Welcome to Congregants of Adath!
In this series, we'll be highlighting congregants who are making a difference within the synagogue and/or within the greater community.
This week's Congregant of Adath is Etta Barry, chair of Adath's Inclusion Committee.
Having grown up in the Twin Cities and as a member of Adath, Etta (and her mother and siblings), have played a constant role as leaders in the community. Click play to hear her Inclusion story and about how we can help the Inclusion Committee achieve its goals.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions and those who love them. To learn more, visit Adath's Inclusion Committee webpage. The Inclusion Committee is always looking for new members!
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Parashat Mattot Masei
July 18, 2020
There are so many controversies swirling around our country. It is hard to get one’s brain wrapped around one before we have moved on to the next one. There is one controversy that I want to take some time to focus our attention on because the underlaying issues keep surfacing as the presenting issues change.
The issue I call your attention to is that of wearing masks. I will confess that I have barely been in any store to see it directly, but there are ample reports on social media about confrontations taking places in which people walk into stores without wearing a mask. It is not uncommon that a scene ensues in which people assert their right not to don a mask. They explain that it is a matter of their personal freedom to choose not to wear one. When governments have established a mandate, as the Minnetonka City Counsel did this week, the response from some is that it is impinging on their liberty. They appeal to that most venerated document the US Constitution that declares:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
This debate has been playing out all over the US. This week the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, who has encouraged the voluntary wearing of mask for public safety, voided orders from 15 local governments, asserting that it is an infringement on people’s freedom to require them to wear a mask that even he agrees would protect all involved from COVID-19. And yesterday Democratic Gov. Tim Walz announced that he has not made a decision on issuing a state wide facemask mandate to control the spread of COVID-19 because he is hoping that, rather than relying on a unilateral an Executive order, he can get Republicans to join him in creating such an ordinance.
I find it appalling that so basic a health practice as the wearing of masks has become a political football and a badge for some of political identification. While there were mixed messages early in the pandemic about the value of wearing masks there is no real debate about the value of wearing masks in order to maintain the health of the public and contain the disease. Four days ago. The Director of the national Center for Disease Control Dr Robert Redfield stated, “We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow the spread of the virus- particularly when used universally within a community setting.” In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC’s Redfield asserted that “universal face coverings in public would help get the pandemic under control within 4 to 8 weeks.” As each day new records are broken in this country for the number of COVID-19 cases that total 3.5 million and more than 135,000 deaths, among the highest rates in the world, I find it quite shocking that there are those who world refuse to wear a mask on the basis of asserting their personal freedom.
I am once again pleased to be able to tell you that our MN Rabbinical Assoc, under the leadership of our Rabbi Weininger and Rabbi Jill Crimmings of Bet Shalom, issued a statement a few days ago advocating for mandates requiring the wearing masks. (Pull it up on the screen). Thank you to our member Rabbi Ryan Dulkin who drafted this statement, which is deeply grounded in Jewish teaching about the obligation we have “to take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for one another.” The letter is filled with biblical and rabbinic references showing that we have “to take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for one another” represents the fundamental thrust of our faith.
Let’s take a moment to look at mitzvah ma’akeh, with which you may be less familiar than other texts to which it refers. This is the biblical requirement from Deut 22:8 that commands a homeowner to erect parapets (railings) around the roof of one’s house to prevent someone from falling off. You might find that odd wondering what they were doing on the roof of the house to begin with? Houses in rabbinic times had flat roofs and this meant that the homeowner even had a positive obligation to protect someone who invited himself to sleep on the roof of the house. This mitzvah ma’akeh of parapets is applied widely to support the obligation that one must protect oneself and others from harm, to the best of one’s ability. This principle is hard wired into the very “DNA” of the Jewish people, which is in a covenantal relationship with God (as pointed out in my intro to Ahava Rabbah and to the Haftarah).
This week’s first portion Mattot has a great example of communal responsibility. I asked you to take a look on Numbers 32 when the Israelites’ journey through the desert has finally brought them to the border of Canaan, on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
We encounter the incident of the Reubenites and the Gadites who are said to be cattle herders. They claim that the land east of the Jordan is just perfect for the purpose of raising cattle so they tell Moses, 32:5 “It would be a favor to us if this land were given to your servants as a holding; do not move us across the Jordan.”
Moshe responded to the tribes of Reuven and Gad saying, “Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?’ I will spare you Moishe’s long speech berating them for looking out for their own welfare, rather than for the entirety of the nation and the dire consequences they and all Israel will experience if they make such a selfish choice. The rabbis heap further scorn on the greed of these tribes saying in Midrash HaGadol that these tribes did not have more cattle than the other tribes, “they just spent more time thinking about their cattle.” See Etz Hayim p. 951. The Reubenites and the Gadites shrink under Moshe’s withering critique and respond that of course they will cross over to join in the battle together with the rest of the tribes of Israel, they just want to be able to return to this area and have it as their portion.
The message is clear that central to the Jewish ethos is an expectation that one will focus on the community’s wellbeing and not just on one’s own. This is the furthest thing from the language we bear bandied about in discussion of health mandates for wearing masks that will protect everyone as being an infringement of my freedoms.
In thinking about this approach to living that honors the preciousness of every individual but demands responsibilities for the whole nation I turned to a wonderful chapter of my teacher Rabbi Elliot Dorff, To Do the Right and the Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics, JPS 2002 . It one of three volumes on Jewish ethics published in 2002 by the Jewish Publication Society. It remains an essential set for one’s Jewish library. In the opening chapter Rabbi Dorff explores the “Fundamental Beliefs That Guide Jewish Social Ethics.”
In the chapter he describes exactly how the Jewish, Christian and American secular stories, graphically portray each tradition's beliefs about the individual, society, and the goal of living. p. 3
…the Jewish and American understandings of the nature of community and of the status of the individual within the community have some important similarities. In the minds of many American Jews, these mask the significant differences between the two concepts. Indeed, many American Jews want to believe that their Jewish self and their American self fit neatly together, like hand in glove, with no contradictions or even tensions. As we have seen, though, American ideology depicts the community in a "thin" sense, by which membership is completely voluntary and may be revoked by the individual at any time and by which the purpose of the community is predominantly pragmatic. In contrast, Judaism's sense of community is "thick," which means that its members are organically part of the communal corpus and cannot sever themselves from it and that the purpose of the community, while partially pragmatic, is essentially theological, “to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex 19:6) p. 25-26
It is no wonder that we sometimes feel pulled as American Jews between the individual thrust of Americanism holding up as a model the idea of rugged individualism and the Jewish ideal of communal obligation. In the case of the current controversy over requiring the wearing of masks we can see the evidence that the assertion of individual freedom over communal responsibility can leave many people sick, or even dead.
We need to follow Dr Redfield’s wise counsel, “All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
On the clear basis of Jewish law, I and our MN Rabbinical Association, with no hesitation say that we are all obligated as Jews to wear masks to protect ourselves, our neighbors and our world. We need to send that strong and clear message to ALL of our elected representatives.
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Adath Jeshurun Congregation
Minnesota Rabbinical Association Advocates For Mask Mandate 7/14/20
My eyes pine away from affliction; I call to You, O LORD, each day; I stretch out my hands to You” (Psalm 88:10)
The Minnesota Rabbinical Association calls on our governor, lieutenant governor, and elected leaders to put in place all reasonable measures that will help our community reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly by mandating the wearing of face coverings in public.
Our world is experiencing the most widely felt international plague in a century. Many states in our country are witnessing record new cases daily. We are losing loved ones to COVID-19, many more are experiencing debilitating illness, our livelihoods are under threat, and our children’s education and well-being are at stake.
Communal challenges require communal responses. We must take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for one another.
The core of Jewish tradition centers on the value of life (Deuteronomy 30:19). The saving of life supersedes all other religious duties (Mishneh Torah, Shabbat 2:1). Moreover, Jewish tradition teaches that “a person should never remain in a state of danger and say, ‘a miracle will be performed on my behalf ’” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 32a).
We look to our sacred Scriptures for guidance. Face coverings fulfill the mandate set out in the book of Deuteronomy 22:8, which commands home builders to erect parapets around a roof to prevent anyone from falling from it. Jewish tradition understands this verse to be broadly applicable to any reasonable measure that will protect public safety.
We have learned that those infected with COVID-19 can spread the disease before they are symptomatic, which makes wearing a face covering in public all the more crucial. We find support for this practice in the words of Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” If we work together, we can change the dangerous trajectory we are on. Let us be strong, and let us strengthen one another.
Rabbi Kassel Abelson, Rabbi Esther Adler, Rabbi Morris Allen, Rabbi Shalom Resnick Bell, Rabbi Norman Cohen, Rabbi Jill Crimmings, Rabbi Barry Cytron, Rabbi Alexander Davis, Rabbi Max Davis, Rabbi Ryan Dulkin, Rabbi Shosh Dworsky, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, Rabbi Avraham Ettedgui, Rabbi Jeremy Fine, Rabbi Jennifer Hartman, Rabbi Sim Glaser, Rabbi Yosi Gordon, Rabbi Tamar Grimm, Rabbi Hayim Herring, Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Rabbi Jason Klein, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, Rabbi Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg, Rabbi Lynn Liberman, Rabbi David Locketz, Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein, Rabbi Micah Miller, Rabbi Tobias Divack Moss, Rabbi Cathy Nemiroff, Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman, Rabbi Avi Olitzky, Rabbi Debra Rappaport, Rabbi Adam Rubin, Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, Rabbi Adam Spilker, Rabbi David Steinberg, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, Rabbi David Thomas, Rabbi Heidi Waldmann, Rabbi Aaron Weininger, Rabbi Michelle Werner, and Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman
Rosh Hashanah Day 1
September 14, 2015 5776
It was our pleasure, this past May, to celebrate the graduation of our youngest child Elana from Washington University in St Louis, where she received her Master’s Degree in Social Work. We were curious about who would be the commencement speaker. It was our second time attending a Wash U graduation; we had been there the year before when she received her BA. Then the speaker was Tony LaRussa, former manager of the St Louis Cardinals, who led them to three National League pennants and two World Series. Clearly he was a tremendous baseball manager, but as a graduation speaker- not so great. We were curious about how Wash U would handle it this year when St Louis, and nearby Ferguson, had become ground zero for one of the most difficult issues facing this country- that of racism.
When we learned that the speaker would be Ken Burns, Cindy and I assumed that it had to be an improvement. Ken Burns is a distinguished American filmmaker, known for his use of archive’s footage and photos in documentary films featured on PBS. Among his best known are his series on The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), and most recently The Roosevelts (2014). He seemed a promising choice, especially given that this year our country marked the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.
Delivering a successful commencement speech is a difficult task. I think it even tops the difficulty of delivering a good High Holiday sermon. What we really did not expect was how moving, how impressive Burns’ speech would be. Listening to him, I knew immediately that I would want to reflect further on it for these High Holidays for he powerfully addressed the issue hanging over all of us-the issue of racism in this country.
Burns based his speech on one delivered just up the road in Springfield, Illinois in January, 1838. It had been delivered by a 29 year old, tall and lanky lawyer, who would one day become President of the United States- Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was speaking about national security. He said: “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? …Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the Earth and crush us at a blow?” Lincoln answered his own question: “Never. All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa … could not by force take a drink from the Ohio [River] or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years … If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Burns asserted that racism was at the front of Lincoln’s mind in that speech and throughout his life. Could Lincoln have imagined that all these years later issues of race would still plague this country? Pointing to Ferguson, Burns said that, “the shame Lincoln thought would lead to national suicide, our inability to see beyond the color of someone’s skin. It has been with us since our founding.”
Burns recalled the immortal words of a founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who drew upon the Hebrew Bible to draft the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence that begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” How deep the irony, Burns pointed out, that Jefferson “owned more than a hundred human beings. He never saw the contradiction, never saw the hypocrisy, and more important never saw fit in his lifetime to free any one of those human beings, ensuring as we went forward that the young United States — born with such glorious promise — would be bedeviled by race, that it would take a bloody, bloody Civil War to even begin to redress the imbalance.
Burns was not only charging the graduates. That day I felt the charge knowing that it was my responsibility to urge our congregants to reflect on the events of this past year that have played out in such bloody fashion in NY, Baltimore, and Charleston. These flashpoints made evident that racism is still very much an issue in this country. Not even the hard fought civil rights movement of the 1960s put an end to American racism. Stephen Colbert captured it well in the first night of his new show, pointing to personal memorabilia decorating his set. Among the items he has on display is a pennant that his mother received in 1963, while attending Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Colbert quipped, “Sadly, Civil rights only won the pennant that year. Racism won the World Series.”
As we gather as a congregation on these High Holidays, these days of awe, charged with the sacred task of doing cheshbon hanefesh - serious soul searching, I hope that we can look into our hearts and answer the question raised by Ken Burns’ talk in St Louis that day: what is our responsibility? Though it may make us uncomfortable to ponder the question, how do we otherwise make sure that racism finally ends in this country? Or to use Colbert’s image, how do we make sure that racism does not continue to win the World Series?
As Jews we come to this topic with a great legacy. We are the direct inheritors of the Biblical Genesis story Jefferson drew upon in writing the Declaration of Independence, the same words Lincoln drew upon to begin his short and brilliant Gettysburg address that, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
This concept of human equality, embedded in the Torah’s creation story, teaches that all human beings are descended from a common ancestor created Btzelem Elohim- in the image of God. This concept is a gift that the People of Israel gave to the world and we can take some pride in that. But as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Prof. of our movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and a leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960s asked profoundly, “How should a being created in the likeness of God act, think, feel? How should we live in a way which is compatible with our being a likeness of God?” It is quite clear in reading the questions Heschel posed that he thought we were not adequately fulfilling our responsibility. I dare say that not enough has changed since he framed those questions.
Yes as Jews we can claim some bright spots- We can take pride in the fact that Rabbi Heschel marched with his dear friend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, AL, the anniversary of which was also observed this year. Two years earlier, Heschel played a prominent role in Chicago at a National Conference of Religion and Race (Jan 1963), a gathering that inspired the participation of clergy in the great march on Washington that year. Drawing on the principle of B’tzelem Elohim, that we are created in the image of God and that all human beings are descended from the first Adam, Heschel said that, “To think of man in terms of white, black, or yellow is more than an error, it an eye disease, a cancer of the soul.” "One hundred years ago," he reminded the delegates, "the emancipation was proclaimed. It is time for the white man to strive for self-emancipation, to set himself free of bigotry." The greatest sin, he declared, is that of indifference: "Equality is a good thing ... what is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of inequality."
There were many Jews who followed Heschel’s example in taking up that cause such as Rabbis Jerome Lipnick of Adath Jeshurun and Moshe Sacks of Bnai Emet, whose courage as active participants in the Civil rights movement I spoke about three years ago on Yom Kippur. We look back on these stories with justified pride. We tend to forget how much grief many of the rabbis who marched in that cause took from their congregants for doing it. Even today I would venture to guess that American Jews feel that the issues of slavery and racism are not really our responsibility. After all, we can fairly claim that most of our relatives came to this country well after Lincoln had emancipated the slaves. Though there were a small number of Jews who profited from the African slave trade, most of our ancestors were being subject to fierce anti-Semitism and being chased out of Europe when these things were happening.
However, if we look into our hearts during this High Holiday period, can we truly say that we have no responsibility for the sin of racism? How honest are we being with ourselves? To what extent do we as a community, now largely seen as white people, though we know we are more diverse than that, to what extent do we benefit from laws and practices that disadvantage people of color? In creating our High Holiday Machzor the rabbis were wise in framing most of the prayers in the plural because they had a deep understanding that when there is misconduct in a society, all of us have to some extent contributed to it. Thus in the Vidui prayer of confession we will recite on Yom Kippur we ask forgiveness, “For the sins we have committed.”
As we closely examine the sin of racism that remains so prevalent in this country, we need to understand that racism is not only about individual bias or prejudice. The numbers tell the story of how deeply racism is imbedded in our society such that Black Americans in this country experience significantly higher rates of early death, incarceration and are at a distinct disadvantage according to so many measures of social wellbeing. There are vast gaps in median wealth between whites and blacks. "Systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common.'' in the American criminal justice system asserted, former US Attorney General Eric Holder. As one example, he cites a U.S. Sentencing Commission study (2013) demonstrating that black men received prison terms that were 20% longer than those imposed on white men involved in similar crimes. The disparities in this country go on and on.
And what about MN, which we like to think of as a relatively progressive place? The Itasca Project, which brought together 50 of Minnesota’s civic, corporate and political leaders issued a study which documented that the average black Twin Cities resident earns 48% less than whites and is 73% less likely to own a home.
Myron Orfield, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Race and Poverty, observes that racial segregation is increasing in all of the 25 largest U.S. metros, but it is happening at a much faster clip in the Twin Cities where, “Neighborhoods and schools have remained more stubbornly segregated here” and “those once integrated have re-segregated at alarming rates.”
We would like to believe in this country that anyone who works hard can reap the rewards of their work. The reality of racial disparities and inequalities show that in many ways the deck is stacked against people of color. White people in this country, and Jews are included in this category, start from the position of significant privilege that we take for granted. To use a baseball analogy, it is like those who are “born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”
If we are to live up to our legacy as a Jewish people and our loftiest values as Jews, than we have our work cut out for us. We need to start by really listening to what people are saying when they say that “Black Lives Matter.” Our gut reaction, given the value concept of Btzelem Elohim, Being Created in the Image of God, is to want to assert that all lives matter, and they do. But we may not assert that to deny that racism continues to be a powerful, powerful force in this country. If you want to get a feeling for the depth of discrimination that black people endure in this country, I recommend a new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. I first learned of it in an article by the NY Times columnist David Brooks who acknowledged that “The last year has been an education for white people. There has been a depth, power and richness to the African-American conversation about Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and the other killings that has been humbling and instructive.” Brooks call Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, a great and searing contribution to this public education. It is a mind-altering account of the black male experience.” Though not uncritical, Brooks states that, “Every conscientious American should read it.”
Coates writes his book as a letter to his 15 year old son capturing “The Talk,” the talk that Black parents in this country feel that they must have with their children to try to keep them safe from the risks they invariably face because of their color. On Coates’ Atlantic magazine webpage you can read the stories, stories that African Americans have posted in reaction, writing about the profound discrimination they continue to experience.
There is very strong evidence to support the claim that there is ongoing, systemic racism in our country, but there are also moments that rise up to punch us in the gut, such as the horrific shootings that took place on June 17th at the historic Emanuel AME - African Methodist Episcopal Church – in Charleston when eight people gathered in their church for Bible study were murdered in cold blood. Reading the manifesto of the perpetrator, seeing him posing by the Confederate flag, brings home powerfully that even extreme racism still thrives in this country. It is shocking to me that a person can harbor such a deep hatred that it obliterates the image of God in another human being, allowing him to sit in study and fellowship with people and then shoot them down ruthlessly. Racism really is, as Heschel said, a cancer of the soul.
One week after that atrocity I attended a service of comfort and solidarity at St. Peter’s AME Church in South Minneapolis. It was a deeply moving event. The presence of members of the Jewish community and others from across the Twin Cities was greatly appreciated. Sometimes showing up is what is needed. The MN Council of Churches has asked congregations around the state to take turns hosting a service on early Weds evenings to coincide with and commemorate that brutal attack. I invite you to show up for evening minyan on Weds Dec 23 when we will be the hosts and demonstrate our commitment to eradicating racism. At the end of that moving service at St. Peters AME, I extended an invitation to their Minister, the Rev. Nazim Fakir, to speak here at Adath and he has agreed to do that on the Shabbat morning of Thanksgiving weekend.
Sometimes just showing up and reaching out in concern is enough to show we care, but surely we can do more. For the last ten years our synagogue has sponsored a terrific adult education series organized by our Adult Learning Director Nina Samuels and sponsored by our members Mark and Lucy Fisher and Peter and Gloria Cooper. This series has never shied away from difficult topics. When our planning group gathered this past August to brainstorm for this spring, we quickly arrived at the conclusion that we needed to focus our study on the issue of racism. But we will not only study it. Partnering with Jewish Community Action, which celebrates its 20th Anniversary of engaging our community in working for justice in this state, we will seek paths of action that our congregants and our congregation can take to eradicate racism, which Rabbi Abraham Heschel called “[Racism is] man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” I hope you will show up.
Before concluding I want to return to the speech that Ken Burns delivered so powerfully that day at Wash U, which is as privileged a place as one could imagine. It was clear that not everybody was comfortable with what Burns had to say. It seemed to me that there were sections of the crowd at the commencement whose reactions were muted. It was clear that the Social Work faculty and students were delighted to see the issue being pressed before the entire university. Burns made it point powerfully. As Abraham Lincoln long ago asserted, this country will not be destroyed by outside threats, but as we have seen this summer, we are liable to self-destruct if we do not address the critical issue of racism and the social inequality that accompanies it.
The High Holidays are a time of cheshbon hanefesh – personal and communal introspection. It is a time to consider the choices we have to make about who we will be, and about what God expects of each of us and of our society.
Let’s make sure that each of us is making the right choices. Let us make it our business to take a close look around ourselves, wherever we have a sphere of influence and make sure we are each doing the right thing. Let us work together to finally put an end to this illness of racism that plagues our country so that we can honestly assert that we are truly living up to the principle, grounded in our Torah and affirmed by our rabbis, of Btzelem Elohim that all people are created in the image of God. And let us say Amen.
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
Adath Jeshurun Congregation
World Zionist Congress Election
Rabbi Aaron Weininger
What can I do?
As many of you know, my brother Dan made aliyah almost nine years ago. He lives in Jerusalem, where he is studying to be a Conservative rabbi. I got to see him a few weeks ago while I was leading Honeymoon Israel with the 21 couples from our community. Not long before I left for Israel, Dan posted a new Facebook profile picture. It was a picture of him, beaming, under a huppah, officiating at the wedding of his dear friends in Beit Hanan. When my dad saw the photo on Facebook, he asked me if Dan expressed concern about any consequences. Frankly it took me a minute to understand why my dad was asking.
But then I understood.
You see, it is both invalid and illegal for a Reform, Conservative, or Modern Orthodox rabbi to officiate at a wedding between two Jewish people in Israel. For a Jewish couple to be recognized by the State of Israel, their union must be performed by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel or performed outside of Israel in a civil ceremony. Today Ultra-Orthodox synagogues, youth groups and rabbis in Israel receive at least $1 billion dollars annually from the state, which originates from an agreement made in 1948 when founding Prime Minister Ben Gurion empowered a then-shrinking Orthodox community. He gave them control over all religious affairs in Israel. My brother is among the 64% of Israelis who want separation of religion and state and the 64% who do not want any religious body to have governmental authority in Israel, and the 62% who want Israel to recognize a range of Jewish conversion ceremonies. He is among the 800,000 Israelis seeking an alternative to ultra-Orthodox Judaism, that simply want to enjoy on Israeli soil the spirit of egalitarian, intellectually and spiritually open Judaism that we enjoy right here on snowy ground. As a rabbinic intern, my brother is helping build one of the 87 Conservative congregations across Israel. His congregation is right in the heart of Jerusalem, at Kehilat Zion, where Ashkenazi and Sephardi, adults of all genders and life experiences dance and sing in an overflowing basement of a rec center while kids run around, swinging from window bars like a makeshift playground.
What can I do?
My colleague Rabbi Gordon Tucker writes the following, “Zionism was about allowing Jewish culture to flourish without the constraint of foreign domination, so that Jewish political life, intellectual life, moral development and its religious expression could reflect the full range of what the Jewish people believe and aspire. Alas, the last in this list—religious expression—has been hamstrung by invidious funding decisions that cut us out, and by offensive rules and insulting rhetoric besmirch our reputation.”
You may be asking, why I keep posing the question what can I do?
Why am I talking about my brother (aside from being proud) and reflecting on a definition of Zionism?
Because we find ourselves often wondering, in a world that seems complex and beyond our control with the flurry of daily events, how I might do something and draw from my spiritual life as a force for good? Is it possible to do anything but lift our hands in despair and lurch from crisis to crisis? So much of our relationship to current events in our country and abroad is dictated in such a way. Tragedy strikes, and community mobilizes. Can we do something with our hands to shape the world, or at the very least shape Zionism as Rabbi Tucker imagines, so that it remains strong and in consonance with the majority of Israelis who are counting on us to act? I believe we can. And we must.
Approximately every five years the World Zionist Congress convenes, the very same World Zionist Congress that Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, convened in Basil, Switzerland in 1897. It is meeting again in October 2020. Who gets to show up at the Congress? Well that depends on you. As Rabbi Tucker explains, “The more delegates we elect, the more seats we have at the table of the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund, and other organizations. Since they are not formally government organizations, through them we can obtain precious funding to nurture the religious culture that we offer daily to an Israeli population that wants it and needs it. 2-3 million dollars can flow to our movement in Israel and throughout the world if we are represented well there.”
What can I do?
After Shabbat ends tonight, each of us has the choice to move from the reflection of the day to the action of the week. Take five minutes. If you are 18 years of age or older, go online and register to vote in the World Zionist Congress. There is $7.50 registration fee. After you vote, send the link to three friends and ask them to vote. If you’ve voted already, thank you. And please also spread the word. Our numbers in Minnesota stand at a low 156 voters. In the land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000 reasons we take pride in our state, we must do better for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are counting on us. We have until March 11th, when voting closes.
Our own Rabbi Kravitz, Hazzan Dulkin and Heidi Schneider are represented on Slate 6, the Mercaz slate of candidates, that stands for the kind of wedding canopy, huppah, my brother created for his friends. Mercaz, which means center, supports the Israeli Conservative movement, known as Masorti, which secures the rights of anyone who has converted by a Reform, Conservative or Modern Orthodox rabbi to be recognized as a Jewish person in the Jewish state. Voting Mercaz advances all of the rituals and practices we take for granted as egalitarian American Jews. Voting Mercaz also supports hundreds of Israeli kids with special needs who celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies with Masorti communities, in partnership with the ADRABA Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities. 1,600 youth across Israel take part in the Conservative movement’s dynamic youth program, called NOAM. I visited many of these kids at summer camp in northern Israel, as rockets were falling on southern Israel in the summer of 2014. Voting Mercaz supports a Judaism that is welcoming, a Judaism that we are practicing this very morning, a Judaism that Nate is stepping into with pride.
Hopefully by now you realize this sermon is not just about asking each of us to vote, which is essential. But I am asking each of us whether we are able to look at our hands and find the capacity to DO SOMETHING with them, to do something to stand up for Zionism, to support our brothers like my own in Israel, to realize that we are not powerless when we look at a chaotic world. That we have something to add to that world— not just when people are trashing Israel or attacking Jews— but when we have the opportunity to vote, dream, and build toward a vibrant, pluralistic, and democratic Israel. We have that opportunity to heed the words of the Psalmist who warns, “Should I forget you O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. Let my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not elevate Jerusalem above all my joy.” In A New Psalm, his commentary on that selection from Psalm 137, Rabbi Benjamin Segal writes, “Reflecting a world turned upside down, the poet used “not remember” and “forget” to pledge remembering and not forgetting. The withered hand and the frozen palate might reflect the act of pledging…”
What can I do?
Let us pledge. For Jerusalem. For the State of Israel. For hope.
I think of my brother performing his first wedding in Israel, an illegal and invalid act. A ceremony his brother thousands of miles away and a few degrees colder does in this very sanctuary without fear of detainment.
At the end of the Jewish wedding, we break a glass. It is meant to symbolize the destruction of Jerusalem, an historic pain that cuts through an otherwise miraculous moment. We might imagine many such moments in our own lives. Pain punctuating joy.
We are so fortunate to have witnessed the rebirth of the modern State of Israel in these last nearly 72 years. And we have work to do to keep in mind Israelis who feel a sense of brokenness, but choose hope. Who choose to pick up the pieces. Israelis who get to work every day building with optimism. Israelis who rely on us to use our hands too, to not let them wither in disinterest or despair.
On this Shabbat I ask you to commit with me to helping pick up the pieces. To pick up the shards in the new week through our commitment to do something. To recognize we are not powerless when the world around us seems to be breaking in parts. That we have the strength, even in shaky hands, to register, to pull the lever online, and stand up for Zionism. To do so proudly, to encourage our friends, and to vote in the elections for the World Zionist Congress.
May our broken world, may our beloved Israel, may our lives find wholeness. And let us say: Amen.
Click here to Vote MERCAZ
Hazzan Joanna Dulkin
Spiritual Fitness (author unknown)
If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches & pains,
If you can resist complaining & boring people with your troubles,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism & blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies & deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs…
Then you are probably a dog.
Today, I want to speak about how the act of sacred singing, as a spiritual practice – in other words, singing in spiritual community can improve your “spiritual fitness.”
The act of singing is both creative and cathartic, and it’s GOOD FOR YOU.
Yehuda haLevi, the medieval poet and thinker wrote: Prayer is for one’s soul what nourishment is for one’s body. The blessing of one’s prayer lasts until the time of the next, just as the strength derived from one meal lasts until another.... During the time of prayer, one cleanses the soul of all that has passed over it and prepares it for the future.
Think about that: prayer is nourishment for your soul: it is what the soul needs to stay “fit.” As with any fitness program, you don’t start out by running 26.2 miles or schvitzing for 90 minutes at an advanced Zumba class. Maybe you take the stairs instead of the elevator. You park farther away from the entrance to work or the store. You buy a fitness tracker and set small, meetable goals. Same with nurturing your prayer life, and here is my prescription: start small, perhaps with a niggun.
A niggun is a prayer that has been distilled to a wordless melody. A niggun is an invitation to travel inward, to shake you out of “auto pilot.” As one begins a niggun, they become less and less self-conscious of what is immediately around them, even of the tune itself. A person begins to experience a deeper and more personal form of prayer, and to tune into the prayerful energy of those around them.
The Piaceztner Rebbe, otherwise known as Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira was a 20th century Polish Rabbi whose life was brutally cut short in the Shoah. He left behind a stunning body of writing, including instructions for spiritual practice around meditation.
Taking a part of a niggun you know, turn yourself to face the wall, or just close your eyes, and think that you are standing before the Throne of Glory on which God sits, and with your heart broken you have come to pour out your soul to God with song and melody which come from the innermost part of your heart. Then you will certainly feel that your soul is coming out as you sing. If at first you were singing slowly before your soul in order to arouse it from its sleep, slowly, slowly you will feel that your soul has begun to sing on its own.
It will happen sometimes that was you sing, without intending it, you will spontaneously begin to speak words of prayer to God. … your soul comes out of its sheath to fly upwards…and from the depths of your heart you will cry out in pure prayer to God. And lest you think that such prayers are somehow less important that those written down the Siddur, you should know that prayers such as these come from the very same quarry from the soul itself is hewn.
Your soul comes out of its sheath, flying upwards. Song and melody from the innermost part of your heart. Pure prayer to God. I’ll take it!
The Zohar, a seminal mystical text, tells us that “In the highest heavens, there is a certain temple with gates that can be opened only by the power of niggun.” As Hasidism developed and flourished in Eastern Europe during the 18th century, the act of spiritual singing as a congregation was elevated to an essential element of the movement. The power of singing in devotional community was part and parcel of the Hasidic desire to cleave to God at all times. Practically speaking, if folks didn’t know Hebrew, or the prayers, or even how to read, it was the niggun, with its simple syllables of “oy yoy” “bam bam” or “lai lai” that became the universal accessible instrument of prayer; a way of transcending earthly concerns and connecting to the Divine. And also, practically speaking, the singing of melodies together, whether niggun or congregational melody, helps each community create a shared musical vocabulary and identity.
The next musical layer, after NIGGUN, is CHANT, probably the oldest form of Jewish music. We chant the Torah, megillot and Haftarah (i.e. we don’t sing them) because chanting is based on the language (insert fancy word: logogenic – language centered!) We also chant in a more contemporary context, through simple repetition of a small selection of words to a melody, such as “el na refa na la” that we sing for healing on Shabbat Mornings. The chant itself can be musically simple or complicated but the form is easy: sing, sing, sing, and repeat.
Rabbi Shefa Gold, a master composer and chant leader, wrote an entire book about how Hebrew chanting heals the spirit, transforms the mind and deepens love. She is the author of hundreds of Hebrew chants, and teaches that “chant is an embodied practice (YOU FEEL IT IN THE BODY): we can’t stay in our heads, merely thinking ABOUT or contemplating ideas, no matter how sublime. When I chant, every molecule of my body is vibrating, jarring loose the power of stored memories and making that force available to me as I build the power of intention.” Her book teaches a new-old approach to song leadership, and details how to facilitate chanting circles, which have become quite popular.
Another phenomenon growing in popularity is singing circles, which we will have the opportunity to experience later tonight. Singing circles employ niggun, chant, song and sometimes short teachings that flow together to create a fully immersive experience. If you have ever sung around a campfire, or experienced an Israeli Shira b’Tzibur (community song session), a Quaker song session or even a Bluegrass Hootenany, you have tasted the magic of a singing circle. One of the people responsible for the many Jewish singing circles that have popped up all over the world is Joey Weisenberg, a visionary composer and founder of the Rising Song Institute (part of Hadar). Weisenberg wrote a book called Building Singing Communities and muses in his introduction: “In the last few decades, Jews around the US and elsewhere have begun to re-explore their collective singing heritage……..Just think how far we could come if we treated the songs sung in our day to day [lay] synagogue community as seriously as we do the music created by professional stage musicians. We could create an atmosphere of both great beauty and drama in our spaces of prayer – we would value each and every individual in our community as a creative musician, and encourage their efforts in an attitude of musical collaboration….this reality is possible, if only we educate ourselves about and hold ourselves to aesthetic standards, if we raise the bar just a bit higher on what we can achieve together in beautiful conscientious song.”
So, how do we achieve this? Weisenberg’s answer: just reframe the goals. What if the point of singing together was about Process and not Product? What if the main purpose of gathering people together in song were to “create communal musical energy” – rather than musical perfection? How would this feel?
Part of the answer is in today’s Torah reading: the Song of the Sea – a piece of Torah so important that the rabbis added it to our daily and Shabbat liturgy. And part of the answer is in our own experience. We can study it, or read about it, or hear today’s Torah reading, but I encourage you to live it, this evening, and make a move to improve your spiritual fitness.
I will close with a teaching from the Slonimer Rebbe, a Hassidic master known as the Netivot Shalom, that appears in our Siddur alongside the Song of the Sea.
I Will Sing
Sometimes we sing to ourselves—no one else hears the sound, yet our minds are singing.
Sometimes we sing—our vocal chords voice a tune, and all can hear it and recognize it.
And sometimes we sing and every cell of our bodies contains the song. Such songs transform both the singer and the listener.
That is the way that the people Israel sang as they were saved, in crossing the Sea.
Song is a part of being alive. It begins in the breath, then a melody, then grows into song, and singing together, the music becomes part of a larger group energy. What will happen tonight when regular people get together and sing? You should come find out! Shabbat Shalom.
D'var Torah by Jacob Kraus of Jewish Community Action
January 18, 2020
21, Tevet 5780
Spend an evening with JCA members and friends:
Decriminalizing Communities Campaign Member Meeting (February 10, 2020)
Shabbat Shalom. Thank you to Rabbi Kravitz for inviting me this morning and to all of you for being here. I also want to take a moment to thank everyone here at Adath for your extraordinary leadership around Tzedek and Hesed work, Since I started working at JCA on Immigration and Criminal Justice issues a year and a half ago, I have really enjoyed working with your clergy and Hesed leadership on meaningful programs and xin support of impactful policies such as Driver’s Licenses for All. My primary background as an organizer is working with synagogues, and because of that, I believe deeply in the power a synagogue has to transform individual lives and entire communities. Adath confirms that belief for me every day.
I want to start with a story: A group of people, facing food insecurity in their homeland, immigrate to a rich and powerful nation, where a family member helps them settle and ensures that they are welcome in this new place. They are able to experience the security they sought, and their community grows over the years. However, leadership changes, and the new ruler of this land has no relationship with the immigrant community. He is worried that they may challenge his power, and stokes fear against them. He levies oppressive measures against them, and argues that if this community continues to grow and thrive, they will take over the whole nation. The immigrants now face violence, repression, and are forced into labor without fair compensation.
Does this sound familiar to you? It should, because we read it in today’s parashah: Sh’mot. Sh’mot contains the beginning of the Exodus from Egypt -- a story that features so prominently in our prayers, our ritual, and, of course, our holiday calendar.
Why are we constantly recalling this story? Perhaps because it has something to teach us about how to act in the world today, when we see xenophobia, repression, violence, and fear-mongering.
In particular, Parashat Sh’mot contains three lessons I find useful for us to consider in these challenging times:
First, know yourself. This is a lesson we learn from Moses, who, though he is an Israelite child, is raised from the age of three months up to adulthood as a prince of Egypt. We read this morning of how Moses, now grown, witnesses an Egyptian beating an Israelite. The Israelite is described as “achav” -- Moses’ kinsman or brother (Exodus 2:11). Moses, though he has been raised in a situation so far removed from that of his people, sees himself and his family in the eyes of the Israelite slaves. He doesn’t have to -- he could live the rest of his life in the privilege afforded to princes of Egypt -- but he knows that his destiny is wrapped up in the destiny of his kinfolk, the Israelites.
Knowing who we truly are, what we value, who we share a destiny with, provides a strong foundation for the work we do for immigrant justice. Knowing who we are requires us to remember that the vast majority of Jews who live in the United States came here as immigrants, either at times when we were welcomed here or after overcoming xenophobic barriers. I will never forget my first visit to Duluth, when I was able to walk the same streets my great-great-grandfather walked as he took his first steps in America. But I will also never forget that the only reason my wife is here is because her grandfather was able to circumvent the quotas that kept Jews fleeing the shoah (Holocaust) out of the U.S. Knowing who we are also challenges us to consider where our long-term interests lie: in a society that sows fear and division or in one that embraces diversity. Knowing who we are invites us to acknowledge the relationship between antisemitism, white nationalism, and anti-immigrant movements. It helps us show up for ourselves as part of our work to show up for all impacted by injustice.
Second, know one another. One could argue that the most significant change that ushers in the enslavement of the Israelites is a breakdown in connection and relationship. The first thing we learn about the new Pharaoh who arises in this story is that he did not know Joseph -- “lo yada et Yosef” (Exodus 1:8). This Pharaoh did not have a relationship with Joseph, or his descendants, making him susceptible to fear and anger towards them.
We can contrast this with G-d, as we read just before the iconic moment with the burning bush. “Va-yara Elohim et b’nei Yisrael va-yeda Elohim” -- “And G-d looked upon the Israelites and G-d knew” (Exodus 2:25). G-d knew the people, and could hear their suffering, and chose to act upon it.
Relationship is key to overcoming fear and division. In the Fall of 2018 JCA members knocked on doors and had non-partisan conversations in Edina, Hopkins, and Minnetonka with voters about immigrants and immigration. What we learned, time and again, was that when the voters we spoke with shared stories of immigrants they knew, or heard stories from us about immigrants we knew, they became more open-minded and sympathetic on the issue. Relationships can change hearts and minds, and they also can help us remain aware of what the needs are in our community. I am really lucky that JCA partners with community organizations led by Latinx immigrants, Black immigrants, Asian/Pacific Islander immigrants, native people, people of color who are unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system, advocacy organizations, legal service providers, and faith communities like Adath. It is through these relationships that we are able to identify things that need to change and act powerfully to change them.
Finally, know what it takes. Perhaps the most surprising part of this parasha to me was that, when G-d is enlisting Moses to free the Israelites from bondage, G-d tells Moses everything that is going to happen! G-d says to Moses: “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the marvels that I have put within your power. I, however, will stiffen his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). G-d even reveals the last of the Ten Plagues: the slaying of the first born. Why give away the rest of the story?
To me, the lesson here is that when we set out to create change and take risks in the face of adversity, we should do our best to know what it takes to succeed. The campaign I work on at JCA -- Decriminalizing Communities -- has a wide ranging vision where immigration enforcement and criminal justice systems are transformed into systems that center human dignity, rather than fear and division. And, we know that it will take a whole lot of changes -- political, structural, narrative changes to get there. So, we look at what we have the power to change right now.
One of the places we can act most powerfully is on the County level. County governments have control over many institutions, such as sheriff departments, jails, courthouses, and social services, that have a significant impact on the lives of those targeted by immigration enforcement. And we have the ability to create change in how those governments operate. I’ll share two brief examples.
The first is a story of a significant achievement we’ve already made. If you’ve ever observed an immigration court proceeding, you’ll notice that much of it looks like a standard courtroom: there is a judge, a prosecutor, a defendant, an interpreter, a court recorder, and a gallery. One key difference is that, in immigration court, the “defendant” is less likely to have legal representation, because they have no right to legal representation. This can make a significant difference -- people with legal representation are ten times more likely to have a positive result at immigration court than those without. For the past several years, JCA and our partners have been advocating for county governments to commit public funding for immigrant legal defense, and I am excited to share with you all that Hennepin County has just completed its first year of such a program and has committed funds for the coming year. While the funding is nowhere near the need, we are hopeful that Hennepin County will build on the success of this program.
The second story is of work that is very much in progress. One of the main ways Hennepin County residents end up in ICE custody is through the county jail. Currently, when someone is arrested and booked into the county jail, the jail records where they were born, and if ICE asks for to speak to an immigrant on the phone, jail staff will arrange for that to happen. Moreover, ICE will ask jail staff to tell them when specific people will be released, and the jail staff will share that information with them. While this level of cooperation is much lower than it was a couple of years ago, there is still a lot of work to do to make sure local law enforcement is only enforcing their own laws, and not immigration law.
So, through research and productive conversations with the Hennepin County Sheriff, Dave Hutch, we and our partners are learning exactly what it will take to eliminate this cooperation, and will be taking action to do just that.
I want to invite each of you to be a part of this action. Together, we can reflect on who we are and why we care about immigrant justice, build powerful relationships with one another and with partners, and understand what it takes to build a more safe and welcoming community. Here is how we can walk this path together: JCA is hosting a meeting to learn more about these and other opportunities to take action for Decriminalizing Communities on Monday, February 10 from 6-8 PM. Please join us.
Again, thank you all and Shabbat Shalom.
Adath Jeshurun Congregation
January 4, 2020 7 Tevet, 5780
Abayudaya - Uganda Visit
Many have been asking Cindy and me about our trip to Uganda, from which we returned last week. I promised I would speak about it this Shabbat, though I am still reflecting on and absorbing the experience. Our Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of about 1700 Conservative/Masorti Rabbis, has been working to more fully realize the international aspect of our organization by providing opportunities for colleagues to travel to places around the globe where our colleagues are hard at work building Jewish communities. When the RA announced that a trip was being organized to Uganda to visit the Abayudaya Jewish community it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this community led by our colleague there, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu. Some of you may recall that Rabbi Sizomu visited us here at Adath for Shabbat a number of years ago.
I am grateful that timing worked out for Cindy and me to be part of this group of 20 RA rabbis and spouses for an adventure that was beyond what we could have imagined. I must confess how odd it was to be flying to Uganda’s International Airport in Entebbe. It is of course best known as the site of Israel famous Entebbe Operation on July 4th 1976, when Israeli commandos freed an Air France plane, that had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists who singled out Jews and Israeli as hostages. It was bizarre to think that our vacation adventure would begin at the infamous Entebbe Airport that shows no signs of what took place there.
Instead we entered the country without fanfare. In our first days we marveled at the richness of Uganda’s natural beauty. We got to see wildlife such as chimpanzees, giraffes, elephants and in a special trek at the end of the trip we hiked almost 10 miles to stand within feet of mountain gorillas, an endangered species unique to that region. These are animals that we had only ever encountered in the zoo. In preparing for the trip I had not given a lot of thought to how moving it would be to see these wonders of God’s creation. It gave new meaning to the words we recite in the morning service “Mah Rabu Ma’asecha Adonai- how wonderous are Your creations Adonai.”
At the same time Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. I have never witnessed this level of abject poverty. Many people live in roughhewn brick homes, without electricity or indoor plumbing and hunger is widespread. Children often walk without shoes, wearing tattered clothing. Substantial wealth seems to be limited to those who are associated with the government and corruption is pervasive.
Our primary mission in undertaking the trip was to meet the Abayudaya community that I have heard about over the years and was eager to encounter firsthand. Imagine arriving in their tribal area in Eastern Uganda and pulling into their largest village of Nabugoye to be greeted with the words “Shalom” and introduced to members of the community with names such as Moshe and Yisrael, Yehudit and Yonit. We met two young twin boys named Jacob and Esau. We went first to their beautiful Stern synagogue, built through the generosity of a Southern Californian Jewish couple, with South African roots, to accommodate large communal gatherings. There are about 8 synagogue and 4 schools that serve the Ugandan Jewish community.
The story of the Abayudaya African community is a fascinating one. They make no claim to having been a lost Israelite tribe as is believed about the Jews of Ethiopia. These African communities had no previous contact with each other at all. The Abayudaya story starts about 100 years ago when Uganda was a colony of Great Britain. The British were assisted in conquering Eastern Uganda by a local military leader by the name of Semei Kungulu who was converted to Christianity. As he immersed himself in the study of the Bible he was struck by the practices of the Israelites that were not maintained by Christianity. As he questioned these changes, he was told that these were things done only by the Jews. He resolved that he and his people would become Jews, calling themselves Abayudaya- the people of Judah.
Starting in 1919 they began to adopt the practices of circumcision, Kashrut and Shabbat on Saturday in contrast to their Christian neighbors and to the Muslims who make up the largest population in that region. They practiced Judaism, as they understood it from reading the Bible and despite having no contact with the global Jewish community. This changed when Kungulu encountered a foreign Jew named Joseph who had come to the nearby city of Mbale to assist with a water works project. Upon meeting Kungulu, Joseph recognized his eating and religious practice as being derived from the Hebrew Bible. Joseph introduced the Abayudaya to the Hebrew calendar, the Jewish prayer book and the wearing of the Kippah and Tallit. He began to instruct them in Hebrew.
After the death in 1928 of Kungulu, who personally had sustained and taught the Abayudaya about Judaism as he understood it, the group began to experience division and a decline. Eventually the community was united under the leadership of a disciple of Kungulu, Samson Mugombe, the grandfather of Gershom Sizomu, who took on the role of spiritual leader of the Abayudaya. He helped them reorganize and revitalize themselves to the point that they grew to 8000 members. The rise of power of Ida Amin in 1971 was a very difficult chapter as he is estimated to have killed as many as ½ million people. During his regime he outlawed Jewish rituals and destroyed synagogues. The persecuted Abayudaya saw an attrition to just a few hundred adherents until Amin was thankfully overthrown in 1979.
Contact with the broader Jewish world helped the Abayudaya to develop their Jewish knowledge and commitment. In the 1960s the Abayudaya had their first contact with an Israeli Jew named Arye Oded, who later worked for the Israeli Embassy in Kenya. He and others from the Jewish Diaspora, who came upon the Abayudaya, helped them connect to the broader Jewish world. For example, Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, now the retired Exec Director of Tufts U Hillel recorded the unique African Jewish music of the Abayudaya for a Smithsonian Folkways cd that was nominated for a Grammy award. Using profit from the recording and with the help of friends, he has for years raised significant funds to send capable Abayudaya students to University.
In 2002 five rabbis of our Conservative Movement went to Uganda and formally converted approximately 400 of the Abayudaya to Judaism, helping them to better understand Judaism as it developed through rabbinic interpretation over the centuries. Samson Mugombe’s charismatic grandson Gershon Sizomu was admitted to our Movement’s Zeigler Rabbinical School. Since his ordination in 2008 he has worked hard to build the Abayudaya as a Jewish community that now numbers 2000 members. Gershom even got himself elected to the Ugandan Parliament, which was no small achievement, given that the vast majority of his constituents in his region are Muslim or Christian. He explained to us that he considered this necessary to protect his vulnerable community. When we asked how this could happen, he explained that he was helped by the fact that the Medical Clinic established by the Abayudaya community with the help of a Detroit Jewish physician Dr Tobin in the nearby town of Mbale serves everyone regardless of religion. We got to affix muzuzot to dedicate the rooms of a new maternity section of the clinic. It is fascinating to see that the schools established by the Abayudaya, which possess a great reputation, are all multifaith institution. Jewish, Christian and Muslim children study together, separating only to receive their specific religious instruction. We could learn from their example of respectful collaboration.
It is clear that the Abayudaya community has benefited from the support of Jews around the world. Our group brought many things we heard they needed. Cindy and I carried three boxes of our synagogue’s old Siddur Sim Shalom. It was sweet seeing the Siddurim with bookplates from Adath added to the prayerbooks and chumashim used in their synagogues. I hope we can send more. Our group brought badly needed pre-natal vitamins and supplies for the medical clinic. We brought bottles of kosher wine and matza, which are hard for them to get, as well as used clothing. The Abayudaya are not immune from the deep poverty in Uganda as they try to eke out a living from subsistence farming growing coffee and cocoa, among other things. When we returned to the capitol city of Kampala we got to visit the MAROM student center that has been established as a gathering places for young adults who are in the city for their studies and work.
I want to acknowledge the effort in our community on behalf of the Abayudaya of Joanne Trangle who founded Global Village Connect. I understand she has been to Uganda 13 times. Thank you also to Mark and Debbie Glotter who are in service this morning who have been there several times. You may have heard about the trip to Uganda in November organized by our Minneapolis Federation and Global Village Connect. Our Federation and Global Village Connect have made grants to build a kitchen for the Tikkun Olam primary school and to acquire a field to produce crops to feed the students who would otherwise be severely undernourished. Kol HaKavod on those efforts.
There are national Jewish organization such as Kulanu based on NY and Bechol Lashon dedicated to assisting Jews of color around the world. These two have done particularly important work in supporting the Abuyadaya over the years. When I speak about the importance of voting in the election for the World Zionist Organization- our success in this endeavor also determines the extent to which this remote Jewish community gets support from the Jewish Agency. Fortunately, the Jewish Agency recognizes them as a Jewish community. Tragically the present Israeli government has refused to give them similar recognition, which is shameful. There are also new tension in the community as several hundred members in the village of Putti have converted under Orthodox auspices and there are rivalries for legitimacy.
One cannot spend time with the Abuyadaya without being moved by their commitment to Judaism and the difficult challenges they face to maintain it. I cannot convey to you how moving it was to be in services with their community over Shabbat. Rabbi Sizomu is a charismatic leader. He combines his experience with upbeat services playing the guitar, that he no doubt experienced during his time in California, while setting the prayers in Hebrew and in the national language Luganda. His congregants were up on their feet during much of the service dancing. They were very excited to welcome this delegation of Rabbis and Jewish leaders from our Rabbinical Assembly and called on us to lead parts of the service and to teach as well. They are deeply proud committed Conservative Jews (and fully egalitarian!). I was delighted to lead the section of the morning service using upbeat tunes that I learned from our Hazzan Dulkin and to see the enthusiastic response they elicited from the congregation.
The passage that especially moved me that morning in Uganda was the one we say just before reciting the Shema. Our tradition is to take the four corners of the tzizit of our tallit and bring them together praying that our people of Israel should be gathered together from the four corners of the earth. What an honor it was, as North American Jews, to be with our brothers and sisters- and they really felt like our brothers and sisters- from Uganda. I invite you to take a look at the photos of our trip that will be on display in the social hall. Cindy and I will be glad to answer question as will the Glotters and Joanne Trangle.
Those words about gathering our tzitzit together ring out to us again this week as our Jewish community in North America has had to endure another anti-Semitic attack this week that came this time as Jews in Monsey NY were celebrating Hanukkah in the home of their rabbi. We prayer for safety and for healing of those who were heartlessly attacked. This is a negative example reminding us of the bonds we have with Jews, though different in their views of Judaism, but with whom we share the bond of Jewish peoplehood. The example of the Abayudaya in contrast was a positive example of the bonds we have with Jews around the world, even in such a remote place.
I look forward to seeing how we can continue to connect to the Abayudaya community, to assist them as we can, and to learn from them- both from the lively tunes they have created for our prayers and from the example of their deep and profound dedication to maintaining their Jewish faith, in spite of the many obstacles they have had to overcome.
Rabbi Harold J. Kravitz
HJK will introduce the Torah service with a comment reminding people that
On removing the Torah from the Ark we will replace the Torah Mantle with the special mantle created by the CA for the Torah of the Tree of Life Congregation that is circulating around the country.
One year ago according to the Hebrew calendar our community was reeling from the news that was unfolding from Pittsburgh and the vicious acts of violence that rocked the Tree of Life congregation. Amid frenzy of anxiety about safety and security in our houses of worship there was also an outpouring of love from our neighboring faith communities. Amid the fear of rising antisemitism, and the hand-wringing about the seemingly irreparable fracture points that continue to separate our country, there were huge, public assemblies of the faithful who stood, sang, cried, and were silent with the Jewish people, for we all knew that what happened at the Tree of Life Congregation could have happened anywhere.
After the violent and senseless ends of individual Jewish lives, and the attempt to end many more, a scar has begun to form over our deep communal wound: still visible, still red and new-skinned, the beginning of healing. One year after, while we are still in very much in the aftermath of death, we have been able to see the sprouts of life that have taken root over the past year. We have witnessed an outpouring of love to our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh: clergy came down to help with counseling, lawyers, contractors, doctors, nurses, first responders and more offered their services pro bono, families sent stuffed animals and made sweet potato comfort pies, congregations donated money, companies donated construction materials, friends and neighbors made and delivered food, cut red tape, navigated bureaucracy, created art, donated Judaica, and deepened relationships. This is what happens after tragedy – this is the response: all of the above – and all of the above boil down to: stare down death with unapologetic life. So many of us did this in our own small way last year: by showing up on Shababt one year ago to celebrate with Lexi at her Bat mitzvah – with or without the #showupforshabbat hashtag – we continued to live our lives amid the horrific chaos and uncertainty, because this is what we do.
This is what our forefather Abraham did, as we read this morning – as our parasha Hayei Sarah begins at the aftermath of death (albeit after a long and full life).
“Sarah lived to be 127 years old – this was the lifespan of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat Arba in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.
Then Abraham rose after the death of his wife” – and goes on with the business of living the best he can - negotiates a burial site for his wife, and inters her there. Then, he attends to the business of life, namely, marrying off his son, remarrying Keturah, and continuing to produce children and grandchildren. The parsha concludes with Abraham’s death, and Isaac and Ishmael coming together to bury him in the same cave that their mother was buried in.
After death, after trauma, after the unthinkable, to keep living is enough. To show more love, to batten down against hate – or, as my friend and colleague, Tree of Life Synagogue’s spiritual leader Hazzan Rabbi Jeff Myers calls it, the “H-world” is a radical act. After death, keep living. After death, show more love. After death, if you can, and if it will bring you healing as you mourn, make something beautiful in response. Let art have the last word, and let art be the first word in a new conversation.
Today, Adath is proud to host a stunning Torah cover created by the Cantors Assembly to inspire us to reach out to one another once again and offer messages of unity and friendship. And this message in inherent in the artwork of the Torah cover itself, which is rich with symbolism.
During the coming year the Tree of Life Torah cover is traveling around North America, to many different communities, who have pledged to “dedicate that Shabbat to messages of harmony among faiths, the preciousness and precarious nature of life, civic action projects which work toward keeping our children and citizens safe, etc. It lends itself to adding a great sense of inspiration to and serving as a springboard for teaching the community, blended by bringing faiths together, about tolerance, acceptance and fellowship.” After this year of travel, the Torah cover will be in the aron kodesh (holy ark) of the Tree of Life congregation for all to see.
This Torah cover has specific symbolism that is unique and special to the Tree of Life congregation including:
Words from the prayer for the New Hebrew Month (“for life, and the fulfillment of the desires of our hearts, for good”) Each Shabbat on which this prayer is recited is called Mevarchim HaChodesh.
*In a non-leap year, Mevarchim haChodesh is recited 11 times (representative of the 11 blessed lives lost on October 27, 2018).
*The 11 black and gold stars have special resonance in Pittsburgh – Steeler colors.
* There is a tradition that in each generation there are 36 saintly people (Lamed Vovniks) alive in the world who do unparalleled good in their lifetimes. The 25 silver stars (added to the 11 black and gold) represent the Lamed Vovniks of Pittsburgh on the day of the Tree of life tragedy, honoring the first responders, hospital personnel and myriad others on that Shabbat morning.
*Also present is the shape of the Rosh Chodesh new moon, an image of new beginnings.
*The circles, of many colors, represent a ‘River’ of comfort flowing down from all over the world to reach this community. This ‘river’ then nourishes the tree of life which grows from the word Goodness (L’Tovah). (Pittsburgh is distinctly known for its Three Rivers and the bridges which traverse the waters to bring communities together).
*The prominent line of text asks that Goodness Fill our Hearts, a prayer for the world. The first word, Chayim, was the Hebrew name of one of the victims, Cecil Rosenthal, who regularly carried the Torah in the congregation. The Second word L’Tovah is the essence of this prayer. Each person is obligated, by the Creator to share their goodness within with all others with whom they come in contact throughout their lives.
The inscription sewn inside the back of the Torah cover reads:
Though we may live beyond
“The Neighborhood” our hearts are with you in the East.
חברים כל ישראל
In memory of your cherished Tree of Life, Dor Chadash and New Light family members, now stars whose guiding light shall never dwindle.
And in honor of, and gratitude for, our colleague and friend
Hazzan/Rabbi Jeffrey S. Myers
From your worldwide
Cantors Assembly Family
Kislev 5779 - כסלו תשע''ט
Thank you Hazzan for your leadership as an officer of the CA and your part in bringing this powerful ritual object to our congregation. It is easy to take for granted the ritual items that we use all of the time in our Jewish faith. It is moments such as this that remind of us of their importance and the power of the message they convey.
Our hearts go out to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and to those who are still healing from their wounds in the aftermath of this and other attacks generated by hated of others.
One powerful message that came from Pittsburgh after the attack was the deep appreciation of the solidarity of diverse faith communities. As I shared in my Yom Kippur message, we must not forget that we have many allies in the broader community and from communities of faith. We are blessed to have a supportive relationship with local policing organizations, that we do not take for granted.
Thank you to friends from our community who are here today:
Hazzan Dulkin called our attention to the parsha Chayei Sara which starts by speaking about life and death. It ends by speaking about reconciliation. In Gen 25:9 we read that after the death of Abraham, “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.”
I invite you to take a look at that passage on p. 140 which reminds me of the back story of Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac, whose father took him up to Mt Moriah to offer as a ritual sacrifice before an angel of God stays his hand. There is no record of Isaac having any contact with to his father Avraham after that event until this mention of his role in burying his father. And Ishmael, who was expelled from his father Abraham’s home together with his mother Hagar who almost died in the wilderness until God intercedes and enables his mother to see a water well to save his life. There are no further mentions of Ishmael having contact with Avraham, until the burial scene in Gen 25:9. Isaac and Ishmael are understood in Judaism to be the patriarchs, respectively of Judaism and Islam. What a powerful story of reconciliation for the leaders of these two faiths. The commentator in our Etz Hayim Chumash makes this point. It speaks to the ability of people to be in serious conflict and the ability of participants in even the worst conflicts to reconcile.
This spring our congregation will look at how faith traditions can be in conflict or can build bridges to each other. We will host Prof Marc Gopin the weekend of March 28. He is widely respected for his work on transforming conflict and the unigue contribution faith communities can make to that effort.
We hope that on the Sundays before that we will have faith leaders exploring these issues as well. We invite you to join us for this.
We will soon conclude this part of the service with prayers for our country, for Israel and for peace. Before we do we are obligated to honor the memories of those who were murdered in the attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh with hope for healing for all who sustained injuries of any kind as well.
Please rise for the El Maleh – Prayer of Memory p. 336 of Siddur Lev Shalom
Now we turn to p. 177 Prayer for Country,
After Torah service let people know at the conclusion of the service we will remove the special Torah mantle and allow people to take a closer look if they wish.
Robert Aronson is a congregant of Adath Jesherun Congregation. He is an immigration attorney at Fredrikson & Byron, located in Minneapolis. He is also the Chair of HIAS, the Jewish community’s agency dedicated to the protection, dignity, and welfare of refugees and forcibly displaced persons. The views appearing in this piece are personal to the author and are not attributable to HIAS, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, or Fredrikson & Byron.
Israel is probably the greatest political miracle of the 20th century and regardless of political turmoil and internal strife, it remains a country with an unabated capacity for wonder and reinvention. So, particularly at this point in time of political transformation in Israel with its possibility for starting anew in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, permit me to share some observations arising from my trip this past June to the West Bank that was undertaken with a delegation of American Jewish leaders committed to conjoin the Palestinian narrative with the official Israeli viewpoint that had heretofore defined our collective understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Or to quote Rabbi Heschel: “Our sight is suffused with knowing, instead of feeling painfully the lack of knowing what we see. The principle to be kept in mind is to know what we see rather than to see what we know.”
BACKGROUND TO THE TRIP
The trip itself was organized by Encounter Israel, an American Jewish, nonpartisan educational organization cultivating more informed and constructive Jewish leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I went on my own account and my comments do not reflect policy positons of HIAS, any other Jewish organization, or my employer. I went on a four-day trip to the Occupied Territories with 30 American Jewish leaders drawn from disparate segments of the American Jewish mosaic. All participants had to have had previous exposure to and involvement with Israel and an understanding of the Israeli narrative on the conflict.
The underlying principles established by the trip’s organizers were: Ahavat Israel – Love of the Jewish people, as well as the core Jewish principles of k’vod ha-adam (human dignity); areivut (interdependence and inextricability); anavah (humility); ometz (courage); and hatmada (steadfastness and perseverance), as well as the motivating ethos appearing in Pirke Avot: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it either.”
In essence, we as a group met with architypes of the Palestinian community. There was a certain self-selection in the process depending on who would meet with an American Jewish group, so I have no illusion that we met with the more intransigent or militant sectors of Palestinian society. But we were able to meet and dialogue with the following: an advisor to the Palestinian Authority; an American-Palestinian entrepreneur; representatives of the Holy Land Trust; a Palestinian refugee displaced in the War of Independence and living under UN protection; a Palestinian peace activist; an activist for Palestinian women’s empowerment; a number of Palestinian village representatives; an East Jerusalem social worker who heads a community center in the Silwan District; a Palestinian resident dispossessed of his family home in Jerusalem’s Old City; a bookstore owner in East Jerusalem who is a proponent of cultural revolution to revise the narrative; a Palestinian who was released after serving time in Israeli prison for political activity.
COMPETING ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN INTERESTS
While within both communities, there are certain divergences in outcome expectations, as a general observation:
The Israeli ultimate objectives in its engagement with the Palestinian community are: 1) security; 2) preservation of Jewish identity; 3) preservation of liberal democracy; 4) reclaiming the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria; 5) economic advancement.
The Palestinian interests are: 1) territorial sovereignty and political self-determination; 2) reclaiming Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign state; 3) reunification with Gaza; 4) the right of return or, at minimum, restitution for properties confiscated during the War for Independence.
But beyond this admittedly broad statement of objectives, there are further splits involving the more militant Palestinian community calling for the destruction of Israel, a dismantling of Western-style democratic movement in the Middle East, and the insertion of Iran as a power broker in the Region and a counterbalanced movement disproportionately evident in the younger generation advocating for fundamental reforms in the Palestinian Authority, including elections, and either the creation of a one-state solution presumably to take advantage of Israeli economic development and to create a demographic/ethnic movement that will ultimately destroy Israel as a Jewish state or a devotional adherence to an independent Palestinian state freed from Israeli domination.
But in addition to the conflicting objectives of Israelis and Palestinians from the peace process, there are some basic asymmetries in the basic approaches of the two peoples to the peace process, consisting of the following:
INTERNATIONAL LEGAL THEORIES
There are essentially five (5) discrete theories that are set forth, depending on one’s ideological orientation, to explain and justify or condemn the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:
1. THERE IS NO OCCUPATION. This is the position of the Religious Zionists as well as Likud who see the lands of Judea and Samaria as an integral part of the Jewish homeland/Biblical Israel. Under this approach, there is a preexistent right to the land so that the occupation simply becomes an expression of a previously unasserted right to the land.
OCCUPIED TERRITORY BUT WITH UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS. This has been the official Israeli view for years. It states that for there to be an occupation of territory subject to international law, there would need to be an occupation of land held by a previous sovereign. But here, the previous sovereign of the West Bank was Jordan, which in 1988 renounced its intention to rule the territory.
Under classical doctrine on the rights and responsibilities of the occupier, Israel would normally be prohibited from changing the status of the land in a manner that would prohibit the attainment of a political solution. But Israel essentially claims that these constraints do not apply because:
3. PALESTINIAN AND PROGRESSIVE CIRCLES: Israel is engaged in an illegal occupation. Therefore, if the occupation is illegal, its continuing presence in the Occupied Territories is illegitimate. This means that there are no conditions required for a withdrawal. It presupposes that Israel is an aggressor. The solution simply becomes for an Israeli withdrawal and reversion to the current occupiers of the land.
4. ANNEXATION HAS ALREADY HAPPENED: The reality is that 70% of the land mass of the territories falls within Israeli security and civil jurisdiction. Israeli settlers have the same rights and responsibilities as citizens residing in Israel proper. There has been an appropriation of the land through the sustained support of the settler movement and the extension of Israeli law to the Jewish settlers and the exploitation of the land in a manner consistent with rights exercised by a sovereign nation.
Again, with the proviso that any generalized statement will have individual outliers, here are some prevailing realities that exist within the Occupied Territories:
While the “officially” declared objective is to create a two-state solution, there are competing political architectures on how the conflict might be resolved, running from a one-state solution that arguably would require that full rights be granted to the Palestinians to a confederation without a declaration of statehood to the maintenance of the status quo.
But in the aftermath of the Second Intifada, the prevailing policy pursued by both Israelis and Palestinians was a separation of the communities with minimal opportunities for interaction. While the two communities had previously been linked by a heavily textured range of commercial, social, and historical ties, these potentially unifying interactions were systematically torn down and replaced by conflicting narratives that not only painted the opposite community in demonic terms, but allowed these mythical depictions to go unchallenged.
It is, in my opinion, unrealistic at present to expect a durable political solution to be imposed through political fiat for the following three reasons: 1) there is no political will on the Israeli side to recognize a Palestinian state; 2) there is no capability within the weakened Palestinian Authority to declare much less enforce a peace settlement; and 3) any politically declared settlement would lack popular endorsement, thereby leading to an artificially imposed and unstable arrangement.
Rather, if there is to be a lasting peace and comity between Israel and a Palestinian state, there needs to be a stark change in the narrative propagated by both communities. While any such revision to the popular narrative of each other would benefit from a kick-start from the political leadership, ultimately, it requires the involvement from religious, cultural, educational, and communal leadership circles to change eh hearts and minds of the two hostile communities.
In my own opinion, there are major opportunities for trust-building and productive interactions in a number of areas of endeavor, including:
Unquestionably, the creation of a stable, lasting peace will be a long and arduous process. But once popular perceptions have changed, then and only then can the parties move forward to a political solution that probably has significant elements of the Oslo and Camp David formulas of “land for peace,” although the settlements and its entrenchment of Israeli settlers adds a significant new layer of complexity to the entire peace framework.
But while the quest for a lasting peace appears at present to be ephemeral, its attainment would, when all is said and done, be a reaffirmation of Israel as a political miracle and a country with an unabated capacity for wonder and reinvention.
Attention Adath Members!
The Women of Adath and Hesed are sponsoring a fundraiser to help the homeless. Hennepin County social workers are currently working on placing homeless individuals in stable housing. Many of these people have experienced chronic homelessness for over six months and lack any of the basic necessities. As you can imagine, individuals who have been homeless for a long time have few belongings. Starting over, they often lack the resources to purchase essential items needed when moving into a new place. These items include things like: towels, bed linens, shower curtains, and pots and pans. It has been found that providing these items to individuals when they move in helps them feel ‘at home,’ and reduces the chances of them ending up back on the streets.
Adath clergy, staff and congregants share