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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.

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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InterfaithEvent - March 2014

One of my most meaningful encounters has been to learn and engage in conversations with people of faith who aren’t Jewish. Learning about others, their ideals and their challenges, along with sharing the gifts of our own Jewish community with others is an enriching experience. I love finding common ground and appreciate where we differ. That is a true encounter with pluralism. And when I do have these conversations, they bring me closer to my own faith in Judaism and my place in our Covenant.

Living in Roswell, I have developed a far stronger appreciation for pluralism. From a self-serving point of view, which I don’t apologize for in any way, I think it is of great value for others in our local community to have encounters with Jews and get to know our community a little bit better. And of course, learning about others brings down barriers to trust and builds roads to shared hopes and mutual understanding. Dialogue and help advance a theology of pluralism that will put us side by side – shoulder to shoulder – to confront bigotry, intolerance, and hatred. Rabbi James Rudin wrote that “…dialogue is not a luxury, but rather a necessity that provides a spiritual mooring on the planet, so billions of people who believe differently can reside together in peace…. Developing a theology of pluralism…is a clear recognition and firm belief that there is and will continue to be extraordinary plurality of spiritual expressions, beliefs and actions all operating under a universal God.” (From Rudin’s Christians & Jews—Faith to Faith)

My friends, Dr. Lane Alderman, the Senior Pastor of Roswell Presbyterian Church, and Bassem Fakhoury, a lay leader at the Roswell Community Masjid (“masjid is the Arabic word for “mosque”) and speaker for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, will each take a turn to teach and respond to a three session class that will address fundamental truths within Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Both have become good friends of mine and both are invested in strengthening our local community by advancing pluralism. There is still much prejudice and misunderstanding out there in each of our houses to go around. So the three of us hope that we can bring Jewish, Christians and Muslims together in a safe place to learn, ask our questions (respectfully), and celebrate the common ground we all share.

Dr. Alderman is sharing the same message with his church. See his blog here: http://rpcpastorblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/lets-talk/

Click on the graphic, above,  for all the details about this program for our community.

Something that I hope to help nurture is people’s spiritual journeys. But being a spiritual seeker isn’t always easy. I believe that there are many different paths within Judaism to nurture our souls. That is why I was so pleased that TBT’s own Gail Tate was able to lead a Meditation experience for some friends last month. Below are a few reflections about the experience, including words from Gail. We hope that others will consider trying opening up to this new, different, yet Jewish experience.

Shalom Meditation Reflections on 12-14-13 by Gail Tate
Our first Shalom Meditation on December 14th was an exciting event. We enjoyed adventurous congregants who were open to a unique type of Shabbat. Our Shalom Meditation experience was hosted in TBT’s library. Our group was seated in a circle with the center table adorned with candle and the Star of David.

What is the best way to begin a meditation? At TBT we began by letting go of the tensions of our week through traditional meditation techniques, breath work, and the power of the Elohim Eshala, a Yemenite Jewish piyyut that means “I will ask of the Lord”. We included a variety of modalities to clear our mental chatter including sounds of the drum, bells and chanting the mantras which spoke to the Jewish soul.

Our meditation encompassed a discussion on the torah portion of the day Parashat Vayechi and its wisdom, “we all struggle with the quest for the bigger, better deal in our materialistic culture. We forget to be thankful for all that we have and to rejoice in our own portion”.

During our meditation adventure we opened up communication with our Elohim. Our session closed with a Kabbalah Healing Meditation. I look forward to our next Shalom Meditation!

Until our Shalom Meditation event in The Library,
Saturday, January 18th, 2014 from 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

********************************

“I was moved and inspired by the meditation with Gail today and believe it would offer an alternative spiritual experience to the congregation. Gail taught a variety of modalities to clear our mental chatter, including focus on the breath, candle, sounds of the drum, bells and chanting the mantras which spoke to the Jewish soul. I have listened to many guided meditation over years, but I can honestly say that this is my first “Jewish meditation ” and it felt like I was finally able to merge the spiritual paths I have studied and practiced with my strong Jewish identity. It was a beautiful and powerful experience and I left feeling both peaceful and energized. I am grateful to Gail as well as to the Rabbi for being open and willing to embrace meditation as a path to Jewish spirituality.”
— Yael Layish

Gail with great sensitivity took us thru the process step by step. I have never really connected meditation with Judaism as part of my Jewish heritage . And now this is giving me a new aspect of spiritually that fits so well in my life. I am looking forward to our next meeting and hope others will have a chance to explore this for themselves.
— Myra Idol

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I know I have shared this joke with you before:

Abe and Esther are flying to Australia for a two week vacation to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Suddenly, over the public address system, the Captain announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines have ceased functioning and we will attempt an emergency landing. Luckily, I see an uncharted island below us and we should be able to land on the beach. However, the odds are that we may never be rescued and will have to live on the island for the rest of our lives!”

Thanks to the skill of the flight crew, the plane lands safely on the island. An hour later Abe turns to his wife and asks, “Esther, did we pay our charity pledge check to Beth Shalom Synagogue yet?” “No, sweetheart,” she responds. Abe, still shaken from the crash landing, then asks, “Esther, did we pay our Jewish Federation pledge?” “Oy, no! I’m sorry. I forgot to send the check,” she says. “One last thing, Esther. Did you remember to send a check for the Synagogue Building Fund this month,” he asks? “Oy, forgive me, Abie,” begged Esther. “I didn’t sent that one, either.”

Abe grabs her and gives her the biggest kiss in 40 years. Esther pulls away and asks him, ” So, why did you kiss me?” Abe answers, “They’ll find us!”

The joke is funny but it illustrates a tone of how we feel about our Jewish community and supporting it. We tend to relegate causes that are actually important to us because we think “fundraising” is a dirty word. The truth is, our faith — every faith — is built on the idea of giving an offering. An act of tzedakah (justice, righteousness). Why shouldn’t we ask one another to give… and to give often… and to give till it hurts (just a little; that would probably mean we are giving the right amount).

I do believe that acts of tzedakah change the world. Support for the Jewish community enables us to be there for people wherever they might be. Real funding helps us accomplish our community’s dreams. With that said, I have joined the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and have been impressed with what they have been trying to accomplish – strengthening its mission as a communal address to support Jewish interests throughout Atlanta, in Israel and around the world.

Here is why I donated this year – and hope you will consider these and perhaps making your first gift or an increased gift. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is:

  • raising serious dollars to provide incentive grants and financial aid to middle-income and low-income families to enable their children to attend a Jewish overnight camp program – one of the greatest investments we can make in our youth to insure a bright Jewish future.
  • enabling young adults in Atlanta to have their own Birthright Israel experience – a Jewish community’s gift of a free trip to Israel to deepen connections with Israel and their Judaism.
  • funding the PJ Library program in metro Atlanta, providing books at no cost to Jewish children every month to encourage families’ Jewish journeys.
  • ongoing financial support to our Jewish communities most significant agencies, including Jewish Family & Career Services, The Breman Jewish Home and its expanded services, the Jewish Community Center, another other supportive services for refugees, the elderly, and the vulnerable.
  • strengthening religious pluralism in Israel, including to Reform and Conservative movement institutions and synagogues; along with building connections to communities in need in our sister cities of Yokneam and Megiddo.

Many of us give to the causes and agencies that we are most committed to, which is wonderful. I do the same. And certainly, it includes my own giving to our congregation. But there is still a power to contribute to a communal fund where key leaders are assessing the needs for a whole community. That is why I give. I hope you will to.

To make your gift, go to www.jewishatlanta.org and select the Donate Now! button. The website has lots of information for you to learn how to do your part.

Or you can send me a private email with your pledge, and I will take care of the rest! Write to me at rabbigreene@bethtikvah.com.

Thanks for starting this new year off right and considering a gift to the Community Campaign of 2014. I hope we steadily increase Temple Beth Tikvah’s representation in our Federation Campaign.

Wishing you a happy, healthy and sweet 2014.

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