Rabbi Greg Harris

Loss and the Shofar

I miss you.  I miss coming together as a community.  I miss chatting over tuna after services.  I miss the amazing banana bread with chocolate chips from Sunflower Bakery after services.  (This is my Achilles Heal of sweets.)  I miss hugs and handshakes.  I miss the voices of children filling the playground and the hallways as they grow Jewishly and cement friendships, some of which will become lifelong connections.  I miss celebrating together and comforting each other.  As incredible as ‘Zoom’ encounters are… I miss you.

We are experiencing a real loss.  It is tangible.  My sense of loss encompasses many parts of my life – social, educational, professional, emotional, and spiritual.  Additionally, I am concerned about the impact this is having on my children and their peers.

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A Doubly Sad Day…

Today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av.  This is a day of intense sadness on the Jewish calendar as the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem are commemorated (587BCE and 70CE). As this is also the fifth week of the month, for Reflections Off the Bimah, I share this piece from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield.  Rabbi Hirschfield serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City. This was originally posted on his website The Wisdom Daily.  http://thewisdomdaily.com/a-doubly-sad-day/

A Doubly Sad Day…

Today is a doubly sad day.  Today I mourn as a Jew, and today, I mourn as an American.

Today is Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a day that marks the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.  Today is the day on which the Jewish people recall thousands of years of hurt and harm, homelessness and harshness, sometimes of unimaginable measure.

Tisha b’Av marks the moments when we have failed to believe — in ourselves and/or in God — when we have turned against one another, instead of toward one another.  Today marks the day when we recall all those times when Jews have been murdered simply because they were Jews. Today marks those moments when death won out over life.

Today is also the day that Representative John Lewis, of blessed memory, takes the final steps of his journey on this earth. And in the words of the Book of Lamentations, we say, “How the heroes have fallen.”

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High Holidays in New Ways

Zochreynu l’chayim melech chafetz b’chayim v’chatveynu b’sefer hachayim l’ma’ancha elohim chayim

“Remember us for life, Sovereign who delights in life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, God of life.”

While it is not even the Fourth of July yet, many of us have already been looking at the High Holidays.  (Erev Rosh Hashanah is Friday night, September 18.)  As we have already announced, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we will be gathering as a community primarily on-line.  It will not be possible to safely have thousands of people worship together in the sanctuaries, hallways, and classrooms of Beth El while maintaining the physical distancing required.

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Inequalities! Inequalities?

“What will you take with you to the other side of Covid?”  That was the prompt an interviewer asked me for an on-line magazine this week.  It is an important question.  After quarantine is over and social distancing restrictions ease, what will we have learned during this period? Additionally, at the time of the interview, social outcries and rage have brought bare layers of inequities with marches occurring across the country.  The vast majority of protests have been peaceful but looting and vandalism have occurred.  These destructive elements should not be discounted, nor should they be over-emphasized and used to avoid hard, complicated, and necessary discussions.

So let me begin to answer their question, “What will I take with me to the other side of Covid?”  I invite you to answer this question for yourself and email me. Continue reading →

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How Do We Think About Reopening?

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 piece from Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Reopening Beth El will be gradual, complicated and assuring people’s safety while creatively finding ways to celebrate together.  Rabbi Blumenthal offers us a framework of Jewish values to be considered.  Rabbi Blumenthal grew up at Beth El and until last year, was the rabbi at Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg.

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A Focus on Mental Health – Shmirat HaGuf

Since 1949, May has been National Mental Health Awareness month. I have never felt the need to focus on mental health as intensely as now.  From children to senior citizens, we are all feeling the difficult emotional, physical, social and spiritual effects of Covid-19.  Focusing on our mental health is critical.

Throughout this year, Beth El’s congregational theme has been Shmirat HaGuf: Caring for Your Body, Mind and Soul.  There have been a wide variety of programs but these past months have brought the topic front and center for most.  The Hazzan’s Zoom meditations sessions are now occurring three times a week because of increased interest.  On-line attendance at services is far higher than normal even as all the b’nai mitzvah during the Spring have been rescheduled.

Even as we are isolated, we are not alone.

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How Do We Tell Israel’s Story?

Symbols of Israel’s diverse stories

Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the month in which Israel’s Independence falls – the 5th of Iyar corresponding to April 29, 2020. As this is also the fourth week of the month, for Reflections Off the Bimah, I share this piece from Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President at Shalem College in Jerusalem.  Gordis is a distinguished writer, columnist and speaker.  In this 2016 article, Gordis unpacks his difficulties in writing the story of Israel.  His efforts coalesced in his 2017 book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.  

Before we jump into Gordis’ piece though, I want to make sure people are aware of the new speaker series underway on-line at Beth El.  Continuing with our congregational theme of Shmirat HaGuf – Caring for our Mind, Body and Soul, each Thursday evening (7:30pm) will feature a different speaker addressing aspects of taking care of ourselves and our families in these difficult times of COVID.  For more information and to register, go to the Beth El website or click here. Continue reading →

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Pesach in the Time of COVID

COVID-19

Matzo Ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is paradoxical to discuss Passover during an ‘unprecedented’ time of disease.  Plagues are a center piece of the Passover narrative.  We recognize the plague of frogs (tzfardea) with cute plastic jumping toys; hail (barad) by throwing cotton balls at each other; darkness (choshech) by wearing sun glasses; disease (shechin) by wearing dot stickers.

Whether the plagues are historically accurate or an impactful narrative tool illucidating God’s power and Pharoah’s ultimate weakness is not the key point for this reflection.  For me, living through a moment of global pandemic, I realize I have not given enough thought to the long term human impact and trauma the plagues might have had on the Egyptians and Israelites.

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Resilience During Extraordinary Times

This is an extraordinary time – COVID-19, economic uncertainty, schools and businesses indefinitely closed, social distancing and isolation.  As this is the fourth week of the month, Reflections Off the Bimah 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.

Next week I will reflect on Passover and how to do / experience sedarim during social distancing.  This week though, I want to share two messages of hope to help us see beyond the stresses and pressures of the immediate.  First is a beautiful musical piece by Andy Grammer who is singing with the Palestinian – Israeli Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC), “Don’t Give Up on Me”.  The JYC was founded by Micah Hendler who grew up at Beth El.  (Click here to see more of Micah’s incredible work.) JYC brings together Israelis and Palestinian youth to forge common ground through music. Their music gives voice to seeing the world beyond the immediate.

The second piece is from Rabbi Chanan Morrison who has written extensively on Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865 – 1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. Rav Kook’s message is to be cautious but not to fear.  Morrison channels Kook’s message as finding “resilience that we need to persevere in challenging times.”  Continue reading →

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Another Topic of Conversation

We have quickly become consumed by concern for coronavirus, COVID-19.  Store shelves have been emptied of hand sanitizers and bleach wipes.  I have heard of confrontations over face masks.  Some public spaces are closing or limiting access.  The best advice has been to wash your hands and pay attention to the CDC and Maryland Dept of Health web sites which are both linked here.

At Beth El, we have been proactive in planning contingencies for however events unfold.  Let me remind you about the ability to participate in services via live streaming on our website.  Click here to watch Shabbat morning services. Our congregational theme of Shmirat HaGuf, Caring for our Bodies, has taken on new dimensions.

As we continue to pay close attention to these events, let’s also occupy our time thinking about others things too – Israeli elections.

Not the Knesset elections but the World Zionist Congress (WZC) elections.

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