Lilith and the Demonization of Women

October 9, 2018

And on the 6th day… “God created mankind in God’s own image, in the image of God (B’tzelem Elohim) God created them; male and female God created them.” (Gen 1:27)

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Happiness vs. Meaning

October 2, 2018

Rabbi Eli Freedman: Yom Kippur Morning Sermon

This past spring, we had the unique opportunity to host Anat Hoffman, a civil rights pioneer in Israel. Through her organizations, Women of the Wall and the Israeli Religious Action Center, Hoffman works to protect the rights of women, Reform Jews, Arabs and other vulnerable populations. Hoffman does not shy away from exposing Israel’s tough truths, and believes that we can love the country even more when we recognize that, like all of us, Israel is not perfect.

During the question and answer portion of the evening, in response to a question about the difficulties of making aliyah and living in Israel, Hoffman paused for a moment and began her answer by quoting our Declaration of Independence. Perhaps seeking to agitate the hometown crowd, Hoffman said, “I’m don’t really like the whole ‘pursuit of happiness’ thing, I’m more interested in the ‘pursuit of meaning.” Hoffman then went on to challenge the audience. “If you want a life of just happiness,” she said, “don’t move to Israel. Stay in the US. Your life will be easier. But if you want a life of meaning, make aliyah and work to make Israel a better place.”

Anat Hoffman posed an essential question to all of us for this Yom Kippur: what are we pursuing in our lives: happiness or meaning?

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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.

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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.

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Parental Leave is a Jewish Issue

August 1, 2018

I was on the phone with a friend last week after an especially long day watching Josephine and our new addition, Nora, all by myself. My friend asked, “So how was babysitting today?”

“I was not babysitting,” I said, keeping my voice as gentle as possible to correct them. “When you’re their father, it’s called parenting.”

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Mental Health Awareness

July 3, 2018

Earlier this summer, some high profile suicide deaths tragically reminded many of us of the critical, life-saving importance of mental health and mental health resources for this public health issue. This was the week the Jewish community read in the Torah from Parashat Shelach Lecha. The story in the Book of Numbers describes the 12 scouts who go ahead to assess the Land of Israel, as the Israelites are anticipating the whole people’s arrival to the land. Two of the scouts felt confident enough to move forward: Joshua and Caleb. The other ten scouts were too discouraged by what they saw. For when they approached the land, they perceived its inhabitants as giants, and in their own eyes, they were as grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers. Any of us can feel small. But when someone feels so small, so grasshopper-like, and sees everything else as a giant, the world can feel impossible, and despair can overwhelm.

More and more, our society is offering important resources to help people who struggle with mental illness and to bring this public health issue out of stigma and into the light. Inspired by our tradition’s mandate of “pekuach nefesh/to save a life” and by our community’s vision to create profound connections, we are learning from such resources.

One way for us to learn is to bring educated sensitivity to our language about difficult issues. From the original creation story’s narrative that God created the world with words, beginning with, “Let there be light,” our people have understood that words can create and words can destroy. In the case of suicide, simple language choices in the media and beyond have the potential to influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion, or positively by encouraging help-seeking (from: reportingonsuicide.org). In language, we can avoid sensationalist language, method of death, or referring to suicide as successful or unsuccessful. We can say one died by suicide instead of committed, as committing implies criminality when the choice emanates from inconceivable despair. We can emphasize crisis center resources, include warning signs and resources.

Within our congregation, we strive to de-stigmatize mental illness by bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. We seek ways to support or connect people who are struggling, or whose loved ones are struggling. Our Caring Community is now working to add a related support group; if you would like to be involved, please contact our
}co-chairperson Betsy Fiebach (fiebach@gmail.com).

Your clergy, as well as your Caring Community, is here for you. Jewish Family and Children Services is an important resource. And if you or someone you know is in immediate need of expertise and support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) which provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Suicide Awareness:  Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Suicide Awareness: What to Do

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

This list is from reportingonsuicide.org