The Tower of Babel, Anita Hill, Unchecked Power, and the #MeToo’s of Sexual Harassment

October 21, 2017

We have seen the words, “Me Too” on our computer screens all week long.  In the wake of the most recent sexual harassment reports, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.  If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Hundreds of thousands of women (correction: now 1.5 million), and some men too, have added their voices, posting, “me too.”  Although it is no woman’s responsibility to post about being harassed or assaulted, the wave of “Me Too” responses has been important.  It reminds us that sexual harassment and assault are not products of Hollywood celebrity, some unreal world that has nothing to do with us.  It’s your neighbor posting, “Me Too.’  Actually, most of your female neighbors.  The “Me Too” campaign is giving people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  And that is a tremendous step.

For, studies show that, most people do not speak up when they experience or witness sexual harassment.  Why such silence?  What are people afraid of?  Losing a job?  Perhaps.  And understandable.  But I believe that most of all, women are trying to protect their dignity– to avoid allowing their character to be put on trial. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »


Whoever is in Pain, Lead Him to the Physician*

July 2, 2017

The 7-year old boy’s heart begins to beat faster as he listens to the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  The boy actually begins to sob with pity for Isaac.  After the service, the rabbi approaches the boy.  “Why were you crying? The rabbi asks, “You know the story; you know that Abraham does not kill Isaac.”  The boy questions the rabbi, “Suppose the angel, had come a second too late?” The rabbi comforts the young boy saying, “angels, do not come late.”

That boy would become the great 20th century scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory.  Years later, Heschel would still be haunted by the same question: Suppose the angel had come, a second too late!  As an adult, Heschel reflected that, while angels do not come late, human beings sometimes do.  “All of history,” Heschel teaches, “has been a dry run for the moment when we can act like the angel; we must not be late.” Read the rest of this entry »


What is Old, Make New; What is New, Make Holy*

June 14, 2017
     I am so pleased to share with our RS congregants: “Lunch with Rabbi Maderer– Engaging with our New Senior Rabbi.” The Rodeph Shalom community and I have shared a brit, a relationship, for a long time. Already for almost 16 years, we have studied Torah, celebrated Shabbat and holidays, and together on Yom Kippur stood before God to ask forgiveness.  I have accompanied you through your lifecycles, and you have turned to me with your joys and your struggles.  We have laughed together and learned together. Yet, this season brings change.
     One of my favorite modern Jewish text comes from *Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel.  He taught: What is old make new, and what is new make holy. Although our relationship has been established many years ago, and remains strong, rooted in such history, our relationship now shifts as I become your senior rabbi.  I am reaching out to engage with you now because I would like to invite you to re-meet me, to get to know me again in my new role.  Together, I welcome you to make our relationship with one another and with Congregation, new and holy.
     I’d like the opportunity to have a renewed encounter with every congregant in our Rodeph Shalom family.  You are invited to please join me for a small-group lunch.  Over the coming weeks and months, I will hold a series of these lunches with small enough groups for us to really share in conversation. There, I intend to share something of myself and my vision, and I intend to do a lot of listening so that I can understand from you what is most meaningful about your connection to Rodeph Shalom.  This engagement effort reflects my vision and priorities and I am grateful for the clergy and senior staff’s support in my pursuit of these encounters.  Please rsvp here for “Lunch with Rabbi Maderer: Engaging with our New Senior Rabbi.”
     Together, what is old we will make new, and what is new we will make holy.

To Raise Dust with Our Feet: Opening Up Our Definition of Spirituality

December 18, 2016

wrestling-image(delivered by Rabbi Maderer at Shabbat service 12/18/16)  Last week I shared with you a time when I lived in the suburbs and my family overdid it in the area of home security.  I made fun of the way that, even with a burglar alarm in our house, we added to the front porch, an extra security measure: a big dog-food bowl.  Even though we did not have a dog.  I went on to make fun of — and to be clear, I was making fun of my mother– I went on to make fun of the way that, to make it seem real, we painted onto the bowl the name of our fake dog: Shomer, Hebrew for “guard.”

Funny story:  Last week, here in Philadelphia… you guessed it.  My garage was broken into.  Who here believes in karma?

Now, seriously, do you think there is a connection?  One week I am making fun of my mother for over-securing our house all those years ago, and days after I write those words, a break-in.  Coincidence?  Karma?  God? There was a time I would have said: there is no such thing as coincidence.  I believed God influenced the details of our lives.  Yet as my life and rabbinate move forward, I find my response to the world changes:  more questions, less certainty of God’s role, judgment, or expectation. Read the rest of this entry »


“Praise God, even if God takes your life”

November 15, 2016

Thank you to RS Board member David Mandell, ScD, for offering these words on the post-election world, gratitude, and a congregational learning opportunity.

“Praise God, even if God takes your life”

I am heartbroken by the results of the presidential election. I alternate between deep mourning and rage. Yesterday morning I expressed my anguish to a colleague from Turkey. She said that she too is disappointed but was not experiencing the same depths of despair that I was. She pointed out that living in the United States is still preferable to the violence and unrest in Turkey. A Russian man told me, “so your party lost? At least you have two parties. And you’re not thrown in jail for not being a member.” Another friend listened in on a phone call with President Obama, who gave us permission to mope for a week, and then have to get back to work. We’ve made a huge difference to the country and if 20% of it gets rolled back, 80% is still left.

In these three moments I felt hope. And driving that hope was gratitude. Read the rest of this entry »