Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I read Tom Friedman's column in this morning's New York Times with great interest. You can read the column here. He discusses an Israeli inventor, Shai Agassi, who may very well change the way we drive around our suburbs. You can read Agassi's blog here. I am unsure what I think about Agassi's idea—although it stirs my Jewish kishkes that he is Israeli. I have been driving a car and filling a car with gas for nearly thirty years. It is hard to imagine breaking such habits. I am unsure if the idea can even work. Yet his idea gives me hope. It says: there are people who are trying to change the way we get to and from places so that we can alter our dependence on oil. There are people who understand that we must change course. It saddens me that the American auto industry fails to grasp how much it must turn, that the world needs it to change. This industry should be leading us. I should be reading about their inventions instead of their need for billions of dollars. Detroit helped to build this country. Henry Ford revolutionized the industrial world. Yes I am aware and it is impossible to forget that he used his profits for evil ends when he distributed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But in the ark of a Detroit synagogue—hmm could that be my brother's synagogue?—there rests a Torah donated by Henry Ford's great grandson. In that Torah are to be found the teachings of hope and our capacity to change. We can change. We must change. Whether or not it will be Agassi's idea or another's, Hummers should no longer dot our suburban landscape. I hope GM, Chrysler and Ford can recover the leadership they once offered this country and lead us through the next revolution in driving. I hope my grandchildren have to ask me, "Grandpa, what is a gas station?" I hope they don't have to ask me "What is a Ford?"
There is so much information to be found on the internet. Some of it is excellent. Some of it should never be published. So I have added a new feature to my blog. On the right sidebar you will find the Shared Blogroll. It lists worthy articles from the many blogs I now read. You can view the complete list of shared articles by clicking on "Read more…" Lately, I have found the most interesting articles on The Jerusalem Post and Jewcy. There is a wide variety of opinions out there and I try to read those that I agree with and especially those that I disagree with. The danger of the internet is that you can surround yourself with agreement. You can find thousands and thousands of people who share your opinions. You can find a web page devoted to whatever esoteric interest (or obsession) you might have. And if not, you can write a blog and then your opinion and your interest seem to magically gain legitimacy, authority and approval. (Hmm...) But countless internet pages do not make an idea true. The task is to find ideas that challenge your notions, to build your opinions on new and different ideas. I want to be shaped by ideas, not shape my ideas around like minded opinions. My soul is nourished by machloket l'shem shamayim—arguments for the sake of heaven.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
This past weekend we celebrated my son becoming a bar mitzvah. What follows is part of what I said to him... While it is true that Shira made me a father, you Ari made me a man. I know this might sound strange and that most people think that you become a man on your bar mitzvah or better when you get married or perhaps when you get your first job, but for me becoming a man is realized when there is another young man watching you and following you. It is one thing to have a father looking over your shoulder and saying, “Did you remember to do your homework?” Or, a grandfather who might say, “Give your grandmother a kiss.” It is quite another matter when it is a son looking over your shoulder. My son watches me like the king in the Torah portion Toldot. You watch me and I feel your perceptive stare and I feel your mind thinking, how do I speak to my Susie, how do I talk to my parents, how do I comfort my congregants, how do I treat strangers? Ari, having you as my son makes me a better man. Every day I thank God for my family. On this day I especially thank God that you are my son. I have a son who is a lot like me and a little not like me. I have a son who is loving and caring, honest and forthright, a son unafraid to challenge me and perceptive beyond his years. Ari you are a blessing. And I thank God for bringing you into our lives. Ari, I love you.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Hadassah Magazine November 2008
Like my grandfather, I am a proud Jew and a proud American, but there is something else in my pocket that defines who I am. Though I am a rabbi of a congregation, I don't carry the keys to a synagogue in my pocket. Instead, I carry the keys to a church--the Brookville Reformed Church on the North of Long Island, founded over 270 years ago. For over 10 years Reverend Allan Ramirez and his congregation have allowed my community to meet there for Shabbat and holidays. I doubt the original founders of this church could have imagined that one day a rabbi would lead a Jewish congregation in song and prayer, that the Hebrew words of the Jewish tradition and the melodies of my grandfather's past would fill the church sanctuary. This, too, is what is good and noble about this country. Here in the United States, a church can help sustain a synagogue. Christians can say to Jews, "Come, fill our home with your melodies." Some days I look out of the window of my study and I see my son, Ari, and his best friend, Hugh O'Connor, sitting on the curb talking. Ari tells me that they are talking about religion. I suspect they are talking about girls and sports. As I watch them, I reach into my pocket and finger the church keys. They are a reminder that in the United States it is natural and normal that a Jew and a Christian are best friends. One day soon, my synagogue will have its own building. Still, I hope Reverend Ramirez will let me to keep the church keys so that they might forever remain in my pocket and forever remind me of what I love about this country to which my grandparents brought my family.
The complete article can be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
1. How do the candidates differ on questions of Jewish concern? Where do they stand on such issues as abortion rights and the separation of church and state?
2. Who are the candidates' chief foreign policy advisors? Do they share my love and commitment to the State of Israel--even though Israel will not be my primary concern on this election day? Do they understand the threat Iran represents to the world?
3. An editorial arguing why you should vote for John McCain.
4. An editorial arguing why you should vote for Barack Obama.
I hope these articles help you make your decision on November 4th.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
There is a debate within the rabbinic community whether or not a rabbi should endorse a candidate. My friend, Rabbi Sam Gordon of Chicago, has publicly endorsed Barack Obama and helped found the organization Rabbis for Obama. Others have endorsed John McCain. Take a look at the recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about rabbis making political endorsements and that on the Hartman Institute Blog about Rabbi Gordon. I disagree with my friend! The role of the rabbi is to teach and to interpret our tradition. At times—especially in current times—his role is to interpret Judaism as it applies to the issues of the day, presenting to his congregation a coherent Jewish vision. For a rabbi to ignore our nation's problems and speak only of Shabbat and holidays is to suggest that our beloved tradition has nothing to say to the pressings problems of our generation. Judaism must speak to modernity! What does Judaism say about the environment? What can our tradition offer us in trying economic times? Each rabbi must interpret the tradition for his congregants and help them synthesize Judaism with modernity. To endorse is to move beyond interpretation and attempt to make decisions for our congregants. In a country that believes in individual rights this is inappropriate. I share my interpretations with my congregation. My vote remains private.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
For years I have avoided discussing politics from the bima, but this year is different. I can no longer remain silent. We must listen to the words of our tradition. We must allow Judaism to speak to the issues of our day. If Judaism is only about Torah portions and candle lighting times then it will become irrelevant. It must speak to our country's greatest problems. In addition to the economy there are four issues that most concern me.
1) The State of Israel. I worry about Israel's security. I worry about the dangers of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbullah and the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless I will not be thinking about Israel on Novemer 4th. Here is why. It is not good for Israel and it is not good for American Jews to portray Israel as a needy, younger sister. Israel is not the perennial victim. It is a strong, vibrant country. It is a country I deeply love. The idea of Zionism is that the Jewish people will write its own history in a country of its own. That is what it means to have a Jewish State. When I vote I must think first of the problems here not there.
2) Medical Issues. It is deeply troubling that one in six Americans does not have adequate health care. It is also deeply troubling that others wish to push on their others their religious definition of the beginning of life. My religion tells me something different. Judaism teaches that the fetus is holy but not of the same moral value as the mother's. When there is a conflict between the two Judaism chooses the mother's life. Regarding stem cells I do not understand how some cannot make the moral distinction between a few cells and that of a living person. While again these cells are holy they are not of the same value. Judaism values pikuah nefesh--the saving of a life and we should do everything in our power to save life.
3) The Wars. We had every moral right to attack and invade Afghanistan. It was from there that the 9-11 attacks were planned. But how is it that we allowed bin Laden to escape to Pakistan? Regarding the war in Iraq that I once supported I offer this confession. I was wrong because it distracted us from our primary moral objective: the destruction of Al Qaeda. I was wrong because there we allowed torture and the subversion of the rule of law to take root. Adding Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to the Arab lexicon has undermined our moral authority.
4) The Environment. The issue about which I most concerned is the environment. Judaism teaches that we are custodians of this God given world. I believe the science is irrefutable. We are destroying our world. We need to wean ourselves off of Arab oil because it is destroying the environment and it is feeding our enemies hatred. I fail to understand how we can fight wars against enemies supported by these Arab oil dollars. We should build alternative energy plants and design better, more fuel efficient cars. (For more information about Judaisn and the environment, visit: COEJL.) We must do this for the sake of our children and grandchildren. This is our only world!
The full text of this sermon can be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.
The economy's downward spiral has us worried. We are worried about our savings. We are worried about our retirement accounts. I am worried about my bank accounts too. But I am not an economist. I am a rabbi. As a rabbi the question is not where should I invest but how can I best respond to this crisis? There are two Jewish responses to this economic crisis.
1) We must continue to give tzedakah. Judaism insists that we never ignore the poor and hungry. It is far easier to be a tzaddik during years of plenty. These years of trial will be our test. History will judge us by how we respond to these years. Will we only think of our dwindling savings or will we think of those less fortunate than ourselves? We will have less, but others will have even less. I have always been a supporter of Mazon. Mazon distributes grants to organizations that help to alleviate hunger. We must think of others. We must not turn aside. We must give tzedakah.
2) We must also not ignore the needs of our own souls. We must nourish our spiritual selves. Shabbat is Judaism's gift to the world. We are given the seventh day to recharge our batteries and to refresh our souls. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav taught: "During the week we speak of wealth and work, of worries and wants. Our weekday talk proclaims imperfection: we often focus on what we lack or have yet to accomplish, on how we would like things to be other than as they are. But when we speak of life’s blessings and joys—the talk of Shabbat—we speak of contentment, of fulfillment." We are given six days to worry about our world and one day to count our blessings. Shabbat helps to remind us of what is most important in our lives: our families, our friends. We must take this day to help restore the proper balance in our lives. We must celebrate Shabbat to reclaim the contentment of our souls.
By giving tzedakah and celebrating Shabbat we will not only survive these years of difficulty and trial, but will persevere.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The vision of our synagogue is built on three foundations:
1) A place to enjoy our Jewish learning--both children and adults. A synagogue must be a place where people can connect to their Jewish tradition and its values. It is a place where one can grapple with God and wrestle with questions of faith. For me it is a place where I both connect to the tradition my grandfather loved and continue to struggle with theological questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that the grandfather who most cared about my chanting from the Torah on my bar mitzvah could not live to see that day?
2) A community makes us better individuals. Judaism does not believe that we are at our best when by ourselves. It might bring us contentment to hike in nature and be at one with God's creation, but it does not make us better. Only others can make us better. Belonging to community helps us to look outside of ourselves and our own concerns and look to what matters to others. We need others to rejoice at simchas. We need others to comfort us when we mourn.
3) A congregation serves as a bridge between the milestones of our lives. For me this lesson was learned at a young age. The same rabbi who buried my grandfather officiated at my bar mitzvah. The rabbi and the congregation to which my family belonged connected these seemingly detached events. People seem to think that you can hire a rabbi for this event or that. When you belong to a congregation the events of your lives are connected to each other. The congregation is that bridge.
A central Jewish teaching is the idea that God gave each of us free will. We are free to do bad. We are free to do good. We are free to be a rasha (evil person). We are free to be a tzaddik (righteous person). The tradition serves as guide, helping us to choose good. But ultimately the choice rests on each of our shoulders. You can't blame God. You can't blame the devil. You can't blame your mother. People tend to take credit for their achievements but blame others for their failures. Judaism is adamant in its realism. The gift of the High Holidays is that we have these days to turn. Each of us can change. Often we cannot change by a simple act of will. We need the support of community. We need the encouragement of family and friends. Nonetheless our choices are our responsbility. The world rests on the choices each of us make.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
For me this despair was finally lifted when I listened to a friend and accompanied him to Mahane Yehuda. The market stalls were closed. In their place was a bar set up in the middle of the street filled with hundreds of Israelis smoking and drinking, dancing and singing. We listened together to a band playing a unique blend of jazz, Sephardic and Klezmer music. Here tears and despair do not last for months and years. This morning there were tears. Now there is only laughter and music. The streets and bars are filled with the noise of a city that loves life and celebration. Although today was the 17th of Tammuz yesterday's sadness no longer colored the air. This evening, joy was painted across the night sky with a glistening, although waning, full moon.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Saturday evening the city and its streets return to life. Shabbat goes out around 830 pm. By 9 pm people, cars and buses return to the streets. By 11 pm crowds fill the restaurants and cafes. Here the rhythm of Shabbat is mirrored in its architecture. The pulse of Jewish life moves through the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. This city, the soul of the Jewish people returns to activity. The smell of wild rosemary fills our nostrils as the memory of havdalah spices dissipate.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
I also enjoyed how much Israeli music was featured in the film. I am a big fan of Israeli hip hop, especially the popular group HaDag Nahash (Snake Fish). I thought you would enjoy the YouTube video of the song "Hene Ani Ba " (Here I Come) featured in the movie. Also be sure to check out the group's classic song, "Shirat HaStiker " (The Sticker Song). My love for Israel extends well beyond "Jerusalem of Gold."
And by the way I really love hummus!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Commentary: Counting Our Blessings
The Talmud teaches that a person who enjoys the pleasures of this world without reciting a blessing is like a thief who steals from God (Berakhot 35a). So the rabbis composed blessings for every imaginable event. Some are familiar, such as Ha-motzi on bread or the Sheheheyanu we recite on momentous occasions. Others are less familiar: on seeing a rainbow or the ocean or hearing thunder. We can even express gratitude for the fragrance of a rose....
I followed the rabbis’ counsel at Sam’s bar mitzva. An autistic boy with significant special needs, Sam fidgeted about the bima, picking at his talis, which agitated him at times. In lieu of a sermon, he read brief explanations of drawings of the Torah portion. Still, he touched the tzitzit to the exact place in the Torah and then recited the aliya blessing from memory. The congregation sang “Siman Tov,” but it did not seem appropriate to wish him the threefold hope of Jewish success: Torah, huppa and ma’asim tovim (good deeds). Instead, I recited the blessing: “Barukh Ata…meshaneh ha-beriyot, Blessed are You… Who makes the creations different” (Berakhot 58b). I did not know what else to say. Perhaps I should just have cried along with his parents.
But these ancient words seemed most appropriate to the occasion. They insist that we be grateful, that we thank God for what we have. Curiously, I stumbled over the words of the blessing. In Hebrew, a direct object is often separated from the verb by the untranslatable word et. This blessing lacks that. My sense of Hebrew grammar wanted to add the word, but the tradition codified the blessing without it. So I stammered. Then the blessing’s true import occurred to me: Perhaps the blessing is intentionally broken. Let those who are so at ease with the words of Hebrew blessings stumble.
Perhaps the purpose of this blessing is not to make me whole and force me to think of the perfect God and the extraordinary variety of His creation, but instead to make me broken and realize my imperfection. In that moment, Sam was not broken. In that moment of brokenness, I was the student and the young boy the teacher.
The complete article can also be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.
Commentary:Masters of Our Own Fate
This month, the State of Israel is celebrating its 60th birthday, and most Jews have grown accustomed to the nation’s existence. One day when I was teaching the kindergartners in my synagogue school, I asked them, “How old do you think Israel is?” “A thousand years.” “Oh, no,” I said. “Five thousand years?” They kept shouting out higher numbers. When I finally told them the correct answer, they stared at me in disbelief. I explained how the history of Israel is ancient, but the state is very young. I told them that some of their great-grandparents fought to make Israel an independent nation. Do we take Israel for granted? I hope not, since only in Israel can our freedom be wed to our ancient land. Only in Israel do Jewish rights and history come first and foremost....
Last summer, on one erev Shabbat, I strolled down the trendy Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. The day was winding down. There was very little traffic. People were carrying bouquets of flowers for their Shabbat tables and last-minute purchases of food and wine. I wandered into the rebuilt Cafe Hillel for an espresso and thought about the homicide bombing that had destroyed this restaurant on September 9, 2003. I thought of the lives that were shattered. But when I looked around, all I saw were smiles and all I could hear was laughing. Jerusalem is happiness built on ruins.
My weeks of study in Israel were framed by the minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, marking the day the Romans besieged this city, and three weeks later by the full fast day of Tisha B’Av, when Israel’s enemies destroyed the First and Second Temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E.
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, when Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations is chanted. In past years, I had gone to the Kotel on Tisha B’Av, the closest place to the ancient Temple’s site. This year, instead, I went to the Haas Promenade, which overlooks the village of Abu Tor and, in the distance, the southern side of the Old City, where members of a local Conservative synagogue gathered. Unlike the scene at the Wall, where the mood is mournful, this crowd of 400 recited ancient prayers and also modern songs, including Hannah Senesh’s impassioned “Eli, Eli.”
One would think that this holiday, too, would color the city’s mood, but the walls of the Old City were aglow. There may well be untold ruins beneath our feet, but despite ancient grief and ancient exiles, there is no ruin in the air. I revel in the songs of thousands of Jews. I rejoice that we have returned to this city. Israel writes Jewish history each and every day. Indeed, 60 years after its modern rebirth, Israel waves a finger at fate.
The complete article can also be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.