Reflections on Yom HaShoa at the Capitol

It’s a mix of awe and awesome. The setting of the US Capitol emancipation hall; and eclectic range of statues from Frederick Douglas to the gold draped Hawaiian King Kamehameha, who is credited with uniting the islands in the late 18th century.

The centerpiece, the statue of freedom, rises 30 feet above the floor and in front of it has been placed a six branched Menorah. The violinist begins to play the theme from “Schindler’s List” as survivors and liberators enter the hall single file. It is like living through the end of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

All around me, people are weeping and as I peer at the faces of these resolute souls, I can’t help but meditate on the terrible events that have led to this moment. Continue reading →

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Nurturing Love

“My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.  For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing bird has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

(Shir HaShirim 2:10-12)

Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, is a beautiful book about two lovers longing for one another.  It is the type of love which inspires poetry, dance, and song.  The custom is to read Shir HaShirim on the Shabbat during Passover which falls this week.  Chazal, a term referring to the collective rabbis of our tradition, understand this book as an allegory of love between the Jewish People and God.  It is read on Passover because the greatest act of love that God extended to the Jewish People was the freedom to develop into the People Israel – Am Yisrael. Continue reading →

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Unpacking Fault Lines in Israel

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.  These outside pieces are brought because their ideas are worth struggling with even as they might challenge us.

Since we are about to say, “Next year in Jerusalem” and our congregational theme is Israel, I want to point our attention towards Israel.  I am proud Beth El is a community which is unwavering in its love and commitment to Israel as it also recognizes Israel’s complexities.  In that vein, I want to offer a thought-provoking podcast produced by The Forward called “Fault Lines.”  The series is an on-going conversation between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart.  Respectively, Gordis and Beinart have come to represent the Right and Left political streams of American Jewry regarding Israel.

Gordis and Beinart state in the podcast they want to model a relationship which may be energized by disagreement but grounded in respect for the other.  They are united in their mutual commitment to a strong and secure Jewish State though they disagree on how that is actualized.

Here is a link to their first Podcast: Fault Lines with Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart  (Click on this link or the graphic above.)

At Beth El, let us never shy from expressing our love of the Jewish State, voicing our opinions on policies as needed, and never forget or become indifferent towards Israel and Jerusalem.

Le’shanah ha’ba’a b’Yerushalayim — Next year in Jerusalem,
Rabbi Greg Harris

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Reflecting on Spring

Spring brings with it many interesting possibilities. We know that this week, spring brings snow! More traditionally, it brings hope for freedom and deliverance, nice flowers and flourishing trees, lots of Matzah and, for some, it also brings allergies.

Sneezing is something that happens to every human being and also some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze. Nobody can sneeze without closing their eyes. But even more interesting is that if someone hears us sneeze, he or she will very often say, “Bless you.”

Many people have become accustomed to saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health) and it is not surprising that in Spanish we say “salud” (health or good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago.

There was a custom among the Romans to say, “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve” after sneezing, meaning “good health to you.” The common belief is that the phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE), and began literally as a blessing. Sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the bubonic plague. Therefore, the blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

But of course the Jewish people can claim we did it first…

Continue reading →

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We Need Healing

Thoughts and Prayers aren’t enough, but we do need healing and we do need hope. We are extraordinarily proud to support the March For Our Lives that will come to D.C. on March 24th. These teenage leaders emerging from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are an inspiration to us all and have clearly caught the attention of their peers around this nation. Last Wednesday, hundreds of students at BCC and other High Schools in our area, walked out of class and down to the Capitol.

I’d call that belief in action! Continue reading →

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Israel Always Surprises Me

The hallways and exhibit spaces of the DC Convention Center were energetic with the 18,000 pro-Israel activists attending AIPAC’s annual conference this week.  This is a conference I attend each year to understand the nuances of the Middle East, hear the inspirational stories of Israel such as when this tiny county acts as a first responder to global disasters including earthquakes in Mexico or caring for Syrian refugees.  I also listen to the difficult stories of Israelis and Palestinians struggling for mutual security. Continue reading →

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Conversations at the Mall

You may know that I grew up in Argentina. When I was seven years old, my mother of blessed memory, took me to one of the Jewish clubs so I could start playing soccer. In fact not soccer but indoor soccer.

I played indoor soccer for many years but when I was 15 years old I decided to play outdoor soccer, aka futbol, as well.

I discovered a completely different sport, with different rules, different ball size, and a different number of players. The essence of the game was the same, but indoor futbol and outdoor futbol were different. It didn’t feel the same.

A couple of months ago I started to accomplish one of my rabbinical goals. It has been one of my dreams. Be part of an ongoing interfaith conversation. I contacted a Catholic Monsignor, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim Imam and invited them to have lunch together at the Montgomery Mall. Before I tell you details of the day, I want to tell you that it was a great experience.   We agreed to meet on Presidents Day in the busy food court on a holiday for many in the Washington area. I arrived a half hour early to make sure we had a table to sit and talk. And we did talk about ourselves, our life experiences and our traditions. Continue reading →

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The Power of Communal Singing and God

Have you ever davened in Israel ( at Shira Hadasha, Yakar…etc)

Have you ever sung in a High School Choir?

Have you ever attended a Jewish camp?

If so, you have experienced the power of communal singing, a force that moves us to feel something that is often missing. I believe when we sing together we experience the very essence of our being, we experience God. And it’s good for us! Continue reading →

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Welcome to Beth El’s Clergy Blog

Beth El Clergy

Finding my expressive ‘voice’ is not an easy undertaking.  I do not mean my voice which emerges through my throat.  I am focused on my expressive voice which arises from my heart.  In this regard, my voice is what makes me or you an interesting conversationalist to some people yet disagreeable to others.  My voice is my ‘take’ on the world and my comfort in letting it shape me as a person.  With the quantity of communication we undertake today, I would have thought the idea of an authentic voice was easy to describe but I was mistaken. Continue reading →

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