I’m Running For One Family

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As we continue to struggle with the myriad of political issues facing our nation, it’s important that we not overlook other challenges going on in the world – especially the continued violence in Israel. While it wasn’t reported on much here in the United States, at least five people were hurt in Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, when a Palestinian terrorist shot passengers on a bus and stabbed another person in the street yesterday. Also failing to get much media coverage yesterday were the rockets that hit the southern Israeli city of Eilat – rockets that were launched by the Sinai division of ISIS which might be in partnership with Hamas. Fortunately, no injuries or damage were reported in Eilat.

The individuals who were injured yesterday in Petah Tikva join a group that no one wants to be a part of – a group that is made up of too many men, women and children – a group of survivors who struggle to move forward with their lives, overcome the trauma they experienced and find the courage to be a part of society where terrorism is a harsh reality. Many of these survivors are helped by One Family Fund, a remarkable Israeli organization that provides individualized rehabilitation programs, financial assistance, legal help and personal encouragement to each victim of terror. Their 37 expert staff members, 731 volunteers and four assistants in Israel do incredible and much needed work. The late President Shimon Peres showed his gratitude for One Family Fund by awarding the organization the Presidential Citation for Volunteerism in 2011.

A few weeks ago, I was offered a spot on the One Family Fund NYC Half Marathon Team. Knowing how important this organization is, I jumped at the opportunity to let folks know about One Family Fund and help them raise the resources needed to support their clients. I am proud to be running the NYC Half Marathon as part of One Family Fund and in memory of Yael Yekutiel, Shir Hajaj, Shira Tzur and Erez Orbach – the Israeli soldiers who were killed by a terrorist in Jerusalem last month. You can learn more about the organization here. If you would like to support the work that they do, I invite you to help sponsor my race here. You can also make a check out to One Family Fund and leave it for me in the office.

Do We Want A Drill Or A Hole?

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When we buy a drill are we really buying a drill or are we seeking to buy the holes a drill can make?

I spent this week at the annual CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders Retreat in Baltimore, MD. While there, I had the opportunity to learn with Erin Satterwhite, the Vice-President of Innovation at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. You might be wondering why a group of rabbis would spend time with a leader in the healthcare industry. Her commitment to innovation is one that we need to foster within the Jewish community and, as you can see from her own words below, she believes that the same principles that guide her in the healthcare industry can guide us within our synagogues and other Jewish organizations.

You can find Erin’s words below.

Keynote Speech Delivered by Erin Satterwhite

CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders Annual Retreat

Edited slightly for this letter

I am so honored to be here with you today.  I have to admit it was more than a little intimidating preparing for this – you after all speak publicly for a living, me only on occasion, and you also happen to know a thing or two about innovation.

I am an innovation professional and am also lucky to be on the CLAL board.  A little background on me – I grew up in Minnesota and Texas, and spent the last three years just outside of New York City, before moving back to Minnesota to be closer to my family.  I do yoga, I run, and I get to hang around some pretty amazing organizations who are doing great social innovations.

In my professional life, I started as a biological scientist which shapes a lot of the way I think.  I went on and did new product invention and development at 3M, got into innovation in a pretty big way, and got a few things launched in my time both at 3M and later at Bayer.  You might actually have seen one (of my products) on TV – Aleve Direct Therapy, which was my baby at Bayer (the aspirin company).  Shameless plug – If anyone is struggling with lower back pain – check this out – remote controlled and discreet pain management using electromedicine!

I left Bayer last summer and now am privileged to lead Innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota looking at new ways to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.  So that’s me.

(Like you,) I too have had great ideas that could really make a difference, really solve a problem, but…

Fundamentally people do not want to change the way they do things, which makes it hard to find any funding, to get a bureaucracy to work for you, or align incentives to a new and better path

No matter where you work, or what you are trying to improve, the themes are the same… this is our reality.  Resistance to change and failures are part of our reality.

My journey as an innovator started with an early failure <show picture of my “suction cup Band-Aid”>… I did this in my third grade inventor’s fair.  You are probably shocked that it didn’t win… but this didn’t stop me from proudly sending it to Johnson & Johnson in hopes that it would be their next great thing.  It was great when they actually wrote me back… thanking me but encouraging a “continued pursuit of inventing solutions to problems,” … alas, another fail.

While the suction cup Band-Aid was clearly going nowhere…It matters that we do actually succeed in solving problems.  Because, we have a lot of them.  The world needs people who do the hard work to make it a better place, to fight disorder, ignorance and hate, and create simplicity, order, peace and love.

All of us are motivated by something intrinsic.  The idea for my suction cup Band-Aid was founded in a desire to make it better for people like me because when I was nine months old, I suffered a traumatic burn.

It was the result of my early curiosity.  In fact, my first words were “what’s that?” So when my mother turned her back for a brief second, I gave the tablecloth a tug and the hot tea came tumbling off, splashing my left side.  My desire to know “what’s that” turned into a life changing event.

Growing up I didn’t know any different.  I had no memories of a life without my large scar, or my regular surgeries.  I became fascinated with healthcare and wanted to make it better.

My burn could have killed me, either from shock, or infection.  I was a lucky little girl due to my wonderful family and doctors.  And now over 33 years and 13 surgeries later, here I stand.

I am a healthcare innovator.  My job is essentially to help big legacy organizations stay competitive in a changing landscape.  I focus on ENABLING NEW MODELS for how people are going to get their health related jobs done.  Whether it was making hospitals safer, helping people get relief from their back pain, or now delivering healthcare to people rather than expecting them to be delivered to the care, my career has been an evolution of my life.

I find meaning in helping make the experience of being a patient better, because I was a patient, and because I grew up knowing that when I see something that needs to change – who but me is responsible for seeing that change happen.

As the oldest of three girls, you might think my burn trauma was a seminal event in my parents lives… however I have a special sister who was born 16 months after my injury, and the gift of her presence has had a far greater impact on our lives.

It is pretty shocking to hear this now, but when she was born a doctor came into the room to inform my mother that her baby girl was ‘Mongoloid’ – a callus, racist description for what is commonly known today as Down Syndrome.  This was the state of things in an uninformed, unempathetic culture of the early 80’s.

My parents found themselves adrift.  Nobody in the hospital told them what this means…Will she talk?  Walk?  Will she bathe herself?  Will she have friends, learn in school, go to dances, or play sports?  Will she love?  Will she live, and, for how long?

Knowing something needed to be done, coffee cups in hand, my mom sat around kitchen tables with other parents and planned what would become the Minnesota Down Syndrome Association.

As Emma grew older, my dad saw a gap in her access to sports, so he started a delegation of Special Olympics, which grew over 10 years under my dad’s leadership from 20 to 200 athletes, multiple year-round sports and his second full-time job.  A pretty amazing success.

As innovators, it is pretty remarkable when our efforts to start something new actually result in lasting success, in fact it is remarkably rare – about 9 in 10 startups fail, whether in Silicon Valley, social innovation, or corporate R&D.  It is too easy to take the rare successes for granted, and not understand the mechanics behind what enables success, or perhaps, what enabled them to avoid failure.

(We’ve all had ideas that have failed).  My guess is – (many of these failures were) not because of laziness or lack of hard work, because hard work is just the table stakes.

Great ideas fail all the time because of cultural misalignment, incomplete understanding of the customer’s problem, lack of testing and learning, the forces of competition and most dangerously – because the ideas are not on the vector of where the market is heading.

These are the challenges I deal with EVERY DAY.  My job is to get big organizations to create and capture new value by fundamentally shifting the way they do business.  My team has to fight the Goliath establishment, navigate bureaucratic loopholes, and adjust our vectors constantly.

Hence the nervous tick that comes up occasionally… maybe you have developed one too?

So how do we stay sane?

We do know why things fail, but more importantly, we know how to play the game and minimize the big failures.  It does not mean we always succeed, in fact we probably fail more.  But because we know the rules of innovation, we fail faster, cheaper, we learn more, and we move on to the next idea sooner.  Failure is not the enemy.  Failure is also not to be lauded.  Failure becomes not an event but a part of the process to achieving success.

So, at one point you might have been saying – what do you mean customers and markets?  I serve people, I lead religious journeys, I do not sell things to people.  Well, if you do not think time is currency – think again.  People’s time is real, tangible, and finite and there is fierce competition for it.  The average life span has only 27, 375 days.  People spend their time on the things that align to what they value, and if your ideas do not create value in their framework, you are unlikely to capture their time.  They might actually choose the museum over minyan!

We can all agree that we have customers to serve. Let’s take a look at the main causes for innovation to fail when we try to serve them, and the best way to avoid that failure:

  1. The competitive strategy is wrong.  Look, competition is fierce – and you took the big established entity head-on.  You picked a fight with the big guys and are now taking away their best customers.  Solution: disrupt as a strategy.   Find customers that are not being served today and create a solution that they can access, afford, and use with minimal skill.
  1. The next failure mechanism is misalignment.  The incentives or features of the idea do not fit the current culture of the organization you are in, and they shut it down.  Solution: break off from the mothership and get more autonomy, rely as little on the existing organization as possible, and you have a much better shot at keeping it alive.
  1. The problem was not well defined. Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  If the problem is not defined well, through the lens of the customer, chances are your idea is not going to solve their problem in the most compelling way.  You will have spent the wrong proportion of time solving the problem versus defining it.  The solution to this: an amazing guy named Clay Christensen who has been called the most influential business thinker of our time recommends we use jobs-to-be-done theory to first really understand what outcome your customer is trying to accomplish, not just what they are doing today to get it done.  Think about why you would purchase a quarter inch drill bit – you are actually buying quarter inch holes.  By framing the job, you can frame the problem better, and shape a better idea.
  1. You didn’t approach it as an experiment.  Hypothesize, test, learn, repeat.  This is at the heart of design thinking, and the scientific method.  Iteration yields better results over time, because you can build a prototype, expose it to your customers, let them give you feedback, and make it better.
  1. You were not paranoid enough.  Your idea was great but a better idea came along just a little while later and won your customers over.  Solution: do not get comfortable.  Never rest on your laurels because those who think they will not get disrupted, usually do.  Bill Gates said: “People often overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years, and grossly underestimate the change that will happen in the next ten.”  (Netflix was founded in 1997, Blockbuster filed Ch. 11 bankruptcy 2010).  Innovation is about playing the long game, so be patient if you are creating the future.  Seek external influence for your ideas and build solutions for the customers that others are not serving, because that will lead you to where the market is going, not where it has been.

The human experience is not easy, nor will it ever be.  We innovation people are the constant gardeners of the human experience, planting ideas, fighting the weeds and harvesting value.  There has been no time more important than now that CLAL/Rabbis Without Borders be successful.

The Jewish experience can be a source of beauty, peace and happiness.  It can shape better people.  It can improve the human experience, but only if we remain relevant as the context of our human experience evolves.  Darwin was a deeply religious man, and he is famous for recognizing that “It is not the strongest of the species who survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one who is most responsive to change.”  He did not see this observation standing at odds with religion but in fact strengthening his faith, and uncovering a mechanism of G-d.  He was an innovator…

You are here because you, like me, want to make things better for people.  I believe that Judaism is inherently disruptive, and this is why it has lasted so long in the face of significant religious competition. But what if now the tribal affiliations of religion are shifting to other things?

The times they are a changing… More than ever before, there is real, and big innovation happening that is creating competition for our tribal affiliations – this is all being enabled by new technologies, namely social media.

But those do not concern me, as one might in fact be able to affiliate to infinity.  What we must focus on is the innovation that is competing for the real tangible value of people’s time, from Crossfit, to Netflix, to Snapchat, to (gasp) Tinder.  Darwin might say that the competition in our environment is changing, and it is incumbent on us that Jewish continue to adapt so that it may continue serving people and their jobs-to-be-done.

I’ll conclude with another personal anecdote.  I was not born Jewish, but found it as a destination on my spiritual journey that started with the Lutherans and stopped along the way in atheism and Buddhism.  When I found Judaism, I fell in love!  And it wasn’t just with the people and the food (although the food had a lot to do with it).

I fell in love with the tools of Judaism, all designed with the inherent intent to be a good person who is appreciative of life and its many blessings.  Judaism has made me a better human being.  I appreciate more, I reflect more, and I pause more, especially on Friday nights where I really make sure I enjoy my family and focus on what is good.  I take the principals of teshuvah and tzedakah seriously.  I also have found peace with my inner skeptic because of an inability to define G-d, and in Judaism, that’s ok!  The tools of Judaism spoke to me.  The Jewish people embraced me.  I felt at home.

I do not believe that Jewish is for everyone, but the tools can help a lot of people, Jewish and not, live a more meaningful life.  So I want to give a big Yasher Koach to all of you for being a part of RWB, for taking an active role in making the world a better place, for being innovators.  The world needs your failures to be small and fast, so you can learn, pivot and succeed.

You are part of G-d’s evolutionary mechanism.  And that is a very important job-to-be-done.

 

 

 

 

My Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order On Immigration, Refugees and Visas

Friends,

As many of you know, I’m deeply committed to nurturing pluralism. I believe that diverse voices engaged in productive, respectful dialogue form the foundation of an engaging, welcoming community. For the past several weeks, I’ve focused most of my writings and teachings on the need to bring civility, compassion and kindness into our political conversations. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to foster these strengths in our congregation and the larger community.

Because of my commitment to pluralism, coupled with the divisive political climate in which we find ourselves, I’ve intentionally avoided sharing many of my own thoughts on the issues facing our nation right now. I’ve done so because I’ve not wanted to add to the negativity out there nor have inaccurate assumptions made about me. But, today, I’m going to share. I do so not because I question the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, not because I want President Trump to fail and not to support a particular party, organization or cause. I do so as an American who wants this new administration, our entire government and our nation to succeed. I do so as a Jew who is taught that I’m obligated to give toch’acha (respectful, constructive rebuke) when I see someone make a poor choice. I do so as a Jewish American who is well aware that our nation’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees in the past led to the murder of many of our own.

President Trump has a responsibility to ensure that our nation is safe and secure. Given this, the President, in consultation with the appropriate agencies, has the obligation to both strengthen our borders and the vetting process of those seeking to enter our country. As Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham stated yesterday, “we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”

I supported President Obama’s decision to place travel restrictions on those seeking entrance into the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (read more here) – the same countries that President Trump focused on in his Executive Order – Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States.

I was deeply concerned at the way in which this Executive Order was implemented. To quote Senators McCain and Graham again: “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.”

I was even more concerned that in an interview that aired last night (click here to watch the interview), President Trump stated that he would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. While I’m not a Constitutional scholar, it’s my understanding that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits government action that unduly favors one religion over another. It’s one thing to expand upon the limitations that President Obama’s administration placed on the seven countries listed above. It’s another thing to violate the Constitution. As a religious leader in America, I must express my concern about this.

I ask each of us to stay up to date on what’s going on in our country. Get the facts. Ask questions. Share your concerns with your elected leaders. Respectfully talk with each other. It’s okay to disagree – but, to quote from the principles of one of my favorite rabbinic organizations, Rabbis Without Borders, always “strive to be aware of the partial truth in a view with which” you disagree.

L’Shalom,

Rabbi Andrew Jacobs

 

Whether You’re Pro-Trump or Anti-Trump, Strive to be a Mensch

Korach and his followers swallowed by the earth. From the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England. Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

Korach and his followers swallowed by the earth.
From the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England. Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

While in some respects the past week has been an incredible display of American democracy, this transfer of power that we’ve all witnessed has been ugly. President Trump’s first week has been filled with pomp, circumstance, several executive orders, oaths of office and lots of protests, outrage and noise. Tempers are running high. Lines have been drawn. And plans have been made to obliterate those on the other side of these lines.

Immigration, border security, healthcare, abortion, pipelines, freedom of the press, fake news, crowd sizes, Palestinian aid, the capital of Israel, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice – these are just a few of the issues that the first week of the Trump presidency have thrust into the national spotlight. While we should be talking about these issues, I’m becoming more and more disheartened by our inability to do so. We’re either too angry, too boastful or too fearful to engage in a productive conversation about politics. This, sadly, will do nothing to help strengthen our divided nation.

I’ve heard and read too many stories over the past few days which capture not just how divided we are as a country, but how determined we are to silence those who feel differently than we do about the President and his new administration. A good friend of mine left her home the other morning to find that the “Hate Has No Home Here” sign that she and her children put up in their front yard had been covered over with a Trump campaign sign. Someone else I know was turned away from the Women’s March in D.C. by an organizer who, after asking her about her position on abortion, told her that “this protest is not for you.” If you’ve had the guts to keep on top of the news this week, you know that these stories are not in any way unique and are tame in comparison to other incidents. The attempts to push aside, shame and threaten those with different opinions are a national plague that flies in the face of our democratic values – values that ironically made last week’s transfer of power possible.

This divisive plague is nothing new. For centuries, it’s reared its ugly head. It appears in one of the more troubling stories of the Torah, the story of Korach. A rebel who stood up to Moses, Korach questions Moses’ right to rule over the Israelites and leads a mutiny against him. As Judaism encourages us to challenge authority and take a stand when we perceive that justice is not being pursued, one might think that Korach and his willingness to confront Moses would be praised. Those who are familiar with the story, however, know that this is anything but the case. God intervenes and ensures that Korach and his supporters are not only defeated, but swallowed up by the earth, never to be seen again.

Why would the Torah, which teaches us to pursue justice with all of our heart and soul, include a story that depicts the horrid demise of one who challenges Moses? The answer lies in the words that Korach uses to accuse Moses and his brother Aaron of being poor leaders: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire community are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst.”

Nechama Leibowitz, the late renowned Torah commentator and scholar, draws our attention to what appears to be Korach’s grammatically incorrect accusation: “the entire community are all holy.” Leibowitz states that this is no grammatical error. It’s deliberate and the reason Korach was obliterated. He doesn’t see the Israelite community as a single entity, but rather as a group of individuals – each one being driven by their own concerns and needs. The well-being of the community as a whole doesn’t matter to him. Central to Judaism is the teaching that we can’t “separate ourselves from the community.” Without our community, we’re nothing. But Korach and his fellow rebels, they see themselves as separate and distinct from the community. All that matters to them is what they deem to be important, not what will be best for all people. Because of this, Leibowitz calls Korach and his cohorts:

a band of malcontents, each harboring his own personal grievances against authority, animated by individual pride and ambition, united to overthrow Moses and Aaron and hoping thereby to attain their individual desires…

Wherever we call home, whether it be in South Florida, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else in America, many of us are unfortunately part of at least one “band of malcontents” these days. And within our respective bands, we’re harboring our “own personal grievances” against President Trump and his supporters or against those who don’t support the President. We’re “animated by individual pride and ambition” and hope to overthrow those who don’t agree with us and attain our own “individual desires.”

But the Torah, our Judaism, is asking us to take a different approach – an approach that challenges us to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on our nation. While it certainly doesn’t feel like it right now, we’re part of one national community. Korach wasn’t swallowed up by the earth because he challenged Moses. He wasn’t swallowed up by the earth because he questioned Moses’ ability to lead the people. He was swallowed up by the earth because he forgot that he had a responsibility to act in a way that supports the best interests of all people, the entire community, the whole nation. He forgot that he did not live in isolation and his concerns were not necessarily the concerns of his neighbor. And so, as he pursued power, he made it all about himself. He failed to appreciate that he was part of something much bigger, much more complicated than just himself. He failed to appreciate that he was part of a community. And to highlight his failure, the Torah dramatically removes him from the community that he overlooked.

Korach’s shocking departure is a reminder that we don’t live in isolation. As Jews, it’s imperative that, despite our differences, we strive to be part of klal yisrael – a united people. As Americans, it’s just as imperative that we strive to be part of a unified, albeit diverse, country. Given that we’re part of a pluralistic nation, this is a tremendous challenge. But the story of Korach pushes us to meet this challenge – to act in a way that preserves community. This doesn’t mean that we can’t protest or disagree with each other. It does mean, however, that when we do so, we act with the best interests of our country in mind. This requires us to make room in the public arena for dissenting voices. It means that in this arena we don’t attempt to silence, shut out, shame or threaten others simply because they see the world differently than we do. It demands that we boldly stand up for what we believe in without tossing aside integrity, dignity, respect and poise. It obligates us to rise above Korach and those like him who are motivated purely by what will be best for them and not what will bring about national healing and strength. It calls upon each of us to be what our tradition calls a mensch, a descent, honorable human being. From the ancient book of teachings, Pirke Avot, we’re taught: “in a place where there are no mensches (or menschen), strive to be a mensch.” This is not easy. But within our national community today, mensches are seriously lacking. Within our respective bands of malcontents, we want to continue raging, gloating, shaming and silencing. Within these bands, we feel safe. But a few of us need to find the courage to look beyond the safety of our bands, strive to discover the bonds that link us together, band to band, citizen to citizen, and empower us to come together as a united nation. It will take some mensches to do just this. Will you be one of them?

 

My Son’s Lesson This Inauguration Day

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My son’s National History Day Documentary. Click on image to play.

As Donald Trump is inaugurated as our 45th President today, emotions are high. Many are excited and overjoyed. Many are devastated and fearful. One of President Trump’s greatest challenges will be to bring healing to our very divided nation. May he fully commit himself to this healing and may he be successful. But, let us remember that the important work that needs to be done in Washington, D.C. and across America is our work as well. We the people are the citizens of this great nation and, as such, we the people have the ability to set the agenda and take an active part in determining who we are as a country.

Last week, my son, Jonah, completed his National History Day project, an in-depth research assignment that asked students to focus on important individuals and organizations who took a stand in history. Jonah chose to look closely at how the American Jewish community took a stand to rescue their European brothers and sisters from the horrors of Hitler.  He spent several months researching how American Jews worked tirelessly to challenge both Hitler’s Nazi regime and American immigration policy that severely limited how many European Jews could seek refuge in our country. He was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to interview renowned Jewish scholars and historians, Dr. Jonathan Sarna and Dr. Raphael Medoff. His research culminated in the documentary American Jews vs. The Nazis which you can watch here.

I share Jonah’s documentary today not simply because I am a proud dad, but because its message is so timely. During WWII, American Jews took a stand, helped to change American policy and ensured that a greater number of European Jews and other war refugees could come to America. If American Jews had not taken a stand, it is likely that President Roosevelt would not have changed his position on immigration and our country would have continued to turn her back on those suffering unimaginable terror.

Whether you are in D.C. at the inauguration or celebrating from afar, whether you are in D.C. protesting President Trump or protesting from afar, Jonah’s documentary reminds us that while the President has tremendous power, we the people have a great deal of power. Whether we support President Trump or not, we, as Americans, have the ability, the right and the obligation to be part of the process and do our part to shape our national agenda.

It is my hope that no one sits out the Trump presidency. President Trump, the United States Congress, the Supreme Court, the citizens of our country and the global community need each of our voices to help define what our nation stands for and how we move into the future. As American-Jews we simply need to watch Jonah’s video to be reminded that we’re part of a community that has taken bold action in the past, action that has changed history for the better. Now is our chance to take bold action once again and do what we can to ensure that our country pursues a path that reflects the values we hold dear.

Shabbat Shalom and God Bless America!

 

 

 

Stick With Love

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As we prepare for the inauguration of President-elect Trump and the beginning of a new chapter in our American story, I find it appropriate to use this week’s letter to share the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life and legacy we celebrate this coming Monday. Dr. King’s words, delivered in 1967, capture a powerful message that every American needs to take to heart as we begin 2017.

I have…decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate…I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.

And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride.

And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair…we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” Annual Report Delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 16 August 1967, Atlanta, GA.

May we all stick with love.

Israel, America, The UN & Our Own Voices

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This message was sent out to my congregation last Friday morning, January 6. As a result of the attack at our airport in Ft. Lauderdale that same day, it was not posted on the blog until today. Our community sends our deepest condolences to the families of those who were lost and prayers of healing to those who were injured.

I hope you all welcomed 2017 with family and friends. May it be a good year, one filled with happiness, health and celebrations!

It certainly promises to be a busy, complicated political year. Among the many issues that our nation will be focusing on will be the US-Israel relationship.  As you know, late last month, the United States chose not to veto a blatantly anti-Israel resolution (Resolution 2334) that came before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The resolution passed on December 23, 2016 and many in the Jewish world were stunned. Several prominent American Jewish organizations (but not all!) and US leaders spoke out against the resolution, our nation’s abstention and the remarks made by Secretary Kerry after the resolution was passed.

To learn more about why so many were deeply troubled by UNSC Resolution 2334 and our nation’s abstention, I encourage you to read the following responses from these organizations:

The Anti-Defamation League

The American Jewish Committee 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations

Jewish Federations of North America

Just yesterday, in a remarkable show of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved their own resolution (by a vote of 342 to 80, including 100 Democrats) that denounces and seeks the repeal or fundamental alterations of UNSC Resolution 2334. The Senate is expected to vote and approve a similar resolution cosponsored by Senator Schumer (D), Senator Cardin (D) and our own Senator Rubio (R), very soon. I know that many of you have been contacting our elected officials, asking them to speak out against Resolution 2334. I thank you for doing so. Please don’t forget to thank them for their support!

While the actions taken by Congress help to secure the US-Israel relationship as we enter the new year, there is still much work to be done. A recent poll shows that 35% of Americans support UNSC Resolution 2334 while 28% say they are opposed to it – and 36% have no opinion. These numbers tell us that if we were appalled by the UNSC resolution, we are in the minority here in the United States. Yes, these numbers, coupled with the actions on Capitol Hill this week, suggest that despite being a minority, our voices are heard and our leaders are responding. But, as with many political issues that are important to us, we can’t stop speaking out and standing with Israel.

Tremendous political changes are coming and we must ensure that President-elect Trump, his administration and the 115th US Congress strengthen the US-Israel relationship. We must also continue to educate ourselves about Israel and the Israel-Palestine Conflict. It is imperative that we get the facts and share the facts– especially since only 28% of Americans were opposed to UNSC 2334. I encourage you to bookmark the following sites that will help you stay up-to-date on important matters affecting Israel: The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Stand With Us and Honest Reporting.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is one of the most important organizations that supports a strong US-Israel relationship. I am thrilled that some of you will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington., DC in a few months. While I won’t be able to attend this year’s conference due to my sabbatical schedule, I am glad that Ramat Shalom will be represented! I encourage all of you to visit AIPAC’s website, sign up for their email updates and learn how you can stand with Israel.

If you have any questions about the UNSC resolution or any matters regarding Israel, please don’t hesitate to be in touch!