Rosh Hashanah Day 2 Sunday, Sept 17, 2023 2 Tishrei, 5784
Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minnetonka, MN
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Climate Change Denial
Last year during the High Holidays, my sermons provided me with an
opportunity to reflect on my career. Today, in giving what I expect will be my final
High Holiday sermons at Adath Jeshurun, I want to reflect on unfinished business
that nags at me. I feel the need for an Al Chet- a confession of things I have not
advocated for sufficiently over the years. At the top of that list, because it effects
the entire world and all that is in it, is the deeply troubling issue of environmental
climate change. I find it incomprehensible that there are still people who deny the
findings of climate science, even as the world has been experiencing record heat
waves, drought and unprecedented weather disturbances that scientists attribute
directly to global warming. I found it especially shocking this summer to have to
worry about being outdoors because of smoke from forest fires in Canada that were another symptom of this problem. While some are extreme deniers of the human contribution to climate change, it seems to me that all of us have been to some extent denying the seriousness of this issue.
This is a particularly relevant to address on Rosh Hashanah, which
celebrates the birthday of the world. Each time we sound the shofar in the Musaf
service we read, “Hayom Harat Olam, Today the world is created.” In a Rosh
Hashana sermon in 2006, I addressed serious problems posed by our reliance on
fossil fuels and it was gratifying to see our people respond. Until about 2014, we
had a very effective group of congregants working on environmental issues that we
called our Etz Chayim Committee, chaired by Carol Sarnat and Jonathan London. I
regret that we were not able to keep that effort going as there is no issue more
important than the state of our planet, on which every one of us depends.
There are many aspects of the environment on which we could focus. I want
to focus today on the issue of climate change denial and I recommend to you a
fascinating book published in July, getting many positive reviews, that has already
become a best-seller. It is The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of
Denial, by award winning journalist and author David Lipsky. The title comes
from a 1956 warning in the New York Times that envisioned a carbon-warmed
future: the “polar regions” grown to jungles, with “tigers roaming about and gaudy
parrots squawking in the trees.” (p. 467). That image of parrots in what should be
ice covered polar caps explains the first half of the book’s title, The Parrot and the
Igloo. The Igloo refers to a stunt pulled by Sen. Jim Imhofe, who in 36 years
representing Oklahoma in Congress was noteworthy for the extent of his fervent
denial of climate change. During a snow storm in Washington, he had his family
build an igloo on the grounds of the Capitol to deride those who insist on the
human cause of climate change. He was adamant in his denial despite vast
scientific evidence to the contrary, as is confirmed every 7 years by the Noble-
winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has carefully
documented human causes of climate change.
Lipsky deftly takes us through the stages of how this problem developed
from civilization’s earliest awareness of the possibilities of electric power. Given
my Philadelphia roots, I took special pleasure in reading about Ben Franklin’s
experiments with kites and keys, showing that lighting could be channeled in
constructive ways. This summer, Cindy and I were at Niagara Falls for the first
time and we were awed by the power of that natural wonder. We learned there
about the race between innovators Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla and George
Westinghouse for how best to channel that massive energy source into electric
current. Lipsky recounts that competition and explains how Tesla’s winning
solution, utilizing alternating current (AC), won and came to power New York
State, and eventually our country, and the entire world.
Consider how much we depend on electricity to power every aspect of our
lives. Alas, with the wonder of that technological innovation there were also
negative consequences, as most electricity to power homes and businesses comes
not from water power, but from carbon-based fuel driven engines. Lipsky carefully
documents the dire consequences for our planet because of our reliance on coal, oil and gas to drive the vast majority of modern machinery.
The warnings have long been there for us to consider. On May 28, 1956, one
year to the day before I was born, Time magazine ran a feature article warning of
the consequences of our reliance on fossil fuel. “In the future,” Time explained, “if
the blanket of CO2 produces a temperature rise of only one or two degrees, a chain
of secondary effects may come into play.” It spoke of “the greenhouse effect,” the
science of which was already established 130 year earlier.
That same year, 1956 (p.73) Life magazine, ran an article headlined: “Our
New Weather: Scientists believe more hurricanes, more tornadoes, higher
temperatures, and unseasonal storms are part of a long-term change in world
climate.” Does that sound familiar? It exactly describes the reality in which we are
now all living.
What happened that these warnings were ignored, or more accurately that
they were denied? The basic thesis of Lipsky’s The Parrot and the Igloo is that
since the 1950’s there has been a concerted effort of powerful business and
political interests to deny the proven science of climate change and to minimize the
seriousness of this crisis. We are all familiar with another example of science
denial by business in the pursuit of profit, from when the tobacco industry relentlessly opposed the science proving the link between smoking and cancer.
Today, no one who denies that connection would be taken seriously.
Not only does Lipsky invoke the comparison between denial of the dangers
of smoking to that of climate change, he makes the case that often it was the very
same people who engaged in both kinds of denial. When cigarette companies
found themselves on the losing side of the research, they launched an all-out attack on science itself, whose consequences we are still living with today. While the scientific process is limited by observable reality and tested by peer review, the
deniers require no such thing. They can make any claim they want in a speech, an
interview, or on the internet. They do not need to win the argument; they just need
to stir up enough doubt to call scientific methods and conclusions into question.
It was the tobacco industry that coined the term “junk science” to plant
doubts about scientific research that posed problems for their bottom line. (p. 243).
In their well-regarded 2004 study, Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Eric
Conway demonstrate how tobacco marketers, and the few allies in science they
could recruit, would sandwich smoking and climate changes among the hoaxes to
be rejected, understanding “that if you could convince people that science in
general was unreliable, then you didn’t have to argue the merits of any particular
case.” (p. 245). Oreskes and Conway could not locate a single paper denying
climate change that had been peer reviewed. By 2010 the National Academy of
Science asserted that among active-duty climate researchers, acceptance of man-
made change ran at 97%. (Lipsky p. 316).
As science alerted the world to the problem, Lipsky documents the
responses of various US presidential administrations. Some were more receptive
and others were deeply antagonistic. Richard Nixon actively engaged the issue by
establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. Al Gore stands out as
extraordinary in his advocacy as is captured in his film An Inconvenient Truth. He
was recognized in 2007, together with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, with the Noble Peace Prize for informing the world of the impending
danger. Regretfully, Lipsky documents how consistently environmental concerns
gave way to political and short-term economic considerations. Even Barrack
Obama, whose first presidential campaign emphasized the need to address climate
change, dropped the issue in the face of the resistance they encountered. Noble
Prize-winning Physicist Dr Steven Chu, who resigned in frustration from the role
of Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration, later told a Stanford
University audience vividly, “It’s Russian Roulette. Every decade you put in
another bullet. And you give it to your grandchild and say ‘Pull the trigger.’ . . . We
would never do that to our grandchildren.” “We’re doing it.”
Let me add a Jewish dimension to this issue that you will not find in
Lipsky’s book. Jewish environmentalism is hardly new. No sooner had people in the 1960s begun to focus increasingly on the environment than Jews were lifting
up relevant Jewish sources from the Bible and rabbinic literature. In the 1980s,
Jewish organizations such as Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Earth) and the
Shalem Center were organizing a Jewish response. In 1992, the leadership of
major American Jewish organizations joined together to form COEJL- the
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, to deepen the Jewish community’s
commitment to the stewardship of creation and to mobilize the resources of Jewish
life and learning to protect the Earth and all its inhabitants.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological
Seminary, actively advocated for care of the environment as a Jewish and human
imperative. As he spearheaded the formation in 1999 of a National Religious
Partnership for the Environment, Rabbi Schorsch wisely observed that change,
“requires the fundamental transformation of human hearts and habits, the ultimate challenge for religion.” Paul Gorman, who served as executive director of that effort put it succinctly that, “Environmentalism started with Genesis, not Earth
Day.” (LA Times, 5/29/1999).
Another Jewish organization doing important work on environmental
sustainability is Adamah. That organization began as Hazon, started in the year
2000 by Nigel Savage, who has spoken here. I encourage you to explore their
As we experience the mounting hardship that we and our children and their
children will face, and as we contemplate the impact on parts of the world that are
even less well equipped to respond, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking
that it is too late to have a significant impact on global warming. Leading figures in
the movement to raise awareness about the environment Rebecca Solnit and
Thelma Young Lutunatabua challenge that idea in their recent anthology, Not Too
Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, which brings
together the voices of activists and leading climate scientists who argue that
humanity’s best hope to avoid the worst outcomes is immediate collective action.
Solnit absolutely rejects climate change deniers, but she also pushes back on what
she refers to as climate change “doomers” who say that all is lost. Solnit is
heartened by a recent Pew Research study that, “Two-thirds of U.S. adults say the
country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and
solar, over expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas…”
She writes, “I keep saying I respect despair as an emotion, but not as an
analysis. You can feel absolutely devastated about the situation and not assume this predicts outcome; you can have your feelings and can still chase down facts from reliable sources, and the facts tell us that the general public is not the problem; the fossil fuel industry and other vested interests are; that we have the solutions, that we know what to do, and that the obstacles are political; that when we fight we sometimes win; and that we are deciding the future now.
It is time for all of us to fully acknowledge the problem and to take
responsibility for the solutions by absolutely rejecting denial and at the same time
not succumbing to despair, or doom. The scale of change that is needed requires
that we band together in political action and that these efforts be international.
Some thirteen centuries ago our rabbis tried to impress upon us our responsibility
in a rabbinic interpretation, a midrash, on Ecclesiastes 7:13:
When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are-how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it. quote;
Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah I on 7:13 C. 800 CE trans Rabbi David Stein,
A Garden of Choice Fruit, p. 98.
If we continue to spoil and destroy God’s world, there will be no one else to
repair it. Let us dedicate ourselves to this goal in the New Year and address these
challenges with resolve in the years ahead.
Intro to Shofar Service
My colleague Rabbi Lawrence Troster z’l wrote brilliantly on the link between
Judaism and the environment. He provided an important insight into the meaning
of the Shofar (Dov Peretz Elkins, Rosh Hashanah Readings, p. 186)
“One the greatest of Jewish philosophers, Saadia Gaon, once listed ten reasons for
the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. One rea son he gives is that the
shofar reminds us that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation by recalling
that it is God who is the true sovereign of the universe not human beings. Often we
live our lives as if God does not exist. This is not only a theological problem, but
an ethical and moral one as well. If the world only centers around our self (and let's
face it, we spend most of our time in that kind of mindset), then we also forget how
we are connected to the environment and all the other kinds of life that help sustain
us. Putting God back at the center is a humbling experience, which forces us out of
The Shofar is one of the most ancient musical instruments known to humankind. It
is human made, but out of the rough horn of a ram. This combination of natural
material and human artifice reminds us not only of our humble origins as a people
but also how indebted we are to the rest of creation for all that we have, eat, wear,
and celebrate with. The music it makes is loud and not subtle. It is as if the voice of
the Creator is sounding out the beginning of time. It is a call back to our origins
and to the better future that we must bring about. God is calling us to restore
ourselves as we restore creation.
Intro to Malchuyout, Zechronot and Shofarot Section of Musaf
Comment on Hayom Harat Olam Machzor Lev Shalem p .166
The phrase Hayom Harat Olam is found in each of the three special sections of the
Rosh Hashanah Musaf service. Let’s take a moment to focus on that phrase Hayom
Harat Olam. What does it mean?
It could mean, “Today the world was born.”
It could mean, “Today the World is born.”
It could mean, “Today the World is being born.”
The first translation looks back to the beginning of time. The others suggest that
creation is something that is taking place now and we have a role to play in what
occurs. A colleague Rabbi Mark Greenspan observes (Dov Peretz Elkins, Rosh
Hashanah Readings, p. 305-06) that while we generally speak of Rosh Hashana as
the birthday of the world, according to one rabbinic tradition it was not the world,
but rather the first human beings who were created on this day. And with that as
human beings we have responsibilities for the world.
This helps us better understand the rest of the paragraph of the Hayom Harat Olam
prayer which speaks of God’s judgement of people’s behavior. Rabbi Jeffrey M.
Cohen in his commentary to the High Holiday Machzor (Prayer and Penitence,
96) raises the question of how a holiday commemorating the act of Creation,
evolved into an occasion for introspection, remorse for sin, and atonement. Rabbi
Cohen explains that (one) ‘cannot commemorate Creation without contemplating
this role allotted to (us) within in it and without lamenting the damage that
(our) sins perpetrate” upon God’s creation. This, he suggests, is “the logical
association between the anniversary of the Creation of the world on Rosh
Hashanah and the themes of sin, remorse, and forgiveness that are its predominant
Each year as we contemplate the Birth of the World- Hayon Harat Olam
let us also consider our role in harming the Earth and our responsibility for
Intro to Zechronot:
As we reflect on the next section of the Musaf that calls us to remember,
Zechronot, I call your attention to the window of our foyer next store. It was built
with a large picture window facing out to the natural beauty of our lake out back,
the sky above and the beautiful trees and vegetation. It was decided to etch into the
glass over that large window the words from Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims God’s handiwork.
הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם מְֽסַפְּרִ֥ים כְּבֽוֹד־אֵ֑ל וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דָ֗יו מַגִּ֥יד הָרָקִֽיעַ׃
As we look out on Lake Windsor, those words are a constant reminder of God’s as
creator and of our responsibility for being good stewards of that creation.
A Vision for Adath Jeshurun Congregation
Rosh Hashanah Day 1
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
On March 2, 2012, I turned onto Hillside Lane West for my interview weekend. As we made our way down the driveway, then President Mike Greenstein shared the tradition for members to bake for each other’s simchas. I imagined a mountain of sweets pouring out of a kitchen I was eager to find, baked by people I was eager to meet. We parked, entered the spine stretching the building, and walked through the doors of this sanctuary where I led Dr. Seuss Shabbat for Gan Shelanu.
That weekend I was welcomed through many doors to Jewish life. All of them led to this remarkable congregation, Adath Jeshurun.
Exactly nine years to the day, on March 2, 2021, I shared my vision with the board to become Senior Rabbi. I stand before you on the first Rosh Hashanah in my new role, which began in June. I’m humbled by your trust, and the gracious leadership of my colleague Rabbi Kravitz who has taught me, and all of us, by his example.
On this first day of the holiday, I’m excited to share my vision for our congregation, some of which I shared with the board. But the vision isn’t mine alone. It’s one that has grown over my eleven plus years at Adath: observed in services, debated in classes, read to preschoolers, danced at weddings, reflected at shiva minyanim, and nourished over mountains of homemade lemon bars at now hundreds of Bnai Mitzvah. It’s is a vision created in community — not top down — and through the way lay leaders and staff and clergy collaborate, highly unusual for a synagogue of our size. And it’s a vision that’s shaped by those who have died but whose values still live in the very soul of our congregation.
Adath has many doors to Jewish life. It takes all of us to open them. Some of us open one door and decide to stick around, put our feet up, and get comfortable. Others relish in change. They open one door, and it quickly leads to another and yet another! Thankfully, no matter the path, we never leave quite the same.
Thankfully it’s not a new journey to find the path. The Talmud, in Tractate Sotah 14a, presents the following dilemma: Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: What is the meaning of: “You will walk after the Eternal your God… Is it actually possible for a person to follow God? Hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Eternal is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24), and one cannot approach fire!
I don’t know about you, but burning fire that devours sounds dangerous. And not much of an inspiration to draw close. It didn’t satisfy Rabbi Hama either.
So he tries again to understand. This time Rabbi Hama draws upon several biblical examples to understand what it means to walk in God’s ways, including a passage in the chapters before our Rosh Hashanah reading today.
Rabbi Hama says, the meaning of walking in God’s ways is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy Blessed One… Just as God clothes the naked, so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy Blessed One, visits the sick, so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy Blessed One consoles mourners, so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy Blessed One buried the dead, so too, should you bury the dead.
There’s no single way for God to be God. If God can be many things and do many things, how can we not strive for that as well? If God can embrace many things and do many things, how might our synagogue strive for that too?
Maybe we open a door all dressed up. Or maybe we show up in yoga pants. Some of us feel joyful. Others feel the weight of the world. Or both. One thing we know is whether laughing or crying, celebrating or mourning, we always try to live up to our name as the Gathering of the Righteous, Adath Jeshurun. Our name is not a pat on the back but a lifelong aspiration.
While the journey is an ancient one, opening the many doors to Jewish life happens in every generation. To articulate a vision, we first have to understand how and where we’re living.
Today, American Jews don’t always feel the social pull to be only with other American Jews, as we once did. Yes, even with the alarming rise of anti-Semitism, Jews have largely integrated into society. My own two grandfathers grew up in a very different world from their grandson. One was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from six years of labor camps, and made his way to this country after his parents and three sisters were murdered by the Nazis . And the other served in the foreign service of the State Department, until he could no longer be promoted as a Jew.
Synagogues were once safe havens to hunker down, as Jewish hospitals or Jewish law practices similarly provided safe harbor in a hostile world. But synagogues no longer have the same pull on the limited time of a highly educated and integrated community. Among many other markers of acceptance, Jews live in every zip code, fall in love freely, and donate to a wide range of causes.
How might we describe such a world, open to us at every turn — and we, open to it? It’s a discerning world with a consumer culture primed to give feedback at every turn. From a two-minute car wash to a two-week cruise, you can review it all. Ordering food on DoorDash invites me to create the dish, rate the restaurant, and note what I liked and didn’t like. It seems like every time we buy a pillow or eat a piece of cake, we are handed a virtual megaphone to recount every last detail to the rest of the world.
Such a flattening of authority and, in its place, a hyper egalitarian consumer culture means that businesses (and synagogues) rise or fall on buzz. People don’t respond well to affiliation out of guilt or loyalty or a one size fits all. Many American Jews want to shape a highly personalized experience, curated to our needs, as much as we shape our social media presence… and, well, everything else. Judaism is not immune to the culture in which it lives and breathes. We question authority and eschew norms. Consider the reality that any of us can be a cab driver (thanks Lyft) or a hotel manager (thanks Airbnb) without much or any professional training. We’ll try multiple options without commitment (thanks Classpass), stick exclusively to online options, or if we’re not happy, pick up and move to a new sandbox.
We might choose to bury our heads in the sand or encounter our reality. When we open the many doors to Jewish life, we encounter a Judaism that doesn’t simply help us be more Jewish, it helps us be more human, more alive in the world.
Adath will lead the way in that. I want us to think about synagogue membership more expansively. How do we invite those who might not normally consider joining a synagogue to consider joining Adath, because BELONGING TO SOMETHING and TO ONE ANOTHER helps us encounter life’s big questions not alone? How might we spend time thinking about beginning membership at Confirmation, at age 16, when young adults are most engaged with the synagogue? Why wait to see young adults go off to college or a new job and become disconnected for 10-15 years? And if they get married or have kids, only then try to re-engage? How might such a model even encourage a culture of philanthropy at an age-appropriate level, starting in high school, only to deepen? It is a mistake to think legacy should be left to 90 year olds, and life to 20 year olds. We need to be talking to younger adults about legacy and giving, and we need to be making space for older adults to live life.
We regularly meet spiritual seekers who make up a future that embraces all ages. Some grew up at the day school, SMP, and Talmud Torah and some didn’t. Some do weekly Shabbat dinners with their families, with the best of Minnesota roots, and others are new and breaking through Minnesota nice. Some folks were raised outside the Jewish community, some were born as Jews. We’ve found them in the preschool parents who are organizing a Torah study at my home this fall, and those hosting our Backyard Shabbat summer gatherings for families with young kids. We’ve found them in the grieving family who moved to town and needed a minyan for shiva right away, and in the young adult who taught for the first time at a Shavuot program in a St. Louis Park yoga studio. In the 83 year olds who study with Rabbi Kravitz and celebrate their second bnai mitzvah, in the popular Soul Sisters class and women’s trip to Israel with Hazzan Dulkin, and in the 21 couples of Honeymoon Israel, who returned with me to Minneapolis energized to build a community that embraces non-Jewish partners as treasured members.
There’s no single way for God to be God. If God can be many things and do many things, how can we not strive for that as well? If God can embrace many things and do many things, how might our synagogue strive to do the same?
Relationships are everything. When I arrived at Adath over eleven years ago, I invited people to grab a drink with me — anyone in the congregation who was willing to take me up on the offer. I wanted to learn what made folks feel alive, and see how Jewish life and learning could enrich that feeling. Rabbis and cantors and synagogue staff are doing things that synagogue models from fifty years ago didn’t account for, and whose budgets still assume that same model. We do not (nor have we ever really) officiated at Shabbat services and called it a day. Our offices are wherever Jews gather and wherever those who love us, Jewish and not, are asking big questions and encountering moments that call us to be in relationship: birth, naming, coming out, transitioning, coming of age, relationship, illness, healing, loss of every kind, discovery, grief, birth — and often in a non-linear combination. We search for meaning in coffee shops and at lakes, in hospitals and at rallies, in sanctuaries and at preschools, teaching Torah online and even (as I did for the first time) at a pizza farm. And we are sometimes trying to undo the damage that has been done in the name of Judaism. Anyone, like me, who at one point was told “you don’t belong” or “stay behind that closet door” — please know we need you. Jewish life in America is more alive than ever with the proliferation of Jewish literature, music, learning, social justice, and mindfulness practice. Is each of us willing to invest in all that Jewish life can be, to help us be more human in the world? And if not, what’s stopping us?
I, along with others at Adath, get the enormous privilege to ask people to contribute to projects that express our deepest values in this changing world. It’s an honor to create that alignment. That’s what it meant for us to raise a quarter of a million dollars to create our first-ever Director of Young Adult and Family Life in 2017, whose funding has ended this year. That’s the spirit of innovation I want us to continue in the fine tradition of our Adath Foundation of planned giving and the Newman Family that has generously endowed the Senior Rabbi position and celebrates thirty years in 2023. That same spirit of innovation is also built into L’Chaim, our annual campaign that allows us to realize our vision now. We have expanded our L’Chaim goal by 20%. But more important this year, we are prioritizing maximum participation. Each one of you is invited to contribute in a way you define as meaningful. We have the privilege to share the work of opening the many doors to Jewish life.
What will that enable us to do right now? We must expand our Adath professional team. After the fall holidays, we will begin the search process for up to two new clergy members to join us, as Hazzan Dulkin and I remain bimah partners and Rabbi Kravitz retires in the summer of 2024. Our new clergy will expand our capacity for Jewish life and learning at every stage. We are a congregation of over 1100 households — not to mention unaffiliated folks who are exploring with us. People rightly expect a high caliber, and it is time to keep growing in new ways. This summer we were fortunate to promote Andrea Blumberg to the role of Senior Director of Operations and Fundraising, Adath's top administrative position. We created a new title Director of Communications and brought on Elisheva Thompson, who hit the ground running. Since June, our program and administrative staff receive ongoing supervision every other week, that builds in bidirectional feedback. We incorporate regular learning into our staff meetings so that professional development is part of the culture. A respectful culture that values appreciation, curiosity, and good communication is critical for our staff. That chemistry translates to reaching our larger Adath community, and I’m grateful that Rabbi Kravitz and Hazzan Dulkin have been such wise and trusted partners in that. We get to sit, listen, and notice without fixing. To let each person grow from where they are. To support when we can, and make room for others when we can’t.
Holding the inevitable joy and hurt of life belongs to all of us, not just the clergy. During the worst of Covid, we developed a virtual shiva minyan model, from the ground up, training lay leaders, from the technology of the slides to the service leadership itself. We also talked with some of those lay leaders about intention setting even with the distance of Zoom screens— as volunteer prayer leaders and slide runners have done beautifully with our daily minyan. If you have some extra time this New Year, we need more help as we want to bring more daily minyan services back in person and need service leaders.
This summer we created a floor gabbai system for congregants to distribute ritual honors and help more honorees become educated about the mitzvah of tallit, as we now ask adult Jews of all genders to have a tallit for a ritual honor. While the rabbis used to hand out all aliyot, this gabbai system allows clergy to be leading services more actively. We also have more work to do - to build a group of Shabbat greeters who can extend the warmth of the synagogue to all who enter, to get to each person and the stories that bring us here.
We enter the many doors to Jewish life for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we don’t enter at all. But let’s talk about it. If you think services are boring, let’s have a conversation about prayer — not shorten the service and be satisfied with fewer minutes of the same boring service. And let’s not get stuck in false choices. SPA musical service or choir service or outdoor service. This door to Jewish life… or that one. I want us to open the many doors to Jewish life in the most thoughtful ways possible so that one door doesn’t have to be bad for the other door to be good. When we were dreaming up SPA at a Sukkah party 10 years ago, we wanted prayer to be a reflection of life: life doesn’t have to be this OR that, but many things can be true at the same time. So we made a service that’s hard to peg. SPA includes people who are regulars and those exploring Judaism for the first time. We bring in Ashkenazi melodies, and those inspired by Mizrachi traditions. We use a more traditional liturgy and we have musical instruments. The rabbi sings and the cantor teaches, and sometimes the cantor sings and the rabbi teaches. We talk about boredom and frustration and excitement in services, because those things exist for the other 20+ hours of the day we’re not in services, when we’re facing loved ones and ourselves. Life is not endless entertainment. In our “yes and, many doors approach” - we get to make room to be playful, to mix things up, flip the script, and add surprise. But don’t worry, Yom Kippur is still happening next week.
In that spirit of holding innovation as part of tradition, there are many doors to Jewish life that call us to action, especially on issues of racial justice and equity through the Adath Antiracism Committee, the awareness of people with disabilities through Inclusion, and our burial society in the Chevra Kavod Hamet. We need more volunteers to care for those at the end of life as we do during life, and we will celebrate the outgoing Chevra leaders and welcome new ones this fall.
We also need to think about action as responsible citizens of this state and country: as reproductive health, immigration, and trans rights face vicious attacks— while we evaluate longstanding commitments in our Hesed Committee and in Keruv through interfaith households and LGBTQ folks. Our action extends to our beloved eretz Yisrael. Among other projects, we will find new ways to affirm Adath’s historic support for the flourishing of Masorti/Conservative Judaism in Israel. When we see our Israeli family and friends fighting on the streets for democracy, we respond as family and friends: staying engaged, visiting, and lending our support. And we share the beauty and challenge of living a vibrant Jewish life outside of Israel. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Adath teens, historically in record numbers before Covid, have traveled to Israel each summer, and Hazzan Dulkin and I joined 50 Adath congregants as part of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation mission last April, expertly organized by Adath’s very own Kara Rosenwald. These teens and adults bring a willingness to ask good questions that ensure a robust, inclusive Zionism. No matter the topic, we thrive at Adath on questions of curiosity rather than answers of certainty. One of the biggest threats to Jewish survival is the lack of Jewish literacy. It is not anything others are doing to us — but what we are not doing to educate ourselves. We need to be lifelong learners who transmit our learning to action. Even though I didn’t get much sleep, I’m grateful I got to spend last Shabbat in an immersive environment with 40 SMPers and their incredible staff at the SMP Shabbaton in Eden Prairie. One of the messages I tried to convey is that we need each other, whether we were shooting hoops on the court or taking an aliyah for the first time or speaking kindly to the camp wait staff. As we gather today on Rosh Hashanah, we remind ourselves that Judaism is not a sport for some to watch and others to play. “Oh, if only somebody else would carry the ball or take the shot” isn’t a verse found anywhere in Torah.
Having skin in the game extends to everything. When we went to raise money to build Adath’s young adult community in Makom, we said it was necessary to create a space that had many doors to Jewish life with unaffiliated young adults. We thought young adults could shape their experience and then take on leadership roles in our larger Jewish community. The idea was simple, we said. “Let’s make Jewish community genuine, come-as-you-are, and irresistible. Let the people who walk through the doors to shape the doors.” But it took an investment in a new model of staff and how and where time was spent. Just this year alone, pop up summer Shabbat services and dinners were hosted in Linden Hills and Burnsville and last winter, in cozy living rooms in Northeast and Roseville. I’m proud that Adath has the longest running synagogue young adult community in the Twin Cities. That same energy was the impetus for Rabbi Kravitz and Anna Simon working with lay leaders to develop the camp-like vibe of Atid, powered by adults 50s plus. The models for Makom and Atid can help us reflect on what it means to embrace the many doors to Jewish life, from Westwood nature center walks to wine and cheese tastings on our beautiful back patio. This kind of approach reminds me of what my colleague Rabbi Carie Carter describes as experiencing the “many roads to the palace” of Jewish living.
As we embark on hiring new clergy, relationships with emerging rabbis, cantors, and educators are especially critical. During Covid, Rabbi Kravitz and I were invited to team teach the online JTS seminar class of graduating rabbis and cantors, two years in a row, about healthy relationships in rabbinic teams (when those are rare). With the support of a multi year gift by an Adath family, as well as a contribution this year by Women of Adath, our synagogue has been welcoming outstanding rabbinic interns for the High Holy Days. For this third year of funding, we selected two rabbinical students from the larger group of applicants: Alan Imar based in Jerusalem and Sarah Klein based in Los Angeles, to teach, serve our families with young kids and our teen community as well as receive mentoring from us. We make our Jewish community stronger when we invest our energies in its current and future leadership.
The Hassidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, noticed for human beings what Rabbi Hama noticed for God. There are many ways to enter Jewish life. The Baal Shem Tov noticed for each of the ancestors in the Amidah we repeat the word “elohei… Avraham, elohei… Yitzhak” and onward. He asked why the repetition again and again of the word elohei, meaning “God of” before each of our ancestors? You might think, just put one elohei for all of them, and call it a day! He taught each ancestor carved a special relationship with God. We might imagine that each of our ancestors stepped through a different door to Jewish life, and that each door had to be acknowledged every time we recite the Amidah, the central prayer of each Jewish worship service. On this Rosh Hashanah we get to affirm the same for each of us.
When we open the many doors to Jewish life, we encounter a Judaism that doesn’t simply help us be more Jewish, it helps us be more human, more alive in the world. May the many doors to Jewish life lead us to a life in which we walk in the ways of the Holy Blessed One and find one another along the path. And let us say: Amen.
Mercaz (Masorti’s political arm) sermon: What can we do as U.S. Jews to make our voices heard to preserve Israel’s democracy?
Heidi Schneider, past chair of the Masorti Foundation
Our parasha today, Nitzavim, begins in a powerful way. Moses addresses the Israelites and assures them of a long-term promise. He tells them that the covenant between the Divine and the people includes EVERYONE.
“You stand this day, all of you, before your God Adonai—your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials. Every householder in Israel.” That is the list of the leadership and property holders. But Moses goes on. Who else is included? “Your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer.” This list includes those whose voices are mostly overlooked in society, the people without property, or power, or a vote. And Strangers—the promise is not limited only to Jews. Moses emphasizes that ALL are included in relationship with the Divine.
Might we call this a promise of “radical inclusion,” imbedded in Deuteronomy, in the last words of Moses?
And as if this countercultural message is not enough, Moses has more to startle us. This relationship with the Divine is not only with those present to hear Moses’ words, but those who are not present as well! The rabbis have interpreted this to mean that all generations, past, present, and future, Jews by birth and Jews by choice, are included in the Divine promise. Everyone!
What a contrast this message is to what we are experiencing today. The Us vs. Them mentality that infuses what we read and hear. Both in the United States, and sadly, in Israel, where my focus takes us today.
Israelis have been making their voices heard for months, every Saturday night, protesting in the streets. Liberals, centrists, members of the military, and conservatives are dismayed. They believe that their interests have been ignored by the current Netanyahu coalition, which has been taken over by ultra-Orthodox and other extremist minority parties. A coalition uninterested in compromise.
Ten percent of Israel’s population has taken to the streets, waving the flag of Israel, and carrying banners calling for the end of the current coalition’s efforts to defang Israel’s Supreme Court. Think about those numbers. If ten percent of our population took to the streets, over 30 million people would flood our city centers.
Why does undermining the authority of Israel’s S.Ct. matter so much to Israelis? Unlike in the U.S. where we have two legislative branches, Israel as a unicameral legislature—the Knesset legislates alone. There is no check or balance from the executive branch, either, because the Knesset selects the PM. The Israeli S.Ct. alone is independent of the Knesset. The S.Ct has exercised its independence by protecting the civil rights of groups that are not part of the majority in Israel.
The current coalition in Israel opposes the independence of the S.Ct. and has proposed multiple laws that would make the court beholden to the will of the governing Knesset. The first law limiting the decision-making power of the S.Ct. in Israel passed in the Knesset on July 24.
The current coalition see Israel as Us vs. Them. It does not want to be restrained by the S.Ct’s protections of women, LGBTQ people, non-Orthodox religious streams, like our own, the rights of people with disabilities, and Palestinian Arabs. The coalition has threatened to change the Law of Return, severely limiting immigration to Israel by converts to Judaism and their children unless their conversions are done by approved Orthodox rabbis.
We can understand what is going on in Israel. We too live in a polarized world. There is little political will to work toward compromise because people are so rooted in their own opinions and politics. But compromise is what is needed most right now, according to Rakefet Ginsburg, the CEO of Masorti (the Conservative) movement in Israel.
As Rakefet pointed out in an Opinion published in the newspaper Israel Hayom on July 26, the Conservative Masorti movement has nearly always taken the middle ground, seeking inclusion and diversity, offering spiritual solace to observant and disaffected Jews alike. In Israel, Masorti has always been outspoken about supporting pluralism, allowing all streams equal access to government funding, to grants of land to build synagogues, to pray at the Kotel, to grow and flourish. As Rakefet notes in her editorial, compromise is not always popular, but it is necessary to a functioning democracy and a healthy Israel.
In April, I had an opportunity to see compromise at work at the WZ Congress in Jerusalem. I participated as a delegate to the Mercaz party, which is the political arm of the Masorti movement. Mercaz worked hard to develop resolutions that would have sufficiently broad support to pass. Our resolutions supported Aliyah and the current Law of Return and the recognition in Israel of the conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Mercaz aligned with Reform, Meretz, and Yesh Atid to adopt resolutions on the status of women and LGBTQ people in the Jewish state. Mercaz also reached out to Sephardi religious parties and Likud members to find ways to win their votes for our resolutions by agreeing to support their resolutions. In our committees, we saw this preparatory work pay off, as these resolutions passed with votes to spare.
What happened in the final days of the WZ Congress were a mirror of what is happening in Israel’s Knesset today. A small contingent of Haredi/Ultra Orthodox parties hijacked the Congress, using a little used procedural maneuver, to halt the final vote on the resolutions. As a result, over 1000 delegates were unable to cast their votes in person at the Congress. Instead, the World Zionist Organization had to spend valuable resources to build a secure website and all the delegates voted online about a month later. As expected, the Resolutions of Mercaz and its allies passed, the Haredi resolutions were roundly defeated.
Just as the WZO rejected extremist views, the vast majority of Israelis oppose the anti-democratic priorities of the current Knesset coalition. If the Israeli govt were to fall, and a new vote taken today, many believe the governing coalition would change. In the meantime, Israelis must live with the new laws passed by a coalition they do not support. That is why they continue to protest in the streets en masse.
Is there any reason for optimism, as we see our beloved Israel divided by these challenges? Those of you who have supported Masorti know that discrimination against our movement in Israel has been a constant. The minority Haredi factions in the government consistently make it difficult for egalitarian Jews to enjoy the same rights as the Orthodox, such as space at the Kotel plaza, places to build our synagogues, and funding to support our rabbis. Until now, centrist and leftist factions have seen this discrimination as our problem, not theirs. I believe that attitude is changing. Israelis now see that the illiberal factions that opposed our inclusive Judaism, also oppose democratic values. Now that a majority of Israelis see this intolerance for themselves, there may very well be a sea change in the next election that benefits Masorti.
I’m sure you are asking, what can we do here in the diaspora, in Minnesota to show our support for the majority of Israelis. In a recent Mercaz briefing, we heard from Asaf Zamir, the Israeli Consul General for NY, who recently resigned in protest over coalition policies that he could no longer support. At the briefing, Consul Zamir urged Americans to contact their local Israeli consulates and express our support for the protesters. He cautioned however, that U.S. public protests against the current Knesset coalition could provide cover for anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, which is already on the rise in the U.S.
As Masorti supporters, there are several ways to have our voices heard. One is to continue our support of the Masorti movement in Israel through donations to the Masorti Foundation. As Adath and its members have done for decades, we support our movement in Israel.
There is a second way. That is through the World Zionist Organization, which represents the interests of diaspora Jews. There are elections for delegates to the WZO every four years, which is how I became a Mercaz delegate to the WZO Congress in Jerusalem this year. The WZO election is not only about using our collective voice in Israel; it is also about how worldwide donations to the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency, and other Zionist institutions are spent in Israel. In the last election, the Haredi parties turned out their voters in very large numbers, and they currently have positions of authority at the WZO. They were also able to hijack the final vote at the Congress in April.
If we believe in compromise and bringing a diverse coalition together to support Israel, we must do better in the next WZO election. That election will take place in two years. We must get out the vote of like-minded Zionists to vote with Mercaz/Masorti, to assure that leadership and assets go to support a democratic and pluralistic Israel, an Israel that respects and includes many different voices.
It is time to start thinking now about how you will help this effort. It will not be enough for you to cast your own vote, or convince your spouse to join you. Can you join Adath’s Israel committee and offer volunteer support to our GOTV effort? Who can you think of on your contact list to invite to vote for Mercaz? Who can you contact and convince them to invite ten other people they know to vote for Mercaz? It is not too early for Adath to start building its list of voters and another list of volunteers who will help call those voters and assure they vote when the election takes place. Please let me know if you are interested in volunteering to build our election team. You can also give your name to Rabbi Weininger, Rabbi Kravitz, Hazzan, or our dedicated Israel committee co-chairs, Kim Gedan and Scott Gordon. I want to express particular thanks to Kim who has single-handedly made Adath one of the biggest Mercaz voting blocs in MN!
Who knows what will happen in Israel in the two years before the next WZO election. We hope and we pray every Shabbat for a positive resolution to the current crisis. But there is more we can do to assure the ongoing success of the Masorti movement in Israel and a democratic Israel that values pluralism and inclusivity and diversity, not only today, or two years from now, but for decades to come.
And as we pray for the peace and good of Israel, let’s also take the lesson of radical inclusion of Nitzavim seriously as we head into the High Holidays.
Adath clergy, staff, and congregants share