Combating Anti-Semitism

April 9, 2019

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

I write this having just returned from the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). There, I moderated a panel about important work that is now taking place to combat anti-Semitism. This work was unknown to most of my colleagues, and I thought it may be unknown to you as well. So I would like to share with you what I learned.

The panel was comprised of Amy Spitalnick and Roberta Kaplan. On Shabbat, August 12, 2017, hundreds of Nazis or White Supremacists descended on Charlottesville. Amy and Roberta are the people who are suing the Nazis.

Amy Spitalnick is the Executive Director of Integrity First for America, an organization which holds accountable those who threaten the principles of our democracy. Integrity First is funding and supporting the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit filed by a coalition of Charlottesville community members against the Nazis responsible for the violence. Previously, Amy served as senior policy advisor and communications director to the New York Attorney General, and as advisor and spokesperson for the New York City mayor.

Roberta Kaplan, or Robbie, the founding partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, is a commercial and civil rights litigator, and an expert in cutting-edge areas of law. Robbie’s work is “Where Were You When” kind of work. Where were you when the Supreme Court ruled for Robbie’s client Edie Windsor and for marriage equality? I remember where I was. Where were you when the witness of #MeToo became the fighting words of #TimesUp? When Robbie co-founded the Times Up Legal Defense Fund? I remember where I was. Where were you when… the racists, the anti-Semites, chanted “Blood and soil” and then actually shed blood in Charlottesville? I remember where I was.

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Keep ‘Em Separated: Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Israel

March 26, 2019

Anyone remember the song, “Come Out and Play,” also known as, “Keep ‘Em Separated,” by the 90’s alternative band, Offspring. The story goes that inspiration for the “keep ’em separated” lyric actually came from frontman, Dexter Holland’s, experience in a laboratory cooling flasks full of hot liquids. He placed them too close together, realizing after he messed up the experiment that he needed to, “keep ‘em separated.”

If there is one thing you should know about this week’s portion, the entire book of Leviticus, and really the whole mindset of the ancient Israelite priests, the authors of Leviticus, it is, “keep ‘em separated.”

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Reform Zionism: Caring for Both Israelis and for Palestinians

March 19, 2019

by Rabbi Maderer

This article originally appeared in the March issue of the Rodeph Shalom Bulletin.

Last month, I expressed here, and in a sermon, my gratitude about my extended family’s trip to Israel. Several things made it deeply meaningful. I have an almost life-long relationship with Israel, having begun my visits as a child. In preparation, I read from Rabbi Larry Hoffman’s book about spiritual pilgrimage to Israel. My children were moved to journal every night we were there, and for a progressive lens, my family traveled with the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). The ARZA-led experience was important to me because it meant a critically thinking guide whose approach would feed my passion for Reform Zionism. Last month, I shared with you one critical aspect of Reform Zionism– that we need to own our place in Israel, our place at the Western Wall/Kotel, and our authentic place in Judaism.

This month, I would like to share another critical aspect of Reform Zionism. Much like Reform Judaism is devoted to cultivating a meaningful Jewish community and also caring for the other, Reform Zionism is devoted to the love for and support of the Jewish homeland and also caring for the other. Support for a Two-State Solution indicates the commitment to a home for two different peoples–both Jews and Palestinians. Too often, leadership voices and the media express polarizing views, as if we may only advocate for the Jews or for the Palestinians, as if human beings may care either for our own or for the other. I believe this is the false choice of those on the right who won’t speak of hard truths about the occupied territories to be spoken, and of those on the left who neglect to be transparent that Boycott Divestment Sanctions does not seek to make Israel a fairer place, it seeks to eliminate Israel. In a state established in the wake of the Holocaust and where over a million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries landed, in a state where security is so different that my hotels had bomb shelters but no chain locks on the room doors, and in a state that has occupied territories of other peoples, I cannot see how either the far right or the far left can alone lift up the truth.

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Parashat Ki Tisa: Religious Fanaticism in Israel

February 26, 2019

Israel’s non-profit SpaceIL launched its spacecraft from Florida’s Cape Canaveral last night in a bid to become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the moon. The unmanned craft, called “Beresheet,” a reference of course to the first word in the Torah, began an approximate seven-week journey to the moon, from where it will send back images of the rocky surface and conduct experiments on the lunar magnetic field.

This should be a time of pure joy and celebration for Israel. Yet it is not. In the same week in which we saw the best of Theodor Herzl’s Zionist vision, we also saw a much uglier side of the Jewish State.

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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.

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