Rabbi Greg Harris

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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Progressive Jews, come to AIPAC

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 week is a piece from Sarah Tuttle-Singer who blogs from Israel for The Times of Israel, Kveller, Scary Mommy, Ladies’ Home Journal, and TIME.com. 

I offer Sarah’s perspective to further challenge us to share our voices of love, concern, inspiration and disappointment for Israel.  As I did on the High Holidays and many times since, I reject the binary propositions often placed before us: Israel or Palestine, compassion or security, right or wrong, loyalty or treachery. (Click for my High Holiday sermon.) My love of Israel includes critique, embrace and a struggle to be a ‘light unto the nations’, even when it falls short sometimes… and excels at others.   — Rabbi Greg Harris

 

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), Merav Michaeli (Labor), Sarah Tuttle-Singer, and Jonathan Kessler of AIPAC, at the AIPAC conference, March 2017. (courtesy)

From The Times of Israel blog

by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

I’m going to speak at #AIPAC2019, and I’m getting these reactions from the Jewish community:

From the Right: “How COULD they?”

From the Left “How COULD YOU?”

Let’s talk about it:

They know exactly who they’re inviting.

They know I love this place.

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Jewish Identity; Halachik Identity

We live in a time of personal searching.  Bookshelves are full of titles encouraging us to find our true path, inspire our soul or discover our inner resilience.  We are in a time which Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary calls, a search for “our sovereign selves.”  (The Jew Within by Steven Cohen and Arnold Eisen)  Throughout our lives we curate our experiences, preferences, communities and even our identity.  Cultural and community boundaries are porous and frequently shifting.

It is within this modern ecosystem we shape our Jewish identity(ies).  I left the possibility of identity being plural because even within a single facet of ourselves, there is a likelihood we maintain multiple self-perceptions – even within our Jewish sensibilities.

I often think about two distinct frameworks of Jewish living today: a) our manifested Jewish identity and b) Judaism’s framework of halachik (Jewish law) identity.

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Closing Out Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

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.

February is designated as JDAIM or Jewish Disability and Inclusion Month across the country.  For the past weeks at Beth El, we have been raising awareness and sensitivity around various issues.  From an earlier blog post (‘Being a Community of Inclusion’) to speakers including Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, the first blind woman to be ordained as a rabbi and Carly Ruderman, a teenager at Beth El who shared her enthusiasm, optimism and experiences.

One of the implicit lessons heard throughout has been never to discount or overlook people. While JDAIM is a designated month, our efforts do not start or end during these weeks.  Nurturing an inclusive community is an everyday effort.  It requires each of us to reach out to others, recognize the gifts of others and, at moments, allow ourselves to move outside our comfort zones.

As we look forward, I want to share this beautiful performance by the Israeli band, The Shalva Band.

Jenny Singer writes in the The Forward:

The eight musicians who perform on behalf of the Israeli Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities performed in the Next Star contest on Saturday night were under considerable pressure. “Kochav Haba,” or “The Next Star,” an Israeli music competition similar to “The Voice” brings in hundreds of thousands of viewers. The contest winner goes on to represent Israel in the next Eurovision contest, which, in 2019, will be held in Israel.

The Shalva Band was up to the challenge. In an electric performance, the musicians delivered a flawless rendition of The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun,” for a stellar score of 91 percent from the judges, enough to advance into the next round of competition.

Shalva is a Jerusalem-based national center that provides care, education, vocational training, and community for people with disabilities. Its services are free, non-denominational, and inclusive of people of all religions. In 1990, Shalva began operation, caring for eight children out of an apartment as an after school program. Today it serves 2,000 people, including its house band of eight musicians.

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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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