No one here this night needs to become a Fred Rogers, Aretha Franklin or John McCain—but we do have the obligation to become the best that we can be. Perhaps, that will require us to make a course correction while the damage is still fresh, and sometimes it means having the courage to make right, a transgression from the distant path. And we also know that over the years, many if not all of us have allowed time to wash over our misdeeds, and our words seeking forgiveness never left our lips.
Are the doors of teshuvah always open—or is there a statute of limitations on seeking forgiveness? The following story provides pause and inspiration for us this night. Let me share an abbreviated retelling of that story. It was a powerful and beautiful woodcut. Her father made an edition of one hundred prints, signed and numbered. At the time, he was 27 years old. A Swedish art dealer saw the ad in the newspaper and fell in love with the work.
Someone put him in contact with Mr. Grashow and he came to their apartment and wanted to represent him in Europe. They never heard from him again. Grashow went on to have an incredible career: Prints in the NY Times, the poster for the Centennial celebration at the Statue of Liberty and album covers for Jethro Tull and the Yardbirds are among his accomplishments.
My father was in the art business in the early 70s. He passed away a couple of years ago. We are three siblings that live in Sweden, Norway and California. We would love to have your input, and look forward to hearing from you. Hello and thank you for reaching out. This answers a mystery that started 47 years ago. They shared the story and asked if they would send a few prints to him. They said that their father had been in the art business for only about three years, and the he had become a minister.
They had loved the print. When they found the prints, they researched James Grashow on the internet and saw the extent of his work. They had contacted him to find out what they were worth. The three siblings wanted to return the prints. They made an incredible decision.
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They arranged a date and flew into New York and took a train to Westport, Connecticut. Grashow met them. They greeted him with smiles and hugs. In his studio, they opened the suitcase. Wrapped in a yellow and white quilt was the original cardboard box, and inside were 87 prints. It was a moment of true, redemptive teshuva. The next morning one son wrote the following : Thank you for a fantastic day together yesterday!.
These three siblings teach us that it is never too late for teshuvah. They could have mailed back the prints and the Grashows would have been happy. Indeed, the doors of teshuvah —true return are always open. And let me return for a moment to wood-cut print of Abraham. In her post, Rabbi Klein offered a copy of the print to colleagues who would provide an appropriate home. I quickly responded to her post.
It will hang in our synagogue—and each time we walk through the doors and our eyes meet it—let it serve as a precious reminder…that change is always possible…. Shanah Tovah. This morning, twice we have heard the calls of the Shofar and the final blasts will follow this sermon— blasts in total. One could have the TV on and be doing dishes or emails when the shofar is sounded. Awaken from your sleep! Slumbering ones!
Awaken from your slumber! Examine your deeds. It must be our Makom Kadosh—our personal sacred, holy other, place. Moriah—a Torah reading ,commonly read in Reform Jewish congregations. The traditional Torah reading though, takes us to a different biblical remembrance. In the traditional Torah reading we are privy to the tension, the jealousy that builds between Sarah and her maid-servant Hagar whom Sarah gave to Abraham as a surrogate wife.
Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Sarah, our Matriarch, displayed no compassion when Hagar is evicted. God, though, does not abandon Hagar and Ishmael—God provided for Hagar and Ishmael, in the wilderness. With the exception of this story, Sarah never speaks to Abraham…not when they leave their cushy home in Haran, not when twice he is willing to give her to another man as a wife, not even when Abraham takes her precious Isaac up that foreboding mountain as a sacrifice. Similarly, Hannah, a seeming nobody, cries out marat nefesh- with a bitterness of spirit—and has a one on one audience with God and acquires new life.
In both Jewish and Christian traditions, Eve is one not to be trusted, rather, she is the one who seduces and betrays—she is to be subordinated, and by extension…she set into motion the subordinated role of women through the millennia. Biblical text provides little background on Vashti and rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud portray Vashti as evil. In Pirkei Avot ch. Me Too does not emerge from a vacuum, rather, it was a groundswell response, a crescendo Dayenu-enough, to decades, yea centuries, of women being victimized and ignored.
The MeToo Movement has planted deep roots. In his piece on morality a half century ago, Rabbi Dr. When we read through the list of alleged perpetrators and offenders, those accused of sexual misconduct in the entertainment, news and business spheres, the high percentage of accused Jewish men cannot be ignored: Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrew Weiner, Ari Shavit, Woody Allen, Matthew Weiner…the list goes on and on. Although we can try to gloss over the growing list and attempt to rationalize that Jews are more visible in certain industries than the 1.
Pew Study Steven Cohen was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, spanning decades. He did not deny the charges and offered a public statement of apology. There are those who in death, like Aretha Franklin and Fred Rogers, who leave us enormous legacies of hope and inspiration. Accusations of sexual misconduct also penetrate beyond the grave. One researcher said he had spoken to 15 different women claiming to be victims.
How can the Me Too Movement extract justice in these cases? Thoughtful sermons have been given. Indeed, The MeToo Movement has cut through years of denial and dismissal with laser precision. Bill Cosby, whose first jury waffled, saw a swift and decisive jury decision just 11 months later—just months after MeToo erupted on social media. Although Me Too focuses on women, we, this morning, must cast a larger net.
Like men, who are diagnosed with breast cancer, who appear invisible when compared to the percentage of women who fight that horrific disease, Me Too has ignited a more expansive flame for justice, an expanding flame not only for women. Hafoch Ba—we need to look beyond Me Too—we need to cross the gender boundaries.
Those whose outcries have fallen on deaf ears, or, worse, they consciously remain silent, cloaked in profound embarrassment and shame. I can only imagine the courage it took Anthony Rapp to point the finger at Kevin Spacey, who toppled like his own, House of Cards. NY Times, August 13, News articles have reported the use of hush money paid to Bennett. As we have seen in other sectors of our society, rarely does hush money have a good start or finish. Religious figures and institutions are also guilty both of sexual misconduct and blinded cover-up. Just last month new accusations and reports once again rocked the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
The Church can no longer find sanctuary in a deafening silence. Boys, who in all likelihood never gave voice to their abuse—families riddled by -busha—embarrassment— did not step forward, until recently. MeToo gave them the courage to say Hineinu, here we are, too. Psychologists can delve into the causes for becoming a sexual predator. Our red light must flash, not just at the perpetrator, but at the institutions and administrators that remained silent, despite complaints, despite knowledge.
He is a scholar, past president of the Board of Rabbis, and most recently gained notoriety as the rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump. Rabbi Lookstein never informed other educational institutions of known sexual predators. He allowed these teachers of children to move from school to school, similar, to Catholic Bishops who passed predator priests to unsuspecting parishes. And other Jewish institutions are also guilty—must say Pashanu—we have transgressed, in putting on blinders regarding sexual misconduct. The Reform Rabbis Ethics Committee, on which I served for 5 years including 6 months as its chair, grapples each year with strengthening its Code of Ethics, striving to find a balance between justice and mercy—weighing all sides.
And it, too, has not always hit the mark, but not from a lack of trying. Larry Nassar. Although, they are guilty all must be responsible for protecting those most vulnerable in our midst—especially our sons and daughters. Wracked by pain and guilt as she arrived at the Western Wall, she says she slipped a note between the stones.
She waited and waited, and months passed. More than a year later she received a vanilla response assuring her that Taglit Birthright and Hillel were working with the appropriate people to implement policies and procedures to report and respond to sexual assault. Reports indicate that prior to , there was little if any sexual assault training for Birthright staff. Today, the needed training is taking place and It is heartening to know that critical steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all Birthright participants.
The Shofar warning must also sound inside the conference and board rooms of Jewish organizations. In Feb Jewish Week , Hannah Dreyfus reported a list circulating in the Jewish not-for-profit arena, of men who have been identified as harassers or predators. Elka Abrahamson, president of The Wexner Foundation. We can handle it. Folks, we are a people of law. We do rules really, really well.
This should not be an exception. I am pleased that our Village Temple congregation has an Ethics policy including sexual misconduct sections, for both staff and lay leaders. It is in the process of being updated in order to reflect current societal norms. As men dominate leadership in Jewish organization, Rabbi Brenner suggests that all men, consider the following 6 questions.
I believe they are questions to be grappled with by all. We, like listening to the Shofar, must be intentional in the needed conversations these questions prompt. Rabbi Brenner cautioned, that policies are not enough. Indeed, all of us are responsible for ensuring that our sons and daughters, our grandchildren do not become victims of denigration, abuse or shame. We must find and highlight those sources in our rich tradition that provide inspiration and direction. The Talmud includes the following story: Menachot 44a.
She ascends a tower of six silver beds and lies naked on the top bed. He ascends and takes off his clothing. She is impressed. She converts to Judaism and becomes his wife. The tallit fringes served as witnesses to the mitzvot…. And these are the mitzvot that must beckon to us still. We—all of us…commanded on this day to hear the blasts of the Shofar— we must awaken ourselves to marat nefesh—the bitter souls that that harbor shame, hurt, anger and disgrace.
Al cheit shechatanu—For the sin we have committed before You, we ask forgiveness…from you O God and for those whom we have ignored or denied. Like Channah, these women and men have spoken from the depths of ther anger…from the greatness of their grievance. We gather tonight on the sliver of a New Year. So much is familiar…perhaps the persons sitting next to you…or, the imposing pillars supporting this Great Hall…around which you strategically place yourselves to have a clear view of this transformed wooden stage—now a sacred bimah.
At the beginning of this service we sang the song, Makom Kadosh —Making this place…holy…separate space. This is our 70 th anniversary! During the decade that I worked for the Union for Reform Judaism, I came across congregations, whose beginning spanned centuries. And there are numerous, small congregations dotting the geographical landscape of the Midwest and South, which have chugged along for more than and even years.
Last month, Agudath Shalom Synagogue in Lynchburg, Virginia faced fear of closing, not due to a demographic shift, but rather the threat of a dam break. Proudly, on its website, the congregation informs the reader that the congregation has served the Jewish community in Lynchburg for years. One can ask, why and how did these congregations get founded? You might suggest that at the turn of the last century, Jews were beginning to flee Russian tyranny and immigration was on steep incline slope. Many of these small congregations got their humble beginnings by Jewish peddlers settling in the towns…merchants opening stores…families establishing enduring roots.
These communities took tremendous pride in their role of seeding Judaism, particularly liberal, Reform Judaism across the United States. As the rail travel expanded in the second half of the 19 th century, so, too, did Jewish communities. Entrepreneurial merchants, Jewish and non-Jewish, found opportunity in the untamed west. Perhaps, the most influential merchant was Fred Harvey—a British immigrant who established a restaurant and hotel empire that accompanied newly emerging towns along the routes of the Chesapeake, Topeka and Santa Fe rail lines.
And as towns sprouted along these rail corridors, Jews established businesses to cater to the growing demand for supplies. In recent years, many of those small-town synagogues have either merged, or permanently closed their doors. Demographic shifts extinguished the eternal lights of these once, vital Jewish communities. The furniture, jewelry and clothing stores were owned by Jewish families, as well as the syndicated radio station. In the last 40 years, children moved away but their parents hung on. The Union for Reform Judaism had a committee that assisted congregations—in West Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, across America, in closing their synagogue doors and allowing these temples to spiritually die with dignity.
Surely, a robust Jewish community existed at the turn of the 20 th century; however, synagogues burst on the scene following World War II. Jewish flight to suburbia, was followed by the building of numerous Reform and Conservative congregations. Long Island is a perfect example and to a smaller extent, New York City. Returning soldiers from World War II, the birth of the State of Israel, the baby boomers needing religious education—the perfect spiritual storm for establishing synagogues.
Our congregation had humble beginnings as a group of 30 people dreamed of and established a new Jewish presence in the East Village.
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Seventy—7 times 10—is a significant number in Jewish tradition. And let us remember, that our gathering this night, on the cusp of a New Year, occurs on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month—the month of Tishri—in the year Judaism and Numbers Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis, The Jewish numerology tradition, known as gematria, values some numbers more than others. For many, the number 10 symbolizes the Decalogue—the 10 Commandments—the Divinely bestowed prized gift of the Israelite nation, which it gifted to the world. The Bible mentions 70 nations of the world.
In the book of Numbers, Moses appointed 70 elders to advise him, thus forming the first Sandhedrin —court of Jewish law.
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Much has transpired in our world in the past 70 years. I was most intrigued by the remote control. The TV interpreted the various tones as commands to switch the channel up or down, mute the sound, or turn itself, on or off. Our congregation was founded 4 years prior to the first commercial jet airline. Potato Head and radial tires. Indeed, much has transpired in the past 70 years. On this eve of the New Year, , we must let the energy of our 70 th year uplift and inspire our sacred congregational community. For centuries, the synagogue has remained the central institution of Jewish life.
I have no doubt, many of us here have traveled worldwide, and somehow make time to visit the synagogue—whether active or extinct: in Rome, Nairobi, Cordoba, Budapest, Fez, Hong Kong. Schools and camps are very important, but synagogues are essential. The committed core of American Jewry is made up of synagogue-affiliated Jews, and strengthening the synagogue remains our highest priority.
It alone is the aquifer for the social capital that nourishes and drives the vaunted organizational structure that marks American Jewry. The communal ethos, the spirit of voluntarism, the skills of self-governance and the social networks indispensable to the conduct of organized life in the public sector are all developed within the private sector of the denominational synagogue. The synagogue symbolizes the backbone of Jewish community through the millennia.
Indeed, for Jews, there is no more recognizable landmark in Israel than the Western Wall. Although only a foundation support wall, the Western Wall embodies the memory of vibrant Jewish life years ago. The ancient Temple and the synagogue today, like human beings, are both physical and spiritual entities.
On the one hand there is the brick and mortar structure, and in some instances, stone, granite or wood. There are others, mere storefronts or brownstones, or stand-alone modest structures, like ours. Let me be clear—majestic cannot be interpreted as intimate or haimish. And haimish can never be equated with grandiose and austere. Our building reflects our downtown persona—casual, eclectic, intellectual, avante garde —a community not identified by sky-scrapers, but by smaller brownstones.
In a way it is so fitting the High Holy Days, the three days when we crave a little more grandeur, are held in this historic and beautiful hall. The other days a year, we experience God on our home turf. And, the synagogue is more than a building—it is about the sacred community that bonds within and outside its walls.
In one section was a collection of miniature-sized models of European synagogues destroyed on Kristallnach t or during the Shoah. The number 70 has an additional meaning in Jewish text. No one coasts through life on a silver lining. No one is immune to failure.
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Each of us experiences personal struggle, significant loss and disappointments. In its short life-span, Israel, too, has experienced triumphs, grasped hold of dreams, and has, at times, lost its soul. In short, Israel, the underdog, defeated swarming armies more than once, transformed desert into fertile ground, has emerged as one of the leading high-tech nations in the world, Operations Magic Carpet and Solomon rescued Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia. Israel absorbed millions of Soviet Jews and has provided humanitarian aid to nations facing disaster, including millions of dollars in supplies and human resources to refugees fleeing a Syrian genocide.
Twelve Israelis have been the recipients of Nobel Prizes, there have been Olympic Medals including gold, the Entebbe rescue, Israel—a leader in de-salinization in a region parched for water. Many of these accomplishments transpired against the backdrop of unfriendly neighbors and terrorist organizations whose mission remains to drive Israel into the Sea. And…and…despite these victories Israel has known defeat—lives lost in all its battles, victims of ceaseless terrorist attacks whether by bomb, in Munich, whether by wielding knives, cars plowing through crowds, or burning tires hurled at civilian.
Indeed, Israel still bears witness to the best of times and the worst of times. There have been adult and youth trips to Israel and innovation in prayer and music. There is much for us to be proud! And, our congregation, too, has known moments of struggle. Our sacred walls have absorbed the tears of those in pain, who have experienced illness and loss, divorce and depression. There are those sitting in this sanctuary that wear the battle scars, and, most important, they are still here, praying side by side on this hallowed night of a new year—at times wounded, but never defeated.
On Kol Nidre , 12 of our past presidents will stand on this bimah —not only holding the sifrei Torah, but also, they will hold precious holy history of our congregation—the positive and negative history. We must remember that the Israelite carried the shattered first set of 10 Commandments with them for 40 years in the desert, and placed them, side by side, in the Holy Ark—good and bad, sadness and joy, victory and defeat, all are inextricable twins. We are at a crossroads of building toward a new future.
For them, and for so many of us The Village Temple is that quiet refuge—a safe space to breathe, recalibrate, renew. And the future for all of us one of great opportunity. The year ahead is an exciting one. Plans are in the works for a concert in mid-winter. Our celebration with culminate with a Gala at the Manhattan Penthouse on March 6. And throughout the year, new programs will be introduced including, leadership development, robust youth offerings, innovation in a one-day-a week Wednesday religious school program and an adult Civil Rights Trip to Alabama…just to mention a few.
And, we will be reaching out into our greater community to make a difference. More about that on Yom Kippur. During the next couple of years, we will continue to experiment with program and structure and not fear failure but embrace it as a stepping stone to growth. John F. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity. Let us recognize and seize those moments of possibility and build upon the rich legacy that has been entrusted to us.
The Village Temple stands as our Makom Kadosh—our holy place. The word Hand in Gematria is 14,. May we, join hands and strengthen each other and our congregational family. May walls, and brick, Torah, Village Temple children and adults continue to build and sustain our Makom Kadosh. Rejoice every soul who enters here. In Mishkan Hanefesh we find on the two-page spread, the traditional Hebrew text, a literal translation and alternative readings reflecting a more modern interpretation.
The Shema is the central affirmation of Adonai , our God. It is core to every worship service. The traditional text reads:. You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. In the Rosh Hashanah morning service we find this alternative reading:. Love God with your mind: Stay curious, open to questions; marvel at the wonder for what is.
Love God with your heart: Stay alive to suffering and joy; Yearn for the world that could be. Love God with your strength: Open your hands and give; Work for the sake of what ought to be. As Shabbat will usher in the month of Elul , it is time to begin our preparation for the High Holy Days. In that spirit, it is also time to prepare to welcome our new High Holy Days prayer book, Mishkan Hanefesh.
An integral and emotional part of the Yom Kippur service is Yizkor —an hour when we hold, in memory, the lives of departed loved ones.
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In Mishkan Hanefesh , there are two changes to the Kaddish —reflecting both traditional and modern interpretations. May the One who makes peace for us, for all Israel, and all who dwell on earth; and let us say: Amen. Rabbi Deborah A. Hirsch joined The Village Temple as our rabbi on July 1, Though she is a native of Chicago, Rabbi Hirsch has spent her entire rabbinic career in the metro New York area, most recently as senior rabbi at Congregation Shaaray Tefila, where she has served as clergy for the past six years.
Previously she served as rabbi at East End Temple in Manhattan for 15 years. She was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in , received her Doctor of Ministry there in , and was later awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the same institution in A dark cloud has hovered over our land.
In a few short weeks we will be celebrating the birth of our nation—a nation founded on dreams and revolution. Our forefathers forged a blueprint of democracy and freedom. As a nation, there have been times when the American Dream has been eclipsed by fear and prejudice. An opaque, black cloud has engulfed us in recent weeks.
The decision to separate children from parents—to rip away infants from mothers—to have no tangible plan to address the basic needs of children—for care—diapers—love—was an unconscionable and inhumane act. As human beings we know that throughout the animal kingdom—mothers protect their young—attack those whom they perceive as predators.
Human mothers and fathers have that same instinct—I cannot imagine the anguish of the parents who have no idea what happened to their children. The psychological fallout from this policy is impossible to comprehend and will take its toll for decades to come. Yesterday, a new executive order went into place ending the separation. But the blueprint for these families is still unfinished as there are legal concerns regarding incarceration of families. Government officials acknowledge there is no game plan to reunite the thousands of isolated children with their parents.
These children, like debris from a tornado, or strewn across our great land. Many of us have asked what we can do. Here are a few suggestions to move us from despair to action. Please know our social action committee is working to come up with a VT community response—perhaps aligning our congregations with other faith-based communities in NY. If this issue is a concern for you, I encourage you to attend either, our Kabbalat Shabbat service tonight at , or the meeting next Wednesday. We know that many of our congregants marched in previous years under various banners, Planned Parenthood to mention just one.
The current controversary now positions us to look at the March through both an ethical and a Jewish lens. Shabbat Shalom. The bus pulled into the long driveway, as the children peered out the windows covered with rain. As the bus rolled to a stop, the somewhat, dilapidated, large white house came into view. A man entered the bus and barked instructions to the children ranging from ages The children got off the bus, with the rain, falling more steadily now, and stood in puddles of mud. Another adult stood in front of the children dressed in shorts and t-shirt and divided the children into 4 groups.
Four more adults appeared and shepherded the youth into the white building—instructing them to sit on the hard wood benches in front of the long tables and wait for lunch to be served. Index cards were passed out, and the children scribbled down their names and home towns. They were reassured that after lunch they would be taken to the dark brown cabins they would call home for the next two weeks.
Bowls were passed out. Lunch arrived…split pea soup and bread. For those who may recall, simulations were popular teaching tools back in the 60s. Suffice it to say, that more than a half century later, I remember the first day of my first year at sleep away camp. For the next two weeks we learned about Ellis Island, early German immigration, Russian roots—the American Melting Pot as we were taught. It would only be many years later that I realized, America is much more a thick stew than a melting pot—each immigrant group contributing its unique culture, language and food to the American mosaic.
A large Hirsch family came to America, but, like many immigrants, not all remained. Some relatives, unhappy with America, returned home before World War I, and were killed during the Shoah. As we know, America is a country built upon the shoulders and backs of immigrants. As I mentioned on Rosh Hashanah Eve, Jewish peddlers—mostly immigrants, crisscrossed America, setting up shops in every small town.
Many German Jews who settled in America decades before those who emigrated from Russia. Those who came from Germany or central Europe were educated, spoke multiple languages, could easily blend into the melting pot of American culture. For many German Jews, their Eastern European cousins—who dressed and looked different—who spoke a language not recognized by the non-Jewish Western Europeans, they were an embarrassment.
Often, these new immigrants were encouraged, even forced to settle outside of the large Eastern urban cities—in outposts like Galveston, Milwaukee and Chicago. In the mid th century there was no real immigration quota, as those Jews from Central Europe were welcomed. Two million Jews had arrived from eastern Europe alone by Office of the Historian. Two immigration pieces of legislation were passed in and If the quote was based on this number it would have fixed the number of Jewish immigrants at If that percentage had been fixed in , the total number of Jews who would have been allowed entry would have been under 25, and not the million plus that flooded our golden shores.
What fueled the fire for a crackdown on immigration in and ? Why did suspicions mount? Wilson, Encyclopedia Britannica. American Anthropological Society, 5. If this sounds like familiar rhetoric, you are correct…Hitler relied on Eugenics in espousing his Master Race platform. You may protest and suggest Grant was a madman—who would listen to his racist rant? Just imagine how population data would have been different if Ancestry. Com had existed years ago. Throughout much of 20th century, the United States kept a careful watch on immigration.
Fear of the stranger, economic depressions, job insecurity all fueled resistance to welcoming the huddled masses onto our shores. But saw a reversal of previous policy. Immigration since , March 5, , History. In , we live in a heightened climate of suspicion and fear of immigrants—legal and illegal. In part, this is due to the number of refugees seeking asylum, scarcity of jobs, and a world riddled by terrorism. There is general agreement amongst lawmakers, that immigration policies be reviewed, and immigration reform is necessary.
The political schism rests in an immigration reform process, the criteria and the timeline. American citizens and government officials hold polar opposite positions on, the 11 million plus illegal immigrants in our borders and deportation. And when a crime, even murder is committed by an illegal immigrant it must not become the launch pad for instilling fear of all immigrants. Our hearts go out to the family of Mollie Tibbets who was murdered by Christian Rivera, an undocumented and illegal immigrant from Mexico. It was a horrific crime and our hearts go out to her family.
Her death became the poster child for those who want to halt all immigration and deport all illegal immigrants. Both sides of this behemoth issue have important points to consider. What though does Judaism teach us? What lens does Jewish values provide? What direction can we glean from our Jewish tradition and Jewish texts? Throughout Jewish history, Jews rarely had a warm welcome as they fled persecution and starvation. One did not see signs reading, Jews Welcome here. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! However, the critical word here is oved —the literal meaning of oved is, to destroy.
How easy it would have been for Jews to view the stranger with suspicion and fear. All shall be forgiven—the entire community of Israel, and the stranger who lives in their midst—for all have gone astray in error. Passover, the going out of Egypt is the quintessential, identifying moment in Jewish History. Without it there would have been no Sinai. Our forebears knew slavery and oppression and were gifted with freedom God commands Moses to take a census after the Exodus, not before the hurried departure.
There was no criterion to determine who was worthy of redemption. Imagine how much easier it would have been for Moses, if Korach and his rebels, or the 10 nay-saying scouts, were prevented from participating in the Exodus from Egypt. After all, they were troublemakers. They made life hell for Moses and for God. The same could be said of those who eventually would build the Golden Calf.
All of the Israelites left, the strong, the weak, the infirmed, the rebellious, the children—no one was left behind—all were included. And we are their descendants. The Reform Movement has been outspoken on immigration reform for decades. If we subscribe to the opinion that all immigrants, whether asylum seekers, children, women fleeing abduction and rape, must abide by due American process and follow the legal entry requirements, then we must affirm that the United States was correct in refusing the entry of the St.
Louis in , and should carry no guilt for sending the ship back to Europe. Ashrei …how fortunate, in that England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium opened their borders to receive those tempest-tost passengers. Of the passengers on the St. Louis, ultimately, were killed by the Nazis. If immigration laws cannot be bent, especially when the quota number has been slashed, then we must applaud the British in Palestine who killed illegal Jewish immigrants going to Palestine during the British Mandate. Steven A. But, there is one action in recent months, for which Judaism has zero tolerance: The separation of parents from children at the Mexican border.
It was an act of inhumanity. Tap that feeling of momentary panic in the pit of your stomach, until you caught sight of him again. I cannot imagine what parents and children at the Mexican border experienced this past summer: Men and women who risked everything to find a better life. The conditions, the lack of supplies, the lack of a clear government plan, co-mingled to create a nightmare from which these children will not awake, as the emotional damage is irreparable. I do understand policy is policy, but if no one would have agreed to carry it out, what would have happened?
If border guards, members of the State Department and administration, if ICE agents, truly believed the policy was a correct one and the only option, I may disagree with them, but they acted out of personal conviction as well as direct orders.
But, if these same people knew what they were doing was cold-hearted and merciless— If they merely yielded to a higher authority, serving as cruel pawns— it is a Shanda. The Milgrom Experiment teaches us how good people lose rational thought when ordered by an authority figure. Perhaps, the same can be said for border guards imposing zero-tolerance and zero-humanity. Their unemotional dispatching of orders, tearing crying infants from a parent, gave me insight, into how Nazi officers did their job during the day and went home at night to a dinner and kissed their children before going to bed.
As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation. Perhaps, what has been most perplexing, most enraging, is that the architect of the current immigration policy is Stephen Miller, whose own Jewish family escaped annihilation by emigrating to the United States more than years ago.
His own uncle called him a hypocrite. So, as a Jewish community, where do we go from here? What is our response? Last month I informed our temple board of my intention to speak on Immigration this morning. The board then voted in favor of our congregation making Immigration a VT issue for the coming year. Together with the social action committee we plan to target specific Immigration issues that our congregation can help remedy.
Friends, the immigration issue is a very broad and complex one. Indeed, there are some of us today, who sit on different sides of the immigration aisle. My hope is we can identify one, two or three areas where everyone will feel comfortable in welcoming the strangers in our midst. What about DACA? What is our bandwidth as a congregation? Are we policy or program focused? These are all critical issues that require your input and your help.
We will be creating a list serve for those interested in helping. Indeed, we need to find a path to immigration Reform that is fair and equitable to all. The can for Immigration Reform has been kicked down the road for too many decades. And, The Statue of Liberty still stands as that beacon of respite, safety and welcome. Keyn Yehi Ratzon. What is it about Kol Nidre? Is it the haunting chant? Is it our memories of parents and grandparents whose somber persona on this night ripples through our core? Is it the powerful stories our spouses and partners shared with us about their memories?
Is it just a yearly habit? Tradition teaches us that Kol Nidre inches us closer to a God who serves as our judge…. Even if we believe the theological image of a judging God—only for a moment, even if for the other days a year we experience God more distant…even remote…the Noraim —these Days of Awe inject us with a reverence we brush against scarce few times during the rest of the year.
Perhaps, the entire day or for fleeting moments, something within, beckons us to let loose of old habits—allows us to dream and vow greater diligence in the New Year to——-to——each one of us can fill in the blank. Think about it for the moment. Each year, like the recitation of Happy Birthday, marking our debut into the world, we stand, Torah Scrolls cloaked in white, the generations of congregational leaders before us.
Eli and Cantor Bach imploring God, not once, but three times on our behalf, to annul the vows that we will make and break in the year ahead. How many of us, year after year, offer up the same prayers of repentance that echo our words from the year before? Is what we pledge here tonight really going to make a difference? Perhaps, some of us feel Kol Nidre i s not for us at all. We are masters of our own fate. We control our destinies. We do well enough, enjoy success, health, good family. Our world is complete.
Perhaps, we are here just to placate our loved one sitting next to us. What if we approached each other with the humility to recognize that our most confident convictions will always be qualified by the limits of our own knowledge and understanding? Tomorrow afternoon we will hear from three congregants, Sam Koppel, David Smith and Julie Salamon, and their reflection on specific soul-traits. I mentioned soul-traits in my Yom Kippur sermon last year. Soul-traits, are the human characteristics so integral to our humanity—graciousness, compassion, steadfast love, forgiveness, to mention a few.
Human qualities that must be intentionally honed each day. And acting from these soul-traits each day is hard work. Soul-Traits provide the daily checks and balances needed so desperately in our in our lives…in our world. If one were to do a rewind of this past year…if we were to scan and count the headlines and news stories containing words of sinat chinam— Words of Baseless hated—discriminating words of anger, arrogance, bigotry, superiority and prejudice.
Narcissistic, misogynistic hurtful and wicked words—to count the number of references to such words and actions for just one month, would be a daunting and exhausting task. This toxic venom knows no social or economic, no religious or ethnic distinction. And we hear words of hate and bigotry from both the elected leaders and self-imposed leaders of the world. We hear inflammatory and provocative words hurled with nuclear force. So where do we turn on this sacred night? Where do we find soul traits illuminating our paths?
Who are the role models who inspire and teach us, that through turning, positive change is possible? Not unflawed heroes, whose lives were always exemplary, but individuals whose lives new both joy and defeat, and still inspired generations. Can I assume that everyone knows this household name?
It turned out his old enemies were too.
They talked out their differences right on the spot. Eight months later, with the assistance of corporate sponsors including the Chicago White Sox, the area has a new playground. Like the rosy ending of West Side Story—the two rival gangs put down their guns and picked up wheelbarrows to build the playground together. They turned their spears into pruning-hooks and did not teach war anymore. One small victory! In addition to Sherman Scullark, I would like to suggest that we can gain inspiration on this Yom Kippur from three Americans, whose lives were diverse, challenged, and lived with integrity.
The first is Fred Rogers. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, he dedicated his life to children, understanding their confusion and fears. Following the race riots in Washington, New York, Chicago and Detroit, Fred Rogers took on the adult hard-to-grapple with topic of race relations. The simple gesture of inviting the black policeman, Mr. Clemmons, to cool his black feet next to Mr. The visual of black and white, side by side, said it all. And one day after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. But, for me, for us on this holy night, Fred Rogers is our teacher of the difference of one— in his appearance before the Senate Appropriations committee in —when his show and PGS were still in their infancy stages.
No small change. And the year before Mr. In her death last month, Aretha Franklin became larger than life. None of these details was glossed over in the stories released after her death. And two years before her death, March Refinery 29 identified Aretha as one of the women who changed your life. But as much as she inspired with her soulful voice and personal persistence, she is also remembered for her involvement in the fight for civil rights, often accompanying the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement on marches and protests throughout the country.
In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance. Especially politics today—in a country that is sorely divided by a serrated blade of hate and discontent and lack of civility.
His own colleagues, senators of red, blue or purple persuasion, respected his courage, his patriotism and his heroism. John McCain comes to a meeting, they know somebody showed up. Let me underscore here Honest—not a soul-trait usually associated with Washington insiders or government officials. John McCain respected his opponents—nothing bespeaks that fact more than his request, for his two greatest political opponents, George W Bush and Barrack Obama, to deliver the eulogies at his funeral.
Each spoke eloquently. May politicians of every color-persuasion find the soul traits of courage, honesty, judgment to bring America back into an orbit of humanity. That is all that really passes for destiny. And you choose it. No one else can give it to you or deny it to you. No rival can steal it from you.
And no friend can give it to you. Others can encourage you to make the right choices or discourage you. But you choose. Is that not our role here on this hallowed night—to concentrate on what makes us tick…. An appropriate tribute. No one here this night needs to become a Fred Rogers, Aretha Franklin or John McCain—but we do have the obligation to become the best that we can be.
Perhaps, that will require us to make a course correction while the damage is still fresh, and sometimes it means having the courage to make right, a transgression from the distant path. And we also know that over the years, many if not all of us have allowed time to wash over our misdeeds, and our words seeking forgiveness never left our lips.
Are the doors of teshuvah always open—or is there a statute of limitations on seeking forgiveness? The following story provides pause and inspiration for us this night. Let me share an abbreviated retelling of that story. It was a powerful and beautiful woodcut. Her father made an edition of one hundred prints, signed and numbered. At the time, he was 27 years old.
A Swedish art dealer saw the ad in the newspaper and fell in love with the work. Someone put him in contact with Mr. Grashow and he came to their apartment and wanted to represent him in Europe. They never heard from him again. Grashow went on to have an incredible career: Prints in the NY Times, the poster for the Centennial celebration at the Statue of Liberty and album covers for Jethro Tull and the Yardbirds are among his accomplishments. My father was in the art business in the early 70s.
He passed away a couple of years ago. We are three siblings that live in Sweden, Norway and California. We would love to have your input, and look forward to hearing from you. Hello and thank you for reaching out. This answers a mystery that started 47 years ago. They shared the story and asked if they would send a few prints to him.
They said that their father had been in the art business for only about three years, and the he had become a minister. They had loved the print. When they found the prints, they researched James Grashow on the internet and saw the extent of his work. They had contacted him to find out what they were worth. The three siblings wanted to return the prints. They made an incredible decision. They arranged a date and flew into New York and took a train to Westport, Connecticut. Grashow met them. They greeted him with smiles and hugs.
In his studio, they opened the suitcase. Wrapped in a yellow and white quilt was the original cardboard box, and inside were 87 prints. It was a moment of true, redemptive teshuva. The next morning one son wrote the following : Thank you for a fantastic day together yesterday!. These three siblings teach us that it is never too late for teshuvah.
They could have mailed back the prints and the Grashows would have been happy. Indeed, the doors of teshuvah —true return are always open. And let me return for a moment to wood-cut print of Abraham. In her post, Rabbi Klein offered a copy of the print to colleagues who would provide an appropriate home. I quickly responded to her post. It will hang in our synagogue—and each time we walk through the doors and our eyes meet it—let it serve as a precious reminder…that change is always possible….
Shanah Tovah. This morning, twice we have heard the calls of the Shofar and the final blasts will follow this sermon— blasts in total. One could have the TV on and be doing dishes or emails when the shofar is sounded. Awaken from your sleep! Slumbering ones! Awaken from your slumber! Examine your deeds. It must be our Makom Kadosh—our personal sacred, holy other, place. Moriah—a Torah reading ,commonly read in Reform Jewish congregations.
The traditional Torah reading though, takes us to a different biblical remembrance. In the traditional Torah reading we are privy to the tension, the jealousy that builds between Sarah and her maid-servant Hagar whom Sarah gave to Abraham as a surrogate wife. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Sarah, our Matriarch, displayed no compassion when Hagar is evicted. God, though, does not abandon Hagar and Ishmael—God provided for Hagar and Ishmael, in the wilderness. With the exception of this story, Sarah never speaks to Abraham…not when they leave their cushy home in Haran, not when twice he is willing to give her to another man as a wife, not even when Abraham takes her precious Isaac up that foreboding mountain as a sacrifice.
Similarly, Hannah, a seeming nobody, cries out marat nefesh- with a bitterness of spirit—and has a one on one audience with God and acquires new life. In both Jewish and Christian traditions, Eve is one not to be trusted, rather, she is the one who seduces and betrays—she is to be subordinated, and by extension…she set into motion the subordinated role of women through the millennia.
Biblical text provides little background on Vashti and rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud portray Vashti as evil. In Pirkei Avot ch. Me Too does not emerge from a vacuum, rather, it was a groundswell response, a crescendo Dayenu-enough, to decades, yea centuries, of women being victimized and ignored. The MeToo Movement has planted deep roots. In his piece on morality a half century ago, Rabbi Dr.
When we read through the list of alleged perpetrators and offenders, those accused of sexual misconduct in the entertainment, news and business spheres, the high percentage of accused Jewish men cannot be ignored: Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrew Weiner, Ari Shavit, Woody Allen, Matthew Weiner…the list goes on and on. Although we can try to gloss over the growing list and attempt to rationalize that Jews are more visible in certain industries than the 1.
Pew Study Steven Cohen was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, spanning decades. He did not deny the charges and offered a public statement of apology. There are those who in death, like Aretha Franklin and Fred Rogers, who leave us enormous legacies of hope and inspiration. Accusations of sexual misconduct also penetrate beyond the grave. One researcher said he had spoken to 15 different women claiming to be victims. How can the Me Too Movement extract justice in these cases?