A Post-Thanksgiving Shabbat Message

Dear Friends,

Happy day after Thanksgiving! I hope the turkey was delicious, the pies were tasty and your time with family and friends was meaningful. Most of all, I hope yesterday was an opportunity to slow down and take the time to express gratitude for all of life’s blessings. While Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, it embodies one of the core Jewish values- gratitude. The rabbis of old encouraged us to recite 100 blessings a day. Within our tradition, a blessing is an opportunity to pause from what we are doing, recognize the good that surrounds us, and express our thanks for it. Thanksgiving may be just one day of the year, but Judaism encourages us to make each and every day a day filled with gratitude.

At its most basic, gratitude is the result of our recognizing the ways in which we impact one another for good. But …

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An Important Update in Response to the Tragic Events of Today

Dear Friends,

As you may have already heard, a tragic situation unfolded during worship this morning at a Conservative synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. According to current reports, an armed assailant entered the Tree of Life synagogue during services. There are a number of casualties. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are grateful to law enforcement who were on the scene within minutes. The news is shocking and is a reminder of the need for us to be as cautious as possible.

Over the past few years we have taken steps to better secure our building but, in light of today’s attack, will be taking additional steps.

We are writing to you this afternoon to share those steps with you.

Steps Previously Taken:

We have replaced many of the doors and windows including our lobbies outside both sanctuaries and off Scotland Road …

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My Shabbat Message for September 28, 2018

Dear Friends,

It has been quite a week and I, for one, am looking forward to Shabbat. I am looking forward to staying off social media for a while. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity Shabbat offers to us each week to focus on family, on friends and on our own inner life, our own souls. At the same time, it would be remiss of me to try to set the events of this week totally aside. The issues of consent and sexual assault need to be addressed, and we need to change our culture so that we finally take accusations seriously and, when doing so, take an approach that does not re-victimize the victims. Because, if we have learned anything in recent months it is this:

-Sexual assault is real, it is far too common and the current climate makes it incredibly difficult for those who …

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My Shabbat Message for Shabbat June 15, 2018

Dear Friends,

As you are likely aware, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently employed a Biblical text to justify the Administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration and the resulting policy of separating children from their parents. He stated,

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

When asked about this, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders doubled down stating that it is “Biblical to enforce the law.”

Many religious leaders and organizations have pushed back and taken issue not only with the current policy that results in family separations but also with the recent decision to restrict the application of “asylum” and the use of religious text to justify such policies.

For example, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated,

“Families are

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My Shabbat Message for January 26, 2018

Dear Friends,

One of the Books I have been reading while on sabbatical is Nine Essential Things I Have Learned About Life by Rabbi Harold Kushner. In the first chapter he explores his theology and the ways in which his belief in God has changed in the years since he was ordained. Toward the end of that chapter he writes:

God’s role is not to make our lives easier, to make the hard things go away, or to do them for us. God’s role is to give us the vision to know what we need to do, to bless us with the qualities of soul that we will need in order to do them ourselves, no matter how hard they may be, and to accompany us on that journey.

As I read this powerful statement, I was reminded of a news article I had read just a few days before. …

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My Last Shabbat Message of 2017

Dear Friends,

As 2017 comes to a close I have been thinking about what I might say in this, the last Shabbat message of the year. After all, it has been a year in which we have found ourselves “living in interesting times.”

Then I came upon a tweet from Rabbi David Wolpe that made clear what I wanted to share today. (Yes, my final Shabbat Message of 2017 is based on a Tweet!) Rabbi Wolpe wrote:

“I was going to delete a tasteless tweet of mine but then I found the superior solution of not writing it.”

Rabbi Wolpe reminded me of a teaching found in Martin Buber’s wonderful book, Tales of the Hasidim. It states:

Rabbi Avraham once told his disciples that they [and we] can learn something from everything.

“Everything can teach us something,” he taught, “and not only everything God has created. Everything we humans have

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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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My Shabbat Message for August 4th, 2017

Dear Friends, 

Last night I had the privilege of speaking during the special "South Orange Transgender Flag Raising." While specifically in response to the announcement last week that transgender persons will no longer be permitted to serve in the US Military in any capacity, the event was also an opportunity to see and celebrate the incredible diversity in our two towns. 

Here is what I shared last night: 

I am honored to be here this evening representing the South Orange-Maplewood Clergy Association. Now, more than ever, it is important for us to stand together and make our voices heard. 

We are here this evening to state unequivocally that we, the residents of South Orange and Maplewood, reject the politics of exclusion. We denounce the hateful rhetoric coming from too many in our nation. And we will not tolerate anyone using our nation's laws to undermine the advances we have made

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