25 November 2008

Come to Shabbat services - It just may save your life...

Study: Attending services cuts women’s death risk

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death for women by 20 percent, according to a new study.

Twenty percent less likely to die? Ever? I'm not sure that I understand this article but I felt that, as a Rabbi, it was my obligation to share this important medical study with the members of my congregation (even though it may mean a substantial decrease in funerals and yizkor contributions).

22 November 2008

How Many Rabbis Does It Take to Install a Cantor?

It was one of the great privileges of my Rabbinate to spend this past Shabbat at Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Michigan where our former student Cantor, Darcie Naomi Sharlein, invited me to install her in her new pulpit. After the service, in the receiving line, each of the over 200 congregants and community members present thanked me. I do not think that they were thanking me for my words, nor, necessarily for travelling to Detroit, but rather thanking me (and all the rest of our congregation) for sending them Darcie. (I tried to tell them that she came to us considerably talented and that we hadn't actually packed her up and mailed her to Detroit - that it was her choice to come to them.) However, I am happy to share not only the greetings of Darcie and her family with the congregation, but also the knowledge that our former student Cantor has landed safely in a place where she is loved and appreciated.

20 November 2008

Hungary for change...

There is an interesting article on the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) site today about what is going on in Hungarian Jewry. Our sister congregation - Szim Salom - has never been recognized by the official Jewish body, which disperses the government funds to the individual organizations. A few years ago, they were pleased that they had been recognized as an official group. This resulted in two important changes: As opposed to US citizens, who donate money and then take a tax deduction, Hungarians can route 1% of their tax payments to specific non-profit organizations. Szim Salom raised a great deal of money through this program. In addition, they were able to petition to the Budapest city government for a permanent site for their congregation. (Although the first site didn't work out, they are trying to find another.)

The article explains how the official Jewish body is attempting to reach out and be more inclusive. However, several smaller institutions - including Szim Salom, a Conservative (called "Masorti" overseas) youth organization and Chabad - have boycotted the new council, saying it is powerless and its creation is only window-dressing. The current president of Szim Salom, Gabor Radvanszki (a very young president who has welcomed us on each of our visits) is quoted in the article.

We'll find out how things are going when we visit in April.

18 November 2008

Two Seconds of Commentary*

There is a very interesting attitude buried in the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah for today. Tuesday deals with the Mishnah and the section studied focusses on what blessings to say for foods not specifically covered by more definitive blessings. In th end of the mishnah, Rabbi Yehudah says, "Anything which is a type of curse should not be blessed." He is referring to vinegar - as it is overaged wine; fruit gathered from the ground - as it is overripe; and locusts - as they are not only edible, but also dangerous to crops.

I am uncomfortable with Rabbi Yehudah's logic. On the one hand, I am critical of the belief that everything is a blessing; that even evil acts have an upside. However, I would not go as far as Rabbi Yehudah - vinegar has its own unique identity, taste, and purposes and its usage goes beyond that of leftover and spoilt wine.

Blessing is not just for ideals; there are blessings in that which is blemished.

*Thanks to Tom for the title of this post.

05 November 2008

Atem nitzavim hayom - You stand this day, all of you...

Regardless of political stripe, all Americans should be rejoicing this morning in the light of a prophecy fulfilled. The modern prophet, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., famously dreamed of the day when we would judge each other not by the color of our skins, but by the content of our character. As Jews, we constantly remind ourselves that we were slaves in the land of Egypt - not to perpetuate slavery, but rather to erase oppression. Yesterday, we as a nation took a strong and steady step toward that redemptive future. There are many more steps to travel but, in a sense, we all stand at Mount Sinai, in a moment of national covenant. Let us hope that, together, we can find a way out of the wilderness.

Then shall the just see and exult, the righteous be glad, and the pious sing for joy.