Friday, May 19, 2017

Shabbat-O-Gram for May 20

The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by
Catherine and Craig Giventer in honor of their daughter, Julia, becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

Shabbat shalom!
Mazal tov to Julia Giventer and family on Julia's becoming Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.  Tonight at our 7:30 Kabbalat Shabbat service coming just a few days before Jerusalem Day (next Wednesday on the Hebrew calendar), and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city during the Six Day War, we'll hear reflections on Jerusalem by some modern Israeli poets.
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
Jerusalem Day, 50 years later...

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers
and dreams
like the air over industrial cities.
It's hard to breathe.                           - Yehuda Amichai
Yesterday, men and women joined together in the upper plaza of the Kotel and led an egalitarian service that included reading from our own Torah scrolls Read the news account here.  
This unauthorized service gave a glimpse of what it could be like if the Kotel could truly be a place of unity for the Jewish people and Jerusalem's promise realized as a city of peace for all humanity.  This auspicious jubilee anniversary is being marked in myriad ways as we traverse the political map.  
On the right, we've got CAMERA's Six Day War website, filled with historical resources, along with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs' site.  See also the Six Day War Project, which provides a series of videos with a day by day recap of what happened and what it meant.  For big newspaper fans like me, this site has newspaper front pages and major stories from those fateful days in June.  In this L'Chayim interview marking the war's 40th anniversary, about seven minutes in, you can see my personal reflections on how 1967 changed my life.
Meanwhile, the miracle of Israel's victory, given the threats of annihilation against it, must be weighed against the complexity of the 50 years that have passed.  American Jewry's literary power couple, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon have just published an anthology called Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation. The book will undoubtedly raise eyebrows because of its association with the controversial group "Breaking the Silence."  Yossi Klein Halevi presents a balanced and thoughtful essay on the jubilee in the current issue of Sh'ma; incidentally, the whole idea of jubilee originated in this week's Torah portion. And finally, see the material collected by T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, on Yovel: Fifty Years of Occupation, featuring texts, essays and videos.
Clash of Civil-ization: The Leviticus Project
"An Alphabet for World Peace," by Debi Strong.  The red thread that winds throughout the piece is a symbol from Chinese mythology wherein an invisible red thread connects a newborn baby to all the people who will become significant in its life. As the child grows, the threads shorten in length to bring those people closer together (she discovered this story when she and her husband adopted their younger daughter, as a 10-month-old baby, from China in 1999).  
This week's double portion concludes the book of Leviticus, which lays out a road map toward building a civil society.  At the center of it all is the Golden Rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  This portion speaks of how we should not wrong one another (Lev. 25:14), which the rabbis tied to how we use our words.  We should communicate with honesty, gentleness, compassion and empathy. An explanation of the halachic concept of "Hurtful Words" (Ona'at Devarim) can be found here, and more comprehensively here.   Yes, Leviticus has lots of confusing and even questionable laws, but the thrust of the entire book is to forge a more civilized and kind society.
That is the central message of virtually all world religions, though the implementation differs from faith to faith and place to place.  If there is a religious "clash of civilizations," I would assert that the clash is not between religions but rather between those within each religious group who subscribe to what one might call the Leviticus Project, and those who do not.
In 2008 the well known religion writer Karen Armstrong devised something called the Charter for Compassion, a document designed to enshrine the ideals of the Golden Rule in our world.  As more and more have signed on to this charter (including, BTW, me), it has become an international movement.  Nothing could be more timely.  

Here is what it states:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others-even our enemies-is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings-even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.
It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
What "Intermarriage" Means


June will mark another jubilee commemoration, 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 - and the focus of TBE - 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.  
We 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 said from the pulpit in my sermon about racism on Rosh Hashanah, 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.
That message is so central to our role as Jews in this dramatically changing world.  We need to love what Loving did and embrace the possibilities of a new era of inclusivity.
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, discussion and a heaping helping of cheesecake, we'll look at current trends and envision future ones, particularly in these four areas:
  • Communal institutions
  • Prayer/spirituality
  • Diaspora/Israel
  • Identity/intermarriage. 
Though not a prerequisite to attending, we recommend that you take a look at these two resources beforehand: 
So join us at Temple Sinai on May 30 @ 8:00 PM

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