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Showing posts from 2012

Standing with Israel

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I just got off the phone with Oren Marmerstein of the Israeli Embassy.  It’s one thing to read headlines, to debate politics.  It’s another to speak to someone who is regularly contacting his parents and family as the rockets are falling.  Many of us in our congregation have loved ones and dear friends in harm’s way during this difficult time.  This is a time for prayer and for doing what we can to show support.  Oren shared with me information that he can access at the embassy.  He watched a video from the cockpit of an Israeli fighter jet.  He could see how the Hamas target was situated right in the middle of a civilian area, with innocent people acting as human shields.  From the cockpit, the pilot was ready to launch a missile at the target, but suddenly he saw two civilians.  Immediately, he asked permission to abort so as not to harm innocent life, and his commander instantly ratified the request.  Oren told me how a standard policy of the IDF is to literally call the Palestini…

Adas Israel Congregation’s learning center seeks to foster a modern Jewish community

Sukkot 5773: Perfectly Imperfect

Several months ago, the board at Adas voted unanimously to create a task force dedicated to inclusion in our congregation.  It would be a group that would study our building and the culture of our congregation to assess and make recommendations for how we can be more inclusive to those with various disabilities in our community.  When the board took its unanimous vote, I realized that this was a great moment for me to raise my hand and insert 'something rabbinic;' something that would help the board and the congregation celebrate this step toward greater inclusion in our shul.  I stood up and congratulated the board on its vote.  I pointed out how, in the Torah, we are exhorted over and over always to remember the plight of the Ger, Yetom, v'Almanah--the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; that a truly sacred Jewish community is one that always remembers to care for the weakest members of the society, those who might not have the ability or recognition to speak for themse…

Yom Kippur 5773: HaMakom

​When Batya and I were first married, we drove across country, from California  (where we had been living for our rabbinic studies) back home to the East Coast.  We stopped on the way for a visit to the Grand Canyon.  There was a ticketing area that exited to a wooded pathway that led to the rim of the canyon.  As we started out on the path, cranky after hours in the car, we got into one of those typical first-year-of-marriage little spats; some disagreement over a petty issue--the kind of disagreements that couples who have been married a few years don’t have anymore.  She wanted to go camping and I wanted to stay in a hotel (I have long since learned, when my wife wants to go camping--we go camping!)  The argument didn’t end quickly.  It got more and more frustrating, and we decided to stop on the pathway and stand off to the side to see if we could just finish the discussion before continuing, so as not to spoil the whole visit.  Well, the argument just didn’t end as quickly as we …

Rosh HaShanah 5773: Are We the Victims?

Last month, an angry group of Jewish teenagers, some as young as 13 years old, brutally attacked and nearly killed a 17 year-old Arab boy right in the middle of Jerusalem.  The Jewish kids were shouting “Death to Arabs.”  While the Arab boy was in critical condition in the hospital, one 15-year-old Jewish suspect said, “For my part, he can die.  He’s an Arab.”  Israel’s vice prime-minister, Bogie Ya’alon, courageously spoke out in response to this attack, deservedly labelling it an act of “terrorism.” These developments are a tragedy.  They are tragic in a way that is deeper than political, ethnic, and ideological divisions.
We all may remember the reports and images a few months back of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men spitting at women and little girls because of their dress, or because they were walking on sidewalks that they had forbidden to women.  Last June, the Sephardi Chief rabbi of Israel declared that Reform and Conservative rabbis--that I--am no better than a terrorist because I a…

Kosher Deceit?

At what point did deceit become kosher in our society? It's true that American political campaigns have a long and ignoble history of finger-pointing and aiming low and twisting the facts. But there's something new afoot. The degree of deceit that is acceptable to us is now vastly greater. Ads and campaign speeches and interviews are full of bold-faced lies. What's new is that in the name of winning and of power, any degree of manipulation of truth is now acceptable. News media organizations that specialize in spinning facts to reflect a political agenda are now mainstream. On the Internet, we can build ourselves up by finding arguments in favor of any idea, despite the validity of the facts. Candidates have figured out that facts matter less than the need to appeal to people's baser fears and angers in order to get votes. We're living in a time that goes overboard with relativism. We have developed a postmodern mind-set after the violent upheavals of the 20th cen…

A very special wedding in Washington DC

Alan and Michael, it is with such joy that we stand here beneath this Huppah, celebrating your joining together.  It’s a joy, of course, for the two of you.  It’s a joy for your family and friends and community gathered here today.  It’s a joy for me as your rabbi who loves you both a lot.  And I want to add that this moment is also a very special joy for Adas Israel Congregation, and for all the Jewish people.  This is the first official gay wedding  in the 143-year history of this congregation!  This congregation was visited by President Ulysses S. Grant at its opening.  Golda Meir made an official visit.  Yitzhak Rabin had his child’s bar mitzvah here.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luthor King jr.  came  here.  And now to that auspicious list, we can add that Alan and Michael were married here!  I really mean it:  this is a great moment for the Jewish people.  And it's all the sweeter because of who each of you are.  The two of you are just about the nicest, kindest guys anyone wi…

True Holiness

The headlines are full these days of stories about what people are doing in the name of religion.  And I needn't tell you that these are not necessarily good stories.  Most of them are shocking, horrifying, disturbing.  There are stories about people attempting to impose their particular religious values on everyone in our society.  Stories of fundamentalism gone wild, fomenting violence and hatred.  Stories of oppression and murder in the name of God or of holiness.  It's happening in the Middle East movements toward theocracy.  It's happening in Israel with those who want to force women to the back of the bus.  It's happening right here in America.   I know so many people, good, thoughtful, amazing people who have had it.  They're throwing in the towel on religion.  And I can't say I blame them.  Were it not for a couple of conditions, I might be one of those people who want nothing to do with a religious life.  I might be one of those who think that traditi…

Jewish Guilt: It's Optional

I would like to talk today about guilt, a subject that we Jews are self-proclaimed experts on.  Why is that?  'Jewish guilt' is something that we all joke about, something that we all feel bonded over.  There are many theories as to why we are so good at guilt.  One of my favorites is that we, more than many peoples of this world, feel the particular weight of our history.  For us, the past looms large--in the Torah, in our wandering through the world; through our struggles with Crusaders and Cossacks and Nazis through the centuries, we have more than our share of baggage to lug through the generations.  We also know that we're a part of a very special people, with very high expectations of ourselves--and that alone is enough to make us quite neurotic.
It's clear from the Torah that guilt was around even in the earliest days. As we finish the Book of Genesis today, we find the brothers of Joseph burdened by their past mistreatment of their brother, and full of fear of J…