Wow, Israel sure has changed. . .

Just recently Meg and I returned from being in Israel. I was in Israel to attend the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Meg accompanied me. It was nice to be back in Israel, opportunities to speak Hebrew, to eat Israeli cuisine, to see familiar sights, to visit with Israeli friends, to see the enormous growth taking place throughout the country.

It had been seven years since my last trip to Israel and the amount of growth that has occurred since then is nothing short of spectacular particularly around Tel Aviv and north towards Haifa. Not so long ago the highway from Tel Aviv to Haifa was a stretch of road passing mostly through orchards of oranges and farms of fish ponds. Today the road is lined with new high rise apartment buildings, office buildings, the Netanya professional soccer stadium and ultra high-tech research facilities. So much has changed.

Netanya, until recently a quiet bedroom community just north of Tel Aviv, has exploded in size. Growing anti-Semitism in France has caused a major influx of Jewish émigrés to this coastal city. The city now has come to be known as Israeli’s French Riviera.

As Israel grows it was wonderful to see the greater integration of Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims. This was particularly apparent in Haifa, a city well known for its outstanding interfaith life. The night before leaving Israel Meg and I drove to Haifa to visit longtime friends. We dined together in a Muslim owned fish restaurant near Haifa’s waterfront. As we conversed both in Hebrew and English our waiter, the owner’s son, shared with us his current studies in an English institute. He spoke almost flawless English. I asked him what he intended to do with this enormous talent. He replied I will find work in Israel then adding that Israel was his home and that he was proud to be a citizen. It gave both Meg and I such delight to see the growing improvement of relationships between Muslims and Jews.

Upon our return we both came to the realization that we need to visit Israel more often. Every visit is a new experience. Every visit affords us an opportunity to learn something new, to grow and to appreciate and value our religious identity.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi James Scott Glazier

Enjoy Great Israeli Wine!

If you’re anything like me, you don’t start thinking about wine for Passover until the holiday is but days away. Not this year! With the help and approval of the Brotherhood, four wine tastings will take place during our Onegs on March 11, 18, 25 and April 1. All the wines to be tasted are kosher for Passover and from Israel. Here is a preliminary list of the wines to be offered:

March 11th: Ramot Naftaly Shiraz 2012

March 18th: Kishor Savant Riesling 2014

March 25th: Ramot Naftaly Cabernet Sauvignon SE 2012

April 1st: Kishor Savant Viognier 2013

If you should like to order any of the wines for your Passover celebration information will be made available at each Sabbath tasting.

May your Passover be one of blessing, sweetness and peace.

Rabbi James Scott Glazier

Rabbi's Message on Yom Kippur 5776

Play Ball

Yom Kippur

5776/2015

 

Fifty years ago today Los Angeles pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to pitch. It was the first game of the World Series. The LA Dodgers were playing the Minnesota Twins and the Jewish pitcher, Koufax, had decided not to pitch. Sandy Koufax wasn’t just any pitcher. That year, 1965, he had 26 pitching wins, an earned run average of 2.04, pitched 27 complete games, had pitched a perfect game and set a 20th century record of 382 strike outs. Koufax was way more than a “good” pitcher. And not to leave out the fact that he won the National League’s Cy Young award for pitching that year. This was the pitcher who wasn’t going to pitch in the first game of World Series!?!

When asked on ESPN in 2000 why he chose to do it Koufax said, “There was no hard decision for me. It was a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”

For most if not all Jews his decision was a source of immense pride. His respect for his faith transcended baseball. Imagine a Jew, in 1965, placing personal faith above the national pastime.

He wasn’t the first Jew to sit out a game for religious principles. Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers sat out a game on Yom Kippur during a 1934 pennant race. Koufax’s decision is better known because Koufax was in the pinnacle of his career whereas Greenberg hadn’t at the time reached it.

At the time I both admired Koufax’s courage and resented it. I admired him for his courage. I resented him because now my parents had a reason for me to not play baseball when it conflicted with Hebrew school or Sunday or Saturday school. Yes, in my day the Reform kids attended three days a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and on Saturday or Sunday mornings. “If Sandy Koufax can miss the world series you can miss a little league game,” my mother would say. Thanks Sandy! My non-Jewish coaches did not have the same nuanced approach to pride and religion as did Koufax or my mom.

Yet life really is about making right choices and Koufax’s decision about making the right choice still resonates amongst Jews today.

Years ago downtown Burlington had far more locally owned businesses than it does today. Today many of the businesses are owned by large chains but thirty years ago Jewish merchants were to be found everywhere. And one of the nice things about Jewishly owned businesses is that they, not all but many, closed on the Yom Tovs. It was nice. It was a source of pride. It impressed upon the non-Jewish community that we believed in our faith and practice. And that on certain days of the year it wasn’t all about business and money but about faith, family and our belief in God. It was our time to outwardly manifest ourselves to a world not always so well acquainted with their Jews neighbors.

We had certain unpublished rules in those days. Rule 1: You don’t go to school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover or Shavuot. And if there is a game on a festival you will not be playing. Rule 2: You don’t go to work on those days either. And if you have a business you stay away from it. Rule 3: You always had a festive meal at home, with relatives or friends. Rule 4: Everyone would see each other at Shul, Temple or the Synagogue.

Generally everyone seemed to live by these four rules.

It saddens me that so many have abandoned these four simple rules. Maybe that’s why the Sandy Koufax decision still resonates so loudly today. It all comes down to making the right decision. Remember Koufax’s reasoning. For him, “It was a thing of respect.” While I’m not in position to ask Mr. Koufax to define what he meant by respect I think I can assume a few things about his reasoning.

First: He was being respectful to his religious beliefs. Judaism was more than a meaningless institution to him. And if in fact it had meaning then he needed to demonstrate its meaning in his own life and his own practice. Baseball would come second not first!

Second: Mr. Koufax believed that he needed to be respectful to his own community. I think he was concerned about how it would look to be playing baseball on the holiest day of the year while his community was in synagogue.

Jewish public school teachers have told me how they feel when they take off religious holidays when fellow Jewish teachers don’t. After coming back from a religious observance non-Jewish faulty and the administration frequently ask why they were off when other Jewish teachers were not thus forcing the observant teachers to defend themselves. Mr. Koufax understood that the decision not to play wasn’t all about him. He was a public figure. He’s behavior would reflect upon way more than himself alone.

And third: Mr. Koufax understood that he needed to model the behavior he held dear. Imagine if Mr. Koufax had played on this Yom Kippur fifty years ago? What message would that have instilled in the Jewish children of his day?

There is a story of an American executive traveling to Japan for business. The American businessman encounters his two Japanese colleagues and they head out for dinner. Given the proximity of the restaurant they decide to walk. As they approach a cross walk the American quickly looks both ways yet proceeds against the light. As he moves down the sidewalk he notes his two Japanese colleagues are not accompanying him. He is forced to wait so they can catch up. When they do he asks, “Why did you hesitate and not cross with me? There were no cars coming.” One of the two Japanese executives answered, “While it is true that no car was coming, a child could have been watching us.”

Our children are watching us. Our children need us to show them the way. Be a Jew! Be proud! Happy New Year!

Rabbi's Message on Kol Nidre 5776

For the Love of Israel

Erev Yom Kippur

2015/5776

 

I’ve never known a time when Israel wasn’t a part of my life. In the annals of Jewish history I am a very privileged person.  For millennium our people have prayed for the reestablishment of our ancient homeland without having lived long enough to see the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

The time I came to understand Israel’s existence was when I was a youngster attending Religious School. I was probably about eight or nine years of age. I was in my Hebrew class and the Rabbi walked in, my Rabbi of blessed memory. That the Rabbi walked into my class was reason enough for excitement and fear. He was there to make an announcement, an announcement that was a bit lost on an eight or nine year old. He told us that no longer was the Hebrew school going to teach us Ashkenazic pronunciation of Hebrew. There would be no more Tov and Sov only Tov, no more Kamatz pronounced as “ahw,” now the Kamatz would be sounded as Oh or Ah. Why this sudden change? Israel now exists and we will learn the Hebrew pronunciation of Israel, not Europe or the United States. He went on to tell us that eventually everyone will speak Hebrew like Israelis so that’s the pronunciation we will now learn and use.

The second instance of Israel impacting my life in a very personal way is when my sister went to Israel to attend high school. When I was twelve, my sister decided to spend a part of her junior year in Israel. She enrolled in the Reform E.I.E, Eisendrath International Experience, and attended the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa. From her I learned so much about this far away land through her photographs, letters and postcards. She lived with the Friedman family and attend high school with Irit Friedman her Israeli sister. As I’m speaking my sister is in Israel having attended the wedding of Irit’s daughter in Haifa.

My first direct relationship with Israel occurred when I entered my first year of rabbinical school. The Hebrew Union College required all entering students to spend one year in Israel for language training and acculturation. I attended Hebrew classes five days a week for five hours a day. I volunteered on a k’votzav, a communal farm, for two weeks picking Granny Smith apples. I taught English as a second language to Israeli kids. I toured the entire country and while in Israel the Friedmans in Haifa took me in when I longed for the feeling of home.

Over the years I’ve returned to Israel nearly twenty times sometimes with family, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes alone. Like our own respective families Israelis can be warm and embracing and they can be prickly, antagonizing and combative. But they are family!

And like family I have every right to criticize any member of the family for something I perceive to be inappropriate. However if someone outside the family says something about any of my family members I will take umbrage with that person.

In recent years Israel has received more than an appropriate amount of criticism. No country is above reproach. All nations fail to meet certain standards of ethical and moral behavior. However the singling out of Israel for severe reprimand is without parallel. Say the word Israel in the midst of some people or certain groups and the response is visceral, Apartheid State, Colonists, Warmongers….the list goes on and on.   

As I stated on Rosh Hashanah, Israel was established as a safe haven for all Jews. Israel for Jews represents a national aspiration, a homeland, and a return to our ancestral home. We are not unique in this hope. Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria also wish to establish a national homeland. Tibetans wish to re-establish their national homeland that was stolen by the Chinese. Northern Ireland wishes to separate from the British. The Ukrainians who were officially separated from the Russia are again being threatened by Putin and Russia. The list goes on and on. For many and rightfully so these national aspirations are all legitimate. Only when it comes to Israel and its hope to have and safeguard its national homeland is it called illegitimate.

I want to address three contemporary issues that Israel contends with each and every day: BDS, claims of Palestinian genocide and peace with the Palestinians.

BDS is an acronym for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The BDS movement seeks to stigmatize, isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel. Founded in 2005, BDS espouses a “moral” position of economic and political pressure on behalf of its cause. Some European countries employ BDS activities to unilaterally pressure Israel to change its policies that effect Palestinians. In the United States, the BDS movement manifests in anti-Israel academic, cultural and economic activities. Many in the BDS movement willingly admit that the movement exists to remove any Israeli presence from “Palestine” and, in doing so, makes the realization of a two state solution far more difficult.

In June, 2015, President Obama signed into law a “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority that includes a provision to push back against actions by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The law directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations with the E.U. will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit US-Israel commerce. It also urges the U.S. Trade Representative to seek the elimination of politically motivated economic attacks on Israel by America’s free trade partners.

Also fortunate is that the BDS movement has not succeeded on America’s college campus. At the University of Michigan, the University of Texas, Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara resolutions calling for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel were defeated by an assortment of pro-Israel groups on campus such as Hillel, Jewish fraternities, sororities, student members of AIPAC and pro-Israel Christian student organizations.

The truth is the BDS movement is doing more harm to Palestinians than Israelis. Soda Stream, known for producing at home soda machines, was located in an industrial zone next to the Jerusalem settlement of Ma-a-lei A-du-meem which is the West Bank. The Soda Stream plant employed approximately 800 West Bank Palestinians. Their wages were twice as high as wages in the West Bank. Benefits were also extremely generous: full health-care (in Israeli clinics and hospitals), retirement pensions and paid vacations. Because of an international effort by BDS to boycott Soda Stream the company chose to relocate from the industrial zone next to Ma-a-lei A-du-meem to within “Green Line” Israel. The new location was significantly far from where they had previous been. An overwhelming number of Palestinian workers lost their jobs. Those brave enough to speak out because of possible Palestinian leadership backlash were extremely upset. Their main concern was the lack of good paying jobs in the West Bank.

So who really suffers? The Palestinians do. Even with the BDS Israel’s economy thrives. Israel is only second to the United States in the number of companies listed on NASDAQ. Israeli innovation and research is unsurpassed. From the cellphone in your pocket to the newest medical innovations in our hospitals all herald from Israeli ingenuity. The world in so many ways could not do without what Israel imagines and creates every single day. If the BDS movement was sincere in its commitment to destroy the economy of Israel then I say throw away your cell phones, your generic drugs, your agricultural technology, your flash drives and thumb drives, your voice mail technology, your cherry tomatoes and your water purification systems.

Gaon Holdings that controls Ahava, the Dead Sea cosmetics company, informed Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that China’s investment giant Fosan has acquired the company for $77 million. China has acquired the company and seeking to expand the products into China’s enormous and rapidly expanding cosmetics market, Ahava may not need to relocate. Back in 2007, Ahava had already signed an exclusive distribution agreement with a Chinese company to build up the brand name in China.

The economic well-being of Israel is not threatened by BDS.

There is no Palestinian genocide taking place in Israel. Just from a statistical point of view this is nothing more than vitriolic diatribe. In Israel proper today 20% of the population is Arab which constitutes about 1.7 million people. 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank today. In 1967, about 500,000 to 600,000 were living in the West Bank. There has been almost a five fold increase in the number of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The claim of Palestinian genocide is absolutely true, however, not with respect to Israel. It is true with respect to Arab states.

After the First Gulf War Kuwait's lack of support for Palestinians was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. On March 14, 1991, 200,000 Palestinians were still residing in Kuwait, out of initial 400,000. Palestinians began leaving Kuwait during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation. During a single week in March, the Palestinian population of Kuwait had almost entirely fled the country. According to the New York Times, Kuwaitis said the anger against Palestinians was such that there was little chance that those who had left during the seven-month occupation could ever return and relatively few of those remaining will be able to stay.

As many as 2,663 Palestinian have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war.  At least 27,933 Palestinian refugees fled Syria and arrived in Europe in the past four years of the war while 80,000 Palestinian refugees fled to neighboring countries including Jordan which received 10,687 refugees, Lebanon which received 51,300 refugees and Egypt which received 6,000 refugees, according to UNRWA statistics.

An estimated 240,000 Palestinians are living in Saudi Arabia. They are not allowed to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship, because of Arab League instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship; the only other alternative for them is to marry a Saudi national. Palestinians are the sole foreign group that cannot benefit from a 2004 law passed by Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers, which entitles expatriates of all nationalities who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship.

Palestinians have fared far better living in Israel and the West Bank than in most Arab countries. There is no Palestinian genocide taking place in Israel.

Lastly, I pray for the peace of Israel and hope that there can be a two state solution as soon as possible. However I’m also pessimistic about the possibility as well. And with each successive year my pessimism grows. The Palestinian leadership is not interested in a two state solution if it were it would have come to fruition years ago when three comprehensive peace agreements were offered by the State of Israel.  Arafat couldn’t do it nor can Abbas. The narrative for the Palestinians has essentially stayed the same since the time of Arafat. There should be one state and that state should be Palestinian. This is what has been promised to the Palestinian people and their leadership has neither the will nor the inclination to change that narrative.

To be fair there is a growing segment of the Israeli population that also agrees with a one state solution. However instead of being a Palestinian one state it will be an Israeli one state. The settler movement grows every single day in Israel and unless the Palestinians move toward the peace table I believe a two state solution will be an idea whose time has passed.

Just two weeks ago Netanyahu asked Abbas to resume the peace talks through face to face negotiations. Abbas refused just as Palestinian leadership have done for decades.

Before the vote on the Iranian Deal a few weeks ago members of the Jewish community met with Representative Peter Welch. There were about eight of us at the meeting, three local rabbis and about five members of the Jewish community. We were with Representative Welch to discuss the upcoming vote. Our comments to the congressman were at his request and for which I’m extremely grateful. What the congressman had to say was extremely telling.

Representative Welch since the time he entered his office in Washington believed that the crux of Middle East turmoil was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He shared that he no longer believes that narrative any longer. What causes the rage in the Middle East goes far beyond that particular disagreement. Sunni vs Shia, Arab vs Persian, various tribal animosities, the lack of pluralism, women’s rights and religious freedom all contribute to what’s happening. He also shared that he has lost faith in the current Palestinian leadership, claiming them to be utterly corrupt and completely disinterested in the well-being of its own people.  Hurray for our Congressman for seeing the situation for what it truly is.

Right now Israelis are in Greece handing out care packages to the fleeing Moslems from Syria, Libya and Iraq. Israelis are working in field hospitals on the border with Syria caring for the wounded of that nation. Israelis were the first responders to Haiti and Nepal. They were in those two countries helping the injured, homeless and hungry before any other nation on the face of this earth.

Lata Chand, 19, of Nepal was heavily pregnant when the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck April 25. She and her husband ran out of their house in panic. Their home was undamaged, but the hospital where she was to give birth was forced to close.

On Friday, they went instead to a field hospital set up by the Israeli military, where the baby was born.

The beaming midwife, Dganit Gery, said she hoped the birth would show all Nepalese women that there is hope for the future.

Lata's husband, Hariender Chand, said they were terrified the quake would cause her to miscarry.

"When the quake struck, I was thinking, 'Will we survive?' because most of the pregnant women miscarried their babies," he said. "I was scared it would happen to us. Now we're safe, it's good."

This is the Israel I love! Happy New Year!

Rabbi's Message on Erev Rosh Hashanah 2015/5776

Being an Exceptional People

Erev Rosh Hashanah

2015/5776

Happy New Year! I spent my junior year of college in Madrid, Spain. In the program I participated in foreign students were assigned to live with local families. Given my concern about living with a Catholic family in what was a very Catholic country I wrote Madrids only rabbi, an Orthodox rabbi, to see if he could find a Jewish family with whom I would be able to live. He succeeded and found me the Ben Chimol Family. The Ben Chimols were originally from Morocco and consisted of a Mom, Dad and three sons, one of which was my age.They had fled Morocco around the time of the Sinai/Suez War of 1956 as did many Jews throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Arab states unable to directly engage in war against Israel chose instead to make their resident Jews existence intolerable. Fortunately for the Ben Chimols they heralded from Spanish Morocco making them Spanish citizens and therefore holding Spanish passports. In 1947 850,000 Jews lived in North Africa and in Arab Middle East states; today only 8,000 remain, 5,700 of which live in Morocco.

I lived with the family for almost entire year. Simi, the mother, treated me like her own son, her fourth son. I learned a lot about Sephardic Judaism that year. Simi kept a completely kosher home. The family attended worship every Friday night, save the mother who would remain at home preparing the Sabbath Meal, and on Saturday mornings and on all the festivals with me always in tail. I cant say that I still recall many of the Sephardic melodies from North Africa but I do remember so many of the traditions. One of those traditions we do here at Temple Sinai when Torah is read. When a parent comes forward to make an aliyah we ask the children of that parent to rise in honor of their parent. That is a Sephardic tradition I learned in Spain!

Spain in the 1970s wasnt a particularly hospitable country to Jews. I think it would be fair to say they were somewhat tolerated but nowhere near being embraced. Men, who chose to cover their heads in public, would don a hat never a kippah.  Jews would hire fellow Jews knowing that a Spaniard might never offer them a job. The father, Jaime, worked for the synagogue as dues collector. The synagogue was protected 24/7 by Madrids police force.  And you would rarely if ever share publically your religious status. Centuries of anti-Jewish teachings of the Church was well embedded in the Spanish psyche.

The truth be told not has changed dramatically in forty years. Recent polls show that 85% of European Jewry are afraid to publically share its Jewish identity.

On Friday nights after we returned from Kabbalat Shabbat worship we gathered around the dinner table for a traditional Moroccan Sabbath meal which consisted of: spiced fish, boiled chickpeas, eggs and beef, Moroccan couscous, roasted eggplant salad, roasted red peppers, wine and bread. The bread was not challah. My Moroccan family knew nothing of the European tradition of challah. For them it was always French bread.  It was a feast. Im salivating just thinking about it. The candles were blessed by the mother. Then the wine was blessed by the father. And here is where it got interesting.

Beyond the fact that the Sephardic melody for the Kiddush is dramatically different from our Ashkenazi melody there was something he did in the middle of the Kiddush. When he got to the verse, Ki vanu vacharta, votanu kidashta mee-kol ha-a-meem, meaning: You chose us and sanctified us from all the peoples, he would raise the Kiddush cup even higher in his hand. Well known is the tradition of raising the Kiddush cup throughout the entire blessing. But I had never known anyone to raise the cup even higher when arriving at this particular verse.

You know for many years the Reform Movement never would say, mee-kol ha-a-meem,From all the people.  Yes we would say, Ki vanu vacharta, votanu kidasahta,You chose us and sanctified us, but no from all the peoples. In Union Prayer Book Volume I for the Sabbath those four words never appeared save only  in the Union Prayer II for the High Holidays. However they eventually would appear in the publication of the Gates of Prayer in the early 1970s.

It wasnt until then as Reform Jews that we came to understand ourselves as not only chosen and sanctified but even more importantly distinct from all the peoples. We went from being chosen to being chosen unlike any other people on the face of the earth.

What caused this shift? What made us more cognizant of our special status? More than anything it was the Holocaust. Prior to the Holocaust an overwhelming number of liberal, progressive Jews believed Western society would always be a warm and welcoming home for enlightened and liberal Jews. It had been right up to and even during the early days of Holocaust that these liberal Jews believed in the notion of social Darwinism. Shoulder to shoulder, we along with the well-meaning of all societies and nations would build a better future of all humankind. After the Holocaust the idea of working with all of humankind to build a better tomorrow seemed, at least from a Jewish perspective, a lot less likely. Reformers came to the very bitter realization that too many were more interested in killing us than working with us.

As the world came to see us as the other, even the evil ones we came to see ourselves as unique, uniquely chosen by God and uniquely different than those about us.

We see this also in the Aleinu prayer. Let us now praise the Sovereign of the Universe and proclaim the greatness of the Creator who has set us apart from the other families of the earth, giving us a destiny unique among the nations. Following the Holocaust Jews, even Reform Jews, were coming to see the world with different eyes. Yes there are some who share our vision. However there are those who not only vehemently disagree with our vision but wish to do us harm. 

We are a distinct people and endowed with a unique destiny. We gather this evening to remind ourselves of this eternal truth. Sad that so many have forgotten and others are unaware because they were never taught of this important lesson.

As the dangers of the world abound and the value of human life diminishes more than ever we should be that unique voice that unique people ever reminding humankind of the eternal truths our ancestors taught.

David Harris, President of the American Jewish Committee, shared his views as to the importance of a Jewish identity.  What does being Jewish mean?

  • It means embracing the deep symbolic meaning the rabbis gave to the story of Adam and Eve. Since all humanity descend from the couple, each of us, whatever our race, religion or ethnicity, shares the same family tree. No one can claim superiority over anyone else. In keeping with this teaching Talmud reminds us, Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9. As Jews we are lovers and preservers of life, all life.
  • It means entering into a partnership with the Divine for the Repair of the World-Tikun Olam. This is a sacred task not to be turned over to a higher authority, or to fate but that its our responsibility. We should pray as if everything depended upon God. We should act as if everything depended upon us. The mystics reminds us that the world is filled with broken fragments, illness, war, hunger, homelessness, loneliness and pain. As Jews it is our sacred task to bring wholeness again, to take the fragments and repair, rebuild our broken world.
  • It means that we are persistently living lives based on Torah and Halacha, laws and statues which establish a moral code. We are tasked to pursue justice, to treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to protect our environment, to care for the elderly. It was through us that God made known The Ten Commandments, the eternal, universal and ethical code of conduct.
  • And here I quote David Harris word for word, And finally, as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel once said, it means not necessarily seeking to make the world more Jewish, but rather more human. That is the goal animating our people, through good times and bad, from the beginning of this extraordinary historical journey to the present day.

These are just some of meanings of our Jewishness. There so many more: Israel, our Jewish sense of connectedness with Jews from all over the world, our commitment to learning and teaching, our commitment to philanthropy and our commitment to social justice.

We have much of which to be proud, not in a boastful way but in a way that makes us feel as if our lives have purpose and importance. We have taken what our Creator has bestowed upon us and have dedicated our brains, our talents, our energies to help create a better world for all of Gods creatures.

More than ever this world needs our help. More than ever we need the will and commitment of the entire Jewish community. Hear the sound of the shofar and please, please answer the call.

Amen.

Rabbi's Message on Rosh Hashanah 2015/5776

A Call to Action

Rosh Hashanah

2015/5776

Israel, our historic homeland, was created for the well-being of the Jewish people. Any Jew can go to Israel and claim citizenship. Genocide is taking place in Syria and Iraq and not a word spoken or a hand extended by any Arab nation save Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The tragedies unfolding in the Middle East tear my heart. The nation of Syria does not exist any longer. The country is divided in quadrants controlled by different warring factions: ISIS, Hezbollah (a faction controlled by Iran), President Assads army, Kurds, Druses and just recently Russian and Iranian forces. Over 250,000 have been killed and more than 4 million have been displaced from their homes. Iraq faces a similar situation, awash with Taliban, ISIS and Iranian forces. Jordan has provided a safe haven to 672,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This number represents more than 10% of Jordans total population.

It provides me no pleasure that Israels neighbors and historic enemies are suffering. Years of totalitarian leadership, the lack of human rights, pluralistic thinking, gender equality and peace have set aflame these nation states and the people suffer.

Im reminded of the famous Midrash concerning the drowning of the Egyptians during our ancestors Exodus.

When the Holy One was about to drown the Egyptians in the sea, Uzza, heavenly prince of Egypt, rose up and prostrated himself before the Holy One, saying: Master of the Universe, You created the world by the measure of mercy. Why then do You wish to drown my children? The Holy One gathered the entire heavenly household and said to them: You be the judge between me and Uzza prince of Egypt. At that, the heavenly princes of the other nations began to speak up in behalf of Egypt. When Michael perceived this, he gave the sign to Gabriel, who in one swoop darted down to Egypt, where he pulled out a brick with its clay enclosing a dead infant who had been immured alive in the structure. He then came back, stood before the Holy One, and said: Master of the Universe, thus did the Egyptians enslave your children. Whereupon the Holy One sat in judgement over the Egyptians in accord with the measure of justice and drowned them in the sea.

In that instant the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but he rebuked them, saying, The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in My presence!

There is no joy in the suffering of our enemies. As we watch this tragedy unfold its impossible not to see the striking similarities between it and the catastrophic genocide that befell our own people seventy years ago, millions displaced, the innocent murdered, nations unwilling to accept those seeking asylum, being herded into camps and numbers being written on their arms.

In news reports from Germany, many of the asylum seekers are being housed in Buchenwald Concentration camp. The contradictions between good and evil in this scenario are too much for the mind to fully comprehend. The ground of the camp still cries out the anguish of thousands and yet those Syrians who now reside there have been given safe haven from the murderous storm. This could only happen in Germany.

As Jews, the clarion call of the shofar reminds us of the sacred work that lies ahead. What heart was not moved by the sight of a lifeless little boy being retrieved from the oceans watery edge? Who among us cannot feel the anguish of parents marching endlessly with children in tow?

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society or more commonly known as HIAS fully endorses the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Thirty years ago, it was HIAS that partnered with us in the resettlement of Soviet Jews. Some thirty-four families were welcomed to the Greater Burlington area by a joint effort of all the local congregations.

We are told to care for the stranger 36 times throughout the Torah, to love the stranger, to welcome the stranger, to protect the stranger. This is not just a commandment but also central Jewish value. Our forefather Abraham and foremother Sarah opened their tent wide and welcomed guests to take refuge in their home, providing them with food and drink and a place to rest.

As a  people, this is our story. From the biblical Israelites to the Jews of the Soviet Union, time and time again, we had to flee our homelands in search of safety due to violence and persecution. Based on our values and rooted in our own history, we have a responsibility to respond to today's refugees.

What are we to do? HIAS has three recommendations.

Advocate: This High Holiday season, ask President Obama and Congress to take bold action on the Syrian crisis.

Go to support.hias.org/syrianrefugees to sign a petition calling on the President to resettle and additional 100,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. Presently we are allowing only 10,000 refugees from Syria. And to call upon the President to provide considerable aid to the severely underfunded humanitarian efforts abroad, and to make the resolution to the Syrian crisis a top foreign policy.

Second: Let's volunteer. Let's commit ourselves to welcoming refugees in our community. It is my hope to find interested people in the Jewish and Moslem community who are willing to do the work of resettlement.

And third: We need to learn more about the global refugee crisis in general and the Syrian refugee crisis in particular. The war in Syria has been raging for years and the world has done nothing more than gaze upon it from a distant. It's little wonder refugees are now flooding Europe and eventually the United States.

I've asked that you take home the fliers available at the end of this service. On them is all the contact information that I spoke about this morning. In the coming weeks this humanity crisis will only get worse. In Saturday's Wall Street Journal President Assad of Syria was accused of using increased torture and terror in order to encourage more of his opponents out of the country and making sure they never return.

While President Assad must go and go quickly, the task before us is to address the human tragedy. So I ask for your help. If you want to be a part of a resettlement initiative, please email as soon as possible.

In nearly two and a half years, around 2,000 Syrians have been admitted to Israeli hospitals. While the vast majority are male up to 90 percent at Ziv, the hospital closest to the border there are women, too, and 17 percent of all patients are children.

Word has spread that Syrians can access medical help over the border from people they've long believed are the enemy. Medics say more patients, and less urgent cases, are filling the beds of publicly-funded Israeli hospitals. As these patients flow in, questions are being raised about the ethics of filling a hospital's limited beds with Syrians and how comfortable Israelis are helping their old enemy so close to home.

We don't know who our patients are Jabhat al-Nusra, the FSA, the Syrian Army. We can't tell, and it wouldn't make a difference," said Solomon, Ziv's vascular surgeon.

"When you are a doctor, you don't get to know who is good and who is bad. You treat everyone," explained another Israeli doctor.

"It's very hard for an Israeli to say, but it's a Holocaust what happens in Syria now. And the world doesn't take a side. And as a doctor, you can't take a side." "This is a humanitarian mission and I am very proud to do it."

Lets be proud as well. Happy New Year!

For the Love of God


 

Our thoughts turn to the tragic event which took place in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine innocent human beings were savagely murdered for no reason save that they were black. Yet if this expression of savagery were not enough these innocent people were murdered in their church while studying sacred text.

A racist murdering innocent people is not a new phenomenon in our society. On September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama as church members prepared for Sunday services. The racially motivated attack killed four young girls and shocked the nation. “They died between the sacred walls of the church of God,” Reverend Martin Luther King said. “And they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.”

Black churches suffered at the hands of thugs and terrorists throughout the Civil Rights era, as they had for a century before, but such attacks aren’t a matter of remote history. As recently as the 1990s, a wave of fire-bombings hit black churches.

Congressional hearings were held in 1996 at the end of a two-year period when such arson spiked across the southeast. In South Carolina alone, black churches that suffered probable arson attacks included Mt. Zion AME Church in Williamsburg, Macedonia Baptist Church in Manning, Saint Paul Baptist Church in Lexington, Rosemary Baptist Church in Barnwell, St. John Baptist Church in Diana, Effington Baptist Church, Mount Olivet Baptist Church, and Allen’s Chapel. One member of Congress likened fire-bombings in those years to “the return of a biblical plague.” The most recent burning of a black church to make national headlines occurred in Massachusetts the day Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first black president. A white man was later convicted in what prosecutors called a racially motivated arson attack.

We Jews well-schooled in suffering and hatred must not be silent in the face of this growing hate.  Not in our life-time and not in our nation can this evil abide.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, writes “We mourn the deaths of Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, beloved church pastor and respected state senator, and of each of the other eight committed leaders of the Emanuel AME community whose lives were taken so tragically. All they wanted to do was learn and share the beauty of their sacred texts together in study. No one should ever have to face this fate simply because they wanted to learn more about their tradition. As Jews, so many times in the past, we have shared such pain, and it is our responsibility to speak out and work tirelessly to ensure that we fashion a world in which every religious tradition is respected and granted the basic human right of freedom to engage in religious study in peace.” Amen.