The Vioence of Adults and the Smiles of Children

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Seeing the photograph of the doll in the street in Nice, next to the body of the child (one of ten children killed in the attack) who was holding it, tore into my soul last tonight. The late Elie Wiesel z”l reminds us to choose the smiles of children over the violence of adults. These days, it is so easy to question whether or not we have the ability to make this choice. But, questioning is not an option. We must continue to choose with all our might. The smiles of children must prevail.

Once again we find ourselves entering Shabbat in this very broken world. Continue to make choices that heal, strengthen and bring smiles to people of all ages.

On a much less important note, I want to share with you my latest article on The Wisdom Daily that describes Jonah’s reaction to Dwyane Wade leaving the Miami Heat. You can read it here.

Will Prayer Make A Difference?

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Pictured above (left to right):memorial for Philando Castile, a Dallas Police badge wrapped in a mourning band and a memorial for Alton Sterling

This morning, many of us woke up to the horrific news that five Dallas police officers were killed and another seven officers and two civilians were injured in the deadliest single incident for US law enforcement since September 11th. Officers Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, along with three of their colleagues who have yet to be named, were shot by a sniper who, according to reports, was determined to kill “white people, specifically white police officers.” The shooter admitted that his rampage was in response to the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both black men who were killed by police officers in separate incidents this week. The truly disturbing and graphic videos of Sterling and Castile’s deaths are out there for us all to see. The investigations have begun as have the calls for justice.

While it is nearly impossible to look past the violence of last night, I still hear the words of Alton Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling, in my head:

“I’m not angry enough to hurt nobody. I’m not angry enough to go in the street. I’m not angry enough to curse the police out. But I’m angry and I’m mad because they took something from me that I’ll never, ever get back. So y’all pray for me. But we gotta have peace and unity out here.”         

Responding to Sterling’s request for prayer, one blogger/reporter, Bobby Ross Jr., suggested earlier this week that the prayers that followed Sterling and Castile’s deaths might have actually kept the peace – until last night.  You can read Ross’ words here.

When things get really challenging, many of us turn to prayer for comfort, for strength, for insight. Others question whether prayer does anything at times like these. Obviously, it did nothing to stop last night’s massacre in Dallas. Many ask if prayer really has the ability to do anything good as we struggle to comprehend and respond to this horrific violence. While prayer alone is not enough, I do believe that it has the ability to unite us when we are divided, lift us up when we are pushed down and give us a glimpse of goodness when we are surrounded by so much hatred.

With that being said, please say a prayer for Sandra Sterling and her family, for the Castile family, for the Thompson, Zamarippa and yet to be named fallen officers’ families, for all those wounded last night and everyone affected by this week’s violence. And join me in praying that this is a peaceful Shabbat throughout our country.

My Fifteenth Year

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The Ramat Shalom community mourns the death of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel who was killed by a terrorist while she was sleeping in her home in Israel yesterday morning. Her family, which includes a colleague and a friend of Cheryl’s, is in all of our hearts and prayers.

It’s hard to believe that today, July 1st, I officially begin my 15th year at Ramat Shalom! Abigail was a baby when Cheryl and I moved to South Florida in 2002. Jonah was just a sparkle in our eyes when we arrived and now we’re getting ready to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah on September 3rd (please mark your calendars as we’d love to celebrate with you!). The past 14 years have been an incredible journey and Cheryl, the kids and I are looking forward to continuing this journey with our Ramat Shalom family as we begin the 2016/2017 year.

As you may know, it’s common for rabbis, like professors, to take a sabbatical every seven years. I didn’t take a sabbatical during my seventh year at Ramat Shalom. Instead, I adjusted my schedule to work on a few special projects. As I begin my 15th year, granted one year off schedule, I will not be taking a sabbatical. I don’t have the desire to leave Ramat Shalom to travel or engage in projects that will keep me from our community. We have many B’nai Mitzvah, weddings and other simchas coming up that I’m looking forward to celebrating and there are a lot of programs, classes and gatherings in the year ahead that I want to experience with you.

That being said, I will be spending time this year working on some exciting projects that I hope to share with the Ramat Shalom family. Over the next few weeks, you will hear some more about these projects including our upcoming Mitzvah Month which will take place this November. Mitzvah Month will include a variety of special hands-on activities for all different ages. One of the highlights of Mitzvah Month will be a community trip to Immokalee, FL where we will work to harvest the tomato fields along with migrant workers whose health and well-being is something Judaism teaches us we must not overlook. In addition to Mitzvah Month, you will soon be receiving information about special Sunday morning learning programs for adults and post-B’nai Mitzvah teens. The first Sunday program in September will be a community building and trust workshop that will get us ready for the High Holidays. The program will be held at the Broward College Ropes Course and will get us relying on and working with each other in powerful ways, while we explore Jewish teachings on trust and relationships. A series of engaging courses taught by an impressive faculty that includes Cheryl, Amy Freund, Professor Michael Richmond, Cantor Debbie and Hillary Tescher will be part of our Adult Education offerings in the coming year. Our UF families will be excited to learn that in February, we will welcome Rabbi Adam Grossman, the CEO of UF Hillel, to Ramat Shalom. Rabbi Grossman will talk with us about Jewish life at UF and on campuses in general – and, if we’re lucky, he will share a little bit of his knowledge of Jewish superheroes. Two guest scholars speaking about Israel and a panel of rabbis (including me, Cheryl, Rabbi Salkin of Temple Solel in Hollywood and Rabbi Weinstock of Young Israel also in Hollywood) will be discussing the current state of American Judaism. Stay tuned!

In addition to these classes and programs, I’m working with two wonderful colleagues, Pastor Troy Gramling and Father Alberto Cutie, on an inter-faith “reality” series called “A Pastor, A Priest And A Rabbi Walk Into A Bar.” Playing on the old joke about clergy walking into a bar, the series will feature the three of us discussing complex religious topics in some of South Florida’s most well-known drinking establishments. It is our collective hope that the series will encourage much-needed interfaith dialogue and discussion. Production continues this summer and I look forward to sharing episodes with you as they are released.

As I begin my 15th year at Ramat Shalom, I am thrilled to be continuing my Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship, learning from some of the most forward-thinking Jewish leaders out there, writing for The Wisdom Daily and having the opportunity to explore ways in which Ramat Shalom and ISH, our outreach program, can be part of the cutting edge innovation that is going on in the larger Jewish community. I will keep you posted on the things I am learning from my fellowship. I’m eager to work with many of you this year to incorporate some exciting, innovative concepts into our synagogue community.

Cheryl, Abigail, Jonah and I are looking ahead to a busy July, filled with some special family adventures. We hope you are all enjoying your summer and we look forward to seeing you in August! Please remember to mark your calendars and join us on September 3rd as Jonah becomes a Bar Mitzvah!