RS Goes to Mother Bethel AME: A Sermon from Rabbi Kuhn

April 14, 2015

It is such a great honor for me personally, as well as our members who are here from Congregation Rodeph Shalom to be able to worship  with you this morning.  I’d like to thank your Rev. Mark Tyler for inviting us and thank all of you for welcoming us so warmly to share in this fellowship with you, as we hope to deepen our relationship between these two historic congregations in our City.  We are so blessed to welcome Rev. Tyler and your wonderful choir and so may of you to our congregation each year in January, as we share in the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday weekend.  That service is one of the real highlights of Rodeph Shalom’s year, because I believe it is so important for our two congregations to build on our friendship and our meaningful relationship, as we work together to make our City a better place.

I am proud that we have ongoing dialogues, Bible Study, and that we work together on POWER and more.  This partnership is good for our congregation, and I hope you find it meaningful as well.  I bring greetings from Rabbi Maderer and Rabbi Freedman, who are not able to be here today, but who love the Mother Bethel/Rodeph Shalom relationship.   We join together today in prayer, just a few days after the 47th anniversary of his assassination on April 4, 1968.  I believe it is so important for us to celebrate Dr. King together because I believe his life points out how many similarities there are between the African-American and Jewish experiences.  While there are differences, we certainly have more in common than not.  And the life of Martin Luther King is an inspiring example of how we do share so much.

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On Public Shaming, a Compassion Deficit and Monica Lewinsky

April 11, 2015

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

This week’s Torah portion, Shmini, describes what can serve as a korban–a sacrifice.  And when the wrong thing is used as a korban, tragedy results.

Recently, Monica Lewinsky has made the news, because she has begun to speak publicly about the media storm that consumed her identity.  Now at the age of 41, the former Whitehouse intern reflects back when she was 22, and made serious and foolish mistakes, when she began a relationship with her older and exceedingly more powerful boss, the then president of the United States.  Lewinsky’s boss abused his power and her friend violated her trust.  Still, the most painful part of the experience for Lewinsky was the public humiliation she endured.

In 1998, our society allowed the wrong thing to be used as a korban–a sacrifice– when Monica Lewinsky became the first person to be publicly shamed in the age of the internet.  Everyone knew her mistakes, many seemed to derive joy from degrading her, ostracizing her, reducing her to her faults, and exaggerating them beyond recognition. Read the rest of this entry »

“Once We Were Slaves:” The Modern Slavery of Human Trafficking*

April 5, 2015

At this week’s seder, Jews recited “Once we were slaves.” Who, today, is still vulnerable to the shackles of injustice?  I recently learned about a sex trafficking awareness initiative of the Women of Vision, a part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. I am grateful to the Federation for shining a light on women’s inequality, vulnerability and grave injustices involved in modern slavery.

It is common to assume human trafficking is a far-off problem.  Such distance can make it easier to ignore.  But that’s just not the case.  The more survivor stories I read, the more I can imagine these victims living right in my city.  According to statistics, chances are, they do.

This fall, the Bucks County Courier Times reported on a woman named Jennifer Spry.  Spry grew up in suburban, middle-class Montgomery County and as an 8-year old, was allowed to walk to the Church playground just down the road, playing so close to her home that she could hear her mother call her for dinner.  While playing in what was practically an extension of her own yard, Spry was manipulated by a neighbor offering toys.  Once she was in his home, she was forced to allow his “clients” to perform sexual acts while he took photographs.  The neighbor told Spry that if she ever told, he would kidnap her sister and murder her mother. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Muslim or Anti-Jew, It’s All Bigotry

March 31, 2015

I recently coordinated a panel on global anti-Semitism. Participants learned about the efforts of the U.S. State Department and the American Jewish Committee in their work urging foreign governments to crack down on the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks.   I was struck by a comment from US Department of State Team Leader of Anti-Semitism and Europe in the Office of International Religious Freedom, Stacy Bernard Davis: “What used to be fringe is now voted into Parliament.”

Sadly, I believe Davis’ message can be extended.  What used to be fringe is now… published in the mainstream press… used for votes… sponsored as bus advertisements. Read the rest of this entry »

A prayer for the State of Israel and for us all

March 22, 2015


Tonight I pray for the State of Israel. And I pray in dismay and worry, having heard the statement from the Prime Minister, broadcast around the world: We are willing to become smaller, so we don’t have to think bigger; we would rather cover the bud than take this chance to bloom.

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Reminder Days: LGBT Movement’s 50th Anniversary

March 22, 2015

This month, the National Constitution Center and the William Way LGBT Community Center announced a partnership for an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first LGBT protests in the nation. In 1965, and for the next 4 years, gay rights activists gathered outside Independence Hall carrying picket signs and demanding legislation that would secure the rights of LGBT Americans. Thirty-nine people attended the first picket.  These early annual protests, called “Reminder Days” did just that– they reminded our nation that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not yet accessible to all Americans.

This week, as we begin the book of Leviticus, we learn about animal sacrifice from parashat Vayikra: “Make the offering a male without blemish.”   Zachar tamim.  The word for male, zachar, shares the same Hebrew root for the word, memory.  A creative translation might read: Make the offering a memory without blemish.  Or, Remember, and make no mistake.  Read the rest of this entry »

Haggadah Recommendations

March 20, 2015

I hope your Pesach preparations are going well!  If you’re ready to pull out the post-it’s and prepare to lead your own seder, here’s a list of Haggadah suggestions, from most in-depth to most simple… Read the rest of this entry »


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