Congregation Rodeph Shalom Response to Upcoming White Supremacy Rally in Philadelphia

November 15, 2018

Just last night at Rodeph Shalom, we experienced the remarkable performance of Broadway and TV star Tovah Feldshuh in Dancing With Giants. What is striking about the play is the friendship of the characters, crossing racial and religious barriers to come together, particularly during the 1930’s and the rise of Nazi Germany, a time of disinformation and political upheaval.

With this perspective, we are writing regarding our view, articulated in the press release below, on how we respond to the Alt-Right rally by the “Proud Boys,” an organization with anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and anti-immigrant views, to be held near Independence Mall on Shabbat, November 17.

It is vital for our congregation to teach our Jewish values, to be aware of bigotry, and to stand against hate.  But it is also important to avoid bringing extra attention to hate groups and to avoid allowing them to hijack our community’s practice of Judaism, especially on Shabbat.

How powerful it is when we are together on Shabbat, teaching Torah, caring for others in our community, and living our Jewish values.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Philadelphia, PA- November 15, 2018

In anticipation of the upcoming Alt-Right rally in Philadelphia, Congregation Rodeph Shalom is encouraging its community to join together in worship at our congregation, as we do each week. We believe that we resist hate when we more deeply and joyfully engage in our Jewish lives.  Our Jewish tradition teaches us to come together, to pray, to perform acts of justice, and to study Jewish values such as this one taught by the Talmud: “The first person was created alone, for the sake of peace among people, so that no one could say to another, ‘My ancestor was greater than yours.”

It is the goal of those holding extreme right wing anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and anti-immigrant views, to create conflict. To avoid helping them to create a newsworthy counter-protest, we have chosen to ignore them, to live our Jewish lives, and on our own terms, to make clear our Jewish values.

We remain grateful to the multi-faith community in Philadelphia who, in the wake of tragedies such as Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, has stood with us in solidarity and whose steadfast presence in our lives reminds us the bigots remain on the fringe and cannot be normalized.  When those from other religions and groups feel vulnerable, we stand with them as well.  The bonds of love that we share cannot be broken.


The Life of Sarah – Responding to Pittsburgh

November 4, 2018

I imagine many of you are feeling a lot of emotions right now. Sadness, anger, fear, comfort, faith, hope… I pray that we all continue to feel, and that we have the strength to share our pain with our fellow congregants who surround us now.

I imagine many of you came here tonight looking for an answer. How do we respond to the horrific murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in our sister city of Pittsburgh?

I don’t have the answers. However, in times of sorrow and pain, I look to our tradition. To our Tree of Life, our Torah. In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah, we are confronted with the deaths of Abraham and Sarah, the matriarch and patriarch of our people, and we learn how to mourn, how to honor the dead, how to comfort the bereaved and perhaps most importantly how to carry on; how to keep living proud Jewish lives.

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A Message from Rabbi Emeritus Alan Fuchs

November 1, 2018

As we sang at the Interfaith Vigil on Sunday night, Rabbi Emeritus and past Pittsburgh rabbi Alan Fuchs asks “If not now, tell me when,” in this reflection– Rabbi Maderer

This past week should be a wake-up call for all of us. It is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we now have an atmosphere of hate in this country.  The threat of violence (bombs and tweets) and the murders that have occurred, in the African American community and in the Jewish community, were completely predictable.  I alluded to it all in my sermons of the past three years.

So here we are – a major congregation in Philadelphia and in the Reform movement, and what do we do?.  I write this as a rabbi-emeritus of Rodeph Shalom, so you may agree or disagree, but I do not speak for the congregation or its clergy or leadership.

It is my firm belief that we are living through a period that closely resembles Germany in the 1930’s. Tragically, the Jews of Germany and the world believed this was just another blip in the arc of history. We know it was not. When I see the Trump rallies and the people behind him reveling in the language of violence that is a part of every such gathering, my heart and mind tell me that all that is missing is the sig heil salute of Nazi Germany. It is a frightening scene. Read the rest of this entry »


“Naamah’s Voice”

October 16, 2018

“Naamah’s Voice”: Cantor Erin Frankel’s sermon from Friday, October 12

I went to the movies recently. I went to see A Star is Born, because I felt an overwhelming compulsion to see it. I last saw a movie, two actually, over the summer, while my children were at overnight camp and I had time to do things like see adult movies. I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a beautiful tribute to Fred Rogers that, while honoring the beauty of his soul I must admit depressed me just a bit because it seems we don’t have too many souls of pure goodness leading us in this moment of history. I cried at the end of that one, tears of loss and of admiration. The other movie I saw was BlackkKlansman, the Spike Lee movie about the black man who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s. What a brilliant movie that was, what powerful images, and in my opinion one of the best responses to the current administration that I have seen. Wow, did I cry at the end of that one, tears of bewilderment and of a new sense of understanding.

So why the compulsion to see A Star is Born? The reviews told me I would cry, and I felt an overwhelming need for that emotional release again. And this movie was a good cry. The story rides on deeply passionate feelings about love, the passage of time, personal demons, and loyalty. It’s easy to understand why this story has been remade three times, it still lands. But this current remake arrives at a moment in our society when one aspect of the story lands more powerfully than all the others. For this is a movie about a woman finding her voice.

Yes, the men around her guide her, lead her, make things possible for her, and manipulate her, and that is part of the story. They do that because they see that she has the ability to say something in her music that people want to hear. The movie keeps returning to this message as the ultimate power of music making and the key to success: the power to make people stop and listen. Everyone around her believes this woman can do that and she should be propelled forward so she will do that. Read the rest of this entry »


Lilith and the Demonization of Women

October 9, 2018

And on the 6th day… “God created mankind in God’s own image, in the image of God (B’tzelem Elohim) God created them; male and female God created them.” (Gen 1:27)

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Happiness vs. Meaning

October 2, 2018

Rabbi Eli Freedman: Yom Kippur Morning Sermon

This past spring, we had the unique opportunity to host Anat Hoffman, a civil rights pioneer in Israel. Through her organizations, Women of the Wall and the Israeli Religious Action Center, Hoffman works to protect the rights of women, Reform Jews, Arabs and other vulnerable populations. Hoffman does not shy away from exposing Israel’s tough truths, and believes that we can love the country even more when we recognize that, like all of us, Israel is not perfect.

During the question and answer portion of the evening, in response to a question about the difficulties of making aliyah and living in Israel, Hoffman paused for a moment and began her answer by quoting our Declaration of Independence. Perhaps seeking to agitate the hometown crowd, Hoffman said, “I’m don’t really like the whole ‘pursuit of happiness’ thing, I’m more interested in the ‘pursuit of meaning.” Hoffman then went on to challenge the audience. “If you want a life of just happiness,” she said, “don’t move to Israel. Stay in the US. Your life will be easier. But if you want a life of meaning, make aliyah and work to make Israel a better place.”

Anat Hoffman posed an essential question to all of us for this Yom Kippur: what are we pursuing in our lives: happiness or meaning?

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If These Walls Could Talk: 90 Years in the Sanctuary

September 28, 2018

Delivered by Rabbi Maderer Rosh Hashanah morning

Some of you may have known one of Rodeph Shalom’s oldest, long-time members, Floss Feder, of blessed memory.   In my last visit with Floss, who this spring died at the age of 103 ½  ,  I shared with her our plans to celebrate the 90-year anniversary of our sanctuary.  Her face lit up as I asked her: if our sanctuary walls could talk, what would they say?  And she shared with me this funny story she remembered from her Confirmation class of 1930.  She told the story of when Rabbi Louis Wolsey brought them into the sanctuary to point out one of its distinguishing features: the first four words of Psalm 16, verse 8, painted on the tops of the four pendentives, that say “Shviti Adonai lenegdi tamid,” translating: “I set God before me always.”  When Rabbi Wolsey brought Floss’s Confirmation Class into the sanctuary to ask them, “What do the four Hebrew words mean?”  One classmate responded that the four words of the Psalm surely mean: “Thank you, call again!”

If these walls could talk.  If I were to ask you the question, what might you reveal?  For some of you, your relationship with this glorious space is just beginning.  For many of you, these walls could tell the stories of your lives – pages, chapters, volumes — recounts of memories, the joys, the sorrows, the profound connections experienced within them. These walls are something of a Book of Life—that very Book of Life from our High Holy Day prayers.

This morning and throughout these Days of Awe, we recite “V’katvenu b’sefer chayim/Inscribe us in the Book of Life.”  Generations of Jewish commentators have confronted the problematic concept of a Book of Life.  Who, still living with more chapters left to write, found themselves with too few pages?  The injustice of a Book of Life, that we know ends too soon, for too many, turns some of us away from the concept altogether.   Read the rest of this entry »