Tochecha: The Courage to Give Honest Criticism

October 3, 2017

Anyone notice that stunning tapestry in the lobby when they walked in this morning? How could you not?! The tapestry was hand stitched in 1972 by a group of 49 women at the congregation, led by Evelyn Keyser, and recently restored through the generous support of RS Women. When I first walked in and saw it, I noticed the beauty, the bright burst of color, the craftsmanship. But what really wowed me were the words. At the top, it says, “Ohev shalom v’rodeph shalom – Love peace and pursue peace.” These same words appear on our new addition, looking out on Broad Street. This quote, from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) was written almost 2000 years ago and still remains at our core today.

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Neighbor is a Moral Concept* (Kol Nidrei 2017)

October 1, 2017

Or zarua latzadik / Light is sown for the righteous**, words we just sang as the introduction to Kol Nidrei. This Yom Kippur, we search for the light of righteousness that it may illumine our path, and the path for generations to come.

Since our last Yom Kippur together, our world feels different.  We have born witness to anti-Semitism and bigotry, meant to keep us from the faith that we have the power to stand in the light.  More emboldened than recent memories of hate.  No longer hiding behind the white hood.  Not limited to the right or left fringes.  White supremacists, have desecrated cemeteries, painted swastikas in our city, threatened our Jewish Community Centers, and just last week created a new online presence #Gasthesynagogue.  And, in 2017 America, armed Nazis stalked a Reform Jewish synagogue in Charlottesville.   According to the Anti-Defamation League, in the first quarter of 2017 anti-semitic incidents in the U.S. surged more than 86%.

What do we do, in the face of heightened Anti-Semitism? Read the rest of this entry »


Our Love is All of God’s Money: Avinu Malkeinu and the Divine Economy

September 27, 2017

It sounds like a classic nightmare. I wake up late and rush to class, only to find that we have an exam for which I had totally forgotten to study. With sweat running down my neck, in a state of sheer panic, I look down at the sheet of paper on my desk not knowing a single answer…

Unfortunately, this was not a dream, and in fact, reality during my senior year of college in a Medieval Philosophy class. And so, bereft of options, like so many of my ancestors before me, I began to pray, “Dear God, if you could just help me pass this test, I promise to study so hard in the future and be a really good person…”

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I Am Becoming Who I Am*: Transformation in Our Times of Change (Rosh Hashanah 2017)

September 23, 2017

In all of my years preaching from our bimah, I think the sermon about which I have received the most response is the one that described my character revealing challenges in the Whole Foods parking lot.  Speaking of which: What do you think of the new Whole Foods?  I know that many of you shop there, because I see you there all the time.  Even after a year of the new lay-out and new procedures, the new Whole Foods still unsettles me.  When I’ve observed my discomfort I’ve thought of you.  I’ve thought, every time congregants tell me that change in something as meaningful as synagogue life is difficult, I need to remember this — how disoriented I can feel about something so simple, as a new version of my grocery store.  Change– change of all kinds– is hard.   Read the rest of this entry »


High Holy Day Services for Families with Young Children

September 6, 2017

We invite you and your children to celebrate the High Holy Days with us this year. See the service schedule for Families with Young Children. L’Shana Tovah!

High Holy Day Services for Families with Young Children

Contemporary “Multi-generational” Morning Services:
Requires a “pass;” please contact Catherine Fischer (cfischer@rodephshalom.org).

Rosh Hashanah: Thursday, September 21, 8:30 am
Yom Kippur: Saturday, September 30, 8:30 am

A full service for adults with a family-friendly atmosphere for children of all ages. Clergy, congregational choir, and guitar lead accessible music, encouraging participants to join in. Designed for all ages, the informality provides a comfortable setting for families with young children, and there are activities for the children during the sermon.

Tashlich Service at Fairmount Waterworks:
Thursday, September 21, 1:30pm
640 Water Works Drive Philadelphia, PA 19130
Join us as we cast away our sins with breadcrumbs. This service is open to all.

Afternoon Mini-Service for Families:
Open to the community; no pass needed, please just bring photo ID for security.

Rosh Hashanah: Thursday, September 21, 3:00 pm
Yom Kippur: Saturday, September 30, 1:30 pm
A very brief service for families with very young children.


Do Not Remain Indifferent

September 5, 2017

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains quite a few seemingly random, disconnected commandments. One especially striking commandment found in this week’s portion is:

If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

Most commentators believe this commandment is an important statement against animal cruelty, akin to the prohibition of boiling a kid in it’s mothers milk. Also, modern scholars point to an early ecological message of sustainability in this passage. However, there is another powerful message that our rabbis draw from this text in the Talmud; it lays the foundation for tale of Judaism first apostate, Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuya.

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When do we walk the path together?: Discernment in Establishing Coalitions

August 19, 2017

“See this day, I set before you, bracha uklalah — blessing and curse” (Deut 11:26).  It’s one or the other.  Elie Wiesel taught us: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. We must take sides.”

We can explore the issues, and learn from those who are different.  But then, ultimately, we must take sides.  The side of blessing or the side of curse.  Commentators say the phrase from God, saying: “I set before you” indicates free will.  It is our choice to make   We need to determine, which is the path of blessing.

I’m filled with gratitude to have seen so many of you on Sunday at the “Vigil for Those Who Stood Against Hate in Charlottesville, and on Wednesday where Rabbi Freedman spoke so powerfully, at the “Philly is Charlottesville: Unmasking Racism” march.  For when it comes to the anti-semitism and bigotry of white supremacy, the issue is not nuanced.  We take sides.  Hate does not require debate.  For we have moral clarity, that we are all created in the image of God, and your presence this week has demonstrated moral leadership.

Even as our congregation takes the clear side against bigotry, we do face some tricky questions about how to be involved, and how not to be involved.  I would like to step back, and to examine with you, some of the complexities I face when we collaborate with other groups, to respond to hate. Read the rest of this entry »