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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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 4 comments

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

Why I’ve never ever been drunk

-Rabbi, you must be kidding.

No, seriously. I don’t like drinking, I don’t enjoy it and why should I drink something, I don’t enjoy it too much.

-But you are form Argentina, Malbec!

Yes! Soccer (futbol), BBQ (asado), ice cream (helado) and so many other good things, but I don’t drink

– So how do you do in Purim?  Aren’t you supposed to get drunk? Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Guess what, you ARE Religious

When I was growing up in Baltimore, I had a lot of family most of whom were somewhat observant and one side of my dad‘s family that were ultra orthodox. In Jewish Baltimore, it is not uncommon to see black hatters walking down the street on Shabbat and see women with their heads covered, wearing long black skirts even on the hottest days of the summer.

In fact one section of Baltimore is so religious, that you can find orthodox men and women wearing full religious garb at the JCC gym. I’ve seen women wearing a long skirt while doing the elliptical and men running the treadmill wearing tallit Katan and a kippah.

To me, that was what religious people looked like. Sure, I went to synagogue once or twice a month, and most Fridays we had Shabbat dinner, but in no way did I consider myself religious.

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Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

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

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

The front and the back

I once heard a story of a person who returned a couch he had bought because the back part of it did not have the same quality and finishing as the front. The vendor could not believe what the buyer was saying. –“Nobody sees the back part of a couch!”

–“Maybe”, answered the buyer. –“But to me the front and the back are equally important.

There is a holy item in our tradition that teaches that the front and the back are equally important. The mezuzah.

When we affix a mezuzah on our doors (a mezuzah must be affixed to the entrance of every home and to the door of every living room of a house, excluding storerooms, stables, and bathrooms) we should pay attention to the front and the back part of the parchment.

The front is the part that includes the Shema, V’ahabta and Vehaya em Shamoa (the Shema and its two first paragraphs, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21) where we are commanded to affix a mezuzah, “And ye shall write them (the words of God) upon the mezuzot of thy house and in thy gates”.

The back part of the parchment includes two inscriptions. One on the top, the name of God שַדּי (“Almighty,” but also the initial letters of שוֹמֵר דְּלָתוֹת יִשְָׂראֵל “Guardian of the doors of Israel”).

And another on the bottom where there is an enigmatic inscription, כוזו במוכסז כוזו. In Hebrew this combination of letters does not make sense. Continue reading →

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

What’s in a Parsha?

If you are a regular shul goer, you may not have been surprised to hear the recent Pew Study.

Essentially, it says that shul goers are 11% more likely than their non going counterparts to be happy.
Read more here.

I could spend some solid time here breaking down the reasons that this may be the case. We know that creating community, connecting with our friends and family, and enjoying a delicious Kiddush lunch are activities that can bring us meaning and fulfillment.

The fact remains that going to shul is a deeply ritualistic experience. We practice doing the same things over and over again, which some people find comforting, but many more people find monotonous.

That is why even the shul going crowd tends to arrive later, since one can still get their fill of davening and also enjoy the communal aspects of kibbutzing, kiddushing and schmoozing in general, after the service.

So what can we do to invigorate our experience in synagogue so that, comforting as it is, we raise it to a higher level; So that we go from the comfort of our practice, to devotional prayer? Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

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

Religious Architecture

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’s blog is written by Yiling Shen, a frequent blogger at ArchDaily.com

We live in spaces.  Homes, schools, offices and houses of worship shape our experiences through their architecture.  I have long been interested in the connection between design and function.  After all, it was Exodus 25:8 where God commanded an awareness of design:

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, so I may dwell among them.

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Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, 1 comment