My Shabbat Message for August 23, 2019

Dear Friends,

It has been another week of outrage in the US. This time, the strong responses were, in part, the result of comments made regarding Jewish dual-loyalty. They were outrageous, offensive and dangerous. I have little doubt they were intended to create a firestorm of response, and once again the media and the Twittersphere fell for it.

A great deal has been written in response to these comments regarding Jewish loyalty. I’ll be addressing one aspect of this during services tonight but, for now, I want to invite you to join me in being part of a much needed counter culture.

I want to invite you to begin reading social media posts with a skeptical eye. What should be platforms to enhance connection and facilitate debate have, instead, been weaponized by those seeking to do harm to the Jewish community specifically and our country as a whole. And it …

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Shabbat August 16, 2019/16 Av 5779

Dear Friends,

A well-known Jewish story tells of a boy who spread gossip only to find himself feeling badly for doing so. He went to his rabbi to ask how he might make amends. The rabbi instructed him to take a feather pillow, go into a field and cut it open. The boy did so and watched as the wind took the feathers in every direction. When he returned to the rabbi the boy asked what to do next.

The rabbi instructed him to go collect the feathers. “But they have been carried in every direction,” the boy argued, “there is no way to collect them all.”

“Exactly,” said the rabbi, “so it is with the words we say. Once they are out in the wind there is no way to take them back.”

I was reminded of this story when I awoke to news that Prime Minister Netanyahu was …

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My Comments at the 2019 TSTI Annual Meeting

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Good evening. It is truly an honor to attend TSTI’s Annual Meeting for the 27th time. I first attended as a rabbinic intern in 1992 and it has been and continues to be a privilege to serve this sacred community.

Most years I use my time during this meeting to talk about the state of the congregation from my perspective. And I could easily do so this year, particularly considering how much is going on.

But tonight, I want to take a slightly different approach. I want to talk about why we do what we do. And I want to do so through the lens of a few experiences I have had this year.

 

It is a quiet Shabbat afternoon in October. Suddenly my phone starts buzzing with reports of the synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill. Within minutes I’m on the phone with my colleagues and a number …

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Our Visit to Neve Michael Children’s Village

Dear Friends, 
Happy 2019! Our TSTI in Israel 2018 group had the chance to welcome the New Year in Jerusalem. (To be fair, we welcomed the New Year with a drink in the hotel lobby at 10:30pm. Few of us actually made it to midnight.) I hope our Facebook posts captured a bit of the experience but know that no pictures or video can do such an experience justice. 
While I am away on Sabbatical this month I want to share a few of our experiences in a bit more depth. Today’s stop is Neve Michael Children’s Village. 
Neve Michael is “the only multi-disciplinary children’s home in Israel to offer a wide range of professional services on one site, such as psychiatry, psychology, occupational therapy, social work, conventional and para-medical therapies and education.” The village was established in 1943 as “a safe haven for children 5 to 18
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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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