Thursday, September 18, 2014

My trip to the 9-11 museum and role of religions in a post 9-11 world

This is my most recent newspaper column. I visited the new 9-11 museum and what I have written deals not only with my own reactions to what I saw but also to the challenge of seeing how the museum deals with radical islam and Al Qeada. It is a difficult issue for many Muslims to see when touring the museum. Given the current events going on with Hamas, ISIL, Hezbollah and Iran, this museum challenges all Americans on their perceptions about radical Islam and mainstream peaceful Muslims who share this great Thank you for taking the time to read it. Your comments are always welcome.
Shana Tova -Happy New Year

Friday, September 5, 2014

My trip to the AIPAC Rabbi Seminar in Washington DC

This is the second year I have attended the AIPAC seminar for Rabbis. I decided to return because of several reasons. The first is that it is a diverse group of rabbis from all the branches of Judaism. That in and of itself produces a wonderful array of conversation and learning. The second reason and the most important is that no other Jewish organization brings to us the array of speakers and policy experts on the Middle East and Israel like AIPAC does. Of course this seminar is scheduled right before the High Holy Days knowing full well that Rabbis need material and insights on Israel for at least one or two of their high holy days sermons. So yes there is a pragmatic component to this seminar.
AIPAC is the preeminent policy organization in Washington on Israel. That is their niche. They have the best research staff and access to elected officials and whomever you want to meet at
these seminars. Rabbis have to familiarize themselves and be up to date on Israel and Middle East security issues as spiritual leaders of their congregations.
For all these reasons I am grateful to AIPAC for their interest in the Rabbis and for their commitment to and understanding of how important temples are to educate American Jewry about policy issues which impact the survival of Israel.

Anat Wilson lunch speaker
former Israeli MK, on the political left and a avowed atheist.
She is an AIPAC policy analyst,writer who lives in Tel Aviv

She attacks the left who say that one does not have to insist on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state before a peace agreement is settled.
She acknowledges that progressives in Israel are forced to face uncomfortable realities in watching the Palestinians refusal to say yes to peace.
She asks; "Do they the Palestinians really want a two state solution? 
The 2nd intifada was the turning point towards revealing  a true problem in recognizing the unwillingness of Palestinians to choose peace albeit an imperfect peace.
She narrates several stories about her meetings with moderate Palestinians in the 90s. The things they said then that the Jews are not a people but just a religion and religions do not have a right to a  state. The idea of the Jewish connection to the land  is entirely made up. Moreover they said about the Israelis, " You are taking the land away from the true native population." Wilson argues - the Jewish and Palestinian people- are both indigenous peoples and have a right to the land.
Who she asks amongst the Palestinians will sign off on that?
She has now come to believe that any peace agreement and true peace must demand the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty to settle in the land.
Netanyahu advocates this position as well. Peace means accepting the Jews as an indigenous people to the land and the region.
My question was whether she has turned from the left to the right?
She felt strong that Israelis are debating the question of what does the Jewish state mean?
The definition of the Jewish state is a fluid and an ongoing debate. Wilson argues that Jews need to give Israel time maybe centuries to figure that out.
Even though she is a devout atheist and leftist, she defends Netanyahu's demand to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
She is skeptical about the situation between Palestinian and Israeli relations because she is unsure on the Palestinians desire to engage in a two state solution. She has come to the belief that there is not a willingness from the Palestinian side to accept these fundamental principles underlying Israel's existence.
She reminded the audience that the American ethos of  try and fail  and try again is part of the american ethos. Yet it  is a bad way to go about foreign policy in the Middle East particularly with regards to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.There is no room for failure.
Palestinians and Israelis know each other entirely well. She advocates less ambitious goals, in other words,smaller agreements rather than comprehensive peace agreements..
She then addresses the question about the viability of  secular zionism.
It is definitely in danger. why? Herzl believed zionism would solve the Jewish question making Jews equal to all other peoples. The question 19th century Europeans were asking was whether there was  a solution for the Jews. Israel may not be enough for those critics. Secular zionism counted on it.  This is a disappearing creed because the issue of change  in the world today.
Only America is challenged with accepting ethnic nationalism. Other nations have no issue with that.
Most of the world still has a 19th century viewpoint. As we see in so many conflicts today how old borders of nations are breaking up into tribes and ethnic indentities.
Question is are there increased elements of racism in Israeli society?
She admits that they exist even though zionism  taught that Israel was to be inclusionary of diverse groups. Read herzl's famous book alteneuland. He criticizes those Jews who seem ethno-centric.
She believes that Israel needs diaspora voices in shaping the vision for the Jewish state. 
Diaspora Jews must participate in the conversation.

Speaker Two: Mosab hassan yousef  son of sheikh hassan yousef a founding member of  hamas.
This young Palestinian man ultimately rejected the violence and terror caused by Hamas and began working with the Shin Bet to foil terrorist plots. He left not only his family but Islam and converted to Christianity. Eventually he sought asylum in the US. He wrote a book about his experiences. 
An excerpt from the interview. 
Question: "Did you feel you were betraying your father."
"No. I betrayed the  ideology of it. yes.
I did the right thing for my conscience."
"Was there a conflict of interest?"
" I made difficult choices."
Then the response of his israeli friend and former shin bet officer who participated in this program as well. He spoke about the courage of Mosab and his determination to stop the violence.
Mosab said, "Hamas is an ideology of jihad.
Israel is fighting that ideology. can a military campaign fight an ideology?"
Mosab said they (Hamas) hijacked the people with their ideology. 
How can you go wrong by saving a human life.? he said.
He was working with the shin bet to stop terrorist cells 
In one story the Shin Bet officer told us that once in Ramallah  one of mosab's friend was killed by the Israelis in the attempt to arrest him.
They sent him to the hospital to see if he was really killed. This was the hardest mission they sent him on. 
Why did mosab end his relationship with shin bet?
He said he was living in a triple life. He felt that the agency did not trust him.
He told a story about how he  failed a lie detector test. He was risking his life.They gave it to him again and even though he passed it the relationship was never the same.He refused to work with them and that was the trigger that led him to seek asylum in the US.
The israeli shin bet officer said people never felt comfortable with him especially during the 2nd intifada.
 There is a conflict between the intelligence system and the failure of it to recognize the uniqueness of the individual.
He left the shin bet in 2006
The Israeli shin bet officer told how he  found out in 2008 about mosab in a newspaper officer about his conversion to christianity.
He reached out to  the israeli journalist to find out where he was. He felt he was like leaving a soldier behind on the battlefield which was why this former shin bet officer whose father was an Israeli general had to reach out to Mosab.
mossab says that Hamas will not and  cannot make peace with Israel from an ideological perspective.
It goes to the core of the reason Hamas exists. To acknowledge any aspect of the land as Israel's would be a violation to the Islamic faith.

Mosab feels Hamas is killing their own people. they praise death over life.
it was a matter of conscience.
"Do i recognize the state of Israel?
I risked my life for Israel. I love Israel.

He speaks about christ's conscience. He stated that if jesus came back it would be christians as the first to kill Jesus. He is disappointed in the american church. He is not active in the american church. They do not see the big picture.
"i do not follow so much a religion but it all flows into my conscience.
I am not following the religion.
I believe in a cosmic consciousness.
My parents do not speak to me.
Humanity is my family.
How to make peace?"
He says, "Israel should work on protecting itself."

Speaker Three: The Honorable Antony Blinken-assistant to the president of the US and Deputy Natl security  advisor

Israel is not alone
US commitment to Israel is absolute
Security cooperation is stronger than it has ever been.
Military , diplomatic and political cooperation
funding iron dome.
He tells the story of a visit from Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to blinkin re funding the iron dome this summer.
President Obama said ; "Lets get it done. In two days it was done.
There is constant contact constant consultation between Israel and the US.
The US is opposed  to the UN commission of inquiry on israel for gaza rule.
The human toll in Gaza is terrible
Israel lives under the double standard with Gaza.
Hamas is also responsible for its own civilian casualties.

Blinkin believes we cannot dehumanize each other that we lose sight of the humanity of people on all sides.
Natanyahu and Obama spoke daily and even hourly.
Long term issues in Gaza:
Israel must live in peace and security
no tunnels.
no rockets
Palestinian authority must play a larger role in Gaza.
Only true path is through a negotiated peace settlement.
Nuclear Iran is a threat to the world including israel.
lran has carried out its commitments.
How to make a verifiable final agreement?
4 paths to a weapon for Iran
have the weapon
means to deliver it
material -facility producing plutonium AraK. facility deep underground . natanz-  and a covert program. these paths were frozen. we will be looking for a definitive roadblock to these paths. mixed results. nov 24 getting to yes not clear. we will not take a bad deal.
ISIL-their goal is extermination of all opposition including sunni muslims.
clear and direct threat to american interests in the region.
it could pose a direct threat to us if they are not checked.
us needs a partner in Iraq.
ISIL feeds off the feeling from sunnis that feel alienated from the government which is shia. An inclusive govt. will shrink the water that isil swims.
Building a coalition of nations in the region to fight isil.
Even though we at times disagree with our israeli partners it does not mean that we do not have a close relationship anymore. it is a constant relationship.
Responding to idea that us foreign policy should focus on smaller gains than on comprehensive peace plans. His response was the withdrawal of chemical weapons in Syria was an example of a first step.
Explaining the events that happen and making sense of events is a challenge in the instant media market. He acknowledges that the administration needs to do a better job.
I went to two breakout sessions during the day which were on the state of Zionism today and a policy analyst talking about jihad and terrorism today.
The security expert was excellent in providing specific data about ISIS and the rest of the terrorist groups out there in the MIddle East. Israel is not on ISIS' priority list right now. They have bigger fish to fry. They need to make their presence felt in Iraq, Syria and other places. Israel is not on their top tier priority list. America comes next and how easy it is for an Isis assassin to make their way to Turkey and take a plane to Mexico and from there cross the border to America.
Truthfully there is a lot more to discuss. I 'll save it for the Holy Days.  All I can tell you is thanks for taking the time read my report and know that wherever I go you, my congregants, are on my mind and with me.So I bring you back these notes from the trip. I wish you a pleasant shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom,
L'shana Tova Tikatevu
Rabbi Brad Bloom

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.