Saturday, May 27, 2017
Friday, May 26, 2017
Shabbat shalom and Happy Memorial Day / Shavuot!
Mazal tov to the family of Mickey Flaum-Souksamlane, who becomes Bar Mitzvah on Wed., the first day of Shavuot. Join us for services throughout the holiday weekend and week, beginning with Kabbalat Shabbat this evening at 7:30. Don't forget that we'll be having Shavuot lunch on both days of the festival, Wed and Thurs, and that on Thurs we read the Book of Ruth and have Yizkor prayers.
A very special Mazal Tov to Karen Lander on her selection by the Jewish Week to their annual, prestigious "36 Under 36" list. See the feature here.
Attention College Students and High School Seniors
On Friday, June 9, we will be honoring our graduating 12th graders with a special blessing (and a gift) and also awarding our Men's Club Scholarships. Additionally, I am inviting our TBE college students to return that night, particularly those who have been on Birthright Israel or wish to share campus experiences regarding Israel. This conversation during our Kabbalat Shabbat service will be invaluable to high schoolers preparing to head to college campuses in the fall. Any college student or high school senior who can make it that night is asked to RSVP at this Doodle site. For those 12th graders who can't make it on the 9th, we're setting up an alternate night for us to see you off with a blessing, on June 30.
Mazal tov to all our graduates, from preschool to post grad!!
Aliyah Ceremony for 7th graders
Last night was the Aliyah Ceremony, marking for our 7th graders the end of one important stage of their lifetime of Jewish learning. See the Aliyah Ceremony program, including presentations by each of the graduates. The class gift was a gorgeous mosaic art piece, reminiscent of ancient synagogue art, depicting traditional Jewish symbols and the names of each graduate. Each student's contribution is described on page 8 of the program. The mosaic will hang permanently in the synagogue.
Memorial Day and Shavuot
One holiday features dairy foods and the other barbecues. Unless you are into barbecued blintzes, it seems like a mismatch.
But Shavuot and Memorial Day have more in common than we would think. For one thing, both celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer. For another, they are both curiously neglected and rarely are they observed as originally intended.
In the case of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai was a later insertion of history into what was essentially an agricultural holiday. These days, most Jews are unfamiliar with Shavuot altogether, as it gets the least attention of all Jewish festivals (here's a funny, quick primer, "The Idiots Guide to Shavuot").
For more - see my blog posting: "Subversive Shavuot: Our Most Radical Holiday"
Memorial Day, meanwhile was originally a day to remember war dead ("Memorial" Day...get it?), before it became an occasion for car sales, beach trips and barbecues. Maybe this year we can regain some of the deeper meaning of each festival, now that we'll be celebrating them back-to-back.
On Memorial Day, and then three days later on the second day of Shavuot, we will recite memorial prayers. This weekend, I hope that each of us will take a moment to recall those who have made the supreme sacrifice.
For a history of Memorial Day go to the History Channel website and to the official US Memorial Day site. And as I have in prior years on Memorial Day weekend, I share with you the words of Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn in a speech delivered in dedication of the 5th marine Cemetery on Iwo Jima, in March 1945. Click here for the speech. It has been called one of the great battlefield sermons to come out of World War Two.
Other Shavuot links:
Our Common Home:
Shavuot, Ramadan and the Pope
I know how President Trump felt at the Vatican this week.
When I was a kid, the kind of birthday gift I always loathed was the one that my parents got me not because I wanted it, but because they felt I needed it. While I wanted tickets for the Sox, they gave me socks.
When Pope Francis handed Trump the official papal gift on Wednesday, I could imagine a Christmas-morning anticipating building as the President unwrapped it. What would it be? An Electoral College map signed by God? Instead, Pope Francis gave him a personally signed copy of his own encyclical on climate change, entitled "On Care for Our Common Home."
The timing of this castor-oil gift was especially apt, from a Jewish perspective, because next week's festival of Shavuot is, like many Jewish holidays, agriculturally based and very green. Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, suggests "ten ways to make your Shavuot more sustainable," with number ten shockingly suggesting, "Don't do dairy." The organization also provides a farmer's take on how Jewish rituals connect to the cycles of planting, harvest, and eating. In a similar manner, the Religious Action Center implores us on Shavuot to reconnect to the Land and produce, something kibbutzim have been doing on this first fruits festival since the early days of Zionism.
But it's not just Jews who are feeling green this week. Next Friday begins the month-long Muslim observance of Ramadan, and Muslim environmental groups are looking to make that month-long fast greener, calling Ramadan "a once a year opportunity to tackle global issues like over-consumption, materialism, poverty, hunger, wars" and yes, global warming." Muslims are being challenged to go beyond thinking of Ramadan as a month of abstaining from food and drink for a part of the day and binge eating at night.
The New York Times ran a series last week on how Antarctica is going green, and not in a good way. While Americans are being distracted by Russia-gate, the world is continuing to melt at a rapid pace. And while just about every nation in the world has jumped about the Paris climate train, one small group continues to resist, led by one world leader, which is why the Pope decided to gift him a pair of socks.
Given that one of the world's great moral leaders has chosen to spend his precious few minutes of chitchat with the President focusing on this issue above all others, I decided to download the full encyclical and read it.
"For human beings... to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life - these are sins...."
"I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity."
In this powerful document, the Pope deftly synthesizes the scientific and the spiritual, connecting our environmental crisis to a plethora of social and economic issues. While I don't agree with every point (he ties it into abortion, for instance), the depth of his passionate argumentation is astonishing.
If President Trump were to read this document on the plane ride home, perhaps he would reconsider some of the many dangerous steps his administration has taken over the first months of his presidency. Maybe he could take a few moments to peruse a running list of environmental abominations being kept by the National Geographic. Or look closely at the 23 essential environmental rules rolled back in the first 100 days, all of this before this week's budget proposal that would decimate the EPA, slashing it by 31 percent.
Fortunately, the Pope is not the only religious leader taking aim at policies causing harm to our common home. Not only are Jews and Muslims joining hand in hand with Catholics to save our planet, but in fact it's nearly impossible to find a single world religion that hasn't expressed deep concern over the impact of man-made climate change.
Here is a collection of statements, organized alphabetically first by religion, then by denomination. This list demonstrates the nearly unprecedented unity within the religious community on this important issue.
Have the world's major religions ever agreed so wholeheartedly and single-throatily about anything else? Undoubtedly a stray pastor or two will buck this overwhelming stampede for stewardship. There are a few outliers who reject the scientific consensus, though if they've ever read the bible, it's hard to reject stewardship on religious grounds.
From Shavuot to Ramadan to Pentecost (June 4 for the Christian world), from Jerusalem to Mecca to Vatican City, the cry to save our planet will arise over the coming days.
The question is whether, on a single plane flying home to Washington from Europe, that cry will be heard. President Trump should try on the socks and be grateful that at least the Pope didn't give him a lump of coal.
Shavuot @ Sinai: The Jewish World in 2050
As we look back at the giving of the Torah many centuries ago, on the first night of Shavuot, Tuesday May 30, we'll join with our friends from Temple Sinai at 8:00 to look ahead as well. We'll imagine what the Jewish world - in particular American Jewry - will look like in 2050.
With meditative music (not a traditional service, per se), discussion and a heaping helping of cheesecake, we'll look at current trends and envision future ones, particularly in these four areas:
- Communal institutions
Though not a prerequisite to attending, we recommend that you take a look at these two resources beforehand:
Study materials prepared by Rabbi David Markus for his recent class here on change in Judaism: "Disruptive Innovation, Re-centering and Renewal"
Moment Magazine's symposium: "What Will the Jewish World Look Like in 2050?"
So join us at Temple Sinai on May 30 @ 8:00 PM
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
June will mark fifty years since the landmark Supreme Court decision, “Loving v. Virginia,” which legalized interracial marriage across the land. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states. To mark this anniversary, Pew just released a new poll, entitled, auspiciously, “Intermarriage in the US 50 Years after “Loving v. Virginia.” The results are dramatic and eye-opening, though not entirely surprising, given shifting societal norms, especially among Millennials. In 2015, no fewer than seventeen percent of newlyweds were married to someone of a different ethnic or racial group, up from three percent in 1967.
Jews are not singled out in the survey, nor are other religious groups. But if Jewish views on interracial or inter-ethnic marriage were measured, no doubt the opposition would be very low, even among those who oppose interfaith marriage. After all, Jews come in all colors and ethnic backgrounds, and increasingly so. So “intermarriage,” as Pew defines it in this survey, is something that even traditional Jews can, would and perhaps should — welcome. It has nothing to do with interfaith marriage, which many Jews oppose.
But the term that is used, “intermarriage,” is the same as the one that Jews usually employ regarding interfaith marriage, which highlights why this subject has become so fraught with danger and confusion. What for some is a matter of religious conviction is for another, perhaps using a different shading of the term, a matter of discrimination and even racism.
There is no easy way to eliminate that confusion, because it has been internalized by many Jews. The opposition to all forms of prejudice cannot easily be gerrymandered to include some forms of perceived prejudice and not others, especially at a time when a dramatically growing percentage of people think that intermarriage (meaning interracial and inter-ethnic) is good for society. Rabbis and other Jewish leaders can promote endogamy (a word that only Jewish professionals use, meaning Jewish-Jewish marriage) until the kosher cows come home, but what most Jews will hear will be very different from what we are trying to communicate.
I personally celebrate what “Loving v. Virginia” has brought about, including its role as a precursor and precedent for the legalization of same sex marriage.
I also recognize that the proliferation of interfaith marriage is an inevitable byproduct of the successful integration of Jews into American society combined with the social forces confirmed by this Pew survey. There is also ample evidence that interfaith marriage is no longer the threat to the Jewish continuity that prior generations thought it to be.
While there are also solid arguments that can be made for encouraging Jews to seek other Jews, I prefer to avoid what has become a minefield of confused terminology. Instead, my focus has been to promote the value (and values) of growing Jewish families, and with it an authentic, vibrant Jewish community nurturing each of those families, no matter what the background of individuals within those families.
Jews have reached the post “gevalt” stage of our assimilation into the American mainstream. Rather than moaning about what we are losing, we need to capitalize on the new energy that diversity is bringing into American Jewry. I see examples of that all the time. Rather than railing against windmills, we need to turn, spread our wings, and let these winds of change take us to new and higher places.
As I remarked last fall in a High Holiday sermon about racism, we Jews can bridge the gaps between people, because of our unique position of having experienced prejudice from both sides of the divide. We can bring people together. We need to set an example of how to reach out to those who are different. We can’t allow wedges to divide groups today.
And we can’t allow confusion about terminology to cloud a message that is, in my mind, as essential to the furtherance of the Jewish mission as any demographic trend, a message central to our role as Jews in this dramatically changing world. We need to love what Loving did and, without losing our uniqueness, embrace the possibilities of a new era of radical inclusivity.