We are reminded time and time again of our redemption in Egypt…
How we traveled together through the desert to the Promised Land…
How Your might and strength kept us together during the journey…
We still find ourselves, though, on this journey.
Lord, help us to find our own strength, our own might.
God, stay with us as we strive together for redemption every day.
יהוה, we need the reminder even when we do not realize.
Adonai, the journey seems to never end.
Redemption – freeing from shackles of slavery of all kinds,
Redemption – realizing our freedom, perhaps for the very first time,
Redemption – our time to remember all You have done for us,
Redemption – will we truly remember this year?
We celebrate Passover together as family to ensure we are not alone.
We open our door, not only for Elijah, but for anyone who needs to enter.
While we remember our freedom, do we recognize those who are still in need?
While we think about our redemption, do we understand those who are not redeemed?
Passover is a time for celebration; we should not forget.
Passover is a time for realization; we should not overlook.
Pesach is a time for family; we should not forget the orphan or the widow.
Pesach is a time for sacrifice; we should not overlook those who have nothing.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who has redeemed us, time and time again in our history. May we, together, not forget this, and may we always strive to take care of the widow, the orphan and anyone in need.
One of the most important aspects of my rabbinate is continuing education. I firmly believe that in order for me to be able to teach and serve as rabbi to my congregants, I must first model the behavior. While I do try very hard to read and study as often as possible, I am so delighted and blessed to be able to spend these precious days together with my friends and colleagues from around the world. I attend the CCAR Convention to learn, pray and reconnect (or in some cases connect for the first time) with friends and colleagues.
As this was the first full day of the CCAR Convention 2018, I knew it would be a very full and fulfilling day. Shacharit services this morning were inspirational and spiritual. Being present while we recognized and honored our 50 year colleagues was awesome. Seeing a full Bimah of colleagues attending this convention for the first time was definitely exciting. And of course, listening to the rousing and stirring words of President Stern opened our eyes to the possibilities and wonder of the coming year.
This year, the CCAR Convention intended to focus our efforts on being engaged in our communities throughout the world in renewing our dedication to the rights of all – whether they be civil, religious, political, etc. As such, the opening session entitled “Rabbis and Civic Engagement” was intriguing and challenging at the same time. California Comptroller Betty T. Yee and Mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento taught us about some of the challenges and successes facing California. I believe that the challenges facing California are not a California problem. These challenges are facing many if not all of our communities.
Civil discourse in the United States – and abroad – is vital. We cannot turn our backs or close our eyes to the problems that so many of our congregants, friends and neighbors are facing. As we are constantly reminded in our Liturgy, we must remember we were strangers in a strange land and God took care of us. We have a tremendous obligation to face these problems with our neighbors head on.
I had the opportunity in the afternoon to attend two truly educational sessions. The first session was “Freehof Institute: The Jewish-Christian Dialogue in an Age of Sharp Divisions.” Rabbis Mark Washofsky and Denise Eger taught us of their own experiences with the Halacha regarding the Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Rabbi Eger explained that the process of Halacha is a process of arguing and discussing legal/ethical issues for understanding and to continue the living tradition of Halacha. Rabbi Washofsky helped us to understand the necessity of translating Halachic sources to make sense for our time, as our rabbis have been doing for centuries.
The second session was “Problematic Texts and the Religious Other in Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue.” In this session, we studied some of the texts from the Torah, the New Testament and the Koran. For me, the tremendous take away was that while it is absolutely possible to misinterpret or misread our sacred texts, the more challenging option (and perhaps the one that is most often not attempted) is to read, reread and then reread again our texts with the sincere attempt at understanding. If we are unable to understand the “true meanings” of our texts, then it is incumbent for us to know that we have not tried hard enough to understand. We should open our eyes to the “other” in attempting to understand our own sacred texts.
Dinner out with our colleagues was a great way to wrap up a very full day. It was nice to kick back and enjoy good food and great company. I am sure that the next days of our convention will bring many more occasions for spirituality, study and fun!
Shalom my friends!
Today I have been trying to focus on the Book of Leviticus, or Vayikra in Hebrew. After all, we begin the Book of Leviticus this Shabbat. My sermon is written and I am trying to figure out what part of the Torah I would like to read to the congregation during our service on Friday. Although, as usual, it seems I am distracted by so many things. News articles that speak of laws to protect our pets...people arguing over "Walk Out" or "Walk Up...."the NCAA tournament beginning.
The truth is this - our children are the absolute most important. Protecting our children should be our #1 priority. I am not trying to take a side on the whole "gun-control" debate. What I am hoping is to bring the focus to our children. Everyone loves our children; there should never be any doubt about that. Sure - we may have very different ideas on how to accomplish this. But, if someone suggests that our children aren't being loved - I just can't agree. I refuse to believe that people do not love our children. Surely people know that without our children, we have no future...
Last night, I had the honor and privilege to teach/speak about Judaism at the 2nd Presbyterian Church. One of the ministers had her baby in the session. At one point, the baby became a little restless and started to cry oh so quietly. The minister took her son out of the room. When she returned, I told her she was not to leave the room again with her son. Her son is the future of their Church and he should always feel welcome...if he cries a little, so be it. We need to hear the sounds of our children, no matter how loud or "annoying" we may think they are. I love the cries of a child - it helps me to focus on what is really important.
During Golda Meir's leadership, she made a very important statement regarding peace between Israel and her neighbors, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us..." There is so much truth in what she said.
When we are truly able to look across "the aisle" and see the humanity and the wonder in everyone, even those we disagree with, we can begin to discuss. I am not suggesting that the answers to all of our questions/quandaries/disagreements will end quickly. What I am saying is that we can never reach agreements or solutions until we come together and recognize each other as equals - and that we really do have the same goals.
We all need to recognize our love for our children - and that should be our starting point.
This past Shabbat, Saturday, March 3rd, I was invited to sit on the Bimah of Heska Amuna Synagogue by my new friend, Rabbi Alon Ferency. As congregants began to show up for Shabbat Shacharit services, I was continually greeted with, "So nice to see you Rabbi," or "Shabbat Shalom Rabbi..." It was very heart warming to be greeted so graciously. I would not have expected anything different as the Knoxville Jewish community is quite small - and it is very easy to get to know other members of the community - regardless of which Synagogue/Temple they attend.
As the service began, the "Saturday morning crew" began to grow and grow. There was a great sense of community at this service and I was very grateful to be present. Having been immensely wrapped in Temple Beth El and the warmth of my new community, I have been very busy. It was very nice to be able to sit back and watch as my colleague led his congregation with grace and great leadership. Rabbi Ferency has been to TBE to visit quite a few times already this year so I was glad to be able to join his congregation.
Here is my truth today - the Jewish community in Knoxville is quite small. As a community, we have some really extraordinary organizations and people. After all, we have been in Knoxville since the Civil War (or even before). However, like many religious communities, we need to work together to ensure the future of our Jewish community and really the greater Knoxville Spiritual/Religious community. I have begun to meet some of the other non-Jewish clergy in town recently and we all need to work together to continue to create the kinds of communities we all dream about.
Yes - a community filled with inspired, spiritual, educated and wonderful people. There are many, many, many wonderful people in our community. We just need to do a better job of reaching out and engaging them. This is my goal - and a goal I share with my Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues. We will work together to strengthen our communities....