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 »


For All These Sins: Gender Justice and Learning from Me Too

September 20, 2018

Delivered by Rabbi Jill Maderer, Kol Nidre

Avinu Malkenu: We have strayed and sinned before you.

Anachnu chatanu/ We have done wrong.

Al chet shechatanu lifanecha

For our sins, our God, v’al kulam-for all of these, kaper lanu-lead us to atonement.

This High Holy Day season is the first time our entire community is gathering, since the nation has been shaken by the increasing awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

This could be a difficult sermon to hear if you have been harassed or assaulted. You are not alone. This could be a difficult sermon to hear if you have harassed, assaulted or devalued women, and you are working on the difficult path towards tshuvah/repentance.

Thanks to Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano, “Me Too,” has been our teacher this year. Although it is not women’s or victims’ or survivors’ responsibility to fix sexism–a problem that hurts not only women, but all genders– the brave Me Too accounts have helped to demonstrate the magnitude.  It’s your neighbor posting MeToo.  Actually, many of your neighbors.

Sexual harassment and assault are not only a problem among public figures; if it’s out there, it’s in this room, and in us.  We have done wrong, not only in acts of sexual harassment or assault, but in our tolerance of systems that uphold gender power imbalance.  Al chet shechatanu lifanecha–for the sins we have committed against You with sexual misconduct and abuse of power, lead us to atonement.

Men experience sexual harassment and assault, and there are female perpetrators, but it’s the misconduct against women, that is the epidemic.  Because sexual harassment and assault are not about sex; they are about power.  And societally, women have less power.  When our society treats women differently from men, it is about unequal power.

There are many areas of gender bias, that I care about, but will have to save for a different sermon, including the pay-gap, rape culture, men’s repentance paths, and LGBTQ+ rights; and for the purpose of tonight’s message, I will speak with some gender binary simplicity.  I’d like to focus tonight on the notion that, when we treat women differently than the way the treat men, it leads to a power imbalance in society, that enables power abuses, such as: the devaluing of women, and sexual harassment.  And, I’d like to focus on how each of us can identify our own power, and use it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779 – Civic Engagement

September 17, 2018

Sermon given on Sunday, September 9 by Rabbi Eli Freedman

HaYom Harat Olam; today is the birthday of the world. Tonight, Erev Rosh Hashanah, we begin the New Year of 5779. And tomorrow morning, in the words of the song we just sang:

Let the sun rise,

On a new day,

To warm the land,

To warm our hearts,

To warm our hands.

Let the sun rise on a new day. What a powerful message for this New Year and for everyday of our lives. We have the ability, each new day, in every sunrise, to warm the land, to warm our hearts, to warm our hands; to make the world a better place. This is the message of the High Holy Days.

But all too often, in today’s 24 hour news cycle, it is hard to remember that the sun will rise on a new day tomorrow. I have heard from many of you this year about about your concerns; overwhelmed with the brokenness in our world; left with nothing but feelings of hopelessness.

Read the rest of this entry »