Rabbi Greg Harris

Being a Community of Inclusion

I have learned disabilities are sometimes obvious and other times hidden.  Crutches and wheelchairs are external indicators of physical differences.  As a community we have been diligent to design spaces to be accessible through wider doorways, a ramp in the sanctuary, door assist mechanisms and other intentional features for our physical spaces. We have allowed greater access to our communal and sacred spaces.

Many people though are encumbered by less obvious conditions – autism, mental illness, addiction and other circumstances which present quiet barriers to accessing the Beth El community.  These differences might be more subtle but no less real to people being present, heard and valued.

As February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, I want to briefly explore the difference between access and inclusion.  These concepts have real differences but are frequently lost.

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All in the Same Boat

‘Painting the Sloop’ by Andrew Wyeth

A few days ago, we observed the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  His vision for America and humanity continues to resonate even as we continue to fall too short of his dream.  Of the many quotes attributed to Dr. King, I have been thinking about one in particular – ‘We may have all come in different ships, but we are in the same boat now.’  This is true in so many ways.

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Good News in Religions

Sacred texts at the US Capitol

I want to share good news.  I expect some will read this blog and respond as doubters and find exceptions – it is the times we live in today.  Good news is just that… good news, not perfect news.  Sometimes it is appropriate to see fears and divisions but we cannot lose the ability to see good things around us as well.  Good news feels increasingly rare.

So let’s remember religious diversity is lived in beautiful ways.

The picture above was shared with me by someone at CNN.  It is a table at Capitol Hill covered by the diverse sacred texts upon which the newest members of Congress were sworn into office for the 116th Congress.  There were Bibles, Koran, Buddhist Sutra, Hindu, Eastern Orthodox and an African Heritage Bible.  Senator Kyrsten Sinema did not use a religious text but rather a copy of the Constitution.

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The Sorkin Youth Israel Trip is no Dream

“If you will it, it is no dream.”

These words of Theodor Herzl from his book Altneuland, Old New Land (1902) resonate with me today.  Herzl had a vision of establishing a political state for the Jewish People.  He wrote at a time of rising nationalism and anti-Semitism.  Herzl’s solution to the pogroms and hatred he reported on as a journalist was to press for the establishment of a safe haven for Jews where they (we) could thrive, contribute to mankind and be proud of our heritage.  Herzl’s son and last direct relative died in 1930, 18 years before Theodor Herzl’s dream was willed into reality.  It is a misfortune of history that no Herzl relative was able to witness the establishment of Midinat Yisrael (the modern State of Israel).

As you read this blog, I will be just arriving in Israel on the inaugural Sorkin Youth Israel Trip with 18 Beth El students.  This trip was a dream of Jerry Sorkin’s z”l, Beth El’s immediate past president.  Jerry wanted to create a trip which would tie our students closer to Israel and be a capstone experience of our Religious School.  This Confirmation Class experience will draw the participants together in very special ways and be something for younger students to anticipate as they remain engaged throughout the Religious School years.

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Hanukkah in Green

Military service members lighting Chanukah candles while deployed

The fifth week of the month is a wildcard in our blog schedule.  As Hanukkah begins this Sunday night, let’s think about the holiday from a new angle.  Jewish service members are deployed around the globe this Hanukkah.  Hopefully they will be able to enjoy a jelly donut, light the candles and appreciate their role in securing our freedoms… including the freedom to be proudly Jewish as the ancient Maccabees did long ago.

 

 

How the U.S. military‏ got a taste of Hanukkah miracles

By David Geffen

11/28/2018

Jerusalem Post

When Dov Peretz Elkins was ordained a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1964, he entered the US Army as a chaplain and was assigned to Fort Gordon, just outside of Augusta, Georgia. Elkins, who made aliyah with his wife Maxine several years ago, recently reminisced about developing a Hanukkah program for 18- and 19-year-old trainees from New York who were the majority of the Jewish personnel at his installation.

“These young men, drafted just after they finished high school, were away from home for the first time in their lives. This was a half a century ago, long before most Jewish high schoolers traveled extensively in their teens as they do now. The Jewish chaplain had his work cut out for him. Since these soldiers were searching for something to fill their lives, I was presented with an opportunity to touch them Jewishly.”

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Thankful Traditions

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

Judaism is filled with traditions.  Some are public events in synagogues while many more are family focused activities at home.  Thanksgiving is an American holiday filled with bountiful opportunities to create ‘Jewish’ moments at home.  As American Jews, we have many reasons to be grateful.  A Jewish moment may be reciting motzei over the crescent rolls thus marking the special meal but we can also be intentional in creating family experiences of thankfulness. Click here for a prayer written by Rabbi Debra Cantor which you can use at your table.  Below is also a blog by Cambria Bold about setting new rituals for Thanksgiving.  While it is not explicitly Jewish, many of the moments she writes about are exactly how we can use Shabbat each week.

Let’s cherish our time with family and friends this Thanksgiving and Shabbat the next evening. Whatever your plans are for the holiday, be grateful, be generous, and be proud to be living in America. Continue reading →

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Proud to be Jewish

I am proud to be Jewish, even in these difficult days.

In these past days, I have cried with people and sometimes hugged when words felt inadequate. Rabbi Werbin, Hazzan Fradkin and I have spent time with Beth El students and adults responding to the tragedy in Pittsburgh.  We have had gatherings in the sanctuary and conversations in the hallways. We have sung, prayed and been silent together in response.

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Seeing Beyond God’s Gender

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

I am bringing a blog by Dr. Joy Ladin who is the Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University.  Reflecting on her own journey with gender, she invites us to see God in an expanded way – beyond the language of He or Him.  As I read this, I am reminded how people are continually able to find themselves reflected in the Tanach.   Our sacred texts can inspire, comfort, and nurture a sense of belonging when we invest ourselves in our ancient verses.

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An Embracing Look at Ourselves

During the High Holidays, I enjoy looking at the kahal (community) gathered.  I clearly recall how I felt during my first Rosh Hashana at Beth El and how many strangers were before me.  Over many years  I have been invited into so many people’s lives.  In quiet moments on the bimah, I reflect on the experiences I have shared with people – high points and low points, children’s weddings and parent’s funerals, first steps of a baby and first times at the Torah.  These are the most special parts of being clergy.

One aspect of our community which I have been thinking about is how we embrace all Beth El families – ‘traditional’ families and  ‘non-traditional’ families.  Families of one adult who is a parent by choice (maybe through adoption or IVF) or by circumstance (by divorce or death of partner) or a single adult member.

For the past year and a half, I have been working with Beth El leadership to review our congregation’s practices and policies to assure they reflect our embracing values and bring clarity to our ritual practices.  This focus has been on households where Judaism and another faith is present.  Continue reading →

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It Didn’t Always Rain on Sukkot

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

This year feels like a Sukkah Wash-Out… but it didn’t always rain.  Below is a 2014 Sukkot reflection from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat who has been blogging as the Velveteen Rabbi since 2003.  Her blog takes on many current issues.  She lives in western Massachusetts.

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