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Showing posts from January, 2022

Remember This Date

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. January 27th was chosen by the United Nations, in 2005 by the way, because it was on this day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated.  On January 27, 1945, the international community brought the horrors of the Holocaust to an end. That of course is not entirely true. It took nearly three more, grueling and deadly months before all the camps were liberated. It was not until May 8, 1945, when Nazi Germany was defeated and in fact not until the following day that the last camp was liberated. And yet Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the massiveness of the destruction of European Jewry and the evil of the Nazis. It was there that one million Jews were murdered. Still, I think January 27th was chosen because it represents the day the world defeated the Nazi death machine. Likewise, Israel’s Knesset chose the 27th of Nisan because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It is the day when Jews revolted against their Nazi

Repro Shabbat

Judaism constructs its value system around phrases inscribed in its sacred texts. It begins with verses from the Torah and traverses through words written by rabbis who lived during its formative stages. It walks from what we call the written Torah, revealed at Sinai, through the oral Torah, revealed in rabbinic debates throughout the ages, until arriving at today. And so, when we ask what wisdom Judaism has to offer about abortion rights, we first turn back to yesterday. Why are we again talking about abortion rights? The reason so many synagogues are asking this question on this Shabbat has nothing to do with the fact that Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring from the Supreme Court or that this court seems poised to roll back the rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade, but instead because the first verse alluding to abortion rights occurs in this week’s Torah portion. This is why many Jews are observing what the National Council of Jewish Women has called Repro Shabbat. The Torah proclaims

Antisemitism Is Here to Stay

When I spoke with my mother this week she remarked, “I never imagined that you and your brother Michael, who is also a rabbi, are in a dangerous profession.” Now even though my mom can sometimes be overly dramatic and does tend to personalize even the most distant of world events (I come by these traits naturally), her comments do on this occasion deserve unpacking rather than the usual brushing away. Moms often verbalize fears and, on this occasion, the singular fear that has entered the sacred space of our synagogue sanctuaries. My Christian friends do not have security guards at their church’s doors. Their congregants do not receive emails detailing new security protocols. What was once only the purview of synagogues in Europe or common in Israel where every gathering place has a guard, has now become normative in our own beloved country. For obvious reasons I am not going to publicly discuss what security enhancements we are putting in place and we are working on. Rest assured

Fears That Really Matter

We remain grateful that the rabbi and congregants of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville who had gathered for Shabbat morning services were rescued. I am sure that many of us spent anxious hours waiting on Saturday for word of how this might end and were relieved that this hostage crisis did not conclude in tragedy. Our thoughts now turn to the increasing scourge of antisemitism. Tomorrow evening I will devote my remarks to this plague and how Colleyville fits into a worrisome pattern and a growing worry. At this moment, I want to focus on the fear many of us are feeling. Rest assured we are redoubling our attention to security at our synagogue. And yet, no matter how many security measures we take, and how many changes we institute, these can never allay the fear that so many of us now feel. Security is about prudent measures an institution can, and should, take. It is about what steps individuals can choose so that they avoid dangers. Fear is more a matter of the heart. When

Uncertainty and Its Roundabout Path

At the last Shabbat evening services on Friday night, the camera did not work properly. No matter how emphatically I pressed the buttons on the app, the camera remained frozen on the Shabbat candles and then when it did respond, zoomed in on my bald head. I was finally able to get it set to the default position and left it there for the remainder of the service. I am sure others have had similar frustrating experiences when attending Zoom meetings or online conferences. At that point all we can do, or should do, is laugh. Despite our increasing dependence on technology, it is as imperfect as the human beings who design it. Nothing ever works perfectly or even runs exactly according to plan. A smart home is rendered quite dumb when power is lost or the internet is down and even then, sometimes one app stops talking to another, and the newest smart TV will not show the latest movie everyone is talking about. Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great. It allows us to do things that w

Lightning and Truth

I opened the Torah to this week’s portion somewhat apprehensive that I would have to once again read about the final three plagues visited upon the Egyptians. (These days I don’t need any more plagues!) I would not have to justify the Egyptian’s pain as the price for our freedom and as a necessity to demonstrate God’s power to our people. That was not where my heart can be found. My Hasidic commentaries rescued me. I scanned the words of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the movement and Menahem Mendl of Kotzk. Menahem Mendl, the Kotzker rebbe, offered me a path away from the plagues. He did not even make it past the first word. He never made it to locusts or the death of the first born. He asks, “Why does the portion begin with the word bo? Why does the verse say the following: “And God said to Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh?’” This makes no sense. It should say instead, “Go to Pharaoh.” The Kotzker rebbe responds, “The Torah does not say, lekh—go—to Pharaoh, but bo—come. The rea