Friday, April 27, 2012
These are the kinds of things I want to see in our religious school and in our congregation in general. Can't promise the tie die or the guitar (though I've got the beard down)! But I can promise fun and values! And thanks to Jenn Steinberg for sharing with me!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
“Where camp has had its strongest effect has to do with its creation of an intense, temporary Jewish community,” said Cohen.A nice reminder of the importance of Jewish camp, especially for those of us in the 302 who are most excited about the Happy Camper program coming to Delaware...
“When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.” Golda Meir
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
The answer of how we are to be Jewish is different for many people, irrespective of a person’s other national identities. For some, the answer is obvious: being Jewish means being faithful to mitzvot, God’s commandments, as understood in the codification of Jewish law. For others, being Jewish is about cultural expressions, perhaps in terms of certain foods eaten at certain times of the year. What is important, however, is that one’s Jewishness is expressed in some way. While I will not deny that a Jew-by-genes is a Jew, as a Jewish educator I strive to instill something stronger than that in my students.
That's when I realized that for many of those foreign peace activists, this is all just a game. And in this game we, the Israelis and Palestinians, are the pieces. They come from all corners of the world to a faraway country they have never been to before. They confront soldiers and policemen, blocking roads and holding signs. Moreover – as long as they have their cold beer by the end of the evening, as long as they lay their heads in a comfy and friendly hostel – they will continue to arrive.
They take advantage of what we're most proud of: Our freedom, democracy and the tolerance that we're so afraid to lose. They take advantage of the strange system we have developed, the one that lets us disconnect ourselves from reality and continue with our lives even when real fighting takes place so close to us.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
America's Real Top Rabbis - My Jewish Learning
Who's the top rabbi in America?Newsweek and the Daily Beast just released a list of, ostensibly, the best rabbis in America. But are those really THE top rabbis? "We...admire rabbis who keep their heads down and do their pastoral, spiritual or organizational work year after year," the Beast noted. "But if we only rewarded consistency, the list would be unwieldy, fixed, and dull."
We'd like to respectfully disagree. Our top rabbis are the ones we call when we don't understand something about Judaism, or when we don't agree with Judaism. Our top rabbis teach classes, pull us aside, help us through the joyous parts of our lives (births, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings), the difficult parts (divorce, mourning)--and the everyday stuff, too.
Send us your pick! Nominate your favorite rabbi. Tell us in four or five sentences why he or she is a credit to the clergy. Why do they inspire you? What's one way that he or she helped you, or someone you know? We'll feature the most compelling entries on MyJewishLearning.com.
And then we'll turn it over to you to vote. The top vote-getting rabbi will receive dinner for two and a massage, and we'll foot the bill. Being a rabbi is hard work, and God knows they deserve a little thank-you.
So, go ahead! Nominate your favorite rabbi -- fill in these short answers and email us a photo!
Monday, April 9, 2012
After leading the congregational seder tonight, I listened to a message on my voicemail at the synagogue (big mistake). It was a three-minute speech from an 81-year-old Christian woman who did not give her name (of course), telling me about how she is so angry at rabbis because they were the ones who told the Romans to crucify Jesus. She also explained that she has nothing against Jews in general because she has a son-in-law who is a "nice Jewish gentleman." (Poor fellow.) She just felt like she had to get this long-held, bitter complaint off of her chest. ("I just had to say that, and now I have.")
I am dumbstruck. What, if anything, do I do about this? Just ignore it as the rantings of a crazy person? (But, I'm afraid, that there are so many others.) Do I take it to the newspapers or to my Christian colleagues? (But, I'm afraid, that this would only confirm negative assumptions about "pushy Jews" among the very people I want to reach). Are there any colleagues with advice on how to deal with such a thing?Consensus among colleagues was that this should go into the mental 'circular' file or equivalent, maybe process it with some colleagues (Jewish or non-Jewish) that could help him process (not to point fingers or the like).
In addition, however, it seemed like everyone had a similar story, mostly taking place around Passover. It seems like the Easter-Pesach continuum brings out all kinds of responses, from anonymous phone calls like this to people asking if they could come see a real Pesach sacrifice to dressing up like Jesus and coming to the synagogue to accuse the folks inside of Deicicde and the like.
It occurred to me that this isn't the purview of clergy alone. I've heard from congregants who've had similar experiences, as I did when I was growing up--when I was in kindergarten or first grade I actually had a whole conversation about why I didn't celebrate Christmas because I was Jewish, at which point the other kid asked if I killed Jesus, to which I responded by asking who this Jesus fellow was 'cause I never met the guy.
So, what kind of experiences have you had? Non-Jewish friends--have you ever seen anything like this or do you have equivalents? What do you think one should do with something like this?
Thursday, April 5, 2012
That's why I'm sharing this blog article by Rabbi Danny Allen of ARZA. As we pray at the end of the Seder to next year be in Jerusalem, the line becomes increasingly poignant, as we in the Jewish world struggle with Israel's existential challenges, both internal and external. Perhaps these questions will lead all of us to greater understanding and connection--and ultimately commitment.
Thank you Rabbi Allen for your thoughtfulness.
Israel and Zionism should be at the core of our Passover observance. The Exodus from Egypt had a goal not just of freedom for the Jewish People but a return to our own land, our own sovereignty, and our own Jewish ways of living. We are required to make the story meaningful for every generation; hence we should be asking four important questions about Israel and considering four kinds of Zionists.
All countries have governments, borders, neighbors, culture, language(s), economies, their own internal politics, and legitimacy within the family of nations. Why is Israel the only country whose legitimacy as a sovereign state is challenged in so many ways by so many people?
On all other nights we may think of places all around the world we would like to visit. Why on this night do we say only “Next Year in Jerusalem?”
On all other nights we may consider the advantages or challenges of the country of our citizenship. Why on this night do we consider what makes Israel different from all other countries?
Most countries and societies need and welcome the voluntary sector in order to achieve their declared dreams. Israel’s Declarations of Independence challenges us all to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions,” as well as to make peace with her neighbors. Why, on this night, are we not working more diligently to assist Israel in achieving its stated goals of equality for all her citizens, to build a more inclusive democratic society and peace with all her neighbors?
Questions are answered by individuals with a point of view and a particular perspective.
Questions about Israel are often answered by four kinds of Zionists.
The activitist Zionist – what does he/she say in response to these questions?
He/she first analyzes the questions, thinks through all the historical perspectives, centers the answer based where one fits within Zionist ideology, and then decides on strategy and tactics including which organization is best equipped to handle the response. While all of this activity is important and needs to be supported, sometimes what is needed is a simple answer, one that is the essence of one’s being.
On April 1, 1933, the Jewish Review of Berlin, a Zionist newspaper, editorialized about what should be the response to the new Nazi law requiring Jews to wear a yellow star which was meant to mark Jews as illegitimate: The Jewish (Zionist) answer must be that briefest of sentences Moses spoke to the Egyptian (when his legitimacy was challenged): Ivri Anochi. I am a Jew.
Wherever we fall on the broad Zionist spectrum, we are all Jews in the big tent of supporting Israel.
The disillusioned Zionist – what does she/he say?
Why is Israel really important anymore? She has not lived up to my dreams, to what I learned in summer camp, to the very ideals upon which the state was founded. I have worked for years and still Israel has so many problems, peace has not yet been achieved and I am tired of the struggle.
To this person you should answer from Pirkei Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” In a brief 64 years Israel has brought home millions of Jews, created a vibrant country, defended itself from military and terrorist threats, and contributed positively to the world. Rededicate yourself to the Israel with the spirit of the summer movement for social change; “The people demand a just society”.
The nominal Zionist, the “Jew in the pew” — what does he/she say?
What’s all the fuss about? I live a comfortable Jewish life here in America and Israel does not really affect my life.
Then you should remind this person that American attitudes toward Jews changed for the better after the 1967 Six-Day War when the world saw Jews who had reclaimed Jewish destiny in Jewish hands; that the technology for the cellphone they use was created in Israel; that Israel has painfully made peace with its two largest neighbors and is committed to a two-state solution: a Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state for the Palestinians living side by side in peace, which, when it happens, will further peace for everyone in the world; and that it is Israel that stands at the cutting edge of defending the West against terrorism and fanaticism.
The not-yet Zionist, the one who does not know about Israel, the success of the national liberation project of the Jewish people, the good that Israel has brought to the world, and the amazing story of a people repatriated, a land reclaimed and a language renewed: For this person you shall begin with the words of God to Abraham:
Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land (Israel) that I will show you and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you… and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.
In answer to all the questions and in response to all the kinds of Zionists we are reminded of what Chaim Weitzmann, the first president of Israel, once said: A nation does not receive a state on a silver platter.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I first noticed the list a couple of years ago. At first, it was a nice way to celebrate some colleagues' achievements. And it seemed like a good bit of American fun (we have so many top 10 lists, thank you Casey Kasem and David Letterman). Now I worry about it. Not too much, but enough to raise an eyebrow. Is it an ego thing now? Is it meaningful? I suspect most of the people on the list don't have time to process that they're on the list, they're just knuckling down and doing the work that many of us do in our own congregations (just not quite at that scale). And I suspect it's not worth wringing our hands too much, except that it does help us ask the question: what does it mean to be a 'good' or 'successful' rabbi? I know many colleagues that struggle to figure out what the right 'metrics' are for evaluation: is it about bringing in new members (or retaining members)? Raising money? Running successful programs? Preaching meaningful sermons? Taking risks? Bringing kavod to the congregation? All of the above?
Which leads me to this article posted by my friend Ilan (who's blog is on my blogroll...somewhere. Dude, update man!). The article from the United Methodist Portal, is on how to better evaluate church performance, and the parallels are there for us. While we focus easily on numerical growth (and drive a lot of what we do in our congregations toward that, for obvious reasons) he asks a simple but incisive question: what would happen if we evaluated our congregations (and rabbis) based on how we provided opportunities for spiritual growth, for opportunities to connect with the sacred? In other words: did we offer enough Torah? Enough music? Enough davening? Classes to help people develop their spiritual practice--meditation, kabbalah, worship, dance? Did we organize around compassion and justice?
Looking back at the list, it seems to me that many of these individuals were focused on exactly that. Not gimmicks, not 'better marketing', not programs for their own sake, or to bring people together for 'mere' socialization, but with sacred purpose. After all is said and done, is the secret 'sauce' ma really just be authentic encounters with God and each other. In which case, we in congregational life should find more opportunities to be communities of intention, rather than 'merely' count heads.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
Another pic for this one! Or in this case, a set of pics. Specifically, pictures my son took while we walked the dog around the neighborhood. Interesting to see things from his vantage; his height, what he thinks is important (he's also pretty good with a digital camera for a 4-year old). How do you see things differently?