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Dear friends,

On Thursday night Oct, 22, I delivered an invocation before the State of the County in the magnificent and historic Chambers of the Board of Legislators. I felt honored to be in that space to offer a prayer on behalf of the Westchester Board of Rabbis. It was particularly special to be joined by two colleagues, Rev. Dr. Verlin D. Williams and Imam Hafiz Amjad Karim. We all spoke to the idea that we are all created equal and in the image of God. That through grace and love we can face this moment together, rising to meet our responsibility to act as God’s stewards on earth.

I read the words we say each Shabbat in The Prayer for Our Country asking God to grant our leaders the ability to see fully the needs of the moment, the courage to face uncertainty, and the stamina to weather the storms of this uncertain time.

Here is the remainder of my invocation:

This weekend Jews around the world will read the story from the Torah of a great flood that destroys the earth. Noah, alone, is chosen to build an ark to save himself, his family, and every species of animal in order to rebuild a better world. God instructs Noach to include in the ark structure something called a tzohar. A commentary explains that this is a window which provides light for those in the ark as well as a way to see beyond the walls of the ark. Others say that it is a precious stone that gives light to each person inside the ark, providing them with hope and courage to sustain them while the storm rages around them.

The tzohar offers Noach and his family light and inner strength, while also reminding them to look outwards to see a world waiting for their help in building a new and better society. Tonight as we gather together to commit to the important work ahead of sustaining our county, may we, through the words of our County Executive, George Latimer, feel that bright light shine towards each and every one of us. And may we remember how to access that inner light so that we can shine it outwards beyond the boundaries of family, race, and religion so that we, together, can face the darkness of the moment with renewed strength and hope in the coming year.

Compassionate one, bless us with the ability to shine the light of justice, equity, and kindness to every individual. We ask that with mercy, You illumine the earth and all who dwell on it with goodness. During these dark and uncertain times we pray that you guide us and our leadership with the wisdom and strength to move together towards brighter days ahead.

Amen

A New Perspective During a Pandemic

When it became clear to us that this summer there would be no traveling to Israel, summer camp, or regular vacationing, we decided to try something we had dreamed about for years. Rent an RV! We figured it was the only way we could leave our home and not worry about using public bathrooms.

So Maital, our three children, ages 9, 7, and 4, and I found an RV that would suit our needs for 10 days- and it was 32 feet long! Besides the difficulty of driving such a large vehicle it had everything we needed- space for everyone to sleep, a bathroom and shower, and a kitchen, dining room and couch, a TV, and of course, seat belts. We learned how to conserve water and take care of our sewage and electrical needs and many other tricks for traveling in this unique way!

We absolutely loved it! With the help of recommendations from the Pogostin family (thanks, Lisa!) we traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire, basking in the amazing natural beauty of this country. We visited Quechee Gorge, Franconia Notch, The White Mountains, the Mt. Washington Auto Road, and more incredible sites, lakes, trails, and swimming holes. Each evening (and a few mornings) we built a campfire and enjoyed our share of yummy campfire foods. How many s’mores can a person eat in a week? We are so grateful to have had this wonderful bonding experience that we will never forget.

Fighting Racism: Our Moral Responsibility

Our hearts are heavy and we are horrified at the senseless murder of George Floyd last week by a Minneapolis police officer. We are devastated for the bereaved as they mourn his death and we are outraged at our system of justice which allowed for a human being’s life to be treated in such a callous way. The pain of this moment is amplified by generations of racism, discrimination, and violence against people of color in this country.

What has resulted this week has been a wave of protest, some peaceful and some violent. While violence should never be condoned, its spreading across the country awakens us all to the anger and frustration that many in this country are feeling as the patterns of racism continue to bear fruit hundreds of years after slavery and decades after Jim Crow.… Read more

A Fifth Passover Question for This Pandemic Year

Perhaps this year we have a new question to ask at the seder. How is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

On all our other Passovers there were no pandemics, but on this Passover, COVID-19 plagues the world. On this Passover we feel a plague of scarcity, with a shortage of ventilators, protective gear and hospital beds. We also feel the plague of darkness. In Egypt, according to one interpretation, the plague of darkness was not literal. It was a plague that resulted in people not seeing others, and therefore, not responding to one another’s needs. By the time the ninth plague hit, the people had stopped reaching out to check in on one another’s welfare and to offer assistance to their less fortunate neighbors. No one played their part to help mitigate the situation. Instead, they lived their lives as if each person was solely dependent on themselves, independent of anyone else in society.

Social distancing is a way of caring for one another. However, we must remember that it is not the only way to care for one another. There are other ways to help and to reach out to offer assistance. We can still be responsible for one another even as we remain apart. We should all be encouraged to continue to reach out to friends and family during this trying time. Our sacred texts remind us of our obligation to be aware of others even as we take care of ourselves. As it is written in the Torah, “If, however, there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) Additionally, Passover and the weeks leading up to it are an opportunity to give maot chittim, gifts of sustenance to people in need. Please consider a donation through Shaarei Tikvah or by contributing to a charity of your choice. Some suggested sites are below. Perhaps this year in lieu of feeding the guests we would have invited to our seder, we instead make a donation in their honor.

We are feeling social distancing greatly with the nearing of Passover, which is usually a time when many gather with friends and family or join together in community sedarim. At the seder, we remember a time when we were slaves in Egypt, unable to celebrate our religion as a free people. We gather with multiple generations of our families to practice the special customs that we have enjoyed together every year. Often it is one of the only occasions when the whole family gathers together. And it seems unfathomable that we currently won’t be able to celebrate in this way.… Read more

Shabbat Message – March 20

Dear friends,

I pray that you and your loved ones are healthy and in a safe space to reside during this period of time as we do our part to “flatten the curve.” My family and I are trying to settle into this reality and are trying our best to remain optimistic during this trying time. It is comforting to see people when we go outside, and I love hearing the birds chirping – reminding us how the natural world continues to show its beauty amidst all of the emotions we are feeling.

 My friend, Joe Gindi, reminded me this week of the connection between our current reality and the scene from the Biblical flood. We, like Noah’s family, are traveling in our own arks – minus the animals. I am comforted by the end of the Noah story when God says, “I will never again destroy every living being, as I have done. So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) Watching the world go on outside my window I’m finding this promise to be comforting. The natural world is still working as it should, even if we are in temporary retreat from a viral storm.… Read more

Shabbat Message

Dear friends,
As we move into Shabbat together, we are witnessing that more and more synagogues, schools, and places for large gatherings have made the wise decision to close their doors and practice social distancing. It is a new reality which will hopefully slow down the spread of COVID-19 and protect human life. As Jews, this is our highest calling- to protect human life, as the Torah states, “…choose life- to ensure your life and the lives of future generations.” “…uvacharta bachayim lema’an tichyeh atah vezar’echa.” (Deut. 30:19)

While this past week has been fraught with fear and uncertainty, it has also been one of beauty and powerful connection. I have reached out to you to offer words of comfort and support and many of you have in return offered me your words of strength and hope. Additionally, we have been connecting with friends and family around the world as we move through this moment separated, but connected.

I have been thinking about ways to create a framework of being together in spirit despite our physical separation. I am reminded of a poem by the Israeli poet, Yehudah Amichai, z”l called, “shneinu beyachad vechol echad lechud,” “The two of us together and each one alone.” Here is the full poem. The poem describes the human phenomenon of physically being together but sometimes feeling alone. As I read this poem I realized that the opposite experience is occurring now in our community. We are physically apart, but we feel connected.… Read more

You Can Make a Difference: Let’s Fight for Religious Pluralism

Theodor Herzl envisioned Israel as a homeland for all Jews. But today the government of that Jewish homeland only recognizes one stream of Judaism. The Masorti and other pluralisticmmovements are in an ongoing struggle for recognition. While progress has been made, there are still many challenges ahead.

In the middle of December we had the privilege of learning from Rabbi Nathalie Lastreger from the Masorti/Conservative synagogue in Kvar Vradim, Israel. We had a wonderful Shabbat together during which we learned about her incredible journey from an ultra-Orthodox rebbetzin to a Masorti rabbi. Rabbi Nathalie is a beacon of light for Jews in Israel who care about supporting a Judaism in Israel that is more egalitarian, inclusive, intellectually honest, and spiritually uplifting. We at Shaarei TIkvah are so proud of the work she and her community are doing to help Israelis grow in their Jewish identities. She reminded us of the deep connections we share and how Israeli Jews can learn a great deal from American Jews and vice-versa. We can grow together by being in relationship with one another.

This month, the American Jewish community has an incredible opportunity to support Rabbi Nathalie’s community as well as the entire Masorti Movement in Israel. The upcoming 2020 World Zionist Congress election, which only occurs every five years, is held to determine the leadership of the World Zionist Organization. This is an important agency connected to a number of powerful and influential Jewish organizations where Diaspora Jews have a voice. It is imperative that the MERCAZ Slate – the official slate of the Conservative/Masorti Movement -make a strong showing in this upcoming election.

A vote for MERCAZ is more than just the opportunity to gain delegates to the World Zionist Congress – it is our best opportunity to send a strong message to the Israeli government and people of Israel that we stand for an Israel that is democratic and pluralistic, that recognizes and empowers all streams of Jewish practice, and that guarantees the civil and political rights of all of its citizens.

Votes may be cast from January 21st to March 11th. You can Pledge to Vote right now by heading over to MERCAZ2020.org or by texting VOTE to 917-332-1162. We’ll send you a reminder once the voting period opens as well as timely updates on the campaign. If you want to make an even bigger impact, get involved in the campaign effort! To volunteer, contact Rabbi Adam at rabbi@shaareitikvah.org. I look forward to working together to help to build an Israel that is truly a Jewish home for the Jewish people.

Kadima! Let’s do it!

 

Rabbi Adam

 

 

Rabbi Adam’s Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 1

Getting to the Tuna: Modeling Healthy Debate in Community

Rosh Hashanah 1, 5780

I look forward to this moment every year. First day Rosh Hashana- the first time we are all together in one space as a community- But what makes this community special is not that we are all sitting here today. We are not a community because we have filled out our paperwork, paid our dues, or given a generous Kol Nidre pledge- thank you in advance. We are a community because we strive to be a group of people who care about the person sitting next to us and will be there for one another when we need support.

Being a part of a caring community is one of the greatest gifts that we can cultivate in our lives. Think for a moment of a time when you felt the impact of community in your life. I know from my own experiences, and witnessing so many of yours, the power of receiving a hug when you are experiencing loss, the value of sitting together at a shabbat meal, the warm company of someone visiting you at the hospital, and the list goes on. Our chesed and membership committees have helped us connect to one another with caring outreach and as a result are helping us build our relationships as we develop into the community we strive to be.

The more connected we become, the more encumbered we feel to one another. We learn this sense of obligation in the Talmud, our Oral Tradition, with the teaching, kol Yisrael arevim ze bazeh– all of Israel are connected one to another. And our obligation to one another goes beyond care. We can, with practice –  provide each other an additional support- the opportunity to learn and grow from our different perspectives.

Unfortunately this is not something we can take for granted but a skill we must practice. Today’s world of global communication through social media makes it easy to remain in an ideological bubble, as we consume the news that we choose to read and witness the ever growing divide in our country over leadership, parties, policy, and ideology. We are out of practice and uncomfortable with discussing issues of politics with people who hold different views on any number of subjects, whether they be political in nature or the much more divisive question of what’s the all time better tv sitcom- Friends or Seinfeld? Careful of bringing that one up.Read more

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