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 »


Resolution of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Rodeph Shalom concerning Egalitarian Prayer at the Western Wall and Conversion in the State of Israel – June 27, 2017

June 28, 2017

Resolution of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Rodeph Shalom concerning Egalitarian Prayer at the Western Wall and Conversion in the State of Israel – June 27, 2017

Background:

This week in Israel, the Netanyahu government made two major decisions affecting most of the Diaspora, decisions which are especially hurtful because, as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism put it, North American Jews have a “deep and unshakeable commitment to Israel.” Like we see our fellow Rodeph Shalom members as family, we see the Israeli people as family. We feel joy and pride with each Israeli accomplishment and we mourn each Israeli loss. Read the rest of this entry »


Leia’s Bikini or Rey’s Shmata: Gender Bias in Society and in Us

January 22, 2017

rey-1449242_960_720Princess Leia, actually Carrie Fisher, of blessed memory, recalls an outraged father challenging her, because she agreed to wear the skimpy iron bikini, in the scene with Jabba the Hutt, in The Return of the Jedi movie.  Fisher’s response? A giant slug captured me, and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him, because I didn’t like it. And then I changed my clothes, back stage!

Decades later when the newest episode, The Force Awakens was produced, Fisher observed : the female protagonist Rey shows no cleavage, wears baggie pants, and is essentially wrapped in what we might call, a shmata.  Progress.  Read the rest of this entry »


Post-Election Complacency or Anxiety: An Alternative Path in the Stairway to Heaven

December 12, 2016

 

artwork-797_960_720(delivered by Rabbi Maderer in Shabbat Service 12/9/16)

Years ago when I lived in suburban NJ, there was a break-in in our neighborhood.  We already had a burglar alarm in our house, so we added to the front porch the only extra security measure we could think of: a big dog-food bowl.  We did not have a dog.  But we were going to scare those intruders away!  To make it seem real, we painted onto the bowl the name of our fake dog: Shomer, Hebrew for “guard.” Once guarded by Shomer, in our alarm-shielded house, we proceeded to protect ourselves with a light-timer, for evenings when we were out…

How much worry is too much worry?  Some of our concerns and precautions are well-founded.  But there is a point when our energy is so channeled into the worry that we are at risk of losing our focus and our purpose.  Meanwhile, the anxiety reduces us, to wasted grief.

As we think about our roles in civic life, teaching, parenting, business, politics, it is important to consider: where do I have control and what is beyond my control? Read the rest of this entry »


HaKarat HaTov: Jewish Thanksgiving and Jewish Living

November 24, 2016

Discover more Jewish values on raising kids who are responsible, grateful and menschy with money on Tues., Nov 29, when NY Times money columnist Ron Lieber speaks.

When this year’s Slichot speaker, Dr. Dan Gottleib of WHYY hosted his final weekly Voices in the Family last year, he focused the show on gratitude.  As callers thanked Dr. Dan for giving them something– courage or patience or thanks…  he responded (paraphrased) “I don’t give anyone anything that isn’t already there.  It’s about seeing what’s already there.”

Seeing what’s already there– this is Judaism’s approach to Thanksgiving.  One Hebrew term for gratitude is “hakarat hatov.” Read the rest of this entry »