Rabbi Greg Harris

The ‘Magic’ of Jewish Summer Camp

Camp Swig no longer exists.  It was the summer camp I attended in the 70’s and 80’s in Saratoga, CA.  Established in the 50’s, it was long the only Jewish summer camp of the Reform Movement on the West Coast.  The grounds held a camp that my father attended when he was a youth but with the 2008 economic turn, the need for extensive seismic retrofitting and newer camps in the area (Camp Newman, Camp Towanga, Ramah Galim), it was time for Camp Swig to close its gates. Continue reading →

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Intermarried Jews are not a Second Holocaust

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. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is an Orthodox rabbi in Phoenix, AZ.  In 2012 and 2013, he was named one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek and The Daily Beast.  Rabbi Yanklowitz was featured in a 2018 Reflections Off the Bimah post titled “Donating Life” about the importance of organ donation.  This post was in response to the statement of Israeli Minister of Education Rafi Peretz. At Beth El, we continue to embrace and support all families committed to building a Jewish home.

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Skee Ball

skee ball gameI love skee ball. My family and I have made this frivolous summer activity into a competitive, ticket hording sport. Rehoboth’s Funland costs .25 cents per game for 8 balls and a long runway before the jump to the targets. Zinky’s, also on the boardwalk, is .10 cents per game with 6 balls and a shorter runway. We have examined the pros, the cons, the prizes and the techniques of the game and the arcades. My younger sister has a t-shirt with Joseph Fourestier Simpson’s 1908 patent for this classic boardwalk game.

While competing for the family Skee Ball Championship title is certainly motivating, the laughter, ice cream cone(s), walks along the beach and afternoon naps makes this summer ritual truly special. It is a chance to reconnect with each other and reground ourselves. Continue reading →

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Add Some Jewish to Your Summer Reading

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. As we are entering summer, I offer the Jewish Journal’s summer reading list.  Before I get to this list, I will finish Karen Bender’s collection of short stories, The New Order.  Remember to check the recurring articles in the Scroll for our Library Committee’s recommendations too.  Click here for their reading list.  

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Refocusing on the ‘Big Picture’

Celebrating high school graduation

In parenting, it is too easy to forget the ‘big picture.’  The immediate overwhelms the senses and focuses my attention on the messy room or the homework assignment not yet begun.  Maybe the fabrication of short term emergencies causes an adrenaline surge reminiscent of our ancestors’ ‘fight or flight’ responses… except they were fleeing wild beasts and pogroms.  With the intense focus on the present, it is common to miss a larger perspective.  Life’s milestone moments can help shift our view.

I was unprepared for the effect “Pomp and Circumstance” would have on me.  The high school orchestra had been playing various musical selections.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were because just a few weeks prior I had attended an elementary school’s instrumental performance.  The delta between the musicianship of each group was apparent.  That alone should have emphasized for me that over time, people and skills develop in beautiful ways.

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Praying Outdoors

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog.  This 2011 post in eJewishPhilanthropy was written by Rabbi Michael Comins, the founder of TorahTrek: The Center for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality.  As we are shifting to summer, we will have many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Make sure to appreciate the natural surroundings, the awe of the world and to be open to the possibility of a different type of spiritual / religious experience. 

Tomorrow night (May 31), we will enjoy the Kol Haneshama Friday night service under the evening sky.  Join us at 6:30pm at Beth El.  Later in the summer (tentatively Friday, July 12), we will meet at Greenwich Park for an evening picnic and service as well.

We connect with each other, our surroundings and the Divine differently when we are outside so let’s seize each opportunity.  Enjoy the blog.

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Don’t take the remembrance out of Memorial Day

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.  As we are entering the Memorial Day weekend, this blog was originally posted in ‘The Hill’ in 2017.  It reminds of the men and women who lost their lives in defense of our country.  To them and their families, we owe a great debt.  זֵכֶר צדִּיק לִבְרָכָה – May the memory of the righteous be blessed.

 

Don’t take the remembrance out of Memorial Day

originally posted: May 28, 2017, The Hill

By Cliff Sosamon

What does Memorial Day mean to you? Is it a day off work, time spent grilling with family and friends? A day to grab the hottest discounts on cars and electronics – perhaps a needed new mattress? Or maybe a day to catch a game and enjoy a cold one or two?

It seems over the years Memorial Day has come to represent the luxuries of Western society and the best sales since Presidents’ Day. Retailers are more than willing to give the American public just what they want – sales.

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Hate Has No Home Here

 

Hate has no home here.

I cannot repeat this statement often enough, forcefully enough or loudly enough.  As we recognized Yom HaSHoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, this week, cried at the anti-Semitic terror attack on Chabad of Poway last Shabbat, were disappointed by two students at Whitman High School who posted a picture of themselves on social media in black-face with offensive language attached, tried to comprehend reports of the shooting at University of North Carolina – Charlotte and the New York Times printed a patently anti-Semitic cartoon… I repeat, hate has no home here.

All of these events happened just this past week.  The previous week’s coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka by Islamic terrorists were in response to an earlier attack by a Christian terrorist on Muslims in New Zealand.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by societal currents seemingly far beyond our control.  Global acts of hate, violence and intolerance are outside our personal spheres of influence but we feel the emotional and spiritual aftershocks of these acts through the quaking of our phones with news alerts.  It is understandable to feel helpless.

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Heschel’s Antidote to Land Obsession

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. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.  As we are in the midst of Passover, I am bringing a piece by Rabbi Shai Held who is president and dean at Hadar, a pluralistic learning community in New York. He is the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence and The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion. He is at work on a book about the centrality of love in Jewish theology, spirituality, and ethics.  Passover sits at the nexus of conversations about land (leaving one place to become free and settle in the Promised Land) and of time (each generation is to collapse time and regard himself as leaving bondage).

 

It is one of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s most famous and influential claims: Judaism’s central concern is time rather than space. As he puts it in The Sabbath, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” (italics Heschel’s). For Heschel, “The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days.” Accordingly, for Heschel, Jewish liturgical life is an “architecture of time”; Judaism’s “great cathedral” is Shabbat, built not in space but in time.

Heschel’s prioritization of time over space is so profound that even when, in the wake of the 1967 war, he writes a book about the meaning of the Land of Israel for Jews, he titles it Israel: An Echo of Eternity and writes that Israel is “a land where time transcends space, where space is a dimension of time.”

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Grateful for Gratitude

Gratitude is a very Jewish act.  Too often, being grateful is lost in the business of life, the noisiness of expectations and the hubris of accomplishments.  Our very name though, Jews or Yehudim, derive from a moment of extreme gratitude.

In Genesis 29:35, Leah names one of her sons Judah as an act of praise.  “And she (Leah) conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Now I will praise the Lord and therefore call him Judah (Yehuda)…'”  Today, we are extensions of the tribe of Judah.  Using poetic license, we are from the tribe of gratitude.

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