating! And there is the congregational trip to Israel this coming January 25-February 5. This trip is designed for adults to not only experience Israel and the beautiful places and historical sites, but to also connect with the Israeli people. I spent the summer exploring the country and meeting some amazing individuals who I look forward to introducing you to and building the connections between the people of Israel and our congregational family. And an added bonus! You get 12 uninterrupted days with me, your rabbi! Complete access for 12 days!

And while we have so many opportunities for connection on some levels, I still believe that we can continue to stretch boundaries of our community. That we can and should create deeper connections to our Temple Beth Sholom family through each of us reconnecting ourselves to one another and the link of past generations, to today and forward to tomorrow.

While sharing in what we currently have, I want to introduce to you what we are going to create starting today.  Allow me to introduce you to the TBS Congregational Connections program. Last year, through the vision of Monica Engel and the commitment of so many volunteers, we established our Mitzvah Meals program. And one year later, Mitzvah Meals has successfully fed thousands of individuals thanks to so many of you here in this sanctuary. Each and every Sunday, many of you have joined with our Mitzvah Meal leaders, sorted, cooked and delivered hot meals to those in need throughout Santa Ana and Orange County. And I could not be prouder of the work that we are doing for our community. May this work continue until the day comes that no man, woman or child goes to bed hungry. Then we will have fulfilled our mission.

And now, while it is so important to remember that Temple Beth Sholom is a cornerstone in the community, it is time to bring this cornerstone back into our own lives.

How often has someone said to me, Cantor Reinwald or another staff member that they were touched by a card they received from the Kesher LaBayit, the TBS Caring Community, which has been headed by Carol Kanofsky, Carol Weiss and Renee Siembieda for these past seven years. Over that time, some of you have helped with our caring community by sending these cards, providing meals or driving those in need to doctors or physical therapy appointments. But the group has been small and we realize that the need is greater and can be expanded.

Today, I share with you the beginning of our TBS Congregational Connections program. The vision is to help all of us connect to TBS, the Jewish community, and especially our Jewish selves, at all points in our lives. While the most obvious times include times when a loved one dies and there is a need to help lead or organize shiva minyanim in the home; or someone is in the hospital or long term care and longs for visits and help to and from the doctors; there is still so many more ways for us to connect with one another. And creating these Congregational Connections will help foster our connections to peoplehood and our Jewish life.

A member of our TBS family recently said to me, “after my accident, I made sure to take care of my body and my car, but I didn’t think about taking care of my soul.” When this person was ready, birkat hagomel, the blessing that is said in the community when someone comes through a life threatening or very difficult time, was shared and these moments of bringing in Jewish connections added to their healing.

We all have the opportunity to be a part of these connections. Each of us are a part of the link and each of us, without any special training, has the ability to reach out to another, welcome a new family to the congregation, check in on a family with a new addition, invite a single individual or couple with no other family around to Shabbat or a holiday meal, and support the foundation of our congregations existence. Each of us has the opportunity to not only be Jewish but to do Jewish.

This summer, our membership Vice President, Susan Sherman, TBS Program and Membership Director, Juliet Friedman, have been working to divide the congregation into twelve Congregational Connection teams, each with their own coordinator.  In the weeks to come, each family will hear from your Congregational Connection Coordinator and he or she will share with you information about how to create deeper links to our congregational family and fulfilling the needs and celebrating life’s moments together.  Each of the Connection teams will be responsible for one month during the year. During your Connection team’s month, your coordinator may receive a call from me, Cantor Reinwald or anyone on the TBS staff, sharing that there is a need in the congregational family and we could use the support of your connection team. Some of you may not have time for visits, but be willing to make a phone call to just say hello to a homebound TBS member. Others might be freer during the week to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment or just stop by a home for a visit and to deliver a meal already prepared by our Mitzvah Meal mavens. You yourself may see a need that your Connection’s team can fulfill. Maybe a young couple with a new baby could really use a date-night to reconnect and they don’t have family around who can babysit. Your team might have someone, be it grandparent type or family with young children of their own and all the needed baby accoutrements, and would love to volunteer to babysit just so the couple can have some much needed time together.

The possibilities are endless for the connections that we can create with one another. There is so much to share in each other’s lives that creating these connections will not only care for those in need but also build connections amongst the entire community. And is not this the reason why we are here?

No one comes to the synagogue to be alone and no one should feel alone when you are here. Therefore, allow us to revisit the questions I asked you when I began – What is truly essential in your Jewish life? What is it that you need to be and to feel Jewish? What is the core of Judaism as you understand it and as you need it in your life? What does it mean for you to be a part of the Jewish Community and of the TBS Family?

Can you fulfill Jewish obligations alone? Can you pray alone? Can you eat alone? Of course, yet, what brings us back to this place each year is the sense of being a part of the larger community, being a part of the Jewish family. What sustains our Jewish selves and our Jewish core begins with each other. And so, allow us to sustain it together. Allow us to build stronger connections through our monthly links and into the ever changing moments of our lives. Allow us to celebrate together and to be and do Jewish together.

Today, we join together during these High Holy Days, during this Rosh Hashanah, this new year, to contemplate what it is we hope to achieve in our Jewish lives. May our blessings be expanded to the connections we can create together and the vision we can make real and may we each be blessed in the Congregation we call family.

Peoplehood, What it Means – Erev Rosh Hashanah 5772

Remember the assignment the first day of school: ‘OK students, it’s time to talk about what you did over your summer vacation!’ The teachers might have us draw pictures or write stories, interview each other like we’re writing a newspaper article. But the question was always the same, ‘what did you do over your summer vacation?’

Tonight, I have the opportunity to share with you what I did over my summer Sabbatical. And I come before you with too much to share in one sermon, let alone five. I come before you with not only that which I will share over these High Holy Days, but what I hope we will be able to engage in over the entire year. For we cannot possibly expect to get our Judaism fix in only two days, but we can lay the foundation for what we hope to explore this year.

First, I have to say, thank you! Thank you all for the opportunity to take these past three months to refresh and reconnect. Thank you for the opportunity to live, study and grow in Israel. The last time I was in Israel for a long period of time, I was a student, alone, and immersed in my studies toward becoming a Rabbi. This time, I was not alone. Not only did I travel to Israel with my family, but you were with me as well. After 13 years of experience with you, my congregation, I brought you into my studies and travels considering how I might bring it back and share it with you.  While it was personally enriching, I hope that it will be communally fulfilling as well. For what I learned over my summer Sabbatical is not only for me, but also for all of us to explore.

This summer I realized that the conversation we need to engage in over these High Holy Days and over this coming year is one of, amiyut, or peoplehood. But what is peoplehood? I can say that my spell check is not happy with this word for it insists that it does not exist. Nor, in Hebrew, is amiyut, really a word. True, both use the word “people” or “am”, but what is peoplehood? The dictionary defines it as a noun

1. the state or condition of being a people.

2. the consciousness of certain beliefs or characteristics that make one part of a people;  sense of belonging to a people.

As we sit here in this sanctuary over the High Holy Days, we cannot help but feel a part of the larger community. We cannot help but feel connected because we are surrounded with so many in our Jewish community. It is safe, it is awesome, and it feels good. There’s nothing more satisfying than being together, seeing old and new friends all in one place. It lifts our spirits and automatically, we are transformed into the place of feeling like we belong because we are sitting here together. Peoplehood is easy when we are all together on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is exciting to see where we have come as the Jewish people.

While I was in Israel, Matt and I took Dahvi and Yoni around to all these amazing historical sites. Archaeological excavations uncovered ancient cities in which we were transported to where the Israelites studied, prayed, worked, socialized and lived. In these places, like Masada, Caesarea, Beit Shean, Akko, Tzefat, Beit Guvrin, Moresheh, Jerusalem, just to name a few, we would recount the lives of our ancestors the Israelites, who not only lived in these places, but fought for their existence and were even expelled.

“(*)Look, here at the place where the Israelites worshipped freely until the Babylonians came in and destroyed their homes and sent the Israelites into exile.  (*)Look, here at the synagogues and schools that the Israelites, who returned from exile in Babylonia, established when they returned.  (*)See the great amphitheaters and cities that the Israelites built in response to that which was being created in places like Greece and Rome.  (*)Look kids, this is where the Zealots fought the Roman legions as Jerusalem was being destroyed. (*)This is where the people stood against the great armies, the few against the many, holding on to what the believed until the fateful night when they took their lives rather than be taken as slaves or killed by the Romans.  (*)And here is where Israel’s Declaration of Independence was written and read for the world to hear.  (*)It was here where the Israelites fought against those who sought to destroy her in 1948, 1967, 1972 and even where the missiles land today and the shelters to which the people run and pray to be safe.  (*)Look, at this vast country that for thousands of years, so small and whose people seemed so insignificant, has survived time and time again. (*)And look, how today Israel is a leading nation in technology and scientific development. How the people who so many have sought and still seek to destroy stands so strong and stable. But remember, Dahvi and Yoni, while it may seem that Israel stands on her own with such strength, it is only because all of am Yisrael, the people of Israel, whether in the land or throughout the world, are connected to her and support her that she survives. It is through peoplehood that not only will the land survive, but that we will survive.” And yes, during a time in which peace seems to be so distant between Israel and her neighbors; where the Palestinian people seek their own nation yet only through a unilateral declaration of independence, without regard for a peace process, we have to hope that Israel and her neighbors will some day find peace and security. The issues are so complex it seems so easy for us to say what we think should happen from across the ocean. We may not be able to fix the issues of peace, but we can and we should voice our support for Israel for she is and has been the home of the Jewish people for generations.

In a world of archaeological artifacts and digs, we can uncover our past, but we have to take those shards of pottery and build our future. So where is it that peoplehood began? And where is it going and where will it take us?

Let’s start at the very beginning. Adam and Eve. God created the world, created all of the creatures and finally, on the last day, God created humans, Adam and Eve. But unfortunately, this first attempt to create them was not good. And with that, God started over again with Noah and his family – it was God’s “do over.” But even after that, we read in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Bavel.

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they lived there. And they said to one another, Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had bricks for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower; whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4)

Again, there needs to be a do-over, but not by destroying the people, rather, spreading them out throughout the world through speech and land.

But then we come to Avram who will become Avraham – who enters into an eternal covenant with God. What does he get with this covenant? That God will bless him and make him a great nation. God will multiply his seed and bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him and his family. And in our Torah portion which we will read tomorrow, the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, the great final test of Abraham, what does he receive for his loyalty to God? The same blessing as when Abraham and God first met; that he should be a great nation and that God will multiply his seed and bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. This is a covenant of lineage and a statement that what it means to be a part of the people is to be a part of the family – it is not about what one does or how one acts. This Genesis covenant of peoplehood is not about how you act, rather it is who you are related to and there is no getting out of it. This is an eternal covenant.

But there is a shift in Exodus. Moses and God meet at a burning bush and God is introduced through the ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that is as far as the blood lines go. Rather God turns to the connection with the people by hearing the plight of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. They cried out and God answers by telling Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, “let My people go that they may worship Me.”

God wants more of the people than just being a part of the family. Now God is seeking that the people do something to be a part of the peoplehood. The identity of the Jewish people in the Exodus model is no longer just about saying that we were born into it. No, now, if we want to truly be a part of the covenant, our identity must be linked to our experiences and actions.

Our Genesis and Exodus models present us today with two ways of identifying ourselves as Jews. Through Genesis, Jewish identity is through birth and identifying as a part of the family. Through Exodus, one may identify as a Jew through action. Yet, where are we today? Where are you today?

Is the Genesis model becoming irrelevant? Some may challenge that it may even feel racist in that it is a closed model – you are born into it. Is the Exodus model too challenging or inaccessible? Many times people do not want to take the time to learn and do, especially in the lives we have created for ourselves today – we just don’t have time with everything else we have to do.

But as a synagogue community, we are in the best position to examine our peoplehood and our identity as the Jewish community. The Genesis model is disappearing. “Based on current intermarriage rates and the average number of Jewish children per family, the chances of young, contemporary Jews having Jewish grandchildren and Jewish great-grandchildren, with the exception of the Orthodox, are extremely remote.”[1] We then must consider that it is not enough to be Jewish just by being born a Jew, but rather, being Jewish is by acting and engaging in Judaism and Jewish peoplehood.

So I challenge us with a very simple question: Why should we be Jewish? Unfortunately, there is no one reason. We can talk about how to be Jewish but there is no real reason about why to be Jewish. That, we must decide on our own and this we will study together tomorrow.

What does it mean to be a part of peoplehood? That too is something that each of us sitting here tonight will have to examine and challenge oneself with. Is it enough to just say, “I am a Jew?”

Over these next ten days, I want to challenge us to consider what our definition is of peoplehood. We are going to explore our community and how we are each important pieces in the TBS community, the Orange County community and the community of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad. We will explore the challenges of anti-Semitism as it exists today as well as examining justice versus righteousness through the story of Jonah. And finally, we will sit at the feet of the teachers who came before us, listen to the words and the lessons they shared with us and what we will take into this next year.

Peoplehood may be frustrating to my computer’s spell check, but it is crucial that it is a part of our vocabulary today and tomorrow. Be assured, this examination of identity and peoplehood is not a conversation that is unique to our generation. No, this is a conversation that has been going on for many generations and will be held in generations to come. The glass is not half empty, the Jewish people are not going any where soon. But today, the Jewish people are at a crossroads at which we have the amazing opportunity to redefine who we are and how we are Jews in the year 2011/5772.

Look kids, yes, there are many places where they tried to destroy us, but this is the place where we still stand strong. Now go and plant your seed.


[1] The information provided by a culminating conclusion of a research article co-authored by Antony Gordon and Richard Horowitz

High Holy Day Seating Request

This was sent to me and I have to say, I couldn’t resist. I shared it with the staff and worship committee last night and told them to please fill these out and that we will send them on to the congregation as well.  The look on our Membership/Program Director’s face was priceles!

 

TBS SYNAGOGUE SEATING REQUEST FORM FOR HIGH HOLY DAYS

During the last holiday season, many individuals expressed concern
about the seating arrangements in the synagogue. In order for us to
place you in a seat which will best suit you, we ask you to complete
the following questionnaire and return it to the synagogue office as
soon as possible.

1. I would prefer to sit in the… (Check one:)
___ Talking section
___ No talking section

2. If talking, which category do you prefer?
(Indicate order of interest:)
___ Stock market
___ Sports
___ Medicine
___ General gossip
___ Specific gossip (choose from below:)
___ The rabbi
___ The cantor
___ The cantor’s voice
___ The cantor’s significant other
___ The rabbis significant other
___ Fashion news
___ What others are wearing
___ Why they look awful
___ My neighbors
___ My relatives
___ My neighbors’ relatives
___ Presidential Election, results from
___ Who is cheating on/having an affair with whom

_____ My children/grandchildren
___ Other:_______________________________

3. Which of the following would you like to be near for free
professional advice?
__ Doctor
__ Dentist
__ Nutritionist
__ Psychiatrist
__ Child psychiatrist
__ Podiatrist
__ Chiropractor
__ Stockbroker
__ Accountant
__ Lawyer, General Practice
__ Criminal Lawyer
__ Civil Lawyer
__ Real estate agent
__ Architect
__ Plumber
__ Buyer (Specify store:_____________ )
__ Sexologist (??)
__ Golf pro [tentative; we’re still trying to find a Jewish One]
__ Other:____________________________

4. I want a seat located (Indicate order of priority:)
__ On the aisle
__ Near the exit
__ Near the window
__ In Aruba
__ Near the bathroom
__ Near my in-laws
__ As far away from my in-laws as possible
__ As far away from my ex-in-laws as possible
__ Near the pulpit
__ Near the Kiddush table (not applicable on Yom Kippur)
__ Near single men
__ Near available women
__ Where no one on the bimah can see/hear me talking during services
__ Where no one will notice me sleeping during services
__ Where I can sleep during the rabbi’s sermon [additional charge]

___ Where I can use my blackberry (SHHHH)


5. (Orthodox only.) I would like a seat where:
__ I can see my spouse over the mechitza
__ I cannot see my spouse over the mechitza
__ I can see my friend’s spouse over the mechitza
__ My spouse cannot see me looking at my friend’s spouse over the
mechitza

6. Please do not place me anywhere near the following people:
(Limit of six; if you require more space, you may wish to consider
joining another congregation.)

Your name:_________________________________
Building fund pledge (acknowledging and in grateful appreciation for this change): $________________________

 

What I Did On My Summer Sabbatical

The following is an article written for the TBS Kol Sholom.

Since coming to Temple Beth Sholom in 1998, I have been privileged to be a part of each of your lives, both collectively and individually in times of simcha and sorrow, celebrations and milestones in each of your lives. And now, in my 13th year, my Bat Mitzvah year, I am thankful to my congregational family for giving me my first Sabbatical since coming to TBS and my rabbinic career.

This sabbatical gave me the opportunity to do things that during my regular schedule I was not able to do. My summer sabbatical provided me with time to learn with colleagues, personal study and most importantly, reconnect with my family.

The first few weeks at home allowed me to participate in the daily lives of Dahvi and Yoni, something that I don’t regularly get to do. I was able to take them both to school each morning and be there for them in the afternoon. I volunteered in the end of year school activities and celebrated with Dahvi as she graduated from elementary school.

Our family spent a majority of our summer in Israel. During our time there, each of us took the opportunity to experience Israel in a very personal way. While it is always amazing to tour Israel and experience her beauty with groups of individuals visiting for the first time or the fifth, this summer we were able have to experience of living in Israel.

Both kids attended Israeli camps. Yoni attended Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem while Dahvi spent two weeks at an overnight camp, Camp Kimama, north of Netanya, on the Mediterranean coast. Both of them made new friends from all over the world and thanks to the internet, they will be able to stay in touch with friends from Israel to France, Canada, and even Japan.

Matt took the opportunity to explore Jerusalem with friends also in the country and experience the Israel weekly life rhythm.

I spent time studying with colleagues from not only the Reform movement, but rabbis from every movement and country. From 8:30 in the morning to 10:00 at night, I studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Mornings began with the teacher of the day presenting us with a topic and a packet of texts. For two hours I joined in chevruta, small group study with colleagues, deciphering and challenging what the text said in light of the day’s topic. The teacher returned and unraveled the two hours we just spent wrestling with the text and wove it into a new perspective for us to consider and challenge yet again.

The afternoon was filled with more learning, dinner at home and then evening programs discussing the current state of affairs in Israel.

I came home each night from my classes excited about what I would share with the TBS community. And these High Holy Days, I look forward to sharing some of these thoughts with you and beginning the conversation that will take us into this next year.

This summer in Israel was not only in the text that I studied, but also in the text of the land and the people. We traveled throughout the entire country not only to see the places, but to connect with the people and communities. My goal was successfully achieved in creating connections in Israel that I will in turn share with the TBS and Orange County community. At every opportunity, I asked Israelis their opinions about peace, land, and the world. While I was hoping to find more defined answers that would help us understand the issues of the Middle East, I found that it is even more complicated than we can imagine, let alone solve. Yet, the discussion is extremely important and vital, even for us on the other side of the sea.

I also spent time meeting with Da’at Travel, our Israel travel coordinators, in creating a unique and exciting TBS Israel adult tour itinerary for this coming January.

These final weeks of my summer Sabbatical were spent preparing our family for reentry into our year activities: Dahvi going to a new school and preparing for her Bat Mitzvah this coming April. Yoni practicing his reading and gearing up for 2nd grade and his Tae Kwon Do Black Belt test this November. Matt getting ready to juggle the busy Cohen calendar. And me, I have already begun preparing for my High Holy Day sermons as well as looking forward to reconnecting with everyone at my TBS home.

Thank you for this summer. Thank you for these 13 years together. And thank you for the many years we have ahead of us.

 

Terrorism at Home

The mood in the country has been one of elation over the past two days. Since the announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden, people have poured into the streets and commented in Social Media about how proud they are to be an American. And yes, we are so proud of our men and women who serve our country to ensure that we are safe and free.  We pray that our country is a place where all people are treated with compassion and equality and that no one should ever try to take our freedom away from us through the heinous acts of terrorism that those like Osama Bin Laden have attempted. However, while one threat is no more, there are still those who seek to terrorize us and shake our freedom to the core. And they are not those who live across the ocean, rather, there are those who terrorize us and especially our children here at home.

Just this week, I received the following email from Kevin O’Grady, the Orange County Director of the Anti-Defamation League. What he shares is beyond disturbing and we cannot turn our backs on what is happening to our youth here in Orange County. I ask that you please read this carefully and follow the suggestions he shares with us. Let us be partners in not only fighting terrorism in the greater world, but especially here in our own neighborhoods. And please, if you need any support from me or our temple family, please call! We are, nor should we ever, be alone.  – Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen

Please read this entire email.  We need to work together as a community to fight the increase in anti-Semitic incidence being reported to ADL; incidents that often involve middle school students.  We are helping a family that called us this morning and I wanted to share their story as an example of attacks that have been reported to us recently.

 

  • A young boy (Jewish) came home from the park claiming that he had been beaten up by two boys (brothers).  The victim’s mother took her son to the boys’ home and tried to speak to the boys’ mother.  She refused to talk.

 

  • The victim’s mom reported the incident to the school that all of the boys attend.  The principal tried to resolve the issue with the boys.

 

  • That evening the bullies’ father went over to the Jewish family’s home and started screaming profanity and using anti-Semitic slurs.  Again, the victim’s father attempted to resolve the dispute amicably and was rebuffed with more slurs.

 

  • The bullies continued to pick on the young Jewish boy and made fun of his Star of David to the point that he was afraid to leave the house. On one occasion he was beaten so badly his parents called the police.

 

  • Last night when the Jewish family left their home by car, the neighbor followed them, pulled up beside them and yelled anti-Semitic slurs.  The Jewish family pulled over to the side of the road and the father got out of the car to confront his neighbor.  The neighbor attempted to attack him with a hammer while screaming anti-Semitic and racist slurs and making other statements that identified him as a white supremacist. He left before police arrived and he is now being sought by law enforcement.

 

  • When I received the call this morning, I immediately contacted the family to assure them ADL would work to protect them.  I then contacted the police to follow-up on the search for the attacker.  Following that, I contacted the hate crime unit of the Victims’ Assistance.  The family will be assigned an advocate who will work with them to get a restraining order and advocate for them as the process moves forward.  As soon as the DA gets involved, we will work with them to bring the perpetrator to trial.

 

This is not an isolated incident.  We recently supported a Jewish family whose son was bullied and beaten so badly he left his school.  Another Jewish high school student was bullied and received a death threat.  A 6th grade girl in Long Beach was shown a picture of Hitler and told it was the last thing she would see before she died. We’ve had at least three calls during the last two months from parents whose sons have been called anti-Semitic names and had pennies thrown at them so other students “could watch the Jews pick up the pennies.”  Another Jewish middle school student in Villa Park was kicked to the ground and had his glasses knocked off when he refused to take a bible from an evangelist outside of the school (a fellow student attacked him, not the evangelist).

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  1. Please report any incident of anti-Semitism you hear about even if you don’t think it’s significant. These reports help us identify patterns and work with law enforcement to put resources in place to combat the incidents.
  2. If you hear your kids or your friends’ kids talk about being called names, don’t let them dismiss it as “joking.” Contact the school and contact us. We will work with the school to assure the administration follows up and takes the incident seriously.
  3. Encourage your friends to report incidents to us even if they don’t think it’s significant.  ADL is the expert on anti-Semitism; let us help you decide if something rises to the level of anti-Semitism.
  4. If you are the victim of a hate crime (when you are the victim of a crime because of your Judaism) call 911 immediately. Work with law enforcement. Let us know as soon as possible.  We have relationships with all of the police depts., Victims’ Assistance, and the DA’s office.  We can help you in many ways.
  5. Forward this email to your friends.

 

I have never sent an email like this before, but I haven’t seen this level of anti-Semitism since I have been at ADL.  Rabbi Steinberg and I are working to create a community symposium to provide education on anti-Semitism and ways to combat it, but that is in the future.  In the meantime, please report any and all anti-Semitic incidents to ADL.

Kevin S. O’Grady, Ed.D.

Regional Director, Orange County/Long Beach

Anti-Defamation League

714-953-2860

kogrady@adl.org www.adl.org

 

It began with music and it set with music

After this morning’s breakfast and discussion about the future of the Reform Machzor, the day opened with an inspiring service with music set by Noam Katz, Katie Bauman, and Larry Englander. Dan Medwin brought Visual T’fillah to life and allowed all the service participants to look up. We were given the opportunity to actually look at the bima and at faces of those around us. It was a moment of being a part of the larger community rather than with our eyes only in the book.

Noam, Katie and Larry brought inspirational music to our lips. Some of the music was familiar while other settings were new. What was exciting was how everyone in the room tried out the new tunes embracing something different and engaging in new harmony. As we were reminded, rabbis were lay participants today, and that was awesome!

The music continued in the form of study and yes, in the form of the state of the movement addresses by the CEO of the CCAR, Steve Fox, and the newly installed President, Jonathan Stein. One voice cannot stand out alone in our movement, rather, the harmony of multiple voices are needed to truly remind us, as Steve Fox said in his remarks, “continue to reform Reform Judaism.”

Finally, the evening closed as we wandered the vibrant streets of the French Quarter arriving at the historical Preservation Hall. In this small, what seemed to once be two room, now one “larger” room, hall, New Orleans life exhaled. This is the voice of New Orleans. This is where the music of generations past and generations in the future are inspired and motivated to create, dream and live. This was where 50-75 individuals, sitting and standing in a small space were enveloped in the music of the Hall musicians and let go of concern for personal space and were entranced by the moment.

Preservation Hall should be an inspiration for us, our congregations, and today’s Jewish life. It reminds us that there is beauty in the oldies, yet there is life left to be breathed into each note. That sometimes, following musical notations as written is not enough. You have to feel the moment, let it wash over you and then groove with it. What comes out may surprise you, and it can bless.

Let the Convention Begin

And here we are! 100s of rabbis in one place. Trying to get all of these rabbis into the opening program is always a challenge – we love to shmooze! But here we are.

The programming is going to be amazing and of course high tech. Follow us on twitter, #ccar11, and even check out the questions we have to discussions shared during the programming.

Now let us come together, give thanks for this opportunity to study, shmooze and share.

— RavIma

Pekudei – What Makes You Whole?

What makes us whole? Is it good health – mind and body? Is it combining our mind with our soul? When do we feel complete? When we succeed in completing a great task? When do we feel satisfied? When we look upon the work that we’ve completed and feel that our goal is achieved?

We end the reading of the book of Exodus this week with the completion of the building of the Tabernacle. It has taken the better part of the year for the Israelites to bring the gifts that were so moved by their hearts, to construct and weave all of the walls and tapestries, and finally to raise the Tabernacle so that God might dwell with the people rather than away.

Each person’s contributions are counted in not only what they bring for the building, but also how they are counted by the half shekel. Yet the Tabernacle is referred to as ha-mishkan echad, the one Tabernacle, the whole Tabernacle. The half shekel that each person brings is symbolic in that we are not whole or complete without God’s presence. Hence, ha-mishkan echad, the Tabernacle helps to complete us by bringing God’s presence to us…with us.

For the Israelites alone in the desert, it was significant for them to not only believe that God was with them, but to also experience God with them. This brought them a sense of wholeness and completeness.

Today, the Tabernacle does not exist, yet our synagogue and our Jewish community does. Yet, how does belonging to the synagogue and community allow us to feel whole and complete?

Some might expect an “ah-ha!” moment, something that says, ‘of course this is what exists.’ But most have to search more deeply for the connection, work harder to experience the “ah-ha!” moment. If we are waiting for it to just happen, I’m sorry to say that we might be waiting for a long time. Hence why it was the Israelites who had to bring the gifts that so moved their hearts. Why they had use the work of their hands to create the community.

Our Torah and our lesson today is that we do not find completeness, wholeness or connection just by standing there and waiting for it to happen. We have to make it happen.

How are you making it happen? How are you connecting to the community? What are you doing to help create “ah-ha!” moments? Please share them with us by leaving a comment.

Here’s to all of our “ah-ha!” moments.