My Rosh Hashanah Sermon

This is the 26th time I have stood on this Bimah as we welcomed the New Year together and I can honestly say that the process of trying to figure out what to say to you has never been more difficult.

I thought about giving the type of sermon that would encourage you to leave here ready to take on the issues we are currently facing. But I know we do not all agree on what the issues are nor how to go about fixing them.

I considered ignoring everything going on in our nation and giving a sermon that would have you walk out of this service feeling hopeful and inspired. But the challenges facing our country and the world are so serious that they are impossible to ignore.

These are challenging times in both our nation and our synagogues. The divisions are great. The rhetoric is harsh. And …

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Here’s How SOMA Can Help Those Affected by Hurricane Harvey

This article from The Village Green by TSTI member Donny Levit offers some great suggestions for how we can all help in response to the ongoing crisis in Texas.

The effects of Hurricane Harvey continue to take a catastrophic toll on the Texas community as the slow-moving storm dumps what forecasters estimate to be a mind-numbing 50 inches of rain over an area populated by millions.

“This is going to cost a great deal, in so many different levels,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference on Monday. “The emotional cost this storm is having is hard to measure.”

And while the stories of displaced storm victims can surely be overwhelming, local residents know that the road to recovery will need the support of those far away from the affected regions.

“During Superstorm Sandy, people from throughout this great country and around the world showed us incredible kindness, …

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Last Night’s Vigil in Maplewood

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, I watched in horror as members of the Alt-Right (Nazis, White Supremicists, KKK) marched in Charlottesville. I was shocked to hear that a terrorists rammed his car into a group of counter-demonstrators killing one of them and injuring numerous others. I was equally shocked to see footage of domestic terrorists beating a man simply because of his race. And I was saddened when our President finally spoke out but neglected to denounce, by name, the emboldened perpetrators of hate.

In response, TSTI member Marian Raab organized a demonstration in Maplewood last night. There was little more than a day to put the rally together yet hundreds of people turned out for it. I, along with my colleague Pastor Valencia Norman, was invited to speak. Here is what I said last night:

Ellie Wiesel, Professor, Political activist, nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor taught,

We must

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Reform Movement Assails Policy Banning Transgender People from Serving in U.S. Military

This is yet another reason I am proud to serve as a rabbi in the Reform Movement…

July 26, 2017

WASHINGTON — In response to President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that transgender people will be banned from serving in the United States military, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and wider Reform Movement:

We are outraged by the President’s announcement this morning banning transgender servicemembers from the military. Thousands of transgender and gender non-conforming people currently serve in the United States Armed Forces; they are committed to the defense and well-being of our nation. This discriminatory ban is an insult to their service, a rejection of their commitment to our nation, and a step backward in our country’s progress toward full equality for LGBTQ people.
Our Jewish

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Shabbat June 9, 2017

Dear Friends,

Moses did not have it easy. God elected him to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. After some hesitation Moses accepted the task. He quickly found it far more challenging than expected. Not only did he have to contend with Pharaoh’s recalcitrance but he also found himself trying to create community surrounded by Israelites who, at times, seemed more practiced at complaining than anything else. Even long after they had crossed the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites’ whining continued unabated. Central to their complaints was that the manna God sent from the heavens each day wasn’t satisfying. The situation then went from bad to worse. Moses discovered that not only were the Israelites unhappy, but his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam were speaking against him as well.

Clearly the Israelites were unable to appreciate all they had. They did not understand gratitude. They constantly lost perspective. In …

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My Shabbat Message for April 28, 2017

Dear Friends,

This week’s Shabbat Message is a bit different than most. The reason for this, in part, is that I am not the author of it. More than that, it is because this Shabbat Message is more an invitation than anything else. You see, next Friday, May 5, Shabbat evening services will take place at 7:30pm in the Bass Sanctuary building. We will worship using Mishkan Tefillah, the prayerbook TSTI adopted more than a decade ago. The voices of our Cantors will lead the singing of songs and prayers. But throughout the service we will pause from our prayers and listen to our graduating High School seniors as they share some of their thoughts and insights. You should be there. You really should. Because, when one listens to these amazing young adults, one cannot help but be inspired and feel a deep sense of optimism for the future of …

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My Shabbat Message March 31, 2017

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday Raina and I, along with more than two dozen TSTIers, were in Washington DC for AIPAC’s 2017 Policy Conference. It was three days of listening, learning and lobbying on behalf of the US-Israel relationship. Policy Conference ended with us going to Capitol Hill to attend some of the more than 500 lobbying appointments that took place with members of the House and Senate. Policy Conference is an unusual experience. In a hyper-partisan environment, AIPAC remains committed to bi-partisanship and continues to strive to hold the middle. It is increasingly difficult to do so but, particularly in this environment, is more important than ever.

While AIPAC is committed to bi-partisanship, AIPAC activists are clearly partisan, as are all activists. At any given event or program it is not uncommon to find yourself sitting next to someone who is worlds apart from you ideologically. As you might expect, …

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A Shabbat Message for March 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

An assortment of kiddush cups sit on the wall unit in Raina’s and my living room. There is a beautiful hand-hammered silver cup from Israel. It was an engagement gift from my sister and brother-in-law. On the shelf below it sits a white glazed ceramic kiddush cup. It too is from Israel but, in this case, it was an engagement present from our friend and rabbi, Robyn. Next to it sits a shiny metal kiddush cup that was a gift from Cantor Ted and Sonia Aronson. Next to it is a simple silver cup which Raina received upon becoming a Bat Mitzvah. There is also a glass kiddush cup that is part of a havdalah set and a carved glass cup that is a replica of the one given to me by the congregation when I was ordained in 1993 and used beneath our chuppah. (The original was …

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An Update on Recent Bias Incidents From Rabbis Cohen, Cooper and Olitzky

Dear Friends,
As you surely are aware, our community has not been spared from the recent uptick in bias incidents that have been seen throughout our nation. In addition to the swastikas and other hateful graffiti painted on a pedestrian bridge in the South Mountain Reservation, there have been numerous expressions of anti-Semitic and racial bias in our schools. Swastikas have been drawn on walls and desks, students have been heard to invoke the name of Hitler and have even made a Hitler salute toward other students. There have also been reports of bias against African-Americans and transgender boys and girls in the schools.

As part of their response to these incidents, Dr. John Ramos, Superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District, and his staff convened a meeting yesterday with local clergy. The purpose of the meeting was not only to enable the clergy to hear, directly from …

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My Shabbat Message for Friday, March 10, 2017

Dear Friends,

This past Thursday, I, along with Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Beth El Congregation and Rabbi Mark Cooper of Congregation Oheb Shalom, had the opportunity to spend the day at South Orange Middle School and meet with each of the 8th Grade Social Studies classes. I came away impressed with both the teachers — they are caring, creative and passionate — and the students themselves.

We had been asked to come speak about Judaism in general but, in light of the recent bias issues that have taken place in the school, the conversation was largely focused on the recent increase in anti-semitism, racism and Islamophobia. It is one of these exchanges that I want to share with you this Erev Shabbat.

During one of the sessions, Rabbi Olitzky asked everyone present to raise their hands if they have ever been on the receiving end of any sort of biased …

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