Thursday, May 31, 2012

Be’chol Lashon: Educational Resources: Newsletter: Do we really love Ruth?

Be’chol Lashon: Educational Resources: Newsletter: Do we really love Ruth?: "I’ve heard people say that although someone converts, they will never really, truly “be” Jewish. They don’t really feel it in their kishkes the way “we” do. In the vast majority of cases, this is utterly false. In the vast majority of cases, it’s the passion, interest, skill, knowledge and commitment of the Jew-by-choice that threatens us to the core. It threatens our complacency. It threatens our jaded boredom with our own heritage. It threatens our smug sense of “I am a good Jew even though I don’t do a Jewish thing, ever.” It threatens our security when our kids cease being interested in anything Jewish. It threatens our romanticized picture of who we are as Jews."

'via Blog this'

Saturday, May 26, 2012

For this Memorial Day

For this Memorial Day I present the full eulogy at the dedication of the 5th Marine Division Cemetery at Iwo Jima in March of 1945 by Roland Gittelsohn z'l, my father's childhood rabbi and the first rabbi to serve as a chaplain in the Marine Corps. His words resonate for us today. 

"This is perhaps the grimmest, and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-Day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us, and went over the sides with us as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may now rest a man who was destined to be a great prophet–to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory. 
It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very monent only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them too can it be said with utter truth: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here." 
No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our Division who are not here have already done. All that we even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their jobs well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is we the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated. 
We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in this war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, negroes and whites, rich men and poor–together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy. 
Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts up his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, then, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the rights of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them here have paid the price. 
To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America's fghting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering,is but the beginning our our generation's struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were the last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here: we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died. 
When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward, not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this too we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of moners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, the right to a living that is decent and secure. 
When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind, than by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed with shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground. 
Thus do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves the living to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come–we promise–the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.       Amen."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Some Shavuot Resources

Shavuot isn't just about cheesecake and ice cream, it's about Torah. Torah is meant to be lived, not just studied, right? And part of Living Torah is affirming the inherent godliness of every human being, lifting up our common humanity. With that in mind, let me send you to the Rabbis for Human Rights-North America website, which has many resources for teaching and practicing Human Rights and Justice, including how to teach your children on this holiday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Reflecting on 9 years in the rabbinate

This weekend marks the 9th anniversary of my ordination as rabbi. On May 31st 2003 I and my classmates (19 of us in total) ascended the IM Wise Plum St. Temple to receive our charge to serve the Jewish people, the 120th such class to do so. It was an awesome, terribly humbling and overwhelming experience that still inspires me. 

9 years is sort of a weird anniversary to reflect upon, I'll admit. And mostly I want to focus not on the ordination service itself, but the night before, Friday the 30th. That night, I and my classmates were at Rockdale Temple on Ridge Rd., to celebrate Shabbat and hear the words of our teacher, Mark Washofsky. I'll readily admit I don't remember much of what he said (though, as always, he was entertaining--I do remember the laughter). What I do remember vividly was his charge to us--to remember our congregants who didn't know the tradition, and to always make the tradition accessible to them. To build those relationships with the members of our community--not only our relationship with them, but their relationship with Judaism. 

I remember thinking at the time, "well, duh", as only a soon-to-be ordained 27 year old could think. Now 9 years in, I think about that idea a lot. The more I serve the more I realize that, despite needing and craving for that relationship, so many people find themselves distant from their Judaism. Like bashful suitors, we blush and turn away when Judaism approaches. We get all tongue-tied and twisted up inside. Maybe it's because we think we don't know enough, maybe it's because of a previous, painful encounter (and there are no shortage of those, sadly). Maybe we simply don't know how to start the conversation. And so we gaze at the Judaism that should be ours from across the room, and continue to feel distant. 

I bring this up even as we as a people are rubbing our hands with anxiety again (some more) about the state of the Jewish population, but also as increasing leaders in our community are calling for new ways of looking at to the problem itself, not just new solutions. More and more Jewish communal leaders are reframing the challenge from one of numbers (declining Jewish involvement in synagogues, JCCs; shrinking and aging population in general, etc.) to one of meaning and connection. We move the metrics from "how many people joined and/or came to the program" to asking: did  people changed their behavior (lit Shabbat candles more often, for example); made meaningful connections with people, perhaps even informally; did people feel something? Sure, it's a harder metric to evaluate--it's much easier to count heads--but sometimes the easy metric isn't necessarily the right one. Or, to paraphrase my dad, while you always count the house, that doesn't mean you adjust your service (or sermon) based on the house. Whether it's 30 people or 3 who come, you do what you can to create connections and meaning.

This week we begin the book of Numbers, and parashat bamidbar tells us two things: 1. the people are in the wilderness, and 2. they need to be counted, as if in a census. We gloss over this portion pretty quickly; it comes at the beginning of summer, and it's not very 'action' oriented, especially compared with Shelach Lecha (The Spies), Korach (Rebellion) Balak (Bilaam's blessing), or Pinchas (Zealotry in spear-hurtling form). And especially this year, as Bamidbar anticipates Shavuot, it would be easy to focus only on the receiving of the Torah. But in this moment, it's worth reflecting. Increasingly we feel like we're in the wilderness, and we nervously count our numbers. But we are called to count ourselves for a purpose: to enter the land and receive our birthright. How appropriate that our birthright--Torah--comes to us as we bid Shabbat farewell. 9 years ago Dr. Washofsky preached of the importance of facilitating that connection for people. And if we do our work the way we're supposed to, we serve as God's matchmakers in the best sense, helping to start that conversation with the tradition, and hopefully a lifelong love affair with Judaism. Not a bad thing to reflect on halfway to chai. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why You Need to Embrace Relationship Based Engagement |

Why You Need to Embrace Relationship Based Engagement | "One of the key points is that this engagement and these relationships are l’shma, for their own sake. Synagogue membership is not the goal – connecting Jews to Judaism is."

YES!!!! Thanks Oren Hayon for calling this to my attention!

'via Blog this'

Police detain women at Kote... JPost - Jewish World - Jewish News

Police detain women at Kote... JPost - Jewish World - Jewish News: "“It’s frightening to me that a woman wearing a talit is a criminal threat to the state of Israel,” Horwitz told The Jerusalem Post. “I’m leaving the country in a week and a half and I hope when I come back Israel will be a more religiously tolerant and understanding place.”

'via Blog this'

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jay Michaelson: Obama's Same-Sex Marriage Announcement: A Victory for Religion

Jay Michaelson: Obama's Same-Sex Marriage Announcement: A Victory for Religion: "This process is about the growth of individual conscience: I used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, I come to feel a different way. And look at the evidence Obama cited: People on his staff, friends, and family -- these, not abstract principles -- are what shifted his heart and mind. Thinking of his personal responsibility for the lives of soldiers serving our country -- this, not some policy point -- is the data that weighs into questions of right and wrong."

Not to make Rabbi Michael Beals' argument for tonight's d'var torah for him, but maybe it'll help inform the conversation afterwards!

'via Blog this'

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meant to reflect Jewish values, Kosher food is often unethical - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Meant to reflect Jewish values, Kosher food is often unethical - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News: "As Orthodox Jewish social justice leaders, we at the group Uri L’Tzedek (Awaken to Justice) sought to create a system for protecting those with the least among us. Exactly one year after the startling exposure at Agriprocessors, Uri L’Tzedek launched the Tav HaYosher, an ethical seal for kosher restaurants. To receive the Tav seal, kosher restaurants and caterers must meet guidelines for fair pay and worker safety based on city, state, and federal law. Compliance officers conduct periodic inspections, and employees can report violations on an anonymous tip line.

This program relies on the carrot rather than the stick. Restaurant owners who have been given the Tav have gained significant business from free advertising, and many people will only buy kosher food with this ethical certification. As a result, the Tav seal is an incentive for restaurant owners to voluntarily uphold the rights of workers."

Preached about this four years ago when everything first went down with Rubashkins. I still keep Kosher but try to get from local Va'ad sources as much as possible. The more programs like Tav HaYosher and Heksher Tzedek can get support, the more our Jewish values are lived meaningfully...Mitzvah goreret mitzvah!

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Actually, I am Jewish, Even if You Don’t Agree | Raising Kvell

Actually, I am Jewish, Even if You Don’t Agree | Raising Kvell: "The challenges facing the Jewish community are so much greater than that which divides us from within. Ultimately, it will be our willingness to balance our commitment to our history and the wisdom of our ancestors with a pragmatic acknowledgment of the dynamic, complex nature of the Jewish people that will keep our community strong and flourishing."

'via Blog this'

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Top 10 Things to Know About the Campaign for Youth Engagement | RJ Blog

Top 10 Things to Know About the Campaign for Youth Engagement | RJ Blog:

"We know that the most powerful experiences are hands-on opportunities to build, taste, and explore while nurturing powerful, life-long friendships. Immersive experiences like programmatic weekends, summers, camp, and Israel trips are among the most effective strategies in creating strong Jewish identity. The Campaign will focus on building up and connecting these existing immersive experiences to teens, their families, their congregations, and each other to create a web of interconnected experiences in our youth’s lives. The Campaign will also identify, strengthen, and create a variety of new avenues for youth to meaningfully engage in Jewish life by experiencing Judaism in real-time."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A question of spiritual practice

So in today's DERECH meeting, Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein began with a check-in based on the Omer and his own journaling, and I thought it was worth sharing.

It takes the form of three statements, left ambiguous, that should relate to your own spiritual practice. The questions are:

When I first...

Then I...

And Now...

So mine took the following form:

When I did my first funeral, it was the summer between my second and third years of rabbinic school. I was newly married, and young, and I was covering for Rabbi Mark Goldman at Rockdale. I was terribly nervous, and very self-conscious, and worked really hard to be fully present (and was intense about it!) and share as much of the tradition as I could.  
Then, I started to get resentful. Here I was, focusing so much on the tradition and trying to guide the family, and all they cared was that it was a half-hour long, or that we DIDN'T lower the casket, or that uncle Shmuley could talk for too long, etc.
Then I did a funeral at Shir Ami (along with Rabbi Strom) where the two sons of the deceased, a dad who died unexpectedly and who loved do-wop, played 50s do-wop and danced for their father. Here they were, two boys my age (at the time, late 20s/early 30s), who's father had just passed, and they were DANCING for him. And it was beautiful and meaningful and...appropriate. Not at all "Jewish" but among the best ways to celebrate a person as I've ever seen.  
Now, I've learned to (mostly) lighten up and how to be present and let the family tell me where they need to be, rather than take them where I think they should go.
It was a wonderful morning of sharing and I learned a lot about my colleagues. So now let me ask you to do the same thing--fill in the blanks for yourself and share them. Perhaps it's on prayer, or Torah, or parenthood, or couplehood, or something else. 

When I first...

Then I....

And now....