A Thank You To My Ramat Shalom Family

 

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In the ancient Jewish text, Pirkei Avot, it teaches us: “Do not separate yourself from the community.”  Certainly, we need community to celebrate our highs and lift us up when we experience our lows.  But if this was the only message Pirkei Avot wanted to teach with this line, it would have said something along the lines of “you need a community”.   By using the word “separate”, the text implies that a person has a relationship with their community.  This relationship is a two way street.  A person receives support from the community and the community receives support from the person.  When a person separates from the community, not only is s/he left alone, but the community loses a connection and, in turn, is weakened. Pirkei Avot reminds us that the community needs people.  Without people, there is no community.

As we prepare to enter a new year together as a Ramat Shalom family, I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for being an integral part of this special community.  Whether you have been a member for decades or just joined us over the summer, whether you come to the synagogue on a regular basis or your schedule keeps you away more than you would like, your connection to Ramat Shalom is a commitment to community.   I want you to know that your commitment allows Ramat Shalom  to continue to do the work of a community.  Because of you, our doors are open to all who need a place to pray.  Our school continues to educate the next generation of Jews.  Adults seeking to expand their spiritual life have a place to grow.  Simchas are celebrated.  Individuals and families in need are given comfort and support and preschoolers are given a place to laugh and learn.  None of this would be possible without you.

Thank you for living the ancient words of Pirkei Avot.  You have strengthened your connection to the community and we are all better for it.

May this be a meaningful New Year for us all.

Our First Fruits

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In this week’s Torah portion, Moses speaks to the Israelites about what they must do once they settle in the land of Israel.  He instructs them to take the first fruits that grow on the trees of their orchards to the Temple in Jerusalem and offer them as a gift to G-d.  This offering would become a formalized way for the Israelites to give thanks for the blessings in their lives.   Despite the incredible hardships that the Israelites faced upon entering the land of Israel and the challenges they experienced as they established their community – the ritual of the first fruits reminded them that there are always blessings to be thankful for.

As we prepare to enter a new year, we need to offer our “first fruits” and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.  For so many of us, this has been a year of challenge, stress and even heartache.  But, in the mess that was the Jewish year 5773, there were blessings.  There were simple moments which brought you comfort, insight or maybe even joy.  There were people who lifted you up and there were incredible things – a sunset, a song, a place – that inspired you.  Now is the time to reflect upon these blessings for they are what sustained us this year.   They are our first fruits – symbols that life remains incredible despite all the challenges we face – and we must find it in ourselves to acknowledge our first fruits give thanks for them.

On Saturday evening, August 31 at 8:00PM, we will gather for Selichot, the holiday that marks the beginning of the High Holy Day period.  I invite you to bring your first fruits with you to this moving service.  I have asked a few members of the Ramat Shalom family to share their first fruits – their blessings – with us next Saturday evening.  And I invite all of you to join them as we give thanks for our blessings.  Even the simplest of blessings is worth giving thanks for.  Please, take the time to reflect upon the blessings of 5773 and join us on August 31.

AIPAC’s National Rabbinic Symposium

On Tuesday, I was honored to be part of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s National Rabbinic Symposium in Washington, D.C.  The Symposium brought together 150 rabbis from across the country to learn from national and international leaders as they shared their insight on Israel, the complex situation in the Middle East and the American-Israel relationship.  We were fortunate enough to hear from Senator Joseph Lieberman, Dr. Tamera-Cohen Wittes (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern-Affairs for President Obama), Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Mr. Leon Wieseltier (Literary Editor of The New Republic), Ambassador Michael Oren and other well-respected leaders.

The speakers addressed the myriad of complex issues facing Israel and the American-Israel relationship.  The turmoil in Egypt and Syria, the threat from Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan, the dramatic strengthening of terror groups in Lebanon, the fragile Israel-Turkey relationship, the international delegitimization campaign against Israel, the resumption of peace talks and the European Union’s attempt to predetermine the outcome of these talks were just some of the issues discussed.  I was eager to gain some insight on the peace talks and was struck by the fact that virtually every speaker, whatever their political leaning, felt that a true and lasting peace was unimaginable at this time.  And, with all of Israel’s neighbors in turmoil, one must ask how peace talks between Israel and her neighbors stands a chance.

I was not surprised by the experts assessments of the peace talks.  Nor was I unfamiliar with the crises affecting Israel’s neighbors.  What I did find alarming was a statistic shared by one of the speakers: less than 4% of the caring and involved Jewish community stands up and supports Israel.  As a Jewish community, we are tiny to begin with. When you consider that less than 4% of us do anything to support the Jewish State, it is shocking.  This statistic is even more troubling when you consider that among the 4% there is incredible division.  Among the 4% – we don’t listen to each other.  This division was discussed by many of the speakers who expressed serious concerns about the health of Am Yisrael – the Jewish People.  Zionism and the State of Israel is grounded in the concept of Jewish Peoplehood.  And the Jewish people appear to be divided over not just Israel – but many other issues including, but not limited to, American politics.  People have hunkered down in their “camps” and are unwilling to find a solution and, as result, the Jewish community is fragmented.  This undermines Israel and the Jewish People.  As we prepare for a new Jewish year, the speakers urged all of us to speak to our communities about the importance of Jewish Peoplehood and the need for us to come together and unite around our love for Judaism and Israel.

Another issue that was discussed at the Symposium involved our kids.  Given that only 4% of the caring and involved American Jewish community stands up for Israel, the sense of apathy among American Jews is seriously affecting the way our kids, the next generation of American Jews, perceive Israel.   The vast majority of kids today are not raised in homes where a love of Israel is taught.  Instead, kids learn about Israel from the media, anti-Israel groups on campuses and other sources that are, for the most part, extremely critical towards and biased against Israel.  So, our children are growing up with a negative impression of the Jewish State. This is why I am determined to share all that is wonderful and incredible about Israel with our kids here at Ramat Shalom.  It is why I urge us all to learn the facts about Israel and be a pro-Israel voice in the larger Jewish community.  It is why I will be taking our 11th and 12th graders to Washington, D.C. to the AIPAC Policy Conference again in March 2014 – and I invite you to join us.  And it is why I am looking forward to bringing members of the Ramat Shalom family to Israel next summer.

As we begin the new Jewish year, let’s each of us commit to being a voice for Israel and getting a few more voices to join us!

 

ONLINE LEARNING: The Holidays That Mark A New Jewish Year

Many of us are still away on summer vacations, trying very hard to avoid the fact that school begins in about 10 days. We are not even thinking about the fact that the High Holidays are just around the corner.  In three weeks, we will gather for Selichot (August 31) which is the service that kicks off our Days of Awe.  Rosh HaShanah is less than a month away.  Clearly, things are about to get busy!

As we get ready for a new Jewish year, we are encouraged to reconnect with our spiritual self that often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of life.  Many people are eager to learn about the meaning of the holidays that we will soon experience together.  Unfortunately, the back to school and work routine that we will soon be wrestling with will clash with our desire to reconnect with our Judaism. We want to expand our spirituality – but who has the time – especially this year with the holidays falling so early on the calendar.

Good news!  In an effort to make it easier for you to reconnect, I will be offering “The Holidays That Mark A New Jewish Year” – a four-part online class that will give you the ability to reconnect on your schedule. The classes will be broadcast online on Monday evenings from 8:00PM-9:00PM in the Online Classroom section of my blog – which can be found here.  In the event that you miss a class, they will be recorded and will be available in the Online Classroom any time after the initial broadcast.  After each  class, I will encourage you to share your questions and comments on the class blog and engage in some 21st century learning.  Invite your friends and family to join us as we learn together online – everyone is welcome.  The class schedule is listed  below – I hope you will join me.

 

Fall Course: The Holidays That Mark A New Jewish Year

September 2: Rosh HaShanah – The New Jewish Year

September 9: Yom Kippur – The Holiest Day Of tThe Year

September 16: Sukkot – The Jewish Thanksgiving

September 23: Simchat Torah – The Torah And Her Holiday

For more information, please visit the the Online Classroom section of my blog.  Looking forward to learning with you!

Are You Up To The Challenge!?!

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Elul is the Jewish month that precedes Rosh HaShanah.  This year, it begins on August 7th and concludes on September 4th, Erev Rosh HaShanah.  During Elul, we are supposed to do a lot of soul-searching and personal growth as we reflect upon ways in which we can become better people in the new year.  This Elul, I want to encourage us all to focus specifically upon the words that we speak.  Proverbs teaches us that “death and life are in the hand of the tongue.”  The words that we speak, specifically about others, can do great things – but, more often than not, these words can do great harm.  Words that harm are known as l’shon ha’rah – the evil tongue.

This Elul, I am asking everyone to join me and a select group of Ramat Shalom members (including Seth Prezant, Susan Gladstein, Dara Levan, David Rosenthal,  Jaime Fine and Sandy Dagen) to be part of the Elul Challenge: spend four weeks watching your words and working to eliminate l’shon ha’rah from your lives.  This is no easy task and I guarantee that you that no one will be completely successful.  This being said, the effort put into using our words for good will be worth it.

Participants in the Elul Challenge will strive to achieve the following goals:

1.  Avoid gossip of any type – this means talking about anyone when they are not present.  Avoiding gossip not only means not speaking about others, but also not listening to those engaging in gossip. The rabbis teach us that we should not even say positive things about people when they are not present!

2.  Avoid slander – telling lies about anyone.  While many of us would never think of engaging in slander, we must be sure to avoid listening to slander.

3.  Avoid judging another when they are not present.  Even when we have valid concerns about others, Judaism discourages us from speaking about others when they are not present.

4.  Embrace positive words and comments.

5.  Be willing to admit when you fail to reach a goal and open to exploring how you could have used your words differently.

6. Challenge those around you to embrace the Elul Challenge’s goals

If you are going to take the Elul Challenge, please let me know!

The select group of members mentioned above will share their experience with the congregation during Second Day Rosh HaShanah Services which will be held on the morning of Friday September 6th.