Rabbi Greg Harris

Buses to Solidarity March in New York

This Sunday, buses will be traveling from around the country for a solidarity march in New York.  Horrified by the antisemitic Chanukah attack in Monsey, NY, the New York Federation and JCRCs around the country are organizing a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Buses will leave from the JCCGW in Rockville promptly at 6am. There is a cost of $25 for the bus and a kosher lunch.

Pre-registration is required.  To reserve you place and for more details, click here.

 

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Refusing to Cower

“Why do people want to hurt Jews?”  That was the question a group of 5th grade Religious School students asked me recently.

What a distressing question to hear children ask.  How discouraging that our efforts to protect their childhood have been pierced by acts of violence covered intensely by social media and news outlets.  Fear, anxiety, confusion, instability and insecurity are emotions being absorbed by adults’ and children’s psyche.

It might feel easier to retreat from the dangers in the world.  Even houses of worship are not pure sanctuaries.  Just this past week we heard about the horrific Chanukah stabbing attack in Monsey, NY and the church shooting in the town of White Settlement, TX.   The emotions of the psalmist who wrote 2,500 years ago resonate with me: God, confront those adversaries who confront me, give battle to my foes, take up shield and armor and come to my defense, ready the spear and javelin against my pursuers… (Ps 35:1-3)

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Judaism as a Spiritual Odyssey

My edition of Gordis’ book

In 1995, a new book was published which I devoured.  God Was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism was written by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, then head of the Conservative Movement’s seminary in Los Angeles.  As I was considering rabbinical school myself, I became absorbed with his writing and ideas about Judaism’s relevance.  At the time, as I rode the metro from Bethesda to Union Station for work, the pages of my edition became highlighted, notated and dog-eared.

I periodically return to Gordis’ writing for inspiration and to remind myself of the questions which brought me to rabbinical school and Jewish communal life.

In a time of intense individuality, Judaism stresses we are part of something larger – a People, a history, a faith.  For eons, Jews have been part of an odyssey of meaning making, relevance and fulfilling religious obligations.  Throughout different time periods and communities, these characteristics were shuffled in priority.  In our busy modern lives, we continue to combine these “ingredients” in various ways.  Central to this odyssey has been the Torah.  It is our core text upon which each generation responds to, embraces, interprets and even pushes against.  Thus, as we become more familiar with the narratives of the Torah, we give ourselves the tools to be part of deep Jewish conversations across time.  From commentators like Rashi (click here for his commentary) to Avivah Zornberg (click here for an interview with Avivah about Genesis), our odyssey continues.

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Why Jews Love Thanksgiving

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this article by Ruth Kaplan published last year in “Jewish Boston.”  May you have a grateful Thanksgiving!

 

November 26, 2018

By Ruth Kaplan

The most obvious reason? It’s the great equalizer—we are all invited to the party!

Thanksgiving seems to be the most popular American holiday for Jews. The most obvious reason? It’s the great equalizer—we are all invited to the party! Ironically, it has come to be regarded as the kickoff to the “holiday season,” which, of course, refers to the all-pervasive Christmas, with a touch of Hanukkah on the side.

Now, of course, there are many Jewish people who are not the least bit bothered by the Christmas season and don’t feel at all excluded. I just don’t happen to be among them. For me, Christmas makes me feel like “the other.” Despite guarantees of religious freedom, the reality is that, culturally, the United States is a majority Christian country, and during the Christmas season, I feel like I’m “not invited to the party,” even though I’m generally invited to and attend seasonal parties. But a part of me always sees myself from the outside looking in: I don’t have a tree, I don’t buy poinsettias or a wreath and I quickly tire of Christmas music on elevators. Bah, humbug!

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Caring for Our Bodies – Our Congregational Theme

Beth El’s theme of the year is Shmirat HaGuf – Caring for Our Bodies.  Across the congregation, we will explore our physical, mental, spiritual, and relationship health.

Our lives are pulled in so many directions and caring for ourselves often gets lowest priority.  There are countless podcasts and numerous articles encouraging us to slow down, eat right, be mindful, exercise more and to discover what ‘sparks joy,’ as Marie Kondo says.  The reality is our health, in all its facets, is complicated and difficult to manage.

Rabbi Marina Yergin points us to the verse in Deuteronomy which says: “Guard yourself and guard your soul very carefully” (Deut 4:9).  She brings the classic commentator Kli Yakar who explains: “‘Guard yourself’ means taking care of the body.” Continue reading →

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The ‘Chosen’ Sport

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog. Sharing in the Nats’ World Series victory this week, let’s celebrate Jews involved in professional baseball including 3rd baseman Alex Bregman (Astros) and owner Ted Lerner (Nationals).  And for those worried about what to do in the baseball ‘off season’… pitchers and catchers report February 11, 2020 for Spring Training!

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Do a Mitzvah on Mitzvah Day – (this Sunday)

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this article from Rabbi Danny Siegel.  Rabbi Siegel has been on a constant search for ‘Mitzvah Heros’ which he says are ordinary people doing extraordinary work, by simply trying to make the world a better place.

This Sunday at Beth El, you can join hundreds of others in Mitzvah Day activities. Click here for a link to the project list.  Others have preregistered and will join Rabbi Werbin for a one day solidarity trip to Pittsburgh on Sunday for the first yarzteit of the tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue.

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Join Interfaith Discussion on Forgiveness on Yom Kippur Afternoon

There was a wonderful feeling throughout Beth El during Rosh Hashana. People reconnected with each other, reflected on the past year and hopefully gained new clarity on issues or struggles they may be facing. We prayed together, learned together and sang together. Our community’s vibrancy was felt.

Next week is Yom Kippur and we will come together again.  From the sounds of Kol Nidre Tuesday evening to the final shofar blast Wednesday night (bring your shofar to join together), there is tremendous opportunity to think about how we will be different in the year ahead. Now that we have experienced the past year (5779), how can we be a better version of ourselves in 5780?

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Shana Tova 5780

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this article from the Times of Israel as Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday night.

Let me also add that the entire clergy team and staff wish you a meaningful holiday season.  We hope you will join us not only in services but in many other events too.  Our synagogue is a vibrant community with numerous access points so we want to help you find yours.

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We Have to Rethink Elul

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog.  As Saturday and Sunday begin the month of Elul, I offer this blog by Alon Goshen-Gottstein which was originally published in the Times of Israel (ToI). The ToI describes him as the founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading figures in interreligious dialogue, specializing in bridging the theological and academic dimension with a variety of practical initiatives, especially involving world religious leadership. to give a deeper framing of the month of preparation for the High Holidays.

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