#rsgrows: A Building Expansion Fueled by Purpose

May 2, 2015

It has been so exciting to see the expansion go up here at Rodeph Shalom.  And now here we are, almost complete, with the May 17 Dedication happening this month!  In last weekend’s Sunday seminar, our expansion chairperson Michael Hauptman taught that the master planning for the space began in 1992!

The meaning of our new addition is certainly not limited to bricks and mortar.  The power of the renovation and expansion has been that, every step of the way, our leadership’s decisions have been mission-driven, fueled by our vision of the people and purpose who will fill its space.  Not once has this congregation set out to create a museum; this is a center for living Judaism, where we honor the past, celebrate the present, and shape the future of Jewish life in Philadelphia.

And so it made sense when, about a year ago, a congregant suggested we consider a Jewish text, that might appear on the external Broad Street wall.   Read the rest of this entry »


Living Outside the Camp in Israel

April 29, 2015

I have an embarrassing secret.  I love BuzzFeed.  For those that don’t know, BuzzFeed is the website that brings us amazing articles like, “17 Nail Art Designs Perfect For Earth Day,” “Are You More Like Woody Or Buzz Lightyear?” and “15 Texts You Send To Your Mom Vs. Your Best Friend.”  While mindlessly surfing the site, I came across another reason to love BuzzFeed, an article titled, “51 Facts About Israel That Will Surprise You.” The list includes:

  1. Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship in the world.
  2. Out Magazine names Israel the gay capital of the Middle East.
  3. Only two countries began the 21st century with a net gain in their number of trees; Israel was one of them.
  4. Israel is the only country to revive an unspoken language and establish it as its national tongue.
  5. Israel is one of only nine countries in the world that can launch its own satellites into space.
  6. More than 44% of all lawyers registered in Israel are women.

Read the rest of this entry »


Parashat Shemini – Judaism and Beer

April 24, 2015

A few months ago I received a very exciting email from the director of the Jewish museum in Munich.  Apparently he was searching the internet for “Jews and Beer” and my name came up!  No, this is not just because I like beer so much, but because there are actually a few great articles out there about our Men of RS sponsored brewing club, BrewRS, as well as our interfaith brewing relationship with St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. (A quick plug – we will be having the second annual Biblical Brew Off on May 30th, where we will go head to head with St. Tim’s to see who brews the best beer!)

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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