Connecting with Others

This week we commemorated Sh’va Asar b’Tamuz, the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day in the Jewish calendar and a day to commemorate the breaching of the walls in Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). On this day we also mark the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE) and other tragedies of the Jewish people. One of the messages that our rabbis teach about this period of destruction in Jewish history is that Jews must not repeat the errors of the past. Most importantly, we learn that sinat chinam, senseless hatred between Jews, led to the destruction of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem, and in order to prevent future calamities, each generation that commemorates the destruction must work to overcome the temptation to act or speak against others with sinat chinam.

This message of connection and openness to others, confronting bias and senseless hatred was ringing in the halls of Shaarei Tikvah on Thursday afternoon this week when I hosted a group of high school students from White Plains High School at Shaarei Tikvah. My friend and colleague, Rev. Lee Trollinger who participated in our community’s conversations about racism and privilege last August, requested that I spend some time with him and these students so that they could learn about the Jewish religion and our shared values. This annual program was implemented by the City of White Plains Youth Bureau through the Calvary Baptist Church of which Rev. Trollinger is the pastor. The Church helps the students from White Plains High School learn about civic engagement and community based organizations in Lower Westchester. The goal of the program is to engage students with new concepts by meeting various leaders of organizations, which will help them grow as individuals.

Our hour and a half together was fun, honest, and intellectually engaging. I offered the students a tour of our sanctuary and beit midrash and taught them about our rituals and the significance behind them. The students had many questions about the objects they saw and the explanations I offered. Rev. Trollinger explained the significance of the relationship between Jews and African Americans and we had a conversation about our shared experiences of slavery and how that impacts the way we respond to injustice. These students were asked to challenge assumptions and express their opinions honestly so that we could all learn from one another. As a group, we valued diversity of opinion, which allowed for more honest and interesting discussions about issues connected with the Jewish relationship with Israel and American politics. It was powerful that within a synagogue space, which promotes diversity of opinion, we were able to foster a dialogue in which students of various experiences and a diversity of opinions were able to learn from one another.

The polarization of our communities have made many important conversations taboo. And yet, we must remember that our relationships with one another can be strengthened if we are open to listening to opinions and ideas of those with whom we disagree. I am sure it was not easy for these students to walk into a space about which they knew nothing. In fact, none of these students had ever stepped into a synagogue before, and yet, they left with a new sense of understanding and connection. My prayer over these three weeks leading to the 9th of Av is that we can find space to engage in discussion with those who disagree with us in order to promote civil engagement and diversity of thought in our communities.

 

 

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Justice, Justice: New Initiative Launched

 

On May 17th, we had an extraordinary gathering to discuss our next campaign. This would not be a political campaign, but rather, a social justice campaign, aimed at coalescing around an issue in society that calls for a response.

Shaarei Tikvah already has a rich history of social action through our food donation programs and other activities. We are now expanding to include social justice issues with the goal of solving systemic problems at the root of the issue. As a community we are greater than the sum of our parts, and through a unified voice we can make an impact on an issue of moral conscience if we are organized and educated on the issue itself.

Since we are a community that cares, choosing one area of injustice was not an easy task. However, a thoughtful process helped us to move forward. Ultimately, our group settled on immigrant rights. The stories that were shared were powerful. A number of congregants shared that their own family’s story of emigration to the US reminded them of their responsibility to support the plight of immigrants in the country today. Ultimately, as one volunteer stated, we are fortunate to have been born into these circumstances. Chance made it possible for us to live in this country in the 21st century. We could have easily been born before WWII or today in a country whose citizens are being persecuted. Therefore, we have a responsibility to acknowledge our fortune by supporting others who are not so fortunate.

As a community, we will educate ourselves and find ways to advocate and support the fair treatment of human beings living in our communities. For example, recently, a senior at Ossining High School, Diego Puma, was arrested on the day of his high school prom by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, accused of being connected to gangs in Ecuador. Community activists are advocating a stay of removal and have support of local and federal politicians. The Ecuadorian government has confirmed that Diego has never had a criminal record nor any affiliation with any gangs in Ecuador.

This is an example of the kind of work that we may be involved in going forward. If you are interested in receiving information on ways to advocate for undocumented immigrants’ rights, please email Robin in our office at robin@shaareitikvah.org . If you have a particular passion for immigrant rights and want to get more involved with our committee, please email Rabbi Adam at rabbi@shaareitikvah.org .

 

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Dayeinu For Today

More than most other Jewish experiences during the calendar year, we love to celebrate Passover. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that American Jews frequent a Seder in surprisingly high numbers. While only 23% of U.S. Jews said they attend religious services at least monthly, 70% said they participated in a Seder last year. That includes 42% of Jews of no religion (those who consider themselves Jewish in some way, were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent, but say they are atheist or agnostic or have no particular religion.)

So, what is it about Passover that speaks to American Jews? I imagine that in large part … Read more

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The Fierce Urgency of Now: Wading in the Waters of Activism

Sermon at the The Ministers’ Fellowship Council of White Plains and Vicinity along with the White Plains Religious Leaders
3rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Joint Worship Service
Calvary Baptist Church of White Plains, 188 Orawaupum Street, White Plains, NY, 7pm, 1/15/17

I first want to thank Reverend Trollinger and Pastor Dalton for giving me the opportunity to address this honored assembly this evening. Each year, as I remember Dr. King’s Legacy by joining with others for worship, rededication to our shared values, and volunteering to help those in need, I am recharged for the year ahead.
This year however seems more challenging. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is a dark time because we as a country are particularly divided today.… Read more

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Thoughts after the Election

Dear Shaarei Tikvah family,

Today has been a day of mixed emotions. Some are experiencing jubilation, while others are filled with anxiety, confusion, and deep sadness. It has been an incredibly trying time for our nation. The results from the election have ended an incredibly tense and at times nauseating campaign season, filled with vitriol and an overwhelming sense that America has been ripped apart with two distinct and conflicting narratives. The shock of the results leaves many with a sense of hopelessness, searching for meaning in a country that may now seem different, even unrecognizable.

Donald Trump’s victory raises an awareness of just how many people want radical change for our country, and a different path forward. We don’t know exactly what that path will be, and right now it seems obscure. … Read more

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