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.”

View original post

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 message from AIPAC’s Synagogue Initiative

As the deluge of rockets from Gaza endangered millions of Israeli lives this summer, the Jewish state was able to rely on a remarkable technology to protect its most populated areas with the Iron Dome missile defense system. Thanks to this groundbreaking, U.S.-backed technology, most of the rockets destined for Israeli schools, buildings and neighborhoods were shot down out of the sky.

The Iron Dome air defense system is unique in its capabilities and is one of the most tangible manifestations of American aid to Israel. Designed by Israel’s Advanced Defense Systems LTD., it was first introduced in 2011, after successfully intercepting several Grad rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. Since then, Iron Dome has undergone numerous improvements and has become a critical component to Israeli deterrence against terrorist rocket fire.

The system provides robust, selective defense and can discriminate between threats headed toward population centers and those that will land in open fields or in the ocean. It is effective at destroying incoming rockets in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, or fog.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, has joined a chorus of praise from both Israeli and American officials regarding the United States’ funding for this life-saving device. “If there has been a more substantial contribution than the aid and funding for [Iron] Dome, that saves lives, I can’t imagine what it is,” he said.

For years, pro-Israel activists across the country have lobbied their members of Congress to provide annual funding for the Iron Dome system and other critical missile defense programs. As of this summer, the United States has allocated more than $700 million towards Iron Dome with Congress considering an additional $576 million in fiscal year 2015.

Additionally, American lawmakers have so far contributed nearly $2 billion for Israel’s mid-range and long-range missile defense programs including David’s Sling and the Arrow II and III systems.

The United States played an essential role in helping Israel protect its people from its enemies and eliminate the possibility of mass casualties during the Hamas offensive this past summer. The work of AIPAC and the pro-Israel community to lobby our legislators in support of these vital security subsidies will remain an indispensable facet of the robust U.S.-Israel partnership.

stop-the-sirens_600x400_FBPostFriends,

I am hearing from many of our congregants asking similar questions:

“Why is there such a bias in the media against Israel?”

“What can we do from here to support Israel?”

“How come people don’t seem to be holding Hamas accountable for their actions, using their own people as human shields?”

 

I wish I had a simple answer for you. I believe that most people out there really have no sense of what the conflict is about or how it plays out. Most don’t realize that Israel has no presence — military or civilian — in Gaza. They don’t realize what Hamas is at its core.

So, we need to respond. We need to give to the Stop the Sirens Campaign, we need to tell others to do the same, we need to write to our Senators and Representatives to encourage them to continue their support for the State of Israel, and we need to inform, teach, and share resources on social media.

Here are a few pieces, some harder to access than others, to help arm ourselves in defending Israel as best as we can from Atlanta.

One of the things that I think is very important is for us to also affirm: we believe in a two state solution, a Palestinian state side by side a Jewish State of Israel. I don’t mind saying that there are times when I wish Israel would make different decisions. But I share my critiques out of a love for Israel, not a desire to break it.

So stand with Israel. Teach our friends and neighbors important truths. Pray for peace in Jerusalem and for the Palestinian people. No one wants bloodshed. But we need to listen to each other’s narratives and hope for one another’s success.

However today, I need my community to read these resources and act.

 

Statement Not Issued by the UN Security Council (this is a great piece of what they SHOULD have declared)

Support the Stop the Sirens Campaign with your act of tzedakah. This is the American Jewish community’s collective response to Israelis needs.

Live Updates from a leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz: click here.

Israel May be Raising the Moral Standards of Warfare

Getting the Law Right on the Israel-Hamas Conflict

8 Things You Need to Know about the Gaza – Israel Conflict

David and Goliath: Perception and Misconception (discussing one approach to why there is so much negative feelings against Israel)

Hamas War Crimes Provoke Response

Read the IDF Blog – there are tons of resources to SHARE

What if Terrorists Could Should this Rocket in Your Country? Then scroll down, and enter in YOUR CITY to see the range Hamas’ rockets can reach.

 

Regarding Hamas using its own people as human shields:

Hamas Uses Civilians as Human Shields

Main Points 

  • Israel targets terrorists to protect its civilians. Hamas targets civilians while using its own people for cover.
  • Since the beginning of Operation “Protective Edge” Hamas has been actively encouraging Palestinians in Gaza to become human shields by praising it as an act of bravery and proof of steadfastness, an esteemed Palestinian value.
  • Hamas cynically exploits the Palestinian civilian population as human shields to protect its terrorist activity against Israel.
  • Rocket launching pads and weapon caches are hidden in private homes and public buildings such as schools and mosques.
  • Hamas exploits any collateral damage that results from its use of human shields for propaganda purposes.
  • Hamas’ actions are in clear violation of the most fundamental principles of international law, including the principle of distinction which requires Hamas to clearly distinguish itself from its own civilian population.
  • Hamas uses this horrific tactic knowing full well that, as opposed to Hamas, Israel takes every precaution to avoid harming uninvolved civilians. For example, Israel routinely warns residents about impending attacks to enable them to evacuate to safety despite the tactical difficulties this poses.

Recent Examples of Hamas Encouraging Civilians to Become Human Shields

  1. On 8 July, Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri appeared on the terrorist organization’s al-Aqsa TV network. In the clip, Abu Zuhri can be seen saying that “the fact that people are facing Israeli warplanes bare-chested to protect their homes, I believe this procedure has proved its efficiency. And we in the Hamas movement call on our people to adopt this procedure.”

A reporter is heard saying that “the citizens performed a brave deed by congregating on this roof to prevent the conquering force’s planes from bombing.”

The clip can be viewed by going to: http://youtu.be/7ejXZuvQ52E

  1. A cartoon produced by Hamas calls on Palestinian civilians to form human shields against Israeli attacks. The cartoon depicts how a large group of civilians standing on the roofs of houses creates a metaphorical shield against incoming bombs, and praises the “steadfast people.” Cartoons are an important medium for influencing public opinion in Palestinian society.

The cartoon can be viewed by going to: http://imgur.com/P3HevwB

 

Israel Under FireIt is with a heavy heart that I write to you. I want peace, I pray for peace. But I am a committed Zionist who believes in the enterprise of a Jewish State, a state entitled to defend its citizens. Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has recently said how he was on the battlefield and served as the representative of Israel in front of a TV camera. Today, those lines have become increasingly blurred. I cannot understand how news “reporters” are so one-sided. It truly baffles me. I have no problem asking critical questions. I encourage probing questions. I want to be sure that the Israel Defense Force continues to embrace its mission of defending Israel more than punishing Palestinians. I also give credit to Israel’s government and its rule of law when individuals cross that line, they are held accountable. So why is it that Israel is blamed for an entire conflict? When did others forget that Israel is an underdog? I hope and pray for a speedy end to the bloodshed. I join thousands who say that blood is blood and revenge has no place in our Jewish communities. Where it shines its head, it needs to be brought to justice for desecrating our Tradition, our Truths, our God and the Land itself. There are many of us who are having trouble getting past the heartbreak of the murder of the three Israeli boys, the murdered Palestinian boy, the acts of vengeance and the celebrations over the death of the Other. I am concerned for the welfare of the Palestinians. Many are falling victim due to no fault of their own. Nevertheless, I blame Hamas. How dare they use their own people as human shields! It is astounding to me how the IDF releases a video that shows them firing a warning shot at a building in Gaza to encourage innocent civiliants to leave. When civilians went on top of the roof, the IDF aborted the mission. Hamas, used the same footage to encourage its people to go on top of the buildings to stop future attacks from Israel. Hamas has launched over 550 rockets into civilian areas in Israel, which has been met by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which has countered with over 500 air strikes in Gaza. But before this Operation started, there were more than 220 rockets that struck Israel. Hamas has boasted that it can now strike any city in Israel. (To see the range of rockets compared to Atlanta — or any other city — click here.) The situation looks like it will only get worse in the coming weeks. While it makes me sad that things have come to this, I believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and deter its enemy, Hamas, from continuing to send rockets into civilian centers in Israel. In the meantime, I will advocate on Israel’s behalf, I will educate those who will not look at nuance, I will cry when innocents become casualties — regardless of whether they are Jews or Palestinians,  and I will always pray for peace in the Land of Israel, for its inhabitants and its neighbors. Here are a few resources that I encourage you to explore so you can be a voice of support to the People and the State of Israel: The IDF Blog Israel Under Fire Ambassador Michael Oren’s Facebook Page Jewish Federation of North America’s Operation Protective Edge Resource Page — this has other links to Israeli news media in English among other external, reliable resources Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Blog An important piece on nuance when Israelis went to extend their condolences to the family of the Palestinian boy killed in an act of vengeance. Listen to the NPR story here.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a proportional response   “Where is the outrage over the bombardment of civilians in Israel” Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @rabbigreene where I am sharing lots of resources   From our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah (p. 377):

O Heavenly One, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your peace, send Your light and truth to all who lead and advise, guiding them with Your good counsel. Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there. Amen.

 

Commandment 184 is that [God] commanded us to remove obstacles and danger from all dwellings…. – Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment #184 (12th century)

King David is a central figure in our Jewish Tradition. Held in highest esteem by God, David (whose name means “beloved”) is a warrior who, at times, functions in ruthless ways. And yet, he is devoted to the Covenant between God and the Jewish People and is rewarded for doing so.

I have always found it inspiring that such a leader like David, who is held in such high regard, could not build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was his leadership that united the kingdom when he conquered Jerusalem to make it the capital of the Jewish People, and still he could not build the Holy Temple because as a warrior, he had blood on his hands.

Not only that, our Holy Temple could not be built with iron. Jewish tradition teaches that the people used other methods to carve out the massive stones. Iron couldn’t be used because that material was often used to shorten another person’s life; thus inconsistent with the sanctity of the Holy Temple. (See Deut. 27:5, M. Middot 3:4).

There is even a custom in Jewish families to cover up the knives when we say our Shabbat blessings around the dinner table. Since our table is considered a mikdash m’at—a miniature altar (referring to the ancient Temple) – it is a sacred place and a place of peace. So we cover the knives that represent weapons and bloodshed – imagery that has no appropriate place in the midst of our Sabbath blessings.

And so it is… this is why I have been earnest in speaking out against what I consider to be the idolatry of guns in our society.

We can debate the intentions of our founding fathers with regard to the Second Amendment. That is for a different time. As a people of faith, we are commanded “to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19.6) As I reflect on these words, it teaches me that we are to not simply go an extra mile. We are asked by God to choose a path that will model holiness. So we must balance our necessary requirements of security with holiness. From my point of view, it is a holy act to provide hospitality, and thus security, for those who come into your house. That is an important reason why we have our friends from the Roswell Police Department with us regularly and routinely. The chair of our Temple Security Committee is a Police Detective. We take safety and security seriously.

And it is with these two values combined – security and holiness – to guide us, that I can say I am proud of our leadership to make Temple Beth Tikvah a weapons-free zone, with the exception of those who are law enforcement professionals or on active duty in the military.

The recent law that the Georgia Legislature passed and which Governor Deal signed into law, says that houses of worship are to be considered private property. The law does not permit individuals, whether they have a permit to carry a firearm or not, to bring a firearm into a house of worship. The law will now permit congregations to OPT IN and permit people to bring weapons onto their property, if they choose to. Our synagogue’s Board responded to a thoughtful plea by our own Mark Mosbacher and resolved to make TBT a weapons-free zone in our building and on our grounds.

Why did we (along with Temple Sinai and The Temple, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta) pass resolutions when the law hasn’t changed in terms of bringing weapons into houses of worship?

One reason is to affirm our truth – bringing weapons into our sacred space, whether it is the sanctuary, the school or the social hall, diminishes that very same sacredness as illustrated in the beginning of this article.  A second reason is to have an opportunity to educate how the interfaith religious leadership in Atlanta is predominantly opposed to bringing weapons into houses of worship and we are opposed legal changes that will uproot reasonable gun ownership and carry regulations. I have joined over 280 other members of the clergy in the Interfaith Coalition against Gun Violence to do what we can to provide a faithful response to these issues. And a third reason: Leviticus 19:16 teaches that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. This is a pro-active position that communicates to our faith community, the larger Atlanta faith community, and our government leaders that gun violence is a serious issue that needs serious solutions. We fully expect that the issue will reappear in next year’s legislative session to advance that congregations will need to OPT OUT rather than opt in if they want to be weapons-free. (We also expect them to return to raising legalization of carrying weapons on college campuses).

This isn’t about the right to own or carry a weapon. This is about having our synagogue remain a sanctuary from the storms outside. For me, it is also about my concern about the easy access and prevalence of guns that will raise new challenges to issues of public safety. And it is statement that we see every life as precious.

Kol Hakavod to our Board of Trustees for passing this resolution:

WHEREAS, in keeping with the spirit of Isaiah 2:4 ” And he shall judge between the nations and reprove many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”;

AND WHEREAS, reflecting that Temple Beth Tikvah is a house of God and a house of hope,

THEREFORE, with the exception of active military and law enforcement personnel, Temple Beth Tikvah shall be declared a weapons-free zone;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this be actively communicated to the congregation and to law enforcement.

–Resolved April 17, 2014

 

I think that this is an important piece for all to read.

How often do I hear that parents won’t come to services because they are concerned about their children misbehaving. Frankly, I don’t think it is really about them misbehaving… it is about them being children and us not tolerating them.

I can recall a time when, as a new rabbi, I was approaching the bimah for a special service in our community. My daughters were quite little and got a little, well… toddler-ish. A congregant reprimanded my wife for their innocent, child-like behavior. My wife was so hurt that she left the sanctuary with our daughters. While the person later apologized (and felt horrible that this was done to the new rabbi’s family), the truth is… it happens a lot.

If we can be so easily distracted by children in services, perhaps we should focus on our own souls and prayers with a little more energy.

Please read “Children in the Sanctuary.”

I look forward to reading your thoughts on this…

One of the things that I encounter most is when folks of a certain age choose to disengage from a synagogue community and say, “my kids are grown and I don’t need it anymore.”

On the other end of the spectrum are the comments of our long-time congregants who continue to support and sustain our Jewish community, but believe helping out and volunteering are for “the new – the younger generation.”

How is it that the synagogue in America has been seen as so narrowly focused? Is it our emphasis on the Bar Mitzvah?

It is clear that the majority of American Jews connect to synagogues when it is time to enroll a child. The overwhelming majority of America’s Jews are members of synagogues at some point in their lives, but only about a third of us are synagogue members at any one time.

I think that there are many factors that have contributed to this idea. Regardless of what they are, it isn’t healthy – not for our People and not for ourselves. The synagogue is the central address for Jewish life, other than one’s home.  If it is left to the young parents to lead, then an entire segment (and a growing population of older adults) of our community will feel left out. The same is true if it is only run by our more senior members – the voices of our younger members and families will not be present.

Yet, what I believe is even more important than a voice at the leadership table is the fact that we are all spiritual beings. We all have been given a soul that needs to be nourished in order for us to stay healthy. You have often heard me share how I believe that it is so easy to become distracted and focus on things that might not necessarily be so essential. Focusing on our spiritual sides, looking towards the holy can keep us grounded, generous and grateful.

Sacred Aging is something all of us can encounter. Thorughout our lives, we do have different needs – physical, financial, emotional and spiritual. We are all getting older and we all face questions about meaning in our lives. We can’t only think the Jewish community or synagogues are only about the kids in our schools (and you know how devoted I am to our youth!). If that was the case, then we foster a pediatric Judaism. A sacred community involves people of all ages who offer their gifts – learning in community, prayer, spiritual growth, volunteering to help one another, volunteering to help those outside of our community. We all have gifts to give and they all matter.

Remember the purpose of a synagogue – to be a house of prayer / beit t’filah, a house of learning / beit midrash, and a house of gathering / beit Knesset.  According to Harry Moody in Five Stages of the Soul, spiritual journeys of mature adults can be compelling because we have achieved some life experience and are able to understanding our personal histories; we get a panoramic view – we see where we have been and have a clearer picture of what is in store for us; we are able to discern a pattern to our past and perhaps identify a meaningful goal; we need to be grounded when disability or illness strikes; and we are more prepared to engage in practical and existential questions about life and death.

Yes, synagogue communities must be responsive and welcoming to our families with young children and teens. It is critical. But we cannot – ever – cast away our seniors or our empty nesters. They, too have gifts to give, perhaps different than our families with young children. They have wisdom to share. Their needs matter.  And a true sacred community is a community for all – not just the kids.

So the next time you hear that “it is the next generation’s turn” or “we don’t need a temple any more…” consider these words. Make the case for a shared endeavor in covenant with a community, our people and with God. We never cease being a Jew and a being engaged in a Jewish community is about much more than membership. It is about covenant. It is about doing our part. It is about pursuing the holy.

 

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

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,463 other followers

Rabbi Fred Greene’s Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.