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Each year, through your generosity, we donate about 4000 pounds of food to local organizations that serve those in need.
Let’s donate 5000 pounds this year, in honor of our 50th anniversary.

Bring your food donations to services on Yom Kippur, or drop them in the collection barrels at Har HaShem any time through September 27, the first Sunday School session and Sukkot evening.

The items most needed are:

*Pasta

*Pasta Sauce

*Canned Meat or Fish

*Canned Meals

*Canned Vegetables

*Peanut Butter

*Cold Cereal (non-sugared) and Hot Cereal

It has been a wonderful two months at Congregation Har HaShem. It has been a long time since I have written or shared in this space, but I look forward to returning and sharing more with our Jewish community in Boulder!

Here is my message for our community.

May your New Year be sweet, filled with good health and great joy.

Shanah Tovah!

I am sharing this meditation for my friends who cannot fast. There are many articles and teachings around that address how we need to take care of each other. But I have always found this reading to be helpful and insightful.

Meditation before Yom Kippur for One who Cannot Fast
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LMSW © 2005/5765
It is originally published here: http://ncjh.org/downloads/yomkippur2005.pdf

Ribbono shel Olam/Master of the Universe;
Creator of All, Source of All Life,
Who Knows What is Deep in Human Hearts,
Who Nurtures Every Living Being:

As You know, dear God,
Yom Kippur is fast approaching, and because of my condition,
I am not able to keep the traditional fast –
I cannot abstain totally from eating.

On this Day of Atonement, this Sabbath of Sabbaths,
this year and every year,
it is so central to join the people of Israel
in denying ourselves food and drink for one day
so that we focus on correcting our misdeeds,
on knowing our mortality;
on reaching for a life of Torah, mitzvot, and lovingkindness;
on You.

You know, dear God, that it is not my intent
to be apart from our people and our tradition.
My current state of health makes it unsuitable for me to fast

So, dear God, I turn to You now in sincerity and openness:
Help me in the coming year to do my best in guarding my health.
Help us, Your children, learn how to protect our bodies from harm.
Help us support others in caring for their tzelem Elokim, their Image of God.
Teach us to help one another grow and thrive in Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Guide caring family and health care professionals in their partnering with you
to bring healing if not cure, support and strength if not an end to symptoms.

And if there is an opportunity for me to help others who suffer
by doing something they need or by being attentive company –
Grant me the ability to do this mitzvah with love and devotion.

Rofeh khol basar/Healer of all living creatures:
I thank You for the breath that is in me
for the community of Israel that lives
for the possibilities of today and tomorrow.

May my eating be as a fast;
May it be dedicated to You, to T’shuvah
to the Renewal and Restoration of my Relationship
to You, to Others, and to Myself.

These words were delivered as the Rosh Hashanah Sermon for Temple Beth Tikvah on September 25, 2014.

Yom Teruah. That is another name for Rosh Hashanah. Yom Teruah – the Day of Teruah Blasts. What is a Teruah blast? We know it is the call of the shofar. It could be for joy or it could be for war. Today, it is a wake up call. Not just to wake up from a spiritual slumber as Maimonides instructs us, but a call to action. A call to wake up because our people – the Jewish People – they need us.

I remember the tour to Israel that I led a number of years ago now. We went into the underground tunnels below the Kotel. There was an area that was blocked off because of the excavations. Our guide, Zvi, somehow managed to get the guard to look the other way so we could go into this chamber…which, quite frankly, looked pretty dangerous.

As he was telling us about the room, he held onto some scaffolding and dangled himself over what seemed to be a tremendous ledge. He was scratching around in that section of rock and then… he came out and opened up his hand.

It had ash on it. Soot. It was from the Roman destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era. There was our history, right on his hand.

…and here we are in Roswell, Georgia.
Ashes from destruction are a symbol not simply of death, but also of survival. Of resiliency: the resiliency of all of those Jews who made sure that there would be another link in the chain. And not just a link… not just another generation of existence, but of creativity, innovation, adaptation, dare I even say Reform.

Those generations heard the blast of the shofar. They heard the call… to life.

When I think of resilience today, I am inspired by our brothers and sisters in Israel. Let me tell you why:

When Hamas calls for a revolution, they purchase rockets.

When Israel calls for a revolution, they purchase computers.

When Hamas wants to build new construction, they invest precious resources in not-so-secret tunnels to enter into Israeli territory to do harm – to attempt to kidnap or maim innocent civilians.

When Israel wants to build, it sends cement to Gaza as humanitarian aid with the intention of building new homes and helping to ease the pain of a depressed society.

When Hamas fires against Israel, it aims indiscriminately from residential areas, mosques, and hospitals.

When Israel fires against Hamas, it takes great pains to warn the people to get out of the way.  Israel first drops … not bombs … but leaflets, to let residents know that real fire will be coming. Along with the leaflets, there were text messages and voicemail messages to cell phones. Then there was the “roof knocking,” where the Israeli Air Force dropped a non lethal bomb to make a loud noise with minimal damage, just to encourage people to get out of the way. From the point of view of a military strategist – this defies all logic because you are basically informing your enemy when and from where you are striking. Hamas, in turn, encouraged people to stay and go to rooftops so that they can say: Israel took these lives! Look at what Israel did.[1]

When Hamas kidnapped and killed innocent Jewish teens, they saw a victory – some morbid achievement.

When Jews murder an innocent Palestinian child, Israelis travel to East Jerusalem to extend their condolences…by the busload. The Prime Minister, the President, national leaders apologized and said that this kind of murderous behavior is not only criminal, it is un-Jewish. And congregations around the world added Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the fifteen year old Palestinian child killed by Israeli Jewish radicals to our Kaddish Lists, along with Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel.

With all of this said, this is what concerns me….

In Genesis, we learn that Esau is approaching Jacob’s camp with his own men. The two brothers haven’t seen each other for years. After all, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and the blessing of their father, Isaac. The last they saw each other, Esau threatened Jacob’s life! As Jacob learned of Esau’s approach, the Torah says: “And Jacob was greatly frightened and distressed.”[2]  Our sages ask why the two descriptions: “frightened and distressed”?

The great medieval commentator, Rashi, explains that Jacob was “frightened – lest he be killed; and distressed – lest he kill [his brother Esau].”

It reminds me of Golda Meir’s famous quote: “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.”[3]

Israel has been going through great pains to minimize innocent civilian life amongst the Palestinians, putting their own soldiers in even greater risk. From a typical military officer’s point of view, this approach would most likely be considered foolish. From an Israel Defense Force military officer’s point of view…. It is right and it is just.

What other country would ever consider such a thing?

One of the most interesting pieces that was written during the conflict was by Amos Oz. Oz is not only a world renown writer, but a devoted peacenik and activist.  Just before this interview, he was hospitalized and for each rocket that came close to the hospital, he was left vulnerable, unable to be moved to a shelter. Listen to how he addressed the reporter:

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions I pass the interview to you.[4]

He added in this interview:

… This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [a notorious forgery created by Russian czarist police officers in 1903 and later used as Nazi propaganda and still used in the Middle East to “prove” that the Jews are taking over the world]… It quotes the Protocols and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: ‘Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.’

Let me explain why I have shared this. It is one of the few times we have seen such a wide spectrum of Jewish and Israeli leaders come together in support of Israel. Left to right. Only the fringes were left out. What they don’t agree on is what to do next, how far to go to advance the cause of peace. But that is a different sermon.

I know that some struggle with my pronouncements of sympathy for Palestinians. Some might think that all Palestinians are the same. We, as Jews, object to such generalizations made about us. For good reason. I do not want to be associated with the people that killed the Palestinian teenager or who vandalize mosques in Israeli Arab cities.  So how do we dare perpetuate such generalizations about Palestinians or Muslims?

If Jews believe, as the Torah asserts, that everyone is created in God’s image… if we believe that in every person, there is a reflection of God, then how can we have a cavalier perspective with another human being’s life? Even if that human being hates us.

At the same time, The Torah tells us that we are obligated to defend ourselves. There is a text in Exodus[5] where a thief is discovered tunneling into a house. The assumption is, since he is being so covert about it, that if he makes it inside, not only will he steal from the homeowners, but he will threaten the lives of whoever is in the house. It is shockingly similar to what Hamas was doing this past summer. Our sages explained that if someone is coming into your home with the intent to kill you, you can not only defend yourself, you will not be guilty of murder if you kill him first.[6]

We are also taught in the Talmud that when the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they started to celebrate. When the angels up in the heavens wanted to dance along with the Israelites, God…seeing his Egyptian children drowning, rebuked the angels, saying: “My handiwork is drowning in the sea – and you are singing?”[7]

I will always be proud of Israel for choosing ethics over strategy. For, despite what anyone says, continuing to provide electricity to the very people shelling Israeli cities so that all of Gaza wouldn’t be dark is a Jewish decision. Sending in truckloads of humanitarian aid during a war is a Jewish decision. Setting up a field hospital in Gaza for Palestinians injured in the fighting is a Jewish decision.

Don’t get me wrong, the people of Gaza are living and have been living under terrible circumstances. And no matter what they think, it is their own leaders – the leaders of Hamas – who are guilty of war crimes.

How does the rest of the world miss that? Honestly, I can’t comprehend it. When rockets are being launched from Gaza into civilian areas, Israel is at fault for responding?

There is something even bigger going on here. It is not only that anti-Semitic incidents are increasing, but increasingly tolerated, cloaked as “anti-Zionist” views.  Make no mistake – they are on in the same.

There has been a marked increase in anti-Semitism, manifested by vandalism, violent attacks, and chants of “Death to the Jews” across the world.

In a recent report, the U.S. State Department found that throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.”

Calls for Jews to be gassed were heard in Germany. More than 100 congregants were besieged for hours in a central Paris synagogue by an angry mob. The Turkish nongovernmental organization IHH (which instigated the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident) has threatened that “Turkish Jews will pay dearly” for Israel’s actions in Gaza. In Britain in July, there were roughly 100 anti-Semitic incidents, double the usual number. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Israel’s defense against Hamas rocket fire amounts to “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Signs were posted in Rome urging a boycott of 50 Jewish-owned businesses. In central London, anti-Israel protesters targeted a Sainsbury’s grocery, and the manager reflexively pulled kosher products off the shelves. (The supermarket chain later apologized.)[8]

We have seen conflicts in our own country where students are directly challenged on college campuses, where pro Palestinian … I should say anti-Israel student groups are planning an international day of protest…today, Rosh Hashanah.

An Episcopal priest at Yale University wrote in the New York Times that “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”[9]

And this summer, a Hamas spokesman went on the record to state that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matza — one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards around. It is hard to fathom that in 2014 we are still confronting blood libel allegations.

J.J. Goldberg of The Forward just wrote: “If there’s one thing we should have learned from the 20th century, it’s that wars are wicked, murderous affairs that defile the spirit of humankind. That despite this universal truth, there are some wars that must be fought, as wicked as they might be, because the alternative is even more unspeakable.”[10]

I think that statement is correct. Gaza is not Atlanta and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal isn’t Dr. King. Hamas isn’t fighting for peace nor for self-determination. They are fighting to get rid of Israel. If they wanted self-determination and justice for Palestinians, they would have sat down with Israel at the peace table and concluded a treaty.

Friends, what should our response be?

When we hear allegations about blood libel, what do we do?

When we learn about shootings in a JCC that are targeting Jews as we did this year in Kansas City, how should we respond?

When we hear of candidates for Congress who openly claim that “you will lose with Jews” as we hear today in Kentucky, what needs to happen?

When we hear about vandalism, physical and verbal assaults in Europe, are we to be silent…again?

I understand that people are fearful. These are scary things. They are terrifying. But if the fear paralyzes us, then they win. If we stop being Jewish, then the ashes in the tunnel will be all that is left. We cannot go back to a place of fear, checking out, leaving the work for others to do.

Nor is it enough to just cry Gevalt. It is time to live our Judaism out loud, as if each Jewish action is another blast of the shofar, proclaiming to all that Judaism matters, the Jewish people are strong and that Jewish values can help make the world a better place.

For every anti Israel, anti-Semitic, anti Jewish act, we return with a greater resolve to observe a mitzvah. We will not just complain or make a new Jewish joke, but will make a Jewish choice that can change the world. We will show greater support for Israel. We will be more generous to agencies that reflect our values. We will be inspired to light Shabbat candles and invite our non-Jewish neighbors to celebrate with us as we reclaim our truth to be an Or L’Goyim – a light unto the nations. We will become ambassadors for light, warmth, tolerance and mutual respect.

For every act of vandalism against a synagogue, we will show up at our own synagogue.

For every attack against Israel, we will be getting ready to plan our next trip to Jerusalem.

We will be waiving the flag for birthright Israel for our young adults and we will raise resources to send our teens there for the summer or a semester.

For every slur against the Jewish people, we will advance the rule of law, we will fight discrimination, and we will speak out against racism, homophobia and sexism. We will strive for greater inclusion and deepen our interfaith relations with our neighboring churches, mosques, temples and holy places.

And we will answer ignorance, indifference and untruths with Emet – Truth, one of God’s Holy Names… Emet/Truth.

And yes, we will strengthen those institutions that are on the front lines, where the American Jewish Committee works with Parliament leaders around the world, where the Anti Defamation League continues to help us as our fact finder and advocate. We will urge our politicians to strengthen the office of the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman.

Each morning tefilah, we recite the prayer L’dor Vador.

L’dor Vador nagid godlecha
To every generation we will declare Your greatness

U’l’neitzach n’tzachim k’dushat’cha nakdish
And for all eternity proclaim Your holiness.

V’shiv’checha, Eloheinu mipinu lo yamush l’olam vaed.
Your praise, O God, will never depart from our lips.

We teach the next generation how to stand up by living Jewish lives even when it isn’t easy. We show the next generation that we care enough to bring them here, today, to listen to rabbis preach and to pray with a community. We teach the next generation by modeling what it looks like to support the Jewish community, to write letters to our representatives, to send them to Israel for a summer, to support the community so that we can send more who can’t afford it together. We hold leaders accountable and we speak the truth within our hearts.

It is Yom Teruah – the day of the shofar blasts. The blast is as much as a wake up call as it is a call from the voices, the cries, the fears of our people. We can do our part to assist them, strengthen them, and reach out to them by living with conviction. And by doing so… we strengthen ourselves and our own community.

It is a privilege, beyond words, to dream with Israel and share its destiny. To be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

As the prophet Isaiah says: “For Zion’s sake I shall not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I shall not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a flaming torch.”[11]

May the blast of the shofar envelop us, inspire us, and encourage us to listen…and to act and to be a spark in that torch.

[1] http://www.idfblog.com/blog/2014/07/16/idf-done-minimize-harm-civilians-gaza/

[2] Genesis 32:8.

[3] Press conference in London (1969), as quoted in A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography, edited by Marie Syrkin, 1973: 242.

[4] “Lose-lose situation for Israel,” Deutsche Welle, July 30, 2014. http://www.dw.de/oz-lose-lose-situation-for-israel/a-17822511.

[5] 22:1.

[6] Rava: “If somebody comes to kill you, kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a); Rabbi David Golinkin, “What Can We Learn from our Sources about the War in Gaza?” Volume 8, Issue No. 10, August 2014. http://www.schechter.edu/Responsa.aspx.

[7] Megillah 10b.

[8] Sources are from Jewish Council for Public Affairs, JCPA Action Alert, “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” September 10, 2014.

[9] Rev. Bruce Shipman, Letters to the Editor, August 21, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/the-rising-tide-of-anti-semitism.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%222%22%3A%22RI%3A13%22%7D&_r=0

[10] I found Goldberg’s words right on target, but I don’t believe he would apply the same message to the war in Gaza. This article addresses the threats of ISIS: http://forward.com/articles/206078/like-the-nazis-isis-must-be-confronted/#ixzz3E395IN5z.

[11] Isaiah 62:1; Rabbi Marc Angel concluded a sermon this way and it is has always left an impression with me.

My Rosh Hashanah Sermon from Wednesday eve, September 24, 2015 at Temple Beth Tikvah of Roswell. 

One of America’s greatest Jewish thinkers was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. He taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and is the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. His practice as a professor was to explain the Torah portion of the week on Monday in a sermonic manner. On Wednesday, a senior student would present his version of the same biblical text. Dr Kaplan was very demanding and critical instructor, and the students were often inhibited about speaking up and were, frankly afraid of him. Once in a class, a student took down verbatim what Dr Kaplan said on Monday. When it came to be the student’s time to explain the Torah portion, he repeated Dr Kaplan’s words from the previous Monday. Dr Kaplan said, “That is a terrible exposition.”

The student countered, “But Prof, Kaplan, that’s exactly what you said on Monday.” Kaplan replied, “young man, I have grown since then.”

We all have a need to grow if we are to make the most of our lives. Just as our bodies are constantly undergoing changes, so are our minds. We meet new situations and we are challenged by new ideas. We learn more about the past and we develop new thoughts about the present. We learn new ways to deal with people and to cope with problems. All of this is a part of growth, and to grow is to live.[1]

 

This is a day of journeys. We venture out on our own so that we can have new encounters, new experiences, gain new wisdom. But Sometimes, we can’t have those experiences until we are willing to leave our familiar places and journey forward into the unknown.

I love looking to Avraham Avinu, our forefather Abraham. He was told by God to “Go from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I’ll show you.”[2]

We often focus on the term lech l’cha, which we typically translate as “go forth.” But what it really means is to “go to yourself.” In other words, look inside, and find your potential.[3] An additional interpretation from Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says: “Go back to your essence in order to find out what you are really made of. Before we go on our journeys, we need to look into our souls so that we know where we are heading.”[4]

But journeys can be scary. Moving, leaving… can be stressful. Let’s reflect once again on the text and read the phrase: “From your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house.”

Dr. Richard Elliot Friedman, one of the world’s greatest Bible scholars, wrote: “The point of this order is not geographical. It is emotional. The three steps are arranged in ascending order of difficulty for Abraham. It is hard to leave one’s land, harder if it is where one was born, and harder still to leave one’s family. And where is he to go? To ‘the land that I’ll show you.’ That is, he must leave his homeland without knowing for what he is giving it up…”[5]

Let’s add one additional layer. Abraham is introduced to us as an Ivri – a Hebrew. The word Ivri is rooted in the term “to cross over,” with the Hebrew root letters of ayin – bet – resh. Abraham left everything he knew to cross over many rivers in order to arrive go to the Promised Land to fulfill his destiny, his purpose.

We are his spiritual descendants. We are the Ivrim; we are the ones who have to cross over rivers. And it is not only that we have to, we ought to. We ought to go beyond our comfort zones so we can strive and grow the way Abraham models for us.

Each of us needs to grow. We all have rivers to cross. We are designed to have experiences not simply to enjoy them, but to learn from them, and to gain wisdom through these encounters. We venture out from our parents homes… at some point. Some of us have moved to different cities. Others have changed careers. Some went back to school. Others went to a campus for the very first time.

Change is a part of life and quite frankly, it is a scary part of life. Maybe that is why Abraham is among our spiritual heroes and greatest of role models. He is far from perfect, but his faith in the One God gives him the strength to journey – to be a seeker. We don’t have to change addresses in order to be that kind of seeker. We simply need to be open to new opportunities.

A new year is an opportunity for change. With a Jewish New Year is the focus on one of our most central tenets in Judaism — teshuvah, generally translated as “atonement.” I prefer to read it as “turning.” If that is the case, then this Rosh Hashanah and every New Year is an opportunity for change, for growth, for renewal, and for us to strive to reach our potential.

 

Have you ever wondered why God didn’t bring our Israelite ancestors directly to the Promised Land? Isn’t it strange that after everything they had endured in Egyptian servitude, that they didn’t just get the…  Get Out of Jail Free card and Go Straight to Israel?

It couldn’t be that way. They needed to make the journey themselves. They needed to experience the angst and the doubt, alongside the potential for strength and hope.

…They needed to go through the desert, the midbar.

The fourth book of the Torah is called Bamidbar, in English, it is the Book of Numbers. We see an interesting teaching right at the beginning:

On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal spoke to Moses in the wilderness, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: Take a census of the whole Israelite people community by the clans of its ancestral houses listing the names, every male, head by head. (1:1)

 

Our sages ask: why does the Torah say that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness AND in the Tent of Meeting? One well known teaching is that we would all benefit if we would be as open and accepting as the wilderness – to new opportunities, to new ideas, and to God. After all, Torah is given in the Sinai – not in the Land of Israel.

And yet, when we think of a wilderness or a desert – both are translations for midbar – we think of a place that is empty, desolate, even barren. But it is in the desert, the wilderness, where we find God. Just like Jacob who encountered God when he was all alone on his own journey where he dreamed of a ladder bridging the Earth to the Heavens with angels going up and down on it. That was where Jacob had his first incredible, intimate encounter with God and said,

אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ ה’ בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי

“God was in this place and I did not know it.”[6]

 

The wilderness is filled with opportunity, but it isn’t always easy to traverse. Our bias about the wilderness leads us to panic. But we aren’t wandering aimlessly. The first lines of Bamidbar show that God wants us to get organized, take a census, move into camps, and be prepared for what is in store. In the very place where they had angst, they were able to tap into strength that they never even knew they had to make the journey meaningful.[7]

This is the sermon I needed to give tonight. This is the truth that I needed to share. As I leave a place of comfort and kindness, I am following in our ancient ancestors footsteps to enter into the midbar, an unfamiliar place. I also know that my decision to journey forward puts you, my congregants, in a midbar, too. My decision to cultivate my rabbinate and nurture my soul is a frightening prospect on the practical level… leaving a wonderful community, saying good bye to friends. And yet, on a spiritual level, we are all on our own journeys and I am a human being who seeks challenges and meaning like you.

While we resist the idea of being in the wilderness, I believe that is where most of live every single day. Listen to this poem by Rabbi Zoe Klein – I think it illustrates the point well:

 

There are three regions in each of our souls,

There is Egypt, there is the Desert, and there is

the Promised Land.

Many of us have glimpsed our Egypt,

Or perhaps some are still there,

Wearing the chains,

Bearing the burdens of fear, insecurity,

Doubt, and weakness

Mustering the strength to clamber up.

Still fewer of us have glimpsed our

Promised Land,

Our Destiny,

Fulfillment of dreams,

Our fruitfulness, our blossoming,

Our purpose.

We talk of Egypt often.

Every holiday, every prayer service,

Mentions we once were slaves,

Recalls our hardships under Pharaoh.

We talk of the Promised Land often,

Every holiday, every prayer service,

Longs for Israel,

For the Voice to come forth from Zion,

We turn to the east,

Reminisce Jerusalem.

But rarely do we talk of, or pray about, the Desert.

Yet that is the region in which most of us are,

Pushing forward in the wilderness,

Dragging our footsteps across that forty year stretch

Of pristine, barren, moonscape.

It is there we encounter truth,

It is there we encounter miracle,

We are nomads still,

At the shore of some sparkling oasis,

And we sing our nomad song.[8]

So maybe, we have been in the wilderness all along, together. Carrying each other from stage to stage.

My time with you, moving into my ninth year at Beth Tikvah, has had many meaningful encounters. I have cried with you and held you; I have celebrated with you and rejoiced with you. I have seen children grow into amazing young adults and I have helped to bury those you loved most. For some I brought you to places of safety; for others, I tried to. I sought to sit with you in in hospital rooms and bedsides in your homes. I have tried to be present when you felt trapped and when you were ready to take a leap of faith and renew your own commitments to journey forward.

I have striven to share my Torah with you. I have challenged you, sometimes out of your comfort zones to new ways of thinking…

And I have loved you… I have loved this community.

When Deborah and I needed a community of our own, you accompanied our family, too. From the beginning of our journey, bringing three little girls to a new city far, far, far from home and what was familiar to us. You befriended us. Coming to Atlanta where there was no family, many became our adopted families. You supported us through heartache, diagnoses, even through a surgery… for a different kind of heart…break. And you have celebrated our simchas and made them sweeter through your presence. I have grown as a rabbi here. I have learned how to be a better teacher here. I hope that my gifts have been welcomed and more so, that they made a difference. We have people we care about here; that will never change.

But alas, there comes a time when we need to grow… When we need to find a new challenge… When we need to nurture ourselves and live our lives out to the fullest.

If we are to be as open as the wilderness to new experiences, as difficult as they may be, then I hope we will see the possibilities in front of us too. I know that there are concerns, but there can be blessings in going as there are blessings in arriving. If my presence has been positive, then I hope this community will continue supports its leaders, and welcomes its next rabbi, embrace their family, and take care of her or him as you have done for me.

I know as I take my next step in my journey, I will take much from this community. I hope that what I leave will be celebrated and carried with you, too, as this great synagogue continues on its journey.

 

This is a year of transition, not just for the synagogue. It is a year of transition for our Selves. If we seek to be spiritual beings, if we seek encounters that are meaningful and awesome, then we can embrace the changes that are ahead of us. That is the ultimate lesson for us in this new year.

But change needs a foundation of faith. Let’s look at a parable that I believe provides us a lens through which to seek and understand that foundation:

Sometimes I fear my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I am in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in awhile, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across that void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get pushed.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “no-thing,” a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze bar was real, and that the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too.

But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.

Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we may just learn how to fly.[9]

 

Letting go is our work of teshuvah, atonement, turning, striving, transforming…

Letting go requires that we know that there is a net. We call that net emunah – faith.

I need faith to feel secure enough to let go, to make the necessary changes, to be willing to journey into the midbar. And so do you.

So let’s be grateful for our journeys, for our opportunities, for the ability to ever increase our wisdom so that we can not only find meaning in our lives, but so we can bring meaning and purpose to our community and to our world.

I thank God for the possibilities that are before all of us. For our ability to dream, to hope and be courageous as we enter into the midbar together. We might be moving on different paths from one another, but we are all striving to reach the Promised Land.

 

May your journeys be sweet this year.

May our time together be filled with more joy then sorrow.

May this year be a year of strength and courage for all of us.

May the New Year be a good year, a sweet year and a healthy year for you and yours.

 

[1] Adapted from Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Moments of Transcendence, p. 101. Message by Rabbi Bernard Raskas in Heart of Wisdom II.

[2] Genesis 12:1.

[3] Ed. by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Itturei Torah. Tel Aviv, Yavneh Publ: 1996, 83.

[4] Lawrence S. Kushner and Kerry M. Olitzky. Sparks Beneath The Surface: A Spiritual Commentary on the Torah, 1993.

[5] Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah, 2001.

[6] Genesis 28:16.

[7] Thanks to Rabbi Lou Feldstein for helping me to see this text in the context of transitions.

[8] Reprinted in Richard Address’ To Honor and Respect: A Program and Resource Guide for Congregations on Sacred Aging. New York: URJ Press, 2005: 42-43.

[9] Danaan Parry, “The Parable of the Trapeze: Turning the Fear of Transformation into the Transformation of Fear,” Warriors of the Heart: A Handbook for Conflict Resolution. Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing, 2009. Thank you, Rabbi David Wolfman, for introducing this powerful teaching to me.

I loved watching this video blog from one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Larry Hoffman. In under three minutes, he has shared such a beautiful insight into the meaning of our High Holy Days that can inspire us to thrive in our humanity. Thank you, as always, Dr. Hoffman.

Shanah Tovah u’Metukah to all!

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D.

“…Jews are baffled by [services] … Especially on the high holidays, they really don’t know what to make of this great big thick book that everyone is going through rather slowly, often for hours at a time.”

“The High Holidays are the unique message of … the human dream.”

“One should rise at the end of the High Holiday service committed to the proposition that … we are historical moments in the making.”

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I am a believer that we all have a desire to continue our own growth as human beings, to make our personal journeys meaningful. But I also see that we are pulled in many directions that often distract us from the experiences we would like to have.

 

I would like to encourage you this year to try something that perhaps will be new. The idea of a “class” doesn’t really describe what it is that we do when we offer our adult learning opportunities. When I think of a class, I think of a school setting where information is being shared and we take the data.

 

Our adult learning “classes” are really opportunities to have our own encounters with our own faith tradition’s ideas and values. We meet others within our community to become familiar with traditions, to learn about ideas from texts, but ultimately, they are challenges to be better, to do better, and to be inspired to try harder.

 

I love learning together because there is an intimacy that we can get with other people that draws us closer to one another. And yes, it draws many of us closer to God. As Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon teaches: “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells with them.” (Pirkei Avot 3:2) It isn’t just about the learning that brings God’s Presence closer… it is the sharing, it is the openness to new ideas, it is the closeness we can have with another person to help us grow. When we engage in real relationships that aren’t hierarchical, but communal, then we invite God to be a part of them. That has always moved me when I teach… because I receive at least as much as I give from those who are learners with me.

 

So here is the pitch…  Try it. Let us know if you’d like to attend a class by sending an email to rsvp@bethtikvah.com. We have an abundance of opportunities. Here are just a few:

Monday, August 4 at 7:30 pm

Join me in the Library to mark Tisha B’av, the 9th Day of Av, which marks the Destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem.  We will explore its meaning in Jewish history and its meaning for Reform Jews today.

Thursday, August 21 at 7:30 pm

I will be leading a session on “Preparing Your Hearts for the Days of Awe.” What do we need to do to show up on Rosh Hashanah ready for atonement and healing?

Sundays, August 24 and September 14 at 10:00 am

Let’s explore the Days of Awe together! We will have a book discussion about the book:  This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew.   From Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur to Sukkot, we will journey together and emerge fresh and whole again.  Meeting dates:  8/24 (Chapters 1-5) from 10-11:30 am in the TBT Library; and 9/14 (Chapters 6-10) from 10 -11:30 am at the Coleman Village Starbucks at 930 Marietta Hwy.

Our discussion leader will be Cindy Getty.  This book is available from Amazon as a hardcover or on Kindle. For more information or with questions contact Cindy at rsvp@bethtikvah.com.

September 20 at 9:00 pm – Selichot are “penitential prayers” (prayers asking for forgiveness). We call the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah Selichot as a special day. Before our brief, late night service that includes changing the covers of our Torah scrolls, we learn about the themes of the Days of Awe – why are they so holy, ideas of teshuvah/turning and acts of atonement, and prepare our hearts for the Days of Awe later that week.

New: On Yom Kippur, after the Late Service (of our Morning Services), we will have a conversation on Forgiveness with a very special panel. Cindy Getty will be moderating and participating, so will Rick Winer, a psychiatrist and our Gabbai. More to be confirmed. Watch for details.

What else is in store? We are planning to continue our partnership with the The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning through the Brill Institute at the MJCCA (Monday nights). We are organizing our Women’s Study Group that will meet monthly. Rabbi Donald Tam, our Rabbi Emeritus, Cantor Kassel and I will be announcing our classes shortly. We owe great thanks to Cindy Getty, our chair of adult education, for putting all of these pieces together. You can contact Cindy directly with any question or if you would like to get involved (her email is in our newsletter).

May this year not only be a great year of learning, but one where we permit ourselves to return to our truest Selves – seekers who are journeying towards truth, contentment and meaning.

A bit of Torah to share with our Temple Beth Tikvah community…

The text I share in the video is here:

The four cups of wine represent the four promises of redemption:

1) I will bring you out from under the Egyptian yoke
2) I will deliver you from bondage
3) I will redeem you with an outstretched hand
4) I will take you to be my people

5) I will bring you into the land

From Exodus 6: 6-7

I just received this very helpful outline on how to handle issues relating to the December holiday season from Shelley Rose, the Associate Director of the Anti-Defamation League based here in Atlanta. If you would like to have a better understanding of the law and how to interact with your child’s school, please read this memo. Shelley gave me permission to share it with you.

The Anti-Defamation League knows that as the December holiday season approaches, incidents of inappropriate and insensitive religious expression tend to arise in our public schools.  School-based holiday celebrations often frustrate Jewish fathers and mothers who both want to instill a Jewish identity in their children and to encourage them to learn about other faith communities.

Religious neutrality in public schools is assured through the First Amendment of the Constitution but many parents may not know how to determine if that line has been crossed or how to react when it has been. It is a constant challenge to guarantee both that public schools remain within constitutional bounds and that the teaching staffs are sensitive to the different faiths represented.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region Office offers an interactive workshop for parents and students on the “ABC’s of Religion in the Public Schools.”  Adapted to the specific needs of the specific group, this workshop, presented by a trained staff member, will help parents identify the types of religious activities that are acceptable for a public school environment and where to go for help in addressing situations in their child’s school that are insensitive or unconstitutional.

I recently sent information to school superintendents in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee outlining general guidelines around this issue. That information is copied below. Additional resources are available on the ADL website at this link.

If you would like any further information, please contact:

Shelley Rose, Associate Director

t: 404-262-3470 | f: 404-262-3548 | c:678-938-1399 | srose@adl.org

ADL Southeast Website | On Facebook | On Twitter

MEMO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL LEADERS 

Subject: 2013 December Dilemma Letters & Chart

Dear School Superintendent and School Board Attorney:

As the December holidays approach, we at the Anti-Defamation League — one of the nation’s premier organizations defending religious liberty — know that many school districts are faced with difficult questions about how to appropriately acknowledge the December holidays.  In an effort to help you comply with the United States Constitution and create a school environment that celebrates diversity by respecting differing points of view concerning religion, we offer the following suggestions and encourage you to share them with teachers and staff in your district.

  • General Rule: When a school does choose to acknowledge the December holidays, it is essential that the school must never appear to endorse religion over non-religion or one particular religious faith over another.
  • Public schools must remain free from activities that could involve religious coercion.  Because of their young age, students are particularly impressionable and susceptible to pressure to conform to the beliefs of the majority.  Schools must take care to avoid endorsing the beliefs, practices or traditions of the majority religion.
  • Schools must be careful not to cross the line between teaching about religious holidays (which is permitted) and celebrating religious holidays (which is not).  Celebrating religious holidays in the form of religious worship or other practices is unconstitutional.  Teaching about a holiday will be constitutional if it furthers a genuine secular program of education, is presented objectively, and does not have the effect of endorsing, advancing or inhibiting religion.
  • Special school events, assemblies, concerts and programs must be designed to further a secular and objective program of education and must not focus on any one religion or religious observance.  Religious music or drama may be included in school events, but the reason for including that music or drama must be to advance a secular educational goal.  Such events must not promote or denigrate any particular religion, serve as a religious celebration, or become a forum for religious devotion.
  • Religious symbols are not appropriate seasonal decorations in public schools.  The classroom and school premises are the place where children spend the majority of their day. It is important that all students feel comfortable and accepted in their school. Symbols of religious holidays may make some students uncomfortable and unwelcome because their holidays and traditions are not represented or because they do not celebrate religious holidays at all.
  • In an effort to be ecumenical, it is not advisable to rely on information provided by a representative child of a minority religion.  Students should not be put on the spot to explain their religious (or cultural) traditions.  The student may feel uncomfortable and may not have enough information to be accurate. Moreover, by asking a student to be spokesperson for his/her religion, the teacher is sending a signal that the religion is too “exotic” for the teacher to understand.  Finally, in certain cases, the teacher may be opening the door for proselytizing activity by the student, which must be avoided.
  • Remember: diversity includes religious diversity.  In designing holiday programming it is essential to keep in mind that the children entrusted to your care likely have widely divergent religious points of view.  The way you approach the December holidays will determine whether those children whose religious views fall outside of the majority’s are made to feel welcome and comfortable in their school building or whether they will feel as if they do not belong.
  • Of course during non-curricular time, secondary school students may participate in student-led and student-initiated activities that acknowledge or celebrate the holidays on the same terms that they can participate in non-religious activity.  School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in the event, nor should they be sending the message that the school endorses the event.  School officials also have an obligation to ensure that students who are not inclined to participate are not coerced in any way by fellow students who are participating.  Finally, school personnel cannot promote or participate in such events in their official capacities, although they may be present to monitor the event for compliance with school rules.

We also have a number of publications that can be of help.

These publications are available on line at our Religious Freedom web-page, http://www.adl.org/civil-rights/religious-freedom/; and hard copies of these publications are available by contacting me at srose@adl.org or  404-262-3470. I am also available to lead workshops on this topic with staff and teachers. Let me know if you have any questions.

Without a doubt, my favorite Jewish holy day is Sukkot. It is not a just a “holiday” since it is filled with sacred messages about life and faith.

I have always been drawn to the message that Passover is about our liberation from slavery; Shavuot is when we receive the Torah; and Sukkot marks our journey. Sukkot is about our journey — “real life.” While we dwell in these little huts that provide some basic protection, the reality is that they are still quite fragile. These sukkot represent our own lives. No matter how much insurance we have, how strong the walls of our houses might be, how many people are invested in our successes, we acknowledge during Sukkot that our lives are delicate and fragile, so we have to make the journey matter. What a great message to have once we completed Yom Kippur!

And what about this journey? Where are we going? Of course, to the Promised Land! We have a destination. Nevertheless, what matters most is not that we arrive, but that we move in the right direction and live a life filled with meaning, purpose and faith. That’s what it means to take the journey, as the famous poem from Rabbi Alvin Fine teaches:

Birth is a beginning,
And death a destination;
But life is a journey,
A going—a growing
From stage to stage.

From defeat to defeat to defeat —
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey,
state by stage – A sacred pilgrimage.

I am looking forward to our celebration at Beth Tikvah on Wednesday eve and Thursday morning — especially WITH OUR NEW SUKKAH! I hope that you will join me for the journey! (For info about Sukkot at TBT, visit http://www.bethtikvah.com.)

For more about Sukkot, check out http://www.myjewishlearning.com and http://www.ReformJudaism.org.

In the meantime, I hope your New Year will be sweet, with good health, and much joy.

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