Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving reflects the best side of America's promise.

Hi Everyone,
Here is my Thanksgiving day message which shows us how in our nation's history we have used Thanksgiving as a day to unite the nation from the core of our universal values. Take a read and tell me what you think. I hope you had a great day of being with family and friends.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

I sat down this week with a couple in my congregation. The man told me a story about how on the morning of November 9th, 1938, he awoke to the sound of hard banging on his front door. Standing outside of his home were brown shirted Nazis SA soldiers who triggered a nightmare for them and for the rest of the Jewish people. His father was a physician who had left early that morning to visit a patient. The next time this teen saw his father was four years later in New York City in 1942. This amazing man captured me with his harrowing tale of being on the last ship leaving his community in August of 1939. They made it to America, began new lives and created a future for themselves which they have enjoyed over the years. 
He was, sadly, the exception for Kristallnacht was simply put a state sponsored national and international series of pogroms or riots sponsored and incited by the German government in Germany and occupied Austria against the Jewish people. All of the violence and destruction against the Jewish communities including their synagogues and businesses and the imprisonment of Jews in concentration camps like Dachau and the increase of racial laws were meant to further isolate and humiliate the Jews from the rest of their society. All of it originating from a seventeen year old German born-Polish Jew Herschel Grynspan  who shot and killed Nazi diplomat Ernst Von Rath in the German embassy in Paris.
Goebels and Hitler seized on this moment to send the ultimate message  which was that there was no future for the Jewish people in Germany and Austria.This is why Kristallnacht represents the Prelude to the so-called Final Solution or the Destruction of the Jewish people. 
There are so many stories recorded by many like my congregant which is why we respectfully remember and commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht and we ask what lessons does the Night of Broken Glass teach us today?
First, aside from what Kristallnacht represented in Hitler’s war against the Jews it has significant meaning for our times too. This nationwide German people’s rampage against the Jewish people teaches us how a state unleashed it police, its army, it fire department and the citizenry to run wild to destroy Jewish synagogues and businesses. They incarcerated thousands of Jews in the concentration camps of places like Dachau. Since then we have witnessed how other nations have entered the realm of insanity and hatred and done the same things to their own citizens too.

As Jews we cannot help but react differently this year to Kristallnacht in light of the recent murderous rampage by a bigoted and evil man that took the lives of 11 Jewish worshippers at the
Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. We see what is possible in our own country. Some say that this events like the march of Nazis at Charlottesville in 2016, or the burning of a Nazi Swastiker at a National Socialist Rally in Draketown, Georgia in April of 2018, point to an unprecedented upsurge of anti-Semitic outbreaks that may set an ominous and dangerous new trend for us in America and for world Jewry. Others question whether or not the Jewish community in America is vulnerable in a way that we would never have imagined or contemplated before? Again we are left with more questions than answers as to what the past can teach us.

The program we have prepared for today combines the first hand testimonies from people who experienced the wanton rage against the Jewish people that night. Their voices are still alive for us and in that way we too will bear witness to that past. The music that the brilliant maestra Mary Green has prepared will take us on a journey of the soul and hopefully will inscribe in our hearts the despair and the concern of the times in the mid 1930s as the Nazis gained power all over the world. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Mary Green singers and the musicians who are hear today. Our task this afternoon is to combine the readings and the music into our consciousness to forever hold the Night of Broken Glass or Crystal  for its place in history and for its symbol for why we should  work for a future when nothing like it will happen to us or to any Jewish community.
Finally we should be well advised to do our best to open up the dialogue with other groups to create the fortress of strength and resistance against these kinds of hate groups who not only rear their ugly heads against the Jewish community but against many communities in our country. The enemy who hates us today is the same person who despises the diversity of this great nation. How can we ignore the moral imperative to build bridges to a safer future for ourselves and for all Americans?
On Friday Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel held a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.“We should remember it every day, not only on a day of commemoration. Let us work every day to ensure that what happened 80 years ago can never happen again.“I am convinced that we can only draw the right lessons if we understand the November pogroms of 1938 as part of a process,” she said.

The French Foreign Minister Edouard Philippe noted on his Facebook page the 69 percent increase in France of anti-semitic attacks. He said, "Every attack perpetrated against one of our citizens because they are Jewish echoes like the breaking of new crystal," Mr Philippe wrote on Facebook, referring to Kristallnacht.”"Why recall, in 2018, such a painful memory? Because we are very far from being finished with anti-Semitism.” Mr Philippe cited Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as saying; "the real danger is indifference”. And that is exactly our mission today. To sharpen our awareness and to fight indifference to hate and oppose any effort by a government to destroy its own population because the stakes for Jewish survival couldn’t be any greater today.

The aftermath of the murders of Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh

My most recent newspaper column from the island packet.
The title speaks for itself. Thanks for taking the time to read it. Let me know what you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

When your loved one has a stroke, is God Present for us?

I have had quite a few congregants and relatives who have recently suffered strokes. We all know how debilitating a stroke is on a human being. Is there a spiritual dimension and a moral dimension when we are supporting our loved ones? My newest newspaper column explores this topic. Let me know what you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hilton Head Mayoral Election and the fight against Holocaust Deniers.

This latest piece from my newspaper column is part of a four part series I have written about the current Hilton Head Mayoral Race. My focus has been on exposing the the public that two candidates have made openly hostile comments about the  denial of the Holocaust and admiration for Adolph Hitler. My purpose has been to inform the community about these candidates viewpoints because I believe that our community has a right to know who they are voting for in this election. Have a good read and tell me what you think.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Life Journeys are never a straight line. Torah portion Lech L'chah Genesis 12:10

A life journey isn’t always a straight line from beginning to end. Sometimes a journey feels more like a line that goes down and then heads up and for others like a zig zag. I suppose it all depends upon how we approach the living and the great moments of triumph and success as compared to those times when we feel as if we were on a descent of sorts.

Jewish spiritual language likens those same ups and downs to a spiritual ascent called an aliya and the opposite, a descent, which is commonly called a y’ridah or descent. I suppose that is why Israelis call immigrating to Israel -making aliyah- and leaving the land  as y’ridah or descending.
 We find ourselves doing things in a life journey that we would have never imagined us doing in order to solve a problem, resolve a conflict, make a peace, bring comfort or face a difficult truth. At some point we look at the sunset and contemplate. “How did I do in this life? How did I measure up to those challenges? Was it worth all that I did?

I have to wonder about our patriarch Abraham and the arc of his life journeys too. The Torah portion portrays him engaged on several journeys after God call us him to the ultimate challenge to inaugurate a new vision for humanity and a new belief system of a covenant between God and the Jewish people.Did Abraham have his ascents and descents in life too?
We see that the first new journey he makes at seventy-five years old is a spiritual ascent from his original homeland of Haran in Babylonia to the Land of Canaan. In chapter twelve Abraham enters the Promised Land and travels to a few places where each time he sets up an altar to give thanks to Adonai the Lord of all. 

Yet that first ascent  to the land of Canaan was short lived because in that same chapter the text says; “There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt and dwelt there for the famine was severe there” (12:10). Suddenly there is a famine and he leaves the Promised Land. I wonder if we look at those words with a deeper perspective how could we understand the meaning of the famine and his descent into Egypt followed by his eventual return or ascent back to the Land of Canaan?  And is there another level of meaning for us related to  the life journeys we all experience? The meaning may vary but what is important is that we see the connections between all our life journeys and how each of them contributed to making us who we are.

 The Torah tells us about several instances when our Patriarchs experienced famines and felt forced to go down to Egypt. Not only did Abram go down to Egypt during a famine but Isaac, his son, also faced a famine in Canaan and left Canaan in search of food. Joseph’s brothers also faced a famine and ultimately went down to Egypt to find food which led them to come face to face with their long lost brother Joseph. So there seems to be trend that famines occur in the lives of the Patriarchs and going down to Egypt is a short term solution but never seems to solve the underlying issues.
The story of Abram in Egypt goes on to tell how he prepared his wife Sarai that when they arrive in Egypt to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister and not his wife. Again was this a test of his personal integrity or  was it justified for their survival? Ultimately Pharaoh is about take her as his wife when God brings a fever upon Pharaoh and his court so that Pharaoh rebukes Abram for hiding the fact that she is his wife. And they left with food and clothing and returned to Canaan with enough supplies to survive and even prosper.

Were these tests of Abram’s character and resourcefulness? Was his lying to Pharaoh part of that life journey that maybe we have all had to do things we would not have preferred to do but felt compelled to do for the betterment of ourselves and our responsibilities to our families? Does the famine symbolize a descent of moral character? Does his return to Canaan represent a return to the better side of himself or a renewal of his original mission to fulfill God’s calling to him?

When we experience a famine of the soul it means that something is missing in our lives and that we have a hunger for truth, enlightenment and renewal. Is it possible that Abram was looking for his own voice when he left Canaan? To balance spiritual needs with the physical needs? 
 Sometimes a life journey makes us take a step or two backwards before we can move forward. Sometimes we face the disappointment and even failures in our lives not just in jobs but in relationships. Isn’t that part of living today just as it might have been in Abram’s times too?

Have we not all heard that maxim, it is not how we go down but how we get up in life that really matters? Is that the upshot of Abram’s descent or going down into Egypt? Is that not the same for us when we take a hit in life? For Abram the Midrash says that his return to Canaan was the first of many tests in his life leading up to the ultimate test which was his going up to Canaan and ultimately up to Mount Moriah which is where in the next week’s Torah portion he would comply with God’s command to offer Isaac up for a sacrifice. How we respond to the tests that life presents us with says a great deal about our character. It did so for Abram and it does for us as well. 
Rabbah taught his students:
In the world to come every person is led you before the judgment seat of God and will be asked several questions.
Did you conduct your business affairs  with integrity?
Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah?
Did you fulfill the commitment to procreation?
Did you hope for salvation?
Did you occupy yourself with the study of wisdom?

Finally, Did you learn to understand how one thing follows from one another? (Talmud Shabbat31a)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Was Noah a good leader for humanity?

If there is one lesson that American Presidents have learned over the past 16 years or so it is that when a natural disaster, like a Hurricane, occurs it is absolutely crucial that the public see and feel that the nation’s chief executive officer is involved and on top of marshaling resources to support communities affected by the ravages of a storm. We have witnessed the opposite when the public perception was that the president was not engaged directly with the people impacted by the Hurricane. When that happens rest assured there will be serious political consequences afterwards. The last three American Presidents have had to deal with massive hurricanes and we have seen the results when a President was truly engaged versus those who only appeared to be involved and compassionate with those who have suffered.

The Torah portion is Noah and the sages also have a lot to say in support and in criticism of Noah who had to exercise communal leadership for this catalysmic act of divine retribution.  Our commentators have a wide variety of views as to whether Noah was truly a hero or engaged leader for building the ark and following god’s orders. What were some of the criticisms that the sages leveled against Noah and were they legitimate? Staying silent and not appearing to be an advocate for one’s people or community  is not a good example for leadership in any age. The same is true in politics as it is religion that if a perception exist in which people think that a leader is not totally engaged on the people’s behalf then that leader will likely confront harsh and adverse  repercussions.
One of the most poignant but subtle attacks against Noah was his reaction to the idea that God was going to destroy humanity.

The most important book of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, speaks to Noah as deserving of criticism. The sages like to contrast Noah with Abraham with the intention of saying both were good men but Abraham was unique because he had a degree of compassion that surpassed Noah. How so?  In chapter of six of Genesis God says to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come to me”……” and behold I will destroy them from the earth. Now go make an ark of gopher wood” (6:13).
The rabbis say, “Noah held his peace and said nothing, neither did he intercede. Whereas when God was about to destroy the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomarah, Abraham said to God, “ Will you also destroy the righteous and the wicked.”
Now the rabbis add on with further criticism of Noah in comparison to Abraham. Rashi, the most famous of biblical commentators, observed  the difference between Abraham and Noah in that Noah needed God’s support to perform his duties but Abraham strengthened himself and walked in his righteousness by himself.”

 There are even some scholars who take a more middle of the road approach to Noah in contrast to Abraham. They ask what is the meaning of the verse in Genesis, “Noah was a man righteous and whole hearted in his generation” (6:9).  In one Midrash they ask, “what does the phrase “in his generation,” mean? The answer is mixed for some sages say it to his credit and others to his discredit. Was Noah righteous in his generation but not in others? This could be compared to a man who places a silver coin amongst copper coins, then the silver appears attractive. So Noah, therefore, appeared righteous in his generation of the flood. Still others interpret Noah to a jar of balsam placed in a grave which gave off a goodly fragrance. Had it been placed inside the house how much the more so would the fragrance be appreciated. (Tanhuma).

Finally, back to Rashi who commented on verse seven which says “Noah went into the ark before the waters of the flood.” Rashi says, “Noah had little faith, only half believing that the flood would actually come and he did not enter the ark until the waters forced him to go inside.”

Clearly the rabbis do not hold Noah in the highest esteem. Were trying to diminish Noah so that they could build up Abraham? The most important critique we read was that he was silent and said nothing to defend humanity. He did nothing to challenge the justice of God’s decree to vanquish human civilization. And that is contrary to biblical figures like Abraham, Moses and Job who did challenge God when they believed God was being unfair or unjust against the Jewish people. If there is anything that is a distinguishing feature of Jewish theology it is that we do challenge God and even criticize God when we believe God is decreeing a punishment against us which we believe to be unjust.
Indeed why wasn’t Noah a stronger advocate on behalf of humanity before god? Why didn’t he speak out to God to try to intervene and convince God to hold his wrath? Noah is not a bad man but could he not have been a better advocate for humanity? If there is one thing we as a people have learned it is that silence in the face of any injustice is not the Jewish ethos we prize in assessing effective leadership. 

As Americans we have, embedded in our societal values, a belief that one should speak out when we feel justice is perverted. Our compassion as a society demands we speak out not only against God but against leadership when we strongly disagree. That ethos stems directly from the Torah.

So when there is a crisis of a natural disaster like a flood, hurricane or earthquake the nation’s leader is expected not to be silent. The leader is expected to be a fierce advocate in bringing compassion and advocacy on behalf of the citizens that leader represents.
Can we  go one step further by suggesting God expects us to exhibit compassion in times of travail even if we have brought on our own suffering? In Noah’s case the answer is yes. We have seen the reason why being silent and not advocating is contrary to our belief system. Americans have had to use that advocacy when natural disasters have hit our communities and the people needed the government to get involved in helping our fellow citizens find the resources to rebuild after a devastating hurricane.

The rabbis have opened our eyes to a different dimension of the Noah story where Noah is a good man and righteous but not altogether meeting the standards of other great leaders who would have taken a much more proactive course of action to protect the people. Presidents and other leaders could do well to remember that following orders and staying silent, even if for honorable reasons, may, in fact, send the wrong message about how to be a leader in a time of crisis.  Paraphrasing from Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for silence and a time for speaking out.” Noah missed that opportunity and God help any leader who does the same when a natural disaster hits our community.

Shabbat Shalom