Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Commentary or Davar Torah on the The Torah Portion. Vayigah the story of Joseph

I have met many people during my rabbinate who have gone through all sorts of traumas in their lives and came out of those experiences with new outlooks on life. I am talking about loss of a loved one, illnesses, business and career reversals, criminal actions with incarceration, family break ups and the list is endless. Some emerge actually stronger and wiser while others never recover.  How do those who find the spiritual high ground and are able to move forward call upon God and claim divine providence as a reason for finding stability and peace in their lives.
Why is that so?
We see this exact phenomenon with the story of Joseph when he reveals himself to his brothers in this week’s parash Vayigash. Joseph can no longer hold back his true identity before his brothers. He says, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” Clearly he has no intention of taking revenge. He is, rather, conciliatory and calls upon his brothers to approach him. Surely they are fearful of the shock and awe of seeing their brother whom they believed after all these years was dead. Instead of releasing anger he comforts them when he says, “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves that you sold me here;  for god did send me before you to preserve life”(44:5).He tells them that he would relieve them of the famine in Canaan. He then concludes by saying, “And God sent me before you to preserve  for you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance”(44:7).

Joseph has transformed and reinvented himself from the brash teenager to the righteous man who sees a much bigger picture of his life’s purpose. This story is one of the great narratives in the Bible and in Western Literature to demonstrate the power of reconciliation. He has never abandoned his family and his faith through all the dramas and suffering he endured along with the mystifying story of his rise from slave to becoming second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Not only could we ask how did he hold on to ancestral faith and resist the inevitable temptation to exact revenge upon them? We can also ask how does anyone who has survived a trauma find the wherewithal to rise above the basest of human emotions? How does anyone find it within themselves to get over the pain and see that they have hope and strength to carry on?

Spiritual recovery calls upon us to choose the pathway of  healing rather than perennial anger. Living with that kind of lifelong daily anger leads to self destruction. Releasing anger is one of the hardest things to do in life because the hurt stays with us every day. Turning the hurt into a sense of redemption and insight gives us a chance to find inner peace. Substance abuse patients, for example, often times find that healing by attending twelve step programs. They learn how to embrace the suffering so that they can transcend it.

How many times do we see people volunteer in causes that stem from the previous hurts they have experienced. Their devotion to those causes gives them the peace they yearn for in their lives. Joseph saw this when he twice referred to himself as a preserver of life. He does that for Egypt by storing the grain and saves the nation from its own famine down the road. He believes his mission is to help those in need. His faith in God becomes his pathway to reconcile the pain of abandonment by his family.Is his decision to welcome them a moral question or is it a spiritual quest for shalom of the heart?

One more piece to this question of why Joseph attributes his success and forgiveness to God goes back to the intellectual side rather than the spiritual. From modern eyes it appears that Joseph is saying that God’s providence was in part responsible for the outcome of Joseph’s journey and prominence in the court of Pharaoh. For Joseph giving God the credit is part of the humility of Joseph.  Do we believe that God led him down that path? Was Joseph the one who determined his own course or was he walking the pathway that God set up for him? Are we in charge of our own lives or does God work mysteriously behind the scenes? Modern Jews struggle with the idea because secular knowledge reminds us that what happens to us is based upon our own actions or accident. We accept the notion that freedom of will explains what happens. We recognize that accidents happen or coincidences occur but typically most of us do not go as far as saying God determines the outcome of our lives.

My own view is that when Joseph says God led him to this moment it is not accepting the philosopher’s view of Providence or freedom of will. The language demonstrates that he sees his life in broader terms than the here and now. It is about a deeper question. Religion is all about asking fundamental questions about existence; “What is my purpose in life?” Do we not all ask that question at times?

Joseph is not the philosopher. He is the righteous man. He is the man of faith. He walks the line many of us walk. It is a line that we straddle between living life and making sense of it. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An unforgettable night of ecumenicism in Hilton Head-The Journey towards Friendship

Last Thursday our congregation along with the Holy Family Catholic Congregation met together in  journey towards friendship. Our two choirs performed selections from the Psalms. Beth Yam's children's ensemble lit the Hanukkah lights and sang songs. Our featured speaker was Rabbi Dr. Shira Lander from Southern Methodist University. in Dallas. It was an unforgettable night. Over 400 people from our respective congregations and throughout the community attended. There is a message in this turnout which is that people want to interact on a religious level with other religions. They are not afraid to learn and celebrate each other's traditions. People will open their hearts. We honored the 50th anniversary of Nostra Atate "In our time," the famous documents signed in December of 1965 which opened the Catholic Church to the world of ecumenicism and repudiated the age old accusation of deicide against the Jewish people. The article I wrote in my column speaks to the issue of the desperate need for ecumenicism today.

Hanukkah Sameah Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Jewish life in the low country.

I wrote this newspaper column about a week ago from my trip to the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial Convention in Orlando, Florida. Have a good read and tell me what you think?

Who deserves to sit at our Thanksgiving Table? A Viewpoint towards America's attitudes to Syrian immigrants entering our country.

This is my most recent newspaper column. It is certainly a thorny issue with different perspectives. Note that my perspective here is to examine sacred texts before coming to a decision as to how we feel about opening our nation's gates to the thousands of Syrian refugees wanting to come to America. What do you think?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jewish Holy Sites Matter Too! The Tomb of Joseph and Palestinian Terror

I have written this piece in my newspaper column on the burning of the venerated holy site of the tomb of Joseph by Palestinian terrorists. I look forward to your thoughts and reactions.

Biennial Convention: Final Post

When I write a blog during my professional travels, I am trying to give you the feeling that I am taking you with me. I serve Congregation Beth Yam and I have proudly taken you with me on my  journeys to Israel, conventions and other unique rabbinic experiences. Your comments are appreciated and provide me with insights and feedback that I respect. Your input enhances my understanding about just how diverse and complex our congregation is especially when it comes to religion, culture and politics.

The URJ Biennial is concluded. It was a wonderful charge for the spirits of our leadership and for me as well. The URJ is the umbrella organization of our movement. It does several important functions that we do not often think about but, nevertheless, play an important role in our movement. Remember the URJ supports an extensive camping  and youth group movement. The URJ pursues the value of Tikkun Olam- Repairing the World which addresses Reform Judaism’s social justice mission in America and Israel.The URJ works on supporting the functioning of congregations whether it be for administration, fundraising, membership and programming. The URJ supports partially the operation of the Hebrew Union College, and many other organizations. The Women of Reform Judaism and the National Brotherhood play critical roles as well in advancing the programming and scholarships for aspiring clergy for the future of Progressive Judaism. Admittedly I have not covered all the roles the URJ plays but it does serve as the central address of Progressive Judaism.

The last ten years the URJ has undergone enormous changes in its organizational structure and its mission. The volunteer and the professional leadership completely reorganized the organization. There are many who championed these changes and even more who watched on cautiously as the changes occurred.

Today’s overarching direction focuses on youth grouping, camping and social justice. In a recent meeting with Rabbi Jacobs many clergy expressed the need for the URJ to reinvest directly in the grass roots of our congregations throughout our great nation and develop future adult leadership and programming as they are doing for the young people. What else would we expect but to have creative differences and disagreements within a movement? What else would we expect but to see that many leaders care who deeply enough to engage in shaping the vision of Reform Judaism even when it comes to positions the Movement takes through the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C? That kind of debate and dialogue is necessary to a vibrant movement. 
Our congregation also consists of diverse viewpoints on religion, culture and politics. I appreciate the recent feedback which I have received from my first blog and respect all opinions from my congregants whether or not those opinions coincide with my own way of analyzing Jewish life. The truth is that when we love and respect each other as members of Congregation Beth Yam we can respect all sorts of diverse viewpoints on religious practices, styles of communal worship, positions on Israel or domestic politics. It is all part of the drama and the creative force that we as a Temple community possess. Let us pray and remember that we channel those energies to holy purposes and never to divisive ones.

I see things about the URJ which give me pause for reflection. At the same time those ideas about policy or practices in the URJ which I question never rise to the level where I doubt that I am a Progressive Jew or  the viability of the URJ .I just believe that at times  being constructively critical about issues in the URJ or any other cause does not automatically mean being disloyal to an organization or to the cause or even to the leadership that I uphold and believe in. It can just as easily mean that I or anyone else is being supportive enough to make it a better organization and mission.
I hope to stimulate your awareness about the Union of Reform Judaism. I hope we can all think more about Progressive Judaism. I would like for us  to be engaged in learning about the direction for the future of Reform Judaism here in America and in Israel. Issues matter and ideas fill our spirits. Do not hesitate to write me back with your input and feedback.
God bless you and Congregation Beth Yam.
The next Biennial is December 2017 in Boston. Sounds cold to me!!!

Rabbi Brad L.Bloom

The Biennial Convention: Part Two

URJ Blog Part Two: Saturday Night.

I left you right before Shabbat. If there is one thing that can put all the politics, debates and typical Jewish give and take it is the spirit of Shabbat at a URJ Biennial. First five thousand delegates gather together inside the huge conference center for the first stage of Shabbat which is a communal worship service. A cantor from Congregation Emanuel and Rabbi from Holy Blossom in Toronto led the services back by an amazing orchestra and choir. Worshipping with 5000 people is a unique experience because we generally have modest numbers during out weekly shabbat services. Don’t get me wrong our congregation does a pretty good job of showing up at services. Yet these kind of numbers certainly reinforce a sense of unity and solidarity in the Reform movement. It is the music that is most intriguing and uplifting whether we are listening to Cantors or singer song writers. The music lifts our souls and instrumental musicians really add so much to the spiritual experience. It was a great performance by the clergy.
The next step was to walk down the hallway to the Shabbat dinner. Everyone from Hilton Head sat together comprising about 12 individuals in our delegation. We ate and enjoyed each others’s company. Then the big moment occurs. We all proceed over to the big hall when the famous song session begins. Let me say this; The song session consist of every renown singer songwriter in the Reform movement along with the orchestra backing them up They take us all to a new level of enthusiasm and joy. It’s not worship just singing  and singing. People get up and form a dance line winding around the convention hall. I even saw sone of our delegates from Hilton Head bouncing up and down in an Israeli dancing mode!
Once that is over there are smaller group sessions for late night entertainment and singing. It goes on and one. Simply awesome!

Shabbat Morning
Services began and with music and aliyot from all sorts of constituencies  along with a sermon from Rabbi Jacobs on the need for the Reform movement to have audacious hospitality. Once again the scene of 5000 Jews in a convention hall in public worship is an awe inspiring picture. Then what did we do after services? Of course we go to eat lunch. In smaller rooms we ate lunch but with lunch there would be a speaker giving a talk after the lunch. IN my session I listened to an amazing presentation by well known Israeli columnist and author Ari Shavit. He came out with a book about Israel that many of us have read and which I reviewed for the congregation. For him it was an eye opening experience to see the Reform movement at its best. Like so many secular Israelis they have precious little knowledge or experience with the Reform movement. They know only secular culture or Orthodox Judaism. He said that from now on he would be an ambassador on behalf of the Reform Movement in Israel. My sense is that he was touched deeply by his time with us.
He is a moderate in terms of Israeli politics. He opposes the settlements on the West Bank and calls for a two state solution. More than that he recognizes the need tor Israeli society to reform itself on a whole list of issues from income equality to fighting to preserve Israel’s democracy. He believes that Israel must do a better job of integrating the haredi Jews and Arab Israelis into the mainstream of Israeli society. Don’t worry he is a big defender of the state lest you get the wrong impression. He has been touring the country especially visiting college campuses trying to encourage Jewish students to fight against Boycott Divest And Sanction movements against Israel. He knows like we do that this movement BDS is anti-Semitic at its core.Finally he is hopeful that peace is still obtainable. He knows that Israel must reestablish its standing in the world and it must work hard to make sure that Iran does not get the bomb. He was definitely an inspiring speaker and captured the hearts of the audience.
The next session I attended was a clergy only session with Rabbi Rick Jacobs. In that session colleagues shared their views of the direction of the movement. I think the most prevailing concern expressed to him from us was that the URJ needs to do more to be involved and supportive to the grass roots in terms of bringing together leadership both volunteer and rabbinic to strengthen the regions Jewish programming.
What’s next? Well our delegation went off to dinner. We ate together and engaged in a spirited discussion about the URJ and current events. That was for me a highlight of my experience with the leadership. We all go off to the various workshops but this was the time for us to process what we were feeling. 
Now comes the big moment. We got back to the Marriott just in time to go through the security check from the Secret Service to listen to a talk from Vice President Joe Biden. All I can say is this. He got up and gave a speech that focused on several points. It was a kind of farewell and thank you speech to the Jewish community. His first point was to thank the Reform Movement for its partnership with him for almost forty years in the Senate working on  the most important issues near and dear to him. Such issues as Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights legislation,Soviet Jewry and many other examples he gave  were part of his acknowledging the shared values of a progressive viewpoint and vision of American life. The second point he emphasized was his unbreakable support and the current administration’s support for Israel. Yes, he acknowledged the times of disagreement between Israeli and American leaders. On the other hand in the third point  he forcefully stressed the bonds between Israel and the US were like “steel.” He said ‘that no one prime minister or president and can alter that relationship.” As you would expect he reiterated that President Obama was the most supportive president in terms of providing Israel with a qualitative edge militarily in the Middle East. He covered the Iran Nuclear Arms Agreement by sharing his belief that this was the only way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and that ‘Iran will never be permitted to get one.’  

After he finished the audience arose into a tumultuous applause to VP Biden. The musicians returned and we all embraced each other singing Oseh Shalom. At this point it was about 11pm and we all walked into the exhibition center and purchased our gifts and materials. Shopping is a mitzvah too!

I have one more blog to do for you but Sunday morning will be  the last day of programming. It was a great biennial. Worship, Torah study, debate on the controversial issues of the day and talking about the movement and our respective congregations. That is a great recharge to the batteries of our leadership and that serves our congregation. Watch out for the final blog.

The Union of Reform Judaism Biennial in Orlando: Part One

Biennial Blog

I have been here in Orlando with our delegation starting our third day. I am so proud to say that again we have a strong turnout from our congregation totaling 12 individuals. There are about 4500 Jews here at the Marriott Convention World in Disney World.
One of the features I see as unique this year is the amount of technology. This is the ultimate tech savvy convention with apps created to chart every activity you can imagine minute by minute. Texts messages going out announcing every change of schedule. This is the ultimate wired in URJ Biennial Convention.
In terms of speakers, there have been a host of speakers from all over the spectrum of religion, culture and Politics. Yes, of course the reform movement is squarely in the corner of the political left. That is a longtime practice in Reform Judaism. We may have read the recent resolution passed at the convention putting its blessing on Transgender Jews and all transgender Americans. It is fair to say that the normal spectrum of political issues that the left embraces is given center stage at our conventions. That is simply our movement’s orientation.

On Wednesday night we listened to a speech by Rabbi Rick Jacobs the spiritual leader of the URJ. He spoke for 45 minutes about his vision. He tried to show what he believes to be Reform’s support for Israel but criticized the government’s support of the occupation of the west bank territories. He reiterated the need to condemn Israelis who commit hate crimes against Arabs while noting the responsibility to oppose random Arab acts of violence. My sense is that he was outlining a vision of moderation for Progressive Jews in a set of Israel security issues. IN addition he absolutely attacked the Israeli Rabbinate for its silence on all social justice issues afflicting Israeli society.
As a personal note what I saw missing in the speech was no mention of the need to build an ecumenicism for diverse political views within the tent of Reform movement. From what I see today partisan politics have really been a divisive factor in many kinds of relationships that have adversely impacted not just our politics but also have hurt our relationships. Can Reform Judaism be a big enough tent to embrace a plurality of political viewpoints? Can politically conservative Jews find a place under the tent of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world? Rabbi Jacobs never addressed that question. 
One final point I could see by the speakers in the program the focus on youth and particularly the URJ Camp movement. Jacobs and the URJ leadership is putting their emphasis on building a strong youth movement in the camps and especially in NFTY National Federation of Temple Youth. One of the most moving speakers was Paul Fishman the current US Attorney for the district of New Jersey. He spoke about Tikkun Olam and how the work he does is reflective of his life commitment to this principle. He was a Reform Jewish youth who participated in mitzvah corps volunteer activities in poverty stricken areas in America’s cities during the 1970s.

On Tuesday night we listened to a panel discussion on the Interfaith married issue. A New York Times journalist Joy Fisher led the question of famed actor Michael Douglas and two other participants who had unique stories of being either raised in an interfaith family or finding a welcoming home in a reform temple for their interfaith family. I must say that while all the speakers in this panel were interesting the presence of Michael Douglas was quite impressive. He told us how his son led the family to Judaism and down the road to a Bar Mitzvah. It not only impacted the kids but also Douglas himself. He really came to grips with the realization that he felt like he was a Jew (at age 70)!

So where is reform Judaism? Its central philosophy is Tikkun Olam in the politically liberal context  of social justice. It is youth oriented with its focus on youth grouping and camping. It is a movement about experimentation with worship and trying to assert a presence for itself in Israel. It is a movement about welcoming interfaith families. These are the major areas of foci for
Reform Judaism.
I am looking forward to the rest of the convention and especially the wonderful experience of Shabbat worship, song and study.
From Orlando I wish you all the best and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, October 25, 2015

public officials should serve us all regardless of our religious beliefs

This is a recent newspaper column I wrote on the Kim Davis situation of refusing to serve gay couples who apply for a wedding license. I hope you will read this pice and feel free to comment.

All the best

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Did God make the right decision to create human beings?

Davar Torah on Genesis Chapter One. 10-8-15

Did God make the right decision to create human kind? On the face of it we can infer from the Torah itself that the answer was yes. In this week’s Torah portion B’reshit it is written that God created humankind in his own image and likeness. Can we presume that it was a good thing or not?

We might be surprised that there was quite a bit of debate amongst the rabbis in ancient times that the decision to create us was not exactly a slam dunk. There are texts that describe a bitter confrontation between God and the so-called angels on high who were split on God’s decision to create a human being. I’ll share that Midrash with you shortly. Yet the main point is that in this world and in history we have seen our share of horrific actions that humankind has done against themselves that led our teachers to question whether the cost of creating human beings was worth it at all. Of course we can see the beauty of human achievement and the ability of our species to do wonderful things and show god like behavior. We see both sides of the coin every day. Yet, at the end of the day we see how our teachers questioned this divine act knowing full well what the risks were by creating us.
The MIdrash, according to Rabbi Simeon, sets the stage that God was deciding this question at the beginning of human history when a fight broke out amongst the heavenly angels. One group said, “Let humans be created?” The other group demanded “Let humans not be created?”

The attribute of love said, “Create humans because of their ability to perform acts of loving kindness.”
Then the attribute of Truth said, “Let humans not be created because they are full of lies.”
Righteousness then spoke and said, “Let them be created because they will act in righteousness.”
Finally, Peace proclaimed, “ No, humans are full of strife.”
What then did God do?
God, quite possibly in a fit of anger, took truth and hurled it down to the earth.

Right at that moment all the ministering angels joined together and argued, “God, Truth is your seal. How can you put truth to shame?  

 The story could have ended there. Yet, another sage by the name of Rabbi Huna the Elder of Sephoris added, “All the while the ministering angels were arguing back and forth and still God created the first human being anyway. God said to them, “What good is this discussion? It’s donej. I’ve already created  the first Human.” (Genesis Rabbah).

Is it comforting to know that there was such controversy surrounding our creation? What does it mean about humanity and our understanding of our role in the universe? Some would intone the classical arguments about humans having freedom of will which is the trade off that God makes to have a living presence that is aware of the Divine. If that is so why does God need that kind of affirmation from us? Maybe it proves the contention of Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel that God needs man as much as humans need us!

Or is it possible that this message is a warning to us that on certain matters arguing pro versus con with God is pointless. For the ways of God are mysterious and the thoughts of God go beyond our own comprehension. Why else would God have made the decision while the heavenly angels were arguing about the merits of creating human beings? God makes decisions and we can say all we want but at the end of the day we have to live with what is intrinsic and inherent in the world and in human beings.

I would agree that there is a certain degree of cynicism that we could detect from this Midrash. On the other hand maybe the Midrash forces us to see ourselves for who we as a species including our propensity to be good and evil?  We are struggling with these truths  to this day and so often God takes the hit from disillusioned people by watching human beings perpetrate crimes against individuals. The senseless and wanton impulse to murder people whether it would be in the pogroms, the Holocaust or the campus shootings of college students in Oregon all testify not only to the horror of these crimes but to the ease at which they can be implemented. Our teachings in Judaism tell us that, on the other hand, God is not immune from human suffering but suffers along with us.

And that is what leads us to the other side of the picture as to how people demonstrate the most holy and beautiful kind of mitzvah of saving lives and supporting others in their time of need. So is it all bad? Shall we dispel of humanity because of human nature’s capability to destroy? Debate the question, the rabbis say, but at the end of the day we are still here and if we are destroyed it will not be by God’s hands but, I fear, by our own.

Our challenge is prove the angels of service wrong that we were worth it all along despite our failings that in the end God’s decision was still the right thing to do. It starts with each of us every day.

We can’t change the reality of the fact that we are all mortal nor can we alter the divine will that we can choose good and evil. Yet in both cases we can choose how we live that life which God gives us. The gap between how we contend with God’s will and our understanding of our role will remain. Maybe debating these kinds of big picture questions are bes left for the scholar’s study but it is one that we can ponder. That too is the beauty of Judaism-to ponder the questions of why we are here and what is our purpose. Is that not one of the  fundamental questions of religion?
Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Humankind is a more than an object of treatment. Treat the person not only the illness.

Here is my recent article on caring for the person in the treatment process. This is the major challenge in medicine. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Walking the Labyrinth in New Orleans.

For me this newspaper column I wrote a few weeks ago was one of those outside the box religious experiences I had during my August trip to New Orleans. I was in a Episcopal church and you can read the rest. Thanks as always for sharing your comments.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Hardest challenges in life are often times the most important ones. A sermon on Kol Nidrei-Yom Kippur

My newspaper column earlier this month told the story of the civil rights march I participated in Columbia, which was on a hot and humid day.  Of course, I was committed to the cause of justice, but I myself, “Was this a good choice?”

The truth was that I was not really in physical  shape to do this kind of intense march. I remember saying to myself, after about three hours of marching, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Lunchtime came and I ate a sandwich and felt renewed again. I said to my rabbinic colleagues that it was my turn to carry the Torah at the head of the line alongside the person who carried the American flag. As we returned to formation and the march began, I felt so proud to carry the Torah. I looked ahead of me and beheld the road going straight upward. It was uphill all the way. By the time I got to the top I said, “Someone please take this Torah now.” A black man said, “I would be honored to take it.” I said, “You may have it and thank you.”
The greatest moment was at the end when we gathered in the parking lot and the leaders said, “Rabbi Bloom you did your part. Here is a tee shirt and a poster."Thanks," I answered. We got into the bus and returned to the Marine Corp Reserve Training Center. We all embraced each other, took pictures and spoke of our experiences. I was tired and somewhat grumpy but also proud of what we accomplished that day. 

How true it is that the most meaningful things we accomplish are the hardest challenges we take on in life. Why is that so? Is it that human beings are goal oriented? Is there an innate desire to hold onto a principle or value, to test not just our bodies but our spirits as well? If the answer to these two questions is yes then what does that teach us about the tests we face on Yom Kippur which are both physical and spiritual? Our mitzvah is to follow one of our  core values which is to seek peace and pursue peace around the world.
No doubt that the civil rights marches over fifty years ago, particularly the one from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, is a good example of the physical and the spiritual coming together. I remember reading Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great Jewish scholar and teacher, who walked in those marches and wrote. “When I walked, I could feel my knees were praying.” I got the point especially when my knees started shaking too.

I am not just speaking about marches for social justice causes or sports marathons but there is more to it than these examples of physical endurance and social values. It is also about people who do things for others and push themselves to the very limit of their physical and emotional endurance yet carry on because they believe in what they do. I have met many people over the years who have faced immeasurable challenges in their personal lives where they could have given up but persevered nevertheless. Folks who faced medical disabilities, and caregivers who endured the stress of caring for their loved ones with such challenges as dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s, cancer or other illnesses that can debilitate a human being. Caregivers, in particular, who care for their spouses, parents or children understand the test they face and yet they carry on often times never letting on in public the suffering they experience and the stress they feel every day of their lives. 

 I listen to their confessions of guilt  regarding their frustrations that they can’t do more for their loved ones. Some experience behind closed doors the anger and even resentment how their lives have been impacted. It is a different kind of march which seems to never end and there is no tee shirt at the end. Many times when the march is over their spouse is gone. Yet, they tell me that there is a feeling of relief and peace that they did the right thing for their loved one. They went the entire way and did their part too. 

I fully recognize that the analogy correlating the physical and the spiritual goes to an entirely new level when we see how thousands march for their very lives across Europe. I am sure that the millions of refugees fleeing the Middle East, putting their lives on the line, are  clinging to the hope that Europe will be a safe haven for them and their families. These people have left nations which were and continue to be adversaries of Israel. Yet, how do we ignore their suffering? Why does Europe still fail to work together and do their part to deal humanely with this largest refugee crisis since World War Two? Why do gulf Arab states refuse to open their borders to provide safe havens? For many of the refugees their march is a death march and for others it is the last hope for life.
Hasn't the time come when we, not only as a country but we as the Jewish community, and even we as a Temple should help? If not then do we not have something to think about regarding a communal atonement?

On a more personal level, the idea of accomplishing something hard and being prepared to sacrifice our comforts to help others is part and parcel of Yom Kippur. This special day calls upon us to experience physical discomfort by fasting. It is hard and uncomfortable. We want to quit fasting and eat something or drink. Again we see the symbiosis of the physical and spiritual coming together. At the end after it is over and we recover with food and drink we begin to think about what we accomplished and hopefully get over the discomfort and feel some pride in what we did and what we learned about ourselves. Sometimes we learned where we could do better in life. Other times we realized that we saw the goodness in us too.

Realizing when we do good, no matter how hard it is, [elicits] a feeling [that emerges -- omit] of being at peace, despite the pain that accompanies our growth. Is this not part of living? Is this not part of the spirituality that challenges us to think deeply about our moral compass? One rabbi taught, One cannot achieve world peace until one finds an inner peace first. That statement resonates for me because I believe that Yom Kippur is all about the march to find inner peace and that is what atonement is all about.
Just as there is always much to work to do [on -- omit] in our personal lives so too there is much we have accomplished. We have a right on this day to think about the good we do as well.  Yom Kippur should provide us with a moment to reflect upon the things which give us pride, even if performing these acts took a lot out of us. One reading from the Mahzor is a new interpretative reading of Avinu Malkeinu.
It is not about a plea to God to help us be better; instead, despite our failings, it is a prayer that reminds God and us that we do good in the world. It is says, “For every act of goodness, let us affirm the good we have done.” “acts of healing and repair, self constraint and self control, generosity and compassion, offering our children love and support, honoring our parents with care and respect, acts of friendship and hospitality, acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, serving others, acting with integrity and honesty, caring for our health and for our loved ones, strengthening our Jewish community, and acts of civi engagement and tikkun olam repairing the world.”

The march for justice or the march for inner peace is often times brutal. The march for life itself as we witness in Europe is equally compelling. Both challenge us to the core of our endurance. Coping with our own issues and helping others can also challenge our morality and even at times our sanity. Let these next 24 hours bring us to a better place even if it is uphill at times. May we emerge with the satisfaction that we did our part for ourselves and for the world too.
It is written the Psalms, "Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it"(34:15). The rabbis asked, "How do we pursue peace?" Rabbi Eleazer said, "if someone stays in their own place and keeps silent, how shall that person pursue peace?" The answer is he has to go forth from his place and circle the world and pursue peace. In other words seek peace in your own locale and pursue peace around the world. (The fathers according to rabbi Natan)

My sermon for Yom Kippur Day: Natalie Portman: Is she right about Jews exploiting ourselves as victims?

Natalie Portman, the acclaimed Hollywood actress, gave an interview recently and spoke about  the meaning of the  Holocaust today. I have never been a fan of hers, but, I realize that she is an icon for many young people including young Jews in America and around the world. She was interviewed in the context of a movie she directed about the parents of the famous Israeli writer Amos Oz which was shown at the Cannes film festival. In the interview with the London newspaper the Independent she was reported to have said, “I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things.” She also was quoted as saying”….We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

I truly felt compelled to respond to her, not because she graduated from Harvard or even because she lost her great grandparents in Auschwitz or that she worked as an intern for Alan Dershowitz. Not even because she was born in Jerusalem to Israeli parents. It is, rather, because what she says impacts lots of people, especially the youth of our people around the world.

On Yom Kippur, in the afternoon service, we focus on Jewish martyrdom and readings from Jewish history that remind us of our suffering, particularly the [H]olocaust. She challenges us, nevertheless, to think about whether we have gone too far with our focus on Holocaust remembrance events, commemorations or museums around the country and even the world.
Implicit in her critique is that the Jewish community has gone overboard, and to an extent, I think she is saying  she believes we have exploited our being victims to the point where we have ignored other people’s sufferings who have experienced genocide.

Is she right? Furthermore, do lots of Jewish people in the younger generations hold to her viewpoint? If so, what are the ramifications when young Jewish celebrities and Jewish communal leaders believe as she does? Finally, should her comments make us examine what it means to be a Jew in light of how we react to massive human suffering? Isn’t part of what the Torah portion for this afternoon is telling us which is  to remember our suffering for our sake as well as for the benefit of humanity? Our sages tell us, “In a place where people are not acting as good human beings then we must strive to be a mentsch.” The Torah portion tell us that we are witnesses. For our mission is to
“choose life” so that “we may live,” and by remembering our past we choose life. We are witnesses  to  all human suffering. That is the role of the Jew.

I spoke with a mentor of mine who is a retired Professor of Jewish studies living in Chicago. He once told me that he felt it was not in the best interest of the American Jewish community to build so many Holocaust museums because it gives the false impression to Americans that all we are exclusively about is the Holocaust and, according to him, that Judaism is much more than the Holocaust.  Over the years I have heard young people echo these beliefs, as well as those who choose to turn their hearts away from the lessons of the Holocaust, because it is a difficult subject. The point is that maybe Ms. Portman is not alone in her perspective.

Is she right? The answer is that she may be half right. There is an argument to be made that American Jews who find little meaning in conventional theology and religious practice in Judaism found deep meaning in preserving the meaning of the Holocaust. We have built major Jewish institutions, memorials and produced tomes of literature, art, movies, plays, chairs in Holocaust studies, and mandated state requirements to teach the Holocaust. In the public life of our nation we have excelled in reminding America about what the Nazis did to us and others. We have reminded America and the world that memory matters if we want to protect it from another Holocaust in the future.

On the other hand, she senses that we Jews focused so much on our own suffering that we lost sight of the suffering of others. In our attempt to preserve our own story, we [have] lost sight of other tragedies that annihilated other peoples, such as genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and so on? Is she implying that we forgot that hatred is the same whenever it strikes a people? This is where I question Portman and others like her who imply that Jews in America, world Jewry and Israel are exclusive rather than being inclusive of other people’s suffering at the hands of genocidal maniacs in a Post Holocaust world. The fact that young people like our own Portman believe we have hoarded our own suffering contending that no one else’s suffering matches ours is troubling to say the least. It reflects a generation gap that is growing in America.

We should, in fact, be careful about how we present the Holocaust. If all we talk about is the number six million and cannot connect the lessons of the Holocaust with other tragedies or disqualify them because they did not [lose] as many people as we did then we do, in fact, have a problem. If we as a community only think about Jewish identity in terms of what it means to suffer persecution, then we do have a problem. If we cannot see our own historic trauma in a broader context of how we can make a difference in the lives of suffering people, then we do have a problem. Finally, if we close our conscience to our moral responsibility to alleviate the suffering of others who are persecuted or threatened with annihilation, then we do have a problem. If there is any truth to these situations then we do have a responsibility to atone.For the Torah says; “ you shall not stand idly while your neighbor bleeds.”

We at Congregation Beth Yam have done our part by securing a Holocaust Torah from Czechoslovakia and displaying it in a specially built enclave for all to see. Each year we conduct what I believe to be a special Yom Hashoah commemoration. We try to teach our young people by having them interact with survivors and children of survivors.Many of us who grew up in larger metropolitan areas have had plenty of education and exposure to Holocaust history. Yet, just think about our youth living here in the low country. How much do they know? Is it at all a relevant part of their Jewish identity? 

Elie Wiesel tells the story about his trip with other Jewish leaders to Cambodia to commemorate the genocide there. “I saw what the Cambodia refugees looked like when they arrived in
Thailand-walking skeletons with somber eyes and crazy with fear…..”How could a Jew like myself stay at home and not go to the help of an entire people?” Some will say to me.” Yes, when you needed help nobody came forward. True it is because  nobody came forward to help  me that I felt it my duty to  help these victims.”
 This is what Judaism is all about. We know what it means to be a stranger from Biblical times to today.[Surely] it is our right to say that the Cambodian suffering [does not] “equal”
 Auschwitz. Auschwitz, according to Wiesel, “should serve as frame of reference but that is all.” Yet that distinction does not exempt us from responding to assist peoples who are victims of genocide. This is why the current crisis in the Middle East the result of a refugee crisis in Europe approaching a million searching for safety is a test for Europe’s moral compass. I suppose the same can be said of us in America in dealing with 11 million illegal migrants across our own border.

What I suspect Portman and her generation do not understand is that through our own experience as Jews facing anti-Semitism we can better empathize with the universality of suffering around the world. Our job is to teach our young and the community about the Holocaust not just to promote our own status as victims but to teach the world that we all have a duty to help and to not turn a blind eye to others who call out for help. As the Torah says, “You shall remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We have lived by that ethos.

One of our congregants has recently donated these artifacts from the concentration camps. I am showing you a suitcase belonging to a twenty-four year old man who died in Dachau. This next artifact I hold before everyone is a shirt from the camps with a Jewish star and others items. My hope is that we can display them for our young and for the community at large so that in the low country we too can do our fair share to educate our entire community about the Holocaust for years to come. This is not exploiting ourselves as victims but performing a mitzvah.

My prayer is that Ms. Portman will rethink her statement and that those of her generation who may identify with her thoughts will see more clearly that our way of teaching the world to reject hatred and to reject genocide and to reject apathy is part of our duty as Jews to perform Tikkun Olam  [and] repair the world.

The Yom Kippur I knew growing up in Baltimore.

The older I get my memory becomes clearer about my own past. Yom Kippur has concluded and I hope I have been sealed into the Book of Life. This most recent newspaper column retells some of those memories and discusses a few of the core values I cherish about this most sacred of days.

Have a Shana Tova a Happy New Year.

Monday, September 7, 2015

It was time for me to participate on a the journey for justice and walk the walk.
 I must say walking the 12 miles on a march for justice in Columbia, SC took the strength out of me by the end of the day. But I certainly learned a lot and will value that day for all the heat and the sweat and the learning. Walking the walk with the Reform Movement and the NAACP will stay with me forever. Have a good read and let me know what you think!
Shana Tova

My visit to Selma and New Orleans: Two men committed to telling the truth of history.

This is the second installment from my journeys in the south series. I discuss my trips meeting two interesting men in Selma, Alabama and New Orleans, La.  One black and the other white. Both have a deep commitment to telling the story of the civil rights movement and the history of slavery. Both men committed to justice even though they come from different world. Have a good read.
Your comments are always welcome.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Clergy have a duty to bring about social change.

My recent newspaper column that Clergy have and must continue to play a role in bringing about social change. I pray that volunteer leadership in churches, temples, and mosques will support them.
Have a good read and thanks for sharing your opinion.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Davar Torah on the Weekly Torah Portion: Seeking is finding-A pathway to Jewish spirituality.

Davar Torah: Parashat V’etchanan:

There are a lot of people today who talk the talk about seeking spirituality. Actually quite a few Jews will be the first ones to tell us that they left Judaism because they couldn’t find it, especially in Reform and Conservative synagogues. Many of them went into other faith traditions. You can meet, for example, a lot of former Jews in Buddhism, and many others involved  new age religions which explore spirituality or in psychotherapy groups which contain a dimension of religious fervor. These folks level criticism that  the Judaism of mainstream congregational life is stale, conventional and resembles a hybrid model of Jewish community center-country club rather than what they think should be a spiritual center.

Is it that simple? Is American Judaism that inadequate spiritually?  While there is always room for growth and this era is all about spiritual growth there is something else here that deserves further exploration. I think about how Jewish people feel about God and the criterion they define as spirituality. I have come to question whether we, mainstream Judaism, have fair expectations regarding what services, clergy and teachers should deliver to the congregants. Second my sense is that Judaism is caught between the ecstatic power of Christian charismatic religious practices in music and entertainment. The  attraction of eastern religions is a growing phenomenon which gets its market share of religious seekers. Ultimately the biggest draw that distances Jews from encountering the sacred, in my opinion, is not other faith traditions. To  the contrary, it is the appeal of American secular culture. All of these factors take us farther away from experiencing the Divine in a Jewish context.

In this week’s parashah, Vetchanan, the Torah says, “If you shall seek the Eternal your God, you shall find the Eternal. If you seek the Eternal with all your heart and with all your soul”(4:29). The rabbi of Kotzk replied, “The very act of seeking God, the longing to find the Eternal, means “You shall find the Eternal.” The rabbi concluded, ‘And that should be enough.”

When I read this interpretation years ago, it freed me. In other words, his insight lifted a burden off my shoulders that as a rabbi I was expected to teach how clear it was that God, existed, God was just and that God viewed us, the Jewish people, as the chosen ones. It released me from that mindset altogether. Instead I have devoted much of my teaching and preaching to the search and to the journey and in that sense I was able to find a more spiritual life in Judaism. It wasn’t because that I necessarily found the answers to the above mentioned big questions but because by seeking out the answers and by contemplating and trying understand the conflicts in theology and practical life I was engaged. That was the key, engagement. My contention is that the problem for American Jewry is that too many of us have not heeded the words of the Rabbi of Kotzk. It is the seeking that counts and in that way there is a kind of finding as well.

Tomorrow morning we will have another Bat Mitzvah in this congregation. Our congregant Paula Rudman who is a stand out individual because she embarked upon this spiritual journey. She didn’t have to become Orthodox to discover the authentic Judaism she sought for so many years. She is a searcher and to that degree she has found something precious  about her faith and its traditions.I believe that there are a  lot more individuals of her generation who are perfectly capable of embarking upon that journey like her. My experience is that too many of us relate to and define themselves solely in a secular and ethnic sense. When that happens do we not risk closing ourselves off from the seeking out of what this life is all about?

For this reason I have decided that I will offer a Bar-Bat Mitzvah class for seniors beginning in the spring of 2016. We have had several individuals take on this challenge over the last six years. My hope is that the idea of seeking is a spark that is waiting for others like Paula and those who have gone through this rite of passage in the past. Overcoming the fears of learning hebrew and studying sacred texts are the biggest challenges. Yet, prior experience teaches that adults can be successful.  It is not about only the reading of Torah or the prayers or the speech, rather, it is about the learning and reading of Jewish studies including history, theology, liturgy and on and on that changes a life. Judaism connects into  the spiritual, and the intellectual sides of what it means to be human and a Jew and it is up to each of us to seek out the blend of them both in a way that fits best for us.

I first began to understand that seeking meant finding when I stood in a rabbi’s study at the time when I was contemplating whether I would apply to rabbinical school. I told the rabbi of my  home congregation in Baltimore that I had questions, doubts and that I  wasn’t sure I had the faith let alone the knowledge to be a suitable applicant for rabbinical school. The Rabbi said to me, “Do you see all the books in my study? They represent my struggle to understand and to encounter God.” That statement gave me the faith and the courage to complete my application and the rest is history. 

One doesn’t have to be a rabbi to embark upon the journey to seek out the spiritual truths that the rabbis say are waiting for us.  It is available to all of us but we have to put in the effort and it is a lifetime discipline at its best. There is a blessing we recite every day that reminds us of the seeking. Blessed are You Eternal Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us through the commandments and challenged us to Laasok B’divrei Torah- to engage in the study of Torah. The word Laasok to engage in the study of Torah is the key verb. That is the pathway of seeking that the Rabbi of Kotzk was teaching his disciples about in trying to set up appropriate expectations for finding the so-called spiritual life.  It is not the finding that unites us but it is the seeking of knowledge and wisdom from the wellsprings of our faith that brings us together and makes learning a sacred act.

Shabbat Shalom

Is developing a security plan for the house of worship doing God's will too?

Having served a congregation for about elven years that suffered a domestic terrorist attack that severely burned the sanctuary and the administrative offices I understand why taking security seriously for a house of worship is critical and essential for the welfare of the congregation and the clergy and employee staffs. This article is about a theological perspective towards why planning for security is doing God's work too.
Thanks for taking the time to read it. Your comments are always appreciated.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Supreme Court decision on legalizing Gay Marriage: What about the child who must still keep the secret?

Thanks for taking the time to read this recent column I wrote in the newspaper. What about the kids who grow up in homes knowing that they are gay and that their faith tradition and their parent's values would oppose or condemn them? What would they do?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A sermon on ethics and walking humbly with God in light of controversial issues today.

This week the Torah Portion is Parahsat Balak in the Book of Numbers The parashah tells the story of Bilam who was a prophet for hire and was engaged to hurl a mighty prophetic curse against the Israelites by the enemy  Balak king of the Moabite tribe. To make a long story short Bilam started out on his mission to create this curse which in the spirit of psychological warfare would intimidate the Israelites camped on the border of Moabite territory. In order to discredit and even mock the prophet Bilam the Torah tells the story about the instance of this hired gun prophet who rides a donkey that actually talks to him protesting the way Bilam treats the animal. At the end of the day the angel of the Eternal confronts Bilam, to the fury and anger of his employer King Balak, and he ends up convincing Bilam to  bless the Israelites instead of cursing them. Bilal intones, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, Your dwelling places O Israel.” This verse became the standard beginning piece of music and davening in the daily prayerbook. Ultimately  the Moabite King Balak’s plan to destroy the children of Israel is foiled and they move on in their journey towards the Promised Land.

The reading from the Prophets, the Haphtarah, comes from the Book of Micah which makes mention of what God did to the Moabites and especially to King Balak That is the connection why the Rabbis chose this portion to compliment the story in the Torah portion this week.

In the poetic language of Micah,God promises  the destruction of Israel’s enemies and then accuses the children of Israel and threatens severe punishment for engaging in idol worship and immoral behavior. Finally, at the end of  Chapter six of Micah, God  gives a hopeful message through Micah saying, “ God has told you O man what is good, and what the Eternal demands of you: but to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with Your God” (6:8).

For many people this famous verse captures the essence of the ethics of religion. Yes, we have a rich heritage of laws and mitzvoth to follow. Yet, this verse sums up a basic mandate in Judaism to practice not only the laws and customs but to be gentle and kindhearted in the way we live out these commandments. In other words this verse teaches us to be a mensch.  How does that work for us today given the challenges we see before us in America with race relations and in particular the Confederate flag issue as well as  the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage?

As Jews and as Americans we are engaged in  contentious issues today that sometimes challenge our patience and our political views as well as basic morality and ethics. Houses of worship burn and terrorism leads to most recently the brutal murder of clergy and parishioners at a house of worship. As far as we have come in race relations we still witness segments of our country who bath themselves in hatred against people of color. Soon we will see the debate in our own state legislature regarding the Confederate Battle Flag flying before the State Capitol in Columbia. Will our elected leaders vote to retain it or lower it and put it away?

This is an issue where religion, politics and justice coalesce. Is this not what Micah was talking about in his adjuring our ancient forbearers to change our attitude in how we treat each other? The time has come to de-commission this flag because it has always been viewed as a code symbol for South Carolinians of color that whites only rule this state. The narrative of the Southern heritage is part of our nation’s past. The problem is that that heritage ignores the heritage of slavery which formed the economic and social backbone of that antebellum world view. Sadly too many of those who cherish that aspect of southern history somehow cannot see past their own ancestors’ view to the African American perspective. Two conflicting narratives exist about what southern was all about. Has the time come to acknowledge how that flag represents a painful reminder of the bondage of African Americans as well? The battle flag of the CSA embodies those two conflicting narratives. Is it not time to affirm mercy and to do good and walk humbly with God? 

The recent Supreme Court decision to legalize Gay Marriage in our nation will also challenge our ethics to respect the love that LGBT Americans share and equate it on an equal footing with heterosexual marriage.  I am hearing tremendous push back that the fear is that civil authorities
 will be forced to sacrifice their religious freedom to comply with this new law. People have the right to believe and to disagree with the court’s opinion. On the other hand if they work for government and cannot carry out their duties then they should seek other employment.  The teachings of Micah compel all Americans to stretch psychologically and spiritually to find it in their heart to accept this new reality.

This is a time for the religious community to unite to hold this nation together. What makes us a great nation is how to live with a diverse population of different races, religions and political ideologies. We hear a lot of talk about freedom but does that only apply to people who live and believe as we do? We tend to choose the verses from Scripture that fit our own values but we also struggle to apply those values to people and beliefs different than our own. We could apply this same dilemma of people talking past each other within our own Jewish community in America in relation to ongoing tensions between the branches in Judaism. We read reports of how this struggle for acceptance goes on between Jews of different branches of religious practice in Israel as well.  In either of these situations it is a necessary debate.

The prophet Micah warned us that God will punish us for our own transgressions as much as God will punish other peoples who will threaten our national survival. It is a two way street and we cannot have it both ways. In Psalm 85 we read, “
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.
Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

For America to yield its increase can we embrace these prophetic values to be a better more accepting nation which learns how to live with each other and those who do not always fit into the mainstream? Have we as Jews not asked for the same understanding and compassion from our neighbors as do our fellow citizens of color or from the LGBT community ask from us?
Do they deserve less that what we asked for ourselves?

Shabbat Shalom

Should the Confederate Battle Flag go down in South Carolina?
 Shalom to everyone.
Here is the latest column I wrote addressing the issue of taking down the Confederate Battle Flag at the state capitol in Columbia. I hope you take a few minutes and read it. Your reactions are always appreciated even if you disagree with my ideas.
I hope everyone had a nice Shabbat and a Happy Fourth of July to celebrate this nation's day of Independence.
I wish you the best and may God protect America.
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Massacre of the Righteous in Charleston, SC. What Now?

Shalom to everyone! I have published this piece in my newspaper column today.  We need to pay more attention to these kinds of hate crimes on a local level. We still don't get it that the enemy who hates the diversity of this great nation continues to worship hatred.   They worship death  and they take pride in murder. We need in the local level responses and action to monitor, educate and network regarding the potential of hate crimes in America today.
If not now when? Take a look at the column and tell me what you think?
May the memories of the  martyrs of Emaunel AME church be remembered for blessing.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Please take a moment to read my submission to the CCAR Spring 2015 Journal
Shalom to everyone
I have provided a link to an essay I wrote about coping with professional and personal loss. I reflect upon about my experience years ago with the arson attack against my previous congregation in Sacramento and the death of my father the next day. It was a seminal day in my life. A lot has happenbed since then both painful and glorious. I thought it was time to put it all in writing. There is also a poem I wrote as well which I think also highlights this theme.
Thank you for taking the time to review it. Your comments are always appreciated.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Religion has to change in America according to the results of the recent Pew Survey. What's next?

I am not sure if it is aging but I can see things differently today. Ecclesiastes said, "There is nothing new under the sun." Religion has to be relevant but faddish too? People's attitudes do change and the Pew Survey just released demonstrate that fact in America. Religion is changing and people's views towards it are changing as well. Take a read at my recent newspaper column and tell me if I have become too cynical.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Religion strives to find a balance between tradition and change.

Greetings to everyone and Hag Sameah
I am sending this recent newspaper column about how all religions are striving to innovate  and to preserve the ancient and traditional aspects that give meaning to the faith. I was just in new york attending a conference as an orientation for  the new high holy day prayerbook (mahzor). The conference got to thinking about why change is needed in religion and why it is important that we are careful about how we change traditions. Enjoy the read and your comments are always welcome.
Shalom and Good yom tov

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shalom to everyone.
I wrote this piece in my newspaper column. It relates to the pain that I feel about the events in Baltimore this week. As a native who grew up in Baltimore and lived in the downtown area when I was a graduate student, I could not watch these events on television without feeling sick to my stomach. I hope you will take the time to read and react to this column.
Let Peace and Justice prevail in Baltimore.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

For you Civil War Buffs this month marked the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Grant. Take a look at the history of what clergy on both sides of the war said about the mission of religion.

Thanks for taking the time to read my column in the newspaper. Your comments are always welcome.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

How business and the almighty dollar saved the religious freedom restoration act

It has been a few months since I visited my blog. Here is my recent column from the newspaper. I hope all my readers are well and I thank you in advance of  you taking the time to read it. All the best.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Blog at the Central Conference of American Rabbis Meeting in Philadelphia.

Day One: Blog at the CCAR convention in Philadelphia

Dear Linda & Rabbi Brad,

Shalom to all of my congregants! Wherever I go to a conference you are there with me so I have a few highlights of programs I attended that I hope will be of interest to you. Enjoy and please feel free to express your opinion.


I have arrived in Philadelphia at the CCAR conference. First I want to thank the Congregation and the Board of Directors for supporting my professional growth with my rabbinic colleagues. As always there are lots of workshops and programs. So it is my practice to help you feel that you are right there with me as I continue to learn and listen.


On Monday afternoon I attended a panel discussion of Professor Sylvia Fishman of Brandeis University and MSNBC analyst Johnathan Alter who grew up in a Reform Congregation in Chicago. Dr. Fishman talked about the Jewish community and the data academics use to assess the planning for policy of local Jewish communities now and in the future. She emphasized the impact of marriage patterns for the future and discussed the profound differences between families who choose not to send their kids to religious school after B'nai Mitzvah versus those who do.


That really makes a difference in contributing to a greater likelihood of Jewish affiliation in the future. Secondly, Dr. Fishman discussed the interfaith marriage issue with a more urgent view on why Jewish communities need to do what they can to encourage Jewish youth to marry Jews and to be more proactive in recruiting converts to Judaism.  All of what she was speaking about plays into the formation of Jewish identity in America. She sees the American Jewish community as robust but not without serious challenges to our future coming from unaffiliated and uninvolved youth in our communities.


Johnathan Alter took a completely different approach. He had just returned from two weeks in Israel. He was less sociological and more pragmatic on a political level. He drove across the point to the rabbis that we need to be more outspoken on our views about Israel and to resist being afraid of the consequences of creating angry congregants. He likened it to rabbis who spoke out against the Vietnam War and to the Civil Rights Movement. He talked about the impact of what he perceived as souring relations between the American administration and the nations of the world versus Israel. Yes, he discussed the upcoming elections in Israel which are today. He tried to draw a connection that the impact of these political issues is having a direct effect on the sense of Identity that Jews have about themselves.


The upshot is that we continue to study demographic patterns of Jewish birth rates, voting patterns, temple affiliations and the results seemed to be mixed blessings in America, fear in Europe, danger in Israel, anti-Israel feelings spreading around the world and, on the other hand, opportunities to express our religious beliefs like never before. So being Jewish requires us to be proactive on many different levels.

The next program I want to focus on is the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe today. This was sponsored by the World Union of Progressive Judaism.


There were several speakers including a liberal Reform Rabbi serving a congregations in France. He is a native of France and received his ordination at the liberal rabbinical seminary in Germany that trains rabbis to serve Progressive Jewish congregation throughout Europe. Another speaker represented the United States Religious Freedom Institute which is sponsored by the US State Department. Our own Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, recently retired, was confirmed by the Senate to become the Ambassador of Religious Freedom. More to come on that institution.


This issue of anti-Semitism is truly a complex problem in Europe from many different areas ranging from the politics of Europe, to the emergence of Islamic anti-Semitism, to economic issues with the Muslim communities all have contributed to the problems Jews face.


The first problem discussed is the right wing movements gaining momentum throughout Europe. The right wing French National Front, which has long been hostile to Jews, has taken on the Muslim population but they have not let go of their feelings against the Jews either. This seems to be the case for what we would call right wing Christians in Europe, whether it is in France or other countries in Western Europe. The Jews are caught in the middle again.


Another issue that is hot right now in Europe is the attempt in many countries in Western Europe to outlaw ritual circumcision and laws of kosher slaughtering. Much of that comes from the left wing in Europe. On those issues we find Jews and Muslims joining together. Yet it is a real battle for Jewish communities to fight the onslaught of opposition.

The French Rabbi in Paris said that the internet is the most serious problem. His insight was that these Muslims live physically in France or any other nation in Europe but emotionally and spiritually they live far away in the lands of jihad. They live in the dream of ISIS and other groups. That is the greatest threat. They told us that the French government had decreed to shut down jihadi websites. Too little too late.


Hungary is the newest hot spot of anti-Semitic activity. The government puts up monuments to those who lost their lives in WWII but never mention Jews. The new leadership refuses to acknowledge Hungary's collaboration with the Nazis. Right wing political groups hostile to Jews and Romas (Gypsies) are flourishing. There is real concern in Hungary.


In Russia you find that while the government has not overtly endorsed anti-Semitism, the tone of the Russian government's controlled media is increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.


From the Reform perspective Rabbi Friedlander spoke about the problem of what the World Union of Progressive Judaism should do in Europe for its congregations. The Israeli government takes care of getting Jews out of the country. The Joint Distribution Committee provides social services to struggling Jewish communities in Europe. Friedlander says WUPJ is about taking care of spiritual needs and focusing on youth in the congregations. They have seen a definite decline in Jewish youth participating in summer camps and other activities. That may in part be due to the hostile climate against Jews. So the World Union is now struggling to find a role that is helpful to progressive congregations.  They understand that American Jews seem to be uninterested and "blind," to the problems of European anti-Semitism. American Jews focus on their own nation and Israel but not Europe. So who keeps up the pressure on European governments to oppose anti-Semitic political groups and hate speech? That is a major concern of Jewish communities in Europe.


Thanks for taking the time to read this blog from Philadelphia. More to come.

Rabbi Brad L. Bloom

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