Friday, July 21, 2017

My final column with the Island Packet

http://www.islandpacket.com/living/religion/faith-in-action/article159645689.html

This column addresses the perennial challenge that houses of worship face in trying to find the blend of religious music that fits the worship environment and culture of the congregation. This is a fascinating issue that all clergy and lay leaders contend with given the fact that so many of our congregants or parishioners have relocated from other communities. You may find yourself in this dilemma too. Let me know what you think.

Shalom
Rabbi Bloom

ps. A few weeks ago I received brief and sudden notification that the Packet had decided to discontinue my column which was known as Faith in Action.
I have believed from the start that my singular core value in writing this column for almost nine years has been that religion deserves a voice in the public square of ideas. Second, I have tried to stretch myself in educating the community about my own views on religious topics coming from a Jewish perspective.  More importantly I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and previous support of the editorial staff of the paper to broaden myself and learn about other religions as well. I always considered it a privilege to write these columns over the years and I hope  I have had some success in establishing a dialogue and encouraging people to think in new ways about where  common ground could be  to hear and respect each other. I tried to broaden the focus on issues beyond any one religion but, instead, reached out to discuss how a public issue would and could affect all religions in America.  I have been blessed to do this column and while I am saddened by the decision of the newspaper leadership I hope to find new ways to express my views and educate to pursue the same goals mentioned above. So watch out and let's see  if as one door closes another one will open.

God bless you.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My thoughts on the Netanyahu government's decision to cancel the Western Wall agreement.

There is a statement written long ago by our sages that rings true today. “Israel will not be redeemed until all the Children of Israel are united in a single fellowship,” (Midrash Tanhuma to NItzvim). This maxim does not talk about that we must have the same religious observances or agree to a unified set of behaviors. The statement says “fellowship.” Despite the miraculous existence of Israel the decision to postpone the Kotel expansion agreement and the introduction of the bill in the Knesset to disqualify all converts other than Orthodox ones converted by the Chief Rabbinate  demonstrates that that fellowship of unity within the Jewish people our sages envisioned long ago is still a dream unfulfilled.



The sadness surrounding the decision by the Netanyahu government to delay, postpone, rescind or whatever term suits us best is not just about going back on an agreement. It is not just the Netanyahu government caving into pressure from the Orthodox parties who threaten to bring down the government. It is not just the tragedy that these religious and nationalist parties are once again creating another serious breach in Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jewish relations. The real sadness for me is that the majority of the state, who we hoped to have had sympathy for liberal Judaism in the state of Israel,appear not to care at all about this issue. Israeli newspaper’s attention to these public statements of outrage and protest from Israeli Reform movement organizational leaders, demonstrate that few care much about the importance of the issue of liberal Jews or women having an egalitarian prayer space at the Robinson Arch of the Kotel. That lack of interest in what is so important an issue  to Diaspora Jews is what is most unsettling for me.  We simply have a long way to go in convincing the Israeli public that they should care about these issues.

Netanyahu’s reneging on his promise exemplifies the depth of the  disconnect between Israelis and Diaspora Jews. The fact that the Netanyahu government knew it could abrogate their agreement to create an appropriate prayer space at the Robinson Arch for the genders and branches of Judaism and not pay a political price from their own parties or the opposite side of the aisle is evidence enough of that chasm between Israel and Diaspora Jews. It is also evidence of the modest impact of the Reform or Conservative movements in Israel. That too is a part of the sad reality as well.

What do we do now? We need to do several things in the aftermath of this debacle for Israel and for us.
First, reform Jews in Israel and in the world will have to decide to revamp their strategy regarding reaching out to the masses in Israel and getting them to march for these kinds of causes. Not just Diaspora Jews but all Jews in Israel should be marching to protest the Prime Minister’s decision to walk away from his commitment to the entire Jewish people. The majority of the Israeli public have many more issues that go directly to the economic, political, and security realms of Israeli society. They just do not seem to take our issues seriously. That is part of the sad reality of this issue today.

We have Israelis who understand the critical importance for Israel’s well being of working together with Jews in America. Tzipi Livini, Israel’s previous foreign minister wrote on her Facebook page, “
“Why do we care about Jewish Israelis from the Western Wall and the Conversion Law? Because it is important to us that Israel remain the state of the Jewish people and that Judaism be what connects us — and not what divides us,”
Shuki Friedman who is the executive director of the Israel Democracy Institute commented and gave us a dose of reality.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will shake up Israeli politics. The storm is mostly in the media,” Friedman told JTA. “Generally speaking, the Reform and Conservative movements have failed in Israel, and the public isn’t really concerned about them. Therefore, mainstream politicians aren’t going to challenge the haredim on an issue like the Western Wall. ” 

Second Reform Jews have to think about how to explain this to our own base without creating more and more American Jews who will truly start to be less generous and supportive of Israel in the future. We need to be honest with our membership about  not just about how we think of Israel but about how Israel thinks about Jews in America and in the rest of the world. This is not an easy conversation but it is one we should have before the young in particular and those who grew up in interfaith families and who are completely devoted to their faith grow disillusioned with these kinds of politics that divide the Jewish people. 

Third, as liberal Jews do we not want to take the moral high ground even though we are hurt and angry beyond measure from this Israeli government’s betrayal on its word? The moral high ground is where we belong. The tragedy is that the Haredi parties are dong their best to take us to the lowest point. There is no engagement, rather, there is only rejection and hatred of us. I am reminded of a verse in Deuteronomy that we read on Yom Kippur morning during the Torah service. “You are standing here this day, before the Lord your God.” This verse goes on to mention everyone from the children, the elders the men and women to enter into a covenant with the Lord. The rabbis asked, “What does the Torah mean when it says “You are standing here this day all of you? Their answer is” When all of you are of one accord then you are standing” (Yalkut Nitzavim). This is my messianic dream which is that we are standing together even if we have different ways of experiencing our faith and our religious practices. We are of one people who believe in the God of all existence, who gave us the Torah. That unity of spirit and history is what  is missing here and now.
  
The Kotel disappointment no matter what happens reminds us that the work we must do is to make our case to the Israeli public in more creative ways. We have to hold up the trust and faith so that the American Jews will not become disgruntled and disaffected with Israel. We do this because we are committed to standing before the Lord and being of one accord with all our brothers and sisters in the Jewish people.
Shabbat Shalom,

rbs


"One nation under God?" The Pledge of Allegiance

http://www.islandpacket.com/living/religion/faith-in-action/article156911779.html

Here is a bit of history and some perspective today about how the Pledge of Allegiance came to be and what it means to day. I think it is a fitting subject for the fourth of July. What do you think?


Shalom,
Rabbi Bloom

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Korach and Keeping the Peace inside America's houses of Worship

The peace of the synagogue is one of the most fragile and important values in Judaism. I say fragile because there are so many stories about how we Jews have destroyed congregations over all kinds of issues such as Kosher dietary laws, finances, clergy, ethical infractions between professionals and volunteer leadership. Sometimes the issue is simply about who has the power over the leadership of the congregation, in other words, one group is in power and another is not. These are just a few of the typical examples of perennial issues that afflict congregations.

We call the value shalom bait or peace in the home. To disturb the peace in a synagogue only takes one issue or one person who is upset and wants to express their anger or seeks simply a fair solution to a problem in the congregation. How do we cope when person or a few take it upon themselves to stir the pot for whatever they believe or say is the egregious problem in an institution?

I discuss this topic because this Shabbat’s Torah portion  is Korach and it is the ultimate story in the Torah about a man named Korach who was one of the levites and who challenged Moses’ authority to lead the Jewish people. In the book of Numbers the narrative describes Korach organizing a group of 250 princes or levites in the aristocracy who accused Moses in unison. “It is too much for you.” “For the entire assembly-all of them-are holy and God is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?”
Moses is stunned and bows before God seeking guidance. He turns to the people and the rebel Levite princes, declaring that on the  next day God will reveal who is authentically holy and who God will choose to lead the people and be God’s prophet.
He instructs them to take their ritual fire pans and place incense inside them. Then God will choose who is the authentic leader of the people. Moses gives it to Korach scolding him for not being appreciative that he is a Levite and what a privilege it is that he is allowed to lead worship in the Tabernacle.
The drama intensifies and Moses accuses all the disciples and allies of Korach as essentially traitors against Moses, Aaron and God. Things get even worse when one ally family in the Levites refuses to join Moses and help him out to stand up to them. His allies criticize him for taking them out of the land of Eygpt. They even imply that they want to go home, back to slavery.
To make a long story short: After Moses told the rest of the people to back away from these rebels knowing full well that there would soon be punishment exacted against these people.  At the end of the day an earthquake occurred and the allies of Korach fell into the crack on the ground and it swallowed up all the 250 co-conspirators of Korach. 
What is even worse was that afterwards the people rallied against Aaron and Moses blaming them for killing Korach and his followers. Consequently Moses performs the same task of bringing out the fire pans and telling the people to back away from these complainers. And once again by the end of it all 14,000 or more  Israelites died that day from a plague that God brought against these rebel rousers.

Moses drained the swamp, dispensed with his adversaries, and caused Korach to die in a blaze of fire and brought death and destruction to the people. And for what? Moses appointed someone else to be a chief elder in the community. And where do we go from here?

The lessons from the Korach story are many. One in particular is that power is toxic. The line of authority of who rules an organization let alone the core values is also critical. Lineage is crucial in terms of who is in the line of the leadership model as well.
One cannot help but wonder why Moses couldn’t have found a peaceful way to subdue Korach and his followers. More questions like; How could they have come to a compromise to solve their resentments? What happens when there is no room for compromise such as the idea of removing Moses from being God’s appointed prophet?
There are good lessons from this painful story  for all religious institutions including the Jewish congregations. Today synagogue leaders and professionals, clergy and others, probably would being doing a good thing to have developed mechanisms in place for mediating problems and addressing anger issues that could threaten the stability of a congregation.  In the past the Union of Reform Judaism used to have a  commission to deal with conflict issues with questionable effectiveness.
Our congregation is a strong one and yet even the best of our congregations is vulnerable to internal conflict and power struggles. Using brute power in the Torah’s case against Korach may have been the only solution to resolve this power struggle. Today, however, every congregation should have the means to resolve conflicts peacefully before any issue becomes like a virus and infects an entire community. All houses of worship should do whatever they can to institute methods of keeping shalom inside the congregation. When they do so, therefore,shalom bait will be preserved.

Shabbat Shalom,

Monday, June 19, 2017

Davar Torah: We need a little of Caleb in us! Parashat Shelach L'chah Book of Number


Tonight is the final rite of passage for the congregation’s leadership by passing the baton to the next line of Temple  board members. Each new board faces the responsibility of overseeing programs, fiscal budgetary constraints, personnel and communicating with the congregation. We wish b’hatzlachah- success to these new board members and with gratitude that we say Todah Rabbah thank you to the outgoing board as well. New opportunities and challenges always exist  in moving forward in the life of our Congregation’s journey.

In our Torah portion we return to an ancient journey of our people who faced opportunities and challenges for the future generations of the Jewish people. In  the book of Numbers,Parashat  Shelah L’chah, Moses directs his leadership to  appoint ten representatives to scout out the Promised Land. The leadership team goes out on a reconnaissance mission and comes back with a divided report. Eight of the ten say that the indigenous population are too powerful for the Israelites. The Israelites call them giants and fear there will be a catastrophe if they try to invade. The minority report of two, submitted by Joshua and Caleb, take the opposite view urging the leadership to go for it. The end result was that the Israelite leadership followed the majority report and refused to move forward. 

God was furious and Moses devastated. God punished the entire generation of the people by saying that none of them except Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. That faithless decision based upon the failure to act and the fear to move forward, resulted in forty years of wanderings without that generation seeing the fruit of their hopes fulfilled.

Some of the  Jewish mystics commented on this disappointment and said that the people who feared to take the risks were actually not ready spiritually to make this ascent to the Promised Land. In this parashah from the 13th chapter of Numbers it is written, They spoke to him,saying. “We came into the land where you sent us. It indeed flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit. But the people dwelling there is strong… But Caleb silenced the people for Moses, saying, “We will indeed go up and inherit  it for we are able.”

Caleb’s determination to prevail earned him that opportunity to enter the promised land years later.  God said that Caleb was special because “he had a different spirit within him.”  Faith and courage are critical elements in making important decisions then and today.

Do  the challenges we address today in our congregation regarding the issues mentioned above, especially the financial ones, represent the adversaries that appear to be too big for us to handle as well? Will we shy away or face head on the challenges that we as a congregation must deal with if we are to enter and preserve our place in that promised land?

We learn from the Torah portion that the generation of the Exodus did great things but they fell shy of  believing in themselves enough at a critical moment. At CBY our journey requires us to make hard decisions in the upcoming year and we are approaching a critical moment too. We too are making our best effort to create a funding mechanism that will enable us to keep the talented and valuable professional staff who are making such a positive contribution to our Jewish identity and our congregation’s well being. A special committee has been appointed by our President Pennie Meiselman  and chaired by Ted David to explore how we are going to meet these challenges as well. The leadership realizes that now is the time  to lead and to believe like Caleb that we can achieve our goals and overcome our legitimate fears for whether or not we can develop the funding to carry on with our mission.

I am thankful and appreciative of our leadership who in the spirit of Caleb said, “Let us go up” to the Promised Land  which will motivate us to do the same with our financial challenges. Our challenges are good ones because we have a steady and growing membership and a lot of enthusiasm at the same time that there are financial concerns about the future. Is there a can-do attitude and faith in our congregation’s willingness to fund the future? Will we move forward? Or will we stagnate? This is our future just like the Israelites. I believe we can do it for whatever CBY puts its heart and soul into it has in the past led to success. Our faith in ourselves is key.

When Moses told the reconnaissance team by saying, Get you up this way in the south and go up into the mountain”(13:17). Rabbi Akiva Eiger commented, “Moses told them to look at the land in terms of future generations and eternity, from the top of the mountain. Their mistake was they couldn’t see the panorama of  a future vision. We at CBY with a new board will carry on with previous board’s vision and move forward to the future and prove to us all the we can realize our vision for future generations at CBY.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The religious community is being heard on the Health Care Issue.

http://www.islandpacket.com/living/religion/faith-in-action/article154369894.html

While the nation obsesses over the politics of FBI investigations, the Senate is quietly in secret crafting a bill on Health Care. The Religious Community along with all other sorts of communities in this country should contribute to the debate about the future of Health Care and Health Insurance in America. Have a good read and let me know what you think?
Shalom,
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Keep the Johnson Amendment in place and no to any new executive order to change it.

http://www.islandpacket.com/living/religion/faith-in-action/article152081197.html

My most recent newspaper column addressed President Trump's recent executive order to loosen the enforcement on the time honored Johnson Amendment that preserved peace in the pews since 1954. Take a read and tell me what you think.
Shalom,
Rabbi Bloom