06 December 2010

Latest News from Congregation Or Hadash on the Fires outside Haifa

Below is a letter from Rabbi Edgar Nof, from Congregation Or-Hadash in Haifa regarding the latest on the forest fires outside of Haifa:

The fires are finally out, rebuilding begins. 

Dear Friends,

Today, Monday, Dec. 6th, is the first day we are fully back to work in our office with all our staff.

In spite of the horrific tragedy, we are directed by Hilel’s law: “Ma’alim Ba’kodesh Ve’lo Moridim”, which means we are putting our effort to keep optimism in the air and to take this experience to a higher spiritual level.

The truth is reality is very sad and depressing. 41 people have lost their lives, there are people who are badly hurt and are fighting for their lives as we write, and most of the population in the area is experiencing major depression.
This is the worst ecologic disaster Israel has known. Around half a million trees were burnt; the animals and wild life in the area suffered severe damage, a whole community was almost wiped out ( Kibbutz Beit Oren) and others suffered considerable damage. 20,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

I would like to point out a few positive aspects as well:

1.  In the name of Or Hadash Congregation, our Executive Director Ami Perlman, our President Dr. Yuri Kligerman and myself, we would like to thank each and every one of you who called, emailed, and sent us messages of concern. We would like to thank you for your support and encouragement. We have received calls from sister congregations in America, in Europe and in Israel, including Rabbi Marmur from HUC, Rabbi Maya Lebowitz, President of MARAM, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the IMPJ and many others. We are deeply grateful for your willingness to reach out, for your support and help.

2. We often feel in Israel that the world does not understand us or likes us very much. In fact, and specifically in Chanukah, the first airplanes arriving to help were Greeks. More planes arrived immediately after, from Turkey, Spain, England, Russia, Cyprus, and Bulgaria and of course from America as well. We see the fact that so many countries recruited to assist us in our distress as a very encouraging sign and we are thankful for all their help.

3. The Israeli society immediately volunteered to help our firefighting forces, the police and the military. Citizens were waiting in line to help with anything and everything needed. People opened their hearts and homes to those that have been evacuated and did not know when they’ll be able to return home or what they will find when they do. While on our day to day routine we are engaged mostly in economic problems these days, when a tragedy like this happens we are all one and the spirit of mutual responsibility for one another awakens, showing its beauty.

Or Hadash congregation would also like to thank Haifa congregations, Rabbis and members: Ohel Abraham congregation, Leo Beck Congregation and Shirat Hayam Carmel Congregation for their beautiful contribution to help those in needs.
First action we took when the fire broke out on Thursday, Dec. 2nd was to organize an operation room along with Ami Perlman, our Executive Director and Dr. Yuri Kligerman, our President.
We contacted all our congregants and staff families to see who was evacuated and needed help.
Ami Perlman has created wonderful relationships with the Druze population in the villages of Ossafia and Daliat-el-carmel, and has invited them to stay with us in case they needed to be evacuated. We have workers who live in Tirat Carmel who were evacuated and our overseas coordinator Nofi, lives in the Druze village Ossafia and was not able to come to work.

One of our Bar Mitzvah boys is from Kibbutz Beit Oren which was partially burnt. The estimated cost of damage is around 20 million dollars. Rabbi Eric Gurvis from Temple Shalom of Newton, MA, who just celebrated his own son’s Jacob Bar Mitzvah last week, took upon himself to make the Kiddush for the boy. We would like to help the boy’s family who lost everything in the fire.  
Or Hadash and Kibbutz Beit Oren have been connected for the past 20 years in a very strong friendship. Every year on Yom Kippur I bring a Torah Book to the Kibbutz so they can pray, and often I celebrate weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, baby naming ceremonies and more.
Today we are going to meet some of the people from Beit Oren who were invited to a Chanukah dinner we are hosting at Or Hadash for Rabbi Joel Soffin and a group of his students.

Our President Dr. Yuri Kligermna’s sister is working in Yamin Ord, the boarding school that was badly hit by the fire. We are in touch with the school to help them in any way possible. Shlomit Berger, our treasurer is helping organize this operation and is collecting clothes for the school’s students.

Prior to this horrific fire, we used to plant trees on a regular basis with Keren Kayemet Le’Israel. We plan on continuing planting trees once the authorities clear it is alright to reach the area and do so.

This morning we are lighting Chanukah candles with Mirjam Jurman and the patients in the rehabilitation center Nof Hagefen. Or Hadash congregants Chava Mayer, Masha Goren, Vered Ivtzan, Pnina Suchetzki and Shulamit Shahaf have joined me for the celebration. Later on we will visit Else Rigler, wife of Or Hadash past Chairman David z”l.

Although the atmosphere is far from festive this Chanukah, we continue with our planned programs and schedule. We understand that most people are not in the mood to celebrate, the air in Haifa and its surrounding is heavy with smoke and fire retardants materials. This morning we were finally blessed with a few drops of rain and we are full of hope we can get back to our busy routine within the next week to ten days.

Last night after teaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah workshop, we had a conference with the Chairman of IMPJ, Rabbi Gilad Kariv and we plan an organized assistance in cooperation, on any and all fronts needing help.

I apologize for not being able to reply to all the emails sent to us, we are grateful and we will answer each and every one.

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah and a wonderful week,

In Friendship,


Rabbi Dr. Edgar Nof
Or-Hadash Congregation
55 Hantke St. P.O. Box 3711
Haifa, 31036 Israel
Tel: 972-52-361-3983
Fax: 972-4-8343907
E-mail: overseas@or-hadash.org.il

26 October 2010

Whose Wall is it Anyways [sic]?

An excellent article in today's Jerusalem Post gives a detailed background on the Kotel (the Western Wall) and what is going on there now, and what the stakes may be.

Feel free to follow up with the Women of the Wall site.

19 October 2010

Your Torah in the News

Via the proud grandfather of Avital and Ezri, the following quote comes from today's New York Times, in an article remembering Human Rights lawyer, Louis Henkin:

By extension, truth must include thoughts on grandchildren held by the professor and his wife, Alice Hartman Henkin, a human rights lawyer herself. A few years ago, Mrs. Henkin explained to a newly minted grandfather what it was like to be a grandparent. She cited the account in Genesis of Abraham’s unblinking acceptance of God’s commandment to sacrifice his son. “I guarantee you,” she said, “that if Abraham had been ordered to sacrifice his grandson, he would have said, ‘Buzz off.’ ”

This is what we mean, when we talk about "seeing the world through parashat hashavuah (portion of the week) glasses".  The stories of our tradition become so familiar to us, that they become the thread from which we weave our metaphors.

11 October 2010

A Light at the End of the Black Hat?

In speaking with a colleague last week, he shared his impressions of a visit to a hareidi town in Israel that is finding that, as it starts having to serve as a fully functional municipal entity, is learning that it is having to send its citizens back to work.  There are cracks in hareidi society which, despite its press, has been changing and becoming ever  more intolerant and machmir(strict).  This article from the Israeli Religious Action Center's website shows the levels of extremism and the hopeful protests from within and without.

13 September 2010

How Bad Are Things between US Jews and Israel?

Former Temple Sholom President wrote me today asking if the facts contained in an appeal [appended below] from ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America) were reasonably correct.  As I am happy to answer such questions, I asked Mark if I could post my answer here:

Dear Mark,

You can check out my blog (sholomrav.blogspot.com) for my comments as things were happening.

Is this piece accurate?  As accurate as you can expect in a fundraising appeal.

Could things be this bad?  I refer you to the debate in the Jerusalem Post between Rabbi Yoffie and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.  Personally, I do believe the Israelis take our support for granted and do not believe that any "religious" difference of opinion would lead to any disruption. They underestimate the damage of having Diaspora Jews not feel welcome in the Jewish homeland.

Will a $36 contribution from every Reform Jew solve the problem?  Honestly, not as  much as if everyone wrote a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu with a cc to their Federation exec.  But, then again, ARZA was the organization that set up an e-mail blitz to the PM's office this summer.

[OK with you if I post your question and this exchange to my blog?]

Hope this helps,


Since I responded to Mark's e-mail, an interesting article by Jonathan Sarna can be seen as a counter-argument.  (Although ARZA is also citing it on its front page.)

Union for Reform Judaism News Update

September 2010 | Tishrei 5771

"Our goal is shalom." – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 1, 2010
"The [Conversion] Bill could tear apart the Jewish People." – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
The entire world is focused on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and as supporters of Israel, we stand by her side in times of peacemaking just as in times of war. Yet just as Israel seeks peace with its neighbors, we need to seek peace between Israel and world Jewry.
Israeli leaders recently debated a conversion bill that would have delegitmized the majority of world Jewry. As issues of “Who is a Jew” and pluralism were debated in the Israeli Knesset, a broad based coalition of Jews from around the world, anchored by the Reform Movement, convinced Israel’s leaders to delay a vote on this controversial bill – but only until January 1, 2011.
We need your help now to ensure that this bill will be defeated once and for all -- to ensure that all Jews will be equal in Israel and that we will remain one people.
The Reform Israel Appeal supports our institutions in Israel – the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which assure that the values we believe in are upheld. It is because our Movement is there, on the ground and integrated into Israeli society, that we have been successful in postponing this damaging legislation.
If every household affiliated with Reform Judaism contributes just $36 to the Reform Israel Appeal, we will have the funds to defend our rights, strengthen our Israeli institutions and guarantee that the overwhelming majority of world Jewry will not be delegitimized.
The shalom of the Jewish people is at stake. Please join us today in supporting an Israel of openness and tolerance! Your support can and will make a difference! Please use our safe, secure online site at urj.org/israel to make your meaningful contribution today.
Wishing you and your loved ones a joyous and meaningful New Year.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen
Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA)

Reform Israel Appeal
633 THIRD AVENUE, NEW YORK, NY 10017-6778
(212) 650-4140 • FAX (212) 650-4149
Email: development@urj.org • Website: www.urj.org/israel 

Please forward this email to a friend who might be interested.

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31 August 2010

Passion (or, in Hebrew, the middah/value of z'rizut)

I thought that I would (with his permission) share this letter that I just received from congregant, Stephen Schoeman.  I find his comments well-reasoned, thought-provoking, and, dare I say it, passionate:

Dear Rabbi Abraham,

        Many years ago Rabbi Goldman gave a sermon on passion which I have always remembered and which has inspired me over the intervening years. He was not referring to the passion of love but to the passion of belief in a cause.

       Sadly, today, there is so little passion. I don't see it in my college students with a few exceptions. I don't see it in Congress or in The White House or most anywhere else in the political world. Or among the clergy (no reference to you).  Or in the general population.

         There was passion in the 1960's. True, a terrible decade of assassinations, civil rights murders, the Vietnam War, and bloody civil rights marches. But there was a passion on the college campuses and in the churches and temples missing today or at least it seems to me.

         President Jimmy Carter in his famous "malaise speech" told the American people that they were materialistic and selfish. This speech, panned by the press and the public, led to his defeat to Ronald Reagan so it has been said.  

         President Carter, of course, was right and displays today in his humanitarian work with his Carter Center the passion he wanted in others back then. I know that he is persona non grata to many American Jews who know little if anything about the Carter Center or about his writings or remember, if they ever knew, that it was HE who made possible peace between Israel and Egypt. Even Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat thought the task impossible.
          President Kennedy also called for passion as in the Peace Corps.
          President Lyndon Johnson in his Great Society and War on Poverty called for passion.
          Hubert Humphrey called for passion.
          Martin Luther King, Jr. called for passion.
          And there, of course, were others.

          Today? As I said, passion is in short supply. One of the major criticisms of President Obama is that he does not show passion for his programs and policies. I think there is some truth to this about his more cerebral approach to politics and the nation's and the world's problems. But he is not alone in this criticism. Nor am I trying to be partisan.

            I am a life long liberal registered Democrat as has my family been for one hundred years.

            Where is the passion in the editorials in The New York Times?

            But there is passion. And it, sadly, comes mostly from the far Right. The Pallins and the Becks and the Limbaughs and the Cheneys. I don't fault them for their views. They have a right to them. But where on the Left is the opposing passion? From President Obama? From Senate Majority Leader Reid? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has passion. She was, I understand, the person who persuaded President Obama after the Senate defeat in Massachusetts to continue the fight for health care reform.

             I do not want to be partisan. I am not attempting to be. I do want the youth of our country, if not the adults, to show passion, to care, to protest, to march, to object, to raise concerns about the public good. It once was so. It can be again today.

             Enough of the comings and goings of Paris Hilton and Brad Pitt and the rest of the celebrities. Enough of the reality TV shows. Enough of the twitter, Facebook, Google, Blackberry, Fax, Ipod technology-the new toys of our age.

             And more attention paid to the public policies problems, small and large, which must be solved if this country is to survive and prosper. The crumbling infrastructure. Race relations. A collapsing economy. The tens of millions of people out of work, under-employed, discouraged from looking for a job, foreclosed, or having seen their business go bust.

            We know that passion for Israel among the youth is dwindling. Passion for the United Nations may not even exist anymore. Nor passion about global warming. Or health care reform. Or civil rights. Or environmental degradation. Or tolerance. The list is nearly endless.

            We need passion more than ever. I do not mean passion without judgment or fact. I do mean the caring and the giving and the concern which mark a humane society.

            I hope my words may be inspiration for one of your monthly columns in Temple Topics or for a sermon or for both.

            Kindest personal regards.

            Steve Schoeman

26 August 2010

Mazal Tov to our sister congregation, Szim Salom in Budapest

Hurrah for our sister congregation in Budapest - Szim Salom on their new building.  See the article from the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Now it's our turn to have a place to welcome them to visit us!

02 August 2010

Drop that Ease(y) Button!

In his almost weekly 77% Weekly, my colleague, Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer (whom I have oft-quoted), the spiritual leader of the Religion Outside the Box community, offered the following essay for this week

It disturbed me and, since I was not at ease, I felt compelled to respond:


I'm afraid that I have to offer a different interpretation.  A mind at ease is not a good thing; it is dead.  We are human beings, we live by our curiosity - that is what brought us down from the trees.  I am a progressivist, I am not looking for life to go backward to a simpler time, I am looking to make the world a better place for all.  While I understand the use in tempering desire before it becomes unattainable (or unhealthily attainable) lust, I believe that unrest is what drives us to improve the situation not only of ourselves, but hopefully, of others.  How can I be at ease, when there are people starving down the road (be it for food, health care, education or opportunity)?  

There is a nice prayer from the new Mishkan T'filah (adapted from a reading by Mitchell Salem Fisher) in the Shabbat evening service, which says, in part, "Disturb us, Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency; make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude which arises form a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness and the poverty, physical and spiritual, of humans...  Disturb us, O God, and vex us; let not your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber; let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action. (MT, p.173)

When I look to moderate my discontent, to make it possible to be satisfied with my life, I turn back to the words of Rabbi Tarfon from  Pirke Avot (which you have quoted before) - "It is not our responsibility to complete the work".  But, he continues, "Neither are we free to let it rest."

(Rabbi Mayer's article is below, for those who cannot follow the link above:)

(24/40) Mind At Ease.

Mind at Ease

A profound quote from Tao Te Ching has been stuck in my head for awhile. I’d like to share it with you here:

Unawareness of one’s feet is the mark of shoes that fit.
Unawareness of one’s waist is the mark of a belt that fits.
Unawareness of right and wrong is the mark of a mind at ease.

Is that not a great quote?

The first time I heard it, I reacted by thinking, “I don’t like that. That can’t be true.” Of course, we have to remember that just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Unawareness of right and wrong is the mark of a mind at ease.

My son was a perfect example of this the other day. The label on the back of his shirt was irritating his neck. He’s only three, so he couldn’t have owned that shirt for very long – maybe a year – but in that year, the label has not once ever irritated his neck. As far as I know, he’s never even noticed that the label existed prior to that day. But the minute Emmett began noticing it, his mind was no longer at ease.

Once you notice something is wrong, your mind is uncomfortable.

If something doesn’t bother you, hasn’t even entered your consciousness at all, then your mind is fine. How could it not be?

It’s all those things on our mind – “This is right! This is wrong!” – that cause us to be agitated. That’s where our problems start, when we think we know something, or we believe something ought to be a particular way. The result is that we’re frustrated. We feel a sense ofdis-ease.

There’s a Zen notion that the mind should be like a pond that reflects the image of the moon. The pond doesn’t actually contain the moon, it just reflects it.

Can you imagine if your mind reflected back reality as it was, as opposed to making so many judgments on it?

Of course, we make judgments on everything. Criticizing, stating our opinion, asserting our viewpoint makes us feel like we’re important: “Yes, I’m here! I exist!”

How about if we took a moment not to do that? What if we allowed our minds to be at ease for once?

Think about whatever is in your mind that isn’t comfortable. You can’t decide to un-notice it, right? But perhaps you can work to become more at ease with it?

This week’s spiritual-religious advice: ease your suffering, stop judging.

With love,

-Rabbi Brian

19 July 2010

14 July 2010

Home is the Place Where, When You Have to Go There, They Make You Feel Unwelcome...

I sent the letter below to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (titled: The Conversion Bill in the K'nesset, the Arrest of Anat Hoffman, and Relationship with Diaspora Jews) through the RAC website:

(I include links in this copy, which were not included in the original. Also, the letter at the bottom can be signed and set at the RAC site here and above. A report about my meeting with the Israeli Deputy Consul can be found here.  The Israeli Religious Action Center has a Facebook site on the issue here.)

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

I am contacting you through the good offices of the URJ (of which I am an active member) and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (of which I am a Tzedek Circle supporter). I am also a member of ARZA and am a Reform Rabbi who lived and studied for a year in Jerusalem. I am a passionate supporter of Israel and a signatory of Rabbi Mickey Boyden's Rabbis for Israel statement (www.rabbisforisrael.org).

However, as I stated in a meeting with the deputy consul in New York earlier this year, I believe that there is danger to the Israel-Diaspora relationship which is being ignored by your government. In my meeting (which included other NJ rabbis), we were given the impression that the attitude of the government of Israel was that Diaspora Jews would respond to existential crises to Israel, no matter what the government's action or inaction on issues of pluralism. Such issues might be dealt with in time (or not), but were not important and "rabble-rousing" by non-Israelis was not productive.

I will state this as clearly and simply as I can.

As Israel ceases to be the homeland of ALL the Jewish people, Diaspora Jews may support Israel as an ally,but NOT as they have in the past, not as their homeland.

The message that I am receiving - loud and clear - from the government of Israel is that Israel is NOT a home for me; I would not be welcome there, as a Progressive Jew; and those I would encourage to make aliyah would not be accepted. It has become obvious to me that the government of Israel has made a decision to turn inward and to give the birthright of Israel to the Orthodox in exchange for a K'nesset majority. This is not a surprise; it is not new. However, after too much has been given away, after the message of unwelcome is pronounced so loudly, it is more than chutzpahdik to turn to those very people that you are rejecting to ask for support - politically, morally, or financially.

Please, look at the current Rotem conversion bill, look at the arrest of Anat Hoffman, look at the other incidents of the hareidi hijacking of the Israeli state - and see it through the eyes of the Diaspora Progressive Jew. Realize the message that you are sending and decide whether that is the course you truly wish to take.

Thank you for your consideration. I append at the bottom of this message, the letter written by the RAC, which I am in accord with. I will be posting this letter on my blog for the benefit of my congregation. I am available to continue this conversation if you wish.

Rabbi Joel N. Abraham
Temple Sholom.

[Sample letter from the RAC, available for signature here.]

As a North American Jew and fervent Zionist, I write to request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the so-called “conversion legislation” being brought forward by MK David Rotem.
I am deeply concerned about the bill’s intent to grant the Chief Rabbinate sole control over conversion in Israel. Such legislation would be an open attack on the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jewry, which as you know comprises the vast majority of world Jewry.
While I am supportive of efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will set back these efforts. Should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between the Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities at precisely the time when close relations are essential.
I urge you, as Prime Minister and one who cares deeply about the well-being of Klal Yisrael, to intervene and urge immediate withdrawal of this bill.

12 July 2010

Anat Hoffman and Torah Scroll Arrested at the Wall...

This morning, during Women at the Wall's Rosh Chodesh Av prayer service, IRAC director and Women of the Wall leader, Anat Hoffman, was arrested along with the WOW Torah scroll. She was eventually released, but was banned from the Wall for 30 days. Look at the pictures on the IRAC Facebook site to see how many women were there. Read the reports (from Reform Rabbi Denise Eger; from JTA; from YNET; and from IRAC.)

Send support to Anat and WOW (moral and/or financial) through the WOW Facebook page or the IRAC site.

08 June 2010

Jews, Go Home...

Congregant Marjorie Leffler sent me Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post about the Helen Thomas Affair.

For those of you who missed the flap, most senior White House correspondent, Helen Thomas, was interviewed by a Jewish blogger on his way into the White House for a Jewish American Heritage month reception. Quite surprisingly, when asked about the current situation vis-a-vis the Gaza blockade flotilla, she let fly with comments about how the Jews should give the land back to the Palestinians and go back to their home. When pressed on where the Jews' home was, she said, "Poland, Germany... and everywhere else". For those in the know, it seems that Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, has held anti-Israel views for some time. Needless to say, there was much fall-out, including Thomas' retirement.

Cohen talks about the issue of a Jewish "home" and what happened to the survivors of the Holocaust immediately following the defeat of the Nazis. In so doing, I think Cohen misses two very important points, that any Israeli would be quick to enumerate: 1) Jews have lived in what is now the land of Israel, uninterrupted, for thousands of years; 2) The Jewish State - soon to be officially established as Israel three years after WWII - was well under development since the beginning of the 20th century and was emphatically not a result of the Holocaust. Now it may be a matter for scholarly debate as to how quickly the UN partition was enacted, why the British agreed to leave, or what international feeling about an official homeland for the Jews might have been without the Holocaust and the pressures of the DP camps, but the future Israelis were never in doubt about creating a nation-state.

But, then, where is "home" for the Jews? If we look for an answer to the poet, Robert Frost, then it seems that the State of Israel is the only home that we have ever known.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

28 May 2010

A Mosque Too Close?

I'll weigh in here on the issue of building a Muslim center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. (There is an article and an editorial in the Forward.) I understand the sensitivity to those who lost loved ones, but I see this as a gesture of solidarity. Truly, it is more than a gesture. If rebuilding the site is a way for New York and the United States to say, "Your hatred will not stop us"; then building a mosque in a building that was damaged on 9/11 is putting Muslim lives on the line and saying, "Your last attack struck at all religions, including Muslims. Any other attempts will also strike not just at American holy space, but American Muslim holy space as well."

01 April 2010

No longer "Jews", if identified as "for Jesus"

Yesterday, the Terrill Road Baptist Church hosted the director of the local Jews for Jesus. This organization, originally founded by the Southern Baptists to missionize (that means attempt to convert) the Jews, purports to represent Jews who have found religious fulfillment in the idea that Jesus is the Jewish messiah.

Although I wish them joy in their new found faith, I do maintain that by accepting the divinity of Jesus, they have left Judaism.

I was contacted by the Federation after an active member called in response to an article in the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Times (Westfield Leader). As I am glad to say that the pastor of the Terrill Road Baptist Church, Rev. Bill Page, is a friend of mine, I reached out to him by phone. We had a very nice conversation. I accept that it is an article of Rev. Page's faith to spread the gospel - the good news that he and his parishioners have found in Jesus and his ministry. I am not insulted, nor do I find it self-serving of them, to seek to share this with others. I would prefer they did not - but it is not my job to tell other people what to believe or do in their own faith community. However, I did point out that it was hurtful to us of the Jewish community when a speaker is brought in who directly targets the Jews. Moreover, I pointed out that we, as Jews, do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, nor do we accept as co-religionists, those who do. Further, the group calling itself "Jews for Jesus" has gone beyond missionizing to Jews, to trying to represent themselves to others (including in the phone book) as representatives of the Jewish community. Again, they are welcome to their faith and belief; however, we do not allow them to define our faith and beliefs by reading the New Testament into our sacred scripture.

In addition, a member of the Temple also pointed out this article on NJ.com, from the Suburban News. You can find my comment on that same page.

If you are looking for more information, the last thing I am going to do is send you to the "Jews for Jesus" website. Instead, take a look here - at an organization called "Jews for Judaism", which was formed to combat Christian and cult missionizing to Jews. (Warning: They are not a Reform group and so many of their responses come from a more halakhic point of view.)

24 February 2010

What Do We Know about What We Know?

In Tzeh Ulimad (Hebrew Union College's Blog of Continuing Jewish Learning), my classmate and friend, Scott Aaron challenges us to stop and think about what we know about Jewish education - and more importantly, how we judge what we know - before we evaluate how (badly) we are doing. Rabbi Aaron's article is here and my comment, if not yet published, is reprinted below:

Dear Scott,

First of all, yashar koach. I am challenged by the points that you bring up. In our religious school (admittedly pediatric), we have examined what we imagine success to be. In short, that our students will possess, if not all the knowledge, the desire, ability, and tools to (re)discover that knowledge, and a comfortability with the search. With our adults, we are seeking a similar goal. As I just expressed to our new Eitz Chayim (Lifelong Learning) chair, it is my dream that – in the long-run – our congregants will realize that to be a good (Reform) Jew, one must be self-reflective and, to be self-reflective, one must engage in continual study.

You raise the interesting questions, Scott. To paraphrase the Haggadah, when do you begin to answer?


22 February 2010

Good News from Israel

Anat Hoffman, director of the Israeli Religious Action Center, wrote in the IRAC weekly e-mail newsletter that the Israeli Supreme Court has issued a sharp rebuke to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who had ignored a recommendation by one of his committees to restrict the practice of segregating buses - a small victory for pluralism in Israel, gained by our Israeli Religious Action Center.

It appears that ultra-Orthodox (hareidi) Jews already have a fix in place, according to this Jerusalem post article.

18 February 2010

A Response from the Israeli Embassy

Several congregants took the opportunity to write a letter to Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC. This is the response that they received. I found it terse and unhelpful, to say the least.

Most notably, it seems to be a threat to those who would violate the law when praying at the Kotel. Two of the things to clarify about the letter are that it misses the specific complaints of Women of the Wall: 1) The area on the other side of Robinson's Arch has not been set up as an equivalent to what is now at the Kotel. Not only are there no tables for reading Torah, but the ground is not even leveled. And, as noted by WoW, anyone who enters after a certain time in the morning is charged for museum entrance, as the area is actually an archeological site. 2) There is no status quo at the Kotel. Certainly since I lived there in 1993-4, more and more strictures have been added. Now there are separate security lines so that men on their way to the Kotel do not even have to see women. Those who accost WoW worshipers have become increasingly confrontational and lesser and lesser provocations. None of this is recognized in this letter.

02 February 2010

Trying to Bridge the Israel-Diaspora Gap

This afternoon, I, along with two other rabbis, had an appointment with Deputy Consul Benjamin Krasna. Responding to Anat Hoffman's request that Diaspora Jews use the channels of the Israeli representatives to our local communities to communicate to the Israeli government how we feel about the recent events at the Kotel, we were a small delegation representing the New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Association of Reform Rabbis.

Coincidentally, Rabbi Mary Zamore (immediate past president of the Women's Rabbinic Network standing here with Anat Hoffman and co-President Rabbi Sue Levi-Elwell)
and Rabbi David Levy and I had been together almost a year before as we celebrated Women of the Wall's 20th anniversary at the Kotel - Rabbi Zamore, of course, praying on the women's side, Rabbi Levy and I a mechitza away.
There was a brief skirmish

and then, after the first part of the service, we continued the Torah service together a little further south at Robinson's Arch.

I mention all of this because of the message that we were there to convey to the Deputy Consul. Rabbi Levy had spoken with the Religious Action Center, who with the URJ has partnered with the Conservative movement to speak with one voice. We are asking for four items:

1) For everyone - a commitment by the Jerusalem police that anyone (and everyone) seeking to worship at the Kotel will be protected from violence.

2) As an immediate concern - a promise by the Israeli Justice Ministry that Anat Hoffman will not face charges or prosecution regarding her participation in prayer with Women of the Wall.

3) As a solution to the issue at hand - the establishment of a third site at the Kotel. In addition to the two now divided between women and men, a third for mixed worship. (It should be acknowledged that although this seems reasonable to American Jews, in Israel this is a pipe dream.)

4) As a long-term solution - the establishment of a special commission on pluralism and religious tolerance under the President's office.

We presented these issues, along with our own personal stories to the Deputy Consul. He listened, and took notes. I took the opportunity to share the feelings of our congregation - our feelings of solidarity with the Women of the Wall, our frustration that they cannot be allowed to worship one hour, once a month, and our expectation of acceptance in our Jewish homeland.

Then the Deputy Consul responded. To his credit, he was completely honest - letting us know what was possible and what was very unlikely. He gave us an hour of his time, in his office, which was impressive.

However, I was disappointed with his answer. Although he was sympathetic, and felt himself alienated from what was happening at the Kotel, he shared with us that he hoped this incident would not spiral and interfere with general support (and love) for Israel from the Diaspora. He mentioned that Reform Judaism was now in a place where there was a realization that the relationship with Israel was not just about "Who is a Jew?" and whether we would be welcomed as Jews in Israel, but contained more complexity. He hoped (and this seemed an implied criticism) that we would not let this small problem return us to those days.

I was left with the belief that there is a profound lack of understanding between Jews in the United States and Israelis. For Israelis, this is not a big issue. If the Kotel is an Orthodox synagogue, then so be it. There are plenty of Orthodox shuls in Jerusalem and, if you don't like it, don't go there. In the Israeli political system, it is not worth the price (the possible collapse of a Knesset majority) to pass ANY laws protecting pluralism. Instead, the small political minority of the ultra-Orthodox chips away each Knesset, alienating the secular Israelis, and making the state less and less tolerant. For Americans, this is an issue of rights. We do not understand that there is no Bill of Rights in Israel, no guarantee that can prevent the Knesset from passing laws that further restricts the rights of average Israelis. They do not understand our bewilderment as they allow public buses to be segregated, parking lots to be stoned when they open on Shabbat, and one group to dominate the lives of others.

What were we doing there? The consulate is the direct line back to the Foreign Ministry. The Deputy Consul told us of all the cables that had arrived in Israel from around the world regarding the issues of Women of the Wall and the Kotel. Ironically, he noted that the Foreign Ministry was so concerned about the incidents of Orthodox (hareidi) youth spitting on Christians (notably Armenian priests) that they were able to get a religious decree declaring it wrong. The message that we got is that the Foreign Ministry does not consider this "incident" that important.

I feel that I have to state plainly to the government of Israel that, although we support Israel, that we defend it to all others, that we love its history and feel part of its people, if we are continually marginalized, if we feel that we are not welcome, if Israel is truly not our Jewish home as well, then eventually we will hear that. Israel needs to realize what message its actions and inactions are sending. Israel's argument for Jerusalem has long been that it holds these holy sites in trust for the Jewish people throughout the world, when previous rulers did not. There seems to be a large hole in that argument.

11 January 2010

Answer This Call...

Last Friday night, we read the first portion of the book of Exodus, Sh'mot. Specifically, we read the beginning of chapter 3, where Moses encounters the burning bush. For my sermon, I spoke about Moses receiving a call from God. I mentioned (as our student Cantor chuckled) about how uncomfortable we, as Jewish clergy, feel when a (usually) non-Jewish person asks us about our "call" - when that moment was when God spoke to us and asked/told us to be a Rabbi/Cantor. However, even as liberal Jews, we still must recognize that there are situations that call us to action. In Moses' case, as Rabbi Lawrence S. Kushner points out, Moses first takes the time to notice that not only is the bush burning, but that it is unconsumed by the flames. Second, when God notices that Moses has approached to examine this wondrous sight, and God speaks to him from the flames, Moses is hesitant (humble, perhaps) and asks God if there might not be someone else better for the job. To say the least, God is dismissive of this idea - and one could make the inference that the individual who notices the call has self-selected themselves to respond.

Again, the first part of the call is hearing it. The second is, despite our reluctance, to answer.

This past week, the head of the Israeli Religious Action Center, Anat Hoffman, received a somewhat different call. A long-time leader of the group Women at the Wall was brought in by the Israeli police and questioned about her possible commission of a felony - in dressing in a tallit, worshipping and possibly reading Torah at the Kotel (the Western Wall). This seems to be a follow-up to the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel almost two months ago while she was reading Torah at the Kotel (see previous post).

In response, Anat and the IRAC issued a call to us - Jews around the world who will not stand for the Orthodox monopoly of our historic Jewish site. We are asked, as members of the Jewish Diaspora, to reach out to the representatives of the Jewish State - its ambassadors and consuls - and let them know how we feel.

Now, the time has come for you to first find this post and notice that the issue continues to burn. Once having heard the call, you must overcome your reluctance (or even busy schedule) and take the time to call, write a letter, or send an e-mail - both to Ambassador Michael Oren and to your local consul.

Answer the call. Turn aside and see what a glorious sight there is to behold.