Saturday, August 30, 2014

The expulsions of Christians from Iraq: Does anyone care?

This is my recent newspaper column and I know it is a sensitive subject but I sincerely believe that Christians in America as well as Jews and Muslims have a duty to speak out. What do you believe?
Thanks for taking the time read this piece.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcoming our new Student Cantor Nancy Dubin

Remarks welcoming student cantor Nancy Dubin
“Sing unto the Eternal a new song
with praises in the congregation of the faithful                                        
Let Israel rejoice in its maker
Let the children of Zion exalt in their Sovereign
Let them praise his name in dance
With timbrel and lyre let them chant his praises.
For the Eternal delights in his people” (Psalm 149).
With the presence of student cantor Nancy Dubin we sing anew song and also begin a new chapter for our congregation’s spiritual life. The effort and commitment by the leadership of this congregation testifies to the spirit in this congregation which has achieved so much particularly over the last five years. I too would like to express my own gratitude to them especially Past President Mike Weingarten and current president Twyla Sable for their willingness to partner in this vision of a new dimension to our music program.
Our partnership extended to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Debbie Friedman School of Music which sponsors the student cantor placement program. We came into this process for the first time not knowing whether we would even recruit a student cantor due to the small numbers who were looking for an experience. Many of those who do have pulpits are in the New York metropolitan area. We interviewed by skype students in the first year program in Jerusalem and those like Cantor Dubin from New York. We were blessed to have the most student applications than any other congregation involved in this process. We were also blessed that our shiduch turned out to be our B’shert Nancy Dubin.
This is a big responsibility for our congregation because we now have the privilege of being a teaching congregation for this soon to be Cantor in the Reform Movement.  I hope that we all can take pride in our congregation for being part of a process for training new cantors for Reform Judaism.
One of the characteristics I have learned about this congregation is that we take music seriously and personally. Second we bring with us our experience and expectations about what is authentic Jewish music . The challenge here has always been that almost all of us come from different congregations and many of us come from different movements within American Judaism. This obviously creates multiple opinions about what kind of music fits best for Congregation Beth Yam. Yet that same challenge is good because we grow and stretch ourselves to learn about other ways of experiencing music in communal worship and discover, if we remain open, that we can grow and be enriched spiritually by the wealth of music that is now available to us.
I have worked in my career with two invested cantors.  They were each unique and had diverse backgrounds and completely different styles of music.  Yet, their love of liturgical music and touching the lives of their congregants as clergy besides all the talent they had enabled them to help in partnership with me as rabbi to take the congregation to new spiritual heights. I have the same hopes for Student Cantor Nancy Dubin as well.  She joins our team of professionals at congregation Beth Yam including our soloist Adriana Urato, Music Director David Kimbell, Principal Judi Kleiman and youth group director Sheryl Keating. We have worked with her by email and phone up until now and she has shown that she wants to fit into this team of dedicated synagogue professionals. We welcome her for her enthusiasm, talent, knowledge and dedication to providing us with a communal worship experience which, I hope, will raise our spirits and enrich our understanding of not only of Jewish music but how it contributes to the prayer experience.
The role of the cantor today has evolved over the last few decades. While the cantor’s primary role is to provide music at services, cantors have expanded their horizons to include the educational role for our adults and children as well as the pastoral role for the congregation. This is why Nancy will spend time within our religious school during her visits as well accompanying me if there are pastoral needs. She will co-officiate with me at services on Friday nights, present adult education on Saturday morning and periodically present special music programs on Saturday evenings. She will also participate in our programs like Yom Hashoah in the spring. Our hope is that she will touch many different constituencies inside the congregation by the end of the year.  This weekend we will be meeting to plan the specifics of many of our services in the upcoming year as well as focus on High Holy Days services which are right around the corner. I encourage you to reach out to Cantor Dubin after services and to help her feel that unique spirit that so many have come to recognize about Congregation Beth Yam as a welcoming community.
We read in the book of Proverbs, “Honor the Eternal with whatever excellence God has bestowed upon you” (Proverbs 3:9). Commenting on this verse our Sages said, ‘If you are a person of good looks then honor the Eternal with those good looks! Furthermore if your voice is pleasing and you are in the synagogue then rise up and honor the Eternal with your voice.’
Those sages concluded by saying whatever you have ‘rise up and give honor to the Eternal.’(Midrash p’sichtah rabbati 25:2.

No doubt Cantor Dubin you are on a pathway to become a Hazan for the children of Israel. This is one of your first experiences and we hope that you too shall rise up and give this congregation your God given gifts and in that way you pay honor to the divine Source who bestowed upon you this gift of voice, love of God and the music our people have sung and continue to create for each generation. May you go from strength to strength.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Evaluating your congregation's clergy: Finding the right process

I knew that the topic of evaluating clergy would be a sensitive topic for all houses of worship. In my most recent newspaper column I have commented on this process. I am not referring to my own experience but in a broader context that applies to all clergy.
I hope you will read the column and offer your opinions. thanks
L'shana Tova Tikatevu

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Summer Reflections on the Spiritual Moment in our lives

Truthfully I felt I needed to take a break from the heartbreak and tension of the war in
Gaza and any number of other traumas that afflict our world at this hour. I simply wanted to experience a bit of solitude and thoughtful mediation. Summertime is an excellent time to reflect about the big picture and especially about where does God fit into our lives. Thanks for taking the time to read my newspaper column today and as always I love to read your comments regardless of whether or not you agree or resonate with the ideas inside the column.
All the best and enjoy August.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflections on the War in Gaza

This is a tough time of the year for the Jewish people because shortly we will observe the fast day on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av which commemorates our demise as a nation and a free people. Tisha B’Av reminds us of the Babylonian Expulsion in 586 BCE and the Roman war against the Jews in 70CE. We read from the biblical Book of Lamentations about God’s sorrow and pain to watch our exile.
Is it not equally painful for us today, thousands of miles away, to watch not only  Hamas’ war against the Jews in Israel but also frustrating to witness the propaganda war in the news media outlets, social media let alone what email someone sends us that points to Israel as the sole culprit in this conflict. The typical trajectory begins with criticizing Hamas for sending missiles to Israel and then the rest of the diatribes end up piling up on Israel for exercising its moral duty to protect itself. Yes there are injuries and deaths injuries on both sides. Yet what infuriates Jews and pro-Israelis is hearing the word proportionality in every news report referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza. Yet that same word does not seem to apply to hundreds of Hamas’ missiles that streak over the skies of Israel. Same old story.
History demands we are stand by Israel at this hour, even if we are feeling uneasy at the lopsided injured and death tolls on the Palestinian side. As always it is about survival for Israel. It has always been that issue and it continues to be about survival. That is part of the paradox for Israel, a nation which has accomplished miraculous achievements in its 66 years, yet, it still is vulnerable on a different level to the ravages of Arab and Islamic terrorism. Israelis have come to learn how to live with it and go on in their lives but do not be mistaken to imagine that it does not take a toll on the psyche and spirit of the people.
The question is; “What is required of us in America at this hour?” Going back to the old Siddur Gates of Prayer there is a petition to God to make it clear to us why we suffer and that if we must it should be for a high purpose. In other words, despite the doubt we feel about the future and especially the sufferings of our brethren in Israel there must still be hope to move forward regardless of our religious or secular perspectives.
“I do not know how to ask you, Eternal One, Sovereign of the world, and even if I did know, I could not bear to do it. How could I venture to ask You why everything happens as it does, why we are driven from one exile to another, why are foes are allowed to torment us so!  But in the Haggadah the father of the child who asked at the Passover Seder, the one ‘who does not know how to ask’ is told: “It is for you (the parent) to disclose it for him.”  And, Eternal of the world, am I not your son?  I do not ask you to reveal to me the secret of your ways-I could not bear it!  But show me one thing: show me what this very moment means to me, what it demands of me, what You, Eternal One, are telling me through my life at this moment. O I do not ask You to tell me why I suffer, but, only whether I suffer for your sake.”
Israelis know what this hour demands of them and they prove it every day and especially now not only in war but in peace as well. As for us, we watch it all happen through the prisms of print, television and social media. Despite opposing views, shall we not proclaim our unity with Israel as well. As the Psalmist said,
“Those who trust in the Eternal One are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Eternal is round about the people Israel, now and always” (125:1-2).
This is our time to be the mountains that surround Israel in its time of need. At least in the war on words raging on in the public view, we too must speak out to our neighbors and friends to defend Israel. Putting not only domestic partisan politics aside but also holding off on Israeli partisan politics shall we do our part whether it is to send money or supplies to the people or to the soldiers? Do we need to plan another trip to Israel to bolster support for its people in any way we can?
We know better than most nations what it feels like to live on the verge of extinction. We understand what exile means and what history has taught us about being and feeling vulnerable. I imagine what it might have felt like to be Theodore Herzl covering the French protests in Paris against the French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus accused of espionage. The crowds yelled out, “Death to the Jews!” It was at that moment when Herzl was transformed the birth of modern Zionism came to be. History has a funny way of replaying itself.
We understand what it means to feel isolated by and from the world particularly when people jump on the bandwagon to condemn us. We have been here before and will, sadly, experience war again. Yet, is it not incumbent upon us to be the mountains that protect Israel in the way we can here in America? Part of our role is to be defenders of the people and the faith even when we are not sure nor can we answer the question of why so much hate is channeled towards us?
The huge protests against us in Europe mark an end to a 50 year period when Europe forbade anti-Israel and Jewish rhetoric. Much of that emanated from guilt from the Holocaust. The thousands that march in European streets are blatantly anti-Semtic even though they use the veil of Zionism to cloak their froth full bigotry against all Jews.  What is required of us at this hour is to educate not because we can change the hearts and minds of our adversaries who would just as well see our destruction. Our purpose is to educate so that those who know no better do not fall prey to the onslaught of propaganda against Israel around the world. Our job is also to educate our elected officials about how we feel about Israel and it case to defend itself. Remember the consequence of silence. It is often understood as assent to the opposing position.
There is a certain irony with the forthcoming fast day of T’isha b’Av when we acknowledge the memory of the annihilation of our ancient Jewish homeland while at the same time we watch Hamas shower the skies of Israel with their missiles.   We have learned the lessons from the past. The question is whether we can stand up and tell Israel’s story knowing that others would shout us down? If we are the mountains that surround Israel then each of us, I pray, should remember that all of us has a role to play to defend Israel in the war of words. Words might be all we have right now.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What is the Islamic Caliphate?

Here is my most recent newspaper column on the history of the Islamic caliphate. Given the situation in Iraq, it is important to get a better hold on the history of the caliphate as it was understood by the Sunnis and Shia Muslims. It definitely plays into the recently proclaimed caliphate by the ISIL in Iraq. I thank you for taking the time to read it and appreciate your comments.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The vote of the Presbyterian Assembly to boycott, divest and sanction American Companies doing business on the West Bank in Israel

Once again the  propaganda war continues. This column I wrote for the newspaper only touches the surface regarding the depth of feeling amongst American Jews let alone Israelis.towards the Presbyterian leadership at their recent general assembly in Detroit. The strategy of Boycott Divest and Sanction American companies and ultimately Israel itself is more than an economic weapon, rather, it is a a weapon to discredit Israel as a Jewish state. They will counter but those who choose this strategy play into the long term struggle to take Israel apart and discredit Israel as a Jewish state.
This BDS movment represents a  paradigm shift and Israel's friends need to challenge it and work towards greater education.
Thanks for taking the time to read the column. Your opinion is most welcome.
Rabbi Bloom