Monday, June 29, 2009

JCB Vision

This is a working draft of a mission statement for our JCB community. Your comments and suggestions would be most appreciated.
The history of Long Island synagogue life is a history built on a shtetl model of old. Synagogues were built around town identities. Synagogues focused on their functions (specifically what services they provided) rather than their visions. Once a town's Jewish population reached a critical mass a synagogue was formed to fill the needs of the area's Jews. This shtetl model is bankrupt and will fail to guarantee the future of Long Island synagogue life. Let us instead recapture the personal connections and warmth of shtetl life without its pitfalls, namely the dependence on one town's Jewish population. Let us help our fellow Jews find a synagogue not out of convenience but rather out of commitment, where they are attracted to the synagogue's vision and mission. In our mobile society where people drive to the best store, restaurant, show or beach why should they not as well drive to the best synagogue? With a one day per week Hebrew School why should families not be willing to drive to a centrally located synagogue that is in keeping with their vision?
The JCB revolves around the following principles:
1. A community built on personal connections, warmth and intimacy where not only the rabbi but fellow members know each other in order to support one another in times of crisis and help lift each other higher at simchas. In keeping with this principle our congregation only schedules solo bar/bat mitzvah celebrations. We are also an inclusive community welcoming interfaith couples and encouraging both partners' participation in the life of the synagogue.
2. Our Shabbat and holiday services provide a respite from the world's troubles. Our services are meditative, joyful, inspiring, intellectually stimulating and participatory where music and song, teaching and poetry play central roles.
3. The backbone of our community is lay involvement. We are energized by the ideas of our members and welcome the participation of all.
4. We are a learning congregation. Our Hebrew School is built on the ethic that only learning that is enjoyed is learned well. In addition we offer a myriad of adult education programming. Jewish learning--talmud torah--must not stop at the age of 13 years. Our learning enables us to become better Jews, but also better citizens, more educated about the issues our country faces and more in tune with cultural phenomena. We are open to learning from all streams of thought, both Jewish and secular, modern and ancient.
5. We are committed to the world around us through the values of tzedakah, gemilut hasadim, and tikkun olam. We are committed to helping our neighbors, both those who live nearby and those who live in distant lands, especially those connected to us by our shared Jewish traditions. We seek to maintain a deep connection to the land and State of Israel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama and the Muslim World

I have been meaning to write for some time about President Obama's speech in Cairo and his trip to the Arab world the first week of June. First, a brief moment of relish. For me one of the most remarkable photos was that of Obama sitting to the left of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and to his right, Rahm Emanuel. I know Emanuel no longer lives in Israel. He is instead the White House chief of staff. Still you have to smile when you think about the symbolism of a Jew (and an Israeli) sitting next to Saudi Arabia's king...
Regarding President Obama's speech there is much to be said. There are positives and there are negatives. Let us first say loud and clear that Obama deserves enormous credit for traveling to the heart of Islam and speaking there words of passion and truth. Saying here is far less important than saying there words such as these. "The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer." President Bush rightly saw the world in clear, bold lines between good and evil, friend and enemy. Let us not be naive. We have enemies. Yet how we see the world is not always how we should deal with the world and so a new strategy was required. We do not know yet if Obama's new approach will produce positive results, but if the elections in Lebanon and the simmering of revolt in Iran are measures then we can allow ourselves to be cautiously optimistic. Where the speech failed was in its treatment of Israel. It was not that he called for a Palestinian state or even in the abandonment of settlements (although I would qualify settlements to include only isolated settlements--both geographically and ideologically). My disappointment was instead in his misunderstanding of Zionism. President Obama spoke of Jewish suffering as that which lends legitimacy to the modern State of Israel. I wish Emanuel had whispered in his ear the following: It is also the United Nations (remember the vote on Partition), the Bible, Jewish history, the Hebrew language. It is the fact Jewish life begins and ends in Jerusalem and the land of Israel. It has always been our focus. It was once our dream. Now it is our reality. Despite these misgivings I conclude with our prayers who wrap words of hopes in the stones of Jerusalem. Words can change worlds. Words can move mountains. Peace begins with the word shalom echoing forth from the land of Israel.