Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Soul of Israel, and the Weighing of Values

That Israel faces challenges should not be surprising.

She has lived in a dangerous neighborhood.  She has faced both overt and clandestine attacks on her territory.  And her enemies have consistently denied her existence, and refused to allow her to live in security.

Yet I am an optimist.  I believe that, in confronting her challenges, she always strives to achieve her ideals, such as these from the 13th paragraph of her Declaration of Independence:

“The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.  It will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.  It will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.  It will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.  It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.  It will safeguard the holy places of all religions.  And it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

To achieve these goals, by which values shall she live?  Which virtues shall guide Israel as she attempts to live in emblematic Jewish ways?

I suggest that one quality – one specific value – should lead Israel toward her future, especially as a Jewish state living out the principles we find in our religious tradition.  And that value is searching for peaceful ways of behaving toward others.

In the Hebrew of the Talmud, where we find this quality, we use the phrase “mipnei darchei shalom” – “for the sake of peace” – to illustrate our humble way of life.

Mipnei darchei shalom:  For the sake of peace, the Rabbis directed us to get along with our Jewish neighbors in ancient villages.  This was done, for example, through the establishing of zoning requirements for housing and businesses that occupied the same physical space.

Mipnei darchei shalom:  For the sake of peace, the Rabbis insisted that both Jews and non-Jews be permitted to bury their dead together, and to distribute community charity funds regardless of the recipients’ religious or national identity.

Mipnei darchei shalom – For the sake of peace, each person is to conduct him- or herself in imitation of the ways of God.  As Hillel our Sage said, “That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.”

So we have this value – “for the sake of peace,” or mipnei darchei shalom – that directs us to sublimate our need to be ‘right’ and think about what it takes to get along well with others in our world.  In the Talmudic mind, this consideration transcends other needs.  This value directs our daily behavior, and causes us to defer our natural emotions and knee-jerk behaviors.

And why do we believe this is of value?  Because the acceptance of those unthinking emotions – and the actions that would come from them – can lead to enmity and strife, and the Rabbis wanted us to avoid struggle, striving, and contentiousness, and find peace.

I raise this issue because of the prolonged struggle in which the Palestinians and Jews have been engaged, about the recent missile attacks, and about the vote in the United Nations last week, which elevated the status of the burgeoning Palestinian state.

Individually we may feel a range of emotions about all of this.  We might desire to take extreme stands in one direction or another, whether on the topic of the military situation or the UN vote.  We can wring out hands and worry, speak out against one set of behaviors or another, and even contact American or Israeli decision makers to express our feelings.

But now that the fighting is paused; now that the UN has taken its vote and its decision is taking affect; now that many people on both sides have spoken about re-engaging in the peace process: the question is for us, how must one act now?  By which principles must we live, and which values should guide us in our emotions, opinions, and actions?

These questions are more real for our Israeli cousins who face existential challenges each day, and who engage in discussions such as this with much greater frequency.  How can they make their lives more secure, and which values must they exhibit, to move the peace process forward?

Mipnei darchei shalom – for the sake of peace,” each side can commit itself to actions and statements that encourage the building of mutual trust. Declarations of future political actions, whether regarding territory or extra-legal processes, do not advance the cause of peace.

Mipnei darchei shalom – for the sake of peace,” each side can actively engage one another, whether their intellectuals or their politicians – certainly against their extremists! – and strive to make the sacrifices of position and/or attitude that lead to peace.

Mipnei darchei shalom – for the sake of peace,” let each side take to heart the importance of planting good seeds for their future generations.  May they adopt a vision for future co-existence that will prevail over the perpetuation of prejudice and animosity!

May each of these entities, who have yet been unable to find the right solution to the challenge of peace-making, come to the negotiating table to talk, to engage, to search, and find, and to affect a lasting peace!

Let us do these things mipnei darchei shalom – for the sake of peace.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Israel is the Heart of our Matters

Extraordinary events sometimes lead us to extraordinary actions.

I usually do not read email or work on a computer on Shabbat, yet the attacks on Israel during this past week compel me to offer these thoughts even on this day of rest.

After a busy week of rabbinical work, I returned from the synagogue last evening to the startling news that Hamas missiles had reached the outskirts of Jerusalem.

We had, of course, been aware of the missiles that fell in the Tel-Aviv suburbs, and we offered prayers last evening for the peace of Israel.  Yet there seems to have been a terrible line that had been crossed when Hamas targeted a city that not only is the capital of Israel, but also one that contains the holy sites of the three Abrahamic religions.

This is a line that cannot be violated.

In Israel, the attack against Jerusalem occurred near the time of sundown on Friday (9 AM Madison time on Friday), but for some reason I missed this important news item during the course of the day.  My fellow band members and I led services last night oblivious of the day's events.

None of us, however, should remain oblivious to the potential for death, destruction, and desecration in Jerusalem.

If you are a consumer of the propaganda assault of Hamas, you will hear that the 'mighty Israeli military machine' is raining down destruction on the cities and towns of Gaza.  Such propaganda disregards the hundreds of missiles that Hamas has fired in the last few weeks on southern Israel, and now the cities of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.  Such propaganda also refuses to acknowledge the right of a sovereign nation to defend itself against aggression.

This is precisely the situation in Israel: Israel cannot permit any enemy to endanger its population, and I believe that we must support - to the highest degree possible - Israel's right to protect her citizenry from missiles that have become more accurate and lethal.

Make no mistake: The Hamas-controlled militia in Gaza are the aggressors, and the casualties in Gaza are the fault of the Palestinian leadership there.  They use civilian neighborhoods, including schools, to harbor their missile batteries, and must bear the full responsibility for civilian casualties.

Please know that these are not pro-war sentiments:  When, however, inhuman means are used to achieve questionable ends, they must be called out for what they are.

At the same time that I write about protecting Israeli citizens from offensive missile attacks, I also maintain that the search for peace must continue, and that a negotiated settlement is the preferred way to end the strife between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Regarding Jerusalem, our tradition reminds us to pray for the peace of that holy city.  Psalm 122 says this:

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Eternal.'  Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.  That is where the tribes go up - the tribes of the Eternal — to praise the name of the Eternal according to the statute given to Israel.  There stand the thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls, and security within your citadels.  For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.”  For the sake of the house of the Eternal our God, I will seek your welfare.

So may it be for us.  May we keep each other safe, and may we always keep the thought of Jerusalem in the forefront of our thinking.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gun Violence in Our Times: When Are We Going to Learn

(This is a sermon that I presented on Friday evening, August 11, 2012, at Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin, on the Friday following the August 5 2012 attack on the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  The occasion was our synagogue's "Senior Shabbat," which, as you will see, was not the subject of  my remarks.)

On this Senior Shabbat, I am reminded of the supreme command regarding Judaism’s approach to the aging.  It is found in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, and directs us as follows:
“Rise up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly, and revere your God.  I am the Eternal.”

This instruction needs no further explanation or commentary.  It is simple, straightforward, and important.  Rabbi Benjamin Bleich, an Orthodox colleague, offers one additional insight on this verse that I found helpful.

He explains that the addendum to the command, that is, where it says, “I am the Eternal,” suggests that God is telling us something crucial.  Since God may be the oldest entity in the universe, God is particularly connected to those who share with God this divine quality of age.

Perhaps the Holy One has a personal stake in how the elderly are treated.

Well, I am certain that’s not God’s motivation.  In truth, we should all be concerned about the elderly, about their concerns, and their welfare.

But, in any case, these words from the Holiness Code are not the focus of my remarks tonight.

First, events of the week gone by here in Wisconsin have superseded my original intention of speaking about health care in our country, for senior adults and for all of us.

That is an important topic, one which I will visit in the next four to six weeks.
Second, it seems to me that talking about “aging” to a congregation at a Senior Shabbat service is unnecessary.  It’s a bit like praising addition and subtraction skills to a calculus class…it’s unnecessary and it’s patronizing.

More to the point:  Judaism accepts the reality that the wisdom, experience, maturity, and creativity of “those with age” in our society can contribute mightily to the welfare of the larger world.  And so I offer to you these thoughts on a different subject this night, as we all try to improve the world in which we live.

As of last Sunday, the words “Oak Creek, Wisconsin, 2012” will now join Camden, New Hersey, 1949; Austin, Texas, 1966; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1982; San Ysidro, California, 1984; Killeen, Texas, 1991; Springfield, Oregon, 1998; Columbine High School, 1999; Virginia Tech, 2007; Geneva County, Alabama, 2009; Binghamton, New York, 2009; Fort Hood, Texas, 2009; Tucson, Arizona, 2011; and Aurora, Colorado, 2012.

These places and dates may be familiar to you.  I hope they are in some way, for these are, according to CNN, the worst mass shootings in our nation since the end of World War II.
There have been other occasions of massive gun violence in our nation, but these are among the ones with the highest numbers of fatalities.

I do believe, however, that the name Oak Creek is unique on this list.  Why?  Because it is the only instance listed where a religious institution was the target.  And that provides an important connection to us!

There certainly have been many religious groups that have experienced violence: the synagogues and scholarly academies of the land of Israel at the time of the Roman occupation; Kristallnacht; black churches in the southern United States that regularly experienced fire-bombing and gun violence in the last 160 years; the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta, the site of the October 1958 bombing; the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Purim 1994.  The list goes on and on.

In fact, let me add perhaps the most recent fire that demolished a minority religious institution in our nation.  Just four days ago, on Monday August 6, the relatively new mosque of the Islamic Society of Joplin, Missouri, was completely consumed by fire.  This act seems to have been the second – and sadly successful – attempt to destroy this building this summer: The first case of arson at this mosque occurred on Independence Day, five weeks ago.  [There’s a sad commentary on the celebration and preservation of religious liberty.]  And this past Monday, the perpetrators finished the job.

But since the events in Milwaukee of this past week involved gun violence, and the perpetrator directed his violence toward a community of faith, it is important that religious communities all over – especially, if you will, congregations of “minority” religions, such as ours – recognize this as an act of racial and religious prejudice, and speak out in solidarity.

We may not soon know – with any accuracy – the motivations of this madman.  But based upon his Internet profile, the attacker seems to have been someone obsessed with supremacy of white people.

That this perpetrator invaded a religious community is bad enough…

The heartrending irony is that the Sikh religion was founded to denounce the oppression of anyone based on class, creed, color, or sex, or other divinely-granted human uniqueness.  And it was in that calm, peaceful, and joyful Sikh Temple, that someone decided to unleash his prejudice and intolerance.

Crimes such as these are clearly intended to demonstrate group hatred; they’re also aimed at ripping apart any chance that relationships might form between minority groups and majority culture.

According to David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, hate crimes “are nothing less than attacks on those values that are the pillars of our republic and the guarantors of our freedom.  They are a betrayal not only of our most essential religious values but of the promise of America.”

I believe that an attack on one religious community amounts to an attack on us all, which is the reason that we act in solidarity at a time of tragedy. 

This past Monday, I reached out to the leadership of the local Sikh Society and offered the condolences and support of our synagogue community.  They were truly gratified to hear from us even as they were attempting to cope with calamity.  And I believe it is part of our Jewish ethos to be present at times of both joy and tragedy.

Another aspect of our Jewish world view is to dedicate our personal and communal efforts toward actions that perfect our society.  The phrase “tikkun olam,” which we translate as the “repair,” or the “perfection of the world,” must not be a phrase that we debate in the sanctuary, and then leave at the Oneg Shabbat table.

That same Holiness Code, whose direction about respect for the aging I cited at the beginning of my remarks, also tells us ‘not to stand idly around while our neighbor bleeds.’

That language is very biblical.   During this week, however, that language is not to be understood as metaphor.

At a time of senseless bloodshed, we are called upon to look seriously at root causes, and to attempt to do something to eliminate the violence that we confront.

Such is the challenge of guns, gun ownership, and gun control in our era.  The shootings in Oak Creek remind us of the easy availability of firearms and ammunition, especially to those who wish to inflict harm.  And so, I wonder how we can stop them before they cause more pain, suffering, and religious and racial intimidation.

But merely raising this question can provoke members of this or that advocacy group, who would otherwise like simply to bring to a halt the discussion, and to have their position win the day.

We know that passions fly at any discussion of the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and that radio and television talk show hosts enflame countless numbers of listeners about this topic.  And in truth, a member of the clergy takes risks in speaking about gun control from the pulpit.

That is not an easy job, but it must be done.

Recently, a Presbyterian pastor whom I read about was inspired by his national body that had just taken a stand advocating that church-goers should be encouraged to participate in gun buy-back programs sponsored by local police authorities, and to work for gun control legislation.  Well, this pastor thought these were good ideas, and that he’d mention these advocacy positions during his next sermon.

He preached that next Sunday on the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that reads, “Blessed are the meek.” (Hey, even Jews know about that one.)  He asserted that a position of humility suggests that people refrain from the use of firearms.  He also added that people of good faith could differ on that particular issue, and that not everyone would agree with the national body’s stance.

But there it was, and he was, in his mind, supporting this message sent down from on high.

Well… that was the morning when he found out how many members of his congregation belonged to the National Rifle Association.  As soon as he mentioned the topic, he reported, arms began to fold, scowls formed on people’s faces, and he was immediately reminded about a truism on pulpit life, that the sermon is usually just the beginning of the conversation.

He relates that, not too long after that fateful Sunday, he saw an editorial cartoon portraying a minister behind a pulpit riddled with bullet holes.  The caption read, “Reverend Smith decided that this would be his last sermon on gun control.”

Well, intimidation aside, this issue has become a terribly significant, and we, as members of a civil society, cannot afford NOT to engage in this conversation; we must be part of the search for solutions.

Too long have we been told that the Second Amendment contains unambiguous language providing for private citizens to own guns and harbor thousands of rounds of ammunition.  Arguments such as these are absolutist, and are intended simply to shut down any fruitful discussion.

So I would like to take the dialogue in a different direction.  For starters, here are some sobering statistics:

According to a recent article for Time magazine , there are 88.8 firearms for every 100 people in this country, almost one gun per person.  This is the largest per capita rate of gun ownership in the world.

The country of Yemen is in second place, 54.8, and then Switzerland with 45.7, and Finland with 45.3.  No other country has a rate above 40, not even Israel, where the rate of handgun ownership is 7.3 per every 100 people.  In case you’re interested, Israel is ranked at #79, and tied with Belarus, Georgia, and Iran.

Also, in a country such as ours, a proliferation of guns has not lowered gun violence.  Over the last decade, violent-crime rates have fallen by 20%, aggravated assault is lower by 21%, motor-vehicle theft has declined by 44.5% and non-firearm homicides have decreased by 22%.  But the number of firearm homicides is essentially unchanged.  The gun-homicide rate per capita in the United States is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland.  What is a country to do?!

I think that we in the Jewish community know what it takes.  What is required are these:

  • Life-affirming values by which to live;
  • the chutzpah to say what needs to be said;
  • the wisdom to move forward a national conversation;
  • and the connections necessary to push legislation through state and national jurisdictions;
  • all toward the goal of reducing and, God willing, eliminating violence through guns.

Let us remind ourselves, that Jewish tradition emphasizes the sanctity and primary value of human life.  The Ten Commandments decrees us ‘not to murder.’  The Talmud teaches us that ‘one who takes a single life, it is as though that person has destroyed the universe; and that one who saves one life, it is as though that person has saved the universe.’  Isaiah exhorts us to turn weapons of destruction into implements for the greater good of society (Isaiah 2:4).

These and other values throughout our tradition direct us to foster a society built on peace and justice and life.

How do we get there?  Here is the bottom line:

In an increasingly impersonal and alienating society, and with the continuing presence of racial, religious, sexual orientation, and gender prejudices, we have to state unequivocally that the dehumanizing of the human being and the carelessness with which human life is taken, stand in direct violation of Jewish affirmations of life.  We may not sit idly while our neighbor bleeds.

In our Torah portion this week, we will read of the retributive punishment that God promised to the Israelites if they did not follow God’s teachings.  Such a passage was intended to instill in our ancestors a sense of fear of God, and unequivocal fealty to God’s orders.

In our day, we understand differently, and we know that neither reward nor punishment emanate from God.  Rather we take these words as metaphor…but we learn something more affecting and insistent.  Which is this…

If we fail to do what is right, and if we neglect the demand to protect the people with whom we share this planet, then by themselves – prompted by our abandonment and disregard – our society and our planet will continue to lapse into a spirit of selfishness and self-destruction.

 The prophecies of the Torah will come true, but it will be at our hands.
And God will simply sit back and wonder.

So how many more times must we witness a horrendous crime scene site riddled with bullets and bodies?  When will we learn the lessons from those fourteen – and more – tragedies that I enumerated earlier tonight?  How long will it take us to learn?!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In People We Too Should Trust

(This d'var torah originally appeared earlier this week at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50494/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=11024)

One of the tasks of the director of my graduate school program in Jewish Communal Service, Dr. Bernard Reisman, of blessed memory, was to imbue us with the knowledge and spirit of best practices in the realm of building Jewish community.  To this end, one of the most essential things he said to us was, “Trust the process.”

In our graduate school context, that meant that even though we would serve as leaders in Jewish communal organizations, we had to learn to trust the wisdom of the people with whom we worked.  Similar to Moses in this week’s Torah portion, we grad students needed to understand that it was vital to trust the instincts of those whom we lead, to make the right interventions when necessary, and to defer sometimes to their direction and vision.

During this week of Shabbat Hazon – a Shabbat of Vision – Moses speaks to the desert generation of Israel as it stands ready to enter the Promised Land.  He relates, “I said to you at that time…’How can I, alone, bear your burdens, your dealings, and your bickering.  Pick for yourselves wise, discerning, and known people from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your leaders.’  You answered me and responded, ‘What you have suggested is a good thing.’” (Deuteronomy 1:9, 12-14)

Here, he recounts the prudent advice given him by his father-in-law Jethro 39 years before about why and how to delegate responsibility, and the way in which Moses put that counsel into practice.  In the Deuteronomy version of the story, however, Moses adds an crucial detail that was not present in that story of Jethro (Exodus 18).  In our current parashah, he says that he turned to the Israelites for advice and consent on the matter.  And he reports that the people gave their approval.

Moses does two things in providing this enhanced rendering of the story.  Not only does he provide an ancestral hekhsher (imprimatur) to the system of justice that he established.  He also demonstrates that the concept of delegating judicial duties came about through an act of collaboration with amcha, with the people, subtly implying that such teamwork between leaders and followers should continue when the Israelites enter the Land of Promise.  Moses demonstrates that a leader can trust his or her followers sufficiently enough, in order have them jointly shape future visions and concepts for the nation’s benefit.

This understated story detail holds great potential for us.  The challenge in our day is two-fold: As leaders, we need to determine how we will work in partnership with those whom we lead.  As followers, we need to be willing to put our ideas forward in an appropriately forceful manner, and then allow proper processes of authority to form the conclusion with our making interventions carefully, and at the right time.  Both of these actions require people to engage in tzimtzum, or a “contraction” of ourselves and our priorities, to allow others and their desires to fill the vacuum left behind, and to grant the natural processes of human life to create a solution for the problem that is helpful to both sides.

This is why we have to trust the process, and trust people.

Naturally, there are risks involved in any of this.  For leaders: Seeking counsel and advice for proposals opens us up to criticism about what we believe; it forces us to unveil ideas that are unformed and incomplete; and it removes control from us.  For followers: Sanctioning involvement in a collaborative process with leadership compels us to be engaged with someone whom we may not always like; it suggests that we would need to compromise on the eventual outcome; and it allows pessimists and naysayers to suspect and accuse us of selling out.

But if there is exhibited great wisdom on both sides, and if everyone demonstrates sincere good will and humility, the outcome would be nothing but positive.

Moses may not be completely certain of the Israelites’ ability to conquer the Promised Land, but his vision was to provide them with the best possible set of conditions under which they will build their new land, a society based on justice, partnership, and good intentions.  And one of those conditions is the manner in which they work with one another toward the fulfillment of their vision and goal.  Moses taught this to them, and I believe he teaches this to us for our future benefit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

President Obama and Same Sex Marriage

It was not only a courageous interview, the one in which President Obama acknowledged his support for same sex marriage. It was a moment of leadership. It was an instance when dubious thought and feigned tolerance indeed became acceptance and progress. It was a week when spirits of LGBT citizens were elevated, and they could almost taste complete equality.

Such is the potential of the power of the Presidency.

Much of the criticism that I have heard regarding his statement was political. It involved whether people would agree or disagree with his stand and what that would mean in the presidential election year in which we find ourselves. Would his stand square with the positions of people in the nation, or would they be in opposition?

The naysayers fail to acknowledge the power of the "pulpit" of the President. Perhaps the words of a leader will not simply agree or disagree with the listener.  Perhaps the power of a leader will actually persuade people that ways need to change, that attitudes need to reflect new thinking, and that there can always be innovation in our lives.

In the book of Isaiah (43:19), the prophet notes God's power and potential for renewal. "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  This is a promise: for liberation of feelings of love, and a well-watered orchard for a harvest of countless bounty.

The "way" that President Obama calls us to perceive is not only new (for some), but threatening for them as well. I understand this.

But when we consider the people who will benefit from this kind of progress -- the children who will know whole families again, the partner who will now be able to visit their lover in a hospital bed, the people who can freely express the gender orientation given by God without fear of social disability -- then those people, and all of us, may indeed be free.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Passover Celebration During Difficult Times

I hope that the holiday of Passover will be a happy one for us all.  I express this hope because this is not a particularly easy or happy time for Jews around the world.

From the shootings of a rabbi and his children in Toulouse, to the harassment of a day school student in Paris; from the newly found graffiti on a Chicago area synagogue, to the threat of divestment from Israel by Presbyterians in the United States; and from the anti-Israel threats of the regime in Iran, to the anti-American rhetoric (in my opinion) of those in certain Christian pulpits – and in thoughts and actions of certain candidates for President – who wish ours to be a “Christian nation”: This is a hard time to be a Jew.

It is our duty, at this time of year, to be attuned to the needs of the less fortunate among us.  Yet it’s becoming more of a challenge to empathize with those in need when we, ourselves, are facing the threat of attack and actual violence because of our being Jewish.  We cannot and must not retreat from Jewish life, and we cannot back away from reaching out to those who need our help.

So at this time of Passover, please look for ways to help in our community.  By ourselves we will not be able to stop the attacks, verbal and physical, on Jews, and we must always be on our guard.  But we still can help others who face violence on account of their skin color, sexual orientation, religion, or national differences.

Our Haggadah says that “In each generation, each of us must view ourselves as though we, personally, came forth out of Egypt.”  Each of us has the obligation to empathize – and then help – with the job of repairing and perfecting our world.  Let us not give up this struggle.  Let us bring life to all.

May your Passover be a good and happy one!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Racism in Good Old Boy Land: This is Not the Pursuit of Justice

The Torah tells us "Justice, justice must you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).  From this statement, our Sages infer that we are intended not merely to observe this sacred obligation when it's convenient, or when the opportunity presents itself.  We are to pursue justice without being asked, and with great enthusiasm.  It's terribly sad that in  2012, those sworn to uphold the law cannot seem to find the same level of fervor.

I am writing, of course, about the situation in Sanford, Florida, and the abhorrence that I feel while observing the apparent cover up of the Sanford Police Department in their handling of the Trayvon Martin case.  Insufficient investigation.  Disregarded witnesses and evidence.  Release of information obviously intended to discredit the dead young man.  Is this any way to run a police department?

I did not know whether I should have expected a "Law and Order" kind of process.  But that would have been refreshing.  Lenny Briscoe - a Jewish character played by a Jewish actor Jerry Orbach, of blessed memory - we miss you.

We are approaching the holiday of Passover, and we are reminded of the lot of the slave.  We know what intimidation and persecution are about.  We understand servitude to masters who profess different philosophies and beliefs.  And because we understand these things, we must empathize with those in our day who are persecuted and harassed, and seek to alleviate their sufferings.  I hope that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin will cuff us on the side of the head, and make us - as a society - realize that there still is a lot of work to be done to eliminate prejudice, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.

As we sit around our Seder tables this year, wonder with your friends and relatives about ways to reduce prejudice and hatred; make a commitment to join one more discussion at work or at Temple on ways to build bridges with others; vow to not remain silent when one of your colleagues or friends makes a racist joke; be there for those who are persecuted and oppressed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Be Happy - It's Adar: GoToMyMinyan.org – A New Way to Pray

I am usually not one to support cutting-edge technology at its product launch, but this month I must let you know about a new Internet-based web service that may make worship more convenient in this busy era of ours.

GoToMyMinyan.org is a new web service that takes the place of getting in the car, driving through possibly difficult weather, finding a far-off parking place, and going into the synagogue.

From the comfort of your home or office computer – or from a 4G mobile device using the GoToMyMobileMinyan app – you can avoid the hassle, save time, and still pray with worshipers who really care about close-knit community.

Just log on, adjust your screen for a minimum of nine fellow worshipers, and begin to pray:

The Synchro-Sound feature provides real-time participation.  Any participant can virtually “lead” the minyan by clicking or tapping on the Rabbi-Cantor tab; only one leader per session, please.  Alternative Video Outsourcing provides secondary video sources, such a Torah scroll for reading on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; or a song sheet for supplemental music lyrics.

You can extend your worship experience with the optional OnegOrganizer App.  With this feature, you can order individual oneg Shabbat or other holiday food packages to be delivered to your fellow worshipers while you pray, then be ready to conclude worship with a cup of grape juice, wine or schnapps, challah, gefilte fish, cake, cookies, or any other oneg Shabbat food from GoToMyMinyan.org’s extensive Oneg menu.

So for a peaceful and hassle-free worship experience, sign on and subscribe to GoToMyMinyan.org.  When you get to their home page, look in the upper right corner and click on the image of the menorah for a special discount.

Please note: GoToMyMinyan.org should not be confused with GoToMyMignon.org, the online discount steak-purchasing cooperative.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Wish for a New Year

Happy New Year, and Shabbat Shalom!

We Jews live in a multifaceted realm. When the new Jewish year begins, we wish one another a happy New Year. When the new secular year starts out, we also wish one another a good year ahead, even after late nights of partying and days of disappointing football results.

Be that as it may, the transition from one year to the next allows us – again – to re-examine our lives and to seek out new patterns of existence if we believe they are in order.

Along with many who observe life in all its complexity, such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I too believe that "we are not locked in a realm where causality, struggle for existence, the will to exert power, personal urges, and the craving for prestige" are the only motivations that drive us.

We crave relationship, connection, and enrichment with one another in this world.

We desire the human touch, the kind word, the understanding glance, and the optimistic outlook for the future.

The Shabbat allows us to imagine what truly human life can be like, so that we can change our lives for the better.

I wish everyone a Shabbat of peace.