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Where Do We Go from Here?

Dear friends,
This has been a week that calls for a Shabbat of rest to help us mourn, to heal, to dream, and to act.  In the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that ended 29 lives in an instant and injured so many others along with the news from Israel that an IDF soldier was murdered in Gush Etzion, our hearts are broken. For the families of the victims and for the injured there may be no comfort and no hope for redemption. And so we grieve with them, recognizing that there is no way to turn back the clock.The devastation is real and it is dark. In America we are again painfully aware of the spiraling epidemic of gun violence, mass shootings, the rise of white supremacy, and a political rhetoric that incites hatred and violence. And in Israel more bloodshed seems to make peace even more unattainable. While there are steps that can be taken to respond to these issues, we must take a moment to recognize the grief, fear, and frustration that has us feeling overwhelmed. We must witness, acknowledge, and feel in order to respond together.

The Jewish people have taken guidance from our traditions and sacred texts to help respond to the events of our day. They can help us find meaning in the face of fear and uncertainty in order to help us find a path forward. Judaism guides us by offering an awareness of time and how that time shapes our reality. This weekend offers us a model for responding to this moment through the pairing of Shabbat Ḥazon and Tish’a B’Av.

This Saturday night through Sunday evening marks Tish’a B’Av, a day of mourning in the Jewish calendar that recalls major calamities of the Jewish people, including the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem. As we begin the fast, we will sit in our communal grief and recall the pain of our ancestors who witnessed the destruction of the world as they knew it. We will chant haunting melodies from the Biblical book of Eikha, Lamentations, which describes the devastation of a city in ruins, its holiness desecrated and destroyed. We will also chant kinot, liturgical poems, recalling other moments of pain and sadness throughout Jewish history. The process of reading these texts together is a reminder that we sometimes need to feel our hearts break and recognize that the state of our world is damaged. We attempt to gather as a community of mourners in order to remind us how to be human.

 

However, we don’t mourn without support. Shabbat acts as a reminder that we are not alone and that redemption is possible. Shabbat, a reenactment of the day after the Biblical account of creation, is a glimpse of what a world of peace and wholeness could be like. Shabbat helps us imagine a world where people can go about their lives without fearing for their safety and where bullets don’t tear mothers from their children. For 25 hours we dream of a better future, and when motzei Shabbat, the beginning of the week, arrives, the time to create that reality begins.

This Shabbat, which immediately precedes Tish’a B’Av, is called Shabbat Ḥazon, or “Shabbat of vision”. The haftarah we will chant on Shabbat morning from the book of Isaiah reminds us of the possibility of a return to Zion and a reconciliation with God. This Shabbat offers us a dose of resilience knowing that we are about to enter into our grief. The pairing of Shabbat Ḥazon and Tish’a B’Av is a reminder to allow ourselves to feel the deep emotional pain of our lives and our people’s past as we also cultivate hope and dream of a better world.

This year I will be envisioning a world with less hate and more loving-kindness and considering my steps of action that help bring about that vision. What is your “hazon”? I encourage you to share it out loud with your family and friends. Despite the pain and the darkness we must remember to dream and to search for concrete steps to realize a better tomorrow. Our ancestors looked beyond the darkness and envisioned something better. We can as well.

 

Shabbat shalom,

 

Rabbi Adam

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Advocacy and Prayer Amidst Pain

Today, family members, friends, and admirers of Lori Gilbert Kaye z”l, age 60, will eulogize her at her funeral at Chabad of Poway Synagogue near San Diego, CA. They will speak of how she was always doing chesed, an act of kindness or giving tzedakah to someone in need. And they will speak about her final act of offering herself as a human shield to save Rabbi Mendel Goldstein’s life, as a terrorist opened fire on him with an AR-15 type assault weapon. We mourn her loss and pray for her family to feel the outpouring of love for them and to know that Lori will be honored through the many acts of chesed being done in her memory. While we mourn we are also praying for the healing of Noya Dahan, 8 years old, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, age 32, who came from Sderot, Israel to visit family for Pesach who were injured in the attack.

Like many of you, I found out about this at the end of Passover and the harsh realities of our world sunk in. My heart broke, yet again, over another shooting at a place of worship. We are all feeling the effects of this and other attacks against Jews and people of other faiths, murdered out of senseless hate. And yet we must act.

First- at home. It is important that we speak about these events appropriately with one another and with our children. Here is a helpful guide about having conversations with our children about these atrocities. Please reach out as well if I can be a helpful, compassionate ear.

Second- in our community. Shaarei Tikvah has assessed our security situation and we have taken steps to make sure we doing what is necessary to take care of our members.

Third- in our country- Shaarei Tikvah is committed to speaking up for the value of a diverse America, which is committed to pursuing common decency and tolerance in our communities. We will continue to educate and spread the message of peace, respect, and the infinite value of every human life and to speak out against anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, and bigotry of all kinds. And while rhetoric is important, it is not enough. We must also commit to taking action. Awareness of the realities we face, namely, antisemitism and the rise of white supremacy in America, coupled with a spiraling gun violence epidemic, is a crucial part of our ability to take action and improve our country.… Read more

Feeling the Effects of the Jewish Holidays

Every Purim afternoon, my family finds itself driving around dressed in costume, plugging in addresses and delivering bags of mishloach manot to surprise and delight our friends. I can distinctly recall the joy and excitement we have felt  – and have helped others feel  -over the years.

The sense of joy we feel is not just connected to this ritual but to many more as we welcome Purim and its colorful festivities. We dress up in fun costumes, read the megillah – a story of redemption from a dangerous predicament for the Jewish people, feel the glow of supporting those in need of our care, and join together with others for a festive meal. The abundance of these rituals and activities literally brings us into community and relationship with the memory of our people, which reminds us that there is reason to rejoice not only because of the circumstances of our current lives but because of an emotional relationship with the historical memory of our forebears.

There is a cyclical relationship between performing these mitzvot (the commandments of Purim described above) and the joy we feel. The mitzvot bring us to a place of joy and feeling joyous during the holiday provides the impetus to express generosity to our community and read the stories of our ancestors’ gratitude.… Read more

Why Do We Publicize the Miracle This Year

This evening as I chanted the blessings with my family before lighting the Chanukiah, I was reminded of the many miracles that have brought us to this day. We are blessed to live in a country, and specifically, in an area of this country where we can boldly place chanukiot in our windows for all to see. Yes, the chanukiah makes it clear that there are Jewish residents living within, but it also says much more.

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah through lighting a chanukiah has many different meanings. For some of us the miracle is about Jewish continuity. How incredible it is to imagine that the Jewish people have maintained these lights each year, and are able and proud to proclaim again that we are still here and we are full of hope and gratitude for our lives and our heritage.… Read more

Hope Amidst Pain

As I filled out my ballot this morning I felt a tremendous sense of pride. I am the first of my family on both sides to be born in this country at a time when others like me whose families have come to this country from around the world are running for office. Maital and I stood next to our children as we voted, 100 years after women were given the right to vote, with an acknowledgement that we are both very fortunate to be voting in America today. And at the same time it is a painful time for America. There is real fear and distrust, rhetoric and actions from our leaders which defy our country’s core values.

This moment is painful. As Americans go out to the polls and we wait to see the results of the election I am reminded of Rebecca, who in this week’s parashah is pregnant with twins, and experiencing tremendous pain. God’s explanation to her is that there are warring factions, separate nations in her womb. And ultimately one will dominate the other. The Torah describes that responding to the pain, Rebecca cries out- “Im ken, lama ze anochi?” “If so why do I exist?” She cannot understand why life must be so painful. Is it really worth it?

Each election feels like that painful experience of birthing Jacob and Esau. Our nation feels pain and asks the question- is it really supposed to be like this?

Do we see this as the new normal? Of a country at odds with itself that feels like two separate nations? Like Rebecca, can our system sustain the birth pains of the present?

Despite these questions it felt good to put the ballot through the machine I prayed that this pregnant moment leads to more peace, to a return to our core values, and to a confidence in our country’s ability to bare the pain of the current with hope for the future.

With a Little Help from My Friends

Whether you hear it sung by the Beatles or Joe Cocker, the importance of getting by with a little help from a friend is central to the opening story of this week’s parashah, Vayera. The scene opens with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, healing from his recent circumcision, which left him in pain but still conscience of his responsibilities to offer a little help to his friends. Sure enough, three men (angels, according to many Torah commentators) approach Abraham, who immediately rushes to help them on their journey through the desert.

The Torah describes that Abraham rushes around, despite his pain, to provide water and food for his guests. The Midrash describes that in response to the kindness that Abraham offers his guests, God responds, “as you have brought a little water to My emissaries, I will give your descendants water in the desert. As you brought them bread to eat, I will sustain your descendents with manna for forty years. As you gave them shade under a tree, I will give the Israelites a cover of clouds to protect them from the desert sun.” (Genesis Rabbah 48:10)

As we celebrated together this past Saturday evening at our 10/20 event, I was so inspired by the way that Abraham’s sense of kindness and responsibility towards his new friends was echoed throughout the years of our community.… Read more

Gratitude Amidst Loss

There is a Jewish value called hakarat hatov, which I believe to be an important discipline for my life. Hakarat hatov means recognizing the good. There are some moments when I find it more challenging to recall good things happening around me and there are other moments when it is easy to do so. No matter what I am feeling or what kid of day I am experiencing, I believe that recognizing goodness is an important everyday activity. When things are going well we are encouraged to remind ourselves of that goodness and to specify the person that helped to make that goodness a reality. It helps us remember the source of our blessings and helps us appreciate the gifts we receive and never take goodness for granted. When things are not going according to our expectations or when we feel that life is not treating us well, hakarat hatov reminds us that despite all of the reasons for upset there is usually still something to be grateful for.

I imagine that this is what Noach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, feels as he emerges from the ark after God destroys all of creation except for the humans and animals inside of the ark by sending a flood. Looking around, the images of destruction that Noach sees must be unimaginable. What Noach sees must shock him.… Read more

Happenings at Shaarei Tikvah

There were many many beautiful moments over this holiday period. However, there were two moments when I felt that my breath was taken away. The first was at Neilah, the final service on Yom Kippur, when I witnessed families and individuals coming before the ark and standing in front of the Torah scrolls. For some it was a chance to reflect on the past year and offer a prayer for the year ahead. For others it was a chance to meditate on the themes or ideas in the service, and for others a chance to offer blessings to family members. And of course there were tears. I was lucky to witness the way that so many of you connected with this ritual and our sacred objects and spaces. It simply was a beautiful outpouring of emotion and it gave us all hope for the year to come.

The second moment was last week when I saw the final result of our food drive for the Interfaith Food Bank. We collected 140 bags of food! I got chills as I saw Shaarei Tikvah’s generous heart take shape in the hallways and closets of our building and was very proud as I helped our volunteers schlep heavy bags out to the car for delivery.

With the holidays behind us I want to call our attention to some amazing events happening at ST.

The topic for our first Midtown Midrash will be “Communal Responsibility Against Sexual Assault.”… Read more

Healing the Relationship Between North American Jews and Israel

I want to take a moment to highlight next Shabbat, Saturday September 1st.  At services that morning, we will celebrate Eugene and Diane Linett’s 50th anniversary together with their family. In the evening,  we will hold a very special service called Selichot that helps to spiritually prepare us for the Yamim Noraim, the days of Awe, which are a time for introspection and commitment to change in the coming year.

We will begin our evening at 8:30pm with a fascinating conversation about one of the relationships in our lives in need of healing this year- the relationship between North American Jews and Israel.

One of my teachers and colleagues, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, recently featured in the Jewish Week  will have a conversation with Maital Friedman about the rough edges of this relationship.… Read more

Judaism is not just about observing laws. It is about treating people well.

Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish Law). The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.”

In this week’s parashah, Vaetchanan, there is an interesting passage which relates to this story. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and God’s testimonies and statutes, which God has commanded you.  And you shall do what is right and good (hayashar vehatov) in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deut. 6: 17-18)… Read more