Visioning Team Update

November 28, 2018

This article is an update from our Visioning Team, co-chaired by Aaron Weiss and Hank Bernstein, since the initial October meeting. Working with synagogue expert Rabbi Larry Hoffman, we are embarked on what we hope will usher in a brilliant new chapter in the history of Rodeph Shalom.

The Team held its second meeting in November and, inspired by Rabbi Hoffman, we followed his meeting sequence (or protocol), which includes welcoming the group; giving each team member the opportunity to express a thought or experience that has occurred since our last meeting; sharing a meal; studying a text; engaging in group work; distilling what we have learned; and ending in grateful prayer.

In expressing our reactions to the recent killing of eleven Jews at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we spoke of a feeling of numbness and vulnerability, and then moved to a spirit of hope and positive action that is possible in the wake of the horrific event.

Our study was centered around a contemporary midrashic monologue by our biblical matriarch Sarah, in which Sarah fills in the blanks of the story of The Binding of Isaac told only from Abraham’s perspective in the Torah. Our reflections on the midrash included that each of us may be at times “unsung” and each person has stories that if told, could be important in informing the understanding of others; and that we need to act with intention, as if the very survival of the Jewish people depends on us and our actions.

Our exercise was centered around discussion in small groups designed to elicit reflections about our personal relations with our sacred community in order to develop powerful language and statements that describe Rodeph Shalom’s vision. By articulating our own experiences, perceptions, and feelings, we sought to identify a set of unifying words and themes that might resonate with our stakeholders as part of the statement we’re developing to communicate “who we are, or who we want to be” and a corresponding statement to express “how we show it, or how we would show it,” as described by Rabbi Hoffman.

Within the small groups each team member responded to these three questions:

• Why did you begin coming to Rodeph Shalom?
• What is the current impact of Rodeph Shalom on your life?
• What is one aspiration that you’d love to see or grow at Rodeph Shalom in the future?

Given our diversity, it was no surprise how many unique accounts of RS were shared. Yet, across those reflections, a number of familiar themes emerged including: feeling welcomed, guiding life cycles, offering meaning and inspiring clergy.

We would love to hear your reponses to the three questions above, and invite you to submit them to Hank Bernstein  or Aaron Weiss. You can also leave a comment on this blog entry.

If you would like to help underwrite this important Visioning Task Force with Rabbi Larry Hoffman, please contact Catherine Fischer. Thank you to Carol and Horace Barsh for making the first gift towards underwriting this vital project.

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »