Rabbi Greg Harris

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.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

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 →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

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.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Reflections on Three AIPACs

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld

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 Facebook post (2.25.20) from Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.  We look forward to joining him at AIPAC’s Policy Conference next week.  Rabbi Kligfeld wrote:

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Bringing My Voice Against Hate

One of many panels on aspects of anti-semitism

(This blog was written in Tirana, Albania but could not be posted till I returned.)

Albania was never on my travel bucket list yet here I sit at a cafe in Tirana, Albania on a break from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on anti-Semitism.  Two weeks ago, I former student of mine called to invite me to attend this conference.  She has been living in Warsaw and we had lost regular touch.  When she described the gathering though, I knew I wanted to juggle my schedule to be here.  (Thank you Fabian, Asa, Sheila, Ricardo and the b’nai mitzvah families whose meetings were rescheduled.)

This international gathering to fight anti-Semitism brought together 150 people representing 45 countries.  The formal sessions include security experts discussing work in securing Jewish institutions and coordination with law enforcement.  Younger people talking about social media platforms being leveraged to promote hate.  Discussions on balancing freedom of speech and limiting hate speech are bringing out different legal tools available in various countries.  And Bethesda resident Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, spoke passionately about responding to hate against Jews and others with boldness.  He said, “There are always short term reasons to be quiet from pushing against anti-Semitism.  We must be very clear that we remain quiet at our own peril.”

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

Anti-Semitism: Searching for a Global Response

Antisemitic image portraying a Jewish shopkeeper as greedy and devious

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog. I am focusing this week’s blog on the relentless scourge of anti-semitism.  The hatred of the Jewish People and its morphing into the hatred of the State of Israel continues to be dangerous around the world.  From college campuses in America to grocery stores in France and synagogues being attacked around the globe, antisemitism persists.  It incorporates overt attacks and subtle acts of hate and bias.  Below are resources shared by the European group – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to challenge anti-semitism.  They have been produced in multiple languages.  I share these because this Sunday, I will be traveling to Tirana, Albania to attend the OSCE’s international conference on combating anti-semitism.  I have been invited as a delegate to speak about security measures in American synagogues as well as the robust efforts to nurture interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  Beth El is vigilant in both these arenas. 

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

The Ordinariness of Auschwitz

Image not part of original blog post

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. As yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I share this blog by Alex Benjamin published in “The Times of Israel.”  Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

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.

 

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

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)

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 2 comments

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.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment