Sunday, September 1, 2019

Travel essays from my Sabbatical to Auschwitz, Poland, Prague and Germany

I returned from my Sabbatical in August and have written two columns in the newspaper on my experiences. I hope you read them.
Below is a prayer in anticipation for Hurricane Dorian. I hope it gives you some perspective as we prepare for this ominous storm. May God be with us and as we say, "Pray as if everything depended on God and act as if everything depended on you."

God of the Heavens
Nature and all you have created are truly awesome.
Often, we take these wonders for granted.
Teach us to cherish all your gifts.
Try as we might, we know we cannot control
The oceans, the mountains, the weather.
We also firmly believe that ever since the time of Noah,
You do not send floods,
Make the earth shake,
Or dispatch weather formations such as hurricanes,
As warnings or punishments.
So we ask, as this storm approaches,
That you shelter all who are in its path.
Watch over our loved ones, friends and members of the community,
Many of whom will spend tonight-
And perhaps many nights-
Away from their homes.
Give them strength, courage, and resolve to ride out this storm;
Answer their prayers and ours
That they be blessed with goodness and be spared from harm.
Blessed are you, Source of life and nature,
Whose awesome power and strength fill our world

And inspire us to be strong in the face of all of life’s difficulties.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Two recent columns on the freedom of preaching from the pulpit and homosexuality

I have been a bit lax at not sending you my recent newspaper columns. So here are two recent ones. I hope you enjoy reading them and as always I appreciate the time you take to offer your comments  pro or con.
Take care and God bless you.
Rabbi Bloom

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day message

I published this last Sunday in preparation for our community's Yom HaShoah commemoration. Tell me what you think? Thanks for clicking the link and saving this column.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbo Bloom

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

When do the shootings end?

Here is the new article on the shooting in Poway, Ca
Please click the link and save this column. Thanks for reading it and taking the time to share your opinions. Please share this column with others.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Be careful about judging groups of people based upon externals.
 Hey folks,
My newest column comments on public perceptions of religiously observant people and their unusual dress alongside the actions or lifestyle of completely secular people do not determine the moral makeup of people. Goodness and hatred can be found just as much behind the veneer of ritually observant people as they can be identified inside those who have no interest in public religion.
Take a read and tell me what you think?
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Just click the link as we pay homage to the digital deities that determine who will write and who shall not have columns.

Thanks everyone

Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Moses vs Pharaoh: Politics is what it is all about then and today.

I know we live in an era where so many are fed up with politics. The cable news cycle and the drama we watch daily, and nightly in our homes and it all shows variations on a theme about the dynamic of power. Politics has become an evil word today because power is often the golden fleece rather than policy. All of this political  toxicity in our world and in our nation’s political discourse has eroded the faith of the people in our democratic institutions. Is religion the place to escape that kind of politics? 

The answer is yes and no. What I am going to show us tonight is that the negotiations between Pharaoh and Moses look a lot like what we see in today’s world whether we are referring to politics or any form of an adversarial negotiation. Our stories in the Torah are political and we simply have to embrace them and the lessons they teach about human character. Politics are very much connected to this week’s Torah portion Vaeira and the showdown between Moses and Pharaoh who demands of his brother “Let my people go!” This Torah portion goes down in our memory as the Torah portion of plagues. These are the same plagues we commemorate which Moses invoked during the Passover Seder meal. We pour one drop of wine for each plague concluding with the plague of the death of the first born in Egypt.
 Don’t be fooled for a moment by thinking this story in Exodus isn’t a political power play between the two leaders.

Pharaoh tried to show his magicians were just as powerful as Moses by producing plagues, but, in the end Moses’ power, bestowed upon him by God, was too great for Pharaoh who finally acknowledged the power of Adonai. The plagues are meant to show that the power of faith and God’s intervention were superior to anything that Pharaoh could muster up. This episode, the speaking of truth to power, and Moses invoking the Divine Presence to bring on the plagues is part of a greater narrative in the Torah about a religious and political movement of liberation. The Exodus is all about politics. How could it not be?

I just love the negotiation between Pharaoh and Moses. As each plague wreaks havoc on Egypt, the text tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Each time Pharaoh’s seems to relent from his stubbornness and appears ready to let the Israelites go, he then changes his mind. Is Pharaoh playing to his base for fear that if he gives in he risks appearing weak and, therefore, loosing the bases of his support?

Yet, the Torah tells us how each plague created its own cycle of Pharaoh changing his mind to get rid of the Israelites only to change his mind again in the aftermath of the plague.  The failed negotiations proved that Pharaoh was a man you just couldn’t do business with because no matter what he says he always changed his mind. Finally the plague of hail illicit a different reaction from Pharaoh when he remarked, “I stand guilty this time. The Lord is in the right for I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the Lord that there may be an end to this thunder and hail. I will let you go and you need not stay here any longer” (9:28-29).

The sad and tragic aspect of this political stand off is that even after Pharaoh said these things in acknowledging that Adonai is just and that he was wrong and that the Israelites could go free, it all meant nothing because Pharaoh said again shortly afterwards, “ But Pharaoh’s heart  hardened and he refused to let the children of Israel go” (9:35).
The sages have their own viewpoints about this power dynamic. Some espoused the belief that the purpose of the plagues was to educate Pharaoh about the power of God and others said it was to remember compassion in anger.

 When we get to the Passover Haggadah itself, the Reform movement focused on the plagues as a metaphor on how humanity brings on the plagues upon themselves when we are disrespectful of each other and our environment. Elie Wiesel wrote that the purpose of dropping the wine for each plague was to teach us to remember the compassion for the Egyptians who were also victims, albeit of their own arrogance. Again, another rule of politics the people always end up suffering at the hands of the arrogance from their own leaders. Eventually that is what happened to the Egyptians when the final blow from the death of the first born of Egypt.

The plagues, whether we are referring to the plagues used by Moses or those brought on my Pharaoh’s magicians, are  as much political weapons as they were literal weapons used by each side to prove their power. Moses knew that Pharaoh’s word was meaningless. He saw through the lies of Pharaoh, when he said , “But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (9:30). In politics you can negotiate and achieve solutions even when both sides are completely opposed to each other. The problem is when there is not enough respect or trust for each side to achieve a mutual agreement. That is the core of the problem, in my estimation, between Moses and Pharaoh. This is why,  in next week’s parashah Bo, the plague of the death of the first born in Egypt  qualifies as the only factor that broke the political will of Pharaoh. Cable news cynics would say that mass deaths of Egypt gave Pharaoh the political cover to let them go and not loose power with his base.

In a way Moses was playing to his constituent base too. Was the base God or the people? That is the question we ask throughout the rest of the Torah. It drives the entire story of the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai as well as the stories of Moses loosing his temper and saving his people too. I cannot help but believe that negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh resemble in many ways the kind of negotiations between political leaders today.

Alas, politics are part of life and their repercussions have an impact on the people. In the realm of religion too, our national narrative as a free people is very much connected to politics and negotiations. Many of us would like to think that that Judaism should be free of political discussions. We come to study Torah to be enriched spiritually. At the same time this our destiny and our history, how do we deny what is our past? How do we learn those lessons and apply them for how we conduct ourselves in the present for the benefit of the Jewish people, Israel and for America?

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.