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Showing posts from June, 2010

Camp, Then and Now

Camp, Then and Now "For many of us, sleepaway camp is the first sizeable chunk of time away from parents. It’s a taste of adulthood. Nikayon , daily cleaning time, was the first time I really scrubbed a sink or swept an entire floor. Because camp means building a society in miniature, in which kids have more independence and power than they do back home, friendships there seem more vivid, more intense–a lifetime poured into a concentrated month or two."  Unlike the author, Marjorie Ingall, I, on the other hand, just sent my son off to camp for his final summer as a camper.  I love the independence, self-esteem and Jewish identity sleep away camp builds.  It is irreplaceable in terms of building character!

Balak Sermon

Our Torah portion gives us the Mah Tovu prayer, a prayer of unrivaled majesty and beauty, but one nonetheless authored by non-Jewish hands.   Let us take a few moments to explore the implications of its origins. All of us have favorite poets and singers.  I love Derek Walcott as well as Yehuda Amichai.  I love Taj Mahal as well as David Broza.  What makes them our favorites?  It is that they speak to our hearts.  It is that they mirror our feelings and aspirations.  Does it matter whether the singer or poet is Jewish? There are those who see outside influences as forbidden.  One need only recall the recent protests in Jerusalem.  There the Supreme Court is taboo.  There Sephardic customs are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews.  In a bitter irony of modern Zionism, there are those in Jerusalem who wish to live in a ghetto of their own making. Such is not my world!  Yet I am still plagued by the question, what is the influence of non-Jewish poems and prayers on our Jewish hearts?  Shou


In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we read of the origins of the beautiful Mah Tovu prayer.  Here is the story.  Balak, the king of Israel’s enemy, the Moabites, becomes alarmed at Israel’s military victory over the neighboring Amorites.  So the king instructs his prophet Balaam to place a curse on the Israelites. Rather than cursing his enemy, Balaam blesses the Israelites.  He offers several moving tributes about the people of Israel.  It is here that he offers the words of the familiar Mah Tovu prayer that opens the morning service: “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” (Numbers 24) A beautiful poem to be sure, but one authored by a non-Jewish, idolatrous prophet.  His blessing opens our prayerbook.  Every other prayer in our siddur is authored by Jewish hands.  Yet we open with the words of someone from outside the tradition. Have you ever thought of what this might mean?  Have you ever thought of the significance of this opening to our great com

Shalom Hartman Institute - Haredi School Fight Undermines Israeli Democracy

Haredi School Fight Undermines Israeli Democracy My teacher Rabbi Donniel Hartman writes: It is time to end the ludicrous reality in which the State of Israel funds education that undermines its existence, accepts the use of its funds to implement policies it abhors and which violate its core principles and interests. It is time to end the policy in which the State funds programs beyond its means and perpetuates an unemployable class that threatens the future of the State socially and economically. However, the public must also recognize and concede that no fault lies with the ultra-Orthodox. They have not stolen State resources but were legally allocated them. They are not to blame for wanting the State to fund a perpetual 19th century Polish ghetto. We are to blame for perpetuating the myth that we can and are willing to do so. Only when we recognize our responsibility will we avoid future standoffs between the Supreme Court and the mothers. If you have not yet read Thursday'

Hukkat Sermon

We learn in this week's Torah portion that Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land.  The episode is recounted in Numbers 20 where he hits the rock in anger in order to produce water for the complaining Israelites.  The commentators debate what was Moses sin?  There are several suggestions.  1) He hits the rock rather than commanding the rock.  2) He did not give God the proper credit for the miracle, saying, "Shall we bring forth water..."  3) Although we understand why he lost patience with the people, his anger nonetheless got the better of him.  4) Or, he lost faith in the people he led, saying, "Listen, you rebels..."  This final suggestion offers us a lesson for leadership.  We must never lose faith in the people we lead.  We must never see a distance between a leader and the people.  When Moses called the Israelites "you rebels" he lost faith in his congregation.  The task of leadership is to lead from within, to be a part of the communit

Elton John Concert in Israel

Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News Unlike a number of other musicians like Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana, Elton John refused to bow to pressure to cancel his performance in Israel. About 50,000 attended his concert in Ramat Gan stadium outside Tel Aviv. John said, "I have always believed that music inhabits a world set apart from politics, religious differences or prejudice of any kind." This is welcome news. It should be noted that last month Egypt banned Elton John from appearing in its country because of his comments calling Jesus "a super intelligent gay man." I will allow my readers to surmise what this says about debate and pluralism in the Muslim world.


This week's Torah portion, Hukkat, tells the story of why Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. A recap.  After arriving in the wilderness of Zin the people again complain against Moses.  They scream, "If only we had perished when our brothers [led by Korah] perished at the instance of the Lord!  Why have you brought the Lord's congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there?  Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates?  There is not even enough water to drink!"  Moses becomes distraught with the people's incessant complaining.  Freedom is no longer enough for them.  They want pomegranates as well!  Moses consults with God and is instructed to command a rock to bring forth water in front of all the people.  Moses assembles the people and says, "Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?"  Moses raises his

Korah and the Gaza Flotilla Sermon

In this week’s Torah portion we see further evidence that nothing goes according to plan.  In fact the entire Book of Numbers is evidence of this.  Such is also the case with recent events and Israel’s raid on the so called, Gaza flotilla.  Much of the Israeli press has expressed what I believe.  Here is my view.  The raid was right but not smart. Here is why Israel was right.   Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip.  Hamas now controls the Strip and still fires rockets at Israeli civilians.  Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction.  Despite this Israel still actively sustains Gaza.   A few facts.  Israel’s hospitals accept thousands of Gazans for medical treatment.  It lets food and medicine through its checkpoints—of course, not too much building supplies because these could be used for constructing tunnels.  It supplies Gaza with electricity and gas.  No other country in the world sustains a government bent on its destruction in this way. ( Gadi Tau


The Israeli novelist, Etgar Keret, writes: "I love soccer because it is so painfully similar to life: slow, unjust, fairly random, usually boring, but always holding out the hope that, at some moment, however brief, everything will come together and take on meaning.  There’s no getting away from it—life isn’t about limber athletes sinking hoops from the three-point arc; life is an ongoing, uncoordinated, anguished effort to transcend our trivial existence, an effort that, if we’re lucky, might lead to one brilliant move by Messi, Kak√°, or some other dribbling magician.  And then, for one split second, that whole damp 90-minute mishmash will turn into something coherent, beautiful, and worthwhile. And,when that moment and its endless playbacks fade, we will all return to our same drab reality of wasted time, pointless fouls, unreceived passes, and wild kicks that miss the goal by kilometers, only to wait with infinite patience and boundless hope for that

Jacob Milgrom z"l

Jacob Milgrom died this past weekend. He was a great scholar and the world's foremost authority on the Book of Leviticus. This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting him. I was introduced to Jacob and his wife Jo by their daughter Shira, a friend and colleague and for this introduction and meeting I will always be grateful. I have often struggled with balancing doubt alongside faith. Do too many questions undermine faith? What happens if we can't find the real Mount Sinai or prove the veracity of the exodus? I asked Professor Milgrom how he balanced the requisite doubt and skepticism of scholarship with the faith and trust of belief. His person was his response. He did not find it to be a struggle. You can regard Torah as holy. And at the same you can pull apart the strands of Torah, labeling some verses as written by one author and others by another school. Skepticism need not become cynicism. Scholarship points toward faith and in fact fortifies belief. Like

Richard Cohen - What Helen Thomas Missed

Richard Cohen - What Helen Thomas Missed Richard Cohen writes, "The mini-Holocaust that followed the Holocaust itself is not well-known anymore, but it played an outsize role in the establishment of the state of Israel. It was the plight of Jews consigned to Displaced Persons camps in Europe that both moved and outraged President Harry Truman, who supported Jewish immigration to Palestine and, when the time came, the new state itself. Something had to be done for the Jews of Europe. They were still being murdered." Helen Thomas of courses misses this point. She also misses the point, that Obama and others miss, that the modern State of Israel is connected to the historic Jewish connection to the land of Israel and most importantly derives meaning from this connection. When will the world recognize this fundamental point? Peace and co-existence will also not be achieved by one group packing their bags and leaving. Jews and Palestinians are bound to the same land.

Our First Ten Years

Our First Ten Years The following is an excerpt from the sermon I delivered marking my first ten years at the JCB.   The complete text can be found by following the link. ...I discovered in the rabbinate a job where I am asked to care and asked to question.  I believe that every person must be loved and cared for and every idea questioned.  Everything is subject to scrutiny and questioning, especially pronouncements that come without reasons.  My parents are, I think, thankful and relieved that I was able to find gainful employment for my questioning.  If you want to be better then you must question.  I can be relentless in this task, but it is the only way you can better yourself and better community.  Kim will tell you that the worst reason for why we might do something is to say to me, “That is how other synagogues do it.”   I am not trying to be different for the sake of being different but I do believe that everything must be examined.  First of all myself, each and

My Thanks

My Thanks The following is an excerpt from my speech at Thursday evening's fundraiser in my honor. For the complete text follow the link. Thank you for this evening and for this honor. I am grateful to all for attending. It warms my heart to celebrate together. I consider it a gift to serve as a rabbi and in particular as your rabbi. Thank you for that privilege. Thank you for recognizing all we have done over the past 10 years with this party. It is so wonderful to celebrate together and dance together!... Parties and simchas are of course the quintessential Jewish occasions. They remind us of what I most fond of teaching and it is the following. Judaism says, you can’t dance by yourself. You must dance with others. It is not because you look stupid doing so. One need only watch a certain rabbi’s YouTube videos to find an illustration of this. Now my kids will say, “Abba, it is not that you can’t dance by yourself. It is, you can’t dance.” That may be true,

Operation Make The World Hate Us | The New Republic

Operation Make The World Hate Us | The New Republic Leon Wieseltier's recent article is an insightful and provocative piece. He writes: "When, in the modern era, the Zionists concluded, quite correctly, that the Jews must extract themselves from anti-Semitic societies and establish a society of their own, a sovereign one, in the land of Israel, it was in part to “normalize” them by making them “reckoned among the nations,” and therefore like other nations. Zionism was a reversal of Balaam’s phony blessing. The state was not supposed to be a bunker, even if it had enemies." The problem, he argues, is that Israel, and Netanyahu in particular, increasingly approaches its problems with a bunker mentality. About the Palestinians and their supporters he writes: "You are not for co-existence if you advocate the disappearance of one of the terms. Consider...the recent adventures of Noam Chomsky in the region. It was widely noted that the Israelis, again idiotica

More Articles

If you would like to read more about Monday's events and the Gaza flotilla, read the following commentaries: Amos Oz, Israel Force, Adrift on the Sea Tom Friedman, When Friends Fall Out Daniel Gordis, A Botched Raid, A Vital Embargo Micheal Oren, An Assault, Cloaked in Peace There is more to be learned and more commentaries to read and ponder...

Shelach Lecha

What kind of person do you strive to be?  What kind of leader do you hope to become? In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, we see two kinds of leaders, two kinds of people.  There is Moses, the most important personality in the entire Torah.  He stands up to Pharaoh.  He leads us from slavery to freedom.  He parts the Sea of Reeds, ok with God’s help of course.  He communes with God on Mount Sinai and gives us the Torah.  He talks to God face to face.  So close in fact is his relationship with God that when he doubts, he consults God.  Moses asks and God answers.  Then there is Joshua, the leader who takes over the reins from Moses.  We learn part of Joshua’s character traits in this portion. In Shelach Lecha we read the story of the twelve spies who are sent to scout the land of Israel.   Ten return with a negative report.  “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.  All the people that we saw in it are men of great si

Gaza Flotilla

Let's take a step back from the outcry and make a few observations about Monday's tragic events. Let's first say that Israel lost this one.  It seems plain that Israel lost far more than it gained.  This was a PR battle from the start.  As soon as the ships sets sail from Turkey Israel lost.  The only option at that point was to quietly let the ships reach Gaza, despite the fact that more than a few of the "passengers" could very well have been dangerous terrorists and that there might as well have been weapons onboard.  As many Israeli commentators note, you don't send soldiers to a PR battle.  As soon as the ships set sail Israel was stuck in a catch-22.  In such situations military force does not work.  But if you do you send soldiers, you send them ready for any possible situation.  I don't watch many reality cop shows, but you only have to watch one to see that there are many non-lethal methods for subduing people that are far better than paintball gu