Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Story of the Shakers in the history of religious life in America

I visited the Berkshires and wanted to learn more about this unusual religious group which was founded by a woman and created religious communes that existed from the 18th century to the 1960. They lived and work the soil and kept their faith. Their commitment to a simple and religiously based lifestyle is admirable and stands out in the annals of American history.
Have a good read and your comments are always welcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on the murders at the Har Nof synagogue in Jerusalem

It is telling about the nature of the Jewish people in response to terror when those in the Jerusalem neighborhood let alone in the shul that was attacked this week respond to media inquiries by saying that ‘we go back to the business of living.’ It is practically impossible to fathom the outrage, anger and desire for revenge that must be pulsating through the veins of Israelis in this most recent barbaric action.  We read reports of Israelis, definitely shaken to the core of their souls, yet still able and willing to live and not give in to the terrorist’s goals.
At the outset I want to stand in solidarity with my rabbinic colleagues in condemning these murderous acts and extend my personal condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in this terrorist attack. There can be no justification or excuse for this kind of abominable action. I hope that all of us will share our thoughts with our national elected leaders including our congressman and senators.
Media reports show video footage of observant Jews at this Jerusalem synagogue praying in the streets. They wait for the Messiah. They are believers in their theology with a deep seated faith turning to God for strength. They do not call out to destroy Arabs and Palestinians.  They do not summon the faithful to carry out an Intifada against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. They do not call for a Jihad against all non-Jews and chop off heads. They mourn and grieve. They pray and even dance through their grief knowing that God is listening and giving them consolation.
Their martyrdom is not to walk through mosques and Arab storefronts and blow themselves up because God is great. Jewish martyrdom is about enduring the pain of exile and the pain today of terrorism. It is the courage to resume life knowing one has sustained a serious wound to their body and soul that distinguishes our martyrs from those of the radical Muslim terrorists.
Tragically we have seen these kinds of despicable actions many times in the past. Do we ever get used to or accustomed to the brutality?  What will be the consequences of these young men’s’ crimes? Will Israel build a security fence? I hope not. Jews in Jerusalem remain vulnerable since there are no barriers constructed between East and West Jerusalem. Anyone can drive anywhere they want to in Jerusalem. As always there are more questions lingering from these events than answers. I pray that the city will never be divided due to fear.
Are there Americans who enter the fray of Israeli- Palestinian politics saying, “This is what Israel gets for its policies in the territories”? Others will remain silent because they know the hypocrisy of the position that says, ‘I am a friend of the Jewish people but I just hate Israel.’ Are all the academic associations who condemned Israel and the religious organizations which supported the Boycott Divest and Sanction Israel declarations now rejoicing in the same way that Palestinians do in Ramallah and Gaza City at the so-called martyrdom of two murderous cousins from East Jerusalem?
Four Rabbis and an Israeli Druze policeman have entered eternity. The bullets and knife wielding terrorists did not care whether there victims would be rabbis or an Israel Druze police officer. Their hatred and dedication to their cause blinded them to the basic values that are supposed to be universal. Human life is sacred. “Whatever is hateful to you do not do to another”( Talmud Shabbat). “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:19).
We will say kaddish for the deceased and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded. May God accept the victims of terrorism in his Heavenly embrace? May Israel resist the pressures to respond with vengeance and may it remain on the moral high ground. May God bless the memories of the departed and sustain them in our hearts and souls and, finally, heal those recuperating from their wounds. Zichronom L’vrachah-May their memories be for a blessing.

Rabbi Bloom

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In memorium: Rabbi Isaac Neuman cherished Rabbi and friend.

In Memorium: Rabbi Isaac Neuman
I can still remember walking into his rabbinic study at Sinai Temple in Champaign, Illinois back in 1987. Soon I would sit behind that desk as the congregation’s new rabbi and Rabbi Neuman, the new Rabbi Emeritus would have his spot which was in the Temple library. Some people predicted that we would never get along. We were too different and from such different backgrounds. Yet I can say that none of those predictions came true. We were different and were from different worlds. From my vantage point I grew to respect and have deep admiration for Rabbi Isaac Neuman. He was a rabbi to me in the best sense of the term. He was my teacher and inspiration. For these reasons and more I mourn his passing.
Isaac opened a door for me and I walked down a pathway into many other worlds. No other rabbi has had a greater influence on my theology and learning as did Isaac. He introduced me to the study of Hasidism. He taught me how to read Elie Wiesel and other theologians. What Isaac did for me was to teach me firsthand about the Holocaust and then to understand those writers who like Wiesel began to combine Jewish sources with real life theological issues that emerged out of the Holocaust. I am greatly indebted to him for opening my eyes. One example was to teach me how to develop and implement a Yom HaShoah service. Every year since I left Champaign in 1995 to this day I have presented in the congregations I have served an annual Yom HaShoah service and program. From Isaac I learned to treat it like a miniature Yom Kippur with the best readings, poetry as well as music.
Isaac also taught me to appreciate Jewish music. He really took music seriously. In my days at Sinai Temple we brought out many of the greatest contemporary composers of contemporary Reform liturgical music. Working with a professional choir along with his advice provided me with the knowledge that would become invaluable to me as a rabbi in the future congregations I would serve and still do today.
What I loved about knowing him was that as long as he was in the library reading magazines like Commentary and others I could sit down with him and we would talk. We talked about his youth, his children and about the scholars of old as if he knew them intimately. Maybe he did. What he achieved in his life to have his sons, his beloved Eva and his rabbinic ordination and devoted congregants over the decades was a true achievement given the history he had from Poland to the  concentration camps and then to America. I stood in awe of this man. I remember saying goodbye to him when I was headed out to California and how I cried then when I embraced him.
The years went by and I was thrilled to have him out as a scholar in residence at my congregation in Sacramento. In addition each year before the High Holy Days we spoke and he gave me some of the greatest texts from the Talmud and Hasidism for my sermons. When my family and I would visit my parents in South Florida, we always made sure to visit Isaac and Eva in Miami Beach. He loved to speak about politics and Israel and often times bemoan new gimmicks he saw in the Reform Movement as shallow.
I feel bad, I must confess, that I did not keep up with him as I should have over the last five years or so. I regret that and ask from god forgiveness. I just hope he knows in Olam HaBa that I am carrying on his work and that I loved him.
It is true that sometimes he was short of patience and could be sharp tongued when something irritated him. Yet he was so kind to my family and especially affectionate to my daughter Leah. I shall never forget when he announced to me that he was going to East Berlin to be their rabbi at the reform congregation. He told me, “I’m putting my head in the lion’s mouth.” What a man to have the courage to do that given his experiences in life! Then he came home with Eva and the next thing I know I am standing with Gary Porton co-officiating with me under a huppah at the wedding of Eva and Isaac. Eva, my heart and condolences go out to you. You are a beautiful spirit and Isaac was blessed to have you as his wife. In addition I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to Mark and David. One could not ask for two devoted sons like them.

I will say kaddish for him at my congregation and I hope that everyone who reads this blog who did not know Isaac will realize that he was a special man with incredible gifts. While he opened up worlds of spirituality and learning for me, I used to also believe he lived in different worlds as well. Reform Judaism, Hasidism, the Holocaust were all worlds he inhabited and knew somehow how to balance them all while serving honorably his congregations as a pulpit rabbi. He gave the best of what Judaism offered and taught it to Sinai Temple. His storytelling and his passion for preserving Jewish memory filled us all with a glow. His teaching from the words of Nahman of Bratslav will always stay with me. “The whole world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is not to be afraid.” Nahman wrote those words but Isaac Neuman taught me them and how they could protect and strengthen me in the challenges I have faced in my life. I am a better person and rabbi for having known my beloved and cherished teacher Rabbi Isaac Neuman. Zichrono L’vrachah-May he be remembered for blessing.