Rabbi Greg Harris

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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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:

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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.”

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