An Article Worth Reading

Shalom and Happy Last Day of Chanukah.  With so much negative press about Israel in recent months I thought I would share an article with you written by Rabbi Richard A. Block, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The article is a tad long but nonetheless well worth the read. Yes Israel has issues however from time to time we need to remind ourselves of Israel’s wonderful virtues. 

The Israel We Should Be Talking about

Though you’d never know it from the media, Israel is making the world a better place every day. Here’s a look beyond the headlines.

One afternoon, two elderly Jews were sitting by a Florida beach, gazing at the ocean. One of them sighed deeply. The other said, “I thought we agreed not to talk about our children.”

As the joke suggests, some subjects are too complicated, painful, or aggravating to discuss. For some, Israel and the Middle East fall in that category, especially when the discussion centers on war and death, Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism, and Iran’s nuclear program—the subjects that so dominate the news.As President of the Reform Movement’s rabbinic conference, the CCAR, I am deeply troubled by the narrow focus of Israel-related conversations—in the media, on campus, even from the pulpit—limiting the discussion to matters of controversy and conflict, as if there is nothing else about the Jewish state sufficiently of consequence to merit attention. To some extent, this is understandable. Israel is the heart and homeland of the Jewish people. It faces acute challenges that should concern us all, and we should never shy away from thinking about them or speaking of them as if the issues are too complex or too hot to handle. There’s too much at stake for such timidity.

But it is also a colossal mistake and missed opportunity if we buy into the false premise that Israel is about conflict and nothing else. There is also another Israel—one we don’t think or talk or know about nearly enough. This Israel is a vibrant democracy that guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly, where self-scrutiny is the national pastime; the Israel whose arts and culture are as rich as its geography is varied and its beauty is breathtaking; the Israel whose excellence and myriad innovations in science, medicine, and technology are contributing so much to humanity; the Israel that is infinitely more than the sum of its conflicts. That is the Israel we all need to know better.

Read more: An Article Worth Reading

Chanukah

Tonight is Chanukah. Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. We light the menorah to bring light to a world full of darkness. The world is so full of darkness, darkness from a vanishing sun and darkness brought on by those bent on evil. Though I'm certain that the radiant sun will come again I'm less certain that the dark evil that plagues human hearts will be purged.

It's been two years since the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. On December 14, 2012 twenty children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. As we still mourn and ponder the enormity of the Sandy Hook tragedy we are presently confronted by an even greater catastrophe. Today in Peshawar, Pakistan, nine Taliban terrorists attacked a school killing 132 children and wounding 121. How does one even begin to understand the mind of people capable of such heinous and barbaric behavior? They were innocent children doing what innocent children do, attending school. I grieve this heartbreaking loss as I pray for the victims' families.

So tonight we light the first candle. May the glow of the first candle begin to dispel the darkness, the darkness of hate, the darkness of violence and the darkness of evil. And as the days of Chanukah pass may each night bring us to a place of greater light and greater hope.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the important role we play in the world.

I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of thy hand, and kept thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations (Isaiah 42:6)

Like the Chanukah candles we are light to the world. Let us shine bright in a world so desperate for light and love!

Happy Chanukah!

Stop the Violence

Last night the Ferguson Grand Jury, after weighing all the pertinent evidence, decided not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.  Was justice served or was justice denied? I don’t know. But what I do know is that violence has become too epidemic in our society. Moments before Michael Brown was shot he had violently threatened the life of a local merchant. In response to being threatened by Michael Brown Officer Wilson used, what may be called, excessive force to protect himself. And in response to the Grand Jury’s decision violence again is manifesting itself in the rioting and looting which is taking place in the town of Ferguson. Violence begets violence and in the end “tzedek,” justice will never be achieved.

We are a nation divided. At a time like this African-Americans and White-Americans see society through totally different eyes. This variance of understanding creates more than just misunderstanding. It creates anger, distrust and alienation.

Where do we go from here? More understanding is needed. More talking is needed. More listening is needed. How strange that in a world in which social media dominates people are more estranged from one another than ever.  So many are talking however so few are listening.  As Jews we are well acquainted with being misunderstood, maligned or persecuted.  

I pray that calmer voices will be heard. I pray that violence will cease and a healing will begin. I pray that we will come to understand that the security of a nation is heavily dependent on the deference and respect we show to all of its citizens. Let the violence stop. Let the talking and listening begin. God may we be healed.

Winter is Coming

The leaves have turned and fallen from the trees. My neighbors and I are readying our homes for winter, cover the barbeque and store the lawn furniture, clean out the flower beds, button up the house. Soon winter will be upon us. I don't see my neighbors much in winter. Running from warm car to warm house in sub-zero temperatures we barely have time to exchange a quick hello. In northern New England it would seem that even we humans go into something of semi-hibernation.

However we are not bears. Fighting back against the dark and cold and the overwhelming desire to just stay in we venture out, to the slopes, the gym, the holiday parties, the public school concerts and yes even the synagogue.

Much is going on at Temple. Each week when you receive your electronic update you'll see just how much. There are adult classes, guest speakers, Sisterhood events, Brotherhood events, Story Hour for toddlers and the list of events goes on and on. Please don't hibernate! Come to Temple where it's always warm and friendly.

All the best, Rabbi

We're Going to Israel

Let's Go To Israel
 
On the evening of August 6th a group of members gathered to plan a congregational trip to Israel. For some this would be their first visit to Israel; for others it would be a homecoming of sorts. Still be it a first time or just one more after many there was a tangible sense of excitement.
 
Israel is an exciting place to visit yet at the same time there is a strong sense of "being at home." During our planning discussion some basic concepts were agreed upon.
 
They were:
 
Winter Break of 2015 (over school vacation in 2015) would be a good time to travel.
Our trip should be a minimum of 10 days (this would include travel days).
Three star hotels would be sufficient.
During our trip it would be good to have opportunities to meet with local people.
 
Having agreed upon these basic concepts it would now be my task to contact experienced and respected travel agencies to determine availability and price. December 2015 gives us ample opportunity to consider well all our options. 
 
If you were unable to attend our planning meeting on August 6th and are interested in participating please contact me. We are only beginning the process and there is ample room! In the coming months I'll be posting more information about this exciting venture.
 
 
Wishing you all good things, 
Rabbi

To All the Jewish Youth Kol Nidre 2014/5775

Tonight I want to speak to all the Jewish youth in our congregation. Happy New Year!

The Midrash relates that before God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, he requested guarantors who would ensure that the people would indeed study Torah and fulfill the mitzvot.

Why did God demand guarantors before giving the Torah? Weren’t the Jewish people the Chosen Nation? Yet God knew that a time would come when the people would become preoccupied with work, with worldly cares and burdens. For various reasons the Jewish people would eventually lose their sense of the importance of Torah and the preciousness of mitzvot. In that state, God forbid, it is possible that the Torah would be abandoned.

Therefore God asked the people for guarantors. He wanted to be assured that His precious gift, the Torah, would be treated with the respect and dignity it deserved, and would never be forsaken.

At first the people offered their elders. “Our forefathers will be our guarantors.” The elderly are no longer employed; do not have the burden of earning a livelihood. They have plenty of free time. They can be the guarantors.

However, God did not accept this suggestion.

Next the Jewish people offered their rabbis, their spiritual leaders. “The rabbis will be our guarantors.” Take the rabbis; they study Torah all the time! Who could be a better guarantor than that?

But God did not agree to this either. He wanted an assurance that ALL Jews would study Torah, not just those with an abundance of free time, or those whose exclusive occupation was to study Torah. Everyone, even those who were occupied with other matters, even those who find it difficult to study. It’s not enough that your grandfather or your rabbi is learned and fulfills mitzvot. God wanted this from every single Jew.

Therefore He asked for other guarantors. Finally, the Jewish people offered their own children. They promised that the children would study Torah and safeguard it for generations. And to this God agreed. The children are the ideal guarantors.

So my young friends-you are the guarantors of Torah and therefore the future of Judaism!  Sorry to spring this immense responsibility on you. But it’s time you knew.  And you thought you were just coming for services!

Given this immense responsibility I think it only fair that I share with you some of the tasks you’ll have to assume in the days to come.

  • The future of Jewish culture, religion and learning has always depended upon the synagogue. No other place, not the Jewish community center, not the Jewish Federation, not the Jewish country club has ever secured the future well-being of our people as has the synagogue. It’s the synagogue that names newborns, educates children and adults, celebrates weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, shares sorrow during times of loss and hardship, provides for those in need and responds to the needs of those who are not affiliated. Your job will be to ensure the survival of the synagogue. No matter where you live in the years to come align yourself with the synagogue. Become a member! And never, never think that just because you don’t actively participate in synagogue events you don’t need to join. Remember it’s not all about you! Even if you never participate your membership will provide others the opportunity to do so. Strong synagogues create healthy and vibrant Jewish communities.
  • Never stop studying about Judaism. Be a student of Judaism your entire life. You were thirteen years old when you had your bar or bat Mitzvah and about 16 years old when you were confirmed, that is if you had a Confirmation. Really do you think thirteen or sixteen years is enough time to learn about all there is to know about Judaism. I don’t think so. I’ve been a student of Judaism my entire life. And if I’ve learned anything I’ve learned how much I still don’t know about my faith, culture, language, history and practice. Someday you will be blessed with children and they will look to you to impart to them the wonder, richness and beauty of our faith and heritage. The more learned you are the easier the task will be. When you don’t know the answer to a question pertaining to Judaism-go and find the answer. When presented with the opportunity to learn more about Judaism jump in. When you attend college or university take courses in Jewish subjects. Immerse yourselves in matters that pertain to the Jewish people. Read the Jewish press. Stay aware of events that impact and shape the State of Israel and impact and shape the lives of Jews living in Diaspora. Come to worship and learn the liturgy. Hebrew is the universal language of the Jewish people. If your are comfortable with Jewish liturgy (the prayer book) and Hebrew you will be able to walk into any synagogue in the world and feel completely at home. Of course this takes work but I know you are smart enough to succeed. The only thing standing in your way is you!
  • Yet learning is but half the equation. Our prayer book reminds us that we learn in order to do. The application of our Jewish learning is as important as the learning itself. Comparing a Jew to a tree: A Jew that has knowledge but does nothing with his or her knowledge can be compared to a tree that has deep roots but little foliage. The lack of foliage will eventually impact the tree’s roots and it will surely die. A Jew that has little knowledge but is very active can be compared to a tree that has much foliage but few roots. A wind may come and blow the tree over. However the Jew that is imbued with knowledge and performs many righteous acts may be compared to a tree with deep roots and abundant foliage. In stormy conditions and difficult times the tree will survive. The world is far from perfect. Everywhere evil surrounds us: plagues in Africa, domestic violence in the United States, wars in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Use your Jewish knowledge to make this a better world in which to live.  When God was creating the world, God stopped creating just seconds before the end of the sixth day, the day on which humankind was created. Stopping before the completion of the day explains why the world isn’t perfect. Why did God stop? So that humankind could finish the creation by removing the imperfections that afflict our lives. You are God’s co-partners in making this a better world for all of creation!
  • And here is my last admonition to you: BE A PROUD JEW! As Jews we have much to be proud! We have given the world values and ideals by which to live. THE BELIEF IN A ONE GOD, BELIEF THAT WE CAN MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE, BELIEF THAT ALL HUMANKIND WAS CREATED EQUALLY AND IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, BELIEF THAT TOMORROW CAN BE A BETTER DAY THAN YESTERDAY OR TODAY AND BELIEF REDEMPTION CANNOT COME UNTIL ALL HUMANKIND IS FREE. Be proud also of the accomplishments of your people in the arts, the sciences, the financial world, in social justice, in law and in government. Jews make up only.2 % of the world’s population but have won 22% of the Nobel Prizes. Our people have done and continue to do wondrous things. You come from a wonderful heritage and family. Be proud of who you are-not in a boastful way or an arrogant way rather in a way that allows you to be your authentic self. There are so many proud public Jews: Paula Abdul (American Idol), William Shatner (Star Trek), Leonard Nemoy (Star Trek), Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Liev Schrieber, Emanuelle Chriqui and Adam Sandler to name but a few.

 

You are our future, you are our hope. You represent the eternality of our people. May God bless you with strength and with peace. Amen.

 

Essential Lesson Learned

Finally a ceasefire has been established and the drone of war has stopped. Gaza and Israel while not yet at peace are at least able to come out from their shelters and resume a somewhat normal life. I pray that the quiet succeeds. Yet this is the Middle East and lasting peace is not a characteristic often associated with this area of the world.

War is devastating. Infrastructure is destroyed and lives, mostly innocent, are lost. While wars can be easily waged it’s a much harder task to learn essential lessons as a result of them.  I suggest that it’s fair to ask what essential lessons have the leadership in Gaza and perhaps Palestinians in general learned from this current crisis? Not to be so bold I would suggest a few important ones:

First, Israel is not going away. Created by a vote in the United Nations in 1948, the State of Israel is a fixed reality. Expending enormous resources both materially and in human life in order to bring an end to the Jewish state is futile. The sooner Palestinians come to this realization the better off they will be.

Second, it’s time, actually it’s already well past due, that Palestinians (and here I speak not only those that live in Gaza but those in the West Bank as well) begin the process of state building. In the past nine years the citizens of Gaza have squandered opportunity after opportunity to develop into an independent, self-sufficient nation. Nation building, infrastructure building takes enormous work. Imagine what could have been achieved in the past nine years if the focus of the Palestinian leadership was for the betterment of its own people rather than the fanatic hatred of the Jewish state? Please don’t squander a single day more.

And third, let history be your lesson. After years of war and hatred peace was established between Egypt and Israel and Jordan and Israel. Don’t allow this war to give rise to greater hate and more violence. Sixty-nine years ago today the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima thus bringing a conclusion to the Second World War. Thousands of Japanese died; most were innocent civilians. While it can be debated whether our military’s actions had merit or not, what cannot be debated is the fact that today America and Japan are allies and friends. Do not allow hate to rule your behavior and the prospects of a brighter future.

Oseh shalom bimromav
hu ya'aseh shalom aleynu
v'al kol Yisrael ve al kol ha olam
vimru amen

May the one who makes peace on high
make peace upon us
and upon all of Israel and upon all the world
and let us say amen