31 July 2009

Life Partners (in crime?)

Members of the congregation have requested to see the article in the July 17, 2009 Courier-News that featured Michelle and I. (Click on the "Courier-News" above to link to the article)

30 July 2009

“You must reprove your kin, lest you bear their sin yourself.” – Leviticus 19:17

I sent the following as an Op-Ed submission to the Courier-News and Star Ledger this week. It was printed as a letter in the Courier.

It is always awkward – and sometimes painful – to see a member of one’s own identity group splashed all over the headlines. A natural first reaction is to bury the head deep in the sand and hope that it will all go away. Yet, when a member of another group does flagrant wrong or speaks words of hate, we are often the first to ask members of that group to repudiate and disavow – not only the hateful words or wrongful actions, but the individual as well.

I can do no less, as a Rabbi and member of the Jewish community, than to do that which I would expect of others. The ancient sage Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to any person.” We are commanded, as Jews, time after time in our Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Is our neighbor only the person who lives next door? Who dresses, acts, and speaks in the same manner? No, we modern and progressive Jews, who have accepted the benefit of the Enlightenment - to live among those of different creeds and heritage – extend the name of neighbor to each and every member of the human race.

Last Friday night, at our Shabbat service, I took the opportunity of our weekly Torah discussion to lay out this case before my congregation. As modern Reform Jews, we have explicitly rejected the insular communities that care only for their own welfare, in favor of living in the world, not outside of it. In Nedarim 28a, The Talmud, the basic text of Rabbinic Judaism, states the concept of dina demalkhuta dina – the law of the land is the law. This means that when Jews live in a country they are obliged to live by its laws. We take this further to mean that we are obliged to be active, intelligent and informed citizens. Problems with the government are dealt with by the ballot box, the legislatures, and the courts, not by back room deals and bribery. I say again, Judaism does not in any way condone bribery or corruption in a free and democratic society with legitimate redresses for grievances. Further, by the words from Leviticus above – that we are commanded to reprove our community members when they do wrong - we are compelled to speak out publicly and say, should these rabbis and community members so recently in the news be guilty of such acts, they are not acting in accord with Jewish law or custom. In fact, they act directly contrary to dina demalkhuta dina when they break the laws of the communities they have chosen to live in.

Lest we bear that sin upon ourselves as well, we all must speak out against it – and repudiate and disavow those who would break the law and take refuge in their Judaism.

23 July 2009

On the other hand...

Our Temple has been privileged to host three teen-age members of our sister congregation in Budapest, Szim Salom, for the past week. The three had just finished participating in the Reform movement's national leadership academy at Kutz Camp. We gave them a chance to rest, recoup, clean their laundry, and visit the heck out of New York City.

I took the three girls out to lunch today (for some real American pizza) before they left us to return to Budapest. During our conversation, they told me that anti-semitism is a growing problem in Hungary and on the rise in Europe. Each of them said their parents' story resonated with what I have heard from many Hungarian Jews - that their parents, survivors of the Holocaust, did not tell them that they were Jews until they were much older. These students, members of a Progressive congregation who gave up part of their summer to learn about Judaism in the United States, are being raised by those parents in a much more consciously Jewish manner. The repercussion? They are facing anti-semitism in their schools and in their society. The word "Jew" is a not particularly flattering descriptor and incidents of political uses of anti-semitism are on the rise.

These are strong, confident Jewish young adults and I wish for them a life where they can be proud Hungarians and proud Jews. I hope that Hungary realizes what they have in this generation and works to protect and nurture them.

20 July 2009

A Re-emergence of Judaism in Poland?

There is an interesting article on the Jewish Telegraph Agency today about Poles finding out about their Jewish roots. In my observation, Poles are in the place that many Germans were 10 - 20 years ago. When I was in graduate school, I studied with a non-Jewish German student who was the grandchild of a Nazi-era politician but was studying Jewish history. She was one of a number of her generation who wanted to study Judaism seriously. Now, she is a noted professor of the Holocaust in Germany. I also studied with a Pole who had emigrated to the US after fleeing Communist Poland. He and his friends would go into old Jewish cemeteries and clean them up.

The article has an interesting quote from former Polish President Kwasniewski which indicates how Poles are opening up to the idea that Jews and Judaism are a part of Polish culture. It reminds me of when the Confirmation class used to travel through Lublin and we found a small museum of the Old City of Lublin. The museum consisted mainly of pictures of the Jewish ghetto taken before the war with the sounds of what it might have been like played in the background. All the signs were in Polish and museum curators were always surprised when we came in. They said that this was a museum not for tourists, but for Poles, to remind them what Lublin (and Poland) used to be - where two nations lived together - the Poles and the Jews.

It is nice to see the beginning of an understanding that the Jews might have been Poles as well (and vice versa).

Krakow - we still go there every year on the Confirmation trip. It is a lovely city - but there is no current Jewish life, despite the fact that a huge Jewish cultural festival (referenced in the article) is held there every year. Warsaw - we haven't been to in a number of years, but there is a revival of Jewish culture there now, including a Progressive congregation with an American Rabbi. We may be heading back some year soon.