Monday, December 18, 2017

Hi Everyone,
I hope you will enjoy this piece, my most recent newspaper column, which discusses the Christmas season and the values of religion we should all be striving to fulfill regardless of our religious affiliation. Make sure you click on the link and help me keep this column around for a long time to come. The clicks make the difference, sorry to say.
Happy Hanukkah and a joyous Christmas to all my Christian readership of this blog.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Shout Out for Ecumenicism Today.

This is a column I just published in the newspaper regarding the recent ecumenical event between ST. Frances by the Sea Catholic Church and Congregation Beth Yam with Professor Michael Cook as our Scholar in Residence. We shall not forget the events and the camaraderie that pervaded the work of both committees from our respective congregations. This column advocates why ecumenical
activities are critical these days given the state of our politics and how if feels were are becoming more tribal in so many dimensions of our culture. Take a read and let me know what you think.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Bloom

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Shootings in Texas: Resist the New Normal

What does one say after these horrific murders?
All I can tell you is that this column deals with the resistance against the feeling that these are the new normal in America.
What do you think?
Rabbi Bloom

When life feels overwhelming.

I wrote this most recent column as a response to a lot of folks I knew who just feel like they are burned out on all the responsibilities they have in life. Take a read and tell me what you think.
All the best
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Harvey Weinstein, Sexual Harassment and Religious Teachings:What are we supposed to do?

I wrote this piece in my newspaper column after having read too many articles about Harvey Weinstein and the hoopla surrounding his sexual exploits and alleged sexual harassment of women over the decades.
What is your reaction to this column?
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Internet: A blessing and a curse.

I believe that the internet is a blessing and can be a curse depending on how we use it. The amount of anti-semitism spewing out of the internet is mind boggling. So much hatred. Take a look at this piece and tell me what you think.
Rabbi Bloom
 Don't forget to click the link! Save the column and click the link!

Las Vegas shootings: Finding hope in the Scriptures

I hope you read this piece. Click it on and pay tribute to the clicking gods of journalism who determine who shall write and who shall not!
Seriously this column is about Las Vegas and the unfathomable tragedy. Please take a look at it and let me know what you think.
Rabbi Bloom

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Here is my follow up column after Hurricane Irma. I have given the idea of proper prayer in the face of this and other Hurricanes I have experienced. Maybe you can relate to the same issues I faced during my evacuation. There is a lot to be appreciative of and I also believe we have to be careful of what we pray for and especially when others are also suffering.
 Also Please forgive me but I must remind you that that it is critical that you click on the article because every click means to the higher ups that people do care about this column. So share the article and remind folks to click it.
Remember the ancient adage, "Click and you shall enjoy the fruits of the righteous." Just kidding.
Happy New  Year
Rabbi Bloom

Thursday, September 14, 2017

God works in mysterious ways: I'm back-at least for now!

Well folks and devoted readers I can only tell you that my recent return as a columnist to the Island Packet is as much a surprise to me as it may be to you.
So here it is. I met with the editors and this is how we keep my column alive. In the world of media we now follow digital ratings. That means that newspapers judge the effectiveness of any column and in fact any newspaper based upon the data of clicks on the link  which I am sending you. They are not interested about how many read the actual newspaper themselves that we purchase at the local store. The newspaper world determines their actions and strategy based upon digital clicks. So what I am respectfully asking you that each time you receive a post from me that is from a recent newspaper column that you click it and hopefully read it online. The experts at the newspaper said that if I up my clicks that I will become "bullet proof."
A brave new world of digital prowess that masters our lives is in place today. So thank you for your support and readership and I am delighted to be reengaged again at least for the time being.
Happy New Year Shana Tova to all my Jewish readers.
Have a good read.

Friday, July 21, 2017

My final column with the Island Packet

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.

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,


"One nation under God?" The Pledge of Allegiance

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?

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.

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?
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, June 10, 2017

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

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.
Rabbi Bloom

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A message of ecumenicism today from World War Two.

Three American Chaplains gave up their lives for their crew on a US Ship attacked by the Germans.
Their amazing and heroic story sets an example of ecumenicism at its highest level. I wrote this column last weekend in honor of the US Memorial Day. Have a good read and let me know your reactions.
All the best.

Rabbi Bloom

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Jewish Ethos for helping the poor: A hand out vs a helping hand?

I stood on the porch at a dedication ceremony of a brand new Habitat for Humanity House. The recipients were a mother and two daughters. She works full time at Publics on Hilton Head. People like myself offered prayers and gave brief remarks. One individual, a well known leader in the business community, spoke and remarked; ‘This kind of project is an example of a hand up rather than a hand out.’

Truthfully I cringed as I stood by respectfully.  Implicit biases about the poor underlie his comments. The idea that only a hand up is valid and that a hand out is wrong is a part of the American ethos. 
I subscribe to the principle that helping the poor is a hand up even though it may come as a grant. No doubt that poor people game the system just as rich people and institutions, for example, commit medicare fraud. Yet, Judaism tells us that helping the poor is a central ethic of our religious system.

I address this subject tonight as a prelude to tomorrow morning’s hot topics discussion entitled: “A Hand Up Rather than a Handout: What should be a Jewish ethos for helping the poor.” This Shabbat we have two Torah portions Behar-Behukotai which take us to the end of our reading from the book of Leviticus. Is there one idea about helping the poor or are there differing opinions concerning the extent of our obligation to help the poor?

 At least in theory the Torah tells us to help “your brother who is poor.” In Leviticus it is referring to Jews who cannot support themselves and who will become indentured to other Israelites. The  texts say, “strengthen him (the poor).”
Our beloved commentator Rashi clarifies by saying, “Don’t let him fall and become impoverished so that it will be hard for him to recover, but, to strengthen him the moment his “hand faileth.” Rashi compares this moral principle to a parable of a burden on an ass’s back.  While it is still on the ass, one man can get a hold of it and right it.  But once it has fallen to the ground, five men cannot lift it up.” The upshot is help him out now while we can do something about or let him starve and the burden on us or society is that much harder to lift him up.

On the other hand in the prophets, the Haphtarah for this week, which comes from Jeremiah, saying, “Cursed is the person who trusts in human beings
who makes flesh his arm,
and whose heart departs from the Eternal One,
and whose trust the Eternal One is.” (17:5-7) 
Commentating on the passage by Jeremiah, the great Moses Maimonides says, “A person should make himself suffer rather than making himself a charge on the public charity.” “The greatest sages in the world were hewers of wood, porters, drawers of water for gardens, smiths, and charcoal burners and never begged for charity nor accepted it when offered.” In other words they trusted in themselves for sustenance and God for faith.
 Maimonides is talking several  kinds of persons who take advantage of their being poor, even one who refuses help even though he is poor especially one who trusts in God only and not in man.

Maimonides wants to find a balance between self help and trust in God, between human industry and the belief that everything belongs to God. Maimonides is saying that we cannot loose the idea that all resources belong to God and we cannot forget that human self reliance is important. So if one is poor then ideally we have a duty to help them, yet, each of us has a duty ourselves to not depend to heavily on human beings or God as the source of taking care of our physical needs.
This is a relevant message particularly in Israel today related to that society’s problem in which Israelis want the ultra Orthodox hasidic Jews to resolve. Many in Israel resent that ultra black hat Hasidic Jews feel that their duty and job is to study Torah and that God will provide.That means the state will provide welfare so that they do not have to work. Needless to say this problem has vexed many Israelis who pay notoriously high taxes so that Hasidic Jews can study Torah while the rest of the people fight and defend the nation.
This issue also speaks to us in America and our obligation as a society to support the poor when it comes to AFDC, the Affordable Health Care Act  and Medicaid and tax reform as examples of society’s support of the poor. Many Americans resent helping the poor believing that they too should help themselves first before ever thinking about asking for help. They believe that the poor take advantage of our tax dollars rather than going out to find a job.
Judaism has tried to say that being poor is no honor but it is also not a sin. It is how we live with what we have that counts. It is the measure of a society’s commitment to its fellow citizens who are legitimately poor that springs out of the prophets and the Torah itself that matters most.

After Hurricane Mathew, we gave money to people who we thought needed the money and that would not have been able to survive without it. My view is that it is a privilege to help those in need. Shall we make such people whether in our own community or in the community at large feel inadequate just because they can’t afford the basics in life? Project Safe, for example, in Hilton Head is trying to raise money to supply sewer line hookups for the poor. They cost $6000 a person to make the connection.  Back pack buddies does this for kids who need food over the weekend after school. We are all about helping financially those who truly need our support. Yet must we frame such help as a handout when the truth is that a hand up and a hand out often perform the same mitzvah for the poor?
Baba Batra 11a (Talmud)
A story is told of Binyamin HaTzaddik, who was the supervisor of the community's tzedakah funds. Once, when food was scarce, a woman came to him and said, "Rabbi, feed me!" He replied, "I swear there is nothing in the tzedakah fund."  She said, "If you do not feed me, a woman and her seven children will die."  So he fed her from his own money.
 The ethos of providing financial contributions to the poor may be clear. Yet, that does not mean it is easy to fulfill. Is it not our duty to do so even if a hand up feels like a hand out? It is still our mitzvah.
shabbat shalom

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Does a college or advanced to degree diminish religious faith?

I wrote this column after the survey from the Pew Center came out with the results claiming that college and advanced degrees might very well contribute to less religious commitment in American society. Is this so? I hope you read this piece from my newspaper column and let me know your reaction to the subject.
Thanks and best to you.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The national anthem of Israel-HaTikvah-The Hope. What does it mean to the Jewish people?

This is my most recent newspaper column. It compares the Star Spangled Banner with HaTikvah or the Hope which is Israel's national anthem. They both have different messages but they speak to the spiritual core of each nation. Thanks for taking the time to read it and for any comments.
Rabbi Bloom

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Davar Torah on Tazria MItzora for the Shabbat. Will our powers be used for blessing or curse?

Free will is both a blessing and sometimes a curse. We cherish our ability to exercise our freedoms to act out how we choose to live and behave in the world.  The world sees how people use free will to save lives and perform acts of heroism as well as those of cruelty. It is a gift that God gave us from the beginning of the garden of Eden and we saw how Adam and Eve made their choices to reject God’s warning to not eat from the tree of knowledge and the results we all know from the rest of human history. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and humankind was on its own to shape its destiny. We as a species have always contended with the great gifts we have had to innovate and control our environment. Our use of power has demonstrated the complexity of human civilization Was it for the best after all?

One rabbinic sags Moses Schriber otherwise known in rabbinic parlance as the  Hatam sofer who lived in the middle of the 18th through the mid nineteenth century in Hungary discussed this issue. He became a rabbi in Bratislava which is the capital of Slovakia. He was Orthodox and he was an opponent of Reform but he had some big ideas about human nature.

He commented on this week’s Torah portion which is called Tazria Metzora otherwise known as the Torah portion about leprosy or skin afflictions. In chapter 12 verse 2 The Torah talks about a woman who has conceived and born a child. The Torah says she is ritually unclean for seven days just like during the time of her menstrual cycle. He is going to focus on the theme of ritual impurity after a woman gives birth  as a jumping off point to discuss the bigger issue of how we as a species utilize our great powers for blessing or transgression. The ritual impurity is connected to the moral impurity.

The Hatam Sofer begins his comment on this verse by quoting from the famous commentator Rashi from the 10th century. “Rabbi Simlai said, Just as man was created (on the fifth day of creation) after the cattle, beasts and fowl, so the laws governing human beings follow after the laws governing these animals.” The idea here is that animals came before humans and that their priority was greater than human beings.The Hatam Sofer asks, is it true that creation of human beings is the apex of creation referring to Pslam six which says, “You made human beings little lower than God, so shouldn’t human beings think of themselves as above all other creatures and equal to God?

The Hatam sofer goes on to say that the Torah listed the laws of treating animals before humans to teach us that the select righteous saintly people are even superior to angels in heaven and that human beings in general can attain the greatest heights. Yet those who have been afflicted with this so-called ailment or skin affliction which we call in the Torah as t’zraat are indeed less than cattle in the divine hierarchy. He adds that we should remember that no animal can make a human ritually impure, but, a human being can make another human being be ritually impure. So he concluded that just as a person can reach the greatest heights of human achievement by mean of his free will so can he use that power to descend into the lowest depths.

The difficult aspect of this portion is the idea that having a disease like the skin ailment referred to in the Torah portion was consistently viewed by the sages as a result of a moral transgression such as gossip or slandering another human being. We have come along way in our thinking about disease. Yet, even today we saw those same attitudes attributing a moral transgression AIDS infected people who contracted AIDS particularly back in the 1980s and nineties. We have evolved in our understanding about contagious diseases today even if there are still prejudices and fears about potential pandemic diseases that frighten us probably just as biblical skin ailments did in ancient Israelite society.
Granted that the  Hatam Sofer is a product of that old styled thinking about disease and morality.  Yet his idea of how human beings use their god-given powers in a godly way versus using them in a destructive manner to measure our value as a species is valid today. Too many examples of human society today demonstrate that we still abuse our powers as much as we use them for great achievements to better our world. That is what the Hatam Sofer was referring to in his commentary. So his observations resonate today as they did over two hundred years ago in another time and place.

Whether we are discussing nuclear weapons in North Korea, Iran, or chemical warfare in Syria today, we see that human achievement in science is still a mixed blessing. When it comes to literature and the power of the written word spreading hatred, anti-Semitic tractates against the Jews, for example, we see that human power swings both ways as compared to the great works of Shakespeare, Whitman, the bible and the great works of music over the centuries.

Free will is a fragile gift that God bequeathed us at the dawn of creation and that humility in humankind is not to be taken lightly. It must balance our technological prowess with an overarching commitment to preserve human life not destroy entire peoples let alone individuals. Aren’t we suppose to use our powers to raise the quality of life and not threaten it? Yet that is exactly what happens today as it has for the entirety of human history.

Defining human skin ailments as ritually impure and associating them with moral transgressions is not how we should think about disease today. I suppose that in ancient times this is how they understood such diseases but today we can do better. Today we are still mandated to remember that our value and worth as human beings is not how high we build a sky scraper or how big a bomb we build but how we heal the suffering of the oppressed and the sick. It is about how we strive to be little less than God in how we treat ourselves, animal life and the planet.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Final Reposting on Yom HaShoah speech.

Elie Wiesel: ‘We all were students in his classroom.’
Yom HaShoah April 23, 2017
Elie Wiesel never taught me in a classroom but his knowledge and experience, expressed through the pages of his writings, made him one of the most powerful teachers I ever had in my life. It is for the life he led and the way he taught us all to engage the tradition and wellspring of Judaism that we decided to honor him for this year’s Yom HaShoah observance. His passing last gives us the opportunity to commemorate this Nobel Peace Prize winning scholar, activist, conscience and witness for humanity. In a way he used the planet and wherever he spoke to teach us whether by reading his books, or watching a documentary that he made or inside the incredible Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. which he inspired. All these venues were his various classrooms and so we may have all become students.

Elie Wiesel was unique  not only because he suffered but also because he did not give up on Judaism. He did not shield us from the hard questions he asked of humanity and of God. At the same time he dived into the sources of Judaism when he could have, like others did after the War, given up on Jewish life. In the case of Wiesel, it was the opposite. He continued his learning from childhood and used it to redefine his understanding of the horrors he faced and lived through while at the same time not allowing those years to destroy his memory. 
He taught us to rediscover the meaning of memory in Judaism. He showed us how remembrance and the meaning of the past was absolutely critical towards how we as a people and as the world would live our lives in the future. 

He also taught us that being a witness to all that we see and preserve of the past was essential to Jewish belief. Our teens today are observing this value while they March into the Gates of Auschwitz concentration Camp. Their trip to Poland and then to Israel is part of the international Program called the March of the Living. They are all witnesses now to what the Nazis did and to how the Jews faced the genocidal campaign of the Nazis to destroy us. What I find so inspiring is that Wiesel used the tradition to help him frame the unfathomable and he found so much in the tradition whether it was from the Bible, the Talmud, the Hasidic Teachings of his own background or the Kabbalah. These were his sources and he mined them for insight, salvation and pathways to return back to humanity with a message that would one day spread throughout the world.

Wiesel did something else that I found to be helpful when struggling with the meaning of not just the Holocaust but with humanity’s inhumanity to itself. He taught us that mystery of evil and that there may not be one answer as to why people feel the compulsion to destroy entire peoples. His point was to ask the question and that was more important than the answers. Maybe it was that we all have different responses as to why evil of this nature exists and continues but questions can be shared by us all and from that perspective we would have a better chance to prevail in a better world by sharing the hardest questions.
Moreover he taught us:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
He knew oh so well how indifference infected an entire world. Indifference led to the silence of the world when Hitler and the Nazis saw that no one would challenge their effort to take over Europe and destroy the Jewish people. He saw then and later on in the years that followed how people are indifferent, even at times Jews, when it comes to human suffering. Wiesel came to teach us that we must care not just about our own lives but those of the world. Just think about how we react when we watch television and listen to the stories of death and destruction in Syria, Somalia and terrorist attacks against folks around the world. If it does not move us to feel anything, if we are emotionless, if we simply change the channel because we choose not see it then we know the feeling of indifference because ultimately it does not matter to us. That is exactly what Elie Wiesel was trying to teach. Life, Art, Faith and Love must matter to us.

Finally Elie Wiesel taught us about the importance of speaking truth to power. In that speech when he received the President’s medal of honor he spoke to President Reagan in a very respectful way of his forthcoming trip to Bitburg Cemetery in Germany where many SS officers were buried. The President was trying to show respect for Germans and improve relations with the German chancellor Helmut Kohl. In that famous speech he said.

“I belong to a traumatized generation. Symbols are important. And furthermore,
following our ancient tradition, and we are speaking about Jewish heritage
our tradition commands us "to speak truth to power."
So may I speak to you, Mr. President, with respect and admiration, of the events that happened?
We have met four of five times. And each time I came away enriched, for I know of your commitment to humanity.
And therefore I am convinced, as you have told us earlier when we spoke, that 
you were not aware of the presence of SS graves in the Bitburg cemetery. Of course you didn't know. But now we all are aware.

May I, Mr. President, if it's possible at all, to implore you to do something else, to find a way, to find another way, another site? That place, Mr. President, is not your place. You place is with the victims of the SS.
Oh, we know there are political and strategic reasons, but this issue, as all issues related to that awesome event, transcends politics and diplomacy. 
The issue here is not politics, but good and evil. And we must never confuse them.
For I have seen the SS at work. And I have seen their victims. They were my friends. They were my parents.
Mr. President, there was a degree of suffering and loneliness in the concentration camps that defies imagination. Cut off from the world with no refuge anywhere; sons watched helplessly their fathers being beaten to death. Mothers watched their children die of hunger.And then there was Mengele and his selections. 
Terror, fear, isolation, torture, gas chambers and flames rising to the heavens.
But, Mr. President, I know and I understand, we all do, that you seek reconciliation. And so do I, so do we. And I too wish to attain true reconciliation with the German people.

I do not believe in collective guilt, more in collective responsibility. Only the killers were guilty. Their sons and daughters are not.
And I believe, Mr. President, that we can and we must work together with them and with all people. 
And we must work to bring peace and understanding
to a tormented world that, as you know, is still awaiting redemption.
I thank you, Mr. President.”

I pray that the voice, teachings and lessons that Elie Wiesel taught us in the classroom of his life will resonate for our youth and for generations to come. May his memory be for a blessing to all humanity and may we continue to be witnesses from the past to the future.

Monday, April 17, 2017

March of the Living: A Davar Torah for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Passover

March of the Living. Shabbat Chol HaMoed Passover

Will this Shabbat signal a new custom in this congregation with regard to the youth? Shortly three of our teens, Elaina Urato, Ariel Shatz and Alex Wynne, will commence a journey that will lead them to the gates of Auschwitz Concentration Camp and then to the gates of the Old City in Jerusalem. March of the Living is an international program of Jewish youth who will experience the modern day exodus from the Holocaust to the redemption of the Jewish people in the founding of the State of Israel. This program has been in existence for over thirty years.And now Congregation Beth Yam’s students have the privilege of participating in this great adventure. So tonight we will give them a blessing before their journey.

What brought this all about here at Beth Yam? A few members of the congregation suggested this program and have generously funded it for the next few years along with the participation and financial support from their parents. These individuals, in the spirit of Maimonides, seek no recognition. All they want is that our teens see first hand the remnants of genocide of the Jewish people in Europe and the rebirth of our people in the land of Israel. It is a journey that reminds me of the Haggadah’s message which describes the narrative of the Exodus as a story that begins by referring to Israel’s degradation but ends in the joy and praise of our redemption especially when we conclude the Seder with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

This Shabbat’s Torah portion,Shabbat Chol HaMoed Passover, in other words, refers to the intermediary Sabbath in the week of Passover. We read in Exodus 33,about the dialogue between Moses and God right after the Golden Calf incident.  Moses is appealing to God to accompany the people upward towards the Promised Land from the Sinai desert.  Moses says to God,  “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other peoples on the face of the earth?”

Our youth will consider this question of whether God was with us not only in the desert but at Auschwitz as well? They will ask questions they never considered before as they walk the terrain of this notorious concentration camp. They will grapple with the theological consequences of such hard questions. They will learn that being a victim did not mean that Jews did not resist. Just to survive was a means of resistance every day. They will soon learn that what distinguished us in this horrible chapter of our history was that we did prevail in the end and those who survived were distinguished not only with the tattooed numbers from their taskmasters but that they did not give up the journey to their freedom. Next Year in Jerusalem- Not so different from the ancient story of the Exodus?

After a visit to a Concentration Camp one typically emerges with more questions than answers that they can share with their fellow travelers. They will take those questions with them as they fly to Israel to celebrate Independence Day.  

The Torah goes on to say in this special Torah reading for Passover that God will not let Moses see his face but will cause God’s glory to pass by him and will show compassion to the people. Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
I like to imagine that the land of Israel is that rock which all would one day feel God’s presence.  Most of Israel today call themselves secular which does not necessarily mean that they don’t believe in God, although many will say that, but it may mean an awareness of how God’s presence flows through the waves of history and that is exactly what we hope our kids will sense by the time they are about to return. That realization of Jewish history, the exile in modern times from the Holocaust and the return to Israel, is what we seek for our teens.

Finally, as we drink the last cup of wine at the Passover Seder we say quoting from Exodus 6:7-
I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” Whether it was the Egyptians or the Nazis we found our way to the Promised Land. And to witness it with our own eyes and our hearts, our students will, hopefully, return with a renewed belief and commitment to the enterprise called the drama of Jewish history. My prayer is that  history will run through their veins and in their souls. This program  hopefully will solidify our Jewish future. Is that not one of this congregation’s main purposes-to educate our community’s youth?
(Call up the students)

Dear God,
We beseech you to send your blessings upon our students who shortly will begin this pilgrimage into the Kingdom of Night and who will conclude their mission by arriving into the Kingdom of Light. Be with them  and let their eyes behold the history of our people, embrace it and ultimately to cherish it in their lives as Jews in the modern world. See them through this journey to safety and return them to us safely with a renewed spirit and commitment to the values and vision of Judaism and the Jewish people who have fought against injustice and prejudice. As they shall sing the songs of mourning let them raise their voices to the hope, HaTikvah, of Israel’s mission to the world as a light to the nations. Inspire them and teach them to know and understand the privilege of being a Jew today. Enable them to share their experiences here upon their return and to inspire us as well. May God be with them in all the works of their hands and their spirits.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Are Animals created in the image of God too?

You probably already know the answer to this question. I decided to discuss our relationship to the animal world. This recent newspaper column is not just about pets but all animals as well. Have a good read and let me know what you think?
Hag Sameah
Happy Passover and Shavua Tov A good week.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Passover: The Seder, The Last Supper and the meaning of the Exodus

This newspaper column represents a kind of fusion of history in so far as the exodus has, of course, created the holiday of Passover in Judaism. It has also played a role in the critical moments Christianity's narrative of the Last Supper and the Eucharist. Take a good read whether you are prepping for pesach or Easter.
God Bless
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Should children attend a funeral service? Helping children find a pathway to grieve.

This is an issue that comes to me from parents especially when it comes to grandparents who pass away. It is a spiritual issue as well as a mental health topic. Tell me what you think?
Thanks for taking the time to read this newspaper column.
Rabbi Bloom

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What are we trying to do with our undocumented workers and families in our community?

I attended a rally to express support for urging our county sheriff to not convert police into ICE squads. Here is  my take on leadership and building bridges not walls with the immigrant undocumented law abiding community.

Let me know what you think.
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Anti-Semitism today in America.

My most recent column in the newspaper is about the recent cemetery desecrations and the phone calls to Jewish institution around the country. Here are some thoughts and reactions. I hope they prompt you to react and think about what other Jewish communities are experiencing.
Let me also add that I look forward to any comments you might have from reading this column.
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Capital Punishment: A religious perspective.

I wrote this piece about capital punishment in light of the sentencing of Dylann Roof who murdered the folks in the AME Church in Charleston, SC. This is from a religious perspective. Thank you for taking th time to read it and for any comments.
Rabbi Bloom

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Inaugural Prayers have a rich history and shouldn't we pray for the well being of our president?

This is my most recent newspaper column and I try to outline some history of the tradition of the clergy offering prayers for the president at the Inaugural ceremony. I hope you read it and let me know what you think. Thanks and Shalom
Rabbi Bloom

A Sermon on the Immigration Issue in America and the ethos of welcoming the stranger and keeping us safe.

The Torah portion we read on this Shabbat B’shalach represents the beginning of a long history about Jews as the world’s quintessential refugee nation. I remember a book published a few years ago referring to the modern state of Israel as the start-up nation. It is a fascinating read for devotees of Israel’s technological and commercial successes. Yet the much longer and enduring narrative of our people is that of the refuge nation. In last week’s torah portion we began the exodus narrative. This week’s passages from Exodus describe the children of Israel actually crossing the Sea of Reeds and heading out to the Wilderness of Sin. 

They fight their own demons when it comes to facing the reality that leaving Egypt is going to be much more difficult than they first anticipated. Finally, we see the very beginnings of the military conflicts that the ancient Israelites will face against tribes who seek to prevent the birth of a new nation in the region.

If we are the definitive example of refugee nation for three millenni[a] then what does it mean for Jewish identity? The truth is that we have had to fight not only marauding desert tribes but also our own self doubts as to whether we could handle the transition from slavery to freedom.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that the birth of the refugee nation has always been a spiritual as well as a bodily struggle. We became not only strangers to the tribes but also at times we became strangers to ourselves.The fact that we see the Israelites repeatedly appealing, first to Moses and then to God, to return them to Egypt exemplifies this unresolved conflict in the psyche of the people. They desperately want freedom, but something inside holds them back from fully embracing their new found freedom.

What we learn about refugees then and today is that being a stranger in a strange land creates a push-pull tension for the refugee. People are connected to their native culture, even if they never feel a part of the majority culture. They realize that they must leave, but it is still home, whether they reject it or not. So those past bonds, born in an unwelcoming culture, never leave the refugee. And that fear of change is always part and parcel of the refugee dilemma.
I cannot help but believe that because we are the ultimate refugee nation, we have a history of resisting whichever dominant culture we found ourselves living in the midst of in an attempt to preserve our unique culture and theology of being connected to God and Torah. On the other hand, we have turned away at times from Torah, regressing into mainstream culture, denying our unique cultural and religious heritage.

So when we became the exemplary refugee nation what did we do about it? We created, in later chapters of Torah, laws and statues about how we are supposed to restrain ourselves, and, especially how we are to treat strangers who are not one of us but ask to be part of the Jewish people.  Furthermore the Torah mentions over 35 times the idea of our being a stranger nation, while, at the same time, recognizing that we were supposed to treat others better than we were treated during our years in the desert. Laws about treating the stranger with dignity and compassion and not oppressing them abound in the Torah. The genius of Judaism is that the texts bequeath us an ethos of compassion as to how we should treat other refugee peoples as well as ourselves.

That is part of the struggle which we Jews are dealing with these days with regard to immigration and national security issues today. We have embedded within us this time honored ethos to go out of our way to provide sanctuary for other refugee peoples, even if others did nothing for us. On the other side, the conflict that we fear from experience is that there were tribes like the Amalekites then and ISIS now who will, as they did in the Torah, strike us from behind. We are vulnerable that way and something about that vulnerability spooks us about letting refugees from parts of the Middle East into America. We know that sleeper cells from terrorist refugees already exist in our great land. We want to learn from history, and Amalek is a symbol of that betrayal and underhandedness that so many Americans are afraid of today.

We are going to explore this dichotomy tomorrow morning at our “Hot Topics Shabbat” when two of our congregants will present their perspectives on the meaning of being a stranger, in light of the pressures we face today about immigration to America. The exercise is not just to give their opinions on immigration but to explore Jewish sources and use them as a way of developing a position based upon their respective interpretations of those sources.  

I spoke about this topic on Rosh Hashanah outlining the tensions for the Jewish community on welcoming immigrants from the Middle East. I reiterate now that I support a vigorous vetting for such immigrants and at the same time oppose quotas based upon religion. It is absolutely crucial that we, as Americans, do whatever we can to keep ourselves safe. At the same time, should we completely abdicate our nation’s ethos by closing the doors on those who deservedly seek refuge as strangers in our midst? I do not expect everyone to agree with me, but I do insist on situating my views within a specifically Jewish frame of reference. I recognize that there are valid and heartfelt disagreements on this policy issue. Right now the courts will decide this current issue of limiting immigration from seven primarily muslim nations, for us, and we will live with the results of the judiciary’s decision. This is the way we solve problems in our great nation. 

People say we should avoid politics and religion. What does that mean? For a reform congregation and a movement that is dedicated to social justice it has meant, in my humble opinion, speaking out on major issues of the day. It also means not framing the issue in a partisan way, especially from the pulpit. I believe I have done so responsibly over the years I have served as Rabbi here and in the congregations I have served in my career.  So I completely believe in not mixing partisan politics and religion. What I do not believe, however, is that we should ignore serious  policy and social issues that go to the heart of Judaism’s ethical teachings about how we treat people in our society.

The exodus is our faith’s central narrative and it provides us with the platform to share Judaism’s ethos of humanity with the world. I respect the diversity of opinions about what our priorities should be in the case of opening the doors of immigration and welcoming the strangers in our midst. Can’t we have this discussion from a Torah perspective without it dividing us as a congregation?