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Love from Iraq

I just got off skype with Daniel, the Captain of the unit Temple Beth Sholom adopted.  It was so wonderful to see him and spend some time catching up.

All of Daniel’s troops are doing great!  In fact, his unit was just given an accommodation for being so well run and not having had an serious incidents!  Daniel is extremely proud of all of them and the work they are doing.

Right now, the unit and everyone on the base are working toward getting things together for the Iraqi people to be able to take care of themselves.  He is so proud of all the work they are doing and the Iraqi people are gracious for the assistance they are receiving.  When Daniel first went to Iraq, they used bullets to communicate, but now, they are using words to share knowledge and strategies to allow the country to finally be under its own rule.  The possibilities are exciting for Daniel and all the troops serving.

I asked Daniel if he heard about the company citing Biblical verses on their equipment. He jumped up saying, “you have to see this!” He pulled out a very expensive gun sight that he says is top of the line.  However, he refuses to use it because it has a Biblical verse printed on the side.  It says, “Numbers 8:12” which reads, “The Levites shall now lay their hands upon the heads of the bulls; one shall be offered to God as a purgation offering and the other as a burnt offering, to make expiation for the Levites.”

While Daniel’s high powered sight has a verse from the Hebrew Bible printed on his equipment, still the idea of using it is out of the question for him.  He is appalled that someone sees fit to use their Christian Evangelical beliefs to justify printing such verses on military equipment.  There have been those from Trijicon, the equipment company, who say that our military personnel are fighting a holy war.  Is this not what the Muslim fundamentalists also say? Therefore, this high powered sight remains in its case in Daniel’s room.  Thank goodness he’s in a relatively safe place.

He is very open about his Jewish identity, with his travel mezuzah (a gift from TBS) hanging on his room door.   It gives him a closer connection to home being that he is the only Jew on his base.  He celebrates the holidays from there and I’m sure he’ll have to skype with his parents for Passover seder, for as he said, “if I’m not at my parent’s house for seder, I’ll get my tuchus kicked.”  And we can expect to see him at services at TBS.  He loved our services here last summer and then in December because it was exciting and fun.  It was not what he remembered from childhood and it lifted his spirit.

Hey, this is what I’ve been trying to remind people – Shabbat services are not your childhood Shabbat services.  They are lively and fun! They should lift our spirits so that we’re not bored.  Trust me, if their boring, then I’m bored too.  And no one wants a bored rabbi! Maybe Daniel’s enthusiasm could inspire more people to come out and try it again.

Daniel will be returning for R&R in a couple of weeks.  Hopefully, we will see him for Purim. He’s so excited to come back to see us all and we will be very excited to see him as well.

Until then, there is love coming from Iraq, and we’re sending lots of love to Iraq and all of Daniel’s troops!

Why I Like Rabbi Conferences – Especially PARR

Every year, the first Sunday after the New Year, about 150 rabbis converge on Palm Springs.  No, we are not here for the Film Festival.  Although, I must admit, I have stolen away to one film a few years ago with Jill.  Instead, we are here to recharge our batteries, be inspired, inspire each other, and return to our home congregations with new life, new visions, and new breath.

This year I feel more connected with this conference unlike any other year.  This is the first year since becoming the Senior Rabbi for Temple Beth Sholom that I have been able to be here for the full conference. (Granted, the conference goes until Thursday, but it seems that many of us leave Wednesday afternoon/evening because of other work commitments.  It’s hard to be on winter vacation for two weeks and then say, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t be in the office for another few days.’)

But there is something about this year that has moved me more than any other year.  I am walking out of sessions inspired to return to the congregational family with new ideas and goals we should aspire to achieve.

As my colleague mentioned on our walk back from dinner – it’s like every person who has gotten up to speak about his or her cause is speaking with more passion than ever before.  And we, the listener, want to take it back with us and infuse it into our congregations, right now!

Infusion has to be a process though and has to take time to develop and carefully integrate into our already dynamic Jewish life.  I find that I want to challenge the congregation to consider what Rabbis Steve Fox and Debbie Prinz asked us to do – ask yourself what worries you about the future?  What are the things that most concern you and where do you want to see change in your life in the next few years?  This does not have to necessarily be Jewish concern, but being rabbis, it tended to lead itself right back to that area.

Then there is the location of this gathering.  The beautiful desert setting of Palm Springs.  Again, this year, things seemed a bit different.  I noticed more the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful place.

For this first time in 12 years, I finally took the Torah Trek with Rabbi Mike Cummins.  I am excited that we are doing more Shabbat hikes with TBS and this was an opportunity to learn from a master Jewish hiker.  Together with two fellow trekkers, we drove out to the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.  Our hike took us on the Andreas Canyon Trail – winding through a canyon of granite, palm trees, and streams.  The sights and smells of each step were incredible and I felt connected to not only the world around me, but God as well.  As Mike suggests, if you can’t see God in this place, maybe it’s more that God can’t see you.

And just when you think the night is over and you’re ready to go to sleep, the guitars come out, the voices rise up and rabbis serenade the few other hotel guests who share the space with us.  No, the text is not always Talmud or Torah.  It is also James Taylor, Peter, Paul and Mary, and even a Bob Dillan song thrown in for good measure.

I am refreshed, I am inspired, and I am ready.  A few more hours of study, prayer and friends and I get to take it all back home to share.

Yes, I like Rabbi Conferences – especially PARR.

PS you can follow us on Twitter at #parr10. 🙂