Thursday, December 27, 2018

Resend of my column on gaining a grandson and loosing a mother

My daughter recently gave birth to a son, and I beheld with wonder my first grandchild. I entered his nursery and she proudly showed me a shelf of new books that she would soon be reading to her newborn. My eyes lit up and my emotions began to swell when I saw that same book on the shelf. I was touched that the book had such an impact on her after all these years.

Within days of my return home, I received the news that my beloved mother, who was 97, had taken her last breath and peacefully, on the last day of Hanukkah, passed on to eternity. It was now my turn to take mom into my arms.
I’m home again after officiating at mom’s funeral. I read a passage from Chapter 3 of the book of Ecclesiastes:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”
These words exemplify the Bible’s understanding of the cycle of life and they are just as powerful today as when they were written.
I feel contrasting emotions vividly in my soul — the cycle of life with a newborn followed by the passing of this infant’s great grandmother. I am the next generation now.

There was always something about my mother’s presence that protected me from the thought of my own mortality and helped me feel that I was still a young man. My sense is that she felt younger than her friends in the assisted living facility where she lived because she had a child who had just passed sixty years.
As we escorted her casket and lowered it into the grave, I recalled that cherished children’s book. But this time. it was me holding her in my arms, laying her down on the bed for a night of eternal sleep and saying, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my mother you’ll be.”
I am at peace with her death while at the same time looking forward to a new journey with my grandson and his parents. Just as there was always a sense of peace and tranquility when I laid my little daughter down on the bed at night, I experienced that same harmony and flow of life as I laid mom to rest in her grave.
I no longer see the birth of a child and the death of a great grandparent as a conflict of emotions. If, as the writer Abraham Joshua Heschel once observed, death is the “great homecoming,” then so, too, is birth the great homecoming, when a newborn is welcomed into his or her new family.
Aren’t these experiences simply two sides the same coin?

The thought of my daughter reading those words from the book to her son brings me great comfort. I hope she will one day repeat these words to me when I enter my final years: “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as you’re living, my daddy you’ll be.”
Ecclesiastes speaks of the transition of generations which affirms how a newborn and the passing of an elder belong to the same continuum of life:
“Generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever”.
I feel at ease witnessing the goodness of this new generation’s arrival. I also mourn the passing of the eldest generation.
Have I taken the first conscious step in preparing myself for my own passing and believing that it will be OK when my time has come?
I pray that God gives me the longevity to hold this new child and watch him grow up. At the same time, I know that I have left something sacred of myself behind that my parents bequeathed to me when I was born.
Now, I will pass that on to my daughter and my grandson.
I believe even more in tomorrow. As Proverbs says:
“For surely there is a future and you will not be cut off.”
My mother’s memory lives on in me, and so, I pray, shall I live on in my daughter’s and grandson’s.

Thank you God for the gift of life and memory. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The cycle of life from birth of a grandchild to the passing of a beloved mother.

Many of us who read this column have experienced the loss of a loved one followed by the birth of a brand new baby. Or maybe it's the opposite. Well it happened to me and I have a newspaper column about how that felt and what I am learning from the cycle of life.
What do you think?
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving reflects the best side of America's promise.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

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

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

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

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

The aftermath of the murders of Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hilton Head Mayoral Election and the fight against Holocaust Deniers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Was Noah a good leader for humanity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

God created everything except the ability to Lie.

This is my most recent newspaper column. It is about lying and telling the truth. A very important lesson for clergy and elected officials running for office. This is especially relevant when we have a mayoral candidate who is a Holocaust denier. Read on and tell me what you think?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hilton Head has a problem: Time to speak out against hate.

We like to believe that all is well in our community. For the most part it is except that we have the beginnings of a mayor's race where two of seven candidates have publicly espoused views of denial and creating fake truths about  the Holocaust and another who expresses admiration for Adolph Hitler. It is time to face up to this problem. I have written over the last few weeks and published two articles in my newspaper column some of my own perspectives on this matter. Needless to say that National attention has been focused upon us. Hilton Head likes to think of itself as a world class community rating no 1 in America for resort living. World class means many things. Now are we being tested as to whether we are a world class community or not with the way we respond to the onslaught of two candidates for mayor who seem to be comfortable with such views.
Thanks for reading these two articles and I appreciate your reactions and viewpoints.
Happy New Year.
Rabbi Bloom

Friday, August 3, 2018

Torah Portion Ekev Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 8:3 Man does not live by bread alone."

We spend our lives working, raising kids and planning exactly for these so- called golden years. We hope that we can call them our golden years. Isn’t this the time when we have financial resources to live without having to work. And if we do work it is because we want to and not because we have to work. Isn’t this the time when we begin to acquire some level of perspective and wisdom about the struggles we went through and the challenges we faced earlier on in life? Isn’t this the time when we reassess the past and recognize the success we had on multiple levels which we might have not appreciated earlier on in life? And isn’t this the time as we watch our children follow the pathway of work, earning a living and giving to their children as we gave to them that we begin to rethink about what we needed  to survive in or previous years versus what they need today to survive and be satisfied in the world?

The Torah portion give us some insight about the meaning of a life well lived. In the Torah Portion Ekev, Deuteronomy Chapter eight verses two-three. We read, “He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the LORD decrees.” What does that mean for us? How shall we apply this verse to us and our lives over the years?

This verse combines something that strikes a familiar chord about life. Struggle is part of life. Hardship contrasted with moments of beneficence whether we call God the source of these moments or not. Judaism has struggled for a long time with this verse. Generally in the popular culture this verse was used to give us perspective that man does not live by bread alone meaning  don’t count on the road of life to be easy. Don’t be surprised when bad things happen or when good things can happen.  The other part of the verse is that God is testing us to see how we cope with these ups and downs.

It is hard to involve God this way because holding God  responsible as the arbiter of our fates good or bad often creates more theological problems that it solves for us. We see these issues, for example,  play out in biblical books such as the book of Job as he lashes out at God for causing him so much suffering. Joseph shares his faith with his brothers when their father Jacob died by saying that God put him through all the suffering of his kidnapping, his servitude in Potiphar’s house and then his servitude in jail for valid reasons which were to solve the  problems  with his brothers and make peace. We look at biblical women who enjoyed the rapture of joy when they were able to give birth to children. These same women suffered great anguish because they had trouble and suffered much emotional trauma  at not being able initially to have children. The upshot is what most of us know which is that there is no easy ride for most of us in this world. Have we not come to understand that life is all about facing struggle and challenges as well as liberation and joy?

No one wants the suffering for ourselves or for our loved ones, yet, without pain, how can we live a real life? We want to protect our children from all harm yet when we do  that and they get what the want. Haven’t  we  inoculated our kids from facing the challenges of life? Do we not handicap them at the same time when one day we will not be able to intervene to help or shield them? What have we done for them to give them skills for life? I am as guilty as the rest of trying to do these things  for my child. I suppose most of us have done the same. We worry and then there comes a moment when they surprise us and find a way to step up to the plate and meet those challenges just as we did.

The Talmud in tractate Yom 74b comments on chapter 8:3 and gives us some perspective about focusing on real priorities in life. They ask how can there be affliction when the Israelites were eating manna? What was the affliction? 
 Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi disagreed on this matter. One said you can’t compare between one who has bread in the basket and one who does not have bread in the basket. In other words the affliction was that there was no leftover food the next day in the basket after they ate the manna. So the people worried each day that they might not have any food to eat each day. Here there is a clear distinction.

The other rabbi said there is no comparison between one who sees the food and eats it and one who does not see the food and eats it. Though the  manna could taste like anything, it always looked the same and did not look as it tasted. But being unable to see the food that they tasted was an affliction.

I use this talmudic text to say that the symbol of  food to represent  life means life’s challenges.  The rabbis are pragmatic about life’s realities when contrasting those with versus those without food.  Yet the other rabbi gives us a different kind of message. One who sees the food he eats verses one who does not see the food. The idea of seeing makes all the difference of the world. The point is not about how it tastes but about not being able to see it. Thus  literally seeing the food is a deeper message which says not seeing could mean not appreciating and not grasping the meaning of having the food that God gives. 
Basically the spiritual message reminds us all that not appreciating what we have and how we survive is like being unable to see those blessings or being able to unable to understand the  blessings we have in life.

So the Torah says that God tested us with hardships of hunger and gave us manna and reminded us that Man does not live by bread alone but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees.’ This verse along with the rabbis analogy is trying to enlighten us about facing the challenges of life as part of life versus those who do not do so. 

The real spiritual hunger is not seeing or grasping that which we hunger for in life. Food is one level going up the hierarchy.  To see the food is all about understanding and making peace with how we lived and how we continue to live in the world today.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Thoughts on the 9th of Av-Keeping the peace within the Jewish people.

 Modern Jews have trouble dealing with the tragedies of Jewish history. People often tell me that they feel that the sages focused too much on tragedy claiming how it spoils our attitudes towards a positive viewpoint towards being Jewish.
This time of the year is especially geared to remembering tragic episodes in Jewish history. Tomorrow begins the fast day called Tisha B’av or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av when we remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the anniversary of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 in which the edict was signed expelling Jewish from the Iberian Peninsula.
 We started this series of remembrances by signaling on the 17th day they Hebrew month of Tammuz on June 30th. From this time until July 20th we remember the process by which the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem of the Second Temple in 70CE.  During this interval time leading up to the 9th day of AV, no marriages are performed. This period is called “The Three Weeks.” 
a. Some customs are no eating meat or drinking wines during this period.
b. One is not allowed to say the Shechiyanu prayer
c. No purchasing any new garments.
d. Parents or teachers may not chastise their children during these days.
e. No haircuts during these days for adults or children.
f. The day before the 9th of Av one should not travel for any pleasure.
Laws on the 9th of Av
  1. Be uncomfortable when going to bed.
  2. Do not wear tephillin
  3. Go to services and pray with tears of sadness.
  4. Read the biblical book of Lamentations.
  5. Study the book of Job
  6. A pregnant woman or nursing woman should try to fast.
  7. A woman from the 7th-30th day after birth is encouraged to fast as long as she feels she can do so.
  8. A sick person who is not dangerously ill may fast even if it is for a few hours.
  9. No washing of the body for pleasure. Health purposes is fine.
  10. 10.A woman may not enter the mikveh on the eve of Tisha B’av so that she will not be obligated to have sex that night and through the next day.
  11. 11.No wearing of leather shoes
  12. 12.No marital relations
  13. 13.Business transactions are forbidden until midday.
  14. 14.Work is allowed after midday.
  15. 15.No sitting on a chair until midday.
  16. 16.One may perform a circumcision after midday.

I think we get the point of how serious our sages took these days and how they wanted the Jewish people to feel the pain of exile and loss as part of what it means to be a Jew. This led to the debate in modern times that Tisha B’av would suffice to include the commemoration of the Holocaust. Yet, the state of Israel decided differently and introduced Yom HaShoah in April on the hebrew date commemorating the Warsaw ghetto rebellion against the Nazis.

We also have an additional issue for liberal Jews with regard to the Ninth of AV.  In 1885 when the Reform
Rabbinate developed their first platform of ideas that would guide
Reform Judaism for over 130 years these sages disavowed the return Palestine and the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple. We have come a long way since then when it comes to Zionism. Reform Jews, however, still do not aspire to hold rebuilding the Temple and the sacrificial cult alongside it as a theological goal.
As a matter of fact many Jews especially secular Jews and not only Reform Jews, believe that we do not need Tisha B’av anymore since we have a Jewish state.
Just go to the main plaza of the Western Wall  on Tisha B’av and see the amazing contrast between how the ultra Orthodox stand at the wall and pray with prayers of mourning. Yet the overwhelming rest of the people who fill up the plaza are practically in a celebratory mood. What a paradox!

Many Rabbis today will quote from the Talmudic dictum that the Temple was not just destroyed by the Romans in 70CE but the real cause for the destruction of our most sacred institution was that the Talmud says we were cast into exile because of sinat hinam or baseless hatred within the Jewish people. In other words the teaching has been that because we were divided amongst ourselves we became vulnerable to the Romans. So the idea is that if we are divided today then we too are vulnerable to the same fate as our forbearers. Unfortunately this idea has a lot of relevance to the tensions Israel has these days between ultra orthodox and Reform and Conservative Jewry as well as secular Jews in Israel today. The most recent example is the new bill that the Israeli Knesset passed this week that has, through new directives and policies, fortified the Jewish character of the state of Israel. Whereas opponents of this bill  claim that this new legislation will diminish Israel a pluralistic and democratic state.

The first chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy which are read this Shabbat remind us of how important it is to remember history. Moses outlines the history particularly about the years of wandering in the desert and headed towards the Promised Land. Again Moses is trying to instill in the minds of the first and second generations about to enter the Promised Land a feeling for the past mistakes and triumphs. He too saw how baseless hatred could threaten the inner fabric of this new people chosen by God to introduce Torah to the world.

Mourning the catastrophes of our people’s past is appropriate. Having rituals that help us stay connected spiritually to that past is also fitting.
Reform Judaism may not be able to reconcile the hope to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem again. But we can make Tisha B’Av the ninth of Av a holy day which reminds us of not letting ourselves be the cause of infighting. History has taught us the results when a nation turns against itself and how it can subject its population to suffering at the hands of new oppressors. It is a good lesson for the leaders of Israel today and for our leaders in this country.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reflections on my Sabbatical: The Meaning of the Sabbath

Shalom to all,
I just finished my first installment on my Sabbatical. So I published this new column on the meaning of the Sabbath and how we use time to be productive. But is being productive and efficient all that defines a human being?  So I hope you will take a read and click the link to keep this column alive. There are some insights here that might just provide some new thinking about the wisdom of our tradition in the hustle bustle world we all live in.
What do you think?
Brad Bloom

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Battle for the Soul of America: Finding our Better Angels.

This is my fourth of July newspaper column. I recently finished the new history book The Battle for the Soul of America: Finding our better Angels. by Jon Meachem. I strongly advise reading this great book. This is a message to give some perspective on being an American and what it will take to preserve our country. Let me know what you think.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The dangers of politicians quoting Scriptures to justify separating children from their parents who are entering the United States.

This is my most recent newspaper column where I discuss the current issues related to Attorney General Sessions quoting Romans 13 as a justification for incarcerating all children of illegal aliens entering out country from the Mexican border. I am praying and hoping to act too on this subject so as to advocate that the Administration end this policy. So tell me your viewpoint about this tough subject.
Remember to click the link to save this column from the digital deities. Please share this link with your friends and remind them to click the link.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The firing of Chaplain Conroy from the House of Representatives.

This piece is about the recent firing of Chaplain Conroy from his position as Chaplain of the House of Representatives. He is the first Chaplain to be fired from the position. I am delighted to report to you that Speaker Ryan restored him to his job this week. So I hope you will read this column and share it with others. Remember to click the link so as to save this column in the world digital deities. Let me know what you think!
All the best.
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fake News versus "what you do matters."

This is my most recent newspaper column. I write about the story of the two kids at a local elementary school in our community who dressed up as Adolph Hitler. It created a national controversy all the way to CNN. Needless to say the circumstances were very difficult and the publicity was widespread. Yet this column tells the story of how we dealt with the problem and made a positive impact upon 100 fifth graders. Read this piece and tell me what you think.
Remember please click the link so that we can keep this column alive.
Rabbi Bloom

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March for Our Lives in Hilton Head and Bluffton Rally

This is a clip from the recent rally held in Bluffton between students from Bluffton and Hilton Head High Schools. For your information.
More to come. Is this history in the making? Or will it fizzle out? Time will tell. But it certainly good to see how today's young people aren't afraid to speak their mind. I am glad people see how important the value of the right to free speech is and the right to assembly.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Next Year in Jerusalem and Next Year in free as a citizen in America

In honor of Passover I am discussing  the connection between Passover and dilemma of the dreamers who are praying for freedom this year. Obviously this is a complicated issue but when it comes to passover it is hard to ignore the connection for Jews. Have a good read and I am always interested in your reactions whether or not you agree with me. Thanks

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Finding the language to transcend the political divide.

Shalom to everyone. This most recent newspaper column I wrote hit the issue of how we deal with the tremendous political divide going on in our nation today. Can we adopt an ethos where we can speak with each other even when we have significant disagreement? This is especially relevant in our houses of worship.
Thanks for taking the time to read it. I want to hear your viewpoints.
And please please remember that we must satisfy the digital gods by clicking on the link I sent you. This is how we keep the column alive. Please feel free to forward it to your facebook page or to your friends.
Remember , "Click the Link."
Rabbi Bloom

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Parkland Shootings: We do we do now?

My heart is torn a part by another shooting. Parkland's shooting and the death of faculty, staff and students remind us how gun violence has turned our schools into killing fields.  My column in the newspaper addresses these issues. We need prayers but that is not all this is needed at this hour. Read on and tell me what you think.
Remember, please forgive me, to click the link and keep this column alive.
Thanks and click the link
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Is America on the Moral Decline?

This column is a result of a panel I participated on at the Hilton Head Ethics Seminar on the topic, "Is America on moral decline?" I hope after you read my piece that  will weigh in on the topic too. It's relevant and important today.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"We shall do and We shall learn to understand:" Did the Jews make the right decision to accept the Torah?

Torah Portion Mishpatim: Exodus 21.1-24:16

What really happened when God revealed the Torah to Israel? One viewpoint was, according to the sages of old, that God shared the Torah with other nations first before giving it to the Israelites.

First God went to the sons of Esau and asked them: “Are you willing to accept the Torah?
They asked God, “What is written in it?”
God replied, “Thou shalt not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)
But the sons of Esau replied, “God, it was the nature of our ancestor to be a murderer, as it is written, “By your sword you shall live,” (Genesis 27:40) “God, we cannot accept the Torah.”

God then went to the Ammonites and the Moabites and asked them,”Are you willing to accept the Torah?
They said to the Eternal One, “What is written it?”
God replied, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:13)
They replied, “God it is in our nature that we are offspring of an immoral  sexual union, as it is said, “Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child from their father” (Gen. 19:36). “We cannot accept the Torah.”

God then went to the Ishmaelites and said to them, “Are you willing to accept the Torah?”
They said to the Eternal One, “What is written in it?
God replied, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:13).
But the Ishmaelites said, “Surely it was the very nature of our ancestor to be a robber, as it is said, “He shall be a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:12). 
“We cannot accept the Torah.”
And thus did God go from people to people, offering them the Torah. But no people was willing to accept it.
At last God came to the Israelites.  Without asking God what was in the Torah, the Israelites immediately responded, “All that the Eternal One has spoken we will do and we will learn to understand” (Ex. 24:7). (Siphrei to Deuteronomy -Midrash)

It is that last verse, “All that the Eternal One has spoken we will do and we will learn to understand,” which comes right out of this week’s Torah portion called Mishpatim. It continues the revelation at Sinai which began in last week’s Torah Portion when we read the Ten Commandments.  The complete revelation of Torah deals with all kinds of civil and criminal laws which would eventually guide the Jewish people into becoming a holy people to God. What Jews forget is that we too often think of the revelation at Sinai as the Ten Commandments instead of understanding that God gave us not ten but many laws which would one day equal 613 mitzvoth or commandments.

Is it not strange to read a story of Jews blindly accepting the invitation and the commitment to accept God’s law? Does that sound like a Jewish way of thinking, that is, Jews embracing something so monumental and  they have no idea what it is about?

Did our ancestors commit an error on our behalf? Maybe they should have asked God just like the rest of the nations what was in the Torah first before they agreed?
There is a lesson in this midrash for us today about religious commitment. Yes the story put the Jewish people above the rest of the nations in a moral and spiritual context. That aspect is in and of itself a worthy issue to discuss for people who have problems with the idea of the Jews as the chosen people. But that is not where I am going with this verse and my commentary about this story tonight.

Instead, let’s remember that the Torah portion shows Moses offering sacrifices to celebrate the Covenant which Israel agreed to with God. It was at that moment when, according to the Torah, Moses “took the book of the Covenant and read it to the People and their response was to accept it all.”
 Another translation of the same verse was;  “we will do and we will understand.” Yet, I liked the first translation that I read to you earlier which says: “we will do and we will learn to understand.” Our journey as Jews is to learn and to spend our lives trying to understand not just what the Torah says but what it means.
Some skeptics may be thinking to themselves, ‘Maybe we should have asked harder questions first for if we knew what we would one day endure over the millennium for being Jewish and for holding to our commitment to follow the mitzvoth we might not have made that choice.’

But I think that we also learn that not only is Judaism an intellectual religion it is also one that speaks to the heart and intuition as well. How else can one explain how an entire people would embrace the concept of performing commandments and not know what they were? 
It is no different from asking ourselves why didn’t we just assimilate and give in to the pressures wherever we lived to relinquish our identity and convert to another religious tradition? Is that not a real mystery about who we are and why we have come this far in world history?

We are living in times today where it appears that the emphasis in America is assimilation away from religion. Not only that but we live in times when individualism is more important than community. This trend is another challenge to millennials of all religious faith traditions and the future generations. Judaism ascribes so much emphasis to the spirituality of the community and the people. God teaches individuals to be kadosh by creating holy communities. How can Judaism thrive, despite all the freedoms of religion we have today, when so much of American society is about me and not we?

The translation from chapter 24:7 which I prefer is ‘we will do and we will understand.” Our sages tried to teach succeeding generations including us that Judaism challenges us as individuals  to understand and to ask questions and be argumentative for the purpose of expanding and deepening our horizons no matter what age we are in life. This is why have two adult groups, for example, studying for their B’nai Mitzvah in May. This is why we are known for our scholarship and for our love affair with the texts. Again we are not intrinsically superior in a moral or spiritual perspective than other religions or peoples, but what makes us unique is that we ask the questions of God and of ourselves to further our learning and our wisdom in life.

The community and the individual in Judaism belong intertwined as one and we should not loose the opportunity from this week’s portion and the verse “We shall do and we shall learn to understand,” to grasp that the life of religion is requires us to be engaged not only in the culture of Judaism but in the spiritual steps waiting for us, no matter the age, to walk down the pathway to greater knowledge and wisdom. So did one story about where God asked all the other nations to accept the Torah and they rejected it and we were the only ones who accepted demonstrate that the rabbis’ believed that God had an intuition about us as much we did about God? I believe that the answer was and continues to be yes. The question is when will we realize that intuition for us today?
Shabbat Shalom