I have made lots of jokes about growing my hair out (as best as I could) for this fundraiser for St Baldricks Foundation in honor of a little boy who died this year… A boy whom I have never met. I am only acquaintances with his parents – fellow Reform rabbis. As I see women and men start to shave their heads in solidarity with this family and these children who are fighting their cancers, I am truly in awe.

I am in awe not only for the almost two dozen women who are participating in this “36 Shave for the Brave,” not only because there are 100 rabbis signed up for this, not only because they have raised over $528,000… But because there is an energy around people making a difference and doing something that is holy.

These shavees are walking around with hair longer than they ever would have tolerated before: unkept, hard-to-manage, not so appealing… to emphasize their experience in the shave. I am reminded of the Nazir in the Torah who takes on an oath and separates her/himself, takes on additional burdens, in order to designate her/his life to serving God in a unique way. It wasn’t necessary for these people to choose to do this. But they did it anyway. At the end of their service, they shave their hair that was previously consecrated to God. While they were in this temporary status as a Nazir, they could not shave their heads. Here at the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform Rabbis in North America, I see a whole host of people consecrating their beloved hair to God, preparing to shave it off in order to fight childhood cancer, to honor the spiritual courage of a family who experienced a loss few of us can understand, to remember a little boy who was a superhero to many, and to bring some holiness to our lives when the chaos embedded in Creation strikes.

May Superman Sam’s memory be an enduring blessing to his family and to all of us. May we reach this goal of $540,000. May people be inspired to do their part – through shaving their heads, making acts of tzedakah, and bringing comfort to a family still in pain. And may we bring holiness into our lives and our world by making a difference and showing God we care.

You can support my shave at: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/RabbiFredGreene

If you would like to see more, visit this site: http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2014/03/21/thirty-six-rabbis-shave-brave-backstory

Thank you for supporting my modest fundraising efforts and for enabling me to do this holy act.

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To my Ayekah followers, I am sharing a message from a coalition of clergy and religious leaders from around metro Atlanta. I have been communicating with our Jewish community for the need of responsible and reasonable gun violence prevention measures to be passed in the Georgia legislature. I have heard arguments in favor of reducing restrictions on where to be able to carry weapons where advocates are talking about it as a civil right, a concern of property rights, and how the right to carry is given by God and the Constitution.

Let me share a brief response here and also give you an update from this interfaith coalition for those who choose to pick up the phone and contact your legislators and the Governor.

I think that Rabbi Eric Yoffie had it right in his article “Gun Worship is Blasphemy.” I think that there is a kind of worship of guns — weapons — in this country that I cannot begin to understand. Frankly, I see it as a kind of idolatry.

We have many police officers that come through our doors here to take care of us. Their opinions are diverse. There are also a number of congregants who also believe in the right to carry. Yet, I have found that most agree to reasonable and sensible gun ownership and carry restrictions. Thinking about our own synagogue — I am concerned that a congregant or guest who is carrying a weapon and felt a need to respond in a dangerous situation would not be able to determine who is the “bad guy” and who is the “good guy.” Being trained on how to shoot under controlled circumstances is a far cry from being trained in public safety. When it comes to security, I trust our law enforcement professionals who are here to take care of us after ongoing, meticulous training.

We are also a house of God and a house of hope. With that notion alone, I find that bringing a weapon into our building belittles our Jewish value to pursue peace.

Further, to entitle people to bring weapons into bars, as this bill advocates, makes no sense to me. If we argue that driving drunk is an abomination, then how can we agree to carrying a weapon into a bar where the whole purpose is to drink alcohol which leads to some level of impaired judgment.

And I am sorry, God has not given anyone a right to own or carry a weapon. To defend ourselves, yes. To protect our borders, yes. Is gun ownership permitted, yes. Can a government place reasonable limits for public safety… yes.

I heard testimony last week from the parents of a victim of gun violence. The father, a military veteran, spoke before the Georgia Senate Committee hearing testimony for and against this bill. His argument was passionate but had great clarity. He launched a petition here (it is worth reading, even if you choose not to sign). We have other congregants who have been affected by gun violence directly or their immediate families. They, too, are concerned that this bill will affect families like theirs — changing their lives forever. Even during this past year, there were two different times where our police officers needed to leave our synagogue on a Shabbat evening to support fellow officers in shooting incidents in close proximity to the synagogue.

Our local, state and federal governments have clearly permitted gun ownership among citizens. I don’t have a problem with that. However, restricting who is entitled to own a weapon, to carry a weapon, what kind of weapon can be purchased, and where individuals can bring it (airports, bars, schools, college campuses, houses of worship) — these are things that our government can and ought to restrict.

I take my lead from these sources:

How long, O Eternal, shall I cry out, and you not listen?
How long shall I shout to You, “Violence!” and you not save?…
Violence is before me, strife continues and contention goes on.
That is why decision fails, and justice never emerges:
The villain hedges in the just man – and judgment is deformed.
Habbakuk 1:2-4

In the days to come,
The Mount of the Eternal’s House
Shall stand firm above the mountains
And tower above the hills;
And all the nations
Shall gaze on it with joy….
Thus, God will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many people,
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.
–Isaiah 2:2-4

Isaiah’s words are my hope; this is my prayer.

Isaiah’s call and Habbakuk’s cry is why I act…and I hope you will, too.

Here is a Clergy Statement that I signed on to: Clergy Statement 03 2014 on gun violence

Here is another Jewish perspective on people of faith responding to gun violence: Listen to Rabbi Hirschfield.

This letter, below, is from this Coalition on what we can do is below. Please read it and please make your call as you see fit.

______________________________________________________________________________

Dear Clergy friends,

Here is an update on the last week at the Capitol.  Please forward this message to your congregations as we need as many people as possible to call the Governor and Lt. Governor and go to the Capitol on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

There are now two gun bills that could come before the full Senate for a vote on Tuesday or Thursday of this week.  The bills are complex and this is what we understand about them:

HB 875 – The original gun bill passed by the House of Representatives has been amended by a Senate Committee. The new version changes some provisions of the original bill, but guns would still be allowed in schools K-12, and places of worship and bars if the property owner permits weapons. You can view this substitute bill in its entirety at http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20132014/139285.pdf.

HB 60 – The House Sponsor took the original HB 875 (before being amended by the Senate Committee) and attached it to another bill, but with the campus carry provisions completely omitted. This bill allows guns in churches, bars and schools unless the property owners opt out. This would require every house of worship that does not wish to allow guns to vote on the issue and then somehow notify the public and their members with signs or screening mechanisms as to their decision. The General Assembly has not posted the text of the new HB 60 online so we are unable to supply you with a link.

With regard to airports, both bills provide that there is no penalty if a concealed weapon permit holder carries a gun past TSA security checkpoints if the weapon is immediately relinquished, and the penalty is a misdemeanor if either permit holders or non-permit holders do not turn over a weapon after being notified.

Both of these bills are still in play and both still expand the places where concealed weapons will be allowed.

What you can do to make your opinion known about the expansion of gun carry in Georgia:

1.    Call the offices of Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and your own state Senator and Representative.  These calls are easy to make; you need only say whether you are opposed or in favor of the gun bills.

          Governor Deal’s Office  404-656-1776

           Lt. Gov. Casey’s Office   404-656-5030

Find your Senator and House member at   www.votesmart.org.  Send them an email or telephone their office.

2.    Go to the Capitol on Tuesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 20 to talk with Senators about the gun bills or to help watch monitors and follow the bills.  Reply to this message if you are interested and we can send you details about where to meet up with folks who can help guide you at the Capitol.  You will not be doing this alone.

Thank you,

Outcry! Faith Voices Against Gun Violence

For those who will be commenting on this blog, please do remember, these are faithful conversations. If dissent or agreement is not respectful, it will be deleted from my blog.

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.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

I had a wonderful meeting with a man named Mark Crenshaw last month. Mark is the former director of the Interfaith Disability Network. Mark told me a story of how he was leaving a church that he was visiting with his wife and how impressed he was that the pastor was at the door wishing everybody a good day. To each and every person, the pastor asked, “What is your name and what do you do?” Mark saw this interaction as touching and thoughtful. When the pastor got to his wife, he asked her, “What is your name and what you do?” His wife of course answered. When Mark approached for his turn to greet the pastor, Mark, a man who lives with disability, who has led a nonprofit organization, who has a Masters of Divinity degree from Emory’s Candler School of Theology, and who is the Director of Interdisciplinary Training at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University… To Mark, the pastor commented, “it’s a nice day out, isn’t it?”

Mark told me the story because he was trying to illustrate how inclusion is not just about offering a special program for people who feel excluded, such as those who live with disabilities. Inclusion is about providing a safe and welcoming space for all – for people with all kinds of abilities.

Sometimes we need to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to connect without worry or concern for being looked at funny or being shushed. For the very first time, Temple Beth Tikvah is going to offer a sensory friendly Shabbat service on Friday night, February 21 at 6:30 PM. I am thrilled to be presenting this in collaboration with the Disability Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. This is going to be a great learning experience for our congregation. I hope our friends will come, not because “they need it,” but because we will all be able to learn a little bit more about the spiritual and communal needs of people with disabilities and those who love them. If we really mean that we are “a warm and welcoming congregation,” then we have to learn how to open our tents wide enough so that all who choose to can enter and feel at home. Being an accessible congregation means that we have to move “beyond the ramp” and encourage people with disabilities that they are welcome. We can tell our friends, family and neighbors that this service will be open to all and I hope all who are committed to inclusion will come and pray and share together.

Collector of Bedford St Film EventI am just as excited for us to host a short film and discussion. This 30 minute film is called, “The Collector of Bedford Street.” It is about a developmentally disabled man who is, frankly, just extraordinary. We witness the goodness he brings out in others as he helps raise money for different causes – despite the fact that he is poor and vulnerable himself. Our discussion will address themes like the gifts we can share with one another, how a community takes care of its neighbors, how one person can make a difference, and how every single person has a gift to offer another. Please look at the information in this newsletter about this program on Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 PM; please RSVP at rsvp@bethtikvah.com.

These two endeavors are part of the efforts of a new working group at Temple Beth Tikvah. This Inclusion Task Force is assessing the needs of our community to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and different abilities. We look forward to put together our thoughts and plans to present to our Board of Trustees in the near future. If you have an interest in getting involved in such a group, please write directly to me.

I do believe, without exception, that every single human being is created in God’s image. If that is truly the case, then we need to open our hearts and our eyes to the needs of so many who feel like they are on the periphery or just left out of the Jewish community. I think that if we open our tents wide, not only will we provide spiritual nourishment to people who are often forgotten, but we will be enriched by doing so.

Regarding our Sensory Friendly Shabbat Service: there will be a social story to prepare a child for entering into the sanctuary; there will be a safe room for anyone who needs to walk around and stretch or draw in our Oneg Room; there will be a section of the sanctuary where the lights will be lowered; there will be no “shushing”; there will be a sign language interpreter. To see a social story to prepare your child, click here. To RSVP for this Shabbat experience, please contact disabilities@jfga.org.

For more information about what is going on in Atlanta for Jewish Disability Awareness Month, click here.

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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There is a problem when we define our relationships with our congregations only on “dues.”

I can’t stand the word.

It has never reflected my relationship with you — and I hope that it doesn’t truly reflect your relationship with me (or your rabbi). When “dues” is the foundation, that is why people leave… it is like the gym they don’t go to, so why pay dues if I don’t go?

Shouldn’t it be based on Covenants? Caring for one another, despite how many hours of use we provide, is our real foundation. Investing in a community that serves the Jewish community, that teaches Torah, that enriches lives, that challenges us to make a life not just a living… that helps us live in the Presence of God… these are the reasons why I support my own syangogue. And when I do so, I know I am contributing to the Jewish journeys of our preschoolers, our teens, our empty nesters and our seniors.

I want to embrace the concept of Nadiv Lev — giving with a generous heart. It isn’t always easy, but I hope that if your congregation has done right by you, if your synagogue has touched you, if you are feeling grateful about things in your life…then show that gratitude by making an act of tzedakah.

I did to Temple Beth Tikvah. I hope you will too (or to your own congregation).

I spent a lot of time in December sharing the great things going on in our camps, Federation, and local agencies but for me… the synagogue is home base. The synagogue is the greatest partner in fostering Jewish relationships.

It is funny, when I feel that I have the fewest dollars to give, I give anyway, and it somehow puts things in to perspective. Giving is a gift. And we are taught that even the recipient of tzedakah is obligated to give. Being generous can make me feel closer to whole.

I can certainly share all of the great things that I hope to accomplish and how people’s gifts can help make that happen. (Certainly, if you are interested in hearing it, let me know…I gotta lot to talk about!)  However, sharing a gift shows you care. A meaningful gift reflects your values.

In a day and age where synaogues and institutions are often criticized, wouldn’t it be nice for those of us who feel good about the efforts of our leaders, even rabbis, to express a message of gratitude and invest in the single address that insures a Jewish future (outside the home)?

I hope so.

 

 

I found this to be a really worthwhile read. I see how people “say the wrong thing” all the time because it is more about them than about the mourner… So friends, take note. This is helpful.
If I could share two things about visiting a mourner, I would encourage us to remain silent and let the one who is mourning speak first and lead the conversation. Second, stop bringing them cake. They aren’t hosting friends over. We are to bring food for them to eat (so they don’t have to worry about basic living issues); we aren’t to bring cake for them to entertain us…
Read on here. What do you think?

kol isha

By Rabbi Julie Wolkoff. D.Min., CT

At some point during shiva, I turned to my friend Steffi and made an off-hand comment – something like “mutter, mutter, mutter, class on what not to say at shiva.” Which is how I found myself giving a presentation a few days ago at LimmudBoston. To be perfectly fair, there were very few comments at shiva that landed on the “I can’t believe s/he said that” list. It was more the discomfort of those who didn’t know what to say, friends who later shared with me some of the comments that their families had gotten in the past during shiva, and some comments I got in the weeks after Bob’s death.

You can look on-line for things to say or not to say to people who are grieving. Most of the lists are very good. It’s important to remember that it’s not…

View original post 1,383 more words

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s better than that. And I should know: I’ve been starting each Saturday morning with a BLT at TBT for the past ten years because it leaves me energized (by more than caffeine) and feeling smarter than the guy who slept in a Holiday Inn.

It started when I saw a policeman, walking his Sixth Avenue beat at night, who came upon a man crawling on the sidewalk at the corner at 34th Street. “What’s the problem?” asked the cop. “Are you all right?” The man stopped crawling for a moment and looked up, saying, “I lost my wallet.” “Oh”, said the cop, “Where did you lose it?” “I believe that I lost it on 28th Street”, answered the man. “28th Street?” questioned the cop. “If you lost your wallet on 28th Street, why are you searching here, on 34th Street?” Pointing upward at the corner street lamp the man answered, “Because the light’s better here!”

There’s a lesson to this story that actually makes more sense if you put yourself in that place, substituting your Jewish Heritage for the wallet and our Rabbi for the cop. If you’re looking for your Jewish Heritage, or a better understanding of your Jewish roots, or even if it’s God that you’re looking for, doesn’t it make sense to look where the light is brighter? When it comes to Jewish Studies, the light is brighter where more people are searching; each with their own flashlights focused to find what they seek. That’s what BLT is all about.

Bagels, Learning and Torah is Temple Beth Tikvah’s long-running Adult Studies Program (open to mature youth, as well) that has enriched my life with knowledge, understanding, and the friendships shared with the “Regulars” who, like me, return week-after-week, year-after year, each time learning something new and gaining a better insight into who we are, what we can be, and our place in the universe. We, at BLT, will be completing our study of Genesis and Exodus on December 14th and will celebrate the occasion looking ahead to the next exciting chapter on our way to The Promised Land.

Inspired by things I learned at BLT, I asked my father a question that would not have previously occurred to me. “What kind of Jews are we? I know that we’re not Kohanim (descendants from Aaron, the High Priest), but are we Levites or Israelites?” At 87, he was the only one left in our family who might know the answer and I knew that this was a one-time opportunity to learn this about my past. Dad simply said, “We’re Levites.” Having studied Torah at BLT for many years, I knew just what that meant. It meant that my ancestors were from the Tribe of Levi; the tribe of Moses and Aaron; the tribe entrusted with the task of disassembling, schlepping and reassembling The Tabernacle (which included the “Ark of the Pact” – the box with the tablets of the law – and all of the accoutrements of that portable Temple) through forty years of desert travel, on their way to The Promised Land. In a nation with a brief history, some people take special pride in claiming that their ancestors came to America on the Mayflower (1621), or fought in the American Revolution (1776). How many can say that they know their heritage and tribe and their family’s vocation from 3,500 years ago? Believing, as I do, that there is historical record in the Torah, I find it fascinating and exciting that I should be able to know that I am a descendant of Levi, Son of Jacob (who is called “Israel”). Would you care to know if you are a Kohen (Cohen), Levite, or Israelite? Would that knowledge be meaningful to you?

I’ve told you about the man looking for his wallet (not a Bible story, but a New York Midrash). Now, let me tell you about another man on a quest, from a chapter that I learned at BLT, one Shabbat morning, before 10-o’clock Services.

Toward the later portion of Genesis (37:14~28), we read of an incident in which Joseph (11th son of Jacob; looked upon with jealousy by his elder brothers who envied his ‘coat of many colors’ given by their father as a symbol of his favoritism) is traveling alone through the desert, on a mission from his father in Hebron, seeking to find his brothers who are tending the family’s sheep in Shechem. Joseph had been searching for a long time, and was about to abandon hope and return to his father’s camp, when he came upon a stranger, described in the Torah only as “Ish” / “a man”. The man asked Joseph, “What are you looking for?” Joseph asked the man, “Have you seen my brothers who have been herding flocks of sheep in Shechem?” The man answered, “Yes, but they are no longer in Shechem, having moved the herds to Dothan.” Joseph went on to find his brothers and the man was not seen nor spoken of, again. Some have speculated that the man who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly was an Angel sent by God, but the Torah is emphatic in stating that he was only “a man”.

When Joseph encountered his brothers, following the directions given him by the man in the desert, they (acting out their jealousy of him) threw him into a pit as they considered killing him and then sold him to a passing caravan on its way to Egypt. As the story continues, through many plot twists, Joseph becomes The Grand Vizier of all Egypt (Pharaoh’s “right-hand-man”) and the stage is set for four hundred years of the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt.

From this parasha (portion) we learned that Joseph’s brief, chance encounter with an unknown man in the desert was, perhaps, the pivotal moment in all of Jewish history. Had the man not appeared, Joseph would have returned to his father’s camp without meeting his brothers. He would not have been sold to a caravan; would not have been taken to Egypt, would not have garnered the Pharaoh’s favor and would not have invited the House of Jacob to be guests in Egypt (surviving a famine) where, in the following generation, a new Pharaoh would enslave them all. It is the story of the Exodus; The Children of Israel’s redemption from slavery and their path to The Promised Land of Israel, occurring four hundred years later, that is the foundation of Judaism. Thirty-Five-Hundred years of Jewish history have hinged on the appearance of one small-but-significant character. It is a lesson that any one of us, small and seemingly insignificant, could be the next lone person in the desert upon whom our history may turn.

It could be me. Or, it could be you. But it won’t be you if you’re not there. That’s why I and the BLT “Regulars” invite you to join us on Saturday, December 21st at 9:00AM, in the Oneg Room (rear of the Social Hall) as we start a new chapter in this study cycle when we begin reading Leviticus.

– Ellery Potash, a.k.a Zev Ben Chayim HaLevi

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.

Is Rabbi Harold Kushner right about this statement? In his book, Who Needs God, he shares this message that has always resonated with me. It encourages me to think about why people come to the synagogue to pray — or why they don’t. It challenges me to strive to create opportunities to facilitate the opportunity to “experience being in the presence of God.” But what if people don’t really want it anymore?

I would love to know what you think…  Can prayer move you? Do you strive to be in God’s Presence? Or is sitting in a community enough? 

Prayer is not a matter of coming to God with our wish list and pleading with Him to give us what we ask for. Prayer is first and foremost the experience of being in the presence of God. Whether or not we have our requests granted, whether or not we get anything to take home as a result of the encounter, we are changed by having come into the presence of God. . . In congregational worship, regularly scheduled services on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I have come to believe that the congregating is more important than the words we speak. Something miraculous happens when people come together seeking the presence of God. The miracle is that we so often find it. Somehow the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. A spirit is created in our midst which none of us brought there. In fact, each of us came there looking for it because we did not have it when we were alone. But in our coming together, we create the mood and the moment in which God is present. . . We don’t go to church or synagogue at a stipulated time because God keeps “office hours.” We go because that is when we know there will be other people there, seeking the same kind of encounter we are seeking.

How can rabbis, cantors, synagogues, minyanim create opportunities for your encounter?

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