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Showing posts from April, 2010

Church Scandal

There are times when the power of theology bends reality and creates a better world for ourselves and our children.  And there are other times when theology blinds us and distorts reality.  The vision exalted by our prophets is an example of the former.  The latter describes the current situation of the Catholic Church.  Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King are as well examples of the power of theology to transform reality for the better.  Theology and faith in God can summon us to be better, can call us to transform our world.  Faith is intended to give us strength day in and day out.  It is our source of confidence during troubling times.  This is why it saddens me to read of the growing scandal in the Catholic Church.  Today I read yet another article about the church's handling of priests accused of pedophilia.  Pope Benedict appears to have addressed this issue more forthrightly than any of his predecessors.  Yet there still appears to be a tendency to b

Up in the Air

Up in the Air This Etgar Keret story is wonderfully funny. A quote to tantalize: "And strangely enough, for me, those flights don’t just mean eating the heated-up TV dinner that the sardonic copywriter for the airlines decided to call a “High Altitude Delight.” They’re a kind of meditative disengagement from the world. Flights are expansive moments when the phone doesn’t ring and the Internet doesn’t work. The maxim that flying time is wasted time liberates me from my anxieties and guilt feelings, and it strips me of all ambitions, leaving room for a different sort of existence. A happy, idiotic existence, the kind that doesn’t try to make the most of time but is satisfied with merely finding the most enjoyable way to spend it." The irony of our modern connected existence is of course just this, that you have to be flying at 28,000 feet in order to be free. Keret's description of reading the inflight catalog recalls a recent experience when my son Ari and I


This week’s Torah portion is Emor and describes the holiday cycle.  “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions…”  (Leviticus 23:2) Whereas last week we delved into the ethical mitzvot, this chapter details rituals commandments.  The following holidays are described: Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  Notice that our favorites of Hanukkah and Purim are not mentioned.  These, it should be noted, are nowhere to be found in the Torah.  This is why they are accorded minor status in the tradition, despite our fondness for them and especially our children’s love for them. Of particular note as well is the order of the holidays.  Shabbat stands at the head of the list.  Also the Jewish year began with Passover not Rosh Hashanah during biblical times.  During those times our holidays were constructed around our people’s agricultural sentiments.  For farmers the year began with the Spring an

Minority Report | The New Republic

Minority Report | The New Republic This is a very interesting and informative article about the inner workings of Human Rights Watch and in particular its biased treatment of Israel. There is more to be gleaned from a full reading, but one quote should suffice. Birnbaum writes, "There are roughly as many reports on Israel as on Iran, Syria, and Libya combined ."


The video released by Hamas, and explored in my previous post, comes only two days after Israel permitted the daughter of Hamas' top security official in Gaza to pass though Israel on her way to seek urgent medical treatment in Jordan.  The daughter of Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad left Gaza on Friday for an Israeli hospital, where she was airlifted to Jordan.   Hamad once headed the armed wing of Hamas that released the Shalit video. He now oversees all of Hamas' security forces.  How is that for bitter irony!  And as my friend and colleague, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, points out in his blog , Israel has tried to negotiate for Shalit's release, offering nearly 1,000 prisoners in exchange, but Hamas changes its request over and over again, making it impossible to reach any compromise.

New Hamas Cartoon

Hamas released a cartoon depicting an aging Noam Shalit walking Israel's empty streets still waiting for Gilad, who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006.  The father dreams of his son returning in a flag draped coffin as happened with Goldwasser and Regev in July 2008.  The cartoon concludes with the statement "There is still hope..."  If Israel were to release thousands of prisoners and stop responding to rocket attacks then Shalit will be returned.  This appears to be the implication and intent of the sophisticated cartoon, as well as the suggestion that Israel's streets will be empty in the future.  You can watch the video here : Let's be honest and forthright.  These are Israel's enemies.  They are people who prey on a father's feelings.  Israel by contrast always tries to minimize civilian casualties and despite Goldstone's biased report, adhere to the highest ethical standards in waging war.  Israel is engaged in what is called asymmetrical wa

Aharei Mot-Kedoshim

This week’s Torah portion is a double portion, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim, Leviticus 16-20.  Occasionally we have to double up on portions in order to finish the reading cycle by Simhat Torah and so this week we are blessed with a reading that is filled with many different ideas. This being Leviticus there is of course instructions about a sacrifice.  It is not any ordinary sacrifice described here but the Yom Kippur scapegoat offering.  We are also given detailed instructions about sexual mores.  Rather than saying a husband should only have sex with his wife and a wife only with her husband, Leviticus 18 provides a detailed listing enumerating with whom you should not have sex.  “Don’t have sex with your sister…  Don’t have sex with animals…”  (Thank God that was clarified!)  “Don’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife…”  In biblical parlance the chapter reads, “Do not uncover the nakedness of your sister…  Do not lie with your neighbor’s wife…”  It is in this chap

Happy Yom Haatzmaut

Today is the celebration of 62 years of Israel's independence.  There will be plenty of time to write about the struggles and challenges, threats and worries Israel faces, but for now I wish only to focus on the positive.  For thousands of years we dreamed of a state, we prayed over and over again for our return to the land of Israel.  Our generation can touch this dream.  It is real.  Israel lives.  Israel thrives.  Our ancient prayers find modern life in the State of Israel.  What a remarkable achievement!  What an unparalleled blessing! Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered the following message to the diaspora communities: Israel's Independence Day celebrates a double miracle in the life of the Jewish people. The first miracle is the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. There is no other example that I know of in the history of nations in which a scattered people, practically left for dead, has been able to re-assert its national life. The second miracle is what we&#

Yom HaZikaron

Today is Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.  Unlike here in the United States it is not observed with family get-togethers and barbeques.  It is the most solemn of days.  Nearly everyone in Israel knows a soldier who fell in one of the country's many wars and battles.  Since the founding of the State 22,682 soldiers gave their lives in defense of the country.  To sum up Israel's pain Haaretz published a piece about Miriam Peretz who last year lost her younger son, Eliraz, in Gaza.  Now she is facing the impossible choice of having to decide by which grave to stand: the fresh grave of her younger son or that of his elder brother Uriel's, killed in Lebanon in 1998.  She says, " I am indeed not an angel. I can feel pain only in one place, to be comforted only in one place. Eliraz always came to be with me on Memorial Day, except when he was in military action."  Miriam said that after the death of her first son, she made a "deal with God" that He j

The TNR EXCHANGE: Trust Fall | The New Republic

The TNR EXCHANGE: Trust Fall | The New Republic This is an important and insightful exchange between Yossi Klein Halevi and James Risen. I of course lean more towards Halevi's analysis, but nonetheless the debate offers insight into the current tension between the Netanyahu government and Obama administration. I offer here one quote from Halevi.  "Israelis aren’t astonished at the president for being serious about the peace process...but because his efforts seem dangerously na├»ve. In demanding a cessation of building in long-standing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Obama created a precondition for negotiations which even the Palestinian leadership hadn’t previously insisted on. The absurd result was that Palestinian leaders refused to sit with the first Israeli government that had actually suspended building in the West Bank...  Israelis aren’t looking for unconditional support from Washington, but they do expect friendship. There was widespread acceptance h

Yom Haatzmaut

Why is tragedy compelling?  Why is fear motivating?  Why is mourning viewed as a greater obligation than celebrating?  These are the questions that occupy my thoughts as we approach Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day and the celebration of 62 years of Jewish sovereignty. To garner our support for the State of Israel we are inundated with images of Hezbollah missiles, Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, suicide bombings, divestment campaigns and in the estimation of many, dwindling support from the Obama administration.  These are great worries to be sure.  Israel does indeed face numerous threats.  Some very real and some imagined.  My question on this Yom Haatzmaut is not about the dangers Israel faces, but instead about our personal connection to the Jewish state. Why do we rally in far greater numbers when Israel is threatened rather than dance for joy each and every day that Israel continues to thrive?  We live in an unparalleled generation of Jews.   In our own d

Annie Bleiberg

Yesterday Annie Bleiberg, a member of our congregation, shared her remarkable story of surviving the Holocaust with our sixth graders.  I have heard her tell this story many times over the course of my ten years here at the synagogue.  I still remain in awe of Annie.  She survived against all odds.  Her entire story is amazing but here is one remarkable episode.  When her father discovered that the train the Nazis had packed her family in was headed to the death camp Belzec her father used the tools he had smuggled in to pry open the train car's small window.  He jumped off the moving train.  Annie was to be the first girl to jump, but a young boy became scared and she jumped in his place before him.  The Nazi soldiers saw him jump and shot him dead.  She survived the fall from the train and made her way back to the ghetto to find her father.  False papers were made for her so she could work as a Polish nanny in Germany.  She was quickly discovered.  A former classmate turned her i

Yom HaShoah Remarks

What follows are my remarks from our congregation's annual Yom HaShoah observance. This week’s Torah portion describes the death of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons.  According to the Torah they were engulfed in a heavenly fire because they offered an eish zara, an alien fire, a strange fire.  This story is part of a long list of Torah stories that I struggle to comprehend.  What was so alien about their offering that merited their deaths?  Why would God punish them for offering a sacrifice?  All explanations are inadequate.  All commentators merely scratch the surface. So too on this day we struggle with the death by strange fire of six million of our fellow Jews.  How could God allow the death of so many millions?  How could a German culture that produced such great artists and thinkers also produce such unimaginable death and destruction?  How can rational and intelligent people be led to become horrific murderers?  All explanations are inadequate.  All commentators

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is the day in which we recall the Nazi genocide and the murder of six million Jewish souls.   This is the day when we remember six million of our people, 1.5 million of whom were children.   Even after years of studying this tragic and horrific event I am still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of the loss.  If I were to spend every minute of every day reading the names of those who were murdered (at a pace of 20 names per minute) it would take me more than six months to read all six million names.   If I were to read six stories of those who perished, one for each million, each and every year, and if God is good enough to grant me a full lifetime of 120 years, I would still only learn some 600 stories in the span of my adult years.   By 1944 at the height of the Nazi final solution 6,000 people were murdered in a day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.   Our nation is currently transfixed by the tragic loss of some 25 miners in West Vi