May, 7 2021
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
1. We don’t have to go searching for some magical place to feel alive and connected.
2. It’s important to play with time, when time often plays with us.
3. Shabbat comes every week.
My sabbatical was supposed to begin in Israel. My brother Dan was being ordained as a rabbi in Jerusalem, and the timing — at the end of December — was set to coincide. But Omicron hit and Israel’s travel ban was reinstated. After two failed applications and an exceptions committee review, my family was denied entry. The allowance for beauty contestants to fly from all over the world to Israel, flocking to Eilat, created a jarring picture of priorities in, well, a jarring world. Too bad I thought. I didn’t apply for the Miss Universe pageant.
Like we did for his wedding earlier in the pandemic, our family watched Dan’s ordination ceremony on Zoom. It was bittersweet. We felt his Torah beaming through the screen, felt buoyed by these new Masorti rabbis, and felt wrapped by an immense sadness. The Zoom screen flashing “unstable connection” only reinforced my own feeling: connected and not, missing this milestone and excited for am yisrael. Hey, I thought, I’m on sabbatical. I’m supposed to feel untethered, able to do anything! But there was the reminder, that to feel alive and connected meant feeling all of the above— all of life’s feels seeking attention. There was no magical place to be but in the moment.
As Covid worsened, other travel plans were upended. I didn’t make it to Israel at all and instead planted roots in new communities and cities I’d visited but never lived in. I had thought about spending part of sabbatical in Madrid, where my grandparents lived as a young couple when my grandfather was in the US foreign service, a rare assignment for Jews, right after World War II. But in Spain’s place came— for a long stretch— Seattle. There I felt the rhythms of a regular yoga practice, the thrill of skiing, the access of the Seattle Public Library, and best of all: connection. There was time with dear friends and meeting new friends who became chosen family over meals, devouring fresh pizza at the Ballard Farmers Market, holding onto scents and tastes of local bakeries, and taking walks that went nowhere and everywhere.
As I got to play with time and play with friends, I realized no one else was on sabbatical! And life didn’t stop for anyone. Life was changing for one of my dearest friends whose entire family was a huge driving force to come to Seattle. She responded selflessly to a parent’s illness, unplanned and unpredicted, that meant we had less time together. But they were exactly where they needed to be and holding onto life as it was calling them. In the last minute nature of one of my sabbatical changes, a rabbinic colleague and her husband opened their family’s home to me during their vacation. They became extended family, as I would return to hang out on Saturday afternoons with them and their kids. Another colleague had an open door policy to just hang and relax and make her backyard another home where I could lose track of time with her high school teens. A new friend — a Jesuit priest working at a local university— became a trusted confidant for wonderful, rich conversations on life across faith lines. And a friend from a Collegeville Institute writing workshop held months before the world turned upside down, helped make so much turn right side up — from touring the bustle of Pike Place Market to exploring the old Jewish neighborhoods and important social change work in the city.
My learning deepened through different pursuits online and in person. I started taking virtual guitar lessons and signed up for Zoom Mussar classes, a practice of Jewish ethical character traits, that has become embedded at Adath. I started with the Mussar Institute’s Virtual Kallah in January, that drew over 100 participants here and in Israel. For several months on Zoom, a small cohort of LGBTQ rabbis and educators learned from and offered a queer critique of a Mussar curriculum through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. And as I sat at a kitchen table, housesitting for new friends, I studied Gemara and the role of judges with Svara, a queer yeshiva, with the teacher in Jerusalem and students across the US. I found a study partner for several weeks through the Center for Contemporary Mussar, basing my learning in the same curriculum that has guided many of our Mussar classes at Adath.
And in person, I felt grateful for opportunities that I didn’t know would come to be. Text study and professional skills development filled several days in Baltimore with forty rabbis at the Rabbinic Training Institute (RTI) sponsored by JTS, and I flew to Los Angeles to celebrate with Rabbi Kravitz and Cindy as Rabbi Kravitz became the president of the international Rabbinical Assembly. The Hadar Rabbinic Intensive gave me the time to absorb three uninterrupted days of yeshiva-style learning with rabbis and cantors in New York, and I built in time with my parents and sister and grandmother in Westchester without feeling rushed to be anywhere else but with my family. The same felt true in other places, letting go of time with friends and/or their kids who are like nieces and nephews. The Institute for Jewish Spirituality alumni retreat felt spacious: prayer, the study of Jewish mysticism, and movement, mornings and afternoons spent in silence, gave permission to be with time rather than control it. Throughout it all I continued writing and my work on the editorial committee of the new weekday version of Siddur Lev Shalem, aimed to elevate daily prayer in synagogues, day schools, and summer camps. I didn’t get to all the destinations, but where I grounded myself I found beauty and frustration and newness in the ordinary. That made sabbatical time holy time.
I found the joy of davening with different Jewish communities— sometimes being asked to lead davening but also confronting my own complex relationship with prayer, quietly, in pews much like where each of you is sitting today. I was able to get outdoors in nature, so much the source of my spirituality, alone and with others. Many locals questioned my winter choice of the Pacific Northwest, but I loved noticing the different climate. I traded snow for rain and our two winter options— cold and colder— for temperate and overcast. To make me feel at home, Seattle hit record lows my first few days in December and a few inches of snow paralyzed the city for a full week. Frustratingly I couldn’t move very far. But that meant I couldn’t move very far from the stunning beauty of Queen Anne’s cobblestone streets turned into a winter wonderland. Still I got to hike and lose track of time amidst lush green trees that clipped gray sky, and drive hours for a simple overnight by the undisturbed Washington Coast. My feet planted in the sand and shifted to the will of the Pacific tide.
Returning home to Minneapolis in April, I was saved the last blast of a long winter. I returned to a landscape that looked eerily the same as it did when I left in December. Despite that, it is really good to be back. I couldn’t have taken sabbatical without the support of Rabbi Kravitz and Hazzan Dulkin, our remarkable staff, and our lay leaders who recognize the importance of the clergy taking a step back for renewal and learning — and for the system to adapt and grow in healthy ways as a result.
Last Monday I returned to a rhythm I love. I was leading Havdalah for our preschool kids in the Gan. We were talking about the sadness of saying goodbye to Shabbat and doing so with fire and grape juice and spices. I asked the kids if they thought we’d ever get to have Shabbat again. One of the kids, true to form, shouted “No!” But an older kid quickly jumped in, like a bat kol, a heavenly voice. “Rabbi, Shabbat comes every week. Don’t worry.”
They’re both right. No two Shabbatot will ever be the same, but Shabbat does come back again and again. Shabbat is in some ways a mini sabbatical for all of us, a chance to feel the holiness, the difference, of not being beholden to the same patterns. That we can play with time when time often plays with us. That in stepping back we don’t become untethered. The responsibilities of life are always present. But we can better appreciate our ordinary routine when we lose track of time a bit, when we get to play with it differently. We eat differently. We dress differently. We talk differently. We live in community differently.
Sabbatical is not always the trip to Madrid or Israel we imagined. Sadly sabbatical was not the high point of a brother’s ordination I’d been looking forward to for years or an Omicron-free existence. Because life is often not the — fill in the blank — that we thought it would be. As soon as we start writing life’s script, the editing begins.
We’re reminded as much in Parshat Kedoshim, when Leviticus 19 opens to tell us “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy…” only to be followed in the next verse …Keep my sabbaths, I the Lord am your God.”
The pursuit of holiness, framed as “you shall” captures the imperfection of life’s pursuits. Of never fully “achieving" whatever the “it” is — holiness, serenity, untethered reality. The commentary in Etz Hayim says, “To be holy is to be different, to be set apart from the ordinary.”
The great Italian commentator Sforno teaches hundreds of years ago that the plural use of the word Shabbtotai/sabbaths means that it’s not just the Shabbat of creation as we know it each week. But we’re meant to keep many different ways of rest: the rest of the land, shmittah, and the release of money owed, and of course what we’re doing in this sanctuary today. He reflects,
ואת שבתותי תשמורו שלא על שבת בראשית בלבד הזהיר אבל על כל מיני השבת שהם שבת בראשית ושבת הארץ ושמיטת כספים המעידים על חדוש העולם.
Perhaps we add sabbatical to that list. Sabbatical was set apart from the ordinary to appreciate the ordinary. I got to feel alive and connected and play with time differently, wherever I was. And return here, and return to Shabbat.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches in his famous work, The Sabbath:
“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.”
As I leave the world of sabbatical, I will try to be more attuned to the holiness in time that it gave me. And I hope for each of us:
We don’t have to go searching for some magical place to feel alive and connected.
It’s important to play with time, when time often plays with us.
And that Shabbat comes every week. Shabbat Shalom.
How a Dermatologist Views Tzara'at and What Parshat Metzora Teachers Us About How We React To Those With Skin Disease
Dr. Mitch Bender
A word from Rabbi Kravitz regarding his recent installation as President of the Rabbinical Assembly:
Dear Adath Jeshurun Congregation:
Thank you for all of the kind notes and acknowledgements I have received from so many members of our community. Sorry that the livestream from the LA synagogue was problematic, making it very challenging to those who tuned in.
The in- person event was lovely. Attached are my remarks, which include my sincere appreciation for the support of our congregation. I look forward to being able to share with you the experiences I will have in my new volunteer role in the coming two years. Thank you for your support and engagement that gives our congregation a well deserved positive reputation in our global Movement.
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Max Newman Family Chair in Rabbinics
Installation RA President Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Los Angeles, CA
March 29, 2022
Thank you Jacob. I am grateful to be installed together with Jay, Gesa, Aaron, and Annie and an outstanding group of volunteer leaders who will serve as our RA Executive Council. How special it is to be honoring Stewart Vogel and Debra Newman Kamin as we conclude our Annual Campaign and appreciate Phil Scheim who chaired it so ably. We wish Phil and Stewart refuah shelamah. It is especially moving for me to be installed in Los Angeles, where I began my rabbinic education at what was then the University of Judaism. Rabbi Dorff, words do not capture what it means to Stewart and to me that you could be here this evening. You, and the faculty you assembled at the UJ, set us on this path. You must be wondering, what has the world come to that Harold Kravitz and Stewart Vogel are serving as Presidents of the Rabbinical Assembly. I think the same thing.
Phil, Stewart, Debra- there is so much we have had the privilege of doing together to get us to this point. Thank you to Bill Gershon and Phil who supported Debra and me as we co-chaired strategic planning. Deep thanks to Sheryl Katzman who became our partner in 2017 in co-chairing its implementation. We are now blessed to have Sheryl serving so effectively with Jacob Blumenthal and Ashira Konigsberg, along with our entire superb staff team, as we move into our future as an organization. I invite the staff to stand up if you are in the room, or online. Thank you Ilana Garber who started as a member of the planning implementation team and now serves on the staff.
Before I say more about that, I want to take this opportunity to thank my shul, the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnesota, where I have served as a rabbi for 35 years, the only place I have worked since my ordination by JTS. The support of our staff team, soon to be led by my rabbinic colleague Aaron Weininger, has made it possible for me to dedicate time and attention to the RA as well as Hazzan Joanna Dulkin to serve as Executive Vice-President of the Cantors Assembly. We are fortunate to serve an outstanding synagogue whose volunteer leaders are generous in recognizing that we have responsibilities beyond our institution and appreciate how our staff thereby grow as leaders to bless our congregation.
Of course, the most important person in this room supporting my professional and volunteer work is my cherished life partner, Cindy Reich. Cindy, your wisdom has long benefited the Jewish educators with whom you have worked nationally, but our Adath Jeshurun, MAZON, and the RA have also been enormous beneficiaries of your wise guidance to me at every turn. Thank you, Cindy, for your love and support that makes this possible and for always encouraging me to be my best self. Shout outs: To my sister Cynthia, also a Rabbi Kravitz, who I can call at any time to talk about nothing. To our kids, Elana, Talia, Gabe and Yael, who like every child of clergy have put up with having to share their parents with the community, and yet have always displayed grace and a sense of humor about it.
Sorry if this is starting to feel like the Academy Awards, but after all we are in LA the week of the Oscars. Before the music starts playing and I get escorted off, there are some observations I want to make about the work that lies ahead for our Rabbinical Assembly and for our Conservative/Masorti Movement.
In December, Jacob, Ashira and Sheryl invited me to New York to speak in person about my agenda as President for the next two years. I welcomed that opportunity, but responded that the priorities we needed to talk about were ours and not just mine. Our goals and priorities for the coming years are built on the hard work we have done with the wise counsel of Liz Solms and Marie McCormick and the staff of Insyte partners, as they guided us in listening and learning as widely as possible, for which we are profoundly grateful. It has been extraordinary to see the way our staff, our volunteers and so many of our members have come to embrace those strategic goals.
When we started working on that plan in 2015, we knew that there was much troubling our Conservative/Masorti Movement. But we also recognized that if we were ever to be able to take on those greater challenges, we first had to work on ourselves as an organization. Though that work is not done, and tomorrow we will launch the next iteration of strategic planning chaired by Aaron Brusso and Lori Koffman, I believe the RA has reached a point where we are poised to address the broader challenges of our Conservative/ Masorti Movement and I am optimistic about what we can achieve together.
Engaging Jacob as our Chief Executive was an important step in advancing our vision. Jacob builds on the outstanding efforts of distinguished RA professional leaders who came before him including Wolfe Kelman z’l, Joel Meyers and Julie Schoenfeld, may they be well, all of whom were important teachers to me along the way. It was quite unexpected, after we completed that very successful hire that USCJ President Ned Gladstein, whose presence we welcome here this evening, would propose the idea of sharing Jacob as CEO of our two organizations. I confess that my gut reaction was to think – “I don’ wanna share him!” Ok, I got over it and we saw both boards display true courage in taking that bold step. Thankfully that occurred before the pandemic and it surely contributed to our responding so effectively to this plague whose impact we will long be facing.
That step of aligning, not merging, but aligning our two organizations has had other benefits I could not have imagined. Leaders of our RA and of our USCJ now meet monthly in a Joint Steering Committee with a growing respect, appreciation and trust for each other that at one time would have been unimaginable between our organizations. As Stewart said, the purpose of those monthly meetings is always focused on an essential question, “What can we achieve together, for the benefit of our Movement and the Jewish people, that we could not achieve on our own?”
I am convinced that very good things will continue to come from this alignment of our organizations. I now look forward to seeing what could be accomplished if the 23 independent organizations of our Movement would work in greater alignment to advance our distinct approach to Judaism. This can only happen when our primary focus is not on how we each protect our positions, or our particular institutional interests, and focus instead on how we can advance our fundamental missions and our unique Torah.
Even within the RA we experience these challenges of diverse interests and views of what is undoubtedly the broadest tent of any rabbinic organization, both religiously and politically. At our best we, as an RA, can model what it means to be in caring relationships with each other, even when we fundamentally disagree. I see that as our sweet spot and the world is in desperate need of those who embrace that central space and serve as models of its enduring value.
While in rabbinical school, I had the privilege of taking a class with the RA’s long-time professional leader Rabbi Wolfe Kelman z’l, as he was nearing the end of his career. I recall him telling us that with every controversial issue our Movement ever faced, people predicted that this or that would destroy the Movement! He clearly took pride in the fact that we were still at it. I believe that we can honestly face our most challenging issues. If handled thoughtfully and with care this will invigorate us, not destroy us.
As I have been preparing for my new role, I have been reaching out to as many people as possible to listen to them and will do my best to continue that practice. Permit me to share one such conversation I had with Stephen Arnoff of the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. I raised with him examples of challenging issues I believe we need to be able to talk about as an RA and as a global Movement, such as our approach to intermarriage, and perhaps even more challenging, how we relate to Israel and to Zionism. I described them as our third rail issues, sources of significant conflict. Stephen responded to me wisely saying, “But Harold, the third rail is where the energy comes from. A third rail can electrocute, or it can electrify. It is in tapping into the third rail that we can find the energy to move forward.” I so appreciated his observation and I am committed to having us discuss what we perceive as our third rail issues in ways that are respectful of each other, with the hope we will do so from a place of curiosity, humility and kindness.
Our parasha this week is Tazria, a rabbi’s nightmare to speak about, as it recalls matters of purity and impurity and the diagnoses of the skin disease tza’ra’at. This group knows well that our sages turn this challenging section into a powerful discourse on the corrosive effects of La’shon Hara, the misuse of words. As we learn from our teacher Avtalion in Pirkei Avot 1:11-
“Sages be careful with your words חֲכָמִים הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם”
We, who are so adept at the use of words, are well served by being always mindful of the power of words to harm and the power of words to heal. It seems to me that there are times we are our own worst enemy, when we employ too harsh judgment and nasty critique of each other. Our rabbis understood the power of our words to create realities and so they cautioned us, “be careful with your words הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם.” While being honest about our need for hard conversations, I ask that we use our talent with words for hakarat hatov to recognize the good of each other and of our Movement in Judaism, to champion our strengths and not disparage each other. Let us start with curiosity, empathy and humility, discerning our way forward with kindness.
The strength of Conservative/Masorti Judaism has always been our emphasis on the importance of community and the centrality of Jewish peoplehood. That means making a commitment to each other that our relationships, and the many values we share in common, are more important to us than our differences. I look forward to the conversations that lie ahead, whether it is about how we structure ourselves for the future, about the differences that exist between us, or about our views of essential issues that may vary based on how, where and when we have experienced the world. I look forward to these important discussions and hope that they can be conducted with humility and with kindness and with a commitment to our shared values as a Conservative/Masorti community.
I deeply believe that we are well poised as a Rabbinical Assembly to go forward in serving our members, our global Movement, our Jewish people and our world. Thank you for the trust you place in our volunteer and professional leaders to be good partners in that work. Let us truly be strong and find strength from each other. Hazak, Hazak v'Nitchazek. Amen.
Our long awaited celebration of Bernie Goldblatt's retirement. Hear from Bernie about his journey to recovery from COVID-19 and his experience of immense gratitude. We honored Bernie Goldblatt for his 20 years of service as Adath's Executive Director.
Bernie and his family have established the Bernie Goldblatt Fund of Adath Jeshurun. A focus of this fund is to support Kiddush lunch at Adath to strengthen the social bonds of our community. Donate here in honor of Bernie.
Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a world wide event every February, started right here in our community. JDAIM co-founder and author, Shelly Christensen, shared how Jewish communities have evolved in 13 years, and why belonging is the new approach to supporting people with disabilities and mental health conditions and those who love them to flourish in Jewish life.
To learn more about JDAIM, click here.
Once Suffering Strangers in Egypt, the Duty of Jews Today to Hungry Strangers- D'var Torah by Howard Tarkow
Shabbat Mishpatim, January 29, 2022
Click here to learn more about MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
They are known as “food insecure.”
They are the households that, at times, do not know if they will have enough nutritious food to eat, or have the money to buy it.
In 2019, before the pandemic, more than one in ten American households were food insecure.
The number was higher in households with children.
The number was higher in households with one parent.
The number of Americans living in food insecure households before the pandemic is incomprehensible: 38.3 million.
As the pandemic dragged on, it pushed tens of millions more Americans into food insecurity.
38.3 million food insecure Americans before the pandemic? Double it now, says the respected nonpartisan Brookings Institution.
The number of food insecure households with children before the pandemic? Triple it now, says Brookings.
Second Harvest Heartland reports that one in ten Minnesotans expects to face hunger in the coming months. Direct assistance from food shelves, shelters, meal programs, and after-school programs feeds over 500,000 people in Minnesota every year. Many will seek food help for the first time in their lives.
Who are the tens of millions of Americans who are food insecure?
We know they are out there, so for decades, members of our congregation have snapped up grocery bags on the way out of Rosh Hashanah services, brought them back full on Yom Kippur, and filled that big semi-trailer in the parking lot for STEP, the Saint Louis Park Emergency Program.
So, yes, we know of them, but, if you are like me, we don’t know them.
They are strangers in our midst.
Last week, we read of the thunderous giving of the Ten Commandments. The Parsha this week is Mishpatim, a far less dramatic recitation of rules for the Israelites to follow for living in the Land of Israel and creating a just society there.
Among the rules of Mishpatim are humanitarian laws of social responsibility, justice, and compassion.
In Parshat Mishpatim, we also read the first two of thirty-six times in the Torah the injunction to not oppress the stranger.
The verse Rabbi Kravitz mentioned in the poem by Ruth Brin-Exodus v-22, l-20: You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Note, the use of two verbs-wrong and oppress-to emphasize the strictness of the prohibition.
Exodus v-23, l-9: You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
Rabbi Fred Schwartz of blessed memory, formerly at Mount Zion Temple in Saint Paul, wrote in his great work “Teacher of Torah,” that the “high point” of Mishpatim is that legislation concerning the stranger. Rabbi Schwartz asks, Is it necessary to include the last phrase that reminds us that we were once strangers in Egypt? His answer to his own question is yes, so that today, we deepen our sense of compassion, and remind ourselves of times in the past when we Jews did not fare very well.
The poor today might be strangers, but Mishpatim commands us to remember the past, when that was our lot, and to comfort them.
Throughout the Torah, and our other sources, the Jewish view is that there is nothing in the world worse than poverty. It is the most terrible of all sufferings. On this Shabbat Mishpatim, the Torah implores that we see the millions of our fellow citizens who cannot afford enough food, or enough of the kinds of food, to meet their household’s nutrition needs. The Parsha seeks to instill in us a sense of humility, to more fully experience empathy and compassion for others: The strangers-the invisible poor-the food insecure whom we do not know. When we advocate for them and try to raise awareness of hunger, we are doing what Mishpatim commands, to ask all who will listen to be empathetic-to have some rachmones-for the hungry strangers. We may not know the hungry strangers, but we see them in our midst. I don’t mean the solitary individuals holding cardboard signs on street corners and at intersections.
Shockingly, and indefensibly, food insecurity is persistent among currently serving military families. Food pantries operate on or near just about every military base in the country. Demands on them from junior personnel are at an all-time high. More on that in a few minutes.
Like these and other people, Jews have frequently experienced hunger.
Because of famines, Abraham was forced to go to Egypt. Isaac went to the land of Abimelech, king of the Philistines. The children of Jacob went to Egypt to buy grain in order to avoid death. Pogroms, ghettos, the Holocaust, Jews have been hungry. Jews know the sorrow of hunger.
From our own experience with food insecurity, the verses of Mishpatim support Jewish involvement in efforts to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. There are important strategies to fight food insecurity. One is ensuring that all people have access to nutritious food, now, when they need it. Our Adath has a rich legacy of helping to meet that need. For decades, led by our Hesed Committee, we have collected food and household items. In 2018, our holiday effort brought in over 5,000 pounds for the shelves at STEP.
In 2021, we raised almost $4,000 in cash donations to STEP.
But donating to direct service providers like food pantries that provide vital emergency services cannot possibly address the full scope of hunger, and philanthropy was never designed to do so. The charitable sector collects less than ten percent of what it takes to fight hunger.
So, another strategy addresses the reality that much more is needed to confront and address the systems and policies that allow hunger to persist, and develop and advance long-term solutions to ending food insecurity. That takes marshaling political will and leadership to bolster and protect federal and state nutrition programs and policies that are the country’s frontline defense against hunger, and have the capability to reach the tens of millions of households struggling with food insecurity in a way that philanthropy’s resources alone simply cannot succeed.
At MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, our mission is to apply our Jewish values to the central belief that regardless of a person’s circumstances, no one deserves to be hungry. MAZON is not a food shelf. MAZON was the first organization to rally the American Jewish community around ending hunger, and MAZON remains the only national Jewish organization dedicated exclusively to advocating for an end to hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel, and to educate policymakers, the public, and the media to build partnerships and coalitions to raise awareness about hunger.
The bedrock of MAZON’s work is tzedek, the pursuit of justice, and the value of Bit-SELL-em Elohim, respecting the inherent dignity of every person, addressing the root causes of hunger, and changing the circumstances to strive to end food insecurity. MAZON is guided by the wisdom and compassion that Mishpatim requires of us.
MAZON is fortunate to have built an extended family of nearly 700 synagogues, Adath Jeshurun among them, and tens of thousands of donors, including many in our congregation, who share the commitment to end hunger in the United States and Israel.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, the celebrated moral thinker and globally renowned intellect of Judaism, gained fame in secular society and in the Jewish community as a sought-after voice on many topics, including issues of war and peace and ethics. In his title, The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Sacks wrote that poverty humiliates, and a good society will not allow humiliation.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. It is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program. Thinking of the words of Rabbi Sacks, one of the most important things that MAZON has done in its thirty-six years of existence has been to work to debunk humiliating stereotypes of the poor who are beneficiaries of SNAP and other nutrition programs and resources…that they are lazy…that they are freeloaders…that they abuse the system...that they cheat. Those old canards are unconscionable.
The federal government’s own studies prove these characterizations to be false, and to be cruel. In 2019, almost 9 out of 10 SNAP beneficiaries were those who struggle the most. They are households with children, elderly, or persons with disabilities. Most had income at or below the federal poverty level. Most do not receive cash welfare benefits. Here in Minnesota, the StarTribune has reported that one in 14 residents, over 400,000, received SNAP benefits. The majority are families with children, and working families, and many were families with elderly or persons with disabilities.
MAZON has worked with policymakers and community leaders to protect and strengthen SNAP and other nutrition programs, and has advocated for public policies that address the root causes of hunger and dismantle barriers to assistance for millions of Americans.
Remember I spoke of the shonda of food insecurity in military households? It was MAZON that has shined the spotlight on this complex problem for ten years. There are flaws in the system of military pay. Compared to more senior members, and those of the past, pay for those entering military service today does not go nearly as far as it did for their predecessors, because they are more likely to support families than previous units of armed forces. They also face unique financial challenges including high spousal unemployment, lack of access to affordable childcare, and frequent relocation.
MAZON has long forcefully advocated to federal lawmakers and officials to understand and fix the problem of food insecurity in today’s military families. Last year, MAZON released a report that offers reasonable recommendations for how the nation’s leaders must address military hunger, so that military families are not stigmatized, they are not cut off from essential nutrition assistance programs, and their pay meets their needs.
MAZON’s work in this area has earned bipartisan praise, and inroads have been made this year to cut into food insecurity in the military, but much more needs to be done. It shows though what effective advocacy can do to make progress in solving the root causes of hunger.
MAZON does much more to promote the end of barriers to participation in food assistance programs, and champion responsible government policies to end hunger and address its root causes. If you are interested in learning more, please visit mazon.org.
The rules of Mishpatim are a measure of the moral health of our society, informed by compassion, in which the spirit of justice breathes freely. Rules are not enough. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that law itself cannot guarantee a just society until it is reinforced by the moral commitment of all of its citizens, motivated by a conviction that God cares and demands that we act ethically.
Today, many in the American Jewish community have attained wealth and privilege. The opportunities that have come with prosperity and the lessons of our history continue to motivate and inspire the work of MAZON. Our founder intended for MAZON to be the bridge between the relative abundance of the American Jewish community and the desperate need felt by millions of hungry people.
So, on this Shabbat, we are to know the heart of the stranger, and continue to know of and see the poor. For we Jews were strangers in the land of Egypt, and we Jews are no strangers to hunger.
To learn more about MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, click here.
THe Historic Relationship Between American Jews and Native Americans- D'var Torah by Dr. David Brown
Yom Kippur 5782
September 16, 2021
Jews and Race
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Earlier I asked us to consider the many times in the Torah the people of Israel were counted in a census and the concerns it raised. Now I ask that we turn our attention to a contemporary census and its challenges as the results of the 2020 United States census were recently released. Hearing about the census took me back to my experience responding to it. There is one question I always find myself getting stuck on, whether in a census or elsewhere. It is the question that asks us to indicate our race. Do you relate to that quandary, wondering which box to check?
I have heard a lot of our people describe similar discomfort.
It starts with the fact that the US census is not permitted to ask questions about religious identity, so we can’t check off that box. Further, there is discomfort about the whole idea of race, knowing that race is a social, not a biological, construct, so the entire question makes us uneasy. While we know that the concept of race is based on questionable science, the category of race continues to exert a powerful influence on this country and must still be accounted for. A unique challenge we have as Jews is that in our gut, many of us don’t really relate to being described as white. Speaking for myself, I see my primary identity as being a Jew, and we know that Jews around the world, come in all colors.
If we overlooked that fact, it was made clear by a study of Jews of color in the United States, the largest of its kind, reported on in August. Studies estimate that between 6 and 15% of American Jews identify as Jews of color and all agree that this number will grow in the future, a reality we need to respect and to address. The study confirms the complexity of labelling Jews by race. This is especially true given the soul searching this nation has had to do since the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an event that literally reverberated around the world. An outcome for our Jewish community is that we have had to take a hard look at issues of race and what they mean for us.
For many years when discussing Jewish identity, I’ve always taught that we could best define Jews as a people, or an ethnicity, or even as a tribe. I would dismiss the suggestion that Jews are a race. Having delved further into the issue this year, I learned that the matter is far more complicated than I realized. Last year, when I delivered my Yom Kippur sermon on our responsibility to be anti-racist, I recommended that people read a fine book from 2008 by Emory University American Jewish historian Eric Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race and American Identity. Our Downtown Study Group read it together and it really challenged us. I am especially grateful to our member Riv Ellen Prell, Prof Emerita in American Studies from the U of MN, who led the class when I was on my three-month sabbatical and who graciously joined us for the entire year studying Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness.
Goldstein opens our eyes to new ways of understanding how Jews in America have related to the issue of race going back over the last 150 years. I was surprised to learn that in the late 19th century, Jews were fine with describing themselves as a race, and were commonly described that way by others. Jews immigrating here in that period largely came from Central Europe. They assimilated quite rapidly and often sought to leave behind what they saw as old-world religious observance, but they still saw themselves and were seen by others as Jews by blood. This racial identity distinguished Jews from other Americans, while enabling them to integrate into American society and enjoy its benefits.
Goldstein captures the ambivalence Jews felt about our differences from the majority of Americans and especially our mixed feelings about being associated with black Americans, also a separate race, but one seen by most white Americans as a lesser kind of human. The most important distinction in America has long been between being labeled as black or white. Jews, most of whom migrated in the 19th and early 20th century from Central and Eastern Europe, did not want to be identified as black, with the persecution that accompanied that label. At the same time, they were not seen, nor did they really see themselves as white. Recalling our own past oppression, Jews would often recoil in horror at the ways black people were treated in the Jim Crow era after the civil war and beyond. On the other hand, we maintained our claim that while we were surely a race, ours was a praiseworthy race and we touted our accomplishments so as to enjoy this country’s benefits.
Goldstein traces how the Jewish embrace of the concept of race receded with the rise of Nazism. New language emerged to describe ourselves, as anthropologists in the 20th century dismissed the validity of race as a biological category. The despicable use of race by the Nazis turned American Jews away from a racial definition and led us to instead describe ourselves as a Jewish people, or an ethnic group.
During World War II, many Jews who served in the military got to see up close for the first time the horrendous racism experienced by black people who also served our country. Yet when they returned home from the war, blacks and Jews experienced vastly different prospects. Jews were able to take advantage of veteran’s benefit and of greater social acceptance. Discrimination against Jews in housing and employment that was pervasive before the War diminished, but it was still very real for black people. A powerful example of this are housing covenants, promoted by the real estate industry to preserve white neighborhoods, stipulating that homes in certain neighborhoods could never be sold to black people. Jews had generally broken through those barriers that once applied to us as well.
This pattern of systemic racism has been uncovered in ground breaking research by the U of MN’s Mapping Prejudice Project whose efforts are especially critical given this city's contemporary racial disparities, which remain some of the largest in the nation. As their research shows, “covenants created demographic patterns that remain in place in Minneapolis today. Residential segregation reinforces other disparities in employment, education and health care. Most notable is the gap in homeownership rates. While 78 percent of white families own homes in the Twin Cities, only 25 percent of African-American families have title to their dwelling.” Their research shows that these disparities did not happen accidentally and that everything since then has compounded upon that initial pattern. https://www.aclu.org/aclu-magazine/aclu-magazine-fall-2021 p. 21.
As we consider the challenges facing this country, I ask that we as Jews use this Yom Kippur to do cheshbon hanefesh – personal and communal introspection of what this means for us as Jews. Having benefited from privileges we have enjoyed as American Jews, because for the most part we are seen as white, places special responsibilities on our Jewish community to right the wrongs that pervade American society. Just as our Torah repeatedly reminds us of the lesson of the Exodus story, that we are obligated to care for the stranger because we were strangers in a strange land, I believe we have a special responsibility to work to end racism because we know what it means to experience persecution because of who we are.
I am grateful that our congregation has been taking this responsibility very seriously. After the events related to the murder of George Floyd, we established an Antiracism Committee chaired by Dudley Deshommes Kohls and Sharon Garber that has worked hard to better understand the dynamics of racism, to educate our congregation about this and to engage our congregation in the work of ending racism wherever we encounter it. A starting point of that effort has been to better understand the feelings and to support Jews of color in this community who often feel marginalized. Some 80% of respondents to the survey I cited earlier report having experienced discrimination in Jewish settings.
Adath’s Antiracism Committee is attuned to the reality that it is very tempting for us to ignore systemic racism, or to discount it as something that is for the most part behind us. But we have seen how real is the continued impact of racism in this country. We saw it on terrifying display in Washington DC this past January 6th when our US Capitol was assaulted by a mob trying to overturn through violence what they failed to accomplish through elections. It is no coincidence that this mob carried Confederate flags into our US Capitol building for the first time ever. It is a serious threat to the very essence of American democracy when the peaceful transference of power is upended by fake claims of voter fraud. Make no mistake that this insurrection was grounded in continuing and deeply embedded racism and that many of those who promote these lies also promote violent antisemitism as well.
We know that just like racism is very real and deeply embedded in this country, antisemitism is sadly not a thing of the past. We must not hesitate to speak out as Jews when antisemitism is ignored or downplayed. The threat of violence is quite real as we saw just three years ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Sadly, we were reminded of the reality of these threats last week when our neighboring Beth El Synagogue had to close for the day and all local shuls had to enhance our security at considerable expense. We are grateful to the JCRC for the role they play coordinating security for our Jewish community and for other endangered faith communities. We are also grateful to the Minnetonka Police for their support. With the help of our Antiracism Committee, we are taking very seriously the need to balance the real need for security with an understanding of how a police presence adds to the anxiety of black people and people of color when they come here. We will continue to work on this issue in the coming year as we hopefully meet increasingly in person.
This year we will have an opportunity to closely study the issue of antisemitism when in early November we welcome as our scholar in residence Sister Mary Boys, a renowned expert on this issue and collaborate with the Minneapolis Institute of Art when they display an exhibit of the work by Des Moines based Argentinian Jewish artist Mauricio Lasansky’s Holocaust prints. Sister Boys will share her life long experience educating people to end antisemitism. She will help us to better understand what it means to be anti-antisemitism at a time when we are working as well to be antiracist. One effort need not come at the expense of the other. Let us stand together to combat hatred.
A powerful true story brings that message home. It is told in a drama entitled “From Behind the Sun” that premiered in February 2019 at Metro State University’s Whitney theater. Written by a local musician Stan Kipper and a Seattle artist Laura Drake, it is based on the Kipper family’s experience trying to buy a home as a black family in Minneapolis in 1956. His father Obie and mother Mary had moved here from Chicago believing that there were good opportunities to be found. Obie Kipper found a good job working for the US Post Office and Mary was one of the first black school teachers in Minneapolis. Living in the Nicollet Park neighborhood, they found a home at 45th and Oakland between Park and Portland they believed would be better for their growing family. They also knew that it was located in south Minneapolis, where black people were blocked from living through a practice known as redlining.
Obie Kipper and one of his co-workers from the Post Office cooked up a plan. The co-worker named Abraham in the play, based on a real person, was a Jewish guy who had been encouraged to move to Minneapolis by Obie. They had served together in Italy in World War II in the 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated division for African Americans, the only one to see combat in Europe. Abe, a white Jewish guy had served as Obie’s sergeant in that division and they formed a powerful bond. These were tough guys who would not back down from a good fight. They came up with a plan for Abe and his wife to present themselves to the realtor as Obie and Mary Kipper so as to get approved for the mortgage they would not otherwise be able to get. Abe brought Obie all the documents to sign and it was not until it was time to hand over the keys that the real Kippers showed up to the realtor’s shock.
The family was jubilant at having been able to buy that home, but that was not the end of it. After moving in to their new home at 45th and Oakland they received terrible abuse from there “neighbors” who hollered curses and epithets at them, did disgusting things to them, and made it clear that a black family was not welcome. After a brick was hurled threw the picture window, Obie and Abe stood guard in front of the house to put a stop to the attacks. Stan reports that the attacks did stop after about a month, but “for-sale signs” started to pop up all around the neighborhood. That is what black people who had served their country experienced in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Stan has turned his family’s story into a drama that teaches an enduring lesson of the meaning of true friendship and what it looks like to be a fearless ally. I had the privilege of speaking to Stan Kipper to hear him tell his story. He described to me how people from that neighborhood showed up at performances of the play with their mortgages in hand to show that they still included racist covenants, even though the courts had long since made them illegal.
It is an incredible story that I feel privileged to be able to share with you today. It reminds us of how we can stand up fearlessly as Jews against racism.
In the New Year, let us strive to balance working to end systemic racism in our country, while standing up for our rights as Jews to live in peace. I continue to maintain that Jews are not a race, but we have seen that race continues to exert a powerful influence on our society and on us as Jews. My study this past year of whiteness and of Jewish identity have made my choice somewhat easier when asked to identify my race. I still bristle at seeing the question about race, whether on a census, or in some other survey. I still do not really self-identify as white. But since I, like most Jews, are seen as white in this country and have the privileges that come with it, so I check the box on the survey that says I am white and accept my responsibility for continuing to end racism and to end antisemitism in our country. May that time come soon and in our lifetime.
Intro to Musaf
In Judaism there is great ambivalence about counting people. There is a custom that when needing to count up ten people to make a minyan, one does so by saying “not- one, not-two and so on. Another custom for determining that there are ten people in the room to make a minyan is to recite a verse from the early part of the morning service (Siddur Sim Shalom Daily p, 113) Psalm 28:9-
Rescue your people Hoshea et Amecha, bless your heritage, uvarech et nachlatecha, tend to them and carry them forever ur’aim v’nasem ad olam.
In the Hebrew that is ten words.
Why the ambivalence about counting people in Judaism? In the ancient world a census was taken primarily for two reasons, one was to collect taxes and the other was to prepare for war, which meant they needed to know how many men would be available for combat. These are two good reasons explaining ancient concerns about a census.
There were at least four times in the Torah that a census was taken of the people of Israel. They anticipate the arrival of the people to the land of Canaan where they will engage in combat. We see this in the book of Numbers in Parashat Naso when such a count is taken and again in Parashat Pincus. In both places the language that is used is to lift up the head of each person, reminding us that even as we count the group each individual counts.
In Parashat Pinchas there is the counting of the Jewish people and the appointment of Joshua as Moses’ successor. God is referred in that parashah as “God, Source of the breath of all flesh (Elohei Haruchot L’chol Basar)… (Bemidbar 27:16), it is the only time this name for God appears in the Bible as
According to Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem this name of God is the basis of the special beracha – blessing that is said when a large group of Jews gathers- we say “Blessed are You, Lord our God, who knows all secrets” Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, Chacham HaRazim.
Why is this the blessing for a large gathering of Jews? What exactly does that mean. Rabbi Silverstein explains that according to our sages, God Chacham HaRazim is the one who know all secrets because God is Source of the breath of all flesh E-lohei Haruchot L’chol Basar.
As Rashi says in his comment there: "Just as no two faces are alike, so, too, no two people's ideas are alike." But most important for our sages, God knowing the thoughts of every individual means that God values the individuality of each and every person. (See Bemidbar Rabbah 21:2).
Let us consider this idea of the value of the community and the value of the individual in which every person is created in the image of God and counts.
Yom Kippur Day Final Prayer
God Chacham HaRazim the one who know all secrets because
You are the Source of the breath of all flesh E-lohei Haruchot L’chol Basar.
We appreciate being able to gather as a community whether in person or on line and are thankful for the blessing of resilience providing us with the strength to get through this challenging time.
We long to be able to gather together in large groups again to praise you and give thanks and to once again life our voices together in song.
God who knows the thought of every individual and places value on each and every person,
give us the clarity of vision and the determination to build a world in which justice reigns, in which we stand up against hated and in which every person is treasured because they are created in your image.
And let us say Amen
On Rosh Hashana I introduced the congregation to Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett’s, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. This week I call your attention to what they have to say about race in this country. The Upswing calls for us to embrace the values evident from 1895 to the 1960s when this country experienced greater communal social cohesion and economic equality, following the rampant individualism of the Gilded age, which we have seen reemerge. Putnam and Garret have a powerful chapter showing that this national upswing was also experienced by African Americans primarily because of the Great Migration that brought many black people North to improved living conditions and through gains achieved in the lead up to and during Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Sadly, Putnam and Garrett also document how that progress was reversed in the last half century. The 1970s saw white backlash against black progress, which they consider, “an important part of the story of how and why America turned from “we” back to “I.” It may even be the case they say, “that America’s larger turn toward “I” was, in important respects, a response to the supreme challenge of sustaining a more diverse, multiracial “we” against a backdrop of deep, historically embedded, and as yet unresolved racism.” p. 242.
Adath clergy, staff and congregants share